The Orville Works as both Sci-fi and Comedy

Seth MacFarlane’s new sci-fi comedy “The Orville” has been described as either an homage or a spoof of Star Trek. However he insists it’s really its own show and although it draws heavily on Star Trek genre it should be considered on its own merits. Having seen the opening episode I think all of the above is true. It is part spoof, part parody, part homage and a legitimate sci-fi adventure in and of itself.

If we set aside the issues of Star Trek connections and just judge it on its own merits as a sci-fi adventure and a comedy I think after one episode I have to say it works on both levels. It really is a decent sci-fi adventure show with a reasonably credible sci-fi plot. It also made me laugh really hard several times even if it is at times over-the-top silly.

MacFarlane plays Capt. Ed Mercer who in the opening of the show finds his wife in bed with a blue skinned alien. We fast-forward one year to find him down on his luck and depressed over the failure of his marriage. However Adm. Halsey played by guest star Victor Garber tells him he’s being given command of a mid-level exploratory shape called the Orville. Apparently there are 3000 ships in the fleet and they are little shorthanded for captains so despite the fact that he’s been a basic screwup over the past year they are giving him a shot at redemption despite his recent troubles.

Unfortunately his dream assignment turns into a nightmare when he finds out that his first officer is going to be his ex-wife Kelly Grayson played by Adrianne Palicki.

His best friend Gordon Malloy played by ER veteran Scott Grimes is going to be his new helmsman who is supposedly the proverbial “best pilot in a galaxy” but is also a ne’er-do-well alcoholic. We are also introduced into a variety of other alien crewmembers such as his petite female security chief Alara Kitan played by Halston Sage whose size hides the fact that she grew up on a planet with much heavier gravity and so exhibits superhuman strength. We also have a Worf-like character named Bortus played by Peter Macon who you might recognize as Dominique’s police officer father from Shameless.

One surprise bit of casting is Penny Johnson Jerald as the ship’s medical officer Dr. Claire Finn. You will remember her as Capt. Gates from the detective/romance show Castle. It’s a little bit hard to imagine her in a comedy but the character she’s playing seems to be very straightlaced so it might work after all. She does however have some genre credit because she played Kasidy Yates on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine

As a sci-fi show the opening plot was actually not too bad. Their first mission is a resupply mission the scientific colony but when they arrive they find out that they aren’t really there to resupply but are to guard a new piece of technology that can speed up time. While it has peaceful uses such as making crops grow quicker it can also be used as a weapon by making your enemy age 100 years in a few seconds. The alien enemy race the Krill are after technology. There is an outer space battle and a ground attack that provides lots of action.

The show also works as a comedy mostly by humanizing the crew in ways that traditional Star Trek type shows do not. For example 2 crewmembers meet in a hallway and one of them asks “Do you have a minute we can talk?” And the other replies “I only have a minute… I’m on my way to pee.” It calls to mind the strange fact that after decades worth of Star Trek we’ve never had anyone talk about taking a leak. In another scene the navigator asked the captain if it’s okay for to keep a drink and his console. The captain agrees as long as he keeps his under the desk and doesn’t spill it on anything. Later in the middle of a tense moment we see the navigator sucking on a Slurpie.

The humor isn’t really so much jokes or funny situations as it is breaking your expectations of what a space adventure is like. In another scene the captain needs to stall the attacking alien while they try to repair the ship and so he engages in a debate with his ex-wife/first officer over there marital problems and they asked the alien commander’s advice. It’s all pretty silly but for some reason it works.

Despite what I’ve said about this not being a Star Trek spoof there are plenty of Star Trek influences everywhere. The design of the bridge echoes features of Star Trek: The Next Generation as does the orchestral soundtrack. On the other hand it breaks some Star Trek conventions such as one-shot that shows an extremely long hallway that had to be done with some sort of optical effects. Traditional Star Trek and other sci-fi spaceship based adventures rely on short corridors or curved corridors to minimize the size of the set. So in some ways is not so much what is similar to Star Trek that makes this show interesting. It’s the ways in which it is different. But you have to be a fan of the original to see and appreciate the differences.

They have ordered 13 episodes and I don’t know if there options to extend it to a full season if it’s a hit or if it’s intended from the beginning to be a limited series. Time will tell whether or not the silliness gets to be too silly and whether or not the hard-core sci-fi aspects continue to hold up episode after episode. For now I’m giving it a rating of “I really like it”. I recommend you check it out for yourself. It might provide an alternative to the upcoming Star Trek: Discovery which will only be available through the streaming subscription service CBS All Access. The first episode of The Orville is available on demand. Episode 2 is next Sunday and then it moved to its regular timeslot on Thursday nights beginning September 21.

America Horror Story: Cult Capitalizes On Political Fear

Normally I only bother to review new series however American Horror Story is an anthology series that reboots itself every season with totally new characters and new situations. It even takes place in different time periods. So in many respects it is a new show each season.

This particular installment for season 7 begins with election night 2016 when Trump was elected president. Considering that as a liberal and Hillary supporter I thought that evening was terrifying enough, I wanted to see what the team from AHS was going to do to capitalize on an already scary situation.

The first three or four seasons of the show I thought were really well done but in recent years I’ve been disappointed. Season 5 titled AHS: Hotel took a very long time to get going. They seemed to go for the shock value of lots of blood and gore for the first three or four episodes before they really got into the character development. Eventually the characters began to reveal themselves with the memorable performances but the overall plot I thought fell very flat.

Last season premiered with great secrecy and hype not revealing the subtitle “My Roanoke Nightmare” until the premier. There were promises that this season was going to tie together all previous seasons. With a few minor exceptions that were references to previous season characters I thought that aspect fell flat. The structure of last season was based on a reality documentary series that recounted the events in a haunted house. The second half of the season was in the form of another reality documentary revisiting the haunted house and re-examining the events from the first half of the season. Overall it was sort of a gimmick season that in some ways was a commentary on fandom of shows like AHS. I sort of liked the gimmick even though it was very gimmicky .

This season is titled AHS: Cult however it’s not really clear yet what the cult aspects of the show will be. Although we do get one very bloody scene near the beginning of the episode, fortunately we do dive right into character development which is where AHS has always been strongest. The opening scenes are of different families witnessing the election results and reacting to them in different ways. On one end of the political spectrum we have Kai Anderson played by AHS veteran Evan Peters. He becomes hysterically giddy with joy over Trump’s election. Throughout the show he reveals himself as an anarchist who sees the election as validation of his radical views. In one scene he goes before the local Town Council to speak against a proposal to allocate police overtime to guard a local Jewish Community Center. He goes into a diatribe about how people love fear and how the Jewish people in particular craved being persecuted. He suggests we allocate no additional resources to their protection because they love to live in fear.

On the other end of the political spectrum we have Ally Mayfair-Richards and her family. She is portrayed by AHS veteran Sarah Paulson. She and her lesbian partner Ivy played by Allison Pill have a 10-year-old son. Ally also becomes hysterical over the election results but out of total abject fear of what it means for her as a lesbian. We later learn however that she also is a deeply disturbed person who is haunted by crippling phobias of clowns, objects with holes in them, and either irrational fears. We learned that the only way she was able to overcome these phobias was through the stable relationship with her partner Ivy. But now that the political climate seems to threaten their way of life, her entire life becomes unhinged. She begins hallucinating that she is being taunted by clowns. But then again is it really hallucination or is it real?

One of the interesting things about this season at least through the first episode is that we have seen nothing that requires a supernatural explanation. The psychotic evil of Evan Peters is all too real. And Ally’s psychosis does not require any supernatural basis. I seriously doubt that the show will avoid dipping into the supernatural considering how heavily it has relied on those themes in the previous six seasons. But I think this would be a much more interesting season if they made it more reality-based. I’ve got my fingers crossed but I’m not holding my breath.

Overall I like the fact that they’ve gone into interesting character development right off the bat and I’m very optimistic this will be an interesting and enjoyable season. For now I’m giving it a very strong rating of “I’m Watching It

“Channel Zero” is Creepy But Not Much Else

I’ve never been a big fan of the horror genre so it takes a lot to impress me. There are a couple of new offerings in the new TV season that we can take a look at. The first is SyFy Channel’s new anthology series Channel Zero: Candle Cove. They call it an anthology because each season they plan to have a new story with a new cast similar to the way American Horror Story operates. It seemed a bit presumptuous to call it an anthology when they had not yet been picked up automatically for a second season. However it has now been removed for another season after 3 episodes have aired so they must of had some sort of strong feeling that it was going to be more than a one and done situation. The first season runs only six episodes.

The previews for the series didn’t look very appealing to me however it is was created by producer Nick Antosca who was involved with the TV series Hannibal which I really liked. For that reason I decided to check it out.

This story and presumably future seasons are based on short stories which go by the name “creepypasta”. I have never heard of the term so I had to use them research. Wikipedia says it is a horror related legend or image that have been copied and pasted around the Internet. Such cut and paste stories called “copypasta” and since these are creepy copypastas they got the name creepypasta. Here’s the Wikipedia article for more info.

The “Candle Cove” is one of the most famous of these stories. It is the story of a child psychologist who takes some time off to back to his hometown. When he was a child and for other children were abducted and killed. His brother’s body was the only one that was never found. Somehow children’s television show called Candle Cove with creepy looking puppets is at the center of their disappearance. The show mysteriously appears on empty channels and no one knows for sure where the show comes from. Now decades later the show has been reappearing at the mystery of the original disappearance begins to unfold in shocking ways.

The show is more about atmosphere than things jumping out to scare you. There is a bizarre character that is a small child completely covered in baby teeth collected from children presumably from under their pillows.

Having seem to episodes I’m not very impressed with the whole thing. But as I said not much of a horror fan. Given that it is only six episodes if I have time I may watch the rest of it just to see if it gets better but for the most part I would have to say unless you’re a huge fan of the job I would say “skip it”. A much better alternative is the current season American Horror Story

“Westworld” is thoughtful sci-fi with lots of action.

The new HBO sci-fi series Westworld is yet another new TV series this season based on a movie. The 1973 film Westworld starred Yul Brynner, Richard Benjamin, James Brolin, and Majel Barrett. Both the film and the series are about an adult theme park where rich guests can live out their fantasies in a wild west setting. The facility is populated by robots that are virtually indistinguishable from humans. You can shoot, stab, rape or pillage with no consequences and although the robots can realistically kill one another to add to the atmosphere, the robots cannot kill you. The film was written and directed by Michael Crichon 20 years prior to his most famous theme park Jurassic Park. He also created a previous TV series in 1980 Beyond Westworld that only ran for five episodes.

The HBO series of 10 episodes as an all-star cast that includes Anthony Hopkins as the chief scientist who invented the Westworld robots. Ed Harris is a mysterious “Man in Black” whom at this point we aren’t sure whether he’s a robot or a human. He is on a quest to discover hidden secrets within the park. Evan Rachel Wood plays a robot Farmer’s daughter. Thandie Newton is a robot saloon madam. Luke Hemsworth is a robotic cowboy. Jeffrey Wright plays one of the designers of the robots and you will recognize him as Beetee the weapons maker in the Hunger Games film series. The series was created by writer/producer Jonathan Nolan whose credits include the screenplay of The Dark Knight and Interstellar as well as the TV series Person of Interest.

The plot is that something strange is going on with the robots. Although they are supposed to have their memories wiped at the end of every day so that they don’t recall being killed or maimed by the parks visitors, some of the robots are beginning to retain their memories and are becoming more self-aware. We are not yet sure whether they are gaining this awareness on their own or someone working within the park is manipulating them and somehow educating them to understand their true nature.

As with most sci-fi’s featuring extremely humanoid robots, one of the underlying themes of the series is exploring the philosophical questions of what it means to be human. It also explores what it is about our human need to play out our fantasies.

My favorite scene so far is at the end of the second episode. One of the game designers is pitching a new storyline to the Board of Directors. Also in attendance is designer emeritus Dr. Ford played by Anthony Hopkins. We are told he generally does not attend such presentations. The enthusiastic young designer has on display dozen or so of the humanlike robot characters. Among them are fierce looking Indian warriors, banditos, and women. He delivers the following pitch…

“This storyline will make Hieronymus Bosch look like he was doodling kittens. I have vivisection, self-cannibalism, a special little something I call the ‘whoroborus.’ Now, I don’t want to appear immodest, but this is the apex of what the park could provide, horror, romance, titillation. Our most skilled guests will fight their ways to the outer limits of the park, besting fearsome braves, seducing nubile maidens, befriending tragically ill-fated sidekicks, and of course, like all our best narratives over the years, our guests will have the privilege of getting to know the character they’re most interested in… Themselves. I present our guests’ next obsession: ‘Odyssey on Red River'”.

The Board of Directors applauds enthusiastically but Anthony Hopkins vetoes the project saying “No. No I don’t think so. What is the point of it? Get a couple of cheap thrills? Some surprises? But it’s not enough. It’s not about giving the guests what you think they want. No, that’s simple. The titillation, horror, elation… They’re parlor tricks. The guests don’t return for the obvious things we do, the garish things. They come back because of the subtleties, the details. They come back because they discover something they imagine no one has ever noticed before… Something they’ve followed up with. They’re not looking for a story that tells them who they are. They already know who they are. They’re here because they want a glimpse of who they could be.”

This kind of psychological and sociological commentary is what sci-fi does best. And for those of you who do want the blood and gore and pillaging we get plenty of that as well. The special effects are excellent. The bizarre 3-D printing machine that creates the robots behind-the-scenes is futuristic, awesome, and freaky. Although the plot moves a little bit slow and there are times when it’s difficult to follow the mysterious conspiracy theories that run throughout the story, we are hoping it will pay off big by the end of the season.

Highly recommended viewing for any sci-fi fan or anyone interested in the themes that the show explores and there is plenty of action for action-adventure fans as well. I’m giving it a very high “I really like it” rating was a borderline “must-see” for hard-core sci-fi fans.

“Timeless” is Time Travel That Travels Well

Although NBC’s new time travel sci-fi adventure series Timeless is not directly based on a previous series or film, it is very much a re-imagination of a number of well-worn time travel stories. It reminds me most of the 1966 TV series Time Tunnel. Both tell the story of a top-secret government facility consisting of a time machine. Our heroes travel back in time sometimes to famous historic events. The opening episode of Time Tunnel took us to the sinking of the Titanic while Timeless allowed us to visit the crash of the Hindenburg. If you’re not old enough to remember Time Tunnel there are also hints of 1989’s Quantum Leap TV series.

The show opens with a very well done depiction of the phrase of the Hindenburg and then jumps to present day where a group of commandos are storming a secret government facility. After a bloody gun battle, one of the attackers is able to successfully steal a time machine. The government then recruits history professor Lucy Preston played by Abigail Spencer to assist and advise them as pursue the thief across time. They make use of a somewhat clunkier looking backup time machine. Spencer has appeared in TV series such as Suits, and True Detective.

She is accompanied by a Delta force commando Wyatt Logan played by Matt Lanter and engineer Rufus Carlin played by Malcolm Barrett. Lanter is most known for his role in the more recent of the two versions of 90210. Barnett is lesser-known but played in the series Better off Ted. The master criminal they are pursuing is Garcia Flynn who is portrayed by Goran Visnjuic who has a long résumé but is mostly known as Dr. Luka Kovac from the TV series ER.

Although I really like the series and I’m going to recommend it to sci-fi fans, it does suffer from much of the “plot driven technology” that I spoke about in my previous review of the new series “Frequency”. I invite you to see that review for more details of what I’m talking about. We get the typical “If we have a time machine and fail in our mission, why can’t we just do it again?” The response is the stereotypical technobabble about the dangers of meeting yourself in the past and the irreparable catastrophic damage that would be done to the space-time continuum. The slightly more detailed explanation of the “rules” is that you can’t visit any event that you’ve already visited. At least that’s a little more specific than the Doctor Who concept of “fixed point in time that cannot be changed.” Because it never really tells us why they are fixed.

There are hints that the bad guy really isn’t a bad guy after all. It suggests that he has some greater purpose for wanting to rewrite history but we are never really sure the details of his hidden agenda. In the opening episode he still wanted the Hindenburg to blow up but to do so on his time schedule. While it initially appears that our heroes have in some way set history right by the end of the show, Abigail discovers that there are some far-flung side effects to the changes they made in history and those changes will affect her personal life in dramatic ways which I will not spoil.

Other episode titles tell us that we are going to visit the assassination of Abraham Lincoln, The Alamo, and perhaps discover what happened to the missing 18 minutes of the Watergate tapes. The opportunity for a bit of social commentary is available because our hero is female and one of her companions is African-American. Neither of them are treated with much respect in the 1930s compared to their handsome rugged white male soldier companion.

The story held my interest. We like the ongoing mystery of who is this bad guy and why does he want a time machine? The negative consequences of changing the past will also add extra tension to the story. Basically after seeing one episode it left me wanting more. I’m giving it a rating of “I like it” and unless you totally hate sci-fi I think you might enjoy it as well.

“Frequency” is Time Travel Without the Travel

We’ve already talked about 2 new TV series based on movies in our reviews of Lethal Weapon and The Exorcist. This time we look at a somewhat lesser known 2000 film Frequency starring Dennis Quaid and its TV reboot on the CW network also called Frequency. In the film Quaid uses an old HAM radio and some strange atmospheric phenomena to be able to talk to his father 30 years in the past. His father was a New York City firefighter and Quaid was able to warn him of his impending death in a warehouse fire. He manages to save his father’s life but it changes the future in a way that leads to the murder of his mother. They spend the rest of the film working together to try to prevent that murder before it happens.

In this TV adaptation the main character is female. Payton List stars as NYPD detective Raimy Sullivan who also connects via an old HAM radio with her father Frank Sullivan who was also an NYPD detective 20 years ago. He was killed in the line of duty but was believed to be a dirty cop. In the opening episode they figure out that they are actually father and daughter communicating across time. As in the film version, she warns him of his impending death and it is prevented. Also as in the film there are disastrous unforeseen consequences of changing the past.

Peyton List has had a number of television roles including over 300 episodes of the daytime soap As the World Turns however I recognize her from her guest starring roles on The Flash as Lisa Snart/Golden Glider.

These two time periods 20 years apart remain fixed relative to one another by those exact 20 years. As events unfold in 2016, events unfold in 1996 in lockstep parallel fashion. You get some of the typical time travel clichés such as the ability to predict the events of a baseball game across time. But you also get a rather spooky way in which events in the past sort of magically manifest themselves in the present. For example Frank and his daughter are communicating using the same radio. When Frank lays his cigar on the radio it begins to scorch a burnt place in the wood cabinet. That burn mark appears and smolders 20 years later. He later uses a soldering iron to scratch a drawing of a flag on the cabinet and the daughter witnesses it appearing in real time “simultaneously” 20 years later.

All science fiction stories struggle with what I call “plot driven technology”. That means that the author sets up the rules of how the technology works in such a way that it helps the plot of the story telling move forward. This is the opposite of what I would like to see which is “technology driven plot” in which the author designed some sort of sci-fi technology be it time travel or spaceflight or whatever… and then the plot is driven by the circumstances and consequences of that technology. The premise behind Frequency does a reasonably good job of being technology driven plot which in my opinion is the way it ought to be.

Any time travel story wrestles with the problem of developing the rules as to how time travel works. Some time travel stories draw the drama out of asking the question “Can we change the past or the future?” Some stories take the approach that our fates are inevitable and no matter what we do, it is what was destined to happen anyway. Others wrestle with the idea of “Should we change the past or the future? Will there be unexpected consequences?”

Someone always asks “If we fail to change things, why can’t we just go back and do it over again. If we could travel anywhere in time why don’t we continually do things over until we get it right?” Some time travel stories explore that possibility and usually end up concluding that it is futile to do so. Typically the author cops out and artificially put the some sort of limitation. In Doctor Who there are so-called “fixed points in time” which cannot be changed. Another new time travel TV series called Timeless which we will review later have already reviewed here had something similar. They artificially impose the idea that once you have visited a past event from the future you could no longer revisit it. To do so would violate some made up mumbo-jumbo about disturbing the fabric of the space-time continuum especially if you meet yourself coming and going. Those are examples of plot driven technology where you manufacture the rules of time travel to avoid dealing with paradoxes and other storytelling impairments.

The premise behind Frequency cleverly avoids many of these issues. Because events in the past and present remain linked by a fixed length of time and events unfold in the two time periods in lockstep parallel fashion, there is no opportunity for a second do over. You get one chance to fix it and if you fail there is no further recourse. The limits on the technology seem to flow naturally out of the circumstances. We don’t need to know why the two time periods are linked. We don’t need some sort of technobabble explanation of why we can or cannot do certain things. While it is true that this particular model of time travel does serve our storytelling purposes, it doesn’t have the same artificial feel that you usually get when such rules of time travel are explained. To me this makes for a more intelligent and thoughtful storytelling premise than you often get in these situations.

Because time continues to flow unceasingly at both ends of the story, it allows for dramatic tension that you’re facing particular deadlines. If you don’t solve the problem in enough time, all is lost. Cutting back and forth between the two time periods adds to the drama. Overall it is a very well done and very satisfying experience for the audience.

I mentioned the other new time travel series Timeless which I will review in my next installment and while I will recommend it to hard science fiction fans, this one is a little bit more accessible to a wider audience. Is more of a typical action-adventure police procedural type of show was a little sci-fi thrown in on the side. The father daughter relationship is also compelling and adds an extra something to make the show even better. We want to feel for our characters and in this instance we really do. The show has a lot of heart.

I’m giving this one a rating of “I like it” and strongly recommend it unless you really hate sci-fi.

Exorcist Reboot Fails to Capture the Magic

In 1973 when “The Exorcist” was released to theaters, it created a huge sensation. People were shocked by the bizarre supernatural events depicted in the film. The mystery surrounding the whole idea of demonic possession and the church’s position on the topic added to the controversy. There were news reports that people had fainted while watching the movie which added to the hype surrounding it even though it was later revealed they were grossed out by a rather gory depiction of a medical procedure rather than anything supernatural. While the makeup effects and other special effects today would seem timid compared to modern horror films, they were state-of-the-art at the time and they added to people’s fascination with the film. The green vomit and the head spinning 360 degrees became iconic and have been offered parodied. It earned a best screenplay Oscar, best drama Golden Globe, and numerous other awards and nominations.

So now we come to the second of three new TV series based on classic movies. It’s hard to imagine that turning this classic horror film into a weekly TV series could generate even a fraction of the fascination of the original. So it’s no surprise when the new series on Fox titled “The Exorcist” would fall far short. Although the character names are different and the setting slightly different, the basic plot is the same. A family believes that their teenage daughter’s strange behavior is a result of demonic possession. They seek the help of a young priest who in turn recruits the assistance of an older priest who is an experienced exorcist.

Geena Davis does a decent job of portraying the mother at least as well as Ellen Burstyn did in the original film. The rest of the cast is mostly people you won’t recognize or at least I didn’t. After watching 2 episodes I am totally unimpressed with the whole thing. The biggest plot hole is there jump to conclusions that this is something supernatural. There is absolutely zero evidence of that until the final minutes of the opening episode. The mother somehow jumps to this demonic possession conclusion simply because her teenage daughter has been moody, reclusive, and there are strange noises coming from upstairs. Hell that’s called having a teenager. While many parents of teens may wonder what possesses their children, rarely do they take that word so literally.

I’m not sure how many episodes have been ordered for this series but IMDb.com shows at least six. I just don’t see how you can take a story that was easily told in a two-hour film can be stretched out over six or more TV episodes. While we have seen some supernatural manifestations exhibited so far, after two episodes we’ve only barely gotten into territory that could not be explained by psychological issues.

The subplots surrounding the older priest’s previous history fighting demons and the younger priest’s questionable yet platonic relationship with a woman don’t really do a lot to improve the story or give you much deeper insights into the characters. The girl’s father and sisters are simply window dressing to add nothing of substance to the story.

I had initially intended to say that the best part of this series was that it retained classic Exorcist theme song “Tubular Bells” by Mike Oldfield however we only got a brief clip of it near the end of the first episode. It is not the opening theme song for the show and the song did not appear anywhere in the second episode.

If you have an unquenchable craving for a story about demonic possession and exorcisms that lives up to modern day envelope-pushing effects and storytelling then I went have to recommend the Cinemax series “Outcast” from Robert Kirkman who also created The Walking Dead. I’ve only seen one episode of Outcast and I may at some point do a review of it. My quick impression is that they are seeking to push the limits of what the audience will tolerate in the way of shocking story and visuals. While I can’t yet recommend it based on one episode, it is probably more worth your time than this movie reboot.

I’ve already wasted two hours looking for something watch worthy here and was unable to find it. I’m giving this one a rating of “skip it”. Unless you are a rampant Geena Davis fan who is desperate to see her on TV or you are possessed with an irresistible desire to watch a bad reboot of an old movie I suggest you skip it as well.

“Lethal Weapon” is a Satisfactory Reboot

In these reviews we’ve already lamented the fact that there’s nothing new under the sun with the reboot of MacGyver and a Kevin James sitcom that is essentially a reboot of his previous work. Many of the other new shows we’ve seen are extremely derivative of other shows. But there is also a trend towards turning hit movies or movie franchises into TV shows and there are three such offerings this season. We will look at each one in a separate review.

The first is “Lethal Weapon” based on the four comedy buddy cop movies of the same name starring Mel Gibson and Danny Glover as NYPD detectives. In its TV incarnation Glover’s character Roger Murtaugh is played by Damon Wayans. In both the film and TV versions he has a family man and is a pretty much “by-the-book” detective. In the film he was days away from retirement and waiting to just coast through his final days on the job. In the TV version Murtaugh is on his first day back on the job after having a heart attack. He has been told to return to work but keep stress to a minimum which of course will be difficult to do with his crazy new partner.

Mel Gibson’s character Martin Riggs is a nearly suicidal hyper risk-taking cop who acts insane most of the time but always gets the job done even if he does use extremely unorthodox methods. I don’t recall the back story on this character from the original film but in the TV version we meet him six months after the loss of his pregnant wife in an automobile accident. Still distraught over the loss he too is borderline suicidal. The TV version is played by Claryne Crawford who most recently appeared in the TV series Rectify but is mostly unfamiliar.

Wayans does an excellent job of re-creating the original character but Crawford not so much so. He is still unstable, constantly wisecracking, completely rogue, unconventional, and undisciplined. I guess for me Gibson has his own brand of insanity that cannot be re-created but the new character is good enough to make the entire thing work. After seeing only one episode the main thing that we miss is Joe Pesci as informant Leo Getz who joined the films in its second installment.

There is still plenty of action in the TV series with explosions, shootouts, and car chases as is the original films. On Riggs’ first day of the job he walks into a bank robbery hostage situation while pretending to be a pizza delivery guy. While in there he dares the robbers to shoot him. He ends up overpowering the robbers and saving all of the hostages. One of the bad guys that he killed has a bomb strapped to his chest. Riggs casually walks out of the bank eating a slice of pizza just seconds before the whole building blows up. It’s been years since I’ve seen the films but I seem to recall similar scenarios.

There isn’t a whole lot else to say about the show. It’s basically a satisfactory re-created of the original. Nearly as funny. Lots of action. Lots of fun all around. If you liked the original movies then I highly recommend you check this out. I’m rating it “I like it”.

“The Good Place” is Ridiculously Bad but Fun

Generally I don’t bother to review really bad stupid sitcoms but unfortunately “The Good Place” has somehow become a very guilty pleasure for me. I really didn’t want to watch another totally ridiculous show because I already am thoroughly hooked on “The Last Man on Earth” which is very decidedly stupid. But this particular new entry from NBC is ridiculous in new and different ways.

The show begins when Elinor Shelltrop is notified by a man named Michael that she has died. She wants to know is she in heaven or hell? Michael explains to her that the major religions of the world have totally missed understanding the afterlife. They only have about 10% of it right. But basically rather than traditional heaven or hell he describes the options as the Good Place or the Bad Place. He is pleased to tell her she’s in the Good Place.

Elinor is played by former Gossip Girl Kristen Bell and Michael her guide is played by Ted Danson.

Michael goes on to congratulate her for all the great things she did during her life that earned her a trip to the good place. He believes her to be a lawyer who got innocent people off of death row and did other international humanitarian work. The problem is he’s got it all wrong. She actually was a very unlikable person who made a living knowingly selling worthless supplements to sicken elderly people. She treated people terribly throughout her whole life and was basically a pain in the ass towards everyone she ever met. But she has to hide the mistake from him so that he won’t send her to the bad place.

The Good Place is divided up into tiny little neighborhoods of 400+ people all designed to provide them with a happy afterlife. Each person is also paired up with their soulmate. Her designated soulmate is a guy named Chidi who was an ethics professor from Senegal. She eventually confides in him that she doesn’t really belong there. Throughout the course of the show he tries to teach her how to be a good person.

Michael is not only the guide through this journey, he was responsible for designing the neighborhood and seeing to it that everyone has a happy afterlife. This is his first neighborhood he was allowed to decide after spending centuries as an apprentice angel or whenever his job title is. However the design is always in a very delicate balance and if anything is out of place the entire infrastructure falls apart. Bizarre things began happening in the neighborhood and they are all tied to the fact that Eleanor doesn’t belong there. We later there’s at least one other person in the neighborhood who has been put there by mistake.

The entire show is ridiculous, over-the-top, juvenile humor. For example you’re not allowed to swear so every time you try to say something nasty, different words come out of your mouth. For example F bombs get translated into the word “fork”. I thought that joke was going to get very tiresome very quickly but somehow every time someone shouts something like “What the fork is going on around here?” I still snicker.

The neighborhood is populated with lots of other goofy characters that I won’t bother to describe. Let’s just say it’s a very rich tapestry for silly humor.

If my DVR starts to fill up it’s going to be the first row that I delete. But for some bizarre reason it tickles my funny bone and I continue to watch it. I can’t really recommend it unless you’re looking for a mindless diversion. I’m rating it a very weak “I’m watching it”.

“Conviction” is Best New Legal Drama but That’s a Very Low Standard

ABC continues to expand its collection of primetime soap operas this time combining one of them with a procedural police/legal drama. The show is called “Conviction” which appears to be a little bit of a play on words. It is about a small team of lawyers and investigators in the New York City DAs office that reviews old cases to see if people were wrongly convicted. One might think it would be called “Wrongly Convicted” or something similar but I think the pun is that this really is about the characters conviction for various reasons to do this particular job. Each of them seems to have a somewhat hidden motivation for going on this crusade and it is not necessarily because they want to see justice done.

Hayley Atwell who you will most recently remember as Agent Peggy Carter in the Marvel’s Agent Carter this time plays activist and lawyer Hayes Morrison. She is the daughter of a former president and a bit of a socialite. The New York prosecutor who is often her adversary makes a deal with her to sweep under the rug the fact that she was found to be in possession of cocaine. In exchange for the deal she agrees to head up his “Conviction Integrity Unit” which will re-examine old cases which show some signs that a person was wrongly convicted. They make a big deal about the fact that this is not be “Innocence Project” and their goal is not to advocate on the behalf of convicted criminals. If anything it’s a bit of a publicity stunt to ward off criticism of the prosecutor’s office. Morrison therefore is a reluctant participant in the entire project who initially only wants to see herself as a public figurehead. She knows she was tricked into this job because of her notoriety as the former First Daughter. While it’s great to see Hayley Atwell back on TV so quickly, if you’re looking forward to her charming British accent you will be disappointed because she does a great job of covering it and sounding All-American in this show.

She is surrounded by a small team of people to help her re-examine these cases. Sam Spencer previously worked as a prosecutor in the city’s gang unit. He was supposed to be the head of this new unit until Morrison was recruited as the new leader. He is played by Shawn Ashmore whom you will recognize as playing Iceman Bobby Drake in the X-Men movies. You may also recognize him from his sci-fi series Killjoys, Warehouse 13, and playing the young Jimmy Olsen in Smallville however you would be wrong. Although he was Bobby Drake, those other three roles were played by his twin brother Aaron Ashmore. Until I wrote this article I never knew they were two different people.

Also of the team is Maxine Bohen a former NYPD detective played by Merrin Dungey who has been most recently seen as Ursula on Once upon a Time. There is Frankie Cruz is the units forensics expert and ex-con who had a romantic relationship with his former cellmate. He is played by Manny Montana who you have most recently seen in USA Network’s Graceland. Finally is Tess Larson who is a paralegal and alumni of the Innocence Project. She has first-hand experience with wrongful convictions because as a child her faulty eyewitness testimony set an innocent man to jail. She is played by Emily Kinney who is most famous for her role as Beth on The Walking Dead.

The show itself is what you would expect from a legal drama covering this topic. It’s your basic legal/police procedural in which the case goes back and forth where you yourself are not certain whether the person is really guilty or not. It leans a little bit more towards your typical ABC primetime soap opera with lots of beautiful people in powerful positions throwing their weight around and having affairs with one another.

Most of these types of shows increase their drama by some sort of deadline before the client gets the electric chair or something like that. Because not all of these are capital cases, the deadline gimmick comes from their charter which says that they can only spend five days on each case that they examine. While the show is nothing extraordinary, I can’t really complain about it. My favorite legal show in recent years The Good Wife wrapped up last season. The only other new legal show Bull is not as bad as my original review would suggest but it still isn’t great. While Conviction is not up to Good Wife standards it will do for now to fill my fandom of legal dramas and I would recommend it over Bull. For now I’m giving it an “I’m watching it” rating.