Around the Water Cooler: “Dracula,” The Verdict, the Season 1 Finale, and the Season 1 Recap (SPOILERS)

THE SPECS:

Who:  “Dracula,” aired on network TV, specifically on NBC, Fall Fridays at 10:00 PM.

What: “Dracula,” a historical supernatural/fantasy series based upon the infamous titular vampire and his reanimation in Victorian England.

When: The season one finale aired on NBC, Friday, January 24, 2014, at 10:00 PM.

Where: The show is set in London, England, in the year 1896.

Why: I continue to enjoy shows centered on vampires, though the character of Dracula has always been somewhat of a mixed bag for me, depending upon the portrayal and vehicle.  For example, I enjoy the Dracula on Buffy the Vampire Slayer but only tolerate Gary Oldman’s Dracula (given the fact that the film surrounding him is somewhat mediocre).  My interest and intrigue were  piqued when I learned that King Henry VIII himself, the charismatic Jonathan Rhys-Meyers, would be playing the enigmatic vampire.  The thought of it and ensuing expectations were too much to pass up.

SYNOPSIS

A professor named Van Helsing (if he’s the vampire hunter, that has not been clarified yet) reanimates the wasted corpse of Dracula (Rhys Meyers), entombed in wooden stakes and silver. Dracula, posing as an American industrialist named Alexander Grayson in Victorian London, seeks vengeance against something called the Order of the Dragons, members of which also happen to control industrial interests in London.  Meanwhile, he encounters the doppelganger of his former wife, who was murdered by the Order prior to Dracula’s encasement in a vampire-proof coffin. This new iteration of his long dead wife, Mina, draws his interest while, in the meantime, he slaughters haughtier members of the Order in order to bring his vengeful interests to the forefront.

The Verdict

I initially rated the pilot 3 stars, which earns a six episode trial.  After six episodes (which was extended to the whole season, as only ten episodes comprise season one), my verdict is:

Dracula is a seductive, sexy foray into Bram Stoker’s original story, made all the more entertaining by the effortless intensity and charisma of Jonathan Rhys-Meyers, the lush art direction, and remarkable costumes calling the finest attention to Victorian London detail.  It is this viewer’s hope that this vampire show has some of the longevity of its titular character.  I have every intention of continuing to watch, though the show hovers precariously around the ratings bubble with an unlikely shot at renewal.

How – as in How’s It Going? (Thoughts)

What works for Dracula.:

1) Rhys Meyers is a brilliant Dracula.  He’s a brilliant actor, but his talent and his natural charisma add just the right amount of piquant to this legendary vampire.  He’s ruthless but sympathetic all at once, and his intensity matches this character to a tee.  He is the perfect casting choice.

2) The costumes and sets are breathtaking.  The budget for this show must be enormous.  The essence of the period is so infused into the careful rendering of visual palate, the Victorian landscape is as much a character in the show as any of the real life actors.  It’s even a bit steam-punk, exploring some fantastic scientific concepts, such as harnessing electromagnetic energy in the days before electricity became commonplace, and creating fictional devices to bring those concepts to fanciful three dimensions.

3) Dracula’s/Grayson’s assistant, Renfield (Nonzo Anozie), who provides Grayson with legal advice, is also a brilliant actor, and his tortured and somewhat unlucky character is a perfect foil for the unpredictability of the vampire.

What doesn’t work:

1) The Order of the Dragon/Order Drago is a vague foe that requires better definition.  What are their true aims?  Why have they murdered so many and, in turn, inspired such wrath in Dracula, Van Helsing, and the rest?  It’s clear they are power-hungry capitalists, but what forced them into murderous and other dark, criminal activities leading to the demise of the families of these characters?

2) Almost all of the supporting cast.  The acting is veritable mixed bag, the worst belonging to the man who plays Jonathan Harker, Oliver Jackson-Cohen.  Sometimes, the supporting characters, as important as they are to the story (and true to the source novel), leave something to be desired.

3) The part of the story in which Dracula chases the possibility of being able to walk in sunlight.  It’s not the fact that he wants it; it’s the fact that it took too long to resolve one way or the other.

Thoughts Following the Pilot/Season Recap

As this viewer noted in the the review of the pilot (here), the overarching plot of this series is quite dense.  The pilot plodded because it was so exposition heavy; thankfully, each new episode addressed one or two overall pieces of the larger story without getting mired in any one of them or flitting through all of them at a pace that unsettles the viewer.  In fact, at times, between the performance of Rhys Meyers and other visual elements, the story was actually quite thrilling, encompassing all of the sexiness and story that has allowed Bram Stoker’s tale to endure over the centuries.

In addition, though Dracula poses as American Alexander Grayson, at times, his back-story, from the time he was resurrected by Van Helsing, has been meted out in parcels, providing some explanation for his motives.  All but abandoned, however, for most of the season was the element of the story revolving around Grayson’s electricity interests – oh, it returned in the end, but to what end?  The whole intrigue around Grayson’s floating energy served, in the end, to be merely an afterthought, a backdrop on which to base the season finale.  It may be there in the background, a motive for Grayson to employ Harker and to spy on the Order of the Dragon and its various industrial interests, but the pedantic details of Grayson’s pursuits were, instead, interwoven into his partnership with Van Helsing to deal in the real commodity: a way to transfuse the electricity into a life’s blood that will allow the vampire to walk in daylight.

The real attraction to this series centers on the bits of illicit romance that flutter in and out like moths to flames.  Like the film directed by Francis Ford Coppola, this Dracula is no stranger to sex. He has a scandalous, torrid affair with Lady Jayne Wetherby, the vampire hunter who is unaware that she is in love with a vampire, while simultaneously finding himself inextricably drawn to the engaged Mina, the doppelganger of his dead wife.  At the same time, Mina’s best friend, Lucy, harbors illicit feelings for her best lady friend.  Mina, moreover, is having graphic dreams about Mr. Grayson.  The love pentagon that has been created was probably the most interesting part of the story, even if the vampire/sex angle is the guiltiest part of this pleasure.

By the end of the season, much had happened in ten episodes.  The plot threads converged in the season finale in the following ways:

Harker’s jealousy at Mina’s growing interest in Grayson, reciprocated by the lovelorn Dracula, pining after his long-dead doppelganger wife, sabotaged his engagement to Mina in the end.  He allowed himself to be seduced by Lucy, who engaged in the seduction on the advice of the conspiring Lady Jayne when her advances toward Mina were rebuffed (Lady Jayne had already felt scorned by Grayson’s obvious affections for Mina).  Lucy then casually informed Mina of this illicit affair while Mina was confined to a hospital bed, having been secretly attacked by the Order to evoke a reaction from Grayson/Dracula.

Van Helsing achieved a formula combining serum and massive quantities of electroshock that allowed the enigmatic Dracula to walk in daylight for limited stretches at a time.  This allowed Grayson/Dracula to fool the ever suspicious members of the Order, including Lady Jayne, into believing he was not actually a vampire.

Lucy’s interference with Mina and Harker awakened ire in Dracula, who repaid her meddling and potential pain caused Mina by siring her into a vampire (which was an exciting twist of events).

Mina struggled to make sense of her own dreams and desires for Dracula, as she found herself inexplicably drawn to Grayson while dreaming of her past life as Iona, Dracula’s wife.  Though Dracula resisted the magnetic pull between them in the interest of his less-than-noble vendetta against Order Drago, he ultimately, and passionately, gave into them in the end, particularly after Mina saw the triptych depicting an early Middle Ages painting of Iona in Grayson’s study.

Mina, while working for Van Helsing in pursuit of her medical studies, discovered vampire blood, though she seems to have forgotten it by the end of the season, occupied as she was with her injuries and collapsing love life.

Renfield, after being tortured once by the Order Drago to obtain information about Grayson, met an ignominious end in the struggle over Grayson’s electromagnetic demonstration, first condemned by the Order’s political pull and then sabotaged by Harker, who joined the Order’s ranks to exact revenge on Grayson for his obviously romantic dynamic with Mina.

Lady Jayne, at the behest of Order Drago, initiated a city-wide attack against the ever-growing population of vampires, as Dracula created “children” around the city, and as she had become aware of the storied vampire’s presence earlier in the season.  While she was successful in vanquishing many, she soon figured out, with the help of a special seer in the employ of the Order, that the man with whom she had been in love, Grayson, was Dracula himself, who remained a legendary foe in the annals of Order history.  She confronted him in the end, after the Order’s sabotage resulted in the explosion of his energy contraption, but Dracula cannot die by traditional means, even for a vampire.  Upon these last words:

Dracula: I thought you loved me.
Lady Jayne: I lied.

Dracula fed on her, and she died.

Van Helsing’s revenge was visited on the head of the Order Drago, Browning, when he kidnapped Browning’s children and ultimately fed them to vampires, who, in turn, fed on him gruesomely in an abandoned cellar, which Van Helsing also set in fire, to parallel the deaths of his own wife and children.  The season closed out with Van Helsing offering to expose Dracula to Harker, while Mina and Grayson shared a bed in a passionate, ethereal moment.

What’s great about this season finale, in this viewer’s opinion, is that many story lines were wrapped up in a satisfying way, such that the first season could stand on its own for the most part, if NBC should ultimately cancel the series.  At the same time, tantalizing threads have frayed from the edges of this complex patchwork that demand more story, more exploration.  Plus, I, personally, never tire of watching Jonathan Rhys Meyers, in this or any role.  With a Friday/10 PM time slot, it seems as if the network never really gave the series a chance to garner viewership; however, that fact alone could be its saving grace. This viewer hopes that Rhys Meyers is given further chance to play the charismatic vampire – he is the reason to watch, as mesmerizing and titillating as his performance is.  He was the perfect casting choice; hopefully, the network will recognize that fact and will give the series another season and its star another chance to play the legendary character.

PARTING SHOTS

Dracula is vampire mythos at its finest.  It may not be the most perfectly executed adaptation, but the charisma of Rhys Meyers and the astonishing production values provide this Friday-night soft core fright fest some artistic and entertainment-related credibility. 

LOOKING AHEAD:

The first season was produced to the tune of ten episodes and aired fully, ending in January 2014. There is no word yet on renewal or cancellation, though most outlets and reliable sources call renewal for this series a “long shot.”  Still, it has developed a solid, if small, cult fan base.  Hopefully, the network will keep this show, paired with Grimm in the 9 pm time slot – after all, it’s Friday fright night at its finest, for anyone who stays in to watch TV that night.

Around the Water Cooler: “The Michael J. Fox Show” – Officially Canceled

THE SPECS:

Who:  “The Michael J. Fox Show.” currently airs on network TV, specifically on NBC, Thursdays at 9:30 PM.

What: “The Michael J. Fox Show,” a situation comedy marking the comeback of Alex P. Keaton and Marty McFly himself, none other than Michael J. Fox.  The actor, who has been famously diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease since the nineties, has been away from series television since his diagnosis and his stint on Spin City.  The show parallels Fox’s real life comeback; the main character, Mike Henry, is a former network news anchor that retires due to a diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease but decides to return to the news after he realizes he still has some energy to devote to work and after he drives his family and himself crazy staying at home.  The show also deals with the family’s adjustment to his diagnosis as well as to his decision to reenter the workforce.

SYNOPSIS

Mike Henry (Fox) is a journalist and news anchor who resigned well before retirement when diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease.  Though he still has high energy and spirits, he is driving his family crazy at home, including his wife, two sons (one younger, one college dropout) and daughter as well as his sister, who seems to live in the same building and spends an inordinate amount of time in his apartment.  He happens to run into his former boss while spending time with his kids, and his boss convinces him to reconsider returning to work.  Mike toys with the idea, and his family supports it, but he doesn’t want to work out of sympathy and/or pity for his condition but because he still has something to offer to the world, to his family, and to himself.

When: The series was canceled as of February sweeps, so this viewer stopped watching.

Where: The show is set in New York City at the NBC local news affiliate in Rockefeller Center as well at the Henrys’ home apartment.

Why: I have always been in love with Michael J. Fox, ever since his Family Ties and Alex P. Keaton days.  He is a truly charming actor with great delivery, a good off-screen nature, and a willingness to be self-deprecating, both through his characters and his off-screen personae.  Plus, this is his big comeback; he hasn’t been on television for more than a special or a rare guest appearance since his diagnosis, and since the show was incorporating his condition rather than avoiding it, I wanted to see how it would all turn out.  I felt my inner child and hard core devotion spring into action at the mere mention that Michael J. Fox was returning to TV.  I wanted to watch this show to support Michael J. Fox!  For better or for worse.

How – as in How’s It Going? (THOUGHTS…at present)

Well, it’s been canceled, for one thing.

This viewer initially rated the pilot four stars, owing largely to Michael J. Fox’s ultimately winning on and off-screen faces that have nothing to do with his Parkinson’s Disease.  The dialogue rang sharp in the beginning, walking a fine line of confronting Fox’s real life diagnosis by also confronting it fictionally. And, for the most part, the show stuck to that premise, allowing Fox to make lighthearted pokes at his condition directly while allowing the show to skirt in and around it, doing a dance that never felt awkward, even if the jokes came at the expense of an occasional awkward chuckle.

Yet, the show descended into a bit of a one-note knockoff of Modern Family, particularly when it focused on the children – three of the most annoying children on the planet that could not believably be the offspring of Mr. Fox’s charming Mike Henry and his pleasantly progressive show-wife Annie (Betsy Brandt) – and the ne’er do well for a sister that lives downstairs from them. It stopped being an original take on a family dealing with the degenerative disability of one of its own and started riffing on the misguided notions of the wacky, functionally dysfunctional family, complete with the college dropout with intelligence and misguided ambition; the daughter trying to find her place in the world by demonstrating how open and accepting she is while still appearing to be somewhat sheltered and naive; and the little boy comic relief, whose character was entirely too two dimensional and overly precocious to be endearing. In other words, it stopped being original altogether, lacking the edge of the ABC sitcom it was emulating and squandering the heart and soul of the show – Michael J. Fox himself – as well as the womanizing boss Harris (Wendell Pierce), who was good for a few one-liners and the occasionally hilarious physical comedy bit.

In truth, the comedy in this show was almost completely provided by Fox, reacting to his eccentric family and to his situation, fortunate or unfortunate though it may be, with the sardonic wit that made Alex P. Keaton so lovable, despite his judgmental attitude and conservative leanings (in contrast to his hippie parents).  And while dancing around Fox’s/Henry’s Parkinson’s could have become stale after too long if overused, as it turns out, so did the premise of focusing on the slightly off-putting children and sister, since they showed very few redeemable qualities when held up against their more normal-seeming parents/siblings.  Juliette Goglia as daughter Eve was possibly the most annoying – and quite aggressive for a middle child – espousing her eschew views of the world without learning too many core lessons (though sons Ian and Graham also had their moments).

In the end, The Michael J. Fox Show just didn’t sustain the sharpness and charm that was almost solely provided by its headlining star in the pilot, primarily because it deviated from his character in big ways at times, focusing on these other family members and, thus, offering more screen time to performances that didn’t come close to that of the erstwhile Alex P. Keaton.  While NBC is contracted to air the entire season produced, it was the right call to cancel it, particularly given its ratings losses to other sitcoms in the same time slot and the fact that similar ilk already dominates the airwaves.

PARTING SHOTS

The Michael J. Fox Show is slightly better than mediocre at best because it squandered its originality and the whole reason the show existed to begin with, namely Michael J. Fox.  If Fox is ready to work on a more consistent basis, maybe someone can find him a better vehicle – even skewer his sardonic Mr. Nice Guy type toward something a little edgier.  Yet, he should probably tell wife Tracy Pollan to stay home – her guest stint early on was cringe-worthy.

THE FUTURE OF THE SHOW:

Canceled!  I stopped watching it when I learned the news, even though I was behind, and I’m kind of relieved I don’t have to continue reviewing it.  That alone should say something.

Around the Water Cooler: “Sleepy Hollow,” the Season 1 Finale and Recap (MAJOR SPOILERS!)

THE SPECS:

Who:  “Sleepy Hollow” aired on network TV, specifically on FOX, Fall Mondays at 9:00 PM.

What: “Sleepy Hollow,” part supernatural thriller, part historical fiction, part revisionist fiction, part cop drama.  It’s got a little something for everyone.

When: The season 1 finale aired on FOX, Monday, January 20, 2014, at 9:00 PM.

Where: The show is set in what is now known to be Sleepy Hollow, New York (formerly North Tarrytown).

Why: Sleepy Hollow – Ichabod Crane and the Headless Horseman, in their colonial times regalia and context, thrust into the present?  That premise alone doesn’t fascinate you?

How – as in How’s It Going? (THOUGHTS…at present)

WOW!!!  HOLY SMOKES!!!

This viewer initially rated Sleepy Hollow’s pilot four stars, seeing possible pitfalls in the premise, particularly with regard to how the writers would be able to sustain the story over several seasons. Those doubts have evaporated now.  Perhaps, this viewer has acquired a little “Sympathy for the Devil,” but in retrospect, and given this tantalizingly well-woven first season, as well as FOX’s deserving early gamble of automatically ordering second season renewal, I would revise my initial rating to five stars.  After watching the first season finale recently, it occurs to this viewer that Sleepy Hollow may be the best new show of the season, a true must-watch of five-star proportions.  Sing it, Mick:

Sympathy for the Devil – The Rolling Stones

Sleepy Hollow has woven a story of Biblical scope, combining and updating the legendary folktale with Apocalyptic/end of times mythology.  The Headless Horseman in this tale happens to be Death, one of the Four Horseman of the Apocalypse, and his appearance in Sleepy Hollow heralds the arrival of his three brothers.

It all starts with the Rip Van Winkle awakening of Ichabod Crane (Tom Mison), formerly a soldier in the Revolutionary army, who, after being entombed for 200 years, awakens to all of the modern mayhem and horrors of today, including Starbucks and smartphones.  He’s a fish out of water and out of time, but his role in the apocalyptic saga is key: he is one of two witnesses prophesied in the Bible to fight against the onslaught of the end of days, having been linked to the Horseman Death by his wife, a witch named Katrina, only to meet his adversary in the grim future after a long, inadvertent sleep.

The other witness is Detective Abbie Mills (Nicole Beharie), who, along with her sister Jenny, witnessed the rising of Molluk, an ancient demon who guards the entrance to purgatory and who has sworn himself the major domo of the apocalypse affair, as children.  The first half of the season involved, first, Abbie accepting her role as witness as well as the fantastic reemergence of Crane.  Second, Abbie and Jenny worked to reconcile, as Abbie initially denied their vision of the demon for fear of the consequences while Jenny didn’t, causing Jenny to be institutionalized and the sisters to be estranged.

Molluk returns to Sleepy Hollow, as does the Headless Horseman, and both seek to destroy the witnesses.  In the meantime, Ichabod and Abbie follow bread crumbs of clues laid out for them by several sources, including Abbie’s erstwhile boyfriend, Andy Brooks, the cop who sold his soul to Molluk (John Cho); Katrina and her coven of witches; and the Founding Fathers themselves, including General George Washington, who is aware of Ichabod’s larger role and leaves behind his bible with messages written therein in invisible ink.  In so doing, Ichabod and Abbie make vital discoveries, one of which includes the revelation that Katrina was pregnant with Ichabod’s son named Jeremy, a troubled boy who was whisked away by her coven for protection, only to experience the rigors of abandonment and neglect.  Ichabod believes Jeremy to be dead after destroying a golem spelled into existence by the young man as a budding witch, but, as it turns out, he is mistaken.

Ichabod and Abbie also encounter Henry Parrish (John Noble), a “sin eater,” who is able to read and absorb the sins and marks of evil left behind like a fingerprint on an entity.  Henry is helpful to them at several points, providing a conduit to entrap the Headless Horseman and helping the Captain (Orlando Jones) to save his estranged daughter from demonic possession by Molluk.

At the end of the season, Ichabod and Abbie figure out that General Washington allowed himself to be magically resurrected after his death to disease, so that he could straddle the worlds of the living and the dead to learn the secrets that will help the witnesses defeat the Horseman Death. They also realize that the second Horseman, War, is the evil brother next to emerge, after Death’s and spirit Andy’s many warnings.  Ichabod and Abbie, with the help of her mentor’s belongings and General Washington’s hints, realize that the only way to prevent the coming of War is to open the door to Purgatory and free Katrina, Ichabod’s wife, who was banished there by Molluk so many centuries earlier.  Yet, they are haunted by a prophesy repeated frequently by Henry: one witness will sacrifice the other to stop the coming of the Apocalypse, and it is widely believed that Ichabod will sacrifice Abbie for the sake of his wife.

While Abbie is reticent to use the map found in Washington’s secret tomb to open Purgatory’s door, given the heat that she and her sister are receiving from Molluk, she is ultimately convinced by Henry to accompany Ichabod into Purgatory, where only their unique bond saves them from the temptations that linger there to entrap them (for Abbie, it is images of her dead friends and mentor; for Ichabod, it is the acceptance of his father for his decision to depart for the New World).  Yet, when they reach Katrina, she notes the trap: she can leave, but a soul must be left in her stead.  Thus, fulfilling the prophesy, Abbie agrees to stay behind, to finally confront Molluk, who has dogged her every step since childhood as well as that of her sister’s.  Ichabod promises tearfully that he will return for Abbie, but he and Katrina escape through the door as demons chase Abbie into her subconscious.

Yet, when Ichabod and Katrina emerge and find Henry and follow dark forces to a spot believed to house the skeleton of War, they find the encasement empty.  War, it seems, has already risen, lying in wait for his moment.  What’s more, after Henry the Sin Eater pins Ichabod and Katrina to the four dead trees in the forest, the harbinger of doom seen in premonitions by Ichabod, it is admitted by Henry that he is none other than Jeremy Crane, the immortal son of Ichabod and Katrina. What’s more, he is the willing vessel for War, and it was he who rose in the forest with Molluk’s help that day so many years ago, which Abbie and Jenny witnessed as children.

At the end of finale, Jeremy summons Death, the Headless Horseman Abraham, to come for Katrina.  Henry assumes the demonic form of the horseman War, sheathed in armor, as Ichabod looks on in horror.  Abbie remains trapped in Purgatory, having realized that she and Jenny blocked the memory of who/what really arose in the forest that day.  Jenny appears to be dead, having been attacked by the Headless Horseman after discovering the true identity of Henry Parrish herself, rolled over in her SUV on an abandoned road.  Oh, and the Captain confessed to two murders of cops assigned to the security detail of his daughter, when it was she, demonically possessed by Molluk, who perpetrated their deaths, while his ex-wife and daughter remain confused about the forces that threaten them and everyone around them.

The possibilities are endless!  The questions compound with each new answer!  The show is scary/creepy, filled with suspense and “holy shit” moments, and the performances are stellar, even that of Beharie, who found a rhythm and chemistry with Mison that makes her Abbie Mills endearing and that allows her to be one of the true heroes.  To sum up: this viewer cannot wait until season two premieres in the fall!  Sleepy Hollow is the best new show of the 2013-2014 season.  Many praises to FOX for green-lighting and standing behind this project.

Questions, Impressions, and Future Considerations

OLD QUESTIONS

1) I have so many questions right now, that i can’t even begin to list them.  To the credit of this show, I want to keep watching to have them answered.  My biggest question right now is what the demon in the woods is…is it another horseman?  Does it control the horsemen, including the now headless one?

Answer: It was Molluk, the guardian of Purgatory, who facilitated the rise of War, the second Horseman of the Apocalypse.  Heavy!

2) What is so special about Abbie and Jenny?

Answer: They witnessed these events, rendering them “witnesses” described by the Bible, who are ordained to stop the Apocalypse.

3) I think there is more to Orlando Jones’ captain character than meets the eye.  He seems too copacetic lately with Ichabod and Abbie’s supernatural investigation and gave them the key so easily to the abandoned office under the police station.

Answer: The Captain’s character shed his skepticism early.  I’m not sure why, but he may not have a hidden agenda after all, given what happened to his daughter, Maisie.

4) Will we encounter more witches?  What happened to Mr. Headless?

Answer: Oh, Headless came back.  He never left, really.  And we encountered some witches, who then were murdered by Jeremy’s Golem.  Now, only Katrina, and Jeremy in his original form, survive as witches of the coven.

NEW QUESTIONS

1) Will John Noble remain part of the cast?  He has become one of my favorite actors, particularly given his run as Walter Bishop on Fringe.  Now that War is upon us, though, it seems he should be the one to play that horseman – he could bring so much depth and dimension to that role.  Make him a series regular!!

2) How will Ichabod save Katrina?  How will he save Abbie?

3) Is Jenny really dead?!  I hope not!

4) How far behind are Famine or Pestilence at this point?! Have they already risen?

5) What happens if all Four Horsemen ride?

6) Why is Ichabod obsessed with new smartphones but can’t be open to more contemporary clothes?

7) Do the witnesses have secret abilities beyond the hidden messages and clues left for them?

8) Can be there be more spot-on musical montages?  “Sympathy for the Devil” was a perfect choice to open and close this show’s season…

PARTING SHOTS

AgainSleepy Hollow deserves the gamble that FOX is taking on it.  It is a highly original concept or, at least, an original new mixture of old concepts but with a very specific, if broad, focus. It’s well written, well performed, and there is both horror and humor in each episode so far.  Plus, it’s fun to watch out-of-time Ichabod struggle with current technology, like the rewind button on a VCR remote control.  This show is highly recommended and is definitely “must see” TV.  This show would appeal to fans of ilk like Supernatural and the X-Files, The DaVinci Code, or National Treasure, but would also be interesting to those who love horror, fantasy, historical fiction, or just a really good story.  It’s got a great mixture of ingredients for amazing television.  This viewer cannot praise this show enough – and the twists are not at all predictable (unless you are reading this entry…spoilers…).

LOOKING AHEAD:

Sleepy Hollow is now in hiatus but will premiere its second season in Fall 2014!  If you haven’t watched this series, you should find it on Netflix or Hulu and catch up on the show’s thirteen produced episodes – have I mentioned that it’s a great show, with great production values, not to be missed?  Well?

Around the Water Cooler: “The Tomorrow People,” Checking In Mid-Season (SPOILERS)

THE SPECS:

Who:  “The Tomorrow People,” currently airs on network TV, specifically on the CW.  It initially aired on Wednesdays at 9:00 PM but is moving to Mondays at 9:00 PM as of March 17, 2014.

What: “The Tomorrow People,” a science fiction teen drama about humans, most of whom are teenagers, who have evolved to have powers of teleportation, telekinesis, telepathy and possible other abilities, and the government organization named “Ultra” that seeks them out to neutralize them.  The action is centered on Stephen Jameson (Robbie Amell), a young high school student who begins to exhibit these abilities and so much more and who is being sought out by an organized band of “superior” humans as well as by Ultra for not only his abilities but also his family connections.

SYNOPSIS

Stephen (Amell) has been struggling for a year with strange occurrences, not the least of which include him waking up in foreign surroundings as if after sleepwalking, such as another couple’s bed (in another couple’s house).  Believed to have inherited an inexplicable psychosis from his father, Stephen has been undergoing psychological therapy and is taking strong anti-psychotic medication, which is often stolen by a school bully.  His friendships are strained, and he is frustrated by what seems to be a deteriorating mental state, until he is contacted by Cara (Peyton List) telepathically.  Cara and her boyfriend John Young (Luke Mitchell) introduce Stephen to the “Tomorrow People,” a ragtag group of teens who have enhanced abilities.  Stephen also finds out that his father abandoned his family, including his mother (Sarah Clarke, 24) and younger brother, because he also had abilities for which he is being hunted for study, and it is believed that Stephen can help locate his father, to the extent he has any interest in doing so.  Meanwhile, Ultra tracks the Tomorrow teens and is headed by Jedikiah (Pellegrino), Stephen’s uncle, his father’s brother, and an evolutionary biologist who seeks to minimize the threat and risk that these evolved humans in such formative years potentially pose to worldwide society.

When: The mid-season finale aired on the CW, Monday, December 11, 2013, at 9:00 PM.

Where: The show appears to be set in a large metropolis like New York City, but it is unclear (as of yet) if this is a strictly fictional universe or a fictionalized action set in realistic surrounds.

Why: I enjoy science fiction as a genre. The premise seemed pretty interesting (if a little derivative of the X-Men, though it is based on an English television show from the 70s).  The series features Mark Pellegrino (Jacob on Lost, Satan on Supernatural, a Monroe militia man on Revolution), who is one of my favorite character television actors of today, as the primary antagonistic force.  Also, one of the executive producers is Julie Plec, who is also the executive producer and head writer for The Vampire Diaries and The Originals.  All in all, I felt this program had a decent chance of being quite good.

How – as in How’s It Going? (THOUGHTS…at present)

This viewer initially rated the pilot of The Tomorrow People 4 stars – there were flaws in premise and execution, some of which still exist as of the mid-season finale (unfortunately, I watch a lot of TV and have a life in fine arts, so I’m only now getting around to this show).  The biggest flaw of the series is its almost shameless borrowing from, if not plagiarizing of, other science fiction vehicles, drawing from sources like the X-Men and Star Wars in story arcs that have presumably evolved beyond the constructs of the original version of the show from the 70s.  While the story is engaging enough by itself, the liberal use of conventions established by other science fiction is almost too distracting, as are the middling performances of especially the younger actors in the ensemble, particularly by Amell and List.  Though Amell holds his own in some scenes, the love triangle trope between Stephen, Cara, and John is played to saccharine, predictable, and formulaic effect.  In fact, Cara may be the most annoying of the characters – though she has not been as fully flushed out as her male counterparts have.

The most enigmatic and complex character is that of Jedikiah, who walks a deliciously morally ambiguous line, forever the doting uncle as well as the stalwart soldier for those looking to contain the Tomorrow People.  Stephen’s efforts to tread under his uncle’s radar offers the most interesting aspect of story, as Stephen plays the spy, and Jedikiah believes he is brainwashing his nephew into understanding the risks that the Tomorrow People’s abilities present to the rest of the human race.  Plus, Pellegrino is clearly the most capable actor in the ensemble and is what tethers this particular program to a level of decent quality, aside from the visual effects.

Still, the show, on the precarious ratings bubble for most of its life no doubt due to its premise and airing network, is racing through story lines normally hashed out over the course of several seasons, which also presents pacing challenges.  Startling revelations became evident by the end of the December finale, prompting the need for this review. Several episodes have since aired, but if you are as behind as I am, here’s what we found out by mid-season on The Tomorrow People:

1. All this time, Stephen was roped into the ragtag rebellion of Tomorrow People by John’s promise that if they found Stephen’s missing father, they would be able to defeat ULTRA and bring salvation to the Tomorrow People.  We find out by the end of mid-season that John, during his time as a captive of ULTRA, murdered John’s father.

2. At the same time, Stephen discovers that he might be able to find his father with a combination of his enhanced abilities and a near-death experience – by finding his father in “limbo,” a construct theorized by a professor and ally of Stephen’s father.  The mid-season finale, “Death’s Door,” found John, Cara, and Russell (Aaron Woo) attempting to cause Stephen to die, so that he could experience limbo, and then race to revive him before brain death occurred.  When Stephen awoke at the end of the episode, he proclaimed that in order to find his father, they had to find his body, while John looked on in disbelief, reminding all that he personally murdered the guy that he convinced Stephen to join his little rebellion and to help find in the first place.

3. Stephen loves Cara and vice-versa, but Cara can’t quit John.  Their bond doesn’t make sense much sense, beyond the “he saved me from myself” motif, another boring formulaic plot strand. Their relationship doesn’t make sense, especially since Cara is able to connect with Stephen telepathically more readily and almost exclusively, presumably due to enhanced abilities that both Stephen and Cara share.   In fact, why is Cara so advanced in telepathy particularly and so in tune with Stephen?

4. John’s time with ULTRA led to him being conditioned against his evolution: he can cause pain and fatal harm to others, at least with rudimentary means, such as weapons.  In addition, Jedikiah sees John as some sort of surrogate son, which might be explained away given his paternalistic role in the ULTRA organization, but the subtext of their complicated symbiosis almost seems to support the idea that John, who looks a lot like Jedikiah, might actually be a biological progeny of the latter.  After all, John’s lineage has not been explored (as of December).

5. Jedikiah fell in love with a Tomorrow Person under the radar of the Founder, the head of ULTRA.  The Founder, at the same time, is a Tomorrow Person of advanced abilities.  Jedikiah admitted his weakness and contraband relationship; the Founder asked him to prove his loyalty by disposing of her.  Why the Founder wants to eliminate his own kind is a key question.

6. Though Stephen rescued Cara from ULTRA by stopping time and tricking his uncle into believing that he administered a serum to her that would have sapped her powers, Jedikiah discovers Stephen’s ruse.  Stephen is able to play it off, but Jedikiah’s trust in him, and Stephen’s ability to play double agent, may be severely compromised.

7. Jedikiah, in an effort to save his lady love, helps the Tomorrow People stage her escape, making it appear as if he killed her.  Where do his loyalties truly lie in the end?

Questions, Impressions, and Future Considerations

1) What is the implication of having to find Stephen’s father’s body?  Are we talking about reuniting a soul and a presumably long-dead corpse?  Is this a thing that Tomorrow People – or, more specifically, Stephen – can do?

2) To that end, why is Stephen so much more advanced than the other Tomorrow People? (I have an inkling, thanks to my rudimentary searches…it will be interesting to see how information is revealed).

3) Why has Stephen permanently friend-zoned Astrid?  We have a bona-fide Les Miserables-style love triangle (I happen to be spending my time involved with that show) – Stephen is Marius, the clueless; Astrid is Eponine, the obsessed; and Cara is Cosette, the annoyingly uninteresting.  But seriously, why he is not looking at the stalwart friend by his side?  Is it because she’s too available? This is my primary question about friend zones.

4) Why does any one trust John anymore?  He’s lied to them all the whole time!  What consequences will he face?  Why wouldn’t they banish him for a time?  How can they trust him ever again?

5) Really, what is Jedikiah’s endgame?  On the one hand, he seems threatened by the abilities of his brother and nephew, and yet he finds them oddly comforting enough to become romantically entangled with someone who has them?  He almost appears to be an Aunt Petunia from Harry Potter equivalent – jealous that he doesn’t have the abilities, willing to condemn them to mask her abject jealousy, and yet sympathetic to them due to the love for his family members…

6) Then, there is the Founder.  Why is he trying to eradicate and control his own half of the human race?  Ultimate power?  Is he the Emperor Palpatine of this outfit, killing all the Jedi, i.e the Tomorrow People, to have the ultimate and only control of the Force, i.e. the teleportation/telekinesis/telepathy triplicate of powers?  What is his purpose?

7) Who is Stephen’s father, really?  Why is he so advanced and the mystical savior in the end?

PARTING SHOTS

The Tomorrow People is an interesting amalgam of recycled, simplistic, science fiction story tropes and more complicated questions involving the mysterious backgrounds of its key characters.  Sometimes, between the performances and more cringe-worthy romantic elements of the plot lines, the program is hard to watch, and yet each episode never fails to tantalize with new questions about Stephen and his cohorts’ larger purpose as evolved members of the human species.

LOOKING AHEAD:

Michael Ausiello over at TVLine.com is predicting that the show’s last rites are a lingering question, measured against the CW’s new series, The 100, set to premiere in The Tomorrow People’s former time slot on Wednesday, March 19, 2014, at 9:00 PM.  He and other outfits believe that the CW will pick one or the other to renew, not both.  The 100 is on this viewer’s watch list, but the The Tomorrow People is set to air all of its ordered full season of 22 episodes, finishing out its season in its new Monday time slot.  May sweeps and up-fronts may provide the final word on this series and several other new CW offerings.  As this viewer watches the instant series, I sincerely hope that whatever may happen, outstanding mysteries are provided windows to be solved/flushed out for loyal viewers, and this viewer will be one of those loyal ones, watching and wondering what the purpose of the Tomorrow People may ultimately be.

Around the Water Cooler: “Supernatural,” Checking In Mid-Season (SPOILERS)

THE SPECS:

Who: “Supernatural” currently airs on network TV, specifically on the CW, Tuesdays at 9:00 PM.

What: “Supernatural,” a drama depicting the tale of two brothers, Sam and Dean Winchester (Jared Padalecki and Jensen Ackles, respectively), who are “hunters” of all supernatural ilk, be they demons, monsters, or angels on high, in a quest to save the world from things that go bump in the night, things that cause apocalypses, and things that are generally just out to get them (for a more detailed Synopsis, read here: http://www.aceshowbiz.com/tv/supernatural/summary.html).

When: The Season 9 mid-season finale aired on Tuesday, December 3, 2013, on the CW at 9:00 PM.

Where: The show is set in no specific locale; the brothers ride all over the country in a 1967 Chevrolet Impala and live out of hotel rooms via fake identities and money scams, though the Winchesters are originally from Lawrence, Kansas.  The time is present day.

Why:  Oh so many seasons ago now, I followed Jensen Ackles–a fine, fine man–from Smallville to his new gig, which, at the time, seemed like a new spin on the X-Files, with two brothers versus two sexually tense FBI agents.  From the opening frames of the pilot, though, I knew that it was oh so much more or, at least, vastly different than the X-Files, and this show has surpassed so many expectations, including mustering the incredible ability to remain relevant and engaging long past the expiration of the initial story arc mapped out by creator Eric Kripke.

How – as in How’s It Going? (THOUGHTS…at present)

Since this TV blogger is behind on a few series, owing to life in the theater (pronounced theat-tuh), this purpose of this entry is simply to check in on Supernatural.  After all, in some ways, the brothers Winchester and Castiel the (now) fallen angel have been running in repetitive circles this season, until cataclysmic events began to take shape as of the episode “Holy Terror,” the mid-season finale (though the mid-winter hellatus was not nearly as long this year).

The circular trek of Dean Winchester (Jensen Ackles), Sam Winchester (Jared Padalecki), and Castiel (Misha Collins) can be described as follows:

Dean lies to Sam.  Again.   Angel Ezekiel offers to hide in Sam, which Dean accepts, because…

…after the trials to close the Gates of Hell nearly decimated him at the end of season 8, Ezekiel offers to hide within Sam, healing him, while Ezekiel is also healed from his fall from grace.  Ezekiel occasionally pops through Jared Padalecki’s Sam-like countenance, causing Sam to lose time and memory and to begin to suspect that something is amiss.  It doesn’t help that…

…Ezekiel wants nothing to do with Castiel, who was duped by Metatron, causing all of the angels to fall…

…most of season 9 has been about the brothers Winchester navigating the Angels’ various machinations on earth, either in attempts to create heaven’s kingdom on Earth or to understand what it means to be human (or both).

…meanwhile, Kevin Tran (Osric Chau), the prophet, continues to try to translate the tablets referencing closure of the gates of Hell as well as the angel tablet, which might have information about restoring heaven.  Crowley, former King of Hell, is being housed in a storage room in the vault of the Men of Letters, while Abaddon returns to his/her former glory, though her work is cut out for her with so many angels on earth.

…in the meantime, Metatron is not through yet.

In “Holy Terror,” Sam is starting to suspect that something is amiss, as incidents of “lost time” are compounding each time Ezekiel emerges to talk to Dean.  Dean chalks it up to after effects of the trials, but Sam is not convinced.

Investigating the slaughter of some angels, the brothers find Castiel already there to investigate himself and taking a cue from their playbook by posing as an FBI agent. He feels responsible for the angels.  The brothers take him to a bar, where he enjoys his first beer.  Castiel explains that the Angel Bartholomew is trying to ascend to heaven again and reverse Metatron’s spell.  While his back is turned, Ezekiel emerges in Sam’s body again and reminds Dean that Castiel’s presence will attract the attention of the other angels – unwanted attention.  Ezekiel rationalizes this unwanted attention to be due to the fact that the other angels will see Ezekiel as “choosing sides” by agreeing to help Sam.  When Castiel returns to the table, Ezekiel/Sam exit the bar to find Metatron, who greets Ezekiel as Gadreel, the angel who allowed the serpent entrance into the Garden of Eden.  While Dean is trying to talk to Castiel into keeping his continued distance at Ezekiel’s request, Metatron informs Gadreel that his spell of expulsion freed all angels, including those imprisoned for displeasing God (such as Gadreel).  Metatron espouses that he finds life on earth tedious, and he wants to take a few chosen angels back to heaven to rebuild it “as it should be.”  He nominates Gadreel for this task, so that Gadreel might improve his soiled reputation of centuries.

When the Winchesters return to the bunker without Castiel, Sam questions Castiel’s absence; Dean again explains that Castiel believed he would endanger the Winchesters by remaining with them.   Gadreel/Sam meets again with Metatron, who admits that he plans to style himself “God” but to call himself “X.”

Castiel prays and is heard by Muriel, an angel posing as a sheriff.  She tries to run, but he pleads with her to provide information.   Castiel explains how Metatron tricked him into becoming human and causing the angels to fall; Muriel imparts that Bartholomew seeks the throne of heaven, while Malachi the Anarchist defies his efforts, and that both angels are forcing those who have declared neutrality to choose sides in their war.  Malachi then appears with angel Theo; they take Castiel and Muriel and torture them, eventually killing Muriel for sport.  When Castiel questions what they’ve become, Malachi quips that they are following Castiel’s example, though he offers that many good angels died in the fall from heaven, including Ezekiel.

Kevin, studying the angel tablet, tells Dean that the tablet contains words inscribed there by Metatron.  Sam, meanwhile, discovers an attack on a glee club choir in Utah and deduces that angels are responsible, particularly Bartholomew, as the description of one offender matches that provided by Castiel.

Malachi leaves Castiel with Theo to torture, but Theo tells Castiel he wants to switch sides, pointing to Malachi’s insanity.  He assumes that Castiel is working with Metatron and agrees to free Castiel.  Cas takes this as opportunity to slash Theo with an angel blade, causing Theo’s grace to transfer from Theo to Castiel.  Theo dies a mortal after Castiel uses his recovered angelic abilities to smoke Theo’s eyes; Malachi later discovers the empty shell of his angelic co-conspirator.

Castiel calls Dean and imparts to him what he learned: that Malachi is spreading war, and that Ezekiel could not have cured Sam.  He also informs Dean that he took another’s angel’s grace and had to do some “terrible things” to be prepared for the war to come.  While Dean asks Kevin to create a spell from the angel tablet to eject a possessing angel from a vessel, Sam/Gadreel tell Metatron that he accepts his offer.  In turn, Metatron asks Gadreel to prove his loyalty by killing one of Metatron’s enemies and hands him a slip of paper with a name.  Gadreel initially resists, but Metatron urges him to choose his path.

Kevin discovers a sigil that will expel an angel and asks Dean to tell him what’s going on.  Dean admits to the deal he made with Ezekiel, and that he knows now that Ezekiel is not who he says he is.  Meanwhile, Dean manipulates Sam into the storeroom where the sigil has been painted and finally tells Sam the truth about the angel inside him, including the fact that Sam has to force the angel out for them to be done with the impostor.  Sam is furious, and punches his brother unconscious.  Sam then finds Kevin and, with angelic touch, scorches his eyes, effectively murdering young Kevin Tran.  Dean tries to stop him, but Gadreel, now the present identity, explains that Sam is gone for good, that he overheard talk of the sigil and altered it so it wouldn’t work, and then he walks out, dropping Metatron’s note on Kevin’s body as Dean collapses in tears.

The apparent direction of the second half of the season: saving Sam from the possession of the angel inside him.  Hopefully, Dean can find Castiel and strike up a true reunion with him.  The angel story has not been as interesting or as successful as originally hoped for by this viewer, but the tension could be ratcheted up a notch in the coming half of the season (several episodes of the second half have already aired).

In truth, the first half of the season was a bit tedious, as Metatron meta-quipped.  This viewer continues to worry for the viability of this late-life show.  Sure, as a fan, I enjoy the humor, the attractiveness of the stars, and the cult mythos behind the program, but it hasn’t been all that riveting this year.  When I say it’s been going in circles until the mid-season finale, I mean it. Castiel as mortal is funny, and all, but we’ve already played that record in earlier seasons when he was becoming accustomed to his friend Dean and his ways, and Sam and Dean constantly lying to each other is also an oft-told tale.  In some ways, some of the storytelling is feeling recycled, and that’s worrisome for the remaining half of this season and the now impending tenth season, given the show’s renewal.  Still, Sam’s possession by angel for a longer period than the Lucifer story line in season 5 might be interesting, depending on where it goes…

Oh, and Felicia Day’s character is now in Oz.  There’s no place like home, I guess.  Will she come back?  I wouldn’t.

Questions, Impressions, and Future Considerations

1) Dean and Sam have survived so much, I can’t imagine that even secret possessions by angels would destroy their relationship in the end.  Still, how many times can they have this fight?  They haven’t had it yet…but it’s coming.  The familiar angst is beginning its annual journey.

Answer: Apparently at least one more time.  Hopefully, Dean can save Sam once and for all from Gadreel.

2) How many miles are on the Impala after all this time?

Answer: Still unknown.

3) Is Abaddon going to be a problem for the Winchesters this season?  Maybe the angels will unite with the brothers against the demons of hell.  How’s that for an apocalypse?

Answer: She’s been mostly quiet, except for when she toyed with Crowley (Mark Sheppard) a time or two.  It’s been all about the angels, who have been creating more trouble than anyone else.

4) I’m glad they have the inherited bunker as Men of Letters.  It might be the closest thing they have to a home now.

Answer: Truth.

5) I hope we see more of Crowley this season too.  Talk about a survivor.  He really was a fun King of Hell.

Answer: Not as much as I’d like…the season is still young.

New Question

1) What will Dean do now?  And will Sam be saved again?  How many more trials do these brothers have to endure?

2) Will they ever get their happy ending?

PARTING SHOTS

I’m repeating myself here, but Supernatural is like a well oiled machine – it is a quality program with a cultivated, passionate cult fan base, but nine seasons is a long time for any show, and it hasn’t been as good as it was in the Kripke years (Seasons 1-5, when he was executive producer). The looming risk for this show is that it all somehow becomes boring – a risk that might be taking shape as reality as we speak – though it could never be completely un-watchable, owing to the writing, acting, and quirks of the mythology (and the sheer beauty of its cast).  There is nothing like it on TV right now, at any rate, and it’s still entertaining, even this late in its lifetime.

LOOKING AHEAD:

Supernatural was renewed for a tenth season during February sweeps.  Hopefully, the show-runners will provide great stories through that tenth season, though I kind of hope that the show ends there, as much as I love it.  Again, I ask, how many more trials can these brothers endure? And what will it all be worth to them in the end?  Carry On, Wayward Sons.

Pilots and Premieres: “Intelligence” – Series Premiere

Who:  “Intelligence,” currently airs on network TV, specifically on CBS, Mondays at 10:00 PM.

What: “Intelligence,” a science fiction action drama set in the near future, in which a federal intelligence agent, played by Josh Holloway (Lost), has been implanted with technology that allows him to function like a computer, interacting with other computer and microchip-based equipment for the instant retrieval of information, except that his human intelligence further augments this experimental technology and possibly provides an evolved consciousness and/or set of abilities beyond the initial implantation.

When: The series premiered on CBS, Monday, January 7, 2014, at 10:00 PM.

Where: The show is set in an unknown metropolis, though it is heavily implied that the fictional intelligence agency for which the central character works is in Washington DC.

Why: It’s science fiction, it features the deliciously yummy Sawyer from Lost in an equally charismatic and roguishly charming role, and it boasted an interesting premise, which could either blossom into intelligent (snicker) storytelling or fall into a formulaic weekly action formula that does not distinguish itself after all.  My hopes about the show were tempered and cautious at best, but I love Josh Holloway so much, I decided to give it a look.

How – as in How Was It?

The pilot/premiere rating scale:

***** – I HAVE TO WATCH EVERYTHING.  HOLY SMOKES!

**** – Well, it certainly seems intriguing.  I’m going to keep watching, but I see possible pitfalls in the premise.

*** – I will give it six episodes and see what happens.  There are things I like, and things I don’t.  We’ll see which “things” are allowed to flourish.

** – I will give it three episodes.  Chances are, I’m mainly bored, but there is some intrigue or fascination that could hold it together.  No matter how unlikely.

* – Pass on this one, guys.  It’s a snoozer/not funny/not interesting/not my cup of tea… there are too many options to waste time on this one.

Intelligence = ****

SYNOPSIS

Gabriel (Holloway) has been implanted with highly experimental technology, which allows him, a trained intelligence agent, to extrapolate and retrieve information at the speed of a computer, provided that his implant can interact with other computer-based technology in his vicinity.  In addition, his human imagination, emotions, and thought patterns add unforeseen dimension to these abilities.  Marg Helgenberger (CSI) plays Lillian Strand, Gabriel’s commanding officer, who places the protection of this asset – Gabriel and his technology – at highest priority.  She hires former secret service agent Riley Neal (Meghan Ory, Once Upon a Time) to protect the skeptical Gabriel, while spies from America’s competing foreign powers, such as China, vie to purloin the technology.  In the premiere, the technology’s inventor, Dr. Cassidy, (John Billingsley) is kidnapped, and he is coerced into placing a faulty prototype in a Chinese national; however, the prototype does not work, and Lillian soon discovers that the Chinese national is “off the grid,” such that she must strike a deal to save the lives of everyone involved.

THOUGHTS

Intelligence is a surprisingly sophisticated, fast-paced science fiction story based upon a relatively simplistic premise: what if human intelligence and artificial intelligence coexisted?  The success of the pilot owes a large debt to Mr. Holloway’s particular charms and affability as the open, if haunted, Gabriel, and his chemistry with Ory is, equally surprisingly, nothing short of sizzling.

The pilot was well written and executed, providing enough background information, without delving into technobabble, to establish the characters, the dynamics between them, and the purposes that each serves.  While the overarching aim of the show is unclear so early in the game, what is, perhaps, the most intriguing part of the story is how Gabriel is able to extrapolate scenarios.  He explains to Riley that he is able to visualize a scenario and walk through it, as if he had been present, based on data he downloads directly into his brain, yet his imagination allows him to predict and/or envision possible pieces of the puzzle that are not established in the data. For example, he is able to identify the mastermind behind Dr. Cassidy’s kidnapping, which is further aided by Gabriel’s personal attachment to the character, as Dr. Cassidy looked upon his primary test subject as a son, and the two characters formed a close bond.  His discovery is not surprising, but his method of ascertaining this discovery is.

In some ways, the pilot was so neatly executed, it could stand on its own; thus, the primary flaw that this viewer sees in the premise of the program is how the show will sustain itself over time. Gabriel’s stake is clear: he lost his wife or former girlfriend, who may have been a double agent. She is presumed to be dead, but he believes otherwise, and he convinces Riley that the possibility of her continued existence is strong.  Yet, how will the episodes transpire apart from that back story?  This viewer will keep watching to find out, though the performances of everyone involved are competent if not riveting.  Holloway is the reason to watch; Helgenberger plays another strong female in the law enforcement field, not a far cry from her time on CSI.  Ory hails from Once Upon a Time, where she played Little Red Riding Hood with a bit of sass.  She may be the weakest link on this program, outmatched by her costars, but she seems to have found a rhythm with Mr. Holloway that may add enticement to keeping a weekly appointment with this show.

RECOMMENDATION

Intelligence is reminiscent of fare like Minority Report without setting the whole program in a futuristic context, allowing for a connection to be made via the almost present-day backdrop.  The story is smart if oddly basic.  Those who enjoy fare such as Person of Interest or other scifi/action vehicles may find enjoyment in this program, though an affection for Josh Holloway will help, since he’s playing a somewhat subdued version of his character from Lost.

THE FUTURE OF THE SHOW:

It’s not looking good.  Several episodes have aired, but the ratings have dropped steadily without stabilizing until just recently and have landed at about 5 million or so per week (with lower marks in key demos).  This viewer predicts that CBS will air the completed season, but cancellation may be in the cards.  This viewer will keep watching until if/when that announcement is made.

Around the Water Cooler: “Downton Abbey,” the Season 4 Recap (MAJOR SPOILERS)

THE SPECS:

Who:  “Downton Abbey,” aired on public TV, specifically on PBS, Winter Sundays at 9:00 PM.

What: “Downton Abbey,” the story of the life and times of a fictional lord, his family, his servants, and his estate in Yorkshire, England, in the early twentieth century (for a more detailed Synopsis, read here: http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/masterpiece/downtonabbey/synopsis.html).

When: The season finale aired on PBS, Sunday, February 23, 2014, at 9:00 PM.

Where: The show is set Yorkshire, England, United Kingdom.  The most recent season was set in the 1920s, the Jazz Age.

Why: I am an Anglophile through and through, and people were gushing about this show.  I also enjoy Dame Maggie Smith in just about everything, and her turn as the Dowager Countess, Violet Crawley, aficionado of acidic one-liners, is worth the watch alone.

How – as in How Was It? – THOUGHTS

The third season finale revealed the unexpected departure of Cousin Matthew Crawley, Mary’s (Michelle Dockery) beloved husband after a protracted will-they-or-won’t-they romance, when the actor who portrayed him decided he wanted to pursue a film career instead (and, really, how’s that going, guy?).  Cousin Matthew, also the heir to Downton and in charge of its affairs, met his demise in a car crash as Mary was having their baby son, George.  Series Four picks up some months after Matthew’s death and focuses on life in the wake of not only his departure but in the wake of the passing of youngest Crawley, Sybil, who died of complications resulting from the birth of her and Tom Branson’s baby daughter, little Sybil.

Let’s examine each character’s journey this season:

Mary Crawley (Michelle Dockery)

Eldest daughter Mary was stricken by a grief that left her robotic and devoid of any warmth achieved by her relationship with husband Matthew upon his loss.  At first, Downton wrestled with the question of who would inherit the estate in the wake of Matthew’s death, but when it was discovered that lawyer Matthew scribbled down a makeshift will that left his share of Downton to Mary’s charge, it was agreed that she and her father Robert (Hugh Bonneville) would split the duties, and that Branson would fulfill his obligation as the dutiful son-in-law by helping.  Mary welcomed the distractions offered by running the estate but was caught off guard by two gentleman suitors vying for her attention: a wealthy childhood friend and a man who challenged her socioeconomic status and accused English lordships of resisting change, when he hailed from a baron’s estate himself.  Though she was not willing to openly return the affections of either suitor, it seems she’s drawn more strongly to the latter man, an opinionated, competitive man with whom she worked in the mud to save dying pigs.  Notably, Mary remains brave in the face of her grief, but she is not willing to move on from the memory of Matthew just yet.

Edith Crawley (Laura Carmichael)

Middle daughter Edith continued her fraternization with married man Michael Gregson (Charles Edwards), who insisted upon his estrangement from his wife as he courted intellectual equal Edith.  While it seems that their affections were genuine, Edith further complicated the situation by agreeing to sleep with him, technically in an affair, on a night before Michael travels to Germany, hinted to be overrun with what are clearly Nazi sympathizers.  Michael leaves for Munich in an attempt to finagle a divorce from his wife, only to become missing in action, most likely killed in a gang fight, while Edith discovers that she is pregnant.  Her Aunt Rosamund (Samantha Bond), who possibly shares a similar prior experience, agrees to jettison Edith to Switzerland under the pretenses of bettering her French, yet Granny Violet, the Dowager Countess, suspects that something is amiss.  Edith, further, does not want to be parted from the child, which she very much wants, but for the fact that the scandal might cripple her and her family’s status.  Though Edith initially has her child and leaves her daughter with a family in the Swiss Alps, Edith, by the end of the season, has arranged for the child to be cared for by one of the Abbey tenants, who agrees to help her in exchange for favors he has received from Robert and Mary.

Isobel Crawley (Penelope Wilton)

Matthew’s mother Isobel is also confronted by grief.  She first finds her purpose in nursing a tenuous friendship with the Dowager Countess, who, as different from Isobel as she is, sympathizes with her mourning.  Isobel even manages to nurse Violet back from a serious bout of bronchitis, much to the Dowager Countess’ snappy chagrin.  She also finds kinship with Branson, encouraging him to return to his political roots.  The change for Isobel arises when Violet introduces her to one of widowed friends, and a late-life romance blossoms, as tentative as Isobel is about the prospect of it.

Mr. and Mrs. Bates (Brendan Coyle and Joanne Froggatt)

Adorable and happy, Mr. and Mrs. Bates are enjoying their lives as personal servants to Robert and Mary Crawley respectively, but a terrible event happens.  The valet of Mary’s childhood friend begins by flirting with Anna and ultimately rapes her.  She confides only to Mrs. Hughes (Phyllis Logan) and enlists her promise not to tell her husband, fearing that he will exact fatal revenge.  Yet, the trauma leaves Anna in a fragile state, causing her to shun her husband’s affections, spurring her to move out of the cottage and back into the house, and elevating Mr. Bates’ suspicions.  What’s more, Mary begins to suspect that something is amiss with her lady’s maid, and when Mrs. Hughes finds out that the rapist valet will be returning to Downton, she tells Mary the truth.  Mary encourages her friend to fire his valet, but Mr. Bates, a man of some wisdom and hard years of experience, suspects the true identity of his wife’s attacker.  It is heavily implied that Mr. Bates leaves for London and ultimately causes an accident resulting in the death of the valet in Piccadilly Circus; Anna also momentarily worries that Mr. Bates has happened upon these suspicions and done something dreadful.  Mrs. Hughes and Mary also put two and two together but ultimately decide to keep their suspicions secret, concluding that if Bates did what they believe, the world is better rid of the assaulting valet.  Bates and Anna find an equilibrium at the end of the season, though their intimacy is tentative at best.

Mr. Carson (Jim Carter)

Stoic and conservative Mr. Carson was first confronted by his past when his former friend from his theatrical days appeared at Downton to inform Carson that the love of his life had passed away with a confession: that she regretted choosing the friend over Carson and loved him after all.  Carson also had a time of replacing the footman position left vacant by Alfred, who joined a cooking school in London and left Downton.  He had something of a tete-a-tete with Mr. Molesley, who was out of a job upon the death of his master, Matthew Crawley, and who worked a number of lower class jobs before accepting his “demotion” of footman.  By the end of the season, it also seems that Carson and Mrs. Hughes began to admit their very obvious affection for one another.

Thomas Barrow (Rob James-Collier)

The scheming Barrow was left a bit lost without his frienemy, O’Brien, who also left Downton in the wake of the actress opting out of her contract.  He was also frequently upset at the thought of having to multitask positions, such as substituting as footman when Alfred departed.  The biggest mystery: Baxter, a seamstress, is hired to be lady’s maid to Cora Crawley (Elizabeth McGovern) after the disastrous return of Edna Braithwaite resulted in her abrupt resignation.  Barrow recommended her for the position; it seems he wants someone in the upper echelon to be his spy, a convenience he lacked upon the departure of O’Brien.  Their past has not been revealed, but Mr. Molesley and Baxter seemed to have struck up quite the cordiality.

Robert and Cora Crawley (Hugh Bonneville and Elizabeth McGovern)

The Earl and Countess of Grantham were mostly accessories to other stories this season.  Robert adjusted to running the estate with his eldest daughter; Cora comforted their middle daughter during the disappearance of Michael Gregson.  They also played nursemaids to their niece, Rose, who stayed at Downton in advance of her society introduction to the royal family, while sharing the grief of those who passed on in the prior season.

The Kitchen Staff: Daisy, Ivy, Jimmy, Alfred, and poor Mrs. Patmore (Lesley Nicol)

The long suffering love rectangle of the former four left Mrs. Patmore in quite a state.  Daisy loves Alfred, who loves Ivy, who loves Jimmy, who basically wanted Ivy for what he perceived to be a carefree attitude that might get him laid.  Jimmy yearns for freedom from servitude and wanted Ivy to be the Bonnie to his Clyde, but she assured him that she’s not that kind of girl.  When Ivy realized that Jimmy is kind of a bum, she turned her attentions to Alfred and encouraged him to join his cooking school, much to the chagrin and chastisement of Daisy, who mistrusted Ivy’s capricious affections.  Alfred joined his cooking program, only to realize in the end that Daisy was quite a girl, but she wished him well and friendship and regained her self respect in the process, inspiring pride in surrogate mother Mrs. Patmore, despite the fact that she sort of runs a daycare in the kitchen.

Tom Branson (Allen Leech)

Branson spent the season feeling like a fish out of water without his Sybil, questioning his continued existence in the upper-crust life of the Crawleys, despite their wholehearted acceptance of his membership in the family.  He first capitulated to a night of abandon with the newly rehired Edna Braithwaite, which resulted in her trying to corner him into believing that she is pregnant.  When Mrs. Hughes, in turn and by request of Branson, cornered Edna in her lies, and urged her swift and decisive resignation, Branson, with help of Isobel, decided to return to his political roots, meeting teacher Gwen in the process, a woman of disdain for the Downton lordship but a reasonable woman of good moral character otherwise.  Branson also flirted with the possibility of returning to Ireland or moving to America, but his introduction to Gwen seems to have dissuaded him from this course for now.

Lady Rose MacClare (Lily James)

Young Rose is attracted to the freedom from her mother, Rosamund, as she stays at Downton in advance of her coming out to the royals.  Yet, she’s prone to trouble: she purloins a damaging letter that she later must skulk around to retrieve that potentially puts the Crown Prince in a bad light; she accompanies Edith to London frequently, only to attend jazz clubs and parties.  She falls in love with a black bandleader, who indulges in the romance, only to break away from it when his mother and Mary convince him of the hardship they face.  Her introduction to the royal family is successful in the end, but her heart remains a bit wild.

Questions, Impressions, and Future Considerations

1) What was Edith thinking?  And will her parents find out?  Will her grandmother and aunt find out that she has summoned her baby to Downton?

2) Who will Mary choose in the end?  I vote the firecracker critic of the upper classes, but the childhood friend, Tony, is nice too.

3) Will Bates’ rash actions come back to haunt him?  He’s a nice man with an astounding capacity for anger and darkness.

4) Carson and Mrs. Hughes are so cute.  Let’s see something come of that!

5) Who is Baxter really?

6) Will Rose’s illicit affair resurface?

7) Where does the family go from here?

PARTING SHOTS:

Downton Abbey doesn’t have the same level of storytelling quality as it did prior to the departure of Dan Stevens, otherwise known as Matthew Crawley, but creator Julian Fellowes is certainly giving it the old college try.  The characters are endlessly interesting, eternally English (minus Cora and her sassy family…played by Shirley MacClaine and Paul Giamatti of all people), and the art direction is breathtaking.  That haunting opening theme resurfaces throughout each episode and serves to reengage the viewer every instance of its appearance.  The true question for the longevity of this program centers on whether the characters’ journeys continued to remain interesting and relevant.  So far, so good – but what will series/season 5 bring?

LOOKING AHEAD:

Downton Abbey was renewed for a fifth season/series slated to premiere in the United States on PBS on January 5, 2015.