Entries in TV (24)

Thursday
Feb192015

'Fortitude' is Best New Show You're Not Watching

  

BY ROBBIE WOLIVER

While cannibal polar bears and millennia-old wooly mammoths are the prey here, Fortitude has captured an even more important creature: my imagination.

Fortitude is like no other town on our TV landscape and, yet, it is like every other town from every other show we’ve been obsessed with. If only we knew then, we could have forgone some of those shows: Lost (supernatural polar bears), The Killing (gloomy atmosphere), Broadchurch/Gracepoint (smalltown mystery), True Detective (enigmatic lawmen), Fargo (SNOW!), The Vikings (ICE! and accents), the low winter sun of the short-lived desolate Low Winter Sun (same creator and writer, Simon Donald), The Affair (slow-paced tone and…affairs), The Strain (something evil’s lurking), and the otherworldiness of the brilliant The Returned (the French Sundance channel version, and a show I will not forego). It's a Nordic noir gem.

First off, Fortitude is absolutely gorgeous. The spacious, picturesque Arctic landscapes are breathtaking. Even a boat momentarily sludging through an iceberg-filled body of water is breathtaking—and not just visually. There’s the gentle sound of the water juxtaposed with the frantic search in which the boat is partaking.

 

I never dream about TV shows, even though I watch everything. (Really, everything.) I fall asleep after Rick Grimes and his gang lob off walking-dead heads, and not one drop of blood or rotten limb shows up in a dream. But the night after my first viewing of Fortitude, I dreamt about that polar panorama, frustrated because I couldn’t get my camera to work to capture the gorgeous scene. All is ice—white, blue, light green—glistening, with thick snowflakes often flickering through windows.

It’s a cold and desolate town, rife with corruption, and as the “governor” likes to proclaim, “the safest place on earth.” And that’s even after this gentle and deliberately paced gem of a 12-part series has introduced us to a horribly butchered, murdered, bloody mess of an inhabitant. 

Filled with mystery, suspense, cinematic beauty, slow-churning action, Nordic accents, the amazing Stanley Tucci, sense of foreboding, alienation, danger lurking at every snowblind curve, red herrings (and I’m sure many other types of herrings), mysterious women, guilty-seeming men, weird children, animals you just can’t trust, the scariest T-shirt on TV and the nicest hotel this side of the Defiance’s NeedWant.  

Four episodes in, I still don’t know what’s going on, and I don’t care, because I have bought into this show big-time, and I am in for the ride.  Fortitude is this year’s best show. 

 

ASIDES:

 

  • ·      A show highlight actually happens in my home and not on the screen. It’s when my wife, throughout, warns, ”If that ‘thing’ moves, I’m outta here.”

 

  • ·      As if all these Arctic types aren’t enough to satisfy me, along comes…Stanley Tucci, whose wry character, DCI Morton, a methodical British inspector won me over from his first scene, but whose lightweight wool coat and beret-like hat (that doesn’t cover his ears!!!) that he wears while he skulks around on frigid polar nights, drives me crazy. He’ll catch his death. 

 

  • ·      With 20 compelling characters, it’s a mystery wrapped in a mystery wrapped in a mystery.  And maybe no mystery at all.

 

  • ·      Governor Hildur Obegard (The Killing’s Sofie Grabol) is a great female lead character. Unique and complexly drawn.

 

  • ·      Whose been taking care of those beautiful huskies at the abandoned hut?

 

  • ·      Sheriff Dan Andersson (Richard Dormer) is one of the most complicated principal characters on any show. I particularly like that he talks like he’s being dubbed.

 

  • ·      How can you not love a show whose sets and actors' names feature alphabet letters with little circles over them and slashes through them?

 

  • ·      Elena (Veronica Echegui) is a bit creepy. I think she’s hypnotizing everyone. But she certainly is a beauty…and. I. will. do. as. She. commands.

 

  • ·      The homey Midnight Sun Hotel looks like it could be in Cabot Cove on Murder She Wrote.

 

  • ·      Oy, the Sutters.

 

  • ·      For the record, I don’t trust Markus, the Sutters’ neighbor.

 

  • ·      Best scene so far: Markus Dexter-ishly staring at his plump dining companion as she eats a hamburger.

 

  • ·      Ingrid and Petra, the best Scandinavian cops on TV.  Hello? Spin-off!!!

 

  • ·      “If that thing moves. I’m outta here.” 

 

 

Fortitude airs Thursdays on Pivot at 10 p.m. Missed episodes are available On Demand.

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Wednesday
Jan112012

'House of Lies' Flamboyant Tween Roscoe is Character to Watch

 

TV REVIEW: Multi-talent Donis Leonard Jr. brings the Showtime comedy's most unique ensemble member to life, and makes House of Lies a must-see.

 

By Kenny Herzog

Meet TV's most colorful new prima-Donis, Roscoe Kaan.

Very little about the opening scene of House of Lies' premiere unravels as expected. That naked, hungover mess of a woman splayed out beside management-consultant Marty Kaan (Don Cheadle) in some sloppy invocation of John Lennon cradling Yoko Ono? For one, not dead. Futhermore, it's Marty's pill-popping ex-wife and rival consultant, Monica (Dawn Olivieri). And the elementary-aged kid in a purple skirt and tights who accidentally walks in on his parents to announce that breakfast is ready, before literally pirouetting into the kitchen? Their son, Roscoe (Donis Leonard Jr.). 

This could be handled in poor taste, you're thinking. As was I and, presumably, a good share of Lies' audience. But as the unconventional family unit (sans Monica, who was off for a commute of shame) sits down for French Toast with Marty's intellectual-shrink father, Jeremiah (a jarringly against type Glynn Turman, recently of In Treatment), we learn a few things: Roscoe is flamboyant, but not effeminate, and is gunning for the role of Sandy in his school's re-enactment of Grease; Jeremiah is a friend to Roscoe, but also treats the boy and Marty's relationship like a trial study; and Marty raises Roscoe between the margins of his own self-absorption with no exceptional discrimination one way or the other. The latter, we also discover, is because Marty grew up without maternal influence after his mother committed suicide.

Sounds pretty interesting, right? It is. It's the most interesting set of circumstances going for House of Lies, a sharply written and charismatic, but familiar and erratic, exercise in adults behaving badly. Young talent Leonard Jr. has been instructed, at least thus far, to play Roscoe as someone with an almost angelic blindness to the fact that he's "different" from others in his class. He's flashy, but not effeminate. He's basically your average school-age boy, assuring grandpa he's going to kick any competition's ass and excusing himself cause, "I gotta poo." It just so happens his competitive aspiration is, as Marty puts it, "dressing up like a slut and gettting John Travolta to fuck you." (He just says those things to get a rise out of Jeremiah in lieu of being clueless about how to speak with his own son, not to mention flexing patience with Jeremiah rather than confront the issue of his mother's death.)

Marty is, no matter what, fiercely protective, and scolds Roscoe's teacher for trying to deny him the part of Sandy. Yet, he's your typical, Hank Moody-esque slob of a dad when it counts, missing the entirety of Grease so he can bang another student's mother in the parking lot.

Marty and Roscoe are a fascinating father-son pairing. It will be charming and, at times, heartbreaking to see how they come to understand one another rather than twirl politely in each other's personal space with grandpa there for balance. And Roscoe on his own could have more to offer House of Lies and its viewers than the grown-up stereotypes we've all seen before.

 

IN OTHER WORDS: We're still not sure Roscoe's funnier than this kid. Or if people will be as fond of him as this kid. But he may just be more nuanced than any similar character that's come before.

ROSCOE RATING: 8/10

HOUSE OF LIES SO FAR RATING: 6/10

THE FACT THAT DONIS LEONARD JR., WHO PLAYS, ROSCOE, SUPPORTS AUTISM-RELATED ARTS CHARITIES BECAUSE HIS YOUNGER BROTHER IS A HIGH-FUNCTIONING AUTISTIC: 10/10

 

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Monday
Dec192011

'Dexter,' 'Homeland' Finales First Disappoint, Then Have Killer Endings

TV REVIEW: Both Dexter and Homeland had their season finales, and both faced similar problems… until the end.

By Robbie Woliver

Dexter's dark passenger (ugh) may no longer be riding solo. (Credit: Randy Tepper/Showtime) 

The two highly anticipated HBO Sunday night finales both encountered similar problems and triumphs in their season endings. The usually dynamic duo fell flat in their last offerings, and then pulled out killer final seconds that salvaged the entire episode. Was it worth the wait for those last moments? Yes, in both cases.

For Dexter, the dramatic ending salvaged a controversial season of critics and fans griping about the slow pace, the religious theme and the formulaic action. Complaints were well justified. Compared to other seasons' great nemeses like John Lithgow’s Arthur Mitchell (aka the Trinity Killer) and stunners like the murder of Sgt. James Doakes (Eric King), this season’s Doomsday Killer (Colin Hanks) was a relatively sleepy (if not wildly violent) storyline. Add the ridiculously annoying and extremely uncomfortable arc of Deb (the extraordinarily good Jennifer Carpenter) thinking, or being, in love with her faux-bro Dexter, which just about ruined the whole season. And then wouldn’t you know it? Dexter turns that gratingly disturbing, simplistic and uselessly sensational theme on its head in the final seconds and actually makes it sensible and complexly interesting.

Dexter’s main problem this year, and most likely for seasons to come, is that it is so predictable. Dexter finds a mark, he follows the mark, he almost/does get caught, he escapes, mark’s chopped up. You know Dexter will never be killed, so that tension is gone. This is not Oz (hello, LaGuerta), where main characters were killed off weekly, making it one of the most unpredictable and exciting shows on TV to this day.  And Harrison being kidnapped by the Doomsday Killer (sorry Colin, but your character didn’t resonate, and certainly didn’t make it into the pantheon of Dexter’s best killers), while incredibly uneasy viewing, was also predictable.

The problem was that we knew you just don’t kill off a beloved toddler in a beloved show like this. Killing a main character, like Rita, was brilliant and added a lot of life to Dexter’s canon, but you don’t go there with kids. What was frightening however was how the child who played Harrison (two of our favorite child actors on TV, Eric and Luke Kruntchev) looked awfully frightened and was crying during his violent scene.  You couldn’t help think, “Wow, this kid is going to turn out like Dexter because he was so traumatized on the set.”

The episode was also a bit sloppy. Talk about loose ends: The ice truck killer hand? That went nowhere. Although, thank goodness, there was no mention of the “dark passenger.”

It’s not good when viewers think to themselves, “Well, this is disappointing,” after a dramatic scene concludes, especially during a finale. The revelatory climax between Deb and her should-have-her-license taken away shrink was a groan inducer. First, we don’t want Deb to be in love with Dexter. Second, it was played too fast and too broad.

But then leave it to Dexter to switch all that up in the episode’s last moments (hurry up, episode, I’m missing the Survivor finale) when Deb catches Dexter in his kill. The possibilities for this are exciting for fans, and it enriches and actually saves the Deb-loves-Dexter scenario. And knowing that Jennifer Carpenter and Michael C. Hall were married and now divorced, it gives that arc another dimension, making the ending even more provocative. But I will promise you one thing. If this turns out to be easily explained away (like “Oops , Deb didn’t really see it," or, “Yikes, it’s a dream”), I will never watch this show again.

So, it all rests on you, Season 7 opener.

 

Homeland didn't exactly go out with a bang or a whiper. (Credit: Kent Smith/Showtime)

 

As for Homeland, arguably the best new show of the season, the finale was a disappointment for a completely different reason. There are no easy outs in this series. The emotions have been honest and raw, and the plots uncontrived and believable. The acting in this show is so far superior to most anything else on TV (except for some last-moment Claire Danes jaw quivering—my pet peeve—a la Tara on True Blood).

We were gearing up for something damn big on Homeland, knowing it was going to be a bit larger than the often quickly diffused crises on 24. The whole season was gearing up big-time, with one extraordinary twist after another (the scene when we first see Brody pray in Arabic was the No. 1 dramatic moment on an any show this season.)

We were expecting something big because not only has show has been so big in its debut year, but the extensive previews promised something big. And big we got. Sgt. Nicholas Brody (the fantastic Damien Lewis), armed with an explosive vest, bunker-hunkered, was about to blow up himself, the Vice President and half the government. It was pulse-pounding TV, thanks to Lewis’ first-rate acting and the fact that this highly decorated Marine’s reasons for turning into a suicide bomber were so very compelling. Not that we’re a bloodthirsty bunch, but Brody’ last minute decision not to pull the plug was a major letdown. It isn’t that we necessarily wanted to see all those people dead, or even punished for their awful deeds. We wanted clever as a fox/loon, Carrie (the supremely talented Danes) to be absolved. We wanted her to be proven right, and given her job back, and go onto her next case. We wanted closure, not a cliffhanger.

But leave it to the clever Homeland to win us over in its last seconds, as Carrie undergoes shock treatment to cure her bipolarity, and realizes moments before she is about to lose her short-term memory (maybe forever) the connection between Brody and Abu Nazir. She solves the case, and then…zap. Lost.

So, lazy us, who wanted this all to be resolved and tied up in a pretty, tidy Christmas bow, have learned the ultimate format of Homeland. It will not be like 24 with a different impending catastrophe each season. Homeland is a slow burn, and will follow the story of Carrie and Brody for at least another season, and that is just fine. Continuing a successful pairing like Lewis and Danes is what we actually watch TV for, what we want, even though we did hope to see that bunker go kaboom. Just like Carrie, Homeland operates on two levels: its manic, exciting twists and quiet, simmering character development, in addition to those slow, contemplative episodes that feel as strong as action-movie adrenaline scenes, which is quite a testament.

Premium-cable Sundays will still have our rapt attention when these shows return. While Deb and Dex will have to prove themselves worthy of their Season 6 finale, Carrie and Brody can carry on as usual.

And hey, that doesn't even take Boardwalk Empire into account. 

 

IN OTHER WORDS: To misquote the great Rebecca Black, "It’s Sunday, Sunday, Gotta get down on Sunday, Everybody’s lookin’ forward to the weekend, weekend, Sunday, Sunday, Gettin’ down on Sunday, Everybody’s lookin’ forward to the weekend"

DEXTER FINALE RATING: 7.5/10

DEXTER LAST SCENE RATING: 10/10

DEXTER SEASON RATING: 666/10

HOMELAND FINALE RATING: 9/10

HOMELAND LAST SCENE RATING: 10 Volts/10

HOMELAND SEASON RATING: 10/10

CLAIRE DANES AND DAMIEN LEWIS ARE BEST ACTORS IN THE WORLD RATING:  2012 EMMYS/10

WAIT, OZZY DIDN’T WIN SURVIVOR? RATING: Season 23/Too Many Seasons

NOW I CAN’T GET “FRIDAY” OUT OF MY HEAD RATING: 0/10

 

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Tuesday
Dec062011

'Jersey Shore' Blah Blah 'Shark Attack' Vinny Blah *NSync Blah Blah Huh?

 

REVIEWING THE NEWS BECAUSE EVERYONE ELSE IS: Syfy is airing an original movie next summer called Jersey Shore Shark Attack. Which could also just be wishful thinking. It's about the blah blah that happens to the blah blah and stars dudes and Jersey Shore's Vinny Guadagino and Joey Fatone and Paulie Walnuts. Blahhhhhhh.

By Kenny Herzog

Say "blahhhhhhhhhhh." (Credit: Syfy/Blah)

 

A few things about the above production image from SyFy's upcoming original movie, Jersey Shore Shark Attack: That guy on the bottom right looks like E from Entourage (aka Kevin Connolly), and it's weirding me out man! Also, the premise of Shark Attack loses some bite when its characters appear in no way exaggerated from the real thing. Lastly, that title seems like it's missing a colon, which is something the flick might actually have in common with JWOWW and Snooki. 

Rimshot.

That's what she said.

What's Jersey Shore Shark Attack about you ask? Really? You do? OK, well, breed Piranha 3D with reality stars, Joey Fatone, a few guys from The Sopranos and Goodfellas, low enough filming costs to afford the aforementioned ringers and cast out blunt stereotypes as bait for profit, headlines and, oh yeah, sharks.

Blah.

 

IN OTHER WORDS: This is the one instance in which it's not passe to suggest that a franchise has jumped the shark.

JERSERY SHORE SHARK ATTACK RATING: Oy/10

IS THERE NO SANCTITY AMONG SOPRANOS RATING? It's a Living/10

REMEMBER THE SITCOM IT'S A LIVING? LOVED THAT ONE RATING: 10/10

BLAH RATING: Blahhhhhhhhhhh/10

 

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Monday
Dec052011

Monday-Morning Review Card: 'Boardwalk' and 'Homeland' are the Real 'Hell on Wheels'

TV REVIEW: Sunday nights this season are more robust with quality cable TV than at any time in recent memory. Couldn't DVR it all? Well, neither could we. But we saw most of it, and here's a brief cheat sheet to what's worth your time in reruns.

By Kenny Herzog

Claire Danes: Making us re-think this whole acting thing. (Credit: Kent Smith/Showtime) 

 

BOARDWALK EMPIRE, "UNDER GOD'S POWER SHE FLOURISHES"


It hasn't saturated the culture like Mad Men or The Sopranos, but in its second season, Boardwalk Empire has been historically good. "Under God's Power" should have been unbearable to watch in light of how things wrapped up the previous week. Instead, episode director Allen Coulter used flashbacks to help us experience Jimmy's grief over Angela and not merely witness it, while making vivid the snake-bitten couple's past and Jimmy's complex relationship with his mother. Jimmy is the heart and soul of Boardwalk, and in one sweeping hour, we get to see his heart get stolen and then shattered, and his soul wilted and warped. As usual, the show looks amazing, but the real magic trick has been how successfully they've humbled these figures and myths from our past.

BOARDWALK EMPIRE RATING: 8/10


HOMELAND, "REPRESENTATIVE BRODY"
Any fans of My So-Called Life will respond instantly when they spot the Angela Chase cry face. It's the chemical transformation that happens from Claire Danes' forehead to mouth when her character is overcome. Her eyelids flutter like a hummingbird, her lips tremble and her cheeks get tight. She doesn't exactly cry. It's more like her jawbones collapse and she dissolves like a pod person from Invasion of the Body Snatchers. And in "Representative Brody," after a particularly humiliating encounter with Brody, Carrie Matheson get a serious case of Angela Chase cry face. It hurts to watch, because she's so smart and yet there's so much she's missing, but it's only because she's human, which is what makes her and Homeland so interesting. Once again, an interrogation scene is the series' finest moment, and once again a cross-examination is staged in new environs with its own challenges and risks. The final scene was devastating, but hard not to see coming. Unless you're human and actually there, not just someone watching it on TV.
HOMELAND RATING RATING: 8/10


HUNG, "THE WHOLE BEEFALO"
It's been fun to stick with Hung and think about how far it's come, so to speak. "Beefalo" was a very good, if not totally satisfying finale. (Last week's half-hour, as was the case for many series' penultimate eps this fall, was more well-rounded and dramatic.) And if it doesn't get renewed for Season 4, whatever the hell happened to Lenore will be a truly frustrating, unresolved cliffhanger. But it was great to see Jessica have her moment, and Ray and Tanya's exchange with Charlie on the farm play out without cliche hysterics. Every character on this show is just trying to make a living, a theme of so many HBO originals, and why they always feel like the timeliest network on TV.
HUNG RATING: 7/10

 

HELL ON WHEELS, "BREAD AND CIRCUSES"

Every week, Hell on Wheels starts a bit slow, and serves up that awful opening-credits sequence, and thus inevitably tests our patience. But somehow, it sucks us back in by second scene. "Bread and Circuses" took its time letting Cullen and Elam duke it out, even though their contest wasn't symbolic of much except for one rogue Irishman's greedy motivation to fix the outcome. Even if it were a fair fight, no one's attitudes or prejudices are going to change in the cut. That much is clear. Which means it's time for Bohannan to resume his pursuit of the men who killed his wife. Seeing a bit of our nation's pre-Wild West manifest come to life week after week for our troubles isn't such a bad thing either.
HELL ON WHEELS RATING: 7/10

 

DEXTER, "RICHOCHET RABBIT"

It boded well for Season Six when Dexter caught on to Travis' psychotic ways. To quote Frank in Hellraiser, so much for the cat and mouse shit. Colin Hanks' straight-up bananas zealot is crazier than we thought, and it is good. The true depth of his mania even helps make some of his crimes (particularly the murder of his own sister) oddly easier to swallow and move on from. After a season of spiritual deliberation, Dexter's quest is quite black and white: This dude's nuts, God is dead and it's time to lay Doomsday out on a table covered with plastic. "Ricochet Rabbit" (the inane boat nicknames on this show are always the best) was nearly classic Dexter. It was focused, he was focused and the stakes were both raised and laid bare. Quinn's irresponsibility and Bautista's subsequent fate were predictable and uncomfortable, and Deb's creepy issues with her brother have "go-nowhere thread" all over them. But the Louis stuff is very interesting, and we'll see if he's either Dexter's eventual next prey or perhaps his apprentice/heir apparent. 

DEXTER RATING: 8/10

 

IN OTHER WORDS: A pretty, pretty, pretty, pretty good Sunday on TV.

SOME GREAT PRE-HOLIDAY PAYOFFS TO COME THE NEXT TWO WEEKS RATING: 9/10

THREE OF THE ABOVE SHOWS DEFINITELY COMING BACK NEXT SEASON RATING: 9/10

TIME TO LEAVE OUR OUTGOING "DARK PASSENGER" VOICE MESSAGE RATING: 666/10 

 

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