Take Two

TakeTwo

Take Two

Starring: Rachel Bilson, Eddie Cibrian, Xavier de Guzman, Alice Lee, Aliyah O’Brien, et.al.
Rating: TV-PG
Network: ABC
Grade: B+

After being released from a stint in rehab, Sam Swift, disgraced former star of a hit TV cop show, is looking for a job, any job, in order to get back on her feet. Her agent suggests she shadow a private investigator whom the agent once had a relationship. After meeting Sam and thinking she’s doing research for a role, PI Eddie Valetik isn’t interested in what amounts to a job babysitting a freshly rehabbed celebrity, but begrudgingly agrees to let her follow him as a favor to his ex. Despite their differences and initial clashing, Sam and Eddie discover that they work remarkably well together, and decide to partner up for real as Private Investigators.

A mix of RomCom and Buddy Cop, this show is a light, fluffy way to kill time when there’s nothing else to do. Bilson and Cibrian have a decent chemistry, though the romance aspect for their characters seems to be a bit rushed towards the end. All the actors work well together, and everyone seems to be believable in their roles. The writing occasionally leaves something to be desired, but anyone expecting 100% solid stories in a Summer Series should probably look somewhere other than network television.

Some of the special effects, usually when characters are in cars, aren’t that great, but the background filler seems to be okay.

As stated before, if you want something light to watch to kill some time, this series is a good candidate. It’s an episodic format, which means you don’t need to pay strict attention to the story, and there’s no over-arcing storyline carried throughout the show. There’s no word as to whether they plan to make a second season at this time.

Take Two is only available to stream from ABC.com or digital app, with no word as to whether or not they plan to make it available on video.

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Absentia

Absentia

Absentia

Starring: Stana Katic, Patrick Heusinger, Cara Theobold, Neil Jackson, Angel Bonanni, Bruno Bichir, Paul Freeman, Ralph Ineson, Christopher Colquhoun, Patrick McAuley, Amber Aga, Borislava Stratieva, et.al.
Rating: TV-MA
Network: Amazon Prime
Grade: B

Five years after disappearing while investigating a serial killer, FBI Agent Emily Byrne is found miraculously alive. As she tries to adjust to the new world around her, in which her husband is remarried and her son thinks of her as a stranger, someone begins murdering those involved with her kidnapping and leaving evidence that it’s Emily doing the killing, and that she may have been involved with the serial killer she was investigating. Unable to trust those around her, Emily takes off and begins investigating the crimes herself, racing against the clock to find a killer that has ties to her past.

This intense crime thriller has a great premise, and spends the first three quarters of the series crafting a believable “Is she or isn’t she?” scenario, only to have it all unravel towards the end, which only makes me think that the original idea was to have Emily be the one behind the killings, or at the very least, have her be involved somehow. The acting is well done all around, with Katic giving a wonderful performance as someone who is unsure of themselves, as well as someone who believably has PTSD. The actors playing her family also do well, giving happy but conflicted performances.

What little special effects are used are done well, and are mostly used as background filler.

Despite a few too many red herrings and a bit of stumbling towards the end, it’s still an interesting, fast-moving storyline that should hold a persons interest until the end. It’s a serialized story that requires you to pay a little more attention than the average show, but I don’t see where that would be a problem unless you’ve completely disconnected from the story.

Absentia is only available to stream from Amazon Prime, with no word as to whether or not they plan to make it available on video.

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Killjoys Season 1

Killjoys

Killjoys: Season 1

Starring: Hanna John-Kamen, Aaron Ashmore, Luke MacFarlane, Tamsen McDonough, Thom Allison, Rob Stewart, Morgan Kelly, Sarah Power, Mayko Nguyen, et. al.
Rated: TV-14
Network: Syfy
Grade: B+

Dutch and John are Reclamation Agents, called Killjoys, operating out of a city called The Quarter for an agency simply called The Company on the planet of Westerley. After John takes a Level 5 contract with a kill order, Dutch must save both him and the person the contract was put out on, who happens to be John’s estranged brother, D’avin. After John and Dutch try to find a way to release D’avin from his kill order by recruiting him into the Killjoys, they start looking for the person who put the contract out on him in the first place, which is complicated by the fact that Dutch’s past comes back to haunt her shortly after the kill order is taken. Caught between wanting answers about her past and wanting to protect her friends, Dutch tries her best to pretend nothing is wrong while searching for the man who raised her to be a killer.

This show is probably best described as Sci-Fi Lite. Yes, it takes place on an alien planet in an alien star system, but there aren’t any actual aliens. At least not the intelligent, humanoid kind popularized by other sci-fi series. The show itself has a light-hearted, buddy cop feel to it, and plays out more like an action adventure series that happens to take place somewhere other than Earth. There are cases of the week interspersed with subplots revolving around the first season’s main story of trying to protect Dutch from her past and the people who want to use her as the weapon she was raised to be.

Considering this is a mid-budget science fiction show, the acting is pretty good. Occasionally characters get a tad bit over dramatic, but the main cast the regular supporting characters manage to keep from chewing on the scenery too much. John-Kamen, Ashmore, and MacFarlane all work well together and have decent chemistry, and Ashmore and MacFarlane are believable as siblings. All of the actors appear to be using their natural accents.

There isn’t much to be said about scenery. Despite the fact that it takes place on alien worlds, what few landscapes we see are Earth-like. The scenes that take place in The Quarter make it look like a run-down warehouse district with the buildings having been reperposed to fit the current needs of the population. What few special effects are used are done well. There are instances of futuristic technology, and a few shots of space.

This is an enjoyable series. It doesn’t take itself too seriously, but isn’t too heavy on comedy either. The mostly episodic format keeps you from needing to be glued to your television, but it’s entertaining enough that if you need to leave the room, you may find yourself pausing the show anyway.

Killjoys is available free to stream through SyFy, and can be rented through Netflix home delivery service or purchased from a participating store or on-line retailer.

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Jack Ryan

JackRyan

Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan

Starring: John Krasinsky, Wendell Pierce, Abbie Cornish, John Hooganakker, Ali Suliman, Dina Shihabi, Haaz Sleiman, Karim Zein, Timothy Hutton, et. al.
Rated: TV-MA
Network: Amazon
Grade: A-

CIA analyst Jack Ryan gets caught up in a game of cat and mouse with an Israeli terrorist named Sulieman after uncovering the existence of a radical cell laundering money throughout Europe. After realizing that a man rescued from a CIA interrogation site is actually the terrorist leader he’s been looking for, he becomes determined to see the cell wiped out and their plans for an attack on American soil stopped. Despite needing to convince his superiors that the threat is immediate, Jack, with the help of his supervisor, continues his investigation and slowly works to unravel Sulieman’s terrorist network.

Of all the incarnations of Jack Ryan that have appeared on screen, John Krasinsky’s portrayal of the iconic character feels more believable than others. While he has put on more muscle mass in recent years, he’s still lithe, and despite being attractive, he has a boy-next-door quality that makes you believe he would be a data analyst. The other actors seem to be well-cast as well. Everyone has decent chemistry, and the relationship between Krasinsky’s Jack and Cornish’s Catherine is believable.

The acting is fairly decent. I’m unfamiliar with most of the actors on the show, so I can’t really compare with pervious works. Those I was familiar with seemed to be on the same caliber as what I’d previously seen them in. Krasinky seems a tad bit uncomfortable with action scenes, but that could just be done as part of his character. Cornish handles her medical jargon rather well, and despite her being British, her accent doesn’t noticeably waver (at least to my untrained ears). Hutton and Pierce do well with the authoritarian roles, and Suliman, Shihabi, Sleiman, and Zein seem to have a decent handle on their characters as well.

The majority of the show takes place in either an office building or in Saudi Arabia and nearby countries, and while I’m sure that many parts of Saudi Arabia are beautiful, the rural parts that are shown are mostly sand dunes, military bases, or terrorist strongholds, which don’t offer much of a view. They do travel to France briefly, but most of the scenes are either indoors or at night. The special effects are well done, with a number of explosions, as well as any background filler, which isn’t noticeable.

If you don’t mind a slow-burn spy thriller, then you’ll probably enjoy this series. It moves along fast enough to remain interesting, and while it does require a little more attention than your average action show, you don’t need to remain glued to your television the entire time. There is a subplot that didn’t really seem to fit, but it doesn’t take up too much of the viewers time, and it’s finished with over the course of two or three episodes.

Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan is only available to stream through Amazon Prime, with no word as to whether they plan to release it on video.

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Night Manager

NightManager

The Night Manager

Starring: Tom Hiddleston, Hugh Laurie, Olivia Coleman, Elizabeth Debicki, Alastair Petrie, Michael Nardone, Hovik Keuchkerian, Adeel Akhtar, Tom Hollander, Douglas Hodge, David Harewood, et. al.
Rated: TV-MA
Network: AMC/BBC
Grade: B+

Jonathan Pine, the night concierge at a Cairo hotel, is unwittingly placed in the middle of a MI-6 investigation into Richard Roper, an internationally renowned businessman, philanthropist, humanitarian, who has been using his status to run weapons smuggling ring around the world. After a guest places a list of weapons being sold by Roper in Pines hands, he anonymously hands the information over to British Intelligence and attempts to keep woman who gave him the information safe. After he fails and she is killed, Pine leaves his job and seeks employment elsewhere, eventually landing in a remote Swiss hotel, where he encounters Roper himself. Fueled by a need for revenge, Pine offers himself to MI-6 as a possible mole in Roper’s group of friends and associates. As Pine gets closer to Roper’s inner circle, lines get blurred, and Pine’s motives become less clear, as he becomes dangerously close to losing his life in order to get justice for Roper’s victims.

This slow-burning spy drama, based on the novel by John le Carré, is a serialized show that takes its time in unraveling. While you are presented with the knowledge that Roper is a backroom arms dealer early on, the real test is if and how the evidence will get into the hands of the agents Pine reports to. Roper himself is possessive and paranoid, to the point where he doesn’t allow anyone but his young son have a cell phone unless absolutely necessary. The story itself holds enough interest to keep you watching, and the one-hour episode format gives viewers a chance to walk away and process information without overwhelming them.

The acting is we done. Laurie seems to be having fun playing the bad guy, which isn’t something he seems to do very often. Hiddleston’s performance is superb, with him infusing a bit of barely-contained rage into nearly every scene he shares with Laurie. Since the show was originally filmed for the BBC before being picked up by AMC, a few of the actors are Brits playing Americans, though the accents are spot-on. Everyone else appears to be using their natural accents.

The scenery is beautiful. Filmed mostly on the Mediterranean coast, there’s a sunny warmth in most of the scenes, which is a nice counter to the grim dealings of the characters. There are a few noticeable special effects in the form of rather impressive explosions, with anything else being background filler or practical blood effects for the few gruesome death scenes.

I would recommend this series. The story is interesting, and there are times when you wonder if Pine was won over by Roper’s charm and the luxury of his lifestyle. It is something you’d have to pay attention to, but it’s worth the time and effort. It does end on a bit of an odd note, however, with little actual closure given to most of the characters.

The Night Manager is available to stream through Amazon Prime, and can be rented through Netflix home delivery service or purchased from a participating store or on-line retailer.

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ZOMBIES

Zombies

Z-O-M-B-I-E-S

Directed By: Paul Hoen
Starring: Meg Donnelly, Milo Manheim, Trevor Tordjman, Emilia McCarthy, Kylee Russell, James Godfrey, Kingston Foster, Naomi Snieckus, et. al.
Rated: Y7
Network: Disney
Grade: A-

In idyllic Seabrook, everything – and everyone – is perfect, and if you’re not perfect, you’re either forced to conform, or you’re hidden away. When an accident at a nearby chemical plant creates a toxic green fog that turns all it touches into brain-hungry zombies, the citizens build a wall to keep the hungry hoards away. Decades later, the zombies, aided by technological advances, are able to curb their impulses and lead normal, productive lives, and eventually the teens living in what’s known as Zombietown are allowed to attend Seabrook High School. Once there, zombie students Zed and his friends Eliza and Bonzo are excited to finally be included in a real school and possibly join extracurricular activities like football, computer club, and band, only to find out that they’re stuck in the basement away from the other students. After Zed is caught wandering the school and a shutdown is in place, he meets Addison, a pretty blonde cheerleader who was raised to believe that all zombies are evil, but also wants to see the good in everyone since she carries a secret of her own. Together, Zed and Addison try to erase the lines between humans and zombies and finally get the two groups reintegrated.

Z-O-M-B-I-E-S is a fairly typical DCOM (Disney Channel Original Movie), with a standard boy-meets-girl/Romeo and Juliet story. Despite the standardized format and rather predictable ending, the movie is actually very entertaining. As long as you like musicals, that is. Like most DCOMs these days, this movie features several song and dance numbers, which vary between surprisingly good and laughably cheesy. The acting is about what you’d expect from a TV movie aimed at kids. Most of the supporting characters get a bit over the top, but the main actors hold their own. Since most of the actors in the movie are relative unknowns or are just getting their first major role, nothing should be held against them for being a tad bit over dramatic at times.

Since this is a made-for-TV movie, there are very little special effects used. When they do use them, though, they’re not that bad. There are some zombie transition effects at one point in the movie, and a couple of the dance sequences have some stage effects, and what little else is used is background filler.

If you like DCOMs, or just cheery movies with happy, although slightly predictable, endings, then you’ll like Z-O-M-B-I-E-S. Despite the fact that half the characters are zombies, there’s no real sci-fi or horror elements used, and the movie is entirely bloodless. It’s also a good movie for kids to watch to help teach them about tolerance and accepting those who are different from what society deems as “normal.”

Z-O-M-B-I-E-S is available free to stream from the DisneyNOW app, and purchased from a participating store or on-line retailer.

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Altered Carbon

AlteredCarbon

Altered Carbon
Starring: Joel Kinnaman, James Purefoy, Martha Higareda, Tom Conner, Trieu Tran, Diechen Lachman, Ato Essandoh, Kristen Lehman, Renée Elise Goldsberry, et.al.
Rating: TV-MA
Network: Netflix
Grade: A

Altered Carbon, which takes place in a semi-dystopian future society in which human bodies are simply called “sleeves” and memories and personality are stored on hard drives located in place of one of our neck vertebrae and called “stacks,” follows Takeshi Kovacs, who was serving a prison sentence after being fatally shot, after he’s revived to solve the murder of the rich and influential Laurens Bancroft, and chosen because he’s the last remaining Envoy, someone trained to have intuitive abilities that border on being psychic. As he investigates, Takeshi comes into contact with Lieutenant Kristin Ortega, who’s conducting her own investigation into the killing.

This neo-nor/sci-fi series is perfectly suited to internet streaming services like Netflix. The characters are all well-developed and multi-dimensional, and the actors all work well together. Joel Kinnaman does well as someone needing to get used to the skin they’re in for the first few episodes. James Purefoy, somewhat of an expert at playing the borderline psychopathic person, is nearly perfect as Laurens Bancroft, and infuses a sort of bored menace into everything he says. Martha Higareda’s Kristin Ortega is a dedicated, but conflicted, police officer who abandoned her religion to pursue a career in law enforcement. The real standout, however, is Tom Conner, who plays the AI hotelier Poe, the character who runs/owns the hotel where Kovacs lives.

The special effects are very well done, showing the fictional Bay City (formerly San Francisco), as a crowded, claustrophobic, built-upon neon city. The AI and holographic renderings nearly perfect, as are the scenes on alien worlds.

I would definitely recommend this show to any sci-fi fan, or even those who prefer detective stories and don’t mind some sci-fi infusion. It does require a little bit of attention, but the storyline and the worlds it takes place in are intriguing enough to hold viewer’s interest.

Altered Carbon is only available to stream from Netflix, with no word as to whether or not they plan to make it available on video.

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Lost in Space (2018)

LostInSpace

Lost in Space

Starring: Molly Parker, Toby Stephens, Maxwell Jenkins, Taylor Russell, Mina Sundwall, Ignacio Serricchio, Parker Posey, et.al.
Rated: TV-PG
Network: Netflix
Grade: B

Lost in Space, a reboot of the 1965 series (and 1998 movie), follows the Robinson family as their vessel, the Jupiter 2, crash lands on an alien planet. As they navigate the alien planet while searching for survivors of other downed Jupiter vessels, as well as a way to get off the planet and back on their way to Alpha Centauri, where a new human colony is being established after the Earth has become nearly uninhabitable.

As stated before, this is a reboot of the series from the 60s, though I suspect that character names are about all that carried over from that show. This reboot is much less campy, and opts for a darker, more serious tone. The Robinsons are also no longer stranded alone. Their ship is one of several that crashes on the alien planet where Season 1 takes place, and there are several flashbacks to their time on Earth, as well as some to when they were on the main vessel, the Resilient. The effects are well done, with what I assume is a mix of practical and special effects used. There are some space shots of the star system they landed in that are particularly breathtaking.

The actors seem to handle themselves fairly well. From what I can tell, Toby Stephens is the only one not using his natural accent (he’s British playing an American), and he handles it well. Parker Posey seems to be enjoying playing the villain, and manages to not chew on the scenery every time she’s on camera.

If you like sci-fi, you’ll probably like this series. It might be a little much for casual viewers to handle, especially if they’re old enough to remember the original series, if only simply because they just throw you straight into everything, with no build up to the space and aliens plot. The show is also slightly serialized, so a small bit of attention is required so as to not get completely lost (pardon the unavoidable pun). It also looks like there will be a second season, so there’s no worry about getting invested in something only to be left hanging.

This show can only be streamed through Netflix, and there’s no information about whether they plan to release it on video.

Harlan Coben’s Safe

HCSafe

Harlan Coben’s Safe

Starring: Michael C. Hall, Amanda Abbington, Amy James-Kelly, Freddie Thorp, Louis Greatorex, Hannah Arterton, India Fowler, Raj Paul, Joplin Sibtain, Hero Fiennes Tiffin, et.al.
Rated: TV-MA
Network: Netflix
Grade: B+

Safe, an original series from author Harlan Coben, follows widower Tom Delaney as he attempts to locate his daughter, Jenny, who went missing after attending a friend’s party. As he delves deeper into his daughter’s disappearance he begins to realize that he may not have know her, or her late mother, as well as he thought. That, coupled with the fact that Jenny’s boyfriend turned up dead at the same party she disappeared from, means that Tom is racing to unravel an increasing number of intertwined mysteries before he loses his daughter forever.

This is the type of show that, once upon a time, would only be found on the BBC in the UK, or Masterpiece in the US. Another great example of serialized British murder mystery, this show, while not perfect, is definitely better than some of the shows on TV. It can get a little soapy and over dramatic at times, but for the most the story stays on point. It looks like there’s probably not going to be a second seasons (though no one seems to be ruling it out, either), so the probability of getting the kinks hammered out over time is unlikely, unless it’s a massive hit on Netflix.

The acting is pretty good. Most of the cast is British, with Michael C. Hall being the only American on the show. Hall’s accent can get a bit choppy, even to my untrained ears, but closer to the end of the season he seems to get something of a grip on it.

I would recommend this series. The storyline is decent, and so long as you don’t mind slow-simmering crime dramas, it should hold your interest. It requires a bit more attention than the typical crime drama, but not so much that you must remain glued to your couch.

This show can only be streamed through Netflix, and there’s no information about whether they plan to release it on video.

Westworld

Westworld

Westworld

Starring: Evan Rachel Wood, Thandie Newton, James Marsden, Jeffrey Wright, Jimmi Simpson, Ben Barnes, Luke Hemsworth, Angela Sarafyan, Tessa Thompson, Ed Harris, Anthony Hopkins, et.al.
Rated: TV-MA
Network: HBO
Grade: A+

Westworld is a continuation/update of the 1973 movie written and directed by Michael Crichton.  The show follows the daily routines of robotic “hosts” Dolores, Teddy, Maeve, and Clementine as they serve the parks guests, as well as the behind-the-scenes technicians Bernard, Angela, Stubbs, and Dr. Ford, and a few of the park’s guests, William, Logan, and the sadistic Man in Black.  Throughout the first season, we see the robots slowly evolving their programming as the various technicians try to figure out what’s going wrong with the park’s attractions, as well as dealing with the implementing of a new story narrative being introduced.  The Man in Black sets off on a quest to find what he calls The Maze, and William and Logan set out on an adventure in advance of William’s wedding to Logan’s sister.

This show is delicately woven and almost mesmerizingly told.  The various stories are almost seamlessly put together, with the final reveal of some of the plot twists coming almost naturally.  As several of Westworld’s robotic hosts, or characters, begin to show glitches in programming stemming from a recent software update, the park’s technicians begin to wonder if the error is really an error, or part of something else.  In the meantime, hosts Dolores, Teddy, and Maeve, as well as several others, begin to evolve, becoming more violent and self-aware.  At the same time, the Man in Black has set off on a quest to find The Maze, which he believes will offer a more realistic genuine experience in the park as friends William and Logan attempt to have an adventure before William is to marry Logan’s sister, which ends up revealing more about William’s character than he thought was there.

The acting is terrific.  The actors who play the hosts give it just enough to seem slightly off at one moment, and completely human in the next.  There’s very little scenery chewing, and most of it’s done  Most of the actors get to use their natural accents, from what I can tell, with the only exceptions being Ben Barnes and Luke Hemsworth, who use flawless American accents, and Evan Rachel Wood and James Marsden, whose Southern accents slip occasionally, which can always be explained away by the fact that they play robots.

The show is filmed in Utah, as well as various other sets used in Westerns, which offers beautiful scenery.  We don’t get to see the “real world” outside the park’s offices.  The closest we get is a small, resort-like complex that seems to be mostly used by employees and visiting executives.

I highly recommend this series.  The show is, for the most part, a sci-fi/western hybrid, and it has an appeal for fans of either, or both, genres.  It can be a little violent at times, but there’s nothing too graphic, with most of the harsh violence being against the non-human characters.

Like all HBO shows, this can only be streamed from the HBO website, which requires subscription, or through an inclusive package, or with an iTunes or Amazon Prime Season Pass.  You can also rent the first season through Netflix home delivery service.