Tag Archives: Doctor Who

HBO’s Leftovers a non-stop gloomathon

The Leftovers

Justin Theroux stars as beleaguered small-town police chief Kevin Garvey in `The Leftovers,’ which begins its first season Sunday night on HBO.


The Leftovers, an ambitious new HBO series adaptation of Tom Perrotta’s best-selling novel premiering Sunday night, opens with what is arguably its best scene. Three years ago, on Oct. 14, a frazzled young mother has just finished doing her laundry in a grimy laundromat, and now she’s buckling her whining infant into his car seat. That mission accomplished, she gets into the driver’s seat, chatting on her phone with someone at home, but then notices her baby has gone silent. No, wait. He’s just gone.
Panicking, she jumps out of the car and starts frantically calling the child’s name. Simultaneously, a few feet away in the same parking lot, a little boy begins screaming for his suddenly missing father, a grocery cart still in motion from where the dad had been pushing it a split second ago. In the distance, we see a serious car accident as one car, abruptly driverless, plows into another, badly injuring that driver.
Such eerie incidents are happening, not only here in rustic Mapleton, N.Y., but all around the globe, where mathematicians eventually will estimate that two percent of the world’s population has gone missing. Among those who were not spirited away, many of them surmise that the Rapture has occurred and they have been tried by heaven and found undeserving.
But is it? The more people look at who was taken, the less sense this “Sudden Departure” seems to make. Those who vanished on that Oct. 14 seemed to be a mystifyingly random collection. In addition to the righteous and heroic, that group also included known rapists, pedophiles, drug pushers, abusive parents and other heinous types. (In the only truly funny moment that occurs during the four episodes HBO provided for screening, we learn via a newscast in a bar that the Departed also included celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain, Gary Busey, Jennifer Lopez and Shaquille O’Neal, among others).
Their loved ones snatched away by a bizarre event that surpasses comprehension, the remaining Mapleton residents struggle to find some meaning in their loss. Some suffer mental breakdowns. Some commit suicide. Others, like wife and mother Laurie (Amy Brenneman, Private Practice), leave their families to join a weird new fellowship that calls itself the Guilty Remnant. Its members, most of them chainsmokers, dress entirely in white and never speak, not even when alone with each other. Inherently non-confrontational, they travel in pairs and stand mutely yet prominently in public places, or quietly stalk local citizens who have caught their eye. They are not very popular.
The Guilty Remnant’s apparent purpose is to make sure no one forgets that the Sudden Departure happened. But to what end? The group doesn’t seem to attach explicitly religious significance to the event, nor can they shed any light on what it means. Four episodes in, I’m still completely stumped.
At the heart of The Leftovers is the Garvey family. The father, Kevin (Justin Theroux), is the town’s stressed-out police chief who realizes he is sitting on a pressure cooker that could blow at any moment. That’s true at home, too. His wife is gone, so three years after the event, Kevin and his headstrong teenage daughter, Jill (Margaret Qualley), are just trying to pretend that the “old normal” still prevails. Meanwhile, Kevin’s son, Tom (Chris Zylka), has drifted into the orbit of a cult leader (Paterson Joseph), who calls himself Holy Wayne and offers to “hug the pain away” for his acolytes, especially if they are underage Asian girls.
I absolutely get that The Leftovers is tackling some very big, very complex questions about the nature of life, the meaning of death, man’s relationship to God and the universe, lots of the biggies. And I applaud co-creators Perrotta and Damon Lindelof (Lost) for their courage and ambition. The huge ensemble — which also includes Ann Dowd (Michael Sheen’s mother in Showtime’s Masters of Sex), Christopher Eccleston (Doctor Who) and a beguiling theater-trained newcomer named Carrie Coon – turns in consistently strong work as well.
All that said, too much of The Leftovers is a real slog. Relentlessly somber even when it’s not aggressively depressing, the series just started to wear me down after awhile, and I’m not a guy who needs something to blow up on a regular basis to keep me entertained. I haven’t read Perrotta’s novel, but what may be fully engaging on the page too often feels inert and listless when we see it acted out. Case in point: the extended “conversations” between members of the Guilty Remnants, which force us to watch as one person scribbles down his “line” and shows it to the other person, who then takes his/her tablet and writes down the response and holds it up, etc., etc. If you think that doesn’t make for compelling television, well, you’d be right.
I watched all four of the episodes pretty much straight through, which is definitely not the way you want to approach such bleak material. On the other hand, it did make me feel immersed in the world of this story – because after four hours, I was ready to scream “Take me! Take me now!”
HBO's 'The Leftovers' with Amy Brenneman.

Laurie (Amy Brenneman) retreats to a mute existence in the Guilty Remnant in ‘The Leftovers’ on HBO.

New <7>Musketeers<8> refreshes the swashbuckler genre

The Musketeers

From left, Athos (Tom Burke), Porthos (Howard Charles), D’Artagnan (Luke Pasqualino) and Aramis (Santiago Cabrera) set off for new adventures in ‘The Musketeers,’ premiering Sunday on BBC America.


The Musketeers, a new period adventure series premiering Sunday on BBC America, opens as D’Artagnan (Luke Pasqualino, The Borgias) and his father are on the road to Paris from their farm in Gascony when they are set upon by a band of masked highwaymen dressed as Musketeers. One of the group, who introduces himself as Athos, murders the older man in cold blood.
Bent on revenge, D’Artagnan continues on his journey and seeks out the Musketeers, determined to kill Athos. Eventually, however, the truth becomes evident: The attackers were impostors, and D’Artagnan teams up with Aramis (Santiago Cabrera, Heroes) and Porthos (newcomer Howard Charles) to bring the real killer to justice and clear the name of the real Athos (Tom Burke, The Hour).
The trio soon realizes they have been drawn into another crafty plot by the power-hungry Cardinal Richelieu (the great Peter Capaldi, Doctor Who), who hopes to use them as pawns in his scheme. Much wisecracking and swordplay ensue.
Reduced to bare-bones synopsis, the episode may sound like standard-issue swashbuckler fare, but that’s exactly what series creator and head writer Adrian Hodges (My Week With Marilyn) doesn’t want The Musketeers to be.
“Too often, swashbuckling has become a kind of code word for insubstantial characterization, endless swordfights which have little or no consequences, and (an) old-fashioned approach to storytelling which is dull and encrusted with period trappings and lame jokes,” Hodges writes in a lengthy introduction to the series included in the BBC America press materials.
Alexandre Dumas’ classic novel The Three Musketeers has been adapted for both film and television many times, so Hodges started out with a decision not to remake the same story, but to send the well-known characters – which also include the treacherous Milady de Winter (Maimie McCoy) and the delightful Constance Bonacieux (Tami Kari) – on a series of new adventures inspired in some cases by events in the novel, in others by the historical context of the story.
This creative approach is reflected in the costumes for the Musketeers, which jettison most of the frou-frou from earlier Musketeers entries in favor of dark, leathery outfits that have eye appeal while also being action-friendly. And speaking of action, it’s very well choreographed and filmed (and, by the way, not all swordplay – the Musketeers, after all, got their name from the handguns they carry).
Also contributing to what Hodges calls “a swashbuckler with teeth” is a gallery of really excellent performances. Pasqualino is right on the money as the hot-headed D’Artagnan, while Cabrera is all sly seductiveness as the ladykiller Aramis. Burke is a thoroughly charismatic Athos, while Charles, who comes to the series from a theater background, makes an amusing, affable Porthos.
For all the merits of the men in the cast, though, I have to give huge props to Kari, whose charm and spectacular comic timing help Constance steal pretty much every scene in which she appears. This actress is a real keeper.
The wintry Czech Republic, which stands in for 17th-century France, provides one breathtaking natural backdrop after another, and the episodes I’ve previewed all move at a breakneck pace, propelled by some genuinely witty wisecracking between the Musketeers. It’s easy to see why The Musketeers, a co-production of BBC America and BBC Worldwide, already has been given the greenlight for its second season even before the first one starts airing here in the States. It’s that good.
D'Artagnan and Constance

To evade arrest, D’Artagnan (Luke Pasqualino) stuns Constance (Tamia Kari) with an unexpected lip-lock just minutes after their first meeting.

Tennant plays a courtroom Houdini in Escape Artist

'Masterpiece Mystery!' returns Sunday on PBS.

From left),acquitted murder suspect Liam Foyle (Tony Kebbell) thanks his defense team (Roy Marsden and David Tennant) in ‘The Escape Artist,’ a taut, two-part thriller premiering Sunday on PBS’ ‘Masterpiece Mystery!’


Masterpiece Mystery! gets its summer season off to a white-knuckle start Sunday night with The Escape Artist, a two-part thriller (concluding on June 22) about a brilliant defense attorney whose life and career go off the rails. David Tennant (Broadchurch) stars as Will Burton, the top criminal lawyer in the UK, whose perfect record of courtroom wins has put him on the fast track to ‘’take the silk” as Queen’s Counsel. He even has a perfect family – vivacious wife Kate (Ashley Jensen, Ugly Betty) and young son Jamie (Gus Barry) — to round out the idyllic portrait.
Will’s cases often find him sparring with legal adversary Maggie Gardner (Sophie Okonedo), who is fed up with always coming in second to Will. What seems to be lost on both of them is that their cerebral legal games in the courtroom usually take a heavy toll on the victims, defendants and their loved ones.
Invariably, Will often winds up defending and getting off some characters who most likely should be behind bars (hence his nickname of “the escape artist”), but as he somewhat idealistically explains to anyone who questions him, “Everyone deserves a defense.”
Then, just as Will and his family are heading out of town to their vacation getaway, his bosses hand him the case file on Liam Foyle (Toby Kebbell), a reclusive bird lover who stands accused of the horrific torture-killing of a young female medical student. Liam is a self-confessed misanthrope, but he adamantly insists that he is innocent. As Will, on vacation, studies the file, he can’t help seeing that there’s a ton of compelling circumstantial evidence against Liam, such as how his credit card statements reflect that he was a frequent user of “extreme porn” websites featuring the kind of activity that figured in the gruesome and extended killing of the victim.
Once in court, however, Will grows convinced that Liam is being rushed to judgment, especially after the judge refuses to grant a continuance to allow Will’s DNA expert to complete his research. Based partly on that, Will is able to get the judge, in effect, to declare a mistrial on the basis of procedural error. Chalk up another win in Will’s column.
And then Will makes a tiny error in judgment, a small yet crucial misstep that sets into motion a series of tragic, violent events. Even worse, he finds himself compromised by the very trial strategies that once stood him in good stead.
That’s all I’ll reveal about this edge-of-your-seat suspense drama, which has a very satisfying quota of twists and even shocks. Tennant is sensationally good in a role that forces him to play things straight, with none of his trademark Doctor Who twinkle. Okenodo, who picked up a Tony Award just last Sunday night for her performance in the current Broadway revival of A Raisin in the Sun, is also good in a role that could read as a one-dimensional villainess with a different actress.
Among the other recognizable faces in the large ensemble of The Escape Artist are veteran Masterpiece character actor Roy Marsden as another member of Foyle’s defense team and Kate Dickie (Sansa Stark’s mad aunt Lysa in Game of Thrones) as a Scottish barrister trying to offer Will some urgently needed legal advice in next week’s conclusion.
It’s easy to see why The Escape Artist earned rave reviews when it aired recently in the UK, and the two 90-minute episodes should whet viewers’ appetites for more mysteries to follow under the Masterpiece Mystery! banner.
David Tennant and Ashley Jensen star in 'Masterpiece Mystery!' Sunday on PBS.

Brilliant defense attorney Will Burton (David Tennant) watches helplessly as his happy marriage to wife Kate (Ashley Jensen, ‘Ugly Betty’) is destroyed in Part One of ‘The Escape Artist,’ premiering Sunday on the PBS series ‘Masterpiece Mystery!’

Showtime’s Penny Dreadful a lively monster mash

'Penny Dreadful'

Josh Harnett, Eva Green, Danny Sapani and Timothy Dalton (from left) star in ‘Penny Dreadful,’ premiering tonight on Showtime.


Penny Dreadful, the hugely entertaining new eight-episode Showtime series premiering tonight, takes its title from the lurid serialized horror stories that sold for a penny at Victorian newsstands (the Stephen Sondheim musical Sweeney Todd is based on one such yarn). Happily, there’s nothing either cheap or dreadful about this lavish and completely unpredictable new period drama.
John Logan, the Chicago-born Tony-winning playwright and Oscar-nominated screenwriter (Skyfall), strives to capture the spooky, often gory spirit of those vintage chillers by weaving together recognizable figures from literature, such as ageless lothario Dorian Gray and obsessed Dr. Victor Frankenstein, with original characters of his own, whom he brings together and sends off on a delightfully macabre mission.
Penny Dreadful opens in 1891 London, in the aftermath of the unsolved Jack the Ripper murders. As the police turn their attention to a new spate of gruesome crimes, celebrated explorer Sir Malcolm Murray (Timothy Dalton) comes to enigmatic spiritualist Vanessa Ives (Eva Green) with a plea for help: His daughter, Mina (the name is a tip-of-the-hat to Dracula), has gone missing. Both Malcolm and Vanessa suspect that supernatural forces are afoot, so they enlist the assistance of American Wild West sharpshooter Ethan Chandler (Josh Hartnett) and, sure enough, soon stumble into a nest of feral vampires.
As their quest takes one unexpected turn after another, their party is joined by Dr. Frankenstein (Harry Treadaway), whose own studies into the thin veil between life and death dovetail nicely with Malcolm’s mission. Not long after that, the group encounters Dorian Gray (Reeve Carney from Broadway’s Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark) and Brona Croft (Billie Piper, Doctor Who), a consumptive Irish beauty. Other distinguished guest stars include a hilarious Simon Russell Beale as Ferdinand Lyle, a flamboyant Egyptologist, and Helen McCrory as Madame Kali, a (probably fake) clairvoyant.
Beyond that, I won’t spoil any of the surprises awaiting Penny Dreadful viewers – partly because, two episodes in, I honestly don’t know where the hell Logan is going with this nutty narrative. Suffice it to say that both episodes I’ve seen feature absolutely top-tier special effects and, much like those old horror tales snapped up by titillation-hungry Victorians, each episode ends with a jaw-dropping twist that will leave you jonesing for the next installment.
Harry Treadaway

Harry Treadaway stars as Victor Frankenstein in ‘Penny Dreadful.’

Look, ‘Who’’s turning 50 with ‘Day of the Doctor’

'The Day of the Doctor,' Saturday's special 50th Anniversary episode of 'Doctor Who,' will air as a global simulcast in more than 75 countries.

Allons-y! Matt Smith and David Tennant somehow interact in their roles as, respectively, the Eleventh and Tenth Doctors in ‘The Day of the Doctor,’ a 50th Anniversary episode of ‘Doctor Who’ premiering Saturday.


The venerable British sci-fi series Doctor Who airs what promises to be a very special 50th anniversary episode of the program Saturday as a global simulcast to more than 75 countries. In the United States, BBC America will carry “The Day of the Doctor” (as the episode is titled) live at 2:50 p.m. ET, followed by an encore broadcast that evening at 7 p.m. ET.
As usual, the BBC is cloaking this special episode in the kind of secrecy that usually is reserved for nuclear launch codes, although the network has released the following brief (and enigmatic) summary:
“In 2013, something terrible is awakening in London’s National Gallery; in 1562, a murderous plot is afoot in Elizabethan England; and somewhere in space, an ancient battle reaches its devastating conclusion. All of reality is at stake as the Doctor’s own dangerous past comoes back to haunt him.”
Here’s what else is known about the episode, which is penned by lead writer and executive producer Steven Moffat. First, and most bafflingly, the episode will feature both the current 11th incarnation of The Doctor (Matt Smith) as well as his previous embodiment, the Tenth Doctor (David Tennant), sharing scenes together. As if that’s not enough, John Hurt, who was seen very briefly in the final moments of the Season Seven finale, will appear as The War Doctor, a “forgotten” past incarnation of The Doctor.
Fans who are searching for further clues also can view a related and very tantalizing mini-episode prequel of sorts called “The Night of the Doctor,” with Paul McGann reprising his role as the Eighth Doctor online here: http://youtu.be/-U3jrS-uhuo.
The other big news is that “The Day of the Doctor” also will include an appearance by fan favorite Billie Piper as Rose Tyler, former traveling companion for the Ninth and Tenth Doctors. Jenna Coleman also co-stars in this special episode in her current ongoing role as the Eleventh Doctor’s traveling companion, Clara Oswald. Joanna Page guest stars as Queen Elizabeth I.
Moffat has said in related interviews that “The Day of the Doctor” will “change the narrative” of the series in a big way. Fans are speculating this may involve a long-standing conundrum built into the basic premise of Doctor Who: namely, the notion that any Time Lord can regenerate only 12 times. (Actor Peter Capaldi is scheduled to begin appearing as the Twelfth Doctor sometime after Smith’s upcoming Christmas Day episode. If we count Hurt’s appearance as a regeneration, which is how it is described in “The Night of the Doctor,” that would mean Capaldi’s Doctor would be the 12th time the character has regenerated).
In addition to their joint appearance in “The Day of the Doctor,” Smith and Tennant also are scheduled to appear together late Saturday evening on BBC America’s The Graham Norton Show. That show was taped and aired in the UK earlier this week, however, so expect their comments to be fairly guarded.
Fan favorite Billie Piper guest stars in Saturday's 50th Anniversary episode of 'Doctor Who.'

Former series regular Billie Piper feturns in ‘The Day of the Doctor.’