Quick Takes on the New Fall 2018 TV Shows: Reboot Edition

Technically I suppose this should be a reboot and revival edition.  Reboots meaning re-imaginings with all new casts (Magnum PI) and reboots being old shows dragged from the pit with the same cast (Murphy Brown).

Magnum PI

Superficially, this show looks pretty much like the original.  It has beautiful Hawaiian scenery, beautiful cars, and sense of the history of the original show; even TC’s helicopter is painted in the original colors. But still I hesitate… There were two things that bugged me in the pilot episode: First, there is a flashback to Magum, TC, and Rick being held prisoner in an Afghani prison camp.  Really?  The Taliban ran a Stalag 13-like prison camp?  That was all a bit too much.

And secondly… no Magnum mustache.  I’m not sure I can get past that.

Murphy Brown

If there was a radio contest with the question, “which TV show from the 90’s has the least chance of being rebooted?” I would have thought it would be an easy win with “Murphy Brown.”  But no, this show is being dragged out of its crypt. Murphy Brown had barely made a ripple in reruns, given how dated the subject matter of the show.

But I guess in some sense, attacking Republicans is evergreen, so when #resist calls, the aged anchors from FYI answered the call

Last Man Standing

Although not as overtly political as Murphy Brown, Last Man Standing is a suitable replacement for the late, lamented Roseanne.  The revival pilot features a lot of meta comments about Fox and the fact that the middle daughter has been recast (again.)  It’s show message on divisiveness was a little too preachy, but hopefully the show will settle down and just tell amusing stories, which is about all we can expect from a sitcom.

The Connors

And speaking of Roseanne, The Connors debuted to meh ratings.  And no wonder, since this version of the Roseanne show, sans Roseanne, smacks of a network attempt to recoup some of the cash they threw away when they cancelled the show in a fit of virtue signaling.  TVInsider’s poll, taken before the premiere, asked the question, “will you watch The Conners without Roseanne?”  ‘No’ won at a staggering 76%.

Yet I still watched the premiere episode, and I have to say, it wasn’t that bad. The show revolves around the fallout after the death of Roseanne’s character from an opioid overdoes (natch). The show was sensitive to the topic, while still managing to squeeze some laughs in.  Although Roseanne had always revolved around the strong personality of its lead character, the show has a very strong cast which under normal circumstances could carry any show on their own.  Dan Goodman, Laurie Metcalf, and Sara Gilbert should have more than enough heft to carry the show.  That doesn’t mean I have an interest in watching it however.  What made the revival interesting was the Trumpiness of Roseanne’s character.  I suspect that aspect is in the grave just as surely as is Roseanne’s character.

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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.

 

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…

 

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.

Streaming Star Trek Discovery

A new Star Trek TV show is an exciting event that only comes around every few years, and you never know when it will be the final Star Trek series.  People will get tired of this, yes?  Enterprise ended after only four seasons, and that seemed to be the death kneel for any future Star Trek show.  But then came the rebooted movies and now, yet another attempt at bringing Star Trek to television.

Sort of.           

Although Star Trek Discovery had its premiere on CBS, the series is being shown exclusively (at least in the US) on the CBS All Access streaming service. As a long time Star Trek fan, I figured the show would have to be an incredible crap fest for me not to sign up for the service.  Although all networks stream their show content online, CBS seems to be unique in thinking it can compete with Hulu and Netflix by creating original content for their service.  It’s already given that a test run with the show, The Good Fight, a spinoff of their long time popular show The Good Wife.

As a strategy, it may not be a bad one.  CBS owns a lot of valuable properties and paying to produce original content, such as a spinoff of a popular network show, or a show with a dedicated fan base, might be a winning option.  Unlike network shows, streaming services have exact data on sign ups and who’s watching, so if a strategy is working, they will know immediately, and in that vein, CBS News reported that it broke the one day record for new sign ups after the Discovery premiere.

So yes, I signed right up.

Let me say this about the CBS All Access streaming service; I find it incredible that a streaming service that intends to complete with Hulu and Netflix does not have an app for Smart TV’s.  That is serious malpractice right there.  Yes, it does have apps for Windows and Apple products, as well as Roku and Xbox, but no Smart TV app?  So a show with a multimillion dollar per episode budget with movie quality special effects can’t be shown on your average Smart TV?

Come on!

That inconvenience aside, another issue with the CBS Streaming Access is that there just isn’t much else there I would want to watch.  I mean, it’s all CBS re-runs other than The Good Fight and Discovery of course.  However CBS did seem to recognize that and added a post-show gabfest for Discovery called After Trek. A post episode discussion show isn’t a bad idea if done right.  AMC’s companion show to the Walking Dead, Talking Dead, is a perfect example of how to do it right.  In the small universe of after show fan service, Talking Dead’s Chris Hardwick is the perfect post show host.  He knows how to keep the conversation flowing, and is knowledgeable and enthusiastic about the source material.  Most importantly, he knows how to guide his show guests into talking about their characters, rather than themselves.  Not an easy job for Hollywood actors.  On the other end of the spectrum, HBO’s After the Thrones was a train wreck.  Apparently hosting skills for these particular types of shows are not common.

Watching the first episode of After Trek, I would definitely give it high marks in comparison to the previously mentioned After the Thrones. The show is not in Talking Dead territory, but host Matt Mira is surprisingly good.   He has some work ahead of him though in order to pull some character backstory from the actors.  When asking actor James Frain, who plays Sarek, about some of Sarek’s motivations, Frain replied that he just says the lines.  I can’t decide if that’s a terrible answer or a great one, but I’m leaning towards great.

As for the show itself (and warning, there be spoilers), there is no doubt the title should have been Star Trek Woke: The Current Year.  Prior to the premiere, there were reports that the producers were recasting the Klingons as MAGA supporters, Make Q’onoS* Great Again and all that.  Well I can report that is the case. Much of the first two episodes have a great deal of Klingon scenes (in Klingon of course) in which the political situation in the empire is one of disarray, and much is made of the mongrelization of the Federation, with all the different Federation races blending in multicultural diversity; something that’s anathema to these red State Klingons.  Luckily, the Discovery cast is there to take a knee to racist Klingons.

Of course this is hardly the first TV show that the Trump election has caused breakdowns in the writer’s rooms.  Homeland, the Showtime spy series had such a breakdown in which they threw out the outline for their last season half way through and it ended in an incoherent mess.  CBS summer replacement show Salvation had a coup d’etat against a female President requiring a counter coup to get rid of that man and put a woman back in charge, all which had nothing to do with a show about an asteroid coming to destroy earth.

As for the plot of the pilot, as one online commenter put it, “Sassy black girl teaches the Federation how to deal with warlike Klingons, gets sent to prison.”

That’s basically it for the two part show opener.  For that, just a few observations:

There is a lot of go grrrl nonsense in this show. In one scene the Captain and First Officer, both female, beam onto a Klingon ship and win a hand to hand tussle (at least initially) with a couple of Klingons. I know this is science fiction but come on!  Of course after several decades of watching 90 pound waifs’ karate chop 250 pound trained male fighters on television, the scene doesn’t look quite as ridiculous as it actually was.  I guess we’re all conditioned to accept that tiny women not only can defeat large men in hand to hand combat, but in almost all circumstances they most certainly will.

In the build up to the show the look of the Klingons is so different from any earlier look of that species that the producers had to explain that Klingons were a very diverse race and there were many types of Klingons depending on which “house” the Klingon belonged to. So in a scene that showed the heads of all the Klingon houses, they all looked the same, the new version. Why not just do a different alien species if you want a new look? Not sure I get that. It definitely breaks canon though.

As far as the characters go, the only really likeable one seems to be Lt. Commander Saru, a weird looking alien ( he’s a “Kelpien”) who manages to do more to inject a little humanity into the show than any of the other characters, including titular star of the show Commander Michael Burnham, played by Walking Dead alum Sonequa Martin-Green. That being said, the unique backstory of the character; orphaned human girl raised by Sarek on Vulcan and graduate of the Vulcan Science Academy, lends itself to being played as a little less human.  In that regard, Martin-Green does have the acting chops to carry the lead for a show like this.  A flashback to the first time she meets her captain on the USS Shenzhou, introduced by Sarek, gives every appearance of a human trying hard to be Vulcan, contrasted to present day when she has a much more relaxed and “human” demeanor, but still with traces of a Vulcan upbringing. So if anything, the show does have a strong lead.

But that’s just my impressions from the first two hours of the show which really isn’t even a proper pilot; it’s more like a prequel to the set up.  The ship Discovery doesn’t even make an appearance.  So the third episode is more the actual pilot, and from viewing that, my impressions are that the episode ought to have been called, “Starfleet is the New Black.”  Prisoner Burnham is the most famous mutineer in Starfleet and responsible for starting the current Klingon war. When her prison shuttle is accidently waylaid to the USS Discovery, she’s drafted into the crew. Or was it an accident?  This was an episode that I actually got into and enjoyed both as a bit of escapist adventure TV and a bit of horror TV as well.

So we’ll see how it goes. As a long time Star Trek fan, I want to see what they do with this and having seen the third episode, feel a bit more hopeful this show will actually be entertaining. Knowing that Discovery will have a Harry Mudd episode and a Mirror Universe episode, the show has the potential to either knock it out of the park or flop. I guess I’ll know by the time we get to the Mirror Universe episode. If they screw that up…

 

*The Klingon home world for all you non nerds

With 12 Monkeys, Cable tries to Binge

When Netflix started to do original programming and released the entire season at once, I thought, “What an original idea!  But how are you going to keep up the excitement of a show if you release it one shot and you’re done?”  Although it does limit the time frame of “buzz” it turned out to be a successful business model.  People can move at their own pace, which could be anywhere from watching the show on the traditional once a week schedule to all at once, bleary eyes and lost weekend included.

But I was surprised when the Syfy Channel decided to do the same thing for returning show 12 Monkeys. Airing season three over three nights, the network is trying something different.

It’s an odd choice for a cable network.  They have airtime to fill, so why blow an expensive season of an original show over a weekend?  And before you say it, no; this is not like showing successive Twilight Zone episodes over New Years. That’s simply to fill airtime during a period when viewing will be exceptionally low.  But dropping an original show is a streaming service move, which Syfy definitely is not.  So what’s up?

Well after watching Friday night’s initial 4 episode blast, I have to say I agree with both the TV Guide and TV Line reviews: This show was meant to be watched in a binge format.  Having watched Season’s 1 & 2 in the traditional once a week format, you often forget where you left off.  After all, this show is complicated.  Each episode takes place in more than one time period, sometimes with the same characters at different points in their lives. Sometimes, death comes first, as for the character of Dr. Cassandra Railly (Amanda Schull), who’s skeleton was discovered in the very first episode way back in season one.  Sometimes it’s in the middle, like for former asylum patient Jennifer Goines (Emily Hampshire), who’s death was shown last season.  Not to worry though Jennifer fans, her younger self is featured pretty prominently this season.

And a good thing too.  The character steals every single scene she’s in, adding humor in otherwise grim situations without detracting from the grimness of the situations because…well she’s crazy.  So far my favorite episode of the season is episode 2, which is a Jennifer-centric episode.  Jennifer trapped in the past tries to figure out ways to catch the attention of the future so she can be rescued.  It’s entertaining and still moves the plot along.  So more Jennifer.

 

One character that I like, but has been degraded somewhat is Deacon (Todd Stashwick), the formerly ruthless leader of a violent gang in the future.  In earlier seasons, Deacon made a great foil as a villain more interested in looting the time travel facility than saving the human race. Unfortunately, the violent, evil, but witty bad guy has been tamed somewhat by his attraction to Dr. Railly. It’s not the first time on TV and movies an alpha male bad guy has been tamed by love, but it isn’t very realistic.  Hopefully Deacon gets his evil mojo back.

So maybe binge watching cable isn’t a bad idea after all.  Particularly if it encourages the production of more complicated dramas that may be digested better in very large bites, rather than doled out bit by bit on a weekly basis.