Off the Air Review: ‘Dollhouse’

Thanks to Netflix (and other streaming services like Hulu Plus), I’ve been able to not only catch up on shows still airing, but also discover shows that have ended before I was able to watch them live. One such show was Joss Whedon’s Dollhouse. Now, I’ve been a big fan of Whedon’s for a long time, and the first show I ever watched of his was Buffy the Vampire Slayer, of course, because it was his most popular series. Then I tackled Angel and Firefly, Serenity, Dr. Horrible, etc. Basically, I tracked down almost all of the things Joss Whedon’s brilliant mind had ever created, from his TV shows to his movies to his comic books, yet I still managed to somehow skip watching Dollhouse for years. And, having finally finished the short-lived series, I have to admit, I’m really glad I familiarized myself with Whedon’s style before devouring the show.

Probably his most underrated series, Whedon’s Dollhouse definitely struggled in the beginning, and I could easily see why so many fans were quick to dismiss the show as one of the Whedonverse’s weaker offerings. The first few episodes are rough, mainly because Whedon’s familiar tone and style (like his ability to mesh drama and humor seamlessly) doesn’t begin to shine through until about the sixth or seventh episode. If I’d never seen another Whedon show before Dollhouse, I’m sure I would have given up without ever really giving the show a chance. But, I trusted Whedon, and my trust was paid off in the first season’s finale, which introduced a much darker tone to the show that would set the stage for the second (and sadly, last) season.

Ultimately, the show struggled from the same thing that weakened Firefly: a lack of screen time. All of the characters were wonderful; they were complex, fully-realized human beings full of moral ambiguity and sympathetic traits. By the time I reached the series finale, I had gotten to know the characters well, but not nearly as well as I would’ve liked. They simply didn’t have enough time to properly develop or fully grow on the audience. And the story, though clearly mapped out, was meant for a longer span of time and was clearly rushed toward the end. I would’ve liked more time to explore the unique universe Dollhouse took place in, where human beings were programmed to be living, breathing “dolls” that the wealthy could buy for a day or a weekend, because it was the perfect stage for stories with heart or horror or sadness, etc.

However, the end of the series definitely left me satisfied as a whole. The storylines were wrapped up nicely despite their rushed pace, and the character arcs ended in natural, emotionally-resonant ways. I don’t think this show’s for everyone (or it would’ve been on air much longer), but I recommend it for anyone who loves sci-fi or great storytelling or Joss Whedon (especially those who love Whedon). Also, I think Dollhouse deserves a position of respect in the Whedonverse, as the unique and excellent show holds its own very well against Whedon’s more well-known and better-loved creations.

Rating: 8.5/10

Advertisements

Why You Should Be Watching ‘Orphan Black’

While everyone else spent their Memorial Day weekend binging on Netflix’s new Arrested Development episodes or actually spending time with their families, I spent the holiday weekend catching up on BBC America’s stunningly brilliant new show Orphan Black. The first season, only ten episodes long, ends this Saturday after the season finale’s airing at 9PM. However, BBC America is kindly airing an Orphan Black marathon, beginning June 1st at noon and featuring the first nine episodes before Saturday’s finale.

Here are some reasons why you should tune in.

1. Tatiana Maslany

Orphan Black’s lead actress plays not one, not two, but six different characters throughout the show. Not one of the characters is similar to another; all of them come equipped with their own accents, styles of speech, movements, and various nuances that all fully-fleshed characters contain. Tatiana Maslany plays these various characters (who not only frequently appear on screen together, but also range from an uptight suburban soccer mom to a crazed, self-abusing assassin) so unbelievably well that I was constantly reminding myself while watching that each character was played by the same actress, and I still find myself forgetting when I watch. She’s that good.

2. The Twisty, Complex Plot

I started this show blind, only vaguely aware of the plot, and I definitely don’t want to give anything spoiler-y away here. The basic premise involves a broke woman named Sarah Manning who witnesses the suicide of another woman who looks exactly like her on the subway station. With the intention of robbing the dead woman, Sarah Manning instead finds herself impersonating her dead doppelganger in an attempt to discover how the two identical women are connected.

The show is one of the most fully-realized and well-written sci-fi shows I’ve ever seen, easily in league with heavy hitters like Battlestar Galactica. As the show progresses, Orphan Black’s uniquely envisioned world further unravels and expands, and never does the increasingly-complex storyline overshadow the show’s excellent characters. If anything, Orphan Black has only gotten better at balancing story with emotionally-charged scenes of character development since its beginning. Also, though the storyline is often serious, the writers manage to sprinkle humor throughout the drama in an easy, natural way that’s reminiscent of a Whedon show.

3. The Supporting Cast

Though Tatiana Maslany covers a huge chunk of the cast all on her own, the supporting cast manages to keep up with her fairly well. Most notable are Jordan Gavaris, who plays Sarah’s hilarious and brutally honest foster brother, Felix, Kevin Hanchard, a detective who knew Sarah’s dead doppelganger, and Dylan Bruce, who plays Sarah’s dead doppelganger’s boyfriend (a mouthful, I know). Honestly, there’s not a weak character to be found here (with the possible exception of Sarah’s deadbeat ex-boyfriend, Vic), and all of them are only getting better as the story progresses.

So, if I haven’t yet convinced you, then check out the official trailer yourself, below.

‘Revolution’ S1E19 Recap: Tower Time

Last night’s Revolution found the entire cast converging on the mysterious tower, which turned out to be less of a skyscraper and more of an underground bunker. The show’s been building up to this tower for so long that I expected the pay-off would be halfway decent, but, silly me, I forgot this is Revolution and my (very) half-hearted hopes were dashed by a duo of useless flashbacks, several weak attempts at character development and emotional resonance, a surprising amount of blood and gore, and the seeds of a revolt against Monroe.

Anyway, let’s get started.

The episode picked up immediately where the last ended: Rachel was in Monroe’s tent preparing to pull the pin on a grenade and kill both of them. Since Rachel is one of the only semi-interesting characters on this show (plus, hello, Elizabeth Mitchell), I wasn’t really expecting her to succeed on this suicide mission. At the last minute, Rachel was knocked to the ground and the grenade was wrestled away from her by one of Monroe’s soldiers; he tossed the grenade away, and it exploded uselessly away from the tent.

Meanwhile, Miles and crew were preparing to storm the tower, with five people against an army. Good plan already, Miles. Once at the tower, they found Aaron and learned Monroe had pulled Rachel into the tower with him. Rachel, who didn’t have the security clearance to open the tower’s doors, didn’t understand why the door had opened for her. In answer, we were shown a shot of men watching the group from a room filled with monitors. The tower inhabitants grabbed their guns in preparation to greet Monroe, Rachel and the others.

After showing Monroe satellites within the tower that would allow Monroe to spy on or kill anyone he so desired to, Flynn mentioned that, to properly operate the satellites’ powers, they’d have to visit level 12. Rachel immediately admonished Flynn, and Monroe knew Flynn was telling the truth. So, naturally, Monroe ordered Flynn to take him to level 12.

A surprise met the group on the elevator: the tower inhabitants opened the elevator’s doors and began to shoot everyone inside. Rachel managed to escape and find a bunker for safety, but before she could shut the doors, Monroe pushed his way inside with her. Rachel attempted to stab Monroe with a pair of scissors, but he knocked them away and demanded answers. Rachel refused to give them.

Miles and co. managed to get inside the tower with the help of Aaron and his journal. However, Jason and Tom were left behind to fight off Monroe’s men. Miles ordered Jason to shut the door on them, and the two ended up being captured by Monroe’s men.

In a flashback that occurred a week before the blackout, we saw Rachel arguing with Ben. He told her they needed to get through the week, and Rachel agreed, but said afterwards they should take a break from each other. I still have no idea why this particular flashback was included in the episode. Why did we need to know Rachel and Ben weren’t getting along pre-blackout? Who knows. And who even cares, really.

Miles and co. reached the tower level where Monroe’s men had been slaughtered. Some tower inhabitants found them and began to shoot. The crew managed to escape, stumbling across a room filled with monkeys in cages before climbing to safety through a grate in the wall.

Back in the bunker, Monroe attempted to smash open a glass case holding weapons while Rachel passively watched. After again refusing to help Monroe, Rachel admitted that she did indeed have answers to all of his questions, but she wanted him dead for murdering her son. After attempting to make excuses (for example, he wasn’t responsible for her son’s death because he wasn’t there), Monroe confessed to Rachel that he had a son, as well. Then, he admitted, “I know exactly how much blood is on my hands.” Revolution can’t seem to decide whether they want us to hate or pity Monroe; every time he does something halfway decent, he proceeds to do something monstrously awful. He’s not even morally ambiguous, just paranoid and irrational.

In another flashback, this one four months post-blackout, we see Ben trying to communicate with someone via his computer as Rachel returns home from fetching supplies. Having seen dead bodies lying in the street and a starving boy Charlie’s age, Rachel breaks down from guilt. She tells Ben she doesn’t know if she can live with what they’ve done, but Ben tells her none of that matters now, and the only thing that matters is their children. Um, great advice Ben. Who gives a damn about the thousands you killed so you could shut the power down? But this flashback wasn’t about Ben’s careless advice, it was an attempt to tie Rachel to Monroe. Both had blood on their hands, though Rachel seems to be handling it better now than Monroe. He’s simply killing more people, while she’s trying to right her past wrongs by getting rid of Monroe and turning the power back on. Anyway, the flashback ended with Grace responding to Ben.

After finding an empty armory, Miles and co. found themselves once again under fire. Rachel saw them on a monitor in the bunker. Monroe leaped on this chance to negotiate with Rachel. He promised to save her daughter if Rachel gave him access to the weapons. As Charlie is trapped beneath a shelf and about to be killed, Monroe shoots the tower inhabitant aiming his gun at her and saves her. Then, Monroe has the audacity to ask for a thank you for saving her! Oh, Monroe. Rachel grabs her daughter and Aaron, and the trio attempt to escape only to round a corner and run straight into more guns.

After saving Miles and Nora, Monroe aims a gun at Miles and demands they finish their feud once and for all. The episode leaves them aiming their guns at one another.

Rachel, Charlie and Aaron are led to tower inhabitants’ hideout, where Grace and some guy Rachel used to know named Dan are living. According to Dan, the group’s been guarding level 12 since the blackout because it’s too dangerous and powerful for anyone to get their hands on. He then burns the journal with the notes for turning the power back on, despite Rachel and Aaron’s frantic protests. According to Grace, turning the power on will result in two possible outcomes: one, the lights are back, or two, the world will be set on fire. Okay, whatever Revolution. Obviously you need a reason to delay turning on the power to keep the show going, but really? The world itself might burn? This reveal was stupid and not at all shocking, and the stakes in this world still seem relatively low, especially with the show’s main villain turning into a whimpering, paranoid fool.

Lastly, Jason and Tom spent the episode teaming up to get inside the head of the militia soldier guarding them. Unsurprisingly, they succeeded. Monroe was killing his best men, after all, and, as Tom said, he was no longer the man he used to be. The solider freed them and told them at least 12 men were on their side. Maybe this revolt will succeed in Monroe’s death? I hope so. I’d like to see Tom as head villain.

So, all in all, a fairly lackluster episode. Maybe next week’s episode will be better (Ha! Don’t count on it).

 

Rating: 6/10

‘Hemlock Grove’ Playlist

Hemlock Grove recently created a playlist (entitled “The Monster Is Within”) of songs featured on the show for Spotify. The link is here: http://open.spotify.com/user/hemlockgrove/playlist/3IMSBCnke9WUno9zD3WVH8. The show’s music supervisor is the incredible Liza Richardson, who has also worked on Friday Night Lights, The Secret Circle, Parenthood, and The Following, just to name a few.

Below, I picked the top five songs from the playlist.

1. Geri – Superhumanoids

2. Sister Song – Perfume Genius

3. Bad Ritual – Timber Timbre

4. People That You Must Remember – Zulu Winter

5. Make Me a Bird – Elektrik People

‘Bates Motel’ S1E8 Recap: Dog Days

Last night’s episode of Bates Motel was a nice mixture of salacious rumors, subtle power plays, surprisingly sweet confessionals and, last but not least, taxidermy lessons.

The episode opens with Norman visiting Will, who’s teaching Norman the “art” of taxidermy. One of the first steps includes pulling out the dead animal’s blood and guts, then, as Will assures Norman, the “beautiful work” can begin. Sorry, but taxidermy will never not be creepy.

Emma, in the bathroom following a struggle to breath, overhears a trio of girls discussing the rumors swirling Norman and Bradley’s tryst. The girls laugh over Norman’s state of denial about his chances with Bradley. The girls also laughingly discuss Norman, claiming he’s weird and socially challenged. Emma, angry, confronts the girls and confirms the rumors, letting the girls know Norman already slept with Bradley, and they’re the ones without the facts. After successfully rendering the girls speechless (like a boss), Emma leaves.

In the paper, Norma sees the news that the bypass is going to be built. Worried about her business, Norma calls up Romero’s office (he’s not there), and then spots Jake Abernathy (AKA creepy man from Room 9) in the parking lot, who notices her watching.

Bradley confronts Norman at school after the rumors have strengthened, demanding to know why Norman told everyone they slept together. Norman doesn’t understand why she’s so upset, and Bradley outright says she doesn’t want people to know about what happened. Miss Watson witnesses this exchange and attempts to stop Norman from leaving school in the middle of the day, but he yells at her, and, when she reaches for his arm, physically shoves her hand away.

At the motel, Norma stops by Jake’s room to clean. Though she attempts to come by later, when he’s not there, Jake insists he’d like the room cleaned now and proceeds to sit in a chair, watching, while Norma cleans. Jake casually mentions hearing about Shelby’s death at the motel while he was in town, flustering Norma into knocking over a lamp and breaking the bulb. Norma, desperate to leave, mentions needing to drive Norman somewhere. Jake counters this, telling Norma he knows Norman is at school. When Norma tries again to leave, Jake stops her cart and calmly pulls out a handful of towels before allowing Norma to exit his room. Though he never conveyed any outright hostility, Jake managed to seem oddly threatening in this scene, and Norma quite clearly appeared to feel the warning. I know I did. Jake Abernathy’s the type of person who can politely unsettle anyone simply with his mannerisms and subtle comments. Terrifying.

Later, Norma dolls herself up and stops by Sheriff Romero’s office. Norma wants to fight the new bypass from the inside, and is hoping Romero will put a good word in for her with the city planning committee, since there’s a vacant seat, and the two share a “history,” for lack of a better term. Romero’s clearly having none of this, and, when Norma tries to insist that both have something on the other, Romero perches on his desk and says that, if he finds Norma has anything truly incriminating on him, he will “burn [her] to the ground.” WOW. Romero, who’s seemed relatively harmless up till now, has suddenly become one of the most terrifying people in town. (Also, Nestor Carbonell killed in that scene, though I’ve always had a weakness for him because Richard Alpert.)

After the tense, threat-laced exchange with Romero, Norma receives a call from Norman’s principal requesting Norma to stop by. Miss Watson and the principal inform Norma that Norman will be suspended for three days for leaving school. Also, they think Norman should see the school psychologist because of his emotional instability and loner attitude. Norma, unsurprisingly upset by this, says she’ll find a private psychologist for Norman to see and leaves in a rush.

Meanwhile, outside of town, Dylan and Remo are on a trip to Fort Tuna to pick up some trimmers (AKA the people who turn the marijuana plants into the final product). The pair is alone in a bar, aside from the bartender, and strike up an argument after Dylan demands to know what Remo’s problem with him is. Remo mentions his 23 years of experience before punching Dylan off his bar stool. The bartender merely watches as the two beat each other around the bar. Afterwards, while walking back to the motel, Remo tells Dylan about his poor leadership skills due to his frequent unreliability and the lack of respect he’s receiving from everyone as a result. When Dylan suggests he quit, Remo laughs in his face and drops two bombs on Dylan: Gil isn’t the “big boss,” and quitting this job’s not an option, but getting fired is. Presumably, getting fired means something along the lines of being killed. But, more interestingly, who is the “big boss”?? The most obvious options right now are Jake Abernathy and Sheriff Romero, who are both plausibly involved in this increasingly growing and unraveling drug/sex trafficking business. Romero was friends with Keith Summers, and he also doesn’t seem the type to allow trafficking to happen in his town directly under his nose. Abernathy is a valid candidate for obvious reasons.

Back at the motel, Norma tells Norman he needs to try harder to fit in. Norman, oblivious, believes he does fit in at school, then (humorously) asks his mother for a ride to Will’s shop, where he’s learning taxidermy. Oh, Norman. After meeting Will, Norma pulls him aside and tells Will she doesn’t want Norman helping him, as she’s afraid people will see Norman as a freak. (Um, too late?) After brushing aside Norma’s insult (since she insinuated Will was also a freak), Will says “What’s the harm in letting a young person follow their passion? What could go wrong in that?” Sorry, but I laughed hard over this. Oh, Bates Motel. How funny you can be sometimes.

Anyway, Dylan and Remo pick up the trimmers. Dylan ignores Remo’s advice about leaving one of them, whom Remo describes as a huge “pain in the ass,” behind, because Gil’s instructions were to bring everyone. Later, after the pain in the ass refuses to stop playing guitar in the back of the van, and then has the audacity to demand Remo stop and buy them all lunch, Dylan makes Remo pull the van over. When the singing douchebag refuses to get out of the van, Dylan whips out his gun and forces him out, along with anyone else who believes this is a democracy. (Dylan did a nice job channeling Rick Grimes, here.) Remo seems impressed, and they leave Douchebag and his guitar on the side of the street.

When Norma spots Jake leaving the motel at night as she pulls into the parking lot, she, naturally, follows him. The two are the only ones on the road, so this is not at all obvious on Norma’s part. Jake leads her to the boatyard, where he proceeds to search one of the boats (presumably Keith Summers’s), but he doesn’t find what he’s looking for. However, he does find Norma and confronts her, well aware that she followed him, and suggests she knows what he’s after. When she tries to deny this, Jake lets her know he’s on the “top rung,” unlike Keith, who was at the very bottom.

Norman visits a psychologist, but Norma tags along and responds to the counselor’s questions for Norman. After the session, the psychologist pulls Norma aside and asks to see Norman alone next time. Norma, of course, doesn’t like this. The psychologist then asks if Norma’s ever been in therapy (she hasn’t) and suggests she try a solo session herself. The psychologist notes that Norma has a “strong influence on Norman” and “a need to control things.” No, really? When the psychologist states that Norma probably feels out of control internally, Norma flips her defensive switch on and insists she never feels powerless (though we see several instances of her powerlessness in this episode alone, with both Romero and Abernathy).

Fueled by the exchange with the psychologist, Norma confronts Jake. She counts out the money he paid her and throws it in his face before demanding he leave the motel. He politely threatens her and she counters with a threat to call the cops (which, as Romero is likely involved with Jake, is a hollow threat). Norma says (in the same way a child would tell a monster hiding under his or her bed), “I’m not afraid of you. You have no power over me,” while simultaneously shrinking away from Abernathy and looking terrified. “You wanna play? We’ll play,” Abernathy calls after Norma’s retreating back. Jake leaves, but he’s not gone for good. More on this in a bit.

Norman and Emma share a sweet moment at her dad’s shop. Emma tells Norman why she told the girls about his tryst with Bradley, confesses that she does indeed like him, and then lets Norman know that, despite her unrequited feelings for him, she doesn’t want to lose Norman’s friendship. The moment was very sweet, but I feel bad for Emma. She seems to be one of the only normal, genuinely good people in this mess of a town, though she’s a good influence on Norman.

Lastly, Norma’s cleaning Jake’s vacant room when Dylan pulls up with a van full of people looking for rooms. In her enthusiasm, Norma invites Dylan out to dinner with her, just the two of them, since Norman’s eating at Emma’s. Dylan agrees, though he’s nowhere near as enthusiastic as she is. As she heads to her room to change, Norma finds Shelby’s body (complete with the police badge pinned to his chest), lying on her bed and screams. Uh oh.

A really great episode, all around. There was plenty of character development (especially with Romero and Abernathy, who both let a hint of their dark sides show) along with a gradual nudge of the plot in a forward direction. I’m sure the plot will explode soon, as the finale approaches, but I’m satisfied with its pace for now. The characters are what keep me interested in this show, and, as usual, Bates Motel successfully delivers on that front.

Rating: 8/10

The Great Price Peterson

Legendary (among Vampire Diaries fans, anyway) former TV.com writer Price Peterson decided to photo recap the last episode of The Vampire Diaries, “She’s Come Undone,” and, though it’s been a long time since his photo recap days at TV.com, his recap was as hilarious as ever. Here’s the link to Price’s tumblr page, where the recap was posted: http://pricepeterson.tumblr.com/.

And don’t forget to head to Amazon to watch and rate Supanatural, the show Price created with Lily Sparks and Ryan Sandoval.

‘True Blood’ Official Season 6 Trailer

HBO released the official trailer for Season 6, and this season looks like it’s going to be awesome! From what I can see, humans have officially declared war on the vampires, Bill believes he’s God, the shifters are running scared, and Sookie appears to have a new (faerie?) love interest. Also, the ominous tag line “No one lives forever” hints at a healthy-sized body count this season. Watch the trailer, featuring Delta Rae’s “Bottom of the River,” below.

The new season premieres June 16th at 9PM.