Friday, September 23, 2011

Series Premiere: PRIME SUSPECT

Prime Suspect
Where: NBC
When: Thursdays @ 10PM

I'm not sure what compelled me to tune into this show last night. Based very closely on the British show of the same name (starring Helen Mirren), "Prime Suspect" is the new procedural cop drama lead by Maria Bello as Jane Timoney, and my first thought was that there couldn't be a whole lot that would separate this from all the other case-of-the-week detective shows out there. And I'm perfectly content watching "Castle" every week, thank you very much.

Well, let me start this off by saying: this show sure as shit ain't "Castle." Or "SVU" or "The Closer" or "The Glades," etc. No, "Prime Suspect" brings a grittiness that I haven't seen on primetime in quite awhile, and a lot of that credit is given to Bello, who not only looks like she can throw a few punches, but that she can take some as well (which the pilot makes sure to exhibit graphically.)

The crux of the show centers around Timoney and her fellow homicide detectives, who we quickly learn are very much not on her side. She's blonde, she's hot, and she doesn't belong there. Period. Therefore, these foul-mouthed, misogynist, Irish cops can only assume she slept her way in. With battles like that to fight, Timoney has her work cut out for her.

Mario Bello slips into this role with such grace and power, I really couldn't look away from her. Her years and maturity show on her face, and it adds legitimacy to the character. She's beautiful, but not because her hair is done or her makeup is perfect. It's because she's a bad-ass.

What I also love is the level of vulnerability she exhibits. Already, we can tell there's a lot going on in this story, and the show does a fantastic job dropping the viewer into a "world already in progress." Dynamics are established, relationships are already complicated, and Timoney already has a lot of shit she's dealing with, so don't get in her way. And her tough-as-nails attitude is then softened in a scene where she returns home from the precinct, takes off her clothes, and tells her boyfriend to be quiet and hold her - and she just cries. Not melodramatically, but necessarily. Very strong.

While much darker than most procedural shows I tend to be drawn to, I know I'll be tuning in every week. There's so much rich character development already, the dynamics can only get better. Of course, with a Helen Mirren vehicle as your inspiration, how can you go wrong?

****/4 stars

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Series Premiere: THE PLAYBOY CLUB

The Playboy Club
Where: NBC
When: Mondays @ 10pm


I totally get it. "Mad Men" is a throwback to a time and place that few of us remember or were even alive to experience. And maybe it's time for other networks to cash in on the phenomenon. With ABC's "Pan Am" and NBC's "The Playboy Club" both hitting primetime this Fall, there is no shortage of 1960s fare to choose from. And considering one of my favorite guilty-pleasures of all time is the original "Girls Next Door" series, I knew I couldn't resist watching anything Playboy Bunny related.

In NBC's surprisingly dark new drama set in 1960s Chicago, "The Playboy Club" tells the story of just that: The infamous club where only key-holders were granted access to the decadence, style, and sin that only Playboy could offer. Featuring opening and closing narration by Hugh Hefner himself (wonder how long that will last), the world is painted with rouge, pastel satin, and flowing liquor. Sexy, right?

Leading the fluffy-tailed pack is veteran Bunny and lounge-esque singer, Carol-Lynne (frequent Broadway star, Laura Benanti - who I was lucky enough to see in "The Wedding Singer" over 5 years ago), who quickly finds that being the queen of the nest also means the years may be starting to show. Her back-room romance with frequent patron and influential Chicago lawyer, Nick Dalton (Eddie Cibrian) is threatened when Dalton witnesses the Club's newest bunny, Maureen (Amber Heard) accidentally kill a man in self-defense [fighting off a rape attack with a heel to the throat will do the trick.) That attacker turns out to be the dangerous head of a Mafia crime family, and with Dalton's help covering up the crime, and web of intrigue begins to form.

I was a little shocked by the seriousness of the show, and how dark (so quickly!) it turned out to be. Maybe that's what I liked most - it wasn't expected. Murder, crime syndicates, and politics all seem like heavy fare for show with Playboy as a backdrop, but somehow, it works. The Club isn't treated like a joke or a kitschy farce, so we don't view it like one.

The most noticeable thing is that it seems to be trying a lot less hard than its 60s-era counterparts. The costumes aren't as exaggerated, the language isn't as "Hey, look! We're in the 1960s! Things were different then!" - and I as a TV viewer with more than a few brain cells in my head, I greatly appreciate the effort.

Eddie Cibrian fits this period well, and he's believable as a likable "playboy." In turn, Amber Heard's Maureen is a wonderful lead, who may fall in and out of the period on occasion, but it being only the Pilot, I feel confident she'll find consistent footing. The B-characters are also richer already than I would have expected from episode 1, from the slew of Bunnies and various key-holders, to the Bunny husbands/BFs and the Mafia henchmen (Troy Garity!)

By far one of my favorite premieres so far, perhaps because it was the one I expected the least from. Already, I'm curious where this story will take us, and I'm definitely loving the dynamic backdrop and melodramatic intrigue. Hats off, Bunnies! Here's hoping you're here to stay!

Pilot rating: ***½/4 stars

UPDATE, 10/4/11: "Playboy Club" cancelled... Sad day.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Series Premiere: 2 BROKE GIRLS

2 Broke Girls
Where: CBS
When: Mondays @ 8:30PM

Tonight was the first big night of premieres for the new fall season, and I'm going to attempt to review a handful of pilots that I feel inclined to watch. Maybe even a few that I'm reluctant to see. (a few have even been added before this entry to coincide with their premiere dates...)

First show that I cued up just happened to be "2 Broke Girls" - one of two sitcoms created by comedian Whitney Cummings (the other one being "Whitney" on NBC.) Other than the fact that the charming and sardonically funny Kat Dennings was one of the 2 broke girls... I didn't know anything about it before tuning in.

The story centers around a sarcasm-addict named Max (Dennings), who takes her waitress job at an inner-city diner very seriously - so seriously, in fact, she very clearly appears to be the most competent person to ever set foot in the place. And she works hard to remind everyone of that. The inciting moment comes when, despite Max' protests, another waitress gets brought in to carry some of the load.

Unfortunately for Max, this "experienced" waitress turns out to be a disgraced socialite, Caroline (the stunning Beth Behrs), who is now struggling with the realities of being broke in her once pearly white, diamond-encrusted world. After a bit of feigned sympathy, Max realizes she has the power to help the pathetically clueless Caroline, and invites her to live in her run-down - and unrealistically massive (ahh, sitcoms) - apartment.

What surprised me most about the show was not that it was funny. Dennings and Behrs have bubbly chemistry, and their differences only enhance the situational humor between them. So that wasn't a shock. What was shocking was just how DIRRTY the jokes were! "Cum" and dry vagina jokes within the first 3 minutes? A woman getting wildly and loudly screwed before the opening credits even roll?

Maybe I underestimated you, CBS. Smart, filthy, and clever. Well played. For now.

Hopefully it doesn't get too shlock-y. Towards the end of the pilot, there was a feeling of JOKE SET-UP, punchline. JOKE SET-UP, punchline... Almost giving up on making it feel organic at all (this is my major concern for NBC's new comedy "Whitney"... but we'll get to that when it actually airs.) However, any lines that seemed forced were smoothed out by the two leads, who were immediately engaging and clearly sharp-witted - it gives the comedy more depth and weight than it may deserve.

I will be returning to this show, for sure. The premise seems sustainable and straight-forward (Can 2 broke girls find a way to crawl out of their financial holes?), and if they maintain the dynamic, I'm 100% on board.

Oh, and word of advice for the show: don't litter too many 1-dimensional side characters in there (who the hell was that uptown, rich-bitch mom?? I didn't get that at all!) You don't need it. You've got solid leads. Work on building up some equally dynamic characters around them.

***/4 stars

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Series Premiere: THE SECRET CIRCLE

The Secret Circle
Where: the CW
When: Thursdays @ 9PM

It's been awhile since I've gotten sucked into the world of teenage melodrama that the CW (and its predecessor, the WB) has to offer. Considering my proclivity for angst, love triangles, and gorgeous high schoolers stricken with supernatural abilities, it's a shocker that I've been able to keep myself away. But after hearing some positive reactions to early viewings of this pilot, I figured it wouldn't hurt to give it a shot.

Taking a page from "Twilight" (isn't everything these days?), "The Secret Circle" centers around Cassie, a young girl who is forced to move in with her grandmother after the - she thinks - accidental death of her mother. Of course, she is the new girl in town, which happens to look a lot like Forks/Port Angeles, Washington (it's called "Chance Harbor, Washington"... what better place for romantic angst than the Pacific Northwest?), and it's not long before Cassie realizes her mother may have been keeping some secrets from her.

Namely, that she's a full-blooded witch. And so are five other (gorgeous) teens at her new school, who all seem to know more about her than she does. According to the legend involving all of their families, the possess unlimited power when brought together (*cough*The Covenant!*cough*) - but in order to wield it, they must "bind" their circle, which could illuminate their individual powers.

What I really enjoyed most about this debut was not just the stellar production value (CW clearly invested their money well), but more to do with the richness of the world, and seriousness with which they take the story. There's a lot to laugh about here, if you let it linger too long, but the writers give a lot of substance to the characters, big and small. Their antics are relateable (even if it involves conjuring up a raging hurricane to show off - hey, they're teenagers!), and their emotions are believable. All six of them have suffered the loss of at least one parent - time, I'm sure, will tell us what happened to them.

Biggest surprise of the night? "Queer as Folk"s Gale Harold makes a welcome appearance, immediately establishing himself as the "bad guy," and cause of Cassie's mother's death - and he might just show up somewhere else unexpected, as well. So with that, and without being able to help myself, I got sucked in and now can't wait for the pulsing melodrama to continue.

Why do these shows always make me wish I was back in high school?

Rating: ***/4 stars

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Series Premiere: RINGER

Where: the CW
When: Tuesdays @ 9PM

All I can say is this: Buffy is back on Tuesday nights, primetime. Exactly where she belongs.

It's no secret to anyone who knows me that "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" was a huge part of my life. From age 11 to 17, I was heavily immersed and hugely influenced by the Joss Whedon-created world in Sunnydale, not to mention its many stars. Namely, the phenomenal Sarah Michelle Gellar.

But this isn't a review about "Buffy" or a recounting of the effects it had on my life. No, this is a look at Ms. SMG's first television venture since going off the air as the Slayer 8 years ago.

"Ringer" is the CW's newest dramatic thriller, one which doesn't hesitate to aim for an older, more mature demographic. And I say, it's about time, CW. All of the kids who once swooned over Dawson and his pals at the Creek are grown up and looking for something a bit more sophisticated. And Manhattan teenage socialites just weren't doing it for us anymore (sorry, "Gossip Girls.")

Taking a page out of the Bette Davis ("Dead Ringer"/"A Stolen Life") playbook, the story centers around Bridget, a stripper-turned-fugitive who seeks refuge with her estranged twin sister, Siobhan, in the Upper West-side of Manhattan. Both roles are delightfully played by SMG, who I look forward to seeing flex her acting muscles again while sharing the screen with herself ("I Was Only Made to Love You," anyone? Sorry, just can't shake the Buffy comparisons.)

Anyways, little does Bridget know that Siobhan is hiding some dark secrets of her own, and in an attempt to outrun them, fakes her own death and retreats to Paris. Bridget, thinking her sister is truly out of the picture, takes over Siobhan's identity out of desperation. But being Siobhan may bring her more problems and dangers than were haunting her as Bridget.

This pilot does a lot to establish a history, that will eventually unfold and reveal a lot of skeletons to be dealt with. But expertly, the writers provide hints without being obvious, and conflicts without feeling the need to explain why. Nothing bothers me more than blowing an exposition-load all over the 1st 40-minutes of a TV show - show some restraint and build a complex narrative!

My own personal preferences aside, the show has a lot of potential. Motives are unclear, but clearly there, while the past is a mystery to not only the viewers, but most of the characters, as well. Add in the cast of side characters (including Ioan Gruffold as Siobhan's husband, Kristoffer Polaha as her lover, and Nester Carbonell as the FBI agent searching for Bridget, just to name a few), it gives viewers a lot to look forward to.

Hopefully, the CW will give the show enough money to improve the production value (awful CG/VFX/green screen) - it definitely deserves better. "Ringer" has a lot to offer, and I'm sorry - I just can't resist seeing Buffy 2.0. So sue me.

***/4 stars
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