television

Heat Wave – Richard Castle

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Heat Wave Richard CastleTV meets novel reality with Heat Wave, the book Richard Castle writes while following Kate Beckett.  Heat Wave introduces us to Nikki Heat, a tough, guarded NYC homicide detective.  A local real estate tycoon is thrown off his balcony, and Nikki must rush to find the killer before he takes out anyone else, all while being shadowed by Pulitzer Prize winning reporter Jameson Rook.  Rook is writing a piece on the NYPD, but has taken a liking for Heat.  She finds herself unwillingly attracted to the mischievous reporter, but how long can she stay distanced from him?

In the last month, my husband discovered and then “forced” me to watch all 4 1/2 seasons of “Castle” with him.  In about a month.  So after binging on the fun Nathan Fillion show, I decided to finally pick up the first in the Nikki Heat series.  These are all written by a ghostwriter but sold as Richard Castle;  there are even cute asides in the acknowledgements and Fillion appears on the back cover.  I didn’t expect a lot from a TV show tie-in, but Heat Wave is fun and entertaining, pulling you along with the characters and their crime solving goal.

I have to admit, if Richard Castle really wrote these I would expect them to be better.  There isn’t a specific problem with Heat Wave, it just is a bit simplistic and somewhat poorly written.  While the characters are fairly rounded and the tone matches what I expect from Richard Castle, they certainly aren’t an addition to some of the better crime fiction out there.

There are some funny little inclusions in the books, things that Castle experiences with the crew.  For instance, in the second novel, Naked Heat, it features a body snatching from a morgue vehicle just as it happens in the season 2 premiere.  You also get Detectives Ryan and Esposito in the form of Ochoa and Raley (though Raley might be a bit tougher than his TV show counterpart), and ME Lauren Parry who is a lot like Lanie.  Frankly, it’s pretty much what I would expect from Castle; including his friends while making subtle character changes but infusing them with the same brand of humor.  And it is just like Castle to make himself a Pulitzer Prize winner (twice) and Beckett’s Heat a little less guarded with herself.  Man can dream, right?

Heat Wave is definitely geared towards fans of the show, but may not stand well on its own legs.  That, I think, is where the tie-in fails.  It could have been a thick, substantial, gritty and fun novel to match what the TV show has told us about Richard Castle and his career.  Instead, there isn’t a lot to bring in the more discerning crime fiction crowd, though the book is fast-paced and very visual.

But, if you love “Castle” it is definitely worth a read and it’s quick enough that you’ll be finished within a day or two.

Rating: 6/10

Chuck – The Best Show You Weren’t Watching

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Chuck TV PosterLast night my favorite show on TV ended.  A show that my entire family would set aside Monday nights for, and while I was away in school, we would talk about the next day.  A show I got my fiance hooked on after just showing him the pilot.  A show repeatedly saved by loyal fans through Subway sandwich campaigns (you heard that right) and a Twitter campaign that has begun to ask questions about how accurate Nielsen ratings really are.  I am of course talking about NBC’s Chuck.  Starring Zachary Levi (some of you may know his voice as Flynn Rider of Tangled), Yvonne Strahovski, and Adam Baldwin (of Firefly fame), it was a show that defied genre.  Which is probably why it was always gaining fans, but never exploded.

The great thing about Chuck himself was that he was a nerd.  A normal, average guy who constantly felt he didn’t live up to his potential.  He started the show working for $11 an hour as a Nerd Herder in the Buy More (aka a Geek Squad member at Best Buy), and then his life changes forever when an old college friend sends him an email that literally downloads all of the government’s secrets into his brain.  The next day, a beautiful woman walks into the Buy More to have him fix her phone, and then asks him out.  For Chuck, everything in his life just got a lot more interesting.

We spend five years watching Chuck work in the CIA, first as an asset and then as a full-blown agent with killer moves.  But he was always grounded, always looking for a normal life and just wanted to finally admit to Sarah that he was really in love with her, not just cover in love.  But what was great is we got to know each of the characters well, and got to watch all of them grow.  Sarah (Yvonne Strahovski) softens and lets herself trust and put down roots.  Casey (Adam Baldwin) grunts his way through many episodes, but he too is affected by his assignment with Chuck.  Add the difference in Chuck’s best friend Morgan (who was annoying in the first season, but grew to be indispensable) and even Chuck’s family – sister Ellie, brother-in-law Devon aka Awesome, and his parents – add to the realism of the show’s fantasy.  It was a character and action-driven show, which is what made it so amazing.

It still baffles me that more people weren’t watching Chuck.  It combined everything a good show needed:  action, romance, comedy, intrigue and mysteries, and quirky nerd culture.  Ok, I feel that a good show needs a little bit of nerd in it.  It had such a wide-range of characters that everyone could relate to one (though if you relate to Jeff and Lester, you might want to seek help).  The show also had one of the most likeable leads I have ever seen, and I can’t imagine anyone other than Zachary Levi for that part.

I honestly can’t remember another show I was this sad to see leave the air.  I don’t think there will be one that really connects with its fans like Chuck.  While it was wonderful for NBC to give us a last season to wrap things up, it’s still sad for the millions of us that watched that our weeks will not bring us a new adventure with Chuck and Sarah.

– For those of you interested, co-creator Josh Schwartz sums up here.

Pilot – Free Agents

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Free AgentsNetwork: NBC
Day/Time: Wednesdays 8:30/7:30C
Premiere Date: 9/14

Main Cast

Hank Azaria – Alex
Kathryn Hahn – Helen
Anthony Head – Stephen

Hank Azaria plays Alex, a recently divorced PR executive who, after a drunken night, falls into bed with his coworker Helen.  Except she’s lost her fiance to heart disease a year before.  Neither of them feel ready for any kind of relationship, and yet they keep feeling drawn towards one another.  Their boss and coworkers pressure Alex to move on and get in the dating scene and have no idea that the relationship is budding between the two.  Based on the UK series of the same name.

Quick judgement – ehhh.  I watched because I like Hank Azaria, but the first five minutes were far cruder than I liked.  It got better, but for me it is frustrating for a TV show relationship to start with sex.  Do people have no morals?  Granted, Hollywood also way over does the will they won’t they thing, but that doesn’t mean you can’t build the show off of something else.  Now, watching Alex’s nervousness over having to go on a date (set up by a male coworker) and having to change the way he dressed provided some laughs.  Anthony Head (who I really know best as Uther in BBC 1’s Merlin) also said some pretty hilarious things, made even more so by his straight delivery.

The other coworkers were obnoxious.  If you watch the American Office you know that there are some strange people that work there, but they are oddly endearing.  With Free Agents, however, I just wanted them thrown out of the show.  Emma the assistant especially bugged me.  I think she was supposed to be sassy, but really she was simply irritating.

I’ll tune in for episode two to see if the show gains its legs.  Right now though, it’s not my cup of tea.  5/10 (Only because I did laugh a couple times.)

Pilot – Up All Night

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Network: NBC
Day/Time: Wednesdays 8E/7C
Premiere Date: September 14

Main Cast:

Christina Applegate – Reagan
Will Arnett – Chris
Maya Rudolph – Ava

This new sitcom focuses on trials that new parents face, except that it’s reversed a lot of the regular sitcom tropes.  Reagan goes back to work as a producer after her maternity leave ends, with her husband of 7 years Chris staying home with baby daughter Amy.  That’s right, the woman works while the guy stays home.  To give the show a little bit of diversity, Ava is Reagan’s talk-show host boss who has a larger than life personality.  Reagan and Chris must navigate their old lives while having this new little one to take care of.

Let me just start out by saying that I love Will Arnett, and he does not disappoint.  He’s a bit toned down from his normal acting, and his confusion over his new identity as “Dad” is fantastic.    Some of the resenting statements that we are used to, as television watchers, seeing come out of the wife now come out of the husband.  It’s really a simple switch, and yet that alone is striking and feels new.  Plus, Will Arnett has always been a fantastic whiner.

This show definitely has that zany feel to it, helped along by Maya Rudolph.  She was very over-the-top and goofy.  It actually bugged me at first, but her character felt more relaxed by the end of the episode.  Or maybe I just got used to her.

I loved all of the little sleep-deprived bickering scenes, but what gets me is Reagan and Chris’s love for their new baby girl.  They try to be good parents, but you know that they will lose patience in parts because real parents lose their patience.  I suppose this show feels a bit more real to me because Christina Applegate just had her first child, and Will Arnett has two kids with his wife Amy Pohler.  These are actors that know about being new parents, and that dimension just adds a little bit for me.

Overall, I thought it was funny.  Not laugh-out-loud all of the time, but the characters are interesting.  The pilot did feel a little disjointed, but I know they did some reshoots, so that probably lends to the feeling.  We’ll see how the next few episodes turn out before I can make any real judgement on whether the series is worth watching week after week.

Rating: 7/10

Pilot – New Girl

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New GirlNetwork: Fox
Day/Time: Tuesdays, 9 EST/8 CST
Premiere Date: 9/20

Main Cast:

Zooey Deschanel – Jessica Day
Jake M. Johnson – Nick
Max Greenfield – Schmidt
Damon Wayans Jr. – Coach
Hannah Simon – Cece Meyers

You will probably notice that the official premiere date is in the future.  No, I’m not important enough that networks send me DVD screeners.  If only.  Actually, Fox made the pilot for New Girl available about a week ago on iTunes (for FREE), and should be on Hulu soon.  I actually watched it for the first time on Friday and then watched it for the second time tonight.  I think a lot of times it takes another viewing because there is always more to see.

The show for me was good, and has the bones to be very good.  I love Zooey Deschanel, mostly because she’s quirky.  Best known for Elf and 500 Days of Summer, Deschanel shines here as an oddball who has just found out her live-in boyfriend was cheating on her.  She looks for a roommate on Craigslist (scary) and finds Nick, Schmidt, and Coach.  One of the best points was when she explains she thought they were girls because of their word choice.  Schmidt must have written the ad, because the two look at him and he responds by proving his masculinity by way of taking off his shirt.  Classic male overcompensation.

I liked all of the characters.  None of them felt completely fleshed out, but as it is only the first episode of what hopes to be a long-running show, we can forgive that.  I actually liked Coach’s inability to converse normally with women.  Sadly, Damon Wayans, Jr. will only be in the pilot.  He’s actually a series regular on the ABC comedy Happy Endings.  That show was a midseason replacement, and because most actors like to cover their bases in case of cancellation, he did the pilot.  When something like this happens, a lot of networks choose to reshoot the pilot, but for reasons unknown, Fox chose instead to replace Coach in episode 2.  We’ll have to see how that plays out, because honestly, I think it messes up the chemistry of the show far too early.

The second time I watched this, I couldn’t help but compare it to The Big Bang Theory.  Except, in New Girl, the lone girl is weird and socially awkward instead of the guys.  I mean, Coach is awkward around women, a la Raj Koothrapali, but at least he can talk to them without liquor.  Even if he does yell.  Schmidt is simply a nice guy trapped in trying to be a “bro”, which the guys call him out for.  Nick is heartbroken from a six-month old break up, and Jessica’s best friend Cece is a model who is as sharp as she is pretty.  It was nice to see that, actually.  So while they all have their own issues, I just couldn’t help but see this as a concept where Penny moved in with the guys and suddenly they had some more social skills.

I will be watching in a couple of weeks and see how the series handles Coach’s departure (which is sad, because I think I like his character the best), and how they move forward.  I do hope that they don’t just have the foursome settle into some easy rhythm with the guys helping Jess in her dating life.  There needs to be a bit of tension.  All in all, a good pilot and a good premise, but let’s hope they don’t ruin the potential that they have.

Rating: 7.5/10

 

Pilot Season

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I said from the beginning that I would review television and films along with books.  With the fall TV season upon us, I feel like I should explain how that will work.  I do not want to recap or review every episode of a season, no matter how good CHUCK or CASTLE are (really, watch them both, because they are fantastic shows).  It would be boring for you, annoying for me, and rather dull to go week after week when there is so much else out there.  And I do not plan on reviewing just the season premieres either, simply because some of you probably haven’t seen the other seasons.

I guess I’m looking to approach the world of television sort of like I approach a novel.  I know a lot of my readers are largely unfamiliar with the works I post about, and I am going to assume the same for television, too.  Bearing all of this in mind, I plan on reviewing pilots only.  And only those that are current.  I don’t think it would make sense otherwise.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with the American TV system, pilots are generally shown in the fall, beginning a regular season.  Some shows are given only a 13 episode order, and if they perform well, are given an additional 9-11 episodes.  Dramas tend to get 22 episodes per season (series for UK readers) and 30 minute comedies get 24.  That’s not exact science, but a rough pattern.  Shows are not just picked up either.  If a network or studio like a concept, they will order the pilot.  If the pilot looks good, they will order a full season, though some get the mini-ones until ratings prove viability.  Some pilots are tweaked and re-shot, but a lot seem to hit the waves in original condition.  Because a pilot is just the beginning of something with a long time span, they can often have a slightly disjointed feeling from the rest of the show.  Most pilots though will tell you what potential a show has, and you can get a good vibe as to how well the show might turn out.

Now, adding up all of these factors will sort of inform how I will look at these new TV shows.  Some may have the bones to be good, but the pilots were not fantastic.  Others will hit the ground running and be great.  We shall just have to see.

To give you an idea of what to expect, I’ve listed the new shows I plan on watching/reviewing.  Most will be airing in the next week or two.  While I am really excited for some returning shows, there are a few new ones I am really looking forward to.

  • 2 Broke Girls – Kat Dennings (Thor) and Beth Behrs.  Dennings is a street smart waitress saddled with an ex-heiress as her roommate.
  • Charlies Angels – Remake of the 70s TV show.  Mostly tuning in out of curiosity rather than an intent to continue watching.
  • Free Agents – Hank Azaria and Anthony Head.  Based on a UK show, this one looks interesting as two coworkers navigate recent romantic losses and a mutual attraction.
  • A Gifted Man – Patrick Wilson (Phantom of the Opera) and Jennifer Ehle (Pride and Prejudice, 5 hour version) A surgeon seeing his dead wife and learning from her sounds hokey, but I’ll give it a shot since I like both lead actors.
  • Grimm – No one you’ve heard of.  This one is a high-concept series where the Grimm brothers fought real fairy tale creatures and their tales really were cautionary.  A young man discovers that he is a Grimm and must keep the fantastical at bay.
  • Last Man Standing – Tim Allen.  Don’t judge me, I grew up with Home Improvement and I love Hector Elizondo, so I’ll give it a shot.
  • New Girl – Zooey Deschanel.  Girl gets dumped and moves in with three strangers, who just happen to be guys.  I’ve seen the pilot already and really liked it.  Review tomorrow.
  • Once Upon a Time – Ginnifer Goodwin and Jennifer Morrison.  This is the show I’m most excited for, and which looks like my new addiction. Basically, the Evil Queen forces all of the fairy tale characters into the real world and they all forget their true identities.  Goodwin is Snow White.  Hard to explain, but this show looks amazing.
  • Prime Suspect – Maria Bello.  Another UK adaptation, with Bello in Helen Mirren’s place.  A woman navigates a life as a detective where most of her colleagues are male.  As someone who loves crime fiction and the upswing in female detectives, I’m definitely going to check this out.
  • Up All Night – Christina Applegate, Will Arnett, and Maya Rudolph.  A couple must learn to juggle a new baby with their career and life.

I am also excited for Awake  with Jason Isaacs, but sadly that doesn’t premiere until January.

Of all of these pilots, honestly only 2 or 3 will probably become weekly viewing, but I do like to check out what’s out there.  And these are only a fraction of the new shows (roughly 30 pilots in all this fall).  But don’t worry, my blog will not get taken over by television.  Only once a year generally.  For the most part, I’m all about books.