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Sunday, April 26, 2015

OUTLANDER Goes Home to "Lallybroch"

Article originally written for Seat42F.

On this week’s OUTLANDER, Jamie (Sam Heughan) brings Claire (Caitriona Balfe) home to meet the family. While they may already be married, it still feels a bit like the dating scene, where Claire is judged by her new relations and she gets herself into the middle of family issues in which she isn’t invited nor wanted involved in. Even if the start is a little rocky, though, the episode, “Lallybroch,” gives us great insight into who Jamie is and what is his life is like pre-Claire.

Earlier this season, we see Jamie flogged by Captain Black Jack Randall (Tobias Menzies) and witness his sister, Jenny (Laura Donnelly), have herself exposed by the soldier. “Lallybroch” begins with the weight of these events hanging between the two siblings, and to help us understand what remains unsaid between them, OUTLANDER shows us more of the past.

Black Jack is cruel, and that is not a new revelation. Nothing he does in “Lallybroch,” from trying to rape Jenny, whose laughter makes him angry but saves her modesty, to wanting to humiliate Jamie through “buggering” him and flogging him again when Jamie refuses, is surprising. He’s a twisted individual, and it makes me wonder again how a man as decent as Frank sprang from this seed, even if Black Jack is quite a bit back in the past.

The other element not known beforehand is that Brian (Andrew Whipp, Emmerdale), Jamie and Jenny’s father, perishes during this. Both Fraser siblings blame themselves for their patriarch’s passing, and that makes it hard to look their kin in the eye. Knowing all that transpired really informs the excellent, uneasy chemistry between Heughan and Donnelly. Their final airing of guilt and affirming their love for one another is that much sweeter because of the hardship.

Claire has been around enough Scots to know their personalities can be a bit rough, but she is not prepared for Jenny’s cold reception to her new sister-in-law, which is tied to Jenny’s uneasiness with Jamie. I guess that, because Jamie always seems more compassionate than the MacKenzie clan, one sometimes forgets that he is part of this society, too, with the same emotional makeup, something I commented on in another recent review, and was still surprised by again this week.

Luckily, one does not have to be like a Fraser to love them. Jenny’s husband, Ian (Steven Cree, Brave), is as good-natured as they come, making up for Jenny’s standoffishness. I think, even though he and Claire don’t really share much time alone together, he is a big part of why she is able to settle in so easily, relatively speaking.

Claire is Claire, so she does cause trouble. She interferes with a man disciplining his son, and speaks up against Jamie in front of his sister. Part of this is being a product of her time, but part of it is just because she’s a woman unable to hold her tongue. That may not be the norm for this place, but it’s not different enough to startle the people of “Lallybroch,” and she is pretty much accepted by the end of the hour.

I greatly enjoy “Lallybroch” and the greater understanding of Jamie it provides, as well as the fun, tense scene at the mill, but I find myself missing the MacKenzies. OUTLANDER is structured to follow Claire; it is not an ensemble piece. When she is away from the supporting characters, we don’t get to see what happens to them. That’s fine, but it’s a testament to the other performers in the series that the episodes in which they are absent make one look forward even more to catching back up with them again.

OUTLANDER remains excellent. Don’t miss it, Saturdays at 9 p.m. ET on Starz.

GRIMM Finally Takes An "Iron" Out of the Fire

Article originally written for Seat42F.

As this season of GRIMM draws towards a close, the episodes are getting better, even as they fall far short of what the series once was. This week’s “Iron Hans” finds the detectives investigating a camp for teen Wesen and their fathers when bodies turn up nearby. At the same time, Juliette (Bitsie Tulloch) continues to be self-destructive, and Adalind’s (Claire Coffee) secret gets out.

I don’t know how Kenneth (Nico Evers-Swindell) knows that Adalind’s unborn child was fathered by Nick (David Giuntoli), not Viktor as she claims, but I’m glad he does. It’s a plot hole that doesn’t make a lot of sense, but it finally moves along an arc that has been dragging quite severely. Adalind remains a member of the main cast, but her story is told in very small pieces. This revelation should help kick it into gear and make her relevant again in a way she hasn’t been for awhile.

It’s interesting that the first thing Adalind does once this comes out is go tell Nick that the baby is his. Why does she do so and why does Kenneth allow it? What is their plan? For a better series, I would be engaged with trying to figure out motivation and twists. With GRIMM, I just worry these actions won’t be explained well enough. Still, the fact that she tells Nick keeps the pace moving and opens the door to all kinds of drama for our core cast.

I don’t think GRIMM would ever put Nick and Adalind together. There’s just too much hate there. But what would co-parenting look like? It certainly couldn’t be anything resembling normal, as the child of a Grimm and a Hexenbieste will have to be in constant danger. I don’t know what the baby will be like, but it’s unique enough in this strange world that people will want it. If some sort of co-parenting arrangement is worked out, this not only keeps Adalind around more, a good thing, but also provides story outside of the case-of-the-week junk the program has been stuck in.

I’m not worried that GRIMM will become all about the babies. Even though there are now two that matter to the story, this just doesn’t seem like the type of series that would pivot to put children at the center of it. They are plot devices, not characters. But something more should be done with them. Otherwise, the story is wasting a lot of time.

As this happens, Juliette also gets back out into the world, courtesy of Kenneth. She isn’t acting like herself at all any more, though, being unnecessarily rude to Rosalee (Bree Turner) and burning town Nick’s trailer. At this point, it’s clear that the Juliette viewers are familiar with is long gone. Can she be restored, or has her transformation made her a total villain, which could be an intriguing way for GRIMM to go, especially if it redeems Adalind even a little so she can stay near Nick?

I’ve been complaining a lot about GRIMM dissing the serial in favor of stand-alone crimes, and I think that’s with good reason. The show is far more interesting when it concentrates on what makes it different from other programs, not falling into the same repetitive structure others do. At times in the past, it has done the former, but lately, the latter rules. Anything that provides a sign it might swing back the other way is more than welcome.

That being said, the case in “Iron Hans” is quite interesting. Nick, Hank (Russell Hornsby), and Wu (Reggie Lee) recruit Monroe (Silas Weir Mitchell) to look into a camp for Wesen teens just coming of age. Monroe went to a similar camp as a child, and so has insight.

The villain ends up not being the head of the camp, Elder Bowden (Jeff Fahey, Lost, Machete), but his daughter, Maggie (Hillary Tuck, Honey, I Shrunk the Kids: The TV Show), who feels left out of the boys-only club.

There are lots of juicy options to further explore this part of the Wesen mythology, giving us insight into how the secret society functions in the regular world, as well as gender roles, but sadly “Iron Hans” doesn’t explore these. GRIMM keeps touching on really good stuff that should be delved deeper into, not mentioned and tossed aside.

GRIMM is kind of a chaotic mess right now. Parts of “Iron Hans” make it enjoyable enough to forget that from time to time, and that’s better than the boring stuff it was delivering mid-year. Still, I wonder if someone can’t come in and fix a show that used to be good. Is there still a chance for it to recover?

GRIMM airs Fridays at 8 p.m. ET on NBC.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

HAPPYISH Will Make You Happy-ish

Article originally written for Seat42F.



Thomas Paine was one of our Founding Fathers who inspired revolution against Great Britain. Thomas Payne was a bookseller and publisher, not all the important in the grand scheme of things, but still remembered with a small paragraph on Wikipedia. Thom Payne (Steve Coogan, Philomena) is a little bit of both, an insignificant man who is becoming obsolete, but bristles at the thought and really doesn’t want to let it happen. Showtime’s new half-hour dramedy, HAPPYISH, is his story.

As HAPPYISH begins, Thom is turning 44, not old enough to be an executive like his boss, Jonathan (Bradley Whitford, The West Wing, Trophy Wife), nor is he young enough to be into the social media scene, like the young Norwegians who just bought the advertising company Thom works for. The latter would like to force him, in the nicest way possible, to adapt to their mindset, but Thom just doesn’t want any of it. He’d rather write a book or rant about how things used to be.

It seems likely that Thom’s story will ring rather familiar to viewers of a certain age. Many people may keep themselves from flying off the handle as Thom does, but it has to be frustrating to be asked to keep up with a rapidly changing world on top of everything else going on in one’s life. Thom is married with a young child; he doesn’t have time to be accustomed to twitter, and justifiably thinking it is stupid, why should he? But that’s the position he is in for his career, and one has to keep paddling or drown.

Thom’s home life doesn’t make things much easier. His wife, Lee (Kathryn Hahn, Parks and Recreation), is loving, but not all that satisfied with the way Thom’s ED pills and antidepressants interact, making them less effective. His son, Julius (Sawyer Shipman, Adult Beginners), isn’t a bad kid, but he’s young enough that he still needs a lot of attention from his parents. Neither of them are obstacles per se, Thom glad to have them in his life, but they certainly divide his attention.

Despite all of the misery, HAPPYISH is very enjoyable. Part of that is the cast, which includes recurring players Carrie Preston (True Blood), Andre Royo (The Wire), Molly Price (Third Watch), and co-star Ellen Barkin (The New Normal). Hahn is absolutely fantastic, and the rest all make the proceedings more fun. Thom may be unhappy, but those around him aren’t always, and they are able to play off Thom’s broad actions well. It’s a really good group of players.

Seeing Coogan play the role, it’s hard to imagine Philip Seymour Hoffman as Thom, though Hoffman starred in the original pilot before his death. Coogan, as he must, completely owns the role and uses his talents to help shape the character. Coogan is a different type of actor than Hoffman was, and while HAPPYISH might have been good without Coogan, it would be a different show. I think this version is likely funnier. I’m glad, seeing the product, that Showtime decided to move forward with this project even after losing its star.

It’s funny that HAPPYISH premieres now, so soon after HBO’s Togetherness ended its freshman run. I feel like the two shows share a lot of DNA, having similar themes and quality. While Togetherness is more of an ensemble and HAPPYISH has a stronger, more singular lead, both capture an authentic spirit in a moment where they are especially relevant. I don’t know that both are needed on the air, but I’d be hard pressed to say one should be cancelled over the other.

HAPPYISH premieres Sunday, April 26th at 9:30 p.m. ET on Showtime.

COMMUNITY "Features" Character Development

Article first published as TV Review: 'Community' - "Advanced Safety Features" on Blogcritics.

Community_AdvancedSafetyFeatures
In the latest installment of Yahoo! Screen’s Community, Britta’s ex-boyfriend from season three, Rick (Travis Schuldt), returns. This time, he’s working for Honda and is guerrilla marketing at Greendale. Britta (Gillian Jacobs) can’t help but fall for him all over again, but can they make their relationship work while serving Rick’s Honda overlords? Also, Jeff (Joel McHale) tries to win Elroy (Keith David) over.

“Advanced Safety Features,” the name of this episode, is a terrific look at Britta, highlighting her various sides. It doesn’t really reveal anything new about her; fans already know she is easily influenced, especially by handsome, charming men, and also that she attempts to be a rebel against corporate interests. But by letting these two sides of her go to war in her heart, Community profiles a character in a way that reignites interest in her and gives her much-deserved focus.

I wish Rick were able to give up his salesman instincts for Britta. As Community is likely starting to wind towards a conclusion, now halfway through the sixth season of what could very well end up being #SixSeasonsAndAMovie, she deserves a happy ending. But it wouldn’t be true to either Rick or Britta for them to give up their ideals, and Community has never been the type of show to let any of its leads have a healthy romantic life. Britta would be the exception, and I’m not sure that really works for the show.

Even Britta’s relationship with her parents (Martin Mull and Lesley Ann Warren), while healing, remains tenuous. When Britta takes Rick to meet them, things seem to be going well, the estrangement ended. But by the conclusion of “Advanced Safety Features,” Britta is frustrated with the pair once more, and they are still clueless as to the why, unable to fix it. All of the players in Community are developmentally arrested, and Britta does not escape that this week.

Speaking of arrested development, Jeff is desperate to have everyone like him. This isn’t news, either, but in Elroy, Jeff finally finds someone who doesn’t fall for his cool aloofness. Jeff goes to extreme measures in order to correct this while trying to make it look like he’s not doing anything, even booking Elroy’s favorite band for the school dance. None of that works, and Elroy remains unmoved.

“Advanced Safety Features” gives Jeff a clue as to how to accomplish his goal early in the hour, but Jeff misses it. After Elroy bonds with Annie (Alison Brie), Abed (Danny Pudi), and Chang (Ken Jeong), they observe that genuine human interaction is something the man responds to. Jeff does eventually show his vulnerable, true side to Elroy, not in a calculated move, but rather through a desperate eruption. Elroy immediately responds.

Jeff has gotten much more open over Community‘s run, sometimes by choice, and sometimes being forced to act real by his friends. One might think that by now Jeff would learn what works and what doesn’t. If he did, then he’d be fixed and able to operate normally in society. This series is about a bunch of misfits, so that won’t fly, at least not until the show comes to an end for good.

“Advanced Safety Features” has great character stuff, but is also charmingly quirky and funny. Jeff tricks Frankie (Paget Brewster) into learning to play steel drums. A song from earlier in the season comes back. A musician keeps complaining that everyone asks where the person in the name of the band is. The Dean (Jim Rash) fills his office with Honda stuff. Billy Zane (Titanic) plays Rick’s boss who ‘magically’ disappears. This is all great stuff that makes the episode feel full and sharp.

I give a ton of credit to Honda for their participation in “Advanced Safety Features.” I don’t know how much involvement they may have had in the production, but surely Community couldn’t release this episode without permission from the brand, and the way the product is portrayed isn’t always 100% favorable. Any company that has a sense of humor has my respect, so if you need good value and lots of leg room, check out the Honda Fit. I assume. I’ve never been in one.

New episodes of Community post every Tuesday on Yahoo! Screen.

Friday, April 24, 2015

ARROW Is Not "The Fallen"

Article originally written for Seat42F.



Whoa. Last night’s episode of the CW’s ARROW, entitled “The Fallen,” is big for the series. Not that other episodes this season have not been big; ARROW has shown no hesitation to blow up its world and core cast repeatedly. That is welcome, as it keeps the plot exciting and moving, and this third year has been much, much better than the first two. “The Fallen” might just set a new high bar, though, with some big things fans might not expect to happen, at least not now.

As “The Fallen” begins, Oliver (Stephen Amell) decides to take Thea (Willa Holland) to Nanda Parbat because that’s her only hope at getting her life back. Ra’s al Ghul (Matt Nable) knows what he’s doing when running Thea through with a sword, leaving her alive enough for the Lazarus Baths, which he controls, to heal her, but injured enough that Oliver will pay the price for the use of the baths, which is becoming the next Ra’s.

Oliver has resisted becoming Ra’s for good reason. He would have to leave his life and everyone he loves behind, giving himself fully over to the League of Assassins, which isn’t the most heroic of organizations. Even though the resources in the group would allow him to expand the good he does for the world once he reformed it in the image he wants, it requires great personal sacrifice on his part to take up that mantle.

But Oliver is nothing if not a hero. He may have had to give up being The Arrow, but the core of who he is remains intact. He gives in to Ra’s’ demands because it’s what’s best for Thea, her only shot at a normal life, and Oliver loves Thea more than anyone in the world.

Thea isn’t the only one that loves Oliver. Diggle (David Ramsey), Felicity (Emily Bett Rickards), and (for Thea’s sake) Malcolm (John Barrowman) accompany Oliver to Nanda Parbat, and Maseo (Karl Yune) risks his own position and life to help Oliver late in the hour. This would not have happened so readily early in the series’ run, before Oliver inspired loyalty and respect from those surrounding him. It’s a testament to how far he has come that people fight to save him.

Felicity takes it to another level when, prompted by Ra’s to express her feelings, she sleeps with Oliver and then tries to kidnap him. The sex is a great pay off for shippers, who have longed for the two to be together, and comes at the perfect dramatic moment since they will not be seeing each other again, as far as he knows.

Felicity tries to ensure a future for them and she fails. Still, I think it’s awesome that “The Fallen” finds her standing up to someone like Ra’s, which it’s hard to imagine Felicity doing even a short while ago. Her involvement with Oliver has made her stronger, and she’s come into her own this year. This episode pays off that character growth. And it’s satisfying that ARROW gives her a quick break up scene with Ray (Brandon Routh) first, so there are no questions of morality.

So what happens next? Presumably, Oliver is with Ra’s and Maseo to stay, whereas Thea goes home with Malcolm, and Felicity and Diggle must decide if they want to continue their heroes club sans Oliver, as they did when they thought Oliver had died. I can’t help but think that ARROW will do some sort of reset by the end of the year, next fall at the latest, to get everyone back on track and restore Team Arrow, not as it was, but close enough. At the same time, it would be pretty darn cool if they didn’t, letting someone else become The Arrow and continuing Oliver’s story as Ra’s. ARROW is bold enough that I can’t say for certain what will happen, but it’s likely to be good, no matter which direction they go in.

Oh, and there is yet another flashback, this one taking fight scenes to all new levels of non-believability. It is well past time to ditch these. Please do so ASAP.

ARROW airs Tuesdays at 8 p.m. ET on the CW.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

No "Enemy" of MARVEL'S AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D.

Article originally written for Seat42F.



The action-packed threads converge in “Frenemy of My Enemy,” the latest installment of ABC’s MARVEL’S AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D. Both S.H.I.E.L.D. and “the real” S.H.I.E.L.D. search for Skye (Chloe Bennet), but they aren’t the only ones, as Hydra enters the race, too. Too bad Skye is woefully ignorant of the danger she’s in, hanging out with her crazy dad instead.

It’s a bit surprising to see Skye sympathizing with Cal (Kyle MacLachlan) at this point. It’s obvious that she is staying by his side to protect others, not because she wants to be there, but her words of comfort to him ring a bit too honest to dismiss. She does understand what he’s lost, and while she may not approve of the way he handles things, it’s clear that she isn’t ready to completely toss him aside. Even if he gets locked up, which has to happen, it seems like Skye might continue to visit him.

This is a long way from Skye’s attitude regarding her father previously, but it makes a certain amount of sense. She has always wanted to find her family, and while she appreciates the clan Coulson (Clark Gregg) has built more than her biological relations, Cal does hold the answers to many questions Skye has about herself. Plus, whatever his faults, he loves her, and losing Skye has caused him huge amounts of pain that Skye has finally opened herself up enough to see. Whatever happens, I expect and hope for a lasting bond between these two.

Other bonds in MARVEL’S AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D. continue to grow more tenuous. Simmons (Elizabeth Henstridge) confides to May (Ming-Na Wen) that Fitz (Iain De Caestecker) has the toolbox. May turns right around and tells Bobbi (Adrianne Palicki). To her credit, Bobbi only asks Simmons to help her track Fitz, not sharing the news with her fellow S.H.I.E.L.D. board members. But Simmons feels betrayed by May, even when May points out how erratic Coulson has been acting. I don’t think May will turn her back on Coulson by any means, but she may see the wisdom in someone else leading the organization or making Coulson come clean with the team about his secret activities.

Because of this, “Frenemy of My Enemy” actually begins to heal the rift between the two S.H.I.E.L.D.s. Simmons may not be ready to get on board, but May understands that Bobbi and the others are not trying to destroy Coulson. That’s an important step to righting the ship, whoever ends up being in charge in the end. Coulson turning himself in at the close of the episode will be another important step, if he doesn’t do something horrible while in custody, which is a possibility.

S.H.I.E.L.D. does need to get its act together, though, because there are clearly other dangers out there. The super humans might not be one, although Lincoln (Luke Mitchell) is a bit shady in following Skye. But Hydra is presenting a real threat again when Bakshi (Simon Kassianides) is allowed to hook back up with Dr. List (Henry Goodman, Taking Woodstock). Mike (J. August Richards) and Lincoln are kidnapped and may be controlled by those with less than noble intentions. And 33, a.k.a. Kara (Maya Stojan), and Ward (Brett Dalton) remain at large, assuming Coulson didn’t follow through on wiping their memories, which we did not see him do.

It’s hard to review “Frenemy of My Enemy” as its own thing because it’s extremely interconnected with the rest of MARVEL’S AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D. lately. What is notable is that it is very clear that the series has ramped up, giving us lots of exciting players that keep changing their combinations in new and interesting ways, and the show seems to be rocketing towards what will likely be a shocking, splashy conclusion. I’m happy to be along for the ride.

MARVEL’S AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D. airs Tuesdays at 9 p.m. ET on ABC.