Fans of “Castle” or “The Mentalist” Should Enjoy “Deception”

Deception” is a new crime procedural from ABC that is a bit unoriginal but might be worth watching anyway. For me it seems like a cross between “Castle” and “The Mentalist”. The main character is Cameron Black who is a world-famous magician whose career is ruined when it is revealed that many of his tricks involve the use of his twin brother Jonathan. Both parts are played by Jack Cutmore-Scott who has been seen recently in Kingsman:The Secret Service and Dunkirk but not much else. The secret is revealed when his brother is in an automobile accident in which a woman is killed. The brother is arrested and jailed but the whole thing may have been a setup.

When Cameron hears the story that the FBI lost a key witness to a case when a private plane explodes in a hanger, he recognizes that in fact the plane did not explode. It was actually a re-creation of one of his illusions where he had caused a plane to disappear. He ends up becoming a consultant for the FBI

The mysterious illusionist who faked the plane exploding is also connected to his brother being framed. He uses his skills as an illusionist to help the FBI catch criminals at the same time working to prove his brother’s innocence.

Black is partnered with FBI agent Kay Daniels played by Ilfenesh Hadera who has been recently seen in Baywatch and Billions. Like “The Mentalist”, our hero uses his skills of deception to con suspects into revealing themselves. But the overall tone of the show is much more lighthearted. Where Patrick Jane was a somewhat mysterious and introverted brooding character, Black is much more gregarious and charismatic. The overall tone seems more like “Castle” in which the hijinks of the outside consultant are often played for laughs. It remains to be seen if Black and Daniels will develop the same sort of chemistry that we saw between Richard Castle and Detective Kate Beckett.

Unlike Castle and Patrick Jane, Black has a team of assistants who help him create the illusions. His main designer is Gunter Gustafsen played by British character actor Vinnie Jones. He is more often cast in the role of a tough guy criminal because of his appearance so it is interesting bit of casting to see him in a part where his big burly stature and rough appearance seem a bit out of place.

As I said in the beginning, there is nothing really new or original here but if you are a fan of “The Mentalist” and or “Castle” then you will probably enjoy this show as well. I’m giving it a very strong rating of “I’m watching it”.

“The Alienist” is Well Done Period Crime Drama

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bellevue is a Dark, Fascinating, Crime Story

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

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

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

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

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

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

Black Lightning is a relevant and worthwhile superhero

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fox’s New “9-1-1” Shows Potential

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“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.