Philip K Dick’s Electric Dreams is everything we expect from PKD

I barely have time to keep up with broadcast and cable TV shows so I don’t take the opportunity very often to review a streaming show. But Amazon Prime’s new sci-fi anthology series “Philip K Dick’s Electric Dreams” looked so appealing I had to check it out. If the name Philip K Dick isn’t familiar to you, his works most certainly are. Among the films and TV shows based on his work are Blade Runner, The Man in the High Castle, Minority Report, The Adjustment Bureau, A Scanner Darkly, Screamers, and Total Recall.

Electric Dreams is an anthology series based on his short stories. There are 10 episodes of the first season available on Amazon Prime now. The series is produced by Sony Pictures Television and originally aired in the UK on Channel 4. Amazon is just the US distributor and not really a producer. So far I’ve just seen the first episode titled “The Hood Maker”. I’ve not read the short story that is the basis of this episode but I can tell you very much that had I not known it was based on one of his stories I would’ve compared it to his work. It’s very much into the tone and content that we expect from this sci-fi icon who sadly passed away in 1982.

The story takes place in a near future with low technology. According to a synopsis online, humanity’s only mechanism for long-distance communication are mutant telepaths. As though it is clear these mutant telepaths known as “Teeps” are the center of the story, I did not really understand their role in society as described in this online summary. The episode opens with a group of protesters marching through the streets and alleyways of a slum. Hiding just out of sight are a group of riot police and some other plainclothes police officers accompanied by a strange woman with a scar across her eye. It soon becomes apparent that she is a telepath who is reading the minds of the protesters. She trying to discover if they are dangerous or not. She dismisses some of them as harmless but eventually points out a few that could be troublemakers. Then one of the protesters senses that his mind is being read and the protesters takeoff and charge the storm troopers creating a riot.

One of the protesters is wearing a hooded mask and takes off running. The detective chases him down and arrests him. It’s only halfway through the riot that we realize that the protesters are protesting the telepaths and the fact that their private thoughts are being invaded.

We later learned that this female telepath named Honor is working with the detective Agent Ross as a part of a pilot program to make use of her abilities in their investigations. We aren’t really sure what it is that the Agent is looking for or what his particular law enforcement department is in charge of. But we get the sense that this is a bit of a police state. There is apparently law that permits telepath abilities to be used on criminal suspects because she interrogates the suspect mentally. He tries desperately to resist but she manages to get information out of him about other people and his cell of the resistance group. The agent remarks to her “you raped him pretty good there.” She explained she had to push hard because he was resisting so much.

We eventually find out that the hood he was wearing is capable of blocking out telepathic signals. The hoods start popping up in various places and so the quest is on to find out who is producing and distributing them.

Without revealing the entire story we can tell you that there is sort of a three way tension going on between the government investigators, the rebel protesters, and the Teeps themselves. The Teeps are being treated as second-class citizens who live in a ghetto like environment and are exploited in a variety of ways. We also find Agent Ross and telepath Honor falling into a relationship that eventually finds them sleeping together. Ross is played by Richard Madden you may remember best as Robb Stark from Game of Thrones. Honor is played by Holliday Granger who played Bonnie Parker in the 2013 TV miniseries Bonnie & Clyde as well as Lucretia Borgia in the Showtime series The Borgias.

In this episode less than one hour long they do a great job of exploring very difficult themes of trust, privacy, and the rights of individuals versus an authoritarian government. There are couple of plot twists that I won’t spoil but I reveal that there is a bit of a twist just to say how well-written and deeply layered and nuanced this entire story is in a very short amount of time. The screenplay was written by Matthew Graham who is known for writing for the TV series Life on Mars and Ashes to Ashes as well as three Doctor Who episodes and the TV miniseries Childhood’s End.

The production quality is excellent. The world they have created feels like a low-tech version of the slum areas in Blade Runner. Considering that is also a PKD world it’s no surprise it feels familiar. Also the theme that everything isn’t exactly what it seems to be is very much in line with the typical PKD story. He likes to play with the ideas of perception versus reality.

If this episode is any indication of the quality of the remaining 9 episodes then this is a real treat for those who love sci-fi that makes you think and doesn’t pull any punches on social commentary. If you’re looking for mindless space opera then this is not for you. But if you aren’t afraid to think and have your mind expanded a little bit then this is a definite must-see. I’m giving it a strong rating of “I really like it”.

“The Four” Tries to Be Different but You Will Have To Decide for Yourself

Fox has just premiered a new singing competition show titled “The Four: Battle for Stardom”. It’s really difficult to give a review for such a program because the quality of the program in many ways depends upon the quality of the contestants. A phrase like “quality of the contestants” is a very subjective thing that varies according to a person’s taste. Also even in established competition programs like “The Voice” and “American Idol” they have had good years and bad years. So the only thing I can really judge is if I like the format of the competition. This particular show tries to break out and do something different with its format. So let’s take a look at it.

It’s called “The Four” because at any given time there are four artists in the competition. At the beginning these contestants were preselected by the judges and/or producers. Then as each new contestant comes along their goal is to unseat one of the four.

The judges are Sean “Diddy” Combs, DJ Khaled, Meghan Trainor, and Charlie Walk. The host of the show is Fergie. The show is scheduled to run six episodes of two hours each. The entire program takes place in front of the studio audience. There are some brief interviews with contestants as they are introduced but there are no biographical pieces about the contestants in their home like you might get on American Idol or America’s Got Talent. Also there is no mentoring of the contestants like The Voice or American Idol.

A challenger contestant comes on stage and after a couple of brief questions from the judges they perform a song. There’s no evidence of a live on stage band so it appears the accompaniment is all prerecorded. After some comments from the judges, the judges vote on whether or not to allow the contestant to challenge one of the four. It takes unanimous vote of the 4 judges. Theoretically the vote is anonymous but from the comments of the judges it’s generally pretty obvious who voted no when that happens. Or perhaps after the vote is in, one of the judges will admit they voted no and perhaps explain why.

If the contestant gets unanimous approval by the judges then they get to pick which of “The Four” seated contestants they want to challenge for their seat. At the beginning, the four contestants are a pretty diverse group with a female rapper, a hip-hop singer, an R&B singer, and a pop singer. So depending on the style of the contestant, they are naturally going to pick someone in their own genre if possible. Once the contestant has picked which of the four they are going to challenge, that seated contestant performs first. Then the challenger performs another song for which they are judged against the seated contestant. The decision whether or not the challenger unseats the chosen one of the four is made by an audience vote. They vote on an app on their smart phone. Presumably a link was provided to them when they came into the audience. If the audience approves, the challenger takes a seat among the four and the process repeats.

According to the explanations given, somewhere at the end of the season, the four will compete against one another to pick at ultimate champion. The prize includes a recording contract and mentoring from the judges on the show.

In general I don’t like head-to-head battles in reality competitions. It’s the reason I quit watching The Voice. I much prefer a format where everyone gets to compete and then the worst of the bunch gets voted out by some means or another.

One of the challenging decision that producers have to make in designing a format is how to balance the votes of the judges versus a public vote. Shows like American Idol and America’s Got Talent the judges pick the initial contestants after that most of the power is in the hands of the audience. Dancing with the Stars uses a 50/50 system that balances the judges votes with the TV audience. I think I like the idea that the judges pick whether or not a contestant is worthy to challenge but the ultimate decision is left up to the audience vote. By having that vote instantaneously with the studio audience rather than the viewing audience, they get the results right away. You don’t have to wait until the next episode to find out if someone moves on. It also frees them up to pre-record everything and they don’t have to have the live broadcasts.

Although this format doesn’t have the “vote out the weakest player” feature that I like, somehow this particular format is less objectionable to me that the heads up battles of The Voice. Even though it is heads up, the idea that you have a challenger and an established player going against one another makes it a little more interesting than having contestants who are essentially equals going after one another.

The styles of music are bit more diverse than the strictly pop/country formats of American Idol and TheVoice. You don’t get a lot of rap or hip-hop on those programs. I’ve also thought that American Idol realizes that its audience consists of people closer to my age because they will have theme nights devoted to the Beatles, Tony Bennett, classic rock, classic country or maybe even Andrew Lloyd Webber. The genres covered in this show skew towards a younger modern audience.

I haven’t decided if I will continue to watch the show or not considering how far behind I am on shows that I like a lot better than this one. Also we have a new round of American Idol coming up so I may just wait for it to premier in a few weeks.

Ultimately I suppose I would have to rate it “Could Be Watchable” with the advice of saying it’s something that’s very much dependent upon personal taste so you will have to make your own decisions.

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.

“LA to Vegas” Should Be Grounded. Not Worth Your Time.

Fox’s new sitcom “LA to Vegas” is a workplace comedy about the flight crew and regular passengers of a budget airline that flies LA to Vegas on Friday night and return trip on Sunday night. It stars Dylan McDermott as Capt. Dave the pilot. He is constantly looking for opportunities to bang women in the cockpit. Stewardess Ronnie played by Kim Matula hates her job and wants to move onto a better airline and better route. Steward Bernard played by Nathan Lee Graham provides a bit of stereotypical gay comedic quips that are mildly funny but generally missed the mark. Veteran comedic Swedish actor Peter Stormare is also mildly funny as a professional gambler who is a regular passenger. But even that isn’t enough to save the show.

I suppose you could describe it as “The Office” on board an airplane. But I never have been a fan of that kind of low-key humor and didn’t like The Office at all. So I can’t really do much of a comparison to say whether this is better or worse.

For me this kind of humor just doesn’t work to begin with and so I can’t judge if this is just my dislike for the type of show or if it really is as bad as it seems. Ultimately my criteria for any sitcom is “Did it make me laugh?”. This one didn’t.

I’m rating this one a very definite “Skip It“.

Follow-up Comments on My Fall 2017 Reviews

I haven’t done an entertainment recap since September. Before I go through all of my usual entertainment news with links and one-liner updates I thought I would do a quick post to revisit the shows that I reviewed during September and October as well as talk about a couple of movies. I’ve included links to the original reviews.

I mentioned that the latest incarnation of American Horror Story showed great promise in part because it appeared to contain absolutely no supernatural elements. I’ve only seen seven out of the 11 episodes this season which wrapped up in November but that assessment still holds true. It is just as scary, bloody, an interesting as previous seasons but somehow I think it’s even scarier because it could be 100% real. The story revolves around a disturbed young man who becomes politically active inspired by Trump’s victory as president. He also spawns the creation of a cult of purveyors of murder and mayhem designed to scare the populace into accepting him and his campaign of fear mongering. This series has been very uneven season to season. Some years it has been really great with excellent character development, interesting stories, and lots of blood and gore. Other years are we got was blood and gore. If you been sitting out AHS, consider checking this one out on demand. AHS is back in a good way.

America Horror Story: Cult Capitalizes On Political Fear

I said that the new sci-fi comedy series “The Orville” from Seth MacFarlane was great comedy and great sci-fi at the same time. That prediction held up the entire 13 episodes. Many critics and fans say that it is closer to the original Star Trek than the new reboot Star Trek: Discovery. While I still like Discovery on its own merits, I have to agree that The Orville definitely feels very much like classic Star Trek in a very good way. It tackles some very serious classic sci-fi themes and still has some very over-the-top comedic moments. The season finale episode “Mad Idolatry” was very reminiscent of one of my favorite Star Trek: Next Generation episodes “Who Watches the Watchers“. It involved a crew member who interfered in a primitive culture and a religion arose around that encounter. Really quality stuff. The goofy humor might be a turnoff to some “serious” sci-fi fans but I still have to recommend it highly.

The Orville Works as both Sci-fi and Comedy

Speaking of Star Trek: Discovery, I have seen all nine available episodes. The show is on hiatus until later in January where we will get 4 more this season. In general I like it. The characters, stories, and special effects are all top-notch. But I have to agree with some of the critics that it seems to break a lot of cannon for classic Star Trek. Try not to let that turn you off. This is still good stuff and it is marginally Star Trek like. It just doesn’t fit in very well with the traditional Star Trek timeline. I’m still not sure it’s worth the subscription to CBS All Access. If you are a fan of both sci-fi and the old legal drama The Good Wife, then perhaps the combo of Discovery and Good Wife spinoff series “The Good Life” does make the subscription worthwhile. CBS All Access has a third original series that I have not yet seen. It is a police comedy called “No Activity“.

Star Trek Discovery Is Worthy but Is It Worth It?

Initially I gave “Young Sheldon” a rather bad review. I continued to watch the show and it’s not quite as bad as I initially felt. I thought in the initial episode Sheldon came across as a little bit pathetic. But the characters have begun to grow on me. I still would have to say that “Me, Myself, and I” is a better show about a young brainy kid and his adult self.

Young Sheldon is a Warm Fuzzy Disappointment

In my reviews of NBC’s “The Brave” and CBS’s “SEAL Team” I said it was a tossup whether you wanted more action in Brave or more personal stories in SEAL. That remains true. Neither are as good as I wish they were but I continued to watch both. I would have to say between the two I prefer The Brave. Perhaps a better choice is the new CBS action drama SWAT which I did not review. Of the three I like SWAT best. Of course all of them suffer from plot holes and plot driven technology. I probably would not stick with SEAL Team if I wasn’t such a big fan of David Boreanaz. Also Shemar Moore‘s charisma adds a great deal to SWAT.

The Brave vs. SEAL Team — Take your pick

I reviewed 2 new Marvel comics series: Inhumans and The Gifted. Although I watched the entire season of Inhumans I was not really that thrilled with it. People who were familiar with the characters from the comic books seem to appreciate more than I did. The royal family just seemed to me to be a bunch of whiny self absorbed over-privileged ass holes. It was only because traitorous cousin Maximus was even a bigger ass hole that there was any real conflict in the story. I found it difficult to root for the so-called good guys. I don’t mind flawed heroes but they have to be compelling and I’m not so sure these were. On the other hand “The Gifted” is phenomenally good. It’s everything we look for in an X-Men universe story. Great characters, great stories, good performances, outstanding special-effects. I’m only six episodes into the season but I really like it and look forward to more.

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

As mentioned earlier, I continue to enjoy “Me, Myself and I“.
Unfortunately the series was canceled after just six episodes. No word yet on if any remaining episodes will be available on demand or will be shown in some junk time slot later in the year. This was the first canceled new series of the season.

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

I did not continue to watch “9JKL” or “Valor” beyond the initial one or two episodes.

“9JKL” Not as Lovable as Raymond

“Valor” is young, pretty, and empty of content.

I still have serious problems with “The Good Doctor” but apart from its primary premise it is a good medical drama slide continued to watch it despite my difficulties with the main character and premise of the show.

“The Good Doctor” Challenges Preconceptions Perhaps Too Much

Moving briefly on to movies, since my growing review for Dunkirk the only two movies I’ve seen are Justice League and Star Wars: The Last Jedi. I will just briefly say that I really liked Justice League although again DC isn’t quite up to Marvel standards. And as far as Star Wars goes I may do a different blog post outlining why I think the naysayers are wrong about the film. Most people like it but there are good percentage of Star Wars fans who did not like it and I think there are wrong.

That’s all for now. I will have what my regular updates on the blog in a few days.

“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”.

“Valor” is young, pretty, and empty of content.

Valor” is the CW network’s entry into the crowded military drama genre. Both NBC and CBS also have a new military dramas this year that I’ve already reviewed here. This one centers around a female Army helicopter pilot. It’s definitely geared towards the 20-something audience that is the typical CW network demographic. It’s populated with lots of attractive young actors you never heard of. No grizzled veterans to be found.

Unfortunately it is not much of the way of interesting characters or plot either. Normally I would tell you about who is in the show, a bit about the characters, the bit about the plot. This is so generic cliché that it isn’t worth my effort to describe it to you.

Unless you are greatly inspired by the story of a military woman trying to make her way in a man’s world there’s nothing much to see here. The action is not as interesting as NBC’s new show “The Brave” and the character back stories are not as interesting and CBS’s new show “SEAL Team”. If you want a good military show, go watch “Top Gun” for the 10th time or try one of the other new military shows we just mentioned.

Obviously this gets my rating of “skip it”.

“9JKL” Not as Lovable as Raymond

After spending eight seasons playing Dr. Hank Lawson on Royal Pains, Mark Feuerstein got away from comedy and played the bad guy on the reboot season of Prison Break. Now he’s back to comedy in his new half-hour single camera sitcom “9JKL” on CBS.

In this show he plays Josh, an actor who had his TV series “Blind Cop” canceled and he lost everything in a nasty divorce. So he moved to New York into the apartment building where he grew up. He lives in apartment 9K next to his overbearing parents in 9J and his brother and sister-in-law and their baby in 9L.

His smothering overbearing mother is played by Linda Lavin and his goofy somewhat senile father is played by Elliott Gould. I really like both of them in these parts.

The question I have is can they really make a show out of the one joke that this guy has these overbearing parents and a nosy brother who live too close to him? In some respects that was the major plot point of “Everybody Loves Raymond”. But that wasn’t the entire story. Raymond was married with kids and although his parents were the major source of conflict and therefore source of comedy, it just wasn’t the whole story. If the first episode of 9JKL is any indication, it doesn’t go much deeper than that.

There are other plot lines as well. Josh is trying to figure out how to start dating after his divorce. The second episode is all about his attempts to have a one night stand because he apparently has never had one before. He dated his high school sweetheart, college sweetheart, a series of six-month relationships followed by the woman he married and then divorced. Of course he fails when his mother makes the one night stand girl her new best friend. The other subplot of episode 2 is that his father bought too many bananas. Yawn.

The show has a very annoying and overbearing fake laugh track. It is single camera edited rather than filmed in front of an audience. Even if it did have an audience, it would still need the laugh track because it isn’t really that funny.

As I said earlier I really like Lavin and Gould and was a big fan of Feuerstein from Royal Pains but I think two episodes was plenty enough for me to get this rating of “Skip 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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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