Wednesday, September 28, 2016
Milo Ventimiglia (Gilmore Girls and Heroes) plays Jack and for his 36th birthday, he gets a Steelers towel, a cupcake and sex with his pregnant wife, Rebecca, played by Mandy Moore (A Walk to Remember and Tangled). Yet, she walks into the bedroom fully clothed, while Jack is butt-naked. It's his birthday, but yet he's the eye-candy.
Unfortunately, his birthday fun is interrupted when his wife goes into labor. He then has to rush her to the hospital because she's having triplets. Things don't go well and they end up only successfully delivering two babies. The third dies. However, Jack and his wife adopt a third baby, a black child born the same day but abandoned by his father.
Those three babies are Kate, Kevin and Randall. Kate and Kevin were part of the original triplets. They're now fraternal twins. Randall is the black child who was adopted by Jack. They were born in 1980 on Jack's 36th birthday. The majority of the show takes place 36 years later on Kate, Kevin and Randall's collective 36th year.
Chrissy Metz (American Horror Story) plays Kate and on her 36th birthday, she goes on a date with Toby, played by Chris Sullivan (The Knick), a guy she met at a support group for overweight people or with eating disorders. Going on the date wasn't her plan, she does it because Toby was charming enough. Besides that, she was resisting eating fattening foods and feeling bad about getting on the scale.
Justin Hartley (Smallville and The Young and the Restless) plays Kevin, a sexy actor who is currently starring in a sitcom that requires him to be shirtless a lot of the time. He's very much like Derek Theler in Baby Daddy. Yet, Kevin wants to do more dramatic work with his clothes on, possibly opposite Alan Thicke. Unfortunately, people only want him to be the dumb, hot guy with his shirt off. Eventually, he has a meltdown on the scale of Christian Bale or Charlie Sheen and quits the production.
Recent Emmy-winner, Sterling K. Brown (The People V. O.J. Simpson) plays Randall. He looks like he's a Wall Street hot-shot, a stockbroker or something. Rare for someone African-American, but he makes a lot of money. He's very wealthy. He has a beautiful wife and two lovely daughters who both play soccer. However, his birthday is spent finding and tracking down his biological father who abandoned him 36 years ago.
This first episode is very well done, but the question is how will the series proceed from here. It seems likely that the series, written by Dan Fogelman and directed by Glenn Ficarra, Ken Olin and John Requa, will follow the lives of these few people. For Jack, based on the second episode, the focus will be possibly a struggle with alcoholism, as well as the loss of a baby, grief but also possible challenges of raising a black child, dealing with possible racism and racial tensions. How the narrative unfolds will determine whether it's worth watching.
For Kate, it looks like she'll have a more dramatic version of Mike & Molly, or else The Fault of Our Stars for fat people and minus the cancer. For Kevin, he's having an existential crisis about his career as well as fame and fortune. His story line could be a version of Entourage minus all the male douchery. For Randall, he has a chance to build a relationship with his biological father and possible biological family, which could cause conflict with his adoptive family.
The acting and directing are good thus far, especially the direction in the second episode, directed by Ken Olin. Olin directed the series Thirtysomething and Brothers & Sisters, and the quality of those shows is brought to this one, but we'll see what happens.
Five Stars out of Five.
Running Time: 1 hr.
Tuesdays at 9PM on NBC.
Tuesday, September 27, 2016
There might be other things happening, but, on its surface, it seems like a haunted house. The first season of this series, created by Ryan Murphy, Brad Falchuk and Bradley Buecker, is also about a haunted house. Yet, the first season gave us imagery and ideas that are rarely seen in the horror genre, certainly horror as depicted on television. It gave us a figure covered head-to-toe in patented, black leather. This figure was like a ghost but a ghost that committed rape. It was a crazy idea that Murphy, Falchuk and Buecker put to screen. Subsequent seasons gave us more crazy ideas. Love it or leave it, that's their shtick, but this season there aren't that many crazy ideas thus far. I've only seen the first two episodes, but so far the imagery and ideas have been more derivative than anything else.
To distinguish this season, Murphy and company make the episodes a mockumentary. There's no comedy though. It's not like a Christopher Guest film. It's taken seriously, played as straight as possible, and even meant to be scary. Without the mockumentary-construct, the story is only three characters. Murphy and company have typically juggled ensemble casts with ten or more characters in play as being at times in the forefront. This season scaled it back somewhat. Future episodes could open things up but right now, this season is basically three people.
Sarah Paulson, recent Emmy-winner for The People V. O.J. Simpson, stars as Shelby, a former teacher who falls in love and marries Matt, played by Oscar-winner Cuba Gooding, Jr. Matt is a pharmaceutical, sales representative who does a lot of traveling for his job. After a gang-related attack, they leave L.A. for the North Carolina woods. They buy a dilapidated house, an old farmhouse that was auctioned by the bank. They pour all their savings into it and start fixing it up. Immediately, strange things start happening, things that indicate a haunting.
Oscar-nominee Angela Bassett (What's Love Got to Do With It and Malcolm X) co-stars as Lee, a former police officer and alcoholic who lost custody of her daughter to her ex-husband. She's the sister of Matt. She comes to stay with Matt and Shelby as Shelby becomes more and more unhinged by the strange occurrences. Lee is meant to be reinforcement or companionship, while Matt is on the road for work and Shelby is in the house alone. Lee brings her daughter to the house, which ramps up the danger and the threat.
As we watch the three characters grapple with the haunting or possible hoax perpetuated by rednecks or potentially racist hicks who live near the house who resent Matt and Shelby as an interracial couple, Paulson, Gooding and Bassett are doing what would be the reenactment portions of the documentary. Yet, there are also actors doing the real-life interviews of the documentary. Lisa Rabe (American Horror Story) plays Shelby. André Holland (42 and Selma) plays Matt and Adina Porter (True Blood and The Newsroom) plays Lee.
While having the actors doing the interviews doesn't feel necessary initially, those actors, meaning Rabe, Holland and Porter, are giving the better performances. They're certainly giving the more genuine and heartbreaking performances. It's almost intentional because they're supposed to be the so-called "real" people, whereas Paulson, Gooding and Bassett are the so-called "actors." They're playing a meta-level that's supposed to be a little unreal, but the quality isn't like that of Unsolved Mysteries. The quality is that of an Errol Morris film. The actors doing the interviews are filmed interrotron style.
Murphy and his writers still shock with gory or brutal deaths, but it's strange because it still feels more tame than previous seasons. Last season particularly was absolutely bonkers. Last season for example, Paulson played Siamese twins, basically two heads on one body. Last season was subtitled "Freak Show." Arguably, something like that is hard to top. Practically everything following that would feel like a let down.
Knowing Murphy, things can ramp up and all Hell can break loose. Yes, compared to the average TV show, this series is certifiably insane, but compared to itself and previous seasons, this season is kind of blah.
Three Stars out of Five.
Running Time: 1 hr.
Wednesdays at 10PM on FX.
Monday, September 26, 2016
Jaimie Alexander (Kyle XY and Thor) stars as the woman with amnesia. Because she can't remember her name, she's nicknamed "Jane Doe." Jane can't recall the details of her life. However, she does retain certain skills like Jason Bourne. She knows martial arts and is highly trained in combat. She's also very good in ballistics. She can shoot any gun with great skill and precision. She can also speak and understand multiple languages. This season, however, some of her memories are starting to return. One memory in particular is that she was a soldier in the military who served in Afghanistan as late as 2013.
In the first episode of this second season, writer-director Martin Gero provides a lot of answers to questions raised from last season. Jane was born in South Africa. Her birth name is Alice Kruger and she has a brother. Her birth parents were killed and she and her brother were taken to an orphanage where an American woman named Shepherd, played by Michelle Hurd (The Glades and Law & Order: Special Victims Unit), adopted them. Shepherd renames Jane as Remy and renames her brother as Roman. Roman is played by Luke Mitchell (Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and The Tomorrow People). Shepherd trained them to be in the military, as well as be a part of her rogue organization that's secretly working against the government.
Sullivan Stapleton (Animal Kingdom and 300: Rise of an Empire) co-stars as Kurt Weller, the FBI agent whose name is tattooed on Jane's back. He's as equally trained as Jane with perhaps some military in his background, but he had a pretty traditional upbringing in New York. He now works in the Manhattan office of the FBI. He does have one traumatic moment in his past, which affects him to this day.
Last season, Kurt had a boss. She was the aforementioned Assistant Director, connected to several, secret, government operations. Her name was Bethany Mayfair. She got killed, so this season Kurt is the boss. Kurt was promoted to Assistant Director. His team from last season remains the same. Edgar Reade, played by Rob Brown (Coach Carter and The Express), is haunted by a case from last season that resulted in young black men being sexually assaulted. Tasha Zapata, played by Audrey Esparza (Power and Black Box), is the one who is the least trusting of Jane, and Patterson, played by Ashley Johnson, a voice actress in a ton of cartoons, is the tech genius who can hack into and re-program any computer.
New to Kurt's team is Nas Kamal, played by Archie Panjabi (The Good Wife and The Fall). Nas is a NSA agent. It might be a cheap joke that Gero made her name the same letters as NSA transposed. Nas is of Pakistani descent who works to uncover terrorist groups. Nas believes Shepherd is the head of a terrorist group called Sandstorm that's responsible for a lot of death and destruction. Nas wants to use Jane to bring down Sandstorm.
The problem is that it's not clear whose side Jane is on. Shepherd is Jane's adoptive mother and Roman is her actual brother. Yet, Shepherd and Roman are a part of Sandstorm. While Sandstorm has deadly tactics, it did put the tattoos on Jane, which have resulted in Kurt's team busting some bad people. However, Nas isn't sure to what end, and if the busts aren't manipulations or ripples, pushing forward some terrible future goal by Sandstorm.
Gero has weaved together a complicated mystery, which he has carefully peeled back. The concern was that the mystery's answers wouldn't be satisfying, but Gero and his writers have done a good job to keep this thing engaging, as well as maintain a good dose of drama. The action scenes are crazy and intense, but generally very well-done. His shaky camerawork can be disconcerting in a lesser Paul Greengrass way, but Gero and his directors make it about the freneticism and anxious nature of the cases and perpetual ticking clock or time-crunch nature of each episode.
Five Stars out of Five.
Running Time: 1 hr.
Wednesdays at 8PM on NBC.
Saturday, September 24, 2016
Clayne Crawford (24 and Rectify) stars as Martin Riggs, a suicidal cop who became suicidal after losing his pregnant wife in a car crash. However, even before that, he was pretty reckless or else just an adrenaline-junky. His behavior in confrontations with criminals doesn't seem to be any different before his wife died than it is after his wife's passing. The difference is supposedly he wouldn't care if he got killed and probably wants it. Yet, practically, there is no real change for him.
Damon Wayans (In Living Color and My Wife and Kids) also stars as Roger Murtaugh, a 50-year-old detective who recently had a heart attack and needed heart surgery, which left a huge scar on his chest, but he returns to work to the LAPD.
For some reason, Roger is partnered with Martin who is originally from Texas. Their first assignment together is a bank robbery. Instead of following protocol, Martin just walks into the bank and proceeds to take on the masked gunmen all by himself, even with hostages in the room. With every subsequent assignment or investigation, Martin continues reckless behavior that results in death and destruction.
Two years ago, a comedy starring Damon Wayans, Jr. and Jake Johnson, called Let's Be Cops (2014) was released and totally bombed at the box office. One can argue that it was just a bad movie. Others argue that the timing was bad. Let's Be Cops was released in the wake of the protests in Ferguson, Missouri, against the police department, birthing the Black Lives Matter movement.
For me, this TV series is also ill-timed. Even though one could say that there will never be a good time because the Black Lives Matter movement is now an on-going thing, this week in particular saw protests and even riots in Charlotte, North Carolina, following the police killing of Keith L. Scott. It also comes in the wake of the police killing of Terence Crutcher in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Both are another in a series of examples highlighted over the past four years of unarmed black men getting shot and killed, often due to reckless behavior at the hands of cops.
To then have a TV show where a white cop does reckless things, which results in death and destruction, be celebrated is off and wrong. It's just not the right tone for a TV series. Roger is supposed to be the balance, but by the end of the first episode Roger is made to be more like Martin than the other way round, resulting in a high body count in the final action scene. Wayans however gives a good performance and is his usual funny and charming self, but I just can't go with a cop show with a reckless cop at its center.
Three Stars out of Five.
Running Time: 1 hr.
Wednesdays at 8PM on FOX.
Friday, September 23, 2016
Michael Weatherly (NCIS) stars as Jason Bull. He's not a lawyer, but he works with lawyers, consulting on jury trials. He owns a company called Trial Analysis Consulting, or TAC. What he does is help with jury selection and he helps devise strategies for how to mount a defense to persuade the jury to side with the defendant. He has degrees and even a doctorate in psychology. He also has a team of investigators and hackers to dig into people's backgrounds and personal lives.
On the surface, the show seems also to be a replacement for the series The Mentalist, which CBS also cancelled. Bull seems like a smug, white guy who can get into people's heads and figure them out in order to solve crimes, mainly murders. Instead of working with cops, for the most part, Bull is trying to manipulate the legal system, playing within the rules of course but at times stepping over lines.
Now, a TV series that's basically The Mentalist meets The Good Wife or The Practice is a good idea perhaps, but if this first episode is any indication, the rendering of that idea is superficial or boring. It's glossy and fast but a lot of meaty things get skipped over. Written by Paul Attanasio and Phil McGraw, each episode is probably intended to be self-contained with no serialized aspects, at least no serialized aspects that are in the forefront, which a lot of great shows have done, but not in sacrifice of characterization. Sadly, this show sacrifices all, particularly Weatherly's role.
It's not that the first episode needed to give me Bull's entire life or backstory, but Bull as depicted here really is just a concept in search of depth. Hopefully, future episodes will fill out Bull's life, who he is and where he came from, as well as what drove him to this kind of work. Essentially, his character is inspired by the real-life Phil McGraw, the TV personality who became famous working with Oprah Winfrey on her trial.
Unfortunately, Weatherly isn't doing McGraw. Weatherly appears to be doing his own thing and not imitating McGraw. Whatever he's doing, it's far less engaging than watching the real McGraw on his talk show. McGraw has a charm and personality that is absent in Weatherly's performance. It's difficult to judge because Weatherly isn't given much to do.
Because Bull isn't a lawyer, the only thing he can do in the many court-room scenes is just sit in the audience and be quiet. He looks at the jury, but ultimately if this is what this show is going to be, it's a wonder why the title of the show is named for him when for large part he does nothing. Some criticism of the legal drama How To Get Away With Murder in its first season is the lead character played by Viola Davis wasn't as much of a lead or as active as one would expect, but her dominance was undeniable even in the first episode. Here, it seems like there's no point or great need for Bull to even be in the court room.
There's a ridiculous moment toward the end of the first episode when Bull is consulting on a murder case. The suspect is accused of killing a girl and it's learned that the suspect has an alibi. Instead of using that alibi, Bull recommends that the lawyer give a really good, closing argument in hopes that sympathetic words will save the day. In reality and in any other legal drama, sympathetic words would never trump physical proof. Not using the alibi would almost be malpractice and it's certainly extremely dumb, as it's too much of a gamble.
The show tries to side-step this extreme dumbness with what is basically homophobia. It presupposes that outing people as gay is a sin worse than being accused of murder. It's off balance in that way.
If the show had done a better job of digging into the characters and understanding what they were more deeply, then I could forgive this off-balance, but the show wants to breeze past its so-called main characters. The suspect and the jurors are just pieces on a checkerboard. They're pieces that Bull jumps around. There's nothing at all intricate about them. The suspect and the jurors are literally like flat checkerboard pieces.
If Bull is inspired by Phil McGraw who made his name working for Oprah Winfrey, then the better series would be exposing that case and what went on behind-the-scenes of that case. It would have been better not simply because it's Oprah Winfrey but also because the case was about an important issue that had Constitutional and nationwide implications. A murder among privileged, white people has no such implications, so why should it be regarded as anything but a throwaway story and throwaway characters?
Two Stars out of Five.
Running Time: 1 hr.
Tuesdays at 9PM on CBS.
Wednesday, September 21, 2016
The problem with The Lobster is the bureaucracy that Lanthimos concocted, the rules of how his alternate universe worked, made no sense. Most likely, it was never meant to make sense. It was merely supposed to be absurd, which you either found funny or frustrating. I found it frustrating particularly given Lanthimos' propensity for violence and inherent homophobia within The Lobster. However, the bureaucracy and the rules in this movie make more sense. The tone here has everyone behaving more straightforward and normal than the bizarre and overly deadpan way of Lanthimos' film.
Aaron Yoo (Disturbia and 21) stars as Ben, a designer or computer programmer who is trying to get a design job. During his job interview, he is turned down because he's single and has a low EI score. In this world, there is this government agency known as the Department of Emotional Integrity, or DEI, and this agency issues EI scores. DEI seems like it's a combination of the DMV and a credit agency. A person's EI score can affect what job you get and other things that can determine your socioeconomic status.
Directed and co-written by Philip Wang and Wesley Chan, collectively known as Wong Fu Productions, a company that puts Asian-Americans in the forefront, this movie has the premise that people have to register and document their relationships with the DEI. Even if two people are just dating, they have to register it. If the two people break up, they also have to report on the break-up and the reasons for it. This report will either cause one's EI score to go up or down, depending on who takes responsibility for the break-up.
Brittany Ishibashi (Political Animals and Emily Owens M.D.) co-stars as Sara Hayashi, a young woman who wants her own business, a bakery. She's also the ex-girlfriend of Ben. She goes to the bank to get a business loan, but she's told she has a low credit score, yet she does have a high EI score, which in this world allows her to get the loan.
Ben doesn't like that he can't do or get things because of his low EI score. He goes to Sara and asks her to return to the DEI so they can appeal their break-up and improve his EI score. Randall Park (Fresh Off the Boat and The Interview) also co-stars as Randall, a mediator and teacher at DEI. He's the one that Ben and Sara have to meet to discuss their break-up. Through this Ben and Sara reexamine their relationship, determine what they want and what's important to them.
At the same time, two college students, Seth, played by Brandon Soo Hoo (From Dusk Till Dawn: The Series), and Haley, played by Victoria Park, fall in love and also register at the DEI, despite Haley going to school far away. Seth and Haley have to deal with a long-distance relationship. They're warned but dive into it any way. Unfortunately, while Haley is away, she gains the attention of a teacher's assistant named Jay, played by Ki Hong Lee (The Maze Runner and The Stanford Prison Experiment).
Even though they only get one scene, this movie does have one gay couple, which is way more than Lanthimos' film has. Randall interviews them. They're Clint Fisher, a cute young Asian guy, and Scott Bradley, a cute young blonde guy. Clint is played by YouTube star Dominic Sandoval (So You Think You Can Dance) and Scott is played by model Josh Brodis (Glee and Tosh.0). Having this gay couple again shows more richness and diversity in the world than in Lanthimos' film.
What's great about this movie that Lanthimos' film lacks is that this movie isn't overwhelmed or undone by its premise. Probably because Lanthimos' film is so ridiculous and strains credulity that it has a hard time moving away from it. Every scene feels the weight of the premise, which drags it down in a lot of ways. This movie isn't weighed down like that. The premise isn't as ridiculous or unreasonable, and it's so built into the fabric that it ceases to call attention to itself, but it is there. Because of that and its diversity in characters, especially with its predominantly Asian cast, make it far better than The Lobster.
Five Stars out of Five.
Not Rated but for general audiences.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 39 mins.
Premiered at 2015 Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival.
Available on Netflix Watch Instant.
Teyonah Parris (Dear White People and Chi-Raq) stars as Belle, a young woman who works the desk at a hotel in Savannah, Georgia. She's having a bit of financial trouble. She's behind on her rent. Her roommate Tyler lets her by because she occasionally has sex with him. One day, her aunt Helen, played by Macy Gray, shows up at her hotel and announces that Belle's mom is dead.
Brian White (Brick and The Family Stone) co-stars as Jeremy, a nonprofit executive who is currently doing fundraising for a youth center, while also coaching teenage boys in lacrosse. Jeremy is very different from White's character in Djansi's previous. He's white-collar, not blue-collar and has different thoughts about sex and relationships. He's a guy who likes camping.
Leon Robinson (The Five Heartbeats and Cool Runnings) has a small role as David McCain, the father of Belle. He has about as much screen time as he did in Djansi's previous. He's also as antagonistic as he was in Djansi's previous, if not more. He's really good at playing angry, bitter and practically villainous. David is bedridden and on dialysis. He spends most of the movie unconscious but still manages to be menacing.
When Belle's mom dies, Belle is asked to move to Los Angeles to take care of her dad who is very sick. However, she refuses to do anything for him. Belle really doesn't want anything to do with him. The question is why and if she ever will move to L.A., and get her life together financially. As this is going on, Djansi includes a supernatural element of having Belle talk to ghosts. It's probably hallucinations, but it's played as if Belle doesn't know at first and it's off-putting.
The thrust of the movie is about Belle's relationship with Jeremy, which is interesting. It's cute seeing him take her camping. There is an issue involving Jeremy's brother that doesn't get as much due. Belle's relationship with David is also a thrust, but she doesn't ever get to truly confront him. They don't dialogue together, and the whole thing ends with a happy family scene.
Three Stars out of Five.
Not Rated but contains sexuality and language.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 45 mins.
Available on Netflix Watch Instant.