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QUICKIE REVIEW: NBC’s “Debris”

If you’re a sci-fi fan and you’re not watching Debris, you’re missing out on a fun show. Debris is one of those weird experiments in how little exposition a show can get away with giving. The pilot episode drops viewers in the middle of the action, with Brian and Finola having been tracking debris for several weeks already. It’s a gutsy way to start such a high-concept series, for sure. But it’s honestly a breath of fresh air in a genre that usually spends an unwieldy amount of time setting premises up before anything interesting happens. It’s nice getting right to the action, especially when the action involves a new piece of Debris each week that lets the writers explore a multitude of science fiction ideas. Want a story about clones? Check out episode two. Want something involving wormholes? Episode three’s your bet. Want to see an episode where old people can become young again? Watch episode six. I’m not always the biggest fan of procedural shows, but Debris offers a nice balance between fun cases of the week and an intriguing ongoing mystery—there’s some kind of terrorist group trying to find the pieces of debris before the various governments can and they seem to be up to no good. The mystery needs some development, but it’s enough to keep you coming back each week to see the newest strange case.

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REVIEW: “Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist” Season Two

The first season of Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist was one of the biggest surprises of 2020 and easily ranked among my favorite shows of the year. It was filled with so much heart, joy, and emotion that it was infectious to watch. I love a good dramedy and I love a good musical show that knows how to utilize its musical numbers in unique, creative, and emotional ways. Everything about the first season of Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist was—pun intended—extraordinary, and I couldn’t have been more excited when a second season was confirmed. However, one big question lingered: could a second season maintain the energy, heart, and originality of the first without feeling stale? Well, having season the first three episodes of season two, I can safely say that the answer is a resounding yes! Season two of Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist is a perfect continuation of the first season. It pushes the story and characters into new exciting and emotional directions while maintaining the show’s heart, joy, and emotional introspection. (4.5 out of 5 wands.)

(NOTE: This review will be as spoiler-free as possible. However, your mileage may vary; read at your own risk.)

Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist – Season Two
In its second season, “Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist” continues to explore the feelings we keep buried on the inside, the human impulse for connection and the undeniable healing power of music and dance. Following a tragedy, Zoey (Jane Levy) and the Clarke family begin to recalibrate and navigate their new normal. As she finds herself in a new dynamic at work and in her love life, Zoey’s musical powers will continue to both awkwardly complicate and inform her worldview as she attempts to rediscover joy and connect with those around her.

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REVIEW: NBC’s “Dr. Seuss’ The Grinch Musical!”

Everyone is familiar with Dr. Seuss’ classic Christmas story, How The Grinch Stole Christmas. It’s been adapted multiple times for the screen—an animated special, a live-action film starring Jim Carrey, and a full length animated film starring Benedict Cumberbatch. In the mid-2000s, it was also adapted for the Broadway stage by Timothy Mason and Mel Marvin. That production starred Patrick Page (of Spider-Man: Turn off the Dark and Hadestown fame) and quickly became a go-to favorite for regional and community theaters. And now, NBC is giving it the primetime TV treatment. Similar to their ongoing tradition of staging live musicals during the holiday season, NBC has decided to broadcast a newly-filmed production of Dr. Seuss’ The Grinch Musical straight from London—this time starring Matthew Morrison as the Grinch. While it isn’t live, like the other NBC musicals, it’s still a fully staged production. And, to be honest, it’s so much worse than I expected it to be. Unlike most of the NBC live musicals, which have been plagued by technical problems and questionable casting choices, The Grinch Musical is plagued by a bafflingly bad script, woefully miscast lead actors, and a score that is almost uniformly boring. (1.5 out of 5 wands.)

Dr. Seuss’ The Grinch Musical! (written by Simon Nye and Mel Marvin; composed by Timothy Mason, Albert Hague, and Dr. Seuss; directed by Max Webster and Julia Knowles)
Dr. Seuss’ beloved book tells the story of a reclusive Grinch (Matthew Morrison) who plotted from his cave atop snowy Mt. Crumpit to steal Christmas from the Whos in Who-ville. Then on Christmas Eve, disguised as Santa Claus and enlisting his loyal dog Max (Denis O’Hare as Adult Max, Booboo Stewart as Young Max) as a reindeer, the Grinch traveled to Who-ville to scoop up the Whos’ gifts and decorations. Much to his surprise on Christmas morning, the Whos were unfazed and celebrated the holiday with a heartwarming display of joy and love.

This musical version, with book and lyrics by Tim Mason and music by Mel Marvin and featuring the hit songs “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch” and “Welcome Christmas” (by Albert Hague & Dr. Seuss), breathes new life into this timeless story. The lush and whimsical staging by award-winning director Max Webster, directed for television by BAFTA winner Julia Knowles, with additional script material by BAFTA-winning writer Simon Nye and featuring sets by acclaimed designer Peter Bingemann, will set the mood for a beautiful holiday celebration.

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REVIEW: “Departure” (Peacock Original)

Have you seen Lost or Manifest and found yourself wanting a drama about a plane disappearing under mysterious circumstances that didn’t have any kind of supernatural element? Then Departure is the show for you. The newest show on the Peacock streaming service is exactly the kind of grounded political thriller that those who felt Lost was too fantastical might be craving. However, the series is a bit of a mixed bag. While its premise is great, it would likely be better served by a two-hour film instead of a six-episode series that draws the narrative out in tension-breaking ways. What should be an exciting thrill ride is frequently filled with pointless detours and tension-killing padding. On the whole, though, it’s still pretty fun. (3 out of 5 wands.)

(This review strives to be spoiler free. However, you have been warned.)

Departure (created by Vince Shiao)
Passenger plane Flight 716 shockingly vanishes, and brilliant investigator Kendra Malley (Archie Panjabi), alongside her mentor Howard Lawson (Christopher Plummer) are brought on to lead the investigation. When battling forces threaten to undermine their work, Kendra must find the truth and stop it from happening again.

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A Review of Season 7 of “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” by Someone Who Has Only Seen Season 7 (Mostly)

Brooklyn Nine-Nine - Season 7I love Parks and Recreation. I love The Good Place. You would think I’d have been all over Brooklyn Nine-Nine as it’s cocreated by Michael Schur, the creator of both Parks and Recreation and The Good Place. And yet, I’m not. Well, that’s not true. It’s not that I’m not a fan of Brooklyn Nine-Nine, it’s that I’d literally never seen an episode before this year. I love Michael Schur and I love Andy Samberg and I’ve somehow never seen Brooklyn Nine-Nine. So, what would possess me to start watching the show with its seventh season? Honestly, sheer curiosity. The screeners for the premiere came out right as The Good Place was ending and I was curious to see how someone who’d never seen an episode of Brooklyn Nine-Nine might fair tuning into the seventh season? So, that’s exactly what I did. I watched the entire seventh season as it aired. I had a friend who was a Brooklyn Nine-Nine fanatic fill in background info or recommend previous episodes that would be of vital importance to understanding the context of one of the new episodes (I have no seen the first seven episodes of season one, the first three Halloween episodes, the episode with Bill Hader, and the first Jimmy Jabs Games episode). So, in that context, how was the seventh season of Brooklyn Nine-Nine? In short: it was great. It’s turned me into a fan of the show and I eagerly look forward to binging the entirety of the first six seasons as soon as possible. (Spoilers for the entirety of season seven of Brooklyn Nine-Nine.)

“Brooklyn Nine-Nine” follows the exploits of hilarious Det. Jake Peralta (Andy Samberg) and his diverse, lovable colleagues as they police the NYPD’s 99th Precinct. After Capt. Raymond Holt’s (Andre Braugher) demotion to patrolman at the end of season six, the squad’s world is turned upside down.

Rounding out the ensemble is the newly promoted Lt. Terry Jeffords (Terry Crews), a muscle-bound human mountain who loves nothing more than his three little daughters, except for a fresh carton of full-fat yogurt. The man loves yogurt. Reporting to him is Sgt. Amy Santiago (Melissa Fumero), a consummate rule follower with a weak spot for dork dancing and her husband, Jake.

The other detectives in the squad include Jake’s best friend and human puppy dog, Det. Charles Boyle (Joe Lo Truglio), and the incredibly secretive, tough-as-nails Det. Rosa Diaz (Stephanie Beatriz). Also part of the Nine-Nine are veteran officers Det. Scully (Joel McKinnon Miller) and Det. Hitchcock (Dirk Blocker), whose only skill as police officers are their ability to make a passable pot of coffee.

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REVIEW: The Finale of “The Good Place” Delivers a Satisfying Ending to an Amazing Show

The Good Place - Season 4It’s been a good run, right guys? It’s not every day you get a comedy as consistently well-written as The Good Place – and it’s even less common for such a great comedy to find such a big audience that’s filled with love for the show. But that’s exactly what happened with this weird little show. And tonight, it’s come to an end after four short years and 53 episodes. While this moment is bittersweet, it is still something to celebrate. It’s always a good thing when a show gets to end on its own terms, without being canceled or having its premise drawn out too long and watered down into something utterly disappointing. So, I’m happy The Good Place chose now to bow out – it feels like the right time, more or less. And, on the whole, this finale is a good capper to a very solid season of television – though, one that felt a bit rushed at times. (This review will primarily focus on the fourth, and final, season as a whole, but will touch on how the final episode wraps everything up. So, be aware of spoilers!)

Season 4, Episodes 13 and 14 – Whenever You’re Ready (written and directed by Michael Schur)
Various conversations occur, between various groups of people.

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REVIEW: “Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist”

Zoey's Extraordinary Playlist - Season 2019It should come as no surprise to anyone that I love a good musical. There’s something that’s just so fun about musicals. Something so heartfelt about that. I’ll also be one of the first to admit that it’s incredibly difficult to pull off a TV show that’s also a musical. Musical films are a little easier to do, but musical shows seem unable to find a way to balance all of the necessary elements in a way that’s sustainable in the long term. Glee came the closest, but its writing quickly fizzled out after a few seasons and both SMASH and RISE failed to attract a large enough audience to justify their existence. But along comes Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist, a show that owes a lot to those previous attempts at musical tv shows. Having seen the first four episodes of its first season, it seems that Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist might have found a way to balance all of the elements of a good musical with the necessary elements of a long-running TV show. But the question still remains if it can find an audience and/or maintain its quality writing and energy in the long term. All of that aside, these first four episodes are pretty darn good, though.

Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist (created by Austin Winsberg)
If there’s a song in your heart, it will get in her head. Jane Levy stars in this high-concept drama as Zoey Clarke (Jane Levy), a whip-smart computer coder forging her way in San Francisco. After an unusual event, Zoey, who always preferred podcasts over pop songs, suddenly starts to hear the innermost wants, thoughts and desires of the people around her – her family, co-workers and complete strangers – through popular songs. At first, she questions her own sanity, but after getting some guidance from her musically adept neighbor, Mo (Alex Newell), and making a breakthrough with her ailing father (Peter Gallagher), Zoey soon realizes this unwanted curse may just be an incredibly wonderful gift as she connects with the world like never before.

The series stars Jane Levy, Skylar Astin, Alex Newell, John Clarence Stewart, with Peter Gallagher and Mary Steenburgen. Lauren Graham is special guest star.

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REVIEW – The Good Place (Season 4)

The Good Place - Season 4I am on the record, repeatedly, as being a huge fan of NBC’s The Good Place. It’s not only my favorite comedy currently airing on TV but one of my favorite TV shows in general. While I felt that the middle of season three was a bit of a misstep, the show had fully pulled me back into the fold by the end of that season. So, with the news that this fourth season of The Good Place will also be its final one, these first few episodes of the show had a lot to prove. They needed to continue to be stellar episodes of television while also laying the groundwork for what will ultimately become the show’s endgame. Do they pull this off? Absolutely. (NOTE: This review will contain spoilers for the first two episodes of the season, A Girl From Arizona, Parts 1 and 2, but will remain as spoiler-free as possible for the unaired episodes that NBC has granted critics access to – episodes 3 and 4: Chillaxing and Tinker, Tailor, Demon, Spy.)

From creator Michael Schur comes a unique comedy about what makes a good person. The show follows Eleanor Shellstrop (Kristen Bell), an ordinary woman who enters the afterlife, and thanks to some kind of error, is sent to the Good Place instead of the Bad Place (which is definitely where she belongs). While hiding in plain sight from Good Place Architect Michael (Ted Danson), she’s determined to shed her old way of living and earn her spot.

Over the course of season three, Michael and the team decided to try to fix the outdated points system after discovering that nobody has entered the Good Place for over 500 years. They convinced the Judge (guest star Maya Rudolph) on the idea of setting up a new neighborhood in the Medium place to see, once and for all, if humans can improve themselves. The plan is set in motion and four new test subjects, chosen by Shawn (guest star Marc Evan Jackson) and the demons, populate the area with Michael and the group overseeing the experiment. Unfortunately for Eleanor, she is forced to assume the role as Architect, following Michael’s sudden breakdown, and must also deal with the repercussions following Chidi’s (William Jackson Harper) decision to make the ultimate sacrifice and have his memory erased.

Also seeking redemption is elegant Pakistani-British socialite Tahani Al-Jamil (Jameela Jamil) and dance-obsessed Floridian Jason Mendoza (Manny Jacinto). They are aided by Janet (D’Arcy Carden), a human-esque repository for all the knowledge in the universe.

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REVIEW: NBC’s “Abby’s”

Abby's - Season PilotI really enjoy the shows that Michael Schur produces. All of them manage to do this thing where the jokes aren’t coming at the expense of any of the characters, but rather comes at the expensive of whatever ridiculous thing they’ve just done. Any time I watch a Michael Schur show, I always leave the episode feeling happier – even if something sad has happened. That’s the joy of Michael Schur’s shows. So, when NBC announced that another show, produced by Schur, would be premiering, I was over the moon. Add in a starring role for Natalie Morales and I’m even more sold. Created by Josh Malmuth and executive produced by Michael Schur, Abby’s is a delightful throwback sitcom, filmed in front of a live audience on (mainly) a single set, that features great writing, even better characters, and a whole lot of laughs.

From Michael Schur and Josh Malmuth comes a hilarious new comedy about the best neighborhood bar in San Diego –– home to low prices, good company and, of course, Abby (Natalie Morales). This unlicensed, makeshift establishment in Abby’s backyard is the perfect gathering place for locals to find camaraderie and sanctuary. To maintain the perfect bar ecosystem, all patrons must abide by a specific set of rules. This includes no cell phones (not even to look something up), understanding that earning a seat at the bar takes time to rise through the hierarchy and knowing that losing a challenge may have some unpleasant and unpalatable drink-related repercussions.

As bar owner, Abby has found her true calling, hosting friends and newcomers alike. No nonsense, Abby is ex-military, having served two tours as a Staff Sergeant in the Marines. Her world is shaken when new landlord Bill (Nelson Franklin), who recently inherited the house from his deceased aunt, unexpectedly shows up citing all kinds of reasons why the whole venture is illegal. Newly divorced, he is a cautious worrier and definite non-risk-taker who eventually warms to the place and agrees to let the bar remain open, provided Abby makes some changes.

The cast of regulars also includes Fred (Neil Flynn), a fixture at the bar who is grateful for a place to enjoy a beer and conversation – and refuses to allow some bureaucratic busybody to disrupt his perfect refuge; Beth (Jessica Chaffin), a harried mom living next door who can escape the madness of her home life while still keeping an eye on things from her perch atop a bar stool; Rosie (Kimia Behpoornia), the bar manager who prides herself on having memorized all 162 rules and regulations; and James (Leonard Ouzts), the gentle scaredy-cat of a bouncer who crumbles in the face of confrontation.

As any regular patron of Abby’s will attest to, hanging out there is a coveted honor. And once you’re in, you’re family.

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REVIEW: NBC’s “The Enemy Within”

The Enemy Within - Season 1Having a strong teaser trailer is a great way for a TV show to convince viewers to tune in. The Enemy Within had an extremely strong teaser. It opened with Jennifer Carpenter’s character receiving a phone call from a terrorist demanding the names of the intelligence agents tracking him in exchange for the safety of her daughter. The terrorist starts counting down and, eventually, Carpenter gives the terrorist the names of the agents and the teaser ends. It’s effective. It draws you into what’s going on and makes you really want to see the show where she has to betray her country to save her daughter. The problem is, The Enemy Within isn’t actually that show. That entire teaser trailer is just a flashback at the end of the pilot. The real show is, essentially, a Blacklist clone where an already convicted Erica Shepherd (Jennifer Carpenter) being recruited by FBI agent Will Keaton (Morris Chestnut) to track down the terrorist who is the reason for her imprisonment. It’s a way less interesting show than one that followed her as she committed treason.

In this character-based psychological thriller, Erica Shepherd (Jennifer Carpenter) is a brilliant former CIA operative, now known as one of the most notorious traitors in recent American history serving life in a Supermax prison. Against every fiber of his being but with nowhere else to turn, FBI Agent Will Keaton (Morris Chestnut) enlists Shepherd to help track down a fiercely dangerous and elusive criminal she knows all too well. While Shepherd and Keaton have different motivations for bringing the enemy to justice, they both know that to catch a spy… they must think like one.

The cast includes Jennifer Carpenter, Morris Chestnut, Raza Jaffrey, Kelli Garner, Cassandra Freeman and Noah Mills.

“The Enemy Within” was created by Ken Woodruff, who executive produces alongside Matt Corman, Chris Ord and Charles Beeson. Mark Pellington directs and executive produces the pilot. Vernon Sanders also executive produces the pilot. “The Enemy Within” is produced by Universal Television.

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