Telma Hopkins

Dead to Me (2019) s02e10 – Where Do We Go From Here

How’s “Dead to Me” going to finish up its second season? How’s it going to resolve all the dangerous situations its characters have put themselves in? With one deus ex machina after another. One could say it’s lazy, but given how hard the show tried to be more than an easy black comedy the first season, it’s kind of nice for it to acknowledge it’s not going to clear any high bars.

And this episode does give cop Diana Maria Riva some good material. It really does. Does it make up for her basically being a lazy Latinx the first season? No. And the second season also just has Brandon Scott around to get racist shit from Jere Burns so its inclusivity is… well, it’s actually not suspect because you wouldn’t expect anything different. So Riva getting good material is a surprise.

She’s helping Christina Applegate tie up her arc, which is one or two of the deuses ex; there’s no point in counting them. Much like the earlier Tell-Tale Heart, you get the feeling “Dead to Me” would be lucky if had heard of deus ex machina from anything but a video game.

Everything gets wrapped up in a nice bow, even after things should get more complicated—including the finale, which sets up another season but also doesn’t have a cliffhanger. It could wrap up in a dark but accurate bow, but doesn’t—though based on the shot and the audio… it’s possible they were at least thinking about it. Maybe “Dead to Me” got saved in post, who knows.

There’s a shot or two of Telma Hopkins, who’s back for one of the strands in the bow wrap-up, and Valerie Mahaffey puts in an appearance for one of the deus ex machinas. Sadly Suzy Nakamura has a cameo too. And gets mocked. Because “Dead to Me” goes for cheap laughs.

The show ends as a full-on comedy, so if there is another season and they keep with it… it’ll probably be better? Like, Applegate and Cardellini are great as wine mom Kate & Allie or whatever. The dramatics… not so much.

Hopefully annoying teenage son Sam McCarthy will be off to college by then.

But until then… there are probably better James Marsden and Natalie Morales performances out there to watch. Ones in much better productions.

Dead to Me (2019) s01e05 – I’ve Gotta Get Away

This episode’s set an indeterminate time since the previous, with Christina Applegate and Linda Cardellini poolside in Palm Springs, taking it easy. Except they’re on a retreat with their grief group—the one other group members we see in the episode are the leader, Pastor Wayne (Keong Sim) and Telma Hopkins.

Cardellini and Applegate aren’t going to do anything with the grief conference, until Applegate decides she’s going to knock boots with hot guy Steve Howey no matter what it takes, even sitting through a presentation from Sim. And Cardellini goes to a miscarriage group, which confirms her stories about the multiple miscarriages for the first time. There’s a baby’s room at James Marsden’s but… the show still hasn’t explained how the miscarriage flashback fits in with the more consequential flashbacks.

Things take unexpected turns when Howey turns out not to be the stud Applegate’s looking for and Cardellini, who’s not interested in a convention hookup, meets soulful mourner Brandon Scott (after Scott sings the Cars’s Drive at karaoke) and gets romantic, leaving Applegate to fend for herself. And leads to Applegate having a come to Jesus moment, which is not a particularly good come to Jesus moment (and happens offscreen).

Abe Sylvia’s script is… eh. Guess Sylvia’s a better director for the show than writer. Episode director Minkie Spiro brings back the trying way too hard composition, which is a bummer.

Sylvia’s also got a lot of gay jokes. For Applegate. She’s drunk and making a bunch of gay jokes and then saying the equivalent of “not that there’s anything wrong with it.” It just makes Applegate seem like a jerk instead of a cynic.

She does get a good scene with Sim, finally. Who knew Sim would have good scenes.

And Hopkins gets to karaoke. Applegate and Cardellini are both surprised she can sing, which seems weird because I’d think Thelma Hopkins can sing but maybe that’s just because Thelma Hopkins can do anything.

Also, I’m pretty sure if the episode passes Bechdel, it’s on a technicality. Though Applegate having two sons to fret over kind of limits.

And the ending—with Cardellini trying to get new beau Scott (a police detective) to investigate Applegate’s husband’s death seems a little much. “Dead to Me” usually gets away with its little much but this one might be too much little much. It’s going to require one hell of a scene from Cardellini and the writers (and director) someday.

Dead to Me (2019) s01e03 – It’s All My Fault

Even more secrets! Not only does Christina Applegate find out something she didn’t know—and not Linda Cardellini’s secret, even though Cardellini puts her secret out into the world in the form of a confession in a balloon—to send up to Heaven to Applegate’s dead husband, along with the family (it’s his birthday), which the show plays for a cheap bait and switch because it can’t help itself… And not even the secret martyring mother-in-law Valerie Mahaffey talks to Applegate about, a secret she’s keeping from… well, the audience. Because why shouldn’t everyone be keeping big ol’ secrets.

There’s a lot to the episode, what with Cardellini and ex James Marsden reconnecting after she has to call him to get her out of jail for damaging private property, which Cardellini copped to in an effort to help Applegate. If Marsden isn’t a complete sociopath who’s playing Cardellini, it’ll be the most surprising thing the show’s able to pull off. Because Marsden and Cardellini, in their extremely dysfunctional relationship, play off one another really well. If Marsden isn’t a villain, it’ll mean less great material for him, so I guess I’m hoping he’s a villain.

Then there’s Mahaffey, Applegate’s dead husband’s mother, grandmother to her children, and rival Realtor. Mahaffey belittles and demeans Applegate whenever she gets the chance, but Applegate’s in no mood to be pressed right now. Great performance from Mahaffey; Cardellini actually gets the more interesting scene opposite her, because most of the Applegate stuff is played—initially—for laughs.

Gay Realtor partner Max Jenkins comes through as a good friend to Applegate this episode, which initially redeems him, but then he’s the way they’re shoehorning in religion. Applegate apparently used to have cast and crew pray before takes (on a not “Married With Children” show); her character’s not religious on “Dead to Me” because she needs to be irate, but the gay White guy’s there to remind everyone it’s all good because God.

Eye roll.

Group’s back for a scene; nice to see Telma Hopkins and Edward Fordham Jr. And Ed Asner’s around a bit.

Abe Sylvia’s direction keeps up with some of the quizzical composition but not all of it, which is nice.

“Dead to Me” probably ought to have been called “So Many Secrets,” just because they’re what’s keeping it going but whatever. It works out. And it’s great to see Mahaffey.

Dead to Me (2019) s01e01

The currently strangest thing, one episode into “Dead To Me”—not counting director Amy York Rubin’s pointlessly pensive shot composition, which just distracts in a thirty minute “sitcom”—is how the show handles the humor. Outside the cold open, which has lead Christina Applegate short with neighbor Suzy Nakamura (Applegate’s husband has died and Nakamura is bringing over food and can’t quite figure out the condolences), all the humor is left to the supporting cast at Applegate’s support group.

And it’s a great bunch of supporting cast to do humor, no complaints; Telma Hopkins, Edward Fordham Jr., and Keong Sim are all good at the humor. It’s a strange kind of support group. They meet outside. Sim set the whole thing up after his aunt died falling down stairs to go get him a soda. The episode doesn’t do the traditional support group thing of introducing everyone. It even skips Applegate.

But we do get to know other early forties with it White lady Linda Cardellini, who’s already established as weird because she introduces herself to Applegate while they’re getting the lousy coffee. Cardellini makes oddly inappropriate jokes and not for laughs, rather for Applegate to not laugh at, actually. Cardellini has lost her fiancé.

She and Applegate become phone buddies—they both have insomnia—and bond of “The Facts of Life” reruns. Soon they’re night owl buddies, hanging out in Applegate’s outdoor living room and watching the show, or driving around trying to find cars with Applegate husband-sized damage to the front right bumper.

Everything’s going great—it’s an indeterminate period of time, long enough the rest of the group knows they’re outside friends but not long enough for Applegate to think about introducing Cardellini to her two sons—but then Applegate finds out Cardellini hasn’t been honest about fiancé James Marsden.

The episode ends with some personal growth for Applegate and a major reveal on Cardellini’s level of deception… and her moving in with Applegate because sitcom.

There are some “give me an Emmy” moments for Applegate, like uncontrollably crying with taking a shit, but the show’s very careful never to be insincere. Like Rubin’s direction; whatever she’s doing, it’s not out of insincerity or hurriedness.

It does seem like it was written for a very specific audience—not just “Facts of Life” familiar, but “Kate & Allie,” which is not a realistic reference in 2020—but whatever. It does, however, make a big ask as far as the setup and Cardellini’s relationship with Applegate and it remains to be seen whether or not the show (and creator) Liz Feldman can make it into anything. So far, it’s all still conceptual and potential.

Trancers III (1992, C. Courtney Joyner)

There’s a certain exhaustion about Trancers III. Director Joyner doesn’t have much chemistry with star Tim Thomerson, leading to way too much time spent on the evil super-soldiers. This Trancers sequel, in addition to a really lame Terminator 2 vibe with a novelty android, is all about explaining the origins of Trancers. But not in an interesting way, but a really boring one.

Thomerson and Helen Hunt, on the rocks since the previous sequel, get one scene together. Hunt has two scenes (one on the phone with Thomerson) but only the one actual scene. She tries really hard, but there’s no way to make anything out of it. Joyner is awkward at integrating information from the previous movies, which means dialogue problems, and he’s bad at directing the actors trying to articulate that dialogue.

It should be sad, seeing the heart of the franchise fizzle out, but it’s not because by the time Hunt and Thomerson have their moment, Trancers III is already in the dumps. It starts in the dumps, what with the secret military experiment laboratory underneath a strip club. Actually, maybe Trancers III starting with that tell tale sign of trouble–a “theme by” music credit, which means the filmmakers weren’t able to bring back the original series composer–it lowers expectations. Then there’s a dumb TV commercial with Thomerson advertising his PI business (a Robocop nod) before he disappears, except a weak voice over. Joyner doesn’t know how to make Thomerson fun. It’s not a question of trying to make him funny, it’s about making Trancers and Thomerson fun. Joyner fails at it.

Real quick–Andrew Robinson. Robinson’s the evil mad scientist, only he’s a macho army guy mad scientist, which should be funny. It’s not. Maybe if Adolfo Bartoli were a better photographer, the bad sets would look better but he isn’t. And Robinson’s performance suffers. He’s going crazy–his accent goes from country to Scottish and back again–it just doesn’t amount to anything.

Melanie Smith is okay as Thomerson’s new sidekick, but not really any good. She’s okay for the Trancers III regular cast, who are mostly bad. Decent cameo from Stephen Macht though and it’s fun to see Telma Hopkins. Megan Ward’s bad, unfortunately. Not really her fault, but she’s still bad.

There’s no reason for a Trancers III, so if you’re going to make one, don’t make it lame. There’s just no reason to make such a lame Trancers movie. It wastes Thomerson, it wastes Hunt, it wastes Robinson.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by C. Courtney Joyner; screenplay by Joyner, based on characters created by Danny Bilson and Paul De Meo; director of photography, Adolfo Bartoli; edited by Lauren A. Schaffer and Margeret-Anne Smith; music by Richard Band, Phil Davies and Mark Ryder; production designer, Milo; produced by Albert Band; released by Paramount Home Video.

Starring Tim Thomerson (Jack Deth), Helen Hunt (Lena), Megan Ward (Alice Stillwell), Melanie Smith (R.J.), Andrew Robinson (Col. Daddy Muthuh), Tony Pierce (Jason), Stephen Macht (Harris) and Telma Hopkins (Cmdr. Raines).


Trancers II (1991, Charles Band)

Without its cast, Trancers II couldn’t possibly succeed. It’s an unfortunately limited success as is, but without everyone’s enthusiasm–regardless whether they have a good role or not–the film just couldn’t work. There’s a whole bunch of charm to Trancers II, but only the cast is actually able to deliver on any of its potential.

Jackson Barr’s screenplay, for example, is pretty solid. It’s not great, but it gives all the characters something to do–well, most of them. It’s director Band who screws up the execution of it; all of the film, he goes between this boring close-up one shots on each actor. It’s not editors Andy Horvitch and Ted Nicolaou’s faults, it’s pretty obvious there’s just not the coverage. And it sucks because there’s a lot of good work and even more potential to Trancers II.

I mean, for a very cheap, awkwardly (in terms of acknowledging it) campy, sci-fi thriller, it’s got a lot of potential. Certainly for better parts for its cast, who do a lot with often very little. Tim Thomerson, Helen Hunt and Biff Manard are all good. Manard’s performance suffers because of Band’s direction. Thomerson and Hunt run into the limits of Barr’s screenplay–and how Band directs those scenes–but they’re good. Richard Lynch is good as the bad guy. Alyson Croft is good as future cop Thomerson’s partner’s teenage ancestor. Megan Ward is all right as Thomerson’s future wife (Hunt being his modern day wife). She tries. She doesn’t get the support she needs from Band, but Ward does try.

Phil Davies and Mark Ryder’s music is occasionally good, occasionally bad, often mediocre. But there are some definitely high points. Bland photography from Adolfo Bartoli doesn’t help matters. Not to mention Band wasting Jeffrey Combs.

Trancers II is this odd but great concept poorly executed.

1/4

CREDITS

Produced and directed by Charles Band; screenplay by Jackson Barr, based on a story by Barr and Band and characters created by Danny Bilson and Paul De Meo; director of photography, Adolfo Bartoli; edited by Andy Horvitch and Ted Nicolaou; music by Phil Davies and Mark Ryder; production designer, Kathleen Coates; released by Paramount Home Video.

Starring Tim Thomerson (Jack Deth), Helen Hunt (Lena Deth), Megan Ward (Alice Stillwell), Biff Manard (Hap Ashby), Art LaFleur (Old McNulty), Alyson Croft (McNulty), Telma Hopkins (Cmdr. Raines), Martine Beswick (Nurse Trotter), Jeffrey Combs (Dr. Pyle), Sonny Carl Davis (Rabbit) and Richard Lynch (Dr. Wardo).


Trancers: City of Lost Angels (1988, Charles Band)

Tracers: City of Lost Angels was originally intended to be part of an anthology film but it doesn’t feel much like a short subject. With the obviously limited budget, director Band treats it like a television production more than a film. Most of the action plays out in one or two of the sets. It’s all very constrained.

It’s also rather intelligently handled. Without any budget, the story mostly involves Tim Thomerson’s problems with girlfriend Helen Hunt. He’s from the future, living in his ancestor’s body, she has to be the breadwinner–it’s a difficult situation all around. Thomerson and Hunt (who’s basically just cameoing) are both wonderful. Writers Paul De Meo and Danny Bilson frequently surprise with the character developments.

Lost Angels is a fine effort. The sincerity and the concept–spoofing hard-boiled detectives, but without drawing too much attention to the absurdities–work out surprisingly well (awkward plotting aside, of course).

2/3Recommended

CREDITS

Produced and directed by Charles Band; written by Paul De Meo and Danny Bilson; director of photography, Mac Ahlberg; music by Mark Ryder and Phil Davies; production designer, Giovanni Natalucci; released by Full Moon Features.

Starring Tim Thomerson (Jack Deth), Helen Hunt (Leena), Art LaFleur (McNulty), Telma Hopkins (Engineer Raines), Alyson Croft (Baby McNulty), Grace Zabriskie (Warden) and Velvet Rhodes (Edlin Shock).


Trancers (1985, Charles Band)

There’s something real strange about Trancers. It’s not the film’s obvious references to early 1980s sci-fi successes, Blade Runner and The Terminator (cop travels back in time to fight zombie bad guys who look like regular people). It’s certainly not the direction–while Trancers is incredibly low budget, $400,000 still was a few bucks in 1985, certainly enough for this story, which doesn’t need its future scenes. No, what’s strange about Trancers is its love story, between future cop Tim Thomerson and local girl Helen Hunt. It’s real good. The scenes between Hunt and Thomerson, though poorly written, are great.

I used to be a huge Helen Hunt fan, until she became a big movie star, then I noticed she was good when she didn’t have a kid. But in Trancers, she’s appealing, with a great acting sense. She’s around twenty-two in this film, but it’s a reasoned, mature performance. Thomerson is also good, but his acting is a completely different style. I saw Trancers initially, years ago, because Leonard Maltin gave it two and a half or something and based the rating on Thomerson’s comedic performance. Thomerson’s got a tough guy self-awareness in Trancers. The opening of the film–the future–is very film noir. The costumes, the dialogue. But, first it’s in a future cafe, so it shouldn’t really work, and then it’s on a sunny beach, so it shouldn’t work either… but it does. The absurdity of it works. But the scenes with Thomerson and Hunt, you get to watch these two vastly different acting styles, which ought to conflict, seamlessly connect. You enjoy seeing these two people act together.

Another bonus to Trancers (but not one significant enough to save it if not for the acting, which I also need to include Biff Manard in, he’s good) is the economical storytelling. It runs seventy-six minutes and, while the first act with all the future stuff is too long, the second and third acts are real well-paced. Actually, given its writers, Danny Bilson and Paul De Meo are TV guys, it’s not surprising the second and third acts actually feel like a TV show plugged on to the end of (bad) feature’s first act. The writing’s not good, but the movie moves and it’s not bad enough to hinder the performances.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Produced and directed by Charles Band; written by Danny Bilson and Paul De Meo; director of photography, Mac Ahlberg; edited by Ted Nicolaou; music by Phil Davies and Mark Ryder; production designer, Jeff Staggs; released by Empire Pictures.

Starring Tim Thomerson (Jack Deth), Helen Hunt (Leena), Michael Stefani (Whistler), Art LaFleur (McNulty), Telma Hopkins (Engineer Ruthie Raines), Richard Herd (Chairman Spencer), Anne Seymour (Chairman Ashe), Miguel Fernandes (Officer Lopez) and Biff Manard (Hap Ashby).


Scroll to Top