SLEEPY HOLLOW 1.6: “The Sin Eater”

sin-eaterFinally, a little time was devoted to Ichabod Crane’s backstory from the Revolutionary War period — specifically what he was doing for the British before switching sides to throw in with George Washington. And we got to see how Ichy met Katrina the Quaker witch.

But best of all, John Noble — the brilliant but wacky Walter Bishop from FRINGE — was back on our TV screens, playing another enigmatic character. I’m glad he’s sticking around for a few more episodes.

After watching a local baseball game with Abbie (Nicole Beharie), Ichabod (Tom Mison) decides to visit Katrina’s (Katia Winter) grave — where he is shot by a tranquilizer dart and kidnapped. Meanwhile, Abbie has a prophetic dream (while driving!) in which Katrina warns her that Ichy has been kidnapped, the Horseman is coming back, and if the Horseman is defeated, Crane will die because of their blood link. Ichabod needs to be “sanctified” by a sin eater before sundown. Abbie gets little sis Jenny (Lyndie Greenwood) sprung for 24 hours because Jenny once came across a sin eater. And, as luck would have it, he lives only two hours away, in Hartford, Conn.
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Will SLEEPY HOLLOW Rue the Day?

SHnobleWhen SLEEPY HOLLOW returns to Fox Nov. 4 after World Series coverage, FRINGE veteran John Noble will make his first guest appearance,  and then on Nov. 25, the cast will grow again, when Jill Marie Jones and Amandla Stenberg begin recurring as Lt. Frank Irving’s wife and daughter.

Jones will play Cynthia, the ex-wife of Irving, who is portrayed by Orlando Jones. Stenberg will play their teen daughter, Macey. You will probably remember Stenberg as the adorable Rue in last year’s The Hunger Games movie — but no word on whether her character on SH will also be adorable. Early indications are that she feels “disconnected” from her father since he started working in Sleepy Hollow, N.Y.

Noble — beloved by fans as FRINGE’s loopy Walter Bishop — will recur on SH as Henry Parrish, a man with supernatural powers who may hold the key to severing Ichabod’s blood connection to the Headless Horseman.

FRINGE 3.22: The Day We Died

In the immediate aftermath of the third-season finale of FRINGE, I couldn’t help thinking how distraught we fans would have been if the series had been canceled, and we were left with the cliff-hanger of “The Day We Died” as the last word on the series. But after some reflection, I realized that the story really could have worked as a series-capper, because it ends on a note of hope: The survivors have all the tools they need to save our world and the Other Side, thanks to Peter learning what the future holds. Sure, Peter blinked out of existence, but there is always a price for knowledge, and besides, as the Observer…uh, observed, Peter had served his purpose.
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FRINGE 2.20: Brown Betty – what are you smoking?

Olivia Dunham, P.I.

FRINGE took some chances this week by using one of those oddball “tell me a story” plotlines. In this case, Olivia’s niece Emma begged for a tale from Walter, who had just indulged in a custom-blended pot smoking binge. That combined with his grief over Peter’s disappearance to produce a strange noir that was equal parts Dashiell Hammett, Broadway, The Princess Bride and a pinch of The Wizard of Oz.

Olivia was cast as a hard-boiled private eye, hired by a woman named Rachel to find her missing fiancé, Peter Bishop, who has absconded with an artificial heart. The fun came from seeing the twisted versions of familiar faces. The period dress and hairstyles were great. Even stuffy Broyles (Lance Reddick) got in on the fun. I loved the mixture of old cars with cell phones. Walter cast himself as a crippled scientist who invented all the wonderful things in the world (chocolate bars and teddy bears), as well as singing corpses (“Why not bring a little life to the dead?”) – and an artificial, glass heart. Kudos to John Noble and Anna Torv for bravely warbling a couple of tunes – especially after Jasika Nicole (Astrid) showed off her trained pipes.
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FRINGE 2.18: Gotta get back in time


FRINGE always does strange and off-the-wall pretty well, but this week’s episode excelled at creating a sense of melancholy that hung over the story like low cloud cover.

Genre demigod Peter WellerRoboCop himself, who will always be known as the eponymous hero of The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension – guested as Alistair Peck, a scientist who discovered a way to travel back in time. While his mission was selfless – he wanted a chance to stop his fiancée from being killed in a car crash 10 months ago – his methods were selfish: His technology consumed huge quantities of energy; energy that was sucked out of electrical devices and human beings alike, killing them. Mad scientists like Peck are usually played with eye-rolling mania or loopy enthusiasm, but Weller played Peck with quiet determination. He was undermining his own humanity by replacing his own body with mechanical parts, so matter if were to lose something as ephemeral as a soul? Peck said it himself, that science itself is God; technology is the only higher power he needs. (And no, the irony was not lost on me that Weller was playing yet another tragic character that was more machine than man – and this time it was his own doing.)
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Soap Opera Weekly: Night Shift 11/21/08

Take a deep breath, Night Shifters: It’s time for a catch-up blog, in which I get to be even more long-winded than usual… 

Dean Winters (ex-oh, never mind, he’s been on just about everything in prime time…) made a return visit to LIFE ON MARS, where he played Sam’s father, Vic, alongside Jennifer Ferrin (ex-Jennifer, AS THE WORLD TURNS) as Sam’s mother, Rose. Sam’s birthday was approaching, which meant that little 1973 Sam was about to turn 4, and wanted to see his Daddy on his big day. Unfortunately, Vic was involved in a kidnapping plot — and of course adult Sam was on the case under his pseudonym, Detective Luke Skywalker. I liked Sam making an oblique QUANTUM LEAP reference when he wondered if he was “sent” to 1973 to make sure his father doesn’t go down the criminal path. How much does Sam miss his father? He sniffs the guy’s coat! But the perfect moment of the episode came when Sam recalled playing basketball as a kid — and fantasized about icons from the 1970s Knicks, including Walt Frazier, Dave DeBusschere and Phil Jackson. Sam also got some insight into father’s struggles to make ends meet and why he was constantly on the road during Sam’s childhood. And can I just compliment LIFE ON MARS for consistently employing soap actors? Last week’s cameos by Grant Aleksander (Phillip, GUIDING LIGHT) and Elizabeth Hubbard were far too brief, but welcome. 

Back in the present, SUPERNATURAL built on last week’s Anna Milton’s story with the revelation that she is actually a fallen angel. A rebel in heaven, she chose to fall so she could experience human emotions. During the fall, she became separated from her angelic “Grace,” and the race was on between heaven and hell to recover that celestial power. I really enjoyed that creator Eric Kripke is willing to tackle a story about heaven and angels. It’s long been the accepted unwritten “rule” of fiction that while you can address hell and demons with impunity, viewers/readers would be “offended” if anyone tried to depict heaven. That’s garbage, and I’m glad Kripke’s series is “going there.” He has even given heaven a political structure! And even angels have to take the existence of God on faith — because only four angels have ever seen the face of God. That’s wading in with both feet! 

Mark Rolston is playing lead baddie Alistair with a kind of soft-spoken Marlon Brando-inspired voice. (And when I hear the name Alistair I can’t help thinking of the late PASSIONS…) 

The major revelation of the night, however, was that Dean spent 40 years in hell (because time travels at a different rate Down There), and he finally told Sam what happened. He spent 30 years being “sliced and diced” by demons, and then was restored only to begin the torture all over again. Eventually, Alistair was able to tempt Dean into ending his suffering by letting someone else take his place on the rack. So the victim became the tormentor. Alistair even noted that Dean had promise as a demon. But now Dean faces a different kind of torture: the memory of what he did. “I wish I couldn’t feel a damn thing,” he told his brother. 

Raw feelings were on display in spades on DIRTY SEXY MONEY. Brian desperately wanted Andrea to fight her cancer, but she felt content to try to live with the terminal diagnosis.Nick and Lisa were having trouble getting over their separation, and in classic soap fashion, Lisa jumped to the wrong conclusion after learning Nick was talking to Karen in his office. Lisa tracked Karen to a charity ball and took a swing at her! The two mixed it up in an all-too-brief catfight before Nate literally jumped into the fray and separated them. He was brave to get between those two hellcats! 

On the subject of catfights, nobody tell Mala, but I gave her treasured NCIS a pass the other night because I had the impression from promos Brenda and Kelly were going to tangle on the refurbished (but not improved) 90210. But instead of hair-pulling, I saw peer-pressure angst and product placement run amok. In fact, the products weren’t so much placed as they co-starred in the episode — complete with loving closeups. That one…texting device (no, I’m not pimping it here) almost had enough airtime to compile an Emmy reel. Shame the actual humans did not fare quite so well. Dethroned Queen Bee Naomi was reduced to playing gopher for some mean girls. Meanwhile, Annie hated being a Queen Bee and dressed up like a giant Wildcat. Tabitha’s story about Jean-Luc and the chihuahua completed the animal theme. If you ask me, the TV in the writers’ room must have been tuned to Animal Planet that week. So where was my catfight, huh? The old pals had a pretty good verbal sparring match, in which Brenda pointed out they have had nothing in common since high school. Then Brenda, who was performing in Macbeth, fell off the stage and broke her arm, precipitating the confession that she slept with Ryan. Apparently Kelly didn’t want to take on a one-armed foe, because she sniffed, sighed and walked out. (Boo!) At least the episode ended with a good song: Death Cab for Cutie’s “I Will Follow You Into the Dark.” 

That tune led nicely into the sinister FRINGE, which opened with a musical prodigy being kidnapped by a mysterious woman who uses flashing colored lights to disable her victims. Luckily, Walter once did some investigation into creating a system of flashing lights that would hypnotize consumers into buying products. The advertising firm that commissioned Walter’s work was never identified, but we just know it was Sterling Cooper, right?! Walter got to get out of the lab and do some field work — by returning to St. Claire’s mental hospital to get information from a former fellow inmate. 

This story gave John Noble a chance to really emote and widen his performance, and he really took advantage of the opportunity to grow in his portrayal of Walter. Strangely, he seemed more lucid inside the asylum, becoming almost a voice of reason. But Noble effectively transformed Walter’s body language into a beaten-down, broken prisoner the moment he heard the gates slam. Walter had to go inside because fellow inmate Dashiell Kim was declared 10-27 — “criminally insane with knowledge of state secrets.” After getting back out, a gravely serious Walter recalled his struggle to get through to the brain-addled Dashiell, and asked Peter a heartbreaking question: “Is that what it’s like to talk to me?” 

Finally, I want to mention LIFE, which, the last I checked, is now scheduled for Wednesdays at 9 o’clock. It’s totally worth the detective work to track down this quirky cop series. When you find it, your reward will be to watch the burgeoning opposites-attract romance between hottie detective Dani Reese (Sarah Shahi) and lumpy Captain Tidwell (Donal Logue). This week their halting courtship took two steps forward: They went to dinner — and the shooting range. And the gunplay-as-foreplay scene was hot! While standing in close proximity, each took a turn firing the other’s weapon, then they holstered each other’s guns. Good thing their beepers went off before there were any…er, misfires.

Soap Opera Weekly: Night Shift 10/15/08

GENERAL HOSPITAL: NIGHT SHIFT actually makes it worth staying up past midnight and then coming into work bleary-eyed. And it always rewards both the new fan and the lifer.

Case in point: Last night’s reunion episode, which gathered Luke (Anthony Geary), Mac (John J. York), Anna (Finola Hughes), Sean (John Reilly) and Tiffany (Sharon Wyatt) to urge Robert (Tristan Rogers) to wake up from his coma. His old pals appeared in a dream sequence that allowed the show to wink at reality by mixing the new and the old in entertaining and inventive ways, from Kimberly McCullough re-enacting her childhood introduction to Robert as a grown woman (complete with similar dress and sandwich) in the newly recreated townhouse to a lace-bedecked Anna acting like “Betty Freakin’ Crocker,” to Robert imagining his friends a little…let’s call them older and wiser. What mattered was that the original actors returned to reprise their beloved characters, and they still had it. Except for a little gray, Reilly still looks exactly the same — and he brought fire to his performance. His speech to Robert was filled with emotion as Sean told Robert that our experiences make us what we are. Tiffany’s recollections of “my Robert Scorpio” being a heartbreaker was a heart-tugger, thanks to Wyatt’s performance. Mac, ever the stalwart brother, lent a strong shoulder. And Anna even copped to making mistakes with him. And then there was Luke. As I was just discussing with my colleague Mala, Tony Geary deserves every day of his vacation time because the man truly brings it when he acts. Fresh from sabbatical, Geary hit the ground running and hit it out of the park last night. “You’re worm food, buddy-boy!” he chirped. “Deader than a mackerel.” Luke grabbed Robert and literally shook sense into him as he declared, “We deserve spectacular deaths!” like being garroted in an alley, not expiring in a hospital bed (shades of the speech/performance that won Geary his latest Emmy last year). When Luke prompted him, Robert figuratively woke up and fought back. The dream conversations were perfectly intercut with Robin in the real world attempting to reassure her father that she will be okay thanks to lessons learned from him. DreamRobin put it best when she said, simply, “I love you, Daddy.”

I was not a GH viewer back in the day, but even I could tell these characters had history, thanks to the way the scenes were written and acted. These characters (and actors) all knew each other, cared about each other and acted like it. The expressed their relationships in ways that mattered to me. As for the effect it had on longtime fans — well, the only word is squee! I don’t think the episode could have been more perfectly swoon-worthy.

But the modern storylines were not neglected, either. Soapiness was in full force at GH: Jagger and Saira were both in vulnerable states and slept together; Kyle got boyfriend Eric into a possibly life-saving clinical trial — but in Portland; Claire submitted her resignation; and Toussaint stared angstily at a photo of an adorable moppet. And then it all got blown away. Being part of the GENERAL HOSPITAL franchise, the episode ended with a big bang — but the emotional fireworks far outshined the exploding Dumpster.

Last night’s FRINGE was a bit outshined itself — by previous episodes. This was the weakest outing of the season so far. The threat of Joseph seemed too…uh, meager, to really warrant the team’s efforts. And Oliva’s impassiveness continues to be a weak spot in the storytelling.

I really want to like this series (and I do), but I am done with Walter always having previously worked on an experiment related to the exact case the team is facing each week. For me, the only way this is going to be justified is if the Pattern ultimately turns out to be based on Walter’s own work — perhaps Walter himself is responsible! There’s no other way to make me accept the overwhelming coincidences.

But I do so enjoy John Noble‘s portrayal of Walter. He was touching when Walter lamented not having access to parts of his mind, and charmingly boyish when he built up a static charge with his wool socks and zapped Peter. Walter was able to conceive of a way to “imprint” an electromagnetic pattern on carrier pigeons, yet he was awed by commonplace GPS technology — now that’s characterization! Some effort was made to bolster Olivia by making her upset by the reappearances of John, but when he finally proved his love by leading her to the engagement ring he never had a chance to give her, she didn’t seem sufficiently moved. Maybe it’s just me, but Special Agent Dunham needs to be easier to relate to; she needs to be more compelling as a person.

Soap Opera Weekly: Night Shift 9/24/08

“Any life that’s worth living is always gonna be just a little bit dangerous.” — Robert Scorpio 

GENERAL HOSPITAL: NIGHT SHIFT‘s season isn’t over yet (and there’s that huge reunion episode waiting in the wings), but I’m still going to go out on a limb and brand the latest installment Best. Episode. Ever. And we owe it all to the timely arrival of Kathleen Noone (ex-Edna, PASSIONS) as Patricia Julian, otherwise known to Leo and Kyle as Momma. 

This week’s episode was awash in emotion and did not hold back the tears. Talk about basic, old-fashioned soap opera! I don’t think NS could have wedged in any more relationship drama anywhere. Patricia’s presence was the catalyst for the brothers to air all their pent-up mutual resentments, inferiority complexes and petty jealousies. Wow, talk about issues! Both of them were “different” in different ways, but Patricia was so bent on loving them equally that she failed to see them as individuals. Robin and Robert had “the talk” they’ve been dancing around for weeks — he copped to his fathering mistakes and suggested that his being stingy with his love and approval are the reason Robin is freezing out Patrick. Seeing Tristan Rogers admit Robert’s flaws with cold-eyed honesty as Robin teared up was a treat for longtime GH fans. 

Right after opening another box of tissues, GH viewers doubtless wondered why these emotionally rich scenes did not play out on the parent show. It’s fitting that Lando Calrissian himself, Billy Dee Williams, is on this show because, as Darth Vader noted, “The student has become the master.” NIGHT SHIFT is showing GENERAL HOSPITAL how to tell soapy stories featuring characters viewers care about. 

And when it comes to interesting characters, Australian actor John Noble is creating quite a compelling one on FRINGE. Dr. Walter Bishop sets the bar high for eccentricity, being by turns loopy, brilliant, callous, tender, disengaged, distracted, cold-hearted and dispassionate. I think of him as equal parts Willy Wonka without the social graces and the Doctor without his moral qualms. In other words, Walter’s nuts — and I really enjoy seeing what outlandish thing he’s going to say or strange contraption he’s going to build next. Who else would self-medicate with homemade psychotic drugs. Blair Brown‘s Nina Sharp is another wacky character — in a much different way than Brown’s neurotic titular character from THE DAYS AND NIGHTS OF MOLLY DODD — but much more confusing. As I’ve said before: What is her deal?Is she working with Broyles and crew or against them? It would appear her Massive Dynamics company does all sorts of unsavory things and then feels bad about it and turns over information about it so the task force can pull the plug. Joshua Jackson‘s Pacey…er, Peter is gradually proving his worth as a bridge to Walter’s world, and this week we got a cryptic hint that his old life has not gone away. One thing has to change about this show: The team needs to investigate a case that doesn’t stem directly from Walter’s old research. This week it was the Ghostnet (a sort of psychic Internet). Weren’t there any other mad scientists back in the day? 

Speaking of “back in the day,” 90210‘s Brenda and Kelly lamented how much high school has changed since their day. Which was kind of funny, since their new show is going out of its way to so closely ape the parent series. The characters and relationships are falling into dreadfully familiar patterns, and the stories are following well-trod paths. “Good girl” Annie is unrealistically good, while perceived “fast girl” Silver wants to take things slow with her new boyfriend. True, I don’t remember Brandon slipping Brenda a condom all those years ago, but I do recall the show making a big deal out of Donna’s…er, innocence. (Innocence being something in wayshort supply in 2008.) My favorite line of the night was Silver’s clueless “What’s an AFTERSCHOOL SPECIAL?” query. Featured parents Harry and Debbie are too cool to get mad, and instead rely on relating to their children — who have been “taught better than that.” If this was 1993, Adriana would have had a drinking problem instead instead of an (implied) pill habit, but Brenda still would have “been there” for her (but as a peer, of course.) The one brilliant innovation is Jessica Walter‘s sublime Tabitha. I’m breathlessly awaiting a shout-out to Play Misty for Me. And if Tabby busts out a boozy story about Clint Eastwood, I will insist she be given her own spin-off immediately.