Tag Archives: TV

5 reasons to watch ‘Stranger Things’

5) The boys. Ronnie, Bobby, Ricky and Mike … er, sorry, that’s Mike, Dustin, Lucas and Will take us 80s children back to Goonies or Stand By Me, in that they have the dumb, goofy kid way of relating to each other. It doesn’t seem scripted or forced, just your average four junior high kids who don’t quite get girls yet and are far more interested in the next weekend’s D&D campaign than the school dance. The teen boys and twin love interests of Mike’s sister Nancy – played by Charlie Heeton and Joe Keery – also each bring something interesting to the proceedings after coming off as the stereotypical outsider and jealous boyfriend in the early going. Terrific casting.

4) The girls. Millie Bobby Brown plays a weird, creepy girl who is more than she appears. She’s had practice: She was also a weird, creepy girl who was more than she appeared in the BBC science fiction drama Intruders from 2014. However, this is a different kind of creepy. Her Stranger Things character, Eleven or “Elle” as the boys take to calling her, is a lost puppy with great powers who doesn’t quite understand how she fits into the world, whereas her Intruders character, Madison, was far more menacing and violent. Either way, Brown kicks ass. Natalia Dyer brings some depth to Mike’s teen sister Nancy, and really brings it when the shit hits the fan. And I’m tossing Winona Ryder in here, too, although calling her a “girl” might seem a little demeaning for someone who is a year older than I am. I don’t think I’d seen Ryder in anything since Black Swan, and she still has an amazing screen presence. Her role as the mom of a lost child could have easily succumbed to silly melodrama in some over-the-top manner by a lesser actress, but Ryder keeps it grounded in a situation where that’s not as easy as it sounds. Hope to see her hauling in a best supporting actress Emmy next year.

3) The music. The soundtrack is great, full of 1980s hits and re-workings – such as a Peter Gabriel’s cover of David Bowie’s Heroes – that really help set the scene. You’ll never listen to The Clash’s Should I Stay or Should I Go? the same way again. The score by Survive is another thing entirely, frequently reminding me of classic horror of the era, particularly – but not limited to – Halloween. The story and the acting are both great, but the music is like sweet, creamy icing on top of the best cake you’ve ever eaten.

2) The 1980s. No cell phones, no Twitter, no Facebook, no online gaming. It helps build the tension when you can’t reach out to everyone all at once. The over-sized walkie talkies were a great choice, both for believability and the visual, showing just how far tech has come in 30 or so years. The hair and the fashion, as well as the design of the automobiles … it’s like watching news footage from some suburban documentary in 1983 or something. It’s akin to what’s done on FX’s The Americans, the level of detail used to properly set the scene.

1) The end. As we were watching the show come to a close, my daughter asked, “Is this going to be the only season?” I mused that maybe it was going to be more of a single-season anthology show, like American Horror Story. But then two things happen, and suddenly there’s potential for so much more ahead with the same gang from Hawkins, Indiana, that we’re now so invested in. Well played.

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The zen of Coop

Twin-Peaks-one

A damn fine cup of coffee.

“The idea of zen it so catch life as it flows.” D.T. Suzuki, An Introduction to Zen Buddhism

PRIMARILY IN THE FIRST SEASON of Twin Peaks, the show, through FBI agent Dale Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan), introduces its viewers to Buddhism via Cooper’s obsession with Tibet. I can’t speak to Cooper’s actions with regards to the more traditional aspects of Buddhism (Dale Cooper and Buddhism is interesting if you are interested in that). However, I happened to recently re-watch the series while I was simultaneously reading D.T. Suzuki’s An Introduction to Zen Buddhism, and the similarities between Suzuki’s words and Cooper’s actions were striking.

The main idea of Zen Buddhism is that all truth can be found in the moment. The past doesn’t exist, nor does the future. Only by focusing on what one is doing right now can enlightenment be found. There is no enlightenment in the external. It is found within.

Cooper often embodies this idea of being all in on the moment. The primary example would be Coop’s sincere adoration for a good cup of coffee. It isn’t a need for the caffeinated energy rush. It isn’t about satisfying a thirsty palate. It is about that moment when that hot, earthy liquid makes first contact with the lips, warming the tongue and throat before comfortably resting in the belly. When Coop takes the first sip, it isn’t unusual for him to, say, lift his hand to stop all action and commentary around him, so that he can focus on that one, lone, simple action, because at that moment that is where he both wants to be and should be. There is no fear, no hate, no violence, no cases, no pressure, no clock, just a damn fine cup of coffee and a clear mind.

Joshu once asked a new monk: “Have you ever been here before?” The monk answered, “Yes, sir, I have.” Thereupon the master said, “Have a cup of tea.” Later on another monk came and asked him the same question, “Have you ever been here? “This time the answer was quite opposite. “I have never been here, sir.” The old master, however, answered just as before, “Have a cup of tea.” Afterwards the Inju (the managing monk of the monastery) asked the master, “How is it that you make the same offering of a cupe of tea no matter what a monks’ reply is?” The old master called out, “O Inju!” who at once replied, “Yes master.” Whereupon Joshu said, “Have a cup of tea.” – An Introduction to Zen Buddhism

WHILE THAT’S THE MAIN EXAMPLE of the zen of Dale Cooper – in part because it is repeated frequently, particularly in season one – it’s not the only one. There’s a moment where Cooper and Twin Peaks sheriff Harry Truman are sitting in the police station, talking shop, when Coop reaches up and tweaks Truman jovially on the nose. It’s the kind of act that could seem demeaning or rude. But really, it’s an affectionate act between two men who have great respect for each other. For Coop, it’s also an affirmation of his living in that moment. While some reactions work in many situations – as the story of Joshu above shows – there are plenty of times when an act such as Cooper’s nose touch would be ludicrous or insulting, such as at the funeral of Laura Palmer or during the questioning of Mike and Bobby. And Coop, being a man of each moment, would have never considered tweaking Truman’s nose in those situations. But for that one second in that one place at that one time, it expressed his joy at being in a place he loved, doing the job he loved, and conversing with a friend and compatriot.

These may seem like minor actions, and maybe they are. But they are also indicators that Coop is a man who yearns to catch the flow of life. It is an interesting mindfulness that you don’t often see in characters from popular culture, one that helps make Coop – and Twin Peaks – unique.

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‘Catastrophe’: It’s all about the laughs

My wife and I had a ball watching the first two seasons of the Amazon comedy, Catastrophe. I don’t think I could have put my finger on just what makes it so much more satisfying than your average network sitcom, although I enjoyed it much more than, say, Big Bang Theory or Modern Family. But after a few episodes, I think my wife figured it out.

They laugh at each other.

American boy Rob (Rob Delaney) and Irish girl Sharon (Sharon Horgan) have a torrid affair while Rob is in London on business. The affair results in pregnancy, and Rob and Sharon decide not only to have the child, but to get married. Blend in a number of wacky characters with ties to our newlyweds – Rob’s druggie pal Dave, Sharon’s helicopter mom frenemy Fran, Carrie Fisher (yes, Princess Leia) as Rob’s eBay-addicted mother – and hilarity ensues.

Really, this isn’t any different than any meet-cute scenario for any rom-com. What makes it work is the chemistry of Delaney and Horgan, who are also the show’s creators and writers. They will frequently hurl insults and curse words at each other, and as the scene develops, you’re never sure if they’re going to end up enraged or humored by the whole situation.

And Rob and Sharon do laugh. At each other. It’s not the typical deliver-the-funny-line, keep-a-straight-face sort of banter. It’s the laugh of two people who are intimate, sometimes laughing at things only they think are funny. It’s genuine, sometimes painfully so.

I can’t imagine this is for everyone (there’s a ton of cussing, some nudity). But Catastrophe is greater than the genre it represents if you’re willing to go along for the ride.

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Marvel’s big mistake

I’ve been a pretty big fan of the recent Marvel-verse run. Sure, it’s had its duds – the second and third Iron Man films, Thor: The Dark World, etc. – but some quality films have come from it, such as both Captain America flicks, the Avengers movies, as well as some pleasant surprises in the form of Guardians of the Galaxy and Ant-Man.

Recently, though, I’ve started to lose that loving feeling. My big gripe over the course of these super hero flicks has been that, with the exceptions of Ant-Man, most of the movies end up with some big, repetitive, city-destroying scene. On occasion, the films have been so focused on the big climax or that particular film’s place in the Marvel-verse that the rest of the film suffers for it, such as Avengers: Age of Ultron. It’s not been enough to turn me off of the Marvel film franchise, but my fandom has definitely decreased.

Then I watched Daredevil and Jessica Jones. And now I’m wondering if I’ll bother with any of the rest of the Marvel films.

In the theatrical releases, Marvel has to play it broad. These are big, expensive films that play to a huge global audience. The violence and language reflect that Marvel isn’t only trying to get the hard-core comic fans, but also the average six-year-old and his grandma out for an afternoon. I don’t begrudge Marvel this. It’s the Hollywood way, and they’ve done pretty well within those limitations.

But on Netflix, Marvel can get down and dirty. Daredevil was the only comic I ever really collected as a kid, so you can imagine what my reaction to Ben Affleck’s atrocity was back in 2003. I was interested when I heard about the Netflix version, but I didn’t have high hopes.

Boy, was I off on that one. Netflix’s Daredevil is everything I could want. Charlie Cox is terrific as the titular hero, weary, resigned to his role as the lone defender of Hell’s Kitchen, not afraid to chuckle at the dark humor of his situation. Elden Hensen as Foggy and Rosario Dawson’s Claire are strong and capable in supporting roles. Vincent D’Onofrio makes the Kingpin come alive in surprising ways, playing the incredibly violent crime boss as vulnerable, a wounded, love-struck man of vision whose goal for a better Hell’s Kitchen is shared by Matt Murdock, though the two differ significantly on how to make that happen. While The Avengers battle in the skies and tear down cities in a fight to save the universe, Daredevil is in the back alleys and basements of rundown buildings, brawling and bleeding to help his neighbors.

I had no idea what to expect from Jessica Jones, and again I was blown away. I hadn’t been a fan of Kristen Ritter prior to JJ, but she really captures the alienation and fear of someone who has been abused and raped, forced to behave in ways she never would on her own, living with a shadow over her that just won’t go away. That abuse theme runs through the show and gives it an edge and purpose that all of the Marvel movies lack. Jess has had a hard knock life, and no matter what power she has, you’ll never see her in a cape, because she can’t even conceive a world where she’s a hero. Jessica is the damaged goods, not the savior, even when she is just that. In a Marvel-verse where the Avengers mostly strut around, preening, flexing and arguing about who is the biggest hero, Jess is a refreshing change.

The beauty is that Marvel realizes how they’re getting it right. Check out the Daredevil season two trailer above. Dolph Lundgren, Thomas Jane and Ray Stevenson combined don’t give me the thrill that I get when I see Jon “Shane” Bernthal in his role as the Punisher. As dark as season one was, Daredevil season two seems like it’s going to get even darker.

I can’t wait. Bring the pain, Marvel. But I may be leaving the movies for the kiddies and grandmas from now on. You’ve shown me a better way, and I’m not sure I’m interested in turning back.

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5 reasons to watch ‘Mr. Robot’

5. Christian Slater. It’s been awhile since I’ve seen Christian Slater in something where he was doing anything other than a poor imitation of his persona from Heathers. Here, Salter’s character is the mysterious leader of a hacker group called F Society who is interested in crippling the global banking system, specifically with the idea to eliminate personal debt for everybody, truly allowing them to be free. He is duplicitous, self-righteous and manipulative. When he’s not on screen, you are left to wonder what schemes he might be following through on that are going to cause more stress for our main character, Elliot.

4. The hacking. Hollywood, of course, likes to put its spin on anything. Frequently, the entertainment industry works to romanticize or make glamorous that which is neither and is not meant to be either. And while I don’t know shit about programming, writing code or hacking, Mr. Robot seems to have a more realistic take on it than most of the shows and movies I’ve seen. It’s detail oriented, tedious, tests patience, an insider’s game. Mr. Robot manages to make hacking interesting enough without trying to make it sexy. They also do a nice job of using hacking scenes to build tension or give us insight to the mindset of the characters, rather than just using it as a means to an end to be rushed past so we can get to more interesting scenes.

3. The women. Don’t get me wrong: There are more than a few good looking women in Mr. Robot. But Darlene (Carly Chaikin), Trenton (Sunita Mani), Angela (Portia Doubleday), Shayla (Frankie Shaw) and Joanna (Stephanie Corneliussen) aren’t just there to be eye candy. Darlene and Trenton are both capable hackers. Darlene is the one who is forced to deal most with Elliot’s foibles and problems, trying to keep him on track and focused by any means necessary. Trenton is the conscience of the hacker group, motivated by more than just giving a middle finger to the man or hacking the impossible hack. Shayla is the one character that really humanizes Elliot in a way he and other characters can’t. Joanna might be the most delightfully dark and perverse femme since Catherine Trammell in Basic Instinct. And Angela, who initially ends up seeming as if she will be nothing more than the best friend with relationship issues, could end up having the most interesting story line outside of Elliot’s. These women aren’t just there to satisfy the Bechdel test. Each is a capable and interesting character, and their presence makes the story that much stronger.

2. Evil Corp. C’mon, we all think Apple, Microsoft, Wal-Mart, McDonald’s, etc., are Satan’s emissaries here on Earth. Mr. Robot is just a little more honest about it.

1. Remi Malek. The star of Mr. Robot is the man who makes this whole thing work. The hacking, the interpersonal drama, the corporate drama, the anarchy, the big Fight Club-esque twist. None of this can happen if Elliot, the character the whole shebang is centered around, is weak sauce. Elliot is emotionally cut-off (likely on the autism spectrum, frequently implied but never verbalized), battling mental health issues and drug addiction, still reeling from the loss of his father at an early age, unwilling to play the game the rest of the people around him play. As the madness swirls around him, Malek floats through Mr. Robot with his dark, intense eyes, hoodie up, lost in his own thoughts and ideas of what the world is and how it should be. There’s never a moment where his performance falters or seems off in any way.

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The only thing we have to fear is another ‘Walking Dead’ spin-off

If these are the people you are trying to survive the zombie apocalypse with, you might as well just shoot yourself now.

If these are the people you are trying to survive the zombie apocalypse with, you might as well just shoot yourself now.

AMC, you’ve gone too far.

Better Call Saul was a great choice for a spinoff. You had a couple of interesting, vital, skeevy, secretive side characters, Saul and Mike, who were part Walter White’s story but weren’t really the focus of Breaking Bad, nor they should they have been. But there was so much going on with those two in Breaking Bad that exploring what got them to the point that they working with Heisenberg was a rich vein to mine, if done correctly. The first season proved Saul has something going on, and I can’t wait to see where the series goes next.

But AMC couldn’t stop there. No, we were force-fed Fear the Walking Dead. Don’t get me wrong, there’s plenty that could have been explored in the Dead-verse. For example, why not focus on the government response to the calamity. What was going on in statehouses? How did the president and his (or her) advisers react to the crisis? We were given a glimpse of the CDC reaction in Walking Dead, but why not follow the research component of response to this pandemic? Why not leave the United States and give us a cast in sub-Saharan Africa, Russia, India, the Philipines? Heck, how about the struggle of the folks up in the International Space Station as they try to figure out what has happened on the ground and how they’re going to get back? The possibilities are virtually endless, restrained only by the imagination of the creative team. Everything I wrote here I thought up as I was writing it. Surely, given time and resources, the Fear the Walking Dead folks could have developed something beyond my abilities.

Instead of a million interesting, unique scenarios, however, we were given a West-Coast version of the East-Coast show we were already watching. It feels like we’re being fed under-heated, leftover lasagna that was overcooked in the first place. We watched as different people made the same mistakes we’d already seen our plucky Walking Dead heroes make over and over again. But, hey, L.A.! That has to count for something, right?

It’s disappointing. It comes off as the sort of crass money grab one would expect from one of the major networks instead of something new and interesting from the cable network who has dropped some pretty interesting drama in our laps over the past five years or so. It’s not must-watch television, period. Heck, after the first season of Walking Dead, I could name most of the characters off of the top of my head. Notice how I haven’t mentioned any Fear the Walking Dead characters by name? That’s because not only do I not remember any names, I don’t consider it worth my time to hop over to IMDB and look them up.

So, sorry, AMC. I eagerly anticipate your small-screen version of the Preacher comic book series, and I’m sure I’ll get into some of your original programming down the road. But Fear the Walking Dead is about as interesting to me as AfterMASH or That 80’s Show. And so, much as I did with those shows and others like them, I’ll turn my attention elsewhere.

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Why MTV’s ‘Scream’ did and didn’t work

Familiar, but not the same.

Familiar, but not the same…

Writer’s note: This was initially, accidentally published before completion. So if some of this looks familiar, well, it might be. Also, there are going to be some spoilers, so you were warned.

Two reasons to like the Scream series on MTV …

  1. MTV pays due tribute. The disfigured, outcast madman from years before, the person who is not among our new Scream-ers but at the center of its mystery, is killed at a lake, an homage to Friday the 13th. That’s probably the least subtle nod, and there are tips of the hat to Halloween and Saw, as well. Hell, at one point I was sure I saw an exterior shot that had to be the old Buffy Summers’ residence. But what I thought was both fairly daring and a great change that set the show apart from the movies is the new mask. That’s precisely the sort of change that usually drives genre fans bugshit. But the mask wasn’t just changed for the sake of change. The change is tied to the new story, and it’s still true to the movie mask. It was a small but key change, and shows some of the thought that went into this endeavor.
  2. The ending. The creative team had me fooled, no doubt. I was convinced it was the sheriff and his son behind the murder. Then the killer was revealed, and it appeared that there was only one, which would have been a change from the original. But as the very end showed, there was at least one person who had regular contact with the killer prior to the murder spree. We don’t know the depths of said person’s involvement, but it’s a peek at what we might expect next season. It was a nice move that saved a somewhat anti-climactic season finale.
Yes, the dialogue was bad, but it wasn't that bad. ... OK, it was pretty horrifying.

Yes, the dialogue was bad, but it wasn’t that bad. … OK, it was pretty horrifying.

Three reasons not to like the Scream reboot.

  1. The dialogue. It’s bad. It’s awful. It’s atrocious. It’s … so bad we might need a new word to describe it. Part of what made the original Scream movie so fresh was that, unlike the many horror flicks that it was parodying, the kids were fairly smart, aware and funny instead of just attractive, dim-witted meat for the slasher grinder. MTV’s Scream often acts like it uses some random, genre-based, dude-bro/basic-bitch phrase generator to come up with dialogue. Among the adults, it’s hyper-serious and too spot-on. When some truly terrible phrase exits the mouth of one of the actors, it’s hard to stay in the moment within the drama. Noah, the series horror-movie fan stand-in for Jamie Kennedy’s Randy, is forced to spew half-assed, poorly set-up monologues far too frequently. The overall dialogue is so bad, even my 13-year-old daughter mocked it with regularity. Something to work on for Season 2.
  2. The cast and the characters they play. I thought, when it came to the adults, the casting was pretty well done. But with the teens … I think it can be summed up by Bella Thorne’s appearance in the pilot. The Disney star is the token big name who bites it in the opening scene, a good choice to relate to the target audience. However, unlike Drew Barrymore in the original Scream, we’re in no way sad to see Thorne’s Nina bite it. Drew’s character is a little catty and flirty, but also genuine and a fighter when the knives come out. Thorne is convincing as a bitchy teenager, but it’s a wasted performance because it isn’t what we need from the character. We need to have a rooting interest in Nina, but that’s not developed. It’s a poor match for Thorne, and it was the wrong way to go for the character. And that sums up plenty of the younger cast members in Scream. With the possible exception of Bex Taylor-Klaus’s outcast lesbian Audrey, there are too many poorly thought-out characters played by actors who don’t have the chops to elevate their roles.
  3. The ending. Yes, I know I just praised the ending. But the problem with the end is related to issue No. 2 above. Amelia Rose Blair, who plays podcast journalist Piper Shaw, is horrible. The wardrobe people put a pair of horn-rimmed glasses about two sizes two big on Shaw in an attempt to make her look like a Smart, Serious Journalist. She mostly looks like a kid who stole her dad’s eyewear. Plus, Blair can’t pull off acting concerned or intelligent, as if she’s never had the opportunity to witness or experience either. And when the big reveal comes that she’s our killer, she’s about as scary as a toddler dressed as a vampire heading out to trick-or-treat. I think the storyline could have worked much better had the Scream folks found an actress who could carry the weight. Blair was not the right woman for the job.

In the end, MTV did just enough to get me back for the second season. The first season was uneven but entertaining, and the set-up for the next round seems promising. Plus, my daughter and I had a lot of fun MST3K-ing from the cheap seats as the body count rose. Bonding over buckets of blood will keep us engaged for at least one more go ’round.

And now I’ll let my daughter’s words wrap this piece up. “She can’t carry everything she needs for school in that bag. My biology book wouldn’t even fit in there. … What kind of school is this?”

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Humanity of ‘Humans’ is what makes series work

Anita is a Synth fresh out of the box ... or is she?

Anita is a Synth fresh out of the box … or is she?

I wanted to like Humans more.

At the family level, it works so well. When we’re with the Hawkins clan and their human-like robotic caretaker, Anita, Humans is in top form. The five Hawkins work well together and form a believable, likable and flawed family. Anita’s insertion into the tense marital relationship of Joe and Laura, new “mom” for little Sophie, ideal female form for horny teen Toby and constant reminder that humans are becoming obsolete to the oldest Hawkins kid, Mattie, all make for incredibly well-acted and crafted scenes and explore what the introduction of synthetic humans would mean at the personal level for real humans. You get more touches of that with William Hurt’s Dr. George Millican, a once leading scientist in the Synth field now losing his memories, relying on his Synth and de facto son Odi to remind him of events from his and his wife’s life together. Another ripple is added when we meet Pete Drummond, a detective whose ailing wife is cared for by a Synth that makes him feel worthless as he simultaneously draws the loving attention of his partner, Karen. These three storylines nail the impact of human simulations being released in the real world. It’s a unique mix of awkward, horrifying and touching drama.

Had the first season mostly focused on that, it might have become my favorite show on television. The problem is the dramatic sci-fi storyline, that a handful of synths were created to have consciousness. Humans who already fear the impact of synths on unemployment and the world in general would now have to be concerned that they could be replaced entirely. This part of the story doesn’t flow as well and feels uncomfortable next to the more personal side of the tale. The ending of the first season was clearly also planned to be the ending of the series, just in case. Things get wrapped up a little too quickly and neatly.

Following in the wake of Ex Machina probably doesn’t help me appreciate Humans as much, either. Ex Machina was a taut, quickly paced and intense drama that delved into the impact of AI on our world. Humans is broader, sometimes for the better, other times not so much. Its pace is slower and occasionally uneven, with tension lacking when the danger should be felt most. Where Ex Machina was lean and furious, Humans is too often top heavy and overly earnest.

Will I return for a second season of Humans? Humans hasn’t blown me away like the AMC dramas Breaking Bad, The Walking Dead and Hell on Wheels did. I may do something I don’t usually do and read advance reviews of season two to get a sense of where Humans is going and then decide. Until then, I’m firmly in the maybe column.

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‘Wayward Pines’ aces the Season 1 test

Kate (Carla Gugino) gets more than she bargains for in her attempt to escape Wayward Pines.

Kate (Carla Gugino) gets more than she bargains for in her attempt to escape Wayward Pines.

I was wary of Wayward Pines.

It came down to two things. The first was the name “M. Night Shyamalan” propped up prominently in the advertising. Most of his work since The Village has been the film equivalent of a raging tire fire, and after what he did to Avatar: The Last Airbender, I wasn’t sure I’d ever watch anything he was involved in again. However, Shyamalan deserves some credit here for making Wayward Pines work. His tendencies to lean on moody atmosphere and a deliberative pace in the pilot set the tone for the rest of the first season. I wonder if working off another’s material – the series is based on the books by Blake Crouch – as well as working on a television series, which is more collaborative than the auteur role Shyamalan is used to as a film director, is part of what is responsible. If so, that mix has proven potent, and Wayward Pines can head in some interesting directions from what’s been established already.

The second thing that concerned me were the comparisons to Twin Peaks that were popping up in early reviews. I view Twin Peaks as one of the most uniquely twisted shows in the history of television, almost sacred because of the swirl of odd humor, kinky otherworldliness and dark underpinnings that are unmatched. Well, it turns out I didn’t have anything to worry about, because those reviews were dead wrong. Wayward Pines is distinctly lacking in sense of humor, which isn’t a put down. That’s just not what the show is, and it’s the easiest thing to point to as a difference when comparing it to Twin Peaks. Also, in Twin Peaks, the secrecy that drives the show is the hidden lies of the townspeople who are living the small-town, American dream. Wayward Pines‘ secrecy is more about the workings of the town itself, how it came to be, why it is so isolated, the planned machinations happening behind the scenes and what those machinations result in. Really, Wayward Pines feels much more like Lost than Twin Peaks.

FBI agent Ethan Burke (Matt Dillon) won't follow the party line in Wayward Pines: Don't talk about the past, don't go past the wall.

FBI agent Ethan Burke (Matt Dillon) won’t follow the party line in Wayward Pines: Don’t talk about the past, don’t go past the wall.

Hopefully, the Lost comparison won’t extend past the first season. The ending of season one changes the focus of Wayward Pines, spinning the plot in a different direction. The cast could potentially be radically different as well, even after the culling of familiar faces throughout the first season. The potential is there for long-term success, if the show and the folks running it can maintain the balance of plausibility of the action with the more far-out, fantastic elements that are part of this cloistered world.

If not, it could get … well, lost, for lack of a better way to put it. The ending of season one leaves the show dangling on a precipice, a radical change of course charted for the upcoming season. Abandoning the situation as it was, moving ahead a few years, could test the patience of fans if it is not handled delicately, possibly even alienate fans who would like more of what they saw and aren’t ready to push on.

I, for one, have hope. We’ll see if that hope is rewarded.

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‘Saul’ essence of good storytelling

It was good to see Tuco again.

It was good to see the meditative, calming presence of Tuco again. Man, I missed him.

(Spoilers ahead. You were warned.)

HOW DID SAUL GOODMAN end up in a position where he was working with psychotic, slimebag druglords like Tuco Salamanca and Walter White?

You get a sense of how Saul found himself where he found himself in Breaking Bad. Saul’s got that greed, to be sure, but he’s also an opportunist with an adrenaline addiction. He clearly likes to be on the edge, only to get a serious case of the nerves when he gets there. But while Saul is a scene-stealing character on that show, he’s not a primary character, one whose background gets much thought because it’s not really pertinent to that particular story. Sure, it would be fun to know what’s made Saul the man he is, but with all of Walt’s and Jesse’s death-defying hijinks, that wasn’t something Breaking Bad could or should have explored.

But Better Call Saul can and does mine that rich vein of Saul’s past. We get to me the real Saul, Slippin’ Jimmy, a low-rent con artist from Cicero, Ill., who ends up in jail because he takes a dump in the sunroof of a luxury car owned by the guy who was sleeping with his wife … only to find out, too late, that the cheating dick’s son and a fellow Cub scout were sitting in the back seat of the car when the felonious deuce was dropped. Jimmy gets out by promising his brother, Chuck (Michael McKean), that he’ll leave the Chicagoland area and go with Chuck to Albuquerque to start over fresh.

When we meet Saul, it’s years later. He’s a lawyer now, hustling small-time cases and scraping together a living. Chuck, a partner in a big-time law firm, can’t leave his house because of a unique form of agoraphobia. Saul is serving all of Chuck’s needs while trying to scrape by a living mostly with public defender cases. Then, Slippin’ Jimmy gets lucky. A multi-million dollar, class-action lawsuit falls in his lap, and now Saul has leverage to get his foot in the door with Chuck’s firm, HHM. The firm agrees to take on the case, and although he is going to receive a hefty payday, he won’t get a job with the firm, and he won’t be allowed to work the case.

Saul is furious. He believes that, once again, Chuck’s partner Howard has kept him on the outside looking in. He won’t allow HHM to have the case, ranting and flailing, unsure of what to do next.

Then the truth reveals itself. Howard has never been against Saul. Turns out, Chuck has refused to allow HHM to hire Saul has anything more than a mailroom clerk. Chuck says Saul’s not a “real lawyer,” and that he is what he’s always been: Slippin’ Jimmy.

That moment, that seminal moment, combined with the death of a close friend from his Slippin’ Jimmy days, seals it. Saul was inspired by his brother to go legit, to cease walking, running down the path that would surely lead to prison or an early grave. But as viewers could see from Breaking Bad, that path less traveled never quite worked for him. That other path, the path of deceit, scheming and double-dealing, well, that’s the path that suits Saul best. And now, finally, he understands who he is, and he embraces it.

Mike Ehrmantaut was one of my favorite characters from

Mike Ehrmantraut was one of my favorite characters from “Breaking Bad.” I’ve seen nothing in “Better Call Saul” that dulls my affection one iota.

BUT WHAT REALLY PUTS Better Call Saul over the top isn’t Saul diving head first into the Slippin’ Jimmy, attorney at law, persona. It’s Mike Ehrmantraut. Because not only do we see the moment were Saul chooses the dark side, we get to see that same moment with Mike. He’d done dark things before he arrived in Albuquerque, but that was behind him. The future of his granddaughter and daughter-in-law, all he has left after the death of his son, now depends on him. And Mike will do whatever it takes – whatever it takes – to make their lives better. Where Saul is wishy-washy, taking years to find satori, Mike knows who he is and knows what matters to him. To him, there is no decision to be made. It is only time to set a course of action to make need or want become reality fulfilled. And so he does just that.

SO I GUESS YOU COULD SAY I’m really looking forward to Season 2. And, hopefully, more Tuco.

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