Here’s part four of our series on shows you might want to check out this summer. Just one show today and since it’s a returning show that I am quite familiar with, I’ll throw in a review, as well. Scroll to the bottom for the previous entries.
Orange is the New Black (Netflix – June 6th)
Orange Is the New Black is an American comedy-drama seriescreated by Jenji Kohan and first released on Netflix on July 11, 2013. The series, produced by Tilted Productions in association with Lionsgate Television, is based on Piper Kerman’s memoir, Orange Is the New Black: My Year in a Women’s Prison, about her experiences in prison. The series revolves on Piper Chapman (Taylor Schilling), a bisexual woman living in New York City who is sentenced to 15 months in a women’s federal prisonfor transporting a suitcase full of drug money to her former girlfriend, Alex Vause (Laura Prepon), who is an international drug smuggler. The offense occurred ten years prior to the start of the series, and in that time Piper had moved on to a quiet, law-abiding life among New York’s upper middle class. While in prison, Piper is reunited with Alex, and they re-examine their relationship and deal with their fellow inmates.
The highly-anticipated second season of Netflix’s drama (comedy-drama? No.) Orange is the New Black goes live at midnight and I’m thrilled because it ties in perfectly with our series of 37 Shows You Want to Check Out This Summer and because it allows me to finally get a whole bunch of things off my chest that the gushers (both audiences and critics alike) don’t seem to want to address about this series. Don’t get me wrong, I actually do enjoy Orange is the New Black (or else I wouldn’t be recommending it to check out this summer), but the show is far from perfect and the problems that it suffers from are glaring and unavoidable.
One of the first things that caught my attention in the pilot was the cheap premium cable device of gratuitous nudity and sex in order to hook an audience. HBO has been doing it for years (and I’ve been subsequently complaining about it for years) and whereas at one time it was used as an obvious gimmick when the writers had gone to the well one too many times and couldn’t come up with new ideas, it has now become obligatory with every show that the network airs. It’s not that I have an issue with sex and nudity on television, the issue is that when it’s vulgar and obvious and now since HBO does it all the time, so do all the other premium networks, including Netflix. NOTE TO NETFLIX: When you throw that much gratuitous sex and nudity into a pilot, it’s clear to astute audiences that you are compensating for what you lack in other areas.
So, what does Orange lack? Well, first and foremost, although the plot is compelling enough for me to want to keep watching it, it’s a slog. On more than one occassion, I have thought two hours had gone by because the show was dragging so much. I don’t mind a slow burn, but each episode is a slow-burn without much of an emotional payoff at the end. The only reason this show has found the success that it has is because it’s available for binge viewing because if it was a weekly series audiences wouldn’t have tolerated how slow it is past the third episode.
One of the other problems that I have with this show is that the producers have gone out of their way to say that the show isn’t Oz (well, no sh*t) but it’s obvious to anyone watching it that it certainly is an attempt at Oz (ultra-) light. It’s so blatantly ripping off aspects of Oz that you’d have to be an idiot not to see it. The crisis-of-the-week that revolves around a different main character with flashbacks of the character’s pre-prison life and backstory to develop that character? Nooooo, we’ve never seen that before. For crap’s sake, that’s not even unique to Oz. Lost did that for six seasons better than any show in history. That’s just the most glaring example of Oz ripoffs, I’m not going to get into all of them (recycled plotlines, stereotypical characters and situations, etc.) and honestly, it doesn’t really bother me that much because it does help develop the characters but it’s worth noting.
Speaking of character development, that is certainly one area where Orange excels with each primary cast member of the ensemble being given a good amount of screen time and attention by the writers. This may sound very fanboyish of me but I don’t think that anyone is going to dispute that the best performance of all on this show is that of Star Trek: Voyager‘s Captain Kathryn Janeway herself, Kate Mulgrew as the Russian mother-figure to the women, Galina “Red” Reznikov who runs the kitchen.
Same girl… no sh*t.
Equally notable is the underrated performance by the gorgeous Taryn Manning as the incredibly emotionally unbalanced, hillbilly meth addict, Tiffany “Pennsatucky” Doggett. Manning really is quite outstanding and it should be noted what an incredible job the makeup department has done in “ugly-fying” her for this role and how she herself has been able to accomplish that job through her performance.
What hurts this show immensely, however, are the main protagonists and I guess the only reason I’m calling them the main protagonists is that the character of Piper (Taylor Schilling) is who the show is about and the other two, Larry (Jason Biggs) and Alex (Laura Prepon) are the two other sides of the “love triangle” as it were. Do you know what the problem is?
Once a pie f*cker, always a pie f*cker.
I hate them. I hate them all with a passion. They are the most spoiled, selfish, self-centered, self-righteous and arrogant characters on this show and they are completely unsympathetic. This is what I mean by how stupidly audiences and critics gush over this show. How is it possible that anyone who watches this show doesn’t want to just punch these people? Hell, how does one not want to punch the most annoying no-talent actor in Hollywood, Jason Biggs, to begin with, his performance on this show not withstanding? How the hell did he get this role to begin with? Seriously, his only claim to fame is that he f*cked a pie in an incredibly overrated teen comedy over a decade ago.
As for the other two, it’s not that Schilling or Prepon’s performances are bad, it’s that their characters (like Larry) suck and they are completely unlikable. They’re rotten, they treat people rotten, everything they do is about making themselves happy and they NEVER learn from their mistakes. It’s one thing to have your main characters be so flawed at the begining of a season, especially on a show set in a prison, it’s another thing not have the characters “grow” one iota between episode one and episode 13. These characters have actually regressed since episode one.
Pornstache: Still more likable than Jason Biggs.
To put it simply, we’re supposed to hate the vile “Pornstache” (Pablo Schreiber). I get that. But we’re not supposed to hate our protagonists and that’s what the reality is of this series. They simply don’t have very much redeeming about them whatsoever.
Again, the real saving grace on this show is the performance from the supporting cast and the fact that I’m a sucker for decently done serialized drama and at the end of the day, Orange is the New Black is decently done, if not great. The key is to not expect more out of this series than it can give or you’ll be disappointed.
As for our multi-part series, 37 Shows That You Might Want To Check Out This Summer, here are the previous entries:
Here’s part three of our series on shows you might want to check out this summer. Just one show today and since it’s a returning show that I am quite familiar with, I’ll throw in a review, as well. Scroll to the bottom for the previous entries.
Longmire (A&E – Mondays, 10:00 p.m. beginning June 2nd)
Based on Walt Longmire Mystery series of novels by Craig Johnson, Longmire also is named after its central character, Walt Longmire, the local sheriff in rural Wyoming. As the series starts, Longmire has been widowed for a year and, still in pain, hides behind a brave face and dry wit. After his wife’s death, he dragged himself into the office but his heart wasn’t really in the job. He knows it’s time to turn his life around and with the help of his daughter, Cady, and his deputy, Vic, he revives his interest in his job and decides to give his all to his re-election campaign. Victoria “Vic” Moretti is the newest addition to the sheriff’s office. She was a Philadelphia homicide detective for five years before relocating to Wyoming. While adjusting to how to deal with the locals, Vic is out to prove she’s not a rookie. She has a deep connection with Longmire along with her playful attitude and he allows her to be his most trusted deputy. Longmire’s lifelong best friend and close confidant is Henry Standing Bear, the owner of the local bar. Henry is often Walt’s go-between with the reservation. Unlike Longmire, Henry embraces progress and the trappings of the modern world while holding a close connection with his past. Another one of Longmire’s deputies is ambitious go-getter Branch Connally. He’s motivated more by political aspirations than his work as a deputy. He thinks Longmire’s stuck in the past and wants the department to have the technology that most other law enforcement agencies use. It’s his umbrage towards Walt’s outdated methods that pushes him to run for sheriff. Longmire’s only child is daughter, Cady Longmire, an attorney who dreams of practicing law in a big city. With the death of her mother, Cady has stayed to help Walt get his life back together. She isn’t afraid to tell her father like it is, and it’s this straight talk and sense of humor that makes their connection strong. Longmire’s third deputy is The Ferg who has a heart of gold. He’s loyal and well meaning and always eager to please. The Ferg can hunt and fix most anything but he’s not much of an investigator.
Last night, Longmire began its third season and the timing couldn’t be better as I just finished watching season two last week and I’m hungry for more and that’s saying a lot because quite honestly, two years ago I got three episodes into the series and put it on hiatus for over a year because it seemed like just another police procedural.
The drama, based on the Walt Longmire mystery of novels by best-selling author Craig Johnson definitely is a police procedural in the most traditional sense of the genre but I discovered after giving up on it early that the series really has far more appeal than I had originally given it credit. Whoops… muh baaad!
As far as murder mysteries go, the basic formula on Longmire is, admittedly, pretty vanilla. If, for the most part, just by the formula of the series established in the first half-dozen episodes or so (and every other police procedural done in the last 50 years) you can’t figure out “who done it” within the first 20 minutes then congratulations, you are not a couch potato and television drama junkie like I am and you are actually doing something with your life.
Of course, as I’ve noted several times in the past, the vanilla and formulaic nature of police procedurals is why I don’t watch them to begin with because none of them have anything new or particular novel to offer. Sure, there has been this flurry of police procedurals featuring lead characters with incredibly unique abilities that aren’t quite supernatural but give them a special insight into solving crimes that the regular cops don’t possess, but those are simply gimmicks used to gloss over the fact that we are still dealing with a standard “murder of the week” police procedural. Numb3rs, The Mentalist, Unforgettable (yes, CBS really likes this theme a lot) and The Finder readily come to mind as fitting this mold.
Although certainly formulaic, Longmire is one of the rare exceptions because it fills in all of the other gaps regarding good television drama that the other police procedurals don’t. The casting is excellent with every single actor being ideally suited for their role on the series and marvelously well-developed. According to what I’ve read, Robert Taylor (Walt Longmire) is apparently an incredibly well-known and accomplished Australian actor but I don’t believe any of it because I have no doubt in my mind that he is the same weathered old, incredibly well-read and educated renaissance cowboy philosopher from Wyoming that he plays on the show. Despite everything I know about Lou Diamond Phillips (who’s heritage is Spanish, Scottish/Irish, Chinese, Filipino, Hawaiian and Cherokee) I have no doubt that he is full-blooded Cheyenne and and has been best friends with Taylor since the sixth grade. That’s how truly honest these character portrayals are.
As far as Katee Sackhoff is concerned, I’m curious if she even had to audition for the role of Deputy Moretti because it’s as if Starbuck from Battlestar Galactica moved to Wyoming and became a slightly less insubordinate cop. You get the feeling that the producers read the series bible and the character descriptions, watched 10 minutes of BSG and sent her a plane ticket.
I could go on and on about the supporting cast of this show and I almost feel guilty for not but I don’t want to spend an entire piece gushing over casting and character development when the real main co-star of this show and really what sets it apart is the rural Wyoming backdrop which, ironically, much like the show’s titular protagonist, is completely faking its true local origins. Y’see, the fictional Absaroka County, Wyoming is actually in and around the Santa Fe, New Mexico area. But, once again, I don’t believe it. As far as I’m concerned, even though I’ve never been to Wyoming, I am absolutely convinced that the show takes place there because the writers and producers have done such a brilliant job in crafting this fantastic living and breathing environment and community that it leaves simply no doubt that what you are seeing is the genuine article.
Part of it is the character development, part of it has to do with selective exterior shots of the landscape (that have even fooled actual Wyoming residents) but more importantly is the presentation of the storylines that address issues inherent to the locals of that part of the country that due to isolation and small populations aren’t very well-known to the rest of us. Quite often, the storylines are centered on the issues related to the Indian Reservations or ranching or any one of a dozen issues that is part and parcel with that region of the country but it’s done in such a way as to make it accessible to audiences to the point that they easily relate with this community and subconsciously can easily accept Absoroka County as their own community.
“Yeah… where’s my attorney and who the f*** gave you law enforcement powers? I don’t see no badge, playa. All I see is an ascot.”
One of the few things that does annoy me about Longmire that was stolen right out of the “Mad Libs For Police Procedurals” manual is the obligatory “Scooby Doo Ending” of every episode which I complain about ad nauseum. If you’re not familiar with the “Scooby Doo Ending,” this is how it goes: the prime suspect in the last five minutes of the episode (sans attorney, of course) while being interrogated basically has the interrogator tell them all of the details of the crime the interrogator knows they committed (without any actual evidence or with only the most insignificant circumstantial evidence) and then the suspect admits to doing it while lamenting how they could have gotten away with it. The only thing missing is the rubber mask reveal and the phrase “…if it weren’t for those meddling kids [and their dog].” For 10 plus years of examples of this nonsense, simply turn on any episode of CSI as that’s all they do on that show. The only difference with the Longmire S.D.E. is that that more often than not, our killer is a local who either made a big mistake and regrets what they’ve done or it was an accident that they foolishly tried to cover up or they were motivated by grief/justice/sadness, i.e., our killer is sympathetic and a shade of gray.
That said, however, I’m willing to let Longmire off the hook for even this Cardinal sin because the three or four intertwined main recurring story arcs have been so damned compelling that you find yourself not really caring that much about whatever particular “murder of the week” is on the schedule, anyway.
Longmire does such a great job in every other aspect of crafting good television that I can forgive its shortcomings in the procedural drama arena. Honestly, the show is so well put-together that it seems that if the “murder of the week” aspect to it is merely incidental and almost filler in order to advance the character development and overall arcs. Needless to say, that’s rare indeed, and in fact, I’ve never seen a procedural that took such an approach that deliberately and was successful doing it.
So, if you haven’t watched Longmire, yet, set your DVR for the current episodes and head on over to Netflix and get caught up as both seasons one and two are currently available.
As for our multi-part series, 37 Shows That You Might Want To Check Out This Summer, you can find part one, here and…
An ordinary LEGO minifigure, mistakenly thought to be the extraordinary MasterBuilder, is recruited to join a quest to stop an evil LEGO tyrant from gluing the universe together.
It is a rare event that I give a film a perfect score but if there was ever a film that was more deserving in recent memory, I can’t think of one. The LEGO Movie is by far the best animated film I have ever seen and that includes ANYPixar film (yes, I know… blasphemy). It is also the first film I have seen in years in which the entire audience stood up and applauded when the credits rolled.
Cleverly acted, the film showcases the comedic talents and sometimes surprising comedic talents of some of the biggest names in popular film today. Will Farrell (Lord Business/President Business) and Will Arnett (Batman/Bruce Wayne)… heck, those guys are givens as far as comedic timing is concerned but who knew that Morgan Freeman and Liam Neeson could be so funny?
From the beginning, the story seems like nothing more than a rehash of the themes in Kung Fu Panda or The Matrix with the role of Po/Neo taken on by our very ordinary hero, Emmet (Chris Pratt). As the film progresses, it takes on the tone and plot of a million of other action film clichés but the visually stunning frenetic action combined with multiple clever pop-culture references allows you to forgive what seems like a generic story and just simply enjoy the awesome adventure that you and your kids are on. The level of detail is absolutely phenomenal, right down to the tiny scratches in the ABS plastic and my favorite, the visible finger prints on the minifigures themselves. And make no mistake, by design, this film was meant to be seen by families which just makes the experience that much more enjoyable.
So, am I saying that the overall experience of the film makes up for the weak story? Nope. In the last 20 minutes of the film there are live-action sequences that tie the whole story together and turn what was a generic and almost mediocre plot into one of the most brilliant pieces of complex fantasy story-telling I have ever seen in a family film. It was so cleverly done that I literally slapped myself in the forehead for being tricked like I was because the film drops not-so-subtle clues as to the big twist throughout its entirety.
I came out of this film realizing that though cleverly marketed as a kid’s film, this is a nostalgia film for X and Y Geners (is that a word? don’t care, going with it…) and the tell was with 1980s Spaceman, the insanely hyperactive Benny (voiced by Charlie Day).
Anyone whoever had this minifigure (or a similar one with the space helmet) knew that within a month’s time of taking that helmet off repeatedly, the bottom of the helmet near the chin would split because it was so thin. The reason for this is simple: it was a two part injection-molded piece of plastic and that thin little piece was right on the seam. The fact that someone thought of this very esoteric detail in and of itself is not only brilliant but it also helps achieve one of the film’s main goals: taking our generation back to a time when we were seven years-old. The level of violence in this film is probably the biggest factor in the MPAA PG rating, but it’s the exact same kind of violence that a seven year-old kid would inflict on their own LEGO minifigures through normal imagination-fueled play and like everything else in the film, it ties into the big twist that brings the whole film together.
Is The LEGO Movie, as some have claimed, just a two-hour advertisement for a toy? Yep, but who cares? LEGO toys are a permanent part of our pop-culture and certainly no different than film franchises based on G.I. Joe or Transformers… except for the fact that I can watch a LEGO film with my kids and not scare the living crap out of them. The motivations for this film are irrelevant as to its quality despite the cynical attitudes towards it.
My only regret is that we didn’t see it in 3D as this is one film that it is a moral imperative to see in 3D. Oh, well… I guess we’ll just have to go see it again. Everything is awesome, indeed.
This summer director J.J. Abrams takes “Star Trek Into Darkness” as the young officers of The U.S.S. Enterprise set course for their most epic journey yet. Abrams reunites with the team that created the fun, the humor, and the spirit of 2009’s acclaimed hit reboot of the beloved franchise. On this second voyage, they’ve amped the action, raised the emotional stakes and launched the Enterprise into a high-wire, life-or-death game of chess with an unstoppable force of destruction. With everything the men and women of The Enterprise believe on the line, love will be challenged, friendships will be torn and sacrifices must be made for the only family Captain Kirk has left: the crew he commands.
It begins with a homecoming, as The Enterprise returns to earth in the wake of a controversial galactic incident, its brash Captain still itching to head back into the stars on a longer mission of peace and exploration. But all is not well on the Blue Planet. A devastating act of terror has exposed an alarming reality: Starfleet is being attacked from within and the fall-out will leave the entire world in crisis. Captain Kirk leads the Enterprise on a mission like no other spanning from the Klingon homeworld to the San Francisco Bay. Aboard The Enterprise the enemy among them has a shocking talent for destruction. Kirk will lead them into a shadowy mirror-realm of doubts where they’ve never gone before – navigating the razor-thin lines between friends and enemies, revenge and justice, all-out war and the infinite potential of a united future. – Paramount
FOR FURTHER INFORMATION AND EXPLANATIONS OF CERTAIN PHRASES AND TERMS, PLEASE FOLLOW THE HYPERLINKS PROVIDED THROUGHOUT THIS PIECE.
Our Score: 92/100
A Very Non-Plussed (Perhaps, Terrified) Marina Sirtis (Star Trek: The Next Generation) and Myself, 2008
I have to be honest, as much of a fan of Star Trek that I am (to the point where I have a room in my house dedicated to my fandom, I paid for a lifetime membership to Star Trek: Online before it was free-to-play and I have gone to Star Trek Conventions every year since 2003), after the first installment from J.J. Abrams of the rebooted franchise, I wasn’t really expecting that much from Star Trek Into Darkness. Don’t get me wrong, the first film was a lot of fun and it was certainly great to see the franchise being given the big-budget treatment it deserves and has been lacking and it was also great to see Trek introduced to a whole new generation who overwhelmingly embraced the 2009 film (to the tune of almost $400 million worldwide). When I reviewed the first film, however, my biggest complaints were that Abrams was playing it safe (other than the gratuitous and unnecessary destruction of Vulcan) and basically delivering us a cookie-cutter summer blockbuster that was really shiny but lacked substance with its plot and had holes big enough to drive a truck through.
Four years later, although I stand by that assessment, I’ve realized that upon reflection, there were a lot of things about the first movie (that I generously gave a 7.5/10 when I reviewed it) that didn’t sit well with me and mostly because it appeared that though Abrams and his go-to-team of Damon Lindelhof, Alex Kurtzman, Robert Orci and Bryan Burk (who are all admittedly passionate fans) had an appreciation and reverence for the franchise as a pop-culture icon, they didn’t seem to have any interest in keeping the core principles and concepts of the franchise intact. Granted, Star Trek was created for television and television shows never translate well to feature film (see: Star Trek: Insurrection which is basically a two-hour episode of the Star Trek: The Next Generation with a $58 million budget) and the price of making a successful Trek film is that you have to sacrifice a lot of what the franchise is about to capture the imagination of the audience.
Yes, That Is Indeed Tom Hardy and He Pretends That Star Trek: Nemesis Didn’t Happen, Either.
That being said, just looking back at the first nine films (as far as I’m concerned Star Trek: Nemesis never happened), even though they lacked a lot of the more cerebral elements and social commentary that the franchise is known for, they still had the sense of adventure and exploration that are certainly hallmarks in their own right. This wasn’t the case with Abrams’ Star Trek (2009) and all indications were that this new film was going to be more of the same and although I expected it was going to be big and loud (and mind you, I do love big and loud), it wasn’t going to have much in the way of substance or plot.
I couldn’t have been more wrong, and old-school Trek fans who hate the Abramsverse are going to hate this review and me by the end of it.
STID begins with a fantastic opening action sequence a la the Mission Impossible films with Kirk (Chris Pine) and McCoy (Karl Urban) being chased by a bunch of less-than-friendly natives who are obviously part of a primitive aboriginal society. In the background, there’s a pissed-off volcano that’s ready to blow. Through all of the madness we discover that Kirk and McCoy (who were in robes to hide their identities) are frantically trying to avoid contact with this alien culture in order to not violate the Prime Directive. For those who aren’t Trek fans, the Prime Directive is the most sacred law in Starfleet. General Order One prohibits, among other things, interference with the natural development and evolution of less-developed cultures. So, while all this is going on there’s a little bit of exposition and they explain why they are trying to avoid the native folks and why it’s so important. As a Trek fan, I sat there, cautiously optimistic and thinking,”OK… this is a good start. They’ve incorporated the Prime Directive and they are more-or-less accurately explaining it.”
Then the other shoe drops…
Kirk and McCoy manage to make it back to the Enterprise by jumping off of a cliff into the water and swimming to her. Y’see, they hid the Enterprise underwater. Now, unlike the other butt-hurt fans out there who have been bitching about this scene for the last six months or so, I don’t really have a problem with that because other than an episode of Star Trek: Voyager (30 Days) where they had to send a shuttle into a planet that was basically a big ball of water floating in space because Voyager couldn’t handle the pressure of the water at a significant depth, there has never been anything mentioned in the franchise that said it was impossible for a starship to be submerged underwater (seriously, it can travel exponentially beyond the speed of light through the pressures of the vacuum of space but the damned thing can’t survive in a few feet of water?). No, what I had a problem with was what came next and we find out what the true purpose of their mission was: to go into the volcano and put a device in there that will render the volcano inert, thereby saving the lives of the primitive culture.
Stop. Right. There.
Just when I was thinking that they had FINALLY gotten the essence of Trek right (open with a scene exploring a planet, inclusion of the Prime Directive), they have Spock (Zachary Quinto) intentionally violating the Prime Directive… which they had just said they were trying to adhere to no matter what the cost. This really caught my attention because the dilemma of allowing a culture to go extinct in order to follow the Prime Directive’s position of the natural development of said culture has come up on more than one occasion on Trek and it’s been dealt with in a variety of ways. The difference between how the issue has been dealt with before and this time, however, is that in the past they at least acknowledged the conflict with the Prime Directive, sometimes followed the Prime Directive despite the ethical conflict and sometimes just said, “F*ck it… we’re violating the Prime Directive.” Kirk, McCoy and Spock in this film, on the other hand, are yapping incessantly about how important the Prime Directive is in these sequences when the concern is about being seen… and then they don’t even acknowledge that they are violating it by saving these people to begin with.
What the holy f*ck was that? At this point, I started looking at my clock on my phone and wondered how much longer I was going to have to sit through this nonsense… and then it happened; the most important scene of the film (that most people probably didn’t realize was the most important scene) and how I knew STID was vastly superior to its predecessor.
After the scene was over and Kirk again violates the Prime Directive by flying the Enterprise out of the water in order to save Spock from inside of the volcano in the nick of time (thereby exposing the big freaking spaceship to the guys in loin-cloths with spears… whoops!) they go back to Earth and Spock is mad because Kirk violated the Prime Directive to save him and Kirk is annoyed because Spock doesn’t seem to understand that saving his friends is far more important to him than that pesky Prime Directive. They both get called into Admiral Pike’s (Bruce Greenwood) office and he dresses both of them down for the violation of the Prime Directive (and the fact that Kirk lied in his Captain’s Log about the incident… again… whoops!). Pike explains (basically to the audience) that their mission was ONLY to observe and report. Kirk objects asking if he was supposed to let those people die and Pike tells him, “Yes!” which is exactly what he should have told him. So now, as Pike explains, there are consequences. Kirk gets his command of the Enterprise taken away and is ordered to go back to Starfleet Academy to finish his coursework (remember, they give him a field commission at the end of the first film in his third year).
So, not only did the film redeem itself by addressing the morally questionable side of the Prime Directive, it also addressed the issue of consequences for following a moral code that is sometimes in contradiction with your orders. This sets the tone for the entire film. Classic Kirk, classic Trek. Bravo, and it’s about flippin’ time.
Section 31: Starfleet’s Very-Own Men in Black.
It only gets better from there, with a storyline full of moral conflicts, wonderful references to fan-favorite aspects of the franchise spanning everything from the Klingon homeworld (although, it’s Qo’noS not Kronos, you dopes) to model ships of the NX-01 Enterprise(Star Trek: Enterprise), the Phoenix(Star Trek: First Contact), The XCV-330 (an Original Matt Jefferies design for use in a Gene Roddenberry project that never happened in the 1970s ) and the NX-Alpha(from the ENT episode First Flight) as set pieces and of course an epic adventure spanning across the stars (you’ll recall that the space adventure of the last film was fly to Vulcan, watch it blow up, maroon Kirk on Hoth to get eaten by a vagina monster and then they go back to Earth). But the best fan-favorite inclusion in this film and perhaps of any Trek film ever is the active role of Section 31, the rogue, technically non-existent, clandestine shadow organization operating within Starfleet Intelligence first seen in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine that is determined to protect the the Federation regardless of the costs, how many laws it breaks or how many people it kills. It’s one of the darkest and most unseemly aspects in the Trek Universe and it’s in complete contradiction with all of the values and principles of the Federation and Starfleet… which is exactly why we love it.
One of the great things about this film from the perspective of a Trek fan that wasn’t really present during the first go-around is that these actors, although bringing their own unique style and personalities to these classic characters, really feel like their beloved original counterparts from the original series and the original feature films. Chris Pine is a young James Kirk, Zachary Quinto is a young Spock, Karl Urban… well it is quite possible that Karl Urban is actively channeling the spirit of DeForest Kelley and he may have been doing so since he learned the role was available and lobbied for it. He’s even more McCoy-like in this film (as if it was possible) than he was in the last one. With the exception of Urban, this “becoming the character” didn’t happen in the last film. Yes, Chris Pine may have been called James T. Kirk, but I really didn’t feel that he was Kirk. This positive development of the characters was present for the entire ensemble cast. Zoe Saldana is very convincing as the self-assured and passionate Uhura, Anton Yelchin plays the part of the brilliant, albeit young and self-conscious Pavel Chekov with aplomb and Simon Pegg nails Montgomery Scott (Scotty) as well as James Doohan did, bringing a sense of comic relief while at the same time applying his brilliant engineering skills to prove to be the miracle worker he is known for being. And yes, I know that’s blasphemy to even suggest.
As far as villains go, this time around we are given two of them but in true Trek-fashion, they are very complicated, shades-of-gray adversaries… again, as opposed to the very one-dimensional, bent-on-revenge Nero (Eric Bana) from the first film. Peter Weller makes his mark on the franchise again (he also appeared as the main villain, John Frederick Paxton in the ENT penultimate two-parter Demons and Terra Prime, arguably, the two best episodes of the series) by playing the dedicated but ruthless Admiral Marcus whose goals are slowly revealed to the audience. Benedict Cumberbatch (Sherlock) plays the mysterious and elusive Starfleet Officer John Harrison who is responsible for a horrific terrorist attack and finds an unlikely ally with Kirk and crew until his true identity is ultimately revealed as is the danger he presents.
Is the film perfect? Please, it’s a summer blockbuster and a Trek film… how could it possibly be perfect? Even if you’re not a Trek fan, you have to laugh at some of the absurdity when it comes to the science in the film. I was hoping to forget about Scotty’s magical transporter that can “beam” people across the galaxy and even onto starships traveling at high warp speed, but of course they had to use that dopey piece of tech again in ST:ID. I’m just wondering: has it occurred to anyone that a transporter capable of doing this would make starships completely unnecessary, and thus, make Starfleet pointless? And I seriously could do with a whole lot less of Spock crying. Spock is only allowed to cry when he is under the influence of a space virus that makes him drunk. He is not allowed to cry simply because he is sad.
Star Trek: The Next Generation (Harrison O’Halloran)
If you are a Trek fan like myself, there are plenty of cringe-worthy moments that induce serious eyeball-rolling where they just absolutely rape the original source material with their references to the original series and films (these moments are VERY integral to the film and not casual) and to be quite honest it seems intentional. It’s kind of a big “F*CK YOU” to the old-school Trek fans who are critical of the Abramsverse and hate it for the sake of hating it. On the other hand, looking at these references from the perspective of objectivity, the truth is that no one except for the most dedicated fan would know any different (they dipped their toe in the water in the first film with this approach with the Kobayashi Maru scene but it wasn’t very effective because there was no context). The real purpose of these references, however, which we grant completely violate the established storyline (because… y’know… the franchise has NEVER contradicted itself over the past 46-plus years) is to make a very strong statement to the fandom about where these new adventures fit within the franchise. You’re right, this is not the Star Trek that you remember but it is indeed Star Trek and we are firmly establishing ourselves within the franchise by taking the spirit, theme, characters and even the established plotlines and re-envisioning them all for a contemporary audience while staying true to the original principles of the franchise… and you’d better get used to it because the fact of the matter is that your kids like our new Star Trek far more than your old Star Trek.
The bottom-line, though, is that as much as the old guard fandom complains about nonsense like the overuse of the “lens flare” effect technique (it’s been four f*cking years… sing another tune, already), the Anheuser Busch brewery used as the engineering set (which no one would have even known about to complain about if the producers hadn’t made such a big deal about it during the last film), the design of the Enterprise herself, experimentation on Tribbles, the ship in the water, the obnoxiously oversized U.S.S. Vengeance and of course all of the other goofiness that does rear its head in the film that I spoke about, none of these issues detract in any meaningful way from the quality of the film and its “Trekness,” as it were. This film is so well-done that I’ve even come to accept the biggest blasphemy of the first film, the destruction of Vulcan, which is something that I never thought I would accept. To make matters worse for the anti-Abramsverse Trek fan, audiences love these films and by the end of the summer, these first two Trek films by Abrams will mostly likely have grossed more globally than the previous ten films combined… which brings me to the portion of the show where I address the fanbase directly.
As noted by the four year campaign of hate against the Abramsverse films, some corners of Star Trek fandom continue to be under the impression that hundreds of millions of dollars should be spent to make the Star Trek movie that coincides with THEIR vision of what the franchise should be about. This makes me giggle to no end because not only has that never been the case in the films (following the formula of Crisis/Introduction of Villain, Action, Resolution, Roll Credits), but it was also never the case for the television franchise.
At the height of the franchise’s popularity, Star Trek: The Next Generation was getting 14 million viewers per week; guess what percentage were actually “fans,” i.e., those viewers who followed the franchise religiously and spent money on the merchandising…
It was 2%… and do you know why? Because the franchise on television, like ALL television shows that’s not on a niche network wasn’t and isn’t made for niche science fiction audiences or even the Star Trek fans. It’s made for the general 18 – 49 demographic with the purpose of getting as many of those viewers watching from week-to-week as possible because that’s what advertisers pay the big bucks for.
Advertisers do not give two-shits about 2% of the viewing audience, they care about the other 98% and how many of them fall into that coveted demographic. Ergo, Paramount/CBS Television or whoever is producing the shows don’t give two-shits about the fans, either. What they care about is producing a show that makes them as much money as possible from advertisers and that means that the primary goal in production is to have as much mass-appeal as possible.
It is no different for the Abramsverse films or the ten films that came before them. We as Trek fans seriously need to get the f*ck over ourselves and understand the reality of the situation: Star Trek is not only not specifically made for us, but the fact is that it’s made for everyone else BUT us, regardless of the visual medium. Hell, the first film (Star Trek: The Motion Picture, 1979) was produced as a response to the success of Star Wars and its mass-appeal, not because Paramount thought to themselves, “We have to bring this franchise back because a cult fanbase is clamoring for it.” They weren’t looking to get Trek fans into the theater, they were looking to get EVERYONE into the theater… just like Star Wars did.
And not for nothing, but Trek fans should be worshipping the ground that Abrams walks on because he was the only one with any clout in Hollywood who saw any value left in what was a completely dead franchise after the disasters of both ENT and ST: NEM.
And why were they such disasters? Because producer and Roddenberry heir apparent to the franchise, Rick Berman, was so obsessed with this nostalgic notion of remaining true to Roddenberry’s vision to the exclusion of all else that he allowed the franchise to be stuck perpetually in 1990 well into the new millennium. The 18 – 49 demographic evolved generationally and their tastes changed while Trek stood still. No offense is intended toward Berman (who many fans do hate) who is responsible for many great things in the franchise but the facts are the facts.
Don’t want to believe it? Just look up some interviews with Ronald D. Moore (former writer/producer on TNG, DS9 and VOY and creator of the Battlestar Galactica reboot) as to why he was so frustrated on TNG and VOY and why he ultimately left VOY. He talks about it at length with Rod Roddenberry (Gene Roddenberry’s son) on the Trek Nation documentary but if you really want to get some insight, just listen to the audio commentary on the Battlestar Galactica DVD/Blu-ray sets.
Moore recognized how stale and repetitive the franchise had become by the mid-1990s and understood that it was not keeping up with the changing tastes of its target audience. As he explains it, he wanted to do the things on VOY that he ultimately did on BSG but was told he couldn’t because it wasn’t in strict keeping with Roddenberry’s vision. The result: Trek goes into a 10-year tailspin culminating with the untimely cancellation after a mere four seasons of its last series that was getting a lousy two million viewers per week (ENT).
And what does Moore think about Star Trek (2009)?:
“The bottom line was, it really worked. I enjoyed it. I think most people enjoyed it. And I think it opened the door to a new generation of fans, because the franchise up to that point, as I said earlier, was so encumbered by its own continuity and its own back stories that I think it was really, really difficult to get new people to try Star Trek, because there was just such a huge learning curve they had to go through. Now, with the re-imagining of it, people could just start over and enjoy it and then go discover all the various permutations and spin-offs later on. It has to be inviting for people to sample it for the first time, and it did.”
Star Trek (2009) made nearly three times as much money as its next closest competitor within the franchise. It’s not Roddenberry’s vision? Good. The reality is that audiences (excluding the insignificant numbers that comprise Trek fandom) don’t want Roddenberry’s vision of how a Trek show or film should be made anymore. It’s old, tired and outdated and it doesn’t coincide with their worldview or expectations when it comes to television and film viewing options. It’s simply not sophisticated enough for today’s contemporary audience and it certainly doesn’t work on television when audiences have 500 channels to choose from.
That being said, they do once again want Trek and regardless of whatever anyone may think about the content of these new films, it is simply foolish to not recognize the positive role that Abrams has played in reviving this, until recently, very dead franchise.
Trek fans who hate the Abrams vision need to go see STID twice, maybe even three times and bring three friends each time because how well this film does will have a direct impact on the possibility of Trek returning to television in the near future (where it truly belongs to begin with). But whatever the pouty fandom does, it’s in their best interest to get over their inflated sense of self-importance, stop complaining and simply be thankful that Trek has a future now thanks to the likes of Abrams… which is something that couldn’t be said five years ago.
Sons of Anarchy is an adrenalized drama with darkly comedic undertones that explores a notorious outlaw motorcycle club’s (MC) desire to protect its livelihood while ensuring that their simple, sheltered town of Charming, California remains exactly that, Charming. The MC must confront threats from drug dealers, corporate developers, and overzealous law officers. Behind the MC’s familial lifestyle and legally thriving automotive shop is a ruthless and illegally thriving arms business. The seduction of money, power, and blood. – FX
Score: 92 out of 100
Shawn: The problem with the way we normally do reviews is that we usually only go based on the first episode or first few episodes and make a decision based off of those early impressions. This is the standard for the industry and usually it’s pretty spot-on but when it comes to epic, arcing drama, a lot of the subtleties of the big picture and overall story can be lost and under-appreciated when the episodes originally aired. This is the case for Sons of Anarchy, FX’s drama revolving around the motorcycle club of the same name. If I had watched the series from the beginning, I probably would have only given the first handful of episodes between a 65 – 70 and even if I had only seen the first season in its entirety before reviewing it, It would have gotten no higher than a 75 if I was being generous and only for the sake of the obvious potential the series had.
Over the course of the last two weeks, I have had the pleasure of watching the the first five seasons of SoA and it has dawned on me that the entire purpose of season one was purely for the sake of character development and premise establishment for the seasons yet to come. If you’re expecting a phenomenal storyline in season one, you’ll likely be disappointed, however, you’ll appreciate what creator and showrunner Kurt Sutter (The Shield) was thinking with season one about midway through season four. Now that’s not to say that season one is bad as far as drama is concerned, but it was obviously just a prologue.
To say that approach during a freshman season was risky is an understatement but then again, if the characters are strong enough, they can carry average to slightly better-than-average plotlines, at least for a time. It’s quite obvious to anyone who has ever appreciated Shakespeare that Sutter is very fond of Shakespearean archetypes. I picked up on it immediately which therefore immediately led me to the obvious Hamlet allusions. Knowing that there’s a whole lot of Hamlet going on, I figured out by the second episode of the series what was only revealed to Jax (Charlie Hunnam) during the season four finale by his mother (Katy Sagal). Now, I’m not suggesting that SoA is obvious by any stretch of the imagination, but if you appreciate classic drama, you’ll appreciate the clever use of these types of nods.
Shakespeare himself also believed that in order to not have your audience have a heart attack from all the stress you’re throwing at them, every now and then you had to give them a break from the melodrama and thus, he made use of comic relief quite regularly. SoA excels at comic relief right out of the gate so brilliantly that it puts most sitcoms to shame and yes, a lot of it is quite dark and you hate yourself for laughing so hard but you simply can’t help it. If you like the comic relief from Breaking Bad you’ll enjoy it even more with SoA because it’s one of the few areas that a drama on television actually one-ups the best series on television and part of the reason to that success is that it’s not just a matter of a sidebar joke, it’s a matter of integrating the scenes into the main plots and in the process humanizing the characters even more and causing you to be that much more attached to them…. which you really shouldn’t be. As enjoyable as six seasons of The Sopranos were, the fact is that the protagonists were never particularly likable. Relatable to an extent, sure, but not likable. The Sopranos failed in doing what SoA has found great success in doing: creating strong anti-heroes. The funniest scene by far of the entire series to date, happened during season five when Walton Goggins (The Shield, Justified) made a cameo appearance as Venus Van Dam, a transgender prostitute, in order to help the club blackmail a member of the city council. I’m not saying any more than that but the picture to the right speaks volumes, I think and ironically, as an audience, you are rooting for the club’s blackmail and corruption to succeed.
Bringing us full circle to what I said about the first season, the character development on SoA is what really sets it apart from other series. Even the recurring characters are so beautifully fleshed out and evolve so well that you forget that many of them have only been on a dozen episodes. A perfect example of this is the character of Otto Delaney (Kurt Sutter, himself) who goes from being a club member due for parole within a few months to a vicious psychopath who winds up on death row, having been manipulated by both by federal law enforcement and his loyalty to his club which ultimately costs him everything. Otto transforms completely from being just a guy biding his time in prison to being a complete monster (both physically and personality-wise) being responsible for the two most horrific scenes in the entire series in the fifth season. It’s refreshing to see a series be able to transform a relatively minor character into such a pivotal tragic hero.
Anyone will tell you that aside from the riveting story arcs, what really sets the show apart is the incredibly strong performances by all members of the main cast with special recognition needing to go to Katy Sagal (Gemma Teller), Ron Perlman (Clay Morrow), Hunnam, Maggie Siff (Tara Knowles) with an honorable mention needing to go Kim Coates (Alex ‘Tig’ Trager). Although there’s no question the rest of the cast does a superb job bringing SAMCRO (Sons of Anarchy Motorcycle Club Redwood Original, the original charter) and the fictional town of Charming, California to life, those five actors really chew the scenery with Emmy-worthy performances (not that the Emmy’s have anything to do with actual talent, but for the purposes of the discussion, we’ll pretend that they do). While Katy Sagal’s performance is often critically praised, I have actually enjoyed Maggie Siff’s subtle transformation and portrayal of of Tara’s inner conflict the even more.
As far as compelling drama is concerned, as I noted, season one is kind of a preamble for what’s to come but season two is absolutely brilliant, culminating with a shocker of a finale cliffhanger that no one will see coming. Although I disagree with most critics about the lack of quality of season three, which actually had several episodes filmed in Northern Ireland, I do agree that it was hampered by the fact that the entire saga of the season revolved around the events from the cliffhanger from season two. Season four, was pretty brilliant all the way around with the notable exception of the big twist that develops in the season finale. It was cheap and contrived and made it seem like the writers didn’t know where to go to get the SAMCRO crew out of the mess that they were in. Season five marks the apex of excellence for the series, thus far, that culminated with a phenomenal finale with twists and turns that would put 24 to shame.
Although, Kurt Sutter is committed to two more seasons of SoA, making it clear that the story will be wrapped up by the end of season seven, the season five finale was so well-done that it could have easily have been a series finale. SoA has proven over the course of five seasons to be one of the best dramas on television and we highly recommend that you watch the first four seasons on Netflix and then beg borrow and steal to get your hands on season five… or just wait for it to come out on Netflix this summer.
EDITORIAL NOTE: To understand how we do our reviews, please refer to our review of Revolution, here. To see Shawn’s original review of Elementary, go here.
ELEMENTARY stars Jonny Lee Miller as detective Sherlock Holmes and Lucy Liu as Dr. Joan Watson in a modern-day drama about a crime-solving duo that cracks the NYPD’s most impossible cases. Following his fall from grace in London and a stint in rehab, eccentric Sherlock escapes to Manhattan where his wealthy father forces him to live with his worst nightmare – a sober companion, Dr. Watson. A successful surgeon until she lost a patient and her license three years ago, Watson views her current job as another opportunity to help people, as well as paying a penance. However, the restless Sherlock is nothing like her previous clients. He informs her that none of her expertise as an addiction specialist applies to him and he’s devised his own post-rehab regimen – resuming his work as a police consultant in New York City. Watson has no choice but to accompany her irascible new charge on his jobs. But Sherlock finds her medical background helpful, and Watson realizes she has a knack for playing investigator. Sherlock’s police contact, Capt. Tobias “Toby” Gregson (Aidan Quinn), knows from previous experience working with Scotland Yard that Sherlock is brilliant at closing cases, and welcomes him as part of the team. With the mischievous Sherlock Holmes now running free in New York solving crimes, it’s simple deduction that he’s going to need someone to keep him grounded, and it’s elementary that it’s a job for Watson. Rob Doherty, Sarah Timberman, Carl Beverly and Michael Cuesta, who directed the pilot, are executive producers for CBS Television Studios. – CBS
Score: 75 out of 100
I don’t fancy the “Police Procedural” like I used to. Turning the tables on me though is Robert Doherty who is known for his exceptional work on Star Trek: Voyager and Medium. After hesitantly working up the nerve to watch a show which re-invents the famous Sherlock Holmes I’ve decided that while taking a few liberties and risks, Elementary is a slightly above-average crime show. Taking into mind that the BBC is light years ahead of CBS with their modern adaptation of Doyle’s iconic Detective with Sherlock, I still found some things to like here. I admit that I was very critical of CBS attempting this show. I, like Shawn and others, felt it was a blatant attempt to cash-in on the popularity of an already established “Reboot” or “re-imagining” started by Stephen Moffat.
First off, I was a bit thrown off by the casting of not Sherlock, but Watson. When they announced Miller I felt that it was an appropriate casting choice. Miller’s cool in my book. I’ve enjoyed his work going way back to Dracula 2000 and on. I believe I had issue with Watson being changed genders. Watson as the stoic male counterpart has always worked before so why change it? Well, I decided to accept Doherty’s take and I’m glad that I did. Kind of. I won’t get into the chemistry between Miller and Liu too much here. It is a bit clunky at first but as each episode passes they start to gel. Watson is Holmes’ live in companion who is also an ex-surgeon. She needs to keep an eye on Holmes since he is in early addiction therapy. Some interesting moments between them include the often shown attendance of NA and AA Meetings meant to help Holmes with his rehabilitation.
From the pilot and further episodes it’s established that Holmes is combative, quirky and an isolationist. Jonny Lee Miller is very well capable dealing with the somewhat timid and redundant material and themes that he’s been given but I do like that he likes to pick locks and has decided to never pick up playing the violin again. Miller displaying his “Sherlockisms” is accurate and unconventional of course. Not much of the actual “essence” of the traditional Sherlock is displayed here. It comes in spurts. Doherty’s take falls into some conventions that can’t be helped but to be compared to other shows of it’s ilk like CSI and such. Despite my getting used to Liu and Miller there are times I wish that the crime solving was a bit more interesting and involving. Some of Doyle’s Holmes’ is on display here, especially regarding the addiction and obsessions. Holmes is quick, smart, perceptive and a social stooge. He’s brilliant but has absolutely no people skills. These aspects of the show are interesting. The crimes and stories in my opinion should have a bit more of a punch.
Aidan Quinn is just hands down brilliant as Captain Gregson. He’s fun to watch and even manages to steal a scene here and there. He provides simply placed drama playing against Miller. In one episode, he is forced to admit to Holmes that he has always known about his drug addiction. It is simply Quinn at his best. He acts with his eyes (I know it sounds weird) which is very fun to watch. Quinn plays the grizzled and work weary Captain to a “T.” He relishes having Holmes around, though, to help him with the mysterious and baffling cases.
I’m five episodes into this season and I have grown to like the show a bit more than I did upon watching the pilot. My problem with the show is well… Lucy Liu. I have a kind of love/hate relationship with Liu’s interpretation and evolution of Watson. I got used to the gender change but I think that Watson is the most under-written character of the show. I do admit that we get to know about her much more in the later episodes. This is from Sherlock consistently picking her apart all aspects of her personal life from her love life to her now defunct medical career. Her role needs a bit more meat with more conflict and more revelations. Maybe I am being impatient but in keeping with the spirit of Doyle’s Watson we should have had some more of a hands on feel for Watson and her inclusion in Holmes’ world. Liu is very cute, likable and very watchable but just when we want to know and see more of Watson doing her thing (with the exception of the episode, Lesser Evils, where Watson gets a diagnosis of endocarditis correct) we get some very routine melodrama (like some very lame boyfriend troubles… ugh.) and the character ends up at a standstill. I do believe that they will eventually get more out of Watson but I feel that she is falling by the wayside at times and gets boring. In Liu’s defense, she is spunky and very smart. She plays Watson with confidence and gives as good as she gets. She is just not as edgy and interesting as she should be. I’m nitpicking though.
The show is evolving nicely and I suspect the best is still yet to come. The cast is great. Quinn and Miller being the standouts and the locale is just wonderful. Another show other than Person of Interest (CBS also) that beautifully shows off my old stomping grounds, NYC! Elementary just needs a bit more self confidence to elevate it above the mundane “Police Procedural” conventions.
EDITORIAL NOTE: To understand how we do our reviews, please refer to our review of Revolution, here.
Chart-topping Rayna James (Connie Britton) is a country legend who’s had a career any singer would envy, though lately her popularity is starting to wane. Fans still line up to get her autograph, but she’s not packing the arenas like she used to. Rayna’s record label thinks a concert tour, opening for up-and-comer Juliette Barnes (Hayden Panettiere), the young and sexy future of country music, is just what Rayna needs. But scheming Juliette can’t wait to steal Rayna’s spotlight. Sharing a stage with that disrespectful, untalented, little vixen is the last thing Rayna wants to do, which sets up a power struggle for popularity. Could the undiscovered songwriting talent of Scarlett O’Connor (Clare Bowen) be the key to helping Rayna resurrect her career?
Complicating matters, Rayna’s wealthy but estranged father, Lamar Hampton (Powers Boothe), is a powerful force in business, Tennessee politics, and the lives of his two grown daughters. His drive for power results in a scheme to back Rayna’s handsome husband, Teddy, in a run for Mayor of Nashville, against Rayna’s wishes. – ABC
Score: 80 out of 100
Initial Impressions (July 20, 2012): Is it just us, or is this the country music version of NBC’s Smash? Proving that there is really hardly anything original in network prime-time drama, any more, Nashville, recycles a million and one film and television clichés in order to hobble together a weekly soap that all things considered, although not our cup of tea, doesn’t look particularly awful.
Shawn: As I noted in the preview, sometimes you can judge a book by its cover. This show is so reminiscent of Smash that on that level alone it induces eyeball rolling. That being said, it’s a pretty good show. I’m not going to spend too much time on Nashville not because it’s not worthy of it, but simply because it’s not the kind of show I have any real interest in. More than anything, it’s a soap and since it doesn’t involve plotting revenge against socialites in the Hamptons, it won’t find a spot in my DVR lineup… that and the fact that my wife has no interest in it, either.
The first thing that stands out is the epic nature of this production. From the opening scene, there really is no question that Connie Britton (Rayna James) and Hayden Panettierre (Juliette Barnes) are the country mega-stars that they portray on this new series. They’ve gone to great lengths to produce a show that looks believably big… as if our stars are really in arenas with thousands of screaming fans. It’s very effective because unlike a lot of other themed shows, nothing feels fake or contrived and it gives the show instant credibility with every other aspect of it.
The cast is diverse and the subplots are neatly woven together neatly so it’s fluid and nothing feels forced nor is it confusing. The characters are well-fleshed out and pretty complicated so that there’s no real bad guys, just a lot of competing agendas. Nashville is also very effective at making the city it’s named for and integral character to the story, from the modern high-rises in the business district, to the old hole-in-the-wall open-mic country music bars to the expansive suburbs, Nashville effectively incorporates every personality that the city offers which allows the audience to easily relate to it, despite the fact that they may never have been there.
The musical numbers are actually fantastic (and I’m not even a country music fan) but they are unfortunately also the reason why I got bored and was constantly checking the time. I could be wrong and maybe i’m expecting too much from a show that revolves around the music industry, but there were, from what I recalled, three complete music numbers during the pilot where nothing happened but the music numbers. That’s like 12 minutes out of a 42-minute show, or about 29% of it. In my book, that’s way too much.
So, if you like grand soaps with good music, you’ll certainly like Nashville.
Chance of Renewal: 80%
Nashville has had very strong ratings and on girl-powered ABC who has done traditionally very well with this format, this show should be successful.
EDITORIAL NOTE: To understand how we do our reviews, please refer to our review of Revolution, here.
No job is more stressful, dangerous or exhilarating than those of the Firefighters, Rescue Squad and Paramedics of Chicago Firehouse 51. These are America’s everyday heroes — the courageous men and women who forge headfirst into danger when everyone else is running the other way. But the enormous responsibilities of the job also take a personal toll. Big reputations and hefty egos, coupled with the pressure to perform and make split-second decisions, are bound to put squad members at odds. When a tragedy claims one of their own, there’s plenty of guilt and blame to go around. In the middle of a divorce, Lt. Matthew Casey (Jesse Spencer, “House M.D.”) tries to go about business as usual but can’t help butting heads with the brash Lt. Kelly Severide (Taylor Kinney, “The Vampire Diaries”) of the Rescue Squad – and each blames the other for their fallen team member. When it’s “go-time” though, they put aside their differences and put everything on the line for each other. “Chicago Fire” is a look inside one of America’s noblest professions. Also starring are Eamonn Walker (“The Messenger”), Charlie Barnett, (“Law & Order: SVU”), David Eigenberg (“Sex and the City”), Monica Raymund (“The Good Wife”), Lauren German (“Hawaii Five-O”), Teri Reeves (“Three Rivers”) and Merle Dandridge (“Sons of Anarchy”). “Chicago Fire” is produced by Universal Television and Wolf Films. Emmy Award-winning creator/ producer Dick Wolf (“Law & Order” brand), Derek Haas (“3:10 to Yuma”), Michael Brandt (“3:10 to Yuma”), Peter Jankowski (“Law & Order” brand) and Danielle Gelber serve as executive producers. Haas and Brandt wrote the pilot, which was directed by Jeffrey Nachmanoff (“Homeland”). From renowned Emmy-winning producer Dick Wolf and the writing team behind “3:10 to Yuma” comes an edge-of-your-seat view of a dirty job that often means the difference between life and death. – NBC
Score: 38 out of 100
Initial Impressions (May 20, 2012): As much as we admit our bias in favor of J.J. Abrams, we are as equally honest about our bias against Dick Wolf who really hasn’t done anything creative in over twenty years. But our biases aside, we would have the same opinon of Chicago Fire regardless of who developed it because anyone could have developed this cookie-cutter series. It doesn’t really seem much different from anything that’s come before. It’s simply a bland procedural with generic characters thrown in and an attempt to portray some kind of personal drama between the characters. Sorry, Dick, but we’ve seen all of this before, we’re not impressed. It’s not awful it’s just nothing new.
Shawn: Yet another reason to hate Dick Wolf. It wasn’t bad enough that he single-handedly destroyed the the police procedural for more than two decades turning a decent concept into a bunch of recycled garbage but now he has his sights on fire and rescue first responders with this terrible series.
Before I start tearing into this series, let’s take a look at the poster above. Notice how it looks like it was ripped from one of those charity calendars and everyone looks like a supermodel? It really is a metaphor for everything that’s wrong with the show.
The big problem with Chicago Fire is that it’s trying to convince us that it’s an accurate portrayal, albeit dramatized, of what life in a major city fire department is like but it doesn’t just fail in the five minutes, it fails right in that poster. The characters and their dialogue are as equally superficial and quite frankly, you want to start punching them repeatedly in the face before the first commercial break. I mean, seriously, you knew it was all going downhill when during the first five minutes you’re exposed to not only the most cocky and clichéd dialogue imaginable but a pissing match between two top firefighters reminiscent of a spat between twelve year-old middle school girls.
Once you get beyond that, it gets even worse by presenting a lousy version of Third Watch with far too many subplots involving each of the cast of thousand and you’re left in the end not being emotionally invested or caring about a single one of them. I don’t what’s more predictable and unbelievable, the characters or the plotlines, themselves.
Chicago Fire is a horrible series for anyone that appreciates actual compelling drama as opposed to what Dick Wolf calls drama but it’s not unwatchable. If forced to, I could sit through it but if I have a choice, I won’t be.
Chance of Renewal: 80%
Like I’ve said, this is the typical crap that American audiences lap up. As the current ratings indicate, this mess will probably be picked up for a second season.
EDITORIAL NOTE: To understand how we do our reviews, please refer to our review of Revolution, here.
Dennis Quaid and Michael Chiklis star in VEGAS, a drama inspired by the true story of former Las Vegas Sheriff Ralph Lamb, a fourth-generation rancher tasked with bringing order to Las Vegas in the 1960s, a gambling and entertainment mecca emerging from the tumbleweeds. Ralph Lamb (Quaid) wants to be left in peace to run his ranch, but Las Vegas is now swelling with outsiders and corruption which are intruding on his simple life. Recalling Lamb’s command as a military police officer during World War II, the Mayor appeals to his sense of duty to look into a murder of a casino worker – and so begins Lamb’s clash with Vincent Savino (Chiklis), a ruthless Chicago gangster who plans to make Vegas his own. Assisting Lamb in keeping law and order are his two deputies: his diplomatic, even-keeled brother Jack (Jason O’Mara) and his charming but impulsive son, Dixon (Taylor Handley). Ambitious Assistant District Attorney Katherine O’Connell (Carrie-Anne Moss), who grew up on the ranch next to the Lambs, also lends a hand in preserving justice. In Vegas, two powerful men – Lamb and Savino – are engaged in a fierce battle for control of the budding oasis, and for both of them, folding is not an option. Nicholas Pileggi, Greg Walker, Cathy Konrad, Arthur Sarkissian and James Mangold, who also directed the pilot, are the executive producers for CBS Television Studios. – CBS
Shawn: This actually appears to be really good but we have two big problems with it. First, the trailer seems to have just a whole bunch of random action scenes thrown together to make the show seem more exciting than it really is. Second, the show is filmed in Las Vegas, New Mexico, NOT Las Vegas, Nevada and the landscape isn’t even close to matching the majestic mountains of Southern Nevada (yeah, we’re biased on this issue). For crap’s sake, at least use some CGI and fake it.
Redeye: Come on dude! It’s the same guy who wrote Goodfellas and Casino. It’s got Dennis Quaid. Could it possibly be anything other than awesome? If CBS can resist going all ‘procedural’ on this one there might be hope.
Shawn: It took me a couple of episodes to get a good take on this show because the pilot really didn’t seem like a pilot at all. It seemed like a series that had been on quite some time and was pretty comfortable with itself. Unfortunately, though, it seemed, as Redeye feared, a procedural hidden behind the premise of an historical period piece, i.e., a serialized drama. I actually got about 3/4 of the way through the first episode and was pretty annoyed as I felt I had been tricked but then, it actually turned out to be pretty decent.
I realized by episode two that this is how the show was going to go: murder of the week with a consistent serial arc. In other words, it’s going to have basic timeline but, if you miss an episode or two, you don’t have to worry about missing major plot-points. That being said, it is more procedural than serial and I’m surprisingly OK with that.
Vegas, with all of its generic procedural underpinnings, still manages to succeed very well despite those handicaps with a few gimmicks that are incorporated effectively and a strong cast that is probably the most important element of the show. Dennis Quaid was born to play the role of the down-to-earth, old-school leathery cowboy turned lawman in this 20th century version of a classic old west, frontier town tale. And make no mistake about it, it is a tale… right out of Hollywood.
If you think that the premise seems a little too unbelievable (and recycled) to be true of the unwillingly local becoming the incorruptible sheriff among a sea of corruption, you’d be right. The idealized version of Ralph Lamb portrayed in this series is a shined and polished facsimile of the real former sheriff who was known for not just “frontier justice,” but a bit more of a tarnished reputation than this show would suggest while sheriff for 18 years. Honestly, what it comes down to is that this series has been watered down for network prime-time and the series would actually be a lot more interesting had they complicated the character closer to how he was in real-life. Considering that there have only been a handful of episodes aired, there is still room to flesh out the character more, but it doesn’t seem that there is any intention of this.
Yep… ‘Vegas’ has the ‘Scooby Doo Endings.’
That being said, the weekly stories are pretty compelling despite that they follow the typical police drama formula and there’s a lot of the CSI Scooby Doo ending crap that we hate where the suspect, when presented with the police’s conclusions, admit everything. I really should hate this show for that alone, but the characters are all very well-written and believable and performed admirably by all of the major players. Besides Dennis Quaid, Michael Chiklis (No Ordinary Family, The Shield) is fantastic while Jason O’Mara (Terra Nova,Life on Mars) and Carrie Anne-Moss (The Matrix, Unthinkable) bring the show even more credibility as do the A-list of character actors with recurring roles on the show (James Russo, Jonathan Banks, Michael Reilly Burke and Michael O’Neill, to name a few).
Though I still have my complaints about every scene where they show the New Mexican or California skyline (filming moved to Los Angeles, post-pilot), the use of blended CGI and backlot sets to represent 1960’s downtown Las Vegas is very convincing (despite the fact that for some reason EVERY television show that has casinos in it looks like they are done on a soundstage).
Flaws and all, what really makes Vegas work is the cast and the well-fleshed out characters which do a lot to bolster what would normally be only little more than better-than-average storylines. You can do a lot better as far as prime-time drama is concerned but you could also do a lot worse.
Chance of Renewal: 50%
Honestly, I am so stumped on this one that it could either way. It has very similar numbers to the show that it replaced from last season in its timeslot, Unforgettable, which was cancelled and then uncanceled by CBS for a shortened season next summer. That being said, if the wheels fall of completely as far as the writing is concerned it could just disappear altogether.
EDITORIAL NOTE: To understand how we do our reviews, please refer to our review of Revolution, here.
What happens when an exuberant, irresponsibledreamer who always says “yes” moves in with his overly responsible little sister to help raise her five-year-old daughter? BEN AND KATE, a new single-camera young ensemble comedy, follows these odd-couple siblings as they push each other out of their comfort zones and into real life. KATE FOX (Dakota Johnson, “The Social Network”) followed the rules all her life…until she got pregnant in college and dropped out just shy of graduation. After the birth of her daughter, MADDIE (Maggie Jones, “We Bought a Zoo,” “Footloose”), Kate put her twenties on hold. Now working as a bar manager to make ends meet and maximize her time with five-year-old Maddie, she’s uber-prepared for every possible catastrophe – except for the arrival of her older brother, BEN FOX (Nat Faxon, “Bad Teacher”). Ben likes trouble a lot more than his sister does. His infectious energy makes you want to follow him into any number of bad ideas. He’ll totally screw up your life, but somehow, you’ll feel good about it. Where Kate is all about planning and preparing, Ben is big on spontaneity and out-of-the-box ideas. But don’t let the Velcro wallet fool you – he’ll probably be a millionaire someday. When Ben comes to crash on Kate’s couch for a few days, he finds a sad state of affairs. Kate’s surviving, but not living. Ben realizes that for the first time in their lives, Kate needs hishelp and he’s determined to bring some much-needed chaos into her overly stable world. He starts by offering to help look after Maddie so Kate can get back to experiencing her mid-twenties and makingmistakes, since the one real “mistake” she’s made turned out to be the best thing that ever happened to her. Always there to help with Ben’s crazy schemes is his partner-in-crime, TOMMY (newcomer Echo Kellum), who worships Ben like a hero and nurses a serious crush on Kate. Kate’s British best friend, BJ (Lucy Punch, “Bad Teacher”), is a cocktail waitress at the bar that Kate manages and an all-around hot mess who would do anything for Kate, even if her advice is often questionable and occasionally illegal. From writer/executive producer Dana Fox (NEW GIRL, “What Happens in Vegas”) and executive producer/director Jake Kasdan (NEW GIRL, “Bad Teacher”), BEN AND KATE is a heartwarming story of deeply mismatched siblings: a sister who needs to go for her dreams and a brother who needs to get his head out of the clouds. – FOX
Score: 83 out of 100
Initial Impressions (June 5, 2012): As we noted with NBC’s Next Caller, it’s never a good sign when you start your show description with, “What happens when ________ , ” but on the upside this show is noticeably Dane Cook-free. On the other upside, this show looks incredibly charming and really looks like it’s destined to be a big a hit for FOX. All of the sudden, FOX has seemed to have figured out comedies.
Shawn: A couple of years ago, we made a big mistake with our initial assessment of Raising Hope, expecting it to be an idiotic and offensive shi*tfest and were so pleasantly surprised by the series that it made us rethink how we approach comedies. We still hate them, in general, but we’re a little less knee-jerk than we used to be. This new attitude made it very easy to predict that Ben and Kate would be a winner, but we didn’t expect it to be as good as it really is.
Speaking of Raising Hope, Ben and Kate reminds us a lot of the comedy series and also a lot like New Girl, focusing much more on character development and the relationships among the characters than the different situations of the week. All of the characters on the show are incredibly funny and we laughed regularly through the pilot.
Nat Faxon is absolutely hilarious as Ben. He reminds us a lot of Steve Carell’s Michael Scott on The Office, albeit without the awkward idiot factor. Dakota Johnson provides the adult balance and level-head to the pair and Lucy Punch is absolutely brilliant and hilarious as Kate’s best friend B.J. Cannot say enough about Ben and Kate. It’s charming, heart-warming and hilarious and the pilot made us hungry for the next episode.
Chance of Renewal: 90%
FOX and their idiotic audience can be weird some times with their comedies so though we expect this to be a hit, there is a bit of a chance that a disaster could happen but that’s unlikely being the lead-out for New Girl.