Tag Archives: The CW

Summer 2015 Review: Significant Mother

5 Aug

Significant Mother

I’d like to thank the CW for making a show that rather than being about something everyone was thinking about but not making, was about something that absolutely no one was thinking of. A not-uncommon current formula for a network comedy is to pick a crazy non-nuclear family arrangement, and then have the characters, some of whom are not accepting of the new arrangement initially, have to make it work, no matter how uncomfortable and how many hijinks ensue. Think of The New Normal, or One Big Happy (well, you probably won’t remember anything about either of these quickly-cancelled series, but trust me, they’re about unusual family arrangements, and having to deal for the betterment of all involved). Significant Mother, for which like Scrotal Recall, the title is far and away the most noteworthy and memorable thing about the show, tries to top these crazy-family-hooks with one of its own.

Nate, an up-and-coming chef comes back home to Portland from some sort of vacation or business trip to find out that his best friend is sleeping with his mother. He’s naturally grossed out and furious at both of them. He’s further disgusted when he finds out that this is more than merely a one-night stand and that they’ve been doing this for a little while. He’s angry and frustrated. His mom and best friend, separately and together, both try to talk to him, initially promising that will never happen again. This is complicated when they both realize that they actually have feelings for each other and want to see where this goes. Eventually, as happens at the end of pilots in these types of shows, Nate begrudgingly accepts the situation, realizing it’s not going away, and that he doesn’t want to end his relationship with his friend or mother, nor keep them from happiness.

Other peripheral characters include Nate’s dad, who separated from his mom recently due to his serial philandering, but is still hoping to convince Nate’s mom to reconcile, refusing to sign divorce papers. Sam is Nate’s close friend who works at his restaurant and who he’s had a crush on for some time; unfortunately, she’s dating an organic farmer.

It’s not funny, but it’s not really cringeworthy either; it’s more ridiculous in terms of the concept than it actually is bad. There’s nothing else particularly noteworthy about it. There’s no reason you’re going to watch this show, and there’s no reason you should. I really have absolutely nothing to say about the characters or the dialogue; they’re not good in any way, but there is nothing obviously terrible worth talking about either. They’re utterly forgettable, following a sitcom template to a T. If that makes this a cheat review, I apologize.

So, if you ever hear of this show again in the future, which you probably won’t, you know what you need to: the title, and the nutso premise. That’s about it.

Will I watch it again? No. I’ve seen about all I need to.

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End of Season Report: iZombie, Season 1

12 Jun

iZombie

iZombie has an almost laughably gimmicky high concept premise. Protagonist Liv has her life together; great fiancé, about to start on a promising medical career. Then, all of a sudden, she becomes a zombie, which in this universe is a cross between zombie and vampire. She breaks it off with the fiancé for fear of infecting him (sex as well as blood infects), and gets herself moved over the medical examiner’s office for convenient access to free brains. She needs to eat brains to keep herself alive and mentally together, but these brains also have side effects. They give her both the personality traits, positive and negative, of the people whose brains they were, and visions into those people’s lives. She then uses these visions to help solve their murders.

Rob Thomas is an experienced professional showrunner and it shows. Unlike many shows that take some time to find their feet, iZombie seems to know what it is and what it’s doing from the get go. . This is no epic conspiracy supernatural show that intrigues but threatens to go quickly out of control and has no idea where it’s going. The pacing is smart – there aren’t alternating episodes where tons happen followed by boring episodes as the creators need to slow down to avoid getting too far ahead of itself. The season starts with case-of-the-week murders, with the serial plot sneaking in and taking up more and more screen time as the season progressed, just as the two shows which iZombie is most like did, Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Veronica Mars. I don’t normally watch most shows that are largely procedural but those two are amongst my favorite shows of all, because although they start with a procedural base they elevate it over time through depth of character and top notch dialogue.

iZombie is tone consistent as well, which is something CW’s other very good freshman hit Jane the Virgin could learn from. Jane the Virgin is loaded with lots of good stuff, but suffers from tone issues, as one episode is serious, and one is light, and the contract often feels confusing and unnatural. iZombie knows exactly what it is from day one, and keeps that tone level balanced, right between brooding and irreverent, light and dark, sarcastic and earnest. Rob Thomas is, with Joss Whedon (and of course I don’t want to short Diane Ruggiero-wright who is the co-creator along with Thomas of iZombie and longtime Thomas consigliere) of mixing comedy and drama and finding strength in the contrast, rather than incongruity. Rather than seem out of place, the mixture uses the humor to build the drama, and vice versa.

iZombie’s gimmick; not the visions, but the personality transfer is a brilliant way to have Liv face off against her personal issues under a different guise every week; a dose of pep from some cheerleader’s brains have her girlily reconnecting with her roommate and best friend. A young mother’s brains have her overprotective, reengaging with her mother and younger brother. It’s a smart technique and keeps every episode slightly different, and Rose McIver, who is the key to the whole kit and caboodle sells it and embodies these different personalities effectively.

The supporting cast, while limited is strong. Ravi is Liv’s boss at the M.E.’s office. He’s the only person who knows that she’s a zombie, which makes him an invaluable ally in her cause, and he attempts to use his knowledge and lab to find a cure. Major, her ex-fiance, feels like he’s being forced into the show at the beginning, as there’s no logical place for him. However, in the second half of the season, his investigation into the existence of zombies, and his involvement throws a wrench in the plans of the primary antagonist, Blaine. David Anders is fantastic as Blaine, who serves as kind of a black market (not that there’s any other kind) brains dealer to zombies, creating the zombies himself to serve both as minions and as customers. His wisecracks and sarcastic one-liners are frequent episode highlights.

The single most serial episode, the finale, delivered in a big way. There was a massive action scene featuring Major escaping from captivity and mowing through his kidnappers and torturers to the tune of After the Fire’s Der Kommissar; much of the time in this show such a scene might feel out of place, but here it worked perfectly and the song choice was a perfect example of the balance between the dramatic and the comedic. (How Major so expertly fired weapons he had just purchased is a reasonable question, but one I’m willing to move past.) At several points in the episode, scenes were unpredictable because at any given point, you could take a reasonable stab at what was going to happen, but you could also guess a couple of equally plausible alternatives, which essentially meant you didn’t know which was going to happen. The events both entertained and satisfied some major first season arcs, while leaving a lot out on the table for next season.

iZombie’s first season wasn’t revolutionary or breakthrough or entirely original television, like recent breakthroughs Transparent, Hannibal, and Rectify, but the show delivered consistently week to week an excellently written product that always left me wanting more, and I’m more glad that I realized I’d be even a few weeks into the season that the show is coming back for a second season.

 

 

 

Spring 2015 Review: iZombie

20 Mar

iZombiePilot1

Imagine there was a party game for TV junkies, where players would watch an episode of a show by a well-known TV writer and would have to identify the show was written by. After watching ten minutes of iZombie, any self-respecting television zealot would be able to pick it out as the work of Rob Thomas without a doubt. Aside from the high concept sci-fi premise (and, yes, it’s ludicrous to talk about a show called iZombie and toss that aside, but work with me), iZombie has an incredible amount in common with Veronica Mars that should have it appealing to Veronica Mars fans of all stripes.

Let’s walk through the comparison, with some longer explanations for the iZombie analogues. In both, at the beginning, a young girl (Veronica is in high school, iZombie’s Liv is in her 20s) is doing great – she’s successful and popular. Veronica is a high school cheerleader with tons of popular cool friends, and Liv is a doctor kicking ass in her residency and engaged to a cool, attractive dude. Something happens. In Vernoica Mars, it’s the death of her best friend, followed by a messy, botched investigation by her sheriff dad that makes her a pariah and an outcast at school. For Liv, it’s well, becoming a zombie. Liv’s zombie form, to be clear, is no AMC’s The Walking Dead-style brainless cretin (it would be a pretty boring and/or nonsensical show that way). Instead, she still maintains the same personality as before, but medically she’s cold, nearly bloodless, and needs to eat brains to maintain her intelligence (she’s actually much closer to a convention vampire than zombie).

Both Veronica and Liv, after this life-changing event, struggle, face a period of despair, and then regain their footing somewhat, seeking a new way forward – realizing their lives will never quite be back to the way they were, but that maybe they can carve a different path.

Veronica and Liv both use their particular newfound skill sets to solve crimes. Veronica has been groomed partly intentionally and partly unintentionally by her now private eye father, while Liv gains visions from the people whose brains she eats. As those brains tend to be acquired from murder victims, she sees flashes of how they die and who killed them. Although solving these crimes isn’t initially part of the plan, it soon becomes a calling for each, a way to follow the new paths forward both are building.

Oh, and both Veronica and Liv narrate the action with a world-wary, self-aware, and pop culture-dotted voice over which takes you through their point of view.

So, yeah. Not talking right out of the gate about the fact that Liv is an undead zombie who needs to eat brains and has psychic visions is kind of burying the lead, while Veronica is merely a teenage girl with a really expensive camera and some mad private eye skills. But down in its guts, iZombie has a whole lot of what Veronica Mars had, which, since Veronica Mars is a great show and a personal favorite is definitely a good thing.

The similarities, particularly in the voice overs, were so uncanny that it made me think Rob Thomas was desperate to bring Veronica Mars back, but in a way more palatable with current trends, which, given the outsized success of AMC’s The Walking Dead, meant zombies.

Does Rose McIver have the chops to pull off the Kristin Bell role? Does the wacky premise have enough heft behind it to last a full season and then some? It’s too early to say. iZombie featured the sharp dialogue that is the hallmark of any Rob Thomas show, and the sweet spot tonal midpoint between drama and comedy, that Thomas and Joss Whedon have mastered.

Will I watch it again? Yes. This was one of those shows, that due to the Rob Thomas connection (he’s behind not only Veronica Mars but my beloved Party Down), I would have had to have hated not to watch another episode. That said, it’s Veronica Mars similarities only enhanced those chances.

Fall 2014 Review: The Flash

8 Oct

The Flash

It’s hard, when you’re watching every fall TV debut in a relatively compressed preiod of time, to not instantly compare The Flash and Gotham, as the two comics-based new superhero shows to debut this season (Constantine is also based on a comic, but is less similar).

Gotham tries to be more and do more. It doesn’t know what it is, tries on several hats, and none of them really fit. There’s a fine line between fusion of genres and simple lack of direction, and Gotham falls distinctly on the latter end. The Flasth, on the other hand, doesn’t try to do too much. It’s ambition is restrained. However, it knows exactly what it is and what it wants to be, and for The Flash, that self-awareness and ability to pull back and do it rather than try for too much and do it more is a huge asset.

The Flash doesn’t break any barriers (except when The Flash breaks the sound barrier – JOKE). There’s nothing particularly new or novel. It’s hardly an absolute must watch. Yet, what it does, within its limited realm, it does quite well. It’s earnest, and smart, and pretty fun. It’s very comic book; there are villains, there are wacky origin stories, there are costumes and secret identities. It’s also very comic book in other ways; there’s uncomplicated and obvious love interests, big talk of power and responsibility, and complex and sometimes unnecessary webs of secrets and lies.

Theis can sound cliche, uninventive, and unoriginal, and sure, that wouldn’t be inaccurate. If you like comic books and superhero movies, though, you’ll enjoy The Flash, because, like Marvel seems to be good at with its movies, the creators behind The Flash (and Arrow, I hear, though I haven’t dug deep into that show just yet) just know how to craft a solid superhero show. Barry Allen is a likeable nerd who gets to play the social outcast, without pushing it too far (he’s not a Toby Maguire-as-Peter Park level nerd – remember nerds are at least somewhat cool these days). His father was convicted of murdering his mother, even though Barry saw that that wasn’t the case, but he doesn’t know what actually happened. Barry was raised by Law & Order’s Jesse L. Martin, who serves a mentor and a detective, who, after disbelieving Barry’s conspiracy theories about his mother’s death, changes his mind after seeing Barry’s powers. There’s a couple of young, cool scientists who steer Barry to be the best superhero he can be, and a head scientist, played by Ed’s Tom Cavanagh, who seems like a probably villain but whose motives remain mysteries.

There’s plenty of nods to the rich world of The Flash comics, which I’ve had to research or ask friends about, and there’s clearly a love and a respect for the comic, which comes through even to a notvce fan, and even when the characters aren’t adapted exactly as they are in the books.

It’s an easy, low-on-thinking, fun watch. It’s paced well. The show is serial enough to keep you wanting to watch week to week, but seems likely to have many self-contained weekly adventures, which, while you pretty much know how they’re going to end (Flash gets the bad guy), that’s okay because it’s a light and pleasant journey getting there.

Will I watch it again? Yes, I will. If you like superheroes and comics then I’ve got a feeling you’ll probably like The Flash. If you’re not already predisposed to like these things, it’s not worth a second glance.

Fall 2013 Review: The Originals

6 Dec

The Originals

I started watching every new TV show three seasons ago, but there remain a handful of network shows still on the air that started earlier which I have never seen, shamefully. The Vampire Diaries, of which The Originals is a spin off is one of them. I know nothing about The Vampire Diaries except that two brothers fight over the same girl and I think maybe they’re both vampires but I’m not even sure of that much and one of them is Boone from Lost. Moving on.

The titular Originals are the original vampires, created by a witch in the middle ages to save her children from werewolves. Yes, witches and werewolves also exist in this show and are both older than vampires, for what that’s worth. The Originals include at the least Elijah, his sister Rebekah, and his half-brother, Klaus, who is half-werewolf and half-vampire. They’re all extremely powerful and possibly immortal.

Elijah and Rebekah are apparently level-headed as far as ancient vampires go, but Klaus is a notorious psycho. Still, Elijah, unlike Rebekah, feels a familial responsibility towards Klaus, and when Klaus gets into trouble in New Orleans, Elijah feels like he has to go track him down and at least try to help.

Elijah arrives in a city of New Orleans at supernatural war. A vampire named Marcel, a former protégé of Klaus, rules the city with an iron fist, oppressing witches left and right. The witches are desperate so they capture a werewolf named Hayley who is pregnant with Klaus’s baby after an ill-advised one-night stand. The witches use her to try to get the uber-powerful Originals on their side to take out Marcel. The gambit works well enough as Elijah believes the baby might make Klaus more responsible and less sadistic, and while Klaus doesn’t necessarily feel that way he at least doesn’t like the idea of his protégé Marcel being higher on the pecking order than he is.

The big ending, and within first episode SPOILER is that Klaus stabs Eljiah at the end of the episode, either killing or injuring him seemingly severely, saying thanks, but no thanks, you’ve convinced me to take down Marcel, but it’s for me to do and not you. It would have been super ballsy if they actually killed off who seemed to be the main character from the pilot, but some IMDB work (spoiler, I’m not planning on continuing to watch, so I didn’t feel bad about checking) assured me Eljiah remains on the show, so I guess the whole immortal thing was no lie.

Vampires are seemingly everywhere in culture today so it’s honestly impossible to watch a show about vampires without comparisons to other prominent vampire shows on TV flashing through my mind, which, since I haven’t seen The Vampire Diaries, are True Blood and Buffy the Vampire Slayer. True Blood in particular is similarly set in Louisiana, which makes a classic home for vampires because it has a much older feel than most of America and because if its omnipresent tinge of vice.

The Originals is lacking in either of the qualities that made either of those vampire shows successful. It has neither True Blood’s sleazy sense of trashy fun (before that show went insane around the fourth season) or Buffy’s ability to mesh the supernatural action adventures with the realities of being a teenager. Hayley, the pregnant werewolf, is the best attempt at Buffy-ness, matching supernatural talk with a sense of humor and modern slang, while every other character is super serious, perhaps understandably so since people are dying around them, but it deadens the show a bit.

I’m not sure if The Vampire Diaries fans, coming into this pilot with more information, would have a different outlook, but I was unimpressed. I have to add this as a caveat for many shows, but it’s important to say; The Originals wasn’t awful. The Originals was watchable enough and although I didn’t really care about the major battle brewing between the vampires and the wtiches ( I mean Marcel was obviously the villain and was easily hateable within his two minutes of screen time, so there’s that), I didn’t cringe or take tons of breaks to get through the show as I have with the worst shows every year.

The plot, battles between vampires, werewolves, and witches, and whatnot is started to get tired. This is not necessarily The Vampire Diaries’ fault, but you have more leeway with an original idea than you do when you’re the fourth or fifth show with a similar idea in a decade. It’s possible to transcend a tired premise, as Broadchurch did with a premise I thought The Killing had poisoned for at least a few more years, but it’s more difficult and The Vampire Diaries doesn’t do it.

I think, and I could be wrong, that Klaus, who seems like an obvious villain, is being flipped to be the protagonist in this show and that’s supposed to be intriguing because of the juxtaposition; this obvious psycho is ostensibly being the good guy, helping the witches, protecting his unborn child, and defeating his protégé. If I’m going to spend this much time with this psychotic character I’d hope that he’d be, if not easy to root for, at least charismatic, drawing me, but he isn’t, and he doesn’t. The show just falls flat overall. The plot seems kind of generic and boring and for better or worse True Blood has soured me on immediate interest in vampire mythology. Hayley, in her little screen time, was the character I enjoyed the most for the Buffy-esque qualities of humor and modernity and a greater dose of that would help this show that frequently feels like it’s taking itself too seriously.

Will I watch it again? No. The show was tolerable but not good.