IR TV Review: PEARSON [USA-S1]

The essence of politics and law can be a tricky slope. The intention of what characters do and don’t do are usually reflective of how they live their lives and what they want to accomplish. In “Pearson”, which focuses on the travails of one Jessica Pearson who formerly ran a law firm in New York in “Suits” is an interesting transmutation.

At a TCA panel attended when “Pearson” was announced, Gina Torres discussed how she thought she was done with this world but that this series gave her an interesting balancing act. As the focal point, it is about Pearson’s deconstruction without losing the elements that make her character who she is. Pearson was always a fixer but here she is a fish out of water. She has all her experience but has to learn the new path of fixing problems in a city that continues in its paradoxical ways.

Chicago is a ripe city for this series to be set, both reflective of its history and because of its history. It doesn’t make the mechanizations too dense within the plot but also understands that nobody is clean yet all are dipped in shades of gray. There is something gnawing at every single one of the characters…no matter how virtuous or altruistic they think they are. Bethany Jo Lenz as City Attorney Keri Allen brings a balance of power and vulnerability which is an interesting diametric to Pearson. Isabel Arraiza as Yoli Castillo reflects in a different manne with a subtext and subtle innerworkings that remind one of Meghan Markle in “Suits” albeit from a different perspective.

The notion of family also has a very specific tenure within the story on many fronts, including the mayor and his brother, two halves of the same whole but with different understanding of sacrifice and loyalty. Morgan Spector as Mayor Bobby Golec walks the line between glib and vilified, inspiring and decadent…sometimes the mark of a true politician. There is also a balance of optimism introspected by Eli Goree as Derrick the press secretary and even Chantel Riley’s Angela who is cousin and parallel to Jessica but with the exact opposite problems in many ways as the lead character.

The season (without spoilers) progresses in a sense of stopping a dam but realizing the cracks being formed or simply becoming more pronounced. The series knows the puzzle pieces it is constructing but also the plot points it needs to hit. It isn’t a by-the-books procedural in any way since the characters move awkwardly with real intention which can only be accomplished through subtlety in writing.

Pearson as a character is an enigma but one icy enough that an audience can root for her but now also fallible enough to know what can and can’t be solved hence making her more accessible to the audience. Chicago, like all of America, is about fighting what is right but knowing that paths are meant to be circular. The notion of identity examined in “Pearson”, both about who we are and who we want to be is a conscious awareness that its lead character continues to traverse.

B

By Tim Wassberg

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IR TV Review: ANOTHER LIFE [Netflix-S1]

The texture of “Another Life” as a series revels in a structure of both existentialism but also a progression of what life or the essence of what it means to an individual person really is. Katee Sackhoff, in the most dynamic and essential character she has played since Starbuck in “Battlestar Galactica” is a commander who is brought in to lead a mission with a crew who undeniably is stacked against her. The dynamic and the subsequent ideal of perhaps a one way trip is personified in the intentions and perceptions of the crew. The one aspect that truly comes through, whether by design or organically, is the diversity of the characters and the personal interrelations. Some seem forced while others seem very fluid in the very sense of the word. The most interesting of the secondary cast is Blu Hunt as August and Jessica Camacho as Michelle simply because of their dynamic opposite personalities which shows the extremes of what space travel can do because of psychological resilience or as a coping mechanism.

The motivation of the first season (as seen in full but not revealing spoilers) involves finding the source of an alien probe which has made it’s way to Earth. Sackhoff as Captain Niko goes on the voyage as a modulation of protecting her daughter while her husband stays on Earth as a analyst trying to decode what the alien is about. The backdrop is perhaps similar to “Annihilation” which is vastly superior in terms of its texture and philosophy but more esoteric in terms of its character development. Reflexivity and what we think of ourselves play a big part as well as the hierarchy of command but also the curiosity of exploring the unknown.

The interesting structure that some episodes take on is the aspects of say a “Star Trek” episode with angles of the unknown (with a slightly darker tinge) while others can have the dread of say “Alien” or “Event Horizon” with differing levels of success.

Returning to the character work, the writers are not afraid of showing the different facets of human fallibility but also sexuality and insecurity. Some of these interactions and relationships work organically while others require a little more angling in the narrative to work. The most interesting by far but also the one that reflects Niko’s psychology even more is her interaction with William, the onboard AI who controls the ship. Like a variation of The Doctor on “Star Trek: Voyager” melding with that of Bishop in “Aliens” the context of what dictates emotions or the simulation of emotions comes to bare along with elements of the unconscious. This culminates in certain ways as the season progresses.

Back on Earth, the different paradigms reflect in the people on earth reacting to certain stimuli of the alien presence. Selma Blair as a would-be social media maven seems a little too specifically geared to the modern sensibility but her delivery especially in context of what can be perceived actually works in the long run while Tyler Hoechlin as Niko’s left behind husband reacts in understandable ways. The Earthbound story is not as engaging as the one taking place on the ship but, by extension, the stakes seem much higher up in space.

The special effects are effectively done with a certain veracity (much like the recent “Lost In Space”) and take into account some of the ideas that “Interstellar” played into with but sans the elite grandeur vying for the more practical. The design inside Niko’s ship balances between the claustrophobic but the technical much like a blend between The Nostromo in “Alien” and The Sulaco in “Aliens”. There is a dank humid element to the technology inside the ship like a submarine but with the idea that pressure or the lack of it lurks just beyond the walls.

“Another Life” is an interesting perspective into the sci-fi genre with a character worthy of Katee Sackhoff whose career choices will always be compared to her groundbreaking Starbuck on “Battlestar Galactica”. The assemblage of the crew and their dynamic plus a hidden foe which will not be named in various forms keeps the tension in play while exploring different ideas of psychology, sociology and space travel.

B-

By Tim Wassberg

IR TV Review: JETT [Cinemax-S1]

The texture of a series like “Jett” really keys into understanding what it is but the implicit necessity of what can be done within its confines. Writer/Director Sebastian Gutierrez and his wife/actress Carla Gugino have a real sense of the way to make noir idealism with sexuality and emotional overtones without becoming melodramatic. They have done this in many of their low budget films like “Elektra Luxx” and “Women In Trouble” but were always limited by the budgets or the eyes of the independent film crowd.

In making “Jett” with Cinemax (which has delivered another interesting tale right after “Warrior”), this series takes that European sensibility that Gutierrez has created (watch his most recent film: “Elizabeth Harvest” which played SxSW in 2017), but gives it an effective almost low end DePalma make over without losing the abstract elements in part that have become a stalwart of these collaborations. Gugino famously starred in “Snake Eyes” with Nicolas Cage for DePalma nearly 20 years ago so seeing her transformation from there to this is undeniably satisfying. Though there are moments of plot driven exposition, the idea and dynamics flow along at a decent pace while still letting some of the scenes breathe.

The plot without getting into too many details follows Jett played by Gugino whose real name is Daisy who is a master thief both helping and providing intel for Charlie, a debonair gangster played with aplomb by the dynamic Giancarlo Esposito. Many different characters interplay but what is interesting is no matter how damaged they are, or how cold Jett might be, there is always a sense of what might be called malignant hope…a hope that gnaws in the plot and the characters even though you know it is bad to believe in it. Whether it is Elena Anaya (who Almodovar discovered) as the rock Maria to Gaite Jansen as the lost Phoenix to Michael Aranov as the intrepid Jackie, there is so much to rip them apart and yet certain travails keep them going and connected. The violence is motivated but also malignant in its wantonness.

Gutierrez is specific with his colors and textures as he has always been but what this medium allows him to do (as he wrote and directed all 9 episodes) is a consistency of vision but also to focus on small character moments which are made specific by the titles of all the episodes. One of the more dynamic because it doesn’t focus as much on the main characters is called “Rosalie” where Bennie, one of Esposito’s hitmen, gets into a different situation than he bargained for with one of the affected victims of a hit. It is both a diatribe on human behavior but also ironically funny and introspective in many ways. The inherent essence also behind “Jett” is that it doesn’t feel it necessary to put an air of true finality on certain relationships and yet it defines them…it gives the perceptions of the characters but lets the viewer decide on their own what they think of them.

“Jett” is by no means an excellent series but it is quite good. It is self indulgent at times. But it is also undeniably poetic and vicious, tender and dark, beautiful and messy. Gugino glides through the scenes like a crow stalking its prey but also understanding that without the surrounding messy ends around her, she would not exist. Her losses are visceral but they are also necessary. Jett is an image but also a reality in terms of the character build. And for that reason because Gugino and Guitterez can approach this material in this medium with a sense of instinct, style, fun and gravitas, it allows that kind of tone that maybe might have been difficult to give a wide breathe in an independent movie the kind of texture it needs in a cabler series like “Jett”.

B+

By Tim Wassberg

IR TV Review: “Through The Valley Of Shadows” (STAR TREK – DISCOVERY) [CBS All Access-S2]

The essence that “Star Trek: Discovery” is trying to maintain in the sense of its progression is reflecting canon while still maintaining mystery and a sense of tension. With the aspect of “Through The Valley Of Shadows”, the foreshadowing continues and starts an infrastructure that interrelates in an odd way to aspects of “The Wrath Of Khan” but it also offers a bigger perception without either actor ever revealing it of the deep seated secrets or regrets with Spock, whether it be in the outcome of this escapade of “The Red Angel”, the perception of “The Managerie” or even Spock’s eventual second family in the Enterprise crew of Bones and Kirk and his eventual death and resurrection. To do this in a larger structure with the fact that certain ripple effects might literally wipe Michael Burnham out of the timeline at a certain point is a real perception. While reflexive, the show is still working on the basest psychological constructs. And especially within this idea, the concept of time, hinted at in the texture of “Interstellar” and its reflections of relativity, really gives an undeniably concept of the larger ideas that Discovery is playing with. Anson Mount shines in this episode as Pike and again gives clarity of the embracing of his ideas and what creates the shell of the man he becomes, both literally and figuratively. What is really reassuring is the adherence to the original series and its eventual progression and not the timeline of the new movies which while interesting for the big screen is not as integral a story as this one is turning out to be.

By Tim Wassberg

IR TV Review: “Perpetual Infinity” (STAR TREK – DISCOVERY) [CBS All Access-S2]

The aspect of loyalty is a concept that unbalances itself many times with “Star Trek: Discovery”. The idea of trust and the greater good can be mired by thoughts and perceptions of selfishness and the intricate values of altruism. In ”Perpetual Infinity”, the idea of what is for the greater good and what simply necessitates survival is what is the key in capturing The Red Angel. Without revealing any plot points, the texture of who we pretend to be always reveals itself in essence who we truly are. Michael Burnham hides her emotions to protect herself from the loss of her mother. Spock hides his emotions because of emotional pain Michael inflicted on him as a child. While the mythic is not as much in play here as the previous episode, the aspect of loss of choice and the resulting idea of consequence takes over the episode in many ways. The fluid dynamics of time have to figure in with what is happening. But the stubborn aspect of Michael’s bloodline in the feeling that every problem can be fixed is undeniable. But as Spock references two aspects of literature in the episode including one to Macbeth, the proof is in between the lines. The texture of tragedy is only a short time away. The future is fluid and is always changing but every possible outcome has a foreboding nature, as evidenced in Christopher Pike, possibly Michael and eventually and most heartbreakingly Spock. It is just in what lays ahead…come what may.

By Tim Wassberg

IR TV Review: “If Memory Serves” (STAR TREK: DISCOVERY) [CBS All Access – S2]

The aspect of canon has always been a thistle in a way in the side of the “Discovery”. While striving to make something original, this franchise like Star Wars can be helped and hindered. But in its best it transcends. “If Memory Serves” is the best episode of the series by far because it found that balance. In bringing in old TOS lore, and staying fairly close without breaking it, it necessitates what might be in store. The aspect of Michael and Spock is so dynamic because it shows the incessant humanity while completely lost in logic. When he finally begins speaking, it makes a lot of what we have seen past and present integrated. It also very much speaks to perhaps a bigger structural basis between the Kelvin & Prime Universes which undoubtedly is spacing through the writers’ room. That said, despite any of the mechanics, “If Memory Serves” is a dynamic emotional episodes that contains the best perspective of Star Trek episodes in that they make you think, reflect but also emote. While Michael and Spock carry the basis of the episode, it is the balance and intent of Anson Mount as Christopher Pike and his connection that allows for the bridge between two worlds, as Mount alluded to IR at our interview at TCA, without him giving a thing away. Bravo.

By Tim Wassberg

IR TV Review: “Light And Shadows” (STAR TREK: DISCOVERY) [CBS All Access – S2]

The essence of “Light And Shadows” reflects in the ideas of who we are and who we are to be perceived to be. In the most recent episode, Doug Jones’ Saru discovered that his instincts were really part of an awakening which allowed him to come to his unseen potential. The inference comes to a head as he is drawn back home to face demons, literally and metaphorically that have changed the idea of what it means to exist. This balances in Michael Burnham’s continuing search for Spock and the reasoning of this point. We finally see the first glimpses of Ethan Peck as Spock but what is really interesting is the diametric of the family as Michael herself returns home and like Saru must understand the difference between knowing her path and walking the path. The Red Angel continues to be a presiding influence but in true serialized storytelling structure it is starting to take on a different meaning in terms of its resonance. Connection is a big driving force but tolerance and understanding even more so despite differing socio, political, even world views. The ideal that ends the episodes again points to another piece in the puzzle which slowly but surely continues to unfold while telling very universal stories which “Star Trek” has always been known for.

By Tim Wassberg