HOMELAND: smarter than 24, more exciting than The West Wing

HOMELAND is, by far, the best new show on television.

Claire Danes’ portrayal of bi-polar, manic CIA agent Carrie Matheson is stunning — she’s someone who has the right ideas, but no one around to believe her.

Damian Lewis is equally astounding and incredibly believable as the captured, turned military sergeant torn between his love for an Iraqi terrorist and his own family.

Having just finished the season finale, I am desperately grasping out for more of this show.

Incredibly intelligent and suspenseful, Showtime’s latest hourlong drama is far from a shoot-em up.

HOMELAND explores the intricacies of soldiers returning from war, corrupt American government and a world that is still afraid of Muslims and terrorists a decade after 9/11.

Stephen over at Pop! Blerd describes my sentiments best:

Homeland has left me chomping at the bit to pick up where we’ve left off, so much so that, at least for now, the year long wait seems unbearable.

Simply put, go watch this show. The first season just wrapped up so it will be a few months until its fully available for streaming, download or purchase on DVD or Blu-Ray.

You will not regret this.

Ferocious finish for True Blood season 4

I’m a little late in the game here, but with all the downloading, television recording and seasons of TV shows on disc, everyone is getting to the finish line at different times.

In my case, I just wrapped up season 4 of True Blood, the HBO show about vampires, werewolves and the like.

HBO’s spin on the vampire saga has been refreshingly original from the get-go and a lot less teen-bop than Twilight.

From the first episode of the first season, I appreciated the modern day twist on what often feels like a tried genre.

The show takes place in the Bon Tempe, Louisiana, which is ripe for characters and weird shit. It’s the classic South, except “true blood” is available as a bottled beverage for blood-hungry vampires who don’t wish to suck humans dry.

Best way to make the make-believe believable? Make present day parallels between politics and coexistence.

So the concept works. Solid writing and generally convincing action, violence and sex contribute here too.

But I got a little lost in season four. The creators have been bringing in new species to the world each season, from shape shifters to werewolves and now witches.

The witches of this latest season have been my least favorite.

The supervillainess was a “nekromancer” (see: witch) named Marty, whose level of obnoxiousness grew faster than her level of destruction.

We’re made to believe that Jason, the brother of the sweet, sassy and sexy protagonist Suki, gets turned into a werepanther (think werewolf, but catlike). Except he never turns, so that’s confusing.

Tara, Suki’s best friend, turns out to be gay. She moves back from seclusion in New Orleans to rejoin the supernatural hijinx.

Suki courts two powerful vampires, Bill and Eric, let’s them suck her blood, then leaves them both.

And on and on.

Long story short, when we get to the finale, I’m pretty bored. Things were all the over the place this season, and the storyline seemed stretched. I figured there would be a twist at the end, since that was what kept me coming back after each episode.

And what started out as predictable — all the love triangles settle, lost loved ones are mourned, and the pieces are being put back together.

But in true True Blood fashion, I’m pulled right back in with the events of the last 20 minutes — warnings about the lovable Terry from a dead pyscho ex, Jason gets a vista from an old friend, looks like someone has dug up the infamous Russell Edgington…

Then WHAM — crazy pyscho ex-werewolf girlfriend Debbie pulls a shotgun on Suki and ends up mauling half of Tara. Suki gets Debbie right back with a vicious shotgun blow to the neck, screams, and end scene.

Phew. Clearly a direct setup for the next season more than a wrap-up of the current one.

And I liked it. I continue to tune in to shows that take risks and keep you guessing even as things appear to get dull. The last few twists and turns in this finale came out of nowhere, and while it seemed a little forced, at least the makers aren’t holding back.

To that, I say thanks. I’ll see you next season!

Is J.J. Abrams losing his Midas touch? New series “Person of Interest” reviewed

Jim Caviezel and Michael Emerson star in the new CBS crime drama "Person of Interest".

New CBS crime drama “Person of Interest” fails to hold its own interest between campy fight scenes and blasé plot points, despite ideal match-ups in acting, writing and producing.

A show meant to involve all the good stuff — grit, guns and government conspiracies, the “Person of Interest” pilot tries a lot and succeeds with little.

The show has all the right elements for a surefire hit, blending conspiratorial thriller with Big Brother paranoia.

But there isn’t much glue holding things together.

An ex-CIA agent played by Jim Cavaziel teams up with a mysterious billionaire (the masterful Michael Emerson) to prevent crimes before they happen, working off tips from a magical machine created for the government to prevent terrorist attacks after Sept. 11.

Where “24” gave us a post-9/11 real American hero, “Person of Interest” gives us an alcoholic bum who cleans up overnight and starts shooting people in the knee while wearing snazzy dress suits.

24” succeeded in making the threat of terrorism incredibly real and close to home. It kept me on the edge of my seat with the tick-tock pacing, strategic battle scenes and a stellar ensemble cast.

Person of Interest” does none of that.

Motivation for the two protagonists is weak at best and it’s unclear why these two men want to save people (and the world, presumably) so badly. We’re left to believe its because they’ve both lost someone, but that’s about all that’s offered.

Not to mention, Caviezel’s character slings a stolen machine gun around in broad daylight and loads it up in the back of a New York taxicab. Why?

So he can safely spy on some dirty cops to save or incriminate a woman he doesn’t know based on a social security number some creepy billionaire scientist gave him. Believe that!

The show was created by Jonathan Nolan, who is also the lead writer. If the name sounds familiar that’s because he is brother to renowned director Christopher Nolan. The two have worked together on the “Dark Knight” movies, “Memento” and plenty other critical and financial hits. Unfortunately for “Person of Interest“, there is no thought-provoking dialogue or real-world grittiness to be found.

Caviezel is not bad as the brooding John Reese, but his performance in the pilot doesn’t come close to what I watched in the excellent 2009 AMC miniseries “The Prisoner“.

Emerson, better known as Benjamin Linus from “LOST“, feels like he’s watering down the same stark and cryptic guru. All-knowing and all-confident, with a dark past and unknown loyalty.

To round off the talented team, the one and only J.J. Abrams is executive producer. That’s right, the guy who brought us “LOST”, “Alias”, “Cloverfield”, “Super 8”, the “Star Trek” reboot and “Fringe” is on board too.

J.J., this is strike two.

Last year’s “Undercovers” wasn’t great either. Maybe you should stick to movies for a while. I mean, “Fringe” is still great, but it feels like you’re not even trying.

“Person of Interest” is “Enemy of the State” meets “Minority Report”, with none of what made either of those movies good. No pre-cogs or laser-engraved name balls, no hologram computers or people freaked out and on the run, nervously thinking they’re being watched.

Instead, the buzzworthy show jumps between too many events in the first hour and feels campy and implausible.

Like when Reese hijacks a gang’s weapons by shooting them all in the knees with their own gun, loading up a rifle in a New York taxicab and slinging the gun under his peacoat in an alleyway like somebody isn’t going to notice.

You can’t (shouldn’t?) judge a book by it’s first few pages, but “Person of Interest” better get a lot better in the next two episodes if it plans to 1. stay on air and 2. have me keep tuning in.

Don’t agree with me? Neither do the reviews from the San Francisco Chronicle or Screen Rant.

New ‘Countdown’ begins on Current TV

The liberal firebrand news host known as Keith Olbermann returns to television tonight after departing from MSNBC a little under six months ago.

As I reported HERE, Olbermann takes his “Countdown” show to the fledgling TV station and Web community known as Current TV and Current.com. (Current was founded in 2005 and pulls in under 60,000 viewers during peak hours according to the New York Times)

The real motivation for Olbermann here is a majority stake in the company. He joins former Vice President Al Gore and businessman Joel Hyatt as an executive of the company.

Full disclosure: I interned for Current’s Vanguard back in summer ’09. Blogged about my experience here and also contributed to Current’s news blog here and here.

Current is not exactly a house name just yet, but getting a heavy hitter such as Olbermann on board may start to change that — at lest that’s what the station is banking on.

Besides Vanguard and now Olbermann, the network received mass media spotlight for its two reporters, Laura Ling and Euna Lee, that were held captive in North Korea.

Keep an eye on this five-year-old channel, because despite setbacks and low ratings, (around 25,000 viewers during prime time) shows like Vanguard, infoMania and now Olbermann’s are worthy of your attention.

Current has always been forward-facing: it initially gathered much of it’s programming through incorporating submissions from online contributors and was the first station to incorporate tweets into it’s coverage of the 2008 presidential debate.

But with new efforts focused on getting the station into more homes and a recent redesign (or more like design overhaul), I have heard few outcries but my own over what I find to be one very big problem:

Current, which was known for bridging the online and televised worlds, stopped allowing full episodes online. So much for anywhere, any time. What year is it?

The channel says the only way to continue carriage on networks like Verizon, TimeWarner and Comcast was to offer exclusive deals and Olbermann tweeted that the TV companies have them “over a barrel.”

Instead, Current is pushing clips big time, all over Hulu, iTunes and YouTube.

But for those of us who already cancelled our exorbitant cable subscriptions, we’re shit out of luck.

I can’t even legally purchase the shows in their entirety…anywhere. Now that’s just not right.

That’s why I scheduled a viewing party of sorts at a friends house for tonight’s premieres of Countdown with Keith Olbermann and a new season of Vanguard.

WATCH TONIGHT: Countdown premieres at 8/9c and Vanguard’s new season follows at 9/8c.

Check out behind the scenes with “Countdown” HERE.

A place where dead TV series can live on

I’m a little late in the game on this one, but I finally got around to watching the season finale of NBC’s “The Event.

While far from one of my favorite shows (LOST, 24, Fringe), “The Event” blends all the genres I love: action, adventure, sci-fi and drama.

But, as good-but-expensive television series go, it was recently announced that “The Event” was cancelled. Damn!

Every time I get engrossed in a good new series, the money-hungry network execs cancel the crap out of them.

Last year it was “Flash Forward” and this year it was the “The Event.”

I was REALLY, REALLY upset when I found out about “Flash Forward” last season. Loved this show and I was totally hooked. Great character development, intriguing government conspiracies, double-crossing intelligence agents, the works — everything a man needs for a good TV show.

Both shows ended after a single season, and both ended with a bang — basically the same concept that started the show’s plot happened again. Sounds cheesy, but it worked for me. Same sort of thing worked for Keifer Sutherland’s Jack Bauer in eight seasons of “24.” (Where’s that “24” movie we’ve been hearing about anyway?)

The real news here is the rumor that “The Event” may resurface on SyFy.

According to media blog The Deadline, the producers of the show have received interest from multiple cable and digital entities, including Netflix and SyFy.

If there’s one trend I like in the TV world these days, is the continuing rise of services like Netflix and Hulu and a creative desire to try out new kinds of programming. Or in this case, find a home for a quality show that didn’t have enough viewers to remain on primetime.

Sure, it’s easier to get lost in the sea of Web videos, between YouTube’s memes and Vimeo’s fledgling filmmakers, but we must do something to keep the quality.

America has already been sucked deep into reality shows like “The Real Housewives”, “The Bachelor”, “Survivor” and “American Idol.” Personally, I don’t need to turn on the TV to see what other people’s “real” lives are scripted to look like. It’s all just a bunch of cat fights and teary-eyed nonsense anyway.

But here’s to forward-thinking operations. It’s 2011, come on guys. If a show musters up a hardcore niche fanbase, no matter how relative sized it may be, that’s got to be something worth banking on. What about iTunes launching its own series? Season pass only.

Or how about Comcast, who now owns NBC and controls plentiful TV pipes, going iPad-only on a show like the Event? We can AirPlay it or Slingbox it onto our widescreens and get the full experience for a fraction of the investment.

I know the writers over at Pop Culture Junkie would agree.

It’s time to find new ways of keeping the good content alive when a major network station can’t afford to take a risk or think outside the damn box.

Current TV adds Olbermann to shake things up

The tectonic plates of the American media landscape are starting to shift once again.

Two major events have given me a new spirit of hope in news media, both occurring this week. And both by Tuesday!

First off, Keith Olbermann, the former liberal host of MSNBC‘s “Countdown” announced that he will be starting a new show on Current TV, the fledgling entertainment and world affairs network founded by former Vice President Al Gore and businessman Joel Hyatt in 2005.

Olbermann told reporters on a conference call Tuesday morning that it will be an “amplified and stronger version of the show that I just did.”

But the even bigger news here is that Olbermann will become Current Media’s Chief News Officer and take an equity stake in the company. Meaning he will be up there with Joel, Al and CEO Mark Rosenthal as one of the hotshots.

Current’s own employees didn’t know a thing until the New York Times announced it.

At least that’s what Mariana Van Zeller, one of the investigative reporters in Current’s investigative documentary series “Vanguard“, told me today in an e-mail.

Keep an eye on this five-year-old channel, because despite setbacks and low ratings, (around 25,000 viewers during prime time) shows like Vanguard, infoMania and now Olbermann’s are worthy of your attention.

Full disclosure of course: I interned for Vanguard in 2009. Blogged about my experience here and also contributed to Current’s news blog here and here.

Read more about Current’s reinvention here from MediaBistro.

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NEXT UP: AOL + HuffPost = a reinvention of the news wheel?