Archive for the ‘Reviews’ Category


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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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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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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Castle two-parter, part two

Last Monday was the finale of the “Castle” two-parter, “Linchpin.” (Earlier I reviewed part one, “Pandora“.) I’m sorry to say the episode went as I feared: a bigger version version of last year’s two-parter. (“Setup”/”Countdown”) Instead of a dirty nuke set to devastate Manhattan, we get a plot to start a global war and destroy the United States. And, naturally, it advances the Castle-Beckett relationship. In this case, by planting with her the idea that maybe something would be lost by consummating the relationship (a hat-tip to Moonlighting?). Perhaps a hint of the now-traditional season-ending reset in their two-steps-forward one-step-back romance?

Trouble is, I couldn’t escape the feeling of having seen all this before, which I had. Maybe the creative team ran out of gas here; maybe they didn’t realize that they were repeating themselves in a not-good way, but, whatever, these two episodes came across as lazy writing. There were no real surprises, and the dialog didn’t have its usual sparkle.

I will give them credit, though: using America’s crack-like addiction to borrowing from China to provide the linchpin for the USA’s destruction was a good use of current events, and it had the appropriate feel of a thriller plot, something Rick Castle would write.

Enjoyable episode, but, as a “Castle,” I can only give it a “C.”  Let’s hope the run-up to the season finale makes up for it.

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I was really enjoying last night’s Person of Interest, “Blue Code,” until they had a bit of a “lazy cliché” moment.

(Spoilers below the fold)


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While it’s only part one of a two-parter, I have to admit I’m a little disappointed in last night’s “Castle” episode, “Pandora.” In plot and subtext, it’s very similar (so far) to the season 2 two-parter, “Tick,Tick, Tick” and “Boom!” In both…

(Spoilers hidden under the tag.)


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Dana Delany as "Megan Hunt"

I watched Dana Delany’s new ABC show, “Body of Proof,” last night and I can’t say I was impressed. The brief review is that I’ll give it another couple of episodes, but I don’t expect it to last.*

Body of Proof follows the life and career of Medical Examiner Megan Hunt, once a high-flying neurosurgeon, who now works in Philadelphia’s Medical Examiner’s Office after a car accident abruptly ended her neurosurgery career. As a Medical Examiner Megan applies her vast medical knowledge, keen instincts and variously charming and scalpel-like personality to the task of solving the medical mysteries of the dead and bringing the people responsible for their deaths to justice. But that’s only half the show.

Read showrunner Chris Murphey’s pitch to the public for the rest.

On the surface, the show sounds promising; in addition to her job as a Medical Examiner, Megan Hunt has no real friends (thanks to her often-acerbic personality, which she uses to keep people at bay), a failed marriage, and a broken relationship with her young daughter, the latter two thanks to her obsessive dedication to her former career. In addition to the weekly mysteries, then, we should be intrigued to see how Megan overcomes her weaknesses, rebuilds her old relationships, and builds new ones.

Trouble is…. We’ve seen all this before. Irascible medical detective? Quincy. (Or, for those too young to remember Quincy, House.) Crime fighter with broken personal relationships? The Equalizer. Scientific crime-fighting with cut up bodies on a table? Almost any procedural of the last 20 years. Witty, snappy, ironic dialogue? Too many shows to name, and it’s become cliché.

And that’s the problem with Body of Proof: there’s nothing special about it. Not the stories, not the investigation, not the dialogue, and mostly not the cast. Regarding the cast, Delaney herself is an excellent actress deserving of better writing. From among the supporting cast, Sonja Sohn (“Detective Baker”) is a favorite from her role in The Wire. The rest… eh. Jeri Ryan (“Dr. Kate Murphy”)  didn’t appear enough to make an impression. Windell Middlebrooks (“Dr. Brumfield”) risks being turned into the show’s regular punching bag. John Carroll Lynch’s character (“Detective Morris”) is a walking stereotype, “the cop who hates the star’s character but eventually turns into an ally she charmingly annoys.” Nicholas Bishop as Delaney’s sidekick (cop-turned-ME “Peter Dunlop”) who’s willing to tell her what she needs to hear… well, lose the stubble-beard, guy. It’s another cliché. Of course, so is the whole character.

The one relatively bright spot was seen in Delany/Hunt’s relationship with her daughter. Obviously estranged (a fact perhaps exacerbated by her ex-husband, who has custody), Hunt struggles to find a way to begin reconnecting with “Lacey” on the occasion of Lacey’s birthday. No spoilers, but, she does, and the final payoff is nicely handled — for once avoiding the trite.

But, that was about it. As I wrote at the start, I’ll give the show another couple of episodes to see if it improves, but I don’t think this “Body” will be rising from the table any time soon.

*Yeah, I know I said that about Rizzoli and Isles and was proved massively wrong, but cable has relatively lower standards for what constitutes a “hit” than do the broadcast networks. “Body of Proof” has a much higher hurdle to clear.

UPDATE: According to Variety, Body’s premiere enjoyed “3” rating in the coveted 18-49 category, with 13.9 million viewers. That’s a good start, but the key will be to see the trend over the next several weeks.

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Last Monday I caught the second episode of the new “Rizzoli & Isles,” from TNT. According to the hype, this show:

…follows Boston detective Jane Rizzoli and medical examiner Maura Isles, complete opposites and good friends who solve crimes and bust some of Boston’s most notorious criminals. Growing up at opposite ends of the economic spectrum, the two remain strikingly different from one another in many ways.

Get it? This is a groundbreaking cop show about a hardnosed Italian-American female cop in Boston and her uber-smart female forensic scientist buddy, who has trouble relating to people. And, of course, they’re both hawt. (In case you missed it, that should be read with a note of cynicism and sarcasm.) The cop, Jane Rizzoli, is played by Angie Harmon (who really is hot and thankfully a good actress) and Isles, the scientist, by Sasha Alexander.

The show was developed from a series of popular novels, and the premier last week earned great ratings. I’m sorry I missed it, because the episode I saw was utterly cliche and formulaic, from the plot through the characters and their relationships. Isles, the scientist, is clearly an attempt to copy the popularity of Bones. (Hmm… If that means Angie Harmon’s character will parallel Bones’ “Seeley Booth” and fall for her, that could be promising… Never mind.) Character interaction involved standard sharp and witty banter among cops with the woman showing she can dish it out as well as take it. Woot! How original!

The plot was a let-down, too. At first it looks as if the Boston Strangler has returned and that the police in the 60s nailed the wrong guy. Naturally, BPD doesn’t want to hear it and Rizzoli has to go against her bosses to get to the truth. (Oooh! That’s never been done before!) Finally, they arrest a guy who did time with Albert DeSalvo (the real Strangler) and the case looks solved. Only…

You guessed it: a retired cop who was on the original investigation and was sure DeSalvo didn’t do it framed the ex-con whom the BPD arrested, because the retired cop was sure the ex-con did it and wanted to “close the case before dying.” So, he went around strangling the modern victims, planting the evidence.

Yes, another “rogue retired cop” story. Something that’s been done dozens of times in the last decade, and with no variation on the theme. What a missed opportunity; it would have been so much more interesting had they turned the killer into, for example, a sociopathic copycat who then becomes Rizzoli’s nemesis for a season or two. Instead, it looks like the writers mailed it in.

In spite of this disappointing first encounter with Rizzoli and Isles, I’ll follow their adventures for another couple of episodes to see if they improve. This is a good cast that deserves better, but I didn’t see much of promise here.

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