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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.

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“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?

Olivia Pope

  • Everyone. Is. Going. Nuts. Over. Game of Thrones.
  • Potential Once Upon a Time spinoff, Once: Wonderland, has cast its Alice, English-born Aussie Sophie Lowe. Lewis Carroll is unamused. (via Hollywood Reporter)
  • The Killing is apparently still happening. AMC has promised a two-hour premiere on June 2nd for all those who haven’t yet figured out that Maggie Simpson shot Rosie Larsen. Duh. (via Vulture)
  • Justified received its well-deserved fifth season renewal along with the news of FX’s new sister network, FXX, a comedy-centered outfit launching in September, buoyed by new seasons of It’s Always Sunny and The League. Reportedly, FXXX is still in the works, featuring a 24-hour stream of Keri Russell sex scenes in a variety of hairstyles. (via Warming Glow)
  • Doctor Who summed up pretty well in visualizations and spreadsheets and visualizations from The Guardian. Plus news of returning favorites David Tennant and Bill Piper for the 50th Anniversary special. But, really? Spreadsheets? (via TVbytheNumbers)
  • And who is the greatest TV couple of all time? Aside from me and Claire Huxtable Olivia Pope. (via Entertainment Weekly)

Revenge30MargaritaLevieva

Emily Thorne’s campaign for revenge has become noticeably unfocused throughout this current season of ABC’s hit drama, to the dismay of many fans. Whatever happened to the list? Who cares about the Porters? What the fuck is an Initiative? Fucking racists replaced Takeda? As episodes sauntered on, viewers clamored for answers (with more or less profanity) and a return to the root of what has made this series so compelling to begin with, the eponymous revenge-seeking.

It would take an Amanda Clarke—not the calculating, competent main-protagonist one but the other—to bring back the vengeance we pay good DVR and hard drive space to enjoy. With her new, somewhat makeshift family in danger, Amanda leaped into action, while everyone else in Montauk was busy either chasing ghosts or sleeping with the enemy.1 Amanda played every Amanda Clarke card at her disposal—video evidence of all of the shady Grayson dealings that left the real Amanda’s dad in prison and eventually dead—in one brash, reckless play that made the casual viewer wonder why this wasn’t Emily’s plan to begin with. The Graysons were afraid. Her demands were met. Everything was going swimmingly.

That is, until we find Amanda and Jack on a honeymoon boat trip foreshadowed heavily to include inevitable bloodshed and at at least one sunken corpse. Fake-Amanda has always been an unpredictable agent of poor decision-making and clumsily unintentional sabotage, so the possibility of her being dispatched at sea by a more solution-oriented goon, simply made sense. In season one, there was even a very real chance that Emily would just kill her like a pawn in a game of chess where you kill pawns for not being good enough pawns.2

But this time around, it becomes clear that Emily needed and loved Amanda just as much as we found her infuriating. She followed directions poorly. She fell over banisters too easily. Her uterus was too healthy. She seemed a little slow. But we all should’ve appreciated fake-Amanda a little bit more. In a show very much about meticulous planning, diabolical schemes, and pristine lifestyles, perhaps ad nauseaum, someone needed to mess things up a bit. Amanda was the hand of the proletariat waving guns and computers filled with incriminating files in the face of all that is summer in the Hamptons. In this week’s episode reminds us that although our Emily Thorne might very well be the true lost child of the whole David Clarke as scapegoat travesty, Emily is still an insider here. Amanda is an outsider and, in a sense, as much the true victim of the Graysons’ and the Initiative’s wrongdoing as subprime mortgage holders or the American people if Conrad is elected to public office. In this light, Amanda’s sporadic, careless, shortsighted but admirable behavior appears to be more of a 99%er power move, orchestrating her own Occupy Revenge.

But sadly, just like her Wall Street counterpart, fake-Amanda Clarke, the poor girl from equal parts juvey and the streets, is now dead. Hopefully, her sacrifice leaves a lasting impression on the fictional landscape of Revenge, like all the bankers and politicians that were held accountable for their roles in ruining the real world landscape, global economy, and the lives of millions. Jk. That didn’t happen. But political ideologies aside, Revenge has an opportunity now to return to its original dynamic of bad guys and comeuppance, exposing the evils of the upper class, and righting wrongs. So just as Emily in some sense regains a bit more of her original Amanda-ness with the death of her surrogate sister, everything about the series must regain the luster of an all out brawl on behalf of the little guys, the ones framed as terrorists and murdered and cheated on and tortured by secretive cloak and dagger organizations. Remind us that rich people suck and designer clothes, lavish Labor Day parties, and convoluted plot points isn’t all that’s left in Montauk. Do it for us, truly just a bunch of fake-Amandas at heart.

1Sidenote: Wouldn’t finding out your little sister, who you’ve been searching for most of your life, is probably dead be exact time you would want your girlfriend to stop sleeping with her ex, even if it is part of some elaborate scheme to combat the shadowy killers? And after she supposedly stops, wouldn’t this be the exact wrong time for her to start fantasizing about how much she’s still in love with her childhood sweetheart on the day he is marrying her Count of Monte Christo avatar? Is Aiden going through his own hilarious “she’s just not that into” you subplot? Do we care enough about Aiden yet for it to matter?
2How does chess work?

Continuum is a new sci-fi crime drama airing on Canadian network Showcase. The series explores time travel interlaced with socio-political upheaval in the Vancouver of 2077 and today. A group terrorists on deathrow (or justified revolutionaries, if you broaden your perspective in a way the series seems reluctant to allow) hop back in time to 2012 accompanied by Protector Kiera Cameron, played by Rachel Nichols1 — a title bestowed upon future cops who enforce the laws of our big business overlords. Fundamentally, the future painted in Continuum is in direct conversation with our present day Occupy movement, painting a world controlled by corporations where laws and legislation are plainly the manifest will and interests of the 1%. Thus the so-called terrorists are merely the expected backlash to oppression and diminished liberty. Heroes in the guise of villainy. Who knew Canada had the cynicism to pull off such an Orwellian feat?

They don’t really. The gang of thoroughly diverse (almost par for course in a contemporary Canadian series2) terrorists proves to be unavoidably, almost cartoonishly, villainous — they murder without remorse or even a thought out plan it seems. And the Protector turned Detective is undeniably and often robotically the heroine of the story. Arguably unfit for police work, she consistently solves cases using a combination of technological advantage and sheer good guy good luck/bad guy bad luck. The characters of the series are pretty linearly drawn out this way for easy consumption.

And sure, there’s an ideological greying on the horizon, having briefly been lampshaded early in the series and foreshadowed in the awkward subplot featuring telecommuting sidekick Alec’s interactions with his clearly shady family, but it can’t possibly function as an actual revelation. It’s largely expected at this point and may actually disappoint if, for example, Kiera grows a little more pessimistic about the benefits of having an evil corporation place a monitoring chip in her brain to record her every waking moment; or if the terrorists stop relentlessly and aimlessly murdering people to further their plans of making the world a better and more fair place; or if the Vancouver PD simply realize that terrorist threats might be of serious concern and not something a clearly fake FBI agent and the guy from Charmed can handle on their own. I for one don’t want any of those things to happen. It’ll ruin the fun.

The fun of Continuum is reminiscent of that late 90s-early 2000s golden era of guilty pleasure television. There’s certainly a Cleopatra 2525 vibe entwined within the premise of this series, along with an Alias or Dark Angel-esque belief that sending a cute brunette on action adventures will always work out, we’ll figure out the kinks of the adventures later… Ooo, look tight leather. As the examples given can attest to, the philosophy had mixed results back then, yet was always fun.3 But to give the show a bit more credit than that, there is surely a concerted effort to make Rachel Nichols more than just a pretty face. She is effectively given two male subordinates and has a maternal bend to her character that gives her a concurrent strength and weakness, a staple of captivating female leads in television. The poor man’s Olivia Benson or a Det. Linden that smiles.

There’s even something fun about the Canadian take on sci-fi action. The gadgetry is humble, and the science fiction seems almost apologetic. We see Keira sport toys that are just a bit past touchscreen. Of course, 2077 isn’t that far away, so how advance could everything really get? But it’s nice to learn that the future has pregnancy tests that you can just lick and stick to a bathroom mirror. Also, throughout the series, the paradoxes that often arise from time travel in fiction are considered pretty matter-of-factly and ever so slightly touched upon. Physicists across the land must find that considerate. But atop all of that, the violence is surprisingly satisfying. People, main characters, are expendable in Continuum, often perishing in drawn out fire fights. Hand to hand combat is fairly entertaining too. There’s no Canadian jokes to plug into this aspect of the series.

Overall, Continuum may prove to be a universally rewarding series if it plays to its many strengths and utilizes the bit of suspense and intrigue that arises from a beloved protagonist trapped in the past in the pursuit of justice and a way to get back to her family. Well perhaps “beloved” was a strong word. Come to think of it, I can’t say I feel that strongly about any of the protagonists. I sort of like the terrorists. Yeah. Canadian terrorists are cool. Watch Continuum.

1It was actually pretty difficult to think of a brief description of why Rachel Nichols should be familiar. She sits somewhere strangely between ubiquitous and obscure. She’s been in blockbusters and high-rated CBS shows, played significant characters in major plot arcs and minor forgettable roles. Her Google image results look like 2-3 different people. Apparently she was blonde at some point. Apparently she’s not even Canadian! Those are the main things about Rachel Nichols. You’re welcome.

2Not necessarily a bad thing. And I base this solely on Degrassi reruns and half an episode of The L.A. Complex. Sorry, Canada.

3Oh and you can do it with blondes too — remember when Pamela Anderson was a bodyguard in the most amazingest show ever? — but for some reason it was rare. Late-90s. Go figure.

As the warm season approaches, networks often have difficult (and not-so) decisions to make regarding their schedules and roster of programming. Surely the ratings have a lot to do with the decision making processes, but, as fans, we like to believe other factors come into play to some extent — whether it’s product placement monetization, #hashtag trend prominence, or executives possibly playing favorites hopefully with our favorites. We choose to believe in these less quantifiable and more unconventional series success variables so to justify our hope in the future of a favorable TV landscape, a future of fully packed DVRs and neglected loved ones. The hope fuels the ubiquitous social media campaigns, the zealous written pleas mailed to the network in bulk (do people still do that?), and manic financial support for commercial sponsors. Whatever the cause for each decision, cancel or renew, either a fandom finds corroboration in an x number of episodes commitment or viewers curse the callousness of network suits and their unwavering reverence to whims of Nielsen homes.

And all of that is simply to say this — listed at times with brazen bias:

  • Community has been renewed by NBC for a fourth season of 13 episodes. Not a surprise necessarily but surely a relief to many. This season has been filled with ups and downs for Community fans — consistently low ratings followed by a long impromptu mid-season hiatus, then a solid return with quality episodes that appeared to showcase creator Dan Harmon’s pointed response to the show’s received criticisms and uncertain future. To top it all off, it’s funny as fuck. The recent episode “Curriculum Unavailable” provided a ceremonious goodbye to the paintball episode tradition and, in essence, the Community of old. Times are a-changin’. And Community still has time (a new time actually, on Fridays come Fall), even if, rumor has it, Dan Harmon doesn’t.
  • FOX is giving Fringe a fifth and final season of 13 episodes, 13 more opportunities for Peter-Olivia shippers to be simultaneously placated to and kept in a persistent state of unease. That Fringe.
  • NBC has also given 30 Rock the go ahead to produce 13 more episodes for what is being labeled the final season. The guarantee is more that Tina Fey and the gang will be returning, not necessarily that the amount of episodes is set in stone or in this being the true last season, last inevitable live episode, last batch of Donaghy-isms, etc.
  • TBS has successfully acquired Cougar Town from ABC, saving the comedy from certain cancellation. Another opportunity for comedic relativism (“You just don’t get it. It’s funny.”) to gain some traction for those that stand by Courtney Cox’s ability to deliver on humor.
  • A bunch of no brainers were renewed including: ABC’s Happy Endings and Shonda Rhimes stuffs; an assortment of CSINCIS’s on CBS; Parenthood, Smash and Law & Order:SVU on the peacock network; and Bones and New Girl on FOX.
  • New shows The Secret Circle, Ringer, both on the CW Network; GCG on ABC; The Finder and Breaking In on FOX; NBC’s Awake, Best Friends Forever, and Are You There Chelsea? have all been canceled, Awake due to its overly advanced brand of storytelling, the rest because they sucked. But to be fair, there’s no guarantee Breaking In will stay canceled — that sly Christian Slater.
  • Have you ever watched NYC 22? Good. And now you won’t have to.
  • TV by the Numbers has a handy list of all other cancelations and renewals for the whole season.
  • Finally, Community and Fringe have been renewed! (Still great news the second time around.)