REVIEW: CHUCK – SEASON 4

 

CAST

Zachary Levi (Heroes Reborn)
Yvonne Strahovski (Batman: Bad Blood)
Adam Baldwin (Firefly)
Joshua Gomez (Invasion)
Sarah Lancaster (Saved By The Bell: The New Class)
Ryan McPartlin (J. Edgar)
Mark Christopher Lawrence (Halloween II)
Scott Krinsky (Transformers 3)
Vik Sahay (eXistenZ)
Bonita Friedericy (Veronica Mars)

RECURRING / NOTABLE GUEST STARS

Mekenna Melvin (Lie To Me)
Linda Hamilton (The Terminator)
Timothy Dalton (Flash Gordon)
Olivia Munn (X-Men: Apocalypse)
Isaiah Mustafa (The Island)
Stacy Keibler (How I Met Your Mother)
Dolph Lundgren (Masters of The Universe)
Summer Glau (Firefly)
Lauren Cohan (The Walking Dead)
Robin Givens (God’s Not Dead 2)
Ray Wise (Robocop)
Richard Chamberlain (Shogun)
Mini Anden (Tropic Thunder)
Larry Cedar (Fear and Loathing In Las Vegas)
Katie Cleary (Tomorrow’s End)
Harry Dean Stanton (Alien)
Lou Ferrigno (The Scorpion King 4)
Bronson Pinchot (Lois & Clark)
Karolina Kurkova (G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra)
Nicole Richie (The Simple Life)
Steve Austin (The Expendables)
Armand Assante (Judge Dredd)
Eric Roberts (The Dark Knight)
Dave Bautista (Guardians of The Galaxy)
Joel David Moore (Bones)
Robert Englund (A Nightmare on Elm Street)
Morgan Fairchild (Roswell)
Ana Gasteyer (Mean Girls)
Rob Riggle (21 Jump Street)
James Lew (G.I. Joe: Retaliation)
Monet Mazur (Just Married)
Matthew Willig (Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.)
John Larroquette (The Texas Chainsaw Massacre)
Clare Carey (Hercules: TLJ)
Lesley-Ann Brandt (Lucifer)
Lou Diamond Phillips (Stargate Universe)
Mercedes Mason (The Finder)
Francois Chau (Lost)
David H. Lawrence XVII (Heroes)
Gary Cole (Crusade)

Season three of Chuck found the show getting more serious as it found the main character fully embracing his new life as a spy. Season four continued that streak. When we last left our characters, we were watching the Buy More  going up in flames. Meanwhile, Chuck Bartowski (Zachary Levi) was promising his sister Ellie (Sarah Lancaster) that he would give up the dangerous world of spying.

The season four premier picks up several months later. Chuck and his best friend Morgan (Joshua Gomez) are conducting a secret mission of their own. They are attempting to use clues left behind by Chuck’s dad to find Chuck’s mom, a woman who disappeared 20 years ago. When it turns out that Chuck’s former government handers Sarah Walker (Yvonne Strahovski) and John Casey (Adam Baldwin) are on the same hunt, Chuck goes back to work for the CIA. Meanwhile, the CIA rebuilds the Buy More as a continued cover for their Southern California base and giving the old Buy More gang their old jobs back in the process. Morgan begins dating Casey’s daughter. Ellie starts investigating her family history, and she and husband Devon (Ryan McPartlin) announce they are expecting. Plus Chuck and Sarah’s relationship continues to build as they work through various issues.

But that’s nothing compared to what happens when Chuck actually tracks down his mother Mary (recurring guest star Linda Hamilton) who is working for the Russian Alexei Volkoff (recurring guest star Timothy Dalton). Can she be trusted? Or is Chuck about to be hurt worse for having tracked her down? As the season unfolded the twists to the story were interesting, and I spent much of the season wondering exactly which side Mary was really on.

And there are some fun sub-plots to the season. Probably my favorite involves Morgan and Casey. The no-nonsense NSA agent has little patience for Chuck’s bumbling best friend, and the fact that they have to work together on missions is nothing compared to when he realizes that Morgan is dating his daughter. Those moments are priceless. The writers and producers did a good job of developing Chuck and Sarah’s relationship. They have managed to avoid the curse of killing a show when you get the main couple together by developing their relationship and giving them realistic things they need to work on. It’s interesting watching it develop, and I like that.

As always with this show, the acting is top notch. As with last season, the show was originally renewed for 13 episodes and then picked up for a back 11. That means that the first 13 episodes tell their own story with a second story springing off that one in the second half. Even the second half of the season reveals some secrets about the Bartowski family legacy. It also means that this season set includes 24 episodes of the show in original wide screen and full surround. In addition to the gag reel and deleted scenes, there’s a featurette about Zachary Levi stepping behind the camera to direct the Thanksgiving episode as well as a collection of Webisodes featuring Jeff and Lester’s quest for a video game.  The characters are still endearing and the storylines worth watching. If you haven’t caught all of season four, fix that today and prepare for season five.

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REVIEW: GOTHAM – SEASON 1

CAST

Ben McKenzie (Batman: Year One)
Donal Logue (Ghost Rider)
David Mazouz (Touch)
Zabryna Guevara (All Good Things)
Sean Pertwee (Dog Soldiers)
Robin Lord Taylor (Another Earth)
Erin Richards (The Quiet Ones)
Camren Bicondova (Girl House)
Corey Michael Smith (Carol)
Jada Pinkett Smith (Collateral)
John Dorman (The Wire)
Victoria Cartagena (Salt)
Andrew Stewart -Jones (Beauty and The Beast)
Drew Powell (Straw Dogs)

RECURRING / NOTABLE GUEST CAST

Richard Kind (Stargate)
Grayson McCouch (Armageddon)
Brette Taylor (Rescue Me)
Clare Foley (Win Win)
Lili Taylor (The Conjuring)
Carol Kane (The Princess Bride)
David Zayas (Dexter)
Jeremy Davidson (Roswell)
Margaret Colin (Independence Day)
Susan Misner (The Forgotten)
Kim Director (Blair Witch 2)
Christopher James Baker (Sanctum)
Todd Stashwick (The Originals)
Nicholas D’Agasto (Final Destination 5)
Makenzie Leigh (The Slap)
Lesley-Ann Brandt (Spartacus: Blood and Sand)
Morena Baccarin (Firefly)
Christopher Heyerdahl (Sanctuary)
Peter Scolari (The Polar Express)
Dash Mihok (Silver Linings Playbook)
Anthony Carrigan (The Flash)
Julian Sands (Smallville)
Maria Thayer (Hitch)
Cameron Monaghan (The Giver)
Jeffrey Combs (Star Trek: DS9)
Colm Feore (Thor)
Milo Ventimiglia (Heroes)
Willa Fitzgerald (Scream: The Series)
Chris Chalk (12 Years a Slave)

Gotham City has an old, relatively vague history independent of when Thomas and Martha Wayne were shot down in an alleyway, usually the first and primary thing that comes to mind about the motivation that drives Batman: the crime that got so bad that it took his good-natured parents away from him. The surroundings responsible for the billionaires’ murder weren’t created overnight, though, and intensified in response to their death, a time period that often goes unaddressed unless a detail about Bruce Wayne’s transformation into the brooding hero needs mentioning. As a response to the character’s unrelenting popularity the folks at DC aim to use that largely unexplored space to provide an origin story for the city’s violence and corruption, an attempt to recapture the magic of Smallville in a darker environment. The result is Gotham, a blend of crime-case procedure and mobster politics that also fills in the gaps between the orphaning of Bruce Wayne to where Batman begins.

Taking pages out of the playbook of the comic-book series “Gotham Central”, the show largely focuses on the interworking parts of the Gotham City Police Department, notably the arrival of rookie detective Jim Gordon in the midst of rampant corruption. The OC star Ben McKenzie brings initiative and fire to the character, a war veteran and straight-laced servant of the law who’s thrown together with a dirty partner in Harvey Bullock, whose sympathetic flaws are marvelously embodied by Donal Logue. Their first case together? The murder of Thomas and Martha Wayne, later revealed to be connected to the city’s organized crime activity. In their investigation, Gordon quickly gets introduced to key players pulling the strings in Gotham, notably a swanky nightclub operator in Fish Mooney (Jada Pinkett Smith) and her aging, rational boss, Carmine Falcone (John Doman). Then, there’s Oswald Cobblepott (Robin Lord Taylor), an attendant to Fish whose wavering allegiances also come to the surface in response to Gordon and Bullock’s investigation, working him into a position of persistent danger and upward mobility if he plays his cards right.

Against the backdrop of a Gotham City that combines Tim Burton’s gothic vision with Christopher Nolan’s stark approach into a relatively timeless metro area, Gotham comes in hard and fast with its nods to the DC universe, eliminating any early concerns about how much of the mythology it’ll incorporate. In fact, the show actually suffers from an oversaturation of these references, especially in how many of the classic villains have benign links to the GCPD in their pasts and, quite simply, how many have already shown up and taken shape into their well-known personalities. There’s nothing inherently wrong with that, nor with tweaking what’s known about the universe into its own continuity, but it does detract from the production succeeding as a credible prequel to the age of Batman — touted early on as a selling point for the show.

It’s fascinating to see the riddlesome Edward Nygma (Cory Michael Smith) as an awkward, morbid Dexter-like puzzle-solver working in the precinct, and to see a young Catwoman giving prowler pointers to a young Batman not long after she witnessed the infamous Wayne murder.

The areas where Gotham works are within the politics of the GCPD and the evolving criminal element, and, by association, the origin stories of Jim Gordon’s fight against the department and The Penguin’s ascent up the crime ladder. Elevated by Gordon’s furious diligence against the powers-that-be who keep him from properly doing his job. Gotham is in a comfort zone while exploring maneuverings of Robin Lord Taylor’s brilliantly grimy performance as Oswald Cobblepott. Combining the knowledge that he’ll eventually become a massive player in Gotham with the unpredictable, volatile nature of his younger self exemplifies what a prequel can accomplish.

Gotham really exposes the crux of its issues in the origin story of Bruce Wayne, built around the young orphaned billionaire developing the gumption and skill to investigate his parents’ murder, planting the seeds for his growth into the Caped Crusader.

As Gotham grows in it’s first season it becomes fascinating show dealing with the city before Batman came along and as it heads into it’s second season who can truly see the show has found it’s footing and will hopefully be around for sometime to come.

REVIEW: SPARTACUS: BLOOD AND SAND

 

CAST

Andy Whitfield (The Clinic)
John Hannah (Agents of Shield)
Lucy Lawless (Ash vs Evil Dead)
Manu Bennett (Arrow)
Peter Mensah (Sleepy Hollow)
Erin Cummings (Bitch Slap)
Viva Bianca (Accidents Happen)
Craig Parker (Reign)
Nick E. Tarabay (Star Trek Into Darkness)
Antonio Te Maioha (Zoolander 2)
Craig Walsh-Wrightson (Vertical Limit)
Jai Courtney (Divergent)
Daniel Feuerriegel (Winners & Losers)

RECURRING / NOTABLE GUEST CAST

Kevin J. Wilsaon (Legend of The Seeker)
Eka Darville (Power Ragers RPM)
Lesley-Ann Brandt (Gotham)
John Bach (The Tattooist)
Jon Brazier (Xena)
Matthew Chamberlain (King Kong)
Brooke Williams (12 Monkeys)
Tania Nolan (Step Dave)
Mike Edward (Filthy Rich)
Katrina Law (Arrow)

Spartacus: Blood and Sand  has the misfortune of borrowing too much from 300 and Gladiator in its pilot episode which could caused some viewers to immediately change the channel or give up after that premiere episode. thankfully many stayed with the show as it truly became a must see show.

In The Red Serpent an unnamed Thracian warrior (Andy Whitfield) who pledges he and his people’s support to Rome in exchange for their military assistance against hordes of Barbarians. What follows is a greatest hits collection of those two films, but with a much lower budget and a very odd, over exaggerated take on violence. We meet the warrior’s wife, Sura (Erin Cummings) and their parting before our hero goes to war is straight from “300,” as is his outfit and the slow-mo to sped-up fight scenes. Then a betrayal from the Romans happens and our warrior becomes an outlaw, only to be torn from his wife and taken to a nearby town, Capua, to be executed in the arena. Then, just like “Gladiator” our hero uses his knowledge of war to best four gladiators, when the heart of the crowd, and catch the eye of a local lannista, Batiatus (John Hannah), who buys the warrior and dubs him Spartacus.Spartacus evolves into a lethal warrior of the coliseum. It’s not a fast process, and the first few episodes while entertaining, are nothing compared to the series when it races towards the season finale. Once a member of Batiatus’ ludus, he quickly encounters opposition from reigning champion, Crixus (Manu Bennett), the undefeated Gaul and Barca, the “Beast of Carthage” an equally brutal warrior who is later revealed to have a more private, tender side. the series doesn’t make the mistake of giving us a protagonist who is an instant success, Spartacus is definitely skilled, but as the doctore or trainer (Peter Mensah, a very welcome presence on the series) stresses, he is nothing compared to the men of the ludus (gladiator school) who have been training for fights to the death for much longer; this is their way of life, one Spartacus must learn to accept and respect if he is to survive and find his wife, taken by the legatus who betrayed him in the pilot. With the promise of support by Batiatus in seeing this task carried out, Spartacus begins his journey from warrior of a small village to eventual legend of the arena.UntitledSpartacus: Blood and Sand is quite brilliant in its ability to slow build an intricate web of plots involving all characters, big and small at some point in this freshman season. While the advertised story is Spartacus’, the real intrigue comes from Batiatus’ quest to break into local politics. With his devious wife Lucretia (Lucy Lawless) by his side manipulating the wife of the same legatus responsible for Spartacus’ wife’s enslavement; the end goal, a foot in the door. To get a series about Roman life without heavy handed political plotlines is extremely refreshing; the characters of Blood and Sand are all ruthless in one way or the other and while Batiatus and Lucretia aspire to increase their station in life, they still largely know only a few ways to go about things and when things don’t work out for Batiatus, violence often follows. John Hannah is an absolute delight in the role, chewing scenery right and left, committing heinous acts and still managing to win the hearts of viewers with his earnest respect for Spartacus. Too long a supporting player in films like “The Mummy,” Hannah shows his underutilized talent to the fullest and is easily one of the most fascinating characters to watch. Likewise, Lucy Lawless is no slouch herself, playing a spoiled wife doing her husband’s bidding by day and having an affair behind his back with Crixus the minute he steps outside the ludus to try and better their lives.Manu Bennett quietly evolves from a general jackass to one of the series’ most complex characters as Spartacus’ main rival Crixus and is a major player in events regarding the arena. Back on the sand of the training yard, Spartacus finds an ally in Varro, the only man in the school who willingly signed himself into service. Varro represents a humanity Spartacus has lost, a man with a wife and child he fights to support and Varro, himself, grows as a character highlighting the show’s writers treating no character as unimportant. Minor characters such as Naevia, Lucretia’s personal slave comes to prominence as the love interest of Crixus creating yet another subplot, a romantic triangle that could have very deadly consequences. A lot of these little side stories are thrown out to the audience rather quickly and it can be overwhelming at first, making the first four episodes weaker compared to the latter episodes. The fifth episode, “The Shadow of Death” is a true game changer, cementing some characters in roles they will remain in until the end of the season and setting events into motion that will play out as expected in some cases, but in others throw the audience curveballs they could have never predicted. Episodes like “Party Favors” and “Whore” are prime examples, setting up the final act of each episode and building character depth prior to; then out of nowhere, something shocking happens that changes the dynamic of the show and many relationships between characters. While, I ultimately had an idea of where the show would end its season at (it is after all loosely based on the true story of Spartacus and the slave rebellion), I never expected what was to come in that final episode, “Kill Them All,” despite the ominous title.Comparisons to Stanley Kubrick’s film adaptation of “Spartacus” will likely arise, but to be honest, aside from using the historical story as a story guide, thankfully, the series doesn’t try to ape Kubrick. Some of the most colorful language this side of “Deadwood” is uttered, nudity is plentiful and the show is not shy with copious amounts of heavily stylized, CG, blood and gore. Heads are cleaved, faces are crushed, limbs are dismembered, people are crucified and castrated; think of a violent act and it likely occurs at some point in the series.After 13 episodes that kept me on my toes up to the final frame, “Spartacus: Blood and Sand” wraps up very nicely, paving a way for a second season that could take any number of roads. Sadly, Andy Whitfield, the tremendous actor behind the titular character died. Initially diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, the creators delayed production, instead filming a six-episode prequel focusing on life in the ludus before Spartacus’ arrival. Whitfield, given a clean bill of health was all set to resume filming on the new season, when his cancer returned and he had to make the heartbreaking decision of quitting a show that made him a star and he played a large part in its success. He died a few months later.