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Monday, August 28, 2017

SUPERGIRL Returns

Article first published as Blu-ray Review: 'Supergirl - The Complete Second Season' on Blogcritics.

Supergirl, formerly of CBS, moved to the CW network this past year, joining fellow DC properties Arrow, The Flash, and DC’s Legends of Tomorrow. This did result in some changes, though most of the core cast and tone stayed the same. If you haven’t had the change to see what’s different and what’s not, you’ll now have that opportunity, as Supergirl – The Complete Second Season is available on Blu-ray, DVD, and digital.

The biggest change you’ll see in The Complete Second Season over the first is a more serial nature. CBS is known for doing stand-alone procedurals. Supergirl departed from that formula more than most shows on the network, but more often than not, there was a villain-of-the-week for the Girl of Steel to face. Season two was much more ongoing, with plots not resolved for many episodes, and forcing viewers not to miss a chapter or risk being lost.

Another change is that Supergirl was able to participate in crossover events with the other DC shows. This series does take place on a different Earth than the others, but the producers found a way to make it work. In season one, Barry Allen / The Flash (Grant Gustin) made a one-episode appearance in Supergirl, but that’s about as far as things got. Although Supergirl didn’t have a full “Invasion!” installment like the others this year, the hero herself did take part in the other episodes, and she wasn’t the only character that was allowed to come over. There was also a musical hour that combined the casts of Supergirl and The Flash, and Supergirl was given a device to allow her to travel back and forth again in the future, a convenient plot twist. So lots more synergy.

Those are all positives, but there was one big negative to the change in venues. Because Supergirl moved its production to Canada, where the other CW shows film to save on costs, cast member Calista Flockhart departed as a lead. She did appear in the first two episodes of the season, and then returned for the final two. For awhile, the in between was so good that I forgot to miss her. But the moment she returned, it was like a gut punch, as no one replaces her presence, and the series would be better with her more regularly in it.

Which is not to say there weren’t good parts of season; remember, I just said I forgot to miss her. I loved new character Lena Luthor (Katie McGrath, Merlin) as a friend for Kara (Melissa Benoist). Snapper Carr (Ian Gomez, Cougar Town) was a great presence. Desperate Housewives Brenda Strong and Teri Hatcher (the latter also a former Lois Lane) made absolutely wonderful villains, and no one can complain about Lynda Carter (Wonder Woman) as President. And Supergirl greatly expanded its roster of aliens, introducing viewers to many different species and worlds as it presented allegory and metaphors on race relations and the failings of our current president and the hatred he spews (sometimes a tad too heavily, but mostly fine).

There was also a lot more romance in season two of Supergirl, though thankfully it never took over the course of the show and was handled well. J’onn (David Harewood) got into a very complex relationship with fellow Martian M’gann (Sharon Leal, Dreamgirls) in a Nazi-like story (her type of Martian committed genocide against his). Winn (Jeremy Jordan) was played by an alien named Lyra (Tamzin Merchant, Salem), until he wasn’t. Alex (Chyler Leigh) came out of the closet and into the arms of Maggie (Floriana Lima, The Family). In fact, just about everyone but James Olsen (Mehcad Brooks) got some love, which is fine, since he was pretty much the only one getting any in season one.

The one complaint some fans have is that they didn’t like the introduction of Mon-El (Chris Wood, The Vampire Diaries) as a partner for Kara. I actually don’t mind Mon-El himself, finding him an unobtrusive presence, sometimes bordering on sweet. I do think the show used him mainly the same way a female love interest might be used for a male superhero in the past, often staying at home and out of danger. But that’s OK, overdue in 2017.

My only real complaint is that Supergirl did go a little overboard with proving that the title character was better and stronger than Superman (Tyler Hoechlin, Teen Wolf). I think there was a way to do it without making the legendary hero look like an inept buffoon, and unfortunately, this show went too far tearing him down to make her look good. It’s Mon-El’s job to be Kara’s inferior, not Superman’s.
And I’m just going to say it, I didn’t care for James as The Guardian. I found the subplot boring.
But overall, a strong season, well worth the watch, and an improvement over the first year. Now if only they could convince Flockhart to make it up to Vancouver a little more often…

As far as extras, Supergirl – The Complete Second Season does pretty well. There are five featurettes, four of them good. (I hate the obligatory wrestling episode in this genre, and didn’t need a featurette on it.) There was audio commentary on one episode, which I would like more of. There were also some very short bits that I wish we could hit ‘Play All’ on. But again, overall, I found most of the material enjoyable and informative.

Check out Supergirl – The Complete Second Season on blu-ray, DVD, and digital now.

THE TICK Ticks On

Article first published as TV Review: THE TICK on Seat42F.


Before we get started with this review, I must confess, I’ve never seen any previous incarnation of The Tick. I’ve always meant to and I’m sure I would enjoy, but just never got around to it. So this article is purely about the new Amazon series.

Amazon launched a new THE TICK yesterday, a second live-action version of the comic superhero spoof. Centered around a big, blue man in a bug suit and his more timid butterfly-like chum, The Tick fights for justice and doesn’t condone killing. With cartoonish jokes and supermen and women whose names themselves are gags, this occasionally meta, delightful absurd, woefully inane series is just getting warmed up.

The lead character of THE TICK is not The Tick. No, that title, at least for these six episodes, should go to Arthur Everest (Griffin Newman, Vinyl). Arthur is arguably the unluckiest person alive, with a very traumatic childhood backstory. He does have mental health problems, but it’s a miracle that his problems aren’t crippling and he’s, more or less, leading a normal life, even if his nighttime activities are less than normal.

Enter The Tick (Peter Serafinowicz, Guardians of the Galaxy), who takes Arthur’s unfortunate hobby and makes it his life. The Tick seems to come out of nowhere. Yet, he’s clearly got history with Arthur and has been around awhile (and not just because all of the heroes and villains in the show don’t seem to age over years or even decades). But The Tick doesn’t know what he is or who he is, only that Arthur has a destiny and The Tick must help him. If anything, it’s almost like The Tick is Arthur’s sidekick, even if their personalities point to the other way around.

What follows are odd battles with people like Ms. Lint (Yara Martinez, Jane the Virgin), a woman who flows with electricity, making her a magnet for floating particles, and The Pyramid Gang. Everyone wants Arthur’s superhero suit, which isn’t really his, and there’s a bit of a comedy of errors as custody goes back and forth.

Yet, there’s also a grander story here. Very early on, we know there’s something off about the original superhero who came to this planet more than one hundred years ago, Superian (Brendan Hines, Lie to Me). There’s also a naked VLM (Very Large Man, played by Ryan Woodle) who keeps growing and walking towards population centers. There’s the question as to whether the great villain The Terror (Jackie Earle Haley, Watchmen) is still alive. All of these moving pieces don’t fully come together in the first six episodes, which seem like an extended pilot.

Normally in a show like this, I would assume there isn’t a great picture coming into focus, as this seems like a goofball comedy. Even without having seen the earlier versions, it seems unlikely they had such lofty goals. And yet, the more signs shown in each installment, the more it seems certain that THE TICK is going somewhere. Which makes it even better.

And if you’re just wanting to tune in for the humor, there’s plenty of that, too. For instance, Ms. Lint lives with her ex-husband, a weird hipster named Derek (Bryan Greenberg, How to Make It in America), Arthur’s stepdad is way, way too nice, and Ramses IV (Michael Cerveris, Fringe) keeps a sarcophagus full of power drinks. Those are just a few of bizarre things in these installments.

I’ve barely scratched the surface of what THE TICK contains. It mixes offbeat comedy with genuine superhero stories with deep mysteries with hyperreality with whatever the heck Overkill (Scott Speiser) is, plus the psychotic woman from The Following (Valorie Curry) plays Arthur’s sister. It defies easy explanation and is super addictive, as I quickly plowed through all six half hour installments in short order.

THE TICK’s first half of its first season is available now on Amazon Prime.

Friday, August 25, 2017

The Legends Continue

Article first published as Blu-ray Review: 'DC's Legends of Tomorrow: The Complete Second Season' on Blogcritics.

New to Blu-ray, DVD, and digital is DC’s Legends of Tomorrow: The Complete Second Season. A spin-off of fellow CW series The Flash and Arrow, Legends finds a group of misfits, both heroes and villains, who are not notable to history banding together to protect all of time. The Complete Second Season is basically a continuation of the first year, but with several of the team members swapped out. A new set of villains, pulled once again from the two parent shows, helps make the adventure fresh.

I loved the premise of DC’s Legends of Tomorrow from the start, and appreciated many of the characters in the ensemble, but was underwhelmed with season one. Thankfully, season two does much to correct that right away. The first year was saddled with an uninteresting story arc that weighed things down. The Complete Second Season does have an ongoing plot thread, but it travels to many more time periods, takes itself less seriously when it’s appropriate to do so, and deepens the characters, making the show into the fun romp it should have always been.

Not every episode is gold, and sometimes the effects and scale of action have to be lesser than they should be for budgetary reasons. But even some of the duller ones, like “Abominations,” have exciting elements that make the most of the money, like Confederate zombies! Yes, the show plays fast and loose with the premise; plenty of things the characters do or see should change history seriously and they don’t, while minor changes have large impacts. However, the season starts and ends strong, with swashbuckling and adventure, and overall, it’s a pretty entertaining run.

A big part of how much enjoyment The Complete Second Season has to offer are the antagonists. The Legion of Doom is comprised of three previously seen villains: speedster Eobard Thawne (Matt Letscher), who has a very powerful motivation in these episodes; incredibly dangerous magic master Damien Darhk (Neal McDonough); and the always charming Malcolm Meryln (John Barrowman). Even before they are joined late in the game by former Legend Captain Cold (Wentworth Miller), they have engaging chemistry that makes one gleefully anticipate every scene they’re in as a group. They set a high bar for season three to live up to.

Less successful is the way the team has changed. While the Hawks were good characters to jettison, Captain Cold’s presence is missed, and too different when he returns on the other side to be comforting. Neither Nate (Nick Zano) nor Amaya (Maisie Richardson-Sellers) are that gripping. The former would have been much more interesting had he not eventually gotten powers. The season suffers from the decreased presence of Rip Hunter (Arthur Darvill), though the benefit of his absence is the welcome increased importance of Sara Lance (Caity Lotz). I’d say this mostly makes the makeup of the group a wash, though the chemistry between those around for both years has strengthened delightfully, with Mick Rory (Dominic Purcell) having an especially compelling arc in how he relates to everyone else.

As far as bonus features go, I’d say this release has the minimum needed to be decent, but nothing particularly special. There are a handful of deleted scenes and a fun gag reel. The Comic-Con panel included is from 2016, so not a terrible way to get excited before watching the season, but far less valuable after you’ve seen the episodes, and since its on the last disc, that’s likely when people will view it. It would be far wiser to include the 2017 panel instead, but they did not.

There’s also a featurette on the “Invasion!” crossover between all four CW DC shows, Arrow, The Flash, DC’s Legends of Tomorrow, and Supergirl. The Legends contribution to the miniseries is the finale, and the episode itself is pretty good. But the featurette itself seems to be talking about ideas that aren’t fully communicated on screen, and I found the full story to be relatively disappointing. It didn’t quite living up to what I’d hoped for, changing course too much between parts and shifting the makeup of the combined group hourly without satisfying explanation as to why.

Yes, this is a mixed review, but overall, I would recommend DC’s Legends of Tomorrow: The Complete Second Season. I’d say that just for Victor Garber’s performance alone, but he’s far from the only redeeming quality. This batch was better than the first, and I’m optimistic about where the show will go from here.

DC’s Legends of Tomorrow: The Complete Second Season is available now.

Monday, August 21, 2017

Defending THE DEFENDERS

Article first published as TV Review: THE DEFENDERS on Seat42F.


You may have been waiting impatiently for years now for Netflix’s Marvel’s THE DEFENDERS, the small screen version of the Avengers team-up. After all, the first series in the build-up, Daredevil, was released back in the spring of 2015. Through Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, a second season of Daredevil, and yes, even the less-lauded Iron Fist, fans of the Marvel Universe have been lapping up the installments, waiting eagerly for these D-list (see what I did there?) heroes to come together. But just because THE DEFENDERS finally went public today doesn’t mean the wait is entirely over.

THE DEFENDERS is an eight-episode miniseries, and thus takes its time getting to what the fans want: the four primary characters meeting one another. Instead, episode one is all about checking in with where our people are and meeting the villain. It isn’t until late in episode two that any of the quartet run into one another, and it’ll be later still before they get together as a group.

I like this waiting strategy more than I thought I would. Yes, I would rather THE DEFENDERS had arrived earlier. But now that I’ve begun watching, I want the story to progress naturally. It takes time for the story to weave each individual together, and that’s OK. That’s how it’s supposed to work.

Danny Rand, a.k.a. Iron Fist (Finn Jones) is seen first, kicking off the event with an action-packed battle in the sewers. Although we don’t see the face of his shadowy opponent, we do know who she is, which will become clear soon enough. He and Colleen Wing (Jessica Henwick) are still hunting The Hand, and their mission, while starting overseas, soon brings them back to New York.

Danny isn’t the only one on a mission. Luke Cage (Mike Colter), fresh out of prison, begins looking after a kid around his neighborhood that needs help. Meanwhile, Jessica Jones (Krysten Ritter) takes a case that leads her to encounter the same mysterious woman from the opening. This isn’t a surprise, because it shouldn’t take the audience long to figure out that all three investigations are leading to the same central baddie. They are well woven, and this is the primary reason I’m fine with THE DEFENDERS taking a while to bring its leads together.

In fact, even as other characters like Foggy Nelson (Elden Henson), Misty Knight (Simone Missick), and Hogarth (Carrie-Anne Moss) cross worlds, Matt Murdock (Charlie Cox) is the hold-out outsider. Having rejected the mantel of Daredevil and busy with pro bono legal cases, he’s the one remaining unaware of what’s happening. This will not last, as the end of the second hours reveals, but it’s cool to have someone not falling into the pattern that the others do.

I have to admit, upon realizing that The Hand would be the villains in THE DEFENDERS, I wasn’t very excited. After all, Iron Fist, though not as terrible as some have claimed, is the weakest link, and its recently-released season featured The Hand prominently. Yes, they also appeared in Daredevil, too. But why bring over the criminals from the series no one liked?

That feeling goes away the moment we meet Alexandra (the great Sigourney Weaver), a woman so formidable that even Madame Gao (Wai Ching Ho) cowers before her. Alexandra does much with few scenes and few lines, a great presence that instantly makes The Hand interesting again. She exudes danger as much as she does gravitas, and she is the perfect foe for this adventure.

Two hours in, I am hooked. While not as powerful in its messaging as Jessica Jones or Luke Cage, it is much more gripping than Iron First or Daredevil, and its fewer number of episodes makes for a carefully-plotted, well-paced miniseries. It balances the faces we want to see with the story that needs to be told, and somehow combines the tonality of all of the series it brings together. It even finds a way to make the unavoidable fight between heroes caused by a misunderstanding work. It’s been worth the wait, and I plan to savor the remaining installments. I recommend you do the same.

THE DEFENDERS is available today on Netflix.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Your ATYPICAL Sitcom

Article first published as TV Review: ATYPICAL on Seat42F.


I hesitate to peg Netflix’s new series, ATYPICAL, as either a drama or a comedy. Yes, that’s true of a lot of shows these days, especially on premium cable or streaming services, but I feel like this one’s a bit harder than most. Pressed, I guess I’d say it’s a comedy based mainly on the running time, which clocks in at under forty minutes per episode. But it’s a very serious topic being delved into, and the level of discomfort in many of the characters keep this from being too funny.

At the center of ATYPICAL is a family of four, the Gardners. Sam (Keir Gilchrist, United States of Tara) is an eighteen-year old high school student with autism. His sister, Casey (Brigette Lundy-Paine, Irrational Man), looks out for her brother, and mostly ignores boys while she concentrates on her studies. Mother Elsa (Jennifer Jason Leigh, Weeds, The Hateful Eight) is unhappy in her marriage and considering an affair, while father Doug (Michael Rapaport, Justified) never figured out how to connect with Sam the way he does with Casey, though he loves both of his children.

Yes, this is a pretty typical family unit, and with some slight tweaks, could be a typical sitcom. What raises it above that is the cast, which is outstanding. Aside from Lundy-Paine, who is relatively new, the actors have a lot of experience, and including Lundy-Paine, a lot of talent. The clan feels very authentic, with complex, nuanced emotional feelings towards one another.

And yes, Sam’s autism is a big part of the show. How can it not be? It not only affects his life, but the lives of those around him, especially now that he wants to start dating. But it’s not the be-all, end-all of the show. There are other things going on, and even without the autism, this show could still exist (though it might have been a harder sell to Netflix).

Other series have started to put autism on screen lately; Parenthood springing to mind. I feel like it’s something not everyone understands right now, and getting to see portrayals of it on television is important. Familiarity breeds acceptance. While some may discount television’s influence on the culture, and while hatred does still exist, I feel credit is due to the small screen for helping ease racial and sexual tensions over the years. Autism doesn’t evoke the same strong negative reactions, usually, but it certainly can’t hurt for people to understand people with it a little better, whether you think it’s a disability or not.

The supporting cast is delightful. Amy Okuda (The Guild) plays Julia, Sam’s therapist, which I already see an obstacle coming from after episode one. Graham Rogers (Quantico) is Evan, a love interest for Casey. Nik Dodani is Zahid, Sam’s best friend. Raul Castillo (Looking) serves as a temptation for Elsa, hopefully one she won’t give in to.

I have seen reviews for ATYPICAL that range from praising it for being the best Netflix show ever, to those who find it offensive or trite. Thankfully, most are positive, and while I wouldn’t go so far as that first reviewer I mentioned, I would say it’s a solid addition to the service’s lineup. It’s fresh, surprising for a series that looks pretty standard on paper, and as mentioned, the cast is excellent. The direction and production value are good, and I became emotionally invested very quickly when watching the pilot. There is a healthy dose of realism without being gimmicky or gritty, and it has good balance for its leads and themes. I have no problem recommending this one.

All eight episode of season one of ATYPICAL are available now.

Friday, August 11, 2017

Watch Out For MR. MERCEDES

Article first published as TV Review: MR. MERCEDES on Seat42F.


Coming to AUDIENCE Network, AT&T presents MR. MERCEDES. You might already know this is the title of a book by Stephen King, the first of a trilogy, in fact. But if you don’t know what it’s about, I’ll tell you. Detective Bill Hodges, recently retired, cannot let go of a serial killer case he never solved. Though, admittedly, it’s probably harder to let go when the murderer is stalking and taunting you, as is happening to poor Bill. Thus begins our cat and mouse game.

I went in cold, knowing nothing about this show, and that was apparently a mistake. The opening sequence is interesting, introducing a couple of sympathetic, engaging characters, and it’s easy to get drawn into their story. Except, their story is short-lived because of a horrific event, one of the most disturbing things I’ve ever seen on television, and it makes it very hard to get back into the series as we move past the beginning.

Get drawn back in, you will, though. Brendan Gleeson (Braveheart, Edge of Tomorrow) is terrific as Bill, a grumpy old man who want the kids (‘ tennis balls) to stay off his lawn. The source material is well reviewed, and the great David E. Kelley (The Practice, Boston Legal) serves as showrunner and frequent writer. The supporting cast is, across-the-board, fantastic, the direction is great, the pacing is swell, and the villain gets quite a bit of screen-time, too. So it’s nearly impossible, if you don’t turn the show off five minutes in, to not want to watch more.

Does this mean the beginning was a mistake? No, not exactly. Yes, MR. MERCEDES did not have to make us care about its victims right off the bat, nor make the attack itself so damn gory. However, I think by doing it the way the show does, it effectively communicates the brutality of this killer, the randomness of his targets, the danger present, and the stakes of the tale. So as much as I did not like what happened and have no desire to see it again, I can’t be upset at the choices the series makes for pure quality of storytelling. It’s not gratuitous, it’s purposeful, and that’s the bar by which I measure whether violence is acceptable.

The heart of the piece is the contest between Bill and Brady Hartsfield (Harry Treadaway, Penny Dreadful). Both men are explored pretty in-depth, Bill through his interactions with neighbor Ida (Holland Taylor, The Practice), lawn mower Jerome (Jharrel Jerome, Moonlight), and former partner Dixon (Scott Lawrence, JAG), and Brady’s with his mother Deborah (Kelly Lynch, Magic City), coworker Lou (Breeda Wool, UnREAL), and boss Robi (Robert Stanton, Jason Bourne). Each of these supporting players makes an impression with how they interact with the leads, but also stand out themselves as well-developed individuals, which is quite a feat for an hour-long pilot. Somehow they simultaneously exist as the stars of their own worlds, and support that central dynamic.

And we haven’t even gotten to the introduction of Janey, another lead not in the pilot, played by the always-magnetic Mary-Louise Parker (Weeds).

Sadly, Anton Yelchin (Star Trek) was slated to play Brady before he died. I could totally see him in that role, and I think he would have been great. But Treadaway is a fine replacement, and I don’t think anyone will remember that he wasn’t first choice. Ditto Taylor as Ida, as Ann-Margaret previously had that role before illness forced her to step aside.

King’s adaptations are hit or miss, and usually have what I think of as a very specific, not super high quality, tone. But like the best screen work that’s come from him, like Kubrick’s The Shining, MR. MERCEDES doesn’t feel like it fits that mold. Instead, it’s an intense psychological drama that stands apart as its own thing. I think this could be a really strong series to watch, though unfortunately it’s not on a network most people get, viewership confined only to DirecTV and AT&T U-verse subscribers. I wish it had broader reach.

MR. MERCEDES premieres this Wednesday.

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Sign THE GUEST BOOK

Article first published as TV Review: THE GUEST BOOK on Seat42F.


TBS has some bizarre sitcoms, and their newest, THE GUEST BOOK, should fit right in among them. Created by Greg Garcia, the mind behind My Name Is Earl and Raising Hope, the show is sort of an anthology series, in that each episode stars brand-new characters in self-contained stories as they check in for a few days at Froggy Cottage and write their stories in the guest book there. I say sort of because there is also a group of locals who have ongoing arcs on the fringes throughout most of the episodes, culminating in a wacky season finale.

Yep, I know how it ends because I watched all ten episodes of the first season in one sitting. While not the most ground-breaking or fresh new comedy I’ve ever seen, I was thoroughly charmed by Garcia’s sense of humor, as I have been many times in the past, and impressed by the parade of performers who came through. This combines the quirky charm Garcia is known for, portraying “regular” middle Americans, with another interesting premise.

The four-member lead cast includes: Vivian (Carly Jibson, One Mississippi), a blackmailing stripper who owns Chubby’s Bikini Bar; Wilfred (Charlie Robinson, Night Court), the elderly gentleman who rents Froggy Cottage, and who becomes Vivian’s target when he’s just trying to reinvigorate his marriage to Emma (Aloma Wright, Scrubs); Frank (Lou Wilson, Tween Fest), Vivian’s good-hearted step-son and employee; and Officer Kimberly Leahy (Kellie Martin, the Mystery Woman TV movies), a cop who develops a crush on Froggy Cottage’s neighbor, Doctor Andrew Brown (Garret Dillahunt, Raising Hope).

Besides Dillahunt, Eddie Steeples (My Name Is Earl) plays another recurring local. This is notable because both starred in previous Garcia efforts. Other Garcia alum, such as Shannon Woodward (Westworld) and Jamie Pressley (Mom), pass through, and there are a host of references to Garcia’s past shows. This continuity, Easter eggs for fans of the writer’s work, is pleasing and makes the show more interesting. It helps create a feeling of family and warmth.

There are also some really clever, unique elements to THE GUEST BOOK. For instance, every episode (after the first) begins with two guys at a computer store recapping the ongoing plots in the context of a buddy trying to get his friend to watch the show. And there’s essentially a ‘house band’ that plays things out and provides bridges on a regular basis. These things kick the show up a couple of notches further.

I’d say the best way to judge the quality of such a show, though, is too at who the series got to headline the various installments, and that list is impressive to modern comedy and television fans. Stockard Channing (The West Wing), Jenna Fischer (The Office), Danny Pudi (Community), John Ortiz (Togetherness), Michaela Watkins (Casual), Arjay Smith (Perception), Lauren Lapkus (Orange Is the New Black), Laura Bell Bundy (Hart of Dixie), Kate Micucci (Garfunkle & Oates), Mary Lynn Rajskub (24), Andrew J. West (The Walking Dead), and my personal favorite from this season, Michael Rapaport (Prison Break), are among those who parade through. The great Margo Martindale (The Americans) also plays a recurring role. Having this kind of talent keeps the main plot engrossing, and is a good balance to the stories of the community.

Will this top anyone’s must-see list? Probably not. But is it an enjoyable way to pass a few hours? Absolutely. Garcia does ‘nice,’ non-judgmental, inclusive comedy as few others do, and I am always entertained and delighted by what he has to offer. Even in an increasingly crowded field of high-quality entertainment, he has a specific voice and style that is worth keeping around, and THE GUEST BOOK gives him time to really focus on key elements of the show in a way that he didn’t have the luxury to do on longer, broadcast-network seasons.

One last note, THE GUEST BOOK, interestingly, comes right on the heels of HBO’s Room 104, another anthology series set in a rental lodging, but the two could not be more different. If you want dark and science-fiction-y, go for Room 104. If you just want to laugh, and occasionally get your heart strings tugged on, then go with THE GUEST BOOK.

THE GUEST BOOK premieres tonight at 10/9c on TBS.

Saturday, August 5, 2017

THE SINNER Rock Solid

Article first published as TV Review: THE SINNER on Seat42F.


USA premieres THE SINNER tonight, an eight-episode miniseries based on the novel of the same name. The international best-selling book by Petra Hammesfahr is a different take on the crime drama, as is the show. Different because it starts out by introducing us to a protagonist who, midway through the pilot, we’ll see do something truly horrible and violent in full public view. There is no question as to whether she is guilty or not, but rather, the drama stems from why this seemingly normal wife and mother would do something so heinous?

There is definitely a reason, and THE SINNER lets us know that, if not the details of it, pretty early on. As we meet Cora Tannetti (Jessica Biel, 7th Heaven, The Book of Love), she is acting strange. She doesn’t look happy or comfortable in her job, working for her husband’s family. Her marriage to said husband, Mason (Christopher Abbott, Girls), is strained, at least from her side; it’s not clear Mason really sees there is a problem. She is haunted by some bad memories, and even appears like she might be leaning towards suicidal.

But we don’t know why she’s so troubled. Things seem good. She and Mason have a little boy she adores, and their home and careers seem stable, childcare taken care of, food on the table. They may be around Mason’s family a bit more than Cora would like, but there’s nothing glaringly wrong that would drive an otherwise normal woman to act that way Cora acts.

I debated even mentioning that Cora snaps in this review, so unexpected was it to me, going in cold. But the show description on the official website gives it away, and this is the premise, so it had to be said.

Biel is fantastic as Cora, playing the lead in a way that is engaging and complex. My instinct is to feel sorry for Cora, sure there’s a good reason for her mental instability, rather than condemn her. What trauma has caused her to act like this? How can she get the help she needs, rather than rot away in a prison cell where she doesn’t belong?

Which begs the question, how close is something like this to real life? How many women are there even now sitting behind bars who should instead be in therapy to get better? How many men? THE SINNER really calls into question motivation and how life experiences shape a person. One cannot excuse what we watch Cora do, but that doesn’t mean you can’t feel for her, and think there’s not a better path for her than a long stint in prison. She’s not a psychopath.

As much as I was sucked into Cora’s story, and to a lesser extent Mason’s, where THE SINNER slows down for me is any time it shifts to the third lead, Detective Harry Ambrose (Bill Pullman, Torchwood: Miracle Day, Independence Day). No offense to Pullman, whom I often enjoy, but I just don’t care about the law enforcement officer trying to understand Cora. What we do see of his character doesn’t paint him in a good light, and for some reason, I had less desire to understand him than I do Cora. Though presumably he recognizes something in her no one else does, which says something about him.

THE SINNER is being billed as a close-ended series, and I’m sure it will be. But it also seems like USA might like to continue it somehow. With True Detective coming back, I’m not sure we need another gritty crime drama like this. But if another protagonist as good as Cora can be found for a second outing, I might be up for it. And I haven’t even watched that much of Cora’s tale yet, which I would very much like to see through.

THE SINNER premieres tonight at 10/9c on USA.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Looking for MANHUNT: UNABOMBER

Article first published as TV Review: MANHUNT: UNABOMBER on Seat42F.


Discovery Channel’s newest series, MANHUNT: UNABOMBER, premieres this week. Unlike most of the programming on the network, this one is completely scripted, with a cast of familiar actors playing the roles of actual people, rather than interviews with experts and historians. I’m not sure why Discovery needs scripted shows, but given the focus on forensic linguistics, a practice largely dismissed at the time of the events depicted, this makes sense as the type of program that their core audience will likely be interested in.

Sam Worthington (Avatar, Clash of the Titans) stars as Jim ‘Fitz’ Fitzgerald, the FBI agent who gets inside the head of serial killer Ted Kaczynski (Paul Bettany, The Avengers movies) and brings him to justice. Fitz is a loner himself, smarter than most people, and he comes to understand Ted in a deep way that is, at times, disturbing. As Ted complains about how society is changing, Fitz can’t help but see his point, which does allow him to save lives, but screws up his own pretty completely in the process.

Worthington’s performance, full of complexity and nuance, is worthy of a feature film, and the style and tone of the program seems to bend that way as well. While watching the two-hour premiere, I couldn’t help but feel like I was at the theatre, similar as MANHUNT: UNABOMBER is to films in the genre. In fact, other than its clunky title, it seems like a pretty quality feature.

The supporting cast helps, too, with Keisha Castle-Hughes (Game of Thrones), Chris Noth (Sex and the City), Elizabeth Reaser (Twilight), Jeremy Bobb (The Knick), Brian F. O’Byrne (Aquarius), Mark Duplass (Togetherness), Brian D’Arcy James (Smash), Lynn Collins (John Carter), and Jane Lynch (Glee) making for a pretty formidable ensemble. And that’s not even a full roster.

But where MANHUNT: UNABOMBER suffers is where it differs most from a feature film: the running time. At eight hours, it is too long, telling a story that would have been hard to cram in two, but isn’t interesting enough for a full miniseries. Yes, I make that claim after having only watched twenty-five percent of it, but the amount of wasted screen time in those initial two hours is why I feel comfortable saying it.

A lot of time is given over to Fitz begging his bosses to let him use his talent, do his thing, and his bosses refusing him, telling him to just follow orders. Now, I like the point this makes, as Ted’s whole thing is about not being blindly obedient to the system. But it could have been told in one scene, not many. It started to feel pretty repetitive by the third time it happened. And it’s not like seeing it over and over built much suspense because, given the framework story, even those who didn’t follow the case as it was playing out know that eventually the higher ups will listen to Fitz.

I didn’t care for the framework story in general, either. Showing us what happened to Fitz later on, starting just before he goes to talk to Ted, who is awaiting trial, could be an interesting tale. But it’s a different tale than most of the rest of the episodes are telling. It gives away an ending unnecessarily, and is actually quite a bit less interesting than the investigation itself. Maybe it would have worked if it was saved for the conclusion, showing the arc of growth over time, rather than revealing it right away. But what’s here just doesn’t feel all that well planned out.

So, I like MANHUNT: UNABOMBER for its cast, performances, and style. But I probably won’t finish it because the pacing and story just doesn’t engage the way it should.

MANHUNT: UNABOMBER premieres this Tuesday at 9/8c on Discovery.