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Sunday, January 29, 2017

A Different RIVERDALE

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

More OUTSIDERS

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 na├»ve 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

THE YOUNG POPE Review

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.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Queen VICTORIA

Article first published as VICTORIA Review on Seat42F.



PBS’ Masterpiece presents a new drama this week called VICTORIA. Centered around the long-reining British queen of that name, the show originally aired in the UK, and is now coming to the states, the first two hours premiering this Sunday. The initial offering deals with Victoria taking the throne, befriending the prime minister, and her struggles between what she wants personally and what the politics of the country demand.

Although not a fan of Jenna Coleman’s Clara in the series Doctor Who, I do like her better as Victoria. She does a fine job portraying the young, short queen (only eighteen when she took the throne, and under five feet tall) as she comes into her own.

Victoria has a very sheltered childhood, controlled as she is by her mother (Catherine Flemming, Simones Labryinth) and her mother’s close pal, Sir John Conroy (Paul Rhys, Da Vinci’s Demons). When she gets that first taste of being in charge, it goes to her a head a little bit. Coleman keeps her sympathetic through those bits, helping us understand why Victoria makes the decisions she does, and rationalizing the more selfish ones.

I also like Rufus Sewell (The Man in the High Castle) as Lord Melbourne. He and Victoria had a special relationship, and while the way it is shown in VICTORIA isn’t wholly accurate, I like this chemistry, too. It avoids being romantic, which is certainly a good thing, but I do get that Melbourne really cares for her, and that’s important as Victoria transitions into power.

Other than that, though, this series, while interesting, isn’t overly compelling. Some of what is portrayed is relatively factual, historically speaking, but other parts are dramatized to try to add more excitement. This seems unnecessary, and feels forced, especially in making Melbourne so attractive. What happens with Victoria’s birthday cake is a good example of something that didn’t need added in, as is the scheming of relations behind her back. The show could have focused more on the real things, such as the possible scandal with Sir John, which is gotten through pretty quickly, rather than adding excess drama.

I would point to The Crown on Netflix as an example of how to do things better. It doesn’t help VICTORIA that its U.S. release comes just after The Crown has gained steam and awards. (It hadn’t yet premiered when VICTORIA aired across the pond.) The Crown keeps things more grounded, less episodic, and that makes it stronger overall. VICTORIA should take note of that as it develops season two, changing course to feel more like a docudrama and less like a soap. I doubt it will, but that would be the smart move.

The other comparison VICTORIA is sure to rate is to Downton Abbey, mainly because there are plenty of scenes for the servants, including the queen’s German baroness, Lehzen (Daniela Holtz, Phoenix), Mrs. Jenkins (Eve Myles, Torchwood), and the young Skerrett (Nell Hudson, Outlander). I feel like this is a bit of an odd choice because the household of a queen would have a LOT more servants than Downton Abbey, and yet it doesn’t feel like it does because VICTORIA focuses on such a small group. Which again, takes me a bit out of the story, and feels like an odd choice for a show about the queen herself.

Neither comparison, to Downton Abbey or to The Crown, leave VICTORIA the better for it. Taken on its own, I found it entertaining and beautifully produced. By comparison to its peers, it feels trite and superficial, as well as more soapy than it should be. For that reason, I can’t see continuing to watch it, even though it has been renewed for a second series overseas.

VICTORIA premieres this Sunday, January 15th, at 9/8c.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

OUTSIDERS Interviews!


I had the good fortune to be invited to New York City recently to sit down with the cast and producers of WGN America’s Outsiders, who were filming their second season. Set in rural America, the show tells the story of an isolated mountain clan and the near by townspeople, with political intrigue and clashing cultures. Season one was very exciting, and with season two premiering in January, I was very excited to interview some of those involved in the show. I hope you enjoy our conversations!
Click below to watch the interviews.
OUTSIDERS RETURNS TUESDAY, JANUARY 24 AT 9:00 PM ET/PT



Friday, January 13, 2017

Nothing TABOO

Article first published as TABOO Review on Seat42F.


FX’s newest drama is TABOO, premiering tonight. It is the story of a man, James Keziah Delaney, who has spent the past decade in Africa under shady circumstances, and who has just returned home to London, England in the year of Our Lord 1814. Inheriting his father’s property and shipping business should be an easy thing, but even if Delaney were right in the head, which he doesn’t seem to be, he’d find it a challenge given the dark mysteries of his family and the many enemies who seek his wealth for themselves.

Given that TABOO is airing on FX, it stars the terrific Tom Hardy (Mad Max: Fury Road, The Revenant), and is created by Steven Knight of Peaky Blinders fame, as well as Tom and his father, I expect good things from the series. Its ensemble cast, which includes Jonathan Pryce (Brazil, Game of Thrones), Oona Chaplin (The Hour, Quantum of Solace), Michael Kelly (House of Cards), Mark Gatiss (Sherlock), Jason Watkins (Trollied), Nicholas Woodeson (Rome), Tom Hollander (The Night Manager), Stephen Graham (Boardwalk Empire), Franka Potente (Copper), Jefferson Hall (Vikings), and more, adds even more promise. There is lots of talent bringing their skills to bear on this one!

Which means it’s extra disappointing when the show ends up being a dud, a rare misstep for FX.

I’d say the biggest problem is that it doesn’t really seem to be going anywhere. The pacing is very slow, but rather than feeding us bits of the story as it goes to keep us engaged, very little happens or is revealed in the first hour. It plods along and I keep waiting for even a little bit of a hook, but fail to find one.

The other option a series has, besides a gripping story, is to have very magnetic characters, but TABOO lacks those as well. Pryce is always wonderful, and I enjoy him as a villain here. Chaplin is very good in this, too, her character of Zilpha having a very weird relationship with half-brother Delaney. Others of the group do a decent job, but don’t stand out as all that memorable, and Delany himself isn’t well-defined enough to be interesting. He has a little bit of a presence, but trying to attribute mystic qualities to him just because he spent time in Africa (nope, doesn’t get any more specific than that) feels forced, and there really isn’t anything in the pilot to make you want to root for him, or even care what happens to him.

So what we’re left with is an hour that’s pretty excruciating to sit through, and it ends without any motivating factor to tune in again.

What TABOO does well is the production design. The gritty side of old London comes through strongly, providing nice contract to less grounded productions. For those who watch a lot of PBS, this is going to have a very different feel. The shadows and the muck work well with the tone the series is trying to set, and the opulence of the East India Trading Company clashes nicely with the more common men and women portrayed. The world is built is visually neat.

That isn’t enough, though, for repeat watching. It puzzles me why the BBC ran this, or why FX would want to pick it up, as it seems off-brand for both. I’m not sure where it fits in their lineups, especially on the American cable network, and I can’t imagine it’s going to stick around for a second season, given the lackluster reviews its getting. It doesn’t seem likely to draw many eyeballs on either platform.

TABOO premieres tonight at 10/9c on FX.

Monday, January 9, 2017

Not Your Grandma's EMERALD CITY

Article first published as EMERALD CITY Review on Seat42F.

I’m a big fan of The Wizard of Oz. Not just the MGM movie, though that is great, but the world of Oz in general. As a child, I devoured all fourteen of L. Frank Baum’s books over and over again. And while no faithful adaptation has yet been made (at least not that I’m aware of), a fact that is very disappointing to me, I have enjoyed some of the more interesting modern versions, such as SyFy’s Tin Man and the Broadway musical Wicked, as well as Gregory Maguire’s series of Wicked books. So it was with great anticipation that I sat down to sample NBC’s new drama, EMERALD CITY.

What EMERALD CITY does right is use more of the Oz mythology than most works. The Judy Garland film is actually quite a bit departed from the written work, but even then, only makes use of the first in the series. There are a rich tapestry of characters and corners of the land that are not explored in that initial offering, and while Disney’s horrible movie Return to Oz combined books two and three (since the second is the only one Dorothy isn’t in), most projects that tackle Oz ignore the other thirteen volumes. I feel this is a mistake that EMERALD CITY at least partially corrects.

Dorothy (Adria Arjona, True Detective) is the star, which is likely the right move, given that she is the character most people are familiar with. But the other central player in the books, which the second one centered around, is Tip (Jordan Loughran, Evermoor). Those who have read them will assume where EMERALD CITY is going with the boy, long held prisoner by a lesser witch, and who is extremely important to the land as a whole. I feel like this television series will likely pay that off based on what I’ve seen so far, though I’m not convinced Tip’s importance will be as high as it is on the page.

Other main players include familiar characters like The Wizard (Vincent D’Onofrio, Daredevil, Law & Order: Criminal Intent), Glinda (Joely Richardson, Nip/Tuck, the Patriot), West (Ana Ularu, Inferno), as in The Wicked Witch of the, Tip’s pal, Jack (Gerran Howell, Young Dracula), and Lucas (Oliver Jackson-Cohen, NBC’s Dracula).
Now, while Lucas is lacking straw, he’s clearly some version of The Scarecrow, and Jack has got to be Jack Pumpkinhead, though he appears to be perfectly human. This is something EMERALDN CITY does wrong, in my opinion. Although magic is part of this Oz, there are no magical creatures, which is essential element of any Oz tale. It doesn’t quite feel right if everyone is human, as is the case here, and that certainly takes away from the overall mythology.

Besides the witches, there are supernatural elements, including prophecy and giants, but these start to build a world that isn’t Oz. These are something else. Which makes me wonder if perhaps the show shouldn’t have ditched the Oz tie-ins completely and just done something completely different. It feels like sometimes too much effort is made to use a familiar property when originality would be the better way to go. Renaming the realm, the witches, and the protagonist could depart it enough to give EMERALD CITY more freedom without needing to give up the things they kept in common.

It also seems that EMERALD CITY may ditch the inaccessibility of Oz, including the nearby land of Ev, another element from the books, in the show as well, but presumably making it easier to come and go from Oz, with no sign of the deadly desert completely surrounding it. Like using the name Ojo (Olafur Darri Olafsson, The Missing) but failing to make this Ojo anything like the one Baum wrote, some of the choices seem like they were made purely to name drop something without actually using the source material. This seems odd.

None of this matters as much as the overall feel of the show, though, which is that of a lower quality program (except for the special effects). The action isn’t gripping, and none of the performances engage the viewer as much as one would wish. Despite having a couple of decently-known performers, EMERALD CITY feels more like it belongs on SyFy than network television, not quite at the level of a mainstream program. Parts of it are boring or confusing, and I am not sold on the core plot thread. The witches don’t feel powerful, I don’t buy Oz himself being in charge for this much time, and tying Dorothy’s past into the land is unnecessary and weird.

Also, where are the Tin Man and the Cowardly Lion? I mean, come on! And Toto is a German Shepherd? Seriously? OK, now I’m just being breed-ist, but that one does hurt a bit, more than any other casting decision.

I don’t hate EMERALD CITY as much as many critics do; I actually continued right to the third hour after the double-length pilot. But there is nothing in those initial installments that makes me think I’ll rank it up there with the films and novels listed in the opening paragraph. I wonder how much of my continued viewing will be based in my high regard for the central property, rather than the merits of the series itself, which seem a bit lacking, though there are some intriguing bits throughout.

EMERALD CITY premieres this Friday at 9/8c on NBC.

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

BEYOND What?

Article first published as BEYOND Review on Seat42F.



Freeform has a new supernatural drama this week called BEYOND. A man wakes up from a twelve-year coma in perfect health, no muscle atrophy or anything. So maybe he wasn’t in a coma, as some who seek him out suggest. Also, he now has some crazy powers, and people who seem pretty shady are after him. Essentially, it’s a lot of mystery and chaos wrapped in what feels like a YA series, though this one isn’t based on any book.

The main character is Holden Matthews (Burkely Duffield, House of Anubis). Holden is about to become a high schooler when whatever happens to him happens. Waking up, he remembers nothing of the last twelve years, except for confusing flashes of images that indicate he did more than just sleep. It’s hard for him to piece that together, though, while trying to readjust to his family and getting pulled into something bigger.

The first thing that strikes me about the central family in BEYOND is that they don’t feel real. Mother Diane (Romy Rosemont, Glee) is nurturing and father Tom (Michael McGrady, Ray Donovan) is involved with his kids, and yet, Holden is allowed to go out on a school night, riding a motorcycle and drinking beer. I’m sorry, but if the parents were as good as they seem to be, I don’t think all that would happen, especially not to a boy who seems so interested in science and space, who probably wouldn’t want to do those things at that age anyway. Maybe I’m just sheltered, but the characters don’t seem consistent or well through-thru.

It’s interesting that BEYOND chooses to recast all the central players from its opening to its twelve-years-later story. The kids have grown, sure, especially Holden’s younger brother, Luke (Jonathan Whitesell, The 100), so they should be different actors. But Tom and Diane also change. I can’t think of another show that makes this decision, though I don’t mind it. Given the seemingly low-budget quality of the production, the money is better spent on ‘big’ action sequences rather than trying to convincingly de-age a couple of performers.

Where things really fall apart for me is just the lack of engagement of the plot or characters. Holden is our lead that the audience needs to get behind, but we don’t really see anything in him that makes us like or root for him. Things happen to him, but aside from a few goofy moments with Luke and certain love interest Willa (Dilan Gwyn, Dracula Untold), we get little insight into his personality. Why are we supposed to care about Holden? What is his motivation?

The rest of the cast isn’t much better. There may be something weird going on with the family, given how well they’ve apparently adjusted during Holden’s absence. Willa is definitely into the deeper mythology, and while my instinct is that we can trust her, it’s probably too early to know that for sure. Holden’s childhood best friend, Kevin (Jordan Calloway, Unfabulous), is not an upstanding citizen. I don’t see anything in any of them to hook me.

I guess BEYOND is trying to really bank on its mystery, and that’s fine as long as it has strong characters along for the ride. It doesn’t. The pacing is slow, and the story is more confusing than compelling. I don’t know what’s going on after watching the pilot, and I’m sure I’m not meant to, but the problem with this series is that I don’t care to find out, either.

The entire first season of BEYOND, all ten episodes, will be available streaming on Hulu and the cable network’s app on premiere day, ready for binging, and this may work in its favor. With the next episode readily accessible, some viewers may decide to just keep going or allow auto-play to do its thing. However, I feel no compulsion to continue through the nine episodes made available to press, so I would suspect some who do stick it out will feel like their time has been wasted in the end. I could be wrong, but BEYOND fails to make me want to find out.

BEYOND premieres tomorrow on Freeform, and all episodes will be immediately available streaming as well.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Don't Hold Us RANSOM

Article first published as RANSOM Review on Seat42F.



The opening act of CBS’s new drama, RANSOM, tells you everything you need to know about the show and its core cast. We meet the main players and see them engage in an action-filled situation that will surely be repeated over and over again, should the show have the good fortune to stay on the air. The flip side is that what is shown is completely formulaic and tired, the characters too-familiar archetypes, and the result is yet another unnecessary, practically unwatchable procedural that adds nothing of value to the television landscape.

We first see the world of RANSOM through the eyes of Maxine Carlson (Sarah Greene, Penny Dreadful), a ‘brilliant’ young woman who cannot get the only job she wants, working for a professional negotiator. She doesn’t care that she has been offered many other professional opportunities, she is determined to work for just one man, and she doesn’t take no for an answer. Which, of course, because this isn’t reality, earns her the job, rather than an appropriate restraining order. (Yes, the ‘twist’ is supposed to justify her behavior, but it feels forced.)

The trope of following the new person in the group is meant to introduce the audience to the rest of the ensemble, and while a tactic that works, seldom is it used so blatantly and with so little regard for realism. There’s a Maxine on every show like this, but few who seem so much a thin story device than a complex character. Her introduction is insulting to the discerning viewer, who deserves more than such an obvious ploy.

Through Maxine, we get to the real protagonist of RANSOM, Eric Beaumont (Luke Roberts, Black Sails), another stereotype. This is the charming hero that is nearly superhuman in his perfection, and will absolutely win every contest he enters without breaking a sweat, and mixes fatherhood effortlessly into it using the same skills he does in his job. Even his ‘flaws’ won’t detract from how people see his character, and he can handle himself physically as well as intellectually. Somehow, he knows more than everyone else in the room, and is the only one with decent judgment. When everyone else argues for one course of action, Eric does his own, different thing and is always proven to be right. It’s a boring, stale type of person that would feel out of place in the real world just as much as Maxine does.

In case anyone is still not fully understanding what RANSOM is going for, there is a scene in this initial sequence in which the cops have a gun pointed at the bad guy’s head. Law enforcement just wants to shoot him, but Eric heroically says the hostages must be protected, not once, but multiple times. Guess what? Eric goes in and talks the guy down.

As soon as this ridiculous initial act is through, RANSOM immediately launches into a case of the week, because, why not? This type of show doesn’t need a full pilot, it just needs an establishing sequence, and then it can get to the formula that will be repeated nearly every week with little variation. It also has a bland, diverse core group of characters that just check boxes, rather than being fully formed individuals, so no need to get to know them all that well.

On a very logical level, RANSOM accomplishes what a first episode should. It explains the world and the players to the audience, and then gets to their typical story framework. However, that’s just on paper. To actually be a good series, a show needs to be innovative, engaging, provide intriguing characters, and have something to say worth saying. RANSOM fails all of these criteria.

In short, RANSOM is a total waste of time for anyone other than someone looking for a quick, non-thinking, stand-alone burst of low-quality entertainment. Those people exist, sure, as other crime procedurals have proven, but we definitely have more than enough of them already, and they’re never going to be all that great, not among the most-loved, most-honored programs.

RANSOM premieres tonight after the football game, whatever time that ends up being.