Wednesday, September 19, 2012

REVIEW: Revolution

NBC - Mondays - 10/9c

Ever since Lost went off the air in 2010, networks have been trying to find the next LostFlashForward.  V.  The Event.  If you look at the television schedule, you might notice none of these shows are still on the air.  That's because none of them captured any of the magic or drama of Lost, but that doesn't stop executives from thinking that they can recreate the unrecreateable.

NBC's newest attempt, Revolution, may be getting closer, but there are still gaping flaws and holes in the finished product.

1.  Does it entertain me?
Yes it did.  The pacing of the pilot was perfect, never dragging and never having to re-explain itself.  It zipped along, and you were left wondering what was coming next.

However, a big part of this might have been the coolness factor.  Namely, what does Chicago look like now that there is no power and the canals have flooded and all the houses and buildings around Wrigley Field have been taken away (seriously, there was nothing around it.  Where's the car wash?  Where's the Cubby Bear?  Murphy's?).  This could pose a problem, as the main attraction of your show should not be what does the world look like (more on this later).

Basically, here's what happened.  15 years ago, something caused the entire world to simultaneously lose all its power and its ability to have anything that the Amish wouldn't use.  So no phones, no lights, no motor cars, not a single luxury.  Like Robinson Crusoe, it's as primitive as could be.  Now in the present, everyone lives in little villages, where cul-de-sacs are now the center, chickens are raied in the square, and vegetables grow out of useless cars.  This sounds quite good to me, and it would have been easy to focus on this premise for the next 6 seasons and a movie.

But wait, there's more!  The United States have been divided into various republics, and the one in Illinois is ruled by a guy named Monroe, who has as his main leftenant Giancarlo Esposito (the best part of the pilot).  He's looking for a guy who may know what happened, finds him, kills him, captures his son and sends his daughter running into Chicago.

Again, the premise is in tact, and quite catching.  However, the reason that Lost worked is because you had a series of adult actors pitted against the Island, and eventually each other, as they struggled for survival and leadership.  Revolution may fail in hiring a pretty girl as its main antagonist, who is not the best actress in the world, and who is not especially believable as the person upon whom the main crux of the show falls.

Where the show works best, as we said above, was looking at this world that has become.  We see The Drake Hotel in Chicago (renamed the Grand Hotel, but still featuring a very clean Lou Malnati's sign).  We see O'Hare International Airport grown over by grass and planes uselessly sitting at rest.  The villages are an interesting idea, the other nation city-states throughout the country is good.

So where's the problem?  The problem is, would the development of this new world without power be more interesting than the struggle to find out why the power went out in the first place?

It's like a cross between The Walking Dead and Lost.  There are no dead people chasing them, but there is also no real civilization any more.  How do people deal without power?  What was the chaos like?

Now, all of this could be solved later by flashbacks, where we get this idea in a world we're already familiar with and how things came to be, and then the present world, where people are trying to find out what went wrong and how to fix it.  The pilot gives no indication that this will happen, but the previews for next week's episode suggests it might.

2.  Is it realistic?
I'm willing to buy that the power has gone out for some unknown reason.  I'm willing to buy all the villages, city-states and everything else involved with the new world.

The part that I'm not yet willing to buy is that Charlie, our heroine, is the one to figure everything out.  Traditionally, no show has been able to survive with a teenager or young adult working as the main protagonist.  Alias is the only show that comes to mind as almost doing it, but Sydney Bristow was not that young.  Sci-Fi shows especially try this formula and fail.  Battlestar Galactica had Adama (both), Baltar, Roslin, and Starbuck.  Lost had Jack, Locke and Sawyer.  Neither show went for the pretty girl or heartthrob hunk to carry the weight of the story, because it's not believable.

If Charlie exists as something other than the driving force, the show will have a better chance of success.

By the way, the other obvious example is Buffy the Vampire Slayer, a sci-fi show which worked because of the youth of Buffy, Willow and Xander.  I don't believe Revolution is going to function the same way.

3.  Are immoral actions defended?
People get shot with guns, crossbows and bows and arrows.  They get stabbed with knives and swords.  But at no point are these actions done by the protagonists out of something other than self-defense, and they are certainly not defended against the moral law.

There is no sex and no language.

4.  Are traditional family values upheld?
Elizabeth Mitchell's character may have died, and the husband got remarried.  That's fine.

But the main idea in the pilot is that Uncle Miles should help Charlie because she's family, which is good, because family is important.

The family seems important to all things, so we can assume it will be defended.
Revolution is ambitious.  It creates a world that we haven't seen on television before, and it does so in such a way that more questions are raised about how things work.  This is a very good thing.  If the show can succeed in immersing into this future world, and if it can make us care about the characters and their quests, then this is a show that will be easy get on board.

But we could just as easily give up on it if philosophical ideas don't present themselves, and it remains simply an adventure show.

Grade: A-

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Review: Guys with Kids

NBC - Wednesdays 9:30/8:30c

Special sneak peak available On Demand (Xfinity) now.

There was a time when you heard "such and such was filmed before a live studio audience" and you got excited.  Cheers did it.  Frasier did it.  NBC is apparently trying to bring this back, but all that ended up happening when I hear that phrase in front of Guys with Kids is feel bad for the live studio audience.

Guys with Kids features three men at different stages in their lives, one a stay-at-home Dad, one a divorcee, and one a working man married to Meadow Soprano; all of them have kids, and all of them carry their babies to the bar in a carrier.

Also, none of them are funny.

1.  Does it entertain me?
No.  No it does not.

Trying to capitalize on the recent movie version of the book, What to Expect when you're Expecting, Guys with Kids takes the group of Dads in that movie and lets us see them every day.  The difference is those Dads had Chris Rock, and we have Anthony Anderson.  A skinny Anthony Anderson, too, not Teddy from Hang Time.  Those Dads had actual parenting advice, and seemed like actual Dads.  These dads seem like men with rag dolls strapped to their chests.

They don't say funny things, they don't do interesting things, their babies don't cry or even make a noise, and they seem to spend their time whining and making us feel sorry for them.  Except we don't, because we hate that they are on our screen instead of something entertaining.

The pilot follows the three men around as they go from their bar to their home and to a Knicks game, fearing ex-wives and not helping out current wives.  They say stuff and their wives laugh.  I think they must have been drunk at the time, because there's no way that they found what their husbands said was funny.


These men are so collossally unfunny, that the putridness coming out of their mouths at that time actually passed for funny, because the wives had spent their entire married lives listening to such nonsense, that this was now the only funny they knew.  Humor is a matter of perception, and over time, their humor genes may have eroded into what they have now, allowing for their husbands to pass off as funny.

This would indeed be a sad fate.

2.  Is it realistic?
I've never seen three men at a sports bar with babies strapped to their bodies drinking beer.  The men, not the babies.  But since the babies weren't making a peep even though they were in a loud sports bar, I wouldn't be surprised if there wasn't a bit of a nip in their bottles.  Maybe they're teething.

The relationships might be realistic, but if that's the case, I will never voluntarily hang out with any of the people on this show.

3.  Are immoral actions defended?
No one seemed to be doing anything too lewd, so that's a good thing.  Two of the marriages seemed strong, one ended in divorce, and she was presented as crazy.  So that's something.

4.  Are traditional family values upheld?
I didn't pay close enough attention to the show to learn any names, so I'm going to just go with it.

One guy didn't want to take his wife to a school dance with the Titanic as its theme, so Meadow went with Teddy's wife to the dance instead.  Or she's still pining for Jackie Junior, and this was her big chance to try to see if he was there.

The divorced couple have a weird attachment/fear thing going on, but other than that seemed ok.

None of the kids had been sent to be raised by wolves, so that's another plus.
Guys with Kids won't last until Thanksgiving, so there's really no reason to even start watching.  It might not even make it to the premiere night, which is still a week away.  It will be cancelled, and rightfully so, because it's just not very good.

Grade: D


NBC - Tuesdays 9/8c

Trying to find yet another project for the most talented Friend, Go On casts Matthew Perry as a sports radio talk show host who has just lost his wife in an automobile accident and must now attend group therapy in order to facilitate his grieving process.

Mixing sentimentality with genuine humor has become a staple for NBC for many of their comedies, from Scrubs to Parenthood (the latter which isn't really a comedy, but you get the point), and for the most part it works here.

1.  Does it entertain me?
Surprisingly, yes.  I went into watching this show knowing that I liked Matthew Perry, but also knowing that the show does not have any other names besides a bit part by John Cho as Perry's boss.  I fully expected it to use Matthew Perry as a name to attract audiences to a forgettable comedy, but what I discovered was something more.

First of all, the pilot starts out slow, with Ryan King (Perry) trying to return to work after a month of grieving over his late-wife.  But unbeknownst to him, his boss (Cho), does not think that one month is enough time to fully grieve over the loss of a loved one, so he gets sent to counseling.

His larger than life personality and competitiveness immediately takes over, and King turns the group therapy into a March Madness (aptly titled March Sadness) bracket to see who has had the toughest road.  All the while avoiding talking about his own grief, of course.

The cast of characters in therapy will undoubtedly provide us with laughs, as they all have their own quirks.  Comparisons are being drawn between Community all throughout the critic world.  This works only in the sense that Community features a group of misfits uniting in some common theme, but Go On lacks the creative wacked-outness of Community (at least as run by Dan Harmon).

But it's Matthew Perry's acting abilities that allow the show to work, as he can simultaneously sell creeped out, enthralled and sad, all while making himself human and relateable to the audience.

There are genuine laughs to be found in Go On, and the show's mixture of dealing with loss and humor actually feels fresh, which gives it a nod over other shows on television.

2.  Is it realistic?
When Ryan King has a small meltdown and throws fruit at Terrell Owens' car (it was nice of TO to make room in his busy schedule to make a cameo), he was merely doing something we have all wanted to do at some point in our lives.

Ryan's inability to deal with his wife's death is probably the most real thing, as we get a montage of all the people in the group grieving, and it's heartbreaking to see Ryan unable to sleep in their bed they once shared and instead opt for the chair in the family room.

Perhaps putting a weight watcher in charge of therapy is a little farfetched, but I'm willing to go with it in terms of plot.

3.  Are immoral actions defended?
The only thing that could be considered immoral is the irreverent way the show seems to deal with death and loss.  But on the other hand, these might be the exact reactions people have and need to deal with grief, and so it's hard not to look at them and say, "yeah, I believe that happened."

In fact, Ryan's grief and loss is treated with respect in the sense that he needs to get over something real that happened.  Is the showing depicting death in a poor light or in a disrespectful light just because it is showing a guy trying to make light of a bad situation?  Absolutely not.

4.  Are traditional family values upheld?
There is no sex, no swearing, no putting other people down.  There's one weird guy with a beard, but he shouldn't be allowed around people to begin with.

Given that the show has been a pretty girl the leader of the group session, I'm sure it's inevitable that Ryan will have a fling with her.

But other than the possibilities, the show is actually very family-friendly, with Ryan speaking of his wife in very romantic and good terms.
Go On  may not be the funniest comedy on television, but it is far from the worst.  It's funny and sentimental, without being over the top in either.  It doesn't play for cheap laughs and seems interested in being more than just another comedy.  I saw enough in the pilot that I want to keep watching, and that's all you can really ask for out of any show.

Grade: B+

Saturday, September 1, 2012

To Hell and Back

"If there's a hell...we're already pretty much going there, right?"

It took 5 seasons for Walter White to finally acknowledge that there's an afterlife, and it came as a shocking revelation when he told this to Jesse in "Say my name."

It's not so much shocking that Walt is going to hell.  For us God-loving and God-fearing mortals, that conclusion was already set.  What is surprising is that Walt seems to have no problem with it.  He recognizes that his actions have consequences, and yet instead of the desire to repent and do good, he figures, eh, why not continue with my evil ways?  I've got one foot in the door and I might as well kick it in with the other.

This is something that Tony Soprano could never even come to grips with, maintaining his Catholic faith claims until the day he was shot.  He insisted this was a business and nothing more (interestingly enough, the apt comparison here would be Christopher, who once remarked to Adrianna, "That's the guy, Tony Soprano: the man I'm going to hell for.")

If damnation doesn't scare Walter, then what in this world would?  The problem is that Walter is not just jeopardizing his own salvation, but the salvation of those around him, especially Jesse, who has been trying to get out of the bad guys business for quite some time now.  Unlike Walter, he has a conscience and doesn't like what he did to Gale.   The interesting thing is that Walter has suffered no personal loss in all of this.  No one he has cared about has died (Hank was injured, but now he's doing great).  Jesse, on the other hand, woke up to his dead girlfriend.  Brock was hospitalized.  One of his buddies was killed on the street.

The whole show and evolution of Walter is going exactly as Vince Gilligan wants it to, with the audience slowly turning on him and questioning everything he does and says.  In the first couple seasons, it was possible to sympathize with him, since he was a high school chemistry teacher dying of lung cancer and realizing he couldn't support his family if he was dead; he just didn't have the money.

Now, however, he is a walking contradiction.  He was doing this for his family; now it's for the empire.  He was doing it for the money; now it's ego.  Unlike most protagonists on a show, Walter is not trying to make his life better; he is trying to make his life matter.  But not matter to the people who love him.  No, Walter wants to be remembered as being great at something.  Anything.

I am pretty sure God doesn't want to send anyone to hell.  He would love it if everyone who ever lived would join him in heaven.  But we have to remember that while God is good, he also just.  He gives people what they have earned, what the great gift of free will has allowed them to choose.

I have no idea if Walter White is going to hell.

But I do know that he doesn't seem too keen on making sure he doesn't.