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Wednesday, September 30, 2015

How "Limitless" is Rising Above Other Procedurals

When I saw the Limitless pilot at San Diego Comic-Con, I thought it was good. I thought it was funny and it definitely had potential. I was extremely impressed by and engaged with the producers and what they had to say during our roundtable in the press room.

But I'll admit it -- I was concerned. Because the show was picked up by CBS, there is a certain stigma attached to it. Namely, that stigma is "procedural." Automatically, I often cringe at that word because it's synonymous, so often, with "formulaic" and "predictable." I say this, of course, as someone who watched CSI:NY for the vast majority of the time it was on the air and as a person who loved the original CSI, too. I enjoy procedurals (I watch The Blacklist, which I consider to be one of those and for a long time there, Sleepy Hollow was essentially a case-of-the-week series too), but they often leave something to be desired. They can become dry, like a hamster spinning around the same wheel, and mostly end up recycling plots from procedurals before (or, oftentimes even from earlier seasons of their own show).

So I was apprehensive, expecting that maybe Limitless would start out of the gate strong and its second episode would turn into the generic, predictable formula of a procedural that I have seen hundreds of times over dozens of years. And while there are elements of the series that tie it to a procedural in theme (the FBI, a case-of-the-week story structure, etc.), there are a lot more elements that set this show apart from everything I've seen recently on television. It is emerging in a market where there are more procedurals than ever fighting for our attention (you still have NCIS and its spinoffs, Criminal Minds, new series like Blindspot, returning veterans like Law and Order, hits such as The Blacklist and Scorpion, etc.), and there are a few things that have managed to set apart this show from all the rest. I thought I would discuss some of the elements within the first two episodes of Limitless alone that have made this series rise above a lot of new and returning series for me, while also explaining what I hope the series will continue to do.

Series - In Style: Thea Queen of "Arrow" [Contributor: Rae Nudson]


Rae recently debuted a new series at our website titled "In Style" in which she creates look boards inspired by some of her favorite television fashionistas. Her first post on Hannibal's Alana Bloom can be found here and her second about Felicity Smoak can be found here! In honor of #CountdownToArrow, Rae has done an Arrow-specific post for Thea Queen as well to celebrate Thea Queen Appreciation Day!
From being a partying, lost teenager trying to find her way amid family tragedy to being a woman who can literally and metaphorically fight for herself while accepting her past and her flaws, Thea Queen has gone through one of the biggest transformations on Arrow. And her style has gone through one of the biggest transformations as well.


Thea can still rock a minidress from her partying days, but in general, her style has evolved from tight and trendy to simple and carefree. Thea knows herself now and knows her strengths, and so her style has changed to focus on the girl wearing the clothes. She dresses much more relaxed and much more reflective of who she is, rather than following fashionable trends that match everyone else. When she cut her hair to better frame her face, she essentially also cut her style down to better match her heart.

Thea doesn’t just have one style or one way to look — she dresses for all sides and layers of her because she has accepted every part of who she is. When she needs to spar with her evil dad, she makes sure she can move comfortably in her clothes. When she goes to a wedding, she throws back on a minidress that shows off her, ahem, assets. She’s not afraid to show off her body in a crop top or to steal the scene in a sparkly jacket (or pair of pants). She’s as comfortable in stilettos as she is in low tops. Thea is so many things, and she’s not afraid of any part of herself anymore.


Because Thea recognizes her power and her skills, she is ready for new challenges — and new outfits — saving the city as Speedy. Speedy is just another part of Thea Queen, really, and it won’t define her, just as being Merlyn’s daughter or a business owner of Verdant or a sister of Oliver Queen doesn’t define her. And I can’t wait to see her get to work — both in her new uniform, and out of it.

We have some inspiration if you want to dress like Thea — and honestly who wouldn’t? I’d recommend some sleek tops and cool jackets. Don’t be afraid to show off your midriff or to wear a very shiny accessory. Leather is always a good idea, and you could show some cheek by wearing red as a nod to Thea's extracurricular activities. You should dress like Thea Queen when you need to undergo assassin training, look great on a date, or run your own business.


Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. 3x01 "Laws of Nature" (Here Be Exposition) [Contributor: Alice Walker]

"Laws of Nature"
Original Airdate: September 29, 2015

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. kicked off season three much in the same way they began season two: with a whole lot of world-building and exposition. Dealing with the aftermath of the terrigen-laced fish oil capsules being released to the public, the stakes feel more super-powered than ever. S.H.I.E.L.D. is busy searching for newly-minted Inhumans, trying to take them into custody before the mysterious ATCU can get to them.  The team is struggling after Jemma's absorption into the monolith, and Coulson is adjusting to life without his literal and figurative right hand, as Agent May decided not to return from her vacation.

Gone are the days of a show about a ragtag band of misfits. The team now resembles the S.H.I.E.L.D. from earlier Marvel movies: cool gadgets, jets, and all the firepower you could want. The opening high tech extraction mission featured Daisy's superpowers and improved special effects. The VFX were impressive, but threatened to overpower what was going on with the actual characters at any given time.  

Skye has fully evolved into Daisy Johnson, and it's an appropriate final transformation for her character. We've seen her turn into a capable agent, fighter, and now, as a fully developed superhero, she is in her element. She’s in the field searching for other Inhumans, and ultimately found the Secret Warriors. I was surprised to see Mack as her partner (though at this point who else could it be with May gone and Bobbi still in rehab?) but I liked the pairing. The two actors have an easy chemistry, and Mack is quickly becoming one of my favorites.

That chemistry is something I find lacking in Lincoln. His rejection of Daisy and his new found hatred of powers feel inauthentic and pointless. We know he will inevitably join the Secret Warriors project, so his running away after Lash's (terrifying) appearance is just a stall tactic. Lincoln was clearly added as a love interest for Daisy, but I don't find him that believable -- or interesting -- a character. An equally uninteresting couple is Bobbi and Hunter, who seem to have made up... to the surprise of no one anywhere.

Fitz is the runner-up to Daisy's "Nothing Like The Pilot" award. Recovered from his brain damage and now a super spy in his own right, we find him running a dangerous solo mission to try and rescue Simmons from the Monolith. Ward would be so proud of how far he's come... if we saw Ward at all. His swagger was noticeably absent from the season premiere, as he is presumably off rebuilding HYRDA into his personal army. The addition of Constance Zimmer as Rosalind Price was a welcome one. Zimmer and Gregg are well-matched, and watching these two spar was the highlight of the episode. It's unclear if Rosalind will be friend or foe but she seems more then capable of keeping Coulson on his toes.

Overall, this episode set up some interesting themes to examine throughout the season, but stumbled in its overstuffed attempt to explain the various action and catch up with everyone. Still, the questions posed are intriguing. What universe is Simmons in? How can S.H.I.E.L.D. possibly keep up with the overwhelming amount of new Inhumans? Will Ward become a supervillain? We've got all season long to find out!

Blindspot 1x02 "A Stray Howl" (Good Can Come Out Of It) [Contributor: Maddie]

"A Stray Howl"
Original Airdate: September 28, 2015

So Jen, perfect human being and regular reviewer of Blindspot, had to add being sick to the multitude of things she juggles, so I’m going to review this episode to help pick up the slack for Her Loveliness. I did not watch the pilot, but I’m just going to dive right into episode two, “A Stray Howl” and see what happens. As a rule, I always give a show three episodes before determining if it is worth any emotional investment or DVR space. The second episode of a television series is incredibly important. The pilot gets a bigger budget and significantly more time to create a quality entertaining product, but it is the following episode that shows the audience what they are getting into if they stick around to see this story unfold. With “A Stray Howl,” Blindspot shows the audience that there is plenty of mystery to unfurl within this series and the journey will be compelling, action-packed, and filled with intrigue.

I was already a big fan of Jaime Alexander from the MCU, but she really is wonderful in this show. Aside from being insanely gorgeous, her face and eyes are so incredibly expressive. Even though Jane as a character doesn’t have a lot of dialogue at this point, the audience is able to see the vast array of nuanced emotions play across her face. Jane’s duality and internal conflict are apparent because of Jaime’s performance. And Jane herself maintains a compelling balance between fragility, fear, and confusion as well as stone-cold capable warrior queen.

Moreover, this episode allows the audience to further learn who Jane is as she does. Jane is a currently a blank slate with nothing but instincts defining her, so we get to examine who Jane is right at her core. Her internal struggle is palpable. Some of her memories are resurfacing and they don’t paint the best picture of who she is (i.e. shooting someone in the back of the head in a church in order to steal a mysterious flash drive). These flashbacks are haunting her, which is exacerbated as the chase for the tattoos’ answers brings about more casualties allowing Jane to have an identity crisis of who she is and whether she is good. And she gets multiple answers from different people. Borden, her therapist tells her that we are defined by our pasts, which troubles her. Agent Zapata insists that things are black and white: “Terrible people do terrible things, and good people stop them.” This only seems to add to her self-loathing spiral.

It isn’t until conveying her fears about her past with Kurt, that she receives any solace. To Kurt, the past is moot. Regardless of whatever memories are resurfacing, she currently is not who she was. He tells her:

“Your first instinct is to help people. You don’t hesitate. You act. You do the right thing.”

I’m still waffling between whether Kurt and Jane should be a romantic pairing or more familial and platonic, but this is the kind of exchange OTPs are made out of. Now that they have worked together and he’s seen her in action, he genuinely believes she is an inherently good person. He saw her help the battered wife from the pilot and give a tourniquet to Agent Reed after one of the drone strikes even though Reed doesn’t even like Jane. There may be a lot of mystery around Jane, but Kurt knows her goodness and he believes in her abilities, and that cements a strong partnership as we head deeper into this series. Throughout the episode, Kurt gives her the quiet assurances Jane needs. When he reassures Jane that none of what was happening was her fault, it was exactly what she needed to hear. He acknowledges the struggle she is going through in trying to piece together what happened to her and who she is, but he also recognizes that while what happened was horrible, good can still come out of it. When they are able to reunite the kidnapped girl with her father, Jane congratulates him letting him know that he did it -- he brought her home. However, Kurt corrects her statement declaring they both got the job done. In their short partnership, they've become an effective team, and Kurt knows that. They are bonding and becoming partners, and I look forward to seeing that partnership grow.

Backstory time! The details are vague but when Kurt was around ten years old, he had a friend who disappeared and he blames himself for it. Cue manly brooding. This is also why he is brooding even more than usual since the case-of-the-week involves a missing girl. His dad was accused of kidnapping and killing her, which caused his mom to leave their family. Okay, the brooding is a bit earned. Here we got the twist: that girl, Taylor Shaw, has the same scar on her neck and same eyes as Jane. Kurt has come to the conclusion that Jane is Taylor Shaw and she was sent back to him. Is Jane Doe actually Taylor Shaw? Who was Taylor to Kurt? We shall see. It’s an interesting mystery, and it gives more depth to Kurt than just “broody rough-around-the-edges leading man.” Knowing this lets the audience get to know Kurt better, and gives more emotional payoff during scenes like when Kurt’s both protective and gentle as he helps Jane out of the car wreck.

In other intrigues, the man who trained Jane as a Navy Seal, whom I have dubbed Mysterious Flashback Man (or MFM), showed up at one of the crime scenes but then disappeared. We later see him in Jane’s apartment at the end of the episode as he sneaks from behind, grabs her, his hand over her mouth, and quietly threatens her before the episode faded to black. What does MFM want with Jane? I guess we will have to see next week. Overall, this was very promising for a second episode of the series. Jane and Kurt are interesting characters and I’m curious about the greater mysteries beyond the procedural formula. Consider me in.

 Stray thoughts:
  • The opening shot of this episode is GORGEOUS!
  • I love Patterson, the blonde computer analyst. I guess I just have a thing for adorable nerds. She brought a bit of spunk and levity to the show while still remaining super-competent and generally great. (Sound familiar, folks?) Seriously, her bits of dialogue were great. I especially loved the lace of huffiness in her voice when Weller asked if she was able to find a suspect’s address. I want more of her onscreen. She works. Also, the actress looked familiar and it started to bug me, so I went down the IMDb rabbit hole for y’all. Patterson, played by Ashley Johnson, was the waitress Captain America saved in The Avengers and the teenage daughter from What Women Want. 
  • This exchange is great -- Jane: “Couldn’t I just kick the door down? It didn’t look that heavy. Kurt: “No, you can’t, Jane. That’s not how it works.”
  • There’s occasionally really stereotypical moments that just scream “FBI procedural” but I get that is kind of par for the course.
  • I’m already over the agent who doesn’t like Jane. 
What did you all think of this week's episode of Blindspot? Are you going to stick with the series? Let us know in the comments below!

Scream Queens 1x03 "Chainsaw" (Everybody's a Suspect) [Contributor: Melanie]

Original Airdate: September 29, 2015

This week’s episode was a little less in-your-face than last week’s season premiere but still had plenty of cringe-worthy moments no less. Though, excellent comedic timing by Niecy Nash’s Denise continues to be a bookend of entertainment for any scene she’s in, and Lea Michele’s Neckbrace (who becomes Chanel #6) makes the show still watchable, Scream Queens continues to blur the line between parody and actually expecting us to take it seriously (and no, that parody is not the same as the genre-defining way Scream was). Jamie Lee Curtis also continues to own her role as Dean Munsch, with more Mean Girls flare than ever in this week’s episode. And one thing you cannot fault the show for is the ever-moving plot. Though some scenes do seem fairly pointless, the show keeps a fast pace as it plows through events, reveals, and suspect lists.

So, let’s get down to what happened.

The episode opens with Grace and Zayday visiting a convenience store for some late-night grocery shopping before they’re seemingly attacked by the Red Devil. Turns out he’s just some guy named Eugene dressed as the school mascot (for a reason which is, by the way, never explained). While this is going on, Chanel and Chanel #5 have an argument over Chanel #2’s missing body, which ends in Chanel #5 looking more suspicious than ever as her vendetta against Chanel grows. Zayday and Grace come home and team up with Denise to investigate Chanel #2’s room and hypothesize that she might have been murdered (um, duh).

After the “death” of Boone, ruled a suicide by Dean Munsch, the school organizes a Take Back the Night protest where they unveil their new, less threatening, ice cream cone mascot to a less than impressed crowd. Meanwhile, Chanel has yet another ridiculous and horribly written argument with Chad over their very odd (and open?) relationship. Zayday, Grace, and Denise visit Chanel #2’s house and learn from her family that she is not in fact working off a mental breakdown at home as Chanel told them, but she did have a history of substance abuse and they haven't seen her in weeks. Someone, whoever took the body, seems to be uploading pictures of her as well to her Instagram (pictures that Denise wonderfully reminds us, "ain't even cute").

Back at the school, Grace is mortified to find that her father has taken a position as a lecturer for her film analysis class in an effort to keep tabs on her and, after she storms out, he treats the class to a strange (and, shocker, totally suspicious) viewing of Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Dean Munsch makes some more ill-received attempts to flirt while Grace’s dad asks the sorority chief Gigi, who’d been sitting in on the class, on another date (over salad). Thus begins one of the best parts of the episode: a minute or so montage of Aaron Cohen, the person behind the school’s new mascot, toasting his new found popularity and privileges before being brutally murdered by the Red Devil in his dorm room. I don’t even think dear Aaron got a credit.

Neckbrace wanders into Chanel’s closet and, after a scolding, Chanel decides to pull a Glinda Upland and turn Neckbrace into a posh and pretty Chanel #6 to impress Chad. While this is happening, Munsch and Gigi decide to move into the Kappa house for a week to keep tabs on the sisters. Predatory Lez (whose real name is apparently Sam, we learned this week) discovers from Chanel #3 (still in earmuffs by the way) that a DNA test proves Charles Manson is her biological father (yes, that is a sentence you just read) and she wants to keep it on the down-low to prevent people in the house from assuming she is a suspect, declaring Sam her soulmate and “alibuddy”.

The sorority has a house meeting, and none are happy to see a sixth Chanel take the floor, or the dean and Gigi coming in the front door with luggage, sleeping bags, and 90s Trivial Pursuit. The Dickie Dollar Scholar fraternity have their own meeting to discuss Boone’s death where Chad, ever the Sherlock, deduces that it was not a suicide and they decide to take revenge which leads to the other greatest scene of the night: the fraternity dressed in white, walking down a foggy street to the sounds of “Backstreet’s Back” while fighting off two Red Devils (confirming there are in fact two killers), ending in the death of one of the brothers. Grace meets back up with Pete, declaring him no longer a suspect, and they decide to visit the house of the only Kappa sister from the 1995 incident they can track down.

Zayday and Denise have it out in Denise’s car over whether or not Zayday is a suspect. It’s ridiculous and super funny, because everything Niecy Nash does on this show is flawless. But it, of course, makes Zayday look extremely suspicious. Grace’s father gets that salad date with Gigi, third-wheeled by Munsch, before he rushes out to locate Grace after they realize she’s not in the house. Gigi and Munsch have an Odd Couple moment in their room and after Gigi decides to retire to the couch, she is attacked by the Red Devil. She fights him off but as soon as Munsch appears downstairs, they both declare her to be the prime suspect.

Episode three's total body count: 2

In this week’s WTF moments…

  • Who the actual heck is Eugene?
  • Grace’s dad showing up as the professor is a little bit ridiculous with a side of completely impossible.
  • Neckbrace’s one-off joke about calling Chanel “mommy” has outlived its humor and now it’s just strange.
  • Zayday’s grandmother sent her a chainsaw to replace her taser? As one does, I assume.
In this week’s killer suspects…

  • Grace’s dad: He’s weirdly shot to the top of the list with his way-to-into-it showing of Texas Chainsaw Massacre and his pathological need to keep tabs on Grace at all times.
  • Boone: He's essentially been confirmed to be one of the killers at this point but until the mask comes off, he's just a suspect.
  • Chad: It’s revealed he dated many of the sorority sisters behind Chanel’s back and apparently has a knife collection.
  • Zayday: Actually keeps a chainsaw under her bed and is accused by Denise.
  • Chanel: Still on the list because she just seems to hate everyone and that is motive enough.
  • Chanel #5: Even creepier than last week.
  • Stu and Billy: HA. Just kidding.
As each week promises to be a deadly one (Murphy has confirmed one character is biting it per episode), stay tuned for more recaps! And catch the show every Tuesday at 9 PM on Fox.

The Mindy Project 4x03 "Leo Castellano is My Son" (Taking the Next Step) [Contributor: Anne]

"Leo Castellano is My Son"
Original Airdate: 

I found last season with The Mindy Project that it became hard to write reviews because I was consistently displeased by the same things. I mean, I think I’ve been pretty upfront about where I stand on what I’m looking for in a television show like The Mindy Project and have found a million ways to express my discontent.

Well, now I am in that situation, but reversed. Instead of rehashing discontent, I'm rehashing content. Because this is yet another strong episode of The Mindy Project. The notable thing about this episode, despite it being the third consecutive nearly flawless episode, was that it was the first episode that questioned what a normal episode would look like for this series, moving forward. Getting engaged, having a baby — these are sweeps-like revelations. Meeting Eliza Coupe, while DOPE, is not a sweeps-like revelation, and so this episode made clear what we should expect to see from week-to-week. (Comedies like The Mindy Project are serialized but the brunt of the material is flexible.)

Last season, Jenn, Jaime and I were talking about the show and Jenn made an awesome formula outlining what essentially every episode (or every other episode) of The Mindy Project looked like in season three:

  • Danny and Mindy have a conflict of personality/belief/etc.
  • Instead of dealing with it, they lie to one another.
  • The lies come out.
  • Danny walks away from/dismisses/hurts Mindy.
  • Mindy vocalizes how hurt she is.
  • Danny makes a ~big romantic gesture~ to apologize.
  • Rinse and repeat 18 more times.
This season is similar, but note the differences, as this episode shows:

  • Danny and Mindy have a conflict of personality/belief/etc.
  • They argue about it.
  • Often, one or both of them will try to dupe the other.
  • The lies come out.
  • Danny and Mindy argue about it.
  • Danny and Mindy realize, whether on their own or with the help of someone else, the point-of-view of the other person, or the shortcomings in their own position.
  • They take the next step.
  • Rinse and repeat three more times, likely more.
What are the big differences? There is the substitution of arguing instead of dismissing or, more importantly, hurting. Mindy and Danny disagree on a lot in this episode, fight a lot, and lie to each other.

But arguing is so much funnier than actually hurting someone. Arguing also reveals more about a character than hurting does. Hurting muddles the argument for why Mindy and Danny should be together, while arguing implies an equal playing field. The “duping” is also more playful than some of the third season (Danny ditching Mindy’s application; Danny laughing at Mindy’s outfit when she is pregnant).

There’s also a lot of independent conclusions that are reached by the characters in these episodes, such as when Mindy says in her dream, “I don’t want a husband, I just want you!” These are often right on-the-nose, which is passable by me (this is a comedy, after all, so any amount of development — even if it’s explicitly stated — is impressive).

And on that note, the last thing I wrote in my formula — that Mindy and Danny “take the next step” — is so important. It means that, even if the content of these following episodes is not totally serialized, Mindy and Danny are still developing. And it’s not like development is a straight line, either; Danny can learn that his antsy behavior towards Mindy is because he wants to do this whole parenting and relationship thing 100% right, and Mindy can learn that this sort of behavior, while kind of annoying, is also endearing. But neither of these revelations necessarily have a conclusive next step, and that means that every episode from here on out will be unpredictable, but not worthless.

Speaking of annoying, by the way, both Mindy and Danny are annoyed by each other in this episode (Danny even questions how such a beautiful boy could have such a crazy mother), but annoyance is such an honest emotion, immediate and selfish and honestly healthy, because annoyance, unlike resentment, passes as well as pales to the overwhelming love Mindy and Danny have for each other this episode. “I love you but you drive me crazy” is so much more fun to watch than “I love you, but I don’t know how to treat you because of my past.”

It’s equally illuminating, too! Danny is trying to be a perfect dad because he didn’t have a great one; Mindy also doesn’t want to mess up, but she also understands that she can do things her way and still succeed as a parent — which is actually a nice understanding she and Danny come to, considering that she was so afraid in the previous episode of her ability to do things.

So as I said — if the third season was me rehashing, again and again, what was going wrong, this season will seems to be leaning towards me rehashing, again and again, how many things are going right. I won't repeat myself, of course. I will just flesh out my argument in different ways. I will just work towards taking the next step.

Stray Observations:
  • A bit of a shorter review this week because, as I have repeated (ironically enough), I don’t want to repeat myself. I also feel like this space is better for actually stating parts of the episode I liked and did not like, outside of what storytelling things I thought were cool.
  • Business class also taught me that white space is preferred, so I’m playing towards science. Yeah, science! (Jenn, did you get the reference?! Jenn's Note: I DO NOW. Thanks, Netflix!)
  • I loved Eliza Coupe. I love Mindy having female friends (it is so refreshing) and I also think Eliza’s delivery fit really well on this show. I hope she sticks around.
  • Speaking of sticking around, adieu to the most worthless character this show has ever cooked up, and we’ve had Betsy, Maggie, and Kendra Wilkinson. And Dana White! God, this show has a track record.
  • I didn’t really love the B-plot. I would fast forward it if I watched it again. However, Ed Weeks kills, as always, everything he is given, as does Xosha, who is just so cool.
  • The running gag about Sheena at the White House was so, so funny.
  • This was a Grandy episode, and those normally are my favorites as I find them to be the most funny. While I do think Warburton’s episode last week was just straight-up the funniest, I laughed a ton at this episode. “Go out and make us some money, okay? I have very expensive habits.”
  • I also loved Danny talking in Italian. It was appropriately comedic and also entirely realistic.
  • While the B-plot was very predictable, I was curious about Whitney being a cocaine lady. But, I mean, the hairstyle says it all.
  • (Would you guys be into Jeremy and Tamra? Because I totally would. She loves attention, he needs attention — c’mon, Betsy’s long gone! You know you wanna!)
  • The Gyllenhaal book was called Grilling Hauls. A+.
  • Oh! I’ve been trying to grade the episodes. The first was an A+, as was the second. This is probably a B+/A-, which business class also taught me is a grade that you can receive, inexplicably.
  • Thank you guys for your patience and for reading! Please let me know what you think.

"Maze Runner: Scorch Trials" is a Pleasant Surprise [Guest Poster: Jon]

I have never read any novels within James Dashner's Maze Runner trilogy. While the premise seemed interesting, they came across as yet another entry in the whole "dystopian future with teenagers" craze that’s become popular with books and films in the last few years.

That's why the first Maze Runner film was quite a surprise to me. While it is by no means perfect, the movie debuted as this new generation's version of Lord of the Flies mixed with a mysterious sense of a dystopian future. While I can not compare it to the book, as a standalone film, it was a fun B-movie popcorn flick. It's why I was finding myself actually excited when I sat down to watch Maze Runner: Scorch Trials.

Taking place immediately after the events of the first movie, Thomas (Dylan O'Brien), Theresa (Kayla Scodelario), and the remaining "Gladers" are whisked to a secret base in the middle of the desert, run by Janson (Aiden Gillen), a mysterious man who claims they will all be taken to a safer place. Thomas, not believing him, goes to investigate and discovers that Janson works for WCKD, the organization who forced the children to run through the maze. As it turns out, WCKD wants to harvest the children's blood, which makes them immune to the disease that turned most of humanity into ravenous monsters. Thomas alerts his fellow Gladers of this and, together, they make their escape from the base. Thomas and his friends must now work their way through "the Scorch" and find help before WCKD finds them.

Similar to the first movie, this latest installment pleasantly surprised me, as the film mostly did what a sequel is supposed to do: expand the world established from before, introduce new characters and plot threads well, and progress the characters' stories further along. The big issue with the film, however, lies within the area of character development. While Dylan O'Brien gives a great performance as Thomas, it feels as if his character really never progressed any further than when we left him in the previous movie. And while Thomas does become a leader in the sequel, we already saw this happen in the previous installment of the franchise. It felt as if Thomas had not really done anything big as a leader, only that he had everyone look to him. Of the whole cast, the one who gets any true character development is Scodelario’s Theresa. This film shows us a more conflicted Theresa, as she believes that WCKD could possibly help them all. The confusion and struggle to make a choice of what she should do gives her the strongest storyline and the payoff of what she ends up doing is more impactful because of it.

The sequel is surprisingly packed with a ton of well-known stars such as Giancarlo Esposito, Lili Taylor, Barry Pepper, and Aiden Gillen. Perhaps the best performances out of this group go to Esposito, Gillen, and Pepper. Esposito plays his character, a smuggler, with such relish that he steals every scene he's in. Pepper, on the other hand, manages to come across as stoic and hardened.

Gillen utilizes his snakelike charm that he’s well known for on Game of Thrones to great effect here. Janson first comes across as a kind father figure, a good Samaritan as it were, but when he then shows his true colors, Gillen finds joy and fun in unleashing the villainous side of this character.

On a visual level, the film feels much grander in scope than its successor. Now that they're out of the maze, returning director Wes Ball is able to create his own take on the world outside of the Glade. The imagery surrounding the characters is fascinating to look at, as you are able to see his own take on a post-apocalyptic wasteland. This results in some clever and well-executed ideas (the virus has turned everyone affected into ravenous monsters) as well as some fun action sequences.

Overall, Maze Runner: Scorch Trials is a pleasant surprise throughout. While in no means a perfect film (indeed, the film does drag towards the end of the second act and the character development is a bit paper thin in some cases), the film is a fun, rollicking adventure that expands upon the world of the first film and showcases some great performances.

Each of these Maze Runner films keeps surprising me, so here's hoping the series goes out with a bang.


#CountdownToArrow: 5 Times Thea Queen Out-Sassed and Outmatched Everyone

We're rapidly approaching the end of #CountdownToArrow, which means that the season four premiere is within sight. As we wind down our month-long celebration of the hit series, Arrow, I thought we would take a day to celebrate Thea Queen. We've already had celebrations for Diggle, Felicity, and Laurel so this seemed appropriate. I'll admit it: I didn't love Thea when she first entered the show. I thought she was spoiled and a bit of a brat. Willa Holland won me over, though, with how wonderfully layered she allowed Thea to become. Willa is an expert at taking biting sarcasm and making it such an endearing trait of Thea's. The youngest Queen has been through a lot -- not as much as Oliver, but pretty close through Robert's death and her brother's (seeming), her descent into drugs, revelation about Moira's hand in the genocide in The Glades, the murder of Moira in front of her, the revelation that Malcolm is her real father, the loss of trust in Roy, the brainwashing and murder of Sara, almost-basically her own death, the spiral of guilt and manipulation, etc.

When I was thinking about the dark road that Thea has been down, I contemplated what made her such a strong, well-written, relatable young woman. And I settled on this: her unwavering sense of protectiveness (it's a Queen family trait) and her ability to inject dark humor into whatever is happening. Thea's sense of humor is one of my favorite things about her. And Willa Holland has done amazing work throughout the seasons of making Thea this delightfully sarcastic young woman, while also not making her too brash or insensitive.

Thea is honest -- bluntly so and hilariously so. But she's also extremely protective of the people she cares about. She's willing to leap to the defense of Diggle quite quickly by shooting her own brother in the arm. She doesn't let Malcolm get away with the pain he's put her through. She stands up to the Demon's Head when he tries to attack her in her own apartment. The thing is, if Thea Queen goes down, she will never go down without a fight: whether that's literal or metaphorical in her relationships with others.

So in honor of Thea Queen Appreciation Day, I've decided to talk about five times the baby Queen out-sassed and outmatched everyone else. Ready? Let's do this!

You're the Worst 2x03 "Born Dead" (Enliven Me) [Contributor: Anne]

"Born Dead"
Original Airdate: September 23, 2015

“Born Dead” made me anxious. The entire episode was centered around death and life, both the literal and the figurative. Vernon was born dead; Mimi died in an appalling bicycle accident. It made me anxious to encounter so many discussions centered around death in a series that, only one week ago, featured its two main characters racing on electric wheelchairs in the local mall.

It makes sense that You’re the Worst would do this, though. I’m reminded of Stephen Falk’s seasonal structure and the fact that the first act is approaching its close. With that close comes the introduction of issues that, of course, will frame the entire season: there’s the kiss between Edgar and Lindsay, most notably, but also the recurring reminder for Gretchen and Jimmy that they are more human than they realize and crave attention (either from their friends or from each other). There’s Paul’s lingering look at Lindsay as he is hugging his girlfriend, Amy.* The use of death so liberally in this episode is just a reminder that death is only the absence of life, and these characters are far less dead than they believe they are.

Take Vernon’s speech to Jimmy. Vernon was born dead for 15 minutes and he now feels that this is the moment in his life he regrets the most. Jimmy, meanwhile, has been living in the shadows of a rough childhood: an uncomfortable home life, a terrible time at school, and the construction of a big wall that separates Jimmy from any serious emotional attachment.

That wall is what makes Jimmy so pretentious, unbearable, and emotionally unavailable. At his core he is not really “the best” — I can’t imagine any version of Jimmy that didn’t call a child’s artwork “derivative” — but he’s so much more than what he has become as a result of how he’s been treated and how he’s conditioned himself to accept this.

I mentioned last week that there is something to be said about writing in stories; when a character is a writer, it almost always is a reflection of the main plot (for example, any character who writes a book that mirrors their life, or any character who writes a news article that is supposed to be about How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days and instead is about falling in love. Way to stay on assignment, Andi!).This is a) because real writers are too focused on their story to really try to develop an entire other one and b) because we as readers or viewers don’t really care about the content of the novel — we care more about the characters who wrote it and what their novel reflects about them.

Jimmy’s critically-acclaimed but ignored novel is called Congratulations, You’re Dying. According to Vernon, though, Jimmy hasn’t even begun to live.

I was surprised, but happy, to see Jimmy warm up to Vernon. I don’t want it to be permanent, but I think that the interactions between them were honestly some of my favorites in the entire series, for this reason: I never thought I could care about Vernon until this episode. He’s always been a fascinating character to me — I think I read a review once that called Vernon a guy stuck in the past, the saddest character on the show — but with this episode, he gained dimension. He became the sort of person that wasn’t just the butt of the joke but the giver of advice and a person who could actually, plausibly, have something in common with Jimmy. Like hating Paul.

Vernon acts the way he does because he’s always been trying to stay alive. This is a character trait that has been mostly milked for laughs, and in a welcome way; I love trash juice and “commune tabes.” But it’s also a driving force in his life that is fascinating to me. At least he knows that trying means more than allowing yourself to remain dead.

And Jimmy is so explicitly hellbent on staying one way that it is surprising to him when, despite himself, he enjoys Vernon’s company, laughing at his jokes, playing darts with him. At the end he snaps out of it, but of course the implication is still there: even though Jimmy wanted to hole up during the party, Vernon got through to him, and even though Jimmy wants to keep his house the way it was, and even though Jimmy wants to keep things as they are, he can’t help himself from trying to stay alive, because his defeatist, defensive shell is falling apart. For the first time in his life, Jimmy is surrounded by people who love him, and his journey toward maturity is helping him grow to love them too.

What about Gretchen? Her story’s not that special in sitcom land on the surface; in a story like this, she was never going to reunite with people who no longer defined her, and she was no longer going to identify with the worst version of herself as shown in Cory. I like that at least Gretchen continued to reject her adult friends’ lives even as she realized what a mess Cory was. She is in limbo; like Jimmy, she’s changed so much without realizing it, but she is not fully changed.

In keeping with the themes of life and death, I think Gretchen’s story connects because she shuns her friends with babies. Babies are literally a representation of new life; they are also, as Vernon says, anchors whose connection sustains you. I don’t think this means that Gretchen’s going to be popping out a kid anytime soon (though how crazy would that be?!); I see it more as an exaggeration of the sort of metric that Gretchen should work towards. Not babies, necessarily, but more the creation of a family, to the point where she one day will choose her loved ones over alcohol and heavy drugs, both acting as distractors (as the first episode makes clear).

So basically, life and death — despite being mentioned by characters — boils down to that central conflict. Will Gretchen and Jimmy keep fighting the tide, or will they let themselves be vulnerable with each other, acknowledge their love for each other, and become alive with each other?

Where does that leave Edgar and Lindsay and Paul and Amy? Their situation is a lot stickier and more complicated. Lindsay has a major emotional moment that deepens her already very deep character. She acknowledges that she is a bad person, that this is not a quality to be celebrated, and that she is afraid that she is the worst of them all. It’s her treatment of Edgar that makes her feel so guilty along with the presence of Amy, a genuine angel.

I love that she reaches out to Edgar. I thought their kiss was smokin’ hot, but I think there’s something to the idea that Lindsay’s connection to Edgar isn’t meant to be sexual, at least not for a while. Lindsay’s life and her choices since the beginning of the series have been rooted in sex. For her, sex is a distraction from major emotional turmoil, and connecting with Edgar here is more an expression of intimacy than any time we’ve seen her having sex on the show.

That’s why Edgar’s action is so confusing and heartbreaking. It can be interpreted both ways: for Edgar, this is his way of reaching out, of explaining to her without words that he loves her as she is. It is an expression of tenderness. However, it comes at the exact worst time, and it comes without any reasoning of why that is the last thing Lindsay needs at the moment. From her perspective, (and increasingly from mine) it’s kind of cruel that he responds to her raw moment of sadness with a romantic advance rather than a shoulder to cry on. And immediately after, she schemes with him to continue kissing to make Paul jealous — so the two very raw actions from these two characters get washed away because of Edgar’s poor timing, and the significance of both is not fully realized. Their connection is cut off; they are not fully alive, and with Paul’s watching eye, I’m worried that it will take a lot before both Lindsay and Edgar return to that vulnerable moment.

I have to say that I am so excited about this episode. I think of the three it is my least favorite, just because “friend group doesn’t work” is very trope-y, but these differences are so small and my enjoyment of each episode (from a non-writer, less verbose angle) is practically equal. I love this show, and am continually impressed by how it approaches storytelling. Because of my high regard for how it tells a story, though, I’m scared of what’s going to happen next. These characters all had flashes of self-discovery this episode, realizing that they have changed and are teetering on the line between life and death. I’m just scared that they’re going to have to die before they can truly live.

Stray Observations:

  • *Another reason I didn’t like this episode is because I don’t like that Paul glanced at Lindsay. I am sure the reason is because it’s less believable that he could leave his relationship without any baggage, but on top of emotionally cheating on Lindsay, cheating on Amy in the first episode, and bringing Amy to Gretchen’s party in this one, I’m beginning to think Paul is a huge scumbag and not in a fun way. Love is putting someone else’s feelings before your own but you kind of suck at it, dude!
  • Kieran was back, and again was just the best. My next season one fave I would love to see is Flo from Progressive, the bookstore owner!
  • Gretchen and Jimmy both looked amazing this episode, Edgar looked very sexy and Lindsay looked so beautiful, especially in the tearful scene she shared with Edgar. I feel like I will say this every review.
  • Jimmy wins delivery with the cold open.
  • Lindsay and Gretchen telling the runner that she dropped something is so mean, but very funny.
  • I adore the recurring bit about Jimmy and coasters. It’s so specific and weird.
  • Also, these friends are bad! Like, peek-a-boo, I’ve 180’d on you and now I’m going to judge you for the person you’ve remained and also bring my baby to a party without telling you in advance and also act all uppity?!
  • I apologize greatly for the delay. Of all the free time I’ve had this week, most of it has gone to sleeping. I hope this review made up for the wait!

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Castle 8x02 "XX" (Conflicts of Trust) [Contributor: Hope]

Original Airdate: September 28, 2015

Let’s forget about Castle and Beckett and their confusion for one moment. I’m completely conflicted about this episode. For everything I loved about it, there was something that rubbed me the wrong way. Here’s what I don’t understand: why do the writers feel the need to cause drama between these two characters? I’m not opposed to drama – they should have their fights and disagreements, and they should occasionally be annoyed by each other. However, it’s not necessary to spatially split them apart.

I do admire the show for respecting the level of trust and love Castle and Beckett have between each other. That trust is a little shaky right now, but it’s not unreasonable. Kate’s obsessions over cases is a problem that Castle had every right to be concerned about. But she also was doing the right thing by keeping him – and Alexis and Martha, no doubt – safe. They both understand the others’ point of view, and Beckett certainly didn’t leave on account of any of issue between them. She felt she had to go to protect him, and told him how much she hopes he’ll forgive her afterwards. Castle begs her not to go, and from the promo, it seems like he’s not holding a huge grudge. Somehow this show has managed to bring us back around to having Castle chase Beckett, and… well, I have to give them points for that. They know they had a good formula, so I suppose their logic is, "Why not try that again?" And you know what? It’ll probably work. The drama they’ve set up here is really good. It’s just also a little exasperating.

Flashback Timeline

We got to see pretty much everything we’d missed as far as Beckett’s side of the story goes from last week. We got to see her patch herself up (well, I didn’t. I looked away because GOOD LORD I CAN’T EVEN LOOK AT FAKE WOUNDS. What an amazingly tough character. Geez). Then Beckett and Vikram met Castle’s stepmother and — wait, what? I thought Castle’s father loved Martha. I thought he couldn’t be with what could have been his family because he couldn’t risk their lives. I don’t understand this marriage. Enlighten me, someone.

I did appreciate, however, how the episode stressed that Beckett couldn’t tell Castle about anything, even if she wanted to. The writers could have given Castle a legitimate reason to doubt her, and I don’t think they really did – and I’m glad. If anything, the writers made him come across as a bit hypocritical, seeing as he was missing for months while she was only gone for three days. The poetic justice here works well.

Working Together

The scene in the hanger was the most intense of the episode, in my opinion. At that point, I was pretty convinced that Vikram was the mole, and Castle lunging out of the shadows to stop her from being hit was awesome. I appreciated that while there was tension between them because of the events from the previous few days, there is this overarching sense that whatever differences of opinion they have, whatever feelings have been hurt, they’re both alive and together, and that’s all that matters. It was a major factor in keeping this whole episode true to the series.

I also enjoyed how Hayley helped them track down Beckett and became really invested in their mission. She also continued to mentor Alexis, and encouraged her to stand up for herself and become a part of the case, which was really great.

The scene where the baddies storm Castle’s office was another highlight of the episode. The little nuances of the scene (and the entire episode) were great – like Beckett putting down her weapon without a moment’s hesitation, because the gunman had Castle. The save on Ryan and Esposito’s part was a fantastic use of the hidden room, and the twist with Hayley being caught gave the show a (pretty epic) use for Castle’s gun-tosser. Quick question: did it shoot rubber bullets? Because I don’t think the gunman was bleeding, and I’m pretty sure Castle never received a permit.

Tough Decisions

In a really nice scene, Castle’s stepmother reminded Kate that anyone she gets involved in the case from this point on IS her responsibility, and their lives will be on her. She essentially gave Beckett an ultimatum – go home and be happy, or continue chasing these guys and risk it all.

It does seem in character, at least to me, for Beckett to have made the decision she did, because she is a very selfless person. While she’s going after these people in order to make up for the deaths of her former coworkers (in the process ease her guilt), it would be far more selfish to choose her own happiness instead. Of course, this is just in her way of thinking – she’s also hurting Castle, not to mention everyone else who cares about her and who will be affected by this by chasing after dangerous people.

The scene where Beckett leaves is heartbreaking. It is a testament to how well the actors understand their characters, because – as I mentioned before – the nuances took this from a crucial scene to a conflict of who these characters are. Castle isn’t asking Beckett to not work on the case, even though he points out that she has a problem – he’s simply asking her to include him, because they both know they "work better as a team." They should trust each other. And I think they still do. It’s only that Beckett doesn’t trust the enemy – or herself – with his safety, and Castle doesn’t trust her instincts. I can’t decide if either of them are in the wrong or in the right. Everything is a gray area at this point, and it’s pretty fascinating.

One more detail I loved: that Beckett left the door open behind her. Her closing the door behind her could have made for a dramatic shot. The writers and director obviously chose not to, and I think it worked perfectly. She’s not stopping Castle from coming after her. In turn, he chooses to let her walk away. They’re both so torn in this scene, and it was beautifully frustrating.

All that said, while this episode wasn’t exactly what I’d hoped for, the season still looks promising.


  • Why did Beckett leave her gun by the sink? I just feel like she wouldn’t do that, even if she had a lot on her mind.
  • "Now, I can’t help but wonder what she’s keeping from me." a.k.a. the moment when I groaned and said "NOOOOO."
  • "If I had known, I would have used you as bait and stuck around to wait for the ransom note from your kidnappers." Was she serious or not?
  • "I thought she was a keeper." Martha was back!
  • Beckett didn’t call Castle after she’d been shot because her call could have been traced. Solid reason.
  • It was Beckett’s two-year-old search that had finally found a result and triggered the whole thing. Vikram’s forwarding of that said result created a common ground of guilt between the two of them that worked well.
  • Vikram was racing to finish his search in the bar, and yet he still paid for his drink. I enjoyed that detail.
  • THEY KILLED BRACKEN. It was kind of anti-climatic, and yet the shock factor worked so well because of that.
  • "I’m not running away from the life I worked so hard to create." I love how she stood her ground here.
  • "We really must get the families together." Like that won’t be awkward.
  • "Thank you for taking care of him." "It’s a lot of work. I don’t know how you do it."
  • "It’s you, because I’ve seen this before… nothing. It’s just that we work better as a team."
  • Two questions and an observation, because I’m picky about details: 1) Would Alexis have been able to zoom in that much on the bar’s security camera? 2) After Castle found them, Beckett and Vikram stopped running. Did I miss something, or should they have been much more careful? 3) They never explained why Beckett left her bracelet at the crime scene. Even if she didn’t know everything about the case yet, she didn’t want to rope him into a Level 7 emergency.
  • Why would they put her rescue ON THE NEWS for everyone to see?
  • "So did you guys get lost, or did you wait until the last possible second to save us?" "We got distracted…"
  • "Hey guys, so funny thing happened on the way to the airport…"
  • "You are so cool." Can Vikram make it into another episode or two so he can try to be Castle’s sidekick or something? Please and thank you.
  • Beckett’s first speech as captain! And with a nice nod to Montgomery and Gates.
  • "Don’t you see the gift that you’ve been given?"
  • "So I have to choose between finding the killer and being with Rick?" … "Anyone who dies now, that blood is on you."
  • "… so we can have our happily ever after."
  • "Like always."
  • "Do you trust me?" "Of course." His response was so quick. His expression, however...
  • "Please do not tell me [Bracken] knew you better than I do."

Monday, September 28, 2015

Brooklyn Nine-Nine 3x01 "New Captain" (The TV Form of the 100 Emoji) [Contributor: Connie]

"New Captain"
Original Airdate: September 27, 2015

It shouldn’t be a surprise that Brooklyn Nine-Nine is one of my favorite comedies on TV. Helmed by Parks and Recreation showrunner Mike Schur, the show has a similar level of upbeat, optimistic approach to the workplace, where your coworkers become your family. What has also carried over from Parks and Rec is Schur’s refusal to fall into the typical will-they, won’t-they spiral where the writers jerk our chains with our ship. Once a main couple is together on a show of his, there is typically no backwards movement. This is beautifully true of Leslie and Ben, and I believe Jake and Amy's relationship will receive similar treatment. The season three premiere sold me on this and I am so happy Mike Schur is a showrunner I can trust. When we ended last season, Jake and Amy kissed, Captain Holt was shuffled off to the PR department by his nemesis Madeleine Wunch and a new captain was entering the precinct. Let’s open this review by discussing Jake/Amy first, because how can I talk about anything else?

Jake and Amy pow-wow about two hours after they kissed “for reals reals” and decide to take their new relationship “light and breezy.” These guys. They’re so incredibly awkward. Their initial conversation seems to indicate that they won’t work out: Amy, of course, claims they need to make a “comprehensive set of rules” (“How am I even attracted to you? Doesn’t matter, I am”), while Jake is Team It’s-Totally-Not-Serious!

The rules, by the way, are:
  1. Let’s not tell anyone.
  2. Let’s not put labels on it.
  3. Let’s not have sex right away. 
In order to follow rule number one, Jake does all he can to avoid telling Boyle about his date with Amy. Our dear little basset hound sniffs out that Jake is going on a date anyway. I love Boyle. I love that the ships Peraltiago harder than anyone (“I’ve already written your best man speech!”). I love how uncomfortable he makes Jake, which makes Jake confront his feelings more often than not. That night at dinner, Jake and Amy semi-break rule number two when they admit they're "dating"! Jake and Amy head to dinner and in order to make things less awkward, they get drunk and accidentally fall into bed. Amy and Jake request four drinks each (remember: "4-drink Amy is a bit of a pervert"?).

And, to quote another fandom... “oopsie-doodles!”

The morning-after scene reminded me of when Nick and Jess got together on New Girl and how pleased they were with each other. It had the same shot with the camera looking over the bed. And Boyle can tell that Jake had a great night last night and Jake’s SUPER NOT COVERT smiles at Amy prove the same. But Boyle is upset because he believes Jake is supposed to be with Amy. Jake’s smiles made Amy giddy too, because she immediately meets him in the evidence room and suggests they make out. AMY! Perhaps the reason why she can’t date co-workers is because she gets a little too frisky? It seems unlike her, but she’s also the type to know her limits and try to restrain herself because she knows what she does when given ultimate power over her decisions. Amy is so incredibly neurotic — we see that she limits herself in her constant need for approval from authority. So what is Amy capable of without these limits?

In one of the most unexpected moves of the show, the new Captain walks in on Jake and Amy kissing and he DIES. The shock literally kills him. In the aftermath, Jake and Amy are put in the squad pressure cooker: everyone surrounding them, asking them questions, forcing them to realize that they made out in a room with surveillance cameras. Everyone finds out and it makes them both panic. Nothing good has happened since Jake and Amy attempted to start something!

And here’s where I started panicking. Jake and Amy have a discussion and decide that maybe calling it quits is for the best. “NO NO NO,” I whined (and Boyle). Their separate despair is so palpable and well played by both Andy Samberg and Melissa Fumero. I also love that Jake is so sad, but he always yields to Amy’s decisions about their relationship. He just wants to make her happy.

I should have known better than to panic, of course. Jake not only has Mike Shur behind the scenes, but he also has Boyle. He is who gives Jake a pep talk, which he thinks should include Jake running over to Amy’s house, preferably in the rain with lavender shampoo because washing a woman’s head is the most erotic thing (“no, no shampoo).”

 “You guys started this with one foot out the door. That’s what doomed you, not the universe.”

This show doesn’t dilly-dally. Any other show might spend episodes with Jake and Amy tip-toeing around each other after deciding it wasn’t going to work, then finally Boyle getting frustrated and slapping sense into Jake, but who needs all of that? These characters know who they are, but they also know each other and aren’t afraid to call each other out. This helps move stories and relationships forward, as well as build character. Just as Jake is about to head to Amy’s, he finds her on the other side of the door. And what made my heart swell and swoon? Amy’s words as she stood on Jake’s doorstep:
“I was home and I really wanted to talk to someone about us and Dozerman and about Holt being gone, then I realized that the only person I want to talk about that stuff with is you. So screw just being colleagues. And screw light and breezy. Alright?” 
What I was missing for Jake and Amy was a real conversation like this one. Despite how short it is, it was the least awkward conversation they’d had all episode and I loved it because they were finally relaxed in each other’s presence. They were just so happy and moving forward and I am just awash in feels, okay? Jake/Amy is happening! I predict an episode titled "Jake and Amy" really soon, a Parks and Rec tradition that seems to have carried over with the season two finale, titled "Johnny and Dora."

Our other two plots gripped me a little less, sadly. The characters were still great and have awesomely funny lines, with the review title coming from Gina Linetti’s truest and funniest line she’s ever spoken: “I am the human form of the 100 emoji." But the over plot left me hanging. With the new captain, despite my delight at Bill Hader’s appearance as Captain Dozerman, I wasn’t overly hysterical during his scenes. Maybe I just don’t like characters who yell a lot the way he did (I hated Donna Noble on Doctor Who when she first arrived. Then she grew on me and I came to love her more than any other companion).

I also think that if they were going to stunt cast the captain for just one episode, we would have known about it during the finale. So I’m left not really sure about how I felt about Dozerman, since he was gone so quickly. But I enjoyed Rosa’s reaction to him and the conceit of him being super into efficiency. I think I wanted more of that, without the contrasting behavior of him being shouty/actually taking up excess time with the shouting. But The Vulture is back as captain and Jake’s “Noooo!” said it all. The squad dynamics should be interesting in the episodes to come!

Holt and Gina’s move to PR left me more to be desired as well. It was partially the point — Holt can’t get anything done because he is constantly being undermined and degraded, but I didn’t quite find anything compelling about the whole pigeon back and forth. I just don’t really like the Wunch vs. Holt dynamic that much. It has resulted in some great lines on Holt’s end (“Sticks and stones, Raymond.” “Discarding your breakfast?”), but I don’t like her or a lot of the stories they end up in. I really wasn’t expecting her character to last this long, to be honest.

Overall, I still loved this episode. I am so happy about Jake/Amy, I am curious to see how they’re going to deal with The Vulture and I hope Holt and Gina can get more done in the PR department, rather than being stuck passive aggressive-ing with Wunch all the time.

Bullets on the Bulletin Board:
  • “I really like you.” “I like you too.” THESE GUYS!
  • “It’s never gonna happen Boyle, because I find Amy repulsive and she finds me extremely handsome!” 
  • “I hope it wasn’t a mistake.” “I hope it wasn’t a mistake, title of your sex tape? *Gasp* Title of OUR sex tape!” 
  • “So I guess it is hoes before choes with you, friend.” Did you just call Amy a ‘ho’ Doberman? You just made me really not sorry that you’re dead. 
  • “Tell my wife that I love her… work ethic.” 
  • Boyle’s reaction when Jake tells him they were “snorking” is PRICELESS. Also, it may have been my reaction to them telling everyone. And kissing. And looking at each other with flirty eyes. 
  • “What is this? Casual? Dating? I need to know how to make fun of you.” 
  • Boyle and Rosa get to watch Jake and Amy’s make-out surveillance tapes. WHY CAN’T I ALSO WATCH THOSE? Please and thank you!
  • Can I just say that Andy Samberg has been really nailing the romantic longing thing? When Amy says maybe they shouldn’t try dating anymore, he does this little thing with his eyebrow that expresses his despair so perfectly. Then later, when Amy agrees to move forward, his little eyebrow does a little dance of relief. Kudos to Andy and his eyebrow!
  • “Light and breezy is how you describe a linen pantsuit, not a relationship you care about!”
  • “It also has Backgammon, which I could not delete, but you are not allowed to play.” 
  • Officer Pepper O'Pigeon
  • "This man is a Timberlake and you need to stop treating him like a Fatone."
  • Welcome back, squad. I think this is going to be a good year.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Heroes Reborn 1x01/1x02 "Brave New World" & "Odessa" (Everything and Everyone is Crazy and Nobody Knows What's Going On) [Contributor: Meredith]

"Brave New World" & "Odessa"
Original Airdate: September 24, 2015

Well. That was certainly a premiere of a show. When I decided to do recaps/reviews of Heroes Reborn, I was excited. Admittedly, I stopped watching the original series, Heroes, a couple seasons in, but I was hopeful that the miniseries sequel would be quality television that I could enjoy. (Especially with the addition of Zachary Levi to the cast, because everyone knows Zachary Levi is awesome.)

Unfortunately, my hopes were not exceeded or even met. I’m glad I DVR’d the two hour premiere and didn’t watch it live, because fast-forwarding through the commercials and cutting down on the amount of time I had to invest definitely helped me get through the entire premiere. Now, this is not to suggest that absolutely everything about the show is awful; it’s not, and I’m still holding out hope that now that some of the confusing and convoluted groundwork has been laid, the show will find its footing and become a tighter, cleaner, more enjoyable viewing experience. But the premiere… well, it was the opposite of those things.

I was honestly tempted to simply submit the notes I took while I was watching, similar to a live-tweet, because I firmly believe that they say everything that needs to be said about the two-hour premiere. But, alas, here I am, investing even more time into this show in order to review it/warn all of you.

Let’s start with the biggest problem with the show at this point: there is way too much going on. There are six -- yes six -- storylines happening simultaneously. And quite honestly, sometimes the show would cut back to one of those stories and it would take me a good 30 seconds to remember that I had already seen these characters before. I understand, and the show started to hint, that these storylines are all going to intersect at some point. At least, I hope that’s the goal. But right now? It’s confusing, convoluted, disjointed, and the show doesn’t really spend enough time on any character or storyline to actually make me invest in any of them. In fact, as I write this, I keep having to refer to my notes to even remember any of the characters’ names (save for Noah Bennet, who I remember from the original series.)

There are two characters who I found engaging, and whose storylines I am at least somewhat invested in: Zachary Levi’s Luke, an “Evo”-hunting vigilante who believes people with powers need to be killed off and gotten rid of -- or at least, that’s what he thinks initially.But Levi plays Luke as someone internally conflicted on that notion. Mostly because he’s ZACHARY LEVI (Literally, that is what I wrote in my notes when he appeared on screen.)

(I mean, look at him, all dark and brooding and attractive.)

The other character I found myself interested in is Tommy, played by Robbie Kay. Tommy is a teenager who can make other people disappear (or, as we learn later, teleport to a location he is thinking about as he uses his powers.) In my notes, I wondered if Tommy is going to be this incarnation of the series’ cheerleader. You know, “save the cheerleader, save the world”? As in: I think Tommy may be the key to the stuff. Whatever “the stuff” is (because you know there’s stuff). Also, it appears Tommy has a guardian angel in the form of a sharply dressed fat guy with a hat, who, unbeknownst to Tommy, follows him around and tidies up his messes.

My rundown of what I think happened during the premiere: The show opens at a major “Evo” support rally in Odessa, Texas. “Evo” is the commonly used term for evolved people -- people with powers, we learn. There has been some strife between normal people and Evos, and this rally is supposed to help bridge the gap. … I think?

But before the rally can transpire, a bomb goes off. People die, Mohinder Suresh (from the original series) claims responsibility for the attack (on behalf of Evos or something), and Evos are driven underground. The show then jumps forward a year, to a new world order where Evos are hunted and rounded up, so they live in fear and in the shadows. Luke (Levi) and his wife travel the country, infiltrating secret Evo gatherings and killing everyone there, because their son died during the attack in Odessa.

Noah Bennet has changed his name and is trying to live a quiet life away from all the Evo business. He believes his daughter Claire, the aforementioned cheerleader from the original series, died during the attack as well. But we learn later, when Noah obviously gets dragged back into all the shenanigans, she probably didn’t, giving him a reason to become/stay involved in figuring out whatever is “coming” (a thing that people keep ominously referring to).

Tommy and his mom, meanwhile, use fake names and move from place to place to avoid Tommy being caught. But now, they are settled somewhere in Illinois. Tommy likes a girl there, and it’s all very sweet. That is, until Luke and his wife catch up to him. Tommy narrowly escapes and saves his crush by teleporting the nefarious duo to some secret location… which ends up being a holding facility for Evos. I think. It was confusing.

There is also a kid whose dad is an Evo-supporting vigilante, but the dad gets shot and dies, and so his drunk veteran brother decides to take up the mantle.

Also, something is happening in Japan but I don’t really understand it and I kept forgetting it was happening, so that tells you all you need to know about that particular storyline.

And then there is Molly, the Evo who can locate all other Evos, and stuff happens with her, too, but it’s also super confusing and disjointed. Have you noticed a theme? Hint: it’s all confusing.

Overall, I found the episode extremely difficult to follow. That might have been the point, but instead of feeling like a purposeful storytelling device, it just felt sloppy and convoluted. I also felt like much of the storyline (the conflict between normal people and Evos, the existence of one Evo who can locate all the others, to the degree that a device was created using her/her power) was ripped straight from X-Men. I found much of the glaring, in your face, “Evos are being discriminated against” parallels to racial inequality heavy-handed and stereotypical.

I mean, they literally have an underground railroad to get Evos to safety in Canada. And when I say literally, I mean literally… they have Evos crawling through a tunnel. But… like...
they live in the world, they don’t look any different until they use their powers. Why can’t they just take a taxi to the harbor where the smuggling boat is waiting for them, instead of actually crawling through a sewer tunnel? They access the tunnel by walking into a building and going downstairs. Yet for some reason they need the tunnel to get from the building to the harbor? Just… no.

The redeeming qualities of Heroes Reborn pretty much center around solid acting and characterization by Levi and a few others. I think the idea for the show is a good one, but the execution of the two-hour premiere failed to deliver. I’ll stick with the series though, and keep my fingers crossed that it gets better. If not, well... prepare for 11 more reviews that look a lot like this one.

But hey, at least there will be lots of Zac Levi pictures and GIFs.

(Like this one.)

WTF Lines/Moments:
  • “You’ll be fine; Canadians are nice.” - Tommy’s mom to Tommy, as they wait in line to (unsuccessfully) cross the border. As a Canadian, I don’t know whether to be proud or take offense. So I’ll just roll my eyes.
  • Carlos hooks up with a teacher in a supply closet and then drinks on stage while giving an inspiring address to his nephew’s school. Oh, such an underdog, this guy.
  • Also, Carlos really needs to wash his hair.
  • Fat Hat guy looks like my boss. 
  • The female Japanese character is called Katana. Aren’t there any other superhero names for female Japanese characters?
  • Carlos’ brother’s Bat/Arrow cave is in desperate need of a Felicity Smoak makeover.
  • Literally none of the “surprises” were surprises. None. Claire being alive was so predictable I didn’t even need them to confirm it. 
  • “Something is coming…” I mean, did everyone else think “Winter?” or just me?
  • There were at least 6 instances in my notes where all it says is some version of “NO ACTUALLY THIS MAKES NO SENSE GUYS.” 
  • I may need a drink next time I watch. 

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Empire 2x01 "The Devils Are Here" (Actions and Reactions) [Contributor: Rae Nudson]

"The Devils Are Here"
Original air date: Sept. 23, 2015

The best part of Empire's season two premiere is tied between Mimi Whiteman sitting backwards in a meeting until the exact right time she could twirl around in her chair to surprise Cookie, and Cookie admonishing Anika for not doing a good enough job sleeping with Mimi to secure their hostile takeover. But the second-best part is that crazy events from season one are finally catching up to the Lyon family.

Empire is a blast to watch, but the speed at which it burns through stories can quickly lead to a burn out if the writers aren’t careful. Last season, part of the fun was that storylines were picked up and dropped so fast you could miss life-shattering events if you so much as looked down to tweet. One of the storylines that looked like it was going to shake things up before it disappeared completely was Cookie sending a hitman after some men working for an old rival drug dealer who she thought was threatening her. She was wrong -- the drug dealer wasn't coming after her -- but it was too late to stop the hit. And then... that story was never mentioned again.

Until now. Now, that rival drug dealer is in jail, and Cookie is the one who put him there. Her testimony last season was not to snitch on Lucious; it was to snitch on Frank Gathers, played by Chris Rock. And the hitman Cookie hired is in jail with him.

Having the Lyons deal with the consequences of some of their earlier decisions is a smart way to go for the show. It makes the world in Empire more concrete for reasons that are two-fold: 1) their actions cause real consequences, and 2) this allows the writers to draw on material that's already been established, instead of creating more plot they'll just have to leave behind eventually when things get convoluted.

Jamal and Andre are also dealing with consequences of their actions from last season. Andre and Rhonda covered up the death of Vernon, whom Rhonda accidentally killed. Andre is already dealing with the ups and downs of bipolar disorder, and guilt over being a murderer probably isn't going to help him stay healthy as he prepares for fatherhood. (Vernon's death is going to have far-reaching consequences when it comes to Lucious as well -- Vernon, not Cookie, was the star witness for Lucious' prosecution and the reason he's in jail.)

Jamal is learning that running an empire doesn't leave much time for making music. Or your family, apparently. He's still holding onto anger from his brothers and mother trying to take away what Lucious had bestowed upon him. But if he could see clearly through his gold-plated glasses, he would see that grabbing control and not letting go, like Lucious did, will only end up strangling him in the end.

I read in some interviews that the writers this season wanted to take a little more time with their characters in game-changing moments, and that's already paying off as they pause on the pain on Jamal's face and the tender way Andre asks his pregnant wife how the baby is doing. But even with these moments, I don't think we have to worry about Empire getting too slow, or any less juicy.

Mimi, played by the great Marisa Tomei, is a great addition to Empire's boardroom. She's as devious as Lucious and is sure to take his place as head troublemaker in business affairs. Plus she's already bedded one of his wives. (That was a story beat that almost got no time; it was dropped into conversation after the fact.)

It doesn't matter to Lucious that neither Anika nor Cookie are technically married to him. They are both bound to him, in his view, and their betrayals hurt his pride as much as their love drove him crazy. Like everyone in Lucious' life, he sees these two brilliant, dynamic women as extensions of himself. He makes this clear when he tells Frank that to be at war with Cookie is to be at war with him. (RIP Frank, we hardly knew ye.)

The directing and visual choices of Empire contribute to its storytelling just as much as the crazy plot twists. Every scene in the prison was beautiful, and the final scene of Lucious and Cookie sitting across from each other head-on, with both at the center of the screen tied the two characters together as equals and opponents. Jamal is staying in Lucious' house, doing Lucious' job, and so scenes with Jamal at home are surrounded with hard, shiny, cold surfaces that reflect what he is turning into.

This episode shows that Empire is still just as unafraid to tell the stories it wants to tell, in the way it wants to tell them. The strong opening scene took place at a #freelucious concert that made direct reference to the #blacklivesmatter movement. Cameos abounded and surprising moments like Cookie descending onto the stage in a cage while wearing a gorilla costume means you still can't look away from Empire even for a minute. And with more surprises to come, more of Cookie's outfits to gawk at, and more of my favorite dysfunctional family facing their collective pasts, I can't wait for next week.

Cookie crumbs (aka other notes from the episode):
  • Whatever they are paying Becky, it’s not enough. She is not afraid to stand up to the Lyon men, she handles her business, and she makes them handle theirs.
  • Cookie's best outfit was that feather Gucci number in the opening scene. (From last season, as fashion icon AndrĂ© Leon Talley noted with disdain.)
  • The dialogue in the opener seemed a little forced (wouldn't Jamal and Hakeem have had these conversations about Lucious with Cookie already? It's been three months since he was arrested), but quickly snapped back to its usual sharp chatter.
  • Anika dancing was so cute I almost died. It was hilarious that she wore a demure-looking white dress with matching sweater, as if she was trying to hide from the debauchery of Mimi's party. Girl, please, you aren't fooling anyone.
  • Cookie's best line: "You know what it is, and it's not fit for print."