THE FANTASTIC FIVE! [No, it’s not the Fantastic Four with The Thing & The She-Hulk. It’s just my overdue look at the five returning shows I’m most looking forward to!]
I’ve been a bad boy. OK, I’ve been a tardy boy, but bad makes me sound edgier. So I’ve been a bad, tardy boy, how’s that? The reasons for my tardiness stem from the fact that as a teacher, a father, a live theatre junkie and aficionado of all my various other proclivities and distractions, sometimes there are simply not enough hours in the day to do all that I want to do and for a brief time, writing this column got pushed back to the nether regions of the “to do” pile. Sorry.
Now that I’m back in the saddle, however, and the new TV season firmly begun, I do want to take a few brief moments to look at the five shows I’ve been most looking forward to returning and how they’re doing in their first few episodes back. Shall we? We shall…
FRINGE-Friday nights, 9/8pm FOX. No duh, right? It’s been no secret on these pages that I am absolutely hooked on this beleaguered JJ Abrams creation, a show that began as sort of an X-Files update, that quickly turned into X-Files-On-Crack and then almost immediately turned into something completely and unapologetically all its own. After four ratings-challenged seasons of Over Here/Over There, The Pattern, The Others and whatever the hell William Bell was doing, Fringe bows out with a run of thirteen final episodes based on last season’s Letters of Transit storyline, which places the Fringe team (Anna Torv, Josh Jackson and the incomparable John Noble) in the year 2036 after the Observers have ceased their passive observing and conquered the world. Adding Georgina Haig as Peter (Jackson) and Olivia (Torv) ‘s grown-up daughter Etta, the Fringe team strives once again to save the world.
In the two episodes so far, Peter, Walter (Noble) and Astrid (Jasika Nicole) have been rescued from amber, Walter got those missing pieces of his brain back (who’d have guessed that the @$$hole was kept in the brain? I thought it was somewhere else), they’ve found Olivia, who was being kept as the strangest piece of bric a brac any home has ever seen and, after he spent most of a day being tortured by the Head Observer, lost almost all of Walter’s plan to save the world. While I concede that the chore of re-creating the series and crafting an entirely new mythology for the show in thirteen episodes could be considered a Hail Mary pass of the first order, in the hands of Abrams and showrunner JH Wyatt and company, what we have instead is a mesmerizing look at an improbable future that predicts (to paraphrase that great and eloquent sage Pogo), “we have see’d the future…and it is us!” I am terribly sad and disheartened that Fringe is ending this season, but grateful that FOX, a network not known for its kindness to SF shows and their fanatical viewers (hi, Browncoats!), wisely chose to grant this show this one last hurrah to close the show in a way that honors the spirit of the program and the dedication of the fans who did watch week after week. Now, if only John Noble could win that Emmy…
PERSON OF INTEREST-Thursday nights 9/8pm CBS. A worthy successor to my Fringe obsession, created by John Nolan (the Dark Knight films), brother of uber-director Christopher, POI is the story of Harold Finch (the excellent Michael Emerson who played Ben Linus on Lost) who, in the wake of 9/11 created a machine, much like the one Bruce Wayne has built for him in The Dark Knight, that monitors every cell phone, every computer, every security camera in the country for signs of terrorist activity. Unfortunately, the Machine can’t discriminate between acts of terrorism and simple domestic crimes and identifies all possible criminal activity before it happens. When the government chooses to ignore the smaller, non-terrorist-related acts of violence, Finch decides to act himself and, faking his own death, uses his back door into the Machine to pull those names and try to help them. To provide the brawn to his incomparable brain, Finch enlists burnt-out former CIA assassin John Reese (Jim Caviezel, The Passion of the Christ), a man who has lost everything and is desperately looking for a reason to care once again. This seems like a show that would quickly paint itself into a corner or become one of those victim of the week dramas where everything re-sets at the end of each episode, but that’s not what’s happened. The growing trust between Finch and Reese (which hasn’t really grown all that much when you get down to it), the recruitment and gradual indoctrination of tough cop Carter (Taraji P. Henderson, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button) and bad cop with a heart of gold, Lionel Fusco (Kevin Chapman, Mystic River, Unstoppable), interesting recurring characters like the enigmatic Zoe (Paige Turco), the crime boss Elias (Enrico Colantoni, Veronica Mars) and the villainous Root (Amy Acker, Angel, The Cabin in the Woods), not to mention each week’s POI themselves add layers to the show and expands its overall story in directions most of us would never expect.
At the end of the first season, Root has figured out the Machine’s existence and kidnaps Finch to get him to tell her where it is. Once Finch is out of the picture, his contingency plan kicks in and the Machine begins communicating with Reese directly. To Reese’s surprise, however, Finch has programmed the Machine not to try to find him and Reese has to convince the Machine to countermand his programming, thus leading into one of the larger macguffins of the series, the question of whether or not the Machine has become sentient. In the first two episodes of the new season, Reese, along with the Dynamic Duo of Carter and Fusco track Finch down (not without a liberal amount of violence and blood-letting) and get him back, while Root manages to escape. I have to admit I was somewhat surprised that Reese got Finch back so quickly, but the episode left if fairly plain that Root would be back and soon and that she would not underestimate the Finch/Reese team again.
In terms of a tight, well-told story, filled with action and adventure and populated with complex and interesting characters against a rich and satisfyingly relevant mythology, the argument can be made that POI is one of the best shows on television. If you’re not watching it, you’re missing out.
SONS OF ANARCHY-Tuesday 10/9pm, FX. As I’ve said before, I am not a gearhead; I wouldn’t know a crankshaft from a mineshaft, but I am a Shakespeare fan and when I heard that SOA was loosely based on the Bard’s Hamlet, I had to check it out. I joined the show late, catching up on Seasons One and Two in one marathon weekend on Netflix, but I got hooked quickly. The show’s premise is both simple and complex at the same time. Jax Teller (Charlie Hunnam) is the son of the late John Teller, one of the SOA’s “First Nine”. His mom Gemma (the wonderful Katey Sagal) has remarried, this time to long-time SOA president Clay Morrow (Ron Perlman-we’re not worthy), who may or may not (oh, come on!) have collaborated with Jax’s mom to kill his dad. The MC (motorcycle club) is up to its exhaust pipes in gun-running, drugs, murder and every other vice known to man at one time or another and if Clay isn’t trying to kill Jax, he’s trying to kill Jax’s Ol’ Lady (and now legally his wife) Tara (the luminous Maggie Siff) or Opie or Opie’s dad, Piney or just trying to keep Jax from taking over the club. This season is not Clay’s year. Jax is the new president of the club, Gemma has left him (Clay beat her up and bashed her face into the floor) and sleeping with the neighborhood pimp, Nero (Jimmy Smits, NYPD Blue) and Clay himself is carting around an oxygen tank because of his health. In short, he’s one additional tire on his bike from becoming Piney (William Lucking), who he killed at the end of last season to keep what happened to Jax’s father from becoming public. The only thing Clay has to hold onto right now is the fact that the Gallindo Cartel won’t work with the MC unless Clay is involved. As Jax told Opie at the end of last season, that is the only reason Clay is still alive.
This season, the guys went to jail (with Opie) and got outta jail (without Opie-RIP) and most of the action so far seems to be revolving around Nero and his brothel, especially now that Jax and Nero are in business together. And just how weird was it seeing High School Musical warbler Ashley Tisdale as a hooker? Very weird. But very effective as well.
I don’t know how long showrunner and creator Kurt Sutter can keep this thing going, but it’s obvious he has a plan and, here in the fifth season, it’s obvious that plan is beginning to build to a climax. One more season or ten more seasons, let’s hope that it’s a Shakespearean climax, one of sound and fury, signifying a satisfying conclusion to a truly great TV show.
CASTLE-Monday night 10/9: ABC. I’m a huge Nathan Fillion fan. He was great in one of the final seasons of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, hysterically funny in Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog and of course, you know how us Sci-Fi fans feel about Firefly. But it takes more than one actor to make a TV series click and this sorta-procedural, about what happens when a mystery writer who is friends with the Mayor gets more or less permanently assigned to a team of detectives in order to research his next novel, has a bucket-load of them. Sparks and flirty bon mots fly between writer Castle (Fillion) and ace detective Kate Beckett (the seriously hot Stana Katic), bromance blossoms between Castle and the two male members of the team, Esposito (Jon Huertas) and Ryan (Seamus Deaver) and a crime-fighting team is born. For over four years now, while solving that week’s mystery du jour, Castle and company have also managed to solve the mystery of Beckett’s mother’s murder and the mystery of how Castle and Beckett feel about one another as they finally fell into one another’s arms (and beds) at the end of the last exhausting season that saw just about every aspect of the show taken apart and put back together again.
This season, Castle and Beckett tackle the challenges of keeping their new relationship fresh and interesting all while keeping it secret from the folks at the NYPD, who Beckett is convinced will revoke Castle’s consultant privileges if they are ever found out. Plus, there’s the little matter of what happened to Castle’s father, now that they’ve discovered he once had connections to the CIA.
Fun and funny, smart and sexy and romantic as hell, Castle is a big heaping dish of TV ice cream that I hope to be eating for years to come.
NCIS-Tuesday night 8/7: CBS. Here’s where I show my age. According to my high school students, watching NCIS is the modern equivalent of watching Murder She Wrote or Matlock or Walker Texas Ranger; it’s only done right when done from the comfort of your custom rocker-glider in the community room of your local rest home. Well, I disagree. My teenage friends dislike the show mainly, I think, because it’s been on almost their entire lives and that kind of longevity leaves a stink (that perhaps life did not begin and end with them) that most young people cannot abide (you can imagine how they feel about the Law and Order franchise). NCIS, which was a spin-off of JAG (remember that one?), has found a way to not only stay fresh and interesting without having to reinvent the wheel (or the show) every season and yet remain the number one scripted show on television year after year. The truth of it is, it doesn’t really matter what the story arcs were last season or what the new ones will be this season, we just want to see our friends again. From the taciturn Gibbs (Mark Harmon), boyishly immature Tony (Michael Weatherly), boyishly responsible McGee (Sean Murray) tomboy sis Ziva (Cote de Pablo), goth sis Abby (Pauley Perrette), Grandpa Ducky (David McCallum) to goofy cousin Jimmy (Brian Dietzen), this is a family you want to invite over for Thanksgiving (as long as Ducky and Palmer don’t try to embalm the turkey). While I admit to certain frustration with the whole will they/won’t they nature of the Tony/Ziva relationship, long a staple of the Bellasarius brand (even though creator and EP Donald Bellasario got booted to consultant status years ago), I still enjoy this show (and it’s NCIS:LA spin-off), whether or find it on Tuesday night on CBS or in one of its interminable re-runs on USA. As long as the core cast stays intact, I’ll keep watching.
But What About Walking Dead, Cadillac? You LOVE some Walking Dead!! That’s right, I do. But it’s not on this list because I am a Dish Network customer and Dish and Walking Dead parent AMC are currently at odds over how much Dish is going to pay to put Dead and Mad Men and Breaking Bad, etc. on the air, so the new season is off-limits to me. Thank you so much for rubbing it in. Maybe I’ll get a paper cut and you can pour lemon juice all over it for me!! Sheesh.
Also-rans and runners-up: I am also looking forward to the returns of Once Upon a Time, Hawaii 5-0, NCIS:LA, Supernatural, Vampire Diaries, Blue Bloods and Bones (though I think it’s about time to stick a fork in this last one, kids. Sorry). As usual, sit-coms, game shows and reality crap just don’t do it for me.
Bits and Pieces/Nuts and Bolts:
Progress Report: In my last column, I mentioned several shows that I felt were doomed to failure, despite whether I was looking forward to them or not. Well, I’m happy to announce that I was largely wrong in my predictions. Revolution and Go On have both earned full-season pick-ups as has my predicted-winner Elementary. Arrow and Nashville have yet to debut and Vegas and Last Resort are performing well, but not well enough apparently to win those back-end eps, at least not that I’ve heard.
New Girl…Meet Meathead. According to a story on Eonline.com, film director (This is Spinal Tap, Stand By Me, Misery) and former Meathead (All in the Family) Rob Reiner and former Halloween Scream Queen Jamie Lee Curtis (most recently seen on NCIS) will be showing up on the Fox hit The New Girl as Schmidt (Max Greenfield)’s parents. Also on deck is SNL alum Rob Riggle as Schmidt’s cousin, Big Schmidt. Sounds like comedy will ensue.
Two Short Actors=One Long Marriage…Till Now. In a town where marriages are over before the ink even dries on the license, the fact that Danny DeVito (Taxi’s Louis DePalma) and Rhea Perlman (Cheers’ Carla Tortelli) have been married for thirty years is something of a milestone. Which makes it even sadder that they have just announced their separation. Irreconcilable differences is the favorite catch-all bin being used as to the reason. After all successful movie career (two Romancing the Stone movies, War of the Roses, Twins, etc), DeVito has been a regular the last several seasons on FX’s Its Always Sunny in Philadelphia. Perlman has been largely absent from our TV screens since the heyday of Cheers. The couple has asked the public to respect their privacy during this painful time.
And that should wrap it up for this installment. Don’t forget two of my new faves, Nashville and Arrow premiere this week. Check them out so I don’t look bad, ok? See you next time.