Agent X: Pilot

I’d say putting the letter X in the title of your show is an exclusive right for anything either X-Files or X-Men related, but after the Canadian World World II spy show X Company earlier this year, here it is again. This time, TNT thought it’d be cool. Fine. Just don’t expect any flying saucers, mutants or German soldiers in Agent X.

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How About That Fireman
What if we made a TV series about a special agent? He’d have to be cool, of course, a Jack Bauer-type. What’s Sullivan Stapleton up to? Blindspot, you say? What about that other one – Philip Winchester? The Player? Okay. Kiefer Sutherland’s a bit too obvious, besides, the TNT budget would never cover his salary. Jake McDorman, then. He looks scruffy enough. Limitless? Didn’t Bradley Cooper do that one? He’s in the show as well? Wow. Well, how about that fireman, what’s his name? Jeff, yes. Grey around the edges? You mean literately? As long as it doesn’t make him look old, I suppose. Jeff Hephner (Chicago Fire, Boss, Interstellar), that’s his name. He’s got the physique. The smirk. Could work.

Vice
But let’s face it, Jeff’s not going to draw people in. He’s not famous enough. We need a star, preferably a movie star. An actor looking for an opportunity to break into the television drama business. Who’s that you got on the line? Sharon Stone? Perfect. No, we don’t have that kind of cash lying around, this is TNT, man. We could offer her a credit as executive producer – how does that sound? Sounds good, she says? Great. So she’s in? Who’s she’s going to play, though? Any ideas? She wants to play President? You know, let’s make her the Vice. That way, she can grow with the show, have a campaign and such, that’ll be cool. It worked for Kevin Spacey, didn’t it? Agreed? Agreed.

John
Now, how are we going to tie everything together, without looking like we’re plagiarising 24? You know what, let’s put a little National Treasure into it. Everybody loves secret caves, historic artefacts and the Founding Fathers. So let’s put Sharon in charge of secret operations. One man operations, because really, who needs an elite team of highly trained professionals? One man’s usually enough to get the job done, no matter if it’s television-logic or not. Let’s call Jeff’s character John; ‘Jack’ would be pushing it, don’t you think?

Ninja-esque Operative
What do we have so far? John, special agent, doing all this dangerous stuff for the vice-president. We still need a villain. Somebody John goes after, but always just misses him. The big bad guy has got somebody equally skilled on his payroll. That’s going to be John’s nemesis. Let’s make her a woman. That way, we get a nice The Spy Who Loved Me dynamic going. Who’s that girl from The Vampire Diaries? Olga Fonda, yes. She could pass off as an ninja-esque operative.

We’d Better Get an Albert
Who do we have to direct this ridiculous throw-together? Peter O’Fallon? Great thinking, I love it. He’s got a ton of experience. There’s no one better to balance on the edge of far-fetched and not caring it’s far fetched, because it’s so entertaining. Wait, we still need to cast the President, don’t we? Let’s get John Shea (Mutant X, Gossip Girl, Lois & Clark). And because we have a sort of Batcave, we’d better get an Albert, too. Someone to show Sharon the ropes, and get all the exposition out in a nice tone. I have just the guy for the part: Gerald McRaney (Longmire, House of Cards, Justified, Southland, Jericho, Deadwood). What do you say? James Earl Jones wants in? Okay, well, let’s give him an unnecessary scene, somewhere halfway the episode. I’m sorry, but we just don’t have much room left.
Now all we need is TNT to sign off on it, but that’s not going to be a problem. Have you seen their scripted shows? The Librarians, The Last Ship, Falling Skies, Franklin & Bash? This one will easily get greenlit.

Public Morals: Family is Family

‘Nobody gives me any shit’, is the first thing Rusty (Neal McDonough, Arrow, Mob City, Band of Brothers, Boomtown) says and he’s not kidding. Apart from picking out guns, he’s not afraid to use them, too, coldblooded.

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Reversed Typecasting
Some actors get typecast as the villain, bad guy, terrorist, mobster and any kind of other scum of the earth, and have made a career out of it. Their looks just make them the perfect antagonists. The odd thing is, Neal McDonough’s looks don’t exactly say ‘I am a bad man’; he comes across as a sympathetic guy, actually. Still, more often than not he’s cast as amoral businessmen, gunslingers and psychopaths. On Public Morals, Rusty tries to be smart, tactical, restrained, but fails in every department.

A Kaleidoscopic Inside Look
We’re dealing with the aftermath of the murder of crime boss Mr. O (Timothy Hutton). Terry (Edward Burns) tries to put the pieces together. His uncle had a lot of enemies, so the list of suspects is a long one. The investigation is at the heart of the episode, but then again, it’s not.
Public Morals has a way of luring you into its house and showing you every room, in a nice, welcoming manner. It’s what many other shows easily get wrong, but Burns’ personal intertwined cop and mob family project hits all the right notes. A kaleidoscopic inside look into every corner of Terry’s family, the Public Morals Division and many, many more characters – all played by terrific, seasoned actors – is a recipe for boredom (it’s extremely hard to pull off a show with such a big ensemble cast, and make every storyline evenly interesting), but the series offers so much in pace, tone, dialogue, camera work, direction and art direction, that it’s a feast for one’s eyes.

A Romantic Take
This show makes the Beetle car look like the coolest thing you could ever drive. Also, when did we stop wearing hats like that? The way the houses, bars and police precincts are furnished and lit. The way men and women dress, in general. The other cars, the music. The way children are brought up, fair and just. The series must be a highly romantic version of the 1960s, but I love it.

The Would-Be Witness
Rusty’s killed Mr. O and tells Joe Patton (Brian Dennehy, Dynasty, Rambo: First Blood, Romeo + Juliet), the guy presumably at the very top of the mob food chain, he’s going to take care of it. The Robin to his Batman is Tommy Red (Fredric Lehne, American Horror Story, the pilot on Con Air and the marshall escorting Kate on LOST). His first idea is to cook up a witness. A witness who saw nothing. They rehearse the story he’s going to have to sell to the police, but can’t tell it straight – and gets strangled by Rusty.

Suzie
Then, he pays a visit to the only real witness. The hooker who ‘saw the whole thing’, Suzie (Erin Darke), who’s just about to leave town, but then Rusty appears outside of her house. I would’ve sworn Suzie was played by Jennifer Lawrence. The heavy makeup and Darke’s physique make her almost identical to Lawrence’s part in American Hustle.
When Rusty offers her a ride to the train station (but we all know that’s the one place he’s not going to take her), she blurts out she’s not going to tell a soul about what happened. Without a second thought, he shoots her, then and there, on the sidewalk, and leaves her lying there.
(I’m not sure about his reasoning, but I guess she needs to be found by the cops next week, to drive the story forward.)

Binoculars
The show really stands out in the way it’s shot. There are long shots, the camera moves very organically through a scene, the colors – even though there are lots of different brown tones – are spectacular, maybe there’s a bit too much darkness around the edges of the frame, as if we’re watching through binoculars, but other than that, the image alone makes for a greatly entertaining hour of television.

Guest Stars
Another thing that shouldn’t go unmentioned, is the short scene between Terry and his father Mike (Peter Gerety, The Wire, The Job, Brotherhood, Brothers & Sisters, Sneaky Pete and the 1996 comedy called… Public Morals). It’s a very mature, lovingly, realistic conversation between a grown man and his dad, both being their own man, able to talk about whatever issues they used to have in the past.
Okay, maybe not so realistic, but a father and his son, treating each other as equals, you don’t see that very often in drama series.
Speaking of guest stars, Mr. O’s widow’s played by Michele Hicks (whom we all know as Shane Vendrell’s irrational wife Mara). Harry Hardware, a character who seems to have his fingers in a lot of Hell’s Kitchen pies, is played by Al Sapienza (Person of Interest, Brotherhood, Mikey Palmice on The Sopranos and Philly Falzone on Prison Break).

Public Morals: A Fine Line

There’s a lot on the line for Edward Burns, with his new TNT show Public Morals. Indeed, his show, because he created, wrote and directed it. Assembled a bunch of terrific actors to go back to the 1960s with him, found a network to back it up, and even got Steven Spielberg involved (as executive producer, which, we all know, means he’s not very involved at all, but still: Steven Spielberg).

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The Business of Comfort
It’s fair to say TNT has lost the game against USA. It’s hard to say exactly why, but TNT does seem to have an affection for easygoing, middle of the road product. People should be able to watch their series and stay comfortable in their seats, while USA isn’t afraid to put you right on the edge of it. Public Morals certainly falls in the former category, but that doesn’t disqualify it; staying comfortably in your seat can be a nice thing.

Breathe
The show’s got a resemblance to TNT’s short-lived, quickly-aired Mob City, but that’s just because of the time period, men in suits, hats, and Robert Knepper (Prison Break, Heroes), as well as Burns himself. All in all, it looks great. No funny business with sepia tones or abysmal lighting, like The Astronaut Wives Club and especially Aquarius. The series is perfectly lit, dressed and designed, with a director on board who knows what he’s doing and takes his time, which enables the show to breathe.

The Gap
Edward Burns (Saving Private Ryan, 15 Minutes, Confidence) came up about the same time Ben Affleck went down. He counted as the perfect Affleck substitute, the pretty boy leading man everybody was looking for. But while Hollywood was way too occupied trying to fit Affleck the square into a round shape, Burns was never called back. He could’ve easily filled the gap left by the pumped up image of Affleck, but it just never happened.
He may not have wanted to, decided to sharpen his craft as writer and director. And now there’s Public Morals, the accumulation of all of his talents.

The Business of Management
The series deals with a New York police department, starring next to Burns and Knepper, Michael Rapaport, Wass Stevens and a young actor who’s going to go far, Patrick Murney. Why? Just a hunch. Prostitution, gambling and alcohol are prohibited. The cops aren’t cops, they’re managers. Donald Trump would be proud. They’re keeping the peace, turning blind eyes, until that peace is broken: a body washes up on the shore with the Brooklyn Bridge in the background.

Tasty Dish
That body’s Timothy Hutton (Leverage, Kidnapped, American Crime). Burns has got ‘a few ideas’ who could be behind it. It seems this murder is what sets everything in motion. It’s at the very end of the episode, so what have we been watching for an hour? If the first interesting thing happens right before fading to black, everything that came before must’ve been pretty boring, right? Not right. Public Morals might not serve up an explosive dish, but it’s a tasty one.

Lyndon Smith
There are other storylines woven through Burns’ work and private life, too, but it’s way too soon to tell where they’re all headed. One thing that must be mentioned, though: Lyndon Smith (Parenthood, Extant, 90210) is playing a minor part, and you don’t want to miss her in anything she’s in. She’s the Girl with the Most Amazing Jaw Dropping Hypnotizing Eyes on Television.

Proof of a lot of things, no proof of life

Months back, the trailer of TNT’s newest medical drama Proof didn’t promise a lot of excitement. Unfortunately, it’s not surprising, with the pilot episode not presenting much to cheer about either.

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Short-Lived
Medical dramas have been around since the Stone Age, so whenever a new one rolls around, there has to be a unique selling point. A twist, like a weekly evaluation of the operations performed and doctors basically getting roasted by the hospital’s chief of staff. Sound familiar? It was the original concept of TNT’s short-lived other medical show, Monday Mornings. Despite having heavy hitters on its cast, like Alfred Molina, Ving Rhames and Jennifer Finnigan, not even mentioning the fact it was written by dialogue mastermind David E. Kelley (Boston Legal, The Crazy Ones), it quickly got cancelled. Something similar will happen to Proof, for no other reason than it’s not even half as good as Monday Mornings.

The Concept, his Angle and his Fortune
Proof’s concept is pretty thin, so thin in fact, I don’t see the story really going anywhere. Dr. Carolyn Tyler (Jennifer Beals) is asked by billionaire Ivan Turing (Matthew Modine) to find proof of an afterlife. He’s dying, probably won’t be around for another year, and wants to know if there’s life after death. The angle he has to ask Carolyn, is her son, who died. Wouldn’t she also want to know for certain that he’s still out there and she’ll see him again one day?
O, and let’s say she does find proof, Ivan will leave his fortune to her, there’s that, too, of course.

ER, House, MD and A Gifted Man
The show’s got similarities to A Gifted Man, which also dealt with doctors and ghosts, and it borrows a little bit of House, MD and ER, as well. In a typical case of the opposite of ‘show, don’t tell’, it‘s said that Carolyn is ‘not too good with people’. I’d say she gets along great with everybody; they’ve clearly confused tell and show. She’s a bit on the tough side, but nowhere near as cynical and obnoxious as Gregory House.
We don’t spend too much time in operating rooms, but when we do, instead of House, ER is more of an influence. House, MD has shown us how to make hospitals warm, tidy and sexy, but Proof prefers them hectic, topsy-turvy and cold. Probably much more accurate, but you don’t want your viewers to walk away to turn the heating up.

Hallucinations
Carolyn doesn’t want to hear it, but she’s had a near death experience herself. She’s seen something too, a glimpse of the afterlife, but stubbornly denies it was anything other than a hallucination. The scene is a testament of the lack of creativity of everyone involved with the show. They’ve actually come up with a bunch of people, back lit, standing around. Shadowy figures waiting for the bus, that’s what the afterlife looks like, according to Proof. It’s such a simplistic visualisation, they should be ashamed of themselves.
Apart from the two leading characters – at least their (two) scenes together do spark a little flame – the show’s proof of a lot of things, except compelling TV. There’ll be life after this one, because this one’s already gone. You’ll have your proof when it doesn’t get past its first season.