Saturday, April 1, 2017

NBC's "Grimm": thoughts on the season finale

After five and a half seasons, NBC's "Grimm" came to an end last night, in an episode titled appropriately "The End." I've watched every episode, from the somewhat lackluster first season, to the peaks of the third and fourth seasons, and to the very end. I did so in part because this was one of the few TV shows filmed and set in Portland, so I felt a sense of geographic loyalty. But I also enjoy these sorts of action/suspense/serialized shows, and "Grimm" did become more serialized after the first season's "wesen of the week" format.


Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Fox's "24: Legacy" - We're one-third of the way through; how is it holding up?

I'm definitely not in the "disappointed that Jack is not back" crowd, and I'm enjoying "24: Legacy" a lot. But I do think that the deliberate decision that the writers made to scale down the threat from WMD-level is something that is going to take getting used to. To be sure, I understand why they are going this way, and it's reasonable.
Until I get used to it, though, it's left this season a little short of the almost unbearable tension that seasons 2-7 generated. With Legacy, so far, the concern is over the thumbdrive with the list of sleepers, who can no doubt wreak havoc, except we haven't gotten a taste of that (other than the initial assassination of Carter's teammates). In season 6, a nuclear bomb wiped out Magic Mountain (the theme park in Valencia, CA), in season 3, we saw lots of outbreaks of the Cordelia virus, and in season 5, the shopping mall got doused by VX nerve gas. All of those were precursors of potentially much worse WMD attacks, giving real bite to the ticking clock -- if Jack didn't stop the threats in time, tens of thousands to millions of people would die.
Again, the threat this season is more realistic (or should I say, higher likelihood), and I expect that as a viewer, I just need to be re-trained to accept this threat level. But if there's one thing that I'd contrast with the Jack Bauer seasons, this would be it.

Monday, February 6, 2017

Quick thoughts on "24: Legacy"

I've been waiting months for "24: Legacy," so naturally, the Super Bowl went into overtime. I love NFL football, and it was definitely an exciting game, but I was ready for it to end so that it would be tick-tick-tick time!

(Okay, it's true that I wasn't going to watch it right away because it's the kind of show I need my kids to be asleep before I turn it out; and on the West Coast, it wasn't their bedtimes yet. That's not the point - I was eager just to have TiVo start recording the show, dammit!)

Up to now, the biggest pre-airing speculation has been whether continuing the show without Kiefer Sutherland as Jack Bauer would work. Once I saw some trailers a few months ago, I was optimistically open-minded. No one can replace Jack Bauer, but the show would be able to replicate the key elements that made it like video crack: terrorist plots, government moles, "hard perimeters" that fail to stop bad guys from slipping through, and mayhem throughout.

Star Corey Hawkins was fine as Eric Carter: convincing in the action sequences, and more than capable in the expository scenes. He hasn't been given much material to work with yet - but then again, it took a while before Jack's cursed nature began to show through Sutherland's terrific acting.

The premiere episode quickly checked off the beloved "24" tropes. Mole deep in the government? You got it. As an added bonus, the seemingly suspicious head of CTU, who gets gratuitously tased by former CTU head Rebecca Ingram, will almost certainly turn out not to be the mole. By the book bureaucrat who gets in the way of things getting done? You got it - see the aforementioned head of CTU. Uber-competent henchmen of the villain who are able to track Americans in the United States with no trouble? Of course!

And then there is one more show element to discuss. During the first nine seasons, most of Jack Bauer's kills over the years were by gunshot, with several stabbings and broken necks. But once in a while, Jack would MacGyver a new way of killing a bad guy. There were the suicide bombers in season 5 who were killed when Jack remote detonated their vests. There was the over-the-top vampire bite in season 6, the double kill by fire axe/knocking second guy off the top of the staircase in season 8 (my personal favorite), and the double defenestration in Live Another Day.

So I was quite delighted that in the first hour, Eric Carter showed that he was up to the task of improvising new ways of killing people (who deserve it). The giant rolling cylinder of doom was pretty awesome - you knew someone would get crushed as soon as it started rolling toward them, and the smear of blood was well done. Technically, the rebar was another stabbing implement (like Jack's use of the screwdriver on John Quinn in season 7), so I guess it doesn't really count as fully new. Let's score it 1/2. Still, a great start

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

TV Guide's list of best shows set in different U.S. cities, and my brief thoughts

TV Guide has a slideshow that lays out its view of the best TV shows set in different American cities. For some of the non-coastal cities, there might have been just one show, making it not a difficult choice. I didn't realize, for example, that "One Day at a Time" was set in Indianapolis. And as cool as Albuquerque is, it's obvious that "Breaking Bad" is going to be the representative for that town.

I'm not going to go through all 38 selections, but I am going to comment on the ones for the cities I've lived in. At the outset, note that the criteria for TV Guide was "favorite TV show for each," not necessarily most iconic depiction.

Los Angeles

TV Guide picked "New Girl." Really? I'll admit, I've never watched it because of my prejudice against 30 minute shows, but L.A. has been the setting for a ton of shows, including:

* "24"
* "The A-Team"
* "Alias"
* "Angel"
* "Bosch"
* "CHiPs"
* "The Greatest American Hero"
* "MacGyver"
* "Moonlighting"
* "Remington Steele"
* "The Rockford Files"
* "The Shield"

and many others. I'm not saying those are all good shows, but I'd rather watch any of them than "New Girl." If you want verisimilitude, I'd go with "The Shield" or "Bosch." But of course, if it's just my favorite show set in L.A., well, that's obviously going to be "24."

San Francisco

Technically, I never lived in San Francisco, but rather across the Bay. TV Guide picked "Full House," another show that I've never watched. Again, the City is a popular locale for shows:

* "The Adventures of Brisco County, Jr."
* "Charmed"
* "Midnight Caller"
* "Monk"
* "Party of Five"
* "The Streets of San Francisco"

I would've gone with "Charmed," which was another one of those shows that dipped its toes into serialized storytelling and was better for it.

Oklahoma City

TV Guide didn't include this, but there actually was a show set in OKC - "Saving Grace" with Holly Hunter. I never watched it, so can't comment on it.

San Diego

Poor San Diego - probably the best city to live in the continental U.S. (if you can afford it), but perpetually overshadowed by L.A. TV Guide picked "The Fosters," which I've never even heard of. I would've picked "Simon & Simon," which I think captured San Diego's laid back attitude, or maybe the Lorenzo Lamas guilty pleasure "Renegade." I've heard great things about "Terriers" and need to catch on that short-lived show, also set in San Diego.

Iowa City

There are some shows set in the state of Iowa, but none that caught TV Guide's attention, nor mine. As far as I know, none of them was set in Iowa City, which is kind of weird, since Iowa City is a really good stand-in for your average Midwestern Big Ten college town.


It's either "Grimm" or "Portlandia," and I only watch "Grimm" out of those two, so I'd concur in the pick. Of course, as silly as "Portlandia" makes us out to be, I still hope it's a more accurate depiction, or else I'm surrounded by creepy wesen....


I've never lived in Seattle, but I'd pick "The 4400" to represent the Emerald City. "Grey's Anatomy" (TV Guide's choice) is certainly understandable, but I loved X-Files-like aspect of "The 4400." Too bad it was canceled on a cliffhanger. It's a good thing that the show's producers licensed follow-up novels that provided some closure to the story.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

NBC's "The (New Celebrity) Apprentice": first thoughts

Okay, I will admit that I enjoyed watching "The Apprentice." It got tired after a few seasons, but the "Celebrity" version of it actually re-invigorated the format. That shouldn't surprising, because the show was never about business acumen as much as it was about host Donald Trump's pompous, irrational "decisions."

With Trump having left the series (or been fired) for the presidential campaign, NBC decided to recast the host role. In an instance of art and life swapping roles (sort of), the reality TV host went into politics, and the action star turned California governor went into reality TV. Yes, the Governator Arnold Schwarzeneggar took over the Trump role.

I tend to get overly optimistic about TV shows, and I had high hopes for the Governator. After all, there's 30+ years of great catch-phrases ("Hasta la vista, baby"; "I'll be back"; oh heck, here's a mash up of a whole bunch of them). Naturally, his exit line for fired contestants was exactly what you'd expect: "You're terminated!" (For some reason, only the first one got "hasta la vista, baby" as well.)

And yet, as a whole, the first four episodes (two per Monday evening) have felt a bit dull and flat compared to the Trump version. Why is that?

One reason, I think, is that Schwarzeneggar is trying to make somewhat reasoned choices about whom to fire. He's laid down some guidelines/principles that he sort of follows - take risks, don't hide in the background, stand up for what you believe. If this were a real business, that's what you'd want. As far as entertainment goes, though, not so much. Trump's show wasn't entertaining despite his randomness; it was entertaining because of that randomness. That plus how he was so awesome and these awesome people who were almost as awesome as he was would be evaluating the projects.

Another reason lies in the casting. As with "Survivor," casting makes a big difference, but it's not something that the producers can necessarily determine in advance whether the contestants will gel in an entertaining way. Here, though, the teams seem unbalanced; the men have won 3 of the 4 challenges, and the one that they lost was the only one that seemed like it could have gone either way. Perhaps it's because the women have too many reality TV celebrities (two "real housewives" and Snooki from "Jersey Shore"). Unlike the other celebrities, who because famous as athletes, singers, actors, etc., the reality stars became famous for being famous, so they don't bring any other strong skills to the table. I mean, they might happen to have some skills, but that's not why they were selected for the show.

So: it's not a terrible show, but it's not the self-parody that it used to be, which is too bad.

Friday, December 30, 2016

Hawaii running!

I am guessing that for many people, the image of a December vacation in Hawaii consists of lounging by the pool or on the beach. Or going to a luau. I did go to a luau on our recent winter break trip there, but you can guess what I did a lot of ... that's right, running!

We spent one night on the Big Island to go check out Volcanoes National Park. This is what one of the vents looked like at night:

Glowing steam from a volcano!

The photo doesn't come anywhere close to doing it justice due to the limitations of my smartphone camera and night-time lighting conditions. Unfortunately, as cool as it would have been to have gone running in the national park, it was way too dark at night to do so safely, and the next morning was pretty busy with hiking short trails.

Friday, December 16, 2016

"American Crime Story: The People v. O.J. Simpson"

I am old enough that I not only remember the O.J. Simpson arrest and trial, but lived through it as an adult. I distinctly remember where I was when O.J. went on the lam on the 405 with a gun to his head and buddy A.C Cowlings driving the white Bronco. It was the summer after my second year of law school, so I was enjoying life as a summer associate. In those days, large law firms would woo law students with a bit of work, good pay, nice lunches, and lots of fun activities. That fateful day, I was river rafting in Kern County with the other summer associates and few actual lawyers from the firm. We finished the first run, and the guide told us that O.J. was on the run. "No way," we thought, but afterward, we went to get BBQ ribs and sat transfixed while watching a replay of the day's events.

The trial started halfway through the fall semester of my third year of law school and lasted until after I'd graduated, finished the bar exam, and started my clerkship with a federal judge in Los Angeles, just down the street from the county courthouse. I went to law school in the Bay Area, but even there the case was a big enough deal that one of the local channels aired live trial footage in the morning. By the time I moved down to L.A. in August, I couldn't escape the trial even if I'd wanted to, which of course I didn't. Every weeknight after finishing work, I'd rush home and catch the special 30 minute news show that one of the local channels devoted entirely to the case. Meanwhile, the federal judge whom I was clerking for frequently told lawyers in his court that things in his courtroom would not be run like the trial "over there."

I bring all of this up as a way of explaining why it might be surprising that I am utterly engrossed in "American Crime Story: The People v. O.J. Simpson," which aired earlier in the year on FX, but which I just bought on DVD (because I got rid of cable a few years ago). I'm surprised that I'm so engrossed in it! I thought I had totally consumed my fill of this story 20 years ago, and yet, within the first five minutes of "American Crime Story," I was riveted to the TV. A lot of credit goes, of course, to the producers, writers, and actors. (Except John Travolta's portrayal of Robert Shapiro, so far at least, is really weird.)

I'm only through the first two episodes (out of 10), but I am hooked!