Mini-reviews: A to Z, Forever, and How To Get Away With Murder

E: Now that I’ve had enough time to watch multiple episodes and get a real feel for new shows, I thought I’d share my thoughts on what I’ve been watching.  Perhaps later I’ll rant about the mysterious dearth of humor on Castle (did he get a personality transplant? I’ve counted 1 attempt at a joke in the new season), or my new interest in The Big Bang Theory, but for now, it’s all about the newbies. 

A to Z

I’m not absolutely sold – it is a sitcom,  after all — but I found this rom-com not only cute but also quite funny.  Leads Andrew (Ben Feldman) and Zelda (Cristin Miliotti) jack up the adorbs quotient for sure as a couple destined to be together – or at least, to date for 8 months, 3 weeks, 5 days and 1 hour, as we hear repeatedly from narrator Katey Sagal.  Though a damaged childhood makes sweetly flirty pro bono lawyer Zelda fear commitment, she eventually decides to risk heartbreak with hopeless romantic Andrew, who not only tries harder than any other guy she’s ever dated, but who sees the hand of fate in their previous near interactions.  Will those nearly 9 months end in a terrible fight, or an engagement?  If this romance only lasts the season, is the show intended to be an anthology series, perhaps featuring a new relationship next year?

The sword of destiny cuts both ways, as Sagal informs us: Zelda’s best friend, roommate and fellow lawyer Stephie has a dalliance with Andrew’s gross work-buddy, only to find out that Stu is not in fact the scatting jazz trumpeter he claimed but a lying would-be player.  So going on from here, the blending of their worlds will be a little tricky.  And in the end it may be too much that they work directly across from each other in a glass office park, and can see into each other’s work spaces.

While I would have rather seen the writers drag the beginning out a little bit — show us more of the cute texting, more tension giving that first kiss more emotional heft — I’m still charmed.  Mr. E’s worried about an end of season break up (“why would I waste time watching the whole season if they’re not going to stay together?”) but we’re both enjoying the present enough to see how it unfolds from here.

Forever

The story of immortal “student of death” Henry Morgan hits a lot of buttons for me.  Forensics?  Check. Procedural with Sherlock Holmesian protagonist?  Check.  Highlander-esque fantasy elements?  Check.  Team of crime solvers with appealing chemistry?  Check.  For me, Forever is the television equivalent of comfort food. Medical examiner Henry solves cases — often dying along the way and then resurrecting in the nearest body of water — using a combination of acuity, experience and a willingness to rethink his theories as the situation requires.

The charming Ioan Gruffud — a family favorite since his first turn as Horatio Hornblower — manages to pull off being a flirt (he begins the pilot picking up a cellist on the subway) and a tragically devoted widower.  In the way of geniuses, he’s exasperatingly inconsiderate (and what’s his deal about not owning his own cell phone?) and takes appalling risks, but he’s so intuitive and smart and so much more confident than everyone else that his colleagues just squawk and roll their eyes and give him his way.  Sound familiar?  The Mentalist, Bones, Castle, House … when these shows work, they’re a lot of fun.

I was surprised and drawn in to the pilot, largely spoiled by trailers, by the appearance of a mysterious 2000 year old stalker who suffers from mere 200 year old Morgan’s exact condition. Clearly they’re going to be teasing out these details over a long period of time, which is fine.  There are more Henrys?  Who’ve lived for thousands of years?  What created them?  In our Henry’s case, it seems to have been an act of altruism, taking the bullet meant for a slave and then being tossed off the trans-Atlantic sailing ship where he’d been employed as a doctor.    This seems to be tied to his renewals in water, although I can’t help wondering if his condition resurrected him a little closer to land; my mind immediately goes to the horror of being resurrected again and again in the middle of a massive ocean until you’re able to swim close enough to one continent or the other.

I’m less enchanted with the idea of Morgan’s inevitable romance with “partner” Detective Jo Martinez (Alana De La Garza); she’s an interesting enough character, smart and upbeat despite her own widowhood, but do we really need to pair everyone up?  Oh well. Perhaps they’ll surprise me. Though it’s a page taken right out of New Amsterdam (the short lived immortality drama starring Nikolaj Coster-Waldau), I love Gruffud’s relationship with his now elderly adopted son, gruff Holocaust survivor Abe (Judd Hirsch), and the flashbacks featuring Abigail, the practically perfect love of his life, who found baby Abe while the two were working as medics in Europe during the war, but died soon after of cancer.  Potentially less derivative is Joel David Moore’s assistant medical examiner, best known as a gloomy squintern on Bones (and Katie Perry’s main squeeze in the Waking Up In Vegas video); he’s odd and awkward and hopeful.

How To Get Away With Murder

I feel like I’ve had a sort of crazy roller coaster relationship with this show before even seeing it: I adored the first preview, I hated the longer form one, I’m kind of appalled by the morally ambiguous authority figure, but thrilled by the casting.  All that said, I liked this more than I expected, and was particularly pulled in by the second episode’s final twist.

What interests me most about the show is its flashback structure.  In the first moments, we see four students burying a body during a campus bacchanal; who’s the body?  What puts these people together? Is one of them the killer, or are they merely the clean up crew?  We flash back a few months to their first day of law school, and the first day in a class on criminal law that’s fondly know as How To Get Away With Murder.  The class is taught by notorious hard ass Annalise Keating, played with a raw, gritty power by Oscar nominee Viola Davis, who chose a television role so that she could play not a mother or mother figure (as is usually the case) but a sexy, smart, secretive woman on the edge — the kind of role not often offered, as she explains, to a “woman who looks like me.”  She’s surrounded by a husband she doesn’t trust, a devoted staff she does, and the team of five smart, ambitious and amoral students she picks as interns, including dewey eyed everyman Wes Gibbons (Harry Potter‘s so far underwhelming Alfred Enoch) who Annalise might be keeping around because he’s got potential – but more likely because he saw something he shouldn’t.

As for plot, there’s a lot of it. Improbably, there’s a murder trial each week with a new guilty client to help acquit.  There’s an on-going  search for a beautiful sorority girl which results in the discovery of her body.  Wes’s pretty, doe eyed femme fatale neighbor (Katie Findlay of The Killing) seems to be dating the dead girl’s quarterback boyfriend.  Annalise has a married cop lover, who she begs to help investigate her husband (a mentor of the dead girl).  It’s the job, she weeps; I can’t turn my mind off. I can’t stop wondering if he’s involved.  And then of course there’s that other body, which the students transport from Professor Keating’s house rolled up in a rug.  Their cover up looks like a layered disaster.  Will they get caught?  What did they really do?  Don’t we want them to get caught?

That bit interests me, at least for now. I don’t love all the guilty clients, and I don’t love the verve and thoughtless glee with which the students try to win.  What I really don’t love are the speeches Annalise and her assistants Frank and Bonnie give about how their way (ruthlessly immoral, win at all costs) is the only way.  But I’m starting to think that show doesn’t necessarily agree with this valuation.  None of that trio seems happy, or fulfilled, or particularly balanced.  Unsurprisingly,Davis’s take on the character fascinates me.  So, I don’t know long I’ll watch – partly because I can’t see its way out of a first season, and partly because none of the supporting characters can so far hold a candle to Davis’s magnetic, scenery chewing lead, but mostly because I don’t know how much melodrama I can handle. I’ll keep up at least through tonight’s third episode, just to see if it can keep my interest crackling.

And there you have it!   What’ve you liked from the new season?  Along with political drama Madam Secretary, tuning in to Forever is an easy choice for me.    You’ll hear soon from M and I on The Flash, which premiered this week.  I’m still debating whether I want to continue with the violent gloom of Gotham, the sleazy sizzle of How To Get Away With Murder and the daffy sweetness of A to Z, but those others I’m sold on.  Anyone liking these?  Have I ignored something wonderful?

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8 comments on “Mini-reviews: A to Z, Forever, and How To Get Away With Murder

  1. Stephen says:

    “A to Z”:
    I enjoyed the pilot too, for similar reasons.

    To Mr. E: It’s about the journey, sir, not the destination! (And, 15 years ago, I could have said it was so we could learn from their mistakes.)

    “Forever”:
    You end a paragraph with “using a combination of acuity,” — did some words get lost?

    I was debating whether to watch this, but I’m even more intrigued after this.

    Other:
    I’ve really enjoyed the first few episodes of “Mysteries of Laura”, and the pilot of “Manhattan Love Story” was decent. (I’ll freely admit that I have low standards and expectations, though.) Part of the appeal is definitely the familiar characters: Debra Messing does a good job and it’s nice to see her not being a ditz, and I’m trying to figure out if “Greek”‘s Evan Chambers (er, Jake McDorman) can be non-sleazy this time around.

    • E says:

      Oh, thank you. I was editing as I got the chance and thought I’d gone through that section when I clearly hadn’t. 🙂

      I’m pleased to hear you say that Mysteries of Laura isn’t about Messing being a ditz – that’s why I skipped it, because it looked too much like they were mocking her. (See, me and comedies. You have to mock your protagonist in a comedy, I get that. I’m not always good with it, though.) I have been toying checking out Manhattan Love Story, though; I just figured I couldn’t handle that many new sitcoms? But maybe I will surprise myself. It ought to be easier to commit to a half an hour.

      • thepresidentrix says:

        I’m not sure if I’ll stick with Mysteries of Laura, because of Laura’s inconsiderate (yet unfortunately ubiquitous) ex and her very naughty children, who all seem to upset me rather than entertain me, but I give the show props for actually being something pretty new. It’s not just a police procedural where the main character has to be a parent, too (though, oddly, that is rare enough…), it’s kind of like a police procedural crossed with Ugly Betty (minus the distinctive visual style). Far from being a ditz, Debra Messing’s character is presented to the audience as a kind of gasket for the frustrations that we all get used to just bottling up. Let’s say she typically takes the direct approach? And the show treats it as a kind of fantasy. Laura may be a little out of control – sometimes she’s a slob, bends the rules, goes too far – but there’s something enviable about her wild honesty and nervy, last-straw way of dealing with her problems head-on. If the show sees her as absurd, it’s in an affectionate and understanding way. The message isn’t how much she deserves to be laughed at, but how anyone in her position (including the lots of people who more or less are in her position) would be equally close to cracking. And yet, for all that she lives life at the end of her proverbial rope, there’s no question that she’s a hero.

  2. JustMeMike says:

    I liked your take and reaction to How to Get Away with Murder. I too was pleased to see Viola Davis given a role away from her norms. Her kick-ass, take no prisoners approach to the law and to teaching is riveting.

    I am looking forward to your reaction to Madam Secretary. Tea Leoni is fine as Secretary of State McCord. She also has to balance being a wif, and a mother , along with making key decisions. After all, as Secretary of Sate, she is responsible for a staff of 31,000 people world wide. The show is a lighter weight cross between House of Cards and Homeland.

    Only it is based in DC rather than Karachi, and in the State Department rather than the White House. This is not to say that there’s no political intrigue going, and some deal making that doesn’t please every one, but hey – this is geo-politics not lawn croquet.

  3. I’m probably going to watch Forever regularly, I’ve decided, not because it’s exactly good – I’m still not sure that it is – but because, as you say, it is comfort food television. After I watched the first couple of episodes, I looked up some reviews (not expecting too, too high of praise). One of them was memorably entitled “Forever is Your Mother’s New Favorite Show.”

    Touche! I mean, it’s not true of my mother, as it happens, but the fact that it’s the kind of show that one’s mother would want to watch… seems to be precisely why I want to watch it.

    I do wish it were a bit more consistent, though. It has an appealing core cast and a nice look (it could be White Collar’s charmingly fusty cousin), but seeing as I’ve decided to look forward to it, I take it personally when it’s dumber than seems strictly necessary. (Liiiike, the episode about “The Fountain of Youth”/wanting to live forever? Obvious much? Talk about going through the motions, you guys!) And the tone of the show so far is wildly uneven; I don’t think they’ve decided yet whether Henry exists to earn the audience’s respect and compassion as a melancholy romantic hero, to put them off as a prickly genius, or just to be the butt of a lot of jokes. (Witness the fifth episode, where he’s positively silly all of a sudden and seems to have no self-awareness to speak of!) I mean, a single man can encompass all those identities, but it could be done more cohesively than it has been.

    Still, there have been moments that I have enjoyed the dynamic between Henry and Abe so much that I can see how the show has the potential to be much more than it is now. I’m not hanging on strictly for that hope, mind. I’m with this show because it’s the television equivalent of a comfy throw or a nice warm bath. But I’d be thrilled if it decided to get a little better and become something more special than it is currently. (A little more effort and some luck, and it could easily be Castle or Sleepy Hollow quality, I think).

    Fwiw, I plan to watch the new Flash show in pretty much the same spirit. Cuuuute kid, cute relationship with his surrogate dad. Light intrigue. Careful admixture of nerdy outsider angst and natural optimism… with clunky dialogue and some amateurish acting. If it gets its act together, though! It could be a hoot!

    As for How to Get Away with Murder, *I just don’t think that I can do it.* It’s the opposite! Tv that is *too stressful* to watch! (But I am going to miss out on Paris Gellar Attorney at Law and her cool new hair and lipstick…) Still, this most recent episode, with that one kid screaming at the others and coming unhinged during the flash forwards… I can’t do it. I just don’t think I can do it.

    • E says:

      Heh. It is rather stressful, just following the visuals. I think that’s where the camp comes in – I’m not invested in any of the characters, but just following the over-the-top narrative. I don’t know how long that’s sustainable for me, but Davis is just so growly and magnetic – she’s this absolute panther of a woman – and you just can’t figure out what she’s going to do, which intrigues me. This week, they made quite a show of her taking off all her armor – pulling off her sleek wig and false eyelashes, wiping off her make up – which leads you to think she’s going to move to a vulnerable place, and instead, she’s even more powerful. Kind of wonderful. It’s just a shame that this is mixed in with all the rest of the mess.

      So, television comfort food. Exactly. The Flash fits with that. It’s perhaps intended for family viewing, but we’ve just decided against that with our oldest kids (who watch Agents of SHIELD) mostly as a matter of timing. And then there’s the freakiness going on with Dr. Wells, who’s starting to seem insane. Still, like you say, it could be something.

      And my goodness yes, they really need to get a handle on who Henry is. A flirt, a goofball, a melancholy depressive, which one? A lot of shows struggle with tone from the beginning, though, so I don’t despair. Partly because yes, I adore Henry’s relationship with Abe. Judd Hirsch is so good at that – he was one of my favorite parts of Numb3rs, too, for that same reason.

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