5 Questions and 500 Words: “Rosewood”

Welcome to another installment of “5 Questions and 500 Words,” my approach to reviewing the crazy amount of shows that will be unspooling/returning over the course of the next few weeks. Given the glut of shows, and the glut of reviews that will be published for these shows, I’m keeping things short and sweet. This is for your convenience and my sanity.

“Rosewood” premieres Wednesday, September 23, at 8:00 pm on FOX

What’s a more accurate title for this show?

“Pilot Bingo Card”


That you could assemble a series of tropes on a bingo card and have a very good chance of winning by the end of the third act. Want a hero with “Sherlock”-esque investigative skills? Sure! Make him a doctor? Why not! Put him into the world of crime even though he’s really got not business there? Go for it! Give him a gruff female partner with a tragic backstory? Absolutely! Want to give him a medical condition that hangs over the light procedural feel in the name of giving this show some weight? That’s all you!

So, skip this?

Of all the inessential shows this Fall, this is in the upper tier. It’s competently made, but has only lead Morris Chestnut’s (admittedly ample) charisma to distinguish it from anything of this ilk made in the last 20 years. It feels like what a highly advanced computer would create through statistical analysis of television rather than any story that NEEDS to be told by anyone involved.

But does every show really need to be groundbreaking in order to be watchable?

Hell no! But look at “Empire,” which will air after it this Fall. There’s a show with a point of view and a stylistic approach that leapt out at viewers and grabbed them by the throat. Staying within known parameters is actually more dangerous in the era of Peak TV, insomuch as there’s nothing about “Rosewood” (or most pilots, let’s be fair) that screams, “I need to watch this when it airs.” And that’s a problem in the age of “The Walking Dead,” “Empire,” and “Scandal”: Getting lumped in the middle means an increased risk of getting cancelled out. Playing to the center actually pushes you to the side.

But tell me this: Does the lead doctor have a 4,000 square foot office but only two employees? Is the primary use of the office to turn autopsies into Laser Light Shows? Is there at least one ‘80s character whose inclusion and role in this show make you question your own mortality? And does at least one character literally say, “You’re oil and I’m water?” in order to underline the combative relationship at the theoretical heart of this show?

OK, you’ve made your point. Program Of The Year.

5 Questions and 500 Words: “Scream Queens”

Welcome to another installment of “5 Questions and 500 Words,” my approach to reviewing the crazy amount of shows that will be unspooling/returning over the course of the next few weeks. Given the glut of shows, and the glut of reviews that will be published for these shows, I’m keeping things short and sweet. This is for your convenience and my sanity.

“Scream Queens” premieres Tuesday, September 22, at 8:00 pm on FOX

You’re just gonna trash this because you hate Ryan Murphy, right?

I definitely don’t hate Ryan Murphy. I hate Ryan Murphy’s approach to television. Huge difference. But even with that said, this isn’t the worst thing he’s ever been involved with, which I guess amounts to some sort of praise. They won’t slap that last sentence onto any billboards, but that’s OK.

What makes this better than the rest?

I actually loved “Glee” for the first two season, and that was due to the show’s balance of the bombast and gravitas: Yes, it had whiplash tonal switches, but often those were baked into the intentional divide between the hopes of its characters and the crushing reality of their lives. Here, “reality” is gone from minute one, but the show never pretends like it’s supposed to be there. As a pure execution of its goals, “Scream Queens” succeeds. I just happen to not like the goals.

What are the goals, then?

So near as I can tell, “Scream Queens” is about knowing you’re watching a show called “Scream Queens,” and not unlike “Empire” or “Scandal” is probably going to be best enjoyed as a second-screen app to Twitter. But whereas those other two shows are pulpy soap operas with scene-schewing stars, “Scream Queens” provides bitchy camp, which is amusing but also distancing. It’s not a show that seeks to make its characters anything but joke-spewing fodder for its serial killer storyline.

But…that sounds like fun. Why do you not like this?

For the same reason I don’t like “The Walking Dead”: I watch television for characters in whose journeys I’m invested, not as a series of creative and gory deaths. If you watch “TWD” for that, you might actually appreciate this show. While I generally despise “American Horror Story,” at least that show attempts to deal with issues like identity, sexuality, and state of “otherness”. “Scream Queens” is about people that wondered what it would be like if “Mean Girls” and “Halloween” had sloppy sex and produced a baby that never learned any manners. That’s fun for a 2-hour film, but I can’t see how it works over the long haul.

But you won’t stick around to find out, will you?

I honestly have no idea. The serial killer storyline piqued my interest enough to see if Murphy and his “Glee”-cocreators Brad Falchuck and Ian Brennan have something up their sleeve. In addition, Emma Roberts brings enough shading to her sorority president to make me think there’s a half-chance she’ll be three-dimensional before season’s end. And God help, Lea Michele is REALLY REALLY funny in her small role here, and along with Glen Powell as the Stereotypically Jock Dude seem truly locked into the potential of this series’ tone. It’s definitely not something I’ll carve out time for, but I can imagine catching up with it by the time the next episode ends. It’s Empty Calorie TV, which is fine. But even at his worst, Murphy usually wants to be about more than that.

How one scene explains the brilliance of the second season of “Review”

There are many excellent things about the second season of “Review.” In fact, there are so many that it’s difficult to know how to even start. Last week’s installment, “Buried Alive/6-Star Review/Public Speaking” might have been this season’s “Pancakes/Divorce/Pancakes”, which is to say its signature (if not actual “best”) episode of the season. Rather than having exhausted its premise last season, as I feared, the second season of “Review” has in fact found a seemingly inexhaustible supply of new terrors to unleash upon Forrest MacNeil. Indeed, the longer this show continues, the horror is actually amplified.

Read More »

5 Questions and 500 Word: “Life In Pieces”

Welcome to another installment of “5 Questions and 500 Words,” my approach to reviewing the crazy amount of shows that will be unspooling/returning over the course of the next few weeks. Given the glut of shows, and the glut of reviews that will be published for these shows, I’m keeping things short and sweet. This is for your convenience and my sanity.

“Life In Pieces” premieres Monday, September 21, at 8:30 pm on CBS

Is this the CBS answer to “Modern Family”?

Depends what you mean by “answer.” Even in its later seasons, “Modern Family” earns the type of ratings that makes most network executives salivate. And yes, inasmuchas this is a show about various intertwining storylines involving an extended family, sure, call it a knockoff. But there are enough differences to make the comparison ultimately lazy.

What’s the biggest difference?

If the pilot (and CBS has only made the pilot available as of this writing) is any indication, “Life In Pieces” owes more to Comedy Central sketch programs than any network family comedy. Each storyline isn’t spread out over the half-hour, but rather told in four, discreet bite-sized chunks. They aren’t exactly sketches, but rather than sprinkle in one minute of story per act, “Life In Pieces” tells the 4-5 minute story as a whole and then moves onto the next one.

Does the premise work?

Again, it’s only one episode, but I do admire the overt architecture. It also means that any particular storyline that doesn’t work is over pretty quickly. I greatly prefer this approach to having a terrible C-story strung out over an episode just to give certain actors something to do. The downside? If you hate one part of the family, you’re almost certainly to hate 25% of every episode.

But does the approach work?

Again: ONLY ONE EPISODE. But yes, I laughed a lot at the four segments, and increasingly so as they moved on. I’m really curious to see if the long-term goal is to have segments build off one another (like, say on “Review”) or if they will be discreet one-offs that thematically do not resonate. I’d prefer the latter, of course, but doing that over the course of a full 22 episodes is probably too tall an order.

Will it even last 22 episodes?

It’s getting the plum post-“The Big Bang Theory” slot while Monday night football lasts, so there’s an extremely good chance of major eyeball exposure. It’s a funny show that has an extremely good cast. James Brolin in particular appears to be having the time of his life as the patriarch of the family. I greatly enjoyed the chemistry between Betsy Brandt and Dan Bakkedahl as the harried parents of three children. Casting gets you 75% of the way there on shows like this, and “Life In Pieces” has the cast that can make decent material great and great material soar. It won’t be appointment viewing for many of you reading this, but it feels like a mid-sized hit that could potentially launch another show this time next year.

Review: “You’re The Worst” season two

In its second season, “You’re The Worst” continues to be the actual best.

Part of the “fun,” as it were, of TV criticism is that your past reviews can either prove you a prophet or an idiot. I initially wiffed on this one, finding little in the first two episodes provided before its original premiere to shout about. I grew to eventually love it, and figured the show just needed a little time to get going. Upon a recent full rewatch of the first season, I realized all the elements I later loved were there from the beginning. Sure, long-term exposure to the characters enriched the experience, but it was fairly rich in the first place. Read More »

Why it might be time to kill the post-mortem

At the end of the “Hannibal” series finale, I tweeted that it was a perfect end to that show. I don’t think it was a perfect finale, and I thought overall Season 3 was the weakest of all the seasons to date. But I thought the last ten minutes or so were gorgeously rendered and thematically stunning: The love/hate relationship between Will and Hannibal was consummated on all levels, and then Will took Hannibal into the yawning chasm of a world slowly consuming the living through merciless entropy. Even the coda, which to me suggested that Hannibal’s madness lived on even though he didn’t, felt like a nod towards some sort of continuity even though Hannibal and Will were no longer around anymore. Bryan Fuller, showrunner and mastermind of “Hannibal,” had done the impossible.

Then, five minutes later, he totally undid it.

Let me explain. Read More »

In Which Ryan Once Again Talks About How We Talk About TV

So let’s talk about the state of TV, and the state of talking about TV.

You could put together an excellent year-end “Best Of” list consisting of nothing but shows that aired new episodes between Memorial Day and the upcoming Labor Day. “UnREAL,” “Mr. Robot,” “Hannibal,” “Review,” “Bojack Horseman,” and “Rectify” are all shows you’re going to see on a lot of lists, and I bet more than a few will appear together on those lists. And that’s just a short list of shows I personally watch, and exclude plenty of other shows others swear by, which brings me to my next point…

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Review: “UnREAL” is the most surprising show of the summer

So first of all, a big middle finger to Lifetime for producing such an entertaining show as “UnREAL”. In an age of Too Much Good TV, there were still several networks I could count on for not making it even harder than it already was to watch all the shows I wanted to consume. Lifetime sat happily in that particular part of the television spectrum, but now, I have to pay attention to their output as well thanks to this excellent show. Thanks a freakin’ lot, Lifetime. What’s next? Will HGTV suddenly greenlight a scripted, post-apocalyptic tale about irradiated designers called “Dystaupian”? Read More »

Review: Season 2 of “Review” solidifies the show’s place in the current pantheon of great TV

Let’s get this clear up front: “Review” was one of my very favorite shows of 2014, and I was OK with never seeing another episode of it again.

Read More »

Review: Five thoughts about “Ant-Man”

I’m not a movie critic by any stretch of the imagination, but I wanted to jot down a few thoughts about Marvel’s latest movie, “Ant-Man.” Five thoughts, to be precise.

1) First off, it’s a welcome de-escalation of stakes. That doesn’t mean what happens isn’t important, but there’s a localization of the action that is a much needed tonic in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Much like TV shows that think they have to consistently go darker or more convoluted the longer they go, so too was the MCU in danger of dropping universe-shattering plots into every movie. After a while, audiences get numb to that level of threat. Having smaller conflicts that occasionally erupt into enormous ones will add variety to the films and make those truly epic encounters count.

2) The scene in which Ant-Man and Yellojacket face off inside a briefcase falling to earth represents one of the most creative action sequences in the MCU’s run to date. It MIGHT be the most creative, but I don’t want to overreact so close to seeing it. It didn’t quite have the visceral nature of the elevator fight in “Winter Soldier” or the sheer “oh my god I’m seeing a splash page come to life” of the assembled one-shot in “The Avengers,” but it’s safe to say we’ve never seen anything like this briefcase sequence before. As Marvel dips into new characters, hopefully it will allow for visual sequences like this that make each part of the overall saga its own. (And if they all use songs by The Cure, I’m OK with that. I bet you could build a successful action sequence in “Doctor Strange” edited around “Charlotte Sometimes.”)

3) I’m torn on Hope’s role in this film. I get that Hank Pym is keeping her out of action due to the trauma of losing Janet van Dyne, but the mid-credits stinger just made me wish they had activated Evangeline Lilly more in this film. “It’s about time” is a meta wink at Marvel’s own inability to truly create a cast of credible female superheroes, but also doesn’t erase the fact that Hope did very little other than complain about having nothing to do. While she does help the heist, I wished “Ant-Man” had found a way to note Hank’s idiocy AND let her kick some ass as The Wasp.

4) Michael Peña had the thirty-five best lines of this film. He literally did nothing wrong in the entire film. In fact, he was so good, I want him to be the one to eventually explain Infinity Stones once and for all via the method employed in this film. You can’t tell me you’d rather hear James Brolin talk about the Infinity Gauntlet than Michael Peña’s rendition via a guy who knew a girl who knew a guy who knew Howard The Duck.

5) While it might seem like a carbon-copy of the recent “X-Men” films, I wouldn’t mind some MCU films set throughout the 20th century after watching the opening scene of “Ant-Man.” Much like the “Star Wars” Anthology series, these wouldn’t have to necessarily connect with the current storylines but rather just provided an entry point to characters and stories that might not work in the present day. Given how freakishly good the de-aging of Michael Douglas looked (we’ve come a long ass way from “TRON: Legacy”), you wouldn’t even have to recast younger versions of existing characters. And hey, if you want to do Scott Lang’s origin story, you can always use Paul Rudd, because he never ages and probably has a picture of himself hidden away in order to maintain his youthful glow.