Veterans Day Special: ‘The Pacific’ (HBO – Thursday 11/11/2010 11:00 a.m. – 9:00 p.m.)

The Pacific is an epic 10-part miniseries that delivers a realistic portrait of WWII’s Pacific Theatre as seen through the intertwined odysseys of three U.S. Marines – Robert Leckie, John Basilone and Eugene Sledge. The extraordinary experiences of these men and their fellow Marines take them from the first clash with the Japanese in the haunted jungles of Guadalcanal, through the impenetrable rain forests of Cape Gloucester, across the blasted coral strongholds of Peleliu, up the black sand terraces of Iwo Jima, through the killing fields of Okinawa, to the triumphant, yet uneasy, return home after V-J Day. The viewer will be immersed in combat through the intimate perspective of this diverse, relatable group of men pushed to the limit in battle both physically and psychologically against a relentless enemy unlike any encountered before. – HBO

9 out of 10

Well it’s DVR time, folks. HBO is airing all ten episodes of the award-winning and critically acclaimed World War II mini-series, The Pacific on today, Veteran’s Day starting at 11:00 a.m., and it is in your best interest to record it if you haven’t seen it already.

Executive Produced by Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks, The Pacific is without a doubt one of the top five events ever aired on television. The number one event would be the Spielberg/Hanks companion World War II mini-series from 2001, Band of Brothers.

The problem I had when I first watched The Pacific is that I expected it to be exactly like Band of Brothers and although, like Band of Brothers, it is extremely combat-heavy and the special effects are amazing and cinema-quality (by the way, this series was MADE for Blu-Ray), it is a much different series.

Gunnery Sergeant John Basilone (1916-1945)

Whereas Band of Brothers focuses on the men of E-Z company as an ensemble but no one specifically, The Pacific focuses on the 1st Marines Division in the aggregate but more specifically on the stories of the three major characters as noted in the description, Eugene Sledge, Robert Leckie and the most famous of all, Congressional Medal of Honor Recipient, John Basilone, who is one of my personal heroes. That alone distinguishes it from Band of Brothers but as significant is the focus on the non-combat aspects of the lives of these three men and the Marines in The Pacific theater. There are two complete episodes that literally have no combat in them whatsoever, focusing on the personal aspects of the character’s lives and their struggles after returning home.

The whole series is magnificently done from beginning to end and as an American who appreciates the history associated with this era, personally having several family members who served in the Pacific Theater, I applaud Spielberg and Hanks for bringing to life the stories of these men.

Over the years, within the media and popular culture, the Pacific Theater, in my opinion, has been woefully ignored in favor of the stories surrounding the European Theater. By saying this, I don’t mean denigrate the sacrifices made by those brave men and women who served in the European Theater against Hitler’s war machine, but rather, I simply want to highlight that both theaters were equally as important in the scope of the war effort and we should never forget that.  Spielberg and Hanks have not.

If I were to have one complaint about The Pacific it would be that it does take a little while for the story to pick up (about four episodes) but when it does, the series is damned near perfect.

BONUS: I FOUND A ‘MAKING OF’ VIDEO:

‘Blue Bloods’ (CBS – Friday, 10:00 p.m.)

­BLUE BLOODS is a drama about a multi-generational family of cops dedicated to New York City law enforcement. Frank Reagan is the New York City Police Commissioner and heads both the police force and the Reagan brood. He runs his department as diplomatically as he runs his family, even when dealing with the politics that plagued his unapologetically bold father, Henry, during his stint as Chief. A source of pride and concern for Frank is his eldest son Danny, a seasoned detective, family man, and Iraqi War vet who on occasion uses dubious tactics to solve cases. The sole Reagan woman in the family, Erin, is a N.Y. Assistant D.A. and newly single parent, who also serves as the legal compass for her siblings and father. Jamie is the youngest Reagan, fresh out of Harvard Law and the family’s “golden boy;” however, unable to deny the family tradition, Jamie decided to give up a lucrative future in law and is now a newly minted cop. Jamie’s life takes an abrupt turn when he’s asked to become part of a clandestine police investigation even his father knows nothing about, and one that could impact the family’s legacy.­ – CBS

The Preview (Originally posted on 9/25/2010):

Shawn: Blue Bloods is one of the most anticipated dramas this Fall for good reason.  Simply look at this cast.  Your leads are Tom Selleck, Donnie Wahlberg, and Bridget Moynihan… all television and film superstars (Len Cariou is no slouch either).  Superstars like that don’t just arbitrarily sign on to do a show if they don’t already know it’s brilliant.  The concept is definitely unique.  An original cop show that focuses on a multigenerational family of cops and all of the dynamics that go along with that.  I’m very excited about Blue Bloods.

The Review:

9 out of 10

Yes, I know Blue Bloods has been on for over a month but good things come to those who wait.  As noted by the preview, I knew Blue Bloods was going to be good, but I didn’t expect it to be as good as it is and I really wanted to do the show justice by watching several episodes and taking notes before I reviewed it.

Unlike other cop/legal procedurals, Blue Bloods isn’t beating you over the head with preachy, one-sided political propaganda (see: Outlaw, The Whole Truth, Boston Legal, Law & Order – the entire franchise) telling you what your opinion should be on various issues.  Rather, every week, there’s a new and original plotline that invariably leads to a politically volatile issue and instead of the producers having the protagonists all carry the torch for one side of the issue without any inclination that a contrary opinion even has any merit, they intentionally present both sides as having merit and leave it to the audience to decide.

What makes this even more effective is the plot-device they use to address these issues:  the family dining room table.  It’s a fantastic and effective metaphor because it’s representative of not only how families often talk about the issues of the day so it’s relatable on that level but it’s also representative of American culture as a whole.  Americans have vast and varying opinions on all ranges of political issues and like family members discussing them, the debates can also get quite heated as passions get involved.

The question that comes into play quite often is balancing act of following the law and doing what is the morally correct thing to do, because as we all know, the two don’t always coincide. 

****(MINOR SPOILER ALERT!)****

Example:  in the pilot Danny (Donnie Wahlberg – Boomtown, Band of Brothers) is faced with a dilemma.  A ten year-old girl has been abducted and time is running out.  He and his partner have found the kidnapper/deviant yet he will not tell them where the girl is.  Danny proceeds to beat the confession out of the suspect specifically by repeatedly putting his head in a toilet bowl.  Call it a poor-man’s waterboarding.

Now, no one would ever suggest that they we would want our police coercing confessions out of suspects using violence or torture, but on the other side of the coin, if you were the parent of that ten year-old wouldn’t you want Danny Reagan doing whatever he could no matter how much outside the constraints of the law it was to find your little girl even if it meant that he violated a pervert’s civil rights along the way?  I know that I sure as Hell would.  But, that of course leads to the inevitable question of, “Where do you draw the line?”

The truth is that with all issues, there is no “black and white,” just varying shades of gray and Blue Bloods recognizes this whereas most dramas treat the audience with an air of condescending superiority suggesting that they are too stupid to figure out right from wrong on their own without Hollywood explaining it to them.  Blue Bloods respects its audience and because of that provides compelling, though-provoking drama every week.

These characters couldn’t have been written any better.  They are nothing like the clichéd shells that you expect on most shows.  Frank Reagan (Tom Selleck – Boston Legal, Magnum, P.I.), is the patriarch of this family and he deeply loves and cares about all of his children and unlike other cookie-cutter TV characters Frank wears his heart on his sleeve.  There is a particularly touching scene between Danny and Frank where Frank expresses concern about his son’s well-being after coming back from war and lets him know that there’s no shame in talking to someone (a therapist) about it.

Now, how about that for a change in pace from the old gruff, TV cop/dads who would have just told their kid to suck it up and get over it.  On the contrary, you can see the concern on Frank’s face when he’s having this discussion with Danny the same way any REAL dad would have if they were worried about their own kid. 

The surprise to me on this show is Jamie (Will Estes – American Dreams, Reunion) because I didn’t think his character was going to be that compelling and quite honestly, Estes’ résumé is kind of thin.  Not only is he doing an excellent job with developing his character as a rookie cop on a beat in the shadow of his big brother, but the writers have done an excellent job making him the focal point of the aforementioned clandestine investigation because he’s the last guy in the world you would ever think would be tapped for an undercover investigation of other cops.  Oh, and by the way, did I mention that John Torturro (Third Watch, NYPD Blue) plays Jamie’s partner and mentor, Sgt. Anthony Renzulli.  How ’bout them apples, huh?  Like I said, this cast has some stones.

Bridget Moynihan (I Robot, Lord of War) does very well as the idealistic academic A.D.A., Erin Reagan-Boyle, constantly butting heads with the men in the family and she holds her own very well with the boys.  As far as father to Frank and former police chief Henry Reagan they couldn’t have casted anyone better than noted character actor Len Cariou (Damages, Brotherhood) .  Nowadays, Henry is more concerned with spending time with his family and putting together toys for the grandkids but he’s always happy to throw his two cents in on the issue of the day… especially around that family dining room table.

Blue Bloods is one of the best three new shows on TV this fall and I’m thrilled that it’s finding success on Friday nights as well as the fact that it was on opposite of NBC’s failed series Outlaw to highlight just how bad that show was and just how well a police/legal procedural can be made when there’s some effort and talent behind it.

Watch full episodes of Blue Bloods, here.

More Casualties of Fall 2010: ‘Undercovers’ (NBC) & ‘The Whole Truth’ (ABC) Cancelled

In two moves that were really shocking to no one, two new dramas, the J.J. Abrams series Undercovers and the Jerry Bruckheimer series, The Whole Truth have been cancelled.  Actually, to put it more accurately, The Whole Truth was cancelled outright and NBC just did not order any more episodes of Undercovers effectively cancelling the series.

I’m not surprised at all that TWT wasn’t received well by audiences.  As noted in my review of the show, it really had nothing going for it that made it stand out above any other courtroom procedurals and what made it worse is that it was a poor rip-off of another failed Bruckheimer show, Justice (2006). 

Undercovers, on the other hand… well, I’m very surprised that it failed so miserably with audiences.  It was a lot like Alias with a much lighter tone to it.  I thought it worked.  It’s unfortunate that we have to see it go.

So, there you have it… two more new dramas down.  Who will be next?

Watch full episodes of The Whole Truth, here

Watch full episodes of Undercovers, here.

Retro Review: ‘Prison Break’

This drama focuses on a prison designer who gets himself thrown into one of his own prisons to help his falsely accused brother escape death row. Described as in the vein of The Great Escape (and also compared to “24” due to its compressed time frame and season-length plotline), the series will unfold over 22 episodes, charting the course of a single break – FOX

7 out of 10

If you like shows like 24 and Lost, you’ll like Prison Break. It’s not that it’s like these two shows at all, but it’s edge-of-your-seat excitement with a weekly cliffhanger and a whole bunch of mystery thrown in every week.

Although, the later seasons were not nearly as well-received as the first season, the entire four-season run is pretty good overall. What hurt it overall was that critically acclaimed first season which was so good that it simply didn’t leave the writers with anywhere to go, so for the following three it became a little contrived and very convoluted revolving around government conspiracies and frankly, some really unbelieveable premises. Without a doubt, season one was a 9 to 9.5, though.

Now, is this to say that the show was awful for seasons two through four? No, not at all. Despite all of its flaws, confusion and at times general eye-rolling silliness, the show was very effective for four seasons for two reasons.

First, it did exactly what it was intended to do and that was keep you guessing every week with new mysteries, frenetic action and compelling mysteries and suspense. Second, and this is the most important aspect ot this or any show, the characters were richly developed and wonderfully casted… all of them.

That being said, I think the problem that most folks (audiences and critics alike) had with the show is that it never approached the level of quality that season one was acclaimed for. Often we confuse that for being bad. It was never bad, it just never was as good as that first season.

As a final note, if you decide to go back and give PB a chance, I would highly recommend the direct-to-video 90 minute movie/episode, Prison Break: The Final Break (2009) that was released after the series finale. As a new PB adventure, it’s OK in and of itself, but what’s important about it is that it ties up a lot of loose-ends and gives the series as a whole a sense of closure that was absent in the series finale.

If you’re a Netflix subscriber, you can watch all four seasons of PB for free through the Netflix streaming service and PB:TFB is available on both Blu-Ray and DVD for rental.

‘Caprica’ – A Post-Mortem Analysis and News of the New BSG Series

If you haven’t heard the news, last week SyFy cancelled the critically acclaimed Battlestar Galactica prequel series, Caprica, which chronicled the history of the 12 colonies (more specifically, Caprica) and the events that led to the first Cylon war. Although, heavily promoted before the series debuted in January, Caprica never lived up to its hype with audiences and its poor ratings reflected that.

Since the announcement, there has been a misguided fan campaign to keep the series alive with of all things, bombarding the SyFy Offices with apples. You see, this esoteric reference that even the folks at SyFy probably won’t get is in regards to the symbolism of the Cylons’ “original sin” (and an apple appeared regularly in Caprica promotional materials). Clever, right?

Yeah… nobody cares.

I’m going to have to concur with the “Let it Go” sentiment on this one as much as I liked the show and am a fan of BSG, Caprica was a good show but it’s far too cerebral for the franchise considering that there was very little action. Unfortunately, fans expected a shoot-em up because it was a BSG prequel and a lot of viewers just can’t get past the fact that it isn’t that type of show. Revolving it around angst-ridden, teenage girls didn’t help it either.

As is the usual case for when any genre show gets cancelled, the choruses of “the network didn’t promote it well enough,” “switching the night it aired killed it,” and my favorite, “SyFy was greedy and split the season up into two parts to double-dip on on the DVD’s” are being sung by the fans.

As noted, the claim that the show wasn’t promoted well enough simply isn’t true. SyFy promoted the crap out of it before its series debut and the numbers were miserable for season 1.0 as well. It was lucky it got picked up for 1.5.

As far as the change of nights is concerned, it was purely a defensive measure. I wrote a piece about this on last month. Networks (excluding FOX) are taking Friday nights seriously now with their programming. It’s no longer considered a dumping ground for failing shows. That hurts SyFy because they took advantage of that for years. Both Caprica and Stargate: Universe have had awful ratings regardless of the night they have aired.

As far as the split-season is concerned (again, not that they would have mattered), it’s because the 1.5 episodes hadn’t been produced. Doug Drexler (CG supervisor for Caprica) confirmed with us that they had just finished all the post-production work for the season finale on August 28th so the main reason that the season was split was that the episodes weren’t complete.

The issue of the split seasons being taken advantage of by SyFy for DVD revenue comes up all the time as if it actually has some merit. It really doesn’t. Why would SyFy intentionally cut off their nose to spite their face by damaging the series overall by breaking up the continuity of it in order to boost DVD sales for one half of a season? Not only does it not make any sense for the simple reason that SyFy can split up a DVD set into two parts regardless of whether or not the season was actually split up when it aired, but intentionally hurting the continuity and thereby hurting the ratings precludes them from future DVD releases of subsequent seasons.

My point on all of that is that what ANY fan of ANY series wants if they want their show to survive is for “X” network to be as greedy as humanly possible because that means they’ll try to milk the series for as much money as they possibly can and that means they’ll do whatever they can to make sure the series lasts a long time.

The problem was that it couldn’t build an audience because even though it was pretty good, there simply wasn’t enough exciting going on to compel audiences to tune in every week until the last four episodes and all the apples in the world can’t change that.

However, that being said, the series that every fan wants to see, the one revolving around the war with the Cylons and the twelve colonies has been green-lit.  The project called Battlestar Galactica: Blood & Chrome will feature a young William Adama and is officially described as such:

“Battlestar Galactica: Blood & Chrome takes place in the 10th year of the first Cylon war. As the battle between humans and their creation, a sentient robotic race, rages across the 12 colonial worlds, a brash rookie viper pilot enters the fray. Ensign William Adama, barely in his 20’s and a recent Academy graduate, finds himself assigned to the newest battlestar in the Colonial fleet… the Galactica. The talented but hot-headed risk-taker soon finds himself leading a dangerous top secret mission that, if successful, will turn the tide of the decade long war in favor of the desperate fleet.”

All things considered, it would be nice if they did a two-hour movie to wrap up Caprica in the future and tie up the loose ends. Or, even better, incorporate it into the B & C pilot like Chris Carter did with Millenium and The Lone Gunmen on The X-Files.  In fact, it would seem to be a necessity because there is so much that was going on in Caprica that was the prelude to the first Cylon war and the development of the Cylons self-awareness to begin with that it would seem counter-productive to the franchise if they didn’t.

You can watch some full episodes of Caprica, here and Netflix subscribers can watch all fours seasons of the reimagined Battlestar Galactica series through the Netflix streaming service.

More fun: Hulu has all 24 episodes of the Original Battlestar Galactica (1978) available absolutely free, here.