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

Monday, October 29, 2012

Millennium: Season Two (2005)

The team of Glen Morgan and James Wong took over writing duties to the second season, penning 12 of the 23 episodes and overseeing the production and direction taken by the remainder. I guess they're to blame for what unfolded.

The focus shifted away from Frank and the psychological drain his visions placed on him, into a more esoteric dead-end. The two producers heaped on a barrelful of supernatural intervention, quasi-religious cult bullshit, conspiracy theories and shady organisations, with endings pretending to be open to viewer interpretation but which are really the product of bad scripting that make little sense in themselves; if I wanted that I'd watch the X-Files. Even series creator Chris Carter (who was busy elsewhere and had virtually zero input) admitted to not having watched all of the episodes.

Morgan and Wong turned Frank into a dupe. They brought the Millennium Group to the fore; turning them into something they were never conceived to be. They struggled to deal with the relationship between Frank and his wife, Catherine. The amateurish direction that took tore the show right down the middle, removing the reason for Frank's initial involvement with the Group. Detective Bob Giebelhous is turned into an asshole Noir beat cop. The furthering of the religious motifs made sense but the way it was integrated was clumsy, overblown and painful to watch.

There are a number of 'comedy' episodes, which are the worst hours of TV I've ever forced myself to watch. Normally I'd hit stop, but I made myself endure every agonising minute. Glen Morgan's brother Darin was responsible for two of them.

Both Morgan and Wong refused an invitation to appear in the accompanying documentary; I'd be ashamed to show my face, too, if I were them.

23 episodes, approx 44 minutes each.

2 Millenniumistic is not a word out of 5

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

True Blood: Season 1 (2008)

Based on the novels by Charlaine Harris, True Blood opens into a world where the legendary monsters known as vampires no longer lurk in the shadows. Instead their race as a whole has decided to come out of the coffin, so to speak, and as they put it "mainstream" as members of society. What the show is really about is the effect this has on the rest of the world, specifically the Louisiana town of Bon Temps, the main setting for the show and the home of one special lil' waitress, Sookie Stackhouse.

Anna Paquin fits snugly into the role of this beautiful spitfire with a cross to bear. Sookie not only waits on the patrons of Merlotte's Bar & Grill but hears all their dirty little thoughts too. Her telepathic powers have made her an inevitable pariah but once she crosses paths with Bon Temps' first vampire, shit really hits the fan.

Brooding Stephen Moyer plays Bill, the dignified and cultured bloodsucker whose entrance causes quite a splash in the mud puddle of Bon Temps. One unfortunate ripple is a series of murders committed on women who have been known to associate themselves with vampires. The main suspect turns out to be Sookie's clueless man-slut of a brother Jason whose problems only start there.

The vampires portrayed in True Blood are designed to be set apart from any other representation as their fangs protract like a rattlesnake's and as they move faster than the human eye can see, we are treated to some pretty lacking sfx. And in a reality where these creatures exist it's fun to think of what else may be possible but sometimes the fantasy element is pushed a little too far. The somewhat stereotypical characters are generally fun to watch and likable if you exclude Sookie's abrasive best friend Tara and her overly dramatic and unpleasant drunk of a mother.

Alan Ball (Six Feet Under) has created a distinctive series full of potential and while season 1 may not live up to it all the time, it is still a formidable first stab at the vampire genre.

Buyer's Guide:
Available in both DVD and Blu Ray box sets including episodes 1-12

3 vampire chunks in Sookie's cleavage out of 5

Monday, October 15, 2012

5ive Days to Midnight (2004)

Physicist and college tutor John T. Neumeyer (Timothy Hutton) finds a mysterious briefcase containing information that documents his death five days later, with some very convincing evidence to support the claim. The discovery starts him on a race against time to change the future and combat the consequences of fiddling with fate. Can he change it or is the physics of the future immutable?

It's an interesting premise for TV, with a decent production and some excellent casting. John's girlfriend Claudia (Kari Matchett), who reminded me of Laura Dern, adds further tension to an already strained situation. His young daughter Jesse (Gage Golightly) is equally well cast, she's believable and not at all irritating.

Structurally, it's split into five parts, one per day. The tension builds as it gets nearer the deadline, offering up a number of potential suspects that'll have the viewer guessing and second-guessing based on motives and beliefs. There are a few minor continuity errors but nothing to make you scream at the screen.

With all of the parts in the correct place it should've been a great series, but it had a problem, namely the finale. Some folks will find it exciting and accept the events as given, but a more discerning viewer might feel a little cheated and a little saddened that such a promising story was handled poorly at the end.

Five episodes approx 44 mins each (eps 1+2 are merged into one feature-length beginning). There's no logical reason why the word ‘5ive’ has a number in it.

3 friends with convenient jobs out of 5

Thursday, October 11, 2012

BOARDWALK EMPIRE - Season Two [2011]

"Don't think I can't play this game?"
"I don't think you even know the rules."

With Season One of Terrence Winter's Boardwalk Empire I felt it's biggest drawback was that it simply took no chances.  I can safely say Season Two did away with that from the very get go and risked everything almost instantly making it one of the most intoxicating series of 2011. 

It makes puts Season One in perspective as merely laying out the board and placing the pieces in their respective places, allowing Two to let the games begin with a barrage of bullets.  The canvas becomes larger and more complete as the vast variety of characters all begin to intricately interwine as well as spread out into new hostile territory.  With characters switching sides left, right and center, most series would be in danger of turning into a soap opera but Boardwalk does so with such class and craftiness it feels naturally authentic and respectable.
Season One already allowed Steve Buscemi, Michael Shannon, Michael Pitt and Michaek Kenneth Williams to prove their heavy acting chops, now Jack Huston steps up to the plate as one of the most interesting characters in television since LOST’s Desmond Hume.  Huston's portrayal as disfigured ex-soldier turned assassin is tragic, frightening and so astonishingly well-woven it brings tears to my eyes in nearly every scene he's in.  As much as there is going on with the characters, the backdrop is just as interesting by touching on subjects as racism, the rise of the Ku Klux Klan, sexism, bigotry and poverty. 

Season One required a lot of patience and concentration only to reward you with gold in the second season. 

I'll drink to that.

12 episodes. Roughly 50-60 minutes each.

Buyer's Guide:
Available in both DVD and Blu Ray box sets. Also available from iTunes, Netflix and Amazon Instant Video.

4½ damned face-stealing mutts out of 5

RoboCop: Prime Directives (2001)

Prime Directives is a miniseries made up of four feature length TV movies: Dark Justice / Meltdown / Resurrection / Crash and Burn. It's important you watch them in that order because there's continuity. It takes place ten years after the original Paul Verhoven film, which is referenced briefly. Had they been allowed to use it more, I'm sure they would have.

Like the short lived TV Series (1995) it ignores the original film sequels, and goes even further by ignoring the TV Series as well. It's odd that it would do that, because it feels like a middle ground between the two. It's less violent than the original film but much more so than the kid-friendly series. I lost count of the number of dead cops that piled up in the streets.

OCP are returned to their selfish, profit driven ways. Robo's real name is still a guarded secret known only to a few privileged OCP members. It makes use of the same kind of satirical news bulletins to comment on the nature of propaganda and truth (real and invented) that add an extra layer of poignancy to the script.

Robo is valued for his contributions to crime prevention, but is slowly becoming outdated. Where that puts him emotionally is something that could have been developed further. That's the biggest flaw of the four films in a nutshell: they present a number of ideas but don't go deep enough with any of them.

The third film (Resurrection) is where things get more interesting. It's arguably not very 'Robocop', but maybe that's a good thing because trying to compete with Verhoven is folly. It's better to take existing standards and go some place new. If you've read and enjoyed any of the Robocop comic books then you'll maybe be more forgiving of the rather unrealistic turn of events.

Watch the end credits of the final film for some post-ending goodness.

4 episodes, approx 90 mins each.

3 estranged fathers out of 5

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Men Behaving Badly: Series 3 (1994)

The further misadventures of flatmates Gary (Martin Clunes) and Tony (Neil Morrissey), which is based on a Simon Nye novel of the same name.

It's business as usual for the guys that never grow up. Getting a channel change and a post-watershed slot meant the jokes could get cruder and consequently funnier. The writers are also getting better at what they do. In fact, everything begins to gel much more cohesively this time. The cast are clearly enjoying themselves more; you can see Caroline Quentin struggling not to burst into laughter more than once.

Topics covered in Series 3 include sexual-inferiority, insomnia, a relationship-saving holiday, and the dirtiest of words: Marriage. *shudder*

It's a British sitcom that hits and misses. When it hits, about 60% of the time, it's classic stuff.

6 episodes, approx 25 mins each.

3½ beers, Tupperware pouches and a face like an ass out of 5

Monday, October 8, 2012

BOTTOM - The Complete Series [1991-1995]

You get born, you keep your head down and then you die.
…if you’re lucky.”

After taking some time off from working together on 1986's Filthy, Rich & Catflap, actor/writers Adrian Edmonson & Rik Mayall team-up once again to create the classic 90's BBC alternative comedy series Bottom for 3 series of 6 episodes each.

Showcasing the same sort of creative enthusiasm as they did in The Young Ones, Mayall & Edmonson seem right at home with their special trademark violent slapstick and gross-out humour.  While The Young Ones dealt with political & social issues and Filthy, Rich & Catflap took jabs at fame and celebrities, Bottom is simply just 2 middle-aged Hammersmith losers trying to get by with no morals or sense of a sanitary lifestyle whatsoever.  It doesn't offer much to think about but belts out the funny like nobody's business.

With Mayall & Edmonson's usual director Ben Elton out of the picture, things seem a bit different this time around but all is not lost as he's been replaced by Red Dwarf’s Ed Bye and Fawlty Towers' Bob Spiers to tame the bug-eyed alt. comedians down to a little bit of sense.  The arrival of their old The Young Ones' co-star Christopher Ryan and Steve O'Donnell as two of their equally pathetic friends is always a welcome addition to the episode.   The first 2 series were mostly set in the front room of their building and the third series seemed to have a bit more of a budget and allowed them take the series to different settings without ever sacrificing the quality of the writing. 

It's not quite the anarchic comedy of The Young Ones, but it’s certainly better than Filthy, Rich & Catflip and has staying power that begs for more. 

18 episodes.  30 minutes each.  

Buyer’s Guide:
The complete series is widely available on DVD in complete series sets.

3½ Souped up trick ‘r treating cattle prods out of 5

Ghost Adventures: Season 4 (2012)

In season 4 Zak, Nick, and Aaron add another chapter to their paranormal investigating series Ghost Adventures. As you venture through you will encounter proverbial hotbeds of activity in death-ridden locations such as Gettysburg, the Sacramento Tunnels, a Salem witch house, and a return to Goldfield Hotel, the site of their most stunning piece of evidence. After watching a few episodes I noticed a change in tone compared with previous seasons, one almost of respect as their usual provocational methods had dissipated. Zak still heads fearless into each investigation but more with aims to communicate rather than intimidate any potential lost souls.

Spontaneity is key this season as different sites are acquired on the fly during preliminary analysis. In some cases the crew splits up to cover more ground as they did in the Stanley Hotel, filming three separate rooms simultaneously. Thankfully, less attention is spent fooling around as the team seems more determined. Creepy effects and 2nd unit footage have increased though this can become very distracting and certain reenactments are almost laughable. Zak adds to his mission of documenting the paranormal as he uncovers hidden truths on certain unsolved events such as at the Villisca Axe Murder House where a class A EVP sheds light on the case. The crew continually add local ghost hunters to their numbers during investigations and even have an EVP specialist analyze live data in order to be kept up to date on any phenomena.

And the list continues when it comes to the documentative and spiritually interactive equipment used, my personal favorite being the PX Device, which contains a 2,000 word database for disembodied entities to choose from. With 12 haunting episodes abundant with phantasmal footage and a more mature focus on documentation and less on pointless antics, the Ghost Adventures crew has proven it is the top showcase for evidence of the paranormal.

Buyer's Guide:
Available as a 3 disc set containing 12 episodes

4 terrifying places Aaron doesn't want to be out of 5

Everybody Loves Raymond: Season 1 (1996)

Comedian Ray Romano heads this traditional sitcom about sportswriter Ray Barone and his colorful family life in Long Island, New York. The title is coined in the pilot by jealous brother Robert (fellow comedian Brad Garrett) from a place of envy and sarcasm. Ray's wife Debra (Patricia Heaton) is a fleshed-out representation of a genuine homemaker who must handle three young children and the daily intrusions of her in-laws who live right across the street. The source of most of the conflict and comedy generate from Ray's parents (the oil & water pairing of Doris Roberts and Peter Boyle) who infest every facet of their son's life.

Like most great comedy it comes from truth as the writers add a spin on their daily happenings. To date I have seen every episode of Everybody Loves Raymond and it is interesting to see the transformations from season one to nine. Romano, not an actor, struggles in certain dramatic situations but with the aid of a strong supporting cast and a role written as close to his real life as possible, he succeeds. Early on his profession is exploited too much with a collective who's-who of sports guest stars. As the series progresses it becomes obvious that home is where the laughs reside as they do in my favorite season 1 episode "The Game" when the family attempts a board game because the cable is out.

As creator Phil Rosenthal has commented, the writers take responsibility and portray a sitcom suitable for the family but this certainly does not add any water-downed stigma. Everybody Loves Raymond creates comedy from colorful family life and while the show would continue to grow greater, this is where the laughs started.

Buyer's Guide:
Available as a 5 disc boxset containing episodes 1-22

3 chin touches out of 5

Friday, October 5, 2012

Millennium: Season One (2004)

Millennium is set in the late 1990s, in the years preceding the turn of the last millennium. Frank Black (played by Lance Henrikson, not the Pixies vocalist) is an ex-FBI agent trying to keep his family safe from the real horrors of the world. He may be officially retired but he's not out of commission. He's a member of the mysterious Millennium Group, a collective set up to aid police when the rising eschatology that Y2K heralded manifests in acts of seemingly arbitrary violence, planned ritualistic murder, sacrilegious torture, etc. Frank witnesses all the nasty things that we pretend don't exist.

He has a gift/curse that lets him experience traumatic visions, placing him in a killer's mind at the time of an attack. By working backwards, anticipating forwards, profiling and forensics, he's able to get a clearer picture of a criminal and their crime.

It's fair to say that the series went to some very dark places. It was grounded in reality but is ultimately a dichotomy in that while it strives for realism it asks us to accept that Frank has unexplained visions. If you're willing to accept that, there's much to enjoy in Season One.

Besides the occasional and incidental pairings with his wife, Catherine, and regular team mate, Peter Watts, the drama required Frank to be alone with his thoughts, as he was alone with his visions. Consequently, it lacked the buddy dynamic of series creator Chris Carter's other TV show at the time, The X-Files. But where X-Files used conspiracy and aliens to mask its occasional lack of a satisfying conclusion, Millennium had no such crutches, so when it fell flat it did so openly. Conversely, when it worked it was like a small screen version of David Fincher's Se7en (1995).

22 episodes, approx 44 minutes each.

3½ ouroboros' out of 5

Thursday, October 4, 2012

BREAKING BAD - Season 4 [2011]

"I am not in danger.
...I am the danger."

After the devastating, jaw-dropping finale of the the third season, Vince Gilligan's neo-noir/modern Western Breaking Bad had nowhere to go but down some immensely dark passages in it's fourth year. 

Like a twisted chess game, with lives at stake, the year starts off fairly slow, with the exception of the intense season premiere, enthrals in the middle and puts you at the edge of your seat with it's explosive finale.  Riddled with symbolism and a determination to drive forward, it's difficult not to be in awe of Gilligan and Co.'s attention to detail and character arcs.  The color schemes of both the costume and set designs are particularly impressive this year, as they compliment the beautifully, unique photography both dramatic and expositionary.  Dave Porter's ambient score broods and ticks like a time bomb waiting to go off with precision and dread, while the mostly Latino source songs slip into the setting with comfortable ease. 

Lastly, I know everybody says it but I can't say enough about Bryan Cranston's brilliantly intimidating performance.  Having never seen the show, my brother was comparing the DVD covers of Season One and Season Four and laughed “what happened to him?”  By the end of the fourth season, sweet old high school teacher, Walter White has finally become the monster he pretended to be in it's first year.

No more Mr. Nice Guy indeed. 

13 Episodes. 47 minutes each.

Buyer's Guide:
Available in both DVD and Blu-Ray sets and on iTunes, Netflix and Amazon.

4 ½ Walking Dead's out of 5

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Case Closed: Season 4 (2010)

Where there is crime there is Conan Edogawa, detective to confront it but as the tide rolls in on Case Closed season 4, it would be more befitting to state wherever Conan stands a murder isn't far off. As the series ventures past the 100th episode mark it's obvious the stories are running low on drama as there are more two-part episodes than ever this time around. And as lovable as the cast of characters are, some change to the line-up would be welcome. Kudo's rival-turned-confidant Harley makes a few appearances but is hardly a regular. The original language dialogue with subtitles still reigns over the dubbed. As I found in the mystery "Massacre Night" the writing for the English version struggles to make sense of certain Japanese-specific clues like kanji.

As in usual television fashion, there are 100th episode festivities which include a feature length story, superior animation and coloring, special guest appearances, and yet another tease as Rachel gets close to unveiling Conan's true identity. Unfortunately the feature is really just two investigations back-to-back and ends up being divided into the regular format, dissolving any sort of dramatic build-up. The special appearances include Rachel's mother and Jimmy's jetsetting parents who both figure in to the latter investigation. The show tries to add some much needed flavor once again with new opening title and closing credit sequences but what Case Closed really needs is a permanent change to the main mystery's structure. It needs to be shook up to create some waves or it will continue to grow tepid and unimaginative.

Buyer's Guide:
Available as a 4 disc boxset containing episodes 80-105

2 Rachel is as clueless as Lois Lane out of 5