Category Archives: tv

TV Round-Up: LaBrea, “Pilot”

NUP_193928_2191-H-2021Early in the first episode of NBC’s La Brea, a character turns to another and notes that it feels like they’re living an episode of Lost.

Which is all well and good, if you’re doing something that feels fresh and original like Lost did when it debuted all those years ago. Alas, too many shows since Lost have come and gone by attempting to capture lightning in a bottle again by doubling down on big mysteries that promise answers that will be as mind-boggling as those we got on Lost.

Part of what made Lost work was that it allowed us to invest in the characters on the island. Even in the pilot, there was enough time to at least give us something to grasp onto about each character beyond the superficial.

In its pilot episode, La Brea hasn’t yet given me anything concrete about these characters that makes me want to invest in them. We have the estranged husband and wife, Gavin and Eve, and their two teenage kids. They’re separated but Eve is still wearing her wedding and engagement ring on a necklace. Meanwhile, Gavin has headaches and sees visions of something that he can’t quite identify yet. Those visions drove him out of the Air Force where he did, um, something.

Eve carries a massive amount of guilt over not being their for her kids — especially the daughter who lost a limb in a car accident because Eve couldn’t or wouldn’t get away from work.

One morning, while taking the kids to school, a massive sinkhole opens up in downtown Los Angeles. Eve and the son, Josh, are sucked into the sinkhole while the daughter, Izzy, isn’t. Turns out there is some type of tear (think Doctor Who’s tear in space and time from Matt Smith’s first season) and somehow Josh and Eve end up in a prehistoric time, complete with no cell service and hostile animals.

La Brea - Season 1

Meanwhile, Gavin sees birds flying out of the sinkhole that match his visions and now he’s seeing his wife. Is he somehow connected to them and will the governmental agents, who are covering up the rip in the space time continuum at the bottom of the sink hold up, believe him?

The pilot throws a lot of characters at us, fast and furious. We have a doctor/survivalist and his daughter, a guy who wants to commit suicide, and the wacky comic relief guy who has downloaded music to his phone and has working air pods. The pilot builds in a lot of mysteries and threads but none of them particularly seized my imagination in quite the same way a polar bear on a seemingly tropical island.

La Brea also suffers from some effects that make your basic SyFy series great by comparison and some rather dull direction. Again, comparisons to Lost, which had its pilot directed by J.J Abrams (back before he started polarizing fan bases), don’t help.

After a single episode and an extended preview of what’s to come, I’m not sure I necessarily will be coming back for more. I’m already behind on so many other things I want to or feel like I should be watching (looking back, I should have watched the first episode of Foundation instead) that I’m not sure I can or want to give this show any more bandwidth.

Oh, and in case you’re wondering, yes Eve does lose the wedding ring necklace and its dug up by her husband near the exact spot she lost it. So, there is apparently some wibbly-wobbly-timey-wimey stuff going on here. Except, Doctor Who has already done it and done it better…

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Robert Holmes Doctor Who Re-Watch: “Carnival of Monsters”

unnamedFor the series’ twenty-fifth anniversary, Doctor Who took a moment to offer up a satire of the series and its fans with “The Greatest Show in the Galaxy.” Set at the Psychic Circus, the serial sees various parties trying to keep a trio of ever-hungering god-like beings entertained with varying degrees of success. In many ways, the serial is a predictor of the ever-increasing hunger that the world seems to have to consume pop-culture and then how quickly it can be and is forgotten. The Gods of Ragna Rock use up various acts, quickly moving on to the next one with the constant chorus of “Entertain us.”

It’s a brilliant, subversive bit of Doctor Who and one that sits in my top ten.

But, it wasn’t the first time that Doctor Who would be so subversive. The series would offer up a satire of itself fifteen years early to celebrate the show’s tenth anniversary. But as with everything involving the late, great Robert Holmes, not only would the serial be subversive and point out the current state of Doctor Who, but it would also create a template for the next decade or so of our favorite program. Continue reading

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Robert Holmes Doctor Who Rewatch: “Terror of the Autons”

x1080You have to admire the sheer audacity of Barry Letts and Terrance Dicks. A mere three stories after “Spearhead from Space,” the team not only brings back the Autons to invade Earth yet again, but they’re brought back in virtually the same story as we saw in “Spearhead from Space.” Just substitute the Master in the role of Channing from “Spearhead” and the two serials are remarkably similar.

The Nestene, using the Autons, have decided it’s time to invade Earth again. Though this time, the attempt to take over our world features a different ally and is a bit more subversive. Whereas “Spearhead” is a full fledged frontal assault (complete with the memorable image of the Autons coming to life as shop dummies), this invasion comes more from within with the Master spearheading (pardon fully intended) the wiping out of a great number of the population and then invading in the chaos.

The Nestene appear to have decided — or possibly been persuaded by the Master — that taking over Earth is easier if you plunge the world into chaos by killing off large chunks of the population via plastic chairs or daffodils. The invasion plot continues a theme from Robert Holmes’ “Spearhead from Space” of taking the everyday, mundane, or even safe things of life and making them scary somehow. In this case, you can be killed by authority figures like the police or struck down in the safety of your home by a plastic daffodil cutting off your ability to breathe.

It’s a pretty chilling invasion plot, if you step back and think about it. And the idea of your final moments being given over to fear as you’re attacked by a plastic doll or daffodil is one that’s pretty chilling. Continue reading

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The Fonz and the Shark

This afternoon at 5:30 p.m. CST, MeTV will repeat the iconic Happy Days episode, “Hollywood, Part 3.” For those of you who don’t have episode titles of Happy Days memorized, this is the opening trio of episodes from season three when the Fonz goes to Hollywood for a screen test to become the next James Dean.

Oh yeah, he also water skis and jumps over a shark.

That moments has become iconic in pop-culture history thanks to Josh Hein and his college roommates coming up with popular phrase “jump the shark” to define the moment when a piece of pop culture (mostly TV shows) peaks and begins to decline in quality. And while I may not think the “Hollywood” trilogy of episodes is the best example of Happy Days at it’s best, I’d argue that the Fonz jumping the shark wasn’t the moment the series started to decline. (It’s the moment Ron Howard left and the show elevated Scott Baio to leading man status).

I’m not alone in this feeling either — the episodes’ writer Fred Fox made the case for this as well a few years ago. The episode was also the focus of a Mental Floss post earlier this month — almost as if someone there looked at the schedule and knew this episode would be on my mind this week.

I unabashedly love Happy Days. I enjoy the repeats on MeTV and I’ve got all the seasons available for purchase on DVD. (I’m still not sure why they released all but one of the Ron Howard seasons.) And while I would never put this Hollywood trilogy up there in my top tier of episodes, I do think the trilogy and Happy Days as a whole gets a bad rap for a memorable pop-culture moment.

Kicking off season five, the Hollywood storyline is meant to lure in viewers the way the three-part story with Pinky Tuskadero did a season four. It’s built on stunt casting (Lorne Green cameos, for heaven’s sake!), lots of location filming (the cast seem to be having a fun vacation and occasionally filming), and highlighting the cast in ways the show normally didn’t (Henry Winkler apparently told producers he could water ski and they wrote it in).

But the central dynamic of the friendship of Richie and the Fonz is still in place (it gets tested here when Richie gets a movie offer and Fonzie doesn’t).

At this point, the Fonz was the central marketing feature of the show, thanks in large part to Winkler’s charm and Howard’s understanding of pop culture and entertainment.

Early on, the Fonz was a bit of a harder character with a definite edge to him. Even in season three when the show reboots a bit from a single-cam show about being a teenager in the 50s to a multi-cam show with the Fonz living over the Cunningham’s garage, the Fonz still had an edge. In “The Motorcycle,” we see that edge as everyone tries to protect Ralph from Fonzie beating up him up over a destroyed motorcycle. Or in “The Other Richie Cunningham” we see it in the Fonz’s plan to allow Richie to double date with Ralph while having Potsie stand-in for him on a blind date Howard has set up and then Fonzie’s solution when the whole thing goes sideways thanks to Potsie getting handsy.

Probably my favorite example is from “Richie Fights Back.” After being humiliated by bullies and Joanie besting his at karate, Richie turns to the Fonz for help in being “tough.” Fonzie gives him a few pointers, including acting tough and using an intimidating voice. It all comes to a head when the bullies come back to Arnold’s and Richie decides to stand up to them. When the intimidation factor doesn’t work, Richie asks Fonzie why, to which Fonzie replies that at some point you have to have to actually have a reputation to back it up.

The Fonz would slowly lose this edge in the back half of season three and much of season four. He’d become a bit more super-hero like as the show progressed, though seasons once Howard left attempt to show some character growth from the Fonz (he enters a long term relationship and wants to become a father in the final seasons).

But, the jump the shark moment isn’t quite the decline that pop-culture would have us think it is. The show would get a bit sillier as seasons went on (the gang taking on the mob and the Fonz faking his own death are not a highlight). And it’s not just the Fonz who would lose his edge as the series went along. (I’d argue that Ralph Malph’s character becomes increasingly one-note as the series goes along. If you look at him in seasons one and two, Ralph has an edge to him that just becomes Ralph is easily scared by the time Don Most departs).

So, I don’t necessarily think this is the beginning of the end for one of my favorite shows. If you’re tuning in today, there’s still a lot of good stuff left to come (among my favorites, the Fonz’s date checklist) and there’s some moments that dim the Fonz’s edge a bit more (his own song and dance in season six, for example). But I’d argue that the show’s real decline comes when Chachi is included in the opening credits. But that’s a story for another time.

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Robert Holmes Doctor Who Rewatch: “The Space Pirates”

vjiftcVfDsdapiZ-800x450-noPadWhat if I told you there was a Doctor Who serial written by the great Robert Holmes in which the presence of the Doctor and his companions wouldn’t alter the outcome of the story one bit?

You’d probably think I was talking about the classic serial, “The Caves of Androzani.”

And you’d be correct.

But I could also be talking about “The Space Pirates,” Holmes’ second offering for the series.

At this point in the Patrick Troughton era, scripts kept falling through and there was a behind-the-scenes scramble to get something on the screens to fill time. And “The Space Pirates” sure feels like it’s doing a lot of filing time over the course of its six episodes.

The story has a pretty dodgy reputation among Doctor Who fans. Part of that is that the single surviving episode features the Doctor, Jamie, and Zoe locked in a room with little or no impact on the story unfolding. Another part of it is that there’s a lack of visual materials to go with the surviving audio, making viewing the telesnap version of this story a bit of a slog at times. Continue reading

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TV Round-Up: WandaVision, The Series Finale

wandavision-series-finale-thumb-700x380-232922I’ve been rewatching Battlestar Galactica lately and one thought keeps jumping into my head each time I see the words “And they have a plan” flash onto my screen. Would the series have been better if Ronald Moore and company hadn’t promised us that the Cylons had some type of plan behind what they were doing? Would not having the promise of a lot of huge revelations and some kind of overarching plan behind everything happening to the last remnants of humanity have been better when the series finally reached its endgame?

That thought had been on my mind a bit leading up to my viewing of the series finale of WandaVision. After two months of intense online fan speculation, the finale’s director had come out and warned fans the finale might not answer or address every question being raised in multiple online forums.

And with rumors swirling that we’d get a big-name guest star for the finale and Disney releasing a promo featuring Doctor Strange in it, it was hard not to elevate expectations to levels that virtually no finale could expect to live up to.

And then, WandaVision did something unexpected. It tossed all those expectations aside and delivered the finale this series needed. We didn’t need an answer to every single question. We didn’t need a big-name cameo from the MCU to justify this show’s nine-week run. Instead, what we got was a show that focused on its two title characters and the impact creating and then taking down the reality Wanda created would have on them. Continue reading

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TV Round-Up: WandaVision, Breaking the Fourth Wall

vdc1250-107-comp-v004-r709-a3f29eea-1613732413I hate the way consuming pop culture has become a contest these days — well, at least to certain sites. There is such a rush to consume something and to be the first to discuss the details or twists and turns of a thing.

Look, I get it — not everyone can consume something at the same time or at the same speed. And while I appreciated the light SPOILERs that staying through the closing credits was a necessity this week (I always have because I like opening credits), the big reveal was ruined for me Friday morning by a headline that came through my feed.

And I know, part of the SPOILER responsibility is mine. But I also think you shouldn’t put a freakin’ spoiler in your stinkin’ headline!

OK, rant over.

Because this felt like an episode that is setting up the end game for the series. All the pieces are in place and the revelations have come. Now, it’s just a matter of all those pieces getting knocked down. Continue reading

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TV Round-Up: WandaVision, All New Halloween Spooktacular

Wandavision-Season-1-Episode-6-RecapWell, that escalated quickly, didn’t it?

After a couple of weeks of wondering just how the people trapped in Westview were faring if not in Wanda’s immediate sphere of influence, we found out this week, thanks to the Vision. The answer is — not well. They appear to be stuck but with an awareness of what’s happening to them. I’m going to assume based on the tear rolling down the cheek of the woman apparently stuck forever hanging laundry, that they’re all in some type of pain — whether it’s physical or emotional. I imagine it’s frustrating for them to be stuck in the perfect for her only town that Wanda has (apparently) created around her.

The more we see, the more I wonder just how much control over this scenario Wanda actually has. Last week, she told the kids she can’t resurrect the dead — but she’s done that with Vision and now her brother. Despite being the center of this universe, I can’t help but wonder how much control she really has over things. She can apparently expand that power and the sphere of the universe a bit. But what would she have done if pulled Hayward in there with her? Would she enact some type of revenge on him for attacking her home and family? While we met Wanda as a villain, it’s hard to imagine (at this point) that she’d hurt someone. Continue reading

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TV Round-Up: WandaVision, “We Interrupt This Program”

MEX2090_104_comp_v007_r709.00099148.0With “We Interrupt This Program,” WandaVision suddenly feels like an episode of Lost. After spending three episodes establishing the world of the series and introducing some head-scratching elements, “We Interrupt This Program” provides a few answers, but opens up a world of even larger questions.

So, we’ve found out that this isn’t some kind of experiment being run on Wanda, but is instead a reality she’s created in Westview. And apparently, she’s able to manipulate things beyond the wall — from police officers who forget that Westview exists despite standing in front the sign for it to altering the helicopter drone that passes through the barrier. It does raise an interesting question about if and when Wanda knew that Monica had invaded the universe she’s created. Yes, we find out the moment she realized last week (and we saw it again on-scree this week, only in widescreen this time), but how much did Wanda know before. It certainly seems as if Wanda is unaware of just how far she’s going in creating this elaborate sit-com fantasy for herself and dragging everyone in with her.

I find myself wondering just if and how the avatars in her world know and if they have any power to try and resist whatever it is she’s doing. Continue reading

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TV Round-Up: WandaVision, “Now In Color”

wandavision-episode-3-olsen-parrisIf you’re a TV fan of a certain age, you may recall sweeps months. They were glorious times for fans of television because the networks would set ad revenue rates based on the ratings of a couple of months of the year. This meant you got a lot of new content and episodes of your favorite shows when big things would happen — couples getting together, marriage proposals, weddings, births.

And while sweeps months aren’t quite as huge as they once were, I still can’t help but feel like this third installment of WandaVison would be a near-perfect sweeps episode. Not only do we get the birth of Wanda and Vision’s twins, but we get some hints about the larger picture of what’s going on here.

While watching Wanda try to cover up her rapidly evolving pregnancy made good use of television tropes (hiding in coats, behind things, etc), it was once we got to Geraldine arriving on-scene that things kicked up a notch. Suddenly, it appears that Geraldine knows about Wanda outside of the fantasy sit-com world that’s been built around her. Geradine drops the knowledge of her brother who died — someone who could run really, really fast. Interestingly enough, Vision also displays the ability to run really, really fast in this episode, something I’m pretty sure isn’t in his standard retinue of powers (at least from my limited reading of the character).

It also appears some of the supporting cast seems to know more than they’re telling.

The ending makes it appear as if Wanda is somehow part of a Truman Show-like experiment taking place. It does make me wonder if the Vision is also in there or if he’s also part of the simulation. Or are there “real” people in there who can be expelled (and possibly reinserted, I assume) and characters (the never seen husband of Katherine Hahn’s character, for example. Or is that red herring of someone more significant that we haven’t seen yet?)

It all makes for some fascinating questions and not a lot of answers. But then again, it’s only episode three.

I am curious to see which family sitcom they pull from for the 80’s and if the kids will rapidly age and change actors portraying them. If that’s the case, I could see how Family Ties might be a good sitcom for that era. Or will the homages have to slow down a bit to spread them across the next six episodes?

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