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Quick Hits: Pilot Season — Undercovers

September 23rd, 2010 1 comment

It’s Pilot season in America. There certainly seems to be more shows that at least have the potential to be intriguing. There’s the can’t miss in HBO’s Boardwalk Empire, the LOST clone in NBC’s The Event, the waiting-to-see-if-it-can-deliver in AMC’s The Walking Dead and a host of other intriguing new shows. I may not drop thoughts on all of them, but I will try to give my initial thoughts on some of those that catch my eye. On Tuesday, I reviewed NBC’s The Event. Today is NBC’s spy series, Undercovers.

While The Event was marketed directly as a LOST clone, Undercovers isn’t really promoted as a direct draw on a prior show.  That said, it has a feel that draws directly off of two recent shows: the currently running Chuck and the since departed Alias.

Relative newcomers Boris Kodjoe and Gugu Mbatha-Raw star in and carry Undercovers quite effectively.

Undercovers is the latest draw from the team over at Bad Robot (JJ Abram’s production company that produced such smash hits as Alias, LOST, Cloverfield and Star Trek).  The basic plot line is part Mr. & Mrs. Smith, brought to the small screen.  Steven and Samantha are married former CIA agents who left the life in order to run a catering company and have a quiet marriage.  The gag about Samantha’s sister trying to add pork to the menu at an Orthodox Jewish wedding aside, the pilot script isn’t weighed down by anything unnecessary.  This show knows what it is and what it has to rely on: light-hearted spy action and sexiness.

The show has no pretenses for higher level, deep plot lines.  While LOST is the standard bearer there, even Alias extended down the rabbit hole with the Rambaldi story arcs.  No such worries here.  Yes, there are going to be overriding story arcs over the entirety of the show’s run — e.g., the handlers indicate that Sam and Steve might not really be working for the CIA, a plot line run through with Alias and also the unaffiliated Rubicon (click here for my Rubicon posts).  Yet this seems secondary to the real point of the show.

We’re likely to get self contained story lines as the focal point with a hefty dose of Q style spy tech, well constructed action sequences, and light hearted banter between the show’s stars, who are a ridiculously good looking couple in a Zoolander kind of way.

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Quick Hits: Rubicon E1.09 — “No Honesty in Men”

September 22nd, 2010 1 comment

Although I’m apprehensive about its somewhat slow pace, I still think Rubicon has what it takes to grow into a real winner and a hit. As such, I’m putting some faith in it and am anointing it with instant recap status.  To read prior Quick Hits for the show, click here on my posts tagged #Rubicon.  Here are my Quick Hits for Episode 1.09, “No Honesty in Men.”

The AMC website was light on still images from this episode, so I lead with the credits screenshot, again.

It’s been nine episodes now and for the first time since the pilot, we’ve seen a flicker of a personal life for Will Travers.  That glimpse coincides with what was by far the best episode of the show to date.  In the pilot, we had David imploring Will to escape his job and the life of an analyst.  Yet it had been revealed that he had become an introvert after losing his wife and daughter in the September 11th attacks. Since that time, there’s been zero implication of a social life or really any life outside of work for him.

This lack of a life was despite the fact that Travers struggled most with being unable to “take his job home with him”. He couldn’t talk about what he does with anyone. The reality is that he didn’t have anyone to tell about it, even if he wanted to. While Truxton Spangler spoke of the separation of church and state, analogizing that separation to the need to keep professional and personal lives separate, for Will such a wall was entirely aspirational. Or perhaps he needed the wall in order to allow a personal life to regrow. He had retreated from life into his job, and it had taken and possessed him.

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Quick Hits: Pilot Season — The Event

September 21st, 2010 Comments off

It’s Pilot season in America. There certainly seems to be more shows that at least have the potential to be intriguing. There’s the can’t miss in HBO’s Boardwalk Empire, the LOST clone in NBC’s The Event, the waiting-to-see-if-it-can-deliver in AMC’s The Walking Dead and a host of other intriguing new shows.  I may not drop thoughts on all of them, but I will try to give my initial thoughts on some of those that catch my eye.  First up is the first off the DVR, NBC’s The Event.

NBC apparently does not make their production stills available for download. Boo on them. The art in this post will suffer a bit.

The Event mimicked LOST in many ways, to the point that it even was blatantly marketed as a potential successor.  That will grasp the eyes of LOST fanatics with suddenly an extra hour of time each week, particularly when the show is granted at least some street cred with positive buzz.  But that buzz and intentional comparison also carries with it the heavy burden of expectation.  If you don’t deliver, you’re going to know it pretty quickly — as was the case for The Nine and FlashForward, the last two shows that filed miserably in assuming the throne of TV’s top network blockbuster.

As a LOST junkie, I somewhat knew what I wanted to see in this pilot.  First and foremost, you need a solid score.  Series creator Nick Wauters turned that task over to Scott Starrett, a virtual unknown to mainstream productions whose IMDB credits reflect a show called Drop Dead Diva and a movie called Slutty Summer.  If you couldn’t tell, I’m not exactly overwhelmed with confidence.  While Starrett fails to deliver on an epic scale in the way that Michael Giacchino did for LOST or Bear McCreary did for Battlestar Galactica, he does manage to build the appropriate adrenaline during the more action packed scenes.  The scoring during the more dramatic or dialogue is somewhat empty and overall it’s a bit lacking in imagination.  I was not terribly impressed on this level.

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Quick Hits: Rubicon E1.08 — “Caught in the Suck”

September 20th, 2010 8 comments

Although I’m apprehensive about its somewhat slow pace, I still think Rubicon has what it takes to grow into a real winner and a hit. As such, I’m putting some faith in it and am anointing it with instant recap status.  To read prior Quick Hits for the show, click here on my posts tagged #Rubicon.  Here are my Quick Hits for Episode 1.08, “Caught in the Suck.”

The return of Ed Bancroft was a welcome one in Rubicon's eighth episode.

Another week without time to really spend on TV.  Caught up a bit this weekend and took a brief break from trying to figure out the baseball season.  Not going to spend too much time on this past week’s episode, “Caught in the Suck.”

What I will give Rubicon credit for is that it most certainly has discipline.  You can somewhat tell that the producers had a clearly defined skeleton for the conspiracy and how they wanted to lay it out.  It was largely piecemeal at first and, in that structure, it risked having trouble catching on and holding onto audience.  My brother, for example, abandoned the show quite quickly with the lack of any visible path or hint of action.  Taking to the show really was a leap of faith on the part of anyone who chose to become dedicated to it.  Of course, AMC has earned some goodwill with their successes on Mad Men and Breaking Bad.  Add in a solid cast and the promise of a grand plan, and there was some reason to look forward to it developing.

But therein lies the rub; the producers discipline has been strict.  Although they almost certainly went with a few tweaks after the pilot aired and feedback was received (e.g., ditching the idea of Katherine having kids), there’s been a near remarkable steadfastness and lack of panic on the part of producers.  Yes, the marketing side has been atwitter with trying to thieve Mad Men viewers.  And they’ve really been pushing their somewhat frail website.  But the storyline’s stress free canter continues unabated.  And even after we’ve received some of the most significant revelations to date in episode seven, it’s still hard to grasp what we’re actually looking at.  We’ve gotten a few of the sections of the jigsaw puzzle connected, but the portrait being painted remains far from focus.

Some quick hits, after the jump. Read more…

Quick Hits: Rubicon E1.07 — “The Truth Will Out”

September 7th, 2010 Comments off

Although I’m apprehensive about its somewhat slow pace, I still think Rubicon has what it takes to grow into a real winner and a hit. As such, I’m putting some faith in it and am anointing it with instant recap status.  To read prior Quick Hits for the show, click here on my posts tagged #Rubicon.  Here are my Quick Hits for Episode 1.07, “The Truth Will Out.”

There weren't a lot of good production stills for this episode, so I've gone back to the elegant image from the amazing opening credits.

I think I’ve figured out Rubicon’s problem. It’s not that it doesn’t work as a show… it does. It is just that it actually is cursed by leading into Mad Men. Although Mad Men has allowed Rubicon to hold onto viewership and actually increased its numbers in the last couple of weeks – the 1.31 million live viewers for Episode 6 reversing some of the bleed from the highly hyped second episode (the premiere event several months after the pilot first aired) – it also strikingly displays how far Rubicon has to go to reach that peak.

AMC is advertising it now as the show for your head, as Mad Men is for your heart. That may be true and I do believe that this has the potential to weave complex and entertaining storylines over 13 episodes, season arcs, much as Damages does. But as Damages is sloppy in describing the legal profession, Rubicon similarly struggles at times with maintaining the intelligence it should follow through on. This means getting literary, getting anal about detail and skirting some of the unnecessary character development that you must undertake in the first few episodes of a show’s run.

I’m hopefuly that that hump has been passed (or that Rubicon crossed, if you will) with this past episode. Not only was it the most action packed in the series run, but it also reflected the first time a character was integrated organically into the cast.

Read more, after the jump. Read more…

Quick Hits: Rubicon E1.06 — “Look to the Ant”

September 7th, 2010 Comments off

Although I’m apprehensive about its somewhat slow pace, I still think Rubicon has what it takes to grow into a real winner and a hit. As such, I’m putting some faith in it and am anointing it with instant recap status.  To read prior Quick Hits for the show, click here on my posts tagged #Rubicon.  Here are my Quick Hits for Episode 1.06, “Look to the Ant.”

Travers escaped to a gaming cafe to execute some searches.

I had quite the busy week last week and insufficient time to do a full Quick Hits for Rubicon’s sixth episode. As a result, I’m typing this up both late and in an abbreviated manner. The episode was, on the whole, quite good. There’s been a marked, yet subtle speeding up of the plot. We also saw in this episode one of the glaring weaknesses and one of the potential turning points for the show as it possibly moves toward greatness.

I’ll open by hitting the weakness first. I really do think that they are a bit quick to fall into stereotypes. While Travers, Kale, Spangler, Katherine Rhumor and Miles have all shown potential to be very deep, complex and connective characters, there remains a tendency to go stereotypical with Maggie, some tangential characters and even Miles. In particular, the rendezvous Maggie had in this episode was just manufactured snooze fest.

Maggie herself is a character who seems fundamentally flawed. We’ve been introduced to her only in snippets, some of which worked (like her spying for Kale) and most of which didn’t (her far too forced pining for Travers and her bizarre unexplained relationship with her ex-husband, not to mention her somewhat worthless blog).  She disappears for extended periods in the show’s brief run and all of the screen time she does get is just a bit too forced, particularly in scenes she shares with Travers.  The show seems to want to push her character, but I think they’d do well to just let it go and let her drift into the background.

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Trailer: The Walking Dead (2010)

August 24th, 2010 Comments off

In the world of “I Cannot Fracking Wait” debuts, AMC’s The Walking Dead, based on the graphic novel series by Robert Kirkman is pretty much atop my TV list… at least since the premiere of ABC’s V.  Well AMC just debuted a four and a half minute trailer for the series and announced it’s start date: 10 PM on Halloween night, this October.  Can… not… wait….

Quick Hits: Rubicon E1.05 — “Connect The Dots”

August 22nd, 2010 Comments off

I think Rubicon might have what it takes to be a real winner and a hit. As such, I’m putting some faith in it and am anointing it with instant recap status.  To read prior Quick Hits for the show, click here on my posts tagged #Rubicon.  Here are my Quick Hits for Episode 1.05, “Connect The Dots.”

At Spangler's wife's charity event, Katherin and Travers finally cross paths.

So in “Connect The Dots” the viewers start to get the first signs of some real payoff for the patience.  Yes, it may not pack the action punch that you’d get in Alias or 24, but we did get some forward momentum and the opening to the path toward some answers.  As I mentioned in my first Quick Hits for Rubicon‘s pilot episode, a show like this can, hopefully, operate like a crossword.  Shooting off clues to be woven into the patchwork thread.

Much as the opening credits paint an image of connecting loosely sprayed dots, the show (I hope) will be something to be collected as a patchwork and layered together in order to simplify the analysis. For the first time, we saw some actual movement to integrate some of the information we’ve learned.  Not the least of which was colliding the worlds of Travers and Katherine Rhumor.

Yes, their first interaction was a bit awkward, complete with a simple flirtation toward each other (even if the widow and widower did so almost reluctantly).  They met at Spangler’s wife’s charitable event (the introduction of which was a bit too compressed in the storyline… in that Travers and the other team leaders were only invited last second), at the bar while ordering vodka tonics.  With it, you had each admitting to somewhat addicted and depressive behavior, with Travers lamenting the moments drinking alone and Katherine referring to her vodka tonics as oxygen.

But it was the second connection that held more weight.  You had Spangler telling Mr. Roy (The Wire‘s Clay Davis) to push off attention from Travers (who was recorded telling Bancroft to stand down) and focusing it on Rhumor (who had rebuffed suggestions from all parties to get rid of MRQ Alternatives, the company her husband had left to her at the last second).  Looking on in the background was Bloom, who apparently was brought into the surveillance by Kale.

This followed Katherine’s continued efforts to look into her husband’s activities.  Although we’re only privy to the conspirators being aware of Katherine refusing to sell off MRQ, she had been slowly digging and learning.  In this episode, she paid a visit to MRQ’s headquarters.  MRQ Alternatives ended up being a clothing company.  But I’m not sure we should have expected much beyond that, as Katherine suspected, it was a drop of sorts.  In her quick examination, she was drawn to and examined a news clipping stating that “CCNY Professor Bradley Ruled Suicide.”  Perhaps the most revealing thing to us was that Katherine continued to be affirmed of her husband’s love for her, using their anniversary as the combination lock entry (despite the fact that Master Lock does not, to my knowledge, allow customization of locks of the variety that Katherine cracked).

In any respect, click on through for my quick hit thoughts on the episode. Read more…

Quick Hits: Rubicon E1.04 — “The Outsider”

August 19th, 2010 3 comments

I think Rubicon might have what it takes to be a real winner and a hit. As such, I’m putting some faith in it and am anointing it with instant recap status.  To read prior Quick Hits for the show, click here on my posts tagged #Rubicon.  Here are my Quick Hits for Episode 1.04, “The Outsider.”

The episode provided no new insights into the "clover" conspiracy, but did feature Miranda Richardson (as Katherine Rhumor) to a greater degree.

There are some distinct disconnects with the character of Will Travers, who he wants to be and where he actually is. These were made readily apparent in the most recent episode. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves just yet, as this is a show that is still trying to find its voice and the nature of its characters.  Even the characters themselves are trying to make sense of things, as reflected by the competing, book-ended unrequited smiles from Travers and his across-the-courtyard neighbor-lady.  Both are trying to see who they are, and who the other is.  In doing so, each commits somewhat of a gaffe.

Indeed, there are maddeningly simple screw-ups in Rubicon, so far. These may simply be situations where accuracy in settings don’t matter that much to the producers, but easy errors belie the idea that Rubicon is a show that, like Mad Men, seeks to nail the details. It certainly has the feel of a top notch period piece set in a very pen-and-paper intelligence community. There is also a great focus, at least early on, at paying attention to the details in developing characters.

And yet there are so many careless errors. From a set design perspective, we have three in this very episode that were hard to miss. The first was that Travers and Spangler travel by Acela to Washington DC. Except instead of shooting at Penn Station (where the Acela operates), they shot in Grand Central Station at the Metro-North hub and platforms. Fine, middle America might not notice the difference and might find Grand Central more elegant than the linoleum of Penn Station. That doesn’t mean it isn’t deliberately sloppy.

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Quick Hits: Rubicon E1.03 — “Keep the Ends Out”

August 10th, 2010 Comments off

I think Rubicon might have what it takes to be a real winner and a hit. As such, I’m putting some faith in it and am anointing it with instant recap status.  To read prior Quick Hits for the show, click here on my posts tagged #Rubicon.  Here are my Quick Hits for Episode 1.03, “Keep the Ends Out.”

As in past episodes, a scene without dialogue was deftly shot to narrate the story.

The third episode of Rubicon made me, for a moment, question whether the series was going to be too slow in its pace for its own good.  I love that the show gives you the time to process and I’ve enjoyed watching each episode so far a couple of times.  That said, not everyone is going to deal with a lack of action well… particularly when you draw some comparisons to the more high octane spy genre.  But the series continue to hint at big payoffs for the investment viewers are making.

The bicycle scene in Travers’ apartment best exemplified my excitement over this show. For the third straight episode, the finest segment was a nonverbal run-through by an actor seeking answers and wondering if what they’ve found is just new questions, rather than any resolution.

In this particular scene, Travers examines the bike that David left him, which he’s brought up to his apartment. After spending the night tearing it apart over a few beers, Travers flips through the Norton Commando’s manual, finding a photo of David guiding his son Evan on the bike. Doing so, you could see the resignation in Travers that he did, indeed, have to return this prized possession to David’s natural son… but on looking closer he noticed an anomaly.

In a show so keen as to ensure the veracity of his griminess with dirt under fingernails, Travers finds a something slight askew and keys in on it immediately. In the photo, the bike seat did not include a stripe down its middle. Examining it closer and peeling back the white, he found a series of ciphers: 10 Arabic numeral digits across and scores of lines down. He also noted that the bike seat had been stitched down the middle. On opening it up and reaching in, he finds and pulls out a Glock.

This epitomizes the show so far. There’s basic, on the surface activities that are relatively innocuous and drawn by regular activities and desires.  But there’s the promise of real pay dirt.  Yes, they haven’t yet delivered on promised action, but much like a sexy starlet will repeat, sometimes the big fun is in what’s not shown but anticipated.  We’re being granted questions and data to puzzle over, but only offered the promise of great action not seen.

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