New Game Shows Aren’t Great but Are Fun During a Boring Pandemic

I generally don’t review reality competition shows. I never watch the Bachelor/Bachelorette/Love Island dating type shows. I am a big fan of Survivor and The Amazing Race and have never missed an episode of either of those. But with the regular season delayed until late October the networks are turning to more game shows to try to fill the airwaves. I thought I would talk about a couple of guilty pleasure shows you might want to check out.

The Weakest Link

A new American version of this British quiz show classic premiered recently on NBC. The British version of “The Weakest Link” had a total of 1693 episodes most of them hosted by Anne Robinson. Unlike most quiz shows, this format openly invites a hostile competition between the contestants. After a round of questions for each contestant, everyone votes off who is the weakest link. It’s sort of a combination of Jeopardy and Survivor. And also unlike the friendly hosts on most quiz shows, Robinson takes a snarky condescending attitude towards the contestants berating them for missing various questions. When I heard that Jane Lynch was going to be the host of this American reboot “Weakest Link” I was really excited. I knew that she could re-create that sarcastic snarky attitude when delivering the show’s catchphrase “You are the weakest link… Goodbye!”

I was only a tiny bit disappointed in Lynch. While she had the appropriate condescending tone that you expect from the show, I didn’t think her final “Goodbye” to each eliminated contestant was quite sarcastic enough. But she still does a pretty good job of doing and Anne Robinson impersonation.

it’s faster paced than shows like “The Wall“. The questions are not as esoteric or academic as “Jeopardy! ” for example. Some of the contestants’ wrong answers were low hanging fruit for Lynch to make fun of them. For example “What African-American astrophysicist is director of the Hayden planetarium?” The contestant fumbled for a moment and then hesitatingly said “Einstein?” Lynch asked the girl “What is your occupation again?” The girl replies “a model”. Lynch “that figures. Even if you didn’t know Neil deGrasse Tyson you should’ve known Einstein wasn’t African-American.”

Overall I like it and will continue to watch while nothing else good is on TV. I love Jane Lynch as a host. She’s not as much fun as she is in Hollywood Game Night but then again the format requires somebody even more snarky and condescending and she does a great job. I rate it “I’m watching it” and recommend you check it out for a fun diversion.

I Can See Your Voice

I Can See by Your Voice” is a new competition show from Fox. I only watched this new show from Fox so I could see just how bad it was. I actually was pleasantly surprised. It airs just after the hit show “The Masked Singer” and is hosted by comic actor Dr. Ken Jeong who is also a judge on “The Masked Singer”. The premise of this show is sort of the opposite of the NBC singing competition “The Voice“. In “The Voice” the judges get to hear a contestant sing but initially cannot see their performance. In “I Can See Your Voice” you can watch the performance as they lip-synch to a track but you can’t actually hear them sing. The trick is to figure out who is really a good singer and who is faking it.

There is a single contestant for the entire episode. They are presented with 6 singers and it is up to the contestant to identify the good singers from the bad singers. They are assisted by a panel of 5 celebrities. The first episode featured Nick Lachey, Kelly Osborne, Arsenio Hall, Cheryl Hines, and Adrienne Houghton.

In the first two rounds, three of the six singers lip-synch a song. If they are a good singer, they are lip-synching to their own voice and if they are a bad singer they are lip-synching to someone else. The contestant then decides which of the three should be eliminated as a bad singer. If the eliminated person is indeed a bad singer, the contestant banks $10,000. There is no guarantee how many good or bad singers are among the six. The celebrity panel advises the contestant on who they think is the real deal and why but the contestant has the ultimate decision.

After the first round there are other rounds in which you get to hear the singer perform with a distorted voice. We also get clues about the back story which either do or don’t add up and help you decide who is faking and who is real.

When you get down to the final of the six singers, the contestant has generally banked about $30,000. They are then given the opportunity to walk home with that money or risk it all for $100,000 if they think the final singer is a good singer.

As ridiculous as the entire thing is, for some reason it works. You find yourself forming your own opinions and guessing right along with the celebrities and the contestants. If you’re the kind of person who is a big fan of “The Masked Singer” it’s likely you will like this show as well. This is not in any way sophisticated entertainment. It definitely falls into the “guilty pleasure” category but is just silly enough that I kind of like it. I rate it a weak “I’m watching it” and if it sounds like fun to you, you should check it out.

Late Night Comedy Does Work-from-Home

Last week both Stephen Colbert and Jimmy Fallon attempted to put on a show with no audience. Both attempts were funny only because they were such terrible failures. On October 29 and 30, 2012 David Letterman did shows without audience just before and after hurricane Sandy as seen here. Telling a joke with only Paul Schaefer with his signature annoying laugh just didn’t work. Colbert’s audience consisted of about 20 staff members. Part of the way through his monologue he asked “Is this going okay?” And they all cheered and applauded. He thanked them and then reminded the viewers “Of course I pay these people so who knows.” Another good line was he said “Each night in my mind the show is perfect. All of the jokes are hilarious. And the only thing that goes wrong is when an audience shows up and proves me wrong. Tonight with no audience to disprove it, this show will be perfect.”

Seth Meyers and James Corden went to reruns rather than go audience free.

Now the late-night comedians have taken to YouTube to do 10-20 minute monologues. Here’s a sampling. Suggest you subscribe to their YouTube channels to see remaining episodes. It’s sort of reminiscent of amateur YouTubers who haven’t quite yet figured out how to do lighting and audio in a home environment. Click on the show title to get to their entire YouTube channel. And then click the links on individual shows.

The Late Show Was Stephen Colbert

March 17 Colbert broadcasts from his bathtub

March 18 Colbert in his backyard fire pit. Includes a very funny parody of “Danny Boy” and a nice piano concert by bandleader Jon Batiste.

 

Jimmy Kimmel Live

March 17 Quarantine Minilogue. Discovers by staying at home that he actually has children. Says that they watched Frozen 2 more times than the animators who created. Apparently first in a series.

 

Late night with Seth Myers

March 12: A Closer Look. Seth Myers canceled his Thursday night show but went ahead and recorded his “A Closer Look” segment that they had already written the night before. He hasn’t done any additional YouTube since then.

 

The Tonight Show starring Jimmy Fallon

March 17 Home Edition (The First One). Shot by his wife on an iPhone apparently from his kids play room. Wonderfully amateurish 🙂

 

LastWeek Tonight with John Oliver HBO

March 16: Did his regular show without an audience. Could not do it in his regular studio because it had been contaminated by someone who tested positive. Clearly the most successful non-audience show of the group.

 

The Late Late Show with James Corden

He is showing reruns on broadcast and has not contributed anything to YouTube

 

 

Overall I’m giving the entire collection a rating of “I’m watching”. It’s really nice that I don’t have to record the entire show and fill up my DVR. I could just watch these monologues on YouTube whenever they come up. Hope you are staying safe and healthy during this crisis.

Fans of Dystopian Action Should See “See”

The next in my series of reviews of new streaming series is another offering from Apple TV+ titled “See“. I’ve seen all eight episodes of season 1 and it has already been renewed for season 2. It is set in a post-apocalyptic future where the entire human race has lost their sense of sight. No one has been able to see for many generations and so the entire concept of vision is impossible to explain to anyone. It is viewed as an evil mystical power that was responsible for the fall of civilization.

However there exists one person named Jerlamarel who claims they have the ability to see as does his children. This makes him and the children targets. Not only is vision believed to be evil witchcraft, if by chance you can control someone who has this mystical ability of sight, you would have great power over everyone.

Our main character is Baba Voss played by Aquaman star Jason Momoa. He is the leader of a clan of people who live in the woods. His wife Maghra played by Hera Hilmar. She is pregnant with twin children that were fathered by sighted Jerlamarel. She came to their clan as a pregnant refugee and Voss took her in and agreed to raise the children as his own. In the opening episode, the clan comes under attack from witchfinders who do the bidding of a bizarre leader named Queen Kane played by Sylvia Hoeks. She is in search of the sighted man and/or his children. The Queen rules over the area from a hydroelectric power dam that is still barely operational.

The entire thing is sort of a mixture of “Game of Thrones” and “Bird Box” with a little bit of “Mad Max” thrown in.

The action sequences as Voss defends his community from the witchfinders are exciting, bloody, and actually make you believe that a bunch of totally blind people could not only survive on a day-to-day basis but can defend themselves from a bunch of evil invaders. The entire society is created in detail and we learn a lot about how they survive. For example writing is accomplished by tying knots and pieces of cord.

The clan survives the initial attack but concludes that their main line of defense will no longer hold and the raiders will be back again so they have to flee their habitat in the woods. The sighted biological father of these hunted children have left them a trail to a new habitat where they relocate out of harm’s way. The series then fast forwards to when the children have grown. They have inherited their father’s ability to see and they are given a chest full of books left to them by their father. Voss and Maghra are assisted in raising the children by the clan’s medicine woman Paris played by Alfre Woodard. She gives the children the books despite their parents insistence that she not. The children teach themselves to read and educate themselves in the history of the fallen civilization. Eventually as they reach their teens, they go on a quest to seek their biological father and their destiny as one of the few human beings left alive who know what it is to see.

Although some critics didn’t think much of Momoa’s portrayal of Voss, I found him to be an interesting character. He is a devoted family man who is trying to protect his children and his clan without reverting to the violent mercenary he once was in his past. He does an adequate job of portraying the character torn between his violent nature and his desire for a peaceful family life.

I suppose you have to be a fan of dystopian post-apocalyptic genre and enjoy seeing a muscleman like Jason Momoa engage in all sorts of bloody battles. But if you do enjoy this kind of story, this is a really good one. The world they live in is richly drawn. The characters especially Queen Kane are a bit bizarre but that makes her all the more interesting as a maniacal leader obsessed with finding her white whale that is these children.

The series runs for eight episodes and to be honest that was probably enough. Although I really enjoyed it, it didn’t leave me anxiously awaiting for season 2 which has already been approved. I will watch it however when it returns. I’m giving it a strong rating “I’m watching” and if you like the genre I strongly recommend it.

“Batwoman” is a Worthy Edition to the Arrowverse

CW network has added a new series to its DC universe commonly known as the Arrowverse because the shows were a spinoff of the original “Arrow” series. “Batwoman” is a new series whose titular character first appeared in a series of Arrowverse crossover episodes “Crisis on Infant Earths” near the end of last season. Unfortunately I’m way behind on my Arrowverse shows and did not see those episodes yet. However I decided to go ahead and check out the pilot of Batwoman.

The story revolves about Kate Kane who is a cousin of Bruce Wayne apparently on his mother’s side whose name was Martha Kane. When she was a child her mother and sister died in an accident when a school bus full of kidnapped kids driven by The Joker drove them off the road and they were dangling precariously on the edge of the bridge. Batman tried to secure the vehicle with some cables and then went off to chase the Joker. Kate was able to crawl out of the car before the cables failed and mom and sis fell to their death. She always blamed Batman for caring more about catching the bad guy then saving innocent lives.

As the story opens, Batman has mysteriously disappeared for several years. So the job of protecting Gotham City had fallen to a private security firm called “The Crows” headed by Kate’s father Jacob Kane. He had sent her off to military academies supposedly to train her to be part of his kick ass security firm but had always denied her the opportunity to serve. Kate is an out of the closet lesbian who was kicked out of the military academy for having a relationship with fellow student Sophie Moore.

Just as Gotham City is ready to give up on Batman by turning off the bat signal and putting all of its trust In the Crows, a new super villain calling herself Alice (as in Wonderland) appears on the scene to terrorize the city and convince them that the Crows can’t keep them safe. Kate’s former girlfriend Sophie now works for the Crows. In an attack on a public event Alice kidnaps Sophie. The idea is that if the Crows can’t protect one of their own, how can you trust them to protect the city? Kate returns to Gotham to help rescue her former girlfriend and to try to persuade her father to let her work for the family company. An offer he initially refuses. We also learn he has since remarried and has 2 grown stepdaughters.

Kate Kane is played by Ruby Rose who has had a variety of minor roles including 9 episodes of “Orange Is the New Black“. For some reason she was a bit of a controversial choice for the role. In real life she is genetically female and attracted to women but describes herself as gender fluid not identifying as male or female herself. This led people to claim she wasn’t lesbian enough to play a lesbian role. Of course the actress’ own gender identity and orientation really doesn’t have any bearing on their ability to play gay, straight, or whatever. And how many roles are there out there for gender fluid people? The only one I can think of is Taylor Mason played by gender fluid actress Asia Kate Dillon on the series Billions. (I apologize for not knowing the proper gender-neutral noun for person in the performing arts). For me, the lesbian aspect of the storyline neither adds to nor distracts from the rest of the story. The relationship between Kate and Sophie could’ve just as easily have been a heterosexual couple in which one was expelled for fraternization.

Kate’s father is played by veteran character actor Dougray Scott who has played a variety of roles. Sophie is played by Megan Tandy who is probably most noted for 18 episodes of Teen Wolf as well as a variety of other TV roles. Along the way we meet Luke Fox son of Lucius Fox who is keeping the abandoned Wayne Manor and Batcave secure in the absence of Bruce Wayne/Batman. When Kate stumbles on to the secret identity of her cousin Bruce, she decides to fill the void and become Batwoman.

Although she is highly trained in a military academy and a fit kick ass fighter, she’s not quite as invincible as we have expected Batman to be. Usually he completely overpowers his enemies but the fight sequences she has are not quite as one-sided which sort of increases the drama and tension. She’s still getting used to her new role.

Overall the quality of story, acting, stunts, action, and special effects are on par with the rest of the Arrowverse. If you’re a fan of those other series you will definitely want to add this one especially since this will be the last season for Arrow so there should be room in your schedule for another series. I’m giving it a strong rating of “I’m Watching“.

“Prodigal Son” is a Hannibal Ripoff but it Works

In 2013 it was with much anticipation that we had a TV adaptation of “Silence of the Lambs” character Hannibal Lecter in the series “Hannibal” which explored the early days of the character before it was revealed that he was a cannibalistic serial killer. The show was highly stylized, very dark, and quite compelling. Sadly it only lasted three seasons. The new Fox drama “Prodigal Son” could easily be described as a ripoff of “Hannibal”. But as I said in the title, I think this one works just as well.

Tom Payne stars as Malcolm Bright, a former FBI profiler who now works with NYPD. His insights into the dark criminal mind, mostly from studying his own father, an infamous serial killer known as “The Surgeon”.

You may or may not recognize Payne from his most recent role as Paul “Jesus” Rovia in “The Walking Dead” without his long hair and beard which gave him the nickname in that series. Malcolm’s father surgeon Dr. Martin Whitley is very creepily played by Michael Sheen. This character is the most blatant ripoff of Hannibal Lecter. The relationship between him and the police profiler is more complicated because unlike Lecter vs Will Graham or Lecter vs Clarice Starling , this relationship is a father-son relationship. Malcolm Bright is much more like Will Graham in that he is a tortured soul not only because of the dark paths that his profiling takes him down as he explores the criminal mind but also because of the legacy of being the son of such an infamous killer. Dr. Whitley exploits this relationship and is constantly appealing to the dark side of his son’s personality declaring repeatedly “we are the same”.

Of course like Lecter, Whitley consults with the profiler to help him solve cases. He does so to manipulate his son to continue to visit him. In flashbacks we learned that Bright (who changed his name to distance himself from his infamous father) quit visiting his father in jail when he applied to the FBI Academy in Quantico.

Similar to the opening plot of last year’s new profiler drama ” Instinct ” in which the opening case was a copycat, the first case that Bright covers for NYPD is someone re-creating four of his father’s most famous killings.

Lou Diamond Phillips costars as Bright’s NYPD boss. Bellamy Young plays Bright’s mother. You will recognize her as Mellie Grant from ” Scandal“. We also meet his sister Ainsley played by Halston Sage who recently appeared as Lieut. Alara Kitan on ” The Orville ” although you might not recognize her without her alien forehead makeup.

Despite the fact that the entire thing is derivative of a variety of other stories in the genre, the father-son relationship adds an interesting twist and the overall execution of the story is very compelling. Set aside any trepidation you have about the fact that it isn’t entirely original and is very much a Hannibal ripoff and just sit back and enjoy the ride.

It is a very dark drama and deeply psychological. But I would say it is not quite as dark as the 2013 TV version of “Hannibal”. I’m giving it a strong rating of ” I’m Watching” and I recommend you give it a try if this kind of story appeals to you.

“Emergence” Might Emerge On Top of a Overdone Premise

Last January I wrote a review of the new Fox series “The Passage” in which yet another child with some sort of mysterious ability to save the world is on the run from mysterious bad guys and being is protected by a hero.

Can a Young Girl Save the World? Better Question Why Is This Show Called “The Passage”?


Although I initially gave it a rating of “I’m Watching” I actually gave up after about three episodes and the series was canceled at the end of its first season. I mentioned that it’s been done over and over again in series such as “Heroes“, “Touch“, 2002 TV miniseries “Taken“, and others. ABC’s new thriller “Emergence” is the latest attempt to try this overdone premise.

Our hero this time is small town police chief Jo Evans played by Allison Tolman. She recently played in NBC series “Good Girls” but I remember most from her 2014 season role in “Fargo” where she also played a police officer. A small plane crashes on the beach just outside of town and she discovers a young girl on the beach. She is about 10 years old and is unharmed. The girl has amnesia and doesn’t know who she is or if she was even on the plane.

A series of mysterious events follow which include strange electrical disturbances somehow related to the girl. Agents of the NTSB try to interview the girl in the hospital that she’s being checked out but it turns out they are not really from the NTSB. The FAA and NTSB clear the crash site of debris in 24 hours which of course is unheard of. We also have an investigative reporter who shows up with all sorts of strange conspiracy theories. At one point the girl is kidnapped by some mysterious people. I won’t spoil what happens after that but the story continues to be creepy throughout.

The young girl, who is given the name “Piper” because she doesn’t remember her real name, is played by Alexa Swinton. Her only notable previous performance was 12 episodes as Eva Rhodes in “Billions“. We also have Jo’s daughter Mia who appears to be about 13. She is played by Ashley Aufderheide who had previously been seen as a younger version of Tulip on “Preacher” in 2016. Living with them is Jo’s father Ed played by veteran character actor Clancy Brown. We also get to meet Jo’s ex-husband Mia’s father Alex played by Donald Faison who is most remembered for his role as Dr. Christopher Turk on the 2001 comedy “Scrubs“.

Jo takes the girl Piper into her home rather than turning her over to child protective services because there are all of these strange occurrences surrounding the kid. Her ex-husband Alex gets sucked into helping them protect the child. Friendship develops between Piper and daughter Mia.

The story moves at a good pace. There’s lots of action and the performances are up to par. The problem is with any of these “Something weird is going on and there’s a big conspiracy behind it all” is that you don’t know until late in the season (if that quickly) if any of this suspense is going to pay off. I guess I’m a eternal optimist when it comes to shows like this. I hope this one really goes somewhere. There’s something compelling about the series. So I’m giving it a cautious rating of “I’m Watching“. But keep in mind that’s what I gave to “The Passage” and it fell apart after a couple of episodes and was ultimately canceled. So travel at your own risk.

“Mixed-ish” is Funny and More Poignant than Its Parent “Black-ish”

ABC’s new sitcom “mixed-ish” is the second spinoff series from their hit comedy “black-ish“. When “black-ish” premiered a few seasons ago, I didn’t think I would like it. Even though I’m a bleeding heart liberal, I’m still an old white guy and I didn’t think I could relate to a show about the struggle of a black family to not lose their African-American identity as the parents both became successful in a white dominated world. But in the end I’ve really enjoyed it because my ultimate test of whether or not I watch a sitcom is “Did it make me laugh?” and this one delivers on a regular basis. It does get a bit preachy at times and I didn’t particularly enjoy last season’s plot line about the marriage difficulties of Andre and Rainbow Johnson. But I’ve stuck with the show through five seasons and plan to continue to watch. I did not watch the spinoff series about their daughter going off to college “grown-ish” because I thought I already had my fill of the Johnson family on the original series. The college adventures of their daughter just didn’t appeal to me. I didn’t bother to watch any of it. When I heard they were doing another spinoff I doubted that I would have much interest in it.

“Mixed-ish” takes us back to 1985 when Rainbow Johnson was 12 years old. By the way I never realized that Johnson was not only her married name it was her maiden name as well. When the government raided the hippie commune where she grew up, her parents moved the family to the suburbs and tried to rejoin normal society. She and her younger brother and sister were totally unprepared for dealing with the challenges of being biracial. Her white father and African-American mother had isolated them from any issues of race while growing up in the commune. Their first day at school found them being forced to choose between identifying as white or black or being left out altogether.

I still cannot identify with what it means to be black or biracial but the story of this family struggling to adapt to this huge culture shift of moving from a commune to the suburbs is entertaining, compelling, and educational. As I have said above and many times before, the ultimate test of a sitcom is “Did it make me laugh?” and like its predecessor, this one did.

Rainbow’s mother Alicia was trained as a lawyer but ran away from the law to join the commune with her hippie husband Paul to raise their family there in peace and harmony. When the commune was shut down the family moves in to a furnished rented house provided by Paul’s father. In order to make ends meet, she trades in her usual tie-dyed clothing for a corporate pantsuit and goes to work as legal counsel for her father-in-law’s business.

Alicia is played by Tika Sumpter whose early career included 239 episodes of soap opera “One Life to Live” and 11 episodes of “Gossip Girl“. Rainbow’s dad Paul is played by Mark-Paul Gosselaar who has had a variety of TV roles but is probably most remembered for “Saved by the Bell” and “NYPD Blue“. Tika’s performance bears little or no resemblance to the older version of Alicia who is played by Anna Deavere Smith in her 9 appearances on “black-ish”. However Gosselaar’s performance is most definitely reminiscent of Beau Bridges version of the character Paul in his three guests starring appearances on the original show.

Gary Cole does a wonderful job creating a new character of Paul’s father Harrison. Young 12-year-old rainbow Johnson is played by Arica Himmel has appeared on stage in off Broadway performances in a few guest performances on other recent TV series. She plays her part quite credibly and you really develop a sympathy for the difficult position she has put in with the culture shock and identity issues she is facing. Newcomers Ethan William Childress and Mykal-Michelle Harris are suitably cute and funny as Rainbow’s younger brother and sister. Alicia sister Denise known to the kids as Aunt Dee-Dee is also a very funny quirky character played by Chicago Second City alum Christina Anthony. She attempts to help the children get in touch with their African-American side.

The characters are suitably quirky. The writing is every bit as good as its parent program and the storylines of these biracial kids trying to make it in the world is actually more compelling than the storylines of “black-ish”.

Despite my already overcrowded TV schedule, I’m going to add this one to the mix and give it a rating of “I’m Watching“. If you like the first show at all I think this one will appeal to you. It risks becoming preachy like the original but if that doesn’t turn you off maybe you should check it out.

New “Twilight Zone” Might Make CBS All Access Worth It

Jordan Peele has long been known as a comedian with his TV series “Key and Peele” and his appearances in other comedic roles. But with his feature films “Get Out” and “Us” he is proving himself a master of horror and suspense. So when we heard that he was going to be a part of a reboot of the classic anthology series “The Twilight Zone” we were very intrigued. He is producer and creator of the show and serves as the opening and closing narrator filling the shoes of Rod Serling from the original series.

The original “The Twilight Zone” ran 156 episodes from 1959 – 1964 and is considered a classic and often voted one of the best series in television history. A second version of “The Twilight Zone” ran for three seasons from 1985-1989. A third version of “The Twilight Zone” ran 44 episodes from September 2002 through May 2013. However neither of these achieved the status or following of the original. There was also a feature film “Twilight Zone: The Movie” in 1983. It consisted of a collection of three independent stories.

All versions have been anthology series with different casts and individual stories each episode. Typically the stories are cautionary tales that are a mixture of sci-fi, horror, fantasy, and mystery. Plot twists and irony are an important part of most episodes.

This new incarnation of the series follows well in the footsteps of the original. Two episodes have been shown on CBS All Access streaming platform with a total of 10 episodes scheduled for release in the weeks ahead.

The first episode titled “The Comedian” holds with the traditions of the original series. A mediocre standup comic makes a Faustian deal to forward his career. Without spoiling the plot and telling you the gimmick, the consequences of his deal are quite costly. It draws on themes from other Twilight Zone episodes although it is not a rewrite of any particular episode. My biggest problem with the first episode is that it was way too long at 55 minutes. All but 18 of the original Twilight Zone episodes were a half-hour long. That was just enough time to set up the premise, pull off the plot twist, and show you the consequences. About 20 minutes through this episode I found myself saying “Okay we get the point. Let’s move on.” We will have to wait and see how the other episodes fare for length and pacing.

The second episode “Nightmare at 30,000 Feet” is a reimagining of the classic episode “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet“. That classic episode starred William Shatner as a nervous man who believes that he sees a strange creature out the window of an airplane. That same story was remade as one of the segments of “Twilight Zone: The Movie” this time starring John Lithgow. Unlike the movie version which was pretty much exactly the same story, this one does not involve a creature but does involve a paranoid man who believes that he and the passengers on the plane are in danger. He stumbles across an MP3 player containing a podcast from the future that talks about the disappearance of the flight he is currently on. This episode coming in at 37 minutes is much more tightly written and directed and has deliciously surprising multiple plot twists highly reminiscent of the classic series.

For fans of the original series there are Easter Eggs galore. I found only two or three but this YouTube video claims to have found 20 of them in the first two episodes.

As mentioned, Peele serves the same role that Serling had in the original series appearing in a scene at the start and end of each episode to introduce and wrap up the story. Of course the conclusion always is that the protagonist of the story has taken a journey into The Twilight Zone. The classic opening and closing theme music are present which adds to the familiarity of the episode. Peele’s delivery is just as mysterious and stoic as was Serling’s. He is a worthy successor.

It remains to be seen if the other episodes are up to the quality of these first two. I sincerely hope they stick with the shorter format. I think had we only had the first episode to review we might not have been as optimistic about this series.

One of the main problems with the series is its limited availability. It is only available on CBS All Access streaming platform. A subscription with limited commercials is $5.99 per month or $59.99 per year. A commercial free option is available at $9.99 per month or $99.99 per year. When the service was first launched, the only original programming was the new “Star Trek: Discovery” this was followed by “The Good Fight” which is a spinoff of the CBS series “The Good Wife” and stars Christine Baranski. She reprises her role as Diane Lockhart now working in a predominantly African-American law firm. There are four other original series on the platform and I’ve only seen one episode of “Tell Me a Story” and was not impressed. I may write a review of it later. I’ve not yet seen the other three series “No Activity“, “One Dollar“, and “Strange Angel“.

“The Good Fight” like its predecessor is one of the most entertaining and cleverly written shows on television. I’ve loved every minute of it as it is currently into its third season. “Star Trek: Discovery” has disappointed many fans of classic Star Trek because it allegedly set in the universe of the original Star Trek series but it breaks so many rules and premises of that series that many people claimed it isn’t really Star Trek. I’m not bothered by the changes and tend to judge it on its own merits. The stories are compelling. The special effects rivals what you would see in a feature film.

The bottom line is that I think that with the addition of “The Twilight Zone” along with “The Good Fight” and “Star Trek: Discovery” this streaming platform now may actually be worth the money. In addition to the exclusive original content you also get access to current and past CBS shows on demand as well as some CBS sports. So if you want to catch up on any other CBS favorites via streaming you can do so. Also available are episodes of Star Trek original series.

I’m giving “The Twilight Zone” a rating of “I’m watching“.

Both Discovery and Good Fight get strong “I really like it” ratings bordering on my ultimate rating of “Must-See”.

CBS All Access has a two-week free trial so perhaps you should check out a couple of episodes of each of the above and see if you think it’s worth the money.

“Gone” Will Be Gone Soon but Plot Twists Save It from Being Just Another Police Consultant Show

In previous reviews, I lamented the fact that apparently TV police departments are incapable of solving crimes without hiring outside consultants, detectives, mystery authors, fake psychics, magicians, and actors to help them. I can’t say that I know any police officers or detectives personally but I seriously doubt that the job of “consultant to the police department” is as common as it is on TV. I seriously doubt it exists at all or if it does only in the very rarest of cases.

Gone” is the latest in this way too large genre. It tells the story of an FBI unit that handles missing person cases. The unit is led by FBI agent Frank Novak played by Chris Noth. However the main character is a young woman named Kick Lannigan who survived being abducted and held for five years as a child. Agent Novak was the agent who had rescued her years ago. After a long recovery from her ordeal she became a martial arts expert and self-defense instructor. She is also an expert marksman. Novak recruits her to help in a child abduction case because she understands the mind of abductors having lived under one of them and survived. Her friend James is a computer hacker and also a survivor of a child abduction. He comes along to join the team not as a volunteer but under the threat of being arrested for some of his hacks. They are also accompanied by a guy named Bishop who is a former soldier that Novak has recruited for the team however his past remains a bit of a mystery.

Kick is played by Levein Rambin who has had small parts in TV shows “The Path” and “True Detective” as well as one of the contestants in “The Hunger Games“. She is an attractive, athletic actress who looks at home in many of the fight scenes throughout the series. She seems to be well cast in the part. Chris Noth was most recently seen in “The Good Wife” as Julianna Margulies‘ cheating husband but is most known as “Mr. Big” in “Sex and the City” and as Mike Logan in “Law & Order: Criminal Intent“. Agent Bishop is played by Danny Pino who is most recently seen as drug cartel leader Miguel Galindo in “Mayans MC“. Kelly Rutherford known for her roles in the Gossip Girl and Melrose Place also recurs as Paula Lannigan, Kick’s mother who has become a famous author and TV commentator capitalizing on her fame from her daughter’s abduction.

The show was produced by NBC Universal International as a joint production of French and German television networks. It has played in France, Germany, Australia and the UK in 2017 and 2018. The US rights were purchased by WGN America and it premiered a few weeks ago. It ran for only one season of 12 episodes. So don’t get too attached to it. After these 12 that’s it.

I’ve seen three episodes so far and I’m enjoying it enough to keep watching. The plots are reasonably interesting and have some very unexpected plot twists. In some respects these unexpected turns are sort of like “Law & Order” where the guilty party is never the first person they suspect. But the twists are a little more complex and a little more surprising then that.

The action sequences and fight scenes are fun and well done. The mystery of the various characters backgrounds doesn’t get in the way of the storytelling as it does in some shows. One assumes as the show develops we will learn more of their background. What are the details of James’s abduction? What is the mystery behind Bishop’s story and how he met Frank?

As in all police consultant shows you have to suspend your disbelief a bit to think that an outsider with no formal police training can really contribute to these investigations better than the best the FBI has to offer. Even if you buy the premise that Kick’s knowledge of child abductors is useful to the team, not all the cases deal with abduction of a child. They handle adult missing persons cases as well. Are we going to buy the idea that her experience is relevant there as well? The team flies around the country from case to case in a private jet that is way bigger than necessary. It would be one thing if they flew around in a little Learjet but this thing looks like a hollowed out jumbo jet with a couple of computer consoles, some fancy furniture, and a bunch of unnecessary floorspace. Maybe they just couldn’t afford the difficulty of filming inside a small airplane so they built some huge set. Other than those problems, the show works for me. It may be that after 12 episodes I will be glad that “Gone” is gone but for now it’s holding my interest and I will give it a strong rating of “I’m watching it“.

Can a Young Girl Save the World? Better Question Why Is This Show Called “The Passage”?

The Passage” is a new sci-fi thriller that premiered on Fox this winter. After watching 2 full episodes I still can’t tell you why it’s called that. This series is based on a trilogy of novels by Justin Cronin but I’ve never heard of it before.

The premise is that a group of scientists are experimenting on vampires in order to harness their healing properties. They want to combat a Chinese avian flu that could reach the United States soon and cause massive casualties. After experimenting on a variety of death row inmates by turning them into vampires, they conclude that they can modify the virus (or whatever it is that makes you a vampire) in such a way to harness its healing properties without actually turning you into a monster. Tests revealed that the younger the test subjects, the better the process works. So the mad scientists working on this project decide that they need to experiment on a child. They go in search of an orphan whom they believe no one will miss. Posing as government officials from the CDC they take into custody a 10-year-old girl Amy Belafonte. She provides a voiceover narration as if she is telling the story of what happened to her in the past.

Mercenary Brad Wolgast is in charge of retrieving the girl but his conscience gets the better of him because she reminds him of his own young daughter who is deceased. He goes on the run with her which of course pisses off his employers who will spare no expense trying to recover him and the girl.

The idea that “the fate of the world” depends on a young child is a well-worn sci-fi theme. We’ve had “Heroes” whose tagline was “Save the cheerleader… Save the world.” Kiefer Sutherland stared in a TV series called “Touch” where he was on the run with his young daughter who had some sort of mental superpowers. At age 8 Dakota Fanning had one of her first roles as the superpowered daughter of an alien in a sci-fi miniseries called “Taken“.

The weird thing about this particular “girl upon whom the fate of the world rests” scenario is that there is nothing particularly special about this girl except for the fact that she’s an orphan and has no known relatives so she won’t be missed if we kidnap her and turn her into a vampire. The scientists have not yet got their hands on her so there’s nothing they could know about her that makes her especially suited to their devious plot. The only real reason they are going after the girl and her abductor/rescuer is they don’t want it to get out what they are doing. In the second episode one of the characters says to Brad “They are more interested in keeping you quiet then they are the little girl. They can always just get another orphan.” So even the characters in the show are admitting that the premise is kind of weak.

Amy is played by Saniyya Sidney who has recently appeared in “Fences” and “Hidden Figures“. She’s a talented young actress who handles the role well. Brad is played by Mark-Paul Gosselaar who is known for a variety of TV roles including “Franklin & Bash” and “NYPD Blue“. The only other recognizable face in the show is Henry Ian Cusick who plays one of the scientists Dr. Jonas Lear. He is most remembered for his role as Desmond Hume on “Lost” and recently was on the CW sci-fi series “The 100“.

Except for the fact that this girl is going to save the world is a rather weak set up, it’s not a bad show. You got mad scientists, secret experiments on death row inmates, creepy vampires who can project their mind into your dreams, and a cute girl and her savior on the run from the bad guys. It remains to be seen where the show is really going.

For now I’m giving it a mild rating of “I’m watching” with a sort of wait and see attitude. If you can believe the advertisements it’s getting lots of critical rave. It might be worth checking out if you like this sort of thing.