American Crime: Season Two Premiere Looks Intense

John Ridley, who is a solid winner with awards and winning projects to prove his talent as creator, give American Crime a second season with a premiere that looks intense and uncomfortable. Issues dealing with teen sexuality, a clear class system in the American educational system as well as racial issues.

FELICITY HUFFMAN

John Ridley, who is a solid winner with awards and winning projects to prove his talent as creator, gives American Crime a second season with a  premiere that looks intense and uncomfortable. It includes Issues that deal  with teen sexuality, a clear class system in the American educational system and  racial issues.  In the opening episode a mother’s son is temporarily “expelled”  after “inappropriate” pictures of the boy turn up on social media.

Taylor Blaine (Falling Skies’ Connor Jessup) is shown drunk and partially dressed.  When his mother (Lili Taylor) learns of the expulsion and the pictures she is outraged and upset. Talking to her son she learns that the boy was drugged and sexually assaulted. Going to Taylor’s school, she speaks to the headmaster, played by Felicity Huffman, who then asks the basketball coach (Timothy Hutton) to investigate the charges. 

American Crime is following the example of American Horror Story; that Ryan Murphy created, and will offer up many actors from the first season as different characters in a completely different storyline.  Huffman, who played Barb Hanlon in season one is back and Hutton, who played Russ Skokie, has also returned.

Timothy Hutton returns as does Felicity Huffman in season two of American Crime.
Timothy Hutton returns as does Felicity Huffman in season two of American Crime.

The premiere starts the second season by  offering drama with a capital D.  Questions of ethics, class divides in the school system, as well as society, and school officials who are anxious to cover up any hint of a scandal makes for heavy duty television.

It is all too easy to become swept up in the storyline and it would be a hard hearted viewer who does not empathize with both Taylor and his bewildered mother.  Each of the characters introduced come with a bag full of issues. The episode offers up dysfunctional families, parents struggling to deal with their children’s issues and a closing of the ranks by a prestigious school more concerned with its reputation than justice for an the victim.

Anyone not having seen the first season of American Crime  can tell by the caliber of the performers in the show  alone that this will be one powerhouse season. With three actors on the roster that are award winning;  Hutton has an Oscar for his performance in the 1980 film Ordinary People, and Hoffman was nominated for an Academy Award for her role in Transamerica. Lili Taylor has a multitude of awards as well.

Watching the premiere, of episode 201,  it is immediately clear that if a television series could have a pedigree, American Crime would be that show.   Serious, deep and disturbing, the second season will become necessary water cooler TV for 2016. Tune in and catch the premiere on January 6, 2016. Prepare to be impressed, disturbed and to think.

Agent X: Truth, Lies and Consequences (Review)

Perhaps the best thing that can be said about this week’s Agent X: Truth, Lies and Consequences is the cameo by former Hunter star Fred Dryer, all that was needed to make this a complete fanboy moment would have been the presence of Dryer’s co-star from the small screen version of “Dirty Harry” Stepfanie Kramer.

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Perhaps the best thing that can be said about this week’s Agent X: Truth, Lies and Consequences is the cameo by former  Hunter star Fred Dryer, all that was needed to make this a complete fanboy moment would have been the presence of Dryer’s co-star from the small screen version of “Dirty Harry” Stepfanie Kramer.  In terms of guest starring cameos, even though Dryer is not on long, Fred has not lost his ease and conviction in front of the camera.

The storyline this week has John Case (Jeff Hephner) being exposed to a biological agent which induces a heart attack to those infected by “Husk” after 12 hours.  This gives the vice president’s agent a very limited time to catch the villains responsible and to stop them from infecting thousands of innocent civilians. 

Sharon Stone, as Natalie Maccabee, widow and new vice president to John Shea‘s President Eckhart, seems to be trapped into underplaying her government official to the maximum extent possible.  While this somnambulistic approach works well in many cases on the big screen, it makes for a pretty underwhelming experience on television.

The main problem may well be that Stone is the mast which this series has been hoist upon, in other words, she is the draw…the figurehead, the “name” meant to pull in  viewers. With little to do, apart from assigning her agent to various “world saving missions” the star, who has, incidentally, massive acting chops, is being dangerously underused.

Thus far, her “right-hand man” Gerald McRaney as Malcolm Millar is infinitely more entertaining and watchable. Take the episode open where Case is annihilating the practice dummies in his workout room. Millar comes in and stares down at Agent X beating the thing into submission.

Millar to Case: “Hey! You keep killing em all, we’ll never get any intel.”

McRaney specializes in these type of roles, the sage and clever advisor who has seen it all and done it all and can crack a decent joke about it.  However, having a righthand man who can dominate a scene does not help Stone, or the show since McRaney is never on screen that much or that often.

Leaving aside shortfalls of the cast’s main protagonists, or misuse of same, the plot has Case rushing to save the day while turning down help, in the form of an anecdote, which will keep him from dying. Sadly we as viewers have not yet bonded enough with Hephner’s John Case to be too worried about his possible demise.

The threat of an airborne virus to be released from a rocket also never really takes off either. A young woman, whose whistle-blower parents were murdered by the government to keep their biological weapon in their control may be a variation on an old theme, but not enough of one to make a difference.

The viewer does not connect with the woman who wants revenge, or her nerdish “boyfriend” that she uses to make her weapon work.  This year has seen a plethora of “nebbish” young men in other shows, NBC’s The Player to mention just one, and it is awfully early in the season to see this much “lack of originality” in a storyline.

Agent X does have some things going for it. Unfortunately none of them were apparent in this episode.  The writers,  under the guidance of show creator W. Blake Herron have given us a hero in peril too soon. We have not yet warmed to this taciturn secret agent/assassin who is the agent of good for the vice president.

Bring back Olga Petrovka (Olga Fonda) , a  bigger than life villain who has an uneasy alliance, and great chemistry, with Hephner. These two maintain interest when they share the screen and please, would someone wake Sharon Stone up, or give her some decent lines?  At the very least…More McRaney please.

Agent X airs Sundays on TNT. Tune in and see what you think of the sleepwalking vice president and her “pet” agent.

The Librarians: And the Infernal Contract (Review)

The Librarians: And the Infernal Contract focusses on Colonel Baird (Rebecca Romijn) and features John de Lancie (best known for his recurring role as the omnipotent Q in Star Trek) and as a variation on his career defining character, instead of portraying an all powerful being, he, in essence, the devil.

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The Librarians: And the Infernal Contract focusses on Colonel Baird (Rebecca Romijn) and features John de Lancie (best known for his recurring role as the omnipotent Q in Star Trek)  and as a variation on his career defining character, instead of portraying an all powerful being, he, in essence, the devil.  The urge to “be cute” with the show’s theme, “The Devil is in the Deal” may be the best one, as Baird not only comes to the rescue, but learns her true purpose as  “guardian” of the librarians.

The episode begins with a young lady running from some unseen menace. She ends up in a hotel room where a burning hole appears in the ceiling to suck the women up and out of her sanctuary.  Colonel Baird is in the town, visiting an old colleague and friend, and the librarians show up after being directed to the place by the library’s clippings.

Before John de Lancie shows up, each of the librarians have a chance to do a few comic turns.  Lindy Booth does a Charlotte La Bouff impression (from Disney’s The Princess and the Frog 2009) when she squeakily refers to John Larroquette’s caretaker as “Big Daddy,” and Christian Kane does an English accent.

Comic turns aside the plot can be seen as variation on The Devil and Daniel Webster or even Faust.  Nods to classic tales of “soul selling” and deals with the devil aside, Romijn’s character explains to her friend, former Captain Denning (Michael Trucco), that “magic is real” and that the librarians are there to control it.

A small town politician, Jefferson Keating (Matt Nolan) is running against Denning for mayor, and he has signed a contract with “Mr. Sesselman” who has set up contracts with the politician’s family for decades.  Each Keating signatory has been successful at the price of a major catastrophe in the town.

The librarians learn of Sesselman and go to  retrieve the contract and save the town from the latest disaster which will affect the burg’s citizens.

This week’s episode was one that defined the characters of both Eve Baird and Ezekiel Jones.  It is pointed out by Jake Stone (Kane) that Jones is turning into a good guy versus the thief he was before.  Jenkins points out that Baird is not there to save the librarians’ lives but their souls. It is also pointed out, somewhat fittingly by Ezekiel, that “The colonel sees the good in everyone.”

It is always a treat to see award winning actor John de Lancie on any program. The performer has been on several different versions of the Star Trek verse and, on an interesting note, another Star Trek alumnus Jonathan Frakes (Commander William T. Riker on Star Trek: The Next Generation where de Lancie played Q eight times through the series’ seven seasons) directs this particular episode.

Before the end credits roll, Baird saves, Jake, Cassandra and Ezekiel as well as her old friend Sam.  Jenkins turns out to be far from just an eccentric caretaker and more of a formidable foe, for Sesselman, at least on a temporary basis, although it is Eve that defeats the “devil.”

The Librarians continues to be a show that specializes in family fun and entertainment that does not rely upon gore or gratuitous violence to make a show that is a must see for a Sunday evening on TNT.  This episode left the running storyline of Prospero and Moriarty, as well as Carson Flynn (Noah Wyle) out of the proceedings.

Rather interestingly, Jenkins reveals that Eve is there not to protect the librarians from dying, but she is, instead, there to keep them from falling for the temptation of the facility itself and the magic it contains. He tells Baird that Flynn’s predecessor did not die, he was lost to the library’s magic.

Tune in on Sunday for G rated entertainment on TNT and enjoy the magic of the show and its cast.

 

 

Quantico: Guilty – Wait a Minute…What?

ANNE HECHE, YASMINE AL MASSRI, PRIYANKA CHOPRA, JAKE MCLAUGHLIN, TATE ELLINGTON

Quantico: Guilty follows up nicely from last week’s episode of Over. Oded Fehr turns up a an interrogator for HIG (What ever that stands for), Anne Hecht (in what could be seen as a sort of skewed type casting) plays an M.E. who Simon turns in for falsifying evidence and Alex pleads guilty to the charges read by a grim faced judge…Wait a minute…What?

The show was doing well, with its mystery of who set up Alex Parrish (Priyanka Chopra) with a long list of suspects, each more convincingly laid out than the previous.  Caleb Haas, Liam O’Connor and the rest were all prime suspects and now, after a “last minute” save by Liam, Alex is free from uber baddy Griffin Wells (Fehr) and Ryan has been saved from another double-fingered invasion by the president’s interrogator. 

Caleb, turns out to have been a “good guy” all along and he discovers the missing link that helps to get Alex off the hook.  The Nimah “twins” work to help prove what Haas Jr has found is correct and it is all “happy families” by the end of the impromptu investigation by the “we believe Alex team.”

However…

Liam, who still seems pretty dubious as “hero” tells Alex that whoever framed her needs to believe that she has rolled over and confessed. Parrish being behind bars will trick the real terrorist into making a mistake and will lead the authorities to the other bomb.  In the flashback sequence, where Simon (Tate Ellington) almost gets an air bubble injected into his spinal cord by Dr. Langdon (Anne Heche), he turns in the M.E. for falsifying evidence.

This must be what leads to his being dismissed by the bureau, who have already proven that they will close ranks to protect their own, and the “teaser” is that Asher, speaking in Hebrew (?) meeting with the bomb maker and gets a parcel from the man. Add to this action his anti-FBI and American rhetoric and it looks like Simon may be the terrorist who framed Alex and then helped to clear her.

W…T…F?

Or in polite parlance…Wait a minute chaps, something is not adding up here. Granted, it appears that everyone in this foray into FBI training and after is not who they say they are. On top of all these hidden agendas and fictitious backstories as well as mighty suspicious secrets, we have Caleb’s father who is about as pure as the driven slush and Liam who seems to be conveniently crawling back into the bottle when Alex learns the “truth.”

There is also the flashback portion of the show, with Dr. Langdon bringing up “blind spots” (a pretty important plot point in present day Quantico) which is meant to make Simon seem guilty as hell.

Sidenote: Both Oded Fehr and Anne Heche knock it out of the park with their guest roles.  Best bits of the episode’s storyline came from these two performers’ portion of the show. 

ANNE HECHE
Anne Heche as Dr. Langdon

The clincher, in this “cliffhanger” is Alex pleading guilty to all the charges levied.  Okay, Liam has apparently talked Parrish into going for the feint, where she stays “locked up” in order to expose the real bomber, but pleading guilty, in court, in an orange jumpsuit will result in jail time sans bail (If we are to assume anything even closely resembling reality.) effectively taking her out of the search for the real terrorist. Not too mention gumming up the legal works for a long time when, and if, Liam sets matters straight. In the real world, despite the reason, someone would be in serious trouble.

Granted, Quantico is not “real life” but as the creator opted to set the show in a real world institution/organization (the FBI) certainly more than a nod to procedure and  training at the academy is required.  We all love a mystery, but this one is beginning to resemble a kitchen sink drama where everyone and everything, including the thing we hand wash our dishes and delicates in, has been thrown into the mix.

Leaving the overly long list of suspects, some of whom have been cleared…maybe…Alex pleading guilty makes the suspension of disbelief that bit more difficult to maintain.  So too, is the idea that Simon is the terrorist.  Out of all the suspects being trotted out (like a game of Clue (Cluedo) on steroids or LSD – “It was Col Mustard, Miss White, Rev Green and Professor Plum in the library with the spanner, axe, pistol, pipe!”) the most likely one, at this juncture,  is Caleb’s daddy.

This man is so desperate to have his personal emails, and Shelby’s remember, scrubbed that he even asks for one that could clear Alex to be taken care of as well. Later, the agent who sent him the message is found dead, sans phone.   The philandering husband, father and FBI bigwig should be immediately placed in the number one spot of suspect by the viewer and the “teaser” about Simon disregarded completely.

Still, the title says Guilty. So the plot of Quantico must follow the formula and place Alex in that status. Although with the current storyline Parrish has been considered guilty from minute one so is this a case of redundancy in title cleverness? She could also be incarcerated with a  plea of “not guilty” so what the heck is going on, why the overkill?

With one episode left and the first episode in 2016 being titled “Inside” it seems that this thread will run its course and Alex will go to prison, on remand till her trial, and that everyone who matters will know that she really is innocent.

Sure…

Quantico airs Sundays on ABC and is suspension of disbelief is a problem…give this one a miss…Sorry Joshua Safran you lost me on this one.

 

 

Amy: A Modern Tragedy

It is difficult to watch Amy; the Asif Kapadia documentary/biopic that is a modern tragedy about Amy Winehouse that offers a “fly-on-the-wall” look at the rise, fall and death of a young legend. As one who watched the meteoric rise of Ms. Winehouse in England (and listened; it was nigh on impossible when Amy started “hitting” to not hear her on the radio with increasing regularity) this unflinching look at this doomed performer tends to move the viewer to tears.

Poster for Amy

It is difficult to watch Amy;  the Asif Kapadia documentary/biopic that is a modern tragedy about Amy Winehouse that offers a “fly-on-the-wall” look at the rise, fall and death of a young legend.  As one who watched the meteoric rise of Ms. Winehouse in England (and listened; it was nigh on impossible when Amy started “hitting” to not hear her on the radio with increasing regularity) this unflinching look at this doomed performer tends to move the viewer to tears.

Young, talented beyond her years, vulnerable and infinitely watchable in the beginning, Amy Winehouse is seen, via the auspices of personal footage shot by family and friends, first as the spotty faced youngster who wrote songs and sang them in a voice comparable to no other and then the gaunt ghost fighting hidden demons.

The grammy winning artist died, after a battle with drugs, a destructive marriage to an addicted  hanger-on who used the girl as his enabler and a father who appeared to be more interested in profiting from his daughter’s success,  in 2011. The singer/songwriter binged on alcohol and literally drank herself to death in her Camden flat in London.

To watch Amy is to relive her short life, where critics and music lovers adored the young performer and her unique sound.  Winehouse was direct, sometimes coarse and always honest, she was a breath of fresh air who took music by storm.  It is also interesting to note that the young girl opted to make her mark on a world where everyone could capture her journey on their cell (mobile) phones or HD cameras.

These glimpses of her rise and death are a reminder of just what the price of fame really is. Winehouse’s popularity and the public’s interest in her music prompted the worst of behavior from many. The paparazzi surrounded the young star like a pack of piranha during a feeding frenzy, especially after her deteriorating health and obvious drug problems.

The documentary shows just how self destructive Winehouse was. Asif shows each player in the film without artifice. Her former husband Blake Fielder-Civil is shown to be an opportunist womanizer who left Amy when her path to fame became too slow but rushed back the moment Back to Black became a hit.

Amy’s destructive  relationship with Blake is clear as is her troubled relationship with father Mitch. The man who left the girl and her mother is someone that Amy seems desperate to love. The film also shows  how the drugs began to rule her life.  Perhaps the most disturbing aspect of the documentary is how the media and the industry took jabs at Winehouse’s problems.

The entertainer who set the world alight became an object of ridicule both in the press and on television.  Fame, this film tells us, is a vindictive  and two-faced b*tch.  The same people who sang Amy’s praises, i.e. TV hosts like Jay Leno, et al, began to make jokes about Winehouse’s addiction problems and downward spiral.

Perhaps the biggest message is that  Amy Winehouse was best when she was unhappy or troubled. The artist was driven to sing her songs and pursued fame doggedly while turning her problems into hit songs.  Tony Bennett, who recorded a duet with Winehouse towards the end of her life, says she had an old soul [sic} with her music.  This young woman from London had a voice like no other. Her creativity was forged in misery, Blake leaving her promoted her first real hit just as her drug problems resulted in another.

Mitch Winehouse has been very vocal about the documentary saying that Asif Kapadia has lied with his documentary and he is not the only person to make this allegation. Several British newspapers published articles saying that this short “snap” of Amy’s life and death is skewed and meant to disturb.

Watching the film is an exercise in heartbreak.  What few have mentioned is that the footage does show a playful, childlike side to this “old soul” who could mesmerize with her voice alone.  Amy Winehouse was a tragedy. Her fame, combined with a perfect storm of bad choices in love, a father that perhaps got caught up in his daughter’s fame too much and a wildly talented force doomed to sell destruct all too soon, is a cautionary tale at best.

Be careful what you wish for is too simplistic and the Icarus comparison pales when one considers that Amy Winehouse, as a songwriter and performer,  soared past the sun and stars to die in a Camden flat before she was 30 because her star was a black one, marred by humanity and a perverse interest in tearing down those we put on pedestals.

Amy may be skewed but in the end it does not really matter, as it does capture the senselessness of Winehouse’s death and the tragedy behind her success. Watch this documentary a take its message to heart, but bring a box of tissues for the tears.