Archive for October, 2013

* With the bulk of fall premieres behind us and an intermittent schedule of mid-season debuts ahead, this will be the last week of Fall TV Scorecard on Wood’s Stock.

Dracula (NBC)

A television show about vampires is hardly an innovative idea in the modern entertainment landscape (see: Twilight, True Blood, The Vampire Diaries, etc.) but NBC’s latest drama earns some bonus points for going back to the original and most celebrated source: Bram Stoker’s Dracula. The story is still set in turn-of-the-century England, but with few twists on the central characters and plot.

Most notably, Dracula (played with effusive charm by Jonathan Rhys Meyers) and Professor Van Helsing are partners in a plot of revenge against the shady Order of the Dragon, a secret society that has performed nefarious deeds for centuries. Currently, they represent an organization of politicians and businessmen whose power is derived from oil industry profits, leading Dracula to combat them economically by posing as a Nikola Tesla-esque electrical innovator.

While that central structure could come off a bit high-hat, there’s still plenty of the expected sword fights, neck-biting, period costuming, sexual metaphor and rivers of blood to keep us entertained.

Grade: B+

Class: Subscribe

Grimm (NBC)

Now in it’s third season, Friday-night spookfest Grimm has fully set up its chessboard with all indications that the real game is about to begin. The major characters, except Wu I suppose, have been cued in to the rules of the game – namely that we live in a world where storybook creatures, or Wessen, hide in plain sight as regular folk – and the various warring factions are now reasonably aware of each other.

Season 3 picks up right where the last season left off, in that our hero Nick has been put into a semi-comatose/undead state in order to be shipped off to Vienna for the unsavory bidding of the mysterious royal family. But since he’s a Grimm, he reacts a little differently to the process, waking up mid-life and wreaking havoc on his captors.

Sadly, the premiere episode is devoted fully to cleaning up the mess we were left with and does nothing to advance the storyline. It’s also yet another two-parter, meaning at least two weeks will be spent digging the story out of the corner the writers put themselves in. It also all-too-conveniently ties up most of the loose ends created by the season finale, making much of last season’s final events look pointless in hindsight. I, for one, thought putting Nick behind enemy lines in Vienna would have been interesting, but unfortunately that’s a world we’re not yet going to be allowed to see.

Still, Grimm is as fun as ever and the teaser for the new season promises that we will eventually get into more interesting territory.

Grade: B-

Class: Subscribe

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There are few actors who embody the same sense of gleeful fun as Arnold Schwarzenegger. Near the end of his latest actioner, Escape Plan, after an hour-plus of good old-fashioned fisticuffs, the camera zooms in tight on the former Governor of California’s eyes as he pulls a mounted machine gun from a helicopter, turns in slow-motion and lays waste to a horde of approaching baddies. The crowd at my screening cheered, and I can’t really blame them.

He is what he is, and so is Escape Plan, a low-brow and giddy slugfest that sees Arnold and Sly Stallone teaming up to escape from a high-security prison. But where Schwarzy’s charms become more endearing with age, every inch of Stallone’s face seems to hang with weary exhaustion as he grunts out dialogue. It’s ultimately Sly’s movie, which is unfortunate, since you the movie deflates every minute he’s onscreen without his partner in testosterone.

Plotwise, the movie is about Ray Breslin (Stallone) a prison security expert who self-incarcerates and breaks out of joints for a living. He’s apparently a calculating mastermind, which is odd since we learn that before his current career path he was a regular old lawyer, but I digress.

Breslin and his team (oh yeah, 50 Cent is in this movie) are approached by the CIA to test out an off-the-books facility for the Guantanamo-esque bad guys who the world would just assume disappear. They’re offering double his normal fee so he agrees to get black-bagged and whisked off to some mysterious facility, located somewhere, with no support from his staff. But things are not what they seem and Breslin soon realizes he must either break out or die in prison.

For a movie that trades in simple thrills, Escape Plan actually shackles itself with an overly convoluted plot, including a search for an international Robin Hood-type criminal, several allusions to “the past” that are never close to explained and a half-realized romance with Amy Ryan (who, I might add, is an Oscar nominee. Seriously Amy, what are you doing here?). Don’t worry about any of that, just grab a bucket of popcorn and give your brain a night off before Oscar season really kicks in.

Grade: C+

*Escape Plan opens in Utah on Friday, Oct. 18.

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*Portions of this review were published in January as part of my coverage of the 2013 Sundance Film Festival

After Tiller

In 2009, late-term abortionist Dr. George Tiller was assassinated while attending church services in Kansas. His death left four of his friends and former colleagues as the only practicing late-term abortionists in the country.

In After Tiller, directors Martha Shane and Lana Wilson invite us into the lives and practices of these four doctors, as they struggle to provide a service they deem morally and ethically necessary as groups literally and figuratively gather outside to stop them. You could criticize the movie for being one-sided, but the quiet tone of the film is less about debate as it is about demonstration. Most people never see the inside of an abortion clinic, but the picket lines, banners and megaphones outside paint a picture of dark alleyways and rusty scalpels. By making this documentary, the audience is shown a staff of emotionally invested, caring people, who struggle with the ethical implications of what they do and worry about what a woman may resort to if denied the service that only they can provide.

In June, I wrote a post listing After Tiller as one of four documentaries that changed my mind, or caused me to reconsider my position on a controversial issue. The film is a compelling narrative that I would recommend for all viewers, and must-see for anyone who considers themselves either pro-life or pro-choice.

There are no simple answers to the abortion debate, but by stripping away the yelling, screaming and high emotion that typically surrounds a discussion of the issue, Shane and Wilson are able to provide probing and insightful answers from some of the most hated people in America.

Grade: A-

*After Tiller opens in Utah theaters on Friday, Oct. 18.

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I remember the first time I heard the phrase “catfish.” It was in early 2011, before Manti Teo and the MTV Docu-series that made the term a household expression. I was talking movies with a friend who mentioned a crazy documentary he had recently watched, in which a man began to doubt the veracity of his online girlfriend and piece by piece watched as an elaborately-constructed fantasy came tumbling down.

He was careful to avoid spoilers, insisting that I watch the movie immediately. But before I could, the idea of “catfishing” – or manufacturing a false online persona – became ubiquitous and the gig was up. Once you know what a “catfish” is, you don’t have to watch Catfish to know it’s about a catfish.

But then last month while I was in Hawaii, I happened upon an episode of the MTV series – in which the original filmmakers assist would-be online romances in a case of the week – and curiosity killed the cat. I came home and immediately grabbed a copy of the 2010 Sundance Documentary.

Catfish revolves around Nev, a New York-based photographer who begins a professional friendship with a child artist named Abby after she sketches one of his photographs. She lives in a small town, so Nev happily provides her with images from his travels to give her new and challenging subjects.

In time Nev is absorbed into the Facebook circles of Abby’s family, cultivating distinct relationships with her mother, father and siblings, including her older sister, a dancer/singer named Megan. A romantic relationship blooms between Nev and Megan, but inconsistencies begin to pop up, launching Nev into a bizarre mystery as he tries to determine who it is he’s actually talking to. Without giving too much away, it’s alarming to see the lengths people can and will go to in order to fabricate an entire world.

Now, before you get excited, this month’s edition of My Life Online is not about my encounters with a catfish. But after watching the film I couldn’t help but wonder about the various persons with whom I’ve conversed during the course of this project. Were they who they really claimed to be? Was I? I may not have fashioned a human being out of thin (digital) air, but do I represent myself 100 percent accurately online? Does anyone?

By and large I am a proponent of the democratization of the internet but it helps to remember that as the web grows bigger there are more dark corners created. I recently stumbled across an advertisement for an online dating website called Ashley Madison, which caters to people looking for anonymous, extra-marital relationships. You almost have to give the site credit for its blatant honesty. Its home page features a beautiful woman pressing a secretive finger to her lips and the site’s tagline says, unabashedly, “Life is short. Have an Affair.” (Hint: Ashley Madison wasn’t my niche online dating service).

After Catfish, my internet obsession become the blog 40 Days of Dating, in which two hip, New York-based graphic designers decide to put a pin in their years-long platonic friendship and try a publicly-documented dating experiment for 40 days. They agree to a number of ground rules – they must see each other every day, they must take one weekend trip, they must visit a couples therapist each week – and at the end of each day they document the latest developments by responding to a simple questionnaire, accompanied by the kind of colorful, popping visuals you would expect from two hip, New York-based graphic designers.

The entire production has a very glossy, manufactured feel and the two characters are conveniently cast in perfect dramatic archetypes – he’s the player who can’t commit, she’s the romantic willing to give it a chance – whose character arcs ebb and flow at very convenient plot points. I’m not saying their story isn’t genuine, but it seems a little too tailor-made for mass consumption, especially considering the book and movie deals the pair just scored.

Still, it’s an interesting (albeit frustrating) read that gives you a little peek behind the he said/she said curtain of modern relationships and the writers – who are professional content creators mind you – offer a few interesting nuggets into the grand conversation of love.

For example, a recurring question through 40 Days is whether we cast ourselves in roles that we then play out in perpetuity, to our own detriment. I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately, since my character in The Ben Show has always been the loveable nerd who doesn’t get the girl. I’m essentially Duckie from “Pretty In Pink.” I couldn’t get a date in high school, I couldn’t get a date in college and now, while navigating subscription-based websites for people whose express purpose is to meet and build relationships, I still can’t get a date.

My interactions online follow an alarming pattern that would be humorous if it wasn’t so inescapable. It goes something like this: “meet” a girl, flirtatious banter, flirtatious banter, flirtatious banter, extend a date offer, crickets. Rinse and repeat.

Take Lindsey, who we met last month on Tinder. For one week we had a very engaging conversation. We talked about the places we’d traveled to. We talked about our work. We talked about our favorite music, hobbies, calendar seasons and films. Then, at 3:15 p.m. on September 20, I asked her if she’d want to meet up for a cup of coffee and never heard from her again.

Same thing happened with Taylor, a med-school student at the University of Utah. She wants to be an OB/GYN and we joked about how her life was going to be exactly like a hospital-set television show, a la Scrubs or Grey’s Anatomy, full of love triangles and workplace shenanigans. I suggested lunch. The conversation flat-lined.

The other take-away I got from 40 Days was the Jung Typology Test, which I found insightful. According to Jung, I am an INTJ personality type – Introverted, Intuitive, Thinking, Judging – which means I’m introverted (yes) and rely on logic more than emotion (yes).

People often don’t believe me when I say I’m introverted. They assume I must be extroverted because I’m loud, opinionated and like to perform in public. They assume this because they don’t actually know what “introversion” and “extroversion” mean.

In a nutshell, extroverts are energized by social interaction whereas introverts are exhausted by it. My own particular brand of introversion, INTJ, can be especially deceptive, since logical thinking is sometimes perceived as confidence. To explain this better, I give you an exerpt of an INTJ description by Marina Margaret Heiss.

“To outsiders, INTJs may appear to project an aura of “definiteness”, of self-confidence. This self-confidence, sometimes mistaken for simple arrogance by the less decisive, is actually of a very specific rather than a general nature; its source lies in the specialized knowledge systems that most INTJs start building at an early age. … INTJs know what they know, and perhaps still more importantly, they know what they don’t know.”

I particularly like that second sentence. According to Heiss, it is not me that is arrogant, it is you who can’t make up your mind.

But then we get to the part about romantic relationships, where the negative aspects of being an INTJ really start to show. It should be noted, Heiss isn’t telling me anything I didn’t already know about myself, but there is something comforting about seeing my personality flaws laid out on an academic slab. Turns out I’m not broken, it’s just Psychology 101.

 “Personal relationships, particularly romantic ones, can be the INTJ’s Achilles heel. While they are capable of caring deeply for others (usually a select few), and are willing to spend a great deal of time and effort on a relationship, the knowledge and self-confidence that make them so successful in other areas can suddenly abandon or mislead them in interpersonal situations.”

“This happens in part because many INTJs do not readily grasp the social rituals; for instance, they tend to have little patience and less understanding of such things as small talk and flirtation (which most types consider half the fun of a relationship). To complicate matters, INTJs are usually extremely private people, and can often be naturally impassive as well, which makes them easy to misread and misunderstand. Perhaps the most fundamental problem, however, is that INTJs really want people to make sense. This sometimes results in a peculiar naivete’, paralleling that of many Fs — only instead of expecting inexhaustible affection and empathy from a romantic relationship, the INTJ will expect inexhaustible reasonability and directness.”

I could spend all day on that paragraph but for today’s purposes I want to note the beginning of the second paragraph, where it talks about how we INTJs have no patience for small talk and flirtation. The rote mechanics of modern dating has always been a stumbling block for me. There’s been many occasions where I’ve said that dying alone is worth never having to go on a first date, which is timely because I went on a first date last week.

Online dates are essentially blind dates that you set up yourself. You have a little time to exchange some pleasantries (which may or may not be completely false) but you’re still essentially confining yourself to a period of human contact with a complete and utter stranger, for better or worse.

My date with Julie actually was relatively pleasant, like a “no cavities” dentist appointment. We both work downtown so we met for lunch and I introduced her to the joyous rapture that is butternut squash soup. We swapped used-to-live-in-New-York stories and I had a chance to brush off my rusty Portuguese – that’s right ladies, I’m bilingual, form an orderly line.

But I still found myself questioning the fundamental motivations of my gender. A 45-minute lunch didn’t exactly fill me with an unyielding desire to see her again. Should it? I have no idea. There’s an old joke that goes something like this: Anyone who thinks first dates are fun has either never gone on a first date, or never had fun.

I have never, not once in my entire life, “gotten a number” in the traditional sense of meeting someone at a party/club/coffee shop/book burning/etc. Most men scoff at this as an inability to close but I ask why would I? Why do any of us? On the other side of that phone number is, at best, a blind first date and, at worst, a humiliating rejection.

But apparently, as described by Heiss, most men actually enjoy that nonsense. They enjoy the chase, the forced asinine chit-chat about number of siblings and hobbies, the attempts at humor and the insincerity. They think it’s fun, and I just think that doesn’t make any sense.

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American Horror Story: Coven (FX)

Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk took a little flak for the second season of their anthology series American Horror Story. Not because the season was bad – quite the opposite, the season was fantastic and was the single most nominated series at this year’s Emmy awards. But Murphey and Falchuk had so successfully fashioned a living nightmare that the result was a little hard to watch.

But this year’s American Horror Story: Coven is a noticeably lighter, funner and more playful affair, albeit one whose first hour includes depictions of torture, rape, murder and a woman whose beauty ritual involves spreading human blood on her face with a shaving brush.

As always, a largely familiar cast with a few newcomers have inhabited a new world and new characters, in this case revolving around a Hogwarts-style school for witches in New Orleans. We’re introduced to the world through the eyes of Zoe (played by returning Taissa Farmiga after a season-2 absence) who learns that she descends from a line of magical women after accidently killing her boyfriend. In the world of AHS:Coven, most witches have a single distinguishing gift, a la the X-Men, and Zoe is essentially the R-rated version of Rogue (in a nutshell: she has deadly lady-bits).

The pilot mostly sets the scene, introducing us to a slew of characters while only hinting at the future stakes. There’s Jessica Lange as the reigning Supreme, Sarah Paulson as her daughter and school headmistress, Kathy Bates as real-world sadistic slave owner Delphine LaLaurie and Angela Bassett as a mysterious person we know little about at this point. It’s a juicy tease of the thrills to come and I can’t wait to see what comes next.

Grade: A

Class: Subscribe (but as always, not for the faint of heart) 

Once Upon a Time in Wonderland (ABC)

In this largely self-contained spin off, Alice is a patient in a mental ward about to undergo a lobotomy due to her failing grasp on reality – namely a manufactured fantasy where she fell down a rabbit hole into a magical world and fell in love with a genie named Cyrus, who was subsequently killed by an evil queen.

Of course it was all real, so on the eve of her procedure she is rescued by the Knave of Hearts and transported back to Wonderland by the white Rabbit, who claims that Cyrus is alive. So off they go on an adventure to find/save her true love, who we learn is imprisoned by Jafar (Lost’s Naveen Andrews, who frankly deserves better), and running into familiar characters along the way like the Cheshire Cat and that hooka-smoking caterpillar.

The fairytale land portions are always the weakest of Once Upon a Time due to the ubiquitous use of computer generated environments that a TV show simply doesn’t have the budget to pull off. It’s no different in Wonderland, with the actors scrambling to interact with a world that exists entirely in green screen. It’s awkward and visually unpleasant, but hopefully future episodes will find the right balance between corporeal and Star Wars prequel trilogy.

Grade: B-

Class: Keep an Eye On

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In my humble opinion – you know, that of a published and award-winning semi-professional film critic – Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo + Juliet is a modern classic and the definitive adaption of the Bard’s most famous tragedy. Its hyper-kinetic energy, a controlled chaos of sights and sounds, juxtaposing a modern setting with Shakespeare’s original text makes for an extraordinary piece of filmmaking.

But even when setting aside my Luhrmann fanboyism, I’m just not sure the world is clamoring for a new take on the star-crossed lovers from Verona, especially one as decidedly non-Hollywood as this latest adaptation written by Downton Abbey creator Julian Fellowes and helmed by Italian director Carlo Carlei.

R&J is one of the most widely-familiar tales in Western civilization, so I won’t spend a lot of time on synopsis. Two warring houses, the Montagues and Capulets, are engaged in a bitter and drawn-out feud that escalates at precisely the moment that the houses’ two heirs, Romeo Montague and Juliet Capulet, meet and fall in love. They marry in secret, with the help of Juliet’s nurse and a trusted priest, but cruel fate continues to obstruct their plans for happiness.

This latest Romeo and Juliet is a bit of a hodgepodge. The set pieces and period detail are stunning, but the watered-down prose is overly casual at times and the acting comes off as heavy-handed melodrama. The casting of Paul Giamatti and Damian Lewis was inspired, but other choices like Natascha McElhone as Lady Capulet are nonsensical and Douglass Booth (Romeo) is essentially an Abercrombie model whose cherubic poise robs the otherwise brilliant Hailee Steinfeld (Juliet) of convincing chemistry. The understated direction sets the film nicely apart from the  bombastic Baz Luhrman version, but also cripples the scenes of aggression between the rival families, deflating any sense of heft and tension.

Carlei also relies too heavily on certain visual motifs that are at best pointless and at worst laughable. If you took a shot every time Romeo gently caresses Juliet’s cheek with his hand you would need a taxi to take you home from the theater. And both lead characters are introduced with cloudy, ethereal lingering shots plucked out of a Hallmark home video. We’re supposed to believe the passion between these two characters is strong enough to choose death over separation, but what we get is the milquetoast romance of a Taylor Swift music video.

But there is a familiarity and sentimentality to the tragic tale of young love, which is dealt with reverently by Fellowes and Carlei. Even in its weaker moments, Romeo and Juliet is respectful to its source material and not enough can be said about the beautiful settings that Carlei has chosen to stage his tale, although its telling when the most memorable thing about a movie is the lifeless background that distracts you from the actors doing their best to recite choppy bits of iambic pentameter.

Steinfeld, the breakout star of True Grit, once again suggests a rising star even if she’s not perfectly matched with the miscast ensemble or her romantic counterpart, whose biggest credit to date is 2012’s LOL starring Miley Cyrus (don’t remember that one? That’s ok, no one does.).

Ultimately, Romeo and Juliet is visually impressive while dramatically underwhelming, but its strengths outweigh its weaknesses.

Grade: B-

*Romeo and Juliet opens nationwide on Friday, Oct. 11.

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Betrayal (ABC)

Another year, another prime-time soap on ABC. With Revenge losing much of its luster last season and 666 Park Avenue failing to take up residency, the mouse house is clearly hoping Betrayal can pick up some of the slack left by the once-titan Desperate Housewives. I can’t speak to its odds of success, since this is a show that clearly falls outside of my genre as a target audience member. But what I can say is that Betrayal is 44 minutes of heavy-handed nonsense that takes itself far too seriously to be enjoyable.

Betrayal opens with a woman being being rushed into an ambulance after having been shot in the shoulder. We then jump backwards 6 months to a gallery open where the woman, Sarah, has a chance encounter with Jack, charming man in a peacoat. Despite being married to their respective spouses, the two become fixated on one another, and we know that not because of any genuine emotional connection between the characters but because they display the appropriate side-glances and fluttered breath of an episode of General Hospital.

With the exception of James Cromwell as Jack’s take-no-prisoners employer, Betrayal is filled with a cast of unknown, unmemorable actors who chew their lines like it’s their first hot meal in months. The pre-show disclaimer of adult material might preserve a few looky-loos from a curious audience, but the story is dead on arrival.

Grade: D+

Class: Kill and Bury

We Are Men (CBS)

The pilot of CBS’ new venture into single-camera comedy is a bit of a mixed bag. The pilot begins with a blatant rip-off of Happy Endings, with our main protagonist/narrator getting left at the alter after a man barges in during the “speak now” portion of the ceremony. From there, the show launches into an acceptably pleasant montage establishing the main characters and the stakes — our “hero” Carter moves into temporary housing where he bros out with Kal Penn’s Gil, Jerry O’Connell’s Stuart and Tony Shalhoub’s Frank.

Watching this whole thing develop, I found myself wondering why the critics had been so critical. Sure it was nothing great, but was it really that bad? The cast was great, it’s about time Christopher Nicholas Smith had a starring vehicle, even the supporting bench contained Newsradio’s Dave Foley. What was the problem?

But then, the voice-over narration gave way to dialogue, and it was immediately apparent that We Are Men is little more than re-heated machismo jokes uttered by paper-thin characters. O’Connell takes his shirt off, Shalhoub chases young Asian girls, Penn is a nerd and after 22 minutes of beer, basketball and juvenile hijinks the episode ends, promising more of the same and little else.

Somewhere in We Are Men is the ingredients for a fun, irreverent comedy. Here’s hoping it finds itself.

Grade: C+

Class: Keep and Eye On (minus)

Super Fun Night (ABC)

Rebel Wilson, the scene-stealing “Fat Amy” from last year’s Pitch Perfect, is funny. Super Fun Night, on the other hand, is not. At all.

The premiere episode reads like a laundry list of things to NOT do with Rebel Wilson as your star. For example: don’t make her mask her native Australian accent. Don’t force her larger-than-life personality into a milquetoast character defined by a lack of self-confidence. Don’t put her front and center without a straight-man counterpart to carry the comedic weight (a la Don’t Trust the B**** in Apt 23) and whatever you do, don’t air the second episode as the premiere in place of the pilot, forcing your audience to put the plot pieces together without the help of a set-up. (It took 12 minutes to establish the setting as New York City, and I’m still not sure if I’ve heard every character’s name. This decision was reportedly made because the pilot was even worse, which is foreboding.)

Apparently, the show is about Kimmie (Wilson), who gets promoted at the law firm she works at and, in some related bit of self-realization, decides she’s had enough of staying in every weekend and decides with her two roommates to get out and experience life more. I gather this will involve some weekly excursion to a new location/activity (a piano kareoke bar in the premiere episode), peppered throughout with romantic sub-plots and other sit-com hijinks.

Grade: C-

Class: Kill and Bury

Blair Underwood is Robert Ironside, a wheelchair-bound NYC homicide detective who doesn’t play by the book, does whatever it takes, sees past the evidence and a whole host of other crime procedural cliches. He also coaches hockey, because that makes slightly more sense than a paraplegic being a Yoga instructor.

The pilot episode sees Ironside and his team investigating a suicide that may or may not be a murder. It is every episode of Law and Order/CSI/Criminal Minds you’ve ever seen, a formulaic romp full of melodramatic glances and stilted dialogue and devoid of anything that resembles wit or ingenuity. There’s a market for this type of thing, but I’m definitely not in it.

Ironside lives or dies on its central gimmick and judging by the ratings numbers (it posted the worst Fall drama debut in NBC’s entire history, an honor previously held by the D.O.A. Playboy Club) it likely isn’t long for this world.

Grade: D

Class: Kill and Bury

Welcome to the Family (NBC)

Junior is a straight-A student and valedictorian headed to Stanford after he graduates high school. Molly is his blonde mall rat girlfriend, who is barely scraping by in her studies with the goal of attending Arizona State, the number one party school in the country.

But when Molly realizes that she’s pregnant on graduation day, the two kids decide to become extremely ill-advised young parents and their respective families – who of course don’t get along – are thrown together in the process.

Junior and Molly are the weak links in the chain. Their parents, particularly Glee’s Mike O’Malley, put in some amusing barbs as the dissapointed-but-staying-positive role models. The show is framed with a somewhat awkward racial subtext – Junior’s parents are Latino, Molly’s parents are very not Latino – that hopefully won’t be the focus of future humor.

Grade: B-

Class: Keep an Eye On

Sean Saves the World

It’s odd that it took so long for Sean Hayes to come back to television in a starring role. Will and Grace – which, let’s be honest, belonged to Jack and Karen – was a gargantuan, culture-shaping behemoth that ushered in the modern era of the gay rights movement – with an assist from Ellen, let’s not forget – and did gangbusters business for NBC during the Must-See TV era.

And so here we are with Sean Saves the World, and while I would like to see Hayes in something a little better, I’m glad he’s not in something worse. Hayes stars as the titular Sean, who is thrust into single parenthood after the mother of his teenage daughter moves to a new city leaving their child in his care. If the show proves successful, expect a bombshell casting announcement when said mother inevitably returns.

Besides parenthood, Sean is also dealing with a new curmudgeonly boss – Renoo 911’s Thomas Lennon – with the help of his co-workers, Megan Hilty of Smash and Ben and Kate’s Echo Kellum, a very funny guy who I’m glad to see has found a new job since B&K was tragically cut short.

It’s always hard for me to believe we still live in a world with laugh tracks but for the most part SSTW keeps its head above water – except for one recurring gag where Sean strikes a cowboy pose that landed flat every time.

Grade: B

Class: Keep an Eye On

The Millers (CBS)

There is a lot of exceptional talent filling the cast rolls of CBS’s The Millers. You have Arrested Development’s Will Arnett as Jack, a recently-divorced tv journalist. His sister and brother-in-law are played by the uber-adorable Jayma Mays of Glee and New Girl’s Nelson Franklin. And his parents, who are inspired to split up after learning of Jack’s collapsed marriage, are played by Beau Bridges and Justified’s Margo Martindale.

Unfortunately, the combined show does not live up to the sum of its parts. It’s basically the less-offensive version of Fox’s Dads, relying on the imbecility of two adult characters and the frustration of their hip children as the one and only comedic well to draw from. There’s also five minutes of flatulence humor, because who doesn’t love that?

Every single person on this show deserves better.

Grade: C+

Class: Kill and Bury

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