Mini reviews of Television seasons old and new. No fuss. No spoilers. Occasional bunnies.

Monday, November 28, 2011

TERRIERS [2010]

 “Curiosity killed the cat.
"Yeah, I heard that cat had that shit comin' to him."

Following the story of two not-so lucky in life private investigators in San Diego, FX's Terriers sounds like the type of program I would never usually check back with on a weekly basis. Only this time around it was the names attached to the crew that caught my attention.

Created by Ravenous scriptwriter Ted Griffin and backed up by former Whedonverse writer/directors Tim Minear and Shawn Ryan, Terriers was put on my must watch list for 2010. Much to my dismay and legions of other followers, the show was canceled after it ran it's 13 episode first season.

In what should have been a career-defining performance, Canadian actor Donal Logue steals half of your heart as the recovering alcoholic ex-cop P.I., Hank Dolworth. His younger partner, Brit Pollock, an ex-crook who is also trying to get his life back together is played by Michael Raymond-James who steals the other half of your heart. Together these guys have the best-buddy chemistry down so well I could swear they've known each other for years. There was no need for Logue or Raymond-James to really have to show off with emotional schmaltz, they just had the chemistry from the very get-go, which is a rarity in television.

Terriers' perfect blend of VERY dry humor, emotional turmoil and plot twists galore gave it an unique feel completely different from most crime dramas. I will admit the only episode that turned me off was the generic pilot episode, so I beg you to not give it up on it so quickly.

Fortunately with it's short run, Griffin was able to wrap the show up with a perfect ending that could act as both an acceptable open-ender or a gateway to a complete make-over had the series continued. So don't be worried that you'll be left with a jawdropping cliff-hanger.

With it's near perfect writing, direction, acting, cinematography and scene set-ups it's a colossal shame this show never got the chance to continue. Or perhaps we're lucky Terriers never got the chance to lose any of it's superbly executed quality.

We'll never know.

MUST SEE EPISODES:
1x03:  CHANGE PARTNERS: a perfect blend of what this show is all about.
1x05:  RING-A-DING-DING: emotionally engaging and huge character arcs
1x11: SINS OF THE PAST: ex Angel writer/directors Shawn Ryan & Tim Minear do what they do best...a flashback episode

EPISODES TO AVOID: 
1x01:  Really, it's the only weak episode in the bunch...but it's also the one that gets the multiple stories running.......so.....yeah.  Watch it anyways.

BUYER'S GUIDE:
Sadly, Terriers is not available for home viewing and there's still no sign of a release.  However, even though they've canceled it, FX is still playing reruns every week.


4½ Gunfight Epiphanies out of 5

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Babylon 5 : Season 3 : Point of No Return (1996)

Season 3 is bursting at the seams with story, most of which I'll have to badly summarise, in order to avoid dropping huge spoilers. The Shadow War continues to strike a cold tendril into the heart of the Alliance. Some of the major races exchange powerful blows. Captain Sheridan is forced to take matters into his own hands. There's a second threat to the station that must be dealt with in a more subtle and secretive manner. A thread that was first introduced a year ago has a crippling effect on station procedure. Franklin has problems. A number of old faces return. Established relationships are put to the test and favours are called in. Something from Season One gets resolved (kind of). And much, much more…

J. Michael Straczynski penned every episode of the third season, which means every episode has something that helps complete the bigger picture. I've said in a previous review that I believe he changed the nature of small screen sci-fi, and it's never more evident than in year three. He still finds time to introduce a new face to the cast - the newcomer is forced to play an Aragorn role as Straczynski's LotR fascination hits again, this time with a sledge; sometimes it irritates me, but I couldn't hate the new addition even if I wanted to.

Season 3 has the best ending of any of the five years; it could have been more visually impressive had the budget allowed, but the writing is top class.

Special mention to musician/composer Christopher Franke, who scored every episode over the series five year run. Franke's amazing music is as much an essential character of B5 as the humans and aliens are.

22 episodes, approx 44 mins each.

5 dead friends and unexpected couplings out of 5

Fawlty Towers (1975 / 1979)

Fawlty Towers is a crappy hotel in Torquay, England. It's named after the owner, Basil Fawlty (Monty Python's John Cleese), and attracts the kind of people that Basil hates: old people, snot nosed pricks, pretentious snobs, and the occasional swinger. Basil spends the majority of the show frantically trying to hang onto his last shred of dignity while simultaneously avoiding his demanding wife, Sybil (superbly portrayed by Prunella Scales), punishing his idiot aide Manuel (Andrew Sachs), and avoiding/dealing with angry cretinous guests.

The cast is rounded out by the hotel maid, Polly, played by Cleese's then wife, Connie Booth. Polly is basil's only solace, and gets run ragged helping him pull off his asshat schemes so that she doesn't get fired.

Depending on your age, the comedy will be either timeless or very 1970s. That's largely irrelevant, though, as the real highlight of each episode is seeing Basil have a meltdown. Cleese is such a wonderful character actor that he can make you feel sympathy for his plight while simultaneously smugly revelling in his perfect misery. Basil is a tragedy, a walking disaster area with an ability to put his foot in his mouth with minimum effort. His special blend of cynicism and ceaseless sarcasm is comedy gold.

It shocked me to find that Fawlty Towers had only twelve episodes in total, six in 1975 and six more in 1979. They were screened so regularly by the BBC that I had thought there were many more.

4 Watery Fowls out of 5

Monday, November 21, 2011

THE CORNER [2000]

"We sitting here day after day making ourself a little bit less human."

Before David Simon brought us the HBO masterpiece The Wire, he took us to The Corner, a mini-series based upon his non-fiction book of the same name, co-written by Wire writer Ed Burns.

Following the lives of a poverty-stricken family living in the drug slums of West Baltimore, The Corner is raw, gritty, haunting and void of any sense of hope. Actor/director Charles S. Dutton introduces each episode by interviewing one of the characters in the series as if they were in a documentary. It's a bizarre step to take but works really well as it gives the viewer a stronger sense of realism and existence into this "foreign" world.

Broken up into 6 parts, each member of the family is given two centric episodes apiece. T.K. Carter portrays the loser of a father with such heartbreaking presence, you just want to reach into the screen and smack some sense into him. Khandi Alexander blew my mind with her disturbing performance as the drug-addicted mother who seems to suffer from a Jekyll and Hyde persona. Finally the son, played by relatively unknown actor Sean Nelson, is an anger-fueled drug-peddler with no qualms being nothing more than a dealer to his troubled parents. The cast of supporting characters are just as good as they pop in and out of the family's lives.  Wire fans will be surprised to see so many actors portraying roles the complete opposite from what they would go on to play.

Another pleasant surprise is the neighborhood that plays an equally powerful role in both shows with a stunning presence. Doorsteps, street lamps and obviously corners are so recognizable, you'll half-expect Omar Little to come strutting around the next turn with a shotgun in hand.

While The Wire portrayed the violent criminal organization aspects of drug dealing, The Corner explores the lives of the addicts and the terrible lives they struggle to get a grasp on. It's very unsettling to watch and difficult to ever really warm up to, which is a good thing. It means the writers did their jobs right, unlike most American drug-addict films. It's the world most folks shamefully tend to ignore and turn away from.

These aren't bad people...they just aren't very good either.
They're human.

MUST SEE EPISODES:
The first episode: Gary's Blues...only so you'll watch the rest.

EPISODES TO AVOID:
Simply not happening. It's too short and neatly packaged to miss a single episode.

4 "Thanks"givings out of 5

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Babylon 5 : Season 2 : The Coming of Shadows (1995)

After the shaky but very necessary build up of Season 1, Babylon 5 takes its place as the best sci-fi TV series in the history of ever. Yes, I'm boldly going there - I consider it to be even better than Star Trek (Hi, Nick~). The bursting-with-potential element it nurtured in the previous year finally comes to fruition.

Commander Jeffrey Sinclair is out, replaced by the kind of charismatic leading-man Captain figure that we were lacking before.

Delenn has a large part to play in the season, but when she finally shows her face it's not quite the one we remember from before; you'll see what I mean.

The complex relationship between Ambassadors G'Kar and Londo Mollari heats up to Shakespearean proportions. The protagonist/antagonist dynamic between those two is a huge part of what makes B5 great; in fact, it's perhaps my favourite part of the show. Andreas Katsulas (G'Kar) was a superb actor and I'm deeply saddened every time I think of his passing.

Straczynski kicks his real plan into first gear and lets his story arc take centre stage. It builds slowly but steadily, and while there are still a number of standalone episodes it's the arc that'll keep you hooked. Things spiral out of control all over the place, and when the station is caught in the middle, trying desperately to retain neutrality, the aliens turn their attention inward.

The banner for Season 2 is 'The Coming of Shadows'. If you don't know what that refers to, then you're in for a very special treat. If you do know what I mean, you'll know that how it's handled is perfect, with just enough exposure to keep the viewer on the edge of their seat... waiting... knowing.

The series continued to be as impenetrable as ever for new viewers, which is both its primary failing and, conversely, its greatest strength if you're one of the fans. It doesn't pander to the casual viewer. It demands your attention.

There are two duff episodes, Gropos (Ep.10) is duller than grey flannel undies; whereas And Now for a Word (Ep.15) has an interesting POV but is a real chore to get through more than once. But the nature of the show means that almost every episode has something that refers to the arc or plays a significant role later on, so it's best to suffer them for the greater good. Whatever you decide, please do not miss The Coming of Shadows (Ep.09), because it's an essential element.

22 episodes, approx 44 mins each.

4½ dark spidery things in hyperspace out of 5

Babylon 5 : Season 1 : Signs and Portents (1994)

The creator of Babylon 5 (J. Michael Straczynski) set out to create a science fiction TV series unlike anything that had come before it, a show with complex plot threads that appealed to an adult audience, a show about more than just the weird alien of the week that was a metaphor for some part of us. I admit that sounds arrogant, but he did it and he did it well.

He populated his floating tin can in space with a number of different dramatic stock types culled from a wide variety of genres. They clash and forge friendships, fight and find comfort in the familiar just like everyone. No one in the B5 universe is infallible, everyone is flawed, and as such it felt real.

Despite being principally run by Earth, each of the alien governments place a representative ambassador aboard the station; that many egos in one place always spells trouble.

At its core the series revolves around a five-year story arc with a beginning, middle and end already in place before shooting began; that focussed agenda is what sustains it.

Season One introduces and explores the interpersonal relationships of the characters, and their individual relationships within the larger political standing, which makes sense when you consider that a fragile peace time exists after an interstellar war between humans and a race known as the Minbari.

Who actually won that war is open to interpretation, and there's bad blood and hatred still in the hearts of many. The Commander of B5 fought on the front line, and ever since there exists "a hole" in his mind, a void that he seeks to fill, a memory that was taken from him that explains why he's there, where he came from and where he's going. That premise opens up an ambitious drama that was both engaging and at times heartbreaking.

The first season is marred by some bad acting and low budgets, but it's essential background for Seasons 2, 3 and 4, which changed sci-fi forever. If you can forgive its failings and embrace its aspirations, you likely won't be disappointed.

22 episodes, approx 44 mins each.

3½ boneheads and encounter suits out of 5

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

End of Evangelion (1997)

The original intended series finale before budget cuts forced the surreal clip show to serve in its place, EoE is one of the most powerful climaxes that I’ve ever seen. Facing overwhelming odds with seemingly no hope of survival, the main cast has been stretched beyond the breaking point with death befalling them at any moment.  The four principles all get major character resolutions as well as the supporting cast, be if to their benefit or ill. While there are still several plot points and story lines not as well defined as they could be Anno and his team gave us an ending that’s filled with some genuinely horrific and inspired visuals that’s disturbing, depressing, surreal, & ultimately heartfelt and touching.

Buyer’s Guide:
In North America End of Eva was licensed by Manga who has not made a new printing since its initial DVD release in 2002. -Amazon Link-
So your best bet is to watch Amazon or eBay for a used copy that’s not at an astronomical price or wait and hope they re-release it or it gets a Blu-Ray DVD remastering by someone else.

4 comatose girls fapped to out of 5.

Neon Genesis Evangelion (1995)

Hideaki Anno’s heavily influential deconstruction of the giant robot genre of anime, Neon Genesis Evangelion has been interpreted by fans in countless different ways due to its plethora of religious, psychological, & just plain weird imagery and themes yet at its core it’s the story of four emotionally fragile individuals trying to come together not merely to stave off an alien invasion but to also open their own hearts to one another.  
The animation is for the most part just as good if not better than much of today’s anime and the character designs for the Eva units and monsters can be pretty original and sometimes surreal & disturbing to see in action.
The series is certainly not for everyone, with the 2 biggest faults technical wise being  the drop in animation quality (or rather, drop in actual animation) and several plot points and story lines that never get as much explanation or clarification as they should have. The other big thing that might turn viewers off is the depressed and self loathing nature the characters often have along with all the “artsy” stuff the show uses. 
Love it or hate it I think you’ll find some pretty darn interesting things about NGE that have been copied countless times but rarely ever executed to the same effect. 

Episodes You Must See:
“Rei I”, “Rei II”,  “Asuka Strikes”, “Both of You, Dance Like You want to Win”, & “The Day Tokyo-3 Stood Still” are all great episodes with a mix of action, story, humor, & character interaction which do have a bunch of stuff that forwards the plot but can also stand on their own.

Episodes to Avoid:
Most of the technically bad episodes or just kinda boring also have a ton of story, plot, & character development so the only episode you really can skip is the not at all bad “A Human Work” one.

Buyer’s Guide:
This show has been released tons of times but I feel that the best one to get is the Platinum Complete DVD collection (I own it). It’s a simple cardboard box with Rei (blue girl) on one side and Asuka (red girl) on the other with 6 DVDs in slim cases contained inside.  It has all 26 episodes plus the director's cut episodes in both Japanese and English language tracks along with subtitles. The audio/visual quality is the best we can get provided there’s no Blu-Ray remaster on the way. If you can get it for under $50 US dollars it’s a fair price.

4 mommy complexes out of 5