Showing posts with label Previewing. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Previewing. Show all posts

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Previewing The Handmaid's Tale: Season Two

We got a lot of The Handmaid’s Tale in Trump America think pieces when the show debuted all of which made me roll my eyes. Gilliad is a place run by religious zealots and Trump is by far the least religious and least moral president of my lifetime (and possibly ever) and I lived through a president who stuck cigars in an intern. Sure when (or if) Trump gets impeached, maybe we would have to worry about America turning into Gilliad under Mike Pence, a guy who forced aborted fetuses to have funerals while he was governor of Indiana (that sweeping abortion law was just deemed unconstitutional last week), but certainly not while Trump is still president. If Gilliad were to happen and he was not treated like the other adulterers, Trump would be like the Commander, taking his mistress to sex clubs on the weekend.

That is not to say The Handmaid’s Tale did not deserve all the praise that was heaped on it. The show was a shock to the system, haunting and even funny at times. Elisabeth Moss played the titular with gusto, a compliant slave on the outside with an inner monologue almost as snarky as that of Veronica Mars. While her fellow Handmaids escaped to Canada or send to the fields to work until they die, Moss ends the season still in the service of the Waterford’s.

At the end of last season, Aunt Lydia promised retribution to the Handmaids who refused to execute Janine by stoning. The new season starts up with Lydia fulfilling that promise including an apt and sadistic punishment for the Handmaid who first spoke up for Janine. Well everyone by Offred is punished because she is with child an and a trip to the doctor proves very helpful to June who gains help from someone I did not quite expect.

Where the first season was a rush of blood to the head, the second feels like it has fallen into the dreaded sophomore slump. All the fresh ideas in the first season just feel like retreads when they continue to happen in season two. And at every turn of something interesting in the first couple episodes, things just seem to reset again.

As great as Elisabeth Moss was in the first season, it feels like the second season could have been better spent on the secondary characters that are only sporadically seen at least in the first couple episodes. We get to see Moira adapt to her new life in Canada in the premiere but is not seen for at least the next five episodes. Rory Gilmore, who was last seen in episode five of the first season, does finally reappear in the second episode of this season where we get to see more of the “Unwomen.” Rory does show up one more time in the first half of the season, but I really would like to see more of the camp she was sent to.

We do get to see Rory with her family prior to the revolution and seeing just how Gilliad came to be is always fascinating. Also in flashbacks this season we get to meet June’s mother, who may be even more opinionated than her daughter, as well as Luke’s first wife who makes a great juxtaposition to what June is dealing with in that episode. Apparently the writers are keen on those Trump comparisons because “Resist” sign show up to a speech by Mrs. Waterford in one of her flashbacks. And just when you thought the people of Gilliad could not get any creepier, the Waterford’s get a new houseguest.

Sophomore slumps happen to the best of them and it is not as if The Handmaid’s Tale completely falls off a cliff. There is no Landry kills a dude moment or even a Carrie has sex with a terrorist who killed the vice-president by hacking his pacemaker moment. And unlike Lost, the flashbacks are still interesting in the second season. Really the problem is the flashbacks in the second season are more interesting than what is happening in present day. And there is the problem, the present day scenes have gotten a little stale. But something does happen at the end of the last episode I saw that hopefully sets a spark for things to pick up in the back half of the season.

The first two episodes of The Handmaid’s Tale are available today on Hulu with new episodes every Wednesday.

Tuesday, April 03, 2018

Previewing The Last O.G.

In a measure of full disclosure, I have never been much of a Tracy Morgan fan. Not when he was on Saturday Night Live and gave up on 30 Rock mostly because of him after one episode. But I have to admit, I laughed quite a lot at the trailer for his new show, The Last O.G. Plus it is on TBS, secretly one of the best networks on television with each of their original live action shows are at the very least watchable. The show was also created by recent Oscar winner Jordan Peele.

The show stars Morgan as a recently released from prison for drug dealing after fifteen years and is ready to reunite with his girl (Tiffany Haddish, The Carmichael Show) only to find out she is married to a boring white dude who is raising fifteen year old twins. Even Tracy Morgan can do the math on that. While trying to reconnect, he has to do it at a halfway house run by Cedric the Entertainer.

Okay, The Last O.G. turned out to be one of those movies where most if not all of funniest bit are in the trailer and the rest of the movie drags while moving slowly onto the next joke. Gentrification is a great joke in the trailer, but is rarely mentioned after that. A person coming back to a place that has moved on without them is a great hook for a story but really Morgan is quick to adapt on the new show.

Instead the show is basically split into two different stories. There is Morgan trying to connect with his children with Haddish unfortunately wasted as the wet blanket who rightfully found a better life for her and her kids. The other is with Cedric with Morgan and the other ex-convicts acting like baboons. Obviously this is the more entertaining part of the show. But even that may not keep me from tuning in, which would be the first TBS show I did not finish the season in years.

The Last O.G. airs Tuesdays at 10:30 on TBS.

Friday, March 30, 2018

Previewing New Wave: Dare to Be Different

When I was in high school, getting out of bed was hard. I would have my alarm clock set to the local top forty station and would routinely hit snooze three to five times before finally falling out of bed. I distinctly remember one morning when the alarm went off and as I reach for the snooze button I paused because they were playing It’s the End of the World as We Know It (And I Feel Fine). Since it was rare to play an “oldie” but goodie, I thought I would wait until the end of the song to hit the snooze but. Except when the song ended, they started playing It’s the End of the World as We Know It (And I Feel Fine) and I sat up, fully awake wondering if I was actually hear the same song twice. Now fully awake and lo and behold the song started for the third straight time.

Off to the bathroom, It’s the End of the World as We Know It (And I Feel Fine) was playing when I went into the shower and was still playing when I came out. It played throughout breakfast. It played throughout the commute. Sometimes in between the song, a mysterious voice would come on and say, “The end is coming.” Then back to It’s the End of the World as We Know It (And I Feel Fine). Naturally this was a big discussion at school that day. Keep in mind this was before someone could pull out their phones to answer any question. Was it the end of the world? Was this a warning?

It turned out that the radio station was changing format and their name (naturally to The End) and started playing alternative music. And it became my new favorite radio station until it turned into a hip-hop station maybe five years later. Which is also around the time I stopped listening to radio as the format slowly was being bought up by the same two companies and turning stations across the nation into basically McDonalds for the airwave with the exact same playlists.

But for people of my age and older, radio stations meant something important. You do not have to have lived in New York City in the eighties to appreciate New Wave: Dare to Be Different because this is a universal love letter to the local independent radio station. Grant it will probably help if you enjoy New Wave music.

WLIR 92.7 started as a radio station in 1959 and switched over to a progressive rock station in the early seventies. But it was the format switch in 1982 to New Wave and other underground sounds of the era that put the station on the map. U2, Talking Heads, Depeche Mode, Blondie, Duran Duran, Tears for Fears, The Clash, and The Cure were all credited to getting their first American airplay on the small Long Island station. They also claim to be the first to play Madonna and Prince. The documentary culls interviews from musicians who got their start on the station as well as DJ’s, fans and an intern named Gary Dell'Abate.

I am not sure if kids today even listen to the radio (I am not entirely sure why anyone these days would listen) but I am sure they would be befuddled by some of the segments in the documentary. Early on, there is a lengthy segment about people fine tuning their radios to find the station. Does anyone even turn a radio anymore? I do have two myself. Later they talk about import and try telling a kid who streams everything that there was a time when people would spend ten to twenty dollars just get an import single with just one or two songs on it.

Much like my local radio station that launched with twenty-four straight hours of It’s the End of the World as We Know It (And I Feel Fine) which did not last long, WLIR and its new format did not last a decade. Except its demise had to do with their FCC license. I will not go into detail, not to spoil the documentary because they make it hilariously confusing ending to the film.

New Wave: Dare to Be Different airs tonight at 8:00 on Showtime.

Saturday, March 24, 2018

Previewing Billions: Season Three

I was utterly disappointed with how the first season of Billions ended. For me the season needed to end with Bobby Axelrod in handcuffs otherwise the show might go down like Damien Lewis’s last show Homeland which kept him around much too long. I realized in the second season that this was not your typical season long cops and robbers storyline stretched too long, this was a story of Spy vs. Spy with both spies bent on assured mutual destruction. And then the second season ended with Axe in handcuffs.

Of course Axe does not stay in jail long and posted bail in between seasons. That is not to say the perp walk is not having a lasting effect on Bobby, Lara has given him the boot and his assets have been frozen. So Axe and everyone at the company that bares his name are unable to trade and basically go in to work now and sit on their collective thumbs. And as you can guess it, people like Dollar Bill are not very good at sitting on their thumbs.

Even though he finally got his white whale things are not completely peachy for Chuck Rhoades either. He has a new hands on Attorney General from the heart of Texas who does not like the types of cases the New York office is picking. Oh yeah, and he still needs to make sure his involvement in the Bobby Axelrod case which included screwing over his father and best friend and draining his trust. All the while making sure Axe does not wiggle out of the charges.

I originally thought I knew how the first season ended. Of course I was wrong. But after watching two plus season, I am even more certain that there is only way the series can end: Bobby enters a new prison cell to find his new cellmate: Chuck Rhodes. As much as they hate each other, they both deserve each other more than anyone else on the planet.

Billions airs Sundays at 10:00 on Showtime.

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Previewing March of the Penguins 2: The Next Step

Penguin mania swept the world a decade ago with the documentary March of the Penguins. Director Luc Jacquet took home Best Documentary that year for following a group of Emperor Penguins as they left their land locked home to head to the sea to get food for themselves and their family. It was funny and heartbreaking and sure to touch the heart of every child and those young at heart.

Not much has changed in the past decade, the penguins still have their regular march to the sea, sure climate change starting to have some effect but that is barely mentioned in the sequel March of the Penguin 2: The Next Step. Though warming, it still gets to -50 degrees below. What has changed is technology. High definition televisions were still new in 2006 when the original came out, I did not get one until 2010 so I probably saw the first film in standard definition on a DVD player.

The Next Step utilizes new technologies and techniques to give a fresh new look at these majestic creature. Jacquet spent two months shooting in the Antarctic winter using the new technology of 4K cameras, airborne drones, and under-ice diving cameras. And though some things change, Morgan Freeman is back to narrate the new documentary just like the first.

Where the first film spend most of the time following the marchers, the sequel tells the story of two penguins, a father and son, out of 60,000 in Antarctica as they face and overcome the almost unimaginable challenges of life in this hostile land. We follow the son from the time as an egg up until the point he is ready to head to the sea himself. Keep in mind only one in ten penguins make it to adulthood.

Still the film hits many of the same beats as the original, it is tense when there are lives at stake, heartbreaking at time, but a lot more slipping than I remember. Still, March of the Penguin 2: The Next Step is worth checking out just to see the breathtaking advances in picture quality. Although I guess it may be time for me to upgrade to a 4K TV.

March of the Penguins 2: The Next Step premieres Friday, on Hulu. The original March of the Penguins is on Hulu now.

Wednesday, March 07, 2018

Previewing Hard Sun

Have you ever watched a sci-fi show with no actual sci-fi elements? That was a thought running threw my brain while watching Hard Sun. Sure the first scene features someone getting stabbed below the eye like nothing happened. But that is never talked about afterward aside from seeing a scar there. I thought it was weird when some dude in his early twenties called someone who looked the same age mom, but when another character asked if she had him when she was thirteen or fourteen, I looked up the actress and found she was actually in her mid-thirties which made getting pregnant right after puberty ended plausible.

The closest thing to a sci-fi element is that a pair of cops happens upon a government conspiracy covering up knowledge of an extinction level event appropriately named “Hard Sun.” The first episode plays out like a fascinating political thriller as the cops race to get the information out before being killed like everyone who has seen this information. The following episodes follows the cops as they investigate crimes inspired by people coping with knowing they only have five years to live. It is an interesting look into the psyche of people who know they and everyone they love only have five more years to live. Sure our protagonist go with the cherish every minute and spend as much time as you can with your loved ones but there are plenty of people who just want to get the pain and suffering out of the way now because why wait five years knowing you are going to die along with everyone else on the Earth.

Not so fascinating is the clichéd subplot of two new partners where the newest to the department is brought in to investigate the older one of possibly being shady. We have seen this story play out many times before in movies and television and just takes away from the actually interesting look at the human condition with the end of the world off in the not so distant but not really that close future.

Jim Sturgess (21) is the cop suspected of killing his partner why Agyness Deyn (Clash of the Titans) is the newbie investigating the detective. Oh yeah, and he is hooking up with his dead partner’s widow, the one he may have killed, all the while his wife is pregnant. Oh course as the show ponders, does any of it matter if everyone is likely to die in five year? But then, the final scene in season completely changes everything.

All episodes of Hard Sun were released today on Hulu.

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Previewing The Looming Tower

I remember cleaning my basement in 2005 only to find a Newsweek from the late nineties with Osama bin Laden’s name on the front cover. It was a fascinating article in retrospect. I am sure I read it but like most, the name Osama bin Laden did not actually resonate with me until 2001. But what that cover showed to me, even though he was not in the public consciousness in the nineties, somebody knew something.

That is the basis of the new mini-series The Looming Tower as the FBI and CIA track Al-Qaeda and Osama bin Laden as they declare war on the United States through an interview with ABC News while the agencies butt heads with each other. The big point of contention that starts the series is the CIA acquiring a hard drive from an Al-Qaeda operative but refuses to share that information with the FBI. Things only get more heated when at the end of the episode; two American Embassies get blown up. This is 1998.

The show does the best job I have heard explaining the differences between the two federal agencies and why they are at odds. The FBI are a law and order agencies who want to bring in enemy combatants and put them on trial if they did anything wrong, while the CIA look at the bigger pictures not wasting time on small fish if it will harm catching big fish. And of the course the spies have no problem killing enemy combatants.

The FBI on the show comes in the form of Jeff Daniels (Arachnophobia) as Special Agent in Charge of the FBI's National Security Division in New York City. I would not recommend Googling his character because he plays what I assume a huge role later in the series. Peter Sarsgaard (Green Lantern) is the head of a CIA counter-terrorism unit in DC. Feel free to Google him, he does not exist (but the person he may be based on is fairly easy to find and you can tell why the creators of the show did not want to use his real name; I will say he did not seem to like the book that the mini-series was based on). It is probably because of this that in the battle of FBI and CIA on this show, the former come out looking better than the latter.

The one name I did recognize in the first episode was Richard Clarke who was the National Coordinator for Security, Infrastructure Protection at the time. The head of the CIA George Tenet (played by Alec Baldwin) does show up in episode three to discuss retaliation on bin Laden. The most high profile government official at the time Bill Clinton only shows up archival footage. And a lot of it, the show does not miss a chance to have a newscast featuring bits on the Monica Lewinski scandal on the television in the background, and the occasional foreground whenever anyone is near a television.

But Clinton is not the only one with a little action on the side. In the first episode alone, Daniels takes flowers to a woman in an apartment in New York. While in Washington, he takes flowers to another woman, and by the end of the episode he goes to the suburbs where another woman is waiting with his two daughters. Do really need to know this guy hunting terrorists has not one but (at least) two mistresses? Probably not. Granted I do find the home life of the rare FBI agent that can speak Arabic who is called to go to a foreign country on his first date and surprisingly there is a second.

There is a growing number of nineties true crime shows on television that I fear we are not too far away from the Amy Fisher and / or John Wayne Bobbitt story, but of the ones that have aired so far, The Looming Tower is the most well made of them. And with all the FBI stories in the news these days, the show is a relevant reminder of just how hard the job is and it is a job that never ends. And more importantly, just what is really going on in the world when the media has one singular focus on something that may warrant impeachment but in the end is may be trivial?

The first three episodes of The Looming Tower are available to stream now on Hulu with new episodes every Wednesday.

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Previewing Cardinal: Season Two

Netflix used to be the place where you could catch up on television and movies. Breaking Bad was even credited with becoming a hit basically out of nowhere in its last season because people were apparently binging on it with Netflix. But now Netflix is more interested in becoming a content creator. In the half year alone they have ponied over a half a billion dollars for Ryan Murphy and Shonda Rhimes to create new programming. While their original programming grows even larger, their acquired library keeps shrinking with basically Disney and The CW being basically their only major contracts left with the former saying they will not be renewing their contract when it is over.

Quietly Hulu is becoming the go to place for classic programming. The recently landed ER’s first streaming rights along with plenty other television shows from your childhood. Sure if you want to watch the Fuller House reboot, you need Netflix, but if you want to watch the original series, you need a Hulu subscription. And though they may not have much original programming, The Handmaid’s Tale has swept every major television award in the past year, including Best Drama at the Emmys, besting three Netflix series in a category Netflix has never won.

Aside from old shows, Hulu has also been amassing a growing foreign catalogue too. Want to watch the original Shameless? Hulu’s got it. Want to watch Real Humans which the AMC show is based on, Hulu’s got it. The original The Bridge? Yep, on Hulu. And, oh my goodness, the original Australian The Slap is also on Hulu. Hulu even has a bunch of international shows not (yet) bastardized by American networks yet.

Last year Hulu acquired the right to the Canadian show Cardinal and tomorrow the entire second season premieres on Hulu. It was another murder mystery show that benefitted from international schedules allowing shorten seasons with Cardinal only being six season. Ten to twenty-two episodes t solve a crime on American television is way too long.

As you would expect, the second season of Cardinal starts off with a scared woman running through the wood, falling, hitting her head to her death. Except, the big twist of the season is the girl shows up a couple scenes later in a bar without her memory. Oh, and after a medical examination Red (named for the color of her hair and because Jane Doe is usually for dead chicks; apparel they do not watch Blindspot) also has a bullet in her brain that essentially lobotomized her. Then the episode ends with some weird and creepy ritualistic killing that it is safe to assume ties into Red’s memory loss.

Cardinal may not be a profound show or reinvent the wheel, but it has proven to be a compelling bit of mystery television crammed into an easy to consume six episodes. And for people looking for something to do when everything on television is on an Olympic hiatus, here is something worth trying out.

You can stream the second season of Cardinal on Hulu starting tomorrow, season one available now.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Previewing Word Is Bond

For me, Ice-T’s The Art of Rap is the quintessential rap documentary. Of course when you are Ice-T, you can open up your digital Rolodex and get every living MC, past and present, you would possible want to talk about the craft. And being a rapper himself, Ice can steer the conversation to make sure you got all the important information out of the subjects.

So Work Is Bond has a lot to live up too. First off, director Sacha Jenkins (Fresh Dressed) does not get the names Ice-T did. This documentary is top-lined by Nas, Rakim, and Big Daddy Kane. But the thing is, the guy found some rappers not big enough for the Ice-T one that still had some fascinating insight like Brother Ali, Flatbush Zombies, and the Run the Jewels guys.

There were a few oh yeah, I remember those guys. Seriously, anyone remember Peedi Crakk? Then there is a segment on Rhymefest who is apparently still working and recently added an Oscar as a co-writer on Glory to his Grammy he won for Jesus Walks. While Freeway has noticeably lost a lot of weight since he was Roc-A-Fella’s next big thing about a decade ago and sadly we learn why as he is dealing with a serious health issue.

Okay, not all the talking heads are winners. Is anyone really that interested in hearing J. Cole’s thoughts on anything? Most of the interviews focus mostly on each rappers experiences and influence, but there is a fascinating discussion in the middle of the documentary where everyone is asked their stance on ghostwriting in rap, and oh, boy, there are a lot of strong, varying thoughts on the subject.

Word Is Bond premieres Friday at 10:00 on Showtime.

Saturday, February 10, 2018

Previewing Eric Clapton: Life in 12 Bars

There was a time in my life had you asked me who my favorite artist was, I would have told you Eric Clapton. We spend most of our first decade on this planet basically listening to whatever the radio told us to listen to or just what your parents do. Then comes the time when you discover that there was actually music released before you were born and even stuff, good stuff being released that did not even get radio airplay.

This time for me just so happened to coincide with a career resurgence of Eric Clapton whose Tears in Heaven was his first top five single since the seventies and first in my lifetime. That was quickly followed by his installment of MTV Unplugged which most would consider one of the top two episodes ever (other people can argue if Nirvana’s was better) which would sweep that year’s Grammy’s and introduce a whole new generation to what most would consider one of the top two guitarist of all time (though some may argue Jimmy Hendrix).

Now at seventy-two, hopefully it is time for another generation to discover the greatness of Clapton even though you rarely even hear a guitar on pop radio today unless it is a quick sample. For those looking for a quick recap of his life and career, look no further than Eric Clapton: Life in 12 Bars, an expansive look at the guitarist career. Or really, his sixties career as over half of the two plus hour documentary focuses on that time in his career.

And that decade is jam packed of action as Clapton bounced around from band to band. Clapton was a fickle musical, spending two years with The Yardbirds, John Mayall and The Bluesbreakers, three years with Cream, two years with Blind Faith, and two years with Derek and The Dominos, before finally going solo in 1970. But his solo work is mostly just an alcoholic haze and really the music during the seventies and eighties basically just get a one minute montage treatment.

This is my biggest complaint of the documentary. Slowhand, one of the greatest album ever made is barely mention other that hoe Clapton does not like listening song from that era because he can tell just how drunk he was while listening to those songs. The quick montage through this time comes to an abrupt end with the birth of his first child Connor whose tragic death at four inspired Tear in Heaven. But after all the Grammy’s were won, we get another quick montage to modern day. For a two hour and eighteen minute more time could have been spent from the seventies to now. Still Life in 12 Bars is a good primer on the artist life and would a look for music fans of all ages. And for those youngsters not that familiar with his work, I would recommend starting with The Cream of Clapton and his Unplugged album and go from there.

Eric Clapton: Life in 12 Bars premieres tonight on Showtime at 9:00.

Thursday, February 08, 2018

Previewing Homeland: Season Seven

One thing that struck me during the “previous on Homeland” segment that starts the season premiere is Dar Adal telling the president-elect, “Don’t go to war with your national security establishment, it’s a war you won’t win.” One would think the show went with a women president to coincide with real world events that ended up not coming to pass, they were surprisingly accurate at predicting the future in other ways. They even had a Russian troll farm last season long before social media giants were brought before congressional hearings.

But once the “elect” designation was dropped from the fictional character’s title at the end of last season, President Keane arrested two hundred government officials in connection to her assassination attempt including Saul Berenson. And at the start of the new season, the president is jailing journalists for leaking news and appearing at tribunals advocating death for those that conspired against her.

Carrie, of course, starts the season listening to experimental jazz while exercising heavily. Losing her advisor title to the president-elect on account of arresting her old mentor, Carrie is back in DC living with her sister again in a now full house with her brother-in-law who still works for the government, their teenage daughter activist (who thankfully is not as mopey as Dana Brody), and of course an every growing Frannie is still around.

Not surprisingly Carrie has not gotten an office job or even gotten back into private security like she did when the show went to Germany, she is instead trying to get her friend, and those unjustly jailed, out of prison. We are also still following the Alex Jones conspiracy peddler from last season who is now on the run from the Keane administration but still manages to record a show six days a week. And to give you a sense of how much time has passed from last season, he does say it has been fifty-two days of the resistance.

And being Homeland, there are plenty of twists and turns to be had even in the first episode. Someone gets a surprising job offer as a National Security Advisor and some dies (I think). Oh, and Max is back. Now if only we get one of Carrie’s crazy boards and go off her meds and we will have a classic Homeland season. Auntie Carrie is already off to a decent start.

Homeland airs Sundays at 9:00 on Showtime.

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Previewing The Detour: Season Three

As interesting as the premise for the first season of The Detour was where it was a season long National Lampoon’s Vacation the question is, are they going on a trip every season? Just like later Vacation movies that stayed stationary, The Detour wisely stayed put in the second season. And then at the end of the season they became fugitives and had to go on the run.

But season three is not a repeat of season one with the Parker family is on the lamb. We actually pick things up when the family has decided to stop running. And the place they do this is Alaska, a place where everyone in the state is running away from something. It is also a place where the sun is still out at 4:00 AM in the summer which makes for plenty of funny jokes.

The town the family settles in just happens to have an alpaca for a mayor and a deputy mayor who refers to himself as Straight Jack. The family comes up with some of the dumbest jobs they can think of at the top of their heads before realizing everyone in the state is just as messed up as they are.

That is not the lower forty-eight does not slowly find them. Sure it takes until episode five for Robin’s sister to find them. Also, Edie, the USPIS agent from last season is still on the case for no apparent reason because clearly she is not very good at her job. And of course the children are still there and as wacky as usual. Clearly the new setting has not done them well. Of course with parents like theirs, they were never going to grow up well adjusted.

The Detour airs Tuesdays at 10:30 on TBS.

Monday, January 22, 2018

Previewing The Alienist

Let’s get this out of the way first: The Alienist is a horrible name for a television show. Sure not Better Off Ted bad where the name is so bad it keeps me from watching, but it just does not flow off the tip of the tongue and I doubt many people will be going to work or school asking “Did you watch The Alienist last night?”

But I will give TNT credit that they have really gone all in on trying to become a prestigious television network after being the CBS of cable for over a decade. Even if mixed results, their last period piece, Will, was dead on arrival, Animal Kingdom never really got me while Good Behavior and Claws are watchable, the both have glaring flaws. Which is why it continues to get shut out of awards contention. But The Alienist may be its most ambitious show as it just begs nominations with its meticulous period setting and top notch acting. (I am also very looking forward to the just greenlit Snowpiercer show based on the movie.)

The Alienist is set in 1896 New York City, Teddy Roosevelt is the police commissioner and cops communicate via banging their nightsticks on the lampposts. This is also a time when mental health practitioners are called “Alienist” because they treat people who alienate themselves from society. These doctors “Alleviate the conditions, not to cure them.” Daniel Brühl (Captain America: Civil War) is the titular character who links a teenage boy prostitute to a previous murder three years ago when the police for is ready to close the case with a murder already to die probably before it goes to trial.

The Alienist has a weird group around him making the weirdest superhero team up ever. Luke Evans (Professor Marston and the Wonder Women) is a newspaper illustrator who likes too much fun. On the other end of the fun spectrum is Dakota Fanning (Push) who only wants to be taken seriously as the first woman to hold a position with the police department in New York City. Oh and there is history between the two. She does not seem to care for him while he seems to be oblivious to it and still think they are good friends. This friction is the best part of the early episodes.

A close second is a pair of brothers who may have very well be the very first CSI team, they are one of the first to use fingerprints to help solve a case), who are the closest thing to comic relief this very serious show gets. But where the show lacks in humor, it more than makes up for in detail. The sets are exquisite, looking just as good as any movie set in the time period right down to the clothing. Although you may feel bad for Fanning that the corsets are too historically accurate as her character is very vocal of her displeasure of the eveningwear as we the audience get to see the busies they leave behind.

As good as the show looks; I fear the show may suffer from the same problem other shows that just focus on one case for another season. As good as The Killing was its first couple episodes; it became a growing slog with every new red herring. Hopefully The Alienist has found a way to keep the show fresh episode after episode instead of feeling like a two hour movie that is stretched into ten (or God forbid, more) episodes even though as of the first couple episodes there is nothing that comes close to a B-plot. On the bright side, none of the main characters have children they will have to spend an entire episode looking for.

The Alienist airs Mondays at 9:00 on TNT.

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Previewing The Path: Season Three

When the second season of The Path premiered, it was the marquee show on Hulu. And heavy is head that wears the crown. Hulu just seemed to be getting by as Netflix racked up all the awards, even Amazon Prime, which did not even seem to be trying much until it recently bought the rights to Lord of the Rings had Transparent. But since then, Hulu has premiered three great shows, Harlots, Future Man, and The Handmaid’s Tale, the latter of which swept last year’s Emmys including outstanding Drama Series, beating out three Netflix shows. So now that the crown has been passed, expectations has been lowered, we can now enjoy The Path as simply the fourth best show on Hulu (and maybe going lower with multiple promising new shows premiering in 2018).

When the second season finished with Eddie leading a group of rejected Meyerist into the compound after performing a legitimate miracle, I thought this season would be a fight between Eddie and Carl for control of the moment. I was wrong. After another miracle in the opening moments, we get a six month fast forward and Carl is out. Dude bounced to Florida with his wife and baby and is being bankrolled by a former professional athlete and hoping to start his own moment down south which to me kind of sounds like a Pyramid Scheme.

Back in the tristate area, Eddie is trying to be the nicer and kinder cult leader and as his son tells him, “You are trying so hard not to be a cult leader; you forgot to be a leader.” Pretty profound for a teenager. That is where Freida Pinto (Slumdog Millionaire) comes in as the Meyerist new Oxford educated publicist who worked for Greenpeace Breitbart oxford educated which means the only green she cares about is the shade of George Washington’s skin. Granted the most ruthless thing she does in the first two episodes is threaten ICE on an illegal alien.  Then things get interesting in episode three which makes her motives even more murky.

Then there is Sarah who is still caught in the middle. She does not really care for the nicer Meyerist movement under Eddie and even though Cal still believes in some of the more hard core pillars of the faith, he is hundreds of miles away… at least for now. I have a feeling he will find his way back to New York before the end of season three.

New episodes of The Path are released on Hulu every Wednesday with the first three episodes up now.

Thursday, January 04, 2018

Previewing The Chi

The Chi opens with a teenager strolling through his neighborhood and night until he happens upon a dead body. If I ever came across a dead body I like to think I would instantly calling the police but honestly, fleeing in terror is not completely off the table. But Coogie stares at the lifeless body before taking off its chain and sneaker and only flees when her hears sirens in the distance. Then he stashes his stolen goods before trying to blend into a crowd.

Of course I am just an old white guy from the suburbs and only read about the troubling times in Chicago. Despite all the statistics that come out of Chicago, life still goes on for the people surviving and trying not to become a statistic. The Chi follows four black males at various stage of life with nothing to tie them together aside from tangential relationship to that dead body that opens the show.

Kevin is in middle school and still has to deal with something all pre-teens obsess over: girls and grades. Granted these kids curse more in one scene than me and my friends did in all of middle school. Emmitt is a teenager with actual girl problems; one shows up with a baby she claims is his and bolts. Brandon, Coogie’s older brother, is a line chef on the nicer side of town with dreams of his restaurant and setting down with his real estate girlfriend but the city keeps pulling him back in. Then there is Ronnie, middle aged, who always seems to find a way to get by.

Each of the four have their own circle of acquaintances and rarely run into each other, but when they do, you know something important is happening and the show rarely falling into the problem where characters rarely runs into each other feels annoying. A fifth somewhat major character shows up in episode with an unknown agenda that also seems to tie into that original murder. There is also detective doing an official investigation and seems to be a stand-up guy even though none of the other characters trust the police. And maybe for good reason because there seems to be some of his co-workers have some shady objectives.

The Chi is a refreshing look at storytelling done much better than other shows that tried to tell stories by marginally related characters. Sure it can be frustrating at times as I sometimes ask, why not just go to the police (which may not be totally a race thing, I found myself saying the same thing to the dumb white girls on Pretty Little Liars). And the storytelling gets too cute at times too. The third episode ends in an annoying cliffhanger and then the fourth episode starts minutes later, missing the climax of the cliffhanger. And it is not until the end of the episode when you learn what exactly when down. But still, The Chi is the strongest start to a Showtime in a long time.

The Chi airs Sundays at 10:00 on Showtime.

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Previewing The Librarians: Season Four

As other shows take Christmas off, The Librarians return tonight to give you an excuse to skip the holiday parties so you can stay inside nice and war. Next week, just five days before Christmas, the show has a very special holiday episode entitled …And the Christmas Thief. The three librarians are tasked with babysitting Santa’s Sliegh while the jolly man, Flynn, Eve, and Jenkins take a much deserved vacation.

But before then, tonight’s installment, … And the Dark Secret, well that secret is pretty surprising and rewarding for those that have been with the series back when Noah Wiley was starring in the movies. I cannot spoil the secret but I will say that it comes in the form of Rachel Nichols who is always welcome on my television screen. And I have a feeling that we may see her a few more times this season.

Things are up in the air again this season after all the proclamations have come to pass. The biggest point of order is that Charlene is no longer tethered to The Library, somebody has to. And there is a very elaborate ceremony for that to happen. Also this season, the group tries to save a town plagued by ghosts from the Civil War, battle a casino that steals luck, and endure a body-switching fiasco. You know, regular silly Librarian fun.

The Librarians airs Wednesdays at 8:00 on TNT.

Wednesday, December 06, 2017

Previewing Knightfall

As Vikings debuted its fifth season last week, it is a bit surprising that History has yet to do another full series set on a fascinating but underreported moment in history (I am not counting last year’s Six which is a modern show that could have easily been on NBC). Much like Vikings which seems to have a foot in the truth and a foot in myth, Knightfall follows the Knights Templers of the around the time of the turn of the fourteenth century. This is ripe for story because secrecy surrounds the Templers though they do run into a few historical figures like Philip IV of France and his royal family along with Pope Boniface VIII.

The series starts at the end of the Siege of Arce, the last stronghold of the Templar’s in the Holy Land in 1291. The Knights have saved the Holy Grail… only to watch it sink to the bottom of the sea. Fast forward fifteen years and those Templars have settled in Paris serving the King there as peace with Britain is fragile and ready to disintegrate at any moment. The Grail still haunts the Knights until a clue that maybe the Holy Grail actually in France and the remaining Knights are following to clue to see if it never sank to the bottom of the sea.

Though information is scares, I do recommend not looking up spoilers because they do hint at what happens at the end of the season (though in retrospect, the title can be consider kind of spoilery). But I do wonder if the show would have been better off starting earlier. We spend ten minute in the Siege of Arce and that itself could have been a whole season. The writers really could have started the series as the main Templar of the show joins the Knights and worked its way to this season where he takes over the Order.

But my bigger complaint is that the show does not do a very good job paying plots off. In the penultimate episode a whisper is made that changes the fate of one of the major character. When that character asked what was said, the replay is that he will be told when he comes back… except he does not return to learn the big twist before the season ends so we, the audience, will have to wait until next season (or possibly longer which always seemed to be the case on Lost) to find out as well. It is always a pet peeve a mine when shows do not pay things off in the same season. What if this show gets canceled? Then we will never know.

Still if you like the epicness of Vikings, you should stick around for Knightfall. It reminds me of what a live action version of Assassin’s Creed should have looked like without the weird modern day mad scientist plot (full disclosure notice: I never did see the move but will take the critics’ take for it that the movie was bad). Except instead of a show where we follow an assassin who crosses path with Templars, we are following Templars who have a few run ins with secretive assassin originations.

Knightfall airs Wednesdays at 10:00 on History.

Friday, December 01, 2017

Around the Tubes: 12/1/2017

I have gotten a plethora of cool press releases have been flooding my inbox recently that you may find interesting. This post will include blurbs on East Los High, The Alienist, Inside Windsor Castle: Triumph and Tragedy, new additions to Hulu, SMILF, and Deal or No Deal.

- The long-awaited return of East Los High has arrived with a Finale Event that bids farewell to the highly acclaimed and Emmy-nominated original television series. Season four of East Los High left fans on the edge of their seats with the most shocking cliffhangers in the show’s history. Eight months later, the crew prepares to leave high school behind and maybe even East LA as they begin a journey of self-discovery and learn the true meaning of love, family and friendship in this romantic, sexy and emotional series finale. East Los High continues to provide a unique and relevant space on television at a time when the plight of immigrant communities like East Los Angeles are under fire. By featuring underrepresented voices and bringing awareness to issues relevant to the Latino community, the series provides a realistic account of Latino youth culture in the U.S. today. East Los High’s Finale Event pays tribute to the popular characters fans have followed during the past four seasons, reminding us that their universal stories will continue to grow, prosper and transcend.

- The Alienist opens when a series of haunting murders of boy prostitutes grips New York City. Newly appointed police commissioner Theodore Roosevelt (Brian Geraghty) calls upon criminal psychologist Dr. Laszlo Kreizler (Daniel Brühl) and newspaper illustrator John Moore (Luke Evans) to conduct the investigation in secret. They are joined by Sara Howard (Dakota Fanning), a headstrong secretary determined to become the city's first female police detective. Using the emerging disciplines of psychology and forensics, this band of social outsiders set out to apprehend one of New York City's first serial killers. The limited series also stars Douglas Smith, Matthew Shear, Matt Lintz, Robert Ray Wisdom and Q'orianka Kilcher. The Alienist premieres across TNT’s television, mobile and digital platforms on Monday, January 22, at 9:00.

- Once upon a time, more than 150 years ago, Windsor Castle wed Queen Victoria's eldest son, the future Edward VII and his wife, Alexandra of Denmark. Now it’s time to make room for a new royal couple, Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, who have just announced their engagement and upcoming wedding at Windsor Castle. Back in 1992, however, things weren’t in such perfect standing - the private chapel at Windsor caught fire and burned inside the castle for 15 hours. 100 ancient rooms were badly damaged in the worst disaster in the castle’s long history, though from ruins to restoration, thousands worked tirelessly to restore the Queen’s weekend home to its original prestige. Explore the beautiful grounds, history and renovation of Windsor Castle ahead of the next royal wedding with Inside Windsor Castle: Triumph and Tragedy, airing this Friday, December 1st at 10:00 on Smithsonian Channel.

- Just in time for the holidays, Hulu this week announced that it has licensed the subscription streaming rights to even more hits for the whole family from The Disney/ABC Television Group, including ABC’s hit drama series, Designated Survivor. In addition to becoming the exclusive U.S. SVOD home to Designated Survivor, the complete libraries of fan favorites such as Revenge, Shadowhunters, Marvel’s Agent Carter, Blossom, The Catch, Bunheads, Cougar Town, and Perception.

- Here are some imports that will be coming to Hulu soon:

From prolific screenwriter Dan Sefton (The Good Karma Hospital) and starring Jodie Whittaker (Broadchurch, Doctor Who), character-led psychological thriller Trust Me centers on a gripping story of identity, lies and a woman’s desperation to escape the pain and disappointment of her old life. When Cath (Jodie Whittaker), an idealistic, hardworking nurse, loses her job for whistle-blowing, she is forced to take drastic measures to provide for her daughter. Seizing the opportunity to steal her friend’s identity as a senior doctor, Cath starts a new life. As she buries herself deeper in the imposter persona, she realizes she could get everything she ever wanted – but with her old life threatening her fragile creation, how far will she go to protect it?

The Wine Show is back and this time we're based in the glorious South of France. Matthew Goode (Downton Abbey, The Good Wife, Roots) is joined at the sun-drenched Provenal villa by, actor James Purefoy (The Following, Episodes). In addition to tasting the wines brought back from around the globe, they are tasked by Joe Fattorini to find a case of wine to match a six course French lunch cooked by Michelin starred chef, Stephane Reynaud. But this year, Joe is not judging. Jancis Robinson, the worlds most influential wine critic, decides which wines make it to the Wine Show Case. And she is taking no prisoners. Matthew and James journey all over southern France to find their wines. Their mission involves kayaking and caving in the Ardeche, rounding up bulls on horseback in the Camargue, baking in Lyon and even cooking their own lunch in the sweltering kitchens of the legendary Palme DOr restaurant in Cannes. And our old friend Matthew Rhys (The Americans, Brothers and Sisters) is also busy. He's back in the UK exploring gadgets old and new in the glorious setting of 17th century Berry Brothers & Rudd in London's St. James's Street.

Midnight Sun, a high-concept thriller from Mårlind & Stein (Bron/Broen), starring French actress Leïla Bekhti (The Prophet, All that Glitters) and Gustaf Hammarsten (Bruno, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo). Kahina Zadi (Leïla Bekhti), a French police officer, travels to Kiruna, a small mining community in remote northern Sweden, to investigate a brutal murder of a French citizen. With the help of Anders Harnesk (Gustaf Hammarsten), a Swedish DA and a member of the Sami, an ancient, mysterious indigenous tribe of Scandinavia, they are faced with new killings and the initial murder turns out to be the tip of the iceberg. Kahina and Anders come to realize that behind the killings is a ten-year-old secret conspiracy involving many of the town’s inhabitants. Kahina finds herself confronting a ruthless serial killer, always one step ahead, a macabre plan, and her own painful past.

Below the Surface: Copenhagen, 2017. 15 innocent people are held hostage underground in a subway train. From BAFTA award-winners Soren Sveistrup (The Killing) and Adam Price (Borgen), and Meta Louise Foldager Sorensen (A Royal Affair). A terror taskforce led by Philip Norgaard (Johannes Lassen) and Louise Falk (Sara Hjort Ditlevsen) is dispatched to rescue them. Reporter Naja Toft (Paprika Steen) acts as a go-between with the hostages and police as the savvy captors bait the press with information about the pasts of each of their hostages. As a media frenzy ensues, the country finds itself divided on whether or not to negotiate with terrorists. Over the course of eight days, growing fear and desperation grip Denmark while those trapped underground lose all hope for survival.

- Showtime is picking up its hit comedy series SMILF for a second season, it was announced by Gary Levine, President of Programming, Showtime Networks Inc. Created, starring and executive produced by Frankie Shaw, SMILF is a raw, honest look at the life of a 20-something single mom based on her Sundance Film Festival Jury Award-winning short film of the same name. The series also stars multiple Emmy® winner Rosie O’Donnell in her first series regular TV role. SMILF will go back into production next year. The season one finale will air on New Year’s Eve, December 31 at 10:00, with a special preview available online and On Demand on Friday, December 29.

- Before her road to becoming royal, Meghan Markle was featured as a case model on Deal or No Deal. Watch the royal-to-be conduct her case duties in the clip below, and check her out in the DEAL OR NO DEAL episodes from 2006-2007 currently airing weekdays at 11 a.m. on GSN (Game Show Network).

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Previewing Vikings: Season Five

The king is dead… Long live the king. Just who is going to ascend the thrown of Kattagard? The Brits also lost a king last season and he was replaced by his lone son. But Ragnar had five sons (or more; didn’t knock up a Brit a while ago). Okay one is already dead by the hand of his brother. Lagatha currently sits on the throne while all the sons went to avenged his death. Neighboring kings will also have an eye. Okay, I have to admit I have seen the whole block of episodes airing this winter and I have to admit I was quite shock who ends up taking the throne (or presumably, this person is not actually seen with the crown and I will have to wait for more episode to see if I am correct).

With Ragnor dead that only leaves four characters left from the first season. Two start the season leaving Katergard for greener pastures. Well, one does, Bjorn finally makes his Mediterranean trip and ends up in the desert of Arabia. Then Floki decides to live on the seas before discoing a barren land he thinks is Asgaurd (I am thinking he may have discovered North America). This show has fallen into the familiar going between Kattergard and pillaging other European cities it is nice to have two new adventures to break up the monotony of all the raiding.

That is not to say there is not plenty of raiding. Igar as a Napoleonic complex and is ready to take as much land as he can by any means necessary, usually in very sadistic ways (pouring liquid metal down someone’s throat was pretty unnecessary). No royal offspring has been this annoying since King Joffrey. And he is just like his father taking a Christian under his wing. But Ivar is not his father, he cannot fight and Ragnor had principals. It will be a glorious moment when Ivar gets his comeuppance.

Vikings airs Wednesdays at 9:00 on History.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Previewing Search Party: Season Two

The first season of Search Party followed a bunch of annoying Brooklyn hipsters trying to find their missing college friend that they really did not communicate with anymore despite living in a time where it is really easy to stay in touch with everyone. But the thing is, I could tell from the very beginning how that season was going to end: with the whole missing thing being a misunderstanding and the friend would show up safe and sound on the finale. And though that is exactly how the mystery was resolved, the show did throw a huge curve at the end when the merry band of hipsters killed a dude.

Sure, they thought he had something to do with the disappearance and possible murder, except the friend was alive and well and he was a private investigator looking for a reward. So this was straight up murder. Much like the first season, early in the seconds season I f think I figured out how the season second season would end: these Brooklyn hipsters would end up in prison. Seriously, there is no way these morons could possibly get away with murder, can they? Sure it would hard for there to be a show if most the of the main characters are in prison unless there is big switch in season three.

Each of the annoying Brooklyn hipsters are rationalizing the tragedy in their own way. Dory keeps seeing things, Elliot developed a rash, Drew is trying to get his job to transfer him to the Shanghai office in hopes there is no extradition treaty, and Portia actually veers into trauma by joining a play about the Manson murders. Needless to say none of these coping mechanisms go very well. Oh yeah, and lets not forget the gang’s token black friend (who knew he went on to become ABC’s The Mayor) who joins the staff of a senatorial campaign of someone who looks a lot like nineties era Hilary Clinton. Though I am not entirely sure if this was intentional but this candidate does act more like Bill than Hilary behind close door in an eerie bit of timing with all the current senate candidates right now.

The thing about the first season was it was fun watching a bunch of incompetent hipster try to do something good for the first time in the lives and bumble their way through their task. But watching a bunch of incompetent hipster try to get away with murder and bumble their way through their task is not nearly as entertaining. It was really mostly a drag. The most entertaining part came in the second to last episode where a not so incognito Portia and Eliot do a very poor job tailing someone. See the uncomfortable comedy is much better when the stakes were low. But I will say, much like the end of the first season, I was shocked by the ending and left wondering what they possibly be doing in season three.

Search Party airs Sundays at 10:00 on TBS and airs back to back episodes each week.