Monday, January 21, 2019


Slowly, we emerge from the winter hiatus.  Someone decided that December should offer little for TV viewers and most shows should wrap in November and begin reairing in the new year.

It's not worked out well.  At a time when broadcast television is desperate to hold onto viewers, they choose methods that run them off.  While they stumble, you'd think new mediums would take advantage of the drop off in new programming.  Instead, they seem to think they've earned a break as well.


HULU, for example, waited until the end of December to debut the second season of RUNAWAYS.  What had been an interesting curio in season one became outright unwatchable in season two.  An already cast heavy show insisted upon adding new characters and giving them time when all the first season viewers wanted was to see some plot lines resolved.  This was reflected in HULU's tracking which shows that many streamed the first two episodes on December 21st and the next few days but the bulk of those same streamers chose not to go further into the show.  HULU execs feel the numbers show there is interest in the idea of the show but not in the way it was executed.  A third season will depend a great deal on whether or not show runner Josh Schwarz is willing to take notes from the suits.

A second season that's unwatchable is bad.  A pilot that's unwatchable?

Makes you wonder what execs were thinking when they aired it.  In other words, what are they smoking at FOX?

THE PASSAGE aired Monday.  It's an ugly show with a bunch of ugly actors who weren't cast because they had talent.  Take Vincent Piazza who looks like someone bought a Russell Crowe Mr. Potato Head and then superglued it together to force various pieces into the wrong places.  Or take Jamie McShane whose head looks as though it traveled through the narrowest birthing canal in the world.

Mark-Paul Gosselaar and Saniyya Sidney get by on their own personal likability.  They have to resort to that because there's nothing in the script to build on.

The tired premise of a show about vampires is made even more boring by the refusal of the writers to explain what's going on: The vampires will be weaponized.  That's why they want Abby -- she's been exposed to the virus by her mother but has a form of immunity -- to weaponize the virus.

But you'll never find that in the first episode.  They keep the very thing that would make the show more exciting and interesting a secret.  If Mark-Paul and Saniyya's characters do not prevail, a lot will go wrong with the world -- not by accident, but due to actual intent.

Somehow, that's the only thing that the writing fails to spell out.  Otherwise, it plays like a Tuesday on an old soap opera.  All the A-story characters are absent and let's go into Mona Kane's kitchen for a cup of coffee and to hear two characters recap every storyline that's taken place so far this year.  As if the never-ending exposition the characters are saddled with isn't bad enough, the show also resorts to voice overs.

Talk, talk, talk.  The never-ending words splatter all over the place but never really register.  What does register?  A man -- a supposed good guy -- punches Saniyya's character Amy in the face at a park.  The fact that Mark-Paul then tells him that, if he does it again, he will shoot him in the face doesn't make the punch any better.

It's an ugly moment and, after watching the entire first episode, it's the only moment that registers leaving the viewer to wonder why the show even aired to begin with?

And that's before you realize that this was the second pilot they filmed.  As bad as Monday's THE PASSAGE was, apparently, there exists a version that's even worse.

A little time spent with characterization might have saved the show.

It certainly saved the latest LIFETIME movie.  Saturday night saw the debut of ESCAPING THE MADHOUSE: THE NELLIE BLY STORY.

A tight script, by Helen Childress, opens with a title card quote from investigative journalist Nellie Bly, "The Insane Asylum on Blackwell's Island is a human rat trap.  It is easy to get in.  But once there, it is impossible to get out."  We then have a series of fast cuts that establishes everything -- often without words -- that needs to be established.  The script and the acting pulls you in and keeps you interested.

Christina Ricci follows up her accomplished performance as Lizzie Borden with yet another confident portrayal.  She's assisted with a very strong cast that includes Joshua Bowman (Daniel from REVENGE) as a smarmy doctor who appears to believe the greatest medical aid in 1887 is his own penis.  Equally sure of themselves is Judith Light's Matron Grady who loves her little bird but has no compassion for Nellie.  Faced with the reality that Nellie isn't insane, Grady's willing to drive her nuts rather than have Nellie report what she's seen.

The film addresses how we are shaped and changed.  Even Matron Grady has been shapen (misshapen) by her own past.

Light does some of her strongest work yet and that's really saying something considering the miracles she's achieved in melodrama (Karen on ONE LIFE TO LIVE), broad comedy (WHO'S THE BOSS?),  comedy-drama (UGLY BETTY and TRANSPARENT) and TV movies (THE RYAN WHITE STORY and MEN DON'T TELL ).  If you check out her ground breaking work from ONE LIFE TO LIVE on YOUTUBE, you'll see scenes that are meant to deliver applause -- Karen admitting on the witness stand that she's a prostitute.  More to the point, you'll see low key scenes like Vicki (Erika Slezak) and her boys visiting Karen at The Waldorf with board games and how Light brings magic to that scene.  She really has been one of TV's most accomplished actress for many decades now.

As Matron Grady, she loves her little bird.  She feeds it and holds it in her hand.  Near the end of the film, she waits for it to come out of its cage and it doesn't.  One wonders what would have happened next if she hand't been interrupted by the police?

Because Matron Grady loves toying with everyone.  With Bowman's Dr. Josiah, for example.  "Shall I sit down or is the lecture over?" she asks him when he attempts to intervene on behalf of a patient.  She toys with Nellie, the patient in question, throughout.  And she does it lightly, but with an edge.  And if the message does not get across or if she feels her back is against the wall, she comes out swinging.  What would have happened to that bird, refusing to come out of its cage, if the police hadn't arrived?

Mark Hildreth deserves praise as well.  He's playing noble, never easy to pull off.  But he invests real emotion and power into the role.

There's a richness to the portrayals that you rarely see in a TV movie.  But then, you rarely see it in television period.  Which is why season five of GRACE AND FRANKIE is all the more amazing.  Like RUNAWAYS, this NETFLIX series has developed a large cast and continues to add to it.  Unlike RUNAWAYS, GRACE AND FRANKIE is a show smart enough to keep the main characters front and center.

Marsha Mason, Peter Gallagher, Scott Evans and Millicent Martin are back as supporting characters and they get their moments and then some (we learn that Joan-Margaret directed porn in the 70s).  Among the new faces, Megean Fay and Paul Michael Glaser show up as Goldie and Leo, new in-laws for Bud (Baron Vaughn).

Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin continue to deepen their characterizations.  Grace and Frankie arrive at the end of season five wondering not just if they need one another, but if they even want to continue to live together.  It's not a happy thought (even knowing there will be a season six) but it provides a lot of room for Jane and Lily to add layers to their performances.

There were no layers in season one of NETFLIX's THE PUNISHER.  Season two ends up being even worse.  This go round, they want to tackle Donald Trump.  That shouldn't be very difficult.  Shouldn't be.  Somehow, they're not even up for that.  In fact, season two appears to exist solely to defend NETFLIX's sure to be upcoming announcement that the show is being cancelled.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported License.
Poll1 { display:none; }