Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Pretty Little Liars: “FrAmed” Recap & Review

A picture says a thousand words, and “A”’s got four to showcase. Media erupts with the news of Charles DeLaurentis being named as the lead suspect for his mother’s murder and the Liars’ kidnapping. Plagued by the sweet memory of Charles’s birthday party when they were little, Alison can’t bring herself to believe that her brother would do something so vicious. Already stressed about her suspicious scholarship, Hanna doesn’t bother beating around the bush and calls out Ali on her show of sympathy towards Charles before she storms off.

Things continue to only get worse when Hanna’s mother refuses to believe “A” is behind the scholarship her daughter received, and Aria’s mother isn’t seeing eye to eye with her child either. After being chosen as a finalist in a photography contest, Aria gets the chance to have her work showcased at a local exhibit. Her hopes are squandered though when Mrs. Montgomery refuses to let her go out of safety concerns. Frustrated, Aria goes to the Brew and vents to Clark, who is all too curious in finding out more about “A”. Ezra overhears the conversation and tells Aria that he’s worried over the matter of her new friend. This inspires Aria to ask for a police escort to the art exhibit, which Detective Tanner surprisingly green lights.

With her mother’s bitter blessing, Aria prepares for her big night. She consults Emily for some fashion advice, and the two girls get to talking. Emily spills the beans about her recent fling with Sarah Harvey and the hopes of asking the pixie blonde to prom. This brings up the sore subject about whether or not the Liars will even be able to go. Apparently, the school has raised some concerns over the safety of the event if the girls were to attend, leaving all their plans in limbo.

School dances are the last things on Hanna and Spencer’s minds. The pair decides to play detective by following the money trail of Hanna’s scholarship payday, leading them to the Carissimi Group. After the duo gets inside the corporate office to personally return the gifted money, they’re introduced to the lucrative Rhys Matthews, a Jason DeLaurentis lookalike. Of course, the girls jump the gun and assume he’s Charles.

Despite Spencer wanting to keep the potential bombshell under wraps for the night, Hanna spills the beans to Emily after arriving at Aria’s art exhibit. Not wanting to spoil the evening for Aria, the girls decide to hold off telling her about Rhys. Little good it does. As the party commences, Aria’s section of the gallery is unveiled, but it’s not her work on display. Instead, it’s the staged autopsy photos “A” took of the Liars while they were drugged in the Dollhouse. Mrs. Montgomery gives Detective Tanner a verbal lashing for the police departments’ incompetence as Ezra consoles a shaken Aria. After spotting Rhys Matthews parked outside the gallery, Spencer, Emily, and Hanna sneak off and tail his car to Rosewood’s abandoned doll factory, where Clark of all people shows up to meet with him. To only make matters more complicated, the infamous Red Coat reemerges, giving tickets for senior prom to “A” from the back of a black limousine.

With just one episode away from the big “A” reveal, all the pieces of this complex puzzle should be falling into place by now. Unfortunately, more questions are begged than answers given. Newcomer Clark’s suspected betrayal leaves no impact of shock, Rhys is almost certainly nothing more than another red herring, and the melodrama woven into the plot feels like filler. Remember the good old days when PLL left you gasping? Like season 3’s midseason finale, where we discovered that Toby was part of the “A”-team, or season one’s moment when Hanna was run down by a car with “A” behind the wheel, or when Ezra was shot on the rooftop in season four. These moments sent chills coursing up our spines because we felt a connection to these characters. With the exception of the Liars and their men, all the faces in season six are unfamiliar and underdeveloped. Who are Leslie, Lorenzo, Sarah, Rhys, and Clark? Don’t ask us, because we sure as heck wouldn’t know. Why should we care? Why should we be shocked by their actions? Answer: we shouldn’t.

And that’s what’s disappointing. PLL wove a web so big that we must wonder now if it just became too big for its own good. Nowadays, everything feels like misdirection and meandering subplots. The fact that fans have to wonder if Charles is even someone the show has introduced yet is maddening. Plus, how can we forget the show runners’ trickery for advertising the season five finale as the #BigAReveal? We were promised “A”’s identity, and all we got was the meaningless name “Charles”. Really? It could have been “Bologna” at that point, because it still wouldn’t have made a difference. It meant nothing to us. That’s not a reveal. It’s an unsolved fact. Seeing as that fans have already been bamboozled before, can we really count on an honest, shocking reveal come August 11th? Guess we’ll just have to wait and see.

Pretty Little Liars - “FrAmed” Rating:  C -

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Pretty Little Liars: “Oh Brother, Where Art Thou” Recap & Review

There’s only three weeks left until the big reveal. That’s right. Five and a half seasons, and the moment is upon us where the infamous “A” will finally be unmasked. With the Liars having escaped the tortures of the Dollhouse and the police clued in on “A”, the proclaimed #SummerOfAnswers should be the crescendo of the series. All Hell should be breaking loose as all the loose ends get tied up and secrets are revealed.

What we get instead is…sweet conversations over milk and cookies, relationship woes, and what feels like the billionth failed attempt to capture “A”. Sara decides to move out of Emily’s house to be with an old friend, Aria gets into the finals of the photography competition she entered, and Hanna receives a suspicious scholarship to pay for her college tuition. Yeah, not exactly the most climatic of events. Asides from the melodrama, Alison’s father practically kidnaps his daughter and holds her up in a hotel outside of town to protect her from Charles, but Jason refuses to heed their dad’s warning to leave home. Charles leaves another birthday invitation at the DeLaurentis house, and Jason decides to meet at the disclosed location written on the card.

The Liars know what Jason is up to, so they do some amateur surgery and remove the tracking chips from their own necks. Can you say ouch? Hanna puts a tracker of her own on Jason’s car as the girls plan to follow him to the meeting. Since Charles is obviously listening in on the police frequencies, they can’t risk going to the cops. Spencer tells Toby about everything, hoping he’ll accompany them to the rendezvous point as protection. He refuses to put the girls at risk and decides to go…alone.

Alison drugs her father with sleeping pills to escape the hotel and calls 911, telling the police about Charles. Meanwhile, Jason confronts the infamous hooded figure before Toby and his partner crash the reunion. What should be a clean-cut takedown goes horribly awry though when Toby accidently winds up stoned out of his mind after eating a bagful of Spencer’s marijuana-laced candies. “A” takes out Lorenzo, leaving higher-than-a-kite Toby to trip out at the Technicolor lights of the abandoned arcade.  With both men down for the count and the Liars unable to stay away, the girls walk in on the ambush just before Rosewood P.D. raids the scene. Of course, “A” manages to get away. Insert eye roll.

What has happened to this show? When Pretty Little Liars premiered back in 2010, audiences were introduced to a teen drama whose sinister storylines left them on their toes and eager to join in on the fandom. All the theories, the intrigue, the gorgeous guys. Sure, the guys are still here, but the intrigue seems to have died…and with it, the theories. PLL started as a Desperate Housewives for a younger era mixed with the riveting cloak-and-dagger aspect in horror films like Wes Craven’s Scream. Scandalous secrets, shocking reveals, and subtle clues made fans go crazy as we all theorized over who “A” was. Everybody was a suspect. Was it Jenna, Mona, the supposedly dead Alison, Wren, Ian, one of the Liars? The list went on and on.

But now there’s Charles. Is he even someone we’ve already been introduced to? Or is he just someone the writers invented last minute? These questions terrify fans the most. Did we sit through five years of an intricately woven web only for the creators to pull a 2012’s Gone on us? Were all those red herrings pointless? Did we spend all that time theorizing over a person we never even knew? This once promising #SummerOfAnswers has turned into a summer of frustration. Who came up with that hashtag anyway? Absolutely none of our questions have been answered. If things don’t improve by the midseason finale, this series might be looking at some dismal ratings when the show returns in January.

Pretty Little Liars - “Oh Brother, Where Art Thou” Rating:  D +

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Pretty Little Liars - “No Stone Unturned” Recap & Review

Grand theft auto, computer chip implants, creepy messages, and some serious smooching. Sounds like Rosewood’s in for one hell of a ride…or so you’d think. The show opens up on a rather unintentionally hilarious note. Alison’s father heads outside to pick up the mail and notices an envelope tucked under the windshield wipers of his car. He takes it and finds a birthday card inside, apparently not liking what’s written in it. Mr. DeLaurentis looks up and down the street, seeing Emily heading in his direction on her bike. Blatantly freaked out, he stops her, demanding to know if she saw who put the card on his car.

And this is where the laughter comes in. Given that Emily was coming up the street after you already found the card, common sense would tell you that she saw even less than you did, Mr. D. So unless Emily’s normal cycling routine consists of her creepily driving up and down your block repeatedly for an hour straight, she’s obviously not going to be much help.

From there, the episode takes a turn to the land of fluff and run-time padding. Hanna and Caleb continue squabbling following their “on a break” breakup before rekindling their romance with a hot and heavy make-out session on Hanna’s bed. Emily’s given the chance to go to Thailand for humanitarian work, but she ultimately turns it down to stay in Rosewood with Sarah who she shares a kiss with by episode’s end. Whether Aria and Ezra will get back together is still a matter up in the air, as they share a sweet but awkward moment over the recommendation letter he gives to help her. And lastly, Spencer finds herself in yet another love triangle as her addiction sponsor, Dean, confesses to having romantic feelings for her.

With the melodrama out of the way, Hanna decides to “borrow” Lesli Stone’s car by stealing it from a valet. After the theft, she and Spencer raid the inside of the vehicle to find a laboratory pass for Lesli’s college, along with boxes full of large, unassembled animal cages that could easily fit a human. The girls have Caleb copy Lesli’s pass and break into the lab where she’s conducting research. As Hanna, Spencer, and Aria scour the empty workplace, Hanna’s head sets off a sensor upon leaning over in front of some metal detecting equipment. “Why am I beeping?” she demands as Spencer tilts her head from side to side. Spencer grabs the handle to the sensor and runs it over Hanna, discovering the GPS tracker implanted in the back of her neck before finding the same in her own. “The bitch chipped us!”

When Mona crashes the party, Spencer and Hanna call out Lesli for all her scheming before Ms. Vanderwaal sets the record straight. Lesli isn’t impersonating Charles and isn’t out for revenge on Bethany Young’s behalf. The real Charles is in fact alive. Hanna denies the claim, showing her Charles’s death records and organ donation certificate. Mona immediately debunks the legitimacy of the documents, pointing out that Charles’s liver, which was supposedly donated, wouldn’t have been viable given all the medications he was taking. The episode closes with Mr. DeLaurentis burying the card he found on his windshield in front of Charles’s headstone….with the letter oh so conveniently opened up on the ground for the audience to read.

“Dear Daddy,

Coming home for my birthday. You should plan a party to die for. Just you.


Oh, boy. Where to even begin with this one…

Not until the last quarter of “No Stone Unturned” are viewers given anything remotely riveting, and those reveals are flawed at best. The rest of the episode can pretty much be chalked up to being filler. Hanna and Caleb’s supposed breakup is nothing more than melodrama. Emily’s attraction to Sarah really makes no sense. Ezra’s screen time feels unnecessary. And most infuriating of all, Dean’s seemingly sudden infatuation with Spencer destroys a previously well-meaning character. Not only are Dean’s affections completely inappropriate since he’s her sponsor, but he and Spencer had a sound friendship. This turn of choice taints his intentions, especially after he declares that he doesn’t care that she’s dating Toby. He just wants to kiss her.

Seriously, how many more guys are the writers going to ham into the script for this poor girl? Just look at Spencer’s track record over the last few months in her life. She’s been dating Toby. She had her fling with Colin during her trip to England. Then she got all chummy with her starving-artist house guest, Johnny. And now there’s Dean. Slow your roll, folks, and focus on one guy. Please.

This scenario is all the more sinful, because the writers frequently do this with the Liars. They introduce a potential love interest, and then… POOF! Said person vanishes in place of another Minute-Man. If these proposed relationships aren’t meant to pan out after just a few episodes, why bring them in at all? Anybody remember Travis Hobbs? No? You know when Caleb left Rosewood to star in his own failed spin-off series Ravenswood? Hanna was left all alone until the kind, gracious Travis came along. He became her temporary boyfriend in season four…until actor Tyler Blackburn returned to the show. Then Travis suddenly vanished off the face of the earth, just like Talia (who was recently linked with Emily) and Adam Santiago (Spencer’s love interest in season one). This frequent treatment makes it hard for fans to connect with new characters, because we’re always anticipating them to make a quick, non-returnable exit.

Compounding this with the silly opening and Hanna’s unexplainable carjacking, the few redeeming moments in this episode aren’t enough to save it for perpetual yawning. Honestly, how did Hanna return Lesli’s car after taking it from the freaking valet?

Pretty Little Liars - “No Stone Unturned” Rating:  D +

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

"Scream: The TV Series" - Bloody Good Fun, or Just Bloody Awful?

A girl alone at home receiving sinister phone messages from a masked killer watching her from the shadows.

We all know the iconic opening to Wes Craven’s 1996 classic Scream, and that’s exactly what we get yet again in its television adapted pilot episode.

Nina Patterson (Bella Thorne) enjoys the spoils of cyber bullying after posting a private video of a fellow female classmate making out with another girl. As local social media blows up over the scandalous footage, Nina rewards herself by stripping down to her undies and taking a late night dip in her Jacuzzi, despite knowing that someone is watching her from inside her house.

Beautiful she may be; smart…she is not.

Nina begins receiving flirtatious text messages from who she assumes is her ex-boyfriend. The messages however become increasingly sinister, and a severed head is eventually thrown into the Jacuzzi beside her. Needing nothing short of a metaphorical shovel to the face, Nina finally understands the level of danger she’s in, but it’s too late. The notorious Ghostface (sporting a new mask) emerges from the shadows and stabs Nina in the back before finally slitting her throat and dumping her body in the pool.

It all seems frightening…until the show suddenly slams on the brakes, in which this “horror story” becomes a generic teen soap opera. Hitting every checkmark for every high school stereotype, we have the Mary-Sue-turned-popular girl, Emma, her dumb jock boyfriend, his even dumber jock teammate, the sexy harlot who’s sleeping with her teacher, the new-to-town resident bad boy, the film nerd, and the wrongfully-persecuted bisexual outsider.

Kevin Williamson’s masterfully crafted screenplay for the original Scream blended horror with dark humor and social commentary to perfection, giving audiences insight, laughs, scares, and a reprieve from the genre’s overuse of clich├ęs. This teleplay tries to capture that same essence from its predecessor, but what’s played here for nostalgia ultimately comes off as a low-grade knockoff. First impressions are everything, and that’s the sole purpose of a pilot episode. It’s meant to sell the audience into tuning in again. Scream: The TV Series doesn’t do that.

There’s next to no redeemable, let alone likable, characters at first glance. Emma (Willa Fitzgerald), our protagonist, comes across as sweet, but we soon learn that peer pressure has turned her into one of the “mean girls”. Then there’s Emma’s boyfriend, Will, whose only defining characteristic is that he pulled a Ross and slept with Bella Thorne’s character while he and Emma were “on a break.” We can’t forget the Queen Bee-otch herself, Brooke, who enjoys spreading rumors apparently as much as she does spreading her legs…for her English teacher. And who can forget the recently deceased, mean-spirited Nina Peterson? If the audience is rooting for most of your cast to bite the dust right from the get-go, that’s never a good sign.

Despite the soapy teen drama and limited horror, there has to be some kind of plot, right?

Yes, there is.

The basic plot of Scream: The TV Series:

One by one, attractive youths are savagely murdered by an unknown assailant. Some suspect it is Lakewood’s serial-killer-turned-local-legend, Brandon James, who was shot by police in Wrenlake where he presumably drowned some twenty years ago after having romantic ties to the protagonist’s mother.

Wait just a second…

There’s a problem here. This story sounds eerily familiar…

Some horror fans may remember a little 2009 CBS mini-series called Harper’s Island, where one by one, attractive youths are savagely murdered by an unknown assailant. Some suspect it to be the works of John Wakefield, the legendary serial killer who was presumably shot dead in the water some years ago after having a romantic relationship with the protagonist’s mother!

See the conundrum?

Sure, you could shrug off the striking similarities as coincidence, but you shouldn’t be too quick to do so. With some simple research, you’ll find that Jill Blotevogel, one of the writers for Scream: The TV Series, was also an executive producer and writer for…you guessed it, Harper’s Island. It’s one thing finding inspiration in previous material. It’s another thing though to lift the entire story arc from old work and repackage it under the name of a famous franchise.

But don’t change the channel just yet. “Hello, Emma,” the second episode in the Scream series is an improvement from the pilot. Sure, it’s still a teen soap opera, but some much needed character development finally unfolds. One downside, it fluffs the storyline, hindering the overall pacing. The original Scream kept the mood strangely light with its snappy dialogue, but there was always tension building under the surface. Here, the scenes are either played as everyday contemporary or showcased as downright scary. Never both. As the sinister elements of the plot become more prominent, that hang-up will hopefully resolve itself though. Fingers crossed. 

For those interested in the horror genre but unenthused by Scream, then Harper’s Island comes highly recommended. Despite the uncannily similar plots between the two series, the immensely underrated horror/murder mystery, Harper’s Island, is more compelling and worthy of viewers’ attention. With its ridiculously extravagant deaths, fair share of humor, and a fantastic cast that includes Covert Affairs’ Christopher Gorham, Sleepy Hollow’s Matt Barr, and Supernatural’s Jim Beaver, this mini-series is all-out campy, “grab some popcorn” kind of fun. As far as Scream: The TV Series goes, watch at your own risk…of being bored. Seriously, the pilot really could serve as a substitute for Ambien. There is hope for the series, but only for a faithful enough viewer to suffer through the slow beginning.

Scream: The TV Series rating: C-