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Constantine Exorcises a Problem, But Might Still Die

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The Friday night 10pm slot on NBC has been a hard one to fill recently. Both Dracula and Crossbones tried to survive there in the last year with twists on iconic characters and failed. Hannibal is still airing in the spring, but every year it is a tossup whether it will continue or not, and the main reason it keeps going is because it brings in money from overseas to offset the heavy price tag for the network.

The latest attempt at filling the timeslot is Constantine, an adaptation of the DC/Vertigo comic series. In 2005, Keanu Reeves played the character in a film of the same name, a film that was largely forgettable with the exception of the ever amazing Tilda Swinton, playing the sexless archangel Gabriel.

On the series, the title character is played by Matt Ryan, who offers up a much more interesting version of the character. He is British, blonde, and a bit of a rapscallion, despite the enormous weight on his shoulders.  At the start of the pilot, he is in a mental institution, and his therapist reveals to the audience that Constantine considers himself an exorcist and master of the dark arts. Shortly thereafter, bugs swarm the wall of one of the rooms in the institution, and Constantine has to cast a demon out of a fellow patient. This would all be well and good for a series start, except it takes a drastic left turn right after this.

Constantine and his occasional confidante, Chas (Charles Halford) go to Atlanta, where a young woman named Liv (Lucy Griffiths) is being targeted by dark forces. Turns out she’s the descendant of a powerful dark arts practitioner herself and has abilities that the other side wants to snuff out. Sadly, Griffiths is completely uninteresting to watch, despite being set up as a series regular for the show. She was delightful as Marian in the BBC’s Robin Hood, so maybe it’s the American accent that is throwing her off, but Liv seemed largely unaffected by anything that was happening to her. This is something that was clearly seen by the producers of the show, since the writers wrote her out by the end of the episode.

While we were distracted by Liv’s lack of emotion, other things were happening. Constantine is haunted by the fact that he let a little girl go to hell, and is therefore forever damned to go there as well. Chas is apparently immortal, though we don’t yet know why. And there is a terribly named angel, Manny, played by Harold Perrineau, who has grand plans for Constantine if the man would only cooperate. All in all, the pilot was a dud.

However, at the end of the episode, in that hastily added ending where Liv leaves forever, they introduce a psychic who keeps seeing visions of Constantine, giving hope for another, better, more interesting female sidekick. In the second episode, we meet her: Zed Martin (Angelica Celaya), a psychic from the comics that is already sassy, smart and able to keep up with Constantine as he investigates a mine where spirits keep killing people.

The second episode sets up a bit of a “freak of the week” format that has worked for genre shows like this forever (Buffy, Angel, Smallville, Supernatural, Grimm, etc.), while reminding us that there is a larger force at work that Constantine will have to tackle. This episode was much more enjoyable to watch, since Celaya was more emotive than Griffiths had been, and the episode didn’t revolve entirely around her, but around the case that Constantine was working, a more natural way to get character information than just sitting around and talking about it.

The show has a lot of potential to be a great comic adaptation and supernatural thriller, but again, the timeslot isn’t doing it any favors. I’d love to see it continue, but I’m not holding my breath.

Constantine airs Fridays at 10pm on NBC.

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The McCarthys Brings a New Perspective to Gays on TV

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The McCarthys is one of the lesser promoted new comedies of the season, despite having a name like Laurie Metcalf as Marjorie, the matriarch of the cast. The show revolves around a close-knit Boston family that loves sports probably more than life itself, as the father, Arthur (Jack McGee), is a basketball coach and one of his three sons, Gerard (Joey McIntyre), coaches JV. We see the family through the eyes of the black sheep of the family, Ronny (Tyler Ritter), who happens to be gay. Rounding out the family is the dim-witted third son, Sean (Jimmy Dunn), and lone daughter Jackie (Kelen Coleman).

In the pilot, Ronny announces that he has received a job offer that would require him to move to Providence, RI, a prospect that his family is firmly against. Since the entire family all live within the same city block, it is easy to see why one of them moving is anathema to the clan. They try several ploys to get him to stay, including Marjorie lying that she is ill (an incredibly funny and well played bit by Metcalf), Jackie revealing that she’s pregnant with a dead man’s baby (an unnecessary twist, but Coleman is pretty funny as the tomboyish sister, so this could be a gold mine for the show), throwing Ronny a “gay bar” party so he can meet men (unsuccessfully), and Arthur naming him as his new assistant coach, despite Ronny’s lack of aptitude for and knowledge of the sport. This all surrounds the death of Arthur’s former assistant coach, Fats, who is revealed to be the father of Jackie’s baby (a little strange, but we really haven’t been introduced to any other viable candidates yet, so I guess that works).

I went into the show with a good deal of skepticism. No show with a gay character as the lead has found success in the last few years, so my hopes weren’t not high. However, throughout the show, there were multiple occasions where I laughed right out loud, mostly brought on by Metcalf’s performance. The ensemble is good, but Metcalf really shines as the mother who loves her children unconditionally, and tries to be open-minded but goes about it very wrongly.

While the show is funny, it does have its flaws. It feels like there’s one too many characters in the family, so it’s possible that one of the characters may get lost in the story and only pop in for the occasional punchline (I’m looking at you, Sean), and since they’re family members, it’s not like they can get written out of the show if they don’t work. It’s all or nothing for The McCarthys, which could be a strength or a weakness: only time will tell.

What I really wonder about the show, however, is how they’ll treat the gay issue. There are a lot of ignorant comments made throughout the pilot, but they don’t come from a place of hatred or discrimination. Instead, they come from a place of love and literally not knowing any better. This could quickly turn into a series of stereotypical gay jokes throughout the show, but it has the potential to become something really wonderful. We’ve seen a lot of families react to having gay relatives in a variety of ways on TV: rejection, acceptance, hatred, love, and indifference, to name a few. What we haven’t seen is a family that is accepting, but really just has no idea how to treat their son and brother. From Marjorie bringing a straight guy to the “gay bar” party, to her not knowing if Ronny was still “giving it a go” being gay, to Arthur renaming classic cocktails to insert the name “man” and being excited that he didn’t have to change the name of the Manhattan, to the brothers inviting the only gay man they know, the over the top flamboyant organist from church, the family means well, but they just don’t quite hit the mark, and the results are hilarious.

I really hope that’s the track the show stays on with regards to this issue. Not only is it funnier that way, there is also huge potential for numerous “teaching moments” throughout the course of the show that could illuminate the issue for viewers at home who may be in a similar situation. I can’t even count the number of times coworkers and family members have made jokes or comments, thinking they’re in on the joke, when what they say is actually ignorant or sometimes even offensive. Depending on the situation, I’ll laugh it off or correct them, but a show like this could speak to a group of people that is growing in this country: people that have no issues with the gay people in their lives, but just have no idea how to act around us.

I’m really excited about where this show could go, even if it’s just watching Metcalf’s comic genius at work. The show has a lot of potential and is a nice addition to an already strong night of comedy for CBS’ Thursday night lineup.

The McCarthys airs Thursdays at 9:30pm on CBS.

Forget Gracepoint, Watch Broadchurch

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When I first heard about Gracepoint, I was confused. People were raving about Broadchurch, so why do an American remake for something that was pretty much readily available to American audiences via BBC America. As it turns out, FOX felt that not enough Americans had BBC America and therefore the American primetime audience was still in the dark about the British hit show about a small town murder of a young boy.

So, it was slated for the 2014 fall lineup. Though skeptical, I knew David Tennant was returning to play the same role that he played in the BBC version. I figured that if he was willing to play the same character in the same plot, then it must be good stuff.

Spoiler alert: it’s not.

I made it through about three episodes of the limited series before giving up on it. It is slow-paced, none of the characters are likeable, and it’s hard to buy any of the characters choices.

For starters, there’s Tennant as the lead in a murder investigation, Detective Carter. He is new to the small town, and while we don’t learn that he hates the town until the third episode, it wasn’t hard to figure it out on out own. He is short with everyone, and that’s when he’s in a good mood. When he’s not sulking or glaring, he’s yelling. Tennant is a spectacular actor, but unlike notable grumps like House (Hugh Laurie) or Archie Bunker (Carroll O’Connor), there’s nothing endearing about him. Then, there’s his supposed foil, Ellie Miller (Anna Gunn), who is our eyes into the investigation. Carter got the job that Miller had been promised, so she starts out with resentment against him. But she is bound and determined not to look at the case objectively, to the point that one has to wonder: does she actually care who committed the crime, or is she more concerned with protecting the family, even though the dad looks suspicious as hell? Doesn’t sounds like a cop who was about to get a promotion. And speaking of the father (Michael Pena), every bit of evidence points to him, but he refuses to provide an alibi for the time when his son was murdered, even after being caught in several lies. As it turns out, he was having an affair and was trying to both his wife and mistress by not revealing it. I don’t buy that for a second. You’re willing to go to jail for murdering your son to protect your affair? Unlikely.

Most of the supporting cast is equally irritating. Jacki Weaver plays an old shut in with a dog whose every phrase indicates that she knows more than she’s telling, and implies that she’s going to commit a crime herself, but no one brings her in for questioning. Similarly, Nick Nolte is an old fisherman who is sketchy as hell, yet apparently was allowed to work with children. Miller’s nephew Reporter (Kevin Zegers) can’t make up his mind whether he wants to be true to his hometown or move up in the reporting game, after breaking the story to a bigger news source in the first place, bringing an annoying and interfering reporter into the town to harass the community.

Other characters pop in and out of the investigation, providing more questions than answers, as it should be in a murder mystery where everyone is a suspect. And while normally, I’d be fascinated by a small town where everyone has a secret that comes out when a heinous crime is committed, there is just something lacking in Gracepoint. Secrets and lies abound, but they lack intrigue and interest.

I’ve never seen Broadchurch, but the reviews are amazing, and a few reviews I’ve read comparing the two have said that fans of the British version will likely be bored and annoyed by the American one, so my recommendation to you is to skip Gracepoint altogether. Just watch Broadchurch and enjoy a better show.

“How to Get Away with Murder” is Changing TV Forever

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A few weeks ago, How to Get Away with Murder premiered on ABC as part of Shondaland and I wrote about how great it was.  This past week, it surpassed great and moved on to game-changing. Not only does this show have excellent writing, terrific acting, complex characters, and an intricate and exciting plot, it rose to a new level this week by showing us things that have never been shown on network TV before.

In the first episode, the gay community was delightfully surprised when Connor Walsh (Jack Falahee) turned conquest Oliver (Conrad Ricamora) onto his stomach and we saw the first rimjob on network television. That was the moment where I knew this show would push boundaries in a huge way. And that wasn’t a one-and-done for Mr. Walsh. This week’s episode had a full on sex scene with Paxton (Niko Pepaj), a client’s assistant in a copy room. Now you may be asking what the big deal is, and I’m going to tell you.

In the history of gays on TV, relationships have been largely platonic, even romantic relationships. With the exception of premium cable shows like Queer as Folk, from Will & Grace to Modern Family and back again, you rarely see gay men engaging sexually with one another, and even if you do, it is fairly tame. While heterosexual couples will be shown making out naked in bed, gay couples are shown making out fully clothed. If they are in bed, it is almost always a nonsexual scene. Of course, sometimes the story doesn’t call for sex to be shown on screen if the couple is having a discussion about finances or what to serve at their dinner party. And straight couples have their fair share of bedroom scenes that have nothing to do with sex.

ABC  shows in general have started to change this with the mere inclusion of more gay/queer characters on their big shows (Brothers & Sisters, Revenge, etc), but Shondaland shows have really pushed things further. First, on Grey’s Anatomy, we got to see Callie (Sara Ramirez) and Arizona (Jessica Capshaw) being sexual with one another, and on Scandal, Cyrus (Jeff Perry) and James (Dan Bucatinsky) got pretty frisky with each other after a heated argument. In fact, on the current season of Scandal, Cyrus is starting a relationship with a gay escort (Matthew Del Negro), and their relationship is purely sexual, at least for now. But never until How to Get Away with Murder’s recent episode have I seen two gay men go for each other in a full on sex scene with wild abandon the way that Connor and Paxton did.

That scene was not only sexy, exciting and fun to watch, but it also was an important plot point, as both characters had to deal with the repercussions of their actions in serious ways. Sex for sex’s sake doesn’t have a place in storytelling, nor should it. But it is nice to finally see two gay men shown interacting the way a straight couple would on network TV, without the studio, network, or audience crying out for changes.

While that was certainly a personal victory as a gay TV viewer, the really incredible moment was at the end of the episode, and naturally it came from the incredibly talented Viola Davis. After receiving some unpleasant news (news the audience was, at the moment, unaware of), Davis’ Annalise Keating sits down at her mirror, takes off her jewelry, then removes her wig and eyelashes and scrubs the makeup from her face, staring into the mirror, as raw as she can possibly be. Her husband comes in, and she turns to him asking, point blank: “Why is your penis on a dead girl’s phone?”

Not only is this a great line to close out the episode, what Davis did in that moment was something I’ve also never seen done on network TV. Not only did an actress remove every bit of her makeup on camera, but it was a black woman of a certain age that did it.  Hollywood glamorizes young black women who are light skinned, with makeup to soften their features and weaves that resemble white people’s hair. So for a middle aged, dark skinned black woman to remove everything that makes her “attractive” and just “be” was incredible to watch. In fact it was more fascinating to me to watch that sequence than to hear her ask the question that was a huge bomb in the plot of the show. It was raw, it was emotional, it was mesmerizing, and it was perfect.

How to Get Away with Murder is pushing the boundaries of how we view sexuality, sexual orientation, and race on TV, set up nicely by it’s Shondaland predecessors Grey’s Anatomy and Scandal. And with more shows featuring people of color on TV than ever before (Black-ish, Cristela, Jane the Virgin, and the upcoming Empire and Fresh Off the Boat), I can only hope that this progression doesn’t stop. Fortunately, it doesn’t look like Shonda Rhimes is going anywhere, so I expect we’ll see more diversity, accurate representations, and honest portrayals for years to come.

Three Midseason Shows Canceled Before They Premiere

As sometimes happens, several of the shows announced for the midseason lineup in early 2015 have been scrapped. There are always a bunch of reasons for this, but these shows in particular saddened me, as I was looking forward to them.

Emerald City

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As I’m a fan of anything Oz-related (Wicked, Tin Man, etc.), I was quite excited to see this new adaptation of Frank L Baum’s books into a ten episode limited series on NBC that would take us into the darkest version of Oz we’ve ever seen. However, there were disagreements between the executives and the showrunner that couldn’t be resolved, so Emerald City is not moving forward to production.

Heiroglyph

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Fox’s big budget series starring John Rhys-Davies involved sex, murder, intrigue, politics, action and adventure set against the backdrop of ancient Egypt. When I first saw a trailer, I thought that the show looked like something that belonged on Showtime or Starz, but cable and premium type shows have been trickling their way into the network lineups lately, so I was looking forward to seeing what they did. Unfortunately, the network was unimpressed by the pilot and subsequent scripts, so they pulled the plug.

Mission Control

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This is the latest show to be pulled before its premiere. Krysten Ritter stars as a woman working at NASA in the 1960s. It’s a comedy. Though it didn’t sound particularly great, I was willing to give it a shot, since I love Ritter and I’ll watch pretty much anything she’s in. Looks like I won’t be watching this one at all though. Casting issues are the supposed cause of this show’s demise.

There is, of course, that one or all of these shows will make it to air in a different season, on a different network, or perhaps online. Only time will tell.

The Walking Dead Takes the Easy Way Out

ALERT: MAJOR SPOILERS WITHIN

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I, along with many others, eagerly anticipated the return of The Walking Dead this past Sunday. However, I was extremely disappointed by the Season 5 Premiere.

Last season was a mixed bag for most fans. The first half of the season saw the return of the Governor (David Morrissey), the attack on the prison, the final battle with the Governor, and the tragic death of Hershel (Scott Wilson). It was the show we knew and loved. Then, the second half of the season was spent with the separated group wandering around the woods, all following signs that led to a supposed sanctuary called Terminus. Now, naturally, fans were all suspicious of Terminus from the outset, after what had happened in Woodbury. But the journey there wasn’t interesting. Other than Glenn (Steven Yeun) meeting up with some folks that claim to know of a cure in Washington DC, and Beth (Emily Kinney) being supposedly lost, there was only one episode that was truly excellent. I think we all were affected by Carol’s (Melissa McBride) decision to kill Lizzie (Brighton Sharbino).

Mostly, though, the second half of last season was boring. All setup, with very little payoff. Once most of the group arrives at Terminus, they are welcomed with open arms…right into a locked up train car where they’re going to stay until it’s time for them to be butchered and cannibalized. That’s where the season ends: with Rick (Andrew Lincoln) promising the group that the Terminus people have messed with the wrong group and they’re all going to die.

Long story short, Rick is right. With a little unexpected help from Carol, Rick and the gang set the town on fire, let the walkers in, and kill a bunch of Terminus people in the process. What’s disappointing is that it all felt a little too easy. Carol blows up a tank, Rick, Kevin, Bob (Lawrence Gilliard Jr), and Daryl (Norman Reedus), who were about to be slaughtered, free the others, and they all make it out to the woods, where Carol reunites Rick and Carl (Chandler Riggs) with baby Judith and Tyreese (Chad L Coleman) with his sister, Sasha (Sonequa Martin-Green). And just like that, the entire main cast (minus Beth) is together, ready to travel on to DC.

Are you freaking kidding me? We spent an entire half season trying to get to Terminus, and we only spent two episodes there? They got captured, and they got out. That pisses me off so much! I wanted to see a struggle. I wanted politics played. I wanted a heck of a lot more screen time for Michonne (Danai Gurira). I wanted Rick and the gang to kick ass and take names in a grand way. I wanted them to take over Terminus. But instead, they got lucky, set it on fire and ran away. And no one died. Really, Walking Dead? Walkers everywhere, Terminus folks shooting at them, fire all around, and not one of the main group bit it (pun intended)? I’m disappointed in you.

The Walking Dead has already been picked up for a sixth season, so the show can do pretty much whatever it wants this season. Here’s hoping it’s more interesting than the second half of last season and less of a copout than the premiere.

Madam Secretary Succeeds Week After Week

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I was originally going to hold off on posting about Madam Secretary until State of Affairs, another political new show with a female lead premiered, in order to compare the two, but I couldn’t wait. I just freaking love this show too much.

Many procedurals (and yes, this falls into the category) lose fan interest when there isn’t an ongoing storyline or a season arc. Forever solves weekly cases, but we tune in to find out more about why Henry is immortal. Castle has an ongoing romantic storyline, as well as the mystery of what happened to Beckett’s mother. Bones had the backdrop of Booth and Brennan’s romance for a long time and now has a focus on corruption within the FBI.  Similarly, Madam Secretary has weekly issues that Secretary of State Elizabeth McCord (Tea Leoni) and her staff have to  work out, but there is also a mystery surrounding the death of her predecessor.

While most shows would grow stale without the continuing story arc, Madam Secretary stands on its own without the additional storyline. In last night’s episode, there was so much tension, so much pressure on McCord from senators, her family, foreign governments, and even her own staff that I completely forgot that there was still a mystery element to the series.

And I think that is a good thing. The show has come under fire from some critics (mostly conservative ones) that Madam Secretary is thinly veiled liberal propaganda, solely put out to the public to get them fired up for Hillary Clinton’s 2016 bid for the presidency. While McCord is based loosely on Clinton, and the stories thus far are ripped from the headlines (Benghazi, Snowden, etc.), overall, the show doesn’t feel like propaganda.

For one thing, McCord is former CIA and very non-political, whereas Clinton couldn’t be more political if she tried. And for another, Leoni is far more human than Clinton has ever appeared to be. Clinton has an iciness about her that is necessary for a presidential bid, but Leoni’s McCord is tough and decisive, but also warm, caring, and concerned that the job could make her callous, unsympathetic, and a monster.

Comparisons aside, week after week Madam Secretary has been entertaining, tense, and fun to watch. McCord’s staff play well off of each other, and her family’s bickering keeps things interesting at home. Plus, you’ve got veteran actors Tim Daly, Bebe Neuwirth and Zeljko Ivanek as McCord’s husband, chief of staff, and White House rival, respectively, to match Leoni’s talent and expertise in navigating a show with heavy issues, multiple storylines, and complex characters with hidden motives and agendas.

All in all, Madame Secretary is the middle ground between hyper-intellectual The West Wing and soapy Scandal, which is the perfect place for it to be. Look out, State of Affairs: there may not be room for you.