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Thursday, December 29, 2016

Lost TRAVELERS

Article first published as TRAVELERS Review on Seat42F.


Netflix launched a new series today called TRAVELERS. Set in the present day, it involves a group of people from the future who travel (of course) back in time to inhabit the recently deceased’s bodies. They say they have come back to save humanity, and since they are the protagonists and aren’t just killing people, it makes sense to believe them. But they are very mysterious about their mission, so it’s hard to know exactly what is true in this world.
The central cast is made up of six players. Three of them aren’t great. Carly (Nesta Cooper, Heroes Reborn) is a mother whose baby daddy is an abusive drunk. Trevor (Jared Abrahamson, Awkward.) is a high school student who prefers fighting to school work. Philip (Reilly Dolman, Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief”) is a drug addict living in a crack house. None of these characters prove all that interesting, and none of the performances are very memorable. The future people chose poorly with these three, any of whom could be taken out at any time and it wouldn’t hurt the show.
However, the first woman we see, Marcy (MacKenzie Porter, Hell on Wheels), is far more interesting. Mentally disabled, Marcy is ‘cured’ over night when her body is taken, which not only shows us some of the rules of TRAVELERS, but also the limits of the heroes. While Marcy is not someone who makes a huge impact on the world prior to this event, her caring social worker, David (Patrick Gilmore, SGU Stargate Universe), helps flesh her out, and she is given an interesting plot line. Whenever the focus shifted to the others, I kept wishing for Marcy to return.
Finishing off the sextet is the investigator who starts looking into the strange things surrounding these people, Grant MacLaren (Eric McCormack, Will & Grace, Perception). I admit, I thought I had Grant figured out just a couple of minutes into TRAVELERS, and I found the character relatively boring. However, a twist late in the premiere ratchets up his importance and role, which immediately improves both the show and his part in it.
Screeners were not made available for this one, so I’ve only seen the pilot, but the impression that I get is that it will be pretty standard, mid-level sci-fi fare. There is a larger story that seems interesting, but it also looks like a lot of the twelve episodes will probably be mainly self-contained stories, at least going by Wikipedia synopsis. The mystery feels forced, and the way the characters present it, I’m not even sure the writers knew where it was going at the start. For instance, Marcy says she can’t explain what she’s doing to David, but then seems to understand exactly what she’s doing later, which makes her seem less trustworthy than the rest of the episode paints her to be. This unevenness weakens the overall production.
There is hope, though. This is a joint production with a Canadian studio, and it seems to be somewhat in the vein of fellow Northern series Continuum. Continuum was never the best show on the air, but it was intriguing science fiction, better than a lot of shows, even if it wasn’t must-see. If TRAVELERS only reaches the level of Continuum, I’d be pretty satisfied, as I enjoyed that one quite a bit.
The problem it faces is that we are nearing peak television, with more than four hundred scripted series premiering in the United States this year. Being middle of the pack used to be good enough, but it’s not any more. TRAVELERS will likely have some very adoring fans, the people that this hits the sweet spot for, but it lacks the type of appeal that would pull it out of the typical genre fare, so it’s not likely to get beyond that, or make any lasting impression. Which could likely lead to a short run.
TRAVELERS’ entire first season is available now on Netflix.

Thursday, December 8, 2016

SHUT EYE Review

Article first published as SHUT EYE Review on Seat42F.


My name is Charlie Haverford. I used to be a magic trick inventor. Until I became a fake psychic for a bunch of gypsies. When you’re a fake psychic, you’ve got nothing: no say in what you do. You do whatever work the Romas who control the area send your way. You disappoint anyone who’s still talking to you: an unsatisfied wife, a screw-up sister, kids, too, a hypnotist, if you’re desperate. Bottom line? Until you figure out how to get out from under the Roma thumb, you’re not going anywhere.

OK, so fun with the intro to this review aside, there are major difference between Jeffrey Donovan’s previous USA series, Burn Notice, and his new drama on Hulu, SHUT EYE, premiering this week. Still, it’s hard not to draw some parallels. Donovan’s Charlie used to be great at something, has gotten into a situation where he’s not doing what he wants to do, and doesn’t have an easy way out, sort of like Michael Weston. Also, those around him, while supportive, are not the A team he might pick, but he’s committed to them.

Yet, I like SHUT EYE a lot better than Burn Notice. Burn Notice was a thin, case-of-the-week procedural that rarely went anywhere until the end. SHUT EYE is a much more complex, ongoing tale in which a man who has been beaten into submission gains an actual clairvoyant gift, which may just be what he’s been waiting for to make some changes.

Donovan is good, building upon his success in Fargo last year. He’s someone who can play pathetic and obedient well, but there’s an edge to him that is interesting. He is surrounded by a decent cast that includes KaDee Strickland (Private Practice), Isabella Rossellini (Alias, Joy), Emmanuelle Chriqui (Entourage), Susan Misner (The Americans), David Zayas (Dexter), Mel Harris (Saints & Sinners), Dylan Schmid (Once Upon a Time), and Angus Sampson (Fargo). Almost all are well cast, and the dynamics are set pretty solidly in the pilot.

The world is one not often portrayed in long-form, that of con men and women running a very successful racket of an industry, which I appreciate. Of course, those involved are little better than thugs and gangsters, and who is on top is purely a matter of showing strength and effectively threatening. It’s seedy stuff, but a new version of the dark worlds that currently populate television.

Somehow, though, through it all, Charlie comes across as being a likeable character. Rossellini’s Rita says it best when she calls him an honest liar. Charlie does engage in the same trickery as the others, but he also helps people and cares about people. He is loyal and he follows the rules, until he is pushed past a breaking point. Even then, his intentions are good, and he’ll only turn on those who deserve it. He’s a bit noble, which is surprising, given his profession and the situation he’s in.

SHUT EYE is set up to be a hero’s journey. We’re likely to see Charlie find his inner spirit and fight back when he needs to. We’ll see him rise from his lowly position and be a man to be proud of. Hopefully at least Linda (Strickland), his wife, will see that, and maybe stop fooling around with Gina (Chriqui) on the side, not that viewers are likely to blame her in the moment; Charlie hasn’t yet awoke when that occurs. Still, I find myself rooting for them to fix their marriage, and thinking Charlie might forgive her if he learns the truth.

SHUT EYE isn’t a perfect series. The story isn’t as gripping as one might like, with the flaws in the characters being a detriment to engaging with the story. Some of the plot twists or momentum seems forced and artificial. None of the performances are the type to make you start thinking of awards season, though they’re serviceable across the board. But it’s pretty good, and I do want to see more of it.

SHUT EYE will release its entire first season Wednesday, December 7th on Hulu.

Saturday, December 3, 2016

Out of the SEARCH PARTY

Article first published as SEARCH  PARTY Review on Seat42F.


TBS premieres SEARCH PARTY this week. It’s a dark dramedy about a bunch of young adults whose former classmate goes missing. Most of the quintet are self-absorbed enough not to care much, but one of them, Dory, takes the news very hard, even though she and the missing girl aren’t close, and Dory can’t stop thinking about it. What is behind this mystery and why does it matter so much to Dory?
TBS usually does very goofy comedies, more slapstick than clever, which isn’t an insult as there is plenty of room in the world for both, and each style has many fans. In SEARCH PARTY, though, the netowkr is departing, going more for a premium cable style sitcom, something that is as much drama as comedy, and that gets into deeper issues than are usually tackled in twenty-two minutes. It’s a serial story, almost with a miniseries feel, that presents a specific point of view, grounded and relatable, and I found myself interested in this one.
Alia Shawkat (Arrest Development) stars as Dory, who to me feels apart from her social circle. Her boyfriend, Drew (John Reynolds, Stranger Things), is such a doofus he can barely take care of himself. Portia (Meredith Hagner, Royal Pains) is a self-absorbed actress, and hipster Elliott (John Early, Your Main Thing) is equally shallow.
Now, it could be that these friendships are left over from Dory’s younger days, and she hasn’t yet found a peer group that really understands her; she certainly seems different enough for this to be the case. I like this distinction, though, because it helps explain Dory’s motivation, someone who feels like she doesn’t quite belong in the world she inhabits, and I get the impression she’s looking for the missing girl in order to figure out herself as much as to actually solve the case.
Dory has some help from ex-boyfriend Julian (Brandon Michael Hall, Cecile on the Phone), the fifth member of the cast. Julian also doesn’t seem as much a part of the others, and that makes him a good one for Dory to reach out to when her friends are disinterested. Smart and capable, he’s the perfect partner for our fledging detective, and together they are likely to figure out what happened.
If that was all there was to SEARCH PARTY, I might still like it. But as one keeps watching, one gets more insight into what, on the surface, seem like the more superficial characters. Portia, in particular, is given screen time to explain why she is the way she is, which is welcome. If the same is done for Drew and Elliott, and if that figures into Dory’s central line, I could see this being a pretty interesting series.
What stops me from a full recommendation is that I feel like other shows have done these things better, though. SEARCH PARTY has the mystery of Stranger Things, the narcissism of Girls, and the journey of a Wes Anderson film. And the problem with drawing those comparisons is that each of the other pieces of content are superior in their execution. Which means this one suffers by the reference.
I like that TBS has taken this chance, and if this series were just a bit better, it would succeed for me. I do hope a failure here (if, indeed it does fail, as others may disagree and this show could become quite popular; I’m terrible at predicting ratings) doesn’t discourage TBS from trying again. Some of the right elements are in place, it just lacks a polish and fresh take to really push it over the top.
SEARCH PARTY premieres Monday, November 21st on TBS.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

GAME OF THRONES - The Complete Sixth Season

Article first published as Blu-ray Review: "Game of Thrones - The Complete Sixth Season" on Blogcritics.

HBO’s Game of Thrones hits Blu-ray, digital, and DVD with its latest season just in time for the holidays. By now, anyone who might be interested in this release, The Complete Sixth Season, already knows the players and settings pretty well, hooked into the battle of sex, violence, and political intrigue for years. Who will end up ruling Westeros, and who else among our favorites might survive the bloody, never-ending conflicts? The sixth year continues those threads and tees up the final two, shorter seasons, set to air next summer and the year after.
A lot of exciting stuff happens in sixth season. The North descends further into chaos as Ramsey Bolton (Iwan Rheon) secures his hold on the land. At the same time, Sansa Stark (Sophie Turner) and a resurrected Jon Snow (Kit Harington) build an army to unseat Bolton, the bastard sitting in their departed father’s chair. Further north, the brothers at The Wall are thrown into chaos, and beyond that, Bran Stark (Isaac Hempstead Wright) reappears after a season off, and we finally learn the story behind fan-favorite Hodor’s (Kristian Nairn) name in a very memorable episode.
Looking south, King’s Landing is a mess as Cersei (Lena Headey) and Margaery Tyrell (Natalie Dormer) each try to bend the ear of the ineffectual King Tommen (Dean-Charles Chapman), who continues to be stream-rolled by The High Sparrow (Jonathan Pryce). A clear winner emerges by the end of the year, probably surprising even Jaime Lannister (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau), who has come home to the capital. However, the new ruler shouldn’t get too comfortable, as the vengeful Sands steal control of Dorne and look towards the Red Keep.
This isn’t even taking into account what’s going on across the sea, with Arya Stark (Maisie Williams) training to take her revenge, and Tyrion Lannister (Peter Dinklage) trying to hold a city together for the MIA Daenerys (Emilia Clarke). And off the coast of Westeros, Yara (Gemma Whelan) and Theon Greyjoy (Alfie Allen) struggle with murderous family members to attempt to hold onto their own lands.
This is all only a very brief overview of a busy ten episodes, which include many more characters and scenarios. The pacing is excellent, everything constantly in motion, and the various threads balanced beautifully. The world created continues to be grounded and compelling, and it’s very easy to see why this is one of the most popular series being made right now.
However, as a fan of the books first, I still find it a bit hard to overlook the horrible way in which the TV show departed from the source material. For four seasons, Game of Thrones was a pretty faithful adaptation of the novels. Beginning in season five, and continuing even more blatantly this year, the story has gone in a myriad of different directions, thumbing its nose at the author, George R.R. Martin. I get that a video medium needs to take certain liberties, but either it stays fairly true or it is its own thing; I can’t recall another example of a show that started the former and changed to the latter mid-stream. While part of this may be because the show has gotten ahead of the books in many regards, Martin being a notoriously slow writer, it still feels fundamentally wrong, a betrayal of the fans.
And yet, I can’t stop watching. I have come to love these actors and their portrayals of the characters, and if I can push the books out of my mind, it’s still a very good show. It makes me supremely sad that such an excellent show is tainted in this way, but at this point, it’s too late to change that. I am committed to seeing it through to the end regardless, even as I already long for a re-do in the future.
HBO usually takes good care of its viewers in terms of extras on their home releases, and Game of Thrones – The Complete Sixth Season is no exception. Besides the expected deleted scenes and audio commentaries (thirteen for ten episodes!), there is an in-episode guide that seems invaluable for such a complex, interwoven tale. The guide also provides background info for the series, not just the story, which means there is useful trivia even if one is already well-versed in all things Westeros. Adding to the mythology are a batch of “Histories & Lore,” as told by the characters.
Beyond that, there is an in-depth look at the impressive Battle of the Bastards sequence and a peek at the work done in Paint Hall. We also get to see how the Dothraki made their come back in the production after having been out of the story so long. So there is quite an impressive array of bonus material.
Despite my reservations about Misters Benioff and Weiss, the show-runners, and some of the (in my opinion) poor decisions they’ve made of late, Game of Thrones remains a must-see program, and this set is well worth a look.

Friday, November 18, 2016

Not So GOOD BEHAVIOR

Article first published as GOOD BEHAVIOR Review on Seat42F.


TNT’s latest drama is GOOD BEHAVIOR, premiering tonight. Based on the book series by Blake Crouch (The Wayward Pines Trilogy), the program follows an alcoholic con artist on parole from prison who gets drawn back into the underworld in a big way. She’s just a small-time thief, but when she steals from an assassin, she suddenly goes even deeper into the dark side with no clear path back.

Our protagonist, Letty Dobesh, is played by Michelle Dockery of Downton Abbey fame. While Lady Mary could be a bit of a jerk from time to time, she certainly would not approve of Letty’s behavior, and it’s quite a different role for her. Gone is the British accent, and in its place are wigs, a bunch of role playing, and some guns. Dockery does all right, but I just don’t know if she’s the right person to lead GOOD BEHAVIOR.

To be fair, few actresses would be great in this series, and that’s more the fault of the program than the performer. It’s pretty messily plotted, with twists coming quickly and too conveniently, motivations barely examined before rocketing on to the next thing, and an emphasis on flash over substance. It’s laid out as sort of a case of the week, but wrapped in a serial story. So that fact that Dockery can’t make it believable isn’t entirely surprising.

GOOD BEHAVIOR does try to flesh Letty out by giving her a child she’s trying to regain custody of and a far-too-lenient parole officer, Christian (Terry Kinney, Billions, Oz). Yet, rather than providing context for Letty, these seem to be set dressings. If Letty were really devoted to her kid, she might try harder to turn over a new leaf. And if Christian were even a little good at his job, he wouldn’t allow her to walk all over him. It feels flat, elements stolen from better stories to try to dress up a mediocre show.

The chemistry between Dockery and Juan Diego Botto (Zorro, Roma), who plays the killer, Javier, whose thumb Letty gets trapped under, isn’t bad. In fact, I’d bet that GOOD BEHAVIOR is banking on the steamy, dangerous romance as the primary draw. Will they sleep together? Almost certainly. Will they fall in love and allow that to get in the way of their criminal activities? That’s a little less obvious, but if the series runs for a few years, almost equally certain.

The problem is that a little flirtation doesn’t make up for the weak overall presentation. With only four main characters, the fourth being Lusia Strus’ (Wayward Pines) Estelle, there’s a lot of lingering focus on the main players, especially the central pair. So when the plot is flimsy around them, without totally showing a realistic relationship or reasons for what the players are doing, then the whole thing doesn’t hold up very well.

I do think TNT has been trying to make better dramas lately. But most of their shows tend to be like GOOD BEHAVIOR, interesting ideas that are not as well developed as the same series might be on their leading basic cable competitors, FX and AMC. I will give TNT credit for having a brand and sticking with it, but I can’t help but wish they allowed themselves to get a little more complex in their storytelling. Letty would be a much more interesting character if the series toyed with ambiguity and shades of grey, which in this case are minimized in favor of action.

So should you watch GOOD BEHAVIOR? Well, if you like other TNT series, you probably are already adjusted to the lowered expectations that come with viewing that network, and may enjoy this one, too. If you’ve wanted to watch TNT, or have occasionally given in only to be disappointed, this program is not going to change your mind; stay away.

GOOD BEHAVIOR premieres tonight at 9/8c on TNT.

Saturday, November 5, 2016

HELL ON WHEELS Stop Turning

Article first published as 'Hell on Wheels - Season 5, Volume 2' on Blogcritics.

AMC’s Hell on Wheels, often ignored, but worthy of the great network it aired on among peers like Breaking Bad, Mad Men, and The Walking Dead, came to an end recently with its final seven episodes. Centered around the building of the transcontinental railroad, the series followed some really good characters, as well as a depiction of racial relations at the time, as the workers labored to connect America coast to coast following the Civil War. Now, those last installments are available on Blu-ray and DVD, along with some extras.

What strikes me about this final batch of episodes, which I eagerly devoured in two sittings, is that they are, on balance, more character-driven than most of the seasons. Don’t get me wrong, Hell on Wheels has done some beautiful and disturbing stories featuring its players over the years. But usually those are scenes intermixed with larger arcs and many moving plots. Here, four of the seven episodes really zero in on one or two faces, with much of the main cast sitting out multiple installments, and the finale serves pretty much all of those left standing. This leaves only two hours for the basic narrative about the railroad as a whole.

This works very well, even if it does depart from what most long-time viewers might expect from the show. The completion of the tracks still gets its due near the end, with one more really good story about pulling together and doing the impossible, the two companies racing one another to the finish line. However, by often focusing even more than ever on the central characters, it allows solid endings for a lot of the players we have come to deeply care about. And though many of them either die or leave before the end, each hour shedding another face or two, I couldn’t have asked for a better way to send the show off.

Among those who get an appropriate goodbye are: Fong (Angela Zhou), the woman disguised as a man; Maggie Palmer (Chelah Horsdal), the hotel owner who sees the best in people; Psalms (Dohn Norwood), the former slave with whom our once-slave-owner protagonist forms a bond; Naomi (MacKenzie Porter), the young Mormon wife of our hero, from whom he’s been physically separated; Chinese mob villain Chang (Byron Mann); and, of course, The Swede (Christopher Heyerdahl), the primary antagonist from Norway who has been permanently scarred by the horrors of war.

Then there’s our remaining central quartet, who have been through so much together on on their own, and whom get more than a single hour to wrap their own stories up. Cullen Bohannan (Anson Mount) is not just the central figure, but a man who learns a lot over these past years, and who finds himself at his most vulnerable as things come to a close. Bohannan says so much without words, and I continue to be impressed at Mount’s performance. Thomas Durant (Colm Meaney) is the crooked boss, through whom we begin to wonder if the ends might just justify the means. Eva (Robin McLeavy) is the girl who is perhaps the ultimate survivor, going from prisoner to whore to entrepreneur. Mickey McGinnes (Phil Burke) is the Irish immigrant pursuing the American dream, learning it costs a heck of a lot to achieve. Each of these have very touching moments as their threads tie off.

Hell on Wheels is not a happy ending type of a show. Many beloved characters have passed over the years, and happiness routinely eludes just about everyone. These people live a harsh life with a gritty reality, and that continues through the finale, with no artificial wrap up that’s too neat for their existence. That being said, there’s a full circle to be found, and the conclusions are satisfying in keeping with the series overall.

The extras in Season 5, Volume 2 are unfortunately thin. Three featurettes run less than five minutes each. A little more valuable are the “Inside the Episode” bits, which are about five minutes each, and there’s one for every hour in the set. Still, I wish the producers were a little less taciturn than the characters, and really examined what the show has accomplished over its six-year run.

In the end, though, I greatly enjoy Hell on Wheels, and will certainly miss it. If you didn’t catch it during its original airing, now is your chance, as all of the episodes have been released, ending with Hell on Wheels Season 5, Volume 2, on sale now. The Complete Series is also available. I definitely recommend it.

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Welcome-ish, PEOPLE OF EARTH

Article first published as PEOPLE OF EARTH Review on Seat42F.


TBS is a network for experimental sitcoms, so their latest offering, PEOPLE OF EARTH, should fit right in. An accomplished journalist is assigned to cover a support group for people who believe they have been abducted by aliens. Anxious to get past that waste of time and onto something meaningful, he barely gives the theories of the crazy people a second thought… until he has an extraterrestrial encounter of his own.
Yep, it sounds like a bizarre premise, and it is. It gets even more bizarre when viewers get to start seeing the aliens, knowing this isn’t just conspiracy theories, and is actually a real problem. The aliens plan to take over the world and aren’t too happy that our hero, Ozzie Graham (Wyatt Cenac, The Daily Show), is onto them. After all, no one is going to listen to a bunch of crackpots, but an actual reporter who is determined to find proof? That could threaten all of their plans!
I like the cast of this show. Besides Cenac, the large ensemble includes Ana Gasteyer (Suburgatory, Saturday Night Live), Luka Jones (Up All Night), Brian Huskey (Another Period), Michael Cassidy (The Magicians), Oscar Nunez (The Office), Nancy Lenehan (My Name Is Earl), Da’Vine Joy Randolph (Selfie), Alice Wetterlund (Silicon Valley), Daniel Sherman (Run All Night), and Tracee Chimo (Orange Is the New Black). This isn’t an A-list bunch, but there are quite a few familiar faces, and some very funny people on the list.
I also like the concept. Alien abductions are usually dismissed as nonsense, and if they were to be played for laughs, it’s by laughing at the characters. Here, we have some people who fit that stereotype of someone who isn’t to be believed, but knowing they’re right changes the dynamic and feel of the series. It’s kind of a weird world that doesn’t feel like our own reality, even though it looks and sounds like it, which makes for an interesting watching experience.
Where it goes wrong for me is the execution. The aliens themselves aren’t portrayed nearly as well as they could be. They are an inept bunch, even though they’ve been able to operate in the shadows for some time. They’re too sloppy to feel realistic. There are plot holes, one of the invaders making a very strange decision in retrospect, which feels very obvious by episode two. We’re still very much in the dark about who they are and what they want, but there doesn’t appear to be a cohesive idea behind them that will make the mystery worth it. And, while some have cool designs, others are pretty lame.
Because of that, I don’t know where this is going, and I’m not that interested in finding out. If PEOPLE OF EARTH can’t get through two half-hour installments without making me doubt the reality they’re presenting, I don’t know that I can stomach a weekly show that may not pay off.
The one aspect that gives me a bit of hope is that delusions that Ozzie experiences. By setting the narrator up to be unreliable, there is a possibility that the inconsistencies and plot holes could be purposeful, clues that not all is as it seems to be to those of us watching at home (another level beyond the ignorant, unprepared humans who don’t know the aliens are coming). If this were embraced more fully, PEOPLE OF EARTH could be a ground-breaking sitcom.
I just don’t think that’s where it’s going, though, so while I was amused and interested in the first couple of installments, I’m not sold on continuing, especially on a network that had yet to distinguish itself as consistently reliable in the comedy realm, airing both good series and total duds, often at the same time.
PEOPLE OF EARTH premieres tonight at 10/9c on TBS.

Monday, October 31, 2016

GOOD GIRLS REVOLT Or Revolting?

Article first published as GOOD GIRLS REVOLT Review on Seat42F.


Amazon has a new period drama called GOOD GIRLS REVOLT, which premieres this week. Set in the late 1960s, it’s a drama about the employees of a newsroom for a magazine (similar to Newsweek) called News of the World. Specifically, the characters at the center are women ‘researchers’ who essentially do all the work of writing the articles, but get none of the credit because of the sexism of the time. Now, they’re ready to fight for their rights and recognition.

GOOD GIRVLS REVOLT is confusing because it’s got a lot of real elements, but is not actually a true story. For instance, the events mentioned that are reported on more or less actually happened. Several characters, including Eleanor Holmes Norton (Joy Bryant, Parenthood) and Nora Ephron (Grace Gummer, Mr. Robot, The Newsroom), are real people. Yet, what they are doing isn’t true to life. Ephron did work for Newsweek, but at a different time, and for a longer period than what the show portrays.

Because of the real names and events, viewers are likely to be tricked into thinking this is a true story. I feel like that’s kind of dangerous. It’s absolutely fair to take a little creative license when portraying historical happenings, but GOOD GIRLS REVOLT isn’t doing that. Instead, it’s misleading to lend itself unnecessary and unwarranted authenticity. This is purely personal opinion, but I don’t approve of that sort of element at all.

Taken on its own, I did enjoy the pilot of GOOD GIRLS REVOLT, before I looked into how accurate it was. It’s very easy to get behind two of the three main women, Patti (Genevieve Angelson, Backstrom) and Cindy (Erin Darke, Love & Mercy), and root for them to succeed. It’s also a timely tale as the first female candidate of a major political party runs for office in a race beseeched by sexism, so it seems important to bring these things up.

However, the show is also pretty predictable and one-dimensional. The costumes and music are almost a bit too over the top, and the drug use and penis sculptures just make it seem ridiculous. Could people have acted like this? Perhaps. Did they? Probably not to this extent. This is more a vision of what modern viewers think the 1960s was like, taken in a cartoonish fashion. Even Patti, Cindy, Nora, and Eleanor are more archetypes than complex characters.

The one player that gets a bit of depth, Jane (Anna Camp, The Good Wife, Pitch Perfect), is not likeable. I’m not complaining about the actress; I’ve enjoyed Camp very much in several other projects. But instead of letting us see the internal struggle she is going through, wanting to hold onto the achievements she has made and afraid of rocking the boat, it’s actually surprising when Jane does the right thing in episode one because she’s shown to be such a cold person prior to this. We don’t get any insight into why she makes that decision.

There are men in the show, too, specifically, Chris Diamantopoulos (Silicon Valley), Hunter Parrish (Weeds), and Jim Belushi (According to Jim). They fare no better than the women, coming across as entitled bullies who may like girls that know their place, but certainly aren’t going to join the cause of gender equality. They aren’t outright villains, but are (mostly) quietly prejudiced. They are simply the obstacles in the way that must be toppled.

I do kind of want to see where GOOD GIRLS REVOLT is going. I like enough of the elements to be curious about episode two. Yet, that’s more because of a fascination with an era and the positive feelings I get from watching women kick butt than the show’s own merits enticing me.

GOOD GIRLS REVOLT season one will be released on Amazon this Friday.

Saturday, October 29, 2016

Not So PURE GENIUS

Article first published as PURE GENIUS Review on Seat42F.


CBS’s latest drama shows us an idealized world. In PURE GENIUS, a very rich techie creates a hospital with the goal of allowing true, immediate innovation for the doctors who work for him. Or rather, with him, since while he is technically the boss, he strives to create an environment where everyone, from the CEO to the janitor, is on an even playing field and gets a chance to contribute. Will his experiment work? Or will it run up against harsh reality?

For ease of access, the pilot begins with the head of this organization, James Bell (Augustus Prew, The Village), inviting the well-respected, but beaten down, Dr. Walter Wallace (Dermot Mulroney, Shameless, My Best Friend’s Wedding), to come check out the facility. Touring, Dr. Wallace (and the audience) meets the young doc who struggles to be taken seriously, Zoe Brockett (Odette Annable, House), the physician fighting prejudice to help the ‘hood he hails from, Malik Verlaine (Aaron Jennings, Movie 43), the put-upon assistant, Angie Cheng (Brenda Song, The Suite Life of Zack and Cody), and more (Royal Pains’ Reshma Shetty and One Life to Live’s Ward Horton). So we have our diverse ensemble.

I am very torn on whether to give PURE GENIUS a positive or a negative review. This show has things going in its favor, and things working against it. So let’s break it down.

First, the good stuff. The series is enticing. It’s easy to get very excited about the concept, stymied as people are today by regulation, bureaucracy, and budgets. The hospital as presented here is a utopia for its staff, who have been given much freedom and lots of resources to work with, and a beacon of hope for patients. Find something experimental on the internet that no one is making yet? No problem, they’ll just acquire the company and have them work for them.

The stories are moving. Who doesn’t love a bunch of do-gooders devoting their lives to helping others? These people are self-sacrificing, brilliant professionals who, if they were real, could save all of our lives multiple times over before lunch. They celebrate their wins, and mourn their losses. On a show like this, there will be a lot more of the former than the latter, providing frequent emotional victories for both the characters and the viewers. It’s enjoyable, feel-good entertainment.

Now the stuff that’s not so good, starting with the previous positive point. It is emotionally manipulative. Sure, it pushes you to care for those on screen, but it’s often forced, calculated even. A team of number crunchers writing a script purely based on analytics of reaction could not have done a better job crafting a show to push all the right buttons at the right times. It’s too perfect in that regard, obvious in its attempts to elicit response.

PURE GENIUS is also incredibly cliché. From finding out why Bell really created the place, to the way in which patients are helped, to the forced temporary setbacks, it’s a very rote, predictable show. It does a decent-ish job of disguising its case-of-the-week structure with flash, and yet, those versed in modern television will recognize it right away. I wouldn’t expect much freshness out of PURE GENIUS, and we probably won’t get it.

So it’s hard for me to recommend or not recommend this one. I enjoyed the first episode, and am tempted to watch more. But I probably won’t because, in the era of peak TV, there are plenty of better shows out there. I can’t fault anyone who wants to watch this series, though, because I do feel the draw of it. Let’s call it a wash and say if you like medical procedurals, this is a fun one with a nice take, though it’s a bit repetitive in its formula.

PURE GENIUS premieres Thursday, October 29 at 10/9c on CBS.

Friday, October 28, 2016

THE WALKING DEAD: Is It Done Disappointing?

Article first published as TV Review: 'The Walking Dead' - "The Day Will Come When You Won't Be" on Blogcritics.

SPOILER ALERT: Do not read this if you haven’t watch the season seven premiere.
I would like to start by saying that The Walking Dead is my favorite currently running show. I don’t state this lightly; I’m a television critic who has watched way, way too much TV, and so my standards are pretty darn high. Yet, this one has consistently explored human morality and complex character development in a way that surpasses just about any other on the air, despite the fact that it’s got a bunch of zombies, creatures I don’t particularly care for. So yeah, it’s a really, really good show.
Having said that, this is not going to be a very positive article, so I wanted to establish the place I’m coming from before I criticize, as a genuine fan that cares, not just some snobby critic who doesn’t know this program very well.
The episode itself, “The Day Will Come When You Won’t Be,” is another excellent hour of the series, of which I have few complaints about when taken on its own. Rick (Andrew Lincoln) comes face-to-face with his most dangerous adversary yet, Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan), and painfully has his worldview changed by said villain. There is some very tense suspense over whether or not Rick will either lose a hand or be forced to chop his own son’s, Carl (Chandler Riggs), off. The end is a perfect, moving capper that is sorely needed after the carnage. So it wasn’t this hour alone that has frustrated me.
My deep disappointment comes with two, in my opinion, spectacularly bad moves in last year’s run that dampen what should have been much, much more emotional scenes last night. These deal with the deaths of Glenn (Steven Yeun) and Abraham (Michael Cudlitz), and while these are long-time characters I care deeply about, their passings were not all that affecting. I’ve cried over many characters on this show, but barely felt a thing for them watching last night’s episode. It had nothing to do with the actors, and everything to do with the way the show has treated the characters leading up to it.
I have no problem with the telegraphing of Abraham’s demise throughout last spring’s finale. It is a sweet send-off, just as surely going to come to pass as Glenn’s death under the dumpster earlier last year (more on that in a moment). So why in the heck would the show leave us on a cliffhanger instead, making viewers wait many months for confirmation of the thing we already all knew was going to happen?
Had this been a fake out, I might forgive it, but the sheer shamelessness of the lead up and unresolved story sucked. It just wasn’t necessary. Some members of the production have claimed that the death launches a new story so they had to hold it, but I disagree. I’ve had a night to think about it, and had they showed that it was Abraham who was beaten to death last spring, I don’t think it would have lessened the impact of this “new world order” story in “The Day Will Come When You Won’t Be” in the least. If anything, it would have been more affecting because we wouldn’t have been run down by theories and debates and internet rumors all summer.
By the time it actually happens, as much as I adore Abraham and wish he didn’t died, I was like “yep, finally,” exhausted from the wait and reiterating my view for the number of people who wanted to know who I thought was dead and why over the interim. (I don’t say this with any ego; everyone I know who watches the show wanted to know everyone else who watches the show’s theories. Except me, apparently, who hates this kind of discussion.)
Now, let’s talk about Glenn. Last fall, The Walking Dead presented an hour that very clearly, though subtly, telegraphs his death next to a dumpster. When the production decided to do an about-face and reveal that dumpster death didn’t really happen, no plausible explanation for Glenn’s survival is given. The situation, as it is presented, does so with the flimsiest of excuses that is not anywhere near the narrative’s usual standards. (Read my review of that episode here.) Obviously, I’m still not over it.
So when watching Glenn pass last night, as disturbing as the actual sequence is (copied beautifully from the comic book), I didn’t care because he should already have been dead, and as far as I was concerned, The Walking Dead was just resetting their universe to right and moving on.
The idea of a second death at Negan’s hand is a solid one. That would have provided the surprise Abraham’s murder was lacking, and really given us a great start to the new year, something to talk about. Not to mention, Daryl (Norman Reedus) causing the second death will definitely provide some more guilt for the man who doesn’t need it. Unfortunately, Glenn is the one character in the lineup that this twist doesn’t work for, because he died at this point in the comics and he is just a correction to a bad plot line.
I do actually get the mindset that led to setting up last night’s story. The writers may have been excitedly talking about how they’d kill Abraham, defying comic readers’ expectations and making us think Glenn was safe, only to twist the knife in the back unexpectedly. Sadly, after the cheesy, unnecessary cliffhanger and Glenn’s ridiculous survival under the dumpster, there was no impact at all, at least not for me.
The saving grace here is that last night’s episode was as good as what I’ve come to expect from The Walking Dead, and it resolves and moves past those two major missteps from last year. Hopefully, they’ve learned their lesson and will go back to giving us nearly flawless entertainment without the gimmicks. If we have to go through the same cheese in season seven as those two huge miscalculations in season six are, I will have to rethink what my favorite show is.
The only other thing I’d like to add is that I think it’s absolutely ridiculous AMC will allow the level of gore we saw in “The Day Will Come When You Won’t Be” and still won’t allow Negan to use his favorite word (which, by the way, has been filmed and will be uttered frequently in the DVD release of this season). Our priorities on decency standards in this country are pretty screwed up, am I right?
The Walking Dead continues its seventh season Sundays at 9/8c on AMC.

Monday, October 24, 2016

HOLISTIC DETECTIVE Whole Lot of Chaotic Fun

Article first published as DIRK GENTLY'S HOLISTIC DETECTIVE AGENCY Review on Seat42F.


BBC America has a new series coming this weekend entitled DIRK GENTLY’S HOLISTIC DETECTIVE AGENCY. No, this isn’t the first show to be adapted from the Douglas Adams books, but it certainly is an interesting one.

If you haven’t read the Dirk Gently books, one that shares a title with this show, a second called The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul, and a third that was only partially finished before the author’s passing, but was posthumously published anyway, called The Salmon of Doubt, you may be asking yourself what exactly is a holistic detective? Or, after seeing the names of the other books in the series, you may have already chalked up the author as a weirdo whose titles aren’t expected to strictly make sense. Both are probably correct attitudes to have.

According to Dirk (played here by Penny Dreadful’s Samuel Barnett), a holistic detective is one who looks at the whole picture. He follows any tangent that occurs to him, and it somehow all works out. The universe provides, so to speak. And for some reason, he can be hired to solve a murder by the guy who is killed. (Don’t ask.)

Thankfully (for obvious reasons), Dirk is not our protagonist. That honor belongs to Todd (Elijah Wood, Wilfred, The Lord of the Rings), a simple hotel worker who gets pulled into Dirk’s craziness quite unintentionally. Todd is our everyman who doesn’t understand why very, very strange things start happening around him, and doesn’t want anything to do with a man who just moves into one’s Seattle apartment without asking. So he’s our grounded anchor in a very bizarre show.
Although I have not read this book series, it does not appear that the new show is based on the novels, plot-wise. Todd isn’t mentioned in any novel description. Instead, it just takes the inane character of Dirk and drops him into our real world, with all new wackiness. Considering how The Hitchhiker’s Galaxy movie was received, perhaps that’s for the best, though I would likely be annoyed if I were someone who had read the books.

The show itself does a lot of the trademark Adams wit (I did read and enjoyed all of Hitchhiker’s, so I feel I can say that), with a bunch of mumbo jumbo dialogue that sounds good, but doesn’t really hold up under scrutiny, in a good way. Some of the laughs are obtained by pointing out absurdity in the real world in the context of the insane Dirk, and some are just derived from weird situations.

It also resembles humorist Dave Barry’s wonderful debut novel, Big Trouble, in that it features a great many characters, each with their own motivations, who somehow all come into one another’s orbit. In the pilot, we meet Todd’s sister, Amanda (Hannah Marks, Necessary Roughness), who is struggling with an odd affliction. We also meet a holistic assassin, Bart Curlish (Fiona Dourif, True Blood), and Todd’s neighbor, Farah Black (Jade Eshete, Shades of Blue), and a scared nerd, Ken (Mpho Koaho, Falling Skies), and a weird man, Gordon (Aaron Douglas, Battlestar Galactica), and Zimmerfield (Richard Schiff, The West Wing), and Riggins (Miguel Sandoval, Medium), and Friedkin (Dustin Milligan, Schitt’s Creek), and Estevez (Neil Brown Jr., Straight Out of Compton), and The Rowdy 3, who are actually four men, which I won’t list because this is getting ridiculously long.

All of the above are zany main characters, and their individual threads are all already coming into conflict already in episode one. It’s an extremely convoluted plot that is surprisingly easy to follow, and constantly entertaining. There was not a moment of this pilot that I didn’t love, and while I have absolutely no idea where this is going, or really, even who Dirk is, I am eager to follow along.

If you like offbeat British humor in general, or Douglas Adams in particular, I recommend checking out DIRK GENTLY’S HOLISITC DETECTIVE AGENCY, premiering Saturday at 9/8 c on BBC America.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Looking Into a BLACK MIRROR

Article first published as BLACK MIRROR Review on Seat42F.


This Friday, Netflix will premiere season three of BLACK MIRROR. You haven’t heard of the show? Well, that may not be surprising because the first two seasons were made and aired in the UK instead of the United States. However, Netflix outbid the British network than ran the show previously, and the new batch about to hit will be exclusive world-wide to the streaming service (with years one and two already available on the platform as well).
BLACK MIRROR is an anthology series with a technological bend. Each installment (there were seven prior to season three, and there will be six new ones this week) has its own cast, characters, setting, plot, and even reality. The stories are generally science-fiction in nature, with a look at how technology could possibly screw up the world in the future. It basically casts a ‘black mirror’ on our current society. It’s sort of like a Twilight Zone with a focused hook.
Lest you think the show is completely bleak dark, as the title indicates, the third season begins with a much less depressing narrative in “San Junipero.” Yorkie (Mackenzie Davis, Halt and Catch Fire) is a nerdy girl in the 1980s who enjoys video games. She is at a club that mixes dancing with arcade machines and meets Kelly (Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Touch), a bisexual “cool kid” who encourages Yorkie to find her courage and step outside her comfort zone.
Now, if you’re wondering how the series I described above does an episode like I just mentioned, given that the 1980s is the past, not the future, all I’ll say is that the hints are there from the start, and the twist is pretty cool.
But without giving anything else away, I was very impressed with the hour. It was incredibly cohesive and well thought-out. I get that it’s easier to do that with a self-contained episode than with an ongoing series, but much thought clearly went into how to tie things together and telegraph the later scenes without being obvious about it. Add in a retro, sexy, engaging vibe and a pair of talented actresses with authentic, compelling performances, and I came out of “San Junipero” with the desire to watch every episode of BLACK MIRROR available, which I’ll definitely be doing over the next few weeks.
Admittedly, I sampled that episode only last night and have not gotten to watch a second installment yet. Still, I feel I can recommend this series unequivocally. I also don’t see how any fans of the original runs could possibly complain about the continuation because, even though I don’t have the prior viewing experience to compare it to, this is really good, and far better than most anthologies I’ve watched. (Plus the show is still made by many of the same people.) If the other five episodes come anywhere near to this level of quality, it’s bound to be a very strong season, and to make things even sweeter, a fourth season has already been ordered.
Looking at its Wikipedia page, it looks like BLACK MIRROR gives us plenty to look forward to. While earlier episodes include the likes of Jon Hamm (Mad Men), Hayler Atwell (Agent Carter), Domhnall Gleeson (The Revenant), and Rory Kinnear (Penny Dreadful), among the upcoming cast members are the equally good Bryce Dallas Howard (Jurassic World), Kelly Macdonald (Boardwalk Empire), Jerome Flynn (Game of Thrones), Michael Kelly (House of Cards), and Cherry Jones (24). So you can’t say BLACK MIRROR doesn’t attract talent. The fact that these people want to get on board after other installments have come out reinforces the idea that this a show to watch.
All six season three episodes of BLACK MIRROR will be released this Friday on Netflix.

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Give It a CHANCE

Article first published as CHANCE Review on Seat42F.


Stop me if you’ve heard this one before. Hugh Laurie stars as the troubled titular doctor in a series where he struggles to help people others cannot. No, House is not back, although I miss that show. This is a new Hulu series called CHANCE, premiering this week, and it’s actually nothing like Laurie’s previous program (other than that it gives the actor a chance to show just how good he is).

As CHANCE begins, Dr. Eldon Chance (Laurie) is going through a divorce with his wife, Christina (Diane Farr, Numb3rs), not getting along with his daughter, Nicole (Stefania LaVie Owen, The Carrie Diaries), and facing financial ruin to the point where he’s considering selling antique furniture that he loves. If that wasn’t enough, he also feels like he’s failing his patients, who we see in a series of flashbacks, especially Jaclyn (Gretchen Mol, Boardwalk Empire).

To be fair, it’s not like Dr. Chance has much time to help the ailing sent to him. He’s merely an evaluator, someone who meets with a person once, and then refers them to another doctor for help. He doesn’t personally treat them. But he can’t stop himself from following up to find out what happens to them, and he takes to heart some of the tragedies that befall.

This sympathetic man is soft-spoken, but not weak. He cares deeply, yet has trouble making relationships work. He is professional, except when he isn’t, and even then, usually with noble intentions. He is complex, but enjoys simple pleasures. He is cultured, but is all right with going to places most men like him would avoid, and doesn’t automatically judge or dismiss criminals. A lot more is going on in his mind than what plays across his face.

All of this makes Laurie an excellent candidate for this vehicle. Don’t get me wrong; the entire cast, which also includes Lisa Gay Hamilton (The Practice), Greta Lee (Inside Amy Schumer), Paul Adelstein (Private Practice), Ethan Suplee (My Name Is Earl), and Clarke Peters (Treme, The Wire), is great. But CHANCE is Laurie, and his superb performance drives the series forward.

I’ve set up the premise, but I haven’t really gotten into what the show is about. In the first episode, Dr. Chance runs into Jaclyn, and learns her husband (Adelstein) is beating up on her. Unconnected, the good physician attempts to sell an antique desk to Carl (Peters), who encourages Dr. Chance to have D (Suplee) fix some metal work on it first. Accidentally hanging with D, Chance is impressed by the other man’s presence, and soon learns how useful that kind of intimidation can be. I can’t say with one hundred percent certainty how these two threads connect, as the show certainly takes its time getting anywhere, but I think anyone can see where this is going.

I didn’t mention the slow-moving pace as a bad thing. I love how CHANCE dwells on moments, really letting us look into Chance’s eyes and try to determine what swirling emotions and warring motivations are happening in his mind. He isn’t one to rush into anything, and so that needs to be shown. It also allows a tone to permeate that is gripping, so we’re pulled more fully into the story prior to when we need to be invested. It’s a pretty masterful work.

In case you couldn’t tell, I loved CHANCE. I think it’s a great vehicle for Laurie, who deserves to work with quality, and very interesting overall. Even though I think I know the path the story is on, I am equally confident there will be things happening that I don’t see coming because this is a realistic world, and thus, unpredictable. I look forward to catching the whole run.

The first season of CHANCE premieres Wednesday, October 19th on Hulu.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Can I Get an EYEWITNESS?

Article first published as EYEWITNESS Review on Seat42F.


USA’s latest drama is EYEWITNESS. Adapted from the Norwegian series Øyevitne, it’s a slow-burn crime drama about the aftermath of a triple homicide, the teenagers that witness it, and the law enforcement officers who seek to distribute it. With washed-out colors and a slow-moving pace, it’s likely to bring up shades of The Killing, among others, but I don’t feel like it quite lives up to that level of quality.

The show begins pretty early on with the murder, and the officer who arrives to investigate, the primary protagonist for EYEWITNESS, is Helen Torrance (Julianne Nicholson, Masters of Sex, Boardwalk Empire). She’s from the big city, but has moved to a small town with her husband, Gabe (Gil Bellows, Ally McBeal, House at the End of the Street), and foster son, Philip (Tyler Young, The Avatars). Frustrated with the boring life, Helen likes the excitement of this incident, but soon clashes over jurisdiction with an FBI agent, Kamilah Davis (Tattiawna Jones, Flashpoint).

Helen’s story unfolds almost exactly as expected. Looking into the crime goes just as it does in every other show where cops and feds clash, and even giving Helen a light-hearted partner, Tony (Matt Murray, Rookie Blue), doesn’t make much difference. It’s a well-constructed story, other than Helen being a little loose with talking about her work in front of Phillip, but it’s pretty much the same as at least a dozen other cable programs in recent years.

There is a subplot with Kamilah that might be a little outside the typical, but that felt more forced than engaging. EYEWITNESS is a drama, and there will be twists to keep the story moving over ten episodes per season, but I was just hoping for something a little better than this. The same disappointment applies tothe pilot’s “twist” ending.

Helen’s home life is a more interesting part of the show. I love Nicholson, always good in everything she does, and her character’s relationships are authentic. It’s easy to see her love for Gabe, and how Gabe is much more into being a foster parent than she is. She struggles with work/life balance, of course, but I think generally, her unit, while sticky, is sympathetic.

Where the show kicks up a few more notches for me is Philip’s story. Dealing with a druggie mom, liking the foster parents he’s been placed with but not really feeling like they’re his family, and struggling with being openly gay, is plenty for a kid to deal with. But the fact that he is the EYEWITNESS in the title, along with his deeply closeted friend, Lukas (James Paxton, Term Life), whom Philip is just hooking up with when things go down, and there’s some real drama to mine here.

Television has gotten better about its portrayal of homosexual characters in general, and EYEWITNESS has something I haven’t specifically seen before. It puts a complex, tense situation in a seriously-made drama, and the result is very compelling. My favorite scenes are easily the ones with Philip and Lukas as they work out what they mean to each other and discover their own identities.

So EYEWITNESS is a mixed bag. The quality is pretty decent, despite a few minor missteps, but it’s the lack of originality that drags it down. When it covers new ground, it mostly excels. What I want from the series is to rely less on what other shows have done and try to find new angles to approach. It’s probably too late for season one to give over to that completely, but if the Philip / Lukas story stays central, it might be worth it to stick around and see what comes later.

EYEWITNESS premieres Sunday, October 16th at 10/9c on USA.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

GRAVES Humor

Article first published as GRAVES Review on Seat42F.


Premium movie service Epix joins the original scripted world this weekend with two new shows. One, a comedy, is called GRAVES, and is about a fictional former Republican president named Richard Graves. Twenty-five years after he served as the leader of the free world, Graves’ policies and decisions from the Oval Office come back to haunt him. Realizing he has let his country down, and facing a legacy as the possible worst president ever, Graves wakes up and decides to start fighting for the American people once more.

President Richard Graves is a conglomeration of a number of different Republican presidents. He held office around the same time as George H.W. Bush, considered failed at the time, though Bush’s reputation has improved in the interim, while Graves has gone down. He is a gold standard for certain members of his party, like H.W. has become, and like Reagan always has been. He also shares the failed assassination attempt backstory with Reagan. President Graves had the disastrous polices of George W. Bush, getting us into unpopular wars and slashing spending on important research, while ridiculously beefing up the military and tanking the economy. So he isn’t any one of these real POTUSes (POTUSi?), but rather, a bunch of them put together.

This is probably a wise move. It allows Graves to be fictional and make decisions without worrying about what the real men are and did, and also takes a realistic look at both the positives and negatives of GOP administrations over the past few decades. It’s an intriguing concept, especially when coupled with the desire to make up for past mistakes that Graves now exhibits, and I think Graves probably ends up being the ideal representative of the traditional Grand Old Party by the end of episode one.

The title role is wonderfully portrayed by Nick Nolte (Warrior, Luck, Gracepoint), who captures a layered, authentic man. Graves is a total asshole to those around him, hazing his new assistant, Isaiah Miller (Skylar Astin, Pitch Perfect, Ground Floor), ignoring the political aspirations of his wife, Margaret (Sela Ward, CSI: NY, Gone Girl), and destroying property that is only sort of his. But even in the pilot, Nolte is allowed a few moments to show the raw vulnerability, the compassionate side of the man, and exhibit that he does care about more than just himself, even when he lets down his loved ones. It’s a very interesting performance, and I liked it a lot.

To more fully flesh out the story, and also likely to add subplot drama, we are introduced to Graves’ daughter, Olivia (Helene Yorke, Masters of Sex), who shares many of her father’s negative qualities, and is going through something devastating herself. I really don’t know how Margaret will balance two break-downs at once while furthering her own agenda, but Olivia is more an obstacle than anything else right now.

Also in the cast are a number of enjoyable actors like Roger Bart (Episodes, The Producers), Ernie Hudson (Ghostbusters), Nia Vardalos (My Big Fat Greek Wedding), Tania Gunadi (Enlisted), Khotan Fernandez (Royal Pains, El Sexo Debil), Angelica Maria (Que bonito amor), Callie Hernandez (Alien: Covenant), and Chris Lowell (Veronica Mars) as the as-of-yet-unseen son of President Graves.

All of these actors and the promising story are enough to get past my early distaste. GRAVES makes the grave (pun intended) error of beginning with some real political cameos, chief among them that of Rudy Giuliani. True, Graves isn’t thrilled with these guys, but he treats Giuliani nicer than most, and after recent polarizing press appearances, seeing Giuliani in this comedy context is likely to turn off many potential viewers. Hopefully, most will chalk it up to a decision made some time ago and look past it, because the rest of the pilot was worth watching. There are others that appear, but none nearly as offensive as the former mayor.

GRAVES premieres tonight on Epix, and viewers can check out the first two episodes free now on Epix’s website.