REVIEW: ‘Orange Is The New Black’ (37 Shows You Might Want To Check Out This Summer – Pt. 4)

Here’s part four of our series on shows you might want to check out this summer.  Just one show today and since it’s a returning show that I am quite familiar with, I’ll throw in a review, as well.  Scroll to the bottom for the previous entries.

oitnb posterOrange is the New Black (Netflix - June 6th)

Orange Is the New Black is an American comedy-drama series created by Jenji Kohan and first released on Netflix on July 11, 2013. The series, produced by Tilted Productions in association with Lionsgate Television, is based on Piper Kerman’s memoir, Orange Is the New Black: My Year in a Women’s Prison, about her experiences in prison. The series revolves on Piper Chapman (Taylor Schilling), a bisexual woman living in New York City who is sentenced to 15 months in a women’s federal prisonfor transporting a suitcase full of drug money to her former girlfriend, Alex Vause (Laura Prepon), who is an international drug smuggler. The offense occurred ten years prior to the start of the series, and in that time Piper had moved on to a quiet, law-abiding life among New York’s upper middle class. While in prison, Piper is reunited with Alex, and they re-examine their relationship and deal with their fellow inmates.

Score: 68/100

The highly-anticipated second season of Netflix’s drama (comedy-drama? No.) Orange is the New Black goes live at midnight and I’m thrilled because it ties in perfectly with our series of 37 Shows You Want to Check Out This Summer and because it allows me to finally get a whole bunch of things off my chest that the gushers (both audiences and critics alike) don’t seem to want to address about this series. Don’t get me wrong, I actually do enjoy Orange is the New Black (or else I wouldn’t be recommending it to check out this summer), but the show is far from perfect and the problems that it suffers from are glaring and unavoidable.

One of the first things that caught my attention in the pilot was the cheap premium cable device of gratuitous nudity and sex in order to hook an audience.  HBO has been doing it for years (and I’ve been subsequently complaining about it for years) and whereas at one time it was used as an obvious gimmick when the writers had gone to the well one too many times and couldn’t come up with new ideas, it has now become obligatory with every show that the network airs.  It’s not that I have an issue with sex and nudity on television, the issue is that when it’s vulgar and obvious and now since HBO does it all the time, so do all the other premium networks, including Netflix. NOTE TO NETFLIX: When you throw that much gratuitous sex and nudity into a pilot, it’s clear to astute audiences that you are compensating for what you lack in other areas.

So, what does Orange lack?  Well, first and foremost, although the plot is compelling enough for me to want to keep watching it, it’s a slog. On more than one occassion, I have thought two hours had gone by because the show was dragging so much.  I don’t mind a slow burn, but each episode is a slow-burn without much of an emotional payoff at the end.  The only reason this show has found the success that it has is because it’s available for binge viewing because if it was a weekly series audiences wouldn’t have tolerated how slow it is past the third episode.

One of the other problems that I have with this show is that the producers have gone out of their way to say that the show isn’t Oz (well, no sh*t) but it’s obvious to anyone watching it that it certainly is an attempt at Oz (ultra-) light.  It’s so blatantly ripping off aspects of Oz that you’d have to be an idiot not to see it.  The crisis-of-the-week that revolves around a different main character with flashbacks of the character’s pre-prison life and backstory to develop that character?  Nooooo, we’ve never seen that before. For crap’s sake, that’s not even unique to Oz.  Lost did that for six seasons better than any show in history.  That’s just the most glaring example of Oz ripoffs, I’m not going to get into all of them (recycled plotlines, stereotypical characters and situations, etc.) and honestly, it doesn’t really bother me that much because it does help develop the characters but it’s worth noting.

Speaking of character development, that is certainly one area where Orange excels with each primary cast member of the ensemble being given a good amount of screen time and attention by the writers.  This may sound very fanboyish of me but I don’t think that anyone is going to dispute that the best performance of all on this show is that of Star Trek: Voyager‘s Captain Kathryn Janeway herself, Kate Mulgrew as the Russian mother-figure to the women, Galina “Red” Reznikov who runs the kitchen.

Same girl... no sh*t.

Same girl… no sh*t.

Equally notable is the underrated performance by the gorgeous Taryn Manning as the incredibly emotionally unbalanced, hillbilly meth addict, Tiffany “Pennsatucky” Doggett. Manning really is quite outstanding and it should be noted what an incredible job the makeup department has done in “ugly-fying” her for this role and how she herself has been able to accomplish that job through her performance.

What hurts this show immensely, however, are the main protagonists and I guess the only reason I’m calling them the main protagonists is that the character of Piper (Taylor Schilling) is who the show is about and the other two, Larry (Jason Biggs) and Alex (Laura Prepon) are the two other sides of the “love triangle” as it were. Do you know what the problem is?

Once a pie f*cker, always a pie f*cker.

Once a pie f*cker, always a pie f*cker.

I hate them.  I hate them all with a passion.  They are the most spoiled, selfish, self-centered, self-righteous and arrogant characters on this show and they are completely unsympathetic. This is what I mean by how stupidly audiences and critics gush over this show.  How is it possible that anyone who watches this show doesn’t want to just punch these people? Hell, how does one not want to punch the most annoying no-talent actor in Hollywood, Jason Biggs, to begin with, his performance on this show not withstanding? How the hell did he get this role to begin with?  Seriously, his only claim to fame is that he f*cked a pie in an incredibly overrated teen comedy over a decade ago.

As for the other two, it’s not that Schilling or Prepon’s performances are bad, it’s that their characters (like Larry) suck and they are completely unlikable.  They’re rotten, they treat people rotten, everything they do is about making themselves happy and they NEVER learn from their mistakes. It’s one thing to have your main characters be so flawed at the begining of a season, especially on a show set in a prison, it’s another thing not have the characters “grow” one iota between episode one and episode 13.  These characters have actually regressed since episode one.

pornstache

Pornstache: Still more likable than Jason Biggs.

To put it simply, we’re supposed to hate the vile “Pornstache” (Pablo Schreiber).  I get that.  But we’re not supposed to hate our protagonists and that’s what the reality is of this series. They simply don’t have very much redeeming about them whatsoever.

Again, the real saving grace on this show is the performance from the supporting cast and the fact that I’m a sucker for decently done serialized drama and at the end of the day, Orange is the New Black is decently done, if not great. The key is to not expect more out of this series than it can give or you’ll be disappointed.

As for our multi-part series, 37 Shows That You Might Want To Check Out This Summer, here are the previous entries:

Part 1 (24: Live Another DayMotiveGang RelatedThe Wil Wheaton ProjectRogueCrossbones)

Part 2 (Halt and Catch Fire)

Part 3 (Longmire)

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REVIEW: ‘Longmire’ (37 Shows You Might Want To Check Out This Summer – Pt. 3)

Here’s part three of our series on shows you might want to check out this summer.  Just one show today and since it’s a returning show that I am quite familiar with, I’ll throw in a review, as well.  Scroll to the bottom for the previous entries.

LongmireLongmire (A&E - Mondays, 10:00 p.m. beginning June 2nd)

Based on Walt Longmire Mystery series of novels by Craig Johnson, Longmire also is named after its central character, Walt Longmire, the local sheriff in rural Wyoming. As the series starts, Longmire has been widowed for a year and, still in pain, hides behind a brave face and dry wit. After his wife’s death, he dragged himself into the office but his heart wasn’t really in the job. He knows it’s time to turn his life around and with the help of his daughter, Cady, and his deputy, Vic, he revives his interest in his job and decides to give his all to his re-election campaign. Victoria “Vic” Moretti is the newest addition to the sheriff’s office. She was a Philadelphia homicide detective for five years before relocating to Wyoming. While adjusting to how to deal with the locals, Vic is out to prove she’s not a rookie. She has a deep connection with Longmire along with her playful attitude and he allows her to be his most trusted deputy. Longmire’s lifelong best friend and close confidant is Henry Standing Bear, the owner of the local bar. Henry is often Walt’s go-between with the reservation. Unlike Longmire, Henry embraces progress and the trappings of the modern world while holding a close connection with his past. Another one of Longmire’s deputies is ambitious go-getter Branch Connally. He’s motivated more by political aspirations than his work as a deputy. He thinks Longmire’s stuck in the past and wants the department to have the technology that most other law enforcement agencies use. It’s his umbrage towards Walt’s outdated methods that pushes him to run for sheriff. Longmire’s only child is daughter, Cady Longmire, an attorney who dreams of practicing law in a big city. With the death of her mother, Cady has stayed to help Walt get his life back together. She isn’t afraid to tell her father like it is, and it’s this straight talk and sense of humor that makes their connection strong. Longmire’s third deputy is The Ferg who has a heart of gold. He’s loyal and well meaning and always eager to please. The Ferg can hunt and fix most anything but he’s not much of an investigator. 

Score: 85/100

Last night, Longmire began its third season and the timing couldn’t be better as I just finished watching season two last week and I’m hungry for more and that’s saying a lot because quite honestly, two years ago I got three episodes into the series and put it on hiatus for over a year because it seemed like just another police procedural.

The drama, based on the Walt Longmire mystery of novels by best-selling author Craig Johnson definitely is a police procedural in the most traditional sense of the genre but I discovered after giving up on it early that the series really has far more appeal than I had originally given it credit.  Whoops… muh baaad!

As far as murder mysteries go, the basic formula on Longmire is, admittedly, pretty vanilla.  If, for the most part, just by the formula of the series established in the first half-dozen episodes or so (and every other police procedural done in the last 50 years) you can’t figure out “who done it” within the first 20 minutes then congratulations, you are not a couch potato and television drama junkie like I am and you are actually doing something with your life.

Of course, as I’ve noted several times in the past, the vanilla and formulaic nature of police procedurals is why I don’t watch them to begin with because none of them have anything new or particular novel to offer.  Sure, there has been this flurry of police procedurals featuring lead characters with incredibly unique abilities that aren’t quite supernatural but give them a special insight into solving crimes that the regular cops don’t possess, but those are simply gimmicks used to gloss over the fact that we are still dealing with a standard “murder of the week” police procedural. Numb3rsThe MentalistUnforgettable (yes, CBS really likes this theme a lot) and The Finder readily come to mind as fitting this mold.

Although certainly formulaic, Longmire  is one of the rare exceptions because it fills in all of the other gaps regarding good television drama that the other police procedurals don’t. The casting is excellent with every single actor being ideally suited for their role on the series and marvelously well-developed.  According to what I’ve read, Robert Taylor (Walt Longmire) is apparently an incredibly well-known and accomplished Australian actor but I don’t believe any of it because I have no doubt in my mind that he is the same weathered old, incredibly well-read and educated renaissance cowboy philosopher from Wyoming that he plays on the show. Despite everything I know about Lou Diamond Phillips (who’s heritage is Spanish, Scottish/Irish, Chinese, Filipino, Hawaiian and Cherokee) I have no doubt that he is full-blooded Cheyenne and and has been best friends with Taylor since the sixth grade.  That’s how truly honest these character portrayals are.

As far as Katee Sackhoff is concerned, I’m curious if she even had to audition for the role of Deputy Moretti because it’s as if Starbuck from Battlestar Galactica moved to Wyoming and became a slightly less insubordinate cop.  You get the feeling that the producers read the series bible and the character descriptions, watched 10 minutes of BSG and sent her a plane ticket.

I could go on and on about the supporting cast of this show and I almost feel guilty for not but I don’t want to spend an entire piece gushing over casting and character development when the real main co-star of this show and really what sets it apart is the rural Wyoming backdrop which, ironically, much like the show’s titular protagonist, is completely faking its true local origins.  Y’see, the fictional Absaroka County, Wyoming is actually in and around the Santa Fe, New Mexico area.  But, once again, I don’t believe it.  As far as I’m concerned, even though I’ve never been to Wyoming, I am absolutely convinced that the show takes place there because the writers and producers have done such a brilliant job in crafting this fantastic living and breathing environment and community that it leaves simply no doubt that what you are seeing is the genuine article.

Part of it is the character development, part of it has to do with selective exterior shots of the landscape (that have even fooled actual Wyoming residents) but more importantly is the presentation of the storylines that address issues inherent to the locals of that part of the country that due to isolation and small populations aren’t very well-known to the rest of us.  Quite often, the storylines are centered on the issues related to the Indian Reservations or ranching or any one of a dozen issues that is part and parcel with that region of the country but it’s done in such a way as to make it accessible to audiences to the point that they easily relate with this community and subconsciously can easily accept Absoroka County as their own community.

"Yeah... where's my attorney and who the f*** gave you law enforcement powers.  I don't see no badge, playa.  All I see is an ascot."

“Yeah… where’s my attorney and who the f*** gave you law enforcement powers? I don’t see no badge, playa. All I see is an ascot.”

One of the few things that does annoy me about Longmire that was stolen right out of the “Mad Libs For Police Procedurals” manual is the obligatory “Scooby Doo Ending” of every episode which I complain about ad nauseum.  If you’re not familiar with the “Scooby Doo Ending,” this is how it goes: the prime suspect in the last five minutes of the episode (sans attorney, of course) while being interrogated basically has the interrogator tell them all of the details of the crime the interrogator knows they committed (without any actual evidence or with only the most insignificant circumstantial evidence) and then the suspect admits to doing it while lamenting how they could have gotten away with it.  The only thing missing is the rubber mask reveal and the phrase “…if it weren’t for those meddling kids [and their dog].” For 10 plus years of examples of this nonsense, simply turn on any episode of CSI as that’s all they do on that show.  The only difference with the Longmire S.D.E. is that that more often than not, our killer is a local who either made a big mistake and regrets what they’ve done or it was an accident that they foolishly tried to cover up or they were motivated by grief/justice/sadness, i.e., our killer is sympathetic and a shade of gray.

Yuck.

That said, however, I’m willing to let Longmire off the hook for even this Cardinal sin because the three or four intertwined main recurring story arcs have been so damned compelling that you find yourself not really caring that much about whatever particular “murder of the week” is on the schedule, anyway.

Longmire does such a great job in every other aspect of crafting good television that I can forgive its shortcomings in the procedural drama arena.  Honestly, the show is so well put-together that it seems that if the “murder of the week” aspect to it is merely incidental and almost filler in order to advance the character development and overall arcs.  Needless to say, that’s rare indeed, and in fact, I’ve never seen a procedural that took such an approach that deliberately and was successful doing it.

So, if you haven’t watched Longmire, yet, set your DVR for the current episodes and head on over to Netflix and get caught up as both seasons one and two are currently available.

As for our multi-part series, 37 Shows That You Might Want To Check Out This Summer, you can find part one, here and…

Check out part two, here.

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37 Shows That You Might Want To Check Out This Summer (Part 2)

Here’s part two of our series on shows you might want to check out this summer.  Just one show today.  Scroll to the bottom for the previous entry.

HCFHalt and Catch Fire (AMC – Sundays, 10:00 p.m. beginning June 1st)

You have to give AMC credit for having the vision and foresight to bring television ideas to life that on their face seem like they would be as boring as watching paint dry. Think about these premises if you will:

1.) High School chemistry teacher resorts to dealing meth when he finds out he has terminal cancer.

2.) A New York City ad agency during the 1960s.

3.) A Western that focuses on the construction of the railroad post Civil War.

4.) Zombie apocalypse occurs, people are trying to survive.

On paper, these simple premises that have all resulted in some of the biggest hits and critically acclaimed darlings in television history, all have one thing in common: incredible character development.  Halt and Catch Fire would seem to be following this same tradition because let’s be honest, does the premise of “three people in 1983 try to reverse engineer IBM personal computer technology” really seem exciting to anyone but the biggest nerd?  I expect Halt and Catch Fire to do what AMC series usually do and that is to suck audiences in with the characters at first and the compelling drama later.

In fact, if you think about it, the biggest failure in recent history for AMC series-wise has been  Low Winter Sun which attempted to find success with the exact opposite formula, focusing on a (mediocre) story and not on character development out of the gate. AMC knows which side their bread is buttered on and I don’t expect a mistake like Low Winter Sun again for quite some time.

After seeing the first episode, it seems to be in the fast-paced spirit of Jobs and The Social Network and I am enjoying it so far.  It’s tough to make a series assessment after only the pilot but it’s definitely worth following.

What it has going for it: Not only does AMC have a fantastic track record when it comes to picking winners but they also have a reputation of sticking by their shows when conventional wisdom would have had other networks running at the first sign of trouble (See: The Killing which was canceled and subsequently uncanceled by AMC because THEY had faith in the story-telling of the show which is unheard of).  The relatively unknown cast and the fact that although it’s a period piece, it’s set during a time that is within arm’s reach for producers (offices really haven’t changed much in 30 years and it’s not difficult to go to your local thrift store to find 1980s period clothing and computer technology for a dime), makes the show undoubtedly inexpensive to produce making it that much easier for execs to support it.

What it has going against it: I really can’t see much.  The biggest challenge this show is going to face is, as I noted, getting audiences past the on-paper dry premise but AMC audiences are used to this by now and they know that with AMC, it’s a marathon and not a sprint.

Check out part one, here.

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37 Shows That You Might Want To Check Out This Summer (Part 1)

After perusing the summer 2014 schedule over at TV Guide, it has occurred to me that there is a crap-ton of quality new and returning programming this summer which is continuing a year-over-year trend of the broadcast and cable networks dedicating quality content to the until recently largely under-appreciated television audience looking for new content. Gone are the days of summer being a wasteland of reruns and reality shows as the networks have finally figured out that after forty years of processed foods and decreasing exercise as a culture during the summer, we are now more likely to park our collective fat asses on the sofa and watch TV instead of doing things that require physical exertion.  So, thank you network and cable television executives for encouraging our eventual physical demise as a society.

All snarkiness aside, the renaissance of the summer television schedule has its origins in the economic downturn throughout the last decade and families looking to save money on their entertainment by forgoing things like family vacations and multiple trips to the their local multiplex during the year.  Families in general began to look at home entertainment as an alternative expense and began to invest for the long-term instead of spending frivolously with no return. During the late 2000s sales of large screen televisions and home theater system skyrocketed whereas other industries remained stagnant and lost ground.

This change in consumer attitude has created an opportunity for a tremendous amount of programming that would have never seen the light of day in years past. Needless to say, I’m all for it.

So, here’s how this going to work:

This is one part of a multi-part series that will post over several weeks.  Some parts (like this one) will have more show recommendations than others simply for the fact that I’m trying to avoid giving you a heads-up on a show that has already begun (not much of a head’s up if it’s after-the-fact) and I don’t want to get more behind than I already am. You will notice that there is a lack of comedies on this list.  The reason for that is simple: summer comedies usually are f*cking horrible. There are a few exceptions which I will note but don’t expect a lot from me in that department.

Oh, and if you’re wondering why your favorite drama or drama you’re looking forward to isn’t on the list, it’s because you probably have sh*tty taste and those shows you want to see mentioned are awful or  certainly will be.

For new series, I will include commentary on what a series has going for it and what it has going against it.

24LAD24: Live Another Day (FOX – Mondays, 9:00 p.m. beginning May 5th)

Jack Bauer and IGN’s fifth greatest show of all time returned on May 5th after being canceled four years ago for what the producers have called a “limited run event.”  24 was always one of my favorite shows on television but a couple of things occurred to me after I crammed in all eight previous seasons over the course of four weeks; first, there is a lot of unnecessary filler content throughout the 24 episodes of any given season that was completely unnecessary in order to advance the story and they dragged down the series (see: the entire Kim Bauer storyline in season two). Second, the major subplots were also great but they were also used as filler to get the season through 24 episodes. That extra content could have been recrafted into an entirely different season but they crammed in no less than four major plotlines into one day and it was absurd at times. I remember watching season six thinking they could have ended the whole season at episode 18 and that was without removing the other filler that polluted that season.

This realization of all of the unnecessary content forced me to conclude that 24 is probably far better suited for 12 to 13 episodes just as 24: Live Another Day is by design.  It’s simply more efficient storytelling for a very frenetic series that could use a little more structure and precision.  There’s also the other issue that the reason that 24 was canceled in the first place was not because the ratings were particularly bad, it’s that the show was incredibly expensive to produce, was getting more expensive every year and the returns on the investment just weren’t there any more.  You cut that order in half and you saved half the cost of your series right there and you can make your franchise profitable again.

So far, Live Another Day has been as advertised and what you would expect from the franchise, despite the fact that I was a little concerned because of the slow start (FFS, Bauer didn’t even say a word until 45 minutes into the first hour) and what was appearing to be too much time once again dedicated to filler early on.  Since episode three it has picked up dramatically and  I expect the remaining episodes of season nine to live up to its expectations but if they really want to impress the f*ck out of me then they need to bring back Tony Almeida and I don’t care how they do it.

Motive (ABC – Wednesdays, 10:00 p.m. beginning May 21st)

MOTIVeI saw a grand total of one episode of this show last year and I actually liked it a lot but my schedule was full and didn’t have the time to fit it in.  I despise police procedurals for the most part but the concept of the series, showing different aspects of the crime from different characters perspectives, is reminiscent of the short-lived but brilliant NBC series from 2002, Boomtown.  I think it’s safe to say that if Boomtown had a short-order 13 episode summer schedule it would have run for several seasons but, alas, that kind of programming didn’t exist in the early 2000s so we all lost.  Motive cleverly fills that hole in for this generation of television audiences and does so nicely.

gang relatedGang Related (FOX – Thursdays, 9:00 p.m. beginning May 22nd)

Gang Related is a complex serialized drama revolving around a former gang member turned cop and the war between the police and organized crime in Los Angeles.  The premise seems to ooze with clichés and recycles elements of other similar stories (see: The Departed) but it has a strong cast (Lost‘s Terry O’Quinn and The Shield‘s Catherine Dent in particular) and goddammit if those trailers don’t make it look compelling.  The first two episodes are still sitting on the DVR so I can’t give an assessment but like the title of the article says, you might want to check it out.

What it’s got going for it:  As noted, the series has a strong cast and it’s probably not that expensive to produce considering the shortened summer scheduling.  Audience reaction has been positive thus far.

What it’s got going against it: Incredibly mixed reviews from critics noting the same problems that I expressed without having seen a single episode.  It’s also on FOX and FOX has a tendency to sh*t their pants and cancel shows if they show any signs of losing their audience.

WWPThe Wil Wheaton Project (Tuesdays, 10:00 p.m. beginning May 27th)

Do you like clip shows?  Well, if you do, The Wil Wheaton Project is for you! That is, of course, if you’re a big Science Fiction/Genre geek like I am.  The easiest way to describe this series is to think of The Soup but specifically for nerds and when I say think of The Soup, I mean it’s EXACTLY like that series.  I haven’t looked closely into it but there’s no doubt that the two series are using the same producers and writers as the style, writing and format are IDENTICAL.  No, complaints here, though.  This isn’t just one of those shows I suggest checking out, I highly recommend this series.

What it’s got going for it: I watched the first episode the other day and it was absolutely hilarious and done in such a manner that it doesn’t alienate a non-SciFi/Genre audience.   This is an incredibly inexpensive show to produce and SyFy like cheap shows. Wil Wheaton’s  ScifFi pedigree gives the series instant credibility (having Chris Hardwick make an appearance on your pilot doesn’t hurt either).

What it’s got going against it: Nothing.  Shut up and enjoy it.

rogueRogue (DirecTV – Wednesdays, 8:00 p.m. beginning May 28th)

Wednesday marked the beginning of the second season of DirecTV’s original drama, Rogue.  I only became a subscriber to DirecTV about a month ago and since I think torrenting is the equivalent of setting live puppies on fire and beating up old ladies I would never, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, suggest anyone do anything, like say, perhaps visit a site like The Pirate Bay to get caught up.  That being said, as described, the series looks pretty compelling (if not particularly original) as far as serialized detective shows are concerned with an undercover cop that gets entangled with organized crime. If, like me, you haven’t seen this series yet and you want to get caught up… oh, I’m sure you’ll find a way.

CROSSBONESCrossbones (NBC – Fridays, 10:00 p.m. beginning May 30th)

Until recently, my only interest in pirates was the Pirates of the Caribbean ride at Disneyland which to this day is my favorite ride of all time.  I have seen several pirate movies over the years including the Disney films of the same title and I’ve enjoyed them but once again, I’ve had no interest in the genre. Perhaps that’s because my only exposure to Pirates has been through the fantasy colored lenses that Disney provides but honestly, after becoming immersed in Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag, I have really come to appreciate the history surrounding West Indies pirates. Crossbones is a series revolving around the legendary Blackbeard and stars John Malkovich in his first lead role on television.  Looks like fun.

What it’s got going for it: Pirates are popular right now and John Malkovich brings a level of gravitas to the series that will get the attention of audiences.

What it’s got going against it: Mixed reviews so far and period pieces are expensive to produce.  I’m not particularly comfortable with the Friday night slot during the summer, either and NBC is unpredictable with their programming choices.

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TV Blasphemy: Sorry, But ‘The Walking Dead’ Sucks…

carl pudding AMC’s The Walking Dead  returned Sunday after a two-month hiatus. As a fan of the series I have sat on the edge of my seat for three and a half seasons now, week-to-week, looking forward to the weekly big twist that was inevitably on the horizon that would make me want to tune in the following week. After the most recent episode, After, which featured hardly any dialogue whatsoever and just a series of awful things happening and horrible, depressing imagery, I’ve come to the only conclusion that I think any rational human being can come to:  The Walking Dead sucks and it has for quite some time.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I’ll probably continue to watch if for no other reason than it’s one of the few shows that Mrs. Tastic and I can agree on so it’s at least mildly compelling and tolerable for me, but I came to the conclusion during the midseason finale that the series is not going anywhere as far as the plot is concerned and I begrudgingly accepted that fact after watching After. It’s simply not progressing the way a serial like this should.

Part of the reason why The Walking Dead became as successful as it did as quickly as it did is because it entered the television landscape at the perfect time when post-apocalyptic sci-fi/horror-themed television was on the rise and it has copied the basic premise (that is, what the show really is about at its core) of all of its predecessors and contemporary counterparts.  Despite what many fans of this show think, the show is not about surviving and it’s not even about zombies.  What the show is really about is exactly what every post-apocalyptic series is about:  How do we maintain our humanity (or if it is even possible to) when the apocalypse hits and the end of the world is at hand?  This is a very common theme on television today even on shows that aren’t technically post-apocalyptic shows.  If you want to examine this further, this theme shows up in popular literature as well, going back decades (think: Lord of the Flies).

So, that’s what the appeal of this genre is at its core.  The problem with The Walking Dead is that though it meets the core requirements of the genre on a weekly basis, there is simply no endgame in sight, in other words, there is no point to this series.  It’s just a weekly festival of stress and gore and the knowledge that any main character could be killed off at any point. This is inherently the problem of basing your serial television series off of a popular comic book serial that has been running consistently for over a decade. Comic books aren’t meant to have an endgame (unless of course they are limited-run), television serials are.  At the end of the day, what is the ultimate goal, the big payoff, the cheese at the end of the maze, the light at the end of the tunnel, etc., for The Walking Dead? Can anyone tell me?

people_arguing_zombiesThe first season actually gave us a goal: our survivors made it to the CDC and it was hinted at that they were trying to find a cure and if I recall correctly, something about working on a cure in France. Then the CDC blew up, we were all left with this cliffhanger that just made us want more, the series got picked up for a second season and since then it’s just been nothing but a long series arguments, killing the occasional zombie and main characters dying.

As noted, there is plenty of post-apocalyptic television fare currently on television with the same theme as The Walking Dead but they all do it better than The Walking Dead if for no other reason than that we know that eventually there will be a payoff, one way or the other.

falling-skies-wallpaper-002

Falling Skies: Post-Apocalypse Done Right…

Examples:

TNT’s Falling Skies which is basically The Walking Dead with aliens instead of zombies but the difference is that the protagonists are taking the fight to the aliens instead of constantly running away from them and just trying to survive.  The endgame is pretty obvious: either the humans will be victorious and defeat the aliens or they won’t.

NBC’s Revolution is a typical contemporary commentary on humanity with the post-apocalyptic theme and for all of its flaws, it is obvious that there is an endgame to this even if they haven’t ultimately spelled it out completely and they throw in mysteries along the way.  Will the power go back on or not?  Will humanity be able to start over?

CBS’s Under the Dome and ABC’s former series Lost aren’t post-apocalyptic, but they share the same commentary on humanity theme that the post-apocalyptic fare does through characters in situations where a small group of people are isolated from the rest of the world and their respective series examine how their humanity remains intact.  Both series have obvious endgames.

The progenitor of the contemporary post-apocalyptic genre television series, Battlestar Galactica (2003) was nothing more than 75 episodes of morality plays and commentary on the human condition… but the endgame was made clear in the first episode.

great-powerful-oz

Yes, pay no attention to the man behind the curtain…

So, without an endgame or anything else remotely resembling a goal for our protagonists, what exactly is keeping audiences so enthralled with this series? The answer is simple: smoke and mirrors.

The truth is that this series is surviving based on a purely visceral emotional reaction.  We love to be scared or more specifically we love suspense and when there are characters that we have become emotionally attached to involved in the suspense it makes the experience that much more satisfying.

One thing that the series has done very well is character development.  Character development is a key factor for the success of any series because the better that development is, the more the audience can relate to the characters, the more the audience becomes attached to the characters and thus, the more the audience becomes attached to a series. Character development seems to be the sole focus of The Walking Dead and the writers and producers appear to be hanging the continued success of the series on the audience’s emotional attachment to the characters (and average to slightly better than average subplots) hoping that they won’t notice that there really is no main plot to this series.

I’m sorry, but no series can survive on character development alone.  There has to be some substance and not only isn’t there any substance to this series, it’s just becoming more depressing every week.

daryl

THIS: Good.

One of the traps of developing characters as thoroughly as this series has done to the exclusion of everything else (because it doesn’t have much else to go on) is that when you kill them off (see: Herschel, Dale, Andrea, T-Dog, Shane, Laurie, etc.) you invariably piss off your core audience.  This is exactly why the meme “IF DARYL DIES, WE WILL RIOT” exists to begin with. The only thing that people care about on this show is the characters. You’ll never see a meme that says “IF THEY DON’T FIND A CURE, WE WILL RIOT” or any reference to anything else regarding the plot because there is no plot that the audience can discern or relate to.

THIS: Not happening... ever.

THIS: Not happening… ever.

That said, the death of a main character can be overcome if the death of the character turns out to be for some greater good and the audience can justify and rationalize the loss of the character.  The problem with The Walking Dead in this regard is that all of these character deaths are simply pointless and they’ve made astute viewers like myself examine the series for what it is and what it’s missing.

Q: Why did Herschel have to die?

A: Because the writers are running out of ideas and needed to emotionally jar the audience by having the ruthless villain murder him in the most gory way imaginable in order to ensure that audience would return on February 9th for the midseason premiere.

Well, that was just fun for everyone... and right before Christmas, no less.

Well, that was just fun for everyone… and right before Christmas, no less.

That was a mistake, folks, because Sunday’s episode accomplished two things: being depressing and boring the shit out of me.  It also made me be honest about the series in general, addressing what I rationally knew but didn’t want to accept during the midseason finale. After succeed in polarizing me very badly and I’m not the only one.

The truth is that even on the most dark and morbid series the audience needs some comic relief and ultimately some hope.  The Walking Dead provides neither.  As dark as Breaking Bad was, Vince Gilligan smartly inserted humor into it regularly and there was always an implied endgame to the series and there was always the hope that even if Walt were to go down that there would be some good fortune for his family.

There is simply no hope on The Walking Dead and there doesn’t appear to be any intention of providing any whatsoever.

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FILM REVIEW: ‘The LEGO Movie’ (2014)

An ordinary LEGO minifigure, mistakenly thought to be the extraordinary MasterBuilder, is recruited to join a quest to stop an evil LEGO tyrant from gluing the universe together.

lego movieScore: 100/100

It is a rare event that I give a film a perfect score but if there was ever a film that was more deserving in recent memory, I can’t think of one. The LEGO Movie is by far the best animated film I have ever seen and that includes ANY Pixar film (yes,  I know… blasphemy). It is also the first film I have seen in years in which the entire audience stood up and applauded when the credits rolled.

Cleverly acted, the film showcases the comedic talents and sometimes surprising comedic talents of some of the biggest names in popular film today. Will Farrell (Lord Business/President Business) and Will Arnett (Batman/Bruce Wayne)… heck, those guys are givens as far as comedic timing is concerned but who knew that Morgan Freeman and Liam Neeson could be so funny?

From the beginning, the story seems like nothing more than a rehash of the themes in Kung Fu Panda or The Matrix with the role of Po/Neo taken on by our very ordinary hero, Emmet (Chris Pratt). As the film progresses, it takes on the tone and plot of a million of other action film clichés but the visually stunning frenetic action combined with multiple clever pop-culture references allows you to forgive what seems like a generic story and just simply enjoy the awesome adventure that you and your kids are on. The level of detail is absolutely phenomenal, right down to the tiny scratches in the ABS plastic and my favorite, the visible finger prints on the minifigures themselves. And make no mistake, by design, this film was meant to be seen by families which just makes the experience that much more enjoyable.

So, am I saying that the overall experience of the film makes up for the weak story? Nope. In the last 20 minutes of the film there are live-action sequences that tie the whole story together and turn what was a generic and almost mediocre plot into one of the most brilliant pieces of complex fantasy story-telling I have ever seen in a family film. It was so cleverly done that I literally slapped myself in the forehead for being tricked like I was because the film drops not-so-subtle clues as to the big twist throughout its entirety.

I came out of this film realizing that though cleverly marketed as a kid’s film, this is a nostalgia film for X and Y Geners (is that a word? don’t care, going with it…) and the tell was with 1980s Spaceman, the insanely hyperactive Benny (voiced by Charlie Day).

BennyAnyone whoever had this minifigure (or a similar one with the space helmet) knew that within a month’s time of taking that helmet off repeatedly, the bottom of the helmet near the chin would split because it was so thin. The reason for this is simple: it was a two part injection-molded piece of plastic and that thin little piece was right on the seam.  The fact that someone thought of this very esoteric detail in and of itself is not only brilliant but it also helps achieve one of the film’s main goals: taking our generation back to a time when we were seven years-old. The level of violence in this film is probably the biggest factor in the MPAA PG rating, but it’s the exact same kind of violence that a seven year-old kid would inflict on their own LEGO minifigures through normal imagination-fueled play and like everything else in the film, it ties into the big twist that brings the whole film together.

Is The LEGO Movie, as some have claimed, just a two-hour advertisement for a toy? Yep, but who cares?  LEGO toys are a permanent part of our pop-culture and certainly no different than film franchises based on G.I. Joe or Transformers… except for the fact that I can watch a LEGO film with my kids and not scare the living crap out of them. The motivations for this film are irrelevant as to its quality despite the cynical attitudes towards it.

My only regret is that we didn’t see it in 3D as this is one film that it is a moral imperative to see in 3D. Oh, well… I guess we’ll just have to go see it again.  Everything is awesome, indeed.

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ABC: Marvel’s ‘Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’ Is So Freakin’ Awesome We’re Airing The Pilot Twice

agents-of-shield-poster-fi

…And why the hell not?

On Tuesday, the highly anticipated Joss Whedon series, Marvel’s Agents of  S.H.I.E.L.D. (a spinoff series of the insanely successful film, The Avengers) starring fan-favorite Clark Gregg as Agent Phil Coulson, premiered and though it was clearly the front-runner going into the evening, I’m not sure if anyone saw it doing as well as it did. With 11.9 million viewers and a 4.6 rating among the coveted 18 – 49 demographic, Agents of  S.H.I.E.L.D. was the highest rated premiere in all of television in four years. 

So, ABC had a choice: air an episode of Shark Tank on Thursday  at 8:00 p.m. or, y’know… the highest rated premiere on television in four years.  Kind of  a no-brainer with that decision.  The only downside is for folks who can only get ABC on their TV because after the awesomeness that is Agents of  S.H.I.E.L.D. ends (yeah… we f*cking love this show), those unfortunate viewers will be forced to watch the two-hour season premiere of Grey’s Anatomy.

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