Sunday, October 23, 2011

Review - Once Upon a Time

"There once was an enchanted forest filled with all the classic characters we know.  Or think we know.  One day they found themselves trapped in a place where all their happy endings were stolen.  Our world."

This is how ABC's new fantasy-drama series Once Upon A Time begins, along with breathtaking scenery (if CGI, very seamlessly created) and one of the most famous kisses of all time.

Fairy tales go head to head this season, with NBC debuting Grimm next week.  But Once Upon A Time is off to a promising start, offering a well-paced, beautifully shot pilot that masks the necessary setting-up-the-premise exposition with, and I must quote Disney's Beauty and the Beast here, "Far off places, daring sword fights, magic spells, a prince - or rather, an entire cast of characters - in disguise.

**Episode Details Follow**

Once Upon A Time focuses primarily on Snow White (Big Love's Ginnifer Goodwin) and Prince Charming (Josh Dallas, Hawaii Five-O), who, in keeping with the traditional story, have pissed off the Evil Queen (Lana Parrilla, Miami Medical, Swingtown) with their perfect beauty and happiness.  She takes revenge by placing a curse on the entire kingdom, vowing that the only happy ending anyone will ever have ever again will be hers.  Before the curse, delivered via an all-encompassing black cloud, Snow gives birth to a daughter, Emma (Jennifer Morrison, How I Met Your Mother, House), who will eventually be the key to ending the curse and setting everyone free.  Placed in a magical wardrobe, Emma is transported to real-world Boston, where she grows up part of the foster system and in adulthood becomes a bail bondsman, or "bondsperson," as she calls it.

On Emma's 28th birthday, ten-year-old Henry Mills (Mad Men's Jared Gillmore) knocks on her door and informs her that he is the son she gave up for adoption a decade before.  He then tells her that she must come back with him to his home, Storybrook, Maine.  Turns out Henry, who is in possession of a book full of all the fairy tales, knows Emma's true destiny and bluntly tells her so.  Emma's response?  "Kid, you've got problems."  Henry confidently rebuts "Yep, and you're gonna fix them."

In Storybrook, time is frozen, no one remembers their true selves and bad things happen to anyone who tries to leave.  Snow is now a school teacher, Charming is a comatose John Doe and the Evil Queen is mayor.  Other citizens include Mr. Gold (Robert Carlyle, SGU Stargate Universe), who owns Storybrook and in his other identity is the scheming, manipulative Rumplestilskin (his intro is quite reminiscent of Hannibal Lecter in Silence of the Lambs); Archie Hopper (Raphael Sbarge, Prison Break, 24), a.k.a. Pinocchio's Jiminy Cricket and Henry's therapist; Granny (Beverly Elliott, Harper's Island), who runs the local boarding house; and Ruby (Meghan Ory, True Justice, South Beach), a.k.a. Red Riding Hood and a fellow boarder.

The series frequently transitions back and forth from the fairy tale kingdom to the real world, but it's not distracting since they are distinctly their own entities.  Goodwin, with her ivory skin and sweet but strong demeanor, makes for a convincing Snow and Parrilla offers plausible bite and chill to her Queen.  Morrison's tough snark plays for the resistant Emma and you can tell she's going to be a force for the Queen to reckon with.  It's strange to hear characters from stories known for decades have real conversations wrought with conflict and emotions and deal with real problems just like regular folk.  The series has included characters from many different stories and united them together in one realm, as the Shrek film series did, but it works. 

And with messages like "Believing even in the possibility of a happy ending is a very powerful thing," you can't help but root for good to triumph and embrace the grand adventures to come.

Bottom Line:  Dare to believe in this enchanting series.

Catch Once Upon A Time Sundays at 8 p.m. on ABC.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Going, Going ... Gone.

Can't say I'm surprised with the latest TV casualty.  Read my previous review and you'll see why.

So long ...

Charlie's Angels (ABC)

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Revisit This Show - Three Rivers

I love it when I discover an actor I hadn't watched much of before on one show and like him/her enough to check out other projects he/she has done.  Such is the case with Alex O'Loughlin, who I am thoroughly enjoying as Lt. Commander Steve McGarrett on CBS' current hit Hawaii Five-0, a show I already highly recommend.

O'Loughlin is well-known for the vampire series Moonlight, which I will be checking out next thanks to an upcoming marathon on the SyFy network.  But after that he starred as a transplant surgeon on the CBS series Three Rivers, which only lasted 13 episodes.

That's a shame, because the series, which is currently streaming on Netflix, is really good.  Beautiful production value, a good, cohesive cast and compelling stories.  I wasn't sure I was going to buy O'Loughlin as a soft-spoken doctor given the rough-and-tough Navy SEAL he plays on Five-0, but I was quickly impressed and on board for the show.

 Three Rivers follows the lives organ donors, doctors and transplant patients at Pittsburgh's acclaimed Three Rivers Medical Center.  O'Loughlin plays Dr. Andy Yablonsky who leads a team of top medical personnel in the quest to save lives through organ donation.  The series co-stars Katherine Moennig (The L Word, Young Americans) as Dr. Miranda Foster, a woman with a rebellious reputation strives to live up to her father's legacy; Daniel Henney (X-Men Origins: Wolverine) as Dr. David Lee, the swoon-worthy surgeon heartbreaker; Christopher J. Hanke (Big Love) as Ryan Abbott, the new transplant coordinator with little experience but a flair for acquiring and transferring organs to the patients; Alfre Woodard (St. Elsewhere, Desperate Housewives, Memphis Beat) as Dr. Sophia Jordan, the head of organ surgery; Justina Machado (Six Feet Under, ER) as Pam Acosta, Yablonski's operating assistant and best friend; and Amber Clayton as Dr. Lisa Reed, a beautiful young doctor who wears her heart on her sleeve and gets Yablonsky's heart racing.

Unlike shows like Grey's Anatomy, which focus more on the interpersonal (i.e. romantic) relationships between the doctors, Three Rivers is more about the patients and how donors and recipients tie together. The pacing works well in stressing how vitally important every moment is in delivering and transplanting organs - I was glad to learn more about this amazing field of medicine, even if through a television drama -  and the show isn't afraid to have losses as well as wins. The stories are compelling, touching and will pull on your heartstrings in that good way good storytelling does. 

One storyline that carries through the short-lived season is that of Kuol (Owiso Odera), an African man who has fought to survive his entire life and now fights to live long enough to receive a new heart. And a can't-miss episode features Mandy Patinkin (Chicago Hope, Criminal Minds) as a terminal ALS patient who chooses to die sooner so that seven people can receive his organs and live.  The series had great promise and I'm glad I was able to enjoy it, short-lived as it was.

Transplant Three Rivers to your viewing queue today.

Review - American Horror Story

A foreboding house.
A creepy young girl with an ominous warning.
A dark basement filled with jars holding you-don't-want-to-know-what.
The violent murder of two twin boys under mysterious circumstances.

Quite a killer beginning to a new series.  Where American Horror Story goes from there is, I have to admit, incredibly difficult to put into text.  But maybe that's the point of this intriguing, unsettling, albeit baffling new show about a family, their new home and a plethora of issues old and new.

This new FX series from Ryan Murphy and Brad Fulchuk, creators of Nip/Tuck and Glee (a far cry from the latter but as envelope-pushing as the former) stars Dylan McDermott (The Practice) and Connie Britton (Friday Night Lights) as Ben and Vivian Harmon, a couple looking to make a fresh start while trying to repair their relationship after Ben's extra-marital affair.  Taissa Farmiga (younger sister of Academy Award nominee Vera Farmiga) plays daughter Violet, a tough-skinned teenager with self-harm tendencies.

A recurring cast of unnerving characters includes Academy Award winner Jessica Lange as imposing neighbor Constance, who has a penchant for repeatedly letting herself into the Harmon household; Frances Conroy (Six Feet Under) as housekeeper Laura, who may or may not be deceased; and Evan Peters (One Tree Hill), as Tate, a disturbed young patient of Ben's with confessed homicidal fantasies.

I honestly don't know quite what to make of this show.  The pilot featured a distinct filming style - jump cuts, quick zooms, did-you-see-that? images - and it definitely has a high creep factor that draws you in and makes you feel like watching it with the lights off to get the full effect. There were some usual horror-story setups (like "Is there someone in the house?"), but they were made effective by the absence of a music soundtrack, leaving you to listen for every distant sound and hear every creak of the floorboards.

**Episode details follow**

The family's back story is thus:  Vivian delivered a stillborn baby son.  In her grief, she shut Ben out, which led to his having an affair with a student.  Looking to start over, the couple relocates to their current home, the same house where the twin boys met their violent end decades before - a house with apparently a long history of tragedy of death.  Ben is sexually frustrated (Vivian has denied him for nearly a year), so it's no surprise he finds himself disturbingly aroused by Laura, who he sees as a hot young woman and not the elderly matron Vivian sees (Conroy).  After the couple finally reconnects physically, Vivian is later approached by a figure in full S&M rubber, mask included, and proceeds to go for "round two" with him, believing he is Ben but not realizing it's not.  Later she discovers she's newly pregnant.  So who's the daddy?

Still with me?  Yeah, I know.  I'm still processing it myself.

Other twisted moments included Violet - with Tate's help - getting payback against a bullying schoolmate in the afore-mentioned basement (strobe effect and a fanged, gender-ambiguous attacker make for a disturbing sequence); ghostly images of the slaughtered twin boys behind an unsuspecting Vivian; and Adelaide (Jamie Brewer), a Down Syndrome girl who as a youngster warned the twin boys that they would die in the house and now taunts the Harmons that they'll suffer the same fate.

I appreciate the shock value American Horror Story is going for - there's certainly not a lack or language, sexual situations and violence - and it has found the right home on FX, the network known for other twisted series like Nip/Tuck and Wilfred and gritty, hard-edged series like The Shield and Sons of Anarchy.  The preview tagged onto the end of the pilot gave a glimpse of what is to come and it definitely looks to be both gruesome and chilling.  I'm game to give it another go.

Bottom line:  A tale of terror poised to take you down an unpredictable road ... kind of refreshing.

Catch American Horror Story Wednesday nights at 10 p.m. on FX.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Two More Bite the Dust

Hello fans.

Two more shows have been dropped like hot potatoes (sorry cast and crew!).  Hope you weren't into:

Free Agents (NBC)


H8R (The CW)

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

First Cancelled Show of the Season

Well, the inevitable first cancellation of the new season has been made:  Rest in peace ...

The Playboy Club (NBC)