Monday, October 05, 2015

Fall Premieres, Part II

Here we are, well into Fall premiere time and I have barely expressed my opinions on anything. What is going on? Has the world gone mad?

Let's just say that a combination of factors (and I'll be honest, one of them is laziness) have kept me from writing on the blog. These factors also include some unexpected surgery. On my face.

A little hole in the head hasn't stopped me from watching new shows and forming opinions, though. It's just kept me from having the time to tell you about them. But fear not, gentle readers! It's a rainy weekend, I'm stuck inside, so I'm going to give it to your straight. So let's get to it!

Scream Queens: Have you ever seen a Ryan Murphy show? You know, like Glee or American Horror Story? If you have then you know exactly what to expect from Scream Queens. Snappy, too-clever dialogue, characters that are more caricatures, blatant racism, misogyny, and homophobia but it's ok because it's funny and full of social commentary, right? RIGHT? Oh, and lots of gore. Buckets of blood even. So be warned.

Objectively the show is not good and doesn't really make much sense. But that doesn't mean it's not also awesome. It's not as fun as I had hoped, but it's still some fun and I'll keep watching through the end. If nothing to else to observe the shit show and see how things spectacularly fall apart. And if they don't it will be a pleasant surprise! And I admit, I am kind of intrigued as to who the killer is and just how they hell they are pulling off these increasingly ridiculous murders. There's a lot of eye rolling going on in the Maggie Cats household during this show, but there's also a lot of laughing and snorting.

And honestly, Jamie Lee Curtis knocking it out of the park every week is worth the price of admission alone. She's in on the joke and is just having a great time with her character and the circus going on around her. If you want some brainless Halloween-appropriate fun, you could do worse than Scream Queens.

Scream Queens airs Tuesdays at 9:00EST on FOX. 

Rosewood: Morris Chestnut is ridiculously handsome and charismatic. And that is pretty much the only reason to watch this crime procedural drama. It's kind of like House meets Bones meets...I don't know, something about a hot doctor who solves murders. 

So Morris Chestnut is Dr. Beaumont Rosewood, Jr., a private pathologist living and working in Miami who contracts with the local police force to help solve murders. Is a private pathologist actually a thing? Like, you can take the body of your loved one to this guy and he will do a private autopsy? I don't believe this is actually a job. 

Anyway, the two episodes I've seen have had pretty run of the mill murders to solve, though the Miami locale means they are a bit flashier than other similar shows. Dr. Rosewood is surrounded by quirky and clever friends (and lesbians!) and his Mom and is very observant (like House, but slutty). And there is sexual tension with the homicide detective (of course) who has a tragic back story (of course) and so has trust issues (of course). Unless you're a fan of the police procedural drama, you can pretty much skip this one.

Don't look so smug, Morris Chestnut.

Rosewood airs Wednesdays at 8:00PM on FOX.

Quantico: You guys, I really wanted to dislike this one. Some of my favorite bloggers, Tom and Lorenzo, wrote a review where they basically grumped about how the show is a collection of all the worst trends on television right now. The overly pretty people, the season-long flashback plot device, the "nobody is who they seem" mysteries, and the ridiculous plot twists--it's all true. But, dammit, I'm still hooked and will have to keep watching.

The series' protagonist is Alex Parrish (Priyanka Chopra), an overly gorgeous FBI-recruit who is suspected of committing a terrorist attack. Flashbacks tell her story as well as the story of her classmates at the FBI Academy in Quantico.So basically it's How to Get Away with Murder but with terrorism and FBI stuff.

Let's say that I liked it in spite of myself and even against my better judgment. If you're looking for something to fill your conspiracy theory drama slot, you can do a lot worse than this. Well, at least as far as I could tell from the pilot episode. Time will tell if things stay interesting...or devolve into a big stinky mess.

If this is what the FBI recruit-class actually looks like I will literally eat my hat. I'll boil it first, but by Jove, I will eat it.

Quantico airs Sundays at 10:00PM EST on ABC.

Friday, October 02, 2015

October Netflix: New Seasons of Things

So, new seasons of things have been popping up on Netflix. I've watched halfway into a few of them.

One of the problems that plagues continuing series is that, after the first two seasons or so, the plot tends to resolve all the really interesting things that brought you to the series in the first place, and now it has to find new conflict. I'm going to rank the series in ascending order of how well they do that.


Running to a murdered plotline
I had such high hopes for Longmire's fourth season. The last one tied up who killed Walt's wife, and yet there was a cliffhanger.

And now, four episodes in, Walt's still avenging his wife's death, the cliffhanger got tied up too fast, and, worst of all, the nuance in the original seasons seems to be lacking.

A good example is the character of Jacob Nighthorse. In the first season, he was a polarizing figure in a moral gray zone; the constructor of a casino on reservation land, Nighthorse was a forceful advocate for American Indian rights while also being a semi-criminal land developer. Now he's been developed into a cartoonish crime lord who uses American Indian grievance as a recruiting tool for his thugs and justification for his actions. I liked Longmire for its lack of "good Indian/bad Indian" cliches, but now that's gone, I kind of don't want to see how the series finishes. 

Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries

Apparently, my wife and I weren't the only ones saying, "put more gold-plated, pearl-handled revolver into this series!" It shows up a lot in Season 3.
Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries seemed to be floundering a little in its second season; while still entertaining, the major interpersonal conflicts between the characters had basically been resolved and stayed in stasis.

I was going to write that for the third season as well, but the series started picking up in the third episode, making the romantic subplots more nuanced and, frankly, stepping up the game in the "murder of the week" department. Still definitely worth watching.

The Blacklist

These are ridiculously ugly sunglasses that James Spader wears all the time in the second season, possibly as a conspiracy involving the costume designer to make me want to destroy my television in sartorial fury, allowing a secret organization to replace it with a new one that explodes or bugs my apartment or releases biological weapons, or all three.
So, when you have a show whose first season is based on being so over-the-top with cliffhangers, every-other-episode twists, reveals, false reveals, etc. that the plot doesn't just border on incoherence, it is in fact completely nonsensical, you can't really jump the shark. 

Seriously, if James Spader's character Reddington water-skied over a shark to prove his cojones to a Mexican drug lord so that the drug lord would provide Reddington with the Swiss bank account number of an autistic Kazakhstani albino who can crack uncrackable ciphers by comparing them to the bar codes on bulk packages of candy, that would really only be par for the course for this show. Nearly every major plot point of every episode would make you say "wait, WHAT?!?" if you took The Blacklist seriously.

But that's not why you're watching, right? You don't really care if Elizabeth Keane figures out who her real parents are or what happened on the night of that mysterious fire or what she means to Reddington, right? You're watching because James Spader is amazing as an oleaginous criminal mastermind with amazing monologues. 

And, if you haven't heard one before, a Spader Monologue in The Blacklist is amazing. They tend to go like:

Red, did you kidnap and/or murder a person I kind of cared about again?

Lizzie, when I was a young man, I spent a summer kayaking. Besides developing an attractive tan, I learned some valuable things about the way one has to move while essentially alone in white water rapids. One day, I was passing over a particular stretch when a bear catching a salmon distracted me...

And it goes on for five minutes, and maybe Spader will answer the question, but who cares? He owns the character so completely that the fun is in watching. 

Friday, September 25, 2015


Mac Attack is back (and making me look lazy) with another review, this time of NBC's Blindspot. The ads make it look a bit derivative (Memento, anyone?) but who knows, you may be surprised. Read the review and find out! --Maggie Cats

Disclaimer: This show was basically made for me. I've been a big fan of Jaimie Alexander since an obscure show she was amazing in called Kyle XY, before she picked up momentum with a slingshot maneuver through Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.

Remember this show? Of course not. NO ONE remembers this show.

Blindspot also has a better backstory for narrative-but-not-procedural-or-semantic memory loss (which is actually explained, briefly but accurately, in the show) than usual for an 'amnesia' show. It's got tattoos. And quickly, in the background of one shot, is definitely a 3D printer. In short, this was geared to tickle my fancy.

I will try to give an unbiased review, nevertheless.

A completely naked woman is found inside of a duffel bag in the middle of Times Square, with no memory, and her body is covered in tattoos... including "Kurt Weller FBI" in huge letters between her shoulder blades. Kurt Weller, agent of the FBI, is assigned the lead on her case. He has no idea who she is, and she doesn't remember him, or anything. The overarching plot is, they want to find out who did this to her. Within the episode, they find and decode one specific tattoo, which helps them stop a crime. A few other tattoos are shown to have subtle meaning, implying that whoever tattooed this person knows a great deal about criminal elements, and about the FBI agents who end up in charge of this Jane Doe.

Kurt Weller is an FBI agent. Jane Dow is a kung-fu master who speaks Chinese and can remember nothing before yesterday. They fight crime!

The idea behind the show seems basic, not entirely original, but solid and interesting. The writing as it pertains to dialogue is... okay. I have high hopes for the supporting cast; none of them really shine in this first episode, but both the characters-as-written and the actors, from what little we get to see, show promise. As for plot, it raises some interesting questions in this first episode, but only time will tell if these questions will be answered in satisfying ways, or if we're just getting another LOST.

Much as I'm a fan of Jaimie, I felt they pushed the envelope on fan-service. As should be apparent from the posters, her body is covered in tattoos which are pertinent for plot reasons (I assume the formula will be, they start figuring out the 'clue' hidden in each tattoo just in time to rush and try to save something). More time is spent showing a lot of them than I think was strictly necessary. (They stay within their rating, but a woman wearing nothing but her own hands and a cocked knee is what it is.)

NBC, keepin' it classy.

I personally am giving it at least a few more episodes. This episode suffered a bit from Pilot Disorder; they introduced too much stuff and the show hasn't found its legs yet. The potential seems to be there, and I'm hopeful. If you only watch a few shows a season, I doubt this will make the cut, but it seems to be a solid, entertaining, something-to-have-on-in-the-background while you fold laundry.

Blindspot airs Monday nights at 10pm on NBC, and is available on Hulu.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Minority Report

There's no way the regular TV Sluts could make it through all these Fall Premieres by ourselves (even we're not THAT talented), so we're calling in all the troops. Here's a guest post from Mac Attack covering the new show, Minority Report, based on the movie of the same name. It's not a remake, but rather a continuation of the story. Is it worth your time? Read on to find out! --Maggie Cats 

 Minority Report: Somewhat aptly named. A show about precognition gives us a vision of a post-racial future. Main character is a woman of color, DC's mayor is a black man married to an Asian woman (who used to play professional football for the... wait for it... Washington Redclouds!). Even the semi-antagonistic office-political rival within the cops is FES from That 70's Show. Minority indeed. The only four white people with significant roles in the episode were all characters from the movie.

As someone who thinks "psychic" is a pretty terrible premise for a show, I enjoyed it much more than I thought I would. In part, they down-play the psychic element. The show focuses on Dash, one of the two twin male psychics, and establishes that he was, by far, the weakest of them. For whatever reason, he's the only one still interested in stopping murders; for the other two, their days of future crime are in the past. So, the heroes will have FAR less information than Tom Cruise did.

I do like pre-cog humor, which this episode was unfortunately somewhat light on. Two jokes stood out, and they were good, but not great. And they've already overused the "You're the pre-cog, you tell me" gag. A lot.

I think they knocked the tech out of the park. It was ubiquitous. It was central, or shown in the background, or as an accent, and just all over the place. Sometimes it was a plot point, sometimes it was just to give a sense of place. I worry that it's a breeding ground for 'forgotten phlebotinum'. Will an episode come where a crime could easily be prevented, if someone just used the device some random students are seen using in the background of episode 7?

Hopefully, no. One of the first scenes was... kinda the worst. They tried too hard, I feel, at the first crime scene. Their forensic technology seems impressive, but the woman using it looks like she's playing Dance Dance Revolution, or possibly that scene from the Toxic music video where Britney Spears dances past some laser beams while lip-syncing.

 Don't pretend you don't know what I mean.

I have seen the movie, and I have not read the book. My gut says that you don't have to have seen the movie to understand what's going on, and you definitely don't to enjoy it. They re-cap the salient details of the movie quickly right at the start and let you get into the show. There's one huge detail central to the movie that they leave out for a long time, until it's revealed at a dramatically appropriate moment; I feel like if I hadn't seen the movie, I would have enjoyed that aspect of the episode more. As it was, I spent the whole episode thinking, "But why aren't they mentioning..." and then when they finally did, instead of a big pay-off, I was like, oh well then. Okay.

All in all, I think this was a solid first episode. Better than I expected from a "based on". There are the central characters, who are plucky but seem unaware that they've stumbled upon a much bigger picture. There are at least three side-characters who obviously have their own agendas; are they nefarious, merely self-serving but otherwise decent people, or actually altruistic heroes?

Perhaps Dash could tell you.

Guest post by Mac Attack. Minority Report can be seen on Fox Mondays at 9e/8c, or on Hulu the following day

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Fall Premieres Part I

It's the most wonderful time of the year! The Fall TV season is upon us and it's like Christmas morning, but with even more potential for fun and disappointment! Which of our anticipated favorites will end up being awful? What black horse series will be take us by surprise and become a new obsession?

And remember, there's also the chance that everything will be terrible. Wheeee! It's like TV show roulette!

There's a whole lot of shows and only so much typing my little delicate lady-fingers can handle, so I am going to knock these out quick and dirty for you over the next couple weeks. Sure, some things might be worthy of a full write-up, but I'm fundamentally lazy so the chances of that are kinda slim. #truthtelling

Best Time Ever with Neil Patrick Harris: You gotta give it to him, NPH always works really hard. You can tell that he really wants to make this one succeed; he was almost manic in the premiere, with the jokes! And the stunts! And the dancing and the quipping and chatting and smiling and jumping, it's exhausting just writing about it.

The producers don't want you to call it a variety show (that's been made very clear in all the pre-premiere press), but I'm not sure there's any other way to capture the essence of the show. Best Time Ever's website describes it as "a live one-hour show that is unlike any other on American television. Anything can happen on "Best Time Ever with Neil Patrick Harris," which will feature appearances by A-list stars, stunts, comedy skits, incredible performances, mini game shows, audience giveaways and hidden camera pranks."

They're also very open with the fact that it's based on a British series called "Ant & Dec's Saturday Night Takeaway," and while I've never seen the original, I'm willing to bet it's better than the American version.  Because the first episode of Best Time Ever felt a little too rushed, a little too full, that there was never any time to breathe. NPH worked his butt off, but none of the segments got the chance to stretch their legs.

I can't decide if making the show live is a help or a hindrance; in the premiere NPH felt almost frantic and the pacing was kind of off. NPH came across more "used car salesman" rather than "comfortable show host." But the guts of the show are sound, the gags were pretty funny and/or cute and/or clever, and I think with time when everyone settles into it there really could be something here. Though it's unlikely it may get the chance based on the premiere ratings. Still, if you're looking for something family-friendly, say to watch with the parents sometime, this would be a great pick.

Honestly, the best reason to keep watching is to see what the show does with the "Little NPH" guy. He's kind of like Neil's Mini-Me. Please, God, let there be a Doogie Howser, MD, reference soon.

Best Time Ever airs Tuesday nights at 10:00PM EST on NBC.

The Bastard Executioner: Wow, this show has really thrown me for a loop. I kind of hated the first hour which felt like a total Braveheart rip-off except in Wales, and featured such gratuitous violence (especially towards women) that I almost turned the television off in disgust. The entire set up of the series was so paint-by-numbers it was kind of embarassing.

According to the press-release monkeys over at FX, The Bastard Executioner is about "Wilkin Brattle, a 14th century warrior, whose life is forever changed when a divine messenger beseeches him to lay down his sword and lead the life of another man: a journeyman executioner. Set in northern Wales during a time rife with rebellion and political upheaval, Wilkin must walk a tight rope between protecting his true identity while also serving a mysterious destiny."

So basically, this guy was a bad ass soldier fighting on the side of the English King in Wales, but gave up the sword when he saw an Angel (for real) on the battlefield. He gets married, lives the whole quiet life, until he fights back against the local Baron's tax-collectors. Of course there is retribution, and his entire village and family is killed in really horrible and awful ways, and it all goes down just as you expect. He swears vengeance and pretends to be a traveling punisher, basically a torturer and executioner for hire to infiltrate the Baron's estate. No, really.

Like I said, the first hour was pretty bad for several reasons, but then the second hour when Wilkin (ugh, that name) ends up in the Baron's castle got intriguing. Mostly due to the character of the Baroness, credited as "Baroness Lady Love Ventris" (no, really), who so far is fascinating and really well-acted by Flora Spencer-Longhurst. I've never heard of her, but I am impressed. I am really hoping that she will end up as more than just a love interest and will stick around for a couple more episodes to see where the show is going. Oh, and there was also some really interesting twists at the end of the premiere episode dealing with Katey Sagal's character (yes, THAT Katey Sagal) and excellent work from Stephen Moyer (Vampire Bill in True Blood!) that left me pseudo-hooked.

One warning though: there is some REALLY graphic violence here. So much so in fact that I was shocked this aired on regular cable--sure, it's not basic cable, it's FX, but still. This is the kind of stuff that you wouldn't even see on Game of Thrones. If that's something that bothers you a lot, you're going to want to avoid this show like the 14th century plague. But if you can handle it or even dig it, The Bastard Executioner might be up your alley.

The Bastard Executioner airs on Tuesdays at 10PM on FX.

There's a lot of RAWR on this show. 

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

There are Two Kinds of Pain

In the pilot episode of House of Cards, Frank Underwood (Kevin Spacey) talks about the two kinds of pain – the kind that is motivating and the kind that is useless. I’m going to posit that there’s a third kind which is the pain you feel that is half confusion about where the hell something is going, particularly when before it seemed like things were on track.

"Francis, Air Force One seems to have gone off course..."

Warning from here on out: I’m going to get mildly spoiler-y, but nothing major. Still, if you haven’t watched season three yet and you really don’t want to know anything about the outlines of some major storylines, go watch it and then come back.

We’ve talked about House of Cards before. Gushed about it, even. And while there have always been aspects to the show that didn’t exactly ring true to reality (it is television, after all), I, at least, have always appreciated the verisimilitude put forth by the show. Even when characters were doing things that no real politico would ever do, the show was trying to so hard to adhere to the look and feel of reality it helped to go a long way to excusing the need for dramatic license.

Now? Ugh. You guys, I’m just not sure anymore. Maybe it’s because so much of the action has moved away from Congress, a body that I understood even if I found it nutty, to the White House, which no matter how accurate the setting, it’s always going to be compared to The West Wing. But either way, the cracks are starting to show.

Some of those cracks just feel like stories that the writers have written themselves into the corner with. Case in point: The quickly disappearing prostitute. Remember Rachel? Didn’t she do something back in season one? How many of you remember what it was? Since then, we’ve gotten two years of Rachel either hanging out somewhere doing nothing or gone completely into hiding. Her only reason for remaining a character on the show is to further illustrate what a creep Doug Stamper is. She’s his plot point, not her own. What’s more, her brief appearances in season three actually kind of make Doug into something even worse: a boring creep. His entire arc in the season is to find Rachel and… what? Kill her? Rape her? Own her somehow? All we know is his intentions are clearly not good and for some reason he can’t get past them, even after she bashed his face in last season and left him for dead. While we do finally get some closure to this story, its closure that should have come two years ago.

Rachel, is it? Go buy yourself a nice condo in Vegas, Sweetie. It'll work out better.

The bigger cracks, unfortunately, are reserved for Frank and Claire themselves. House of Cards has always been about the intrigues and chess moves that make Washington a favorite topic for anyone writing a suspense thriller.  Likewise, its biggest flaw has always been that Frank and Claire are portrayed not only as master manipulators but as essentially the only master manipulators in town. For every scheme they hatch, there is literally almost no one who has any kind of counter-scheme, a concept that is about as far away from reality in Washington as is possible. Now, Frank has maneuvered his way into the Presidency and from the Bully Pulpit has decided to… do a reasonable job.

The intrigues that made seasons one and two so watchable are all but gone here. There’s a half-hearted attempt to establish a new level of intrigue by making this season’s “Big Bad” a very thinly veiled stand-in for Vladimir Putin, but it never quite moved beyond a simmering boil. To say nothing of the fact that anyone who has truly been paying attention to someone who is as good at double-speak and reactive tactics as the real life Putin could see half of his ploys coming from a mile away. It just doesn’t feel like any of the story rings true with anything approaching that verisimilitude I mentioned earlier.

"I'm sorry, I can't hear you over the sound of how not-Putin I am."

Then there’s the domestic agenda. Frank Underwood, a democrat, spends his political capital as a relatively unpopular, unelected President trying to do away with social security.  Never mind that social security is called the third rail of politics for a reason or that both Republicans and Democrats don’t go anywhere near it. The show makes a half-hearted attempt to explain this away by saying that the needs of the sweeping social program don’t meet the needs of today before getting into some truly wonky talk about a new jobs program, the details of which are of course never discussed (fair enough – this is entertainment, not a real campaign). And while in life there is a certain truth to the fact that social security is a system in need of repair or revamping, the fact remains that no politician seeking reelection, even one as bold and unhindered by impossible odds as Frank Underwood, takes that kind of a risk. And, more importantly, the show never makes it clear why Frank wants this program to succeed. Is it to have another thing that he “wins” at? Something to cement his legacy? Or just because he thinks it’s the right thing to do?

All of which leads to the biggest crack: the Underwoods are, like, nice. Power may corrupt, but for most of season three it turned the two of them into civic-minded public servants. Think about it: In the first episode of season one, Frank strangles a dog with his own bare hands. Sure, he does it out of some twisted rationalization that it’s better for the wounded dog to die quickly instead of suffer longer in pain, but it’s not like there aren’t animal hospitals in Georgetown.  Now he’s just sort of vaguely wormy, trying to maneuver candidates so that he can have the best possible field to himself when running for President. Claire used to be the woman who used that utterly sweet and kind voice to mock a dying man in his hospital bed who had just confessed that he loved her, telling him that not only was that feeling never going to be returned but he was pretty much an idiot for even thinking that telling her would do anything. And that’s before she told one of her former employees who was making life difficult for her that she would purposefully withhold prenatal insurance coverage for the pregnant employee if she didn’t give up her lawsuit. (I believe her exact line to the employee was “I will let your unborn child wither away inside you.”) Flash forward to now and she is ambassador to UN and spending nights in jail to protest a political prisoner’s capture in Russia.

Watching characters grow and change is good; characters that evolve are far more interesting than ones that are static or worse, evil just because. That said, the Underwoods’ growth is almost done in the wrong direction. Unlike real life, we don’t want to watch the Underwoods get redeemed, we want to see them make a mess of things. House of Cards isn’t A Christmas Carol, its Macbeth. The more the Underwoods use their powers for good rather than pure self-interest, the less interested we are in them. And while that trajectory starts to get a bit wobbly toward the end of the season, the characters’ motivations are far more left in the bright center rather than the dingy perimeters.

Yes, that's more like it. Now, more spot-cleaning. Could we possible get three weird sisters on set?

Much like Frank Underwood himself, rising up to the most powerful job on the planet a mere two-ish years after being denied a cabinet position, House of Cards is starting to feel like it has peaked too soon. And while the show sets up its next Big Bad, presumably in the form of an opposing candidate for the presidential campaign that is just beginning at the end of season three, it’s hard to see how much more of this story there is to tell without moving into the inevitable final act: downfall. We’ve seen Frank and Claire rise; the only thing left is for them to fall. If the show can’t get there quickly, we’re going to be all out of reasons to keep watching the realistic sets. 

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Fear the Walking Dead

When I first heard AMC was making a prequel series* to The Walking Dead, my response was "ugh." The show is insanely popular so of course we need to milk that teat until it's completely dry.

After giving it some more thought,** I realized there is actually a good story to tell here. The Walking Dead picks up after the the zombie apocalypse has already occurred. We, the viewer, see the show through Rick Grimes' eyes, and his initial confusion and lack of information adds to the feeling of dread and unease we experience. The Walking Dead has never explained the events that led up to the collapse of civilization; we don't know where or how things started, how quickly the world fell apart, how the government responded, when things went to....well, to put it bluntly, went to shit.

So then I was excited for Fear the Walking Dead. I was hoping it would fill in some of the gaps and give some more information about the virus, which to me is the most interesting part of The Walking Dead's story. I was also hoping that the show would learn from some of the elements of TWD that didn't quite work--such as the family drama bullshit with Rick, Lori, and Carl. Oh, I'm sorry. I mean, "Caaaaaaaaaaarl!"

Alas, no. Because the public was definitely crying out for more family drama.

I don't want to say I'm disappointed in FWD exactly. It's great to look at, the acting is top notch (especially from Kim Dickens whom I loved in Deadwood), and it's very effective at building tension. Just like people used to say you had to watch Doctor Who from behind the couch, FWD sometimes makes me want to peek out from behind my fingers because I don't think I can handle what is going to happen next.

And that is what makes it all so monumentally frustrating that almost every single one of these characters is completely and utterly stupid.

Stories like this only work if you like the characters. You have to care what is going to happen to them. And it's hard to have your audience care about people who are TOTAL FUCKING MORONS.

Maybe FWD takes place in a world where George Romero never existed. Where Night of the Living Dead, World War Z, and the whole zombie genre never existed. Maybe these people don't have any reference for the undead shambling around craving brains. But there is nothing in this series (or TWD for that matter) to establish this as an alternate universe following those rules and I am not letting the showrunners off that easy. To leave it to the third episode before even one single person proffers that the infected are actually dead, to have no character even mention the word "zombie," defies belief and makes it seem as if all these people are brain-dead themselves.

I'm sorry if this sounds harsh, but the more I think and write about this the madder I get. Seriously. All these characters have already seen the infected stumbling around, appear as if corpses, get shot MULTIPLE TIMES and keep going, feast on the flesh of the living, and they are still standing around asking, "what is going on?" I can't. even. handle. it. Just having one character say, "Hey, maybe it's zombies" and then everyone can shoot him/her down about how that is so implausible, only happens in movies, etc. would placate me. But no. Instead they sit around looking shocked and dismayed and trying to convince each other that we shouldn't destroy the neighbor's brain because there IS STILL A CHANCE HE CAN BE CURED. Even though we just caught him snacking on someone's dog and is actively trying to kill everyone in the house.

Flames. On the sides of my face.

But I guess the sickest part is I still want to see what happens next. At the end of the third episode the National Guard shows up and seems to be doing well with putting down the infection. So I still want to see how it all goes to shit.

But if all these people survive the season I am giving up. Because there is no way people this dumb would survive the zombie apocalypse. Zombies? I have no trouble with that. But these characters all surviving will defy even my ability to suspend belief.

Fear the Walking Dead airs Sunday nights at 9:00PM EST on AMC.

*Oh, excuse me, a COMPANION series. Whatever, AMC.

*I'll have you know I spent a good 10 seconds of brain power on this topic.

Thursday, September 03, 2015

Sense8: A Rebuttal

Your TV Sluts have already reviewed Netflix’s Sense8, but with all due respect to my fellow bloggers, I’m here to offer a counterpoint. Rather than being a collection of disjoined stories that foists generic political correctness on the TV landscape, I submit that the show is moving, beautiful, and incredibly unique.  

If you’ll recall, Sense8 tells the stories of eight strangers picked to live in a house who somehow become mentally connected to each other. Each of the characters live in a different city and most live on different continents, as such the stories told are both stories about the individual characters’ lives, but also about the cities they inhabit. And of course, because nothing is simple, these eight people are also being targeted by a mysterious organization that wants to… kill them? Dissect them?  Mate with them? It’s unclear. 

Maybe they're planning on shooting the album cover for a '90s era alt rock band?

The action begins when one of these special people, Angelica (played by Darryl Hannah), kills herself in front of her sometime-lover Jonas (Naveen Andrews, reprising all the weird stuff about his character in Lost) because the mysterious Whisper is about to close in on her and if he does, terrible things will happen.  In killing herself, Angelica “births” the next cluster of Sensates, the folk who will make up our cast of heroes, and leaves Jonas as the (presumably) last remaining member of his cluster.

So who are the new cluster? Roll call!
·         Capheus (Aml Ameen), a bus driver in Nairobi who is desperately trying to get money for his mother’s HIV treatments.
·         Sun (Bae Doona), a financial executive in Seoul who’s relationship with her father and brother is strained after the death of her mother.
·         Nomi (Jamie Clayton), a trans woman and hacktivist living with her girlfriend in San Francisco. (Said girlfriend is played by Freema Agyeman, of Doctor Who Martha Jones fame, btw.)
·         Kala (Tina Desai), a pharmacist in Mumbai who is engaged to a man she doesn’t love.
·         Riley (Tuppence Middleton), an Icelandic DJ living in London with a tragedy in her past.
·         Wolfgang (Max Riemelt), a locksmith and jewel thief in Berlin.
·         Lito (Miguel Angel Silvestre), a closeted actor in Mexico City who has built his fame on playing tough, macho roles.
·         Will (Brian J. Smith), a police officer in Chicago haunted by an unsolved murder .

And therein begins the action as each of the new Sensates begins to see and interact with each across global distances.  As they each come into contact more frequently with each other, they begin to realize that they can not only speak to each other, hear each other, and see each other, they can become each other if they need to. Each Sensate can sort of possess the other and lend his or her knowledge, skills, and abilities to whatever the task is at hand.

This proves especially effective as Nomi is hospitalized early on and imprisoned by the organization that Whisper works for, telling her that she has a serious brain tumor that they need to remove but surely seems like what's going on is far more sinister. Nomi is the first to realize that she can borrow Wolfgang’s lock-picking ability break out of the hospital, Will’s knowledge of police procedure to out-maneuver a team of guards trying to apprehend her, and Sun’s experience as a kickboxer to subdue some of the more handsy guards.

The "I" in team.

Which is what brings us to what could be the hard line to cross for some viewers – despite an interesting premise and a wide collection of characters, the first five episodes of the show do tend to lag. Only Nomi seems to have much action central to the big mystery of the show while the rest of the Sensates are just sort of tripping out on seeing and meeting these other people that they’re connected to.

Sense8 is a product of J. Michael Straczynski and the Wachowskis. For those familiar with Straczynski’s work on shows like Babylon 5 or Jeremiah will be familiar with his slow-burn approach to writing. The man is a genius at putting together stories that have long payouts but seemingly slow starts. This has been called Joss Whedon Syndrome, but it’s probably more accurate to say that Joss Whedon has a case of Straczynski Syndrome. While slow burns and long payouts can make for some mind-blowing experiences, they unfortunately ignore one of the central truisms of television: don’t hold back. As a series creator, you never know if you’re going to get to season five, so don’t hold off on your great moments in season one.

And yes, that means you always include a fight with a machete. 

But if the plot is, at least to begin with, less than utterly thrilling, the show more than makes up for that in the casting and the production design. To understand how incredible this show is, consider that each of the scenes were filmed on location. Chicago scenes were shot in Chicago. Nairobi scenes in Nairobi. For each character, we’re not seeing a studio set built in Los Angeles, we’re getting the real deal which also means we’re getting the real cast and crew from a diverse background. As such, this is as much a science-fiction/action story as it is a story about how interconnected the modern world is. In that sense, it’s very much one of the first real multinational television shows.  Add to that how lushly visualized it is and you can begin to appreciate the different storylines even more. The show is, simply put, beautifully shot. The picture is rich and cinematic and it feels far more like watching a movie than watching a television show.

But the real strength of Sense8 is the characters. Plenty of shows have token characters. It’s not that hard to find a show with the One Black Guy or the Cool Asian Girl, almost always used as set-dressing to back up the lives and experiences of the main white protagonists. Despite what Hollywood typically believes, you can tell stories that feature more than one person of color. And Sense8 does this in spades. The show has arguably 16 main characters. Of them, six are white, three are black, three are Indian, three are Latino or Latina.  Sun represents one of the only East Asian characters, however given how solitary her story is that’s unsurprising. Going further, four characters are gay and one is transgender.

That’s not to suggest that everything is perfect with the characterizations. Even with ten episodes, that’s not a lot of time to fully flesh out eight characters and some characters veer closely to stereotypes at times. (Sun’s kickboxing background is a good example of this, though at least she’s given a reason to be the one Asian person who is also a martial artist and it’s not just the product of “honor” or something.) All the more reason why I want another season from the show to help these characters become even more fleshed out.

Also, because seriously you guys - have I mentioned how beautiful the cinematography is?

What’s impressive about the diversity of the show is the fact that it was put to film at all. The creators have stated that the genesis of the show was thinking about how easy it is to make people into an Other and that the show was a way to illustrate how tribes form and what that does to humans when they suddenly realize they’re connected to someone different from them. And while none of the characters are expressly bigoted or hateful in any way (which is almost a shame because that could also have been an interesting story), half of the joy of watching these characters come together is seeing the beautiful ways in which they connect. A few of them are given sweet love stories; the meeting of Wolfgang and Kala, opposites if ever there were one, has all the hallmarks of a Hollywood romance. Riley and Will’s growing flirtation and attraction to each other plays off as less dramatic and sweeping, but still compelling. On the other end of the spectrum, the bonding that begins between Cepheus and Sun as two people who are so self-sacrificing to their families that it’s causing them a great deal of personal pain is a compelling story about how friendships can actually be formed without having to turn into something romantic.

The diversity represented in Sense8 is likely a reason for the divided opinion on it. As the nation is learning, it can very uncomfortable to look at representations of ourselves and see what’s missing as well as what’s on display.  And yes, this show embraces its differences. Ostensibly a mainstream television show, it takes pains to introduce multicultural themes that aren’t usually talked about. Kala’s devotion to Hindu-ism is a direct contract to her future father-in-law’s desire to eradicate old style beliefs from India, believing that they make the country seem backward. Nomi is presented as a comfortable, confident transgender woman who doesn’t feel any pressure to “forgive and forget” her mother’s ongoing brutality to her by denying her identity. In one particularly moving speech, a heartbroken Lito describes the first time he performed oral sex on his male partner and how that experience was spiritual and transcendent for him. These aren’t the narratives that make it into most television.

It's not all touching sentimentality. There's also a five-minute mind orgy that happens at one point. 

On August 8, Netflix announced that Sense8 would get a second season. August 8th is an important date in the mythology of the show. Nice cross-marketing there, Netflix. It also dovetails nicely with the title and the repetition of the number eight. The show has proven popular (it is the most pirated Netflix show created) but has had a polarizing critical analysis. It also has to be extremely expensive to film, given the Wachowski’s insistence on filming on location in each of the major cities with a little extra time in Reykjavik for good measure. But for someone like me who really wants to see more of this show, and more about shows with this level of diversity in general, the second season is a gift. 

Wednesday, September 02, 2015

Amazon Prime on Paternity Leave - Grimm and Your Fourth Amendment Rights

Amazon Prime has a couple seasons of the NBC supernatural sorta-police procedural Grimm on it, but I didn't consider watching it while a small child lay sleeping in my arms (but not on any inanimate surface) until I read a graphic novel version of an episode thanks to the blind box service Comic Bento. This month was entirely comic books published by Dynamite Entertainment, so along with New Vampirella #1, I got a Grimm comic, and after reading it, thought, "this is not horrible as entertainment goes, and not particularly intellectually taxing, so perfect for watching at 5AM."
Strangely and perhaps positively, the new Vampirella series' writers make it seem like they feel unjustly saddled with her outfit but can't change it due to tradition.
If you haven't seen Grimm, I will explain it to you in a paragraph:

Nick Burkhardt (David Giuntoli) is a Portland, Oregon police detective who is also the latest in a line of "Grimms," humans who can see the animal- and myth-themed creatures that walk among us in human form. Most episodes, one of these creatures will act out, and Det. Burkhardt has to either kill or subdue it, depending on the creature's dangerousness. There's also some meta-plot about supernatural critters' politics, but it's safely ignored.
For example, Deep Space 9's Nana Visitor is a homicidal bee person in one episode.
It's a fun show in a "brain candy" sort of way, like Lost Girl or Gossip Girl, but the approach to law and policing drives me nuts.

Okay, so we've suspended disbelief that wolf people and bee people and whatever the heck hexenbiests are supposed to be live among us and follow their weird supernatural impulses but we rationalize it as crazy people, serial killers, etc. But the show does the thing I can't stand in most police procedurals, which is commit bad police work, which is why I stopped watching Mysteries of Laura.
Also, even on two detectives' salaries, how could they afford that house? In either Nassau or Westchester County, that's a >$2M home, and they clearly don't live in Jersey.
If you can't solve every crime without violating all the clauses of Amendments 4-6 of the Constitution, you shouldn't be a police officer. But shows where policing is sort of secondary to the plot, this happens all the time and is shown as, at worst, a "meh" thing.

For example, no, examining the "curtilage" of a house does not allow you to jump the fence in the backyard, Mr. Police Officer. And then finding a clue there does not give you probable cause to enter the house. This is what we call "fruit of the poisonous tree" in evidence law.

Or the time they ask a law firm partner for "all the cases" a dead associate was working on, and he says, "sure, full access," as opposed to, "you can have a list of the clients and litigation the attorneys were involved with, but anything involving our client confidences requires a subpoena or we all lose our licenses to practice law."

There's even an episode where a police officer character (not Nick) confesses to conspiring to keep Brady material from a defense attorney because he doesn't want a jury believing that this obviously evil guy might not be guilty beyond a reasonable doubt of the particular crime he probably did. As the defendant was, in fact, a vicious murderer possessed of supernatural strength, this is presented as a sort of defensible act. In real life, this behavior puts innocent people in jail. Also, makes a mockery of our constitutional system. Not everyone is a superstrong serial killer who can eat bullets.

So, when there isn't law, this show is fun. When there is, it's groaningly awful. Fortunately, the legal bits are few.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

PBS on Paternity Leave - The Mystery of Matter: Search for the Elements

Who doesn't love talking-head PBS documentaries about chemistry with lovingly recreated if not Oscar-worthy historical reenactments?

If you say "me, because I'm not a nerd enough to enjoy that sober," you're either A) lying, or B) shilling for the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States.
Probable motto: "stop pretending that you like the bitterness of beer or the sour acidity of wine and pour yourself another Cosmo or apple martini or black Russian."
As I've mentioned before, I've been watching TV while bouncing a small person on a pilates ball, as y-axis movement is the only thing that will soothe her. She doesn't care what I watch, which has enabled me to watch Get the Gringo, the November Man, Expendables 3, and the 2013 Russian Three Musketeers.
It's really weird to hear people who are supposedly French speaking fluent Russian. This must be what foreigners think about our versions of the Three Musketeers.
...and now The Mystery of Matter: Search for the Elements, a gem of educational television I want to recommend to all of you.
The show is a talky piece of infotainment of a form you may remember from high school anytime after 1970; scientists narrating the history of science intercut with actors in period costume.

Honestly, I forgot how much fun it is to follow along with the chemistry discoveries of 1700s-1900s, especially with reenactors and speaking lines only from the letters and books their historical personages wrote.
Priestley and Lavoisier (in reenactment) discussing the properties of then-unnamed oxygen gas. Madam Lavoisier, like Danaerys in Game of Thrones up-aged from her jailbaity actual age, is in the middle.
Back in the 18th Century, all you needed was some lab equipment and something of a disregard for personal safety and you could discover new elements. This is how Joseph (not Jason, as I kept mis-remembering) Priestley got oxygen from mercury calx. 
Joseph and Jason Priestley are easy to confuse, especially after that "discovering how to carbonate water" episode of Beverly Hills 90210.

Watching scientists do old-timey science (or, by the third episode, 20th century atomic science) is just plain fun, and it was really interesting for me to rediscover how the elements came to be identified, combined with reenactments of Dmitri Mendeleev's amazing Siberian beard. 

I expect this show to remain on PBS's website a little longer than Vicious as far fewer people are likely to want to spend their own money (as opposed to their school board's money) on it and Oregon Public Television is less interested in recouping their investment than ITV is with theirs. But it's on now, and worth a watch if you love science (which you do, because science is amazing). 

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Vicious is Back! Watch it right now!

So, remember when I told you to find and watch Vicious' Season 1 at all costs (well, don't download it illegally; showrunners et al. need to be rewarded for their good work)? Did you?

Great, because Season 2 is here and you can watch it online right now. Given past PBS practices, you have at most three weeks per episode before they disappear, and Episode 1 was on Monday (August 24, 2015), so get cracking!

"How was episode one," you ask? "Was it still full of the amazing goodness of Sir Ian McKellan and Sir Derek Jacobi being catty with each other?"

Yes. The whole gang of bitter septuagenarians is back, the mantel of urns of dog ashes is back, Iwan Rheon is still being sexually harassed, Ian McKellan's character is still excessively proud of being an extra on Downton Abbey, etc.

Also, in Episode 1, Derek Jacobi's character Stuart attempts to pretend to be straight; it's part of a complicated ruse that Iwan Rheon's Ash walks into right after declaring to his girlfriend that Freddie (McKellan) and Stuart are "the most authentic people I know." The "masculine" walk Stuart adopts, a gait worthy of Monty Python, is alone worth watching the whole episode for.

So, what are you waiting for! Watch it now! Be entertained!

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Netflix I Watched on Paternity Leave: The Transporter, The Series (designed and written for teenage boys, apparently)

Another thing that I've been spending my time on as a small person is being fed from a bottle or being held while I bounce on a pilates ball making soothing noises is Transporter: the Series.

Did you see the Luc Besson action film The Transporter with Jason Statham? (Note that I am not asking if you saw the two sequels; they were pretty crap.) It was an insubstantial but well-constructed action film where Jason Statham is a getaway driver par excellence in a tricked-out BMW doing jobs for criminals in the south of France, but he gets tasked with delivering a package that turns out to be an attractive Chinese woman in a duffel bag, and he ends up breaking his traditional non-intervention code of conduct and instead just beats on a bunch of people who really deserve it (also two cops who then get blown up by a car bomb, but Statham totally didn't know his car was going to get blown up when he stuffed the knocked-out cops in his trunk, so let's give him a pass on that).
One of the best scenes in the film Transporter is this balletically choreographed fight where Jason Statham stands on bicycle pedals in the middle of a giant oil slick and everyone else is playing slip-n-slide on the floor.
The movie had two great attributes: amazing driving sequences and some of Luc Besson's best fight sequences.

The TV show is capitalizing on the popularity of the movies, but also needs to make its money from somewhere (Canadian, French, and German TV subsidies only go so far), so it uses the Audi sports cars from the later movies as promotional consideration, as well as Fords whenever the show is shot in Canada (more on Canada later). Also for TV, intensely bald and working class-looking Jason Statham is swapped for Chris Vance, who looks like how teenage Sherlock slash-fic writers probably imagine Martin Freeman in sex scenes.
No, ladies, he is not shirtless enough. You get to see some fat, hairy British dude's not-as-tan-as-the-rest-of-him butt for like two straight minutes in one episode, but Chris Vance is rarely shirtless.
Chris Vance is good at following creative fight choreography, and he has appropriate looks of grim determination while pretending to upshift, which is really all you can ask for in a show like this.

This show was shot with a ton of Toronto film subsidy money, so if you know how to spot Canadian soundstages portraying everywhere else in the world, you will see them here. However, there are legitimately scenes shot in France and Berlin, possibly to get local content requirements high enough to be considered "local shows" in some European markets and avoid foreign (read: American) TV rebroadcasting limits, so unlike some "pretends to be NYC but shot in Vancouver" shows, there are some real locations.

So, what's the show, well, about? Basically, imagine watching someone remake the first movie in a 45 minute version. Over and over and over again. I liked this, you may not.

Frank Martin, "the Transporter," has a secret package he has to deliver. There is a problem with delivering the package. Car chases and fistfights and maybe some gunplay ensue. The package is either delivered to the good guys or not delivered to the bad guys, or maybe the package is delivered to the bad guys and Frank Martin then comes back to beat the everloving tar out of them. One of those three.

Also, there's usually a woman involved. Either she is immediately enraptured by Frank Martin's animal magnetism (he's got the Irish mythological figure Diarmuid's love spot or something, seriously) and will have sex with him on or off camera if she doesn't die during the episode, or she is someone else's girlfriend/wife who will have sex with that character on or off camera. Odds are 50/50 you will see her topless, except for Vikings' Katheryn Winnick, who managed to keep all of her clothes on and wear normal clothes (as opposed to the usual form-fitting slinky clothes) for her guest starring episode, and even managed to fight a bit. Lost Girl's Rachel Skarsten apparently did not have as good an agent, and is for her episode both gratuitously naked a bunch and basically a useless Macguffin object of a character.
This is Frank Martin's fixer/computer hacker partner. This particular bikini scene is less gratuitous than the scene where she spills red wine on her blouse and you watch her take the blouse off along with her bra to immediately spot-clean as she talks to Frank on the phone, or the episode where she's naked for a couple scenes because the guy she's having sex with turns out to be tangential to the plot of the episode; the latter being an episode which is otherwise entirely about people with their clothes on driving from Paris to Marseilles.
I guess what I'm trying to say is that this show does not feature women as actual human beings, but as occasionally topless plot points and eye candy. If this is a deal-breaker for you, then you have been forewarned.

"So what," you say, "what about the driving and the fighting, which is what The Transporter is about?"

Let's start with the driving, which is weaker. The driving is awesome on closed courses, such as off-road and in parking garages; the stunt drivers do some pretty amazing things. The show is also willing to crash some real cars in some impressive ways.

However, the show can't afford to shut down the streets of any of the cities (Nice, Marseilles, Berlin, and Toronto) it's set in, so the on-street driving scenes are mostly scenes of cars weaving back and forth jump-cut to stock footage of clutch pedals being depressed and sticks being shifted. It is lame.
Just look at this, then look at a picture of a road, then look back at this, and you'll get the idea of what the city street driving sequences are like.
On the plus side, Chris Vance's Frank Martin doesn't always drive an Audi, but will drive other cars (including a Smart car and an ATV) when necessary.

The fighting? It's pretty great. Lots of clever work with improvised items; for example there's a great fight in a lingerie store where mannequins, clothing racks, and some fabric items are put to great use. Any fight in a kitchen is going to be amazing; my favorite ended with a knockout via cutting board.

To recap what the show is about, Transporter: The Series has Chris Vance in a suit and tie either delivering or not delivering a package via an Audi. Car chase and fisticuff complications ensue, as well as occasional female nudity. If you were ever a 13-year-old boy, this will hit a little fun zone in your brain even if you find it problematic from an "is this good for culture" standpoint. That's why I keep watching.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Netflix I Watched On Paternity Leave: Marvel's Agents of SHIELD, Season 2

I know, I know, I really did a hatchet job on Attack on Titan [sic], even though I tolerated it for about 13-14 episodes more than I did Vexed or Red Data Girl. 

You know what I also watched a lot of while holding a six-pound child? Marvel's Agents of SHIELD, season 2.
To recap for those of you who just picked up this blog today and don't watch any comic book related TV, Marvel's Agents of SHIELD follows the efforts of SHIELD, a sort-of-spy agency tasked with being regular folks who fight supervillans and whatnot. They have invisible planes and spy gadgets.

I watched this show all the way through Season 2 for the following reasons:

1. Clark Gregg.
If you do a Google Image Search for images of Clark Gregg as Phil Coulson, you will get something like 200 pictures basically identical to this one. 
Clark Gregg is just a lot of fun as "responsible dad figure of SHIELD." It's basically the role he was born to play.

2. Patton Oswalt sightings.
Patton Oswalt shows up in Agents of SHIELD about as much, proportionally, as he showed up in the Diablo Cody dark comedy Young Adult. Only in the latter, however, does he have a deeply awkward sex scene with Charlize Theron.
I was really, really hoping that, from the end of Season 1, Patton Oswalt would be a regular on the Agents of SHIELD cast. But he's not. Apparently the Whedons who executive-produce the show don't want to pay him for regular appearances. Which is sad, because he is amazing.

3. Kyle Maclachlan.

Paul Atreides from Dune and Agent Cooper from Twin Peaks is in this season, letting his inner Bruce Campbell free. His plot line is deeply, deeply stupid, but he is so gleefully over-the-top you don't care.
There are no good production stills of Kyle Maclachlan looking as unhinged as he usually does on Agents of SHIELD, so I'll go with this one where he's his usual scruffy. 
To explain what the heck is going on with Kyle Maclachlan's character would basically require a step-by-step spoiling of the whole season, because his character is (sometimes inexplicably) written into every part of it, from the Hydra plotline to the Kree plotline to the Inhumans plotline.

...and here's a bulleted, nitpicky list of what I didn't like about Season 2.

  • Skye. Weakest link of Season 1, now critical to the plot but even less compelling in Season 2. 
  • Not enough Lucy Lawless.
  • Not enough Edward James Olmos.
  • Not enough of that guy who plays the FBI agent on White Collar
  • Stop trying to make Fitz and Simmons kiss, writers. She can just be not that into him.
  • Not very good Avengers 2 tie-in.
  • I was really hoping we were done with Deathlok. 
MOST IMPORTANT: Editors and fight choreographers of Agents of SHIELD -- I can tell when you cut from the actual actor to a body double from behind to do a fight scene, and it is really, really cheap and distracting, since you do it nearly every fight. If your actors suck at fighting, train them better. 

"I Killed Them All"

If you’re like me and 60 million other people, you spent most of last fall listening and re-listing to Serial, the podcast from This American Life that examined the 1999 murder of high schooler Hae Min Lee and the subsequent trial and conviction of her ex-boyfriend, Adnan Syed. The story was riveting, despite being unabashedly reflective of real life police work (an entire episode was devoted to cell phone towers and how they work), eschewing the fancy Hollywood noir for journalistic investigation. And while we’re still waiting for Serial’s second season to come out, apparently sometime this fall, HBO has created a miniseries that may fill the Sarah Koenig-sized hole in your heart while waiting for the next installment. The miniseries, The Jinx, was released this spring and, much in the same vein as Serial, re-examined a long cold murder case with a fresh eye to the potential killer.

Just a guy sitting in a dark movie theatre alone. Nope, nothing creepy here.

The Jinx focuses on Robert Durst, the son of an extremely successful and powerful Manhattan real estate developer, Durst was in line to inherit the empire his family built, but the head position ultimately went to his brother instead.  In 1982, Durst’s wife Kathie vanished after a weekend at the couple’s home in Connecticut. She has not been seen or heard from since and is still missing to this day. Durst was a suspect in her murder and The Jinx follows Durst through the investigation into her death. But just when you assume this is a simple cut-and-dried case of spousal murder, that’s when the other bodies start to appear.

The Jinx benefits from the cooperation of Durst himself. He speaks freely about his past, the investigations he’s been at the core of, his thoughts and opinions of his family and Kathie’s friends. Durst became interested in the project after seeing the 2010 movie All Good Things, a fictitious account of Kathie’s murder starring Ryan Gosling and Kirsten Dunst. Impressed by the lack of sensationalism in the movie, Durst approached that film’s director to see if he was interested in “finding the real story.” The result is the six episode miniseries you see here.

Hollywood turned its unflinching eye on reality and bravely cast this Robert Durst lookalike as the lead. 

So what is “the real story”? The facts, as they say, are these: Sometime over the weekend of January 31, 1982, Kathie Durst went missing around Newtown, Connecticut.  Robert Durst told police that they were in Connecticut at their weekend home and that he had put Kathie on a train back to New York City the night of the 31st because she had to be back to attend classes she was taking the next day.  Robert said he called their Manhattan apartment and talked to her that evening to verify she made it home before returning to the city himself a few days later.

Kathie never showed up for her classes the next morning, however staff at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine where she was a student told police that she called them that morning to say that she was ill and wouldn’t be in class today.  And that’s when Kathie disappears off the face of the earth. Robert reports her missing on February 6, almost a full week after he says he saw her the last time. He claims the delay is due to her busy schedule as a final year medical student, saying that he would often go several days without seeing her.

I'd say there's some eerie foreshadowing in their wedding picture, but to be honest that's pretty much how all the early 80s looked.

Worth noting that is that in the weeks prior to her disappearance, Kathie told friends that Robert beat her and even sought medical attention for wounds. She claims that he forced her to have an abortion and that she considered divorce but felt hamstrung by a prenuptial agreement. The night of January 31st, Kathie had been a friend’s party when she left suddenly after receiving an angry phone call from Robert. Kathie reportedly told her friend, “If something happens to me, check it out. I’m afraid of what Bobby will do.”

Kathie’s case grows cold for lack of evidence. Robert’s claims are dubious; he says he called Kathie from a payphone, but no payphone was close to their home; A doorman at their Manhattan apartment recalled seeing Kathie arrive home but admits that he only saw her from the back and it could have been someone else. In the end, there is no body so Kathie is officially a missing person. Durst recedes from attention, selling his home (and many of Kathie’s possessions) and fading from view.

It’s not until a seemingly unrelated murder in Los Angeles happens on Christmas Eve, 2000, a full 18 years later, that the case begins to find life again. Susan Berman, daughter of a mobster and longtime friend of none other than Robert Durst, is found murdered execution-style in her apartment.  And it doesn’t end there. In September of 2001, a family fishing in Galveston, Texas, finds a grotesquely dismembered torso floating off the beach surrounded by the severed body parts. Police are able to identify the body as that of an elderly man named Morris Black. Take one guess as to who happens to be living in the apartment above him. Robert Durst? Actually, a mute woman named Dorothy Ciner, someone Robert went to high school with. Confused? It only gets crazier.

The Jinx dives deeply into this story, one that spans multiple decades and the length of the United States. Durst himself comes off as unsettling at best. His voice is odd, his facial tics like something that an actor would create in order to appear mentally unbalanced. Durst has a way with words that  is unpolished and strangely refreshing, particularly for someone who has been through so much media and legal questioning. When asked, for example, why he told police that he had talked to Kathie when she arrived back in New York the night she was last seen given that there was no other evidence of her ever even making it on the train back to the city, he says, “I was hoping that would just make everything go away.” An odd sentiment for a man whose wife has just gone missing.

Definitely not a murderer. Can't even see how you could go there.

For all it traffics in the hugeness of the story, The Jinx strives to approach Durst with objectivity as well. It explores his childhood, humanizing him without apologizing for him. Durst tells a story about being woken in the middle of the night when he was seven years old by his father and brought to a window in their mansion. Durst's father told him to look to the roof where he saw his mother in her nightgown standing by herself. Durst says his father made him watch as his mother fell or was pushed to her death. The series establishes the myriad ways in which Robert was made to understand himself as not like his other brothers, the ones who had earned their father’s favor. To say that the Durst family dynamics were complicated is, obviously, an understatement.

In the end, The Jinx makes its biggest splash when it uncovers evidence not previously found in the original police investigations. The day before the final episode aired in March on HBO, police made a high-profile arrest based largely on evidence that the filmmakers uncovered. The filmmakers made clear after the fact that they turned over all evidence to the police upon finding it. The arrest was certainly well-timed from a ratings perspective, but unrelated to the production schedule of the show.

In that sense, The Jinx manages to do what Serial did not – figure out what really happened. And while that’s no detriment to Serial’s production, it does give The Jinx the kind of closure that you may find yourself craving after all this true crime hullabaloo. The Jinx manages to come off as a more interesting 20/20.  It doesn’t sex up the effects or take any questionable licenses with the topic, but it is engaging, fascinating storytelling. It’s the perfect thing to take up your time until the world’s most favorite podcast comes back. Get on it, Koenig!