October 10, 2016

No Tomorrow: "Pilot"

No Tomorrow had me intrigued from first look. When ads began billing the show as "From the network that brought you Crazy Ex-Girlfriend and Jane the Virgin", I knew I had to give it a try. Those are two of the best shows on network TV right now, and no matter what stereotypical prejudice you may have against the CW, you should check them out. (They're award winning, guys.)

When I sat down to watch the Pilot, the question was: would No Tomorrow deliver on its promise to be another CW show I'd enjoy? For me, the answer was a resounding: Maybe. Here's the premise: A Type-A type woman meets a uninhibited and possibly insane man who thinks the world is going to end in eight months and lives his life accordingly. Naturally, I have a few questions.

Are the characters likable?
Like, Crazy-Ex and Jane, No Tomorrow banks on a relatively unknown cast. Ok, Joshua Sasse was Galavant, but with a shaved head and that beard, did you recognize him at first glance? Me either. Tori Anderson, who plays Evie, hails from Canada and, apparently, teen nick.

Evie meets Xavier at the Farmers' Market.
(Revealing the show's hipster/millennial target audience.)
Source: imdb.com
If we have any question about who Evie is, it's answered by Kareema: "Just don't be one of those women defined by the quest to find the guy." Ah, so she's a hopeless romantic. This is a step in the right direction. It gives the character a subtle sweetness that belies her model appearance. Each line and look makes her ever more the ingenue. Evie forgoes even the mildest profanity and instead says, "Oh my gosh" and "Holy smokes." Her apocalypse "list" contains mild ambitions like putting tinfoil in the microwave. Yes, I like Evie. But what about her leading man?

It takes a little longer to figure Xavier out. Sure, he may look like a charming ladies-man-hipster-player, but it turns out he's a poser. This is revealed not only in the flashback of his former life sitting in a cubicle, but also his internet fame as "Doomsday Man." And more importantly, he's probably out of his mind. And a little stalker-ish there with his telescope.

Furthermore, starting them out with infidelity (or whatever you call cheating when you're on a break) isn't the most likable move. But Evie redeems herself at least a little by confessing her indiscretion to potential fiancé Timothy. So while I like Evie, and can sympathize with her struggles, Xavier is going to have to work a little harder to win me over.

Does this show know what it wants to be? Even if what it wants to be is weird?
This is something I bring up a lot in my reviews, because I think it really matters: Good television shows are self-aware. Though made up of many characters, the world they inhabit must have a distinct sense of humor, or in the case of a drama, a distinct mood. Characters can be dynamic, but they cannot be unbelievable. That's not to say that shows can't surprise us; instead, such surprises must add depth to what we already know about a show - not discredit the show's very premise.

Again, like its sister shows, No Tomorrow isn't a drama or a comedy. It's also not a comedy with heart or a funny drama. It's both and it's neither. It's weird. And some of its characters are really weird, particularly the side characters. Evie effectively plays the straight man both to Xavier's unpredictability and her co-workers standard comedic odd-ball-ness. In fact, the side characters are so much fun, there is a chance they'll outshine Evie.

The most difficult line that No Tomorrow will have to walk is balancing the quirk with the sincerity. Walking that line is possible. Other hour-long so-called "comedies" have done this successfully. Pushing Daisies used bright colors, sweeping camera entrances, and retro-like transitions between scenes to develop a distinctive "storybook" look. Crazy-Ex does it by pairing their stories with song. Toward the end of the pilot of No Tomorrow, when Evie is confronting her bad-breathed boss Deirdre, the camera pushes in on the two of them in incremental jerks as Deirdre breathes right in Evie's face. I thought this was clever, but it caught me off guard. Is the show aiming to make its camerawork distinctive? If so, I'm all for it. I think it matches the mood of the show - but, we'll need more of it. Otherwise, it will just seem out of place. No Tomorrow must embrace its own brand of weird.

Is the premise sustainable?
Should Xavier turn out to be correct, this show has only got an eight month shelf-life. (If they make it that far - A to Z only made it to M.) The last show about the end of the world got us to doomsday just in time to break my heart. (I still get chills thinking about the You, Me, and the Apocalypse finale - and not good chills. Not getting a second season for that one hurts).

Maybe it's more like My Name is Earl - each episode will send our heros on a wild quest to fulfil an item on their list. That show managed to eek out four seasons (although I didn't make it past Season 3 when I binged my way through on Netflix.) A procedural format might serve this show well, as long as the characters can grow and remain interesting throughout.

No Tomorrow debuted to less than great ratings. Some critics already list it among the doomed.  I'm not so sure. The CW has a willingness to bet on weird shows that they know are good. In an unprecedented move last spring, they renewed everything. I have a theory: the network knows that they can't compete with the other major broadcast networks for quantity of viewers. Where they can beat them is quality. The leading ladies of Jane and Crazy-Ex each have a Golden Globe to their name. Will Anderson follow? I don't know yet, but I'm willing to keep watching to find out.

October 7, 2016

Brooklyn Nine-Nine: "Coral Palms, Part 3"

Since the beginning, Brooklyn Nine-Nine has been a solid comedy. Last season, the show had a lot of work to do to keep its central will-they-or-won't-they couple Jake and Amy interesting after they, well, did. All while maintaining the show's slapstick wit and giving the rest of the ensemble cast enough to do.

Terry, Rosa, Boyle, Scully and Hitchcock join Jake and Holt in Coral Palms.
The gang is back together!
Source: imdb.com
Throughout Season 3, creative obstacles were devised to sidetrack Jake (Andy Samberg) and Amy's (Melissa Fumero) budding romance, but none so extreme as the finale - which landed both Jake and Andre Braugher's Captain Holt in witness protection in Florida. This is where Season 4 picked up, with a three-part episode titled "Coral Palms." Part 3 aired this week, and it was a doozy.

A clever cold open spoofed a local news report (the sort of classic Michael Schur touch Parks and Rec fans will spot.) The ensemble shines brightest when on a mission, and by Part 3, the squad was together again at last, and they were more than ready to take down the head of a crime syndicate. Jim O'Heir's guest appearance as a local sheriff was a welcome surprise in Part 2, and I was glad to see him again. Against the backdrop of an Arcade/Go-Kart Course, the members of the precinct successfully battle the bad guys, even if both Holt and Jake are rather seriously injured in the process.

Clever writing is another of the show's strengths. Brooklyn Nine-Nine is seldom blatantly political. (It wouldn't want to alienate its audience in an election year.) But it does wink (or at least blink while staring blankly) at political issues. In "Coral Palms," nods to the ubiquity of guns, like Gina's line about where she got hers - "Vending machine at a rest stop" - are either subtle critiques of gun laws, or at least easy punchlines about Florida. Then there was Jake's great one-liner: "Something about lead being in the air and water and ground." Acerbically timely, no?

Jake and Amy's awkward reunion kiss is interrupted by Boyle.
Not exactly love at first reunion.
Source: imdb.com
Part 3 also saw Jake and Amy struggling to get back into the swing of being together, and by the end of the episode, they claimed to be in sync again. Still, I can't help feeling that this episode would have worked better as a set up to a break up. Jake and Amy just aren't working. Lately, when Boyle interrupts them, it doesn't seem like he's interrupting anything at all. I can't pinpoint if it's the fault of the writing, the acting, or the directing, but I don't buy that the two of them are in love. The cliche of breaking them up to renew the romantic tension might be the show's best bet. This strategy seems to be working for New Girl's Nick and Jess, another couple who didn't shine as brightly together as they do when you so desperately want them to be together. Alternatively, the writers could give Jake and Amy a realistic couple problem (other than a lumpy mattress or six months in witness protection.) That worked for Jim and Pam, who were great when they were doing well, but even more heartwarming when they overcame authentic relationship adversity. When Jake and Amy were pining for one another, the tension led to some of the show's greatest moments of sincerity.

Brooklyn Nine-Nine needs that sincerity to sustain the workaday episodes of this workplace comedy. If not with Jake and Amy, perhaps another office romance? Speaking of which, whatever happened to the unrequited love Charles had for Rosa? That thread was still strong at the end of Season 2, when Charles designed a perfect birthday dinner for Rosa's then-boyfriend to present to her. If that's not selfless love, I don't know what is. But somewhere in Season 3, Charles went from being a bumbling buffoon with a heart of gold to being a bumbling buffoon utterly clueless to the ways of the heart. I'd like the old Charles back, especially if that meant Rosa would get him back, too. All in all, "Coral Palms" was good, but Brooklyn Nine-Nine can do better.