Fall Première Season

Fall première season, the most exciting time in television, has arrived! Just wanted to let you in on my list of shows to watch. As you all know, I’ll be watching the first 5 episodes of all of them, and then choosing which are keepers. Here’s what’s on the list:

A to Z

Constantine

Forever

Gotham

Gracepoint

How to Get Away With Murder

Madam Secretary

Red Band Society

Selfie

State of Affairs

I’m also currently working on a foodie project, a study of Eggs Benedict on offer in my home city of Oxford, England. This has involved some excellent eating, and I hope to post the results by the end of the autumn term here. Plus, I’ll be weighing in on the fall returns of some of our favourite shows. Meanwhile, I’ve got to write a 30,000 word thesis, so for now it’s back to work!

Sitcom: Verdict

As you know, I’ve tried some new sitcoms this summer. One of them, Working the Engels, I thought was a summer sitcom but in actuality was a spring show that was released this summer on Hulu, thus my confusion. While the first five episodes in general showed steady improvement, I do not believe the show is destined for greatness, nor, if IMDB is any indication, a second season. The cast struggles to land a laugh, hampered by poor writing and inconsistent acting, especially from Kacey Rohl and (sadly) Azura Skye.

Welcome to Sweden has maintained a steady pace throughout the first five episodes, with easily the funniest moments happening in the second episode, though some very good moments continued to shine through during subsequent episodes. Greg Poehler possesses a sort of affable-everyman-ness that endears him to his viewers, and begins to overcome the unlikelihood of Emma (Josephine Bornebusch) dating him. Bornebusch herself lends an accomplished self-awareness that enriches the honesty of the show, and she pulls some incredibly comic faces.

A downside to many may be the prevalence of subtitles in the show. It’s a necessity, given the show’s setting in Sweden. However, they are extremely clear and easy to read, and usually less than 40% of any given episode needs subtitling. Plus, they provide excellent opportunity for linguistic humour. It’s a drawback that surely can be overcome by the show’s wit, warmth, and ingenuity.

Greg Poehler and Emma (Josephine Bornebusch) in Welcome to Sweden.

Greg Poehler and Emma (Josephine Bornebusch) in Welcome to Sweden.

Not to mention, the glimpses the show provides of the Swedish countryside are breathtaking. Sweden has always been on my list, but now it’s moving up a little higher!

Working the Engels will no longer be on my Hulu queue, but I am waiting with great anticipation for the next installment of Welcome to Sweden. I hear Greg’s midwestern parents are coming to Stockholm for a visit… should be hilarious!

Option C: None of the Above

*** SPOILER ALERT!!! This post contains spoilers about Covert Affairs Season 5, especially episodes 1 and 5 of that season.***

Well, it’s time for the verdict. Many of you read my post about the future of USA Network’s Covert Affairs, in which I feared it would turn into 24 but hoped it would reinvent itself. Last week’s episode marked the end of the first five episodes of the new Covert Affairs, and I’m afraid to say the verdict is in.

When I wrote my earlier post, I should have allowed room for Option C: None of the Above. I had completely forgotten the third and much more depressing direction the show could follow. But sadly, today we must face the truth: Covert Affairs has become a soap opera of the worst order.

Hayley (Amy Jo Johnson) in the new season of Covert Affairs.

Hayley (Amy Jo Johnson) in the new season of Covert Affairs.

I had cautious hope for the season as it began. I liked the Chicago office bombing plot, and felt the new element of independent contractors that was introduced. The seemingly neat wrap up of Annie (Piper Perabo) and Auggie (Christopher Gorham) I knew was just a ruse, and there would be feelings that would crop up later to make things interesting.

What I didn’t like was Calder’s (Hill Harper) new diversion, and the set-up of Caitlyn (Perrey Reeves) for Arthur Campbell (Peter Gallagher). I also didn’t like Hayley (Amy Jo Johnson) very much. And by the fifth episode, all the good things are gone, the bad things are still there, and the whole show is getting worse.

I understand Covert Affairs is a double entendre title, and as such I have always expected a certain amount of adult content. But the show was also smart, witty, and mature. Now, it is none of those things. Calder having sex with Callgirl (Nazneen Contractor), Auggie having sex with Hayley, Auggie having sex with Natasha (Liane Balaban), Caitlyn wagging her butt in Arthur’s face… Not to mention the stupid “rough sex” scene Annie had to do at the close of the fifth episode.

Caitlyn (Perrey Reeves) in Covert Affairs.

Caitlyn (Perrey Reeves) in Covert Affairs.

(And Calder is in love with the call girl now? Can you say West Wing rip-off?)

If you’re wondering, yes, I’ll be watching the new episode tonight. I truly wish that the show’s writers and directors will begin to correct their downward spiral and right the havoc wreaked by loss of purpose. But I’m not getting my hopes up.

The First Five Rule

This summer has offered a wide array of new fare for the American viewer. When the average viewer chooses a summer show, they are usually looking for something light and fluffy, with enough depth to provide a compelling storyline, but nothing too deep and dark that might depress us. This summer, with current events escalating in the Middle East and Ukraine, we are especially in need of light, fun fare.

Surprisingly, all three of the summer shows I decided to try this year were on NBC network. During the year, I watch nothing that is aired by NBC, a network that seems to focus on reality/competition type shows and daytime soap operas. So I was pleasantly pleased by my own choices.

Jordan (Jill Flint), Topher (Ken Leung), and TC (Eoin Macken) in The Night Shift.

Jordan (Jill Flint), Topher (Ken Leung), and TC (Eoin Macken) in The Night Shift.

The most appealing shows to me, when I decided back in June, were The Night Shift, Welcome to Sweden, and Working the Engels. The cast of The Night Shift was the main motivating factor: Jill Flint of early Royal Pains, Ken Leung of Person of Interest and Lost, and Brendan Fehr who played Booth’s brother on Bones, just to name a few. Welcome to Sweden had Amy Poehler to recommend it, plus I have an ongoing love affair that started with my first Ikea experience 10 years ago. I was cautiously optimistic about Working the Engels, but thought I would give it a try. I loved Azura Skye in her brief role in Buffy Season 7, and Andrea Martin was a riot in My Big Fat Greek Wedding. However, as a daughter of a legal professional, I am always skeptical of shows that dabble in that field.

Generally, I use the first 5 episodes of a show as a sort of trial period. If I think I might be interested in show, but I’m still withholding judgement, then I decide to watch or not by the end of the 5th episode. My reasoning is as follows:

1) Pilot: the pilot episode, while made to give the network a taste of the whole show, often bears little resemblance to the ultimate product. Filmed six months or more in advance, the pilot often contains actors in main roles who never again appear (case in point: New Girl), and sets and motifs that disappear within the first month (case in point: Bones). I find the pilot of a show unrepresentative of the body of the show in general. For instance, New Girl‘s pilot was quite possibly the funniest bit of television I have ever seen, but the rest of the show has fallen off considerably from there, and now mainly consists of people yelling at each other. In the same vein, I often instruct Buffy virgins not to watch the pilot at all, or to watch it with an extremely open mind. The rest of the show is better, I promise.

2) The second episode is written after the show is picked up. The writers haven’t seen each other in a year, or have possibly never met before at all. They don’t know the actors yet. They’ve mostly forgotten what happened in the pilot. Generally, the second episode is written in a fit of fear of losing the job they just got without any sort of forward planning or writing towards a story arch. The second episode is treading water.

3) I find in general 3rd episodes are often surprisingly good. The third episode of a series may end up being the best episode of a show for a long, long while. For instance, “Water” was the 3rd episode of Battlestar Galactica,* “A Boy in a Tree” was 3rd in Bones, and “Walkabout” was 3rd in Lost. These episodes are all at least in my personal “Top 20” lists for these shows, if not “Top 10.” In Downton Abbey season 1, the third episode is the one with the visiting Turkish diplomat. Forgive my oblique description, but I’m attempting to avoid spoilers. Those of you who know, know what I’m talking about and it’s a pretty big deal. So why not stop after the 3rd episode? Because sometimes it’s too good, too good to be true. For instance, Once Upon A Time had an exceptional third episode in “Snow Falls,” but we all know how I ultimately felt about that show. No, unfortunately, 3 episodes is not yet an accurate barometer for long-term show success.

4) The fourth episode is interesting. Often, this is when the show writers are attempting to further a long-term story arch. Fourth episodes can be similar to the second in that it may again feel like treading water. Or it can be the foundation for something much bigger coming later in the season. A perfect example of this is Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. fourth episode “Eye Spy.” At the time, Akela Amador seems interesting, and her eye technology disturbing, but we think at the end of the episode that everything is wrapped up. We are disturbed, but we sense no lasting consequences. Little do we know the importance of this episode until months later, in “T.R.A.C.K.S.” (Again, I am attempting to avoid spoilers, please forgive my obliqueness.)

5) Finally, we reach the fifth episode of the series. Now, the show is starting to find its rhythm. The writers have gotten to know each other, and gotten to know the actors a bit. The long term arches have been created, and you see an episode that contains both the episodic arch and marks along the continuing over-arching stories. We’re getting to know our characters better. We have an idea of where the writers are heading, where the story is going, and what the characters want. Now, we have a very good idea of what the show is going to be like for the rest of the season, if not the whole life of the series.

This drawn out process has become a fool-proof way for me to choose new TV shows to watch. Of course, the show will also need to get some Heart at some point, too!

Emma (Josephine Bornebusch) and Greg (Greg Poehler) in Welcome to Sweden.

Emma (Josephine Bornebusch) and Greg (Greg Poehler) in Welcome to Sweden.

The first of the summer verdicts are in, and the rest will follow soon. I am unashamed to say I’m loving The Night Shift. I watched the 8th episode and realised I had totally passed my 5 episode bench mark. The show had immediate heart, and I cared deeply for the majority of the characters within the first two episodes. I also really enjoy the themes about army versus civilian life, especially against a south-central Texan backdrop. I found myself questioning my own sanity for like it given its increasingly soap-opera type relationship networks, but I realised I should give myself a break: it’s a summer show! What better time to indulge in a little unimportant relationship intrigue on television? Mostly, I’m just sad there wasn’t an episode last week.

Jenna (Kacey Rohl), Ceil (Andrea Martin), Sandy (Azura Skye), and Jimmy (Benjamin Arthur) in Working the Engels.

Jenna (Kacey Rohl), Ceil (Andrea Martin), Sandy (Azura Skye), and Jimmy (Benjamin Arthur) in Working the Engels.

I am also now three episodes into both Working the Engels and Welcome to Sweden. While cautiously optimistic about Welcome to Sweden, I think the 5th episode of Working the Engels will be my last. I am unimpressed and mainly disgusted. The show has already resorted to stripper pole humour. But I have hopes for the future of Welcome to Sweden, though I’m worried about the survival of a show that relies heavily upon subtitles. They are easy to read, however, and so far the show has me in stitches.

Final verdicts on the sitcoms in about two weeks! Look for my post.

Summer Shrimp Salad (Prawn Cocktail)

ShrimpSaladPlateIt has been HOT! Both here, visiting in the USA, and back in my adopted home in the UK. With that in mind, and a natural aversion to mayonnaise, especially during a heat wave, I set about inventing a new approach to my family’s traditional shrimp salad. It turned into a sort of fake-out ceviche, and was super delicious!

My dad makes a killer shrimp salad and it has always been a family tradition to have that for dinner on the hottest nights of midsummer. He chops up perfectly cooked shrimp, Vidalia onion, and celery, and tosses it all in mayonnaise with salt and pepper. But in recent years both my mother and I have started to be a little more careful about watching our saturated fats, and Dad needs to watch his cholesterol. So when we decided to have shrimp salad tonight, I volunteered to invent a new recipe and make it alongside a smaller version of my dad’s mayonnaise salad.

Mom and I both really enjoy spicy food, but my dad has a milder tongue. Also, one thing I love cooking with when I’m in the States is Latin ingredients, because they are so much more difficult to find in the UK. Plus, my family love a good shrimp cocktail (the American version, where you dip whole cooked shrimp in tomato cocktail sauce). With these things in mind, I invented a new dish that was an immediate hit for my family this evening!

THE SALAD

INGREDIENTS:

1 lb cooked medium shrimp, without shells or tails, cut into thirds (I used pre-cooked frozen, just make sure the quality is good)

1 tbsp chopped fresh dill (if unavailable, omit, don’t use dry)*

1/2 small Vidalia onion, diced

1 medium tomato, diced

1 large avocado, diced

2 lemons, juiced

Kosher (or sea) salt and fresh ground pepper, to taste

 

DIRECTIONS:

1. In a large bowl, toss the chopped dill and cut up shrimp. Season with salt and pepper.

2. Add the diced onion and tomato, followed by the juice of one lemon. If you pre-juice with a juicer, just estimate about half, it’s not important.

3. Keep the avocado whole until you are ready to add it to the salad, so it doesn’t lose its colour. Dice it into the bowl, and follow it with the rest of the lemon juice, before brownness can begin to appear.

4. Season with more salt and pepper, and toss to make sure everything is evenly coated in the lemon juice.

ShrimpSaladSpoon

THE DRESSING

My approach with the dressing was to eye-ball amounts, so these lists are estimates. I also didn’t use all the dressing that I prepared; I poured in enough to coat everything, but I didn’t want make the salad too soupy, so I left at least a third in the bowl. The sauce became “alcoholic” when my mom got home from work and had had a pretty bad day. It was a spur of the moment inspiration, and while I think it was especially good in this dish, if you’re making this for kids then you can definitely leave it out.

INGREDIENTS:

Approx. 5 fl. oz. classic cocktail sauce (I used Gold’s)**

1 tbsp Tobasco(R) sauce (moderate to taste)

1 tsp Worcestershire sauce (I used the classic Lea and Perrins)

1 shot (USA) good Vodka (I used Grey Goose) (NOTE: 1 USA shot = 2 UK shots)

 

DIRECTIONS:

1. Mix together all ingredients in a small bowl. The sauce should be thin enough that when you dip your finger in, it comes out with a thin coating that is slowly drips off. The consistency should be closer to orange juice with pulp than it is to ketchup or tomato sauce.

2. Pour just enough on the salad to totally coat the shrimp and vegetables when tossed. DO NOT OVER DRESS. Mix thoroughly.

3. Cover the salad bowl with plastic wrap and let it sit in the refrigerator for at least a half an hour. Allowing this time to marinate is fundamental to the flavour.

4. Serve chilled, with something absorbent to mop up the yummy juices. My mother thought  traditional arepas (doughy corn cakes prevalent in northern South America) would work well. If you can’t find them or masa (proper Latin American cornmeal), then use either corn tortilla chips or nice toasted up baguette slices.

We had leftovers, and my mom will be taking the rest to work for lunch tomorrow! After, we had the perfect dessert to follow it all up: fresh, just picked wild raspberries from the field up the hill from our house. No cream or whipped cream needed, they were so sweet and perfect on their own!

HopkinsRaspberries

The wild raspberries up the hill are smaller and shinier than normal store-bought, and sweeter! Definitely sweeter!

 

*Try substituting fresh cilantro or coriander. My father has the gene that hates the flavour, so I didn’t try it, but I think it would work very well.

**Gold’s is a classic (ironically) kosher brand here in the States. I haven’t been able to find classic American cocktail sauce in the UK, so here is the ingredients list from the back of the Gold’s bottle: Tomato Paste, Horseradish, Vinegar, Salt, Onions, Lemon Juice, and Spices. (No idea what the spices are!) A quick cheat way I have made cocktail sauce in a pinch is to combine tomato ketchup, pickled horseradish, and lemon juice.

Response to Tasha Robinson

This post is in response to an exposition by Tasha Robinson that appeared in The Dissolve on 16 June, 2014. To read the full text of the article, please follow the link: We’re Losing All Our Strong Female Characters to Trinity Syndrome.

A few days ago, a friend’s posted link on Facebook caught my eye. “We’re Losing All Our Strong Female Characters…” it read, and I was unable to see the rest. I thought, “That’s weird, I really thought we were getting better!” Of course, I had to read.

Trinity (Carrie-Anne Moss) in The Matrix.

Trinity (Carrie-Anne Moss) in The Matrix.

The article, written by The Dissolve‘s Senior Editor Tasha Robinson, bemoans the evidently chronic practice of film-makers to create “Strong Female Characters(TM)” as she calls them, only to throw away their potential in favour of bolstering a male protagonist. I agree, this sounds like a bad thing. I wouldn’t stand for it, personally. Ms. Robinson cites several films in support of her thesis, alluding to “Trinity Syndrome,” which refers to Trinity (Carrie-Anne Moss) from The Matrix trilogy.

Merida in Brave.

Merida in Brave.

First on Ms. Robinson’s list is Valka (Cate Blanchett) in How to Train Your Dragon 2 (2014). Robinson writes, “She’s interesting. Too bad the story gives her absolutely nothing to do.” Now, I haven’t seen How to Train Your Dragon either 1 or 2, but that does sound like a real bummer for the Strong Female Characters(TM) of this world. But then I remembered my post about Frozen from this past February, rejoicing at the gains for, to abbreviate Ms. Robinson, SFCs(TM) in children’s (and especially Disney) films. Has Ms. Robinson see Frozen, I wonder? If so, she is correct that How To Train Your Dragon 2 could represent a depressing (though not wholly unexpected) backslide.

Ms. Robinson proceeds to lambaste The Lego Movie (2014), which evidently builds Wyldstyle (Elizabeth Banks) as a SFC(TM), and then erodes that when she asks her boyfriend’s permission to give the plucky hero reward sex. Next on Ms. Robinson’s list is The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (2013), which evidently invented a new, female elf character simply because there weren’t any girls in the book. To be sure, that does sound like a rather stupid marketing ploy. Finally, Ms. Robinson expresses disgust at the character of Dahl (Katee Sackhoff) in Riddick (2013). Oh, but in the end, Robinson salutes The Edge of Tomorrow (2014) for not falling into that trap*.

Anna and Elsa in Frozen.

Anna and Elsa in Frozen.

One thing my readers may have noticed from my language above is that I have seen none of the movies Ms. Robinson discusses, with the exception of The Matrix (1999). Therefore, I have no basis with which to refute Ms. Robinson’s interpretation of the roles she discusses. Indeed, the way she paints the picture leaves me a bit blue. The problem I am left with, however, is that her hypothesis– that we’re losing our Strong Female Characters(TM) to White Knight Male Protagonists (my term)– leaves me feeling that she must be wrong.

Kate (Evangeline Lilly) in Lost

Kate (Evangeline Lilly) in Lost

Take her first example, How to Train Your Dragon 2. The series is actually based on a children’s book series by Cressida Cowell. (If you want to read them, check them out!) Now, I’ve never read them, either, but I hear they’re pretty good. My question is, what is Valka like in the books? If she, as Ms. Robinson says, has absolutely nothing to do, then we must look at the book for our criticism. If not, then there is a deeper question as to why film-makers would take a female character’s power away from her. I assume Valka actually exists in the books, unlike Tauriel (Evangeline Lilly), who was invented for the second Hobbit film. That’s pure silliness. The Hobbit is essentially a medieval quest tale. There is no place for women in it, and even as a 10-year-old reading the book for the first time, I understood that and it didn’t bother me. Tauriel is just another sign of how silly Peter Jackson has become about this Hobbit debacle.

Just the fact that The Lego Movie made it into Ms. Robinson’s article is surprising to me. Did she really go looking for a SFC(TM) there? Most reveiwers called it “slapstick” at best. I’m not surprised a formulaic, often crude, movie about little plastic people failed Ms. Robinson on this count. And she had hope for Riddick? I don’t know any women who went to see that. Not even one who was remotely interested. I’m not saying that it’s OK to turn women into sex objects in male-targeted films, but it is certainly more expected. While I hope that will change in the future, one can’t expect miracles to happen overnight.

To Ms. Robinson, I propose the following:

Don’t like How to Train Your Dragon 2 or The Lego Movie? Watch Brave or Frozen. And read the books by Cressida Cowell.

Don’t like the made-up female character in The Hobbit? Read the book. Or watch the same actress, Evangeline Lilly, being kick-ass in Lost.

Don’t like Katee Sackhoff’s character in Riddick? Watch her for 5 seasons of Battlestar Galactica.

Starbuck (Katee Sackhoff) in Battlestar Galactica.

Starbuck (Katee Sackhoff) in Battlestar Galactica.

My question is, why did Tasha Robinson choose those movies? This year, there have been so many films with Strong Female Characters(TM). How about Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) in Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)? It doesn’t pass the Bechdel test (which in my opinion has a few flaws, though it’s a good start), but Natasha Romanoff definitely fits Ms. Robinson’s SFC(TM) definition. If Ms. Robinson is into movies based on books, how about The Fault in Our Stars (2014) (book by John Green) or The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (2013) (books by Suzanne Collins)? And, high on my list to see soon, Maleficent (2014)? There are so many movies out this year, including action films, that do not support Ms. Robinson’s hypothesis.

Steve Rogers/Captain America (Chris Evans) and Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) in Captain America: The Winter Soldier

Steve Rogers/Captain America (Chris Evans) and Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) in Captain America: The Winter Soldier

Ultimately, I’m glad to report that there is no need for alarm. We are not, as Ms. Robinson suggests, losing our SFCs(TM) to “Trinity Syndrome.” It’s a simple case of Psych 101 Phenomenon. When students in college take Introduction to Psychology, as they learn about each new diagnosis, they become convinced that they suffer from each and every one in turn. Once you start looking for something hard enough, you will find it. Psych 101 phenomenon works on many things. If you’re convinced there’s a spider in your bedroom, you will look until you find one (when you probably wouldn’t have noticed it if you hadn’t been looking). Ms. Robinson was looking for these Trinity Syndrome characters, and she found them.

No need to panic, strong female characters are on the rise, and they work in pairs, ensembles, and solos, both on the silver screen and the small screen. Hollywood really is improving, and there is hope for our daughters and granddaughters.

Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) in The Hunger Games: Catching Fire

Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) in The Hunger Games: Catching Fire

*In discussing The Edge of Tomorrow, Ms. Robinson says the following: “But there are exceptions to every rule. Edge of Tomorrow features Emily Blunt as Rita, an ultra-tough female character who dies to motivate the male protagonist.(Repeatedly!) She starts off as the biggest bad-ass in her world, but is eventually surpassed by hero William Cage (Tom Cruise), who starts off as a bumbling fuck-up. She mostly exists in the story to provide Cage with information and cheer him on, and eventually validates him with a brief romantic moment. And yet the story doesn’t degrade, devalue, weaken, or dismiss her. It sends the hero on without her at the end—but only at the very end, after she’s proved her worth again and again. She’s tough. She’s confident. She’s desperate. She’s funny. In short, she’s aspirational and inspirational, and just as exciting at the end of the movie as she is at the beginning.” Now, that sounds great. But why does Rita have to die to motivate William? I mean, isn’t that even worse? I understand that dying repeatedly is a part of Edge of Tomorrow‘s premise, but why couldn’t Rita just save the day herself? She has to die (and William has to die until he gets it right) so William can do it? How is that any better? It seems Ms. Robinson’s only concern is that her SFC(TM) is just as interesting at the end of the movie as she was at the beginning. Plus, Tom Cruise gives me the heebeegeebies, especially when we’re talking about women’s rights.

The Season That Will Determine the Future

*** SPOILER ALERT!!! This post contains spoilers about Covert Affairs all seasons, especially the resolution of Season 4. This post also contains spoilers about 24 Season 5. ***

In just over 2 weeks, Covert Affairs returns to USA Network television. I have been a CA fan from the beginning. For the first two years, it was a lovely fluff show that filled in the summer doldrums. Piper Perabo revealed she really does have brains, as well as an excellent facility for languages, something I deeply respect. Then, Season 3 blew the entire show wide open, allowing Annie’s character more complexity and depth, moving Covert Affairs easily into my top ten favourites list. Last season kept up the pace, but upped the ante significantly in terms of the danger Annie faces and the depth her character must encompass.

Annie (Piper Perabo) and recurring character Eyal Levine (Oded Fehr).

Annie (Piper Perabo) and recurring character Eyal Levine (Oded Fehr).

This season, starting Tuesday, the 24th June at 10:00pm EST on USA, will be the deciding season for the longevity of the show. Season 4 was clearly an attempt to raise the stakes after the success of Season 3, and it was most successful. However, it created a distinct problem for the future of the show: how do the writers continue to make each season more high stakes than the last, when they have already made Annie into the hidden assassin of the corrupt director of the CIA? To make a Season 5 that blows Season 4 out of the water the way 4 blew 3 away is a risky business, one that could easily fall into the trap that 24 fell into, of absolutely unrealistic and impossible situations that ultimately kill the show.

As I see it, the show can go one of two directions at this point:

1) Covert Affairs will attempt to continuously out-do itself until it has become the biggest joke of a television spy-thriller since 24 made the President a terrorist,

OR (and we hope it will be this one!)

2) Covert Affairs will use season 5 to redefine itself again, as it did in Season 3, and create a plan going forward for a sustainable, long-term TV show with believable and gripping plot, but without losing the show’s Heart.

Recently, USA Network has created several teasers, one of which gives me hope for the new season following choice 2 above, though I am not without concerns. Nic Bishop will be joining the show as Annie’s new partner, Ryan McQuaid. This does indicate a new direction on the part of the writers: previously, they had been building Annie as more and more self-reliant and distrustful, a loner who needed her independence to survive. The introduction of the partner could be a way of taking the show in a new direction in terms of Annie’s development, as well as a shift away from continuing to pursue ‘conspiracy within the government’ storylines. Of course, if it turns out this Ryan McQuaid is a double agent, then that’s not so much of a change after all.

Annie (Piper Perabo) and Auggie (Christopher Gorham).

Annie (Piper Perabo) and Auggie (Christopher Gorham).

However, I am nervous at the lack of Auggie in these promos– this Ryan character isn’t replacing him, right? Because I may not be able to watch any more if there’s no Auggie! It’s not just that I like the character, or that I find Christopher Gorham exceedingly hot. Auggie is the heart of this show, and he creates all the Heart that we feel. When Auggie’s worried about Annie, we are, too. When Annie loves him but can’t show it, we are pulled deeper into these characters lives. Without Auggie, the show would be about Annie, Joan, and Arthur, and that wouldn’t make good TV.

I will go into the Season 5 opener on the 24th with bated breath and crossed fingers, hoping that the writers, directors, and producers will have been smart and thoughtful in their craft. I predict we will know the shape of things to come by the end of the third episode this season. Let’s hope that Covert Affairs has a long and promising future in store for us.

S.H.I.E.L.D. Maintains Momentum and Castle Flounders While Bones Proves How Very Dead It Remains

*** SPOILER ALERT!!! This post contains spoilers for Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Season 1, Castle Season 6 Episode 17 ‘In the Belly of the Beast,’ Bones Season 9 generally, and especially Episode 17 ‘The Repo Man in the Septic Tank,’ and Person of Interest Season 3.***

The blue alien!

The blue alien!

Well, it’s good to have some regular shows back for the last few weeks! I was happy to see that my prediction for Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. proved out, and Skye really is going to live (for now). I was especially tickled by the lovely little morsel we were handed at the end of the episode, when it was revealed that May is somehow a mole for the people behind T.A.H.I.T.I. (Boy, these acronyms sure are a pain to type.) Since the mystery of Skye’s origin was revealed, I have always had a very strong suspicion that May could be Skye’s mother– or at least she may have been the S.H.I.E.L.D. agent who dropped Skye off at the orphanage. This new development does not necessarily mean that my hunch is untrue, but it does leave me thinking about all the possible levels that could be going on. I’m sure you’re all wondering the same things: Who was May calling? Was it Agent Fury? (Does that mean Samuel L. Jackson will be on the show again at some point? Pretty please?) Or is May connected to the people who created T.A.H.I.T.I.? Plus, that blue alien in the tub… did anyone else think he looked a lot like one of the Frost Giants from the first Thor movie? Whatever the answers to these questions, I feel much more hopeful about the future of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and I hope we will get our answers.

Beckett (Stana Katic) being asked to go undercover.

Beckett (Stana Katic) being asked to go undercover.

Castle has also been puttering along, with an especially good episode last week to break the monotony of tiny Beckett insecurities that only last one episode and are always happily resolved. Don’t get me wrong, I’m still a Castle fan and not giving up on the show– but the fact that the writers have been struggling for ideas this year has been quite apparent. When Kate wound up suddenly undercover in the most heart pounding, nail-biting Castle episode since she was hanging off a building by her fingers, I was excited. I think that bringing the show back to the conspiracy behind Beckett’s mother’s murder is the best thing they could have done. Ultimately, it’s what invests us in the characters in the show– not solving the one-off murders every week. Plus, TV seems to love a corrupt politician these days, and I say, ‘Keep ’em coming!’ (But for all you nay-sayers who think this means that ultimately the wedding is off? Forget about it! Too obvious. Rick and Kate are getting married, just like Booth and Bones, and the show’s issues will focus on the many other conflicts offered by the situation that is modern marriage.)

Speaking of Bones… I was really sad to hear that the show has been renewed for another season, and I mean that in the best way possible. Poor David Boreanaz, Emily Deschanel, and all the other incredibly talented members of the cast who could be moving on with their careers! I mean, face it, the show is tired. It was starting to get tired two years ago, for goodness sake! Just think of Angela’s and Hodgins’ relationship story arc, and how they are now discussing having their SECOND CHILD. I’m begging the writers, don’t pull an X-Files on such a great show like Bones. Know when to renew, and when a great show has run its course. DON’T BEAT A DEAD HORSE. The show is so tired they’ve resorted to Latin stereotyping for the latest squintern. I mean, enough already!

New squintern Rudolfo Fuentes (Ignacio Serricchio) on Bones.

New squintern Rudolfo Fuentes (Ignacio Serricchio) on Bones.

However, Person of Interest really lifted my spirits this week. It is so much fun watching Amy Acker do her thing in that show, and I was very pleased when it

Shaw (Sarah Shahi) and Root (Amy Acker) in Person of Interest, the show you aren't watching but should be.

Shaw (Sarah Shahi) and Root (Amy Acker) in Person of Interest, the show you aren’t watching but should be.

became clear that she would be playing a more regular role this season. I have to admit, I was very late to the PoI party, and only started watching the show this year. But now that I am caught up, I dare say it may be the best show currently on television. I have no idea what’s going to happen next, the writing is phenomenal, and the acting is always spot on. Plus, Person of Interest has the biggest Heart I’ve seen in a while. Also, the show dares to ask philosophical questions that haven’t been touched since Battlestar Galactica went off the air. Not surprising, coming from Bad Robot creators of Lost.

I’m very much looking forward to Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.‘s return next week, and seeing what will happen when Samaritan comes online. Also, I’m not ashamed to admit I’ve been enjoying the final episodes of how i met your mother quite a bit, but I’ll write another post on that at some point. Meanwhile, I’ve been catching up with Scandal, based on some advice from friends– gotta say, I’m not too impressed so far. These things, my secret guilty pleasure show, and more in future posts!

It’s More Than Character Development, or, Once Upon A Time… I was bored.

***SPOILER ALERT!!! This post contains spoilers about the show Once Upon a Time all seasons and episodes through Season 3 Episode 8 “Think Lovely Thoughts.” Once Upon a Time in Wonderland is also mentioned, though no specific spoilers beyond basic plot situations are given.***

When it began, Once Upon a Time had a lot to recommend it. From the creators of Lost, a show I loved for at least the majority of the seasons, starring Jennifer Morrison, who I enjoyed in House, and Ginnifer Goodwin, who at least showed potential in Big Love, the concept was intriguing and full of promise.

The first season, however, proved fairly disappointing. I tend to give all shows a 5 episode trial run, and if I don’t think there is at least some redeeming element by then (and that could even just mean it’s a guilty pleasure show), I scrap it. The first 5 episodes were very up and down, but the up ones were, for some reason, up enough that I continued watching for another 2 seasons.

Once Upon a Time certainly has tons of character development. In Season 1, I was concerned that Regina was portrayed as the classic evil mother figure (in this case adoptive), and was also the career-driven, non-traditional woman type. It seemed like both Regina and Emma were punished for choosing non-prescriptive mothering roles. However, Season 2 remedied that, and I enjoyed learning more about Regina’s back story.

Regina Mills/Evil Queen (Lana Parrilla) in Once Upon a Time.

Regina Mills/Evil Queen (Lana Parrilla) in Once Upon a Time.

“Back story” is indeed the catch-phrase for Once Upon a Time. Every episode fills in another chapter of fairy tale history, creating alternate versions and “the true story” type tellings of familiar tales. The thing is, these back stories have become so complicated and convoluted, the only one I can really follow is Regina’s (and Emma’s, though hers is not fairy tale). I’m so confused by Snow’s, Red’s, Charming’s, and Rumpel’s stories by the beginning of Season 3, I don’t even bother trying to keep them straight any more.

So, with all these inner-plots, story-twists, and character-complications, one would think I would really start to care about the characters. Nope…

I’m not really sure why I kept watching for so long. I think it was a good procrastination tool, since I would play with my phone most of the time I was watching anyway. Mostly, I was bored. When Once Upon a Time in Wonderland came out this year, I was pretty excited, because for at least the first two episodes, it seemed like it was living up to the original show’s promise, especially with an interesting blending of Alice in Wonderland and 1001 Arabian Nights. But six episodes in, and I was bored with Wonderland, too. Not to mention the problematic stereotyping the show employed….

What really did it for me on Once Upon A Time was when they killed Henry– and I didn’t care. For a while there, I thought he was a pretty cool kid. But Peter Pan sucked the life out of him, and all I could think was, “I guess the actor was getting too old.” So that was the end of that. Even the next episode title, “Save Henry,” wasn’t enough to spark my interest. My only thought was, “Guess he’s not really dead.”

I don’t think I’ll be watching any more Once Upon a Time series. Sure, they had great character development. I think the characters do truly care about each other, too, though it helps that they are all related to each other at this point. But I didn’t care about them, not at all. Character development is not the key to making a Show with Heart; that takes a little more magic that has been lacking in the fantastical fairy tale world of the Once Upon a Time franchises, and it’s why they are likely to be cancelled soon as well.

For more on Shows with Heart, please read my first post.