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TV recap: Constantine, E6 – Rage of Caliban

It’s somewhat fitting that after receiving its potential death sentence from NBC, “Constantine” follows up with easily its strongest episode yet that shows exactly why this series deserves a stay of execution as it continues to deliver the most unique viewing experience on network TV.

With little more than a TV budget, “Constantine’s” sixth episode packed in as many genuine scares and jump in your seat moments as any recent full-length feature film. “Rage of Caliban” also offered up more evidence that NBC dropped the ball in debuting the show on Oct. 24 instead of September like other new shows instead of giving it a weak late in the roll-out season, especially since this episode featured a Halloween theme. Fun fact: this episode was actually the second one shot in the series, which would have been the Halloween episode meaning we don’t get Angelica Celaya’s Zed tonight.

But first, Constantine has to do the emergency walk of shame as his one night stand’s boyfriend is about to return home and Constantine has to leave out through the window. It’s in these moments that star Matt Ryan really shines as he’s able to flesh out Constantine more as a bit of a scoundrel, yet still very likable even if he really is awful with people. That’s further illustrated when Chas touches the Sword of KnNight, which makes its holder tell the truth and begins spilling that he feels Constantine won’t listen to him about his past relationship and Constantine awkwardly asking if Chas wants to say anything afterwards.

From there, C & C Occult Factory are off to Birmingham, Alabama where some strange events have been occurring. A string of children have been left orphans as something is killing their parents. After some digging, Constantine learns that a child killed his parents 25 years ago and that evil spirit is inhabiting and possessing other children. Its latest victim is a timid boy named Henry. Henry’s father is ready for his son to finally toughen up without needing to be coddled by his mother.

But once the spirit possess Henry, the show provides a thrilling take on horror films like “The Grudge” and “Insidious” while managing to put a Constantine spin on it. Few things are as unnerving on screen as a possessed child and this episode effectively taps all those buttons from Henry setting light bulbs on the floor and causing his father to step on them and telekinetically driving a bird to a glass window in front of his mother. And then there’s that insane shot where a Rottweiler is thisclose from Henry’s face.

While visiting the first victim, now a catatonic 40-year-old in a mental health facility, proves fruitless, Constantine manages to make a bit more headway with Henry’s parents. In the fact that the mother somewhat realizes something is wrong with her son and considers using Constantine’s card while the father knocks him out for suggesting their son is possessed. That leads Constantine to a cozy prison cell where Manny returns and hints that he may have been Constantine’s guardian angel since he was a little boy.

After Henry throws another telekinetic temper tantrum — the episode’s one weaker special effects scene (but again, this is operating on a TV budget) — the mother frees Constantine and works with him and Chas to free Henry. Trying to aid another child gives Constantine flashbacks to his failure with Astra, his greatest misstep and the reminder that he doesn’t have a flawless record with this occult business.

Constantine’s first attempt to stop the spirit — a seance at the first victim’s house fails — they travel back to Henry’s house. This was one of the show’s better Constantine vs. evil spirit confrontation and felt a bit more hard-earned than some others as Constantine has to chase Henry through a haunted house complete with a roomful of skulls and hanging slabs before conjuring a spell that releases the spirit from poor Henry.

After news broke of NBC opting to halt production of “Constantine” after its initial order of 13 episodes, supporters rallied across social media campaign with #SavingConstantine earlier this week. Al Roker conducted easily the most ill-informed and awkward interview with Ryan and Angelica Celaya at the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade clearly oblivious to the tenuous fate of the series as he congratulated them on their new hit show. But all the attention and social media buzz would have meant nothing if this episode fizzled, and this delivered exactly what was needed — another compelling reason to keep the show on the air. Time to do your part and spread the word. This is a show worth saving and one worth the time investment especially at this pivotal juncture as NBC decides its fate.

by Jeffrey Lyles
at: lylesmoviefiles

A surprisingly effective and intriguing first two episodes make it look like Syfy got this trick right.

It’s always a pleasure to find a show that’s a lot better than you might have expected and, simultaneously, to have a channel steady its aim after being frustratingly erratic.

Both happen Monday with the two-episode premiere of The Magicians on Syfy. The series is based on the best-selling books by Lev Grossman but, as with most adaptations, viewers are more likely to come to it without the source material.

In the case of The Magicians, its bigger task is to sidestep the inevitable Harry Potter comparisons — the study of magic at a mysterious, impressive magic school; a campus divided not so much by houses but areas of specialty; dark forces ever at the gates of the school, etc.

While there will always be whiffs of Potter et al around the edges of the fictitious Brakebills University, the series separates itself rather easily by portraying students in their 20s — mostly with a darker (depressed, troubled) mental starting point — who are hotter and into drinking. Basically, a real college with magic. Despite a fairly hilarious sex scene where the participants’ pants were still on but the sex and moaning happened anyway – as if by magic! – The Magicians manages to get all the other scenes right. In fact, its ability to be entertaining and compelling with remarkable consistency in the first two episodes given to critics is a real and pleasant surprise.

Created and written by Sera Gamble (Supernatural) along with John McNamara (Aquarius, In Plain Sight), The Magicians fairly nimbly gets the story rolling by introducing us to Quentin (Jason Ralph, Aquarius) and his best friend, Julia (Stella Maeve, Chicago P.D.). The two got into the kids books about magic, “Fillory and Further,” when they were younger while also realizing they were both different, both possessing at least some cursory magic skills. But as Julia moved away from all of that and became a high achiever about to get into the Ivy League, Quentin got lost in life and in his head. He’s on meds now, never fitting in but sometimes falling out (and into a mental hospital).

The Magicians is thus a coming-of-age story a bit more advanced than that of Harry Potter, with college-age adults struggling for an identity and falling, in this case, under the alluring throb of New York City. Gamble rather quickly moves the story along to introduce how Brakebills University is on the other side of some ethereal existence and that if its faculty think you’ve got what it takes, they lead you to the college (and if it turns out your magic skills are more mundane than natural, your memory is wiped and you’re returned to the boring real world).

With Quentin struggling to stay in Brakebills while Julia (who manages to create a marker of the event, thus proving to herself that it was real) struggles to accept her rejection, they both find side roads that promise some interesting (and yes, magical) connections other than just the story of Quentin finally fitting in somewhere.

The special effects are better and more convincing than expected in The Magicians (which goes a long way toward making it more interesting) and one of them introduces a dark, malevolent force accidentally summoned through the Brakebills security by Quentin and Alice (Olivia Taylor Dudley), a magician with a family history of magic, that is genuinely well conceived; the arrival of this character, or being, should be a compelling storyline.

While Brakebills itself provides a number of interesting characters, from the cocksure Eliot (Hale Appleman), who reluctantly becomes Quentin’s guide to this new world, to bad boy Penny (Arjun Gupta) and the aforementioned Alice, the “outside” forces (some possibly good, others clearly evil) are also well populated. It’s a mere two episodes, but The Magicians provided enough evidence that it has enough talent and ambition to keep the surprises coming.

by Tim Goodman
at: hollywoodreporter

Review: ‘Game of Thrones’ Season 6 Episode 1, ‘The Red Woman,’ Finds New Sparks In Familiar Territory

One of the most striking aspects of "The Red Woman," the premiere episode of "Game of Thrones" Season 6, is that it’s funny. And it’s funny in multiple ways, from turning a minor character’s death at the hands of the Sand Snakes into a punchline, to Tyrion’s attempts to connect with a beggar being skewed by mistranslations, to an extended Dothraki comedy bit about beautiful women.

That levity is welcome, in an episode that’s not immune to the show’s legendary darkness (including a huge number of deaths within the Martell house), but does feel somehow lighter than where we left off in Season 5. The bodies still pile up in a sprawling episode full of ongoing storylines, but there’s a definite sense that there’s hope for some of these hopeless sorts.

This sense began surprisingly early in the episode: Anyone whose soul didn’t thrill with triumph as Brienne of Tarth burst onto the scene to protect Sansa and Theon honestly might not have much of a soul. (Especially given the tenderness Theon and Sansa share just when all seems lost.) Beyond the acting and the choreography of the action, this is why we’re here. These are the sorts of scenes that make the brutality of "Game of Thrones" bearable — even though we know, all too well, that this sort of victory is often fleeting.

How much this is connected to the fact that as of Season 6, creators David Benioff and D.B. Weiss are no longer full-on adapting previously published books, but operating on their own terms, is an intriguing question. For, elsewhere in the seven kingdoms, the stage is set here for a number of exciting storylines. Varys and Tyrion have always made for one of the show’s most compelling pairings, so bringing them together for some power brokering should be a great deal of fun. Returning Daenerys to the world of the Dothraki, after many episodes of watching her struggle to lead cities and armies, also feels like a nice return to basics.

And while Cersei Lannister is not everyone’s favorite character, there’s nothing more thrilling than a comeback story, for which the stage is currently set. Honestly, I’m on board. The most important aspect of Cersei as a character was the revelation we got early i the show’s run, that she would have made an excellent king. Every terrible choice she’s made over the course of the show (well, with the exception of her weird incestual fixation on Jaime, which is its own separate therapy session) has come from that place of frustrated ambition. How that drives her scheming this season is undeniably a delicious thing to contemplate, especially as she’s now recoupled with Jaime with the determination to "fuck them all."

It’s also a relief that Arya is getting a second chance with the folks at the House of Black and White, as her involvement with them didn’t feel complete at the end of last season. (If only because we don’t yet fully understand what House of Black and White even is.) It makes you contemplate the emotional heft of a second chance on a show like "Game of Thrones," where there are rarely takebacks on bad decisions. Arya remains on the short list of series regular characters who remain relatively likeable, despite all the bloodshed for which she is personally responsible. Her journey, as a young woman in a severely patriarchal society, has always been extremely compelling, but with every season, she gets more agency and strength, and becomes even more captivating.

To bring up the dead body in the room: Jon Snow’s eternal fate is still up in the air, thanks to Kit Harington’s physical presence in the first episode, in close proximity to Melisandre (who is a devotee of the Lord of Light, a god who has proven resurrection abilities). As a critic, I’m already on the record as believing that as much as I like Harington as an actor, really for real killing Jon is an exciting move for the show. But if resurrecting Jon is what the "Game of Thrones" writers are planning, it’s interesting that they’re playing it slow, establishing that there are legitimate reasons for them attempting such a move. Honestly, I’d be happy to be convinced that he should be brought back to life.

It’s funny, writing casually about the notion that a show might resurrect a character who got hella stabbed and is now lying dead on a slab. But it just speaks to how "Game of Thrones" has evolved since its premiere. In sharp contrast to the first season, the world of Westeros and beyond is now one where the supernatural feels like a natural extension of the universe. Take this episode’s final, striking moments — revealing that Melisandre’s attractive form comes courtesy of her pre-established magical powers. This revelation is far from the most fantastical or jaw-dropping of the show’s history. But choosing to end "The Red Woman" with the fact that she’s actually quite grey, as opposed to a more dramatic plot point, feels like a wholehearted embrace of the show’s fantasy roots.

Which, if you’ve been waiting your whole life to see genre storytelling taken seriously, feels like a triumph. Fifteen years ago, the most wonderous thing that would happen on an HBO series would be a Tony Soprano dream sequence. Now, a prestige drama audience is showing up every week for a TV show about dragons.

There’s real magic, in that.

by Liz Shannon Miller
at: indiewire
The Shannara Chronicles

The Ellcrys is saved, but The Shannara Chronicles has more to do.

Fantasy has had a difficult time fitting onto the small screen over the years. While magical worlds have burst off the page and found success in movie theaters, they've still struggled to proliferate on TV, especially when they're more based in fantasy than in reality.

Before Game of Thrones, the most widely recognized style of fantasy on TV was the likes of Hercules and Xena: Warrior Princess, and the state of television has evolved far past the both of those. The hope was that in this new era of TV fantasy, The Shannara Chronicles would hew more toward the former than the latter, and MTV could come up with the fantasy genre's version of The CW sci-fi hit The 100.

In some ways, the series did that. The Shannara Chronicles is a modernized remix on Terry Brooks' The Elfstones of Shannara, and took many of the high fantasy elements from that story and updated them with a more dystopian vibe. That paid off for the series; we've seen our share of high fantasy productions before, many of which don't work on TV, so it was smart to offer a look at a fantasy world we haven't really seen on TV. It's in these moments when The Shannara Chronicles did something new that its potential shone through.

There were other elements, though, that didn't work quite so well. The budget of The Shannara Chronicles limited the high fantasy elements from being fully fantastical. The final episode paid off a big battle between the Dagda Mor and his demon army against the elves and their gnome allies, but before then the show did a spotty job of selling this massive confrontation. The creature design, though practical, often looked the worse for it, with the Dagda Mor, the gnomes and some of the other beings introduced sometimes looking cheesy instead of imposing.

Much of that could have been overlooked if the writing was better, but Season 1's storytelling was often its biggest problem. The character development was all over the place. Though core trio Wil, Amberle and Eretria did have arcs that could be charted throughout the show, stars Austin Butler, Poppy Drayton and Ivana Baquero didn't find their characters until toward the end of the season and their development wasn't especially convincing before then.

Big names Manu Bennett and John Rhys-Davies were underused, with Allanon often being sidelined when he was one of the more interesting and compelling characters in the story, and King Eventine's death being undercut by a bait-and-switch twist that hugely lessened its impact. There also were issues of storylines being set up and then left hanging, like the introduction of Perk that went nowhere, and key plot elements that weren't explained, like what the main characters had to get out of the Bloodfire. That's all overlooking some of the season's biggest missteps, like the Cephalo rape scene, Wil constantly losing the Elfstones and its often very derivative fantasy elements.

But looking back at its first year as a whole, The Shannara Chronicles does scrape by with a good season. Though there were some clunkier elements, they are things that can be improved upon in a Season 2. Now that The Shannara Chronicles has gotten through the heavy lifting of plowing through The Elfstones of Shannara's plot, having that weight gone could open up an interesting new chapter of the show. It never was quite sure what it wanted to be, and with its ties to its source material gone, it will sink or swim on its own merit.

There are plenty of cliffhangers here for a potential Season 2. Bandon is out and seems to be pure evil (a cool twist on my previous expectation that he would fill in for Allanon). Wil is out to rescue Eretria, who has been taken captive by a mystery person she recognizes. Amberle has become the Ellcrys, but it's hard to imagine The Shannara Chronicles never brings back Poppy Drayton again.

Season 2 could and should explore the fallout of Amberle's actions (something the finale glazed over). Season 2 could and should blow out the world of the Four Lands and examine each of the various races (something the Eretria cliffhanger seems like it could be set up for). Season 2 could and should find a better balance and mix of the dystopian sci-fi elements of the show with the classic high fantasy (the former of which offered some of the best moments of the season).

The Verdict

There were a lot of interesting ideas in Season 1 that didn't play out to their best potential, but this was MTV's first stab at classic fantasy and it clearly was a learning process both for the network and the creators of this series. By the end The Shannara Chronicles settled into a pretty solid season, and if it improves and builds upon some of its big wins this season it could deliver a Season 2 that has grown into its potential.


A trio of shocks sees Vikings straining for impact

Still flush with the huge success of Hatfields & McCoys, History (Channel) doubles down Sunday night with a pair of scripted miniseries sharing common traits of violence and spirituality.

It's hard to put a good book down. Or in this case, the Good Book. But Vikings (9 to 10 p.m. central for the next 9 Sundays) turns out to be far superior to The Bible (7 to 9 p.m. central for the next five Sundays).

Vikings enthrallingly captures the world of Norsemen and oarsmen, circa 793 in the Eastern Baltic but soon heading West to England. It's beautifully shot while also being thoroughly grimy -- as it should be. But best of all, the storytelling is bracingly sure-footed, with young, advenure-craving family man Ragnar Lothbrok (Travis Fimmel) pitted against the power-mongering Earl Haraldson (Gabriel Byrne).

A decade ago, Fimmel found himself stuck in the now defunct WB network's Tarzan series, whose mention still vexes him. And back in 1985, Byrne played the flip-side of his Vikings character as the star of the CBS miniseries Christopher Columbus.

Byrne since has enjoyed a very gainful career in esteemed films (Miller's Crossing, The Usual Suspects) and TV series (HBO's In Treatment). Fimmel has slogged through a film and TV junkyard since Tarzan, but at last may have landed the big one.

His Ragnar has piercing eyes, and the hair and beard of a wrestling villain. He also thoroughly enjoys participating in the yearly summer raids sanctioned by Earl Haraldson. Blood and plunder are the constants, but Ragnar yearns for a change of pace. So he commissions his odd but accomplished friend Floki (Gustaf Skarsgard) to build a worthy ship capable of sailing long distances to the mysterious West. The near-magical navigation tools will be a sun board and a sun stone, both of which are very early forms of MapQuest.

Ragnar enlists his not always honorable brother Rollo (Clive Standen) to join him. Together they clandestinely round up a crew to make the taboo trip. Back on the farm, Ragnar's comely warrior wife Lagertha (Katheryn Winnick) begs to join him. In Episode 2 (the first five were sent for review), they have a rousing, rough-and-tumble fight in which she hopes to show him who's boss. But not this time. She's left home with their coming-of-age son and younger daughter.

The initial shots of the Viking ship at sea are breathtaking. This is no cheap-looking production. On the contrary, the History network has executive producer Michael Hirst at the throttle. And the man behind Elizabeth and Showtime's The Tudors knows how to put on a splendorous Old World drama.

The Vikings are pagan believers in Thor, Odin and the like. So they're mystified by the gentle, unarmed monks whose richly appointed monastery they raid upon first landing on the outskirts of England. "They are like babies," says Ragnar, who has taken a young monk named Athelstan (George Blagden) back home to be his slave. This is where the religious debate begins and continues periodically through the first five episodes.

Vikings positions Ragnar as its good guy. And he is to a degree when pitted against the despotic Earl Haraldson and his equally rotten wife, Siggy (Jessalyn Gilsig). But Ragnar at base level is a murderous thief, as are all the Vikings. Because, well, that's what they do -- methodically and without remorse. Killing defenseless priests and monks is all part of a day's work when treasure's to be had. Later, though, Ragnar and wife Lagertha are thoughtful enough to invite monk Athelstan to join them in a threesome. This may be a miniseries first -- broadcast or cable. Even if the invitation is declined.

Violence is plentiful in Vikings. But unlike Starz's Spartacus series, the carnage is never splashed across the screen. Cameras instead instead look away during beheadings or torture. And the multiple fatalities in fight scenes are seldom as gruesome as they could be. Blood-streaked, filthy faces convincingly get the message across after battles are waged.

Some of the dialogue can be a bit contemporary. As when Rollo asks his brother's pre-teen son, "Where are your parents?"

"They're having sex," he replies.

Recruiting shipmates later on, Ragnar asks bluntly, "Have you got the balls to join us?" But at least no one says "Far out."

Vikings is yet another epic example of what the shrinking Big Four broadcast networks just aren't doing anymore. It's now left to others to mount captivating, money-on-the-screen trips to other times and places. Viewers will get an eyeful with Vikings, a thoroughly involving tale of betrayals, reprisals and bloodlust.

at: unclebarky
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© Kamil Harzowski

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