Quick Takes on the New Fall 2018 TV Shows

Manifest

I wasn’t sure I wanted to get involved in another Lost-like “mystery” show.  You know the type; the “mystery” is the central premise of the show and you hope that eventually the show will unravel the “mystery” with some satisfying and clever clues along the way. Certainly the reviews I read warned that this was exactly that type of show.  But…I decided to give it a try anyway and based on the first few episodes, it’s better than I thought.

The “mystery” is “…Montego Air Flight 828 landed safely after a turbulent but routine flight, the crew and passengers were relieved. Yet in the span of those few hours, the world had aged five years and their friends, families and colleagues, after mourning their loss, had given up hope and moved on. Now, faced with the impossible, they’re all given a second chance. But as their new realities become clear, a deeper mystery unfolds and some of the returned passengers soon realize they may be meant for something greater than…” blah blah blah.

Surprisingly, the show is interesting.  Besides the usual soap opera drama of people presumed dead for 5 years, they are hearing voices and are having psychic visions.  So…what’s up?  Assuming there is really a showrunner out there who actually knows what’s going on (instead of faking it week to week) then this could be a good show.  Just please don’t “Lost” me.  So thumbs up for now.

The Neighborhood

Cedric the Entertainer tries to pull a reverse Archie Bunker in this show about a Midwestern-nice white couple moving into a black neighborhood, disturbing the segregationist Zen of the main character. The over the top curmudgeon Calvin doesn’t really explain his over the top hatred of whites so it’s hard to take the character seriously.  He’s simply being played as mean guy who will learn some sort of lesson about togetherness each episode.  Meanwhile the white couple, the Johnsons, will learn supposedly some valuable lesson about black people, but are so clueless about…everything, that they first need to learn how to call a plumber when having plumbing problems.

In theory, I’m in favor of the reverse-Archie, and think TV needs more shows that can pull it off, like the late lamented The Carmichael Show, which really got the formula down pat.  However this show, with it’s ridiculous white family playing the role of clueless whiteys (like Tom Willis from The Jeffersons) gets a thumbs down.

Happy Together

Hands down, the dumbest new show of the season.  In fact, I tuned in because I couldn’t figure out what the show was about from the promos, and having seen the pilot episode, I get why; it’s too dumb to think they would actually produce a show like this. Damon Wayons, Jr and Amber Stevens West (who manages to bounce around from show to show and land on her feet) star as a couple who has an Australian pop singer move in with them so he can avoid the paparazzi.

That’s it.  Thumbs down.

The Cool Kids

This show is supposed to be The Golden Girls, only with dudes.  Since I never liked The Golden Girls, I’ve no idea if this show succeeds or not, I just know I found it boring.  That doesn’t mean the show isn’t going to be a success; after all, The Golden Girls was a massive success. But it does have Vicki Lawrence.  So that’s something.

Thumb drop.

I Feel Bad

Of the new sitcoms, this is one I had the most hope for, mainly because you can’t have enough bickering Indian parents on TV.  Sarayu Blue stars as a hurried mom who is “just figuring it out like the rest of us.”  In other words, this is a show by women, for women, about women doing it all in a man’s world…you get the drift.  Although I’ve bailed, this may have an appeal that I can’t see.  Let your own thumb decide.

 

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Fear the Walking Dead finishes Better than it Started

Now with spoilers.

Now that the season four finale has concluded, I’ve got a few things to say. I last wrote about Fear the Walking Dead back in April, and didn’t expect to revisit it.  After all, my review was mostly negative, and I didn’t actually expect the show to get better did I?  I’m not alone in that assessment. The website CBR has a pretty good take on what went wrong with FTWD and it matches up roughly with my own thoughts. And with the season four premiere up through the mid-season finale, it seemed like the same old crappy Fear.

It starts off with some time having passed since the season three finale, with Madison and her surviving crew is now occupying a baseball stadium somewhere in Texas.  However Madison is acting totally out of character. Very differently than the way she has previously been portrayed; less Negan and more Rick and she’s not wrecking every situation she stumbles into.  That of course makes no sense since we’re never shown the character arc that took her from a selfish piece of garbage to a savior. But that’s less important than the fact that the entire story, from episode one to the midseason finale in episode 8, makes no sense because of, you guessed it, erratic time jumps, the entire story was played out of order, for what assumedly are “artistic” reasons, but story wise are just a distraction, since you never know from one scene to the next where in the timeline the story sits.  This made this story arc more or less unintelligible.

Long story short, Nick (Frank Dillane) and Madison (Kim Dickens) both wind up dead; with Madison’s pointless death somehow appearing to be heroic.  At that point, I just didn’t care because it seemed so out of character that I really didn’t find anything self-sacrificing about it at all; particularly when their foe was probably the stupidest concept for a roving band ever.  The “Vultures” methodology was to set up outside of an encampment and just tailgate until the people in the camp got so bored with them they would voluntarily open the gates and let the Vultures loot.

Seriously.

Luckily for the show, the second half of the season took a totally different path.  The only surviving member of the Clark family and from the pilot episode was Alicia (Alycia Debnam-Carey).  The survivors of both the Vultures “attack” and Madison’s immolation of their baseball field compound are scattered with a Hurricane bearing down on them.  The lack of any sort of early warning for the hurricane plays a role in the desperate situation the group finds itself in.

Having a liner timeline, instead of weird artsy time jumps across the story, definitely was an improvement on what came previously.  Killing Madison, as unlikable a lead character as any I’ve come across helped as well. This allowed the producers to rebuild the show with a new, much improved cast.  Basically they’ve fire blasted what came before, and rebuilt a totally new show in its place. That was the sort of major restructuring that was needed if this show was going to survive.  How much that is due to new showrunners Andrew Chambliss and Ian Goldberg is anyone’s guess, but they’ll be sure to get the credit if Fear’s ratings improve.

The show was so much improved that I was actually entertained by some of the episodes, particularly episode 10 “Close Your Eyes,” which had Alicia and pre-teen Charlie (the killer of Alicia’s brother Nick) trapped in a house together during the hurricane, while the house is under siege by the dead.  That’s probably the best episode of the entire series.  If Fear can keep cranking out a few episodes like that every season, it might finally shrug off its poor history and become a worthy member of the Walking Dead Universe.

Observations

The Walking Dead Universe used to be more observant of the fact that at this point, approximately 2 years after the Zombie Apocalypse, every car battery that’s actually connected would be dead.  That’s not even counting that the fuel would be going bad, but hopping in a Paramedic vehicle that’s been sitting for two years and just taking off seems like a big ole story telling gap.  That’s not even counting Morgan’s stunt of throwing a body off the roof of a building onto a car and the car alarm starts blaring…come on.

Weirdly, the Walking Dead Universe regards middle aged women as the incredible bad asses who are both greatest asset and greatest danger.  On the Walking Dead, Carol goes from abused housewife to commando killer.   On Fear, new character “Martha,” a former English teacher in her 50’s is the thorn in the side of the group.  Sorry, I’m just not buying it.

Amazon Prime Video-Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan

When I heard that Amazon was coming out with a Jack Ryan series, I was a bit surprised, because I figured that was a character, and a universe, that had run its course.  Don’t get me wrong, I had been a Tom Clancy reader since the 1980’s, and had watched most of the film iterations of Jack Ryan.  But that was a character created in the Cold War and the world now is so different from the one where a young Jack Ryan was on the chase for the Soviet submarine Red October.

But…after seeing a devastating review in Vanity Fair:

How could I say no? So I decided to give the show a chance.

Color me pleasantly surprised.

First off, John Krasinski really pulls it off as Ryan.  I’ve heard some people argue that they just can’t get past his goofy Jim from The Office persona.  However having already seen him take on a tough guy roll in 13 Hours I had no problem suspending my disbelief. In fact, if anything it helps the role of someone who is primarily an academic but is reluctantly thrust into the action role.  Of course, an academic being thrust in action roles does strain the bounds of credulity. That was one of the weaker parts of the show in my opinion, Ryan’s boss James Greer (Wendell Pierce) does have an operator background, yet constantly drags Ryan into dangerous situations, totally out of his skillset.

The other notable on the show is Ali Suliman as the terrorist mastermind, Mousa Bin Suleiman.  As noted in another review of the show, this actor really sells it as a complicated villain.  He could have simply played this as a simple, evil, religious fanatic, but he has a backstory that gives his actions, if not exactly justification, at least reasonable within his mindset, and it shows.  If anything, he has the most difficult role in the series and manages to pull it off beautifully.

One thing I noticed in the pacing of the show, in deference to it appearing on a streaming service, is each episode ends leaving you wanting more.  And although I’m just not a binger, we did end up watching the last three episodes back to back.  I didn’t want to stop.  So yeah, I have to give the show a big thumbs up.

And as for the Vanity Fair reviewer?  She was totally wrong.  This wasn’t any sort of jingoistic right wing Fox News anything.  You would be hard pressed to find any sort of political bias in this show, unless you regard Islamic terrorism as a fiction created by right wing Republican Presidents.  In any case, this show has already been renewed for season 2, so the reviewer (and me) will get a second chance to reconsider when the show’s focus swings around to…Russia!

The Trumpification of Homeland

Homeland is not the only show that’s been thrown for a loop (still!) by the 2016 elections.  I’ve mentioned a few others previously, and this television season, even Mayor Oliver Queen from Arrow is being impeached.  It’s an epidemic I tell ya…

But the King and Queen of all Trump-tastrophes is Showtime’s Homeland.  Its two season #resist has finally, mercifully, ended.  It’s a sad detour for what had been one of the better quality shows on television, or at least premium cable.  For those not familiar with the show, it’s a national security thriller starring Claire Danes as Carrie Mathison, a crack CIA analyst who is (was) secretly bipolar.  Her mentor Saul Berenson (Mandy Patinkin) treats her like a daughter, and constantly puts his career at risk for Carrie’s crazy analytical hunches, which often enough, turn out to be dead right.  After several seasons of fighting Islamic terror, Iranian terror, finally, show goes after the greatest threat of all, Carrie takes on the Trumpian patriarchy.

To summarize last year’s season 6 quickly (spoilers!), Carrie is out of the CIA and is working for an NGO in New York.  This takes place after the US presidential election in which the woman candidate, Elizabeth Keane, defeats whoever the old white male was.  Keane is all for downsizing the US presence in the Middle East; a position she is guided to by Carrie, who is secretly an advisor to the transition team.  But the evil neocon patriarchy isn’t done yet, and launches a false flag terrorist bombing in NYC, with one of Carrie’s Muslim clients as the patsy.

This was around episode 5 or 6 when the producer’s world collapsed, Donald Trump won the election.

“At one point each season, we are writing scripts contemporaneously with real events happening. That occurred this season around episode five or six when the election happened, and we realized that we were gonna have to change the narrative a little bit. The first thing we wanted to address was this idea that our election was influenced by another force; by fake news, which struck us as a very right topic to construct a story around. Sock puppets were actually already part of the story, then we introduced O’Keefe in episode five instead of eight, which we’d planned originally.”

So enter an Alex Jones like figure, Brett O’Keefe, who is involved with the sinister deep state forces trying to keep a sister down, and engages in a social media war against President-elect Keane, using fake twitter accounts and doctored video.

It’s pretty clear at this point where the producers originally intended to go and where they made changes.  The deep state and its social media fake news allies go after Keane, and eventually decide to launch an assassination attempt, which is thwarted, and Keane takes the oath of office and becomes President.  At this point, Keane morphs into Donald Trump, reeking with authoritarian paranoia, begins mass arrests of national security, defense, and intelligence officials (including Saul).  Carrie is shut out from the White House and democracy dies in darkness…

My wife and I couldn’t believe what an abortion season 6 had turned into. The Homeland writers’ room actually took their post-election breakdown and wrecked their TV show with it.

To me, it was so bad that I thought the only logical recourse was to have Carrie step out of the shower with the entire season having been just a dream, and then back overseas for some international intrigue.  No such luck.  Instead we got season 7, the pussyhat season.  I knew it was going to be bad when the opening credits showed rebel flag waving rednecks and Klansmen in full KKK regalia.  Did that have anything to do with season 7?  Nope, but the show did shine a spotlight on its greatest fear, flyover country rural whites, armed and angry.  Were rural whites the big bad for the season?  Close but no cigar, and it’s not even a spoiler to tell you who the real big bad of the season is:

THE RUSSIANS!

If you couldn’t have figured that out before the season even started, you haven’t been paying attention.

In the rush to un-Trump President Keane, the show decides to put all the previous deep state blame on one General, who is sentenced to prison and promptly assassinated.  Whoa, what luck!  So Keane releases the 200 plus conspirators and maybe conspirators, including Saul, and makes him National Security Advisor.  So the deep state enemies are now the good guys, and the bad President is now good again.

So after a season fighting poor whites, the Russians, and a Congressional plot to 25th Amendment President Keane out of office, Keane ends up resigning anyway because half the country already thinks she’s a liar.  I suppose this was to be the writer’s suggestion for Trump: Resign now.

Oh and Carrie is crazy again.

I’ve no doubt Showtime, the producers, writers and actors are all very smug about how they’ve wrecked their show, but it seems a sad end even though the show is getting another season.  Alas poor Homeland, Hollywood wrecked you…

 

What Happened to Fear The Walking Dead?

AMC’s Fear The Walking Dead returns on Sunday for its fourth season, and I’m of two minds about it.  First, it provides continuous coverage of delicious Zombie action after The Walking Dead wraps up its season.  Bullets, hatchets, machetes, it uses them all to good effect against the “infected” hordes.

But secondly, this show sucks, and it really had no reason to considering how good The Walking Dead was.  Of course I have to be responsible for my own expectations.  I had high hopes, and an idea of who the characters should be and what they should be doing.  And sure, one’s show-in-your-mind is always better than an actual show, but good lord, did they work hard to make sure every single character was unlikable and every situation ridiculous.

Of course the handwriting was on the wall all the way back in season one.  The show decided to take a slow burn to reveal what was actually going on, so in episode 3 the families think they are on the run from some sort of massive civil disorder, perhaps inflamed by videos showing cops “killing” rioters who are actually undead.  By the very next episode, they are back in their neighborhood being protected by the National Guard, and somehow, and some way, everyone seems to understand that the dead are coming back to life to chow down on the living.

So when did that realization happen?

I thought the entire point of doing a sequel going back to the beginning of the Apocalypse and show how it started, and what happened.  None of that is really done.  The entire realization of omigod the dead are really coming back to life this isn’t a joke what is happening is this the work of god or the devil and are there souls trapped and why oh why….  None of that happens.

And the military…this may just be a pet peeve of mine, but it’s clear that WD creators Greg Nicotero, Robert Kirkman, and Dave Erikson hate the military.  This may be a common attitude among Hollywood creators but it doesn’t usually leech out into the product.  In this case, the military and military personnel are constantly presented in a bad light.

In short, with unlikable characters and uninteresting situations, Fear is a bad show and after coasting on TWD for years, is finally realizing the ratings danger it’s in by providing a bit of stunt casting.  Lennie James, aka “Morgan” will be doing a stint on FTWD.  Since Morgan’s story has (through flashbacks) been fairly well told since the zombie virus, and doesn’t include a trip to Texas, that means they are either going to ignore the actual TWD history and just do their own thing, or have Morgan in the “present” and time jump the show a few years.

Oh time jumps; the gimmick that has more than worn out its welcome in one hour episodic drama.  With all of my complaints, I’m still planning on watching the show.  True, I may be hate watching, but it still counts in the ratings I suppose.  However, with the possibility that there could be further Walking Dead spinoffs in the future, my heart leaps and hope springs eternal.  Maybe this time they will get it right…

 

 

Politics is downstream from Roseanne

When I sat down last night to give the new Roseanne revival a try, I had no idea that plenty of other Americans were sitting down as well, a lot more, 18.1 million according to the ratings.  That’s not nutin’.

It was actually much as I remembered the old Roseanne; wise cracks and working class angst. Twenty years later, nobody’s life is really great.  Becky’s husband has died and she is resorting to desperate measures to make ends meet, Darlene has moved back home having lost her job, and DJ is back from the military, after serving in Syria.  But satisfying nostalgia isn’t what got me curious enough to tune in, it was this:

Roseanne is a Trump supporter.

At first glance, that seems a big leap from the character during the original run of the show.  She definitely pulled left during the original run of the show, as did  Roseanne Barr herself, but times change, and some of the same factors that would lead Roseanne Conner to pull the lever for Trump led leftist Roseanne Barr, who previously had run for the Presidential nomination of the Green Party in 2012, to support Trump in 2016.

In a way, that’s not that inconceivable a change.  Tens of thousands of Obama voters in Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania went for Trump in 2016 during an election year in which Trump was the only candidate speaking to their concerns.

Television is a vast wasteland as far as the right is concerned, with virtually every network and every show on those networks as left leaning avatars for the Democratic Party.  Not always overtly, but the liberal worldview is the subtext behind virtually everything in pop culture.  In almost any other show, a Trump supporter would be a walk on villain; racist, sexist, and homophobic. We have not seen a sympathetic portrayal of a Trump supporter since ABC cancelled Last Man Standing last year.  I assume that the show, even with solid ratings, was a smug slap in the face to ABC executives so soon after the election.  But there’s been time to heal so it looks like TV is willing to give a character who’s politics are not to the left of Murphy Brown (another show being revived) another try.

Andrew Breitbart, the late conservative publisher was fond of saying that “politics is downstream from culture,” meaning that if political bias is imbedded in popular culture, than most of the political battle has already been won since those are the premises that everyone already accepts without thinking.  On TV, everyone knows that corporations are evil, and activists are good.  It’s as much a part of the scenery as a brownstone on Law & Order: SVU.

So it’s nice that there will be a Trump supporter shown on TV without devil horns.  And don’t get me started on how the devil gets a more sympathetic portrayal on TV than conservatives…

 

 

My Netflix Review: End of the F***ing World

Sometimes I get a show recommendation that goes wrong, and I should have guessed something from the recommendation when part of it includes, “the episodes are real short so you’ll finish quickly.”  Well true enough, so I decided to give it a try.  I’ll give you my overall summary of the show quickly: Interesting but not entertaining, until it’s not interesting.                                      

This show had a lot of potential I think, which may explain the totally out of proportion buzz for the show.  The British show revolves around teenagers James and Alyssa, two outcast loner types who find each other.  James is a psychopath who faced a major trauma in his childhood and acts out by burning his hand and killing small animals.  He self-diagnosis’s himself as a psychopath, and with that history, who’s to say no?  Alyssa is a rebel who hates being told what to do and just…well everything.

These two form a relationship and decide to run away from home, for totally different reasons. James wants to graduate from small animals to humans, specifically Alyssa.  Alyssa meanwhile regards James as her boyfriend, although an extremely passive one. This actually sounds like a pretty good premise but the rest of the review has spoilers as I breakdown what goes wrong.

James and Alyssa break into a house with an absent owner and live it up for a while until James discovers some pictures and video of the owner torturing women. Then of course the owner returns.  James hides and the owner spying Alyssa asleep in his bed, proceeds to get rapey.  This actually provides James his long awaited opportunity to kill someone, and to protect Alyssa, he stabs the homeowner.

Naturally, everything goes wrong from this point.  They try to clean up the crime scene while processing the trauma of the murder, which is framed as a defensive act to save Alyssa.  Suddenly the running away from home bit goes from being a lark to a life changing event.  And then what happens?  James deals with the fact that he’s a killer and we, and he, slowly realize that the kid really isn’t the psychopath he thought he was.  So if James isn’t a psychopath but he had a history of killing small animals and was plotting to kill Alyssa on multiple occasions, then he’s just evil.

For me, that sucked the interest out of the show. The kids go on the run being chased by two lesbian police detectives, a totally irrelevant plot point that goes nowhere and does nothing except to point to their current year bonafides.   I think we’re supposed to still sympathize with the kids because the killing was kind of in self-defense and the victim was a terrible person, but I don’t know how self-defense plays in the UK.  In Texas, James would probably get a medal from the local PD for taking someone out who “needs killing.”  But this isn’t Texas, so the police are hot on their trail.

Eventually, after much nonsense, the kids hide out with Alyssa’s estranged father, apparently the Brit version of a redneck.  So naturally he gives up the kids to the police for the reward money, leading to an extremely absurd and trite cliff hanger.

I don’t know why this show has garnered such positive buzz.  Is it the lesbian detectives, or is it because the kids are outsiders?  As if that’s never been done before!  Otherwise I feel the show went downhill from the moment we realize that James, as troubled as he is, isn’t a psychopath.  The fact that he discovers that he really cares for Alyssa when he wanted to kill her mere days before doesn’t ring true.  So this show, as edgy as it’s supposed to be, is edgy in a totally unrealistic way.  But I made a good effort and stuck with it till the end so I won’t feel bad about not sticking around for season 2 to find out how the “cliff hanger” is resolved.