Friday, December 21, 2012

Pilot Review: Deception


Deception (Mondays at 10:00 on NBC; Premieres January 7)

On the one hand, I'm already totally hooked on Deception. It's a melting pot of a lot of successful, enjoyable shows (mostly Revenge and Law & Order: SVU) but with its own feeling. On the other hand, it's ham-fisted and predictable.

Vivian Bowers (Bree Williamson, One Life to Live) is dead from an apparent drug overdose. But during the investigation, it becomes obvious that a lot of people had a lot of reasons for wanting her dead; the FBI has been investigating the Bowers family, particularly patriarch Robert (Victor Garber, Alias), and their lucrative pharmaceutical company for years. To get to the bottom of what really happened to Vivian, as well as to expose the Bowers' fraudulence, they send in San Francisco police officer Joanna (Meagan Good, Eve's Bayou, D.E.B.S.) undercover. Joanna grew up with the Bowers family and was Vivian's best friend until one night when a teenage Vivian tries to run away and Joanna stops her. Set up with her old partner and lover (Laz Alonso, Breakout Kings), Joanna falls easily back into her role as the Bowers' charity case, reigniting a long-lost spark with Vivian's brother Julian (Wes Brown, True Blood) and the anger of her brother Edward (Tate Donovan, Argo). As the case gets more complicated and more family secrets are exposed, Joanna's job of finding Vivian's murderer becomes more dangerous.

The whole thing begins almost identically to Revenge with a curious stranger following Vivian to her car, her recognizing him and inviting him to climb in, then smash cutting to her dead in a motel. Then the primary plotline is put in motion, but everything is actually moving backward to figure out how we got to this point. It's nowhere near as salacious as Revenge, but it's handled decently and manages to be entertaining in its own right. I'm fascinated by the fact that Joanna is black, and I don't know why; perhaps because it's so rare to see strong women on TV, let alone strong, single black women. According to information released by NBC, Joanna is the daughter of the Bowers' maid but from what I can remember that's never mentioned. There's actually a lot of withheld information, and it's kind of obnoxious in the way that you know there's something missing but can tell they're not telling you what it is because it's going to be a "revel" somewhere down the line. There is such a moment in the pilot, and I saw it coming a mile away because this tactic is used. We see Joanna and Vivian as teenagers, the latter talking about escape, intercut with conversations with the youngest Bowers, Mia (Ella Rae Peck, Gossip Girl). The creators make it obvious, at least to me, where it's going.

Creator Liz Heldens (Friday Night Lights) wrote a well-paced and pretty engrossing pilot, but it's things like this that hold Deception (formerly Infamous and Notorious at various stages of development) back a bit. The timeline also doesn't really match up. Meagan Good is decent as Joanna, but she does not look old enough to fit into the story... I did the math once and came up with her age being somewhere around 33-35, but because ages and time aren't really a concern in the pilot, I suppose she could be even five years younger than that. And that's a problem, considering the logic of a lot of the show lies in the history of this character. It's really a shame because Deception is really easy to get into, and it moves quickly enough with enough revelations and questions that I want to continue watching. But as a show, it's not terribly strong. Victor Garber is, predictably, the best part of the supporting ensemble, though it's not hard to be considering how weak many of the players are. Ella Rae Peck and Wes Brown are veterans of primetime soap operas, and they're bringing that campy melodrama style to a show that is otherwise taken seriously, (at least in the pilot). Upcoming episodes look increasingly more soapy, so that issue may resolve itself.

I'm so torn on Deception. I enjoyed myself, but I find that I've already forgotten most of what happened only two days after watching. Nothing all that special or great sticks out in my mind about it, but I have no doubt that I'll watch subsequent episodes when they air next month. It's a really fun way to spend an hour, even if it's not all that challenging or inventive. Sometimes that's what you need.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Pilot Review: Beauty and the Beast


Beauty and the Beast (Thursdays at 9:00 on The CW)

It took me over a week to get to this review, mostly because I care so little about it.. The CW's Beauty and the Beast is terrible, and if it weren't for the insipid The Mob Doctor on Fox, it would be the worst new show of the season.

Like Emily Owens, M.D. is the network's first medical procedural, this is their first police procedural (or at least the first since Dawn Ostroff took over, I think there may have been one before her). You read that right: Beauty and the Beast is a police show. The even more ridiculous part? The police are played by two attractive women who are hardly 30 and manage to only solve crimes involving the beautiful elite: the first episode a beauty magazine editor, the second a ballerina. It's stupid.

There's also the matter of the "beast" of the title, who happens to be a presumed-dead soldier left "horribly" scarred (it's a line on one side of his face; Google images of wounded vets if you wanna see what war scars really look like... but don't do it if you want to sleep tonight) and with superpowers that make him a killing machine. It seems he saved Beauty, whose name is actually Catherine and played stoically and boringly by Smallville's Kristin Kreuk, from attackers ten years ago, while her mother was murdered. This crime is the reason Cat became a police officer, and she has spent the remaining years searching for her savior, whom she called a "beast" at the time. When a crime is committed and a partially human hair matching one found at Cat's long-ago crime scene is recovered, she goes searching for the Beast, actually named Vincent and played with ho-hum seriousness by Australian actor Jay Ryan. Conveniently, he has the same newspaper clipping Cat has looked at everyday for 10 years lying around his house, so she knows it's him.

See? Stupid. And the fact that this is even called Beauty and the Beast is ludicrous. It's apparently loosely based on the 1980s CBS series of the same name that starred Linda Hamilton and Ron Perlman, but it lacks all of that show's magic and sense of mythology. In that series, the Beast was an animal. Here, he's a pretty boy with an "ugly" scar on his face... which actually kind of makes him even more attractive, and even more human because it's a flaw. "The World Below" does not yet exist in this incarnation, and considering that was the heart of the 1987 show... I don't really understand how this can be considered a remake. Just because Kreuk and Hamilton played characters with the same name?

It's all nonsensical anyway, so it doesn't really matter. From little things like how Catherine could be tending bar underage to how she attended an Ivy League school and ended up a cop, to big things like discrepancies in the time frame and the total inappropriateness of the title, nothing about Beauty and the Beast makes sense. But it doesn't seem like creators Sherri Cooper & Jennifer Levin (Brothers & Sisters) are interested in doing anything but displaying a distorted and ridiculous world where everyone and everything is inconceivably beautiful, even when it's dangerous and dark. I mean, Cat spends the pilot investigating a murder at a beauty magazine, for sobbing out loud. Everything is about physical perfection, from the lighting in the mother's murder scene to Kreuk's perfectly brushed and never out-of-place hair. No wonder a beautiful guy with a scar is considered beastly in this world; it's the only flaw on display.

And that's what makes Beauty and the Beast ultimately so preposterous and unable to be enjoyed. It's bringing nothing new to the table, and what it's redoing it is redoing poorly. No one on the show can act worth a lick, at least not in these roles; the script is predictable and painfully slow; the direction is slick but expected and never creative; the story goes nowhere, and the crime isn't engrossing; and it claims to be something that it's not by using the title of a very well-known fairy tale (and better done TV series). It's a quick way for the CW to cash in on the fairy tale series craze that turned Once Upon a Time and Grimm into hits last season. But both of those shows are infinitely more entertaining and better put together than this piece of crap.

Checking In: American Horror Story Asylum Premiere


SPOILERS AHEAD

American Horror Story: Asylum (Wednesdays at 10:00 on FX)

I wasn't the biggest fan of the first season of FX's series American Horror Story. I found it busy, contrived, overrated, bloated, and pompous. But it did have some clever moments and some great performances, so I watched the whole season. I, like everyone else, was shocked by the finale when the entire Harmon family bit the dust and the cycle of Murder House started all over again. Where does one go from there? Creators Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk decided to completely reboot the series and tell an entirely new story rather than continue in the same haunted house genre, and now we have American Horror Story: Asylum.

Just for how gutsy a move it was to totally shift gears and tell a brand new story with brand new characters and only some of the same actors, I give the series a lot of credit. That's a brave, totally unheard of move that has the possibility of paying off in spades. The horror genre contains many types of films, so there's a lot of material out there to touch upon; where season one focused mostly on the haunted house and ghost horror stories, both timeless and enduring tales, season two is a period piece focusing on religious, medical and extraterrestrial horror stories popular in the 1960s and 1970s. It's a stark contrast to the accessibility of the first season, but there are many things the two seasons have in common, chief among which is the creators' tendency to throw every idea they have into one episode and see what works.

At American Horror Story's core, that's what has always been the main problem: it does too much. There are too many characters, too many plot twists, too many random jump scares, too many film references, too many social issues being addressed, etc. That theme has carried over into Asylum, which has all the same problems as the first season. The premiere works so hard to introduce so many characters and plots in such a short amount of time that my head was spinning twenty minutes in. It doesn't help that we're watching events unfold in two different timelines either. In the present we meet a horndog couple known only as the Lovers, one a photographer (Adam Levine of Maroon 5) and one a horror freak (Jenna Dewan Tatum, Step Up), who get off by having sex in haunted placed. They end up at Briarcliff, a sanitarium for the criminally insane. Levine's character ends up biting off a little more than he can chew, and we are drawn back into the past (1964, to be exact) to learn the history of Briarcliff. It's run by Sister Jude (Jessica Lange), under the eye of a hot Monsignor (Joseph Fiennes) whom Sr. Jude often sexually fantasizes about. Lana Winters (Sarah Paulson) tricks her way into Briarcliff to get a story on the newest inmate: Kit Walker (Evan Peters), AKA Bloody Face, a man accused of skinning women alive.

There are a ton of other characters introduced, including a large group of inmates and their staff, from a nymphomaniac (Chloe Sevigny) to the introduction of yet another "special needs" character in Pepper, a woman suffering from microcephaly (you'll recall last season featured a major arc for a character with down syndrome). There's the sadistic Dr. Arden (James Cromwell) and Sr. Mary Eunice (Lily Rabe), who is playing both sides of the faith/science debate by catering to both the doctor and Sr. Jude.

Subtlety has never been one of Murphy's strong suits, and that remains an issue in Asylum. So much happens in this short introduction that it's hard to actually recount everything. There's Levine's dismemberment in the first five or so minutes, Kit's alien encounter, the monsters in the woods created by Dr. Arden, Lana's commitment to the asylum, Sr. Jude's sexual fantasies, the Lovers' attack by a present-day Bloody Face, and so much more. That's not even counting the social issues Murphy and his team, led by this episode's writer Tim Minear, tries to throw at the audience: interracial marriage, homosexuality, and the coexistence of science and religion. It's a jumbled mess of ideas, scattered images, crazy editing, a loud score, and a myriad of characters. The audience is bashed over the head with all of these elements relentlessly. The sad thing is, I would still be mostly on board if it weren't for the introduction of the alien subplot, in which Kit was abducted and implanted with some type of chip (which Dr. Arden later removes, and it sprouts legs and runs away... yes, really), while his wife and a number of other women were killed. This happens fairly early in the episode and sets a tone of ridiculousness for the remainder of the hour; it's so out of place that it feels like a joke. And perhaps it is. Perhaps the whole alien abduction is in Kit's mind, but in that case then it feels like an unnecessary way of confusing and annoying the audience. But it's the prime example in "Welcome to Briarcliff" of the staff's inability to edit themselves or be anything less than over-the-top and in-your-face.

Another problem Asylum has is that it borrows very heavily from itself, giving it a sense of pomposity. They are separate stories in separate locations and times, but so many elements carry over that at times it feels like we're seeing the same thing happen again: Pepper = Addie; Bloody Face = Rubber Man; Sr. Jude's fantasies recall Alexandra Breckenridge's Moira (and so does Chloe Sevigny's character); Sr. Mary Eunice = Vivien; etc. I know this was likely intentional, to tie the second season to the first so as not to imply that Asylum is a wholly new show, especially since so many actors returned to the series in new roles. But it gives everything a sense of deja-vu, and a feeling that the creators are smirking and saying, "See how clever we are?" And unlike its predecessor and despite having so many elements, Asylum moves terribly slowly. I just kept waiting for the next shoe to drop, because you know there's a twist coming. And in this case, the twist wasn't all that hard to see coming: Lana's institutionalization was a given from the moment she crossed Sr. Jude in her first scene.

On the flip side, the strength of Asylum is in its performances, much like it was in season one. Jessica Lange is still the best thing about the show, though she's playing a more forward version of the same character she played last season: a huge bitch with power. She's wonderful, playing up the good/evil contradiction of her character and letting it slide into camp on occasion, which is great considering how campy horror movies typically are. Evan Peters is shockingly good as Kit, after a rather strained performance from him as Tate last season. Sarah Paulson already has more to do in this one episode than she did in the entirety of season one, and she's the anchor of the show so far: the character who is innocent and part of both worlds (the asylum and the outside). Clea Duvall does strong work as her romantic partner, especially when she goes toe-to-toe with Jessica Lange at the episode's end. I was looking forward to seeing Zachary Quinto, one of the best parts of last season, but his character will not be introduced until next week. But all around, everyone did an admirable job, even Adam Levine in his acting debut. Granted, he's probably played characters with a bigger range in his music videos, but he doesn't embarrass himself so that's good.

By the time the premiere of Asylum ended, I realized I was having a really strong negative reaction. This season was an opportunity to fix the problems of season one, namely the abundance of ideas that don't always work. But Murphy and Falchuk didn't do that. In fact, they made themselves more problems by introducing such a huge cast of characters right off the bat. The strengths of the previous season are still the strengths of the current one: the genuine creepiness of the cinematography and art direction, and the wonderful cast led by Lange. But it looks to be more of the same, only messier and less focused if the staff doesn't get their act together and start letting the audience think for themselves.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Pilot Review: Arrow


Arrow (Wednesdays at 8:00 on The CW)

The CW is in dire straights and needs a lifeline, ASAP. New President Mark Pedowitz took a step in the right direction with his schedule overhaul in May, and Arrow is the crown jewel of that schedule. It's a return to the CW of yore, when Smallville garnered some of the network's highest ratings (on Friday nights, no less), and not every show was geared toward teenage girls. And it's debuting without much real competition (opposite reality and sitcoms, no other dramas) in front of Supernatural, one of the only reliable performers left on the network. Based on the strength of the pilot, it deserves to succeed and help lead the CW out of the darkness.

Billionaire playboy Oliver Queen (Steven Amell) went missing five years ago when his father's ship sank, and he was presumed dead, along with all the other passengers. But he is discovered by a fishing boat and returned home to Starling City, a town his father practically built. Oliver has changed over the years, surviving savagely on a deserted island. Now that he's home, he's determined to right the wrongs he committed as a carefree and spoiled brat, beginning with an overdue apology to former girlfriend Laurel Lance (Katie Cassidy, Melrose Place). Laurel isn't in the mood to forgive Oliver, however, since when the boat went down he was sleeping with Laurel's sister, and she didn't survive the wreck. Soon after his return, however, Oliver is targeted by one of his father's enemies. Using the survival skills he picked up on the island, Oliver escapes and vows to right the injustice in his city as the Green Arrow.

Right off the bat, the parallels between Oliver Queen and Bruce Wayne, AKA Batman, are obvious. Neither has superpowers, both have tons of money; then there's the aspects of vengeance for the death of a parent, the urban decay, etc. Keeping all that in mind, it makes sense that Greg Berlanti (Green Lantern), Marc Guggenheim (Eli Stone), and Andrew Kreisberg (Fringe) would then develop the character into a television presence similar to the film version of Batman in the recent Christoper Nolan Dark Knight trilogy; the tone of Arrow is the same as those films, and it borrows many elements of the first chapter, Batman Begins, for its pilot. It never feels like a copycat or anything like that, and it's actually a decent attempt to serialize and adapt that type of storytelling for the small screen. The script is standard superhero fare, not exactly subtle in its delivery and impact, but then again that's not exactly what a comic book audience expects. So for what it is, Arrow is about as well done as one would anticipate.

On other levels, it's just not up to snuff. The performances are pretty weak all around. Amell is a great presence, and he has an incredible physique, but there's no depth to his portrayal of Oliver Queen. Right now, he's just a quiet guy with an anger problem; there's no hint of what's bubbling underneath in his performance. Katie Cassidy is fine as Laurel, if a bit one-dimensional in a role which doesn't yet have many angles. Her chemistry with Amell is the weakest part of the pilot. She has been waiting five years to rip into Oliver, yet she addresses him like all he did was forget to call her before bed the night before. The rest of the supporting actors are getting the job done without much effort. But then again, a show like this isn't always about depth or making good choices as an actor... it's about the action.

And the action is great. Anytime Oliver is flipping through the air, sending arrows sailing, or beating the hell out of someone, Arrow is amazing entertainment. The fight choreography is animalistic and savage, wholly appropriate for Oliver's character, and always spectacular. The montage of Oliver training himself to become the Green Arrow, though pretty cliche for superhero stories, is just as awesome as it is in every comic book adaptation you've ever seen; it's been done to death, but we all love it. Director David Nutter (Smallville) keeps things moving at a smooth, brisk pace until the pilot's final shocking reveal, setting some high stakes for the remainder of the season. It's dark and aesthetically beautiful, an attractive but still entertaining hour.

There's something here for everyone: politics, romance, action, mystery. There's a whole lot of potential in Arrow, proving the CW is still capable of developing mature shows with a sense of direction, rather than just showcases for good-looking guys and girls... though the show certainly has that going for it as well.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Pilot Review: Nashville


Nashville (Wednesdays at 10:00 on ABC; Premieres October 10)

Now having seen the Nashville pilot, it's safe to say that it's the perfect successor to the timeslot reinvigorated last season by Revenge. It's similarly an overly dramatic soap opera centered around the rivalry between two strong, beautiful women, each possessing their own kind of power. It has all the trappings of a guilty pleasure, and I loved every moment of it.

Rayna James (Connie Britton, Friday Night Lights, American Horror Story) is the reigning queen of country music, an artist on top of her game for over two decades. But the country scene is changing, and Rayna just doesn't have the crossover appeal necessary to be a contemporary success: her latest album is failing, and her tour isn't selling. Her record company's solution? Send Rayna out on tour with Juliette Barnes (Hayden Panettiere, Heroes), the hottest thing in the country world. If Rayna declines, the label will pull all promotions of her album and turn their backs on her. It's a tough decision for Rayna, who also faces discord at home from her unhappy marriage and a broken relationship with her power-hungry father (Powers Boothe, Deadwood). When Juliette bursts on the scene and tries to steal Rayna's longtime lead guitarist (and ex-lover) as well as her producer, the stage is set for a showdown between the reigning queen and the rising princess of country music.

I can't say enough good things about Nashville. It's well-written by Oscar winner Callie Khouri (Thelma & Louise), full of witty banter and well-placed bits of backstory, without ever seeming campy. The rivalry between Rayna and Juliette could have easily devolved into Dynasty territory, but the strength of the writing and performances from Britton and Panettiere ensure that these girls feel real. Speaking of which, it is Connie Britton's performance as Rayna that truly sells the show. She plays all the contradictions and confusions of the aging star so perfectly, from her diva outbursts at sound check to scenes driving her kids to school in a minivan like any regular mom. Rayna is a simple woman for whom things got (or are getting complicated), and Britton plays up every second of that humanity without sacrificing that certain something that makes Rayna so magnetic to millions of music fans. Without Britton, Nashville would be a lesser show. She is supported amply by Panettiere, who is giving a delicious villain performance that isn't at all melodramatic. She is the ideal foil to Britton's groundedness, though she gets a hefty moment of her own late in the episode. As broken as Rayna's personal life seems, we get the sense that there's something much darker happening in Juliette's... we just don't get to see it yet.

The supporting cast is full of strong performances, particularly from Powers Boothe as Rayna's tycoon father; he's the J.R. of Nashville except more forward. Newcomer Clare Bowen is also a standout in the ensemble as a waitress/songwriter looking for her voice. The best supporting performance, however, is from the music. A show like Nashville wouldn't survive without strong music in its catalogue, and the show has it down. The original songs are produced by Oscar winner T-Bone Burnett (Crazy Heart) and written by several up-and-comers, including John Paul White of the Grammy winning duo The Civil Wars. The pilot's final torch song, "If I Didn't Know Better," is a thing of beauty as performed by Bowen and Sam Palladio (Episodes). Accompanied by images of Rayna's acquiescence and Juliette's seduction, it's a clear view of where these characters have been and where they're going. It's a great way to cap a very strong episode.

In addition to being well done, Nashville is just a really good time. It's got a bit of Dallas's Southern-fried melodrama coupled with the backstage rivalry of Smash. There's political intrigue, sexual seduction, broken hearts, domestic unrest, and good music. There's quite a bit of commentary about the state of the music industry and where actual talent will get you (Rayna is a true singer, Juliette is an auto-tuned puppoet of her label), not to mention the effects the current economy and technologies have had on artists. So whether you're looking strictly for an entertaining soap opera, or for something with a bit of an agenda, you're likely to find it in Nashville. It's well-rounded and well-done in just about every aspect.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Pilot Review: Chicago Fire


Chicago Fire (Wednesdays at 10:00 on NBC; Premieres October 10)

There really isn't much to say about a show like Chicago Fire. Its pilot was thrilling and action-packed, but it's not the kind of show you watch for depth or intrigue. You watch it to see hot guys without shirts and stuff exploding.

The barebones plot of the new series produced by Law & Order creator Dick Wolf centers around the tense relationship between a group of firefighters and a rescue squad, both of whom operate out of the same firehouse in Chicago. The rift is widened in the first few minutes by the loss of a fireman and friend to both squads; now the leader of the firefighters, Lt. Casey (Jesse Spencer, House), and the leader of the rescue squad, Lt. Severide (Taylor Kinney, The Vampire Diaries), are at each other's throats constantly.

That's it. It's more of a cast of characters than a show with a story to follow. There are two female ambulance drivers to balance out the testosterone, but the rest of the cast is comprised of firefighters and rescue team workers, each with the slightest of backstories: one lost his house (Sex and the City's David Eigenberg), one is engaged but moved into his own house, one is hiding a medical issue, one is the rookie, etc. The whole thing is kind of a rehash of Third Watch, minus the police officers, with a dash of Rescue Me, minus the artistry.

The visuals of Chicago Fire are why anyone is going to tune in. There are two scenes which take place inside burning buildings, and both are thrillingly shot. The climactic scene in which Casey and Severide find themselves helping each other out of a helpless situation is everything a viewer could ask of a firefighting show: emotional, tense and exciting. Another scene in which a young girl is pulled from a crumpled car is similarly engrossing. The direction under Jeffrey Nachmanoff (Homeland) is tight, and the editing is especially good; the close-ups and quick cuts add to the tension and suspense, much more so than the standard script and performances. Speaking of which, there are no standouts here, and there don't really need to be. Everyone is pulling his or her weight equally; no one is running ahead of the pack, but no one is lagging behind either. As the characters, of which there are many, become more flesh-and-bone, I would expect that to change.

And that's about it. Chicago Fire isn't breaking new ground or anything, but it's an adrenaline-fueld hour. There's a lot to enjoy, if not to love, about it. What it comes down to is how you feel about the claim I made above. If you want to watch a show with a bunch of buff-yet-sensitive guys working out, fighting, and putting out fires, then Chicago Fire is for you.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Pilot Review: Emily Owens, M.D.


Emily Owens, M.D. (Tuesdays at 9:00 on The CW; Premieres October 16)

What would happen if you tried to set Grey's Anatomy in high school? That seems to be the question first-time creator Jennie Snyder Urman (formerly a writer on 90210) tried to answer with The CW's first foray into medical procedural territory, Emily Owens, M.D. Well, the answer is exactly what you'd expect: nothing good would happen.

It's the first day as a doctor at Denver Memorial Hospital for Emily Owens (Mamie Gummer, Off the Map) and a host of other recent med school graduates. Among her new colleagues are Emily's crush Will Collins (Justin Hartley, Smallville); her high school tormentor Cassandra (Aja Naomi King); kindhearted senior doctor Micah (Michael Rady, Melrose Place); and her new mentor, a goddess in the medical field, Gina Beckett (Necar Zadegan, 24), among many others. It's lot long before Emily learns that working in a hospital is a lot like being back in high school: the doctors form cliques, she must deal with her unrequited emotions, help her friends get dates... the only difference being now things really are a matter of life and death.

As far as an introduction for The CW into the world of medical shows, Emily Owens could have been much worse. The concept of "hospitals are just like high school" is cute, and it's a good jumping off point for the youthful network. It makes the characters a bit more relatable for the young audience the network attracts. But it also trivializes the entire concept of medical shows as well. The writing is so immature, the situations so childish, that Emily Owens plays more like a parody of Grey's Anatomy than anything else. There's a scene in the pilot directly lifted from Mean Girls, where seemingly the only kind female other than Emily, a hospital bigwig's daughter named Tyra (Kelly McCreary), introduces her to the different cliques: The Jocks (podiatrists), The Plastics (plastic surgeons), The Stoners (anestheseologists), The Geeks (neurologists), etc. It's cute, in concept, but to see it played out makes it all seem really, really silly. And from there on out it's hard to take the rest of the show seriously.

Not that theyr'e trying very hard to be serious. The medical cases in the pilot are so standard that it's laughable. Emily relates to a young pre-teen who faints when her crush walks by, only to learn she has a heart condition; an old woman with Alzheimer's goes missing; a man and his brother are in a drunken car accident, with the golden boy being the one who ends up seriously injured. Nothing at all interesting happening there. And the way Snyder relates her doctor characters to the patients is lowest-denominator. Emily convinces her young patient to tell her crush how she feels, just as she realizes that she must do the same with Will; Cassandra turns out to be such a bitch because her home life was so awful in high school; etc. It's all very basic and immature. There's even a scene where Twilight is used as an example of how to live one's life, and I swear I'm not making that up.... it happened. The dialogue is pretty bad, but it's the structure that is truly terrible. Snyder Urman uses far too much unnecessary voice-over for Emily, again recalling Mean Girls, and she treats everything going on in the hospital with deadly seriousness. Every few seconds (much like the other awful medical drama of the season, The Mob Doctor) all the doctors are receiving emergency calls on their beepers (yes, BEEPERS!) and running off to some other area of the hosptial, yelling about syringes or broken arteries or some such medical nonsense. It's enough to make you roll your eyes and groan, "Come on."

With only so much to work with in a very weak script, it's no surprise that not even the excellent Mamie Gummer, who looks and sounds so much like her mother, Meryl Streep, at times that it's uncanny, can elevate the material above mediocrity. She has very few dramatic moments to play; instead she's standing around making googly eyes at Will or fretting over what happened to her in high school to make everyone hate her. Emily is a sympathetic character if you're a teenage girl, but an annoying one if you're anyone else. Still, Gummer is the only actor who doesn't succumb to the script's more ridiculous moments and characterizations. Aja Naomi King is doing her best Regina George impersonation, but nothing doing; she is so stereotypically bitchy that she might as well be a cardboard cutout with a pre-recorded bitchy voicebox. Justin Harltey just needs to look adorable; ditto for Michael Rady, who's just as shallow an actor as he was on the aborted CW remake of Melrose Place.

I can imagine a show like Emily Owens, M.D. (which should have stuck with its original title, First Cut) finding an audience of young people and women who are invested in its melodramatic love stories and tales of redemption after high school, but for anyone who prefers a bit of meat on their shows, it falls incredibly short. It's Grey's Anatmoy without the gravitas, Scrubs without the humor, and Mean Girls without the bite.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Pilot Review: 666 Park Avenue


666 Park Avenue (Sundays at 10:00 on ABC)

ABC's Sunday night lineup looks to be a strong one, despite the fact that the shows have very little in common with each other except for a general theme of good vs. evil: the family-oriented Once Upon a Time; primetime soap Revenge; and then this haunted house horror story, 666 Park Avenue. I don't expect 666 to get anywhere near the level of attention as its lead-ins, partially because of its incompatibility and partially because it's just middle-of-the-road in terms of quality.

Henry Martin (Dave Annable, Brothers & Sisters) and Jane Van Veen (Rachael Taylor, Charlie's Angels) are underpaid and underemployed, respectively, and looking to move. They pursue a job posting to become resident managers at The Drake, a residential Park Avenue hotel. Drake owners Gavin (Terry O'Quinn, Lost) and Olivia Doran (Vanessa Williams, Desperate Housewives) are initially dismissive but change their minds when Jane displays an astute breadth of knowledge on the building's structure. The couple moves in, and the Dorans quickly take them under their wing. While Henry is off at work during the day, Jane begins her task of informing Gavin of what needs fixing. She meets several neighbors, one of whom is covered in blood, and discovers an old mosaic in the basement of a dragon. Jane spends the next day researching the history of The Drake, including evidence of sealed doors and past murders on the premises.

The overarching structure of 666 Park Avenue seems to be vaguely procedural, if the pilot is any indication. We're introduced to the new managers, but we also get the personal story of some of the building's tenants, one of whose contract with Gavin and The Drake is either expiring or being breached. And these contracts aren't simply lease agreements, as I'm sure you can gather. In the introduction sequence we meet a violinist who apparently signed a contract with Gavin to become talented and popular within ten years, and on the night of its expiration he is sucked into the building; reference is made later to his moving "somewhere warmer." So we get the idea that Gavin is the Devil, or something similar, and everyone in the building has made some sort of deal with him: to become a famous playwright, to regain a dead loved one, etc. It's certainly a more engrossing procedural than any of the myriad cop/lawyer/medical dramas on the air, but procedural nonetheless, unless that impulse is broken in future episodes to further explore the hotel, the characters' interactions, etc.

Other than that, 666 is something of a mixed bag in concept. I can't tell if it's trying to be an homage to horror types, like American Horror Story very obviously is, or if it's just unoriginal. There are many allusions to films like The Shining, A Nightmare on Elm Street, Rear Window, Vertigo, The Devil's Advocate, Rosemary's Baby, 1408, and others. Even the development of the plot, with Jane researching the hotel's past, follows traditional horror film structure. Unfortunately unlike horror films, it's not as fast paced as it should be. The episode starts with a bang, but then it slows down considerably to follow the minutia of the neighbors' days: Jane checking lights, a writer spying on a woman undressing, Gavin and Henry golfing, Olivia shopping, etc. It's a bit uneven, oscillating between boring scenes and action scenes, and at this point it's the latter that seem out of place and strange, particularly a scene at the symphony where Gavin works some sort of mind-voodoo on Jane, leading to her pronouncement in many of the previews: "Are we going to be okay here?" The scene is well-played and shot, but it's sudden and confusing.

As you can tell from the cast list above, the show is filled with ABC regulars and favorites. Rachael Taylor has recovered nicely from the embarassment of last year's heinous Charlie's Angels reboot, on which she had the most ridiculous character, and is just fine here. She's gorgeous, and she does frightened well. Dave Annable is adequate as her live-in boyfriend, but I get the impression that he (and she, actually) were cast based more on looks than on talent. 666 Park Avenue is about temptation and seduction, and Taylor and Annable easily fit in with those descriptions: they're a beautiful couple. Terry O'Quinn is chewing scenery with the best of them, and Vanessa Williams manages to be both warm and icy as his wife. It's easy to see them being both inviting and fearful. But the real strength of the pilot comes from the stylish direction of Alex Graves (Terra Nova). He injects a lot of personality into the script, finding strange camera angles and making excellent use of close-ups and cutaways. He makes some of the weaker and slower moments in the script more interesting, and I hope that future episodes keep his vision. Right now it's one of the best things about an otherwise choppy and only slightly intriguing series.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Pilot Reviews: Elementary & Made in Jersey


Elementary (Thursdays at 10:00 on CBS)

I haven't watched any of the BBC show Sherlock, nor have I ever read any of Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes stories, so I don't share in the outrage of many hardcore fans of updating the beloved character in the new series Elementary. I'm sure part of the anger comes from the fact that any Holmes fan can (and will) tell you that the famous detective never actually uttered the line which has become synonymous with him and which inspires the title of this show: "Elementary, my dear Watson." But none of that really matters, because Elementary is a good time, with or without the ties to Holmes.

In this version of the Sherlock story, Holmes (Jonny Lee Miller, Eli Stone) is a recovering addict. His wealthy father has hired Joan Watson (Lucy Liu, Ally McBeal) to be his "companion," walking him through his daily routine to make sure he's on the right path to full recovery. Holmes works as a consultant to the NYPD, specifically Captain Gregson (Aidan Quinn, Prime Suspect), using his powers of deduction to solve murders.

Everything about Elementary fits very easily into CBS's procedural machine. It's a close cousin of The Mentalist (even airing in its old timeslot), although with slightly slicker production values and a more interesting leading man. In terms of its handling of the Sherlock Holmes material, I like this revision. Making Watson a woman is clever, if not exactly far-fetched considering how effeminate the original always was; but with a woman in the role, there's no longer the need to shy away from the homoerotic undertones of the Holmes-Watson relationship. The backstory they've given Watson isn't exactly groundbreaking, and neither is the mysterious past of Holmes. The script from first-time creator Robert Doherty (Medium) is adequate, though there's not much effort made to establish a plot; instead there is a crime for Holmes to solve (and it's actually a fairly interesting one, if unnecessarily complicated) and there is the relationship with Watson to build. They are the supreme focus of the pilot.

The performances are universally strong, especially from Miller. He's magnetic and charismatic, the perfect blend of charm and damage for this incarnation of Holmes. Liu is fine as Watson, but it is her chemistry with Miller that makes her character work so well. Quinn was hardly a presence in the pilot, unfortunately, but now that the Holmes-Watson dynamic has been established, other characters can come into play more. The direction by Michael Cuesta (Homeland) is stylish and witty if a bit manic at times. But all in all, Elementary is well worth the watch. It's a procedural, for sure, but one with a bit more visual flair and mental stimulation than others on CBS. Plus it's always fun to return to familiar characters, even when they're doing the same old thing.


Made in Jersey (Fridays at 9:00 on CBS)

Less successful on the whole is the new Friday night drama Made in Jersey, which is definitely in the running for "Worst Title of a New Show" (It was originally known as Baby Big Shot, which is terrible in its own right but not nearly as bad as its current title. Personally, I'd name it after another line from the pilot: Fancy Lawyer Lady.) It's about Martina Garretti, an up-and-coming lawyer from New Jersey who is trying to prove herself at her new firm in Manhattan. When she speaks up at a meeting, she lands her first case: proving the innocence of a teenager accused of murdering her professor.

The concept and execution is almost a total failure. The way Martina goes about the case is in no way believable; you'd think everyone around her drags their knuckles and eats flies from each other's hair, that's how incompetent they all seem. But Martina is always there to save the day and do all the work the police should have done. But apparently Martina is superwoman, so who needs police? The script also makes it seem like she knows every word of the law, more so than any of her superiors, and she's thrown into court at the last second because of this; yeah, she's that good... Creator Dana Calvo (Greek, Franklin & Bash) has fashioned a show that is not at all original, either. It's equal parts Working Girl, Legally Blonde, Erin Brockovich, and My Cousin Vinny, except it's not as good or as tongue-in-cheek as any of these.

Made in Jersey is successful on only one level, and that's in the enjoyability factor brought to the show by its leading lady Janet Montgomery (Entourage). She's very winning, a total charmer from beginning to end, despite how stupid everything going on around her is. Stephanie March (Law & Order: SVU) is playing a caricature of every bitch lawyer ever; Kyle MacLachlan is wasted, though when he's present it's as if he forgets he's on camera. Martina and her family all have that ridiculous, nonexistent-in-real-life Jersey accent, and they spend the majority of the episode in a hair salon, yelling... in other words, it's every stereotype of New Jersey in one character, from her lousy accent to her trashy wardrobe (By the way, can everyone in California figure out that New Jersey is a state, not a city? Saying someone is from "New Jersey" doesn't explain everything away, there are a lot of places in the state.)

But still, Montgomery makes the thing somehow watchable, if not wholly enjoyable or relatable. It's light, fluffy, totally mindless Friday night entertainment.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Pilot Review: The Neighbors


The Neighbors (Wednesdays at 8:30 on ABC)

Okay, this might come as a shock based on how terrible the previews were and how unbelievably off-putting the official ABC series description is, but The Neighbors isn't totally awful. I know, I'm ashamed of myself for saying that, but it's true. The Neighbors isn't the worst show of the year; it's not even the worst sitcom of the year. Yes, it's truly stupid and silly and ridiculous and did I mention stupid? But it's not terrible... actually, it's kind of enjoyable on some level.

Marty (Lenny Venito, The Sopranos) has decided to relocate his family from the city to the suburbs in an exclusive gated community... without consulting his wife, Debbie (Jami Gertz, Still Standing), first. There's a rift immediately, but it's soon forgotten when the family meets their new neighbors. They are all named after famous athletes, stand in pyramid formation at all times, and do not eat food ("We receive nourishment through our eyes and mind rather than through our mouths"). First on the scene is leader Larry Bird (Simon Templeman, Charmed) and his wife Jackie Joyner-Kersee (Toks Olagundoye). They invite the Weaver family over for dinner, where their son Dick Butkus (Ian Patrick), "exposes" himself to the Weaver children, revealing the community as a group of aliens sent to Earth to determine if its climate is livable. That was ten years ago, and the device with which they communicate with their home planet is in need of recharging. Unfortunately the only way to do so is to sacrifice the youngest member of the community, which would be Dick Butkus.

On no level would I ever consider The Neighbors a smart comedy. It's absolutely stupid, but that's kind of why it's enjoyable, to a point. It's totally harmless. It doesn't want to engage too much of your mind, it doesn't want to offend any sensibilities, and it doesn't want to do anything but make you laugh at how dumb it is. And it succeeds in that department, because it's really dumb. But they got me sometimes. I couldn't help but laugh at the alien family comprised of a white father, black mother, Asian child and redheaded child. I did giggle at the names and some of the silly repartee, like their explanation for adopting British accents. The quirks of their alien nature are less amusing, from crying green goo out of their ears to sleeping in pods, but there's something really human at the bottom of it all.

I wouldn't go so far as to consider The Neighbors satire; I don't think it's smart enough for that. But it does have something to say about how we relate to people. No matter how seemingly enormous the difference between people (race, sexuality, religion, culture, etc.), we have a lot in common. Marty relates to Larry Bird (I'm sorry, I just giggled typing that, it's just so ridiculous) and his struggle to maintain order in his family; Jackie Joyner-Kersee (and again!) and Debbie can relate to trying to claim their voice in marriages where their partners do not always respect them. The Neighbors goes to extreme, silly lengths to show that, but Disney creator/writer/director Dan Fogelman (Tangled, Cars) has experience balancing adult and youngster humor. It's not always successful, sometimes coming across as a live-action Saturday morning cartoon, but it's an admirable effort considering how childish the whole concept is.

Despite all that, the episode itself isn't exactly good. It's a poor man's less-intelligent 3rd Rock from the Sun, more like My Favorite Martian, and it isn't a very attractive half-hour. The aliens in their native appearance look sort-of claymated, and the effects are pretty cheesy. And the score is so awful, loud and obnoxious that it made me dread any scene changes. The performances are expectedly broad, though the two human adults fare best. Jami Gertz is playing the same character she played on Standing Still, and Lenny Venito is playing a stereotypical Jersey Italian. But they're both actually funny, and they don't have the burden of doing extremely stupid alien things the way the others do.

I'm not saying that I recommend The Neighbors. It's definitely stupid, but it's not as heinous as I had anticipated. It's a decent show to watch as a family, especially if your kids are young since there's not a single offensive thing happening and the only adult joke will totally escape them ("I fear our little Dick has exposed himself again"). But it's not good.... it's also not the worst sitcom you could be watching on Wednesday nights.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Pilot Review: Vegas


Vegas (Tuesdays at 10:00 on CBS)

Seriously, CBS? You can't just let a show tell a story? I wasn't aware that the pilot of Vegas, a show about as bland as its snooze-worthy title suggests, was setting up yet another police procedural at The Eye. Early word focused solely on the larger premise but failed to mention its crime-of-the-week element. So instead of a period drama about Las Vegas politics, we're getting a standard cop show with a Western flare.

Vegas fictionalizes the life of Sheriff Ralph Lamb (Dennis Quaid) as he goes head-to-head with mobsters on The Strip in the 1960s. Lamb is a simple cattle rancher who just wants the planes from the airport to stop scaring his animals, so he agrees to return to his detective days to find the murderer of the governor's niece. And he gets the planes to stop flying over as payment. Speaking of, the latest plane is carrying Vincent Savino (Michael Chiklis), a mobster looking to make it big in the desert. Unfortunately for him, all signs of the murder point to his casino.

The throughline of Vegas doesn't make very much sense to me. Lamb is nothing more than a cattle rancher, yet he is hired to help find a murderer and given a phony title in case people ask questions (since he, you know, doesn't have police ID or anything). So he immediately hires his brother Jake (Jason O'Mara, Terra Nova) as a deputy to follow him around and carry giant rifles, but also to deal with people since Ralph isn't too good at that stuff. Say what? It's a jarring mix of lawlessness and law enforcement, a mix that doesn't always blend well. Where is the line drawn? Ralph can break into Savino's casino and lock lawyers in jail cells but be above the law... as he's trying to bring down mobsters who are also breaking laws. I don't understand it much, but perhaps I just wasn't playing close enough attention.

It was easy for my mind to wander during this pilot. The desert landscapes are gorgeous, but they're also lazy. There are only so many scenes of Dennis Quaid on horseback I can take, though there's one in particular that's pretty great as Lamb out rides a motorcyclist and ropes him in. But there's something about a twangy country score, the show's slow (and I mean slow) pace, and a lack of an interesting crime that just made me want to change the channel or crawl into bed. The script from creators Nicholas Pileggi (Goodfellas) and Greg Walker (Without a Trace) is decent enough in its structure and setup, but it just isn't much fun. The murder is dull, and so is the process Lamb goes through to solve it. The only truly interesting parts of the pilot are when Lamb and Savino are face to face; Quaid and Chiklis are both powerful actors, and their chemistry is wonderful in these short moments.

Unfortunately, neither fares very well without the other, especially Quaid. He does little more than scowl and frown really hard, like a petulant child who is refused ice cream. He's all hard lines, no personality. Chiklis gets a little too melodramatic in his first scene, and he plays a little safe the remainder of the episode. Carrie-Anne Moss (The Matrix) is simply window-dressing, the only hint of estrogen on display in all of the pilot as the ADA of Las Vegas. O'Mara's character is forgettable and unnecessary. Film director James Mangold (Walk the Line, 3:10 to Yuma) lets things move at a pace more appropriate for a movie, and it gets a bit tedious. The use of green screen is also one of the most distracting I've seen recently, probably since the boat scene in last year's pilot for Ringer (incidentally, that was also orginally a CBS pilot). It's a rather boring hour of television that not even two big actors could make totally work. Not enough really happens, and I can't imagine Vegas getting much better down the line considering it's already designed as a procedural. Definitely one of the bigger disappointments so far this season.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Pilot Review: Partners


Partners (Mondays at 8:30 on CBS)

I know I said here before that I couldn't wait for the return of David Kohan and Max Mutchnick, creators of Will & Grace, with their new sitcom Partners. And I really was anxious to see it, to get back into the swing of things with these two guys who wrote some of the funniest quips I've ever heard anywhere. But it is with a heavy heart that I must admit that Partners is just not good.

The show follows childhood friends Joe (David Krumholtz, Numbers) and Louis (Michael Urie, Ugly Betty) when they grow up to be partners in an architectural firm. Joe is contemplating breaking things off with Ali (Sophia Bush, One Tree Hill), while Louis is in a relatively new relationship with nurse Wyatt (Brandon Routh, Superman Returns). Things get complicated when Joe actually ends up proposing to Ali and Louis blurts out his previous intentions of ending their tenure.

The characterization here is so lazy that it's almost not worth talking about, but it's also the central problem of the show. Louis is is so obviously gay that it's borderline offensive. He's a reincarnation of Jack MacFarland, only without the manic energy and obvious caricature Sean Hayes brought to that role; Urie is fine, if a bit over-the-top (I couldn't help but wonder if Louis would be more tolerable if Urie toned down his LOOKATHOWGAYIAM performance), but he's no Sean Hayes. But I know it's not entirely Urie's fault, because Louis is just an amalgamation of every gay stereotype, as well as a pathological liar and a sociopath. He leaves all the firm's work to Joe, all while spewing jokes about Bette Midler and Clay Aiken. He goes around telling everyone that he's dating a Jewish doctor, even though Wyatt is a Mennonite and a nurse. He nearly ruins his best friend's relationship but manages to turn the whole thing around so that it's not about Joe at all, but about himself. How anyone could put up with Louis for as long as Joe has is a complete mystery. Sure, the writers try to argue it away by adding the line, "I've never met anyone who loves as much as Louis." But when that love is hidden behind constant narcissism and a blatant disregard for anyone else's feelings, is it really worth the trouble?

The other characters look like cardboard cutouts next to Louis. Krumholtz is downright wooden as Joe, and everytime he opened his mouth to spout some Yiddish term (schmuck, schmeckle, blah blah) I couldn't help but be reminded of his performance in Harold & Kumar Go To White Castle... the difference being, this time he's not playing a stoner, so the blandness isn't appropriate. It doesn't help that Joe takes the backseat to Louis in every aspect of their relationship, so there's not much for him to do while Urie is hogging the spotlight. But in the end, Joe is a reinvention of Will Truman, except he's not gay. But Krumholtz does not have Eric McCormack's bite, and Joe isn't nearly as funny a character as Will. Routh is utterly forgettable as Louis's boyfriend. Sophia Bush is the only actor who finds a happy medium between Urie's loud performance and Krumhotlz's subdued one. She doesn't get any particularly funny moments, but she's the only one who has any chemistry with anyone else on screen. I buy her relationship with Krumholtz more than I do the relationship between Krumhotlz and Urie, and Bush also works well with the latter. I can see her coming up to the level that Debra Messing eventually reached as Grace Adler; Ali is already being set up to be the Grace of Partners, just with a more sexual relationship with her Will in Joe.

Which brings me to the point: Partners could never live up to the greatness of Will & Grace, but with a concept and characters so similar, they seem to be trying. Perhaps because this story is so close to Kohan & Mutchnick (the relationship of Joe and Louis is based on their own), they just couldn't distance themselves enough to truly find the funny in it; so instead, they tried to redo what they had done before, but to nowhere near the same level of success.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Pilot Review: Last Resort




Last Resort (Thursdays at 8:00 on ABC; Premieres September 27)
 
Last Resort is the first pilot of the season that I'm really in love with. It's smart but not esoteric, complex but not confusing, political but not preachy. It's a wonderful display of talent both on and off screen, and it's a really compelling hour of TV that plays like a combination of Crimson Tide and Heart of Darkness.

The throughline concerns the crew of the fictional USS Colorado, a nuke-toting submarine somewhere in the Indian Ocean. The crew is led by Captain Chaplin (Andre Braugher, Men of a Certain Age) and his First Officer Sam Kendal (Scott Speedman, Felicity). The sub receives an order to launch nuclear missiles at Pakistan through a secondary communication system designed only to be used when the one in Washington, D.C. is down (AKA annihilated). Chaplin has heard nothing of any attacks on the nation's capital, so he asks for confirmation of the order; he is immediately relieved of his duty as Captain for not following the order. When Kendal takes over and again refuses the order without further confirmation, the sub is fired upon... by their own people, an American battleship. The Colorado crew repairs the sub, but not before losing crew members in the attack. Back in the United States, news programs are reporting the attack came from the Pakistani army, igniting a war between the nations. But the Colorado soon lands on the fictional island of Sainte Marina, where they commandeer a NATO communications facility and declare a 200-mile exclusion zone around the island. America sends another group of bombers to attack Chaplin and his crew, and Chaplin retaliates by launching a nuke at D.C....

The scope of Last Resort is extraordinary. The cast alone is enormous, with over a dozen speaking roles, all of them perfectly defined in the pilot. It's a true achievement to have a show that easily characterizes so many people without devolving into types. Everyone has import here, and characters that seem to be set decoration early on end up playing significant roles later in the episode. No one is extraneous, no one is wasted. That alone is a credit to creators Shawn Ryan (The Shield) and Karl Gajdusek (Dead Like Me), though there is much to celebrate in their expert script. The concept could easily be dismissed as, "Well what happens next?" There's a lot going on in the pilot, and the whole idea seems better suited to film than episodic television. After all, where do you go after you've launched a nuke at the center of American government? But the final few minutes provide a great setup for the remainder of the series, expanding the cast even further to include several locals of Sainte Marina.

Speaking of which, it's incredible to me how director Martin Campbell (Casino Royale) managed to make the scenes within the confines of the submarine the most successful. I would have thought these scenes would feel claustrophobic and stilted, but they're the most enjoyable of the episode. It's when the story wander outside the sub, to the island and to D.C., that it loses something. The tension within the sub is what drives the intensity of Last Resort, plus the strong performances from the cast. The crew of the Colorado is played to perfection by everyone involved, most notably Braugher and Speedman. The former is in total command of the show, delivering his final monologue with gusto. Speedman is sympathetic, the obvious hero, and an endearing presence. They are supported by a host of strong actors including Robert Patrick (who will always be the villain from Terminator 2 to me) as the disrespectful and blindly devoted military baby Chief of Boat; Daisy Betts (Persons Unknown) as the ship's lieutenant, a woman trying to prove herself in a man's world; and Bruce Davison as her father, a Navy Admiral.

With the end of the episode, the possibilities for future episodes is wide open. The only downfall is that the sub, where the pilot's best moments take place, will play a lesser role now that the crew has set up post on the island. But the potential storylines and character developments are intriguing enough to think that this will be a small obstacle to overcome, considering the strength of all Last Resort's other elements. This is one to watch closely.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Pilot Review: The Mob Doctor


The Mob Doctor (Mondays at 9:00 on Fox)

Let me start by saying that the above image is better than anything in the first episode of Fox's mind-numbing new series The Mob Doctor.

The plot is exactly what the title suggests: half mob show, half medical show. Grace Devlin (Jordana Spiro, My Boys) is a hotshot surgeon in Chicago who overcame meager beginnings in the city slums to become one of her hospital's most sought-after doctors. Her mother (Wendy Makkena, Oliver Beene) is in remission, her brother (Jesse Lee Soffer) is a compulsive gambler, and her father figure is a notorious mob boss recently released from prison on parole, Constantine Alexander (William Forsythe, Boardwalk Empire). Years ago she made a deal with a mafioso named Moretti (Michael Rappaport, Boston Public) to work off her brother's gambling debts in exchange for his life; now that agreement has come back to bite her in the ass when Moretti demands she kill a patient who is testifying against him.

Aside from how utterly ridiculous the whole plot is, the execution is something to marvel: it's constantly moving, yet it never goes anywhere. How this is even possible is beyond me, but somehow creators Josh Berman & Rob Wright (Drop Dead Diva) have managed. There must be upwards of fifty scenes in forty-five minutes; Grace is always dashing from one location to the next, answering phone calls and darting off screen: hospital to home to hospital to mob house to hospital to chop shop to home to hospital to OH MY GOD, TAKE A NAP ALREADY, YOU'VE SUPPOSEDLY BEEN AWAKE FOR 36 HOURS NOW! But seriously, so much happens in so little time... yet I felt like the episode was never going to end. There are tons of subplots that go nowhere (and make no sense), including a young gunshot victim's recovery and the playing out of hospital politics. How Grace doesn't just collapse at any given moment is miraculous. She performs two surgeries in the pilot, one of which is under the scrutiny of the FBI, plus she makes house calls to Constantine, all while balancing her delicate familial relationships and a new romance with a fellow doctor (Zach Gilford, Off the Map). Is Grace supposed to be a superhero or something? I'm pretty sure even Superman sleeps.

There are so many things wrong with The Mob Doctor that it's almost too much to try and point them all out; I could just say, "Watch the episode" and call it a day. But I don't want to subject any of you to that. The script is the first and foremost issue. Well, the unbelievable and bloated plot is the foremost issue, but anyway... the script is terrible. At one point, in one of the myriad subplots, a girl Grace used to babysit has come into the hospital for surgery; the fourteen year old finds out she's pregnant despite being a virgin, so Grace compares her immaculate conception to Star Wars: "You remember that scene where Luke pops that one-in-a-million shot, and it goes straight through the air duct and blows up the entire Death Star?... You are like the Death Star. You have this air duct that has the potential to be penetrated, even if you're not doing it full-on... it's called outercourse." Now, just stop for a second and reread that statement. This is an actual line of dialogue from a script that actually got made and then ordered to series. Let that sink in. Add in barely discernible, over-the-top sequences of nonstop medical jargon; a scene where one doctor accuses another of tattling; horrible bookend scenes about Grace touching her first body; and a car chase through the streets of Chicago, and you have one big "WTF" of a script to work with.

On top of the truly awful, none of the actors are any good. Jordana Spiro is almost entirely lifeless as Grace, blank-faced and even-voiced throughout. Her family is portrayed as a bunch of bumbling idiots by Makenna and Soffer, and Forsythe does little more than curl his lips into a snarl in his two scenes. David Pasquesi plays a caricature of every douchebag boss ever, spitting out such gems as "This isn't over!" in between scenes of utter pomposity. Even Zeljko Ivanek, a scene stealer on Damages, looks bored. But by far the most ridiculous performance comes from Rappaport, who is so melodramatic that his portrayal of Moretti often crosses the line into self-parody. He yells, spits into cell phones, and wags his finger in everyone's face... because he's, you know, in charge. How else would anyone know that? It's as if everyone on board was just collecting a paycheck, knowing full well how awful the concept and material is, and not expecting much to come of it.

If that's the case, they're the smart ones here. The Mob Doctor never should have seen the light of day. It's the type of show that gives merit to a saying I heard recently: "Theatre is life, movies are art, television is furniture." Because this is mindless, horrible, and embarassing.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Checking In: Glee Season Four Premiere


Glee (Thursdays at 9:00 on Fox)

First of all, let's take a look at the above photo. LOOK HOW MANY CAST MEMBERS THIS SHOW HAS! It's overcrowded and has been for the past couple of seasons, thanks in no small part to the introduction of winners/runners-up from The Glee Project, but this is just ridiculous. And it doesn't even feature all of the recurring characters! Missing from the above eighteen (!!), just from what I've gotten off the top of my head, are Emma, Quinn, Roz, Figgins, Jacob Israel, Sugar, Wade ("Unique"), Joe, and whoever the second season winner of The Glee Project will be playing. So many characters!

The solution? Not everyone will appear in every episode. As a concept, I think that's extremely smart. A lot of the reason why last season was so weak was that there were dozens of characters all fighting for screen time, so their stories were either lost or non-existent at times. Like with Quinn; they couldn't really figure out anything for her to do, so they turned her character into a walking PSA about texting while driving. So rather than have her play out ridiculous storylines like that, or trying to get her baby back when she legally gave her away for adoption a year previous, Quinn will be appearing in fewer episodes. Great!

The problem with that is that now we will have to keep thirty characters' stories straight without being reminded of their presence every week. Why not just cut them out of the show completely? Quinn has graduated and gone on to great things; let that lie. Why force a story on her and us, the audience? There are plenty of other plots to focus on. It's already becoming a problem; the first episode of the season was overpopulated with new characters, and several returning ones fell by the wayside because of it. Finn didn't appear at all. Remember that at one point Glee was essentially his story? From the beginning, he and Rachel were the primary focus of the show.... and now he's just not there. I can accept some characters not being in the first episode (I didn't miss Quinn or Emma), but Finn's absence was strange.

Other problems with the first episode:

1) The introduction of "the new Rachel," Marley. The girl playing her, Melissa Benoist, is extremely talented, but her backstory is forced and silly. Her mother is the obese cafeteria lady everyone makes fun of, a kindly but unattractive and impoverished woman who sews J. Crew labels into her daughter's thrift store clothes. Marley hides her mother's identity from everyone, because apparently she was laughed out of her old school for it. Now, if this is such a problem... why doesn't her mother get a job at another school?

2) The way the Glee Club's newfound popularity is handled. They are apparently superstars now that they've won Nationals, and they (of course) let it go to their heads. When it comes time to audition for the New Directions, they accept two new members from the dozens who audition. Even though they've lost Kurt, Finn, Puck, Quinn, Rachel, Mercedes, and Santana... and even though it has always been a huge deal that they have just enough members to compete. But they only take one person from auditions, plus Unique, who has transferred schools (that happens a lot in Ohio when it comes to talented singers...). But you just lost seven members! You need five more!

3) The introduction of Rachel's potential new love interest, Brody (Dean Geyer, Terra Nova). He's gorgeous and in every way the antithesis of Finn, which is a good thing and makes him interesting to the audience and, especially, to Rachel. But he spends the episode borderline stalking Rachel and spewing inspirational messages like he's Rachel's own personal Hallmark store.

4) The competition the New Directions have to find "The New Rachel," AKA the new lead soloist. There shouldn't even be a question about this considering they have Unique, who was the MVP at Nationals so clearly well-liked by judges; and if they don't want to go with that option, Rachel herself wished for her successor to be Tina. So why are Brittany and Blaine competing too? And then the fact that Blaine wins is utter crap. He is by no means as talented as people on this show seem to think he is, especially singing next to Alex Newell, who plays Unique.

5) The handling of Kurt's character. He's basically not even the same kid we all fell in love with three years ago, and I can accept that because, like people, characters change. But turning Kurt from a true fighter, someone who never settled for less and always did exactly what he wanted, into a directionless Lima Loser is terrible. It's pathetic to see him hanging around the halls of his high school, sitting in on Glee Club auditions, taking orders from the bitchy new head cheerleader. I mean, for sobbing out loud, even Puck managed to get out! I'm hoping that with his arrival in New York at episode's end that the writers will be doing something redemptive for him; they've screwed Kurt over enough in the past, let him get something for a change.

6) The handling of Unique. Ryan Murphy doesn't seem to understand that not everything that's different has to be treated as a problem. Last season featured two episodes of Unique dealing with her situation of discovering her trans side and acting on it. And two Glee members, Kurt and Mercedes, were so accepting of her that Unique started to feel comfortable being who she really is. But then that's all rejected by the remaining members of the club who encourage Unique to only perform as a girl and to otherwise be a boy. First of all, that's not how trans-living works. Secondly, it's obnoxious. Why is this suddenly a problem? It's explained away as the Glee members letting the popularity go to their heads, fearing anything "other" may relegate them to being freaks again. But just because Unique is outside the norm doesn't mean she has to be treated as a freak. That has always been a problem with Glee, where the term "freak" is tossed around so easily and applied to so many different people. But not everything that's different is problematic, and it doesn't have to be characterized as such. Because that just means we'll have to struggle through some sappy moment of redemption or realization when the difference is finally accepted, and that's not something Glee has done well recently (see: Karofsky).

There were some high points, however:

1) Kate Hudson as Rachel's dance teacher, Cassandra. Her character is saying all the things I've believed about Rachel since day one: she's great for her little club, but she's a dime a dozen outside of it. She can't dance a lick, so it's great to have her primary challenger come in the form of a self-important ballet teacher. And Kate Hudson is just great spitting barbs at Rachel.

2) The time spent in New York. It's more interesting to follow the characters we've watched grow for three years as they pursue the dreams we've heard them talk about all that time. It's a big dose of reality for them, and the moments in New York are some of the most honest the show has had in a very long time. To see Rachel struggling in classes, feeling insecure about her talent, second guessing her decision to leave home... these are all things that real freshmen go through, and it's a stark contrast to the cartoonish aspects of the high school scenes.

All in all, Glee had a rough start to its fourth season. It wasn't entirely a failure, but it wasn't by any means a smooth transition. It has its problems, as it almost always has, and it seems to be creating more for itself with this new format: one location is more interesting than the other, and some characters are more interesting than others. Plus... there's still too damn many of them.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Pilot Review: Guys with Kids


 Guys with Kids (Wednesdays at 8:30 on NBC)

Sometimes you come across a show, like NBC's only new mulit-camera comedy Guys with Kids, that seems relatable and funny on paper and in concept but doesn't know what to do with itself. You could have an ideal staff, a good cast and a cute concept, but for some reason the pieces never quite fit; and what you're left with is an uneven and confusing melting pot of wasted talent.

Guys with Kids follows the misadventures of three new fathers and their families. Chris (Jesse Bradford, Outlaw) is recently divorced from his possibly-psychotic ex-wife Sheila (Erinn Hayes, Childrens Hospital), and he's trying to get a bit more leeway in his raising of his son Ernie. Gary (Anthony Anderson, All About the Andersons, Law & Order) is a stay-at-home dad with four rambunctious kids who just needs a break from the craziness of his family. And Nick (Zach Cregger, Whitest Kids U Know) is married to Emily (Jamie-Lynn Sigler, The Sopranos) but refuses to grow up.

Immature thirty-somethings dealing with the sudden adulthood which comes with having kids is a concept that should be ripe with comedic material. Unfortunately the pilot of Guys with Kids didn't find much of it. Writer Charlie Grandy (The Daily Show) writes some chuckle-worthy one-liners, but overall it's just not a funny episode. The jokes are so broad you could drive a mac truck through them, not to mention they're not all that original. For instance, Nick's daughter's school is hosting a fundraiser themed around the Titanic and he asks, "So how does the night end? With you hogging a piece of driftwood that could easily accommodate both of us?" Jokes based on fifteen-year-old films aren't exactly fresh, and that particular joke has been making the rounds for about as long as social media has existed. The remainder of the episode is a mixture of the cringe-worthy, the smile-worthy, and the totally un-worthy. A scene featuring basketball legend Kareem Abdul Jabar is the episode's highlight, proving that the creators can be funny. But the whole affair is dragged down by stale gender politics (Ex-wives are crazy! Men are immature!) and a sense of pointlessness, as if we've seen and heard it all before.

The cast is the only thing to really recommend here. Anthony Anderson is always a joy to watch, and he gets the best parts of the pilot. His is the only character that really challenges anything as the show's stay-at-home dad, and he has the best sense of comedic timing (which makes sense considering he is the most seasoned of the show's main cast). Jesse Bradford is appropriately adorable and sympathetic as Chris, whose dilemma of trying to start dating again while raising his son is the focus of the first episode. Zach Cregger is droll and sarcastic, even if his character is the least developed and most stereotypical. The wives are relegated to the background, for the most part, and none are particularly memorable, though a late-episode scene between Anderson and his wife, The Cosby Show's Tempestt Bledsoe, hits the note the rest of the show should aim for: after a long day, the couple locks themselves in the bathroom for a few private moments away from the stresses of raising and providing for a family. It's the best balance of pathos and humor in the entire half-hour; unfortunately, it's a short moment, but one that reminds the audience that Guys with Kids isn't all bad... just uneven and unfocused.

What it all boils down to is that Guys with Kids never really finds its groove. The few moments when it's amusing, it's tolerable and borderline enjoyable. But when it's not, it's a slog to get through. It should be a fun slice of life, a reminder of the character-driven sitcoms of the 90s with an endless array of potential mishaps and funny situations. But instead it's thin, mostly uninteresting, and cliche, choosing to focus on jokes about the Titanic, Goodfellas, lead paint, and J-Date rather than the inherent comedy that comes with having young kids and the subsequent need to mature before you're ready.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

2012 Emmy Predictions: Miniseries/Movie & Reality

Leading Actress - Miniseries/Movie

Nicole Kidman - Hemingway & Gellhorn
Emma Thompson - The Song of Lunch
Julianne Moore - Game Change
Ashley Judd - Missing
Connie Britton - American Horror Story

Predicted Winner: Julianne Moore

I actually decided to focus on the miniseries/TV movie categories this year because of how much attention it's gotten for American Horror Story's committing "category fraud." It's not a miniseries, but then again neither was Downton Abbey, last year's winner in many of these categories. Regardless, Julianne Moore's got this one locked up for her uncanny portrayal of Sarah Palin.

Leading Actor - Miniseries/Movie

Clive Owen - Hemingway & Gellhorn
Idris Elba - Luther
Woody Harrelson - Game Change
Benedict Cumberbatch - Sherlock
Kevin Costner - Hatfields & McCoys
Bill Paxton - Hatfields & McCoys

Predicted Winner: Idris Elba

Elba should've won last year (even though, once again, his show does not belong in this category since it is on its second season), so I'm predicting him for this year. A win for Clive Owen would also be welcome and not unexpected.

Supporting Actress - Miniseries/Movie

Jessica Lange - American Horror Story
Frances Conroy - American Horror Story
Sarah Paulson - Game Change
Judy Davis - Page Eight
Mare Winningham - Hatfields & McCoys

Predicted Winner: Jessica Lange

No matter how the show was submitted, Jessica Lange would have walked away with a statue. No one else can win this award.

Supporting Actor - Miniseries/Movie

Denis O'Hare - American Horror Story
David Strathairn - Hemingway & Gellhorn
Ed Harris - Game Change
Martin Freeman - Sherlock
Tom Berenger - Hatfields & McCoys

Predicted Winner: Ed Harris

This could easily go to either Ed Harris or Tom Berenger, but overall Game Change was much stronger than Hatfields & McCoys so I'm giving Harris the edge for his emobodiment of John McCain.

Miniseries or TV Movie

American Horror Story
Hemingway & Gellhorn
Game Change
Luther
Sherlock
Hatfields & McCoys

Predicted Winner: Game Change

Hatfields & McCoys is the only true miniseries in contention, so I'd like to see it win for that fact alone. But both HBO films were better, particularly Game Change.

Reality Program - Competition

So You Think You Can Dance
The Amazing Race
Dancing with the Stars
Top Chef
Project Runway

The Voice

Predicted Winner: The Amazing Race

I can never not predict The Amazing Race, considering it's only lost once (to Top Chef, which has not been nearly as strong since its win). But if it were to lose to anything this year, I'd think it would be The Voice.

Reality Program - Non-Competition

Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution
Antiques Roadshow
Who Do You Think You Are?
Undercover Boss
MythBusters
Shark Tank

Predicted Winner: Shark Tank

For some reason, Shark Tank saw an explosion in popularity this past season. But any of the new nominees could take this one; I think Food Revolution has the best shot of those.

Host for a Reality Program

Cat Deeley - So You Think You Can Dance
Phil Keoghan - The Amazing Race
Ryan Seacrest - American Idol
Betty White - Betty White's Off Their Rockers
Tom Bergeron - Dancing with the Stars

Predicted Winner: Betty White

As much as I adore Cat Deeley and think she's the best host on TV, the voters love Betty White; and this would give her an award in a brand new category for her, so I think she'll take it.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

2012 Emmy Predictions: Drama

Lead Actress - Drama

Kathy Bates - Harry's Law
Claire Danes - Homeland
Elisabeth Moss - Mad Men
Julianna Margulies - The Good Wife
Michelle Dockery - Downton Abbey
Glenn Close - Damages

Predicted Winner: Claire Danes

If anyone else wins, it's a crime. Danes gives an incredible performance in every episode of Homeland.

Lead Actor - Drama

Damian Lewis - Homeland
Bryan Cranston - Breaking Bad
Jon Hamm - Mad Men
Steve Buscemi - Boardwalk Empire
Hugh Bonneville - Downton Abbey
Michael C. Hall - Dexter

Predicted Winner: Bryan Cranston

Cranston is the safe bet here, especially since his show is wrapping up on a high note; but Lewis is giving the kind of performance awards voters just eat up.

Supporting Actress - Drama

Maggie Smith - Downton Abbey
Joanne Froggatt - Downton Abbey
Christina Hendricks - Mad Men
Anna Gunn - Breaking Bad
Archie Panjabi - The Good Wife
Christine Baranski - The Good Wife

Predicted Winner: Maggie Smith

Smith won last year in a category Downton Abbey never should've been eligible for (Miniseries/TV Movie), but that doesn't take away from the fact that she's excellent. On the other hand, Hendricks is due for the award, so I'm not counting her out entirely. They're pretty evenly matched, I think

Supporting Actor - Drama

Brendan Coyle - Downton Abbey
Jim Carter - Downton Abbey
Peter Dinklage - Game of Thrones
Giancarlo Esposito - Breaking Bad
Aaron Paul - Breaking Bad
Jared Harris - Mad Men

Predicted Winner: Giancarlo Esposito

I think this is another category where there's little doubt that the award belongs to someone, and that someone is Esposito. Dinklage and Paul are both excellent, but both already have awards.

Guest Actress - Drama

Uma Thurman - Smash
Joan Cusack - Shameless
Julia Ormond - Mad Men
Martha Plimpton - The Good Wife
Jean Smart - The Good Wife
Loretta Devine - Grey's Anatomy

Predicted Winner: Jean Smart

These guest categories are always hard to predict, this particular one especially; I never saw Loretta Devine coming last year. So, in my mind, any of these women have a chance, including a repeat win for Devine.

Guest Actor - Drama

Jason Ritter - Parenthood
Michael J. Fox - The Good Wife
Dylan Baker - The Good Wife
Jeremy Davies - Justified
Ben Feldman - Mad Men
Mark Margolis - Breaking Bad

Predicted Winner: Mark Margolis

Fox and Margolis are pretty even, in my mind. I think Breaking Bad is the stronger show, so Margolis will come out on top. Plus, that's a gutsy performance: he doesn't utter a word, relying entirely on facial expressions and a bell.

Drama Series

Mad Men
Breaking Bad
Downton Abbey
Homeland
Game of Thrones
Boardwalk Empire

Predicted Winner: Homeland

I'm not at all confident in predicting Homeland, unquestionably the best new show of the last year (and probably of many years), as the winner. It absolutely deserves to win, but Downton Abbey is the type of show Emmy voters love. The Academy clearly loves Breaking Bad but has never rewarded it as the Best Series... will they do it this year, considering next year will be its last of eligibility? And Mad Men is always a contender as well.

Monday, September 10, 2012

2012 Emmy Predictions: Comedy

Leading Actress - Comedy

Julia Louis-Dreyfus - Veep
Melissa McCarthy - Mike & Molly
Edie Falco - Nurse Jackie
Amy Poehler - Parks & Recreation
Tina Fey - 30 Rock
Zooey Deschanel - New Girl
Lena Dunham - Girls

Predicted Winner: Julia Louis-Dreyfus

Even though Veep is probably a long-shot for Comedy Series, it has an undeniably wonderful leading lady in Julia Louis-Dreyfus. The show wouldn't exist without her, and she effortlessly plays up the camp of her character in a good, old-fashioned, fully entertaining turn.

Leading Actor - Comedy

Jim Parsons - The Big Bang Theory
Alec Baldwin - 30 Rock
Louis C.K. - Louie
Larry David - Curb Your Enthusiasm
Jon Cryer - Two and a Half Men
Don Cheadle - House of Lies

Predicted Winner: Louis C.K.

Louie finally had the breakthrough it deserved with the awards circles this year, particularly its vulgar star/creator. I wouldn't be surprised, however, if his humor is a little too over-the-top for some voters, thereby opening up Jim Parsons to a third win for another very strong episode ("The Werewolf Transformation," in which Sheldon picks up the bongos).

Supporting Actress - Comedy

Sofia Vergara - Modern Family
Julie Bowen - Modern Family
Kathryn Joosten - Desperate Housewives
Kristen Wiig - Saturday Night Live
Mayim Bialik - The Big Bang Theory
Merritt Wever - Nurse Jackie

Predicted Winner: Julie Bowen

I think Bowen will take it again this year, even though my vote would go to Mayim Bialik for the single funniest moment on television last season in her submitted episode: the tiara freak-out. But I wouldn't count out a sympathy vote for the recently deceased Joosten, or for Wiig in her last season at SNL. This category is pretty open with a lot of wild card factors at play. But I still think it's Bowen's to lose.

Supporting Actor - Comedy

Bill Hader - Saturday Night Live
Ty Burrell - Modern Family
Eric Stonestreet - Modern Family
Ed O'Neill - Modern Family
Jesse Tyler Ferguson - Modern Family
Max Greenfield - New Girl

Predicted Winner: Jesse Tyler Ferguson

Any of the Modern Family guys could easily take this, but since Stonestreet and Burrell already have statues in this category, I'm holding out hope for a win for Ferguson. But based on the strength of the submitted episodes, Stonestreet may get a second win here.

Guest Actress - Comedy

Elizabeth Banks - 30 Rock
Margaret Cho - 30 Rock
Melissa McCarthy - Saturday Night Live
Maya Rudolph - Saturday Night Live
Kathy Bates - Two and a Half Men
Dot-Marie Jones - Glee

Predicted Winner: Melissa McCarthy

I don't really think anyone else can touch McCarthy, but never underestimate the power of Kathy Bates.

Guest Actor - Comedy

Will Arnett - 30 Rock
Jon Hamm - 30 Rock
Jimmy Fallon - Saturday Night Live
Bobby Cannavale - Nurse Jackie
Michael J. Fox - Curb Your Enthusiasm
Greg Kinnear - Modern Family

Predicted Winner: Michael J. Fox

Fox did something a lot of awards voters like: played a caricature of himself. It's worked well for Matt LeBlanc on Episodes (though his absence in the Leading Actor category this year is shocking, he won the Golden Globe), and I think that combined with how well-liked he is will give Fox the award.

Comedy Series

Veep
Girls
Modern Family
The Big Bang Theory
30 Rock
Curb Your Enthusiasm

Predicted Winner: Modern Family

I have to say these nominations confuse me; I don't understand why Veep is here, considering its only other major nomination was for Julia Louis-Dreyfus. I'd think Louie would be a better nominee, since it has nominations in both writing and directing categories as well as for its leading man. But keeping comedy and writing nominations in mind, as well as acting nods, I think this has to go to Modern Family again... although an upset by Curb Your Enthusiasm wouldn't be a total surprise.