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Saturday, April 22, 2017

DOCTOR WHO Season 10 Premiere Event

Article first published as TV Review: 'Doctor Who' Season Ten Live Premiere Event on Blogcritics.

With assistance from Nick Arganbright

Doctor Who is back for the 10th (!) season premiere, and Fathom Events recently made sure it was done with style. Hosting screenings across the country, Fathom presented the Who franchise’s latest installment on the big screen, with some cool extras. I was lucky enough to attend one such gathering (thanks Fathom!) this week.

Things kicked off with some Doctor Who trivia, which is an enjoyable way to begin. The questions were light and fun, and called to mind fan-favorite Doctors and occurrences from the recent past.
After that, the pilot for Class, the new Doctor Who spin-off, was presented. Fans have been eager for an expansion of the world since the end of Torchwood, and anticipation was high for the new series. Unfortunately, while there are some interesting concepts, and I personally couldn’t get enough of Katherine Kelly’s Miss Quill, Class fails to ignite interest right from the start. It may grow into itself,  but episode one isn’t one that will instantly hook itself a new batch of viewers.

Class presents a diverse group of high school students who end up having to battle aliens and monsters from another realm while attending Coal Hill Academy. Coal Hill is an institution periodically seen in Doctor Who from the beginning, most recently as companion Clara’s place of employment. One of the students in the cast is even an alien himself, the last of his kind hiding on Earth, and I think the idea is a relatively solid one. But the presentation feels artificial, the characters gelling together in a way that doesn’t come across as natural. It’s like the formula for popular young adult shows has been co-opted in an effort to bring in ratings, but they’re trying too hard.

Still, that is only episode one. It may yet grow into itself.

After Class, we got a lovely short about Pearl Mackie “becoming the companion.” Pearl plays the Doctor’s newest traveling buddy, a young, gay, African-American woman named Bill. She (the actress) is charming, and the bonus segment flowed nicely, introducing us to her and getting us psyched up for the episode that followed. I never liked Clara all that much, so am very excited that the new cast member is as instantly likeable as she is.

The Doctor Who 10th season premiere itself does not disappoint in the slightest. It has the whimsical sense of adventure that the best Who episodes do, a genuinely scary villain, real mystery, and not only is new companion Bill magnetic and awesome, but the very amusing Nardole (Matt Lucas) returns as well, presumably to stay for awhile. Plus, a cameo by The Doctor’s most serious foe! What more could anyone want?

The first regular episode in more than fifteen months, we catch up with The Doctor (Peter Capaldi) working as a professor. He meets cafeteria worker Bill (Mackie) when she finds a sentient puddle, whom The Doctor assumes has come to take something from a vault he’s guarding. A girl is killed, and the TARDIS races through the universe and time stream to try to gauge the range of the creature and find a solution to the threat it poses. (The vault, presumably, is a teaser for a future hour.) The episode is called “The Pilot,” which seems tongue-in-cheek for what is essentially yet another reboot of the long-running franchise. I really have no complaints at all about the hour.

I am very grateful that Doctor Who was shown after Class, the opposite of broadcast order on BBC America, where they are currently paired up (though Class aired last year in the UK). Had the spin-off come second, it is quite possible people would be let down. Instead, it’s a light, not terrible, but somewhat flimsy opening act for a stellar main attraction. With Capaldi’s Doctor making a brief cameo in Class, anticipation builds appropriately, and I felt the whole night was very well organized.

In all, I enjoyed Fathom Events, well, event, and I hope they do it again soon. Doctor Who looks fantastic on the big screen, and with the way it all came together, the inclusions that were part of the night, I had a good time and I think others did, too. The only drawback was that attendance was sparse, perhaps because it came a couple of days after the television airing of the premiere, but I would recommend to lovers of the series to go out to the next one. You’ll probably be glad you did.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Not Much CLASS

Article first published as TV Review: CLASS on Seat42F.

BBC’s Doctor Who has had a couple of spin-offs, but none are currently running. Given how infrequent new installments of the parent show are, it’s almost always welcome when there’s some continuation or extension set in that world to fill in the gaps. The newest series, though, at least in America, doesn’t come in the off-season, but instead will air in parallel with new Doctor Who, beginning this weekend.

Called CLASS, the show tells the story of four students and a teacher at the infamous Coal Hill Academy. Renovated and fancied up since the last time we saw it, the school having been periodically featured in the series since the beginning, most recently as Clara’s workplace, this allows both a familiar and fresh setting for the new show.

The ensemble is as diverse as it can be in the British school-limited setting, with multiple races and sexual preferences represented in the five-member troupe. There’s: Ram (Fady Elsayed, My Brother the Devil), who dreams of being a football (soccer to us Americans) star; April (Sophie Hopkins, Brackenmore), the mild-mannered nerd who helps care for her mother; Tanya (Vivian Oparah), a Nigerian prodigy; and Charlie (Greg Austin, Mr. Selfridge), an alien price, the last of his race, who has a crush on a Polish boy, Matteusz (Jordan Renzo). They are watched over by Miss Quill (Katherine Kelly, Coronation Street, Mr. Selfridge), also alien, also last of her race, enslaved to protect Charlie.

So yes, the character descriptions give you a bit of the ongoing plot right away. With two extraterrestrials hiding out and trying to keep their races from going extinct, any number of baddies will come to the school looking for them. Then again, that institution has always attracted more than its fair share of trouble, with a body count well above average. So multiple elements converge on a place that is sure to see exciting things happen on a regular basis.

I do admit, I found CLASS a little hard to access at first. The core group seems so different from one another, and it feels weird to see them all drawn together artificially early, not by the monster, but prior to that. It was especially bizarre when they all sat next to one another in class. I think most shows would have circumstance bond them, or focus on an already solidified friend group, but CLASS tries something different, and I’m not sure it quite works. Or maybe I’m applying an American cultural filter to a British series; I’m just not sure.

The first episode itself is interesting, setting things up nicely, while still having an urgent plot driving it as well. There are some fun references, such as when the school is said to be essentially sitting on a Hellmouth. The problem with that is, Buffy the Vampire Slayer is one of the best shows of all time, and inviting comparison is risky. The saving grace is that Buffy didn’t have a strong first season, so it also asks viewers to give CLASS a chance if it doesn’t immediately hook them.

The Doctor (Peter Capaldi) makes his inevitable cameo, as we know he must, but I found it a disappointing one. Not in of itself, as I loved seeing him, as it fits into the whole. CLASS is trying to set itself and its heroes up, and having The Doctor burst in at a key moment feels like cheating, robbing the protagonists of their chance to really stand up for themselves. We do get some other opportunities to see the cast in action, and The Doctor does provide some welcome wisdom. But it still didn’t feel quite right.

I like CLASS. It has a talented ensemble, and I cannot get enough of Kelly as Quill. But it doesn’t have the charm of Doctor Who (except when The Doctor is present), and it struggles to find its own identity in episode one. It isn’t as instantly gripping as Torchwood, a prior spin-off. With seven more episodes in this run, we’ll see if it develops into something worthwhile, or sputters out.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

How Many REASONS Do You Need?

Article first published as 13 REASONS WHY Review on Seat42F.

Last week, Netflix released the new drama 13 REASONS WHY (or TH1RTEEN R3ASONS WHY in the opening title sequence), based on the novel by Jay Asher. By now, many people have had time to check out at least a few of the thirteen episodes available, and reviews have been strong. But in an age of peak TV, you might be wondering just what this show is and why you should watch it over the plethora of other excellent choices. This article seeks to answer that question.

13 REASONS WHY begins in the aftermath of Hannah Baker’s (Katherine Langford, Daughter) suicide. Hannah is, er, was a high school girl, newish in town, average by most standards. Various members of the community are quite shaken by her demise, including her parents (Private Practice’s Kate Walsh and Smash’s Brian d’Arcy James). Why did she do it? Ah, well that is the mystery.

Our conduit into this question is Clay Jensen (Dylan Minnette, Scandal, Saving Grace), a boy who had a crush on Hannah, and who is reeled not only be her taking her own life, but by what comes after it. A box is delivered to Clay’s doorstep containing seven cassette tapes, six recorded on both sides, detailing the thirteen sides of Hannah’s story. Hannah says at the start that everyone who receives these recordings figures into her decision to end herself, and Clay is freaked out as he listens to each one, getting through one tape side per episode.

There are a lot of unanswered questions as we start this. Why did Hannah kill herself? What is her true purpose in recording the audio? Why does Clay, who seems like a mild-mannered, ‘nice’ guy get the tapes? Who had them before him? Who will get them after him? What will Clay do about it?

The material is dark, of course. While the plot does revolve around high school kids and the characters feel authentic to the age that they are, there is weighty subject matter in the suicide and fall out from it. High school is a strange place, a setting where kids turn into adults, some quicker than others, and this is well illustrated by exploring very mature themes in this locale. 13 REASONS WHY deftly captures the duality and dynamic period that is both relatable and a bit foreign to anyone who might watch it.

Kicking the series up another notch is the non-linear way in which it unfolds. Jammed with flashbacks, Hannah is as much a character as anyone, second only to Clay in screen time, and while Clay is on a set journey, his thoughts don’t always stay on the path. This makes it more complicated to follow, although that is helped along by a visible facial injury early in episode one. It still feels very natural, though, mimicking the process one’s mind might go through while facing the complex reality.

Sealing this one for me are a pair of authentic, deep performances by Minnette and Langford. Given that they are the central characters, they are the ones most responsible for keeping 13 REASONS WHY from feeling like a trite young adult novel, not an easy feat. Yet, the do it almost effortlessly, impressing viewers for their acting ability; they are talented for any age.

All of these elements combined are why I have no reservations about recommending 13 REASONS WHY. It’s a well-told, well-executed production about important matters. It avoids the traps many series or films in this movie fall into, and while not totally unique, this is certainly among the best examples on the subject. Although twice the age of the lead, I found it very compelling and easy to feel for Clay, and Hannah has piqued my curiosity, especially in the elaborate way she set up her project with (I assume purposely) outdated technology. I look forward to seeing this through.
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13 REASONS WHY is available now on Netflix.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Does IRON FIST Punch Land?

Article first published as MARVEL'S IRON FIST Review on Seat42F.

MARVEL’S IRON FIST released today. The fourth in a series of Netflix shows from the comic creator, it is designed to set up the final piece of the quartet for The Defenders team, a crossover series coming soon. In an effort to get you a review in as timely a manner as possible, this only covers the first hour of IRON FIST (mainly spoiler-free), although all thirteen have been released.

We open with our hero, Danny Rand (Finn Jones, Game of Thrones), returning to New York City for the first time in fifteen years. Barefoot, dirty, and scraggly, Danny fits in better with the homeless denizens of the park than he does in the upscale home and office building of his youth. Reintegrating back into the life he has been missing from is, predictably, not an easy task. Especially when his childhood friends, siblings Joy (Jessica Stroup, The Following) and Ward Meachum (Tom Pelphrey, Banshee), think Danny died in a plane wreck with his parents and don’t trust his sudden reappearance.

There’s no suspense for viewers as to whether Danny is who he says he is. He is the title character of the show (Rand is famously Iron Fist in the comic pages), so Marvel wouldn’t tease us by focusing a series on an imposter. His martial arts skills and seemingly superhuman moves confirm that for any who might still wonder, though we don’t get the First itself right away.

What there is suspense about is what the motive of the central villain is. It takes quite awhile for IRON FIST to even get around to showing us the presumed bad guy, though he is there before the end of the hour, and even after the reveal, little is known about him. While other Netflix Marvel shows have taken their time in their reveals, we usually get a bit more than this in the early stages.

Instead, we’re focused on Danny’s core problem: no one knows, or believes, who he is. This makes it impossible for him to start over, and fans will probably be unsure as to why he even wants to now. Why has he come home and what does he want? That isn’t stated. Instead, the focus just seems to be on how Danny will eventually convince the Meachums that he is legit, a frustrating and anticlimactic question.

There are some twists in the pilot, and while some are obvious ones, some are not. This means it is entertaining and moves along. The pacing is in line with the other Marvel shows, and the lack of information given to the audience does entice me to want to watch more right away. This isn’t a show meant to be served in single-hour portions.

But what works against IRON FIST is that it doesn’t have as strong an identity as Jessica Jones or Luke Cage. Both of these quickly came out of the gate with an obvious style and mission that made them unique. IRON FIST seems much more a typical superhero show, with Danny’s own abilities making him look more like Spiderman without the sass, and his upper crust upbringing not feeling especially unique.

Will IRON FIST overcome these drawbacks, its lack of immediate hook and more typical tone? Or will this be the weak link of the Marvel franchise, the one Netflix series from the studio that doesn’t earn itself a second season? I like Jones and Stroup, as well as Jessica Henwick (Game of Thrones), who plays likely love interest and Danny’s tie back to Asia Colleen Wing, so I hope there’s something here. One hour is just not long enough for me to make that determination.

MARVEL’S IRON FIST complete first season is available now on Netflix.

Sunday, March 12, 2017


Article first published UNDERGROUND Season 2 Premiere Review on Seat42F.

WGN America’s UNDERGROUND begins its second season this week. Starting about five months after the freshman run’s finale, we quickly pick up the stories of most of our characters, more or less where we left them. Time has passed, but it’s been relatively uneventful. Something tells me, after watching the first episode, that that won’t be the case for very much longer.
UNDERGROUND is interesting to me because it’s not obvious at first who the leads are in the first year. There is a large ensemble full of talented performers, and while many of them are removed as the story progresses, there are still more important roles than the five who are listed as the primary cast, which includes only Rosalee (Jurnee Smollett-Bell), Noah (Aldis Hodge), Elizabeth (Jessica De Gouw), Cato (Alano Miller), and August (Christopher Meloni).
Thankfully, the show has been successful enough to expand that ensemble in season two. The most important of the four new leads is Ernestine (Amirah Vann), Rosalee’s mother, who always had her own plot arc, but now is officially among the principal players. UNDERGROUND season two has also added characters named Georgia (Jasika Nicole, Fringe), Clara (DeWanda Wise, Shots Fired), and Harriet (Aisha Hinds, Under the Dome, If I Stay).
Harriet, as in Harriet Tubman. Clearly a recast from the brief shot of the legendary figure from last year’s finale, it’s kind of cool that she is now part of the group. Previously, I’d worried that adding someone with such name recognition might distract from the core narrative. However, after checking out the start of season two, I don’t think that will be the case.
UNDERGROUND remains focused on the stories of the characters from year one. While Rosalee, Noah, and Elizabeth were just dipping their toe into the secret movement to free the slaves, they’re now larger players in the game, so it makes sense they’d come across Harriet. Harriet doesn’t get any more precedence than the others, less than the returning main players, so she’s an interesting element that signals our players have gotten deeper into the action, rather than a shift to a new direction.
We’ve also got some new locations. Most notably, Ernestine has left Macon Plantation and is (sort of) settling into a very different type of community. Between that and the scenes in Ohio and Canada, we begin to get a fuller picture of different parts of the United States, all of which were affected by the slave industry and those who opposed it.
There are some terrific surprises, too. As with the first year, audiences may think they know where things are heading, only to have the rug yanked out from under them by the unexpected. This is a sign of good storytelling, and an example of how UNDERGROUND roots itself in reality. While there are some fantastical coincidences and run-ins, for the most part the series keeps viewers on their toes in an authentic manner, and there’s at least one big twist in the initial return that leaves me wanting to jump right into the next episode.
Not everyone you expect to see is in the second year’s premiere. There is a lot going on in UNDERGROUND, so it doesn’t feel empty that some faces may have to wait a week for us to catch up with them. Instead, it’s a busy, satisfying hour, and I’d rather a few people take this installment off than force hokey subplots to include them.
In all, I’d rate the premiere pretty high, accomplishing what it needs to accomplish, building the established world larger, and still maintain the things that makes this show compelling. UNDERGROUND returns Wednesday at 10/9c on WGN America.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

No FEUD Over This One

Article first published as FEUD Review on Seat42F.

Ryan Murphy, who has had great success with the anthology series format on FX in American Horror Story and American Crime Story, brings his next show to television tonight in FEUD. The first season is subtitled BETTE AND JOAN, and covers the film the two legendary actresses made together, What Ever Happened To Baby Jane? As you might expect, FEUD is excellent.

Jessica Lange (Big Fish, Horace and Pete) has been Murphy’s muse before, and as a grand lady herself, it makes sense for her to play Joan Crawford, the catalyst that gets the plot moving. Once a big Hollywood star, now a widow who hasn’t worked in awhile, Joan is disappointed by the dearth of strong roles for women of a certain age and sets out to force her own picture through. Latching onto the book What Ever Happened To Baby Jane, she recruits director Robert Aldrich (Alfred Molina, The Normal Heart, Spider-Man 2) and her long-time rival, Bette Davis (Susan Sarandon, Thelma & Louise, The Lovely Bones), to help with her comeback. That’s where this story begins.

I cannot emphasize enough the quality of acting in FEUD. Alongside Molina, we get Judy Davis (Maria Antoinette), Jackie Hoffman (Birdman), Stanley Tucci (Spotlight), Alison Wright (The Americans), Kathy Bates (American Horror Story), Catherine Zeta-Jones (Chicago), Reed Diamond (Underground), Kiernan Shipka (Mad Men), and more. Each delivers a quality, layered performance that greatly enhances the world of the series and puts the audience right into this time and place, both familiar and interesting.

None of these actors compare, though, to our two leads. Sarandon and Lange are masterful here, as they have been so often in the past. These are two ladies who can capture a moment like few others. There’s a bit in the pilot in which Lange, as Crawford, has to act in a scene for the movie, and she is brilliant, highlighting the actress as much as the character.

There’s a certain parallel that cannot be avoided that Sarandon and Lange are women of a certain age, just as Bette and Joan were. The difference here is that they can get good work, as evidenced by both FEUD and all of the other projects they continue to do. The very existence of this show proves how far things have come.

Yet, at the same time, the sexism highlighted in FEUD is still an issue, timely in its expression. While Hollywood may be getting better, there is still a long way to go, and with the current political climate, some of the small-mindedness is currently front and center.

Those themes aside, though, FEUD would stand on its own in any time simply because it involves terrific performers doing impressive things in a highly-stylized, yet crumbling, world. The glamor that everyone wants to pretend is there stands in stark contrast to the reality of pretend that reigns in Los Angeles. FEUD shows us both sides, the charade and what’s behind it, in delightful ways. Far from being fake, the actress’ (and others’) attempts to present their best selves is calculated and says a lot about the authentic personalities behind it, which each shot seemingly carefully constructed for maximum dynamic impact.

I’ve only watched one episode so far, but I can already tell that Ryan Murphy has done it again. Far from complaining about all his varied works on the network, I appreciate that he keeps churning out such good stuff with such a strong cast month after month. We’re in the golden age of television, and FEUD is a worthy example of that era. Expect to see it garner a lot of nominations, and hopefully even wins, come award season.

FEUD: BETTE AND JOAN premieres tonight at 10/9c on FX.

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Not TAKEN With This One

Article first published as TAKEN Review on Seat42F.

Tired of the trend of movies turned into television shows yet? Me, too, but that doesn’t mean the networks are going to stop trying any time soon. Tonight, NBC jumps in with TAKEN, a prequel to the movies bearing the same title. Well, sort of a prequel because the technology used by the characters is from our present day, not set in the past. But character-wise, this is the back story for the lead guy.

TAKEN the series begins with Bryan Mills (Vikings’ Clive Standen taking over for Liam Neeson) out of the special forces, but not yet working for the CIA. He has done things that have made some people mad, terrorists mostly, and they want revenge. So the people that Bryan cares about are put in danger as his past catches up with him in violent ways. Yep, consistent with the big screen Mills.

This violence is the core of TAKEN, as far as I can tell. In the first hour alone, I’d estimate almost half of it involves sneaking around, fighting, and shooting. From the adrenaline-pumping, tragic opening, to the climactic showdown, this is, by and large, a popcorn adventure, with much more focus on action than on character development.

In fact, while there are some character moments in this pilot, I would argue that there really isn’t any notable character development in the first episode, nor will I expect to see any in future episodes. Bryan seems more or less the same person at the beginning as he is at the end, and will remain roughly the same individual in the films. There is a very stagnant consistency that is disappointing. It would be far more interesting to see Bryan grow into a badass than to have him ready-made this way. Though, given his established background, I guess TAKEN would have to start much earlier in his story to do that kind of arc.

While everything is happening to Bryan and he’s running around, the perspective does frequently switch back to Christina Hart (Jennifer Beals, The L Word, Flashdance) and her CIA team. They are watching Bryan, trying to decide when and if they should recruit him. Given that Beals and several of the others are listed as main players, it should be no surprise that they make a decision in the affirmative pretty quickly; Bryan has to join them before things can really start. But the inclusion of the various team members that make up the core ensemble indicate that TAKEN will be a series of procedural missions, the obvious way to go with this series, and a format TV definitely does not need any more of.

I will say, given that TAKEN is on NBC, rather than CBS or FOX, it does feel a little less formulaic than it otherwise might. NBC doesn’t typically box in their series so stringently, and that does come across in episode one. There are also some shades of the network’s Hannibal (a beautiful, brilliant show that is the exception to the bad adaptation rule) in the tone and style, though that comparison only hurts TAKEN, as it doesn’t live up to that other work by any measure. But what I’m saying is, while TAKEN isn’t good, it could be worse if airing elsewhere.

The best thing that could happen to TAKEN is a quick death. It doesn’t appear it’ll be one of the greats, and the last thing we need is another mediocre series. A fair number of people like the movies (not myself, but I know a few), so why not let those stand on their own for what they are instead of tainting them with a lackluster pseudo-prequel? It would be a mercy to the fans and viewers in general for this to get yanked quickly.

TAKEN premieres tonight at 10/9c on NBC.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

BIG LITTLE LIES Big Fun With Little to Complain About

Article first published as BIG LITTLE LIES Review on Seat42F.

HBO is known for attracting top talent, especially for their limited-run programming. Nowhere is that trend more apparent than in the new miniseries BIG LITTLE LIES, premiering tonight. Written by David E. Kelley (The Practice), directed by Jean-Marc Vallee (Dallas Buyers Club), and boasting an all-star cast, this seven-part story is the less-cheesy version of a primetime soap. It takes place in an affluent neighborhood, and focuses on the mothers of first graders. And oh yes, there’s a mysterious murder.

BIG LITTLE LIES doesn’t tell you who’s dead and who did the killing right away. Its hook is based on suspense. We know something bad happened slightly in the future, but we don’t know why or to who or even who did it. The whole thing is told on an earlier timeline, which makes viewers pay more attention to every interaction between characters, seeing if they can figure out the twists before they are revealed.

The fact that the show is a miniseries, rather than an ongoing program, is also a benefit in drawing in eyeballs. The stakes are higher when the audience knows that nobody is coming back for a second season. That means we can’t just dismiss a star or main player from being the criminal or victim out of hand. There is no motivation to keep anyone’s hands clean, and that makes it all the more compelling.

Reese Witherspoon’s (Walk the Line, Wild) Madison Martha Mackenzie seems the most central role. In a marriage she values with a steady man, Ed (Adam Scott, Parks and Recreation), she still can’t get over her ex, Nathan (James Tupper, Revenge), nor does she care much for his new wife, Bonnie (Zoë Kravitz, Max Max: Fury Road). In the meantime, she’s dealing with a rebellious teenager, hanging out with her two best friends, and battling another mother for dominancy at school.

Madison’s pals are Celeste Wright (Nicole Kidman, Moulin Rouge!, Lion) and Jane Chapman (Shailene Woodley, Divergent, The Secret Life of the American Teenager). Jane is new in town, and is slow to give up information about herself. Celeste has been around for awhile, and quit her law career to stay home and raise a family for her younger husband, Peter (Alexander Skarsgård).
None of the three seem all that happy, especially when they come into contact with the mother on the other side of their war, Renata Klein (Laura Dern, Enlightened, The Founder). Each deal with their own issues, and while they seem relatively sweet, it’s also easy to see how any of them could either be pushed to murder, or be murdered by someone else.

On paper, the plot seems a lot like ABC’s Revenge, which I gave up on midway through. Comparing BIG LITTLE LIES to Revenge is the best way I can think of to illustrate the extreme examples in the genre of what works and what doesn’t. Revenge may have been fun, but it never rose to Desperate Housewives levels of quality, a like-minded show I’d put in the middle of the rankings. This one is at the top, giving us the juiciness audiences want, while still making a quality series by nearly any measure.

I like BIG LITTLE LIES. It’s wonderfully acted, beautifully shot, and has a terrific style and tone. It deals with material that would be very easy to make cartoonish, and yet keeps it from being so. Even the child actors, though less talented than their adult peers, are well selected, adding to the drama, rather than distracting from it. After watching two hours, I am fully invested in seeing this through to the end.

BIG LITTLE LIES premieres tonight at 9/8c on HBO.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017


Article first published as THE GOOD FIGHT Review on Seat42F.

If you’re a fan of The Good Wife, as I am, you’ve likely eagerly been awaiting the spin-off, THE GOOD FIGHT, which finally premieres this Sunday on CBS. The series, which will only be available via CBS’s All Access streaming service after the pilot airs, is set one year after last spring’s series finale. While much of the show is the same, including plenty of returning faces, it also feels wholly different in both positive and negative ways.

I’m not going to lie, I was unpleasantly jarred when THE GOOD FIGHT fights first catches up with Diane Lockhart (Christine Baranski), whose firm is now called Lockhart, Decker, Gussman, Lee, Lyman, Gilbert-Lurie, Tannebaum, & Associates. Try saying that a few times fast. Not only has the name changed, but so have the sets. Gone are the familiar law offices we saw over seven seasons, and even Diane’s recognizable corner space. Instead, after merging with two other organizations, the digs are brand-new.

I can’t help but feel that change was unnecessary. While it makes for an easier separation between Diane and her practice, plot-wise, the same story could be accomplished without blowing up what came before. Given how much THE GOOD FIGHT keeps reminding us that this is set in the same universe, it feels very wrong to begin with the off-putting setting.

To play devil’s advocate, maybe this is done on purpose so that viewers aren’t sad when Diane does find the exit. Rather than hoping for some last-minute save that gets her back where we’ve come to think she belongs, by not having that home to return to any more, there’s no compelling reason to want her to go back. In that sense, it makes for a clean break.

In the first two episodes, Diane shares the central limelight with Maia Rindell (Rose Leslie, Game of Thrones, Downton Abbey), her goddaughter. Having just passed the bar, Maia is excited to go to work for Diane and the rest. But she barely gets settled in before her father, Henry (Paul Guilfoyle, CSI), is arrested for stealing millions of dollars from wealthy clients, including Diane. With her girlfriend and lawyer telling her to stay away from her mother, Lenore (Bernadette Peters, Mozart in the Jungle), until things get settled, which could take years, Maia is suddenly left with no job or family to speak of.

In a way, Maia is kind of like the new Alicia. Diane is somewhat of a mentor to her, but they aren’t super close friends. Maia is going through rough scandal because of what a loved one did, which makes her presence in a court room a distraction, welcome or not. She is young and strong and building her life, like Alicia was doing for the second time when The Good Wife started.

However, there are some very stark differences in THE GOOD FIGHT, too. The firm for which Diane and Maia go to work, where Lucca (Cush Jumbo) has already relocated prior to the series begins, is quite different from any seen on The Good Wife. THE GOOD FIGHT has different music, different lighting, and different direction, too, making it feel like its own thing right away. Plus, it’s hard not to mention the cursing, which feels natural to the characters, more so than avoiding it did in certain parts of The Good Wife.

Once THE GOOD FIGHT settles in to what it is, getting past the initial event, it quickly gets very good. It has solid cases and interesting ongoing narrative arcs. It isn’t a copy of its predecessor, but there are a LOT of returning characters, including Sarah Steel in a welcome lead role as Marissa. It also has a lot of new roles, such as Adrian Boseman (Delroy Lindo, Blood & Oil) and Barbara Kolstad (Erica Tazel, Justified), partners at Diane’s new job. It has something to say, as The Good Wife did, but is fresh in its approach to it. This balance of continuation and completely new is effective, and I wish I’d had more than two episodes to watch ahead of time.

Of course, the big question is whether to shell out for CBS All Access. As someone who canceled cable, I went ahead and got my subscription. It’s how I’ve continued to watch CBS shows. However, were I still getting a strong cable signal into the house (my antenna is unreliable), I’m not sure I’d want to pay $10 for a single show. (As someone who’s had a DVR since 2005, the cheaper subscription that includes commercials is not even something I’d consider.) The network doesn’t have enough offerings to fully justify the expense, even for someone who has cut the cord, but I do it begrudgingly for now, especially with Star Trek: Discovery joining THE GOOD FIGHT later this year. While I want people to subscribe and watch this show so it can continue, I can’t blame anyone who doesn’t, as the network has not made a compelling case for its ridiculously high fee. So I won’t recommend signing up, though I selfishly hope lots of people do.

THE GOOD FIGHT begins this Sunday on CBS and CBS All Access, continuing only on the latter from week two onward.

Friday, February 17, 2017


Article first published as DOUBT Review on Seat42F.

CBS’s latest drama is DOUBT. It’s a legal procedural that follows a group of lawyers in a firm as they defend clients and undergo personal drama. That synopsis is not particularly memorable or distinctive, but neither is the show, which offers little to set it apart from a hundred other television series. Even when only taking into account this single network’s offerings, it’s one of the weaker ones.

Katherine Heigl (Grey’s Anatomy), polarizing as she can be, actually does a pretty decent job as Sadie Ellis, the main protagonist of DOUBT. I found her believable and capable, much as I have in previous work. While her inclusion had me unenthusiastic about this project, I can’t fairly or honestly blame her for my distaste of it.

However, Sadie herself is a large part of the problem with DOUBT. She is not only defending Billy Brennan (Steven Pasquale, Rescue Me), a charitable doctor, for a murder from two and a half decades ago, but she’s also sleeping with him. This is ridiculous in its blatant play for soapy melodrama, with little regard for realism. I’m not saying a lawyer never sleeps with a client, but she is risking being disbarred by doing so, and such a story would seldom end well in real life. This overshadows the more interesting parts of Sadie, her relationship with her parents in particular, and ruins things before they even get started.

That isn’t the only thing wrong with DOUBT, though I feel that alone sinks it. The dialogue is hokey and trite, and that’s even when it’s not super predictable. None of the characters feel like actual people, and much of what they say is inconsistent with even the little character development we get. Either the roles are miscast or the writers don’t understand the roles they’ve created. Too many times, it yanks the viewer right out of the moment.

That’s a shame because the show has a pretty strong ensemble. Then again, I could say the same for lots of bad shows these days, it being easier to find good talent than to utilize it.. This particular line up includes Elliott Gould (MASH, Ray Donovan), Dule Hill (Psych), Laverne Cox (Orange is the New Black), Dreama Walker (Don’t Trust the B—- in Apartment 23), and Kobi Libii (Alpha House). Each of them are great performers in other works, but if this was the only thing I had to judge them on, I wouldn’t know it. This is by far the worst series any of them have done, at least that I’m aware of, which leads me to believe it isn’t entirely, or at all, their fault.

The guest star line up is similarly over qualified and poorly utilized. Judith Light and Donna Murphy are among those in the pilot that I wish better for.

Now, while I often berate cop procedurals, I tend to find the ones focusing on lawyers much more interesting. There’s something about the court room drama that I find compelling, and it makes me more forgiving of the flaws. This, however, defies that trend by spending way more time on unimportant stories and failing to make any of the cases interesting. Instead, the series continuously focuses on the wrong things.

Unfortunately for DOUBT, the glow of The Good Wife, a far superior show of this genre, has not been away from CBS long enough to fade. With The Good Fight spin-off premiering later this week, even if it will be online-only after episode one, there’s an immediate replacement that is sure to be much better than this. As such, I don’t see any reason why anyone would want to tune into this program when the immediate comparisons will make it seem so poor by comparison.

DOUBT premieres this Wednesday at 10/9c on CBS.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

New LEGION Of Powers

Article first published as LEGION Review on Seat42F.

As the Marvel universe, including Sony and Fox-produced products, as well as their own-made ones, continue to expand, some of the more obscure, weird characters are being brought into the fold. To that end, FX presents LEGION this week, one of the X-Men related properties still controlled by FX’s parent, Fox. Like Deadpool, he’s not a household name, and also like Deadpool, this series does not feel like any of the other programs in the genre out right now.

If you’re not familiar with the character of Legion, he is someone who has some serious mental issues along with his powers. The son of Professor Xavier, Legion absorbs others within himself, sort of, and often can’t tell what is real and what isn’t. To build a television series around such an unstable character is bold; to make it from his perspective, where viewers don’t know what is actually happening at any given time because he doesn’t know, is even bolder. LEGION chooses the latter route, making a confusing, stimulating series that is as exciting as it is odd.

Legion is David Haller (Dan Stevens, Downton Abbey), and as the show begins, he is locked in a mental institution and has been for some time. Meeting the beautiful Syd Barrett (Rachel Keller, Fargo), who agrees to date David but won’t allow him to touch her, David seems to be getting along all right, despite everything. But when something big and tragic happens, things change. And whether the event is David’s fault or Syd’s remains to be seen, though doesn’t feel particularly important. What is important is that David’s life is set on a new course that pulls him away from what he knows and will likely lead to self exploration.

Stevens is excellent, as is Keller. Both have inhabited very specific characters, far from the roles they’re known for, whom viewers can latch onto, despite the insanity. There is something very essential to them that is relatable and familiar. They’re fully realized individuals, and whole they may not be like people we know, it’s easy to recognizable the humanity in them, no matter the craziness occurring.

The pair are joined by an excellent supporting cast, including fellow patient Lenny Busker (Aubrey Plaza, Parks and Recreation), David’s sunny sister, Amy (Katie Aselton, The League), a benevolent (?) doctor, Melanie Bird (Jean Smart, 24, Fargo), a shady interrogator (Hamish Linklater, The Crazy Ones), and more. It’s a really strong group playing characters that even most comic book fans aren’t too familiar with, so plenty of new ground to break.

The show itself is visually stunning. It’s like the Doctor Strange of television, with trippy sequences and worlds that could never exist. Guided expertly by the hand of Noah Hawley (FX’s Fargo), it explores concepts that are hard to show, and yet, manages to convey them in unconventional ways. At times, the soundtrack, which matches the rest nicely, almost feels like that of Stranger Things, and the look touches on a Wes Anderson picture. The concept of unreliable narrator feels a bit like Mr. Robot. Despite the many favorable comparisons, LEGION is all its own thing, appealing to fans of the above, but also standing plenty firm on its own.

The world presented in is hyperreality, bold colors and retro designs, music that is both old and timeless. The total package is a cool production design, fantastically meshing conflicted parts into the whole, much the way in which the characters are put together. There is a unique-ish quality, that is still relatable to the X-Men First Class movies, but is also outside of them.

I cannot recommend LEGION enough. It premieres tonight at 10/9c on FX.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

APB To Viewers

Article first published as APR Review on Seat42F.

If you’ve read very many of my reviews, I’m sure you’ve noticed how hard I am on crime shows. I find most of them to be very formulaic and repetitive, telling the same story over and over again and copying the peers that have come before it. As a genre, I find it one of the weakest, based on the many lazy executions of it, and there are far more bad examples of how to do it than good ones, even among those that have become ratings hits.

I say this to give you an idea of the mindset I had going into FOX’s new drama, APB, and to illustrate how hard this series had to work to win me over. Yet, win me over it did, with a gripping pilot and an interesting premise. It could very well fall right into that awful pattern most cop dramas follow repeatedly in week two. But for a first episode, APB’s premiere was a great one.

The story begins with wild billionaire playboy Gideon Reed (the always fantastic Justin Kirk, Weeds), a man who likes splash and cares little for the consequences of doing what he wants. The flip side of him is that Gideon is an innovative engineer, and so his brilliance excuses much of his bad behavior in the business world. When a close pal and long-time advisor of his is killed, Gideon decides to pour his resources into reforming one particularly bad, underfunded police precinct in the city of Chicago. In doing so, he not only gives the metropolis hope, but also reforms an entire industry.

If that sounds like a fantastical story, well, it mostly is. You may read that APB is loosely based on a New York Times article about a rich guy that developed an app for the New Orleans cops, sort of like Gideon does in the series. However, this fictional version takes things a heck of a lot further, with equipment and procedure redesigned from the ground up.

The weakness in the story is how the police officers, initially skeptical of Gideon, quickly begin to be won over by the results of his inventions. A more realistic approach would be to have Gideon only slowly gain any traction with the people who are forced to accept his leadership against their will, as is what happens between he and the surely-crooked mayor. The audience, who are supposed to relate to Amelia Murphy (Natalie Martinez, Saints & Sinners, Kingdom), the face of the force, may feel as betrayed by these law enforcement types who quickly become converts as the characters themselves are portrayed to be at the start. The conflict is simplified far too much to be realistic.

But the reason I am willing to overlook this is because APB is so darn inspiring. In an era where the systems that are supposed to serve us are plagued by inefficiency and outdated thinking, and when the citizens of the country are more divided than ever, seeing people come together to make a community better and bring it into the modern age is awesome. It’s exactly the type of thing optimists wish to happen in real life, and when told with a complex, noble hero like Gideon at the center, alongside the brave women and men in blue, with nary a corrupt one among them, it’s a show that’s hard to resist.

What I do worry about is APB’s timeslot, which is following 24. While there are some suspenseful sequences, APB isn’t nearly as fast-paced as it lead-in. I wish the order were reversed, as it would serve fine as a warm up, but may be a let down after the adrenaline-pumping intensity of the real-time series.

APB premieres tonight at 9/8c on FOX.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

24's LEGACY Intact

Article first published as 24 LEGACY Review on Seat42F.

24 is back tonight! OK, so it’s not classic 24, as our hero, Jack Bauer, is nowhere in sight. But other than missing Jack, this version is pretty much the same thing. There are terrorists and sleeper cells, betrayals and moles, CTU agents and politicians, people who just won’t listen even though their deafness gets in the way of saving the day, and, of course, the ticking clock as events unfold in real time.

Our new protagonist is Eric Carter (Corey Hawkins, The Walking Dead, Straight Outta Compton), the leader of an elite CTU squad that took out a major terrorist six months ago (think SEAL Team Six and bin Laden). Back in the states, Eric is trying to move on with his wife, Nicole (Anna Diop, The Messengers). But he isn’t doing a good job of it, Nicole even hypothesizing that Eric misses the killing and the danger. Can he settle into suburbia?

24: LEGACY quickly proves he doesn’t have to. The son of the assassinated terrorist is in town with a squad, and begins picking off Eric’s team one by one. With only Eric and mentally unstable Ben Grimes (Charlie Hofheimer, Mad Men, Black Hawk Down) left, Eric has to go on the offensive, trying to stay alive and stop the son from recovering his dad’s sleeper cell list. This means Eric is like later-seasons Jack, already violent and willing to do what needs to be done, even if it’s against the law, so yeah, I’m sure he can do it.

Of course he can. That is never in doubt. This is 24, so the bad guys will get to kill some people along the way, but not as many as they’d like. In fact, the blood starts flowing (in a not-particularly-gory way) only moments into the first hour. There are always casualties in war, but 24, taking its queue from the superhero genre, always makes sure that our hero wins the day, albeit with some cost. 24: LEGACY looks to follow that same format.

Also, as in other seasons of 24, high-level politicians enter into the story. This time we have Rebecca Ingram (Miranda Otto, Homeland, The Lord of the Rings), the former head of CTU, whose husband, Senator John Donovan (Jimmy Smits, Sons of Anarchy, The West Wing), is running for president. This dynamic allows for the in-agency stuff to tie in to election drama in a satisfying way.

Having watched two hours so far, 24: LEGACY almost makes me forget about Jack Bauer. They wisely have brought in a heavy cast, which also includes Dan Bucatinsky (Scandal), Teddy Sears (The Flash), and Gerald McRaney (This Is Us), who along with those above, make the story gripping and well-acted enough that, even with the popcorn-style, unrealistic plot, it’s a lot of fun. So much going on with so many fine performers, and family drama tossed in, too, keeps us from dwelling on what we don’t get.

Which isn’t to say that 24: LEGACY isn’t without its ties to past seasons. One of the new CTU staff members is Mariana Stiles (Coral Pena), the cousin of Edgar Stiles, whom this new version reminds us was one of the best the organization had to offer. But it also stands enough on its own that new viewers could jump right in without missing a beat.

Like the last Jack-led season, 24: LEGACY will only present twelve of the twenty-four hours in this all-important day. This is a wise move, as most seasons of 24 suffered from dragging or vamping in the middle, and the twelve hour format (with hours skipped to still cover an entire day) is a tighter, more enjoyable one. 24 banks on intensity, and the shorter season makes it easier to keep up the adrenaline.

My overall impression of 24: LEGACY is that the franchise is resilient and will fare just fine without its lead. As much as I hope Jack does return for future installments, the rest of the 24 ensemble has always been rotating, and the format works as long as the cast stays strong, which it does here. 24 isn’t the best show on TV, not by a long-shot, but it’s action-packed entertainment that gets your blood pumping, and as a fan or the original, I’m not disappointed at all by the latest incarnation.

24: LEGACY premieres tonight after the Super Bowl, then moves to its regular timeslot tomorrow at 8/7c.

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Needs Another TRAINING DAY

Article first published as TRAINING DAY Review on Seat42F.

Continuing the spate of television series adapted from films, CBS premieres TRAINING DAY tonight. Set fifteen years after the film of the same name, but still in that universe, obvious because they name drop one of the main players from the movie, the plot is very similar. A straight-laced rookie is sent undercover to expose the corruption of a veteran cop as they work the very dangerous, drug-laden streets of Los Angeles.

This time around, Bill Paxton (Edge of Tomorrow, Big Love) is the grizzled veteran, Detective Frank Rourke, who has no problem blowing up gang houses and shooting the perps with foam bullets. He is a bit more moral than Denzel Washington’s version, who had a different name, as Frank is shown to have a code that he lives by, and that includes protecting some innocents. But other than that, he is still the rule-flaunter who dates a whorehouse madam (Julie Benz, Defiance, Dexter) and doesn’t give a crap about his fellow officers.

The newbie is also similar to his counterpart, played by Ethan Hawke on the big screen, the entry point for the audience into this world. Kyle Craig (Justin Cornwall) is a noble man who wants to succeed within the existing system. This TRAINING DAY gives him added plot by having him determined to avenge his father, Frank’s former partner, and he also has a loving woman waiting for him at home, Alyse (Lex Scott Davis). But yeah, from the same mold as Hawke’s role.

I’m a bit confused about why this is a sequel to the movie. Despite the race switch, the relationship and story for the two leads is so similar to that of the film that it’s eerie. Deputy Chief Lockhart (Marianne Jean-Baptiste, Without a Trace) even comments that she doesn’t want Frank to be the next officer like Washington’s Alonzo, so the characters acknowledge the parallel, but that feels forced, not organic. I can’t help but feel the series would be better served to make these the same two lead roles, rather than setting it in an established world they’re not likely to make much use of.

Of course, since this is a broadcast television cop show, there are more than just two officers on the team. We’ve got Rebecca Lee (Katrina Law, Arrow), whom Frank rescued when she was a child, and Tommy Campbell (Drew Van Acker, Pretty Little Liars), a former pro-surfer, to round out the squad. They’re present probably because that’s the more typical format, and CBS doesn’t like to break format. Which is why TRAINING DAY won’t be anything special, this show clearly being a case-of-the-week procedural, with only a little bit of serial story tossed in.

Honestly, aside from the ugly lighting, TRAINING DAY doesn’t feel all that much different from a slew of other shows. I know I say this a lot in crime show pilot reviews, but that’s because so many of the non-cable fare is so similar. Adding an already-recognizable title doesn’t change that, and actually makes me less interested than a more original project.

I didn’t enjoy the TRAINING DAY movie, either, for the record. But at least it had an engaging story, something we hadn’t seen as much before, and with some gripping performances. Paxton seems to be phoning it in, having fun, but not making use of his range the way he has in other projects. Cornwall is serviceable in the role, but not stand-out. The ideas and complexity of the story are watered down, the best parts removed to make way for the repetitive structure.

With trite dialogue, gratuitous action, and unnecessary redeemable qualities for Frank, who would be far more interesting without them, though admittedly the series would have a more limited believable run, mixed with a predictable, too-familiar formula, this is not a series that is must-see.

TRAINING DAY premieres tonight at 10/9c on CBS.

Sunday, January 29, 2017


Article first published as RIVERDALE Review on Seat42F.

The Archie comics, in print since the 1940s, are a fairly wholesome series. We have all-American Archie Andrews, the classic love triangle of Betty and Veronica, goofy Jughead, the music of Josie & The Pussycats, and so much more, which have become household names.
The CW asks you to see them in a whole new light in their series RIVERDALE, premiering tonight.
RIVERDALE begins with a death and dark secrets. One of the Blossom twins, Jason (Trevor Stines, A Tragic Love Story), disappears while in a boat with his twin sister, mean girl Cheryl (Madelaine Petsch, The Curse of Sleeping Beauty). This throws the sleepy town into disarray, especially when some of its citizens might know something and aren’t speaking up about it because of the type of activity they were engaged in as it went down.
Into this chaos, enter new girl, Veronica (newcomer Camila Mendes), who quickly gets between best friends Betty (Lili Reinhart, The Kings of Summer) and Archie (K.J. Apa, Shortland Street), the latter of whom doesn’t seem to be talking to loner writer Jughead (Cole Sprouse, The Suite Life of Zack and Cody, Grace Under Fire) at present. There’s also gay pal Kevin (fresh face Casey Cott), who is fending off advances from a closeted jock. So, even just among the kids, there’s quite a bit of drama and strife. And we haven’t even gotten to the adults, who have their own histories and plot, though mostly not as front-and-center as that of the kids.
To be fair, the Archie comic hasn’t always shied away from sexuality. There is plenty relationship drama, and the Jughead on the page even came out as asexual. But the level of sex on the CW is, on average, quite a bit higher, the network being known for somewhat-steamy YA shows (in addition to the superhero variety), and RIVERDALE fits right into the network’s brand alongside peers like The Vampire Diaries and the still-missed Gossip Girl.
In fact, a lot about RIVERDALE will feel very familiar to fans of the network. It’s a group of attractive young people who are involved in ever-changing love triangles, squares, and more-sided shapes, besieged by danger, betrayal, and mystery, and they sometimes make stupid decisions. It has a little bit of Dawson’s Creek season one tossed in concerning a certain teacher, and even if it’s not quite true to the comics, it is true to the spirit of the CW.
That being said, it’s not my favorite show on the network. I like the built-in set of characters, but it was quickly realized that even Archie, who should probably be the exception to the intrigue, would be too boring without it, so they’ve veered his character sharply. I feel like if you’re going to get away from the meaning of the source material, unless there’s a compelling reason to stick to it, you should just make a new show. Giving it known-franchise cred it not enough of an excuse. So, while without the familiar characters RIVERDALE might have trouble gaining purchase, it shouldn’t have used them.
And that is what it comes down to for me. RIVERDALE doesn’t stand on its own without the interest built from the comics (even if you haven’t read them, you know about them), and so isn’t worth watching. There’s an inauthenticity to it, a bit-too-formulaic quality that just keeps it from hooking you in. Even Josie & The Pussycats, though we’re told sing mostly original songs, are mainly doing covers in the first couple of hours. I love most of the shows on the CW, but this feels like CW-light, with little new to contribute, just re-using what’s worked in the past, so I’ll pass.
RIVERDALE premieres tonight at 9/8c on the CW.

Thursday, January 26, 2017


Article first published as OUTSIDERS Season 2 Premiere Review on Seat42F.

WGN America’s OUTSIDERS is back this week! The drama about the Farrell clan who live up on a mountain, apart from society, and those in the town below, including a businesswoman (Francie Swift) who wants the resources the Farrells are sitting on, begins its second season. The action picks up right where the freshman year left off, and I dare say, there are a few surprises in the first hour alone.

The premiere picks up on the mountain, where the police have come to confront the clansmen and women. It’s chaos and battle and everything you want, which I don’t feel like it’s much of a spoiler to say. What is interesting is that immediate aftermath of the fight, the scene we see right after it, and the result of it, which does change the course of season two. How far it shifts direction, that remains to be seen, though it seems like quality and style will be maintained.

Up on the mountain, G’Winveer (Gillian Alexy) is having trouble settling into her role as Brennan. This isn’t surprising if you remember the way she got the chief position, by poisoning Big Foster (David Morse) and then getting Asa (Joe Anderson) to shoot him. That Big Foster is a bad man in his own right, having murdered the previous Brennan, his own mother, is not known by any other characters, and so doesn’t help G’Win’s soul rest easy.

I like that OUTSIDERS has kept the murder a secret. Often on television shows, there’s a piece of information that only certain characters are privy to, and then it inevitably comes out at a dramatic moment. Since Big Foster was the only one in the room when he committed the act, while others may have suspicions about him, there is no way for anything to ‘come to light’ short of Big Foster confessing. That’s an interesting scenario, the Farrells having neither video cameras nor forensic science, and it sets the series apart.

G’Win, who is mainly a character to root for, did some nasty things in season one. While I like that she is a bit haunted by them, because it makes her more sympathetic, I also applaud OUTSIDERS for not totally excusing her actions. The Farrells may be willing to fall in line behind her, for the most part, but she is not a black-and-white hero, which makes her more fascinating.

By the same token, Sherriff Wade Houghton (Thomas M. Wright), who should be in the right, is not a likeable person. It’s not necessarily any specific action Wade takes that makes my opinion of him go down (though he does do something pretty cowardly in the premiere that doesn’t help). Yet, while he is a non-corrupt cop, viewers won’t necessarily want him to win, which is a cool element that most television shows don’t have.

The closest thing OUTSIDERS has to a truly good person is Li’l Foster (Ryan Hurst), and I can’t help but admire that man. As naïve as he can be at times, and while he has fallen for tricks and lies, he is still someone who seems noble. Part of the warm feelings toward him are not dissimilar from wanting to protect a little brother, yet I can’t help but hope he will come to be great in his own right, and I hope he doesn’t lose himself along the way. Who he is now is terrific, and he’s easily my favorite character.

I won’t spoil anything, but I will say there is a not wholly unexpected, but still very exciting, development in the Sally-Ann (Christina Jackson) / Hasil (Kyle Gallner) relationship. The premiere also ends with a shocking thing happening to one of our main players that I kind of hope sticks, not because I want ill to befall this particular person, but just because I find it interesting and a neat story twist.

Get ready for OUTSIDERS, which returns Tuesday, January 24th at 9/8c.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Two Four SIX Eight

Article first published as SIX Review on Seat42F.

History Channel begins its eight-episode series tonight entitled SIX. A fictionalized account of the activities of SEAL Team Six, a.k.a. those guys that took out Bin Laden, it covers a bunch of men who serve hard in the field, and the homes they come back to. In the central thread, a former member of their squad, now working in the private industry, has been captured by terrorists, and his comrades must get him back before the bad guys do something horrible to him. But it’s also about their relationships with their wives and one another, too.

The Seal Team SIXers are Bear (Barry Sloane, Revenge), Alex (Kyle Schmid, Copper), Buddha (Juan Pablo Raba, Narcos), and Robert Chase (Edwin Hodge, Chicago Fire). Each of the first three has some slight differentiation, but are pretty much bearded white guys who aren’t young any more, but aren’t old either. They care about brotherhood, they care about children, and they care about their country. Robert is the new guy, because there’s always a new guy, and some of the plot deals with him integrating into the group.

The problem with SIX is, this is not a lot to hang a show on. I know military dramas aren’t exactly meant for everyone, but the very good ones, like HBO’s The Pacific, are enjoyable to a broad audience. SIX has much less complex characters, lacks the development of the moral conflict, and reduces its bad guys to one-note stereotypes of its better forbearers. Subject matter aside, in the age of peak TV, that isn’t the way to make a show that people will want to tune into. It’s shallow and boring.

I applaud that two wives, Lena (Brianne Davis, Hollywood Heights) and Jackie (Nadine Velazquez, The League), are part of the main cast. But neither is interestingly sketched enough to hold much attention. They are pretty much just there to have emotional conflict with their spouses, with few characteristics to set them apart as individuals.

That’s too bad, because the idea of showing families of the soldiers is a strong one that helps humanize them and draws the very stark contrast between their professional and personal lives. The nature of this groups’ work is such that they aren’t on the long deployments, instead sent on targeted missions, and they get to spend a lot of time back in the U.S. The dichotomy is rich territory to explore that SIX underuses majorly.

The show does pick up a bit when it focuses on Rip (Walton Goggins, Justified, The Shield), the former team member who has been captured. Part of this is because there’s more action and depth to Rip’s scenes, and part of it is because Goggins is a magnificent, magnetic actor who captures audience attention easily. Rip is far from a saint, but I would expect nothing less from this actor, who excels at playing shady characters whose redemption you root for, even while knowing there’s a fifty-fifty chance, at best, he will come to the light.

Still, that’s not enough to save a series that drags and is only thinly drawn. I think the concept of SIX is a good one, and I am definitely in favor a television program that shows the reality of war and deals with the mental state of the modern United States serviceman or woman. Something like that is important in this age of long, drawn-out conflicts that mostly go on to the ignorance of the American public, who know very little about the reality of the situation. Unfortunately, SIX isn’t that, it’s a mediocre series, and it will do little to shine the spotlight where it needs to be shone.

SIX premieres tonight at 10/9c on History Channel.

Thursday, January 19, 2017


Article first published as THE YOUNG POPE Review on Seat42F.

HBO presents the highly anticipated series THE YOUNG POPE beginning this evening. An international joint production that already aired in Italy, the UK, and Ireland to high ratings and much acclaim, it tells the story of Lenny Belardo, a young American man elevated to the highest office in the Catholic Church by people who think they’ll be able to manipulate him. They turn out to be vastly mistaken.

Jude Law (the Sherlock Holmes movies) is terrific in the title role. Lenny is a supremely pious man, perhaps the reason he chooses the title Pope Pius XIII, who is free of scandal and sin. What he isn’t free of is arrogance and judgment, which he carries in spades. Unpredictable in the office, Lenny alternately turns to a few trusted mentors for advice, and also does his own thing entirely. He wants to make the church more conservative, while caring little for personal glory. He’s a zealot, and a potentially dangerous one at that.

THE YOUNG POPE does have you rooting for Lenny, though, because many of those around him are worse. Cardinal Voiello (Silvio Orlando, The Caiman) is corrupt and manipulative, and serves as the main villain of the program. Sister Mary (Diane Keaton, The Godfather, Annie Hall) is loving, but acts a bit above her station. Cardinal Michael Spencer (James Cromwell, American Horror Story: Asylum, Six Feet Under) is a petty man who sees betrayal where none exists. These are the only people shown with any power that could possibly bring Lenny down, but because of who they are, you won’t want them to.

On the other hand, there are also some very kind, very good people in the Vatican, such as Cardinal Gutierrez (Javier Camara, 7 vidas), and they want to help Lenny. This means, despite Lenny’s flaws, which are numerous, viewers are likely to have sympathy for him, as Gutierrez does, and see him, if not as a hero or a saint, then at least as a protagonist to cheer for.

The production is fantastic, with beautiful vistas and sets. It feels like it really is at the Vatican, and we get to peek at some areas that not many are permitted to see, so we don’t know if they are authentic or not. It feels like the it’s done right, setting a certain tone that mixes opulence and humility in the strangest of ways. THE YOUNG POPE really captures the dichotomy of that institution.

The pilot begins with a couple of sequences that will leave you wondering about the reality of the series. There is a surreal quality to many scenes, including one involving a large animal, that constantly has you wondering if we’re in Lenny’s dream. This is kind of cool for this particular series, as it gives it a hyper-real style that is needed for the story being told. I have no complaints about the presentation or the look and feel of the show.

The plot is more confusing. Two episodes in, I get who most of the primary faces are and am starting to understand certain dynamics, but it’s also hard to follow. I couldn’t easily explain the plot of what I just watched. Usually, that’s a strike against it. Here, it seems purposeful and part of the total package, in line with what the series creators are going for. The actors are terrific enough to draw you in, and the ride you’re taken on is engaging and fun, though certainly is not how I hope things are actually run in the real church.

In short, while THE YOUNG POPE is not without its flaws, and it extremely enjoyable to watch, and I’m excited to see where it’s going. THE YOUNG POPE premieres tonight at 9/8c on HBO.