Television

The Newsroom

On paper, the idea was a good one: Aaron Sorkin would use his trademark fast-talking television style to tackle current events with his The Newsroom, an HBO series that boasted a stellar cast and an insider’s peek at, yes, an actual newsroom. Now in its third (and, thankfully, last) season, The Newsroom’s forward-thinking premise has proven to be staggeringly backwards, literally turning a show about the power and the immediacy of breaking news into a graveyard for old stories. The very nature of The Newsroom places it in the unenviable position of being salacious and exploitative without offering anything new to the conversation – simply because the conversations the show is so desperate to participate in are already over by the time new episodes air. Because of the nature of episodic television – especially cable television – “current” events that frame up the plot of any given episode are automatically dated, because the episodes just don’t air until many months later. No matter how searing and searching a Newsroom episode may be (and, yes, it’s been quite some time since the series was either thing), it will never be part of the cultural conversation. It’s too late, which is why you shouldn’t watch The Newsroom. At least, well, not right now.

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Peter Pan

As a young child, I loved a strange range of movies, from Pretty Woman to Dirty Dancing, Fern Gully to The Little Mermaid, The Thornbirds to Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. My wide, mixed up taste was bred from relatively lax familial observations of my watching habits (most of my consumption happened in front of our living room television, a room placed squarely in the middle of our long house, with occasional trips to the single screen theater in our small Vermont town, so I wasn’t really hiding anything). My parents didn’t seem to care too much about what I watched – although I do have a strong memory of going to see Summer of Sam with my parents as a teen, which included my aghast mother asking me at least ten times if I wanted to leave – and I didn’t really abuse the freedom. I just liked things. It’s probably why I still love rom-coms and musicals and overwrought dramas and, yes, Last Crusade (the best Indy, at least in my mind). It’s also why I love Peter Pan. More specifically, it’s why I love the Mary Martin-starring stage version of Peter Pan (incidentally, one that aired on NBC in 1960), and probably why I’ve consistently rejected other versions of the story (Hook may hold a nostalgic place in the hearts of the rest of my generation, but I never took to it). As a kid, I had a VHS copy of the Martin Peter Pan (essentially […]

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Fox Television

Our recap of last week’s Gotham was absorbed into last week’s Thanksgiving break. But we were a group of (as was implied) Winnie the Poohs snuggled into our beds for a holiday hibernation, so chances are you wouldn’t have even wanted to read what I had to say last week. Mostly, it would have been sleepy half-thoughts and typos where too much hunny was gunked into the keyboard. Since last week, we’ve pulled a switcheroo. Here at FSR, we’re wide-eyed and ready to go, but Gordon and Penguin and Sal Maroni just settled into their periwinkle nightgowns for a winter’s rest. Last week was the Gotham mid-season finale, and that means no new episodes until an undisclosed date in early 2015. So let’s make the best of what we’ve got. While the show’s napping, we’ll take a look at how Gotham has progressed; what’s changed, what hasn’t changed (and probably should), and what we’d like to see when Gotham wakes from its slumber for another half-season of Batman-tinged cop drama.

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Gotham Harvey Dent

Hey, isn’t this supposed to be Gotham? The Gotham that’s “not a city for nice guys?” The Gotham with a golden rule of “no heroes?” The Gotham overrun with thugs, crime lords, and crazies a few years away from donning colorful crime suits? Well, in “Harvey Dent,” evil takes a backseat. To the smiles and laughter of children, playful bagel fights and puppy love. It’s weird. But not entirely bad-weird (or bad-weird at all, really; it’s actually quite nice). Selina Kyle, as both a key witness in the murder of Thomas and Martha Wayne and a ruffian hoofin’ it on the streets, has been sequestered by Gordon in lavish Wayne Manor for her own sake. At first, stashing a petty thief in the most lavish fictional home on television goes as terribly as you’d think — while Selina doesn’t outright steal anything (oddly admirable of her), she doesn’t fit in at all. She snaps at Bruce, manhandles a Ming vase and sets Alfred into a pissed-off, barking-orders mood just by existing anywhere near him. At least, until Bruce and Selina click. Chuck a bagel or two at each others’ heads and suddenly they’re the best of friends; even if she’s all street smarts and he’s all book smarts, or even if she keeps taunting him with a kiss he won’t receive for several episodes, probably.

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Gotham The Mask

Ah, the white collar world. An endless array of identical suits and identical ties and identical jobs; people who make phone calls, clack away on keyboards, and whose job descriptions all involve something vaguely financial. But just under the surface is a simmering vat of violent tendencies, bursting forth in an underground society where people beat the hell out of each other on a regular basis. This of course, would be Fight Club. Also, Gotham. At least for about an hour last night. The police procedural chunk of this week’s Gotham (titled “The Mask”) was it’s own little mini-Fight Club. White collar schmucks in suits and suspenders, bashing on each other with office supplies. Until one of them ends up dead in a trash heap, thus attracting the attention of Gordon and Bullock. Well, technically it’s not quite Fight Club; instead of fighting to relieve the pent-up frustration of modern living, these guys brawl to get into the corporate world. Perhaps a Boiler Room or Glengarry Glen Ross reference would have fit more snugly (but those movies don’t have as much punching in them).

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Doctor Who Death in Heaven

The biggest problem I have with the Doctor Who series 8 finale, “Death in Heaven,” is really a compliment: there wasn’t enough Missy (Michelle Gomez). The female incarnate of the Master is one of the most enjoyable villains I’ve seen in a long time, on television or in the movies. She’s a wicked blend of Bond nemesis and evil Mary Poppins (with a dash of Marilyn Monroe impersonation), and it’s probably for the best that I was left wanting more. That’s usually a sign that the desired element was employed just enough. I got the impression that her “death” is more her teleporting away just in time, so it’s likely the rival Time Lord will be back in the future, but it’s unlikely that Gomez will be playing him/her. Hopefully it’s not the last we see of her in general. The current era of 007 movies could use an Irma Blunt/Rosa Klebb-type henchwoman, am I right? Missy’s most shining scene in this episode is when she escapes from captivity aboard the the U.N.I.T. airliner. Poor Osgood (Ingrid Oliver), a character who hasn’t been around for very long (she was introduced and only otherwise appears in last year’s “The Day of the Doctor“) yet one that I got upset about more than normal with a Doctor Who supporting role. I wasn’t even as emotional when Kate Stewart (Jemma Redgrave) is sucked out of the plane and seems to fall to her death — of course, I assumed she was going to turn out […]

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Girls Two Plane Rides

Hey, there, fellow hip people, how is it hanging? What are you up to — whazzup? — these days? What is on your television box set? What? Pssh, I have something new for you now. You will, like totally for sure, like it. HBO has been trying to carve out a niche in hip, young people television programming for a while now — if we’re measuring in terms of Girls seasons, it’s been Three Girls Seasons — with somewhat limited returns. Although Girls remains a strong talking point (and its newbie time slot pal, Looking, has similarly inspired more than a few heady think pieces), the ratings for both shows have never been extraordinary, and HBO’s attempts to grab the younger set remain somewhat limited at best. That may be changing, though, as HBO is now folding in another new original program to their Young, Hip Sunday Nights (new term that needs a little work) that has the kind of more general appeal they need. Still, hip, though.

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Binge Watch

Not every television series is suitable for binge-watching — hey, there, The Leftovers — but Netflix has made its bread and butter from crafting alluring original programming (House of Cards, Orange is the New Black) and releasing it to the public in giant, binge-friendly batches. The binge watch phenomenon is a new one, made possible by the rise of Netflix and other online outlets that provide great swathes of programming all available at once, along with the continued availability of DVD and Blu-ray box sets (and, let’s be real here — TV itself has made binge watching easy, programming whole marathon blocks of perennial favorites like any and all Law and Order series to a rabid public). Still, binge watching is steadily becoming a normal practice, which inevitably means that someone will try to change it. Is that someone going to be Netflix?

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Gotham Penguins Umbrella

Finally! The moment we’ve all been waiting for: an episode of Gotham where not only did Detective James Gordon avoid being the least captivating character in Gotham‘s menagerie of crooks and carnival freaks, he might have actually been the most captivating. It’s a fabulous day. “Penguin’s Umbrella” begins its happy trail to a better, bolder Gordon by tossing aside Gotham‘s usual “case of the week, plus assorted mafia intrigue” format. Instead, it’s all organized crime, all the time. Which affects less than you might think, given that every single character on Gotham has at least one tie to the mob underworld, and “Penguin’s Umbrella” can still drop in a new Batman villain in the guise of a Falcone goon we’ve never seen until just now.

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Doctor Who Dark Water

It’s great to have your predictions be wrong when the alternative is something you couldn’t have imagined. But if the truth is something that should have been predicted, because it’s something that normally occurs, then there’s less satisfaction. For Doctor Who‘s Series 8, the ending begins in the afterlife with part one of the finale, titled “Dark Water,” an episode that sort of clears up my observations about a suicide theme — there’s apparently no significance to it — and turns out an inverse of my expectation that Clara (Jenna Coleman) would “die” in a sacrificial matter involving the Doctor (Peter Capaldi), and Danny (Samuel Anderson) would make the effort to save her. Instead it’s Danny who, rather clumsily and totally unintentionally, is killed by a truck. Then, Clara urges the Doctor to find a way for them to bring him back. That would cause a paradox, as the Doctor explains with an unsurprising lack of sympathy for his companion’s tragic loss. What might be surprising is that he didn’t also mention the last time he witnessed a time-traveling companion save a man from his fate of being killed by a car. This episode could have just been a repeat of 2005’s excellent, emotional “Father’s Day,” in which Rose Tyler changed the past in order to have her father in her life, and of course that disruption of order causes the scary creatures known as The Reapers to attack and threaten all of history. Fortunately for Clara, she doesn’t need a […]

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"Hail Hydra." (HBO)

It’s October, and we’re a little more than six months past the Season Four premiere of HBO’s Game of Thrones, and therefore less than half a year away from the Season Five premiere. We just have to make it through Winter. Which is coming, the Stark meteorologists have assured us. October is also the month terminated by the holiday of Halloween, with all the attendant ghosts stories, zombie hordes hunting brains (or candy – one of those), and the appearance of other undead creatures too ornery to quietly stay dead. A fine time to talk about Game of Thrones. And resurrection. Heads up, I’ll be talking Season Three details, so if you’re behind, Spoiler alert. Game of Thrones is a fantasy, but in general magic isn’t heavily emphasized. Sure, we’ve seen a magical assassination and some Penn and Tellerstyle shenanigans from the Warlocks of Qarth, but usually swords are more reliable than spells. That is, until Season Three, when the Hound’s sword only mostly killed Beric Dondarrion, who came back to life as he had six times before. Resurrected by badass priest Thoros of Myr. Critics were quick to complain that if resurrection in Game of Thrones is possible, then the dramatic stakes are lost. Death, where is thy sting? and all that. This was particularly relevant for a show that two seasons before had highlighted the deadly serious stakes when Ned Stark, the literal poster boy for the series, had his life cut short. But is the example of Beric Dondarrion’s resurrection really a negative game-changer for the story’s […]

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Gotham Spirit of the Goat

Week in and week out, Donal Logue has been fighting a frenzied competition with Robin Lord Taylor for ‘Most Compellingly Weird Gotham Character.’ Normally, he loses. Harvey Bullock’s great and all (with more streetwise detective backsass than Lennie Briscoe), but beating Taylor’s Penguin in a weird-off is just not feasible. Still, Penguin is regularly given large portions of each episode to himself, while Bullock is relegated to snide remarks and occasionally playing counterpoint to Jim Gordon’s achingly moral hero cop. Not this week, though. “Spirit of the Goat” is Bullock’s moment in the sun; a moment richly deserved, and perhaps even the first step towards the Hero Bullock we’re all assuming will happen at some point (“hero,” in this case, meaning “non-Mafia-affiliated”). We open on a much younger Bullock and his previous partner, Dix (Dan Hedaya, an always-reliable source of authority with a slight hint of wiseguy), and much to our surprise, Bullock’s the Gordon and Dix is the Bullock. That is, Bullock’s the idealist, ready to charge into battle (“a white knight,” as Dix puts it) while Dix is the voice of reason, always ready to squash young Bullock’s dreams with Gotham City’s golden rule: “no heroes.” And on the hunt for a particularly nasty serial killer who calls himself the Spirit of the Goat, Bullock acts the fool and rushes in, leaving Dix to come to the rescue, giving him a pair of busted gams in the process. But at least the Goat was put down for good.

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Doctor Who In the Forest of the Night

As much as I like the suggestion that the next Doctor Who companion should be an older woman, namely Emma Thompson, there’s something that I’ve always liked about small children on the series. And as this week’s wonder-filled fairytale of an episode, “In the Forest of the Night,” shows us, the younger may be the better for 56-year-old Peter Capaldi‘s Twelfth Doctor. It’s not just the increase in age difference but also the greater contrast in personality. Matt Smith’s version of the Doctor was rather kid-like himself, so when he first hung out with Amy Pond when she was only seven, eating fish sticks and custard, the two seemed like equals. Next to the more cantankerous Capaldi, though, little Maebh (Abigail Eames) is a bright antithesis to the Doctor. This season has already given us the show’s youngest companion ever (I think — if we consider that original sidekick Susan Foreman was a Time Lord and therefore not really a teen and that Angie and Artie Maitland were just one-time guests joining their nanny) with 15-year-old Courtney (Ellis George) hopping aboard the TARDIS for a couple adventures, one of them alone with just the Doctor (that qualifies her as an official companion, right?). So why not go ahead and bring little Maebh for a ride (or 20) next? Probably because it’s difficult to justify carting not just a minor but a very small child into harm’s way without a more proper guardian. It’d be more likely that we’d see her character become […]

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Viper Gotham

It had to happen sometime: “Viper” has brought superpowers to Gotham. A superhero show without superpowers is like a carrot cake without luscious cream cheese frosting, and when it comes to Gotham, we’ve been eating our cake dry for far too long. Here’s the deal. A guy by the name of Stan has been distributing a new wonderdrug among the homeless of Gotham. It comes in a cute little mini-bottle imprinted with the words “BREATHE ME.” Follow its advice, and you’ll gain a few hours of unbelievable super-strength. Do whatever you want with those few hours. Snap baseball bats in half like twigs. Hurl a pile of policemen off of you in dramatic fashion. Drink your weight in dairy products. Your choice. Then, when the allotted hours are up, your bones crumble apart and you die in agony. Naturally, Gordon, Bullock and the rest of GCPD would prefer a population with regular human strength and intact bones, so they spend most of “Viper” trying to get the stuff off the streets.

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Doctor Who Flatline

Last week’s episode of Doctor Who kept Clara (Jenna Coleman) mostly on the sidelines while the Doctor (Peter Capaldi) was front and center doing all that he does best. So, it’s interesting that the show follows it with an episode where he is mostly offscreen and she’s front and center doing all that he does best. Yes, he. In “Flatline,” Clara gets to play Doctor in a way that allows her to understand him a little better. That’s important for a season in which she is constantly on him about his methods and manners. She has to deal with situations where she too needs to lie for the better of the mission, to give people hope because those without it are more likely to die. But she also has to cope with the fact that some people may die while she’s in command. I’m a little surprised that she doesn’t have more of a reaction when one of the men does die under her leadership. In fact, I’m a little disappointed that there’s not more felt in the responsibility of her role in this episode. Outside of some dialogue in reference to what this experience of walking in the Doctor’s shoes means to their relationship, there isn’t a whole lot of substance here, neither for character development nor for the ongoing story and thematic developments of the show. Still, like last week’s episode, which was also written by Jamie Mathieson, the slightness of the story doesn’t take away from the fun. “Flatline” has a […]

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Sony Pictures / ScreenGems

As it has been decreed by the Ancient Ones, all that was once film must now be TV. So it should be no surprise that, as of Sunday, we’ve got two more film franchises to be thrown on Hollywood’s towering pile of movie-to-TV ventures: Resident Evil and Underworld. From Variety comes the news on Resident Evil- Constantin Films, the production company behind the franchise, told the publication they’re shifting Resident Evil to the small screen after the sixth film (tentatively titled Resident Evil: The Final Chapter) comes and goes. Then, over at IGN (which we picked up on via Digital Spy) came similar news from Underworld guru Len Wiseman- first a spin-off without Kate Beckinsale, then a main series film with Kate Beckinsale, then everyone packs up and moves to television. Wiseman also said the words “expanding” and “universe” in regards to all this new Underworld, but let’s slam that particular Pandora’s Box shut for now. With these two, we’re getting into hokey sitcom-level coincidence territory- two different studios revealing new TV shows, having done so on the exact same day with the exact same movie. Because Underworld and Resident Evil are practically twins- if you were to read the words, “Female hero in skintight leather blasts holes in horror movie monsters with dual-wielded pistols, then takes a break to marry her director who’s given the entire series a mild blue color filter,” you would have zero way of guessing which franchise we’re talking about.

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Gotham Arkham

Gotham‘s begun to develop an odd pattern. Just as “Selina Kyle” used Selina Kyle as a minor cog in a much larger machine, this week’s “Arkham” is only a little bit about comicdom’s most iconic loony bin. There was about as much actual Arkham Asylum in “Arkham” as there were women dressed as cats in “Selina Kyle” (really, just that one poor schmoe who ended up barbecued outside the gates), but to a lesser degree, a fair chunk of the episode was rooted in the Arkham landgrab. Politician killing (the Arkham vote machine) and shoring up mob cred still count. So in honor of “Arkham,” let’s dig into the history behind this most spookiest of mental institutions. This October, amazingly enough, is the 40th anniversary of Arkham Asylum. It was in October of 1974 that the jumbo, 100-page “Batman #258” hit the stands, an issue comprised mostly of old re-run stories from the ’50s, but also a new tale entitled “The Threat of the Two-Headed Coin.” Written by Denny O’Neil and with art by Irv Novick, the story introduced us to one Arkham Hospital (named after the fictional town of Arkham, Massachusetts, frequent monster spot in the writings of H.P. Lovecraft), where both Two-Face and some nobody named General Harris were being housed. Harris’s cronies break in and free him — at which point Harris demonstrates why he was a generic villain no one remembers, and invites the clearly insane Two-Face to be a part of his coup. Naturally, the coup […]

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The Mortal Instruments

Talk about immortality! (Sorry.) The Hollywood Reporter shares that The Mortal Instruments, Cassandra Clare’s bestselling and beloved YA book franchise (that first started as Harry Potter fan fiction, lest we forget), is bound for the small screen. And, no, you’re not misremembering things here – the series has already made one attempt at adaptation, with last year’s underperforming feature film, The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones. The Lily Collins-starring feature was originally imagined as a franchise starter, but the film made less than $32m at the American box office (interestingly, the feature did make a grand total of $90.5m with worldwide receipts, but such a take still puts it in the bottom half of YA adaptations). Although there has been some chatter about lensing a second feature, it now appears that these Instruments are pointing in a different direction. Constantin Film, the rights-holding production company, will now revisit the series as a “high-end drama series,” with writer and producer Ed Decter on board as showrunner. 

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Doctor Who Mummy on the Orient Express

I didn’t buy that the first episode of this season of Doctor Who was entirely made of meta-text — only slightly — but it’s hard not to consider the eighth episode, “Mummy on the Orient Express,” as much more than a message to the audience. “Don’t Stop Me Now” is a song by Queen that lends itself well to extra meanings when included on a soundtrack (see Shaun of the Dead), and here the title lyrics seem to be saying “don’t quit me now.” In the context of the show, where it’s covered by the British pop singer Foxes, it connects mainly to Clara (Jenna Coleman), who has told the Doctor (Peter Capaldi) that she’s to stop being his companion. Of course, the song could be as much directed at him from her (“don’t try to stop me”) as her from him (“don’t leave me”), but at first I thought maybe he’d planted the musical number. As he’s telling Clara that everything on board the space train they’ve boarded is authentic to the real Orient Express, there’s a cut to Foxes, as if we’re supposed to realize that the 1979 song is anachronistic to the period that the rest of the scene is replicating. This also being the moment when they’re discussing how this ride aboard the ship should be a good one to end on. It is and it isn’t, for her and for us. If we quit now, it’d be on a high note, but who can quit an addiction when they’re so high?

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Uncle Buck

Did you like the movies of the eighties? Then you’re going to love the television series of the teens. Deadline reports that ABC is currently working on a half-hour sitcom based on John Hughes‘ 1989 “New Classic” (we use the TNT designations in this house) Uncle Buck, with Universal TV and producer Will Packer (the immensely successful producer behind both Ride Along and the Think Like a Man features) on board to turn the film into a weekly offering. The new Uncle Buck will be, well, pretty much just like the old Uncle Buck, as Deadline reports it “will center on a childish man, played in the film by [John] Candy, who learns how to be an adult by taking care of his brother’s kids in a very childish way.” Weirdly enough, this isn’t even the first time that Uncle Buck has been turned into a small screen offering — a CBS series based on the movie hit screens for one season back in 1990. One season. Big hit. Of course, Uncle Buck is not the only beloved eighties property to be getting the small screen treatment this pilot season, and it’s certainly not the most egregious. Let’s take a journey, back to a period of time when original entertainment wasn’t such a wholly foreign concept, to explore what else network television is so forcibly mining for new material.

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published: 12.19.2014
A-
published: 12.18.2014
C-
published: 12.17.2014
B+
published: 12.15.2014
B


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