TV ROUND UP
Television Reviews by L. L. Soares
Things have been quiet here at the TV Corral. Not a lot of varmints to herd together. But there have been a few strays wandering around this summer you might want to watch out for in the future.
Airs: Friday nights at 10pm (EST) on Cinemax
This one started a few months back on Cinemax, in their bid to create original programming that wasn’t:
- A) softcore entertainment (a la’ the old “Skinemax”moniker) or
- B) action-oriented (like their other original shows, BANSHEE, which is actually pretty good, and STRIKEFORCE).
THE KNICK is a different kind of animal entirely. It’s an attempt to put out a quality product that might finally get Cinemax some awards, like its much-praised sister station, HBO.
THE KNICK has “quality programming” written all over it. One of the show’s creators is director Stephen Soderbergh (who also directs all the episodes), the big-time Hollywood director who gave us everything from TRAFFIC (2000) to MAGIC MIKE (2012). He’s actually become one of Hollywood’s top auteurs, and this series is no exception. Set in the early 1900s, THE KNICK is short for “the Knickerbocker,” one of the first real full-service hospitals in America, located, of course, in New York City. This is a time period between the barbarism of the old ways and the more sanitized wonders of modern medicine. To get to what we have now, there had to be an infancy stage for hospitals, and this is it. A lot of surgeries were either new and untested, or really messy, and the doctors constantly had to devise new methods to treat injuries and illnesses, and things like reliable anaesthesia and X-Ray machines were brand new technologies.
Clive Owen is Dr. John Thackery, a brilliant surgeon who is constantly coming up with newer, better ways to do things, and who is completely obsessed with his work. Where does he get all his energy? Well, it might have something to do with the daily shot of cocaine he injects between his toes (because he’s running out of available veins). After a hard day’s work, he then relaxes by hanging out in an opium den in Chinatown. I’m sure a lot of people around him would find his private life reprehensible, but everyone is happy to look the other way as long as he’s saving lives. The “operating theater,” meanwhile, is an actual theater, as frequent guests (not always other doctors) sit and watch the latest operations. In this theater, Thackery is a star.
Also along for the ride are Andre Holland as Dr. Algernon Edwards, a black physician who was trained in Paris but cannot get an ounce of respect from the other doctors, despite the fact that he’s Thackery’s equal when it comes to innovation. Edwards is prevented from performing surgeries on white patients and even resorts to setting up a secret clinic in the cellar of the hospital where he treats black patients after hours. There’s Sister Harriet (Cara Seymour) who performs secret abortions with the help of ambulance driver (rider? Since it’s a horse-drawn carriage?) Tom Cleary (Chris Sullivan). Herman Barrow, the hospital administrator, is constantly trying to acquire funds the hospital needs to keep running, and who owes a huge debt to a local loan shark/gangster named Bunky Collier (Danny Hoch) who abuses him regularly. And Nurse Lucy Elkins (Eve Hewson), who slowly gets involved with Thackery and becomes privy to his “secret” life.
The conditions everyone has to work under are pretty horrible, and yet, people persevere, medical progress is made, and some lives are actually saved from the Grim Reaper. With an eye towards early 20th century issues of race, class, fierce medical competition, as well as medical morality, the show not only gives a glimpse of what it was like back then, it also gives us some very fascinating characters to spend time with. The first season just came to an end, and it is easily one of the best show on television. Bravo for Cinemax! RECOMMENDED
Airs: 10pm (EST) on Saturdays (after Dr. Who) on BBC America
Another new show that just ended its first season (on BBC America, the channel that also gives us the excellent ORPHAN BLACK) is INTRUDERS. Based on the novel by Michael Marshall Smith, INTRUDERS is about dead people who come back in other bodies, which happen to be occupied by living people who aren’t done using them yet! A secret society is making sure their members don’t stay dead. Meanwhile, Jack Whalen (John Simm) is thrust right in the middle of it all when his wife Amy (Oscar-winner Mira Sorvino) suddenly starts acting very strangely and insists she is no longer Amy, but someone named Rose. There’s also Madison (Millie Bobby Brown), a little girl who suddenly starts acting like a grownup thug (and possible serial killer) named Marcus. I found the show a little confusing the first couple of episodes, but if you stick with it, the show keeps getting better and better. The acting is good, the storylines pretty cool, and I’ve become a big fan of Millie Bobby Brown especially (her conflicted character, torn between being an innocent little girl and an adult monster, is pretty cool). Also, James Frain, who played Franklin Mott, the vampire who tormented Tara on TRUE BLOOD late in its run (he was also on the short-lived superhero series THE CAPE, and is currently on the NBC series GRIMM), plays an assassin named Richard Shepherd, who works for the secret society and is supposed to take out people who either shouldn’t have been allowed to come back or witnesses who know too much. One of the show’s creators/writers/producers is Glen Morgan, who also worked on THE X-FILES, and several of the episodes are directed by Eduardo Sanchez, who gave us THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT (1999), but there’s no shaky cam in sight.
Another great first season for a show that reveals its secrets slowly, but gets more exciting as it continues. RECOMMENDED
Airs Sundays at 10pm EST on FX.
The first season of FX’s new horror series, THE STRAIN, also just came to a close. Based on the series of novels by Guillermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan, it’s a new take on the old vampire legend. A mysterious plane lands at an airport, but no one gets off. Corey Stall plays Center for Disease Control (CDC) Agent Ephraim Goodweather, who is assigned to the case, involving a plane full of infected passengers, most of whom have been killed by an unknown pathogen, and maybe a handful of survivors. Of course, the more he learns, the worse the situation gets, because also on board that plane was The Master, an ancient monster who is the source of the…er…strain. People become vampires after they are “stung” by long, vile tongues that inject worm-like organisms into their bloodstreams. After the worms have done their work, the initial death/gestation state ends, and the person becomes a vampire – who, on this show, seems a lot more like a zombie. These vamps wander the streets, stumbling around like the “Walking Dead” until they find someone they can feed on, then then that giant tongue/stinger erupts from their mouths. With all these mindless zombie-type critters wandering around, it almost doesn’t feel like a vampire show at all. But luckily there are other kinds of vampires to keep things interesting, including a seemingly immortal Nazi officer named Thomas Eichorst (Richard Sammel) who does the Master’s bidding (he’s a vampire, but not the shambling kind) and there are some mysterious “other” vampires who wear hoods, wield weapons and are intent on wiping out the bad vampires (we learned a little more about them as the season came to a close, but I hope they play a bigger part in Season 2).
Goodweather teams up with a motley crew of vampire hunters that includes Abraham Setrakian (David Bradley), an old pawn shop owner who had been a prisoner in the concentration camp Eichorst ran during World War II; Kevin Durand as Vasilly Fet, a resourceful exterminator; an attractive hacker; Ephraim’s love interest/fellow CDC agent Nora Martinez (Mia Maestro); and his young son, Zach.
The bad guys are aided by dying billionaire Eldritch Palmer (Jonathan Hyde) who used his money and resources to bring the Master to America in the first place, seeking to be made immortal, even if he brings about the end of the world for everyone else in the process.
Sometimes the zombie-like vampires shambling around at night get a little tiresome, and the extra long snake tongues seem a little ludicrous to me, but overall, the show is entertaining. The Master, despite being nine feet tall and able to move lightning fast when he needs to, has a face that looks to me like a CGI clown, which reduces his scariness a little.
While not one of the best new shows of the summer, THE STRAIN will keep your interest. And I’m curious to see where Season 2 takes us.
FX seems to want to get a lock on the adult comedy market with two new shows. The first is MARRIED, starring Judy Greer (from those Sprint commercials with the hamster – and a million other things) and Nat Faxon as Lina and Russ Bowman, two thirty-somethings who are unhappy with their lives. They used to be wild and owned a surf shop; now they’ve got kids and Russ is in a job he hates. The two of them are very good here, as are Russ’s friends Jess (Jenny Slate), who is still wild and a little crazy despite being a new mother married to an older man (Paul Reiser) and AJ (Brett Gelman) who is always up to something, when he’s not in and out of rehab. The entire ensemble cast here is really good, but the standout might just be Slate, who steals every scene she’s in.
Airs Thursdays at 10:30pm EST on FX.
A companion piece on FX to MARRIED, YOU’RE THE WORST is about Jimmy, a very abrasive Brit novelist who has just had his first novel published. He ruins every relationship he is in due to his caustic wit. He meets Gretchen, a PR person whose biggest client is a trouble-making rapper, at the wedding of an ex-girlfriend. She’s just as abrasive as he is. They click, and yet are horrified that they might just be in a real relationship for once in their lives. Once again, their friends help to make the show shine, with Kether Donohue as Lindsay, Gretchen’s wild child friend who is married to a nerd and has a conventional life, yet yearns to be free, and Edgar (Desmin Borges), Jimmy’s roommate, a sweet guy who just got back from Afghanistan and is having trouble adjusting to normal life. Another offbeat comedy with a solid cast and a dark sense of humor, I thought both MARRIED and YOU’RE THE WORST (which just ended their first seasons) were refreshing alternatives to the usual bland network sitcoms. And they prove my maxim that characters do not necessarily have to be likeable all the time to be interesting. It’s the boring, unfunny characters you need to avoid.
Airs Thursdays at 10pm on IFC
Another new show, this time on IFC, GARFUNKLE AND OATES is kind of like a female version of “Flight of the Conchords” without the New Zealand accents. Riki Lindhome and Kate Micucci play Riki and Kate, two comedians who perform funny songs under the name Garfunkle and Oates. The show is about how they navigate life on and off stage. Show plots have included Kate and Riki changing hair colors to see if people treat them diffrerently (they do); the girls finding out a porn movie parody of them has been released (does this mean they’ve made it?); and seeing if they can be in relationships with men without saying a word (they can, sort of). A little more whimsical than the darker FX comedies, GARFUNKLE AND OATES might actually grow on you.
On the Horizon:
On Sunday nights on AMC, the new season of THE WALKING DEAD has begun (now in Season 5) with an amazing season opener involving baddies who just happen to be cannibals. No matter how much you think this show about the zombie apocalypse might run out of gas, instead it just seems to get better and better.
AMERICAN HORROR STORY: FREAKSHOW: Season 4 of FX’s American Horror Story opens with a tale about a special traveling side show in the mid-1900s, trying to cope with an outside world that fears them. The latest star attraction is a girl with two heads (actually conjoined twins) played by Sarah Paulson. Every season of this show has a totally different story, and last season, COVEN (about witches, obviously), is still my favorite of the bunch. But FREAKSHOW has potential. Also featuring Jessica Lange (who’s in every season – as are many of the performers, each season playing different roles), as a German mistress of ceremonies who also runs the sideshow; Michael Chiklis as a hot-headed strong man; and a hideous, rictus-smiled, murderous clown who’s on the loose. What does the crazy clown have to do with the freakshow? I guess we’ll find out.
I’ve gotta get along now. See you at the next roundup.
© Copyright 2014 by L.L. Soares