Tag Archives: CBS

TELEVISION: Harper’s Island – Ten Little Indians at a Wedding!

On Thursday nights, from April 9 to July 2, CBS is running Harper’s Island [10/9C], a 13-episode “mystery event.” The tagline is, “27 miles off the coast of Seattle seven years ago, six people were murdered by John Wakefield. They were the first murders in the history of the island… they won’t be the last…”

Harpers_Island

The mini-series’ premiere sets up a situation that resembles a mash-up of Agatha Christie, David Lynch, Dynasty, and the slasher movie series of your choice… There are characters that last less than ten minutes into the premiere and characters that make it to just before the closing credits – and we are promised that at least one more will die every week. Is there a connection to the Wakefield murders? If so, why?

There are stock characters – The Groom [Henry Dunn, played by Christopher Gorham], The Biker Chick [Nikki Bolton, played by Ali Liebert], Malcolm Ross [The Hustler, played by Chris Gauthier], and Madison Allen [The Flower Girl, or The Spooky Girl, played by Cassandra Sawtelli], among others; and a complicated set of relationships that connect them all. One of the most important is that Henry worked on the island for the wealthy Wellington family – and his bride, Trish [Katie Cassidy], is the youngest daughter of that clan. Part of the fun will be seeing how the stock characters are fleshed out, and what ways they begin to diverge from the usual stereotypes [or whether they’ll last long enough to diverge…].

The murders that get the series going utilize different methods, so we know that the killer isn’t locked into a pattern, which makes him more dangerous and unpredictable. One thing that both murders have in common is that the victims are aware of their deaths – no rendering unconscious – which makes the killer more than just dangerous. He/she/ot is a deliberate, sadistic, creative person.

Harper’s Island underwent some casting changes following the release of a sizzle reel to critics, last fall. As a result, the tone has changed a bit. This version doesn’t seem quite as subtly creepy and vacillates between light and frothy and deeply dark and creepy.

Despite a solid cast of quality TV character players [Cassidy, Gorham, Harry Hamlin, Victor Webster, Jim Beaver and Richard Burgi, among others], the premiere is not as effective as the sizzle reel, but it’s still intriguing. I suspect that Harper’s Island will be a love or hate it series. Despite its flaws, I’m loving it – and suspect that, as the series progresses, the tone will settle in.

Final Grade: B

TELEVISION: Cold Case: When is A Standard Procedural Not a Standard Procedural?

Cold Case [CBS, 9/8C] deals with a team of detectives that solve “cold” cases – cases that that have long since been given up on – usually because some pertinent information has floated to the surface, figuratively speaking. The one thing they are completely unprepared for is a case that involves the here and now – and when the victim is one of their own, they find themselves in a place they’ve never been.

Cold Case - Officer Down

In Officer Down, Will Jeffries [Thom Barry] and Nick Vera [Jeremy Ratchford] stop so that Will can pick up some milk. When Will enters the corner store and goes to the milk cooler, he is shot from behind and left to die, along with the store owner, a neighborhood mainstay whom everyone calls “Pops”. From there, the episode deals with the reactions of the rest of the team – Lilly Rush [Kathryn Morris], Scotty Valens [Danny Pino], Lt. John Stillman [John Finn], and Kat Miller [Tracie Thoms].

They find themselves not only having to work in the present, but also trying to find who ambushed one of their own. From their initial responses [Rush gets the call as she’s jogging and pulls up short; Valens was in a dare with a gorgeous young thing and just drops her off near her home and pulls away even as she’s asking if “we can do this again?”], to their intensity in working the investigation, we’ve never seen the team as focused – or as frustrated.

Thanks to a solid script from co-producer Charles Silber, we actually get to see new shadings of these characters [who would’ve thought that the sceptical Vera would find himself “getting good at prayer?”]. We get the show’s trademark flashbacks, but with one exception they’re only back a matter of days – but director keeps show’s unique look for them, which gives them more impact than usual. In fact, it’s through the flashbacks that we get to know Pops [Clarence Williams III] – something that both keeps us firmly grounded in the here and now, and shows us something we didn’t know about Jeffries.

There’s even an internal affairs investigation that doesn’t feel gratuitous – and Lt. Stillman learns who has it in for him. And yet, “officer Down” doesn’t feel rushed or cramped. It may be Cold Case’s best episode of the season [and there have been some really good ones].

Final Grade: A-

TELEVISION: CSI Cliffhanger Makes the Most of Petersen & Fishburne

This season, CSI [CBS, Thursdays, 9/8C] has been a real rollercoaster ride. It started with the death of Warrick [Gary Dourdan] – followed by a murderer who used dead people to create some very warped art; an unsolved case involving an engaged couple; a killer hypnotist and even the return of Lady Heather [Melinda Clarke]. Along the way, Gil Grissom [William Petersen] has been looking less like the clue sniffer we’ve come to know and more like a man who has just about run out gas.

CRIME SCENE INVESTIGATION

When he reveals to his team that he’s leaving, at the beginning this week’s episode, 19 Down…, it may come as a surprise to his team, but even without all the publicity about the new cast member, we’d have known before they did – and actually, Catherine Willows [Marg Hellgenberger] surprises him by not being surprised.

When what starts off as just another day in Vegas turns into something greatly different – a murder ties into a long imprisoned serial killer – and Grissom gets that intrigued look again. The tie-in is to Nathan Haskell [Bill Irwin – think Jack Coleman’s HRG gone stone bugfrak crazy], who killed at least eight couples before he was caught. Turns out that Haskell is doing a series of closed circuit Q&A sessions with a university class taught by one Dr. Raymond Langston [Laurence Fishburne].

19 Down… is the fall cliffhanger for CSI, so they’ve really shot the works. The pacing is [if you can believe it] even crisper than usual and the way it ties into the season’s prior unsolved mystery is not just clever, it’s very close to genius. Co-Executive Producers Naren Shankar and Carol Mendelsohn have created a terrific puzzle for Grissom and his team and every member of the core cast gets a meaty moment to shine – as when Hodges responds to the news of Grissom’s leaving [for just one example]. Director Kenneth Fink keeps things tight and suspenseful.

Not many weekly series can maintain a high level of quality through nine seasons, and CSI’s ninth season isn’t over yet, but between the announcement of Grissom’s leaving and the introduction of Langston, it would seem likely that the show is going to maintain that high level. It also seems likely that the transition of the series from Grissom’s era into Willows’ era will be a reasonably smooth one. For now, at least, I have to say that this is my favorite fall cliffhanger, so far.

Final Grade: A

TELEVISION: Ghost Whisperer: The Rumors Were True, So, Now What?

In last week’s episode of Ghost Whisperer [CBS, Fridays, 8/7C], the unthinkable happened: Jim Clancy [David Conrad] was killed, accidentally, when a police detective shot him thinking he was someone else. The episode concluded with Jim’s ghost appearing to his widow in his hospital room.

Ghost Whisperer - Threshold

Tonight’s episode, Threshold, finds Melinda [Jennifer Love Hewitt] unable to see Jim’s ghost because her grief is so strong that it’s interfering with her ability. When the ghost of a teenage girl begins to haunt her – breaking and throwing things – she thinks it’s Jim. Only Jim knows that it isn’t, so he approaches Eli [Jamie Kennedy] to help him figure out why the girl is haunting his widow. Things are complicated by Jim’s brother, who has been waiting for him so that the two of them can crossover together and rejoin their father.

Written and directed by John Gray, Threshold walks a fine line between genuine sentiment and being maudlin. For the most part – and largely due to the cast’s performances – it succeeds. Especially good is Conrad’s work as the increasingly frustrated Jim, though Hewitt gives one of her best performances here. I also have to give full marks to Camryn Manheim, whose work on Whisperer hasn’t really worked for me. Delia finally works as Melinda’s supportive friend and employee.

Naturally, with the complications that arise in Threshold, there are loose ends that will be left for next week’s ep, Heart & Soul – in which Melinda has to deal with a step-in, a man with amnesia and a very angry ghost who seems connected to her life in a genuinely unexpected way. I can’t say anything more than that – except to say that this ep concludes a storyline for Melinda and Jim even as it signals the beginning of an intriguing new direction for her.

Heart & Soul has a bit more trouble avoiding being maudlin, but long time fans of the series will find it to be both and unsettling [in a good way] and satisfying conclusion to the three-episode arc.

Final Grade: B

TELEVISION: The Ex List – Still Unbalanced – And Not In a Good Way!

Tonight’s episode of The Ex List [CBS, 9/8C] – Do You Love Me, Do You, Surfer… Boy” is the fourth of the show’s first [and quite possibly last] season and, despite several ingratiating performances [and a wide variety of ex-boyfriends], it isn’t a substantial improvement over the pilot.

ex_list Cast

Bella [Elizabeth Reaser] is following her plan to revisit her past boyfriends as per the fortune teller’s [Anne Bedian] prophecy that her soulmate is someone with whom she’s had a romantic relationship – and that if she hasn’t found him within a year, she’ll never marry. As a result, she’s encountering – in various unexpected ways – past boyfriends by the bucket load. This week it’s Shane [Brian Van Holt], a surf bum who has “grown up” to be famous and surprisingly business savvy.

The episode begins when the two meet cute and begin to see each other. We get a token look at Bella at work and there are arcs involving her engaged sister, Daphne [Rachel Boston], getting some photos done; her roommates, Augie [Adam Rothenberg] and Vivian [Alex Breckenridge] having some relationship problems [a showerhead and little to no imagination are involved], and Cyrus [Amir Talai] trying to scam a free board to teach a gorgeous woman to surf.

Although the subject of Bella’s quest is different, the pattern is pretty much beat for beat the same. The reconnect; they feel the generated chemistry; they learn how each changed over the years, and they fall apart just as things might be getting serious. The only difference here is that Shane has the potential to reappear in her life. Of the rest of the arcs, the only one that works is the showerhead one. Daphne might as well not have appeared in the ep, and Cyrus has gotten really old, really quickly.

In the pilot, written by series creator Diane Ruggerio, there were suggestions that we would see more of Bella’s life than just the fun parts and the ex-boyfriend parts. It seemed like we were going to get to see her at work as well as at play – and that her friends were going to actually be characters. The network, apparently, thought that the show should focus on just the play and romance and not the other [biggest] part of her life. The result is a show that entertains only sporadically, held aloft by the sheer charisma of Reaser and the characters of Augie and Vivian.

Given the potential in the pilot, this simply isn’t good enough. After invoking The Three-Ep rule, I was ready to stop watching, but CBS made a screener of the fourth ep available for review, so I asked for one. Sadly, it shows improvement only insofar as the ex of the week has the possibility of returning. In every other respect, The Ex List has not found the balance it needs to make it worth continued viewing.

Final Grade: C

DVD REVIEW: They’re Finally Here – The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour: The Best of Season 3!

I remember, with great fondness, The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour. Tom and Dick Smothers started out as a comedy/folk duo, playing clubs like the legendary Purple Onion. When CBS offered them their own TV show, they had no idea what they were letting themselves in for. The Brothers Smothers started fairly innocuously, but as the series progressed it became a bastion of political satire that caused one U.S. president, LBJ [who clearly had a sense of humor], to send the duo a letter of praise – and another [Johnson’s successor, in fact] to ask CBS to take them off the air [making them the second top ten-rated series to be removed from a network’s schedule because a sitting president didn’t like it – the first being The Wild Wild West].

SMOS-BROS-DVD-BOX-ART

My favorite moment of the series came as the teaser for one episode that found Tom and Dick noting that CBS had been getting a lot flack because of the show, and that henceforth the audience wouldn’t hear “anything you wouldn’t hear in your own home…” followed by the sound of a toilet flushing. The Best of Season 3 has moments that match that hilarious moment [the opening song of the season premiere, We’re Still Here, for example notes that they’ve survived, among other things, the network’s censors]. And presented some of the most memorable musical performances of sixties television – as when Jim Morrison of The Doors blanked on the words for Touch Me, or when Donovan turned the show into a love-in/sing-along for Happiness Runs. And where else would you find George Harrison stopping by just for a couple minutes to urge the brothers to keep on keeping on?  Continue reading DVD REVIEW: They’re Finally Here – The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour: The Best of Season 3!

TELEVISION: The Ex List: Grey’s Anatomy’s Ava Strikes Out On Her Own!

Elizabeth Reaser did such a great job of playing the badly injured Ava/Rebecca on Grey’s Anatomy that it seems only right that she should have asked to front a series of her own. The Ex List [CBS, Fridays, 10/9C] is a bit of a high concept dramedy – Bella Bloom [Reaser] is told by a psychic [Anne Bedian] that she must marry within the year or she never will – but she has already met her soulmate, and he’s someone she’s had a relationship with in the past!

Ex List - Bella & Psychic

Bella’s situation arises from the bachelorette party for her younger sister, Daphne [Rachel Boston], and her own weird thought that visiting a psychic would be the perfect way to cap the evening. When other predictions she made come true in wildly unexpected [and funny] ways, she begins to take the psychic seriously – not least of all when bird poop leads to her discovery that former boyfriend Johnny Diamont [Eric Balfour] is back in town – and has a punk rock band. When she and roommate Vivian [Alexandra Breckenridge] go to his show, his first song shows he remembers her, and not particularly fondly…

The Ex List is based on an Israeli series, but seems to be of a vastly different tone [Diane Ruggerio, who adapted the series for America, left the show over creative differences – and she wanted to maintain the tone of the original]. In the premiere, she has a life – she runs a flower shop and has a core group of friends who share a house with her: the aforementioned Vivian, her best friend; Augie [Adam Rothenberg], Vivian’s boyfriend, and Cyrus [Amir Talai], who is a bit of a cynic and a slacker.

Although Reaser doesn’t have to do all the heavy lifting, she is the principal here, and her ability to shift from comedy to drama to melodrama in mid-line [and to look really, really good in a bikini] is the show’s primary plus. The cast has solid chemistry [always important], but the writing isn’t quite right, yet. The balance between humor, drama and melodrama needs to be tweaked [less melodrama, more drama – the humor content is about right]. I enjoyed the pilot, but I hope that the show will find that balance – that sweet spot – that can elevate it to the next level.

Final Grade: B-

TELEVISION: Ghost Whisperer: Departures and Arrivals!

In the season premiere for Ghost Whisperer [CBS, Fridays, 9/8C], Firestarter, Melinda [Jennifer Love Hewitt] has to say farewell to a friend, while helping a sceptical psychologist learn to deal with being able to hear ghosts. It’s an entertaining episode of a series that never quite achieves greatness, but is always entertaining.

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When Jim [David Gordon] is called to a fire at the university, Melinda tags along fearing that her colleague, Rick Payne [Jay Mohr] might be a victim. Rick, it turns out, is fine – but Melinda sees a mysterious black woman who disappears, and the spirit of a victim leave his body while Jim works on him – and then return after being hit with the defibrillator.

The man is Dr. Eli James [Jamie Kennedy] and when Melinda sees him and a ghost chatting in his hospital room later, she decides to help him with his new “gift.” Unlike her, though, he can only hear ghosts – not see them. And he seems to prefer thinking that he’s gone crazy over being able to talk with ghosts – especially this ghost, Fiona [Alona Tal], who was his patient.

Like the best eps of the series, Firestarter is more than adequately written; directed with a deft touch and features the best performance that Jamie Kennedy has ever given. There are scenes that are simultaneously comic and dramatic – as when Eli is surrounded by a half-dozen ghosts, all imploring him to help them, in a bar that’s otherwise empty but for the bartender and a guy playing pool – and there are scenes that are heartbreaking – as when we learn why Fiona’s ghost hasn’t crossed over. I’ll let you discover who’s leaving…

Fans of the series will love this ep, while those who haven’t tried it before will find it to be a solid hour’s entertainment. No more, no less.

Final Grade: B-

TELEVISION: The Unit: The Unit Has No Women!

As The Unit [CBS, Sundays, 10/9C] wraps up its latest mission overseas – with the help of an undercover female soldier [pictured below] – their wives are told to drop every connection they have to their everyday lives, send their kids off to distant relatives and repair to an unknown location.

The Unit, S4

The fourth season of The Unit, Sacrifice, finds the team attempting to thwart a terrorist attempt to assassinate the President-Elect Benjamin Castillo [Benito Martinez] – a task made more difficult because the men attempting the assassination are dressed in proper military garb and know the codes of the day.

Written by the show’s Co-Executive Producer, Frank Military, and directed by the show’s creator, David Mamet, Sacrifice is the show’s best season premiere since the first one. Military’s script is smart and manages to create an arc that allows The Unit and their families to become – in an unexpected way – connected, story-wise. With the seeming uprooting of the families, and a terrorist organization that has the funding and training to attack the United States President, Vice-President, President-Elect and Vice-President-Elect, this first part of a two-parter pretty much cooks from beginning to end.

And that unofficial rule that “The Unit has no women?” It appears that the knowledge of that rule may have given the team an unexpected advantage as they track down the group behind the assassination attempts. Between that twist and the upheaval in the lives of The Unit’s families, the show’s creative team is showing that they have no plans to let the series get stale.

I just wish my screener had both eps. I hate cliffhangers! Seriously!

Final Grade: B+

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: 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