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Wednesday, April 16, 2014

JUSTIFIED Penultimate Season Finale Review

Article first published as TV Review: 'Justified' - 'Restitution' on Blogcritics.

J2FX’s Justified completed its penultimate season this week with a nice wrap up of this year’s arcs, and an excellent setup for the final go-round. In all, it feels like the series is not only coming full circle, but preparing the perfect batch of endings for its motley crew of players.

The season’s antagonists have been members of the Crowe family. In “Restitution,” the season finale, Kendal Crowe (Jacob Lofland) is about to be tried as an adult for the shooting of Chief Deputy U.S. Marshal Art Mullen (Nick Searcy). Raylan (Timothy Olyphant) tells Kendal’s mother, Wendy (Alicia Witt), that the case will go away if she can get her brother, Darryl (Michael Rapaport), who is actually the guilty party, to confess. Wendy does so, killing Darryl in the process.

Justified does an excellent job of creating complex family relationships. Like Margo Martindale’s brood before them, the Crowes are developed quite deeply, and the shifting alliances and positions make sense to the story. Viewers may root against these characters because they are not on the right side of the law and hurt innocents, but rarely do we see bad guys so compellingly detailed as those in this series.

The ending, Wendy taking down the leader of her clan gang, is about a mother protecting her child, but also about making up for her own past wrongs and escaping a family curse. There is so much emotion that goes into that scene, and the authentic way Witt and Rapaport play the showdown is simply amazing. Let’s hope they follow in Martindale’s footsteps of at least being nominated come award season, as they deserve it.

It’s interesting to see the Crowes clean up their own mess, Raylan stepping back and pulling the strings from the sidelines. Usually, Raylan wants to be right in the thick of things. Perhaps having a baby convinces him that he must be more careful, giving him a reason for self-preservation. With his transfer to Florida to be near his kid imminent, Raylan doesn’t want to screw up his chance at happiness.

Of course, there’s still time for Raylan to make more mistakes as he helps with AUSA Vasquez’s (Rick Gomez) new mission, likely Raylan’s last in Kentucky: bringing down Boyd Crowder (Walton Goggins). Boyd is a dangerous and tempting foe, his path with Raylan inexorably entwined throughout the show. They have been friends at times, which only serves to make their animosity more intense. It makes sense for Raylan to want to be present for Boyd’s comeuppance. Yet, there’s a nagging suspicion that Raylan won’t be as triumphant as he expects, and maybe he should just get out of town while he’s ahead.

It’s cool to see Rachel (Erica Tazel), now the acting chief, and Tim (Jacob Pitts) go hard after Boyd. They’ve often been under-utilized on Justified, but with their beloved boss, Art, taken out of commission, they show their mettle in working towards justice. The Crowes and the Crowders are responsible for a great many ugly things, and Tim and Rachel definitely step it up when facing these foes.

Raylan will need his co-workers’ help because Boyd isn’t exactly acting alone. His most recent alliance is with Katherine Hale (Mary Steenburgen), whom Winn Duffy (Jere Burns) introduces Boyd to. Katherine seems nice enough on the surface, but there’s an undercurrent in her role that is edgy and scary. Boyd teaming up with her immediately makes taking on Boyd a more risky venture, sure to increase the stakes and drama in season six. Hopefully, though, they will be the only bad major bad guys, instead of splitting screen time as other years have done, allowing the stories to focus even more on them.

J1The marshals do have a secret weapon in Ava (Joelle Carter), whom they spring from jail. Ava likely cooperates even though she cares for Boyd because the months spent behind bars have been rough on her, and every day she spends locked up is another day she could die, having made more enemies than friends in confinement. She’s also a good choice as a weapon because Raylan knows her well and Boyd is blinded of suspicion by his love her for.

The Raylan-Ava-Boyd triangle, sure to be a centerpiece of the final season, cannot end well. Part of me is rooting for Boyd and Ava to somehow escape and find a happy ending. The other part of me knows they don’t deserve to avoid justice any longer. What is worrying is that it will be surprising if all three survive, one or two likely to be killed off along the way. The problem is, they are all too dear to go without being a huge blow to the program. We’ve spent years getting to know them, and any deaths here will be rough on fans.

I’ve been a fan of Justified from the first scene of the show. Over five years, it has maintained a consistent high quality, if not raising the bar from time to time. This inspires confidence that season six will be quite memorable, and with the stellar fifth year finale, it’s already on the right track.

Justified will return to FX in 2015.

COMMUNITY "Story" Far From "Basic"

Article first published as TV Review: 'Community' - 'Basic Story' on Blogcritics.

C1NBC’s Community has reached the end of its fifth season with the two-parter that airs this week and next. Part one, called “Basic Story,” finds absolutely no story happening at Greendale. This drives Abed (Danny Pudi) nearly insane, as there always must be a story. But no, the Save Greendale Committee has done its job and saved the school, so all is good in the world. That is, until an insurance appraiser (Michael McDonald, Web Therapy) finds the campus has value, and then the school board can’t wait to sell it off, meaning the Save Greendale Committee did their job too well and had the opposite effect on the school.

It’s absolutely fantastic that “Basic Story” starts with no story. True, Seinfeld made a ten-year run off of a lack of plot, but Community is a show that almost always has something going on. The meta way in which Abed references this, combined with his break down, as he sees his life as a television show and can’t cope with that illusion being broken, is funny and intelligent. It’s another new direction for Community, one that feels very apropos, should this end up being the series finale, the real end of the story.

Fans of Community have long pushed for six seasons and a movie, made famous by their hashtag. Since this is only year five, these viewers, myself included, do not want to see things come to an end now. It would be a promise unfilled, and a terrible tease to get so close to that goal and then fall short. Yet, as has frequently been the case in years past, Community teeters on the brink, unsure of it’s fate. Will the network please just give it one more run, bringing us that much closer to the twitter prophecy?

It’s hard to imagine talking about any other show in these terms, pointing to a social media trend and calling it destiny. Yet, for a series as weird as this one, a program that breaks all the conventional rules of the standard sitcom, it feels right. Just like Abed breaks the fourth wall within the confines of the series, Community should match up with the expectations and dreams of its fans. NBC would be stupid not to give it one more pick up, a gift to those who have followed it for so long, even if it barely makes financial sense. It’s not like the network has an abundance of other successful options to choose from.

If “Basic Story” and its second half does end up being the series finale, though, it is sure to be a good one. This whole fifth year has been a depressing tale of accepting life as it is and giving up on flights of fancy. Jeff (Joel McHale) has to be realistic, returning to the place that drives him crazy and accepting that’s where he belongs. That this place may now be yanked away from him, after he’s put forth so much effort to make it work, feels like the ultimate injustice, and yet one that fits with the tone of the show as a whole.

Jeff deals with the situation as fans would expect him to. At first, he’s in denial, even sending Abed away because he’s can’t cope with the possibility that there might be a problem at Greendale. Then, he acts like he’s OK with the outcome, dissolving the Save Greendale Committee without any huge, outward display of emotion. Finally, he prepares to hook up with Britta (Gillian Jacobs) again, even proposing marriage, settling in love as he does in life.

Some root for Jeff and Britta to be a couple, but I’ve long been a Jeff-Annie shipper. While Britta helps Jeff grow, usually unintentionally, she often feels like she’s the wrong choice for Jeff. In the end, she could be right, but not under these circumstances, where Jeff is just clinging to an anchor as the ship goes down. Their almost-sex is pathetic and sad, not celebratory or fulfilling. So Annie (Alison Brie) is still in the running!

C2Speaking of Annie, she allows herself to be pulled in to a treasure hunt with the Dean (Academy Award-winner Jim Rash) and Abed. At the last moment, Abed discovers a clue that could save Greendale from being bought out by Subway (anyone else getting Chuck flashbacks?), and they begin searching for the lost riches. This is zany, silly stuff, the kind that the best of Community is made of. But is it real, a Greendale mystery brought to light, or is it Abed forcing a savior into being where none exists?

“Basic Story” has other great character moments, too. The Dean’s breakdown is moving, Shirley (Yvette Nicole Brown) shoots off some terrific one-liners, and Hickey (Jonathan Banks) and Duncan (John Oliver) bond over an unexpected possible family connection. Best of all, Chang (Ken Jeong) betrays the group yet again. If this is how Community is going out, it’s fitting that Chang should become a henchman for the wrong side, the Subway stooge that spies on the group. Another excellent effort in a long string of them for this show.

Community will conclude its tale, at least for now, Thursday at 8 p.m. ET on NBC.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

BEING HUMAN The End Goal

Article first published as TV Review: 'Being Human' - Series Finale on Blogcritics.

BH1SyFy’s Being Human brought its four-season run to a close last week in “There Goes the Neighborhood: Part 3.” It’s a sweeping wrap-up for all three of the main characters, really concluding the journeys they’ve been on, giving them one last challenge, and then sending them off into an emotional sunset. For the British version, losing the main cast was just a stepping stone. But for Americans, this is how a show is expected to end.

Sally (Meaghen Rath) dies quite early in the hour, which is sure to be a big disappointment to some Being Human fans, since she’s one of the original trio. However, she’s definitely had her share of the story this year, and it feels very right that she should give up herself to save Aidan (Sam Witwer), whom she loves. It’s her way of finally achieving the heroic quality she has sought, and it really propels Aidan into his own conclusion.

Aidan is made human again by Sally’s sacrifice. His years of life quickly catch up on him, meaning he has only about a week to live, but that’s OK. At least he gets the chance to experience life as a human being again. He tastes cheeseburgers and spends times with his surviving best friends, Josh (Sam Huntington) and Nora (Kristen Hager). We do see Aidan go through stages of grief, too, depressed that he’s going to die, and trying to bargain a way out of it. But in the end, this is part of the complete cycle people experience, so it’s fitting, and he does find acceptance.

Aidan follows Sally’s example and takes himself out to save Josh. By going into the house alone to confront Ramona (Helen Colliander), the final big bad who, fittingly, has been involved in the proceedings through the series, secretly living in, or being, the house in which the main characters reside, Aidan gives Josh a chance at happiness. Both Aidan and Sally do something completely selfless, ensuring their friends will survive.

This means, they both get their doors. Neither character expects to be rewarded in the afterlife, believing, with good reason, that they’ve done too much bad to be forgiven. Yet, as all heroes do, they find inner strength, and it redeems them. Perhaps this finale is a little predictable, but it delivers the emotional punch needed, and it’s a fulfillment of what both have been working towards.

What this means is that Josh and Nora are able to be a happily married couple, not bogged down in the supernatural drama that has plagued them any more, raising a couple of kids in peace. It’s a little creepy that they name their son and daughter after the two deceased (and doesn’t it work out too perfectly that they have one of each?), but again, this is where fans wants to see them. They (meaning both the characters and the viewers) have suffered enough and deserve a little contentment.

BH2Being Human plays it safe in crafting the series finale because it gives viewers exactly what they want. This may make the tale predictable, but after four seasons, it also feels earned. Perhaps one could have asked for a little more drama, some twist that pulls away from the sappy, love-letter quality of the hour, but I don’t think anyone who has been watching is upset at the way things are done. It’s the ending most would have written themselves, if given the chance.

Does that mean that Being Human has solved the series finale conundrum that the creators of many popular shows have been struggling with these past few years? I think not. Being Human, while good, is a relatively simple show when compared with the others. Lost and Battlestar Galactica, among other series, had a multitude of directions they could have gone in, and different members of the audience wanted different outcomes. Being Human is more straight forward, so its mold won’t apply to everyone. But for what it is, it did well. I’m glad I tuned in.

MAD MEN Travels Through "Time Zones"

Article originally published as TV Review: 'Mad Men' - 'Time Zones' on Blogcritics.

AMC’s Mad Men is finally back. True, it’s only seven episodes, before the network makes us wait a full year before delivering the second half of the season, but at least we get these characters and this story on our television for some fresh installments.

The season premiere, “Time Zones,” picks up less than two months after the previous season ends, one of the shortest time jumps Mad Men has ever done. In a way, that feels a bit like a cheat, since most of the threads in this hour are direct continuations of those from last season; there is no reset going into the victory lap. On the other, this does provide a through line, and most of the players are at very pivotal points in their lives.

MM1A major theme in the advertising for this season of Mad Men is air travel, and it certainly seems like all of the major players are on lay-over. They’ve made quite a journey from who they were at the start of Mad Men to who they are now, but at this point, they must take stock of the lives they’ve built and decide where to head next. Should they continue on the same path, or maybe change their flight to somewhere else? They have 14 episodes to decide.

Don Draper (Jon Hamm) is on the verge of losing everything. Suspended from the job he loves, the only constant happiness in his life, and living all the way across the country from his wife, Megan (Jessica ParĂ©), whom he hasn’t seemed to have told about his job troubles, he’s floundering (he’s still getting paid, so I guess it’s not a huge deception). He has a plan to hang onto both, flying out to spend time with Megan and using Freddie (Joel Murray) as a patsy to deliver his ideas to SC&P via freelance, but both are tenuous.

Don’s work is good again. We can tell this by the stellar pitch Freddie gives Peggy (Elisabeth Moss) at the start of “Time Zones,” a mystery presented and not solved until the end. However, Peggy doesn’t know it’s coming from Don; no one does. So does it even count in Don’s favor?

It may be that Don will have to chose between Megan and SC&P. Giving up heading the West Coast branch cost him, and now his grip is slipping. There’s no telling when the firm might welcome him back, and Megan has grown distant, building a life for herself in California that doesn’t include him, annoyed by his intrusions into it. Hopping back and forth is costing Don, his emotional state seeming very precarious in the closing shot, his life as broken as the sliding door, and he just can’t do everything.

Strangely, Betty (January Jones) and Don’s children, Sally (Kiernan Shipka), Bobby (Mason Vale Cotton), and baby Gene, don’t even appear in “Time Zones.” As we see Don trying to define what’s important in his life, these people do not factor in. They absolutely should, though. Whatever Don decides, he’s still a father, and should keep that in mind.

There is one positive sign in Don’s favor, and that’s that he doesn’t sleep with the woman he meets on his airplane ride home (Neve Campbell, Scream, Party of Five). Well, technically, he does sleep with her, but no sexual play is had. In each of the first six seasons, it’s hard to imagine Don passing up nudity with a beautiful girl. Now, he has more important things to worry about, and he’s committed to doing better. Or maybe he’s just too worn out to perform, getting older.

Believe it or not, Don is not the only, or perhaps even the most, messed up person in the cast right now. Peggy is still dealing with her anger and resentment towards Ted (Kevin Rahm), playing the scorned mistress. Roger (John Slattery) is in a total destructive spiral, sleeping with whoever happens to wind up in his bed, multiple people of both genders at once, and doing drugs. Not to mention, his daughter, Margaret (Elizabeth Rice), might just be in a cult. Pete (Vincent Kartheiser) is trying desperately to play the consummate Californian, while clinging to any shred of New York he can find. Ken (Aaron Staton) is over-stressed and falling apart in his new position, and Don’s replacement, Lou (Allan Havey, Hancock), is uncaring and strict, and not in a helpful way.

MM2Never in Mad Men‘s run can I think of a time where things are falling apart more. SC&P’s future will surely be effected by the fraying ends on both coasts. Can the firm survive such an upheaval, or has its time passed and it’s doomed to sink into irrelevance as the season unfolds?

The only character who is doing well, besides arguably Megan, in “Time Zones” is Joan (Christina Hendricks). Talking to college professors about graduate-level business and single-handedly working to save important accounts, she even finds time to flirt with Wayne Barnes (Dan Byrd, Cougar Town, Easy A). She’s got a good head on her shoulders, and without serious men to distract her, Roger not being an option and Bob Benson (James Wolk, who’s currently over on The Crazy Ones) ensconced in Detroit, she can be even more fully committed to bettering herself than she has been in the past. No matter who else falls, Joan will be fine.

“Time Zones” is a depressing episode, but it’s also a good one. It serves the characters well and continues the trajectories began in seasons past. It’s the natural evolution of the story and does seem to be inching closer to the end, even if we can’t yet see the light at the end of the tunnel. It doesn’t give us any groundbreaking new developments, but it does show us yet another aspect of the players we’ve come to care about, and a taste of what this year will be like.

Mad Men airs Sundays at 10 p.m. ET on AMC.

Monday, April 14, 2014

NURSE JACKIE Starting to "Sink"

Article first published as NURSE JACKIE Review on Seat42F.

Episode 601Showtime’s NURSE JACKIE begins its sixth outing this weekend with “Sink or Swim.” Jackie (Edie Falco), I’m sorry to say, is back to her old drug habits again. Unfortunately, whether she’s out of practice of covering for herself, or perhaps she’s just using stronger stuff, she’s not nearly as good at hiding her high as she used to be. This means Jackie is not heading in the right direction.

When NURSE JACKIE began, Jackie handled her drugs. We knew being an addict was bad, but because Jackie never seemed to let it screw up her life, viewers could overlook Jackie’s misbehavior. Eventually, though, it did start getting in the way of her work and her family, and that’s when it had to stop.

Now that Jackie has kicked the habit, it’s easy to root for her beating the addiction, and hard to see her succumbing to her old ways. There are negative consequences right out of the gate for Jackie’s slip. This is a destructive habit, and if Jackie can’t get her act together, she’ll lose everything she’s still working hard at putting the pieces back together for.

Jackie does have a new ally in “Sink or Swim.” She meets a woman named Antoinette (Julie White, Go On, Alpha House), a Southern spitfire who wants to be Jackie’s sponsor. Antoinette is opinionated and pushy, but maybe Jackie needs someone like this. I think once Antoinette becomes aware of Jackie’s relapse, and she seems sharp enough to notice strange behavior, she might be someone who can actually get through to Jackie and push her onto the correct path, whether Jackie wants to get clean or not.

I also have hope that Antoinette can be Jackie’s new bestie. With O’Hara (Eve Best) officially gone from the cast, Jackie is in need of a friend. Zoey (Merritt Wever) would love to be that person, but Jackie always keeps Zoey at arm’s length. Antoinette seems like someone who could break through Jackie’s defenses. Plus, I love White already. I look forward to seeing their relationship develop.

Of course, Jackie is far from the only imperfect one in NURSE JACKIE. Her daughter, Grace (Ruby Jerins), is following in her mother’s substance-abusing footsteps. Cooper (Peter Facinelli), plagued by feelings that he hasn’t accomplished what he wants to by age 40, is tempted to reunite with Roman (Betty Glipin), a woman who is nothing but trouble. Despite the hospital’s disapproval of employee relationships, Zoey and Prentiss (Morris Chestnut) aren’t staying away from one another, either. Eddie (Paul Schulze) is sleeping with some age-inappropriate women.

Jackie could possibly right some of these wrongs if she wasn’t so distracted. Coop tries to talk to her, but Jackie blows him off. And Zoey is practically begging Jackie to ask about Prentiss, but of course Jackie resists, never one to get involved in other’s business if she doesn’t have to.

The dynamic of this cast is a great one, and that’s despite the fact that they aren’t all in one another’s person lives too much. The workplace chemistry is nearly perfect, the varying personalities all interplaying in interesting ways, still managing to seem fresh six seasons in. Though part of that could be the revolving cast, it’s still impressive that NURSE JACKIE avoids any weak links, year after year.

“Sink or Swim” does a fine job of not only catching us up with all of these players, but also setting up the next arcs for them. It’s a transitional episode, to be sure, both adding new elements to the story and picking up the threads where they left off. It is an enjoyable entry, and succeeds in getting viewers primed for another go-round with Showtime’s best half-hour series.

NURSE JACKIE airs Sundays at 9 p.m. ET on Showtime.

GLEE "Bash"ing Not as Easy Any More

Article first published as TV Review: 'Glee' - 'Bash' on Blogcritics.

Glee takes a darker turn in this week’s episode, “Bash,” when Kurt (Chris Colfer) steps in to defend a gay man being beat up. The victim runs, abandoning his savior, and Kurt is kicked until he ends up in the hospital, exposing the seedy side of New York City, where hate crimes are on the rise. Kurt’s experiences affect all of his friends, and end up being a center piece for the entire hour, which is mostly a pretty good one.

GleeIt’s weird to think of New York as a place that isn’t tolerant, given the wide variety of people who live there, but I guess bigots are everywhere, and in a huge place where it’s easy for individuals to hide, some have begun to strike out. As Kurt says, they feel their way of life slipping away and it makes them angry, so they pummel the people they feel are responsible for it. It’s not rational, and it’s a truly ugly side of human behavior, but it is something we can understand. “Bash” does a good job in communicating this, and is emotionally moving.

The episode begins with Kurt, Blaine (Darren Criss), Rachel (Lea Michele), and Sam (Chord Overstreet) participating in a vigil for someone else who has been hurt. They sing a beautiful rendition of one of my favorite Sondheim pieces (this episode has a lot of Sondheim songs), “No One Is Alone” from Into the Woods. It’s a sad occasion, one sure to be repeated when Kurt gets involved in a similar incident, making the show take an even more unexpected turn as Blaine sits by Kurt’s bedside and sings the weakest number of the week, “Not While I’m Around,” which is appropriately melancholy, but lacks the power one might hope for.

It isn’t long before Kurt’s father, Burt (Mike O’Malley), flies into town, furious at Kurt for getting involved. “Bash” provides O’Malley yet another opportunity for a moving performance. We see the pain in his eyes, reflecting his child’s physical ailments, but the pride still shines through, knowing that Kurt is a good man, no longer a kid, who stands up for what he believes in. It’s a complex situation, Burt’s range of emotions all understandable and warring to surface, but love is the one that shines through the bets, making a for a terrific father-son scene.

And, because Glee must always let its heroes triumph, “Bash” concludes with Kurt’s mid-term performance of “I’m Still Here.” It’s a wonderful moment, Kurt recovered from his ordeal (mostly), surrounded by his loved ones. He will not let others bring him down, and he will continue to do what he does best. It’s an amazing song, performed fantastically, and surely earns Kurt top marks from his smiling professor, Carmen Tibideaux (Whoopi Goldberg).

Rachel is deeply affected by what happens to Kurt. She’s getting a little too big for her britches, choosing a duet with Blaine, “Broadway Baby,” for her own mid-term. It’s a great number, but Carmen is upset with Rachel for ignoring the guidelines of the assignment. Rachel, high on tech week for Funny Girl, pretty much tells Carmen where to stick it, resulting in Rachel quitting school. When Kurt steps in to confront Rachel, trying to reason with her that she needs an education, she tells him he doesn’t take risks. Needless to say, she feels responsible for Kurt interfering in the bad situation later in the installment, and while she doesn’t apologize to Carmen, she does resolve to stick with her friends, telling Kurt that she’s sorry.

In a way, Rachel taking responsibility for Kurt’s actions only shows even more how self-involved Rachel has become. Why does she think a few words she says will cause Kurt to change his behavior? Kurt isn’t easily manipulated, and as his best friend, Rachel should know that. Kurt’s decision has nothing at all to do with the diva, and so it makes Rachel seem pathetic when she infers that it does, even as the scene in which the two make up is sweet.

Rachel’s story is the weakest in “Bash,” and not just because she’s being a jerk. She tells her boss, Sidney (Michael Lerner), that she simply has to have time off of tech week for her school work, and he objects. She insists it’s just this one time, ignoring the fact that she just took a full week off to go back to Ohio, not to mention how her waitressing job must be distracting her even if, as Carmen says, Rachel has let her studies slip. Sidney agrees to let Rachel have one break, then she promptly spends much of the rest of the episode off set, rushing to Kurt’s bedside and hanging out with her friends, without a hint of complaint from the production. I don’t know how the writers expect us to buy the lack of continuity in any of this because it just doesn’t make any sense at all.

Oh, and if anyone is wondering, Blaine does make up his project for Carmen during “Not While I’m Around,” so his spot at NYADA is safe.

G2The other subplot happening in “Bash” involves the reunion of Mercedes (Amber Riley) and Sam. They fall for one another over reruns of The Facts of Life, which Sam hopelessly misinterprets, and then Mercedes opens up with a nice “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman.” However, one lousy dinner with her backup singers (Dana Davis, Franklin & Bash, and Saidah Arrika Ekulona, Righteous Kill), and Mercedes dumps Sam out of fear of what racist people will think, and how that might hurt her career. Thankfully, Kurt’s bravery makes Mercedes come to her senses in an Amber Riley-original, “Colorblind,” and the couple reconciles.

I’ve always been a fan of the off-again, on-again pair. Not all Glee viewers root for Sam and Mercedes, but they fit together unexpectedly well. They may be different people, but they also like one another a great deal, offering support and advice without judgment. Their plot in “Bash” is a little hokey, but overall, I’m still holding out hope Riley will be re-signed as a series regular and stay in New York.

“Bash” isn’t the best episode of Glee ever, but it does continue the trend of a higher quality since the Ohio setting was ditched, and aside from Blaine’s song, which did its job, the musical sequences are much more even. The Kurt stuff doesn’t quite fit in the series, but it’s well handled. I think getting away from the cheesiness inherent in the high school story lines has been good for the show, and overall, it’s doing better.

Glee airs Tuesdays at 8 p.m. ET on FOX.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

MAD MEN Preview

Article originally published as MAD MEN Review on Seat42F.

Mad Men Season 7 Episode 1 3
AMC’s MAD MEN is one of, if not the, most anticipated returns this spring. The final season premiere (though only seven episodes will air this year, with the other seven being held for another twelve months) is finally here. Called “Time Zones,” the hour reacquaints us with almost all of the familiar faces, continuing the story of Dan Draper (Jon Hamm), Peggy Olson (Elisabeth Moss), Roger Sterling (John Slattery), Pete Campbell (Vincent Kartheiser), Joan Harris (Christina Hendricks), and others.

Disappointed that the first paragraph didn’t give anything away? Well, I will tease what I can, but don’t expect this preview article to be full of revelations, either. AMC is extremely strict about keeping things a secret, as fans have long gathered from their sparse episode descriptions and nearly opaque commercials. I am not allowed to tell you how much time has passed, where Don is professionally, who any of the new characters are, whether the firm has successfully expanded to the West Coast or not, or quite a few other things. So I’ll do my best to tantalize you without spoiling anything at all.

I will say “Time Zones” is a very unexpected hour. It may not be as large scale as some of the other MAD MEN premieres, checking in with everyone, but slow to show us anything new. It’s an intriguing start and it does keep true the tone and arcs of the previous year, but it isn’t going to give any “wow” moments that has everyone talking the next day. OK, maybe one or two, including one excellently structured twist. But certainly no earth-shattering developments that change the series forever.

Much of MAD MEN’s success is in making us care about those depicted. “Time Zones” serves each of those main characters mentioned in the first paragraph well, as it also does a host of other long-time performers on the show. There are some wonderful growth moments, and satisfying interactions. Joan, in particular, catches my attention. I’m excited to see how a few of these develop over the next few weeks.

The commercials that have been running of the characters at an airport is apropos, even if it’s not exactly what happens. Airports and plans do figure into this first hour, and likely will for a number of future installments as well. I think it’s not hard to guess why, considering where last year ended, but other than mentioning that, I can’t expound upon it. I will say, there is a scene featuring two of our main players outside the terminal that does feel completely stolen from the ad, including their slow moving and the music, but may not line up with what one would assume it means.

More importantly, the airport is a metaphor for where these people are. They’re all in a transitional state, not where they want to end up, but not where they started, either. The possibilities are endless, and it’s up to the individuals which destination they’d like to choose. I think a strong theme of season seven will be in line with this, a group on layover, and a number of characters may fly off in separate directions before it’s all over.

I’m not allowed to tell you about any new characters, but there are some very recognizable faces in the first episode. Two, in particular, are people that have graced the television screen before, and whom I am a fan of. I think it’s vague enough to say one starred in a horror movie franchise and another is currently a main player on a sitcom that’s been around for a few years and is still currently running. One of the two is poised for a possible arc, and the other could just be a one-off. And that’s the end of the hints about those.

A recurring player who hasn’t had a major role on the show in awhile also returns and appears to be staying for at least a little bit. I am definitely a fan of this plot.

As to when the story takes place, while I can’t tell you that exactly, I will say this was also not what I expected. Given the dramatic climax of season six, I had formed in my own head a picture of where the plot was heading, but not being privy to the writers’ discussions, I got it completely wrong. As did everyone else whose comments or articles I’ve read. I suspected early in my viewing of “Time Zones” how much time had passed, but it was not confirmed until much later, so even MAD MEN itself isn’t quick to reveal this important nugget.

And that’s about all I can think to say without getting into trouble. I supremely respect this series and this network, and they’ve served fans well by keeping a tight lid on things. In the modern world, spoilers are all too common. It’s nice to see someone buck that trend, putting major effort into letting audiences be surprised. For this reason, I am happy to comply with the rules, as difficult as it is, and assure you that “Time Zones” is true to form and the start of a fitting final story.

MAD MEN premieres Sunday, April 13th and 10 p.m. ET.