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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.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Passing Through BERLIN STATION

Article first published as BERLIN STATION Review on Seat42F.


Premium movie service Epix joins the original scripted world this weekend with two new shows. One, a drama, is called BERLIN STATION, a slow-burn spy drama set in the city of Berlin, Germany. Created by novelist Olen Steinhauer, the series has shades of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy and hops onto the current trend of espionage television programs, but with more international flavor than most. It boasts a cast that includes many well-knowns, so it seems ripe for success, but is it good enough?

The plot will seem pretty familiar to anyone who pays attention to the news, though it’s not really based on a true story. An Edward Snowden-like man named Thomas Shaw is leaking the covert activities of the American CIA office in Berlin, exposing the identities of local sources. Agent Daniel Miller (Richard Armitage, The Hobbit, Robin Hood), who is from Berlin but has been working elsewhere, is called home to investigate. Knowing there is a mole in the CIA station itself, everyone is on edge as Daniel attempts to find and stop the leak, and early indications are he’s good enough at his job to do so.

Who is the mole within the organization? Is it station chief Steven Frost (Richard Jenkins, Six Feet Under, Olive Kitteridge), who is having an affair with his secretary, Sandra Abe (Tamlyn Tomita, Teen Wolf)? Maybe it’s the woman who brings Daniel in, Valerie Edwards (Michelle Forbes, The Killing, True Blood), trying to deflect attention, although she does seem awfully upset when one of her contacts is burned. Or perhaps it’s Daniel’s former partner, Hector DeJean (Rhys Ifans, Elementary, The Amazing Spider-Man), who likes the seedy night life of the city? Or even agent Robert Kirsch (Leland Orser, Ray Donovan, Taken), who gets less character development in the pilot than those above?

BERLIN STATION makes the interesting choice of not leaving the viewer in the dark very long. While many series in this genre would keep the identity of the turncoat for a season-long mystery that must be solved, this one doesn’t, at least for those following along at home; it’s less certain how long it will take Daniel to figure things out. Which is a bold decision that will change how many view the story.

But is it a good idea? That, I’m not certain of. Part of the draw of a spy series is the unanswered questions, putting together the clues, and the suspense of figuring things out. BERLIN STATION takes that away early on, so it must rely on other elements to keep the viewers tuning in.

There are some great elements in this show. The cast, as listed above, is terrific, and I like the other characters, too, the German counterparts and enemy agents. The setting is cool, as the show is actually filmed in Berlin. The quality of the production and direction is pretty high. The stakes are real enough, and the plot feels familiar without being repetitive.

However, I also found the show boring. I like a good spy drama; The Americans is probably my favorite currently on the air, and Homeland is good, too. But I didn’t care for Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy because I found the film too slow, not really holding my interest. BERLIN STATION seems to follow that format, and without even leaving the identity of the bad guy a secret, I really don’t have any interest in continuing past episode one.

If you’re a fan of this particular subgenre, though, and enjoyed the Gary Oldman-fronted movie, then this is likely to give you what you’re looking for, a regular weekly show in a particular format.

BERLIN STATION premieres tonighton Epix, and the network is allowing anyone to sample the first two hours free of charge on its website now.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Another Kelley GOLIATH

Article first published as GOLIATH Review on Seat42F.


The prolific David E. Kelley, gone from the broadcast airwaves for a few years, returns to television on Amazon this week with GOLIATH. Like most of his former series, GOLIATH is a legal drama. But with the freedom of streaming services, unbound from the set running times, act breaks, and episode counts of the broadcast networks he called home for so long, it’s a new beast from the old hand. And, let’s be honest, what fan of legal drama doesn’t want another one from this guy?

GOLIATH stars Billy Bob Thornton (Fargo, Friday Night Lights) as Billy McBride, a washed-up alcoholic who is past the peak of his career. Spinning into a personal hole, Billy has a bad relationship with his ex-wife, Michelle (Maria Bello, Touch, Prisoners), and daughter, Denise (Diana Hopper, Hidden Truth). He doesn’t start in a very good place.

Billy’s break comes when a woman brings him a big case that would pit Billy against his former partner, Donald Cooper (William Hurt, Humans, Into the Wild), and the firm Billy was forced out of, which Michelle is still involved in. Now, personal and professional life is intermixed as Billy fights for justice, and possibly for a little revenge from those who wronged him.

It’s an enticing premise. Everyone wants to cheer for the guy who is down, and who we expect to turn it around, especially when his opponent (Donald) seems so clearly in the wrong. It’s a black-and-white dynamic, and while the odds are stacked against Billy, David-and-Goliath-style, we are sure that the misfit crew he puts together, which includes a real estate attorney and a call girl, will win the day.

If I were to compare this to any of Kelley’s other series, I would say, on paper, it is most like Harry’s Law, which featured a noble, flawed character staging a comeback. Except, GOLIATH is a much darker drama and the case will be ongoing over at least the course of the season, whereas Harry’s Law was funny and procedural. So GOLIATH still has some of the classic Kelley elements and similarities to his past work, but isn’t just a retread.

The writer takes to the looser format very well. Watching GOLIATH, I was struck by how much it resembles some of the higher-quality series on the premium cable and streaming networks. It doesn’t have the same memorable juice as Fargo, American Horror Story, Westworld, Breaking Bad, and the others at the top of the heap, but it is a very solid entry that can hang in the same general stratosphere.

Helping this along is the excellent cast assembled. Thornton proved himself to any doubters with his last television role, and he is more than capable of taking the lead here. Yet, so are most of the other actors around him, so he is in good company with Bello, Hurt, Olivia Thirlby (Good Vibes, Juno), Molly Parker (House of Cards), Nina Arianda (Hannibal), Tania Raymonde (Lost), Sarah Wynter (24), Damon Gupton (Bates Motel), and more. There should be no complaints about the company.

The pilot starts off intriguing, but like the excellent Damages, it just seems to be scratching the surface initially. It sets up the scenario and introduces us to most of the players, but there are sure to be a lot of twists and setbacks as things unfold. At approximately eight hours running time, it looks to be a manageable, quick series, with no time for fluff and treading water, so I expect it will move quickly, but going by the pilot, not too quickly. I’m intrigued and plan to watch the full season.

GOLIATH’s entire first season will be available on Amazon Prime beginning today.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Failing WATER

Article first published as FALLING WATER Review on Seat42F.


Following the critically acclaimed, ratings-challenged Mr. Robot, USA seeks to copy that, um, I guess you could call it success, with the new, trippy FALLING WATER. (That was not a knock on Mr. Robot, which I love, but a musing as to why a network wants to replicate a show that almost no one is watching.) Like Mr. Robot, FALLING WATER is high-concept drama that blurs the lines of reality and attempts to build a mysterious mythology that will spark much debate and predictions. But it is definitely a whole different show in a lot of ways.

As episode one begins, we meet three separate protagonists, each with their own pain. Tess (Lizzie Brochere, Versailles, American Horror Story: Asylum) is a trend-spotter who believes she may have had a child, though most people think she’s crazy. Burton (David Ajala, Black Box, The Dark Knight) is a fixer who has lost the woman he loves (Anna Wood, Reckless). Taka (Will Yun Lee, Hawaii Five-0) is a cop whose mother (Jodi Long, Sullivan & Son) is in a coma.

The connections between this trio are not immediately apparent, but it isn’t long before it’s explained to us. They are having very vivid dreams, or rather, pieces of the same dream, and if their experiences are combined, they could herald a very real danger.

To this end, the cast includes Bill Boerg (Zak Orth, Revolution, Wet Hot American Summer) and Woody Hammond (Kai Lennox, Legit, Beginners). Woody is bad news, jumping between dreams, and definitely seems like he can’t be trusted. Bill may be no less noble, a tech guy clearly wanting to profit based on his dream research, but at least he’s offering to help Tess in exchange for her assistance. So these are our shady peeps who pull the threads together.

Unfortunately, they don’t pull them together all that well. I’m not complaining about either character, or any of the cast; they all do a pretty good job, it seems to me, at least in episode one. Instead, my problem is that the series is boring, confusing, and I have no confidence that it is going anywhere neat. Granted, I’ve only viewed one episode, and plenty of great shows have poor pilots. It would just take a lot to come back from this one.

I give the series credit for not going procedural. I mean, they have a cop as one of the main characters, so I expected them to do so, but the plot seems completely serial instead. But it’s more a lack of cohesiveness and engagement that hurts it. We don’t get to know any of the characters very well before we’re distracted by all the dream stuff. And the dream stuff isn’t obvious, with viewers sometimes left wondering if what they’re seeing is reality or not.

Don’t get me wrong, on paper this sounds like a show I’d be totally into. I dig a cool premise that tells a new tale. Sure, it has similarities to Mr. Robot and Netflix’s Sense8, but FALLING WATER is far from a copy of either. Tess’s career of being the reclusive woman who sees patterns before anyone else makes sense for someone who sees the world a little more than the rest of us, and I can even extend a similar trait to the cop, as even though I’m burnt out on cop shows, it makes sense to use one here.

However, the execution leaves much to be desired, seeming more messy than anything, and not well thought or mapped out. I don’t know where things are going, and because of the haphazard way elements are introduced, I’m not sure the writers do either. More importantly, I don’t care to find out because I’m not drawn to any of the characters, who all seem like they could be bad people. (They could also be good people, it’s just not clear.) Even the title isn’t explained.

That’s just too much confusion for a series that doesn’t seem, on its face, worth the effort. There has to be some hook to bring people back, and there’s not in this one.

FALLING WATER premieres Thursday at 10/9c on USA.

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Far From INSECURE

Article first published as INSECURE Review on Seat42F.


HBO has done an excellent job with half-hour series about a specific group of people, told from a particular perspective that seems to encapsulate a relatable demographic that everyone knows someone from. From Sex and the City and the empowered single woman, to Girls, which deals with the entitled generation, to Entourage, concerned with the excess of Hollywood and power shifts in friendships, to Looking, which showcased gays in San Francisco, each of these shows have been great and completely different, even though they all fit into this broad genre.

Now, the network continues that tradition with INSECURE. It stars producer and actress Issa Rae (Awkward Black Girl) as Issa, a woman unhappy in her long-term relationship and feeling like she hasn’t accomplished the things she wants to in life. Along with her employment-challenged boyfriend, Lawrence (Jay Ellis, The Game), her hot, unlucky-in-love, lawyer best friend, Molly (Yvonne Orji, Sex (Therapy) with the Jones), and her well-meaning, but racially-tone-deaf co-worker, Frieda (Lisa Joyce, Billy & Billie), Issa wonders if this is as good as life gets, or if there’s anything left to do to better it.

What sparks this bout of self-doubt and evaluation, you may ask? Well, as INSECURE begins, Issa is turning twenty-nine and looking towards her 30s. As many a young person in their twenties believes, Issa thinks that wherever she is when that monumental milestone hits, that’s likely to set the tone for the rest of her life. So she understandably thinks that this year might be the one in which to make a change. Call it a quarter-life crisis if you will, though I’d say it’s probably closer to a third-life crisis, but it’s about that struggle of switching over from childhood to the adult world, realizing you cannot go back and you’ve already wasted a lot of time.

As a thirty-three year old myself, I find this incredibly naïve, but also, something I went through just a few shorts years ago, and I’m sure I’m far from the only one who will see themselves in Issa. What will be interesting to see is if the show’s protagonist undergoes the same shift that many others do, coming to realize that thirty isn’t that old, and there are still plenty of chances to chase your dreams. Or will she give up? This is likely a several year thought process, perfect for a TV series likely to run a few seasons.

I greatly applaud Issa Rae for making this series, as well as starring it. She is telling a tale that will echo among many viewers, and doing it in a creative, entertaining way. While INSECURE shares plenty of DNA with the other series mentioned in the first paragraph, it’s a lot more than just a retread, bringing a new angle to the experience of life at another formative age. The show is funny and the characters are likeable, but there’s also plenty of depth and complexity in their motivations and inner monologue, which is wonderfully shown in facial expressions and tone.

The whole cast in the series is great. I admit, I find Joyce’s Frieda super annoying and don’t necessarily want to see more from her, but I am certain that’s by design, and all it will take is one good episode to help us understand Frieda and turn that distaste to sympathy. Similarly, given that the show is unfolding from Issa’s point of view, it’s easy to dismiss Molly as less serious, or Lawrence as an uncaring bum. Yet, it’s also apparent from the actors’ performances that there is more going on than we’ve seen, and I expect to care about both of them by the end of season one.

In short, I liked INSECURE, and I think it’s got a good tale to tell. Check it out when it begins airing Sunday at 10:30/9:30 CT on HBO, or the series premiere is already streaming now on HBOGo and HBONow.

Friday, October 14, 2016

Kinda FREAKISH

Article first published as FREAKISH Review on Seat42F.


Hulu’s latest series, available to stream now, is FREAKISH. Set in a small-ish town, a bunch of students and a teacher are at the high school on a Saturday when the local chemical plant explodes. Seeing the town nearly destroyed, most of them take shelter in the building, though a few insist on stupidly running out into the craziness to look for their family and friends. Unfortunately, that’s not a great idea, and it isn’t long before those that fled return and pose a threat to the ones trying to stay safe.

FREAKISH is essentially a zombie show. There’s a group of survivors who are in danger from former friends turned into something monstrous. There are appearance and behavior changes around the infected that mimic zombie behavior, and they attack those that haven’t been changed.

So the lone adult star, Chad L. Coleman, should feel at home, having not-too-long ago been a cast member on The Walking Dead. Though FREAKISH is much less complex and deep than its AMC cousin, so it’s definitely a step down for Coleman. Then again, practically any series is a step down from The Walking Dead.

Besides Coleman, the other characters are all kids, and perhaps appropriately enough, most are more internet famous than traditionally well known. Among the ensemble are Mary Mouser (Body of Proof), Aislinn Paul (Heroes Reborn), Adam Hicks (Zeke and Luthor), Leo Howard (Kickin’ It), Hayes Grier (Dancing With the Stars), Melvin Gregg (Sharknado 3), Liza Koshy (Boo! A Madea Halloween), Meghan Rienks (Makeup Mishaps), Chachi Gonzales (East Lost High), and Tyler Chase (The Walking Dead).

All of them are good enough, though none stood out to me as really spectacular. This feels like a low-budget, indie-type show, and that includes the casting. They’ve believable, but I don’t see any of them really breaking out and blowing up anytime soon. Though it may be that the showcase of their talent comes later in the season.

I liked the pilot a lot. It was intriguing and mysterious. Not knowing zombies were at all involved, I was very curious to see where things would go, and I was sucked in enough to want to continue. But the second episode didn’t hold my attention the same way. I quickly grew bored, and wasn’t all that thrilled to see the affected kids start showing up. It felt a bit cheesy and done-before. The pilot was good enough that I’ll give the series a chance to see if it recaptures the spirit I enjoyed so much initially, but it might be one of those quick-burns that flame out far too soon.

Despite the dramatic nature of the program, FREAKISH is only half an hour long. This format means the pilot barely has time to show the disaster, and the actual threat doesn’t appear until episode two. I haven’t yet made it any further than that, but it’s a good thing the entire first season became available all at once; ending a pilot without showing the premise would be a bad idea otherwise. I’m kind of confused as to why the episodes are so short, because there doesn’t appear to be any storytelling need for this segmentation. (And yes, I’m aware that FREAKISH got its start on a non-traditional channel, Verizon’s AwesomenessTV, but it still doesn’t make much sense from a plot-based perspective.)

Hulu isn’t known for a lot of high quality programming, but they’ve had some promising entries lately. Two episodes in, I’m thinking FREAKISH might not be one of the latter ones despite a great premiere. But there are eight episodes left to watch, so I guess we’ll see.

The entire first season of FREAKISH is available now on Hulu.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Ready for DIVORCE

Article first published as DIVORCE Review on Seat42F.


DIVORCE is coming to HBO. This dark ‘comedy’ created by Sharon Horgan (Catastrophe) is about a long-married couple with a pair of kids who realize that their relationship just isn’t working any more. As they try to disentangle themselves, they find no shortage of complications and complicated feelings, the idea of dissolution a lot prettier than the reality of it. But, presumably, they’ll have plenty of time to figure it out, assuming the show runs for a few seasons.

At the center of DIVORCE is our couple, Frances (Sarah Jessica Parker, Sex and the City) and Robert (Thomas Haden Church, Wings). They aren’t as screwed up as their friends, the violent Diane (Molly Shannon, Saturday Night Live), her cruel spouse Nick (Tracy Letts, Homeland), or the sad single Dallas (Talia Balsam, Mad Men). But they are dissatisfied enough to engage in infidelity and lack of communication, which culminates in the pilot in a decision to go their separate ways. If only it were that easy or quick, the choice one they will have to make repeatedly before they can fully get out.

One may be forgiven for thinking that Sarah Jessica Parker’s return to HBO is simply a portrayal of the next evolution of her Sex and the City character. After all, Carrie Bradshaw was neurotic and annoying, never sure what she wanted, and self-sabotaging. That SJP made the character likeable anyway is a testament to the fully fleshed out being that she created, because on paper it’s hard to sympathize with Carrie, and it’s very possible Carrie and her end-game beau, John, a.k.a. Mr. Big, headed down a similar path as Frances and Robert sometime in their future.

Yet, DIVORCE isn’t a treated as a continuation. Part of that is the much more melancholy friends surrounding Frances, and part of it is the utter lack of cheeriness that pervades the series. At Carrie’s lowest, one knew she would pick herself back up. Frances doesn’t have the same guaranteed rebound, definitely in a tailspin that will take awhile to work itself out, if it ever does. There’s no happy ending or even happy middle on the horizon in this show.

To some, that might be a turn off, and I’d understand that. But HBO viewers are probably, on the whole, a little more discerning, in search of the higher quality programming that makes them think and feel and surprises them, not just a joyous formula. So I think it has a shot at finding its audience.

DIVORCE is good. Not surprisingly so, just as good as expected. It gives a realistic portrayal of something society usually shies away from delving too deeply into. It does so by painting a portrait of a couple that is at once both authentic and dramatic. Neither of the duo are one thing, building years of unseen backstory and emotional history into every conversation, every word chosen. There is a bond here that is formed in a thousand ways over the years, and each of them show in every line of dialogue.

I think Frances sees herself as both a very average, normal person who anyone could understand, and as a victim of a situation she isn’t completely sure what she wants to do with. It’s egotistical, but not any more so than most people, and the contradictions are of the most natural variety. SJP isn’t one of my favorite actresses, but she can do amazing things with the right parts, and this is one of them for her.

At the same time, THC perfectly balances her and brings so much more to the table with Robert than a blank slate for Frances to play off of. He is just as important, even if he’s not as in focus, and the combination is a winning one.

DIVORCE premieres October 9th at 10/9c on HBO.

Friday, October 7, 2016

Yes to NO TOMORROW

Article first published as NO TOMORROW Review on Seat42F.


The CW is going the romantic comedy route with a slight fantasy bend in NO TOMORROW, premiering next week. A straight-laced, professionally stunted girl meets a free-spirited guy who thinks the world will end in a little over eight months. He plans to enjoy it by working on a bucket list and invites her to join him. She does, with reservations, and what remains to be seen is how long they can keep it up.
At the center of NO TOMORROW is our heroine, Evie (Tori Anderson, Open Heart), a brilliant girl who can be a little passive at times. Who doesn’t understand that, especially women who enter the workplace and want to get ahead, but worry about how they’ll be seen? She’s sympathetic, loveable, and at a very transitional phase of her life, which is the perfect time to build a TV show around her.
Evie is already showing signs of bucking her status quo as the series begins. She isn’t sure she wants to marry her soft-spoken boyfriend, Timothy (Jesse Rath, Defiance), and she’s working on impressing her boss, Diedre (Amy Pietz, Caroline in the City). I love that NO TOMORROW lets us see these things because it means that Evie’s growth arc is driven largely by internal feelings, not just because she met some guy that got her to loosen up. He helps, but he isn’t the whole reason for her change.
Speaking of the guy, Xavier (Joshua Sasse, Galavant) has quit his job when we are introduced to him. He doesn’t mind running up debt and racking up parking tickets he never intends to pay because he truly does believe the world is about to be wiped out by an object from space. He is sincere in this, and while he has tried to warn the public, no one listens to him. So instead of carrying around a sign proclaiming the end is nigh, he has dedicated himself to having the best time possible with the time left.
NO TOMORROW addresses the crackpot elements of the character, and then dismisses them. He isn’t a caricature; he is a caring individual with layers and backstory. He is surely wrong because his timeline would probably only get the show to the end of season one. But that only makes for additional ripe plot possibilities down the road as he deals with the emotional fallout of what he’s done. Or fails to deal with it.
Xavier and Evie are a good pairing. They aren’t a perfect couple, thank goodness, but they have characteristics that push the right buttons in one another. They complement each other on their current trajectories, and while it may seem crazy for Evie to give into him, if you take a step back and really look at it, it’s obvious she’ll be helping him as much as he helps her. They both have flaws that need worked on.
The format of this show is one that slides easily into the half hour sitcom format, but instead, NO TOMORROW is an hour-long drama. Of course, the comedy / drama line has become so blurred these days to be nearly meaningless; this is simply classified as drama because of its running time. But I like that it takes a goofy concept and a fun cast of at-times-cartoonish personalities, and puts them into a framework that allows for greater development.
The pacing flies by, and the series is well put together. It has a terrific, if mostly little-known, cast that goes well with the CW brand, while also being something new for the network. It’s a premise that has been done before, but not quite in this way, and I really enjoyed the first hour.
NO TOMORROW also stars Sarayu Blue (Monday Mornings), and it premieres Tuesday, October 4th at 9/8c on the CW.

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Not a TIMELESS Classic

Article first published as TIMELESS Review on Seat42F.


NBC, which does sometimes do some light sci-fi drama, has a new genre series this fall called TIMELESS. A gang of armed men break into a laboratory and steal a fully functioning time machine, intent to travel into our past and screw things up. Luckily, the facility still has their more basic prototype and assembles a small team to go after them and save history. Will they succeed, or is everything we know about to be changed?

Abigail Spencer (Rectify) stars as Lucy Preston, a history professor caring for an ailing mother who has just been denied tenure. She, along with an elite soldier, Wyatt Logan (Matt Lanter, 90210), are recruited by Agent Denise Christopher (Sakina Jaffrey, House of Cards) to chase the villain, Garcia Flynn (Goran Visnjic, ER), across the ages. Scientist Rufus Carlin (Malcolm Barrett, Better Off Ted) is sent along with them because he knows how to use the equipment, even though there are some justifiable concerns that his darker skin color may be a hindrance before civil rights kicked in.

I really want to like TIMELESS. It’s not like any other show currently airing, especially not on a broadcast network. (It is admittedly sort of like DC’s Legends of Tomorrow, but since that is about superheroes, I think they’re different enough.) It has a cool concept and a decent cast. It definitely has mythology, backstory, and a serial arc, meaning it won’t just be a case-of-the-week series. For these reasons, it deserves a little consideration.

The make-up of the group makes sense, the scientist, the historian, and the soldier. The motivation of the bad guy is still hazy, but what has been said about it is interesting and begs further exploration. The rules for time travel as followed in TIMELESS also seem to be well thought out. I didn’t find any huge, obvious plot holes.
But there’s a general sense of shallowness to the whole program. The characters do have families and personal lives that play into their actions, but in a very superficial way. We’re told something about that character, and that immediately influences the plot in a very straight-forward way. There isn’t a lot of wondering who we can trust, or if there’s something someone isn’t talking about that might get in the way down the road. It’s kind of what you see is what you get.

There is also definitely the impression that while there be an ongoing story, a large portion of each hour will be devoted to action adventure and fist fights. Not bloody stuff, mind you; this series seems to take a family-friendly, tame approach. For example, when one character briefly wields a knife, I didn’t feel for a second she’d be able to swipe and draw blood with it, and indeed, she does not. So there’s a sanitized type of violence that feels more at home on television in the previous century than today.

Even the twists later in the hour, while interesting, seem easy to screw up. There is one very obvious one and one less so, but given the lack of depth present at the start, and the direct way the story unfolds, I don’t have confidence that these things are going to pan out in a cool way. I know I’m being vague, and part of that is to protect readers from plot spoilers, but part of it is because this complaint is more about an overall feeling I get while watching, rather than details I can point to to back up my judgement.

Overall, I like TIMELESS, but I don’t love it. My sense is that it will be like Revolution, with a cool premise that doesn’t live up to what viewers want from it.

TIMELESS premieres Monday, October 3rd at 10/9c on NBC.