Sunday, September 30, 2012

It's Elementary, my dear readers.

Let's just get this out of the way: yes, clearly CBS made Elementary because of the success of BBC's Sherlock. I know a lot of you out there are not going to be able to get over that. But if you can stomach another modern show featuring Sherlock Holmes, I think you'll find something to enjoy.

Elementary isn't going to go down in the history books as anything particularly ground-breaking, but for a crime procedural it was pretty good. At least they cast a Brit in the role of Sherlock (Johnny Lee Miller) and the explanation for his appearance in New York City is moderately interesting. Apparently Sherlock got into a little trouble with drugs back in merry old England, and his father has shipped him across the pond to allow for a new start in a new city. Daddy dear has also saddled Sherlock with a "sobriety companion" named Joan Watson, played by Lucy Liu.

There are some nods to the source material; Joan Watson is a former surgeon who lends some expertise and humanity to Sherlock. They still work as "consultants" for the police, this time the NYPD led by Aidan Quinn who apparently worked with Sherlock on a case 10 years earlier.

And as for Sherlock himself? He's still the super observant detective extraordinaire he has always been. The show creators and Johnny Lee Miller made some smart choices along the way and I don't see anything in the performance that evokes Benedict Cumberbatch or even Robert Downey, Jr.  This Sherlock makes more of an attempt to get along with people and is clearly more understanding of social norms. But don't worry, he's not all touchy feely. At one point in the pilot he verbally harangues a rape victim and manages to yell in Watson's face on more than one occasion (when she keeps asking him to explain his deductions). I'm not a Conan Doyle expert so I can't speak as to how faithful the character is to the book Sherlock, but as a layperson the character was clearly recognizable as Sherlock Holmes.

The program itself is your standard CBS procedural, though admittedly the characters are more interesting than you'll find on similar shows. I've only seen the first episode, but I don't expect the murder mysteries to be the big draw here; the relationship between Holmes and Watson is the real reason to watch. And yes, Watson is now a woman. I assume the gender-swap was to allow for some heteronormative sexual tension, but there was blessed little of it in the pilot. Lucy Liu plays a very restrained Watson, but the character is clearly carrying some pretty heavy stuff and I think Sherlock will end up helping her as much as she is supposed to help him.

I'm sure a lot of people (at least in the geek fandom) are going to boycott Elementary because of Sherlock, but for my money I definitely have room in my heart and tv schedule for another Sherlock Holmes-inspired drama. This is a solid show with a great cast and an interesting concept and I'll keep watching.

Elementary airs Thursday evenings at 10:00 on CBS. The pilot is available online at CBS' website here.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

The Closer

There are so many new shows premiering this week, it probably seems pretty strange to write about one that is seven years old and also no longer on the air. But The Closer is brand spankin new to me, so you can just deal with it. Plus, I promise to write about Elementary (the new CBS Sherlock Holmes procedural) tomorrow, so you can look forward to that.

I bought the first season of The Closer on DVD for my Mom a few months ago, but she was saving it for a rainy day. Last week is ended up pouring all week long, so the two of us spent some time working our way through. I've never really been into the TNT dramas (or the USA shows which always seemed very similar based on the ads), so I had always discounted The Closer as another lame police procedural.

Turns out it definitely is a police procedural, but it's definitely not lame.

I love the character of Brenda Leigh Johnson. I love how she assess a situation in a few seconds and immediately knows what needs to be done. I love how (at least when it comes to a case) she knows how to just buckled down and work without the usual hand-wringing and whining. I love how she expects and demands competency from others. I also love her cute southern accent and how she is always polite, even if raking you over the coals.

She'll make you confess your deepest, darkest sins...but still be as sweet as pie while doing it.

While each case is a stand-alone episode, the course of the first season is clear. Brenda transfers to the LAPD from Atlanta where she becomes not only the new kid, but also an automatic Deputy Chief in charge of the Priority Murder Squad (PMS...ha) without having to come up through the ranks. The detectives under her command are immediately hostile to her for several reasons--her easy promotion, outsider status, and gender are some of the most prominent--but through the season they all come to hold a grudging respect and loyalty for her. It's fun to watch Brenda's relationship with the other detectives evolve and even more fun to watch her navigate the antics of the "villain," Detective Taylor who leads the Robbery-Homicide division of the LAPD.

For the most part, the mysteries were engaging and centered around your typical LA-types. Actors, software millionaires, politicians, your typical Hollywood folks. There may have been a few clunkers in the mix, but I enjoyed all the episodes purely from a character stand point if not because of the plot. Like Law and Order, there's usually some kind of twist at the end, and for the most part I wouldn't figure out the mystery out ahead of time (though in fairness, I don't really try--I like to be surprised).

So The Closer gets a solid B rating; I'm not rushing out to watch the new episodes, but I definitely look forward to continuing with the series. And with that, all that's left to say is "thanks yeeeew, thank you so much!"

Monday, September 24, 2012


Another day, another twisty sci-fi mythology-based story of survival. These shows are now a staple in our post-LOST world, and it seems that every Fall the networks roll out some new variation.  Usually with one of the LOST guys names attached to it. Revolution is no exception; this one comes from the minds of J.J. Abrams and Eric Kripke (the guy behind the first 5 seasons of Supernatural).

But here's where Revolution is different: it's actually good.

I've heard that it's received mixed reviews, but I tend to avoid the reviews for shows that I think I might actually like so my perceptions aren't colored. I can't speak for anyone else, but when I sat down to watch Revolution this weekend with my friend Carl I was pleasantly surprised by the strength of the premiere and how much I enjoyed it.

You've probably heard at least the basic concept, but just in case....*cue dramatic trailer voice over*
Sometime in the near future an unknown phenomenon disables all technology dependent on electricity on the planet, ranging from computers and electronics to car engines, jet engines, and batteries. People are forced to adapt to a world without technology. Due to the collapse of public order, many areas are ruled by warlords and militias. The series focuses on the Matheson family, who possess a special device that is the key to not only finding out what happened fifteen years ago, but also a possible way to reverse its effects. However, they must elude various enemy groups who want to possess that power for themselves.

The pilot does a great job of setting up big questions (what caused the lights to go out out? What's on the secret flash drive that the Mathesons's possess?) while teasing out twists and surprises right off the bat. Though if you think the Mom character (played by Elizabeth Mitchell ) is dead, you've never seen tv before. 

I also really enjoyed the overall vision of society that the show has created. Technology wise, we're Digital Age meets Wild West meets Revolutionary War. Manufacturing is gone, so people use swords and muskets. Your Prius becomes an herb garden. And horses make a big comeback. There's a lot going on in the background of the show and it's fun to look around at what's on the screen.

The narrative seems to focus on two groups, the family journeying across the country in search of answers and the bad guy shadowy military types trying to catch them. Add to that a generational divide; the main character of the show is Charlie Matheson, a twenty-something Katniss rip-off, who is sent to find her uncle who is possibly connected to the reason for the loss of power. It looks like we'll have some of the usual young people romantic nonsense (which I confess I am a total sucker for), but for now the adults are definitely the more interesting part of the cast.

For being in a post-apocalyptic world, everyone looks pretty good. Maybe just slightly disheveled. Oh, and the cast is chock full of "hey, it's that guy!" type of people. Have your IMDB apps handy while watching.

Maureen Ryan over at the Huffington Post has a really nifty article about the show and an interview with Eric Kripke. If you're wondering if you should watch it, here's how he describes it:
I didn't show up with my pitch as, "I'm going to learn from the mistakes of 'The Event' and 'FlashForward.'" I came to this as, "I want to do 'Lord of the Rings' on the American highway." I didn't approach it [thinking] "Here's this insidious mystery that I'm going to tease out over seasons." I came in with, "I want to tell an epic saga on the American road, and I want to tell a story about characters that are on this grand journey over this transformed American landscape, where there's swords, and magic and secrets and royalty …"
By the way, the "magic" comment of that quote refers to a big surprise at the end of the pilot which I won't ruin here. But it makes sense in the context and may not refer to what you think it does. 

At the end of the pilot I looked over at Carl and he had the same facial expression I did, mouth hanging open in surprise. Not just because of the final surprise of the episode, but also because...well. We really enjoyed watching the show! And based on the history of these types of programs, that was the bigegst twist of all.

Revolution airs on Monday nights at 10:00 on NBC. If you missed the pilot, you can watch it on the show's website and on On Demand.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Because what TV really needs is more vampires.

Any fans of Guillermo del Toro out there? Come on, you know you love Hellboy and Pan's Labyrinth and maybe even Blade II (vampires!).

Did you know that del Toro also co-wrote a book trilogy called The Strain about a virus that turns most of the world into blood-sucking hive-minded creatures (more vampires!). He basically took the ideas he began to explore in Blade II and ran with them, creating one of the darkest works of vampire fiction I've read. I don't want to give too much away in case you haven't read the books, but let's just say this isn't one of those stories where the plucky hero stops the bad guy right in the nick of time. Instead, shit gets major apocolapsey.

ANYWAY, news broke today that del Toro is working with Lost's Carlton Cuse* to adapt The Strain trilogy for television on the cable network FX.  The article I linked to only describes the show as a "series" so it's unclear whether it would be long form or miniseries, but I would assume a longer run show is more likely--hopefully about 12 episodes a season. 

FX is no stranger to dark drama (hello, Sons of Anarchy, The Shield, and American Horror Story), so I can't think of a better non-pay channel home for The Strain. If you haven't checked out the books, I suggest you give them a read; they don't revolutionize the genre, but there is definitely some interesting stuff there.

And you might as well admit it: you will watch anything he makes. How can someone who looks so cuddly be so dark??

*because what TV also needs is another show by a creator/producer/writer/best boy grip who previously worked on Lost.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Medical Drama(s)

People love watching medical drama on television. But we don't really love living them. 

When you're sitting in a hospital lounge waiting for a doctor to come and tell you whether your loved one had a successful surgery, the last thing you are thinking is, "my goodness, this is certainly riveting and I bet a home audience would love to share this experience!" What are you are actually thinking is, "dear God, please don't let me my Mom/Dad/spouse/friend die."

Unfortunately, I found myself in the situation of spending a few days in the hospital last week as a family member had surgery. It wasn't life-threatening, but it was necessary and as you know, all surgery comes with some inherent risk. 

I think maybe I have seen too many medical dramas (and also am no stranger to anxiety) so all I saw in my head were visions of my loved one flat-lining on the table, or having some dramatic response to a certain drug, or having the doctor come find me in the waiting room to deliver bad news and me breaking down and wailing or something.

Like I said, too many medical dramas. 

Obviously, none of that happened or I wouldn't be sitting here writing a blog post. But it made me think about how television warps our expectations. There's not a plane crash or huge fire or other catastrophe in my life every May. I don't trade sexually charged banter with a love interest before he shows up on my doorstep (in the rain) after 10 years at our series finale.* And I have not yet been one of the sole survivors of an apocalypse forced to survive on my wits and negotiate between groups warring over scant remaining resources. Actually, most of the time it's all I can do to work a full day, workout, cook dinner, and manage to do the dishes (sometimes I don't get to the dishes). 


It's hard to remember that television is supposed to be escapism and not a manual for real life. But in the case of my most recent visit to the hospital all I can say is, THANK GOD. I'll keep my drama in fake hospital, thank you very much. 

*though you could argue my relationship with Monkey Sri is simply fraught with UST.

Monday, September 17, 2012

The New Normal

Or, Kurt and Blaine Have A Baby.

The basic premise of The New Normal reads like my wish list for a TV show. Gays? Check. The horrors joys of pregnancy? Check. Quirky kid? Check. Snarky yet heartwarming? Double and triple check!

The show stars Justin Bartha (National Treasure, The Hangover) and Andrew Rannells (who has done a ton of voice acting and appeared in Girls... but no one's perfect) as a gay couple who decide to have a baby. They meet a young woman, played by Georgia King (I recognized her from an appearance on Merlin), who is trying to turn her life around. She agrees to be their surrogate, they agree to pay her a ridiculous amount of money, and they plan to conceive via in-vitro fertilization using a donor egg. It's your typically boy-meets-boy, boys-impregnate-girl-via-invasive-medical-procedure, wackiness-ensues story.

Rounding out the cast is the surrogate's frankly weird daughter and horrible grandmother, as well as one of the guys' personal assistant/sassy black friend. Is it me, or does it look like Nene Leakes was photo-shopped into most of the promo pics? It makes me wonder if she was a last-minute addition to the cast. Like they were almost ready to launch before they realized that they didn't have a single person of color in the show. Not to belittle Ms. Leakes, who is hilarious and immediately steals any scene she appears in (as she did in Glee). It's just that... for a show that's attempting to redefine The American Family, an almost all-white cast kind of feels like an odd choice. Maybe that's just me.

Anyway, I do like what I've seen so far - the characters are interesting, and the writing seems to be insightful enough to go beyond stereotypes. Only time will tell, I suppose, if this show lives up to it's potential. If not, we can always get our "this baby has two daddies" fix from Modern Family.