“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.

The New “Magnum PI” Lacks the Charisma Selleck Brought to the Original.

The broadcast networks are facing enormous competition from a variety of online streaming services. They seem to be at a loss to come up with anything new or original. Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon are creating groundbreaking programs that are stealing audiences away from the traditional networks. So rather than come up with something new to compete with the streaming services, the trend has been to reboot popular series from the past. Some of them have been a welcome addition such as “Will & Grace” and “Roseanne/The Connors“. We will soon see if “Murphy Brown” adds to that list of successes.

Unfortunately I can’t say that the reboot of “Magnum PI” is a welcome addition to the string of reboots. I’m not sure we really need a show about a private detective. The private eye genre has been around for decades in literature, film and TV with such memorable characters as Philip Marlowe, Mike Hammer, and Sam Spade. On TV in the 70s and 80s we had “The Rockford Files“, “Mannix” and of course the original “Magnum PI” just to name a few. In recent years TV has drifted away from the traditional private eye towards the “police consultant” type of private detective. As I discussed in a previous review these have had varying degrees of success and credibility.

The original “Magnum PI” ran for eight seasons from 1980-1988. I used to watch it occasionally, I don’t really recall a lot about the various characters surrounding him. I always felt like most of the success of the show centered on the charisma of Tom Selleck. I recall he drove around in a fancy Ferreri, he had a sidekick who flew a small helicopter, and there was another sidekick who is a British guy named Higgins.

In the opening scene of the reboot we see our hero Magnum jumping out of a stratosphere balloon in a spacesuit and parachuting into North Korea to rescue a scientist and his family. He escapes Korean forces in a stunt filled chase sequence that pushed credibility beyond its limits. I was very concerned that if the show started off in such a ridiculous fashion we were in for a bad experience. It is suddenly revealed that this is a fictionalized version of events which they admit was highly embellished in a book about his exploits in the Navy. So I thought perhaps the show wasn’t going to be as ridiculous as it originally appeared from its opening sequence.

Unfortunately near the end of the show there is a similar chase scene in which he tries to re-create some of the events from his fictionalized exploits. Although it was not as successful as the fantasy version, it was still pretty ridiculous and unbelievable. It was a stunt sequence that has him jumping out of a car, grabbing onto the landing skid of a helicopter just before a truck smashes into his Ferreri destroying it and the truck and sending them all off a cliff. This scene was totally over-the-top and unbelievable in the worst sense of the word.

In between these ridiculous bookends we got just an ordinary detective show as he tries to track down who kidnapped and killed one of his old Navy buddies. The other action sequences and stunts were not half bad. Overall however there just wasn’t anything memorable about the entire experience. He still drives around in a hot Ferreri (although he ends up destroying two of them in the opening episode). He still has a buddy flying the same iconic small helicopter with a black, yellow, orange paint scheme. The theme song is the same. The fact that sidekick Higgins is now a woman doesn’t really add anything significant to the mixture.

Jay Hernandez plays the new Magnum but for me he lacks the charisma that was an important part of Selleck’s portrayal.

There isn’t anything really wrong with the show but it just isn’t memorable or compelling. If you’re looking for a Hawaii based action-adventure show with more memorable characters and more credible action sequences stick with the 2010 reboot of Hawaii Five-0.

For now I’m giving this a tentative rating of “could be watchable” but I won’t be watching.

“Rel” Shows Potential to be Funny but Only Time Will Tell

So we have a guy who is a standup comedian that gets his own sitcom. He has a male and female sidekick who come in and out of his life. We’ve seen this formula dozens of times before. It all began with Seinfeld but no one has been able to recapture that magic that we had between Jerry, Elaine, and Kramer. The new multi-camera half-hour comedy “Rel” starring Lil Rel Howery is another such attempt that at least initially falls short. Then again it’s probably unfair to compare a newcomer to what is one of the most successful sitcoms of all time.

Lil Rel Howery has appeared in the recently canceled “The Carmichael Show” which I enjoyed. However he is most famous for his role in the hit movie “Get Out” as the comic relief sidekick TSA agent who gives Daniel Kaluuya advice over the telephone as he faces his bizarre future in-laws. He is now capitalizing on that success with this new sitcom.

The premise of the show is that he is a nurse living on the south side of Chicago whose wife had an affair with his barber. She takes their two kids and moves to Cleveland. He tries to get over the shame of the loss. He is supported by his best friend Britney played by Jessica “Jess Hilarious” Moore and his ne’er-do-well brother Nat played by Jordan L Jones. Nat is recently out of jail and is constantly denying that he was a meth dealer. It wasn’t meth it was ecstasy like that makes a big difference.

Their father is played by veteran comedian Sinbad who is disappointed in both of his sons. In one scene where they go to church, dad tries to be supportive of his recently divorced son but he insists that he not sit near him because he doesn’t want to be associated with a guy who could lose his wife to a barber. The preacher in the church is also played by Howery made up in a bald cap and a beard.

My ultimate test for a sitcom is “did it make me laugh?” And on several occasions this one did. The first episode was pretty much a one joke story about the shame of losing your wife to your barber. It remains to be seen if the show remains creative and funny or just becomes a string of well-worn clichés.

Admittedly because I’m an old white guy I not going to have as much appreciation for some of the cultural context of an African-American cast and story. I probably will not continue to watch. I already enjoy “black-ish” and found it to be funnier than “Rel”. Don’t let my lack of enthusiasm for the show turn you off. It does have some very funny moments and I suppose once I got used to the characters I might appreciate it more. But in an already crowded space I will not be adding it to my watchlist.

Because I did laugh I will give it a very strong rating of “Could be watchable“. If you’re looking for a good African-American comedy you should check it out for yourself.

That show appears on Fox. The pilot episode was shown September 9 as a sneak preview and is available on demand. Regular episodes premier September 30.

“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.