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Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Being HUMANS

Article first published as Blu-ray Review: 'Humans' on Blogcritics.

Just released on Blu-ray and DVD from Acorn Media is Humans (Uncut UK Edition). A British show that ran on AMC in the U.S. last year, the show plays with themes of sentience and robotics, telling the story of several individuals in a near-future world where humans co-exist with androids. The series also plays out larger arcs exploring this society as it changes and adapts. It’s a fascinating show, well made and well acted; it is definitely worth checking out.

At the heart of Humans is the Hawkins family. Father Joe (Tom Goodman-Hill, Mr. Selfridge) is feeling overworked and neglected at home, so he buys a “synth” (as the artificial beings are called) whom his family names Anita (Gemma Chan, Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit) to help out. His wife, Laura (Katherine Parkinson, The IT Crowd), is perturbed, but overruled by their three children, who quickly form bonds with Anita.

What they don’t realize is that Anita is actually a self-aware synth named Mia who was captured and re-purposed. A man named Leo (Colin Morgan, Merlin) is looking for her, along with a few other self-awares. As the eight-episode season unfolds, we learn quite a bit about Leo, Mia, and their family, as they go back quite a few years together, and their history matters very much to the world at large.

Some of the supporting characters also have interesting story arcs, most prominently a retired programmer named George (William Hurt, Damages), who has formed an emotional bond to his synth, Odi (Will Tudor, Game of Thrones), a mysterious man named Hobb (Danny Webb, Valkyrie) who is hunting Leo’s group, and DS Pete Drummond (Neil Maskell, Utopia), who resents the synth taking care of his disabled wife.

There are some early connections between various players, but as the season goes on, their paths become more and more intertwined. The story becomes a complex, sweeping narrative while remaining a small-scale character story: a hard feat to accomplish.

Humans raises some important and highly relevant questions about own contemporary society, which stands at the cusp of the artificial intelligence era. These are things we’ll soon be debating among ourselves. Just as there is an anti-robot movement on Humans, I expect that in our own future, small-minded people now losing the battles over race and sexual orientation, will take up that cause.

Will we reach The Singularity? Will our machines soon be able to reproduce themselves and not need us any longer? Those are things this series touches briefly on, and will surely be tackled further when Humans returns for a second season later this year. Given the quality with which this batch was tackled, I look to the show to do it properly and am eager to see their take, so I’d recommend checking this release out before the next one airs.

I wouldn’t think there’s too much different between HD and SD in terms of audio and visual quality. Despite portraying advanced technology, there is little CGI in Humans, with the synths looking just like us and relying on their human performers to (perfectly) set them apart as different. There are some action sequences and deep blacks that’ll look better on Blu-ray, but it’s not the type of show that a huge difference will be visible. Still, I’d go Blu-ray if I were you, especially since Amazon’s price is the same for both editions.

There are just a handful of special features. A featured 30-minute batch of shooting footage isn’t all that interesting, given it’s just mainly people standing around, not talking to the camera or anything. The are interviews with the cast are a little more worth watching, but still don’t really tell us a lot about the show. The release also contains a photo gallery, a puzzling addition very common on UK releases, but not seeming all that valuable to us in the U.S.

What I did find fascinating is that the same extras appeared on both blu-ray discs I received, which was kind of cool, able to access them no matter which I had in. But despite the novelty, I’d rather have more varied and deeper features than to see them repeated.

As such, I wouldn’t recommend Humans for the extras, but it is an excellent show that I enjoyed very much, and that makes you think, in a good way. Check out Humans, available now.

Sunday, March 27, 2016

THE CATCH Is Catchy

Article first published as THE CATCH Review on Seat42F.

SPOILER WARNING: It is impossible to talk about this program without revealing a “big twist” that occurs about a third of the way through the pilot (which is also on the show’s ‘about’ page at abc.com; I don’t watch commercials, so can’t speak to if it’s spoiled in the promos or not). I get to it about halfway down the page, so if you don’t know and don’t want to be spoiled, come back after watching the episode.

This week, ABC presents THE CATCH, which is sort of a Thomas Crown Affair-like series. A private investigator tangles with the con man that conned her, and because this is a weekly television show, lots of others in both of their orbits get drawn into the game. Who will come out on top, and could they ever be a real couple?

Produced under the Shondaland banner, THE CATCH feels like a good fit for ABC’s Thursday night lineup. It features a strong female protagonist, is fully of soapy drama and romance, and while it is hyper-realistic and not quite logical, it’s compelling when performed with a great cast.

Mireille Enos (The Killing) leads THE CATCH as Alice Vaughan, the P.I. She and her partner, Valerie Anderson (Rose Rollins, The L Word), run a very successful firm, which employs, among others, hacker Sophie (Elvy Yost, Bandslam) and the intelligent Danny Yoon (Jay Hayden, Battleground). Together, they accomplish great things professionally, building up an impressive client roster that they offer security to, but also are very close personally, and will support one another over doing their jobs. Think of them as sort of Olivia and her team from Scandal, but with the close bond of the docs in Grey’s Anatomy, hence why the show fits so well on this night and network.

Enter Christopher Hall (not his real name) played by Parenthood and Six Feet Under’s Peter Krause. Christopher is Alice’s fiancĂ©, the perfect man, rich and loving. He’d do anything for her, and also to her as it turns out, considering he steals from Alice’s company and disappears from her life. Working with his lover, Margot Bishop (Sonya Walger, Lost, FlashForward), and friend, Reginald Lennox III (Alimi Ballard, Numb3rs), the trio prove a match for Alice’s group. Unless one of them defects.

Oh, and there’s also an F.B.I. agent (Jacky Ido, Taxi Brooklyn), whom I am highly suspicious of, given the twisty, turn-y nature of THE CATCH.

The reason I am OK with revealing Christopher’s true nature in this review is threefold. One, it’s on the show’s official website. Two, it’s obvious that he’s the villain right from the start to anyone who has watched at least a few examples of modern television, even if the show waits nearly twenty minutes to confirm it. Three, his betrayal is central to what THE CATCH is, at least for now.

The driving reason to watch THE CATCH is the relationship between Alice and “Christopher.” I think it’s clear there is real love there. Christopher has fallen for Alice authentically, and Alice’s passionate rage comes because she cares so deeply for him. I have to think the show is going to spend at least the first season keeping them apart, but they’ll have to be together again before we get too far in.

Now, I’m not saying there aren’t obstacles. But tell the truth: wouldn’t you watch any cat-and-mouse game starring the fantastic duo of Enos and Krause? THE CATCH may not be the best show on television, but it embraces what it is, and with those two leads doing what they do, I will gladly add it to my small list of guilty pleasure shows worth watching.

THE CATCH airs Thursdays at 10/9c on ABC.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

DAREDEVIL Repeats Impressive Feat

Article first published as DAREDEVIL Review Season 2 on Seat42F.



MARVEL’S DAREDEVIL began its second season on Netflix yesterday, with all thirteen episodes of the sophomore run made available at once. Picking up a bit after the initial offering left off, season two finds Hell’s Kitchen in shambles as every gang in the area seeks to fill the power vacuum left by Wilson Fisk (Vincent D’Onofrio). Did our hero just make more work for himself, and is there hope the city could ever be truly cleaned up?

Knowing of Marvel’s plan to introduce four separate superhero shows before teaming them up, it’s clear that there are a lot of villains out there that need to be taken down. Fisk may have been the most powerful for a brief time, but he hadn’t always been that way, and he’s far from the only one with the resources and ambition to rule the drug trade, among other illicit activities, in New York. So there is little worry DAREDEVIL will run out of plot any time soon.

Still, I don’t think I expected quite so much mess at the onset of this year’s story. We don’t get a full lay of the land, with the plot sensibly focused on what Matt Murdock, a.k.a. Daredevil (Charlie Cox), knows, but we see an Irish mob, a biker gang, a gun seller, and hear of others. These are all much smaller players than Fisk, but they still pose a threat to the city.

However, SPOILER ALERT, the biggest threat seems to come from Frank Castle, The Punisher (Jon Bernthal, The Walking Dead, The Wolf of Wall Street). Frank is only glimpsed in the premiere, but the consequences of his actions are bloody and scary. He mows down the Irish easily and without pity, tracking down the lone survivor, too.

Could Frank be a good guy? Well, yes, sort of. Fans of the comic book know his mission is to punish those who deserve it, and his victims have largely been criminals. But when Daredevil gets in his way, saving the Irish guy, Frank not only beats the crap out of Daredevil, he shoots him point blank when the struggle goes against him. This shows that Frank thinks he is above the law and not too concerned about collateral damage, at least for those who make themselves an obstacle.

I will say there’s evidence Frank holds back, which makes him a little more sympathetic than he might otherwise be. He simply disarms a hospital security guard instead of murdering him, and he tries to walk away from a beat-down Daredevil, only pulling the gun when Daredevil follows him and reengages, gaining the upper hand.

So, in short, MARVEL’S DAREDEVIL is not lacking for action and violence in the first hour of its return, and this year promises to be just as bloody as the last.

But MARVEL’S DAREDEVIL isn’t all gritty fight scenes; it’s also love and humor, and that remains, too. From Matt and Karen (Deborah Ann Woll) flirting while playing pool, to Nelson & Murdock prioritizing those that need them most over a paycheck (which also may be desperately needed), to Foggy’s (Elden Henson) ill-advised sojourn into the biker bar, the slightly lighter elements are present, and that keeps the spirit of the show intact, even as the fighting element gets even darker.
The premiere sets up a full season, and reassures viewers that nothing more has changed than the style of Matt’s vigilante outfit, which needed some updates anyway. I look forward to seeing what they have in store.

I’d also like to thank Netflix for the extended season recap playing at the start of a new run. There’s a skip option for those who just finished binging the previous season, but for those that have not, it is most helpful to spend a few minutes being reminded of the highlights of what happened before. It would be hard to do such a thing on a traditional network, but I hope more streaming services and cable companies not reined in by advertising times follow suit and give us the kind of overarching, broad recaps that Netflix is doing.

MARVEL’S DAREDEVIL complete second season is available now exclusively on Netflix.

Friday, March 18, 2016

SISTERS, Sisters

Article first published as Blu-ray Review: 'Sisters' on Blogcritics.

As of today, the film Sisters is available to own. Released in theaters late last year, the movie tells the story of two messed-up female siblings who come together one last time in their childhood home to throw a huge party and recapture what they’ve lost. With an impressive comedic cast, it’s a new twist on an old genre, the party film, with the young-at-heart instead of the young (though they certainly aren’t old, either).

The stars of Sisters are the great Tina Fey (30 Rock) and Amy Poehler (Parks and Recreation). Tina is Kate, the fun-loving sister that can’t hold a job or a place to live, and has alienated her daughter, Haley (Madison Davenport, Shameless). Amy is Maura, the uptight one who can’t keep a husband. While Maura is admittedly more responsible, her issue of not knowing how to loosen up is a problem, too, and so the two must help one another, each rubbing off on the other.

That sounds like a very familiar formula, and it is. Even mixing it with a party film (most of the running time takes place at a celebration on a single night) isn’t novel. Nor is the basic love interest for Maura, James (Ike Barinholtz, The Mindy Project), whose only defining characteristic is that he’s nice to Maura because he likes her, and knows how to fix things for her.

What makes Sisters unique, though, is the exact manner in which it tackles this premise. By putting all the characters around forty-ish, it adds a new element. And while Maura and Kate may be the only party-goers with full personalities, seeing their high school chums fall back into old patterns and stereotypes and reopen old wounds is satisfying, too, like a school reunion, but in a totally wild setting. It took awhile for me to start appreciating exactly what makes Sisters special, but by the end of the two hours (yep, it’s a full two hours, not ninety minutes like most comedies), I think I finally understood it.

Helping the film’s appeal along is a stellar supporting cast, which includes many Saturday Night Live alum and cast members, joining fellow players Tina, Amy, and the movie’s scribe Paula Pell, who created some of SNL‘s most memorable late ’90s characters. Those actors are Bobby Moynihan, Kate McKinnon, John Lutz, Chris Parnell, Rachel Dratch, and the incomparable Maya Rudolph. Toss in Samantha Bee (The Daily Show), Jon Glaser (Delocated), Renee Elise Goldsberry (The Good Wife), Matt Oberg (The Onion News Network), Greta Lee (New Girl), John Leguizamo (Moulin Rogue), WWE wrestler John Cena, and Life in Pieces couple Dianne Wiest and James Brolin, and you would be hard-pressed to find a better ensemble.

I guess Sisters isn’t for everyone, and if you don’t get that bizarre take on a relatable familial chemistry that it’s going for, you may be left confused. But once you embrace the madness and just let yourself enjoy the performances, it becomes a fun way to spend a couple of hours.

As far as extras go, there are tons. Besides an unrated version of the movie itself and the expected deleted and extended scenes, there are outtakes, unused improv moments, and behind-the-scenes material to explain what the filmmakers are doing. There’s also an interview with writer Pell, commentary with her, the director, and the two leads, and and an extra on special effects. It’s quite a lot for a release such as this, and thankfully much of it is showing us more of the funny performers in their element.

As always, I recommend blu-ray over DVD. Visually, there are some bright Florida colors and the dark light show at the party that beg for good contrast. In the second half of the film, there’s a lot going on with the audio, from dialogue to music to ambiance, all mixed together. In a testament to the overall quality, I detected no flaws in any of it during my HD viewing, and I never had trouble understanding what the characters are saying. I can’t help but think a standard definition experience would be harder to stomach, needing the crispness to balance everything out appropriately.

Sisters is available now on blu-ray, DVD, and digital download.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

FLAKED Actually Solid

Article first published as FLAKED Review on Seat42F.


WARNING: Spoilers ahead.

It seems like Netflix has a new series practically every Friday these days! This week’s entry is FLAKED, an indie-style dramedy about an alcoholic living in Venice and the bad decisions he makes. I would say it has a similar tone and feel to Love, which Netflix released a few weeks ago, but is a heck of a lot more depressing, without the possibility for a happy ending anytime soon.

FLAKED stars Will Arnett (Arrested Development, BoJack Horseman, The Lego Movie) as Chip, the protagonist. The role is perfect for Arnett, who deserves a starring vehicle. Chip is self-centered without being egotistical, and tries to be a good friend, even though he doesn’t quite know how to be one. Or if he does know how, he doesn’t understand how to make himself follow through on it. He’s deeply in pain but doesn’t show it much. It’s a complex role with layers in every scene and themes of addiction suffusing it. Arnett communicates a lot more than the dialogue alone would indicate every time he’s on screen, which is pretty much the entire running time.

Arnett is joined by David Sullivan (Argo) as Dennis and George Basil (CollegeHumor) as Cooler, Chip’s best buddies. Both actors are good enough that they don’t pale by comparison to Arnett, but neither steal his spotlight, either, a rare fete that shows real talent. Both characters are screwed up in their own ways, and seem to be Chip’s friends by default, existing in his world, convenient to his geographical location.

Cooler and Dennis like Chip, but I can’t tell if he likes them. He certainly wants them to like him, but is that because he genuinely enjoys having the two around, or because he has no one else? Certainly this isn’t the type of friendship a person seeks out, but everyone needs someone in their lives to provide them some emotional stability, and unless Chip does something really horrible (which is often a possibility), he has them.

There’s also a girl in FLAKED, because there’s always a girl. Actually, there are two. Kara (Lina Esco, Kingdom) is Chip’s current special someone, and she is as messed up as he is. I think there is real affection between the two of them, but they are both too damaged to make it work correctly, she perhaps more so than he.

Enter London (Ruth Kearney, The Following), whom Dennis is interested in. But she may be more interested in Chip, who might not give her a second look if Kara were being warmer, but she isn’t. So Chip is trapped in a bad situation, having chemistry with the woman he isn’t sleeping with and whom one of his closest buddies is interested in. There is no way this is going to end well for all three of them, and quite possibly, not for any of them.

It’s this type of situation that FLAKED excels at, and that Arnett does so well. One in which everything is crappy, but the viewer is still compelled to watch and root for success in. Chip desperately needs something to go well in his life, but there is no clear way to get that outcome from the current circumstances.

From what I can tell, it looks like London is a main character and Kara is not. Dennis is also a main character. So the drama to me is whether Chip will find a way to help Dennis be with London, sacrificing his own possible romantic happiness, or if his friendship will fall apart. Neither one will likely contribute to his sobriety.

FLAKED’s first season will be available on Netflix starting this Friday.

Monday, March 14, 2016

Going UNDERGROUND

Article first published as UNDERGROUND Review on Seat42F.


WGN America’s newest series is UNDERGROUND. Set in the pre-Civil War Days, it follows a swath of representative Americans, both black and white, slaves and free, at a pivotal, conflict-ridden time for our country, just before full-scale war erupts. It’s a period we’ve seen before, most notably in Roots, but never in a successful, ongoing weekly series, which should allow the writers and performers to get much deeper into the personalities and complexities of the era than has been done before.

UNDERGROUND stars Aldis Hodge (Straight Outta Compton, Leverage) as Noah, a smart man who is tired of being forced to serve a master, but who knows it wouldn’t be productive to openly rebel. Instead, he plays the game, pretending to be obedient, even while making secret plans to flee the plantation and head north, using the Underground Railroad referred to in the show’s title.

Noah is not going to go alone, which might be a good or bad idea, depending on how it plays out. Among his possible traveling companions are: Rosalee (Jurnee Smollett-Bell, True Blood, Friday Night Lights), a timid house slave and protective older sister; Moses (Mykelti Williamson, Justified, 24), who allows the others to believe he can read, even though it’s his wife, Pearly Mae (Adina Porter, True Blood, The Newsroom) who has been educated; and Cato (Alano Miller, Jane the Virgin), the collaborator who wants to go so he isn’t punished in their place after the others are gone, if he doesn’t turn them in first.

To represent the dominant race of the time, UNDERGROUND has August Pullman (Christopher Meloni, Law & Order: SVU, Wet Hot American Summer), John Hawkes (Marc Blucas, Buffy the Vampire Slayer), and Elizabeth Hawkes (Jessica De Gouw, Dracula). John is a lawyer and an abolitionist, who is offered the job of campaign manager by his brother (Dollhouse’s Reed Diamond), a Northerner who has moved South and now owns the people John is fighting to free. John’s wife, Elizabeth, seems mentally unstable, though, putting additional pressure on John. And August is… well, I’m not sure if he’s a help to runaways or a slave catcher yet, but I’m sure we’ll soon figure that out.

As you can see, there are a number of different parties represented, and that gives UNDERGROUND a full feel, in a good way. The focus is on the African-Americans, as it should be. However, no one portrayed are just stereotypes, with complex realities warring with individual morality and circumstance. Each individual, including a number of those not listed above, stand out and are quickly memorable.

The production is equally well done. Filmed in the American south, one can feel the sweat dripping when characters are out in the fields, and the landscapes are beautiful. There’s a gritty realness to it, and the costumes and sets are clearly well thought-out.

The music in UNDERGROUND is probably the oddest part of the show. At times, it is appropriate for the year, including in singing some of the more spiritual songs. But at other times, modern numbers are mixed in that really kind of pull one out of the moment. The lyrics of these fit the story, so it’s not like they’re just pop songs to punch things up, but at the same time, they clash in such a way that doesn’t quite feel right to me.

The music is the only complaint I have, though. Overall, I found UNDERGROUND to be a compelling narrative with plenty of quality in the cast, the story, and the style. The drawback is minor enough to overlook, and it’s debatable whether it really is a negative, even if I don’t understand why it’s present, at least not yet. I do recommend this one, and will probably watch more of it soon.

UNDERGROUND airs Wednesdays at 10/9c on WGN America.

Friday, March 11, 2016

Reeks OF KINGS AND PROPHETS

Article first published as OF KINGS AND PROPHETS Review on Seat42F.


As has become very in vogue over the last few years, ABC trots out a new Bible-based series for their spring schedule, expanding the offering from the miniseries and TV movies viewers have been getting recently into a full-fledged series. OF KINGS AND PROPHETS goes for the Old Testament, adapting the Books of Samuel (Joshua, Judges, Samuel, and Kings), or more specifically, the later parts of that story, when Israel was guided by the prophets. Or, around 630-540 BCE.

The series has two main players, as near as I can tell. King Saul (Ray Winstone, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull) is the leader of the Israelites, uniting the tribes for the first time. He’s prone to anger, but mostly trusts in God, whose instructions are relayed to him through the Prophet Samuel (Mohammad Bakri, Laila’s Birthday). Saul is torn between his political aspirations, his family commitments, and what he is told his goals are. Is he a wise enough ruler to balance those forces?

The second key figure is David (Olly Rix, WPC 56), a shepherd. In the first episode, David’s father is set to punished because he has failed to protect his sheep from a lion, so David sets out to kill the lion and restore honor to his clan. Basically, he’s the young, confident hero of the piece.

And really, despite everything else going on, and there’s a lot going on in the first episode of OF KINGS AND PROPHETS, that’s all I can tell you about the plot. The reason for this is because it’s a convoluted mess full of underdeveloped, interchangeable, forgettable characters and bizarre choices.

Take the liberties OF KINGS AND PROPHETS makes from the source, for example. To update the story for modern times, and with the hopes of appealing to the crowd who likes a good sword-and-sandals genre program, a lot of sex and violence are added in, as well as important roles for female characters, especially Ahinoam (Terra Nova’s Simone Kessell, the best part of the show). These things stretch the historical accuracy, especially the relationship drama, which seems tailored to the soapy tastes of present day broadcast networks.

Yet, the strong belief in God is left intact. This would be fine, given that the people who lived in this era likely had a much stronger faith than most people today, except, as in most modern Biblical tellings, their God is real and does affect the course of events, a literal deus ex machina.

I understand that the religion-centric conceit is left in to appeal to the parts of the viewing audience that believe the events of The Bible really happened, and to try to woo the Christian sect. However, that contrasts with the blood and sex stuff I mentioned before. Yes, there’s violence and intercourse in The Bible, but not the way it plays out on screen here. The conflict between the two makes OF KINGS AND PROPHETS feel disjointed and at odds with itself.

About the only thing I can say positive about OF KINGS AND PROPHETS is that it looks pretty cool. Filmed in South Africa, the production achieves the epic feeling it’s going for, and the landscapes are wonderful. It does feel set in a different time and place than just about anything else on the Big Four networks, and sets itself apart from most of what it will air opposite.

That’s not enough, though, to redeem a meandering, shallow story, and unfortunately, The Bible will have to continue to wait for good adaptations of its works, with OF KINGS AND PROPHETS falling in line with the other poor examples from the last few years.

OF KINGS AND PROPHETS premieres Tuesday at 10/9c on ABC.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

DAMIEN Rises?

Article first published as DAMIEN Review on Seat42F.


A&E has had decent success with its horror movie prequel, Bates Motel, so it’s no surprise that it is doing another show spun-off from a film in the genre, even if it’s taken awhile to do so. This week, DAMIEN premieres on the cable network, a sequel to Richard Donner’s The Omen (1976). Set thirty years later, young Damien has now come of age, just as the end of the world is upon us.

It’s very early in this show so I could be wrong, but I think the central conflict of DAMIEN is flawed. We are introduced to Damien (Bradley James, iZombie, Merlin) as a compassionate war photographer, with none of the baggage of his past or origin. Gone are the creepy things surrounding him from the movie, seemingly having stopped just after the events of the film. He doesn’t know who he is or what his purpose is supposed to be.

Obviously, that must change, so DAMIEN introduces a number of startling, creepy things to begin popping up around Damien, bringing back his memories of the past, and sending characters to tell him who he is. Damien is expected to fulfill his role as the anti-Christ, even if it’s not clear what that means yet to him or to the viewer.

I just don’t understand. Are we supposed to root for Damien to descend into darkness? Or do we want to see him heroically deny his heritage and be a force of good? Would that even be possible?

With Bates Motel, we know the lead character will go bad, but it remains entertaining to watch his growth arc. In DAMIEN, Damien seems completely resistant to his fate and at odds with what he’s supposed to be doing. He’s not showing signs of changing based on events, at least not yet, so if he does go dark, it will be against his will, making his character’s journey meaningless. Unless Damien is supposed to save the world, but again, that doesn’t seem likely.

All of this adds up to nothing captivating, as near as I can tell. If the story is destined to be a tragic one, and not in a natural, progressive way, but because of supernatural forces so powerful they cannot be stopped, why do we want to watch? To see some faceless power destroy a character we’ve been made to care about? Who wants to see that?

It also makes no sense to me the huge gap in Damien’s life. People he loved were harmed or killed early on and now, but nothing in between? Why not? It seems to me either nothing would occur around him until this time, or it would occur constantly throughout his life. Am I right?

(Yes, I realize The Bible has a similar gap in the life of Jesus Christ, but he was the catalyst for much of what happened in that tale, not just the non-participant center of the storm.)

This is unfortunate because the roster behind DAMIEN is a promising one. Glen Mazzara, a former showrunner for The Walking Dead, is the creator leading the charge. The cast includes the terrific Scott Wilson (The Walking Dead), the intriguing Barbara Hershey (Once Upon a Time), and reliable players David Meunier (Justified), Omid Abtahi (Argo), and Megalyn Echikunwoke (The 4400). Those names made me hopeful, even though The Omen is a move I’d never watch all the way through (I find it more disturbing than scary). But despite a decent looking production, it just doesn’t do what it needs to do as a story, lacking cohesion and clear direction.

As such, I sadly cannot recommend DAMIEN, as I likely won’t ever give it another chance.

DAMIEN airs Mondays at 10/9c on A&E.

Monday, March 7, 2016

THE FAMILY Drama

Article first published as THE FAMILY Review on Seat42F.


God love the broadcast networks. Some of them are trying to step up their game in the face of rapidly declining ratings. While many of the programs coming down the pipeline on the Big Four are still crime procedurals and tame sitcoms, the things that are killing them, sometimes you get an attempt at a decent complex mystery drama.

The latest stab at quality is ABC’s THE FAMILY, which premiered last night. Told in two time periods, the present and ten years ago, this show is about a family rocked by the abduction of their son, Adam (Maxwell James), whom they assume to be dead, and rocked again when he seemingly shows back up a decade later (now played by Liam James, The Killing). What went wrong with the initial investigation? Or is the new boy not the son they believe him to be?

The unanswered questions are definitely the draw of THE FAMILY, and the reason to keep coming back. A show usually either thrives on story or on character, and this one has chosen the former. Packed with twists and clues, both real and false, to keep the viewer guessing, audiences will want to know what happens, and it does a decent job of hooking you in that manner.

The characters are a bit less compelling, though the actors are all pretty good. Matriarch Claire (Joan Allen, The Killing, Luck) is the mayor, and she actually uses her son returning as a way to help launch her campaign for governor. Father John (Rupter Graves, Sherlock) doesn’t seem much better, on tour with grief books he’s written and sleeping with the detective, Nina (Margot Bingham, Boardwalk Empire), who may or may not have screwed up his son’s case. Older son Danny (Friday Night Lights’ Zach Gilford in the present, Rarmian Newton in flashback) is a drunk, so of course no one believes his suspicions about ‘Adam.’ Daughter Willa (Alison Pill, The Newsroom and Madeleine Arthur, The Tomorrow People) embraces religion, but perhaps not as fully as people think, being calculating like her mother. Creepy neighbor Hank (Andrew McCarthy, Weekend at Bernie’s) is released from jail, but did he do what he was arrested for after all? And even if he didn’t, would he have, given the opportunity?

None of these are people you can get behind or want to support much, despite the terrible situation. It’s soapy, and that’s fine, but in the best soaps there are usually some redeemable qualities for the core cast. Instead, these are all players in a dangerous game, and one gets the impression they deserve whatever happens to them, at least in the later timeline.

That is probably why THE FAMILY doesn’t connect as well as cable entries in the genre do. Broadchurch is excellent because of its mystery, but also because of the fantastic characters, who struggle with real problems and are sympathetic as people. THE FAMILY is closer to Revenge, which limped along on ABC for a few years before cancellation, where you just want to see what happens to jerks, rather than rooting for a protagonist to win the day.

As such, THE FAMILY is good, but not as good as it could be. It is a great example of what is wrong with the Big Four networks, not willing to fully commit to something new, still mired in what has worked for them in the past. ‘Soapy drama for the sake of drama? Yeah, that’s been a hit before, so let’s add it to a currently winning formula from a cable channel to satisfy both our old audience and win new viewers.’ Unfortunately, that doesn’t work, ending up with a product unsatisfying to some from both camps, and not helping the viewer erosion at all.

However, if ABC and its kin would really give something like THE FAMILY a go, building a slower-paced show on the bedrock of strong characters, they might actually have something. They could even do it with these same actors if they wanted to.

THE FAMILY settles into its regular night and time this Sunday at 9/8c.

Sunday, March 6, 2016

HAP AND LEONARD Review

Article first published as HAP AND LEONARD Review on Seat42F.


I’ve been missing FX’s Justified something fierce ever since it left the air, but Sundance has a new series that might just fill that void, for awhile anyway. Premiering last night, HAP AND LEONARD is the story of two men in Texas who get roped into a heist. Based on a story by Joe Lansdale (Cold in July), the titular characters inhabit a very specific world that is caring without being showy about it, and violent when it needs to be. It’s hella entertaining.

Leonard (Michael Kenneth Williams, The Wire) and Hap (James Purefoy, The Following) have been friends for a very long time. They work together in the rose fields, they exercise together through boxing, and they accept one another unconditionally as best friends, defending the best interests of the other when someone threatens to interfere with that. They are as close as two men can be.

But that’s not immediately obvious from the first scene. In the modern world, nerds and geeks and metrosexuals have become the new norm, and the macho type isn’t disappearing, exactly, but isn’t as taken for granted as it once was. Leonard and Hap are definitely macho, and their bromance doesn’t fit the current definition of the word, finding a way to display their feelings while not losing this identity.

As a happy nerd myself, I never aspired to be the type of man they are, but Raylan and Boyd on Justified, among others, taught me how cool that type of character could be. HAP AND LEONARD is and are cool in almost every sense of the word.

Yet, they are flawed, complex men, too. There’s a lot more going on with both than what is immediately apparent on the surface.

The story of HAP AND LEONARD begins when Trudy (Christina Hendricks, Mad Men), an ex of Hap’s that Leonard does not like, shows up and offers them a get-rich job. Since they are both out of work and could use the money, they accept, Leonard a heck of a lot more reluctantly than Hap. They’ll have six episodes to get the work done, and viewers will have to wait awhile to see if Trudy and her most recent guy, Howard (Bill Sage, Nurse Jackie), are trustworthy.

I can honestly say, I don’t care if they succeed. I think I could greatly enjoy the run with or without a pot of gold at the end. For me, it’s all about the chemistry between Purefoy and Williams, and that’s enough. I enjoy the dialogue and the interplay between them. I like seeing Leonard open up to Hap and be protective of him. I like seeing Hap return the favor with Leonard’s homophobic uncle (Henry G. Sanders, Dr. Quinn Medicine Woman).

The fact that Leonard is gay is pretty much an afterthought, not a driving plot point, reinforcing the themes mentioned above, and seems so where Hap is concerned, too. Williams has already proven he can buck the stereotype on The Wire, and he does it again here. It’s extremely important to have a variety of homosexual role models on television, and it’s nice HAP AND LEONARD chooses to give us someone as realistic and relatable as Leonard.

HAP AND LEONARD is a period piece that doesn’t feel like one. It’s set in the late 1980s, but aside from the guys not having cell phones, I couldn’t really tell. The setting is one in which you wouldn’t expect to see the latest gadgets or automobiles. It just feels like an authentic place that would resist changing with the times, and I appreciate that.

HAP AND LEONARD airs Wednesdays at 10/9c on Sundance.

Thursday, March 3, 2016

PREY For Relief

Article first published as PREY Review on Seat42F.



A British crime drama, PREY follows Marcus Farrow (John Simm, Doctor Who, Life On Mars) as he runs from the law. Marcus is a cop, but when his estranged wife and young son end up dead, he is the one the investigation points to. Is Marcus innocent? And if so, why is he being framed?
Despite the questions I pose in the first paragraph, I am pretty certain that Marcus is innocent. The first episode of PREY doesn’t show the actual crime itself, only Marcus finding his wife’s body, but the entire episode is from Marcus’ perspective. The viewer is made to care about and sympathize with Marcus, so it feels like a drama about clearing one’s name, not a mystery as to whether Marcus is evil or not. Though, there are plenty of unanswered questions as to what happened and why.
Having watched a number of British shows in this genre, PREY feels good, not great. Simm’s performance is terrific, of course; he’s a top-notch actor, and has proven that repeatedly in the past. But something about the story itself doesn’t seem as well put together as, say, Broadchurch or The Fall. I just didn’t find myself caring about Marcus all that much, and the clues we’re given and supposed to be following aren’t interesting or surprising enough to really grab my attention.
This is especially disappointing given the excellent opening, which is bizarre and intriguing. Beginning with a car crash in which viewers are not immediately told what’s happening, we get a sense of Marcus before we even know who he is or what’s happening. I liked the first scene a lot, and it’s a bit of a let down that it goes the way it does from there.
Even more disappointing is learning that Marcus is not the main character of PREY. I know, I know, I already said he was, and he is – for the first three episodes. Apparently, PREY changes direction after week three and there is a totally different case covered in weeks four through six, with an almost totally different cast. Simm exits and someone else replaces him.
There is one character, though, who is the connecting thread between the two stories, and that’s Susan Reinhart (Rosie Cavaliero, A Young Doctor’s Notebook). Susan is a co-worker of Marcus’ who is tasked with tracking down the officer after he goes on the run. She is the face of the law, the one trying to bring him to justice. She’s also totally forgettable.
I don’t blame Cavaliero for this. Looking back at her scenes, she does seem like a talented performer. But the way her part is written, on the fringe of the action with few notable qualities, make it very weird that she is actually the lead of PREY. Had I not done some research on the series before writing this review, I would never have guessed that, nor would I have thought it was a good idea. If she is going to be the spine of this series, I really wish more would be done to set that up or develop her further.
Because of my complaints about Susan’s character, and the mediocre enthusiasm I can muster up for the Marcus mystery, I can’t really recommend this one. Perhaps viewed by itself, it’s not bad, but slipping it in between episodes of The Fall (which I’m currently plowing through this week), it does not feel nearly as good by comparison, and so I am lukewarm on it. If you’re really into the genre, you might want to check it out. Otherwise, I’d give this one a pass.
PREY airs Thursdays at 10/9c on BBC America.

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Falling for THE FALL

Article first published as Blu-ray Review: 'The Fall - Series One' and 'Series Two' on Blogcritics.

fall

The Fall is a slow-burn British crime drama about a cat-and-mouse game between a member of law enforcement and a serial killer. That sentence accurately describes the series, but it also accurately describes a number of other shows as well. What is unique about The Fall is the wonderful style of the production, tone of the action, and gripping authenticity of the performances. If you haven’t had a chance to experience it yet, both series that have aired thus far are be available on Blu-ray and DVD this week from Acorn Media.

The Fall stars Gillian Anderson (The X-Files, Hannibal) as Stella Gibson, an intelligent investigator sent to Belfast to solve a murder. Much to her boss Jim Burns’ (John Lynch, Sliding Doors), chagrin, Stella sees a pattern in recent deaths, and petitions to run a task force to track the presumed serial killer. Working alongside young, eager Danielle Ferrington (Niamh McGrady, Holby City) and forensic analyst Reed Smith (Archie Panjabi, The Good Wife), and others, Stella manages to be a part of the team while still serving her lone-wolf persona. Seeing how smart she is, there is no doubt Stella can solve the case.

Except, Stella’s quarry, Paul Spector (Jamie Dornan, Fifty Shades of Grey, Once Upon a Time), is equally clever. Paul has a nice suburban life with his wife, Sally Ann (Bronagh Waugh, Hollyoaks), and two children. Not what you’d expect from a psychopath, right? But Paul is a master manipulator, and one is never sure if he cares all that much about his spouse or the teenage babysitter, Katie (Aisling Franciosi, Legends), who is as easy to influence as she is taken in by Paul. And so, despite his patterns and mistakes, Paul proves quite tough to catch.

When I say The Fall is slow-burn, I only sort of mean it. It does take a bit of time to get started, but it picks up speed fairly early on, and only gets faster in later installments, even if it doesn’t get to the end quickly. Series one consists of five episodes. The six-episode Series two, which picks up only a few days later, is where things get crazy and tense, and begin to really take off. With a cliffhanger ending, Series three, which recently filmed and has yet to air, will continue the same story, even when it’s hard to see where else there is to go. The show constantly reinvents itself, telling one connected tale, but frequently upping the stakes and the rules of the game.

The only complaint I really have about The Fall is the awkward transition from series one to two. Of course, there’s an issue with the kids aging more than the time passed would allow, but it seems like nearly every actor in the show changed hairstyle or color, at least a little. One person, maybe two, I’d believe, but when it’s everyone, the break feels a lot longer than it was.

That is only cosmetic, though. The writing itself doesn’t let up and remains compelling, even when the leaps may look big on paper. With the excellent performances of Anderson and Dornan, it’s hard to stop watching, even if it is emotionally draining to binge more than two episodes at a time.

The extras in the included in the sets are a bit weak, not unexpected from Acorn. Series one contains only a single 12-minute featurette that goes behind the scenes, too brief to get much out of it. Series two barely steps it up, with another quick peek behind the camera, as well as some deleted scenes and a photo gallery. Personally, I don’t find a photo gallery a beneficial inclusion, and deleted scenes are pretty much expected at this point. So I the extras certainly aren’t a selling point for these Blu-ray and DVD sets. But that doesn’t really matter since The Fall itself is good enough to recommend, bare bones and all.

You have your choice of Blu-ray and DVD, and, honestly, I can’t say there’s a compelling case for one over the other. The Fall is dark and gritty, and doesn’t make much use of any high definition advantage. But I am a bit of a quality snob, so even if the only difference is an image and soundtrack that’s a bit crisper, I’d still get Blu-ray for the best viewing experience.

The Fall Series One and Two are now available on Blu-ray and DVD.