(reprinted from my article on Shadow And Act 10-11-2012 — http://blogs.indiewire.com/shadowandact/this-week-in-black-television-the-new-fall-season-thoughts-thus-far)
This regular feature has been clearly absent the past two weeks because I was buried under an avalanche…of too many TV shows! Between returning favorites like Fringe and new fare like Last Resort, there’s been a torrent of TV watching in the ol’ homestead. But now I’ve finally dug myself out and am able to share my humble opinions on what’s good so far and what (or who) needs to go back to the drawing board. Warning – SPOILERS ARE ABOUND!
Co-starring Kym Whitley and starring Justin Kirk, Joanna Garcia-Swisher
People are coming down on this show, and while it may not be a comedy giant I actually enjoy Kirk’s acerbic wit and his chemistry with ex-girlfriend and now boss Dorothy Crane, played by Garcia Swisher, best known as daughter Cheyenne from the Reba McIntrye WB series Reba. What’s horrible about the show is Bobby Lee, who just isn’t funny as a “punching bag’ character – though many may argue that he’s not even funny when he isn’t that – and that they usually funny Tyler Labine is being wasted as an almost straight man when he’s usually the funniest person on the cast, making us miss his biggest charm. Whitley is okay as Juanita, a nurse in the practice and obviously just provides a supporting role and actually has less screentime that everyone else. Undoubtedly the best thing about the show is the Crystal the monkey from The Hangover II playing Dr. Rizzo. If you don’t remember him (her?) from that, he’s also the monkey that appeared in that commercial during the Summer Olympics where he was on the parallel bars that was shown right after a story Bob Costas did about Gabby Douglas doing the same. Yeah, ahem. That said, the monkey really is funny!
Co-starring: Craig Robinson and Leslie David Baker
Thankfully this is the last season of this show, which really sucks after Steve Carrell left. Still, as his star rises more every year Craig Robinson as Darryl remains one of the only watchable aspects of this show, and was recently promoted as assistant regional manager of fictional paper company Dunder-Mifflin under Ed Helms’ Andy Bernard, who has been in charge of the branch last year after Michael Scott’s (Carrell) departure. Really, everyone on the show seems to be winging it right now and it’s pretty boring, though a new storyline with Jim (John Krasinsky) realizing how stagnant his life is and taking a secret chance jumpstarting a new company is a fresh compelling storyline. Recent show addition Clark Duke, who starred with Robinson in Hot Tube Time Machine, has given the show some much-needed humor and vitality. And having Ameenah Kaplan’s recurring character Val as Darryl’s love interest is also nice to see – they have nice chemistry and she’s has a welcoming on-screen presence.
Co-starring Tyler James Williams and Bill Cobbs, starring Matthew Perry
Though I’ve always liked Perry, I wasn’t expecting much from Go On. BIG MISTAKE. I see Go On as a dark comedy, one not so concerned with being nice but ultimately does sneak in some great lessons on not just how to relate to others, but moving on with grief as Perry’s character Ryan King has lost his wife and is forced by management at the radio station where he hosts a popular talk show to enter therapy before returning. The writers returned King to work by episode two, providing a workable balance between his professional life and his therapy shenanigans, in which he’s on surface the most stable among his cohorts but they’re all pretty damaged underneath. Tyler James Williams isn’t given enough to do though and he’s extremely overshadowed by his co-stars despite being the second most recognizable cast member behind Perry, so hopefully that will change soon. Veteran character actor Bill Cobbs, best known for his old angry Black man roles of late (and totally underrated in the film Get Low), as blind man George is one of those who does so, so much that in the pilot he wasn’t a regular cast member but go bumped up afterwards replacing actor/voice artist Khary Payton, who can’t seem to ever land a regular TV role outside of animation.
Co-starring Monica Raymund, Eamonn Walker, Charlie Barnett; starring Taylor Kinney and Jesse Spencer
Dick Wolf’s latest TV drama takes us out of NYC and to Chicago to a firehouse that takes on some of the Windy City’s toughest fires with the prettiest cast you’ll ever see doing so. The pilot just aired last night and predictably begins with a somewhat carless death of one of the squad members then transitions to a rookie aka ‘candidate’ coming on-board to take his place. Charlie Barnett plays said candidate, Pete Mills, and his fresh-faced enthusiasm is infectious, but not over done like in most melodramas. The kid is good on-screen and as an audience member you look forward to seeing more of him, though the main drama surrounds Kinney, who must like trouble as he co-starred as an EMT on the 2009’s failed NBC rescue drama Trauma (which co-starred Derek Luke) as firefighter/elite rescue squad Lt. Kelly Severide and House M.D.’s Jesse Spencer, with an impressive American accent, as his counterpart on the fire truck squad, Lt. Matthew Casey.
Monica Raymund, most recently seen on The Good Wife, plays EMT Gabriela Dawson, a forthright young woman who begins to question her skills after saving the life of a young girl through unsafe measures and is then left under review by her superiors. Raymund is given some fairly heavy drama which she does an adequate job of facing. I’m not sure this is the best role for her, but we’ll see how she performs in her next few episodes. I had to question whether I was being sexist being glad that she’s not one of the firefighters and having to prove that ‘she can do that job better than any man’. I’m glad that’s not her role as that would have been extremely predictable, though one has to question why there are no women on the squad (I have no idea what the ratio is between male and female firefighters in Chicago). Walker is just okay as the Fire Chief Boden, the man in charge of both the truck and rescue squads. Basically, he’s the big daddy and as such is somewhat detached from the heavy day-to-day internal struggles of the younger cast members. There is a back-story to him though, as rookie Mills sees significant scarring on his back as he walks in on the chief changing. Hopefully we find out more about that and him. I love how he was integral to the plot of the 2006-2007 FOX show Justice, as one of the four law firm members who handle high-profile, media-circus cases – basically what Scandal could’ve/should’ve been (though that’s not saying much since Justice didn’t last an entire season).
I’m not sure if this show will last, but the pilot’s fire scenes were excellently filmed and choreographed and imagine the budget for Chicago Fire is huge. It’s no Rescue Me, and really shouldn’t even be compared, so while the jury is still out it’s worth the next viewing.
Starring Giancarlo Esposito, co-starring Maria Howell, Tracy Spiridakos, and Billy Burke
I did a full review of Revolution weeks ago, and now four episodes in the show is, well, it’s just okay. Episode two, entitled Chained Heat, was a boring follow-up to the first pretty-good episode. Bit at least things picked up in number three, and this past Monday’s episode ‘The Plague Dogs’ was engaging and even a bit heartfelt. We haven’t seen Maria Howell’s character Grace since her secret use of electricity, which has been expunged from the Earth and resulted in a 15-year catastrophe, got her kidnapped by an unknown assailant in episode two. Characters Aaron and Maggie (Zak Orth, Anna Lise Phillips) did make it to her house and finally discovered what the device that Charlie’s (Spiridakos) dad gave Aaron was for, to spark the use of electric power, allowing Maggie to use her iPhone and see pictures of her children one last time.
Giancarlo Esposito is still scarily respected as Captain Tom Neville, a high-ranking office in the immediate region’s militia. He’s tough but not an a-hole, and his interaction with his prisoner, Charlie’s brother Danny (Graham Rogers) provides the best performances on-screen. You wait for Esposito to come on screen and are upset when he’s not. I want to enjoy Revolution more, so I and many other sci-fi fans prey that it will get better since it was the first show this year picked up for a full season.
Guys With Kids
Starring Anthony Anderson and Tempestt Bledsoe.
Is this still on the air? Just kidding (But really, is it?). Once you get past the awful title, the show is a standard as ever sitcom. I will say though that Anthony Anderson and Tempestt Bledsoe, in her first regular show since the revered The Cosby Show, do have good chemistry and the couple with multiple kids who are at their wits end. I like Anderson, he’s a funny dude, and he handles the material best as he can. Jesse Bradford as his newly divorced buddy Chris is funny and engaging, but The Sopranos’ Jamie-Lynn Sigler is not funny and pretty unwatchable in comedy. No one expects this show to last but if you just feel like watching a standard show that won’t stretch your imagination and will make you guffaw once or twice, tune into this sitcom.
Ben & Kate
Co-starring Echo Kellum, starring Nat Faxon and Dakota Johnson
Having reviewed the pilot in a prior column, I’ll go onto say that after three episodes Ben and Kate still stands up. Kellum has good comic timing as the titular Ben’s buddy Tommy, playing a relatively wealthy kid with too much time on his hands – and thus makes all the time for Ben. This can be argued as, pun not intended regarding his character’s name, Uncle Tom like tendencies, but if you inserted a white person into that role one would not be saying that. Still, history unfortunately accounts for something. The second episode in which Tommy gives up his parent’s house to cover as Kate’s since she’s trying to prove that she and her daughter Maddie live in a prestigious neighborhood so that she can attend a good school, was pretty funny and co-starred veteran actors Vernee Watson (Fresh Prince, What’s Happening?! – to name a few) and Tom Wright (Brother From Another Planet, Barbershop) as Tommy’s parents.
Co-starring Jasika Nicole and Lance Reddick; starring Anna Torv, Joshua Jackson and John Noble
Though Reddick has yet to appear, Jasika Nicole has been featured heavily in this final season of Fringe as Astrid Farnsworth. The action of the show now takes place in a dystopian 2036 wherein the creepy bald dudes The Observers rule over the Earth with an iron fist and Peter and Olivia’s now grown daughter Etta is an undercover freedom fighter. Nicole is not given enough to do still outside of helping mad scientist Walter (Noble) in the lab but it’s good to have her presence there.
Co-starring Lamorne Morris. Starring Zooey Deschanel.
I’m so not a fan of how Lamorne Morris’ character Winston is treated on this show that in a previous column I’ve coined the phrase “Winston’d” him/her to denote when a Black character appears on a show/movie to supposedly co-star, but is relegated to the background behind ALL other stars of the show/movie despite his/her supposed presence. This also applies to Ernie Hudson of Ghostbusters, who has the same name in that movie series, as not just to put this all on young Morris.
All that said, I somewhat feel that Winston is moving out of that rut. In the past episode he actually got a promotion on his job after feeling like a lesser-than these past few weeks. In a prior episode this season he’s been portrayed as so sad that he cannot escape the shadow of his WNBA star sister (the beautiful Keenyah Hill from America’s Next Top Model (2nd runner-up Cycle 4) and Ebony Lewis’ Truth Unspoken web-series) and overbearing mother played by Anna Maria Horsford, and can’t even figure out how to ‘get busy’ with his girlfriend Shelby, recurring cast member Kali Hawk (who we don’t see enough of and was hilarious in the ‘Time Angels’ episode of Adult Swim’s NTSF: SD: SUV).
666 Park Avenue
co-starring Vanessa L. Williams and Samantha Logan. Starring Terry O’Quinn, Rachael Taylor, Dave Annable
More soap than horror, and not necessarily in a good way, 666 Park Avenue continues ABC’s specialty of cheesy programming. The show’s premise is that, “At 666 Park Avenue, all of your dreams and burning desires can come true: wealth, sex, love, power, even revenge. But just be careful what you wish for, because the price you pay… could be your soul.” All that action takes place at an exclusive apartment building named the Drake, which is owned by O’Quinn (Locke from LOST) who plays a Gavin Doran, a devilish (or is he The Devil?) man that makes resident’s dreams come true – at a price. Vanessa L. Williams plays his wife Olivia, who is definitely in on her husband’s notorious plans to entrap new resident Henry Martin (Annable, from the very-much missed Brothers & Sisters which used to occupy this Sunday night slot) through his girlfriend and new drake resident manager Jane Van Veen (Taylor) who is trying to figure out the mysteries of the building.
I was on Twitter this past Sunday and saw some tweeter’s asking the same thing I was: When are they going to give Vanessa Williams something to do? We never see her directly involved in the evilness that Gavin is doing, she mainly stands around (still) looking pretty. As the heavy on Ugly Betty, we know that Williams has it in her to play a hardcore bad characters – so let her do it showrunners!
For me, the best part of the show is the strange teenager Nona played by Samantha Logan, a kleptmaniac who seems to have tactile telepathy, allowing her to see the future of objects she steals from people. Nona is odd but not creepy, coming off as sweet but with all the knowledge of someone three times her age. The kid is a good actress, so look out for her even if 666 doesn’t last – which I have a feeling it won’t.
Starring Andre Braugher and Sahr Ngaujah. Co-starring Scott Speedman, Robert Patrick, Autumn Reeser
Finally, a show we can sink our teeth into! Starring the best actor on television, Andre Braugher as Capt. Marcus Chaplin commands the U.S. ballistic submarine Colorado which has been given orders to nuke Pakistan. When he questions these orders, and calls Washington to authenticate, he’s given the runaround, and with his XO Sam Kendal (Speedman) decides to not fire - and the Colorado is targeted, fired upon, and hit. Their submarine crippled, and their own nation against them, the crew of the Colorado fights to survive unprecedented odds and set up a base of operations on a nearby NATO friendly island. Armed with a cache of nuclear missiles and a team of Navy SEAL’s who know more than they’re letting on, the island is their new home and last resort against those trying to kill them and steal their nukes.
Braugher as Chaplin is convincingly commanding and intense, but sensitive to his crew’s concerns. He’s no punk though, and has to constantly put in place not only those defying his orders but also the government of the US who are making him appear like a traitor. Speedman, in the first role I’ve been able to take him seriously in, plays a great Riker to Chaplin’s Picard really well, jumping into action with little hesitation and standing up for himself when necessary. As island ‘mayor’ Julian Serrat, actor Sahr Ngaujah, who most know best as playing ‘Fela’ from the Broadway play of the same name, has the potential to be a pretty nefarious bad guy as he has secretly kidnapped two of the sailors from the submarine, most likely to use as a bargaining chip for the people that have overtaken ‘his’ island. He didn’t appear in last week’s episode, but should in tonight’s own.
Last Resort is only doing okay in the ratings…so we need you all to watch it and keep it on the air!!!
Co-starring Chandra Wilson, James Pickett Jr., Jesse Williams. Starring Ellen Pompeo and Sandra Oh
Though the show is past its prime, it is good enough to still be on the air. And it’s definitely more watchable than the mind-numbing Private Practice. I’m glad that all the Black characters escaped season 7’s plane crash unscathed – basically because none of them were on the plane – though at the must-be-haunted Seattle Grace hospital, that won’t last for long. Look for more from Jesse Williams’ Dr. Avery Jackson as he steps up to fill the shoes of his now deceased mentor Dr. Sloan (Eric Dane).
I have left some shows out, but Scandal’s been covered to death here on S&A, and others like Person of Interest and I just haven’t gotten into enough to give a proper critique – but a follow-up will be done. I will say check out Emily Owens MD, the real-life-is-just-like-high school drama which makes its premiere next Tuesday at 9pm on the CW. Aja Naomi King (FOUR) co-stars as the baddy on the show Dr. Cassandra Kopelson and Kelly McCreary also co-stars as Dr. Tyra Granger. Stop the presses - Two black people on one show!