Review! The Big Bang Theory, Ep. 8.2: ‘The Junior Professor Solution’ [No Spoilers]

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The Big Bang Theory’s “one-hour premiere event” was not a one-hour episode—as such a thing would have been when I was a kid; instead, it was two back-to-back half-hour episodes, which, of course, works better for syndication.

At any rate, “The Junior Professor Solution” finds Sheldon returning to Caltech, but, in order to pursue research beyond string theory, he will have to teach a class as a junior professor. Unfortunately, everyone drops his class because of his reputation, so Sheldon is left feeling…well, affronted. Then, a solution presents itself: Howard wants to pursue his PhD, and he’s willing to sign up for Sheldon’s class—if Sheldon’s willing to take him. Of course, Sheldon doesn’t feel Howard is intelligent enough to hang with him, so Howard repays his condescending teacher with jerky student antics and hilarity ensues. If there’s a constant in this series beyond Sheldon’s stubborn devotion to order, it’s Howard’s unrelenting antagonism of Sheldon, and, as much as we love Sheldon’s persnickety nature, we also enjoy seeing him taken down a peg or two.

8.2

Meanwhile, Penny and Bernadette are at odds over the amount of prep-time Penny is putting into the assumption of her new job as a pharmaceutical rep for the company that employs Bernadette—and Amy is caught in the middle. And she loves it. She’s running gleefully between her two friends with the fervor of a high school mean girl, maligning one to the other. Reprehensible? Sure. Funny? Of course!

If anything, “The Junior Professor Solution” settles Big Bang into its eighth season groove and allows the characters the space to run through their paces—although Raj gets short shrift in this outing. Obviously, the Sheldon/Howard student/teacher relationship is ripe with further possibilities, and Penny’s new job allows her to mine new territory—with her usual combination of uncertainty and bravado.

Frankly, I’m champing at the bit for more.

Best line(s) of the episode? This exchange comes shortly after Howard has fired a spitball into Sheldon’s mouth:

“Sheldon, I promise. Your uvula does not have an STD.” — Leonard

“Are you sure? It doesn’t feel as innocent as it used to.” — Sheldon

BACKLOG PRIORITY
10/10 – I love The Big Bang Theory, and it’s always a priority for me.

– Mou

Review! Doctor Who, Ep. 8.6: ‘The Caretaker’ [No Spoilers]

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8.6B

“What did I tell you about sparkly shirts, John?”

One of the the practices that the Doctor Who showrunners have done in most of the seasons since 2005 is introduce a few stories that feature more than one companion.  “The Caretaker” is that kind of story, and while the action of the episode takes place around the Coal Hill Secondary School–place of employment for both Clara and Daniel Pink–the main focus is on Clara’s management of the two most important relationships in her life.  This focus isn’t handled that well, and what we get at the end of the hour is Clara on the receiving end of a pair of emotionally-intense ultimatums that just don’t bring the wonder that the first five episodes of the season do.

It’s not that the story lacks suspense or intensity; it’s that for every attempt to bring the Big Bad Universe to Coal Hill, the writers feel the need to undercut it with some kind of reminder that Clara is leading a double life.  An alien robot that looks like the awesome turian Garrus Vakarian (from the Mass Effect franchise of role-playing games) has become stuck near Coal Hill and is endangering not only the school, but also the entire planet.  Check that with the Doctor’s internship as the caretaker of the school–a decision that is never clarified–and the fact that he spends half of the episode trying to guess who Clara’s boyfriend is.  The murderous robot, a really cool-looking and Cyberman-like sort of killing machine that I found myself wanting to know more about, drifts benignly in and out of the plot, never mustering much suspense in its threat, while Clara lies and fights and glares at the two men, the centerpiece of a weird sort of love triangle that I found off-putting after the great, threat-responsive team-ups of the past few weeks.  Basically, I wanted more of what wasn’t going on and less of what was.

8.6A

Problem. Solution…can it wait for a bit? I’m in the middle of some calibrations.

Daniel Pink and the Doctor kind of hate each other for no reason, both functionally unaware of this emotion until a striking scene in the TARDIS.  As good and dramatic as this scene is, it makes no real sense as neither character has ever behaved this way before.  A robot is threatening to destroy the planet, but hey, that’s okay: let’s air our grievances about the chain of command and let that threat get ever closer.  The solution, and the final confrontation with the robot, is super cool and really exciting, but watch for the slight of hand: the writers once again trick you into thinking that the Doctor and his two human charges are interested in saving the planet, but really what they’re doing is communicating wordlessly about how to relate to Clara best.  There’s also a tangential subplot involving a disruptive student from the school that makes no real sense, either.

BACKLOG PRIORITY
6.5/10 – A weird focus on Clara’s dating practices and guessing other people’s motives water down some really good-looking action pieces and a cool freak-of-the-weak villain.   Muddy storytelling bogs this episode down to the point at which it’s the weakest episode we’ve seen in season 8, but it’s by no means a severe regression.  Still, I get the feeling that what we’ve seen here will come into play again later, hopefully without all of the melodrama this script suggested.  Next week: spiders, space suits, and the moon!

– Vandal

Review! Superman, Vol. 3: ‘Fury at World’s End’ [No Spoilers]

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Superman V.3If you’d like a perspective on where Superman, Vol. 3: Fury at World’s End succeeds and fails then you should read my review of the crossover collection Superman: H’el on Earth. Then, you should read something else, and join me in the purgatory of waiting for Geoff Johns’ run on Superman to make it to trade paperback. In short: I strongly suggest skipping this trade, as it does not constitute much of a story at all.

Aside from the inclusion of a single different issue–the great-looking, ultimately confusing Superman #0 that tells the story of Jor El’s discovery of Krypton’s doom–this volume publishes the same content as the crossover collection, but as with Supergirl, Vol. 3: Sanctuary, the story as collected in the character-specific book makes no sense at all–it needs the other dozen issues to communicate, and you’re not going to find them here.

BACKLOG PRIORITY
1/10 – Skip it.  The size, content, and story details of Superman’s crossover issues of the “H’el on Earth” event just doesn’t translate in this trade paperback, and neither will the money you’ll spend on it. This volume is for serious New 52 collectors only.

– Vandal

Review! Sleepy Hollow, Ep. 2.1: ‘This Is War’ [Spoilers, but you shouldn’t care. Trust me here. You shouldn’t.]

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I’m hatewatching Sleepy Hollow.  I wanted to like it.  Really, I did.  It’s got many elements that I normally find enjoyable.  It tells a story of a secret war between good and evil which took place during the American Revolution.  Washington, Franklin, Adams, Jefferson and, yes, Ichabod Crane were all involved.  According to this show the war between evil (personified by the demon Moloch) and the American Founding Fathers, not freedom from the tyranny of King George, was the true reason for the Revolution.  This should be an easy sell to me given my love both legend / myth stories and of Dan Brown style conspiracy stories.  In fact, I’m probably this story’s exact target.

So why do I hate it?

First, I think they tried to do too much.  The first season crammed together a number of legends / myths / secret societies / stories in such a way that it felt like they were being boiled in a cauldron “Take every idea we can think of and put it in the plot!” style. They include (but are not limited to):

  • 2.1A

    “Why do I hate thee? Let me count the ways…”

    Ichabod Crane and the Headless Horseman

  • The Four Horseman of the Apocalypse 
  • The myth of the “Sin Eater” 
  • The mysterious bible of George Washington 
  • Ghenna / Purgatory 
  • Witchcraft 
  • The Sandman 
  • That ever-present boogeyman, The Freemasons 

Secondly, the plot details are so convoluted that – as I’m writing this – I can barely describe them. The Headless Horseman is Cranes wife’s former suitor – and he’s also Death – one of the Four Horseman of the Apocalypse.  Crane’s wife Katrina is a witch who’s trapped in Purgatory.  His son is a Sin Eater (Google it) who pretended to help the side of good but was secretly the Horseman of War. As children, the cop who helps Crane (Abbie Mills) along with her sister Jenny saw the demon Moloch.  Coincidentally, the exact same demon that the Revolution was secretly fought to stop!  This drove Jenny insane while Abbie repressed the memory – until Crane helped her remember it.  Conveniently, Crane is a genius with a photographic memory which allows him to instantly recall any anciently arcane detail.

If it sounds confusing that’s because it is.

Thirdly, the “man-out-of-time” jokes.  EVERY. SINGLE. EPISODE.  They don’t go 5 minutes without reminding the viewer that Crane doesn’t know anything about the modern world.  Cell phones, cars, guns, the internet, modern traditions (i.e. Making a wish while blowing out a birthday candle)…that Crane doesn’t understand any of it.  Probably 25% of the dialog is dedicated to these jokes.  Abbie says something modern (“It’s all about the Benjamins”)  which Crane doesn’t  get.  She explains it and Crane disdainfully responds in his “My era was better because…” way.  I’d say those jokes are old but it might encourage the writers…

2.1B

“Raise your hand if you think Crane should make a trip to Old Navy.”

Lastly, but far from leastly, as Season 2 begins Crane has been in modern times for quite some time yet he’s still wearing his 1776 attire.  Did he come back with a suitcase full of clothes?  Does he wash them every night?  Are his clothes dry clean only?  HOW ABOUT GETTING HIM SOME MODERN CLOTHES?

I have no issue with the actors or the setting.  Mison (Crane) and Beharie (Mills) play off each other well and make an enjoyable odd couple.  They both do a more-than-credible job with the subject matter and scripts they’re given. The show’s setting, autumn in Sleepy Hollow New York, makes for a perfectly safe-yet-creepy backdrop.   This shows problems begin and end with the writers.  They’ve created such a ridiculously complex and unbelievable plot that it’s hard to enjoy the show

I’ll continue to watch this show as changing my DVR recording preferences requires more occult knowledge than opening the gateway to Purgatory….but I won’t like it.

BACKLOG PRIORITY
3/10 – Irritating anachronisms, played out jokes, and a convoluted plot render this show barely watchable. There has to be something better you can do with your time.

– Vrin

Review! The Big Bang Theory, Ep. 8.1:

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In case you haven’t heard, The Big Bang Theory has moved to Monday night—because Thursday Night Football has taken its previous berth, which is just fine, even though it gives the DVR a workout, you know, with Gotham on Fox at the same time. (Aside: It will be interesting to see how Mondays go with Dancing with the Stars on ABC, The Big Bang Theory/Mom/Scorpion on CBS, The Voice on NBC, and Gotham/Sleepy Hollow on Fox. How will that turn out?)

That said, BBT returned with two excellent first-run episodes on September 22.  In the first, “The Locomotion Interruption,” we find that Sheldon’s efforts to run away from his problems—e.g., moving away from string theory research, the comic book store’s devastating fire, Leonard and Penny’s engagement, and Amy’s desire to further their relationship by moving in together—have left him pantsless, possession-less, and down to a single sock in train station in Arizona. He raves like a hyper-intelligent lunatic begging for help, but none of his fellow travelers will come to his aid. Finally, he is taken to a police station, where he calls Leonard for help.

Meanwhile, Penny has cut her hair and has an interview to be a pharmaceutical rep for the company Bernadette works for—this likely to fill the void (in her bank account) left by her departure from The Cheesecake Factory to pursue her lackluster acting career full-time. At first, she’s a bit intimidated by the interviewer (wonderfully portrayed by the excellent Stephen Root), but they soon find a reason to bond.

8.1A

Hurrah! THE BIG BANG THEORY has returned!

Also, Howard—coached by Raj—is dealing with the friendship (or more) that has formed between his mother and out-of-work former comic book store owner Stewart.

This episode is about taking chances and conquering fears, and it is truly funny. Sheldon’s time in the police station alone is worth the price of admission:

    • “There’s lots of books called ‘Sherlock Holmes’, and there’s no books called ‘Officer Hernandez’.”
    • “Sherlock Holmes liked to use cocaine to sharpen his focus. But I’m sure those Cool Ranch Doritos are doing the trick.”

Seeing Penny take on a new role as a pharmaceutical rep is interesting because it (a) makes Kaley Cuoco-Sweeting’s new haircut really work within the confines of the show—a trivial thing, I know, (b) shows that she’s coming to terms with reality and growing up a bit more, and (c) gives her some interesting screen-time with Bernadette, who’s always a delight.

Sheldon’s relationship with Amy evolves ever-so-slightly in this episode, too, and that’s a real pleasure—since Shamy has become the best TV couple to root for since Caskett. The writers truly know what they’re doing with The Big Bang Theory. The characters have somehow grown—in their careers and in their relationships, yet they still feel familiar and continue to engage.

BACKLOG PRIORITY
10/10.
It’s The Big Bang Theory.  C’mon.

I will be back tomorrow with a review of Monday’s second episode, “The Junior College Solution.”

– Mou

Review! Gotham, Ep. 1.1: ‘Pilot’ [No Spoilers]

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So in the interest of fairness, Batman probably shouldn’t be allowed to have the best superhero movie, video game adaptation, and comic book series, AND the best television show, right?

Well, it’s too early to tell if that last one is true, but let me say this about the pilot of Gotham: there’s not much they didn’t get right, both as a police procedural and as a comic book adaptation.

1.1A

The show starts fast, dramatic, and memorable with a new interpretation of a scene as deeply embedded in the history of Batman as any there is.

It starts like it should, with a scene we’ve seen before and know rather well.  And it’s a scene that has been done so right by guys like Frank Miller and Christopher Nolan at different very important moments of Batman’s print and film history.  We see a theater, an alley, three well-dressed people and a string of pearls.  The scene comes up swiftly, almost like a surprise for its abrupt transition, but the version of the Wayne killings that Gotham gives us, and the way that it sets the stage for the pilot episode, is all-new and really, truly artful.

True to the title of this iteration of the Great Urban Myth, Gotham‘s pilot gives us a lot of long looks at the city itself: it’s dark (as it should be), backlit at night, but smoky and overcast during the day.  No worries, Bat-fans: the sun makes no intrusive appearances, and the wide, low alleys are filled with smoke and rotting trash.  Bad things are occurring in those selfsame alleys and, when we catch a vista of the city, we see old subway systems, Gothic architecture and searchlights scanning the low, humid cloud cover of the city.

And this city is bad.  Really bad.  The cops are crooked, mostly indistinguishable from criminals.  Both parties show up at odd hours, seem to be always working and seem to know that they’re only fueling Gotham’s bad-ness with every exchange they make.  The criminal element of Gotham City is very present in both the setting and the characterization of its principal figures.  There has to be a compelling reason as to why Batman eventually teams up with Jim Gordon, and the premise of Gotham seems very much interested in that: it’s a good cop/bad cop police show, with Gordon and Harvey Bullock as the odd-couple at the center of the moral storm.  There’s some great dialogue in that vein towards the end of the episode, and a lot of Easter Eggs and references to Bat-lore.

1.1B

Wanna fight?

I think that’s what really exceeded my expectations of this pilot: the characters are new interpretations, but familiar all the same.  Bullock’s belligerence and cynicism lose nothing in the absence of Batman, nor does Gordon’s idealism.  Each of the characters from the comics that you’ll encounter in this pilot–and there are quite a few of them–are given a moment or two that is all his or her own, with visual or dialogue references to cement their place in the world, or at least this version of it.  The characters are all really well-cast for their relative youth, especially the two leads.  And for your Easter Egg hunters out there, get ready–there are a bunch.

BACKLOG PRIORITY
9/10 – It’s hard to go higher than this for a pilot, as serial storytelling depends on a successfully-executed pattern that will only become clear in the next few weeks.  Still, it’s hard to imagine a better launch to yet another interpretation of Batman for the mass media.  The story is right, the characters are even better, and the city-world looks and feels every bit the depraved cesspool that will later be under the protection of the Dark Knight himself.

– Vandal

Review! The Strain, Ep. 1.11: ‘The Third Rail’ [Spoilers]

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We open in Setrakian’s basement where Fet, Eph, Zach and Setrakian test a new vampire killing weapon – a UV Flash bomb.  The test doesn’t go well and Eph suggests making it strobe.  The tension between these two is palpable and most of it resides with Eph. Upstairs Mariela, Nora’s Alzheimer’s stricken mother, stands confused in Setrakian’s kitchen. During the conversation, Mariela notes that she doesn’t like Setrakian because he has a dark soul.  Nora thinks she’s being rude but Setrakian concurs – he is a dark soul.

Gus arrives back home having escaped both prison and Felix.  He enters to find his no-good brother mostly changed into a vampire.  Attacks but Gus shoves a baseball bat down his brother’s throat, killing him. Well, that’s one way to do it. His mother is mid-change too but Gus leaves her “alive” and  takes an “In case of emergency” axe with him

The Strain 1.11.1

“I love you son but I have to go kill some vampires now…”

Eph and Nora bemoan Setrakian’s brutal method but reluctantly agree to follow the plan – they’re going after the Master. Setrakian gives Nora the silver dagger Kent used and the crew begins its hunt by locking Zach and Mariela in the pawn shop.

At the shop, a confused Mariela demands cigarettes from Zach who tells her Nora will bring some later.  No snarky comments here – she clearly doesn’t know anything that’s happening and it’s difficult to watch.  Later, Mariela panics as she thinks Nora’s been kidnapped.  Zach goes to find some cigarettes, thinking the will calm her.  He finds a dead clerk in an abandoned store as a young couple of looters enter.  Hiding – IN THE STORE BASEMENT – Zach finds a vamp.  Fleeing with the vamp on his heels, he runs into the young couple.  The vamp stings the couple as, in a Happystance, Zach encounters the axe wielding Gus in the store who dispatches the vamp as the boy runs, returning safely to the pawn shop.

The crew notes mass looting as they head to the World Trade Center.  “This is what the Master’s counting on” says Setrakian.  They descend into the subway tunnels beneath the WTC, stealthily tiptoeing through a vampire nest as Setrakian warns the crew that killing them will alert the Master to their presence. As they progress, a vampire fries itself on the 3rd rail “A shitty way to go, even for them”.  Agreed.   The trail leads to a small tunnel which Eph climbs through.  While it’s safe on the other side the vamps they’d passed wake up.  Fet uses the UV light to hold them off and barely makes it through the tunnel before the vamps catch him!  Nora “seals” the tunnel by putting the UV light inside it. Clever girl!

The Strain 1.11.2

“First, do no harm?”

Eph hears Kelly’s voice and ignores Setrakian’s pleas to ignore it.  He wanders into the darkness alone in search of Kelly but finds the Master’s coffin instead! Dozens of vamps and the Master appear before the doctor!

The living virus swats away the Eph’s attacks and chokes and taunts the doctor.  As the Master prepares the coup de’ grace, Fet throws the strobelight bomb!  It kills the lesser vamps but the Master flees!

Setrakian loses it at the thought of losing the Master and furiously takes a sledgehammer to the coffin he made all those years ago.  Continuing the chase, the crew enters a cavern filled with an absolute sea of nesting vampires taking us to the episode’s end.  Whew….

CONCLUSION
This episode told two stories – the crew vs. the Master and Zach/Mariela.  While both were terrific, Mariela’s Alzheimer’s and disconnection from reality was the more troubling.  What does that say about me, the reviewer?  Do I fear Alzheimer’s more than the vampire apocalypse? Hmmm…

BACKLOG PRIORITY
This episode: 9.5/10 – As compelling as Mariela was, Zach choosing to leave FOR CIGARETTES was ridiculous.  The “strained” Fet / Eph relationship was great this week as was Setrakian’s single minded passion was outstanding
The Strain:   10/10 – Only two more episodes left.

– Vrin