Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Supernatural Postmortem

Oh, my  beloved Supernatural, what art thou doing to me?

Without question, this is my all-time favorite show, as I have written in earlier blog entries.  I love the characters, I defend it to the hilt on message boards criticizing it, I have faith in the storytellers behind it and have been disappointed very, very rarely over its many seasons.  And I hope for more seasons to come.

So why am I so frustrated by season 8?  Why am I waiting to fall in love with this season?  We are five episodes in and I know they're just mapping out where we're going, watching Sam and Dean cope with each other after yet another long separation, the changes each character has undergone in their respective experiences - Dean in Purgatory, Sam in retirement from hunting.  And I know plot lines build to a head around episodes 9 and 10.  So I have to find patience.

But at the heart of this show are the brothers and their relationship.  I've read interviews with stars Jensen Ackles and Jared Padalecki and I know they appreciate the chance to play with and off of other actors and find interesting things to play when not in scenes together.  I also know that they have practically carried the series single-handedly all these years and appreciate the chance to have some time off, deferring screen time to guest stars and recurring characters (Jared especially, being a new dad to 7-month old son Thomas). 

But the last two episodes ("Bitten", the Chronicle-esque ep, and "Blood Brother") in particular featured the Winchesters far less than normal.  Tonight's especially barely featured any scenes with them together at all.  Tonight we got more insight into Sam's year off and the beginning of his relationship with girlfriend Amelia (Liana Balaban) and saw more of Dean's time in Purgatory with vampire pal Benny (Ty Olsson) and angel pal Castiel (Misha Collins).  But it really was "The Benny Show." (though I do like the new term "Vampirate" ... thanks for that Ben Edlund).  This is important information for us, I know, and the preview for next week's episode seems to confront the tension between Sam and Dean that has been slowly building.  But dammit, the pacing and distance between the brothers is frustrating me.  Even though we've had tension between them before, it bothers me more now.  I can't quite state it eloquently.  I'm just ... waiting.

So what is a die hard fan to do?  No way in hell I'm walking away.  I'm too dedicated, too invested.  And I know it will become the show I love so much again.  I can't call these growing pains ... they don't happen so late in the game.  Second wind?  8-year itch?  Call it what you will, I will never abandon this show.  It's meant to much to me.

Despite what I've written here, I'm not saying I completely hate the new season.  I'm just not excited by it.  And that saddens me.  I used to hate waiting a week for the next episode.  Now I find I can wait quite easily.  Should I be so emotionally invested in and bothered by what is simply a TV show?  Hey, I'm a TV blogger.  I live for TV.  So at my core, I just can't help myself and I hope you, my readers, appreciate my passion and opinion.

If you're a fan of Supernatural, I can only ask you to stay with it.  If you love it like I do but feel similar frustrations, trust in the writers along with me and believe that it'll find it's way back and being that show again.  If you are ready to abandon it or have already, at least hold onto your love of its earlier seasons, because they really are stellar, entertaining and just plain great.

If you have never watched the show, don't let this entry defer you from giving it a chance.  Watch from the beginning (it's on TNT twice every day and of course on DVD) and hopefully you'll discover you love it, too.

As for me, I will anticipate the next episode and the ones after that, always.

Thanks for reading.  Please feel free to comment below.

Supernatural airs Wednesdays on the CW at 9 p.m.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Oh, NBC ...

I think I've given up trying to figure out the Peacock Network's strategies for programming.  Since when do you shelve your hottest new series - one that requires following an intricate ongoing mythology - for months?  That's exactly what they are doing with the new hit show Revolution

For sure the show is going to lose momentum - and possibly viewers - when it goes on a long-ass hiatus at the end of November.  Return date?  March 25. That's four very long months.  It's hard enough waiting out a show that doesn't have an ongoing saga/mystery.  Not to mention it's been a long, damn while since the net had such a successful show.  This seems like programming suicide to me.

Then there's the fan favorite and critic-darling Community.  Granted, not a ratings wonder.  And having been exiled to Friday night, you can guess how the net has felt about it.  Plus the recent firing of creator Dan Harmon ...we all know how fans feel about that.  But when the show FINALLY returns to the airwaves on Feb. 7, it will be in its new 8 p.m. time slot on Thursdays.  Don't cheer just yet ... it'll be going head-to-head with ratings powerhouse The Big Bang Theory on CBS.  But Community has had and will now have more time for people to catch up with the DVDs/streaming, which may bring along new viewers when it returns.

The musical drama Smash will also return in February (Feb. 5).  It's been a long wait for a show that started strong and finished less strong, but I'm looking forward to its return.

NBC will be premiering its slate of mid-season shows over the coming months, including Deception (formerly Infamous), a drama/soapy murder mystery. Starring Meagan Good, Victor Garber, Tate Donovan and Katherine LaNasa, the show premieres Jan. 7, moving into Revolution's time slot. 1600 Penn, a First Family sitcom starring Bill Pullman, Jenna Elfman and Josh Gad, premieres Jan. 10 (Thursday). Ready for Love, a matchmaking show produced by Eva Longoria, premieres March 31.

Again, not sure I understand why NBC is shelving Revolution for so long, except that maybe when it returns, it'll have a nice, uninterrupted run through the back half of the season.  Let's hope loyal viewers are patient enough to return with it.

What do you think of NBC's programming strategy?  Let me know in the Comments below.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Review - American Horror Story Asylum

The FX series made its return tonight, continuing it's dark and twisted legacy.  The show carries the rating of TVMA and warns of language, sex, violence and nudity - all of which were presented in spades in the first five minutes of the premiere episode, definitely setting the tone for this season's offering.

Though it falls under the title American Horror Story, this is not a continuation of last season.  Creators Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk (Glee, The New Normal) intend to have every season be a self-contained entity, casting many of the same actors - including Jessica Lange, Evan Peters, Sarah Paulson and Zachary Quinto - but in completely new roles with no connection to the previous season.  Think of it as a repertory theater company, but for television.

Minor Spoilers Ahead
Leaving season one's haunted house behind, we now are taken to and within a 60s era mental institution, Briarcliff Manor, run by righteous disciplinarian Sister Jude (Lange), a nun with a troubled past. Inside this locked down facility, danger lurks around every corner. From Nazis and serial killers, to mutants and aliens, no one is safe inside these walls.  Lurking in the shadows of this "sanctuary of healing" are terrifying evils that blur the boundaries between reality and insanity.

Briarcliff is also home to the notorious, deranged serial killer Bloody Face (Peters), a.k.a. Kit Walker, a young man accused of viciously killing dozens of women.  Thing is, he may be innocent of the crime.  See, when we first meet him, he's a simple service station worker secretly but happily married.  He and his wife then appear to fall victim to an alien abduction - the whole nine: flashing lights, high-pitched sounds, pinning to the ceiling, etc.  That's the story he defends himself with when he is brought to Briarcliff and subjected to the horrors within (during his "treatments," we are shown snippets of what appear to be flashbacks to Kit's abduction - probe table, experiments, everything you expect from the typical abduction scenario).

Heading up Briarcliff is Monsignor Timothy Howard (Joseph Fiennes, Flash Forward), for whom Sister Jude lusts after, and "treatments" - which include shock therapy and something liken to A Clockwork Orange - are conducted by Dr. Arthur Arden (James Cromwell, 24, Six Feet Under).  Inmates ... sorry, residents? ... so far include Shelley (Chloe Sevigny, Big Love) and Spivey (Mark Consuelos, a.k.a. Mr. Kelly Ripa) and, unwittingly, writer Lana Winters (Paulson, Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip), who came to get the exclusive on Bloody Face but who apparently is not meant to ever leave.

I've never personally seen a mental institution first hand, but I have yet to see a depiction of one on TV or in the movies that isn't a chamber of unbridled crazy with the most deranged and disturbed individuals roaming around freely, taunting each other and frequently lashing out with violence.  AHS Asylum ratches up this typical environment even higher, as you'd expect it to, being the show that this is.  Some may deem it doing so simply for the shock value, and that may indeed be so, but that level of disturbedness worked really well in season one.  I thoroughly cringed all throughout that one

This time around, I did less so.  Oh, the show still pushes the envelope with the violence and horrific imagery, rapt with "boo!" and "gotcha!" moments, but I didn't flinch as much this time around.  I wasn't as freaked out.  We'll have to see if Bloody Face ends up being as menacing a figure as the rubber-clad man was, and I'm sure the twisted goodness is just getting started.  But so far, doesn't have me in it's deranged clutches like last time.  We'll see if that changes. 

Props to the show's great promo imagery:

Bottom Line:  Not yet committed to Asylum, but gonna keep watching.

American Horror Story Asylum airs Wednesdays at 10 p.m. on FX.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Review - Nashville

Man, do I love a good pilot!

Nashville, premiering tonight at 10 p.m. on ABC, is as good as you've heard.  It's the next delicious new soapy drama with all that makes the genre so hard to resist - heroes, villains, greed, manipulation, fighting back, betrayal, ultimatums, triumph, set backs, etc.

Mild spoilers ahead
Nashville stars Connie Britton (Friday Night Lights, American Horror Story) as reigning Queen of Country Rayna James, who has dominated the country music scene for over 20 years.  But her newest tour isn't selling and her star is falling, causing her longtime label to lose faith in her, threatening to pull their support.

They do have one solution:  Rayna would "co-headline" with music's hot new #1 cross-over artist Juliette Barnes (Hayden Panettiere, Heroes), a sexy, sassy vixen with a heart of coal and a tendency to chew men up and spit them out.  A word that rhymes with "itch" definitely comes to mind.  To be fair, she doesn't have the best past - mom is a drug addict - but this is a girl you're going to love to hate, and Rayna's reactions to her (Britton's facial expressions are hilariously priceless in those moments) make it clear that this reluctant pairing ain't gonna fly.

Rayna must also deal with father Lamar (Powers Booth, 24), a successful businessman with whom Rayna has an extremely volatile relationship (could never see her ever being Daddy's little girl).  Lamar is dead set on having as much local power as possible, so he sets up son-in-law Teddy (Eric Close, Suits, Without a Trace) to run for mayor by playing up the "finally-get-out-of-Rayna's-shadow" card.  Sister Tandy (Judith Hoag, Big Love) is on board, proving that the sisters couldn't be more different.  Then there's the mysterious secret (paternity, maybe?) about one of Rayna's two daughters, thrown out in a heated argument with dad.  Wonder what that's about ... so juicy!

I didn't feel like I was watching a TV show with this pilot.  I felt like a fly on the wall witnessing these people's lives, and that's a testament to the quality of this show.  Britton is effortless in the lead role and I'm not an expert on the Tennessee accent but I bought her as a native completely (Britton hails from Boston).  Panattiere is clearly having fun in the role and she's a great foil for Rayna.  Despite Rayna's response to the labels ultimatum ("You can kiss my decision as it's walkin' out the door."), you just KNOW that tour is gonna happen.  How can it not with all those claws poised to strike?

Nashville is the brainchild of Callie Khouri, who knows how to write strong women with bite (she penned Thelma and Louise).  The show co-stars Charles Esten (Enlightened, Big Love) as Deacon, Rayna's bandleader of 20 years who harbors a long, unrequited love for her.  It's not long before Juliette lures him into her seductive web.  There's another story line about Deacon's niece Scarlett (Clare Bowen, Home and Away) possibly becoming another rising star, but it was a B-story we'll explore further, especially since the pilot left us believing she may be the key to Rayna's situation.

I'm not the biggest fan of country music, but the songs so far are quite catchy.  May make a playlist sometime in the future if they're made available.

I've anticipated this show for a while and I wasn't disappointed.  Kudos to ABC for finding these delicious gems of drama (they also feed us the superbly addictive Revenge).

Bottom Line:  Have a grand ole time with Nashville.

Nashville premieres tonight at 10 p.m. on ABC.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Review - Arrow

I had the opportunity to watch the pilot episode for Arrow at the Paley Center for Media's CW night and I went in believing this was going to be the new Smallville for the network, and while there some similarities - it's a superhero origin story, it has the same director of photography and it's even using Lex Luthor's mansion as the main estate - this show is much more Dark Knight at its core ... and it's very good.

One thing that definitely put me over the top, in addition to the terrific pilot (directed by legendary pilot episode director David Nutter, of course it is), was meeting star Stephen Amell (Heartland, Private Practice) at the Q&A afterwards.  What a charming, likeable guy.  He earnestly talked about the role, about tweeting from the set and his desire to do his own stunts even though he knows he reluctantly has to defer to his stunt double. It's important to me to like the star behind-the-scenes, and I do here.

Very mild spoilers ahead:

Amell portrays billionaire playboy Oliver Queen, a spoiled bad boy whose life of luxury is upended when he is shipwrecked on a dark, mysterious island for five years.  During that time, he transforms himself into a fierce warrior and expert archer.  He is eventually rescued and returns to Starling City, his mother Moira (Susanna Thompson, Kings, NCIS),  and sister Thea (Willa Holland, Gossip Girl, The O.C.) - dad was on the boat and met his fate ... well, won't spoil that for you.  He also reunites with his friend Tommy (Colin Donnell, Pan Am) and seeks out ex-girlfriend Laurel Lance (Katie Cassidy, Melrose Place, Supernatural), whose sister Oliver was having an affair with and who went down with the boat.
All sense that something has changed within Oliver, but they have no idea how much.  He has returned with a purpose: to amend for his incorrigible actions before the accident.  He does so by becoming Arrow, a green-hooded vigilante determined to take down the criminal element and restore Starling City to its former glory, fight the ills of society and right the wrongs of his family.  This is where Arrow is more like Dark Knight than Smallville.  The creators insist their Green Arrow is undeniably human, as will be all the nemeses and villains he'll do battle with.  No alien superpowers here (though Oliver is incredibly skilled and agile, rather borderline superhuman).  There's also the darkness in him that he unleashes on the night (Batman) while in the day he maintains a broad public persona - the spoiled playboy everyone remembers him to be (remember Bruce Wayne in Batman Begins?)  ... after all, who would possibly suspect such a shallow, carefree person to be their dark savior? He even has his own Alfred-like confidante in trusty bodyguard John Diggle (David Ramsey, Blue Bloods, Dexter).  The fun there will be that Diggle calls Ollie on all his snark and crap and they form a playful friendship. Having the funds to pull off his new mission also helps, and his "batcave" - a loft somewhere in the city - is complete with a workout apparatus that ... well, watch the pilot and be careful not to drool too much. Seen those abs of Amell's on all the posters?  You know the one:
In effect, the producers say that there are actually four characters Amell is playing: The Oliver before the accident, the Oliver while on the island, the Oliver that returns and the Arrow persona, and so far, Amell is pulling them off wonderfully.  He and Cassidy have incredible chemistry, and since it has been made know that her character eventually becomes Black Canary, that will be something to look forward too. 

Also intriguing is the mystery behind Oliver's own mother.  The pilot clearly lays out that she knows much more about the deadly shipwreck than she has let on – and is more ruthless than he could ever imagine.

The series will flashback to the time Oliver spent on the island: how he survived, if he was alone, how he trained (and who possibly trained him) and more, which should provide some awesome action sequences to compliment the ones that we'll see in the present (the pilot had one wicked-ass battle).

One line in the episode definitely made you see just who the new Oliver is and what he's about:  he tells his beloved housekeeper Raza (sorry, don't know the actress' name) - a kind of co-Alfred: "I want to be the person you always told me I could be."  Swoon.

This show is off to a great start and as someone who stuck with Smallville for all ten years, it's nice to have another hero origin story to watch.  And if the pilot is any indication, this is going to be a good series.  And as the lead in for Supernatural, how can you lose?

Bottom line:  Arrow hits the bullseye.

Arrow premieres this Wednesday, Oct. 10 at 8 p.m. on the CW.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Recap - Supernatural

They're baaaaaack!

Yes, my favorite show of all time is finally back on the air after a very long - though pleasantly program-filled - summer. And overall it was a very strong season premiere.  We're in Season 8 now and I think the show is in for a rockin' good season.

Now, I have a friend who keeps telling me that I have to write about why this show is my favorite and to share my passion with others.  I agree, especially if it gets new viewers watching, but then I realize how very hard that is to do.  To put into comprehensible words and sentences all that I want to say, all that I feel for the show, its cast, writers, directors and stories ... it's daunting, overwhelming.  I may be able to do it justice one day, but let me sum it up as best I can for now:

This show has two of the strongest leading men on TV today.  Particularly Jensen Ackles (Dean).  There's is nothing this man can't do: action, drama, comedy, broad comedy, you name it.  He is the master of the single-tear fall, he has 101 expressions, can deliver one-liners to perfection and ... let's face it, he's damn pretty to look at.  Plus he's become a hell of a director.  His onscreen brother, Jared Padelecki (Sam), is also a gem.  He can convey sweet innocence and compassion then on a dime be as cold-hearted and soulless (literally, as seen in season 6) as they come.  He's had to play the gauntlet of these emotions and all the ones in between during the show's run ... and he ain't bad eye candy either.  Except for that hair ... more on that in a moment.

I have watched a lot of television, I mean THOUSANDS of hours, but never have I followed the people behind the scenes like I have with Supernatural.  I actually know writers and directors by name and have become fans of theirs.  A great deal of the writing of this show is nothing short of brilliant, often in a single episode making you laugh, cry, scream, be tortured emotionally and fall in love, and that's a feat to be celebrated.  Not that there haven't been a small handful of eps with their problems (sorry "Red Sky at Morning" and "Bugs", I'm looking at you), but even in those there are moments you are willing to tune back in for again and again.

See, for me, I love a show that has re-watchability for me.  If I can take an episode I've seen a dozen times and watch it over and over and still discover new things or it can still touch me like new, that's a winner for me.  And that's Supernatural.  Hell, I own all available seasons on DVD and have them on my iPod and still will sit there and watch it on TNT twice every morning if I'm around.  And that's with freakin commercials! That's a credit to the show.

So I guess I was able to put it into some words.  But it still doesn't convey it enough that I'm not just a fan, I truly respect this show and all those that bring it to life episode after episode, season after season.

And I have to believe the PTB at the CW feel the same, cause not only have they stuck with the show - which isn't a ratings winner, but then again, what show on the CW is? - for eight seasons, but has taken it out of "death night" Friday and brought it to the forefront of Wednesdays at 9 p.m.  And the head of the net says he will keep the show on the air for as long as they want to keep making it.  Love that!

So, back to last night's premiere.  Some spoilers may come to the fold here, so if haven't watched the ep yet, may want to come back later (but please do).
To recap where we left off, last season Dean and Sam finally managed to defeat Dick Roman (James Patrick Stuart), a.k.a. Head Leviathan, sending him back to Purgatory.  Unfortunately, Dean and Castiel (Misha Collins) got caught in the blast wave and were transported there right along with him, leaving Sam to believe his brother was well and truly dead.  Now, that little wrinkle has never stopped them before ... I mean, come on, these guys have died SO MANY times before but have always managed to come back, usually because one brother fights to bring the other back, or someone else pulls that feat off.

But this time was different.  Sam actually kept the promise the brothers have so often made to each other (but never kept): if one dies, the other should go live a "normal, apple-pie life."  So that's what Sam did.  I know a lot of people right now have a problem with that.  After all, these boys have gone to Hell and back - literally - for each other, and you thought they would never be able to move on without each other.  But to Sam, everyone he knew and loved was dead.  There was nothing left to fight for, no one left to fight with, so he walked away and found a new life away from hunting.  And you can't fault the guy for that.  Maybe if he'd known where Dean was he'd have gone after him, but he truly believed Dean was dead and accepted that.

But Dean wasn't dead.  He was in fact in "hell-adjacent" serving a tour being likened to his own demonic Vietnam.  24/7 peril, monsters constantly chasing you, no chance to relax or be safe, vicious, horrible death looming around every corner.  And for a man who spent 40 years in Hell, this seems so  much worse.  Hell damaged his psyche, but Purgatory seems to have clearly hardened the man to a new level of stone, and I think we're going to see that emerge dangerously throughout the season.

Suffice to say the dynamic between the brothers has shifted once again as it has done so many times before.  I like that their lives over the past year (that's how much time they were apart ... so far they've spent several years apart over the 8 seasons, so what the hell year is it for them anyway?) will be told in flashbacks: how Dean got out of Purgatory with the help of new vampire-BFF Benny (Ty Olsson) and what happened to Castiel vs. Sam and new on-again-off-again girlfriend Amelia (Liane Balaban) in a hunt-free existence and more.

The premiere was great in that it had the brothers together for the whole hour.  We've had them separated so much in the last few years of the show, so it was a nice change.  And there was a brotherly hug, which so many of us love to see, rare as they are with these macho guys.  I can deal with recurring character Kevin "The Prophet" Tran (Osric Chau) for a bit, but I hope he's not going to be a constant third passenger in Baby (i.e. the Impala).  He's clearly going to play a key role in the overall story for the season: finding the spell that can lock demons away in hell forever.  And of course, thrilled to have Mark Sheppard's Crowley still around.  And Castiel should pop in in the next few episodes.

As much as I love this show - have I mentioned that? - during the ep I couldn't help but nag at a few things - nobody's perfect, right?

1) Sam said he dumped all their old phones.  So how in the world did newly-returned Dean get in contact with him to set up the rendezvous at the cabin? It'd been a whole year!

2) Dean seemed to have his old clothes ... did Sam save them for him, even though he believed him to be dead and gone once and for all?

3) Sam's hair.  I saw Jared at Comic-con this summer and couldn't believe how long it's gotten.  We're talking can-make-a-ponytail long.  He's always had long hair but now it's ridiculous.  And Dean never mocked him for it ... boo.  Upside?  The Wolverine-esque sideburns are no more!  Additional point - when the boys go into FBI-mode as they did tonight, no way would I buy the bureau letting an agent have their hair that long.  He still looked good though, and he's a new daddy, so he's got to be tired, but it doesn't show.

4) Sam fell back into fighting a little too easily.  Sure he's hunted all his life, but he WAS out of the game for a year.  Hell, even Dean was a little rusty in "Exile on Main Street" (seaon 6 premiere ... he'd been out of the life also for a year living with Lisa (Cindy Sampson) and Ben (Nicholas Elia)), so I don't buy the ease of the skill all that completely.

5) The brothers went right back to their usual way of being, which also seemed too easy, considering they've just had this amazing, miraculous reunion.  Couldn't we take a little time to enjoy it, feel it?  I know Jeremy Carver (new showrunner who also wrote this ep) probably wanted to take us smack right into the action of this new storyline, so I guess I'll just go with it.  He is one of my favorite writers and I'm so glad to have him back (he left to kick start the American version of Being Human on the SyFy Channel).

6) Borax - the stuff the boys use to reveal a Leviathan - is a harsh chemical.  So how come they were spraying and getting sprayed willy-nilly with the stuff, including near the eyes, and it didn't burn like the dickens?

There's probably a lot more I can say good and less good, but I think I'll end it here.  Bottom line, I can't recommend this show enough.  I know a lot of fans nitpick more than I do, get angry and defensive about plot points and character stuff, but I put my faith ever in the writers, cast and crew to do what they've been doing for me for 8 years: entertaining the hell out of me and giving me two incredible actors to watch - and drool over.  I mean, come on, how can you NOT??
 Tune in to Supernatural season 8 every Wednesday at 9 p.m. on the CW and every Monday-Friday, 9-11 a.m. PST on TNT.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Welcome Back, Supernatural!

TV Tour Guide wishes Supernatural a hearty "Welcome Back!". Very much geared up for Season 8, which so far sounds pretty damn cool.

How did Dean spend his time in Purgatory?  How did he and new BFF Benny - a vampire - escape?  What happened to Castiel?

How did Sam spend his year away from hunting?  Did he find true, peaceful love with girlfriend Amelia?  How will he and Dean reconcile his leaving the life?

How did the year apart affect their relationship?  Will the reunion be a successful one?  Will they become a solid unit once more?

Tune in tonight at 9 p.m. PST on the CW.  You can always watch the Presidential debate later online ...