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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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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.)

We all knew it was coming. There’s truly something endearing about the guy who first appeared in the alternate universe, only to catch our eye and manifest later in our universe, noticeably more meek and bespectacled. Lincoln Lee, perhaps more than any other character, implicitly speaks to what FOX’s Fringe and its sci-fi entrenched multi-universes aim to teach us about identity, destiny, and its play-science. In our understanding of the world, Lincoln was part of the Fringe team literally before he even knew it. And this isn’t a coy interpretation of the story presented, not even a technicality. Just as the adorable Seth Gabel certainly doesn’t receive separate checks for playing multiple versions, Lincoln is one cohesive identity—one that is at some times confidence personified, while at other points, too docile to punch Peter in the face for stealing his crush (and her memories.) This week’s “Everything In Its Right Place” is thorough in its reveal that both Lincoln and alt-Lincoln share identical histories, visages, and relatives named Tyrone. Alt-Lincoln suggests that perhaps he just made a decision to not be our Lincoln, which, for all intents and purposes, may be true. But that still suggests that Lincoln is in no way an exclusive identity.

Contrast this with shape shifters apparently running amok throughout this episode and the alt-universe, in general. The freak-of-the-week, next-generation shapeshifting prototype is faulty but goes about violently confiscating the identities of several crooks in order to survive, in order to preserve his own identity. With the image of a loved one tucked in his wallet, the sympathetic shapeshifter is faulty mainly because of his earnest desire to sustain his own identity, unlike a good shape shifter, leading to the murder and face distortion of several corpses, exactly like a good shape shifter – the statement being that although identity and humanity are things truly resilient, they aren’t truly copiable, despite how it may seem sometimes. People have to die for our guy to even ostensibly become them. The clones, old and new, have always worked this ‘there can only be one’, Highlander sort of way, but this episode exposes how deeply rooted the sentiment is in the Fringe universe, perhaps more than any other before.

Spoiler-alert: alt-Lincoln dies. For clarification, Lincoln doesn’t die because there can’t be two guys named Lincoln (but there is a case to be made as to why Abraham and the Ford model are mysteriously not present in this episode.) It is very much the case that alt-Lincoln died because he was shot. But there does to be an interesting amount of baton passing from alt-Lincoln to our Lincoln, who only came to this universe in the first place on an angst riddled soul searching expedition (and, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention, to deliver a box of stuff, and Astrid was assigned the job at first simply because Broyles apparently doesn’t respect her much.) Lincoln had questions and anxieties and uncertainties. The death of alt-Lincoln, if not addressing those things directly, coincided with certain revelations Lincoln may have discovered throughout this case. He became a hero today. He made that decision. Also, maybe more subtly (maybe not), there’s a whole other Olivia to fawn over stupid pouty faced Lincoln! And now you’re one of a kind.

He always was. Lincoln, like some of the other characters of the show (sorry Peter), has a unique opportunity to see themselves in a poignantly dynamic mirror. Of course, the Olivias, both Faux and not, are the sort to scoff at this chance, too stubborn and head strong to appreciate it for what it is unless it’s a threat, but it takes a special character like Lincoln to give us a sample to what the rest of us would see if we could see ourselves outside of the perspectives we’re metaphysically limited to. And in experiencing that sort of Lacanian mirror-stage of self-realization, would a part of us have to die?

Sadly, Fringe won’t be airing at all in March and according to Carissa at TV Fanatic, the producers hadn’t intended to leave things as up in the air as last night’s episode, “The End of All Things”, may have. But why would we expect anything else from a season that has unfolded into some sort of an experiment in what a mind can manifest for itself when left in complete narrative darkness. With an abundance of theories floating throughout the fandom, both probable and improbable, last night’s episode provided, if anything, a flash of light to refocus our eyes. But what did we actually see?

It’s hard to say. For example, we saw two Nina’s. One was clearly in cahoots with David Robert Jones, who is ostensibly the bad guy of this arc (with a crescendo indiscernible in the darkness.) The other Nina is keeping quiet at FBI headquarters. She’s relatively more trustworthy than her counterpart, but that doesn’t amount to much with her history of suspicious actions and secrecy. And despite the assertion by Broyles that she’d be dead if there was a Nina-clone running around, meant to determinedly ease our minds, why would we ever be at ease with any version of Nina Sharpe? The very ground is unstable in this universe and there’s certainly no ceiling to where the series is willing to take us. Clones are always a possibility.

Thematically, these recent episodes speak directly to the concept of identity that the series often plays with. The clones in earlier episodes of the season and alternate versions of our characters throughout established a fairly straightforward statement of who we are not. We are not our appearances or our physical image. Moreover, we are often not even what we look like we are. The freaks of the week have appeared as unthreatening as possible this season, young people and children for the most part with grandiose supernatural ability. The boy with the hivemind from “A Better Human Being” revealed identity to be more fluid and less individual-based than we usually accept; and the young girl with the ability to doodle images of victims of future misfortune pointedly offered a challenge to the truthfulness of the aesthetic image. Not only does a disconnect exist between what we can see and what actually is, there’s a sort of humanist possibility of change and redirection of identity.

So in last night’s episode, Olivia (It’s become increasingly strange to differentiate Olivia’s, especially when referring to one as ours; the implication being that others are less significant or less trenchant to our personal involvement in the show – a misguided implication, I think) fundamentally has an identity crisis. We all have one with her. It’s difficult to identify Olivia when she appears irreparably decentralized – aspects of Olivia exist across alternate timelines, in extension, across multiple worlds. She seems to acknowledge it, accepting it with mostly befuddled glee when Peter’s love acts as a sort of trans-reality bedrock. Not so much when he decides to retreat from the complicated situation. Many of us, as well as Peter, grasp onto the possibility of an easily identifiable Olivia elsewhere, but we don’t see that Olivia. We haven’t in a long time.

Once again, it’s tremendously difficult to make out shapes in the dark that Fringe has left us in all season. But if there was even a glimmer in this episode, in it we saw Olivia. We’ve been seeing her for a while but our minds were simply closed to the possibility, choosing rather to be unsettled by the change in the appearance of things. The revelation that the Observer’s are simply well dressed future folk with voyeuristic tendencies lends itself to this strange idea that we are who we are even when we aren’t. Identification through fate, destiny, what so have you. September’s interference, whether intentionally or not, changes several ‘things’ but never seems to be able to change the underlying identity of Olivia and Peter and the gang, even if their actions have in the past provoked certain questions: i.e. Which Walter is Peter’s real father? Which Olivia is hotter? WTF is going on?

We’re left to ponder for the next month new questions, but hopefully they’re a new sort of question unlike will Peter get back home? will we get our people back? This episode hopefully marks the end of all things like that. I for one enjoy this peculiar feeling of looking for someone or something with all your (tv watching) might and finding it right in front of you, sitting there the whole time, just inexplicably unrecognizable before. But to be honest, I might just be seeing things.

Completely unrelated thought: Peter walking away at the end reminded me so much of Angel (AV Club commenter BenjaminSantiago thought so too). Remember way back in the beginning when they tried to give Peter internal strife? Oh my, how they’ve grown.

Ellen Pompeo cute as a button, sexy as a sexy button
Following up on a previous post, Grey’s Anatomy’s ‘fuck it’ phase of melodramatic writing is once again illustrated in the episode ‘If/Then’. The episode is an experiment in alternate reality storytelling, halfheartedly parading the what if’s that no one was asking, and aggressively asserting something like “we are who we are, no matter what.”

By the end of the episode, we discover Yang and Meredith are kindred spirits despite ostensibly conflicting personalities and ambitions. We see Alex Karev self deprecating and lamenting lost love. We find Meredith and Derek flirtatiously ogling one another after Derek’s failed marriage and Meredith’s maternal strife. Callie hints at being gay. Owen more than hints at having PTSD. Bailey finds her strong Black woman cliche in adversity. And so on. Fundamentally, this episode is a sheepish rerun dressed in a new episode’s clothing.

But the gimmick of the what if’s is an intriguing one. The 1998 film ‘Sliding Doors’ starring Gwyneth Paltrow adopts the technique and comes to mind throughout the episode for its similar dramatic tone if not for its identical assertion by the end of the film that “we are who we are, no matter what.” Where Grey’s falls short in comparison is the actual exposition of its contrary to fact alternatives. The premise of Meredith being engaged to Karev or Derek and Addison staying married doesn’t offer much to advance what we know of the characters other than awkward happenstance. In the case of Derek and Addison’s dysfunctional marriage, this has been explored ad nauseam from the onset of the series and surely every season since.

The tweaks to the familiar dynamic are impotent and superficial throughout the whole outing. Despite a new hairdo, Yang being overly competitive and surly could have been pulled from many previous scripts verbatim. And another new hairdo reveals alt-Little Grey to be as transparent and ineffective as the original. The episode functions more as a reinforcement of the things we already know about the characters. One problem is that this episode also reveals that we may know too much about these characters, especially if there’s so little left to reveal that even when we flip the whole Seattle Grace universe upside down nothing changes. It might be argued then that that’s the point as Meredith narrates throughout. But another problem is: NOTHING changes. Absolutely nothing. The episode ends less on a note of fate and destiny and resolute identity, and more on a bleak appraisal of its characters one-dimensionality and predictability. PTSD is a serious affliction and probably can’t be remedied by marrying a shapely (read: sexy) Latina surgeon. And homosexuality probably can’t be wished away with baby making and a handsome ginger husband. But if the covert hopelessness that Grey’s Anatomy is peddling claims that gaining two parents that love and support you still leaves Ellen Pompeo as one of the most listless leading ladies in primetime, then truly, fuck it.

Go watch Fringe. Grey’s will be here when you get back, unchanged. Promise.

Yup. There’s an intentional pun in that title. And it refers dutifully to Wednesday nights of yore, way back in 2004 when committed sci-fi fanatics and casual remote control wielding Americans alike were first introduced to the ABC ratings goliath choreographed by J.J. Abrams and company, set on some island somewhere. It follows then that déjà vu abounds when J.J. Abrams stamps his name on a new series for FOX focused on another island that may be more infamous than the one where viewers first fell in love the Oceanic Flight 815 survivors, if in name alone. In its two-hour series premiere, Alcatraz makes it abundantly clear that it aims to aggressively court the viewers with a keen eye for nerd-bait as well as the regular chums with expendable incomes and Nielsen boxes – the bread and butter of the once resplendent Lost fandom.

Jorge Garcia fundamentally reprises perhaps the most iconically uncontroversial character in recent television history without even bothering to get a haircut. New Hurley does and says old Hurley things as he obsesses over this new old island and explores this new 50 year-old mystery (about supposedly old inmates turned new.) He’s a bit taken aback by the possibility of supernatural time-traveling crooks, but only a bit because he’s the protector of the Island now, or that’s what we’re meant to infer. On occasion you may even catch him mid-soliloquy, discussing how familiar he is with the Island and some but not all of its secrets.
There’s certainly other Lost easter eggs here and there but just like its titlecard font, Alcatraz is reminiscent of but clearly not Lost. In fact, Alcatraz is J.J. Abrams’ new sci-fi police procedural hybrid darling on FOX. A series for those in need of a serving of smart, intuitive, young blonde detective with a problematic history that she somehow uses to fuel an ambition to solve unconventional cases. Maybe she’s an FBI agent. Maybe her partner’s dead. Maybe give her a specialist/consultant/expert as a partner in his stead. She uses unorthodox methodologies anyway and kicks enough ass for the both of them. Right?

When Fringe first premiered on FOX in the fall of 2008, during the fourth season of Lost, Lance Reddick seemed to carry intrigue and enigma from one universe to another – along with strong acting chops exercised on the Wire. Fringe enjoys a bit of the Lost-but-not treatment as well, subtly for the most part (an Oceanic boarding pass here or there), but has developed into something wholly independent with some of the most ambitious and original storytelling on television today, in its fourth season. But alas, the numbers, as they’re wont to do, fall short in supporting this fact. In fact, besides ratings, Fringe is getting increasingly more expensive to produce as time progresses, an unattractive position to be in.

Then comes Alcatraz. Plainly put, Alcatraz is Fringe with less. Less cost. Less plot. Less science. Rebecca Madsen (played by Sarah Jones), the lead detective closely following the supernatural events surrounding Alcatraz island, even has significantly less blonde hair than Olivia Dunham (played by Anna Torv), the lead FBI agent of the Fringe division. There’s a leanness to Alcatraz that positions it in opposition to Fringe, even while on the same network. Fringe has been on cancellation watch since nearly its onset because of attributes that simultaneously limit its viewership yet contribute to its remarkably consistent quality – almost everyone now plays two characters in two parallel universes just for kicks. And sadly, the old tricks to save both worlds, like Warner Bros finding lucrative licensing deals, may not work this time around.

In a very real way, Alcatraz represents a faith worst than death for Fringe and its loyal fanbase: the knowledge that in an alternate universe where Fringe wasn’t as creative and Anna Torv’s hair wasn’t as long and Joshua Jackson wasn’t as fit, things might be different. It’s important to know this if Fringe doesn’t make it and the Others on the island somehow thrive. Alcatraz is a series with promise that may or may not meet expectations, but Fringe is undeniably in the company of Alias and Lost when it comes to Abrams productions that contributed greatly to sci-fi action dramas on primetime.

So when asked what they died for (the Lost pun game isn’t easy), be sure to tell them that. The End.

P.S. Did you know J.J. Abrams created Felicity? And in other news that you don’t necessarily want or need, here’s a map of Fringe ratings throughout the US courtesy of tvbythenumbers. That is all