Monday, September 28, 2015

A Quick Look at New Fall Shows

The Muppets

When the show is introducing a bacon and frog legs love triangle, it's not a good sign.
I was excited about The Muppets.  I truly was.  The characters are near and dear to my heart and represent a significant part of my childhood, but what I was most excited about was the prospects of the Muppets reintroducing their elements of unabashed farce and absurdism back to prime-time television.  Unfortunately, while the new show does bring back those cherished characters, it hamstrings them with an all-too pedestrian (for this age of television) format.  

Instead, we have a slow-moving show that is trying too hard to be The Office, Arrested Development, or Modern Family, this time a workplace "comedy" about the goings-on behind the scenes at Miss Piggy's late night talk show.  Rather than over the top parody and complete non sequitur, we instead are subjected to yet another show taking its comedy from ironic juxtaposition and subtext rather than direct action.  While this works fine for the human members of the cast, it's a clumsy comedic mechanism for puppets.

So much wasted potential of great classic characters.
The result is a toned down Muppet show that pales in comparison to past efforts.  Most of the characters are muted. Gonzo now pitches lame sketches rather than attempting outrageous stunts and all-chicken musical numbers.  Animal plays a puppet version of Denis Leary's over-the-hill rocker character from Sex&Drugs&Rock&Roll.  Sam the Eagle is still a tightass, but is limited to brief appearances as a network censor.  Only Kermit, Piggy, and Fozzy get much productive screen time, and even Kermit's and Piggy's are mostly wasted on a terrible breakup subplot, as if we could or should find their love lives interesting.  Fozzy has some good moments in a traditional sitcom role of a guy dating out of his culture and attempting to impress his bigoted future in-laws, but even then the laughs are of the low-hanging fruit kind and mostly work because of the number of humans involved to add some (scant) subtlety to the interactions.
That's a celebrity sex tape no one is waiting for.
Verdict: If this were any other show, I'd probably dump it now.  But I care about these characters, and I will stick around to see if they can find their stride.

Minority Report

I'm glad they consulted Stark International for upgrades to their smart hologram technology.
I hate to say it, but I think Minority Report is my favorite of the new fall shows, and it's the one primed for a quick ax, posting dismal ratings for its season premiere.  Picking up from a little down the road from where the movie left off, Minority Report features a world in which the PreCog program has ended, police are back to trying to figure out who committed crimes after the fact, and the freed precognitives try to find a place in the world for themselves while fearing recapture and imprisonment.

While finding adventure.  And cleavage!
This mixture results in a police procedural with sci-fi trappings, and in that sense it works well. Future Washington, DC is interesting.  The impossible happens and DC gets an updated Metro system that looks actually efficient.  Many of the memorials are lit up and may harbor giant LED screens.  The Nationals have finally made it to a World Series after more than 50 years of existence.  The Simpsons are celebrating their 75th season.  And the Washington football team have been renamed the Red Clouds which is only slightly insensitive (seriously, a logo of a rain cloud with war feathers?).
Redclouds?  It's like they asked themselves, "What could make folks wish they still had the old racist name?"
Stark Sands is very engaging as Dash, one of the three precognitives freed from government control at the end of the PreCog program.  There's something a little off with Dash, but not enough to make him unrelatable, and he's so earnest that it's hard not to like him.  Meagan Good stars as Lara Vega, a detective who desperately wants to prevent crime and who wears her cleavage like a badge.  Most of the rest of the cast are ciphers still, though Wilmer Valderama surprisingly doesn't suck as bad as one would think playing a police lieutenant bucking for captain no matter who he has to screw over in the process.
Seriously, is she auditioning to play Power Girl?
The pilot checks all the classic pilot episode boxes.  Some modern shows like Lost or How to Get Away With Murder play around with the pilot format by steadfastly refusing to check one of more of the boxes, but not this show.  Introduce the characters and give each of them a little room to show their personalities and motivations?  Check.  Explain the world that the show takes place in?  Check.  Establish the status quo relationships among the characters?  Check.  Provide an example of the standard kind of storyline and episodic plot sequence we'll see each week?  Check.  Set up the overarching uberplot?  Check.  Everything's there.  It's really too bad no one was watching.

Verdict: I'm definitely tuning in, but I don't know how long they'll give me.


I don't think that will fit in the overhead luggage bin.
Blindspot's conceit as a show orbits solely around its big mystery (just who is this amnesiac woman, and why was she tattooed, made to forget everything, and dumped in Times Square?), because it certainly can't lean on the personalities of its characters, only one of which (Rob Brown's Ramirez) really shows much of one.  Jaimie Alexander, who breathed life into the potential cipher that was Lady Sif, is not nearly as interesting here as the scared amnesiac with a hero complex and the skill set to match.  Sullivan Stapleton (who for some reason gets top billing in the IMDB cast listing) plays a gruff, stoic FBI agent as if he were a poor man's Liev Schreiber (and no one needs a poor man's Liev Schreiber, not even poor men).
Seriously, doesn't he look like he should be narrating a documentary or trying to free The Hurricane?
This is a show which is already triggering very unhelpful questions in my head.  For example, it's clear both from the pilot and the previews of the rest of the season that the FBI unit will be attempting to stave off disasters at the last second frequently led by clues found in Jane Doe's tattoos.  But she's covered in them, and each tattoo appears to be a clue to a separate impending disaster -- how are they managing to unravel the clues in the right order?  Are they just getting amazingly lucky?  The show appears to be built on a house of cards, but I'm willing to give them an episode or two more before making that call.

Verdict: Hanging around for at least another couple episodes.

Scream Queens

Work faster, damn you!
I was willing to give this Ryan Murphy show a shot because I have a soft spot for Glee and while I never got into American Horror Story, I had heard good things.  Oh, how I wish I had given this a miss.  This was easily the worst of the shows I sampled this week.

The first problem with the show is that 90% of the characters are completely unlikable while the other 10% are boring to the point they could be replaced with houseplants.  I get that there's a certain pleasure to making characters in horror tales awful so that you don't feel too broken up when they die, but the trick is to not make them so insufferable that you're rooting for the killer to strike more quickly.  I'd paint these one-dimensional characters as caricatures if it didn't ignore the fact that most caricatures have some depth of truth behind them.  Instead, we have a gaggle of postmodern Mean Girls with no redeeming qualities whatsoever, a deaf woman who shouts at everyone to speak up (because that gag didn't get instantly old when used on Glee), a geeky girl in a neck brace who out-weirds everyone, the Glenn Beck of militant lesbians, a host of ultimate dimwitted bros, and, as proof that Ryan Murphy's never met a black person he couldn't turn into a walking stereotype, a black girl who starts every sentence, "Giiirrrrll, ....".  I had to check to see if Keke Palmer's character was named Shamiqua, but it's instead Zayday, because that's much better.
Look!  It's a TLC lyric!
Even that mess of a cast of characters could be managed if the show itself was interesting, but it moves slowly, the scares are non-existent, and the comedy is bland and unintelligent.  Ariana Grande dies in the pilot in a scene that I'm sure was meant to be cute but was so poorly thought out that it should have anyone in the "Don't go into the basement!" crowd throwing heavy objects at the screen.  The killer actually shows up at one point on a riding lawnmower when all of the pledges are conveniently buried up to their necks (why?  because plot!), but chooses to kill only one.  And not to play with his food -- there's zero explanation given in story or visuals as to what the killer is doing, other than skulking around and seemingly taking advantage of only one out of every ten to twenty opportunities to kill.  About 70 minutes of the two hour premiere had passed when I finally pronounced the show dead and deleted it from my DVR.

I still lasted longer than she did.
I'm sure this was meant to be a pastiche of the Scream movies, but the execution just goes to show there's only one Wes Craven and one Kevin Williamson, and without a doubt they're both rolling over in their graves despite the fact that only one of them is currently dead.  

Verdict: Kill it!  Kill it with fire!

Heroes Reborn

Ah, the teen years, when even having super powers doesn't keep the bullies at bay.
I enjoyed the first season of Heroes, lost interest part way through season 2, and then watched maybe a couple of episodes from season 3 and skipped season 4, which I just discovered exists.  Still, I've enough affection for the early days of the series to give Heroes Reborn a try.  

Much like the original series, Reborn twists several storylines that are at least separated in space around an axis of "Hey look!  Super people!"  In this case, all of humanity has been clued into the existence of evos (short for evolved humans, which isn't going to make small-minded normals hate you at all).  And because of a huge disaster at a peace rally (shades of Star Trek VI!), evos are hated and hunted.  If the metas of Heroes all thought they were screwed in the original series, they hadn't seen anything yet.

Perhaps most interesting of the storylines in this series revolves around Miko, a young Japanese woman whose father is missing but who can warp into a video game using the katana he left her in a secret compartment of her home.  Becoming a video game character is not exactly a logical superpower nor a good fit with the rest of the storylines, but I found that I could probably just watch a show based entirely on this without any of the other plots hanging around. 
This plot should have its own show.  Or movie.  Probably starring Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson.
Other plot lines involve Noah Bennett trying to figure out what happened at the peace rally and mourning the death of his daughter who, despite having Wolverine-level healing powers, sure does seem to be in danger of dying an awful lot.  Robbie Kay (Peter Pan from Once Upon a Time) is a high school kid who can  teleport things who tries his hardest to keep his powers hidden, which of course means he accidentally exposes himself to someone in almost every scene he's in.  There's also a family of Latin American evos living in Los Angeles who don't know that any of the other family members are evos until one brother exposes his identity as LA's luchador evo avenger to another brother just as he dies.  Zachary Levi also plays a normal who lost his son at the Odessa peace rally catastrophe and has become an evo hunter/killer, though in the pilot he starts to learn more about what happens to evos and may at some point become sympathetic.  
But for the moment, he has facial hair, so villain.  I've watched this series before.
At the moment, Heroes Reborn has the right amount of energy.  Here's hoping it doesn't lose its way like the original series did.

Verdict: Giving it a few more episodes.


At least they spelled FBI right.
Quantico is clearly cribbing from the How to Get Away with Murder cheat sheet.  Take a group of largely unlikeable characters, mush them together into a situation where they have to interact with each other all the time, then wrap it up in a mystery where one of the cast members is a bad guy all the while pulling back enough onion layers to show not everyone is hopelessly evil.  The problem with this tack is that it's really easy to dislike lawyers, but it's a little jarring to be asked to dislike everyone in the FBI.

The real reason to watch Quantico has nothing to do with plot or script.  Priyanka Chopra, who stars as FBI recruit Alex Parrish, is mesmerizing to watch.  Her character swings wildly from sensationally competent to overwhelmed with a moments notice, but throughout it's hard to take your eyes off her.  Whether that's enough to keep the show afloat while the creators figure out how to produce a show that's not brain dead, we'll have to find out.
It's at least enough for me.
One has to guess that the FBI didn't officially sanction the show, because it paints them in a less than stellar light.  It appears that every single recruit at the academy has a dark, damaging secret, none of which appear to have been found out by the folks whose job it is to investigate and detect.  Besides Parrish, you have the gay guy who probably isn't really gay for some reason, the woman of Arabic descent who's actually two women sharing her dorm room (don't ask), the Mormon missionary who ends up killing someone in the pilot because he thinks he's about to be outed for getting an underage native girl pregnant and subsequently dead (don't ask), the recruit who's actually an agent pretending to be a recruit so that he can "investigate" one of the other recruits (though so far this investigation has entailed having nasty sex in the back of his SUV), the blonde girl who lost her parents on 9/11 and carries around a chunk of their plane (because that doesn't send up any red flags at all), and the legacy recruit (do they really have those like they do in fraternities?) who manages to fail at everything as a recruit other than get one of his classmates killed (he was really good at that).  For some reason, the FBI suspect one of these people as the mastermind behind the biggest terrorist attack on domestic soil since 9/11.  I'm sure the FBI was just jumping with joy over this show.
Spoiler Alert: at least one of these characters is dead by the end of the first hour.  And you really won't care.
Verdict: I have little hope of this getting better, so as soon as watching Priyanka Chopra becomes dull, I'm gone.

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