Tuesday, October 13, 2015

TV Report Card | Reign | Season 2

Overview: Mary and Francis faced down enemies from outside the castle and within, all the while battling the ups and downs of a new marriage. Elsewhere, Mary’s ladies found love, flirtation, scandalous trysts and disaster.

Storyline Direction Pros:

The Arrival of Narcisse
Every show needs a rogue, a character whose loyalties are questionable, methods mischievous and charm indisputable. With the introduction of Lord Narcisse, “Reign” created a character comprised of all of these attributes and they struck bonafide gold with the casting of “Legend of the Seeker” star Craig Parker in the role. Parker was a scene stealing behemoth on the gone-way-too-soon sci-fantasy and he’s kept that record going with his performance on “Reign”.

What a difference a season can make. Francis went from jaded, moody hipster prince to full-fledged old-timey romantic hero in the span of two seasons, resulting in one of the best character evolutions in recent memory. As the young King and Queen’s marriage ran aground, it fell upon Francis to keep the marital faith and he did so under incredibly arduous circumstances. His commitment went above and beyond and to his credit; he never came across as a fool for his loyalty either, rather a really devoted spouse caught in an impossible situation. The story arc also gave Francis' portrayer Toby Regbo some mightily meaty material, which he handled with deft skill and tremendous nuance. In light of season two, the fate that awaits Francis has only been made all the more tragic.

Reinventing Greer
Given how she started season two, it was next to impossible to predict how Greer’s journey would pan out. She overcame a thorny triangle, settling upon Lord Castleroy, got married, secured her future and then inadvertently funded a group of religious zealots who tried to overthrow her Queen. In the end, Greer wound up suffering a terrible string of misfortunes. Never one to stay down for long, she pulled herself together and started her own business…as a madame. Let’s be honest, out of all of Mary’s ladies, Greer was the last one you would’ve expected to take up that mantle.  

All Hail, Queen Catherine
One of the most complicated female characters on television, the Catherine de’ Medici of “Reign” is a mother lion who uniformly rules with her iron fist and calculating cerebral prowess. She is witty, cutthroat, humorous and downright diabolical. Walking this tight rope of a character with masterful skill is actress Megan Fellows, who portrays Catherine’s fiery perseverance and raving intellect with an incendiary dynamism that is spellbinding. Catherine is the series’ villain, sometimes heroine, dependable wild card and indefatigable must-see.

Monday, October 12, 2015

TV Rundown: Oct 11 - 16 | Part 1 | "Arrow" & "The Flash" Return,"Blood & Oil" Improves

“Arrow” always tends to pack a punch with its season premiere and this season’s was no exception. Opening on the domestic life of Oliver and Felicity, it wasn’t long before they were enticed back to Star City to aid Team Arrow in the fight against a new sinister force terrorizing the city. The action was good and the character-driven arcs were compelling. Felicity’s admission that she’d already grown bored with her recent suburban lifestyle sort of indicated that she and Oliver’s relationship works best in the bubble of crime fighting. Whether they can actually sustain a relationship outside of that is unclear, given it appears to be the glue to their relationship. Neither have discussed whether they truly share anything in common beyond that.

Diggle kept his guard up around Oliver and when they seemed to be patching things up, they didn’t quite make it. Diggle also got a chance to debut his brand new helmet, which works way better as a disguise than a lot of other superheroes’; unfortunately it also looks a lot like Magneto’s. All in all, it was a strong episode with a twist that found Lance making a shocking alliance. The season to come looks promising and the last minute foreshadowed death gave fans a lot to think about.

Side Notes/Burning Questions: Who’s dead? What happened to Ray following the explosion at the end of last season and why is no one concerned? What is wrong with Thea? How is Oliver fooling anyone into believing the Green Arrow and Arrow are different entities? They look and sound exactly the same.

The Flash
The second season of “The Flash” got off to a phenomenal, if near perfect, start: Joe mentored Barry, Cisco worked with the police on a gizmo to disable meta-humans, Dr. Stein named his first meta-human and Barry brooded for good reasons. Then the big moment came when it was revealed that Dr. Wells aka Reverse-Flash had left Barry a video of him confessing to murdering Barry’s mom, clearing Barry’s dad of the crime. Before long, Henry Allen was a free man, celebrating with his son, friends and the rest of Team Flash. Then he began to look anxious as Barry started making plans for their future (all of which sounded like great storylines) and that’s when Barry’s dad tells him that he can’t do it. He’s leaving town because Barry can’t be The Flash if he’s around. Come again? Worse yet, Barry agrees with him and helps his dad set off for parts unknown. 

Why in the heck can’t Barry be The Flash with his dad in the picture? It makes zero sense. If the writers don’t want to tell a story with Barry’s dad, leave him in prison or kill him off. Don’t make him out to be a total deadbeat who’d sacrifice having a relationship with the son he's been separated from for 15 years so they can zoom around for a higher purpose. Barry can have his dad and be The Flash, just like Barry can have a relationship with his current friends and family and be The Flash. Why make this a plot point?

Side Notes/Burning Questions: Dr. Stein appears to be stepping in as Dr. Wells’ replacement and he’s a good fit. If Ronnie survived this latest blast, he will have lived through 3 major explosions. Depending on how you look at it, he’s either really lucky to keep surviving or very unlucky to keep finding himself in the position to have to survive them. Just to reiterate, since Eddie killed himself, his descendent Eobard Thawne could’ve never come into existence in the future, hence he could not have been a part of the current timeline. Therefore he could’ve never killed Nora Allen or created The Flash. This part of the time travel storyline needs to be explained.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Top 5 Ways to Improve "The Blacklist"

A sophomore slump was inevitable after its tremendous freshman season, however the distance the second season of “The Blacklist” fell was more significant than one could’ve anticipated. In light of the third season premiere, it has become clear that NBC’s once near-perfect crime drama is reaching a tipping point. That said, the show still has the ability to get back on track and here are 5 suggestions on how they might be able to do that…

#5 Explore Liz’s Dark Past
In the first season, Liz alluded to a past that might not have always been particularly savory. It was a bit surprising given her introduction as a by-the-book heroine and the revelation stuck out all the more because of that. It’s time to explore what other secrets Liz might be hiding and what better time to uncover them, than when the FBI is hunting her down and exhaustively researching every single move she’s ever made. Something certainly has to come to light under that kind of scrutiny.

#4 Red Needs His Moriarty
The villain of the week angle is growing tired and when Berlin was introduced towards the end of season one it seemed like the show was gearing up to give Red, an arch nemesis worthy of going toe-to-toe with him; a Moriarty to Red’s Sherlock. Well…Berlin didn’t last long and as it turns out his legs as a long-term villain were too weak to support the arc. It’s time for Red to really meet his match and move away from these shoe fly villains he should easily be able to swat away. 

#3 Resolve Liz’s Relationship to Red
It is either the most obvious secret in television history or Liz is not Red’s daughter. The former definitely gets my vote. There’s no way a notorious, self-preserving criminal like Red would put himself on the line for anyone other than his own daughter. It makes no sense. Let’s get this storyline out of the way already. There’s no other explanation that will suffice and dealing with the fallout of the paternity revelation will help move the overall story forward, which is a lot better than treading water with red herrings (no pun intended) that will lead nowhere.

#2 Restore Red
Circa 2013, Red was one of the sharpest tools in the TV shed. Ever since the early part of season two, he’s been struggling to reclaim that title. One of the things that initially set the series apart was that viewers could rest assured knowing Red would always triumph in the face of daunting odds. The fun was in trying to figure out how he would do it. Now the series has traded in that essential quality for a nail-biting “realism” that finds Red barely clawing his way to victory. The first rule of “The Blacklist” should be that viewers never see Red sweat it, he’s way too cool for that.

#1 Bring Tom Back in Full Force
When the season one finale attempted to fake viewers out with Tom’s supposed death, they had to wait an agonizing period of time before learning he was among the living and being kept prisoner by his estranged wife. Then the story finally picked up and Liz was dealing with whether Tom ever really loved her and if she should even care. The storyline that would eventually have them finding their way back to each other was one of the few highlights of a rather bland season. Without question, the best part of season two was the emergence of the real Tom Keen. After playing the soft-spoken, hipster, school teacher throughout season one, actor Ryan Eggold was able to take off the cardigan and get down to business as the cut throat con-man heavy. Eggold’s performance gave the series the adrenalin shot it desperately needed, breathing major life into the slumping sophomore season and helping it rally one of its standout episodes, "Tom Keen (No. 7)". 

The simple truth is that whenever Tom is mixing it up with Liz or Red, the show truly hits its stride. He is a character worth investing in and there are endless possibilities with where to take him. It seems whenever the show is ready to dive in, it pulls back on fully committing to his arc and he gets stuck playing second string, again. Episodes will go by without him in them and the season premiere didn’t even bother to mention him. Why is that? Besides Red, Tom is the only character truly integral to Liz’s identity. He might not hold the answers to her parentage but he is the only one who really knows the real her, the woman she was before Red came into her life. He is also the only person on the show that Liz loves and clearly loves her in return, all of which should give him major weight in the narrative. This also makes him an enormous threat to Red, as Tom’s the only one Liz might be willing to trust over him. The power struggle between Tom and Red should be the focus, not an evil shadow government that provides zero long-term emotional stakes for the leads.

Photo: "The Blacklist"/Official Twitter Page

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

TV Report Card | Arrow | Season 3

Overview: Oliver faced his greatest enemy yet in Ra’s al Ghul. While Sara’s murder reverberated with consequences for everyone on Team Arrow as they sought vengeance.

Storyline Pros:

Ray Palmer and Raylicity 
The best part of the season was the introduction of a breath of invigorating air that came in the form of Ray Palmer, a sunny side up genius who romanced Felicity. Ray proved that a hero doesn’t have to be doom and gloom, anguished to no end and filled with so much self-loathing that he struggles to feel worthy of taking another breath. He also gave the show a huge burst of fun. You know that weird expression of a character actually enjoying their life? It’s easy to forget that phenomenon actually has the capacity to exist in the “Arrow” universe and Ray made it possible again. His romance with Felicity was naturally cultivated and actors Brandon Routh and Emily Bett Rickards brought more chemistry to the screen than one could’ve possibly hoped for in a doomed romantic storyline that ended way too soon.

The Return of Malcolm Merlyn
Malcolm Merlyn is the complicated villain “Arrow” desperately needs and that’s because he is so multifaceted. The finest villains start out with the best of intentions before morphing into something they never anticipated, as they gradually lose touch with their original mission by sacrificing one shred of morality after another in an attempt to secure their original goal. Such is the case of Malcolm, a man who has lost sight of his moral compass more times than viewers can count and because of his stupendous portrayer's (John Barrowman) charisma, been given more than his share of second chances to change.

Merlyn’s journey over season three was an interesting one and one that kept the audience guessing as to his true motives, while hoping they’d eventually spell his redemption. He is the ultimate arch nemesis for Oliver. He can fight as well as him (if not better) and he is a superior strategist. When it comes to brains and brawn, he has it covered. He’s also the only long-term villain that can authentically be kept alive, given he’s someone Oliver shares a history with pre-dark side and thusly someone he can’t bring himself to kill.

The Maturation of Thea
From whiny party girl to her father’s kick-ass protégé, Thea had her best season yet. Her newfound confidence and awakening as a fully matured woman was a far better realized arc than Laurel’s. With her function on the show secured, the only thing that needs improving is her love life. Having been nearly killed by a deadly DJ (seriously?) it’s time for her to wise up in the romance department.

Diggle and his Friendships
Oliver and Diggle’s bromance hit a major rough patch at the end of the season, which was sad because their relationship had recently hit a newly gratifying peak. It will be interesting to see how that tension rolls into the following season. That said; it was Diggle’s relationship with Deadshot that continued to be among the show’s most compelling. Given their past, the begrudging respect that grew between them was an unexpected and nuanced development that was one of the big surprises of the season. With Diggle becoming a dad in season three, there was a heightened risk to his heroics and the price it posed to his family. The conversations surrounding this were philosophically richer than most.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

TV Rundown: Sep 27 - Oct 2 | "The Blacklist" Returns, "Blood & Oil" Churns

The TV Rundown is back for fall! Find out all about the series premiere of ABC's "Blood & Oil" and the third season premiere of NBC's "The Blacklist"...

Blood & Oil
The premiere of ABC’s oily new sudser kicked off in the usual way, introducing viewers to the lead characters, scoping out their prospective enemies and setting the stage for the drama to come. Pilots can go one of two ways. They are either the weakest episode the series will ever have or it will knock the doors off its intended mission to hook its prey from the opening gate. Sadly for “Blood & Oil” the latter scenario turned out, not to be the case. The number one issue is that the series was falsely advertised as a posh affair and the only decadent thing that happened in the opener took place at a blink and you missed it gathering. Another thing that didn’t go as advertised: Don Johnson. Highly promoted as his return to television, Johnson barely figured into the pilot. Chase Crawford and Rebecca Rittenhouse’s characters more than dominated the hour with Johnson’s Hap being haplessly sprinkled throughout. Not the best way to reintroduce an entertainment veteran who has more than earned the right to carry his own series.

The twenty-something’s storyline had its moments even as the audience was hit with one melodramatic wave after another. First they endure a nasty car crash they miraculously walk away from physically unscathed and then they lose their livelihood as the $30,000+ Laundromat equipment they were going to use to start their dream business is destroyed. Don’t worry because before you knew it these two crazy kids were bouncing back after a serendipitous run-in, results in them buying a crucial piece of land that puts them in business with Hap Briggs. It’s important to note that the last development didn’t occur until after, Billy (Crawford) got into yet another car accident and rallied past a field of cows to seal the deal. Either “Blood & Oil” is appropriately bringing to the public’s attention the dangers of driving down a two-lane road or Billy is the worst driver in television history. Hmmm, it’s definitely the latter.

The good news is that despite a rough start, the series did show potential. The plotline has fertile ground on which to build a respectable nighttime soap and though there are areas that need tweaking the show seemed self-aware of them, even as the pilot was taking shape. The bad news is that given the setting of a boom town, the series calls to mind a modern-day “White Fang” or “Iron Will” minus the adorable canines. The dilapidation depicted in the community was more reminiscent of an apocalyptic event than a seismic windfall. The second episode will be more telling of where all of the board pieces will fall. Hopefully the following installment will include more material for Don Johnson and Delroy Lindo’s Sheriff and smoother writing for Wick.

The Blacklist
The first minutes of the once phenomenal NBC series’ third season showed tremendous promise. Red cleverly engineered Liz’s escape as the two evaded the authorities in an enthralling opening sequence and then they cut to a commercial break, where all of the momentum fizzled. The first sign of trouble was when Red allowed the sister of his minion to remain above deck without any supervision. Then it all went downhill faster than mud on a slide. 

Where is Red from season one? Remember the brilliant strategist who was always 5 steps ahead of the bureau and still had time to share an odd vignette from his past with heady insight? He has been MIA since the third episode of season two, only to return briefly in its 19th episode "(Leonard Caul (No. 62)" before disappearing again for the remainder of the season. As it stands now, he shows no signs of returning. Everything he masterminded in the season opener was foiled by Ressler or undermined by his own lack of foresight. How could he not know that concentrating all of the sightings at one location would send the feds searching for him in the exact opposite direction? After tonight’s episode it is unclear how this same guy could’ve evaded the authorities for as long as he had been attributed to have done, in the pilot.

This brings us to the next issue. Where in the world was Tom Keen? Wouldn’t he be trying to find Liz? It’s hard to believe he’d still be setting sail knowing she was being hunted. At the end of the episode, when Liz spouted out a random address, hope rose that she was going to catch up with the only other person capable of protecting her, her husband. It certainly helped the theory when Red seemed so annoyed by the suggestion of her alternate plan. Then, just like a lot of other hopes throughout the premiere, they were dashed.

Speaking of underutilized characters, Dembe was nowhere to be seen in Liz and Red’s New York escape attempt and that was because he was trying to save his granddaughter. Yes folks. Dembe is not only a father but a grandfather. With his secret life now exposed, this opens up another huge plot hole for the series. Why would Dembe continue working for Red knowing his family could be used as leverage by bad guys? He seems way too protective for that.

What did you think about the premieres of "Blood & Oil" and "The Blacklist"? Will you be staying tuned to ABC's new Sunday night soap? Is "The Blacklist" still in the red? Sound off in the comment section below...
Photo: "Blood & Oil"/Official Twitter Page, "The Blacklist"/Official Twitter Page

Friday, October 2, 2015

Movie Review | The Face of an Angel (2014)

Michael Winterbottom has changed the names and kept the places for his fictionalized take on the real-life murder case of Meredith Kercher and the court prosecution that followed against Amanda Knox.

Told through the eyes of Thomas (Daniel Bruhl), a director weathering a personal crisis, a strange mix of fact and fiction mingle to create a dramatic deluge that begets more questions than answers. What is so interesting about Winterbottom’s vision is that he has in effect created a film within a film and not in the way you might expect. As Thomas struggles to make the movie he wants to about the case, “The Face of an Angel” becomes the very movie he envisions. Similar to Winterbottom's “Tristam Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story”, the movie we are watching unfold is a movie about making a movie. The difference being that we actually get to see what Winterbottom’s proposed film would be.

That's not all the movie entails. There is a commentary concerning the real-life case and the media circus that swirled around its coverage, along with an illuminating look into the work of freelance journalists, who are depicted scrounging for every nibble of a story they can get, as they ride the wave of public interest for as long as possible. The world of filmmaking also receives attention as viewers are taken into the behind-the-scenes table talk between artist and executive. As much as Thomas is Winterbottom’s conduit in telling of the travails of getting a movie off the ground, he serves as the audience’s foothold to the human story. Besides seeing the brutal crime through the eyes of a filmmaker, Thomas is also viewing it as the father of a daughter. As a result, his defenses are up and while members of the press spend most of their time intrigued with the accused, he remains focused on the victim. As a startled observer he’s brought up to speed by Kate Beckinsale’s rabid journo, Simone. Unlike her, he wants answers and attempts to cut through the ever consuming uncertainty that mars the case, crawling through the murky waters of conjecture with the hope of finding clarity. It’s a goal that proves impossible to achieve.

Reeling from the mother of his daughter’s recent affair with a co-star, he finds diversion in a sordid mystery that keeps his mind busy and his paranoia teeming. He walks around the city to grasp its haunted atmosphere, the air filled with the distorted yells that bellow from its streets without explanation. As if its central protagonist doesn’t have enough on his plate and the script isn’t already packed with copious detours, Thomas finds solace in his own fling with the married Simone, has a flirtation with a college student (Cara Delevingne) and enters into a downward spiral of drug abuse. This part of the movie is perhaps the hardest to make sense of. Why a betrayed Thomas would sleep with another man’s wife, knowing the betrayal he’s experiencing, borders on disingenuous. Everything in the movie plays for deeper meaning and perhaps that is too tidy a verdict to reach given the complicated timing and our protagonist’s hazy mindset but it doesn’t quite add up.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Fall TV's Best New Bets | CBS | "Supergirl" & "Angel from Hell" - Plus, a Midseason Bonus Pick

It's that time of year again, new fall programming is getting ready to begin and Eclectic Pop has picked at least two of the most promising new series from each network. Find out which of the new shows from CBS made the cut...

Yes, the trailer was campy and another superhero TV show might not be what television as a whole needs but this show has something few can claim to have, the perfect casting of its lead. You couldn’t ask for a better actress to play Clark Kent’s super cousin than the fantastic Melissa Benoist. When “Glee” took on the challenge of recharging its underclassmen for its fourth season, they hit gold with the casting of Benoist as Marley, the vocally talented and lovable good-girl daughter of the cafeteria lady.

Benoist has a rare quality that’s missing in so many castings for “good” characters, her screen presence genuinely screams “good”. It's a crucial attribute that sets her apart playing a heroine. While it's easy to get caught up in the flashy nature of villains, their role is significantly compromised if the audience doesn't have a hero worth rooting for. Whether the show is super or not, it has definitely found a super actress to play the title role. Premiere Date: Oct 26, airs on Mondays

Angel from Hell
The hilarious Jane Lynch returns to scripted television with this fantasy sitcom from Tad Quill. It follows Lynch’s Amy, an eccentric guardian angel who watches over Maggie Lawson’s type A, Alison. At first hesitant to believe Amy’s claim of angel guardianship, Alison is eventually won over by the accuracy of Amy's out-there predictions and an odd couple friendship ensues.

Jane Lynch is the chief selling point here. She stole every scene she ever had on “Glee” and after playing supporting for a lot of her career, she is finally, rightfully playing the lead this time around. If Maggie Lawson’s previous work is any clue, she should be a great foil to Lynch’s sure to be outlandish antics and a comedy of opposites with legs should be the result. Premiere Date: Nov 5, airs on Thursdays

Mid-Season: Rush Hour
“Rush Hour” is the latest movie to get the TV treatment and it’s not the only new show on CBS’ roster to boast that title. It joins “Limitless” as part of the ever growing trend. What makes an adaptation of “Rush Hour” far more appealing than a TV retread of "Limitless" is that "Rush Hour" was a much better movie; therefore providing the creative powers with superior source material to mount a series around. To refresh, “Rush Hour” follows the exploits of an L.A. cop (Justin Hires taking over the role played by Chris Tucker) and a Hong Kong detective (Jon Foo succeeding Jackie Chan) as they fight crime.

Given that the original movie had two sequels, the formula for a long standing series is definitely in the cards. “Scrubs” creator Bill Lawrence is that the helm and if the endurance of his 9 season-long medical comedy is any indication of his ability to keep a series going, “Rush Hour” is in good hands. This premiere is a ways off, as it is currently slated for the mid-season of 2016. Hopefully it will be worth the wait and avoid going the route of CBS' other comedic movie-TV adaptation, “Bad Teacher”. Premiere Date: 2016