Bloodbath and New hope: Fall ’16 takes shape

It’s May, so it’s time for the networks to begin to give us a glimpse of their plans for the 2016-2017 TV season. Obviously, not everything is known, but we now have several renewals, cancellations and pickups to discuss.

ABC 

The above mentioned bloodbath? That happened at ABC and they cancelled Nashville after 4 fairly successful seasons, Castle after 8 seasons and firing the co-lead of the series (Stana Katic) “to save money”, and Marvel’s Agent Carter after 2 beloved but little watched seasons.

They also cancelled The Muppets after a midseason retool didn’t increase the ratings and midseason drama The Family. And, Galavant has ended it’s beautiful, too pure and good for this world run as well. Really, that second season for more that we could have hoped for to begin with.

But there was also some great renewal news. Midseason sitcom, the delightful The Real O’Neals, got a second season as did new Shondaland series The Catch and the critically lauded anthology series American Crime.

On the new show front, look for Time After Time, a new drama from Kevin Williamson (Vampire Diaries) about H.G. Wells (Freddie Stroma) and Jack the Ripper (Josh Bowman) being transported to modern day New York. A Romeo & Juliet series titled Still Star-Crossed,  Conviction a new political drama starring Hayley Atwell, and new shows from Allison Tollman (Fargo) and Katy Mixon (Mike & Molly). The Mixon show (as yet untitled) sounds terrible:

Mixon stars as Katie, a “confident, unapologetic, plump wife and mother of three, [who] raises her flawed family in the wealthy town of Westport, Conn., filled with ‘perfect’ mommies and their ‘perfect’ offspring.  She lets us in on her deepest, most unfiltered thoughts through voiceover as the she lives her life as the second fattest housewife in Westport.” Additional cast members include Diedrich Bader, Johnny Sequoyah, Daniel DiMaggio, Julia Butters, Carly Hughes and Ali Wong. —TVLine.com

Ouch.

Update 5/12 1830: Marvel’s Most Wanted, the proposed Agents of SHIELD spin off starring Adrienne Palicki and Nick Blood is officially dead (again). But, series orders have been given for new legal drama Notorious starring Piper Perabo and Daniel Sunjata, and Jenna Elfman fronted comedy Imaginary Mary which sounds like Drop Dead Fred the series.

Update 5/13 1104: Last Man Standing is back (again. Season 6?!) as is Dr. Ken (whaa?) and ABC has now given a series order to Speechless a Minnie Driver sitcom from Scott Silvestri (Friends)

CBS

The Tiffany network started the day by cancelling CSI: Cyber, trying to get a The Good Wife spin off up and running on their All Access streaming platform, and cancelling Supergirl from their airwaves and sending it to the more accepting (budgetarily) world of The CW.

They also picked up a new Kevin James starrer called Kevin can wait which, I think we all can, right?

Update 5/13 1104: Series orders have been given to a MacGyver reboot starring Lucas Till (Havok from the X-Men series), Man with a Plan a sitcom starring Matt LeBlanc, The Great Indoors returns Joel MacHale to our screens, Training Day casts Bill Paxton in an update of the Denzel Washington film, Bull is a procedural drama based on the early career of Dr. Phil McGraw (!!) starring Michael Weatherly, and a procedural/medical show from Jason Katims (Parenthood) tentatively title Pure Genius.

Update 5/14 1033: When I first read about CBS’ new lawyer show Doubt in its original incarnation last year (then starring KaDee Strickland and Teddy Sears) I was underwhelmed. But, in it’s just picked up iteration with Laverne Cox, Dulé Hill, Dreama Walker and Elliott Gould I am more than intrigued. Hm? What’s that? Oh, Katherine Heigl is the top billed star?! Oh. Well maybe not then… (Although also maybe…)

NBC

Did NBC move their corporate HQ to Chicago? They have just added a 4th arm to their Chicago themed series, Chicago Justice. And, Trial & Error a “murder trial comedy” starring John Lithgow and Nicholas D’Agosto (Gotham) joins their now empty comedy schedule

They are also getting into the comic TV game with Powerless, a superhero show about the people who clean up after superheores starring Vanessa Hudgens, Danny Pudi, and Alan Tudyk.

Update 5/12 1830: This is us is a new dramedy about intertwining lives and “curious” connections. The Mandy Moore and Milo Ventimiglia fronted series already sounds tiresome.

Update 5/13 1333: NBC has just given a pick up to Midnight, Texas a supernatural drama based on a Charlaine Harris book series (see True Blood and run). They also axed Undateable (what? That all live season didn’t work?), Telenovela, and Crowded, and Heartbeat which I have never in my life even heard of!

Update 5/13 1342: 2 more pickups: Marlon is a loosely autobiographical sitcom starring Marlon Wayans, and Great News is a Tina Fey (!) produced show starring Andrea Martin (!!) set in a news room.

Update 5/13 2104: Something called Game of Silence is now no longer a thing. Whatever it was to begin with we will never know.

Update 5/14 0938: Official series order has been given to The Blacklist: Redemption the Famke Janssen starring spin-off of The Blacklist. Thursdays episode of the parent show served as a backdoor pilot for the new series and also set up Ryan Eggold’s departure from the original show to the new one.

Update 5/14 1403: Debra Messing will be hanging up her hunter green turtleneck as The Mysteries of Laura has been let go.

Update 5/15 1359 The Carmichael Show has been renewed for a 3rd season. As they have so little in the way of successful comedies, I don’t get why they waited so long to make this one official.

FOX

The GrinderGrandfathered have been cancelled, which wipes out FOX’s comedy block. I expect more shows (*cough*Second Chance*cough*) to be cancelled in the next week.

Update 5/13 1333: Against all odds, Sleepy Hollow has been renewed after killing off their female lead last season in a high profile storyline.

Update 5/13 2104: With little fanfare, Second Chance won’t be getting one (last time, promise) and they’ve also cancelled something called Bordertown which is a show that might as well have been on NBC with how much I know of it

The CW

As I mentioned before, Supergirl will air its second season on the network it should have started on, as well as moving their production to Vancouver (Rumor has it that that production was done in LA at Calista Flockhart’s insistence, so I don’t know what this move means for the character of Cat Grant).

“Limited series” Containment has been shown the door, to the surprise of no one.

And, in addition to Supergirl The CW is also adding a reimagining of the film FrequencyNo Tomorrow about 2 people checking off their bucket lists as an apocylypse looms, and Riverdale a teen drama set in the Archie comics universe starring Luke Perry that I cannot wait for.

Update 5/13 2142: Some cable news: Freeform has cancelled Recovery Road, Syfy has picked up Krypton which is like Gotham for Superman (it follows Kal-El’s Grandfather), and FX/FXX has picked up 2 Marvel shows set in the X-Men universe; Legion follows Professor Xavier’s mentally ill continuity snarl of a son David Haller/Legion, and Hellfire is a 70s period drama about the fabulously camp and anachronistic supervillains (mostly) in the Hellfire Club.

More updates as they come with upfronts coming in the next week, there should be a lot of news.

Season in Review: Daredevil Season 2

If Marvel’s Daredevil season 1 was a study in how a man becomes a hero, then Season 2 (now streaming on Netflix) is a story of how that hero decides what kind of hero he wants to be. But, beyond that overarching theme, season 2 is as fractured as Matt’s poor body.

As I have mentioned before, these Netflix shows run like a 13-hour movie. But,

daredevil

It’s a Matty in the middle!

unlike Marvel’s Jessica Jones before it, Daredevil season 2 doesn’t really take advantage of it’s format. While the season has a lot going on, the whole thing feels very fragmented and not well thought out.

Without spoiling anything, the season begins with a gang being massacred by an unknown person. Bullets and blood are everywhere and the gore and unflinching violence that we saw in season 1 gets a serious upgrade. When the police get on scene, we see a detective who has never appeared before (and does not appear again) playing the quintessential “crusty cop.” His entire being says “getting too old for this shit” and his dialogue…well at one point he describes a bullet proof vest as being “thicker than [his] dick” so you know, it’s basically Shakespeare. But, this 2 scene character is a microcosm for the entire season in that he’s brash, jarring, intense, and sort of unfocused.

New executive producers Douglas Petrie and Marco Ramirez did have a daunting task ahead of them, creating a new story that expands on what we have already seen while avoiding all of the pitfalls of a second year show. They also had to add characters that are closely tied to the Daredevil mythos, The Punisher (Jon Bernthal) and Elektra (Elodie Yung), into the mix without it feeling like a stunt or over blown like it did in, say, Spider-Man 3. On that note, I think it worked rather well as both characters fit in pretty seamlessly (and more on them later). But, they were never able to really expand on what was done before, beyond their lead,Charlie Cox, now sporting his full be-horned Daredevil costume all the time.

For example, the Karen Page (Deborah Ann Woll) character still has the murkiest of pasts which is only vaguely hinted at, again, as she is constantly imperiled ,some more, this season. Quite why they’re teasing this out in this manner is only leading me to believe that they have no idea what they’re doing with this character and are spinning their wheels. Then there’s poor Foggy (Elden Henson) who spends the whole season alternating between fighting his best friend and pushing his stupid hair out of his face. Foggy is the heart of this show, and in many ways the moral center, and his storyline is a neutered Law & Order episode and/or making excuses for his partner to not be around. It’s a shame really. By the nature of the show, Henson and Woll are relegated to the back burner – they aren’t superheroes after all-  but the actors are so magnetic that you can tell the writers are bending over backwards to give them something compelling to do.

The writers in fact seem to have thrown all of their power at the new characters and boy do they work well. Bernthal’s work as the homicidal-but-for-the-right-reasons-? Punisher is amazing. His monologue in episode 4 (“Penny and Dime”) needs to be on his Emmy reel. The character’s story dominates the season in a whole host of ways and he is just so damn good. In the comics, The Punisher is someone I have never given much thought to. I knew the broad strokes of his story but his character, to me, was basically murder guy.  But Bernthal’s portrayal is compelling and fascinating. Yes, the violence is…beyond reason in a lot of places but the counterpoint he provides to Daredevil, especially in light of the two-sides-of-the-same-coin theme they played with Kingpin (Vincent D’onofrio) last year, lets Bernthal and Cox really play some great scenes together.

Yung’s Elektra is also a fantastic new addition to the show. Both Punisher and Elektra push Matt to the moral line, with both of them forcing Matt to make a choice both on what kind of man he wants to be and what kind of hero he wants to be. But, Elektra specifically is the one character who is taking none of Matt’s crap at any point during the series. She is a take no prisoners, do what needs to be done, badass and in many ways forces Matt to put up or shut up. Sadly, to the detriment of Foggy and Karen’s characters as Elektra pushes Matt to realize that there is no line between the two sides of his identity. Additionally I would watch the hell out of a solo series for either if these characters should Netflix feel like ordering one.

Elektra also brings with her the new threat, The Hand, a mysterious ninja organization that is all over the place in the comics. The Hand basically embodies every myth, story, threat, and fear that ninjas have ever had assigned to them in all mythologies all wrapped up into one. While they are arguably the Big Bad of the season, they are also a capital-t-Threat that I expect to ripple throughout the the MCU now that they have been unleashed. In the comics, The Hand plays a large part in the Iron Fist stories, for example.

Speaking of the larger MCU, the events of Marvel’s Jessica Jones are vaguely referred to, even going so far as to bring in Carrie-Ann Moss’ Jeryn Hogarth for a cameo. But, Rosario Dawson’s Claire Temple once again plays a significant role and sets up where we’ll see her next, September’s Luke Cage.

Ultimately, this season is about who Matt Murdock wants to be, lawyer or Dardevil. It’s made pretty clear to him that he can’t effectively do both and he is forced to reconcile that dichotomy over and over and over again. There is not a single character that doesn’t call Matt out at some point in the season. He is as beaten up by his friends and allies as he is by bad guys. Hell, at one point, he is so beaten down that he appears to go hysterically deaf (?) for a very short time.

And, while everything I have mentioned sounds strong and well done, the series plays very disjointed. Nothing dovetails into anything else in a satisfying way, Elektra’s entire section never really interacts with what’s going on anywhere else. Her whole plot feels sandboxed. There is no balance. And, stylistically the whole series radically amped up everything it did last year in violence, gore, and let’s call them “visual motifs” (As my friend Matt pointed out, falling water. It is so lovingly focused on you expect it to have a series regular credit) to a truly distracting degree (see the aforementioned hysterical deafness).

I don’t want you to misunderstand, Marvel’s Daredevil puts out a good second season. But, it’s more of a character study (and study in stomach churning violence) than anything else. Season 2 is the television equivalent of that thing comics do periodically where they high-mindedly pontificate of the nature of heroism. In comics, this works because it’s usually either in caption boxes that are skimable or only go on for a few pages. When you have 13-ish hours (because of the nature of Netflix, the episode length is non-standard) of it though you kind of want the show to pull its horned head out of its ass for 5 minutes and maybe punch more ninjas. B-

Review: Trainwreck

Every so often a movie comes along that redefines a genre. A few years ago, Bridesmaids redefined the female-centered comedy and showed people that women can be just as funny as men while being raunchy. With Trainwreck comedian Amy Schumer tries to do the same thing to the romantic comedy by focusing on the comedy and letting the romance just happen.

trainwreck

I mean, she looks totally put together to me.

Trainwreck should be a romantic comedy by definition. It hits all the tropes and is in general pretty paint by numbers in its execution. But, what makes it special, and why it has been getting such great press, is that Schumer plays the movie so close to reality.

Romantic comedies have always been the world of women. But not just women, a very specific idea of women and what women want. It’s a rather antiquated viewpoint. Women in these movies are traditionally soft, demure, and so in want of a man that marriage is their primary motivating factor while the men are generally hard-drinking, womanizing, anti-love, overgrown children. In the 90s this formula changed somewhat to allow women to be more like the men giving us films that portray women as single-mindedly career focused until a man melts her heart. While entertaining in a formulaic way, neither of these attitudes were particularly progressive nor positive in their portrayal of women.

Trainwreck on the other hand is portrays both sexes as flawed and just looking to be happy. Writer/Star Amy Schumer takes her stand-up persona to the extreme as a woman who drinks to excess and sleeps around only to be surprised by the possibility of love with Bill Hader, a sports doctor who is the subject of an article she’s writing. The relationship is treated as a slow evolution as opposed to the typical meet-cute format that has become so tired. And, the relationship is not shown to “save” her or “fix” her in any way, simply as a thing that makes her happy.

It’s not a perfect movie though. It is very slow moving. Some of the humor seems forced if still funny. Schumer’s subplot with her father (Colin Quinn) is over long and doesn’t really add anything to either the movie or to the characters. In general I found the movie to be very thin- like a good idea that hadn’t been fleshed out enough.

That said, I think this movie does a lot of good for the genre.  Romcoms get a really bad rap for how they portray…everything. Trainwreck does a lot to try to show a modern relationship as relationships really are – confusing, messy, and a melding of two disparate people’s lives. And, while Schumer is not exactly a feminist hero, this is the first movie in this genre that doesn’t go to any extremes in its characterizations and ideas. Everyone is simply who they are and if the relationship works out, great, if not, that’s ok too. The plot of the movie doesn’t really force you to root for either outcome too strongly it only asks that you think everyone gets what they want. Which is why I think this movie is being lauded so highly as- despite its trappings- it’s not even a romantic comedy, it’s a comedy first. It also happens to feature a romance and that is the most refreshing part of this movie. B-

Depths of OnDemand: Hot Pursuit

Continuing our look at some of the worst of cinema in 2015  we have Hot Pursuit a movie that has no idea what it wants to be, which is fine because it also has no idea what it’s doing.

hot_pursuit

And now, fancy pageant walking!

See, Hot Pursuit is ostensibly a buddy road movie starring Reese Witherspoon as the bumbling by the book cop and Sofia Vergara as the witness she must protect. And, for a portion of the movie it plays out like you would expect. Then there is a turn and suddenly there is a far reaching conspiracy in which you don’t know who to trust! Neither aspect of the movie are particularly entertaining, but at around the halfway mark it goes from sort of non-offensive brainless to off the wall ridiculous.

This film is so ineptly made that every joke is forced, underlined, telegraphed, and lampshaded within an inch of its life. Nothing is given a chance to breathe or grow, and all lines are delivered by screaming. Vergara especially comes off poorly here given that she usually has pretty solid timing. Worse, Witherspoon is playing a pretty standard character for her and can’t manage to land a single joke.

The rest of the cast are non-events save only to mention Rob Kazinsky faking the worst southern accent ever while being shoved into a flirtation with Witherspoon that comes out of nowhere.

I have to give them credit for one thing, this is the type of movie where you would expect the easy joke to be slams against Latinos. Shockingly we get none of that as the largely Latino cast is treated pretty well (Ok, they’re gangsters and there is a quincenara but it’s not played for laughs). No, the easy joke they go for is lesbians. See, 2 women travelling around together must be lesbians. This joke is made and/or alluded to at least 3 times and is not even slightly funny for any of them.

I’m pretty sure this move was made to capitalize on Vergara’s Modern Family fame and launch her into movie stardom. This will 100% not do that. In fact, Vergara should fire whomever on her team found this for her and pay to have it stricken from her resume. Witherspoon is an actress that can come back from this kind of misstep, but Vergara is still building her credibility with the audience.

Hot Pursuit is a terrible movie. To be honest, there was no way it was going to be anything but awful. But, it’s not even enjoyably bad as everyone in it is taking it so seriously. It’s not worth watching, or frankly even thinking about. F

 

Depths of OnDemand: Let’s Be Cops

Every so often I am forced to watch some truly dreadful movies. I don’t know if the person inflicting these movies on me just enjoys watching me squirm or if there is some part of them that thinks maybe I’ll enjoy these slices of cinema that I am not usually predisposed to watching. Either way, I find it difficult to stop watching a movie once it’s begun so I usually end up seeing the garbage through to the end, knowing no good will come from it. This is the reason I even saw Let’s Be Cops.

To be clear Let’s Be Cops, while being almost aggressively terrible, is a movie I would

Let's_Be_Cops_poster

They just read the script

consider watching based solely on the cast. I already have a predisposition for TV actors jumping to Film (TV was and always will be my first love and I have a deeper “relationship” with those actors than the relatively larger stars of the cinema world) and I also have a deep and abiding love for the world of comedy (stand-up, sketch, improv, and the “alternative” performers thereof). Based solely on the cast list, this move should be firmly on my sweet spot. Add to that that the fact that I work in law enforcement in some capacity and I should be all in for this one.

But, then I saw a trailer. A trailer is supposed to be the advertisement that makes you want to see a movie, and if this was the best they could come up with to cut a trailer from, this movie must be terrible. Nothing worked and it felt like a sophomoric mess that should never have been made.

Seeing the movie, I can tell you that if nothing else that the advertising was accurate. Those trailer editors should be very proud of themselves.  This movie is a pile of hot garbage and keeps finding new depths to sink to. It’s stupid, ridiculous, racist, homophobic, spectacularly violent, and worst of all pointless. Not that all movies need to have a message, but this seems to take the stance that lying is bad, until it’s good but still it’s bad. Unless it lets you bang Nina Dobrev, then it’s fine. Speaking of, if this is why Dobrev left Vampire Diaries to “try new things in her career” or whatever, then she radically misjudged the cultural impact of this role.

The plot, such as it is, involves 2 friends who’s lives haven’t turned out the way they expected, who dress up like cops and then begin acting as if they were cops until they get involved in a cartoonishly insane arms dealing plot. I’m not kidding, this is what happens in this movie. Why, once they get the initial thrill of pretending to be cops, they don’t apply to be actual police officers and take us through a Police Academy retread I don’t know. Maybe they didn’t want the comparison to that far better movie. Whatever the reason, Jake Johnson and Damon Wayans, Jr. scream, mug, pratfall, and shot through this mess. Neither actor is engaging, or seemingly even interested in the film as a whole. Wayans, Jr. particularly seems like he just gave up on this movie about 20 minutes in.

I don’t have words for how bad this movie is. Especially when it becomes over long and boring. Then, even a last-minute, manic Keegan-Michael Key performance can salvage anything other than a bemused chuckle from the viewer who has been beaten down by this turd. F

Maiden Voyage: DC’s Legends of Tomorrow

The CW has cornered the market on the televised DC Universe (DCU). With Arrow and The Flash pulling in big numbers (and Supergirl [same production team] doing great for their parent company CBS) it makes sense that they would want to try to beat Marvel at their own game by creating their own crossover series featuring characters from each parent show. That show is DC’s Legends of Tomorrow.

legends

I love this shot. But as with the show, that is a lot happening.

Pulling established characters from Arrow (Ray Palmer/The A.T.O.M. [Brandon Routh] & Sara Lance/White Canary [Caity Lotz]) and The Flash (Martin Stein [Victor Garber], Jefferson “Jax” Jackson [Franz Drameh]/Firestorm, Mick Rory/Heatwave [Dominic Purcell], Captain Cold [Wentworth Miller]) along with crossover characters (Carter Hall/Hawkman [Falk Hentschel], Kendra Saunders/Hawkgirl [Ciara Renée], and Vandal Savage [Casper Crump]) and pairing all of them with new character Rip Hunter (Arthur Darvill) is a risky move. This is like a television version of what Marvel did with Marvel’s The Avengers (and what they plan on doing on Netflix with The Defenders). And, with 9 series regulars this could’ve proved a costly mistake had it failed.

But, I think it’s going to be fine.

The pilot episode requires a little bit of pre-knowledge of the universe but even new viewers should be able to jump right into the action as the cast is assembled to begin their time travelling journey to stop a super villain.  Little but perfunctory lip-service is paid the to parent shows and the action kicks up pretty quickly as the team makes their way to 1975. The time travel conceit allows the show to go anywhere and do anything. Established DCU characters can show up ant any point along their time lines (current Arrow baddie Damian Dahrk (Neal McDonough) is already confirmed to be appearing in some younger incarnation) and new characters can be brought on from DC’s vast character inventory (Jonah Hex (Jonathan Schaech) has already been announced and the future Green Arrow, Connor Hawke, could also show up).

The action is well done, in that CW way that we’re used to, and even the battle with the villain of the episode is fun. And the effects, especially the design of the time ship (The Waverider) is pretty great (although the interior halls look like redresses of The Flash‘s pipeline).

The only bad I even find is that with 9 series regulars, the pilot kind of bows under the weight of trying to give each character their own moment. That and the fact that the bulk of the pilot hinges on ties to the least known of the cast makes the initial emotional impact of the story less weighty than I think it cold have been. But, the show was picked up to series before a pilot was even shot so I think The CW has enough faith in this show to let it grow as needed.

DC’s Legends of Tomorrow is probably going to be a fun show. Tonally it seems to be the action hybrid of it’s Dark and/or Wacky parents. If The CW believes in it as strongly as they seem to it should have a nice long road ahead of it. But, it will need to balance out it’s enormous cast and time-hopping premise before they can really take off. B

 

Maiden Voyage: Shadowhunters: The Mortal Instruments

ABC Family, which is now known as Freeform (Seriously. This is what they went with. That’s almost as dumb as “Syfy”), has always been home to all manner of programming aimed squarely at the “teen girl wish fulfillment” genre. They’re basically the YA-on-TV network given that their most popular show, Pretty Little Liars, is based on a popular book series. Now, with Shadowhunters: The Mortal Instruments they’re hoping for another adaptation hit with supernatural flair.

Shadowhunters: The Mortal Instruments is based on the wildly successful Mortal Instruments series by Cassandra

shadowhunters

This poster is basically perfect.

Clare. While the books provided the basis for a little remembered 2013 film, the series seems to be planning on going all out in the world Clare created. That world, a melange of myths, legends, religious icons, and magic has a huge amount of groundwork laid out by Clare. Obviously, I hope they leave some of the more unseemly aspects of Clare’s narrative firmly on the cutting room floor, but the characters were already well drawn in the books.

Our lead Clary Fray (Katherine McNamara) is brash and brave. McNamara is playing the character as less terrified of this new world around but more sort of bitterly bemused. Clary is the POV character for the majority of the books so her character is the most filled out and McNamara is bringing a lot of that to the screen. In the books, it takes a while for Clary to do much beyond whine, and while McNamara is given a lot of emotion to play, she is never too over the top.

The rest of the cast on the other hand has taken their roles to the extreme. Dominic Sherwood’s Jace particularly is played as a magic football jock with the emotional range of a cup of coffee. The Lightwood siblings, Alec (Matthew Daddario) and Isabelle (Emeraude Toubia) are playing exactly one aspect of their characters: uptight and horny respectively, and are holding onto that one bit like a dog with a bone. And Clary’s best friend, Simon (Alberto Rosende) – by far my favorite character from the book – is given standard nerd/unrequited crush stuff to play (It should be noted that while Jace is the love interest, and built like an underwear model/greek god, the pilot’s sole male eye candy shot goes to a completely unmotivated bit of Simon shirtlessness which I found to be an interesting and not unpleasant choice.) but turned up to 11. It all worked with the genre but it all felt very forced to me.

The pilot seems determined to lay as much ground work as possible while leaving a lot to still be explained. The exposition never feels clunky or over the top, and even the flashbacks are well-timed and not overlong.

I wanted to hate this. The books have left me increasingly soured on the universe (I have not seen the film, nor read past book 5) and I only decided to watch the series in hopes of them righting the ship. I will say that with some of the narrative changes they’ve made to the beginning of the story, it really helps Clary – and by extension the viewer – get into the meat of the story faster and more efficiently. I feel like this is a great series for Freeform to launch on as it’s an established property with a built in fanbase. But, with a subject matter that hews maybe a little to close to The CW’s Supernatural and MTV’s Teen Wolf, pulling viewers away from those already well entrenched shows might be hard for the new network. And, holding up a series with so much going on, so many effects, and 8 series regulars might be too much to bear. B

Maiden Voyage: The Magicians

Syfy, since they changed their name and implored us to “imagine greater,” has been very hit or miss. For every truly great show (Battlestar Galactica) there have been dozens of pretty good ones (EurekaWarehouse 13) and a few flat out duds (CapricaStargate Universe). In their attempt to remain a contender in the increasingly busy world of cable originals, they have optioned every property they can in hopes of creating the next big thing (when they’re not just cobroadcasting Canadian shows as is the case with ContinuumDark Matter, and Killjoys). With their new series, The Magicians, they enter into the world of modern magic.

magicians

See Potter fans? Magic can be sexy!

An adaptation of Lev Grossman’s book of the same name, the series follows Quentin Coldwater (Jason Ralph) as he begins his studies at Brakesbill College. Brakesbill is Hogwarts without the charm, a huge university focusing on teaching magic to those it deems worthy. Quentin meets a whole host of misfits in his first week and he learns that magic is real and dangerous. Also he might be the chosen one who has to fight “The Beast” (Anthony Marble and Charles Mesure).

In the pilot episode we are introduced to all of the main characters as well and a few central concepts. One thing that we are not told, is the rules that govern this universe – why are some more adept than others, what is so special about Quentin, why does Julia (Stella Maeve) trust that guy who does that thing to her – and why we should care. The episode is so stilted and odd that it’s hard to get your bearings – to put you into Quentin’s shoes – but once it picks up, so much happens in such a small amount of time that when the super disturbing ending comes it is genuinely shocking.

That said, it’s not very entertaining. Not having read Grossman’s book, I had no hook into this world and I found that it was really hard to care about any of these people right off the bat. Quentin is disaffected and morose, we meet him in a mental hospital, and Julia is quick to anger and wildly inconsistent, until she becomes disaffected and morose. The others are so generic as to have left no impression.

Syfy is desperately trying to attract younger viewers. Grossman’s book series is popular and the network strategy of releasing the pilot (or at least the first hour) early online may help to bring in viewers. But in order to keep anyone hooked, they are going to have to seriously up their game. C-

Maiden Voyage: Second Chance

Pre-premiere media is not always a good indication of a show’s quality. You can read about all of the cast in-fighting, recasts, rewrites, and other various changes and think “Oof, this is gonna suck!” But, when the show premieres, it could still be ok. Then a show like FOX’s Second Chance pops up and you realize that sometimes that first instinct is 100% right.

Second Chance, originally The Frankenstein Code then later Lookinglass, is a show that (as you

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This poster depicts what watching this show feels like

can see) doesn’t really know what it is. The story of a disgraced sheriff in his 70s (Phillip Baker Hall) named Ray Pritchard, who is murdered and resurrected through science in the person of a superhuman in his 30s (Rob Kazinsky). Pritchard chooses to use this second chance (clever, right?) to…fight crime. But now he has super strength, super senses, and a 12-hour time limit to do anything before he has to regenerate. The scientist who brings him back, Otto Goodwin (Adhir Kalyan) is a super genius/social-outcast-read-austisic-probably who uses the money from the super Facebook he created, Lookinglass, to fund this experiment as a way to save his twin sister/only link to the outside world/CEO of the company, Mary (Dilshad Vadsaria), from dying of cancer by using  Pritchard’s now “recoded cells”- which are now programmed to fight death (??!!)- to cure her. Confused? Add to that Pritchard’s strained relationship with his own FBI agent son (improbably named) Duval (Tim DeKay) daughter Helen (Amanda Detmer) and grandaughter Gracie (Ciara Bravo) and you have a recipe for a very confusing mess of a show.

No part of the show works. It’s not quite a procedural, or a supernatural show, or a family drama. It has aspects of all of that, but none of the good ones. The pilot is all over the place, bouncing from story to story until things finally converge in a way that is somehow both sweet and deeply unsatisfying. The rules of the universe make zero sense, from the omniscient presence of Lookinglass, to Pritchard’s new powers, even the case of the week is under explored to the point of killing all possible drama in the story. And then there’s Pritchard’s 12-hour time limit. Mary tells him that the resurrection is “like an organ transplant” and the time limit is when rejection begins, unless he regenerates. If he doesn’t, death is permanent. This makes no sense for a whole host of reasons, primarily in relation to Mary’s own treatments using these cells. Ultimately it’s just an arbitrary ticking clock and an excuse to get Kazinsky naked in a tank of water.

I really feel bad for Kazinsky. His big American break was a poorly written non-event in the later seasons of True Blood followed by a terrible role in the terrible Hot Pursuit and now this mess. Kazinsky seems like such a nice guy, and his enthusiasm for his roles is endearing. It just seems like he can’t find the right thing to really launch him. He is also a British actor who isn’t talented enough to fully hide his real accent- which I have spoken about before and will continue to harp on!- which makes American roles maddeningly hard to come by. I doubt his turn in the upcoming Warcraft film will do anything to raise  profile either.

Back to Second Chance, which as you can tell isn’t even interesting enough to keep my attention in writing about it. It is so bad. At least when this was going to be a straight up Frankenstein story this had something going for it. But rewrites and notes have stripped any potential for this dumb, sci-fi tinged, cop show. It’s boring, silly, and doesn’t even seem to know what it wants to to be. Anyone who gave this a first chance, won’t be giving it a second*. F

 

 

 

 

*I tired not to. I did, really. I just…it was like I had no choice. I am weak before the pun

 

 

Review: St. Vincent

One of the more difficult aspects of my love of reviewing media is realizing that sometimes, simply by the nature of what I choose to write about, that I will have to explain the plot of the thing I am talking about. Usually, this only leads me to wondering for a few minutes how to accomplish that without enraging the dreaded spoiler police. Then I am faced with a movie like St. Vincent and I am faced with a whole new conundrum, explaining the plot of a film that doesn’t even pretend to really have one.

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Like, I understand that they’re all stars (and the holy trinity aspect of the composition) but Lieberher really needs to be in this shot.

 St Vincent strives to be one of those “slice of life” movies, a movie that shows the audience a window into a person’s life over a period of time without really having any kind of plot per se. In this case we have Vincent (Bill Murray) bonding with new neighbor Oliver (Jaeden Lieberher) and how that friendship affects both of their lives. Vincent is a hard drinking, gambling, womanizing, general terrible person while Oliver is a 10-year-old kid. Everything about their friendship is wrong and shouldn’t work, but they (as often happen with these types of films) really impact each other’s lives in surprising ways.

Murray plays a man that you are supposed to hate. He is disgusting, conniving, and basically terrible. He plays the part so convincingly that you almost believe that he isn’t acting – the mark of a brilliant performance, believability. Murray has grown into a brilliant actor in the last 12 years. While his comedic talent has never been in doubt, 2003’s Lost in Translation really cemented him as force to be reckoned with in other genres. Lieberher is already a veteran actor at his young age but has the rare ability to act against powerhouses and not only hold his own but use his performance to add layers to his scene partner’s portrayal. These 2 together are magnetic, and their relationship is a joy to watch.

So good are their scenes that Melissa McCarthy, as Oliver’s mom, Naomi Watts, as Murray’s regular hooker, and Chris O’Dowd, as Oliver’s teacher, are given little to nothing to really do in this movie other than act as set pieces for the other two. As an aside, Watts’ character, Daka, is a Russian (or Russian-esque) character for no reason other than making an accomplished actress fake a terrible accent. Watts is already Australian, and there is no reason in the script that Daka needed to be Eastern European (Ukrainian maybe?) she could have just as easily been Australian for as much as her culture impacts her character.  Actors being forced to fake accents for no logical reason is a pet peeve of mine. The United States is a diverse place and people in all walks of life in all corners of the country have all sorts of accents. Unless there is a compelling script reason that the character must be from “country x” let them use their real voice.

ANYWAY

It’s hard to say anything bad about this movie. Yes, the pacing lags in spots and maybe it takes a little too long to make the point it tries to make. But, that doesn’t really run the enjoyment of the fantastic performances by Murray and Lieberher. A