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Wednesday, September 30, 2015

BLOOD & OIL Bad Combination

Article originally published as BLOOD & OIL Review on Seat42F.

Blood And Oil




It should not surprise you to learn that ABC’s BLOOD & OIL is a prime-time soap. After all, the alphabet network relies on the genre just as heavily as CBS does on crime procedurals. It’s sort of their hallmark. But there are good prime-time soaps (Grey’s Anatomy) and bad prime-time soaps (remember Betrayal? No? Me, neither). Which one is this?


Sadly, it is bad. A lot happens in the first hour of BLOOD & OIL, and it turns out to be too much. In an effort to keep the story rocketing along, the writers abandon even the slightest tinge of reality. A terrible car wreck? Yep, both occupants walk away unscathed. Need a large sum of money in a short amount of time? No problem, they’ll get it. Want to build a better life for yourself and your family? It only takes a week, but in this world, it could probably just as easily be gone in even less time. Half a dozen twists rocket past so fast you just might get whiplash. I don’t know how the production can possibly keep up this pace for twenty-two hours a year, as even in the pilot, it seems like they’re blowing through all the possibilities.

That just makes the show hard to get into. If you cannot relate to the people, or at least wish you were them, why would you watch? There isn’t a deep mystery, nor a bunch of secrets remaining hidden. It’s just betrayal and bad deeds, one after another, that cause harm to the other characters, and makes life harder. Then, a fantastical solution presents itself so that they can quickly move on to the next thing. The show itself has ADD.

BLOOD & OIL is basically an inferior Dallas. Inferior even to the recent TNT continuation of that show because of BLOOD & OIL’s all-over-the-place structure, with about an equal quality cast. As soon as you see the premise, you’ll see why Dallas is the first show that springs to mind to compare it to.

The cast is a solid B-tier. All of the actors are serviceable, but none stand out as excellent. They handle the scenes well, but without a lot of subtext. All of these performers could be well-used in certain parts, but not as the lead ensemble of a drama like this, and their combined average deliveries keep the show in the middle strata of quality.

Set in a North Dakota oil boom, we get a batch of moderately interesting players. Chace Crawford (Gossip Girl) is Billy LeFever, a brash young man with big dreams. Along with his high school sweetheart, and now wife, Cody (Rebecca Rittenhouse, Red Band Society), Billy borrows a lot of money from his family and friends and moves to a town he is sure he can strike it rich in. Once there, he meets tycoon Hap Briggs (Don Johnson, Dash Bridges), who ends up taking a shine to Billy. Hap has his own strong, loving partner, Carla (Amber Valetta, Revenge), and a screw-up son, Wick (Scott Michael Foster, Greek). These two families are the center of BLOOD & OIL, with a few townspeople sprinkled in every once in awhile.

What would make BLOOD & OIL worth your time? Perhaps a slower, more thoughtful arc in which the characters actually have to work for what comes to them. Maybe there could be some challenges we see them struggle to overcome. And perhaps some deep scenes which require more than a surface-level emotion could be added. None of this is evident in the first hour, and I’m not confident any of it will be incorporated into future installments, either.

BLOOD & OIL premieres Sunday, September 27th at 9 p.m. ET on ABC.

QUANTICO Like Grey's For the FBI

Article originally published as QUANTICO Review on Seat42F.

Quantico ABC




Joining veteran Once Upon a Time and new drama Blood & Oil on Sunday nights is QUANTICO. This drama is about a group of FBI recruits training at the famous academy in Virginia. There is a mildly non-linear story structure and plenty of mystery, as well as soapy personal drama as we get to know the characters. Think of it as Grey’s Anatomy meets How to Get Away With Murder, with just a touch of Alias tossed in.


QUANTICO has an ensemble cast, rather than a single lead, but if I were to name the most important person in the pilot, I’d go with Alex Parrish (Priyanka Chopra, Barfi!). Sneaking away from her family to be a member of Quantico’s newest class, Alex is also the subject of the flash forwards that take place in the aftermath of a terrible event nine months in the future, or most likely, the end of the first season. She is intelligent, brave, comfortable with herself, and interesting. She’ll do as someone to root for.

Joining her in classes are: Ryan Booth (Jake McLaughlin, Believe), her love interest who is much too curious about her; Nimah Amin (Yasmine Al Massri, Crossbones), a Muslim woman who is taking advantage of scoring the lone single dorm; Shelby Wyatt (Johanna Braddy, UnREAL), a pretty girl who is very good with guns; Simon Asher (Tate Ellington, The Mindy Project), a busybody gay; and Caleb Haas (Graham Rogers), who has his peers wondering how he got in. There is a seventh member at first, too, but since ABC has not included him in the cast photos, I think it’s safe for me to say he will not remain part of the group, though I won’t spoil why.

Now, a lot of those descriptions are simplistic, but the characters are not. Everyone in QUANITCO is hiding something that’s not obvious, from each cadet, to the administrator, Miranda Shaw (Aunjanue Ellis, The Mentalist), to the instructor (Josh Hopkins, Cougar Town). Each member of the cast quickly begins finding out at least one other person’s secrets, but QUANTICO thrives on what characters don’t know, hard as that might get to track, and I don’t expect anyone will come out into the open soon. Expect the unexpected to happen on a regular basis.

QUANTICO is definitely a sudsy soap, and that’s OK. Personal issues are as much as part of the story as stopping terrorism, and there will surely be numerous hook ups and crushes, besides what is shown in the pilot. It’s a juicy guilty pleasure series, which also has a pretty compelling story, and just enough action.

I would call the show fast-paced, but not too much so. A lot happens, and more will keep happening, but the writers don’t blow everything right away, and it doesn’t move so quickly that developments don’t make sense. It strikes that balance that makes for layered entertainment without requiring too much work. It’s a feat I’ve seen far too many dramas fail at lately, and it’s nice to see one do better.

Which is not to say it’s my new favorite show. The soapy nature does keep the quality down at a mediocre level. I enjoyed this pilot, but there are much more complex dramas with far better actors out there. Still, for ABC, it’s pretty decent, and within its Sunday night lineup, paired with Once Upon a Time and Blood & Oil, it is the best, even if it’s not quite the most original, of the three. I’m willing to give it a couple more hours to see if it can kick itself up a couple of notches, or if it will begin losing steam quickly. Either are realistic possibilities for this show.

QUANTICO premieres Sunday, September 27th at 10 p.m. ET on ABC.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

DOCTOR WHO Not So "Familiar," But Great

Article originally published as TV Review: 'Doctor Who' - 'The Witch's Familiar' on Blogcritics.

BBC’s Doctor Who concluded its two-part season opener this weekend with “The Witch’s Familiar.” The Doctor (Peter Capaldi) is trapped in the heart of the Dalek home world, alone and without hope, especially after a hilarious failed escape attempt. Luckily, his friends aren’t as dead as he believes and are on their way to rescue him. He does need rescue, too, since his heart-to-heart with an old enemy doesn’t have the result it seems to.

The best part of “The Witch’s Familiar” is the interchange between The Doctor and Davros (Julian Bleach). Very old enemies who have fought war and seen genocide together, it seems their connection isn’t all negative in Davros’ final moments of life. They have shared something deep, and there are bound to be mixed emotions in that moment. Davros calls for The Doctor from his death bed and The Doctor, despite millennia of animosity, comes. That means something.

This scene becomes a teary goodbye in which Davros echoes The Doctor’s own question that he struggles with last season, “Am I a good man?” The Doctor can’t exactly say Davros is, nor does he, because Davros created a deadly race that exterminates people; he’s Hitler times a billion. But The Doctor gives him a sympathetic ear and proclaims “We’re on the same side now.” This illustrates The Doctor’s huge capacity for mercy and his dedication to all life, something he passes on in a small way to the Daleks, and he’s not able to kill his enemy when he has the chance.

Of course, Davros is just as evil as everyone thinks he is. There is no last minute turn of the heart, as it appears. This is a trap in which he steals some of The Doctor’s regeneration powers and renews his own life. When this twist comes about, it does feel surprising because Doctor Who has done such a good job in making Davros seem repentant. But it’s surprising that it surprises because the Daleks have always been The Doctor’s most clever and deadly enemy, so as soon as the initial shock wears off, this elicits an “Of course, it’s a trick!” Really, the whole thing is superior storytelling, playing on both emotions and expectations, and making use of a long history in order for a fantastic pay off.

In the meantime, Missy (Michelle Gomez) is able to explain to Clara (Jenna-Louise Coleman) how they’ve escaped what appears to be certain death (and the TARDIS is fine, too), negating the punch of the triple-homicide near the close of the previous episode. Missy then leads Clara through the sewers, where we learn something new about the Daleks, then traps The Doctor’s companion in a Dalek machine so they can break in. It’s a plan that works, but at what expense?

The way Missy continually plays Clara in “The Witch’s Familiar” is different from the way Davros manipulates The Doctor because Missy doesn’t commit to the her new leaf fully. Sure, she calls Clara clever, but she never ceases to taunt Clara or treat her as a lesser. Clara isn’t able to avoid Missy’s trap, but Missy is a lot, lot older and smarter than Clara, and really, being tricked by a Time Lord is nothing to be ashamed of. Missy’s actions just reinforce the fact that she can never be trusted.

The Doctor is furious with Missy when he sees what’s been done to Clara, and tells her to run. The Doctor’s relationship with Missy, like his with Davros, is mostly one of rivalry, but it’s interesting how The Doctor relates to his foes in these two installments. Missy is a more complex character, being one of The Doctor’s own people and not actively committing genocide, even if she cares little or none for others. The Doctor doesn’t feel the need to battle her unless she’s actively working to do harm. In this case, Missy messes with the wrong girl, but The Doctor allows her to leave and will probably cool down over time.

The Doctor manages to get Clara out of the Dalek, but this is a huge disappointment. I’m ready to be done with Clara, anyway, and this seems like such a perfect way to be rid of her. When Clara first meets The Doctor, before we even know her name, she does so from inside a Dalek. Now, with the way the timey-wimey nature of the show works, this might not be how Clara ends up, but it would be perfect symmetry if it is. Though, it occurs to me that perhaps Clara is still inside the Dalek, since Clara isn’t actually shown getting out, and whatever we witness at the end of “The Witch’s Familiar” with her running alongside The Doctor is a trick. One can only hope that will be a reveal in a future episode, the sooner the better.

DW902I am super impressed and confused that The Doctor has traded in a sonic screwdriver for sonic sunglasses. The look Capaldi’s Doctor is sporting this year, the t-shirt with the stripped pants, makes him look like an aging rock star (an apt metaphor for the character at this point), and the sunglasses add nicely to that persona. They don’t seem as convenient as the screwdriver, such as when he puts them on in Davros’ dark chamber, but they’re usually less obvious to use. It’s something completely new for Doctor Who, and after fifty years, such big changes are few and far between, and very welcome.

My only complaint about “The Witch’s Familiar” is that the sound mixing seems very off. It is incredibly hard to understand Davros, and Missy and Clara’s conversations in the sewer get drowned out a lot, too. I don’t know if it is just BBC America’s broadcast of the episode or what, but it is difficult to follow the story in places. I don’t recall this happening before, and hopefully this will not continue in other episodes.

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

Monday, September 28, 2015

THE GOLDBERGS Are "Kick-Ass"

Article first published as TV Review: 'The Golbergs' - 'A Kick-Ass Risky Business Party' on Blogcritics.


GBABC’s The Goldbergs returned last night. In the third season premiere, “A Kick-Ass Risky Business Party,” Adam (Sean Giambrone) tries to sustain a long-distance relationship, causing friction with a rising phone bill, and Lainey (AJ Michalka) learns what it’s like to have Beverly Goldberg (Wendi McLendon-Covey) as a mother. Basically, it’s your average episode of the reliably funny, family-friendly sitcom.

I admit it; I wasn’t entirely impressed when The Goldbergs came onto the scene two years ago. It’s not that it wasn’t good, there were just so many other similar sitcoms like it at the time. Today, some have dropped off, many of them remain, but The Goldbergs is probably the best of the bunch. Every time I sit down to watch, it’s like reconnecting with a close family friend, and the show never fails to both make me feel nostalgic and elicit a few chuckles.

“A Kick-Ass Risky Business Party” highlights once again that the best characters on the show are Beverly and Murray (Jeff Garlin) Goldberg. The rest of the cast is enjoyable, too, but these two veteran comedians just know how to deliver a line and sell a joke, as well as get touching at the right moments. Whether it’s Beverly whipping out her dance moves to break up an out-of-control teen party, or Murray realizing his son is an actual person and connecting with him on an emotional level, every moment these two are on screen is magic. They both bring a number of layers to the roles, their outsize personalities overlaid upon authentic, complex make ups. They can yell or smother, but at the end of the day, you can tell that these characters really love their children.

And sometimes, it can be hard to go on loving your kids. In “A Kick-Ass Risky Business Party,” Barry (Troy Gentile), Erica (Hayley Orrantia), and Lainey are doing what countless teens have done: stage a celebration without parental supervision. While the 80s movie references and sneaking around are amusing, what makes this story hit home is that it’s really about the teens thinking they don’t need their parents, and then discovering that they do. It’s a pivotal maturation point, setting the stage for why Barry and Erica will want to have a relationship with Beverly long after they move out of the house, appreciating what she has done for them and her unconditional love.

Perhaps it’s not a new idea for a sitcom to have an outsider be parented by the core family unit, prompting the existing kids to open their eyes. But just because it’s been done before doesn’t make it any less effective, and it gives Lainey, a fun recurring character, a growth arc, too.

The third child, Adam, isn’t thinking about the price of talking long distance; he just wants to be with his girlfriend, Dana (Natalie Alyn Lind). Now, yes, this is selfish and shows an utter lack of thinking about others. But Adam is young, and he can be forgiven for this, as most people his age are the same. I absolutely love the scene where Pops (George Segal) helps Murray to understand his son, and then Murray lovingly allows Adam the phone time, beyond the ten-minute limit he ‘firmly’ set. It’s a good reminder for parents watching The Goldbergs with their kids about what it’s like to be Adam’s age, and that sometimes, you’ve got to realize what makes your kid happy and provide them the opportunity to be so.

The Golbergs may not be the very best show on television (at least in my opinon), but the show knows exactly what it is, and makes me laugh on a weekly basis, which is more than I can say for a lot of series. I keep coming back because I just have to see what happens with these characters next, and I really think Garlin and McLendon-Covey deserve to be in Emmy contention just as much as the Modern Family ensemble does. There is also a level of reality infused in the show, and one can tell it’s a personal story, which makes it all the better. If you’re not watching The Goldbergs, I definitely recommend checking it out Wednesdays at 8:30 p.m. ET on ABC.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

HEROES REBORN Rises From the Dead

Article originally published as HEROES REBORN Review on Seat42F.

heroes-reborn-zachary-levi

More than five years ago, NBC’s Heroes ended their four-season run with a barely-begun Volume 6, “Brave New World,” and the words To Be Continued… Now, HEROES REBORN finally gives us that “Brave New World,” the title of its first episode back, as it begins a new Volume 1.

Because a number of years have passed since the events of Heroes, the new show can’t just jump right in. We get a series of flashbacks to introduce a number of the new players, as well as a huge, traumatic event that shakes the world. Then, the action picks up one year later, with the world living in fear of the Evos (what those with powers are called), and a fresh batch of heroes in hiding. The one man who may be able to usher them into a new era is the one who resisted attempts to change the world in the first place, and a familiar face.

Yes, Noah Bennet, a.k.a. HRG (for Horn-Rimmed Glasses), is the bridge between Heroes and HEROES REBORN. Having lost his estranged daughter, Claire, in the big attack, Noah (Jack Coleman) is trying to build a new life for himself. But HRG was never one able to sit on the sidelines, and as soon as Quentin Frady (Henry Zebrowski, A to Z) enters his life, it takes little prodding to get him back on track.

HRG is the perfect character to continue the story. He is involved with many of the heroes, but isn’t a hero himself. He also has history with The Company, which is very much a part of the new conspiracy and story. He is the relatable everyman, while also being the mysterious guy in the know. And his presence, a strong one in the new miniseries, is part of the reason that HEROES REBORN feels just like another season of Heroes.

Now, Heroes itself was a mixed bag, but in the early days, it was very good, and HEROES REBORN gets us back to those early days. There’s a lot going on that the audience doesn’t realize and must figure out. There is a high school student just learning how his abilities work. There are a pair of adorable Japanese geeks. There is a man who resists stepping up, but must in order to protect those he cares about. The Haitian (Jimmy Jean-Louis) may hold the answers. Mohinder (Sendhil Ramamurthy) is on the run from the law, presumably framed for something he didn’t do. So yep, pretty much the same stuff.

I mention Mohinder and The Haitian, and both are part of the two-hour premiere, sort of. They are not the only people who get shout-outs from the past, and I’m sure there will be others. One former player, in particular, has a surprising role in the second hour. But like Heroes, which introduced new players each season, HEROES REBORN keeps the world alive and growing, while bringing in fresh elements, with a bit more overhaul than previous new seasons.

There are a bunch of faces we’re seeing for the first time that are quite welcome. Tommy (Robbie Kay, Once Upon a Time) is the aforementioned high schooler who, like Claire, is hunted and must stay in the shadows. Kaye is a very talented young actor, and the perfect choice to continue this tradition. We also meet Luke (Zachary Levi, Chuck) and Joanne Collins (Judith Shekoni, The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part 2), who have lost a son and seek revenge, as well as a mysterious man (Pruitt Taylor Vince, Deadwood), whose intentions are unknown. This grouping is the second big story, aside from HRG’s, that plays into the main mythology.

HEROES REBORN also needs a bit of humor, as Heroes had, and that’s where Miko (Kiki Sukezane, The Yokai King) and Ren (Toru Uchikado) come into play, serving much the same purpose as Hiro and Ando did in the first go-round. They’ll get involved with everyone else, eventually, but first they have their own quest.

Basically, HEROES REBORN re-creates what was great about Heroes, makes good use of its forbearer, and still manages to seem fresh and interesting. I hope this miniseries ends up being the start of another multi-season run, as the initial installments prove that the franchise has plenty of life left in it. As long as this time quality is maintained, perhaps partially by keeping the seasons shortened to thirteen episodes, as this one is, it would be great to get another four years.

HEROES REBORN premieres Thursday, September 24th at 8 p.m. ET on NBC.

Hate the Game, Not THE PLAYER (But You Can Hate The Player, Too)

Article first published as THE PLAYER Review on Seat42F.

The Player - Season Pilot

NBC’s THE PLAYER is about a man caught in a gambling ring. A secretive group has developed a technology to predict crimes, and the rich and powerful bid on whether the crime can be stopped or not. Our hero is recruited to play the good guy in the game, and if they can justify to him morally why he should participate, he may just have a new career. In this case, twisting convention, viewers will be likely to hate the game, not the player.

Based on that description, THE PLAYER isn’t quite like any other series on television, but it has a lot of similarities to other programs. Like Person of Interest or Minority Report, it deals with future crime. And like a whole lot of other series, it is a crime procedural, with a different case being presented each week for the cast to work to stop. So while it does have a couple of things to set it apart, at its core, THE PLAYER isn’t much different from other fare.

The cast is led by Philip Winchester (Strike Back), whose Alex Kane is the archetype of a hero. He is intelligent, strong, fearless, and dedicated to saving lives. Why would somebody like that participate in a game like this? A tragedy early in the pilot rocks Alex, and while it takes the full first hour to get there, he comes to see he can do good, even if he doesn’t quite agree with what is happening. Thankfully, he has his friend, Detective Cal Brown (Damon Gupton, Empire) to try to keep him grounded.

Make no mistake, the game in THE PLAYER is sick. If a person can figure out when crimes are going to occur, they could mobilize authorities to stop them. Instead, the game master, Mr. Johnson (Wesley Snipes, Blade, The Expendables 3), makes it into entertainment and serves the wealthy, not the victims. Mr. Johnson is profiting off of the misery of others, whether the crime is stopped or not. There is little noble about him.

While I root for Alex and jeer Mr. Johnson, there is another main character in the middle that I can’t decide if I should like or not. Cassandra King (Charity Wakefield, Wolf Hall) works for Mr. Johnson, but serves in a capacity to assist Alex. She certainly seems like a nice lady with a good heart, but looking at her career choice, it’s hard to reconcile that with what she does.

That epitomizes the biggest problem that THE PLAYER has going for it. The premise requires a few contortions to try to make sense of it. Character motivation is dubious. Shows that live in the gray areas of morality are often complex and prompt one to think; this one does not, merely asking you to accept the duality of the situation, and then enjoy the fast-paced, violent style. It’s basically an action movie as a weekly series, with the same limitations that genre usually provides.

THE PLAYER isn’t as bad as I thought it would be. While certainly not high-quality, it is entertaining. However, it will get old real quick, and without completely believable characters, it will become more and more difficult to sustain that entertainment over any significant period of time. I feel like this works best as a flash-in-the-pan. For six episodes, I could really get into THE PLAYER. As a twenty-two installments-per-year series, it has very little chance of succeeding, and doesn’t seem worth the effort to stick around and find out if it does, the prize being too minor to cherish.

It has little hope of capturing the viewers used to seeing Parenthood in this time slot, appealing to a completely different group, but since Parenthood wasn’t that high-rated, that’s probably on purpose.

THE PLAYER premieres Thursday, September 24th at 10 p.m. on NBC.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

TV Review: ROSEWOOD is Bad

Article originally published as ROSEWOOD Review on Seat42F.

rosewood-fox




This is my review of FOX’s Rosewood: it is bad. Really bad, wholly unoriginal, and a complete waste of your time. Bad, bad, bad. You can stop reading right now and just skip this one. But if you’d like to know why, and I know many of you want me to back up my opinion with actual information about the show (justifiably so), here’s another 550 or so words about why it’s bad.


First, let’s start with why it’s good. (I tripped you up, didn’t I?) Credit must be given where credit is due, and casting Morris Chestnut as the eccentric lead of the series, Dr. Beaumont “Rosie” Rosewood, Jr., is a good move. I like Morris Chestnut very much, and have enjoyed his work in such programs as Nurse Jackie, American Horror Story, and V. I would happily watch a show in which he is the lead, and the character of Rosie is a fun one in the tradition of Gregory House or Richard Castle.

I also like Lorraine Toussaint (Orange is the New Black) as his mother, Donna, Jaina Lee Ortiz (The Shop), as the cop he works with, Annalise, and love Gabrielle Dennis (The Game) and Anna Konkle (The Escort) as Pippy and Tara, respectively. Pippy is Rosewood’s sister and Tara is Pippy’s fiancé, and both work for Rosewood. So overall, the ensemble is good. And really, few shows fail to put together a good cast these days, with lots of deserving performers out there, working for their chance.

What stinks is the premise. ROSEWOOD is yet another crime show about a quirky private citizen with mad skills who hooks up with law enforcement and helps them solve crimes, even though Rosewood should never be allowed out in the field with the authorities. This is the third review of a series with this premise that I’ve written this week alone, and I’m getting awfully tired of the Big Four networks putting out more and more of these programs that are basically copies of one another. Make something original!

The pilot of ROSEWOOD exemplifies this well. Viewers are introduced to Annalise. Rosewood meets Annalise and there are instant sparks between them. He pushily forces his way into her case, while she tries to stay closed off and keep him out. After he helps her bring the criminal to justice, she softens and definitely seems like she’ll let him assist again in the future.

Now, what sets ROSEWOOD slightly apart from its peers is that most of the main characters are not officers. Annalise is, of course, and her boss, Captain Hornstock (Domenick Lombardozzi, The Wire), who is not much in the pilot, are leads. The other three are more connected to Rosewood than the police. However, since Rosewood runs a pathology business in which he examines bodies and Pippy and Tara work for him, they will still be used to look into the crime, so it doesn’t differentiate itself all that much. In fact, the official website describes this as a medical procedural, so it sounds like the series will highlight the medical aspects of the investigation more, which has already been done by Body of Proof, Bones, and others. Any variations from the basic format of the other shows in the same vein are cosmetic, not substantial.

In short, ROSEWOOD lacks anything to set it apart, other than its talented cast, but many bad shows have talented casts. If it’s going to compete against high-quality fare on cable and streaming platforms, it has to give us something more than case-of-the-week, and it’s not going to. So, it’s yet another disappointment in a broadcast television landscape growing more and more crowded with them. The only good part about this is that I may finally have time for that Buffy re-watch I’ve been craving!

ROSEWOOD premieres Wednesday, September 23rd on FOX.

The Possibilities are LIMITLESS, But the Reality Isn't

Article originally published as LIMITLESS Review on Seat42F.

Limitless CBS PILOT

There are a lot of shows right now popping up to offer continuations of past shows or movies. My review of the disappointing Minority Report posted earlier this week, and now I tackle LIMITLESS, a sequel to the 2011 film of the same name, which starred Bradley Cooper. The show LIMITLESS picks up a few years later with a new young man who finds the NZT drug that allows you access to all of your brain, and other than that, progresses in roughly the same way the big version did.

LIMITLESS stars the excellent Jake McDorman (Greek, Shameless, Live Free or Die Hard) as Brian Sinclair. A failed musician, he receives a pill from his former bandmate and is suddenly able to help his ill father (Ron Rifkin, Alias). The problem is, when Brian goes to find more, he gets pulled into a murder investigation and an illegal drug ring, which soon finds him on the run from the law and worse.

I enjoyed the pilot of LIMITLESS. It does repeat the plot of the movie a tad bit more than I’d like, but it offers a more sympathetic hero than the film; Brian wants to help others, not himself, and it takes us back into the conspiracy presented. Adding Brian’s family as a major element makes the show more than a crime drama, and the really cool return of Eddie Morra (Cooper reprising his role) works in seamlessly for a nice set up.

What I’m concerned about is that LIMITLESS, instead of exploring this deep, rich tapestry, will confine itself to tracking down one lead every week, Brian working with the FBI agents to do so. The reason I think this is the direction that the show will take is because, a.) LIMITLESS airs on CBS, home of the crime procedural, and b.) all of the main characters, save Brian himself, are FBI agents. His terrific family are merely guest stars, and not likely to be the focus of most future installments.

Now, the ensemble assembled is not one to complain about. Brian’s ‘partner,’ Rebecca, is played by Dexter’s Jennifer Carpenter. Along with Hill Harper’s (Covert Affairs) Boyle, she works for Nasreen Awad (Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio, Grimm). These are enjoyable enough actors, and are interesting to watch in the initial installment.

It’s just, how many of these carbon copy shows do we need? I just wrote a review wherein I laid out the premise of a quirky oddball with a special skill who inexplicably is allowed to work cases with the authorities. And that description applies to what feels like half of the scripted dramas on the broadcast networks right now. Do CBS, NBC, and the rest feel like this is a good recipe for long-term success? Because it’s not. A few of these will pop and provide short-term gains, but none will see a long shelf life, nor find passionate fans binge watching for years to come.

LIMITLESS is counting on the movie ‘prequel’ to bring in an existing audience, potentially giving it an edge over a completely original show since there will already be fans out there before the pilot even makes it on air. But if that premise is just going to be contorted into a clone of other works, why is it necessary? And will that audience stick around for very occasional cameos from Cooper? I am inclined to think not, though I could be wrong.

I really wish CBS would get itself on track and make more quality content, like The Good Wife. But it seems like the network is content to help drive the nails into its own coffin, while cable and streaming platforms like AMC and Netflix continue to kick their butt in creativity. Oh, well. CBS has had a good run. Everything must end. LIMITLESS will probably help them reach that finish line.

LIMITLESS premieres September 22nd on CBS, and CBS All-Access subscribers can watch the pilot online now.

Friday, September 25, 2015

You Scream, I Scream, We All Scream For SCREAM QUEENS

Article originally published as SCREAM QUEENS Review on Seat42F.

Scream Queens FOX

FOX’s SCREAM QUEENS is the comedy version of Ryan Murphy’s other, much darker show, American Horror Story. That is the best way to sum up the two hour pilot, which airs next week. It is ridiculous, but intentionally so, satirizing the modern horror film. It isn’t scary, but it isn’t supposed to be. I enjoyed it a great deal.

The most central figure in the first episode is Chanel Oberlin (Emma Roberts, American Horror Story, We’re the Millers), a rich, spoiled brat who is head of the Kappa sorority due to the untimely death of the previous president. Supported by her minions, Chanel #2 (singer Ariana Grande), Chanel #3 (Billie Lourd), and Chanel #5 (Abigail Breslin, Little Miss Sunshine, Zombieland), whose real names she refuses to learn, Chanel is determined to not only rule the school, but become a successful television journalist.

Of course, SCREAM QUEENS isn’t going to make it easy for her. First, Dean Munsch (Jamie Lee Curtis, Halloween, New Girl) decrees that the sorority must accept all pledges, no matter how pathetic (enter Glee’s Lea Michele, among others). Then, Chanel’s boyfriend, Chad Radwell (Glen Powell, The Dark Knight Rises), decides he can’t be with her if she’s no longer popular, due to the dean’s decision. Oh, and then of course there’s a serial killer starting to pick people off, mainly girls in and around the sorority. So there’s that, though that isn’t Chanel’s main concern.

Roberts is fantastic as Chanel, channeling her previous AHS Madison character, but without the depth. No matter what happens, nothing phases Chanel, nor makes her care about others. She is what she is. And what she is is a perfect match for Curtis, who is an equal in the amazing department. I could watch SCREAM QUEENS even if it were just the two of them going head to head. Every scene they are in is magic.

SCREAM QUEENS boasts a large cast (required to keep the body count going), and while Roberts and Curtis essentially own the spotlight, others manage to steal it for brief, wonderful moments, which come more and more frequently as the pilot goes on. Of particular note is Boone (singer Nick Jonas), who has an extremely memorable bedroom scene. But others, including national sorority president Gigi Caldwell (Nasim Pedrad, Saturday Night Live), security guard Denise Hemphill (Niecy Nash, Reno 911!), and “white mammy” Ms. Bean (Jan Hoag, Wild) also make good use of their chance to pop.

Honestly, where the plot drags is when the focus shifts to the ‘normal’ hero of the piece, Grace Gardner (Skyler Samuels, The Nine Lives of Chloe King), and her would-be boyfriend and wannabe journalist, Pete Martinez (Diego Boneta, Rock of Ages). I guess every horror movie has this type of character, and presumably they will be the ones to stop the killer. But I’m not sure they’re needed in a piece that subverts convention so much. If anything, they just drag the show down a bit. Hopefully, they, too, will be used in unexpected ways later in the season.

That being said, overall, I still think SCREAM QUEENS is great. If you don’t understand at first what the mission of the program is and instead take it seriously, you may be confused and disappointed. Once you embrace the utter lunacy and twist on archetype of many of the characters, though, it becomes very enjoyable. Ryan Murphy has taken his earnest cartoonishness of the best parts of Glee and mixed it with what he knows of horror from doing AHS to create something memorable and unique. In an age where horror is all over the television set, this is something original and different.

Plus, I just can’t wait to see who dies next and Chanel’s reaction to it!

SCREAM QUEENS premieres Tuesday, September 22nd at 8 p.m. ET on FOX.

The Return of THE MUPPETS

Article originally published as THE MUPPETS Review on Seat42F.

The-Muppets




THE MUPPETS are back! The franchise that has spawned more than half a dozen feature films and a number of television specials and TV shows in the past are once again on the small screen on a weekly basis. From Bill Prady (The Big Bang Theory) and Bob Kushell (Anger Management) comes a contemporary look at everyone’s favorite felt characters.


The premise for the new show is simple enough. Miss Piggy (herself; just kidding, though the show would like you to think so) has become the first female late night host on Up Late With Miss Piggy. Kermit, now her ex-boyfriend, is the producer, Fozzie serves as the sidekick, and The Electric Mayhem provide the house band. The rest of the Muppets work on the show, including Kermit’s new girlfriend, Denise (who is also a pig, by the way). So the group has a natural reason to come together, and the late night show is a good way to bring on lots of celebrity guest stars easily.

The format is a bit different from past efforts in that it’s basically The Office. It’s a documentary-style piece, and the politics behind-the-scenes call to mind a certain paper company, though with the Muppets’ trademark humor. Basically, it is made to feel like many other sitcoms currently on the air, which is where its ‘modern’ sensibility claim comes in.

Earlier this summer, I had the opportunity to preview the ten minute presentation that sold this show to ABC. In that version, the Muppets come back together to remake The Muppet Show, and Miss Piggy, who was starring in films, has to be coaxed to join in. I am disappointed at the changes made in the official first episode because it makes the story more pedestrian to remove the crazy antics of The Muppet Show from the set up. However, it does make more sense for Piggy to have success and it’s nice she isn’t coming back to work over a man. The new pilot emphasizes her independent spirit, a key component of the character that can’t be overlooked in this age. Plus, a lot of the good jokes from that presentation are retained.

Overall, I like, don’t love, THE MUPPETS (though I loved the ten minute video). So far, that is. The first episode focuses on Piggy’s feud with Elizabeth Banks (herself) and Fozzie trying to impress his girlfriend’s (Riki Linhome) father (Jere Burns), while the second sees Kermit trying to help Piggy find love with Josh Groban (himself). The second is superior because of funnier bits, but both point to where the show might go.

Both of these stories are relatively tame and typical of modern sitcoms, and can be found on any other show. That’s OK; The Muppets have never been entirely original in their plots. However, what makes them so special is the personalities of the individual characters, and when the story mostly focuses on Kermit and Piggy trying to work together after a break up, it drags things down. If future installments instead commit to playing up the zany aspects of all of the other characters, which the second episode does better, it will improve and get back to what fans of the franchise want.

We also want Kermit and Piggy together, of course. It’s fine to keep them apart from a time to force drama and forward momentum, but this can’t be a series-long arc. They both clearly still care deeply for one another, and Kermit replacing Piggy with a skinner pig (never mind that she’s nicer) won’t sit well with many. Hopefully, this story gets gone through quickly and THE MUPPETS gets back to the essential heart of The Muppets.

THE MUPPETS premieres Tuesday, September 22nd at 8 p.m. ET on ABC.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

GOTHAM's Gordon is "Damned"

Article originally published as GOTHAM Season 2 Premiere Preview on Seat42F.

GOTHAM: Gordon (Benjamin McKenzie) in the “Damned if you Do,… ” Season Two premiere of GOTHAM airing Monday, Sept. 21 (8:00-9:00 PM ET/PT) on FOX. ©2015 Fox Broadcasting Co. Cr: Nicole Rivelli/FOX

FOX’s GOTHAM is back! I just watched the first episode, “Damned If You Do…,” and I have to say, I’m really pumped about the new season. Since you may be reading this prior to the hour airing, I’m going to do my absolute best to tease without outright spoiling, but take it from me, this sophomore premiere is great!

First, when last we leave Jim Gordon (Ben McKenzie), he is reeling from a showdown with a bunch of villains and the turning of his ex, Barbara (Erin Richards), into a murderer. “Damned If You Do…” picks up about a month later, and things have only gotten worse for Gordon. Bullock (Donal Logue) is no longer with the force and Commissioner Loeb (Peter Scolari) is fully back in power. It’s not a good place for Gordon to be, and if he wants to restore a status quo or find a better life for himself, Jim is going to have to go to The Penguin (Robin Lord Taylor) for help. We all know what a bad idea that is.

GOTHAM toys a bit with the line between good and bad in its first season; Bullock, especially, straddles the gray. But never is Jim stepping so precariously as he is in the season premiere. I doubt this will be the last time. The Batman franchise has always thrived in the darkness, with heroes willing to put their morals on hold for the greater good. It makes for rich character material, and “Damned If You Do…” has some of the best in the show so far, and I’m not just talking about Jim here.

The Penguin is having pretty much the opposite life as Jim. With Fish Mooney, Sal Maroni, and Carmine Falcone gone, he has little competition for the city. Along with Butch (Drew Powell, now a series regular) and Zsasz (Anthony Carrigan), few can stand in Oswald’s way. For now.

Who rules GOTHAM is fluid, as viewers see in the freshman run. While on top at the moment, The Penguin is far from alone in the city. Nygma (Cory Michael Smith) is still facing what he has done, and Barbara isn’t exactly a saint any more. Viewers also get to meet some of the new cast members, as Theo (James Frain, True Detective, Grimm) and Tabitha Galavan (Jessica Lucas, Gracepoint, Cult) make an entrance, Jerome (Cameron Monaghan) returns, and a few newbies pop up, including one very cartoonish, very entertaining personality that is not from the comics.

GOTHAM is a city teetering on the edge. If it seems like there are more bad guys than good, that’s because there are. A lot more. Villains keep joining the scene in every episode, and Jim can only do so much. We know Batman is years away from entering the picture, even as Bruce (David Mazouz) gets ever closer to his destiny, so things will get worse before they get better. “Damned If You Do…” shows us some of that, but I think we’re merely scratching the surface of what this season will be.

Speaking of Bruce, he’s changing, too. Part of me hopes that GOTHAM will not wait for him to reach adulthood before allowing him to don the cape. It has made other changes to the traditional lore, Barbara’s descent being one of them, and I wouldn’t mind if it takes a different approach. I know Batman is on the big screen right now, but surely the character can be shared with this very different project? Mazouz has a very original take on the role, showing the awkward, teenage years that are usually glossed right over.

Other things of note in this episode include a good moment for Essen (Zabryna Guevara), a new role for Selina (Camren Bicondova), yet another chilling scene for The Penguin, and a heart-wrenching letter that perfectly sums up some of the themes of the program, so much so that I considered quoting some of the text in the review, but chose not to for fear of spoiling something really cool.

GOTHAM is a unique show that deftly balances a great many characters. It’s impressive to see something to complex and deep on the broadcast networks, and I’m pleased it’s finding an audience. In a time where superhero stuff is everyone, this show manages to find its own niche that no one else is intruding on. I can’t wait to see what happens next.

GOTHAM begins its second year September 21st of FOX.

MINORITY REPORT Misfiled

Article originally published as MINORITY REPORT Review on Seat42F.

Minority-Report-ep-2_hires2

Let’s play a game. I’m going to describe a television show and you guess which one I’m talking about. An eccentric person with a skill who is not at all in law enforcement teams up with a smart cop who bends the rules and shows the person the ropes, even though that puts them in danger. Every week, the two solve another crime together, probably a murder, and do it better than anyone else can. No, I’m not talking about Castle. Nope, not Bones, either. Nor is it The Mentalist, Sleepy Hollow, White Collar, Almost Human, Psych, Monk, or a wealth of other shows you could name that fit the description.

The show I’m talking about today is MINORITY REPORT, based on the Steven Spielberg movie. Now, I use the word ‘based’ loosely because the film features one character working against a corrupt system to clear his name. Like it or not (personally, I found it good, not great), it is an interesting concept taking place in a world created specifically for that tale.

I get that making MINORITY REPORT into a case-of-the-week, standard-fare, wholly-unoriginal crime procedural makes sense. The PreCogs in the movie see a murder before it happens, so it would seem a natural fit for the mold, with the twist being that the cops stop the crimes before they happen, giving them a chance to interact with the victim, though everything else remains basically in-formula.
Imagine if you will, though, a better concept. A show about rebellion or a changing world or the little guy fighting against the bad guy in a sweeping war. That would be something to get excited about. (It exists, in fact, and it’s called Mr. Robot.) Sadly, FOX’s MINORITY REPORT television show is not it.

The pitch is simple. Dash (Stark Sands, NYC 22), one of the PreCogs, ventures into Washington D.C. ten years after the pre-crime program is scrapped. He begins having visions of murder, but being the weakest of the three, doesn’t have enough info to figure things out himself. Enter Detective Lara Vega (Meagan Good, Deception), a capable cop who is having trouble getting ahead. Obviously, Dash could help her build a reputation for herself, though she’s wise to convince him he might need help from his brother, Arthur (Nick Zano, 2 Broke Girls), to get clearer visions.

Now, admittedly, Arthur is the wild card that makes MINORITY REPORT a little bit different. He joined society some time ago and has built a business for himself. (The third sibling, Agatha (Laura Regan, Mad Men) is still on ‘the island’ and thinks they should keep to themselves.) But he agrees to assist, for a price to be discussed later, so is the consultant Dash and Vega stop by for a brief conversation with just before they run off to confront the bad guy.

MINORITY REPORT could be good. The pilot introduces a storyline with a former pre-crime officer, Peter Van Eyck (Andrew Stewart-Jones, Gotham), who has an idea for a new crime-stopping technology. It may or may not be coincidence he shares a last name with the eyeball-replacer’s assistant from the film. And the one actor who bridges the two, Daniel London, reprises his role as Wally the Caretaker. But seemingly more central is Vega’s cop rival, Will Blake (Wilmer Valderrama, That 70s Show), so that seems to indicate to me that the focus is on the repetitive stuff, not what makes MINORITY REPORT special.

That being said, if you like a good turn-your-brain-off, paint-by-numbers crime procedural, and lots of people do, MINORITY REPORT does that with cool special effects and a futuristic setting. That wasn’t enough for Almost Human (a superior show), but perhaps it will be for this one.

MINORITY REPORT premieres September 21st on FOX.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

LIFE IN PIECES Holds Together Well

Article originally published as LIFE IN PIECES Review on Seat42F.

Life In Pieces Cast CBS




Every once in awhile, a family sitcom comes along that just feels fantastic. The most recent was Modern Family, the first such program to do the mockumentary style, and now comes LIFE IN PIECES, a single-camera show that feels a bit more poignant than its peers, at least at the start, with a truly terrific ensemble, bridging the gap between dramas like Parenthood and comedy.


LIFE IN PIECES revolves around a couple in their 70s, their three children, and the families of those children, all undergoing major transitions in their lives. The half hour is split into four pieces, one for each couple, and through the short vignettes, reminds us of what life is about. It’s hard to tell a moving story in roughly five minutes, but this show manages to do so four times over, and by keeping them so short, leaves material for future, fresh episodes on the same topics.

In the pilot, John (James Brolin, Pensacola: Wings of Gold, Catch Me If You Can) decides to stage a mock funeral for his seventieth birthday. His loved ones have varied reactions to the event, but it’s his wife, Joan (Dianne Wiest, In Treatment, I Am Sam), who is the most affected, as one might expect, as while the couple isn’t near death, it’s something they’ll have to think about sooner rather than later.

Son Matt (Thomas Sadoski, The Newsroom) is at the opposite end of the spectrum, just beginning to date Colleen (Angelique Cabral, Enlisted), who is still living with her ex (Jordan Peele, Key & Peele), so they haven’t yet begun their lives together. Other son Greg (Colin Hanks, Fargo) has just become a father for the first time with wife Jen (Zoe Lister Jones, Whitney). Daughter Heather (Betsy Brandt, Breaking Bad) is sad about her kids growing up, as her son, Tyler (Niall Cunningham), looks at colleges, daughter, Samantha (Holly J. Barrett), has her first period, and daughter, Sophia (Giselle Eisenberg, The Wolf of Wall Street), becomes disillusioned about Santa Claus. Too bad her husband, Tim (Dan Bakkedahl, Legit), isn’t much help.

As you can see, LIFE IN PIECES is not just a Modern Family retread. For one thing, only one of the four couples has kids that can be a part of the plot. For another, the topics they are tackling are a little more mature and complex. That makes the show a little less frivolous, and a bit more mature, than its peer.

(For the record, I’m not knocking Modern Family; I still love that show. I’m just illustrating the differences.)

The material is genuinely funny, and the performances are what you would expect from such a strong cast. In twenty-minutes, I was moved numerous times by the trials and frustrations of life. It’s relatable because LIFE IN PIECES shows us things most people go through, but it’s also emotional, as life is just a series of pieces, and these are the important ones to hang onto, or that will be remembered. It’s this insight, not novel, but still vital, that makes the show so good.

Obviously, one episode is not enough to judge a show on, and it would be hard to deliver four pivotal bits every single week, twenty-two weeks a year, for seasons on end. But the way LIFE IN PIECES approaches its topics, big moments, but just a part of lives constantly moving, sets up a repeatable format and a way to keep things going. The immediate aftermath of Jen coming home from the hospital, for one, is important, but there will be many other important bits in that first year, and new things the couple must go through. It gets a little gross, like life, but remains relevant and compelling.

I’m excited about LIFE IN PIECES and am already setting a season pass on my TiVo. I’m usually terrible at predicting which shows will do well and which ones won’t, so I’ll just say that I hope this one catches on. I want to still be watching it five years from now.

LIFE IN PIECES premieres Monday, September 21st at 8:30 p.m. ET on CBS.

BLINDSPOT in Production

Article originally published as BLINDSPOT Review on Seat42F.

Blindspot Jamie Alexander as Jane Doe




NBC’s BLINDSPOT has an intriguing opening. A naked woman, covered in tattoos, is found in a bag in Times Square. She has no memory of who she is, what happened to her, or how she got all the tattoos, which were done recently. But some of the ink on her body holds clues, both to her past, and to future crimes.


Unfortunately, BLINDSPOT is not nearly as cool as its premise. The muck ups start early in the pilot when agent Kurt Weller (Sullivan Stapleton, Strike Back) is called on the scene. His name is on the girl’s back, and yet he is placed in charge of the case. I understand why Mayfair (Marianne Jean-Baptiste, Without a Trace), the boss, would want him involved, given his connection, even if no one can explain why his name is there yet. But surely it presents a conflict of interest to have him running the investigation?

Then, Kurt brings the woman (Jaimie Alexander, Thor, Kyle XY), whom he suddenly begins calling Jane (as in Jane Doe) mid-episode, with him into the field. Not only that, she gets to go into dangerous buildings and be near bombs. That she ends up being capable of handling herself and lending the team support is of no consequence. She is an unknown quantity and not an agent, so should not be allowed out.

I admit, the central mystery is intriguing. There are lots of tidbits sprinkled into the episode to hint at Jane’s story without giving too much away. A flashback or two is quite illuminating, and I am left wanting to know more about her and what is going on.

However, the approach BLINDSPOT makes feels forced and false. It is trying too hard to craft a puzzle, merely tossing up the façade of a deep, serial drama. It resembles high quality programming, but fails to live up to the high bar itself. A showdown in a familiar setting seems completely artificial, favoring style above substance.

There are many good things going on with BLINDSPOT. Alexander is terrific, and while it takes a bit of time to warm up to Stapleton, I get what he’s doing and appreciate it. The supporting cast, which includes the delightful Ashley Johnson (The Killing) and Rob Brown (Treme), is enjoyable. The production builds suspense appropriately, and manages to toss in a few unexpected surprised.

But at the end of the day, BLINDSPOT has plot holes and some weak elements, as mentioned above, that bring it down. It also seems very likely to be a procedural, with the core mystery only being brought out in little bits, most of the hours being devoted to tracking down individual criminals who will see justice before the ending credits roll.

What’s more, because of the obvious weaknesses in setting up the main plot, I have little confidence that things will be concluded in a satisfactory manner. The first tattoo on Jane leads to an immediate danger, but how can the others possibly be laid out to take her from one event to the next? That would require a TON of knowledge of the future, and this show lacks the supernatural bend necessary to make that work. So I’m left assuming that the writers don’t have a clear idea of where they are going, or even if they do, they’ll take short cuts that don’t make sense, as they did in getting Jane and Kurt out into the field together so quickly.

If the total sum of programming in the world were still confined to the broadcast networks, there is no question that I would consider BLINDSPOT one of this fall’s series to look forward to; even with its flaws, it is far more creative and interesting than most of the fare on the Big Four. But living in the age of a multitude of choices on cable and streaming outlets, this one fails to make the cut, outshined by many, many higher quality choices.

BLINDSPOT premieres next Monday at 10 p.m. ET on NBC.

Monday, September 21, 2015

DOCTOR WHO No "Apprentice" to Greatness

Article originally published as TV Review: 'Doctor Who' - 'The Magician's Apprentice' at Blogcritics.

O. M. G. That is my reaction to Doctor Who‘s ninth series premiere (of the modern run), “The Magician’s Apprentice,” which aired last night on BBC America. A fan of the franchise, old and new, I’ve had my share of complaints about the series this past year and a half, as regular readers of this column may know. Those complaints are nowhere to be found in this premiere, though, which is excellent! It ties the old Who into the new, answers a very old question, and provides for plenty of surprises, all while posing the most massive moral dilemma that The Doctor has ever faced – and that’s saying something!

D1First, a quick recap of events. The Doctor (Peter Capaldi) sees a boy trapped by hand mines (which are literally what they sound like). Back to the present, all the airplanes freeze in the sky over Earth. Kate Lethbridge-Stewart (Jemma Redgrave) and UNIT can’t find The Doctor, and so call Clara (Jenna-Louise Coleman) for help. Clara has no answers, but proposes they solve things on their own, which proves a bit complicated when the problem turns out to be Missy (Michelle Gomez). Nope, The Doctor’s Time Lord foe is not dead, but no time for that now; The Doctor believes he is about to die. Missy and Clara rush to his rescue, and all three fall into a trap laid by Davros (Julian Bleach, last appearing in 2008), the creator of the Daleks. The Daleks execute Missy, Clara, AND the Tardis, and now The Doctor is back with the child, who it turns out is Davros. Can The Doctor murder him and restore everyone he cares about?

That’s a lot, and there’s plenty to dissect. Let’s get started.

First, it is awesome to see Kate again, and I love the idea that UNIT is going to face a crisis on their own. Obviously, they probably do this all the time, but to see them bravely go up against Missy is thrilling. It’s heart-wrenching when they watch her kill two of their men and can’t kill her in return, but it makes sense, she being the key to finding The Doctor, who will likely be needed to save the entire world again in the future. Basically, this whole showdown gives me major thrills, and is moving as it compelling. I want more of UNIT please.

Second, Clara has dropped all pretense of her secret Earth identity. When the planes freeze in the sky, she recruits her class to help investigate. Then, Kate calls her at work, and Clara has no problem telling her boss she needs time off and rushing away, offering no excuses. It has been said in the press that this season finds Clara losing her connection to her planet and identity, and in “The Magician’s Apprentice,” she’s starting already pretty isolated.

Third, I love the idea that Missy, often known as The Master, is The Doctor’s best friend. Companions come and go over the years, but she is constant. They may try to kill one another, but in Missy’s twisted brain, that doesn’t take away from their deep connection. I do want to get back to why Missy is alive and still in this form, but I can wait for a future episode to find out. The current stakes are high enough to ask the audience to wait for an explanation, and witnessing Missy and The Doctor’s interchange is justification enough to bring her back.

Then, we lose Missy, Clara, and the Tardis. I’m not going to lie, I wouldn’t miss Clara if she died here. I’ve made no secret that I don’t like the character, and while it’s not entirely because of her, Doctor Who has been weaker ever since she became the companion (not counting her first appearance and initial Christmas episode). But issues with Clara aside, to make The Doctor bear witness to all this very personal loss is gut-wrenching. Davros could not strike a worse blow against his foe and he knows it. It’s his final offensive before his own death, and it’s super effective.

D2Getting the bit with the boy, whom The Doctor could rescue but abandons instead, rewrites all of Doctor Who history, in a good way. The Daleks show up extremely early in the original show, and have plagued The Doctor for years. They are the ones that destroy his people (well, with help from The Doctor himself), and they have always been a bit obsessed with The Doctor. Now we know why and it all makes sense. It feels really good to learn something that forces a change in perspective for fifty-plus years of television, and it’s brilliant to bring it up now. Plus, the glimpses of past doctors and a poignant line from Tom Baker’s version make this exchange extremely memorable.

But will The Doctor kill the boy, and what would that mean? The Doctor has been able to bring himself to murder an entire race before, so we know he has the dark capacity to kill. But having to stare a little boy in the face and pull the trigger could be another matter completely, no matter what’s at stake. It’s like asking someone to assassinate Hitler as a youth, great in theory, but hard to carry out in the moment for most of us. The boy hasn’t done anything yet. Can The Doctor really condemn him to death?

And what if The Doctor does kill him? That is the only logical way to bring Missy, Clara, and the Tardis back, the latter of which cannot possibly be left dead. But by slaying young Davros, what will that do to The Doctor’s history? What will it change? There’s no telling ahead of time because of the timey-wimey nature of time travel and this series. It could provider great story fodder for years to come.

“The Magician’s Apprentice” is awesome for all of these things and more. It makes one think, it provides a beautiful character moment for our lead, and it pays tribute to rich history. Doctor Who is an intricate series, with the twelve Doctors all interwoven, and never more so than right now. By beginning the season with such an important, seminal story that means so much, the series has proven it is worth watching again and deserving of its popularity. Waiting a week to see the resolution of this cliffhanger will be challenging, indeed.

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

Sunday, September 20, 2015

HOMELAND - THE COMPLETE FOURTH SEASON Review

Article originally published as Blu-ray Review: ‘Homeland – The Complete Fourth Season’ on Blogcritics.

Season four was a chance to start over for Showtime’s Homeland. With Nicholas Brody (Damian Lewis), one of the leads of the first few seasons, and his family and friends dropped from the cast, the show was allowed to refocus on Carrie Mathison (Claire Danes) and the activities of the CIA. For a series whose quality was beginning to suffer, being able to hit the reset button reinvigorated the storytelling and the characters. And while this fourth year didn’t quite hit the highs of the first (though I don’t expect Homeland to ever match that outstanding freshman run), it did outshine the past two years and make itself good again. This pivotal batch of installments, The Complete Fourth Season, is now available on Blu-ray and DVD.

H4Carrie herself, the core of the show, does not change much in season four. She’s still a mess, pursuing her righteous cause while ticking off authority. She really pushes the boundaries of what viewers will be able to overlook and still like her. She still doesn’t follow the rules, and while she does get the job done, the ends don’t always justify the means.

Take, for instance, the new character this year of Ayaan Ibrahim (Suraj Sharma, who played the title character in Life of Pi), a young Middle Eastern man whose family and friends are killed in a drone strike in the season opener. Carrie approaches him and does what she feels she must to win him over, which crosses a line most people would not cross. In her new position as station chief in Pakistan, she can’t be doing that. She must set a good example.

Of course, Carrie is not alone, and Homeland once more builds an interesting tapestry, rather than just putting one person front and center. The aforementioned Ayaan is a complex, layered character, giving a personal face to the ‘other side.’ Because his frame of reference is so far removed from most viewers, he ends up being an unpredictable story, one hitting home in a time when the morality of drone strikes is hotly debated. Quinn (Rupert Friend) has a parallel storyline as Ayaan’s, but from the American perspective. Senator Andrew Lockhart (Tracy Letts, playwright of August: Osage County) is a new obstacle, the (necessary) stereotype that wants to sweep mistakes under the rug. Carrie’s sister, Maggie (Amy Hargreaves) becomes more vital to the story because she is now raising Carrie and Brody’s baby.

Saul (Mandy Patinkin) is second in importance only to Carrie, and more beloved. His journey through The Complete Fourth Season is even more gripping than hers. On the outside now, trying to settle down with his wife, Mira (Sarita Choudhury), one might think Saul is done with the crazy life of the CIA. That person would be wrong, of course, and it doesn’t take him, always restless, long to get drawn into the same events that Carrie is involved with. This plot contrivance may be a bit of a stretch, but it doesn’t feel like it the way Homeland does it, and fans want to see Carrie and Saul together, anyway.

In short, I do think The Complete Fourth Season is probably the second best year of the show so far, and certainly makes me look forward to the fifth season, premiering in October.

If you’re going to watch Homeland – The Complete Fourth Season, I have to recommend going Blu-ray. The Middle Eastern setting often brings our characters outside, and high definition gives depth to the shadows and allows greater detail in the unforgiving light. During the bloody action scenes, the sound is well mixed, and if you have surround sound (these discs are 5.1) and a big enough television, it can feel like you’re right in the muck with our heroes.

The special features are a little lighter than I’d like this year. We get some deleted scenes and character profiles on Quinn, Khan (Raza Jaffrey), and Sherazi (Nazanin Boniadi), as well as three “Script to Screen” featurettes. And that’s it. I really wish for some discussion about the new direction, comparisons to real life conflict, and a look at how Carrie has developed. Instead, what we get is pretty much fluff filler, and that’s disappointing. The latter does deal a bit with writing and production, but not enough.

Still, the story is good, and Homeland remains an enjoyable program.

Homeland – The Complete Fourth Season is available now.

Friday, September 18, 2015

MOONBEAM CITY, Where The Girls Are Pretty (By 1980s Standards)

Article first published as MOONBEAM CITY Review on Seat42F.

rad moonbeam city comedy central
Comedy Central’s newest cartoon comedy is MOONBEAM CITY. Set in the metropolis named in the title, which has heavy Miami overtones to it, the show follows local cops as they struggle with the criminals who are ruining their beloved town. But the cops aren’t the slightest bit competent, nor are the criminals, really, and the results are humorous.

MOONBEAM CITY boasts a very impressive cast. The lead is Dazzle Novak (Rob Lowe, Parks and Recreation), who is very reminiscent of FX’s Archer, inept and over-sexed, but the star of the police force because of blind luck and charm. Dazzle is assisted by Chrysalis Tate (Kate Mara, House of Cards), who wants to stop getting coffee and start firing guns, which she already is much more skilled at than Dazzle. Dazzle’s rival on the force is Red Cunningham (Will Forte, Last Man on Earth), who is jealous of the hero, but slightly less effective. This motley crew is overseen by the put-upon Captain Pizzaz Miller (Elizabeth Banks, The Hunger Games), who has little patience for their antics, but seems hesitant to actually fire them.

Now if those names sound like something out of the 1980s, they are far from the only thing ripped from the era in this show. MOONBEAM CITY seems to be set in that decade, and the colors (neon), lighting (blinds), and music (synthetic) all reinforce the style, as does the clothing and overall design. The faces are super white, and only a portion of the spectrum is used, but it’s all very consistent with the overall tone of the piece.

To give you an idea of the type of bizarre, twisted stories the show seeks to tell, the pilot finds Dazzle hunting a kingpin he accidentally allows to ascend to that stature. But Dazzle gets distracted by a pretty girl playing chimes in a mall. (Yes, in keeping with the 80s trend, malls are very popular.) Dazzle commits himself to being her manager, which he does out of police headquarters, and only because of the kingpin’s ridiculous hobby does Dazzle even cross paths with his query. Could the whole thing be an elaborate scheme by Dazzle to catch his query? Nah; he’s just not that smart.

I’m sure MOONBEAM CITY will be a case-of-the-week procedural. It has already established the world and the format that it will likely be repeated in installment after installment as Dazzle tangles with many different villains.

This is where MOONBEAM CITY is sure to fall short of its closest rival, Archer. Archer thrives because it makes the viewer care about the characters, building a funny ensemble that make the show as much a workplace comedy as it is about spying. Over time, the players because far more important than the situations. MOONBEAM CITY has the potential to do this, with the criminal sort of ignored in the pilot, and the four leads being fantastic in their own right, but shows no signs of committing to putting character above story, at least not yet.

That being said, it’s still a humorous romp. There aren’t really any laugh-out-loud moments or quotable lines, but I enjoyed watching the half hour, and will probably tune in again. I’m impressed by the overall production, if not many of the specifics, and it deserves a chance to find itself and grow into whatever it’s going to be. It’s clear it doesn’t know what that is from the get go, but it has the right ingredients to get there without having to add new elements, so that’s a good start.

MOONBEAM CITY premieres Wednesday, September 16th on Comedy Central.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

THE BASTARD EXECUTIONER Slays

Article originally published as THE BASTARD EXECUTIONER Review on Seat42F.

The Bastard Executioner

THE BASTARD EXECUTIONER, premiering this week on FX, is the much-anticipated project from Kurt Sutter, whose Sons of Anarchy recently completed its celebrated run. This isn’t just another drama about bikers, though; THE BASTARD EXECUTIONER is a historical (fictional) drama set in 1400s Northern Wales, under the rule of King Edward II. If that description of a medieval period piece turns off those who enjoyed Sutter’s previous work, keep in mind the new show’s title, as it is every bit as brutal and violent as the former.

The titular Bastard Executioner is Wilkin Brattle (Lee Jones, Slut: The Musical). A soldier under Edward I, Wilkin has retired from the service and tries to live a nonviolent existence with a wife, starting a family and becoming a farmer. He wants to put his awful past behind him. But within the two-hour pilot, Wilkin is thrust into events beyond his control, as many great heroes are, and will find himself forced to wield a weapon once more, if he wants to go on living. His is the central struggle of the series, and he is an interesting, if familiar, character.

The entire story is complex and many-faceted. We have the characters in Wilkin’s village, including his wife, Petra (Elen Rhys, World War Z), his best friend, Toran Princhard (Sam Spruell, The Last Ship), and animal-loving (grown) orphan, Ash y Goedwig (Darren Evans, Galavant). We also have those of more noble birth, such as Baron Erik Ventris (Brian F. O’Byrne, Aquarius), his wife, Lady Love (Flora Spencer-Longhurst, Leonardo), and their chamberlain / adviser Milus Corbett (Stephen Moyer, True Blood). There are those that serve the wealthy, like Isabel Kiffin (Sarah White) and Luca Maddox (Ethan Griffiths), those who run in their circles, like Father Ruskin (Timothy V. Murphy, True Detective), and those who head up other factions, like Gruffudd y Blaidd (Matthew Rhys, The Americans.) Plus, society has a fringe in the form of witchy woman Annora of the Alders (Katey Sagal, Futurama, Sons of Anarchy, and Sutter’s real-life wife) and her protector, The Dark Mute (Sutter himself). So, as you can see, even if multiple of those mentioned don’t make it past the first two hours, there is really a lot going on. And this is not the full cast list by any means.

That actually makes it a bit hard to get into. I spent most of the pilot just trying to keep everyone straight and figure out what was going on. However, while dense, the script does lend itself to helping one along. The two-hour running time of the initial installment is welcome, providing plenty of opportunity to get to know people right away, and even the more minor characters have clear motivations, so they seem like a valuable part of the world, making you want to learn more about them. It took effort, but by the end of the initial offering, I was invested in the tale.

The setting is impressive. A village was built in Wales, and the production uses a mostly British cast for authenticity. This means you don’t have to worry about which part of California they tried to convert into a British locale. While it’s hard to nail all the details of such a long-ago time, and Sutter admits that’s why he didn’t even attempt to shape speech patterns, it does feel like a consistent, fully-realized world.

I will warn you, this is definitely not for children. I mentioned brutal violence in the first paragraph, and I probably undersold it. There are multiple disturbing, gruesome scenes that go further than anything I’ve ever seen on a basic cable series. There is nudity, too, and not just a butt, as FX is occasionally known to do, though it doesn’t occur nearly as often as on an HBO show. So please, watch this after your kids go to bed.

The one thing THE BASTARD EXECUTIONER is missing is a solid hook. Wilkin is interesting enough, and there are not any obvious weak points in the cast. But neither are there a lot of stand-out characters, save perhaps Annora and The Dark Mute. Game of Thrones, for instance, has personalities like Jon Snow, Tyrion Lannister, Jaime Lannister, Cersei Lannister, Brienne of Tarth, Daenerys Targaryen, and many more that suck one in and motivate viewers to come back. Wilkin and Milus are intriguing, but they don’t have the same level of magnetism, and because of that, I’m not really excited about the show. This can develop in time, though, and overall, it is well made, so I’ll give it a chance.

THE BASTARD EXECUTIONER premieres September 15th on FX.