VIC’S REVIEWS: ‘Elementary’ (CBS – Thursday, 10:00 p.m.)

EDITORIAL NOTE: To understand how we do our reviews, please refer to our review of Revolutionhere.  To see Shawn’s original review of Elementary, go here.

ELEMENTARY stars Jonny Lee Miller as detective Sherlock Holmes and Lucy Liu as Dr. Joan Watson in a modern-day drama about a crime-solving duo that cracks the NYPD’s most impossible cases. Following his fall from grace in London and a stint in rehab, eccentric Sherlock escapes to Manhattan where his wealthy father forces him to live with his worst nightmare – a sober companion, Dr. Watson.  A successful surgeon until she lost a patient and her license three years ago, Watson views her current job as another opportunity to help people, as well as paying a penance.  However, the restless Sherlock is nothing like her previous clients.  He informs her that none of her expertise as an addiction specialist applies to him and he’s devised his own post-rehab regimen – resuming his work as a police consultant in New York City. Watson has no choice but to accompany her irascible new charge on his jobs.  But Sherlock finds her medical background helpful, and Watson realizes she has a knack for playing investigator. Sherlock’s police contact, Capt. Tobias “Toby” Gregson (Aidan Quinn), knows from previous experience working with Scotland Yard that Sherlock is brilliant at closing cases, and welcomes him as part of the team.  With the mischievous Sherlock Holmes now running free in New York solving crimes, it’s simple deduction that he’s going to need someone to keep him grounded, and it’s elementary that it’s a job for Watson.  Rob Doherty, Sarah Timberman, Carl Beverly and Michael Cuesta, who directed the pilot, are executive producers for CBS Television Studios. – CBS

Score:  75 out of 100

I don’t fancy the “Police Procedural” like I used to. Turning the tables on me though is Robert Doherty who is known for his exceptional work on Star Trek: Voyager and Medium. After hesitantly working up the nerve to watch a show which re-invents the famous Sherlock Holmes I’ve decided that while taking a few liberties and risks, Elementary is a slightly above-average crime show. Taking into mind that the BBC is light years ahead of CBS with their modern adaptation of Doyle’s iconic Detective with Sherlock, I still found some things to like here. I admit that I was very critical of CBS attempting this show. I, like Shawn and others, felt it was a blatant attempt to cash-in on the popularity of an already established “Reboot” or “re-imagining” started by Stephen Moffat.

First off, I was a bit thrown off by the casting of not Sherlock, but Watson. When they announced Miller I felt that it was an appropriate casting choice. Miller’s cool in my book. I’ve enjoyed his work going way back to Dracula 2000 and on. I believe I had issue with Watson being changed genders. Watson as the stoic male counterpart has always worked before so why change it? Well, I decided to accept Doherty’s take and I’m glad that I did. Kind of.  I won’t get into the chemistry between Miller and Liu too much here. It is a bit clunky at first but as each episode passes they start to gel. Watson is Holmes’ live in companion who is also an ex-surgeon. She needs to keep an eye on Holmes since he is in early addiction therapy. Some interesting moments between them include the often shown attendance of NA and AA Meetings meant to help Holmes with his rehabilitation.

From the pilot and further episodes it’s established that Holmes is combative, quirky and an isolationist. Jonny Lee Miller is very well capable dealing with the somewhat timid and redundant material and themes that he’s been given but I do like that he likes to pick locks and has decided to never pick up playing the violin again. Miller displaying his “Sherlockisms” is accurate and unconventional of course. Not much of the actual “essence” of the traditional Sherlock is displayed here. It comes in spurts. Doherty’s take falls into some conventions that can’t be helped but to be compared to other shows of it’s ilk like CSI and such. Despite my getting used to Liu and Miller there are times I wish that the crime solving was a bit more interesting and involving. Some of Doyle’s Holmes’ is on display here, especially regarding the addiction and obsessions. Holmes is quick, smart, perceptive and a social stooge. He’s brilliant but has absolutely no people skills. These aspects of the show are interesting. The crimes and stories in my opinion should have a bit more of a punch.

Aidan Quinn is just hands down brilliant as Captain Gregson. He’s fun to watch and even manages to steal a scene here and there. He provides simply placed drama playing against Miller. In one episode, he is forced to admit to Holmes that he has always known about his drug addiction. It is simply Quinn at his best. He acts with his eyes (I know it sounds weird) which is very fun to watch. Quinn plays the grizzled and work weary Captain to a “T.” He relishes having Holmes around, though, to help him with the mysterious and baffling  cases.

I’m five episodes into this season and I have grown to like the show a bit more than I did upon watching the pilot. My problem with the show is well… Lucy Liu. I have a kind of love/hate relationship with Liu’s interpretation and evolution of Watson. I got used to the gender change but I think that Watson is the most under-written character of the show. I do admit that we get to know about her much more in the later episodes. This is from Sherlock consistently picking her apart all aspects of her personal life from her love life to her now defunct medical career. Her role needs a bit more meat with more conflict and more revelations. Maybe I am being impatient but in keeping with the spirit of Doyle’s  Watson we should have had some more of a hands on feel for Watson and her inclusion in Holmes’ world. Liu is very cute, likable and very watchable but just when we want to know and see more of Watson doing her thing (with the exception of the episode, Lesser Evils, where Watson gets a diagnosis of endocarditis correct) we get some very routine melodrama (like some very lame boyfriend troubles… ugh.) and the character ends up at a standstill. I do believe that they will eventually get more out of Watson but I feel that she is falling by the wayside at times and gets boring. In Liu’s defense, she is spunky and very smart. She plays Watson with confidence and gives as good as she gets. She is just not as edgy and interesting as she should be. I’m nitpicking though.

The show is evolving nicely and I suspect the best is still yet to come.  The cast is great. Quinn and Miller being the standouts and the locale is just wonderful. Another show other than Person of Interest (CBS also) that beautifully shows off my old stomping grounds, NYC! Elementary just needs a bit more self confidence to elevate it above the mundane “Police Procedural” conventions.

VIC’S REVIEWS: ‘Alaska State Troopers’ (National Geographic – Sundays, 8:00 p.m.)

Follow one of the toughest law enforcement agencies in the nation, patrolling alone on unforgiving terrains. Responding by land, air, and sea—with backup sometimes days away—these troopers patrol hundreds of miles of rugged terrain in bone-chilling temperatures to protect the people and wildlife of Alaska. Whether it’s overturned snow machines in 22-degree weather, violent chainsaw crimes, volatile fishermen zigzagging down waterways, thieves stealing essential village items, moose-hunting checks, gunman confrontations in the wilderness, or intoxicated gold miners blocking roads—being prepared for anything is just part of the job.

Cameras ride along with Alaskan State Troopers as they keep the streets safe and hunters honest while at the same time taking advantage of the breathtaking landscape that Alaska State Troopers are lucky enough to call “their office.” -NatGeo

Score:     80 out of 100

EDITOR’S NOTE:  I have to give credit to NatGeo for providing several episodes of Alaska State Troopers on YouTube, uncut and for free (they also charge on YouTube for full seasons, so that’s saying something).  While we can’t post them to our channel without a guarantee of a copyright strike against us, we have posted them at the end of this review for you to enjoy while they are still up.  At the time of publishing there was one episode from season one and nine episodes from season two.  Enjoy!

NatGeo’s Alaska State Troopers is not just another pedestrian Cops knock-off… y’know, like the kind of crap that permeates Spike TV on a regular basis; the typical police cruiser/fleeing suspect chase show where we see endless loops of speeding perps and footage consisting almost entirely of bad dash-cam video.  No offense to Spike (you guys do air the Star Wars films, after all), and I can see where some might offhandedly dismiss it as Cops in Alaska, however, I think that comparing AST to its well-known predecessor and  less-than worthy successors does a disservice to this very original series. I grew to enjoy the show and I became a steady viewer of it after the first season which aired back in 2009.  At first, it was just a show that would serve as background noise while I would write or do some studying (something I still do with Ancient Aliens or Star Trek: Deep Space Nine), but every now and then I’d glance over at the TV and get pretty involved with the way the show was delivered to the audience, with the first feature being the obvious: the photography.

Done in documentary style,  AST is beautifully filmed by a host of well-known cinematographers including Josh Becker and Jason Fierst, whose credits include Frontier Force and I (Almost) Got Away With it. The audience is regularly treated to beautiful aerial shots of surrounding snow-covered mountains, hills, valleys and lakes that are scattered across the Alaskan landscape, in locales such as Wasilla and Anchorage. The camera coverage of Alaska is absolutely stunning and amazing to watch, so there is never any wasted “filler” footage, there. We are drawn into the show by the different locations that the brave troopers cover. Usually, an episode will alternate between these locales and we ride along with a variety of troopers, each with their own unique personalities, incredible tales and history. These troopers are diligent, strong and have amazing stamina to not only weather the climate that Alaska beats down on them but to have to deal with hunters, roadkill, drug dealers, meth addicts and even the occasional inebriated Alaskan or two.

Veteran voice actor Marc Graue (Fallout, Resistance 3) provides the narration for AST and is pitch perfect here. Graue has a great voice and he can pull us into the drama with that velvet tenor of his. He carries the show’s narrative as we meet up with the various troopers that include troopers Howie Peterson, Dan Cox, Abraham Garcia and Lance Ewers who represent just a few of the troopers from different regions of the great state.

As far as the “main cast of characters” goes and what I truly appreciate about AST, these guys are hardcore, real and they have an amazing capacity for taking what Alaska dishes out… even when it’s not from a human. Snowstorms, ice storms, fog, moose, bears, etc., they see it all. At times they are dispatched to move hurt animals from the side of the freeways. They do it mercifully, with compassion and are not shy about displaying emotion. In one episode  a trooper even tracks down an injured Moose and has to put it down. This is pretty heavy stuff from an unscripted police show.

Sometimes, our heroes are dispatched to chase wanted felons and criminals while enduring poachers and moose season. Some of the braver troopers get called out with frequency to very isolated areas and deal with arrest warrants and dangerous felons that hide out in log cabins, run down shacks, mountains and rusted-out trailers. These are usually the very militant types that don’t take too well to trespassers… even if they are the law.

DUI on the 4th of July is one of the many standout episodes of the series. The troopers have to contend with some very rowdy party goers who are enjoying themselves a bit too much and as usual, we see our troopers handle stressful situations with professionalism and grace. Then, some other troopers handle a very precarious search and rescue on melting ice. I have to really give these officers credit and respect for all they do. What differentiates this show from Cops and the rest is that the show’s director,  Brian Michel,  gives us raw, real and very visceral footage here and no two episodes are the same. We get some fun and frivolous stuff like a dude trying his damndest to hide from the troopers while he is clearly in plain sight to some more serious stuff like when a poor meth-addicted girl cries for help from her addiction. It’s all very emotionally gripping.  So all in all, AST is a very engaging series from NatGeo. Kudos to them for making me look up from my laptop and involving me in some captivating TV.  

As an aside, in an awesome display of the show’s popularity, some puppies were dropped off at dog Shelter in Kentucky and two pups were named Trooper Dahl and Trooper Peterson after the brave officers from the show.  Read about it here.

Season four of Alaska State Troopers starts this Sunday, October 7th.

VIC’S REVIEW: ‘Grimm’ – Season One (NBC – Friday, 9:00 p.m.)

“Grimm” is a drama series inspired by the classic Grimm Brothers’ Fairy Tales. After Portland Homicide Detective Nick Burkhardt (David Giuntoli, “Turn the Beat Around”) discovers he’s descended from an elite line of criminal profilers known as “Grimms,” he increasingly finds his responsibilities as a detective at odds with his new responsibilities as a “Grimm.”

His attempts to shield his fiancée, Juliette Silverton (Bitsie Tulloch, “The Artist”), and his partner, Hank Griffin (Russell Hornsby, “Lincoln Heights”), from the hazards of his new life have reached a crisis, leaving Juliette in a mysterious coma and Hank on the verge of a mental breakdown.

With help from his confidants, Monroe (Silas Weir Mitchell) and Rosalee (Bree Turner, “The Ugly Truth”) – both reformed Grimm creatures, Nick must help those closest to him while still facing off against all manner of ancient evils, including royal lines dating back to the original profilers themselves, the Grimm Brothers. As Nick develops his ability to harness his inner Grimm, he begins to question what he once knew, never more so than when he is reunited with his mother (guest star Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio, “Scarface”), also a Grimm, whom he thought dead for the past 20 years. Reggie Lee (“The Dark Knight Rises”) and Sasha Roiz (“Caprica”) also star as Sgt. Wu and Captain Renard, respectively. – NBC

8o out of 100

I just finished Grimm season one and have just moved on to season two as I write this quick review. Grimm plain and simple has a lot of potential. It is, what I like to call, a “diamond in the rough” type of show. It is earnest, slick and full of wit and suspense. I have to give credit to writers David Greenwalt and Jim Kouf (Rush HourNational Treasure) for giving me enough at each show’s end to want to come back and immerse myself in the engaging mythology of  Grimm‘s universe. It revels in weirdness and it serves up no small feat each week in trying to keep us interested in the otherworldly adventures of Nick Burkhardt. Nick is a Grimm, one of those fortunate humans that descended from the  Brothers Grimm, and you know all those fairy tales his ancestors wrote… yeah, well it turns out they weren’t fairy tales after all, and our hero has inherited the family gift of being able to see what normal folks cannot; all sorts of funky, ugly and nasty creatures that to the rest of us look like normal people… and they’re all inhabiting his universe, specifically, Portland, Oregon.

I’m reminded of Smalllville and The X-Files where with its “monster-of-the-week” formula. Much like every mutant in Smallville was a kryptonite-enhanced super being, in Grimm‘s case, every beastie comes forward from being either very dangerous and committing murder or living on the edge of society. These monsters that Nick sees are not some Disney animated, little bunnies feeding on sunflowers. These monsters are killers. They are rogues and dealers in bad medicine, creatures hell-bent on slavery, ancient forms of battle and getting high on mythological herbs and drugs.

The show sports a great and likeable cast. In the pilot Kate Burton (Big Trouble in Little China) plays Nick’s Aunt who tracks him down and gives him a trailer full of Grimm monster hunting paraphernalia. She is really fun to watch and as she finds out her time has come her portrayal takes an abrupt turn and she capably emotes. The smooth and slick Russell Hornsby (Meet the ParentsStuck) plays Nick’s partner on the force, Hank. They have a very likable and solid chemistry. Hornsby is by the book but also likes to watch Nick closely just to see what makes him tick. They play well off each other. Hank, unfortunately is the friend that is left in the dark at the end of every episode, which is an aspect of the series I really do like, as it’s part of its charm. We like watching Hank be totally clueless as to what Nick really is. Now, my favorite is Morgan, played by Silas Wier Mitchell (My Name is Earl).  He is hands down the best thing about the make up of this show.

Monroe is a werewolf or rather a “blutbad.” He quickly becomes (not so easily, though) Nick’s go-to guy to help him with other creatures he sees and must bring to justice like hexenbeasts, fuchbaus’s, damonfeuers (dragons) and my favorite,  “The Reapers.” Mitchell is spot-on as Monroe. He is the reluctant assistant to Nick most of the time. He has to help Nick at odd times of the day and usually it leaves Monroe, in some way or another, rather put-out. Mitchell seems to be having a blast in the role. He’s tongue in cheek, funny, bufoonish and when needs to be he goes all out Blutbad and kicks some ass.

There is a mythology to the series that is spellbinding and very suspenseful involving royal houses, reapers and creatures lurking and posing as public officials like Sasha Roiz (Caprica) as Captain Renard who is stalwart in the role as a duplicitous creature of lore. I find that the show is easy to digest. It is harmless creature feature fun. The pace is good, the camerawork is flawless. Cort Fey shoots naturally and very gothically as well and it helps the show maintain its authenticity. Richard Marvin’s score is chilling and quite suspenseful. The opening strings in the intro are creepy as hell.

The show just continued to gain momentum and get better and better with each episode. I found the action to be well staged and exciting. Nick vs. the Reapers being a standout. Monroe is always fun to watch and I must give some love to Reggie Lee who steals EVERY scene he’s in as Sgt. Wu. He even gets caught up in a case or two eventually succumbing to a witch’s spell. Bitsie Tulloch as Juliette is a stunning beauty who towards the end of the season gets in over her head during a personal vendetta against Nick. She is very regal and caring. She acts with her eyes. She also, more importantly, is observant and very curious. The cliffhanger of season one has Juliette in a sleeping beauty type of slumber.

My only gripe, you ask? The CGI needs to step up a bit. It’s clunky more often than not. The transformation scenes are quick and brief but we still can see how hokey looking the beasts can be. Other times, like the Reaper battle, we get good solid CGI. I’m nit-picking thought. Check out Grimm Season One as soon as you can or pick up the DVD or Blu-ray. I think you’ll enjoy this foray into an entertaining and mythical universe. I know I do.

You can watch new episodes of Grimm, here.  New episodes begin on September 28th.

VIC’S REVIEW: ‘American Horror Story’ – Season One (FX – Wednesday, 10:00 p.m.)

American Horror Story revolves around the Harmons, a family of three who moved from Boston to Los Angeles as a means to reconcile past anguish. They move to a restored mansion, unaware that the home is haunted. The all-star cast features Dylan McDermott as “Ben Harmon,” a psychiatrist; Connie Britton as “Vivien Harmon,” Ben’s wife; Taissa Farmiga as “Violet,” the Harmon’s teenage daughter; Jessica Lange in her first-ever regular series TV role as “Constance,” the Harmon’s neighbor; Evan Peters plays “Tate Langdon,” one of Ben’s patients; and Denis O’Hare as “Larry Harvey.” Guest stars for the series include Frances Conroy as the Harmon’s housekeeper; Alexandra Breckenridge as the Harmon’s housekeeper; and Jamie Brewer as Constance’s daughter.

Rating:     75 out of 100

I suppose I’ve had more than ample time to let FX’s American Horror Story sink in. The new Season – American Horror Story: Asylum premieres on October 17th and we get a completely different locale, characters and story (Even though some actors like Jessica Lange and Zachary Quinto do return) to get wrapped up in. I admit that I was very pumped and psyched for this new horror series that eventually frightened the audience with a disturbing premise that forced the show to become somewhat polarizing to many viewers while definitely pushing the envelope.  It wasn’t from lack of execution, no doubt. The show, from the pilot alone, demonstrated flair, drama, scares and conventional yet capable performances from the cast. The opening alone (which is too damned long) gave me the creeps and had me dwelling on what I would find remotely terrifying about this show.  So, yes, I became excited about a weekly balls-to-the-wall horror series.

I wasn’t disappointed at all. I tuned in every week to watch the ghostly and ghastly happenings at the large, haunted mansion where the very dysfunctional Harmon family reside. Dylan McDermot as Ben Harmon is a shrink and practices from home. He has a sordid past indeed that involves cheating on his wife and alcohol dependency. Dylan is headstrong and provincial in his performance and bodes well in the role. Connie Britton, (Spin City) who is very fetching here, plays the emotionally estranged wife, Vivien. She is damaged as well. She trusts no one especially her husband and cannot seem to connect with their daughter, Violet, played brilliantly by Taissa Farmiga (Higher Ground). So, there is a lot of baggage here to begin with plus they have that other problem. They live in a very haunted house. A house that is so damn haunted we are introduced to terrifying new flashbacks regarding past occupants every week.

So, like I stated before, I thought some more on this show and re-watched some episodes and it doesn’t seem to be as exciting or revelatory the second time around. I am not as impressed now as when I watched the show initially. I think besides the very good acting ensemble, there are some flaws that didn’t stand out before. I think I became wrapped up in the shows brutal “in your face” horror antics every week that I missed the fact that the show lacked balance and was hurt by an increasing convoluted story-line. It confused me and that’s never good since I love to be scared… just not for the sake of being scared.

Many by now have seen the show’s first season and know all about the murderous intentions of the dead occupants of the mansion. So, I won’t go over the story very much. That cat has been out of the bag a long time now.

Jessica Lange’s (King Kong) portrayal of Constance Langdon is a marvel to behold. She is unpredictable, maternal one moment and a hellspawn the next. She is also murderous but caring and boy does she hate the Harmon’s shape-shifting maid Moira who appears differently to just about everyone in the house. Lange is most definitely the standout in this show. She gives us a tragic and multi-facted performance as Constance. She is the Harmon’s neighbor from hell who also has a long and sordid history regarding the mansion. Her son Tate, played by Evan Peters is just as whacked as she is. Tate, who is a spirit, seems to be very alive. He roams around the mansion like he owns it. How the hell do these people not know who are dead spirits and who are living people? Hmm. Curious. Anyway, Tate is a suicidal kid with a history of violence. He was my least favorite character. Too mopey and too whiney and eventually just a psychotic mama’s boy.

Rounding the very gruesome cast is Zachary Quinto, another great addition. He is one of the more rounded and believable characters. He is brilliantly well written. Quinto manages to steal every episode he’s in. He is fun to watch even though at times we get bogged down in some dumb “scary house” drama that goes no where. But anyway the show does work well when we aren’t subjected to too much information at once. When the story unravels nicely it’s good but mostly the creators (Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk) dwell on blasting us with images of bloody jars, slit throats, burnt people and guys dressed in leather. They do establish that the house has a mythology which includes tragic characters as if from a greek play. The Black Dahlia, played stunningly by Mena Suvari, being one of them. I would normally get a bit overwhelmed by it all but I stuck it out if only to follow the story to its conclusion.

James Levine provides a very creepy score that envelops us and the photography by John Aronson and Micheal Goi is finely crafted and they take advantage of natural light to make the mansion look deadly and the actors very malicious. So much happens in the duration of season one that by the 12th episode’s end I felt like I ran a marathon. I feel that the show at a steady pace benefited well, but at warp-speed we lost connection with all the various characters. I almost needed a flow chart sometimes. I do recommend watching perhaps the last three or four episodes before Asylum begins, just to get connected again. American Horror Story may get better this next season. I do admit re-visiting some of the scarier episodes had me wanting more… just not that much more.

Victor