Archive for the ‘Television’ Category

My new best friend

My new best friend

Well, for TV shows and movies, that is. I came to the decision more than a year ago that, while TWC provided good service, they were just charging way more than I wanted to pay. I was paying for more than 200 channels, but watched only five or six with any regularity. Seems kind silly to subsidize the rest, no? But, being a NFL football addict —and my 49ers are good, again!!— it was hard to cut back to Internet only. I mean, I could catch the shows I like through streaming services or their web sites, but… football. (Said in a slack-jawed, caveman voice.) Then I did the math and realized I could save $85-$90 per month.

Football isn’t worth that much to me.

So, yesterday I “downgraded” my service and returned the DVR box to my local TWC office. And the choice to do so is no reflection on Time-Warner; I’ve had almost nothing but great service from them. And there was no hard sell yesterday to keep me, just a couple of offers and then making the change I asked. Returning the equipment was no questions asked, out in ten minutes, tops. So, well-done, TW.

My replacement is the Roku streaming video box pictured above. Because my TV is older (no HDMI), I had to get a switcher box so I could also connect the DVD player to the TV, but, overall, the set up, both physical and online, was very easy. Video playback and sound is excellent, and I’m impressed with the breadth of channel offerings. (1) I’m now linked to my Amazon Instant Video and Cloud Player accounts, so I can keep current with the shows I watch (2), paying only for them and not for channels I’d never watch.

So far, I’m very happy with the change.

Now all I need is a live streaming option for the NFL…

1. Okay, some are on the level of public-access cable, but, you never know when you’ll find a gem. I mean, I found a channel for military miniatures enthusiasts! How cool is that?
2. Currently: Grimm, Justified, The Americans, Person of Interest, Sherlock, The Black List, and Covert Affairs

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"King & Maxwell"

“Stop grinning. We’re out of work!”

About a month ago, I expressed my bewilderment that TNT’s mediocre freshman series, King & Maxwell (ranted about here) had been renewed. Looks like the network succumbed to my mind-control satellites, because they changed their minds and canceled it, instead:

Deadline reports that TNT has decided to cancel King & Maxwell after one season. The 10th and final episode aired on August 12th.

The show revolves around a pair of Secret Service agents (Jon Tenney and Rebecca Romijn) who opened their own detective agency after they were fired. Michael O’Keefe, Chris Butler, and Ryan Hurst round out the cast.

King & Maxwell remained fairly consistent during its 10 episode run and averaged 3.11 million viewers. The premiere attracted 3.52 million viewers and the finale drew 3.50 million.

While it wasn’t as big a hit as Rizzoli & Isles (5.7 million) and Major Crimes (4.9 million), it wasn’t that far behind Perception (3.5 million).

In fact, I have to wonder if TNT had to choose between Perception and King & Maxwell, tossed a coin, and the latter lost. They sure didn’t show much faith in it, giving it only a ten-episode order. And what’s with first renewing it, as we read in August, and then canceling it? Odd.

Honestly, much as I criticized the show, I thought it had some potential. Were I the head of programming for TNT, I might have kept it on the condition that the writers be replaced (by shooting, preferably) and the show’s tone be made a bit more serious and darker. As it was, K&I looked way too much like the lightweight cop fare one sees on the major broadcast networks.


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I’ve been meaning to do an update of shows I’ve been following –What’s great, what’s good, what’s just “meh,” and what truly stinks– but I never seem to get around to it. So, as a placeholder, here are a few stray thoughts about shows on the air right now (and not on hiatus):

My favorite: Covert Affairs. Great writing and characters, and a change from the usual cop or lawyer drama. The most intriguing character this season so far is Kari Matchett’s “Joan Campbell.” Basically, I think she’s the one caught in the middle of all that’s going on and she has a baby on the way. That spells “wild card.”

Good, but not great: The Bridge. A little slow moving, lacks the wit in its writing of other FX shows — Justified and The Americans, for example. Best element for me so far has been Demian Bichir as Chihuahua State Police Detective “Marco Ruiz.” This guy is a very good actor. Hopefully the second half of the season will have a strong payoff.

How did these get renewed? Rizzoli and Isles and King & Maxwell. The first has been renewed for a fifth season, while the latter was picked up for a a second. I just don’t get it. Both have likeable characters, yes, but the writing is weak and the stories… superficial and often dumb. And each could be so much better.

I’ve heard very good things about Breaking Bad and The Good Wife, but have never watched them. Might try to catch up via Amazon Instant Video.

How I rank the networks? Bet you can guess:

  1. F/X
  2. USA
  3. TNT
  4. CBS

More when I can get to it.

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"King & Maxwell"

“King & Maxwell”

As a wannabe writer, I have certain pet peeves, things I would never do in my own writing and hate to see in TV shows I’m following. They’re what I call “lazy writing” and they show a lack of respect for the craft, for the performers, and the audience. One among them is putting the main character in danger of their life, maybe about to be dropped into a pool of sharks by an evil villain.

Now, think about it: this is lazy because you know they’ll never kill the star of the show. I mean, give me a break. You’re ABC and you’re paying Nathan Fillion millions to star in “Castle,” for whose character the show is named and because of whom people watch, and you want me to believe there’s a serious chance the bad guy is going to gun him down? Puh-leeze. Any writer who proposed that would be fired the moment the show runner realized he’s serious. Sure, some among the audience watch to see what clever way the writers will rescue the hero, but, without the genuine threat of harm, it’s really just a cliché way to keep to keep viewers from changing channels.

But, you know what’s worse? When writers have the characters do something mind-numbingly stupid in order to get to that “star in danger” moment.

Case in point: Monday night’s episode of King & Maxwell, the fifth in their premier season. Starring Jon Tenney as Sean King and Rebecca Romijn as Michelle Maxwell, two former Secret Service agents now working as private eyes. The first four episodes were enjoyable, albeit not stellar, but last Monday night… (spoiler warning)

Here’s the set-up. “Maxwell,” (Romijn) is captured by the killer and held at gunpoint by him in a car. Oh no! Heroine in danger! But wait! She tricks him, surprises him, beats the crap out of him! Heroine wins!! Now all she has to do is…

Get out of the car and run off into the woods, leaving him his gun? WTF??

She could have done anything: get his gun. Grab his cuffs and handcuff him. Keep beating him until he’s unconscious and then call for help. Anything… anything!… except run away and leave him his gun so he could recover and pursue her, putting her in, yes, mortal danger, setting up a last-second hackneyed rescue by her partner.

Like I said, lazy, easy-way-out writing that cheats the craft, the show, the performers, and the audience. I’d like to think Romijn felt like an idiot having to do that scene.

I almost swore off the show right there, but I like it enough to give it some more time.

But not much.

Okay, “what should they have done” is a fair question, and I’ll give you a fair answer. Instead of putting the stars in mortal jeopardy, have the killer threaten a likable supporting character who is nonetheless expendable for being minor. This is cable (TNT), so the risk of supporting character death is reasonable. Maybe it’s happened before. The point is, the audience will believe it, the heroes still face danger and risk (of failure), and then no one is treated like a sucker.

See how easy it is?

Now, King & Maxwell writers: you try it.

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Castle Beckett TV

“Castle, I think we bored them”

Last night was the season finale for season five of ABC’s Castle. To show you how engrossing I’ve found the season so far, I had no idea this was the finale. And, at the end when the announcer gave the “see you next year” sign off, I found myself not caring.

That doesn’t mean I dislike the show — quite the contrary– but this season was a substantial letdown compared to prior seasons, to the point that it felt like the series was running on fumes. I’ll watch next year, but they need to do some work to make the show interesting again.

More below the fold, to guard against spoilers.


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Another great moment from the wonder that is Japanese TV:

The production meetings for this must’ve been so much fun. “Okay, our hero is fighting a Nazi alien in a Hitler mask… Oh! And he’s also a humanoid starfish!”  😀

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The Americans TV

“The Americans,” the FX network’s recent entry into the espionage genre, presents both a daring risk for FX and a challenge to the viewer: Can you like and care about the fate of two protagonists who are spies for our deadly enemy and willing to do seemingly anything, no matter how vile, to further that enemy’s cause?

The series is set in 1981, soon after President Reagan’s inauguration, and centers around the lives and work of Elizabeth and Phillip Jennings (Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys), who live the all-American life: they own their own business, have a nice home in a great D.C. neighborhood, and are the parents to two nice children. And they seem like really good people.

And almost all of it is a lie. “Elizabeth” and “Phillip” are deep undercover Soviet spies working for the KGB. Their business is a front for their real work, their children have no idea who their parents really are, and they commit evil acts for a homeland ruled by a monstrous political system. Their work is so secret, they don’t even know each other’s real names and backgrounds. And yet the viewer (or, at least, me) finds himself liking Phillip and Elizabeth and rooting for them, worrying that their cover might be blown.

This is because both are genuinely good people: Phillip plays hockey with his son and takes him to games, while Elizabeth worries that her daughter is maturing too fast. And yet, when “on the job,” they are willing to seduce, blackmail, poison, and even kill for “Mother Russia.”

So far, two episodes have aired. The pilot concerns efforts to capture a Soviet defector and return him to the USSR for execution, and the risk posed by a new FBI counterintelligence agent and his family moving in just across the street. The second is built around their efforts to plant a bug on extremely short notice in the home of Defense Secretary Weinberger. These two episodes provide an amazing amount of well-conceived character development: we learn of a trauma in Elizabeth’s background that threatens her working and personal relationship with Phillip, while Phillip is revealed to be coming to like American life and is at least open to the idea of defecting, worried in part about the effect their continued undercover work will have on their children – particularly if they’re caught.

This show is not for children nor, I think, for teens. This is not a “dramedy;” while there are humorous moments, the story is deadly serious and R-rated. There is some nudity, the sex is moderately graphic, and the language explicit. And the moral confusion of good people who feel duty-bound to do awful things may be something young minds aren’t ready for.

That said, the first two episodes have been great and have me hooked to want more. Produced in part by Graham Yost (of “Justified” fame), I hope the rest of the season keeps up and that Elizabeth and Phillip continue on their mission for a good long time.

Highly recommended.

RELATED: Ron Radosh, an expert on the history of American communism and Soviet espionage in America, has his own review.

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