Diana Vacc sees “Prison Break” Season 5 Premier

by Diana Vaccarelli

—SPOILER ALERT—SPOILER ALERT—SPOILER ALERT—SPOILER ALERT –

April 4, 2017 was the day Prison Break returned to our screens after a seven year “hiatus.” 

Fox television has brought back the infamous brothers Michael Scofield and Lincoln Burrows. If you weren’t a fan, or if you were but life has gotten in the way of your memory, I’ll try to catch you up, or at least remind you of where we left off. As in:

When last we saw Michael Scofield and Lincoln Burrows, they had broken out of prison and gone on the run, just in time for Michael to die from a terminal illness, the tragedy ending with a touching scene where Lincoln and Michael’s wife and son mourned at his grave.

Now, however, with the show becoming as popular as ever thanks to Netflix, the show has returned with fan faves Wentworth Miller and Dominic Purcell reprising the leads. How does a dead man return to life? In TV there are two usual ways – supernatural intervention ala a little show called, aptly enough, Supernatural and new info giving the mourners the wonderful formerly missing fact that whaddaya know, Michael is alive after all and being held in Yemeni prison.

Which means – oh, how did you guess? Now it’s up to Lincoln to break him out – again.

THE GOOD:

  • Writer/Creator Paul T. Scheuring brings us an episode full of intrigue that keeps you on the edge of your seat. I loved the scene in which Lincoln literally digs through Michael’s grave and discovers that only Michael’s jacket and pants remain. The body is gone.

    In another well written scene we find Michael in the prison and Yemen, only to hear him state that he doesn’t know Lincoln and is not Michael Scofield. As he walks away, the look on his face tells us he is lying, trying to protect his brother, although we don’t yet why and what or whom from.

    My favorite scene by far in this episode, though, is when Michael’s son asks his mother Sara what his father was like. The dialogue here is extraordinary and sensitive as Sara talks about her late husband as though he was the hero of a fairy tale.

  • The performances of all the actors are brilliant. Each one seems to genuinely become each character, giving us the souls of everybody we meet.

    Dominic Purcell brings makes the moment when Lincoln falls to the ground in tears, begging Michael to tell him what is really going on truly heartbreaking. And Wentworth Miller shocks us with his perfect – and in its way horrifying  response, demonstrating that he has become a far different – and much colder – man than the Michael we loved all those years ago.

  • By going international in scope, the writing exceeds my expectations. I love how Prison Break is now focusing on contemporary world events, especially with respect to the war against terrorism.

THE BAD:

  • The premier episode left many questions. Lots of blanks to be filled. After having been let down by so many recent series that never delivered the answers to questions raised in opening episodes, I’m concerned that viewers may never get the satisfaction we need…and that I believe all viewers deserve. I’m keeping my fingers crossed for lots of new information in the nine episodes of the show that remain.

THE REST:

  • As things stand after the opening, this revival may well be the best TV series opener in years. I thoroughly enjoyed watching it, and if the writers deliver this new version of Prison Break could well become not just must-see but iconic television viewing. I hope you try out the show and join me as a fan.

Diana Vacc sees the ‘This is Us’ Season Finale

NOTE FROM LB: The week before last, TVWriter™ Contributing Writer Kate Graham wrote a very positive review of the This is Us season finale. A few days ago, without knowing about Kate’s review, our Critic-At-Large, Diana Vaccarelli sent us her perspective. They’re a bit different, but then, so are Diana and Kate. 


by Diana Vaccarelli

—SPOILER ALERT—SPOILER ALERT—SPOILER ALERT—SPOILER ALERT–

Tuesday March 14, 2017 was a big day in television for me.  

It was the season finale of This is Us.  This show has become one of my all-time favorites because of both its originality and its performances, which have been of highest quality each week.

Each Tuesday of this, the show’s first season, I have been glued to my television, and this episode was no exception. I have been looking forward to the finale in the hope of seeing Jack (Milo Ventimiglia) step up to make things right with Rebecca (Mandy Moore) and the Big Three, Jack and Rebecca children, make important decisions regarding their futures.

Unfortunately…   

THE GOOD:

  • The performances of Ventimiglia and Moore couldn’t have been any stronger. The scene where the two characters fight was like a powerful blast of pure emotion.

THE BAD:

  • It truly pains me to say this because I do love this show and everything it represents: Family, love, commitment, and truth.  But this episode did not live up to the rest of the season.

    I was shocked at the writing, and not in a positive way. Dan Fogelman, the creator of this series, partnered with Isaac Aptaker and Elizabeth Berger to bring us an episode that was moved like a daytime soap opera from the 1950s, and which did absolutely nothing to further the overall story. It didn’t merely drag, it dd rr aa ggg ee dd.

    But that wasn’t the big problem. Like many fans, I was aching to know more – much more – about the death of Jack, which has been the subtext of the entire season. Yet the finale told us nothing we didn’t already know, leaving me frustrated, angry…and very disappointed at best.

THE REST:

This is Us has been a wonderful series, and I highly recommend watching the whole season. Twice. However, this finale did not come close to measuring up to previous episodes.  Come on, TIU writing staff, would it have killed you to tell us how Jack died and why his daughter Kate (Chrissy Metz) felt responsible? Are you ever going to tell us? Or don’t you want me to watch the show anymore?


Diana Vaccarelli is TVWriter™’s Critic-at-Large and one of the finest people we know. Find out more about her HERE

LB: 3 Shows I Just Can’t Watch Anymore

by Larry Brody

I  don’t watch a lot of TV these days, but when I do watch, I become very committed. I don’t watch anything twice, but that one time…ah! I savor every minute, giving each episode 100% of my current attention span. When Larry Brody watched TV he’s definitely in the moment.

This week, I’ve dropped three shows from my commitment list. Instead of soaring as they once did, they’ve been flailing around for weeks, and I can stand the agony of their dying spirits no more.

Here they are, three TV series that for all I know will continue to go on for decades to come, but which for me have lost all vitality. They are existences without essences. Zombies walking all over without their souls.

LEGION: I loved the first 3 episodes of Legion for the same reason so many critics and fans (including my #1 Favorite Writer John Ostrander as he expressed his thoughts HERE), the fantastic look of the series and the mindfuck it gave not only the heroes (and villains, as it’s turned out) but the audience as well.

However, the last few episodes have just been more and more of what’s become the show’s same-old-same-old, and instead of feeling more intrigued, or even as intrigued as I was at the beginning, I’m getting bored at the limited bag o’writing and cinematography tricks.

Besides, the damn show keeps giving me nightmares! And at my age I’ve got enough bad real memories to terrify me and sure don’t need to be overwhelmed by fake ones.

(See, if you’ve been watching Legion you know what I just did there…the whole fake memories thing, I mean. If not, well, that’s not nearly as spoilery as it might sound. We know by the end of the pilot that the fakery is afoot. Which is why now the whole business is just a drag to me.)

SHADES OF BLUE: I was all gung-ho about this series its first season. Loved the less-than-perfect (to say the  least) lead characters. Loved hating the even more less-than-perfect villain who thought he was so much better than they were.

But now that we’re into Season 2, everyone’s total lack of comprehension of even the most basic ethical values of human behavior, combined with the way the characters’ limited intelligence seems to have slopped over onto the writers, creating an overall storyline that lacks the slightest bit of credibility or sense of even “TV reality” has finally gotten to be too much for me.

It’s with great sorrow that I say avoir to Jennifer Lopez, who is always so wonderful to look at, but saying good-bye is much better than her character probably would do to me. No, Shades isn’t giving me nightmares, but it has reminded me of my longtime aversion to being shot by beautiful women and then – no, I’ll stop here before I do get too spoilery.

NCIS:

Buh-bye Legion and Shades of Blue. Maybe your makers can take comfort in the fact that I’ve also decided to abandon my formerly favorite bad, bad, bad-but-so-what? TV series ever. That’s right, I’ve had it with NCIS at last, after 13 1/2 seasons, of which that last half feels, well, it feels like it’s been going on even longer than all thirteen years that preceded it combined.

Leroy Jethro Gibbs walking around smiling? WTF?

Have You Seen this Trailer for ‘Duck Tails’ Return to TV?

Art from the upcoming DUCK TALES TV series

by Larry Brody

Phooey!

Donald Duck’s Uncle Scrooge McDuck has been one of my favorite comic book characters since, well, since I first saw him in a comic book when I was 5 or 6 years old. (What? You expected me to give you the year that was? No way.)

He was smart. He was flawed. He was, of course, rich. Most importantly, he was perfectly – yes, I said perfectly – drawn and written by Carl Barks, a true genius of comic art. And, fortunately for all concerned, especially fans of the fantastic everywhere, Barks’ comic book successors have kept the level of Uncle Scrooge’s adventures almost as high. Even today’s versions are beautiful enough to frame.

Art from current Uncle Scrooge comics by IDW

Because of the above, I was as excited as a kid myself when I heard that Duck Tales, a Disney TV series about the adventures of Scrooge, Donald, Huey, Dewey, and Louie, and the rest of the WD gang that I’d watched with my children was coming back.

I assumed that the reboot would be as good as the original and that I could share the new show with my youngest grandkids.

But, from the look of the new trail for the new show, I’m now assuming I’m in for a disappointment. Ain’t nothing here that’s even close to the glory that is the real Uncle Scrooge:

Did you watch? Am I right, or am I right?

Where’s the glory? Where’s the travel? The treasure? The glorious greed that made Scrooge…Scrooge?

Maybe I’ll be proven wrong when the show starts this summer. Maybe there will be something magical there. I sure hope so. But until then, all I can say, once more screwing my mouth up into a spit-soaked version of Donald Duck’s voice is “Phooey!”

Oh, mighty god of TV, why must thou promiseth us so much and then delivereth so…little?

Kate G Sees THIS IS US – Season Finale

by Kathryn Graham

This entire season of This is Us has had a theme running throughout – obligations to loved ones vs. personal desires. Last night the show faced the issue head on.

We all compromise with the people closest to us, but what happens when you sacrifice too much?

—SPOILER ALERT—SPOILER ALERT—SPOILER ALERT—SPOILER ALERT–

Jack and Rebecca rip apart at the seams as they navigate the choices they’ve made together. Both characters feel trapped by the roles that society has prescribed for them, resulting in an explosive confrontation where they air their frustrations, bitterness, and regrets.

What would have been Rebecca’s stellar singing career (come on, it’s Mandy Moore) has been derailed by expectations that she should be focused on finding a husband. First, by her friends, whose ‘well-meaning’ advice casts doubt on her like a curse. Then, by Jack himself – a man whom she genuinely loves, but who wants a family (which requires so much labor she needs to put her dreams aside). Then finally, when she gets back to her dream later in life, her ex-boyfriend Ben and Jack quash it again with petty squabbling and romantic entanglements.

Meanwhile, Jack never wanted to be a ‘company man’. He does it because he’s expected to provide for his children. He’s done a job he’s hated for years. He’s been a ‘good man’ by allowing her to follow her dreams despite his desire to keep her home with him. He wants to be his wife’s everything. To give her everything she’s ever wanted, but he’s never really stopped to ask exactly what that was.

This is a beautiful look at what happens when compromises come at too high a price, when societal expectations place unnecessary burdens on people, and what happens when the underlying resentfulness at having sacrificed too much boils over. Yet, in the end, Jack and Rebecca sacrificed for each other. For their kids. Because of the love they share. Keeping those relationships in tact is just as important as fulfilling lifelong dreams. In real life, that’s incredibly tricky. Mandy Moore and Milo Ventimiglia knock it out of the park.

But imagine for a moment, what would have happened if Rebecca hadn’t given up on her career. What if Jack had stayed home with the kids? Would Rebecca have felt fulfilled? It surely seems more likely, given her deep yearning to sing. Would Jack have been happy? He was the one who wanted kids to begin with. It’s worth examining these characters’ motivations and the way that gendered expectations of labor (male – money-maker / female – caretaker) have shaped their lives.

Check out the finale. It’s told with the same finesse as the rest of the season with a powerful look inside a loving marriage constrained by broken dreams and familial obligations.


Kathryn Graham is a Contributing Writer to TVWriter™. Learn more about Kate HERE

NBC’s Conjoined Triplets of Comedy

by Quetzelcoatl

Thought about Atlantis lately?  I hadn’t until Thursday night, February 16th.  NBC was airing an episode of “SUPERSTORE,” followed by “POWERLESS.”  For an island that sunk out of sight, Atlantis popped up like an atoll when the subject was raised in both sitcoms, broadcast back to back.

Starting at 8 pm, the crew and customers at “SUPERSTORE” felt a heatwave when the temperature control system broke.  Glenn, the oft befuddled manager, tried calling corporate to fix it but was brushed off in a perky, yet authoritative voice.

Enter Sales Associate Garrett, played by Colton Dunn.  Paralyzed from the waist down, Garrett enters Glenn’s office in his wheelchair.  Garrett might be the first physically challenged sitcom character who seems natural, adjusted to his situation and funny on his own terms.

Remarking that Glenn had turned his small office into a cool oasis with the one working air conditioner, Garret then encourages his manager to go outside to fix the main temperature control system with his own bare hands instead of pleading further with the corporation.

As newly empowered Glenn leaves the room, the opportunistic Garrett encourages him to take his time so he can literally enjoy chilling in Glenn’s office for as long as possible.

Glenn arrives at the roof, accompanied by ditzy, lovable, Cheyenne Taylor Lee, a teen-aged employee. Bracing the cold weather, Glenn embarks on rendering order unto the chaos caused by the infernal machine.

Back inside, Assistant Manager, Dina Fox, walks past Glenn’s office and can hear groaning coming from within.  She opens the door and finds Garrett, moaning with pleasure in air conditioned bliss.  She uses the situation to be offensively authoritative, but soon joins Garrett to chill out with him.

After some boredom, she languidly suggests sex to pass the time and the two co-workers pursue carnal knowledge with a tragic-comic lack of passion and anticipation.

Back outside, Glenn is feeling helpless, (dare I say “Powerless?”) as fixing the heater proves to be overwhelmingly complicated.  Cheyenne tries to boost his morale.  Searching for a means to make his life matter, 57-year old Glenn invites the blossoming young woman to accompany him on a trip around the world.

She makes valid excuses to reject the offer, but Glenn clearly feels hurt.  Guilt ridden, the good-hearted Cheyenne agrees to participate in the globetrotting adventure, after all.   Glenn mentions that it will mean obtaining plenty of vaccinations, causing Cheyenne to grimace with fear and loathing.

Still in Glenn’s office, Dina answers a phone call meant for Glenn in which corporate admits that the malfunctioning air conditioning system was indeed, caused by a glitch in their own all-encompassing computer and that the problem has been fixed.

Glenn and Cheyenne return inside and notice that it’s getting colder. In a celebratory mood, Glenn exposes his disconnect from reality by planning his world trip aloud.  Among his destinations is “Atlantis.”

Cheyenne backs out a second time from the trip, while still allowing Glenn to save face.  She says, “I really wanted us to travel the world together but I feel that the store needs you.”  This makes Glenn’s day.

His dignity is not restored for long.  He immediately slips on the yogurt that had been left on the floor due to heat related labor disputes.

It’s a rough ending for a character we liked.  It didn’t work for me.  Obnoxious Marcus, who had dodged his duty to clean up the yogurt several times should have fallen on his own mess.  Maybe it’s the show’s comment on the way good people at work often pay for the dereliction of others.

A few minutes later, NBC continued its Thursday night comedy lineup with the third episode of the new sitcom, “POWERLESS.” The teaser opens as a broadcast of news taking place in where else? Atlantis.

Coincidence? A certain TV writing guru once said, “There are no coincidences in Art.”  The peacock network has a proclivity toward carrying a joke from one show to another. In this case, the mention of Atlantis on “SUPERSTORE” was meant to whet our appetite for mythical places and heroes in the upcoming sitcom, “POWERLESS.”

The tradition of sharing segments between shows that are not related as spinoff and original series dates at least as far back as November 17, 1994.  On that last Thursday before Thanksgiving, two New York-based shows had a turkey of a time dealing with the Thanksgiving Day Parade.

The “Seinfeld” episode entitled, “The Mom and Pop Store” started off on a high note where Elaine’s boss, Mr. Pitt, had finally won the chance to hold some of the strings for the Woody Woodpecker float.

Sadly, Jerry attends a party thrown by a dentist and his friends in a building overlooking the parade.  As a dentist tries to examine Jerry’s teeth, the comedian inadvertently knocks a replica of the Empire State Building out the window toward the parade below.  The statuette pierces the Woody Woodpecker float with Mr. Pitt beneath it.

On the same evening, Monica and Ross Geller try to have a quiet Thanksgiving celebration at her apartment on “FRIENDS.”  As various peoples’ plans go awry, they all end up crashing Monica and Ross’ supper.

Monica starts preparing a hodgepodge dinner to suit everyone’s sensibilities when Chandler interrupts to say the Underdog balloon had slipped away from its handlers.  The gang goes out to the roof for a better glimpse, causing themselves to be locked out while their meal burns in the kitchen.

Upon first seeing one theme carried over to another show, it came across as a cheap gimmick to make NBC shows seem like a parallel universe.  I wondered if other audience members were as critical.  Today I see it as an intrusion of network “suits” on the scripts to keep the viewer from reaching for the remote after the first show.

The newer shows, “SUPERSTORE” and “POWERLESS,” had more than Atlantis in common:  they both dealt with the powerlessness of the individual against such forces as bureaucracy and privilege.

Just as Glenn slipped on yogurt left on the floor by Marcus in “SUPERSTORE,” the grunt workers at Wayne Security might lose their jobs when “Da Boss,” Van Wayne, mishandles an email sent by the representative of their biggest account, ACE Chemicals.

Trying to apologize to his subordinates, it becomes clear that Van fails to grasp its full significance.  Emily Locke, his new Head of R&D, encapsulates one of the show’s major themes, scolding him with “It’s great that you can mess up and there’s never any consequences but the rest of us don’t have your dad to care for us.”

With further encouragement, Van uses hard work and ingenuity to win a sizable chunk of business from the Island of Atlantis, thus regaining his father’s respect and earning Emily’s admiration.

The episode ends on the reassuring note that seemingly powerless people can actually work with those at the top of the heap for everyone’s mutual benefit.

When I hear writers complaining about the encroachment of corporate interests into their creativity, I as an outsider can at least imagine the relationship between network executives and writers as similar to the Van Wayne/Emily Locke dynamic and hope for the best.


“Quetzelcoatl,” AKA “The Feathered Serpent of Snark” is a frequent TVWriter™ contributor who has chosen to use a pseudonym because why the heck not?

John Ostrander: “My Mysteries are Many for I am TV’s ‘Legion'”

LEGION
by John Ostrander

And you may ask yourself
How do I work this?
And you may ask yourself
Where is that large automobile?
And you may tell yourself
This is not my beautiful house!
And you may tell yourself
This is not my beautiful wife!

• Talking Heads, Once In a Lifetime

Okay, I’ve finally found a TV superhero show I like more than The Flash, which is saying a lot. It’s Legion, Wednesdays at 10 PM (ET) on FX, and it stars Dan Stevens in a role that’s world’s away from his stint on Downton Abbey. He plays David Haller, a man who may be the world’s strongest telepath and, because of his schizophrenia – their diagnosis, not mine – perhaps the most dangerous.

The show is from 20th Century Fox in association with Marvel TV and is the first to link with the X-Men movie franchise which, for contractual and bureaucratic reasons, is separate from the Mighty Marvel Movie Franchise over at Disney. It’s not only unlike any other superhero TV show out there. In fact, it’s different from any other TV show, period.

What makes Legion so different is the use of the concept of the Unreliable Narrator. That concept means the reader/viewer cannot trust the facts of the story as presented. The device is most commonly used in fiction with a first person narrator, but it can be used in film and television and it’s being used very effectively here in two ways.

The show’s creator and showrunner, Noah Hawley (who also wrote and directed the first episode), wants the show to be told from Haller’s perspective. The story is about him, but since he can’t trust his own memories neither can we. His perception of reality around him may be off as well. David is an unreliable narrator.

At the same time, Hawley skews the design elements so that they match Haller’s mindset and are disorientating to us. His way of presenting David’s life cannot be wholly trusted either. Hawley is also an unreliable narrator.

There’s a key moment in the first episode when David’s being held at Clockworks Psychiatric Hospital (which itself seems to be a nod to A Clockwork Orange) where he is drugged, tested, questioned, evaluated. There’s a strong suggestion of a sinister governmental organization – as if there is any other kind – called Division 3 who seem ready to kill Haller.

David is eventually rescued by his sort of girlfriend named Sid and people connected with a place called Summerland run by Dr. Melanie Bird. There’s running and people shooting at them but, in the middle of the escape, David stops and begs of Sid, “Is all this really happening? Are you real?” She reassures them that it is happening, she is real, and they must run.

Those questions, for me, are the center of the episode and maybe of the series. Is this real? Is this happening? Can David trust it? Can we?

In the second episode, David – now safely (?) at Summerland, is being helped by Dr. Bird and her associates. Dr. Bird insists that David is not crazy; the voices he hears are part of his telepathic powers manifesting and always have been. One of her associates helps guides David through buried or forgotten memories but, again, we’re not certain how reliable those memories are and neither is he.

As I’ve been thinking about the show, I’m now questioning even what I think I know. What if Summerland is not the beneficial place we’ve been told it is? What if kindly Dr. Bird is not all that kindly and the evil Division 3 folks are really the good guys? What if David Haller himself is not a “hero” but more of an anti-hero or even an outright villain? He’s is the Legion of the title and I’m put in mind of the gospels of Mark and Luke where Jesus meets a man possessed of demons who says “My name is Legion for we are many.” David has a lot of voices inside him.

If you know my work, you can see why I’m fascinated by the show. It may not be for everyone; you may prefer your heroes and villains a little more clearly identified. Me, I’m fascinated by it. I like murky.

The character of Legion was created by Chris Claremont and Bill Sienkiewicz in Marvel’s The New Mutants #25 where he was the son of Charles Xavier, Professor X of the X-Men. The TV show doesn’t precisely follow the comics’ continuity but I think it’s very true to the concept, re-interpreting it for this day and age. I’m fine with that.

The show demands attention and some thought. I hope that it has some answers for the questions it poses, unlike such shows as Twin Peaks and The X-Files). Right now, I’ve settled in for the ride.

And you may ask yourself
What is that beautiful house?
And you may ask yourself
Where does that highway go to?
And you may ask yourself
Am I right? Am I wrong?
And you may say yourself, “My God! What have I done?”

Same as it ever was. Same as it ever was. Same as it ever was. Same as it ever was.


John Ostrander quite simply is one of LB’s favorite writers in any medium. Don’t forget to read his most excellent blog at ComicMix, where this piece first appeared.