“Channel Zero” is Creepy But Not Much Else

I’ve never been a big fan of the horror genre so it takes a lot to impress me. There are a couple of new offerings in the new TV season that we can take a look at. The first is SyFy Channel’s new anthology series Channel Zero: Candle Cove. They call it an anthology because each season they plan to have a new story with a new cast similar to the way American Horror Story operates. It seemed a bit presumptuous to call it an anthology when they had not yet been picked up automatically for a second season. However it has now been removed for another season after 3 episodes have aired so they must of had some sort of strong feeling that it was going to be more than a one and done situation. The first season runs only six episodes.

The previews for the series didn’t look very appealing to me however it is was created by producer Nick Antosca who was involved with the TV series Hannibal which I really liked. For that reason I decided to check it out.

This story and presumably future seasons are based on short stories which go by the name “creepypasta”. I have never heard of the term so I had to use them research. Wikipedia says it is a horror related legend or image that have been copied and pasted around the Internet. Such cut and paste stories called “copypasta” and since these are creepy copypastas they got the name creepypasta. Here’s the Wikipedia article for more info.

The “Candle Cove” is one of the most famous of these stories. It is the story of a child psychologist who takes some time off to back to his hometown. When he was a child and for other children were abducted and killed. His brother’s body was the only one that was never found. Somehow children’s television show called Candle Cove with creepy looking puppets is at the center of their disappearance. The show mysteriously appears on empty channels and no one knows for sure where the show comes from. Now decades later the show has been reappearing at the mystery of the original disappearance begins to unfold in shocking ways.

The show is more about atmosphere than things jumping out to scare you. There is a bizarre character that is a small child completely covered in baby teeth collected from children presumably from under their pillows.

Having seem to episodes I’m not very impressed with the whole thing. But as I said not much of a horror fan. Given that it is only six episodes if I have time I may watch the rest of it just to see if it gets better but for the most part I would have to say unless you’re a huge fan of the job I would say “skip it”. A much better alternative is the current season American Horror Story

Exorcist Reboot Fails to Capture the Magic

In 1973 when “The Exorcist” was released to theaters, it created a huge sensation. People were shocked by the bizarre supernatural events depicted in the film. The mystery surrounding the whole idea of demonic possession and the church’s position on the topic added to the controversy. There were news reports that people had fainted while watching the movie which added to the hype surrounding it even though it was later revealed they were grossed out by a rather gory depiction of a medical procedure rather than anything supernatural. While the makeup effects and other special effects today would seem timid compared to modern horror films, they were state-of-the-art at the time and they added to people’s fascination with the film. The green vomit and the head spinning 360 degrees became iconic and have been offered parodied. It earned a best screenplay Oscar, best drama Golden Globe, and numerous other awards and nominations.

So now we come to the second of three new TV series based on classic movies. It’s hard to imagine that turning this classic horror film into a weekly TV series could generate even a fraction of the fascination of the original. So it’s no surprise when the new series on Fox titled “The Exorcist” would fall far short. Although the character names are different and the setting slightly different, the basic plot is the same. A family believes that their teenage daughter’s strange behavior is a result of demonic possession. They seek the help of a young priest who in turn recruits the assistance of an older priest who is an experienced exorcist.

Geena Davis does a decent job of portraying the mother at least as well as Ellen Burstyn did in the original film. The rest of the cast is mostly people you won’t recognize or at least I didn’t. After watching 2 episodes I am totally unimpressed with the whole thing. The biggest plot hole is there jump to conclusions that this is something supernatural. There is absolutely zero evidence of that until the final minutes of the opening episode. The mother somehow jumps to this demonic possession conclusion simply because her teenage daughter has been moody, reclusive, and there are strange noises coming from upstairs. Hell that’s called having a teenager. While many parents of teens may wonder what possesses their children, rarely do they take that word so literally.

I’m not sure how many episodes have been ordered for this series but IMDb.com shows at least six. I just don’t see how you can take a story that was easily told in a two-hour film can be stretched out over six or more TV episodes. While we have seen some supernatural manifestations exhibited so far, after two episodes we’ve only barely gotten into territory that could not be explained by psychological issues.

The subplots surrounding the older priest’s previous history fighting demons and the younger priest’s questionable yet platonic relationship with a woman don’t really do a lot to improve the story or give you much deeper insights into the characters. The girl’s father and sisters are simply window dressing to add nothing of substance to the story.

I had initially intended to say that the best part of this series was that it retained classic Exorcist theme song “Tubular Bells” by Mike Oldfield however we only got a brief clip of it near the end of the first episode. It is not the opening theme song for the show and the song did not appear anywhere in the second episode.

If you have an unquenchable craving for a story about demonic possession and exorcisms that lives up to modern day envelope-pushing effects and storytelling then I went have to recommend the Cinemax series “Outcast” from Robert Kirkman who also created The Walking Dead. I’ve only seen one episode of Outcast and I may at some point do a review of it. My quick impression is that they are seeking to push the limits of what the audience will tolerate in the way of shocking story and visuals. While I can’t yet recommend it based on one episode, it is probably more worth your time than this movie reboot.

I’ve already wasted two hours looking for something watch worthy here and was unable to find it. I’m giving this one a rating of “skip it”. Unless you are a rampant Geena Davis fan who is desperate to see her on TV or you are possessed with an irresistible desire to watch a bad reboot of an old movie I suggest you skip it as well.

“No Tomorrow” is the Lighter Side of the Apocalypse

I recently reviewed a number of zombie/vampire apocalypse TV shows but there is one more semi-apocalyptic show that’s new to television this season. CW network as a lighthearted one hour romantic comedy called “No Tomorrow“. While there are no zombies or vampires were big special-effects or blood or gore it does loosely deal with the end of the world.

It stars Tori Anderson as Evie was a rather timid woman with a boring job in a warehouse/distribution center who falls in love with Xavier played by Joshua Sasse who is a free-spirited risk taker who has concluded that the world is going to end in eight months because of an approaching asteroid. He spends his days spending money that he doesn’t have and during various adventuresome things on his bucket list which he calls his apocalist. I don’t recognize Anderson from other programs but Sasse recently played the title role in the comedy musical series Galavant.

Is a typical romantic comedy where boy meets girl, they have an instant attraction, a bit of awkward stalking by both parties until they finally hook up with each other. She has another boyfriend who ends up proposing to her but she can’t make up her mind between the boring boyfriend and the exciting devil-may-care adventurer.

It is an interesting premise for a romantic comedy and it does provide some reflection for anyone who regrets the road not taken. It’s not totally ridiculous but don’t expect much of any substance. Given that CW network’s demographic is young adult I’m predicting it will probably do well. The acting is adequate as is the writing. If you’re looking for a pleasant diversion I suppose it’s okay but for my part I am rating it “skip it”.

MacGyver Missing More than the Mullet

The late comedian George Carlin once did a routine in which he pointed out that when an advertisement says “new and improved” that logically cannot be both. If it is truly new then it cannot be an improved version of something else. Similarly if it is improved that it is not entirely new but just a revised version of something else. Scripture also reminds us in Ecclesiastes 1:9 “there is nothing new under the sun”. Unfortunately in the case of MacGyver, the CBS reboot of the original MacGyver that ran from 1985-1982, it is neither new nor improved.

Although our hero played by Lucas Till has a shaggy hairdo, it isn’t a mullet. For some strange reason I miss the mullet. If that was my only complaint about the show it might be worth watching. I can understand why with modern technology to exploit as a storyline and with more modern special effects they might want to bring back in action show like this one. Both the old and the new MacGyver a guy who can jury rig any kind of device out of ordinary objects. At one point he says to a computer hacker “You can hack computers… I hack everything else.” Which is a pretty good description of this classic character.

While MacGyver’s gadgets always stretched the bounds of believability, you always had the feeling that is maybe the gadgets he put together by the have actually worked. Countless episodes of MythBusters were devoted to his gadgets and devices and some of them did actually work. However in this new incarnation the second thing that he did about five minutes into the show was that he created interference in the communication earpiece of a security guard by making an electromagnet out of a piece of metal, a coil of wire, and a AA battery. Any fifth grade science student will tell you that such a device might make a strong enough magnet to pick up a paperclip or two but not much else. The idea that you can use DC current to create any kind of significant radio waves to jam a radio also is completely of everyday science. I don’t know how much C4 explosive it takes to blow something up. I don’t know what combination of everyday chemicals you can put together to get some unusual reaction. There are a million other things that MacGyver could pull off that I might say “Well maybe that could work”. But when right out of the gates he did something that stupid that so obviously would not work, it tells me that the writers think we’re stupid.

A friend of mine also pointed out to me that the voiceover narration is especially condescending towards the audience as well. At one point he picks a lock with a straightened paperclip and while showing it to us took the time to explain in voiceover that it was a straightened paperclip like we had no idea what it was.

I’m not going to apologize for the following spoiler because the whole show is fairly rotten to begin with. In this incarnation MacGyver has a female assistant who also happens to be his girlfriend. The bad guys capture her and kill her and he spends three months trying to get over it. When he finally does get back to work he discovers his girlfriend was actually still alive and working with the bad guys. This show really doesn’t need that kind of a continuing subplot that the villain is an ex girlfriend.

I have to admit I don’t remember a lot about the original series but it seemed to me that MacGyver usually worked alone. In this incarnation he has a sidekick played by George Eads formerly of CSI. And after his girlfriend died/came back to life he replaced her with a hacker girl that he helped get out of prison to join his organization. I seem to recall Richard Dean Anderson’s original MacGyver have a sort of dry wit about him that is lacking. And the comic relief provided by his new sidekicks don’t make up for that lack of humor in the new version.

I have to give a bit of disclaimer for badmouthing this show for lack of credibility because I’m also a big fan Scorpion in which our heroes routinely come up with a MacGyver-like solutions to problems that stretch credibility and the laws of science to their very limits and often beyond. But they are more interesting people to begin with and the personalities play off one another really well. I just don’t think I’m in the mood for that much mindless action trying to be scientifically grounded and failing. If I wasn’t already watching Scorpion you might talk me into watching a few more episodes of MacGyver in hopes that it would get better. But as far as I’m concerned my sense of nostalgia for this character isn’t strong enough for it to make the cut. I’m getting this one a very definite “skip it”.

Review: State of Affairs

Katherine Heigl made news when she very vocally departed her job playing Dr. Izzie Stevens on the hit show Gray’s Anatomy because she didn’t think that the part was meaty enough. She wanted to play more substantial characters.

It’s a common complaint in Hollywood. You hear it mostly during awards shows either from presenters or nominees/winners. I’m guessing 5-10 years ago the complaint sounded something like “Isn’t it a shame there are better roles written for women these days but fortunately we got five nominees here to the rule.” In more recent years Hollywood has turned to patting itself on the back for doing a better job on the line goes something like “Isn’t it wonderful that they are finally writing better roles for women and boy have we got five doozies for you tonight!” Even though things are getting better, a recent sketch on Saturday Night Live featured a stereotypical character that was a poorly written female character in a badly written movie. It was funny because you’ve seen that character dozens of times in romantic comedies.

The irony of Haeigl’s boisterous departure is that she went on to star in several forgettable romantic comedies (Knocked Up, 27 Dresses, The Ugly Truth), most of which her character was much more forgettable and less substantial than when she played Izzie on Gray’s. With her starring in the new NBC drama State of Affairs, one would hope that she was finally getting what she was looking for in the role of a tough, self-assured, well-written role model of a female role.

Before we get to the review of State of Affairs, I have to comment on the state of affairs of female roles in movies and TV shows. My guess is that the current state of affairs is going to turn out to be a case where the women say “It’s just what I asked for but it’s not what I want”.

Certainly we’ve come a long way in the types of characters being portrayed. Look at the career of Katey Sagal for example: She has gone from ditzy housewife Peg Bundy on Married with Children to a more believable struggling widowed single mom Cate Hennessey in 8 Simple Rules to Gemma Teller in Sons of Anarchy. While Gemma certainly is a more substantial role than Peg Bundy, is it any improvement in the way women want to be portrayed in media? They don’t want to be the airhead housewife but do they really want to be sociopathic biker gang matriarchs who kill their daughter-in-law and end up starting a gang war by covering it up? Do they really want little girls growing up to be Gemma Teller? I can appreciate the gals want to move beyond June Cleaver and Carol Brady but at what cost?

Shonda Rhimes who created Gray’s Anatomy, Scandal, Private Practice, and the new How to Get Away with Murder seems to be the champion of writing meaty roles for women. She has done a lot for that cause. We also have Nurse Jackie, Homeland, Shameless, Black Box, Revenge, The Good Wife, and Madame Secretary all featuring strong female leads. While these are certainly better vehicles for actresses to show off their skills, are they really doing women any favors by portraying these characters? Here are just random observations that I’m able to come up with off the top of my head. I’m sure the list is more extensive.

Meredith Gray, Olivia Pope, Annalise Keating, Jackie Payton, Carrie Matheson, Fiona Gallagher, and Catherine Black have all been so obsessed with the men of their lives that it has nearly destroyed their careers. Although they are all “strong, independent women” sometimes they can’t help being guy crazy like a teenage girl in puppy love.

Carrie Matheson, Catherine Black are certifiably mentally ill. Also if you count vengeful, murdering, sociopaths as mentally ill we can throw in Gemma Teller and Emily Thorne/Amanda Clarke as well.

Fiona Gallagher and Jackie Payton are drug addicts and the list of alcoholics and near alcoholics is too long to mention.

Carrie Matheson, Catherine Black, Jackie Payton, Fiona Gallagher, and Bad Judge Rebecca Wright can easily be described as nymphomaniacs. Carrie Matheson, Gemma Teller, and Amanda Clarke have had sexual affairs with enemies in order to manipulate them.

With the exception of perhaps Meredith Gray, all of the women listed in the previous three paragraphs have cheated on their husbands or steady boyfriends.

So that brings us to Katherine Heigl’s new role in NBC’s State of Affairs. She certainly is a “strong, independent woman” in that she is a top CIA analyst whose job it is to give the daily threat assessment briefing to the President of the United States. The president happens to be female and African-American so we got another cutting-edge role there. The show is just dripping with women making it in a man’s world by taking on roles traditionally reserved for men only and championing the feminist cause! Heigl is so macho her character’s name is “Charlie”. But it’s not short for “Charlene” or “Charlize”. It’s short for “Charleston”. You remember the last Charleston in Hollywood? He rode chariots in Ben Hur, parted the Red Sea, and declared “Take your stinking paws off me, you damn dirty ape!” Okay so that was Charlton not Charleston but you get the point.

I have to wonder if the creator of the show went into the network executive and said “I’ve got this great idea for a show about a guy named Charlie whose job it is to brief the president on the terrorist threat of the day.”

The executive yawns.

So the producer says “but wait the president is female”.

Slightly smaller yawn.

“Oh I forgot to mention she’s black.”

Mild frown but no yawn this time. In frustration the producer says “Okay, Charlie is a woman also. We get some hot looking broad who wants to play a meaty part to portray her.”

The executive says “You mean someone like that broad Katherine Heigl who walked out of Gray’s Anatomy because it wasn’t substantial enough? (Makes air quotes around ‘substantial enough’) Get her and it’s a deal.” I don’t know if that’s what happened but my narrative certainly fits what I’ve seen of the show so far. The female leads just seem like a gimmick by NBC to try to re-create the Shonda Rhimes success over on ABC. They just don’t ring true at all.

So Heigl gets a meaty part. But how does she fair as a role model for young girls? Basically she suffers from PTSD because she witnessed her fiancé being killed in an ambush in Afghanistan while on some sort of a press junket. She copes with the loss by drinking to excess and sleeping with guys she picks up in bars. And her dead fiancé just happens to be the son of the black female president. And there some sort of big conspiracy rose about how he died. So while we got a female centric drama with some action scenes. It’s still all about a woman obsessed with a man and her inability to get over losing him. So she drinks and screws are way out of her misery.

There is some hope for the ladies. Alicia Florrick of The Good Wife somehow manages to balance her career, her role as a mother, the death of a boyfriend and somehow keep her dignity. She does throw back and occasional glass of wine at the end of the day but doesn’t appear to be an alcoholic. I suppose technically she is cheating on her husband but it’s a marriage to a cheating politician that she maintains for appearances only. Téa Leoni’s character Elizabeth McCord in Madam Secretary is a high-powered job, balances career with husband, kids, friendships and seems to be a loyal non-cheating wife. If I had a daughter I would much rather she use either of these women as role models then some of the crazy women I’ve discussed in this article.

So I declare the “state of affairs” for actresses in TV and films to be much improved. They’re getting the meaty complex roles that they really want. But the “state of affairs” for how women are being portrayed in TV and film is questionable. I’m sure the ladies are glad that we don’t see June Cleaver anymore but I have to wonder if at some point the awards presenters are going to start complaining again. “Why are all the meaty roles for women as drunken nymphomaniac sociopaths? Why can’t they just portray us as mothers and wives. Working mothers and wives but mothers and wives nevertheless?” As I said earlier, I fear it’s just what they asked for but not what they want. Nor should they. Then again… If I really knew what women want, I wouldn’t be an amateur entertainment blogger.

So now what do I think about the TV show “State of Affairs” my recommendation is “skip it”. If you want action and international intrigue and conspiracy theories with strong female leads, go watch “Homeland”. If you want Washington drama with strong female leads and juicy plot twists watch Scandal. And if you want international intrigue, Washington drama, and drama that arises out of the actual situation and is not some contrived “let’s put a woman in a man’s role” type of show, watch Madam Secretary or if you don’t care for DC politics then watch The Good Wife.

Review: Jane the Virgin

I didn’t have very high expectations for show titled “Jane the Virgin” about a girl named Jane who is a virgin but gets pregnant. Either it was going to be a miraculous Virgin Mary type situation which would be creepy or it some sort of gimmick. This was the gimmick type. Jane Villanova is a 20-something-year-old latina girl who is saving her virginity for her wedding night. She lives with her mother and grandmother, works in a hotel, watches Hispanic tele-novellas, and as a connoisseur of grilled cheese sandwiches. Seriously.

During a routine visit to her gynecologist, the doctor is so obsessed with their own personal life that she accidentally artificially simulates Jane thinking that she was a different patient. Jane is a pregnant with the last bit of a sperm sample of a guy who had cancer so this is his last opportunity to have children. Suddenly Jane’s life is like one of the tele-novellas that she likes to watch.

If this was a half hour comedy they might be able to pull it off but unfortunately it’s an hour long show with too many characters to keep track of despite a voiceover narration and some on-screen graphics that try to help you keep track of everyone. It doesn’t work. Not the narration, not the graphics, not the plot, not the humor.

The whole thing was so ridiculous and not funny and not romantic that I gave up on it 45 minutes into the one-hour episode. By now you might’ve guessed my rating is “Skip It”. If you absolutely must watch an Hispanic new comedy show you might want to check out Cristela reviewed here.

Review: Selfie

In 2011 when I heard that Zooey Deschanel was getting her own sitcom titled “New Girl” I couldn’t wait to see it. Despite the fact that I’m nearly twice her age, I’ve always had a big crush on her. I know she always plays characters that are a little bit ditzy and I go for the more intellectual nerdy types but she is just unbearably cute. Unfortunately her show “New Girl” just didn’t show me anything interesting. I don’t know if she was too ditzy or if her roommates just want interesting or the show just wasn’t funny or romantic or any of the things I expected it to be. It’s in its fourth season now. I don’t know why. Maybe 20 something-year-olds get into it more than an old fart like me.

When I found out that Karen Gillan was getting a sitcom I try not to get as enthusiastic. While I have the same sort of dirty old man crush on her as I did with Zooey ever since I first saw her in Doctor Who as the doctor’s companion Amy Pond. While she does have a similar bubbly personality, the character she played in Who at least did have a brain and could hold her own against the Doctor. The title of this new ABC sitcom “Selfie” also didn’t give me much hope. It sounded to me like they picked the hot new word of the day for a title to draw people in. So I had especially low expectations and brace myself for high disappointment when I watched the first episode.

Even my pre-lowered not very high expectations were not even nearly met. I didn’t really know what the show was going to be about. As it turns out the concept isn’t that bad on paper. Basically it’s a remake of “My Fair Lady” for the 21st century. Gillan plays Eliza Dooley (wink wink to Eliza Doolittle). She works for a pharmaceutical company in the sales department. She is extremely self-absorbed and addicted to social media. She has thousands of “friends” on Facebook and other sites but no actual friends in real life. She dresses outrageously. We are told that she is a sex addict but don’t look for any even PG rated scenes of her in bed. The show opens with her caught in an embarrassing airsickness incident on board a plane with a bunch of her colleagues snapping pictures on their cell phones and thereby making her into one of those people that she likes to make fun of on the internet. The fact that she is a self absorbed image-conscious person actually gives an interesting double meaning to the title “Selfie”. So the title isn’t as ridiculous as it seems.

She then enlists a marketing man named Henry (don’t know if his name is Higgins or not) to give her a kind of social makeover and turn her into the kind of person that could have actual friends. Henry is played by John Cho a.k.a. Harold from the Harold and Kumar films and as Sulu in the reboot of Star Trek. The classic George Bernard Shaw “My Fair Lady/Pygmalion” storyline seems to me to be a ripe idea for a 21st-century update. While it did have a few tender moments, most of it was so ridiculous that it was unwatchable.

I could attempt to watch an otherwise ridiculous show just to see Karen Gillan. Maybe as the show progressed it would improve as Eliza is gradually transformed. But it seems to me that as she is attempting to suppress her Scottish accent, a lot of the charm has gone out of her personality. I really wonder if she could play the part better by going ahead and using her natural voice.

Based solely upon my Karen Gillan obsession I will give it another one or two episodes but for 99% of you my rating and recommendation is “Skip It”.

Review: black-ish

The only criteria by which I ever judge a sitcom is simply “Is it funny?” Sitcoms don’t have to be socially relevant, moving, well acted, believable, or a whole host of other adjectives that you might apply to a TV show. In my book they just have to be funny. Shows like “Modern Family” and “2 Broke Girls” are ridiculous and unbelievable but they make me laugh so I watch them. However I don’t think I will be watching any more episodes of the new ABC sitcom “black-ish“. The short version of my review is that it is rated “Skip it”. By the way the non-capitalization is the way they spell it on the TV show itself. That’s not my typo.

The series stars Anthony Anderson as Andre ‘Dre’ Johnson who is black and has a mixed race black-ish wife and several kids. He lives in a mostly white neighborhood and works as an advertising executive in a mostly white company. In the opening episode is excited about being promoted to a vice president position but then learns that he’s in charge of the new “urban division”. Basically they made him in charge of all things black and he doesn’t like it very much. He feels like he’s lost his culture identity as a black person and realizes his kids never had it to begin with. During a dinner conversation several of them claimed they didn’t know that Obama was the first black president. I didn’t have any sympathy for him if his kids were really that stupid. Even when the youngest about six or seven years old said “He’s the only president I’ve ever known.” it just didn’t gave me any sympathy for him and it just wasn’t funny. When I was that kid’s age I knew that I was Catholic and that JFK was the first Catholic president even though he was the only president I had ever known.

You will probably recognize Anthony Anderson from his 50 episodes of playing detective Kevin Bernard on the original Law & Order rather than other sitcoms or guest starring roles he has had. The only other recognizable face in the show is Lawrence Fishburne whose talents are totally wasted in his portrayal of the grandfather of the family.

A friend of mine speculates that the reason this stinker has gotten such good reviews is because white reviewers don’t want to be seen trashing a black comedy. I don’t suffer from such restrictions no matter how much of a bleeding heart liberal I am.

As stated earlier, this one is a “Skip it” on my rating scale.