Tuesday, July 21, 2015

TV Rundown: July 14: "Pretty Little Liars" Gets Chippy, "Tyrant" Roars Back, "Scream" Kills Again & "Teen Wolf" Gets Puzzling

Pretty Little Liars | For an episode filled with copious amounts of filler, out-of-character behavior and non-existent plot headway, “No Stone Unturned” did yield two last-minute morsels of new information. Charles is alive (who thought otherwise?) and the girls have been chipped by A. You read that correctly. A chip was inserted into the back of the girls’ necks and none of them noticed until, Hanna sent off the alarm on a metal detector. Yes, there was a metal detector lying around in a lab experimenting on animals. Okay, it is far-fetched but far from unfathomable. Remember this is a show where someone supposedly had the personal funds to create a giant dollhouse with a replication of each of the Liars’ bedroom.

Honestly, the revelation wasn’t the episode’s most head scratching moment. There was Hanna’s sudden downturn in IQ points and her strange (but welcomed) reconciliation with Caleb. There was Spencer’s out of nowhere almost-kiss with her sponsor, who’s broken about every rule of sober sponsorship imaginable. Why would the Hastings hire a man to council Spencer, by the way? Risking a romantic flirtation is the last thing she needs and where’s Toby? His girlfriend is flirting with yet another guy and he’s not available for comment. There was also the inexplicable introduction of Emily’s long lost BFF from the junior Peace Corps. Who cares about this girl and why would she fly all the way to Pennsylvania to have this conversation when she could’ve called or texted Emily on the phone? Can you say plot device?

Speaking of Emily, her hookup with the mentally unstable Sara finally happened, after a distraught Sara claimed she’d been hit by a car and the rest was history. Sara’s allegation was hard to believe given that we didn’t see it happen on-screen so it very well could’ve been a lie. There is something not right with Sara and her myriad of stories. The daunting omission of her mother’s presence continues to cast doubt on anything and everything she’s said. There’s simply no proof to back up any of it and there’s no reason to take her word for it.

As little suspicion has been cast on Sara, the exact opposite has been heaped upon Mona. Spencer is now leading the charge against her long-time nemesis with an allegation of collusion. Apparently, the Liars feel that Mona had things way too easy in the Dollhouse. Never mind that Mona seemed emotionally frail and there’s little in the way of evidence to support the accusation. Spencer is heading full steam ahead without any of that pesky evidence to slow her down. It’s clear that Spencer is threatened by Mona, a person who’s outsmarted more than a few times. The thing is Spencer and none of the other girls are even blinking at throwing around a detrimental accusation. Have they learned nothing from what became of their accusations against Ian (dead), Garrett (dead), and Andrew? It’s reprehensible to think they’d make such a rush to judgment in light of the countless times they’ve been wrong.

Side Notes / Burning Questions: It was nice to see a supportive Ashley counsel a distraught Caleb. What does Mona have to do to prove herself to the Liars? Isn’t it obvious that Sara is working with Charles? Will we ever see Charles? Where’s Jason? Why was Hanna written like such an airhead in this episode? It’s already on the record that she got in to more schools than Spencer and presumably scored higher on her SATs. Why is Spencer the default leader of the foursome? She has proven time and again that she only leads them down the wrong roads.

Tyrant | After last week’s slow and mildly eventful episode, “Tyrant” came roaring back with an installment that put the series into overdrive. Barry finally took a stand, instead of running from who he is and by episode’s end was ready to fight back for the people of Abbudin. Sammy risking the life of his mother to get his inheritance was perhaps the most self-indulgent act of the hour. Why Molly refuses to stand up to her children and their tantrums is puzzling.

Scream | Of all of the characters that had to go, Riley was the one that deserved to stay the most and now she’s gone. Here’s hoping Brianne Tju will show up on another series soon. Her performance as Riley has been one of the major highlights of the show. Not as much of a highlight has been Emma’s decision making; which has brought her to near irredeemable levels. Had she told her mom what was going on and alerted the police that she was in communication with the killer, Riley would’ve been saved. Thus far Emma has stayed silent as a video made to bully two girls was recorded, betrayed an old friend in the process and has now made the life-altering decision to stay quiet while her friends were the target of a maniac. She’s not exactly a front runner for TV heroine of the year.

Teen Wolf | What we learned: science and the supernatural have been melded together to create the super beast we’ve been watching cough up charcoal goop. Of all the seasons, The Scientists have to be the least interesting villains of all. What do they want? Are they human? How do they breathe in those ridiculous outfits? Why should we care? I don’t. On a positive note; Stiles, his dad, Parrish, Lydia and Malia are continuing to make the show fun and worthwhile.

Photo Credit: Twitter/"Pretty Little Liars" Official Page

Sunday, July 19, 2015

TV Rundown: July 12 | "True Detective" Heats Up

The wearisome second season might’ve finally found a pulse with an episode ending shootout that saw the series picking up major steam. The scene was heavily reminiscent of season one’s impressively choreographed standoff in episode four. It is hopefully a sign this season has found the jumpstart it needs to gain some forward momentum. On a character level, there was similar headway. It was announced that Ani’s in-office hookups are being investigated as sexual harassment, making the two-tone haired detective very angry. Her assertion that she was being picked on because she’s a woman, personally fell on deaf ears as there’s been no evidence that a male detective behaving the same as she has, has been given a free pass. It just felt like an excuse/scapegoat for her bad judgment. The truth is her behavior is being used against her for a personal vendetta devoid of gender bias. Her life growing up in the New Age commune was explored a little more with the revelation that her mother died when she was young, leaving a devastated Ani furious. It seems her past potentially holds great significance to the case and its victim.

Paul’s dalliance with the war buddy he’d rebuffed towards the end of last week’s show opened the episode. Following his recollection of the previous night, Paul dashed out of the house to wander the streets, only to find a swarm of reporters at his place, asking questions about his work on that covert military endeavor that’s been mentioned before. As the season’s biggest enigma, Paul’s varying layers are finally coming into sharper focus. Whether he will ever come to grips with the many truths he’s trying to deny in his life, only time will tell.

Elsewhere, Ray visited his dad and bid a farewell (or maybe a “see you later”) to his son. While Frank and his wife dealt with their fertility issues. As it turns out Frank is going through both a professional and personal crises. Parent/child relationships were one of the themes of the evening. Ray’s fraught relationship with his son, Ani’s with her father, Paul learning about his impending fatherhood by his ex-girlfriend and Frank’s desperation to have a child, all provided a common link between these very disparate souls. What it, if anything it all means is open to interpretation.

Side Notes / Burning Questions: Will Paul ever find peace? Will Ani ever assume personal accountability for the role she’s played in digging herself in the hole she’s in? Does Ray’s kid like him or not? His reaction to Ray’s kindhearted gesture was very confusing. What is Ani’s problem with the rest of the world? Is the show getting better or have expectations adjusted themselves to a more realistic level? This season’s meditative dialogue is failing to land with the same conviction as last year’s. Most of that has to do with it being an ill fit for the character’s espousing it.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

TV Rundown: July 5 | "Penny Dreadful" Signs Off with a Daring Season Finale

“Penny Dreadful” wrapped its second season on a strongly somber note, closing its curtains with an array of characters bidding farewell to London as they headed overseas indefinitely. There were no happy endings to be had here, except for maybe Lily and Dorian. The two psychos will apparently spend the rest of their days waltzing in a bloody ballroom. Despite defeating the devil, Vanessa’s story ended on a down note with her winding up all alone as her friends departed her company. The season ending denouement felt more like a loss than a victory. After leaving viewers with a shred of hope that Sembene might survive Ethan’s werewolf attack that was quickly demolished, making him the sad casualty in the war against the devil and his minions. There was a lot of promising potential with Sembene and his arc really flourished this season so his death came as quite a shock.

The core of the finale revolved around more than Vanessa’s showdown with the actual devil. The main theme dealt with facing the devil within. For Vanessa it was the reality of what she truly wanted out of life, a home and family with Ethan and realizing it was something she could (possibly) never have. Similarly, Ethan dealt with the fallout of his being a werewolf and the lives he took during last season’s finale. Sir Malcolm faced down the demons of his family and the guilt of letting them down. Frankenstein came to grips with the fallout from creating his “children”, the sting of Lily’s betrayal and realizing how far he was willing to go to get payback against her. All of which saw the doctor’s mind start to completely unravel. Finally there was the Creature who after escaping his crazy captors; decided it was time to seek new horizons, where he could experience complete isolation from the world and hopefully this viewer.

The penultimate episode set up quite a few character driven cliffhangers and their resolution came a bit quickly. To the series’ credit, Vanessa’s clash with the devil was dealt with fairly early on, allowing the ensuing aftermath for everyone on a personal level to take center stage. Looking back over the season, the standout surprise belongs to the development of Vanessa and Ethan’s romance which for a show centered on gothic horror was a most unexpected accomplishment. By season’s end the desire for these two soul mates to find their way back to each other and overcome the many obstacles thrown in their path was pretty outstanding. Eva Green and Josh Hartnett have managed to build an incredibly believable chemistry over the course of the last two seasons and because of that “Penny Dreadful” managed to build a root worthy coupling, side stepping other series’ propensity to throw the two lead characters together without any chemistry and simply proclaim them the series’ requisite couple.

Throughout its run, “Penny Dreadful” delivered a strong sophomore season that improved upon its first to staggering results. Is it 2016 yet?

Side Notes / Burning Questions: What on earth does Lily have to be so ticked off with Frankenstein about? Without him, she wouldn’t have super strength, immortality or anything else. Thank goodness Lyle made it! He is the comedic relief the show desperately needs. With Ethan heading to America, it seems highly plausible we might see Vanessa and others venture there as well and the possibility is very intriguing. Might there be a western gothic feel to next season? Here’s to finding out...

Photo Credit: "Penny Dreadful"/Official Twitter Page

Sunday, July 12, 2015

TV Rundown: June 28 & July 5 | Solving the Latest 2 Episodes of "True Detective"

Episode 2: “Night Finds You”| Opening with a monologue from Vince Vaughn's Frank, the second episode of HBO's anthological series got off to a meditative start, filling in some of the backstory for the reformed crime boss with a tragic tale of neglect he endured during his terrible childhood. Speaking of childhoods, viewers also got a glimpse into the sordid relationship between Paul and his mother. To say their dynamic was awkward would be putting it mildly.

Meanwhile, Ray's ex-wife showed up demanding he stay away from their son. Her rebuke of him as a “bad man” came across excessively harsh. The man has been trying to be a father to a child that is clearly not biologically his and for a very cruel reason. Stepping up to the plate in light of a very difficult circumstance speaks to him not being an entirely bad person. Is he an alcoholic in need of counseling for the trauma of his dissolved marriage and the reason behind it? Absolutely and a little compassion would go a long way. Ray's ex-wife's behavior just seemed callous. It's understandable she's upset about his outburst with the bully and his drinking but she needs to be working on getting him help, not cutting him off from the boy he regards as his son. Not to mention all of this concern is coming from a woman, who according to Ray, spent quite a bit of time out of the maternal picture. She’s also shown no empathy for why her husband would even go after her attacker in the first place. The idea of his wanting to avenge her seems to be a concept that’s completely lost on her.

This leads us to another plot point and a beyond sinister possibility that was subtly hinted at during the episode. One of Frank's enforcers had bright red hair, a trait Ray's son shares. Is it possible that Frank had one of his own guys rape Ray's wife to get Ray under his thumb when he inevitably came to Frank wanting revenge? It's a chilling thought.

There was a lot hinting in this particular installment. It felt like we were being led to various possibilities that while sensical also seemed too obvious a conclusion for a mystery series. There was the aforementioned Frank anvil and the not too subtle intimation that Paul might be gay. All of the pieces seem to fit both puzzles. The only thing is none of those answers would be all that shocking if they were to be revealed. Instinct says there has to be something more to it.

Side Notes / Burning Questions: Did anyone else find Rick Springfield almost unrecognizable as the creepy shrink? Why is a show called "True Detective" spending so much time on a criminal character? After the second episode there is no question that season one, was exceedingly superior. Ani is still not all that engaging, though her patrol car chat and overall interaction with Ray breathed the most life we've seen in the character so far.

Episode 3: “Maybe Tomorrow” | Opening with the heavy aura of David Lynch, it didn’t take long to learn that Ray had survived his apparently fatal gunshot wounds. Thankfully for him (and viewers) they were rubber bullets. After landing a shocking moment with last week’s cliffhanger, the propulsion of vigor that felt primed to jumpstart the season’s energy diminished to nothing. Like driving down a dark twisty road, the overall investigation continues to only add confusion; turning up few resolutions. The more they investigate the more tangled it all becomes. Waiting for this whole mystery to unspool is becoming tedious. 

At the heart of the problem is solving this crime isn’t something that has been easy to personally invest in, in terms of interest. The victim was a crooked libertine, who really hasn’t garnered much sympathy. The storyline isn’t offering a huge motivation to catch the killer as a result and it appears the lackluster desire to nab them is trickling down to the on-screen detectives. Unlike last season; the trio of investigators working on season two’s case have demonstrated little zeal for solving this one and you can’t really blame them for their lack of enthusiasm. It’s all a political minefield and each of them are acting as someone’s puppet, even if they don’t realize it. There aren’t any personal stakes in this case, the way there were for Rust and Marty.

On a separate note, Vince Vaughn has been doing some of his best work in years as the psychologically damaged Frank. In the previous episode he shined in the episode’s opening monologue and in its follow-up. he portrayed the tough side of the criminal trying to go legit with equal measure. When the show is revolving around Vaughn and Colin Farrell, it is at its best. Vaughn is utilizing his nifty gift for monologues and Farrell continues to impress with his signature ability to portray a demeanor that is as tender as it is volatile.

As the mystery surrounding Paul’s personal life lingers on, there continues to be mounting support to the theory he's gay. This is one plot point that has already grown so obvious that there’s apparently nothing left to solve. What is all of this build up leading to if the outcome is so obvious though? Could we be being faked out like we were Ray's fate? If so, what's the point?

Side Notes / Burning Questions: Does anyone care about finding out who killed Caspere? It doesn’t seem likely that Ani will be working her feminine whiles on Ray anytime soon. Will Ani ever stop being angry? Why is destroying Velcaro such a high priority for the department, it’s starting to look personal. He's certainly not the biggest fish in the pool of compromised cops.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Let's Talk About..."Game of Thrones" & Courting Controversy

The cultural zeitgeist that surrounds HBO’s premier series is unlike most of the water cooler shows currently airing. What revs people up over one storyline’s direction, can be equally bold in another capacity and go completely ignored. In the midst of its fifth season, “Game of Thrones” found itself facing the brunt of major controversy when in the wake of the sixth episode, titled “Unbowed, Unbent, Unbroken” an online frenzy broke out, sending the series into controversial overdrive. The aftermath continues to linger, serving as a major talking point at the recent San Diego Comic-Con panel for the series. The fury stems from an off-book change that saw Sansa Stark, beleaguered heroine, orphan and pawn to the powerful; endure a rape at the hands of her sadistic new husband. The outrage is understandable. “How much more must this poor girl suffer?” and “are there no limits the series’ brutality?” were among some of the battle cries, heard echoing across the web-isphere.

By the same token it is a plot, vigilant fans should’ve seen coming from a mile away, which should’ve cushioned some of the initial shock. Sansa’s predicament was a tragic and inevitable reality the moment she acquiesced to Littlefinger’s proposition of an arranged marriage between herself and Ramsay Bolton, the son of the man who’d murdered her brother, mother and sister-in-law; in cold blood. House Bolton is a notoriously vile clan. Tyrion had shown her chastity a respect that most in their world, would not have and she had acknowledged that fact, throughout their short-lived marriage. Why fans were expecting the same nobility from Ramsay is strange to say the least.

What befell Sansa was horrific, sad and tragic. It was also true to the era “Game of Thrones” is portraying; the historical period known as The War of the Roses. Nothing about the storyline came across as if it were jockeying for shock value or acting for the point of sensationalism. It was in keeping with the brutality of the times and the behavior of a character as despicable as Ramsay Bolton, who rivals the departed King Joffrey for the title of most evil character. It would’ve been disingenuous for the storyline to have played out any other way. A similar debate enveloped the latest season of The CW series “Reign”, when Mary was violated during a siege. Like “Game of Thrones”, the storyline on “Reign” was in keeping with the time period, the series takes place in. It would be revisionist to ignore this dark aspect of the historical period. It was incredibly violent. Sanitizing the past in dramatic productions just avoids reality.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

TV Rundown: June 23 & 30 | Catching Up on the 2 Latest Episodes of "Tyrant" - Plus, the Series Premiere of "Scream"

Tyrant | Episode 2: 
“Enter the Fates” | Jamal survived an assassination attempt, Barry roamed the desert, Molly mourned and Leila proceeded with business as usual. The two big stories playing out in “Enter the Fates“ was Ahmed’s attempt to prove himself amid growing pressure to assume more responsibilities for Abuddin. Back in America, Molly continued to grieve the “loss” of Barry. Something her children seemed incapable of doing. Their rather blasé reaction to their father’s supposed execution was as trying on their psyche as learning the grocery store was out of their favorite flavor of ice cream. The respective Al-Fayed youngsters seem to lack much emotional range outside of angry outbursts.

The curious development of the episode included Molly’s fortuitous run-in with a lawyer, who already appear ready to pounce on the freshly minted widow. Barry is roaming the desert trying to survive and a guy is already putting the moves on his wife, talk about unfair. Sammy did rightfully point out that Barry put himself in the position he is in. His decision to risk his family’s safety so he could perform a coup d’état in the hope of becoming the ruler of his country, without taking any considerable consideration into how that would impact his family, was bad. He knew he was risking it all, failing and having what happened occur and he also knew that if he’d succeeded he would’ve been physically separated from his family for the unforeseeable future. In truth, there’s not a whole lot of difference between the separation he and his family are enduring now compared to the one he was voluntarily working to create. 

Side Notes / Burning Questions: Why was the gunman only looking at Samira when he was describing his plans? Ihab is the leader of their cell and he was sitting right there. It’s hard to believe that he wouldn’t have called the gunman out on his disrespect. Why didn’t we see Abdul’s side of the conversation when he was talking to Sammy? So far Ahmed has yet to display any characteristics that resemble his parents. He is not cunning, shrewd or ambitious. It’s hard to imagine a couple as distinctive in their characteristics as Leila and Jamal are, having a son who is as feeble as Ahmed. It’s clear the writers are trying to play off the juxtaposition, however from a genetic standpoint it’s a bit of a stretch. Jennifer Finnegan continues to impress as the bereaved Molly.

Monday, June 29, 2015

TV Rundown: June 23 | The "Pretty Little Liars" Dig for the Truth About Charles

In “Don’t Look Now”, the name of the game was unlocking the mystery of Charles. After last week’s episode ended with Ali and Jason demanding answers from their father, they finally got them. Among the girls other exploits was Hanna alienating Caleb, Spencer jonesing for drugs, Emily helping Sara and Aria opening up about her kidnapping for the first time, thanks to the catharsis of photography. The girls’ pressuring Hanna to keep Caleb out of the loop was one of the hour's more poorly designed plot points. He knows all about A and has provided more help for them in regards to A, than anyone else. He is a tech wizard and proven loyalist. The danger excuse is wearing thin. Especially given Caleb has aptly survived all of A’s threats in the past. Plus, he and Hanna have already rehashed this issue over and over again with her backing down, every time. They’re better as a team than working alone. It just seems like another ploy to keep the girls’ isolated from their respective paramours. Currently all of the Liars' relationships seem to be in limbo.

Now onto Ali’s bizarre devastation over learning that the mentally ill brother she never knew existed was exiled to Radley and supposedly died. Even when she learned that he had attempted to kill her as a baby, she remained obstinately sad about it all and harshly judgemental of her parents and the measures they took to protect her and Jason from their disturbed brother. It’s understandable that she was shaken, a little taken aback; however her deep streak of horror was surprising and strange. Did she miss the part where Charles tried to murder her? He was/is not on the short list for sibling of the year. Perhaps she’s just relating, though it seems to go a bit deeper. Ali appears to be losing all of her edge lately; trading in spiky barbs for wallowing (in this case misplaced) empathy.

The biggest question looming after the episode ended wasn’t whether or not Charles is actually dead (he is mostly likely alive), it was the status of Mona. We haven’t gotten a single update on how she’s doing. There are a myriad of questions surrounding her status. How is she coping? Has she gotten her hair back to normal? How are things with her mom? Is she ever coming back to school? Mona’s story should be running front and center. She’d been locked up a lot longer than the Liars and her mental state when they arrived was far more fragmented, than theirs were when they left. Instead Sara, a complete stranger, is getting more screen time exploring her life post-release than one of the original and most vital characters of the series and it doesn’t sit well or make much sense, unless Sara is the key to a much larger mystery. Maybe she’s working with Charles? Why haven’t the girls learned to stop opening themselves up to complete strangers, by the way? Emily’s letting this girl share her room without as much as a psych exam.

Why on earth did Hanna stop digging because Jason had declared the headstone’s roots were too deep to have not been planted long ago? So what? A headstone is not the equivalent of confirming there is a dead body in a coffin. Not to mention, a headstone can be planted without anything lying beneath it. Hanna is usually not one to back down over an observation that is so trivial and fails to resolve anything. The good news out of this entire storyline is that it is giving Jason, an always interesting and under-explored character, a chance to be more involved in the action. Why he has yet to indulge in any sort of romantic entanglement with Aria or Hanna is confusing. Whatever happened to his flirtation with Aria, anyway? They completely dropped that story like a hot potato for another forced reunion with Ezra.

Side Notes / Burning Questions: For the second week in a row, the girls’ boyfriends have made more sense than they have. Even Ezra is acting with greater rationale than Spencer. Why is no one demanding to meet Sara’s mom? It seems entirely suspicious that Mrs. Fields wouldn’t demand a meeting with this supposedly cruel woman and where has the media been in all of this? It’s hard to believe they’d be passing up on a story as sensational as a group of girls being kidnapped and rescued.

Photo Credit: Pretty Little Liars/Official Twitter Page