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‘Fargo’ Season Two Going To Be Great

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LOGO And the hits just keep coming!

On television that is.

The new small-screen season still is in its infancy, but it already has produced two instant hits in “Blindspot” and “Quantico,” and now we can add the second season of “Fargo” to this elite list. Spawned by the critically acclaimed 1995 film of the same named written and directed by Joel and Ethan Coen, the miniseries made its TV debut last season, earned a number of Emmy nominations, and won for best miniseries.

Now if you missed the first season, don’t despair because unlike many miniseries, “Fargo” is not a continuation of the story from season one. This is a completely fresh plot with all new characters, but I do highly recommend that you go back and watch season one at some point because it’s definitely worth the time.

It’s very difficult to write a commentary about a show like this because so much of its effectiveness depends upon the element of surprise, and I hate reading reviews where the writer gives too much of the plot away. Thus, please indulge me my intentional avoidance of too many specific details lest I spoil this great show for you.

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Whereas season one was set in 2006, the time frame for this story is back in 1979, when Reagan was in the White House. A Waffle Hut in the small town of Luverne, Minn., is the scene of a shocking homicide that Lou Solverson (Patrick Wilson) of the Minnesota State Police and his father-in-law, Sheriff Hank Larson (Ted Danson), must investigate. Little do they know that their ensuing involvement in the case will lead to their crossing paths with the notorious Gerhardt crime family headed by Floyd Gerhardt (Jean Smart), who presides over the army of her three sons – Dodd (Jeffrey Donovan), Bear (Angus Sampson), and Rye (Kieran Culkin) — and her debilitated husband, Otto (Paul Hogan).

Now when you add to the mix of these fascinating characters Peggy Blomquist (Kisten Dunst) and her husband, Ed (Jesse Plemons), you have a group of incredibly interesting people. Peggy is a beautician, and Ed works in the local butcher shop, which he hopes to own one day. All I’ll say about these two is that the way they end up involved in the homicide is at once funny and sad.

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If you are familiar with the “Fargo” saga, you know that the characters are as every bit as important as the plot. The show is an amazing combination of crime, mystery, drama, and quirky humor. The dialogue is consistently superb punctuated by that irresistible Minnesota accent and such catch phrases as “yah,” “aw jeeze,” “you betcha,” and in the new series “okay then.”

After seeing only the pilot for season two of “Fargo,” I’m already completely hooked and engrossed. This is going to be a season of mystery as well as an intriguing character study of all the people involved. The ensemble cast is as good as it gets, and I think the series has Emmy nominations written all over it.

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As television continues to create and offer more and more outstanding programming, we are seeing an increasing number of film stars showing up in TV series, and this is the case with Dunst. In an online interview with Jane Mulkerrins the actress talked about making the move and about her character.

“I was keen to get into the arena – the creative people are blossoming on television, and the roles are so good for women now. And also, people actually see it. It’s not like doing an independent movie, essentially for free, that no one ends up seeing.”

“She (Peggy) does a lot of weird things. She’s got her own intentions, and she won’t let anyone stop her, and it starts to get a little ugly. There’s part of her that thinks, at least in the beginning, ‘Maybe I could just be a homemaker.’” But then there’s this other part of her that’s like, ‘No, there’s more for me out there.’”

FARGO -- Pictured: (l-r) Kirsten Dunst as Peggy Blumquist, Jesse Plemons as Ed Blumquist. CR: Chris Large/FX

 

Dunst also commented on the importance of small-town dynamics in the series.

“That small-town feeling is definitely there. Everyone knows everyone’s business, and there’s that feeling of the world closing in on you. No one is escaping to Mexico.”

In addition to the characters already mentioned, the series also will feature Karl Weathers (Nick Offerman), a veteran of the Korean War and the Luverne town lawyer with a fondness for the bottle and a predisposition for conning people.

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Then there’s Joe Bulo (Brad Garrett), the main cog in the Kansas City crime syndicate that’s looking to clash with the Gerhardt family. Bulo’s head henchman is Mike Milligan (Bokeem Woodbine), a guy whose disarming smile spells danger.

The second season of “Fargo” is undoubtedly going to be one of best shows of the year, and it earns the final score of a “you betcha” 10. Okay then!

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New FBI Drama Is As Good As TV Gets

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LOGO“The state of this country is the most precarious it’s ever been. Not only are there more threats than ever before, but the majority of those threats don’t come from known organizations or extremist groups but our own backyard — a neighbor you grew up next to, a one-night stand you had, perhaps even a family member. You applied here to protect your country from those threats, and while your ideals and your test scores might have got you here, they will not be enough to keep you here. The FBI Academy is the toughest boot camp, the hardest grad school rolled into one. It is not college. It is life and death.”

These are the words of FBI trainer Miranda Shaw (Aunjanue Ellis) as she welcomes a group of new recruits to the FBI Academy in Quantico, Va., during the pilot of ABC’s new guaranteed-to-be-a-hit series “Quantico,” which airs on Sunday evenings. If you can watch the pilot for this show without becoming completely hooked on it, you need to make an appointment with the Wizard of Oz to get a brain, a heart, and a soul. Anyone who doesn’t find this show totally engrossing must be one of the walking dead.

QUANTICO - Pilot Gallery (ABC/Craig Sjodin) DOUGRAY SCOTT, AUNJANUE ELLIS, PRIYANKA CHOPRA, JAKE MCLAUGHLIN, JOHANNA BRADDY, GRAHAM ROGERS, YASMINE AL MASSRI, TATE ELLINGTON

Now I need to be very careful in talking about this show because I don’t want to spoil any of the numerous surprises it contains. Therefore, any details about the plot are going to be intentionally sketchy.

“Quantico” tells the story of seven recruits who have been accepted into a class of trainees at the FBI Academy, and all of them have issues. Alex Parrish (Priyanka Chopra), is the central character who hopes solve a mystery about her late father, who was an undercover agent.

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Joining Alex as principal characters in the drama are the following: Ryan Booth (Jake McLaughlin), a former member of the military; Shelby Wyatt (Johanna Braddy), a prototypical Southern debutante who lost her parents in a tragedy; Eric Packer (Brian J. Smith), a Morman harboring a dark secret; Nimah Amin (Yasmine Al Massri), a mysterious Muslim; Simon Asher (Tate Ellington), the FBI’s first gay recruit not to hide his sexual preference; and Caleb Haas (Graham Rogers), a guy with family ties to the FBI.

The story actually begins in the past as Alex and the other recruits arrive at the FBI Academy to begin their 20-week training session, and we have the chance to see them engage in some of their activities before switching ahead nine months to New York City, where a terrorist attack has leveled Grand Central Station. As FBI agents are combing through the rubble, they find someone alive, and it turns out this person is a member of the FBI recruiting class. From this point on the time frame alternates between the training period at the academy and the aftermath of the terrorist attack, and the recruit discovered at the scene becomes a prime suspect.

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During the scenes at the academy we get to know the main characters, and in the sequences focusing on the attack, we watch the FBI question the recruit about everything from what kind of training went on at Quantico to very personal information. And the pilot really leaves you hanging and wanting much more.

“Quantico” ranks right up there with “Blindspot” as one of the best new shows of the season. The acting is consistently excellent, the characters are well developed, and the show offers plenty of surprises along the way.

Chopra, who was born in India and won the Miss World Pageant in 2000, is marvelous as the lead character in the series. The winner of numerous acting awards and nominations in her native country, she has more than 50 films to her credit, and she certainly shines in her first starring role in America. In a recent online interview with Eric Leijon she explained what attracted her to the series.

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“I’m a really avid follower of pop culture and entertainment, so when I decide what I’m going to do—whether it’s a movie or a TV show—I like to watch the best things. When I read “Quantico,” that’s what it was. It’s pop drama, yet it doesn’t take your intelligence for granted, and I love that. And Alex as a character is so my alter ego. She’s an amazing character: She’s cool, and she totally has it together even when she’s unraveling. She’s badass and flawed, yet extremely confident. She’s an amazing character to play.”

She also explained that she has much in common with Alex.

“A lot of it is me. She dresses like me all the time. If you see any of my outfits when I’m traveling, it’s jeans, leather jacket, and boots. I told our stylist Alex dresses like me, and she said they took a bunch of pictures of me from Google and styled the character after those. I said, ‘That explains it!’ I think over time Alex and I might merge, but for now we’re getting to know each other.”

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Another thing Chopra likes about the series is that it shows the human side of FBI agents.

“You always see people in the FBI and law enforcement as these authority figures, but they’re also human, and there’s a human aspect of how cases affect them, especially terrorism and cases to do with children. That was amazing to me, because ‘Quantico’ is about real people who happen to be at the FBI agency. It’s really about relationships and human interactions.

“They’re a bunch of people who happen to be FBI agents or trainees. That happens to be the scenario they’re in, and it’s primarily about interpersonal relations and what happens to people when they’re put under dire circumstances. That’s what makes it interesting to me. We’re having fun, it’s funny, it’s intelligent, and it keeps you on your toes. It’s almost everything you could want from pop entertainment, which is my favorite genre.”

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Alex is going to be a fascinating character to follow during the series, but so are the other six recruits she knows because all of them have some baggage that I assume will be addressed in future episodes. Their interaction in the pilot promises some very interesting developments to come.

In addition to the outstanding acting and directing, “Quantico” has a big-screen look and feel to it. The photography, sets, and costumes all are superb, and it’s really intriguing to watch the recruits respond to the tasks assigned them,

I predict “Quantico” will be one of the fall season’s biggest hits, and it earns the final score of an unqualified 10. Add this one to your do-not-miss-it list.

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“Blindspot” Is A Promising New Thriller

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LOGONight. Times Square. New York City. Lights flashing. Sirens screaming. Horns honking. People scurrying. And in the midst of all the hustle and bustle, a large canvas bag reposes silently and motionlessly on the pavement as a police officer asks passersby whether the bag belongs to them. A tag reading, “Call the FBI,” hangs on the side of the bag.

The police have cleared Times Square. Now the only occupants are the bag and a member of the NYPD Bomb Squad. Holding a Geiger counter, the officer approaches the bag tentatively. When there’s no sign of radioactivity, the bomb expert puts down the Geiger counter and slowly reaches down to touch the bag. AND THAT’S WHEN IT MOVES! As the officer looks on in stunned horror and disbelief, the zipper slithers open, and the bag gives birth to a nude woman covered from head to toe with elaborate tattoos. And she’s suffering from total amnesia.

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Welcome to “Blindspot,” NBC’s riveting and intriguing new series that offers viewers myriad questions. Who is Jane Doe (Jaimie Alexander)? How did she get to Times Square? What do her tattoos mean? Why can she speak fluent Chinese? How did she acquire some of her amazing skills? (“How do I know how to do all this?” she asks at one point.) Is she a threat to national security? How is she involved with the FBI? And the list goes on.

Judging from its pilot, “Blindspot” has the potential to be one of the best new shows of the fall season because it has everything – mystery, drama, intrigue, action, suspense, and even the possibility for some romance. Be forewarned, however, that this show grabs you from its creepy beginning and doesn’t let you go until the closing credits begin to roll.

After Jane is taken into custody and examined closely, law enforcement officials discover that one of the tattoos on her back bears the name of FBI agent Kurt Weller (Sullivan Stapleton), but he has never seen the woman in his life. Also a toxic screen reveals that Jane’s system is flooded with an experimental drug that induces amnesia. In fact she is so spaced out that she doesn’t even know the difference between coffee and tea, and she has no idea what food she likes.

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Because his name is tattooed on Jane’s back, Weller is naturally assigned to the case, and as the investigation into Jane’s identity proceeds, she notices a picture the FBI took of a tattoo behind her left ear. This one just happens to be in Chinese, and suddenly Jane is flawlessly translating the message into an address and a date, which is the current day. Thus Jane and Weller rush away to find the address and see what Jane’s mounting mystery holds for them there.

Revealing any more of the plot at this point would spoil some of the many surprises in the show’s thrilling first episode, but the events definitely will hold your attention and leave you waiting impatiently for the next installment of the story. Of course the main key to solving Jane’s identity lies somewhere within the massive tattoos covering her body, and it will be fascinating watching the authorities search for an answer as the series continues.

Alexander, who is known for her portrayal of Sif in the “Thor” movies, is perfectly cast in the part of Jane. From the moment she emerges from that bag in Times Square, Jane is at once confused, terrified, disoriented, and just completely out of sync. Alexander conveys all of her character’s conflicting emotions and feelings flawlessly, and in an online interview with Christina Radish of Collider, the actress offered some interesting insight into the show and Jane. First she explained her reaction to shooting the creepy opening scene.

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“It was insane! I went through seven hours of tattoo application, and then, when I came out to Times Square, it was scary. There was not a car in the street, and there was not a person walking around. It almost looked apocalyptic. I thought, ‘How did we do this? Where is everybody? I can’t believe we were able to do this.’ We have no visual effects in the shot, at all. We didn’t paint anything out. We had a very slim amount of time to get all the shots, and we just nailed it. We had a lot of help from the NYPD, and we had 150 production assistants there, just keeping everybody back. Every time I opened the bag and came out, it was intense. It was scary and eerie and epic, at the same time.”

As you will see in the first episode, Jane has had some very advanced self-defense training, and she definitely can take care of herself even if she doesn’t understand why. But Alexander explained that she doesn’t want her character to be a superhero.

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“I’m continually making sure she does not turn into a superhero. That seems to be the default. It’s like if you have a strong, tough woman, she has to be a superhero, or it’s not justifiable. But, this is based in reality. She has a specific skill set that she learned, and it all has to be believable. If she’s fighting in the kitchen and she sees a metal pitcher full of ice water, she would use it as a weapon because she knows that maybe the guy is bigger than her, but she’s faster. We incorporate all those types of moves. I can use sharp elbows, I’m fast, I have long legs, and I can do a chokehold. We’re making it really realistic, so it’s going to be very relatable. And we have so many great military guys that are training us right now.”

Stapleton and Alexander work very well together, and even in the early going, it is obvious that the chemistry between the two of them is going be something special. Weller already has adopted a very protective attitude toward Jane, and it will be interesting to watch that develop.

If its pilot is any indication, “Blindspot” is going to be one of the best new shows of the season, and in the Collider interview, Alexander promised thrills with every episode.

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“The thing is that this show moves at such a fast pace that you start to get answers in the pilot, and then you get a lot more in the second episode. We don’t hold back, and there are no filler episodes. Every episode is action-packed with crazy stuff, so much so that it’s stuff you see in films. There’s never an episode where we’re all going to be at the FBI talking, for budget reasons, or somebody is out of town that week. It’s literally go, go, go, all the time.”

“Blindspot” definitely deserves a spot on your must-watch list, and it earns the final score of an unsecured 10 until we have a few more episodes to solidify its evaluation. In the meantime, don’t miss it.

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Fall TV Viewing Is Looking Outstanding

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LOGOLabor Day is history, football has kicked off another season, the days are growing depressingly shorter, and there’s an occasional chill in the air. Fall is approaching (too rapidly for me), and on the television front that means the return of some favorites and the debuts of some new shows. For your elucidation and convenience, I thought we would take a look at the list of top returning programs and then consider some of the most promising new series.

Leading off with the returns on Monday, Sept. 21, we have “Gotham” at 8 p.m. on Fox followed by “Scorpion” on CBS at 9 p.m. The former is a great crime drama set in Gotham City before Bruce Wayne donned the cape and cowl to become Batman, and the latter is a wonderfully imaginative show about a group of young geniuses who use their minds to avert a major crisis each week.

The always entertaining “Nashville” returns for another season on Wednesday, Sept. 23, on ABC at 10 p.m., and it looks as if Thursday is once again going to be one of the week’s best TV nights because Sept. 24 welcomes back “Scandal” on ABC at 9 p.m., “The Blacklist” on NBC at 9 p.m., and “How To Get Away With Murder” at 10 p.m. on ABC. The small-screen offerings just don’t get much better than this.

On Friday, Sept. 25, McGarrett and Danno will be back policing the tropical paradise in “Hawaii Five-O” at 9 p.m. on CBS, and on Wednesday, Sept. 30, “Criminal Minds,” one of my favorite crime shows, returns to CBS at 9 p.m.

My DVR will really get a workout on Sunday, Oct 4, as the following outstanding shows all return: “Madam Secretary” on CBS at 8 p.m.; “The Good Wife” on CBS at 9 p.m.; “Homeland” on Showtime at 9 p.m.; “The Affair” on Showtime at 10 p.m.; and “The Leftovers” on HBO at 9 p.m. How’s that for a lineup of great entertainment?

BastardNow let’s turn our attention to some of the promising new shows set to debut in September. First up is “The Bastard Executioner,” which airs this Tuesday, Sept. 15, at 10 p.m. The show is set in the 14th century and stars Lee Jones as Wilkin Brattle, a great warrior who wants to give up his career and live peacefully. But when certain circumstances arise, he’s forced to become a journeyman executioner who serves at the will and pleasure of Annora (Katey Sagal), a healer with strange powers. He also must answer to Milus Corbett (Stephen Moyer), a corrupt Chamberlain who craves success in the political world. As if he doesn’t have enough on his plate, he also must handle a developing romance with Baroness Lowry “Love” Aberffraw Ventris (Flora Spencer-Longhurst).

blindspot_firstlookOne of the most intriguing new shows is “Blindspot,” which makes its debut on Monday, Sept. 21, at 10 p.m. on NBC. The story begins with the discovery of a beautiful woman who emerges completely naked from a bag that has been dumped in Times Square. Dubbed Jane Doe (Jamie Alexander), she has no idea who she is or how her body came to be completely covered with strange tattoos. Sullivan Stapelton also stars as FBI Agent Kurt Weller, who must figure out what the tattoos mean in order to find out Jane’s true identity and solve the mystery surrounding her.

limitlessAnother show that looks fascinating is “Limitless” starring Jake McDorman, and it is set to debut on Tuesday, Sept. 22, at 10 p.m. on CBS. This series is based upon the 2011 film of the same name. In the TV version, which is set after the events in the film, McDorman plays Brian Finch, a guy who discovers a magic drug called NZT. When Brian takes one of these pills, his IQ goes off the charts to the point that he becomes somewhat of a Superman. But his newfound powers soon lead him into trouble, and he suddenly finds himself working with an FBI agent (Jennifer Carpenter) on a murder case.

bloodWhat would the fall season be without a juicy new soap opera, and it looks as if we definitely have one in “Blood and Oil,” which will air Sundays at 9 p.m on ABC beginning Sept. 27. The plot revolves around Billy (Chace Crawford) and Kelly (Rebecca Rittenhouse) LeFever, a young couple seeking a fortune by moving to North Dakota in the wake of an enormous oil strike. But their dreams are threatened when they encounter an unscrupulous tycoon (Don Johnson) who could very well destroy their lives.

quantico_posterAlthough all of the preceding shows look excellent, I think the one I’m looking forward to the most is “Quantico.” This series will follow “Blood and Oil” on Sundays in the 10 p.m. time slot, and it’s also set to debut on Sept. 27. Billed as a cross between “How to Get Away with Murder” and “Grey’s Anatomy,” this story is about a group of FBI trainees at Quantico, Va., and it has received great promos. From what I’ve read, it is filled with all kinds of twists and surprises, and it deals with everything from terrorists to domestic violence to suicide. The lead female is an Indian actress named Priyanka Chopra, and once you see her, you’ll never forget her. When you add this show to the Sunday viewing list, you may need to invest in another DVR.

Color blackNow all we need to add to the mix is a good medical drama, and I think we will have one in “Code Black,” which begins on Wednesday, Sept. 30, at 10 p.m. on CBS. Based upon a documentary by Ryan Mc Garry, this series is set in the crowded and absurdly busy emergency room of Los Angeles County Hospital, where the overworked staff headed by Dr. Leanne Rorish, the ER residency director played by Oscar-winner Marcia Gay Harden, works frantically to treat a glut of needy patients. Joining Harden in the talented cast are the following: Luis Guzman as Jesse Salander, a senior nurse overseeing the residents; Raza Jaffrey as Dr. Neal Hudson; Benjamin Hollingsworth as Mario Savetti, a first-year resident; Bonnie Somerville as Christa Lorenson, a first-year resident; Melanie Chandra as Malaya Pineda, a first-year resident; and Harry Ford as Angus Leighton, a first-year resident.

Keep in mind that many more new shows than the ones I’ve just mentioned will be airing this fall, but those listed above definitely are on my must-watch list.

Happy viewing!

 

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‘Complications’ Is A Unique Thrill Ride

poster LOGOWhile the pickings continue to be disappointingly slim at the local theater complexes, television is still the place to find the best entertainment as some favorite shows have returned, and other new ones keep popping up. While the jury is still out on the second season of “True Detective,” shows like “Murder in the First,” “Tyrant,” and “Royal Pains” recently have made triumphant returns, and one of the best new offerings is “Complications,” a different kind of medical thriller that has me completely hooked after the first three episodes. “Complications,” which is the brainchild of Matt Nix (“Burn Notice”), tells the story of Dr. John Ellison (Jason O’Mara), an Atlanta, Ga., emergency room doctor whose act of kindness turns into a complete nightmare for him. He has just finished an exhausting night shift and is on his way home, where lives with his wife, Samantha (Beth Riesgraf) and their son, Oliver (Albert C. Bates). All he wants to do is get some rest, but his dog foils his attempt at that by injuring a squirrel, and, being the good doctor he is, John takes the injured animal to a vet. During his trip, he hears gunshots at a nearby playground and spots someone lying in the road. He rushes over to discover a young African-American boy who has been seriously wounded. When he kneels down to help the lad, he hears someone yell, “They’re coming back.” As he looks up, John sees a car speeding down a hill toward him. He reflexively glances around and spies a gun lying on the road. Without really thinking, he grabs the gun, spins around, and fires through the windshield of the car killing the driver. Then he rushes the young boy to the hospital.

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As it turns out, the boy’s name is Antoine Tyler (Jaiden Tyler), the son of Ezera “EZ” Tyler (Anthony K. Hyatt), a gang leader who is serving time in prison. The guy John killed was a member of a rival gang known as Nortenos Locos, and when they find out that Antoine is alive, they want to finish the job. In the meantime EZ’s head henchman, Darius (Chris Chalk), contacts John and takes him to visit EZ in prison. The ensuing meeting doesn’t go well for John because he wants to wash his hands of the whole matter. But EZ has other ideas and informs John that he is to take care of Antoine and protect him until he is instructed otherwise. As if John doesn’t have enough on his plate, he’s still dealing with the loss of his young daughter a year earlier and a newly developed crisis at his hospital involving a whacko nurse.1

“Complications” is aptly named because poor John’s life is anything but simple. O’Mara is outstanding in the lead role, and he’s consistently convincing in conveying his character’s concomitant feelings of fear, frustration, and outrage. All he was trying to do was save a boy’s life, and now his own life, the lives of his wife and son, and his medical career are in grave danger if he doesn’t do what he’s told. In an online interview with Megan Daley of Entertainment Weekly O’Mara offered some interesting insight into both his character and the program. “I think the most interesting thing about it is that here’s a man who has done the right thing. He’s made a split-second decision; he’s decided to stick by that decision. And he is not going to get rewarded for it. In fact, he’s going to get punished. He’s going to be chastised by his bosses. He’s going to have a psychiatric evaluation. His wife is going to have a ton of questions. His family is going to be put into a ton of danger. Instead of having a feeling that everything is going to be okay, everything gets worse. There’s a sense of an ever-deepening crisis as each episode unravels. 7

“John Ellison is a flawed character, and he doesn’t always do the right thing or make the right decisions, but ultimately he’s doing it for the greater good. That’s what makes him a hero. “I suppose what’s important to note is that the story takes place over two weeks. It’s a very compressed timeline – you’re almost talking about a day per episode. Obviously, we’re not doing ‘24’ here; that’s not what this is about. But, you know it’s a day or day and half per episode. Things are almost happening in real time. “So, this boy has to recover from this gunshot. He has to recover somewhere safe that’s protected. We have to ensure that no matter what – John Ellison has been told that if anything happens to the boy, that he’s dead. That’s the deal. He has to make sure the boy is taken care of. That’s a pretty full-time job in and of itself. There are lots of people who don’t want that boy saved. While that sounds linear, there are other parts of the story that branch out and become important.”2

In addition to the main plot centered around John and Antoine, an equally interesting subplot develops involving Nurse Gretchen Polk (Jessica Szohr) and her attempt to save a female patient from a physically abusive boyfriend. This fiery nurse is one of the best characters in the series, and I’m really eager to she what happens with her. Oddly enough despite my aversion to doctors and hospitals, medical dramas and novels always have intrigued me, but “Complications” is more than just another medical show. In addition to everything going on in the emergency room in particular and the hospital in general, the show also involves us in John’s personal life, which is quite complicated to say the least. His association with the gang is bad enough, but he also as several other major issues to contend with. “Complications,” which airs Thursdays at 9 p.m. on USA, offers top-notch entertainment, and it deserves a place on your must-see list. Watch one episode, and you won’t be able to wait for the next one. Television triumphs once again, and this show receives the final score of a very uncomplicated 10. Don’t miss it!

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Dawning Of ‘Aquarius’ Is Disappointing

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I have a confession to make. Although the events occurred 46 years ago, the Charles Manson murders and the ensuing trial still fascinate me. The definitive book about the case is “Helter Skelter” written by Manson prosecutor Vincent Bugliosi and published in 1974, and I continue to regard it as the best true crime tome ever penned. If you’ve never read it, treat yourself.

On the night of Aug. 8, 1969, under the orders of Manson, Charles “Tex” Watson, Susan Atkins, Linda Kasabian, and Patricia Krenwinkel went to the house at 10050 Cielo Drive in Los Angeles and murdered five people, including Sharon Tate, an actress who was married to film director Roman Polanski and who was eight and a half months pregnant at the time. The following night the same group, along with Leslie Van Houten and Steve “Clem” Grogan, arrived at 3301 Waverly Drive, where they killed supermarket magnate Leno LaBianca and his wife, Rosemary.

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The Real Charles Manson                                                                                Some Manson “Family” Members

Manson and his “family” have been the subjects of myriad books and TV documentaries and two made-for-TV movies both titled “Helter Skelter,” one in 1976 and the other in 2004. And now we have “Aquarius,” a new NBC television series starring David Duchovny as a Los Angeles detective hired to find the missing daughter of a prominent attorney.

In the two-hour pilot of “Aquarius” we see 16-year-old Emma Karn (Emma Dumont) sneak out of her house, where her parents, Grace (Michaela McManus) and Ken (Brian F. O’Byrne), are engaged in a nasty argument, and jump into a car with her date for the evening. They go to a wild party where the two of them go their separate ways, and Emma runs into a guy who introduces himself as Charlie Manson (Gethin Anthony).

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Now we cut away from the party to the home of Det. Sam Hodiak (David Duchovny), who receives a phone call from Grace telling him that her daughter is missing. Hodiak drops everything and goes to the spacious home of the Karns, where he learns that Emma has been gone for four days. It’s immediately obvious to Hodiak that Grace’s relationship with her husband, Ken, is a troubled one. And we also find out that Hodiak and Grace have an interesting history.

Hodiak agrees to look for Emma, and early in the show we switch back and forth between his efforts to find her and her adventures with Manson. Also during this time Hodiak gets a new partner, a rebellious undercover cop named Brian Shafe (Grey Damon). In addition to searching for Emma, the two also become involved in other cases along the way, but so far at least, the Emma/Manson story seems to be the unifying one for the series.

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The plot contains a few unexpected twists along the way, including a bombshell near the end of the pilot that I won’t share except to say I really didn’t like it at all. In fact, it almost ruined the entire show for me.

After seeing the pilot, I have really mixed feelings about this series. I will continue to watch it because of my interest in the Manson case and because it’s intriguing that the story is set two years before the Tate-LaBianca murders. It’s also good to see Duchovny back on the small screen, and he’s perfectly cast as the rather unconventional detective. In an online interview with Ben Travers of “Indiewire” the former star of “The X-Files” explained what attracted him to this series.

“I liked ‘Aquarius’ because I felt like, as a country and even as a world, we always come back to the ’60s often, more than any other decade. We go back to other decades, but almost like deliberately for fashion or for music or whatever. The ’60s, we always come back to for ideological reasons, especially in America, and I thought Manson is really like the turning point of the ’60s. Manson was held up at the time as what’s going to happen if all you people keep doing drugs and fucking each other. You’re going to end up murdering senselessly, cutting babies out of pregnant women. Not the case really, but Manson killed the ’60s because he looked like a hippie, but he wasn’t, and he came to represent the promise of the ’60s — the freedom, the love, the revolutions — and he was held up as, ‘This is where it’s going.’

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“So in a way, we were veering left in the ’60s as a nation on the political spectrum, and then we run into Manson, and we veer right; we veer into Reagan almost immediately. Reagan, Bush. So in many ways the ’60s is like this pivotal point in our history, and Manson is like a symbolic pivotal point in the ’60s. So I started to think about it that way, and I thought, ‘Well, that’s a very interesting show,’ and like any period show it’s not just the period. You look at what’s happened now with policing; there’s a lot of black power stuff in our show; all the issues are still present. It’s not part of the past.”

The program does capture the mood of the ’60s beautifully with the music, costumes, cars, and sets, and those who did not live through that time period will get a very accurate picture of what life was like back then. It definitely was an atmosphere unlike any other.

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With one major exception the acting is quite good. Both Duchovny and Damon are convincing as cops during that turbulent time, and McManus and Byrne successfully create two not-so-admirable parents. Now here comes the rub.

As I mentioned earlier, two made-for-television movies of “Helter Skelter” have aired previously. In the 1976 version Steve Railsback played Manson, and Jeremy Davies did the honors in 2004. Both of them managed to capture Manson’s malevolently maniacal mien beautifully, but unfortunately the same is not true of Anthony. After viewing just the pilot, I am not ready to pass final judgment yet, but thus far Anthony is completely unconvincing in the part of Manson. He lacks that necessary demented gleam in his eyes, and he delivers his lines in a robotic monotone. I hope he improves in future episodes.

I will continue to watch “Aquarius” (NBC has made the entire series available online.) for at least a few more episodes, but based upon what I’ve seen so far, I’m not optimistic about seeing it through to the end. Therefore, at this point I’m going to assign the series a disappointing preliminary score of six, but this could change as things progress. I’ll keep you posted. Love and peace!

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Travel To “Wayward Pines” If You Dare

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LOGOI recently paid a visit to Wayward Pines, Idaho, and even though it was a terrifying experience, I’m seriously considering a return trip. That sounds demented, you say. Allow me to explain.

“Wayward Pines” is a new television series that made its debut on Fox last Thursday evening, and judging by the pilot, it looks like a real winner. The 10-episode program, based upon a trilogy by Blake Couch and directed by M. Knight Shyamalan (“The Sixth Sense”), begins when Secret Service agent Ethan Burke (Matt Dillon), who has been in a car crash, regains consciousness lying on the ground near the picturesque village of Wayward Pines (population 461), where he has been dispatched to find a couple of agents who went missing there a month ago.

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After Ethan collects himself, he stumbles into town and enters a café where he promptly passes out. When he awakens, he’s in a rustic hospital being cared for by an eccentric nurse named Pam (Melissa Leo). His wallet and briefcase are missing as well as his cell phone, and it just so happens that hospital policy prohibits phones in patients’ rooms.

Although Nurse Pam is pleasant enough to Ethan, it becomes quite clear that she has no intention of allowing him to leave the hospital. She’s also extremely vague in her replies to his questions, and she refuses to let him make a phone call. It’s very obvious that she’s hiding something, and thus the mystery surrounding Wayward Pines begins.

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Ethan ultimately manages to sneak out of the hospital, and he wanders into a bar where he strikes up conversation with the bartender named Beverly (Juliette Lewis). She immediately realizes how distressed he is and allows him to use her phone to call his wife, who doesn’t answer. He leaves her a message, returns the phone to Beverly, and prepares to leave the bar. Before he does so, however, Beverly gives him a note with an address written on one side and a cryptic message on the other. She also offers to help Ethan if he needs it.

When he finds the address Beverly gave him, he makes shocking discovery, and that’s all you’ll learn about the plot from me except that it completely sucked me in. There’s no question that Wayward Pines is not the idyllic community it appears to be on the surface, and the first episode ends on an ominous note for Ethan.

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Back in 1990 and 1991 David Lynch’s wonderfully weird series “Twin Peaks” completely captivated me as I tried to guess from week to week the answer to the show’s haunting question: “Who killed Laura Palmer?” Although I’m not yet ready to put “Wayward Pines” in the same league as Lynch’s series, some similarities between the two are undeniable. There’s just something intriguing about small towns where strange things happen.

In the pilot for “Wayward Pines” we meet a number of the main characters in addition to Ethan, Beverly, and Nurse Pam. Among these are Dr. Jenkins (Toby Jones), the resident psychiatrist at Wayward Pines hospital, and Kate Hewson (Carla Gugino), one of the agents for whom Ethan is searching and his former lover. There’s also Arnold Pope (Terrence Howard), the town sheriff, who has an affinity for rum-raisin ice cream.

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All of the actors have been perfectly cast in their respective roles. Nobody is better at creating quirky characters than Lewis, and her part as Beverly in this series is no exception. And while we’re on the subject of loony people, Leo is wonderful as the frighteningly strange Nurse Pam.

Dillon successfully conveys Ethan’s confusion about what is going on in the town and his increasing concern about how he can escape from the place. In an online interview with Carolyn Cox of The Mary Sue, Dillon explained what he liked about the script.

“What I like about it is I like a good mystery. I liked it coupled with Knight, this type of material. I liked his way of telling the story. I wasn’t interested in a TV series, you know, but this is a limited series, it’s a nice one, it’s sort of a patient, longer format, so you can kind of grow with the character.”

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In the same interview Dillon also commented on playing a character with so many questions on his mind.

“It was nice because I as the actor had a lot of questions, so it’s nice when those two things come together. I think it’s really important that Ethan asks the questions to keep the tension, and I think the difficult part for the storytellers and the writers and the story creators is how do you do that without tipping certain things off? My side of it was always well, he has to ask these questions; otherwise the audience is going to be asking these questions.

“So I liked it. It was an interesting thing because Ethan is really the straight guy in the show. A lot of people have different secrets that they’re holding on to, and there’s lots of different levels of what people know and what people don’t know about this particular town that they’re in, and Ethan’s sort of learning it as he goes along. And of course there are also personal issues tied to his profession in the secret service. He has Post-traumatic stress disorder, he’s had meltdowns in the past, and he’s also, when he arrives in town, been in a head-on automobile accident, so he even begins to question his sanity. Very strange circumstances.”

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Even though we’ve been treated to only one episode of “Wayward Pines” thus far, it’s obvious that the show has terrific potential. Shyamalan has done a masterful job of creating an aura of suspense surrounding the town, and part of the fun in watching is that we are as much in the dark as Ethan, and so we discover the secrets of the place right along with him. Interestingly enough he is desperate to leave the town, but after just one episode I can’t wait to get back there.

Yes, as I said at the outset, my initial visit to Wayward Pines was at once eerie, scary, disturbing, and shocking. But I just can’t leave Ethan hanging there by himself, and therefore I must sublimate my fear and return next week and every week until the series ends. I have a feeling that the suspense will continue to build as the show progresses, and I’m looking forward to it and dreading it at the same time.

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Assigning a score to a new series is rather difficult after watching just one episode, but I’m going to go out on the proverbial limb here an award “Wayward Pines” the preliminary score of a tentative eight. As the series progresses, I will keep you posted about whether this will vary at all. In the meantime, be sure to visit Wayward Pines. I’ll look for you there.

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