Around the Water Cooler (and Breaking): “Almost Human” – Officially Canceled

Who:  “Almost Human,” aired on network TV, specifically on FOX, fall/winter Mondays at 8:00 PM.

What: “Almost Human,” a science fiction action/crime drama set in a future where police forces are partially staffed by androids in cities where crime runs rampant, and a police officer named John Kennex (Karl Urban, Lord of the Rings, Star Trek), who loses his partner in an ambush after an android statistically determines that the partner is too badly hurt and too beyond help, must reconcile with returning to work following his own coma, the addition of a “synthetic” prosthetic leg, and the partnering with the androids he comes to dangerously resent.

SYNOPSIS

John Kennex (Urban) finds his life forever altered after a crime syndicate ambush, to which he mistakenly led officers under his charge, results in their deaths.  When one of the force’s requisite androids abandons John’s mortally wounded partner during the siege, categorizing him as an unacceptable risk, John’s partner loses his life, and John loses his leg.  He is then comatose for seventeen months, until he is revived with a synthetic prosthesis to replace his missing limb. Though he attempts to undergo black market treatments to recover some of the memories of that fateful day, his superior (Lili Taylor) recalls him to work and assigns John his mandatory android partner – which he promptly shoves out of a moving vehicle while investigating a robbery.  He is then assigned to work with Dorian (Michael Ealy), an early generation android prototype programmed to have actual feelings and to interact, emotional responses in tact, with his human counterparts. John must set aside his deep seated prejudice, while Dorian reminds John of what it is to be human in a world populated by a growing number of artificial copies, as they investigate and work in a city ravaged by crime and “unregulated technology.”

When: The series finale aired on FOX, Monday, March 3, 2014, at 8:00 PM.

Where: The show is set in an unknown metropolis, though it strikes this viewer as being Los Angeles, California, in the year 2048. Update: I think it’s actually supposed to be New York City.

Why: It’s science fiction, it features Eomer/the new Dr. McCoy (Mr. Urban), and it was created and is executive produced by J.J. Abrams and one of his cohorts from Fringe.  As I am in the Cult of J.J., I must sample everything that man touches.

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

In a stunningly well timed bit of prescience on this blogger’s part, it was announced by most entertainment outlets this hour that Fox canceled Almost Human, the first and only season of which I just reviewed on this blog here.  Ultimately, this program was flawed in its execution, despite its innovative premise and stunning visual pastiche, and these flaws, and possibly the expense of its production, undoubtedly led to its demise.

Sadly, I called it in my recap.  The writers squandered the potential of this show and did a disservice to its cast.  Hopefully, the key players, particularly Karl Urban and Michael Ealy, can find other projects soon.  I have to believe a third Star Trek film is in the works, at least, though Mr. Urban could lead another vehicle if given the chance with aplomb.

As noted in the previous recap, Almost Human traveled a road to nowhere where story was concerned, even if there were a few laughs generated by the two lead characters and their buddy cop rapport.  Chalk this one up to good idea, less-than-stellar follow-through.   Sorry, fans of the show – blame it on the writing.  I certainly do.

PARTING SHOTS

Despite impressive visual effects and competent performances, the unfocused writing (and likely the expense) of Almost Human no doubt contributed to a less-than-satisfying now series conclusion and its cancellation.  Also, this viewer still believes it would have worked better as a movie.

THE FUTURE OF THE SHOW

Canceled!  RIP Almost Human.  It was an admirable attempt at good science fiction, but in the TV world, as Yoda said, it’s “do or do not; there is no try.”

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

Who:  “Almost Human,” aired on network TV, specifically on FOX, fall/winter Mondays at 8:00 PM.

What: “Almost Human,” a science fiction action/crime drama set in a future where police forces are partially staffed by androids in cities where crime runs rampant, and a police officer named John Kennex (Karl Urban, Lord of the Rings, Star Trek), who loses his partner in an ambush after an android statistically determines that the partner is too badly hurt and too beyond help, must reconcile with returning to work following his own coma, the addition of a “synthetic” prosthetic leg, and the partnering with the androids he comes to dangerously resent.

When: The series premiered on FOX, Sunday, November 17, 2013, at 8:00 PM.

Where: The show is set in an unknown metropolis, though it strikes this viewer as being Los Angeles, California, in the year 2048. Update: I think it’s actually supposed to be New York City.

Why: It’s science fiction, it features Eomer/the new Dr. McCoy (Mr. Urban), and it was created and is executive produced by J.J. Abrams and one of his cohorts from Fringe.  As I am in the Cult of J.J., I must sample everything that man touches.

SYNOPSIS

John Kennex (Urban) finds his life forever altered after a crime syndicate ambush, to which he mistakenly led officers under his charge, results in their deaths.  When one of the force’s requisite androids abandons John’s mortally wounded partner during the siege, categorizing him as an unacceptable risk, John’s partner loses his life, and John loses his leg.  He is then comatose for seventeen months, until he is revived with a synthetic prosthesis to replace his missing limb. Though he attempts to undergo black market treatments to recover some of the memories of that fateful day, his superior (Lili Taylor) recalls him to work and assigns John his mandatory android partner – which he promptly shoves out of a moving vehicle while investigating a robbery.  He is then assigned to work with Dorian (Michael Ealy), an early generation android prototype programmed to have actual feelings and to interact, emotional responses in tact, with his human counterparts. John must set aside his deep seated prejudice, while Dorian reminds John of what it is to be human in a world populated by a growing number of artificial copies, as they investigate and work in a city ravaged by crime and “unregulated technology.”

THE VERDICT

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

Almost Human is a visually stunning science fiction vehicle with some creatively advanced concepts and a frightening-in-that-it’s-possible vision of a near future overrun by the peaks and pitfalls of the influence of technology and artificial intelligence; yet, the story meandered toward the end, leading to an anticlimactic, emotionless punchline that did not leave this viewer wanting more.  If the show is renewed for a second season, I’m not sure I would watch it – then again, with the way the first season ended, it appears not even the show’s creators are very hopeful or confident of renewal.  The bottom line is that Almost Human did not sustain any of its plot threads by the end – at best, it was a buddy cop vehicle, worth a few chuckles.

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

What works for Almost Human:

1) Micheal Ealy, who plays Dorian, is the true star of this show.  The android with “synthetic soul” programming is a wonderful foil for the gruff, scarred Kennex, and Ealy’s calm, wryly observational robot is a great counter-balance to Karl Urban’s macho-man cop.  His Dorian was a scene-stealer, providing much of the comic relief and dramatic tension, frequently in the same episode; the episode in which another android of his make rode along on a case that John and Dorian were investigating, meaning two Michael Ealy’s in the same vehicle with the one Karl Urban, was one of the best episodes of the season.  Without Michael Ealy, this program would have floundered early.

2) The visual effects are stunning.  The visual effects designers spared no ounce of imagination, creating a technologically dependent society almost thirty years into the future with advances that could be possible, even as they are presently just out of reach.  Virtual walls with controllable screens, telecommunication devices that shame smartphones, and, of course, the androids and robotics themselves create the necessary backdrop to render this world, and its high degree of related crime requiring police attention, truly believable and chilling at times.  Aesthetically, the cinematography of this show was poignantly apropos: at times, this futuristic world appears gray and cold, reminiscent of the artificial life surrounding the biological residents of the city, but then the austere landscape is punctuated by accents of neon colors framing the futuristic technology dominating the urban panorama.  In general, the visual palate of the program was artistic of its own merit and as much a character of the story as any of the ensemble cast.

3) Karl Urban wasn’t too shabby himself.  The erstwhile Middle Earth man and the current iteration of Dr. “Bones” McCoy in the Star Trek reboot is leading man material, which this program demonstrates adequately.  He is charismatic, charming, handsome, and works well with all of his scene partners.  Hopefully, he is offered other chances to shine, either in this vehicle or in one with more ready potential for longevity.

What doesn’t work:

1) Mackenzie Crook’s rambling mad scientist in the basement is an odd addition to this ensemble. Look, I loved him as Gareth in the British version of The Office and as one of the bumbling pirates in the original Pirates of the Caribbean trilogy (ignoring the fourth one for the moment), but his awkward, overly inappropriate computer and robotics guru felt out of place in a world that is more serious, cynical, and sarcastic as a rule.  His character is, no doubt, also designed to elicit comic relief, but the audience is provided no backdrop for this character as they are (sparingly) for other members of the ensemble, except to know that he is a hacker and technological genius, so there is no reason to care about him or find his babbling awkwardness funny.

2) The writing/story overall fell flat.  One of this viewer’s observations from the pilot is that this program had truly intriguing serial story line potential, with some tantalizing threads unraveled in that first episode, but that it also could drift into episodic procedural territory, essentially a Law and Order or a CSI set in the future. Unfortunately, the writers squandered the barely frayed threads they exposed, revisiting Kennex’s haunted memory only once or Dorian’s flawed design only in small, irregular spurts that went nowhere and were forgotten in the very next episode.  Each installment, instead, focused on a crime of the week; as a result, the characters but for Kennex and Dorian – and even, to some extent, the two of them – were never fully flushed out, and the mechanics of each episode fell into a routine of “solve crime and crack wise” without much in the way of story development.  Also, a few episodes made reference to a “wall” that appears to form a border to the city, and but the show never explained what that was or why it was important.  In many ways, the story ended uneventfully and anticlimactically, without a cliffhanger, twist, or emotionally engaging piece of story in the season (series?) finale that would entice a viewer to return.

3) Minka Kelly’s genetically engineered potential romantic interest for John, a woman named Valerie, was potentially intriguing, but the actress’ performance and manner of line delivery were a bit hollow, lacking the substance to match the character she was portraying.  Though she is beautiful and played sweet, even the flirtations between John and Valerie felt forced; this viewer senses that Ms. Kelly’s ability may not have been equal to the task of playing this character, though the writers did not give her much to work with, to be fair.

Thoughts Following the Pilot/Season Recap

Almost Human started as something exceeding mitigated expectations, owing to its late fall premiere, and meandered into a whimsical, cushioned, unexciting thud by the end of its thirteen episode run.  Despite the grim/stark realities of a future fraught with technology that surpassed the stability of its human wielders, the show mined and milked the buddy cop motif for all it was worth and, perhaps, unsurprisingly.  After all, Michael Ealy and Karl Urban’s rapport was the true reason to watch, even though their characters’ robot/human relationship was given focus during brief moments rather than as a central story arc that lasted for more than a fraction of an episode here and there.

The show began with a scarred cop, haunted by a decision that resulted in the deaths of some of his fellow cops, who is forced to work with the technology that betrayed him and his morals/ethics. The show ended having forgotten this premise entirely, revisiting it once and without sufficient resolution to provide closure for the character or the viewer.  Arguably, Dorian’s human-like android soothed some of John’s wounds, but for something to run so deep that the character engaged in dangerous brain-mining procedures to gain access to forgotten memories and shunned other technology, at least in the pilot, only to adjust quickly to his return to work – it felt lazy to simply abandon those traumas without further explanation, development, or resolution.  John could be a quick healer, but that’s a viewer’s presumption in a story world that is based on some rather specific elements outlined explicitly in the show’s pilot and weekly opening titles, without requiring presumptions to fill in the gaps.

Ultimately, this first season simply centered on a case-of-the-week format, and only the character of Dorian was given any kind of attention beyond the superficial.  Yet, even his back-story was meted out in frustrating tidbits.  His brand of android was decommissioned and was flawed in design but why?  Mackenzie Crook’s Rudy finds embedded code in Dorian’s android brain but of what?  The story lacked focus beyond its formula, and this lack of focus may doom its continued existence in the end.

In fact, it is difficult to recap a season that really went nowhere and focused almost exclusively on crimes of the week.  John exonerated his father by the season finale, though it was never discussed that his father was wrongfully or disgracefully terminated from police duty until this last episode.  Dorian and his friendship grew comfortable enough for Dorian to buy John a present in the finale: an upgraded artificial leg.  John is presumably more comfortable with androids thanks to Dorian. None of the cases they investigated were very interesting save for one: a serial killer called the “straw man,” who escaped over the “wall” by the end of the episode but to where? John’s traumas were nearly forgotten by the end, and even his tentative flirtation with Valerie was undermined by her discovery of a club with a genetically-engineered only member policy and a handsome genetically engineered club president who entreated her to go on a date with him.

Astonishingly, Lili Taylor plays the captain of the police department and does a fine job, yet the viewer knows absolutely nothing about her character but for the fact that she is protective of John and finds no qualms in subverting regulations to help him get back on track.  Nothing was explained beyond the superficial; thus, this season recap can only focus on the superficial.

In the end, Almost Human traveled a road to nowhere where story was concerned, even if John and Dorian’s tentative rapport and obvious charisma offered a few laughs.  If the show gets renewed, the writers should seriously reconsider revisiting this season for episode ideas – after all, there are a few too many loose ends to tie off, even though no real reason was established to stay interested in them.

PARTING SHOTS

If Almost Human survives into a second season, this viewer would actually be surprised.  The writers and producers didn’t earn it, even if the performers gave it the old college try.  The visual effects were impressive, but visual effects alone do not sustain a long-form television series.  The premise of the program might have worked better as a film or series of films with shorter intervals and smaller, more intense, more focused plots that do not require more than minimal character development.  Also, this viewer wonders how expensive this show is to produce.

LOOKING AHEAD

TVLine.com suggests that the show’s future “could go either way” as far as renewal or cancellation. Nothing has been announced or made official as of this point; if it does get renewed, this viewer hopes that the writers/producers aim a bit more ambitiously with their storytelling, since the robot/human buddy cop pastiche has been well established; after all, there is so much potential here.  It would be a shame if the show didn’t shoot for something a bit more substantive and worthy of its truly creative visual presentation.

Pilots and Premieres: “About a Boy” – Series Premiere

Who:  “About a Boy,” currently airs on network TV, specifically on NBC, Tuesdays at 9:00 PM.

What: “About a Boy,” a situation comedy based on the book and, loosely, the film of the same name starring Hugh Grant and Toni Collette, with David Walton and Minnie Driver in the respective roles.  Essentially, Will (Walton), a confirmed bachelor, has his life encroached upon by a single, hippie, British mother named Fiona (Driver) with a precocious son named Marcus who has been influence by his new age mom and takes to Will like glue, proclaiming him to be his “best friend.”

When: The series premiered on NBC, Saturday, February 22, 2014, at 11:05 PM.

Where: The show is set in what appears to be San Francisco, California.

Why: I really liked the movie; it crept up on me, even though Hugh Grant was not as foppish as he normally is.  Yet, it was a BritCom, set in Britain and couched in British humor.  This TV version Americanized the whole story.  I thought it had potential to be cute.  And, I sometimes enjoy Minnie Driver.

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.

About a Boy = **1/2

SYNOPSIS

Will is a songwriter, living on the royalties of his one hit and content to maintain the confirmed bachelor and ladies’ man lifestyle he’s enjoyed for years.  Into the house next door moves Fiona, a vegan hippie bohemian free spirit, who has imparted much of her values and ways onto her precocious son Marcus (Benjamin Stockham).  Marcus is clearly in need of a male influence, for he encounters Will and can’t seem to stay away, even attempting to fix his mom up with Will.  Hilarity and hi-jinks ensue.

THOUGHTS

About a Boy the television show is certainly not About a Boy the film.  David Walton is no Hugh Grant.  He lacks boyish charm – he lacks any charm, really – except when his character relates to the goofy Marcus.  Minnie Driver is also no Toni Collette, who played her version of the character with a lovable obtuseness that made it seem as if she simply didn’t understand things about life with which she didn’t agree.  Minnie’s Fiona comes off like a bit of a shrew, unfortunately, for someone so free spirited and mellow, and her dialogue is atrocious much of the time.  Of course, whether it’s the fault of the writers for the words, or the actor/directors for the delivery, this viewer cannot say for certain.

The supporting characters are forgettable but for Stockham.  His Marcus is almost too cute, too awkward, too ebullient for the context, yet, ultimately, his chemistry with Walton centers the show, as it should the whole story underlying it, since he’s the literal, if not the figurative, “boy” of the title.   He is winning, when he has not gone too far over the top, though he takes that trip at least once per episode so far.

Unfortunately, I can’t say I’ve laughed very much.  I’ve smiled, bemused, and even chuckled a little at the wily antics of young Marcus, who, in the second episode, invades Will’s bachelor pad through a dumb-waiter in the wall attaching the two houses.  He also desires to fill in the “exuberance” wedge of his “feelings wheel” and to spend time with Will while he carouses at an industry party instead of babysitting as he agreed to do.  On the other hand, Minnie Driver is never funny or even endearing. I’m sure the show is building up to the eventual romance between these two, as the film did, but I sense absolutely no chemistry between them.  The whole dynamic feels a little off when the characters and premise are already eccentric of their own merit, and it leaves the whole affair a little flat and formulaic, despite its best attempts to stay honest, quirky, and endearing.

It’s also been pointed out in reviews on the web that, though the show is supposedly set in San Francisco, it doesn’t appear as if any on-location shots have been taken from that city.  This viewer has watched two episodes, but this was apparent even to this Michigan native.  The lack of on-location sets results in the show feeling inauthentic, exemplifies the sound stage aspect, and renders the whole idea of the show being set there nonsensical at best.  It could have been set anywhere, really, and probably would have made more sense to be set in LA (where it seems to be shot), though the show worked best as a film from England, set in England, and with the English humor thrown into it.

In the end, this viewer rates the pilot 2.5 stars.  I will give the show a four episode trial – notably, it premiered on a Saturday after the Olympics, which is not a good sign – and see if it gets any funnier. Unfortunately, I think what you see is what you get with this one.

RECOMMENDATION

About a Boy is recommended to anyone who enjoys quirky sitcoms remade from other sources, anyone who enjoys hammy children, or anyone who enjoys Minnie Driver, even when she is not at her best.  Someone might relate to this show, anyway, even if this viewer is not a member of the target audience for it.

THE FUTURE OF THE SHOW:

TVLine is calling renewal of this program “too early to tell.”  Ratings measurement outlets say the ratings are climbing.  There is not a lot of similar competition in the time slot and very little overlap in target audiences, which may contribute to this rise.  Or, maybe the show gets funnier.  One can only hope.

Pilots and Premieres: “Star-Crossed” – Series Premiere

Who:  “Star Crossed,” currently airs on network TV, specifically the CW, Mondays at 8:00 PM.

What: “Star Crossed,” a science fiction romance depicting an Earth of the not-too-distant future on which crashes a host of refugee aliens called “Atrians” who seek asylum and shelter from their home planet.  The Earth population does not welcome them with open arms, however, and they are forced to co-exist by being relegated to a “sector” to live, except for a group of teenagers who are permitted under armed guard to attend a local high school.  One of the aliens and one of the humans instantly connect due to having met as children, but societal prejudices reign supreme.

When: The series premiered on the CW, Monday, February 16, 2014, at 8:00 PM.

Where: The show is set in what appears to be Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

Why: As a lover of all science fiction, I was intrigued by the premise of the show, even though it seemed to combine Roswell with Romeo and Juliet.  I had no high expectations, however, as the teen angst quotient had potential to be rather high with this one, for better or for worse.

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.

Star Crossed = ***

SYNOPSIS

In September 2014, a spaceship crash lands outside Baton Rouge, and the survivors are met with hostility by American military and law enforcement.  They are rounded up and herded into a camp called the “Sector,” where they are forced to live.  Roman, as a child, is able to hide temporarily in the shed of Emery, a young girl whose father works for the government.  Emery watches, however, as soldiers come to take Roman, shooting him in the process and leading her to believe he has died.

In September 2024, Emery (Aimee Teegarden) is attending her senior year of high school, after having been previously and semi-permanently living in a hospital ward due to having an acute auto-immune disorder. Somehow, she was cured and is able to attend her first semester along with the Atrians, who are being allowed to integrate, one might say, for the very first time too.  While her welcome is inauspicious, the Atrians are challenged by anti-alien protests and bullied by many students inside the school.  Yet, Roman (Matt Lanter), now grown, catches sight of the kind, shy girl who fed and sheltered him when he was young.  While the Atrians have trouble adjusting to high school – and more trouble than the average American teen – Emery finds herself instantly accepted, yet she is immediately drawn to Roman, as he is to her.  This bond is strengthened when Emery and her friend Julia (Malese Jow, The Vampire Diaries), her friend from the hospital who is sick with the same disorder, sneak into the forbidden Sector looking for an alien herb believed to have curative properties. Roman helps Emery to escape; Emery returns the favor when confrontations between humans and Atrians reach fever pitch.  It seems the two are “star crossed” in love and in life, doomed to an attraction that can only bring them difficulty in the end, though Roman, at least for now, is willing to take the risk and subvert the taboos.

THOUGHTS

Star Crossed mixes liberally borrowed elements of Roswell, Alien Nation, E.T., District 9, and Romeo and Juliet and blends them into a moody romantic drama teeming with all of the angst associated with the genre and the network on which this show airs, with the added spice of making the aliens attractive beings that look like humans with distinctive tattoos.  The premise isn’t complicated: a romance, by all rights doomed to fail, will most likely and predictably lead to mitigated bliss on the part of the main characters, even if briefly or in spurts.  To add to the romance factor: a subtext about prejudice that isn’t so much “sub” as it is “text,” clubbing the viewer over the head with the direct parallel to the history of racism in this country.  Instead of aliens from other countries, the aliens in this story are literally from outer space and not welcomed in a Close Encounters kind of way, though their entrance into high school recalls vividly the demolishing of Brown v. Board of Education and the integration of the University of Alabama in during the 1960s.

The performances, at least in the pilot, are generally middling at best, by most including the adult actors.  The writing is not sophisticated: this is a teen drama geared toward teens, focused on important issues like social status and hormones.  The most charismatic of all of the actors is Lanter, a charming, attractive man playing a sensitive alien boy who may be marginally more evolved than his fellow alien refugees or the humans outside the gates of the Sector.  The second most charismatic actor is Jow, whose spirited Julia, “obsessed with all things Atrian,” adds the necessary supportive best friend trope to the reserved Emery.  For her part, Teegarden is winning enough to look at, especially when alongside Lanter, but fails to bring any depth to her character: her reaction to everything around her is generally flat; her emotions do not read beyond the superficial, as if surprise or sadness is too hard for her to muster.

In the end, the most interesting aspect of this show, for this viewer, will be the character of Roman and what he might bring to the dynamics coloring alien-human relations on this show as well as to his relationship with Emery.  There are also some more than decent visual effects, used judiciously and with the intent of punctuating certain scenes, such as the repeated image of the defunct spaceship, larger than life and looming over the Louisiana countryside, a symbol of the unrest about the alien refugees.  Still, the Sweet Valley High undercurrent of this program, which borrows so obviously from other science fiction vehicles, may quickly become old and boring to a viewer over 30 (like me) who might enjoy their science fiction with a side of something more substantial. Thus, this show’s pilot merits a three-star rating and a six episode trial (the first full season will be watched if it’s thirteen episodes or less).

RECOMMENDATION

Star Crossed is recommended to anyone in the age range of 12 to 29 or to anyone who enjoys a melodrama aimed squarely at teens.  In addition, the show might appeal to anyone who enjoys lighter science fiction with a healthy dose of romance, something like Star Wars or, more aptly, Roswell or Alien Nation, prior programs skirting similar elements.

THE FUTURE OF THE SHOW:

TVLine is calling renewal of this program “too early to tell.”  Ratings measurement outlets have noted that Star Crossed, which is now paired with The Tomorrow People on Mondays, is gaining viewers, particularly in the target demographic, though Monday is a competitive night for the marginal CW.  This viewer is hoping that The Tomorrow People gets the renewal pickup; if the network likes the combination, it could be a science fiction heavy evening to match some of its other themed nights.  Let’s see how it all fares.

Pilots and Premieres: “Resurrection” – Series Premiere

Who:  “Resurrection,” currently airs on network TV, specifically on ABC, Sundays at 9:00 PM.

What: “Resurrection,” a fantasy drama in which long-deceased individuals find themselves alive again in the small town of Arcadia, Missouri, and watch as their families adjust to this news and, in some cases, try to solve the mystery of how these people received literally new leases on life.

When: The series premiered on ABC, Sunday, March 9, 2014, at 9:00 PM.

Where: The show is set in a small town, specifically Arcadia, Missouri.

Why: The premise for the show was fairly interesting, since some of the revived characters have been dead for decades.  It’s also executive produced by Brad Pitt, among others, and happens to fall in a time slot between Once Upon a Time and Revenge, both of which I watch.  Plus, Red Foreman (i.e. Kurtwood Smith) and Rose’s mean mother from Titanic (i.e. Frances Fisher) are two of the featured performers.

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.

Resurrection = ****

SYNOPSIS

J. Martin Bellamy (Omar Epps), an INS agent, is sent to recover a small boy who has been discovered in a rural province in China.  He is clearly American, has no idea where he is or how he got there, and won’t talk to anyone, though he woke up in marshlands, confused and scared.  After he is shipped back to the US, Martin is able to coax the child into revealing his origins: a small town in Missouri called Arcadia.  In fact, Jacob is able to point out his house.  Martin knocks on the door of Henry and Lucille Langston’s home (Smith/Fisher) to reveal that their son has been found, but they react with disbelief: after all, according to the grief-stricken couple, Jacob has been dead for 32 years, believed to be drowned in a nearby river.  When Lucille espies the perfect carbon copy of her boy in the backseat of Martin’s car, who has not aged a day, she reacts with caution and elation all at once, while her husband recoils in fear and suspicion.  What’s more, Martin is reluctant to turn the boy over to federal custody upon the discovery of this information and convinces his boss to allow him to monitor Jacob and Arcadia, as other long deceased persons start to reappear. Martin, along with key members of the small Missouri town, work together to try to ascertain why this might be happening, while affected loved ones react with a veritable gamut of emotions, ranging from pure joy to unadulterated fear and suspicion at the return of the resurrected.

THOUGHTS

Resurrection, as a program, has undertaken a powerful concept.  The way the story is currently being meted out, (this viewer is four episodes in; four episodes have aired) in its carefully plotted and mysterious manner, makes for some fairly riveting Sunday evening television.  The premise of the story is simple; it asks the question: what would happen if someone you loved, long dead, came back to life, unchanged, unfazed, having part or all of the memory of his/her death?  How would you react?  What would you do?

The biggest question right now, of course, is why this is all happening, and Epps plays the precarious role of “every-viewer,” reacting to these mysteries with deft, believable surprise and inquiry as any member of the viewing audience might.  There is no clear source or reason for the reappearance of some of these long-lost souls.  What is known: the resurrected characters have changed in other ways.  Young Jacob is distant and hollow; a father has resorted to criminal behavior; a wife who committed suicide is suddenly repentant.  Where the show is driving the story is ultimately the biggest draw and attraction to continue watching.

The performances are adequate if not exceptional, with the best being offered by Smith and Fisher, playing diametrically opposed sides of the unique coin presented by the story.  Fisher’s mother, well into her retirement years, is only too happy to accept the reappearance of Jacob, the eight-year-old as he was, seeing the unusual incident as a second chance and a miracle, while Smith’s father is wary, not trusting the strangeness of it all, even as Jacob’s attempts to reconnect with his father soften his stalwart suspicions. Other townsfolk and the actors portraying them offer decent renditions of their character.  For example, Samaire Armstrong plays the daughter of her long-deceased father, only too happy to accept his return and his possible help with the financial troubles plaguing her family, while her younger brother, who has a mental disability, does not trust that their father is who he says he is.  Her performance walks a line of over-the-top to nuanced; perhaps, the instability of her character reads a bit in the actress’ performance, though sometimes, it feels as if she’s pushing the reactions of her character to a place or level that does not feel natural. Perhaps, these choices owe to the episodic directors, but this viewer recalls her feeling similarly “not natural” in her previous role on Dirty Sexy Money.

The biggest flaw of this program right now is its pace.  It is slow and detrimentally so.  Each of the four episodes that have aired to date focus on the reemergence of someone else and how the Arcadia residents related to the newly appeared soul, as well as the town at large, react to him or her being seemingly alive again.  So far, the only details that have been offered about the larger story are that the formerly deceased seem to sense each other, and that they keep cropping up in random parts of the world.  If this show wants to sustain beyond its first season, it will need to rev up either the pace or the rate at which information is shared.  So far, none of the individual stories are as interesting as Jacob and his family; it will be interesting to see how many dead residents reemerge before answers start to flow (or if the show is allowed to get that far).

RECOMMENDATION

Resurrection is a slow-moving family drama with potentially philosophical or fantastic themes that branch into spirituality and the supernatural, insofar as those concepts are mutually exclusive. This viewer believes that a show of this type would be appropriate for family viewing, though it will likely appeal the most to people who enjoyed the Scully-centered episodes of The X-Files, Touched by an Angel, or movies that deal heavily in religious themes.

THE FUTURE OF THE SHOW:

TVLine is calling renewal of this program a “safe bet;” it helps that the show is surrounded by hits, with lead-in Once Upon a Time and follow-up Revenge, since the ratings, which have remained largely steady, enjoy a plentiful boost from Once.  While nothing has been made official, this viewer will continue watching until it is, though I can see myself becoming impatient with this program if something doesn’t shake loose as stated above.  For right now, the mystery is enough to keep me tuning in, as I wait for Revenge to come on…

Around the Water Cooler: “American Horror Story,” The Season 3 – “Coven” – Recap (SPOILERS)

THE SPECS:

Who: “American Horror Story” currently airs on cable TV, specifically on FX, Fall Wednesdays at 10:00 PM.

What: “American Horror Story,” a horror drama from creator Ryan Murphy (Glee, Nip/Tuck) that tells a new horror story each season while featuring recurring actors and ensemble players.  This season is subtitled “Coven” and centers on witchcraft.

When: The Season 3 finale aired on Wednesday, January 29, 2014, on FX at 10:00 PM.

Where: Each season focuses on a different locale.  This season, the action is set largely in New Orleans, Louisiana.

Why:  I was originally convinced to watch American Horror Story by friends.  I caught up in the first season, which was truly a creepy, scary affair, and I was glad to have taken the advice of my friends, even though horror is not my preferred genre.  The show is well written and lives up to its name.  The second season, “Asylum,” was disturbing and horrifying but not necessarily frightening.

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

For this viewer, “Coven” rings true as the second best of the three seasons, after “Horror House” (the colloquial name for Season 1), because it was a well defined story with a beginning, middle, and end.  The story didn’t always resolve its plot threads, and there are many potholes and glitches in continuity, not to mention the fact that the entire season was tonally inconsistent, but this season offered a much more satisfying resolution in the end than “Asylum,” which played the crazy card, even in its execution, to the point of being old.

When Coven began, it seemed as if the producers/writers were trying to draw parallels in persecution – witches are persecuted and persecute, in turn.  It also appeared to align the history of racism in this country with the evolution of the power of witches, beginning with Kathy Bates’ Madame de la Laurie, the torturer of slaves, buried alive as an immortal by the Voodoo priestess Marie Laveau (Angela Bassett) in revenge for the murder of her lover.  These larger societal subtexts seemed to seep into the background, however, and became secondary to the larger plot thread: which of the members of the coven would become the next Supreme witch, after Jessica Lange’s Fiona Goode lost her power and eventually succumbed to the cancer with which she was diagnosed.  This contest, pockmarked by Fiona’s murderous desire to prevent her downfall by murdering Supreme candidates, culminated in the season finale, in which each of the witch novitiates who remained, alive and well, would be subjected to the “Seven Wonders,” a test of the major non-spell magical abilities each witch is supposed to be able to manifest.  Thankfully, a couple of guest spots by Stevie Nicks, a real-life witch in the fictional show, hit that one over the head a few times:

To cover the territory of this season, one would have to be intimately involved with the characters, for it is the witches, budding women aiming to responsibly assume their strength and power, who anchor this season.  The story itself was a bit of a mess, meditating on side plot threads that bore little fruit, when, in the end, all that mattered was the ascension of the new Supreme.

Speaking of The Story, it began with Zoe (Taissa Farmiga), a witch who discovered her power by giving an aneurysm to the boy with whom she was having sex for the first time.  Cordelia (Sarah Paulson), the headmistress of a school for girls, the legitimate front of the Coven, and the Coven’s protector, recruited young Zoe to join her school, where also lived Queenie (Gabourey Sidibe), a girl from Detroit with the power to use herself like a voodoo doll; Madison (Emma Roberts), a washed out starlet with advanced telekinetic powers; and Nan (Jamie Brewer), a clairvoyant with Downs Syndrome, who could also hear and see thoughts. Delia aimed to empower these witches, while her mother, recognizing the waning of her own power and her deteriorating health, aimed to destroy them, as she destroyed her relationship with her daughter, being ultimately too vain and power-drunk in the end to sustain any loving intimacy.

Delia had support with Myrtle (Frances Conroy), Fiona’s chief rival; Myrtle looked after the Coven, as Delia’s surrogate mother and head of the Coven Council, the body of government who enacts punishments of Coven members gone awry.  A necessary step, for the young witches in the current class, were a bit out of control, particularly Madison.  When she dragged Zoe to a frat party, she was gang raped by friends of Kyle (Evan Peters), so she telekinetically rolled their ride and killed them all, nice guy Kyle included.  Yet, Zoe and Kyle had an unmistakable spark, so, naturally, Madison decided to Frankenstein them all back together and resurrect them.  Zoe’s soft spot for Kyle was clear, but he was a shell of the boy he used to be, being cobbled together from mangled pieces of his friends.  These two girls spent the majority of the season fighting over Kyle, who Zoe first tried to hide with Misty Day (Lily Rabe), a witch with the power of resurrection, who was burned at the stake by her bible-thumping brethren only to return, alive, in a swamp, where she channeled her favorite singer, Stevie Nicks, and twirled to her heart’s content to eight-tracks of the songs of Stevie and spawning group Fleetwood Mac.  Misty helped Zoe nurse Kyle to health, after she tried bringing Kyle back to his sexually abusing mom, who he subsequently man-slaughtered.  Then, Zoe tried to hide Kyle at the school, and he became a source of sexual exploration and then competition between her and Madison.

Of course, Madison is a very powerful witch, which did not go unnoticed by Fiona, who murdered her straight on.  Fiona then proceeded to falsely place blame on Myrtle, with Queenie’s misguided help, and she burned at the stake for it.  Yet, when Misty emerged from the swampy shadows, she saved both Madison and Myrtle, but not without cost.  This was after Madison’s corpse had been treated like one of the porcelain dolls cooed over by Spalding (Denis O’Hare), the mute butler, who had an unnatural obsession with pretty things, including Fiona, until she slayed him too.

Then, there was Nan, the feeling clairvoyant, also an empath, who could sense and channel thoughts and emotions.  She fell in love with the new neighbor boy, but Patti Lupone’s neighbor mom, a strictly religious woman with dubious interpretations of the Bible, had no patience for a freak from next door, from of an obvious school of witches and abominations.  She suffocated her own son in the name of the Lord, and Nan learned mind control in time to induce Patti’s character to drink bleach.

Queenie, as the only black witch in the coven, felt like a fish out of water.  This was more apparent when Fiona resurrected Madame de la Laurie, the racist slave-owner who liked to torture and dismember her slaves, as a means of throwing a gauntlet at Marie Laveau.  For the voodoo sect and the Coven were enemies of magic as they always have been of race, and Fiona aimed to throw Marie off her guard, at least at first.  Though the Madame was buried alive, sentenced to eternal damnation as an immortal by breathing in nothing but earth and rot, Fiona found her and made her the School’s maid.  Twentieth century living turned out to be overwhelming for Madame, particularly when she had to serve Queenie, a black girl who also happened to sympathize with the voodoo Queen enough to seduce her one-time lover, made into an abomination by the sadistic Madame.  Queenie also defected for a time, until the witch hunters had their say.

Ah, the witch hunters.  Marie was no fool and enlisted the help of one of them to infiltrate her enemies’ coven.  Yet, he fell in love with and married the impressionable Delia, until she was blinded long enough to gain the second sight and visions of his infidelity, including complex seductions of other witches he ultimately murdered.  His attacks on the coven reached up to his father, the head of his order and of a major corporation with resources enough to hunt witches for centuries.  Fortunately, Fiona had the presence of mind to call a truce with Marie and forge an alliance for the purpose of overtaking the hunters once and for all.

Also fortunately, at least for Fiona, a spell by one of the girls resurrected the long-dead ghost of an ax murderer of sorts, a serial killer with ears only for jazz, who terrorized New Orleans at the turn of the twentieth century.  She did not know who he was, but it didn’t matter.  The chemistry between them was unmistakable, and, hey, she enjoyed a little recreational murder herself.  The Jazz Man was only too happy to help aid her campaign against the witch hunters, though Delia’s ex-husband took out all of Marie’s voodoo hair salon.

In return for Marie’s services, Fiona begged for the spell of immortality that allowed her and the Madame to live so long.  Marie revealed her secret: she made a Faustian deal with a servant of Satan, who required her to perform a “favor” for him each year, beginning with the sacrifice of her own child to his whims.  This same spell was extended to the Madame, though Madame de la Laurie was not above sacrificing her own daughters to her magical whims and pursuit of long life.  When Marie shared the price, and Fiona summoned the spirit that would grant her life eternal, the spirit rejected her advances at first, claiming she had nothing to offer.

In the end, Fiona withered, planting visions in her daughter’s head, making Delia believe that she had succumbed to her lover’s violent impulses.  Because she failed to name a successor, Delia challenged the remaining girls to take on the Seven Wonders in order to attain the Supremacy.  By the season finale, Nan had been drowned by Fiona and Marie in sacrifice to the spirit.  Queenie came to life by the grace of her power.  Though Madison tried to bury Misty Day alive, Delia espied Stevie Nicks’ number one fan in her vision, and with Queenie and Zoe’s help, rescued her.

The student witches were powerful, but Madison couldn’t master divination and became Kyle’s final victim, spurred by Madison’s constant aim to make everyone as unhappy as she was.  Misty succumbed to the trip to hell, fading into dust.  Only Zoe and Queenie remained, but Myrtle had a revelation: Delia, meek and helpless though she has always seemed, has “royalty” in her blood.  Myrtle urged Delia to undergo the trials, and it was Fiona’s only daughter who succeeded in the end.  Fiona came to her daughter in the end, a helpless thing, begging for euthanasia, while Delia had regained her sight and had attained all the good health owed to the Supreme Witch.  Delia was not willing to grant her mother’s request, but allowed her to pass away in her arms.  Unfortunately, it appears that Fiona’s afterlife is the hell she was willing to sacrifice herself to in the beginning.

Delia asks Queenie and Zoe to form a new witch’s council with her at the helm.   And so it ended.  The Coven was saved, the witches’ wars with hunters and voodoo priestesses were ended, and Delia even found the strength to recruit, coming out of the broom closet in an effort to grow the coven’s ranks.

In the end, Coven spiraled into something saccharine as it was searing: a commentary on the strength of women, regardless of the adversity, while abandoning the commentary on racial inequity, forcing Marie and the Madame to an eternity of vicious hatred toward each other.  The end of the season also borrowed liberally from True Blood, even if most of the threads were resolved.  Kyle became the new Spalding even, while Spalding’s ghost cooed over Madison’s corpse once more.

This viewer enjoyed the season and didn’t enjoy it at times but felt it was better done than Asylum, which clubbed viewers over the head with its examination on the definition of insanity.  Still, there is nothing quite like American Horror Story on television right now; a slightly inferior season of this show is going to be far more riveting than most offerings elsewhere.

Additionally, not only was the show renewed for a fourth season (which Jessica Lange claims to be her last), the title has been released: Freak Show. Carnies truly are horrifying.  This viewer can hardly wait.

Old Questions, New Answers

1) If Kathy Bates’ witch is alive, is Angela Bassett’s?  Let’s hope so!

Answer: Yes!  And now they are doomed to live in hell together, the price of immortality and immoral choices throughout their exceedingly long lives.

2) Are Taissa Farmiga and Evan Peters a thing in real life?  If not, they should be.

Answer: I don’t think they are, though apparently Evan dated costar Emma Roberts (Madison), at least in 2013.

3) Is Jessica Lange’s character good or evil?  She’s narcissistic and a terrible mother, sure, but what’s her endgame?

Answer: To continue living.  I think she was evil in the end, ultimately too wrapped up in her own vanity and selfish aims to be good or good-hearted in any way.

4) Is the “sex curse” Zoe’s only power?  That would suck.

Answer: Nope.  She developed others as did the other students. That was one of the weaknesses of the season: when in hell did they learn these powers?  It was never shown.  Horrors were shown, sure, but not all of the Hogwarts learning that probably should have been happening.

5) What’s up, Precious?

Answer: She lives! And Gabourey Sidibe is someone to be admired.  Queenie was a great character.

6) Lily Rabe’s character has got to be alive; If she can bring other things back to life, she probably doesn’t die, or stay dead, too long herself.

Answer: It’s true.  She brought herself back to life and lived for the whole season until her run-in with the ability to spiritually go to hell during the Seven Wonders.  RIP Misty Day.

7) Where is this all going to go?  Since the story started over again…

Answer: See above.

8) Is Zachary Quinto going to show up any time soon?  Or did he need a break after the whole serial killer/psychologist thing?

Answer: Apparently, he needed a break.  Quinto didn’t come into play during Coven. Mr. Spock probably took up lots of his time. Hopefully, he’ll be back for season 4.

PARTING SHOTS

American Horror Story continues to fire on all cylinders because each new season and story refreshes the creative energy, while the consistency of using the same actors in different ways provides some continuity for the loyal viewer.  This season was better than last: good if not great.  The opening credits and theme music remain the most chilling on TV by far, at least.

LOOKING AHEAD:

American Horror Story was renewed!  Freak Show, season 4, premieres fall 2014.