31 DAYS OF HORROR REVIEW: ANGEL – LIFE OF THE PARTY

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MAIN CAST

David Boreanaz (Bones)
James Marsters (Caprica)
J. August richards (Agents of SHIELD)
Amy Acker (The Cabin In The Woods)
Andy Hallett (Shallow Hal)
Alexis Denisof (Dollhouse)
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GUEST CAST

Sarah Thompson (Cruel Intetions 2)
Mercedes McNab (The Addams Family)
Jonathan M. Woodward (firefly)
Leland Cooke (Maid to Order)
T.J . Thyne (Bones)

LIFE OF THE PARTY

As Halloween approaches, Lorne throws a Halloween party for all the firm’s clients and employees and even gets a reluctant Angel to invite a powerful demon lord, named Archduke Sebassis, to the party. During the gathering, Lorne’s timely advice to his friends starts happening literally, leading to Fred and Wesley getting drunk after Lorne tells them to loosen up, Gunn to embarrassingly relieve himself to “stake out his territory”, Angel and Eve to have sex, and even Spike and the dim-witted Harmony to have fun on the dance floor. The events lead to only more trouble when Lorne’s empathic subconscious begins manifesting itself in a hulking demon (resembling a larger Lorne on steroids). The demon appeared as a result of Lorne’s sleep deprivation after Lorne had Wolfram and Hart remove his sleep: an empath with long-term sleeplessness can write people’s destinies instead of just reading them, and the empath’s subconscious can physically manifest. The episode also reveals that Lorne is proud of his organizational skills, as he feels most of his other talents simply do not match up to what his friends can do.angel505The larger Lorne causes much violence before the gang restores Lorne’s sleep, thus neutralizing the monster. The chaos and destruction has a positive side: the rank and file of Wolfram and Hart express the opinion that it greatly improved the party.
This episode was really good and so funny exspexcially how spike was acting the things that he said were very funny and so was Angel, I exspecially liked the part were Gunn peed on Angel’s chair. This episode was my favorite episode out of the fifth season. I think it was funny that every thing Lorne said would come true and then towards the end when a huge giant Lorne came to life after he fell asleep was a gread addition to this episode.
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REVIEW: AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D. – SEASON 2

CAST

Clark Gregg (When A Stranger Calls)
Ming-Na Wen (Stargate Universe)
Brett Dalton (Killing Lincoln)
Chloe Bennet (Nashville)
Ian De Caestecker (Filth)
Elizabeth Henstridge (Reach Me)
Nick Blood (Identicals)
Adrianna Palicki (G.J. Joe: Retaliation)

RECURRING / NOTABLE GUEST STARS

Hayley Atwell (Cinderella)
B.J. Britt (Veronica Mars)
Neal McDonough (Arrow)
Reed Diamond (Dollhouse)
Henry Simons (No Good Deed)
Patton Oswalt (Blade: trinity)
Lucy Lawless (Ash Vs Evil Dead)
Adrian Pasdar (Heroes)
Kenneth Choi (Street Kings)
Simon Kassianides (Quantum of Solace)
Brian Patrick Wade (The Big Bang Theory)
Ruth Negga (World War Z)
Maya Stojan (Castle)
Dylan Minnette (Goosebumps)
Kyle MacLachlan (Dune)
Brian Tee (Jurassic World)
Monique Gabriela Curnen (The Dark Knight)
Joel Gretsch (V)
Tim DeKay (Swordfish)
Dichen Lachman (Dollhouse)
Lou Ferrigno Jr. (The Young and The Restless)
Jamie Harris (Rise of The Planet of The Apes)
Blair Underwood (Gattaca)
Christine Adams (Batman Begins)
Edward James Olmos (Green Hornet)
Luke Mitchell (Home and Away)
J. August Richards (Angel)
Cobie Smulders (How I Met Your Mother)
Jaimie Alexander (The Last Stand)

For many, Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD in its first season  became a forgotten and/or overlooked series, which was too bad, and yet understandable. This was Marvel’s first TV series, coming off of an amazing run of movies and it just didn’t deliver when it debuted. The initial episodes felt unfocused and badly paced,but many people people felt the show improved when SHIELD notably improving in the wake of Captain America: The Winter Soldier’s events.In season 2 the pacing was hugely improved, with storylines no longer taking forever to bubble up again and secrets no longer being kept both from the audience and the characters that no one on screen seemed in a hurry to deal with. Instead, there was payoff to big plot threads happening consistently, as both lingering questions from Season 1 and newly introduced plotlines were deftly dealt with and tied up, while paving the way for new mysteries. On the villain front, there was some nicely done twisting and turning regarding who the Big Bad would be in Season 2. We began with a focus on Hydra leader Whitehall and while Reed Diamond had fun in the role, Whitehall rarely had moments that made him feel like a truly credible threat. When he was killed in the midseason finale, it seemed Kyle MacLachlan’s Cal would take center stage as SHIELD’s main foe… but there was yet another swerve in store.The fact that Skye’s mother, Jiaying (Dichen Lachman), was alive at all was a surprise and we soon saw that she was the leader of the Inhumans and could be pretty strict and cold when it came to doing what she felt was right to protect her people… but that was all hiding just what a zealot she had become, convinced war with humanity was inevitable and willing to begin it herself (via a staged attack) to get all her people on her side. The fact that Jiaying was the true main villain of the season was a subtle, slow reveal and much appreciated for how it was pulled off. We understood the tragic events that had changed her, even as we came to see she, and not Cal, who was the most dangerous.Oh, and did I say Inhumans? This was also a huge part of the season, which was especially notable because it indicated that behind the scenes, Marvel had decided Agents of SHIELD could lead the way in a much more notable way than before, rather than being simply reactive to the events of the films. We know an Inhumans film is coming in a few years, but now this series has already introduced the concept into the MCU. Presumably the film will focus on the Royal Family and a very different group of Inhumans than the ones we met here, but this show was still allowed to be the first part of the MCU to give us Terrigen Mist, the Kree origins and all the major background elements of the Inhumans.
In general, SHIELD felt less restrained this season. The first couple of episodes utilized the notable Marvel villain Absorbing Man, while the reveals that Cal and Skye were, respectively, Mr. Hyde and Daisy Johnson/Quake, rooted this show much more into its Marvel Comics roots.While it began in the latter half of Season 1, SHIELD: Season 2 also benefited from much stronger characterization. While there were so many characters they all didn’t get as much time as might have been ideal, they still all felt much more distinct and specific than the show’s early days, and the fact that several members came and went and shifted allegiances kept things interesting. Ming-Na Wen was always a great presence on the show, but Melinda May was given a lot more depth, as we met her ex-husband, Andrew (Blair Underwood) and finally got the dark details of that incident in Bahrain that we kept hearing about in Season 1. The rift between Fitz and Simmons added a lot more textures to both of them, and was beautifully played by Iain De Caestecker and Elizabeth Henstridge, while Coulson, now the director of SHIELD, had to reevaluate his approach, making much harsher decisions that pained him, but felt more involving and believable than the overly sappy, often naive approach that he began the series with.As for Skye, the writers and producers certainly still were determined to make her the most important and revered character on the show, but this season, it actually felt like they were earning her that position. Sure, we had to accept that she’d apparently gotten one hell of a crash course in being a badass fighter from May between seasons, but it felt good to see her actually be such a formidable presence in the action scenes – and Chloe Bennet really rose to the challenge of her characters new dynamic. And by making Skye both an Inhuman and Daisy/Quake, we at least had tangible reasons she would be important to us as viewers, beyond Coulson simply saying she was awesome over and over again. Bennet and Kyle MacLachlan also were able to build a strong rapport together as the estranged father/daughter duo. Speaking of MacLachlan, what a job he did. While Dichen Lachman brought the perfect pained righteousness to Jiaying, who truly believed what she was doing was right, MacLachlan had the freedom to go absolutely crazy as the absolutely crazy Cal and wow, was he fun. He expertly conveyed his character’s wish to be a happy, doting husband and father intermixed with his violent rage and gave the season some of its best moments – goofy Mr. Hyde makeup/visuals in the season finale aside.The new additions to the SHIELD crew were also appreciated, with Nick Blood’s Lance Hunter, Henry Simmons’ Mack and Adrianne Palicki ‘s Bobbi Morse/Mockingbird all fitting in very well. With such a big group of agents, someone was bound to be overlooked, and unfortunately, that was Trip (B.J. Britt), who never really got a storyline of his own – except to be the big midseason death. Which wasn’t as impactful as it could have been because he felt like a character with potential that was never fully utilized in any capacity (Remember when he and Simmons were flirting?).The “Other SHIELD” storyline was an interesting inclusion, with Edward James Olmos bringing exactly the gravity you’d expect him to as Gonzales. I liked the idea of he and Coulson being so opposed and yet very respectful of one another, in their own ways. I just wish we’d gotten a bigger payoff to that, as Gonzales was killed by Jiaying before he and Coulson really came to any sort of conclusion in their own conflict except on the “very begrudging/wary allies” level.I went into Season 2 very concerned about Grant Ward’s continuing presence on the series. His betrayal was a shot of Adrenalin the bland SHIELD crew needed and his actions had been too extreme and lethal to be forgiven or excused – but this is TV, where it seems any character can be redeemed. And I really didn’t want to see Ward redeemed, especially since Brett Dalton really found the character when he was allowed to play him as a villain. Thankfully, Season 2 didn’t try to bring Ward back onto the SHIELD team – in fact, by the end, he was more delightfully despicable than ever, torturing Bobbi and setting a trap to kill any SHIELD agent that attempted to rescue her and shooting and killing May, point blank, the first chance he had.SHIELD: Season 2 benefited from a show now unafraid to shake up the dynamic. Perhaps having to completely change everything about the series two thirds into the first season served as an inspiration, but from Simmons’ double agent status, to Gonzales’ crew taking over, the show rarely felt stagnant. The show’s always been in a difficult scenario – people love the interconnectivity of the MCU, but because the movie’s have the big superheroics covered, SHIELD felt hindered by not being able to deal with a lot of the bigger name heroes, in a way a series like The Flash (which isn’t connected to DC’s movies at all) doesn’t have to deal with. The decision to have Coulson and Skye begin to form a team of superpowered members seems to indicate those involved have decided its time to bring some more ongoing flash  to the series, even if it won’t be with the biggest name characters. Things will no doubt change in a big way again as a result, but right now, it’s exciting to ponder what’s coming next.

REVIEW: ANGEL – SEASON 1-5

 

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MAIN CAST

David Boreanaz (Bones)
Charisma Carpenter (Scream Queens)
Glenn Quinn (R.S.V.P)
Alxis Denisof (Dollhouse)
J. August Richards (Agents of SHIELD)
Amy Acker (The Cabin In The Woods)
Vincent Kartheiser (Mad Men)
Andy Hallett (Chance)
James Marsters (Smallville)
Mercedes McNab (The Addams Family)

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RECURRING / NOTABLE GUEST STARS

Tracy Middendorf (Scream: The Series)
Christian Kane (Just Married)
Josh Holloway (Lost)
Sarah Michelle Gellar (Ringer)
Michael Mantell (The Ides of March)
Elisabeth Rohm (Joy)
Obi Ndefo (Stargate SG.1)
Johnny Messner (Anacondas)
Jennifer Tung (Masked Rider)
Seth Green (Family Guy)
Andy Umberger (Deja Vu)
Tushka Bergen (Mad Max 3)
Beth Grant (Wonderfalls)
Bai Ling (The Crow)
Jesse James (Blow)
J. Kenneth Campbell (Mars Attacks)
Henri Lubatti True Blood)
Christina Hendricks (Mad Men)
John Mahon (Zodiac)
Kristin Dattilo (Intolerable Cruelty)
Carlos Jacott (3rd Rock From The Sun)
Lee Arenberg (Once Upon A Time)
Jeremy Renner (Avengers Assemble)
Ken Marino (Veronica Mars)
Stephanie Romanov (Thirtten Days)
Tamara Gorski (Man With The Screaming Brain)
Julie Benz (Punisher: Warzone)
Eliza Dushku (Tru Calling)
Alastair Duncan (The Batman)
Sam Anderson (Lost)
Todd Stashwick (The Originals)
Justina Machado (Final Destination 2)
Matthew James (American Crime)
J.P. Manoux (Birds of Prey)
Tony Amendola (Stargate SG.1)
David Herman (Futurama)
Edwin Hodge (The Purge)
Daisy McCrackin (Halloween 8)
Juliet Landau (Ed Wood)
Brigid Brannagh (Army Wives)
W. Earl Brown (Bates Motel)
Tony Todd (Wishmaster)
Jim Piddock (The Prestige)
Julia Lee (A Man Apart)
Gerry Becker(Spider-Man)
Eric Lange (Lost)
Leah Pipes (The Originals)
Thomas Kopache (Catch Me If You Can)
Brody Hutzler (Days of Our Lives)
Persia White (The Vampire Diaries)
Daniel Dae Kim (Lost)
Mark Lutz (Bitch Slap)
Alyson Hannigan (How I Met Your Mother)
Keith Szarabajka (The Dark Knight)
Frank Salsedo (Power Rangers Zeo)
David Denman (Outcast)
Justin Shilton (Little Miss Sunshine)
Rance Howard (Chinatown)
Kristoffer Polaha (Ringer)
Jack Conley (Payback)
Jim Ortlieb (Roswell)
Laurel Holloman (Boogie Nights)
Jeffrey Dean Morgan (The Losers)
Sunny Mabrey (Snakes On A Plane)
Summer Glau (Firefly)
John Rubinstein (Red Dragon)
Alexa Davalos (Clash of The Titans)
Kay Panabaker (No Ordinary Family)
Joel David Moore (Bones)
Adrienne Wilkinson (Xena)
Gina Torres (Hannibal)
Annie Wersching (The Vampire Diaries)
Danny Woodburn (Watchmen)
Sarah Thompson (Cruel Intentions 2)
Jonathan M. Woodard (Firefly)
T.J. Thyne (Bones)
John Billingsley (Star Trek: Enterprise)
Simon Templeman (Black Road)
Roy Dotrice (Beauty and the Beast)
Brendan Hines (Lie to Me)
Tom Lenk (Argo)
Navi Rawat (Feast)
Roy Werner (Power Rangers Time Force)
Alec Newman (Dune)
Adam Baldwin (Chuck)
Jaime Bergman (Soulkeeper)
Stacey Travis (Easy A)
Dennis Christopher (Django Uncahined)

When Joss Whedon pitched Angel: the Series, he described it as a detective-style film-noir-themed take on the supernatural, much in the same way Buffy was pitched as a look from the viewpoint of the Horror genre. Buffy’s style took some time to get right, but the aesthetics of this show in its first year are well thought out and crafted; darkness and emotive shadow creep over, tense musical swells linger, and the picture is shot in a large resolution to provide just a bit of grain. I’d be damned if it didn’t seem intentional. Joss also said that where Buffy looked, metaphorically, at the hell of High School, Angel’s show would look at life past it in your early adulthood and the life and relationship issues of that unique, big city world. This metaphor is dominant in the first season, and is one of the main themes.

Angel, as a series, is always and will always be about redemption, but the themes of its respective seasons are about the different facets to it. Exploring what it is, losing the chance at it or the responsibility one pledges to it is all covered over the duration of the show. With season one, it was most direct: How do you get it? At the start of the season we see Angel arrive in LA, see him save lives, but we also watch him slip deeply into apathy about his goal. To understand the importance and worth of a human and life and soul, Angel learns in “City of” (1×01) that one must have a human connection; friends and allies that make his life worth living so his mission can be worth fighting for, and most importantly so that he doesn’t become detached from (and even dangerous to) those he hopes to save.

The season, as I mentioned, does lack a cohesive arc, but it also has a tremendous amount of hugely entertaining and well-written standalones. Many of them focus on Angel’s mission: “helping the helpless.” Angel makes it his goal to not only save lives, but save souls and make life worth living for others, and as a result of this his connections are solidified as he carries this out. He and his group slowly form into a legitimate investigation team which takes cases and makes money off of them, and many of the seasons situations out of which the characters are developed are a result of these cases. Cordelia, who in “Rm w a Vu” (1×05) is still defining herself by her possessions, searches for a place to live. Instead what she finds is a stronger sense of self, and in that a connection to the world of humans rather the one of plastic. Doyle and Wesley both find their own connections, as well. Episodes such as these are the season’s order, in every one of which something new happens that alters the main or supporting characters, or teaches the audience something about them.

This is, in my opinion, what sets shows like Buffy and Angel apart: relevance. More than any other show, each episode contains progressive, ongoing development that charts development in a very realistic way. On a more specific level, this particular season has an extremely strong episode to episode consistency, with each individual showing striking its own tone and exploring the main theme in different ways. A few larger, more exciting events may have helped, but at the same time I appreciate this season for what it is and how it does something a bit different from most other seasons of Buffy or Angel. There’s a lot more to talk about, including the metaphorical basis’ used and what we’re being fed through them, as well as the general ups and downs. The strongest suit this season has is its extremely fluid use of theme. Though the ponderings on connection, redemption and starting a new life are not as intricately detailed, subtle or socially penetrating as the themes of any other season, the careful and consistent way they’re used to develop characters and give the stories real world relevance is masterful. Angel made it his mission to save souls, and we were shown him connecting with people by helping them, failing to help them, or losing them altogether. All the supporting characters followed, gaining their own redemption through helping Angel and the helpless.

With the exception of Wesley being overly bumbling at times, nothing felt out of character this season, and that’s extremely impressive considering the length of a season. Doyle’s sacrifice in “Hero” (1×09), Angel’s re-ignited belief in himself in “To Shanshu in LA” [1×22] or Kate’s decision to see Angel kiss daylight in “Sanctuary” [1×19] were all thematically conclusive, resonant and well built up to.

The preceding season was,strong and coherent. While looking at the tribulations of life after High School in the big city, it managed to do so in a way that developed the characters within another major theme: Connection; Human emotions and growth that make us a part of the world, make us human. By the end of the season, Angel had been given a purpose, both short and long term, and a mission to fight for: Fighting in the final battles and surviving to be made a breathing human being again. Season Two, with a much broader theme, builds logically on that, and asks our vampire hero just what it means to really be human. Much of the season’s development is split in that way, with Angel increasingly being led off into his own world, with his friends developing entirely in a place away from him.screen-shot-2016-09-09-at-10-18-22-am-e1473430782777While he and the fate that ties him to Darla explore the complexities of human existence, Cordelia, Wesley and Gunn become forced to suffer through and succeed in it on their own. Though not as characterized by pain and hopelessness as much as S3 post “Sleep Tight” [3×16] through to the end of the series is, there’s much darkness and suffering abound, especially for Angel. His epic trials and will for revenge separate him harshly from humanity, only for him to realize that his worst actions are indeed wholly human, and that this is what humanity really can be. Season Two has such interesting ideas in spades, and its theme looks at all the best (“Untouched” [2×04], “Guise Will Be Guise” [2×06], “Epiphany” [2×16]) and worst (“Reunion” [2×10], “Reprise” [2×15]) sides of our existence: forgiveness, self-control, image, obsession, revenge, victory, belonging and the very nature of evil itself. By the time the season closes, Angel’s re-examined entirely what his mission is and how he’s to fight it, and goes from a champion vampire-with-a-soul to simply a genuinely good human being who helps people.fake-dwarvesWith the exception of the brilliant period piece Are You Now or Have You Ever Been?, and a few rare others, the season doesn’t have quite as much use for pure standalones. Its arc employs its best metaphors and situations in the interest of exploring all sides of the characters’ journey, and as such, the season gives the impression that more happens this year than last because of the depth of each phase of the arc: the four episode standalone period, the first part of the Darla arc (“Dear Boy” [2×05] to “Reunion” [2×10]), the second part of the Darla arc (“Redefinition” [2×11] to “Epiphany” [2×16]), another couple of standalones (“Disharmony” [2×17] and “Dead End” [2×18]) and the Pylea arc (“Belonging” [2×19] to “There’s No Place Like Plrtz Glrb” [2×22]).

This is likely why the season finds such a strong and undivided following. While some dispute the worth of the standalones or the Pylea arc, others like them, and everyone loves the story arc; there’s something for everyone. The best aspect of this year of the character’s journey in L.A. is how broad and all encompassing the season is. With the exception of Season Five, I find this to be the best season of the show. It has a few great metaphors, an engaging, unpredictable story arc, fun standalones, important character development, strong drama, and some of the most intelligent moral and social considerations I’ve ever seen on a TV show or in a movie.

Like at the start of Season Two, the writers seemed to have a clear direction in mind at the start of Season Three, and they wisely picked up the story at the logical introductory point: With Angel having conquered his innermost doubts about his own humanity. He begins to live a truly human life. He’s accepted his role in the world as a good person rather than a champion, and recognizes the world as a wide-open, random place with no greater destiny or order about it. It’s the kind of world where even the smallest acts of kindness mean everything, because they mean someone is able to shrug off the horrible burdens of life long enough to make another life better.screen-shot-2016-09-09-at-10-18-22-am-e1473430782777It opens with a six episode prelude looking at various facets of the responsibilities and obligations of normal human life, and then really begins with “Offspring” [3×07] when Darla returns to L.A. in a very, very pregnant state. Like “Dear Boy” [2×05] was for S2, this is where the beginning of S3 truly lies. With Darla’s death and the birth of baby Connor (“Lullaby” [3×09]) as the emotional forces driving the season, the writers used the question of responsibility and all the ideas that fall under it (justice, deserving, chaos and guilt) to create some truly, gut-wrenchingly impossible situations for our characters to face. If I have to commend this year for one thing alone, it’s the painstaking drama that the writers plunge the characters into throughout the main arc and in the mini-arcs that follow. Although there’s not nearly as much thematic depth as S2 or as much consistency as S1, the tragedies and difficult moral situations our beloved Angel Investigations team members are forced to face moved me deeper than a lot of other episodes in the series.

Aesthetically, S3 also has a much more sprawling scope than the previous two seasons. While the first six episodes were essentially standalones, everything that followed “Offspring” [3×07] was in some way tied to the main plot arc of the show, even when some of its key players disappeared following the epic tragedy of “Sleep Tight” [3×16]. Just when it seemed the story was about to move in another Pylea-like offshoot after the main storyline concluded, Connor and Holtz returned and the plot kept on chugging. This led to some problems, of course, as all season-long arcs eventually do. Tension sometimes tried to take the place of real content and it often showed. It also led to there being an uncomfortable setup/payoff ratio on the episode list. But on the plus side, S3 (and S4, which moves even further in this direction) had a feeling of epic scope that no other seasons manage, so to even think of the better aspects that lie within strikes me. Such a sprawl is one of the reasons many people love S3 even if they haven’t looked very deeply at it.Image result for angel forgiving“Forgiving” [3×17] was another gem, as it looked at the human need to assume we live in an ordered world where someone is responsible for everything that happens. But it’s never that easy, and watching Angel struggle with that was fascinating. The final three episodes (“A New World” [3×20], “Benediction” [3×21], “Tomorrow” [3×22]) made up another interesting stretch where we saw how our characters could be motivated by pain, hatred or love and the effects of all those things.

Having already been on the air for three years, Angel had more then enough time to establish its theme, characters, and relationships. It was in its fourth year that it would bring all of these elements to the forefront and then mix them up in a season that would come to be known for its complex twists and turns.The season begins with our title character trapped at the bottom of the ocean – put there by his son – with the rest of his gang broken up. From this grim beginning, things only get darker – literally. Enter the Beast, a rock-encrusted devil whose arrival is heralded by a rain of fire and promptly blocks out the sun over L.A. All signs are pointing to the apocalypse, and it’s up to Angel and the rest of his demon-fighting crew to put a stop to it. From a storytelling point of view things just keep getting worse and worse and it’s a credit to the writers that they somehow manage to end it all on a positive note.Since Season 2 Angel has been a very arc-heavy show, but in its fourth year it would approach almost 24 levels of continuity and follow-through. In addition to being very cool to watch, the interlinked episodes add up to a season that is one big experience unto itself. It’s as if the entire season is one episode with many chapters.This year we get to watch everything get shaken up. Wedges are slowly driven between certain relationships while jealousy quickly divides others. The great thing about it is that you get to see what has caused all of these problems. Despite their best efforts to hold together, these characters have no choice but to push each other apart. It makes for gripping television.Visually and stylistically the show is very well put together. The directing efforts of Joss Whedon (who is always excellent), Tim Minear (who has grown by leaps and bounds over the course of the series), and even Sean Astin (yes that Sean Astin) give the show a very polished and theatrical feel. The producers repeatedly stated that they were going for an ‘operatic’ feel to the season and they pulled it off very well. The use of darkness and shadow deserves special mention as does the great use of wide shots and the directors’ ability to fill each frame with as much information as possible. Wesley goes from bumbling dork to dark James Bond. Cool! While the twists and turns are great, the really cool thing to the season is the multiple layers that you’ll find within. Just when you think you know who the real ‘big bad’ is or in which direction the show is going, the rug is pulled out from under your feet. The entire season keeps you guessing from start to finish. Of course, our heroes win in the end — but everyone is left wondering if they did the right thing. And that’s what sets the show apart: It’s action with substance.

Nobody, not the producers, not the actors, and certainly not the fans could have predicted where this show would go. Where it could go. After all, this is an hour-long fantasy about a guy who spends so much time sitting in the shadows and brooding so much he would give Batman a run for his money. Or utility belt, as the case may be. So why is it that after five years and over a hundred episodes this show was still one of the freshest on TV? Simple: this is a story about something. What started off as just a Buffy spin-off has ended up as a massive epic that challenges, if not surpasses, its parent show. Unfortunately, the WB didn’t think so. After giving the producers a hard time and insisting on several changes, the network decided to bring the show back for a fifth, and what would be its final year.

 

So, in previous seasons we’ve had operatic apocalypses, quests for meaning, and our hero even went evil for a while. There’s only one place left to go. Into the belly of the beast, into hell itself: a law firm. Based on the out-of-left-field plot twist that was thrown at Angel and the gang in previous season’s finale, the team is now in charge of wolfram and hart the evil law firm that they’ve spent the entire series battling. The trick then becomes changing the system from the inside, all the while making sure that it doesn’t change them.


Unfortunately when the network decided to renew the show for a fifth year, there were conditions. First and foremost, it had to be more stand-alone. No more back-to-back cliffhangers. Next, the budget was cut. And finally, to sweeten the deal, the producers decided to bring over Spike – who was barbequed in the Buffy finale – in the hopes that his fans would follow. Luckily the introduction of Spike worked out well. He added a nice flavor to the show and helped flesh out Angel’s character in a way that nobody else could have. The punky vampire brought out the worst in our hero, which ended up resulting in some great comedy. Even if this Spike was different from whom he became on Buffy, he made for a nice addition.

The most unwelcome change was the standalone mandate. Yes, it can work, but it’s just not as good. The greatest strength of this show has always been its own history and tying the hands of the writers was a mistake. It resulted in a bump in the show’s overall flow. Even though it seems rushed, things tie up nicely and the finale certainly puts the “grand” in grandiose; now there’s a balls-to-the wall showstopper for you. Most people will agree that the show finished with perfect thematic closure. These characters fight an impossible fight knowing they’ll probably lose, but that’s not the point. They fight, not to win, but because that’s who they are. They don’t give up. No matter what.

REVIEW: ARROW – SEASON 1 & 2

CAST

Stephen Amell (The Vampire Diaries)
Katie Cassidy (Black Xmas)
Colin Donnell (Chicago Med)
David Ramsey (Pay It Forward)
Willa Holland (Legion)
Susanna Thompson (Dragonfly)
Paul Blackthorne (The Dresden Files)
Emily Bett Rickards (Brooklyn)
Manu Bennett (Spartacus)
Colton Haynes (Teen Wolf)

RECURRING / NOTABLE GUEST CAST

Colin Salmon (Limitless TV)
Jamey Sheridan (The Ice Storm)
Annie Ilonzeh (Beauty and The Beast)
Brian Markinson (Izombie)
Derek Hamilton (Disturbing Behavior)
Hiro Kanagawa (Heroes Reborn)
Kelly Hu (The Vampire Diaries)
Ty Olsson (X-Men 2)
Byron Mann (Dark Angel)
Roger Cross (First Wave)
Euegen Lipinski (Goosebumps)
Michael Rowe (Tomorrowland)
John Barrowman (Reign)
Currie Graham (Agent Carter)
Kyle Schmid (The Covenant)
Sarah-Jane Redmond (V)
Jessica De Gouw (Dracula)
Jeffrey Nordling (Tron: Legacy)
Tahmoh Penikett (Battlestar Galactica)
Sebastian Dunn (The Other Half)
Andrew Dunbar (Leprechaun: Origins)
Danny Nucci (Eraser)
Ben Browder (Stargate SG.1)
Christie Laing (Scary Movie 4)
Patrick Sabongui (The Flash)
David Anders (Izombie)
Ona Grauer (V)
Adrian Holmes (Smallville)
Agam Darshi (Sanctuary)
James Callis (Battlestar Galactica
Rekha Sharma (Dark Angel)
Chin Han (The Dark Knight)
Janina Gavankar (True Blood)
Alex Kingston (Flashforward)
Celina Jade (The Man with The Iron Fists)
Seth Gabel (Salem)
J. August Richards (Angel)
Summer Glau (Firefly)
Dylan Bruce (Heroes Reborn)
Caity Lotz (The Machine)
Michael Jai White (The Dark Knight)
Kevin Alejandro (Ugly Betty)
Bex Taylor-Klaus (Scream: The Series)
Teryl Rothery (Stargate SG.1)
Aubrey Marie Anderson (The Unit)
Jimmy Jean-Louis (Heroes)
Cle Bennett (Flashpoint)
Dylan Neal (Sabrina: TTW)
Cynthia Addai-Robinson (Spartacus)
David Nykl (Stargate: Atlantis)
Sean Maher (Firefly)
James Kidnie (Robocop: The Series)
Katrina Law (Chuck)
Nicholas Lea (V)
Robert Knepper (Cult)
Tara Strong (Batman: The Animated Series)
Lochlyn Munro (Little Man)
Jorge Vargas (Power Rangers Ninja Storm)
Carlos Valdes (The Flash)
Danielle Panabaker (Sky High)

Image result for arrow pilotAfter turning the story about Clark Kent’s evolution from humble teenager to world’s greatest hero into one of the most successful science fiction TV series of all time, what exactly do you do for an encore? The obvious answer would be a series about a young Bruce Wayne. Or maybe a crime procedural starring the men and women of the Gotham City Police Department. Instead, The CW gave us Arrow, a series that simultaneously explores Oliver Queen’s first months as a vigilante hero and the painful hero’s journey he undertook while stranded on a remote island. Even considering Green Arrow’s popularity in Smallville and Justice League Unlimited, it wasn’t the most obvious choice. Nor was it the choice many DC fans wanted. But ultimately, it was a choice that paid off.

To their credit, they succeeded. Even right off the bat, there were many notable elements that he writers introduced into the Green Arrow mythos. Generally a loner in the comics, here Ollie was given a full family and circle of allies. Some were inspired by characters from the comics, while others were entirely new creations. Probably the most successful new addition was John Diggle as Ollie’s personal bodyguard-turned-ally in his war on crime. Watching the dynamic between Ollie and Diggle morph from cold and hostile to warm camaraderie was a treat. And the two sequences featuring Diggle in the costume rather than Ollie suggested that this show could have a life beyond that of its lead character.Image result for arrow pilotAmell’s performance grew stronger over time, and the subtle ways in which he distinguished his performances during the present-day and flashback scenes stood out.With other characters, it was more a question of the scripts shedding light on motivation and relationships before they really came into their own. This was certainly the case with Moira Queen (Susanna Thompson), who was a bit of a hard sell as a sympathetic mother figure until viewers came to understand her role in “The Undertaking.” Similarly, Tommy Merlyn (Colin Donnell) came across as a fairly flat and unimportant character at first. But by the end of the season, Tommy had emerged as the emotional heart of the series and Donnell’s one of the strongest performances.

Felicity Smoak (Emily Bett Rickards) was endearing, her instant charm made fans fall in love with her making her a regular was the best choice when they headed into season 2. As Laurel, Katie Cassidy was excellent as future Black Canary, dealing with her emotions of seeing her former boyfriend back from the dead and the lost of her sister.  Structurally, the season started out strong and finished even stronger. The writers managed to weave together an overarching narrative as Ollie slowly uncovered the truth of The Undertaking and his own parents’ involvement while contending with various smaller villains and conflicts.

Anchoring the series throughout were the frequent flashbacks to Ollie’s five years on the island. The pilot episode offered a tantalizing glimpse of what had transpired over the course of those five years with the Deathstroke mask discarded on the beach. Various plot twists revealed just how complicated that story is, teaming Ollie with Slade Wilson (Manu Bennett) and Shado (Celina Jade) in an ongoing guerrilla war against mercenary leader Edward Fyers (Sebastian Dunn). Particularly once Slade entered the picture and his bond with Ollie became a major focal point, the flashbacks emerged as one of the strongest elements of the show.

Everything in Season 1 culminated in two climactic episodes as Ollie fought for the survival of Starling City in the present and to stop Fyers from sparking an international incident in the past. These episodes offered a satisfying blend of big action scenes and emotional character showdowns. In particular, the final scene between Ollie and Tommy that closed out the season was perhaps the best the show has delivered so far.

Right off the bat, “City of Heroes” set the tone and direction for Season 2. We saw a despondent Ollie still crushed by the death of his best friend, Tommy, and having retreated to the island in a self-imposed exile. Though Colin Donnell only briefly reprised his role as Tommy this season, his character was very much a lingering presence driving the actions of Ollie and Laurel throughout the year. And his death formed the crux of Ollie’s renewed mission. It was right there in the revised opening sequence – “To honor my friend’s memory, I can’t be the killer I once was.” And that, more than Ollie’s battles with Slade Wilson or Sebastian Blood or Isabel Rochev, was the core conflict of the season. It’s easy enough to fight criminals by shooting them dead. But could Ollie muster the strength and the courage not to kill, even if it meant putting himself, his family, and his city in greater danger? It was a struggle, but the most satisfying element of the finale was the way Ollie definitively answered that question and established himself as a better class of vigilante.

Overall, Season 2 was a good showcase for Stephen Amell’s acting talents.  Ollie was haunted by demons and shouldering heavy burdens throughout the year. He suffered more often than he succeeded, and Amell conveyed that pain well. Most impressive was the way Amell was so capable at portraying Ollie at different periods in his life. We saw plenty more of Ollie’s life on the island in the various flashback scenes. Having already spent a year fighting for his life against men like Edward Fyers and Billy Wintergreen, flashback Ollie was closer to the man he is in the present, but not all the way there. And we even caught glimpses of a pre-island Ollie, most significantly in “Seeing Red.” More than the changes in hairstyle or fashion, it was Amell’s purposeful shifts in vocal intonation and body language that differentiated the different versions of Ollie.

Having established himself as one of the better supporting players in Season 1, it was very gratifying to see Manu Bennett step fully into the spotlight and become the big antagonist of Season 2. That’s despite him not even being revealed as the secret mastermind of Brother Blood’s uprising until the mid-season finale, “Three Ghosts.” But it was crucial that the show spend so much time, both this season and last, in building up the brotherly bond between Ollie and Slade and the island. We needed to feel the pain of seeing them broken apart and Slade become a vengeful villain hellbent on tearing his former friend’s life down. And it wasn’t until much later still that we saw how that rift occurred and Slade turn his wrath against Ollie. It’s a testament to both the writing and Bennett’s acting that the character never quite lost his aura of sympathy even as he murdered Ollie’s mother and tried to do the same to Felicity. This was a man driven half-mad by the loss of the woman he loved and an injection of a super-steroid. But conversely, I appreciated how the finale took pains to establish that it wasn’t just the Mirakuru fueling Slade’s anger. Even now, super-strength gone and exiled back to the island, Slade is a clear and present danger to Ollie’s world.

The show introduced Sebastian Blood and Isabel Rochev as Slade’s subordinates, with Blood serving as the most visible villain for much of the season. I really enjoyed Kevin Alejandro’s portrayal of Blood. Alejandro’s Blood was so disarmingly charming that it was often difficult to reconcile him with the masked man kidnapping drug addicts and turning street thugs into super-soldiers. Ultimately, Blood became the sort of villain who does the wrong things for the right reasons. He had an honest desire to make Starling City a better place. And when it became clear to him that Slade Wilson wouldn’t leave a city left for him to rule, Blood did the right thing and aided Team Arrow.

Most of the increasingly large supporting cast were given their moments to shine in Season 2. I was often disappointed that Diggle wasn’t given more to do, but at least he was able to take a starring role in “Suicide Squad.” Diggle’s backseat status was mainly the result of Sara Lance stepping into the limelight early on and eventually becoming the fourth member of Ollie’s vigilante crew. The Arrow had his Canary finally. Sara’s own struggles with the desire for lethal force and reuniting with her family often made for good drama. But among Team Arrow, it was often Felicity Smoak who often had the best material.  Emily Bett Rickards had much better material to work with this year, whether it was her unrequited love for Ollie, her burgeoning relationship with Barry Allen, or her desire to pull her weight alongside her more physically capable allies. The final three episodes all featured some standout moments for Felicity as she established herself as a force to be reckoned with.

Elsewhere, Roy Harper was often a focus as he transitioned from troubled street punk to superhero sidekick. Roy’s temporary super-strength powers were a welcome story swerve and a fitting physical manifestation of his inner rage. His character arc received a satisfying conclusion in the finale when he proved himself worthy and received his own red domino mask, but lost Thea as a result.

As for the various women in Ollie’s life, Felicity and Sara aside, Season 2 was a little more uneven. Moira definitely had an interesting ride. She started out Season 2 fighting for her life while on trial for her role in the Undertaking. Then, in an unlikely turn of events, she was spurred to run for mayor. And finally, her life did end when she became a pawn in Slade’s cruel game. It was a terrific finish for Moira, proving once and for all that, whatever wrongs she committed, she was only ever trying to ensure her children’s survival. Thea was more up and down throughout the season. She was often underutilized, but received a boost late in the season when she learned the truth about her parentage. Laurel’s character  had her own crucible this season, spiraling into into drug and alcohol addiction and losing her job before hitting bottom, rebounding, and playing her part in saving Starling City.

The Mirakuru drug served as a plausible, pseudo-scientific way of introducing super-strength and allowing Slade to transform into Deathstroke. And even when it came time to introduce the Flash midway through the season, Barry Allen never felt too out of place alongside the more grounded characters.

Season 2 really opened the floodgates as far as drawing in characters and elements from other DC properties. Barry Allen’s debut was the most high-profile, but we also saw plenty more of Amanda Waller and A.R.G.U.S. “Professor Ivo became a recurring villain, along with a very different take on Amazo. And in a welcome twist, it turned out that even the Batman franchise is fair game with this show. Early on we learned of Sara Lance and Malcolm Merlyn’s connection to the League of Assassins. Nyssa al Ghul appeared in a couple of episodes, and we know her father is out there in the world, leading his shadowy organization in the hidden city of Nanda Parbat. Even Harley Quinn had a brief cameo.

And beyond the introduction of all these new elements, the scope of Arrow really opened up in Season 2. The action was bigger and better choreographed. The scale of the conflicts was bigger. The producers simply seemed to have more money to throw around. And whether that was actually the case or just the result of experience and planning, the end result was the same. Arrow became a bigger, more cinematic TV series this season.

REVIEW: AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D. – SEASON 1

CAST

Clark Gregg (When A Stranger Calls)
Ming-Na Wen (Stargate Universe)
Brett Dalton (Killing Lincoln)
Chloe Bennet (Nashville)
Ian De Caestecker (Filth)
Elizabeth Henstridge (Reach Me)

RECURRING / NOTABLE GUEST STARS

J. August Richards (Angel)
Shannon Lucio (True Blood)
Ron Glass (Firefly)
Cobie Smulders (How I Met Your Mother)
Leonor Varela (Blade II)
Samuel L. Jackson (Jackie Brown)
David Conrad (Roswell)
Ian Hart (Finding Neverland)
Ruth Negga (World War Z)
Cullen Douglas (Scandal)
Titus Welliver (Lost)
Saffron Burrows (Troy)
Maximiliano Hernández (Warrior)
Ilia Volok (Power Rangers Wild Force)
Charles Halford (Constantine)
Peter MacNicol (Ghostbusters II)
Dylan Minnette (Goosebumps)
Christine Adams (Pushing Daisies)
Maiara Walsh (The Starving Games)
Carlo Rota (Stargate Universe)
Stan Lee (Avengers Assemble)
Bill Paxton (Apollo 13)
Elena Satine (Revenge)
B.J. Britt (Veronica Mars)
Jaimie Alexander (The Last Stand)
Dylan Bruno (Carrie 2)
Brad Dourif (Child’s Play)
Patton Oswalt (Two and A Half Men)
Amy Acker (The Cabin In The Woods)
Adrian Pasdar (Heroes)
Glenn Morshower (Supergirl)

When Marvel’s cinematic universe first took off, the next move was to make the leap to television, Marvel turned to Avengers director Joss Whedon’s brother Jed and his wife/collaborator Maurissa Tancharoen, who took the popular Marvel Cinematic Universe Phase One character Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg), the man who helped gather the heroes who became the Avengers, and made him the star of his own series, focused on his team at S.H.I.E.L.D., the international peacekeeping organization run by Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson.) The hour-long drama would build off of the well-known heroics, and tell connected tales of espionage, as Coulson and his squad respond to threats to humanity around the world.Now, in case you haven’t seen The Avengers, you should know that in a climactic battle, Coulson was very badly injured, which became a rallying point for the heroes. Well, he’s back, but how he made it back is a large part of the series’ foundation, which is revealed in piecemeal over the course of the first season. Coulson’s search for the truth is intertwined with the arrival of the newest member of his team, a hacker known as Skye (Chloe Bennett), who has plenty of secrets of her own, in part due to her past as a rogue “hacktivist.” Trust is a massive theme in the series, as no one is sure about anyone else but they have to rely on each other if they are going to complete their missions, which remind one of Fringe in a big way, as the team investigates strange phenomena in order to keep humanity safe.Lorelei, Though certainly not a big-name Marvel character (her sister The Enchantress has a much higher profile) and not the first recognizable super-powered character on the show (that would be the cybernetic assassin Deathlok, whose origin is revealed over the course of the season), Lorelei tips the scales with her appearance because she, as an Asgardian, creates a direct link to the world of Thor, and also because she’s followed to Earth by Lady Sif (Jaimie Alexander), the Asgardian warrior from the two Thor films. Finally, fans exclaimed, there’s some honest to goodness superhero action to be enjoyed, and that was followed by direct ties into the new Captain America movie, picking up the plot from the theaters and bringing its effects home. This was the crossover dream that comics mastered decades ago, and now Marvel was making happen between movies and TV (and you didn’t really even need to see both sides to enjoy them separately.)After offering this cookie to the fans, the series shifted back to the spy game though, where it would stay for the rest of the season, introducing Bill Paxton and Saffron Burrows in major roles) as Coulson’s organization crumbled around him and the team shifted from saving the world to saving each other. Coulson’s team, which, aside from Skye, includes Ward (Brett Dalton), a perfect soldier; badass pilot May (Ming-Na Wen) and science specialists Fitz (Iain De Caestecker) and Simmons (Elizabeth Henstridge), comes together quickly as a unit on the series, establishing their personalities right off the bat, with Skye serving as the show’s young star, showing the old guard how a new generation does the job (though still requiring saving and offering a hearty cry every now and then) and Fitz and Simmons serving as the audience’s tech-loving stand-ins, the most down-to-earth parts of a fantastical realm. May though, with her economy of words and excess of butt-kicking skill, is the “Wolverine” of the show, and her relationship with Coulson serves as a backbone for the series. Naturally, Gregg’s performance is integral to the show, and he continues to shine in the role of Coulson, giving us a smartass secret agent for the ages.While the show is a serial and does well at telling action-adventure arcs of mystery and intrigue, building the mythology and establishing a larger storyline, it could do one-offs as well, including two of the season’s best episodes, “FZZT” which ties into The Avengers while telling a standalone story that put a spotlight on Fitz and Simmons, and “T.R.A.C.K.S.”, which puts the team on a train and tries out some interesting storytelling structure. The show also has its humorous side, taking its tone from the Marvel films, which blend grits with grins (and though Patton Oswalt gets a featured role in one episode, for once, he’s not responsible for the laughs.) For the most part, this mix works well, as it helps illustrate the growing camaraderie between the teammates and keeps the tone light, but it can get out of hand very quickly. The final episode, where much of what’s been revealed over the course of the previous 21 episodes comes to a head, the lightheartedness (thanks to an appearance by a famous friend of the team) goes over the top.