Tag Archives: Fox

Fall 2014 Review: Red Band Society

17 Sep

Red Band Society pilot

Red Band Society is the story of a bunch of teens who live in the pediatric ward of an Los Angeles hospital, struggling with all the same hopes, fears, emotions, and bodily changes of normal teenagers, while constantly having to deal with the spectre of sickness and death.  There’s Leo, the popular kid who runs the ward, and has cancer, Dash, his running buddy, and Emma, his anorexic sometimes love interest. The two new kids are stuck up mean girl cheerleader Kara and good guy orphan Jordi who shows up hoping to get his cancerous leg cut off by a top doctor. These people, we’re informed, have little in common and would not have said as much as “hello” to each out in the regular world, but in the pediatric ward, they’re stuck with who they’ve got, and they simply learn to make due. The adults who watch over them are nurse Jackson played by Octavia Spencer, and Dr. McAndrew.

The show isn’t good. Instead of transcending cliché, it walks right into it. In trying to be different – and I’ll grant there’s not a show I can think of about a pediatric ward, which I should credit it for, since new subject matter is rare enough in network dramas –  Red Band Society instead feels the same. Everything about the show felt paint-by-numbers, rather than original; the show still felt like it was going through the motions. The writing wasn’t particular sharp, and for a show featuring Oscar winner Octavia Spencer in top billing, she basically gets nothing to do in the first episode. The show felt Lifetime movie inspirational; it hit the notes that everyone knows will elicit emotion, of which sick kids are at the top of the list, without ever even attempting to being to earn it through story, build up, and plain old good writing. Obviously it’s very difficult to earn emotion in a first episode, but it’s certainly possible to work towards it.

As I spent the lash paragraph discussing, the show is mediocre, largely unremarkable, and will be easily forgotten. Here’s the one thing we need to talk about though. The narration. The show is narrated by a 12ish year old boy in the pediatric ward who is in a coma.  The boy tells us, the audience, all about the ward, and all of its residents within. He’s apparently omniscient while in the coma. He sees everyone in the hospital, and reports on their doings. What are the limits of his vision? It’s unclear. Can he see outside the hospital, throughout the entire hospital, or only within the ward? Is it assumed that everyone on the ward comes and talks to him in private as a sounding board? Is he a reliable narrator?

Not only this, but two of the characters meet with the narrator while they’re unconscious and he gives them messages. Apparently, there’s some magical nether world where people in comas can interact with those otherwise living people who are just temporarily below the surface of consciousness. The kid in the coma has the cheerleader give his dad a message about how the accident the put in him a coma wasn’t his dad’s fault fault and the kid commands her to bring him pizza, which he believes might break him out of the coma. We later find out that one of the other boys got an inspirational message from coma kid as well, making it seem unlikely that the kids are hallucinating and more likely that coma kid is actually transmitting messages. I’m going to take this bizarre coma kid narrator as the one memorable aspect of this show over anything else.

Will I watch it again? No. It wasn’t very good. They wanted us to feel feelings, but the feelings are cheap, manipulative and the show is poorly writter. There’s nothing to see here.

Fall 2014 Previews and Predictions: Fox

8 Sep


(In order to meld the spirit of futile sports predictions with the high stakes world of the who-will-be-cancelled-first fall television season, I’ve set up a very simple system of predictions for how long new shows will last.  Each day, I’ll (I’m aware I switched between we and I) lay out a network’s new shows scheduled to debut in the fall (reality shows not included – I’m already going to fail miserably on scripted shows, I don’t need to tackle a whole other animal) with my prediction of which of three categories it will fall into.

These categories are:

1.  Renewal – show gets renewed

2.  13+ – the show gets thirteen or more episodes, but not renewed

3.  12- – the show is cancelled before 13)

We’ll kick off this season’s previews and predictions with Fox, one of two networks airing their first premiere of the season on Wednesday, September 17. Fox, which still doesn’t air programming in the 10 o’clock hour, has fewer hours of programming than any network this side of the CW (which is kind of a half network, as is), and thus has fewer new programs, with four. There’s not a ton in common amongst the group. There’s a comedy by a prominent young stand-up, a make-you-have-feelings drama,  a small town murder mystery, and a DC spin off. Let’s dive in, shall we.

Red Band Society – 9/17

Red Band Society

Academy Award winner Octavia Spencer is nurse on a pediatric ward where a lot of sick teenagers live long term. They live, they lean, they love, always on the precipice of death, facing the challegnes of puberty along with far more serious challenges than most teens fade.They laugh, they cry, they inspire you, themselves, and each other while Olivia Spencer presumably keeps them in line.

Prediction: 13+ I’ve seen more ads for this than any of the other Fox shows, but I’m just not feeling it. I don’t have a better reason than that, but that’s kind of how predictions work.

Gotham – 9/22


Batman origin story. Commissioner Gordon is a young rookie cop, just exposed to the cesspool which is Gotham, rife with crime, organized and isolated, premeditated and psychopathic. We get to meet all your favorite characters that we know and love from the Batman comics/tv shows/movies before they are those characters, including Penguin, Catwoman, and Riddler, and not least among them Batman, who is merely a kiddie Bruce Wayne, learning from Gordon after the shocking murder of his parents. Yes, the thought of making a show about Gotham without Bruce Wayne was probably always impossible.

Prediction: Renewal. I don’t think it looks great, but hell, the Batman name can do no wrong right now – this might be the first chink in its armor, but I’m not about to call it.

Gracepoint – 10/2


An American adaptation of British show Broadchurch, Gracepoint is the story of a small, peaceful beachfront tourist town that is torn asunder by the murder of an innocent child. Everyone, as you might imagine, is a suspect, and it turns out, also unsurprisingly, that everyone’s got a secret. For as potentially clichéd as that sounds, the British version was actually a pretty darn good little murder mystery, and it was greatly benefited by having just one short season, something it looks like Fox has learned from, giving Gracepoint an unusually short 10 episode order. Hopefully they’ll be bold enough to avoid a Killing and end the mystery in one season.

Prediction: Renewal. The 10 episode order screws up my normal system, but since I’m going Renewal it doesn’t really matter. This looks fairly faithful to a pretty solid show, and while that’s no guarantee of a good translation I’m hopeful.

Mulaney – 10/5


John Mulaney is an indisputably talented stand up and a former Saturday Night Live writer, a position which is obviously impressive in spite of the often mediocre SNL output. All this personal promise makes it all the more disappointing that his namesake sitcom looks simply awful. Mulaney portrays a comedy writer for a legendary game show host played by Martin Short, who has always been a bit much for my taste. Elliott Gould and fellow SNLer Nasim Petrad also co-star. There’s a laugh track which is never a good sign and absolutely none of the jokes hit in the trailer. The show looks like a sitcom dug up from an earlier era, and I mean that in a bad way; it looks dated in every sense from the look to the humor. Maybe the trailer is inaccurate, but I’m not expecting much.

Prediction: 12- This looks bad, and while Fox has been willing to give a decently long leash to comedies it has faith in, I’m betting that is if the show is as bad as the trailer, the audience will dwindle quickly.  Mulaney is a very promising comic and should have another chance one day.

End of Season Report: The Mindy Project, Season 2

9 May

Mindy and friends

Overall, the second season of The Mindy Project was a success. The Mindy Project continues to get better season to season, and it has a fresh and new sense of humor that’s influenced by shows like The Office (where series star Mindy Kaling of course previously worked) and 30 Rock while having a voice all its own.

The major problems that tThe Mindy Project has and has had since the beginning are pretty much universally agreed upon both in everything I’ve ever read about the show and with every viewer I’ve talked to in person. Mindy’s character is fleshed out, three dimensional, and great. Chris Messina’s Danny is also a well-built full-fledged character and fantastic. Ike Barinholtz’s Morgan is a not nearly as complex, but is a perfect humorous side character to lead funny but less character-building  B plots. Outside of that trio, though, every other character just doesn’t click, and while this may sound like I’m simply repeating the problems the show had after the first season, it’s no less true now.

Actually, that’s not entire true. It’s slightly less true now. While Adam Pally’s character Peter Prentice seemed like an out-of-nowhere poorly fitting character when he was shoehorned in because TV unions promised to get the very talented cast of Happy Endings new jobs as soon as possible, he’s slowly emerged over the course of the season as a character who could actually be welcome in this universe. His frat-boy edges have been softened enough to actually feel for him somewhat, and his repartee with Mindy has sharpened. With her moving into full romance mode with Danny, Pally has emerged as a solid replacement as Mindy’s sounding board. He’s still not all the way there, but while I thought the show should not keep him around long term when he first appeared, I now think there could be a place for him.

As for everyone else, not so much. Characters have come and gone, welcomed into the fold and the discarded, more so than any program I can remember. Stephen Tobolowsky was the first, credited in the pilot, but gone thereafter (fair enough; many shows have pilot only character, but it was the start of a trend). Anna Camp as Mindy’s best friend Gwen Grandy fit the workplace vibe and was dropped. Shaunaa, the jersey girl administrative assistant was dropped soon afterwards. Jeremy, the other doctor in their practice, has made it through both seasons so far but hasn’t really found a place for himself and I would forget he ever existed if the show dropped him tomorrow (Mark Brandanowitz from Parks & Recreation style). Likewise, Betsy, who is actually slated to leave the show, old Beverly, and Tamra. A couple of these characters would be fine for background humor, given one or two lines an episode, something The Office mastered, carefully parceling out the use of one dimensional characters like Creed and Kevin. As anything more though, these characters are stretched beyond usefulness.  Mark DuPlass’s dastardly midwife (along with his more reserved brother) is better as a recurring character than any of these secondary characters.

That’s part of a trend as well. The recurring boyfriends Mindy has have been consistently excellent, and her and Danny getting together have made me despair for their absence. The show has been unafraid to have guys appear in solid multiple episode arcs, and the show is richer for that, as the boyfriends are often among the better characters in the show. Four or five episodes can be a perfect amount of time to build a character so that we care about him or her and wring all the comedy out without feeling stretched.  It’s to The Mindy Project’s credit that they’ve hit home runs with some of the choices.

The core is strong; Mindy does a great job of playing with rom com tropes, and particularly making stereotypically sexy scenes seem as silly and ridiculous as they should; her attempt to have airplane sex with Danny was a classic example of Mindy humor. The humor is a brand all her own and the show is very funny frequently. Mindy is a strong female character, but she’s a very different strong female character than her closest antecedent Liz Lemon. TV needs more strong female characters who are not necessarily just like any other existing strong female character and Mindy is a welcome addition to that growing group. The Mindy Project can do pathos as well, and its easy for viewers to connect with Mindy even through all of her (and Danny’s) ridiculous positions.

The core makes me return to Mindy, and it’s the most important part of what makes a show a success. It’s a lot better to have a strong core and struggle around the edges than the reverse. That is The Mindy Project’s problem though. It needs to fix those edges.  Comedies should get time to get the details right, and I can’t think of a great comedy that had the entire product together by day one – while dramas frequently peak with their debut seasons, comedies almost never do. Still, it’s two seasons in, and Mindy appears only marginally closer to figuring that out. Because the core is strong, I’ll follow it as long as it goes, even if it never solves the problems around the periphery. If it does though, it has a chance to go from a very funny show, to a truly canonical comedy, and with the strong writing, that’s a leap that I would greatly enjoy seeing it make.

The Surprisingly Welcome Return of 24

7 May

Jack and Chloe Absence does make the heart grow fonder, even if sometimes it takes the end of that absence to make you realize that.

I have to admit that I wasn’t all that excited to hear that Fox was bringing back 24 for a limited series. I was a fan of the first run right from the first season, and a pretty big fan. I take proud credit for introducing my friends to the show, and watched the first three seasons with a group of them, all of which I had already seen, over a college summer. Still, 24, like many shows, but in particular because of the contours of how seasons had to progress from beginning to end, got, over the course of its run, tired and repetitive. There’s something fun about knowing there’s a mole and guessing who it is, and waiting to see how CTU will be attacked every year, but it usually got a little less imaginative every time. I admit to this day I’ve never seen the end of the seventh season, and most of the eighth, though I watched the last episode. It wasn’t a conscious decision – I meant to come back some day – I just never quite motivated myself enough to do so.

I’ve never held 24’s slowly diminishing returns against it. Unlike other shows which I stopped watching at points, like Lost, I have nothing but fond memories of 24 and hold it in nothing but the highest esteem. It was an extremely entertaining show for a long time, and the repetitive issues were largely due to the show being repeated over and over eight times rather than the writers losing their way and forgetting what made the show good in the first place, and they didn’t retroactively bathe older seasons in a negative light.

That said, when it was over, it seemed about right. I wasn’t upset, and as I hadn’t watched most of the eighth sesaon, I doubt I would have watched the next season. It had a very good run, nothing to be ashamed of in the least, and that was that. And again, as I mentioned above, my first thought when I heard Fox was bringing the show back was, well, “Why?” But with a five year rest, I decided I’d dive back in and try it out.

When I started watching again, I changed my mind over the course of the first of two hour long episodes. There were nothing relevatory about the episodes, and nothing mind-blowing or earth-shattering. But what it did make me realize is that having four years away, that 24-less break, really does make all the difference.

The second reason I enjoyed the first two episodes of 24 more than I thought I would is that 24 is a more enjoyable show when you’re watching it then when you’re thinking about it later. I remembered liking it, but sometimes had trouble articulating why I liked it so much. It’s just fun. It’s TV’s empty calories. What I presume some people like about watching some reality shows, is what I like about 24. It’s easy to watch, which is sometimes nice, in the age where all my favorite hour long shows are thinkers which require some level of intense concentration. That’s not a bad thing, and there’s a reason those are my favorite shows but a change of pace is appreciated.

The same parts of 24 which can get tiring and are also fun in an almost campy way; the show itself is deadly serious but it’s hard for me to imagine the creators are not winking at the audience sometimes through their choices. There’s tropes and character types that we see time and again; the always-wrong boss, the treacherous aide, the unfairly framed suspect. Mostly though, it’s about watching Jack Bauer be awesome. About watching him injure people in cruel and unusual ways, yell short and concise commands, and just figure out one more way take out the bad guys. I am in solid opposition to the use of torture, but I’m all for Jack Bauer using it in an episode of 24 if it makes for a cool scene.

24 is such a great show for binging because (aside from the obviously gimmicky real time premise), when it’s all said and done the plot both means everything and doesn’t matter at all. In the minute, you follow whatever wacky zigs and zags go down. Once the show ends, though, it’s often hard to remember the larger plots. What stands out are huge moments; significant deaths and Jack Bauer kills mostly.   So, kudos 24. I’m not sure if the show will be able to sustain the momentum for an entire season; I still think the shorter season is a smart play (to use 24 vernacular). Seasons were always too long to begin with. Still, I finished the first two episodes with a much more positive feeling than I expected, especially after putting them off for a week due I thought it might be a slog, so my expectations have already been temporarily exceeded.

Fox Tuesdays and Will They or Won’t They

18 Apr

Nick and Jess

So I’ve talked about the Brooklyn Nine-Nine section of this recently, but I’d like to talk about three Fox Tuesday comedies (Brooklyn Nine-Nine, New Girl, The Mindy Project) as a group, where they are in the stage of their primary characters’ will-they-won’t-they stories and why, whatever, they’re going to do, they should think about it now a good deal.

The Mindy Project was a will-they-won’t-they mostly from the beginning. Mindy and Danny are set up as opposites, but as a show which is constantly discussed and narrated, right from the pilot, through the lens of rom com tropes, starring out as opposites is exactly how the two people bound to end up together would start off. They bickered and fought while growing closer as friends, before Danny proposed they get together, only to break off the relationship a couple of weeks later, when he decided for whatever reason it was getting too serious.

Brooklyn Nine-Nine did not seem to involve a will-they-won’t-they aspect from the get go, and I was actually looking forward to a potentially rewarding platonic friendship between Jake and Amy. About halfway through the first season, though, the show decided to start moving in that direction, with the immature Jake slowly realizing that he actually has feelings for Amy. Now that Amy has a boyfriend, and Jake’s going undercover, we’ve reached a classic part of will-they-won’t-they delay tactics in TV, where, while they might actually have feelings for each other, one or the other is involved in a relationship. This is what kept Pam and Jim apart for years on The Office.

New Girl decided to bring Nick and Jesse together at the end of the second season. Cece and Schmidt have already been together and apart and together again and apart again. There was even briefly a weird Coach – Cece date. We’re out of iterations. While I wasn’t a huge fan of Nick and Jess dating, their breakup felt extremely forced. There were plenty of good reasons the writers could have come up with why they might have eventually broken up, but instead they just kind of decided they were too different and broke up in a way that didn’t feel true to either character or the situation, especially since we had seen episodes leading up to this with them getting over some of their thornier objections and declaring their love for one another.  Nick and Jess are now learning to be friends again since the writers decided to just hit the off switch on their relationship, and move the show back to the status quo, possibly in an attempt to recapture the magic that made the second season so great in contrast to the up and down third season.

When you’re writing a comedy for a network that has to deliver a whopping 22 episodes a season, and may go for four, five, six, seven seasons, you can’t figure out every bit of where you’re going ahead of time, and thankfully, you don’t have to. Unlike Lost, or any othter big serial, mystery drama, there’s no central questions that need to be answered so there’s a fair deal of leeway in where the plot can go over the years, and especially in a comedy, plots may be determined on the fly that wouldn’t have been planned from the beginning due to the chemistry shown by the actors in early episodes.

But there’s one serious limit on that leeway. Generally, it’s repetition, and specifically, in this context, it’s the overdoing of the will they won’t they. You can only bring your protagonists  together and apart so many times before it becomes tiresome. You only have one first magic moment. The first time they kiss. They first time they fight. You get one go around at that. Never again will it necessarily be as special. Sometimes protagonists who get together, simply stay together, and that’s the most obvious route, but not the one that New Girl (with either of its primary couples) or The Mindy Project has chosen.

The characters can get together again later on, after years of searching around realizing they were right for each other to begin with. Or it can be a one off, and they realize it’s a mistake and never get together again (which I would like because I think it takes more balls in our current cultural environment, but one is not objectively better than the other). But now you’ve checked off a box that you can’t uncheck. This means everything is different for the characters.

But if you have to have them almost get together, but then not, and then almost get together again, and then not, or get together, and then break up, and get together, and then break up again, it’s going to get awfully tedious awful fast.

I don’t know how long New Girl is going to last. A Mindy-Danny pairing in The Mindy Project I’m a bigger fan of than Jess-Nick, if I had to choose, and following the traditional rom com tropes, they should get together briefly, break up, and then come together with a grand romantic gesture, so we’re right on course, except of course for the fact that we’re only in the second season of the show.

The main thing is for all of these shows to be smart. This is the problem with not knowing how long a show is going to be on, and why shows in their later seasons seem to run out of ideas. You don’t want to be cancelled with fantastic ideas left on paper, but if you use them all up, everything else starts to feel inferior or repetitive. Creative writers can come up with new directions and new plots sometimes, but they can’t think of a new way to match up main characters, so please be careful. Make sure sure these main characters dating and breaking up is well thought out because you don’t get to keep doing it over and over again.

End of Season Report: Brooklyn Nine-Nine, Season 1

2 Apr

The team at the nine-nine


The bounds of genres are constantly blurring these days and not everything which broadly fits in the box labeled “comedy” has the same exact aims, which make these shows harder to compare against one another than ever before. If a comedy is laugh-out-loud funny, then it’s succeeded regardless of anything else. Some comedies, however, may be less funny, but have captivating characters or plots, and those are also worth watching regardless of anything else. It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia is at its best hilarious; it doesn’t attempt character development or serial plots and that’s okay. Girls isn’t as funny but it focuses on character and fascinating themes and that’s good too. Shows like Parks and Recreation meet somewhere in the middle. Parks and Recreation has probably been my favorite comedy of the past few years, but that’s not to say that a funnier show that’s lighter on characterization or vice versa couldn’t ascend to the top spot if it’s simply that good at what it does well. In fact, my favorite two comedies this past year were Eagleheart which is hyper-absurd and hilarious but takes place in a world without any sort of consistent characterization, and Enlightened, whose status as a comedy mostly boils down to the fact that it’s a half hour; it’s more depressing than most of the serious drama series currently airing.

That’s not specifically relevant to Brooklyn Nine-Nine more than any other new comedy, but these thoughts were consuming my headspace as I considered Brooklyn Nine-Nine’s first season, its progression, and expectations for future seasons.

Brooklyn Nine-Nine is the best new comedy of the season. It’s funny right off the bat. Brooklyn Nine-Nine’s closest analogue is Parks and Recreation, which is no coincidence as it’s created by Parks and Recreation veterans Dan Goor and Michael Schur. The episodes have been relatively consistent from the start, certainly by new comedy standards, and some of the characters that I didn’t love early on I’ve warmed to over the course of the season (Rosa and Gina in particular).

Goor and Schur have managed to tap Andy Samberg’s manic energy and apply a solid dose of restraint which smartly keeps his character from being over the top. One of the lessons learned from the creators’ experience was to follow the Leslie Knope rather than the Michael Scott model – Samberg’s Jake Peralta may be an immature doofus but he’s relentlessly competent at his job.  This core competency allows his other silly qualities to serve as distractions and potential detriments, while the viewer is able to understand why those around him put up with him.

Certainly the characters aren’t fully formed but that’s okay. Everybody started out with a type – Jake is immature, Rosa stoic and scary, Amy a by-the-book go-getter, Charles, a klutz, Captain Holt, dry and indecipherable, Terry, strong but gentle, and Gina just a total weirdo. The show worked its way from there, feeling around, mixing and matching characters, which is what most good comedies do, allowing actors and characters to find their strengths. There’s still some work to be done on the character development front, but the progress is there – the characters feel much more like people than they did at the start of the season. Charles, for example, soon became the resident foodie; while this hobby was mined for laughs, the point was also made that Charles actually did have great taste, and it gave him a positive quality to stand on rather than simply always serving as a lackey to Jake. Likewise, Gina, while definitely still the cast weirdo (we haven’t mentioned Hitchcock and Scully, Brooklyn Nine-Nine’s two headed answer to Parks and Recreation’s Jerry, but they’re not really fully-fledged characters in this sense) got her chance to shine when she showed she knew how to pick the best computer expert for the district to hire.

Two major plot points over the course of the season are worth discussing. First, the writers chose to go in the direction of potential romance between Jake and Amy. That’s fine, but all things being even I’d have preferred they didn’t. As I’ve trumpeted many times before, one of my favorite aspects of 30 Rock was the fact that its primary two characters were iron-clad platonic friends, and there aren’t enough comedies that follow that model. It won’t seriously affect my enjoyment of the show, and who knows, I’ll probably be rooting for the two of them to get together eventually. Still, I’d like to at least once for the record put down my small objection to this choice.

The second is, and I think and hope they’ve gone away from this for good, Charles’ unrequited crush on Rosa. This is putting it mildly; if it was just an unrequited crush, it’d be fine at least for a while, but it felt dangerously creepy and it made me uncomfortable watching a show that otherwise is not in for particularly awkward comedy. Fortunately, Charles found a love interest halfway through the season, and although she’s no longer part of the show, I hope that the creators learned a lesson. I wonder if the writers were thinking this exactly when they placed a fake out in the season finale – Charles wakes up next to someone after a drunken night getting over his breakup, and while I was terrified it was Rosa, it was rather Gina, which should lead to funnier and less relatively uncomfortable circumstances.

Within a few episodes, my friends and I were quoting memorable lines from the show, and in my circle, quotation is an important currency for a comedy. While it’s not a one-to-one relationship, if a show gets quoted a lot, it’s probably high up in the collective comedy rankings. Sample recurring Brooklyn Nine-Nine quotes include everything about Charles’ pizza blog and Terry’s forgetting how to breathe.

I’m very happy with the show’s first season, but it is a first season, and f it continues to grow, Brooklyn Nine-Nine could be the new Parks & Recreation by the time that Parks & Recreation (I hate to admit it, but it can’t last forever) is off the air. Those are big shoes to fill, but a season’s worth of Brooklyn Nine-Nine has me hopeful that this show has that in it.

Spring 2014 Review: Enlisted

17 Feb


Geoff Stultz, best known to me from his turn as Kate’s boyfriend in the short-lived but delightful Ben & Kate (how was that cancelled only last year? TV time flies), stars as Pete Hill, the eldest brother in a military family. Pete’s dad was in the military and steered his kids towards it, but only Pete was really suited. His younger brothers are Derrick, a cynical slacker who doesn’t care about his job (Chris Lowell, Piz from Veronica Mars), and Randy, an over enthusiastic youngest brother who cares but is a bit short from a mental fortitude standpoint (Parker Young, Ryan Shay from Suburgatory).

The three are reunited when Pete, a super competent soldier, who had been serving abroad in the heart of battle in Afghanistan with special forces, screws up and gets demoted. He’s forced to return to a base in Florida, in charge of soldiers whose job is to take care of the base while most of the other soldiers are serving overseas. Pete loves his brothers, but he can’t help feeling demoralized by having to work on the base doing what he sees as pointless support work, while he could be super soldiering in the middle east. He and his brothers naturally argue about this from the get go; while Randy, the dumb brother, is just glad to have him home, Derrick understandably takes a little bit of offense at Pete’s superior attitude. Pete, meanwhile, is somewhat understandably disdainful of Derrick’s lack of caring about well anything. Anyway, this is already getting more complicated than necessary for a comedy premise so I’ll speed it up.

Basically, after some talks with the head of the base, an old friend of the boys’ late father, Donald (played by Keith David) Pete is motivated again to try to make the best of a bad situation and to inspire the base’s outcasts, and most importantly, his brothers to be the best they can be.

Enlisted hangs out in that cute-but-not-so-funny-its-a-must-watch comedy tier along with Trophy Wife and Suburgtaory It’s cute, it’s positive, it has the right idea but it never quite takes off or made me laugh out loud. There are a bunch of silly, maybe a bit too ridiculous (but maybe not) outcast soldiers Pete has to get to work together, and they’re played mostly for laughs, which sometimes works. There’s also an obviously love interest for Pete, Jill, a rival high achiever who doesn’t have Pete’s superior attitude about being too good for the camp.  Still, at the heart, the show is about the three brothers. As the oldest of three brothers, I always have a soft spot for shows about brothers, and aside from the youngest brother being a certifiable idiot, the brother relationship rings true.

It’s not hilarious, but there’s something here. I’m not sure I’m convinced it’s a winner straight out; It’ll have to do more to convince me yet with the incredibly crowded TV schedule and tons of TV catch up I need to work on all the time. Still, it’s better than 85% of the comedies out there, and there’s a lot to be said for that. It’s oriented in the right direction even when the jokes don’t hit. The premise is sound, but the screws need to be tightened a bit.

Will I watch it again? Not regularly. If it survives it could be a candidate for a show I put on as I’m going to sleep, and that sounds like an insult but it’s really not – bad television when I’m going to sleep just makes me angry and gives me bad dreams, so. And from there, it’s just one more step to regular viewership. Get to work, Enlisted, You can do it.

Spring 2014 Review: Rake

29 Jan

Greg "Rake" Kinnear

First things first. Rake is not named Rake. Well, there is no Rake. The main character, Greg Kinnear’s Keegan Deane is not even nicknamed Rake, nor is it his middle name. This, first and foremost doomed the show in my eyes, but I tried my best to give it a fair shake from then on.

Keegan Deane is a talented lawyer who doesn’t have his life together. He’s also a charismatic cad. The most critical of his faults, which appear to be many, is gambling. His gambling problems have put him in debt to a very serious man, an employee of whom threatens to hurt Rake (I’m calling him that from now on; it’ll be easier on everyone even if not technically true) if he doesn’t pay up and fast. Right after that conversation, Rake hooks up with an attractive woman and brings her back with him to some sort of outdoor club with drinks, and then leaves her to herself after he gets hooked in a card game. He then brings her back to his best buddy’s place, who has a family and kids. Rake is staying there because he’s broke and homeless at the moment. Although this buddy goes back a ways with Rake, he’s getting tired of having Rake live with him, passing out all over the house and bringing back women. The woman Rake brings back, mind you, still wants to continue seeing Rake, and tries to relay her phone number after she’s being kicked out and told to jump the fence, because Rake and friend need to get her out before friend’s wife sees her. Rake’s more of a one-night stand kind of guy though.

I’m not going to break down the whole episode in that level of detail, or I’d just be rewriting the script of Rake, but you probably get the idea. His talent and charisma endears him to others while his attitude and vices drive people away. Seen this on TV anywhere lately? (Everywhere is the answer, but particularly I’ve been calling Rake lawyer House for weeks before it appeared, and though there are certainly noteworthy differences in the details, it’s more or less spot on).

Rake, the character, and in some ways the show is like a middle school boy who thinks the way to get someone to like him is to be mean and make you not like him first before winning you over. Rake’s a jerk, yes, that’s pretty much the premise, but well, he really cares deep down and he’s a good lawyer, so we should care about him anyway and cut him a wide swath to do kind of lousy things to his friends and associates.

There are some shows that seem to authentically not care whether or not you like the main character or characters, and that’s something else entirely, but it’s not Rake. Rake desperately wants us to like him; to grow frustrated with him, but ultimately to come around to his side. There’s hope for Rake yet. Optimally, even more than like him, you’re supposed to want to go out on this adventure with him, and while there are certainly characters who make up for their negative qualities with wit and charm, the balance is off here.

The point of all this, which I haven’t said outright but which you might guess is just well, I don’t care. I find it hard to care about Rake, and hard to root for him. He’s kind of a jerk. I’ve always had a problem with jerk main characters, but sometimes they’re redeeming and sometimes it’s okay that they’re jerks; Don Draper is a huge asshole, but that’s okay; the show doesn’t try to pretend otherwise.

Other than that, well, there’s not a lot to say. And that’s really also the story. Rake isn’t bad as so much as it’s mediocre; it’s a story and characters you’ve seen before. I thought House got tired, but House was better. There’s no element of Rake that puts it above average or makes it worth cutting out time in your busy schedule to watch. Some shows you just can’t read after one episode; they could be disasters but there’s a small chance of brilliance. Here, well, for better or worse you know exactly what you’re getting just about right from the first scene.

Will I watch it again? I think I’ve had my fill of Rake; I knew it ever since he wasn’t named Rake. It’s not awful, but it’s more of a same that’s been a little rammed into the ground of late, and there’s nothing about it to make it stand above the fray.


Fall 2013 Review: Almost Human

25 Nov

Almost Human after all

So, it’s the future. The future in Almost Human looks exactly like a science-fiction future is supposed to look, a conception which hasn’t changed much since Bladerunner, which sort of redefined the genre in a way that still holds sway today. There’s huge funny-looking skyscrapers and people flying around in vehicles while our main characters are still driving on the ground. In great sci-fi tradition as well, a short burst of text sets up our premise at the very start of the episode. The future is crazily crime-ridden as gangs outpace police, technology-wise, and in a desperate effort to combat skyrocketing crime, police offers are paired off with androids to combine the best capabilities of both humans and a computers.

Within this future resides our hero, John Kennex, a cop who was injured when an evil crime syndicate (just called the syndicate) somehow learned of a planned police operation and infiltrated it, killing his partner in the process. Kennex was in a coma for nearly two years after the injury,and has had trouble readjusting to life after waking up. He struggles with the events that led to his coma, constantly consulting a black market memory doctor (I don’t know the technical term) who uses technology to help John replay the events of the night he got injured over and over, hoping to learn something about the syndicate and how they found out about the operation deep in his memory.

Eventually, his chief pulls him, partly against his will, back to the job, and he finds things are both different and the same. While everyone else plays ball with the current police protocol, John, as television cops are wont to do, plays by his own rules. He gets quickly tired of the new android model he’s paired with and purposefully destroys the one he’s given when the android threatens to report on his activities., Instead, ’John is paired with an older model that feels and has emotions like humans, when compared to the cold and calculating new androids. While the emotional and sensitive android drives John crazy initially, it turns out he may just be exactly what John needs in a partner, as this android’s ability to go off book lets it operate outside the box, like John, and not necessarily follow protocol.

There are other characters but they’re not really important in the first episode, as the core of the show is the relationship between John and Dorian, the android partner. John is a classic television old school cop, just this time he’s old school in the future.  John doesn’t follow protocol, he disobeys orders, and he’s simultaneously the most broken cop on the force and the best damn police officer the city has. I know why this character exists – it’s more exciting, and he gets things done. Still, it’s a relatively tired type – why can’t television celebrate a detective who plays by the rules?

There’s some appeal to the show. The future may be dangerous but it’s also fun and the action is well-paced. I always find it a treat to examine different renditions of the future, and I enjoy seeing what types of technology people dream up. At its heart, though, Almost Human has relatively conventional premise stuffed within a science fiction universe that doesn’t really alter the essential story behind the show. The primary characters don’t offer enough in one episode to make me want to watch again, and the plot isn’t exciting enough to watch on that alone. The characters, writing, or filmcraft have to be strong to pull me in when the premise no longer does, and none of them are. I’d guess that every episode will have a stand alone crime, while progress is slowly made towards solving the greater mystery about the evil “syndicate” as the season moves along, but Almost Human could potentially be more serial. Still, while the chase to figure out what happened to the syndicate could be interesting in the details, the simple mystery itself doesn’t grab a viewer from the get go.

Will I watch it again? No, I don’t think so. It wasn’t bad, but I’d like something a little bit deeper and more original to go with my science fiction. Forget even more interesting overarching themes,  all the commercials tout the show as being about the relationship between the two characters, and John in the first episode is a relatively uninteresting cop character that has been seen dozens of times before on television. I don’t get a spark between the two major characters that makes me want to keep going.

Fall 2013 Review: Sleepy Hollow

23 Sep

Sleeeeepy Hollow

Most of what I know about the story of Sleep Hollow is that the main characters are Ichabod Crane and the Headless Horseman, it’s by Washington Irving, and the basics of whatever happened in the Tim Burton movie which I saw over a decade ago.  In this retelling, Ichabod Crane is a Brit fighting for the Americans under the direct command of George Washington. In the middle of a fierce battle slices the head off a mercenary with a mask in a fierce battle, severely injuring himself in the process.  He passes out, and boom, it’s a couple centuries later, there are cars, and black people are no longer slaves.  Oh, and he’s not alone. The man he cut the head off of is back as well, and killing people in the modern day much as he was two hundred years ago.  This is all I knew about the show from initial promotion, this was a series about a supernatural serial killer and a man from his time who would find him.  The next preview alerted me that it would be about much more, a conspiracy dating hundreds of years back. However, I had still greatly underestimated how quickly the scale of Sleepy Hollow would be ratcheted up and how far it would go.

Lieutenant Abby Mills is a Westchester police officer who is planning to leave in a week to join the FBI.  When she reports to what seems like a routine problem at a stable with her sheriff mentor, they find the owner dead, and the sheriff gets killed by a man with no head.  When Crane is found later by officers, and talks of working for General Washington, the police naturally suspect him of being the criminal, except for Abby, because some things Crane says ring true about his archenemy, the headless horseman. They spend a surprisingly little amount of time on the Crane-can’t-understand-new-things joke (he asks surprisingly few questions about cars or electric lights), which is probably a good thing.

Thankfully it takes us just the one episode to emerge past on of my favorite necessary early stages of a supernatural show – something strange happens and we the viewer knows its true, so we just want the characters to believe it, because it’s really boring when they keep fighting its reality forever while we know it’s true, but we need them to at least deny it for a while because that’s what anyone would actually do in real life.  Mills gets through this stage quicker for three reasons.  First, she has a prior experience with the supernatural which was uncorroborated, as she saw something super creepy which drove her sister nuts when they kids, and the sight still shook her to this day. Second, she finds a whole bunch of files her old mentor has been keeping about spooky events in the vicinity. Third, and most obviously, by the end of the episode, two other cops see the headless horseman as well, backing her story.

Sleepy Hollow reminds me of the Buffy universe.  Not tonally at all, but merely in the way that one location, Sunnydale in that show, and Sleepy Hollow here, is home to a ridiculously inordinate amount of supernatural activity, and even though it first seems crazy and hard to believe that all these supernatural events take place, in turns out half the people in the show already know about it and just don’t talk about it for whatever reason.

Also, like in Buffy, there is nothing less than the entire fate of humanity at stake right here in Sleepy Hollow, which we learn by the end of the first episode.  The headless horseman is quite literally death, one of the four horsemen of the apocalypse. If he gets his head back, which has been hidden, he may start the process of getting to the actual apocalypse.  Crane, whose blood is intertwined with the horseman since they almost killed each other two hundred years ago, could be the slayer analogue, though using the Book of Revelations, which is apparently some sort of field map to what’s going on, he surmises both himself and Mills may be chosen. Oh, and also witches exist.  Apparently, Crane’s wife was one, though he didn’t know, and she sends him messages through his creams. Oh, and there’s also a big scary demon that shows up at the end and leave through a mirror, or something.

And yes, it seems like just about every other character already knows about the insanity going on.  John Cho plays a seemingly innocent cop who it turns out is working for the evil Horseman.  The local reverend appears to be a witch who is in on things, before the horseman takes him down, and it turns out Mills’ mentor, the sheriff, had been studying these unexplained phenomena for years and suspected some supernatural explanations but didn’t know how to bring it up with Mills without sounding crazy. Orlando Jones played a police captain, who we don’t know is in on it, but gives one or two super sinister looks in the episode, which led me to believe he is, though I may be reading into things too much.

The writing is nothing stand out, and the acting is absolutely fine but not remarkable. If you watch this show, it’s for the whiplash insanity of the plot going forward, and you know, that’s not a bad reason.  It’s hardly an obvious much watch but I liked it better than I initially thought I would.

The usual problem with insanity in supernatural shows is that they often start off measured, like Lost, and then veer in a more insane direction only when they realize they’re cornered and have nowhere else to go.  When that happens, it’s extremely frustrating because it seems like the show is choosing to expand its scale because they’re out of other ideas. However, If a show chooses to start of insane, well, that’s a decision made on its own terms. In Lost, the possibility was held out that there would be explanations for each of the mysteries posed over the course of the first couple of seasons. In contrast, in Buffy, there were no explanations for why the hellmouth was in Sunnydale or why demons kept wanting to seek the end of the world; it just was, and as long as you could accept that as the premise of the show, that was okay. From the beginning, Sleepy Hollow is going to be about the fate of the entire world, and how it rests on a man with no head getting his head back.  As silly as it sounds,

Will I watch it again?  Maybe? I enjoyed it more than I thought I would, and man it’s fucking crazy.  It’s not a must watch and it’s not a priority with all the new shows coming down the pipe at once, but I kind of enjoyed the sheer insanity of it, so I don’t want to rule it out.