tracee

For a moment, put aside whatever opinion of the series itself you may have taken away from its ABC premiere last Wednesday night. Ignore whatever feelings Anthony Anderson’s generally overwrought and underwhelming acting tends to evoke, or even the sour taste left in your mouth by an accused rapist continually appearing on your television without at least bothering to play a professional sport. Disregard ABC’s track record of simply feigning interest in socially aware comedy and/or representation, while vehemently maintaining the status quo. Instead, consider for a moment the prevalent critical response to the series, Black-ish, whose premiere managed “near perfect lead-in retention out of Modern Family,” according to TV by the Numbers. That is to say, those who watched ABC’s current flagship family sitcom stuck around to check out its colorized version.

With tongue firmly planted in cheek, Black-ish, as the title suggests, offers ABC’s audience (which the fourth-place network lauds as “upscale” and “affluent”) an overtly non-threatening, semi-Black comedy. Some critics have already drawn a line separating Black-ish from other series with primarily black casts based largely on its presence in a coveted network time slot, but with a heavy implication of presumed white-friendly quality.

In a post-Tyler Perry world, there’s even more of a stigma that comes with having a cast of primarily black actors: However talented the cast is, the writing leaves way too much to be desired; from that point on, no other black show, apparently, has a chance. Black-ish isn’t relegated to OWN, TBS, or BET (or, in a past life, UPN); it’s a sitcom on a broadcast network, just like The Middle or Modern Family. (LaToya Ferguson, AV Club)

The move here is a peculiar one, but has recently been attempted within countless articles and commentaries: simultaneously praise Black-ish and ABC’s push towards diversity in a space that’s been sorely lacking for a significant amount of time (often the key is to invoke The Cosby Show as the gold standard), while wholly diminishing the work done by other creatives and entertainment outlets that cater to audiences of color. Let’s be clear. Tyler Perry isn’t producing pretend television as his creations continue to set ratings records for the OWN Network. Mara Brock Akil isn’t phoning it in with her numerous acclaimed offerings on BET. While admittedly, there’s something not-quite-Cosby about If Loving You is Wrong or Being Mary Jane, there’s an earnestly Black presence on television (and YouTube) that are worth the attention of those seeking diversity. But certainly, that’s not what Black-ish is about.

What ultimately gives Black-ish so much warmth—a warmth reminiscent of, yes, The Cosby Show—is its optimism that audiences, of all colors, will not be turned off by its specificity. . . . Like the many, many sitcoms about the affluent white experience, this is a show that is meant to be seen and enjoyed by everyone. (Willa Paskin, Slate)

Another common element of all the e-ink spilled establishing Black-ish as the Emancipation Proclamation of primetime comedy is the emphasis on how (potentially) fulfilling the series is regardless of race. Again, the language here is coded somewhat to obfuscate its meaning, but the primary concern of audiences when presented with a cast of predominantly non-white faces is apparently that the comedy may not be inclusive enough. That there exist culturally and racially-specific threads of humor is largely undeniable. Still, the fairly obnoxious claim here is that, despite how it might appear, this well-to-do Black family is here for your enjoyment, white America. Presumably, Black-ish satisfies some latent desire for the consumption of Black bodies on television (perhaps the safest arena where this fetish plays out), particularly within the family unit, and apparently there just hasn’t been such a meal suitable for the white palate since, you guessed it, the Huxtables. The “warmth” of Black-ish is plainly its digestibility in the eyes of many.

This interpretation of the series—seemingly in spite of its merit—by the critics and tastemakers of the day has somehow unraveled as more patronizing to Black Americans than the decades of exclusion from network television each writer seems fit to rehash almost robotically. While diversity on television as a talking point is an easy one—there’s not enough, there should be more, it’s a good thing when we see it, etc.—the conversation about race is a more difficult one, several magnitudes more nuanced. Nonetheless, just as it’s hard to be surprised that the alphabet network plans to co-opt the outcry for diversity in a hopeful bid to rise from the ashes of forth place (alongside Black-ish, ABC’s new Fall lineup contains markedly more colorful offerings such as Cristela and Fresh Off the Boat, all receiving a healthy amount of kudos from those who give networks kudos for this sort of thing), it’s expected of the media to retread and provide superficial lip service surrounding the issue.

Over and over, representation is explored insincerely and although some appreciation is always warranted when the network landscape is remodeled however slightly towards inclusion, many detailed accounts of the significance of Black-ish read as overly self-gratifying. Thank you noble critics for sitting through a Black(-ish) endeavor and reminiscing gleefully on the times when Heathcliff fathered Theo into something you could deem respectable with classic gags and approachable laughs. Your white-knighting is duly noted. But if what passes for TV journalism today refuses to ask the more pertinent questions about racial representation in media, the whys and hows, it’s clear that they’re as culpable as anyone for the dearth of people of color of prominence on network television and Black-ish inevitably getting canceled. Anthony Anderson’s on it after all. I’m not hopeful. But please take some time to enjoy Tracee Ellis Ross in all her splendor.

Nia LongSummer’s almost over. Where did the time go? Oh, yeah. I’ve been inside watching television all summer for you instead of going to the beach or learning how to tap dance like I had planned. You’re welcome, Internet strangers. Below I’ve ranked the shows I felt were worth ranking, those that you should definitely give a chance if you haven’t already. Of course you may disagree on the order, or feel like I’ve slighted some series by omitting it, but of course you’d be wrong.

But feel free to leave a comment.

10. You’re the Worst, FX Thursday at 10:30pm EST

With a young and cynical veneer but a creamy sentimental center, this new FX comedy is perfect summer television fodder. The two main characters are as agreeable as your typical toxic amoral Angelenos but one’s British, so that should account for something. Overall, this is a show about a relationship presented as atypical but develops into something functionally unexceptional. And that’s sort of the point. When the entertainment value of the primary relationship gets derailed by an immature commitment to actually proving which one of the two is the worst, the two best friend-supporting characters pick up the slack in refreshing ways, and it’ll be interesting to see where the show takes them. Not expecting many surprises, but FX comedy is sort of in a transition period so the possibility of second season (which likely wouldn’t occur elsewhere) will probably have this show finding its comfort zone one way or another.

9. Satisfaction, USA Thursday at 10pm EST

There’s something not particular good about this show. The main characters are so overdrawn as an American Beauty-esque portrait of disenchanted family life drenched in privilege and disconnected from the rest of the world that they should be unbearable. But they aren’t. The pilot succeeded pretty well at compelling viewers to follow the Truman family patriarch down this rabbit hole of his pristinely unsatisfying life falling apart. On the other hand Mrs. Truman is apparently well on her way to self-correcting with the help of a young gigolo. Interestingly enough their daughter seems to be responding to all of this, while remaining completely ignorant to what’s happening. This all combines into an attractively dynamic premise that regrettably, after the pilot, the series seems to manage clumsily. USA has some ads running for the show referencing the Fifty Shades book series and upcoming film, alluding to some plot similarities if not just similar target demographics. So presumably there’s not much intended to go on here besides a bit of sexual intrigue and fun. Nonetheless, Satisfaction has its moments.

8. The Strain, FX Sunday at 10pm EST

Despite anything, this is a series about vampires. In that the series is seemingly presented with a gift and a curse. There doesn’t necessarily need to be a scientific explanation as to what big bad has made it’s way to New York City by way of an arrival at JFK, but the main protagonists being agents of the CDC do call for a certain level of intelligent consideration to what is happening. To be honest, a CDC procedural has been on my television wish list for a long time and if this (or sadly Helix) is the best we can hope for in these vampire/supernatural-crazed days, then so be it. But there’s something insincere about this sort of procedural. It’s neither science fiction or supernatural. It’s unclear if there’s even a mystery to be solved. And are these creatures really even vampires? All of these concerns add baggage to what could be a fun show about people getting eaten. Nonetheless, this is a pretty fun show about people getting eaten.

7. Garfunkel and Oates, IFC Thursday at 10pm EST

Sometimes an act deserves a show so much that the actual product doesn’t matter as much as how much it adequately presents their work. That would be the case for Garfunkel and Oates if it wasn’t actually so damn funny and filled with complimentary acting that brings out the best in our new-to-television main protagonists. Garfunkel and Oates sing funny songs extremely well and this show presents a fictionalized account of the lives they’ve built around that. The only reason the series isn’t higher on this list is because there haven’t been many episodes as of writing this and there is some apparent clumsiness in the somewhat inventive singsongy format. I’m sure these will be ironed out as the series progresses but it’s a shame that the invoke the visual asides and memories trope (in the style of Family Guy most infamously) so often but it rarely contributes to the humor as much as Lindhome and Micucci do just be awkwardly smiling. They’re wonderful.

6. Extant, CBS Wednesday at 9pm EST / The Lottery, Lifetime Sunday at 10pm EST

Extant presents high concept science fiction and futuristic world building in an easily digestible package. The Lottery does the same pretty much. Both series use their science fiction vehicles to introduce significant philosophical questions about humanity and society, but as each show awkwardly progresses though their respective summer tv-friendly clickbaity premises, worldwide infertility and immaculate conception in outer space respectably, it becomes a little too clear that there hasn’t been much consideration made beyond this. Both shows will inevitably rely on their extraordinary babies (or lack thereof) much more than actual storytelling, but one of the two has Halle Berry as an astronaut. I forget which. Still, that’s something.

4. Girl Meets World, Disney Channel Friday at 8:30pm EST

Consider this: Boy Meets World premiered in 1993 and ended its seven season run in 2000. So Disney Channel’s decision to spin-off the series all these years later in many ways represents how much of an impact Cory, Shawn, Topanga, and Mr. Feeny made on generations of television consumers for almost twenty-one years. You see the continued influence much of Disney Channel and even Nickelodeon’s current lineups aimed at pre-teens and anyone who enjoys overacted comedies with heart (and questionable fashion choices). Girl Meets World now has a lot on its plate in trying to fit into the new mold while maintaining a more than superficial connection to its legacy. New Cory and Shawn, Riley and Maya, are a great start with their charmingly sincere on-screen relationship. Honesty and directness seem to be such an important component to the new series’ mechanics that at times dialogue comes off as idealistically unreal, and emotions are awkwardly wrung out of some scenes. But still that awkwardness is familiar and reminiscent of many Mathews-Hunter-Feeny conversations from the olden days. The values and lessons being resurrected here are timeless and there are some sweet laughs to be had as a new generation discover them. As an adult and a fan of the original, there’s enough fan service (the return of Minkus, bohemian Topanga, ghost Feeny, to name a few) made in its early episodes to keep tuning in each week for a nostalgic smile. Kids might like it too.

3. Leftovers, HBO Sunday at 10pm EST

HBO’s new prestige drama is a thoughtfully human procedural that follows the chief of police trying to keep everyone safe and make sense of his small town in the wake of an apparent rapture and disappearance of about 2% of the world’s population. It’s sort of like Lost if we followed everyone else not on the island as they dealt with their friends and families going missing. Wait. Yeah, it’s pretty much like Lost. Damon Lindelof strikes again! But in all fairness, the exposition of the series is rich and there’s not as much of a big mystery for viewers to be concerned with. Instead, characters’s lives unfold and re-fold into one another in such a way that sheds light onto what these connections—husband, wife, daughter, citizen—might really mean and challenges what used to be believed. Amongst other things, belief and religion are significant threads in Leftovers, the Guilty Remnant are as compelling as they are probably bad for your respiratory system. Still, a refreshingly heavy meal for the summer television schedule.

2. Young and Hungry, ABC Family Wednesday at 8pm EST

A traditional multi-camera sitcom, ABC Family’s new series is hilarious. Perhaps, the most fundamentally sound comedy this summer, it follows a young, pretty chef recently hired to be the personal chef of a wealthy, also young, tech entrepreneur in San Francisco. The premise is as fashionably contrived as one could hope for in a summer comedy in 2014 and the cast features a great combination of new and familiar faces. Kym Whitley is delightful and has been deserving of a horribly stereotypical sassy Black housekeeper role for a long time. Along with Rex Lee as a token gaysian assistant and Aimee Carrero as the feisty Latina best friend, almost everything that’s wrong with Hollywood casting is present. Still, the quick and clever writing doesn’t shy away from this most common of affronts and an argument to the value of tokenism is undeniable when these are still some of the most prominent people of color on television this summer. A white female chef (with her Latina sidekick in tow), a Black female housekeeper, a homosexual Asian assistant all under the employ of a wealthy white man is implicitly the setup to a joke with a potentially risky punchline in the current television environment. A joke Hollywood has nonetheless been telling at the expense of people of color and other minority communities for a long time, without even being funny. In a way, Young and Hungry should be appreciated for at least setting up the joke, and telling a bunch more in the meantime. A tremendously funny show in a traditional vein.

1. The Divide, WE TV Wednesday at 9pm EST

The best show of the summer. WE TV’s new legal drama is as smart as it is riveting and timely. There’s enough of a whodunit embedded into the narrative to attract the most casual viewers but the series digs deeper and explores the politics and social dynamics at play when the murder case that made careers and tore apart families was first tried 11 years ago and now, as new evidence is uncovered that can change everything. Race plays such a large part in this series that the performances of the Page family—who’s prestige, power, and wealth were largely established when this murder was first brought to trial—is instrumental to selling the drama. Damon Gupton and Nia Long share numerous powerful scenes together as husband and wife with some occasionally differing views and together they navigate an extended family of distinctive characters. Interestingly enough, much of the series itself seems very much divided amongst race lines, which adds another layer of honesty to the depiction of today’s society that’s rarely present on television. On the other side of those line, we have an impassioned caseworker and advocate for the “Innocence Initiative” work to right the wrongs of the past by navigating a web of lies and political influence. A lot of the legwork is done here and through their eyes the show unpacks as much more of a procedural, with clues being discovered and interviews with some of the more intriguing characters (read: suspects) the show has to offer. At times, this duality of the series may seem a bit disconnected, but there definitely seems to be more in store and the wickedness murder case and the coverup seem more than enough to tie every loose end of the series together effectively. There’s a lot to enjoy about this show and it is very much just getting started.

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Watching ABCs new midseason comedy Mixology the other night, I realized that it had completely won me over. Sneakily in fact. As a rabid consumer of scripted television, I rolled the dice on the series based purely on my appreciation of novelty and gimmicks. It’s literally pegged as “a Romantic Comedy with a Twist.” I’m in. A whole series focused on one night at a club in (fake) New York City, the premise seemed a bit imbalanced, but unique and ambitious enough to get us through these tough TV times. And at first glance, Mixology is barely that. There was something gratingly awkward and clumsy about the first few outings. Everyone seemed to eye their soulmate within moments. It was hard to believe why anyone would stay at this club for a whole hour, let alone a season. Episodes overlap significantly to the point that it’s impossible to tell if you’re watching a rerun for about ten minutes each week. Flashbacks and back stories are drawn out all the way back to birth and aren’t as entertaining or insightful as the narrator pretended they were. There’s a narrator.

But for everything that Mixology misses the mark on, there seems to be something done undeniably right. Nine episodes in, strangely enough, I don’t hate any of these people. To be fair, the bar at this bar was set unreasonably low in the pilot. When an obnoxious Brit throwing up seemed to be the most sincere thing to come out of anyone’s mouth for a whole episode, there’s not really any other direction but up. But in time, British guy, played charmingly enough by real Brit Adam Campbell, grew repentant and sincere. The bad girl/good girl duo of Maya and Liv eventually find their stride somewhere in the middle of a genuine friendship. In fact, all of the women in the show organically coming together becomes such an intriguing surprise as the show proceeds that the trigger warning drenched dirtbag schtick of the male leads stopped making me gag. This week even the bartender succumbs to hijinks that humanize him, if not just give him another thing to do besides flirt and play horrible guitar. A cliche I wholly expected to run amok for the rest of the series.

And that’s precisely what caught me unawares. Mixology is a series backed by mainstream stalwart Ryan Seacrest of all people and in its first few episodes, egregiously poured on every cliche and trope you could imagine about modern big city nightlife, 20/30-somethings looking for love, and lazy television comedies about those things. The characters were secondary to the their character types for so long — from unassuming token Black guy to bubbly blonde bottle girl — it was hard to believe this wasn’t just a cynical and mocking portrait of a small but overexposed subset of Americans. In fact, it was and probably still is. But that’s no way to live for a young comedy. We need the warmth and sweetness of the good cliches played sincerely — love at first sight, bad girl with a heart of gold,  girl power, etc. — to make the others easier to swallow. We need to believe what these characters are doing matters. The stakes need to matter. The characters themselves need to matter. And surprisingly enough, eventually it happened.

Everyone had finally showed up to the party. Surely, as a viewer you can have your favorites (don’t pick Bruce) but the whole cast has become fleshed out enough for that not to seem like a challenge anymore. There are now a variety of TV-friendly personalities drawn out in colorfully broad strokes to enjoy or berate. Particularly, Ginger Gonzaga and Kate Simses as Maya and Liv are gorgeous enough to watch 10 horrible episodes of anything but have actually began to play well off each other and develop a rapport that hints at their going out together this particular night being more than just for narrative contrast.

The ice has been officially broken, so go ahead and jump in to Mixology if you’re so inclined. It’s fun and light with enough will they or won’t they to keep you coming back each week. Or wait, until it’s inevitably canceled by ABC and catch the whole series on HuFlix drunken and lonely one Saturday evening in the near future because watching beautiful people play pretend is just as good as going out yourself and having fun. I’m pretty sure.

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.

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