Dear Remote Outpost,
I am a busy professional and single parent. When I am not doing research on a lost civilization, I am worried about my daughter and dealing with an eccentric artificial intelligence. Please tell me, what television programs are worth my time? Thank you – oops, gotta go – it seems I have visitors.
Dr. Edward Morbius, Altair IV
Yes, there’s a lot on TV these days, and a lot of it is what Marshall McLuhan called “pooh.” Luckily for you, reader, Remote Outpost sifts through all the “muck” to find you the gems.
THE FOLLOWING (Fox, Mondays at 9:00 PM, EST)
I will admit, I am largely tired of serial killer movies and dramas. So many are by-the-numbers that I will only watch if I like the actor(s), director or the concept. Kevin Bacon is an interesting actor, and one known for taking on interesting projects. In the past, he and wife Kyra Sedgwick (THE CLOSER, 2005-2012) alternated projects, so both have been very discriminating.
The Premise: Joe Carroll was a brilliant and charismatic professor of literature who specialized in the works of Edgar Allan Poe. Realizing he would never equal Poe as a writer, he instead paid homage to his hero by killing young woman in “artful” ways. Carroll was captured by FBI agent Ryan Hardy, but not before seriously wounding him. Present day, Hardy is retired with a pacemaker and a drinking problem. Carroll engineers an escape from prison that is the first step of a diabolical and enormously complex conspiracy: a network of serial killers that are awaiting activation, willing to carry out his bidding. Carroll is soon captured by Hardy, but his plan is already in motion. A brilliant detective who knows Carroll’s mind, Hardy must overcome his many limitations to stop dozens, maybe hundreds of serial killers.
Hardy is played by Kevin Bacon (TREMORS, 1990, APOLLO 13, 1995, HOLLOW MAN, 2000, THE WOODSMAN, 2004—he was also one of the victims in the first FRIDAY THE 13TH movie in 1980), and he brings a wounded but youthful intensity and cockiness to the role. His nemesis Carroll is played by James Purefoy, a Brit who played SOLOMON KANE in 2009 (and was also Mark Antony on the HBO series ROME from 2005 to 2007), and brings just the right balance of smarminess, faux warmth and cold calculation to his role. The series was created and written by Kevin Williamson, who wanted something to replace the series 24 (2001-2010) on Fox. Williamson, who ushered in the teen angst dramas with DAWSON’S CREEK (1998-2003), reinvigorated horror movies with the SCREAM franchise (beginning in 1996) and mashed the two up in THE VAMPIRE DIARIES (2009 – Present) is adept at believable characters, humor and twists. More than once on THE FOLLOWING, I have been fooled by who is involved in the conspiracy and who isn’t.
The show is intense, and plays with serial killer conventions, from a wannabe who lies to his girlfriend about killing someone (he never has) to seemingly innocent, weak people who are actually cold-blooded killers. Like any show with a massive conspiracy, it sometimes seems ridiculous just how much planning has gone into this one, from creating a private computer server at a prison to placing people in key roles in certain areas. But Williamson is an adept writer, and Kevin Bacon and all the regulars are top notch. Part of the fun is trying to guess who may betray Bacon down the line, and hoping it’s not one of the characters you genuinely like.
RIPPER STREET (BBC America, Saturdays at 9:00 PM, EST)
The Premise: A police procedural set in London’s East Whitechapel in 1889. It has been six months since the last murder of Jack the Ripper, and the pall of his murders hangs heavy over the district. Overseeing Division H is Inspector Ethan Reid, a brilliant detective aided by brawler/war veteran Sergeant Bennett Drake, and an American—former Army surgeon and Pinkerton agent, Captain Homer Jackson. Each episode deals with murder and other high crimes, some motivated by politics and greed, others the result of long-held secrets and betrayals. The show plays with the events of the era and also the beginnings of modern forensics and pathology.
One of the most wonderful things about current film technology is the ability to convincingly portray a time and place long gone. No more stagey sets with some (clean) costumed extras, we can now see the city from all sorts of angles, all its filthy warrens and grand homes displayed, making us feel that we truly have a view of London in the last days of the 19th Century.
Our three principals have secrets: Reid lost his daughter in some horrific accident, and his torso is covered with burn scars. Tough and formidable Drake has done some horrible things in war and longs for love. And Homer Jackson is fleeing his past in the States and finds himself working alongside the people who may ultimately bring him down.
Matthew Macfadyen is brilliant as Reid, passionate about justice and still stinging from never having caught the Ripper. I was not familiar with his work, but he has been in everything from PRIDE & PREJUDICE (2005) as Mr. Darcy to the Sheriff of Nottingham in ROBIN HOOD (2010) to Athos in THE THREE MUSKETEERS (2010). He was also “Hatchet Victim” in the “Don’t” trailer of GRINDHOUSE (2007). Jerome Flynn is wonderful as Drake, and can also be seen in the current HBO series, GAME OF THRONES, as Bronn. Adam Rothenberg brings an irreverence and lasciviousness to his role as Jackson, the sole American at Division H. Each episode is inventive, deftly plotted and certainly well worth your time.
I wasn’t sure about this one, but FX has presented some great dramas, including THE SHIELD (2002-2008) and SONS OF ANARCHY (2008 – Present). My wife and I watched the pilot and were hooked. The series takes place during the Reagan administration and deals with two deep-cover KGB agents living in suburbia and raising two kids (who have no idea that their parents are not travel agents). Matters are further complicated when an FBI Counter-Intelligence Agent moves in with his own family across the street.
First off, it’s some great espionage stuff and actual events (Hinkley shooting Reagan, for example) are incorporated into the plotlines. The series was created by Joe Weisberg, who was a CIA officer, so each episode has an air of authenticity. Our three principles are all terrific. Keri Russell (FELICITY, 1998-2002 and DARK SKIES, 2013) is Elizabeth Jennings, a woman who has trained to seem like any other American. She is fully committed to Mother Russia and would die for her country. She can be seductive one moment and coldly ruthless the next. Her husband Phillip is played by Matthew Rhys. Phillip is conflicted—not only has he fallen in love with his wife, he sees that America is not the evil entity it has been portrayed as being and he worries for his kids. He is ruthless, but no more so than when going after someone who raped Elizabeth back in Russia or a creep who leers at his young daughter. Now Phillip’s doubts have started to crack Elizabeth’s icy façade. Noah Emmerich is FBI agent Stan Beeman, who has his questions about the Jennings, but is hampered by his own problems as home and his wife accusing him of seeing Russian spies everywhere. Emmerich was also seen in the AMC series, THE WALKING DEAD, as Dr. Edwin Jenner.
The show does a nice job of balancing the missions of our protagonists against the moves and counter moves by the FBI. The Jennings new contact is Claudia, played by Margo Martindale, recently so amazing in the FX series, JUSTIFIED, as Mags Bennett. FBI agent Beeman reports to Agent Gaad, played by (of all people) Richard Thomas (John Boy on THE WALTONS, 1971-1978). There is plenty of suspense on both sides, whether the FBI is recruiting an unwilling asset from the Russian embassy or the Jennings are getting an equally unwilling asset to plant a bug in the home office of Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger. A recent episode covered the Reagan assassination attempt and the FBI trying to find out whether the Soviets were involved, while said Soviets were trying to determine if this was the first step to a military coup (aggravated by Secretary of State Al Haig saying he was in control). The characters and the plotting are believable and compelling – well worth watching.
I had been waiting on this one, because Alan Ball is involved, and it is my favorite of the four. Ball is the screenwriter of AMERICAN BEAUTY (1999) and was/is the executive producer on two fine series on HBO, SIX FEET UNDER (2001-2005) and TRUE BLOOD (2008 – Present).
The Premise: An unnamed protagonist is released from prison. He is a master thief and in love with Anastasia, the daughter of Ukrainian crime boss Mr. Rabbit, from whom the two stole a fortune in diamonds. His accomplice is an Asian transvestite and brilliant hacker named Job. Job reluctantly tells the thief that his lover (who has the diamonds) is living in Banshee, Pennsylvania, a tiny town in Amish country. While visiting a bar on the fringes of Banshee, our protagonist comes to the aid of owner Sugar Bates, an African-American ex-boxer and ex-con. Sugar is being accosted by thugs. The other patron of the bar is, unbeknownst to them, the new Sheriff of Banshee, Lucas Hood. Hood is on his way to report in, but stopped off for drink. He has the misfortune of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. The thugs are killed, but so is Hood, who no one in Banshee has ever seen. Sugar can’t afford an investigation, nor can our protagonist. They bury the bodies in the woods and our thief makes the bold decision to present himself in town as Sheriff Hood. His lover Anastasia now lives as Carrie Hopewell, a wife and mother to the town D.A. and has two children – one of whom is probably the thief’s daughter.
Things are complicated by local crime boss Kai Proctor – an Amish man who left his people to deal in drugs, extortion, racketeering, murder and anything else that will bring him money and power. Hood comes to be both respected and loathed by many (including some on the force) because his methods are (of course) unconventional, violent and often illegal. Hood has the code of many anti-heroes, looking to realize his own agenda while often helping the poor, the oppressed and the downtrodden. Job reluctantly moves to town because Hood owes him a great deal of money, and together with Sugar they look for possible big scores from the local casino. Of course, Hood’s lover Carrie knows who he is, but can’t expose him without exposing herself. And oh, did I mention that Kai Proctor owns a slaughterhouse and is a butcher? Bet you can’t guess how he disposes of troublesome underlings. And he has a creepy, merciless lieutenant who wears nerd glasses and bow ties.
As with any show Ball is associated with, the characters are colorful and complex, and the sex, nudity and violence are plentiful and right to the edge of what cable will allow—this is not a show for the faint of heart.
Hood is played by Anthony Starr, a Kiwi who seems mostly to have been involved in series in New Zealand, or their evil twin, Australia. Carrie is played by Ivana Milicevic, the villainous Valenka in CASINO ROYALE (2006) and her father Mr. Rabbit is played by Ben Cross, lately seen as Spock’s father in the STAR TREK (2009) reboot. Ulrich Thomsen (SEASON OF THE WITCH, 2011 and the new version of THE THING, 2011) plays Kai Proctor, Hoon Lee (TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES, 2012) is Job and Frankie Faison (MESSENGERS, 2004, CIRQUE DU FREAK: THE VAMPIRE’S ASSISTANT, 2009) plays Sugar.
This is a show filled with “Holy s**t!” and “WTF!” moments, and I often try to predict how a certain arc will play out, and am often delighted to find I am totally wrong. This series is definitely worth your time.
As for upcoming shows I am still excited about, they include BATES MOTEL, THE VIKINGS and DEFIANCE. We’ll be looking at these in a future column.
Hope that answers your question, Dr. Morbius. Good luck on that whole id thing.
© Copyright 2013 by Mark Onspaugh