Television

Legends of Tomorrow (2016) s05e06 – Mortal Khanbat

Not sure why Dominic Purcell isn’t in the episode save a scene—he’s still off nursing catching feelings for an ex-girlfriend with lots of beer–but Caity Lotz uses her time off camera to direct this episode. She’s pretty damn good. The episode’s split between a series of John Woo homages in 1997 Hong Kong and John Constantine (Matt Ryan) doing a horror show, but one with frequent comic relief. Unlike last episode, which also had Purcell and Lotz too busy with their offscreen obligations to play, this one doesn’t focus on Jes Macallan taking over the captain role. Macallan’s still in charge and she gets some good moments, but it’s really Shayan Sobhian’s episode. Also Maisie Richardson-Sellers’s, but more Sobhian because he’s the new guy. And he’s still a guest star, not regular cast.

See, Richardson-Sellers and Sobhian hooked up after last season finale and hadn’t had the chance to talk before the Crisis crossover, which screws up the way Richardson-Sellers fixed something in the past. We get her origin story at the end of the episode. It’s solid enough stuff. The part’s okay but Richardson-Sellers basically just fronts her way through it. Sobhian holds up their scenes, which are frequently played for laughs, even though Richardson-Sellers’s always delivering the punchline. Again, good directing from Lotz. She gets how “Legends” works best.

Some of that working best is the straight comedy in the resolutions to both story lines. Yes, Ryan having his last supper with Brandon Routh and Adam Tsekhman has some sincere moments Ryan’s able to both sell and make funny, but it gets even funnier once it’s all resolved. Meanwhile, the Hong Kong pot about Genghis Khan (Terry Chen) coming back and trying to take over the world… it’s got a nice fun finish too. With some great action in addition to the obvious Woo nods. And it goes heavy into humor for its finale too.

Good material for Courtney Ford and Tala Ashe, though not a lot; keeping them on simmer levels of material.

It’s a very successful episode. And also because it seems to have gotten the pieces in place for the rest of the season.

All Rise (2019) s01e16 – My Fair Lockdown

This episode of “All Rise” has this super juicy White man part for guest star Ben Browder. Survivalist holds courtroom hostage; the cops came to kick him out of his home, which is apparently somewhere in the County of Los Angeles but remote enough you don’t see people and no one pays attention when you don’t pay your property taxes for twenty years. I mean, California’s big. Sure, let’s go with it. Let’s even go with Simone Missick at one point telling Browder, who doesn’t believe the court has any jurisdiction over him, he’s going to get a chance to “speak his truth.”

Of course, Browder’s truth is objectively false and if he really hadn’t been off the farm for twenty years or whatever, he’d be in for astounding culture shock and be suffering from that problem too but… whatever. Don’t like the dismissive use of “truth” there. Not cool.

But then all of Conway Preston’s script is bad. The dialogue, the plotting, all of it. The only things wrong with the episode he’s not responsible for are the casting and the direction. David A. Harp’s direction is fine except the opening when he tries to do this lengthy fake tracking shot of Lindsay Mendez coming into work and walking past all the regular cast to introduce the episode’s ground situation. Worse, it’s peppy and upbeat while the episode is anything but. It’s a tonal bait and switch and “All Rise” isn’t worth a tonal bait and switch. Regardless of me preferring the latter tone to the former. The peppy stuff is obnoxious. The downbeat stuff isn’t great or even good, but it’s not obnoxious.

Though it’s not like the show challenges its cast. Actually, “All Rise” is a bait and switch in and of itself; here’s this great opportunity for Missick and Wilson Bethel and the show wastes them. They get less so Jessica Camacho gets more, even though she’s not part of their dynamic best buds duo (which is missing from the show, almost as obviously as Missick’s husband, Todd Williams on FaceTime, who’s either dying or cheating by the end of the season). But then Camacho gets a truncated part this episode so everyone else in the supporting cast can get more.

It’s a mess. The show’s got way too many regulars and not enough for them to do. It really needs better writers. And better guest stars. I didn’t think Browder had done anything. I thought they couldn’t get anyone to play such a poorly written juicy White man part—seriously, if well-written it’d be Emmy-bait—but Browder was actually the lead on “Farscape.”

Note: continue hesitating to watch “Farscape,” regardless of Henson Company involvement.

There’s a really solid moment or two for Paul McCrane in this episode though. The action takes him out of his regular—well, it doesn’t actually take him out of the courtroom—basically, it’s a new way to see McCrane. He gets to act opposite Bethel and J. Alex Brinson and talk about Brinson dating Camacho and you realize how great it’d be for McCrane to really get good material and not a souped-up caricature for once.

The show also wastes a Jason Dohring guest spot. I seriously don’t understand how Dohring can’t get a shot outside “Veronica Mars” projects. Though maybe it’s better to be on the periphery of “All Rise,” out of the middling’s blast radius.

Legends of Tomorrow (2016) s05e05 – A Head of Her Time

Continuing whatever this season is doing with its creative Arrowverse accounting, Dominic Purcell and Caity Lotz mostly sit out this episode. Lotz is in Star City on some kind of bland personal business, which leaves Jes Macallan in charge. Macallan, who used to run an extra-dimensional time agency, gets very worried about captaining the Legends, which leads to her bonding with Tala Ashe, which is fine.

Meanwhile Purcell is just heartsick and apparently off drinking about it during the action.

Apparently having Purcell and Lotz on partial duty means Maisie Richardson-Sellers and Adam Tsekhman get to do things, so they’re the backup in Matt Ryan’s Constantine story arc. They really should’ve renamed it “John Constantine and the Legends of Tomorrow,” then did a bit about how Ryan got more famous than everyone else and it’s a thing. But they didn’t and instead it’s “Legends of Tomorrow with Special Guest Star John Constantine.”

Ryan, Richardson-Sellers, and Tsekhman are doing a horror humor bit involving Ryan’s history with Hell villain Olivia Swann. Turns out Ryan used to have a thing for Swann’s mom, Alice Hunter, and maybe only consigned Swann to Hell because he was trying to resurrect Hunter. The flashbacks also allow for Ryan with a mohawk, which is a lot of fun.

Also a lot of fun is the main plot, which has Macallan, Ashe, Brandon Routh, Nick Zano, and I hope they keep him around somehow Shayan Sobhian trying to get a resurrected and not entirely unjustifiably angry Marie Antoinette (Courtney Ford) from ruining history.

Ford, who also plays another character, a fairly regular cast member, is pretty funny as Antoinette and the gimmick works.

Amidst the Antoinette arc is Ashe’s misadventures as a rookie time traveling superhero, though some of those misadventures are because she’s also a 2040 social media influencer who wants to exploit history for likes. It works out, especially with the big gala event for the action-packed finale. “Legends” is doing an excellent job integrating the character development with the action this season.

Legends of Tomorrow (2016) s05e04 – Slay Anything

“Legends” does a double homage this episode–Slay Anything is simultaneously an eighties John Hughes homage and an eighties slasher movie homage. High school prom killer Garrett Quirk is the latest condemned soul sent back to Earth to reign Hell or whatnot. So what does a spree killer become once Hell-powered? A telekinetic slasher, out to get the final girl (Veronika London).

Caity Lotz, Jes Macallan, and Dominic Purcell are trapped in the high school reunion where Quirk’s back to get London—it’s also Purcell’s old high school and he runs into almost flame Lisa Marie DiGiacinto, giving Purcell a rather personable arc—while Nick Zano and Brandon Routh go back further in time to the first prom to try to stop Quirk from ever becoming a killer in the first place. I think it’s the first time “Legends” has used Back to the Future logic, but it fits so much I wish they’d homaged it better.

Complications ensue because Routh’s fairy godmother girlfriend Courtney Ford is visiting him and when she hears the pleas of Quirk as a teen–now played by Seth Meriwether—she finds herself bound to him. A slasher with a fairy godmother. It ends up being Ford’s best turn on the show; she does an excellent job.

Also doing an excellent job are Tala Ashe (obviously) and Shayan Sobhian. They’re hanging out on the ship while Routh and Zano try to save Meriwether from himself. Very nice sibling interaction and character development for Ashe and Sobhian. “Legends” ends up doing a lot this episode—though besides some fighting and being cute with Lotz, all Macallan gets is a reveal about her podcast, which is rater funny.

Meanwhile, apparently the show’s saving Maisie Richardson-Sellers for Matt Ryan’s plot lines, which this episode separates from the main.

The stylish opening titles are permanent now too. “Legends” is firmly footed this season; the showcase for Ford just makes it too bad she’s leaving at some point in the near future (along with real-life husband Routh).

Bummer. But until then… “Legends” is working just fine.

Nice direction from Alexandra La Roche this episode too; lots of effective slasher movie nods.

All Rise (2019) s01e15 – Prelude to a Fish

It’s a Valentine’s Day episode and romance is in the air around the courthouse. Maybe a little bit too much romance because “turns out they didn’t forget about her” D.A.’s office law clerk Audrey Corsa is back and she’s got her eyes on J. Alex Brinson, who’s starting his clerk job in the D.A.’s office and can tell she’s got her eyes on him and wants to avoid said eyes. Brinson starts the episode with a grand romantic gesture for girlfriend Jessica Camacho in front of all their friends, work acquaintances, and judge Simone Missick. It involves dancing and fish (hence the episode title, which—incidentally—makes no sense if you know what the word “prelude” means).

The sequence would be cringey even if it didn’t kick off Camacho being sad on Valentine’s Day.

Of course she’s sad on Valentine’s Day more because client Danielle Burgess can’t escape an abusive ex-boyfriend and it reminds Camacho of her abusive ex-husband, which eventually leads to a Brinson tone-policing Camacho at work thing. The show goes out of its way to explain why when men do bad things it’s their fault not their ex-girlfriends, but damn if Brinson doesn’t tell Camacho to stop yelling when dealing with shit of a D.A. Mitch Silpa.

Meanwhile Wilson Bethel’s got a case opposite Lindsey Gort; they like each other but are competitive so they only ever hooked up the one time or something a few episodes ago and now it’s time for the next level. While they work through this somewhat strange case involving disability fraud but in a heartwarming, let’s be understanding way. It’s not the most “CBS woke” episode of “All Rise” but its the most constantly “CBS woke” one.

At least now she admits liking Bethel, Gort’s nowhere near as obnoxious.

Meanwhile Missick is investigating boss Marg Helgenberger for a potential political run—doing in-house oppo research—and, just like Paul McCrane (who apparently was only willing to come back if he got to be seated in a break room) warned her. Lots of hemming and hawing for Missick, including the investigation being a cliffhanger, which is a little too dramatic for “All Rise,” while she’s trying to open a present from her offscreen husband. Just reminding about the offscreen husband reminds about how he’s pointless to the show and seems like a forced detail in Missick’s ground situation. Especially since Helgenberger’s campaign guy is a very flirty Nicholas Christopher.

The episode gives Camacho a big monologue about how her husband turned physical abusive, which is intense but also, unfortunately, not a good showcase for Camacho.

Grantchester (2014) s05e06

This episode serves as a possible pilot for sixth “Grantchester” and a second full season for new vicar Tom Brittney. Lots gets resolved, both in regards to recent events and season-long subplots. The show’s sparing in the schmaltz, instead going for knowing smiles and warm feelings, and it feels as good as a show about murders in a small British city in the fifties with characters who are becoming woker than most shows set in the modern day is ever going to feel.

Possibly because Brittney finally lets his guard down. The episode opens with him doing a degenerate drunk routine at his mom’s party. Mom Jemma Redgrave is marrying rich dipshit Dominic Mafham. Brittney disapproves, hence the drunkenness. So he spends the first third of the episode hungover, as he and Robson Green track a dead woman to a strange convent run by authoritarian Tracy Ann Oberman, who enrages and intrigues Brittney. He can’t understand how she does what she does in God’s name or some such thing. Sidney’s been gone so long I’d forgotten “Grantchester” used to regularly have crises of faith. Brittney’s been a rock this season, until last episode. So, broken, he involuntarily gravitates towards Oberman.

Oberman’s a good foil for Brittney. She’s unpredictable and rather cagey; her interrogation scene is almost a femme fatale thing, which is weird considering she’s just out of the habit.

Then there’s the Leonard (Al Weaver) plot. His dad—a perfectly fine but nothing special Sean Gilder—comes to visit and things don’t go well. There are unexpected revelations and dashed hopes and it’s all very depressing until it isn’t anymore because you don’t want to be depressed going out on the show this season. No spoilers but… it’s a very nice ending.

“Grantchester” has been fairly busy this season and this episode does a fine job wrapping up all the existing storylines. It’s a little uneven balancing subplots for Brittney, Green, Weaver, and Peake-Jones—even with Peake-Jones getting a lot less—with Green’s stuff all at the beginning of the season, but it works well enough. “Grantchester”’s successfully navigated the vicar change… now it just needs to get renewed.

Legends of Tomorrow (2016) s05e03 – Miss Me, Kiss Me, Love Me

It’s a strong episode. Like, really strong; great pacing too. It starts with Constantine (Matt Ryan), who teleported to Hell at the end of last episode, getting to Hell and having a chat with lost soul turned season villain Olivia Swann. It’s a welcome scene not so much for the content—Swann is better in her second appearance this episode, when Ryan’s actually able to surprise her—but for its presence. I was thinking Ryan was zapping off to Hell for an unseen adventure and would be sitting out this episode—he’s still credited as a “special guest star” or some such thing; he’s not a “Legends” star proper. But, as it turns out, he seems to be a regular because he doesn’t just get one of the biggest plot threads this episode, they also get him to start acting goofy.

Ryan’s never really been goofy on “Legends” before. But now he’s getting close.

His part of the episode involves him trying to get forties gangster moll Haley Strode to turn on Bugsy Siegel (Jonathan Sadowski); Bugsy’s this week’s back-from-Hell villain. Sadowski’s doing a Vince Vaughn impression but he’s not bad. He’s got a solid sense of humor, which is the most important thing for a “Legends” actor to have. Strode’s okay—she’s playing the Annette Bening part from the movie only without enough detail to be an actual historical figure—Ryan’s really good with her.

Meanwhile, odd couple Ava (Jes Macallan) and Mick (Dominic Purcell) are bonding over drinks, leading to some truly wonderful comedic showcasing for Macallan. It seems like it’s going to be good, then it just keeps getting better and better.

Caity Lotz and Brandon Routh are doing more serious (and less interesting) mission stuff, Maisie Richardson-Sellers is M.I.A., so the third major subplot has Nick Zano and new guy Shayan Sobhian visiting his family. Sobhian’s a new regular this season, in for Tala Ashe, who blinked out of the timeline at the end of last season. Only then Zano found a Princess Leia-esque message and now he runs into her at Sobhian’s parent’s house. Only this Ashe was never a superhero or Zano’s girlfriend, she’s a social media influencer in 2044 or something. It shouldn’t exactly work but… it does because Ashe’s amazing. The writing’s really good too—credit Ray Utarnachitt, especially on the bickering between Ashe and Sobhian—but Ashe playing lovestruck Zano? Just fantastic.

Between Ryan and—eventually—Routh playing Chinatown, Ryan getting some character development, Macallan getting to be hilarious, Ashe getting to flex her range… it’s a strong episode. It’s one of those, “Now, this is why you watch ‘Legends’ episodes.”

Grantchester (2014) s05e05

It’s an exceedingly unpleasant hour of “Grantchester,” full of revelations and character developments, some to the point where it’s hard to imagine what next week’s episode is going to bring. Will (Tom Brittney) ends the episode in a rather dark place, which is to be expected given how things go in the episode, but dark enough everyone’s a little taken aback. As usual the episode ends in a sermon. Not a happy one.

The episode’s mostly downbeat, teasing possibly awful reveals—the best possible option is a gang of teen criminals—but there are positive moments in it. Al Weaver’s arc this season, becoming more and more comfortable in his own skin, results in some great marriage counseling scenes with Weaver, Tessa Peake-Jones, and Nick Brimble. Old man Brimble (who’s excellent this episode) gets to try to do the work of atonement due to his martial strife with Peake-Jones, which is nice to see. And the show presents it believably. There’s no sugar-coating in “Grantchester,” which is too bad after this episode.

Without spoiling too much, this episode brings a season-long subplot to the front burner—revealing it to be a single subplot too—and throws everyone into the bowling pot; mostly Brittney and Robson Green. They’re already on awkward ground with Brittney being more pally with boxing coach Ross Boatman lately than Green, to the point Brittney hasn’t told Green about his awkward marriage proposal to Lauren Carse (who’s reduced to a very small part this episode, though maybe not inappropriately given the subject matter).

A nice scene for Oliver Dimsdale and Weaver, cementing Weaver’s character development over the season, and some strong acting from Sandra Huggett as Boatman’s wife. Jim Caesar’s back again as the troubled youth who Boatman and Brittney want to help—and who Green’s indifferent about—including an introduction to his home life and mum Sarah Stanley. Tough stuff with Caesar, a lot of it left unsaid.

From the first five or so minutes, just with everything being so relatively low stress, it seems like something bad’s coming down the pike in “Grantchester” but its immediate arrival—and the force of the bad—is jarring. Outside Weaver’s estranged father maybe showing up for a visit next episode, the show’s going into the season finale without much foreshadowing and starting from a very bad place.

Duel (1971, Steven Spielberg), the theatrical version

The first act of Duel ought to be enough to carry it. Spielberg’s direction, Frank Morriss’s editing, even Jack A. Marta’s workman photography—it’s spellbinding. It even gets through lead Dennis Weaver calling home to fight with his wife and revealing to the audience he’s a wuss. See, last night he and the wife went to a party and some guy groped her and Weaver didn’t do anything and now she’s mad. Jacqueline Scott’s the wife. She’s in one scene, a handful of shots, at home taking care of the kids after the incident while Weaver’s driving across the state (of California) for a business meeting. The whole account depends on it, but really it’s because he’s a wuss. Weaver’s a wuss, which… isn’t actually part of Duel’s initial narrative impulse because the phone call to the wife is added material for the theatrical release. Duel is a TV movie turned theatrical release (for international markets).

Weaver’s even more of an annoying wuss because he puts up his leg in a very pseudo-macho way while on the phone. It’s weird. And it’s a lot, but Duel can get through it because it’s so well-made.

See, Weaver’s driving to this meeting and he pisses off a truck driver. That truck driver starts messing with Weaver, not letting him pass, roaring past him, waving him on into another vehicle. A rural highway nightmare. What’s Weaver going to do about it with his machismo posturing after all. But Weaver doesn’t really matter—not even as much as the comedy bit playing on his radio—what matters is how Spielberg and Morriss tell this story. Well, to be fair to writer Richard Matheson… relate this anecdote.

And if Duel were a short or led Psycho-style into something else, it’d be fine. But once Weaver gets around other people and starts narrating the film with his thoughts… there’s only so much good filmmaking can do and covering for Weaver’s basically obnoxious performance is too much. Especially given how the narration doesn’t exactly sync up with the character onscreen and definitely not in the implications of his relationship with Scott. Because it turns out—though it’s a single mention then gone—Weaver’s a Vietnam vet and he might be suffering from some kind of PTSD. It’s such a surprise you spend the entire scene where white collar Weaver is trying to figure out how to speak with blue collar working men—he’s going to tell off the truck driver, who he thinks is in this roadside restaurant with him—wondering how the hell Weaver made it back alive.

There’s no help from Weaver on it, of course (I get the feeling hearing Weaver describe his character would be a trip), because his performance is… a step too far into disbelief. Killer truck driver who runs cars off the road then goes and gets their plates as trophies, yes. Dennis Weaver not being able to make a traumatized beta male sympathetic in the slightest, no.

The second half of the film—basically everything following the restaurant and Weaver’s narration starting—moves fast but not well. Nothing Weaver does is reasonable (he’s already missed the meeting, yet continues driving towards it even though the film’s established he can’t be late), Spielberg gets obvious in the reveals. Not to mention when the truck does finally turn into a six ton slasher and go all in on attacking Weaver and anyone around him (though not the school bus, in an inserted for the theatrical sequence; because Weaver in danger isn’t anywhere near as sympathetic as annoying school kids), it’s only impressive as far as the stunt driving goes.

Duel’s beautifully made for a while, then it’s well-executed albeit middling, then it’s a little tedious. Given it’s a real-ish time thriller about White middle class suspicions of the White working class being validated in a terrifying way… it shouldn’t get tedious. The tediousness of the third act is interesting—somehow Duel still moves at a good pace but Weaver’s so annoying in the action it drags.

Spielberg wanted Weaver for the role because of Weaver’s turn as the creepy motel employee in Touch of Evil, which… is definitely not the same skillset required of the role in Duel, which basically turns into a “Twilight Zone” episode once the narration starts.

So it’s this great short film with this okay “Twilight Zone” episode tacked on around halfway in.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Steven Spielberg; written by Richard Matheson; director of photography, Jack A. Marta; edited by Frank Morriss; music by Billy Goldenberg; produced by George Eckstein; released by Cinema International Corporation.

Starring Dennis Weaver (David Mann), Jacqueline Scott (Mrs. Mann), Eddie Firestone (Chuck), Lou Frizzell (a bus driver), and Carey Loftin (a truck driver).


All Rise (2019) s01e14 – Bye Bye Bernie

This episode is series story editor Mellori Velasquez’s first episode as the credited writer. And, wow, either she’s really and at the dialogue or they went exceptionally cheap on the supporting cast. For example, Chelsea Rendon’s murder trial defendant. There’s no reason Rendon should be bad and she certainly seems earnest in her performance, but it’s not a good one. The dialogue between Rendon and her lawyer Jessica Camacho, where Camacho tries to empathize with Rendon over being Latinx and in the system (Camacho, big reveal, was in juvie for a bit as a teen), is painful and then made worse by the scenes going on a line or two too long. So maybe director Michael M. Robin’s fault too.

Then again, with Carlos Miranda as the prosecutor on Rendon’s case? He’s just plain bad. He’s got terrible dialogue but he’s also bad.

As the episode, with its plots for almost the entire regular cast—save Lindsay Mendez and Ruthie Ann Miles, of course—started to wind down, I got thinking about how they’ve managed to make “All Rise” a melodrama without making it particularly soapy. This episode’s got Simone Missick dealing with the Rendon trial, which doesn’t require much from her, as well as the perceived fallout from her mom, L. Scott Caldwell, talking about the racism in the criminal justice system. The subplot—which introduces Brent Jennings as Missick’s peacemaker father—culminates in Caldwell and Missick yelling at each other about how Caldwell basically thinks Missick’s a sell-out. The show positions Missick as surrounded by White people evaluating her as a Black woman judge, with Missick’s reaction often being filtered for that audience (as well as the White audience of the show). This scene with Caldwell could’ve been something.

And it’s not. In fact, the show goes on to walk it all back so they can get to a happy ending for the episode.

Also happy ending for the Wilson Bethel subplot with dad Tony Denison. I was thrilled to see Denison in the pilot’s opening credits but they’ve completely wasted him. Even this episode, presumably his last for a while, doesn’t give him anything to do. Velasquez’s forte is not the parents of grown children in the legal field.

Bethel’s case is at least effective, if manipulative, as he tries to get justice for an older woman possibly suffering from dementia (a decent enough Debra Mooney).

Throw in fourth-billed bailiff-turned-lawyer-to-be J. Alex Brinson interviewing for clerkships, Denison’s defense attorney Lindsey Gort flirting a little more seriously than usual with Bethel, and it’s a packed episode.

Maybe the most significant development is Bethel and Missick getting into an argument, which Velasquez cops out on almost immediately, but it’s at least interesting.

“All Rise” really seems to want credit for humanizing prison inmates and people with dementia; it’s a TV drama equivalent of “Please clap.”

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