“The Alienist” is Well Done Period Crime Drama

The Alienist” is a new period crime drama set in the late 19th century New York City. In that era, people who were mentally ill were thought to be alienated from their true selves so the word “alienist” was given to one who studies such conditions. In other words a psychologist or psychiatrist. Our main character is Dr. Laszlo Kriezier who is investigating a serial killer beginning with the murder of a boy prostitute.

Kriezier is played by Daniel Brühl who was recently seen in “The Zookeeper’s Wife” and “Captain America: Civil War”. He is assisted by his friend John Moore who is a newspaper illustrator and Sara Howard who is the secretary to police Commissioner Theodore Roosevelt. Although fictionalized, her character is inspired by a real-life person who was the first female to be employed by the NYPD. She’s played by now grown child star Dakota Fanning. Moore is played by Luke Evans who is probably most famous playing Owen Shaw in the “Fast and Furious” film series.

Although this series is filmed in Budapest, they have gone to great lengths to re-create 19th-century New York in beautiful detail. The costumes, props, and sets are also top-notch. The performances are nuanced and intricate in the mystery of who is responsible for not only the killing of this boy prostitute from the opening episode but apparently this is just one of several children who’ve gone missing.

Like other period crime dramas such as “Copper” and “Ripper Street” we get a look at the early days of forensic science. Think of this as CSI New York set in the late 1800s. Like those other period crime dramas which I liked, I’m not sure how accurate they are vis-à-vis the level of forensic science available at the time. But it does add an interesting twist to an otherwise ordinary crime procedural.

We also get some insight into the state of psychology and psychiatry at the time with a little bit of preachy plot lines as our hero battles against prejudice over things like homosexuality, masturbation and other taboo subjects. If there’s anything unbelievable about the show is that the doctor has a very enlightened 21th century attitude towards the subjects. Of course we also get to see how female employees in a male dominated institution are treated in those days .

Overall it is well-written and well acted and it really transports yo might have u to this particular time and place while telling an interesting ongoing story. It runs for 10 episodes on TNT network. As of this writing 2 episodes have aired but are available on-demand. I’m giving it a solid “I’m watching” rating.

Bellevue is a Dark, Fascinating, Crime Story

A new crime drama titled “Bellevue” is now showing on WGN American channel. The show was originally produced by Canadian Broadcasting Company. It stars Anna Paquin as a police detective in a small town named Bellevue where everyone knows everyone else’s business. The season-long case we follow with her is the disappearance of a high school student who is a star hockey player. We quickly learn that the student also is dealing with gender identity issues.

This is Paquin’s first major role since the end of HBO’s hit series True Blood where she played Sookie Stackhouse.

Her character Detective Annie Ryder is haunted by the death of her father who was also a police detective. Throughout the opening episodes it becomes apparent that her current case is somehow related to a case of father had years ago investigating the disappearance of a teenage girl. Some of the story is told through flashbacks showing Ryder as a young girl. Pivotal to the story are games that she used to play with her father in which he would give her riddles to solve. Presumably this was to train her in analytical thinking hoping she would become a detective in his footsteps. Paquin’s performance in this show although very different from True Blood is very intense and compelling. I like this new character a lot.

Although there are no supernatural elements in the story it has a very eerie and haunting tone to it. In present day, someone is giving her riddles that are keys to solving this case. These riddles are in the same style as the ones she solved as a child.

The series is very dark in tone and is very reminiscent of one of my other favorite dark detective shows “The Killing”. Although not quite up to that high standard, I think fans of The Killing will enjoy this series as well. Paquin is believable and compelling in the role. It’s too early to tell after 2 episodes if all of the mystery and conspiracy buildup will payoff in the end but I hope it does. With a total of eight episodes it won’t take long to find out.

I’m giving it a rating of “I’m watching”. If this genre appeals to you, you should check it out.

Play Hooky from A.P. Bio

NBC recently had a sneak peek of a new sitcom titled “A.P.Bio” that is scheduled to premiere officially late this month. If you missed the preview, you didn’t miss much. Basically the entire show is one joke and it’s not a very funny joke to begin with.

The main character Jack teaches an advanced placement biology class in a Toledo high school. But he has no intention of teaching the class. He is a former Harvard philosophy professor who for reasons of which we are not quite sure yet is down on his luck and living with his parents in Toledo. His sole purpose in life is to get revenge on his academic rival another professor currently in Stanford and to sleep with his many women as possible. He recruits his students to pull pranks on his rival like catfishing him on Facebook.

Jack is played by Glenn Howerton who is mostly known for his roles on “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia” and “The Mindy Project”.

Patton Oswalt plays the high school principal who tries to get this rogue teacher to actually teach the class but fails miserably. Even someone who has pretty good comedy skills like Oswalt cannot save this ridiculous and unfunny piece of tripe. None of the students or other teachers characters are of sufficient interest to even attempt to describe.

IMDb.com lists six episodes but I would be surprised if all six of them actually make it to air.

This one gets a very hardy and emphatic “Skip It” on my rating system.

J.K. Simmons Makes “Counterpart” Irresistible and Compelling

Academy Award-winning actor J.K. Simmons is starring in a new sci-fi thriller called “Counterpart” on the premium Starz network. After just one episode I’m completely hooked and can’t wait to see where it goes. Even if you’re not a sci-fi fan, Simmons performance is already reason enough to check out the show.

He plays Howard Silk who is a rather timid bureaucrat who works for some UN agency in Germany. We aren’t really sure exactly what it is that he does. Part of his job involves going into a highly secured room where he faces another man behind a glass plate. They read some sort of coded messages back and forth between one another. At one point he notices the other man has a spot of food on his tie and points it out to him. Silk is later reprimanded by his bosses for having unapproved communication with the other man. The entire thing is very mysterious and enigmatic.

Silk is hoping that he has been approved for promotion but is highly disappointed when he finds out he has yet again been passed over despite his nearly 30 years of service to the agency.

We see that when he is not at work he spends all of his time at the hospital visiting his wife who has been in a coma for six weeks after a traffic accident. Each day he brings her fresh flowers and also drops off one flower at the nurse’s station in gratitude for their care. He spends time reading to her in hopes that she will awaken. He is visited by his brother-in-law with whom he obviously has an adversarial relationship. Her family wants her moved to London and to bar him from having anything to do with her continued care. The brother-in-law leaves him a power of attorney to sign but Silk refuses to sign it.

His world gets turned upside down when he is called into a meeting the topic of which he has no clue. In this meeting he is shocked to meet Howard Silk… a man who seems to be an exact duplicate of himself although with a completely different personality. While Silk 1 is a very timid, mild-mannered, dowdy kind of person, Silk 2 is confident, self-assured, in charge of everything that is going on around him. Silk 2 is from “the other side” although Silk 1 has no idea what that means. Apparently Silk 2 has important information that he is willing to trade. But he will need the help of Silk 1 to carry out his mission.

Silk 1 is totally clueless about the entire situation. Eventually it is explained to him and to us that approximately 30 years ago, East German scientists were performing some sort of secret experiment in the basement of this building. They ended up creating a passageway between our world and a parallel universe in which everything was 100% identical. However in the 30 years since that event, the history of the two worlds has diverged in significant ways. Silk 2 has been very ambitious and has worked his way up through the ranks of the agency to become a kind of diplomatic courier who has permission to travel between the two worlds carrying diplomatic pouches.

Silk 2 has uncovered a plot that there is an assassin from world 2 who has traveled to world 1 with a hit list of people that she plans to kill. One of them is Silk’s wife. Silk 2 tells Silk 1 that in his world, his wife 2 died of cancer two years ago. The rest of the first episode involves setting up a trap at the hospital to try to catch this assassin. Silk 2 takes the place of Silk 1 after hospital visit and although he is coached by Silk 1, important details were left out of the daily routine and the plan goes awry.

The significant differences between both Silk characters and the way that Simmons so distinctly portrays their personalities is compelling viewing. He is completely believable as both the mild-mannered bureaucrat and the hardened, action oriented superspy. The mystery surrounding these parallel worlds, the history behind this bizarre situation, and the conspiracy theories about what’s really going on are all very compelling as well. I can’t wait to see what happens next. There are 10 episodes scheduled this season and was green lit for 2 seasons from the very beginning. One of the frustrating things you find about such series when they appear on broadcast networks is that if they don’t find an immediate audience, the series can get canceled after just a few episodes. You are left hanging with lots of unresolved plot issues. It’s encouraging that the network made a commitment to 2 complete seasons from the very start.

This series gets a very strong “I like it” on my rating system. Highly recommended for sci-fi fans. Suggested viewing for anyone who enjoys good acting and mysterious storytelling.

The Resident is as Watchable as a Train Wreck

The medical drama genre is already a very crowded space on television these days. The field consists of the well-established and popular Grey’s Anatomy combined with Chicago Med and popular newcomer The Good Doctor. We also have the failure of other medical shows in recent years such as Pure Genius. So I was a little surprised to see that Fox was introducing a new series called The Resident.

This isn’t your conventional medical drama. If you’re looking for feel-good stories about talented medical professionals saving lives in dramatic fashion then this is not your show. The characters are arrogant, overconfident, grossly unprofessional, and in many cases lethally incompetence. The show starts off with chief of surgery Dr. Randolph Bell played by veteran character actor Bruce Greenwood performing a routine appendectomy. He is so renowned that the operating room staff interrupts the surgery so that they can take a selfie with him. Just then the patient prematurely comes out of anesthesia, flinches, and causes the doctor to accidentally slice an artery. His hands were already shaking indicating his incompetence. The patient bleeds out and dies on the table. He then proceeds to conspire with everyone in the room to come up with a fake reason why the patient died. At first he tries to blame the anesthesiologist but eventually they discover the patient’s family had a history of heart disease so they decided he died of a heart attack. It’s obvious that everyone is terrified of this guy and willing to do whatever he says to cover-up this huge mistake.

In this and subsequent encounters with people who cross him, he uses every bit of blackmail he can muster to manipulate and coerce people to do what he wants. He either cites stories of previous doctors, nurses, or residents whom he has already gotten rid of or he threatens them with something they did in their past. Apparently everyone is aware of this guy’s incompetence because he’s been given the nickname HODAD which stands for “Hands Of Death And Distraction”.

The main character that we follow in the opening episode is first year resident Dr. Devon Pravesh on his first day on the job. It starts out with the most cliché scene you’ve ever seen. He’s in bed with his wife or girlfriend we aren’t sure which and she wants to stay in bed with him and he says “I can’t be late on my first day”. How many times have we seen that scene in a TV show or movie. Not much originality here. They must be filthy rich because she gives him a fancy gold watch with his name engraved on it as a present for his first day on the job. We later learn that he did his undergrad at Yale and his med school at Harvard.

He has paired up with senior resident Dr. Conrad Hawkins played by Matt Czuchry whom you will recognize from his role and Cary Agos on the legal drama The Good Wife. He is abusive arrogant unlikable person but can get away with it because apparently he is the most competent doctor in the entire hospital even though he’s just a senior resident.

He is in charge of the new resident Dr. Devon and tells him that rule number one is doing exactly what I say. When a girl comes in with a drug overdose, Dr. Devon tries to heroically resuscitate her and after over 20 minutes of CPR Dr. Conrad tells him to stop but he refuses. He eventually gets the girl’s heart going again but she is effectively brain-dead. Now the family has to sit vigil over her for several days waiting for her to really die again. He’s done nothing but cause extra pain-and-suffering to the family.

Later in the show we see a talented second year resident from Nigeria Dr. Mina Okafor who has been training to use a robotic surgery device. When a VIP patient insists that incompetent chief surgeon Dr. Bell operate the device, they end up faking it having the resident actually performed the operation while the live stream video of the surgery makes it look like Bell was doing it. Again Bell uses blackmail threats to have her deported if she doesn’t cooperate in this scam.

The only decent person in this entire zoo other than the innocent novice Dr. Devon is another resident Dr. Nicolette Nevin played by Emily VanCamp in the first major role we’ve seen her in since the end of her series Revenge.

I’ve watched enough medical shows to know that for the most part they are medically inaccurate but I’m pretty sure this one takes it to an entire new level. I invite you to read the first User Review on IMDb.com. It’s a long paragraph that explains at least five different things that are ridiculously inaccurate as portrayed in the show.

I was a huge fan of Matt Czuchry when he was on The Good Wife. And I have had a bit of a crash on Emily VanCamp ever since I first saw her on Revenge which I never missed. But other than these two performers, the show doesn’t have much going for it.

I may watch another episode or two just to see if it gets any better or if the shock factor somehow makes it interesting in the same way as watching a train wreck. But for the most part I think I would have to give it a rating of “Skip It” or at best a very weak “Could be watchable”.

Black Lightning is a relevant and worthwhile superhero

This week CW network introduced a new superhero show titled Black Lightning. It features an African-American superhero who is the title character. It’s part of the DC universe which is somewhat natural because they were pioneers in this field when they started Milestone Comics in 1993. Although Marvel had Luke Cage and Black Panther prior to this, they were written and drawn primarily by white artists and writers. The African-American community was pleased to finally have black superheroes but they were thought to initially be a bit inauthentic having been written by a bunch of old white guys. Although Black Lightning was not part of Milestone Comics you have to figure that it’s roots (pardon the expression) trace back to that endeavor. Marvel later did hire African-American writers and artists and some of them later worked on Black Lightning. But speaking of old white guys… that perfectly describes me. So I not going to be able to bring any sort of black perspective in this review.

Black Lightning is the alter ego of Jefferson Pierce. He is a former Olympic athlete who is now a high school principal in a predominantly black school called Garfield high school in the town of Freeland. He is divorced and has two daughters. The older daughter Anissa is a medical student who also teaches health at the high school part-time. The younger daughter Jennifer is a teenager and student at his high school. Pierce is played by Cress Williams who has been most recently seen in the medical drama Code Black but is more known for his role on Heart of Dixie. Anissa is played by Nafessa Williams (apparently no relation to Cress). She also appeared in Code Black as well as the recent Twin Peaks reboot. Jennifer is played by China Anne McClain who previously played in A.N.T. Farm and House of Payne. The ex-wife Lynn is played by Christine Adams who previously did nine episodes of Agents of SHIELD and was in the 2011 sci-fi series Terra Nova.

The setting is a modern day African-American community that is routinely harassed by a mostly white police force. In an opening scene the police pull over Jefferson, forced him out of his car and put him in handcuffs for suspicion of armed robbery. He complains this was the third time this month he had been harassed by police. When the store owner tried to identify him and said it wasn’t the guy they let him go. He complained “Was the suspect wearing a suit and tie and driving an old Volvo with his teenage daughters on board?” So as you can see, racial issues are going to be primary storylines but given the current atmosphere in this country they seem to be spot on.

We come to learn that Black Lightning is a vigilante who has been retired for nine years. But when Jeffersons daughters get kidnapped by ruthless gang members from a gang known as “The 100” he brings the old persona back again much to the delight of the African-American community pundits on TV. And much to the dismay of the mostly white Freeland Police Department.

As his name suggests, his superpower involves the ability to manipulate electricity. He can apparently either absorb electricity and/or disrupt electrical sources and then shoot lightning bolts out of his hands. He also can emit brief flashes of lightning when he punches someone. He has some sort of body armor superhero suit that was created by a tailor friend Peter Gambi played by veteran character actor James Remar. He was recently seen playing Frank Gordon father of Detective Jim Gordon on Gotham. Although he is a formidable fighter physically in addition to his superpowers, he is not invulnerable. After fight scenes it is typical to see him standing in the shower or soaking in a bathtub nursing his wounds. The dangerous lifestyle of a vigilante was responsible for the failure of his marriage. The fact that Black Lightning has not been seen in nine years has not been sufficient to heal the wounds to his marriage.

The drama from his activist older daughter, his rebellious younger daughter, his ex-wife with whom he tries to reunite, his role as a high school principal, and the needs of the community for a protector and inspirational hero all clash together to provide ample storytelling possibilities. The ruthless gang members which terrorize and control the community provide him with an incredibly dangerous arch nemesis. The racial tensions in the community provide extra peril to explore. In his role as being more vigilante than superhero all serve to complicate the situation.

The action and special effects are up to par with other CW superheroes. The acting and writing are adequate. And as mentioned in my earlier disclaimer I can’t really speak to authenticity of the African-American perspective because I’m an old white guy. But I’m also a bleeding heart liberal so I found the racial aspects of the story interesting and engaging without being too preachy.

I enjoyed the first episode and I think it has a lot of potential. I’m giving it a rating of “I’m watching it

Philip K Dick’s Electric Dreams is everything we expect from PKD

I barely have time to keep up with broadcast and cable TV shows so I don’t take the opportunity very often to review a streaming show. But Amazon Prime’s new sci-fi anthology series “Philip K Dick’s Electric Dreams” looked so appealing I had to check it out. If the name Philip K Dick isn’t familiar to you, his works most certainly are. Among the films and TV shows based on his work are Blade Runner, The Man in the High Castle, Minority Report, The Adjustment Bureau, A Scanner Darkly, Screamers, and Total Recall.

Electric Dreams is an anthology series based on his short stories. There are 10 episodes of the first season available on Amazon Prime now. The series is produced by Sony Pictures Television and originally aired in the UK on Channel 4. Amazon is just the US distributor and not really a producer. So far I’ve just seen the first episode titled “The Hood Maker”. I’ve not read the short story that is the basis of this episode but I can tell you very much that had I not known it was based on one of his stories I would’ve compared it to his work. It’s very much into the tone and content that we expect from this sci-fi icon who sadly passed away in 1982.

The story takes place in a near future with low technology. According to a synopsis online, humanity’s only mechanism for long-distance communication are mutant telepaths. As though it is clear these mutant telepaths known as “Teeps” are the center of the story, I did not really understand their role in society as described in this online summary. The episode opens with a group of protesters marching through the streets and alleyways of a slum. Hiding just out of sight are a group of riot police and some other plainclothes police officers accompanied by a strange woman with a scar across her eye. It soon becomes apparent that she is a telepath who is reading the minds of the protesters. She trying to discover if they are dangerous or not. She dismisses some of them as harmless but eventually points out a few that could be troublemakers. Then one of the protesters senses that his mind is being read and the protesters takeoff and charge the storm troopers creating a riot.

One of the protesters is wearing a hooded mask and takes off running. The detective chases him down and arrests him. It’s only halfway through the riot that we realize that the protesters are protesting the telepaths and the fact that their private thoughts are being invaded.

We later learned that this female telepath named Honor is working with the detective Agent Ross as a part of a pilot program to make use of her abilities in their investigations. We aren’t really sure what it is that the Agent is looking for or what his particular law enforcement department is in charge of. But we get the sense that this is a bit of a police state. There is apparently law that permits telepath abilities to be used on criminal suspects because she interrogates the suspect mentally. He tries desperately to resist but she manages to get information out of him about other people and his cell of the resistance group. The agent remarks to her “you raped him pretty good there.” She explained she had to push hard because he was resisting so much.

We eventually find out that the hood he was wearing is capable of blocking out telepathic signals. The hoods start popping up in various places and so the quest is on to find out who is producing and distributing them.

Without revealing the entire story we can tell you that there is sort of a three way tension going on between the government investigators, the rebel protesters, and the Teeps themselves. The Teeps are being treated as second-class citizens who live in a ghetto like environment and are exploited in a variety of ways. We also find Agent Ross and telepath Honor falling into a relationship that eventually finds them sleeping together. Ross is played by Richard Madden you may remember best as Robb Stark from Game of Thrones. Honor is played by Holliday Granger who played Bonnie Parker in the 2013 TV miniseries Bonnie & Clyde as well as Lucretia Borgia in the Showtime series The Borgias.

In this episode less than one hour long they do a great job of exploring very difficult themes of trust, privacy, and the rights of individuals versus an authoritarian government. There are couple of plot twists that I won’t spoil but I reveal that there is a bit of a twist just to say how well-written and deeply layered and nuanced this entire story is in a very short amount of time. The screenplay was written by Matthew Graham who is known for writing for the TV series Life on Mars and Ashes to Ashes as well as three Doctor Who episodes and the TV miniseries Childhood’s End.

The production quality is excellent. The world they have created feels like a low-tech version of the slum areas in Blade Runner. Considering that is also a PKD world it’s no surprise it feels familiar. Also the theme that everything isn’t exactly what it seems to be is very much in line with the typical PKD story. He likes to play with the ideas of perception versus reality.

If this episode is any indication of the quality of the remaining 9 episodes then this is a real treat for those who love sci-fi that makes you think and doesn’t pull any punches on social commentary. If you’re looking for mindless space opera then this is not for you. But if you aren’t afraid to think and have your mind expanded a little bit then this is a definite must-see. I’m giving it a strong rating of “I really like it”.

“The Four” Tries to Be Different but You Will Have To Decide for Yourself

Fox has just premiered a new singing competition show titled “The Four: Battle for Stardom”. It’s really difficult to give a review for such a program because the quality of the program in many ways depends upon the quality of the contestants. A phrase like “quality of the contestants” is a very subjective thing that varies according to a person’s taste. Also even in established competition programs like “The Voice” and “American Idol” they have had good years and bad years. So the only thing I can really judge is if I like the format of the competition. This particular show tries to break out and do something different with its format. So let’s take a look at it.

It’s called “The Four” because at any given time there are four artists in the competition. At the beginning these contestants were preselected by the judges and/or producers. Then as each new contestant comes along their goal is to unseat one of the four.

The judges are Sean “Diddy” Combs, DJ Khaled, Meghan Trainor, and Charlie Walk. The host of the show is Fergie. The show is scheduled to run six episodes of two hours each. The entire program takes place in front of the studio audience. There are some brief interviews with contestants as they are introduced but there are no biographical pieces about the contestants in their home like you might get on American Idol or America’s Got Talent. Also there is no mentoring of the contestants like The Voice or American Idol.

A challenger contestant comes on stage and after a couple of brief questions from the judges they perform a song. There’s no evidence of a live on stage band so it appears the accompaniment is all prerecorded. After some comments from the judges, the judges vote on whether or not to allow the contestant to challenge one of the four. It takes unanimous vote of the 4 judges. Theoretically the vote is anonymous but from the comments of the judges it’s generally pretty obvious who voted no when that happens. Or perhaps after the vote is in, one of the judges will admit they voted no and perhaps explain why.

If the contestant gets unanimous approval by the judges then they get to pick which of “The Four” seated contestants they want to challenge for their seat. At the beginning, the four contestants are a pretty diverse group with a female rapper, a hip-hop singer, an R&B singer, and a pop singer. So depending on the style of the contestant, they are naturally going to pick someone in their own genre if possible. Once the contestant has picked which of the four they are going to challenge, that seated contestant performs first. Then the challenger performs another song for which they are judged against the seated contestant. The decision whether or not the challenger unseats the chosen one of the four is made by an audience vote. They vote on an app on their smart phone. Presumably a link was provided to them when they came into the audience. If the audience approves, the challenger takes a seat among the four and the process repeats.

According to the explanations given, somewhere at the end of the season, the four will compete against one another to pick at ultimate champion. The prize includes a recording contract and mentoring from the judges on the show.

In general I don’t like head-to-head battles in reality competitions. It’s the reason I quit watching The Voice. I much prefer a format where everyone gets to compete and then the worst of the bunch gets voted out by some means or another.

One of the challenging decision that producers have to make in designing a format is how to balance the votes of the judges versus a public vote. Shows like American Idol and America’s Got Talent the judges pick the initial contestants after that most of the power is in the hands of the audience. Dancing with the Stars uses a 50/50 system that balances the judges votes with the TV audience. I think I like the idea that the judges pick whether or not a contestant is worthy to challenge but the ultimate decision is left up to the audience vote. By having that vote instantaneously with the studio audience rather than the viewing audience, they get the results right away. You don’t have to wait until the next episode to find out if someone moves on. It also frees them up to pre-record everything and they don’t have to have the live broadcasts.

Although this format doesn’t have the “vote out the weakest player” feature that I like, somehow this particular format is less objectionable to me that the heads up battles of The Voice. Even though it is heads up, the idea that you have a challenger and an established player going against one another makes it a little more interesting than having contestants who are essentially equals going after one another.

The styles of music are bit more diverse than the strictly pop/country formats of American Idol and TheVoice. You don’t get a lot of rap or hip-hop on those programs. I’ve also thought that American Idol realizes that its audience consists of people closer to my age because they will have theme nights devoted to the Beatles, Tony Bennett, classic rock, classic country or maybe even Andrew Lloyd Webber. The genres covered in this show skew towards a younger modern audience.

I haven’t decided if I will continue to watch the show or not considering how far behind I am on shows that I like a lot better than this one. Also we have a new round of American Idol coming up so I may just wait for it to premier in a few weeks.

Ultimately I suppose I would have to rate it “Could Be Watchable” with the advice of saying it’s something that’s very much dependent upon personal taste so you will have to make your own decisions.

Fox’s New “9-1-1” Shows Potential

Fox recently premiered a new action drama titled “9-1-1” featuring first responders from police, fire and paramedics as well as a 911 operator. It is set in Los Angeles. The series is created and produced by Brad Falchuk and Ryan Murphy who are most known for creating “American Horror Story”.

It features an ensemble cast and of course we get to see much of their family life and troubles in addition to the action of their day-to-day job. Angela Bassett plays police officer Athena Grant with a troubled marriage because her husband Michael just came out of the closet as gay. We get to see him reveal this fact to their 2 teenage children. He is played by Rockmond Dunbar who you may recall from the last few seasons of Sons of Anarchy where he played Police Lt. Eli Roosevelt or as “C-note” from Prison Break.

We also have Connie Britton as 911 operator Abby Clark. She struggles as a 42-year-old single woman who has to care for her mother with Alzheimer’s in her off-hours. She’s also frustrated by the fact that most of the time she never figures out how one of her calls turns out because once the police and/or fire arrive, they usually hang up on her.

Finally we have Peter Krause who plays fire Capt. Bobby Nash. Most recently he was seen as con man Christopher Hall in ABC’s “The Catch” (which I really miss). However he has better noun as Adam Braverman from “Parenthood“. Bobby has been back on the force only 18 months after being suspended for alcohol and drug use. His substance abuse he credits to the stress of the job. He goes to confession once a week to confess is drug and alcohol abuse even though he’s sober. He is also struggling to mentor a hotshot rookie firefighter who can’t keep his pants zipped and often gets it on with the women that he rescues.

For the most part it’s just your ordinary police, fire, paramedic drama with all of their emotional baggage of their family life thrown in. But there’s something appealing about this particular show that I can’t quite put my finger on. Minor spoilers here from the pilot episode.

The first few emergencies we see include a woman who jumps off a building and dies despite Bobby trying to talk her down. Someone flushes a newborn baby down the toilet and they have to cut a hole in the apartment wall beneath there to get the infant out of the drainpipe. We get a woman who is nearly strangled to death by her pet snake. But the most exciting sequence is a 10-year-old girl who is home alone while her mom went out to get fast food and burglars broke in. She hides in the bedroom while 911 operator Abby tries to figure out her location. A bit of plot driven technology in that the girl’s smart phone doesn’t have GPS (highly unlikely these days). The girl has recently moved into the house and doesn’t know her own address. They have to try to locate her without tipping off the intruders. It ends up turning into a harrowing hostage situation.

Something about the way each of these sequences is portrayed makes it for very compelling viewing. Normally I’m a little bit cynical about action shows that spend too much time dealing with people’s day-to-day lives (cough SEAL Team on CBS). But for some reason these stories don’t seem to get in the way. They actually help humanize and fill out what could otherwise be cliché stereotype characters.

I don’t watch Chicago Fire or Chicago PD so this may seem a little bit derivative of those. But overall I think it has lots of potential. It reminds me a lot of the old 1972 paramedic action drama “Emergency!” which I really enjoyed. For now I’m giving it a rating of “I’m watching it”. If your TV schedule isn’t already to full you might want to check it out.

“LA to Vegas” Should Be Grounded. Not Worth Your Time.

Fox’s new sitcom “LA to Vegas” is a workplace comedy about the flight crew and regular passengers of a budget airline that flies LA to Vegas on Friday night and return trip on Sunday night. It stars Dylan McDermott as Capt. Dave the pilot. He is constantly looking for opportunities to bang women in the cockpit. Stewardess Ronnie played by Kim Matula hates her job and wants to move onto a better airline and better route. Steward Bernard played by Nathan Lee Graham provides a bit of stereotypical gay comedic quips that are mildly funny but generally missed the mark. Veteran comedic Swedish actor Peter Stormare is also mildly funny as a professional gambler who is a regular passenger. But even that isn’t enough to save the show.

I suppose you could describe it as “The Office” on board an airplane. But I never have been a fan of that kind of low-key humor and didn’t like The Office at all. So I can’t really do much of a comparison to say whether this is better or worse.

For me this kind of humor just doesn’t work to begin with and so I can’t judge if this is just my dislike for the type of show or if it really is as bad as it seems. Ultimately my criteria for any sitcom is “Did it make me laugh?”. This one didn’t.

I’m rating this one a very definite “Skip It“.