Category Archives: TV Reviews

TELEVISION: Cold Case: Solid Procedural Enters Sixth Season

It’s hard to believe, but Cold Case [CBS, Sundays, 9/8C] has been setting the ghosts of the past to rest for over five years. The sixth season premiere, Glory Days, follows the familiar pattern – after we see the final moments of Michael “Bad Moon” McShane [Aaron Hill] in 1973, a piece of evidence is discovered in the present that suggests he was killed much later than was previously thought. Enter Lilly Rush [Kathryn Morris]  and her team of cold case investigators.

Cold Case, S6

“Bad Moon” was a football star who disappeared the night before the championship game. The investigation puts together a picture of how his last few days were spent by questioning various of his friends, coaches, tutors and such. There’s his teammate, Tom “The Breeze” Bernard [B.J. Britt/Clifton Powell], who lost his scholarship because McShane reported his ill health; Steve Pratt [Sean O’Bryan/James Karen], the alumnus who recruited McShane [and treated him to dinner once a week – and gave him extra spending money for books]; Assistant Coach Walters [Tom Griffin/M.C. Gainey], who was aware that the team’s unofficial, off-campus doctor was giving them steroids, R. Boretski [Justice Leak/James Read], McShane’s tutor, who, McShane threatened to reveal was cheating on class work for members of the football team.

With lots of suspects, there are lots of stories – some of them touching, some funny, and some false. The procedures through which the team solves the case may be familiar but the variations provided each new set of circumstances and suspects allow for enough variety to keep the series feeling fresh – especially when each ep is anchored by music of the period [here it’s by BTO and Steely Dan].

Another ep furnished by CBS, Wednesday’s Women, the third ep of the new season, deals with a group of women who drove from Philadelphia to Mississippi to help run Freedom schools under the cover selling Tupperware®. In it, what was thought to be a hit and run turns out to have far greater implications. The ep’s guest cast includes Olympia Dukakis and Carl Lumbly, among others.

The Cold Case ensemble [Morris, John Finn, Thom Barry, Jeremy Ratchford, Danny Pino and Tracie Thoms] is reliably together and between the regular cast, the guest stars and the consistent writing, the show remains one of the more watchable procedurals around.

Final Grade: B

TELEVISION: Dexter: Life Gets Interesting For Dexter!

A couple of interesting things happen over the first four episodes of the third season of Dexter [Showtime, Sundays, 9/8C]: Dexter [Michael C. Hall] commits a spontaneous act that calls into question Harry’s Code, and Dexter makes a friend in the person of an Assistant District Attorney named Miguel Prado [Jimmy Smits]. The spontaneous act is the murder of Prado’s brother, whom he thinks is a drug dealer named Freebo [Mike Erwin] – and the manner in which he has to cover up this act while dealing with the police investigation and Miguel.

GQ

Otherwise, Dex’s life is pretty good. He no longer has the FBI on his trail; he and Rita [Julie Benz] seem to be in a good place [and he dotes on her kids], and his sister, Debra [Jennifer Carpenter], seems to have sworn off men, drinking and smoking – if not cussing. The thing of it is he doesn’t refer to himself as a monster every so often, either. Somehow, while he would probably vehemently disagree, Dexter is becoming more human – maybe not much more, but enough that it is noticeable.

The Showtime series does continue to play with the idea of morality, though. Dex’s moment of spontaneity has him rethinking Harry’s code even further when he spies a creepy guy asking Rita’s daughter Christina Robinson] for directions in a supermarket. His fierce feeling of protectiveness for the kids is as human as anything he’s ever felt. Couple that with his growing friendship with Miguel, and there are moments that find him seeming practically normal.

Dexter continues to be one of the most compelling dramas on television. From its opening sequence that emphasizes the violence of the everyday, to the odd relationship between Dexter and Rita, to his day job as a blood spatter expert for the Miami-Dade Police, Dexter is an examination of all the kinds of violence that permeate our existence. It has some of the best dialogue anywhere and a cast that serves it up perfectly – and manages a perfect balance between drama, melodrama and gallows humor.

The exceptional ensemble also continues to warrant intriguing arcs as well. Angel [David Zayas] gets promoted to sergeant – and has to deal with the sometimes unhappy responsibilities that come with his new position. Vince [C.S. Lee] has an article printed in a prestigious forensics journal but can’t find a way to persuade anyone to help him celebrate his success. Debra finds her swearing off of men challenged by a most unlikely guy – and is harassed by Internal Affairs to spy on the new guy in the division, Quinn [Desmond Harrington]. The richness of the plotting and the depth of the characterization remain amongst the absolute best on TV. Even the jaunty theme music is oddly creepy and utterly appropriate.

Dexter may not be for everyone, but for those of us who are into it, it is a treasure.

Final Grade: A

TELEVISION: Criminal Minds: As Promised Someone Dies!

There are many reasons that I gave up on Criminal Minds [CBS, Wednesdays, 9/8C] – among them, a seemingly deliberate bad treatment of women and unctuous and predictable writing. Both are present in this season’s premiere, subtly entitled Mayhem. It’s the resolution of the terrorist investigation/car bombing cliffhanger that ended the show’s third season.

Criminal Minds, S4

You may remember the scene: members of the team moved to their various SUVs and one exploded. Turns out that in the case of the one that exploded, its passengers hadn’t quite gotten into it [can you say cheat?] and were blown back by the explosion, not instantly killed. Not only that, but a passer-by calls 911 – of course no one is allowed to approach them because it was established that the bombers were actually looking to follow up the initial bomb with one to take out the initial response team[s].

So, we’ve got a badly injured woman. How she survived being scraped along the street for twenty yards, leaving a trail of skin and blood, is beyond me [when we get a glance at it, her back is so much hamburger]. Meanwhile the male agent is blown into the air and comes down across the street and is only shaken up and cut from the SUV’s windows – or so it seems. Actually, it’s later shown to be bad enough to have both agents requiring emergency treatment.

In the meantime, we get a bunch of fairly predictable events – the injured agent driving the ambulance to a hospital that has been barricaded, another agent discovering the second bomb and appearing to die saving everyone… the usual – and the only member of the team that comes off well is, once again, Garcia [Kristen Vangsness].

Sadly, all of the episode’s major reveals were obvious to me well before we reached them [before the teaser was over, actually]. And the promised death once again put a woman through all kinds of agony – a Criminal Minds staple. Not that Mayhem was totally ridiculous – it was beautifully filmed [though the hamburger shot could have been briefer] and Vangsness’ performance was excellent. On the other hand, Joe Mantegna’s David Rossi was reduced to the role of bystander and Paget Brewster’s Emily Prentiss was little more than window dressing.

Overall, then, Mayhem reminded me why I seldom watch Criminal Minds. It was overblown fooferaw and pretty much a waste of my time. Don’t let it waste yours.

Final Grade: D

Television: The Mentalist: Simon Baker Sees Stuff You Don’t!

Have you ever wondered what the series Psych would be like if it had been played as a drama? It might well have looked like The Mentalist [CBS, Tuesdays, 9/8C], a series about Patrick Jane, a former fraud television psychic who makes a major career change after a performance on a talk show takes a nasty turn.

mentalist - baker & tunney

The premiere finds Jane, who is now working for the California Bureau of Investigation, solving a murder in the opening minutes by simply, as he puts it, “paying attention.” His methods, being somewhat unorthodox, his boss, Teresa Lisbon [Robin Tunney], suspends him – but a new set of murders appears to strike home to him and he goes over her head to get back on the case.

Judging by the premiere, The Mentalist is one of those shows that seem like it’s going to go one way and then, BAM! It’s snuck up on you and grabbed you by the throat! Unlike Psych, which places the humor upfront, The Mentalist seems like it’s going to be deadly earnest – and mostly, it is – but at key moments, shrewdly placed bits of gallows humor serve to both emphasize the drama and relieve the carefully built up tension.

David Nutter, a true king of the pilots [Millennium, Roswell, Dark Angel, Smallville, and Without a Trace, among them], really has a handle on Bruno Heller’s [Touching Evil, Rome] excellent script. Some of the key moments are [deliberately] predictable in order to set up the ones that aren’t – and he draws series defining performances from an ensemble that also includes Owain Yeoman [Kitchen Confidential, The Nine], Amanda Righetti [The O.C., Reunion] and Tim Kang [Third Watch, Rambo].

The Mentalist may be the series that gives Simon Baker the hit his talent and charisma deserve – and with its NCIS lead-in, it’s positioned well. The fact that it’s a police show – if not exactly a procedural – means that it takes a different tone than NCIS, but its quality should hold that show’s audience.

TELEVISION: Eureka Kicks Off Season Three With A Bang!

When Eureka [Tuesdays, Sci Fi, 9/8C] returns for its third season, tomorrow night, it will feature a number of big bangs – and not just from the scientific menace. Bad to the Drone will feature [among other things]: Allison’s [Sally Richardson-Whitfield] answer to ex-husband Nathan Stark’s [Ed Quinn] proposal; an efficiency expert, Eva Thorne aka The Fixer [Frances Fisher], whose mandate is to stop the town’s financial woes by helping/forcing Global Dynamics to find ways to turn their top-secret projects into merchandise; and a terrific riff on the Robert Sheckley short story classic, Watchbird – and all of these threads combine to create more problems for Sheriff Jack Carter [Colin Ferguson].

eureka-tv

Other plot points include Zoe’s [Jordan Hinson] part-time job and Henry’s [Joe Morton] incarceration for treason – not to mention Deputy Jo Lupo’s [Erica Cerra] difficulty in finding a suitable romantic counterpart. Then there’s the problem posed by the town’s most popular eatery [plus, we learn how it’s possible for Cafe´ Diem to serve whatever the customer wants – no matter how bizarre or obscure…].

For a breezy, light summer series, Eureka continues to be as Calvin used to say, “Just packed!” Somehow, though, director Bryan Spicer manages to shoehorn in all of writer Jaime Paglia’s script without making the ep seem either too busy or too forced. Something else that comes through – and very plainly – is the enthusiasm the cast has for the show. Their performances [especially Colin Ferguson’s as the sheriff and a very concerned father] are as good here as they’ve ever been.

Upcoming eps see The Fixer’s particular expertise rendered useless when the inhabitants of a Global Dynamics biosphere begin evolving in reverse; Zoe beginning her accelerated physics program; the annual dog show growing more competitive than usual, and there appears to be an earthquake. Seems like just another season in Eureka.

Final Grade: B+

TELEVISION: Mr. Monk Buys a House To Open Season Seven

When Monk returns this evening [USA, 9/8C], the emphasis is not on the mystery – which would normally not be worthy of Adrian Monk’s [Tony Shalhoub] attention – rather, the main subject is dealing with the loss of a friend. On the show, Monk’s therapist, Dr. Charles Kroger [Stanley Kamel] has passed away because of a heart attack.

When Monk buys a house to get away from a neighbor child who plays Chopin incessantly, a potential new therapist, Dr. Neven Bell [Hector Elizondo] suggests that it might be because he misses his late friend – who also loved Chopin – a suggestion that has Monk suggesting he needs a different therapist.

Monk's New House

While shopping for a shower head – with one hundred holes, no less – a handyman named Jake [Brad Garrett] suggests he could drill a couple extra holes in it for home. In no time, Jake is finding flaws in the house and Monk looks like he’s fallen into a money pit. Then something happens to tie in the “renovations” to the death of the house’s previous owner.

By playing against the model puzzle mystery of the usual Monk episode, Mr. Monk Buys a House proves to be one of the better season premieres for the long-running cult hit. More than usual, the ep deals with that side of Monk’s character we’ve usually only gotten to see in his relationship with Natalie [Traylor Howard] – that part of Monk that is capable of great friendship. Because of the sincerity of the ep – and the final scene, which ties into a dedication to Mr. Kamel – an ep that could have come off as soppy, is, instead, genuinely poignant [something you don’t get everyday in series TV].

Garrett and Elizondo are both very good, but the ep belongs to Tony Shalhoub, who makes the OCD Monk even more vulnerable than we’ve seen him in the past – and that’s a pretty difficult feat! Monk has been up and down in quality over the last few seasons, but as Mr. Monk Buys a House illustrates, when it’s on, it’s still capable of a quiet brilliance.

Final Grade: B+

TELEVISION: Psych Returns With Big Surprises For Shawn!

When the third season premiere of Psych [USA, Fridays, 10/9C] airs this evening, pseudo-psychic Shawn Spencer [James Roday] is going to be thrown for a loop in ways he never anticipated. First, off, his best and partner in the Psych detective agency, Gus [Dule´ Hill] is basically given the choice of staying with the agency and losing his highly remunerative day job, or keeping his day job and quitting Psych. Second, his mother, Madeline [Cybill Shepherd] is in town – and his father [Corbin Bernsen] knew she was coming. To further complicate matters, the CEO [Christopher McDonald] of the company where Gus works has a haunting problem – the kind of case that only Shawn and Gus can handle.

As in Psych’s lead-in, Monk, this evening’s case isn’t the primary focus of the ep – The Ghost in You. Sharp-eyed viewers will notice something unusual in the way that Shawn’s investigative scenes are shot that is integral to the case’s solution. But what really matters in the way that Shawn’s relationship with his father is challenged by the arrival of Madeline – but her impact isn’t just on the Spencer men.

Gus & Shawn

It seems that Madeline is a psychologist who used to work with the police department. She has returned to not only visit Henry and Shawn, but to see if Detective Carlton Lassiter [Tim Omundson] is fit for duty. The sparring between them is quite literally priceless.

While Psych initially seemed like a series based on a gimmick, it has become a dependable source of entertainment because its writers know just when to lay off the shtick and spring a dramatic moment on us. The Ghost in You is no exception. Between trying to figure out how to keep Gus involved in the agency, without getting him fired at this day job – and dealing with the emotional rollercoaster ride that his mother’s surprise [to him] visit produces – as well as the agency’s latest case, we get to see sides of Shawn that we don’t usually see [which ties in, thematically with the Monk premiere that precedes it].

The Ghost in You is a solid ep that allows Roday and Hill to do their Gene Wilder/Richard Pryor of detectives thing to full advantage, while giving the show’s guest and supporting cast an opportunity to add texture and colors to the proceedings. It may because of the unusual shift of focus, but this is one of the best eps of the series, to date.

Final Grade: A-

The Tellybox: Doctor Who – "Stolen Earth": Companions and Continuity

                  Doctor and Companions

 

A week may be a long time in politics, but for the millions of fans of Doctor Who, this coming week is likely to be a very long week in the Who-verse.    I’m not going to spoil that "To Be Continued" cliff-hanger (and boy, what a cliff-hanger!) at the end of series 4’s penultimate episode "Stolen Earth"; it’s too brilliant a piece of television to want to give the game away.  Just watch it and enjoy the episode when it comes your way and gasp along with the rest of the audience.   There is no trailer for next week either, so the producers really are keeping everything tightly under their Welsh hats.

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TELEVISION: In Plain Sight by Sheldon Wiebe

I suppose it was inevitable that someone would devise a series like In Plain Sight [ISA 10/9C], about the trials and tribulations of a U.S. Federal Marshall who works with the Witness Protection Program. Such a series means that we have a widely varied series of people who have only one thing in common: somebody wants them dead… Mary Shannon [Mary McCormack] and her partner, Marshall Mann [Frederick Weller] are the marshals in question and it’s she who is focal point of the series.

Mary is a brusque, sarcastic bulldozer of woman, though you wouldn’t know it to look at her – but once she starts talking… Her partner is maybe as smart as her but he’s considerably more laid back. This is because he doesn’t have to deal with her deranged family – mother, Jinx [Lesley Anne Warren] and younger sister, Brandy [Nicole Hiltz]. Neither is employed – though Jinx tries her hand at an Avon lady-type job in the premiere. Then there’s Mary’s overworked boss, Stan McQueen [Invisible Man’s Paul Ben-Victor], who is usually not sure he wants to know about her cases – as long as they work out.

in-plain-sight

In the premiere, In Plain Sight, we meet Mary on a reasonably good day [which is to say she hasn’t had to tear a strip off anyone… yet]. That’s before she has to deal with Frankie Amato and his family. Frankie was caught red-handed after a hit and turned informant to stay out of jail. The problem comes when Frankie’s son is killed – after the family was placed in the program. “Hoosier Daddy” finds Mary dealing with a ten-year old boy who witnessed his mother’s murder and agrees to testify against the killer[s] – the kicker being that his father is one of them! In Iris Doesn’t Live Here Anymore, she has to deal with a black family whose patriarch refuses to follow the rules because he worked hard to become what he is – no matter what danger that might put his family in.

The series is terrific when it deals with Mary’s job. The people she works with, and the people she has to place in new lives, are all fascinating. These parts of the show are well written, move briskly and have some marvelous – if black – humor. Where the show loses steam, is with Mary’s family – and her on-again, off-again boyfriend, Raphael [Christian de la Fuente]. Jinx is so badly written that even I, who love Lesley Anne Warren, want to see her die horribly. Brandy is Jinx, only younger. If an intelligent thought were to cross either woman’s mind, she’d have a seizure! Raphael is, so far, just eye candy for the female audience, and the only thing we know about him is that he’s good in bed – but is man enough to “have a headache” when he doesn’t feel like performing.

If Mary’s family gets a little – okay, a lot – more depth, maybe the show will be wonderful. At the moment, the fun quotient is about sixty-forty – enough to recommend it, but not quite wholeheartedly.

Final Grade: C+

Battlestar Galactica: Escape Velocity – The Day After The Day After

adamatyrol

Escape Velocity opens with Chief Tyrol given a poignant eulogy at Cally’s funeral and ends with Gaius Baltar in a [for him] most unusual position. In between, this is one of Galactica’s most intense episodes – even though there are no great Cylon battles or even much action at all.

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Earth Day Inspires Green Programming on the Documentary Channel!

windfarm

This evening, beginning with Earth, Wind & Fire at 7/6C, the Documentary Channel will be airing five consecutive hours of documentaries that deal with alternative power sources; the effect of pollution on nature; the encroachment of development on the Amazonian rain forest, and the possibility of demand exceeding production of “cheap oil.”

Continue reading Earth Day Inspires Green Programming on the Documentary Channel!