Jeremy Likes TV

I like TV. Probably more than any human should.

Archive for July 2011

Random Thoughts & Links

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  • FX has ordered Ryan Murphy’s new American Horror Story to series. I hate everything about Glee, but I enjoyed bits of Murphy’s Popular and I watched the majority of Nip/Tuck so I’ll probably check this one out when it debuts. Plus, I’m an FX whore and Connie Britton’s (Mrs. Coach from Friday Night Lights) in this one so I’m pretty much destined to watch it even if I don’t want to.
  • A couple of shows that have spent some time in the Jeremy Likes TV Power Rankings each got second season pickups in the past few weeks so they’re both pretty welcomed. TNT’s Falling Skies and MTV’s Teen Wolf will both return in summer 2012 for sophomore sets and this news pleases me. ABC also renewed Rookie Blue for a third season. Like that one, too. I have a weakness for polite Canadian procedurals. It’s inexplicable.
  • TNT’s Men Of A Certain Age on the other hand? Not so much.
  • Sons Of Anarchy creator Kurt Sutter WENT OFF after the show was snubbed by Emmy voters. Really, considering the justifiable criticism of the show’s third season, Sutter shouldn’t have been surprised but he doesn’t really like to live in a place we call “reality.”

Episode Review: Breaking Bad – “Box Cutter”

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(Disclaimer: I’m trying something a little different in format here. Breaking Bad is such a richly developed show that there is much more to discuss than there is in your average television drama. As such, this review is going to be formatted a little differently than normal and will be a little longer than usual, but I feel that’s necessary for a show like this. It will also be a discussion of major plot points in the episode so here’s your giant SPOILER ALERT. Don’t read this until you’ve seen the episode. It also assumes that you are a viewer of the show and have a basic familiarity with characters and plots. Not sure if this will be a weekly thing. We’ll see how it goes. Also, I realize that this is up a week late but better late than never, no? Onto the review.)

After an incredibly painful 13-month wait, Breaking Bad has finally returned to AMC’s schedule for a fourth set and, if “Box Cutter” is any indication, it hasn’t lost a single step from its near-perfect third season. It was a premiere that can immediately be entered into the Breaking Bad pantheon of classic episodes and saw the status quo of the series restored (in a fashion), but it was done in such a brutal and masterful manner that its repercussions are going to be felt for a very, very long time.

“If he’s not a professional, what does that make me?”
Instead of beginning with the normal abstract season-opening sequence that we’ve become accustomed to (as pointed out by The AV Club’s Donna Bowman), season four opens with a vignette that calls into question whether Jesse actually pulled the trigger on Gale in the final shot (no pun intended) of last season’s finale, “Full Measures.” As Gale giddily sets up Gus’s multi-million dollar meth lab, the camera at one point stopping on a box cutter in a bit of foreshadowing, one easy interpretation from this scene is that Walt and Jesse are now on the outside looking in and that Gale has officially taken over as Gus’s chief meth cook. It’s an immediate signal that, hey, maybe what you think is real isn’t actually real and is a bold choice for series creator/writer Vince Gilligan to make. However, an exchange between Gus and Gale soon reveals that this is indeed a flashback to when Gale was originally hired and shows that Gale was, in fact, the person who pushed for Walt to join Gus’s operation [1], effectively writing his own death sentence. This was Gilligan’s initial gut punch of the episode – it displayed an interesting dichotomy with the late Gale: he was an innocent (witness his almost childlike existence outside of the lab) but at the same time well was aware of the choices he made, choices which ultimately cost him his life.

[1] After Gus insists that he won’t work with Walt because he doesn’t consider him professional, Gale responds with the above quote.

Act One:
“That’s right, genius. Watch me. We ain’t missing no cook.”
Immediately after the opening credits conclude, any ambiguity about last season’s final shot is erased as it’s made clear that Jesse has, indeed, murdered Gale. This is the first time in the series’ run that Jesse has taken a life. All of the killing in the White/Pinkman partnership has been at Walt’s hand. How will that affect him? We’ve already seen him at extreme lows. Will this be the impetus for another downward spiral? If nothing else, it will certainly give Aaron Paul some spectacular material to play coming off of his first Emmy win for Best Supporting Actor in a Drama. The camera pans around Gale’s apartment – now a murder scene – and Victor enters and he’s PISSED. Finding Jesse near catatonic in his car outside, he forces him at gunpoint to return to the super-lab where Walt and Mike are still housed to try to begin sorting out the mess that Team Heisenberg has caused. It’s here that Vince Gilligan sets in motion a series of moves that prove that this episode should be used as an expert example of how to effectively build tension. The fear that Mike and Victor are experiencing at the super-lab is palpable – they are terrified about how Gus will respond to this failure on their parts. Mike ultimately decides to call Gus to inform him of what’s transpired after Victor admits that he was, in fact, noticed at the crime scene and the four men sit to await their fates. The episode takes a quick detour to a Skyler/Marie storyline but we’re ultimately back to the lab as Walt tries to appeal to Mike’s pragmatic side in getting him to allow Walt and Jesse to begin to cook as a way to mitigate Gus’s pending anger and prove their usefulness. However, he’s not at all prepared to see Victor begin the cook on his own like he’s been doing it for years.

Act Two:
“I broke new ground? I walked 16 feet in 20 minutes, which is up from like 15 ½ yesterday. And I had maybe this much less shit in my pants. So yeah, Marie, if you and him and everyone else in America secretly took a vote and changed the meaning of the entire English language then, yeah, I guess I ‘broke new ground.’”
The story (briefly) moves away from the pressure cooker of tension that is the super-lab to focus on Skyler and Marie. Skyler is frantically trying to locate Walt by first contacting an increasingly paranoid Saul [2], and then by conning a locksmith into letting her into Walt’s condo to snoop around. Anna Gunn is very impressive [3] in this sequence as it’s becoming increasingly clear that Skyler is starting to “break bad” herself. While Skyler is beginning to embrace her dark side, Marie and Hank are enduring some dark times of their own as Hank’s recovery from last season’s near-fatal shooting isn’t going as well as either he or Marie had hoped. Marie has to steel herself in her car before entering the house to become Hank’s nursemaid/metaphorical punching bag and Hank himself has become a completely broken and humbled man, far from the once proud and bombastic DEA agent we’ve seen over the past three years. Now? He’s reduced to having his wife place a bedpan under his ass just so he can take a dump. It also brings up a very frightening bit of foreshadowing for the show’s future: It was bad enough when it was just that the most wanted meth producer in Albuquerque was under Hank’s nose as his brother-in-law. Now, after THIS? Having to suffer this emotional and physical pain and becoming completely broken as a person? Walt’s going to have hell to pay.

[2] Shown on his hands and knees sweeping his office for bugs and then humorously being very careful when talking to Skyler on a pay phone away from his office. Bob Odenkirk is, as always, very welcome and essential comic relief.
[3] Particularly in how her visage immediately shifts from sweet smile to stone-faced the second the locksmith closes the door and leaves.

Act Three:
“Well… get back to work.”
Wow. Just… WOW. So much is done with so little in this centerpiece act that I hardly know where to begin. First, a standing ovation to Giancarlo Esposito for his performance here [4]. Chilling in every way possible, the man does so much breathtaking work in this scene and only says the five words in the above quote. Everything he does is methodical and with purpose. Undressing. Redressing in an orange jumpsuit. Walking over to the other four men in the room as Walt first pleads for his and Jesse’s lives (“You kill me, you have NOTHING. You kill Jesse, you don’t have me.”) and later bickers with Victor over what constitutes a successful “meth chef.” It doesn’t sound like much but my words can’t do this sequence justice. If you’ve seen the episode, you know what I’m talking about. When Gus arrives to assess the situation and eventually mete out his punishment, as a viewer, you legitimately have no idea where he’s going yet you cannot look away and that’s one of the things that makes Breaking Bad so brilliant. After circling Walt and Jesse like a predator, he grabs a boasting Victor and shockingly slits his throat (still not having said a word after what feels like an eternity) with a box cutter in brutal fashion [5] . He chillingly holds Victor’s head and neck down for maximum blood spurtage as even the hardened Mike looks on like a terrified child. After dumping Victor’s exsanguinated body at the feet of Walt and Jesse [6], he just as methodically undresses, redresses, cleans his glasses, and leaves the room but not before barking, “Well… get back to work.” I really can’t say enough about this scene and everything that it does. It was brutal. It was shocking. It was harrowing. I have no doubt that this will end up as a touchstone for the series whenever it ends – it’s the type of scene where people will go, “There. That is just an example of why and how great this show was.”

[4] He gains immediate entry into the Badass Hall Of Fame for this scene as well. And very likely an Emmy nomination next summer.
[5] Literally laying Victor’s death at their feet. Very chilling.
[6] In an interview with Grantland’s Steve Kandell, Gilligan said that he sees this as not only punishment for Victor being seen at the crime scene in Gale’s apartment, but also because of his arrogance in thinking that he was Walt’s equal. He says that this is an insult to Gus and is partially why Gus takes the route that he takes.

Act Four:
“The one that says, if I can’t kill you, you’ll sure as shit wish you were dead.”
It would be near impossible to try to follow or top the previous act so Gilligan wisely dials down the tension for a scene that shows Walt and Jesse at a Denny’s [7] dealing with the aftermath of what they’d just witnessed. After spending literally the entirety of the episode to this point catatonic and silent, Jesse’s nonchalance over Victor’s murder and his role in Gale’s death comes as a surprise to both the audience and Walt as Jesse sits eating his pancakes like nothing had happened. And when he pragmatically lays out the reason why Gus won’t do anything to them now, even going so far as to chuckle at Gale’s fate, Walt just sits there dumbfounded. Between the catatonia and sociopathy that Jesse displays in equal measure it looks like the aforementioned downward spiral could be starting soon. And then the final shot of the crime scene as the camera pans through the apartment at all of Gale’s various gadgets and collectables before finally stopping to focus on the folder that says “Lab Notes”? Oh, yes. Shit’s on now.

[7] And I’m sure Denny’s is pleased to be the breakfast establishment of choice for murderous meth producers.

Overall Impressions: This is a stone classic episode, on par with any one of “Grilled,” “4 Days Out,” “One Minute,” “Half Measures,” or “Full Measure.” The majority of the episode is four (and then) five men in a lab by themselves, yet the episode is bursting at the seams with tension. There’s no question that Breaking Bad is well on its way to being in the conversation with some of TV’s all-time great dramas if it isn’t there already and “Box Cutter” has set the bar very high for the fourth season but if there’s any show that can live up to such lofty standards, it’s this one.

Rating: 100/100

Written by jeremylikestv

July 24, 2011 at 4:36 pm

Comic-Con: Beavis And Butt-head Return

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I don’t care. I’m watching it when it comes back.

Written by jeremylikestv

July 22, 2011 at 11:34 pm

Review: Torchwood: Miracle Day – “The New World”

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What if all of a sudden, no one died? What if an unexplainable lack of death occurred the world over? How would we all handle it? Would it be considered a miracle? Or would it signal the beginning of mankind’s downfall? These are just some of the intriguing questions asked by the fourth series of the BBC’s Torchwood, now subtitled Miracle Day and airing for the first time as a first-run series in the US as part of a coproduction with Starz.

Torchwood: Miracle Day is Starz’s latest attempt to establish a beachhead in the original programming game as its only notable success [1] thus far is the softcore epic Spartacus: Blood & Boobs Sand. With its built-in UK [2] audience, Torchwood probably stands as good of a chance for success as anything that the network could possibly air, and the ratings for “The New World” premiere are a good sign. Russell T. Davies, the man responsible for rebooting the beloved Doctor Who franchise [3] and for creating the three previous series of Torchwood, returns to helm this new chapter that finds death suddenly taking a very literal holiday. There’s a sense of immediacy to Miracle Day as Davies wastes no time jump-starting tension.

In introducing the series to the US audience, none of Torchwood’s familiar characters are given early appearances and within the premiere’s first ten minutes Davies places both recognizable American faces (Bill Pullman as convicted child murderer Oswald Danes and Mekhi Phifer as brash CIA agent Rex Matheson) in grave danger. One of the series’ first images is of Danes strapped to a gurney and being given a lethal injection that, for some unknown reason, does not live up to its “lethal” status. At roughly the same time, Matheson is involved in a gruesome car wreck that sends a piece of rebar plunging through his chest. As he’s brought to a hospital, he is still conscious and alert, but not dying. The doctors at the hospital soon come to the realization that no one has died in their care in the past 24 hours and this news soon begins to spread as other hospitals the world over begin to realize that this strange phenomenon is happening to them as well. Simultaneously, the CIA office where Matheson and watch analyst Esther Drummond (Alexa Havins, All My Children) are assigned receives an email through various platforms that reads simply “TORCHWOOD.” Longtime viewers are likely well aware of what this entails but American newbies like myself are as much in the dark as the CIA, a nice symbolic touch. After initial speculation that the email blast is some sort of malware possibly connected with the “no death” phenomenon, Matheson and Drummond begin their investigation that ultimately leads each of them to one of the two remaining (read: living) members of the Torchwood [4] team, albeit on different sides of the pond.

Matheson travels to the UK to retrieve Gwen Cooper (Eve Myles), who has gone into hiding following the events of the last Torchwood series, Children Of Earth, while Drummond has a chance meeting with the series’ hero, Captain Jack Harkness (John Barrowman) in the US. Boom, crash, action set pieces involving Harkness, Matheson, and Cooper occur, Danes is released from prison under an “Act Of God” provision after surviving his execution, becoming something of a religious hero in the process, and Matheson has Harkness and Cooper extradited to the US under rendition laws to assist in the growing phenomenon.

I’m sure there are probably some subtexts and references that I and other viewers are missing due to being new to the series but overall Davies has done a decent job of making the entry point smooth for newcomers. The co-production with the BBC also allows for a larger budget than a solely Starz-produced series likely would have, and this serves the series well as action set pieces don’t look as cheap as they easily could have on a smaller budget while also allowing for a bit more gore factor than basic cable would have provided [5].

As far as the casting is concerned, I’m sure longtime fans will be happy to see Barrowman and Myles return but the new additions are a bit of a mixed bag thus far. Pullman isn’t given a whole lot to do in “The New World” so it’s too early to say how his portrayal of Danes will ultimately be viewed, Havins seems like a bit of a lightweight to be counted on too heavily, and Phifer’s overacting is a bit distracting for pretty much the entirety of his screen time. He could end up being a major weak link although some have suggested that he’s Davies’ commentary on American blowhards. Under that lens his choices make more sense but, again, time will tell.

Despite the casting questions, Torchwood: Miracle Day raises enough intriguing questions to spur our interest. The religious aspect of Danes’ release; issues of scarcity of food due to the population boom of the birth rate staying the same even as the mortality rate ceases; Harkness, who is an immortal being is not healing from his wounds as he normally would; and finally, what happens when the mystery central to the series is solved are all threads that pique viewer attention. Do those who are in a limbo state such as Matheson die, basically rendering them walking dead? Or does a different fate await them? The bottom line is that Davies raises enough intriguing questions [6] to offset any trepidation about casting decisions, and his philosophical bent has Torchwood: Miracle Day off to a very promising start.

Where To Watch: Starz | Fridays | 10:00 PM ET

RATING: 73/100

[1] Its list of failures includes the late lamented (and kind of genius) Party Down as well as the much less lamented Crash, Camelot, Gravity and Head Case.

[2] Not to mention a contingent of US fans who caught the series on BBC America or through Netflix.

[3] It’s in large part because of the Doctor Who reboot that I’m even watching Torchwood: Miracle Day in the first place. After Alan Sepinwall recommended the most recent Matt Smith incarnation of Doctor Who, I decided to trust his judgment and jump into a series that I otherwise likely wouldn’t have checked out and, for the most part, I’m glad I did. Torchwood has now a become recipient of that goodwill and I plan to catch up with the rest of the series via Netflix at some point in the future.

[4] Should you be a newbie like myself, Torchwood refers to the Torchwood Institute, an organization that deals with extraterrestrial occurances. The characters in this series originate from the Cardiff, Wales branch of alien hunters. It’s also intimated (strongly) that members of the organization have a very, very high mortality rate.

[5] At one point we see a body that had been at the center of an explosion in all of its gruesome detail as the victim just lays there, burned beyond belief but still alive. It’s disquieting and very effective.

[6] Although, it is fair to wonder whether all of these questions will be serviced sufficiently within Torchwood: Miracle Day’s 10-episode run.

Written by jeremylikestv

July 20, 2011 at 12:19 am

TV Power Rankings: Week Of 7/11

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Quick note about the power rankings: This is a quick glance at what I consider to be the twenty best shows that have aired in the calendar year 2011 thus far. Also? I just really like lists. I’m only one man and, while I watch an obscene amount of television, I haven’t watched everything (yet). I may burn through a month’s worth of a particular show in one week and the results can fluctuate as a result. These ratings are dynamic, thus, subpar episodes of a show on the list may cause it to drop the rankings just as an exceptional episode can boost it. I’ll post these on a weekly basis and you can find the previous week’s rankings in parentheses.

  1. (1)   Justified (FX) – Season 2
  2. (2)   Friday Night Lights (NBC) – Season 5
  3. (3)   Parks And Recreation (NBC) – Season 3
  4. (4)   Louie (FX) – Season 2
  5. (5)   Game Of Thrones (HBO) – Season 1
  6. (6)   The Vampire Diaries (CW) – Season 2 (2nd Half)
  7. (7)   Community (NBC) – Season 2 (2nd Half)
  8. (8)   Archer (FX) – Season 2
  9. (15) Treme (HBO) – Season 2
  10. (9)   The Chicago Code (FOX) – Season 1
  11. (10)   Cougar Town (ABC) – Season 2 (2nd Half)
  12. (11)   Bob’s Burgers (FOX) – Season 1
  13. (12) Childrens Hospital (ADULT SWIM) – Season 3
  14. (13) Parenthood (NBC) – Season 1 (2nd Half)
  15. (14) The Good Wife (CBS) – Season 2 (2nd Half)
  16. (NR)Torchwood: Miracle Day (STARZ) – Season 4
  17. (NR) Curb Your Enthusiasm (HBO) – Season 8
  18. (17) Lights Out (FX) – Season 1
  19. (NR) Falling Skies (TNT) – Season 1
  20. (19) Teen Wolf (MTV) – Season 1

Dropped Out: South Park, Doctor Who, Chuck 


  • New to the rankings this week are Torchwood: Miracle Day, the BBC project that’s being co-produced for its fourth series with pay cabler Starz (and I’ll have a look at this in the next day or so), the eighth-season return of Larry David’s misanthropic tour de force Curb Your Enthusiasm, and Falling Skies (reviewed here), which seems to be settling in nicely as the TV version of a summer blockbuster, for all of the good and bad that statement entails.
  • What can I say? I should have known this by now but you never doubt David Simon. Like, ever. With two episodes left in the season (after having watched four or five in the past week) any fears I had about Treme‘s sophomore season have long since disappeared. I wondered where Simon was taking us, exactly, and the episode “Carnival Time” was not only possibly the best episode that the show has done to date, but it both captured perfectly the New Orleans Mardi Gras experience while also moving plotlines forward. And as for the emotional gut punch I was looking for? The aftermath of the brutal attack and rape of Khandi Alexander’s LaDonna provided some very strong emotional beats for both she and Lance E. Nichols (as her husband) to play and the last minutes of “What Is New Orleans” actually hurt to watch as writer George Pelecanos was once again called on by Simon to be, as Alan Sepinwall puts it, “the Angel of Death.”  Treme has moved into (and deserves its place in) my top ten and I can’t wait to see how the final two episodes wrap up this excellent second season.
  • Breaking Bad Countdown: 3 more days. Happiness increasing.
  • Friday Night Lights Countdown: Only the final episode to go. I’m not ready for this in any way, shape, or form.
  • Feel free to chime in on the comments with your thoughts on what may be too high or too low in the rankings.

Written by jeremylikestv

July 13, 2011 at 4:33 pm

Posted in Power Rankings

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Checking In On… Louie

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Quick Reaction: FX’s Louie is one of the funniest and most original shows on television. If you’re not watching, you’re missing genius in progress.

(Read on for a more in-depth look).

Let’s get this out of the way early – Louis CK is the best standup comedian working today[1]. Whether or not you feel the same (or at the very least close to the same) way will likely determine how you feel about his FX comedy series [2], Louie, which is now entering its second season. It’s almost clichéd to say but Louie isn’t like any other show on television [3] and, by now, the story behind how the show works is fairly common knowledge. CK writes, directs, and edits every episode on a modest budget (lower than most typical television shows function on) and, in return, receives almost no interference from FX. Basically, he makes the show he wants to make, delivers it to FX, and they air it. The result is what happens when you let talented, creative people be talented and creative without being overburdened by notes from network executives who are neither. Simple as that – the show is CK’s voice and CK’s voice alone. Louie’s first season was masterfully constructed, able to range in tone from a bawdy, tear-inducingly funny guest appearance by Ricky Gervais as the world’s most unprofessional doctor to a profound and terrifying look at the toll that the Catholic church can take on a preteen boy’s psyche. From the looks of the second season’s first three episodes, it appears that the new season promises more of the same: an alternately optimistic and misanthropic feel that’s very unique on television today. The structure remains essentially intact: bits of CK’s standup[4] interspersed with vignettes that generally have no narrative thread from episode to episode, save the fact that Louie is a working comedian who’s also a recently divorced single father of two daughters. For someone so talented and at the top of his game, CK has next to no vanity about himself. The first three episodes have seen him almost have a nervous breakdown over his pregnant sister’s apparent health crisis (which turns out to be a fart)[5], blow a date with a reasonably attractive actress, debase himself for horrible sex with a not-so-reasonably attractive PTA mom, and embarrass himself by announcing his intention to buy a $17 million dollar house to his accountant only to be told he has exactly $7,000 in the bank. “I’m just saying, what could I afford right now? Like, what could I buy a house for right now?” CK asks the accountant. The answer: “Buy a house? Right now? Well… I mean right now you could buy a house that costs $7,000.” Luckily, the move to an earlier timeslot (it aired at a content-friendly 11PM in its first season but now follows the new Wilfred at 10:30PM) has not softened its language even an iota. During a discussion with his sister about his success as a single parent, she refers to CK’s ex-wife thusly: “I know, she’s your kids’ mom and you made her that and when you made that choice you had to live with it, but I didn’t. So I get to say that pasty, big-titted, black-eyed, guinea bitch can suck my dick.” The season opener is basically built around the aforementioned fart (a hilarious seven-second long fart at that) but surrounding that fart is a thorough pinpointing of every single parent’s fear – that their children prefer being with the other parent [6] – a discussion of the concept of “fairness” with his five-year-old daughter [7], as well as a commentary on how relationships between neighbors are essential despite the fact that many of us can’t even name one of our own. “Do not let your sister die from pain or lose her baby because you are awkward with strangers,” one of his neighbors advises after arriving to help. CK is also coming into his own as a director, as evidenced by some of the choices he makes in the premiere [8]. As with any series with the ambitions of Louie, it occasionally swings and misses but it’s always aiming for something. Even its failures are admirable and that’s a very rare thing in entertainment. Most aren’t willing to take that kind of risk, but CK always is. He’s never content to take the easy route and that’s why Louie is such a vital show. And really? I’m just so damned glad that it’s back.

Where To Watch: FX | Thursdays | 10:30 PM ET

RATING: 96/100

[1] If you’re not familiar with CK’s standup, you need to go here, here, and here. Warning: NSFW.

[2] And make no mistake, it’s a comedy series. This ain’t no sitcom, kids.

[3] And has one of TV’s best theme songs.

[4] Example: Discussing how in finding activities that he can do with his children, he’s always playing down to his youngest’s level and the three of them ultimately end up as “five-year-olds of different sizes.” He also talks about how grateful they should be for the parenting he’s able to pull off: “You should thank me every morning you’re alive. That’s how easy it would be to kill you.”

[5] Yes, the first episode is built around a fart joke and if you don’t think that fart humor is anything more than lowbrow, I urge you to click here and watch CK’s recent appearance on The Daily Show. Seriously, watch it.

[6] Albeit, this is done with typical Louie aplomb as his youngest daughter remarks that she “likes Mommy’s place better” before throwing in the caveat that Daddy’s place is nice, too, with Louie barely concealing his hurt feelings before flipping her off as her back is turned.

[7] The young actress playing CK’s youngest is particularly impressive during this exchange.

[8] For example how he structures the impending fear as his neighbors arrive to assist him with his sister’s fart health crisis masterfully captures the doom that he feels at that particular moment.

Written by jeremylikestv

July 11, 2011 at 9:33 pm

Posted in Reviews

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Review: Falling Skies – “Pilot”

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Quick Reaction: TNT’s Falling Skies is different and more ambitious than anything else currently airing on the network. And that’s a very, very good thing.

(Read on for a more in-depth look)

You can practically smell TNT’s desperation caked all over its new series, Falling Skies. It’s painfully obvious that the network is desperate – DESPERATE – for it to be a tent pole hit [1]. Production and guidance from Steven Spielberg? Check. A familiar network TV star in the lead role (ER’s Noah Wyle)? Yup. Exciting premise of an alien invasion? Present. Promotion of literally every single TNT series during Falling Skies’ two hour premiere’s commercial breaks? You know it. So if all of the elements are here for Falling Skies to be a hit, the question is obvious: Is it actually any good? Luckily for TNT, the pilot suggests that yes, it just might be.

It starts with the show’s brain trust. For one thing, Spielberg and series creator Robert Rodat make a number of smart choices that steer the pilot in the right direction. Immediately, they choose to drop the audience right into the action. Any show that has enough respect for its viewers to trust that they’ll be able to figure out what’s happening without being spoon-fed has started out on solid footing. They also intelligently dispense with any unnecessary intrigue and introduce the alien race within the pilot’s first twenty minutes. A lesser show would have needlessly drawn out their first appearance but Falling Skies doesn’t fall into that trap and, instead, smartly chooses to give the audience an anticipatory look at what they’re investing their time in [2]. The kinetic camerawork in the battle scenes is another wise move that fits perfectly with the show’s tone and, while the battles themselves are not necessarily groundbreaking, they are very professionally executed.

Casting decisions are another mark in Falling Skies’ favor. Our everyman hero is Wyle as Tom Mason, a history professor who is now the second-in-command of the group of survivors known as the 2nd Massachusetts (referred to as the 2nd Mass), having endured both the loss of his wife (to death during the invasion) and his middle son (to alien capture[3]) during the alien occupation. Wyle seems very well cast, bringing his grounded personality and professionalism to a role that could have been played histrionically in less talented hands. In some ways, he’s reminiscent of Tom Cruise’s character in Spielberg’s failed adaptation of War Of The Worlds, but Wyle is much more believable than Cruise was at any point in his role. There are not only other recognizable TV faces here (Will Patton from CBS’s The Agency as well as an arc as a villain on 24, the very attractive Moon Bloodgood [4], seen in ABC’s Day Break and on USA’s Burn Notice, and Stephen Weber, who will be showing up in multiple episodes as the season progresses) but also newcomers who fare well including Drew Roy as Mason’s oldest son Hal, who we see struggling with the new world order as he remarks at one point to his father that he’s now being offered ammunition to use against the aliens and their ominously hovering ships when, prior to the invasion, he wasn’t allowed to do something as simple as riding his bike at night without a light.

It’s also not without its downsides. Since this is Spielberg, there are the treacly “family is everything” optimistic shadings that show up from time to time (such as Mason joining his sons to play lacrosse [5] after a harrowing battle with the alien race) that looks to be one of Falling Skies’ few weaknesses thus far. Hopefully showrunner Scott Verheiden (Battlestar Galactica) will be able to curb their usage as the series unfolds. It can also feel a bit mechanical at times but that’s another kink that can surely be worked out over time. The second hour of the pilot introduces an interesting element with human factions in conflict but abandons it fairly quickly while incorporating a couple of new characters into the ensemble [6]. It’s generally weaker than the first hour but, in its favor, it does smartly choose to stay away from the aliens for the most part in favor of a bit of world-building with its characters. If Falling Skies is to survive, it will need this kind of deepening of its narrative instead of money shot alien bating. Credit Spielberg and Verheiden (and episode writer Graham Yost) for that.

One of the most encouraging goals that Falling Skies accomplishes is that it wants to aim higher than any other show on TNT’s roster. Whether that’s an ambition of the show itself or more of an indictment of TNT as a whole, it’s not clear. But it’s a welcomed change from the cookie-cutter procedurals with quirky leads (The Closer, Memphis Beat, and Saving Grace, I’m looking at you) that normally populate the network. With a few shifts, maybe it ends up being the tent pole that TNT so desperately wants after all.

Where To Watch: TNT | Sundays | 10:00 PM ET

Watch Online Here

RATING: 65/100 

[1] The fact that it shares more than a little in common with AMC’s 2010 cable smash The Walking Dead, from an apocalyptic battle with a different species (there it was zombies and here it’s aliens) while the survivors learn how to work with one another to scrap for their lives is probably not coincidental at all. There are also echoes of ABC’s V but, for Falling Skies’ sake let’s hope they don’t lean too heavily on influences from that disaster.

[2] Which incidentally look to be a cross between the aliens from Alien and a Ray Harryhausen-esque creature.

[3] In an effectively creepy twist, the aliens seem to be capturing teenagers and controlling them via a slug-like harness that attaches to the hosts’ spinal cords. The image of teen children as mindless zombies is both chilling and, frankly, quite realistic on a metaphorical level.

[4] Seriously, at one point my notes read: “Moon Bloodgood is hot.” She is. Really.

[5] Is lacrosse the sport du jour of cable TV dramas these days? It’s central to the plot of MTV’s Teen Wolf and here is the respite to earlier, more peaceful times. What’s next? Meerkats playing the sport on some Animal Planet show?

[6] Colin Cunningham’s John Pope seems to be positioned as the show’s anti-hero and potential breakout character but is mostly just annoying, while there seems to be more color to Sarah Carter’s Margaret, a former captive of Pope’s gang who now struggles to prove her worth and loyalty to the 2nd Mass.

Written by jeremylikestv

July 6, 2011 at 7:44 pm

Posted in Reviews

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