Monthly Archives

September 2014

Fall 2014 TV Shows I’ve Seen So Far, Pt. 1

Fall is officially here and so’s the fall network TV season. I enjoy sampling all the new shows, even if I end up faithfully watching only two of them. Below are my first impressions of shows that have premiered already or are available online.

A to Z (NBC, premieres Oct. 2, avail now here)

A-to-ZBen Feldman and Cristin Milioti are appealing as a couple whose dating exploits are examined from A to Z. Andrew works at a dating site and believes Zelda is The One because he’s convinced she’s the girl he fell for from afar when he spotted her at a concert years ago. Zelda is a lawyer who’s a bit hesitant to buy into notions of fate, but decides to give a relationship with Andrew a go. Over the season, we’ll see how that works out.

Milioti, the mother from How I Met Your Mother, is charismatic while Feldman is attractive in a generic way; the latter description also applies to the pilot. Both stars have Broadway chops and neither has tendencies to be gratingly cute, but it remains to be seen whether or not the writers will make their courtship unique enough for viewers to keep tagging along.

Forever (ABC, Sept. 22)

abc-forever-premiere-ioan-gruffuddIoan Gruffudd stars as Dr. Henry Morgan, a medical examiner who has been alive for over 200 years and still hasn’t figured out the purpose of his immortality.

At the beginning of the pilot, he’s on a subway train that derails and everyone else in the car with him dies. When he does the autopsy on the train conductor, he finds the man was poisoned, and the police have a mass homicide on their hands.

The detective working most closely with Morgan is Jo Martinez (Alana De La Garza), who suspects something is off with Morgan but trusts him because he has Holmesian powers of deduction. She’s like a younger Sela Ward and Gruffudd exudes a combination of class and mischief that makes their chemistry…interesting.

Judd Hirsch plays the only person who knows Morgan’s secret, or so Morgan thinks until he gets sinister phone calls from someone who says he knows all about Morgan because the caller is also immortal. I don’t know if I’ll be eager to tune in to Forever every week, but Gruffudd’s charm does make me want to check it out again. (It premiered last night but another episode airs tonight.)

Gotham (FOX, Sept. 22)

Ben McKenzie og Donal Logue i TV-serien GothamPossibly the new show with the biggest marketing dollars behind it, Gotham was underwhelming, more style than substance. The muted colors and foggy streets suggest darkness, but no one is truly menacing.

The actors, from Donal Logue and Ben McKenzie as detective partners Harvey Bullock and (future commissioner) James Gordon, to Jada Pinkett Smith as junior mob boss Fish Mooney, all spit out lines in a cadence that’s probably meant to invoke classic gangster films but instead just seem affected. There are lots of pretty people in the show but no one makes a strong impression so far.

Since Batman will not appear—though the boy Bruce Wayne is present—I don’t think these secondary characters from Gotham City are arresting enough to hold my interest. Plus, once we’ve seen Michelle Pfeiffer play Catwoman to perfection, why do we need to see anyone else play a baby Selina Kyle?

Madam Secretary (CBS, Sept. 21)

tea-leoni-and-tim-daly-in-madam-secretaryTea Leoni (who also produces) plays Elizabeth McCord, a former CIA analyst whom the president of the United States (Keith Carradine) asks to become Secretary of State when the current one’s plane goes down in the Atlantic. The president wants someone who “not only thinks outside the box, but someone who doesn’t even know there is a box.” (Can we please retire the tedious box metaphor already?)

I enjoyed seeing the scenes shot at my alma mater, the University of Virginia; Elizabeth and her husband Henry are professors there before she accepts the president’s offer and moves to DC. Leoni projects confidence and intelligence but also grit when Zeljko Ivanek’s Chief of Staff tries to put her in her place.

She has nice chemistry with Tim Daly as Henry and makes political speeches palatable. Leoni is just cool. When Ivanek’s character insists on Elizabeth getting a makeover, I thought, “Is he crazy? The woman’s gorgeous as is!”

The supporting cast is impressive, with standouts being Geoffrey Arend as Elizabeth’s speech writer and Erich Bergen as her assistant. Bebe Neuwirth is underused in the pilot. The show is not groundbreaking or edgy and probably won’t be must-see TV for me, but it’s good to see Leoni back on TV.

Selfie (ABC, premieres Sept. 30, avail now here)

cho-gillan-selfieJohn Cho and Karen Gillan star in a contemporary Pygmalion, with ad-executive Henry trying to rebrand shallow, social-media-addicted coworker Eliza as a lady with real-world manners.

Cho and Gillan are both better than their material; his comedic skills are wasted as the humorless Henry. Eliza is vapid and annoying in the pilot, coming across like one of those reality women whose first and last name start with K. It takes a talented actress like Gillan to not make Eliza a complete turnoff for viewers, to hint there’s a likable person underneath, but the notion that Henry would take her on as a project is still unconvincing.

The show gets props for casting an Asian actor as the lead opposite a Caucasian actress, something that’s never happened on network TV. I just wish it was a better vehicle for its stars.

Tune in later this week for my thoughts on more new shows. Have you checked out any? Found anything you like?

Photos: A to Z/NBC; Forever/ABC; Gotham/FOX; Madam Secretary/CBS; Selfie/ABC


Book Review: THE DISTANCE by Helen Giltrow

This review originally appeared in Shelf Awareness for Readers and is reprinted here with permission.

the distanceCharlotte Alton may seem like a well-bred London socialite, but her alter ego, Karla, operates in the shadows, gathering information that can be used for deadly purposes but also for good. While at the opera one evening, Charlotte sees a man she helped disappear eight years ago–a man she never thought she’d see again. Simon Johanssen is a killer for hire who was forced to go underground when a job went wrong.

Johanssen has returned to take a new assignment, but he needs Karla’s help—to break into a prison to kill a woman. Karla arranges the necessary paperwork and gets him admitted as a convicted double murderer, after she warns him that the man who wanted him dead eight years ago is incarcerated at the same prison.

Karla digs further into the identity of Johanssen’s target and discovers no record of the female prisoner or her supposedly horrific crime. Fearing Johanssen has walked into a trap, Karla gives orders to her colleagues to pull him out… and is told he can’t be found anywhere.

Helen Giltrow’s debut novel, The Distance, has many threads with multiple narrators, and nothing can be taken at face value since most of the characters mistrust each other. Johanssen’s determination to finish the job—despite the sadistic treatment he suffers, the lack of information about his target, and Karla’s repeated attempts to get him to abort—seems unreasonable if not foolish at first, but his commitment helps bring about a satisfying ending to this brutal thriller.

Nerd verdict: Intense Distance


Book Giveaway: WE ARE NOT OURSELVES by Matthew Thomas

If you’re a big reader and frequent a lot of bookish sites, you may not have been able to avoid hearing about one of the buzziest books this year—Matthew Thomas’s debut novel, We Are Not Ourselves. The author supposedly received a huge advance and the book has garnered raves from many publications, including The New York Times and Publishers Weekly.

And now you have a chance to win a hardcover copy here.

First, the official description:

we are not ourselvesBorn in 1941, Eileen Tumulty is raised by her Irish immigrant parents in Woodside, Queens, in an apartment where the mood swings between heartbreak and hilarity, depending on whether guests are over and how much alcohol has been consumed.

When Eileen meets Ed Leary, a scientist whose bearing is nothing like those of the men she grew up with, she thinks she’s found the perfect partner to deliver her to the cosmopolitan world she longs to inhabit. They marry, and Eileen quickly discovers Ed doesn’t aspire to the same, ever bigger, stakes in the American Dream.

Eileen encourages her husband to want more: a better job, better friends, a better house, but as years pass it becomes clear that his growing reluctance is part of a deeper psychological shift. An inescapable darkness enters their lives, and Eileen and Ed and their son Connell try desperately to hold together a semblance of the reality they have known, and to preserve, against long odds, an idea they have cherished of the future.

Through the Learys, novelist Matthew Thomas charts the story of the American Century, particularly the promise of domestic bliss and economic prosperity that captured hearts and minds after WWII. The result is a riveting and affecting work of art; one that reminds us that life is more than a tally of victories and defeats, that we live to love and be loved, and that we should tell each other so before the moment slips away.

Epic in scope, heroic in character, masterful in prose, We Are Not Ourselves heralds the arrival of a major new talent in contemporary fiction.

To enter, leave a comment answering this question: What does your version of the American Dream look like?

Giveaway ends next Tuesday, September 16, 9 p.m. PST. US addresses only, please, per the publisher’s request. Winner will be randomly selected and have 48 hours after notification to claim prize before an alternate winner is chosen. Good luck!


Book Review: THE FURIES by Natalie Haynes

This review originally appeared in Shelf Awareness for Readers and is reprinted here with permission.

the furiesGrieving after the violent death of her fiancé, theater director Alex Morris leaves London for Edinburgh to take a job at a last-resort school for troubled teens. Not much has previously engaged these kids, but Alex gradually connects with them by teaching the Theban plays, starting with Oedipus the King and the role of fate in life.

As the class reads more and delves into themes of revenge, Alex is unaware that one of her students may be taking the subject matter too seriously and wants to incorporate it into real life. She recognizes her student’s obsession too late when she witnesses a shocking incident. Could Alex be blamed for not preventing it, or worse, encouraging it with her lessons?

The Furies may be British author Natalie Haynes’s debut novel, but as she demonstrated in The Ancient Guide to Modern Life, she can write with an assured hand about the Greeks. Readers get a refresher course on the classics via the students, who have funny reactions to all the twisted tragedy, using flippancy to disguise their growing interest.

The story alternates between scenes of Alex in a lawyer’s office and flashbacks to reveal how and why she ended up there. Guessing what happened isn’t hard if the reader is already familiar with Greek mythology and the significance of this novel’s title (published as The Amber Fury in England); the narrative doesn’t surprise much in that aspect. But the characters are worth getting to know, all broken people trying to escape their own tragic lives. And, unlike traditional Greek tales, the ending offers a glimmer of hope.

Nerd verdict: Compelling, if a bit predictable, modern-day Greek tragedy

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