Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Quick thoughts on CBS' new fall shows

I started previewing the new fall pilots that caught my eye with those on ABC, and now it's CBS's turn. I'll say upfront that none of the following shows really excite me, so as far as CBS is concerned, I'm mostly grateful that it's bringing back "Survivor" and "Hawaii 5-0."

SEAL Team

 

I'm a sucker for action-adventure shows, so I'll give this a try. It does remind me very much of the 1990 flick Navy SEALs, which is a good news/bad news sort of comparison. That movie had some decent action set pieces, but it was a commercial and critical flop, and I have a feeling this show will be too. It could also be like "The Unit," which had a decent run (4 seasons) in the previous decade. It's not a good sign that I stopped watching the trailer halfway through, though.

Star Trek: Discovery



I don't have CBS All Access, so I won't be watching this show, but otherwise I'd give it a try. The production values look good (although that's been true ever since "Star Trek: Next Generation" debuted 30 years ago), and of course having an Asian captain is a plus in my view. On the other hand, the last two Star Trek series didn't appeal to me, so I'm probably not missing out on much. (I gather this will also be available on Netflix later on. I don't get Netflix. I don't think this show would spur me to sign up, but if I do subscribe for the Marvel shows, I'd consider this a bonus.)

SWAT


I haven't heard much buzz at all about this show. The trailer highlights the tension between the police department and the inner city community, with a new SWAT commander who's torn between his African-American roots and his profession. I don't know about this one. Fox's Shots Fired tried to mine this kind of community tension storyline this season and did not score good ratings. This looks like it has more action, though.



Thursday, May 18, 2017

Quick thoughts on some of the ABC shows coming this fall

TV by the Numbers has a helpful post with embedded trailers for the new pilots that ABC has ordered and put into the fall schedule. I watched the ones that looked interesting to me, and here are my thoughts:

The Inhumans



The trailer doesn't show anything, but I'm a sucker for the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and Inhumans have been embedded into the story DNA of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. for a few seasons now, so I'm already invested.


Ten Days in the Valley



This stars Kyra Sedgewick as a single mom who's a writer for a TV cop show. Her daughter gets kidnapped, and somehow life starts imitating art - as in, the storylines that she's writing. I think I'm going to give this a pass. The trailer - at least, as much as I watched before deciding it's not for me - is pretty grim, and I don't think I want to sign on for a serial where the main storyline is "where's my child?" I mean, I did for the Ashley Judd-vehicle Missing, which turned out to be pretty good, but that ended well because the show lasted only half a season and tied up the main storyline. If Ten Days in the Valley is a hit, it'll get renewed.... I guess it's possible the writers will come up with a new hook for a second season, but it's still a pass.


The Crossing


 

This looks pretty weird. Bodies wash up on the shore, and 47 of them are alive. It appears that they are from the future(?). It kind of reminds of the Sci-Fi Channel series The 4400, which I liked a lot, so I'm willing to give this a try. As with all high-concept serialized dramas from ABC, however, one must factor in the risk of a strong start dragged down by too many out of control storylines - FlashForward is the prime offender in this category, but V, Lost, and others suggest it's a trend.


Deception


 

I'm normally not so much into crime of the week procedurals (Hawaii 5-0 being a notable exception, but that's more for the island scenery and the character banter than the actual mysteries), but this entry in the civilian with special skills helps law enforcement as a special consultant category looks polished. The civilian with special skills is an illusionist, making this sound like Castle with David Copperfield instead of Richard Castle. Well, I like watching magic acts, so I'll give this a try.


For the People



From Shonda Rhimes, this show pits fresh new Assistant U.S. Attorneys against fresh new Federal Public Defenders. Rhimes-produced shows are batting .500 for me - I like Scandal and (the canceled) The Catch, while I've never watched Grey's Anatomy and I quit How to Get Away with Murder after the pilot episode. .500 isn't a bad average for TV shows, but I tend not to like law related shows, especially ones that take themselves too seriously, so I think this is a pass for me.

***

I'll continue to give quick and dirty thoughts on the new pilots for the other networks.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Albus Dumbledore may be the greatest wizard but he's a pretty bad headmaster of Hogwarts

I've read all the Harry Potter books before, though not in a long time. Lately, I've been listening to the audiobooks (Jim Dale narration), mostly while running, and things have jumped out at me. One point is that Albus Dumbledore may be the greatest wizard of all time, but as a headmaster, he's pretty bad. (Kind of reminds me of Spock's criticism of Kirk's driving: "Captain, you are an excellent starship commander. But as a taxi driver, you leave much to be desired.")

As Headmaster, Dumbledore is in charge of staffing at Hogwarts. (Rita Skeever states that in her article on Hagrid's lineage in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, and while Skeever is a sleazy journalist, there's no indication that she reports falsely.) Let's consider Dumbledore's hires:

1. Quirrel (Defense Against Dark Arts): He isn't a particularly bad instructor, once you put aside the possession by Lord Voldemort, but he doesn't seem terribly effective either. By itself, this wouldn't be a strong indictment against Dumbledore, but it's only the beginning.

2. Gilderoy Lockhart (Defense Against Dark Arts): The usually perceptive Hermione gets taken in at first by Lockhart's "charm," but it should have been obvious that he was a fraud. Indeed, any reasonable interview should have weeded him out - just have the guy do a mock teaching session!

3. Remus Lupin (Defense Against Dark Arts): Lupin was more or less the BEST teacher that Harry Potter's group ever had at Hogwarts. He knew the material, he taught effectively, and he was extremely compassionate and understanding. True, he was also a werewolf, and when unmasked, he resigned. But why did Dumbledore accept the resignation? In Goblet of Fire, he refused to accept Hagrid's resignation, so he certainly could have done the same with Lupin's. And he should have, given that Lupin's reason for resigning was that the Hogwart parents wouldn't have tolerated their children's being taught by a werewolf. In other words, bigotry. I guess Hogwarts does not have a Wizards with Disabilities Act....

4. Rubeus Hagrid (Care and Feeding of Magical Creatures): Was Hagrid even qualified to teach? He was kicked out of Hogwarts in his third year. Strange the lengths that Dumbledore went to in order to keep Hagrid employed, and yet he wouldn't lift a finger to stop Lupin from resigning. Anyway, Hagrid seems pretty incompetent as a teacher, yet he remains on the faculty.

5. Sybil Trelawney (Divination): Up until Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, she had made a grand total of one prediction that came true. During Azkaban, she made a second. While in a trance. What's astounding is that Dumbledore knows that Trelawney is a fraud; he's the one who tells Harry that her trance-prediction about Voldermore's servant (Wormtail) was the second ever correct one. Why did Dumbledore continue to waste the time of so many students by allowing Trelawney to keep teaching Divination?

6. Severus Snape (Potions): Ah, finally, Snape. How in good conscience can Dumbledore keep on the faculty such a bully who cheats by consistently discrimination against Gryffindor by taking away points while not doing so when Slytherins engage in the same or worse conduct? Yeah, he's great at potions and he bravely played double agent, while means Snape is a great patriot, but as a teacher, he's pretty bad.


You tell me - how did Dumbledore keep his job for so long?

Monday, May 8, 2017

ABC's "Once Upon a Time" - time to let it go?

For the past six years, ABC's "Once Upon a Time" has largely been my favorite network TV show. If I really had to choose, I think I would rank it ahead of "Hawaii 5-0," "Survivor," and "Scandal." As for "24," it's only had two short seasons ("Legacy" this year and "Live Another Day" in 2014), so it would be hard to count it as a full competitor.

At one time, "OUaT" was one of ABC's stronger shows, regularly winning its timeslot, but it's tumbled badly in the last couple of years. Last night's episode finished last in its time slot, something that's happened a lot this year. As a result, "OUaT" has been a bubble show all year - not doing so poorly as to be an obvious cancellation, but not doing well enough to be an obvious renewal either.

Still, the prediction sites that I check have consistently put "OUaT" in the "likely renewal" category. It's a veteran show, so there may be a desire to give it a final season to tie up all the loose ends. Plus, Disney owns ABC, and it's able to use "OUaT" to promote all kinds of Disney characters (such as part 1 of Season 4, which brought Frozen into Storybrooke).

Today's news is that star Jennifer Morrison declined an invitation to return as a regular if there is a season 7. On top of that is the news that if there is a Season 7, it will be something of a reboot with only part of the cast. The last time I remember something like this happening was the last season of "The Practice," in which half of the cast was fired, and James Spader and Rhona Mitra were brought in. I guess you might call that a success, since it led to the spin-off series "Boston Legal," but it certainly didn't do much for "The Practice."

"OUaT" is an ensemble show, but Morrison's character (Emma Swan) has been the central one. The series started with Swan in the real world, being brought into Storybrooke by the 10 year old boy who turns out to be the son whom she gave up for adoption, and the whole first season arc revolved around her gradually coming to believe that there is magic, that her parents are Snow White and Prince Charming, and that her son Henry's stepmother is the Evil Queen. I can certainly see the show without her, but I'm reluctantly coming to the view that if the Season 6 finale really is going to finish the main storyline, it's probably best to end the show. For example, I miss "Justified" and believe it could have gone on for another season or two, but better that it ended a season too early than one too late. (I watched "The X-Files" to the end of its original run, but man, those last two or three seasons were not good....)

Monday, May 1, 2017

My controversial takes on pop culture

One of my Facebook friends put up an excellent and entertaining post about her controversial opinions about food, which got me thinking about the possibly idiosyncratic and unusual opinions that I have about big pop culture items. I don't offer these as unassailable truths; they are merely my opinions. Imagine that each one begins with "I think" or "I believe," which I've deleted to avoid repetition. So here they are:

1. Taylor Swift music is the best for speed workouts on the treadmill. Followed by Kelly Clarkson. I'm not sure why, but I do find interval reps less painful when I'm listening to "Shake It Off."

2. Star Trek > Star Wars. Some sci-fi magazine once put it best: no matter how cool you think Star Wars is, it starts with Jar Jar Binks and ends with the Ewoks. (Well, I guess now it ends with Rey and Luke Skywalker, for now.)

3. Pierce Brosnan has been the most entertaining James Bond. Yes, Sean Connery defined the role. But Brosnan managed to fuse Connery's ruthlessness with Roger Moore's suave humor. I love the set piece in "Tomorrow Never Dies" where Bond is having fun driving the souped up rental car via smartphone.

4. I acknowledge Bruce Springsteen's greatness, but as far as New Jersey rock stars go, I enjoy Bon Jovi's music more. "Born in the U.S.A." is an unquestionably great album, and "Born to Run" is a great song. But I like "Livin' on a Prayer" more.

5. The Wire is boring. David Simon knows an incredible amount about police procedure, Baltimore, the war on drugs, and so on. If "The Wire" had been a documentary, like "The Corner," it would be fantastic. But as a television program, it's dull. I made it through 2 1/3 seasons before I gave up. McNulty? Boring. The female assistant D.A. who inexplicably goes from sleeping with McNulty to having an affair with the police lieutenant? Boring. Heck, "The Wire" made Lance Reddick boring, and that guy is awesome! He had maybe five minutes of screen time in "John Wick" but made far more of it than in all the episodes of "The Wire" that I saw. Just compare "The Wire" to "The Shield" - yes, "The Wire" is more realistic, but "The Shield" is better TV.

6. "Fletch" is the rare movie that equals the book it was made from, but in a totally different way. The James Bond novels are about the only ones where I thought the movies were superior to the source material. But the movie "Fletch" is about as good as the novel, except that I always envisioned Fletch (when reading) to be someone like Dirk Benedict's Faceman from "The A-Team." Somehow Chevy Chase took Fletch in a totally different way and it worked!

7. Deep Space Nine was the best Star Trek series. I know I'm not alone in this, but still, the majority of Trek fans seem to think either the original series or Next Gen was the best. Of course, the original series has its schlocky charm, and without it, there wouldn't have been anything else. And of course, Next Gen elevated the production standards and the writing. But Deep Space Nine broke away from the ridiculous Roddenberry conceit that in the 23rd century, there would be no interpersonal conflicts. It gave us a gritty, nuanced view with an array of characters so strongly written that each could headline entire episodes. And from season 4 on, it was basically one long story that held together to the end.

8. Jack Bauer ("24") was the best TV character, but Raylan Givens ("Justified") was the coolest. I used to think James T. Kirk was the coolest character, but I don't think anyone can touch Timothy Olyphant's portrayal of Deputy U.S. Marshal Raylan Givens.

9. The 1980s produced the best pop music, followed by the 1990s. Notwithstanding my point 1 above, the best music came from the 1980s, followed by the 1990s. I can't believe those are now so old that they're older than the "oldies" I listened to when I was a teenager. If it weren't for the early seasons of "American Idol" and "The Voice," I would know almost nothing about today's music.

10. Jay Leno was my favorite late night talk show host. I don't care too much about the celebrity interviews, but I do like the comic monologue, even if it's too vanilla for others. And I still have fond memories of "The Dancing Itos" and all the Clinton/Lewinsky skits.

11. The Hunger Games trilogy > Harry Potter series. One is much deeper than the other.

12. I sort of regret reading the "Song of Fire and Ice" books. Okay, not that much. But I don't get HBO so I haven't been watching the "Game of Thrones" series, and I'm more and more doubtful that I will read any more of the series beyond "A Dance of Dragons." First, and most importantly, it's iffy whether the next book will ever get published. Second, even if it is, it's been so long since I read "Dragons" that I think I'll need to re-read from the start, and I don't think I have the stomach for that.

13. CSI: Miami was the best, er, most entertaining of the CSI franchise. There's something fascinating about "CSI: Miami." If I'm flipping through channels and I come across reruns of it, I can always watch it. The trick is, you have to think of it as a comedy, and try to come up with better (cheesier?) one-liners than David Caruso tosses off as he takes his sunglasses off in the dazzling Miami outdoors...(!).

14. Keanu Reeves makes more entertaining movies than Robert DeNiro does. Maybe this isn't controversial. But basically, what I'm saying is that while DeNiro is acclaimed as one of the greatest actors ever, while Reeves is saddled with a reputation consistent with Ted "Theodore" Logan, Keanu Reeves' movies are far more watchable and re-watchable. Seriously. List the five most entertaining DeNiro movies. Compare them against "The Matrix," "John Wick," "Point Blank," "Bill & Ted" (your choice of which one, although I prefer "Bogus Journey"), and "Speed" or "The Devil's Advocate."

15. Captain Kirk > Captain Picard. If I were a Federation taxpayer (except I don't think the Federation has taxes, since Picard so haughtily exclaimed in "Star Trek: First Contact" that there's no need for money in the 23rd century), I'd much prefer Picard in charge of government property. But as a viewer, I find Kirk more entertaining. Plus, if they had a fight, Kirk would win, because while Picard was negotiating, Kirk would Kobayashi Maru-him.

16. Gryffindor is overrated, while Ravenclaw is underrated. Gryffindor is basically the jock house, while Ravenclaw is the nerd house. I know which one I'd want to be in. And who gets more stuff done in real life, anyway?

17. Cable is overrated. I got rid of cable almost three years ago, and I don't miss it at all. Of course, it helps that most of the cable programs that I've been interested in during that time (the end of "Justified," "The Americans," "The Last Ship") are available for streaming, often for free via Amazon Prime.

18. Han shot first. Okay, that can't be controversial, can it?

Saturday, April 1, 2017

NBC's "Grimm": thoughts on the season finale


After five and a half seasons, NBC's "Grimm" came to an end last night, in an episode titled appropriately "The End." I've watched every episode, from the somewhat lackluster first season, to the peaks of the third and fourth seasons, and to the very end. I did so in part because this was one of the few TV shows filmed and set in Portland, so I felt a sense of geographic loyalty. But I also enjoy these sorts of action/suspense/serialized shows, and "Grimm" did become more serialized after the first season's "wesen of the week" format.

[SPOILERS TO FOLLOW]

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Fox's "24: Legacy" - We're one-third of the way through; how is it holding up?

I'm definitely not in the "disappointed that Jack is not back" crowd, and I'm enjoying "24: Legacy" a lot. But I do think that the deliberate decision that the writers made to scale down the threat from WMD-level is something that is going to take getting used to. To be sure, I understand why they are going this way, and it's reasonable.
Until I get used to it, though, it's left this season a little short of the almost unbearable tension that seasons 2-7 generated. With Legacy, so far, the concern is over the thumbdrive with the list of sleepers, who can no doubt wreak havoc, except we haven't gotten a taste of that (other than the initial assassination of Carter's teammates). In season 6, a nuclear bomb wiped out Magic Mountain (the theme park in Valencia, CA), in season 3, we saw lots of outbreaks of the Cordelia virus, and in season 5, the shopping mall got doused by VX nerve gas. All of those were precursors of potentially much worse WMD attacks, giving real bite to the ticking clock -- if Jack didn't stop the threats in time, tens of thousands to millions of people would die.
Again, the threat this season is more realistic (or should I say, higher likelihood), and I expect that as a viewer, I just need to be re-trained to accept this threat level. But if there's one thing that I'd contrast with the Jack Bauer seasons, this would be it.