Tika-SumpterBecause TV watching now entails at least two glowing screens at all times, here are some stories from around the interwebz:

  • Caleb moves back to Rosewood after spinoff flops. “Pretty Little Liars: Tyler Blackburn to Return as Series Regular” (via The Hollywood Reporter).
  • FOX renewal news: Mindy Kaling is getting another go at it whether you like it or not, along with Brooklyn Nine-Nine, The Following, and New Girl (via TV by the Numbers).
  • Lastly, record-setting ratings for OWN with The Haves and the Have Nots finale and an undeniably valid reason for a Tika Sumpter pic. Yay! (via Variety)

Bailee Madison and Marcia Gay Harden are wonderful, but you’re not going to watch this show anyway.

As you may or, perhaps more likely, may not know, ABC currently airs eight sitcoms in its weekly primetime schedule, a schedule featuring quirky alien neighbors, an “ironic” trophy wife, and various middle class families from the past and present spread about several “super fun” nights each week. In general, it’s fairly standard fare for the American Broadcast Company these days. The hits—The Middle, Modern Family, and Last Man Standing—paint straightforward portraits of today’s common man with broad topical strokes, while the struggling bunch—The Neighbors, Super Fun Night, Trophy Wife—halfheartedly and insincerely try to depict something else slightly left of the factory o’ laughs ABC has spent decades erecting out in the ‘burbs.

But it would appear that with the low viewership for the comedies that stray marginally from the cul-de-sac of the familiar, and their inevitably going the way of Happy Endings, the dust is settling on a singular comedic aesthetic for the family network. Which, for the record, isn’t much of an issue. To claim that broadcast television has a pronounced history of risk-taking or going against its self-imposed grain, wouldn’t really be the truth. In fact, ABC in the late-80s and 90s made a name for itself by celebrating how thematically homogenous it could make a lineup each and every Friday.

Sure there were some outliers in the golden TGIF days similar to that of today’s. There was at a point a show literally called Aliens in the Family. And this season’s recently canceled Back in the Game seemed pretty Hangin’ with Mr. Cooper-esque to me. (You know, without all the pesky people of color.) So not much has truly changed. But there’s a lot to be said about the packaging of these new show. Let’s take a look plainly at the names.

ABC’s current eight
1. Modern Family (2009–present)
2. The Middle (2009–present)
3. Last Man Standing (2011–present)
4. Suburgatory (2011–present)
5. The Goldbergs (2013–present)
6. Super Fun Night (2013–present)
7. Trophy Wife (2013–present)
8. The Neighbors (2012–present)
(via Wikipedia)

Numbers 1 through 5 are what could easily be considered the safe bets, very much in line with the tradition of ABC’s comedic brand. Family. Middle Class. Man. Suburbs. Funny Jews. All are literally embedded within the titles, sometimes implicitly, often overtly; and all staples of safe, well-received television for generations. But pay especially close attention to numbers 6 through 8. There’s something to be said for the lack of creativity up and down the whole list. But honestly how important is it to wow the viewer with a clever title for an old school Tim Allen fatherly, curmudgeonly vehicle? The problem seems to lie in trying to coerce an audience with subversive phrasing (really? Trophy Wife is the best you can come up with?) or lazily evoking American-style fear-mongering to not-so-subtly out the ALIENS! or, probably most damning, unenthusiastically going for the real life click-baiting like the Buzzfeed of primetime.

The titles matter. The show names hovering on your TV guide (or in your TV Guide, you hipster, you) have to tell you enough about what’s in store to elicit a channel change or warrant the DVR space. That or they have to tap into the already established thematic continuity the network is hawking these days. Family Matters, Full House, Step by Step were simply what ABC was offering once upon a time, straightforward messages, simple imagery, and corny-sweet adages to give you a reason to thank God (or “goodness” if you hate America) that it was Friday. When a show was a bit more esoteric in construction, they gave you the quick rundown of what was on—Mork & Mindy, Dinosaurs. No room for confusion. No subterfuge. No need to distance yourself from the brand. Look up again at 6 through 8.  Things aren’t looking good. But honestly enough, these are the shows that ABC itself never really gave a chance because it never really gave them the family name.

Abbie Mills

Four episodes in, I’m ready to call it. Fox’s Sleepy Hollow is the best new series of the season. Excuse me, I meant to say: Sleepy Hollow is currently the best series on all of broadcast television. And this week’s “The Lesser Key of Solomon” adds a lot to an already stacked cache of appealing plot points and longterm storytelling elements. We are blessed with more time with Jenny Mills, our Lt. Abbie Mills’s estranged sister, who sports a compelling mixture of resentment, familial longing, and conviction like sporty sleeveless tees. The sisters Mills have a complicated past that prior episodes have teased out, but this episode serves well to remind viewers that they are indeed sisters first. Fighting, petty, grudge-holding, loving, loyal sisters. Along with Ichabod, Jenny and Abbie, for the time being, have put together an admittedly hostile but undeniably appealing core group of protagonists who just so happen to be heroines of color in a creepy, scary, US history-tinged fantasy world in upstate New York. All these things are better than whatever else you’re watching.

And heroines of color honestly can not be understated, largely because you will be hard pressed to find another on broadcast television at all, outside of maybe Nikita. (Wait, is that the same–No. It can’t be–Is she–YESSS!) And these two Black women are presented so unabashedly within this universe of action and mystery and intrigue, it’s almost as if televisions have somehow been found in homes of various sorts, on the mantles and walls of a broader audience of varying genders and colors, only just now. This show is certainly unique in its main cast’s demographics, but perhaps it’s most endearing quality is how that doesn’t seem to matter when telling a story about headless horsemen and demons and time traveling soldiers and German mercenaries from the revolutionary war. Really, you need to stop watching whatever else you’re watching.

This fourth episode also does extremely well in moving the series into the territory we all inherently want Sleepy Hollow to be in—a freaky, “monster of the week,” slowly unwrapping treat of a procedural, one we’ve been craving since the end of Fringe, and for some, since the end of X-Files more than a decade ago. Surely all the parts are in place: both major and minor antagonists and mysteries have been introduced with the hint of more to come; a rich corpus of both American history and supernatural mythos is up for grabs; Sleepy Hollow, New York is basically east coast Sunnydale, CA, very Hellmouth-y indeed; and lastly, we have a quirky team of able-bodied and mindful mystery solvers with various things to prove to themselves and others, a bunch of issues to struggle to resolve.

This last point is certainly the most important. Every one on the show is simply fun to watch and easy to invest into. Orlando Jones as the hard-nosed Captain Irving is refreshing and promising with certainly more to him than what we’ve seen. Tom Mison plays Ichabod Crane to a wonderful comedic affect that is never distracting when heads more seriously start to roll. Lyndie Greenwood, even though it saddens me deeply that this casts some serious doubt on how much Sonya will be present in the upcoming and final season of Nikita, is truly shining as Jenny. Still, how much of a regular to the show she becomes remains to be seen. But lastly and most notably, this is clearly Nicole Beharie’s show. She’s amazing. She carries the dramatic pacing and energy of the series in her small town cop holster and is simply gorgeous while doing it. No really, GORGEOUS. Honestly I’d watch her complete a Sudoku with her hair wrapped and her feet in bunny slippers while she sipped a chai latte and nibbled a biscotti each week for an hour. But that’s not to take away from how impressive this strange little show based on an often exploited 19th century short story has turned out to be. Still, if Beharie was headless, if I couldn’t watch her adorable face as she drives around town shooting monsters, wrangling her time-traveling partner and vigilante sister, all while managing her job and her silky, beautiful tresses, I probably wouldn’t watch. But for now I can still see her lovely head. You can too. Yay.

magda2

The time-travel pseudo-political mindfuck Continuum has vehemently established its second season as the sort of no-holds-barred affair that turns a good show with a cult following to a great show that all should dedicate some DVR and hard drive space for. The question of what makes a hero, the grey area between revolutionary and terrorist, and our basic comprehension of time travel, were explored adeptly in the first season with certain lines drawn, alliances created, and, most importantly, explosions. This week’s episode, “Second Last,” puts a dead body in a trunk and teaches us that there’s still dirtier, grittier, darker places to go than political corruption and corporate tyranny.

The most striking and compelling aspect of this episode, which can also be said for the last few, has to be how carefully the pacing takes care of and develops each of our characters. Alec is in love with an adorable redhead with some skeletons in her closet (which she probably beat to death). Kiera genuinely feels that she’s closer to the future, her home, than she’s ever been, literally having her hand on the contraption that brought her here. The weight is coming down on Carlos due to his close proximity and loyalty to Kiera and her more secreted extracurriculars. Liber8 is, for all intents and purposes, back together (sans Lucas in the crazy house) with Travis and Sonia rekindling the sort of semi-abusive bi-racial lovemaking that would yield the most cheek-pinchable little Canadian anarchist babies.

There are a lot of moving parts to this series, which at times seems cumbersome, but in this episode feel as if they’re all moving collective towards one climactic point. The trajectory is thoroughly set by: Emily’s decision to be with Alec despite her secrets and the questionable origins of their relationship; Alec’s belief that he has found his biological father (while completely ignoring the fundamental logic of a time travel-based familial drama); Liber8 finally re-focusing their energies on not only killing Kiera but also Escher; Carlos’s white knight complex; and Kiera’s one-future-tracked mind that will put getting home above all else. It’s unclear that the dynamics we’ve grown comfortable with can withstand all of these conflicting and distinct interests. And trust has always been an issue in the series, or at least it should be to anyone paying attention.

Interestingly enough, the build-up doesn’t amount to much in this episode. Nothing that the viewer doesn’t already know or see coming. And if you couldn’t see the most expendable character to date, Emily, being shot with so many bullets flying through the air without hitting anything but rooftop, you were either too enamored by the flame-kissed locks or a sucker for a love story not ending in heartbreak. Silly you.

But still, what this episode does set us up for is the future. The faraway time of Kiera and Liber8 has in some ways been meticulously preserved and even utilized to greater affect this season, this episode in particular. Flashforwards are no longer blatant overtures of what we need to remember about Kiera to understand her next monologue. They’ve become a hint at what’s to come in the future-present (tell your primary school English teacher about that shit!) and a pretty coherent framing device for present-day shenanigans. This episode from beginning to end, establishes that there is obviously more to fear than Liber8, perhaps even more to Alec and Sadtech than we previously thought. The episode ends with his heart breaking and a fire igniting, which may be the firmly planted bridge between the two times we’ve been waiting for. The next episode is bound to have more to digest, being the season finale and consisting of some sort of a Escher-Alec showdown. Fingers crossed for more explosions and a thorough reconfiguration of how we see Continuum. Emily’s (or is it Maya?) death should mean at least that much.

tik-sumpter

    • In the tradition of bootleg real-life Duff Beer, craft It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia booze, and Game of Thrones themed brews, Breaking Bad, at the threshold of its final season, has gotten its own ale! No. It is not meth flavored. (via UPROXX)
    • Oprah brings back soap operas, returning to her roots of championing for housewives and househusbands and jobless day-time TV watchers everywhere. One Life to Live and All My Children are coming to OWN. (via The AV Club)
    • Remember that MTV show Zach Stone Is Gonna Be Famous? Well it’s been cancelled. Oh, no? Never mind then. (via The Hollywood Reporter)
    • USA Network is either rewarding Psych fans creatively or really just doesn’t care anymore what they air, because they’re goin’ all choose your own adventure on our asses for a season 8 episode. (via TV by the Numbers)
    • FX is adapting Last of the Mohicans, the 1992 film based on a 1826 novel about a story taking place in 1757, for television to give us all what we’ve been clamoring for—Native Americans have been under-exploited and appropriately represented in the media for far too long and Johnny “Tonto” Depp can’t fix that all by himself. (via Vulture)
    • Lastly, I would watch Tika Sumpter (pictured beautifully above) do anything. Anything in the world. If her, Oprah, and Tyler Perry need me to continue watching Haves and Have Nots to show my dedication to Miss Sumpter, I will, but I don’t have to like it. (via The Hollywood Reporter)

ray

“The show Entourage—its cartoony characters, its gluttonous spectacle, its frat bro brand of storytelling—didn’t take itself seriously enough, wasn’t solemn enough; it didn’t hit us over the head with how cynical and superficial and sleazy and wicked Hollywood could be, you know?” said not one person ever. But Ray Donovan, a new drama from Showtime following a fixer for the stars offers viewers a familiar landscape only to obfuscate it with broad strokes of grey. Waking up besides a corpse and epileptic blow jobs are shades of grey, right? Surely, surprise Black brothers have to be. And just like that, Showtime rolls out a muted, darker version of tinsel town. From quite early in the first episode, Ray Donovan, as a series, thoroughly establishes the texture we’ve come to expect from these premium serial experiences, almost to a fault. But Ray Donovan, as a man, played heroically by Liev Schreiber, is a compelling centerpiece to something that could just as easily be a convoluted mess of Hollywood navel gazing.

Luckily, Liev and company find ways to convince us all to stare into the belly of the beast, past the standard L.A. fare, into the violently dysfunctional, Boston-bred Donovan clan. Moments of Schreiber with a bloodied bat or Jon Voigt as the goonish Papa Donovan bridge the gap between what’s expected from two marketable names and potentially remarkable, transcendent performances. Schreiber’s dialogue is purposefully sparse in the premiere episode, he floats through this world as it gradually builds around him, but when he does speak, it’s curt and honest. He’s as jaded as you’d expect the West Coast Olivia Pope to be, but his values like his accent like his ostensibly dirty rags to filthy riches origin story anchor him to another world. But what this introduction teaches us about Donovan is that he likes it here, despite this scowls and incompetent clientele. Whether it’s the wealth or his family or his status there’s something Ray is going to fight to keep, just as he undoubtedly fought to achieve it. Still something, someone will eventually challenge it all.

Donovan warns of his father’s impending arrival throughout much of the first half of the episode: “You let him near this family, everything we worked for, everything we built, it’ll be over.” As with all successful men and emotionally broken women in television (two standards for the price of one!), daddy issues abound. Voigt’s ability to maneuver the cliché into a viable antagonist remains to be seen. But it’s clear that he’s seething with resentment towards his big shot son and has the means and skill set to make some interesting things happen going forward. This along with the welcome home eight-ball he snorts with the addict son and the boxer son he fathered with a woman that wasn’t Diahann Carroll (but a man can dream, can he?), either shoots him up the shortlist for father of the year or drives home the point that this is a family show. A show about men—fathers and sons and brothers—and what it truly means to be one.

So maybe the Entourage comparison was a bit short-sighted. Maybe this is more like Californication—aiming to be more mature, smarter, realer than its locale. Or The Sopranos—Ray and his wife are fairly Tony and Carmela-esque with the duplicitous East Coast past to boot. Either way, it’s difficult to call Ray Donovan anything exceptionally refreshing or new. It’s a safe and familiar, but there’s definitely a lot of room here to do something familiar exceptionally well.

Note: Julian from One Tree Hill guest stars in the premiere. Acting and stuff. Yeah. For real.

willg2

Hannibal at its core is a visual feast. With a color pallet like that of a depressed Scandanavian lumberjack with a design degree, the series exercises your plasma and liquid-crystals just as it does your capacity for gore and icky stuff. The season finale this past week begins with Will finding a severed ear in his sink beneath his morning vomit. After weeks of dealing with feverish hallucinations and other treats of untreated encephalitis, it’s unclear really if this is even a strange start to the day. Will handles it, as he’s handled any bump in the road to this point, with a phone call to his pal, confidante, and therapist Dr. Lecter. It’s a curious testimony to how Will perceives his relationships with the other characters of the series. Surely, it makes sense to trust your therapist, and if that therapist so happens to be your friend, so then is the trust doubled—tripled if you share some murderous secret, as is the case with Will, Hannibal (and Abigail).

So blatantly an unhealthy relationship and violation of professional boundaries, the comfort Will draws from Hannibal represents possibly Will’s infatuation with the surface of it all, the way things look. He seems to actively accept his role as the unstable intellectual to the detriment of his physical well-being and the safety of those around him because that’s how the offer Jack places on the table and the image of him that’s attractive to everyone from Jack to Alana Bloom. If Will’s brain was simply inflamed and his methodologies were plainly crazy, Hannibal might as well start serving french fries and holding sessions on a futon in an office building. It’s serendipitous for Will to find someone—an intellectual like himself, meticulously concerned with appearance and artifice—to reinforce the image of Will Graham, the dynamic of series itself.

This is Hannibal. A beautifully designed, smart procession of images. If it were a murder mystery, the logic may fall apart somewhere before Abigail Hobbs is merely given incredulous jeers and snarky looks by the FBI for her involvement in her father’s murder spree and her own body count. If it were a police procedural, Jack Crawford would probably need a better reason to keep an notoriously unstable professor out in the field, armed and fugue-ing all over the place, than his so-called success rate in subduing the show’s rogue gallery of cooky serial killers, which in 13 episodes amounts to more of a fortunate string of outliving them. If Hannibal were any less beautiful, it would become too unabashedly clear that things are not as they may seem. There are no gargantuan moose (“meese” if you’re nasty) haunting Will. Gastronomical proficiency doesn’t equate to quality meat. And intelligence does’t mean psychopathy, no matter how much we’re told psychopathy means intelligence.

Will put his faith in the visage of a thoughtful psychoanalyst with a stylistic flare and a perpetual extra plate, and inadvertently, his fate in the hands of a psychopath. For some reason, with all his intellect, it occurs to Will that Jack may be the copy cat killer their team has been pursuing, before putting the puzzle pieces together and finding an unbelievably stunning portrait of Dr. Hannibal Lecter. Behind bars, wearing a dull orange jumpsuit, Will Graham has finally seen past his elaborately grotesque hallucinations and what he finds is plainly ugly—a set up, betrayal, lost friends, disappointment. The framework remains ornate but the picture, after a gradual, satisfying buildup, has revealed itself to be simply sublime, leaving us all wondering: how will next season look?

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