He SAID: There’s a new (Super) Girl in Town…

Christopher M. Enis
Unless you’ve been living in a galaxy far, far away, it’s been impossible to miss that the Geeks have inherited the Earth (well, Hollywood and Television. Same difference).  These days, you can’t swing a Streaky The Super Cat  in any direction, without hitting a Superhero movie and/or television series. Despite this, there hasn’t been many with a lead female character (ABC’s Agent Carter and The CW’s iZombie are the notable exceptions).  But as we close 2015, change is on the horizon… and her name is Supergirl.
The first episode of CBS’ Supergirl aired on CBS. Even with its typically older viewership, the series might be right at home at a network with a long history of female-empowered storylines (Mary Tyler Moore, Rhoda, Alice and, more recently, The Good Wife & Madam Secretary).
Based on the DC Comics character (created in 1959 by Otto Binder and Al Plastin43d4f1c7352b0e244413e1f916af6075o), Supergirl is Kara Zor-El a.k.a. Kara Danvers (Melissa Benoist). She and cousin Kal-El (Superman) were the last survivors of the doomed planet Krypton.  Kara and Kal were sent on their way in separate rockets to Earth, but a cosmic mishap literally changed the course of both of their lives.
In a stunt casting move that only nerds will appreciate, once Kara finally makes it to earth she is taken in by Eliza and Jeremiah Danvers… who are none other than former Supergirl Helen Slater and former Superman Dean Cain. Kara begins her life on Earth like any country girl who e39b3d6b58850791165a9aace73184d5ends up working in the big city… under a painful interpretation of The Devil Wear Prada’s chief villian, played by Calista Flockhart. Shall we just pretend that she doesn’t resemble husband Harrison Ford’s frozen facade circa Return of the Jedi about the eyes and face? Yes? Okay. I kept sitting there waiting for her face to move into some sort of … expression. Alas, nothing. But we’re pretending not to notice! Back to the story…
Kara may be the second most powerful person on the planet but there seems to be more than a few reasons why she’s decided to hide out and pretend to be ‘normal.’ An unexpected emergency causes her to shed her doubts, and go up up and away… fueled by all the Girl Power cliches that CBS can muster in a single episode. It’s alma7a35b1f367bf382057e436bb3fd8e0aost too much. But I get it. So even though the story so far is full of plot holes large enough to drive a semi through, it’s all for the good of the Girl Power. Supergirl doesn’t exist to add to the deep, dramatic angst that is the norm for most of the superhero series/movies. It’s meant to show that ‘anything you can do I can do better’ for the real life up and coming SuperGirls of our time. The male characters on the show take a back seat in the first episode (I’m working to ignore the fact that Jimmy Olsen is way too damn old), and there’s a pretty good chance their supporting status won’t change much as the show progresses.

The best thing about Supergirl is likely Supergirl herself. Benoist is on point in a star-making role.  She makes Kara likeable, believable and worthy of rooting for. She is a breath of fresh air in a superhero universe dominated by men… not to mention the vanguard of a number of series/movies with women in prominent roles (Jessica Jones on Netflix, the Wasp in the upcoming Ant-Man sequel, and Wonder Woman in Batman vs Superman).  d18efb7dc9cd33986220dac9bf30a556Supergirl is a great and long overdue start to the Superhero Ladies Revolution, and she should soar for years to come.

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He SAID: DAREDEVIL the Stripped Down Superhero

Christopher M. Enis
The next phase of the Marvel Cinematic Universe is in play, with the release of Daredevildaredevil1 on Netflix. It’s the first of five series (A.K.A. Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, Iron Fist and The Defenders are the other four) that will be released on the streaming network over the next two years.
Daredevil is Matt Murdock (Charlie Cox), who was blinded as a child while saving a man from being hit by a truck carrying unknown chemicals. Those chemicals took his sight, but enhanced his remaining senses. The combination gives him what’s know among Comic Book fans as ‘Radar Sense’ or ‘Fire Vision.’ Don’t worry, you’re not supposed to get it right away. All will be revealed in time.
daredevil3Murdock was born, and continues to live in Hell’s Kitchen, a historically Irish neighborhood in Manhattan.  He was raised by his father, Jack (John Patrick Hayden), who as a boxer instilled the desire to keep fighting… and incidentally, the ability to take one heck of a beating. These ‘skills’, coupled with a strong dose of Catholic Guilt, are the building blocks of young Murdock’s moral code.

All grown up now, Murdock makes his living by day as a lawyer in a fledgling practice with best friend Foggy Nelson (Elden Henson) and murder-suspect-turned-indespensibe-daredevil4right-hand Karen Page (Deborah Ann Woll). At night, he gears up and hits the streets as DareDevil, to clean up the mess in constant creation by Russian, Chinese and Japanese criminals. They all flock to one man (he who shall not be named) who claims it’s his desire to clean up the streets… even as he leaves a bloody trail of death and destruction in his wake. As DareDevil is but a mortal man, he daredevil6cannot survive without the help of Claire Temple (Rosario Dawson), who faithfully patches him up as he expertly survives one epic beating after another.
Marvel’s Daredevil is more grounded and realistic than anything we’ve seen in the Marvel Cinematic Universe to this point.  It’s not an extension of the big screen action (like ABC’s Agents Of SHIELD), but still a part of that world through mention of events that occur on both the big and small screen in real time.

The series succeeds on multiple levels.  For the comic book fans, it’s a relatively faithful adaptation. But the dialogue and situations are modernized and elevated to attract scores of new fans. Despite the PG-13 rating, the show pushes the limits. It’s decidedly more gritty and morally ambiguous than straightforward and absolute.
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Daredevil fully embraces the Netflix binge mentality, with the release Season One in its entirety. Season Two has already been greenlit, so there’s bound to be a lot more Marvel goodness coming down the pipeline. Comic book fan or not, this series is a must see. Do yourself a favor and block out a day (or two), shut off the phone, order in, and enjoy.

He SAID: End of an Era

Christopher M. Enis
From the opening moments of the first episode of Mad Men, I felt that I was witnessing something amazing.  I didn’t know what it was but I knew it was major. Turns out I wasn’t alone. mad men 5
Mad Men was a critical hit from the start, and has the awards to prove it. The show won the Emmy for Outstanding Drama Series its first four seasons (only Hill Street Blues, LA Law and The West Wing can lay claim to such a feat) and the Golden Globe for Best Television Series (Drama) the first three seasons.  The meticulous attention to every detail of the time period has been noted and celebrated, and  members of the cast quickly became household names.
The series begins in March 1960 and is set in the NYC/Madison Avenue ad agency, Sterling Cooper.  For the past seven seasons, we’ve witnessed the turbulent decade of the Sixties through the SC employees… particularly Don Draper (Jon Hamm).  Draper is a rising star at the agency and the living embodiment of the term “men want to be him and women want to be with him”.  And much like the decade, Draper’s life is just as turbulent; the advertising executive, much like the commercials he promotes, is himself an illusion.
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Richard “Dick” Whitman was the son of an prostitute who died giving birth to him.  When he was 10, his abusive father was killed when he was kicked in the head by a horse. During the Korean War, Whitman enlists in the US Army.  It’s there that he accidentally causes the death of his commanding officer, Donald Draper.  Whitman switches dog tags with Draper and goes from living tragedy to Purple Heart recipient (while literally burying his old life).
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And the rest, as they say, is history.
There are so many great moments/episodes from the series that I love.  If I had to choose just one moment that personifies my love for Mad Men, it would have to be ‘The Carousel.’
*and wouldn’t you know it… they opened the final season with that scene!*
When Mad Man premiered in 2007 on AMC, the channel was still in the midst of its transition from a classic movie network. Now, AMC is considered one of the more innovative networks by helping to usher in a new era of dramatic television [Breaking Bad and The Walking Dead both live(d) here]. Man Men is arguably a major part of that success.
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Mad Men began its final run of seven episodes on Sunday, April 5th. The show will air its series finale on May 17.  Go here for a guide to previous seasons.

He SAID: Survivor’s Remorse

Scott F. Evans

The newest addition to the Starz series lineup is a refreshing lesson on the mistake of judging remorse5a book (show) by its cover (premise). The synopsis, casting, marketing and shooting location for Survivor’s Remorse all scream ‘Generic Black Sitcom.’ It could have been played broadly, gone for the obvious big laughs, cheap emotional beats, and neat wrap ups to every episode. But it doesn’t. It discards nearly every element that has plagued too many comedic attempts since the 1980’s.

remorse1Topping the list of things done right, is the show’s writing and directing. Be warned: the dialogue can be profane, almost to the point of excess. But the wordplay is so refreshingly sharp that you forgive it. Instead of the typical ‘setup and punchline’ formula, the writers focus on snappy banter. You actually have to pay attention to catch all of it.

The direction of the show is also exemplary. This is no quickie, haphazardly shot TV show. The care taken with lighting and composition is evident. The main characters live in a high end penthouse with a gorgeous view of Atlanta, and the filmmakers make excellent use of it. The cinematographyremorse2 alone on this show effectively camouflages its modest budget.

Early marketing was also inaccurate. Survivor’s Remorse was sold as the Black, basketball playing companion to HBO’s Entourage. Given that, one would expect the show to be episode after episode detailing the hedonistic lifestyle of a rich pro ball player.   Instead, the show has much more to say about the lives of the newly moneyed than Entourage ever did. Where Entourage was arguably a show about white male privilege where the protagonists never, ever lose… Survivor’s Remorse is almost a cautionary tale. Lifestyles of the young and rich aside, the show really wants to teach remorseus about how to keep that wealth. With story after story of pro athletes going broke long before they qualify for Social Security, the lesson is long overdue.

Jessie Usher is solid as our ostensible lead, newly signed Atlanta Hawk Cam Calloway. He plays the young baller straight down the middle with just enough youthful arrogance to be realistic, but not enough to put viewers off. He offsets the cockiness with an easy charisma that forces you to root for him. Tichina Arnold and Mike Epps play his mother and uncle. They’re both good, dialing back their broad shtick for the roles. But sometimes they both feel a little too young for the parts, especially the way they talk to the younger members of their family. Teyonah Pariss, as bourgeois cousin-in-law Missy Vaughn remorse6steals nearly every scene she’s in. Her character is the outsider and Pariss plays it slightly ‘above it all,’ but never haughty. Erica Ash is decent (if not a little inconsistent) as M-Chuck, Jesse’s lesbian sister. Between this character’s gender-specific antics and Arnold’s and Epps’ crudity, the show often teeters right on the edge of comic boorishness. Thankfully, the writers show restraint.

Survivor’s Remorse completely flips the script on viewers. Typically a show like this would be about the young, arrogant player and his zany family. Instead of crafting the show along those clichéd lines, Remorse is built around the one la-et-survivors-remorsecharacter who would normally be the ‘straight man’ and butt of most of the jokes. RonReaco Lee expertly guides this nouveau-riche experience as cousin and manager Reggie Vaughn. Reggie is exquisitely balanced with just the right amount of savvy to be an effective manager, but enough uncertainty to give the show a tangible level of suspense. In many ways, Survivor’s Remorse is actually Reggie’s story. He is the one that holds the ship together, fighting week after week to ensure that Cam and the family never have to go back to the hard scrabble poverty they once lived in. Reggie is the character you wish more young athletes and musicians had in their corner, guiding them through the treacherous waters of the sports and entertainment industry.

remorse4Survivor’s Remorse just wrapped Season One and is available On Demand.

RATING: Must See TV

 

 

 

He SAID: Friday Night Frights

Christopher M. Enis

Last week began the second season of what I like to call Friday Night Frights on NBC. It began last year with the veteran series Grimm, a half-season of Dracula, and the stylish gore fest Hannibal. This season, Grimm and Hannibal return (Dracula does not), and are joined by the new series Constantine.
Grimm enters its fourth season with the story of Nick Burkhardt (David Giuntoli): a homigrimmcide detective who discovers that he is descended from a supernatural “guardians” known as Grimms. They act as defenders against the Wesen (pronounced “vessin”: the German word for “creature”). The Wesen might be the modern day Boogeyman: they look human, and can only be seen in their true forms without their consent by Grimms.
Grimm comes from the minds of co-creators David Greenwalt and Jim Kouf (of Buffy and Angel fame). It’s a supernatural police procedural that has found a nice balance between both worlds, without being insulting to either.

Constantine is based on the DC Comics/Vertigo series Hellblazer. constantine
John Constantine (Matt Ryan) is a con artist turned reluctant detective of the Occult. He’s also got some major personal issues (tortured by his sins and such). Constantine is tasked with defending humanity against the ever growing forces of darkness. His Crusade companions include his oldest friend Chas Chandler Constantine(Charles Halford) and Manny (Harold Perrineau) an angel with a chip on his…wing… who’s been assigned to watch over Constantine. Other main characters (also from the comic series) are the voodoo king, Papa Midnight (Michael James Shaw), Mary ‘Zed’ Martin (Angélica Celaya) and The Spectre (Emmett Scanlan).

Daniel Cerone and David Goyer developed the show for television, and Neil Marshall directed the pilot. The good news is, the series is closer to the source material than the 2005 movie (starring Keanu Reeves). But due to the mostly R-rated nature of the source, we won’t get a full translation on network television.

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Overall, Constantine is a nice addition to the live action DC Comics TV Universe (CW’s Arrow, The Flash and Fox’s Gotham). With time, there’s a good chance that it’ll become a permanent part of the Friday Night Frights on NBC.

He SAID: Murder 101

Christopher M. Enis

My Fall TV preview featured the latest installment from Shonda Rhimes: How to get Away with Murder. The series, which stars the incomparable Viola Davis, was one of my top picks for must see tv. So when the pilot episode debuted… I settled in for the lesson. Teach me Viola… I’m here for you!

davis2In the pilot episode, there is A LOT going on. The story jumps from present day to 3 months prior… and back again. There’s little to no warning for these time jumps, except for a series of images that play back like someone got their finger stuck on the rewind or fast forward buttons. Add to that new character introductions, classrooms, court rooms, competitions, bonfires, trysts, and shady next door neighbors…

And that’s just the first 15 minutes.

If your head is spinning from everything that you just read, imagine how I felt watching it.

This epileptic brew is nothing new if you’re a regular Scandal viewer. But if this is your first trip to davis6Shondaland, your rewind button is in for a workout as you navigate what I like to call ‘The Rhimes Style.’ It goes a little something like this: Strong female lead and diverse cast of characters that transcend traditional stereotypes. There’s talking… lots and lots and LOTS of fast talking. There are one liners, zingers, plot twists, and all manner of madness designed to keep you engaged (and struggling to keep up). Rhimes continues to prove that she’s not content with the status quo, and so far it’s working out very well for her. Now, she’s wrapping that style snugly around her biggest talent yet… 2-time Tony Award winning (and Oscar nominated) actress Viola Davis.

With all of that going for it, is ‘How to get Away with Murder’ worth watching?

That… my friends… is the question.

davis5Davis plays  Philadelphia Law Professor/Criminal Lawyer Annalise Keating. She’s the final word in everything… and everyone around her has no problem taking orders. What makes Annalise complex is that she often combines her dual positions as professor and lawyer. It’s an ethically ambiguous pattern with potentially explosive consequences, but Keating seems to have no issue shaking up the volatile mix.

Keating  has a husband who adores her, a boyfriend who will do anything for her, and assistants who are at her beck and call. She’s not interested in explanations ordavis1 excuses in the courtroom, the classroom, or the bedroom. That attitude inspires an interesting mix of  fear, loathing and admiration from everyone around her, and Keating uses it to her advantage. After watching Annalise win a case, one of her student interns says “I want to be her.” But not because Keating is a role model or mother figure. Quite the contrary. Instead of Prada, the Devil wears Oxblood leather, and she’s not up for any of your bullshit. And despite your best efforts, you’re here for it.

My primary complaint about the show is that we didn’t get ‘enough’ Keating. The story is mainly built around the effect that she has on her interns and her employees. This may change (it needs to), as news of Davis’ incredible performance grows. Hell, maybe one day… Professor Annalise Keating will be on the list of the top television anti-heroes. I can dream.