TV Reviews

March 18, 2013

sarahconnorsharpensmaller399Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles (2008-2009)
Season One

A Different Kind of Machine

“There are those who believe that a child in her womb shares his mother’s dreams. Her love for him. Her hopes for his future. Is it told to him in pictures while he sleeps inside her?…But what if you’d known since he was inside you what his life held for him? That he would be hunted. That his fate was tied to the fate of millions. That every moment of your life will be spent keeping him alive.” Sarah Connor (Opening Monologue)

What we find in Season 1 of Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles, is something previously unexplored in the previous Terminator franchise—our fragility.  The question asked is whether or not you are willing to take a life in order to save a life?  If so, how many lives must you take in order to save the human race?  At what point does the means justify the end, if at all?  The questions torment Sarah Connor as much as the answers.

The series picks up just after Terminator 2.  For those of you who are unfamiliar with the franchise, in the original Terminator films a human-looking cyborg is sent back through time  to prevent the birth of one John Connor who will one day lead humankind in a rebellion against the machines that have taken over the planet.  In the Terminator films, Sarah Connor, John’s mother, is able to stop the Terminators.  One would think that the future of humankind has been secured.  Right?  Think again.

Enter Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles, a very different kind of machine.

5 years have passed.  John Connor is now 15-years-old.  Sarah, though confident she has changed the future and saved the human race, still exists in survival mode, charged with the protection of John.  In a superbly haunting opening sequence, she sees her son being hunted down by a Terminator, and the ensuing holocaust of humanity.  Judgment day.  But remember this isn’t just the future leader of humankind she is charged with protecting, it is also her son.  And so it begins.  The nightmares come true as yet another Terminator is sent back through time to end his life.  The dreams haunt her.  The future taunts her.  The future has arrived.  Again.

If you were looking for the same level of violence and testosterone as the film franchise, the series sets itself apart, and admirably so.  The Sarah Connor Chronicles is a more cerebral, a more reflective exploration of the human verses machine saga.  There are no tongue-in-cheek quips (I’ll be back!) or budget blowing digital effects.   The fact of the matter is the Connors are not safe.  They are never safe—hence, the plot for the first episode: hide, seek, run.   So the Connors keep their heads down, they follow their rules; don’t get near computers, don’t draw attention to yourself, and for God sakes, don’t feel anything for anyone not even the man you are supposed to marry.  In a cruel twist of irony, the Connors have become the embodiment of the very things they fight.  Sarah and John live half lives in order that one day others might live full ones.

It is fair to say there is a dark poeticism about Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles,  making it more a mosaic than action series, more poetry than prose.  The issues are poignant, provocative as are the situations Sarah is forced to deal with.  Serious moral questions are asked of her of which there is no right answer.  Some might accuse the series of moving slowly, but I believe it’s akin to reading your favourite poem for the first time, you do so carefully, contemplatively, consciously.  You don’t want to miss a word.

People die.  Innocent people die.  Is it worth the price to save humanity?  Watch Season One and decide for yourself.

“It is said that the death of any one person is the death of an entire world. Certainly for parents, the death of a child is no less than a holocaust. In the case of my son, these words are literally true.  And even though we’ve traveled through time, bent the rules of nature, they will keep coming for him. Keep trying to kill him. But until that day… It’s gonna be one hell of a dogfight.” Sarah Connor (Closing Monologue)

Note: This review only pertains to Season One.  

Availability: DVD BOX SET

Frankblack1Millennium (1996-1999)
Season One

“In Number, there is one for every life which ever was, or ever will be,
And like most lives they wait, for a moment, the moment.
When we’ll be sent on its journey back towards the yellow Sun.”

Halfway through the 10-year run of the X-Files, appeared the short-lived, but highly acclaimed television series Millennium.  The genius and popularity of X-Files creator Chris Carter’s Millennium, is in part due to it’s impeccable timing when it first premiered in 1996, just four short years before the actual millennium while most of the English speaking world experienced the pre-millennium frenzy.  There were songs, dire predictions, and a general sense of panic and dread as we moved closer to what many believed to be the end. What would the year 2000 bring?  Peace?  Tranquility? Armageddon?  According to the Millennium Group, an exclusive and clandestine organization of ex-law enforcement agents and religion followers, the new century would usher in chaos and disaster. Evil became personified and it was on its way.

Millennium centres around Frank Black (Lance Henrickson) a retired FBI profiler who, due to his unique gift, has recently recovered from a nervous breakdown.  His gift?  In short, Frank has the ability to sees what the killer sees. When asked how he was able to return to work after the breakdown, he is first to credit the Millennium Group.  The question we ask ourselves: Are they good? Are they evil?  Or are they simply whatever they need to be.

While Frank tries to return to a normal life with his wife, Catherine (Megan Gallagher) and his young daughter, Jordan (Brittany Tiplady), still there remains the lingering threat.   How does Frank reconcile his past and present while trying to be a loving husband and father?  How does he live with his quest to rid the world of the monsters?  Frank the father, the husband.  Frank the slayer of dragons.  Frank the catcher in the rye.

We  follow Frank as he works for the mysterious Millennium group whose self-imposed task is to prepare the world for the new millennium.

The series is both intelligent and poetic in its narrative (i.e. The Wild and the Innocent S1 Ep. 10 ).  Not surprisingly Millennium is far darker and more psychologically and visually graphic than its contemporaries, including the X-Files.  I remember the Fox network would broadcast a “viewer’s discretion” warning before each episode.  Though dated, that warning should not be ignored even now.

Unlike so many other “superpower” characters, in Frank’s case, his vision, his ability is truly a curse. Through his visions of the perpetrators grisly deeds, the viewer bares witness to the disjointed and perverse side of humanity: serial killers, serial rapists, humans committing acts which would be considered heinous even by today’s television standards.  Yet, Frank must strive to find what beauty he can in the world for the sake of his daughter, his marriage and his own salvation.  Millennium is an experiment in psychological drama, the grotesque coupled with beauty, the yin and yang as we approached the new millennium.

Fifteen years later first season Millennium still holds up due to its original plots as well as its intelligence and originality.  Look for story and character rather than “flashy” editing.  Do not expect many gun fights or car chases but rather turmoil, battered consciousnesses, souls looking for salvation and failing miserably—the equivalent of slowly passing a moral accident, and like Frank Black, having no choice but to look.

Note: Though the box set above contains all 3 seasons, this review only pertains to Season One and Two.  By Season Three due to script changes etc. it was clear the end was near.

Availability: DVD BOX SET

Sherlock (2010-?)
Season One + Two

The first thing we easily deduce from the BBC One television series, Sherlock, is this is a Sherlock Holmes unlike any other.  All the clues are there—the opening sequence of war footage, the nightmares, the somber realization of how fragile we are.  In point of fact there is very little deduction involved—this is a new Sherlock Holmes.

The series begins with Dr. John Watson in psychotherapy, having returned from Afghanistan, diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.  His therapist encourages him to write a blog.  “John…it’s going to take you a while to adjust to civilian life,” she says.  “… And writing a blog about everything that happens to you will honestly help you.”  John as if staring into empty space replies, “Nothing happens to me…” Dramatic irony or dry wit? Either way just as with the original Sir Arthur Conan Doyle stories, it really is Dr. John Watson’s story.  It has always been Dr. Watson’s story.  And everything will happen to him.  He will be the constant companion and sometimes reluctant participant, and biographer in the most incredible personal journey ever—his life with Sherlock Holmes.

Benedict Cumberbatch portrays the most famous detective in literary and screen history, along side Martin Freeman as his colleague, Dr. John Watson.  I will be completely honest in saying that Guy Ritchie’s 2009 feature film with Robert Downy Jr. and Jude Law had convinced me that there really wasn’t much more that could be done with the Holmes and Watson characters.  Not so.  Flash forward to modern day London, add the subtext of homosexuality (played for humor… I think), text messages, blogging, and I do believe creators Mark Gatiss and Steven Moffat (Torchwood) have not only uniquely recreated the Sir Arthur Conan Doyle characters, but also managed to fit them rather perfectly into the modern world.

As a matter of fact it is the clever trickle of tongue-in-cheek references to the original Conan Doyle works which gives this version of Holmes its added charm.  There are subtle references to the original works such as the “speckled blonde”(The Speckled Band) played mostly for comedic purposes reminding those acquainted with the Holmes stories that the Sherlock writers and producers know exactly what they are doing.  If Holmes is different, and he is, it is because they have chosen him to be so.  How different? Well, let’s examine the facts.  Is this Sherlock obnoxious?  Yes.  Is he sarcastic?  Yes.  Is he arrogant? Yes. Is he basically a social deviant?  Yes.  And is he brilliant? YES.

When Holmes and Watson first meet, the first words out of Holmes’ mouth are, “Afghanistan or Iraq?”  He continues with a barrage of observations and deductions in the classic Holmes style and before we know it, we are both repulsed and fascinated by him.  But above all else, we are curious.

The premise of the series is very straight forward—a modern day Sherlock Holmes living in London helping the police solve crimes.  Then why does this series leave such an indelible mark?  In a word… excellent script writing.  There is no reality TV involved, no soap opera, no politics, no bureaucracy.  It is simply the story of one man, a brilliant man, on a quest to test himself and others in the areas of human behavior and deduction.  This is the thing that Sherlock lives for, and through the eyes of John Watson, we can’t help ourselves but live for it too.

The series is highly intelligent, and very amusing though you would have to be almost on the same level as Sherlock for you to get close to guessing whodunit even though the clues are pretty much laid out for you.  And just when you think everything and everyone had been accounted for—Watson, Holmes, Mrs. Hudson, Sherlock’s brother Mycroft, you come to realize there is one very important person missing from the latest Sherlock Holmes yarn… Dr. James Moriarty.  Or is he?

Another interesting fact about the series is that instead of the standard 60-minute episode, each episode is 90 minutes long.  As a result Season 1 and 2 are only 3 episodes each.  Sherlock, which premiered in 2010, has garnered several awards including the Banff Rockies Award.

Sherlock Season 3 begins in 2013.
Availability: Seasons 1 +2 now available on DVD

Numb3rs  (2005-2010)
Season One

Q: What does a dandelion, the Pyramid of Giza and unsolved FBI crimes have to do with one another?

In the television series Numb3rs, Charlie Eppes (David Krumholtz) is a somewhat socially inept mathematician who hangs around with an equally socially dyslexic physicist, Larry (Peter MacNicol).  In his spare time Charlie uses fractal dimension measurements, pursuit curves, and Guilloche patterns to help his FBI brother Don (Rob Morrow) solve crimes.

“We all use math every day…to predict weather, to tell time, to handle money.
Math is more than formulas and equations. It’s logic. It’s rationality.
It’s using your mind to solve the biggest mysteries we know.”

Set in modern day Los Angeles, the beauty and brilliance of this  first season (13 episodes) is how the writers are able to apply math to the real world in a way that keeps us not only interested, but actually excited.  No, algebra class was never like this in high school.

It is obvious that veteran film directors Ridley Scott (Alien) and recently deceased brother, Tony Scott (Top Gun) invested time, talent, and creatively into the development of this once weekly television series.

Other than the superbly shot cinematography, and excellent casting, and Charlie’s “analogy sequences”   what makes this show unique is that it’s not just a crime-drama, but an examination of family relations, as each week we marvel at how Charlie is able to use math to solve a crime, yet continues struggling to resolve relationship issues such as the loss of his mother, his “love life”, his brother and estranged father— complicated social and emotional equations that Charlie can not begin to solve regardless of what algorithm he may attempt to apply. On this level Charlie becomes quite ordinary, which means even if we can not relate to Charlie’s math world, we can certainly relate to his humanity.

Q: What does a dandelion, the pyramids of Giza and unsolved FBI crimes have to do with one another?

A: According to Numb3rs they all incorporate what the Greeks referred to as the Golden Ration (1. 61803).  Seems that ratio shows up in dandelion petals, in the construction of the Pyramid of Giza and…well, watch Season 1 to see its application to crime solving.

Availability: DVD BOX SET

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