It's hard enough waking after 60 years of deep sleep, but imagine if upon opening your eyes someone handed you a stack of diaries and said, "Get reading." Thousands of pages of handwritten -- and I'm guessing poorly spelled -- passages detailing mass murders, bloodthirsty mythological creatures and countless tussles with ancient wizards. After page three you'll be demanding more coffee and by page 10 you'll be eyeing that casket again. In other words: Poor Elena! It's all I can think about anytime one of her friends scribbles in one of those journals on her behalf.
Well, this is it, friends. The eighth and final season of The Vampire Diaries. Not only does this season have to tell a fresh and exciting story about some new nightmare hell-monster, it has to tie up the entire series! I think we can expect to see plenty of familiar faces -- yes, even Elena's -- by season's end, but for now the season premiere focused on the latest immortal Big Bad to swing through Mystic Falls... A SIREN. And like every siren you've ever seen, she hangs out in a pool of bloody water and sucks the life essence out of bad men before emerging fully nude looking like an Eastern European supermodel. And do you know what else? She is terrifying.
The Season 8 premiere was a pretty wonderful episode, particularly if you enjoy when TVD goes full horror. Obviously this season will get to sentimental stuff later, but for now it's just plum scary as h*ck. I have an idea: Let's talk about "Hello, Brother"!
We began with an image longtime viewers know all too well...
The ol' vampire-in-the-road trick! See, a young couple on their way to the movies while lamenting genre trends ("I'm just glad the vampire craze is over!") made the mistake of driving on a deserted foggy highway. That's when they encountered a tag-team duo of murderous vampires.
Next thing we knew, Damon (Ian Somerhalder) and Enzo (Michael Malarkey) were forcing the pair to decide which among them was a truly "bad" person. The more innocent lady received a painless death, while her shadier boyfriend was impaled on a hook and lowered into a bloody tank. Due to the hook emerging from the water empty but for a handful of dangling gristle, I'm guessing this guy's death was not a cute one.
At least we knew a little bit more about the boys' murder spree: They were targeting only "bad" people, and they were actually feeding the corpses to whatever had taken control of them back in the vault. It was unclear why the rafters were fully stocked with uneaten corpses though. Maybe the creature was picky? Also, Enzo seemed more troubled by his participation in these murders than Damon did, and that's probably because Damon had, once again, turned off his "humanity switch." Classic Damon move.
Back in Mystic Falls, our star couple were doing what they do best: Sensual romance. Yes, whatever had been keeping Stefan (Paul Wesley) and Caroline (Candice King) apart last season (like, say her marriage to the father of her children) had now been cleared away and they were living in carnal bliss. Great job, guys.
Bonnie (Kat Graham), however, was not thriving quite as well. Here she was attempting to play guitar (and breaking its strings) while having fond flashbacks of being fully in love with Enzo. Poor gal.
I mean, Stefan and Caroline's relationship was so advanced they were now forehead-touching regularly. So lucky.
Because Caroline is a busy workin' woman (at the Mystic Falls local news station LOL) and Alaric (Matthew Davis) was now working full time at The Armory (where he sleeps in the backroom on a pile of rags), she had to hire a nanny! If you happened to watch The CW's Containment over the summer you'll recognize Kristen Gutoskie, the actress who played Seline, and she's a welcome addition to the show. And yes, as you might imagine, she and Alaric are for sure headed for a sexual romance. Which would make Caroline nervous if she could remove her forehead from Stefan's for even a second.
Speaking of Alaric, he and two other employees from The Armory discovered something very weird about that vault where the monster had been stored. For example, if one were to put on a blindfold and noise-blockers they could paw their way through a FAKE WALL.
I truly did not understand how this worked and I laughed out loud when the show pretended it was a reasonable thing. OK!
Inside the secret cave chamber they found, you guessed it, TREASURE. All of One-Eyed Willie's treasure was there, but also the treasure from National Treasure, and part if not all of the Addams Family treasure. It was a pretty cool find in my opinion. So cool that Alaric's co-worker let him know she was willing to drop trou right then and there.
He declined. Still, I liked this lady's moxie!
In what counts as a very mean prank, Damon pushed Enzo in the bloody tank and he had a very wet encounter with his monster boss!
Damon was too wrapped up in his new tome -- which I have never heard of -- to help in any way. What a rascal.
But don't worry, Enzo was fine. He was just irritated and moist. As for the monster, I suppose it just re-zapped Enzo's brain a little in order to get him to work harder. I think? Honestly the less we learned about this monster, the scarier it was. I've always wanted this show to go full creature feature, and this was the closest it's come yet. Love it.
In a surprise twist, one of the new characters was MURDERED. But again, it was a scene straight out of a Halloween film. A babysitter walking around a darkened house, doors swinging open, knives disappearing. Seline got her throat cut! So simple but so effective.
As it turned out, the killer was Virginia (Aisha Duran), Bonnie's friend from the mental ward. What was she doing here??
Fortunately Caroline rushed home and knocked Virginia the F out before she could get to Caroline's twins. But the twins seemed super chill just hiding in the closet like that. Had they done this before? Is there ANY possibility they won't grow up totally warped from their parents' constant run-ins with killers? Question is rhetorical. Poor girls.
On the plus side, Caroline was able to heal Seline's SLASHED THROAT via vampire blood. So this is one guest star who may appear in more than one episode. Congrats! (Anyone wanna place any bets about whether she'll become a vampire soon?)
As for Virginia, Caroline pressed her for answers about WTF was even going on, but before she could answer she chewed off her own tongue and spit it onto the carpet! That's obviously bad manners, but even worse, we still didn't know what the creature was or what Seline had been compelled to do or why. Duh, it was too early in the episodes for answers like that.
Bonnie and Stefan had been teaming up for a while to track down their respective loved ones. But after a summer full of leads that went nowhere, they finally caught a break. Authorities found the body of that one girl Enzo had murdered in the cold open! He'd tied her body to the hood of a car and left other weird little clues on her body, clearly to send Bonnie a signal about where he was hiding out. Eventually Bonnie and Stefan were able to piece together that Damon and Enzo were more than likely hiding out in a local abandoned slaughter house. Which, maybe they should have just automatically looked for abandoned slaughterhouses in the first place? Where else would they be?
Stefan showed up and attempted to talk some sense into Damon (via stabbing), but like I said, Damon had turned off his humanity switch and was NOT interested in turning it back on. Not while Elena was still asleep in her casket.
But once Damon took Bonnie hostage (which was heartbreaking as they are best friends forever), Stefan and Bonnie realized they needed to leave. But I loved Enzo's silent signal to Stefan that he's still on Stefan's side. Something tells me Enzo and Damon will be tussling soon.
I loved this quiet little scene between Bonnie and Stefan in which she told him that until this morning she had no hope of seeing Enzo again, but now she did have hope and it was thanks to Stefan. But Stefan had just lost hope that he'd ever see Damon as a non-dick again. Life certainly has its cruel ironies sometimes.
Another great scene happened when Damon and Enzo captured a local artist who'd been using human blood in his paintings. Clearly he qualified as a "bad" person fit to be consumed, but only after snaring him did Damon let Enzo know that he KNEW he'd been tipping off Bonnie, and he warned him to quit it because it would only jeopardize Bonnie's life. Which meant part of him, deep down, did still have care and concern for his friends. It was a nice moment. Also I just love hearing Damon talk about art like he knows anything about art. Sure, guy. We all know you wore a mullet for part of Season 4.
We were also treated to a flashback to the time Damon and Elena (Nina Dobrev) first met. It was a weird first meeting in that Damon had assumed she was Katherine, but the tortured love was there anyway. I liked this visual reminder that Elena exists, mostly because it makes me even more excited for her appearance later this season. (She IS gonna appear, right? Come on, Dobrev!)
Alaric felt plenty guilty for being absent while a knife-wielding madwoman invaded Caroline's home, so he suggested that he move into her house in order to protect the twins better. She was unsure if that was the best call, but then he encouraged her to move in with Stefan and she took him up on THAT idea. Something about sharing a bed with her hot Italian boyf truly won her over. But the true winner in all this was Alaric, who had just conned his way into a free mortgage. Well done, you brilliant schemer!
So yeah, Caroline and Stefan were now going to cohabitate in the darkest, most hardwood-y mansion east of the Mississipp'. Maybe she'll start replacing all the broken light bulbs?
At this point, Bonnie started piecing together all the clues Enzo had left for her, which involved remembering all the hundreds of times he'd casually mentioned mythological Sirens to her in the past. The monster that had been controlling Enzo was a SIREN.
And in the final scene the boys realized that this siren wasn't just a wet ghoul with crone hands -- it had consumed enough human flesh to realize its final form.
A HOT LADY. Didn't see THAT coming. Just kidding. Still, it was a very Hellraiser moment and I appreciated that. But what kind of villain will she be? And will she continue to be extremely terrifying? Crone fingers-crossed!
"Hello, Brother" was a smart, simple and terrifying start to the season. There's still a lot of ground to cover in the next 15 episodes, but it's a relief to see the writers are still capable of new ideas and well-executed scares. Personally, I'd still rather pull an Elena and sleep through the next 60 years, but if I HAVE TO be awake I'm glad I have this show to keep me entertained.
-- What do you think of the Siren so far?
-- Who will escape her clutches first, Enzo or Damon?
-- Will Seline become a vampire babysitter?
-- What familiar face would you like to see return in this final season? Anyone other than "Jeremy" is incorrect.
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By now, you've probably seen the billboards for Matt LeBlanc's new CBS comedy Man with a Plan. It features LeBlanc, backlit by heavenly clouds, doing that Clark Kent peeling-off-his-shirt pose. Instead of a Superman outfit underneath, he's rocking a tee emblazoned with "#1 Dad." The tagline? Matt's Le-Back.
You can picture that marketing pitch meeting. Someone suggests "Matt Le-Back" as a joke. There are some chuckles, some groans and a "Heh. Good one" here and there. After a couple of "Anyone? Anyone?" calls for more suggestions, someone's like, "OK, let's go with 'Matt's Le-Back' and call it a day."
That's Man with a Plan in a nutshell: uninspired and unambitious. That sounds a lot harsher than I mean it to be. It's not irredeemably awful or utterly unwatchable or even an incongruent hot mess like Notorious. It's just as lazy as the kids on the show.
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The Friends alum stars as Adam Burns, a self-employed contractor who starts to spend more time taking care of his three kids when his wife Andi (Liza Snyder) returns to work. And bet you couldn't see this coming: Raising kids is hard, guys! Why can't Adam just be part-time "Daddy Fun Times" forever? Why does he have to do Sundae Funday at school? Why can't Andi work and take care of the kids full time like she used to? "I gave you three perfect babies," Adam tells Andi in the pilot. "And as far as I can tell, you ruined them!"
It's that dated recycling of gender roles and stereotypes that's probably the most Liz Lemon eyeroll-inducing part of the show. It presents parenting as purely feminine (the school has "room moms," not "room parents") and -- not unlike its lead-in Kevin Can Wait, which features another beloved '90s sitcom star that's not exactly pushing the comedic boundaries either -- it makes effeminate men the butt of easy jokes. Lowell (Matt Cook) is a stay-at-home dad/"room mom" who's constantly slack-jawed at Adam's masculinity. He literally remarks about Adam being an "alpha male" at one point.
LeBlanc, for his part, is the best thing about the show. Adam is not the most complex of characters and you can't even begin to compare LeBlanc's performance to his excellent, darkly satirical work on Episodes, but LeBlanc is so effortlessly charming that you're instantly put at ease and feel like you're reuniting with an old friend. Pun fully intended -- really, it might as well be called Joey with Kids. LeBlanc also has an easygoing, lived-in chemistry with Yes, Dear alum Snyder, who replaced Jenna Fischer from the original pilot. The Office star, for all of her talents and whom I'd love to see back on TV very soon, was unfortunately terribly miscast, and it was uncomfortable seeing how uncomfortable she was trying to hit the multi-cam beats and punchlines.
And comfort is a big part of CBS' algorithm for success. Man with a Plan is comfortable, if middling. There's something to be said for the familiar and the reassurance it provides. Man with a Plan will also probably find the same success Kevin Can Wait has already found. That's fine too. You just hope it, like Adam, plans on becoming better.
Man with a Plan premieres Monday at 8:30/7:30c on CBS.
(Full disclosure: TVGuide.com is owned by CBS.)
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BBC America's newest series, Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency (Saturday, 9/8c), is a one-of-a-kind show following a series of apparently universe-decreed events that unfortunately is slow to form into anything resembling a cohesive story. And that's a shame, because with the success of HBO's Game of Thrones and The CW's four superhero dramas, genre TV finally seems to be having its moment in the sun.
The series is a loose adaptation of the novel of the same name written by beloved The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy author Douglas Adams. While Hitchhiker's inherent comedic silliness and hapless protagonist connect on several levels to allow the novels to endure and continue to ensnare new fans, Dirk Gently is less approachable for the average reader, with multiple points of view eventually developing into a rather complex and otherworldly story that more or less coalesces by novel's end.
Bringing the novel's frustrating fragmented structure to television -- and making it work -- is an incredibly difficult feat. In 2010, the BBC loosely adapted parts of the first book into a pilot starring Stephen Mangan that eventually turned into a three-episode series that aired in 2012. Critical response was positive, but the same cannot be said for this latest adaptation.
On screen, the central narrative of Dirk Gently is again purposefully confusing. The central shtick is that everything in the universe is fundamentally connected in some way and all will be revealed if we only care to stick around. In the premiere, the show's titular detective (Samuel Barnett) fumbles his way into a complicated mystery involving the missing daughter of a murdered millionaire that's somehow connected to Elijah Wood's Todd Brotzman, a former musician-turned-struggling-bellhop-turned-Dirk's-put-upon-assistant. But even as the show's twists reveal new developments and connections between previously unrelated characters, the show's pacing is simply too slow and the puzzle at its center too disjointed to convince us it's worth it to stick by it.
As the show progresses, Dirk and Todd stumble headfirst -- well, for Dirk it's headfirst, for Todd it's more like he's handcuffed to Dirk and being pulled along reluctantly -- into even more confusing developments involving an eyebrow-wagging detective (Richard Schiff), the CIA, a kitten, a corgi, Todd's younger sister (Hannah Marks) who suffers from a debilitating nerve disease that sometimes causes hallucinations, an army of tattooed thugs, an assassin (Fiona Dourif) who appears to have taken her physical cues and appearance from Orphan Black's Helena and the guy who played Tyrol on Battlestar Galactica (Aaron Douglas).
Dirk never feels much like a detective, which admittedly is part of the plot, and so the way he constantly blunders along and happens upon clues and secrets rather than seek them out through investigation -- again, part of the plot -- makes him reactive rather than proactive. And with Todd already reacting, quite amusingly usually, to the inexplicable series of events he's found himself in, Dirk Gently hasn't got much of a leader to follow.
What it does have is a lead character whose actions and reactions frequently leave viewers wondering if he's supposed to be amusing rather than off-putting, quirky and lovable rather than grating and obnoxious. Barnett does a good enough job with the material he's given, but Dirk isn't a very likable character. Although it's unlikely, there is a scenario in which that could change though. By the third episode -- the last screened for critics in advance -- the series has started to hint at the character's mysterious and extraordinary backstory thereby offering not only the first hint of some answers but also a glimpse into the mind of this mad man.
By default, the inherent strangeness that permeates every square inch of the ambitious Dirk Gently makes it an interesting deviation from the norm of the television landscape. So it's rather unfortunate that it's rather clumsy, with wildly changing tone, as the action unfolds. Very little about the show's first hour seems to make any sense as characters are introduced with little to no explanation. This leaves fans to have to wait for a payoff that may never come and viewers to ponder whether Dirk and his complicated world are better left on the page. Or if the story is better suited to be tackled by someone other than Max Landis, who developed it for BBC America.
All of the show's problems -- the confusing set up and gradual pace, the unlikable lead -- also shines a light on a familiar dilemma that programs like Dirk Gently face with startling regularity. Genre programming takes greater and more ambitious risks with its storytelling than the average drama. It asks potential fans to take a leap of faith, usually more than once. That means these shows already face a level of scrutiny upfront that mainstream series developed for broad audiences do not. Sometimes those risks do pay off. Sometimes you get Dirk Gently. But hey, at least they tried.
Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency premieres Saturday, Oct. 22 at 9/8c on BBC America.
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