Showing posts with label Sound on Sight. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Sound on Sight. Show all posts

December 19, 2013

Survivor: Blood vs. Water - "It's My Night"

The challenge when analyzing Survivor is finding thrills when the finale reaches a predictable ending. This trend has happened frequently in recent seasons, with Malcolm’s exit from the Philippines being a rare exception. Even so, there’s still plenty to enjoy with Blood vs. Water’s conclusion. Tyson removes any doubts about a victory by taking the final two immunity challenges and choosing the right people. Underdogs like Ciera and Tina are too dangerous to face with this jury. Despite the editing focusing on Monica, she earns just one vote, and the rest go to Tyson. It’s hard to disagree with rewarding a guy who found two idols, built a solid alliance, and dodged stiff challenges from Hayden and Ciera. He’s come a long way from the goofball of the Tocantins or the guy who messed up his alliance’s game in Heroes vs. Villains. It’s a convincing finish to a remarkable season that has revitalized the show once again.

Check out the rest of my post for Sound on Sight on this episode through this link.

December 14, 2013

Survivor: Blood vs. Water - "Out on a Limb"

In this current Survivor era dominated by returning players, it’s been intriguing to watch how they respond based on their previous experiences. Many over compensate and try to make big moves too early, while others avoid the target that doomed them. Monica Culpepper’s first appearance on One World showed her strength but also a vulnerable side that placed too much trust in others. It’s important to have allies, but placing too much faith in them isn’t wise. The key is recognizing what’s best for their game and if you fit in those plans. Despite more remarkable game play from Ciera to convince Monica she should flip, she makes the right choice this week and sticks with her alliance. Her situation is worse if she switches to the other side. Hayden and Ciera have become the lovable underdogs that the jury roots for against the people who betrayed them. Monica can’t defeat them in the end and is just handing over the million with that move. Voting for Gervase serves little purpose since it puts Monica in the number four spot when the Redemption Island victor returns. No matter who wins the final “duel”, they become the third person ahead of Monica if she betrays her alliance.

Check out the rest of my post for Sound on Sight on this episode through this link.

December 7, 2013

Survivor: Blood vs. Water - "Ruffle Feathers"

It’s amazing to see just how vibrant Survivor feels this season, and the thrills are about more than picking rocks. It starts with the first scene of Hayden drawing out Gervase by crowning Tyson the victor. That conversation sets the stage for everything that follows, including an insane Tribal Council. It’s a rare case where a player with his back against the wall actually makes the correct arguments. By pressing the “Tyson as inevitable winner” story line, Hayden gets Gervase and Monica to say exactly what he wants. Ciera’s understated reactions say it all. She realizes that her road to victory doesn’t go through the Galang alliance. Monica’s reassurance that “four is better than six” isn’t what she wants to hear. Unlike the recent One World and South Pacific seasons, it’s wonderful to see everyone trying to win the game. They’d rather draw rocks than fade meekly into oblivion. It takes guts to accept a one-in-three shot to leave the game, so the fact that Ciera sticks to her guns is awesome. Katie is the ultimate loser by chance, but that doesn’t mean it’s a bad strategy to flip the game.

Check out the rest of my post for Sound on Sight on this episode through this link.

November 29, 2013

Survivor: Blood vs. Water - "Gloves Come Off"

One of the thrills of Survivor: Blood vs. Water has been watching everyone take a shot and really try to win the game. Even when plans blow up in their face, players aren’t meekly drifting towards their end. This makes it exciting for viewers who don’t want to see Boston Rob make a bunch of dummies look stupid. When Caleb and Hayden realize they can’t win against Tyson, it’s refreshing to watch them work to change their spot. Even though their strategy fails, that doesn’t mean the idea is false. If they had blindsided Tyson or removed Ciera, it would have put them in the driver’s seat to win the game. That risk is worth taking because the reward is a great shot at the finals. It only makes sense for Ciera to join them if it’s an improvement in her ultimate standing. That’s the big question surrounding her choice to reveal their plans to Tyson. He’s offering her a spot in the final three, but does he really plan to stick with it? Ciera has a story to tell the jury, and there’s a chance it might sway them. She’s thrilled to have a spot at the cool kids’ table and believes in this prime spot, despite the warning signs it won’t last forever.

Check out the rest of my post for Sound on Sight on this episode through this link.

November 22, 2013

Survivor: Blood vs. Water - "Big Bad Wolf"

When Jeff Probst and the Survivor producers created the Blood vs. Water concept, they prayed for a moment like tonight’s vote. Ciera writes down her mom’s name to secure her place, but it isn’t even necessary for the 7-1 outcome. The heart of the episode is the conversation between Laura and Ciera about their future. While the music swells in the background, their confessionals show the value of having family members together in the game. Once Tyson decides to focus on Laura, her exit is set barring an immunity victory. Even so, that doesn’t bring down the episode because so much is happening beyond the game. When Laura tears up after Ciera discusses the possibility of voting for her, it’s a genuine moment in a competition based on lying. She’s played a naïve game and continues to trust the alliance that turned on her. Instead of trying to stop Katie from finding the idol, Laura should have been conspiring with her to flip the game. This blind spot hurts her chances, but it doesn’t lessen the impact of the Ciera vote. Even with the editors spoiling the result in last week’s previews, there’s enough real feeling to maintain the interest.

Check out the rest of my post for Sound on Sight on this episode through this link.

November 15, 2013

Survivor: Blood vs. Water - "My Brother's Keeper"

Considering the tremendous amount of footage that’s shot on each day of Survivor, it’s remarkable that the stories flow so smoothly. The combination of camp life, challenges, and Tribal Council works swiftly to keep the audience engaged. When the producers choose to cram two eliminations into one episode, it cranks up the pace to a ridiculous level. The story becomes a frenetic ride through challenge/Tribal Council/challenge/Tribal Council, with a bit of strategy thrown in the middle. The downside is the lack of much context to the votes and alliances set in place for the future. On the other hand, it avoids the drag of predictable exits. Vytas and Tina are the obvious choices to go next, and the cracks are just a set up for the battles to come. They join Aras at Redemption Island for an epic battle that will remove either a former winner or one of the season’s most intriguing players.

Check out the rest of my post for Sound on Sight on this episode through this link.

November 8, 2013

Talking Homicide: Life on the Street on The Televerse

Andre Braugher and Kyle Secor in Homicide: Life on the Street

I’ve written thousands of words about the greatness of Homicide: Life on the Street, and it only scratches the surface of my feelings about the series. It’s more than just a highly influential show that spawned other great shows. Instead, it stands on its own as a hallmark of television that still finds ways to surprise me after many viewings. This week, I was thrilled to join the esteemed Kate Kulzick and Simon Howell on their excellent TV podcast The Televerse to rave about Homicide. We spent nearly 40 minutes talking about it, and the conversation left plenty of topics on the table. If you’re a fan or just curious about the acclaim, you should definitely give it a listen. It was a fun conversation and covered many of the reasons for the series’ long-running staying power. You can also check out a piece that I wrote for Sound on Sight this past March that delves further into my reasons for all the praise. While the job of murder police has “nothing to do with life”, there’s plenty of vitality in these characters. The remarkable cast and crew put their heart and soul into the project, and the results show clearly on the screen. I’m hoping this podcast will drive a few more people to check out such an effective and important series.

November 7, 2013

Survivor: Blood vs. Water - "Skin of My Teeth"

In one of the most telegraphed blindsides in Survivor history, this week’s vote flips the game on its head and pushes the once-confident leaders to the brink. Rarely have the editors spent this much time setting up a pivotal blindside. Unlike nervous players like Monica and Laura Morett, Aras doesn’t have a past failure to make him worry. He’s confident that the game will work out and doesn’t recognize the danger of standing in front. The key mistake is trusting that Gervase and Tyson will let the couples run the show. And that’s hardly the only miscalculation. Tina makes a ridiculous gaffe and tells Monica she’s fifth on the totem pole. The amazing part is that she sells it like a benefit. It takes some convincing from Tyson, but Tina’s comment sends Monica scurrying for the exits from a sinking ship. This foolish reveal from such a normally wise player shows that complacency can ruin anyone in this game.

Check out the rest of my post for Sound on Sight on this episode through this link.

November 1, 2013

Survivor: Blood vs. Water - "Swoop in for the Kill"

Survivor: Blood vs. Water has been filled with personal stories and conflicts that have made it one of the most consistent seasons of recent years. Even an arrogant goofball like Brad Culpepper offered plenty of entertainment with his failed strategy and the anger he inspired in others. We’ve seen players truly moved by the plight of their loved ones, and there’s been a greater sense of fun during the challenges. On the other hand, there’s the story of Laura Boneham. After being voted out on the first day and saved by her husband Rupert, she settled into a background role. Others have called her annoying or ridiculed her attempts at strategy, but her position was secure. Why vote out someone who’s barely a threat? Laura seems like a nice person, but she doesn’t have the type of personality that thrives on Survivor. Her face doesn’t exude warmth like Tina or fun like Tyson. It’s hardly fair to diminish her value in this way, but it’s the nature of this game. If a player doesn’t bond with tribe mates and seems to act irrationally, they may decide to remove the question mark. Playing under the radar is a successful path to the end, but straying so drastically can change the score quickly.

Check out the rest of my post for Sound on Sight on this episode through this link.

October 24, 2013

Survivor: Blood vs. Water - "One-Man Wrecking Ball"

In the pre-merge game of Survivor, it’s easy to think too far ahead and step into the muck. During her first appearance in One World, Kat believed in her alliance and felt betrayed when they kicked her out. She was a fun character who talked constantly and didn’t really understand the game. Kat’s goofy personality drew a return invitation, and she has spent this season under the radar. Of course, this week reminds us that changing your limited game isn’t so easy. Her feeble attempts to stir the pot blow up in her face and kick her right to Redemption Island. Apparently Kat hasn’t spent much time watching the Australia season. Tina is an intelligent player who has no qualms about stabbing others in the back. She’s immensely loyal to her alliance, but there’s fierce determination behind the kind façade. All Tina needs to do is pass some information to Monica and watch the dominoes fall towards the less experienced Kat.

Check out the rest of my post for Sound on Sight on this episode through this link.

October 17, 2013

Survivor: Blood vs. Water - "The Dead Can Still Talk"

Considering all the twists in Survivor: Blood vs. Water, the old-school vibe has been a refreshing surprise. The family connections are forcing the editors to show the personalities of more than just a few star players. Laura Morett hasn’t received many interviews, but there’s been enough to show her place in the tribe. She thinks creepily flirting with Aras and doing well in challenges will keep her alive. Meanwhile, Laura Boneham is struggling to connect with players who’ve known each other for years. The promos spotlighted a huge blindside, but the logic in the vote is pretty simple. The five-person alliance picks their second or third choice with hopes of thwarting Brad Culpepper at Redemption Island. The “no strategy” plan is keeping several players in the dark and hiding the alliance’s existence. It hearkens all the way back to Rich’s approach in Borneo. The alliance works a lot better if its existence isn’t obvious.

Check out the rest of my post for Sound on Sight on this episode through this link.

October 12, 2013

Survivor: Blood vs. Water - "One Armed Dude and Three Moms"

Brilliant. In a season filled with twists, it’s the simple moves that can change the game. After watching his fiancé quit last week, Caleb steps out of the shadows and executes a stunning move at Tribal Council. Nothing ever happens at Tribal Council! When change-ups occur, they usually use the immunity idol. This move involves doing math and realizing it wouldn’t take much to kick out the figurehead. By announcing his vote for Brad in front of everyone, Caleb realizes he can sway the girls’ votes and create a 3-3 tie. Players don’t want to pull rocks, so the odds of taking out Brad are very good. There’s a chance that everyone votes out Caleb, but that still leaves the guys in power. It makes little sense for Katie and Ciera to follow that plan. With just a few words, Brad’s fate is sealed. The amazing part is that he lost the game with his blindside of John last week. That changed the numbers from 5-1 to 4-2. This gives Caleb a rare chance to flip and change the game.

Check out the rest of my post for Sound on Sight on this episode through this link.

October 4, 2013

Survivor: Blood vs. Water - "Opening Pandora's Box"

Last season, the Survivor producers made the inexplicable decision to cast Brandon Hantz for a second time. He was clearly unstable during his first appearance, and it was only a matter of time before he exploded. The choice to bring back Colton is different because he controlled the game on One World before exiting. Even so, there are similarities. Colton is a nasty player who thrives on making others miserable. That strategy may work with newbies, but he’s found no traction with the returnees. Luckily for him, they’ve been rolling through the immunity challenges. He might coast for a while and find a way to reach the merge. Instead, Colton’s frustration leads to the lamest quit in the show’s history. Players do everything to play and avoid the vote, and he gives up after seven days? Brandon’s exit was horrible, but it came from a misguided feeling that he was leaving on his own terms. This choice is worse and proves that Colton should never have returned. Jeff Probst and the producers share the blame for giving him the chance. The only relief is that it happens so early. Colton exits with a whimper and comes off even worse in his second appearance.

Check out the rest of my post for Sound on Sight on this episode through this link.

September 27, 2013

Survivor: Blood vs. Water - "Rule in Chaos"

During the early stages of Survivor, luck plays a huge role in determining players’ fates. The votes can knock out people who barely get a chance to compete. An alliance forms and starts taking out the others, and it’s a scramble to grab a chair before the music stops. The Blood vs. Water twists have added new reasons to vote out a fellow tribe member. Instead of just targeting weak players and potential threats, the majority must look at the other tribe. The change allowing players to substitute for their loved ones creates the scenario of removing someone to entice a strong opponent to “pull a Rupert” and jeopardize their game. This fate befalls Tyson’s girlfriend Rachel this week, and it’s frustrating to watch a good competitor leave so early. It may lead to great drama next time, but it means that less-exciting individuals may last longer. The choice makes sense from the guys’ perspective; the small gamble could pay dividends. However, it also represents short-sided thinking. If a tribe swap occurs, this focus on winning as a team might hurt their chances in the long run.

Check out the rest of my post for Sound on Sight on this episode through this link.

September 21, 2013

Survivor: Blood vs. Water - "Blood is Thicker Than Anything"

When the many twists was announced for the new Survivor season, it felt like the producers were over compensating for a flimsy premise. Besides having a silly name, the Blood vs. Water concept introduced elements that didn’t mesh with the formula. How could family members vote each other out and truly compete for a million dollars? The challenge is selling that concept without making it feel cheap. When it’s added to Redemption Island and its related twists, the danger grows larger. This baggage makes the success of the premiere a surprise. There are some lunkhead players who get too much screen time, but the cast is more interesting than the normal group. Even returnees who weren’t inspiring on their original season like Laura and Monica seem more confident this time. The loved ones are mostly likable and aren’t just excuses to bring back popular returning players. There are smart competitors within the tribe that should go a long way in this game.

Check out the rest of my post for Sound on Sight on this premiere through this link.

September 18, 2013

Survivor: Blood vs. Water Preview

With each new installment, Jeff Probst and the Survivor producers keep adding new changes that move it further from the original social experiment. Fans are constantly asking if it's jumped the shark and claiming they won't watch. Somehow, the ratings stay flat relative to other shows. I complain about returning players, yet I still watch every season. What does that say about me? Am I a grumpy critic who will never be satisfied? It's possible. The more likely reason is wanting Survivor to build on its recent creative success and move forward. This season feels like something else entirely, but maybe it will prove me wrong. Regardless of the outcome, I'll be recapping each episode for Sound on Sight for the fourth time.

Long-time Survivor fans yearn for the days when a fresh group of new castaways arrived each season to play the game. Those days are over. Only two of the last seven seasons (Nicaragua and One World) have not included returning players, and they weren’t very successful. The producers will continue to find new gimmicks to bring back former contestants. This fall’s choice has the ridiculous title of Blood vs. Water and includes pairs connected by blood or romance. Ten familiar faces are back alongside 10 first-time players. They’ll be split into two tribes in a set-up that mirrors the “Fans vs. Favorites” model that’s been used twice. It’s an intriguing concept with the potential to fall flat or deliver great drama. When the tribes merge, will anyone betray a family member? That prospect seems unlikely, but this formula depends on it. The premise is solid, but there are so many twists dropped on top of it. The risk is a messy season where fans grow exasperated with the drastic changes to the original game.

Check out the remainder of my Blood vs. Water preview for Sound on Sight through this link.

September 14, 2013

Greatest Series Finales - Homicide's "Forgive Us Our Trespasses"

Homicide: Life on the Street's "Forgive Us Our Trespasses"

This post was written for Sound on Sight, an excellent online spot for intelligent writing on film and television. Their spotlight this month is on the greatest TV series finales.You can check out the original post and the other great articles at this link.

Homicide: Life on the Street was created as a show about “thinking cops” with actors who didn’t fit the typical mold for network TV. They were overweight, balding, and dressed like real cops. The landmark television series was highly influential and set the stage for captivating shows like The Wire and The Shield. By the time it reached its seventh season, Homicide had changed dramatically from its original format. The basic model of investigating murders remained, but the cast was younger and prettier. Even so, original cast members Clark Johnson (Lewis), Kyle Secor (Bayliss), Yaphet Kotto (Giardello), and Richard Belzer (Munch) kept it from feeling too much like a departure. The final season was its most inconsistent and had low points that you wouldn’t expect. The killings were more sensational, and action scenes became more commonplace.

Clark Johnson as Meldrick Lewis

Even with those misfires, there are still plenty of interesting story lines during the last episodes. Bayliss returns after a gunshot wound and has a more Zen outlook to life. This calmer approach is frequently tested, and it comes to a head by the finale. Giardello’s son Michael (Giancarlo Esposito) joins the squad and has issues to work out with his dad. Lewis loses faith in his partner Sheppard (Michael Michele) after she loses her gun and gets beaten down. The last arc is typical of this season and doesn’t totally work, but the actors sell the material. Even when the writing lets them down, the cast remains strong right up until the end. It’s that personal connection with the actors that has made Homicide so beloved 20 years after its premiere.

Entitled “Forgive Us Our Trespasses”, the season finale has effective callbacks to both the pilot and key moments throughout the series. Bayliss deals with the limits of the job when the serial killer Luke Ryland (Benjamin Busch) is set free due to a technicality. He’s always gotten more personally involved in cases than his colleagues, and that approach creates a dangerous obsession if it isn’t controlled. Ryland taunts Bayliss about his future activities, and he starts to reconsider if right and wrong is such a clear delineation. A counterpoint is Giardello, who loves running the Homicide Unit. This joy clashes with his career aspirations, so he finally decides to take a promotion into Property Crimes. Unlike Bayliss, he has no doubts about what they do. The detectives speak for those who can’t and face the demons that come with the job. His challenge is recognizing that moving up the ladder might destroy his identity as a cop.

Yaphet Kotto as Al Giardello

Creator Tom Fontana wrote this episode, which moves briskly to the poignant finale scene. That ending closely mirrors the show’s very first shots and uses the same line from Lewis while examining a body. “That’s what’s wrong with this job; it a’int got nothing to do with life.” Fontana gives the best moments to his original actors – Kyle Secor, Clark Johnson, and Richard Belzer. Munch is getting married to Billie Lou (Ellen McElduff), and the comic scenes are perfect for Belzer. He also thrives in the dramatic moments. Even without knowing for sure what happens to Ryland, it isn’t hard to discern who’s responsible. The key moment is Bayliss’ conversation with Munch about the police shooting from back in the third season. That violent moment was the first time the creators used a gun fight on the show. It helped to change the tone, but it also delivered powerful reactions from the characters. Bayliss was the investigator on that shooting, and his understanding of what likely happened plays a key role in his decision. Belzer plays the discussion perfectly and shows the difference between Munch and Bayliss. Avenging his fellow detectives was a no brainer for Munch, while Bayliss agonizes about his choice.

Despite the issues with the seventh season, Homicide concludes on a very strong note. Its original mission statement to delve into the emotional turmoil faced by Homicide detectives remains in place. Watching an angry Bayliss decide what’s right perfectly fits with this perspective. As the camera lifts up to the sky during the final shot, it’s clear that these characters will continue to speak for the dead. Lewis and Munch are perfect examples of guys who have just the right mentality to face the evil inside everyone. Bayliss is a different type of guy and risks succumbing to his demons. The rapid montage of shots from throughout the series as Bayliss exits the stage is brilliant and exemplifies Homicide’s ultimate success. It’s a thankless job with incredible barriers, yet these guys keep plugging away to discover the truth.

Kyle Secor as Tim Bayliss

Homicide never had big ratings and was always on the verge of cancellation, but NBC recognized the benefit of airing such a critically acclaimed series. Even so, it was still surprising when they decided to present a two-hour movie continuing the story. The gimmick is bringing back all the main cast members from the entire seven-year run. It doesn’t completely work due to the huge number of actors to squeeze into the movie. Even so, seeing Bayliss and Frank Pembleton (Andre Braugher) together is a treat. Their chemistry as partners drove the show during its glory days. Bayliss’ actions in the finale are a weight on his soul, and Pembleton is the right choice for a confession. The movie is also worth seeing for the final scene, which brings back several dead characters. That moment strikes just the right note and justifies the existence of this film. It reunites old friends and is a remarkable gift to the show’s longtime fans.

June 14, 2013

Greatest TV Pilots: Prison Break

This post was written for Sound on Sight, an excellent online spot for great writing on film and television. You can check out the original post at this link.

This is a grand age of serialized TV drama where networks don’t shy away from airing shows with complex arcs. There’s a downside to this extended story line, however. Creators may plan out multiple seasons for their characters, but they slow the pace down to a crawl. The episodes feel their length, and the audience is just waiting for the rare moments when something happens. Glacially paced series like Flash Forward and The Killing had a good start but became nearly unbearable by mid-season. Thankfully, there are amazing shows that dive into the action like every episode is their last. Even long-running classic shows like Battlestar Galactica and Lost didn’t waste any time and delivered remarkable drama from the start. Another intriguing example is Prison Break, which premiered on FOX on August 29, 2005. Its first season is set up like one long story where Michael Scofield (Wentworth Miller) purposely enters prison to break out his brother Lincoln Burrows (Dominic Purcell). Even when its original 13-episode run is extended to a full season, the writers keep their eye on the ball. The pace stays relentless, and they keep raising the stakes until the final episode.

The pilot is directed by Brett Ratner, who’s considered a mediocre filmmaker at best. His style is the right choice for this show and brings a relentless tenacity to the material, however. Michael throws himself into the plan with no parachute, and the camera work matches this courageous (and foolish) venture. The opening segment provides a glimpse at Michael’s plans for the prison and the characters that he meets inside. He robs a bank, receives his sentence, and the action moves to the prison in record time. This is a wise choice from Creator Paul Scheuring, who also wrote the script. He doesn’t waste time on exposition and trusts the audience to follow along. It’s thrilling to watch this type of show because it’s so rare, particularly for its era. Its closest companion is 24, which used a similar approach in its first season. Both shows recognize that modern audiences are ready to jump into the action without understanding the destination. Scheuring sets the stage for a brilliant opening run and puts all the pieces in place in the opening episode.

The breakout star is Wentworth Miller as Michael, the brilliant engineer who knows the prison inside and out. He’s aided by the world’s most complex tattoo, which actually includes the plans of the facility. This device is a great visual to close out the episode, though it does require him to wear long sleeves a lot more than your normal guy. The make-up crew only has a certain budget! Miller does an excellent job showing Michael’s brilliance and the arrogance that nearly jeopardizes the plan. He also shows the charm that draws the eye of Dr. Sara Tancredi (Sarah Wayne Callies). It’s clear this isn’t the typical prison thug, and even the stern warden Henry Pope (Stacy Keach) recognizes the difference. The pilot sets up Michael’s relationships with both characters that are essential to the first season. His cellmate Fernando Sucre (Amaury Nolasco) is already pining for his girl outside, so that painful story line begins right away. We’re also briefly introduced to important supporting players like John Abruzzi (Peter Stormare) and “C-Note” (Rockmond Dunbar). These guys will join the ever-growing gang that decides to try and escape Fox River. It’s surprising that the nuttiest inmate doesn’t even appear in the premiere. Robert Knepper makes quite an impression as “T-Bag”, but he arrives in the next episode. There’s a real depth to the cast that keeps it from being a one-man show. Dominic Purcell eventually becomes the co-lead as Lincoln, but the pilot is definitely Michael-centric.

Beyond the prison story, there’s also a conspiracy surrounding Lincoln’s incarceration that eventually becomes much larger. The shady organization is represented by Paul Kellerman, played with glee by Paul Adelstein. He’s an intriguing villain because there’s so little information about him. He murders a bishop in pilot, so it’s clear this guy means business. It’s refreshing to note the limited time spent on this conspiracy in the beginning. It grabs far too much screen time in the later seasons and changes the tone of the show. Michael may have to escape yet another prison, but that attempt lacks the focus of this brilliant season. In the opening shot, Michael stares at a giant board of information and is ready to strike. There’s no going back from this move, and his determination sets just the right tone. This isn’t an out-of-control criminal taking another shot at something daring. Michael is a straight arrow who’s leaping completely out of his comfort zone to save his brother. He may need to cross some serious lines to succeed, and it’s certain to be a painful experience.

Prison Break may not rank among the best shows of the past decade, but it’s consistently entertaining and is worth revisiting. The relentless pace barely lets up and keeps raising new obstacles for Michael and Lincoln along the way. There are a few missteps in the early going, particularly Lincoln’s son LJ (Marshall Allman). A show with this many characters does not need a precocious teenager, particularly one with such little personality. LJ plays a key role in the plot and makes sense from that standpoint, but his scenes are one of  few blemishes. Another less-exciting character is Veronica (Robin Tunney), Lincoln’s lawyer and former girlfriend. She investigates the conspiracy from the outside but isn’t as engaging. Even so, neither plays a major role in hurting the momentum. So much happens at Fox River that it easily outshines those concerns. The pilot sets the stage for an incredible opening season that is perfectly designed for a home marathon.

May 15, 2013

Survivor: Caramoan, "Last Push"

This recap was written for Sound on Sight, an excellent online spot for great writing on film and television. You can check out the original post at this link.

Despite the unpredictable second half of Survivor: Caramoan, a sense of inevitability dominates the finale. Cochran has avoided the vote throughout the game, and his victory feels secure after he wins the final immunity challenge. The only question is whether Dawn or Sherri will receive any votes, and the bitter jury makes it clear neither has much chance to crack the scoreboard. While Jeff Probst makes a huge deal about Cochran being unconventional, it’s not a surprise to see him win the million. Along with playing a strategic game, he has the likability factor that’s eluded powerful contestants like Russell Hantz at their Final Tribal Council. The jury needs to feel good about giving the million dollars to the winner, and only one possibility fits that requirement. Dawn received unfair nastiness from fans after Brenda’s exit, but that move’s role in her game isn’t in question. That move confirms the jurors’ beliefs about her cold play and makes her emotional outbursts look phony. Dawn clearly was not playing a character, but the contradictions are too significant. Instead of providing an underdog story of how she overcame adversity to reach the end, Dawn becomes a symbol of victory at any costs. Cochran voted out almost everyone on the jury, but it was always about the game. Whether it’s fair or not, the jurors decide to reward a likable guy who makes no qualms about his focus on strategy.

The Final Tribal Council includes several uncomfortable moments where the nastiness towards Dawn crosses the line. The worst is Brenda bullying her to remove her false teeth and humiliate herself. While her anger is understandable, this move is overly mean and accomplishes little more than making Brenda feel better. Cochran and Dawn worked as a pair since the start of the game, but his moves are applauded. Part of the issue is their personas from the South Pacific. Dawn was the mother of six who was too nice. Cochran was the Survivor nerd who was too nervous to play a successful game. Both returned this time with plans to change their perceptions, and neither leaves with the same impression. The elephant in the room is sexism, which allows some players to get away with moves while others suffer the consequences. It’s an intriguing subject that crosses gender lines, so it’s too simple to say that women are never considered great strategists. Parvati and Kim Spradlin both received credit for running the game and winning the top prize. On the other hand, Sophie and Denise were considered lesser-tier winners despite playing excellent games. There’s definitely a certain view among many fans of what makes a great player, and some will not live up to those expectations.

Sherri also reaches the end yet gets no consideration from most jury members. Erik tries to summarize their lack of interest, but he comes off like a jerk piling on after the situation is clear. Her journey began with strong play to build an alliance and take out the two couples. After the merge, she adapted and joined the favorites. In a strange way, the closest model to her game is Phillip on Redemption Island. She clung to Dawn and Cochran and avoided risks to ensure her spot at the end. While the jurors are mad at Dawn, they respect her game a lot more than the third wheel. Sherri seems like a nice person, but the editing rarely shows her bonding with anyone. She skipped opportunities to shake up the game, and that safe play is not enough to earn respect. Speaking of Erik, he makes a very brief cameo in the finale and is medically evacuated minutes after the previous Tribal Council. His exit was clearly set up last week and creates less tension for the next two hours. The main question is whether Eddie will get a chance to “bro down” in the finals. He reveals smarts in giving his assessment of Erik because of his EMT job at home. It would have been interesting to see if Eddie could have made the right points to challenge Cochran’s dominance with the jury.

Erik’s surprise exit forces the producers to shift gears. The winner of the “house of cards” battle receives an advantage in the final immunity challenge. This is unfortunate since it skews that key contest in favor of one player. While the edge did not benefit Malcolm in the Philippines, it helps Cochran this time. He struggles with the puzzle yet has a big enough lead to find the solution. The only chance for Dawn and Sherri leaves when Cochran wins that challenge. He makes the right choice and eliminates his last opponent towards victory. It doesn’t hurt that he also performs strongly with the jury and uses his trademark self-deprecating wit. When Malcolm asks about the differences between them, he brilliantly calls out his own uncertainty. Cochran throws Dawn under the bus without being overly nasty, and he even humors Eddie’s goofball question about hanging out at the bar. In other news, Reynold comes off like a jerk and ruins some goodwill by bashing Dawn, and Philip revokes Sherri’s membership in Stealth ‘r’ Us. How will she live? Despite the hate, it’s an interesting Final Tribal Council and shows why Cochran deserves to grab the ultimate prize.

The reunion is marred by the decision to move the non-jury members off the stage. It’s possible this move tries to disguise the absence of Brandon Hantz, who was banned from attending the live show. Either way, it creates a strange feeling all is not right in the Survivor world. Jeff spends too much time talking to Rudy and Boston Rob instead of the current players. It’s hard enough to find time to speak to everyone, so why waste time on distractions? The Boston Rob chat is obviously designed to plug his new book. That is not a good way to use the limited minutes. Jeff also seems to think Cochran’s win is a lot more surprising than it really is. There are past examples of slim guys taking the top prize. Todd Herzog and Bob Crowley were hardly alpha males. Cochran modeled his game after Rob Cesternino and caught the right breaks to finish the deal. Despite the issues with the reunion and some poor casting moves, there still was plenty to like during this messy season. The twists for the next installment may be an entirely different matter. Regardless, it’s remarkable to find a show still providing great entertainment in its 26th outing.

May 12, 2013

Survivor Caramoan, "Don't Say Anything About My Mom"

This recap was written for Sound on Sight, an excellent online spot for great writing on film and television. You can check out the original post at this link.

An interesting characteristic of this season’s returnees has been the goal to change the perceptions about their original games. Dawn wants to avoid following someone else and getting stuck in a minority alliance. Andrea tried to make big moves after being labeled a mindless follower of Boston Rob. Erik was so damaged by his massive blunder that he’s avoided all strategy. One of the most intriguing changes has come from Brenda, who stood out as a strong competitor in Nicaragua. After falling on the wrong side of the numbers in the first vote, she moved into the background and focused on being nice. This strategy seems limited but actually set her up brilliantly to make the end. Unfortunately, it also makes her a huge target once the numbers dwindle. Brenda’s a challenge monster who probably beats Dawn this week if she gives it her all. She’s likable and well-spoken, so Cochran is wise to recognize the danger in keeping her around. With Dawn backstabbing everyone, his path to victory is clear if he makes the finals. Sherri joins the duo in removing Brenda 3-2 with Eddie once again living to see another day. The last Amigo has put his fate in the others’ hands, and they clearly see no problem with letting him stick around for a few more days.

Looking closer at the choice to eliminate Brenda, it makes sense for Cochran because his biggest opponent leaves the game. Why give her a chance to win immunity next time? If he makes the end, there isn’t a scenario where Cochran doesn’t win the million dollars. The vote benefits Sherri because she’s locked into a final-three alliance that won’t see her as a threat. Her chances of winning are small, but she’s doing her best to reach the end. The question mark falls on Dawn, who casts the deciding vote to take out her ally. Brenda’s heartbreak comes from the betrayal of a friend, not just because she’s leaving the game. The line of players who will connect their exit solely to Dawn is growing very long. This fact shows that she’s played a strategic game, but there will be issues with her convincing the jury. Dawn has been unstable and struggled with taking emotion out of her decisions. Acting wishy-washy is not a good approach to earn others’ respect at the end. Dawn and Cochran have made the same moves, but the jury is unlikely to see it that way at the Final Tribal Council. She must consider taking him out to have a real shot at grabbing the top prize.

If getting voted out isn’t enough, Brenda is forced to make an impossible choice with another cruel twist after the reward challenge. It’s the family visit, where Sprint equals love. Yes, they actually say that on the show. The reunions are touching, and everyone breaks down when they meet their loved ones. There is plenty of crying and hugs from everyone, and it’s clear this group is having a great time. They compete in pairs with their relatives, and Brenda and her dad grab the win. It’s never wise to win an individual reward challenge because the producers always force decisions that will anger some players. This week’s choice for Brenda is possibly the worst in the show’s history. For the first time, a second family member is waiting for each person. Brenda can give four players the chance to have a barbecue with them, but she must take it away from herself and Dawn. This adds a new layer because she’s depriving another player. The producers tighten the screws by setting the barbecue in the water right next to camp. That’s overly cruel and manipulative even for this show. Brenda makes the right pick despite its negative effect on her closest friend.

The immunity challenge is a test of endurance that increases in difficulty as it moves along. Players must keep their arms behind their backs and are cranked forward every few minutes. The guys fall quickly, and it comes down to Dawn and Brenda. After claiming she’s going to compete until the end, Brenda unwisely lets go and gives the win to Dawn. By this point, it’s clear that she’s in serious trouble and has no idea about it. Hilariously, Erik asks about food and has little motivation to compete. The episode opens with him climbing a massive tree hoping to grab a coconut. The creepy part is that he seems to welcome a possible injury from this daring feat. While this sets up his renewed energy after the family visit (this happens every season), Erik remains an enigma. It makes sense to take him out next, but he doesn’t appear to be a real threat.

This Sunday’s finale could include an easy victory for Cochran, but anything might happen in this unpredictable season. Could Erik, Eddie, or Sherri win the game? This trio probably needs to sit together at the end to make this happen. The editing hasn’t suggested they are working behind the scenes to blind slide the leaders. Eddie and Erik must win the last two immunities to guarantee their spot. If that happens, it makes Sherri more vulnerable than Dawn or Cochran. The previews suggest an unexpected event could drastically alter these considerations, however. Another factor is the level of bitterness of the jury, which can affect who gets the votes. This doesn’t feel like an angry jury, which means they would focus more on the actual game play. Regardless of the outcome, this has been one of the better post-merge runs on Survivor in a long time.