Undatement Center (2017): Dating Game (Review)

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Written and directed by Chris Esper (The Deja Vuers, Still Life), Undatement Center is a humorous look at the capricious world of modern dating.  It is almost an indictment against the millennial age of computer reliance and the awkwardness of real-life interaction with people we find attractive.

Jack (Trevor Duke) finally decides, after a 12 year break, to get back into the dating game. As befits the modern day man, he opts to join a dating company “Undatement” which is a combination of real world Tinder and speed dating. The poor chap soon realizes that getting back into the dating game requires intensive paperwork, a resume and a draw on his pocket book. 

A spin on the old maxim of kissing a lot of frogs to find a prince, Jack endures a lot of rejection. After some specious and confusing let downs for no apparent reason, he finally decides to take control; at a price. He soon finds that things are not any easier in the driver’s seat and Jack discovers that the early rejection’s came about for a reason.

Esper’s take on the modern world of dating and all the issues surrounding the search for a mate is funny, acerbic and surprising relevant.  Jack’s struggle is amusing and we feel his frustration and underlying fear.

Like most of the prospective candidates in Undatement Center, Jack is afraid of being hurt (again) and yet he continues to look for a special someone to be with. Esper gives us the dating world sans sex, this is not a journey to find a sexual partner but is, instead, a man wanting to find a woman to share things with.

This slightly “old fashioned” take on the dating game is refreshing and it plays well against the frustration of our hero. Jack goes through several stages in his search, after forking out some long green to take charge of his dating quest and at one point he comically dishes out some payback to an earlier “contestant.”

The director’s final message is a simple one and cuts to the heart of the matter. “New and different, is not better.” Jack finds that underneath the surface artifice and “structure” of the Undatement Center’s  controlled dating scenario, it is the human touch that matters most.

We do not doubt that Jack has learned a valuable lesson from his interaction with the business-like candidates he interacts with and Esper ends his tale on a uplifting note. There is some doubt as to how the whole thing will turn out but, like the film’s  humanistic message, we feel that things will move forward at their own pace and not be driven by some superficial agenda set by a company or society.

Trevor Duke gives a fine restrained performance as the man who reluctantly re-enters the dating game. His controlled frustration and confusion fits his character perfectly.

J.D. Achille as Lindsey is also spot on. Apart from being a delight to look at,  her character has an inner confidence and conviction that Achille brings to the fore with a truth that leaves no room for doubt. 

The entire cast bring something to the table in this story of urine samples, multi-page resumes (CV’s) and baffling rejection.

Undatement Center is a 5 star effort that entertains and makes a valid and pertinent social comment on the state of looking for love in this day and age of dating apps and swiping to the left or right. Esper has proven, with his latest effort, that his earlier successes are no fluke and that he can consistently deliver the goods.

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Dr Ken: Ken’s Big Audition – Season Two Finale Fun (Preview)

TISHA CAMPBELL MARTIN, JONATHAN SLAVIN, KEN JEONG

The clue is in the title of this season finale of Dr. Ken. It appears that Ken Park’s dream to perform may just become a reality. He has a big audition (there is that hint in the title after all) that may just become a game changer.

“Ken’s Big Audition” is the perfect ending for the show’s second season.  There are a bevy of special guest stars in the final episode. Dan Harmon (creator, and rumored sourpuss, of Community) and there are a few “in-jokes” as well as some other special guests from Ken’s past (and present) who appear.

Another theme, one which has been prevalent throughout season two, is “change.”  As evidenced in the most recent episodes (Clark’s Big Surprise and Ken and the CEO) romantically, at least, things have changed dramatically for some of the characters.

Pat and Damona are now a couple and Clark just tied the knot with Connor. Prior to that, Molly and Jae went through their first, and second, argument, and are now a couple who seem to know what they want. (On a sidenote, Jae has moved into the background for the time being.)

The season finale of Dr. Ken keeps the comedy factor high as several things happen almost at once. As the title implies, Dr. Ken gets an audition, based upon someone seeing his open mic stand up, and this runs parallel with all the other events that crop up in the episode.

Everyone, sans Clark, has a life changing event of some sort and there is a delicious twist on the Pat/Damona romance. Molly learns something important and D.K. works to outmaneuver Dave at the Park house.

In terms of guests, this episode is a positive cornucopia of performers from Ken Jeong’s career and there are a few surprise cameo’s thrown in for good measure. (Hint: Keep your eyes open for two guests in a “blink and you will miss it” spot midway through the episode.)

There are some very funny cringeworthy moments mixed in with the usual dose of Dr. Ken comedy with its touch of poignancy. One gets the feeling that, like the rest of the series, that Ken and his team have amped up his real-life story to good effect.

After watching the season finale, which airs Friday; 31 March on ABC, one is left wondering about the future of the series.  If it comes back for a third season who will be left on the roster. More importantly, however, is the question of where will the show head next?

The finale, with its comic cliffhanger ending, can be interpreted in several ways. It will be up to the fans to decide whether this is the prelude to an end or a comic misdirection to titillate viewers who wonder what will happen in season three.

Dr. Ken has managed to keep an average viewing audience of 4.426 million. The last two episodes have kept an even demographic rating.  However, there has been a drop in figures from the first, shortened, season despite the show’s comedy output increasing.

It could be argued that the loss of Kate Simses as series regular hurt the show early in the season and that this, more than anything else, affected the overall ratings.  However, the family friendly comedy and that signature “touch of poignancy” in so many episodes has made this season far superior to the first outing of Dr. Ken.

The Dr. Ken season finale airs Friday on ABC. Tune in for some guest star fun and the usual quotient of comedy with just a touch of tears.

 

Dr Ken: Clark’s Big Surprise – Snowball (Review)

 KEN JEONG, JONATHAN SLAVIN, STEPHEN GUARINO

Love is all around in Dr. Ken “Clark’s Big Surprise.” It starts off with just Clark and Connor working to secretly tie the know but the show’s amore factor snowballs quickly and soon every couple are feeling the point of cupid’s bow.

This season has seen a rounding up of a few relationships.  Pat and Damona are now officially a couple (both express their love for the other in this episode) and Clark and Connor prove their love by inviting all of Welltopia to a Vegan barbecue so they can get married.

Another thing that snowballs is the lie that Ken tells in order to get a maximum turnout to Connor and Clark’s little surprise.  Dr. Ken overhears Clark’s secret, he is taking a nap on a couch where Clark spills the beans about the real reason for the barbecue.

Clark makes Ken promise to talk everyone into coming to the event.

Meanwhile, Allison manages to snag tickets to the stage version of “The Bodyguard” and the entire Park family are meant to attend. D.K. invites himself along as well and it will be a real family get together. Pat and Damona have planned a non-refundable romantic weekend at Catalina and Ken must talk them out of going.

The receptionist almost guesses that Clark and Connor are going to exchange vows and Ken lets her believe that he and Allison are going to re-exchange their own vows. Damona then tells Allison what she believes Ken will be doing at the barbecue.

Ken’s lie has taken on a life of its own and Allison is overjoyed at her husband’s romantic gesture.

SUZY NAKAMURA, PATRICK MONAHAN, JERRY BECKER, JONATHAN SLAVIN, STEPHEN GUARINO, MEAGEN FAY
Allison and Clark in gushing mode.

At the party, Allison gushes over Clark, and vice versa, while things go slightly askew as the ordained minister cannot perform the ceremony. Ken takes an online course and marries the two men instead.  Allison is sad to learn that they are not going to renew their vows but she is overwhelmed when Ken explains how complete she makes him.

Pat and Damona both fight to get their non-refundable hotel deposit back and later give the honeymoon suite to Connor and Clark.  After the barbecue the Park’s return home and Ken does renew his vows with Allison after all. D.K. has taken the same online course and he will perform the ceremony. (He also took less time than Ken to complete the course.)

Dr. Ken has moved to bring all the couples in the show closer together. This episode also brought things “up to date,” as it were, on the series’ nod to Ken Jeong’s real life. In “Clark’s Big Surprise” Ken is tired from his late night spent doing stand-up.

He is overly tired at the start, where he reminds everyone he “killed it” at the comedy club and later he is napping on a couch; where he overhears Clark’s secret plans. Clearly the show is imitating Ken’s life even more now.

It would not be at all surprising to see Dr. Ken “become” the real Dr. Ken at  the end of this season. Although that would be disappointing as it could mean the end of the show as we know it.

Kudos to Dana Lee for once again grabbing the comedy by the horns and killing it at the barbecue. His dour off the cuff remark about the lack of meat was priceless. (As was his preoccupation with seeing “The Bodyguard.)

Pat and Damona professing their love for one another was touching, cute and funny. Allison and Ken’s romantic renewing of their wedding vows was also touching and it reminded us of just how perfect these two are for one another.

The highlight of the show was, of course, the marriage of Clark and Connor. With the family Park watching on and the vows exchanged being done with the right amount of comedy and care, it was a splendid moment.

KRISTA MARIE YU, SUZY NAKAMURA, ALBERT TSAI
Molly, Allison and Dave are enthralled at the ceremony.

The message of this episode was simple: Love knows no bounds. It also proved that, as the old saying goes, ” the world loves a lover.” Dr. Ken “Clark’s Big Surprise” also makes a valid point, with its loving nod to a LGBT wedding, there is room for everyone at the altar and that all love is accepted.

It is also lovely to see that the “ebony and ivory” relationship between Pat and Damona has solidified to more than just to opposites attracting.

Suzy Nakamura continues to show off those impressive skills that make her an irreplaceable member of this cast. Her range of emotions throughout the episode helped to make this one of the funnier bits of the season.

Dr. Ken airs Fridays on ABC. Tune in to this brilliant slice of comedy and stay awhile.

Cast:

Nowhere Nevada (2013): A Boy and His Stripper (Review)

Nowhere Nevada is a “retro” film. A throwback to those brilliant days of “Drive-In” films like the old Hell’s Angels flicks, with an almost obligatory Bruce Dern appearance, and a hard grainy rock soundtrack. The film also has “A Boy and his Dog” feel to it, only in this case the animal has been replaced with a stripper.

Shot entirely in northern Nevada and featuring a solid soundtrack populated with musicians from that state, Nowhere Nevada is a rambling, disjointed road trip film. It is also a lot of fun.

Directed and cowritten by David Richards (the late Marianne Psota also wrote the screenplay) Nowhere Nevada is a loving homage to all things Nevada. The state that boasts strip clubs, gambling, a huge desert and Area 51 is another character in the movie that sees a couple of malcontents running away from a disgruntled drug lord.

T.J. (Jef Derderian) and Christy (Liz Cole) make off with some envelopes full of coke and money. They run into a group of random “local” characters as they run from “K” (Max Volume) and the film wanders from one situation to another. 

The cast includes what appears to be a number of real strippers, tattoos and all, a number of band members from various Nevada groups and a lot of performers who wanted to pay homage to the late screenwriter Psota.

Art imitates quirkiness in this “garage film.” Cinematographer, and editor, Tyler Bourns has, along with director Richards, put together a film that sometimes jumps eclectically from scene to scene. It is  an apparent homage to “Planet Terror” (that splendid homage to grindhouse films by Robert Rodriguez) and it works to the film’s advantage.

There is a small amount of nudity, as befits this type of retro film, and some discrete sex. The acting is not “top notch” but, again, it matches the feel of the film and its theme.

At 100 minutes the film is not overly long and while it is a tad disconnected, it entertains in an old-fashioned sort of way. (Think The Wild Angels and Bruce Dern…)

A solid 3 star film  Nowhere Nevada is worth watching if for no other reason than its ’60’s feel and that Area 51 quirkiness.

Dr Ken: Ken and the CEO – The Weird Uncle and Wings (Review)

DAVE FOLEY, KEN JEONG, RHYS DARBY

Kiwi actor Rhys Darby guests as the happy CEO who cannot stand Pat in Dr. Ken “Ken and the CEO.”  He likens the Welltopia administrator to that “weird uncle” that no one likes and who turns out years later to not be a relative at all. D.K. manages to upset Molly’s applecart with an old Korean superstition about chicken wings and the end result is a spot of bother in “Xanadu.”

This storyline managed to tie some things up and show a certain amount of strength in a few of the characters. Clark dons his “Miss Marple” or Hercule Poirot, hat and investigates the sudden appearance of a zucchini muffin in Damona’s trash bin.

The zucchini muffin sets up one of the best laughs of the episode. Clark implores Allison to taste the muffin that he retrieved from the rubbish bin. She refuses “because I don’t eat trash” and later, after CEO Charles Evans leaves Dr. Ken’s office, Clark quickly asks him to taste the snack.

Evans takes a huge bite out of the muffin and declares that it is zucchini. Clark is convinced that Damona and Pat are now back together and spends most of the episode investigating this event.

In terms of romance, and character development, Pat is finally explored more fully. This episode shows that underneath that awkward exterior and somewhat superfluous manner lies the heart of a caring and romantic character. One highlight of the episode has Damona, despite her earlier decision to keep their getting back together a secret, telling all the Welltopia staff about being Pat’s girlfriend.

Once again, Dr. Ken takes a touch of pathos, or at the very least some uncomfortable moments, and turns the situation on its metaphorical head. The moment where Damona, Allison, Ken and Clark come to Pat’s rescue is touching. The pinnacle of the emotional moment is Damona’s declaration of love.

Meanwhile, back at the Park household, Jae and Molly have problems when he reveals that he will be going to Rhode Island for his art scholarship. Because of D.K.’s prediction that the chicken wings will make Jae “fly away” from her, Molly goes into freefall with her boyfriend.

ALBERT TSAI
Dave Park (Albert Tsai)

The two have a fight, which they then settle in the Fro-Yo shop where Jae works. Dave polishes off the wings, that he earlier turned his nose up at, and D.K. actually comes to Molly’s aid after her initial meltdown.

(Amusingly, Jae’s grandmother also has a list of old Korean sayings like D.K. and it would not be surprising to see a possible romance turn up here… Although D.K. has shown a proclivity for younger women. He even expressed interest in “mad Megan” Pat’s ex.)

Rhys Darby is brilliantly funny as the CEO who literally loathes Pat, a man who really shares a lot of personality traits with the New Zealand company head. The interaction between Darby, Ken and Dave Foley was spot on and when the episode wraps up the conflict at the end, the chemistry made the payoff that bit better.

The second season of Dr. Ken continues to shine in terms of writing and performing. Each cast member manages to bring those moments of truth to their storyline and character. Ken Jeong and his brilliant ensemble keep the laughs coming and we love them and the show as a result.

KRISTA MARIE YU, DANA LEE
Molly and D.K. – Krista Marie Yu and Dana Lee.

On a sidenote: Dana Lee manages to accomplish huge amounts with a minimum amount of “effort” he and Krista Marie Yu continue to be a great double act, with Albert Tsai stepping in to add a punchline to spice up the proceedings.

Dr. Ken “Ken and the CEO” proves once again that this ABC show has the perfect cast, storylines and mix of comedy and poignancy.  May this series reign on Friday nights for a long time to come.

Cast:

Guest starring Rhys Darby