Friday, October 09, 2015

Same Old Same Old

With the end of this summer's "Big Brother," featuring the dumbest cast of housemates in over a decade, it's time for the return of both "Survivor" and "The Amazing Race." The latter I can take or leave, mostly because I don't know the players. I will tag along watching for a few weeks and see if there's anyone I like, and then decide if I'll keep watching, based on whether there are teams I want to root for, or teams I want to see crash like train wrecks. That's how these types of competitive reality TV shows work for me.

This particular season of "Survivor" has cut out the middleman, so I'm all in. Everyone who is on this season is someone who has been on the show before, thus the subtitle "Second Chance." I already know the players, know who I want to win, and who I want to hiss. I'm in, and I'm enjoying it. This has been a great season of "Survivor" so far.

Some shows come back with the same old same old, and it works, and some it just doesn't. I watched, or tried to watch, the season five premiere of Showtime's "Homeland." I had the same reaction, although much stronger, that I have had in previous seasons. I wanted to shake 'crazy eyes' until she agreed to leave the show. Much like Damian Lewis finally left, it's time for Claire Danes to take off. Her time is done. Give Rupert Friend's Peter Quinn a chance to shine and make the show about action and espionage instead of mental illness and bad decisions.

Which brings us to "Heroes Reborn." We're getting the same old same old again, and again I suspect, there will be no pay off. In the first season of "Heroes," we were introduced to a cast of interesting characters all on a collision course. The final conflict featured them all together, and we all wanted to see them all together again. Seasons after that, until its first death, never delivered that again.

We're here again, with the same formula. We have interesting characters seemingly on a collision course, but I can feel the same tricks and traps happening. The show will fall in love with villains and give them too much screen time, and the heroes the viewers fall in love with will go through hell and lose time to these villains. It's never enough of what we want. We want the wonder of Hiro, not another season of Sylar.

As far as the rest of the offerings this new season go, here's a quick rundown. I like "South Park" better without an inner continuity. "Moonbeam City" is just one joke, and it real old in the first ten minutes. "Fresh Off the Boat" and "The Goldbergs" are still going strong and very funny. I just can't get into "Empire," it feels like a "Power" wannabe that never delivers. As far as the music business goes, I'll wait for HBO's "Vinyl." "Sleepy Hollow," really? They still make that?

"Scorpion," which I do like, despite its wide avoidance of the true story source material it's based on, has gotten both better, and worse. While the stakes are heightened and the action has been turned up, both good things, it has fallen into that relationship hell that killed "Moonlighting," "Lois and Clark," and "Cheers." Yeah, will they or won't they? And if they do, it's just about over.

And if anyone that mentions "Gotham" to me gets a slap. Oh, the potential. The producers should write a book about how to ruin a great show. How do you let a brilliant idea like a police procedural with Batman references fall apart?? It could have been so good…

Thursday, October 08, 2015

Arrow S04 E01: Green Arrow

How do you make a fanboy giddy? Easy. Make them wait three seasons of a Green Arrow television series before ever even uttering the words "Green Arrow" or "Star City." Finally, they're here.

Now, that said, the last episode of last season could have easily have been the end of the series. Starling City was protected. Malcolm Merlin was now the gentler and friendlier R'as Al Ghul. Arrow was no more. And Oliver and Felicity had driven off to Coast City to live happier ever after. But nothing ever stays happy and shiny in Starling City for long...

Nothing says domestic bliss like a smiling Oliver saying, "Felicity Smoak, you have failed this omelet." I'm not sure I care for Oliver having most of his tattoos removed either. Felicity is still having trouble convincing Palmer Technology she's a good replacement for Ray - who we all know is just shrunken, not dead.

I loved seeing the Black Canary and Mia, I mean Thea as Speedy try to stop a hijacked Kord Industries truck. I also loved Speedy wanting to called Red Arrow, and Diggle replying that "a red arrow just means you can't make a left turn." And then lo and behold, Diggle shows up in a costume(!). Is that T opening in his helmet supposed to remind us of Mr. Terrific? Interesting. All in all, as much as I enjoyed her debut here, Willa Holland is an unconvincing action heroine, unless of course she's acting like an untrained amateur. Which she is not.

Next we have the info dump of a town meeting. Starling is now Star City, and they can't keep a mayor, or even interest one because they keep getting killed. The latest person to decline is Walter Steele, who folks might remember as Oliver and Thea's stepfather. The city has a high speed rail line to Central City, and it's jokingly suggested they have a Flash Day. The baddies are the newest problem however, better and sleeker than regular criminals, they call them ghosts because they disappear into thin air, just like they did with Team Diggle in the last scene.

Just then they get a visit from the big bad of this season, Damien Darhk, chillingly played with the arrogant confidence of a veteran a-hole by Neal McDonough. You might know him from HBO's "Band of Brothers," or as Dum Dum Dugan in the Marvel Cinematic Universe and on "Agent Carter," but here he is all villain. He wants this town council to just let the city die, to let his ghosts do their jobs, and he'll be in touch.

And then the ghosts start to off members of the city council, and that's just the first ten minutes of the episode. We all knew it was coming, Laurel and Thea go to Coast City (or is it Ivytown?) to rouse Oliver out of his "domestic life of tranquility and souffl├ęs." Speaking of Coast City, flashbacks are back, but neither on the island nor Hong Kong. It's Coast City where the unreasonably thin Amanda Waller tries to coach Oliver in vigilantism. We all saw Hal Jordan's flight jacket in the bar, right?? No matter, he's quickly back to the island…

Much like the stubbornness obstacle in this week's season premiere of "The Flash," the grudge between Oliver and Diggle borders on ridiculousness. When faced with the task of saving your city, you put this kind of crap behind you. If you're going to live in a superhero world, you have to realize that certain pettiness is beneath you. To Oliver, Diggle, and even Barry, just grow up. You're wasting screen time.

As the reunited Team Arrow watches from the shadows, Damien Darhk punishes one of his ghosts by touching his chest and seemingly sucking the life force out of him. Afterward Oliver suggests this is mystical rather than metahuman. Possibly this is setting up the John Constantine appearance this season? I can't wait. Personally I was never really a big Hellblazer comics fan, but I dug the NBC show.

Team Arrow, featuring Oliver with a new suit and a new name, save the day from the exploding rail line, and they didn't even need help from the Flash - which I thought for sure was coming when I spied Grant Gustin's name in the opening credits - holy spoiler, Batman! The Flash does show up in a teaser scene several months later with Oliver swearing lethal vengeance in front of a grave Batman style. We don't see the grave, but is it Felicity? Thea? Diggle? Time will tell.

And while I try to ignore the obvious distraction of Oliver attempting to propose to Felicity, making her the obvious choice in the grave, it's the other ending of this episode that is really upsetting. Quentin Lance is cahoots with Damien Darhk. This is not good, and perhaps it means that maybe the disguised Larry Lance's time on this show is coming to an end? Surely they wouldn't off the super popular Felicity, right?

Thursday, October 01, 2015

Sampling the Season

"The Muppets" - I have to admit I wasn't expecting much from this after hearing the premise. The idea of an environment like "The Office" behind the scenes of a Muppet show didn't do much for me, especially with the reality television one-on-one diary room moments with the cast. I would rather see a Muppet show than behind the scenes with a Muppet show.

I needn't have worried. Sure, if still like to see the real "Up Late with Miss Piggy" show, but this was still darned good. We got to see deeper into the characters of some of the Muppets. The bits with Kermit and Miss Piggy were very funny and quite insightful despite the horror they appeared to be in the pre-show hype. And the Fozzie bear jokes in the first episode were hilarious. Thumbs up, I really enjoyed this and can't wait for more.

"Limitless" - This series, like a couple others this season, is based on a movie, in this case one by the same name from 2011 with Bradley Cooper, which in turn was based on the novel "The Dark Fields" by Alan Glynn. Basically there's a smart pill called NZT that does a Lucy on its user, 100% of their brain cells and all that nonsense, only a bit more believable. Oh and unlike most movie to TV products, this isn't a retelling or reimagining, this is a sequel to the film. Bradley Cooper is even in the first episode.

Now, much like "The Muppets," the hype for "Limitless" was more than a bit misleading. The ads made it seem a lot like the Golden Age superhero Hourman, one of my favorites, who gained enhanced speed, strength, and endurance on one hour after taking a pill he called Miraclo. What makes this sadder is the implied potential promise of an "Hourman" show on the CW spinning out of "Arrow" where super-soldiers were created by a drug called Mirakuru. That's not "Limitless," sad face.

That said, it wasn't bad, but it did have the same stink of things like "Journeyman," "Revolution," and sadly, the new series "Blindspot," from the folks who brought us "Arrow," "The Flash," and "Supergirl." While it may be temporarily good, there is an underlying overarcing story that will probably never be resolved. I can't invest that kind of time, so unfortunately "Limitless" and "Blindspot" may be on the losing end of this stick. If they're that good, maybe I'll binge later, but for now, no.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Slow Sad Season Start

The new season so far hasn't been all that great, at least as far as the major traditional networks go. Things like "Doctor Who" on BBC America and "The Bastard Executioner" on FX being on basic cable don't really count. The things I'm really waiting for - "The Flash," "Supergirl," even "Arrow," and even last night's "Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D." really haven't started yet. And I haven't yet seen the one I'm dreading, "Heroes Reborn."

The other night I had the misfortune of seeing the season premieres of both "The Big Bang Theory" and "Castle," as well as a bit of "Dancing with the Stars." All three shows have seemingly been on forever and are feeling and showing their age. And I think they may have definitely overstayed their welcome.

"The Big Bang Theory" is one of those shows that skates the edge between laughing with a section of society and deliberately laughing at them. In this case it's 'nerds' like me. On many, many occasions I have felt attacked by this show, almost like getting stuffed in a locker in junior high school. Make no mistake, for every cool reference in this show there are three wedgies lying in wait. And based on all the fat jokes on "Mike & Molly," another show from Chuck Lorre, I consider the man an equal opportunity bully.

And all of the above is on a good day for "The Big Bang Theory." The past two seasons and this week's season premiere have been plagued by ridiculous (even for a sitcom) soap opera antics with characters I really don't care about. Add in the show's prerequisite attack jokes, and it's just damned unpleasant to watch. If I'm being honest, the best part of the episode this week was spotting a "Doctor Who" lunchbox in the background.

Being a writer, "Castle" was a series I loved when it first started, no matter how implausible the premise. The light comedic approach to the drama and danger always kept the show within reach as fun entertainment. Then it got dark and serious, and obsessed with a lead character's mother murder. Follow this with the disappearance of the titular writer, and this season's similar plot with his now wife... well, as far as I'm concerned, "Castle" should have ended two seasons ago with the wedding of the two leads. As it stands now, we're in "Brady Bunch Variety Hour" territory. Kill it now.

"Dancing with the Stars" is an entirely different animal. Yeah, you can watch it for the dancing and the spectacle, or for the stars and how cool it is that they're not just learning to dance, but sometimes doing it spectacularly. That alone would be a terrific show, not necessarily in my wheelhouse, but a terrific show. But. They also have to have the freak show. What else would you call the inclusion of stars like Gary Busey and Paula Deen? That unclean feeling is both why I like "Big Brother" and don't watch "Dancing with the Stars." If we're going to do schadenfreude, go all in.

Those are some preliminary thoughts on the new season so far, more to come.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

The Bastard Executioner

I loved Kurt Sutter's "Sons of Anarchy." Sure, it wasn't perfect - I wish I'd skipped the Ireland season, and of course the show went on one season too long - but I really dug it. The series was at the top of its game in storytelling and characterization, truly a pinnacle in epic television. So when I heard Sutter was doing a medieval series next, naturally my curiosity was piqued.

I have to be honest, I nearly turned the first episode of "The Bastard Executioner" off in the first minute. Before anything happens, before we see scenery or set, before a character takes action or utters a word, we get a history lesson. Enough to make me want to give up and turn off the television.

I have never seen so much history crammed into the first minute captions of a show before. I paused the episode and spent ten minutes on Google. Did I really need to know all this? Would there be a test? I was especially irritated because much of this could have been organically explained in the unfolding of the story, or in the mouth of a character should the writer be feeling particularly lazy.

I kept watching, and I'm glad I did. "The Bastard Executioner" is vibrant, vivid, and visceral. Had I turned it off I would have completely missed the nudity and extreme bloody violence that followed in the second minute. If you ask me, screw the history, you should have started with that. You definitely had my attention now - but you could have lost it much too easily.

The premise follows several storylines and characters as cultures and classes clash between wars in Middle Ages Wales. That said, much like Sutter's "Sons of Anarchy," it's a big soap opera writ large in new circumstances with an epic scale. Rather than California motorcycle clubs, it's 14th century Welsh rebellions. That said, it might be a bit much for the usual historical romance crowd.

"The Bastard Executioner" is bloody and violent, yes, sometimes ranging from the horrific hide your eyes type to the silly Monty Python and the Holy Grail's Black Knight type, but either way, it's graphic. It is however also engaging and surprising, with just a little bit of that I don't want to know "Rome" and "Spartacus" realism thrown in for good measure. I'm not sure I can recommend it for everyone, but it's definitely worth a look.