June 29, 2017

TV Songs for your Workout Playlist

I don't like working out. In fact, I'm lucky if I get to the gym once a week (ok, fine! - once a month.) But the unbearable pain of attaining your beach body is made a little bit easier if there's something good on TV, or a good song in your earbuds. Why not enjoy both? Here are five television songs from my workout playlist that just might keep you on that treadmill.

"Let Me Be Your Star" - Smash
"The past is on the cutting room floor; the future is here with me."

Perfect if... your workout is a performance for the mirror on the wall at the gym.
Play it... during your warmup.

Purchase it:

"I Could If I Wanted To" - Crazy Ex-Girlfriend
"Throwing a ball like it’s sooo important to know how to throw a ball. Whoopty-fricking-do."

Perfect if... you hate working out.
Play it... during that third set of angry, angsty crunches.

Purchase it:

"Don't Put Dirt On My Grave Just Yet" - Nashville
"I got a whole lot more than a little bit left"

Perfect if... you wanna quit, but know you'll feel better if you don't.
Play it... during those last few miles before the cool down.

Purchase it:

"Aces High" - Empire
"No cameras please, I'm in my zone."

Perfect if... the gym is your zone.
Play it... during whatever part of your workout makes you feel amazing. 

Purchase it: 

"Who Are You" - CSI
"I remember throwing punches around and preaching from my chair"

Ok, so this isn't really a TV song. It's just been co-opted as a TV theme song. But every workout playlist needs some Who, so put this song on yours.

Purchase it:

March 9, 2017

Riverdale: "Chapter Six: Faster, Pussycats! Kill! Kill!"

It took me half a dozen episodes to realize I was completely hooked on Riverdale. Apparently, that's how many episodes it took a lot of people, because this week the series was officially renewed for a second season.

Jughead and Betty
Jughead and Betty are on the case.
Source: imdb.com
This mid-season addition to the CW's lineup could have gone either way. It's got a relatively unknown cast who are, in the words of a friend of mine "really attractive, even by CW standards." They are also more than their pretty faces. Early press claimed the Archie Comics adaptation would be a dark Twin Peaks for the younger set. So far, the only resemblance to the Lynch creation is Mädchen Amick, who plays Betty's mother, and was a waitress at the Double R Diner. No, if anything, Riverdale is reminiscent of a show that originally aired on the network's predecessor, UPN. In "Chapter Six: Faster, Pussycats! Kill! Kill!" we find Betty Cooper acting like Veronica - Veronica Mars, that is.

This comparison to the teen noir detective show Veronica Mars is apt because, like that series, Riverdale hinges on the murder of a high school student in a small town. (To be fair, so does Twin Peaks, but Riverdale lacks that show's absurdist elements.) The comics' Archie-Betty-Veronica love triangle rightfully gets put on the shelf in the series' first few episodes. Instead, the town and its teens are focused on solving the crime and regaining the innocence they lost. In "Faster, Pussycats," Betty (Lili Reinhart) is working for the Riverdale High School newspaper, and has begun to look for answers, not only to the question "Who Killed Jason Blossom?" but to the question of what happened to Betty's sister Polly. Polly had planned to run away with Jason on the day he was killed. In this episode, we learn that Polly is pregnant! I shouldn't have been surprised, but, like Betty, I was misdirected by Mr. and Mrs. Cooper's assurances that Polly was, well, crazy.  Betty tracks down her sister at a "home for troubled youth" and, following Polly's tip, finds a hidden getaway car. The pace of this part of the story is steady. The colors are muted. The sky is gray. There's fog in the air. Everything indicates mystery. A dark, rainy trip in the woods is enhanced by the minor chords of the Pussycats' variety show performance.

Betty has a partner in all this sleuthing. At the end of "Chapter Four: The Last Picture Show," when it was revealed that the show's narrator, Jughead Jones (Cole Sprouse), lives an essentially homeless life, I realized Archie's best pal was going to be the most interesting character in the series. His somewhat anti-canonical yet completely natural romance with Betty Cooper, sealed with a kiss in the sixth episode, also sealed his place as a lead. (And if the episode 7 promos are to be believed, his story is just beginning.) Though he began as a child actor, Sprouse's abilities shouldn't be underestimated. He fills the pauses as deftly as he delivers the lines.

Archie auditions for the variety show
Archie just wants to play his music, Dad.
Source: imdb.com
Riverdale knows its audience and its network, employing well-worn teen drama tropes. As a high school student newspaper reporter, Betty sleuths out real life crime, reminiscent not only of Veronica Mars, but also of the early seasons of Smallville. Archie Andrews (K.J. Apa), on the other hand, is the typical angsty teenage boy who can't decide between writing guitar ballads and playing on the football team. Unfortunately, this trope is applied less convincingly, and all I can do is roll my eyes at the red-headed leading man. That said, Apa does have a lovely tenor voice. Earlier in the season, Archie's story was headed in a different direction. He was revealed to be intimately involved with his music teacher. At this point I must note that teacher/student relationships are real life crimes and tragedies that are too often, unfortunately, romanticized on the small screen. [See also: Dawson's Creek.]

Meanwhile, the teens' parents are dramatically interconnected. High school drama seems to have followed them into adulthood. Thus, we find Veronica Lodge (Camila Mendes) devastated at the prospect of her mother cheating on her father with Fred Andrews. As Alice Cooper, Mädchen Amick masterfully depicts the madness of a mother bent on justice, or maybe just revenge. Then there's another whole plot with Josie's demanding father and politically corrupt mother. So is one of these crazy parents to blame for Jason's death? Betty certainly thinks so, and confronts her father with that accusation. But is it all a red herring? In Veronica Mars, it turned out that a parent was the villain. In Riverdale, I'm not so sure. I suspect the music teacher may come back to town just when we've almost forgotten her. I don't know! And it's precisely because the show keeps me guessing that I keep coming back to watch what happens next. And now, I'll get to see what happens all the way through Season 2.

Riverdale airs Thursday nights at 9 PM on The CW.

February 4, 2017

Crazy Ex-Girlfriend: "Can Josh Take a Leap of Faith?"

Crazy Ex-Girlfriend suffered a sophomore slump, no doubt the result of Santino Fontana's untimely exit. Greg was just gearing up to have the best character arc of the season. Then, without so much as choreography, he left West Covina, and Rebecca, behind. The official word is that Fontana had only signed on for one season, and had never planned to stay, but his alcoholism storyline and setup to be the guy Rebecca's actually "meant for" makes me think there may have been more going on behind the scenes.

Here's my wild theory/the way I would have done it: I expect the final escalator goodbye was the planned Season 2 finale - the climax of incredible positive growth and change in Greg. He was, after all the character that didn't fit in with the rest, whose dreams were always bigger than that town three short hours from the beach. His exit was inevitable, but it happened too soon. For me, Season 2 felt like two seasons smashed together - One where we see Greg grow and move on, finally acknowledging that Rebecca was no good for him; and one where Rebecca, in the wake of that heartache runs back to Josh again, only to be stymied by the hot new boss in the office. Neither of those storylines got the time they deserved.

Mirror reflections of Rebecca in her veil and Josh looking confused.
Rebecca has a "dissociative episode." Josh has cold feet.
Source: tvline.com
The fact that the show's reinvigoration coincided with the introduction of a new male love interest is not lost on me. Nor is the irony that a show that started out so fiercely, satirically feminist got its boost from a man. Nonetheless, Scott Michael Foster's Nathaniel has brought a rude, pretentious frat boy energy that the show hadn't seen yet (except perhaps from Audra Levine) and that made him a worthy match for Bloom's strong Rebecca. Then, at the end of the two final episodes of Season 2, he showed a softer side by finding, and subsequently lambasting, Rebecca's absent father. Speaking of her father, Rebecca's daddy issues culminated painfully in the finale, ensuring that every viewer knew precisely who damaged this now-crazy ex. I expect most of us were screaming at our TVs along with Dr. Akopian.

The other important man in the finale was... Robert? Honestly, "who the dickens is Robert?" On the one hand, yes, there is a HUGE gap between the 16-year old drama camp Rebecca we're introduced to in the show's first scene and accomplished lawyer Rebecca who leaves New York on a whim. And sure, I guess it always was a little odd that Harvard obsessed Rebecca went to Yale Law. But this Robert thing came out of nowhere for me. (And for Heather, too.) I'm still not sure it works. Additional dim-lit flashbacks to college days and time spent in a sanitarium in episodes to come may help fill in the blanks. After all, the flashbacks shed a dark light on the delusional lyrics of the Season 2 opening theme.

The reintroduction of Trent was fun, and I can't get enough of his devious smile, but his "Top Secret" envelope was the gun that wasn't fired. Even if Rebecca's past indiscretions aren't what sent Josh running to the priesthood, the grand reveal of those dark memories needs to make an appearance in a future episode (and not just a dissociative one.)

Josh's new career choice? A brilliant turn. The character of Josh Chan has always been the perfect combination of idealistic, impetuous, and dim - three traits that in combination could make any groom join the priesthood on his wedding day.

Heather, Paula, Rebecca, and Valencia, cliffside, after Josh leaves Rebecca at the altar.
Source: tvfanatic.com
The best thing Season 2 gave us (besides some great new songs) is one heck of a girl squad. Their bond may have been forced at first, but now they are a force to be reckoned with. Valencia was totally in her element in all that hands-free-walkie-talkie wedding planner glory. Vella Lovell's impeccable comedic timing makes every one of Heather's one-liners a monotone mic drop. And you know who's always been a little crazy? Paula. Season 2 made her sensible, and that allowed Donna Lynne Champlin to show some incredible range, but I'm ready to see Paula's stalker side again in Season 3.

So, we've seen the kind of crazy ex-girlfriend who moves across the country for a man who's dating someone else. We've seen the kind of girl-in-love who plans a wedding in two weeks so her man won't leave and she won't cheat. Next, I guess, we'll see new kind of crazy ex. The kind who sets things on fire. I'll watch that.

January 20, 2017

What's with All these Time Travel Shows?

Sometimes, one hit television show will set off a series of copycats (the way that the 1960s vibe of Mad Men was co-opted rather unsuccessfully by shows like Pan Am and The Playboy Club.) Other times, for whatever reason, multiple creators/showrunners seem to simultaneously have the same idea.  It happened in 2005, when all three broadcast networks debuted shows centered around unidentified water-based monsters, all with forgettable one-word titles (Surface, Invasion, and Threshold).  Right now, The Crown is on everyone's Netflix binge list. Meanwhile, for those who want to hearken a little further back in British history, PBS premiered Victoria this past weekend on Masterpiece. 

The phenomenon is also currently happening with time travel - across the networks and on cable. Two such shows premiered this past fall - Frequency on the CW and Timeless on NBC. I watched the pilot episode of each, but neither made it to my weekly watch list. Here's why not:

Timeless - NBC

Timeless was up first on NBC. The episode was a composite of potential good ideas, but felt more like a first draft than a polished pilot. A band of heroes that we're supposed to believe are "unlikely" (though they seem pretty textbook to me) are tasked with traveling through time to save the past as we know it from a nefarious villain with unclear intentions.

The first seven minutes offered the audience the start of three plot lines and no discernible foundation. Failing to establish their credibility, the show gave us no reason to trust the characters. The editing was odd, and the show leaned the action sequences to hold together a flimsy and incoherent plot.

And speaking of incoherent, Timeless does little to address the philosophy of time travel to which it holds. Everyone seems to gloss over the massive shock that the existence of time travel ought to be. Usually at the prospect of time travel, people are incredulous. We're offered flimsy lines of protest: "Why would you be stupid enough to invent something so dangerous?" Damn good question. On the one hand, the show seems to hold to the "No Do-overs" rule. Yet, the whole plot is based on the proposition that the past can be altered and that it's the job of this band of heroes to protect the historic timeline as we know it.

On the whole, the writing was simplistic, with lines like, "Oh, the humanity!" "Make your own future" Lucy's sister tells her. Ugh. To which I reply - "Oh, the cliches!"

The highlight of this episode for me was Malcolm Barrett - glad to see him again after his run in the short-lived Better Off Ted. His lines like, "The future is not on your side - boy!" were brilliantly delivered.

I was not at all a fan of the show's use of "Wish You Were Here" at the conclusion of the episode. It was a weird cover, and if you're going to use a song by Pink Floyd, why not... "Time?"

Timeless is about the big picture - significant historic events. Frequency deals with a much smaller world with more personal consequences. And chose better music for its soundtrack.

Frequency - The CW

Frequency won major points as soon as they selected Wonderwall as the song that would indicate we were "back in time." (Side note: "Wonderwall" came out in 1995?!) The show is a remake (I gather) of the movie of the same name. I haven't seen the film, so it was all new to me. Here's the gist: New York cop discovers that she can communicate across time with her long-dead father through his ham radio.

I was pleasantly surprised by Peyton List, whom I'd only seen before as Jane in Mad Men, and Raimy is quite a change of pace from the one-time Mrs. Sterling. (Tough and Sincere instead of Fragile and Manipulative.)

Raimy really plays it fast and loose with the standard rules of time travel - i.e., Don't Tell Someone the Day They Will Die. The show sometimes seems to subscribe to the "The universe corrects itself" theory. In other ways, changing the future seems to be possible.

I'm not confident Frequency will maintain a consistent mythology or rules of the time travel, or that the show has an endgame in mind. But I sure like its premise. If Frequency manages to get a second season (which it may - this is The CW after all), I might just make time to catch up before that fall premiere.

Time After Time - ABC

ABC will be the third of the broadcast networks to the time travel TV show game this season, with Freddie Stroma as a time traveling H.G. Wells.

So there you have it. Three new shows each with a new angle on an well-worn concept. The first was set up to be a Time-Traveling Action/Adventure, the second to be a Time-Traveling Police Procedural. Yet to air Time After Time is poised to be a Time-Traveling Action/Adventure Police Procedural...Historical Romance? Still, I doubt that magic combination will save it. (Although its premiere slot next to Once Upon A Time might.) It's my prediction that these three shows will go the way of SurfaceInvasion, and Threshold - one season, and less than wonderful.