TV Review: The Girl From Plainville Episodes 1-3 (dir by Lisa Cholodenko and Zetna Fuentes)

With The Dropout scheduled to air its final episode next week, Hulu is moving on to another 8-hour miniseries about another young blonde woman who was at the center of a media firestorm.  The Girl From Plainville stars Elle Fannie as Michelle Carter, a teenager who was convicted of more or less goading her “boyfriend,” Conrad Roy (played by Colton Ryan, who was one of the few good things about Dear Evan Hansen) into killing himself.

It was a case that got a lot of attention and Michelle was, for a few months, everyone’s favorite heartless villain.  She was eventually convicted of manslaughter and, after several appeals, was eventually sentenced to 15 months in prison.  She served 11 and is currently free.  She’s 25 years old and has already experienced not only prison but also being briefly the most hated person in the country.  And yet, for all the attention that she received, no one has ever been able to determine just why exactly she told Conrad Roy that he should kill himself or why she went as far as to order him to do so, even after he said he had changed his mind.  There was a lot of speculation that Conrad perhaps thought that he and Michelle had a suicide pact, one that Michelle didn’t follow through on.  It’s also undeniable that, after Conrad’s suicide, Michelle made herself the center of attention.  Before her final text messages to Conrad were discovered, Michelle organized a charity softball game in his memory.  Of course, she held the game in her hometown instead of Conrad’s and apparently, she went out of her way not to involve any of Conrad’s friends or family in her efforts.  Could Michelle have pressured Conrad to kill himself just so she could use his death to be the center of everyone’s attention?

The first three episodes of The Girl From Plainville dropped on Hulu earlier this week and they certainly suggest that Michelle could be capable of doing it all for the attention.  At the same time, they also suggest that Michelle herself probably didn’t truly understand what she did or why she did it.  As played by Elle Fanning and Colton Ryan, both Michelle Carter and Conrad Roy come across as two people who didn’t have much of a connection with reality.  Conrad, or Coco as his friends and family call him, wants to escape a home life that is dominated by the constant bickering between his divorced parents.  He’s at his happiest when he gets a summer job working on a fishing boat and he’s miserable when he has to return to the “real” world, where he’s anxious around people his own age and he’s constantly being used as a pawn in his mother and father’s never ending battles.  Meanwhile, Michelle is so detached that she has to watch an episode of Glee in order to come up with something to say after Conrad’s suicide.  Conrad’s family is earthy, loud, and working class while Michelle’s family is reserved and wealthy but both families have raised children who feel like permanent outsiders.  Indeed, it seems almost preordained that they would eventually find each other and both Colton Ryan and Elle Fanning do a good job of bringing Conrad and Michelle to life.

That said, as I watched the first three episodes of The Girl from Plainville, I did find myself wondering if there was anything more to say about this case.  After the endless news coverage, one Lifetime movie, one HBO special, and countless “ripped from the headlines” episodes of Law & Order: SVU, are there any new insights left to be gleaned from the story of Michelle and Conrad?  With a story this terrible, one’s natural tendency is to search for a deeper meaning but is there really one there?  What if, for all the speculation, Michelle really was just a heartless monster who manipulated Conrad into suicide because she knew she could?  In short, is there enough here to really justify spending 8 hours with someone like Michelle Carter?

I guess we’ll find out over the upcoming few weeks.

TV Review: The Dropout 1.7 “Heroes” (dir by Erica Watson)

This week’s episode of The Dropout was the most emotionally satisfying yet.

Seriously, after six episodes of Elizabeth and Sunny walking over their employees, lying to their investors, and basically getting away with all of it, it was deeply satisfying to watch everything start to unravel in episode 7.  Not only did Elizabeth and Sunny fail to kill the Wall Street Journal story about their fraud but, for once, their heavy-handed attempts at suppression made the situation worse for them.  Tyler Schultz refused to sign the new NDA.  Even if George Schultz is still too stubborn to admit that he was wrong about Elizabeth, he at least seems to suspect that he’s been played.  Even David Boies seems to be at the end of his limit as far as defending Theranos is concerned.  Perhaps that explains why he didn’t seem to be too upset when one of his associates made a very basic mistake that gave John Carreyou (well-played by Ebon Moss-Bachrach) the information he needed to keep his WSJ story alive.  Perhaps most satisfying of all was the scene where Phyllis Gardner finally got a chance to tell Elizabeth off to her face.  It was a stand up and cheer moment in a miniseries that, up until this point, has portrayed the world as being a very dark place.

This week’s episode also deserves a lot of credit for the perfect use of David Bowie’ “Heroes” over the opening montage.  Even when the proverbial walls closing on her and Sunny, Elizabeth still convinced a lot of people that she was a hero, a college dropout who has somehow managed to revolutionize the way that blood is tested.  To be honest, it was always too good to be true but, for many years, Elizabeth Holmes pulled it off.  Not only did she present herself as being a hero but she allowed her investors to feel that they were also heroes for supporting her.  As the song says, “We can be heroes …. if just for one day.”

This episode of features several clip of Elizabeth Holmes being fawned over by the members of the political and media establishment.  Cleverly, the show digitally inserted Amanda Seyfried into actual footage of Holmes being interviewed and praised by old men like Bill Clinton, Joe Biden, and Charlie Rose.  As the miniseries has made clear, Elizabeth Holmes’s biggest boosters were all older men.  Women easily saw through her but men like George Schultz, Ian Gibbons, and others took on an almost fatherly role with her.  When Tyler asked George if he secretly wished that Elizabeth was related to him instead of Tyler, George didn’t answer.  He didn’t have to.

On one final note, I do hope that this episode will be viewed by the people responsible for Inventing Anna because this episode’s portrayal of journalism and a working newsroom feels exciting authentic in a way that Inventing Anna doesn’t.  Unlike the neurotic and needy characters at the center of Inventing Anna, John Carreyou gets the story through his own hard work and he fights for the story because he knows that it’s true.  LisaGay Hamilton’s performance as Carreyou’s editor was one of the highlights of the episode and her scenes with both Moss-Bachrach and Kurtwood Smith were fun to watch.  They left the viewer wanting to know more about the character.  Indeed, one of the things that The Dropout does so well is that it creates the impression that everyone on the show is worthy of their own miniseries.  I would happily watch a show about Carreyou and his editor.

The Dropout finishes up next week as Elizabeth and Sunny finally face the consequences of their own bad actions.  I can’t wait!

Horror TV Show Review: Day Of The Dead 1.1 “The Thing In The Hole” (dir by Steven Kostanski)

First off, you may be looking at this review and thinking, “Someone’s a little late.”

Yes, I am.  Thank you for pointing that out.  I’m sure you’ve never had a busy week either.

That said, despite the fact that you shouldn’t have pointed it out, it is true that Day of the Dead premiered last Friday and it was only today that I finally got around to watching it on the DVR.  That wasn’t necessarily intentional on my part.  I just haven’t had a chance to sit down and really watch it or any other shows until tonight.  In fact, ever since I first saw the commercials for the show on SyFy, I’ve been looking forward to watching it.  Even though it looked like yet another Walking Dead rip-off, the fact that it was on SyFy held some promise as SyFy’s shows usually move quickly and feature lots of carnage.  If AMC always seems as if it’s trying too hard to turn its zombie franchise into a prestige factory, SyFy promises the opposite approach.

The show is named after George Romero’s Day of the Dead, which featured a group of survivors trying to ride out the zombie apocalypse in an underground bunker.  While the first episode did feature zombies and an anti-fracking plotline that felt like it could have come from one of Romero’s later films, it otherwise didn’t have much in common with Romero’s classic shocker.  The zombie apocalypse did start about halfway through the episode and apparently the show is going to focus on a group of people trying to survive the end of the world but, during the first episode, there was no bunker.  There was no Dr. Logan.  No one shouted “Choke on them” while his intestines were being devoured.  There was, however, some underground scenes due to the whole fracing subplot and there is a sinister character named Rhodes so I imagine we’ll be heading for some sort of underground bunker soon.  I guess we’ll find out over the course of the next few episodes.

After opening with an exciting flashforward the featured plenty of undead chaos, the first episode focused on election day in the town of Mawinhaken.  Mayor Paula Bowman (Miranda Frigon) is concerned about getting reelected but the election is brought to halt when the dead suddenly rise up from their graves and start eating all of the voters.  I got the feeling that we were meant to dislike Mayor Bowman because she’s an ambitious politician who has apparently put her career before her family but, as far as I’m concerned, Mayor Bowman was the best character on the show.  No sooner have the dead arisen than she’s running around with a gun and blowing them away while saying stuff like, “Second amendment, motherfucker!”  Hell yeah!  Plus, she has a great name.  Mayor Bowman has a nice ring to it….

(But if I was mayor, would I still have time to watch and review Lifetime films?  That’s the question.)

As for the rest of the characters …. well, there’s a lot of them.  Hopefully, a few of them will get eaten during the next episode because, otherwise, it’s going to be a struggle to keep everyone straight.  I did like Keenan Tracy, who played Cam McDermott, the son of a police detective who mows lawns to bring in extra money.  The scene where he mowed over the dead as they rose from their graves was a highlight of the episode.  Otherwise, the characters felt a bit interchangeable.  The only woman working on the fracking crew is former special forces.  The mortuary assistant is sarcastic.  There’s two bullies who like to give Cam a hard time.  They all made just enough of an impression that I can remember that they’re on the show but I’d by lying if I said any of them jumped out at me the way that Mayor Bowman and Lawnmower Cam did.

Anyway, it was a good enough first episode.  The action moved quickly and the zombies were gruesome without being quite as icky as the decaying corpses that pop up on The Walking Dead.  So far, the Day of the Dead zombies appear to move faster than the Walking Dead zombies and that’s definitely an improvement.  It’s probably debatable whether or not, at this point, there’s anything new that can be done with whole zombie apocalypse thing but I’ll definitely give Day of the Dead a chance to show me what it has in mind.

Sock! Pow! Zok!: STARRING ADAM WEST (documentary, 2014)

adam3Holy high camp! STARRING ADAM WEST is a fun documentary about the quest to get a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame for 60s TV star Adam BATMAN West. The film also serves as a biography of the cult actor, from his humble beginnings as a child in Walla Walla, Washington to his rise as TV’s biggest star of the mid-60s, and his fall after being typecast as the Caped Crusader reduced to performing in crappy car shows and carnivals. West later resurrected his career as an ironic icon in the 90s and still does voice work today, notably on the animated FAMILY GUY. Through all the ups and downs, the star has retained both his sense of humor and love of family. An entertaining look at a down to earth guy in the what-have-you-done-for-me-lately world of show biz, STARRING ADAM WEST is playing all this month on Showtime.


Horror on TV: Night Galley 2.6 “A Question of Fear/The Devil is Not Mocked”


Much like Thriller, Night Gallery is an old horror anthology series that I’ve recently discovered thanks to reruns on Me-TV. Airing in the early 70s and hosted by Twilight Zone‘s Rod Serling, Night Gallery usually featured two or three stories per episode and even provided a few early credits for director Steven Spielberg.

Of course, Spielberg didn’t direct the episode below but that’s okay. It’s still pretty good. It tells two stories. In A Question of Fear, Leslie Nielsen plays a mercenary who takes a bet to spend the night in a haunted house. In The Devil Is Not Mocked, Dracula talks about how he fought the Nazis during World War II. Interestingly enough, Dracula is played by Francis Lederer who, 13 years later, played the same role in The Return of Dracula.

The episode of Night Gallery was originally broadcast on October 27th, 1971.

What Lisa Marie Watched Last Night: Jersey Shore Shark Attack (dir. by John Shepphird)

On Friday night, I saw Moonrise KingdomAs our own Leon the Duke explained in his own review on this very site, Moonrise Kingdom is a thought-provoking, relentlessly quirky little film from Wes Anderson.  It’s a film that makes you think and, as a result, come Saturday, I was in the mood to watch something that required absolutely no thought at all.  Luckily, SyFy was willing to help me out by showing an original film called Jersey Shore Shark Attack.

Why Was I Watching It?

I’d been meaning to watch a SyFy film for a while, mostly because my friend Kelly Thul always provides the most interesting twitter commentary on them.  When I saw that something called Jersey Shore Shark Attack was apparently playing on the channel, there was no way I couldn’t watch it.  After all, my BFF Evelyn refers to me as L-Wowww.  I used to call her Evooki but, after seeing Jersey Shore Shark Attack, her new name is Nooki.

What’s It About?

It’s holiday weekend on the Jersey Shore.  Preppies are uncomfortably mingling with Guidos, Joey Fatone is scheduled to give a concert, and greedy mayor Paul Sorvino is greedily dreaming of the money that will be made.  The only thing could ruin the holiday fun would be if a bunch of sharks suddenly showed up and decided to attack the Jersey shore.

Which is exactly what happens.

Fortunately, when the greedy Mayor refuses to close down the beach, there are a few Guidos who are willing to do the right thing.  The Complication (Jeremy Luc) and his friends Paulie Balzac (Daniel Booko), Donnie (Joey Russo), J-Moni (Alex Mauriello), and BJ (Audi Resendiz) take it upon themselves to battle the sharks.  However, the Complication’s ex, Nooki (Melissa Molinaro), has defiantly gone sailing with a bunch of preppies and now finds herself stranded at sea, surrounded by circling sharks…

What Worked?

A lot of people are probably online right now talking about how “stupid” and how “bad” this movie was but you know what?  I loved it.  This movie was a lot of fun and, like the best film parodies, it was very smart about being stupid.  Let’s put it like this — if you’re criticizing this film for having silly dialogue, terrible special effects, and bad acting, you’re missing the point.

Add to that, the acting isn’t that bad.  The film’s stars do a good job at capturing the “personas” of their Jersey Shore counterparts and I would even go so far as to compare this movie to the classic South Park episode “It’s a Jersey Thing.”

Plus, Tony Sirico’s in it and he gets to go all Robert Shaw and deliver a half-crazed monologue about shark attacks.

Plus, there’s a reporter who says things like, “Stay away from the pier, yo!”

Plus, Joey Fatone’s in it!  And he gets eaten!

What’s not to love?

What Didn’t Work?

It all worked, dammit!

“Oh my God!  Just like me!” Moments

I’m Italian (well, a fourth-Italian) and I don’t swim either.   (Though I certainly don’t mind getting wet…)

Lessons Learned:

It’s a Jersey thing.