TV Review: Elementary

'Elementary': Lucy Liu as Holmes' Sober Companion

...Moving the story to the States and changing Watson’s gender seem to be where the creativity ends for Elementary. Through the rest of the premiere, the show is intent on hitting all of the typical Sherlock Holmes beats. There’s a scene where he rattles off a list of personal details about someone he’s just met based on a few quick observations. There’s another where he leaves veteran police detectives flabbergasted by making headway in a case through a small detail they all overlooked. And there are many, many moments where Holmes acts rudely or inappropriately, ignoring social norms. These moments are necessary for Sherlock Holmes stories, but with each Holmes adaptation, they become a little less novel.

That lack of originality spills over into Elementary‘s visual style. Too often, it feels like it’s been run through the network TV cop-procedural grinder. The premiere’s New York City location, shaky-camera aesthetic, and easily digestible one-hour mystery made Holmes less a creation of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and more like any number of damaged investigators with superb mental powers, from The Mentalist‘s Patrick Jane to Unforgettable‘s Carrie Wells. (It doesn’t help that Aiden Quinn is cast as the show’s NYPD captain, recalling his earlier stint as Lieutenant Kevin Sweeney on another British import, Prime Suspect.)  At least Holmes spares us the seemingly unsolvable mystery from his own past that haunts him in the present, the only touchstone of these formulaic dramas that seems to be missing—so far.
 
But if Elementary is a standard detective procedural, it is at least well done. This is largely based on the strength of Miller, who brings a rejuvenating energy to a genre full of morose investigators. He has an easy rapport with Liu, even if it’s sometimes used in an antagonizing way. He may not be the best Sherlock out there, but he’s perfect proof of why people still feel the need to tell Sherlock Holmes stories 85 years after Arthur Conan Doyle.

Click through to read the full review at PopMatters.

TV Review: Boardwalk Empire Season Three

 

 

Seven curse words, at least four racial slurs, and a raft of other insults, ranging from “short pants” and “midget” to “breadstick in a bowtie.” That’s how Gyp Rosetti (Bobby Cannavale) announces his arrival in Atlantic City, directing his invective at Nucky Thompson, (Steve Buscemi). It’s a feat of virtuosic vulgarity, coming after we’ve already seen him gratuitously murder a Good Samaritan for a perceived slight—and then steal the Samaritan’s dog—so we know he bites as hard as he barks. Okay, Boardwalk Empire, you have our attention.


The show needed Gyp Rosetti. At the end of the second season, it was in the strange position of winding down and hitting its stride simultaneously. It had spent the season beginning to reap the benefits of more than a year of narrative build-up, as we felt fully invested in a number of stories, stories that were quickly developing. Then, just when it could’ve coasted off its accumulated good will and anticipation,Boardwalk Empire raised the stakes instead.


Primarily, it killed off major characters, including Jimmy (Michael Pitt). Now we have to think about the show differently. None of our favorite characters has protected status due to their prominence or popularity, and anyone can go at any time if it serves the greater narrative. (Please, let Margaret Schroeder make it through the end unscathed!) These deaths served other, more plainly narrative purposes: they opened up a vacuum of villainy. Nucky had clawed his way to the top and now looked unopposed.


But if Boardwalk Empire preaches one thing, it’s this: just when you think you’ve solved one problem, there’s another waiting in the wings. Gyp Rosetti’s introduction suggests that he’ll be a scoundrel every bit as violent, wily, and ruthless as we’ve seen before in the series, if not more so. By the second episode of the new season, he delivers on that promise.

 

Click through to read the rest of the review at PopMatters. 

I Become the Subject

Kari Ann Marquart of L7 Women's Magazine asked me to weigh in on the upcoming TV season.

Five New and Five Returning Shows to Watch This Fall

"Boardwalk Empire created quite a stir with its season two finale that caused many to be taken completely aback when the writers killed off a main character. 'The events in the last episode make it hard to wait for its return,' LaScala said. 'I have to just put it out of my head or else I get too anxious for the show to start again.' Watch to see how season three of this Prohibition-era television show plays out on Sept. 16th at 9/8c on HBO."

Click through to read the rest (and see many more examples of me stumping for my favorite shows).

Q&A: Ben Schwartz

I interviewed Ben Schwartz about his TV projects: Parks and Recreation, House of Lies, and Randy Cunningham: 9th Grade Ninja, but this was my favorite question I got to ask:

Finally, when certain people in this office are in kind of a down mood, it's possible they use this video of you and Zooey Deschanel signing "You Belong to Me" to cheer up. Can you say how that came about?

That’s amazing! That’s so sweet. That came about because my friend Sophia Rossi created a website called HelloGiggles with the talented Zooey Deschanel and Molly McAleer. Sophia asked me to do a video for them around the time when they launched, and I asked Zooey if she wanted to sing an old song that Steve Martin and Bernadette Peters sang from The Jerk. Zooey is a professional singer and amazing at just about everything, so I was so lucky when she said yes. She learned the song on her ukulele in two seconds. We hit record on Sophia’s laptop, sang it a few times, and picked our favorite take. I love that people are watching it. The trick is to get someone who is an amazing singer to sing with you, then hopefully she sings loud enough to make everyone forget that you are singing, too.

 

Click here to read the full interview.

 

Photo: DISNEY XD/RICK ROWELL

TV Review: Go On

'Go On': Matthew Perry's Sarcastic Charm

Ryan joins a group for people “in transition.” While so many new sitcoms in the wake of Modern Family‘s success are offering different permutations of “the family,” this one sets up early to showcase people learning to cope without theirs. But this deviation from the current trend doesn’t mean that Go On is devoid of all sitcom tropes. Ryan is all too familiar in a couple of aspects. First, he’s a diehard sports fan who can’t talk about his “feelings.” As the typical alpha male, he cracks jokes about his own tragedy and denies that he needs to grieve: “If I go see a shrink,” he says, “My dad would roll around in his grave. At last I think he’s dead. We don’t talk about that kind of thing.” He’s also conventional in his need for help.  Like Will in Good Will Hunting and pretty much every reluctant-patient-in-therapy TV show or movie except One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Ryan finds the group helpful.

 

Click through to read the rest of the review at PopMatters.

New Show Review: Veep

'Veep' Finds Humor in Office Politics

"At an event in New York to promote the show, Louis-Dreyfus noted that most films and TV shows portray politics as noble, like The West Wing, or sinister, like Three Days of the Condor. With Veep, politics is drudgery. It’s bureaucracy and backstabbing in small, cramped spaces. They might as well be running a paper company."

Click through to read the rest of the review at PopMatters.

PopMatters: Best Television of 2011

I contributed three write-ups to PopMatters's list of the best television shows of the year.

The Best Television Shows of 2011

No. 33: Beavis and Butt-Head

You might guess that Beavis and Butt-Head, with their slacker attitudes and penchant for music-video-viewing, were wholly a product of their time. It turns out that the same dim-wittedness (and, in some cases, animation) work in any era. Sure, they’re now plopped in front of Jersey Shore and Teen Mom—shows that are basically their own self-satire, so you’d think there’d be nothing else to say about them. But writer/voice actor Mike Judge knows just what to say—something so profoundly stupid, it’s stupidly profound—to wring out the most laughs out of any situation, including The Situation.

No. 32: New Girl

New Girl begins with a very typical fish-out-of-water premise: When Jess (Zooey Deschanel) breaks up with her long-time boyfriend, she needs to find a new living situation and winds up taking a room in an apartment with three dudes. The charm comes from how goofy all four roommates are. Sometimes the boys rightfully tease Jess for her quirky social blind spots, and sometimes they’re just as clueless as she is. And it’s always a good time watching Deschanel indulge her ultimate inner dork.

No. 23: Up All Night

NBC has best comedies on television because the network broadcasts shows about people, not premises. Up All Night is proof: There are no wacky reasons these characters are together (sorry, 2 Broke Girls) and no contrivances keeping them there. Instead, the show—about a couple raising a newborn, simple as that—draws humor from its characters not through their circumstances, but by being who they are. And, with the comedic chops of Christina Applegate, Will Arnett, and Maya Rudolph behind them, who they are is very funny indeed.

Click through to read the rest of the list at PopMatters.

New Show Review: Allen Gregory

 

'Allen Gregory': A Little Egghead With a Temper

 

Similarly, the show leans on angry-Allen too much. Yes, it’s funny to see the little egghead blow his lid and be downright rude to people. The problem is, he’s belligerent to too many people, especially within his family structure. It’s realistic that a kid would be hostile to either his father’s partner or a new adopted sibling, and Allen Gregory has both. But scenes at the De Longpre home devolve into across-the-board shouting. The writers need to differentiate how Allen Gregory relates to Jeremy from how he relates to Julie. If the show had Allen Gregory treat Jeremy and Julie differently, there’d be more opportunity for a wider variety of jokes, including some that don’t involve yelling. 

 

At least Allen Gregory doesn’t try to emulate Family Guy‘s ugly aesthetic. Allen Gregory looks much nicer. Character designs come from Andy Bialk and James McDermott, whose combined credits include King of the Hill, The Ricky Gervais Show, Dexter’s Laboratory, The Powerpuff Girls, and Samurai Jack. As on those shows, the characters of Allen Gregory look flat and the backgrounds are mostly static. But rather than the ultra-spare designs of those shows, the artwork feels full and sophisticated, with a muted color palette. Maybe the humor can become as refined.

 

Click through to read the rest of the review at PopMatters.