Thursday, December 26, 2013

Latest Binge Watch - Justice League

Say what you will about this mid-season hiatuses, they're a great time to do some binge-watching.  I thought I was going to delve into House of Cards or catch up on Family Guy, but unexpectedly I began watching what I deem to be one of the best animated series in recent (well, 2001, anyway) years:  Justice League


DC Entertainment and whichever studio(s) is releasing the Justice League film in 2017 could really learn a lot from this show.  The characters were thoroughly fleshed out, they commanded respect and they totally kicked ass.  They had hubris, flaws, they challenged each other and they were a cohesive unit that knew how to save the world again and again.  If the movie(s) followed this model, they could really give Marvel, which gets it SO right, a real run for their money.

The first two seasons, called just Justice League, focused on seven founding members:  Superman (George Newbern), Batman (Kevin Conroy), Wonder Woman (Susan Eisenberg), The Flash (Michael Rosenbaum), Green Lantern (Phil LaMarr), Hawkgirl (Maria Canals-Barrera) and J'onn J'onzz (Carl Lumbly).  These actors bring their characters richly to life.  Conroy came over from his own animated series while Newbern is taking over vocal duties from Tim Daly (Superman animated series).

The show did the usual superhero stuff, battling super villains, thwarting alien invasions, etc.  But it also was wrought with political conflicts, philosophical and ethical conundrums and personal issues.  It definitely feels more like an animated series for adults than for kids.


Providing the comic relief - and often a lot of heart - for the show is The Flash, which is my favorite character, largely in part to Rosenbaum's vocalization.  Funny enough, at the same time he was playing a good guy here, he was also playing one of, if not the, ultimate DC Comic super villain, Lex Luthor, on the CW series Smallville.  Flash was the conscience of the League, and watching the character fight next to - and often irritate - his fellow heroes, is quite humorous and very entertaining.  And gets better when he ends up being the hero of the day.

Most of JL's first two seasons consists of two-parters, and the stories and action get quite epic, probably because so much can be done and there's great freedom with animation.  It's a terrific collection of mini-features.

 

For some reason, come season three the creators didn't feel the original seven were enough, so the show became Justice League Unlimited and introduced countless new heroes that were inducted into the League, including Supergirl, Green Arrow, Aquaman, and many - too many - more.  Each episode now had an original member or two - usually Batman, Superman and/or Wonder Woman - going on adventure with a newbie or three, and it just wasn't the same ... plus now there was just too little of Flash.  It wasn't until the trilogy toward the end of season 4 (Flashpoint-Panic In The Sky-Divided We Fall) that I saw my old JL back again.

But despite that, this is a terrific series and if you are a DC fan, come here to get your fix, at least for now.  Here's hoping the coming movies gets it right.

Justice League/Justice League Unlimited Seasons 1-4 are available for streaming on Netflix.
































Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Year's End - What I'm Still Watching

Happy Almost 2014, TV Tourists! 

It's been a long year of some pretty damn good television (here's looking at you, Breaking Bad) and not-good-at-all TV (for shame, Super Fun Night).  While I did pick up and stay with several new shows, it wasn't as many as in past years.  Maybe because I'm already watching so much already, but more I think that there weren't a lot that gripped and held me enough to work it in to my viewing roster.

Here are some of my winners:


I know most people haven't considered this ABC TV spin-off a slam-dunk for creator Joss Whedon, but I think it's a decent show with some overall entertainment value.  What's lacking is the usual wit and fun we've come to expect from a Whedon show.  The cast is incredibly young overall, and I'm not sure it works, but the characters are finding their footing.  We're still waiting to learn more about Ming Na's Agent May - perhaps the most intriguing character, despite her completely dead-pan delivery.  And we're on the cusp of learning exactly what went down with Agent Coulson's (Clark Gregg) miraculous resurrection.  The episodes have gotten better as the freshman season has progressed, and I appreciate the regular references by the team to the various Avengers, so I'll still be watching when the show returns next year.


 

This ABC show was a slow burn for me, but it's become a new favorite of mine.  The humorous nostalgia of revisiting the 80s alone is great fun, but this is a real family with individual quirks and flaws that really gel.  Mom Beverly, played to interfering perfection by Wendy McLendon-Covey, is the stand-out, while Jeff Garlin is rather grating and the weak member for me.  Some of the antics and behaviors are played almost too big ... almost.  It actually works.  I was a fan of The Wonder Years, and now I feel like I have my new Arnolds.  And again, love seeing the 80s again!


 

Yes, the title of this ABC sitcom sucks.  It's just because Malin Ackerman's Kate is anything but.  She really makes the effort to be a parental figure to her new stepkids and you root for her when she triumphs.  This is a very solid team of players, adults and kids alike.  I do, every episode, wonder just HOW Kate and Pete (Bradley Whitford) tolerate so much interference from his previous wives, the perfectly prickly Diane (Marcia Gay Harden) and the fiercely flaky Jackie (Michaela Watkins) - they are incredibly intrusive, but hey, technically they're family, and Kate acknowledges that and incorporates them for the kids' sake, so bring on the continued madness!


 

I've stuck with these two witch-centric series, though the latter was a little more of a chore to do so.  FX's American Horror Story lost me last season with it's turn in the Asylum, but it's totally back with this seriously disturbing round about witches and voodoo in New Orleans.  Talk about twisted TV!  Lifetime's East End is good enough, and it finished its freshman run fairly strong, so I'll tune back in when it returns next year.  Will be sorry to see AHS:C go, but I've sure enjoyed the ride.


 

Black is the new hot color in TV.  While not currently airing new episodes till next year, I binge-watched these two terrific series this summer and eagerly await their new seasons.  Tatiana Maslany is astounding as the many, many clones in BBC America's Orphan Black, and Taylor Schilling heads up a fantastic cast in Netflix's prison drama Orange is the New Black.  Catch up now with both shows before we move on to what's next for these fascinating women.

There were other shows I started watching but quickly dropped because they just didn't do it for me:  FOX's Brooklyn Nine-Nine, CBS's Mom and The Crazy Ones (though I did work on an episode, so I'll be watching that for sure).  I've stock-piled FOX's Sleepy Hollow, which I will binge-watch during the winter break.  And I'm hoping to be able to eventually catch up with CBS' Elementary, a show I really like but couldn't watch ... Thursday is a VERY packed night.

Surprisingly I did not tune in to any of the CW's new shows The Originals, The Tomorrow People and Reign.  And that's usually my go-to network.  Who'd have thought ABC would be the season winner of new viewing for me?

I've already said goodbye to Showtime's Dexter and AMC's Breaking Bad, and  I'll soon be saying adieu to the CW's Nikita, which takes its final bow this month.  Lifetime has cancelled The Client List, but USA's Psych is back next month, with the brilliant Suits returning in March to that same network.  And of course there's all my fave shows that I'm still very committed to.

Then there's the slew of new shows premiering early next year that I'll be checking out to see if they'll make my playlist, among them CBS' Intelligence (welcome back Josh Holloway!) and FOX's Rake, starring Greg Kinnear.  Which will make the cut?  Wait and see!

Until then, take the opportunity during this dreaded winter hiatus to catch up on your favorite shows or take the chance to discover new ones, which you can do thanks much in part to Netflix, Hulu Plus and Amazon Prime.

Happy Holidays, Tourists!



Thursday, December 12, 2013

Golden Globe and SAG Award Nominations

Greetings Tourists! 


Award season has begun a major kick-off with the announcement of both the Golden Globe and SAG Award nominees.  As always, I'm just focusing on the contenders for television, but you can find the full lists online.

The Globes have done a great job of adding new blood to the mix of nominees.  Gone is the Modern Family (ABC) and HBO domination of years past (though I do NOT appreciate the total Game of Thrones snub). 


I'm thrilled to see Orphan Black's (BBC America) Tatiana Maslany (above) and Orange is the New Black's (Netflix) Taylor Schilling up for Best Actress.  I discovered and binge-watched these two series this summer and they are fantastic.  Netflix is having a very good year, scoring additional multiple noms for House of Cards.  Starz is also on the map with its original movies The White Queen and Dancing on the Edge.  And Monica Potter FINALLY gets kudos for her terrific work on NBC's Parenthood.  Nice new noms for Hayden Panettiere for her role on ABC's Nashville and Kerry Washington for ABC's Scandal.

Of course there are past nominees as well, including The Big Bang Theory's (CBS) Jim Parsons, Modern Family's Ty Burell and Sofia Vergara and Veep's (HBO) Julia Louis-Dreyfus


But this year should belong, hands down, to Breaking Bad (AMC) and its leads Bryan Cranston (R), and Aaron Paul for their spectacular swan song performances.  Anna Gunn is sadly only nominated for a SAG Award, but I give her an honorary nomination for the Globe, too.

The Television Golden Globe Nominees are:

Drama Series
Breaking Bad (AMC)
Downton Abbey (PBS)
The Good Wife (CBS)
House of Cards (Netflix)
Masters of Sex (Showtime)

Drama - Actor
Bryan Cranston, Breaking Bad
Liev Schreiber, Ray Donovan (Showtime)
Michael Sheen, Masters of Sex
Kevin Spacey, House of Cards
James Spader, The Blacklist (NBC)

Drama - Actress
Julianna Marguiles, The Good Wife
Tatiana Maslany, Orphan Black
Taylor Schilling, Orange is the New Black
Kerry Washington, Scandal
Robin Wright, House of Cards

Comedy Series
The Big Bang Theory
Brooklyn Nine-Nine (FOX)
Girls (HBO)
Modern Family
Parks & Recreation (NBC)

Comedy - Actor
Jason Bateman, Arrested Development (Netflix)
Don Cheadle, House of Lies (Showtime)
Michael J. Fox, The Michael J. Fox Show
Jim Parsons, The Big Bang Theory
Andy Samberg, Brooklyn Nine-Nine

Comedy - Actress
Zooey Deschanel, New Girl (FOX)
Lena Dunham, Girls
Edie Falco, Nurse Jackie (Showtime)
Julia Louis-Dreyfus, VEEP
Amy Poehler, Parks & Recreation

TV Movie or Miniseries
American Horror Story: Coven (FX)
Behind the Candelabra (HBO)
Dancing on the Edge (Starz)
Top of the Lake (Sundance)
The White Queen (Starz)

TV Movie/Miniseries - Actor
Matt Damon, Behind the Candelabra 
Michael Douglas, Behind the Candelabra
Chiwetel Ejofor, Dancing on the Edge
Idris Elba, Luther (BBC America)
Al Pacino, Phil Spector (HBO)

TV Movie/Miniseries - Actress
Helena Bonham-Carter, Burton & Taylor (BBC America)
Rebecca Ferguson, The White Queen
Jessica Lange, American Horror Story: Coven
Helen Mirren, Phil Spector
Elisabeth Moss, Top of the Lake

Supporting Actor
Josh Charles, The Good Wife
Rob Lowe, Behind the Candelabra
Aaron Paul, Breaking Bad
Corey Stoll, House of Cards
Jon Voight, Ray Donovan

Supporting Actress
Jacqueline Bisset, Dancing on the Edge
Janet McTeer, The White Queen
Hayden Panettiere, Nashville
Monica Potter, Parenthood
Sofia Vergara, Modern Family

 

The SAG Award nominees are a lot of same-old-same old.  Alec Baldwin and Tina Fey AGAIN??  Really glad this is their last year for 30 Rock.  There are a lot of cross-over noms with the Globes - Elisabeth Moss (Top of the Lake), Bryan Cranston and Aaron Paul (Breaking Bad), Kerry Washington (Scandal) and Jessica Lange (American Horror Story: Coven), among others.  HBO's Game of Thrones does get a nom here, and I'm happy for The Big Bang Theory's Mayim Bialik for her nom.

The Television SAG Nominees are:

Male Actor, TV Movie/Miniseries
Matt Damon, Behind the Candelabra
Michael Douglas, Behind the Candelabra
Jeremy Irons, The Hollow Crown (BBC)
Rob Lowe, Killing Kennedy (National Geographic)
Al Pacino, Phil Spector

Female Actor, TV Movie/Miniseries
Angela Bassett, Betty & Coretta (Lifetime)
Helena Bonham-Carter, Burton and Taylor
Holly Hunter, Top of the Lake
Helen Mirren, Phil Spector
Elisabeth Moss, Top of the Lake

Male Actor, Drama
Steve Buscemi, Boardwalk Empire (HBO)
Bryan Cranston, Breaking Bad
Jeff Daniels, The Newsroom (HBO)
Peter Dinklage, Game of Thrones
Kevin Spacey, House of Cards

Female Actor, Drama
Clare Danes, Homeland
Anna Gunn, Breaking Bad
Jessica Lange, American Horror Story: Coven
Maggie Smith, Downton Abbey
Kerry Washington, Scandal

Male Actor, Comedy
Alec Baldwin, 30 Rock
Jason Bateman, Arrested Development
Ty Burrell, Modern Family
Don Cheadle, House of Lies
Jim Parsons, The Big Bang Theory

Female Actor, Comedy
Mayim Bialik, The Big Bang Theory
Julie Bowen, Modern Family
Edie Falco, Nurse Jackie
Tina Fey, 30 Rock
Julia Louis-Dreyfus, VEEP

Comedy Ensemble
30 Rock
Arrested Development
The Big Bang Theory
Modern Family
VEEP

Drama Ensemble
Boardwalk Empire
Breaking Bad
Downton Abbey
Game of Thrones
Homeland

Monday, November 18, 2013

Review - Almost Human

Hi-dee-ho, Tourists!  Sorry I've been away so long ... took kind of a pseudo-hiatus, but I'm back and ready to talk more about all that is TV!

 

Kicking things off is my review of FOX's new sci-fi/drama Almost Human, which premiered last night and airs its first non-pilot episode tonight.  The show has been getting a lot of positive press and buzz, and it has quite the pedigree, coming from executive producer J.J. Abrams (Fringe, Lost, Alias) and creator/executive producer J.H. Wyman, who was behind the brilliant Fringe, which completed its five-season run earlier this year.  I loved Fringe and am a huge Abrams fan, not to mention I really like Karl Urban from way back to his days on Xena: Warrior Princess (he played the deliciously evil Julius Caesar) and most recently as Dr. Leonard "Bones" McCoy in the latest Star Trek movies (also from Abrams), so my own expectations for this were high for this new series.  Did it live up to them?

QUICK LOWDOWN



Almost Human is an action-packed police procedural set 35 years in the future, when police officers are partnered with highly evolved human-like androids. Urban plays Detective John Kennex, a cop who survived one of the most catastrophic attacks ever made against the police department. After waking up from a 17-month coma, he can't remember much – except that his partner was killed, he lost one of his legs and he is now outfitted with a highly sophisticated synthetic appendage. Suffering from depression and PTSD, he returns to work.


After a first pairing with an android partner fails, John is teamed with Dorian (Michael Ealy, Common Law), a discontinued android with unexpected emotional responses. With John being part-machine and Dorian being part-human, their understanding of each other both complements and connects them.

Almost Human co-stars Lili Taylor (Six Feet Under), Minka Kelly (Friday Night Lights, Charlie's Angels) and Michael Irby (The Unit).

The pilot's opening action sequence reminded me of another FOX program - Firefly, where in lieu of exposition, you are given an explosive but rather quick back story, then thrusting us into the present.  I appreciate this method of narrative - pulls you right in.  The show has a dark, gritty vibe to it - it's been likened to Blade Runner - and a pretty cool soundtrack.  It definitely is reminiscent of its unofficial predecessor, Fringe, in look and feel, but I wonder if AH will work in the heart and warmth Fringe had throughout its run.  I can tell the relationship between Kennex and Dorian is going to lead to some fun banter and humorous interplay, which I always enjoy in "buddy cop" shows.


I like Urban in the lead role.  He pulls off Kennex's disgruntled, brooding attitude well (and with a very believable American accent - he's a native New Zealander).  The android policemen are a little creepy, but that, too, works.  Makes you understand Kennex's apathy toward them - although his pushing one out of a moving car, causing it to be squashed by a series of vehicles, was rather harsh.  As for Ealy, I buy into his portrayal of an artificial life form.  He emotes a nice balance, adding just enough humanity into Dorian (calls himself "the partner with the bleeding heart).  I'm not sure if Ealy's eyes are as blue in real life as they are on the show, but if they're not, it's a nice touch. 

Dorian's ongoing challenging of Kennex - calling him on his attitude and prejudice of "synthetics" - creates a tension that adds a dynamic layer to their relationship.  Ultimately, together, Urban and Ealy make a great team, and I look forward to watching their partnership - and inevitable loyalty to each other - develop.

The special effects - and there are a lot - are pulled off seemlessly, not overdone but realistically what could potentially exist in the far-near future (the Segway still exists!).  There is also a touch of ick factor - not Fringe-level (yet), but given the show's parentage, is likely to be worked in throughout the series. 

A weak spot in the show is Taylor.  I really like the actress, but I think she is sorely miscast in the role of police captain.  I don't think she pulls off the authority needed.  If she were a fellow cop in the precinct, that I would buy.  But I am glad to see a woman in a power position.  Just needs to be someone maybe a little older or of a different muster ... immediately coming to mind are CCH Pounder or Katey Sagal.


I like the show and the pilot set up an interesting world to return to with lots of requisite questions-yet-to-be-answered (Who set up the initial ambush that led to Kennex's injury?  Where is his girlfriend?  Why was Dorian put in cold storage?). 

Bottom Line:  Let's hope FOX gives Almost Human a chance to live.

Almost Human airs Mondays at 8 p.m. on FOX.


Saturday, October 26, 2013

Rest In Peace - Marcia Wallace



TV Tour Guide mourns the great loss of comedienne and Emmy Award-winner Marcia Wallace, who was the voice of Edna Krabappel on FOX's long-running animated series The Simpsons and receptionist Carol Kester on The Bob Newhart Show.

Wallace passed away Friday, Oct. 25, just a week shy of her 71st birthday,  from complications from breast cancer, a cause she was an advocate for for many years.

Please help support the fight against breast cancer this Breast Cancer Awareness Month and all others.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Fun on The Middle!



Last month I had the fun opportunity to do background work on ABC's long-running sitcom The Middle.  I admit I am not a regular viewer of the show, but I had a blast on set that day.  It actually happened to be the series' 100th episode, so it was a huge filming day with tons of us creating the Orsontennial parade and festivities.

I watched the ep, which aired tonight, and it was like playing "Where's Waldo?" but with me as Waldo.  Fortunately I was wearing a bright purple hoodie and had my bright red hair - plus I knew exactly where I was in each scene.  I had a bonus scene in the beauty shop where I could see my hands and blurred face in action.

I love being on set and playing along with other actors, and to see the final product is awesome!

As for The Middle, it's a hit for ABC and has a great cast, including Neil Flynn (Scrubs) and Patricia Heaton (Everybody Loves Raymond).  If it weren't conflicting with other shows in the same hour (yes, I know, I need a DVR that can record more than two shows at once!), I'd probably tune in more.  It is in syndication now, though, so maybe I'll just catch up!

The Middle airs Wednesdays at 8 p.m. on ABC.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Which Witch Show is Worth Watching?


Admittedly I am a fan of witches and am thrilled that this appears to be the Season of the Witch on TV (vampires, werewolves and zombies have had a LOT of exposure ...), but Hollywood tends to focus on darker, evil, wicked witches - I've been told they're more interesting.  But if Charmed can pull off the good side of them, why can't other shows (you hearing me, Supernatural?)?

The new CW show The Originals, a spin-off from The Vampire Diaries, is decent and does feature witches, but it failed to win me over when the psuedo-pilot aired as an ep of TVD last season, plus I already reviewed it, so I'm concentrating on two new shows that are very witch-centric: Lifetime's Witches of East End and FX's American Horror Story: Coven.

MINOR SPOILERS AHEAD 


Now, this is a Lifetime series, so going in you know it's going to center on the female characters (yay!) and feature lots of big drama, sexy couplings, maybe some outlandish plot lines ... but of course, this is a series based in the supernatural, so that's to be expected.  So did the pilot cast a spell of good storytelling?



QUICK LOWDOWN

Beauchamp sisters Freya (Jenna Dewan Tatum, American Horror Story), an uninhibited bartender, and Ingrid (Rachel Boston, In Plain Sight), a shy librarian, lead seemingly normal lives (Freya's even engaged), until a warning arrives from their estranged aunt Wendy (M├Ądchen Amick, Damages), forcing matriarch and free-spirited artist Joanna (Julia Ormond, Mad Men, Temple Grandin) to reveal the family secret:  they're witches, gifted (and cursed?) with a magical birthright, immortality and great power. 

 

Let me start by saying, Ormond looks incredible (if I can look that stunning at 48 ...). And the lead ladies fit their parts esthetically, though blond Ingrid looks a little out of place given the rest of her family with their very long, dark locks.  She embodies her character, though, with soft, light make-up and very modest attire.  On the flip side, right from the jump we see Freya is this:


The yummy she's canoodling with is not her fiancee, handsome Dash Gardiner (Eric Winter, The Mentalist) - yes, that's his name - but a man she's never met but has been having unexplained dreams about, the dashing Killian (Daniel DiTomasso, CSI), who happens to be Dash's brother.  Turns out he's been having the same dream, which, after confessing this to Freya, leads to hot (literally ... they start a small fire) make-out session in a side room at her engagement party.

Friends, if you've ever wanted a cheesy romance novel brought to life, here you go.  The pacing is fast enough and does its job getting to the sexy and forbidden moments (there are plenty), the dialogue is bantery and light with lots of sparring.  And then, of course, there's conversations like this:

Wendy:  "I know you've been angry at me these past hundred years."
Joanna:  "Why would I be angry at you?  You only killed my eldest daughter."
Wendy:  "It was an accident!  Plus Ingrid was reborn."

Yep, it's that kind of show.  Overall, this is a good, not-taking-itself-too-seriously fit for the network that features fun fare like The Client List and Devious Maids.


As for the witch aspect, the show puts it right out there:  a black cat when hit by a car turns into a naked woman who is seemingly dead but later walks right out of the morgue very much alive; there's lots of spellwork spoken in a rapid foreign tongue, tons of candles, freaky (and kind of cool) visual effects and "what was that?" quick camera cuts.  Nothing that ties to the Wiccan spirituality here, which Charmed did at least in its earlier seasons.  And I know Ingrid knew nothing about witchcraft when she and her friends, out of curiosity, tried to do a spell in the library, but did they have to resort to wearing pointy black hats?

Speaking of Charmed, can't help but notice, whether intentional or not, the similarities:  the Beauchamp house is quite similar to the Halliwell homestead, especially the kitchen and functional attic.  There's also three female witches living together.  Both shows have their lead characters learning the secret of their magical heritage well into adulthood, having had their powers hidden as children ... they do say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery ...

Guest stars of note in the pilot included Tom Lenk (Andrew from Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel) and Jason George, who seems to be on everything these days, including regular gigs on Grey's Anatomy and Mistresses.

The show is cheesy and entertaining enough to earn a second-episode viewing (I didn't really connect with Devious Maids till the third episode, then I enjoyed the whole run).  As I write this review, I haven't yet watched American Horror Story: Coven, but try as Witches of East End might to create some scares, I guarantee it ain't gonna have NOTHING on that show.  Keep reading to find out ...

BOTTOM LINE:  Not ready to "End" my ride with this show just yet ...

Witches of East End airs Sundays at 10 p.m. on Lifetime.


Now ...

 

What I really like about the AHS series is the repertory theater aspect of it:  the fact that it keeps brining back the same actors in different roles (sometimes so different the level of talent astonishes - I'm looking at you, Paulson). Loved the first season - dark, shocking, so very, very twisted.  Didn't care for the second - overly dark, trying-too-hard-to-be-REALLY-shocking, too twisted to be fun.  I've read this third outing is going for some chuckles (still in a very twisted way) as well as the usual shock value and genuine creepiness and terror.  So did the pilot bewitch me to return?


QUICK LOWDOWN

AHS: Coven tells the secret history of witches and witchcraft in America. Over three hundred years have passed since the turbulent days of Salem and those who managed to escape now face extinction. Mysterious attacks have been escalating against witches, so young girls are sent to a special school in New Orleans to learn how to protect themselves. Wrapped up in the turmoil is new arrival, Zoe (Taissa Farmiga, making her second AHS run), who is harboring a terrifying secret of her own. Alarmed by the recent aggression, Fiona (Jessica Lange, in her third AHS role), the long-absent Supreme, returns determined to protect the Coven and hell-bent on decimating anyone who gets in her way. 


The impressive cast includes Kathy Bates (above, R, Harry's Law), Angela Basset (above, L, ER), Patti Lupone (Life Goes On), Emma Roberts, Gabourey Sibide and returning AHS alums Sarah Paulson, Frances Conroy, Evan Peters, Lily Rabe and Jamie Brewer.

First, NEVER get on Kathy Bates' bad side.  Second, normally too numerous quick cuts in succession bothers me, but here, because the images are so creepy and disturbing, I'm kind of grateful they go by fast.


In true AHS tradition, the opening credits are creepy (sorry, gonna use that word a lot here).  Remember the video from The Ring? Times that by about 10.  The KKK-like people in black robes is particularly unnerving.


Farmiga's Zoe, like Ingrid and Freya, didn't know she was a witch, but I liked the way the reveal to her was done better.  Again her character, like the one she played in season one, is forced to reside somewhere she doesn't want to be, but here there are at least others girls like her.  Not sure that's a good thing, though ... they are a whole new kind of mean girl (be glad the ones in your school didn't have powers like these chicks) Each has her own ... specialty, though Zoe's is more of a curse than a gift.  Roberts is really good at being conceited and cruel and you just know Zoe is gonna get sucked into her character Madison's darkness (when Madison is viciously gang-banged at a frat party, she barely bats an eye enacting swift, explosive revenge).   Nice to see Farmiga and Peters reunited - they have great chemistry.


Love the angles and images that the cinematographer and director create - it's like video art.  Nice to see Lange playing a more glamorous role from her others on AHS ...  she really eats up being evil and manages to (most times) not chew the scenery to bits.  And I love that she and Paulson are always direct antagonists - they really play off each other so deliciously.


The flashback sequences enhance the overall story incredibly well, and I like that FX has always and continues to allow this show the freedom of language, the portrayal of vices (smoking, drug use, sex) and graphic images and violence, although it's best when it works and is not just gratuitous, which is how I felt through much of season two, AHS: Asylum.

Already I like this season much better and I can't wait to see how this story unfolds.  I fully expect it to go off the rails in true AHS form.  I just hope this doesn't hurt the oft-negative perception of witches even more (yeah, right).  To be fair, the show will focus not just on typical witchcraft, but also voodoo and other black magic.

BOTTOM LINE:  Wicked good fun. 

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

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

After Thoughts - Supernatural


Supernatural is back!!

My Boys are back on the air with the Supernatural season premiere last night (finally!) and I have to say I really liked it.  Couldn't say that last year when season 8 started.  It helps that the season finale last May left us with a terrific cliffhanger - all angels expelled from Heaven, Sam dying, Cas newly human, Crowley nearly demon-cured and the Winchester's prisoner.

SPOILERS AHEAD


We jump back into the action with Sam (Jared Padalecki) lying in a coma, very near death (he;s seriously physically damaged as a result of last season's trials to close the doors to Hell forever) and struggling within his own mind whether to fight to live or choose to cross over.  If the latter, it wouldn't be the first time ... these guys die A LOT.  They also come back a lot. 


But I appreciate Sam - in a face-to-face conversation with Death (the Horseman) himself (Julian Richings) - making sure that cycle, which has had major consequences and tragic results, stops once and for all:

SAM:  "If I go with you, will you promise that this time it will be final?  That if I'm dead, I stay dead. Nobody can reverse it, nobody can deal it away and nobody else can get hurt because of me."
DEATH:  "I can promise that."


Up to this point, Sam's inner psyche came to him in the forms of Dean (Jensen Ackles) as the Sam that wants to fight and Bobby (Jim Beaver - welcome back!) as the Sam that is ready to let go.  Bobby's argument is that Sam has done so much, sacrificed so much and saved the freakin' world, so it's okay to go.

BOBBY:  "What you call dying, I call leaving a legacy."

I like here how Sam - even though speaking through Bobby - finally takes credit for the good he's done.  So much of the long run of this show has had Sam swimming in guilt over the bad things he's done and mistakes he's made.  But here he finally lets himself acknowledge the hero he also is, and it's nice to think he'll end up in heaven when it is indeed his time.

Of course Dean is having none of this, both inside Sam's head and out.  The real Dean is again in a position where he might lose Sam forever, and despite everything they've gone through, all the past deals and death-cheating, he still refuses to let his little brother go.  He's not selling his soul this time.  This time his course of action directly violates what Sam would consciously want or agree to:  angel possession.


After Dean puts out a planet-wide prayer for help, the angels come running, mostly to get revenge against Cas (Misha Collins) ... more on that in a minute.  The angel that gets to Dean first is Ezekiel (Tahmoh Penikett, Battlestar Galactica), a seemingly good angel who only wants to help.  He can do so by healing Sam and himself from inside Sam.

Therein lies the problem.  Sam has been possessed before - lost a whole week and even killed someone during it. He was also inhabited by Lucifer himself, and that led to 150 years of personal torture by the Devil's is his cage in Hell.   So to say Sam would NEVER agree to being possessed - even to save his own life - is an understatement.

Ezekiel (He's gonna become Zeke, you just know it) also blocks some of Sam's memory, which is reminiscent of the Wall Death put on Sam after his soul was returned to him (I know:  if you don't watch the show, a lot of this is out-of-context.  I highly recommend getting caught up!).  So he's not going to appreciate the mind-sweep either. 


Suffice to say, when Sam finds out what Dean has done (even though technically Sam said yes to this plan in his mind, thinking it was Dean asking when it was asking Ezekiel masquerading as Dean), the s**t's gonna hit the fan. Dean did wrestle with the decision to proceed, hesitated momentarily, but ultimately it's as it has always been:

DEAN:  "There ain't no me if there ain't no you."

I wish this plot point wouldn't come to pass ... again.  They have split the guys apart so many damn times because of secrets, betrayals, outside players, bad choices ... enough!  We FINALLY had them back as brothers, working together, having each others' backs in the second half of last season and it felt like classic, great Supernatural - two against the world.  To divide them yet again ... ugh.  It probably won't happen till right before the winter hiatus, and I have my theories about details, but I won't look forward to it.  I want them to stay a team, dammit!

In the meantime, Ezekiel apparently is able to take over Sam at any time, so look for that to happen.  I'm sure Dean is gonna regret his plan to some degree, knowing it's not at all what Sam would choose for himself.  I will say that Jensen was terrific as always, portraying the torment and conflict and fear of loss to perfection.


As for Cas, he's human now, having had his "grace" stolen from him.  He gets hungry, he can bleed and he needs money.  He also has a new mission: to help all his fallen brothers and sisters find their way.  Trouble is, they're pissed.  REALLY pissed.  They were expelled violently from heaven and they blame Cas.  So look for him to be dodging a lot of bullets (or the equivalent of angel bullets).  But we finally get Misha into some new clothes!


Ultimately, I'm very happy with the kickoff of the new season and look forward to future developments concerning Crowley (Mark Sheppard) and the boys' new mission, which is always based on ridding the world of evil.
 
  • Loved that Death gave respect to Sam and came to collect him personally.
  • Acting by all was terrific, but it always is.  Jared had one of his best runs at the end of last season.  Looking forward to more.
  • Loved seeing Bobby again.  Hey, if there's any show that can kill you and bring you back again and again, it's Supernatural!
  •  Interesting that a show that started out focusing on demons and monsters has become so much about angels.

Here's to a thrilling new season!

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





Friday, October 4, 2013

Great Binge Watch - Orange is the New Black

 

Got your newest binge-watch recommendation and it's fantastic!

You may have already heard all about Netflix's breakout hit about inmates at a women's prison and how great it is.  I'm here to tell you the critical acclaim is absolutely merited.  This is one terrific show.

QUICK LOWDOWN



Piper Chapman (the perfectly cast Taylor Schilling, Mercy) has it pretty good and is happily in love with fiancee Larry (Jason Biggs, Mad Love, American Pie) until it all comes crashing down.  Turns out Piper has quite a wild past as an international drug mule for ex-girlfriend (yep) Alex (Laura Prepon, That '70s Show) and a decade later it results in her arrest and detention in a federal penitentiary. Off to pay her debt to society, Piper trades comfort and luxury life for bad food, fearful conflicts and expected camaraderie and confidence amidst an eccentric group of inmates.

Because this program is on Netflix, it has the freedom to portray everything, including language and graphic sex and you actually don't feel for a second you are watching a television show.  You lose yourself in the lives of these people and their lives behind the bars.  The acting by all is so natural and the characters so rich and varied.  Not to mention this has the most realistic looking cast of women you'll ever see. 


This isn't a show of entirely beautiful, young starlets.  There are women of all shapes and sizes, shaved heads, bad teeth, bad hair, makeup-free faces - so refreshing and real.  Terrific array of ethnicities and sure, stereotypes are enacted, but in the prison setting, it works without offending.  It also helps to make Piper more of a odd fish in a very uncomfortable pond.


The performances are amazing across the board and I can't even point out one above the rest.  As I was watching I felt like they were all actors I've seen before, but when I IMDB'd them, I found that so many are new to me.  But I think that's a testament to their talent - they all felt like season veterans.  I do want to at least mention them:


Kate Mulgrew (Red)
   Natasha Lyonne (Nicky)
       Michelle Hurst (Miss Claudette)
              Pablo Schreiber (Mendez)
                  Laverne Cox (Sophia)
                      Nick Sandow (Caputo)
                           Uzo Aduba (Suzanne, a.k.a. "Crazy Eyes")
                              Dascha Polanco (Daya)
                               Samira Wiley (Poussey)
                                   Yael Stone (Morello)
                                        Danielle Brooks (Taystee)
                                            Constance Shulman (Yoga Jones)
                                                Taryn Manning (Pennsaticky)
                                                    Beth Fowler (Sister Ingalls)
                                                        Madeline Brewer (Tricia)

It's one of the best ensemble casts on TV and it was such an easy binge.  Couldn't wait to get to the next episode.  Piper's evolution during her incarceration is fascinating to watch and season one left us with a hell of a cliffhanger.  Too bad we have to wait till next year to see what happens.  But damn sure I'll be watching!

BOTTOM LINE: Truly arresting television.  Lock me in for Season Two!

Orange is the New Black is streaming on Netflix.