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 Television Review: Continuing Boundaries & The Human Medium: Returning TV Shows – Spring 2012 – Part II

The advent of a plethora of continuing animated shows distinctifies the approach of the genre but, beyond the procedurals, there lies a grand amount of live action situations (cartoons if you like) that can get the boundaries bumping on good ol’ Earth. Granted many of these shows that can balance humor and drama are harder to come by but USA tends to keep on top of it as highlighted by their sophomore show “Fairly Legal” while a cartoon like “Bob’s Burgers” exemplifies using the medium to reflect real human intentions albeit with longer foreheads.

Ugly Americans As much as the lead character Mark wants to help people, he ultimately gets sidetracked by the element of pursuit that trumps all others: sex. In expanding their comfort zone outwards, the creators decide to switch Callie for an episode to a guy (ultimately so she can infiltrate the underwater kingdom of Atlantis) which creates an element of unease as Mark’s girlfriend (being a demon) doesn’t understand such things. Ultimately the idea becomes that pollution begets pollution. The aspect of upper and mis-management becomes a more particular case when, through the aspect of a bad stand up routine, Mark becomes the head of the company only to find out a grand amount of misspent money to celebrate employees birthdays. While not as mythological, “Americans” does find its footing but it is becoming harder for it to stay there.

South Park The application of social niceties never quite circled into Cartman’s realm but with the continuing thought here the balance between notions of genre and ripped from the headlines precedence seems to unbalance at the weirdest of times. While the bullying aspect might in fact be explored in deeper structure at a different time, the idea of Cartman as both a would-be emissary as well as the town’s worst nightmare seems to be prevailing whether he is racially profiling a relationship while also posing as gay or spearheading the most simple squandering based episodes about the new trendy kind of streaking to do. Despite this, the extremeness of the novelty is wearing off, even with an intrinsic spot on element about the TSA where inspectors are placed in bathrooms after an over-reactive mother dies on the toilet when her son doesn’t put the toilet seat down.

Thundercats Building the mythology involves the cats moving through worlds and not just staying on the ground. The evolution and pursuit of this is the key in making the series more epic. The use of the different animal classes whether it be dog, cat, bird, rat or beyond start to form an element of the hierarchy which gives the storyline much more gravitas beyond the literal threat of Mum-Ra. What is starting to happen is an evolution into a notion of “Spartacus” with Lion-O acting as that stalwart which has come into more specific focus when a new female cat who is a fighter in the arena becomes part of their clan. The infiltration of this storyline is subtle in the way it necessitates itself. However even the use of Lion-O going through different trials into order to win his life back after he mistakenly dies hints at a notion of theology which crystallizes even more when they have to take to the skies which is where their destiny lies, mystical rock or no.

Fairly Legal The tantalizing effort of mediator Katie seems to grow on a person. She can be a tad annoying but ultimately completely into control of her facilities. Last season seemingly portrayed an idealism of her being the pursuer instead of the pursuee in terms of her imploding marriage because she was so off her rock and focused on herself. There is no doubt that Katie is a selfish person at heart but her flaws (like the characters on many other USA Network shows) points to a fact of redemption. The idea that her resolution would come from a man who just has about enough regret as a spider shows the fire that the writers are playing with. It works in texture enough until it needs to be acted upon. Adding in a political race with Katie’s former husband as running for the contested DA seat creates some extra tension. What wins this viewer is simply Katie’s ability to be herself even in what should be a weighty legal world. His scenario to prove a legal point to her legal partner (and would-be suitor) using sexual teasing to prove a point is both intoxicating and heavily annoying which is what makes it work.

Bob’s Burgers The continuation of such a low-key show defies expectation but this little engine that could has done what “Allen Gregory” and “Unsupervised” cannot: a searing animated show that can still be funny without losing its irony or resorting to overdone sight gags. Whereas in “Archer”, H. Jon Benjamin is the star of the show, here he is the voice of reason; it is the kids with their intensive lack of sense and morality (or, in one case, too much of both) that propels the ideas. Whether it be looking for treasure in a soon-to-be-demolished taffee factory (which makes good reference to “The Goonies” with Cyndi Lauper even singing a modified theme song for the end credits) to Bob becoming a would-be hostage negotiator with his burgers, the irony is all too available. His kids are attention grabbers who will use whatever means they can to hog the high life from Bob who, beyond his simpleton view, means well.

Living Specific Structure Redefined: Returning Spring 2011 Television Shows – Review – Part III

Those drama/thrillers that survive their first season jumps require either a sense of foreboding or story structure that interrelates their true nature. Whether based in a heightened universe (as most are) or in dealing with the moral ineptitude of life, the following shows examine the life in-between.

Fringe As the idea of the collapsing of two universes continues to gain credence, the conception of the Olivia/Peter relationship falls into almost the pairing that can undo the universe. In creating this structure with the alternate Olivia (with a very soapy but plausible functional plot twist), the idea of what is the greater evil becomes much more defined. Why and how certain things will happen obviously works in congruence with the show’s mythology which is now so deep that it will be hard for first time viewers to actually impede into the world. For example, the supposed ghost episode is highly interactive in terms of the battle between two worlds and works exceptionally because of it but reflects into the reality that the show provides. The densely structured character work especially with John Noble and now, to a high regard, Anna Torv works exceptionally well without losing sight of what the series actually is: a journey.

Stargate Universe Playing with the idea of self interplays with how the true nature of man unfolds. While the beginning of this on “Universe” begins predictably enough, the evolution of what the show begins to explore extends its esoteric potential. The only hesitation with someone like Dr. Rush is that Robert Carlyle plays his genius with disdain for everything else that it almost overcomes what the young character of Eli Wallace wants to perceive. The idea of a life within the cyberstructure of the ship, which is explored in one episode, truly draws the characters out but the race to the finish line to at least structure some closure leads to a parallel story structure which, while interesting, tries to cram too much information into a short progression of time.

Batman: Brave & The Bold The key in creating a more interesting and core Batman is to go dark which might stagger the actual possibility of good ratings. “Brave & The Bold” understands the necessity to go the other way placing the animated ode at an odd angle between something like “Batman Beyond” and “Superfriends”. While undeniably tongue-in-cheek for its own good, moving in different style directions, both artistically and narratively, has served it well. While the form has provided screen-time from everyone from Hawkman to Superman to new introductions like BatMite, the most egregious at times are the ones that border on silly like Bat Boy which, like the full musical episode last season, may be a little over the line. Batman is an institution and being able to poke fun is definitive to its structure while maintaining a decor of ethos. That said, having other superheroes try to play Batman while the Caped Crusader is injured on an orbiting space station ,did have its great moments.

The Event Accelerating the possibilities of the show revolves around the fact of trying to create new narrative elements that are seen in a different way and create an awe factor. Despite a distilled production structure, this series seems to play the ideas by the numbers. Disappearing on buses after taking down the Washington Monument almost plays too B-movie. The character structures resound flimsy as well with the Vice President almost too cartoonish to exert any real threat especially against the head of intelligence and a bunch of co-opted CIA agents. While the inset of the season, especially with the presence of Hal Halbrook, seems to indicate a bigger mythology, the eventual crux of that story line fizzles especially in relation to Jason Ritter’s vendetta fueled lead who ultimately comes off as more weak than resolute.

Law & Order: LA When shake-ups brewed inevitable in terms of personnel shifting on the series, the question became how involved would an audience be in the changing of the overall structure. If this kind of action were taken at the end of the second season, it might have had more power. The reality is that TV shows are on a much more restricted timeline in terms of delivery progression. While the movement of Alfred Molina to the detective side after Skeet Ulrich’s character is assassinated creates a structure of rich drama, it is not used to utmost effect because the investment is not quite there despite best intentions. The character that represents the most possibility is Corey Stoll though his emotional turmoil hasn’t manifested to a boil. That is the story line to watch.

Formula Structured Rectifications: Returning Spring 2011 Television Shows – Review – Part II

Maintaining a sense of pacing, style, wonder and general creative progression with continuing series is always a path of infinite choosing. With formula-based series like “Royal Pains”, “Justified” and “Human Target”, what made them interesting was the modulation of characters while keeping some elements of their lives a secret. The more one knows, the more the progression of what they will become waxes more defined. With comedies like “Hot In Cleveland” and “Robot Chicken”, the intensity maintains to the fact of how far you will go.

Royal Pains The tendency of a medical show on the road is the aspect that situations tend to dictate the kind of medicine needed. The interesting angle of The Hamptons is that everyone wants to keep a secret. Unlike the earlier intersections of the past two seasons with international dealings and the idiom of Cuba, the new conflicts of the show seem remarkably domestic. Granted Evan, Dr. Hank’s brother, seems to be coming into his own but the respective intentions of their overall experiences (despite their physician assistant’s upcoming nuptials) seem structured and hardly full of tension. The pervasive father/sons dynamic optimizing Henry Winkler has intrinsically run its course with no indicative place to go. While the show’s vibrancy in terms of character is much more eccentric than say “Off The Map”, its narrative progression hiccups in its returning texture searching for a more worthwhile third act.

Hot In Cleveland Despite the farcical interaction of the three leads initially cast led by Valerie Bertinelli, the inclusion of Betty White despite the inherent extremity of the situations plays heartily. While her intention seems to soften a little bit a couple of episodes in, the vigor of the comedy coming fast and furious from the elder partier is refreshing. Though the two-part episode featuring a spot by Susan Lucci seems a bit forced prompting a return to Los Angeles, Cleveland is where the show lives as long as the jokes continue. A great example of the series’ inherent tone personifies itself in the idea of White as a mob wife who in the first episode ends up in the slammer with Mary Tyler Moore as a rival where things get catty. The grand element of these types of shows on TV Land is that you can bring in all the old cronies (like John Schneider from “Dukes Of Hazzard”) into any episode and it still targets the core demographic of the channel.

Human Target The relevance of Christopher Chance angles in allowing him to be an all encompassing superhero with a quick wit and no faults. This season introduces a seductive and all-together unknowing boss who enters into situations without a full perception of their possibilities. It is because of this gumption that she starts to unravel the team. The boys club with the three prism of brutality involving the braun (Chance), the instinct (Winston) and the brains (Guerrero) is tailor-structured as a modern day A-Team but with the addition of Ames (another female – who is a wonderful foil to Guerrero in a much different way in comparison to a similar egghead situation on “NCIS: Los Angeles”), there seems more of a balance of brevity which takes away from the peril of the situation. Like at the end of the Timothy Dalton era where James Bond changes his intent of focus in his job from professional responsibility to personal vendetta, the change of priority is interesting but is not as compelling as the original mission stories.

Robot Chicken The irrepressible ideal to bring the comparisons between “Family Guy” and “Robot Chicken” are undeniable simply because the crossover element is specifically created (more recently than not because of their consecutive “Star Wars” homages). What is becoming noticeable is the increasing prevalence of strong, darker and more adult themes in both shows. After surface gags have sufficed for so long what would seem to make sense to the creators (specifically director Chris McKay here) is the certain pop culture references that interact with modern society have to be turned against each other. The result, beginning with the premiere episode’s ode to “Saving Private Ryan” and continuing through many requisite skits reflects a sense of brutality that is much more prevalent than before. Oddly enough still the most satisfying bits are the humping robot because he is a throwback to the less cynical moments. The best bit so far though is the Keebler Elves trying to stop the Cookie Monster in an “Braveheart”-type stand off followed by the requisite trial where his mother attacks the judge. The comedy is funny to be sure but the underlying context moves darker and darker with decidedly mixed visions.

Justified After the inherently resolute finish with last season’s Crowder incident, the specific vision revolving around the price on Marshall Givens’ head would seem to be a resounding voice in terms of dealing with second season structure. In narrative progression, this should have created a less Kentucky-based idealism. However last season’s final incident is glossed over with an uneasy truce that appears to allow for another family of illegal proportions to find their way into Raylan’s life in the form of the Bennetts. This new family, among other things, offers the addition of exceptional actors in the form of Jeremy Davies and Margo Martindale who display Kentucky pride with the right amount of deviance. Boyd Chowder, who was the devil incarnate who found God last season, deals with both redemption and temptation which continues to be variant themes in the series while Raylan himself, despite some interesting personal relationships, comes more to terms with his life as a would-be reaper. The tension will continue with enough palpability as long as the drama proceeds towards a head with blunt force.

Comedic Reptile Wranglings: Returning Spring 2011 Television Shows – Review – Part I

The inevitable question of would-be sophmore season series relies in their ability to find an identity without changes the superstructure against what was their initial construct. With certain shows like “V”, the progression is based on an inevitable conclusion while “Archer” and “Parks & Rec” rely on a more uncertain endgame. “Community” is the most surpruising simply because its evolution has found itself in a time vaccuum giving the characters unlimited current pastiche to explore a variety of genres.

V The progression of this alien sci-fi series always leads to the structure of what will transpire and how cataclysmic it will be. Morina Baccarin as the Queen Snake has the undeniable feline/reptilian phase structure going on. The tendency is to look down at the human race as a little bit slow on the take because they cannot see their inevitable doom. That taken, despite some grand set pieces (which are done with placement on matte and green screen), the series plays primarily to a soap rhetoric despite its more lofty ambitions. As Erica, Elizabeth Mitchell from “Lost” works as specifically as she can against the material moving it towards a knowledge of heart but the reality is that the narrative needs to move more as exposition is flowing. Ultimately the power struggle doesn’t specifically nature itself to any true drama.

Archer Moving into its second season, Archer knows exactly what it is: a sex comedy peppered with a little bit of spy. The animation itself (likely due to increased support from FX) shows a little more flash at least in the season opener where Archer needs to protect the daughter of a billionaire who is a possible donor for the cash-starved ISIS. Her topless ride through the snow drifts plays to the notion of what James Bond was always thinking in the back of his mind when going down slopes with various women. The continual episodes rage in the interesting purveyance of the flu and baby daddies which of course gives way to the great joke (if not utterly impractical idea) of a candy wrapper as a condom. “Archer” is fun to watch because it knows that it is not serious at all. Just animation positioned in a great superstructure with room to play.

Parks & Recreation At the end of last season, the group was running at a fairly good pace with all the characters finding their voices with undeniable forthcoming. Amy Poehler did pause production per se because of said baby with Wil Arnett. However the requisite adding of new cast members in Rob Lowe and Adam Scott seem a bit floundering in their use because it almost belittles the cast. All the characters from Tom to Andy to Ron and back were just hitting their stride. The possibility that must be considered is that the women weren’t getting their due (though April is the heart of the show). Lowe and Scott fill that quota but interestly enough not as cameo day players but rather as full-fledged cast members. Now granted this is used also a plot ploy to create the essence of Pawnee’s Rec Department being threatened to be shut down. The solution is the Harvest Festival and while this idea is building, the best episode so far has revolved around Swanson and his rapid ex-wife Tammy who pulls him into a black hole of sin. It is these kind of off-the-cuff shenanigans that “Parks” (like “Community”) is great at. The question becomes one of balance. Send Andy on a quest. He’ll love it.

Community As compared to the early episodes in the first season, this show has truly found its footing. Like fellow sophomore series “Cougar Town” but from a completely different angle, this half hour tome realizes that you don’t have to stay within the box to truly make the jokes work. Pushed back into trying its wares again after members of the cast seemed so ethusiastic at TCAs about a “Dungeons & Dragons” episode just filmed, the modulation simply stuns because of the volley ability of the cast. All the characters get equal time, almost in a “Cheers” functionality which allows the perfect pairing of Donald Glover and Danny Pudi as the misfits to shine. Chevy Chase is truly recognizing the possibilities as well. The key to maintaining its creation is to not oversaturate its own self identity because once it becomes too aware of itself, the whole game’s over.