December 15, 2013

"Blood vs. Water", Sweat, and Tears: Tyson Apostol, Sole Survivor

Another Survivor finale has come and gone, and with it, a season with far less familial drama than promised, yet far more fascinating than I expected.

I wasn't looking forward to this season. But that's because I expected it to be a month-long "loved-one visit" episode. It wasn't that at all. By my tally, "blood" only really came up against "water" twice this season: when Rupert took Laura's place on Redemption, and when Ciera voted out her mother. There weren't any other points of choice in the game where it was either family or tribe. It was primarily every man for himself. And really, when the points of choice did arise, it was really more Blood vs. $1 million, wasn't it? Now, I don't know if it was odd or inevitable that no pair of "loved ones" were found among the final three - or even the final four or five - but fewer chances for those tough decisions made this season a lot more like seasons past than I expected.

Though it wasn't hard to be less emotion-laden than last season's final tribal, I still was surprised poor Monica faced so much criticism. Cut the nice lady a break! (She does win my worst-secret keeper award, though. Honestly, does she have to answer every single question Jeff asks at tribal council?) And don't forget that everything you say at tribal is a double-edged sword. For example, you want to tell them you made a big move worth a million dollars, but you don't want telling them that you were the mastermind behind their demise to ultimately hurt you.

Aras asked the best jury question I've ever heard. Although, I suspect Tyson's win was sealed before Gervase and Monica admitted to Aras that he was the one who should win. And he was. There was no question that he played a better game than the two he sat beside. With the exception of Ciera, he probably played a better game than anyone sitting on the jury either. Tyson was right to credit Monica's hand in his win. Monica's continuous (though uninventive) loyalty to her alliance with the coconut bandits kept Tyson in the game far longer than he may have deserved, particularly since it was Monica who possessed the challenge prowess. Then again, Tyson knew how to win the necklace when he had to. I believe that his tearful breakdown over his lovely girlfriend Rachel was authentic, and it balanced out his confidence in his own gameplay quite nicely. His final remarks were well-constructed. He would have convinced me to vote for him.

While this season was no Caramoan, it did prove that the creators of Survivor know how to put together a show that's still interesting after 27 seasons. Even with the same players, it's a new game every time.

Coming this February - Survivor: Braun vs. Brains vs. Beauty. Here's hoping that's 1 part NFL, 1 part Jeopardy and 1 part America's Next Top Model. Seriously. I'd like to see Brad Culpepper play against Ken Jennings and Tyra Banks. ;)

December 11, 2013

The Sound of Music Live! Review

When I heard that NBC was planning a live performance of The Sound of Music, I was like: 

And now that I've seen the whole special, had countless conversations with friends and on social media about it, and read some of the myriad scathing reviews, I'm exhausted. I feel like this:

Now, despite the gifs above, it's obviously not fair to compare NBC's "Live!" special to the classic movie. Rather, the Carrie Underwood fronted performance was true to the script of the original stage play. So to those of you complaining about added or missing songs, ease off a little. (And besides, did you really want to hear Carrie attempt "I Have Confidence"? Didn't think so.) 

That said, I'm not going to write anything more here about the acting or the singing, because all that needs to be said about those things has been said elsewhere. Instead, I want to respond to all my fellow musical theatre aficionados. 

Some are asking why NBC would even attempt this bound-to-fail endeavor. Others are just glad that live musical theatre was presented to a wider audience.

The Sound of Music Live! garnered harsh criticism before it even aired. And it begs the question why the network and producers would even try something that was sure to pale in comparison to the well-known and beloved movie. The answer is obvious - NBC, floundering as it is, needed the viewership boost. And when Wal-Mart sponsorship money is what you're after, quality falls by the wayside. So while there were aspects of the show that were very good, they were overshadowed by the very bad. Like the microphone problems, mismatched cast, and the obvious fact that the actors couldn't see the orchestra conductor (several songs contained blatant timing errors.) And when you want to get viewers, of course you'll cast the country superstar instead of a seasoned, tested Broadway performer. (Personally, I would have liked to see Megan Hilty cast alongside her fellow Smash alum Christian Borle. But she wouldn't have brought the viewers NBC needed.)

So no, I can't say I'm glad this is how NBC chose to present musical theatre to the public at large. Did we want to give the nation the impression that this is what theatre is? Did this special remotely do justice to the live musical theatre experience? Of course not. And that's because, aside from all the problems heretofore mentioned, a "live" production on television removes something that sets live theatre apart: the audience in the room. Stage plays and musicals are written to be complemented by the energy of a live audience. When you take that away, of course you are left with something stiff.

So stop blaming Carrie Underwood. And stop blaming "all those songs they added and changed." (They didn't.) The Sound of Music Live! faltered first and foremost because of its format. Everything else fell apart afterward. This isn't to say that televised musical theatre can't be well done. Check out the post in which I write about Live from Lincoln Center's production of Carousel to read about and watch Rodgers and Hammerstein done right. (And take note of the seats filled in the room.)

It doesn't matter how many viewers tuned in. The Sound of Music Live! was still missing an audience. 

December 5, 2013

Survivor: "Rustle Feathers" Review

Last night's tribal council tiebreaker was so unusual, I'm still working through what happened in my head. And Jeff Probst is still tweeting clarifications this morning.

The real winner in the episode was the editing. Who in the audience had ANY idea that votes would be cast for Monica? That Ciera would make that seemingly 360-degree turn? None. Or at least, none who didn't watch any of the promos. As the episode progressed, all the confessionals wherein Ciera claimed sole allegiance to Tyson were highlighted, and any where she may have swayed were omitted.

Poor Tyson. He was playing a heck of a game until his cocky attitude at tribal (and around camp) began to lose him any jury votes he may otherwise have received. I can't help but sympathize with him, because I get annoyed when people mis-quote common idioms, too. I really can't blame him for correcting all the "rustling" of feathers that was happening last night. And poor Katie! The tribe didn't even speak and she was sent packing. Ciera, though. Ciera may have just won this whole thing. If she can stay in the game long enough for her big move to have meant anything. (You Malcolm fans out there know what I'm talkin'bout.) In my opinion, her fate will also depend on whether her mother stays out of the game from now on, too.

Here's what I'm really wondering. At this point, doesn't it sort of behoove any of the remaining players to go to the end with Tyson? I mean, he won't get any votes from the jury, if their facial expressions are any indication. And with a hidden idol in his pocket… er… shorts, Tyson doesn't seem to be going anywhere anytime soon anyway. Hang in there Hayden and Ciera. You're the forces to be reckoned with now.

November 18, 2013

Greatest Hits: You should watch The Sing-Off

As my excitement for the upcoming season of The Sing-Off builds, I thought I should take a moment and count down my favorite performances from the last season of the show. For those of you who have been living under a rock somewhere far, far away from NBC, The Sing-Off is an a cappella singing reality competition. I'm inclined to call it the best singing competition on TV, even though it gets far less press or attention than its contemporaries.

There are two keys to the show's success.
  1. The a cappella spin makes it impossible for performers to hide behind instrumentation, auto-tuning, or other production tricks. These vocalists have authentic musical talent. It shows.
  2. The judging panel does not rely on celebrity or shock value, but rather gives authentic advice and criticism. Specifically, Ben Folds is the most intelligent judge I've ever seen on a reality competition show. (Of course, I'm near-devastated that the incomparable Sara Bareilles has been replaced by Jewel at the judges' table this season. But I'm withholding judgement on that for now. Kind of.)
So let's take a look back at some of the great performances from the last season of The Sing-Off, and hope that we get some more great ones in the coming season:

#5 - The Dartmouth Aires - "Pinball Wizard"

#4 -  Delilah - "Grenade"

#3 - Afro Blue - "American Boy"

#2 - The Dartmouth Aires - "Queen Medley"

#1 - Pentatonix - "Video Killed the Radio Star"

Pentatonix won the competition last season, for good reason. They've become quite a sensation since their victory. If you're on social media at all, you've probably seen their most recent video.

Did I convince you to watch? (Despite the cheesy lines they write for host Nick Lachey?) The Sing-Off returns to NBC on December 9th.

November 6, 2013

Nashville: "It Must Be You" Review

Nashville took a page from the Gossip Girl playbook last week: get all your characters together at a fancy event. Things are bound to fall apart. The interesting thing about the fancy-schmancy polo match was that the characters didn't behave exactly as you'd expect. Deacon, who you might guess would fit in the least at an event like this, eased into conversation all smiles with his beautiful lawyer girlfriend by his side. On the other hand, Juliette, the princess of glitter, was royally out-of-place.

An awkward Juliette strikes an awkward pose.
Which brings me to this - I am loving Juliette this season. At the end of season one, we saw glimpses of her troubled backstory. But this season, we've seen her humanity in humorous ways. This has endeared the character to me. One of my favorite lines from the episode has to be: "According to wikipedia, that sound means the game's about to start!"

I suppose this is the point where I brag about my predictions from my last Nashville review. They've all come true! Gunnar and Zoey did indeed hook up, Will's already had trouble with Edgehill and Layla's already made her move, and Juliette's affair with Charles (who, in this episode, the characters are all of the sudden chummy enough with to call "Charlie")  is about to cause her a world of trouble. Previews indicate we'll see that in next week's episode. What I did not expect about Juliette and Charles Wentworth was the possibility that the two of them might have a real connection.

I try not to comment judgmentally on the decisions the characters make (being as they are fictional) but rather how those decisions affect the overall complexity and richness of the story. Therefore, I'm not going to fault Zoey for her attraction to Gunnar. It makes for a good story. Plus, I have a theory that Sam Palladio can have chemistry with anyone.

From what we've seen so far, the new characters introduced in season two are adding to the drama in interesting ways. In particular, Luke Wheeler offers another - and very different - love interest for Rayna. "I was not expecting that," she says when he kisses her. Neither was I, Rayna. Well, not until the obviously foreshadowing conversation he had with Deacon at the polo match. This moment illuminates another fascinating thing about the nature of this show. The soapy details - like Luke's attraction to Rayna - move the larger "business of music" plots along. Because Luke wants to see more of Rayna, he's agreed to take Scarlett on tour. So Scarlett's big break might be the result of another entirely separate potential relationship. Which only proves that nothing's entirely separate. (And that makes a good story.)

And now for the reason anyone and everyone should watch this show: the music. The acoustic version of "Hypnotizing" was by far the best number in the episode. It turned a song I sometimes skipped past on the album into a true heartfelt ballad. Acoustic is how the song was meant to be sung. Oh, and listen for the harmonica.

October 31, 2013

"Nothing but sincerity as far as the eye can see!"

First of all, if you haven't watched It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown yet this October, you just must. It's on my local ABC affiliate right now. Ah, the classic animation. The philosophical storyline. The lilting piano music. It's autumn now!

As all devoted fans of Peanuts know, this Halloween special is based on original Charles Schultz's newspaper comics.

Source: Peanuts wiki

Is this annual special enjoyable for all the kiddies? Of course! But it's so much more than that.
It's a tale of…

Innocent faith - Linus: "PS: If you really are a fake, don't tell me. I don't wanna know." 

Using your imagination - Narrator: "Here's the World War I Flying Ace, imagining he's down behind enemy lines."

Feminism - Linus: "I thought little girls were innocent and trusting?" Sally: "Welcome to the 20th century." and later, "You owe me restitution!"

Determination - Charlie Brown (repeatedly): "I got a rock."

So watch The Great Pumpkin. And learn some life lessons while you're at it. 

October 22, 2013

Reign: "Pilot" Review

I suppose it's time I post a review of Reign, a show I was looking forward to for awhile. Last week's premiere did not disappoint, although I did feel like I'd seen most of it already in the previews and promos. (That's my own fault though, right?)

Let's start off by getting some numerical facts straight. The year is 1557. That makes our heroine just 15 years old. Hunky prophet Nostradamus is actually 54, and the young (yet bearded) Prince Francis is 13.

Rather inappropriate dancing for ladies of the Court.
I got all that from wikipedia, so it may not be accurate. Of course, accuracy is a moot point with CW's Reign. The pilot episode of this new show was full of anachronisms. Clearly, the ages of the historical figures have been blurred a bit for the sake of the show's plot. And I know it's set in France, but even there, ladies of the 16th century didn't wear sleeveless dresses. Nor did they style their hair in beachy waves. And the love triangle - er, quadrangle - that's been set up between Mary, Francis, his brother Sebastian ("Bash"), and Francis's girlfriend/mistress/whatever will make for quite the romantic intrigue, despite the fact that it's entirely fictional. And that's not even the soapiest aspect of the pilot's story. One of Mary's ladies-in-waiting (in the completely out of place strapless dress) has begun an affair with the king. Because that won't lead to trouble with his wife. Or his mistress.

Star-crossed lovers?
Adelaide Kane captures Mary's doe-eyed naiveté quite well. While Mary's innocence makes her somewhat one-dimensional (for now, anyway), the character of Francis already seems complex. He's clearly torn between his desires and his responsibilities. And to make things more complicated, it seems he doesn't even know what his true desires are.

The pilot episode very neatly foreshadowed coming disaster. I lost count of the omens and harbingers of doom - i.e., "don't go into the forest," "don't drink the wine," "there are ghosts there," "she will cost Francis his life," "this was an assassination attempt." And I don't think that's even half of them. This drama will have very little - if any - of the comedic flair of the more popular CW shows. That's ok, though, as long as it continues down the intriguing path it's started.

I had no doubt that Megan Follows would blow us away, but I didn't have any idea just how villianous the Queen would be. Getting your son's fiancĂ©'s lady-in-waiting's boyfriend to roofie the future queen in order to ruin her reputation and thus secure your son's political future is wicked. Beheading said boyfriend when he fails is diabolical. And Follows delivered the treacherous performance seamlessly. I can't wait to see what she does next.

One final note: I'd keep watching this show just for the music. I'm miffed that I can't seem to find a downloadable version of The Lumineers "Scotland," which was the perfect opening number for the pilot.

October 15, 2013

Nashville: "I Don't Wanna Talk About It Now" Review

If the writers of Nashville do one thing really well, it's set things up for catastrophe. And not just the inevitable part of the catastrophe, but all the lingering repercussions.  It's what they did at the end of the first season with Rayna and Deacon's accident. The immediate outcome of that cliffhanger was Rayna's coma and Deacon's incarceration. But the lingering result was Rayna's inability to sing and how that led her to further business conflict with Edgehill's new management, and Deacon's inability to play his guitar.

In last week's episode, "I Don't Wanna Talk About It Now," I noticed three things that just might be hinting at calamities we'll see this season.

1. Gunnar and Zoey leave the Edgehill Showcase... together. Did you notice Gunnar leave the Edgehill party with Scarlett's friend Zoey? I can't imagine that won't lead to something. Even if nothing ever happens between those two, their interactions will eventually bother either Scarlett or Will. Or somebody else entirely, who knows? And leaving together wasn't the start of this. It started the episode before that, when she inspired him to write again. (The song he wrote, by the way, was my favorite performed on the season so far. I cannot wait for the next "Music of Nashville" album to drop.)

2. Will's choice to leave Highway 65 for Edgehill. In deciding he was a performer and not a songwriter, not only did Will put himself in a position to feel justified in ripping off Gunnar's songs, but he effectively sold himself short and bought himself a world of trouble down the road. Gunnar and Will have a fragile friendship as it is. And if you think working so near to his old flame won't come back to haunt him, you haven't been paying close enough attention. And that little look Layla gave Will while he was performing? That wasn't nothing, either.

3. And of course, Juliette's adulterous dalliance with Charles Wentworth. There are so many layers to that mistake. For one thing, there was about a 15 second scene in the episode where Juliette looked longingly at Charles and his wife. It seemed to me she wasn't longing for him, but for the love they (supposedly) shared. Poor Juliette. Charles has now further confirmed her disillusionment with love. And talk about foreshadowing - like Avery told her, "Defiance is a drug. It can make you do stupid things." How is this any stupider than any of the other ones? The short answer is that he's married. But the long answer is that he's a media mogul who's influence is of extreme importance to Edgehill Records. This was not just a relationship mistake. This was a business mistake.

It's just brilliant! Nashville proves that good drama has a long fuse. It doesn't happen all at once. By the time we reach the end of season 2, Nashville will have surprised us again. I'm sure of it. Whether it was based on something I noticed, or something else I've totally missed, season 2 is about to get catastrophically good.

October 7, 2013

Sleepy Hollow: "For the Triumph of Evil" Review

I figured the third episode wasn't too far into a new show to join. So I caught last Friday's rerun of the new show Sleepy Hollow. Though it doesn't seem to have any well-known stars at the helm, Sleepy Hollow can be found on several lists of "new shows to be sure and watch this fall" (like this one and this one.) I'm glad I did watch it, because from what I can tell, this show has a few things going for it:

It has a relatively original premise (for a procedural.) From what I gathered so far, Ichabod Crane has been resurrected in modern-day upstate New York, where he now helps a young police lieutenant, Abbie Mills, solve supernatural crimes. The episode I watched centered around "The Sandman," a mysterious midnight menace who begins killing people from the lieutenant's troubled past. So while there are the standard cop-plus-knowledgable-sidekick and cop-with-a-dark-secret tropes, Sleepy Hollow has the distinction of being a sci-fi, quasi-historical, time-traveling procedural. The overarching villain is, of course, the headless horseman. But Sleepy Hollow's headless horseman also happens to be one of the four horsemen of the apocalypse. (Right? Weird. But kind of intriguing.)

It has a nice combination of horror and humor. For a ghost (or a zombie or whatever), Ichabod Crane sure has a sense of humor. This was particularly surprising to me because, having never read Washington Irving's classic, all I knew about Crane was gathered from Disney's animated mini-movie, in which the title character was kind of a loser and a coward. Not so with Tom Mison's Ichabod, who is  delightful and delightfully handsome. His banter with Nicole Beharie's Lt. Mills balanced out the freakiness of the nightmarish plot.

It seems like you could miss an episode and not be totally lost. After all, this may be the procedural's greatest strength. It makes for a good occasional viewing.

The thing that might keep me away from Sleepy Hollow isn't the horror of it (I'm a fan of The X-Files) or the standard crime drama (I'm also a fan of NCIS.) What will keep me away is the fact that Sleepy Hollow is on FOX, a network my rabbit ears aren't often tuned to. But if Sleepy Hollow stays as interesting as I think it will, I just might make the effort. Especially since the show has already been picked up for a second season. Sleepy Hollow airs Mondays at 9 on FOX.

September 30, 2013

How I Met Your Mother Season 9 - Worth the Wait After All?

I am so reluctant to give How I Met Your Mother any more attention that it already has, especially after their Emmy Awards infiltration. But I should acknowledge that, based on last week's season premiere, Cristin Milioti may have been the best casting decision in recent sitcom history. I mean that. I don't think a character's introduction has ever been so (long) anticipated.

Her chemistry with Alyson Hannigan's "Lily" was particularly compelling. Milioti brought an energy to the show that made her scenes contrast starkly with Barney's tired tropes. 

The best part of Milioti's performance was its effortlessness. Rather than seeming to be a character who was defined by all the things the audience knew about her, she was a character who happened to include those things. 

I was somewhat less impressed with Milioti's scenes with Josh Radnor's "Ted." But I suspect their chemistry will develop over time. 

So while the premiere of How I Met Your Mother continued in many of the shenanigans that made me so angry last season, the introduction of the titular "mother," whose name we still don't know, gives me hope. Hope that maybe - just maybe - this final season won't be so bad after all.

September 27, 2013

ABC Comedy Wednesday Round-Up

The Middle
The 5th season premiere of The Middle was everything that's great about this show. The characters are both sweet and touching, and hilariously flawed. That makes for great comedy, as does the relatability of the show. Anyone who's ever left for college or dropped their kid off at college knew just what the Heck's were going through. Heck, anyone who ever shopped at Bed Bath Between knows what they were going through. With Season 5, The Middle's still going strong.

The Middle - season 5 premiere

Back in the Game
This new series didn't quite hit a home run, but Psych alum Maggie Lawson delivered a fantastic performance as the spunky tomboy single mom Terry. I was less enthused by James Caan's "The Cannon," but that may just be because his character isn't very likable. Although I'm guessing he'll grow on the audience as he grows on Terry and her son. I'm intrigued by the ragtag group of athletes who make up the "Angles." If this is a show about lovable losers, I'll keep on watching. With comedies, the true laughs come when we see ourselves in the characters.

Back in the Game - series premiere

Modern Family
I'm a viewer, but no superfan of this award-winning ABC comedy. I was disappointed to see this show win the Emmy over The Big Bang Theory and 30 Rock on Sunday night. I have two big problems with Modern Family.

For one thing, while the show claims to confront "modern" issues, they tend, as comedies often do, to land squarely on the stereotype. In the first episode that aired this week, that's exactly what happened with Mitch and Cam's proposal storyline. Not to mention the fact that the plot just seemed a little stale. You can only do the "See, they're a normal couple!" thing so many times. I don't think anyone except the writers doubt the validity of the two's relationship.

Modern Family - premiere
For another, the characters on the show are utterly un-relateable to most of the show's American audience. Their SoCal mini-mansions are evidence of just how 1% these families are.

The one really fantastic joke was of course, delivered by Ty Burrell's Phil Dunphy, who played his daughters off of one another's perceived worst/best qualities. But one great joke isn't enough for me. I watch Modern Family because my TV stays on between the aforementioned comedies and Nashville.

September 23, 2013

What was wrong with the Emmy Awards? Almost everything.

I think it might be time to give the other networks a shot at award shows. So far this year, CBS tanked the Grammy Awards and then this year's Tony's weren't much to speak of, either. Tonight, CBS failed us at the Emmys, too.

CBS has a problem. The network doesn't know how not to promote their own shows. That's just not classy. Did you notice opening that the disasterous pre-taped open included long clips of CBS shows and only subliminal mentions of shows from other networks?

The totally shameless plugs of new CBS shows by their "stars." Will Arnett, Allison Janney, etc. made me feel incredibly uncomfortable. Didn't those actors feel strange and cheap? I was embarrassed for them.

The How I Met Your Mother "PSA" was not only a shameless plug for the show, it actually wasn't even all that accurate. Neil Patrick Harris seemed not to care too much about the Emmys. Remember his finale at the 2011 Tony's? The man used to have passion! There were other things, too. Like the totally unnecessary plug for Under the Dome. And let me say, I don't think that the jokes make up for the self-promotion, despite how funny Ryan Seacrest dig was.

Seriously, CBS. Stop promoting your shows within the Emmy Awards. This was a night for all of TV, not just for you. Besides, that's what the commercial breaks are for.

Add to that the totally bizarre and out-of-place musical performances by Elton John and Carrie Underwood, and what we had was a disaster. When Neil Patrick Harris finally got to his song and dance, it was too little too late. There is no doubt that the choreography number should have opened the entire show. Maybe then the night would have actually had some energy or life to it.

The folks out there on Twitter spent a lot of time complaining about the actors and shows who were robbed of various awards. Frankly, I think who won and lost was overshadowed by just how bad the broadcast of the awards was.

Next time, let's just have Amy Poehler and Tina Fey host the whole thing:

Tina Fey and Amy Poehler should host every award show, ever.

And let's have it on NBC or ABC instead. 

September 18, 2013

Survivor: Blood vs. Water Premiere - The After School Special with a Side of Sexism

Well folks, there isn't much chance that this season of Survivor will come close to matching the wonder and phenomenon of Caramoan, but it is already shaping up to be an interesting one.

Clearly, Blood vs. Water will be unlike any other season of Survivor. Yes, when you win, your loved one loses. Yes, when you vote someone off, you might upset a specific player still in the game. Yes, the emotions are going to run deeper and the tears flow faster than any other season in the game's history. I GET IT, ALREADY! Truthfully, I'm already annoyed by the excessive drama. I'm ready for the strategy. The politics. The competition. That's why I watch Survivor. And those things won't get started for a couple more weeks. But I guess I have to keep watching up until then to keep from falling behind.

See what I mean? Forced, excessive drama. Already.

The production team made some interesting choices in what to focus on this week. For awhile there, I thought I was watching an after-school special warning of the dangers of drugs, teen pregnancy, and intolerance. But no, just a few short minutes later, sexism ran rampant as NFL Brad and his merry band of self-proclaimed meathead followers declare that women are all the same to them.

Tonight's challenge did nothing for me. I'm just glad purgatory... I mean... redemption island is back.

As for Tribal Council, here's a word that's losing its meaning: Blindside. I was sorry to see you go, Marissa, but you were absolutely not blindsided. Let's save that term for the truly remarkable back-stabs. I'm rooting for a few authentic blindsides this season.

For what it's worth, I'm also rooting for Rupert, Marissa, Tye-Die Laura, and Tina.

August 29, 2013

Doomed TV Couples - Imminent Break-Ups Don't Keep Me From Watching

Reign premieres October 17, 2013
I read this article about Reign, a show I've posted about before, and I have to say, I think it is a little ridiculous that any viewer would expect a show on the CW to maintain historical accuracy. (And I don't think the CW has to.)

But all this got me thinking: Surely one fact that the writers won't take creative liberty with is Prince Francis's fate. (He dies two years after they marry. And that's not a spoiler, because it's historical fact.) Knowing this, knowing the inevitable break-up of Mary and Francis's relationship is imminent, should we still watch and/or care?

I say yes, because there have been plenty of doomed relationships in television history, and none of them kept me from watching. There are, of course, the relationships that we expect to fail or hope will fail or fear will fail (like Ryan and Kelly on The Office, The O.C.'s Ryan and Marissa, and Lost's Sun and Jin, respectively.*) But I'm talking about the ones we are certain will fail. Like these:

The Anti-Canonical Couple
This is the category into which Mary and Francis fall: Couples we know won't last because their story has already been written and told. If they ended up together, it would go against the canon. A notable example is Smallville's Clark and Lana.
More than a picket fence will eventually separate these two, am I right?
Everybody knows Clark Kent will end up with Lois Lane. But does that make Clark's relationship with Lana unimportant? Of course not. It was a vital step in his growing up, which is what the show was all about anyway.

The Pilot Betrayal Couple
There are some shows that tell the audience from the very beginning who is going to end up with who. Yes, I'm talking about Rachel and Ross. That's why Rachel and Joey are a couple who betray the pilot of Friends.
Ross is fine. Really, he's fine.
Source: Friends Wiki
Cheesy as it was, the pilot's gazing out the window scene set up a romance from which there was no turning back. When Rachel detoured to Joey, fans revolted, but they didn't need to. Rachel and Joey were doomed from the start. Another couple in this category is Gossip Girl's Blair and Dan, since the pilot dictated that the primary romance of the show would be between Serena and Dan.

The Couple Who Wouldn't Have Lasted Much Longer
Then there are the shows that don't last long enough for the couple to fail. The exceptional and delightful show Pushing Daisies (which you must watch if you haven't) offers us an example in this category: Chuck and Ned.
That's about as close as they can ever get, folks.
Their relationship hinged entirely on the fact that if they touched, she would die. Even though Pushing Daisies is fantastical, the rules of the fantasy were inescapable. If the show had lasted beyond its two seasons, Ned and Chuck's relationship restrictions would have stopped being endearing.

All of these couples remind me that knowing a relationship will end doesn't make watching it play out on screen any less entertaining. In fact, in the best written shows, it can be even more entertaining, because we can focus on the details rather than the overarching "will they or won't they" question.

*All in my humble opinion, of course.

August 13, 2013

Under the Dome: "Thicker Than Water" Review

It's been a few weeks since I've written about Under the Dome, and things have gone from bad to worse in Chester's Mill. They also haven't gotten that much better in terms of the show's writing or acting, but I don't need to talk about that again.

Regardless, last night's episode, "Thicker Than Water," was a pretty good one. It didn't advance the plot much, but as its title suggests, it delved into family relationships, offering character insights that up until this point, the show had lacked. At the start of the episode, we learned that Big Jim is just about the worst father since Darth Vader, kicking his psychotic son Junior out of the house in a fit of rage. I'll admit, this made me laugh out loud. I mean, where's he gonna go? Later, we learned that Junior's mother, who he believed died accidentally, actually committed suicide. There was a lot of blame bouncing between the father and son, which may explain both their fragile relationship, and their fragile grasps on reality.

Alexander Koch as "Junior"
The episode's title was also a play on words, as the main plot line focused on a feud between Big Jim and Ollie over the town's water supply. Big Jim recruits a group of townspeople to storm Ollie's property and seize control of his well. (Is it just me, or do the residents of Chester's Mill seem particularly predisposed to vigilante violence?) The twist here is that he'll also be opposing his son who, in your typical act of teenage rebellion, has joined forces with his father's nemesis.  Barbie, however, concocts an alternate plan. He believes the best choice is to blow up Ollie's well, diverting the water to the town's reservoir. To the viewer, this seems like the good solution, and a way to prevent bloodshed. But Big Jim protests that there's no way to be certain that the explosion won't taint the entire supply of water. This is another in a line of reasonable concerns from the unreasonable councilman.

For better or worse, Under the Dome is good at keeping the viewer guessing who the true villain of the story is. Certainly, neither Ollie or Big Jim is to be rooted for. Both of them are willing to lie, steal, and even kill for their own selfish gain. And while Barbie often comes out looking like the hero, we can't forget that the first time we met him, he was burying the body of a man he murdered - a man whose wife he's now sleeping with. Not exactly heroic qualities. Junior, for all his faults and acts of kidnapping and murder (add Ollie to his list of victims), is looking more and more like a victim himself, if only of his father's horrific parenting. Of course, many of these villainous actions wouldn't have happened if the Dome hadn't fallen. So does that mean the villain is the Dome itself? Norrie certainly seems to think so, blaming the mysterious phenomenon, as well as Joe and ultimately herself, for her mother's death.

Now that the Dome is speaking through hallucinations (do I need to reference Lost again?), it may become easier to view the fishbowl anthropomorphically. Even if the Dome is the bad guy, though, are the residents of Chester's Mill really the good ones? I suppose things aren't that simple when your town is "cut off from the rest of the world by a mysterious dome." Normally, I would say that makes a story good. Stories shouldn't be basic and characters shouldn't be one-dimensional, but I'm having trouble finding anyone in Chester's Mill heroic (or interesting) enough to root for. I'm hoping that changes by the end of the season.

Speaking of which, I was somewhat bemused to hear that Under the Dome has been renewed for a second season. Bemused, but also encouraged. It's always a risk to invest in a summer show, as these are so often short lived. So it's nice to know the snowglobe town will be waiting for me when summer 2014 rolls around.

July 28, 2013

Reign: Totally CW, But for the Lack of Vampires

The CW will be adding several new shows to its line up this fall, and most of them are as supernatural as you'd expect. They've got the Vampire Diaries spinoff, the Romeo and Juliet with aliens thing, and the sci-fi standards. But then there's Reign:

My first thought when I saw ads for Reign was, "This is Gossip Girl. It's Gossip Girl, but with a dash of Downton Abbey." Apparently, I'm not the only one. Huffington Post's Alex Moaba called it "a Game of Thrones meets Gossip Girl thing." Let me be clear, I think this is a good thing. Yes, the plot and setting make it ripe for historical inaccuracy and anachronism, but I will ignore those if Reign proves to be as intriguing a political drama as the trailer promises.

And I suspect that it will. Here's something interesting: the creators of the show aren't your typical CW stock. Laurie McCarthy and Stephanie Sengupta's past credits include several formula police procedurals like Ghost Whisperer, CSI: Miami, Hawaii Five-0, and Law and Order. (For what it's worth, Sengupta is leaving the show before it even premieres.) I have to wonder if their experience will result in Reign being a mystery-followed-by-solution heavy show, which I believe would greatly benefit the plot. This might balance out the romance/seduction side that's ever-present on this youth-focused network.

As for the cast, I'm most excited to see Megan Follows, who plays Queen Catherine de' Medici. Since her breakout role as Anne of Green Gables (a personal favorite of mine) in the 1980s, Follows has become quite the accomplished actress, both on screen and on the stage. I suspect her stage experience might translate nicely to regal nature of her role on Reign. Again, if the trailer is any indication, this show will be full of some genuinely good acting, which is not always a sure thing on the CW.

The final reason this trailer has me excited for Reign is the music. One of the great advantages to telling a historical story today is that it gives the creators a chance to interpret it through a (literal and figurative) modern lens. The soundtrack of the trailer comes across as classic, but the drumbeats and energy give it a present-day twist.

Reign won't premiere until October. You can catch it Thursday nights on the CW. I know I will.

July 19, 2013

Emmy Nominations: Rabbit Ear Reactions

Emmy nominees were annouced this week, and I can't let this momentous television occasion pass without sharing my two cents. I'll try to avoid reiterating what you've probably already heard. Here are some Rabbit Ear Reactions: First, two disappointments. Then, a program I was thrilled to see nominated - one you might have overlooked.

If you follow me on Twitter, you may have read my grief tweets about Survivor, which was not among the nominees for Reality Competition. Nor was Jeff Probst nominated as host. This was particularly sad because Survivor had one of its best seasons this year with Caramoan's Fans vs. Favorites. Not to mention the fact that episode 5 of that season was a landmark in the history of reality TV. That said, those who write that the show was "snubbed" aren't quite right. It did receive nominations in some of the less-hyped categories.

Another show that received little recognition in the major categories is The Office. I was surprised to see how differently 30 Rock and The Office - both departing NBC comedies - fared in the nominations. 30 Rock received 9 nominations in major categories: Tina Fey, Alec Baldwin, Jane Krakowski, 2 Guest stars, 2 for Writing, 1 for Directing, and Outstanding Comedy. The Office got only 1: Greg Daniels for Writing for the finale. Even though I'm sad The Office didn't receive more, I'm pleased that the finale was recognized. It was perfect. Daniels should win. But chances are, he'll be beat out by Tina Fey, nominated in the same category for the 30 Rock finale.

So far I've just been talking about the "major" categories. The ones listed here. But it's worth downloading the complete list of nominees

If you just glanced through those major categories on, you may not have noticed that Live from Lincoln Center received three nominations for "Rodgers & Hammerstein's Carousel." I was thrilled to see that this New York Philharmonic stage production of the classic musical was nominated for Musical Direction, Choreography, and  in a category called Special Class Programs, where it's up against award show broadcasts and the London Olympics Opening Ceremony. You can (and should) watch highlights from this phenomenal musical production at Or right here!

I can't remember a televised stage production this well done. It was technically masterful and emotionally powerful. Carousel can be a frustrating play. Its storyline - with outdated gender roles and domestic violence - is troubling. But these actors brought the characters to life so authentically that I watched Carousel in a totally new way. I think I understand it better now than I ever have. (By the way, that's saying something, as I was once in a production of this musical!)

Reading through the list of nominations this year - and seeing Carousel recognized in particular - made me realize something about these awards: No matter how much the Emmy broadcast itself will focus on the big-budget, popular, and mostly cable television series, the awards are for gems like Live from Lincoln Center, too. There are wonderful things happening on TV that you just might be missing. So, tune to PBS every once in awhile.

Special shout out this post to my father and my grandparents. The day after Carousel aired, I got phone calls from all of them, telling me I had to check my local listings and catch it the next time it came on. Thanks, guys. 

July 7, 2013

Under the Dome: "The Fire" Review

Summer television series are to regular season shows what B movies are to, well, actual movies. That hasn't stopped Under the Dome - the B series of the summer - from becoming a hit. Variety reported that the show is the "most watched new summer 20 years."

In my last post about the show,  I pointed out the crime, corruption, and psychosis that are already in the Chester's Mill fishbowl. Monday night's episode added chaos. Makes sense. You put a group of people in an inescapable situation, and tempers will rise. Fear will take hold.
Deputy Linda: "When people are scared they start acting stupid."
Other Cop: "You'd have to be stupid not to be scared."
Classic signs of this ensuing chaos include the crumbling of trustworthy pillars of the community. When men of the cloth and police officers lose it, you know you're in trouble. Then those same men start a fire.  (In an attempt to cover up their own corruption, no less.)


The Lost parallels continued in this episode as Barbie, in true Jack Shephard style, became the reluctant hero leader, putting out the fire with an old-timey bucket brigade. And if you still don't see the Lost rip-offs, try imagining that Michael Giacchino's ominous strings are playing.

So that's it. Chaos, fear, fire, and at least two more casualties in this episode. I'm not sure any of these characters are going to get out alive. Oh, and Angie's still trapped in the fallout shelter. My money's on her staying there for the duration of the series. Creepiest Couple on TV award goes to Junior and Angie for sure.

Thing is, this is still a summer series. A B series. Unlike in Lost, the acting in Under the Dome is mostly sub-par. (Not that the actors aren't doing their best with the dialogue they have to work with.) Mike Vogel's acting is the notable exception. He is hands-down the most believable of the Dome-ies. And Alexander Koch is a close second. His sinister smile sends a chill down my spine.

I'll keep watching Under the Dome, but not because it's exceptional TV. It's B television for sure. But it's the summertime, and there's not much else on. Plus, B television can be fun, especially when everyone's watching it. Under the Dome doesn't have to be great TV as long as it makes for a great conversation on Tuesday morning.

June 30, 2013

Under the Dome: "Pilot" Review

To be completely honest, the primary reason I watched the pilot episode of Under the Dome was this trailer:

Not that the promo indicated that the acting would be particularly good, or that the effects would be anything extraordinary. No, you see, I'm a just a really big fan of Bob Dylan, and the Devlin/Ed Sheeran cover of "All Along the Watchtower" reeled me in.

I reject the assertion that another trailer for the show made - that Chester's Mill is a classic American small town. In fact, it seems it was a bit off its rocker even before the title "dome"/force field/upside-down fishbowl descended. Remember, this series is based on a novel by Stephen King. So the fact that the dome slices a cow grotesquely in two shouldn't seem that strange. I mean, have you read Carrie?

But back to Chester's Mill: Let's start with the fact that the episode opens with a body being buried in the woods by a mysterious out-of-towner. So we've got crime. We soon learn that Sheriff Perkins and Councilman Rennie are in on something dubious, because they've been stockpiling propane for some time. So we've got corruption. Then there's the young dating couple - Councilman Rennie's son, Junior, and diner waitress Angie. But he's not so much dating her as he is kidnapping her and locking her in his father's abandoned fallout shelter. So we've got psychosis.  (For the record, I don't have sympathy for either one of these characters. Junior is serial-killer crazy, but Angie just seems like a jerk.)

The only characters I can feel sympathy for are the ones with familiar faces. Out-of-towner Dale "Barbie" Barbara is played by Mike Vogel. I was a big fan of the big budget, quickly cancelled ABC show Pan Am, in which Vogel played young pilot Dean. But you might also recognize him from Bates Motel or The Help. Barbie is the most intriguing character on Under the Dome to me so far. Maybe it's because his acting is best, or maybe it's just because his character seems to have the most to lose by being stuck in the town that is the scene of his crime.

Then there's Jeff Fahey, who plays Sheriff Perkins. He also played a pilot - Lost's Frank Lapidus. And speaking of Lost, that show is exactly what kept coming to mind as I watched this first episode of Under the Dome. When the sheriff walked into the diner, I could practically hear him say, "If we can't live together, we're gonna die alone." (Side note: Remember how great Lost was? That show rocked. For a few seasons, anyway.) The large cast of oddly interconnected characters and inexplicable physical phenomena also contribute to the Lost feel.

So it's a creepy small town now literally surrounded by a mystery. Is it coincidence? Punishment? The government? I think those are the questions the creators of Under the Dome want me to be asking, and they want me to keep watching to learn the answers. I'll keep watching. Partially because I'm curious, but mostly because I still can't get All Along the Watchtower out of my head. 

June 26, 2013

The Short-Lived, The Cancelled. Part #2: How to Live with Your Parents(for the Rest of Your Life)

Read Part #1 here!

Two of the shows that met their untimely ends in 2013 I'm actually sorry to see go. I also feel a little guilty that I didn't get to know them better before they bit the dust. In my last post and this one, I'll tell you why I'm going to miss two short-lived shows of this past television season.

The pilot episode of How to Live with Your Parents (for the Rest of Your Life) wasn't anything special. As is so often the case, the best (read: only) jokes were used in the promo ads, which took all the funny out of watching the episode itself. I couldn't pinpoint it at the time, but I later realized what I disliked about the episode. Here's the setup: Polly, played by Sarah Chalke, falls on hard times and is forced to move into her mother and stepfather's home with her young daughter. Life is hard for the misfortunate Polly, and her hippie parents are utterly unhelpful. When Polly goes on a date, reluctantly leaving her parents to babysit, hilarity ensues. (Polly's parents gave their granddaughter coffee. That's basically it.) But rather than being funny, this episode was depressing. I just felt bad for Polly and wished that life was better for her. Suffice it to say, I didn't plan to watch another episode after the pilot.

But then I did. I forget if was sandwiched between The Middle and Modern Family, or if it came on after one of those two, but my TV was still on, and I watched the episode (confusingly) entitled "How to Live with Your Parents for the Rest of Your Life." It was as though the characters' roles had reversed. Hard times? No. Polly was to blame for making a mess of her own life, and her parents (although very much still flower children) were the only ones who could help her fix it. In this episode, Polly tries to move out of their house, but is not successful at turning on an oven (or any other aspect of living alone.) Brad Garrett delivered a phenomenal performance as Polly's stepfather. His back-and-forth with Sarah Chalke made for some incredibly comedic moments. In addition to being funny, this episode was uplifting. How to Live... was all of the sudden a feel-good comedy, and one I felt I would watch again!

Alas, I will not get the chance. I guess the best news in all of this is that there are still ten episodes of the show I haven't seen. Small comfort for the cancelled.

June 18, 2013

The Short-Lived, The Cancelled. Part #1: Emily Owens, M.D.

Ah, summer. The time when all our favorite television shows go on hiatus, and the networks break in with shows they expect to tank and burn off episodes of shows they've cancelled. Basically, summer is a wasteland on the networks. Because of this, I probably will be posting fewer reviews over the next two months or so. But back to the cancellations: TVLine put together this fantastic "scorecard" of cancelled and returning shows on all the major networks.

Two of the shows that met their untimely ends in 2013 I'm actually sorry to see go. I also feel a little guilty that I didn't get to know them better before they bit the dust. In this post and my next one, I'll tell you why I'm going to miss two short-lived shows of this past television season.

I'll admit it: I generally avoid shows with a medical premise. I'm squeamish and I know it. But Emily Owens, M.D. looked promising, so I watched a few episodes over the season. The show wasn't very well-recieved by critics, but I was impressed. Most impressive was Mamie Gummer in the title role. Gummer, the daughter of Meryl Streep, inherited more than her mother's distinctive features; She's a heck of an actress as well. The story followed the title character, a young doctor interning at a large hospital, as she navigated her professional and love lives. It also gave the viewers a look inside Emily's thoughts through Carrie Bradshaw style monologues. Unfortunately, Emily Owens was cancelled November 28th, just over a month after its premiere.

Emily Owens, M.D. didn't follow the conventional structure of a CW show. Though lovely, Gummer isn't the typical CW "it" girl. She's almost a "born loser" type. She didn't have the confidence of a Serena van der Woodsen or even a Zoe Hart. (There is classic beauty on the Y-chromosome side of things. Emily's two major love interests were played by CW veteran Justin Hartley and ABC Family alum Michael Rady.)

The show approached its medical plot lines with a more serious tone than the network's other show about a doctor, making it more similar to Grey's Anatomy than anything found on the CW. But I found that to be one of the show's strongest points. It was authentic. But authenticity isn't enough for the CW. I'm afraid the show's lack of paranormal or superheroic characters may have been its downfall, despite how similar Emily's workplace drama was to high school. Simply put, Emily Owens was on the wrong network. It couldn't capture the CW demographic, and it couldn't pull the right audience over to the typically teens-to-twenties channel. I bet if she had been on Fox, Emily Owens would have broken 13 episodes.

A word of warning, which contains a spoiler: If you think this sounds like a show you should watch in your free TV time this summer, know that the final episode ends with a choice. Both of the handsome loves pictured above are enamored of Emily, and she must decide between them. I say this as a warning because you might not like her choice. Most unfortunate of all - now that the show has been cancelled, she won't get the chance to change her mind.

June 10, 2013

Not a Review of the Tony Awards

I only watched part of the Tony Awards, which is one of the reasons why I don't plan to write about that television special in a Rabbit Ear Review. Another reason is that while I love musical theatre, I don't know nearly enough about the shows currently on Broadway to fairly assess last night's winners and losers. And maybe I just don't have the gumption to say how absurd I find it that Broadway shows are now just musicalized versions of movies.

Anyway, the best thing about last night's Tony Awards was the host - Neil Patrick Harris - as evidenced by this opening song and dance number:

Did you catch his "legendary" wink to How I Met Your Mother? I'm sure the CBS executives smiled on that one. I think the opening number, not to mention the whole night, proved that Harris himself is a bigger, far more talented star than HIMYM's recently one-dimensional Barney Stinson allows. But alas, that's a subject for another blog post. All this to say, most of all, last night's show got me excited for the Emmy Awards, which, gratefully, Harris will also be hosting. I'm hoping for an Emmy song and dance.

May 28, 2013

The Curtain Falls on Smash

In the course of its two season lifetime, I probably watched fewer than half a dozen episodes of NBC's Smash. This past weekend, I watched the finale anyway. 


It wasn't hard to pick up on the major plot points. The two musicals, whose casts and production teams the show followed, had now opened on Broadway. The 2-hour finale covered the Tony nominations and awards, and it tied up the characters' stories nicely and neatly. I haven't watched enough to the show to determine if this clean ending was a good thing, but it was definitely satisfying to the casual viewer. I nodded through the conclusions thinking, "Yeah, that seems about right." Contemptible characters like Derek got just enough comeuppance, and characters with whom I tended to sympathize, like Ivy, got the respect they were due. In Ivy's case, the respect came the form of a Tony Award. And thank goodness. Even in the few episodes I watched, it was clear that Ivy was a far better actress than Karen. Whether this means Megan Hilty is a far better actress than Katharine McPhee, I'm not sure. (Although that may be true, too.)

Don't get me wrong, McPhee is incredibly talented - one of the few true talents to come out of American Idol. On Smash, she was surrounded by an all-star cast. In every episode I watched, they were performing at the top of their games. Not to mention the guest stars! So why is it then, that I never got hooked on this show? Why couldn't this well-produced, well-funded, well-acted piece of television make it past two seasons? There are, of course, many opinions. (This one pins Smash's fate mostly on the show's lousy second season ratings.) I have a few thoughts of my own:

First, while this show was originally billed to reach the matruring audience of Glee, in reality it filled an incredibly small niche. Musical theatre lovers abound, but I doubt there are enough of them so singly devoted to commit a weekly hour to a fictional commentary on the subject. Certainly not enough to raise the Neilsen ratings. Case in point: I'm a musical theatre lover and a lover of TV, and even I didn't commit a weekly hour to this show. 

And that's partly because of my second point: the drama didn't have much of one. A point, that is. If you've read other posts of mine, you know I don't run from even the soapiest of primetime dramas. But the drama on Smash seemed consistently petty. Which is fine and relatable if high schoolers are fighting for the solo on Glee. Not so fine if grown women are fighting for a professional lead and sleeping with the director to get it. That doesn't get the characters much sympathy from me. Of course, some would argue that's the reality of the professional theatre world. And I'm sure sometimes it is. But Smash didn't do the that world any favors by pointing it out. 

Finally, the music, though technically good, catchy, and well performed, felt out of place. Which should not have been the case for a show about musicals! It was as though the music didn't know what to be - internal soliloquy or a performance as a part of the shows within the show. Smash attempted to walk the line between being a TV show about musicals and being a musical TV show, but didn't get the balance quite right.

Now, all that aside, I think I can say I loved the Smash finale. So much so that all those flaws almost seem irrelevant. Indeed, Smash gave us that big finish:

Smash did leave me wanting more. Lucky for me, I probably watched fewer than half a dozen episodes of NBC's Smash. So the next time I need some drama, I know just the show.