Will You Watch Black Box?

The new series Black Box, set to begin on ABC on April 24 looks like something I’ll like. Will you be watching?

Kelly Reilly in Black Box
Kelly Reilly and David Ajala in Black Box

The series stars Kelly Reilly as Dr. Catherine Black, a neuroscientist who works on the cutting edge of brain research. Dr. Black suffers from mental illness and attempts, somewhat imperfectly according to the previews, to hide this from her scientific colleagues.

Vanessa Redgrave in Black Box
Vanessa Redgrave in Black Box

Her psychiatrist is played by Vanessa Redgrave. Any time Vanessa Redgrave wants to take a part in anything, I’m ready to watch it! Having her in something is like having the goddess herself included.

Also in the cast are Ditch Davey as Dr. Ian Bickman and David Ajala as Will, Catherine’s boyfriend.

So, let’s add this up.

  1. A leading character in a TV series has a mental illness. It isn’t what the story is about, it’s just who she is. Okay, Homeland has been there before, but this is network TV.
  2. There’s an interracial relationship. It’s just her relationship, not a big thing.

This could get interesting!

The series is written Amy Holden Jones, who wrote Indecent Proposal, Beethoven, and Mystic Pizza. It’s co-produced by Ilene Chaiken from The L Word, who also holds the title showrunner for the series.

There are some clips and previews for the show at ABC-TV.

3 Reasons to Catch up on Continuum

Are you a fan of Continuum? If not, I’m here to convert you.

First, check out this extended preview of season 3, episode 1. It’s from Showcase, the Canadian source of the show. The series is set in Vancouver. It appears on SyFy in the U.S, where season 3 just began airing.

If this show passed you by, here are three big reasons to catch up with Continuum and continue to watch the new episodes.

1. Rachel Nichols Stars

That’s right, a female led science fiction tale. This one is a time travel story. Rachel Nichols stars as Kiera Cameron, who comes from 65 years in the future. In her own time, she has a husband and son to whom she wants desperately to return.

Rachel Nichols in Continuum
Rachel Nichols in her Continuum body suit.

Part of her life as a law enforcement officer from the future is the marvel of a body suit she wears that connects her to any information she needs and is a nerdgasm of awesome tech.

2. It’s Action Packed and Future Techy

When she arrives in our time, Kiera becomes a cop who astounds everyone in the department because she seems to know things no one else knows. Her cop partner in this timeline is played by Victor Webster. Her boss is a cranky Brian Markinson. (Brian Markinson seems to fill every casting niche when a cranky boss is needed.)

Victor Webster and Rachel Nichols in Continuum
Victor Webster and Rachel Nichols in Continuum

Part of the reason she knows everything is her body suit, and the other part is that she is connected to Alec Sadler. In the future, Alec Sadler is rich and part of the corporation. He invents the time machine. In our time, he is a young computer genius played by Erik Knudsen who tries to help Kiera and tries to figure out why his future self sent her back to him. His computers are in her head.

There are terrorists from a group called Liber8 who want to free themselves from the corporation. One of my favorite leaders of Liber8 is played by Roger Cross. Other time travelers also want to change the future, or, like Kiera, return to the future they once had without causing any changes.

3. The Themes and Issues are Relevant

In the future, there is no government, there is only the corporation. How’s that for an important and topical theme?  As we come closer and closer to a money-run country rather than a democratic country, story lines dealing with all aspects of what this means are worth exploring.

If you want to catch up and have to pay to do it, season 1 is better than season 2. The idea that there was no government, only the corporation, was a big part of season 1. In season 2, the stories were more about the police chasing the terrorists who are out to change the future – in other words, more police procedural and less time travel and sci fi. As you saw in the video above from episode 1 of season 3, there may be a return to the high tech, time travel, roots of the story in season 3. Season 3 is just starting on SyFy on Friday nights.

How to Catch Up

The first two seasons are available on Netfix. For those of you with access to Netflix, you’re golden.

At the Continuum channel on YouTube, you can catch up on episodes from season 1 and 2 at $1.99 per episode. It’s also $1.99 per episode on Amazon Prime, with the entire season going for $14.99.  That’s cheaper than the iTunes price, which is $2.99 per episode.

SyFy has a few videos, but not full episodes.

A Season One 101 photo gallery at SyFy contains 20 photos with descriptions that can help you understand what is going on in the story and who a lot of the characters are. Speaking of photo galleries, check out this Pinterest Continuum board.

[Note: This post was syndicated on BlogHer.com.]

Continuum Images © 2013 Syfy Media

Female Characters are Profitable

Results from a large study by FiveThirtyEight show that having meaningful female characters in a film can be as profitable for filmmakers as the male led films.

In a report at The Dollar-And-Cents Case Against Hollywood’s Exclusion of Women, FiveThirtyEight details how they conducted the study and the results. The measurement used in the survey, imperfect though it is, is the Bechdel Test. To pass the Bechdel Test, a film must,

  • have two named women
  • the women have a conversation with each other
  • the conversation isn’t about a male character

In the study, FiveThirtyEight, “analyzed 1,615 films released from 1990 to 2013 to examine the relationship between the prominence of women in a film and that film’s budget and gross profits.”

Here are some of their findings.

More films pass the Bechdel test now than in the past. They illustrate this information in this chart.

Films passing the Bechdel test over time
Films passing the Bechdel test over time

Films that do pass the Bechdel test often have lower budgets that the big money films featuring only male casts. However, the study found, “The total median gross return on investment for a film that passed the Bechdel test was $2.68 for each dollar spent. The total median gross return on investment for films that failed was only $2.45 for each dollar spent.”

Dollars earned for dollars spent
Dollars earned for dollars spent

The fact is, women in a film with meaningful roles beyond being something pretty on the arm of the male lead can bring in the dollars.

I urge you to read the complete report, because there’s a lot more to it than my quick summary here.

Frozen image ©Disney

3 Reasons Hot in Cleveland is Fabulous

Hot in Cleveland is in its 5th season on TVLand. I don’t enjoy sitcoms as much as dramas, but this one is pure delight. What makes this sitcom stand out in the crowded landscape of 30 minute comedy shows? Here are 3 good reasons.

1. The cast projects pure fun

The central cast of Hot in Cleveland
The central cast of Hot in Cleveland, Wendy Malick, Valerie Bertinelli, Jane Leeves, and Betty White.

The women who form the central cast of Hot in Cleveland are having such a romp with this show. Their enjoyment of the silly antics they are up to is infectious. It’s goofy and they know it, but they appear so delighted to be where they are, doing what they are doing that it spills out of the TV and into your living room.

Georgia Engel is around as a regular and she steals scenes with precision – and the cast loves it when she does.

2. Betty White

Betty White!

This show has Betty White.

Betty White
Betty White

There are benefits to having Betty White on your show. She’s funny. She can deliver a line like no one else. She brings all of TV history to the show with her and she’s not afraid to use it – which leads to reason number 3.

3. Fantastic guest stars

This show has Betty White. Everyone who has ever worked in TV is willing to be on a show with Betty White. On one episode you might see the entire cast from The Mary Tyler Show. Carl Reiner or Susan Lucci or Cedric the Entertainer or Pat Harrington, Jr. or Joan Rivers might show up at any moment, deliver a line or two and disappear.

When someone like Pat Harrington, Jr., who was on One Day at a Time with Valerie Bertanelli, shows up, there’s always some hilarious double take as the two look each other over.

If Carol Burnett guests, Tim Conway might come shuffling into the scene with that hilarious walk he did for years on The Carol Burnett Show. Tim Conway is willing to come to Hot in Cleveland, shuffle across the stage, say one silly thing to Carol Burnett, and be done. Name one other show that can entice actors to do something like that! You never know who will enter a scene on this show to get a well-deserved laugh.

Have some fun. Watch Hot in Cleveland.

Images from Hot in Cleveland © 2011 Viacom International Inc.

Watch This: Eliza Dushku Kicks Butt

Here’s a short film making the rounds right now. It’s called The Gable 5 and is apparently part of a larger plot and series about something I cannot discern. However, Eliza Dushku runs around in a tank top and kicks butt for the entire film, which is really all you need to know.

Review: Season 3 of Blue from WIGS

Season 3 of Blue from WIGS went online on Friday. It’s on Hulu, not on YouTube. It’s also available on WatchWIGS.com. While still free, even on Hulu, it has a different feel from the first two seasons.

Blue poster © WIGSCO, LLC
Blue poster © WIGSCO, LLC

The story and Blue as a character aren’t different. Blue’s still the same mysterious and guarded mom/escort she was in the first two seasons. It’s the shift to Hulu that’s different.

In seasons 1 and 2, which are still available on YouTube, the episodes were each a single scene of 6 or 8 minutes. The four new episodes of season 3 are longer, each one would basically fill an hour long drama on a regular TV channel. There are a whole helluva lot of ads, also like regular TV. Fox happens to own Hulu, and the longer episodes feel more expensively produced and more corporate. Like they might show up on Fox.

The non-corporate, non-establishment and daring experimental nature of the entire WIGS project and library of films was a big draw for me. Each series was about women, each series was quickly made on a limited budget. Each series had women in the lead who were well-known and who were willing to take part in an experimental and innovative idea to try to find a way to use new media to get more stories about women out into the world. I really loved that aspect of WIGS. In July of last year, I wrote my original impressions of WIGS in WIGS: Web Series Extraordinaire.

Do Watch Blue

The edgy experimental feeling may be gone, but don’t let that stop you from watching season 3 of Blue. Julia Stiles is as good as ever as the mom who has a secret life as a call girl. Uriah Shelton still does a great job as her teenaged son, Josh. Blue still struggles with her past, her mother (a marvelous Kathleen Quinlan), her mysterious former lover, step-father and nemesis Olsen (James Morrison), her co-workers at her day job as an accountant. The series is still directed by Rodrigo García.

In Series 3, Blue’s apartment is filled with Blue’s moocher of a sister Lara (Jane O’Hara – who is Julia Stiles actual sister) and Lara’s girlfriend Satya, played by the golden-voiced Alexz Johnson. In the midst of this crowding, there are complications with Josh’s girlfriend (Brooklyn Lowe) and Blue falls for one of her clients, played by Eric Stoltz. We peer more deeply into Blue and several other characters develop more depth as well.

There’s some evolution in the writing in season 3 of Blue. The man Blue was somewhat attracted to in season 2 disappeared. We meet several new characters and some of the characters important in the first two seasons only make brief appearances. One thing was so illogical it was hard to understand: in a two bedroom apartment with guests taking over Josh’s bedroom, why does Blue need to leave her bedroom, too? Both Josh and Blue end up sleeping on the fold out couch.

Nevertheless, Blue remains great storytelling with a fascinating central character. I miss that sense of adventure that the short episodes of WIGS on YouTube gave me – that sense that I was part of something that could move stories about women ahead in the public consciousness. I miss the sense that by supporting WIGS, I was supporting films about women.

The enthusiastic support from me and many others like me got noticed, because Hulu showed an interest, which means big corporate dollars are interested in these stories about women. Hurrah, it worked. But dang, I miss the excitement of how it began.

Check out Paloma, too

Also out with a new episode last week is the WIGS series Paloma. Paloma stars Grace Gummer and was written and directed by Julia Stiles.

Addendum

Seems I was wrong about the two bedrooms:

Reelz Channel Announces Dates for Bomb Girls Movie

Bomb Girls: Facing the Enemy will premier in the U.S. on the Reelz Channel on Memorial Day, May 26. The Canadian drama about women working in a munitions factory during World War II began as a TV series. The two hour movie Bomb Girls: Facing the Enemy is the completion of the tale.

Ali Liebert as Betty and Jodi Balfour as Gladys in Bomb Girls: Facing the Enemy
Ali Liebert as Betty and Jodi Balfour as Gladys in Bomb Girls: Facing the Enemy

The film is set in 1943 as the Battle for the Atlantic rages and the demand for bombs from the women working at Victory Munitions is at its highest. The press release from Reelz Channel explains:

Under constant pressure to turn out more bombs, as well as work on a new secret sonar line, the women of Victory Munitions band together in a tight bond of support and friendship. But when a disturbing menace appears in the form of a saboteur among the factory workers, Gladys Witham (Jodi Balfour), a fiery young woman from privilege, is covertly recruited by Allied Intelligence to find the traitor, forcing her to spy on her best friends, co-workers and fellow agents and call into question everyone and everything she trusts. Bomb Girls: Facing the Enemy also stars Oscar(R)-nominee and Golden Globe(R)-winner Meg Tilly as Lorna Corbett, Charlotte Hegele as Kate Andrews, Ali Liebert as Betty McRae, Anastasia Phillips as Vera Burr, Antonio Cupo as Marco Moretti, Peter Outerbridge as Bob Corbett, Michael Seater as Ivan Buchinsky, Jamie Elman as Jakob Berman, and Catherine Berube as Helen Buchinsky.

The press release didn’t mention Tahmoh Penikett, but I’m sure he’s going to be in the cast of the movie since he’s the fellow from Allied Intelligence who recruits Gladys.

Vera and Lorna working together
Anastasia Phillips as Vera and Meg Tilly as Lorna in Bomb Girls

Sundays are for watching Bomb Girls on Reelz

Set your DVRs, people. Reelz will run the original TV series in full as well. Announced times for that are:

  • Sunday, April 13: Season 1- episodes 1-3 starting at 11am ET
  • Sunday, April 20: Season 1- episodes 4-6 starting at 11am ET
  • Sunday, April 27: Season 2- episodes 1-3 starting at 11am ET
  • Sunday, May 4: Season 2- episodes 4-6 starting at 11am ET
  • Sunday, May 11: Season 2- episodes 7-9 starting at 11am ET
  • Sunday, May 18: Season 2- episodes 10-12 starting at 11am ET
  • Saturday, May 24: Season 1- all six episodes air back to back starting at 11am ET
  • Sunday, May 25: Season 2- episodes 1-6 air back to back starting at 11am ET
  • Monday, May 26: Season 2- episodes 7-12 air back to back starting at 3pm ET

5 Reasons to Love Scott & Bailey

Scott & Bailey is a British detective series from iTV. It’s run for 5 seasons. It makes its way across the pond to American TV on PBS. Some local PBS stations may have episodes you can watch right now, but it depends on your locality. You’ll also find every episode available on YouTube.

There are so many things about Scott & Bailey that I really enjoyed, a list seems in order.

1. The Main Characters are Women

Suranne Jones is DC Rachel Bailey, Lesley Sharp is DC Janet Scott, and their boss is Amelia Bullmore as DCI Gill Murray. There are a lot of men in the police department and in the women’s lives, but the police procedural stories which form the bulk of the drama are the cases that Scott and Bailey take the lead on.

Scott & Bailey
Scott & Bailey

Janet Scott, Rachel Bailey, and Gill Murray are real women. Smart, tough, dedicated and thoroughly flawed. Scott and Bailey are great friends and understand each other very well.

In the flaw department, Bailey excels completely, to the dismay of her co-workers and to the detriment of her personal relationships. She makes up for it by being a brilliant detective. She has an older sister who helped raise her, a younger brother just out of prison, and a horrifyingly awful mom. Alison, the older sister, is played by Sally Lindsay who is also one of the writers on the series.

Scott is a bit older, with a husband, teen aged daughters, and a mom who is around a lot. She’s unflappable and efficient, but does manage to have a few issues of interest going on in her personal life.

DCI Gill Murray
DCI Gill Murray

Bailey calls the boss “Godzilla” but she’s one of the best bosses I’ve seen. Like Scott & Bailey, Gill Murray is a brilliant detective. She’s also capable of leading a large team of investigators straight in to a confusing morass of information and bringing them out with an answer.

2. The Writers!

The series was written mainly by Sally Wainwright and Diane Taylor. You may know other shows that Sally Wainwright has done, especially Last Tango in Halifax. Diane Taylor also acted as producer and police consultant on the series. Other writing credits go to Sally Lindsay, Suranne Jones, Amelia Bullmore and Nicole Taylor.

Nobody had to remind these writers to write “strong female characters.” They couldn’t do it any other way. They’ve created some of the most interesting women on television.

3. The Guest Stars

It may take more than one episode to solve a crime, which means a major guest star may be around for several episodes. Kevin Doyle, Mr. Molesley from Downton Abbey, is there for several episodes while he’s under investigation for a series of crimes. Josh Bolt, Raff from Last Tango in Halifax, was on one episode with a wild head of hair and a bad attitude.

A troubled daughter
A troubled daughter

Joe Bevan’s (George Costigan) nasty crimes took several episodes to investigate. Costigan made his character so creepy. It was masterfully done. (If you’ve seen Sally Wainwright’s drama Happy Valley, you can see Costigan in a much different role.) Helping the police with that investigation was his troubled and abused daughter Helen, played by Nicola Walker, who also worked on Last Tango in Halifax.

4. The British Style of Policing

A police procedural is such a common genre, but the British do it in their own way and it’s a refreshing change from American shows like Castle or Bones. Not that I don’t enjoy Castle and Bones or any other American police procedural like Rizzoli and Isles. But the style of inquiry, the method of interrogation, the lack of guns, and the calm attitude of the police toward the people under investigation is a window into how it can be done with less violence.

5. Great Performances

The acting is top notch from everyone in the series. There are many characters I haven’t mentioned who are played to perfection. The lead characters are excellently acted, completely real and believable. The show has an all-round outstanding cast. Nicholas Gleaves is terrific as DC Andy Roper, Tony Pitts is fabulous as Janet Scott’s husband, Liam Boyle is excellent as Rachel Bailey’s brother, Sean Maguire does a wonderful turn as Rachel’s mistreated love interest.

You might enjoy watching a few short promos and trailers for some of the shows and seasons. It will give you a glimpse of the characters in action. If you have seen the series, I’d love to hear your reactions to it in the comments.

Promo for season 1

A Season 3 Promo

Review: Unhook the Stars

Unhook the Stars is from 1996, and it’s a gem. I completely recommend it to you.

Unhook the Stars poster
Unhook the Stars poster

The film features Gena Rowlands as Mildred, the widowed mother of two adult children and the neighbor of Monica (Marisa Tomei) and her son J.J. (Jake Lloyd). When the film begins, Mildred is a buttoned down suburban housewife with a well-ordered life in spite of her two imperfect offspring.

Monica is a mess. Her life is a mess, her marriage is a mess, and she’s a mess of a mother. Mildred ends up babysitting for young J.J. and comes to regard him as her best friend.

Jake Lloyd and Gena Rowlands in Unhook the Stars
Jake Lloyd and Gena Rowlands in Unhook the Stars

Mildred’s daughter Annie (Moira Kelly) is an angsty mess herself, caught in the midst of a rebellion to separate herself from her mother. Mildred’s son Ethan (David Sherrill) is Mr. Success and mom’s clear favorite child.

Monica and J.J. have an effect on Mildred’s life in her empty nest of a suburban home. One effect Monica has on her it to take her out drinking where Mildred meets a truck driver named Tommy, played by Gérard Depardieu.

Unhook the Stars is a character study – a portrait of Mildred. Mildred is beautifully written and played to perfection by Gena Rowlands. Mildred is so clearly drawn and her evolution through her relationship with her children, her neighbors, and her potential suitor in the form of Tommy is masterfully done. I loved the story about how a woman comes into her own, finally, after what she thought for years was her real life as a wife and mother ends. It’s a tale of reinvention.

To a lesser degree, the film is also a portrait of Monica. Marisa Tomei just kicks ass in this part as a disorganized, inept, boozy mom and wife.

The film is a bit of a family affair. Rowlands’ son Nick Cassavetes co-wrote and directed the indie production.

I’m old enough to have reinvented myself a couple of times, and it is pure joy to watch Gena Rowlands go through a similar process in this film.

Image Credits: Unhook the Stars ©1996 Miramax Films.

Killing Off the Good Guys on Scandal and Lost Girl

On Scandal, Cyrus Beene (Jeff Perry) had one good thing: his husband James (Dan Bucatinsky). James represented love, conscience, family. Cyrus is ruthless and corrupt and capable of any betrayal or nefarious power grab. James still believes in justice and good.

Cyrus and James
Cyrus and James

Cyrus’s corruption finally leads to a situation that gets James killed.

On Lost Girl, Bo Dennis (Anna Silk) has one pure relationship: her sidekick Kenzi (Ksenia Solo). Kenzi is the sister she never had, the friend she relies on, the person she loves without reservation.

No words needed
Kenzi hugs Bo

A crisis prompts Kenzi to sacrifice herself to save the world. Like Buffy diving into a ball of light, Kenzi steps into the light and is taken. On BtVS, Buffy was retrieved from the netherworld by her friends. Will Kenzi be? As in BtVS, there is supposed to be a way to do this in the sci-fi world of Lost Girl.

There’s no hope for getting James back on Scandal. This drama is about real life, not science fiction, and when people die they are just gone.

On Scandal, Cyrus may come through his loss a better man. If I were Shonda Rhimes, I would write this in a way that Cyrus develops a moral compass as a result of losing James. It would certainly cause a lot of drama in the White House if Cyrus developed a conscience. After James’ murder, Olivia Pope herself (Kerry Washington) was even talking about her desire for at least one good person, one person in a white hat, in the morass of evil portrayed on Scandal.

On Lost Girl, I don’t see a way that the writers can use the loss of Kenzi to create character evolution in Bo or any other character. Kenzi is integral to everything Bo does. I cannot imagine how Bo can even continue to be Bo without Kenzi. It’s like Batman without Robin, Sherlock Holmes without Dr. Watson, Don Quixote without Sancho Panza, Buffy without Willow.

Because of that, I think Lost Girl will write Kenzi back into the story somehow. But here’s my problem. When they announced the cast returning for season 5, Ksenia Solo was not listed. This announcement makes me nervous.

Lost Girl played with the fans throughout all of season 4 using red herrings and secrecy. Is the absence of Ksenia Solo’s name in the returning cast another game, another secret, another mystery? If so, does that mean she will be back and they just want to keep it secret to drive us crazy? They certainly enjoyed driving us crazy for all of season 4. Then there’s the very important fact that no one from the show – not even Ksenia Solo herself – has said a word about Kenzi in season 5.

We usually know when people are really leaving. We know K.C. Collins really left Lost Girl. We know Sandra Oh is leaving Grey’s Anatomy. Announcements get made. There’s no official announcement about Ksenia Solo and Lost Girl parting ways.

Do you think Kenzi will be back?

A Quick Note on The Good Wife

I wrote this post before last night’s episode of The Good Wife, which took me completely by surprise and will be all over the news today. If you have any comments about how they handled Josh Charles leaving the cast of The Good Wife, feel free to include them in this discussion.

Here are a couple of articles in The Hollywood Reporter to fill you in with details on The Good Wife.

The Josh Charles story is a little different from Dan Bucatinsky leaving Scandal and Ksenia Solo possibly being done with Lost Girl because he was one of the lead characters, not a supporting character.