“The Good Doctor” Challenges Preconceptions Perhaps Too Much

I have a lot of mixed emotions about ABC’s new medical drama “The Good Doctor”. The main character is surgical resident Dr. Sean Murphy played by famous child actor Freddie Highmore. You may remember him from the 2005 version of “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” and Finding Neverland among other roles. My favorite of his films was “August Rush” in which he played a foster child who is a musical prodigy who goes on a journey to find his real parents. That one brought me to tears many times.More recently he played Norman Bates in his teen years in the TV series “Bates Motel”.

The gimmick in this particular show is that Dr. Murphy is an autistic savant.

We’ve already seen a number of other TV dramas depict characters with Asperger’s syndrome which is a form of autism that manifests itself mostly as extreme social awkwardness. My favorite such characters were Max Braverman played by Max Burkholder on the TV series Parenthood along with his mentor Hank Rizzoli played by Ray Romano. Another good example was Jerry “Hands” Epperson on “Boston Legal” played by Christian Clemson. We’ve even seen portrayals of surgeons with Asperger’s syndrome when Mary McDonnell guest starred on three episodes of Grey’s Anatomy as Dr. Virginia Dixon. Although Sheldon Cooper from “The Big Bang Theory” has never been officially labeled as having Asperger’s, a number of commentators have suggested that he exhibits many of the characteristics.

However unlike all of these Asperger’s examples, Sean Murphy goes way beyond the simple social awkwardness that we’ve seen in any of these other characters I’ve just mentioned. They do not describe his form of autism as Asperger’s Syndrome. It is just described as “autism”. This character exhibits a much more extreme awkwardness of personality. Highmore plays him with a very childlike voice and broken speech pattern more akin to someone like Dustin Hoffman’s portrayal of Raymond Babbitt in “Rain Man”. The childlike quality of his personality more closely resembles an adult with Down Syndrome.

Naturally when someone encounters this man-boy the last thing they would think was that he would be capable of being a doctor of any kind let alone a talented surgical resident. In the opening episode there is a meeting of the hospital staff in which they attempt to reject his entry into the surgical residency program. His cause is championed by hospital president Dr. Aaron Glassman portrayed by former West Wing staffer Richard Schiff. Glassman literally puts his career on the line and says that if Dr. Murphy does not succeed in the program, he offers to resign as the hospital president. Most strongly opposed to Murphy’s position is surgical chief Dr. Marcus Andrews played by Hill Harper who you may recognize from Homeland, Limitless and Covert Affairs.

Theoretically one would expect me to be extremely sympathetic towards a character who has a disability and is attempting to overcome people’s extremely low expectations of his capabilities. But the way this particular character is portrayed, I’m finding myself squarely on the side of Marcus whose attitude is “Get this freak out of my hospital and away from my patients.”

It’s apparent that each week Dr. Murphy is going to use his alternate way of thinking and perceiving to diagnose patients and save their lives in ways that escaped the attention of the so-called normal doctors. Without this proof of his medical genius there would be no way he would be remotely considered capable of doing the job. There’s more to being a doctor then simply coming up with brilliant diagnoses and having skill with a scalpel. The ability to communicate and collaborate with colleagues is an essential part of the job for which Murphy is totally unsuited.

The fact that he was given the opportunity to take the job, stretches the credibility of the TV show almost to its breaking point. I think the only way to enter into the story is to consider it science fiction. Imagine an alternate reality where such a person could get a chance to take a job for which they are seriously deficient in necessary skills.

We get lots of flashbacks to Murphy’s childhood. We learned of his abusive parents, that he ran away from home with his brother and they attempted to live on their own, and of his brother’s tragic accidental death. The death of his brother along with the death of his pet rabbit led him to the field of medicine. He couldn’t save either of their lives but maybe he can save someone else’s. We also get glimpses into his relationship with his mentor Dr. Glassman who is been in his life since his childhood and the loss of his brother.

These flashbacks serve to illustrate his approach to events in the present day. But even further stretching the credibility that this person could be taken seriously, during the flashbacks Murphy goes into an almost trancelike stare as he recalls the events. Someone will ask him a question and he goes into this trance while we watch the events of his past play out. When the flashback is over, he is still standing there with a blank look on his face while everyone wonders what the hell is wrong with him. Then having gained the perspective he required from the flashback, he comes up with an answer to whatever was asked of him. The fact that he is not fully present in the current moment further stretches the credibility that anyone would or should take him seriously.

Clearly the intent of the authors and producers of the program is to challenge us to accept people who are “different” and not impose our prejudicial limitations upon them. After watching three episodes and despite watching him use his medical brilliance to save multiple lives, I’m still not convinced he can do the job. Maybe I’m like the racist fans of Archie Bunker who didn’t see him in a negative light but saw him as a hero. Maybe I’m on the wrong side of what the creators of the show intended. But I can’t shake my perspective even though one would expect me to be sympathetic.

I would not find credible a television show about a person like me who attempted a profession that required physical capability beyond my capacity to matter how sympathetic of a character I might be.

Apart from all of this, show is a really very well written, well acted, medical drama. While Murphy is the primary character, he is not the sole focus of the story. There is the typical politics and competition between the other surgical residents, the egos of the attending physicians, and the politics of hospital management that are the staples of medical drama shows like Grey’s Anatomy and ER. On that level, the show works pretty well. The stories of the patients that they treat are compelling. The other characters besides Murphy are three-dimensional and considerably more believable than Murphy.

For now I’m going to sort of hold my nose and continue to watch the show to see where it goes. The non-Murphy parts of the story are sufficiently interesting to be entertaining and I’m curious to see what they do with the Murphy story as the show progresses.

So as I said at the beginning, I have very mixed feelings about this program but for now I’m giving it a very cautious rating of “I’m watching it”.

“Me, Myself and I” is a lighter, funnier “This Is Us” and better alternative to “Young Sheldon”

Me, Myself, and I” is a new single camera half-hour comedy created by producer Dan Kopelman who is most famous for his other coming-of-age comedy “Malcolm in the Middle”. When I first heard about this show it was obviously a show with a big gimmick and I wondered if that’s all it was. Fortunately it seems the gimmick works pretty well.

It’s a life story of Alex Riley as told through three different time periods in his life over a 50 year time span. The main character is portrayed by three different actors in each of those time periods. The young Alex is 14 years old in 1991 portrayed by Jack Dylan Grazer. He recently appeared in the Stephen King horror film “It” but has few other acting credits.

The show starts with him in the midst of three major turning points in his life. The young Alex is uprooted from his home in Chicago when his mom marries an airline pilot and they moved to LA. The most difficult part of this move for him is that he absolutely adores Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls but is suddenly transplanted into LA Lakers country. He is a bit of a nerd and loves inventing things.

His new stepbrother Justin takes him under his wing and tries to help him navigate life in a new school environment. He calls him “little brother” even though he’s only 30 some days older than him. In the opening episode Justin plays the role of wing man as Alex tries to hook up with one of the hottest girls in their class. Justin is played by Christopher Paul Richard who has previously appeared as one of Bobby Axelrod’s sons in the Showtime series “Billions”.

The adult Alex is 40 years old and takes place in present-day. He’s played by SNL veteran Bobby Moynihan. Here he is a struggling inventor whose company was worth about $2 million but now has fallen on hard times and is on the verge of bankruptcy. He’s recently divorced and living out of a friend’s garage. He’s trying to put his life back together and still be a good father to his nine-year-old daughter. At the end of the episode he finds out his ex-wife is moving out of town and taking the daughter with her. His business partner and sidekick Darrell is played by Jaleel White who you’ll remember from his iconic childhood role of Steve Urkel on Family Matters.

The older Alex is 65 years old in the year 2042. He’s portrayed by veteran comic actor John Larroquette. In the opening episode the turning point for this stage of his life is that he recently recovered from a heart attack and decided to retire as CEO of his now successful technology company Riley industries. He is searching for what he’s going to do with the rest of his life. We will avoid spoiling a minor plot twist near the end of the first episode that hints at where that part of the story is going.

The show is funny, has a lot of heart, and is well written and acted. At first I thought it was just a ripoff of the multi-time period approach to the hit NBC drama “This Is Us”. And while that may be true, they pull it off successfully. It is a little bit rushed to trying to get these three different stories moving along in just a half-hour comedy. The first episode was about 60% young Alex, 30% adult Alex, and 10% older Alex. We will have to see if subsequent episodes shift that balance so we get more of the other stories. Still if it remains mostly a coming-of-age story about a young Alex that would be okay. The writing does a pretty good job of tying the story together. Events in one of the time periods connects to the other time periods. Think of it as a sort of one person rather than three-person version of “This Is Us” with all of the heart and comedy and not any of the tearjerk aspects.

I also can’t help but make contrasts to the new series “Young Sheldon”. If you are looking for a coming-of-age story about a nerdy young kid and how his childhood influenced his adulthood then this is a much much better choice than Young Sheldon. In many ways this is the show that Young Sheldon could’ve been but isn’t. One of the reasons this show might succeed where Young Sheldon will not is that we can see the adult and the older versions of the character evolve along with the young version. This show is not saddled with 10+ seasons of history of its adult character with which it must somehow correlate and provide some sort of continuity.

For now I’m giving it a somewhat tentative raising of “I’m watching it”. I suggest you check it out and see if it resolves your disappointment in Young Sheldon.

America Horror Story: Cult Capitalizes On Political Fear

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“The Good Place” is Ridiculously Bad but Fun

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kevin can Wait is King of Queens 2.0

Kevin James is back on television after taking time off to appear in several films after his former series King of Queens wrapped up in 2007. If you’re looking for a change of pace from his former character Doug Heffernan you will be disappointed. His new character Kevin Gable is pretty much indistinguishable from every other character you have ever seen him play.

Rather than a delivery truck driver he now plays a retired police officer. Again he has a hot looking wife who is clearly out of his league but that’s pretty typical for sitcoms. He has kids this time which he did not have in King of Queens. In place of his goofy father-in-law who lived in the basement which was played by Jerry Stiller the over-the-top comedy this time comes from his daughter’s boyfriend who rents a room in the garage. A recurring character of his brother is played by Gary Valentine who happen to be Kevin James’ brother in real life. Valentine also played his cousin on King of Queens.

There really isn’t much to say about the show. If you liked King of Queens you will probably like this show and if you didn’t like it you will not like the new one. For the time being it’s rated “I’m watching it”.

Review: Limitless isn’t

As I mentioned in a previous review, the gimmick for this year’s new TV shows is to have a TV show sequel to a hit film. In this case the show is the new CBS series “Limitless” based on the 2011 film of the same name starring Bradley Cooper and Robert De Niro.

The premise of both (and the 2014 film Lucy) is based on the often quoted yet scientifically unsubstantiated factoid that we only use 10% of our brain. After attributing some equally unscientific higher number to Einstein, the theory posits that if we could use a higher percentage we would have all sorts of superpowers. Both Limitless and Lucy have its protagonists achieve this through a supersecret drug. Lucy took it to an extreme where she could manipulate people by mind control, manipulate matter, the forces of nature, perceive electronic transmissions with her bare eyes, and basically transcend time and space. Fortunately Limitless (either the film or the show) doesn’t quite take it to those ridiculous extremes. It does however use the same “take a smart pill” premise.

In this case it simply makes you supersmart and gives you access to everything you ever seen or heard, everything you have learned and a phenomenal computing ability. So even on the premise is just as flawed and somewhat ridiculous, once you buy the premise, the show seem reasonably self consistent.

The show takes place in the same world as the film. Bradley Cooper who started the film appears near the end of the opening episode in the same character he played in the film. He probably will not be seen very much. The star of the show is Jake McDormand you may recognize from last season’s failed sitcom “Manhattan Love Story” or as Mike Pratt on Shameless. Here he plays a somewhat down on his luck guy named Brian Finch who can only get temp jobs. An old friend of his gives him this smart pill called NZT which allowed him to do two month’s worth of filing at his temp job in just a few hours. When he goes back to get more of the drug, he finds his friend has been murdered. He becomes a suspect but eventually convinces an FBI agent that he’s innocent. The agent is played by Jennifer Carpenter whom you will remember as Detective Debra Morgan who was sister to serial killer/CSI technician Dexter in the Showtime series Dexter. I guess she has no worries about being typecast as a cop.

In the end he convinces them that he is innocent. He ends up working as a consultant to the government to help them solve crimes and unlock the mysteries of the special drug. Meanwhile he was always up connected to the Bradley Cooper character who has some of those secrets about the drug.

If you want a slightly less sci-fi version of Minority Report with some of the conspiracy and intrigue of The Blacklist and/or Blindspot then this may be just the ticket. I will end up watching it for a while but I think that Minority Report, Blindspot, The Blacklist were perhaps the new FBI recruit series Quantico may be better bets in the long run. For now I’m watching it but as I have said before I will watch even bad sci-fi. I would say this is slightly below average but still watchable. With all of the other semi sci-fi and procedural detective consultant shows on TV this one might not last. My prediction is that Limitless isn’t.

Review: Minority Report a worthy sequel

That which has been is that which will be, And that which has been done is that which will be done. So there is nothing new under the sun.” Ecclesiastes 1:9

This Scripture quote describes the entertainment industry exactly. It is an industry obsessed with sequels, prequels, imaginations, remakes, spinoffs and ripoffs. Last season the gimmick was to come up with an American version of some show that had already been successful overseas. This season the theme is make a TV series out of a hit movie. The biggest examples are “Limitless” which we will review separately elsewhere and the new Fox series “Minority Report” which we will discuss here.

In case you missed it, the 2002 film version of Minority Report was directed by Steven Spielberg based on a short story by famous science fiction author Philip K. Dick. It starring Tom Cruise, Colin Farrell, and Samantha Morton. The film is set in the near future Washington DC area where the local police have the authority to arrest you for a crime you did not yet commit. This “pre-crime” arrest is based upon information from three psychics called “precogs” who are kept in a semi-coma state. They’re connected to machines which read their thoughts as they have visions of violent crimes which are about to occur. Tom Cruise plays one of the special police officers who are part of the pre-crime unit however he stumbles onto a secret and suddenly he has been accused and is sought for a pre-crime of his own. The title of the film and TV show comes from the fact that the three precogs don’t always agree 100% on what will happen. Sometimes two of them agree and the third one issues a minority report about an alternate future.

The TV show takes place 10 years later. Pre-crime has been abolished because of the scandal uncovered in the film. The three precogs have been released to hide out in a cabin in the woods so that they will not be inundated by visions and other people’s thoughts. The story revolves around one of the three precogs named Dash. He leaves the isolation to make his way in the real world and to try to prevent some of the crimes that he envisions. Not by having people arrested prior to the crime but simply by changing the future and preventing the crime by other means. He teams up with a detective named Lara Vega who discovers who he is and what he’s trying to do.

The problem is that Dash was the weakest of the three siblings. His older sister Agatha would see the big picture of a crime, his brother Arthur would pick up details and Dash would fill them with all items that the other two missed. This particular plot device leaves plenty of room for Detective Vega to use ordinary police skills to try to figure out what bad thing is when to happen. Think of it sort of as “Person of Interest” without the computer.

Occasionally he has to resort to seeking the help from his precogs siblings Agatha and Arthur while attempting to solve a crime. And there the end of the first episode we see that there is some sort of destiny awaiting the three precogs that has yet to unfold.

Detective Vega is equipped with all sorts of futuristic crime-fighting tools that allow her to re-create virtual crime scenes on-the-fly and other sorts of typical sci-fi crime-fighting tricks. The special effects are above average for a weekly TV series and the action is strong enough to keep you interested. The story is peppered with some typical stranger in a strange land kind of humor because Dash has not lived a normal life and have absolutely no social skills whatsoever.

I did not mention the stars of the show because they really can’t be called stars. I didn’t recognize any of them from any other films or TV shows. Even looking up their resume on the IMDb did not jog my memory in a way that would make me say “oh yes I remember they were in ______”.

I’m kind of person who will watch all but the most horrible science fiction show. So saying that I’m going to watch it probably is not much of an endorsement. However this one looks like it is well above average if quite outstanding must-see TV. So it gets a rather strong “I’m watching it” rating. I suggest you check it out especially if you like sci-fi.

Review: Blindspot is a prettier Blacklist

How does this sound for the idea for a TV show? A mysterious person shows up at the FBI and becomes a source of information for them. This mysterious source allows them to stop terrorist plots, uncover in criminal conspiracies, and prevent a whole slew of nastiness of various kinds. One of the pieces of information supplied by this mysterious source leads to a particular obscure FBI agent. We have no idea why the agent is connected to the source and neither does the agent themselves. A special task force including this agent is assigned to the task of dealing with the source’s information. That task force includes the linked agent. Each week a new clue or tip is revealed in a new plot is foiled all the while trying to figure out the source of the source and the connection to the named FBI agent.

NBC liked the pitch and they gave a green light to “The Blacklist” in 2013 as it has been a big ratings hit for them. The third season premieres October 1. NBC apparently likes that particular pitch so much they’ve created an entirely new series with the exact same premise. This one is called “Blindspot” because who knows… maybe having a title that starts with the letter “B” is also key to its success.

In the opening scene, a large duffel bag is found abandoned in the middle of Times Square bearing a tag saying “call the FBI”. The bomb squad investigates and for some strange reason despite every protocol you’ve ever seen of a bomb squad call out on TV they send an actual human being in a bomb suit to investigate the package. If this was Podunk Mississippi may be so but this is New York City and certainly the bomb squad has remote control robots to do this kind of thing. So much for accurate portrayal of police procedures. The bag begins unzipping itself and up pops a woman closed them nothing but tattoos. The guy is a bomb suit pulls out a gun and tells her to freeze. Seriously… If you were the bomb disposal unit approaching a potentially explosive device to be carrying a gun on you so that if you did happen to get blown up, your gun would start firing off bullets in odd directions taking out innocent people?

It turns out the woman has amnesia and can remember absolutely nothing about her past life. She is examined by doctors and they come up with some pseudoscientific mumbo-jumbo that explains how her memory was erased. Even though the doctors seem to completely understand condition they cannot predict how long the amnesia will last because “we’ve never seen anything like this before.”

One of the tattoos on her back is “FBI agent Kurt Weller”. And according to the plot description above, he has no idea why his name is tattooed on this woman’s back.

As the opening episode proceeds, we learn that the woman speaks fluent Chinese including some rare dialects. There’s evidence she may be a Navy seal even though they acknowledge that the seals don’t take women. She proved herself to be especially adept at martial arts at a level you can’t learn at your local dojo so she’s obviously some sort of trained operative. The first tattoo that they decode lead them to a terrorist plot which they managed to foil just in time.

Obviously each week they will decode a new tattoo that will lead to another criminal plot which they will file just in time. The continuing story that runs throughout the series will be to answer the questions who is this Jane Doe? Who did this to her? If they wanted to tip off the FBI why didn’t they just phone it in?

Other than the fact that it’s a total retread of Blacklist it looks like it’s going to be a pretty good show with lots of action and mystery. Jane Doe is played by Jamie Alexander you may recognize as Lady Sif of Asgard from the Marvel Thor films and guest shots on Agents of SHIELD. She’s much easier on the eyes then James Spader. Agent Weller is played by Sullivan Stapleton who is no stranger to the action genre being famous for playing Sgt. Damien Scott from the Cinemax action series Strike Back which is currently wrapping up its final season.

The Blacklist was getting a little boring to me with too many layers of mysteries upon mysteries and secrets upon secrets. It was getting a little tough to follow all of the little subplots and James Spader although was initially interesting is wearing a little thin for me. For now I’m going to watch both and if I end up quitting one of the two it will probably be The Blacklist that I drop just because it’s getting a little bit old. Bottom line is I’m giving Blindspot a rating of “I’m Watching It”.

TV Review: Wayward Pines

One of the latest “catchphrases” in the entertainment business is the so-called “Event Series”. This is an attempt to aggrandize a TV series that was so risky to produce that they decided to only make a few episodes as a sort of extended pilot. To justify the short order, they label it “an event” to make it sound like something special. Something that you absolutely have to see because it only comes along once in a lifetime.

Typically these event series have a sci-fi, fantasy, or horror theme. Some have even gone as far as to get this limited series order right off the page without even producing a pilot. The network apparently likes the high concept well enough that they want to throw together for 8 or 10 episodes and stick it on the schedule in the summer to see what happens. Recent examples have actually proved quite successful. The prime example is CBS series”Under the Dome” which will premiere its third season with a two-part episode on June 25. It was only supposed to run 13 episodes but it was so popular they rewrote the final episode to add a second and now a third season. The producers predict it will last five seasons. Also from CBS last season we had “Extant” which will begin its second season July 1.

Not to be outdone, Fox has entered the event series sweepstakes two weeks ago with the 10 episode event “Wayward Pines“. On the surface it looks like this was going to be an attempt to cash in on the renewed interest in “Twin Peaks” which became a cult classic for two seasons in 1990-91. The Showtime reboot of that series scheduled for 2016 seems to be a back on track now that they’ve settled there differences with director David Lynch. Both series deal with a federal agent investigating strange happenings in a small town in the Northwest. However Wayward Pines seems more like a cross between the 1967 cult classic “The Prisoner” and the 2010 Martin Scorsese film “Shutter Island” starring Leonard DiCaprio.

In Wayward Pines we have the story of US Secret Service Agent Ethan Burke played by Matt Dillon. The show opens with him awakening after a car crash and finding himself small town Wayward Pines Idaho. Through a series of flashbacks we learned that he is a Secret Service Agent blames himself for not catching a terrorist prior to a bombing which killed hundreds of people. We learn that going back to work he had various psychotic episodes and hallucinations. Thus we get the Shutter Island effect wherein we don’t know whether or not what we are seeing is for real or if they are showing us the character’s delusions or hallucinations. It doesn’t take him long to figure out that Wayward Pines is in fact a prison where he is being constantly watched and everyone is acting in fear of whoever is running the place. Thus we get the connections to The Prisoner.

He was supposed to be investigating the disappearance of 2 of his colleagues. He finds one of them dead in the town. The other one is living a different wife under a different name. He makes friends with a waitress named Beverly played by Juliette Lewis. She attempts to help him come to understand “what’s really going on” in this strange place. She is sort of his guide and is the only person who’s willing to talk openly with him about their situation.

One of the strange characteristics of this town (apart from the fact that there are no crickets and the cricket noises you hear are made by tiny speakers hidden in the bushes) is that time seems to have stopped. For example the one female Secret Service Agent who has only been missing for weeks claims to have been in the town for nearly 15 years. Time seems to have frozen in the 1980s. Everyone believes Bill Clinton is the president. The dates on money (of which is counterfeit) is no newer than 1989. This is either more of the prisoner-like psychological games they are playing with the residents or there is some sort of actual supernatural aspect to this place like “Lost“. The “Lost” similarities leave me to be concerned that the entire thing is actually a purgatory like place and none of it is real.

Everything that we see in Wayward Pines is through the experiences of Agent Burke which makes the reality/unreal questions a constant concern for the viewer. However we do get to see Burke’s wife, children, and colleagues back in the supposed real world wondering where he went and why he is missing. The only character that crosses over between real-world home and Wayward Pines a guy named Dr. Jenkins was very creepily portrayed by Toby Jones.

Matt Dillon is credible in what is otherwise a literally incredible situation. The rest of the cast does a decent job as well trying to portray normalcy in an obviously abnormal situation.

The best thing I can say about Wayward Pines is that it is only 10 episodes. We can hope that by the 10th we know what’s really going on but I would say you need to be prepared for the possibility that you will not know. And if this limited event series manages to draw sufficient audience, we might even have to put up with additional seasons such as we are with Under the Dome and Extant.

If you are a fan of The Prisoner, Twin Peaks, Shutter Island and don’t mind and ending that may be in that being a mixture of Lost and Fight Club then you might want to check this out. The second episode aired last night but both should be available on demand. There’s not much else to watch right now except perhaps check out the new game show “500 Questions” which is mildly interesting. Worst case scenario is you have to wait for 2016 for the new episodes of “Twin Peaks. For now I’m writing this one “I’m watching” but then I’m kind of weird.