“Deadly Class” Is Neither Deadly nor Classy

We’ve seen many books, films, and TV series in which teens or young adults are put in life or death situations sometimes requiring these young people to use deadly force. Of course we have “The Hunger Games“, “Maze Runner“, and “Divergent” books and films that fit this category. On television we have “The 100” and to a lesser extent “Marvel’s Runaways” just to name a few. With the exception of Runaways all of these are in a futuristic dystopia or post-apocalyptic setting in which everyone faces life-and-death situations and the teens have no choice but to occasionally use deadly force just to survive.

However the new series “Deadly Class” from Syfy Channel is set more or less in the real world of 1980s US. This is not really science fiction or fantasy at all. It is based on a graphic novel by Wesley Craig. Our main character is Marcus Lopez. He’s a homeless teenager who escaped from a boys facility after a fire which killed most of the other residents. He gets recruited into a private high school called Kings Dominion Academy which is an underground school for assassins. Various gangsters, yakuza, and other nefarious types send their children to the school to learn “deadly arts”. He gets recruited because it is mistakenly believed that he murdered the other residents thus making him an experienced killer.

The Academy is run by a mysterious Oriental character named Master Lin whose family founded the organization to help poor people fight against the establishment. It’s based on the premise that some people just deserve to die. Marcus decides to go ahead and join to get off the street and perhaps learn skills so he can seek revenge against Pres. Ronald Reagan whom he blames for the death of his parents. Reagan cut funding for mental health programs releasing thousands of mentally ill patients onto the streets. A crazy woman jumped off a building, landed on his parents, and killed them.

In some ways the Academy sort of reminds you as a very dark and dangerous Hogwarts if the only class they taught was a dark arts class. However it wasn’t “defense against the dark arts” rather it was dark arts itself. Except remember these aren’t wizards. This isn’t sci-fi or fantasy. Despite being based on a comic book (excuse me graphic novel) there are no superheroes or supernatural elements. This is allegedly the real world.

When we look at terrific events of the dystopian young adult franchises, we can tend to set aside a bit our revulsion of kids killing kids even in something as dark as “The Hunger Games” because it’s the corrupt evil adults who are forcing the kids into the situation. However in this series, there seems to be no redeeming value to the entire situation except for the standard rationalization that they are only killing really bad people.

The thing that makes the dystopian franchises palatable apart from the necessity of the circumstance is that the storylines and the characters are compelling. We can’t say any of that about “Deadly Class”. The characters aren’t memorable. The situations aren’t compelling. Their struggles with moral dilemmas seem completely contrived even more that in the dystopian franchises. It seems as though we’re telling a story about killer kids just for the shock value of it. If there’s some deeper metaphorical meaning behind the entire concept, it is lost on me. If we want to tell a coming-of-age story about how difficult it is to grow up as a teenager these days in a violent world, then just tell the real story and don’t contrive some bizarre teenage academy for assassins.

I’ve not bothered to detail any of the characters beyond the main one or even tell you the actors names because none of them are anybody you’ve ever heard of and none of them are very interesting characters to begin with.

By the way if you’re looking for action in this series you’re going to be disappointed as well. Although they are supposedly being trained as killers, you’re not going to see spectacular fight sequences or action set pieces like you might see in a show like “The Badlands”. That’s why I said in the title that the show is neither deadly nor classy.

I waited until I had seen two full episodes before the writing this review because I wanted to see if there was some deeper meaning or some redeeming quality to the entire series but I haven’t discovered it yet. I gave this one every opportunity but in the end I give up and I’m giving it a very strong recommendation of “skip it“.

Can a Young Girl Save the World? Better Question Why Is This Show Called “The Passage”?

The Passage” is a new sci-fi thriller that premiered on Fox this winter. After watching 2 full episodes I still can’t tell you why it’s called that. This series is based on a trilogy of novels by Justin Cronin but I’ve never heard of it before.

The premise is that a group of scientists are experimenting on vampires in order to harness their healing properties. They want to combat a Chinese avian flu that could reach the United States soon and cause massive casualties. After experimenting on a variety of death row inmates by turning them into vampires, they conclude that they can modify the virus (or whatever it is that makes you a vampire) in such a way to harness its healing properties without actually turning you into a monster. Tests revealed that the younger the test subjects, the better the process works. So the mad scientists working on this project decide that they need to experiment on a child. They go in search of an orphan whom they believe no one will miss. Posing as government officials from the CDC they take into custody a 10-year-old girl Amy Belafonte. She provides a voiceover narration as if she is telling the story of what happened to her in the past.

Mercenary Brad Wolgast is in charge of retrieving the girl but his conscience gets the better of him because she reminds him of his own young daughter who is deceased. He goes on the run with her which of course pisses off his employers who will spare no expense trying to recover him and the girl.

The idea that “the fate of the world” depends on a young child is a well-worn sci-fi theme. We’ve had “Heroes” whose tagline was “Save the cheerleader… Save the world.” Kiefer Sutherland stared in a TV series called “Touch” where he was on the run with his young daughter who had some sort of mental superpowers. At age 8 Dakota Fanning had one of her first roles as the superpowered daughter of an alien in a sci-fi miniseries called “Taken“.

The weird thing about this particular “girl upon whom the fate of the world rests” scenario is that there is nothing particularly special about this girl except for the fact that she’s an orphan and has no known relatives so she won’t be missed if we kidnap her and turn her into a vampire. The scientists have not yet got their hands on her so there’s nothing they could know about her that makes her especially suited to their devious plot. The only real reason they are going after the girl and her abductor/rescuer is they don’t want it to get out what they are doing. In the second episode one of the characters says to Brad “They are more interested in keeping you quiet then they are the little girl. They can always just get another orphan.” So even the characters in the show are admitting that the premise is kind of weak.

Amy is played by Saniyya Sidney who has recently appeared in “Fences” and “Hidden Figures“. She’s a talented young actress who handles the role well. Brad is played by Mark-Paul Gosselaar who is known for a variety of TV roles including “Franklin & Bash” and “NYPD Blue“. The only other recognizable face in the show is Henry Ian Cusick who plays one of the scientists Dr. Jonas Lear. He is most remembered for his role as Desmond Hume on “Lost” and recently was on the CW sci-fi series “The 100“.

Except for the fact that this girl is going to save the world is a rather weak set up, it’s not a bad show. You got mad scientists, secret experiments on death row inmates, creepy vampires who can project their mind into your dreams, and a cute girl and her savior on the run from the bad guys. It remains to be seen where the show is really going.

For now I’m giving it a mild rating of “I’m watching” with a sort of wait and see attitude. If you can believe the advertisements it’s getting lots of critical rave. It might be worth checking out if you like this sort of thing.

“DUST” — An Amazing Source of Short Sci-Fi Films

I want to call your attention to a YouTube channel called “DUST”. It is an amazing collection of several hundred sci-fi short films ranging from about 5 minutes up to 20 minutes each. Here is the channel trailer video.

The description of their channel reads “DUST is the first multi-platform destination for binge watchable sci-fi. We feature science fiction short films and other content from emerging filmmakers with stunning visual effects, captivating plots and complex character explorations. Robots, aliens, space exploration, technology, and human experience are all a part of DUST. New uploads every week with DUST exclusive premieres and original series. Explore, subscribe, #getdusted, and follow for more.” That is a bold claim and it certainly lives up to it.

I’ve watched four or five of them and they are really amazing. They feature state-of-the-art special-effects, dramatic cinematography, and good hard-core sci-fi content. They upload one or two new videos every week. I’m going to have to go back to the very beginning and binge watch the entire channel at some point. If you are a fan of sci-fi at all you definitely need to check out this resource of great content. Check out the links below.

Suggest You Play Hooky from “Schooled”

The next new sitcom of the winter season is “Schooled” on ABC. I will cut to the chase and say that he gets my lowest rating of “worthless” which is even worse than “skip it”.

It’s described on IMDb as “A spin-off of The Goldbergs, Schooled is set in the 1990s and follows the faculty of William Penn Academy – led by Principal Glascott, Coach Mellor and Lainey Lewis – who, despite their eccentricities and crazy personal lives, are heroes to their students. ” Apparently “The Goldbergs is set sometime in the 80s so you could call this a sequel of sorts. I never watched “The Goldbergs” so if you’re a fan of that show you might have some mild interest in this one but don’t get your hopes up. This is a real snoozer. As always my ultimate test of a sitcom is “Did it make me laugh?” and this one gets a resounding “no”.

Lainey Lewis is apparently a character from “The Goldbergs” again played by AJ Michalka. She is a former student of the high school who goes back to teach even though her heart is not in teaching. She is probably the weakest link in the entire show. I found her acting to be absolutely atrocious. Principal Glasscott is played by SNL alum Tim Meadows who also appeared in 22 episodes of “The Goldbergs”. At times he is mildly funny. Coach Mellor is played by Brian Callan who did 42 episodes of “The Goldbergs”. While not especially funny, at least he is a reasonably likable sympathetic character in a pathetic kind of way.

I’ve already wasted more time writing this much than the show is worth.

If for some reason you absolutely adored these characters on “The Goldbergs” then by all means waste your time on this show. Otherwise move along… Absolutely nothing to see here.

“Fam” is Contrived Family Comedy

The first new sitcom of the winter season is “Fam” on CBS. The premise is Clem is a young woman who is recently engaged to her adoring fiancé Nick. Just as they begin to make wedding plans her ne’er-do-well out of control 16-year-old half-sister Shannon shows up and moves in with her. Clam is white and Nick is African-American but race is never brought up the entire first episode. So this isn’t “blackish” or “The Neighborhood“.

Clem is played by Nina Dobev who was most recently been seen in “The Vampire Diaries“. Her fiancé Nick is played by Tone Bell who appeared on one season of the sitcom “Whitney” but was most recently seen in “Disjointed“. The sister played by Odessa Adlon recently seen in “Nashville“. Her quirky character is the only bright spot in this otherwise ordinary sitcom. We also get a few laughs from Clem and Shannon’s father played by Gary Cole recently seen in “Chicago Fire” and as Christine Baranski’s husband on “The Good Fight“. He is a stereotypical bad father who makes all sorts of lame excuses for how he was never there when the girls were growing up. He brings a couple of laughs here and there.

The opening plot is full of sitcom clichés. The girls had told everyone that their father is dead because he’s been such an ass. Of course he shows up and spoils the lie. Also Nick accidentally eats some pot laced nuts right before a family gathering.

The laugh track is obviously fake and overdone as is usual for a new sitcom.

If you have read any of my other sitcom reviews you know that my ultimate test of any comedy is “Did it make me laugh?” I have to admit I did get a couple of chuckles out of the teenage girl but for the most part there’s nothing special about this. If you’re desperate to pick up a new sitcom on your schedule you might give it a try and see if it grows on you. But for me and my household, I’m rating this one a mild “Skip It“. Nothing special here. Move along.

“All American” is Friday Night Lights from an African-American Perspective

All American” is a new drama from CW network that tells the story of a young black man who transfers from his inner-city ghetto school to a Beverly Hills high school because it will offer him a better chance at eventually playing football in the NFL.

I almost didn’t review this show because I’m not sure I’m qualified to give it a fair report. As my title suggests, it seems like at its core this is simply a black version of the hit show “Friday Night Lights” which dealt with high school football in Texas. Although by all reports it was a quality show, it just didn’t appeal to me and so I never watched more than one episode. Given the fact that I’m an old white guy, it is going to be difficult for me to fully appreciate this urban African-American based show with any kind of empathy or appropriate context. It’s not that I can’t enjoy shows with a predominantly black cast. I enjoy “black-ish“, “Black Lightning“, and before my schedule got too full I was a pretty big fan of “Empire“. Of course saying “some of my favorite shows are black” is like any white guy saying “I have a number of black friends”.

I’ve pretty much summarized the entire premise of the show in that opening paragraph. Our main character Spencer James is a star receiver on his high school football team in a predominantly black inner-city school named Crenshaw. He gets recruited by the coach of a Beverly Hills high school who is also black and who grew up going to Crenshaw. The coach is played by Taye Diggs who has had a variety of quality roles in “Empire” and “Private Practice” just to name a couple. The coach is a former NFL player whose career was cut short by injury. While he claims to want to help the boy escape the ghetto and give him an opportunity to have a shot at the NFL, his motives are mixed in that he needs this quality player to prop up his failing team in Beverly Hills. Without giving away too much he also apparently has other motives yet to be revealed.

Spencer’s story is a bit of a typical “Stranger in a Strange Land” type of story in that he doesn’t quite fit in with the upper-middle-class Beverly Hills crowd even though they are racially mixed. He also faces pressure from his own people in the hood who are critical of him abandoning them and/or they are jealous of his opportunity. So he is caught between two worlds.

This is one aspect of the show that did resonate with me and my own experiences. I left and all special education school for the handicapped and transfer into a regular high school. This sort of left me as an outsider in both places. There were no other disabled kids in the regular high school so I stood out as unusual. And my friends back at the handicap school treated me a bit strange because it looked as though I thought I was better than them and that the handicap school wasn’t good enough for me. I did not have a feeling of superiority (at least not knowingly) but it was entirely true that the old school truly wasn’t that I’ve for me. So in that part of the story I do empathize. But I can’t properly emphasize with what is like to be poor and black.

Although the coach initially tells him that he can get the authorities to waive the rules that prohibit recruiting students from other schools, that effort fails and the only way to keep him in Beverly Hills is for him to move there. So he ends up moving in with the coach and his family. The coach has a white blonde wife and a teenage son and daughter who also attend the school. The coach’s son is the quarterback of the team.

The show seems reasonably well written and well acted but it just isn’t my cup of tea. I just don’t think I have the appropriate context to judge whether the show is any good or not. So I’m going to give it a strong “could be watchable” but I just can’t say for sure because neither the high school football aspect nor the African-American aspect of the show appeal to me.

Visiting “The Neighborhood” Will Not Make You “Happy Together”.

CBS just premiered 2 back to back sitcoms on Monday night. Neither of them are worth your time.

“The Neighborhood” is about a white couple that moves into a mostly black LA suburb. The white couple is Dave played by Max Greenfield recently seen in “New Girl” and Gemma played by Beth Behrs formally the blonde of “2 Broke Girls“. Their next-door neighbor is Calvin played by Cedric the Entertainer and his wife Tina is played by Tichina Arnold whom I’ve never seen before.

The whole thing is a one joke show. So a white couple moves into a black neighborhood. They try too hard to fit in. Some of the black people accept them and some don’t. End of story. This one gets a solid “Skip It

The other show “Happy Together” has an even weaker premise. A guy is the accountant for an Australian popstar. When the popstar’s life becomes a shambles and is chased by paparazzi he ends up moving in with the accountant and his wife. It stars Damon Wayans Jr. recently from “New Girl” and Amber Stevens West who recently appeared in “The Carmichael Show“. The popstar is played by Felix Mallard whose only previous credits are an Australian soap opera. I could barely watch one episode. This one gets a solid “Worthless” rating. It’s my candidate for the first show to be canceled. We will see.

“God Friended Me” Uninspired and Predictable

From films like “Oh, God” to “Bruce Almighty” and their sequels to TV shows such as “Touched by an Angel” to “Joan of Arcadia” to “Saving Grace” to the recently canceled “Kevin (Probably) Saves the World” the idea that someone is called by God to do special things in the world has pretty much been done in film and TV for many years. CBS’s new comedy/drama “God Friended Me” attempts to update the genre to the social media era we currently live in. I’m not sure there’s much left to explore in this premise.

I liked Joan, Grace, and Kevin but not because I was inspired by the idea that God or angels or other supernatural beings were encouraging them to make a difference in someone’s life. And as a person who considers himself a man of faith I’m not turned off by the religious theme. But I’ve only washed these shows because the characters were compelling and the scenarios were interesting or humorous apart from the godly guidance aspect of the shows.

Unfortunately I can’t say the same for “God Friended Me”. Our hero Miles Finer is an atheist podcaster who is this son of a preacher. He lost his faith when his mother was cured of cancer (thanks to his prayers) but then was soon after killed in a car accident. He is played by Brandon Michael Hall. While trying to promote his podcast promoting the idea that there is no God, he receives a Facebook friend request from none other than God. After declining the request several times he finally accepts it and gets a friend suggestion from God for a man named John Dove. He then immediately bumps into him on the street. Out of curiosity he follows him into the subway and ends up saving him from killing himself when John attempts to jump in front of the train.

Thinking that the whole thing is a hoax he turns to his friend Rakesh to help him track down this bogus “God” account. Meanwhile another friend suggestion from God leads him to a reporter named Cara Bloom played by Violett Beane. She is most noted for her role as Jesse Wells speedster resident of Earth-2 on “The Flash“. Together they try to explore who is pulling this presumed hoax on him. Along the way they uncover secrets to her past that connect the two of them.

There is nothing inspired or original about the entire experience. If you have seen any of these other similar shows then the story is totally predictable. There is a sort of heartwarming conclusion to everything as you might expect including his reconciliation with his estranged preacher father played by Joe Morton. Morton most recently played bad guy Rowen “Command” Pope on “Scandal“. It’s uncertain whether or not he will be a major character in the show or not but on the surface it looks like a waste of his talents compared to the meaty part he had in “Scandal”.

With the cancellation of “Kevin (Probably) Saves the World” after one season if you are hankering for this particular genre I suppose it might appeal to you. But somehow this one just doesn’t do it for me. Out of deference to people who might like it I will give it a “Could Be Watchable” but overall for me it’s a “Skip It“.

“The Cool Kids” is “The Golden Girls” For a New Generation

In 1985 audiences learned just how funny getting old could be with the hit sitcom “The Golden Girls” which ran for seven seasons. The formula was to put a bunch of veteran comedic actors together and let them shine at what they do best. It’s quite possible that the new Fox sitcom “The Cool Kids” could easily have been called “The Golden Boys” if not for the fact that one of the four actors is female. In my opinion it has the potential to be just as successful as “The Golden Girls”.

The show takes place in a retirement home where our main characters occupy the best table in the dining room. The show opens with our main characters discussing the fact that one of their number their friend Larry has just passed away. They become very defensive about who can occupy his seat. They are compared to “the cool kids” at a high school lunchroom where only a select few get to sit with them.

The cast is made up of sitcom royalty. First of all we have Charlie played by Martin Mull who has played a number of memorable characters in supporting or guest during roles for decades. Although he claims he had to audition for the part it is clear that the writers have custom tailored it to his personality. Basically he’s playing the same quirky, offbeat character he always plays. There are constant references to bizarre things he has done in his past. If you’ve seen him before and enjoyed his performances this will be very familiar territory.

Next we have comedy veteran David Allen Greer as Hank. He’s most noted for his work on the sketch comedy show “In Living Color” from 1990-2001. He has had many other sitcom roles and guest starring appearances. He most recently appeared as the father in “The Carmichael Show” which ran for three seasons from 2015-2017.

Next we have Sid played by Leslie Jordan. You will recognize him as the diminutive flamboyant gay character Beverly Leslie who has appeared on many episodes of “Will & Grace“. Although the character name is different, it’s the same over-the-top gay character he is known for playing.

The newcomer to the cool kids table replacing the recently deceased friend Larry is Vicki Lawrence as Margaret. It’s a bit ironic that she is most known for her elderly character Thelma ‘Mama’ Crowley Harper which originated on “The Carol Burnett Show” in 1967 and later in her own spinoff show “Mama’s Family“. For that character which she played at a young age she wore for prosthetic makeup to age her. Now at age 69 she’s playing an elderly character however Margaret is very much unlike her grumpy iconic Mama. Margaret is spry, funny, and very much likable. In the opening episode she has to earn her way into the empty seat at the cool kids table.

Although constantly played for laughs, the show is dealing with the rather serious issues facing everyone late in life as we wrestle with our own mortality and the loss of dear friends. At times it does become poignant and deal with the topics seriously. This of course is in extreme sharp contrast to the rather sad and tearjerking new series “A Million Little Things” (reviewed here) which also deals with friends who have lost one of their number and the consequences of dealing with it. So if you want to laugh in the face of death or wallow in its sadness you get a choice between these two shows.

Like many sitcoms, at times this one is silly and ridiculous but that’s what sitcoms are supposed to be. My ultimate test of any sitcom is “Did it make me laugh?” And this one had me in stitches several times. You immediately understand who these characters are and appreciate them quickly. The chemistry between them is phenomenal. If audiences find this show I’m confident it can be a big hit.

I’m giving this a strong rating of “I really like it” and I suggest you check it out.

“Murphy Brown” Revival Not As Strong As Other Recent Revivals but Still Should Be a Fun Ride

Given the current political climate, I don’t think anyone was surprised that CBS decided to bring back “Murphy Brown” after a 20 year hiatus. The show ran for 10 years from 1988-1998. Candace Bergen stars as the title character who is an anchor of a TV news magazine show. At the beginning of the original series she was trying to put her life back together after doing a stint in the Betty Ford Center as a recovering alcoholic.

In the opening episode of this reboot we find Murphy is retired but is restless about the current state of politics and journalism. She decides to put the old gang back together and to rejoin TV. Her son who was born amidst a bit of controversy during the original run of the series is now a grown man and a journalist himself. He ends up getting a TV show in her timeslot on a rival network called “Wolf” network (obviously a humorous nod to “Fox” network).

The original series became a topic of public debate when VP Dan Quayle criticized the show as detrimental to family values because Murphy was raising her son as a single mother. After his comments, the show did a special episode in response. Details can be found in this section of the Wikipedia article about the show.

Much of the original cast has returned. Faith Ford returns as perky reporter and former Miss America Corky Sherwood. Joe Regalbuto is fellow reporter Frank Fontana. Grant Shaud returns as their neurotic producer Miles Silverberg. With a couple of exceptions none of the cast has been seen very much except for an occasional guest star running a variety of and comedies and dramas. Bergen had several successful seasons opposite William Shatner and James Spader on Boston Legal, Also faith Ford did have her own sitcom “Hope & Faith” with Kelly Ripa that ran for for 3 from 2003-2006 seasons but was unremarkable.

Missing from the original cast are Pat Corley who played Phil the owner of a diner where the gang would hang out. He passed away in 2006. He has been replaced by Tyne Daly who plays a character called Phyllis who is the sister of Phil and has taken over the diner. Also missing is the very funny Robert Pastorelli as Eldin Bernecky who Murphy hired to paint her home but it took him several seasons to complete the job. She eventually hired him as a male nanny to care for her son Avery. Pastorelli passed away in 2004.

New to the cast are Jake McDorman as her son Avery. He was recently seen in the TV series “Limitless” about a guy who takes a pill that makes him super smart. Also we have Nik Dodani recently seen in a Netflix series “Atypical“. His character Pat Patel is a young tech savvy media consultant who is trying to teach Murphy and the gang how to capitalize on social media. In the opening episode he encourages Murphy to join twitter and she ends up in a twitter war with Pres. Trump. She also reveals that at one point Murphy Brown once dated Donald Trump. This is based on the true story that Candace Bergen herself once went on a date with Donald Trump when she was 18 years old. Here is a YouTube video of her appearance on Stephen Colbert discussing the date with Trump.

One of the running jokes of the original series was that Murphy could not keep a secretary employed. She would have to interview and hire a new person every week. Keeping with that tradition she interviewed a new potential secretary that was played by guest star Hillary Clinton. She wasn’t playing the “real” Hillary Clinton. She was a character named Hilary with one “L”. But there were lots of Hillary jokes thrown in.

Having Clinton guest star continues another tradition of the series having real-life politicians and other TV journalists appear on the show as themselves. We can expect that tradition to continue as well.

The plot of the first episode explored the struggle between being a serious journalist and making compelling high rated TV shows. It’s a little bit difficult to get a feel for the tone of the new series because much of the episode was about getting the old gang back together and introducing the new characters.

I was a big fan of the original series. This revival didn’t immediately impress me in the same way that the revivals of “Will & Grace” or “Roseanne” did. Those other two shows seem to hit their stride immediately as if they had never been off the air. Still there is enough of the old chemistry and ample opportunity for storytelling in the current political climate that this should be a fine ride once it gets going.

I’m giving it a solid rating of “I Am Watching It” and if you are politically center or left and like political humor I highly recommend it.