The Magicians: Unauthorized Magic

Syfy is your go to guy when it comes to high concepts, wide green screens and deep space. Their shows, without exception, need a much bigger budget than the network can afford, but that doesn’t keep them from making them. I can only assume the Syfy executives are unable to offer less resources than other outlets, but they can easily make up for it by giving the writers a lot of creative freedom. At least, that’s what I would do.

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Trilogy
Their newest fantasy drama is called The Magicians. Back in 2011, FOX passed, but three years later Syfy picked it up and produced a pilot episode, which aired last week (the first season will start next month). The show is based on the book ‘The Magicians’ by Lev Grossman, the first one in a trilogy. You’d think that’ll be enough material to map out a few seasons, but you just never know. Wayward Pines was based on three novels, the first season was a modest success, but as months have been passing by with a deafening silence, a continuation seems very unlikely.

He
‘Unauthorized Magic’ starts off like The Wire – with people outside playing chess – but only for about 2 seconds. A door opens, and we don’t see the inside of a (ware)house, but a field of grass and butterflies. If that isn’t a quick establishing of ‘fantasy TV show’, I don’t know what is. Dean (Rick Worthy, Eyes, The Man in the High Castle, Heroes) steps through the door, into the city, sits down on a bench to read a newspaper. A woman comes to him, anxious, because there is a ‘he’ coming. ‘He’ is Syfy code for ‘bad guy we don’t speak of yet, for dramatic effect’.

Scar Tissue
But Worthy isn’t the star of the show. That job goes to a couple of teenagers, who are handpicked by Dean, to pretend to study at Hogwarts. It’s a school for the gifted (hello, X-Men), for young wizards – or ‘magicians’, as they’re called here (hello, Harry Potter), and the only way to get there is by opening a random door (hello, Narnia). During the selection process, some hopefuls don’t make the cut, but that’s okay; their memory will be wiped. Julia (Stella Maeve, Chicago P.D.) isn’t going to let that happen, though. She cuts herself, so when she wakes up in her bed and sees the scar, she knows Hogwarts exits, and that she was rejected.

They
Her friend Quentin (Jason Ralph, Aquarius, Manhattan, Madam Secretary) does make it in. And not only that. All signs point to him being ‘the One’. His magic trick (or skill) involves making playing cards fly all around the room. Julia, feeling wrongfully rejected and stuck in the real world, has been practicing her gift: shooting flames of electricity out of her fingers. That’s much cooler. I totally understand that a guy named Pete (David Call, Smash, Gossip Girl) recruits her. ‘They’ have had their eyes on her for some time. ‘They’ is Syfy code for ‘we don’t know yet who they are either, but just give us the benefit of the doubt’.

Frozen in Time
The show addresses a lot of stuff adolescents struggle with. Rejection, feeling lost, hopeless, the talent you apparently have because ‘everybody has a talent’, being misunderstood, questioning whether you’re crazy or not. However, just when you think ‘The Magicians’ is a series about self-discovery, disguised as a fantasy tale, ‘he’ shows up. The man who’s also referred to as ‘the Beast’, and brutal he is. He makes time stand still, steps out of a mirror into Quentin’s classroom, surrounded by pretty wild mosquitos. Everybody’s frozen. They can’t move, except for their eyes. The Beast kills the teacher – Darth Vader style -, then rips out Dean’s eyes. Suddenly fantasy’s turned into horror. Harry Potter would’ve never let this happen.

The Coin
Then, the coin in Quentin’s hand, falls out. The Beast turns his headful of flies. Everything should’ve been on pause. This means something. This boy means something. Is there going to appear a lightning bolt on Quentin’s forehead? Is he going to turn the Beast into a spider on roller-skates? On January 25, 2016, we’ll find out. Expecto patronum!

Wicked City: Pilot

We didn’t actually want to watch it at first, that’s how bad the trailer looked – that’s how low our expectations were for Wicked City. But one’s memory can be an unreliable thing. That godawful trailer couldn’t be accessed anymore, so how bad could the show be, is what we were thinking and put the pilot on. Indeed, maybe not as bad as we thought, but yeah, bad.

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All the Rage
I can understand why procedurals use serial killers every now and then. You’ve got a detective solving crimes every week, catching bad guys, so even from a statistical standpoint the bad guy has to be a serial killer sometimes, right? However, when a series is serialized, using just one antagonist for at least a season, why make the killer serialized as well? I guess the only show that found an original hook, was Dexter, but 9 out of 10 times, it’s just boring, because serial killers tend to be quite one-dimensional.
I’m not saying Hannibal Lecter was, though, but I never got into Hannibal. I surely didn’t care much for Charles Manson on Aquarius (that show’d be better without him, actually), and now there’s Wicked City, a tale about a disturbing young man with a knife, a car, a personal vendetta against a police detective (where have we seen that before?) and he likes to request songs on the radio.

Like a Natural Woman
Let’s first list the things I do like about the show, because it’s not all bad. I’ve always liked Jeremy Sisto (Suburgatory, Law & Order, Six Feet Under), but he doesn’t have the weight for a leading role, for some reason. It’s like he misses the edge of Jack Bauer, the coolness of Don Draper and the scruffiness of Kurt Weller. He does have a colleague, Eileen Miller, played by Sara Mornell (Six Feet Under, Judging Amy, Becker) and finally, finally, it’s not a thin as a rail young blonde tough but sexy, sexy but tough female detective, but a woman. A beautiful woman, sure, but one with actual curves. Not sexy, necessarily, but natural. It’s kind of ridiculous, how pleasantly surprised I was by seeing a real woman walk into view, but I guess my eyes have been Hollywood-polluted with a parade of assembly line actresses, that Mornell looks like a rarity. An exotic surprise, even. Anyway, she should’ve been the lead character, me thinks, but another female action star this year may have been pushing it. It would’ve been smart, though, given the success of Blindspot and Quantico.

Bonnet
A few more things I liked: Erika Christensen, who totally transformed herself into this insecure single mother of two. To be honest, I didn’t know it was Christensen, that’s how different she looked. I thought it was Ashley Jensen (Extras, Ugly Betty).
I also like the visuals. I don’t know why it’s set in the eighties – other than have an excuse to incorporate Billy Idol – because it doesn’t really look like the eighties, but I do like the direction. It’s not shot with a bonnet over the camera, like Aquarius, so that’s a plus.

Asleep
That’s about it. I couldn’t care less about the story – if it’s time to list everything I don’t like and this is me writing it, so yes, it is. There’s room enough for Billy Idol’s complete anthology to fit in my yawn, that’s how dull the whole concept is. Sisto’s character has got an affair with an (undercover) cop, his boss gives him a partner he doesn’t get along with (now, we haven’t seen that before, have we? No, wait a minute, we have) and what else? He’s chasing leads and always just missing the bad guy. I’ve just fallen asleep.

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.

Aquarius: Old Ego is a Too Much Thing

Premiered on television in May, the full first season released online the same day, then moved to the Bermuda Triangle of television drama; Saturday night, so to claim Aquarius has been flying under the radar the last 13 weeks is a bit of an understatement.

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1960s Version
David Duchovny’s show about Charles Manson has officially (if television’s still today’s standard, that is) ended its first season this weekend. The show in which Duchovny plays a 1960s version of Noah Bennet, sort of, judging by his hairstyle and sunglasses. It may just have been Fox Mulder all along, though, sent back in time by Hiro, to solve an X-File. Or maybe I’m getting a little carried away now – the era of series revivals has begun and I get confused sometimes.

Tainted Windows
At least Duchovny’s character Sgt. Sam Hodiak loses the glasses during the first few episodes. However, the way the series is shot remains. Scenes indoors are way too dark, scenes outside have a certain sepia blur about them, and the whole show looks to have been drowned in a grey-greenish filter. It’s just not particularly nice on the eyes.
Aquarius has been renewed for a second season, so hopefully they’ll decide to brush off the tainted windows through which everything is filmed.

Potential
Creator John McNamara (writer on Eyes, Profit, Lois & Clark and the television adaptation of The Fugitive) apparently had been tweaking the concept, until NBC was convinced this was the way to go. What made them think yes, this is an original story with enough potential to order 13 episodes, is still a mystery to me. If there’s one thing Aquarius suffers from the most, it’s the ‘inspired in part by historical events’.

Gruesome
Everybody knows ‘inspired by’ means the writers can take a lot of liberties with the source material. But everybody also knows it’s ridiculous to create a show about Charles Manson and not include that infamous, gruesome act he’s committed. So from the very first seconds of the pilot, the viewers are waiting for it to happen – because it will. This creates suspense, to an extent, but once you get the feeling it’s not going to happen anytime soon (because at that point, or soon after, the show will probably be over), the suspense starts to turn into a drag.

Overshadowing
There are other storylines too, of course. Hodiak’s son, deserter from the military, the rise of the Black Panthers, Hodiak’s own alcohol and drug abuse, the character of Roy Kovic (David Meunier) who’s under-utilised, Charmain Tully (Claire Holt) who’s fighting an uphill battle as a woman in the police force, the relationship between Ken Karn (Brían F. O’Byrne) and Hal Banyin (Spencer Garrett), but all of this is overshadowed by this disturbed young man played by Gethin Anthony. Aquarius would actually be a much better show if that whole Charles Manson wasn’t a part of it.

Cancellation
So the best thing that could happen is if they wrap up Manson’s story arc, first thing in the second season premiere, hire an extra guy with lamps so we can actually see what’s going on, dial back the color correction and suddenly the ratings will double. But, you know NBC’s not going to do that. Why fix what isn’t broken, is what they’ll be thinking, so we’ll be watching Manson pointing guns at heads again in darkness and greenness, until its cancellation. Too bad, because the show does have potential. It’s just the way that it’s executed that misses the mark.

Desperate Sixties Housewives in Space

ABC jumps right into the gap, left by the departure of Don Draper from our television screens. For anyone missing the sixties already, take a look at The Astronaut Wives Club.

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Chitchat around a Teapot
They could’ve picked a different name, because it’s got DULL written all over it, no matter if it completely covers what the show is about; a title seldom makes you, but in some cases it can break you. Who’s going to tune in for chitchat around a teapot – because that’s the association you get when you put wives and club together, especially when the story takes place in the 1960s.
Having gotten that off my chest, The Astronaut Wives Club does deserve a look, despite flying very much under the radar. It’s June and you know what that means. TNT, USA, Syfy, FX, they’ve all come out of hiding and are busy bombarding the world with new drama. ABC’s sympathetic show about women, standing by their space traveling men, easily gets snowed under.

Launch
Although the focus of the show lies on the women – while their husbands do all the exciting, space rocket stuff -, it’s much less boring than you might expect. In the pilot, called ‘Launch’, it becomes clear we’re dealing with an ensemble cast, but what a great cast it is. It takes skill to get the show on the road and introduce all the characters, but it happens in a very nicely paced, organic fashion. Besides, who doesn’t love Odette Annable (House MD, Breaking In, Banshee)? Or what about Bret Harrison (Breaking In, The Loop, V, Reaper) and Evan Handler (Necessary Roughness, and of course Charlie Runkle on Californication)?

The Joan
Other cast members include JoAnna Garcia Swisher (Once Upon a Time), Yvonne Strahovski (24: Live Another Day, Dexter, Chuck), Dominique McElligott (Hell on Wheels), Azure Parsons (Salem) and Zoe Boyle (Sons of Anarchy, Downton Abbey). The show takes place in the sixties and the production value is great. It could be a Mad Men spinoff show, if you look at it through your eyelashes. And that’s where The Joan comes in – because every show needs a Joan Holloway. In this case, it’s Erin Cummings (Spartacus, Pan Am, Made in Jersey and… yes, Mad Men). She’s terrific as Marge Slayton, the alpha female, if you will.
As far as the pilot goes, The Astronaut Wives Club lacks the intellectual depth of The Don Draper Show, but it does capture the time period beautifully. It also proves you don’t need silly image filters, just because the story happens to take place 50 years ago (I’m looking at you, Aquarius).

The Concept
The concept of the series is actually quite brilliant. All of their husbands are in training to become astronauts, but it’s the sixties; rockets occasionally blow up after take-off. Every launch is both very exciting – ‘my husband was picked to go outer space!’ – and terrifying, because of its Russian roulette aspect.
All in all, it’d be a shame if this show doesn’t find an audience, because it’s awesome.

The Dawning of the Age of David Duchovny

Two starring roles in two hugely successful TV series, one of which will go into its 10th season next year, a novel (‘Holy Cow’), a rock album (‘Hell or Highwater’) and as of yesterday a new show on NBC; David Duchovny’s on the biggest roll of his career. So what do we make of Aquarius?

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The Premiere
NBC aired the first two episodes of Aquarius last night, but didn’t forget all you binge watchers out there. On their website, the full first season is downloadable. They will however air the remaining eleven episodes on a weekly basis, so for this review, we only take a look at ‘Everybody’s Been Burned’ and ‘The Hunter Gets Captured by the Game’.

The Pilot
The pilot sets up the concept nicely. Duchovny plays a detective in 1967 with the typical hairstyle of that era for a detective, the buzz cut. He knocks down doors of all kinds of flower power communes, where people sing, smoke pot and have sex. Although, the sex is kept to a minimum on this show. His haircut, suit and sunglasses don’t exactly get him a warm welcome most of the time, let alone cooperation, so he gets help from Grey Damon (Friday Night Lights, Twisted, Star-Crossed), who looks just like a hippie.

The Cast
It’s quite hard to tell all the supporting actor boys apart, actually. They all look so much alike. Are we back on Damon? One of his buddies? Or the ultimate bad guy Charlie Manson? The hair, the beards, the clothes, the way the scenes are lit, it’s all probably very historically accurate, but it’s distracting. One actor who doesn’t need a lot of screen time to stand out is David Meunier (Johnny Crowder on Justified). He’s sort of the gatekeeper to Manson’s secret circle.
Gethin Anthony (Renly Baratheon on Game of Thrones) plays Manson and he’s extremely creepy – gives Ramsay Bolton a run for his money – so that means he’s doing a good job. However, like with many other television baddies, it’s curious how he’s able to attract such a following. He plays guitar, wants to be a musician, but who didn’t, at the time? Apart from some cryptic spiritual mumbo jumbo, there’s nothing out of the ordinary about him. He also doesn’t have the charisma or screen presence that makes it believable he’s the flame the beautiful moths are flying into.

The Case
The case that Duchovny and Damon are put on, is quite a simple one. A girl is missing. Emma, who’s being held hostage by ‘a guy named Charlie’. Her father’s got a history with Manson. A legal one – he’s been his lawyer – and a weird sexual one, if we have to guess. In short, Manson’s blackmailing him, not only by kidnapping his daughter, but also with their past relationship. Why? Emma’s father has connections to the music business and getting into the music business is worth a lot.
The second episode focusses on a different case, that’s fallen into Duchovny’s lap, so the Manson Case is being put on hold for a moment.

The Music
The best popmusic comes from the sixties of the 20th century and there’s a lot in the show, thankfully. However, the actual soundtrack is dated in the wrong sense of the word. It’d be better suited on an eighties detective series. Also, in some of the scary, darker scenes, suddenly there’s a complete overuse of suspense music imposing on it, as if to make it more scarier. It doesn’t. It actually gets close to debunking the entire scene instead of supporting it.
All in all, Aquarius is an enjoyable ride, but so far nothing special.

I Know What You Watch This Summer

TV would have a time-out during the summer months, but at this point, when the big boring procedurals go on holiday, the more interesting stuff comes out to play. This is a rundown of what you’ll be watching this summer.

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Take a brilliant feature film director and keep the keys of the writing room far away from him. This could be good. Wayward Pines (May 14) is M. Night Shyamalan’s crossbreed between The Sixth Sense and Twin Peaks. Starring Matt ‘everybody knows who he is, but can’t name one movie with him in it’ Dillon and the amazing Carla Gugino.

One week later, History adds a few more historical bad asses to their lineup. After Vikings, it’s time for Texas Rangers, in Texas Rising (May 25). Starring Bill Paxton, but it could just as well be Will Patton, I can never tell the difference.

At one point, it looked like he was going to be Fox Mulder forever, but his portrayal of Hank Moody has also become legendary. It could go either way this time. The tagline for Aquarius (May 28) never grabbed me. Investigating Charles Manson? That can only end badly. The writers probably came up with a twist, but I’ve yet to hear it.
Creepy, but in a more extraterrestrial way, is The Whispers (June 1). A ‘force’ is manipulating kids into achieving its goal, whatever that may be. A lot of mystery and you know: the bigger the secret, the bigger the payoff has to be. We’ll see.

Constance Zimmer (House of Cards) is back, but it’s a long way from the White House. Unreal (June 1) is all about a dating competition program. Her former home, Netflix, is the gift that keeps on giving. On June 5th, they launch Sense8, the show directed by James McTeigue (V For Vendetta) and created by The Wachowski siblings.

As usual, FX has got a lot to offer. The second season of Tyrant (June 16), for example, but also a new comedy by Denis Leary: Sex&Drugs&Rock&Roll (July 16). It wasn’t hard to figure out what that will be about.

TNT keeps on trying to overshadow USA, but I don’t think it’s their year. Despite the fact that Proof (June 16) stars the wonderful Jennifer Beals, the premise sounds like a watered down The X-Files and all that’s left is Scully doing autopsies.
Falling Skies (June 28) is back, as well as Cold Justice (July 31), Legends (August 25), Rizzoli & Isles (June 16) and The Last Ship (June 21).
That last one will disappear between the waves, because on the same day HBO brings out their big guns. The return of True Detective, followed by two comedies. Ballers, starring Dwayne Johnson and The Brink, starring Jack Black, Tim Robbins and directed by Jay Roach (Austin Powers, Meet The Parents).
TNT’s dark horse is Public Morals (August 17), a period police drama set in 1967, directed by Edward Burns.

Suits has just ended its fourth season, but is back on June 24th. USA cancelled Rush last year and will replace him with another doctor in Complications (June 18). They’re also moving into AMC territory, with the hacker series Mr. Robot (June 24), starring Steve Buscemi’s brother Michael and Christian Slater.
On June 25th we’ll finally know whether Mike Warren actually died or not. The second season wasn’t as hot as the first, so I’m looking forward to the third of Graceland.

Stephen King’s Under the Dome (June 25) also goes into its third year, where Zoo (June 30) still has to prove itself. Showtime’s got its usual suspects lined up: Penny Dreadful (May 3), Ray Donovan (July 12) and Masters of Sex (July 12), and NBC will once again be the one to beat when it comes to reality, with Running Wild with Bear Grylls (July 13) and American Ninja Warrior (May 25).

You may say Orange is the New Black (June 12) and cannibal may be the new serial killer Hannibal (June 4), but summer is the new spring.