Archive | 4:30 pm

Fall 2011 Review: Free Agents

20 Oct

The inevitable fact of spacing these reviews out of the course of a few weeks means that some of the shows will be already cancelled by the time I write about them.  Free Agents, moreso, was just about dead on arrival.  It was one of the easiest shows to call as a quick cancellation, but unlike other easy calls like The Playboy Club and How To Be A Gentleman, it’s not simply because it was bad, though it was by no means great.  It’s because it was a bad fit, time and network wise, and didn’t receive much promotion.

I was mildly pleasantly surprised upon watching Free Agents, not because it was great, but because my expectations were relatively low.  That said it really wasn’t bad.  It wasn’t good either, but it wasn’t bad.  Here’s the premise.  A couple of relatively recently single middle-aged folks work at a public relations agency.  Hank Azaria plays a recently divorced dad, and Katherine Hahn, a recently widowed woman.  The two of them have gotten together on a one-night stand at the beginning of the first episode, and the show continues as they go back to work with sexual tension and a will-they-or-won’t-they dynamic.  They’re surrounded by some wacky co-workers, played Al Madrical and Mo Mandel, a wacky British boss, played by Buffy the Vampire Slayer librarian Giles, Anthony Stuart Head, and a wacky janitor played by Judd Apatow bit part player and former The State member Joe LoTruglio.

What works best about the show are the two leads.  They’re generally likable and they play their parts well,  A couple of their lines hit and all the best scenes of the show were with them and particularly when they were talking to one another. Even the parts where Azaria is crying about his divorce don’t seem nearly as cartoonish as they could.  The side characters are another story.  Irritating and over the top for the most part, they seem like a bunch of cardboard cut outs particularly put next to the genuinely engaging lead actors.  Head, though I love him as Giles, was occasionally excruciating to watch in his scenes as the incredibly inappropriate boss who makes his employees feel uncomfortable.  The other awkward side plot about how one of the friend characters wanted to go out on the town and the poor married friend wanted to come along but didn’t understand single life did not work either.

Will I watch it again?  Well, it’s cancelled, but I wouldn’t and didn’t.  It’s not dreck though, for what it’s worth, and it was a little rough to have only four episodes of it to air.  I’m not crying about it though.

Ranking the Shows I Watch – 12: The Walking Dead

20 Oct

This is the second of two shows I admit I may have overrated slightly because I wrote these entries right after seeing them.  AMC can just about do no wrong in its post-Mad Men original programming days (just about because of the “noble failure” Rubicon and the Prisoner remake miniseries which everyone seems to have tried to forget and mostly succeeded).  From Mad Men to Breaking Bad to now Walking Dead and The Killing (well the start of The Killing), AMC has hit after hit on their hands.  After the incredible success of the six episode season of the Walking Dead (six episode season, I know – what is this, the United Kingdom or something?), I read an interesting article concerned whether it was so successful that it would change AMC’s entire strategy.  The first episode of the second season has been no exception rating-wise, as the show shattered all sorts of AMC rating records, especially in terms of younger, advertiser-attractive demographics.

Based on a graphic novel, with which I was not too familiar before the series started, it comes on top of a decade long zombie fascination, second only to the more broadly popular vampire trend – made up of the resurrection of the Night of the Living Dead franchise, Zombieland, Shaun of the Dead, Planet Terror, 28 Days and Weeks Later, Zombie Survival Guide, World War Z and probably a couple of others.  Like most zombie works, even though the zombies are the enemy, they have no personalities, they’re simply unthinking, unrelenting enemies who the humans have to strive against.  The remaining humans, overtaken by the zombies have to figure out a plan to survive.  The real personal conflict is between the different factions of humans who are a bunch of unlikely folk brought together due to the strange circumstances of zombie attack and must work together in tough scenarios or face inevitable doom.

The tension is palpable, and both the action scenes and the personal drama are handled extremely well.  Finding the correct balance between out and out zombie action and relationship tension between the characters will continue to be an issue, but initial results are positive.

The season ended in a bit of a strange place, but due to the general strength of the season and the fact that the graphic novel is widely acclaimed, I’m more than willing to give the creators the benefit of the doubt.  The show faced an unusual level of behind-the-scenes drama this summer, as show runner Frank Darabont left, and going forward, the fact that I’m not sure who exactly the writers and show runners are going to be gives me a great deal of pause, but there’s a really good start here that I sincerely hope doesn’t get messed up.  They’ve started so well and have so much to work with, if they can just avoid a The Killing, it should be pretty promising.

What It’s This High:  Dark zombie drama which is constantly on the move and changing the status quo, so far anyway

Why It’s not higher:  The last episode was a little bit weak; I’m not sold on how it will continue to evolve just yet

Best episode of the most recent season: “Days Gone By” – the series remained pretty solid over the first six episodes but it was the pilot that won me over.  The episode felt cinematic and was so gripping that I was in for the whole six episodes whether or not the next five were terrible.