Almost Human (November, 2013)

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This show is worth watching and especially so for the science fiction fans. The premise of the show is that in the year 2048 crime has spiraled out of control and something needs to be done about it. To even the odds every police officer is partnered with an “advanced, combat model android”. Enter the main protagonist Detective John Kennex, who suffers the loss of a fellow officer in a police operation led by him when an android, based on a logical deduction deems it a futile exercise to rescue the officer. Detective Kennex also loses a leg in the same operation and returns to duty two years later with a synthetic leg. He naturally returns with baggage from the past and an unmatched hatred for androids. He repeatedly undergoes dangerous memory retrieval procedures to re-live the fateful day in order to uncover vital clues.

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Shortly after his return Detective Kennex manages to trash the android attached to him and is given an older model android, Dorian which is part of a decommissioned series based on a concept known as the synthetic soul. Yes it is exactly what it sounds like, AI advanced to the stage that it starts to understand the concept of existence and experiences feelings. After a few initial hiccups Kennex and Dorian get along fine based on Dorian’s ability to understand and prioritize emotional responses (gut feelings) over logical ones.

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J. J. Abrams and J. H. Wyman have indeed done a spot on job with the look and the feel of the show. None of the visual shots so far feel out of place and there is generally a very realistic sense to the entire show. With Mr. Abrams extensive experience nothing less was expected. I have to admit though, the character of Dorian feels a little too human at times. The basic premise is nothing ground breaking but the treatment given to it is very good. As with every cop show set in the future or past, the show progresses with investigation of various crimes with an added layer of a secret criminal organisation. The scenarios portrayed so far have been fairly interesting with glimpses of what our future might actually look like.

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Detective Kennex is played by Karl Urban. He has been in quite a few science fiction movies such as Star Trek, Riddick and Dredd. He does a good job of playing the alpha male, lone ranger with past baggage cop. Dorian the android with a soul is played by Michael Ealy who I couldn’t place at first but has played various roles in movies and shows alike. Detective Valerie Stahl is played by Minka Kelly who was the cute girl at the end of the movie ’500 Days of Summer’. I also recognize Lili Taylor from the show Hemlock Grove who is playing the role of Captain Sandra Maldonado.

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Final Verdict: You should definitely give this one a try. The show feels very realistic in it’s portrayal of the future. The basic premise won’t dazzle with anything new but the package it is presented in will not disappoint.

IMDb Link: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2654580/?ref_=ttep_ep_tt

IMDb Rating: 8.4/10 from 12,741 users as on 01/01/2014.

Trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ns91hBJqsDM

Official Site: http://www.fox.com/almost-human/

The Tomorrow People (October, 2013)

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An old premise repackaged for current day consumption. This show is the namesake of a 1970′s British television series. The plot from what I understand remains more or less the same. Now I don’t expect many of you to recall an ancient British series so in terms of a more recent association, think of it as a teenage X-men. The basic premise of the show is that our species is evolving and more and more people are discovering powers such as telepathy, teleportation, and telekinesis or the three Ts, if you will. The evolved species is called Homo-superior (full points for originality!). Although, I think this terminology was retained to establish a connect to the original television series. The same may stand true for the title of the series as well.

Now, what good are these three Ts if you have no one to use them against? Enter, Ultra, a covert organization tasked with the job of curing/eliminating the Homo-superior species. Ultra uses agents who themselves are Homo-superiors for the purposes of hunting and eliminating threats posed by the ‘Tomorrow People’. For them these people are nothing but a competing species which will edge out humans. On a separate note, the architecture of the Ultra HQ reminded me of the Massive Dynamics HQ from the television series Fringe.

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With this background the plot focuses on the life of a teenager by the name of Stephen Jameson. Stephen is a regular school going teenager blissfully unaware of his special abilities. He hears a female voice in his head and and wakes up in strange places, like between his neighbor and the neighbor’s wife! He chalks this up to sleep walking and is undergoing therapy for both the voice in the head and sleep walking, until he is finally inducted into the so called gang by John, Cara and Russell, other prominent homo-superiors. The voice in his head was Cara all along and his waking up in strange places was teleportation without him knowing it.

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Stephen discovers that his father, who he until now thought had abandoned him and his family was in fact one of the most powerful tomorrow people and their leader. He left on a mission and never returned. At this point you are introduced to the AI (Artificial Intelligence) simply known as TIM. It was quite fun to hear the banter between TIM and the others. I am looking forward to more of it. Stephen also discovers that Ultra is led by Dr. Jedikiah Price, his uncle, who wanted to cure his father. An acrimonious entanglement with Ultra involving John, Cara and Russell also establishes that he is very powerful. To ensure his family’s security and against the hopes and expectations of the tomorrow people he joins Ultra as an agent but the sub-text is plain to read that he doesn’t intend to do their bidding.

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The plot is hardly new but the narrative seems fresh. From where I stand the plot was never going to be the selling point for this one. It will always boil down to the special effects and how convincing they come across as. From the looks of it, this show is not going to disappoint. As long as it is backed by decent progression in the story line I don’t expect this show to face any troubles. I am saturated with all the teenage drama available these days but the sci-fi fan in me is ready for more!

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Stephen Jameson is played by Robbie Amell.  Cara Coburn is played by Peyton List. You may remember her from the series Mad Men as Jane Sterling. John Young is played by Luke Mitchell and  Russell Kwon is played by Aaron Yoo.  Dr. Jedikiah Price is played by Mark Pellegrino and I remember him from all over the place, especially Supernatural. I quite like his portrayal of the characters he has played in the past. Astrid Finch, Stephen’s high school best friend is played by Madeleine Mantock.

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Verdict: If you are a fan of science fiction and the cool special effects that come as a part of the package then this is staple fare for you. You should definitely give this one a chance. I doubt it will go down in the history books but it will definitely be worth your time, at least as much as any other show would!

IMDb Link: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2660734/

IMDb Rating: 7.4/10 from 1,652 users as on 17/10/2013.

Trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SsjejXi5mGg

Official Site: http://www.cwtv.com/shows/the-tomorrow-people/about

The Originals (October, 2013)

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Fans of Vampire Diaries here comes the latest offering to satisfy your palate. This show is a spin off based on three characters playing the original vampires in the television series, The Vampire Diaries; Niklaus, Elijah and Rebekah Mikaelson. These are the original vampires who cannot be killed. The plot is set against the backdrop of New Orleans where there is a war brewing between the witches and the vampires. A war which currently the vampires seem to be winning  with the help of a secret weapon and under the leadership of Marcel. Marcel is Klaus’s protege who was brought up since he was a child by Klaus. After the three Mikaelson siblings had to abandon New Orleans because of their father Marcel decided to stick around and create his own empire.

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After a chance encounter of one of the witches with a werewolf woman carrying Klaus’s hybrid (Part vampire-part werewolf) child the witches seek the involvement of the originals. They try and attract Klaus into town and behind him comes his brother Elijah. Elijah wants the child to be saved at all costs and helps Klaus come around to his way of thinking. This entails an alliance with the witches who are using Hayley, the mother of Klaus’s child as a bargaining chip. On his return Klaus finds Marcel insolent and ungrateful and decides to take back the empire that he has created. Before he can put his plan in action Klaus, notorious for incapacitating his siblings for decades at end puts Elijah to sleep to limit his interference. Suspecting Klaus’s hand in Elijah’s disappearance Rebekah also joins the family for an uneasy re-union. This is how the power struggle begins between the various supernatural forces.

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As far as full disclosure goes I am not an avid fan of the Vampire Diaries. Predictably this show doesn’t work for me as well. I read somewhere that this show attempts to move from a teenage centric Vampire Diaries to a more adult centric show. I found it to be superfluous in it’s adult avatar and am not even sure whether this can be called adult. I rather take my dose of vampires, witches and werewolves from True Blood. The canvas that HBO manages to bring across is phenomenal. For the multitude of viewers whose imagination was captured by the Vampire Diaries this show will definitely be worth consumption.

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So far as the cast goes Niklaus Mikaelson is played by Joseph Morgan, Elijah Mikaelson by Daniel Gillies and Rebekah Mikaelson is played by Claire Holt. Klaus’s protege Marcel is played by Charles Michael Davis while the mother of his hybrid child Hayley is played by Phoebe Tonkin. The witch Davina is played by Danielle Campbell. I wasn’t blown over by the acting but there was a scene each by Joseph Morgan and Charles Michael Davis in the first episode which I found to be unconvincing. Maybe it’s just a matter of settling into their respective characters.

Verdict: Doesn’t blow me over but then I never had any expectations to that effect. Consumption worthy for hardcore fans of the Vampire Diaries but stand alone I shall give this one a pass.

IMDb Link: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2632424/?ref_=nv_sr_1

IMDb Rating: 7.8/10 from 4,492 users as on 15/10/2013.

Trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WTKj52BUEeU

Official Site: http://theoriginalscw.tv/

Masters of Sex (September, 2013)

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This show is based on the book, ‘Masters of Sex: The Life and Times of William Masters and Virginia Johnson, the Couple Who Taught America How to Love’. I haven’t read the book and this review is entirely based on the television show. For those interested in the book, it has been rated 3.54/5 with 113 ratings on goodreads (http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/6320234-masters-of-sex?from_search=true). The plot is based on a highly successful Dr. William Masters who is a nationally renowned fertility specialist and works in a teaching hospital at Washington University – St. Louis, Missouri. The narrative is set in the 1950s/60s America. Dr. Masters is not satisfied by using the existing pool of knowledge to treat infertility among women and wants to push the envelope of research by studying the very basic act involved in the area of fertility, that is sex. He is interested in researching on sex at a time when the subject is taboo to even openly discuss in polite conversations. He wants to not only study the physiology involved but also the mental processes associated with it. In his own words he wants to study how babies are made, not how they are born. To this end he hires an assistant who is a former night club singer by the name of Virginia Johnson. She like Dr. Masters is ahead of her time in her thinking and clearly views the idea of sex and love as separate entities which do not require to coincide.

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Together they embark on a research which requires them to observe subjects in various sexual acts and measure their bodily responses to the same. The objectivity and seriousness Dr. Masters feels towards this research comes across when he proposes that he and Ms. Johnson participate in the study to mitigate transference from themselves to the subjects by sleeping with each other. As straight faced as Dr. Masters was, it made me chuckle. The show also brings to the fore aspects pertaining to the time period in question and how societal expectations were projected on to women who harshly judged themselves for not being able to provide a child. The irony of it all stares you in the face when Dr. Masters, the foremost fertility expert is unable to have a child with his wife and it is because the problem lies with him. He still lets his wife go through hell without divulging the same to her. It is reminiscent of a time when male chauvinism was at such a peak that infertility by default was taken to be the women’s fault and her inability to perform the only task which was expected of her. It becomes funny to the point of being ridiculous when even the female characters are shown to practice this form of chauvinism on other female characters.

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Of course the packaging of the show is not as serious as you might discern from the issues discussed above. There are some truly funny moments such as when Dr. Masters tries to convince the Provost of the college to endorse his study in front of the hospital board. He sets a live demonstration with a glass dildo fitted with a cold light and camera. It reminded me of a movie I saw a while back by the name of Hysteria (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1435513/?ref_=sr_1). Do check it out if you have some time. This show makes you laugh as well as seriously consider issues which even now have relevance. It is a package which explores issues such as the human sexuality, self-esteem and self-worth issues associated with women and conception, male chauvinism and ultimately how physical and emotional processes are so intertwined that if not handled properly are a ready mixture for disaster in the form of heart break or worse.

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As far as the cast is concerned it is well chosen. Dr. Masters is played by Michael Sheen and he does a good job. I have generally liked him in his other ventures as well. Ms. Johnson is played by Lizzy Caplan who stands on her own in her treatment of the character. I also like the character of Provost Barton Scully played by Beau Bridges.

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Verdict: This show has both humourous and serious aspects combined in a likeable proportion. It brings to the fore issues which were not only relevant in the period it is set in but remain so. It’s fun and thought provoking. I quite enjoyed the initial episodes and hope you do too!

IMDb Link: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2137109/?ref_=ttep_ep_tt

IMDb Rating: Not yet rated as on 04/10/2013.

Trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JqwahKjI2bg

Official Site: http://www.sho.com/sho/masters-of-sex/home

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. (September, 2013)

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It’s finally here and thank god for that. I have always wondered with so many awesome movies being churned out why can’t shows be spun-off from them. In this case intelligent heads prevailed. I love the movie Avengers and there was no doubt in my mind that I would love this show as well. Although, it would not be entirely true to say that this show is a spin off of the movie. It will be weird if I have to explain what the show is about but I don’t mind elaborating on how the story continues. We don’t get to see Nick Fury (being forced to go into hiding after the war on New York) but Agent Phil Coulson is back from the dead to continue the mission to do good against the backdrop of the changed reality. By changed reality I mean after the battle for New York awareness amongst the public about super-heroes, gods and aliens is more like the elephant in the room. Alien technology is cropping all over and it is S.H.I.E.L.D.’s responsibility to contain possible disasters. Agent Coulson is putting together a new team and has managed to bring on board Agent Grant Ward, Agent Melinda May, Agent Leo Fitz, Agent Jemma Simmons and newly recruited civilian Skye. We also get to see Agent Maria Hill.

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There is also a group by the name of Rising Tide which apparently consists of a bunch of hackers trying to out, if you will, the truth about everything S.H.I.E.L.D. has worked to hide. The first mission that the newly formed team undertakes is to contain a civilian by the name of Michael Peterson on whom alien technology has been applied by a shadow group and who has become unstable and a threat as a result of that technology.

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Agent Phil Coulson is more upper management than a field agent at S.H.I.E.L.D. He is more involved in facilitating the functioning of the organisation. Agent May is an ace pilot and weapons expert. Agent Ward is a highly trained operative whose bedside manner leaves much to be desired. Both Agent Fitz and Agent Simmons loosely speaking are lab rats, the former specialising in engineering while the latter specialises in bio-chemistry. Skye is a computer hacker obsessed with super heroes. Agent Maria Hill seems to be at the head of S.H.I.E.L.D.’s operations in the absence of Nick Fury.

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Agent Coulson is played by Clark Gregg who has been a constant in Marvel movies starting from Iron Man to The Avengers and now this television series. Agent Hill is played by Cobie Smulders who always reminds me of the television series, How I Met Your Mother which is not a bad thing at all. She has also played the same character in the movie, The Avengers. Agent May is played by Ming-Na Wen. Agent Ward is played by Brett Dalton. The character of Skye is played by Chloe Bennet who I vaguely remembered from the television series Nashville. Agent Fitz is played by Iain De Caestecker and Agent Simmons by Elizabeth Henstridge. The casting establishes links to the previous movies while introducing new faces as well and I for one have no qualms about either.

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Verdict: I was sold even before this show started and remain so. Anything coming out with the badge of Marvel has my implicit confidence and I wrote this review just because it was fun. If you have been following the various movies right from Iron Man to The Avengers and anything else under the Marvel banner like rest of the world I don’t need to say anything more. For the uninitiated I can’t even think of what to say!

IMDb Link: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2364582/

IMDb Rating: Not yet rated as on 26/09/2013.

Trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T3T-evQZiQo

Official Site: http://abc.go.com/shows/marvels-agents-of-shield

The Blacklist (September, 2013)

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The Blacklist is finally here and I can’t put a finger on what it is like. It feels like I already knew what was going to happen from the trailers available online. From the start I found the plot very intriguing. The fact that it has James Spader guarantees my attention. I have really enjoyed watching him since the television series, The Practice and after that its spin-off Boston Legal. The narrative on the other hand, I can’t decide one way or the other. I suspect it is a case of building up your expectations to a point that nothing will match. I require a couple of episodes to find out how the show moves. In these situations I usually say that the show has had a promising start but I never thought it would not.

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In this particular venture James plays an ex-government agent by the name of Raymond ‘Red’ Reddington who went missing and was considered responsible for leaking classified information and facilitating criminal activity in general to the highest bidder. At one point in the show he is referred to as the ‘concierge of crime’. A bit cheesy if you ask me. After two decades of disappearing he casually walks in the FBI under the pretext of exposing a terrorist threat and insists on only dealing with a newly minted agent by the name of Elizabeth Keen. At this point I had a flashback to the Hannibal Lecter – Clarice equation. As the show progresses it becomes clear that this terrorist attack was orchestrated by Raymond himself and he is clearly working on a bigger canvas than the rest. He offers the FBI his help to track down the real criminals on his list with the help of Agent Keen. At this stage the focal point of the mystery splits between both Reddington and Keen.

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As far as the cast goes I have already mentioned my appreciation for Mr. Spader. Agent Elizabeth Keen is played by Megan Boone. I like her treatment of the character and think she has been chosen well for this role. I also recognised Harry Lennix in the show playing Assistant Director Harold Cooper.

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Verdict: It has the makings of a great show but unfortunately, against all my expectations the first episode failed to impress. Irrespective, I hope as the show progresses it will not disappoint. I had great expectations from this one before it started and I still do.

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IMDb Link: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2741602/

IMDb Rating: 8.0/10 from 1,740 users as on 26/09/2013.

Trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k9_qgX7pTlc

Official Site: http://www.nbc.com/the-blacklist/

Peaky Blinders (September, 2013)

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Peaky Blinders is a British gangster series set in the 1920s Birmingham. The instant I saw the first episode I knew that the makers had got the formula right. I’m not an expert on the era portrayed but I can attest that it feels right. The characters are well chosen and the plot gets interesting from the word go. You have your featured Irish gang, the peaky blinders run by a ruthless and intelligent war veteran, Thomas Shelby. The show portrays Thomas’s navigation through a time riddled with rival gangs, the communists, the IRA and the law and his need to expand his business interests while handling the pulls and pressures of everyday events. One thing which stands out is the integration of background music throughout the show. It feels like an idea which I think would give the show a cool edge, if I had not seen the show. The music to my understanding is a bit overdone and sticks out in places but mind you, in some places. In many, it feels flawlessly integrated into the narrative. Maybe it’s one of those things which I will get used to after a few episodes.

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So far as the cast goes we have Cillian Murphy playing Thomas Shelby. You may remember him from one of the recent batman movies or from the movie Inception. He is well chosen for this role and plays it convincingly. Sam Neill plays a tough, no nonsense cop, CI Campbell who is sent specifically to recover stolen arms and ammunition from Birmingham. Jurassic Park still fresh in anyone’s memory? Of course, he has been around in recent shows as well. Again, his casting and character portrayal are hand in glove with the narrative. Helen McCrory plays the role of Aunt Polly Gray, a maternal figure in the gang.

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Verdict: Well the ingredients for a period gangster show are all there and come together well. You have the strong, intelligent anti hero. A family wary of the cost of progress. A hard, no nonsense cop fighting for control. Rival gangs trying to establish their dominance while the communists and the IRA work on their agendas and all this set in the backdrop of 1920s Birmingham. What more could you ask for? The background music maybe the only thing that might stand out in a few places but its not something glaring. This show has had a promising start!

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Production Credits: Caryn Mandabach Productions.

Distribution Credits: BBC 2, Entertain Video.

IMDb Link: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2442560/?ref_=ttco_co_tt

IMDb Rating: 7.4/10 from 499 users as on 25/09/2013.

Trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EM12mcTEI88

Official Site: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p01fj945