Wednesday, 31 March 2010

CAPRICA 1.9 - "End Of The Line"

WRITER: Michael Taylor
DIRECTOR: Roxann Dawson
GUEST CAST: James Marsters, Polly Walker, Scott Porter, John Pyper-Ferguson, Alex Arsenault, Leah Gibson, Jill Teed, Hiro Kanagawa, Genevieve Buechner, James Pizzinato, Liam Sproule, Teryl Rothery, Johnson Gray & Zak Santiago
[SPOILERS] A lot happened in Caprica's mid-season finale (more than the past four episodes combined) and it delivered a real buzz in its final moments, leaving you excited about where the show's headed when it returns in October. But at the same time it felt rather forced and at odds with the measured pace that's been the show's style. It was as if the producers decided to throw three episodes worth of developments into one episode, almost out of desperation.

We may as well just tick off the big developments: Joseph (Esai Morales), now a sofa-bound holoband addict, managed to locate Tamara (Genevieve Buechner) in New Cap City, only to watch as she (faked) her own death and "de-rezed" him from the game; Amanda (Paula Malcomson) sank into depression, pushed into a suicide bid when it became clear Daniel (Eric Stoltz) had indeed stole the MCP chip from rival Vergis (John Pyper-Ferguson); lab assistant Philo (Alex Arsenault) was ordered to destroy what makes the Zoe-Cylon's chip unique, forcing Zoe (Alessandra Torresani) to reveal her presence within the robot body to him, and go on the run in a stolen vehicle; Daniel decided to sell the C-Bucks team to Vergis to save his business from financial ruin, and was later told the military want their agreed 100,000 Cylon soldiers ready by next week; and Lacy (Magda Apanowicz) was given a crate to transport Zoe-Cylon safely to Gemenon by Barnabus (James Marsters), in exchange for planting a bomb in his STO rival Sister Clarice's (Polly Walker) car.

Again written by Michael Taylor, "End Of The Line" certainly contained plenty of moments I wasn't expecting (such as Zoe accidentally killing her boyfriend Philo during her escape), but some of the developments didn't feel worth the two-month buildup (like Tamara giving her father a reason to end his search for her), while others just felt confusing (like Daniel deciding to erase the unique elements of the MCP chip, which is undoubtedly the only thing that's made that otherwise useless chip work!) I'm still scratching my head over that latter development, and wondering why Daniel didn't threaten Zoe-Cylon with what's effectively death as one of the trials during "Ghosts In The Machine".

Elsewhere, Barnabus became a touch more interesting as a fanatical terrorist who's prepared to kill other higherups like Sister Clarice in order to remain top dog, but my patience is stretching thin with Amanda's character because the writers have saddled her with playing a drunk prone to hallucinations. I guess there's potential in the idea that Sister Clarice considers Amanda to be a prophet of sorts -- here avoiding a fiery demise at the hand of Barnabus when she was distracted by seeing Amanda jump off a bridge -- so maybe it'll help if Amanda is introduced to the STO's teachings and is told she's perhaps an instrument of the One True God.

And what of Joseph? Considering the fact Caprica was pitched as this big warring family drama, the Adamas have been a big disappointment so far. Graystone vs. Vergis has felt like a more plausible and interesting threat than the early Adama/Graystone skirmishes ever were, Joseph's been stuck wandering around V-world for weeks recently, and his search concluded in a rather offhand way here. And the little twist that Joseph's sexy virtual guide, Emmanuelle (Leah Gibson) was his besotted secretary Evelyn (Teryl Rothery) all along -- who had likely talked Tamara into faking her suicide so she could get Joseph all to herself in the real-world, likewise passed by with no sense of impact.

Overall, Caprica definitely some work to do. It's certainly more entertaining now than it was in the first month on-air, and has even pulled off a few genuinely thrilling episodes along the way, but it's not quite as good as it thinks it is yet. There are too many characters or subplots that aren't interesting or feel tired (Amanda's visions, Sister Clarice, the STO), so most of the heavy lifting's being done by Daniel's corporate feud and Zoe's existential nightmare. The promise of a very exciting and interesting storyline with the "immortal" Tamara in V-world also hasn't come about yet, although there's still time for that to take shape.

Asides
  • The character of Sister Clarice hasn't worked, the producers have even admitted they're having problems with her storyline, so it was a missed opportunity to not kill her off in the bomb. Then again, she's part of those expensive opening credits, so the actress must be under contract, so they'll have to do something with her.

  • This episode was directed by Roxann Dawson, best known for playing B'Elanna Torres in Star Trek: Voyager, who's now a fairly prolific TV director after getting her behind-the-camera break on Trek. In fact, her recent career echoes that of Voyager co-star Robert Duncan McNeill (Tom Paris), who is havily involved filming Chuck. Dawson did a good job with a large-scale episode here.

  • Maybe it's just me, but everytime I see an action sequence in Caprica I keep thinking it's been shoehorned in at the behest of Syfy because of early complaints the show is boring. The car chase sequence with Zoe-Cylon and two Hunter-Killers from The Terminator (weren't they?) was returned to so often (as part of a pointless flashforward device) that it irritated me.

  • Is Tamara pronounced "Tam-ra" or "Tam-ar-a"? Is one American, one English? I've always said the latter. "You say Tamra, I say Tamara... let's call the whole thing off."

30 MARCH 2010: SKY1 (HD), 9PM

Review renovation

After giving it some thought, I've decided to halt my reviews of Damages and FlashForward. I have too much on my plate right now, so I'm struggling to find time to write about them. The reason I've chosen to end reviews of those shows is because they get the least feedback and (in FlashForward's case) I've grown tired of writing about it. I'll continue to watch both, so if there's a particularly startling episode I'll probably post something, and FlashForward's finale will definitely be reviewed... but weekly reviews will cease with immediate effect.

Taking another look at my sidebar's "On The Box" grid of the TV I'm reviewing weekly, there's still an awful lot to get through! It's therefore possible I'll have to drop more shows in the coming weeks, or at least reduce some of the less popular reviews to brief recaps and thoughts.

The only shows that are 100% safe, because I enjoy tackling them, are: Breaking Bad, Chuck, Glee, Doctor Who, Lost and Mad Men. The ones most at risk are: Fringe and Human Target. The ones I'm undecided about are: Ashes To Ashes, The Pacific and V, where continuation will depend on reader response, or more time becoming available to me.

If you have any guidance to offer (which reviews do you read, which don't you care about?) feel free to let me know. It'll help me decide; particularly regarding the appetite for Fringe, Human Target, Ashes To Ashes, The Pacific and V reviews.

CHUCK 3.12 - "Chuck Versus The American Hero"

WRITERS: Matt Miller & Phil Klemmer (story by Max Denby)
DIRECTOR: Jeremiah Chechik
GUEST CAST: Brandon Routh, Bonita Friedericy, Mark Sheppard & Pepper Binkley
[SPOILERS] Originally intended to be season 3's penultimate episode, "Chuck Versus The American Hero" had the requisite big moments and exciting developments you'd expect, all converging into an enthralling final act that setup next week's erstwhile finale. As is common for Chuck, it was messy and unconvincing in certain areas, but I generally can't hate episodes that are as fast-paced and involving as this one became...

This week, Chuck (Zachary Levi) was in Washington D.C to meet with General Beckman (Bonita Friedericy) in person, to be given details of his assignment in Rome. However, after voicing his concerns about such a momentous lifestyle change (and what's his cover with his sister going to be?), Beckman agrees to give Chuck a week's leave to get his head straight. This means Chuck has seven days to make all his dreams come true, by winning Sarah (Yvonne Strahovski) back so they can become a Mr & Mrs Smith-style duo, or otherwise quit the spy game. But it's not going to be easy, as he quickly realizes Sarah's lost her ardor for him -- because she believes he killed a man as part of his "Red Test" (when in reality it was Casey who fired the lethal shot from afar, and has sworn Chuck to secrecy.)

Fortunately, Casey (Adam Baldwin), Morgan (Joshua Gomez) and Devon (Ryan McPartlin) all have reasons to help Chuck get the girl, so they put a plan into action to help Chuck convince Sarah he loves her, which involved making sure her boyfriend Shaw (Brandon Routh) was distracted during a dinner date so Chuck could lay his cards on the table. Unfortunately, Ring agents have been circling Shaw with the intention of kidnapping him, and their plans became entangled with Chuck's.

It's something of a miracle that "... Versus The American Hero" worked as well as it did, as it was being held together by the glue of audience interest in the Chuck/Sarah relationship, which has been bent, strained and pushed in so many directions over the course of three seasons. It's a testament to Levi and Strahovski that it hasn't become so tedious, although I keep wondering how far Chuck can last before it'll have no option but to get those characters together, engaged and married. Would the show work with a married spy couple at the centre of it all? Anyway, for now there are obstacles forever being thrown into the path of true love, and having Sarah believe Chuck's tarnished his soul by murdering someone was -- well, hypocritical -- but also an interesting angle. Although it never made sense to me why Casey didn't just confide in Sarah that he made the kill from the start.


What made this episode was its final act, with Shaw kidnapped by the enemy and delivered to Ring's HQ to meet The Director (Mark Sheppard), who reveals that his wife wasn't killed by a Ring operative, as he's always believed, but that she was the victim of Sarah's "Red Test" (seen in flashback last week). Yes, Shaw's new girlfriend killed his beloved wife (who must have been a double-agent), and his vendetta against the Ring has been misplaced. A fine twist, if something we should have predicted in retrospect, but Shaw's barely mentioned his wife so that lynchpin of his character wasn't foremost in most people's minds.

It was great seeing Chuck go solo to rescue Shaw, after realizing how much Sarah cares about him, but even better when the rescued Shaw awoke in hospital after an explosion had destroyed the Ring's HQ and made a beeline for Sarah to whisk her away under false pretenses, for some payback I'd assume. And for 'shippers, Chuck had finally made his feelings for Sarah abundantly clear ("I love you") and it looked like she was packing to go with him after Casey confessed he shot the mole, before Shaw interrupted things.

Overall, this episode was crammed full of incident in its last 20 minutes, and packed a twist I didn't see coming, which made it the perfect lead-in for next week's unofficial finale before an additional six episodes. The only irritation with Chuck in general is that it's very unlikely to ever evolve into a new form, so you just know we'll end up with Sarah, Chuck and Casey back in the Castle going on missions together. The show can stretch boundaries, change relationships and reveal secrets, but it's essentially going to adhere to the format established in season 1. So there'll be no international adventures of Mr & Mrs Bartowski or Team Chuck working in Italy. To be honest, that's probably very wise, as the best episodes of season 3 have been the ones that more closely resembled earlier seasons ("First Class, "The Beard", "Tic Tac"), but the trick has always been keeping things familiar with a sense of plausible evolution.

Asides
  • Shaw; quite a misfire for season 3, despite some early promise, no? It wasn't entirely Routh's fault, it was just that the character was either a gooseberry, a spare part, or uninteresting. Hopefully, now that he's turned into a vengeful widower, his arc will end with a bang.

  • Ellie. Oh, I can't even find the strength to write about Ellie. Just send her to Africa, pronto. Sarah Lancaster deserves better than being thrown plot scraps.

  • I could understand Casey wanting to help Chuck win Sarah's heart, so Chuck wouldn't quit being a spy and could get him rehired, but it was a little strange that Morgan seemed to think he could become part of Chuck's handpicked team in Rome!

  • Roger Cross (playing the lead Ring agent) is best known for playing Curtis Manning in many seasons of 24, so perhaps the presence of a General Bauer in Beckman's office was an intentional nod to that show?

  • The vending machine secret entrance to the Ring HQ was straight out of Spies Like Us, a regular go-to for '80s references.

  • Look, I like Mark Sheppard, but whenever his name appears on the credits you just know he'll be playing the week's bad guy. It's getting old. Does he embrace typecasting?

  • This episode was also a minor Middleman reunion, with guest stars Mary Pat Gleason and Mark Sheppard having both appeared on that show.

  • I'd love to see more of General Beckman's world, as the good guys are actually more mysterious than the bad guys on this show. It was fun seeing the desks full of uniformed receptionists (all women, how sexist) and Beckman's office, too. Can't we have a proper CIA base in L.A for the characters to report to sometimes? I get bored of the Castle and its viewscreen.

29 MARCH 2010: NBC, 8/7c

FLASHFORWARD 1.13 - "Blowback"

WRITERS: Lisa Zwerling & Barbara Nance
DIRECTOR: Constantine Makris
GUEST CAST: Gabrielle Union, Laura Marano, Robert Neary, Kavita Patil & Tim "Timbaland" Mosley
[SPOILERS] Last week, I claimed I rarely stop watching a TV show I've started, but that doesn't stretch to writing about them. I'm still going to continue watching FlashForward until the bitter end -- because it's not long until the finale airs, and I'm intrigued to see if the later episodes pick up once David Goyer left as showrunner -- but "Blowback" was poor enough to make me stop writing about it every week. I may still chime in with a few thoughts occasionally (certainly for the finale), but writing about FlashForward every single week feels like it's extending the previous evening's irritation. A few brief thoughts on episode 13 before I signoff, for now:

I appreciated the episode's emphasis on character over plot, which has been a criticism of the show since it started, but the Lost-like flashbacks to explain exactly how Aaron (Brían F. O'Byrne) was told his soldier daughter Tracy (Genevieve Cortese) was KIA felt superfluous. Why did we need to see what we already knew had happened? And then Jane was kidnapped by black ops Jericho soldiers in the present-day (hiding at home was never a wise move, dummy), meaning Aaron' decided to channel Liam Neeson in Taken and went after Jericho's General Irskan (James Remar). I also found it amusing that Aaron kept leaving voicemails for his best friend Mark (Joseph Fiennes) to pick up, who's assumedly lost interest in Aaron's predicament -- not unlike the audience.

Speaking of Mark, he forced Lloyd (Jack Davenport) to recount every second of his vision (seconds of which they shared via phone call), so now we have the extra clue of a complex formula written on a mirror in lipstick in the Benford's bedroom, and Lloyd admitted that he knows the mysterious D. Gibbons -- someone who once took the credit for his achievements.

Finally, Demetri's (John Cho) fiancée Zoey (Gabrielle Union) became intensely irritating by taking it upon herself to avert Dem's death by sticking her nose into FBI business, and there was a bizarre cameo for Rn'B music producer Timbaland as an evidence clerk.

Overall, "Blowback" was rather flat and uninspired, not helped by the fact the preceding two episodes fired along like twin rockets, so it looked comparatively dawdling. It wasn't atrocious, and a few moments worked quite well, but when FlashForward does a character-building episode and you come away annoyed by most of the characters taking centre stage, it's time to worry.

Asides

-- It just dawned on me that the female terrorist is played by Rachel Roberts, of S1M0NE non-fame.

-- James Remar is a terrible actor. I know he's a regular on Dexter, and I don't pick on him there, but that's because he's confined to standing under a spotlight and saying his lines as straight at possible. Asked to do anything more, involving realistic human emotions, and he falls apart. He was truly dire here. Check out his reaction to a birthday cake in one scene.

-- The secret to eternal life: grow a big beard, then shave it. It knocks 15 years off, as Aaron proved in his flashback jail scenes.

29 MARCH 2010: FIVE (HD), 9PM

Tuesday, 30 March 2010

Doctor Who: Radio Times' Guide + TARDIS photos


The TARDIS Base have transcribed the Radio Times' episode guide to the new series of Doctor Who, which starts this Saturday on BBC1/HD at 6.20pm. You can read it below (with a few minor changes by myself and some photos from the article), but beware of spoilers -- of the kind a national TV listings magazine thought appropriate to wet everyone's appetite with, of course, so nothing too major.

1. The Eleventh Hour
Writer: Steven Moffat
Guest Stars: Annette Crosbie, Nina Wadia & Arthur Darvill

Geronimo! A brand-new Doctor crashing to Earth. New face, new body, new man. And he's barely staggered out of the blue box, before he's found himself in the middle of the Crisis That Just Won't Stop! No time to rest and recover, no Tardis, no screwdriver – just six billion human beings about to die and only one man to save them. But the new Doctor encounters more than danger – this is the day he meets Amy Pond. Can he persuade her to trust him, when he's been letting her down all her life?

Quote: "Who da man?"
2. The Beast Below
Writer: Steven Moffat
Guest Stars: Sophie Okonedo & Terrence Hardiman

The Doctor takes Amy to the far future, and Starship UK. The British people, adrift among the stars on a giant spaceship, in search of a new home. But there are secrets here, in the rusting corridors and clanging hallways. A masked figure, who knows the Doctor of old, begs his help, while Amy encounters the terrifying Smilers, and uncovers a secret so dreadful, no one can remember it...

Quote: "Nobody talk to me! Nobody human has anything to say to me today!"
3. Victory of the Daleks
Writer: Mark Gatiss
Guest Stars: Ian McNeice & Bill Paterson

From the terrifying future of the United Kingdom to one of the darkest chapters of its past – World War Two. The Doctor and Amy find themselves in a top-secret cabinet war room deep beneath the London streets. And there, gliding among the nicotine walls and Bakelite telephones, the Daleks are hatching their deadliest scheme yet. Only one man can help the Doctor -– whose side is Winston Churchill on?

Quote: "I wanted to know what their plan was. I was their plan!"
4/5. The Time Of Angels / Flesh And Stone
Writer: Steven Moffat
Guest Stars: Alex Kingston & Ian Glen

A two-part story. A crashed spaceship, a shattered temple and a terrifying climb through the maze of the dead – River Song is back in the Doctor's life, and she's brought more trouble than even he can handle. The last of the Weeping Angels is loose in the ruins of Alfava Metraxis, and the Doctor is recruited to track it down. "Dont Blink!" everyone tells Amy – but as Amy is about to discover, not blinking, might just be the worst thing you can do…

Quote: "Is River Song your wife?"
6. Vampires In Venice
Writer: Toby Whithouse
Guest Star: Helen McCrory

In Venice, even danger is beautiful. The House of Calvierri has the whole city under its protection, but something is very wrong. There are blood-drained corpses in the street, something lurks in the canal, and the Calvierri girls are the loveliest in town, except when you glance in the mirror…

Quote: "You know what's dangerous about you? Not that you ask people to take risks, but that you make them want to impress you!"
7. Amy's Choice
Writer: Simon Nye
Guest Star: Toby Jones

It's been five long years since Amy travelled in the Tardis with her mysterious Doctor – and when he shows up again, on the eve of the birth of her first child, danger is not far behind him. Amy is faced with a heartbreaking choice that will change her life forever.

Quote: "I know who you are. There's only one person in the universe who hates me as much as you do."
8/9. TITLES UNKNOWN
Writer: Chris Chibnall
Guest Stars: Meera Syal, Stephen Morre & Neve McIntosh

In 2015, the most ambitious drilling project in history is under way. Dr Nasreen Chaudhry and her team have reached 21 kilometres into the Earth's crust – but something is stirring far below. Amy Pond discovers there's nowhere to run when you can't even trust the ground at your feet.

Quote: "While you've been drilling down… something else has been drilling up."
10. Vincent And The Doctor (TBC)
Writer: Richard Curtis
Guest Star: Tony Curran

Terror lurks in the cornfields of Provence, but only a sad and lonely painter can see it. Amy Pond finds herself shoulder to shoulder with Vincent van Gogh, in a battle with a deadly alien – saving the world has never been so ginger! But can even the Doctor save Vincent?

Quote: "Art can wait, this is life and death. We need to talk to Vincent van Gogh!"
11. The Lodger (TBC)
Writer: Gareth Roberts
Guest Stars: James Corden & Daisy Haggard

The Doctor faces his greatest challenge yet – a flat share! People are disappearing on Aickman Road, and the Doctor must solve the mystery of a staircase that people walk up – but never down.

Quote: "All I have to do is pass as an ordinary human being. What could possibly go wrong?"
12/13. TITLES UNKNOWN
Writer: Steven Moffat

A message on the oldest cliff-face in the universe, a puzzle box opening from the inside and a love that lasts thousands of years…The fates are drawing close around the Tardis – is this the day the Doctor falls?

Quote: "There was a goblin. Or a trickster, or a warrior. A nameless, terrible thing, soaked in the blood of a billion galaxies. The most feared being in all the cosmos. Nothing could stop it, or hold it, or reason with it -– one day it would just drop out of the sky and tear down your world."

BREAKING BAD 3.2 - "Caballo Sin Nombre"

WRITER: Peter Gould
DIRECTOR: Adam Bernstein
GUEST CAST: Bob Odenkirk, Michael Bofshever, Jonathan Banks, Giancarlo Esposito, Luis Moncada & Steven Michael Quezada
[SPOILERS] "Caballo Sin Nombre" (Spanish for "Horse With No Name", the song that opened the show), was another fascinating and gripping installment of this excellent series, that I felt was even better than the premiere. This season's torment for Walter (Bryan Cranston) is undoubtedly going to be his breakup with Skyler (Anna Gunn), which he can't even explain the circumstances of to his own son (R.J Mitte), but there's also trouble brewing just beyond his field of perception in the disquieting shape of those two Mexican cousins...

We begin with Walt getting arrested for complaining to a police officer who pulled him over for having a smashed windshield, with Walt believing he should be given some leniency because the glass was broken by debris from the recent airplane disaster. While you can understand Walt's frustration at being fined, seeing him lose his temper and earn himself a pepper spraying felt like a reminder that Walt's no longer the milquetoast chemistry teacher we met in season 1. He has a confidence to rise up against authority figures now, partly attributable to pent up emotions over his crumbling marriage here, but I'm willing to bet he'd have bitten his lip a year ago.

Walt's swollen eyes limited his view of the world for a few hours, but his impaired perception stretch beyond a temporary physical handicap now. We're shown that the Mexican cousins who crossed the US border are relations of druglord Tuco, who was killed in a gunfight by Hank (Dean Norris) shortly after kidnapping Walt and Jesse (Aaron Paul) in season 2, and here they arrive at an old folk's home to acquire their target from Tuco's disabled father, Tio (Mark Margolis), the memorably sinister wheelchair-bound old codger who communicates by ringing a bell. In a gloriously bizarre moment, the Cousins used a Ouija board for Tio to mark out the name of his son's murderer: WALTER WHITE. I also found it amusing that braggart Tuco's family are all so opposingly quiet, intentionally or not.

There was also a vague theme of returning to the comfort of your family nest here, with Jesse and Walt both trying to gain access to their old homes. Jesse learns that his parents are selling their renovated house for $870,000, but uses some of his drug money to hire Saul (Bob Odenkirk) to act as his representative for a half-price cash purchase, achieved by threatening to expose the Pinkman's deception regarding the fact their home contained a meth lab basement. In a rather uncomfortable scene, Jesse walks past his parents and back into his childhood home as its new owner, having cost them a fortune, which must surely be taken as a sign that Jesse's burnt his bridges with them now. It'll be interesting to see what the Pinkman's do next, as I'm sure they're at least wondering where their junkie dropout son got $400k in hard cash.

For Walter, he was likewise trying to get back home, but Skyler seems set on denying him the chance to explain himself, probably fearing he'll just continue spinning more lies. In an awkward twist, Skyler's the one coming off worse from the breakup, as Hank (Dean Norris), sister Marie (Betsy Brandt) and son Walt Jr (who's gone back to his birth name, to show his dad solidarity), all still perceive Walt as the unassuming teacher and family man bravely battling cancer, and Skyler can't bring herself to tell them the whole sorry truth. In fact, her decision to keep silent about Walt's drug dealing is because she has so much to lose if the truth came out, according to crooked lawyer Saul -- who gave Walt a misjudged pep talk intended to get him cooking meth again. But maybe he has a point. Whatever her reasons for keeping Walt's activities a secret between them, Skyler's faced with looking like the "bitch" (as her son bluntly put it during dinner), and her tolerance for criminal behaviour has definitely been lowered, as she's not willing to signoff on her boss' accounts at work, as he's clearly been fiddling the books.

In the climactic scenes, Walt returns home while Skyler's out, by breaking in underneath the floorboards to have a shower. Unfortunately, Walt chose the worst moment possible to clean himself up, as Saul's sent a bald private investigator to bug the house (assumedly so he can snoop on "the wife" and use what he learns to manipulate Walt), forcing him to cut short his installations. And then, in a surprising move I wasn't expecting until mid-season, the Cousins have already located Walter White's residence and enter the house armed with a shiny axe to avenge Tuco's death when Walt steps out of the shower. There followed a very intriguing resolution, with Saul's P.I calling local druglord Gus (Giancarlo Esposito) about the arrival of the Cousins, who managed to call off the Cousins' attack by texting them his codeword "Pollas". So are the Cousins allied to Gus? Is Walt safe if they think he's in Gus' pocket? Does Saul know his P.I has connections to Gus? If Walt continues to refuse to work for Gus (by accepting last week's $3m for three months work offer), will Gus be forced to let the Cousins carry out their hit?

Overall, a typically strong and fascinating episode with lots of juicy character beats and some interesting developments. The story certainly progressed quicker than I expected with the Cousins, it's amusing to see Walt grappling with his family life and so oblivious to the encroaching dangers around him, and "Caballo Sin Nombre" certainly left you with a head full of questions concerning the Cousins, Saul and Gus.

Asides

-- Did anyone else think the Cousins were going to try and contact the dead Tuco when they grabbed that Ouija board? Also, isn't it rather insensitive to have a Ouija board in an old folk's home?

-- Is this the best cast on TV? No, that honour belongs to Mad Men, but it's surely second best. Bryan Cranston, Anna Gunn, Aaron Paul, Bob Odenkirk, Dean Norris -- they all impress me every week. Other shows have great actors involved, but they're usually surrounded by far weaker supporting players (see: Dexter), but Breaking Bad's core are all very strong.

-- I can't help but think that "Horse With No Name" was chosen because Vince Gilligan remembered its creepy use on Millennium, which he was affiliated with in the '90s via Chris Carter and The X Files.

-- The teddy bear's eye returned; this time ogling Walt when he woke up collapsed on his bedroom floor, but the Cousins also found it and, by moving it, left Walt to ponder how it got moved after leaving his shower.

-- It's a season of one-take wonders: last week the Cousins walked away from that exploding van without flinching ("bad guys don't look at explosions", remember), and this week Bryan Cranston apparently threw that gigantic pizza onto that roof in one shot. Incidentally, I know Americans like big portions, but I've got tables smaller than that pizza! And they wonder why there's a national obesity problem...

28 MARCH 2010: AMC, 10/9c

MAD MEN 3.10 - "The Color Blue"

WRITERS: Kater Gordon and Matthew Weiner
DIRECTOR: Michael Uppendahl
GUEST CAST: Abigail Spencer, Marshall Allman, Christopher Stanley, Charles Shaughnessy, Embeth Davidtz, Kiernan Shipka, Alison Brie, Peyton List, Crista Flanagan, Laura Regan, Ryan Cartwright, Mary Anne McGarry, Hal Landon Jr., Deborah Lacey, Alexa Alemanni, Jared S. Gilmore, Neil Dickson, Anthony Burch & Shannon Welles
[SPOILERS] There's a lovely scene between Suzanne (Abigail Spencer) and Don (Jon Hamm) when they're in bed together, and she recounts the time a little boy in her class wondered if other people's perception of the colour blue is the same as his own. Don answers the conundrum by suggesting that "people may see things differently, but they don't really want to." This episode, entitled "The Color Blue", was certainly all about how people perceive things the way they want, despite the fact everyone's seeing the same thing...

As I alluded, Don's affair with his daughter's school teacher has definitely stepped up a gear -- with Don regularly sneaking out of the house at night, under the pretence of working late for the notoriously demanding Conrad Hilton, leaving Betty (January Jones) to sleep alone. In this episode, Don was introduced to Suzanne's teenage brother Danny (Marshall Allman), a dropout whose problems holding down a job stem from the fact he's afflicted by epilepsy.

Danny sees Don as an arrogant man (sensing his disdain at having his evening with Suzanne interrupted), but Don manages to prove him wrong a few days later, by offering to give Danny a lift to a job his sister's got him at a hospital in Massachusetts. Danny confides to Don that he has no intention of doing a menial job to ease his sister's conscience, so asks to be dropped off early, which Don agrees to do. Then, perhaps because Danny reminds Don of his own younger brother (who committed suicide when his attempt to reconnect with Don, or "Dick", hit a brick wall), Don gave Danny money and his business card, with an open offer to get in touch if he ever needs help.

At Sterling Cooper, Paul's (Michael Gladis) perception of Peggy (Elisabeth Moss) is that she's a favourite of Don's and her career progress isn't a result of true merit, as she's certainly less gifted as he believes himself to be. The pair were partnered for a Western Union campaign here, to work out why sending an old-fashioned telegram is preferable to modern telephone correspondence. Paul worked into the early hours, fuelled by alcohol, and during a chat with late-night janitor Achilles suddenly had a brainwave that would undoubtedly prove to be a winner. Sadly, the next morning, Paul awakened in his office with a hangover and realized he never wrote his masterstroke down and has thus forgotten it.

Peggy and Paul's meeting with Don didn't start well, after Paul admitted he lost his incredible idea and ruefully mentioned an old Chinese proverb ("the faintest ink is better than the best memory".) However, Peggy realized that same axiom could hold true for telegrams -- as there's a permanency to a telegram that a telephone call won't ever replicate. Don sensed a winning idea, so had them leave to develop it further, as Paul's eyes opened to the fact Peggy's a demonstrably gifted copywriter, literally gawping in astonishment at how she salvaged the entire meeting by thinking on her feet.

The real surprise of "The Color Blue" came from Betty's long overdue discovery of her husband's secret identity, after she found his desk drawer key in a pair of trousers and couldn't resist snooping inside while he was at work. There she found a shoebox of mementoes (Whitman family photos, Dick Whitman's army dog tags, Anna Draper's house deed, and his divorce papers), and while she may not know exactly what it all means yet, it's clear that Don's been keeping an awful lot of secrets from her. Even if Betty only deduces that Don's been married and divorced before (which isn't entirely accurate, as he'd taken on Don Draper's identity and ended the dead soldier's marriage), it's undoubtedly going to cause ructions. How can Don possible talk himself out of any of this, with so much evidence involved? Is Betty prepared to cause such turmoil for her family, or will she bite her lip for the sake of her three kids? Is her fancy man Henry Francis (Christopher Stanley) someone she can turn to after she confronts Don, or is he less noble than he appears and only in this for a thrill?

For Don, his acquired identity is about to achieve its highly accolade yet, as "prime time" speaker at Sterling Cooper's 40th anniversary party, following a $5,000 signing bonus handed to him by Lane (Jared Harris). It's an honour that has Roger (John Slattery) all in a twist, as his loathing of Don's success reached another level, and even Cooper (Robert Morse) doesn't feel like attending -- likening the party to a funeral. Interestingly, Lane received word from his bosses at London that PPL are going to sell Sterling Cooper, meaning the anniversary party's now serving a dual purpose as a way to promote the thriving business to potential buyers. To this end, Lane convinced the vain Cooper to attend, by making him worry a non-appearance will make rivals think he's ill. Lane himself is visible upset he'll soon have to return to London, although his homesick wife Rebecca is overjoyed (Embeth Davidtz)

Overall, I really enjoyed "The Color Blue", particularly the unexpected development of Betty sneaking a look behind the façade that is Don Draper. Her moment in the final scene, sat looking at her husband give a speech amongst his peers, spoke volumes about how much she's beginning to realize how little she knows about the man she married. The week's theme of people only seeing what they want to see in other people was also very nicely handled, particularly regarding Paul's epiphany over Peggy's worth.

Asides

-- Interesting to note a harsher tone from Henry Francis, after Betty mistakenly thought he'd rang their home and called him back later. The wrong number was likely Suzanne, which is itself amusing because both Drapers are having affairs and worrying that every strange phone call was for them.

-- Why are PPL selling Sterling Cooper? There must be a sound financial reason, but you have to wonder what it could be. The company's been doing very well, and even has the illustrious Conrad Hilton on its books. Maybe they just wanted to increase its attractiveness and sell for a higher price all along?

-- Another case of perception blindness; Roger's ageing mother mistaking his new, younger wife Jane (Peyton List) as his first wife Margaret, on the way to the anniversary party in the back of a limo. Is she senile, forgetful, or relishing making barbed comments about her son's "trophy wife"?

-- You may recognize Marshall Allman as L.J from Prison Break.

24 MARCH 2010: BBC4/BBC HD, 10PM

GLEE 1.13 - "Sectionals"

WRITER & DIRECTOR: Bryan Falchuk
GUEST CAST: Jenna Ushkowitz, Eve, Anna Camp, Patricia Forte, Michael Hitchcock, Naya Rivera, Heather Morris, Bill A. Jones, Dijon Talton, Harry Shum Jr., Josh Sussman, Peter Choi & Thomasina Gross
[SPOILERS] I thought we'd never get there, but it's finally time for Sectionals. The first half of Glee's mostly entertaining, but often frustrating season drew to a close, with an episode that didn't quite achieve the joyous feeling of a mini-climax (maybe they're saving that for the finale?), but the usual mix of energetic songs and witty dialogue just about hid the narrative bumps in the road...

Will (Matthew Morrison) couldn't attend Sectionals because of last week's faux pas with glee club being paid for starring in a TV advert, but Emma (Jayma Mays) agreed to take the kids after she managed to delay her wedding to Ken (Patrick Gallagher) by a few hours. However, a number of problems inevitably arose as the competition loomed: Finn (Corey Monteith) discovered that Puck (Mark Salling) is the real father of Quinn's (Dianna Agron) baby, so turned his back on the club; and once New Directions arrived at the contest they realized Sue (Jane Lynch) had leaked their set list, because their competitors were performing all their routines. Can they pull together and come up with three brand new performances at the last-minute?

Of course they can, this is Glee. Predictable is its middle name. I dearly wish the show was more skillful with its plots and characterisation, as it could be something very special with a Freaks & Geeks quality to the drama, but there's enough good-humour and likeability to just about cover its many cracks. It's disposable TV, truth be told, with only the songs having much longevity thanks to the wonders of iTunes, but I'm happy to be entertained and made to giggle for an hour every week. It's reliable in that regard.

Stand out moments in this episode were: Mercedes (Amber Riley) convincing Rachel (Leah Michele) she's a great "balladeer" by belting out Dreamgirls' "And I Am Telling You I'm Not Going", a 24-style split-screen phone call for multiple characters, Rachel's wonderful solo performance of Funny Girl's "Don't Rain On My Parade" (the title bursting with subtext in light of everyone's cheating), the acidic barbs from Sue ("Bring it on, William. I am reasonably confident that you will be adding revenge to the long list of things you're no good at; right next to being married, running a high school glee club, and finding a hairstyle that doesn't make you look like a lesbian"), and the funny realization that the judges deciding the winner were just a clueless black lady, a bimbo (True Blood's lovely Anna Camp), and the smarmy TV news anchorman who dated Sue. I find Glee to be at its best when it takes the edge off its saccharine nature by throwing cynicism into the mix, so revealing that the judging panel for these supposedly illustrious sectionals were an indifferent bunch of ignoramuses gave me a smile.

If there was one thing I didn't like about "Sectionals" it was the fact the competition didn't lure me in, mainly because the event had no credibility the moment all the rival schools were shown to be cheats. Even if the glee club had lost, they'd still have won in my mind. I'd have preferred a genuine sense of competition, with all the schools putting on great performances, so the winner felt slightly in doubt. The writers could even have pulled a Rocky and had Will's show choir lose honourably -- but maybe they're saving that for the Regionals finale, so Glee can climb the mountain to victory in season 2? It also disappointed me that they weren't awarded the trophy at the event itself, as it only became clear they'd won when they surprised Will with the trophy in their rehearsal room later.

Overall, for all its many faults, "Sectionals" benefited from the simple fact it was the culmination of a dozen episodes' buildup and ended the torturous Quinn/Puck/Finn triangle. There was even time for the ridiculous Emma/Ken marriage to fizzle out, as Ken cancelled their nuptials over the fact she chose to help Will's glee club on the day of their wedding, enabling Will to finally make a move on Emma now he's officially left Terri (Jessalyn Gilsig). But perhaps the best move this episode made was to have Principal Figgins (Iqbal Theba) suspend Sue from her job, having been shown incontrovertible evidence that she tried to ruin the sabotage sectionals, if only for the look of astonishment on Sue's face that Will actually won a battle, before swearing revenge.

Looking ahead to the back half of season 1, I hope Glee's writers have taken stock of what worked and what failed, and aren't going to rest on their laurels because Glee's current form proved such a hit. It may be very popular, but it could be a whole lot better. They need to ditch preposterous storylines that weave through most of the episodes, and replace them with plots containing more substance and plausibility. Glee's worrying lack of consistency regarding its characterisation also needs to be addressed. But above all, just make it fast and fun, with plenty of songs and special guest stars. The best episodes have been those that told a largely self-contained storyline, included lots of recognizable covers, and gave Sue plenty of verbal ammunition.

Glee returns to Fox on 13 April, and 19 April on E4 in the UK. In light of that small six-day gap, I'll continue to follow the British broadcast. In the meantime, it's likely I'll be reviewing Glee's "Road To Sectionals" DVD just prior to season 1 resuming, so check back for that.

29 MARCH 2010: E4 (HD), 9PM

Monday, 29 March 2010

Primeval series 4 & 5 starts filming


Production has begun on the fourth and fifth series of Primeval in Ireland, with filming scheduled to conclude in early-November. Primeval was spared the axe last year, thanks to a deal where ITV will co-finance the show with UKTV, enabling the production of a seven-episode fourth series and a six-episode fifth series to air in 2011.

Hannah Spearritt (Abby), Andrew-Lee Potts (Connor), Ben Miller (Lester) and Ben Mansfield (Becker) are known to be returning, although it's believed Jason Flemyng (Danny) has turned down the chance to reprise his role. I would assume he'll still film some scenes to explain his character's absence or loss, but we'll have to see. Likewise, Laila Rouass (Sarah) hasn't been confirmed as returning either. The new series will apparently continue the story several months after series 3's cliffhanger finale, where Connor and Abby found themselves trapped in the past.

Irish actors Ciarán McMenamin (Jericho, Silent Witness) and Ruth Kearney have also joined the series, playing characters called Matt and Jess.

What do you make of this news? Are you excited Primeval's coming back next year? I know it's a divisive TV show (some enjoy its unpretentious fun aimed at young kids, others hate the reliance on special-effects and often stupid storylines), but isn't this a promising sign for expensive British sci-fi during a recession? I assume the reason they're filming in Ireland is to take advantage of tax breaks, too.

24, 8.13 - "4:00AM - 5:00AM"

WRITERS: Manny Coto & Brannon Braga (story by Howard Gordon)
DIRECTOR: Milan Cheylov
GUEST CAST: Stephen Root, John Boyd, Nazneen Contractor, Mido Hamada, Julian Morris, Necar Zadegan, T.J. Ramini, Chris McGarry, Ethan Rains, John Eric Bentley & Justin Alston
[SPOILERS] Not quite as good as last week's (if I was directly comparing the two), but it just about sneaked an equal rating because I appreciate the impetus Day 8's achieved in recent weeks, and there wasn't much threatening to bore you here. I hope we're beginning to see the season take shape now, particularly as Fox announced this will be 24's final year on television, as it would be a terrible shame to end on a sour note.

To recap: CTU's servers and comms have been knocked out thanks to an EMP bomb, so the NSA send their expert, Frank Haynum (Chris McGarry), to restore the systems, but Chloe (Mary Lyn Rajskub) becomes frustrated when her proposal for a faster repair isn't listened to; Jack (Kiefer Sutherland) and Cole (Freddie Prinze Jr.) have the NSA close the bridges leading out of Manhattan, to limit the terrorist's escape routes, but end up driving into a trap along the riverfront, enabling Tarin (T.J Ramini) and Samir to escape with the nuclear rods aboard a raft; Renee (Annie Wersching) was informed of Jack's situation and decided to go look for him herself; and Dana (Katee Sackhoff) was forced to take drastic measures when it became clear Prady (Stephen Root) doesn't believe her story that video evidence of Wade's robbery was erased by the EMP...

While there wasn't much here we haven't seen before (Jack's orders being ignored, resulting in the death of agents under his command; the arrival of a corporate prick whose "help" is anything but; Chloe's ideas being ignored), it did everything quite effectively and there was definitely more tension and excitement than the majority of Day 8's episodes have served up. A decent episode of 24 can typically be judged by how many of the subplots irritate you, or how many unreasonable leaps in logic you're asked to make, and there wasn't much of that here. Even Dana's storyline, while exasperating, redeemed itself thanks to an unexpected turn, with Dana strangling Prady to death to prevent him talking to Hastings (Mykelti Williamson), hiding his body in an air vent on CTU premises, and then contacting Samir to reveal she's been a mole all along!

Yes, 24 played the mole card again. When all else fails, it's the easiest twist the writers can come up, but it just might be the adrenaline shot to the heart 24 needs mid-season. I'm not sure it makes total sense that Dana has been working for the terrorists all this time, although the fact she has a secret criminal past can perhaps be taken as foreshadowing -- although I have my doubts it was ever intentional. Even if it doesn't make sense in retrospect, I'm just pleased this reveal signaled the end of the Prady storyline (well, until someone finds his body, or Hastings wonders where he went), and gives Katee Sackhoff a chance to play the bad girl now. She has the perfect scowl for it, and she may even get to fire a gun.

Asides

-- A part of me was hoping Chloe would electrocute herself and set fire to the server room, if only to be less predictable.

-- Thank goodness Renee's role in Day 8 isn't over and she can now partner Jack out in the field. Also nice to see Hastings continue to show some solidarity with his team and support Chloe.

-- No sign of President Taylor again. Do you get the feeling the writers have no clue what to do with her character, beyond ask for status reports from CTU every once in awhile?

28 MARCH 2010: SKY1 (HD), 9PM

Claudia Winkleman to host Film 2010


The BBC's long-running Film show has found a new presenter, following the departure of Jonathan Ross after 11 years. It's Claudia Winkleman, best known for presenting It Takes Two, Strictly Come Dancing's companion series. That's a big surprise I could never have predicted, and surely signals a huge change of direction for the show, which will return to BBC1 in September with a brand new format.

Winkleman will be joined by various experts and studio guests every week, so it sounds like Film 2010 will resemble The Culture Show focused on films. My immediate reaction to Claudia's appointment isn't good, mainly because I wasn't even aware she had any interest in film. And even if she does love her films, she's certainly not an authority on them. But maybe the BBC just want someone entertaining who can draw in a bigger crowd (in a primetime slot, finally?), who'll just be a conduit for the experts tom pass judgement -- meaning Film 2010 may resemble the Newsnight Review, with Winkleman as Kirsty Wark?

I just can't see Claudia Winkleman giving an informed opinion on, say, Precious, in the manner of Jonathan Ross or his predecessor Barry Norman. She's too lightweight and scatterbrained for that, isn't she? Mind you, Claudia apparently already hosting an arts show on BBC Radio 2, which covers film, theatre, TV and music, so maybe she's more qualified for this job than her TV work implies? I haven't heard her radio show, so I really can't say. Has anyone else?

Claudia Winkleman, on her appointment:

"Everyone has an opinion on film and I'm looking forward to debating the biggest news and releases with a whole variety of guests each week. I am completely over the moon about being given this enormous honour and am incredibly proud to be to be presenting the new look Film 2010. It's an honour to follow on from the brilliant Jonathan Ross. I have been lucky enough to cover the BAFTAs and present the UK broadcasts of the Oscars and the Golden Globes for years and now to be able to work with the producers on Film 2010 is just amazing."
What do you think? Is Claudia the right person for the job, who will surprise us with her level of knowledge and expertise? Or is she just a bubbly personality the BBC need to provide work for, who's been hired to make Film more appealing and frothy for mass consumption?

TV Picks: 29 March - 4 April 2010 (Doctor Who, Ashes To Ashes, Cougar Town, Have I Got News For You?, Justin Lee Collins, Jonathan Creek, A Touch Of Frost, and more...)



MONDAY 29th
Countrywise (ITV1, 8pm) Series investigating various aspects of the UK's coast and countryside.
Ask The Chancellors (Channel 4, 8pm) Chancellor Alistair Darling and his Conservative and Liberal Democrat shadows, participate in a studio debate with a live audience.
Blood And Oil (BBC2, 9pm) Two-part drama about two Western oil workers in the Niger Delta who are captured by armed militants. Stars Naomie Harris, Jodhi May, David Odelowo & Paterson Joseph. Concludes tomorrow.
How To Win An Election: A Panorama Guide (BBC4, 9pm) Archive footage from the TV series Panorama sheds light on how politicians use the media to win an election.
Justin Lee Collins: Good Times (Five, 10pm) Chat show presented by Justin Lee Collins, featuring Florence Welch and Cillian Murphy

TUESDAY 30th
The World's Most Dangerous Place For Women (BBC3, 9pm) A woman who was sent to London from the Congo returns after 20 years to find her parents.
The Genius Of Omar Khayyam (BBC4, 9pm) Profile of medieval Persian poet, astronomer and mathematician Omar Khayyam.
Cougar Town (LivingTV, 9pm) New US drama series about a middle-aged woman who's newly single. Stars Courtney Cox.
True Stories: A Long Weekend With The Son Of God (More4, 10pm) Documentary about a sect of 4,000 people in the Siberian wilderness who claim a former cop is the Son of God.
The Antiques Rogue Show (BBC4, 10.30pm) Dramatisation of the true life story about two elderly people who conned art experts with fakes their son had made in a garden shed.

WEDNESDAY 31st
Who Needs Fathers? (BBC2, 9pm) Series looking into the Children Act, passed 20 years ago, which aimed to protect kids whose parents have separated.
Canoe Man (BBC4, 9pm) Dramatisation of the true life story about a man who faked his own death, where his wife was complicit in the deception, but both never told their families the truth. Stars Bernard Hill & Saskia Reeves.
Laughtershock (BBC3, 11.05pm) Comedy pilot giving an outlet for young comedians to show their skills.

THURSDAY 1st
Drop Dead Diva (LivingTV, 8pm) US comedy about a dumb model who's reincarnated as a chubby lawyer.
Lost Abroad: The Parents' Story (Channel 4, 9pm) Documentary looking at every parent's worst nightmare: their child going to work or travel abroad, only to die in mysterious circumstances.
Lindsay Lohan's Indian Journey (BBC3, 9pm) Hollywood actress Lindsay Lohan investigates child trafficking in Delhi, India.
Have I Got News For You? (BBC1, 9.30pm) Brand new nine-part series of the comedy panel show, with team captains Paul Merton and Ian Hislop. Lee Mack is the first guest host.

GOOD FRIDAY
Ashes To Ashes (BBC1, 9pm) Third and final series of the timeslip '80s cop drama. Stars Philip Glenister & Keeley Hawes.
The Door (ITV1, 9pm) Gameshow where celebrities face tough challenges, in order to win £25,000 for charity. This first episode features Keith Duffy, Frankie Sandford, Dean Gaffney, Jennie McAlpine, Michael Underwood & Louisa Lytton, who have to escape from a prison cell through various tunnels. Presented by Chris Tarrant & Amanda Holden.

SATURDAY 3rd
Doctor Who (BBC1, 6.20pm) New series of the sci-fi adventure series. Stars Matt Smith & Karen Gillan.
Doctor Who Confidential (BBC3, 7.25pm) Behind-the-scenes companion show to the preceding episode on BBC1, featuring interviews with the show's new stars and showrunner.

EASTER SUNDAY
Jonathan Creek (BBC1, 8pm) One-off special of the quirky detective drama. Stars Alan Davies, Sheridan Smith, Paul McGann & Stuart Milligan.
A Touch Of Frost (ITV1, 8pm) Two-part swansong for the long-running detective drama. Stars David Jason.

Sunday, 28 March 2010

I'm back! Did you miss me?

I hope my week's break wasn't too painful for everyone, but I managed to cover most of the TV shows I think are most popular. It's just going to be hard trying to catchup with the shows I missed last week, as another week starts. Damages, Mad Men and Human Target were the big shows I missed, so they'll either get covered separately very soon, or I'll do a "double bill" with this week's episode.

Also, as it's now so close to Sky Movies' premiere of The Pacific (Easter Sunday), I've decided to follow at the UK pace. You may also have noticed that my sidebar's "On The Box" grid has updated with some new shows starting this week (Ashes To Ashes, Doctor Who, V), so that means I'm maxed out. Hopefully this will only last a few weeks, as other shows come to an end (Caprica, Mad Men), but there's a chance I'll have to be ruthless and stop reviewing a few, or else just dip into them very occasionally.

Saturday, 27 March 2010

LOST 6.9 – "Ab Aeterno"

WRITERS: Melinda Hsu Taylor & Greggory Nations
DIRECTOR: Tucker Gates
GUEST CAST: Mark Pellegrino, Titus Welliver, Mirelly Taylor, Juan Carlos Cantu, Izzy Diaz, Davo Coria, Steven Elder & Sheila Kelley
[SPOILERS] A break from the season's flashsideways formula, making way for the long overdue flashback for the mysterious, apparently immortal Richard Alpert (Nestor Carnonell). "Ab Aeterno" ("From Eternity" in English) was a curious episode, in that it was undoubtedly very entertaining, did an effective job answering some fundamental questions (or, at this late stage, confirming old theories), and was pulled through its simplistic storyline thanks to a marvellous performance from Carbonell, but there were still some worrying elements that prevented it being the homerun I think was expected...

Tenerife, Canary Islands, 1867. A bearded "Ricardo" (Carbonell) is desperate to cure his beautiful spouse Isabella (Mirelly Taylor) from a high fever that's killing her, so he races on horseback to the local physician to buy lifesaving medicine. Unfortunately, he doesn't have enough funds to pay for the vital medication, and the obstinate doctor is accidentally killed during a struggle by a blow to the head on a wooden table. Ricardo's situation goes from bad to worse, as he returns to Isabella with the stolen remedy, only to find she died while he was away from her bedside, and is thrown into jail for murder to await a hanging. A reprieve came in the shape of a British naval officer, Jonas Whitfield, who agreed to spare the English-speaking Ricardo from an untimely death (and fiery, eternal damnation in hell) by taking him to the New World as one of many slaves aboard the Black Rock ship, which hits a ferocious storm and washes up on The Island after colliding with the four-toed statue of Tawaret.

Ricardo essentially became the sole survivor of the shipwreck, after his fellow slaves were murdered by Whitfield to help ration provisions and the Smoke Monster/Man In Black (Titus Welliver) arrived to eradicate the rest. It would appear that the MIB's plan to kill Jacob (Mark Pellegrino), by tricking someone into doing the deed for him, is one he formulated a long time before manipulating Locke and Ben, which calls into question why Jacob fell for it the second time. Here, the MIB wasted no time in manipulating the religiously devout Ricardo, by scanning his memories while he's still in chains, then appearing as the "ghost" of Isabella to persuade him the Island is actually Hell, before arriving as the MIB to offer Ricardo the chance to escape damnation by killing "The Devil" (aka Jacob) with the same ornate knife Dogen wanted Sayid to kill the MIB with.

Ricardo agreed to the MIB's plan, but after arriving at the foot of the broken statue (is it plausible the Black Rock could have smashed that thing to pieces, incidentally?), he was quickly disarmed by Jacob, who proved he wasn't "dead" by almost drowning him in the sea, and proceeded to explain the true nature of the man he'd met in the jungle and of the Island itself. The MIB is essentially a representation of "evil", currently trapped in a "bottle", of which this Island is the figurative "cork" keeping it contained. Jacob brings people to the Island to try and prove to the MIB that people are not inherently bad and easily corruptible, but refuses to get too hands on with his candidates. However, the situation with Ricardo has opened Jacob's eyes to the downside of not being as proactive as his enemy, so he recruits Ricardo to be his permanent, thus immortal representative, or "middle man" for candidates. I guess Richard's the Pope to Jacob's God, which means Ben was a cardinal?

I think this episode's rather predictable and clichéd storyline was rescued by two things: (1) the performance of Carbonell, who committed himself 100% to the role and gave a nuanced portrayal of a naïve and pious Richard, which even managed to make a rote "tragic love story" tug at the heart-strings, despite the fact Isabella's never even been mentioned before now; and (2) the simple fact there was hardly any ambivalence and double-talk, with Jacob giving generally clear answers and explanations to simple questions. There was nothing especially momentous or unexpected in what Jacob confirmed, but it was just nice to have a few things made apparent as we enter the last half of the season.

Overall, I wasn't as awestruck by "Ab Aeterno" as many people appear to have been, mainly because Richard's pre-island story felt very predictable, but it would have been a whole lot worse if Carbonell didn't give the material a significant boost thanks to how he tackled it. Plus, I can't deny it wasn't fun to get some longstanding answers to questions surrounding the Black Rock, the destruction of the statue, what the Island actually is, and Alpert's role. And despite the episode's unsurprisingly developments and formulaic story, I'll admit the way present-day Alpert was prevented from going over to the "dark side" thanks to Hurley (Jorge Garcia) communicating with Isabella, was a great deal more heart wrenching than it would have been without Carbonell's involvement.

Asides

-- A quick theory: Jacob's Cave wasn't Jacob's Cave, it was the MIB's Cave. Jacob lives solely in the foot of the statue. That's why the white stone the MIB was given by Jacob rested on the scales in the cave (later to be thrown away as the "in-joke" between them), and the crossed out names of candidates on the cave walls are those people the MIB has managed to eliminate from competition. It's only bad guys who live in caves, right?

-- As much as I've enjoyed Terry O'Quinn's "evil Locke" performance this season, there's a part of me that's annoyed Titus Welliver's not on the show every week as the "big bad". He's so good at it. I hope he returns.

-- Why didn't Jacob defend himself against Ben's knife attack, if he could so easily disarm Richard, who likewise was sent to stab him? Is Jacob perhaps vulnerable once you're actually inside his statue residence?

-- When we saw the Black Rock sailing close to the Island in the season 5 finale, there was no sign of any storm and it was broad daylight. A continuity gaffe, or did Jacob summon a tempest when night fell?

-- This hasn't been referred to since, but wasn't there a point when the MIB was essentially imprisoned inside Jacob's Cabin (posing there as Jacob) and contained by a perimeter of ash? If so, it's never been explained: (a) who imprisoned him there, (b) how the Smoke Monster was still able to travel around the Island beyond the Cabin (if that's the MIB's true form), and (c) who broke the ash circle to release the MIB so he could inhabit Locke's dead body. Will we get answers to all that soon?

Questions, Questions, Questions!

Surprisingly, there weren't many this week, as this episode actually answered plenty without raising subsequent ones, but...

-- How, when and where did Jacob meet Ilana? Is she a representative of his, off the island? Did she have a role on the Island, before being sent away? Is she immortal, too?

26 MARCH 2010: SKY1 (HD), 9PM

Doctor Who: Matt Smith on Jonathan Ross + extended Series 5 trailer


Matt Smith was the headlining guest on Friday Night With Jonathan Ross, 8 days before the new series of Doctor Who starts on Saturday 3 April (BBC1/HD, 6.20pm). The BBC are stingy with what they make available from this show on YouTube, so you'll have to make do with the above clip of Smith showing Wossy his sonic screwdriver and discussing the new TARDIS interior. If you're in the UK, you can currently watch the whole episode (and fast-forward to Smith, after Emma Thompson and Professor Brian Cox) by clicking here. Failing that, trawl YouTube for someone to have uploaded the complete interview unofficially. Anyway, I thought Smith came across very well and clearly has that all-important eccentricity he can feed into the character. He also introduced an extended version of the Series 5 trailer and a clip from episode 6's "Vampires In Venice", which you can watch below:


Friday, 26 March 2010

24: time's up, Jack


It's been on the cards for awhile, but 24 alumnus Jon Cassar (director/producer for 7 seasons) has tweeted that the current eighth season will be its last:

"News from the 24 set,the crew has been told that 24 has come to an end. There will b no season 9. Its been a great run, thanx all 4 watching."
This brings an end to one of the '00s most popular and pioneering television dramas, after an incredible nine years on-air. 24 is expected to move into feature films, having recently hired screenwriter Billy Ray to work on a script, rumoured to be set in Europe. There has been speculation that NBC may be interested in continuing the series on TV recently, but I don't hold out much hope for that.

CHUCK 3.11 - "Chuck Versus The Final Exam"

WRITER: Zev Borow
DIRECTOR: Robert Duncan McNeill
GUEST STAR: Brandon Routh, Bonita Friedericy, Heather Olt & Andrew Kirsanov
[SPOILER] One downside to season 3 has been the fact it's constantly changing; not because the changes Chuck's made this year have been all bad, more because we haven't really been able to spend much time with the show in whatever new form it takes, before it's already contorting into something else. The prospect of Devon knowing Chuck's secret formed the basis of just two episodes; Sarah's (Yvonne Strahovski) relationship with Shaw (Brandon Routh) hasn't felt real since the episode they (rather inexplicably) became an item; and Chuck's (Zachary Levi) relationship with sweet Hannah didn't go anywhere, despite lots of promise and potential. "Chuck Versus The Final Exam" was another episode that involved shakeups to the show's foundations, and I hope we get to explore them properly before the writers seize on something else.

This week, Chuck was told by General Beckman (Bonita Friedericy) that he's about to undertake a "final exam" to determine whether or not he can become a full-term spy. Chuck's overjoyed that he'll perhaps achieve his career ambition, but finds he's a little distracted by a desire to get the recently civilianized Casey (Adam Baldwin) his job back, and make a last-ditch play for Sarah's heart before she leaves for a new life with Shaw in Washington D.C. Chuck's final test took the form of a solo mission to a hotel, where he had to visually identify a CIA mole who's been feeding secrets to Ring operative Anatoli Zevlovski, with the help of special glasses that fed video back to the Castle...

The main subplot was inconsequential filler, with Casey facing a reprimand for assaulting Jeff (Scott Krinsky) and Lester (Vik Sahay) at work, who later threatened to sue him. Big Mike (Mark Christopher Lawrence) stepped in to mediate between his warring workers, by arranging a meeting at the local Subway (ker-ching!) to nip things in the bud. Truly, this was a terrible storyline that seemed to exist purely to promote Chuck's major sponsor -- a food outlet whose support of the show I can't criticize too much (after all, Subway were a big reason NBC gave Chuck a third season), but the level of product placement in US shows can be rather egregious. Needless to say, "the sponsor" received a triumphant sting on the soundtrack at their store logo and the full endorsement of Big Mike, for what that's worth. So I guess this storyline made a few Subway executives happy.


The core storyline with Chuck was thankfully pretty good, even if we had to again swallow the idea that Chuck could ever become a proper spy. He's effectively a walking gadget, prone to malfunction without Sarah around to keep his temperament calm and quell his fears, so it's a bit of a stretch to imagine passing this exam would see him dispatched to Rome as a fulltime undercover agent. But that's the line Chuck wants us to tow right now (a few episodes before the original finale date, until NBC added another six episodes to their season order), so we'll have to go with it.

I'm still something of a sucker for scenes between Chuck and Sarah when they try to communicate their feeling for one another, which is something of a miracle considering how often the show plays that card, and how the writers continue to make Sarah react in the exact same way every single time. Still, Zev Borow's script at least gave Yvonne Strahovski a chance to smile and defrosted her ice maiden routine a little, making me remember how pleasurable Strahovski and Levi's scenes can be together. Their champagne, iPod and binoculars stakeout scene was very engaging.

I'm not a fan of poorly used in media res openings, which this episode employed, as they tend to spoil things because you know where events are headed from the off. That said, this episode's managed to work quite well in the end, with Chuck apparently shooting a turncoat CIA mole dead to complete his "Red Test" (proving he can kill the enemy), but knowing that it was actually Casey who took the deadly shot from afar (using a gun Chuck had given him as a present.) This setup the nice development that Chuck's finally been granted spy status, but knows it hasn't really been earned, and Sarah's just horrified that sweet Chuck went through with the kill, believing from her own experience (seen in flashback) that it'll forever taint his character. He's no longer the man she fell in love with, only... he is, but  can't tell her that because he'll lose his job.

Overall, "... Versus The Final Exam" could have been better (if only by omitting or improving Casey's subplot), but the episode ended in a manner that threw the Chuck/Sarah relationship into a fun direction. Would it have been more interesting, not to mention brave, if Chuck had actually shot that guy himself? Perhaps. Do we have a vague idea where all this is likely to go, knowing the show wouldn't be foolish enough to separate Chuck and Sarah? Definitely. But, hey, that's all part and parcel of this show – it's a little restricted by its own premise, no matter how far it tries to stretch the barriers, but it knows what it does best and generally managess to work to its strengths.

Asides

-- I liked seeing Shaw smile when Chuck went into kung fu mode in the steam room. It's good when the characters react as the audience do to things that happen on the show, plus it made Shaw look like less of an automaton.

-- A few fun pop-culture spots: an alias of Ivan Drago (Rocky IV), Casey shooting the villain on behalf of Chuck (The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance), the steam room fight (Red Heat), and probably some others.

22 MARCH 2010: NBC, 8/7c

DESPERATE HOUSEWIVES 6.9 - "Would I Think Of Suicide?"

WRITER: Jason Ganzel
DIRECTOR: Ken Whittingham
GUEST CAST: Julie McNiven, Lamont Thompson, Michael Worth, Maria Cominis, Mason Vale Cotton, Kendall Applegate & John Sanderford
[SPOILERS] This week's visit to Fairview was a prime example of the pleasure/pain principle. Don't panic, I'm not going to get all psychoanalytical on you, I simply mean that the characters had to deal with their fair share of pain (what else were we to expect with a title like that?), but we, the viewer, could derive from this a great deal of pleasure. Dark yet humourous, snappy and shocking, well-written and above all entertaining: "Would I Think Of Suicide?" was a stunning return to form for Desperate Housewives.

Following waitress Emily Portsmith's (Julie McNiven) murder at the close of "The Coffee Cup", nervous residents were drawing parallels to Julie's (Andrea Bowen) strangling at the start of the series. Her attacker is still out there, and he has struck again. Julie Mayer is a mystery to me: half the time she is -- justifiably -- despondent following her attack, while the rest of the time she is happy to rebel and tease her mother, Susan (Teri Hatcher), about possibly still seeing the married man who may-or-may-not be her attacker, but definitely is Nick Bolen (Jeffrey Nordling). This seems like a rather brainless and immature choice for an otherwise smart young woman, but it did yield a heart-wrenching exchange between mother and daughter: "Sorry I grew up" / "Me too".

To allow Julie some freedom without the fear of her attacker following her car, Karl Mayer (Richard Burgi) agrees to switch cars with his daughter. This generous offer, however, leads a snooping Susan to spot Julie's car parked at a seedy motel, only to spy through the window and discover.. her ex-husband getting intimate with her best friend. I think the word is "busted". Watching Susan chokehold Bree (Marcia Cross) a tad too tightly during the housewives' self-defence class was a delight -- and no doubt wholly cathartic for Susan, who soon cooled off and gave the odd couple her blessing, especially after Bree exclaims that she loves Karl. This would probably explain why she is trying to blackmail a clueless Orson (Kyle MacLachlan) into accepting her affair by asking his former prison inmate (Lamont Thompson) to pay the Hodge household a visit and invalidate the terms of her husband's parole. What a tangled web these people weave!

Meanwhile, Susan’s second husband (or third, if you acknowledge the fact they divorced then remarried), Mike Delfino (James Denton), literally put the "snap" in the episode by flying off the handle at his jealous/depressed/bonkers ex Katherine Mayfair (Dana Delaney) for offloading her issues to Mike and Susan's six-year-old son MJ (Mason Vale Cotton). Katherine clearly needs medical help getting over Mike, and she reacts badly when he threatens her -- by kidnapping MJ from a birthday party. Laying out some blunt home truths to Katherine, she asks Mike to stab her with a cake knife if he truly means what he said. "I don't care enough to kill you" is Mike's cold-but-frank reply, and Katherine's reaction is truly shocking and distressing, confirming the agony behind her suburban smile.

Another Wisteria Lane resident in need of medical attention this week was Danny Bolen (Beau Mirchoff), who, having been absent from the screen for a few weeks, took centre stage again by overdosing on pills after being rejected by Julie Mayer. Quite why he would want to be with a girl who has slept with his father is beyond me, but clearly he is serious. I suppose it didn't help his mood when he returned home to find his parents, Nick and Angie (Drea De Matteo), arguing furiously about Nick's phone-call to the FBI, but it did allow us the precious insight that the family have been on the run for 18 years -- because Angie killed a man. All these weeks I've been blaming Nick. Regardless, there's still something about him which I don't like. Upon waking in the hospital, a delirious Danny tells neighbour and Nurse Mona Clark (Maria Cominis) that his name isn't Danny, but Tyler. It won't be long before the Bolen's secret is uncovered and my suspicions about Nick will be answered.

Elsewhere on the street, pleasure turned to pain and friends turned to enemies as Carlos (Ricardo Chavira) continued to play hardball regarding pregnant Lynette's (Felicity Huffman) "promotion" to Florida. If she refuses to take it, she can either quit or have a new office -- in the stationary cupboard (!) Gabrielle Solice (Eva Longoria Parker) also remains hurt that the Scavo's didn’t trust her enough to reveal their big news, but just as the Solice's start to soften, the Scarvo's serve them court papers for unfair treatment at work: this means war.

With both sides refusing to buckle, Carlos hires a lawyer and gives Lynette two days worth of work to complete in one evening -- the evening of Penny Scarvo's (Kendall Applegate) school pageant. Sigmund Freud would have had a field day with these people, but for the time being I'm more than happy to keep myself entertained with their myriad of problems from the comfort of my own couch.

24 MARCH 2010: CHANNEL 4 (HD), 9PM

TRAILER PARK: Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World


British director Edgar Wright's a few rungs up the Hollywood ladder now, mostly off the back of "rom-zom-com" hit Shaun Of The Dead, itself buoyed by positive US response to his work on Channel 4's slacker-comedy Spaced. Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World (based on Bryan Lee O'Malley's comic-book series of the same name) feels like a perfect fit for Wright's brand of Sam Raimi-on-acid directing style, telling the romantic story of the titular nerd (Michael Cera) who falls in love with doe-eyed Ramona Flowers (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), only to be told he must defeat her seven evil ex-boyfriends to win her heart...

Cue what appears to be a live-action video-game of Scott going mano-et-mano against Ramona's ex's, all endowed with super powers and played by the likes of Chris Evans (Fantastic Four, Sunshine), Brandon Routh (Superman Returns, Chuck) and Jason Schwartzman (Rushmore, Darjeeling Limited). Superbad meets Kung Fu Hustle? Whatever, it looks like good fun. The energized teaser (embedded above) accomplishes its task of grabbing your attention, but I hope a proper trailer can put some of the visual pizazz to one side and let us see what the story and characters have to offer. As an admirer of Wright's work from the very beginning (incidentally, his "Don't" faux-trailer for Grindhouse was a treat), I'm hoping this is the mainstream breakthrough it's clearly designed and intended to be.

Released: 6 August (UK), 13 August (US), 26 August (AUS)

Thursday, 25 March 2010

CAPRICA 1.8 - "Ghosts In The Machine"

WRITER: Michael Taylor
DIRECTOR: Wayne Rose
GUEST CAST: Polly Walker, John Pyper-Ferguson, Leah Gibson & Jesse Haddock
[SPOILERS] "Ghosts In The Machine" was two-thirds good, one-third tiresome. It once again explored the series' raison d'etre of two fathers trying to locate their dead daughters, whose spirits are both trapped in technological prisons. Trouble is, while Daniel's (Eric Stoltz) storyline has been getting better of late, Joseph's (Esai Morales) has been getting worse...

Daniel is now convinced Zoe's (Alessandra Torresani) avatar is inhabiting his Cylon automaton, thus explaining its curious behaviour and responsiveness. Unfortunately, Zoe has no intention of letting on he's correct in that assumption, even when he puts her through a series of tests; laborious assembling and disassembling a weapon, standing motionless inside a circle of flames (knowing Zoe has a childhood fear of fire), and -- in the episode's standout sequence -- demanding she shoot the family dog dead. Each scene was interesting and riveting for its own reasons (the dog incident undoubtedly the big talking point when the dust settled), and the storyline ultimately did a good job of cementing exactly why Zoe doesn't want her father to know she's "survived" death in digital form. That has been one of Caprica's sticking points for me, but I think this episode did a much better job of clarifying why a girl like Zoe would prefer to keep her existence a secret.

I wish I could be similarly upbeat about Joseph's adventures in the virtual world, but "New Cap City" is becoming a drag, not helped by the fact Joseph's so clueless and inept in this digital realm, while the continuous shots of blimps and pointless explosions is already beginning to outstay its welcome. I think my main problem is that I'm not sure how to treat Joseph as a character yet -- one minute it looks like he's the ruthless patriarch of a gangster dynasty trying to go straight yet ordering a hit on Amanda (Paula Malcomson), the next he's a sidekick in a virtual game, being led around by guide Emmanuelle (Leah Gibson) as he's apparently lost his killer instinct (even in a place where "death" isn't even real.) Thankfully, Joseph appeared to grow some cajones in the final moments, slaughtering a nightclub's patrons in an effort to track down his daughter, which at least bodes well for the future.

Overall, this penultimate episode before the mid-season finale was rescued by the excellent Daniel/Zoe sequences, which were fascinating and a brilliant mind game for Stoltz and Toressani to play with. It's funny, I started watching Caprica and feeling that there was more intrigue and vitality to the Adama's, but now I'm more invested in the Graystone's business problems and family issues. There's just more angles to those characters. That said, the recent idea that Amanda's having visions of her dead brother (she visited the spot where his car crashed and saw him drive past in ghostly form), is something I don't feel particularly attached to just yet.

Asides

-- There was another sly reference to where the Cylon race is headed, with Daniel promising Zoe he'll "find a way to make you a more human body." He won't, of course.

-- As a fan of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, it's always nice to see alumnus Ronald D. Moore give one of his fellow DS9 staffers a job -- in this case, Michael Taylor, who wrote one of my favourite ever sci-fi TV episodes "The Visitor". I still say that Battlestar Galactica (and by extension Caprica) is essentially a mix of three old shows: the original BSG (the premise, the lore), Deep Space Nine (the spirituality) and Space: Above & Beyond (the aesthetic, military angle).

-- Judging from those "Tamara-flower" symbols everywhere, I daresay she's become a messianic figure in V-world since we last saw her, or at the very least the leader of a cult.

23 MARCH 2010: SKY1 (HD), 9PM