Monday, September 18, 2017

The Orville--"Command Performance"

     I enjoyed the premiere episode of The Orville last week. It had potential even though some of the humor was cliché and a bit stale. The second installment would be the real test of whether the show would have any legs. I am pleased to say I liked “Command Performance” even more than the first episode. A key point of interest is the development of an ensemble cast. The series is not merely a vanity project for Seth McFarlane.
     The Orville answers a distress signal from a ship under attack by the Krill. The ship winds up being a holographic projection designed to capture Mercer and Grayson. Bortus is incapacitated because he has laid an egg—yes, an egg—so young Alara is left in command for the first time. Given the title of the episode, you should be able to guess her trial by fire is the main focus. Her first command decision leads to the ship suffering heavy damage. Her second decision to follow admiral's orders and abandon the captain and XO result in the crew hating her. Alara is finally celebrated which she opts to violate orders because saving their lives is more important than preserving her career.
     Mercer and Grayson are captured and placed in a zoo by the Calivan, a race who view all others races with inferior technology as little more than animals. The admiral ordered the two abandoned rather than risk conflict with the Calivan. Mercer and Grayson living in the zoo exhibit, which is identical to their old apartment, reminds them how badly they got on each others' nerves when they were married. It is humorous because they were just beginning to wonder if their marriage could have worked out if the two had worked on it more diligently.
     It is unclear whether there is supposed to be a moral lesson in the zoo plot. Every alien shown imprisoned is far more sentient than an Earth animal, so there is not a true comparison. Nevertheless, it is revealed humans no longer maintain zoos for moral reasons. Then again, when mercer and Grayson freed to be replaced by streaming television reality shows, only an alien child is freed with them. Oh, well. One cannot change a whole society overnight. It was always safe to say The Orville would not be an idealistic show.
     As I said above, I liked “Command Performance” even more than I liked the generally good first episode. If there is any problem, it is the stale, predictable humor. But it appears to be mostly with Mercer. The humor from the other characters is great. I especially like the deadpan deliveries of Brotus and Isaac. Since “Command Performance” indicates other cast members besides McFarlane will get to shine, the show has potential. I am still not entirely sold, but I still want to see what comes next. So the episode did its job.
     Rating: *** (out of 5)

Monday, September 11, 2017

The Orville--"Old Wounds"

     Star Trek is ripe for parody, as Galaxy Quest demonstrated eighteen years ago. But that was just a single movie. Can that kind of material be sustained for the duration of a television series. If anyone can guide a series into the ranks of science fiction comedy like Red Dwarf and Futurama, it is Seth McFarlane. For now, the only thing to judge potential is the pilot episode of The Orville.
     McFarlane stars as Ed Mercer, a fleet officer who life and career hit a dead end when he catches his wife cheating with an alien. After a year of boozing it up, he gets one last shot—command of The Orville. It is an unimpressive ship, and mercer is only given command because of an officer shortage, but he takes it. Unfortunately, his first officer winds up being his ex-wife. Fortunately, she winds up saving the day when the evil krill try to steal a device which can accelerate time a hundred years. As it turns out, she pulled strings for mercer to get his command.
     The Orville features a lot of McFarlane's sarcastic humor in the midst of some nifty special effects and make up work. The action scenes are surprising intense. I was expecting a straight comedy, but the series appears to be more of an action show with comedic elements. I am game for that. Guardians of the galaxy showed that could work. I already sense the heavy reliance on science fiction tropes, particularly Star Trek, are going to weigh the series down. I note a number of Trek alumni are slated to work on upcoming episodes both in front of the camera and behind the scenes. The Orville must establish its own identity if it is to last.
     I liked “Old Wounds.” It did a good job of introducing the main characters and generally irreverent tone of the series. I may be grading on a curve here since it has been a long time since I have enjoyed an outer space adventure show unlike the more cerebral Doctor Who, but I am looking forward to more action in future episodes. There were a couple of laugh out loud moments, too, but there was an awful lot of standard McFarlane humor which has long since lost its edginess. I am going to give The Orvillea few episodes to see what develops. The opening episode is flawed, but shows potential.
      Rating: *** (out of 5)

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Monkees--"The Frodis Caper"

      Here we are, folks! It is the final episode of The Monkees. Our long, blogging nightmare is almost. Okay, I am exaggerating. But the series is much less fun than I remember it. I never realized before how quickly the show deteriorated in quality during the second season. It got so bad, they let Micky write and direct the final episode. I do not know what he was on at the time, but I am glad h stopped imbibing.
  The Monkees wake up to a Beatles song and discover peter entranced by an eye test pattern on the television. When they discover their neighbors are in the same condition, the guys go to the television station to investigate. They are captured by the evil Wizard Glick, who plans to use the power of something called the Frodis to enslave the minds of all humanity. The Monkees escape and recaptured several time before discovering Frodis is a sentient plant from outer space. They return Frodis to his ship where he defeats Glick and saves the world.
   There were number of strange reference to Glick and Frodis throughout the season. Prominent examples are Mike being mistaken for Glick by a gambler in Las Vegas and Frodis written on a chalkboard. Glick implies he has encountered the Monkees five years prior to “The Frodis Caper.” That would make him the closest thing to an archenemy the Monkees ever had. Aside from uncreative writers, of course.
      If nothing else, 'The Frodis Caper” proves why the series needed to mercifully end. The writing is so nonsensical, any of the social commentary, such as poking fun at the self-importance of pop culture, is lost. The frenetic camera work makes the story unpleasant to follow. Micky eventually became an accomplished director in the United Kingdom, but he was trying way too hard here. It is tough the series went out on such a weak note. The episode is weird enough that it needs to be seen at least once to b appreciated, but you would need to do a dangerous amount of narcotics to make any sense out of it.
     Rating: * (out of 5)

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Monkees--"The Monkees Blow Their Minds"

     “The Monkees Blow Their Minds” was filmed for the first season, but held back for the second. It was not only held back for the second season, but held back for over a year until the series' cancellation had been announced. It was held back until the penultimate episode of the second season when no one has anything left to lose. So does that mean the episode is bad? Yes. Yes, it does.
     Peter stumbles across a charlatan mentalist named Oraculo while searching for inspiration to write a song. The Monkees are up for an audition for a ten week gig, and Peter wants to knock everyone's socks off. Oraculo uses a potion to take over Peter's mind, then uses him to both sabotage the Monkees and win he gig with his mentalist act instead. The guys figure Oraculo is controlling Peter's mind, o they set out to save him. Mike distracts Oraculo by posing as an amnesiac who lost a briefcase filled with $50,000 while Micky and Davy rescue Peter. They all wind up under Oraculo's control, but are unintentionally freed by Oraculo's assistant, Rudy. The Monkees then ruin his act in revenge.
      Burgess Meredith makes a cameo as Penguin. He is one of the club patrons watching Oraculo's act. Meredith is the third actor, in addition to Julie Newmar and Liberace, to play villains on the Batman television series and appear on The Monkees. Meredith is the only one of the three to appear as the Caped Crusader's villain on both series. Rudy is wonderfully played by frequent episode director James Frawley.
      I can see why this episode was held back as long as it was. The plot is a neat idea, but poorly executed. The musical romp does nothing but fill time rather than advance the pot. There is even a huge editing error inexplicably kept for no good reason. Micky and Davy, both disguised in the audience, work to sabotage Oraculo's act, but they are not freed from his mind control until the subsequent scene. The sequence makes no sense in the order presented. They really did not care about the show by this point.        
     The real highlight of the episode is the opening teaser in which Frank Zappa and Mike play each other for a mock interview. Mock is the appropriate word, as they both rip on the Monkees' music as banal and insipid. The pair end up destroying a truck to the beat of a Mothers of Invention song. In episode, Frawley's portrayal of Rudy is the only saving grace.
      Rating: ** (out of 5)

Monday, July 10, 2017

Monkees--"Some Like It Lukewarm'

      The Monkees found themselves in drag often throughout the series, but none so often as Davy. Davy poses as a woman a grand total of even times during the span of 58 episodes. Maybe that is why he scored so well with the ladies. He could empathize with them. At least the cross dressing was always for a good cause.
      In this case, the good cause is to win a much needed $500 in a band contest. Only mixed groups are eligible, so one of the Monkees must pose as a girl. Davy is deemed the one who can play the most convincing girl. He is not thrilled about the prospect, and the guys must fight to keep him on stage throughout their performance, but thy wind up in a tie with another band of three girls and a guy called the West Minstrel Abbeys. The two bands are set to compete against each other in a week.
      Davy must keep himself hidden until then. He eventually goes stir crazy and sneaks out to some little out of the way place where nobody goes. There, he runs into Daphne. She becomes the latest girl with whom he falls madly in love. She happens to also be posing as the guy in the West Minstrel Abbeys. Everyone comes clean on the day of the tie breaker. They all decide to form a single group in order to follow the only mixed band's rule. I guess they split the prize money? The resolution is left hanging after the performance.
      The West Minstrel Abbeys performs a rendition of 'Last Train to Clarksville” sped up to the Chipmunks' sound. Daphne is played by Deana Martin, daughter of Dean Martin. When the Monkees and the West Minstrel Abbeys combine, the girls are regulated to go go dancing in short skirts while the Monkees perform “She Hangs Out.” With three full songs and a tag in which Davy learns about soul from composer Charlie Smalls, “Some Like It Lukewarm” feature the smallest amount of story content of any episode at a shade under seventeen minutes. It also has the last “live” performance of the band on the series.
      There are many funny moments in “Some Like It Lukewarm.” most of them come at Davy's expense. The music is good, and the girls are hot. One of them is a former Playboy Playmate. What more could you ask for?
      Rating: *** (out of 5)

Sunday, July 2, 2017

Monkees--"The Monkees Mind Their Manor"

    Europe simply cannot go along without Davy. If a prince does not need to be saved from assassination by her evil uncle, then a shy doppelganger prince needs him to teach the prince to properly use the old royal to woo a lady. England in particular has difficulties without Davy. If his grandfather is not insisting her return home, he is insisting Davy assist a English race car driver show the Germans what for. But “The Monkees Mind their Manor” is the final chapter in Davy's effort to serve as champion of the homeland.
     Lord kibbee dies and wills his estate to Davy on the condition he live there for five years. Davy is not too keen on leaving the United States for five years. His only two options are to leave, allowing Lance Kibbee the Sot to sell the estate to developers and evict the villagers or raise  £;50,000 to buy the state outright. He opts for the latter, o the Monkees put on a medieval fair. To fill screen time, Davy must also face a three event challenge by Tibee's lawyer, Twiggly Toppermiddlebottom. Davy take two out of three.
      In spit of the victory, the guys fall far short. The villagers refuse to force Davy to remain on the estate for their sake. Myra de Groot takes the opportunity to unload on Kibbee exactly what she thinks of him. In the heat of the moment, they declare love for one another. Tibee decides to marry her o the two can remain on the estate. That should work out well. He is a drunk and she is...not exactly a fine catch. Oh, well.
      Peter becomes he first Monkee to direct an episode. Whoever is in charge should have given him a better script. There was not much to work with here. Micky will become the next Monkee to direct an episode and the first to write one. The series finale, which comes up for review in a few days, is all his for praise or blame.
      I am not a big fan of “The Monkees Mind Their Manor.” The episode comes across as poorly planned. It is mostly because the main comedic action involves the contest between Davy and Twiggly, but the outcome would have no effect on whether the estate is sold even if Davy lost all three. It is nothing but filler. Since the story takes up only about seventeen minutes, that much filler means someone did not put much thought into the script. There are a few laughs, but they mostly rely on in jokes and British stereotypes. The episode's quality is further evidence the series is quickly coming to its inglorious end.
      Rating: ** (out of 5)

Saturday, July 1, 2017

Doctor Who--"The Doctor Falls"

      “The Doctor Falls” is the finale for the tenth series of Doctor Who. The series has been uneven, with a few highs, but mostly lows. Showrunner Steven Moffat appears to be running out of steam. As excited as I was for the writer of 'The Girl in the Fireplace” and “Blink” to take the reins seven years ago, I am equally grateful he is surrendering control to Chris Chibnall after this year's Christmas special. Does Moffat create a solid, last series finale before he goes out? Like most of the series, it is a mixed bag.
     The episode begins with the Doctor at the mercy of the Master, Missy, and Cyber Bill. The army of Cybermen are hunting down all humans and converting them to Cybermen. The doctor managed to sabotage the hunt by reprogramming the Cybermen to hunt beings with two hearts as well as one, so they all must flee. Cyber bill saves the Doctor from a hostile Cybermen attack, thereby proving she is still in control of herself. Nardole comes to everyone's rescue in a shuttle.
      They all wind up on a rural farm where a spinster is holed up with a bunch of children. The Cybermen are especially interested in children. As the Master puts it, because 'there are less parts to throw away.” Cybermen attacks have been sporadic, but when the master and Missy open a hidden portal, advanced Cybermen learn where the children are. Our heroes must prepare a defense for what looks to be a hopeless battle. Nardole tapping into a power source at the bottom of the ship is the only bright spot. The doctor's plea to the Master and Missy to stand with him go unheeded as the two depart. The Doctor plans to ignite fuel lines, killing as many Cybrmen as possible, to buy time for Nardole to escape with the children. The Doctor does not expect to survive. Cyber Bill no longer wants to live, so she joins him.
      All that sounds excitingly tense, and it is. But the emotional elements, which are the most important aspects of any story, fizzle out for me. Just before escaping, Missy changes her mind about helping the Doctor, but is killed by the Master because he cannot stand the thought of even a future incarnation of himself aiding the Doctor. Missy dies with the doctor believing she has betrayed him. The measure of one's character is what is done when no one can see, but Missy's redemption is overshadowed by the doctor never knowing he succeeded in reforming her. That is a bitter pill to swallow since the Doctor's optimism in helping Missy was a running theme throughout the series. 
     There is also Bill's turmoil of being trapped with her emotion intact inside a Cybrmen. In the end, she becomes a water alien and flies off with heather from the first episode. They leave the dying Doctor in his TARDIS. So he does not learn Bill's fate. Not to mention Nardole will be forever hunted by Cybermen with no means of escape. What a rough experience. No wonder he resists regenerating with all that on his mind. But then he encounters the First Doctor. We shall see what that is all about on Christmas.
    “The Doctor Falls” feels smaller than a series finale should. There is not as much action with the Cybermen as I would like. The ending is a serious downer in just about every respect. Yes, bill gets a happy ending, but it is strange and overly convenient for heather to show up, even if it was Bill's tears that attracted her there. Bill and the Doctor do enjoy some nice moments when he helps hr adjust to her new reality as Cyber Bill, but I was hoping for more all around. “The Doctor falls” I good, but it just does not deliver like series finale should.
      Rating: *** (out of 5)

Monkees--"The Monkees in Paris"

      The writing is on the wall. The series is fading away. Scripts that were rejected the previous season are now being filmed. Story lines are being repeated. Sometimes, those story lines are being repeated in almost back to back episodes. The cast's dissatisfaction with the staleness of the series is palpable. They are often phoning it in at best. They are occasionally in open rebellion at worst. Everyone knows the show is about to b canceled. Even clues to the final episode's contents have been hinted at throughout the last few episodes. It is over, folks.
      So if you are the cast and director James Frawley and you are only biding your time until you can move along t the net thing after the current's impending end, what do you do? The answer is crate an episode in which you express your contempt for everything wrong with the current situation while filming yourself enjoying yourselves aboard and promoting as much of your music as humanly possible. That is what “The Monkees in Paris” is. If your favorite part of The Monkees is the musical romps, then this is the episode for you.
   The entire episode is the Monkees being chased through numerous locales in Paris by four young ladies. It starts with riding scooters through the Paris streets to outdoor cafes, boat docks, an amusement park, and a cemetery(!) before ending on the Eiffel Tower with the dark implication the Monkees jumped from the top to escape the pursuing girls. Along the way, they goof around with various people they meet. I do not know how much is staged or improvised, but three appears to be genuine positive and negative reactions from both the Monkees and the people they encounter. Organized chaos would be the best way to describe it.
      There is a blonde in a yellow shirt who is particularly interested in Mike. She is my favorite of the four young ladies. You do not have to know that. I just thought I would share.
      The Parisian romp is book ended by “real world” scenes of the Monkees filming yet another episode about spies threatening them because of some microfilm they inadvertently possess when they stop filming and complain to Frawley about being forced to do the same shtick in every episode. They leave for Paris with the admonition Frawley needs to come up with something fresh by the time they return. When they return, they realize Frawley has only made cosmetic changes, so they storm off set. The show is definitely coming to an end.
      I agree the show's quality is plummeting. I feel a genuine sense of relief I only have a handful more to review. The show amused a heck of a lot better when I was nine than it does now that I am forty. I am not too enthusiastic about “The Monkees in Paris.” Well, aside from that blonde. Ironically, I appreciate her more at forty than I probably did at eight. So there is that.
     Rating: ** (out of 5)

Friday, June 30, 2017

Monkees--"The Monkees Race Again"

      “The Monkees Race Again” features the Monkees racing again. A clear, straightforward title with no tricks. How quaint. Since the beginning of the series, the Monkees have raced horses and motorcycles. It is only natural they would move on to racing cars next. Since we are talking about reused plot elements, the catalyst for the misadventure is Davy being recruited by his family to save the ay for the glory of England. He will do so again in the episode after next. They really knew how to space out their similar plots to make the series appear more original, did they not?
      For some inexplicable reason, a race car driving friend of Davy's grandfather, T. N. Crumpetts, enlists Davy's help because his car is being sabotaged. All the Monkees, save for the absent Micky, agree to help. Micky's absence is a deliberately ironic twist. The others agree to work as mechanic even though they have no knowledge or experience while the real Micky worked as a mechanic during more lean times in his show business career. He does join in later without musing a beat.
    Crumpett's saboteurs are two German rivals, Baron von Klutz and his assistant, Wolfgang. Are they German stereotypes? Of course, they are German stereotypes. We have both world wars covered here. The Baron wears a monocle and spiked helmet from World War I. He speaks of racing in similar terms of biplane dogfights, although he uses a periscope to relive unrestricted submarine warfare. Wolfgang avoids any overt Nazi symbolism outside of his Hitler mustache and briefly goose stepping during the musical romp. He strikes me as an homage to Sgt. Schultz from Hogan's Heroes. The baron and Wolfgang are played for laughs, not to court any controversy.
      Fretting over the new, unorthodox help, the baron kidnaps Crumpetts and Mickey. No worries. Davy will race in Crumpetts' place. Hearing this, the baron arranges to steal Crumpetts' car. Still no worries. Davy will race the Monkeemobile. The actual race is a real life Mario Kart with the Baron pulling dirty tricks to wreck Davy. The Baron falls prey to his own dropped tire when Davy dodges it, but it crosses the road to impede the Baron. Davy wins.
      The race I not the musical romp you would suspect it is. The romp actually comes subsequently as Mike and Peter rescue Crumpetts and Mickey. Everyone, including inexplicably Davy and the Baron, get in on the act. The sequence feels awkwardly tacked on. Maybe it should have only been Mike and Peter versus Wolfgang interspersed with the racing scenes instead of all afterward. The race scenes were more interesting, so the comparably subdued romp is a let down.
      There I one seen worth mentioning. Towards he end of the race, the guy who is supposed to wave the checkered flag does not have one. When a girl walks in front of him wearing a checkered miniskirt, he rips it off her to use instead. She covers herself an runs off screen in embarrassment. Her underwear I not revealing, but the act is a pretty risque on to commit during family hour of 1968 prime time television.
      In a series full of dumb, but funny episodes, this is one of them. There is not a single aspect of it that that make a lick of sense. But there are some funny bit, and the racing scenes are more elaborate and exciting than I expect from a relatively low budget show. It is worth watching, but I would not call it a classic.
      Rating: *** (out of 5)

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Monkees--"The Devil and Peter Tork"

    “The Devil and Peter Tork” is the second of back to back episodes to parody a famous short story. This one is a take on “The Devil and Daniel Webster” with mike—yes, Mike—supplanting he famed orator besting Old Scratch in a court room argument. There is a different feel to this episode. While it is still a comedy, there is an air of genuine fear throughout. No other episode is so eery in tone. Yet it is also beautiful if you can cast assie your modern cynicism for bit.
      Monte Landis makes his penultimate appearance in the series. He portrays the villain in every episode but one. He reaches he pinnacle of his villainous career here by playing the Devil. The Devil goes by the name Mr. Zero while coming across much like the figure in the Rolling Stone's “Sympathy for the Devil.” He is a mysterious man of wealth and taste who has been around a long time and stolen many a man' soul. He can give your your heart's desire, but it will cost you.
      Case in point—Peter. Peter wanders into Mr. Zero's music shop and falls in love with a harp. It is an instrument he has always loved but cannot afford one even if he knew how to play, which he does not. Mr. Zero convinces Peter to sign a buy now, pay later contract that grants him the ability to play. What poor Peter does not know is he has sold hi soul for his new talent. The irony of the deceased ascending to heaven as harp playing angels should be noted.
      With the addition of the harp to the band, the Monkees finally achieve their wealth and fame. But it all comes crashing down one night when Mr. Zero arrives to force Peter to keep his end of the bargain at the stroke of midnight. Mike notes there is still time left, so Mr. Zero promises the full extent of time. They use most of the time for a musical romp through hell.
      The vision of hell on display is a strange combination of horror and hedonism one would expect from a fictional story presenting general stereotypes of hell rather than a description from religious doctrine. The Monkees are surrounded by fire before being attacked with tridents by the skimpiestly clad women ever on the series. Peter is brought in to bow before Mr. Zero, but is pulling away by the guys. They all don devil costumes and dance around with the women. The misguided line from John Milton's Paradise Lost “Better to reign in hell than serve in heaven” comes to mind, as does Mark Twain's “Heaven for climate, hell for company.”
      What I find interesting here is the rebellious counterculture gaining influence in Hollywood at the time, mostly driven by hippie culture, was heavily influenced by the establishment of the Church of Satan established in the late '60's by devout Satanist 9and accomplished musician in his own right) Anton LeVay. His influence on television, and especially music is abundantly clear from pop culture of the late '60's and early '70's. It is an interesting topic to explore in future blog posts, particularly how LeVay's influence on American pop culture parallels the similar Alestair Crowley's influence on British pp culture. It is a topic I am likely to dwell on across my blogs some time in the future.
      I also need to mention I was educated from elementary to high school in a strict Baptist school in the buckle of the Bible Belt. The people who ran the school saw Satanic imagery and influence in anything and everything largely out of Original Sin guilt combined with a paranoid obsession of the End Times. It has been a long time since I was immersed in such an environment, but I remain skittish at overt representations of anything hellish or demonic. I felt that wariness during “The Devil and Peter Tork,” too. It is strange how such emotions can stick with you even during such innocuous content. As if it was necessary to demonstrate how far couture has fallen, the word “hell” is bleeped out at every mention because it was not allowed on television in 1968.
      When Mr. Zero arrives near midnight, Mike challenges the validity of the contract. Mr. Zero obliges the challenge by establishing a kangaroo court presided over by Judge Roy Bean with a jury of condemned men from Devil's Island. He calls Billy the Kid, Blackbeard, and Attila the Hun to the stand at witnesses. They each serve as a for laugh foil to Mike, Davy, and Micky in cross-examination. The key point is Mike's awkwardly charming closing argument Peter's talent came from his love of music, not Mr. Zero. In response, Mr. Zero remove his influence from Peter, then challenges him t play the harp. Peter plays a beautiful and beautifully appropriate rendition of “I Wanna be Free.” It is an overly sentimental ending, but this is where I advise dropping modern cynicism and just going with the intent.
    Scoring “The Devil and Peter Tork' is tough. It is the most thought provoking this silly series ever gets. Yet I also suffer the uneasy feeling I gt from any bit of entertainment that take a dip into the subject of hell. Peter is presented as a naively innocent person rather than the usual idiot for making his mistake, which is refreshing. There re also some good laughs mixed in. Micky argues with Attila the Hun in his native language, but subsequently reveals he has no idea what was said by either Attila or himself. I am going to rate this one good, but not great. Letting my bias show here more than usual, probably.
      Rating: *** (out of 5)