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Peanuts and Popcorn

Peanuts and Popcorn

ABC’s ‘Murder’ is Riveting and Morally Ambiguous

posted by jtotey
ABC's "How to Get Away with Murder" stars Viola Davis as Professor Annalise Keating, Billy Brown as Nate, Alfred Enoch as Wes, Jack Falahee as Connor, Katie Findlay as Rebecca, Aja Naomi King as Michaela, Matt McGorry as Asher, Karla Souza as Laurel, Charlie Weber as Frank and Liza Weil as Bonnie. (ABC/Craig Sjodin)

ABC’s “How to Get Away with Murder” stars Viola Davis as Professor Annalise Keating, Billy Brown as Nate, Alfred Enoch as Wes, Jack Falahee as Connor, Katie Findlay as Rebecca, Aja Naomi King as Michaela, Matt McGorry as Asher, Karla Souza as Laurel, Charlie Weber as Frank and Liza Weil as Bonnie. (ABC/Craig Sjodin)

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In short, ABC’s new drama, How to Get Away with Murder is riveting. The pilot held my attention all the way through making it hard to wait to see the next episode. It is a well done show with multiple layers to it. However, like Scandal and Grey’s Anatomy, two other shows by the same producers, the storylines are not only way over the top but also morally ambiguous. It appears that there are no “good guys” here, so you are not sure who to root for. It is like watching a train wreak being horrified and fascinated at the same time.

Murder flashes back and forth from the present time and three months earlier. In the present, a group of four law students contemplate what to do with a dead body. Three months earlier, we learn that they are all part of Annalise Keating’s criminal law class. Keating (Viola Davis) chews up every scene that she is in as the tough as nails law professor. There is nothing soft or fuzzy about her and in order to stand out in her classroom, you need to go to great lengths to impress her.

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Keating doesn’t see her job as letting guilty people run free. She views it as “doing her job.” In short order we see that she doesn’t condone finding evidence to support her client even if it isn’t obtained in the most ethical way. She invites her students to work with her firm on some of the toughest cases and dangles the carrot of employment as an enticement to impress her. Only the smartest and most resourceful students will get that carrot. To complicate matters, a missing student is found dead on campus, adding yet another murder to solve.

Some of the students will work all night trying to uncover clues, while some work under covers, if you know what I mean, to find answers. Wes Gibbons (Alfred Enoch) appears to be the most innocent of the bunch and yet has a knack for walking in on things at the wrong

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Wes Gibbons as Alfred Enoch. (ABC)

Wes Gibbons as Alfred Enoch. (ABC)

moment. He is likeable enough, but his exaggerated looks of surprise throughout the show make it hard to take him seriously. In short order, he finds himself sharing secrets with Keating and learns more about the woman than he ever wanted to know. She is either a broken woman or pure evil, only time will tell.

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The show also features two of Keating associates, Frank Delfino (Charlie Weber) as Frank Delfino, who likes to hit on students and Bonnie Winterbottom (Liza Weil) who likes to call him out on it.

It is too soon to tell if this show will have a moral compass or if it will be just a show about bad people doing bad things. I am not a fan of Scandal or Grey’s Anatomy, but I am hooked with this one. I may change my mind if I don’t see some light in the darkness soon though.

How to Get Away with Murder airs on Thursdays at 10:00 p.m. on ABC.

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Black-ish is a Welcome Addition to Family Comedies

posted by jtotey
Raindow (Tracee Ellis Ross), walks in on  Andre's (Anthony Anderson) lesson on tribal ritual with his son Andre Jr.

Raindow (Tracee Ellis Ross), walks in on Andre’s (Anthony Anderson) tribal ritual with his son Andre Jr on Black-ish. (ABC)

Andre Johnson (Anthony Anderson) is a proud man. A proud black man. A proud black man who doesn’t want his success to be defined by the color of his skin. But he doesn’t want his skin tone to be ignored either. He is a very successful business man with a great family. He is proud of his success but at times is afraid that he has ignored his heritage. He wants to honor his family’s past, while also embracing its future. He fears that this great melting pot that we call America is beginning to turn his black family into a “black-ish” family

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Andre’s children don’t understand that that Barack Obama is the first black president. His son wants to have a bar mitzvah, change his name from Andre Jr. to Andy and play field hockey. His daughter Zoey has a sense of entitlement and 100,000 Instagram followers. What’s a dad to do?

His bi-racial wife, Raindow (Tracee Ellis Ross), doesn’t see what the problem is. She is thrilled that their children are “colorblind” and healthy, but she understands that her children have more than she ever had when she was a child as well. “Pops” (Laurence Fishburne) is no help. He tries to stay far away from family conflict as possible.

Over the last few years, ABC has understood the formula for making the family sitcom popular again. Part All in the Family and part Home Improvement, Black-ish is a welcome addition to TV family sitcoms. The Johnsons appear to live by traditional family values and they love each other. The one area that I disagreed with in the pilot is the fact that Andre Jr. stresses that he is “just trying to touch his first boob.” While it is certainly not unusual for a teen boy to want sexual relations with a girl, even if he is just 13 years old, I find it odd the dad and grandpa Johnson just think these comments are cute and then quickly ignore them. The same thing came up last year in the premiere of The Goldbergs, another funny family comedy. There, the youngest son has an infatuation with women’s breasts and he grandpa takes him to Hooters restaurant.

So, while I believe ABC should be applauded for trying to bring more wholesome (and funny) fare for the family, I also believe that these shows would do better if they focused on these subjects in a better way.

Black-ish airs on Wednesdays at 9:30 p.m. on ABC.

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NBC’s ‘Laura” has potential but lacks heart

posted by jtotey
(l-r) Laz Alonso as Billy Soto, Debra Messing as Laura Diamond, Vincent Reina as Harrison Diamond, Josh Lucas as Jake Broderick, Charlie Reina as Nicholas Diamond, Janina Gavankar as Meredith Bose -- (Photo by: Patrick Randak/NBC)

(L-R) Laz Alonso as Billy Soto, Debra Messing as Laura Diamond, Vincent Reina as Harrison Diamond, Josh Lucas as Jake Broderick, Charlie Reina as Nicholas Diamond, Janina Gavankar as Meredith Bose — (Photo by: Patrick Randak/NBC)

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NBC must be nervous about the new comedy, The Mysteries of Laura since they have already aired the pilot episode two times last week. Tonight, the episode will air a third time in hopes that it will be everyone’s new favorite show. This could happen, but it might take a few weeks as the premiere is bogged down with too many storylines. However, by the end of the show, viewers get a better idea of who Laura is and what she is going through.

Laura Diamond (Debra Messing) has a life that is spinning out of control. She is separated from her husband; her children manage to get themselves kicked out of school and her day job as a NYPD homicide detective is pretty consuming. This premise is pretty fun and Laura is fairly likeable, but the rest of the cast is not – at least not yet.

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For one, Laura’s two boys are brats. Not just mischievous little boys, but brats. Laura is overwhelmed by them but hardly even scolds the boys. When a woman at the park tells her that her sons are urinating on each other, she is embarrassed, but doesn’t say a word to the two. Every parent watching the show will have a few words of wisdom that they will want to share with her.

For two, Laura’s husband, Jake (Josh Lucas) is a jerk. Laura has filed for divorce, mostly due to the fact that Jake cheated on her. He doesn’t want to let her go, but doesn’t do much to make amends. Instead of disciplining the children, he encourages their loud and rude behavior. Again, Laura doesn’t say much. Laura is frustrating.

Third, her co-worker, Meredith (Janina Gavankar), who is barely seen in the episode, is clearly not happy with Laura, but we don’t know why. It’s not nearly as fun to see two people argue when you don’t know why they are doing so. All in all, with the exception of partner Billy (Laz Alonso), the characters seem a little too far out of reach to relate to them and the first case of the season is fairly odd too, but hopefully, all of that will change soon.

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Despite that fact that the investigation of the first crime is silly and convoluted, how Laura pieces all of the key elements is together is impressive. Earlier scenes are played back and we can see how some of the evidence slipped right past us. It is sort of like a younger version of Murder She Wrote. Also, by the time the show ends, some of its earlier problems are ironed out somewhat, which should provide for a clean palate to work with for the second episode. Laura smartly stays away from trying to make the show a drama, but if it could pump in a little more heart into the scripts, it could turn out to be a smart, funny and enjoyable show.

The Mysteries of Laura airs Wednesday nights at 8:00 p.m. on NBC.

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Scorpion has Little Sting

posted by jtotey
L-R: Eddie Kaye Thomas as Toby Curtis, Ari Stidham as Sylvester Dodd, Jadyn Wong as Happy Quinn, Robert Patrick as Cabe Gallo, Katharine McPhee as Paige Dineen and Elyes Gabel as Walter O'Brien. (Photo: Robert Voets/CBS)

L-R: Eddie Kaye Thomas as Toby Curtis, Ari Stidham as Sylvester Dodd, Jadyn Wong as Happy Quinn, Robert Patrick as Cabe Gallo, Katharine McPhee as Paige Dineen and Elyes Gabel as Walter O’Brien. (Photo: Robert Voets/CBS)

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“Scorpion, inspired by a true story, is a high-octane drama about eccentric genius Walter O’Brien and his team of brilliant misfits who comprise the last line of defense against complex, high-tech threats of the modern age,” says CBS when describing this show. Unfortunately, like the source material, it is only half true.

First of all, Walter O’Brien is a real person and so is Scorpion Computer Services, but CBS’s version is mostly fiction. The premise is basically true (although Walter grew up in Ireland not the U.S.) but he did indeed get in trouble for downloading information about the space shuttle program. He just thought the drawings (blueprints) would look cool on his walls. The show is pretty much fictional from there on out. (Click here to view a short video of Walter talking about his life and the TV show.)

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That in itself is not the problem with this show. The problem lies with the claims of it being a “high-octane” drama. While the pilot episode eventually became “high-octane,” (with an unbelievable solution), the majority of the show was incredibly dull mostly taking place in an empty diner. The publicity material made the show look funny and exciting, but the end result was neither making for a real disappointment in viewing. They briefly describe the misfit characters and their strengths, but the show didn’t elaborate on their character’s personalities at all. Instead of action, there is a lot of talking and “geek speak” if you will.

Elyes Gabel and Katharine McPhee do well together as Walter and Paige Dineen, (a waitress with her own genius of a son), but their budding friendship is unconvincing. The other Scorpion members should have been a lot more fun than they were. Perhaps they would have been had the series been given some time to develop their characters. Unless this series gets some major work done on it, don’t expect it to last very long.

Scorpion airs Mondays at 9:00 p.m. on CBS.

 

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