Officer Darren Wilson won’t stand trial for the murder of Michael Brown. While this has received the lion’s share of the press coverage, it’s just one example of what is becoming an American Epidemic. There was a minor uproar when John Crawford III, a black man carrying a BB gun he was going to buy at Walmart, was gunned down by police and even less when no indictment was passed. 12 year old Tamir Rice was recently gunned down by police in Cleveland for holding a BB gun despite the fact that a) Ohio is an open carry state and b) the person calling 911 said that the gun might be fake. The bottom line is that We have more of these grand juries on the horizon and, unfortunately, little chance that we’ve seen the last black person gunned down by police, so it’s time to look for possible changes to the system.
1. Reassessing how we try police officers
Here’s a write-up on the prosecutor Bob Mcculloch from CNN in August.
McCulloch’s father was a police officer and was killed on the job in 1964 by an African-American man, when McCulloch was 12, McCulloch’s spokesperson Ed Magee confirmed to CNN. In addition to his father, McCulloch’s brother, an uncle and a cousin all served with the St. Louis Police Department, and his mother worked as a clerk at the department, Magee said. McCulloch, who as a teenager lost a leg to cancer, made it his career ambition to become a prosecutor. He was quoted by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch as telling a reporter, while first campaigning for the office: “I couldn’t become a policeman, so being county prosecutor is the next best thing.”
I mean, this is a guy who’d get dismissed in a millisecond if he was in a jury pool and instead he’s the prosecutor? Listening to his tone deaf speech before reading the grand jury’s decision, it was hard to believe that he wasn’t working for the defense. To me, it seems unreasonable to make the same people who work with cops every day to make cases against criminals be the same people who try police officers in court. The conflict of interest seems overwhelming. I believe it is time to accept the fact that the prosecutors and police have failed to self-regulate themselves and there needs to be some sort of move to add some accountability to the cops who are giving their departments a bad name.
There seems to be three options here. 1. Moving Internal Affairs departments from out of the Prosecutor’s Office and giving them their own legal team that will handle all officer related cases. 2. Creating some civilian oversight committees with some teeth to help regulate what is going on in police departments and prosecutors’ offices. They won’t be able to do much in the courts but they could have some say in discipline for these officers. At the very least, Darren Wilson panicked and did a lousy job protecting himself and the community. It was the classic example of adding a gun to the situation just making matters far worse. 3. Have the Federal courts handle all potential felony indictments/cases of police officers. Currently, federal prosecutors only take on these cases from a civil rights angle but it seems like they might want to handle the main cases as well, because of the aforementioned conflict of interest with prosecutors and police.
2. Body Cameras on All Police
I noticed a lot of politicians tweeting about body cameras but the question is, how many will do anything besides tweet about it? A recent study in Rialto, CA showed “more than a 50% reduction in the total number of incidents of use-of-force compared to control-conditions, and nearly ten times more citizens’ complaints in the 12-months prior to the experiment.”
But, again, can we count on the state governments to make these moves? Politicians often rely heavily on support of police unions. How many would cross them by enacting a law that requires all cops and/or cruisers to have cameras? Should this be something that has to be mandated from the Federal level?
3. Investment/Training in Alternate Weapons/Tactics
Darren Wilson’s testimony stated that he did not have a taser because the police department only had a few of them and Wilson didn’t like them because they were uncomfortable. This is horrible reasoning for not carrying something that could help avoid killing people.
It’s the 21st century and we live in the epicenter of the gun loving world. If we don’t have viable alternatives to help police officers simply pulling out a gun when they feel threatened, we need to get on it. And we need to work on training cops to rely on the less lethal forces when possible.
4. Boost in police/IAD budgets
Instead of the federal government spending money to militarize the police, how about we spend some coin training our officers and making sure they have non-lethal ways to protect themselves? Many of the recent police shooting have involved rookie or newer officers. I’m not sure if anything can be done about the nerves that rookies feel when first put into the field but I think we have to take a look at the training that these officers are receiving. And things like body cameras or tasers for all cop cars, etc. cost money. We need to invest money in our police departments not to just help them keep us safe from criminals but, sadly, to help keep us safe from the bad officers out there.
Now that the fires are out and all of the symbolic protests are over, it’s time to focus on making some actual changes that might help prevent future tragedies like this.
I haven’t checked in lately and I’ve seen a bunch of films so I should throw out some quick thoughts. To the surprise of not many, I wasn’t wowed by any of them.
This is a well made action movie. Unfortunately, I went in to this movie with high expectations and walked out a disappointed. I was expecting more depth when it came to Chris Kyle’s struggle to re-acclimate to life stateside and would go more into his work with veterans and helping them get themselves back on their feet. But those scenes were just peppered him between and rushed through after the battle scenes. On top of that, the key adversary in the film was a fictional character, something which I don’t think the film needed, especially given how it affected Kyle’s motivation.
Now, that being said, the battle scenes are indeed well-crafted and tense and worth the price of admission. Just don’t go in expecting too much from the script side of things. Then again, the film I’d compare it to is Foxcatcher, another film that seemed to only graze the struggles and emotions of the characters, but many people have been singing the praises of that film so what do I know?
FINAL RECOMMENDATION: I’d recommend going in expecting a well crafted action film. If you take more from it, it’ll be a pleasant surprise. If not, you’ll have gotten what you went for.
A Most Violent Year
Early on in “A Most Violent Year”, Oscar Isaac’s Abel, our hero for the film, states that he stares his customers in the eye and tell them the truth. And that is what director J.C. Chandor does, for better or for worse. While his debut film “Margin Call” is still one of my favorite movies of the decade and I was a bit let down that that film’s crackling dialogue didn’t appear in this film, the truth is that it shouldn’t have. Wall St. doesn’t sound the same as the heating oil business of 80’s NYC. And while those suits in “Margin Call” were moving and shaking and shifting to avoid their downfall, Abel was standing his ground, trying to show that he could make it due to hard work and commitment; he didn’t need to commit fraud or break the law to succeed. While “Margin Call” featured forces of nature, “A Most Violent Year” is about a rock that refuses to be moved.
The problem, of course, is that forces of nature are more interesting to watch than rocks. Especially when the driving force behind our hero is simply that he’s driven. He’s not a man who loves his job; he simply sees it as a great business opportunity. Again, it’s a well made film but it just lacked someone to really connect and hold on to. Near the end of the film, a climatic scene elicited laughs from the audience, even though I’m pretty sure it was supposed to be more of a gut punch that tickle.
FINAL RECOMMENDATION “A Most Violent Year” is a good film that will likely be forgotten sooner than later. If you have a taste for 70’s cinema, it could be a pleasant night as a retnal but it’s not a film that I personally would recommend to everyone.
The biggest problem for Inherent Vice is that it is a bizarre stoner detective comedy, which means it is going to draw comparisons to “The Big Lebowski”. It doesn’t stand up to those comparisons. The film certainly has its laughs but the motivation behind the film and the stakes are lacking. Whereas Lebowski was a stoner getting himself in deeper (and weirder), “Inherent Vice” often feels more like a stoner wandering around and discovering new things that are weird and seem only tangentially related to the main purpose, which doesn’t seem to even need much detective work to start with. In fact, the main purpose becomes the secondary purpose somewhere along the way.
FINAL RECOMMENDATION: While it won’t be nearly as divisive as Paul Thomas Anderson’s previous films “The Master” or “Magnolia”, this is one that will likely be embraced by his fans, hated by his critics, while most people walk out of the theater thinking, “So, that happened.” Head in with lowered expectations and you might walk out with a pleasant enough buzz.
The Gambler features some great writing and knockout performances by the supporting cast of John Goodman, Michael K. Williams, and others but the main character was simply too bratty for me to get into it. Honestly, for much of the film I felt like Mark Wahlberg’s character was having more of an early mid-life crisis than he was suffering from gambling addiction. He seems less like a man struggling with the impulse to keep gambling and more like someone who was trying to commit suicide by loanshark. Brie Larson (Short Term 12, 21 Jump Street) does a solid job with absolutely nothing to work with. Her character is sorely underwritten. On the bright side, the direction by Rupert Wyatt is top notch and its the first time in a while that I’ve seen a gambling movie that has you really feeling the wins and losses. He did a great job building the tension of those scenes but the rest of the film was just too aimless.
FINAL RECOMMENDATION: Wait until Netflix and, even then, there’s no need to rush to see it. It’s not bad but it’s not good either.
I went in expecting a kind of schmaltzy “Big city kid comes home to his small town and refinds himself and his way” and the film wasn’t even able to knock that out of the park. Robert Downey Jr. and Robert Duvall make the film watchable but there are simply to many b-stories that don’t go anywhere or go places that make you think, “Wait, THAT is where you’re ending it?!” I’d really like to read the original script to see what inspired people to make the film and what they did to it to come up with this final piece of work.
FINAL RECOMMENDATION: This is a hungover and nothing else is on and you stumble across it on HBO type movie.
The lives of driven, broken men are at the heart of “Whiplash” ad “Nightcrawler”, two of the best films of the year. They follow two men who strive for greatness – one is a broken man hoping to find his place while the other is about a young man who might have been broken by his pursuit of greatness. While I would highly recommend both films, I do have to say that I would not recommend watching the trailer for either of these films as they give up too much (WAY too much in Nightcrawler’s case.
“Whiplash” is about a music student who sheds literal blood, sweat, and tears in his pursuit of being one of the great drummers in history. His drive to be remembered is cultivated by his teacher played by the amazing J.K. Simmons. Simmons’s character is as obsessed as Teller’s but his drive manifests itself in a maniacal, emotionally abusive approach to teaching. The film is an terrific conversation starter about the price of greatness, the drive it takes to get there, and, of course, if it’s all worth it in the end. Does being remembered by the world really matter if, while you’re around, you have little involvement with the world around you? How far is too far? When is enough enough?
As for “Nightcrawler”, it is basically the embodiment of George Bernaard Shaw’s quote, “The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man.” Jake Gyllenhaal plays an unhinged man who stumbles upon the profession of being a nightcrawler – freelance videographers who chase ambulances, fire trucks, and cop cars in hopes of nabbing footage of crime scenes. Jake’s character is a sociopath who has learned on the internet how to be in the business but has never learned how to actually be human – a trait that, as luck would have it, helps when it comes to dredging up news footage that fulfills the famous Evening News mantra of “If it bleeds, it leads.” Every step forward that Gyllenhaal’s character takes pushes on someone else’s morality. Again, the question is raised – how much is too much? How far is too faR? When is enough enough?
The tone of “Nightcrawler” is pitch perfect. It’s darkly comedic but the comedy never infringes on the sense that the film takes place in the real world. That’s a crucial element for films; far too often, dark comedies go too far and become farce. Gyllenhaal toes that line perfectly and will likely see some nominations at year’s end because of it. It’s one of the wickedest films I’ve seen in some time’s and the final act is absolutely superb.
Both of these films have been lost in the hype surrounding Birdman and the upcoming Interstellar but neither should be missed. If you don’t see them in the theater, you should definitely flag them for movies to catch as soon as they are available on DVD/streaming. Which reminds me, 22 Jump Street is now available on streaming (to buy, not on Netflix yet) and I’d recommend checking that out. Ice Cube and Channing Tatum have a couple of scenes that had me laughing out loud in the theater and are locks for any list of funniest scenes of the year. Also, “Chef”, my #2 movie of the year, is available to watch at home. Here’s the trailer for it; thankfully, it’s the type of trailer that let’s you get the gist of the movie but doesn’t give away the store while trying to sell the film.
First off, I have to say that if you’re a fan of ultra-violent b-movies, than you should disregard this review. “John Wick” is a film that apparently feeds the needs of the fans of the genre and is wildly popular but it is most certainly not a film like “The Raid” or “Taken” that will have much crossover appeal.
The gist of “John Wick” is, well, John Wick wants revenge and kills a bunch of people while trying to get it. And he kills most of them by shooting them in the head by close range and his plan of attack is usually little more than a. Walk In b. Start Shooting. The lack of creativity or, well, much of anything besides martial arts and head shots is what disappointed me the most. There were a couple of moments that made me sit up but those two were more for the brutality than anything else.
The film did serve up its fair share of b-movie dialogue which was funny but it wasn’t enough to make the movie all that entertaining. Again, if you’re a fan of the genre, apparently this movie is for you. But if 100 minutes of arm twisting and people getting shot in the head doesn’t suit you, then you should pass. Or just watch the trailer because “John Wick” makes for a great trailer but a forgettable movie.
BIG WIN! Finally had some picks come through for me last week so I made a decent chunk of change. Going off of my Yahoo! Pick ‘Em league, I’m 42 – 33 against the spread and 52 – 24 in picking winners straight up. Sadly, the games I choose to bet usually seem to be the ones that I get wrong.
Still, last week I won $275, which I believe leaves me at around $200 in the black for the two weeks that I’ve actually gotten around to betting this weekend. Let’s see if I can keep the momentum.
Colts -3 over TEXANS: Well, I didn’t have faith in the Texans last week and they covered the spread (but lost the game) however I like the Colts better than Dallas and the short week could slow Arian Foster down. I’m going with Colts -3 for $25.
Patriots -3 over BILLS: While I am a Texans doubter, I’m still a Bills believer and am not sure if the Patriots will be able to maintain the momentum (or the concentration) that they had last week against Cincy. Also, I think the Bills’ defense line could cause a lot of problems for Tom Brady and Co. I’ll take the Pats to win but I’m not betting on it.
Carolina +7 over CINCINNATI: I might change this, depending on what’s up with AJ Green. My original thought was that Cincy would be focused to make up for their awful performance on Sunday Night (and the game is at 10am and nobody will be watching them so they won’t choke) but if Green is hurt, they might not have enough weapons to cover the spread. For now, I’ll go with Carolina to cover but no bet.
Pittsburgh +2 over CLEVELAND: Old habits die hard but I just think the Steelers are the better team. They haven’t been blowing me away, however, so I’ll stay away from betting on this one.
Jacksonville +6 at TENNESSEE: Obviously I’m not putting money on Jacksonville but I think they could give the Titans problems, especially since they are on their third string QB right now. And moving on from the Toby Gerhart experiment will probably help the offense. Not sure that they can take the road W but I’m feeling pretty good about them keeping it close.
Packers -3.5 over DOLPHINA: The Packers offense is finally clicking and their defense is making enough plays to be a semi-respectable unit. Ryan Tannehill is feeling good after a throttling of the Raiders in Londom but I think the Fish come back down to Earth when they face a real NFL team. $25 on Packers -3.5.
Detroit 1.5 over MINNESOTA: I’m a fool for always picking Detroit on the road but I can’t seem to help it. At least I’ve learned not to put money on the Paper Lions.
Denver -8.5 over NY JETS: NY always seems to rally whenever their coach is in peril. The Giants are better at it but the Jets have done enough to keep Rex Ryan employed. However, I think that run is about to end. The Jets simply aren’t a good team and I’m not sure how fired up many of them are to keep Rex around. $20 dollars on Broncos -8.5.
Baltimore -3 over TAMPA BAY: Tampa Bay stunned the Steelers but I’m sure the Ravens are aware of that and won’t let themselves get surprised by the Bucs. Also, Vincent Jackson is a little banged up so the passing attack, already down Mike Evans, might not be able to carry the day.
San Diego -7 over OAKLAND: The Raiders are terrible and the Chargers have enough injuries each week to keep them from resting on their laurels. MAYBE Oakland shows some pride and saves face by keeping it close but I’d be surprised if the Chargers didn’t put the hammer down on them early and often. $15 on Chargers -7.
Chicago +3 over Atlanta: Like Pittsburgh, Chicago is a team that I have a hard time believing aren’t as good as I seem to think they are. But also, I think the Falcons are a mess and Matt Forte should be able to have a monster game against them. No bet.
Washington +3 over Arizona: I’m wavering on this one because Arizona is banged up and Washington isn’t THAT bad and they kept it close with Seattle on Monday Night. Ultimately though, I think Arizona is pissed off and, well, I have to eventually pick a home team, don’t I?
EDIT: Or maybe I don’t. With Carson Palmer out and Drew Stanton recovering from a concussion, I’m going to put my hopes in Washington to surprise the Cardinals on the road.
Dallas +8 over Seattle: I might end up changing this one but for some reason, my gut is telling me that the Cowboys are able to keep this one close. The one reason I might change it, besides the fact that I’m picking yet another road team, is that the Seahawks played a VERY sloppy game on Monday so they might be more focused than usual. Obviously, no bet on this one since I can’t even decide who to pick when no money is on the line.
PHILLY -2.5 over NY Giants: Eli is back! stories are starting to pop up which means it’s probably time for a return of the Eli face. This could be the game of the week but ultimately, I’m going to go with the home team.
San Francisco -3.5 over ST. LOUIS: The Niners have blown some games so they need to take care of opponents that they know they can beat. And they know they can beat the Rams. And so do I so $25 dollars on San Fran -3.5.
As for Teasers/Parlays:
$100 6 point teaser on Denver -3, Chargers -1.5, San Fran +2.5
$20 parlay on Denver -9, Green Bay -3.5, Colts -3, Chargers -7.5, Niners -3.5
$20 6 point teaser on Bears +9, Broncos -3, Packers +2.5, Colts +3, Steelers +8.5, San Diego -1.5, Niners +2.5
Progressive Parlay: Ravens, Bears, Broncos, Packers, Colts, Steelers, Chargers, Niners (the line for each game; just got too lazy to type them all out again.)
BE WARNED THIS REVIEW HAS SPOILERS!
OK, now that that is out of the way, “Gone Girl” was basically everything I feared it would be when I heard who was directing it and who was cast as the leads. Not that I dislike David Fincher but I think he’s a little too cold to sell the first half of the book. Now part of me thinks the problem might have been that, having read the book, I knew what was going to happen but even still I didn’t think Fincher’s tone and choices helped sell Amazing Amy as the book had.
Also not helping was Rosamund Pike, who I feel like always seems a bit disconnected and icy in her roles. I didn’t really feel like there was much of a change to her Amy. She didn’t sell the original, filled-with-life Amy to me. I think the role needed someone you were used to seeing in those roles and then have them subvert that take. Rachel McAdams would have been a good choice. Even Gwyneth Paltrow could have done a better job. Similarly, I never bought Affleck as a Missouri guy pretending to be something else. I think he’s too ingrained as a Northeastern Liberal Elite for me to buy into him in this role. Or as a guy who liked reality TV and Outback. Not to pick the It Boy of the moment but someone like Chris Pratt would have been a better choice.
And the ending. Man, the ending. While I loved most of the book, I felt completely disappointed by the ending and I had read that they had altered it to fix it. Instead, what they took away (if I remember correctly) was that Amy was holding something over Nick’s head which kind of forced his hand a bit. Although staying was still his choice and, well, it fell as flat in the movie as it did in the book.
All of that being said, the movie was fine. I thought it was better than Girl with the Dragon Tattoo but I think it’ll be a film that is forgotten over the years. Also, I have to agree with the tweet that I read that complained that Fincher had become rather conventional. While I was impressed with how they handled the plot device of the diary entries, direction-wise, there really wasn’t anything that felt all that inspired. I’m not saying that I need something like “Panic Room”‘s camera moving through coffee pots but the whole thing just felt as cold as Amy was believed to have been.
The best part of the movie was the humor. I know that a lot of people point out the social satire in the movie but do we really need more jokes about how awful cable news is? About how perception is more important than reality? Isn’t the Catch 22 of it all that in order to be in on the jokes about the stupidity of the shows that the masses watch, one has to watch the shows themselves? Don’t get me wrong; the moments were funny and well one but I just felt more of a nodding acknowledgement of the joke than anything that laugh out loud funny. And on a related note, I’m sure many Republicans will start calling themselves Nick Dunne, victims of the out of control “War on Women” that is labeling honest men as criminals and the media painting them as victims. Obviously, that’s not the point of the movie but since when do these guys ever need to care about actual points being made.
I was pleasantly surprised by Tyler Perry. Kim Dickens and Carrie Coon but did great jobs, Scoot McNairy nailed another small role, and Neil Patrick Harris was sufficiently creepy in the role of Desi.
In the end, “Gone Girl” was just fine. Again, maybe some of that has to do with the fact that I knew where the story was going but whereas the book inspired enthusiasm, the movie simply kept my attention.
“Gone Girl” is one of those films that I won’t argue against but I certainly would never argue for. I can understand why people like it and agree with the people who didn’t. I expect it to end up in a lot of Snubbed lists come award season; unless this Winter is terrible, I just don’t see it garnering the love that many people were projecting for it.
Well, I’m a two time winner in my office pool and just over .500 for the season against the spread but my week 1 tally for bets was a horrid $70 in the red. Let’s hope I can do better now that I’m back betting.
Green Bay -8.5 over Minnesota<: After a rough start to the season, the Packers should be focused and hitting on all cylanders. The Vikings are no slouches but Teddy Bridgewater is injured and is still just a rookie. I don’t like the big spread so this is a NO BET but I’ll probably take the Packers on a teaser.
Chicago +2.5 over Carolina: Things are pretty brutal in Carolina. Their running backs are banged up, Cam Newton is hurting, the defense has been a mess. And Chicago has got to be kicking themselves over their loss to the Packers. I’m pretty stunned that the Bears are underdogs, even on the road, so I’m going to bet Bears $20 to win straight up (+115).
Cleveland +1 over Tennessee: I have about as much interest in betting this game as I do in watching it. But with Jake Locker potentially out and the Browns coming off of a bye, I’ll take the Browns for the upset. But, again, NO BET.
Philadelphia -7 over St. Louis: St. Louis had a bye to put things together but I’m not sure they have the personnel to do it. LeSean McCoy has got to be chomping at the bit to have a big game. I’ll go with $15 on Eagles -7.
New York -4.5 over Atlanta: Atlanta’s defense seems to be horrible but who knows what Eli Manning and Giants team will show up or if Matt Ryan and Co. can slice up New York’s secondary. I do think that the Giants could be on one of their “Don’t count us out!” upswings so I’ll go with the G-Men at home -4.5 for 10 bucks.
New Orleans -10 over Tampa Bay: I’m done better on the Saints. They seem to be a step away from being the Patriots South; a one-time contender on the decline. They should be able to destroy the Bucs at home but I would have thought the Steelers could have done the same thing in Tampa Bay. I’ll pick NO but NO BET.
Dallas -6 over Houston: I’m just not a believer in Houston and I think the Cowboys are better than experts were giving them credit for. With Arian Foster and Andre Johnson banged up, I’ll go with Dallas -6 for $25.
Buffalo +7 over Detroit: Detroit is another team I should stay away from, so I will, but Buffalo is the kind of team that will always stay in the game. With Calvin Johnson and Joique Bell banged up, I like Detroit to stay close enough. And with Detroit, staying close enough is often enough as they seem to have a knack for blowing games. Still, NO BET.
Indianapolis -3.5 over Baltimore: This is the toughest game to predict so I’m staying away from it. NO BET.
Pittsburgh -6.5 over Jacksonville: The Steelers have to be fired up about the loss to the Bucs last week and, well, the Jaguars just aren’t that good. This is my Suicide Pool choice of the week and I’ll make it my big bet as well, going $40 on the Steelers -6.5.
Denver -8 over Arizona: I’m going to put a little money on this one simply because I don’t believe in Drew Stanton. Denver’s defense hasn’t been living up to its paychecks but I’m thinking that a week off could help them. The Cardinals are an underrated team and could surprise but I’ll put a small $10 on Denver -8.
San Francisco -6.5 over Kansas City: The Chiefs looked unstoppable on Monday Night but that might have more to do with the mess that are the New England Patriots. San Francisco is a wildly unpredictable squad and I think this could be a close one. NO BET.
San Diego -7 over NY Jets
The Jets have to make the cross country trek and Geno Smith just isn’t playing that well. San Diego seems primed for another early season win streak that will ultimately end in disappointment for their fans but I’ll ride the wave for now. $15 on the Chargers -7.
Cincinnati -1 over New England: I’m going to stay away from betting on my Patriots, especially since I’d hate to bet against them coming off of that horrible loss but I think the fact of the matter is that Cincy is the better team. NO BET.
Seattle -7.5 over Washington: A great defense against Kirk Cousins? I’ll take it. I also think that Washington’s defense was overrated after some easy opening games. Let’s go with Seattle for $10.
As for my Teasers/Parlays:
$10 Progressive Parlay: Packers, Bears, Eagles, Cowboys, Steelers, Chargers, Bengals, Seahawks
$20 6 point teaser: Seahawks, Chargers, Steelers, Eagles, Packers, Bears
$50 6 point teaser: Seahawks, Bears, Steelers
“Manhattan Love Story” isn’t just cliched but it starts out by introducing us to two characters that most people wouldn’t want to hang out with for 30 seconds, nevermind 30 minutes a week. The show opens with the male lead just saying “Yes” to the women he’d sleep with and the lead woman saying “Yes” to purses she wants. And, of course, the girl is from the South and is learning how to make it in the Big Apple, where she just moved. Analeigh Tipton is a very likable actress but it’s hard to bring much of anything to the most generic of archetypes.
The “hook”, if you can call it that, is that the show lets us into the character’s thoughts by having boat loads of voiceover. Yep, these bland characters tells us outright exactly what they are thinking and what they usually think is a bunch of easy jokes and annoying self-awareness.
Honestly, I really don’t know how this script ever got off the pile of potential pilots. I assume that the network really wanted to work with Jeff Lowell (writer of the underrated “Jonathan Tucker Must Die”) or Lowell just has a great agent.
The only reason that this won’t be the first show cancelled this year is that it might be cheap and ABC might just leave it on since it’s going up against NCIS and The Voice and they just need to trot out a sacrificial lamb rather than waste a quality show in that tough time slot. (Although, you’d think NCIS and The Voice could be taken down a notch if the alphabet network delivered something good.)
With a mix of improved writing and lowered expectations, the second episode of “Gotham” was a pleasant surprise. Well, I guess I shouldn’t say pleasant because the violence in the show is sometimes surprising for a show airing at 8pm but the second show made some strides from the disappointing premiere.
Yes, the show is still too on the nose when reminding us who the supervillains will be. Yes, Jada Pinkett-Smith still chews scenery like it’s going out of style. Yes, I’m still not wild about Ben McKenzie’s super-serious scowl but I felt like all of those things were less offensive than they were in the pilot.
The one issue the show does have, however, is that they only really have a couple of characters who can be in peril. Selina Kyle was in danger throughout the episode but you know she isn’t dying, she has to become Catwoman. Whenever Jim Gordon’s life is in danger, you know somethings has to happen because he has to become Commissioner. “Hannibal” had a similar issue and got around it by changing the Hannibal Lecter story and killing some characters who were supposed to survive. I’m not sure “Gotham” has that luxury because most of the character they’d have to kill are iconic.
“Gotham” still isn’t a good show but it’s basically moved from a bad pilot to a guilty pleasure and it could continue to improve once they establish the characters and their relationships more. I doubt this will be the monster hit that many had hoped but it could settle into a solid but unspectacular staple to the Fox lineup.
It’s always tough judging a series on a pilot. Pilots are difficult because they have to introduce the show’s premise, characters, and also fit in an Of the Week storyline. Also, the writers and actors are still getting a feel for what they are trying to do. Most shows usually have clunky pilots and then settle into their groove a few episodes in but sadly, few people have the time to give every show four or five hours of their life before judging them. So here’s my take on the latest new shows and their likelihood of finding their way and, possibly more importantly, the likelihood of surviving the season so you don’t invest hours on a show that will get canceled.
In short, here’s my ranking of the new shows (and one much improved returning show) so far:
1. How to Get Away with Murder: Fun pilot if you embrace the Shonda Silliness
2. Madam Secretary: Solid political drama
3. Agents of SHIELD: Not a new show but the new direction makes it much improved
4. Blackish: Just plain funny
5. Scorpion: A stupid show about geniuses but a fun ride
6. Selfie: Surprising pilot, not sure where it goes from there.
7. Forever: Bland but not bad.
8. Gotham: Most disappointing pilot so far. Potential is only reason it’s not in last place.
9. The Mysteries of Laura: Nice idea, lousy execution
10. A to Z: Not bad but not all that interesting or funny either.
Scorpion (CBS @ 9pm)
You can call this one “Fast and the Nerdiest”. This show is about a group of geniuses who work together to solve cases from kidnapping to terrorist attacks to, in the pilot, a computer glitch which could cause dozens of planes to crash. And while the show is about geniuses, you don’t need to be a genius to realize that what is happening in the show is pretty damn ridiculous. That being said, like the Fast and the Furious franchise, it’s high paced, interesting enough characters, and is a fun ride as long as you stash your brain in the glove compartment.
My guess is that this show fits perfectly in the CBS stable of procedurals and it doesn’t seem like it’s going to get cancelled as the premiere episode made it the #1 new drama. “Scorpion” isn’t exactly Must See TV but it’s a fun, well made hour of television that should prove to be a nice diversion at the end of the long Monday.
Gotham (Fox @ 8pm)
On the bright side, “Gotham” likely isn’t going anywhere. Fox has invested a lot of money on the Batman prequel and Netflix paid a hefty price to get the streaming rights to it so it would have to crash and burn to not see a second season. That being said, “Gotham” has a long way to go to avoid crashing and burning. The pilot was rife with problems, starting with the premise. For me, the appeal of “Gotham” was that we could watch the fall of a great city. How did Gotham get to the point where they needed a masked vigilante to save the day? Unfortunately, the show starts off with Gotham being kind of a shithole so really you’re just seeing how the city went from bad to really bad. The battle for the soul of the police department already seem to have been lost so that leaves us with what seems to be a police procedural based in Gotham, which isn’t all that interesting since none of the people who made the Dark Knight series interesting should be supervillains yet. The show awkwardly forces in villains like Penguin, Poison Ivy, Catwoman, and The Riddler but that fan service can only go so far. And then, of course, there’s the whole Bruce Wayne angle although I’m not sure how interesting that will be. I mean, it’s not like there can be much progress from him since the trauma of seeing his parents gunned down ultimately drives him to become a masked vigilante.
As for the bare bones aspects of the TV show, it’s even worse. The writing is unintentionally campy and the acting follows suit. Ben McKenzie seems miscast although, to be fair, I’m not sure anyone could make much of the dialogue he was given. Even the editing of the show seems off, with many of the reaction shots given too much lead. The show looks good but that is all it has going for it.
I’ll give Gotham a few more episodes but it is, without question, the most disappointing new show of the year. In fact, if it doesn’t get better, there’s a good chance that it does indeed crash and burn as it is in the toughest time slot against Big Bang Theory, The Voice, Dancing with the Stars, and Monday Night Football. Still, it would be pretty stunning if it didn’t see a second season.
Selfie (ABC @ 8pm)
I had low expectations for this one. The ads seemed annoying but I have to admit that I liked the unexpectedly offbeat vibe that the show had and, as a fan of romantic comedies, it kind of hit the right notes for me. The problem with the show is that the pilot felt like someone crammed a rom-com into 30 minutes and I’m not sure where you go from there. By the end of the pilot, lessons were learned, changes were beginning to be made. For the series to go on, it would seem as though lessons would have to be forgotten and characters would have to relapse.
The show hasn’t premiered yet (the pilot is available online) but I don’t have much faith in it seeing a second season. Hopefully ABC will figure this out sooner than later and let the show have a full first season and let it complete its story.
Forever (ABC @ 10pm)
Forever is about a man who can mysteriously live forever. He is trying to figure out why he is able to come back to life whenever he get killed so he can finally die and be at piece (he’s still broken up over the love of his life passing away decades ago.) He also has to hide who he is because if people find out that he lives forever, he becomes a lab rat and is tortuously tested upon. So now he works as an ME in a police department.
Convoluted premise aside, “Forever” didn’t have a bad pilot and the end of the show introduced the more interesting aspect of program – the lead isn’t the only person who can live forever. There is someone else out there and that person plans on having fun with his fellow Immortal and is going to act as an agent of evil to see if the good Immortal can stop him.
While the idea of battling Immortals is intriguing, one of the big problems for “Forever” is that the lead character simply isn’t all that interesting. And, seriously, someone is going to give up the gift of Immortality because they can’t get over a lost love? Every day, mortal people have to get over lost loved ones and get on with their lives.
The premiere ratings for “Forever” weren’t that hot and I can’t imagine they’ll get much better against Chicago Fire and Persons of Interest. Their one hope was to go for the younger demographic but they probably should have cast younger leads in that case. I might give it a few more episodes but I’m not expecting much in terms of improvement or, ironically, lifespan.
Agents of SHIELD (ABC @ 9pm)
This is not a new show but it might as well be. I tapped out of season 1 after a handful of episodes because I didn’t like the characters and the show had no real direction. While the character issue was the writers’ own doing, it became apparent after Captain America: Winter Soldier that the main problem with the first half of the SHIELD season was that the show had to tread water until the Captain America film tore SHIELD apart and gave the TV show a direction.
With season 2, the Agents of SHIELD find themselves on the run – a kind of high tech A-Team. The characters have a little more to them but season 2 really established itself by adding new team members who added some intrigue and also did a MUCH better job with the villains. The Absorbing Man in the season 2 premiere was by far the best job they’ve done with a supervillain (in the episodes I saw, at least.)
The show still has its issues but the first episode of season 2 rekindled my hope and I’ll be giving the Agents of SHIELD a second chance.
Blackish (ABC @ 9:30pm)
ABC’s new comedy from Larry Wilmore is just plain funny. The cast led by Anthony Anderson, Tracee Ellis Ross, and Laurence Fishburne is top notch with Ellis Ross absolutely nailing the unenviable role of being the grounded member of a comedy team. The kids are also especially funny. My only fear is that the show will focus a little too much on the racial element. Obviously (and sadly in the 21st century), there’s a lot of material to mine there but I think there needs to be a mix of universal problems and race related issues.
The pilot established the show as possibly my favorite comedy out right now (off the top of my head, I can’t remember a sit-com that I actually watch) so I’m definitely in for this one.
The Mysteries of Laura (NBC @ 8pm)
Besides Selfie, no show had lower expectations from me than The Mysteries of Laura. But, like Selfie, I was surprised by the pilot although, also like Selfie, that surprise doesn’t mean that the show is all that great or that it has a shot of staying on for long.
While it is based on a Spanish show, “The Mysteries of Laura” basically feels like someone decided to make a hour long, female driven dramedy version of Brooklyn 99. However, whereas Brooklyn 99 revels in its absurdity, “TMoL” doesn’t embrace it. Much of the show will lean towards absurd but then both of the first two episodes end with very serious scenes. The mix doesn’t work yet and it isn’t helped by the fact that the show is shot like a sitcom. Also, I’m not sure if Debra Messing was the best choice for the lead. She is funny in it but it just feels like Debra Messing playing a slouch. I feel like Judy Greer or Aisha Tyler might have done a better job selling the character (not that I’m calling either of those ladies slouches.)
Personally, I’m a fan of dramedies and wish there were more on television but The Mysteries of Laura seems to miss the mark. The premiere opened with 12 million views but they already lost 2 million viewers on episode 2 and I don’t foresee the drop in viewers ending any time soon. I might watch one more episode but this will be the first show to fall by the wayside and I could also see it get moved to a different timeslot. Wednesday at 8pm is a VERY winnable timeslot but I don’t see this show winning it for NBC.
A to Z (NBC @ 8pm)
The pilot for this show was cute enough but it’s a show that claims it will detail the 8 month relationship of a couple (how will it end? Breakup? Engaged? Death?) but the couple are two caricatures and I’m not sure many people will be all that interested in the details of said relationship. The show feels like it is trying to appeal to the How I Met Your Mother crowd but I think they missed the mark. Again, it’s not a bad show but I just don’t see it gaining much support, especially since the show’s success will likely rely upon a huge female audience and it’s up against “Scandal”.
How to Get Away with Murder (ABC @ 10pm)
I have to admit, I’ve never been a Shonda Rimes fan. Not that I don’t like her but I never watched Grey’s Anatomy and I didn’t like the pilot of Scandal. The reason for the latter was because I wasn’t ready for the Shonda silliness. I wasn’t expecting a soap opera. But this time, knowing what I was getting into, I really enjoyed “How to Get Away with Murder.” Viola Davis is, yet again, a scene stealer and an absolute force on screen and the show did a great job introducing characters while drawing the audience into two different mysteries. This could be the best pilot of the year and, even better, the show is only 15 episodes and they are promising answers at the end of the season so there’s little chance of the stories being dragged out or there being a bunch of filler episodes. While I was pleasantly surprised by “Scorpion”, this is the only new show so far that has a shot of being the type of show that I can’t wait for the next episode.
Madam Secretary (CBS @ 8pm)
I’m a sucker for Inside DC shows so Madam Secretary is right in my wheelhouse. On top of that, the show does have a sort of Good Wife feel to it – brilliant woman pushed into a high stress job while juggling her family’s issues and it doesn’t have the Will and Alicia dynamic which I was never a huge fan of. That being said, a LOT of people watched the show for that and I’m not sure if what Madam Secretary replaced it with, a conspiracy theory storyline that, so far, has been pushed to the back burner despite its major ramifications, seems like a little much for a mostly grounded show.
That being said, I’m a fan of Tea Leoni and the show seems to have followed the Good Wife’s lead and created interesting and enjoyable characters for the kids. I’m not sure if it’ll be much of a ratings success, especially in the key demo, but I’ll be watching each week regardless.
Bands to Watch 2014
Terriers: A couple of down and out private detectives get in over their head. From The Shield's Shawn Ryan and Ocean's 11 scribe Ted Griffin. 13 episodes on Netflix.
Luther: Starring Idris Elba (Stringer Bell in The Wire) as a driven, angry, and dangerous London detective who pushes the limits and sometimes steps over the line. 10 episodes on Netflix (Season 3 not yet available.)
Sherlock: Modern day take on Sherlock Holmes. 6 episodes on Netflix (episodes are longer than normal, around 90 minutes or so.)
The Good Wife: Alicia Florick gave up her dreams of being an attorney when she became the wife of a rising politician. When he is arrested and sent to jail, she has to decide whether to stand by her philandering man while raising her family and getting back into the legal world. Season 1 - 4 on Hulu Plus.
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