Archive | March, 2013

Spring 2013 Review: Zero Hour

29 Mar

Zero Hour

Zero Hour may be extremely cancelled, but that doesn’t mean we won’t be honoring its memory with a review.

A show whose first scenes lets us know that it involves a church conspiracy and Nazi mysticism, Zero Hour would probably have been better off coming out a couple years ago in the heyday of Da Vinci Code fever.

The show begins in Nazi Germany where two ostensibly non-Nazis are concerned about the Nazis’ supernatural progress on some experiments.  Namely, the Nazis have developed a way to create a child without conception, and we see this child, which has super evil zombie eyes.  The two men gasp in horror after seeing the baby, giving themselves away, and causing Nazis to chase after them, eventually leading back to their church.  At this church a group of gathered parishioners decide that they all must sacrifice whatever needs sacrificing to protect some secret object buried beneath the church.  The Nazis raid the church, killing many, but not in time to get the object, which is, to our knowledge, now secure and hidden away.

In our present time, Anthony Edwards, playing magazine publisher (of the illustrious Modern Skeptic magazine) Hank Galliston, browses a flea market with his wife Laila, in Brooklyn, before heading to work.  Within a couple of minutes of arriving, he gets a call from his wife, who runs a clock store in Brooklyn (Time to Go, it’s called – Five other suggested time phrase store names:  Time Flies, A Time to Remember, Time Enough at Last, Time to Get a Watch, Time of Your Life).  There’s someone in the store, and within seconds, she’s attacked and kidnapped.  We soon learn from an FBI officer that Laila was in fact taken by a super villainous major criminal named White Vincent (Michael Nyqvist, veteran Swedish actor who played the villain in Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol, and has the look to be playing US villains for at least a decade). Hank soon realizes that this came after his wife his purchased a clock, and after inspecting the clock, finds a diamond with secret writing all over it.

Upon finding that the diamond contains all this information, Hank and his two quirky and energetic young helpers (reporters at the magazine who clearly love Hank) are off to the races.  They don’t recognize the language, so they ask Hank’s old friend, a priest played by the always wonderful Charles S. Dutton, who tells them the language is an old one (I’m pretty sure he describes it as demonic, but that seems ridiculous to me) which hadn’t been used in centuries as far as the world knows.  Hank and co. are spiriting around to figure out its meaning, when Hanks gets a call from the kidnapper; bring him the clock, Vincent says, or the woman gets it.

Hank’s now set up a complicated swap with Mr. Vincent, alerting the FBI to obtain their help, but not telling them the whole story with the clock and the diamond and whatnot.  In particular, he works with agent Beck Riley who keeps hounding him and whom, being a shady Fed, he doesn’t completely trust.  Hank entrusts the diamond to the priest in case the meet goes awry.  Unfortunately, it turns out the whole operation was a set up, and that Vincent knew the priest had the diamond the whole time, and obtains it while seriously injuring Dutton in the process.

Hank and his helpers are distraught, but not ready to give up, especially after his helpers give him a big pep talk.  They still have pictures of the map from the diamond and the clock.  Hank and agent Riley travel north to where they  believe the map was marked, and the helpers head out to meet the maker of the clock in Switzerland (Modern Skeptic has quite the travel budget).  Hank and Riley find they’re on Vincent’s trail (A V.I.L.E. henchmen has been seen, is what would have been said when they arrived, if they were in the Carmen San Diego universe) and find the spot, which is filled with Nazi paraphernalia and a number of dead bodies.

The helpers find out even more important information; the clock maker tells them that the spot on the map was a person, not a place, and that the clocks are given to 12 people deemed new apostles by the crazy church conspiracy in Nazi times to protect the world from the Nazis.  Now that the Nazi villains are back at it, somehow, if they find whatever this object is THE WHOLE WORLD IS IN DANGER.  The apocalyptic speech from the clockmaker going for a couple of minutes, but essentially, bum bum bum, end of episode.  Hank’s wife hardly seems relevant when the whole world is at stake, no?

As a lover of Indiana Jones, and a liker of Hellboy, I’m a sucker for Nazi mystical conspiracies, but Zero Hour seems pretty half-hearted.  It seems like someone spent an airplane ride coming up with the conspiracy storyline without really diving into it in detail or putting in a lot of thought.  It seems a little bit like a generic conspiracy hodgepodge (Nazis?  Check.  Church?  Check.  End of the world?  Check.); from one episode it doesn’t seem like the kind of care was put into it that immediately attracts a viewer in these days of so many captivating and well-crafted tv shows.

That said, I’m still a sucker for conspiracies, and they can be entertaining and stupid at the same time sometimes, as long as they’re internally consistent and don’t get too serious on the serious vs. fun scale (e.g. Lost).  Still, even if this was not already cancelled, I’d bet against it.  I wasn’t hooked from the first episode.  To compare to recent conspiracy-style shows, last fall’s Last Resort was more captivating after it’s first episode, and Rubicon, whose conspiracy ended up being somewhat equally mish-moshy and generic but had a really cool stylistic sense right off the bat.  Lost, which still makes me angry every time I think of it to this day, had a fantastic pilot episode.  Zero Hour didn’t deliver that punch that makes you want to watch the second episode immediately after finishing the first.  And considering the show was pretty much all about plot; the characters didn’t seem like much to think of, the style was not noteworthy, and the dialogue wasn’t first right, getting the viewer interested in the plot fast, is pretty important.

Will I watch it again?  No.  It’s way cancelled; the first episode got nearly Do No Harm-level ratings.  Not that I would have anyway.  There is a possibility of an interesting conspiracy show here, but I’d render that possibility as pretty unlikely.

End of Season Report: Season 2 of Girls

27 Mar

Girls, one by one

Season 2 of Girls was largely more confident and sure of itself, compared to the first, especially in the early episodes, where it picked up a lot faster and didn’t have to waste time setting up the characters into place. The weakest episode of the season, unfortunately, was the final episode in which a show which prides itself on being a little bit different (this is HBO, after all), solved a couple of major issues with simple solutions that didn’t really hold up after thinking them through.  Still, there was more good than bad on the whole.  Let’s break it down Girl by Girl.

Jessa is my least favorite character in the show by a long shot, but I do think Girls went some way to make her more sympathetic with a showcase episode about her visiting her dad; we get to see part of what made Jessa Jessa and it was handled well.  I do think both her disintegrating marriage and her time spent with her family humanized he and fleshed out her character much more than in the first season.  I’m just not sure it’s not too little at this point for me.  Jessa just happens to be the type of character I’m most likely to find irritating; she’s extremely flaky, impetuous  and makes critical life decisions on a whim without thinking about it.  While I think the marriage to Chris O’Dowd led to some interesting episodes, the decision to get married just like that is exactly the kind of bad decision Jessa continues to make over and over again.  Forget bad decisions though; everyone makes those.  She’s not there for her friends when they need her and floats in and out of their lives with no notice.  She did the least of the four girls this season, partly due to Jemima Kirke’s pregnancy. I did like her featured parts a lot more than her segments in the first season, but she has a long way to go.

In contrast to the much heavier personalities of the other characters, Shoshanna is largely bubbly and inoffensive, even when she’s struggling. I enjoyed both the Ray and Shosh romance through the season and the fact that they broke up in the season finale.  I don’t think they ultimately make a ton of sense together and I think it’s probably best for both of them to break up, but I think the relationship spurred some serious movement in both characters for the better.  Both kind of fell into the romance and were doubling down merely because the relationship spurred its own momentum.  Ray needed an impetus to break out of his life rut, and he got it with his promotion, even if the relationship ended anyway.  The relationship also gave Shoshanna a clearer view at what she really wanted, or at least what she didn’t want.  Ray might be my favorite character on the show, and I think these plots were handled really well throughout the season.  My favorite Ray plotline may have been when him and Adam teamed up to return a dog Adam stole to its owner on Staten Island, and while they frequently fought, while Ray was wrong, possibly as often as Adam, I generally sided with Ray.

Marnie next.  In some respects I have sympathy for Marnie’s second season troubles; her dreams for her life in the art world is falling apart, one she’s sought out for years.  Still, she’s so arrogant, condescending, and cruel to Charlie that it makes it difficult to feel bad for her as I would towards most people in her position.  She goes through a lot of shitty situations, but she never quite changes her attitude through them. I was hoping that as a result of all her struggles, she’s realize some of these negative qualities at stop them, or at least work on stopping them.  She loses her job, and that’s understandably frustrating, but she constantly teases her old boyfriend Charlie, wanting him back when she’s down, and then when anything else comes along, putting him aside, only to get easily jealous and cruelly tease him when he seems to be doing better than her.  Her past behavior towards Charlie renders the should-be heartwarming re-getting together of Charlie and Marnie at the end frustrating; he deserves better, or at least for Marnie to have changed one iota from when they first broke up.  He was a super irritating emo whiner sad sack at the beginning of the series but he’s seemingly matured, while she hasn’t at all.  I’m not sure whether we’re actually supposed to be annoyed, or whether we’re supposed to think that Marnie has grown, due solely to the events in the last episode, but it didn’t quite work for me.  It was only in the second to last episode when she belts out her super inappropriate Stronger rendition at Charlie’s company party.

Lena is my favorite character by a longshot, and I think her plots throughout most of the season are by far the best.  I really enjoyed the bottle-y episode that was basically her and Patrick Wilson having a two night affair, and I’ve always enjoyed her relationship with her parents, where I often feel sympathy for both parties.  I love the minor character of her editor, and I sympathize with her inability to write on the spot. She’s absolutely more ridiculous than a normal person. As a neurotic myself, I have sympathy with the general way she acts, even if the show magnifies it to an over the top level.  In fact, probably more because she’s so over the top, I don’t treat her as a normal person, which makes some of her insanity easier to swallow.  She’s wrong a lot; she’s unnecessarily mean to Eli and Marnie and several other characters and she does a lot of stupid things for stupid reasons, but I still like her best.  I just hate that simple ending in the last episode, in which Adam picks her up and shows the ultimate romance that prevails in that final moment, even after all the shit that had happened between the two of them over the course of the season.

I’m not sure where Girls will take us next season.  I’m looking forward to it; I think overall, it’s a better show, and I appreciated the opportunity to watch Girls without the massive lovefest and hatefest that accompanied the first season.  Girls is neither as good as its biggest fans say not as bad as its detractors say, but it’s interesting television, and definitively worth watching, which I think is a fairly good place to be for a tv show.  I just wished the last episode had been a little bit different; I know I was supposed to feel super heartwarmed by the reunions of Marnie and Charlie and Adam and Hannah but neither really worked for me.

End of Season Report: Season 1 of Enlightened

25 Mar

Amy Jellicoe

I reviewed Enlightened when it first aired, and I wasn’t that impressed.  There may have been a number of reasons I decided not to come back for a second episode, but far and away the main one was that I couldn’t stand the main character, Amy Jellicoe, portrayed by Laura Dern.  Not merely that I hated her; I’ve loved several shows where I’ve disliked the main character with various degrees of intensity.  Rather, I found her incredibly annoying.  Some of this was due to the British comedy type of awkwardness, but it was more than that, because, even though I’m as uncomfortable with the awkwardness as anyone else, I’ve become pretty good at getting through it.  More than that, I didn’t like watching her, and I didn’t feel like I gained enough from putting up with her irritating personality.

However, I’ve been wrong before and I’ll be wrong again, and when the internet and friends both combined to tell me that Enlightened was worth watching, I decided to head on over to HBO on demand to give the show another shot.  With so much praise from all quarters, I decided to go in whole hog, marathoning the entire (admittedly short) first  season over a weekend, and I’m glad I did.  The problem with watching it in a compressed period of time is not the length, the episodes are only a half hour long and there aren’t that many of them; it’s that it’s extremely depressing.

Main character Amy Jellicoe is a former corporate executive for a huge faceless company who suffered a nervous breakdown, attended an island rehab center which focused on the power of positive thinking, and then came back to work, determined to change both herself and her work life.  She’s now focus on things that really matter like the environment rather than the corporate bullshit she strove towards for the past fifteen years when she was only driven to climb the career ladder.  However, when she comes back to work, she’s only given a job because of legal reasons, and is demoted to a particularly meaningless job in the basement on a secret program designed to measure worker productivity and figure out who to lay off.

On one hand, Amy is extremely irritating, naive, has no sense of decorum, and kind of had this coming.  She was the one who broke down, while everyone else seems to manage to just shut up and do their work, and even when she has opportunities, she just doesn’t know when to talk and when to listen, and when to bide her time for even just a short while.  That said, as we peer deeper into her life through later episodes, it’s hard also not to feel for her at least somewhat.  She has no good friends, and her only close relations are her depressed and repressed mother and her depressed and drug-addled ex-husband.  And we can also understand or empathize with what it’s like to be crushed in corporate America, doing work that is not merely useless busy work, but actually hurting other regular people while lining the pockets of the one percenters at the top.  This is all magnified by her boss, a tech savant who wrote the program her group is working on, who acts like a cool boss, but is an immature douche at heart who is given free reign by his superiors to pretty much treat the workers however he wants because it’s his program.

One of the best episodes of the season explored the point of view of Amy’s mother, Helen (played by Laura Dern’s real life mom, Diane Ladd), who is even more depressing than Amy.  While Amy at least shoots for the stars, only to get knocked down time and again, Helen has given in to life and has largely stopped trying.  We see some of the background behind how Helen became negative and anti-social, and one particularly sad scene showed her running into a perky high-energy grandmother she was acquainted with in a grocery store, and having to listen to stories about kids and grand kids, while seeming desperately uncomfortable having to explain that her only daughter is back living at home.

I don’t think I’d want to spend more than a couple minutes with Amy, and I didn’t think I wanted to watch her either, but there was a lot more to Enlightened than met the eye, and I improbably still found myself rooting for her by the end of the season to at least move up and regain some minimal amount of control of her life.  We can also understand her feeling of resignation when, after pursuing a job that will fulfill her personally at a homeless shelter, she realizes she’ll never be able to pay down her debt with the salary they offer.  Everyone deserves better than this.  Even irritating Amy Jellicoe doesn’t deserve be trampled on by the world over and over.

Spring 2013 Review: Golden Boy

22 Mar

He is the Golden Boy

Golden Boy is the story of a young Oscar de la Hoya.  No, of course it’s not.  This is CBS.  It’s a police procedural.  But here’s Golden Boy’s special little hook.  The main character, Walter Clark (Theo James), who starts his first day as a homicide detection in the first episode, will, in seven years, go on to become the youngest police commissioner in NYPD history.   In fact, the whole story is actually told from the future, as a journalist played by Richard Kind interviews now police commissioner Walter Clark about his path from young rookie to commish.

At the beginning of the pilot, Clark, a patrol officer, becomes a hero, when he kills a man holding a woman hostage, kills another man, who shot his partner, and helps resuscitate his partner with CPR.  As a benefit of his new-found hero status, the commissioner offers him his pick of where he wants to work.  He hears recommendations for narcotics; a nice modest leap up the latter that will shave a couple years off his career path, but an area he’d be qualified to work in with his level of experience.  Instead, he chooses homicide, to the astonishment of everyone, as he’s far too inexperienced and would be at least a decade away from working there under normal circumstances.

Once he enters the homicide department, we’re back on track for standard cop show routines.  He’s partnered with the older, wiser Don Owen (played by Chi McBride), who early in the show tells Clark he’s no Morgan Freeman, seeming to disparage his role as an older, African-American mentor, but as the episode goes on, he fills that role to a T (he recalls Danny Glover’s character in Lethal Weapon when he lectures Clark late in the episode about how he’s got just two years before he’s done).  Clark gets hazed several times in the episode by Owen and the other veteran members of the department, and gets put in his place occasionally when he gets a little rambunctious for a youngster.  Clark looks up to hotshot detective Christian Arroyo (played by True Blood’s Kevin Alejandro), who alternately gives him a hard time and looks to help him out.  Arroyo at one time berates Clark for making a promise to a victim’s family, something that Clark should know not to do if he’s ever watched a cop show in his life.  Arroyo’s partner is female cop Deb McKenzie, who finds Clark to be cocky but sometimes sympathetic.  Clark’s attempts at being Sherlock Holmes-ian, noticing every little detail to make him seem like a savant are made fun of by Arroyo initially, but then end up being extremely helpful as a tattoo that only Clark notices on a suspect helps find out a piece of crucial information.

While not groundbreaking or pushing boundaries on even the slightest level, there are two minorly noteworthy aspects of the show which are atypical for classic police procedurals.  First, the main character is not particularly likable.  In the first episode, we can already see he’s arrogant, thinks he’s better than others, and is more interested in playing politics or being a media hound if that’s what it takes to not only solve the case but do the best for himself.  It’s definitely intimated with the future commissioner mechanism that he will mature over the seven years following his start as a homicide detective, and he’s still essentially a good person who wants to put away bad guys, but it’s worth noting that he’s fairly easy to dislike to start out.  He also obtains evidence illegally to help put the bad guy away pretty early on in the show, without any real moral qualms, which is kind of dark for CBS.  He shares some characteristics with The Wire’s (the only time in this review you will hear me compare Golden Boy and The Wire) Jimmy McNulty, except that Jimmy is a lot more charming straight off the bat and has earned his stripes.  The second interesting aspect is that two of the four major police characters, Owen and Arroyo, pretty much hate each other.  Cops often get into spats on other shows, but rarely do two straight out not get along at all.

At the end of the episode, we find out that Arroyo, who had been nicer to Clark as the episode went on, backstabbed him, getting his name in a newspaper as responsible for leaking a story to the press.  In addition, mentor and partner Owen tells Clark a story of two dogs fighting, which Clark told us in the seven years later segment at the beginning of the episode, as they bond together at the shooting range.

The flashforward gimmick (which I would like to use another chance to point out is the most overused gimmick in TV and one which I would like to see cut down at least in half) is used to ratchet up suspense, by letting us know in this first episode that a bunch of crazy shit is going to go down, but the tension will lie in waiting to see how it happens.  These include the alleged death of Clark’s  partner, a murder suicide, and a precinct shoot out.  So, future Golden Boy viewers, now you know what you have to look forward to; if you didn’t know that, it would merely be surprising at the time it happened, but now you can watch every episode asking yourself, “is this where the murder suicide happens?”

Will I watch it again?  No.  I did point out, and I think it’s worth noting, that it strays from typical crime procedurals in a couple of important ways, and credit is due to the Golden Boy creators for that.  Additionally it seems like there’s likely to be a stronger serial plot than in many classic CBS procedurals, like CSI, NCIS, and Criminal Minds.  Still, at its heart, it’s a police procedural, and it’s very hard to get me to actually care enough about these to watch regularly.  Quick shout out for being actually filmed in New York, there’s a great shot of the High Line early in the episode.

Show of the Day: Criminal Minds

20 Mar

They use their minds to find criminals

I’ve watched the first episode of every network show the past couple of years (I’m still working on this spring, but I’ll get there) and I’ve seen many of those that existed before, but there’s still quite a few on the air that I’ve never gotten to.  I’ve seen bits and pieces of Criminal Minds over the years, and probably even a 20 minute segment or two, but I don’t think I’d ever seen a full episode.  That is, until bonding with my dad over an episode recently.  Criminal Minds is a favorite of my dad’s, a fairly loyal viewer of CBS procedurals; other favorites include NCIS, Person of Interest, and his new top choice, Elementary.  Every once in a while, I try to suggest a show that I like, that I think my dad would like as well, like Dexter, and sometimes he gets around to them, and sometimes he doesn’t.  When he put on Criminal Minds, I was at first tempted to tell him there was some sort of sporting event I wanted to watch at the time (I don’t remember if there was, but probably), but I decided to see it instead as an opportunity to check off one more currently airing show from my list.

Like any good police procedural, Criminal Minds features a team of do-gooders, in this case, working for the FBI”s Behavioral Analysis Unit.  The two hooks that separate it from just any ol’ CSI rip off is that first, instead of just solving any ol’ homicide, they focus on tracking serial killers.  Second, rather than typical police focused on forensics and evidence, the Criminal Minds team is more focused on profiling, figuring out the murderer by tracing the pattern of behavior.  In addition, rather than being tied to any one city, the BAU travel throughout the country to wherever they’re needed.  The cast appeared to me, at least in this one episode, as a true ensemble without any one or two characters standing far above the pack.  The cast has also changed throughout the series; in my episode, Season 4’s “Conflicted” the core team was made up of Thomas Gibson, Shemar Moore, Matthew Gray Gubler, A.J. Cook, Paget Brewster, Joe Mantegna, and Kirsten Vangsness.

“Conflicted” featured the case of male frat boys in Texas being raped and killed at hotels during spring break.  The team flies down, seals off the scene, and brainstorms a variety of different possible scenarios, trying to figure out who they’re looking for.  The doer is referred to as the unsub, and I don’t know if this is the case in every episode, but they must have said the word unsub at the very least 20 times over the course of the episode.  Matthew Gray Gubler as once child prodigy Dr. Spencer Reid seems to be the chief theorist, positing first that the killer is a woman, and then later on, after that theory didn’t quite fly, that the crimes were committed by a male/female team.  Throughout the episode, we get a couple of flash forwards, which serve to needless confuse and attempt to add suspense, but are, like many flashforwards, pointless at best, and contrived at worst.  Kirsten Vangsness plays the computer-technology expert, mirroring the Pauley Perette character Abby from NCIS.  Aside from Vangsness and Gubler, it was unclear what the singular specialties or traits of the other main characters were.

The super crazy twist in this episode was that the unsub was two people, and was not two people, at the same time.  How, you ask?  It was an unsub (I’m gong to keep using the word to give you a sense of what watching an episode is like) with multiple personalities, a kid Adam with a troubled past, who had a dark female personality who was the one behind all the killing.  The worse part was that, even though everyone agreed he/she was nutzoid rather than criminally liable (nutzoid is a legal term), the events forced the good Adam personality to be trapped below the evil female personality.  Matthew Gray Gubler, who thinks about these things deeply and has a soft spot for the mentally ill, as his mother is schizophrenic, continues to come back and visit the boy, we see, long after the events of the episode are over, hoping he can one day goad the kid’s good personality to the fore.

I don’t see within this episode any reason to elevate or demote Criminal Minds in the pantheon of crime procedurals.  I suppose the presence of deranged and psychotic serial killers, over workaday murders with regular motives, ups the stakes significantly.  They apparently slowly move forward with bits about the personal lives of the characters, but those were largely not in evidence in the episode I watched.  Like most procedurals as well, it was eminently watchable; if it was on at an airport TV, I’d probably try to follow along.  I can’t say I greatly enjoyed my hour viewing the show, but nor did I feel bad about it afterwards.

Also, randomly, this episode was directed by Jason Alexander (He’s also directed a Mike & Molly, a ‘Til Death, and a Franklin & Bash in recent years.  He appeared in an earlier episode and must have enjoyed it so much that he wanted a shot behind the camera.

Power Rankings: Friends

18 Mar

The Friendly Friends at Friends

One of the most popular TV series of all time, Friends ended almost nine years ago, in May 2004.  All of the six were crazy famous simply from their time on Friends, but who has done the best and worst in their subsequent work?  After a number of early failures, most of the actors and actresses have managed to get some new-found success in the past couple of years.  Let’s take a look.

6.  David Schwimmer – Most of Schwimmer’s post-Friends work has been off screen, either behind the camera, or in voice roles.  His primary voice role has been as giraffe Melman in the Madagascar series of films.  This has included three films, a direct-to-DVD movie, and a TV special.  He’s directed a couple of episodes of Joey, Simon Pegg film Run, Fatboy, Run, and in-studio segments of Little Britain USA, adapted from the original Little Britain.  He appeared in British indie Big Nothing, and American indies Nothing But the Truth and The Iceman, and directed indie Trust.

5.  Lisa Kudrow – Immediately after Friends, Kudrow appeared on HBO show The Comeback, where she played a former sitcom actress who had descended to B or C level, and was getting another chance at TV fame while being something of a diva.  The show was shot to look like a reality show, as The Comeback was a show within a show, a scripted show of a reality show of her character’s comeback.  The series received some positive reviews as a satire of reality TV, but wasn’t picked up, and aired just 13 episodes.  She appeared in the film Happy Endings, weeper P.S. I Love You, and indie Kabluey.  She was in the kiddie Hotel for Dogs and played an unfaithful guidance counselor in high school satire Easy A.  She also appeared in her own web series Web Therapy, a dark comedy created and co-written by Kudrow, in which she plays a therapist.  Showtime decided to adopt the show, and 2 seasons and 21 episodes aired on the network, with a third on the way.

4.  Matt LeBlanc (as Joey Tribbiani) – Immediately after Friends, he starred in ill-fated spin-off Joey, reprising his character, having moved to LA, for two seasons, and the show was extremely fortunate to have a second.  After that, it was all quiet until he returned to the silver screen with a starring role in Showtime-BBC collaboration Episodes, in which he plays a narcissistic version of himself, cast, within the show, in the American version of a  popular British sitcom.  The show has aired for two seasons so far, and is renewed for a third due to air in early 2014.  I’m giving him the slight not over Kudrow, because I think Episodes is more relevant than Web Therapy, but it’s a close call.

3.  Matthew Perry (as Chandler Bing) – In his first role after Friends, Perry starred in TV movie The Ron Clark Story as the titular Clark, a small town white teacher who tried to make a difference in the lives of New York City minority students.  As cliched as that sounds, Perry received praise for his performance, and was nominated for an Emmy and a Golden Globe.  He was a major cast member in ensemble Aaron Sorkin dramedy Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, infamous mostly as a huge failture more than as anything else.  He starred in indie films Numb and Birds of America, and then with Zac Efron in Freaky Friday-like 17 Again.  In 2011, he got his next chance on TV, starring in NBC’s Mr. Sunshine, with Alison Janney, which was terrible and failed fairly quickly.   He appeared in one Childrens Hospital episode, and four of The Good Wife.  In 2012, he got his next shot at TV in Go On as a sports radio shock jock who must join a therapy group after his wife passes away.  NBC picked up Go On for a full season, and it seems likely to receive another season, though by no means a certainty.

2.  Jennifer Aniston – If mere magazine covers were a primary criteria in the power rankings, Aniston would clearly be #1.  Alas, they are not.  Aniston’s work primarily since the end of Friends has been in film, as the only time she’s returned to TV is in an episode of 30 Rock, and for individual episodes of Friends cast mate Courtney Cox’s two shows, Dirt, and Cougar Town.  She’s made a career out of making largely mediocre movies, some of which are more commercially successful than others.  Much of her work has been in the romantic comedy genre, starring in films Rumor Has It…, The Break-Up, Marley and Me, The Bounty Hunter, The Switch, and Just Go With It, and mega-rom-com He’s Just Not That Into You.  She was also in thriller Derailed, indie Friends with Money, as well as Management and Love Happens.  The past couple of years have seen her appear with Paul Rudd in Wanderlust and as a supporting player in surprise hit Horrible Bosses.

She puts the Cougar in Cougartown

1.  Courtney Cox – Cox has primarily worked in television since the end of Friends.  She starred in her own FX show, Dirt, for two ten episode seasons in 2007-08, where she tabloid editor-in-chief Lucy Spiller.  She appeared in three episodes of Scrubs, before getting her own series by Scrubs creator Bill Lawrence, Cougar Town.  Cougar Town, also known as the show with the worst name ever, stars Cox as recently divorced mom Jules Cobb trying to get her life together again in her 40s.  The show attracted a cult following and aired three seasons on ABC.  ABC cancelled the show, but TBS saw an opportunity and picked it up again, and the fourth season is airing this spring.  I’m making the controversial call to give Cox the nod over Aniston, because, while Aniston has clearly been in many more movies, they’re pretty much all instantly forgettable.  Cougar Town, meanwhile, while never broadly popular, and not a personal favorite, has a devoted cult following that adores the show, including Community’s Abed.

Spring 2013 Review: Do No Harm

15 Mar

Do No Harm

Do No Harm has already been way cancelled after just two episodes, drawing the worst premiere rating ever for a network drama (some jokester got away with adding to the wikipedia page for Do No Harm, ” (yes, worse than The Mob Doctor!)” to demonstrate how low the ratings were).  Still, we review on, for posterity’s sake, if for nothing else.  Plus, a lot of people worked hard to get this show to air.  The least we can do is reward their effort by watching one episode.

Dual personalities, which are at the core of Do No Harm, have been a handy subject matter for recent failed dramas.  A few years ago, the Christian Slater vehicle My Own Worst Enemy, in which he played a spy who had a chip in his brain which turned him into an innocent who acted as the perfect cover, aired.  Kyle Killen’s well-liked Lone Star was also cancelled after just two episodes, and featured a man living a double life (though by his own choice).  This seems to be something of an obsession for Killen, whose other failed drama, which aired last year, Awake, featured a man who also lived between two different realities – he was always the same, but everything around him was different.

Do No Harm lead character Dr. Jason Cole is a top neurosurgeon who suffers from dissociative identity disorder, or multiple personality disorder.  From 8:25 AM to 8:25 PM every day he’s charming and responsible Dr. Cole, helping patients, taking risks that some members of the hospital brass would rather he not, and charming his colleague Lena Solids (former Law & Order ADA Alana de la Garza), who wants to take their friendly relationship to the next level.  By night however, he’s the sociopathic Ian Price, who lives to wreck Cole’s life, and to take advantage of his money for booze, drugs, women, and whatever else he can find to blow it on (maybe blow?).

For five years, Cole has successfully knocked himself out for 12 hours a day, with the help of an employee at the hospital acting against all policy, supplying him with a special drug.  From 8:25 at night until the morning Cole would simply be unconscious.  Somehow no one at the hospital has ever had occasion to notice that he was available at all during those hours.  However, the drug’s effects have worn off and now Cole is faced with the terrifying reality that his evil twin is back in his life.

Do No Harm is surprisingly uninteresting for a show about a man terrified by his other personality trying to ruin his life and destroy everything he loves.  I just don’t really care what happens.  Cole seems so blandly good, and his other half so viciously evil.  During the episode we basically get the idea that Cole is a pretty amazing dude whose only issue is, well, the big one, of his split personality, but he doesn’t really seem like an interesting guy.I get the whole dichotomy but perhaps some traces of subtlety would go a long way towards making the concept work; if both versions of him were a little more complicated.

In fact the only reason to root for the show is that it gives Samm Levine, who played Neil in Freaks and Geeks, a job.  Levine to this point has been just about the least successful of a phenomenally successful cast, so he could use the work.

Will I watch it again?  No.  Not that there’s all that much to watch even if I wanted to, but there’s not much here other than the hook.  It’s not a bad idea for a hook, but shows that are just about the hook and don’t have strong characters and writing are limited at best.  Again, it’s worth noting for a second that this is another show that is by no means truly wretched, but there’s no reason anyone should waste even half a tear on Do No Harm’s quick cancellation.

The Zeljko Ivanek Hall of Fame: Jim Beaver

13 Mar

Jim Beaver

(The Zeljko Ivanek Hall of Fame is where we turn the spotlight on a television actor or actress, and it is named after their patron saint, Zeljko Ivanek)

Today we’re celebrating the television work of Jim Beaver, a character actor who has only become more prolific with age, first acting in the late ’70s, working more frequently in the late ’80s, and whose biggest roles have come largely in the last 10 years.

Beaver’s first work came in the late ’70s, appearing in tiny roles in TV movies Desperado and something called Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders starring Jane Seymour, as well as an uncredited appearance as “diner” in an episode of Dallas.  After another uncredited appearance in a TV movie called Girls of the White Orchard as “pedestrian,” he next appeared in a Jake and the Fatman episode in 1987.  He spent the end of the ’80s and 1990 making individual appearances in Matlock, Guns of Paradise, CBS Summer Playhouse, The Young Riders, Father Dowling Mysteries, and Midnight Caller, and TV movies Perry Mason: The Case of the Lady in the Lake, Mothers, Daughters, and Lovers (that’s one title), Follow Your Heart, El Diablo, The Court Martial of Jackie Robinson (featuring a young Andre Braugher as Jackie Robinson), and Gunsmoke: To The Last Man.

He got his first multi-episode role on soap Santa Barbara as the wonderfully named character, “Andy the Rapist.”  He got his biggest role yet in two season odd couple cop drama Reasonable Doubts, which starred Marlee Matlin as a civil liberties-friendly District Attorney and Mark Harmon as an old-school cop.  Beaver appeared as Harmon’s friend and partner Detective Earl Gaddis in 14 episodes.  He showed up in another Gunsmoke movie, an episode of Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman, and TV movie Children of the Dark before appearing again as a regular in two season ABC sitcom Thunder Alley.  Thunder Alley starred Ed Asner as a retired race car driver, and included in the cast a young Haley Joel Osment.  Beaver played Asner’s mentally challenged mechanic, Leland DuParte.

Beaver danced around TV for the rest of the ’90s, appearing in single episodes of Home Improvement, High Incident, Bone Chillers, NYPD Blue, Moloney, Murder One, Spy Game, Total Security, The Adventures of A.R.K. (I have no idea what some of these are), Melrose Place, Pensacola: Wings of Gold, The X-Files, and TV movies Divided by Hate and Mr. Murder (starring the great Stephen Baldwin).  He also appears as bar owner Happy Doug in seven episodes of 3rd Rock from the Sun and in four episodes of long-running soap The Young and the Restless.

He recurred in one season David Krumholtz and Jon Cryer starrer The Trouble with Normal in 2000.  From 1996-2004, he appeared in 26 episodes of soap Days of Our Lives as Father Tim Jansen, the local pastor.  Next, there was more journeying around the world of TV appearing in single episodes of That ’70s Show, The Division, Star Trek: Enterprise, The West Wing, Philly, Andy Richter Controls the Universe, Six Feet Under, Tremors, The Lyon’s Den (Rob Lowe’s ill-fated post The West Wing show), Monk, and Crossing Jordan.

Whitney Ellsworth

Beaver landed the biggest role of his career in 2004, as he was cast in David Milch’s Western masterpiece Deadwood as grizzled prospector Whitney Ellsworth.  Ellsworth was the rare truly honest man in Deadwood, and unlike a couple of the other honest characters, was liked by just about everyone in town.  He’s initially trusted to manage Alma Garrett’s gold claim, and works hard to manage her successful gold operation, fighting off various concerns who want to buy it.

Episodes of The Unit and CSI: Crime Scene Investigation were next, followed by the start of his second biggest role, appearing as a heavily recurring character in Supernatural.  At 54 appearances over the course of Supernatural’s nine seasons, Beaver has shown up in more episodes of the show than anyone except the two leads, Jared Padalecki and Jensen Ackles.  He plays Bobby Singer, a blue collar demon hunter and old family friend of main characters Sam and Dean’s family.  Over the course of the show, Singer shows the boys countless tricks of the trade for dealing with the supernatural, and becomes a father figure to Sam and Dean.

Beaver was busy elsewhere while appearing on Supernatural.  He was in five episodes of the one season Taye Diggs led Daybreak, and in eight of one season David Milch far out HBO drama John From Cincinnati as Vietnam Joe, a pot grower who helps Mexican illegals cross the US border.  He was in three episodes of Big Love and one of Criminal Minds.  He was a main cast member in 2008-09 CBS 13 episode horror/thriller murder mystery miniseries Harper’s Island, playing the sheriff of the titular island, Charlie Mills.  The gimmick of the series, which sounds kind of zany and possibly worth further investigation, is that at least one character, and as many as five, are killed every episode.

Shelby Parlow

Next were single episodes of Psych, Law & Order: LA, The Mentalist, Lie to Me, and Love Bites.  Then, he appeared in two episodes of Breaking Bad, as gun dealer Lawson, selling Walter White guns in episodes Thirty-Eight Snub and fifth season premiere Live Free or Die.  He was in an episode of Dexter’s most recent seventh season, playing Dexter love interest Hannah McKay’s lousy dad, Clint.  He’s also played an important recurring role in Justified as now Harlan County Sheriff Shelby Parlow, appearing in almost every episode this season.  Keep up the good work, Jim Beaver.

Spring 2013 Review: 1600 Penn

11 Mar

1600 Penn

1600 Penn looked awful in commercials, but it was merely not very good in practice.

1600 Penn is, as the name suggests, a comedic rendition of life in the White House.  The main family and cast members include the father, President Strandrich Gilchrist, played by Bill Pullman (no mention of this could be complete without of course noting that he also played the President in Independence Day), the first lady, Strandrich’s second wife and former campaign manager, Emily Nash-Gilchrist (Jenna Elfman), oldest son Skip (Josh Gadd, a co-creator of the show), daughter Becca Gilchrist (Martha MacIssac, best known as Becca from Superbad), and youngest children Xander and Marigold (Benjamin Stockham and Amara Miller, respectively).

The family’s personal problems are constantly getting in the way of the President’s political goals.  There’s plenty of infighting; Becca still hates her step mom, and Skip is a ridiculous screw up who constantly disappoints his parents by getting into trouble and having to have them, sometimes with the help of the Secret Service, bail him out.  The President likes to win too much that, after a little patriot cheering, he can’t even intentionally lose a tennis match to a Latin American whose support he needs on a crucial vote (played by Miguel Sandoval, who played cock-fighter Marcelino in Seinfeld, and tequila company head Carlos in Entourage).  The day is saved when Skip walks into the room where the Latin American leaders are planning to vote, and Skip drinks with them and unintentionally convinces them to gang up against Sandoval, who apparently has been bullying them for years.

If you can’t tell from the above few sentences, it’s an incredibly silly show.  It’s not particularly funny.  With most of the attempts at laughs, I can see what the show is going for but the jokes don’t really hit.  Josh Gadd is probably the best part of the show, being ridiculously incompetent but kind of likable, but even most of his attempts at being funny are not successful.

Compared to fellow political comedy Veep, 1600 Penn is far more over the top and ridiculous than Veep, which focuses on everyday humor and a bit of satire.  For a show about the President, there’s nothing at all satirical or political about 1600 Penn.  I wouldn’t expect to see any but the most basic jokes about Democrats or Republicans, if that.  While both Veep and 1600 Penn try to create humor out of the contrast of real people’s lives with the majesty of the White House (or the Vice President’s office, but for this point, the same difference), Veep aims for humor out of the mundane, while 1600 Penn attempts to mine the ludicrous not even attempting to resemble real life.  Josh Gadd’s Skip is certainly the most goofy aspect of the show, but he really drives the direction of the show, rather than being the exception.  To give another example, Skip at one point accidentally lights a fire in the White House, while recording a fire safety video, which causes the window to explode and hit a visiting dignitary.  It’s not that this kind of comedy can’t work, it just doesn’t really here.

It’s not a truly terrible show.  It doesn’t make me angry, and it’s surprisingly watchable, in the sense that it doesn’t make you want to immediately get up from your couch mid-episode and turn it off no matter what.   It’s bad enough though that I don’t think there’s any fixing it or making it into a second season surprise.  Even a moderately improved 1600 Penn probably leaves a fair amount to be desired.

Will I watch it again?  No.  I damn it with the faint praise that it’s far better than I originally thought it would be from the commercials, unfunny rather than cringeworthy.  Still, that falls fairly far short of the standard for getting me to watch multiple episodes.

Spring 2013 Review: Deception

8 Mar


Deception, in five words.  Primetime murder mystery soap opera (quick definition: primetime is not simply a time-the-show-airs issue, it’s an adjective describing the type of soap; priemtime implies a soap that’s a bit classier and less ridiculous (by soap standards, remember, so that’s only saying so much) than daytime soaps).

Now, in longer form.  The premise event of Deception is the mysterious death of socialite and scion of the uber-wealthy Bowers family, Vivian.  Her death appears on its face to be due to a drug overdose, but there are clear signs pointing the police in the direction of murder.  The Bowers family made their millions through the pharmaceutical company currently run by patriarch Robert Bowers (Victor Garber), and it’s a classic dysfunctional rich family fueled by jealousy and greed, which means that everyone’s a suspect.  While the family attempts to mend itself after hearing of Vivian’s tragic death, viewer surrogate Joanna Locasto (Meagan Good) must infiltrate the family to attempt to figure out who the murderer is.  She’s in a unique position to investigate the inter-family dynamics, given that she used to be Vivian’s best friend growing up, when Joanna’s mother worked for the Bowers family.  Vivian and Joanna were BFFs until a falling out about 15 years ago, which is slowly revealed through flashbacks, when Vivian attempted to run away and Joanna, believing she was drug-addled and liable to get herself hurt, tattled to her father, ending their relationship.

Since then, Joanna’s lived her own life as a member of the NYPD, which the Bowers family doesn’t know. With the convincing of her former partner/lover and now FBI agent Will, she agrees to make a return into the Bowers’ lives, ostensibly to grieve Vivian, but with the secret goal of figuring out the murderer.

Suspects include the father and CEO, Robert, son Julian, the bad boy now creating drugs for his father’s company, who Joanna once had an ongoing fling with, ill-tempered older son Edward, who was accused of strangling a woman years ago, but managed to fight off the charge, Robert’s second wife and former secretary Sophia, and youngest daughter Mia.

The investigation turns out to be even more complicated than originally thought when a tabloid journalist who was spying on the Bowers is murdered while waiting to feed Joanna some information, after he relates to her that there are allegations that Bowers’ company is about to put a drug on the market responsible for killing dozens of people in overseas test markets, a drug which was created by Julian.  The episode ends with the dual revelations that Vivian was pregnant when she died, and that she was pregnant once before, right when her and Joanna had their falling out, and that that baby was Mia, who has been posing as Robert and Sophia’s daughter.

Deception is another in the minor trend of thriller prime time soaps started by the minor success of ABC’s Revenge. The incredibly dysfunctional uber-rich family vibe being infiltrated by an outsider who is really an insider which features prominently in Revenge is at the heart of Deception as well.  The feature mystery here is of course the whodunit, and the family members are the primary suspects, though I’d guess there will be more peripherally shady characters entering at some part that could be involved somehow in the plot.

The show wasn’t great, but it wasn’t bad either.  The mystery is intriguing enough, and I”m generally a sucker for a classic whodunit, just not necessary enough to actually watch several hours of TV.  Similar to what feels like the last couple of shows I’ve written about (The Following, The Carrie Diaries), there’s not a ton that makes this show stand out in a crowd, but it’s perfectly respectable in its own right.  I could imagine getting stuck in a rabbit hole of Deception episodes on a Saturday morning on repeats on TNT someday, but it just doesn’t have quite enough to make me place it on my considerably crowded television schedule.  Like most serial dramas, the set up is easy, while the pay out is hard, and the set up here is certainly at least adequate, and honestly, if I heard the the later episodes were excellent and compelling and unpredictable, there’s enough for me in the first episode be interested in coming back to the show, but I don’t have implicit faith.

If Deception does succeed, it will be difficult to avoid the same issue that Revenge faced.  Pace it too slowly, people will get tired of waiting and it will seem needlessly drawn out.  Solve the feature mystery in good time and the writers need to think of something else equally compelling.  Shows like this are exactly why I support the expansion of season-long TV series, American Horror Story-style.

Will I watch it again?  No, I’m not going to.  Honestly though, it’s not a total loser.  It’s not required viewing by any means, but I still haven’t reviewed a truly terrible or even a pretty bad show yet from the Spring 2013 season.  I’m sure it’s coming and I’ve just watched them in the wrong order, but while I’m not going to watch Deception nor tell anyone else to watch it, I’d have no qualms if someone I knew told me they were watching it.  I might even read the wikipedia page later to find out who the killer is if the show makes it that far.