Archive | November, 2014

Fall 2014 Review: State of Affairs

17 Nov

State of Affairs - Season Pilot

Is it reasonable to say that something is a cross between Homeland and Madam Secretary after having only seen one episode of Madam Secretary? Maybe it is, and maybe it isn’t, but I’m saying it. Perhaps more simply and clearly, it’s just a network TV version of Homeland – the Madam Secretary simply refers to the broadcast-appropriate national security cases-of-the-week that the main character discusses with the president. Otherwise, Katherine Heigl’s Charleston Tucker is the Carrie Mathison analogue. Let me count the ways.

Charleston starts the episode in her psychologist’s office. She’s dealing with a tragic personal traumatic event that happened deep within the middle east. Her fiancé (who turns out to also be the president’s son; that’s different, I suppose) died in Kabul at the hands of most-wanted terrorist Omar Abdul Fatah, the Abu Nazir of State of Affairs. There’s also more than meets to the eye to that integral event; Charleston wasn’t warned of a traitor, but she has gaps in her memory and has secret information about the events that only one other person knows that could implicate her personally and ruin her career. An unidentified person texts her throughout the episode, aluding to knowing details about the terrorist attack which she does not.

In order get over these tragic events, she works hard and she plays hard. She’s promiscuous (I’m not judging her by any means, but her psychologist does) and she drinks a lot. She’s a high ranking CIA official; unlike Carrie she has direct contact with the president. She’s very sensitive when people accuse of her letting her personal life of getting in the way of her professional decision making. She’s a rogue; she gets in trouble with her bosses, and bucks them, even if it means getting suspended, which happens in the first twenty minutes of the first episode. She has friends and colleagues who believe in her, respect her, and trust her with their careers – she uses these connections in the pilot to work her way out of her suspension, prove that she’s right, and embarrass the CIA director, her direct higher up.

So, yes. She’s pretty much Carrie in most of the ways that count. How is she different? She’s not actually crazy, it doesn’t seem like, though she may have some PTSD or survivor’s remorse. She was engaged to the president’s son and thus has the president’s implicit trust, which is probably more than Carrie had, leverage-wise. But that’s about it.

Of course, the show isn’t as hardboiled or hardcore as Homeland in any number of ways – it’s on NBC and not on Showtime. There’s probably going to be much more of a case per week to go along with the running plot to catch Fatah and figure out what happened the night her fiancé was killed (In this episode, Tucker makes some unpopular calls but ends up saving an American doctor taken hostage).

Being a Homeland rip off  isn’t exactly something you want to wear on your sleve these days, but Homeland did have a truly all-time rookie season (the Mark Fidrych of TV shows? I’m still working on it), which can be hard to remember I know. Still, Homeland’s pilot, Carrie’s character even aside, was a lot more intriguing and well-executed than State of Affairs. After that, State of Affairs feels like an extremely neutered, generizied version, that’s only one step away from a typical CBS police procedural. That’s not the worst thing in the world to be, but it’s not particularly close to engendering repeat viewing either. I’m not sure if NBC thinks it’s being at all daring with State of Affairs, but it isn’t. Madam Secretary, which, to be fair, I’m not watching either, screams broadcast show and knows what it is even if that has a lower ceiling than most better cable shows. State of Affairs seems to want to fly closer to what airs on premium cable these days, but never anywhere close enough to make you actually believe it could.

Will I watch it again? No. While not State of Affairs’ fault, anything which reminds me in any way of Homeland right now is pretty poisonous. Homeland, as mentioned above, had one of the all-time great first seasons, and then went downhill from there, and a Carrie analogue is the last new character I want to see. Charleston probably won’t be as unwatchable as Carrie gets,  (seriously, who can be?) which is absolutely worth noting, but the start of State of Affairs is also a lot less intriguing than the pilot of Homeland was all around.


Sons of Anarchy: Lean into the Hate

5 Nov

Sons of Anarchy


Here we are, four episodes away from the series finale of Sons of Anarchy, closing the book on seven seasons of murder, motorcycles, and men of mayhem. At the beginning of the season, I presumed Jax would likely end up dead, as would several other members of the club. At this point, nine episodes later, not only does that prediction still hold true, but I’m straight out rooting for it. I want everybody in the club to die. And that’s okay.

Earlier in the season, I began actively rooting against the club, and that initially made the show difficult to watch; while I’ve enjoyed may shows where I disliked the protagonist, it was tough to root against almost every character at the same time, especially after I hadn’t for most of the run.  Of course, these Sons have been murdering their way through six seasons, and yet, while I have had frequently ambivalent feelings towards them, I wasn’t actively rooting against them despite their continued violence, for, what boils down primarily to three reasons.

First, although they were obviously terrible criminals, there was an even worse antagonist, Clay, to crystallize hate towards. When everyone’s bad, sometimes rooting interests are relative, and Clay was clearly worse than everyone else. Second, there’ has always been this (possibly apocryphical) idea that even though Al Capone was a terrible criminal, his neighbors loved him, because he protected his immediate community. There was initially this idea, that even though in reality Charming seems like the murder capital of California and at times a war zone, there was a veneer that the Sons were always out to support the town, to be pillars of the community in their own bizarre way, and that even though they knew they did bad shit, that the goal was to keep it out of their hometown. Third, Jax, from day one of reading his dad’s notebook, always seemed to have an aspirational plan to take the club and himself to a better place. He was going to get them out of guns, out of drugs, out of violence (merely to porn and prostitution, but, hey, it’s all relative again). And even though this plan seemed to go two steps backward for every three steps forward, there was hope in Jax’s eyes, and his words, and even though the club’s actions always seemed to belie his alleged vision, I wanted to believe him and so I did. And he even showed something positive when he agreed to go to jail to protect Tara, an outcome which would never come to pass.

No more. Not only is there no more vision in action, there’s not even any more talk of vision. With the death of Tara, it was revenge, come hell or high water, with no plan for afterwards, as is obvious to anyone around him. Unfortunately, the fellow members of his club are too loyal to see this or fight it if they do.. Jax seems to know what he’s descended into; even by his own dismal standards, he’s sunk to new lows, killed more, betrayed more. While it’s hard to say he wouldn’t have killed a rival gang member or even an innocent before without thinking twice, he certainly wouldn’t have simply murdered in cold bale a fellow Son without the proper due process as he does to Jury, head of the Indian Hills chapter this season. His own club knows its wrong, and Chibbs, his number two is skeptical, but they follow him to the ends of the Earth on his say so, to their death, likely.

So, I’ve decided to lean in towards the hate, towards the rooting against the club, and towards their eventual deaths or imprisonment. The show was hard to watch when I was rooting for no one, but it’s easier when I’m actively rooting against the Sons. Thus, when Bobby was shot by August Marks, instead of anger, or shock, or despair, I felt gleeful. Perhaps Bobby had done nothing special to ensure his untimely death, but everyone in on Jax’s plan is in way too far now. They all had a chance to get out, but followed their leader down into depths they really can’t come back from.

There are three characters with remaining moral consciences worth saving – Wendy, Unser, and Nero, all of which have naviated the difficult waters of survival and immorality and come out cleaner, relative to the gang, and I hope that at least two of them make it, which I would consider a pretty solid ratio. Everyone else, I’m looking forward to many of them dying in disturbing ways over the course of the next few episodes. Bring it on.


Fall 2014 Review: The McCarthys

3 Nov

Three of the McCarthys

Years ago dysfunctional families were in on sitcoms in a big way – families that didn’t quite work, that, while they maybe didn’t actually hate each, maybe they did. Married with Children was one of the forefathers of this genre, but Family Guy and Arrested Development are two other prominent examples. These ran counter to the essentially functional standard sitcom families of time immemorial that fought amongst themselves but within reason. Modern Family, though, and its success turned this dysfunctional genre on its head – combining the disorder of dysfunctional families – with genuine love and affection of the nuclear families which ruled the ’90s and made this the a popular option for modern family sitcoms.

The McCarthys feeds right into this legacy. They’re a family of blue-collar Bostonians, who love their sports and their hard-core Boston accents, but also love one another. There’s the parents and four adult kids, three boys and a girl. Protagonist and good son Ronny is gay, which in another generation would lead to grumpy reluctance veering towards acceptance at best. But this is a post-Modern Family family, so the blue-collar family doesn’t quite get what being gay entails, but they embrace it nevertheless, wholeheartedly, trying their best, though accidentally overcompensation along the way

The premise features the Ronny potentially moving away, all the way to Providence to take a new job. His parents freak out, wanting him to be happy, but, especially his mother, who is closer to Ronny than her other children (shared love of The Good Wife), doesn’t want him to leave. Eventually, his father, a high school basketball coach, convinces Ronny to take a job as his assistant, even though he knows almost nothing about basketball, partly to spend more time with him, and partly because Ronny will help him get a major recruit whose mom is gay.

The feaux modernity behind The McCarthys makes it’s a CBS comedy. The gay main character is a new-ish concept, as is the obvious acceptance by the type of family who twenty years ago might not have taken the news so well. The family is wacky and inappropriate. The clichéd jokes, the overbearing family, the regionalness, the big, broad punch lines, and the laugh track are as old as the first sitcoms.

It’s not quite Partners/Men at Work/We are Men level bad; mostly because it’s not actively patently offensive (backhanded compliment, maybe?). It’s not good though, it’s not funny, it’s not well-written and there’s just about no reason to watch. You probably didn’t need me to tell you that, but there it is.

Will I watch it again? No. It was a CBS sitcom, so there was honestly little chance to begin with. But while the best compliment I can muster is that it’s not out and out offenisve, there’s absolutely no reason to watch this show for pretty much anyone. It will probably be gone not too long after it debuts and forgotten by almost anyone who had ever heard of it to begin with.