Manifest: “Reentry” Takes on Life Five Years Later

MANIFEST: 1.02 “Reentry”

Last week, I lamented that Manifest didn’t spend enough time with its characters adjusting to life that’s been fast-forwarded by five years. This week, we got a glimpse of that. Michaela was working on getting back on the force and dealing with her former best friend. Ben was working out life back with his wife. And his poor son, Cal, seemed to have the hardest adjustment, after realizing that all of his toys, clothes, posters—all things familiar—were gone.

I really felt for Cal in this episode, and it was interesting to see how Grace jumped through hoops trying to make him feel more comfortable. Especially given that he’s going through his treatments, it’s important that he feel like he hasn’t lost everything. After all, he lost his twin sister in a way; she’s now five years older and like an entirely different person (a person, who smartly saved his belongings and brought a smile to his face at the end of the episode).

Grace and Cal was probably the most redeeming part of Grace’s storyline, though, as we waited the entire episode to find out if she was going to come clean to Ben about her relationship. Of course, Ben found out another way, and then she was left to make a choice: a life with her husband or her new love. Now, based on the end, it looks like she’s choosing Ben, but I doubt this tension is over. My guess is that whoever she is seeing will make an appearance and cause more issues and complexity to this marriage.

As for Michaela, well, she’s not only trying to accept what happened to her on Flight 828 but also the death of her friend in the car accident, which apparently happened while she was drinking and driving. She’s also dealing with the reappearance of her best friend Lourdes, who showed up at the police station to reconnect. Now, if I were Lourdes, I would’ve tried calling Michaela at Ben and Grace’s house and asking to meet for coffee, rather than blindsiding her at work unannounced, where, by the way, Michaela’s former boyfriend and Lourdes’ husband works and was present. But that’s just me. Fortunately, that was all cleaned up by episode’s end, when Michaela says that she was planning on turning down Jared’s proposal, even if it was a lie.

So our main characters seemed to smooth over some rough edges in “Reentry,” though all of these bits do seem a little too easy right now. I would’ve expected more struggling—or at least for it to last more than one episode. Who knows? Maybe it will.

The more interesting part of the episode was what was happening with the other passengers of Flight 828. No, I’m not talking about our “case of the week,” which was…fine? It didn’t draw me in that much, not because it was poorly done, but because I’m must more interested in the larger mystery and story arc than individual weekly cases. But I’m starting to see that this is going to be a habit for each episode. Someone hears something mysterious, follows its lead, helps someone out, and tracks down some sort of criminal by episode’s end.

No, more intriguing is the shadow figure that is apparently now killing fellow passengers. Why? We don’t know. Was it because she spoke out on the news? Or something else? And who is the shadow?

Yes, I find this more compelling than the visions and voices. Clearly, whatever happened on that plane wasn’t simply magical. There is some human involvement. But how? And why? And why kill the passengers? And did Cal have some sort of vision, in order to draw the shadow in his family picture?

All good questions with no answers yet. I guess we’ll have to wait and see.

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‘God Friended Me’ Packs a Lot into Its Pilot, Including Some Flaws

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GOD FRIENDED ME: 1.01 “Pilot”

I’ve read a few reviews and tweets about God Friended Me, and they haven’t all been positive. I’ll get to their points, but I’ll go ahead and preface this post: As someone who was a fan of Kevin (Probably) Saves the World and Joan of Arcadia, the idea of someone getting some godly intervention, making them question their beliefs and their own sense of self, appeals to me. So with that in mind, a lot of God Friended Me hit the right notes in my book.

That said, the episode I watched yesterday was in no way what I expected. First of all—and please don’t judge me here—I somehow missed the boat that this was an hourlong show and thought it was supposed to be a half-hour sitcom (maybe it was the 8:30 time slot? Ok, ok, I really have no excuse). So already, the tone and overall feel of the show was very different than what I thought I was tuning into. Would it have worked better as a half-hour sitcom? I don’t know. I liked the show overall and what it tried to do, but it probably would’ve set itself apart from its spiritual predecessors if it was. But it’s not, so let’s move on.

The whole idea is that podcaster Miles is friended on Facebook by an account known as God. While this may seem strange for anyone, it’s especially odd for Miles, who is an atheist, despite his reverend father. Naturally, Miles thinks the God account is a hoax, but when it starts suggesting “friends” who need his help, he starts to realize there’s more to this account than meets the eye—whether it’s a hoax or not.

Now, the biggest complaint I’ve read about this show is in this premise. First and foremost, they argue that Millennials don’t use Facebook anymore. What’s more, the show tossed in so many Millennial key terms to make it seem relevant to the younger audience, it somehow came across forced and out of touch. As someone who is in her mid-30s, that didn’t quite bother me. I was able to gloss over it.

Instead, I focused on the God bit. And overall, it drew me in. Did it take on a lot? Sure. I felt like some of it was a little too easy. He saved the guy from the train. His new friend reunites with her estranged mother and becomes part of her new family—with a sister. He may not have smoothed things over with his father, but at least they’re spending time together again. And even in his podcast, he may not be a believer in a higher power, but he acknowledges that we should at least think about it.

Some of this feels like it should’ve been taken on over the course of the season. Sure, save the guy in one episode. Maybe baby steps with the mom. Maybe show up in the back of the church for the father, but stop once you see Miles walking away and hold the chess scene for a later episode. As for the podcast? I can’t imagine that Miles would have been that easy to admit that you should be asking questions when his entire platform is on atheism—and he’s so strongly confident in that viewpoint that he’s able to take on a rabbi in the opening scene.

But as far as setting up the show, I thought it did a solid job. Like I said, I’m a sucker for this kind of show. Has it been done before? Sure. But I’d still choose it and its attempts at creativity through episodic trials over the overdone procedural and hospital show any day. Plus, it’s got an entertaining cast, so I’d like to see where it goes.

Image by CBS

‘A Million Little Things’ Hits All the Right Notes — Well, Except That One Thing

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A MILLION LITTLE THINGS: 1.01 “Pilot”

“Friendship is a million little things.”

That’s the sentiment we start with as we begin network television’s newest tear-jerker, A Million Little Things. This is one of the few shows that I was really eager to watch, not because I crave grab-the-tissues television (actually, that type of marketing and emotional force is the reason I never got past the third episode of This Is Us), but because of the subject matter. The idea that a show could take on a surprise suicide and study the reasons behind it in a smart way seemed intriguing and important. It’s a tall ask, but with a good cast behind it, I had faith.

And to be honest, before watching the premiere, I tried to identify what the title could mean. My best guess? As friends searched for answers about why their friend would kill himself, they’d discover that it wasn’t just one reason. It was…a million little things.

I guess I was wrong.

Then again, we still don’t know the reason why Jon killed himself. Most of this episode had his friends and family questioning a number of things: Why would he do this? If everything happens for a reason, what’s the reason for this? Why wouldn’t he tell someone? And how did we not see it coming?

All of these questions are ones that I hope the show continues to explore, as complex as they can be. And I think the most interesting way the show has chosen to focus on depression is not in Jon’s own choice, but in the character of Rome, who was ready to take his own life as he got the call about his friend’s death. Seeing someone dealing with depression and struggling to share what he’s experiencing and feeling with those that he loves the most is so important—and it helps you see what someone may have been going through, like Jon, in real time. It really paints the picture and shows how difficult it is, even to open up, without solely relying on the hypothetical guesses of what Jon was going through. It’s a great way to study the complex nature of depression and mental illness for viewers.

Beyond these issues, we have many characters with their own baggage: Gary, who is in remission from breast cancer, who befriends Maggie, a therapist who just found out her own cancer has returned; Eddie, who is in an unhappy marriage and having an affair (more on this later); and, of course, Delilah, Jon’s widow. It’s a good group of complex characters with their own personalities (the exception may be Eddie, who is falling pretty flat for me), rounded out by a good cast of folks playing them.

I find Gary’s story especially compelling, probably because it’s both drawing me in at times and annoying me at others. Gary is your standard “I don’t show emotion” character in the face of death, and while at times this bugs me, his display of anger at the Bruins game made me realize it’s more of a facade than anything else. Plus, his whispering to Delilah that she’s the strongest one of all of them shows a kindness that we’ll occasionally be privy to. So while there are times I may be annoyed at him, I can hold out for those little moments, knowing that he does have some redeeming characteristics, or he wouldn’t be part of his group. Also, his being one of the 1% of men who gets breast cancer is just an interesting backstory. It’s interesting how he’s dealing with the prospect of death in a different way than say, Rome, or any of the other characters.

Now, the biggest complaint I have for this show is with Eddie—or more accurately, the big reveal at the end of the episode that Eddit was having an affair with Delilah. Ugh. It’s amazing I was able to even see the TV after how dramatically I rolled my eyes. And that I didn’t throw the remote control through the screen. What a lame, overused plot device to throw in what seemed to be a well-thought-out show. When you are suddenly comparing a drama like A Million Little Things to the train wreck that was Netflix’s Friends from College, you know something’s wrong. Suddenly, all those emotions you saw Eddie and Delilah struggling with are less real and become laden with guilt. What’s more, the mystery of “why” becomes, “Did he do it because he knew?” It just changes the nature of the show.

The other issue? Jon’s assistant. We’re left wondering what her story is, hiding file folders, lying, and deleting files. Do we really need a mystery? I was already wondering whether Jon was having an affair with her, based on how she was acting (despite the fact that apparently everything he did while he was alive was generous and helpful to everyone he knew), and now we have a guessing game of what she knows. Personally, I didn’t need this. I don’t need a “How does Jack Pearson die?” mystery to figure out. Let the situation itself carry the story.

Oddly, the assistant mystery bugs me much less than that horrible affair, and I’m wondering how much of this season will be devoted to keeping that relationship under wraps with panicked undertones that they’ll get discovered. I do think it changes what the show could have been, but I guess I should just wait and see.

And I will continue to watch. The characters drew me in, and I want to see more. I’m not sure how much Ron Livingston is in future episodes. He seemed to have a decent presence in the pilot, and I like him, so I hope it continues.

As a side note, I was standing in an elevator on Thursday with three strangers, when it stopped on a floor and a man entered. He walked in, greeted each of us, and even continued to chat with the man behind me, who he didn’t know. And I was suddenly back to remembering how Jon’s friends described how there are people in elevators that don’t speak to each other, but then there are those who will just talk to anyone. And I wondered, if this elevator were stopped, would I suddenly be friends with these three strangers?

If anything, so far, this show has clearly made an impression.

Manifest Takes Off with a Mystery, but Fails to Land the Characters

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MANIFEST: 1.01 “Pilot”

Every new fall season, I have my lists: shows I’m super excited about returning (Crazy Ex-Girlfriend! The Good Place! Jane the Virgin!), returning favorites that I watch but may be ambivalent about (Supergirl, The Flash), new shows I’m looking forward to checking out (A Million Little Things), and new shows I know little about but will check out if I have time (Single Parents). Manifest, as it turns out, falls into that third category, where I’ve been looking forward to it. So it was nice to have it be the first new premiere I watched this season.

Now, I’ll preface this by acknowledging my skepticism. The premise seemed intriguing: A plane takes off but lands five years later. No one has aged who was on the plane. Where did they go? What happened? It sounded exactly like one of those shows you’d get super-invested in right before it got cancelled.

But here’s where the reality kicks in. Within moments of the show starting, Flight 828 went up, hit some unexpected turbulence, and then landed five years later. They all had their reunions with families (missing the now late mother, of course), and everyone is confused as to what happened. The FBI starts to interrogate the flight crew and passengers… And then everything is back to business, where family is home with family, and other than a few references to having no belongings or a working phone, they’re basically back to the real world.

Until…

Michaela, our heroine sister, starts hearing voices. Or, rather, her voice, instructing her to do things. “Slow down.” “Let them free.” Then we find out brother Ben has the same new power. And suddenly, it’s not just them. It’s all the passengers—at least that’s how it seems by the episode’s end.

All of this happens within one hour of network television. And while I have some complaints about the supernatural element of the show (I wasn’t expecting magical voices and premonitions), my biggest issue is that the reality of the world these people are returning to was highly ignored. How can we care about characters when we don’t really know what life was like for them before they took off, let alone how different it is once they landed?

Let’s pause there. We get a nice voiceover at the beginning, seeing what would appear to be a “happy family.” We know Michaela is dealing with something and that it ties to her decision of whether to marry her boyfriend. And we know Ben’s son has leukemia, and it doesn’t look good. Beyond a brief—and I do mean brief—tension between Michaela and her mother about said engagement, there’s barely any conflict.

So it’s a bit surprising when later we find out that Michaela was on desk duty because she’s being evaluated after her partner died in the car next to her. Or how important her best friend Lourdes was (someone we hadn’t even heard of before), when we hear that she married Michaela’s old beau. In a show that would have been nice to get more show than tell, all we get is spoken backstory at the wrong times. This essentially means we barely know the characters, we can barely understand what they’re going through, and even when you discover that dear old mom has sadly passed, we can’t muster a hint of emotion.

But aside from the backstory, we barely saw any reaction to the five-year jump. We see initial shock and, again, annoyance that they don’t have belongings or a phone. But where is the adjustment period? Other than Ben’s moment trying to reconnect with his daughter, it’s like no time has passed at all. For them, it’s been two days. Where’s the frustration that everyone keeps telling you “it’s been five years” when to them, it hasn’t been? Where’s the confusion to coming back to a world that would be different? I mean, they’re in New York. You mean to tell me that walking the streets of the city, they wouldn’t see different storefronts—that their favorite diner or donut shop has shut down? Everyone is still living in the same houses, with no change to decor other than soccer pictures? Ben seems oddly calm that he suddenly has to find a job, when I assume he had one when he left (which was, again, to him, two days ago). Geez, even an iPhone would’ve had multiple generations since the time they left.

Or, how about everyone else? We barely saw the FBI interrogate the passengers, which would likely take days, if not longer. They’d probably be taken to hospitals for medical tests. Sure, luggage would’ve been investigated (as we saw), but they’d probably confiscate all other devices on that plane to scour the data. And what about the press? These people would be hounded, treated as celebrities. A normal life? I think not.

Somehow the series decided to skip all that in favor of jumping into supernatural mystery. While I realize it would’ve made for a slower beginning, I would’ve much preferred to see some of these lives in 2013, see how people interact and get to know them for half an episode, before they got on a plane that changed the course of their lives forever. Spend some time showing them getting acclimated in an episode or two, and then, right when you think they’ve got a handle on things, introduce these voices and visions to add a new twist, throwing them off their game once again. Is it a slower build? Sure. But at least we’d know who we were watching.

Because for now, while they may have set up a mystery to figure out (with a self-exploding plane, for good measure), I don’t yet care about any of the characters. These people couldn’t been gone for a day, a week, or a month, and they would’ve had the same reactions as they did after five years.

And if anything, giving a little more time for their lives to develop and then get pulled out from under them would offer us the opportunity to get to know them (I’m ashamed to say that I actually had to look up Michaela’s name on IMDB because even in an hour of TV focused on her, I never learned it). But without any sort of life before, they have no personality. No personality means no real reaction to what happened. And with no real reaction, it’s hard to keep my interest, no matter how many visions and voices are thrown my way.

Crazy Ex-Girlfriend’s Casting News Is Crazy—But Is It Crazy Enough to Work?

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Photo by the CW

If you haven’t been watching Twitter today, you may have missed the big Crazy Ex-Girlfriend news. It turns out Greg will be making an appearance in the final season of the show—but not the same Greg we knew and loved. Skylar Austin (of Pitch Perfect fame) will be replacing Santino Fontana in the role.

In the few hours it’s been since I heard the news, I’ve had mixed emotions. I trust the Crazy Ex-Girlfriend writing team, sure, but Greg was a fan favorite. He was certainly a favorite of mine. And Fontana made that role come alive. Austin is talented, and no matter what role they put him in, I’m sure that he’ll do a great job. But Greg? That’s a tall order.

According to Rachel Bloom and Aline Brosh McKenna, it was a creative decision. Bloom notes, “It’s not only a big leap and feels experimental and playful like our show, but as we’ll see when the show airs, it’s a great statement on how our perception of people changes, and Greg is sort of a barometer for how Rebecca changes.”

Keeping in mind that I don’t know much about what’s going to happen this season (and everything that I’m about to say is purely guesswork), my perception of Bloom’s quote is that Greg will turned up a changed man—literally. Or perhaps Rebecca just remembered him in a vastly different way than before. [Cue the many jokes about how “Gee, Greg, you look so different!” and “Wow, Greg, you’ve changed!”] Now, if this is the case, I could see how the writing team can make it work.

But should it?

I rarely criticize Crazy Ex-Girlfriend because it constantly exceeds my expectations and always surprises me. But in this case, I’m not sure the appeal of bringing Greg back. If you’re not bringing back the same actor, how will the fans feel—especially going into the final season of the series? It would change how we look at the character, for sure (perhaps that, too, is the point), but frankly, Astin will just have some large tap shoes to fill. He could be up to the task, but will fans see it that way? And even if the creative team wanted to make the point about changed perceptions, why does that require an entirely new actor?

Now, if you have had conversations with me about the show in the last two years since Fontana left, you’ll know I’ve been keeping my fingers crossed on a Greg return in the final season. But this isn’t what I was expecting. I can’t help but feel disappointed, which isn’t how I want to start the season. I’m trying not to bring myself too down already—again, the writing team always surprises and impresses, so I want to put my trust in them again—but I’m just not sure how I feel about this news. I would’ve preferred a surprise appearance from the original actor, rather than a surprise, head-scratching announcement. And, of course, I mean no offense toward Astin. He’s a talented actor and a fun one to watch (heck, I even watched him in Ground Floor), but it’s just not what I expected from one of my favorite series.

Keep in mind, I’m getting ahead of myself. When we last left Rebecca, she was headed to jail. So who knows what’s next for her. I certainly don’t. So I can’t say this is a bad call or a good one. It’s a creative decision.

But I, for one, miss old Greg. And for now, I stand to be convinced.

NBC Gives ‘Timeless’ One Last Mission: A Two-Part Finale

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Photo by Justin Lubin/NBC

Well, it’s been an exciting day, hasn’t it, Clockblockers? Today, news broke that after cancelling the series last month after its second season, NBC is giving Timeless a two-hour movie finale to finish off the series. No specific date has been announced, but it sounds like it will air sometime this holiday season.

So, are you want to get Rufus back, or what?

Needless to say, I’m thrilled with this news. I was more than bummed when the series was cancelled, and after hearing that Sony had shopped the series around with no luck, I was keeping my fingers and toes crossed that we’d get this finale movie.

But of course, many fans did more than just cross fingers and toes. Fans raised money to fly helicopters—excuse me, “heliclockters”—over San Diego Comic Con advertising #SaveTimeless. They also tirelessly tweeted about the show, getting Timeless trending during the event, even though the show wasn’t even there.

There efforts were certainly noticed, and according to Shawn Ryan, they swayed the network. So certainly applause are necessary…in between your jumps for joy.

There’s certainly plenty of material that needs to be covered in a mere two hours: Will Rufus be saved? Will Lucy and Wyatt finally get together—or will it be Flynn who captures Lucy’s heart? How did the team somehow swing that visit from the future, when the time machine won’t allow it? And what happened to make Lucy and Wyatt look so…ready for battle? Can anyone stop Rittenhouse? Or Emma? And is Lucy’s sister a lost cause at this point?

I’m sure there are plenty more questions (add your own in the comments), and I have full faith in the writing staff to give us answers, now that they have the chance.

I don’t know about you, but the holidays can’t come soon enough.

‘Timeless’ Finishes Season Two on a Strong Note — and with One Hell of a Cliffhanger

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Photo by Eddy Chen/NBC

TIMELESS: 2.09-2.10 “The General”; “Chinatown”

Fate. Family. Two themes that have been ever-present throughout the second season of Timeless, and they were oh so prominent in the finale. Fate because, of course, we had Rufus’ future death awaiting us. And family, well, that came in all sorts of forms.

The two-parter conclusion of the series was especially strong. I’m not surprised. Every episode this season seemed to get stronger than the one before. (In fact, I’ve been wanting to commend this season on some especially great episodes—“Mrs. Sherlock Holmes” was a standout in my book, but hats off to both “The King of the Delta Blues” and “The Day Reagan Was Shot,” as well.) These two episodes highlighted what Timeless does best: meaningful historical storylines combined with action and advancement of the story arc.

We’ll start with Harriet Tubman—and let’s give a mighty round of applause to Christine Horn, who was incredible as “The General.” She captivated every scene and gave each one the weight it truly deserved, considering the weight of the Civil War. Unconvinced? Go back and watch the scene between her and Rufus when he admits that he’s always been a free man. Amazing. And kudos to the writers. I felt like I could quote her all episode wrong. (I tried. It was hard to keep up on Twitter while watching all the action.)

Meanwhile, we had Wyatt moping about everyone’s reaction to Jessica potentially being Rittenhouse—and questioning her pregnancy. To be honest, Wyatt did start to bug me in this episode. His reaction to Agent Christopher seemed a genuine and honest response to finding out his wife is pregnant and then hearing they want to banish her. (And Lucy’s reaction to hearing Jessica was pregnant? Perfection. If your heart didn’t break when you saw Lucy’s face and heard her faint, “She’s what?” you must have a heart of stone.)

But once he became Captain Sunshine in the past, pouting and stomping around, I was a bit tired of moody Wyatt. Perhaps it’s because there was so much more important things going on—or perhaps it’s because we, as viewers, were already suspecting Jessica—but I had a small amount of patience for it. I’m glad it passed relatively quickly, though I suppose not with the best of results.

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