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.

Advertisements

He SAID: Ballin’ Out of Control

Scott F. Evans

It’s short-sighted to call HBO’s new comedy series Ballers some form of ‘Entourage on the Gridiron.’ Sure there are similarities. The shows share a network and are produced ballers1by the same company. And yes, they both showcase the lives of the rich and shameless. But where Entourage hammers viewers over the head with how awesome white male privilege is within the entertainment industry, Ballers shows us the other side of fame and wealth.

The show stars Dwayne Johnson as Spencer Strassmore, a retired player turned financial advisor. Ballers is a good showcase for Johnson. He gets to be an actual human being here and not another one of the larger-than-life characters he normally plays in feature films. Johnson has always had loads ballers2of charisma and a strong screen presence. But with Ballers, he gets to truly act. The show is built around him, and he carries it with relative ease.

Rob Corddry co-stars as Joe, Strassmore’s partner at Anderson Financial. Corddry is funny, and plays it fairly broad. Sometimes he goes a bit too far in that direction, and feels like he’s part of a different program. But so far he’s kept to the show’s edges and isn’t too much of a distraction. Omar Benson Miller plays Charles Greane, another recently retired player. In many ways Miller is the heart of Ballers. We watch him struggle with being a car salesman who misses the game and the glamorous life that ballers3comes with it. John David Washington rounds out the supporting cast as Ricky Jerret, a spoiled star player who cannot get his personal life together. Washington is decent, and gives Jerret just enough charisma and humanity to keep viewers rooting for him (even though he doesn’t really deserve it).

Four episodes in, and without a doubt the shows biggest weakness is the use of actual athletes in several key and minor roles. They’re not actors, and it shows. Ballers is ballers5about football players, so having real players pop up occasionally might actually add authenticity. But watching them struggle to deliver lines with any semblance of talent is distracting, sometimes to the point of frustration.

Despite that, it’s worth your time to give Ballers a shot. It’s only a half hour, and it doesn’t insult your intelligence or beat you over the head with its opulence. Plus, Dwayne Johnson is actually putting in the work to become a better actor, one role at a time. And his effort is evident on this particular playing field.

ballers4HBO renewed the series for a second season, so they’ve got enough faith to keep the game going. For now, I’m along for the ride.

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.
daredevil5

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: American Crime

Christopher M. Enis

From the the first moments in ABC’s American Crime, you know you’re in for something beyond the standard TV cop show. If the title is any indication, the core elements will be dual; that is, both criminal and american crimeracial.

The series centers around the murder of Matt Skokie, a military veteran living in Modesto (CA)… and the assault/rape of his wife, Gwen. The story isn’t as much about the young Skokies, as it is about the three people who are quickly captured and accused of the crime:

The first two are Mexican gangster Hector (Richard Cabral), and Black drug addict Carter (Elvis american crime 1Nolasco). The third is Tony (Johnny Ortiz), a Latino teenager who’s made a habit of rebelling against his father (Benito Martinez). This crime gets them both caught up in the system and in way over their heads.

On the other side are the victim’s parents, played by Timothy Hutton, Felicity Huffman, W. Earl Brown and Penelope Ann Miller. As the story progresses, all of the parents involved will share some of the same sentiments as we find out who’s really behind this American Crime.

The show’s creator, the Oscar winning screenwriter, John Ridley (who is no stranger to controversial thoughts/opinions on race) doesn’t hesitate to get right down to brass tacks. He shows how the (legal) system swoops in and sucks in the suspects, at least one of whom is almost certainly innocent. The story plays out as an unforgiving, cold, indifferent, and mostly undignified look at what happens when one winds up behind bars and how it affects their families.  For the victim’s families, the grief and outrage is understandable and treated in a dignified manner (even if they’re not always worthy of it).

American Crime has been compared to the 2000 film, Traffic and the 2004 film, Crash. While there are some similarities, I feel that American Crime has the potential to be better. The small town locale and racial component points towards similarities in the on-going tensions in Ferguson (MO). That aspect of the story hasn’t been a major part of the series in the first two episodes, but wamerican crime 3ill likely change with the arrival of Regina King’s character, Aliyah Shadeed. She is a driven woman determined to help her brother Carter, and to provide us a polar opposite to the ultra conservative/racially biased Barb.

I think that American Crime, due to its subject matter and adult nature, would have been a much better fit on premium cable. But it still has potential on ABC.  I look forward to see how things develop.

He SAID: All About Jane

Christopher M. Enis

The CW’s Jane The Virgin is the current darling of the season. Although fellow newcomer The Flash receivedjanethevirgin1 the most hype for the network, Jane got both the critical praise and the ratings needed to boost the show’s prestige. That meant a Golden Globe win (the first for the network), and a second season pickup. It’s fair to say the future is looking pretty bright for the little series that could.

Jane The Virgin is a loose adaptation of the Venezuelan telenovela Juana la Virgen. It tells the story of Jane Villanueva (Gina Rodriguez), a 23-year old Latina in Miami who lives with herjanethevirgin5 Mother (Andrea Navedo) and Grandmother (Ivonne Coll). Jane’s strong religious conviction and strict upbringing drive her decision to remain a virgin until she’s married. Things are working out well (she’s engaged) until Jane is accidentally inseminated during a checkup.

The premise of Jane The Virgin has the potential to be chaotic. In addition to the main storyline, there are lots of subplots and subtitles (Grandma does not speak English). There’s also the matter of the narrator (Anthony Mendez), who teeters dangerously close stereotype.

janethevirgin2janethevirgin4

The good news is, show runner and head writer Jennie Snyder manages to corral all those elements and mix drama, comedy and romance… all while retaining the show’s telenovela roots.

janethevirgin3Gina Rodriguez helps carry this show beautifully and effortlessly, and is definitely one to watch. Her proverbial star is the rise and she’s easily in the running for an Emmy, with that Golden Globe now gracing her mantle.

Jane The Virgin’s first new episode of  the year airs tonight on the CW (9 PM EST/8 PM CST).

RATING: Must See

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.