Jersey Devil

Season 1, Episode 5
Director: Joe Napolitano
Writer: Chris Carter

The X-Files‘ fifth episode, “The Jersey Devil,” kicks things off with a captivating and effectively scary beginning. In 1947, a family sings on their way into Atlantic City. A few miles outside the city, the car blows a tire, and the father gets out to change it (fortunately leaving their son in the car – Ralphie would say a whole lot more than “fudge” out here). A few beats later, the father is knocked down screaming and is dragged into the woods by an unseen entity. The next morning, his dead body is found missing its legs, the apparent victim of some form of cannibal. The investigating police soon trap the perp in a cave and open fire on it.

Cut to modern day New Jersey where a homeless man was found mauled in the same woods, contributing to the local mythology of the Jersey Devil. Mulder and Scully aren’t officially called to investigate the case but show up on the scene nonetheless, running afoul of the local authorities. Mulder stays in Atlantic City to conduct his own informal investigation in the slums outside the forest where he befriends a homeless man and eventually sees a figure resembling sketches of the rumored Jersey Devil. The figure – a wild woman bearing some resemblance to an early Neanderthal – is ultimately caught and shot to death in the woods.

This episode falls into the “monster of the week” category, but, aside from its atmospheric start, it isn’t particularly scary. In fact, it takes a more academic approach on the material over a more traditional X-Files supernatural slant. Duchovny is given one of those in-depth monologues the writers seem to really like to give him, but he carries this one off better than others I’ve seen. Perhaps he has a better acting partner in this episode than in other instances – this time sharing the dialogue with an engaged actor playing a University of Maryland anthropology professor. Mulder’s exploration of the skirts of Atlantic City also highlights how seedy it was in the early 90s (and very well could still be) and gives the episode a “Very Important Moral Lesson” on which to hang its hat.

Since Mulder’s scenes largely focus on the investigation, series creator Chris Carter, who penned this episode, chooses to broaden the appeal of the previously “cold” Scully by having her attend a child’s birthday party, lament on her dating life, and actually go on a date with a divorced father. Clearly, this subplot is also meant to initiate sexual tension between Mulder and Scully, but I find it a little strange that an episode about a ravenous and wild female is juxtaposed with an exploration of Scully’s ticking biological clock. After the “whore got what’s comin’ to her” current in “Conduit,” the proximity of these two plots further highlights an unsettling attitude about female sexuality that was, apparently, prevalent in early 90’s science fiction.

I will admit to laughing, though, when Mulder corners the wild woman in an abandoned Atlantic City warehouse and she looks at him with those “come hither” eyes. When he talks about her later, he raves about her beauty. It’s the kind of thing only a geek like Mulder would say.

On Monday’s Awards Daily TV Water Cooler podcast, the ADTV crew takes a look at the best in television from the first half of 2015. Given the fact that the first half of the year encompasses the back half of the Emmy voting eligibility window, our list-making was much harder than we thought it would be. You’ll hear some of the usual suspects and a few early season titles that will make you go, “Ohhh yeah.” And, yes, we talk about FOX’s Wayward Pines.

 

If you’re behind on your binge-watching, this is the perfect opportunity to do some list making of your own and catch up. Feel free to leave your favorite television shows of 2015 at the halfway mark on the site when the podcast drops.

Conduit

Season 1, Episode 4
Director: Daniel Sackheim
Writer: Alex Gansa, Howard Gordon

“Conduit,” the fourth episode of The X-Files, is the first one I’ve seen that fell fairly flat, particularly after the taut and suspenseful “Squeeze.” It jumps back into the overall alien mythology and spends a lot of time revealing the scarred emotional psyche of Fox Mulder. While, on the surface, it makes an interesting flip in gender roles (Scully is cold and reserved, Mulder is an emotional wreck), “Conduit” also features some troubling gender stereotyping and lazy plotting that betrays the strength of the earlier episodes.

The story begins on the shores of the fictional Lake Okobogee where two children (a teenage girl, Ruby, and a young boy) sleep next to a camp fire. Their mother (Carrie Snodgress, Diary of a Mad Housewife) sleeps inside a small camper when she is awakened with by flash of light and screams from her children. Tabloids report the disappearance of her daughter as an alien abduction which is picked up by Mulder. Upon a deeper investigation, they discover both a pregnant best friend, a murdered boyfriend, and the younger brother’s ability to pick up binary codes in the television. Ruby is later found in the woods as Mulder relieves the painful disappearance (probable abduction) of his own sister.

“Conduit” has a lot of problems. First, David Duchovny’s performance is stiffer than normal, particularly in a scene where he plays “bad cop” in an interrogation (slamming his hand down on a desk with a loud “BAM” to replicate gunshots). So far, Duchovny’s performance has definitely been the lesser of the two, but it’s especially poor when he’s given pages of mythological dialogue to spout. Second, there’s a random biker gang presence that has no place in the episode (despite allowing for a comic cameo from Revenge of the Nerds‘ Don Gibb (“Ogre”). The action culminates in a scene where the missing girl’s brother wanders toward a shining light in the woods that turns out to be a random biker gang. Finally, and the biggest problem of the episode for me, is the unnecessary text of teen girls as whores. Ruby is constantly referred to as having many boyfriends or being pulled out of the backs of cars or constantly drinking and vomiting. Her investigation isn’t explored because, basically, she’s a whore who either got what was coming to her or ran away with a man. Then, there’s the whole melodramatic diversion of her friend (the one actually pregnant) killing Ruby’s boyfriend out of jealousy. It’s childish and simplistic plotting that The X-Files should clearly avoid.

After the strength of the earlier episodes, this one felt like a letdown and a step backward in terms of quality. Still, it’s clear that Mulder’s torment over his abducted sister will be a story that we’ll continue to revisit in the future.

What I like most about SundanceTV’s Rectify is how little it mimics other show’s formats. After all, it starts where most shows would end: with a release from prison (isn’t that how we all hope Orange is the New Black concludes?).

And while most shows are trying to be as digestible and consumable as possible to keep everyone’s attention (blame Netflix), Rectify feels almost like an old-school drama you might have seen on NBC in its hey-day (certainly not now). It takes its old Southern time, just like so many of the patrons at Murphy’s.

The season 3 premiere titled “Hoorah” takes place right after Daniel (Aden Young) is coerced into confessing to the killing of his girlfriend Hanna 20 years ago, on the contingency in the plea deal that he must be banished from his hometown of Paulie. Based on what viewers have seen in the last two seasons with Daniel’s trouble adjusting to regular adult life, this decision is a natural progression in his journey, with the dangling carrot of a new start in a new town. And yet, it’s a double-edged sword because Daniel’s psyche is so damaged and infantile that he may need his family more than ever, especially Amantha (Abigail Spencer), the only one that truly believes he’s innocent. Daniel has 30 days to leave town (and finish that damn kitchen!), but he may leave sooner than that.

“He still has to live his life,” says Jon (Luke Kirby), Daniel’s lawyer and Amantha’s on-again, off-again boyfriend.

“Don’t we all,” says Amantha. “Hoorah.”

And that’s mainly what this premiere episode (and frankly, the show) deals with: How are these family members dealing with this tragedy and the stigma that comes from being related to a once-convicted killer?

So far, a marriage has been ruined (Tawney is headed to Beth’s to think about her miscarriage with Teddy and presumably unwarranted feelings for Daniel). Granted, the marriage was pretty shaky to begin with. And Amantha may be just as stunted as her brother, since she’s dedicated so much of her life to freeing him and now it’s all over. What does that mean for her? Is she management material at Thrifty Town?

But did he or didn’t he do it? Not even Daniel knows, according to Jon.

Despite being a character study on what happens to a family inflicted with tragedy, that’s the real driving force behind this show. Is Daniel a misunderstood monster or a misunderstood martyr? (His assault of Teddy seems to speak to the former, but didn’t we all want to see that reaction?) While Senator Roland Foulkes (Michael O’neill) thinks the case is closed, George’s suicide may lurk and fester in future episodes to rip open the case all over again.

The filming in this episode, which was directed by Stephen Gyllenhaal (Jake and Maggie’s dad), is exceptional. So many shots look like poignant photographs, from Tawney sitting alone in a diner ala Night Hawks to an intense confrontation between Teddy (Clayne Crawford) and Daniel.

While creator Ray McKinnon doesn’t give in to binge-worthy formats, like many new shows, Rectify season 3 is a tight 6 episodes, which may be the perfect size for this brand of intense storytelling.

Rectify airs Thursdays at 10 p.m. EST.

AMC hit Comic-Con with two big zombie-based announcements and trailers.

First off, the big daddy zombie show The Walking Dead premiered a super-sized Season Six trailer and set October 11 as its premiere date with a 90-minute episode. The trailer features the addition of Ethan Embry and the usual zombie massacres, hoarding, and human drama we’ve come to expect from the series.

Next, AMC finally set a premiere date of August 23 for its Dead spin-off, Fear the Walking Dead. It’s new trailer sets a somewhat different tone for the series, a natural fit given that Fear is set during the early days of the zombie plague. There are genuine moments of suspense and dread in the trailer, something the original series hasn’t seen in a while. We know how the story ends but, somehow, watching the decay of modern civilization could prove more fascinating.

Showtime has released a teaser trailer for Season Five of his Emmy-winning series Homeland. The new season will feature Carrie Mathison (Claire Danes) working for a private entity in Germany. Homeland Season Five drops in the Fall.

Squeeze

Season 1, Episode 3
Director: Harry Longstreet
Writer: Glen Morgan, James Wong

Day 3. He had no idea that, when he yesterday referred to The X-Files’ tendency to dip into the “monster of the week” club, the very next episode would kick-start the trend. Is this a sign of precognition? Or has he been watching too much X-Files already? The delimna is perplexing. Time to “Squeeze” this one out.

Even though only three episodes have passed, I can  tell immediately that “Squeeze,” the third episode of The X-Files freshman season will be one of the greats. At first, when the camera pans down into a sewer to reveal a pair of glowing orange eyes, I thought this would be the infamous “Fluke” episode I’ve heard so many discuss. But the character of Eugene Tooms (Doug Hutchinson) is a human, albeit a genetically mutated human being more akin to an X-Men villain than anything we’ve seen on the alien-obsessed show.

Through the course of the episode, we come to discover that Tooms is 100 years old and hibernates at 30-year intervals. At the end of hibernation, he rises from a cocoon made from bile and Sunday comic strips and kills five times, taking the liver of each victim. His added, special power is an ability to stretch, contort, and , yes, squeeze his body into any tight space. This effectively makes him near-impossible to catch or really even detect. Milder and Scully eventually do so when Tooms attacks Scully in her apartment. Of course, the FBI naturally imprison Tooms in a cell with a fairly wide food tray opening. Guess who’s coming back for liver pudding?

The most important theme of the episode is the battle lines that are drawn between Mulder and the rest of the more straightforward FBI force. Mulder’s status as the “spooky” nut job chasing UFOs puts his partner Scully into a difficult situation, particularly when an academy friend (Donal Logue) seems impressed by and attracted to her. The events of the episode push Scully into effectively choosing a side, highlighting the ineffectiveness of the traditional FBI methods in the world of The X-Files. This is an important shift in the series as it firmly places Scully in Mulder’s court, cementing a partnership that will last 9+ years.

The star of the episode is undoubtedly Hutchinson’s performance as Tooms. It’s a terrifying and near-silent performance that basically centers around the usage of his eyes as a primary method of terror. The murder scenes take place in ordinary environments (a dark office, a quiet home), and Hutchinson’s shark-like eyes and twisted physicality make for very realistic yet horrific sequences. Yet, when his eyes do not glow with that yellow/orange haze, Hutchison is still able to convey a sense of melancholy and sorry within Tooms. It’s a really remarkable performance, one that elicits more layers than you’d expect from the “monster of the week.”

After all, he’s not bad. He’s just squeezed that way.

Here we go again with the Twin Peaks drama.

First, Showtime’s on board and so were Kyle MacLachlan and writer/director David Lynch and co-writer Mark Frost. Then, Lynch seemed iffy on the project. But the scripts were ready! But then Lynch said Showtime was cheap and backed out completely. Then, the cast members got all “We Are the World” and made a You Tube video. Then, Lynch came back! With double the original series order!

Oh happy day, right?

Well, now Frost told the Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum – side note: an odd place to divulge such information – that the series won’t actually premiere in 2016 after all. It’s been pushed back to 2017, according to Variety.

“A lot of people always look back at ‘Twin Peaks’ and say that was the start of this explosion we’ve had in good television drama, but we did it in a time when there were still only three networks,” said Frost. “The challenge for us is to try and come back and raise the bar above what we did the last time. We’re coming back with season three of ‘Twin Peaks’ after a 25-year absence. We’ve finished the scripts, we start production in September, and that will be coming out on Showtime sometime in 2017.”

So, another twist in the saga of Twin Peaks. I’m all for producing the right show that honors the original series. I won’t deny, though, that I’m a little disappointed.

I just hope that gum I love comes back into style at some point before I die.

Deep Throat

Season 1, Episode 2
Director: Daniel Sackheim
Writer: Chris Carter

Day 2. I have been taunted by friends, and my mind reels at the sheer logistics of the task ahead of me. Yet, my determination is steely. Sleep. Children. Personal life be damned. This is something I must do. I do not know why, so do not ask me. My quest continues with “Deep Throat…”

The second episode of The X-Files dives deeply into the alien/UFO/government conspiracy mythology. It begins with an Air Force pilot who has stolen a government vehicle and barricaded himself in his house. As the military police break into his residence, he is seen cowering in a corner, covered in a blistery red rash. Flash-forward four months, and his wife has reported him missing to the FBI after the Air Force took him in for questioning and treatment. All contact with her husband ceased. Enter Mulder and Scully.

After visiting the town, it’s clear that there is something going on under the covers here. Mulder pontificates about a potential connection to the Roswell Incident, which of course he believes in, and Scully can barely contain her amusement at what she perceives to be a wild imagination. My favorite moments of the episode happen when Scully lets slip a few bemused smiles in his direction. She knows he’s off-kilter, maybe a little crazy, but she genuinely likes him. It’s the seeds of the legendary Mulder/Scully romance.

The rest of the episode deals with Mulder’s basically illegal trespassing onto the military base and surrounding areas where he witnesses what appear to be actual UFOs. He is later apprehended after having a close encounter with an aircraft of seeming alien origin, but the military operatives at the base effectively wipe his brain of the memory. Mulder and Scully quickly recognize that the entire town is under the control of the base, and there is little else they can do here once the missing pilot is safely returned home.

The most significant moments of the episode involve the revelation of “Deep Throat,” an unnamed man who knows a great deal about Mulder’s actions. Played by Jerry Hardin, he advises Mulder to stay away from the military for his safety and never answers direct questions as to his identity. The actor has one of those faces I recognize but can never actually place. Maybe I once knew but IMDB removed the memory from my brain to keep forcing me back to remember who he was. I won’t even touch Wikipedia because they just like to spoil shit for me. But that’s neither here nor there.

Overall, the rhythms and tone of The X-Files have pretty much fallen into place “Deep Throat,” although I am aware that it shifts into “monster of the week” mode at some point. Added bonuses here include the first appearance of the hilarious, low-tech opening credits and the iconic theme song as well as a cameo performance by Seth Green as a red-head teenage stoner. Hardly a stretch for him.

Two down, one hundred ninety-nine to go. See how I typed all that out? It makes it all the more impressive.

Pilot

Season 1, Episode 1
Director: Robert Mandel
Writer: Chris Carter

When I woke this morning, I had no idea that, by the end of the day, I would be embarking on a geek quest with The X-Files‘ “Pilot.” One of those quests you read about in blogs or humor pieces elsewhere. The kind where people sit in front of a television for 36-hours straight eating only what’s in their immediate grasp and peeing into a (hopefully) empty bottle of Mountain Dew. Like that Simpsons marathon people tried on last summer. It’s funny when someone else does it. Funny in a kind of lunatic way that would never be me. Certainly not me. And definitely not over The X-Files.

Today, FOX announced a massive publicity campaign for its January 2016 revival of The X-Files, appropriately titled “201 Days of The X-Files.” Later, I was chatting with a friend about the event, one of us (I’ll say it was me. Could have been him, but that’s irrelevant. Focus.) commented that it would actually be quite fantastic to relive the series from beginning to end and on to a new beginning. He, you see, had already seen them all. I, on the other hand, have only seen one episode – 1996’s gruesome fourth-season entry “Home.” It’s not the only gaping hole in my 90s-era television viewing habits. I’d only recently watched any episode of Twin Peaks, and there are series, famous series, of which I’d only seen a handful of episodes. I grew up worshiping at the altar of cinema. Television was for philistines. Unless it was 80s soaps. That was my weird pre-teen jam (see “Moldavian Massacre” from Dynasty).

So, this is all a very long-winded way of telling you why I’m embarking on this quest to accept the challenge that FOX did not specifically lay at my feet. I am responding to their marketing as only a bingeing geek like me can. I’m going to watch every episode of The X-Files one a day until the series returns on January 24, 2016. I’ll be posting my reviews and thoughts here about each episode. I have no idea if I even have the stamina to maintain this for 201 days. I have no idea what I’ll have to say about each and every episode of the series. Surely, some will bear more fruit than others. I’m a bit of a (SQUIRREL!) bright shiny object guy. Also, I am mostly ignorant of the overall mythology, but I do know a few things here and there. Be kind as you read this. We all know it’s tough losing  your virginity (that dalliance with “Home” didn’t really count).

Pilot

The X-Files starts with a (humorous?) tag line basically claiming the episode was “based on actual events” after which a young woman is seen running through the forest, fleeing something behind her. A light shines just over a ridge as the wind begins to howl. A mysterious figure appears within the light as she tumbles to the ground, helpless at its feet. A flash of light, and the scene continues the next day – the girl is dead – and we learn… this has happened before.

Cut to the introduction of FBI Agent Dana Scully (Gillian Anderson) who has been assigned to partner Agent Fox Mulder (David Duchovny) in his various investigations and obsession with the “X-Files,” a collection of unexplained and mysterious events logged by the FBI. Right off the bat, we have the scientific versus belief. Hard data versus blind faith. While Scully’s belief system is described by two lines of dialogue (“The answers are there. You just have to know where to look.”), Mulder’s basement office has a now iconic poster hanging on the wall of a UFO with the tag line “I want to believe” written under it. Subtle character development. Still, what I find very interesting from the early moments of their interactions is that Scully is a “show me” type of woman. She finds solace in evidence and details. She’s a skeptic, yet (in one scene) she wears a tiny gold cross around her neck. Mulder, on the other hand, clearly has no issues in accepting things blindly and in hiding his raw passion for believing in the existence of something out there. No mention is made of his religious beliefs in the pilot episode.

The pilot is a very accomplished episode on its own, even judging by today’s standards. It’s filmed in that matter-of-fact, no-nonsense style Johnathan Demme applied to the Oscar-winning Silence of the Lambs. It’s also no coincidence that Dana Scully is styled to resemble Jodie Foster’s Clarice Starling. She’s only missing that West Virginian accent that brands her “not more than one generation from poor white trash.” The focus of the pilot is on a series of murders in the same Oregon town where the opening scene takes place. A series of young adults are dying one by one, all with the same mole-like markings on their lower back. Chances are you’ve already seen the episode, so it’s not really a spoiler to reveal that, yes indeed, these kids were kidnapped by aliens, and the government moves to conceal the evidence. It’s interesting to see that the series right away confronts Scully with the much-discussed alien mythology. The show revels in the Mulder viewpoint, leaving no subtlety as to whether or not “we are not alone,” as Scully says later in the episode when describing Mulder’s beliefs.

The Anderson and Duchovny performances aren’t quiet fully formed yet, but they do a fine job of keeping us engaged in the material. Even from the first episode, Anderson clearly has the chops to take the character much further despite seeming ill-at-ease with Scully in the early moments of the episode. By the end, she has already started to inhabit Scully and externalize the blossoming internal conflict between science and faith (in aliens). Duchovny, in the opening moments, seems to have taken his acting queues from Harold Ramis’s Dr. Egon Spengler character in Ghostbusters. Over time, he too grows into the character, softening the harder edges of his delivery.

For now, I’m hooked on the show, and I can already see the seeds of the overall mythology take hold. Speaking of which, the two big mythology moments I picked up on where the introduction of The Smoking Man (apparently also known as The Cigarette Smoking Man) and Mulder’s back story about the potential abduction of his sister by aliens, something that clearly spawned his career obsession. I’m also curious as to whether or not the “missing nine minutes” Mulder claims to have experienced will be referenced again in the upcoming episodes. I’ll guess I’ll wait to see this and more play out over the next 200 days.

So, am I crazy? Wait, don’t answer that. Instead, join me on this quest. Share my joy and pain.

The Truth is out there, but am I just too lazy to find it?

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