“Good Girls” is Dark Comedy with Heart

Good Girls is a new dark comedy from NBC. Three ordinary housewives try to solve their problems by holding up a grocery store.

It features Annie who is a single mom who works as a checkout girl in a grocery store. She drives a junk car and her ex-husband is suing her for custody of her kid. She has played by Mea Whitman who you will remember as Amber from Parenthood. Her older sister Beth is played by Christina Hendricks who you may remember from Mad Men. Her husband is a used-car salesman who is cheating on her with a bimbo. Their friend Ruby is played by Retta who you may remember from Parks and Recreation. She has a daughter in need of expensive medical care.

The whole thing is played for laughs until they suddenly find out they came away with much more money than should have been there. They were expecting to find $30,000 but instead came away with over a half-million. They soon discover that the grocery is a front for a drug dealing gang who tracks them down and wants their money back. Also the store manager recognized Annie’s tattoo and threatens to turn her in unless she sleeps with him.

Despite the dark situation, this show has a good balance of heart, comedy, and drama. You really feel for the plight of the mother who can’t get the medical care return needs. The peril they face from the drug dealers who threaten to kill them if they don’t return money is very real as is the attempted sexual assault of the grocery manager. So it is very dark at times. As the show proceeds, they get deeper and deeper into trouble and every time they try to get out, things only get worse.

From this description I’ve just given, it doesn’t sound like a very enjoyable experience but for some reason I kind of like it. You find yourself empathizing with the characters and riding along on the journey with them. The comic moments help keep it from being a total downer so in some ways that keeps it from being hopelessly dark.

I didn’t really intend to add it to my list of shows I watch regularly but after one episode I kind of got hooked on it and am anxious to see where it goes from here. I’ve seen two of the three episodes that have aired and I’m going to try a couple more before I decide if it holds up or just becomes a sort of one joke story.

I give it a raising of “Could be watchable” but the jury is still out.

“Living Biblically” Not as Ridiculous as it Seems

When I first heard about CBS’s new sitcom “Living Biblically” was fairly certain that I would not like it. I almost didn’t bother watching but I decided I wanted to see just how bad it could be. The premise is that a man goes through a bit of a spiritual crisis and decides that he wants to live his life precisely according to the Bible. My first comment in my entertainment blog when the show was announced was that I wondered if it would mean he would stone to death his children for disobeying him. (Deuteronomy 21:18-21, Exodus 21:17). When I saw a preview for the show in which the main character tells his parish priest he wants to live according to the Bible 100%, the priest laughs in his face hysterically. That was encouraging for me. Maybe it was worth checking out.

Jay R. Ferguson plays the main character Chip Curry is a film critic for a local newspaper. He decides to go on a spiritual journey and live a better life 100% according to the Bible. This is instigated by losing his best friend to an untimely death and after finding out that his wife is pregnant with their first child. While in the bookstore, he accidentally picks up a Bible and includes it with the books he’s about to purchase. He sees this as a sign from God and decides he’s going to live 100% according to the Bible.

Ferguson has previously been seen in “The Real O’Neills” and “Mad Men”. His wife is played by Lindsay Kraft who has been seen in “Grace and Frankie”. Neither of them are very familiar to me.

He then goes to his parish priest to speak with him in the confessional (not necessarily to go to confession but just to seek advice). It is probably the first time in any movie or television show that I’ve seen the confessional portrayed in the modern form where you sit down with a face-to-face conversation with the priest and not behind the old time partition or screen that is so familiar to most TV shows and movies. After the laughing out loud scene that we got in the previews, the priest illustrates the ridiculousness of this plan by advising him to change his clothes because the Bible prohibits wearing clothes of mixed types of threads.

The first challenge to face our hero is that he knows that one of his friends is having an affair. Their wives are friends. Should he tell his wife that her friend is being cheated on? It comes to a head when he and his wife bump into the cheating friend at a restaurant with his mistress. The friend tried to get Chip to cover for him by agreeing that the woman he’s with is just a coworker. Chip doesn’t know what to do so he reaches over into a nearby planter in the restaurant, picks up a rock, and throws it at his friend hitting him in the forehead. Thereby fulfilling the biblical command that adulterers be stoned.

It’s all done in a very funny slapstick sort of way and for some reason it works. I couldn’t help but laugh at parts of it and for me that’s the ultimate test of any sitcom is “Did it make me laugh?”

Part of the story is about is friends at work. He has a best friend Vince played by Tony Rock who in real life is the brother of comedian Chris Rock. His boss at the newspaper is Camryn Manheim whom I’ve not seen on TV since 2004 in the legal drama “The Practice”. When she finds out about his plan to live biblically she gives him a new column to write three days a week and a raise in salary. And in the end, his adulterous friend thanked him for hitting him in the head and making him countries senses. He confessed everything to his wife and they are going to counseling. Sara Gilbert also has a bit part as an annoying coworker. It’s yet to be seen how these coworkers characters will flesh out or not.

So the end result is that after just a couple of days of living biblically, he’s gotten a raise at work and he saved the marriage of his adulterous friend. Maybe it’s working?

His pastor Father Gene is played by Ian Gomez and does a pretty good job of walking a fine line between offering genuine spiritual advice and continuing to make fun of his choices. We also get some input from a rabbi who is a friend of the priest. Rabbi Gil is played by David Krumholz who you will remember from the FBI drama Numb3rs and many other roles. By the way they’ve already done the “a priest and a rabbi and a guy living biblically walk into a bar” joke.

In the end this show is doing a reasonably good job of walking a fine line between finding the comedy and religious beliefs versus all-out ridicule and making fun of religion. The whole thing has really surprised me at how well it is written. Don’t get me wrong, this is at times very silly stuff but it tackles some very tough topics with an excellent sense of humor.

According to IMDb.com this show is based on a nonfiction book “A Year of Living Biblically” by A.J. Jacobs. I might have to check that out.

For now I’m giving it a very strong rating of “could be watchable” but the jury is still out as to whether or not the whole thing is going to work.

“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.

A pair of new Marvel series are just okay. The jury is still out on The Gifted and Inhumans

Marvel comics is continuing to expand its TV offerings with 2 new series this season. On ABC we have “Marvel’s Inhumans” and on Fox we have “The Gifted”. This is in addition to 6 seasons worth of offerings on Netflix of various Marvel heroes with more to come and Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD already on ABC.

“Inhumans” is more closely related to Agents of SHIELD. In Agents we’ve already been introduced to these so-called inhuman characters. Basically if you have a particular genetic marker and come in contact with a substance called Terrigen it transforms you and gives you some sort of mutant ability. In Agents there was a plot line in which Terrigen was released into the world’s water supply and people are randomly popping up with these superpowers. Some use them for good others for evil.

In this series we have a group of humanoid alien inhumans living in a secret domed city on the moon called Attilan. They are led by a Royal family who all have mutant abilities. However some percentage of the population of this hidden lunar city do not develop these abilities when they go through Terrigenesis. Most notably Maximus the brother of King Black Bolt. Maximus is played by Iwan Rheon you will recognize as Ramsey Bolton from Game of Thrones. He stages a coup and the royal family have to flee to earth. It appears to be earth at approximately the same time. As Agents of SHIELD because people they encounter on earth seem to be aware of Inhumans.

The first two episodes were pre-released in IMAX theaters before the show aired. It got mixed to bad reviews. My initial reaction was that I was glad that I didn’t waste my money on IMAX tickets. In general it’s not a bad show but it’s nothing extra special. The cast of characters includes… King Black Bolt played by Anson Mount who you will recognize from the AMC Western series “Hell on Wheels”. His mutant ability is that if he speaks even the slightest sound he emanates a huge destructive shock wave. This ability resulted in the accidental death of his parents when he first developed it as a teenager. As a consequence he communicates through sign language. The writers of the show made up their own sign language because he is not from Earth and therefore would not use such systems as American Sign Language.

The Queen of Attilan is Medusa portrayed by Serinda Swan. She has floor length red hair that she can control like an appendage. In the opening episodes she is captured by Maximus and he shaves her head to render her powerless. There are a variety of other mutant characters insufficiently interesting to detail here.

The only other memorable character is a 2000 pound giant dog named Lockjaw that is capable of teleporting anywhere including to earth. He’s responsible for helping the royal family escape. The character is rendered in full CGI and claims to be the first regular TV character to be full CGI. Press interviews reveal he’s going to be a bit of comic relief but so far he’s been nothing but my proverbial plot driven technology.

It’s a little bit difficult to judge what the actual series is going to be like. The family of Royal Inhumans are going to be stranded on earth currently in Hawaii. They are being hunted by Royal guards loyal to the brother Maximus who has overthrown them. Somewhat like Star Trek: Discovery the first two hours are almost a prequel to the actual series itself.

Again there’s nothing really wrong with the show but it just isn’t anything very special.

The other offering based on Marvel characters is Fox’s “The Gifted”. It’s more closely related to the X-Men movies. It takes place at about the time of the recent X-Men film “Logan” or possibly slightly before. It is in an era where the X-Men have “disappeared” and the government is rounding up mutants… some because they are dangerous and others “for their own safety”.

The basic plot revolves around the Strucker family led by the father Reed Strucker played by former True Blood vampire Stephen Moyer. He is in Atlanta prosecutor who specializes in prosecuting mutant criminals however he seems to have some sympathy for them. He has a wife and two teenage children. Unbeknownst to him his daughter Lauren has had mutant abilities for a few years. She has to reveal them in order to save her brother Andy who accidentally discovers his own mutant abilities. He is a young teen who is being bullied at school. The bullies dragged him from the high school dance into the locker room to torment him. He unleashes shock waves that nearly tear down the school in a scene reminiscent from Stephen King’s Carrie.

As a result the family has to go on the run to avoid being arrested by federal “Sentinel Services” who have broad powers to detain any dangerous mutants. Reed turns to a mutant underground group that he has been pursuing in order to help his family escape. It looks like the story is going to be equally divided between the story of the family and the mutant underground.

This series has a very dark tone to it as the mutants are presumed to be dangerous terrorists whether they are or not. The themes of prejudice and racism are prominent in the series as they are in many of the X-Men stories.

Again unfortunately the opening episode focuses mostly on setting up the series and it’s a little bit difficult to see exactly where it’s going from here. Overall I would say that the action and special effects are more interesting than Inhumans and the characters certainly are more interesting. It is apparently going to focus mostly on the teenage kids which tells me the show is reaching for a young adult audience along the lines of Hunger Games, Divergent etc. It almost looks as though the show would be along the lines of something you would see on CW network.

In general I’m giving both series a “Could be watchable” rating with more emphasis on “The Gifted” than “Inhumans”. We will have to see where each of these go to see if they develop more compelling stories or interesting characters or if they are just another opportunity for Marvel to cash in on more of its B-list characters.

The Brave vs. SEAL Team — Take your pick

This season we have at least three new military themed dramas of which I’m aware. I’ve seen two of them and around neither of them are anything exceptional they are mildly interesting and unfortunately quite similar. The two we are talking about today is NBC’s “The Brave” and CBS’s “SEAL Team”. Yet to come is CW network’s “Valor” about U.S. Army helicopter pilotspremieres October 9.

NOTE: there are minor plot spoilers from the premier episodes.

“The Brave” opens with some text reminiscent of NBC’s other flagship dramas “Law & Order”. It says “The defense of the United States and its citizens relies increasingly on two groups… The intelligence analysts in Washington, who uncover and interpret threats. And the Special Forces operators tasked with eliminating.” That pretty much sums up what the show is about. We have a group of analysts back in Washington DC led by Patricia Campbell who is played by Anne Heche. And we have a small group of special forces operators led by Adam Dalton played by Mike Vogel. You might recognize in from the sci-fi series “Under the Dome” in which he played Dale Barbara. The rest of the cast is not anyone you would recognize.

The opening episode involves the rescue of a female American doctor who is kidnapped by terrorists while working in a relief mission overseas. Our heroes are tasked with rescuing her. Just as they are about to rescue her, they discovered she was kidnapped not as a hostage but to treat a wounded notorious terrorist leader. The dilemma then comes… Which is more important? Killing the bad guy or rescuing the princess… (Whoops excuse me the female doctor).

The show is strictly procedural with reasonable amounts of action and pretty good special effects. At least in the initial episode we didn’t spend a lot of time developing the characters, their personalities, or the back stories. We do know that Heche’s character recently lost a son in battle somewhere and there are whispered questions about whether or not she got to be back to work given her recent tragedy. That’s about the extent of the subplots. Presumably incoming episodes we will get to know more about the characters but this one seems to be strictly about the action. The trailer for the second episode is also a hostage rescue mission of some kind.

I will give the show for one thing. There was a minor plot twist that I thought was a plot hole. A terrorist which had been subdued suddenly escaped. I thought it was a plot gimmick to allow the escape just so there would be more danger and more action in the rest of the episode. As it turned out they let the terrorist escape as part of a plan to get the bad guy and rescue the doctor all right this same time. I guess I got cynical by so many shows with obvious plot holes that was a bit refreshing that what appeared to be a hole was actually a pretty clever twist.

“SEAL Team” is CBS’s entry into the field. It stars David Boreanaz who has just come off 12 seasons of playing FBI Special Agent Seeley Booth on “Bones”. I did not recognize any of the other cast from either TV shows or films.

In contrast to “The Brave” this one deals at least 50% with the back story and regular lives of the characters. Boreanaz’s character has an ex-wife and teenage girls. Part of the show has him in mandatory therapy to deal with the loss of one of his team members under his command. He continues to stay in contact with the widow of his dead teammate. Another member of the seal team has a pregnant wife at home. The show is going to be much more character driven. Whether or not those characters are interesting enough to keep you watching is yet to be determined. A lot of it seems a bit cliché so far. With its combination of action and family drama back stories this show is quite reminiscent of the 2006 military drama “The Unit“.

The plot for the opening episode is sadly extremely similar to the opening episode of “The Brave”. This story is slightly reversed in that they are sent to try to capture a high-value terrorist alive and along the way discover that a hostage is being held. Again the dilemma of which is more important… Rescuing a hostage or capturing the bad guy.

Without giving away the entire plot of those shows, the outcome of these extremely similar situations is quite different. I will stop short of calling SEAL Team resolution of story more “realistic” and say perhaps it is a slightly darker yet somewhat more probable outcome.

Neither of these shows even come close to being “must-see TV”. But both seem to be reasonably watchable with a fair amount of action if that’s what you’re looking for. And depending on whether you want more family back story and character development or whether you want a mostly procedural action drama you can pick between the two accordingly. I’m going to give both of them a couple more episodes before I decide which if either will become regular viewing.

For now I’m giving them both a reasonably strong “might be watchable” rating. We will let you know if CW’s entry into the field “Valor” has anything extra to offer.

Young Sheldon is a Warm Fuzzy Disappointment

If I had to give a one-word review of Young Sheldon I would have to say “disappointing”.

Don’t get me wrong here… It’s a very well-written, well acted, well produced program. It just isn’t what I expected. I am a HUGE fan of “The Big Bang Theory”. I’ve seen every episode some of them multiple times. It is currently my favorite sitcom on TV right now. It probably ranks in my top three or four sitcom favorites of all time alongside such classics as Seinfeld and M*A*S*H. So when I heard they were going to make a spinoff series based on the early life of Dr. Sheldon Cooper I was really excited.

I think my biggest problem with it is I’m not entirely sure it’s a comedy. While it did have a few funny moments there were more parts that could be better described as poignant, sentimental, heartfelt or many other adjectives not necessarily comedic.

The adult Sheldon comes across as eccentric and at times childlike but because he’s an adult your approach is to laugh at him. The other characters put up with his eccentricities with an attitude of “Oh well… that’s Sheldon. You take him as he is flaws and all.” And it’s easy to laugh at him. But in many ways he really is sort of a pathetic character. You take that same pathos and apply it to a preteen child I’m not sure it’s so funny. You end up feeling more pity for him and it’s harder to laugh at him.

Given the tone of the series, I applaud the fact that they are not doing it as a typical three camera sitcom taped in front of a live audience. It’s a single camera edited program with no live audience and no laugh track. That was a good choice. Again especially because I’m not really sure it’s a comedy.

I’ve heard people compare it to shows like “The Wonder Years” but I never saw that program. So I can’t really comment on that. Many have suggested that Sheldon Cooper is an excellent example of someone with Asperger’s syndrome. I think the young Sheldon perhaps confirms that diagnosis. So appropriate comparison among TV families would be Max Braverman in Parenthood. Although that show did have its funny moments spread throughout, you’d have to call it a drama for the most part.

If we take Sheldon’s Asperger’s as a disability, one could draw comparisons to the cerebral palsy character JJ DiMeo in “Speechless”. But that character is not at all deeply flawed in his personality as is Sheldon. You can sympathize and empathize with him and the show is definitely played for laughs even though it does contain some poignant moments. In Speechless you can laugh at the situations that JJ encounters without laughing at him personally. You’re not making fun of him or his limitations. That formula just won’t work with Sheldon.

Zoe Perry does a reasonable job as Sheldon’s mother and her characterization matches well with the portrayal by Laurie Medcalf. I saw one reviewer suggest that the show would be better if she was the focus of the show and they had Medcalf do the voiceover instead of Jim Parsons as the adult Sheldon. I think I might agree with that. His twin sister provides a few comedic moments with her snarky comments. His older brother and father sort of cruise through the show without contributing anything useful to the story.

One of the things that makes the adult Sheldon not be totally pathetic and unlikable is the way that his character has evolved in recent seasons mostly through his relationship with his girlfriend now fiancé Amy Farah Fowler. The problem is we don’t have an opportunity for young Sheldon to grow because we already know what a deeply flawed person he was in the early seasons of Big Bang.

We know that at some point along the way his dad is going to die so that’s going to be a real downer. Annie Potts has been cast as his MeeMaw for future episodes so she may add something interesting to the mix.

I hate to say it but I think the whole concept behind the show is deeply flawed and I’m not sure what can be done to fix it.

For now I’m giving it a very mild rating of “Could be watchable”. I will continue to give it a chance for a few episodes but I’m not very hopeful.

New SyFy Channel Offerings Join Crowded Zombie Apocalypse Genre

SyFy Channel is trying way too hard to cash in on the zombie apocalypse craze with two new series “Van Helsing” and “Aftermath“. Given the massive success of AMC’s “The Walking Dead” and its spinoff series “Fear the Walking Dead” we can understand why people want to try to replicate that success.

FX network has succeeded with “The Strain” currently in its third season. It describes its creatures as “strigoi” rather than zombies and they drink blood sort of like a vampire rather than eat your brains like a zombie. But let’s face it they are still zombielike creatures who convert you into one of them with a bite and they are bent on overtaking the world. It has an excellent mix of compelling stories, interesting characters, lots of gore, and state-of-the-art special effects.

SyFy Channel has already had some success with “Z Nation” currently in the third season. It has more traditional brain-eating zombies but plays everything as a comedy. Also CW network takes the comedy approach with “iZombie” which will start its third season in the midseason sometime in 2017. In this show the zombies are fully functional people living “normal” lives except for the fact that they have to eat brains to live. Their main character works in city morgue where she has a good supply of brains for food so she doesn’t have to kill. The innovation in this one is that when she eats someone’s brains, she begins to take on the personality of the dead person and has flashes of their memories. She uses that capability to solve the murders of the people whose brains she consumes.

But really we’re here to talk about the two new series on SyFy Channel. First “Van Helsing” which starts deep into a vampire apocalypse. The main character is Vanessa Van Helsing who is a descendent of the famous vampire hunter Abraham Van Helsing. She is played by Kelly Overton whom you may recognize from True Blood or Legends. She wakes up in the hospital to discover the world has been taken over by zombielike vampires. It’s a wonder that Robert Kirkman creator of The Walking Dead doesn’t sue because it’s exactly how his story opens with the protagonist waking up in a hospital to discover a zombie apocalypse.

Technically the creatures in the show are described as vampires but as I alluded to earlier these are bloodsucking zombies as opposed to brain eating zombies. They are not your sexy vampires like True Blood or Twilight. Most of them are mindless creatures spreading a plague that has destroyed civilization. However there are some of the vampires in this series who are sentient beings that retain control of themselves.

The back story is that the vampires have been living among us in secret for centuries but there is a major volcanic eruption in the Western United States that rains down ash everywhere. With the sky permanently darkened by the volcanic clouds, the vampires see an opportunity to come out of hiding and take over the world. When they bite you, you almost instantly turn into a mindless vampire. The other gimmick in this version is that Van Helsing has the ability to heal herself magically along the lines of Wolverine from X-Men. She is not only immune to the disease of the vampires who bite her, her blood can also turn them back into normal human beings. Of course there are limits to her healing ability. Otherwise she could just go out and walk the streets to let the vampires bite all they want and she would convert them back into humans.

As I mentioned before, the show starts with her in a coma in a hospital. She has been there for three years while the apocalypse has ensued. When she awakens in the hospital she is being guarded by a couple of Marines who had been told to guard her as she lies there in a coma. They have only been told that she is special and needs to be guarded at all costs. Her only desire is to go out into the world and find her daughter despite the fact that they have tried to tell her that the daughter is likely dead along with most of the rest of civilization.

There are numerous flashbacks to the pre-apocalypse. In fact the entire second episode is almost entirely flashback to the events that put her where she is when the show opened. You won’t find the gore like shows like The Walking Dead. There’s lots of machine-gun fire to kill zombies. Most of it takes place in extremely dark settings which of course saves on special effects and detailed makeups because much of the time you can’t really see what’s going on anyway. The story is not especially compelling or dramatic.

Although I have watched three episodes I’m not sure that it’s going to stay on my menu of shows to watch. In a crowded genre there isn’t much to stand out in this particular show.

The other offering from SyFy Channel that is new this season is Aftermath. Similar to Feel the Walking Dead, it follows the adventures of one particular family in the early days of the apocalypse so it is unoriginal in that respect. The biggest problem is it cannot decide what kind of a show it is. Early in the opening episode you think it’s going to be a more scientific end-of-the-world type of show. There are unusual numbers of earthquakes and mega storms scouring the earth. There are meteor showers and solar flares which are hinted to be the possible cause of all the strange occurrences. The show is set in the Pacific Northwest and begins with a mega storm. The storm brings about strange occurrences such as tons of fish, snakes, and other bizarre debris falling from the sky resembling a biblical plague. It is explained as being debris picked up by the storm.

If the show it continued in that vein, it might’ve been pretty interesting. But for some reason they decided to mix this traditional hard science apocalypse by also introducing some sort of contagious plague that causes people to act in bizarre and violent ways. Again if they had only added this one additional element to the story it might’ve been a good show. But they had to take it one step further.

The show also introduces a supernatural element. Some sort of ghostlike creatures are possessing people and causing them to do supernatural things. For example the daughter of the family gets dragged out of the house by a person who then flies up into the air and drags her off into the sky. The family goes chasing after her expecting to find her alive beyond all reason. In the next scene she is lying unconscious on the ground along with the man who flew off with her. The spirit which had possessed him and given him the supernatural ability had left his body and he was as clueless as she was asked to what actually had occurred. There is speculation that these supernatural creatures are manifestations of an ancient Native American legend called Skin-Walkers who rise from the underworld to possess the living.

In spite of all of these flaws and mixed messages, the show looks like it has potential. It would definitely be a much better show if it could make up its mind what kind of show it was. Is it a physical science end-of-the-world scenario with solar flares, meteors, earthquakes and storms? Is it a plague driven semi zombie apocalypse? Is it a show about supernatural possession? It tries to be all three and it is a distraction to the rest of the story telling. I’m hopeful that as the show progresses, the schizophrenic genre approach becomes less of a distraction and we can begin to appreciate the basic storytelling and characters. I have more hope that this will eventually be a watchable program than is Van Helsing.

Ultimately though we have to wonder that in a crowded field of zombies, vampires, and other apocalyptic stories if there is any room at all for either of the shows. For now I’m reading both of these as “could be watchable” with Van Helsing at the lower end of that scale and Aftermath at the upper end.

Michael Weatherly’s New Series Is A Lot of Bull

After spending 14 seasons on NCIS I understand why Michael Weatherly would want to do something different. When he left the show at the end of last season I presumed he would take a year or two off. Perhaps he would do a couple of movie roles or even try going to New York and doing a stageplay. I did not expect that he would jump right back into another TV series. He was already on the highest rated drama on television. I would’ve thought if he wanted to continue to do TV he wasn’t going to do much better than where he was. I’ve not seen any interviews about why he left or what was so attractive about this new TV series for CBS but he made the move anyway.

In his new series “Bull” he plays Dr. Jason Bull who is a psychologist that is an expert jury consultant. He works with lawyers to analyze juries and help them fine-tune their presentations to have the most impact. Supposedly this story is inspired by the early career of Dr. Phil who before he had his own TV show worked for a very successful similar consulting firm. They do not claim nor is there any evidence that the character himself is based on Dr. Phil.

Bull is self-assured to the point of arrogance. He’s one of those people who is always the smartest person in the room. If you have any doubts, just ask him. He basically takes over the case and dictates to the lawyers how to manage it. This in the face of lawyers who are normally self-assured and arrogant themselves. The lawyer in the opening episode is a former US Attorney General but Bull treats him like a community college dropout. Tony DiZozzo on NCIS was self-assured but rarely arrogant and was substantially more likable then the new guy. So if he was looking for a new character to play he’s definitely found someone different.

Once a jury is seated, his firm recruits their own panel of jurors who are a psychological match for the actual jury. Then they hold multiple mock trials to see which strategies will or will not work. During the actual case, Bull sits in the courtroom and we look inside his head where he envisions the jurors talking to him and telling him what they’re thinking. Supposedly he is so adept at reading their body language that he knows what they’re thinking and whether or not they are buying what the lawyer is selling them.

This ability to magically read people’s thoughts by analyzing facial micro-expressions and body language is not an original idea for a TV series. The 2009 series “Lie to Me” http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1235099/?ref_=nm_flmg_act_24 starring Tim Roth had a similar premise. While I’m a poker player and believe that it is occasionally possible to detect a person’s “tells” by reading their expressions, the extremes to which these TV experts take this phenomena is literally incredible (meaning without credibility) in my opinion. Such shows almost cross the boundary into science fiction. I think I would find them more interesting if they just said he had real psychic ability. At least the TV show “Psych” played it for laughs. It was about an ultra-observant private detective who claimed he had psychic ability because people would rather believe that he was psychic than believe that he could look at a situation and figure it out faster than Sherlock Holmes. I feel the same way about Bull.

The idea of duplicating a courtroom and holding mock trials is also not new to television. In 2006 we had “Shark” starring James Woods. He was a defense attorney who built an exact duplicate of the courtroom in his basement and would hold mock trials and rehearsals of his arguments.

Of course there is also nothing original about his old series NCIS. It’s pretty much an ordinary procedural crime drama in a military setting with an occasional touch of international intrigue. At times the military connections are pretty weak. For example their season premiere investigated the murder of a naval officer but it turns out he was not the target of the attack. He was just a guy who got caught in the crossfire however NCIS continue to investigate the entire crime whether it was their jurisdiction to do so or not. It remains the number one drama on television despite its lack of originality. Its success comes not from the plot lines but from the characters themselves. I watch it because I like the characters and the same is true for NCIS: New Orleans. For whatever reason I don’t like the characters in NCIS: Los Angeles so I skip it. I also Lie to Me, Shark, and Psych not because of their premise or plots but because I liked the characters.

Pardon the cliché but the jury is still out when it comes to Weatherly’s new show. I will miss Tony DiNozzo but I’m not yet fallen in love with his new character. Near the end of the first episode there was a hint that beneath this outer bravado is a troubled soul that he’s hiding. Depending on how that plot line goes it might make the character more interesting. If I believed more in his abilities it might be easier to like him. But for now I think the whole thing is a lot of Bull—-. I’m giving this on a high end of “could be watchable”.

“Quarry” Sends Mixed Messages about Vietnam Vets

You would think that a drama about a Vietnam veteran returning home and having difficulty reintegrating into society would be a big hit with Vietnam era veterans. However I’m concerned that “Quarry“, a new series from Cinemax, might be sending mixed messages that will upset some vets.

Set in the 1970s, this dark brooding drama follows the story of Mac Conway returns from his second tour of duty with his friend Arthur. They are met at the airport by protesters shouting things like “monsters” and “baby killers” because his unit was accused of massacring instant women and children in the Vietnamese village. He discovers that the protesters are not the only ones were not happy to see him back. He can’t get a job as a swim coach in the local high school because it would be controversial to hire someone possibly involved in such violence. Even members of his own family seem leery of him.

He is approached by a strange man calling himself “The Broker” who offers him thousands of dollars for his services as a gun for hire. Basically a hitman. As he’s trying to regain his identity as a “normal person” he summarily rejects the offer. Unfortunately his friend Arthur decided to take the money and do the job. Mac tries to talk him out of it saying to him “If we do this then we really are the monsters they claim we are.” Arthur is not persuaded so Mac file is him as backup on his first assignment. When that assignment goes horribly wrong Mac is drawn into the business reluctantly.

So for the first 40 minutes or so of the opening episode we see an insightful look into the life of the Vietnam veteran who struggles with being connected to an unpopular war. But it’s pretty obvious that most of the series is going to be about him becoming a hitman and working for this mysterious character. And as he told his own friend, this proves we really are the monsters they claim that we are. So what is the message? Are we supposed to feel sorry for him lady has no choice but to kill people for money? It looks to me like the entire show is going to reinforce the negative stereotypes of Vietnam-era soldiers.

The stars are know when you’ve ever heard of. The acting is adequate. The title of the show comes from the fact that Mac meets up with the Broker in a quarry and the broker decides that “Quarry” should be his nickname. Because this is Cinemax you’re going to see graphic violence and R-rated nudity and sexual situations. It doesn’t appear that this is typical Cinemax softcore. It’s just that they don’t hold back in showing you everything where there is sex or violence.

I’m probably going to give it one or two more episodes to see where it goes in to see if it ever makes up its mind as to whether we should be sympathetic towards Mac or fear him or both. For now I’m rating it on the low end of “could be watchable”.

Review: Scream Queens for fans only.

The term “Scream Queen” I believe was invented to describe Jamie Lee Curtis for her roles in the Halloween horror movies. It refers to the female protagonists in any teen slasher movie whether it was Jason, Freddie, or even the Scream masked killer from the Scream movies. One of the problems with the teen slasher genre is that the various spoofs and parodies are nearly identical to the films that supposedly take themselves seriously. They’ve all become self parodies. However for the new Fox TV series named “Scream Queens” this one is definitely in over-the-top comedy spoof of the genre. And if you’re going to call the show “Scream Queens” why not get the queen queen of them all Jamie Lee Curtis herself. Being a little bit too old to play a teen protagonist, she is now cast as the Dean Cathy Munch of the University where the story takes place. Munch of course is a reference to Norwegian artist Edvard Munch who created the painting “The Scream” upon which was based the scream mask from the scream movies.

The Scream Queen teen protagonist this time is Chanel Oberlin played by Emma Roberts daughter of actor Eric Roberts. Her credits include a couple of seasons on American Horror Story and a role in Scream 4. Her character is actually queen bitch character who is the head of an uppity sorority. Other familiar faces in this ensemble cast include Lea Michele fresh off her role on Glee. Also Abigail Breslin all grown up from her singing and dancing days in Little Miss Sunshine. You might also recognize Nasim Pedrad from SNL and from her recent role in the sitcom Mulaney. Finally we have former Jonas Brother Nick Jonas (he still their brother, just not in the band).

The serial killer is someone dressed in a red devil’s suit and of course the killings are bizarre and grotesque. A girl gets a spray tan with hydrochloric acid substituted for tanning liquid. A woman gets her face burned off in a deep fryer. Another girl gets her head cut off by a riding lawnmower. And that’s just in the first two hours. According to Roberts on a recent talkshow parents we will get another killing each week.

The humor is over the top as I said before. Chanel terms every kind of racist, homophobic, non-politically correct rant at everyone she encounters. Some of her barbs are so cleverly written you can’t help but appreciate the effort that went into crafting them no matter how offensive they are.

My guess is that this will be a must see for fans of the genre and I enjoyed the 90 minutes worth of the two-hour premiere that I managed to sit through. However I’m just not that big of a fan. One thing that was particularly disappointing to me was the IMDb “trivia” entry which says that the director is filming multiple versions of scenes with people in the devil costume so that the actors themselves don’t really know who the killer really is. That tells me one of several possible bad things. For one the writers themselves may have not yet decided who the killer is. Or they don’t trust the actors to keep their mouths shut. Or they don’t trust the actors to portray the killer in a way that doesn’t give away the identity. I don’t mind that they want to make it a spoof that doesn’t take itself too seriously, but it would be nice if there really was an actual ministry at the core of the story that the viewer could spend time trying to figure out. I’m not sure you can do that if the actual actor playing the killer doesn’t even know that they are the one.

I’m giving this one a “could be watchable” rating if you are a fan of the genre but I’m probably going to pass on it.

By the way just for the record I think Jamie Lee Curtis is the killer.