REVIEW: Prime Suspect – (NBC – Thursday, 10:00 p.m.)

Based on the critically acclaimed British television series of the same name, “Prime Suspect” has been redeveloped for American audiences by writer Alexandra Cunningham (“Desperate Housewives,” “NYPD Blue”), director Peter Berg (NBC’s “Friday Night Lights”) — and stars Maria Bello (“A History of Violence”) as tough-as-nails Detective Jane Timoney. Timoney finds that being a homicide detective in New York City is tough enough and having to contend with a male-dominated police department to get respect makes it that much tougher. She’s an outsider who has just transferred to a new precinct dominated by an impenetrable clique of a boys’ club. Timoney has her own vices too — with a questionable past — and she tends to be forceful, rude and reckless. But she’s also a brilliant cop who keeps her eye on one thing: the prime suspect. – NBC

80 out of 100

DISCLAIMER: The ‘Tastic, through our continuing efforts to be relevant, will not be reviewing, rating or otherwise judging this show in comparison to its BBC predecessor. They aren’t the same show and it’s embarrassing for us to see critic and fan reviews that take this route which they seem to do for every flippin’ show that crosses the pond.

Regular readers of The ‘Tastic know that we have a long list of types of shows that we simply hate and ranking high on that list is the police procedural.  They are all the same (which is why they’re referred to as procedurals… duh) and it’s incredibly rare that any of them really stand out from one another.  And then there’s NBC’s Prime Suspect which is really one of the best procedurals we’ve seen in years.

Why is it working where most others fail?  Well, we think that part of it comes down to a relatability factor with the characters.  All of the detectives seem more like people you would know in your neighborhood and family with all of the regular personality and ego quirks normally associated with familiar acquaintances.

But the key to this show’s success, quality-wise, is actually the investigations themselves and Bello’s honest portrayal of Jane Timoney, the no-nonsense detective that the show centers on. Timoney is a flawed character, but she’s very good and has a keen intuition and is very down to earth.    Many police procedurals try to portray their lead-character detectives as superheroes, seeing things that  no one else would ever possibly see because of their keen intellect or special ability that puts them a step above their colleagues (e.g., CSI, Unforgettable, The Mentalist, Numb3rs, etc).  Prime Suspect doesn’t waste the audience’s time with this and in fact, it goes out of its way to show that Timoney is human and does make mistakes and is dependent on the other detectives, whether she likes it or not.

Speaking of the other detectives, the supporting cast of this show is an all-star lineup of veteran film and television actors that complement Timoney perfectly partly because some of them don’t even like her, yet.  With a lineup that includes Aidan Quinn (Legends of the Fall, and many, many others), Kirk Acevedo (Fringe, Oz, Band of Brothers), Brían F. O’Byrne (Brotherhood, FlashForward) and Tim Griffin (known as “the actor who is in everything” for good reason) this show really can’t do much wrong.

One of the problems we often have with police procedurals is of course, the formulaic and procedural nature to them which lends itself to having no emotional attachment to the victim.  This is a failing of procedurals and over the years it seems that producers just stopped caring.  What’s one more dead guy, right? Prime Suspect breaks out of this by avoiding the common pitfalls associated with the genre.  There aren’t always going to be twists, misdirection and mistaken identity on Prime Suspect.  Sometimes it’s just a straight-up investigation and yes, the spouse did do it.  Any police officer or detective will tell you that criminal investigations are rarely as complex as portrayed on Dateline, 48 Hours or the myriad of police procedurals on television (most cops hate police procedurals). However, there’s always a story and subtext to any investigation and this is what Prime Suspect exploits very effectively and by doing so, the audience has no choice but to be sympathetic to the characters (especially the victims) and in spite of the fact this is a police procedural, you are sucked into the narrative.

It’s very rare, to the point of nigh-impossible, that a police procedural made us misty-eyed over one of its victims.  This one did last week when the victim was a five year-old boy whose alcoholic/pill-popping mother was hungover and hit his head against the wall and he died two hours later at school. Throughout the entire episode they kept showing his little body covered on a table in the medical examiner’s office.  If you have kids, that’s the some hard-hitting stuff and they were so subtle about doing it that it worked brilliantly as a plot device.

There’s only one aspect to the show that we can do without and that is that we don’t give a sh*t about how much of a total lunatic bitch her husband’s ex-wife is.  We don’t mind the interaction with Timoney’s own family (her father and her sister, in particular) because it serves  to develop her character but the scenes involving the husband’s ex do nothing to advance the plot, in fact they are a drain on every episode and the time could be better spent on other areas… like watching Timoney get a cleaning at the dentist.  They are so bad as to make you want to turn off the damned show whenever they start.  Also, the trailer above really is embarrassing because it cheapens just how good this show is.

Realistic and gritty, all in all, Prime Suspect is a great show and a surprisingly well-done police procedural.

You can watch full episodes of Prime Suspect, here.

REVIEW: Pan Am – ABC (Sunday, 10:00 p.m.)

Passion, jealousy and espionage… They do it all – and they do it at 30,000 feet. The style of the 1960s, the energy and excitement of the Jet Age and a drama full of sexy entanglements deliciously mesh in this thrilling and highly-original new series.

In this modern world, air travel represents the height of luxury and Pan Am is the biggest name in the business. The planes are glamorous, the pilots are rock stars and the stewardesses are the most desirable women in the world. Not only are these flyboys and girls young and good looking, but to represent Pan Am they also have to be educated, cultured and refined. They’re trained to handle everything from in-air emergencies to unwanted advances – all without rumpling their pristine uniforms or mussing their hair. There’s Dean (Jonah Lotan) – a cocky, charismatic and ambitious new pilot – the first of a new breed not trained in the war. On the sly against company policy, he’s dating Bridget, a stunning beauty with a mysterious past. A rebellious bohemian, Maggie (Christina Ricci) turns into a buttoned up professional for work so she can see the world. Rounding out the crew are flirtatious Collette (Karine Vanasse), the adventurous Kate (Kelli Garner) and, finally, Laura (Margot Robbie) – Kate’s beauty queen younger sister, a runaway bride, who recently fled a life of domestic boredom to take to the skies. – ABC

50 out of 100

Well, now we’re pissed.  We had very high hopes for Pan Am based on the buzz and the fantastic trailers we saw like this one.

Well, apparently those hopes were misplaced.  Pan Am  isn’t horrible it’s just not much of anything.

The biggest problem the show has is the plotlines.  There are just too damned many of them and none of them seem to have anything to do with each other nor are they particularly compelling. It’s like you are watching a bunch of different shows all at the same time and none of them are really going anywhere and every minute that they spend on an airplane is a minute we want to pull out our hair.  We’re claustrophobic just watching this.

Also, we expected this to be an exciting, fast-paced Cold War sexy, spy story.  Well, the espionage plotline is barely touched upon and when it is, it doesn’t hold your interest. Instead, we get hour upon hour of a bunch of whiny soap opera crap about sexual politics, young women with issues with their mothers, historical references squeezed into the story (they just couldn’t resist a Cuban airlift scene in the pilot), dull romances and stewardesses who unwittingly sleep with married men.

Worse, there’s nothing convincing about this show at all.  Period pieces are supposed to convince you that they are actually set in the period that they claim to be, like Mad Men or hell, even the horrific (and now canceled) The Playboy Club.  We have no doubt that this show is firmly planted in 2011 and this a big problem for a period piece.  Nothing looks like 1960 at all and they are using the worst CGI we have seen in years on television.  For crap’s sake, how expensive would it be to get an old plane and paint the Pan Am logo on the side of it?  For that matter, would it be so hard to find an old airport?

The only really redeeming factor about the show is the actors, themselves.  The show is well-cast and the cast does an excellent job with what comes down to very creatively-limited material.  The characters themselves are OK but they tend to come off as caricatures as does the show in general, which is bad when that’s not what you’re going for. The whole thing seems to be written by someone who wasn’t even alive in the 1960’s and they didn’t bother to consult with experts on the era.

At the end of the day, Pan Am isn’t awful but it’s not great, either.  Mediocre, Serviceable and Average; these are the words that come to mind for Pan Am and general audiences, very well may find it watchable… we didn’t. We got through the pilot, 20 minutes of the second episode and 20 minutes of the third episode and then subsequently removed it from the DVR schedule.

We really wanted this show to work.  It just doesn’t.

You can watch full episodes of Pan Am, here.

REVIEW: A Gifted Man (CBS – Friday, 8:00 p.m.)

A Gifted Man is a drama about a brilliant, charismatic surgeon whose life changes forever when his deceased ex-wife begins teaching him the meaning of life from the “hereafter.”  Michael Holt (Patrick Wilson) is an exceptional doctor who lives a materialistic life of luxury thanks to his work-obsessed career and powerful and wealthy patients; however, Michael’s ordered world is rocked when his ex-wife, Anna (Jennifer Ehle), an idealistic free-clinic doctor and the love of his life, mysteriously appears to him.  Michael’s off-beat sister, Christina (Julie Benz), a single mom to her teenaged son, Milo (Liam Aiken), is thrilled that Anna’s back in her brother’s life, even as an “illusion,” because Michael was always a better person with her.  Curious about Michael’s sudden change in behavior is his efficient assistant, Rita (Margo Martindale).  When Anna asks Michael to go to her clinic to help keep it running, he meets Autumn (Afton Williamson), a volunteer carrying on Anna’s work with the underprivileged.  Touched by those in need and accepting of Anna’s compassionate “presence,” Michael’s attitude toward serving the rich and poor is turned upside down, and he begins to see that there’s room in his life for everyone. – CBS

88 out of 100

It’s rare that a show lives up to the hype generated by its trailer so completely that a critic could simply watch a trailer to do a review of the show and be spot-on.  What’s even rarer is when a show is actually better than the trailer and the network undersells it.  That’s what’s going on with A Gifted Man.

As noted in our Fall preview, we knew A Gifted Man looked like a winner, we just had no idea how charming it would be in so many ways.

Now, if you take away the ghost-of-the-dead-ex-wife scenario, the premise doesn’t come off as particularly original.  Successful and arrogant doctor who once was full of passion and had a heart of gold has dramatic event -“X” happen in his life and makes him re-evaluate his life and go back to his roots and work to do nothing but help people regardless of the bottom line, yadda, yadda.  Most recently, Everwood comes to mind (shoot, the wife dying was the dramatic event in that, as well) and in a non-medical scenario, the crappy Harry’s Law and Eli Stone come to mind.  Sharing a similar theme but going back two decades we have Northern Exposure and of course the 1991 film, Doc Hollywood (which The CW just couldn’t resist when they greenlit Hart of Dixie).

But Anna Paul (the ghost) is what sets A Gifted Man apart from its predecessors.  One thing to note is that despite the trailer, Holt isn’t as nearly as much of a prick as you would think he would be.  He actually comes off as a sympathetic lost soul more than anything else and Anna is there to give him the push he needs in the right direction.  He’s a man who’s lost his way and his sense of purpose and of course that brings us to the basic premise of this morality play that would be best suited to star James Stewart: success, money and power are fleeting and what truly matters is what we do for others while we are here during this very short time we have.

That’s pretty powerful stuff for the prime time television and more surprising, this is a very spiritual and – dare we say it – religiously themed show.  Think about it.  The premise of the show is that there is indeed an afterlife and what we do with the time we have determines where we end in that afterlife.  There hasn’t been this kind of in-your-face non-secular dramatic program on television since Touched By an Angel.  Sure, there have been shows like Medium and Ghost Whisperer but they really don’t deal with the fundamental issues of our existence like A Gifted Man does at its heart.

It is simply impossible not to enjoy this show.  It’s a wonderful break from the downtrodden premise of dramatic television in general.  It’s uplifting and although it has its fair share of dramatic scenarios, you get the sense that no matter what happens, it was kind of meant to be.  The spirituality of the show brings about a great sense of peace.

The show has been brilliantly cast (this has been a recurring theme for most of the shows this Fall) with everyone from 2010 Emmy Winner Margo Martindale (Justified) to Dexter’s Julie Benz to fantastic character actor Pablo Schreiber (The Wire, Lights Out).

Finally, and back to the spirituality theme, the show leaves the audience with more questions than it does answers which is probably the biggest litmus test for good story-telling.  When the audience is introspective after an episode, the writers have done their job.

You may see mixed reviews from other critics about A Gifted Man.  Ignore them.  Any disdain for this show is just the cynicism of the reviewer creeping in and the media’s general vitriol that they direct toward anything that has a spiritual context.  A Gifted Man is a wonderful show for the whole family.

You can watch full episodes of A Gifted Man, here.

REVIEW: ‘Person of Interest’ (CBS – Thursday, 9:00 p.m.)

Person of Interest stars Jim Caviezel, Emmy Award winner Michael Emerson and Academy Award nominee Taraji P. Henson in a crime thriller about a presumed dead former-CIA agent who teams up with a mysterious billionaire to prevent violent crimes by using their own brand of vigilante justice.  Reese’s (Caviezel) special training in covert operations appeals to Finch (Emerson), a software genius who invented a program that uses pattern recognition to identify people about to be involved in violent crimes.  Using state-of-the-art surveillance technology, the two work outside of the law using Reese’s adept skills and Finch’s unlimited wealth to unravel the mystery of the person of interest and stop the crime before it happens.  Reese’s actions catch the attention of the NYPD, including homicide detective Carter (Henson), and Fusco (Kevin Chapman), a cop who Reese uses to his advantage.  With infinite crimes to investigate, Reese and Finch find that the right person, with the right information, at the right time, can change everything. – CBS

85 out of 100

We have been enjoying Person of Interest on CBS, so far. It’s gritty, full of action, well acted… not to mention it takes place in the Big Apple.

Lost’s Michael Emerson, plays Mr. Finch, a very rich recluse who has developed a computer program that can identify the identity of persons that will be connected to violent crimes in the future. However, the program does have its limitations. For example it can’t distinguish between whether or not the person will be either the victim or the person committing the crime itself.

Finch hires John Reese (Jim Caviezel), a former Green Beret and CIA field officer who is presumed dead to help stop the crimes from taking place. He does this because he can’t do it alone.

The pilot episode explains that Finch originally built the machine for the government as a means to prevent mores 9/11-type disasters from taking place, but found that it was also foretelling many other crimes. Finch built a backdoor into the machine that, before erasing the “irrelevant data” each night, sends to Finch a list of Social Security numbers of those who will be involved in those crimes. Finch also establishes that the world thinks that Reese and he are dead.

The show is gripping and plays out very fast and furious each episode. I think that it should be a great hit for CBS. Time will tell. The show is Executive Produced by J.J. Abrams and Jonathan Nolan who also wrote the screenplay. Enjoy!

You can watch full episodes of Person of Interest, here.

REVIEW: Last Man Standing – ABC (Tuesday, 8:00 p.m.)

Today it’s a woman’s world, and this man’s man is on a mission to get men back to their rightful place in society.

Tim Allen returns to ABC in this new comedy from Jack Burditt (“30 Rock”). Men may have built civilizations, invented the locomotive and created ESPN, but they’re about to find out that it’s not a man’s world anymore. You can’t get manlier than Mike Baxter. He’s the marketing director for an iconic outdoor sporting goods store, he loves to have adventures while he’s traveling for work and, of course, he drives a pick-up truck. While Mike is king of the hill at work, he’s the odd man out in a home that is dominated by women — namely his wife, Vanessa, and their three daughters, 22- year-old Kristin, 17-year-old Mandy and 14-year-old Eve. After being a stay-at-home mom for years, Vanessa recently returned to the workplace and was quickly promoted (much to the dismay of her primarily male co-workers). As a result of Vanessa’s increased work load, Mike is pulled into more hands-on parenting than ever before. – ABC

75 out of 100

As we noted in our new show preview back in May, we didn’t have a whole lot of hope for Last Standing on its face due to our biases against sitcoms in general and of course the fact that it makes no bones about the male-bashing agenda of the show.  We did, however, note that if there’s anyone who can make this series watchable, it’s always likeable Tim Allen because after all, one look at the trailer can lead you to only one conclusion: you’re watching the 2011 version of Home Improvement.

Well, gold stars for us across the board, we guess.  We couldn’t have predicted this any better.  This show is exactly what we though it would be; a comedy centered around this notion that in general, men are idiotic and boorish buffoons and if this show was done with anyone else but Allen as the lead it would be an awful waste of time.

Last Man Standing literally is a complete redo of Home Improvement and even the wife (played by nancy Travis) is the exact same character as Jill Taylor (Patricia Richardson) from Home Improvement.  And truthfully, as much as you’d think we’d have a problem with this lack of originality, we don’t.

As we noted, Tim Allen has probably been the most likable guy next to Jay Leno on American television over the last two decades.  He’s everyone’s dad and he plays this role (which is really just a caricature of himself) as perfectly as he played it on Home Improvement for eight years and let’s be honest, Home Improvement was consistently a hit for eight seasons because it was well-written and Allen made it great. It was one of the few comedies that you can always turn on and expect to be funny and this show isn’t a whole lot different in that regard.

Is this the greatest show or even comedy of the last decade?  Oh, Hell no, but it works and Allen’s a pro and he makes it work.  Last Man Standing  suffers from all of the problems that most sitcoms do with recycled plotlines and dialogue and clichéd situations and episode resolutions, but when you get past that, the writing manages to pull itself together despite some mediocre performances from some of the supporting cast because Allen just makes it happen.

And, yes, there were some very mediocre (not awful, just mediocre) performances from the supporting cast on this show with the exception of Travis, Hector Elizondo (Allen’s boss on the show, Ed) and, of course, Allen.  To put it bluntly, the kids are pretty weak but to in all honesty, they are very young and have pretty thin professional résumés and none of them have extensive consistent series work on the same show.  So, we expect that to improve because we can say that right now they have a lot going for them.  First, they are all very cute and we know we let a lot slide with Princess ‘Tastic because she’s so damned cute so we expect audiences will do the same with these young ladies, and second, they have the crutch of Tim Allen to nursemaid them through their growing pains and that will probably be enough.

This is a surprisingly a good show and with Allen headlining should become a hit for ABC.

You can watch full episodes of Last Man Standing, here.

REVIEW: Suburgatory – ABC (Wednesday, 8:30 p.m.)

Single father George only wants the best for his 16-year-old daughter, Tessa. So when he finds a box of condoms on her nightstand, he moves them out of their apartment in New York City to a house in the suburbs. But all Tessa sees is the horror of over-manicured lawns and plastic Franken-moms. Being in the ‘burbs can be hell, but it also may just bring Tessa and George closer than they’ve ever been.

Tessa (Jane Levy) and George (Jeremy Sisto) have been on their own ever since Tessa’s mom pulled a “Kramer vs. Kramer” before she was even potty trained. So far, George has done a pretty good job of raising Tessa without a maternal figure in their lives, but suddenly he’s feeling a little out of his league. So it’s goodbye New York City and hello suburbs. At first Tessa is horrified by the big-haired, fake-boobed mothers and their sugar-free Red Bull-chugging kids. But little by little she and her dad begin finding a way to survive on the clean streets of the ‘burbs. Sure, the neighbors might smother you with love while their kids stare daggers at your back, but underneath all that plastic and caffeine, they’re really not half bad. And they do make a tasty pot roast. – ABC

Score: 80 out of 100

There are some shows that we know are going to be a complete piece of $#*!-My-Dad-Says before ever seeing one episode, such as Whitney, for example, and then there are some shows that we know are going to be a complete piece of $#*!-My-Dad-Says before ever seeing one episode but then they pleasantly surprise the complete $#*!-My-Dad-Says out of us by turning out to be actually very funny.  Suburgatory would be the latter and so far is the best new comedy we’ve seen this year.

We generally approach television, especially comedies, from the position of that it’s rare to find both a show that’s well-written and unique at the same time, so we’ll take well-written over unique any day of the week if it’s an either/or scenario.  That’s what we have with Suburgatory; a show that’s not unique at all but is very well-written…. and flippin’ hilarious.

Seriously, how many times has the teen-angst story about the kid who gets abruptly uprooted from the city and goes to the suburbs (or the farm or vice versa) been done?  We can’t count, but we can tell you is that the writers of Suburgatory seems quite aware of how clichéd it is so instead fighting it, they’re just going to run with it to as much excess as humanly possible while keeping the show heartwarming and credible at the same time.

Tessa has a sarcastic streak a mile wide which at first comes off as a little annoying but then you quickly realize how vulnerable she is and she’s just as screwed up and susceptible to human frailties as the suburbanites she disdains.  Tessa is played by newcomer, Jane Levy, who’s only other professional work to date has been on the Showtime series, Shameless but despite her lack of a professional résumé, she is perfectly cast in this role and there’s no doubt that she has a bright future ahead of her regardless of what happens with Suburgatory (not to be negative, but after last season, we just assume all new shows will be canceled when we review them).

Aside from Levy, the casting on this show is fantastic.  We’ve been a big fan of Jeremy Sisto since his work on Six Feet Under and of course Alan Tudyk is our favorite Firefly class pilot of all time and he’s just great in everything he does and then you have Saturday Night Live alums Ana Gasteyer and Chris Parnell and rounding it out is Rex Lee and Curb Your Enthusiam‘s Cheryl Hines.  All incredible talents and even the less well-known names in the cast bring this pleasantly surprising show to life.

Suburgatory is an absolute caricature from head to toe.  The adults are a caricature, the kids are a caricature, the neighborhoods are a caricature, the schools are a caricature, the suburban events such as the neighborhood barbecues are a caricature… Hell, the dogs are caricatures.  It’s all one big exaggerated satire yet somehow they’ve found a way to still make these characters very real and very relatable and that’s why it works because it’s far funnier when absurd things happen to characters that we can relate to as the way the mind works is that we substitute ourselves for the characters and our response is based on what would it be like if that zany stuff happened to us.

Slapstick all the time, or absurdity for absurdity’s sake, really doesn’t work well on television. It works in Mel Brooks movies and cartoons, but not so much in live-action sitcoms week after week.  This is why the show about nothing, Seinfeld, was the greatest comedy of all time and lasted for nine seasons. It’s because most of the time, our lives are a show about nothing and Seinfeld was able to capitalize on the most mundane events that we all have in common and turn them into pure comedy gold.

Now, are we suggesting that this show is the next Seinfeld?  Not quite, and they aren’t even the same type of comedy, however, we will say that it is an absolute pleasure to watch this show and be so incredibly wrong with our initial assessment that we made in May.

Oh, and by the way, a note to ABC:

We here at The ‘Tastic humbly request that you fire whoever wrote that piece of $#*!-My-Dad-Says show description that we posted above and was so badly written that it almost made us not even watch the pilot.  We can’t be the only ones who thought this after reading that garbage.

You can watch full episodes of Suburgatory, here.

REVIEW: Terra Nova – FOX (Monday, 8:00 p.m.)

TERRA NOVA follows an ordinary family on an incredible journey back in time to prehistoric Earth as a small part of a daring experiment to save the human race. In the year 2149, the world is dying. The planet is overdeveloped and overcrowded, with the majority of plant and animal life extinct. The future of mankind is in jeopardy, and its only hope for survival is in the distant past.

When scientists unexpectedly discovered a fracture in time that made it possible to construct a portal into primeval history, the bold notion was born to resettle humanity in the past – a second chance to rebuild civilization and get it right this time.

The series centers on the Shannon family as they join the Tenth Pilgrimage of settlers to Terra Nova, the first colony established in this beautiful yet foreboding land. JIM SHANNON (Jason O’Mara), a devoted father with a checkered past, guides his family through this new world of limitless beauty, mystery and terror. Jim’s wife, ELISABETH (Shelley Conn), is a trauma surgeon and the newest addition to Terra Nova’s medical team. JOSH (Landon Liboiron) is their 17-year-old son who is torn to leave life as he knows it behind; upon arriving at the settlement, he finds himself instantly drawn to the beautiful and rule-breaking SKYE (Allison Miller). MADDY (Naomi Scott), Josh’s endearingly awkward 15-year-old sister, hopes Terra Nova will give her a chance to reinvent herself. Although Elisabeth’s medical training secured the family a spot on the pilgrimage, a secret involving their five-year-old daughter, ZOE (Alana Mansour), soon endangers their place in this utopia.

Upon the Shannons’ arrival, they are introduced to COMMANDER NATHANIEL TAYLOR (Stephen Lang), the charismatic and heroic first pioneer and leader of the settlement. Taylor warns the travelers that while Terra Nova is a place of new opportunities and fresh beginnings, all is not as idyllic as it initially appears. Along with blue skies, towering waterfalls and lush vegetation, the surrounding terrain is teeming with danger – and not just of the man-eating dinosaur variety. There is also a splinter colony of renegades led by the battle-hardened MIRA (Christine Adams), who is vehemently opposed to Taylor and his leadership.

Even more threatening than what lies outside the protective walls of the colony is the chilling possibility that something sinister is happening inside Terra Nova. The Shannons will come to suspect that not everyone on this mission has the same idea of how to best save mankind; in fact, there may be forces intent on destroying this new world before it even begins. – FOX

78 out of 100

Regular readers of the blog know that as much as we like the concept of Terra Nova, we have been very skeptical about whether or not it would be able to find an audience on a prime-time network (especially FOX) to justify the largest budget in television history, because quite frankly, prime-time audiences don’t watch serialized science fiction for the most part.  And, yes, despite what writer/exec. producer Brannon Braga claims, Terra Nova is indeed a science fiction show.

And this brings us to what we hate about the show and what we think we may be begrudgingly loving about the show:  Producers/writers Brannon fu*king Braga and René fu*king Echeverria, the old guard who wrote and produced much of Star Trek franchise from The Next Generation forward.  For the record, many Trek fans will blame the production team of Rick Berman and Brannon Braga (“B & B”) for the demise of that franchise and while we at The ‘Tastic do not share in this opinion, we certainly recognize that Braga himself brings a certain generic, vanilla, crisis-of-the-week factor to dramatic television that certainly didn’t help that franchise or most of the other things he’s worked on since. The ‘Tastic will send a Tootsie Pop to the first person who can tell us what the plot of season eight of 24 was without going to IMDb  (and, yes, we’ll know).

This is the thing about Terra Nova: it reeks of 1990’s Trek in generic plot which is why we’re throwing Echevarria into the same boat as Braga on this one because it can’t be a coincidence.  Terra Nova, is a good show and it is superficially exciting but for true connoisseurs of drama and genre television, it’s not particularly original (the entire idea is stolen from a Star Trek: The Original Series third-season episode, All Our Yesterdays to begin with) and frankly it’s been very watered-down for a general audience. One definitely gets the feeling that the original concept was a lot more hardcore than what was actually developed for television.

That being said, the difference between Terra Nova and 1990’s Trek is that they’ve actually done a pretty good job of making the show accessible to all audiences which is what may save it in the ratings.  That’s right, for as much as the generic story-telling grates us, we’re actually glad they went this route because if they had gone balls-out with pushing the Sci-Fi aspect, it wouldn’t have a chance.  Instead, though, what they are doing is really making this a character piece, focusing on primarily the Shannons as a family and the pilgrims at Terra Nova and their adventures and less so on the mysteries surrounding Terra Nova and we see where this is going.

The producers are claiming that Terra Nova is “nothing like Lost.”  We call shenanigans on this claim and not because it’s set in a mysterious jungle, no, because it’s a fish-out-of-water character story of people from different backgrounds trying to adapt and survive in their new environment with adversarial factions and beneath it all is a mystery that is slowly coming to light.  The thing is, for all the high budget used on this show, it’s Lost-lite that’s more family friendly (also, like Lost, this show has a chance to be three seasons into it before anyone realizes that they are indeed watching a Sci-Fi show).

The show is a lot of fun even though we know exactly what we’re watching because we’ve kind of seen it all before.  They’ve done an excellent job with character development and casting and the characters if not unique are certainly likable and relatable.  The stories so far aren’t bad (the pilot was great, the second episode for us was so-so, but still fun) but they are just vanilla enough to keep the CSI and Law & Order viewer entertained with the weekly story that wraps itself up in 60 minutes.  Speaking of which, that kind of threw us off a bit, as well, because as noted, we got the impression from the publicity surrounding the show and the pilot itself that Terra Nova was going to be a serialized epic. Epic, perhaps, but serialized? Not so much, which (even though we’d prefer a serial) is a good thing for the series if it wants to have any chance at long-term survival – again – especially on FOX.

As far as the mysteries are concerned, unlike Lost, they gave away two or three answers to mysteries at the end of the pilot alone which tells us that they are trying to avoid the problems that serialized shows have and that is that if you miss an episode, you wind up… well… lost and don’t come back to the series. Yet another a very smart move.  So, in as much as we are a little annoyed by the very simplistic aspects of the plotlines, we appreciate that the producers seem quite cognizant of what they have to do to keep a Sci-Fi show from alienating a general audience.

The production values?  Well, really… is it necessary to say that all of the sets, props and visual effects are absolutely amazing when we are talking about the most expensive show in television history? Yeah, we didn’t think so, however, we will say that a lot of science for this show seems to be a little screwy, but then again, we are geeks and it’s doubtful that the average viewer is going to let that interfere with their enjoyment of the show.

So, we definitely recommend Terra Nova.  It’s a very good show, albeit, as repeatedly noted, a little vanilla, but it’s good television for the whole family.  More than that, though, we think that the show has been produced smartly enough to stave off cancellation for some time which is something that is very not only hit-and-miss for Sci-Fi in general, but something of a minor miracle for Sci-Fi on FOX.


REVIEW: Free Agents – NBC (Wednesday, 8:30 p.m.)

“Free Agents” is a crooked workplace/romantic new comedy from creator John Enbom (“Party Down”) and Emmy Award-winning director Todd Holland (“Malcolm in the Middle”) based on the cult U.K. series of the same name that explores the trials and tribulations of two public relations executives on the rebound. Alex (Hank Azaria, “The Simpsons,” “Huff”) is newly divorced and can barely keep himself together while his co-worker Helen (Kathryn Hahn, “Hung”) thinks she has it together but is obsessed with her deceased fiancé and actually is falling apart. Then a drunken Alex and Helen end up in bed together, and in the resulting sober confusion, Helen decides that they should only be friends. Meanwhile Alex’s co-workers, Dan (Mo Mandel, “Love Bites,” “Modern Family”) and Gregg (Al Madrigal, “Wizards of Waverly Place,” “Gary, Unmarried”), and Stephen (Anthony Head, “Merlin,” “Buffy the Vampire Slayer”) fail in their attempts to help him get back out on the dating scene. When Alex finally agrees to a date, Helen gets a little jealous, and he gets cold feet, so they end up back where they started — in a casual, intimate and beautifully awkward relationship. – NBC

73 out of 100

OK, so we were pleasantly surprised with Free Agents. It’s decent and actually made us laugh more than once.  The characters are well-cast and the writing, although a little clichéd (as the whole premise isn’t particularly new or exciting), is pretty good.  Azaria and Hahn have very good on-screen chemistry and their neuroses and insecurities make them quite relatable.  The show has an excellent pace and a very funny supporting cast that provides  a level of absurdity that brings a Denny Crane-quality to it.

That’s really it. There’s not a whole lot more to say.  Give it a shot, you’ll probably like it.

You can watch full episodes of Free Agents, here.

REVIEW: ‘Revenge’ – ABC (Wednesday, 10:00 p.m.)

Wealth, beauty and status define the people in this town, but one woman is willing to destroy everyone for the sake of revenge.

Emily Thorne (Emily Van Camp) is new to the Hamptons. She’s met some of her wealthy neighbors, has made a few new friends and seemingly blends into the town. But something is a little odd about a young girl living in a wealthy town all on her own, and the truth is that Emily isn’t exactly new to the neighborhood. In fact, this was once her old neighborhood, until something bad happened that ruined her family and their reputation. Now Emily is back, and she’s returned to right some of those wrongs in the best way she knows how – with a vengeance. – ABC

83 out of 100

We were a little nervous about Revenge for a variety of reasons.  One, because as good Catholics who actually did pay attention in class, the glorification of revenge itself is unseemly on its face.  Second, we just weren’t sure if it was possible for the cute girl-next-door, Emily Van Camp, to effectively pull off this type of character and third, the premise of the “evil wealthy people” has been overplayed since the Greek tragedies.  Well, we are pleased to say that those concerns were unwarranted… and that was after one episode.

For us, watching  Revenge reminded us very much of watching Damages in that a dramatic event happens in the opening sequence of the pilot (or season premiere) and then we are told the story of the events that led up to the dramatic event as the series progresses. But, Revenge isn’t just about the events over the course of five months from the time Emily moves into the summer house in the Hamptons, it’s about the history that brought her there to begin with and we are smoothly introduced to those events and the targets for her retaliation through a series a flashbacks that effectively weave the tapestry of the story and develop the characters.

The problem with most shows that do this is that they can be a bit confusing and it scares audiences off because of the concern that if they miss an episode they’ll be completely lost. Revenge does not suffer from these issues.  The producers seem to have gone out of their way to make the flashbacks that provide much of the exposition not only very easy to follow, but the characters themselves repeatedly refer to the events outside of the flashbacks just to make it that much easier.  It all works very well.

This is an amazing cast of characters and actors.  Any qualms we had about the notion of revenge itself over forgiveness is quickly quashed as we see how vile and narcissistic these people truly are and how they sociopathically destroyed (and continue to destroy) people’s lives to protect themselves with not only zero regard for their victims, but a sense of entitlement to this type of power.  They are truly characters you love to hate.  They are above morality and above the law and the writers have made a point to illustrate how this attitude is generational with the children of these socialites who engage in the same behavior, as well.

There’s an interesting scene where the teenage daughter of Victoria (Medeleine Stowe) and Conrad Grayson (Henry Czerny) goes into the local bar and grill and starts ordering cocktails with her friends and the owner’s younger son refuses to serve them because, of course, they can’t produce ID.  Without batting an eye, she says, “Um… we left our ID’s at the beach, BUT… we have plenty of money.” Because, of course, having plenty of money means that not only don’t you have to follow the law, but you can also make other people break the law on your behalf as well.  To further drive the point home, the kid tells the young lady, “Sorry, I’m not interested in your money,” to which she replies, “Are you interested in my phone number?”  The lesson here is that when the rich and powerful want something and they can’t use money to influence people they’ll go after them at their weakest and most basic level.

And this is why you hate all of them because that little scene is a metaphor for all of these characters and you want all of them to get what’s coming to them and you can allow yourself this guilty pleasure of enjoying what we all at one time or another wished we could do. The best part is that not only does Emily not waste any time in surreptitiously tipping over the dominoes that these people have been unwittingly setting up against themselves for years, but she’s doing it in such a manner that she is having them do it to themselves and destroy their own lives in the process.

The complexities of all of these characters is very well-done.  What makes our villains even more vile is that they of course wear the white hats and there are various shades of gray characters that we really don’t know which side they’ll ultimately choose.  Our heroes are the least likely to be heroes and they too have their dark sides, as well, which may ultimately be their undoing, in particular Emily whose father’s final wish for her  before he died was that she forgive these people for what they have done. Emily makes it very clear that she cannot honor that request and that, of course, like all Greek tragedies and Shakespearean melodramas, can only be a harbinger of bad things to come because make no mistake abut it, Revenge is a morality play and we’re all going to be taught a lesson, one way or another.

Revenge has a lot going for it.  We had just a few minor quibbles about the slightly slow pace and the exaggerated and clichéd personalities of some of the characters, but overall, though, we really enjoyed it a lot and we’re hooked already.  We only hope that this show’s serial nature, because it is so refined (OK… we’ll say it: dumbed down), actually clicks with general audiences and they give it the numbers it richly deserves.

You can watch new episodes of Revenge, here.

REVIEW: Whitney – NBC (Thursday, 9:30 p.m.)

Sums up this horrible show perfectly.

A hilarious look at modern love, “Whitney” is a new multi-camera comedy series about Whitney (Whitney Cummings, “Chelsea Lately”) and Alex (Chris D’Elia, “Glory Daze”), a happily unmarried couple. Together for five years, the duo is in no rush to get hitched. However, after attending yet another one of their friends’ weddings, Whitney realizes that she and Alex are dangerously close to relationship boredom. Determined not to let that happen, Whitney consults her close circle of opinionated girlfriends — including Lily (Zoe Lister-Jones, “The Other Guys”) and Roxanne (Rhea Seehorn, “The Starter Wife”) — and then snaps into action. A few awkward sexy costumes and one botched seductive evening later, the couple ends up in the emergency room. Even so, Whitney and Alex realize that while their relationship might not be perfect on paper, they really do love each other — and that works for them. – NBC

0 out of 100

Last year we did a review for $#*! My Dad Says and we declared that it may be the worst sitcom of all time.  There is absolutely no doubt that Whitney is a close second.  It is so bad that we want to spend as little time writing about this floating turd as possible so we’re going to just rehash a lot of that $#*! My Dad Says review and not think because, of course, that’s exactly what the writers of this show did.

Hell, we’re going to just give you our preview assessment that we made back in May, to make it even easier:

“Besides the fact that it’s obviously just a typically horrible sitcom using all of the standard clichés, canned laughter and plot-devices, the overall premise is simply offensive.  We don’t normally get excited about the variety of political and social messages that permeate primetime television programming but we have to draw a line here.  Where the Hell do they get off creating a series with the general premise of disparaging and minimizing the value of marriage as if it’s “no big deal.”  We hate to be the ones to break this to the producers, but marriage is far more than “just a piece of paper” and no, unmarried couples living together for five years should not be afforded the same stature in society as married couples.  Regardless of this, though, it seriously looks almost as bad as $#*! My Dad Says.  All of these characters are clones of Friends characters.  Seriously, that guy, Alex… he’s effing Chandler except he looks like he needs a bath and rehab.  The only joke we laughed at in the trailer was when they were role-playing and she gave him the new patient information forms to fill-out and the only reason that we paid attention to that is that we were completely distracted by her ass in the red panties so unless they intend to dress her in those every week, expect this show to die a quick death. Total Fail.”

…And every word of that initial assessment was so spot-on, there’s not a lot more to say. In fact, we aren’t even bothered by the dopey premise that much anymore (that fu*ker Alex actually said, “I love you so much, that I won’t marry you.”  Seriously, there was a writer who thought that was a good idea and a producer that approved it!) because the show was just so bad and forced on so many other levels that the show simply as a sitcom was offensive without the help from the premise.

The jokes are horrible, predictable, clichéd and recycled as are all of the characters.  We can’t let the actors off the hook, either, because their performances are terrible and like Will Sasso and Nicole Sullivan on $#*! My Dad Says, they should all be banned from television for five years because of this. There was literally nothing funny that happened at all during the pilot. We wanted to stop it ten minutes into it but knew we had a duty to our readers to stick it out. The only reason that live studio audience was laughing was because they were just happy to see the filming of a new show and, again, like the $#*! My Dad Says audience, there is no question at all that they were held at gunpoint.

One final note: do the networks and the producers of these shows have that little regard for their audiences?  They can’t possibly think this garbage is funny so why do they think that we would?  Seriously, is it because of crap like Two and a Half Men  and  Mike & Molly that the networks think we are all completely brain-dead?  That, to us is even more offensive than this horrible waste of 30 minutes.  Thank God, we DVR’d it and only had to go through about 22 of those because every second counted in ending that misery.

MAKE! IT! STOP!

This show is puke-in-your-mouth awful achieving the $#*! My Dad Says Standard of Suckitude©. You can watch full episodes of Whitney, here, but we wouldn’t recommend it, in fact we’d recommend punching yourself in the face repeatedly as a far more enjoyable alternative.