Season 1, Episode 6
Director: Michael Lange
Writer: Glen Morgan, James Wong

There’s not a whole lot to say about The X-Files episode six, “Shadows.” It’s a fairly straight-forward ghost story in the show’s “monster of the week” vein, meaning it contains no contribution to the overall series mythology and little advancement in the characterization of the two leads. “Shadows” is eerie and fairly well made for an episode of television horror, but it literally vaporized from my mind as soon as it finished.

The episode begins with administrative assistant (secretary back then) Lauren mourning the suicide of her beloved boss Howard Graves. The same night, she attempts to withdraw money from an ATM machine but is attacked by two assailants. Cut to “two hours later” and a couple wanders down the same dark alley and stumbles upon the assailants’ dead bodies, strategically placed and falling into view in that classic horror movie way. It actually felt very Friday the 13th, Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan, if you ask me. Once the bodies are examined, Mulder and Scully are brought in to compare the bizarre findings against unsolved cases in the X-files. Each body contains an electric charge, is still 98.3 degrees after being dead several hours, and has a crushed throat despite no obvious external influence.

The secret to the episode is the ghost of Howard Graves has aligned himself to his assistant Lauren (he lost a daughter that would have been the same age as Lauren) and protects her whenever she’s in danger. The ghost also shows Lauren the circumstances of his death – it was a murder, not a suicide. Graves’ partner was up to no good and had to “off” Graves to preserve his scheme. Mulder and Scully do their best to solve the case, but it’s basically the ghost of Howard Graves that saves the day, outing his former partner by revealing a hidden disk full of incriminating information. At the end, Lauren leaves town and is no longer haunted by Graves’s ghost.

So, what to make of “Shadows?” Absolutely nothing. Given that my personal well of X-Files analysis was running dry, I sought out information on the Internet and discovered that FOX brass gave the creative team notes to have Mulder and Scully “help people” more often. Hand it to the network for helping to produce this mediocrity that lacks any of the unique X-Files touches. My favorite aspect of the episode was Scully’s dogged skepticism in the face of unassailable odds. They have pictures of Howard Graves’s ghost, and she’s still carrying that “there must be a rational answer” flag. There are a couple of neat allusions to Benjamin Franklin hidden within the episode: Graves’s desk plaque, the setting of Philadelphia, the current of electricity running through the bodies, among others. Yawn.

They can’t all be winners, I guess.

7 Days in Hell isn’t nearly as long as the title suggests. A mere 43 minutes, it feels more like a long Saturday Night Live sketch than an HBO movie. However, you wouldn’t want it any longer because it packs a swift serve of laughs in such a tight set.

Before they get to the actual match, the film directed by Jake Szymanski takes a look at the background of the two contenders that competed in the greatest tennis match of all time.

First, there’s Aaron Williams (Andy Samberg), the hot-rod who gets reverse Blind Side-d when the Williams family (yes, Serena and Venus) adopts him. Think John McEnroe on PCP (sometimes literally). In fact, tennis greats like Serena, McEnroe, and Chris Evert appear as themselves in the film to comment on Williams’ rise and fall. After accidentally killing a guy with a 174-mph ball in a match, Williams goes MIA, before resurfacing in Sweden as the inventor of a special underwear that lets it all hang out, so to speak. Unfortunately, the underwear causes infertility and elephant testicles in men, and Williams faces legal trouble because of it. In one of the funniest moments of the film, the commentators go into great detail about a courtroom sketch artist and his avante-garde work that changed the genre of courtroom drawings.

7 Days in Hell is really Samberg’s game, though. Kit Harington (better known as Game of Throne’s Jon Snow) is more of a spectator. His storyline as the indubitably thick-headed Charles Poole falls flat compared to Aaron Williams, with a domineering mother (Mary Steenburgen, who isn’t given enough to do). Although the frequent voicemail threats (that turn into a physical altercation in an elevator) from Queen Elizabeth are pretty hilarious.

While most of the real-life interviewees in this film ace their returns (surprisingly David Copperfield is a standout), not all of them work. Lena Dunham’s role as a Jordache executive feels like Hannah Horvath with a Rod Stewart wig on. One would have liked to have seen her a little more out of her element like Michael Sheen, who plays the smoldering TV host of Good Sport that mentally molests Charles Poole.

When the film actually gets to the match is where the movie especially shines. Anything, and everything, ensues, including an orgy, a broken limb, and a coke binge (Samberg snorting the white lines as coke is an image you won’t forget).

Why this film was made isn’t clear (maybe to give Jon Snow something to do in his off-season from GoT). But for whatever the reason, it’s a creative take on sports documentaries and the bombastic nature in which commentators speak about historic games. And you don’t even need to love tennis (or Andy Samberg) to appreciate it.

I will be the first to admit that, after a wildly quality diverse second season, I really wasn’t looking forward to a third season with Masters and Johnson. The series seemed to struggle to identify exactly what story they wanted to tell of the legendary sex research pair. Taking not only the blossoming sexual revolution but also laying that with character studies on the two leads plus the occasional side jaunt into the socio-political climate of the 50s and 60s always seemed like such a mouthful. One that, unfortunately, the show choked on more than successfully swallowed. Still, there were always the bright spots that happened when the show focused squarely on Bill Masters (Michael Sheen) and Virginia Johnson (Lizzy Caplan) and their complicated relationship (see last year’s “Fight” episode).

However, tonight’s Season Three premiere takes an interesting approach to the story. After 12 years of research (we have another leap forward in the story’s time line), Masters and Johnson are about to publish their famous work and open themselves up to a firing squad of reporters during a press conference. Aligned with this major event is a long holiday weekend between the Masters and Johnson families during which we acquaint ourselves with Virginia’s grown children and the rapidly deteriorating relationship between the still married Bill and Libby. All of this somehow really works and makes me wonder is this section of the famed sex researchers’ lives really the story the creators wanted to tell? My hope is yes.

The premiere equally divides its screen time to dissecting the on-going partnership between Bill and Virginia – still a sexual partnership – as Virginia argues with Bill over the time off to finish her degree. She’s nervous about publishing the sex research in association with Bill and not being able to withstand the pressure of lacking the expected credentials to back it up. When Bill and Virginia drive to a lakeside cabin for a long weekend with Libby, you’re initially unsure as to what the dynamics at hand truly are. Shortly, we see that Bill and Libby are still married, still frigid to each other, and the effect is noticeable on their children, particularly their oldest son who strikes out at Bill in an epic manner later in the episode. Libby is also a pill-popper – the stress of a loveless marriage and social injustice in the South too much to take.

Virginia’s children aren’t any better: her daughter, Tessa, is blossoming into womanhood and has a deep interest in sex, drinking, and smoking. She’s pretty much just like her mother, I would say. Her son is sexually active and lacks focus or direction in his life. He makes a pretty significant choice toward the end of the episode, however, much to Virginia’s shock and alarm. I’m slightly concerned as to where his story will take the series. I can only imagine it’s going in one very specific direction, but time will tell.

Overall, I’d forgotten how much I really admire the central performances of the show, and it was easy enough to fall back into thanks to them. Sheen and Caplan continue to form a remarkable pair even as they tackle the tricky task of being charismatic actors who need to downplay some of that to maintain the awkwardness of Masters’ relations with any human being not under study. Now that the sex research is ready to be published, it will be interesting to see how much farther the series will dive into the clinical sex scenes many expect. One has to imagine they’ll find creative ways to continue to infuse sexuality and nudity in this very cable-friendly series.

But here’s hoping this phase of the Masters and Johnson saga is the story the creators wanted to tell in the beginning. The awkward steps taken to get to this point, at least for now, feel worth it as we begin to explore a more interesting phase in their lives. And exploring the impact of Masters and Johnson’s choices and professional subject matter on their children seems like very fertile territory for good drama.

Masters of Sex, Season Three, premieres tonight on Showtime at 10pm EST.

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.

Sign In

Reset Your Password

Email Newsletter