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Thursday, November 26, 2015

THE WALKING DEAD Messes "Up"

Article originally published as TV Review: 'The Walking Dead' - 'Heads Up' on Blogcritics.

twd607

I was wrong.

I have to start my review of this week’s The Walking Dead episode “Heads Up” with that statement because of how vehemently and often I had asserted that Glenn (Steven Yeun) was dead. When last we’d seen the original cast member, he is lying on the ground, seemingly being ripped apart by a huge crowd of Walkers. I was sure he could not have made it out of the alley alive. “Heads Up” reveals that apparently he did.

Now, I’m torn as to how much to go into the way Glenn is brought back, because I run the risk of sounding like sour grapes. I do think, however, that the way The Walking Dead orchestrated his survival is as unrealistic as the show has ever been. Usually, it’s a series that stays as grounded as possible, despite the central, highly unrealistic conceit of a zombie apocalypse. But in this case, they break that trend and go into superhuman territory.

A popular theory floated on the internet and by friends of mine in the wake of his ‘demise’ is that Glenn is safe under Nicholas’ body and manages to crawl under a dumpster, waiting out the Walkers until they leave. I dismissed that scenario because there are a LOT of Walkers in the alley and there is no realistic way they would only tear at Nicholas. They would have ripped into Glenn as well, if not immediately, as soon as they’d eaten their way through Nicholas. Instead, the crowd isn’t so tight that Glenn can’t slip between their legs and under the dumpster, which makes no sense given what viewers previously witnessed. It also doesn’t make sense that within the very small space, in which Glenn is able to maneuver, Walkers don’t crawl under and get him. He can’t defend all sides at once, and there’s enough of them that he should not be able to fight them off, especially not for the day or two in which he’s hiding.

If The Walking Dead had presented a believable way for Glenn to make it out, I’d readily admit I’d been fooled by the shot of the pocket watch and the set up that left no doubt he should be dead. I’d heap admiration and respect towards The Powers That Be, happy to be proven wrong. That would have been brilliant writing. Instead, I feel a bit let down by the show itself. The series failed to meet the high expectations I’d formed based its past excellence. So I am absolutely wrong, not because I misread the situation as it unfolded on screen, but because I trusted writing that did not live up to that trust, which is kinda depressing.

To make matters worse, shortly after Glenn gets out from under the dumpster, he comes across the Walker body of one of the Alexandrian party. This guy hadn’t even attempted to hide when he was attacked (not that there was any way he could have). He is smashed against a fence where a bunch of Walkers were pressed against him. How is enough intact to be recognizable? This makes no sense for the world of The Walking Dead. He would have surely been devoured or at least completely unrecognizable!

Thankfully, the rest of “Heads Up” is up to the usual standards of the show. Rick (Andrew Lincoln) is starting to realize the Alexandrians are part of his family now, as some of his group, like Tara (Alanna Masterson), already accept. Carol (Melissa McBride) catches Morgan (Lennie James) hiding his prisoner, which is going to result in bad stuff. Morgan boosts the confidence of Dr. Cloyd (Merritt Wever) in a very sweet moment. Ron (Austin Abrams) is so plotting to make an ill-advised move against Rick and/or Carl (Chandler Riggs).

I think Michonne (Danai Gurira) realizes that Deanna (Tovah Feldshuh) doesn’t plan to live long, and I will be surprised if she makes it past next week’s installment. And the moment with Spencer (Austin Nichols) on the wire teases that some of the things in the comic book will probably repeat on screen next week, though likely with some twists. These are all really great scenes that further character development and set up what is sure to be an exciting finale. Almost enough to make me forget the missteps at the start of the hour, and enough to keep The Walking Dead in my “favorite TV show currently airing” slot.

Plus, we get a really sweet plot between Glenn and Enid (Katelyn Nacon), in which our miraculously resurrected hero convinces the girl to come home, saving another soul and reinforcing that the reprieve he has been given is probably temporary, as the moral center of the show never lives long. Glenn’s impending death will right the mistake made, though I still doubt that (SPOILER ALERT!) Glenn will meet his fate the same way he did in the comics, as perfectly moving and disturbing as that is.

The Walking Dead concludes the first half of its sixth season next Sunday at 9 p.m. on AMC.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Marvel's JESSICA JONES

Article originally published as JESSICA JONES Review on Seat42F.

JessicaJones Netflix




The following review is very light on spoilers, so please read on!


After the success of MARVEL’S DAREDEVIL last spring, many have waited with bated breath for the next installment in the studio’s Netflix universe. It arrives this Friday in the form of JESSICA JONES, a noir detective series that gets a lot darker and a lot scarier than anything Marvel has done before. And, as one might expect, it is excellent.

JESSICA JONES begins with the titular character (Krysten Ritter, Breaking Bad, Don’t Trust the B-) working as a private eye in Hell’s Kitchen. As is familiar to the archetype, Jessica is a hard-drinker, trying to escape demons from her past, while being excellent at her job. This feels a bit like Veronica Mars, a show Ritter did an arc in, and viewers think they know what they’re getting.

Not even a full hour in, though, JESSICA JONES takes a twist into new territory. It isn’t that the show abandons the early tone or style; it still infuses what comes after. But while the series begins rooted in a genre we’ve seen before, it expands the horizons of those bearing witness to the proceedings in short order.

Part of this is because JESSICA JONES is kind of a horror show. Kilgrave, a.k.a. The Purple Man (David Tennant, Doctor Who, Broadchurch), is the scariest villain I’ve ever seen in the superhero realm, and what he does is more disturbing than the fare fans are used to. This is not a Marvel series appropriate to watch with the kiddos. Instead, it features what appears to be an unstoppable bad guy who does things far worse than simple violence permits, making for a premise that will send chills up and down and back up your spine. He is terrifying.

Jessica also has a very rich backstory that is barely teased in the initial episode. We know she has undergone some trauma; that’s clear from the way she lives her life, trying to get past something that has scarred her soul. But the more we learn about her, the more it makes sense that she’s this screwed up. Some characters have reasons for doing destructive things and we forgive them for it, but for Jessica to even continue existing in the world as she does makes her far stronger and resilient than your average person.

This means Jessica’s abilities are not limited to the physical. Her superpowers are not the point of JESSICA JONES, and we get them in small doses, not showy sequences. It’s not even immediately clear what she can do, other than lift cars and jump high. Yet, those aren’t the most impressive things about her, which is a departure for a comic book adaptation.

Jessica isn’t alone in her world, much as she usually acts like she wants to be. She has a sort-of boss, Jeryn Hogarth (Carrie-Anne Moss, The Matrix, Vegas), an estranged friend, Trish Walker (Rachael Taylor, Grey’s Anatomy, Crisis), and a neighbor without boundaries, Malcolm (Eka Darville, The Originals). She also (sort of) meets a bartender by the name of Luke Cage (Mike Colter, The Good Wife) who is probably more compatible with her than either expects, and who will be headlining the third Marvel Netflix series next year.

Given the pedigree of the cast, made up almost entirely of actors I already admire and respect, it’s not a surprise that the performances are every bit as excellent as the production. Ritter has needed a vehicle to show her ranger for awhile, and this is it. Tennant completely transforms into a monster unrecognizable, and I’ll never watch him the same way again. The scenes with Colter already have me excited for his turn in the lead. This is high quality television period, not just for its genre or when compared to its peers, but across the entire spectrum. I would posit it is the pinnacle of everything Marvel has done thus far, and a promise of continued greatness.

All thirteen episodes of JESSICA JONES’ freshman run will be live on Netflix this Friday. I recommend you watch as many as you can this weekend, lest you be lost when your friends and co-workers are talking about this on Monday, as they most definitely will be.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Venturing INTO THE BADLANDS

Article originally published as INTO THE BADLANDS Review on Seat42F.

Daniel Wu as Sunny - Into the Badlands _ Season 1, Epsiode 1 - Photo Credit: Patti Perret/AMC
AMC’s newest drama, INTO THE BADLANDS, premieres tonight. Set in a future where guns have been eradicated, the territory is broken up into domains runs by Barons, who use teams of assassins to keep their subjects in line. This makes the setting seem more like the past, but don’t think on that too deep. Instead, just enjoy the gratuitous violence.

The description of the series may sound a bit flip, but so is the show itself. There are numerous fight scenes, which have been the focus of much of the promotional materials for the show. Is there ever any reason we need to see extended fight scenes where one supernaturally gifted combatant takes out an entire gang? Nah, but it’s fun, and that’s why this type of material exists.

INTO THE BADLANDS does have substance, too. The characters are interesting, and the political machinations between those who seek to extend their power provide engaging drama. But I’m simply pointing out that by mixing it with light entertainment, it makes INTO THE BADLANDS slightly less than, say, The Walking Dead, which uses fighting for one’s lives to enhance scenes, rather than making it the center of sequences.

At the center of INTO THE BADLANDS is Sunny (Daniel Wu, The Man With the Iron Fists), the lead protector for the land’s most powerful Baron, Quinn (Marton Csokas, Klondike). Sunny is a loyalist who is comfortable with the current system, until he’s not. Mysteries from his past are brought up when he finds a kid, M. K. (Aramis Knight, The Dark Knight Rises), with inexplicable powers and a coincidental symbol. This, combined with news from his secret girlfriend, Veil (Madeleine Mantock, The Tomorrow People), make Sunny question everything he values and believes to be true. He begins a real hero’s journey.

It’s because of this compelling character that I want to watch INTO THE BADLANDS. Sure, it’s entertaining, but that in of itself is not enough these days. Thankfully, this program doesn’t just rely on that, even though that’s the most obvious, flashy thing about it.

There’s also an enticing sexual component. Quinn is married to Lydia (Orla Brady, American Odyssey), and will soon take a second, much younger, wife, Jade (Sarah Bolger, The Tudors). AMC stops short of showing any real nudity, as basic cable usually does, but there’s certainly sexiness in the power wrangling that is just getting started. While this plot doesn’t cover any new ground, at least not yet, it does add another interesting layer to the proceedings.

The Widow (Emily Beecham, The Village) ensures the boys won’t be the only ones having fun. She’s a new Baron who is at odds with Quinn and has her sights set on M. K. When she shows up, she immediately grabs the spotlight, and she clearly has some physical attributes of her own. This character should help ally fears that INTO THE BADLANDS is only set to attract male viewers. She’s beautiful and badass.

All of these characters exist in a fully realized world. Great thought has gone into building this system, incorporating historical context, while twisting it enough to be unfamiliar to students of the past. The result is a setting believable and strange at the same time, and one well-suited to the people who populate it. The product design is excellent. It’s almost a sci-fi / fantasy show, while managing to stay more grounded than what is typical of that genre. It’s hard to strictly categorize it, but I see that as a plus, showing originality.

For all of these reasons, INTO THE BADLANDS is worth checking out, even if you’re not into the martial arts. It airs Sundays at 10 p.m. on AMC.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

SPOTLESS Record

Article originally published as SPOTLESS Review on Seat42F.

Spotless Esquire




Esquire is the latest cable network to get into the scripted game, premiering its first original series tonight, SPOTLESS. A Franco-British import, SPOTLESS aired in France last March, and now comes to American television exclusively on Esquire. Honestly, my viewing habits being skewed almost entirely to scripted programming, I am not familiar with Esquire’s slate or how it might fit their audience. But this is a quality show that would be right at home on BBC America, Sundance, or A&E. If that’s the direction Esquire is going in, I’ll be paying more attention to it from now on.


SPOTLESS is a tale of two brothers who went through a traumatic event in childhood, and now, coming together for the first time as adults, find they have very different ways of dealing with things. Jean Bastiere (Marc-Andrew Grondin, C.R.A.Z.Y.) has a wife and two young girls, owning his own business cleaning crime scenes and building a respectable life in London. He struggles financially, ever since the recession, but he has tried to put the past behind him and move on mostly honestly. By contrast, Martin Bastiere (Denis Menochet, Inglourious Basterds) has sunk deeper into the mire, conducting himself as a criminal. Now, their lives have become messily intertwined.

I find Jean a very interesting protagonist because he’s not exactly what one would expect. Usually, the hero is either noble, with a strong moral compass, or is deeply flawed, highly skilled, but not going at using those skills around other people. Jean falls in the middle. He presents himself as an upstanding man, and resists going afoul of the law when mobster Nelson Clay (Brendan Coyle, Downton Abbey) tries to recruit him. Yet, he seems to have little problem cheating on his wife with Claire Wiseman (Tanya Fear, Kick-Ass 2), nor keeping secrets.

Jean also loves Martin. Despite the years they’ve spent apart and the disaster Martin thrusts upon him, there is a bond of love and affection that Jean honors. They went through something together long ago, and it has made their relationship unshakeable, no matter what. For someone going for the life Jean keeps as his public front, one might expect Jean to shun Martin. In SPOTLESS, he does the opposite, which feels strangely authentic, even as viewers may question why Jean would do so.

It’s this complexity that makes SPOTLESS intriguing to me. I can’t easily pin down exactly who Jean is (Martin and Nelson are quite a bit easier to do so), but he seems like a mostly good man, not just a television character archetype.

I’m not sure where the story is going, either. SPOTLESS doesn’t confine itself to Jean’s perspective, but allows individual plots for Martin and Jean’s wife, Julie Greer-Bastiere (Miranda Raison, MI-5), that have nothing to do with Jean. And the paths they go down aren’t what one might expect, especially Martin’s story in the second episode, which feels totally in-character for Martin, but diverges far enough away from the central core that it feels like another narrative entirely. Which is another positive, since most people’s lives aren’t solely focused on one thing for very long.

SPOTLESS is a dark dramedy. Its hour-long episodes contain adult content, including violence and censored nudity and cursing (which probably aired in their full version overseas, but unfortunately we don’t get that on U.S. basic cable). However, it also is humorous in some of the crazy stuff that happens, with bold dialogue and over-the-top danger. Now, none of this is off-the-rails enough to detract from how genuine the program feels, but it does make the material lighter than it seems at first glance, another plus.

I recommend checking out SPOTLESS. It airs Saturdays at 10 p.m. on Esquire.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

DONNY! Should Be donny

Article originally published as DONNY Review on Seat42F.

Donny USA Network




USA has a new comedy series called DONNY!, premiering this week. One might be forgiven for thinking it’s a reality show, considering it airs right after the reality series Chrisley Knows Best and follows TV personality Donny Deutsch (Today) as he hosts a self-help series (think Dr. Phil). But it’s not. DONNY! is a scripted comedy where Donny plays a fictional version of himself that satirizes the very thing he often actually participates in. Does your head hurt yet? (It shouldn’t, because there are gobs of shows right now doing the same thing.)


The Donny in DONNY! is an egotistical player who flirts shamelessly, gives his cell phone number to attractive psychopaths, and needs attention and affection heaped on him at all times. He has hired three attractive woman as his assistants, Jackie (Hailey Giles, Scorned), Zoe (Meera Rohit Kumbhani, Weird Loners), and Violet (Jessica Renee Russell, Fullmetal Alchemist: The Sacred Star of Milos), and works with an attractive female producer, Pam (Emily Tarver, Best Week Ever). While none of these girls seem to fall for his shtick, surrounding himself with them says something about Donny, as does paying more notice to his too-young, greedy girlfriend, Galina (Tina Casciani, Role Models), than to his kids.

DONNY! reminds me a bit of Blunt Talk on Starz. The major difference is that Donny seems to be getting along just fine with his life as it currently is, while Patrick Stewart’s Walter Blunt is falling apart spectacularly. The thing is, with an unlikeable persona, as both Blunt and Donny are, it’s satisfying to watch them fail, so Blunt Talk has the edge there. Plus, Stewart is a far superior performer than Deutsch (or most people, really), so any comparison between the two is not positive for this newer series.

Is there anything redeemable about Donny or DONNY!? Well, that’s debatable. Donny does have charm, or else he wouldn’t get so much attention. I do like that not everyone in DONNY! falls for Donny’s game, and Donny (the person, not the character) has to have some level of humility or redeeming qualities to allow that. My assumption is that Donny (again, the real person) is a pretty nice, interesting person, and it’s just this show and the character of Donny that I don’t like, though I haven’t seen him elsewhere.

It has been said that DONNY! does for Donny Deutsch what Curb Your Enthusiasm does for Larry David, but I think that’s an inaccurate comparison. David is a brilliant writer who created one of the most beloved sitcoms of all time, Seinfeld. Curb is an extension of the Seinfeld world in that it shows a character named Larry who has a personality perfectly suited to write that show. DONNY! tackles a completely different genre, one I would argue takes far less talent to make. Abhorring reality and the fake ‘health’ professionals, I find it hard to hold it anywhere near the same regard.

Now, one could point out that DONNY! pokes fun at the hated genre. Except, because Donny himself is part of that system (or so I’ve read on Wikipedia), not a comedian on the outside, it doesn’t come across as a scathing commentary on it. Instead, it seems like Donny is having fun being self-referential in a way that reinforces the ‘character’ he is playing.

I admit, my bias against reality television in general could definitely be coloring my view of DONNY! But try as I might, it’s very hard to separate that out in this instance, given the show’s content. I get that people like reality for reasons I cannot fathom, but it definitely isn’t quality television, and contributes to the ‘junk that rots your brain’ stereotype some see the medium as being. As a defender of quality programming, this type of thing is a total turn-off and I can’t recommend it.
That being said, if you like reality television or Donny Deutsch, then you might enjoy this.

DONNY! airs Tuesdays at 10:30 on USA.

Friday, November 13, 2015

AGENT X Not the Spot

Article originally published as AGENT X Review on Seat42F.

Agent-X-TNT




TNT’s latest drama is AGENT X. Apparently, there is a secret section in the Constitution that outlines the Vice President’s real power, and remains unknown to the public, or even the President, to this day. These words give the VP the ability to use an unnamed agent to do the bidding of the U.S. that must be kept off books. AGENT X is that agent, and the new Vice is ready to use him.

(Yes, this is fiction. No such article exists.)

The center of AGENT X is Natalie Maccabee (Sharon Stone, Casino). The first woman to hold the second highest office in the land (have they never heard of Selina Meyer?), she is surprised to learn about the Agent X program from her new right-hand man, Malcolm (Gerald McRaney, House of Cards). Having to take control with barely any direction, President Thomas Eckhart (John Shea, Smallville) himself must deny his knowledge now that he’s been promoted to the top spot, Natalie is nervous at first, but settles into the job quite nicely.

On the other side of the show is Agent X himself, John Case (Jeff Hephner, Chicago Fire). He is an almost-superhuman agent who can slide in and out without being seen. In the first couple of episodes he tangles with Olga (Olga Fonda, The Vampire Diaries), an enemy spy who is quite formidable, and still bests her without too much trouble. He’s the sexy eye candy for the ladies, bursting with the testosterone that keeps the guys coming back.

So AGENT X splits its time between two different types of shows. One part is adrenaline-fueled action, James Bond on steroids, and the other deals with politics and conspiracy theories, a more grounded version of The Librarian. Both go for a simplistic world view, without getting too deep, and with the same type of attitude with which the main player in 24 approached the world. It’s light, popcorn fare that is entertaining, but refrains from going too deep.

The cast is good. Stone and McRaney are always likeable, and Hephner fits well into the archetype. James Earl Jones (Star Wars, The Lion King) shows up as the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, which lends some gravitas to the series. This isn’t a character study type of program, so it’s unlikely any of these actors will get to deliver an impressive, Emmy-worthy performance. But they do just fine in the roles they’ve been given, and make the show pretty watchable.

My problem with TNT series these past few years is that they lean too heavily on the action, not paying enough attention to plot and the cast. AGENT X improves in this category, still giving the basic element that TNT fans have come to expect, but with a bit better foundation to back it up. As I’ve said, it’s not deep, but it also doesn’t flit over things as quickly as Falling Skies or The Last Ship, marking a noticeable improvement for the content of this network.

That being said, I’m still not going to watch Agent X. There are a ton of very high quality series out right now that are just plain better than this one. This is a sign TNT is moving in the right direction, but it’s not there yet. If you want mindless entertainment, this is one of the best examples I’ve seen in awhile and will serve you well. This show itself, given time, might even become more worthy. But for now, if you’re looking for the biggest talent in the writing and production department, there are plenty of choices on AMC, FX, HBO, Starz, and others that run circles around this one. When there were fewer choices on television, AGENT X would have stood out. Today, it just doesn’t measure up.

AGENT X airs Sundays at 9 p.m. on TNT.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

FLESH AND BONE Goes Into Brilliant Drama

Article originally published as FLESH AND BONE Review on Seat42F.

Flesh and Bone Starz

A little over a year ago, I was about ready to give up on Starz, the original programming coming from that premium cable not being my cup of tea. Then came the excellent Outlander, and as of last night, it is joined by the equally fantastic, yet wholly different, FLESH AND BONE.

FLESH AND BONE tells the story of Claire (Sarah Hay, Black Swan), a scared, nervous, talented young ballerina that runs away to the big city and lands a plumb role with a professional company. Claire has a lot of personal and emotional issues going on, so this is probably not the ideal time for her to make such big changes. Yet, she’s clearly running from something and trying to find happiness, or at least purpose and peace. She has the type of rare ability and dedication that can help her to succeed in this competitive arena, and so she just might make it. But it won’t be easy.

The ballet world portrayed in FLESH AND BONE is anything but welcoming. The director, Paul (Ben Daniels, House of Cards), is demanding and erratic. He may also be brilliant, but Claire will have to survive working for him awhile to benefit from that. The company already has a lead dancer in Kiira (Irina Dvorovenko, Power), who isn’t likely to step aside for a new ingĂ©nue. Claire is placed in an apartment with Mia (Emily Tyra, Boardwalk Empire), a promiscuous, bitchy girl. And she is hit on by Ross (Sascha Radetsky, Center Stage), who wants more than just to be nice to her. In short, Claire is surrounded by those who might wear her down.

But she has some experience in dealing with hostile people. As we find out in the pilot, her brother, Bryan (Josh Helman, The Pacific), is creepy and probably abusive. So Claire can likely handle those who don’t touch her and are just mean.

Plus, it’s not like Claire doesn’t make any friends. Blunt, rich Daphne (Raychel Diane Weiner, Hickey) may seem abrasive, but she offers assistance to the newbie. And Romeo (Damon Herriman, Justified) may look like a homeless criminal, but he’s actually sweet. So Claire is slowly building a support system.

The main players in FLESH AND BONE, which, besides those listed above, also includes ambitious Trey (Karell Williams), have very small resumes. I managed to find an IMDB listing for each, except Williams, but in many cases, those credits number fewer than five. This is a group of mostly inexperienced unknowns.

Yet, that doesn’t detract from the show at all. If anything, it works in the production’s favor, feeling like the program is bursting with deserving, undiscovered talent. It helps that many have actual dancing backgrounds and possess the skills to back up their characters. It also helps that they deliver compelling, fresh performances. I have no complaints at all about this group.

The show itself feels a lot like Black Swan. It’s not as artistically offbeat, perhaps, but it’s a very specific tone and style that fits very well into this world, but is not repeated in most other shows. It is a specific product, like Mozat in the Jungle. I can’t tell if the budget is big or small, but it seems appropriate for FLESH AND BONE, with the settings, props, and costumes, perfectly suited to the story. Overall, it just exudes high quality, with great attention to detail and design.

I have to say, FLESH AND BONE is one of the best pilots I’ve watched in some time. It’s original, it’s gripping, it’s grounded, and I’m already completely hooked on the story and the characters. I will definitely be tuning in every week.

FLESH AND BONE airs Sundays at 8 p.m. on Starz.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

ARROW "Haunted" By Canceled Hero

Article originally written for Seat42F. 

 
It seems like Oliver (Stephen Amell) is no longer “Haunted” by his past on this week’s ARROW, as he finds a way to get along with everyone. This is a great example of how he’s changed, and how being in a relationship with Felicity (Emily Bett Rickards) has made him softer, in a good way. But not everyone is so lucky, as two dead characters destined for a 2016 spin-off deal with the aftereffects of their deaths in various ways, and a canceled DC television character crosses over.

Let’s start with Sara (Caity Lotz), who is on the loose and murdering people. Her bloodlust has her targeting Thea (Willa Holland), which makes sense because Thea killed her, even if Thea wasn’t in control of herself at the time. A run-in between the two leaves Thea hospitalized and Laurel (Katie Cassidy) feeling bad. But in the end, Oliver (with help) is able to catch Sara, and has a plan to restore her soul.

Enter John Constantine (Matt Ryan, Constantine). Having met Oliver in yet another pointless flashback, Oliver gets the hero who communes with the supernatural to come to Star City and help him rescue Sara’s soul. Constantine is a fun character who effortlessly slides into “Haunted,” serving an actual purpose, his appearance anything but gratuitous. Given ARROW’s penchant for touching the other side from time to time, I think Oliver should keep Constantine’s number handy, even though it seems a little weird he hasn’t been called or mentioned before. I feel like he needs an arc, not just a guest spot.

In the Constantine sequence, we see Oliver getting along with the abrasive man, giving him warm thanks for his help, even though Constantine isn’t exactly behaving in a manner that would trigger warmth. We also see fuzzy moments between Oliver and Thea, and while Oliver and Laurel have it out regarding Laurel secretly bringing her sister back, Oliver brokers peace between them. Oliver even shoots down a political strategist’s (Parker Young, Suburgatory) advice to stand by Laurel. So “Haunted” proves Oliver’s transformation from cold dictator into understanding team player is complete.

Laurel and Thea also have a little moment when Laurel says losing Thea would make bringing Sara back not worth it. Thea and Laurel have been acting like sisters, and it’s satisfying to see Laurel does have a limit as to what she will do for her soulless sister.

Now the question is, how will restored-soul Sara and Thea deal with their bloodlusts, and is this something that can be cured? Obviously, Oliver won’t let them kill people to work out their feelings. How can he help them stop it once and for all? Maybe Constantine can help? But if so, why isn’t he asked in “Haunted”?

Speaking of people back from the dead, Curtis (Echo Kellum) decodes Ray’s (Brandon Routh) message and it turns out the former CEO is alive! He doesn’t give Felicity clear instructions on how to find him yet, but it’s nice to know another favorite character will be coming back, if only briefly before heading to the Legends of Tomorrow spin-off with Sara. How Felicity can save him is put off for another day, but as I said last week, I’m digging her solo plots this season. And I love her speaker voice.

The final subplot of the week involves Captain Lance (Paul Blackthorne) obtaining Diggle’s brother’s file from Damien Darhk (Neal McDonough). The file says Dig’s bro wasn’t as noble as Diggle (David Ramsey) believes. Is Darhk possibly lying and forging evidence? It doesn’t seem so. But I do wonder why Darhk handed over this paperwork. Is he just trying to get Diggle to stay away, one less distraction for Darhk?

“Haunted” is a decently solid episode of ARROW. As usual, the flashbacks are wasted screen time, but it’s cool to see Constantine survive beyond his short-lived series, and I’m very happy with the
interactions between the core characters of late. It’s about time they have some happiness and harmony, even if I’m sure it’ll be short-lived.

ARROW airs Wednesdays at 8 p.m. on the CW.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

GRIMM Review "Clear and Wesen Danger"

Article originally written for Seat42F.



On NBC’s GRIMM this week, “Clear and Wesen Danger,” Hank (Russell Hornsby) and Wu (Reggie Lee) struggle to effectively do their jobs when Nick (David Giuntoli) takes a leave of absence. Meanwhile, Nick considers what kind of home he can have with Adalind (Claire Coffee), and she does her part to make the situation easier for Nick.

It seems a little soon for Nick to accept Adalind into his home so easily. Juliette died just days ago, and Nick has not had time to get over her. I get that Nick wants to be there for his infant son, and that’s noble. But he has just a bit less hostility than he should towards the former Hexenbiest that has caused him so much trouble. Instead, they’re practically a happy family already.

That being said, I like the idea of Nick and Adalind as a couple. I know they’re not romantically involved yet, but the tension and possibility of a future pairing is certainly there. Adalind has evolved as a character over the years, even if it happens in fits and starts caused by uneven storytelling, and Nick has a dark side, too, so they can meet in the middle. Adalind telling Rosalee (Bree Turner) that she doesn’t want to be a Hexenbiest again is a good show of Adalind’s commitment to joining the right side. I think they could work out long-term, eventually. I just hope GRIMM doesn’t force it on them too quickly.

Monroe’s (Silas Weir Mitchell) suggestion that Nick sell the house seems silly. Yes, bad things have happened in that dwelling, including Juliette trying to kill Nick and Juliette’s recent death. Yet, that kind of goes with the life of a Grimm. Were Nick a normal person who went through a trauma, looking for new surroundings makes sense. Given that any new place he lives is sure to soon be the place of bad memories, too, well, that just makes it gratuitous, like GRIMM is just itching for a new set piece, regardless of what is best for the characters.

Though, admittedly, a new house might go well with a new start for Nick and Adalind. But they aren’t at the point yet where that is needed.

Sadly, “Clear and Wesen Danger” makes the mistake GRIMM so often does of thinking it needs a Wesen of the week to fight. Thankfully, this installment makes better use of the stand-alone story by making it quite a bit about the new chemistry in the police squad trying to solve the case.

See, Renard (Sasha Roiz) decides Hank needs a new partner while Nick is out, which makes sense from a departmental management perspective. But rather than promote, even temporarily, Wu, Renard gives Hank Detective Pogue (Joseph Bertot, Snowpierce), who is completely in the dark about Wesens and Grimms and such, making him more of liability than a hindrance. An overabundance of caution in keeping that world a secret leads to dead law enforcement, and it’s clear this arrangement won’t work.

I like this sequence purely because of the fun interactions between Wu, Hank, and Pogue. It isn’t well thought out, as Renard should be smarter than to tie Hank’s hands behind his back in dealing with a Wesen. It also invokes the inconsistency that somehow this department was solving cases before Nick learns he is a Grimm, and not every murder should involve a Wesen. But because the scenes are entertaining, I can partially overlook this.

“Clear and Wesen Danger” is better than most of the GRIMM episodes of the past year or two. It isn’t a very solid hour of television, and falls far short of what it should be, but given the depths GRIMM has shown itself to sink to, I’ll take what I can get.

GRIMM airs Fridays at 9 p.m. on NBC.

Monday, November 9, 2015

GOTHAM's "Little Monster"

Article originally written for Seat42F.


 


FOX’s GOTHAM continues its action-packed, engaging season this week with “Mommy’s Little Monster.” Penguin (Robin Lord Taylor) attempts to rescue his mother (Carol Kane) from Galavan (James Frain), but things do not go as planned. This sends Penguin on a revenge streak, and it may turn out that Galavan has finally pushed the crime boss too far. Elsewhere, Nygma (Cory Michael Smith) descends into madness.

I am disappointed that “Mommy’s Little Monster” contains Gertrude’s death. I find her a fascinating character, and some of the glimpses we’ve seen of her give great insight into who the Penguin is. I feel there could be more to be gleaned from their interactions, and it’s a little soon to remove her from GOTHAM. Of course, the show always has the option of flashbacks, and I hope Kane reprises the role in the near future.

What Penguin’s mother’s death does, though, is remove any restraint Penguin has in dealing with Galavan. Galavan has miscalculated repeatedly with the Penguin, in my opinion. He thinks he can just kill the Penguin and his mom, and he thinks commandeering the entire city’s police force as his personal bodyguard, using his new mayor powers to lock the whole metropolis down, is enough to defeat the crime boss. He doesn’t know the Penguin, though, and plenty of others underestimated Penguin last year to their own detriment. I feel like Galavan’s days on GOTHAM are numbered, and his main player status certainly can’t last more than half a season.

The Penguin does not murder Galavan in “Mommy’s Little Monster,” but he gets very close. So close that were Tabitha (Jessica Lucas) not on the roof with a sniper rifle, Galavan would probably be dead, quite possibly with Gordon (Ben McKenzie) and Bullock (Donal Logue) as collateral damage.

Gordon and the Penguin’s friendship, if you could call it that, is an uneasy one. Penguin doesn’t seem to take it personally that Gordon tries to arrest him and protects Galavan, nor does the Penguin call in a favor Gordon owes him to kill Galavan. Yet, with the two being at odds so often, it’s surprising they haven’t had a complete falling out yet. Penguin doesn’t control Gordon the way the previous bosses had command over Bullock, but whatever uneasy bond they currently have probably won’t last.

Speaking of not lasting, Nygma is going absolutely insane following the death of Kristen Kringle (Chelsea Spack). “Mommy’s Little Monster” finds the evil side of Nygma (also Smith) hiding Kringle’s body in the police station itself, then making the ‘good’ side of Nygma follow clues to find it before the corpse is discovered. It’s a dangerous game Nygma seems to enjoy, culminating in the two sides coming together, being one person again.

I like GOTHAM’s technique of showing the two Nygmas as a way to illustrate what is going on in the future Riddler’s brain. It isn’t necessary to the story, of course, but it’s a good way to visualize internal struggle, as long as it’s only done temporary, which I believe it will be in this case. Were it more long-term, I think it would get annoying.

One sequence of particular delight this week is the rivalry between Selina (Camren Bicondova) and Silver (Natalie Alyn Lind). Catwoman is one of those characters who toes the line between good and bad, but it looks like it’s up to Selina to be a hero and save Bruce. There’s no doubt that Silver is complicit in Galavan’s plans, so Bruce remains in danger until Selina can find a way to save him. The tension between the girls as this struggle goes on behind Bruce’s back is terrific.

GOTHAM isn’t the deepest, richest character-driven show on television, but it’s near the top of the pack on the broadcast networks. It exhibits great skill in balancing various personalities, as I’ve mentioned before, and each hour ends up being pretty entertaining.

GOTHAM airs Mondays at 8 p.m. on FOX.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

THE WALKING DEAD "Not Here"

Article originally written for Seat42F.



Last night’s THE WALKING DEAD ignores conspiracy theories that Glen is somehow still alive (why does anyone buy into those?), and instead gives us a ninety minute flashback as to how the Crazy Morgan of season three becomes the nonviolent Morgan (Lennie James) of the present day. Will what he’s experienced mean he cannot change again, and is his new path going to be a detriment to his attempts to stay alive?

I always enjoy THE WALKING DEAD, and normally, I really, really like a slow burn that focuses in on a character or two, but “Here’s Not Here” is not one of their stronger episodes.

For one thing, it just was not necessary to do ninety minutes on this transformation. Morgan has PTSD from losing his family. He meets a man who is into peace. Morgan comes around and takes on the man’s ways. The man dies. This same story could be accomplished in four or five cut scenes interspersed into a normal episode, and certainly doesn’t need to be supersized.

For another, it’s not that big a change for Morgan. Had Morgan been portrayed for a long time as an uber-violent man and he showed up different, that would be one thing. Instead, he’s first seen as a kind individual who helps Rick, and only goes crazy after losing his son. It’s easy for an audience to understand this flip, just as I believe it’s easy for us to understand how he could heal and turn back.

The journey Morgan goes on is completely predictable from the start. As soon as we see him set up his new camp in the same way the building he lived in is set up, and as soon as we meet Eastman (John Carroll Lynch, American Horror Story: Freak Show, The Drew Carey Show), the observant audience member can put together the pieces for themselves as to what exactly will happen.

Now, this has not always been the case for other character-driven episodes. Often, THE WALKING DEAD shows us something unexpected, and some type of unforeseen threat that must be overcome. Who expects Carol to shoot a little girl at the end of one of the finest hours of the series, or Rick to have to hide under a bed for hours or Daryl to open up? It’s simply because of how normal Morgan’s arc is that “Here’s Not Here” is a bit unsatisfying.

That doesn’t mean I don’t like the episode. The worst episode of THE WALKING DEAD is still miles ahead of most installments of television. The two performers in this hour-and-a-half are both absolutely fantastic, and it’s easy to watch them and be moved. Their plight, along with that of Tabitha the goat, may not be inspired, but it’s well done. I do care about the characters and feel for them, being saddened at the death of the goat as much as when Eastman goes.

The final scene in which Morgan talks to the Wolves leader (Benedict Samuel), who is every bit as much of a psychopath as the killer in Eastman’s past, is so much more compelling and interesting than the rest of the episode that it immediately highlights the flaw in doing this story now. At the end, we’re left wondering if Morgan is making a mistake in leaving this guy alive, even if it will give him no satisfaction in killing him. As Eastman says, every life is precious. However, if it’s OK to kill a walker, who is only there to endanger and kill you, it should be OK to kill a human who serves the same purpose, right? Will Morgan regret leaving him alive? This is a question worth pondering, and the outcome is uncertain.

At least Morgan locks the cage that the Wolf is in. This Wolf is not at all the same as Morgan is when he is in Eastman’s cage, and I’m glad Morgan realizes that. It’s a positive sign.

THE WALKING DEAD airs Sundays at 9 p.m. on AMC.

Saturday, November 7, 2015

"The Bear" of Watching ONCE UPON A TIME

Article originally written for Seat42F.


 This week’s ONCE UPON A TIME, “The Bear and the Bow,” goes easy on the Dark Swan (Jennifer Morrison) plot and gives more screen time to Rumple (Robert Carlyle), Bell (Emilie de Ravin), and Merida (Amy Manson). What does it take to make someone a hero is a question where the answer depends on the individual, and throughout the hour, we get to see each of the three confront it.

Back in Camelot, Merida kidnaps Belle to have Belle use magic to save Merdia’s brothers from rival clansmen who seek to steal away Merida’s power. Belle thinks Merida has it in her to help herself, and with Belle having seen the steep price that magic extols on a person, she shies away from giving Merida the sort of help Merida requests. This does make for a dangerous situation, but as Belle predicts, Merida rises to the occasion and saves the day, finding the hero within herself.

It’s too bad Merida doesn’t remember this. In Storybrooke, she tries to kill Belle in order to make Rumple step up and be a hero. Merida isn’t confident that Rumple will do so, but feels she has no chance of defeating Dark Swan herself. If only Merida remembered the lesson that Belle taught her, she would probably be able to fight back. Whether she could win or not is debatable, but she should try.

Rumple also wavers in his own heroism. With the Dark One removed from him, Rumple reverts back to the coward he was oh so long ago. Belle reminds him that he overcame the Dark One’s negative influence in order to be a hero, but Rumple doesn’t see it that way. Without the power that the Dark One gives him, he can’t find anything inside of him that allows him to be a hero.

That is, until Belle is in danger, of course. Rumple does everything he possibly can do to run away, but when Belle refuses and Merida (as a badly animated bear) goes after Belle, Rumple steps up, just as he has done in the past for his son. Rumple’s love is what makes him great, just as others in ONCE UPON A TIME have found their best sides because of love.

The greatest hero in “The Bear and the Bow” is Belle. She doesn’t slay any beasts or overcome her own doubts, but instead inspires the best in others. She is brave and true and does what’s right, having faith that others will come along and do the same. It takes someone with a very strong sense of courage and certainty to this, and because Belle can see the good in people, she possesses this in spades. She is the real protagonist of the hour, and I think that’s pretty obvious to most people paying attention.

Despite all of these efforts, Dark Swan does get Rumple to pull Excalibur from the stone, despite Merlin’s (Elliot Knight) warning and presumably dire fate. What Emma will do with it remains to be seen, but one can assume that it’s not good if Dark Swan was willing to do something horrible to Merlin in order to get to it.

But it gives me great hope that Belle and Rumple will now be firmly joining the rest of the good guys in Storybrooke. I still think Rumple’s arc these past couple of seasons has been shaky. He earned heroic status halfway through season three, and as awful as it was that story veered off for him these past two years, it suddenly no longer feels earned that he has it again now, considering where he was very recently (almost as bad writing as Arthur (Liam Garrigan) trying to dispose of the mushroom in the fire). Despite that, I look forward to seeing Rumple face off against Dark Swan, and his knowledge of the Dark One might just be what the team needs to defeat the evil spirit once and for all.

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

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

ASH VS EVIL DEAD is Storytelling Vs Gore

Article first published as ASH VS EVIL DEAD Review on Seat42F.

Ash vs Evil Dead

Starz’s newest series, which premiered last night, is sure to make fans of one horror franchise happy. In ASH VS EVIL DEAD, viewers catch up with Ashley “Ash” J. Williams (Bruce Campbell) thirty years after the events of the original movies. The Evil Dead have left him alone for a long time, but now they’re coming back for him and for others. Is Ash the ‘El Jefe’ foretold to stop this wicked force?

I have to admit up front that I don’t like the Evil Dead films. They are way too gory for me. I’m not a fan of the horror genre in general, but can handle those with a very good story and not too many body insides on display. The Walking Dead is my favorite show, but I watch it because of the truly excellent character development, not because of the zombies. In anticipation of this show premiering, I attempted to watch the movies in the series, but could not get very far in them, the effects of the violence far too outrageous for me to handle.

That being said, I enjoyed the pilot of ASH VS EVIL DEAD a lot. Not enough to get past the exploding heads and spurting necks (how does a little bullet explode a head?), so I won’t be giving it a second try, but the parts of the hour without that stuff, I found very entertaining. So for those of you not bothered by the gross element, or who may even celebrate the campiness of it, I think this will be a show worth watching.

Campbell is terrific as Ash, arguably the defining character of his career. He’s a lazy, manipulative moocher who is too full of himself. Yet, Campbell still makes him sympathetic and likeable, and not just when he goes into heroic action. Ash is a character fans will want to see stay alive, and root for him as he does the bad ass stuff that he does.

Ash’s missing hand, an event that occurred in a big screen installment, is a minor issue for the production. The Walking Dead (SPOILER ALERT) television series purposely chose not to have The Governor cut off Rick’s hand as he does in the comics because it provided a significant challenge to impart on their show’s lead. ASH VS EVIL DEAD uses the stump mostly effectively, giving Ash a way to lock a weapon on it and pick up girls by lying about it, but there are still times where it kind of gets in the way. I swear I saw the fingers move when Ash closes a car door with it in the opening sequence.

Of course, as charming as Campbell is, he can’t carry a whole TV show himself. Others have to get involved, too, if for no other reason than to provide cannon fodder. I doubt they will kill off Ash’s friends quite as quickly in this new incarnation, given that TV shows typically have at least a few main players, but eventually, some or all of them will have to die and Ash will have to replace them.

His initial team includes Pablo Simon Bolivar (Ray Santiago, Touch, Raising Hope) and Kelly Maxwell (Dana DeLorenzo, Impress Me, The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson), co-workers of Ash’s at the retail store in which he works. Both are considerably younger, which makes sense, given the audience Starz is hoping to attract. Pablo is comic relief and Kelly is a possible love interest. A triangle between the three could make things messy later, but I have the feeling ASH VS EVIL DEAD thrives on messiness. Neither sidekick is much more than a typical archetype, but that could change over time, if they live long enough.

Elsewhere, we are introduced to two other women. Amanda Fisher (Jill Marie Jones, Sleepy Hollow, Girlfriends) is a cop who has her own run-in with the evilness. Ruby (Lucy Lawless, Xena: Warrior Princess, Battlestar Galactica, Parks & Recreation) is a mysterious lady who seems to know something about what’s going on, but who is barely glimpsed in the first installment. Amanda is a relatively familiar type of personality, but Ruby is intriguing, especially in the hands of Lawless, a brilliant performer. I look forward to seeing how the two tie into Ash’s journey, the latter more than the former. It occurs to me, though nothing in the pilot supports this, that Ruby could make a more age appropriate love interest for Ash, freeing up Kelly for Pablo.

Overall, while I don’t appreciate the gore, I think most of the target audience will. ASH VS EVIL DEAD seems more fun than the bits of the movies I glimpsed, and should make for an enjoyable romp, giving the television landscape something it doesn’t quite have currently.

ASH VS EVIL DEAD airs Saturdays at 9 p.m. on Starz.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Climb Aboard THE GREAT AMERICAN DREAM MACHINE

Article first published as DVD Review: 'The Great American Dream Machine' in Blogcritics.

tgadmHave you ever heard of The Great American Dream Machine? If you’re like me, born more than ten years after the two-season PBS series came to an end, probably not. But if you were alive in this era, I can’t imagine you’d forget. After watching just a small sampling of the show, I certainly won’t stop thinking about it anytime soon.

The Great American Dream Machine is billed as a variety show, but it’s not in the vein of what we think of today as being in that genre. There’s no stage or host or transition bits. Instead, it’s a series of shorts on a variety of topics and done in a myriad of styles, making up a disjointed, but thoroughly engaging show.

Sometimes, the segments are documentaries. For instance, stuntman Evel Knievel, someone I’d heard about but know very little of, is interviewed. It’s a casual portrait of a man, presenting what he thinks of himself more than a listing of his achievements. It’s deeply personal in a short running time, and unlike most documentary-style things you might see today.

Sometimes, the pieces are meant to be both humorous and informative. For instance, a man named Marshall Efron examines the various sizes of canned olives available. While what he presents is relatively straight forward, the way in which he talks about the government regulations and inconsistencies within them are more satirical than what you’d be taught in school.

And sometimes, the bits are just bizarre, just as a singing pig that some seek to eat, or a French-language sexual interlude, or a music video about computer dating (which apparently existed pre-1970, surprisingly), or Chevy Chase and Ken Shapiro as mimes mouthing along to music. And that’s all just in the first episode! I’m not sure what is supposed to be meant by these, but they are creative looks at different subjects.

Instead of telling you what The Great American Dream Machine is, it might be easier to tell you what it isn’t. It isn’t silly like Monty Python; it’s a style of comedy being more intellectual and less superficial. (That’s not a knock on Monty Python; there’s room for both in this world). It isn’t as edgy nor as polished as Saturday Night Live would be just a few years later, more raw in presentation. It isn’t stuck in its metropolitan roots, as although it’s based in New York, it frequently ventures across the country.

One thing The Great American Dream Machine is is a fascinating time capsule. For someone who didn’t live in this era, the bits where average people are interviewed, a technique still appearing on television today, is eye-opening. It’s amazing how similar and different attitudes are then to now. Some things never change, and some have changed drastically.

In its time, The Great American Dream Machine was attacked by conservatives for being too controversial for television. While on its face it does seem like a conservative show, given the title and a lot of the middle-of-the-country segments, it also has a bit more sex than most television would have in that era (though still tame by today’s standards). As someone interested in history, I am intrigued by this program.

I think another way to illustrate this series is high-quality is to mention some of the names involved. Besides those appearing above, personalities like Andy Rooney, Albert Brooks, Elaine Stritch, Charles Grodin, Penny Marshall, Carly Simon, Tiny Tim, Henry Winkler, and many, many more are involved. Such a group could not be assembled for just any show.

S’more entertainment has released a four-disc DVD set that captures many of the great moments from The Great American Dream Machine’s two-year run, nearly thirteen hours of content in all. Whether you have never heard of it or remember it fondly from your past, I recommend checking it out. It’s dated, but in a good way, capturing a time and a spirit that doesn’t exist any more, and is endlessly interesting.

The Great American Dream Machine is available now.

Monday, November 2, 2015

GRIMM Outlook

Article originally published as GRIMM Review "The Grimm Identity" on Seat42F.

Grimm Recap




NBC’s GRIMM begins its fifth season this week with “The Grimm Identity.” In it, Nick (David Giuntoli), reeling from the immediate events of last year’s finale, decides to go after Agent Chavez (Elizabeth Rodriguez). With no evidence of Juliette’s (Bitsie Tulloch) death to go by, though, nor anything else Nick accuses Chavez of, Nick’s friends become concerned about his erratic behavior and intention to assault a federal agent. Is Nick going crazy, or is Chavez part of a secret organization with the resources to cover such things up?


“The Grimm Identity” begins with a lot of glimpses of scenes, Nick attending Juliette’s funeral and such. I very much do not understand what is accomplished by this. Obviously, within just a few minutes, it becomes clear that these things aren’t real. Nick is hallucinating and this is what he sees? I know the brain is funny and works in mysterious ways, but I just don’t understand why these particular scenes are chosen.

After that, the hour gets a little better, but only a little. It’s not a case-of-the-week, thank goodness, but a story about Nick’s possible mental stability. Conspiracies and missing bodies and claiming unlikely things are meant to keep viewers guessing whether Nick is truly right or not. Since he sees things in the opening that aren’t real, those glimpses mentioned above, maybe he isn’t right about Juliette and Chavez, either?

Except, I think GRIMM makes it pretty clear early on whether Nick is losing his mind or not. The glimpses aren’t done in the same style as the actual events of “The Grimm Identity,” so it’s pretty easy to draw a conclusion about this and be confident about it. Not that viewers need to mistrust Nick to enjoy the episode; he’s the hero of the piece, so of course we rally behind him. The show could have made us doubt his account, but it doesn’t, and that’s a valid choice to make.

Why, though, do the other characters not believe Nick? I get that he’s behaving a bit unlike himself, but they’ve all known Nick long enough to trust his word, body or no. The fact that others in his group aren’t sure they believe what he’s saying, including thinking Chavez might not be a Wesen, is strange. Presenting “The Grimm Identity” as a mystery is a mistake precisely because there is no mystery, nor should any character believe that there is.

The plot involving Chavez, who kidnaps Trubel (Jacqueline Toboni) and steals Juliette’s body (is she really dead?), is far more interesting. A shady government agency is often used in shows of this genre, but that’s because it’s a good idea, not a bad one, at least when done correctly (I love Buffy the Vampire Slayer, but The Initiative was a misstep). To bring another faction in now feels a little late, but as long as we learn Chavez and her people have been watching Nick longer than Nick knows, that would be fine.

I just don’t know if this is a sign GRIMM will turn things around, though. Last year is dreadful, with the series constantly artificially pushing their arcs into small moments of each installment, and instead concentrating on whatever beast Nick had to fight that week. That’s not what the program does when it’s at its best. There are some intriguing strands of “The Grimm Initiative” that are better storytelling than this, but the way so much of the hour doesn’t make sense, as mentioned above, makes me worry GRIMM won’t find a strong path forward, or was only even going back to a serial narrative half-heartedly. I guess we’ll find out soon enough if the show will fix itself or continue to devolve.

GRIMM airs Fridays at 9 p.m. on NBC.

ARROW is Not "Beyond Redemption"

Article first published as ARROW Review "Beyond Redemption" on Seat42F.

Arrow -- "Beyond Redemption" Stephen Amell as Oliver Queen -- Photo: Diyah Pera/ The CW

No one on the CW’s ARROW is “Beyond Redemption,” or so it seems in this week’s installment. Captain Lance (Paul Blackthorne) doesn’t approve of Oliver’s (Stephen Amell) plan to run for mayor of Star City, even though it’s Lance’s own noble nature that has prompted Oliver’s actions. It’s Lance, however, who is ashamed when Oliver uncovers more than one secret about the city’s police force. Yet, by the end of the hour, all is happy and as it should be in the world.

“Beyond Redemption” begins its upbeat run by introducing the new lair, secreted beneath Oliver’s campaign office, former site of a villain’s own democratic activities. With Diggle (David Ramsey) and Oliver back on good terms, it’s satisfying to see the crew settle into their new digs, funded by Palmer Tech (at least until the board revolts and kicks loose-money Felicity (Emily Bett Rickards) out of the CEO spot, which is certain to happen before long). This is how fans want to see the cast, one united front, bent to stop the bad guys in the city.

Star City has plenty of crooks, but perhaps none are so surprising as Liza Warner (True Blood’s Rutina Wesley) and her band of vigilante strike force officers, who are making money off the backs of criminals. Lance is shocked and angry to learn about this group, and quickly joins forces with Team Arrow to bring them down. Which they do, appealing to the morality left in Liza, who is a cop for a reason.

Along the way, Oliver and CLance come to an understanding. The revelation that Lance has been suckered into working with Darhk (Neal McDonough) knocks the captain down a few pegs to Oliver’s level. Both men have screwed up, both men are ashamed about it, and both are determined to make up for past wrongs. Lance even intends to turn himself in until Oliver stops him. Finally on equal footing, their bond over this adventure heals the last rift in the central group.

Which is good. If Oliver is going to run for mayor, he needs a united front around him. Other candidates have met with ill fates, and while Oliver is more capable than the others, he still needs the support of his team and the police. Oh, and a bit of help from Thea (Willa Holland), whose trip to Nanda Parabat seems to have had the desired effect, as she’s bright and ready as the campaign manager, doesn’t hurt.

Unfortunately, there is one slight hiccup in “Beyond Redemption.” The Sara (Caity Lotz) that Laurel (Katie Cassidy) brings home to Captain Lance doesn’t seem to be the same Sara that died. This one is feral and creepy. Not to mention, Oliver and the others aren’t aware of what Laurel and Thea did. And Sara escapes. But that’s all strife for another installment of ARROW, not this one.

In the B story this week, Felicity resists Curtis’ (Echo Kellum) attempts to unlock Ray Palmer’s final message. I understand Felicity’s reticence, but clearly Ray is not going to give her a choice. Her haywire phone is due to his tech, and it would not surprise me if the problems with the power in the new lair are related, too. Ray wants to be heard, and with Curtis determined to help him, he will be.

When is Curtis going to be brought onto Team Arrow? Don’t get me wrong, it does feel like ARROW lets too many people in on the secret too quickly, and it’s nice for Felicity to have a life apart from the group. But Curtis is way too helpful and observant to be left on the sidelines for long. He is going to join up, probably sooner rather than later, and I think the writers have drawn it out enough.

“Beyond Redemption” has a few minor flaws, such as Oliver’s easy catch of Liza after she shoots down one of his arrows with far less warning, and the fact that ARROW still insists on showing flashbacks to Oliver’s time before the series. Other than that, though, this is a feel-good, action-packed installment of the enjoyable series.

ARROW airs Wednesdays at 8 p.m. ET on the CW.