TV Commentary

Courtesy of ABC

Courtesy of ABC

Rami Malek (to the Emmy Audience): Please tell me you’re seeing this too?

Here at NJATVS we pride ourselves in maintaining a sense of quality over quantity. We cover the great shows, past or present. As individual viewers however, we put next to no stock in award shows. Specifically the Emmy’s. The Emmy’s are famous for snubbing some of the best performances or shows going all the way back to the days of I Love Lucy. Names and titles like The Wire, Curb Your Enthusiasm, Michael C Hall-Dexter, Roseanne, Jackie Gleason, X-Files, Sports Night, John Noble-Fringe, and even some as recent as the 2016 snubs of Orange is the New Black and Christian Slater in a supporting role for Mr. Robot. And don’t even get me started on James Spader getting the snub of all snubs for his portrayal of Raymond “Red” Reddington on The Blacklist. Not only should he have been nominated, he should have won in a walk.

Look, we get it, you can’t please everyone all of the time. But when you have shows or performances that are undeniable, ignoring them in favor of something else under a different criteria is just irresponsible. Here’s the thing though, when it comes to the Emmy’s, they miss MOST of the time. This isn’t like the 1995 Oscars where they had the impossible decision of Forrest Gump vs The Shawshank Redemption. They seem more interested in creating television dynasties than rewarding those who deserve it. Now if I may be completely transparent, I absolutely did not have a problem with this when they got it right with The West Wing. However, Mad Men won too much, Breaking Bad did not win enough, Game of Thrones has already won too much and definitely should not have beat out Mr. Robot.

Make no mistake about it, Mr. Robot is the best show on television, network, cable, or subscription service. Netflix puts out the most highly concentrated high-end shows when you factor in the Netflix/Marvel arrangement. Cable puts out more good to great shows. And the Networks are going to do what they do. Big budget shows that may or may not lack staying power. But when you consider all factors, nothing is as complete, riveting, and as well written or delivered as Mr. Robot. An argument can be made for Blacklist, but it would be a tough sell over Mr. Robot.

The jaw dropping moments have been incredible. The “reveal” episode of a few weeks ago was downright mind-blowing. Yes in hindsight there was a great deal of hints sitting in plain sight, but it’s written so well, you nor I were ever going to see those things until Rami Malek, Christian Slater, Sam Esmail and the gang wanted you to see them. After season 1, there weren’t too many in this TV community that didn’t forecast a sophomore slump. Mr. Robot has answered the call in season 2 with no fear or hesitation. Short of Shayla in season 1, I’m more than prepared to say they exceeded expectations in season 2.

Rami Malek is an absolute treasure for the job he’s doing in bringing us inside the mind of Elliot Alderson. On the surface, a hacker with mental health issues navigating through the world is not that difficult. However, trying to equate the character of Elliot to the previous description makes about as much sense as saying Reddington is just another spy, Walter White is just a high school science teacher and Tyrion Lannister is just comic relief.

I’m sure, like a number of others, my first exposure to Rami as an actor was in Night at the Museum. Maybe some of our more astute readers will remember him in big television hits like 24 or The Pacific. But even with Night at the Museum, if it hadn’t been for a great performance from the late, great Robin Williams, Rami would have stolen that show too.

Rami’s portrayal of Elliot Alderson is probably as perfectly done as any character I’ve ever seen. The balance of the inner turmoil, mixed with the appearance and sense that this man has lived with said turmoil for most if not all of his life. This man is hardened from his own pain. It’s almost as if he moves through the world with a self-created protective layer over him.

He dramatically dislikes the things that most of us cling to (social media, entertainment news, latest apple products, etc). Is he just damaged beyond repair? Is he brilliant beyond belief? Are his hacking skills really anything more than busy work to take his mind off of the parts of life he loathes? Is it an unbalanced combination of all of the above? From the opening scene at Ron’s Coffee, Mr. Malek grabs you and never let’s go. He has the rare quality of being inviting but guarded.

Now, to the matter at hand. The Emmy’s are a joke. All the respect in the world for those who win them, but it’s just naive to think the award went to the deserving party all or even most of the time. While I don’t generally watch award shows, it was particularly strange for me to watch an award show whose nominees (for the most part) I had no interest in. I kept watching wondering why. We get toward the end and I hear “And now best actor in a drama” (or something to that effect). Then I actually said out loud, “Let’s see how they screw this one up.”

Kyle Chandler-Bloodline
Rami Malek-Mr. Robot
Bob Odenkirk-Better Call Saul
Matthew Rhys-The Americans
Liev Schreiber-Ray Donovan
Kevin Spacey-House of Cards

I’m surprised for a moment but I did remember that Rami Malek was nominated. Then my first thought is to handicap it. Kyle Chandler, nope. Rami Malek, can’t see how he can lose. Bob Odenkirk, he’s really good but not on Malek’s level. Matthew Rhys, nope. Liev Schreiber, ok that one’s tough. Kevin Spacey, damn. Kevin Spacey is already an accomplished, award-winning actor and he’s basically the defacto spokesperson for Netflix. He’s the face most people think of when they hear ‘Netflix’. House of Cards took Netflix from being a great little service to a juggernaut that now has almost as many homes with computers as homes with Netflix. He was the first Emmy nominee for a show that wasn’t on traditional television. Then the moment arrives.

“And now…the Emmy goes to…Rami Malek, Mr. Robot”

I literally jumped out of my couch with my arms extended (shades of Michael Phelps after Lezsak came back to win the 4×100 relay over the French in Beijing). I felt like I won something. This was not just a win for Rami Malek, his family and the show. This was a win for all of us. Those recognize the difference between unreal television that bends the limits of what was previously thought possible. And the procedural repetitive system shows the flood your television programming. Those of us who recognize the distinct lines that separate good from great from exceptional. And Rami’s first words made for maybe the greatest award show moment, maybe ever.

Courtesy of NBC

Courtesy of NBC

Rami Malek (almost in character): Please tell me you’re seeing this too?

Rami went on to thank the one’s you’d expect him to thank. Then he made a move that was classy, thoughtful and not at all preachy. We all know the Bono’s of the world just ruin whatever moment was intended. Rami’s moment was not at all that. He took a moment to recognize the “Elliot’s of the world”. It may have been small in the scope of things, but Rami Malek’s Emmy win and acceptance speech were both exactly what they should have been. The win did what it was supposed to do. Recognize an incredible acting performance and bring more attention to what in my mind is easily the best show on television. It also proved that every now and again, an award show doesn’t have to be a popularity contest. If it were, Spacey would have won again.

The West Wing: An Oasis From Political Madness

Photo Courtesy of Warner Bros Television

Photo Courtesy of Warner Bros Television

The worst kept secret with my affection of television is that I believe The West Wing is the greatest achievement in television history. I would gladly debate that point with anyone brave enough to try. That line in and of itself seems to be a microcosm for the political landscape we find ourselves in. Let’s be clear, the notion that I am right and you are wrong if you disagree with me in the slightest, is not a new idea when applied to political dialogue. For at least the last 50 years (maybe even longer) the two-party system has created a divisiveness among its electorate, suggesting that there is an absolute right and absolute wrong way to see things, depending on which side of the aisle you sit.

At some point the narrative changed. From the ‘I believe this and give me a moment so I can explain that and see if you feel the same way’ that eventually gave way to the ‘I’m right, you’re wrong and until you agree with my stance, you’re an idiot’. We are going to try to use The West Wing as a vehicle to explore what the problem really is at its core while still maintaining some sense that we can always get better. And secondly, that the gold standard of modern scripted fictional television can provide the ideals of government that we should continue to strive for.

The nature of democracy, specifically our democracy is that we are never going to get there. We will never wake up with 100% of the country completely in agreement about everything. So the next most logical goal to reach for is to create a political landscape where we keep talking. Not to slam the other side. Not to create further division. Not to widen the gap but instead, to narrow it. When it comes to politics and the practical sense of the governing of a nation’s people, we should act like intellectuals, not school yard bullies. As articulated by Jeff Breckinridge (a Black Civil Rights Lawyer from Georgia) debating reparations with Josh Lyman (a White jewish man from New England) in the episode, “Six Meetings Before Lunch”.

Jeff Breckinridge: You got a dollar? Take it out. Look at the back. The seal, the pyramid, it’s unfinished. With the eye of God looking over it. And the words Annuit Coeptis. He, God, Favors our Undertaking. The seal is meant to be unfinished, because this country’s meant to be unfinished. We’re meant to keep doing better. We’re meant to keep discussing and debating and we’re meant to read books by great historical scholars and then talk about them.

Sadly, it seems, this 2016 Presidential Election campaigns have been worse than I’ve ever seen. I’ve been following the political process and Presidential Elections specifically since the first George Bush. Every year it seems the popular cliché is that this election is a “lesser of two evils” situation. It’s always been popular to say, but this year I’m afraid the sentiment is more accurate than in past years. For the first time I can remember, there are more people wishing there were other options than those set on who they will vote for. While choosing who to vote for is every American’s right, there is a great deal of vitriol being tossed around from both sides. When the very nature of our system is to keep talking, keep evolving the debate. As opposed to spewing hatred for ‘the other side’.

Disclaimer: If you are waiting for the portion of this article where I divulge my political allegiance. Explain why my candidate is better than the other side. You are misunderstanding the point of this exercise. I have no intention of getting into the meat and potatoes of the political debate. The point to be had here is that neither side is right or wrong, but that the process was never intended to be this angry or combative. Something to consider the next time you get into a political discussion with someone who doesn’t share your view. In the “Game On” episode when President Bartlet faces off against Governor Ritchie of Florida many things are said, but one thing rings out stronger than all the others. A quote I think of every time I hear a politician or pundit drop the “partisan politics” line as a means to create animosity for the other side.

Jed Bartlet: I don’t think Americans are tired of partisan politics; I think they’re tired of hearing career politicians diss partisan politics to get a gig. Partisan politics is good. Partisan politics is what the founders had in mind. It guarantees that the minority opinion is heard, and as a lifelong possessor of minority opinions, I appreciate it.

Politicians will be politicians. In order to be one, the individual has to engage in a game of sorts. This plays out in every election cycle. One elected official cannot possible appeal to all voters. So, they play a numbers game. Using whatever resources at their disposal they will identify trends, tipping points, hot button issues and hopefully present themselves to fall on the winning side of those issues. For the politician, it’s about serving their best interest which generally means doing what is required to get re-elected. The day we discover a politician that is willing to fall on the grenade, throw away his lifestyle, security and career away for standing up for an issue they believe in is the day that politician decided to stop being a politician. My more pressing concern is that of the electorate. The people need not adopt the attitude and persona of the politicians they vote for. And that my friends is the crux of my issue.

I am sure it hasn’t always been this way. I remember watching my grandparents around election time. My Grandmother was a blind democrat. Put simply, she grew up the daughter of farmers and believed Democrats were for farmers. She really needed no other criteria. My Grandfather who did lean Democratic at times was much more open. He took the approach of “Show me what you’ve got, you have to earn my vote” and he would have no problem voting the other way. So by the time I was 10, they would not even speak to each other about politics. If the conversation had the potential of going south, they’d prefer not to talk about it, then vote however they were going to vote. That sense seems to be gone now. They both paid attention, both took in the debates of the issues of the day, but never dug in their heels to belittle or attack someone who disagreed.

Take a step back from the details. It doesn’t matter if you’re a Trump supporter, Clinton supporter, or even a steadfast Sanders or Johnson fan . Maybe it’s the 24 hour news cycle. Maybe it has something to do with how social media and technology have made the world smaller. I think the clear takeaway is that no matter who you think you’re going to vote for, it is a lesser situation. Despite popular belief, I do not think Trump’s attack on political correctness would fly 50 years ago. Similarly, I can’t imagine anyone 50 years ago voting for a candidate with real trustworthiness issues. I’m not going to so far as to call this a lesser of two evils, but it is less. Less than we should expect. Less than what came before them. We are not raising our expectations for our future President we are diminishing it. We are so used to looking at the landscape and thinking, “That’s the least crappy candidate. That’s my pick. The one I hate the least.” When did we decide this was good enough. Both parties want to believe they are rolling out Franklin D. Roosevelt and Ronald Reagan. It may not be a choice of lesser of two evils, but there is no doubt the expectation has become lesser.

Photo Courtesy of Warner Bros Television

Photo Courtesy of Warner Bros Television

Idealistic as it may seem, we should expect more. For the moment, forget the issues. Forget the economy, forget foreign policy, forget education reform, forget national defense. We should expect more from the candidates. College educated shouldn’t be enough. Serving two terms as a Senator who took a vulnerable seat shouldn’t be enough. To be completely transparent about it, this aspect of the conversation isn’t left to Trump or Hilary. I’m sorry to be so harsh, but no President I’ve been legally of age to vote for fits that bill. Not Trump or Hillary. Not Obama, not George W, not Bill Clinton. Maybe George Herbert Walker Bush, maybe. Ask yourself if any President in the last 25 years even comes close to measuring up to what you once believed a President should be. The one thing that Herbert Walker on back had (Bush, Reagan, Carter, Ford, Nixon, Kennedy, etc not even talking about the Lincolns, Roosevelts, and Washingtons of our history) was gravitas. The moment they spoke there was a reverence. The idea that issues aside, we are in good hands. Intelligent hands. Hands of a leader in control. We can debate the subtle merits until we’re blue in the face, but the bottom line is that these candidates in today’s politics lack most of that. The sensibility of intelligence, leadership and gravitas.

Sam: Before I look for anything, I look for a mind at work. No one’s saying a President has to have a tenured share in symbiotics, but you have to have

Ainsley: What

Sam: Gravitas.

Ainsley: And how do you measure that?

Sam: You don’t. But you know it when you see it.

Political correctness made its way back into this discussion.  Again, with no intention of pumping up one or discrediting the other, this needs to be addressed.  When did we decide treating all people with the same level of reverence or respect was a bad thing?  Political Correctness is necessary.  It sets a guideline for acceptable language in scenarios that call for it.  Am I going to request political correctness when I’m watching Monday Night Football with the fellas? No, but I do think it has a place in dialogue by governmental leaders.  And when did we decide telling it like it is was anything other than excusable bad behavior?  To take that further, when did we decide we wanted average Joe’s in positions of power and leadership?  Despite what some said years ago, Joe the Plumber would make the worst public servant imaginable. To quote a completely different Sorkin show, “I’m a fan of credentials”.  I want my leaders to at the very least create the illusion that they are more educated than me, more cultured than me, more aware than me, more adjusted than me, and better at working with people and solving problems than me.  We all really, should want the best the country has to offer.  And being just another guy/girl, ‘being just like the rest of us’, or being plain-spoken are not good things to look for in the leader of the free world.  At the end of the day, if our leaders are just like the rest of us, then get everyone in the mix and work off shear numbers.  If the sample size was larger, maybe the cream would rise to the top.  Barring an asinine theory like that, give me the smartest, most qualified, engaged people this country has.  Or in other words, I want a heavyweight.

Photo Courtesy of Warner Bros Television

Photo Courtesy of Warner Bros Television

I know that it flies in the face of what we’ve been programmed to believe, politically. We now live in a very divided America. Granted, I could suggest any number of topics from Black Lives Matter to the 2nd Amendment to Military Funding to the Economy. Chances are pretty good that anyone chosen is likely to fall any number of ways on those issues. As if we use the issues to define us. To say, I am different from you because of this. Why has that become the approach we take? Why is our default position to be combative? Black Lives Matter ALONE seems to have divided the nation in half. There is no middle ground. At least 20 years ago, two adults could discuss the issue of Abortion or Gay rights or Government spending and they could have that conversation with it never getting anywhere near the verbal violence such debates incite now. The fact of the matter is and has always been that what we are arguing about are slight. We all support free elections. We all believe that all of our citizens deserve certain rights. We all want our children to grow up in safe schools where education is a priority. We all want a strong America. We just disagree on some of the nuances of how to get there. A sentiment that is beautifully articulated by Sitting President Walken (played wonderfully by John Goodman).

Photo Courtesy of Warner Bros Television

Photo Courtesy of Warner Bros Television

This brings me to a point that is bound to rub some people the wrong way. The fact that any subject is given the distinction of being an ‘issue’ generally means it is important to enough people who it is worthy of the discussion. However, I have always seen ‘issues’ as rankable and not just some grocery list absent of order. Towards the top, we are always going to have ‘issues’ like the economy, education, taxes, citizen’s rights, foreign policy, right to choose, and military issues. Those and some others have always inhabited the top. In sports rankings we tend to refer to that as the top tier. Grouping certain things of like importance together.

It may not be an important first step, but it seems logical that certain issues should take a back seat. To cite specific instances from The West Wing (just for the fun of it), changing the name of North Dakota to just “Dakota”, Topography Equality, Legal protection against the burning of the American Flag, campaign finance reform, a ‘wolves-only’ highway, all should not be the thing that derails your opinion of a would be public servant. Now yes, some of that is done to make light of the point I’m trying to make. But I have run into many of the “Amy Gardner’s” or “Lt. Commander Jack Reese’s” of the world. Those who will weigh one thing that is particular or special to them allowing them to rationalize the derailing of bigger issues.

Yes, the amount of money set aside for Military spending would be important to someone like Lt. Commander Reese. But should that really be the deal breaker? Reese in the show cites military spending as the end all be all for why he planned to vote for Ritchie (Bartlet’s opponent in the re-elect). Similarly, Amy Gardner. Amy is actually one of only a handful of characters among the 250 some recurring characters on this show I admittedly ‘hate’. Mary Louise Parker is a very attractive woman, but politically speaking, I have a problem with anyone who has that one ‘deal breaker’ issue. In Gardner’s case the ONLY issue that existed was that of a pro-women’s issue agenda. Now that is an important and worthwhile issue to support. However, any deal breaker issue becomes a problem when it derails other positive legislation.

Referencing the show. Gardner does her level best to sink a bill that would provide revenue to the education system along with a few other very important causes because the language of the bill did not advance Gardner’s women’s issue enough. To some degree these deal breakers become weighted just as much as issues like the economy, education and foreign policy. Now I’m sure one could argue they are just as important. I would just politely argue that cannot possibly be true from an objective logical perspective.

Not all issues are equal in weight. That’s factual. How Donald Trump feels about Daylight Savings Time or how Hillary Clinton feels about Congressional Term Limits should not in any way come close to say the economic state of this country. Yet there are people who seem to put too much value in smaller issues. Maybe even issues that aren’t an urgent concern. We should be able to focus on the bigger issues and find ways to seek common ground there before tackling some smaller issues or even issues that really might not be urgent issues to begin with. A notion that was addressed shortly in an episode called, “20 Hours in LA”.

Photo Courtesy of Warner Bros Television

Photo Courtesy of Warner Bros Television

 

Let’s be perfectly clear, issues are and should be the driving determining factor for any voter. By no means am I suggesting that the issues important to me should overshadow what is important to you. What I am proposing is that we all accept that there are some macro issues that should always take priority. Consider your own financial/bills situation. There’s no one reading this I’m sure that is going to consider their Netflix bill as being more important than their mortgage. Yes after a long and stressful day at work, maybe knowing you can unwind and binge watch a little West Wing is monumentally important. But if you don’t have a home to watch it in, how important really is the Netflix subscription. Yes, I may be underselling the importance of secondary issues with that analogy, but the bigger point should be obvious.

While we’re considering the difference between big universally important issues and those that have a particular significance to an individual, can we also look to shed the combative nature of American Democratic politics? As has been mentioned previously in this article, “the things that unite us are greater than the things that divide us”. Using that idea, it’s high time we take a step back and see the bigger picture. Like an artist painting from six inches away, sometimes taking a step back can re-calibrate our perspective.

At times, the electorate are divided among issues like foreign aid, military involvement, economic bailouts for suffering countries, base closings, support of allies and potential military presence in countries that may or may not appreciate our presence. These issues and questions can often be just as divisive as social issues like a woman’s right to choose or gay rights. At the end of each of those conversations, one very obvious question needs to be asked. Are we for Freedom or are we not? Because if we are for freedom, it can’t be limited to…well anything really. The very nature of the concept of freedom is devoid of limitations.

To say that we’re for freedom within our borders or as long as it doesn’t cost us anything is contradictory to the very notion of what freedom represents. So if you think pulling out of conflicting nations is strategically recommended, don’t think we should put troops in harm’s way, or take the approach that we need to completely fix 100% of our own problems before we put even a single resource on someone else’s soil, then you have a fundamental conflict with being the democracy we are. That is perfectly fine by the way, but call it what it is. When you can realistically identify that a person is against those things just mentioned, then that person needs to come to grips with the reality that they are not for an American Democracy.

The fact of the matter is that if America is the leader of the free world. If America represents what it is supposed to represent, then every one of its citizens has to be in support of Freedom. And not just conceptually. You have to be for Freedom everywhere and for everyone. Now that same Freedom that allows us to choose our own religion, where our kids go to school, what we do for a living, also has to extend to less admired Freedoms. Burning of the flag, saying whatever one wants, the freedom of assembly. Freedom only works if its free across the board. It must also extend to Freedom for all of its citizens even if you don’t agree with other citizen’s choices. It must extend to all religions, even those absent of any such a faith at all. It must extend do those who disagree with you. And yes, it must extend to those countries and peoples who are not quite there yet. Those countries that have yet to break free from the oppressive rule of a mightier and less Freedom loving power.

Never has such a sentiment been more adequately portrayed than in the episode “Inauguration Part II: Over There”. In this fictional masterpiece, one very obvious theme is that this particular President does not, will not put American lives in danger lightly. Often there have been points of conflict. The reluctance to put soldiers into the equation almost always is overshadowed by the greater good of the pursuit of Freedom. Which absolutely is a prime virtue of this American Democracy.

Courtesy of Warner Bros. Television

Courtesy of Warner Bros. Television

As the episode progresses, it is clear that Jed Bartlet’s epiphany on whether the troops should be used to ensure those that want Freedom can pursue it, is not the end of this motif. While the President battles over to do it and risk lives vs not to and let tyranny prevail, his staff deals with a similar angle. Senior staff being what it is, is naturally concerned with the political fallout of the decision either way. Regardless of what side of the fence you may be on, Aaron Sorkin (as he does often in this series) provides a very simplistically beautiful way to see this issue. Sometimes, you just have to back up and see the whole picture. And sometimes that picture is very simple and lacks complexity.

C.J.: The guy across the street is beating up a pregnant woman. You don’t go over
and try and stop it?

TOBY: Guy across the street is beating up anybody, I like to think I go over and
try to stop it, but we’re not talking about the President going to Asia or the President
going to Rwanda or the President going to Qumar. We’re talking about the President
sending other people’s kids to do that.

C.J.: That’s always what we’re talking about, and in addition to being somebody’s
kids, they’re soldiers and sailors, and if we’re about freedom from tyranny,
then we’re about freedom from tyranny, and if we’re not, we should shut up.

TOBY: On Sunday, he’s taking an oath to ensure domestic tranquility.

C.J.: And to establish justice and promote the general welfare. Stand by while
atrocities are taking place, and you’re an accomplice.

TOBY: I’m not indifferent to that, but knuckleheaded self-destruction is never
going to burn itself out, you really want to send your kids across the street into the fire?

C.J.: Want to? No. Should I? Yes.

TOBY: Why? And don’t give me a lefty answer.

C.J.: A lefty answer is all I’ve got.

TOBY: Why are you sending your kids across the street?

C.J.: ‘Cause those are somebody’s kids, too.

Now while that may be a little lefty heavy, the sentiment remains. The very foundation of Freedom suggests that the pursuit is never over, especially when “Someone is getting beat up”. As a free nation of power and influence, we are inherently compelled to assist when Freedom or the pursuit of Freedom is threatened. An idea that is made clear yet again in the same episode. This time President Bartlet finds a way to promote Will Bailey to Deputy Communications Director and drive home the bigger point at the same time.

BARTLET: Will, I think some of these people don’t know who your dad is. Will’s the youngest son of Tom Bailey, who’s the only guy in the world with a better title than mine. He was Supreme Commander, NATO Allied Forces Europe. We didn’t know we were going
to do this. I would have asked you to invite him.

WILL: Well, you got quite a response from him watching on TV, sir. I think he’s going to reenlist.

BARTLET: Actually, I meant he could be here now when I tell you Toby’s asked me to
commission you as his deputy.

WILL: I’m sorry, sir?

BARTLET: Toby wants to make you deputy.

WILL: Pardon me?

BARTLET: I’m appointing you Deputy Communications Director. It covers a wide range
of areas of policy and execution and counsel to me.

WILL: To you… the President?

BARTLET: [to the gang] That’s what you want to hear from your new Communications–
WILL: I-I accept.

BARTLET: There’s a promise that I ask everyone who works here to make. Never doubt
that a small group of thoughtful and committed citizens can change the world. You know why?

WILL: It’s the only thing that ever has.

BARTLET: …and affixed with the Seal of the Unites States. And it is done so on this day and in this place. Congratulations.

BARTLET: [holding a piece of paper in his hand] You know, it’s easy to watch the news
and think of Khundunese as either hapless victims or crazed butchers, and it turns
out that’s not true. I got this intelligence summary this afternoon. “Mothers are standing
in front of tanks.” And we’re going to go get their backs. An hour ago, I ordered
Fitzwallace to have UCOMM deploy a brigade of the 82nd Airborne, the 101st Air Assault,
and a Marine Expeditionary Unit to Khundu to stop the violence. The 101st are the Screaming Eagles. The Marines are with the 22nd M.E.U., trained at Camp Lejuene, some of them
very recently. I’m sorry, everyone, but this is a work night.

The final point I’d like to drive home and reinforce with context from the West Wing is the nature of how we view politics in this country. The founding fathers of this country and the framers of the Constitution had a few things at the forefront of the construction of this country’s government. 1) Most decisions structurally were made in a reactionary manner to reject anything adopted from the British model (let that marinate for a moment-might alter the way you see ‘how this country was made) 2) Freedom of its citizen’s will be paramount to almost anything else. 3) The party system wasn’t instituted to divide the country but to allow the electorate the opportunity to be heard, view or debate the minority idea. Yet in 2016 within this American Democracy, we have grown not only divisive but almost angry and combative. The divisions are stark and clear. With the addition of the 24 hour news cycle and social media making the world smaller, we have taken a structure meant to encourage debate and the sharing of ideas and have replaced it with emotion filled, borderline verbally abusive tactics to convey that I am right and you are wrong.

Cable news might be the worst contributor to this notion. Any number of networks claiming to be fair and balanced or always in pursuit of the truth, when in fact, those ideas are conceptually false. Fox News is not fair and balanced as they admittedly support a strict adherence to the Conservative agenda. CNN is not the most trusted name in news either as they can’t be completely trusted if they are slanting left consistently. Ever want to have a great bit of fun during an election? Watch the cable news coverage of that election based on who is losing. Watching those anchors and analysts fidgeting in their chairs as if they are actually watching the end of the world is entertaining no matter who you are. So instead of shaping our news coverage based on a model that would more likely mirror the sense of the founding fathers encouraging debate and the explanation of perspective…our news media takes sides.

Now the influence of news media may not mean a great deal to each individual’s decision. It is fair to assume that most of the electorate can read between the lines. However, the presentation of this ‘sharing of ideas’ (if we can even call it that anymore) has illustrated just how far we’ve fallen. For me it started with the McLaughlin Group back in the 1980s and it continued from there from everything from Meet the Press to Face the Nation to each and every hosted program on cable news. Go watch Anderson Cooper or Bill O’Reilly (no spin zone, that’s funny) without noticing one person disrespectfully talking over the other. From a tv production standpoint, what we see now unconditionally assists more than anything else into this condition we find ourselves in. My beliefs are what’s right in the world while your beliefs (if they differ at all from mine) are stupid and therefore what’s wrong with the world. The day I hear a cable news anchor/host say, “That is a fair point, no allow me to counter.” is the day I will get off this news soapbox.

The 24-hour news cycle, social media, advances in technology and a society that is often fearful that the world is getting progressively worse and worse with each passing year all contribute to an angrier electorate. Now while I’ve heard “worst election ever” each and every election I’ve witnessed since George Herbert Walker Bush, I do believe that this 2016 election is actually the worst. Now, again, I am not referring to the candidates themselves. Granted, I could make that argument as well, but that isn’t the focus of this piece. The shear vitriol that the voters seem to be throwing at each other is the bigger issue. I am a dog person. However, I can absolutely understand and grant the notion that there are people who would prefer to be cat people. Not my choice, but cat people are not lesser people. They are not heathens for preferring cats. They are not sub-human for not wanting to choose dogs over cats. While the analogy is simplistic is it really that unrealistic? Of course not. It only seems ridiculous because of how we approach political conversations amongst ourselves. We have conditioned ourselves somewhere in the last 25-50 years that those that disagree with us are stupid and a detriment to this country as opposed to viewing the conversation as an opportunity to evaluate all perspectives.

The perspective extends further than conversations at the work coffee machine or the danish cart. It is apparent that the voters are not the only ones taking an adversarial view. The very leaders we elect also subscribe to this idea of Party over Country. At every step we should be asking “is this best for the country” and the sad thing is that question is never asked in all honesty. The question generally comes down to “is this best for the party”? The two-party system has become a contact sport. Democrat vs Republican and there needs to be one clear winner and one clear loser. Thus, is our problem.

I will give one very hot bed example. Apologies in advance, this is not the political portion of this piece either just a random issue that is very divisive and should identify the point. The slight alteration to the second amendment to hopefully decrease the number of mass shootings and violent crimes or refusing to even talk about the second amendment because no one wants to make any sort of legislative compromise even if it means saving American lives. Now I’m not saying that gun control will eliminate violent crimes. I am also not saying that to fix the problem we must remove 100% of guns. However, the bigger point to be made is that even an issue such as gun control that has very clearly drawn lines of support vs opposition should still create some level of compromising discussion. However, I dare you to bring that up in a public forum and count the seconds that pass before people resort to name calling and profanity.

We have become angry and party-centric. The two-party system wasn’t created to inspire adversaries. It was created to appropriate all perspectives into the dialogue. Yet, the government and the people who vote them in all seem to be on the same page. It’s almost brand loyalty at this point. If party A is not the winner, then they must be the loser. That’s where the concept needs to change. We all, from voters to The President need to all get on board with the idea that we collectively should be making decisions that benefit all and not just those that belong to one party over the other. The West Wing has been a beacon for what we should strive for, not what we currently are. And yes, I know, some of what is seen in this series is unrealistic and ideological. However, a great deal of it is not that far-fetched and should be the inspiration for what we hope to be.

Both sides should see ways to identify with the other. We should be able to shed the party-centric mentality and give credit where credit is due. Not everything needs to be an opportunity to advance one party past the other. Never should ‘beating the other side’ be a motivating factor, but it often is. We should in every way, every conversation be trying to advance the country not the party. Anything less than that is irresponsible.

AINSLEY: Well, it President Bartlet, I’m on the government payroll. And I believe that politics should stop at the water’s edge. To be honest with you, I think it should stop well before that but it turns out there’s no Santa Claus and Elvis isn’t cutting records anymore. See, I don’t think you think the treaty’s bad, I don’t think you think it’s good, I think you want to beat the White House.

KEENE: Yeah.

AINSLEY: You’re a schmuck, Peter. Today, tomorrow, next year, next term, these guys’ll  have the treaty ratified and they’ll do it without the reservations he just offered to discuss
with you.

Every now and then, there is a moment where the above is not the sentiment shared. Go to any travesty, any devastation that befalls this country because it befalls all of it equally. 9/11, mass shootings (at least before they became so frequent that we are almost desensitized to it), or any natural disaster. Americans come together. Without hesitation or qualification. Why does it take tragedy to bring out the inner American in most Americans? Well, the artistry in some of what Sorkin creates is Art imitating Life almost literally. We won’t even mention how the young, engaging minority democrat wins in a Presidential election over the old white republican Congressional stalwart and go straight to a story line commonly referred to “The 25th”.

In “the 25th” we discover the President’s youngest daughter has been kidnapped. The President is so beside himself over the issue at hand that he acknowledges that he is unable to preside over the country objectively. He does what he must and invokes the 25th Amendment turning over the office of the President to the next person in the line of succession. In this case, that would involve turning over his office to the highest ranking official on the other team. Yet, Sorkin again finds another way to articulate the approach we should have and not the current approach we cling to.

Courtesy of Warner Bros Television

Courtesy of Warner Bros Television

The West Wing on its own, in a vacuum is the greatest achievement in television history. Beyond that simple idea it continues to breed more than that. New information presents itself with each viewing. It may have you question your convictions or maybe it will solidify them. It is more than a show. I could go on and on about the genius of Aaron Sorkin, but that’s not what this is about. Ask me later, I have no hesitation in discussing the West Wing on any level relating it to any topic, but for another time I guess. Beyond the obvious form of entertainment which it swings for the fences at every turn, it is the ideology of what we as Americans engaged in the political process should constantly strive for. Even the show is not perfect. It is not a documentary about political utopia. But it does consistently show how people of differing perspectives can come together for the greater good. Or put in other words, “The West Wing can serve as an oasis from our own political madness” or at least the current level of political madness of the 2016 Presidential Election seems to be.

Courtesy of Warner Bros Television

Courtesy of Warner Bros Television

Courtesy of the BBC and PBS Masterpiece Theater

Courtesy of the BBC and PBS Masterpiece Theater

After what has become typical to the Sherlock fandom, we are given a new episode to the BBC gem after a two year layoff. Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman bring something very special to the screen in this version of the Arthur Conan Doyle classic. Quite possibly the best version made to date. If you haven’t seen a single episode of this version yet, feel free to start with tonight’s, “The Abominable Bride”. As it is believed to be a little of a one-off and a throwback to the traditional image of Sherlock Holmes. Not necessarily an outlier, but the kind of episode that could wet your whistle without giving away too much from previous episodes. Then perhaps, you can join the rest of us and binge the episodes you’ve missed before season 4 kicks off in earnest. For those not new to the BBC Sherlock, welcome to the NJATVS coverage of this incredible show.

I have no intention of giving any details prior to air time, so no spoiler alert is necessary. In part because, in this household, we have been waiting for this episode with a significant degree of anticipation. Like any new highly anticipated show or movie (refer to any social media commentary surrounding Star Wars The Force Awakens spoilers), I want to view this with unbiased eyes. If this is the first you’re hearing about this episode on this air date, I will give you the vague episode synopsis:

~Spoiler Alert~

Sherlock on Masterpiece – The Abominable Bride
1/1/16 S4 Ep1 – In 1895 London, Holmes and Watson tackle a ghostly case: the apparition of a woman who committed suicide seems to be on a revenge-inspired rampage.

It goes without saying that Sherlock on PBS Masterpiece tonight (in the US) or BBC elsewhere (check local listings) is must see tv. For the first time in a while, the Mrs. and I have scheduled our day around seeing this episode. We politely suggest you do the same. And of course, at its conclusion and the conclusion of future Sherlock episodes, come back here to NJATVS for all of your Sherlock coverage.

Courtesy of The BBC

Courtesy of The BBC

Photo Courtesy Of NBC

Photo Courtesy Of NBC

Warning: Spoiler Alert

Not all soldiers contain the qualities to become Generals. In fact the skill sets of an exemplary soldier and an effective General likely couldn’t be more at odds with each other. A good soldier never questions orders and does what ever it takes to fulfill the mission even if it means sacrificing their life in the process. An effective General or leader of any kind needs to be able to react to changing conditions and adapt their plans accordingly. There’s too much knowledge and experience within a leader to sacrifice easily. Soldiers are easily replaceable, however wise veteran leaders aren’t.

If you’re a fan of the NBC series “The Blacklist,” you’ve seen this dynamic in place throughout the show’s third season. FBI Agent Donald Ressler got pressed into running the FBI Task Force, formerly lead by Harold Cooper and Ressler’s first mission’s been attempting to capture his former partner, former agent Elizabeth Keen. Before the series took it’s winter hiatus in November, Ressler took Lizzie into custody and likely put her life in great jeopardy.

Ressler believes that his former partner’s innocent and has gotten set-up by the Cabal, a shadow government that secretly pulls all the strings that have caused the greatest catastrophes of our lifetimes. The group’s made up of leaders of governments and industries across the planet and lead by the CIA Director Peter Kotsiopolus whose usually referred to as The Director. The Cabal’s infested the halls of power in the United States Government, with the President’s NSA Director Laurel Hitchin’s among their ranks. She executed Deputy Attorney General Reven Wright, after Wright revealed she knew some potentially incriminating information.

Meanwhile Ressler naïvely sits back thinking he’s winning Hitchin’s confidence and she’ll soon start taking his side over that of The Director’s. Donald Ressler’s a good man who truly wants to the right thing, however he’s way over his head right now in shark-infested waters. Because he’s been trained his entire career to think within certain parameters, he lacks the skills he needs to think outside-the-box and being able to adjust strategy as the situation changes. Those skills are absolutely essential to being a good leader, we shall see if Ressler takes advice either from Raymond Reddington or Harold Cooper once the series returns on January 7.

That failure to adapt to the situation and to realize that sometimes you have to deal with the lesser of two evils to salvage a situation, has led Donald to feel betrayed by his former boss Harold Cooper. Both share a severe dislike of the man they know as Tom Keen, however only Cooper was smart enough not to turn an asset away in time of need. After Tom approached Ressler in his apartment building about helping clearing Lizzie’s name and Ressler told him to leave immediately, Cooper sought Keen out. Tom’s completed his mission capturing the Russian spy Karakurt and forcing him to admit that he’s responsible for all the crimes Lizzie’s being charged with.

Meanwhile Cooper’s got to be feeling pretty betrayed himself right about now, as his wife Charlene decided that in the midst of trying to get Karakurt to the proper authorities that it was the perfect time to reveal to her husband that she had an affair a couple of years before. Was this her way of getting back at her husband for involving her in the dangerous situation they’re attempting to complete? Or did Charlene simply have a nervous breakdown due to the stress of the situation and that just tumbled out of her mouth?

When the series does return to TV on January 7, reports have surfaced that the first two episode will revolve around The Director Peter Kotsiopolus. David Strathairn who portrays The Director’s a first-rate actor that came to my attention in the late seventies and he’s added several amazing performances to his resume since then. Having Strathairn just appearing along the sidelines for about the last year’s like having a Porsche up on blocks in the garage. I can’t wait to see what he does with all the time allotted to him.

The Director decided to take a gamble in season two that backfired badly. He decided to chance that Raymond Reddington was bluffing when he claimed to have access to The Fulcrum, a blackmail file that if released would put many members of the Cabal in certain danger. Red obtained the file last season and flew in the planet’s most renowned Investigative-Journalists and gave them each a copy.

Kotsiopolus and other Cabal members have attempted to discredit the information revealed in those documents ever since and the Cabal’s not happy that The Director’s gamble failed so badly. Enter one Matias Solomon, the hitman/enforcer/messenger for the Cabal, Solomon just enjoys killing it doesn’t really matter to him who the victim is. He’d just as soon slit The Director’s throat as he would Raymond Reddington, just depends on which way the wind’s blowing.

Elizabeth Keen will get imprisoned in that same glass cell that Ressler and Red got locked in during the first season, until Raymond agreed to surrender to save Lizzie’s life. Ressler’s promised his former partner he’d protect her while in his custody. How much help will he need from this bizarre lineup that now comprises Team-Reddington?

We’re well aware that Raymond would without hesitation trade his life for Lizzie’s, we’re also well aware that The Blacklist recently inked a contract for a fourth season. Without Lizzie and or Raymond there’s no longer a series, so we know going in that they’ll both survive. However this show’s already displayed they’ll sacrifice a regular cast member if they consider it necessary. They ended the first season with the death of series regular Meera Malik, killed by Reddington’s foe Berlin.

Could Ressler, Samar Navabi, Aram or Harold Cooper be sacrificed this season? Or what about Ryan Eggold who portrays good-looking bad-buy Tom Keen? The happy ending that Liz told Red about earlier this season, about her accompanied by her husband and child walking serenely through some small town square will never happen if she stays with Tom/Jacob. Which means more to her, those dreams or her former husband? We’ll start getting answers to those and other questions in just over two-weeks.

The Story Continues January 7, at 9:00 pm on NBC.

Courtesy of ABC Family, Hallmark Channel and Lifetime

Courtesy of ABC Family, Hallmark Channel and Lifetime

ABC Family, Hallmark, and Lifetime Need To Refocus And Get Back
To Quality Christmas Movies Without Agenda.

 
This is the time of the calendar year when new, live television is hard to come by. My generally jovial disposition and affection for the holidays naturally lends itself to cranking out Holiday and television related articles. However, not every holiday season is created equal. Now sure, you put up a tree (or other specific decor) every year. You make and consume a fair amount of the same foods every year. There are even can’t miss traditions that happen every year. But each year is not created equal.

One of my many traditions is that I watch nothing but holiday/Christmas programming from the week of Thanksgiving through the end of December. Now there are shows that I cover for this website and as long as they put out new episodes, of course I will watch those. Outside of that, Christmas all the time. I don’t watch late night talk shows, documentaries, mini series’, news magazine shows, if it’s not scripted new episodes or Christmas tv/movies, it can wait until January. On top of that, I have a stable of Christmas movies and music loaded on my mobile devices. I really don’t have any need for anything else, but as I said, not all holiday seasons are created equal.

Every year you can count on Miracle on 34th Street, It’s A Wonderful Life, Christmas Vacation, Home Alone, Scrooged, A Christmas Carol, and of course 24 hours of A Christmas Story. Those a great, literally. Those are first ballot Christmas Movie Hall of Famers. Television networks pay good money for the rights to air those. The question is, “What do you do with the other 90% of the Christmas viewing time?” You find other, non-classics, holiday movies on television to enjoy. Some of them are cheesy, some are heartwarming, some are cute and some are just flat-out bad. Over the years though, by and large, the made for TV holiday movies are pretty good on the whole.

2013 is a great example. In 2013 Hallmark Channel really began to separate itself from the Holiday network pack. In one season, Hallmark released A Very Merry Mix Up, Catch A Christmas Star, Fir Crazy, Hats Off To Christmas, Let It Snow, Snow Bride, The Christmas Ornament, and a personal favorite Window Wonderland. Window Wonderland I would put on any Christmas Movies list, regardless of status, budget or type. That same year ABC Family put out a couple new-made for TV movies but none to the level of what Hallmark was doing. Holidaze was cute. It’s a little Vice Versa, a little daytime soap, with a healthy sprinkling of It’s A Wonderful Life. Probably not even in the top half of made for TV Christmas movies of the last 15 years though. ABC Family also tried to maximize viewers coming off of the success of Glee and Pitch Perfect, the released The Mistle-Tones. A movie that combines group performance singing with Christmas themes. I don’t personally like it, but I understand why they thought they needed to make it.

2015 has been a complete snooze fest. On the surface, nothing seems out-of-place. Candace Cameron-Bure, Lacey Chabert (always fighting it out for Queen of Christmas movies), and even Danika McKellar (Winnie Cooper from the Wonder Years) makes a couple of appearances. There is a Debbie Macomber presence, always welcomed. And there are a stable of movies starring someone you thought was too good to do made for tv movies. Brandon Routh doing the Nine Lives of Christmas last year (which was GREAT), for example. All the mainstays and typical details one tends to look for are there. A bad example is Judd Nelson playing Santa in the forgettable Cancel Christmas. Judd Nelson is too harsh to pull off a jolly St. Nick.
This year has been completely forgettable. Take away the classics that Networks run and what you’re left with is a not very compelling holiday lineup. With movies like Ice Sculpture Christmas, Christmas Incorporated, A Christmas Detour and I’m Not Ready For Christmas…I’m not ready to devote any of my free time to watching these movies. Now I love my Queens of Christmas. I will give anything with Lacey Chabert, Candace Cameron-Bure, and especially Danica McKellar a chance. But I just can’t do some of these. Attention Hallmark, ABC Family and Lifetime…How many ‘real American girl discovers her boyfriend is really a prince’ movies are we gonna make. A Princess for Christmas was great. A Royal Christmas was still really good. I can’t get through Crown For Christmas. I’m sure it’s not as bad as I’m making it seem, but seriously, how many times are we going to do the same movie? This is especially disheartening because Danica McKellar is a part of one of the best made for TV Christmas movies of all time, Love at the Christmas Table.

The saving grace is that I, like a lot of families, have a young one who is focusing on the classics…as he should. Rudolph, Frosty, Twas the Night Before Christmas (all the Rankin and Bass classics), all of the Claymation specials (Misfit Toys, Christmas without Santa, etc), the Grinch, and his personal favorite, The Polar Express. What can I say, my son is crazy for anything with trains. So generally speaking, I don’t have the time to give each new made for tv Christmas movie a chance. All I know is that the ones I have given a chance to, have been overwhelmingly disappointing.
The bigger issue is not that they have missed the mark, the bigger issue is why? I think I have a theory.

I am a Christmas degenerate. I jokingly tell people that Halloween is the speed bump preventing me from starting the Christmas ‘Holiday Season’ earlier. I can find joy and comfort in just about anything from November through December. Even these teens and single digit temps we’ve been having out here lately. There is one detail that prevents me from being any other viewer during this time. There is no amount of money you can throw at marketing, no video promo you can air, no hint you can drop that will even for a moment come close to turning me into a year-long viewer of networks like Hallmark, Lifetime or ABC Family. Hell even changing their name to Freeform (Jan. 12) will not bring me to the formerly known as ABC Family. It just isn’t going to happen. Hate to break it to you, I do not care in the least about Pretty Little Liars. I don’t care about Cedar Cove. And you can’t make me care about Dance Moms or the next man hating Lifetime original movie. It just is not going to happen. I honestly could not possibly care any less than I already do about those networks unless they are airing Christmas content.

In the past I’ve made a minor fuss about stuffing their non-holiday programming down our throats. Now I wish that’s all it was. Whether by design or a friendly coincidence, these networks have gone from trying to maximize new viewers by running their non-holiday promos during holiday programming to actually altering the way they make their holiday movies to resemble how they make their non-holiday shows and movies. My biggest fear is that ten years from now, we’ll look back and say, “Those were the good ole days, 1999-2013”. There is a reason why people like me don’t watch those networks for 10 months out of the year, but go binge crazy during the remaining 2 months. When they were making heartwarming, cute, clever holiday movies for the sole purpose of maximizing viewers during the Christmas/Holiday months, they made magic (considering budget, cast and other factors), maybe it was lightning in a bottle. Or maybe that’s no longer good enough and someone in a board room decided to use this window to maximize opportunity.

My theory is that winning Christmas is no longer good enough for the Christmas Big 3. Would it be nice if some preteen watching Elf saw a promo for The Fosters and decided to watch it when it started its new season after the Holidays? Or maybe a retired government employee decided to give Project Runway a real chance. What these networks need to understand is that the bulk of their Christmas/Holiday viewers are never, will never consider watching their networks the rest of the year. And for good reason. If we liked what they put out, the countdown to Christmas stuff would just be icing on the cake. I believe they are slowly changing the way the make these movies, how the characters react, the temperament of the movies and even the subject matter of these movies to resemble what they make for the other 10 months of the year.

ABC Family (Freeform), Hallmark and Lifetime…understand what you are. Maximize that and try not to bite off more than you can chew. There is nothing wrong with being a heavyweight ratings wise during the holiday season and being a featherweight the rest of the time. I am a scripted network fiction, sports, new release movie type of viewer most of the time. I am not your demographic most of the year. Unless you’re going to start airing some new Tuesday Night Football or plan on bringing back Constantine, there’s nothing you can do that will interest me come February.

My advice to our readers is to do what makes you happy this time of year. That and focus on the classics this year. Hopefully I’m wrong and this is an uncharacteristically bad year for made for TV Christmas/Holiday movies. Watch them if you want. I don’t mean to stop you. But if you’re time is limiting or you’ve been wondering why none of these seem to interest you, stick to the classics this year. A Christmas Story, Vacation, Home Alone, Polar Express, The Grinch and of course all of the musical and animated specials we all love so much. Stick to what we know to be great and try again next year, hoping for improved results.

Photo Courtesy Of Nicole Rivelli/ FOX

Photo Courtesy Of Nicole Rivelli/FOX

Warning: Spoiler Alert

Normally a recap would be filling this space as the FOX network aired their final episode of “Gotham,” for 2015, as the show will go on hiatus and return with new episodes in February. Regular readers of these pages are well aware that I have a soft-spot for “Comic-Book Series” in general and I’ve written before that I believed that Gotham had the potential to be the best of the lot. Since the series is a prequel to Batman, the show’s creators and writers have been able to put their twist on a tale that first appeared in Detective Comics in 1939.

When you decide to reboot an iconic story, there’s certainly room for some flexibility in the new version. We’ve seen Jimmy Olsen morph from a freckle-faced ginger-haired photographer into a Black Man in the CBS show “Supergirl,” and the change got accepted eagerly by the fans. Jeri Hogarth is a shark in stilettos in the new Netflix series “Jessica Jones,” even though the character’s a man within the pages of Marvel Comics. These are minor changes that leave the big picture unchanged and even the staunchest traditionalist won’t be bothered by moves like that.

However over the last decade or so, we’ve seen the creative community expand their visions of familiar tales by breaking continuity with what should be hard and fast rules. You can set Robin Hood in ancient China populated by Shaolin Monks or in Alaska with a cast of Eskimos, as long as you stick to the constant. Robin Hood takes from the rich and gives to the poor, want to change those parameters then give your story and characters other names.

Back in 2013 director Zack Snyder released “Man Of Steel,” the reboot of the Superman series and broke continuity with every other version of the tale ever told. One of the changes was relatively minor and likely scoffed at by the casual fan, the fact that the Son Of Krypton grew a beard on Earth. Kal-El/Superman’s beard not growing on Earth’s been a constant through comic-books, Radio and TV shows and in movies since the character’s creation.

The second deviation from the “Superman Bible,” however altered the character and made this version of Kal-El different from all his predecessors. Kal-El broke the neck of his Kryptonian opponent General Zod, killing him and violating one of foundation blocks of tale of Superman. Superman Never Kills. There’s no room for negotiation in that statement. Zack Snyder’s creation can never truly be Superman in my eyes.

Which brings us back full-circle to the subject at hand, the final episode of Gotham for 2015.  The creators of this series can play as hard and fast with the characters as they choose to, however when the series airs its final episode when ever that occurs certain paths have to remain unchanged. Selina Kyle will grow-up to become Catwoman, Alfred Pennyworth will live to see Bruce Wayne go deeply into his adult years. Of course Bruce will either be on his way or actually donning his cape and cowl in the series finale and Jim Gordon will become the Commissioner of the Gotham City Police Department.

Everything else is up for grabs, they can throw a fake Joker on the screen and the fans will accept it. They can give young Bruce a doomed romance that forever affects his heart. They can have Harvey Bullock turn on Gordon and fall back into the corrupt cesspool that Jim first found him floating in. However they can’t alter those four tent-pole storylines, otherwise it’s a different tale.

The majority of the episode entitled “Worse Than A Crime,” was fast paced, gripping and entertaining as it all came down to a battle between Theo Galavan and the Brothers from the Order Of The Dumas and Jim Gordon, Alfred, Harvey, Cat, Penguin and his crew to save Bruce Wayne from imminent execution. Galavan sneaks away as Team-Gordon takes out all their opponents, culminating in the death of Father Creel as Harvey finally reaches the battle after struggling with the stairs.

At this point the story turned sideways and though it seemed puzzling one could make sense out of it. The only ways out for Theo, his sister Tabitha and his niece Silver are by greeting the police or by parasailing out of their penthouse window. Problem’s they only have two chutes and three people who need to escape. Theo expresses his disappointment in his niece and goes to choke her but he’s stopped as Tabitha comes up from behind and knocks him out with a blow to the top of his skull. Suddenly a devoted sister turns on her benefactor brother, without any real indicators? Strange but acceptable.

However what came next was not as Gordon finds Galavan in his office and tells the Mayor that he’s under arrest and to cuff himself. Galavan smiles and says you scared me there for a minute I thought you were going to shoot me. Gordon says this time he’s not getting away and Theo asks the detective if he’d like to wager on that, as that’s what Jim thought the last time he arrested him. The detective glares at Theo and says maybe he’s right and perhaps he should guarantee that Galavan never sees freedom again and puts his service revolver against the billionaire’s head. Galavan goes into begging mode quickly saying he was just talking big.

Just then Gordon’s commander Captain Nathaniel Barnes arrives on the scene with a uniform and orders Gordon to step away from Galavan. Barnes earlier in the episode issued a warrant for Gordon’s arrest, not knowing where his detective was located and he’d been charged with assaulting Galavan, still the city’s mayor. Barnes tells Gordon to put his service revolver on the floor and to put his hands on his head until Barnes gets the stories straight. Seconds later Barnes hits the floor as Penguin’s snuck up from behind him and hit him in the head knocking him out.

Cobblepot tells Gordon they can’t just let Galavan go through the system again and once again get set free. He reminds Gordon that he’s got all the judges in his pocket and he’d soon be back in his penthouse and running the city. We then see Gordon opening the trunk of a car and helping Galavan to his feet. Theo says you’re a moral man Jim, you’ll regret this and Gordon says he has greater things to regret than him. Penguin raises a baseball bat over Galavan as he lies on the sand near the ocean and says this is for his mother and beats Theo until the mayor pleads for his death. Gordon lets Oswald hit him another couple of times and then screams enough. He then pulls out his service revolver and executes Theo Galavan.

Gordon meets Lee Thompkins in a park, he sent her out-of-town just before the gunfight. She told him she’s carrying his child and he was about to leave Gotham City with her when he found out Bruce Wayne got kidnapped by Galavan. She sits on a cement bench and he walks over to her  and says it’s all over then asks her to marry him.

Do the creators of Gotham expect the audience to accept this brutal execution as part of the baptism by fire that helped shape James Gordon into the man who’ll become Commissioner of the GCPD. Gordon killed a man earlier in the season when he did a favor for Penguin to get reinstated on the force, but that was in self-defense. This was a premeditated act of execution and I don’t know how the character or the series recovers from this move.

I’m certain that there will be plenty of discussion from the creators of the series as well as from other observers. I’m hoping that there’s a rational explanation behind this event that allows us to forgive and to root once again for Jim Gordon.

Photo Courtesy Of USA Network

Photo Courtesy Of USA Network

WARNING: SPOILER ALERTS

We’ve all got people in our lives that takes great pride and pleasure in informing the rest of us that they don’t watch television. For those of you who keep the set off, please allow me to inform you that you’re doing yourself a great disservice. We’re living in a Platinum-Age of the medium with series emanating from a variety of sources, that’s helping to redefine television. One of those series at the top of the freshman class was the USA Network Original Drama “Mr. Robot,” that concluded its first season on Wednesday night, leaving viewers chomping at the bit for the show to return next summer.

Series Creator and Show-Runner Sam Esmail created a universe eerily like our own, complete with a stock-market reeling from vast fluctuations and the Ashley Madison scandal. (When the site that existed only to aid people in committing adultery got mentioned, I wondered if the scene between Gloria Reuben and Armand Shultz had recently been re-shot.) We left Esmail’s universe in complete chaos, mainly due to the efforts of a brilliant but deeply damaged computer programmer named Elliot Alderson. Elliot and his rag-tag band of fellow hackers, along with the assistance of a Chinese group known as the Dark Army, destroyed the global-economic-system. The moves of “f_society,” erased all debt and grounded commerce to a halt. The world became a cash-only system, as credit-cards were rendered useless.

That’s the big-picture view, but this is a story that examined the seemingly innocuous, unimportant, people that sent the planet on a downward spiral. Although Elliot Alderson’s our central character and anti-hero, he was just one of the incredible characters we met along this journey. We met lots of bad folks over the course of ten-weeks, some who hailed from the streets to those at the top of the economic and power structures of our world. However, we never met one person that could qualify as being truly good, even with the most sympathetic characters, we saw the darkness inside them and the demons they battle daily.

We’ve got to remember that we’ve viewed this universe mainly through the eyes of Elliot, so any conclusions we come to at the end of season one, could be refuted early next season. Even with that being stated, I think we can safely assume that the scenes revolving around Angela, the Wellicks and E-Corp were indeed real, including that mind-blowing segment after the credits rolled in the season finale. That reveal’s pretty mind-blowing, as we watch White Rose dressed in male-attire talking with E-Corp Chairman Phillip Price, we realize that everything’s indeed connected. That the person who pats you on the back with one hand, could easily be sticking a shiv into your belly with the other seconds later.

Photo Courtesy Of USA Network

Photo Courtesy Of USA Network

BD Wong the actor that portrayed the transgender character White Rose, only appeared on the screen for a precious few minutes during the ten episode run, but perhaps no other character in the series could make our collective draws drop during that conversation with Price in the final scene of the season. White Rose talks of Nero playing a lyre while Rome burned, then compares that anecdote to the harpist playing “Nearer My God To Thee,” for the One Percent in the room they’re in, the same song that played as the Titanic went down. We saw White Rose speaking for the Dark Army for three-minutes in episode seven wearing women’s clothes as she spoke with Elliot about his planned hack of E-Corp’s servers, telling Alderson that while he hacked people, White Rose hacks time. The connection became complete, when White Rose’s watch alarm sounded in the middle of her conversation with Price, letting us know that White Rose works both sides of the street in her business dealings.

Photo Courtesy Of USA Network

Photo Courtesy Of USA Network

Many of us figured out early on that Mr. Robot was actually an extension of Elliot, personified in the form of his late father Edward who died in 1995. He took on the role that Elliot couldn’t handle, being the Alpha-Male Leader and devising a plan to destroy the company that killed his father, while saving the world. What we didn’t realize until the series progressed, was just how mentally unbalance Elliot actually is, forgetting that Darlene’s his sister and realizing he’s blacked out the memories of the previous three days in the season finale. He’s got no memory of putting the hack into motion and perhaps more unnervingly, he’s clueless about the whereabouts and welfare of Tyrell Wellick. The former E-Corp executive paid Alderson a surprise visit and forced him to reveal his plans in the previous episode. Did Elliot shoot Wellick with the pistol stored in the popcorn machine?

Photo Courtesy Of USA Network

Photo Courtesy Of USA Network

Alderson did speak with Wellick’s wife Joanna about Tyrell and she said she hadn’t seen him in the last three days. She asked Elliot his identity and relationship with her husband. He responded that he worked with her husband as a consultant and told her his name’s Ollie, stealing the moniker of his friend Angela’s former boyfriend. During their conversation she suddenly spoke in what sounded like her native Dutch, but neither we or Elliot understood what she was saying. Does she secretly hope that Tyrell’s dead as he’s unable to fix the mistakes he made?

Elliot decides that the only way he can fill in the gaps in his memory, is to summon back Mr. Robot. After screaming for him to appear, Elliot forces the issue by dialing 911 and saying he wanted to make a confession. Suddenly we see Mr. Robot hanging up the land line, although he fails to offer any answers to his son. We finally get to view what it looks like to an outsider watching Elliot interacting with Mr. Robot. Although I imagined the scenario many times in my head over the past ten weeks, it looked even more chilling on the screen.

Photo Courtesy Of USA Network

Photo Courtesy Of USA Network

The one character that seemed to stick to her principles in order to gain justice Angela Moss, finally succumbed to the dark side in the season finale. Angela sacrificed her reputation and career in the tech industry to make a deal with Terry Colby so that he’d testify that E-Corp held responsibility for her mother and Elliot’s father’s death among others. However Colby convinced her to take a job in the public relations department of E-Corp, leading her to being present at a horrific event as E-Corp executive James Plouffe took a pistol from his suitcase and shot himself in the mouth during a nationally televised interview. Most times in those situations, we’ll see the character put a pistol in their mouth and the camera pans to a wall, that wasn’t the case with Plouffe as we saw the results of his actions.

Photo Courtesy Of USA Network

Photo Courtesy Of USA Network

A while later, we see Angela approached by Phillip Price who tells her she can feel free to go home after witnessing Plouffe’s suicide, but then he realizes who she is. She says they’re holding a press conference later that day and suggests she attend. Flustered by his seemingly callous suggestion, she says she thinks not, he proceeds to pull a bankroll out of his pocket and slams some bills down on the table in front of them. He says that she needs new shoes, as the ones she’s wearing are stained by Plouffe’s blood.

Courtesy Of USA Network

Courtesy Of USA Network

Instead of heading home Angela heads to a shoe store, where the shoe salesman figures out she just came from the room Plouffe shot himself in and asks her what she’s doing there and then asks how can she work for E-Corp. She starts to explain herself, but stops and then tells the salesman she’ll try on the Prada’s next. She’s become Terry Colby, getting drunk and eating shrimp-cocktail, while talking about sentencing Angela’s mother and others to death.

She returns to E-Corp for the press conference and Price’s glad to see her and lets her see the man behind the curtain. She tells Moss that in reality, he’s glad Plouffe killed himself and he thinks the world’s a better place now that he’s left it. He then excuses himself to take the podium and asks those in attendance to bow their heads in a moment of silence for their lost friend and colleague.

While the rest of  “f_society,” hosts a party in their headquarters so they can obscure their fingerprints in an investigation, Elliot heads down to Times Square and witnesses a sea of humanity standing together all wearing Mr. Robot masks. He suddenly realizes he’s got some uninvited company as well, not only his father but his mother and the eight-year-old version of his self. Little Elliot tells his adult counterpart that the three of them will stay with Elliot from here on out.

Photo Courtesy Of USA Network

Photo Courtesy Of USA Network

Elliot tries to block out all the sights and sounds so he can think, he holds his hands to his ears and suddenly he’s the only person in Times Square and it’s totally silent. That’s until he sees his family up on the Jumbotron that dominates Times Square. His father tells him to get on the subway, go home and sit behind his laptops and revel in the chaos he caused. Which he does until a knock at the door interrupts him, we’ll find out next summer whose knocking.