You Should be Watching Mr. Robot

USA has always been a TV channel I associated with blue skies and pleasant times. It was a brand they meticulously put together for themselves. First they cancelled any shows with intriguing high concept premises, like The 4400. Then they brought on more and more shows quirky spins on classic TV dramas. Burn Notice (it’s a spy show, but the spy’s been fired!), Royal Pains (it’s a doctor show, but the doctor treats super rich people!), and Suits (it’s a lawyer show, but one lawyer never went to law school!) are all pretty decent shows that fit inside the same box.

By the way, the king of this box was Psych. The most quirky detective show to ever air.

But last summer USA gave up on the blue skies dressing for something much MUCH more down to Earth. A hacker-thriller positively dripping with style, the biggest surprise hit of last summer this side of UnReal. Mr. Robot‘s pilot premiered online early, and it was so popular USA picked the show up for two seasons before it even aired on TV.

Mr. Robot is about Elliot Alderson, an antisocial yet generally altruistic hacker who discovers a secret hacktivist group during his cyber-security job. That group, F-society, led by the mysterious and captivating Mr. Robot, wants to eliminate the world’s debt almost entirely held by the multinational conglomerate E-corp. Or, as Elliot hears and sees it, Evil Corp. They recruit Elliot to spearhead their attack and save the world from debt.

When USA decides to swing for the fences, they SWING. And Mr. Robot comes out with one of the most confident hour and a half long pilots I have seen. The cinematography in particular is top notch, constantly taking shows from odd angles meant to make the audience feel uneasy simply because they are framed so oddly.

Rami Malek, who you’ve seen just about naked if you’ve ever watched Need for Speed, is Elliot. The man has serious mental health issues and deep paranoia, but damn if he can’t hack.

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Cristian Slater, you know, from Breaking In Heathers, is Mr. Robot. He’s basically doing his Cristian Slater thing full tilt, and its magnetic here.

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To be honest, you probably haven’t heard of the rest. The other regulars on this show will henceforth me known because they were here.

Portia Doubleday is Angela, Elliot’s childhood friend who is too good for this world.

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Carly Chaikin plays Darlene, who is far and away different from her character on Suburgatory. I promise, Darlene grows on you.

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Martin Wallström is Tyrell Wellick. Basically Macbeth if Macbeth really wanted to be CTO of a tech company.

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To be honest, it’s really hard to find a picture where he doesn’t look like a psychopath

Most importantly though, there’s Stephanie Corneliussen is the absolutely terrifying Joanna Wellick. Basically Lady Macbeth, only also a Danish supermodel.

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The second season begins this Wednesday on USA, and from what I understand it’s already been picked up for a third. The creator originally thought of this concept as a movie, and season one would have been act one. So after all the insanity last year, that’s only the beginning of the story.

It has been scientifically proven that spoilers don’t ruin the experience of a story, but if you’re still against them then don’t watch this trailer for season two.

Season two will be adding two prominent players to the mix. Grace Gummer will be an FBI agent after Elliot and F Society. And, coming completely out of nowhere, Craig Robinson (yeah, from the Office) will be playing… someone! No idea who! I’m speculating he’ll be Doug Judy, the Pontiac Bandit.

 

If you want to get on board with the hacker series nobody saw coming last summer, you can catch up on all ten episodes of season one on Amazon Instant Video for free with Amazon Prime. Make sure you stay past the credits of the season finale, there’s a post-credits tag.

New episodes will be airing Wednesdays at 10:00. I’ll see you there, friend.

-JP

PS, They even make fun of Hackers!

You Should Be Watching Person of Interest

Person of Interest is a series whose greatness sneaks up on you. The first season is basic procedural fare with occasional standout moments and episodes. It’s something that’s great to put on in the background while you fold laundry or work out. Then something funny happens. You start finding yourself paying more attention to the series than your activity. By season three you’re focusing solely on the show and by season five you’re planning a night around the premiere with your sister who’s baked Person of Interest themed cupcakes.

 

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And they are delicious. So anyway, Person of Interest. Here’s the hook:

Harold Finch, a reclusive genius, has invented The Machine, an AI, to help the government stop terrorist threats. But since The Machine also sees threats to average people Finch has set it to send him information on those threats. Not much, just a social security number. That number relates to a person. OF INTEREST. That person might be a victim. They might be a perpetrator. Either way, Finch can’t save or stop them on his own.

I mean look at him, he’s Michael Emerson.

He recruits John Reese, an ex-super spy now roaming New York City as a homeless person to help him. Together they fight crime and save lives all while monitoring the ramifications of creating a fully functional artificial intelligence.

That’s where the greatness comes in. The Machine is very much alive, and while it follows through on its programming Finch is always aware that it could potentially do so much more. Even take over the world. As time goes on our heroes face off against simpler threats like crime lords and corrupt cops, but they also take on corporations and government organizations looking to unlock the full potential of artificial intelligence.

Suffice it to say, everything falls apart over time and the status quo is shattered. The worst thing a procedural can be is the same thing year after year. Person of Interest doesn’t have that problem. The series was created by Jonathon Nolan, Christopher Nolan’s brother and co-writer of The Dark Knight. He knows how to balance a procedural with a serialized story and, once they start bucking CBS procedural traditions near the end of season one, the show becomes the most compelling looks at technology on television.

Jim Caviezel aka JESUS plays Reese. A black hole of charisma who nonetheless grows on you thanks to his ability to kick so much ass.

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YES. REALLY.

Michael Emerson, who you may know as Ben Linus from Lost plays Finch. It’s a perfect marriage of actor and role as Finch is awkward, brilliant, and heartbreaking all at once.

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Taraji P. “Cookie” Henson plays Joss Carter. She’s a deeply layered cop trying to do the right thing, even as she hunts down our heroes, the vigilantes getting involved in crimes all over the city.

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Kevin Chapman, who I’ll admit I know from nothing else, plays Lionel Fusco. A corrupt cop going through a great redemptive arc.

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As time goes on, three more major additions to the cast arrive. The first is Amy Acker, of Angel fame, as Root. A psychopathic killer who perceives The Machine as God.

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The second is Bear. Who’s a good boy!

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The third is Sameen Shaw, played by Sarah Shahi. Shaw’s a current super spy who also has a mental disorder leaving her emotionally cold and without regard for her victims.

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They are worth waiting for.

Season Five, the final season, has already begun. It will be truncated at only 13 episodes airing multiple nights a week because we live in a sad world. Here’s the trailer for where we are now. You’re not meant to understand what’s happening, you’re meant to see how much better this trailer looks than the one for season one.

Without giving too much away, the team is up against the wall and the stakes have never been higher. Bake your cupcakes and strap in, because it’ll be a hell of a ride.

Person of Interest airs Mondays and Tuesdays on CBS at 10. Previous seasons can be streamed on Netflix.

-JP

PS, Do some pushup or other exercises during the first season. That’s what I did.

You Should be Watching Agent Carter

What makes a movie star? They aren’t just strong actors. They are people so charismatic that they elevate every part they play. A movie star is someone who can sell a movie just be being in it. Haley Atwell is just such a star, only she’s acting on TV.

I can remember watching Captain America: The First Avenger and being transfixed by her. There was something about her. She was beauty, she was grace, she could punch you in the face.

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At the end of the movie, everyone knew what would happen to Captain America. He was set to appear in The Avengers. Peggy, however, was left behind in the forties. We didn’t think we would ever see her again.

Since then, Marvel premiered two TV series on ABC. Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is on for most of the season and stars, well, a lot of people. Every season of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. seems to add more and more cast members as if that will fix its problems. The show is flawed, not bad, it just tries to tell epic stories in a world where all the best ones are happening in the movies.

Agent Carter is different because it has a star, Haley Atwell, and is thus laser focused on her character. As we have learned from the Marvel Netflix series, televised Marvel is best when it is about a single character. Agent Carter was the first series to prove this.

It followed Agent Peggy Carter who, after Captain America died and World War II ended, went to work with the Strategic Scientific Reserve. The organization that would become S.H.I.E.L.D. Unfortunately, she lives in a time when she is expected to serve coffee and grab lunch for the men in the agency.

When her friend Nathan Stark, the future father of Iron Man, has his stash of super science gadgets stolen, he asks Peggy to track them down. She agrees, the only problem being that the SSR thinks Stark sold them to the Russians. She starts working against the SSR to clear her friend’s name.

What follows is some good old fashioned spy versus spy storytelling, courtesy of showrunners Tara Butters and Michele Fazikas, the women who brought us Reaper. Peggy fights mobsters, other spies, calls on the Howling Commandos, and eventually gains the respect of the other agents in the SSR.

I’ve gushed over Haley Atwell as Agent Carter enough. The series co-stars James D’Arcy, who played many people in Cloud Atlas.

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The one on the left

Dominic Cooper, who gets around, but all that comes to my mind is Need for Speed.

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Chad Michael Murray who– you know who he is.

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Enver Gjokaj, from Dollhouse!

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The one on the right

Shea Whigham, who you may know from Fast and Furious and Fast and Furious 6

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And most villainously, Sin Rostro herself, Bridget Regan! Which you should know, since you should be watching Jane the Virgin.

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Season Two starts tonight on ABC! Here’s a trailer:

Agent Carter and the team reunite to be best friends forever in LA! Or something like that. Agent Carter is an excellent addition to the Marvel Cinematic Universe canon. Season One was just taken off of Hulu, to my great chagrin as I was trying to watch it at the time, but maybe it will soon be on Netflix? Please? Otherwise, I leave finding episodes up to your own devices. It’s a great watch that easily fits into your schedule by being only eight episodes long.

Season Two will be another eight episodes long, Tuesdays at 9. You should be watching.

-JP

PS – I admit I am biased in favor of Marvel TV and Film. But only because they are excellent.

You Should be Watching The Librarians

I have a lifelong fondness for cheap made-for-TV movies. My sister and I used to have a semi-regular habit of watching Disney Channel’s weekly original movies, and laughing at their ridiculousness. As we grew up our interests in these movies diverged. She loves the Syfy original horror movies with their sub-par special effects and suspiciously good looking lady scientists. I am a fan of the Lifetime Christmas movies and how I can come in at the beginning and figure out the entire plot within the first ten minutes. They’re like video comfort food.

The biggest problem any of these movies could have is that they are boring. Most of them only legitimately have a half hour of plot and must stretch it out to an hour and a half. This brings me to The Librarian.

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Hey it’s the Captain from HIMYM!

The Librarian is a very simple concept. What if Indiana Jones were a nerd?

A young scholar is made the caretaker of a mystical library that houses all knowledge and magic in the world. He is teamed with a Guardian, a woman bodyguard who he obviously falls in love with, and tracks down the Spear of Destiny to save the world.

The TNT movie was successful enough to spawn two sequels.

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Hey it’s Fiona from Burn Notice! And Bob Newhart!

The Librarian: Return to King Solomon’s Mines was the second. It existed, but as I write this I honestly can’t remember a single aspect of the plot.

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Hey it’s… wait… oh my god it’s the woman from Castle!

The final Librarian movie was Curse of the Judas Chalice. Bad guys get their hands on a chalice that makes vampires and Flynn, the Librarian, goes on a vacation to New Orleans. That’s all the plot I can remember because¬† I have tried to watch it at least three times, and every time I either fall asleep or get so bored that I choose not to finish. Like I said, the worst thing any of these movies could be was boring, and Curse of the Judas Chalice raised the bar for tedium in made-for-TV movies. Even watching as much as I have, it’s obvious why this was the end of the series.

Which is why I was so surprised when TNT announced plans to make a TV series based of the trilogy.

In the Librarians, a new Guardian is brought to the library along with a new batch of Librarians sent to aid Noah Whyle’s character from the movies. Every week they take on a world threatening object or event in a series that works like a weekly TV movie (bad effects and all) but with none of the plot stretching problems. They don’t have time to mess around and we are all thankful for it.

Headliners include Rebecca Romijn, otherwise known as Mystique. Christian Kane, from Leverage and Angel and apparently a Lazarus Pit because that guy hasn’t aged in at least a decade. Lindy Booth who has been all over the place, although you may recognize her as Night Bitch from Kick-Ass 2. John Harlan Kim who has only two other acting credits. Neighbours and The Pacific. Lastly, John Larroquette AKA Rowan Montgomery from Chuck!

Not every episode is perfect, but they all have their moments and they all come together as pieces to a grand puzzle by the first season finale.

I compare it the most to Doctor Who, early in the 2005 revival when it was more campy, just with magic replacing science. They work out of a building that is bigger on the inside and can take them anywhere. They fight myths and monsters instead of legends and aliens. Most importantly, it doesn’t take itself too seriously, or really any amount of seriously, and is a whole lot of fun.

We are now two episode into season two, and the new big bad is a wonderfully Shakespearean villain. Which is to say he’s Prospero, from the Tempest, literally created by Shakespeare. That’s right they’re fighting fictional characters! Prospero, Moriarty, The Queen of Hearts, and Frankenstein in only two episodes!

The best part is that the hashtag on the screen throughout the premiere was #BecauseMagic. It’s not about why something is possible, it’s about what happens when it is. If you want a fun and entertaining series, The Librarians more than makes up for the downward spiral their movies became.

-JP

P.S. Bruce Cambell is also Santa Claus in the Christmas episode. Excuse me while I drop the mic.

You Should Be Watching Jane the Virgin

I can distinctly remember the first time I heard about Jane the Virgin. It was during network upfronts, the NFL draft of TV, and this was one of three shows coming to the CW. Jane was entering alongside The Flash and iZombie and one of these things is clearly not like the others.

In fact, I was taken back by how unlike anything else on the network Jane was. This was a one hour dramedy playing in the same court as two shows about superheroes, two about vampires, one about survival in a post apocalypse, and, because it will be on TV forever, Supernatural.

But then I watched the first trailer:

And I didn’t tune in. The premise sounded ridiculous, and silly past me thought that was a bad thing.

That fall season I started watching Gotham and Scorpion, and quickly stopped watching both. They are bad and should feel bad.

Luckily, I started noticing how much the rest of the internet fell in love with the series and decided to start watching. What I discovered was a show that had far more happening beneath the surface.

Yes, Jane the Virgin is about a pregnant virgin.

There’s also a story line about murders happening at the hotel Jane works in. Jane’s long lost father reappears and is a telenovela superstar. She breaks up with her fiance for the father of her child. Her grandmother is pursued by immigration.

Secret lesbian romances!

Surprise deaths!

Secret twins!

This!

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And this!

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And its all tied around a smart, emotional, and character driven story. Not to mention the brilliant performance of star and golden globe winner Gina Rodriguez. She brings a warmth and heart and excitement to Jane that carries the entire show.

I am writing this recommendation today because the second season premieres tonight. Here in LA, every mall seems to be plastered with this poster:

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But since LA isn’t real life, I figured nobody else is seeing these around. So I’m here to throw this excellent show in your face.

I’m trying to explain why it’s so good and I fear I am raving like a mad man. I don’t want to tell you too many plot points because SO MUCH HAPPENS in the first season.

What I can tell you is that every episode opens with a Latin Lover Narrator who is more than willing to tell you what has happened, what is happening, and what will happen. Add that to the frequent text on screen helping to break everything down and you get a very dense show that is also easy to follow. It moves in line with my belief that TV needs to be more fun.

Jane the Virgin will add some fun to your Monday night, and I promise you won’t regret it. The first season is currently available on Netflix, which means you just ran out of excuses. There are 22 episodes, and they will be a very easy binge.

I recommend making a weekend of it, bringing friends, and eating some three cheese grilled cheese while you watch. Then when you’re finished, the first episode of season two will already be available on the CW’s website.

Oh and one last thing. These were their Emmy Campaign posters. First for the show and Gina Rodriguez, filled with the words from her excellent Golden Globe acceptance speech:

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And then there the one for Jaime Camil:

emmyYou’re welcome indeed.

-JP

P.S. There’s another show premiering after Jane called Crazy Ex-Girlfriend. It has a crazy title and an equally mad plot. I expect to fall in love with it too.