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Thursday, July 2, 2015

I Scream For SCREAM

Article first published as SCREAM Review on Seat42F.

Noah and Audrey Scream MTV

MTV’s SCREAM is a SCREAM for a new generation. If you’re not aware of the classic film that spawned three sequels, SCREAM is a slasher flick that plays with the genre using meta humor and cleverness and an actual, fleshed out story with characters one cares about. SCREAM somehow follows the rules of horror movies while simultaneously defying them, which is why it’s proved such a popular franchise, and ranks among the extremely few horror movies I actually like.

MTV seems the perfect platform from which to launch this latest incarnation. Meta humor has never been more in, and the slasher flick demo is the network’s strongest audience. By casting a bunch of young, fresh, attractive faces, MTV introduces kids to the franchise, while giving them something that fits with what they’re looking for today, the Scream property being highly adaptable to the times. It should pair nicely with the popular Teen Wolf show, also adapted from movies, albeit that one had to take a bigger leap from the source material.

I only recently saw 2011’s Scream 4 for the first time, and it provides a nice framework for the series. Since the time of the original trilogy, young people have adapted all-new technology, with web videos and texting now front and center, and the culture has started to recognize and be inclusive with homosexuality. Scream 4 uses those trick to its advantage, updating its image while keeping the essential story intact, and Scream does the same, while also somewhat recycling story points from the earlier installments.

No worries if you haven’t seen the movies, though. While the quartet of films are an ongoing saga, SCREAM starts over. It does not involve the same characters, nor the same town, nor even quite the same mask, but much of the structure is the same, from the deadly opening, to cheating boyfriends, to dangerous garage doors, to a character telling everyone else the rules of the genre.

Our hero this time around is Emma Duvall (Willa Fitzgerald, Alpha House, Royal Pains), who has recently joined the popular clique. This includes rich b*tch Brooke Maddox (Carlson Young, As the Bell Rings) and Emma’s boyfriend, Will Belmond (Connor Weil, Sharknado). This means Emma has grown apart from her former bestie, Aubrey Jensen (Bex Taylor-Klaus, The Killing, Arrow), and when Brooke et. al. out Aubrey’s lesbian tendencies, Emma begins to question her choices. Enter loner Kieran Wilcox (Amadeus Serafini, Oh La La, Hollywood Speak French!) to tempt Emma’s heart, and toss in horror fan Noah Foster (John Karna, Premature) to provide the meta angle, and we have our cast.

Now, Noah is quick to point out that, despite the litany of great horror television shows on the airwaves right now, slasher flicks have not been a subset yet adapted because, by the nature of the thing, the cast is quickly whittled down throughout the movie. How could that possibly work for an ongoing television show, which needs a somewhat stable cast for the audience to invest in?

SCREAM can work, though. I think The Walking Dead has a good model for the show to follow. It has a basic core group, which has been slowly eaten away at by death after death, while constantly adding new members to, some of which stick and some of which don’t. SCREAM already has supporting characters ready to participate in the merry-go-round. I like the starting sextet, but you just know they can’t all possibly make it to season two, or if they do, definitely not season three. The question is, who will go first? The Scream movies have a trio that always survive, and the show can’t possibly have more than that, though I’d be willing to bet they won’t choose the same three archetypes.

Part of SCREAM’s draw, and this includes both the movies and the show, is the unpredictable nature of the plot. Because characters tell viewers what the rules are, audience members begin to feel comfortable in expecting what’s coming. Yet, the production does or doesn’t follow those same rules in an erratic fashion, keeping people on their toes. The pilot seems to indicate this is the way the show will operate, too, and that sets itself up nicely.

I was quite skeptical about a SCREAM television series. Thankfully, at least in the pilot, this one does honor to its roots, while at the same time feeling like something new. It is worthy of the name and will likely earn a season pass on my TiVo.

SCREAM premieres Tuesday, June 30th on MTV.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Skip a Trip to ZOO

Article originally written for Seat42F.

CBS adds another freaky show to its summer lineup with ZOO. Like the network’s Under the Dome, ZOO is based on a novel by a best-selling author that has been expanded into a series that can run for multiple seasons. Taking place on a global scale, this program finds a small group of people investigating animal attacks as they become more and more frequent around the world, other creatures deciding it’s time to take man out of the food chain.

Our hero is Jackson Oz (James Wolk, Mad Men, The Crazy Ones), a scientist who seeks to protect animals. One might think that gives him a pass when the four-legged kind turn, but it does not. Jackson has a best friend, Abraham (Nonzo Anozie, Game of Thrones, Dracula), who is from the area of Africa they are currently in, and soon Jackson meets up with Chloe (Nora Arnezeder, Mozart in the Jungle), the French damsel in distress.

Obviously, being in Africa, the big-animal-to-human-ratio is a bit skewed, so it seems a good continent to start in. Lions feature prominently, and the setting is well-used to create tension. A sequence in high grass is particularly intense. I do look forward to seeing non-felines enter the fray, though, as in both major settings, cats rule the first hour.

The other principal ZOO cast members are in the United States (where else?). Jamie Campbell (Kristen Connolly, House of Cards, The Whispers) is a journalist, hot on the trail of a crooked company that may or may not be connected to what’s happening. She comes across Mitch Morgan (Billy Burke, Revolution, Twilight), who studies diseases in animals, so seems a good source to use. Whether or not they will come into Jackson’s orbit remains to be seen, but it’s a pretty safe assumption that they will.

There’s obviously a level of creepiness to the premise. It is sort of science fiction, but it takes place in the modern world of today, not in some far-off future. While the events do not seem very plausible, there’s always the chance that it could happen, all of the elements making up the scariness already existing in the world, and by the end of the first hour, you’ll never look at house cats the same way again.

But it lacks any real urgency or high stakes. The ensemble, while made up of some very good actors, is lame, the characters not deep or interesting or memorable enough to really make an audience invest much emotion in the story. Instead, as in Under the Dome, talented people are wasted on a plot that just doesn’t seem to translate well on screen, at least in this case. An attempt to show Jamie putting everything on the line for her integrity or Jackson’s daddy problems do not serve to deepen as they should, coming across as trite and been-done-to-death.

Much of the pilot of ZOO feels like a novel brought to life a bit too faithfully. While not everything in the show is in the book, which only contains two of the five main players, the way events unfold, talked about more than shown, more plot-driven than character-driven, it’s hard to care when the added element of peeking inside the characters’ heads is taken away. This structure may work in the written world, but not as well in the TV version, which lacks inner dialogue.

Honestly, the closest thing I can compare ZOO to is The Lost World: Jurassic Park. The lackluster sequel to a terrific motion picture concentrates more on action than it should, and while the effects are decent, the plot holes and characters doing stupid things makes it less than realistic. ZOO suffers from the same sort of issues, and with a fresh Jurassic Park in theaters already getting good reviews, this may not be the time for an inferior product, even among those who crave this kind of adventure, to attract a following.

ZOO premieres Tuesday, June 30th at 9 p.m. ET.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

HUMANS Far From Obsolete

Article first published as HUMANS Review on Seat42F.

Humans AMC

Get ready for HUMANS, premiering soon on AMC. It is the story of a group of people who live in a world very much like ours, except that there has been heavy investment in android technology and Synths (synthetic humans) are now readily available to buy. They can be your friend, do your chores, serve as sex workers, and a variety of other things. But are they really as inhuman as they are purported to be, and are we close to The Singularity, in which mankind will no longer be needed?

I’d say AMC has done it again with HUMANS, but this series is not really made by AMC. Based on a Swedish drama whose title translates as Real Humans, HUMANS was created by Channel 4 (a UK company) and Xbox. When Xbox closed their production studios, then AMC got involved, so I don’t know how much of a hand the American network had in making this program.

Whoever made it, though, it’s fantastic, and will fit in just fine with AMC’s unique, high-quality brand. Set in London, the series unfurls a vast, complex tapestry of humans and Synths. There’s the Hawkins family, who bring home Anita (Gemma Chan, Secret Diary of a Call Girl) to help with the housework, but she might instead be what ends the marriage of Joe (Tom Goodman-Hill, Mr. Selfridge) and Laura (Katherine Parkinson, The IT Crowd). There’s George Millican (William Hurt, Damages), who thinks of his Synth, Odi (Will Tudor, Game of Thrones), as a son, one who can supply memories of his deceased wife. There’s Leo (Colin Morgan, Merlin), who tries to protect a group of self-aware Synths, and Professor Hobb (Danny Webb, Locke), who tries to protect us against The Singularity.

That is not close to a complete list of the cast. A large number of players come in and out of HUMANS, presenting a variety of stories. It gives us an overview of the world the story takes place in, but because of some absolutely brilliant acting and writing, the personal tales still get told in those short scenes, and the cast is easy to keep track of. There is some seriously moving work going on here, providing many entries through which viewers can be sucked in.

There are also a wide variety of social issues being explored. I’ve mentioned The Singularity, which is a theory put forth in the 1950s, and is a real concern in a world such as that which HUMANS takes place in. Laura worries about what it will do to her kids to have a Synth they can treat as a slave, making them cold towards others or not knowing how to take care of themselves. Mattie Hawkins (Lucy Carless) wonders if there’s any point in trying in life when most jobs, even that of, say, a brain surgeon, will soon be filled by Synths. Leo and George make us consider if we should have more respect for the things we create, and where the line is between man and machine.

The weird thing about HUMANS for me is that it’s supposed to be in the present day, with the androids being the lone major difference between this world and ours. Yes, many Americans are frightened of such technology and so may resist adoption of it, but a place like Japan is not, and they are nowhere close to this type of Synth. I’d love for such a product to be available in my lifetime, personally, but it doesn’t look close. It might have been better to place it further in the future, with other advances. As it is, the promise of what HUMANS has to offer teases, showing us something many of us want in such a way that it feels like we should be able to have it, but we can’t.

I guess that’s also a testament to just how real HUMANS feels, too. Because of the rich characters and the complex questions the series poses, it feels completely authentic to me. The special effects are great and the structure is well thought out. I can’t wait to view the other seven episodes of its first season, and hope this is a program that runs for many, many years, as there are a whole lot of possibilities to explore here and the writers seem wise enough to know what those are.

HUMANS premieres Sunday, June 28th at 9 p.m. ET on AMC.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Thank You Very Much, MR. ROBOT

Article originally published as MR. ROBOT Review on Seat42F.

Mr. Robot USA Network

USA’s latest series is MR. ROBOT, a conspiracy theory tale of the digital age. In a world where corporations can gobble up holdings, the rich at the top acquiring more and more wealth and control on a global scale, it’s hard to gauge the true range of the threat or mount a defense against it. Who stands up for the average person, unaware of their life being bought and sold out from under them, and without the tools to fight back? Why, MR. ROBOT, that’s who. Maybe.

The first hour begins by introducing us to Elliot (Rami Malek, The Pacific, Night at the Museum). He is not the title character, but he is the most important. Antisocial and not used to expressing himself, MR. ROBOT uses voice over a lot to have Elliot tell the viewer what he’s thinking. It’s an effective tool, really taking us into his head and letting events unfold from his perspective.

Elliot works for a company he dubs Evil Corp, which hilariously is what it is referred to by every other player and even signage because Elliot says he has adjusted his head to always think of it that way. Elliot doesn’t want to serve The Man, but he’s there for his best friend, Angela (Portia Doubleday, Mr. Sunshine). To ease his conscience, since he’s protecting the bad guys all day with his super cyber security skills, he moonlights as a vigilante, taking down one scumbag at a time.

Enter Mr. Robot (Christian Slater, Breaking In, Archer, etc.). Mr. Robot is a mysterious, smooth man who offers Elliot the chance to bring down the villain from the inside. In Elliot, Mr. Robot has found the perfect tool to accomplish his mission, and he seems to offer Elliot the perfect way to right the wrongs of the world.

But is Mr. Robot whom he says he is? Because the show is told purely through Elliot’s eyes, we only see what he sees, and Elliot’s impressions are skewed. Mr. Robot can certainly talk a good game, and the way he plays Elliot’s recruitment is with superb talent. But how much do we really know about him? His work is only hinted at, and while he has a cool lair and a delightfully abrasive sidekick, Darlene (Carly Chaikin, Suburgatory), is what he is offering genuine?

On the other hand, the face of the villains, Tyrell Wellick (Martin Wallstrom, Simple Simon), is as obviously slimy as Mr. Robot is cool. He is exactly the type of guy you would think heads up Evil Corp, and he is smart enough to be a fitting foe for our bold but na├»ve hero. Is this reality or just Elliot’s imaginative way of sorting the world?

Because MR. ROBOT lives in the world of conspiracies, there are bound to be many, many twists. With Elliot’s specific and unreliable guidance, the viewer is immersed in an individual, and subject to the limitations of such as well, which makes for an unpredictable ride.

I LOVE the MR. ROBOT pilot. It has the huge, almost mythological, arcs and a hero’s journey, coupled with a somewhat unique and very modern sensibility. The tone is incredibly consistent, the main character is much easier to relate to than one would think such a person would be because of the incredibly detailed way in which he is written and performed, and the story sucks you right in. It’s exciting, it’s entertaining, it’s smart, and it’s far from business as usual in the television landscape.

Will MR. ROBOT find an audience? I don’t know. It is offbeat and weird enough that it can’t possibly appeal to even a wide majority of people. Yet, it has quality in spades and seems extremely well done in pretty much every aspect, from score to casting to production design. I can’t imagine that most my friends won’t like it as much as I do. I hope you will give it a chance and be similarly drawn in.

MR. ROBOT premieres Wednesday, June 24th at 10 p.m. ET on USA.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015


Article originally written for Seat42F.

HBO’s TRUE DETECTIVE wowed audiences in its inaugural season last year, so as season two premieres this week with a different cast and story, it has a lot to live up to, and will surely evoke comparisons (as happens in this article). In order to do the title proud, the new run doesn’t seek to copy its predecessor, but instead uses a different structure and approach, while keeping the same dark, gritty, authentic, complex types of characters. Even early in the premiere, “The Western Book of the Dead,” I feel that it is succeeding.

In “The Western Book of the Dead,” we are introduced to three officials in law enforcement. Detective Ray Velcoro (Colin Farrell, Total Recall) went off the rails after the rape of his wife, and now is a dirty cop who gets violent to protect the son (Trevor Larcom, Fresh Off the Boat) he raised but may not have fathered, biologically speaking. Knife-wielding Ani Bezzerides (Rachel McAdams, Midnight in Paris) is a cop who doesn’t agree with the lifestyle choices of her family, sister, Athena (Leven Rambin, Grey’s Anatomy), being a solo porn actor, and her father (Treme’s David Morse) being a free-spirited hippie lecturer. Paul Woodrugh (Taylor Kitsch, Friday Night Lights) loves riding his motorcycle with a death wish, and is unhappy to be suspended (with pay) after an improper behavior accusation is lobbied against him.

None of these are heroes, at least not yet. Like last year’s Rust, they are deeply flawed. Except, unlike last year’s Rust, there’s no Marty to balance them out. Sure, Ani has a partner, Elvis (Michael Irby, Almost Human), but the scenes we see of the trio in the premiere are focused on showing us their bad behavior and it doesn’t look like any of them have anyone in their lives to pull them back from the brinks they are all rocketing towards.

In fact, the most stable character in this year’s TRUE DETECTIVE is not a cop, but a criminal, Frank Semyon (Vince Vaughn, The Internship), who, along with his wife, Jordan (Kelly Reilly, Black Box), join the three above in the main cast. Frank is trying to go legit, having found a scheme that will make him lots of money above-board. Unlike the other leads, Frank seems to behave logically, not emotionally, and is trying to better himself, not self-destruct. Ironic, no?

Of course, there is a story that brings all five of these people (Jordan to a lesser extent, but definitely the other four) together. This isn’t done at the start of the hour, as happened last year, but is the ending climax of “The Western Book of the Dead,” and will surely lead to a lot more interaction, of which there is barely any between the leads here, over the next seven weeks (this season being another eight-installment run).

I like this delayed beginning, though. Because there are more characters, it takes a little longer to get to know them. Without the partner dynamic, it’s not as easy for TRUE DETECTIVE to let viewers be introduced through a single relationship. Since the entire make up has more complexity, meaning more moving parts, taking time with each individually in “The Western Book of the Dead” does much to prepare us for the rest of the season.

I really enjoyed this premiere. Is it as good as season one? I think it’s too early to make that call, as season one was a twisty, slow burn that started great and continued to be so week after week. This first episode back seems to have the same qualities as its predecessor, and it is easy to be fully engaged in this new story with these new characters, which is a hopeful sign. The next couple of months will show us whether that can be maintained or not.

TRUE DETECTIVE airs Sundays at 9 p.m. ET on HBO.

Monday, June 22, 2015

KILLJOYS Not An Accurate Title

Article originally published as KILLJOYS Review on Seat42F.

Killjoys - Season 1

KILLJOYS is the latest SyFy drama. Following three bounty hunters who operate in a four-inhabited-planet system, it’s a post-apocalyptic look at humanity’s future. This system is owned and run by a corporation, and everyone works for them. If you don’t play by their rules, you get in trouble. The bounty hunters aren’t exactly company men, their order remaining unaffiliated, but operate as an independent, reliable body tasked with hunting down those who anger someone enough to buy a contract on their kill or capture. The company allows this, and gives them a wide reach with which to perform their duties.

At the start of the pilot, there’s a lot of action. Too much action. It gives the impression of a low-quality program that is going to rely on visual fast food to tell its story, and the characters and plot seem flat and uninteresting. It’s not the type of thing that will hook those looking for intelligent science fiction, but it will certainly appeal to a certain segment of the audience. For those who it does appeal to, I hope you also appreciate the more complex, layered, character-driven type of show, because that’s what KILLJOYS morphs into in the second half of its first hour.

Dutch (Hannah John-Kamen, The Hour) and John (Aaron Ashmore, Smallville, Warehouse 13) are partners, operating a small ship, and going after the less dangerous jobs. Enter D’Avin (Luke Macfarlane, Brothers & Sisters), John’s estranged brother and PTSD-sufferer that has a kill order out on him. John risks everything to save his sibling, who quickly takes an interest in Dutch, and the team is born.

Each of these three are developed individuals with their own secrets and backstories, all of which play a heavy role in the main arcs. KILLJOYS could be just a procedural, with the trio tracking new query all the time, but I don’t think it will be because the first hour sets up a lot of dense stuff to flesh out the world and the trouble already bubbling over in the political structure. It seems poised for a big rebellion adventure, a la the original Star Wars trilogy, more so than a science fiction version of Dog the Bounty Hunter.

This program could be set in the Firefly universe. The short-lived, still-popular Joss Whedon show is not the only one that presents an outlook such as this, but the themes present and the atmosphere are similar. KILLJOYS lacks much of the humor and the Western sensibilities, both hallmark traits of Firefly, but other than, I could see this being another part of the same world, with these bounty hunters fighting the same common company that seeks to control everyone and use them for its own gains, albeit in a smaller neighborhood.

This gets me quite excited about KILLJOYS. All three of the performers are fantastic in the pilot, each given a chance to shine, and the rapidly-deepening story is intriguing. While a certain amount of status quo is maintained for now, it can’t possibly stay that way, and they are poised to be on the front lines when all hell breaks loose, prepared more than most to make a difference for an oppressed people due to their unique skillset.

I admit, there’s a chance I could be wrong about where KILLJOYS is going, and the story I’m looking for may be teased out only slowly, over a long period of time. I don’t think so, though. The way the first episode unfolds is solid, and it just seems like there will be more. As long as too many of the hours don’t rely on combat rings and fist fights, both present early in the first installment, I’m on board.

KILLJOYS premieres Friday, June 19th at 9 p.m. ET on SyFy.


Article first published as COMPLICATIONS Review on Seat42F.

Complications - Pilot

USA has a new drama from Matt Nix (the creator of Burn Notice) called COMPLICATIONS. It is the story of Dr. John Ellison (Jason O’Mara, star of Terra Nova and several other short-lived series) and his terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day. Well, it starts off as roughly a single day, but it quickly spirals into major ramifications for his entire life and he may be spending a long, long time trying to get things back on track. Sounds a bit like Nix’s previous project, no?

To be fair, COMPLICATIONS doesn’t feel much like Burn Notice, despite that central similarity. Both men are good people whom bad things happen to and who have major skills they use to help people, but they are also quite different. While Michael Weston was an emotionally challenged spy, John Ellison runs much, much hotter, his emotions boiling over, and he works in a hospital alongside a team, not operating solo for-hire in his apartment. Plus, there’s no chain-smoking mother in sight.

John is a good-hearted man, the type who will use his medical skills to try to heal a squirrel his dog gets a hold of. When he comes across a drive-by shooting and intervenes perhaps a little more than he should, that’s when things get rocky. He is soon drawn into gang wars and neither his home nor his workplace are an escape from this.

But does John even want to escape it? Part of the pilot involves him discussing what’s going on with a shrink (Constance Zimmer, UnReal, House of Cards) and this is where we get some insight into who John is. Maybe he isn’t happy with the calm, normal life he’s been living; he definitely has some deeper issues to deal with, and these events help bring those to the surface. The only thing that seems certain right now is that John is unstable and unpredictable.

O’Mara doesn’t really play the protagonist as an overly sympathetic character. Because of his wild mood swings and erratic behavior, it’s hard to tell if he’s someone that deserves to be rooted for. Yes, he saves lives, but that’s his job. He certainly has compassion for his patients, but as he goes to greater lengths to do what he thinks is right in the moment, one begins to wonder if the ends justify the means. He is not trustworthy right now.

John is surrounded by enough of a supporting cast to keep the story going for awhile. There’s: John’s wife, Samantha (Beth Riesgraf, Leverage), whom he’s not exactly open with; his straight-laced co-worker, Dr. Bridget O’Neill (Lauren Stamile, Burn Notice), who probably would not participate in John’s madness if she knew what was going on; Gretchen Polk (Jessica Szohr, Gossip Girl), an abuse survivor (I assume) who believes justice trumps rules; Darius Bishop (Chris Chalk, The Newsroom), John’s link to the criminal element; and Dr. Quentin Harper (Ronreaco Lee, Survivor’s Remorse), whom I didn’t get a good read on in the pilot. This is a decent ensemble, and with various people being out of the loop right now, there will be fodder for conflict as they find out more of John’s secrets.

The thing is, though, I don’t know if I want to stick around to see it. The first hour of COMPLICATIONS is a hot mess, not told linearly, no grounded character to view the world through, and no compelling hook to stick around and see what it catches. USA has been moving away from formula and taking some bold chances. I won’t say COMPLICATIONS is boring in the way programs of the past have been on the network, but this is one experiment that is failing because of a lack of direction or anchor, at least out of the gate, and I didn’t find anything in this pilot that makes me want to give it a second chance.

COMPLICATIONS premieres Thursday, June 18th at 9 p.m. ET on USA.