Archive | April, 2012

Spring 2012 Review: Unsupervised

30 Apr

The two on the left are Unsupervised

It’s looking like a three strikes and you’re out situation for new animation in the 2011-12 primetime television season.  The fall started us off behind in the count with Allen Gregory and Napoleon Dynamite, and the spring brings us a swinging strike three with new FX cartoon Unsupervised.

Unsupervised’s protagonist are two high school freshman, Gary and Joel, voiced by Justin Long and David Hornsby. respectively.  Hornsby is best known as recurring character Rickety Cricket on It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia and as the creator and co-star of terrible short-lived fall 2011 CBS sitcom How To Be a Gentleman.  Gary and Joel have just entered high school, and are eager to get the girls that are supposed to come with it.  While they want to be sophisticated and get girls, they enjoy the pleasures of the simpler things in life though, like riding their bikes, and creating a lightning rod, and jumping off one of their roofs onto bushes.  They’re Unsupervised because both of their parents are out of the picture and the two of them, though relatively poor, basically live in their houses on their own most of the time.  Because of their unusual living situations, they realize later they can have people over to drink, or throw giant parties without concern.

They need to grow up though, portly African-American friend character Darius (voiced by Weeds’ Romany Malco) tells them.  No more kid stuff – clean clothes, mature attitude, partying, alcohol, drugs; that’s the way to women.  Meanwhile, female friend character Megan (voiced by Kristen Bell) goes the other way – they don’t need to party to have fun, or have sex before they’re ready – good clean teenage living is the way to go.

Wacky side character alert:  It’s an animated series.  Of course there’s a couple of wacky side characters.  First, we’ve got latino neighbor Martin, who speaks with a thick accent, and tries to act as a mentor to the boys – telling them to avoid the partying ways of his own daughter.  Second, we’ve got Australian neighbor (Russ?  Maybe?  Not worth watching the show again to find out)  who lives up to every Aussie stereotype and participates in the weirdest flashback sequence where it turns out he was once in love with a kangaroo.

It’s not very funny.  Allen Gregory tried a lot of gags where I could easily see what they were attempting, and it just failed.  Unsupervised is a step away from that.  It just doesn’t work.  It’s not really an absurdist show; it’s vaguely juvenile and tyring to hit the perfect so-stupid-it’s-funny here and there.

It’s easy to box animated comedy together, but there’s so many different types.  While there’s unlikely in the near future to be a Two and a Half Men of animation, because cartoons skew younger, there can be as relatively conventional shows as King of the Hill as well as absurdist fare like Aqua Teen Hunger Force, and everything in between.  Many of the gimmicks which made animation unique have been taken live action in shows like Childrens Hospital and Eagleheart.

Unsupervised doesn’t try to be absurdist or super clever or super reference-y or super droll.  I don’t think it’s quite as base as Beavis and Butthead, but there’s probably an influence there, or at least an attempt at one.

Will I watch it again?  It’s not going to happen.  It’s a shame such admirable voice talent is wasted on seriously grade B material.  I think maybe it’s particularly hard to figure out if animated material works before seeing it in action, but this doesn’t, and it’s not just slightly off.

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Spring 2012 Review: Missing

27 Apr

Ashley Judd's son may or may not be missing

The pilot opens with main character Becca Winstone (Ashley Judd) finishing her run while her husband and young son are shown in Europe about to come home.  We know approximately when this is because, of all things, the kid has a Zinedine Zidane signed soccer ball, and calls Zidane the greatest player in the world, which puts us within a couple of years before or after 2000.  Becca speaks to her husband, and then son, on the phone, and as the husband starts the car to go to the airport, boom, explosion, he dies, and the son was just lucky to not have been in the car at the time.  Oh, and the husband’s played by Sean Bean.  Pretty cool.

We flash forward to the present day, 10 years later.  We know it’s the future because Becca’s hair is short; we’ll know we’re back in the past when her hair is long, and her son is 8 instead of 18.  Becca works at a flower shop and her son, after beating her for the first time ever on their daily run, lets his mom know that he got into an architecture program in Rome.  His mom clearly doesn’t want him to go, but relents, and says goodbye at the airport.  The son shows Becca a special code that will be his way of texting that he loves her; he doesn’t want to have to say “I love you, mom” in front of his friends (how embarrassing; they probably don’t love their moms).  This code, whose origins are explained in detail, will clearly never come back again in any way (sarcasm).

The son (what is his name?  Michael! We’ll use that from now on) calls his mom and texts and sends her pictures of his view.  Suddenly, however, he stops calling and texting, and gradually his mom becomes worried.  Time passes with no contact.  We know he’s getting missing-er because we see the action-packed process of Becca checking her phone and seeing “No New Messages” several times.  Eventually, she gets a call from her son’s school, saying he’s been kicked out because he missed three lectures (just three and kicked out?  rough).

“Something’s happened to my son,” Becca says alarmed.  Of course, what she’s supposed to say is “HE”S GONE MISSING”  We have a title to repeat here.

She’s soon on a plane to Italy to figure out what the fuck happened to Michael.  She checks out his apartment.  While she’s investigating,  she sees a gunman, and it turns out she has SUER NINJA FIGHTING SKILLS.  She kills the gunman, finding no information in the process, and then the hunt his on.  She calls an old Italian friend, apparently an old lover, to help and it turns out SHE WAS IN THE CIA.  Finally, by the way, we get a “My Son is Missing” –  could she have wasted the title with any less drama?  She and her Italian helper valiantly hunt for Michael’s kidnapper while the CIA hunts for her, because she’s been causing mayhem all over Rome.

Eventually, she finds some intelligence, and is on her way following a lead to France when she’s picked up by the CIA.   The agent with whom she speaks is sympathetic to her situation and lets her go for some reason I don’t understand even though he’s supposed to not let her go, though I don’t understand whether they’d have that power either.  She makes a mess in Paris, finding a new lead while the CIA are one step behind with the instructions to seriously not let her go when they grab her this time.  Oh, and then she gets randomly shot in the last minute on a bridge inParis.  I guess she’s dead.  End of series.  Sigh.

I was hoping for more nuanced multiple meanings of missing.  Like, maybe her sense of morality is also missing.  But not so much.  Serioulsy though, Missing is an action show.  I mean, there’s a story, and obviously the story is important, and the quality of the story could be a difference between whether it’s worth following or not.  But at it’s heart it’s an action show, and there really is a dearth of action TV series (there will be again once Missing is cancelled).  I’m not defending Missing here, but there should be a place for action on TV, and you could do worse.  You could do better.  But you could do worse.

I’m not particularly intrigued by the story.  I don’t care about the characters, certainly not after one episode, and it doesn’t seem like the premise lends itself to lasting multiple seasons (which the show won’t, but let’s pretend there was a chance it could be successful).  I’m trying to remember what grabbed me so quickly when I started watching the last action show I really cared about, 24, and I don’t exactly remember, but I don’t think this has it.  It’s good enough for my dad though, who is a big fan, and I can’t begrudge him that.  I wouldn’t turn away from watching an episode if it was on, though I could probably also have the new plot details explained to me in about a minute, but that’s not really the point.

Will I watch it again?

I’ve seen Taken, and you, sir, are no Taken.  That’s high standards of course.  If Missing was a 100 minute movie on TNT on a Saturday at 3:30, yeah, I’d probably stick around for the end.  A television series requires greater investment though, which I’m not really willing to give.

Spring 2012 Review: GCB

26 Apr

One of the good christian bitches on the right

 

GCB begins with our protagonist, Amanda Vaughn, finding out that her husband, who has embezzled hundreds of thousands of dollars from investors (this embezzlement trope has to have been in at least a dozen shows over the last couple of years), and attempted to run off with his mistress, only to die in a car crash after veering off road when his mistress gave him a blowjob while he was driving.  Since the government took everything that remained, Vaughn now has nothing except the clothes on her back and her two kids, and decides to move the back to Dallas, where she grew up, and back with her overbearing zealous extremely Southern mother (Annie Potts), for a fresh start.

While she moves back and tries to figure out what to do with her life, we learn, though she’s humble and well meaning now, she was a mean girl queen bee in high school and tortured several of her classmates.  Those classmates are now well off and fashionable and upon seeing Amanda come back into town, they conspire to have their very southernly hospitable revenge.  The pack is led by Carlene Cockburn (Kristen Chenowith), once fat, and the biggest target of high school Amanda.  She’s got her lacky, formerly attractive but now fat, Sharon, and another crafty cohort in Cricket.  The fourth former Amanda enemy hanging around is Heather Cruz, unique in that she is the only member of the pack who seems to realize Amanda has changed and legitimately befriend her.  Making the women more angry is the fact that the husbands and men in their circle all seem to be attracted to Amanda, particularly Sharon’s husband; Cricket’s husband seems to have feelings for her as well, until we find out he’s in the closet, and it’s just actual friendship.

Amanda has trouble finding work, partly due to Carlene and co., who use their power in the community to ensure no one will hire her.  She eventually finds a job as a waitress at a Hooters-like establishment, sticking more of a middle finger at the Dallas high society her mom and former high school classmates now inhabit. She finds out that while she was made fun of by Carlene for her new job, Carlene’s company actually owns the restaurant in which she works, and decides to embarrass Carlene in front of everyone at church, which appears to be the ultimate southern embarrassment.  It’s on, ladies, like Donkey Kong.

The idea, if GCB is successful, is clearly to replace ABC Sunday night property Desperate Housewives, which is departing after this season.  GCB attempts to have the same trashy/fun/soapy/satirical/doesn’t-take-itself-too-seriously tone that Desperate Housewives rode to 8 occasionally repetitive but for the most part successful seasons.  Just like Desperate Housewives, GCB is all about the polite society on the surface, sex and filth underneath, and you know, catfights.  It’s better than I thought it would be, but I’m not sure whether or not it will have legs.  Nothing about it make it incredibly compelling viewing, and does anyone else find Kristin Chenoweth grating after a while (I think it’s the voice)?  It’s perfectly harmless, and if done at its best it could be the kind of enjoyable type drama which doesn’t make you think too much.  I just don’t think it’s likely to get there.

Will I watch it again?  Probably not.  It really is not bad, but I currently have Revenge satisfying my trashy/soap, (albeit a lot lot more serious) show quota.  There’s just nothing about it to help it stand out above anything else.

Spring 2012 Review: Awake

25 Apr

In this reality, his son is Awake

The science fiction – police procedural genre is a limited one to be sure.  Once, in this space, I hailed the original UK Life on Mars as a paragon of the genre.  Awake is a television’s latest play for a standout sci-fi-po-pro.  The high concept of Awake is as follows.  Homicide detective (shows always seem to be made about the homicide detectives, rather than I don’t know, vice) Michael Britten gets into a massive car accident.  After the accident, he lives his life in two separate realities, one in which his wife is alive and his son died in the accident, the other in which his son is alive and his wife died in the accident.  When he goes to sleep in one reality, he wakes up in the other, and he keeps different colored rubber bands on his wrist to remind him which reality he is in at any given time.

He visits two different psychologists in each reality, having been assigned to go by his job after surviving a horrible accident and losing a loved one.  Both psychologists, in different manners, insist that their reality is the true one, and that the other is an incredibly vivid dream.  In each reality, his partner is different as well.  As he goes back and forth, he begins to see strange resemblances between the cases in both realities, and information he remembers from the opposing realities helps him solve them.

One psychologist, played by former 24 president Cherry Jones, is the soft one; telling him that his alternate, though obviously fake, dream world can be very helpful, and he should go with it, taking what he can, while of course acknowledging that it’s not real.  The second psychologist, portrayed by Law & Order: SVU psychologist and Oz priest B.D. Wong, takes a harder-edged approach, telling Britten that all this fantasizing about both his family members still being alive is extremely dangerous, and that if he doesn’t abandon his fake reality, he is in danger of losing his real one.

The best thing I can say about the show, and I absolutely don’t mean this as the backhanded compliment it might sound like, is that the premise is legitimately intriguing.  The premise is more intriguing than the first episode was.  I really like the idea of the multiple psychologists.  Even though he was forced to attend therapy by his job in the world of the show, rather than seek it himself, it seems like a very modern solution to dealing with what seems like an old school sci-fi Twilight Zone or Outer Limits problem.  It’s such a modern first instinct to have doctors in on it, rather than deal with it one’s self – think Sopranos meets science fiction.  I love the psychological parts; it’s the police procedural bit I’m not entirely enamored with.

I liked Jason Issacs, but I felt like I wanted more out of this show than to just be a police procedural where he solves two cases, using his cross-reality knowledge.  I don’t’ think that’s all it’s supposed to be eventually, and if I had to guess, though I don’t know, I’d guess Kyle Killen and co have a bigger plan if the story goes on.  Still, the goal of a pilot besides set up should be to put one’s best foot forward and I’m not sure Awake did that.  It ranks somewhere between Life of Mars (which was better) and Alcatraz (which was slightly worse) in the police produral – supernatural sci –fi mini genre.

Will I watch it again?  Yes.  I’m behind on shows, so it’s hard to say I’ll keep up faithfully, but I’ll watch at least one more.  It didn’t make me immediately wish the next episode was out, which isn’t a great sign, but as far as new shows go these days, it’s more interesting than most.

Spring 2012 Review: The Firm

24 Apr

The Firm and wife chat

The Firm is the sequel to the mid-90s film based on a John Grisham movie which no one asked for or needed, but that is here anyway.  The pilot is a double episode, so it was a pretty much a movie-length first episode of The Firm I was subjected to.

The show begins with the most overused gimmick in the television business – a flashforward to much later in the story, which then moves back six weeks earlier so we can find out how we get there.  I have plenty more to say on why this is a lazy and overused plot device but we’ll save it for another article.  Suffice it to say, it’s not used well here.  For at least the first half of the pilot, I expected to get back to the flashforward by the end of the episode, but realized eventually it just wasn’t going to get there.  I just really don’t understand what the point of these gimmicks are.  Do the creators really think I’m more likely to keep watching to get to a part of the story that seems so disconnected from where the narrative is now that it doesn’t even connect?  In this flashforward, protagonist Mitch McDeere is on the run, searching for THE TRUTH, and meets with a mysterious man in glasses, who may have answers, but, as he’s only a middleman, he decides to jump off of his hotel balcony, killing himself, rather than face the wrath of his superiors.  Flashforward over.

Moving on.  Tom Cruise’s Mitch McDeere has been transformed into Josh Lucas, and Jeanne Tripplehorn’s Abby McDeere into Molly Parker (of Alma Garrett on Deadwood fame, but best known to me as Ron’s infatuation in the reunion episode of Party Down – I screamed out “Call an ambulance!” at least three times while watching her on screen – if you don’t get the reference, stop reading this and watch Party Down right now).  Mitch wants to avoid witness protection after the events of The Firm, the movie, but Abby convinces him that they need help, because she’s pregnant.  Ten years later, they’re finally out of witness protection and Mitch has started his own firm in DC.  They’re just started to get used to a life not on the run.  Working with Mitch at his new firm, is his brother, private investigator Ray (Battlestar Galactica’s Callum Keith Rennie) and his longtime girlfriend Tammy is their secretary (Juliette Lewis in the show, Holly Hunter in the film).

McDeere is struggling to get by, as most of his clients can’t afford to pay.  He’s already shown the judges around town that he’s a competent lawyer, so a judge asks him to take up two different murder cases.  One for a woman named Sarah, which we see virtually nothing more of in the first episode, and two, for a 14-year old African American named Donnell.  Donnell’s being accused of murdering fellow student Nathan Williams.  Donnell claims self defense, but after some investigation by the brothers McDeere, it turns out Donnell was lying, and he actually killed Williams because he was getting in between Donnell and a kid Donnell was planning on giving a beat down to.  Though disgusted, Mitch must be a good lawyer and argue that Donnell be tried as a juvenile, and his vicious cross-examination of a witness angers the victim’s family.  This plot continues with a fairly uninteresting plot angle in which the victim’s father attempts to hire a hitman to kill Donnell out of grief.  The brothers McDeere catch his attempt on tape, and out of respect for a moment of weakness as a grieving father in an otherwise good life, work out a deal with the district attorney which keeps Williams out of jail and with his remaining daughter at home.  That plot is just about over.

The other plotline in the episode is that an acquaintance of Mitch’s invites Mitch to join his far larger firm, which is run by fierce managing partner Alex Clark (BSG’s Tricia Helfer – two Cylons getting to reunite here).  Mitch fiercely wants to remain independent but works out an arrangement in which he can keep his own office while being associated with the firm after he realizes he needs their resources to fight a tort case which he thinks is a winner.  He thinks the firm wants him for the tort case, but we learn, while Mitch doesn’t, that they’re really interested in the Sarah whatever-her-name-is murder case, and if Mitch learns the truth to that case, all these high powered lawyers will go to jail (BUM BUM BUM).  Way to raise the stakes after an hour and twenty minutes of a Law & Order episode.  Apparently, the client of this new evil law firm is the glasses wearing man who kills himself in the flashfoward, which we’re reminded of, since we haven’t seen him in about an hour and 28 minutes.

Also, the son of the mob leader who went to jail because of Mitch may be after him and his family.  Just sayin’.

So The Firm is an all right legal procedural/thriller that clearly aspires to be Damages, (I must credit a critic on wikipedia for making that allusion, which seemed so obvious once I saw it written on the page) straight down to the flash forward format.  The main case was a bit tedious and not terrible interesting, but it is a my dad-approved legal thriller, which means it can’t be too slow and boring, because my dad would certainly not tolerate that.  It really wasn’t bad; it was seriously and entirely unironic, but not The Practice-level over the top.  If you like legal procedurals that could turn into thrillers at the drop of a hat, The Firm might be for you.  That said, legal procedurals have been done so many times that it’s very difficult to stand out, and nothing about The Firm did that.  Without the long-term angle, I don’t think it’d have a leg to really stand on.

Will I watch it again?  Probably not, but I’ll ask my dad for some sum ups of where the conspiracy goes, because I’m that low level of interested.  I can’t wait for The Chamber the series.

Spring 2012 Review: Bent

22 Apr

If only the theme was Bent by Matchbox 20

Another review for a show no one has seen, or will see, making us wonder why NBC even bothers putting the show on air without even trying to get people to watch it.

Amanda Peet is Alex, a newly single mom with a high-powered job struggling to cope.

In an explanation that lets you know this show is in tune with current events, Alex’s husband was arrested for embezzlement, is now in jail, and gave the proceeds from the illicit activity to his mistress.  Peet is struggling, hanging out with her loosey-goosey best friend (sister, apparently – I couldn’t tell that from the episode) Screwsie, which I can only assume can not be her real name.  She decides she needs a change, in the form of a complete remodeling of her kitchen and living room.  In comes our second main character, surfer dude and all around laid back contractor Pete, who, having lost his contracting business after gambling all his money away, is looking for a fresh start.  Pete convinces his whole crew to get behind him and sells Alex on his proposal, possibly influenced by Alex’s sister, who remarks several times on how attractive he is; The sister and Pete have a tet a tet of questions for each other like “Did you work at bar x” and “Have you ever been to club y” to convince themselves that they haven’t had sex with one another.

Although Pete shows up late, he does some good work, and is on his game until he runs into Alex’s daughter’s babysistter at a bar, sleeps with her, and drops her off at Alex’s house the next day, late for her babysitting gig.  Alex fires Pete (end of show?) and Pete, despondent, decides to act a little crazy, stealing some supplies from the rival contractor who got the gig after him.  Pete runs into Alex’s daughter, and they bond.  She’s nervous about a concert performance she has to give, a fact Alex can’t see because she, high-powered woman, has too much on her plate.  Pete brings the daughter to where his dad, who plays a piano at a department store, works, has her play on the piano there, she feels better about herself, and Alex, feeling sympathetic and vaguely grateful eventually decides to relent and put Pete back on the job.

Wacky side character alert:  The seriously wacky character in this program is Pete’s dad, played by sitcom veteran Jeffrey Tambor.  He hangs out with the guys and is employed playing piano at a local department store, while his true passion is singing Fleetwood Mac, though apparently he’s been specifically warned about singing while he’s working.

I’ve always liked Amanda Peet.  I don’t have a great reason for that.  I’m just laying it out there so you know my biases.  I’m not the world’s best examiner of mythical romantic chemistry, but I do think Peet and Walton have a pretty good repartee.  Of course, they’re not together at the beginning of the show, as Alex has a boyfriend, and well, Pete just slept with the babysitter, but if this show went more than the six episodes it will go, there would clearly be some sort of on-again, off-again relationship.  Otherwise, I’m not sure how many seasons Pete could keep merely being the contractor at her house is, unless he does a really, really terrible job.

It wasn’t a super funny show, but the dialogue was reasonably smart.  It’s definitely in the second class of sitcoms, above the truly terrible (here’s a quick nearly fool proof way to avoid a truly terrible sitcom – if you turn it on and it’s multi-camera and has a laugh track, turn it off immediately.  IMMEDIATELY).

I honestly don’t know why they even bother putting this show on the air though.  It started in March, there was virtually no promotion; it never stood a chance.  It’s almost cruel to get this rare opportunity to have your show actually air on a major network, but with virtually no chance to actually succeed.

Also, the theme song is not Bent by Matchbox Twenty.  I know, a wasted opportunity.

Will I watch it again?  Again, probably not.  There’s just too much to do, and while this show does seem like it could have potentially grown into something, there’s absolutely no way it will get the chance to do that.

Spring 2012 Review: NYC 22

20 Apr

The rookies in the 22

NYC 22 came in with one major factor going for it, and one major factor against it.  For it, is that it’s created by Richard Price, acclaimed crime novelist and writer on The Wire.  I read two of his novels, Clockers and Lush Life, and enjoyed both of them greatly, and working on The Wire, well that really goes without saying (He’s credited with the scripts for a couple of season 3 episodes, a couple of season 4s, and a season 5).  Against it, is the fact that, well, it’s on CBS.  CBS police procedurals are far from the worst shows on TV; there’s plenty of terrible CBS comedies to thank for that.  They’re generally watchable, but they’re hardly appointment viewing.  They’re more like second-tier hungover Sunday marathon viewing if Monk isn’t on any channel.  So the Richard Price who has written for  The Wire doesn’t seem exactly like an ideal fit for the short form of a CBS procedural.

And it’s not.  The show is a little bit clunky, and a little bit forced.  Still, the Price touch on the writing and storytelling does take it a step above a typical police procedural.  There’s plenty of cliche and standard police procedural rigmarole, but there’s less than in CSI or NCIS.  It’s not quite better enough to make it a really good show, sadly.  It feels boxed in; if the show could roam free to where it really wanted to go, there might really be something.

NYC 22 follows six NYPD rookies in the 22nd precinct up in Harlem.  The six rookies include – Jennifer Perry, a slim blonde who was an MP in Iraq, Kenny McLaren, a legacy cop who comes from generations of boys in blue, Ahmad Khan, a Afghani cop who migrated from the UK, Ray “Lazarus” Harper, a long-time beat reporter who decided to become a cop after being laid off, Tonya Sanchez, a Hispanic female cop whose family is composed of criminals, and Jayson “Jackpot” Terry an African-American who used to be a basketball hot shot before he blew out his knee.  The six, paired in twos, are mentored by Officer Daniel Deen, played by Oz’s Terry Kinner, who comes with the old wise man nickname of “Yoda.”  In just their first day on foot patrol, the officers have to deal with a variety of massive crises, learning on the job.

Lazarus and Sanchez are supposed to be watching a dead body to ensure no one interferes with it, but instead get held hostage by an irate ex-pharmaceutical employee who has been beating his wife since he got fired, and they have to talk him down.  The other four get caught up in a massive melee between teenage gangs, and have the temerity to not even radio in for help, slowing down the response of the rest of the police units.  At the end, classic, tough-guy-with-heart-of-gold Yoda gives all the officers a strict talking-to, explaining all the mistakes they made, and how they came extremely close to not even making it through day one, but when one the rookies asks how the new cops assigned to other officers did, Yoda responds, “worse.”  Awww.

It a review I posted about Scandal a couple of days ago, I talked about how people described The Wire, in the highest of compliments of being, “Not TV.”  After The Wire, the bar is set higher for police shows, and it’s hard to match that.  NYC 22 is certainly TV, but within the limits it’s trapped in, it does a halfway decent job.

Will I watch it again?  I might.  At first I was going to say to be honest, I probably wouldn’t, but writing that sentence I changed my mind.  I might.  It’s not great, and it probably will never be great, but it’s fairly decent, and I don’t think it will get worse.  Low expectations, I know, but I enjoyed it an all right amount.