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Peter Hermann And Brooke Shields Salvage Weak Episode
SVU has been woefully uneven in the last several seasons and the show reaches something of a nadir here in a pathetically predictable presentation.
SVU finds a man with his genitals sliced off in a hotel; he is identified as Jason Karr and three women seen in the hotel or its vicinity the night of the assault are tracked down; their evasiveness about their whereabouts makes them suspects and when SVU checks further Olivia Benson and company find the three women were schoolmates who were part of a poetry class under Karr. And it gets worse; Karr's own evasiveness gives away he knows why he was castrated, and when the three women are busted for Obstruction they come forth saying they were sexually violated as students by Karr. The one twist - an ironic term here - comes when the ringleader tells of being penetrated when Karr put himself atop her armed with a corkscrew and threatening violence should she resist; what sinks Karr is when his youthful wife - subjected to the same pick-up lines the three women received - shows a poem in a student magazine authored by the primary victim.
The guilt of Karr is telegraphed almost by the end of the first act, and it's been an increasing problem with the series, the poor quality of the writing and resultant pathetic predictability of the plots. The show established itself (notably during the 285-episode Ted Kotcheff era) not only by the strength of the cast (as one reviewer notes the absence of Christopher Meloni and retirement of Dann Florek and to a lesser extent Richard Belzer has hurt the show's casting quality; Peter Scanavino really doesn't cut it and Kelli Giddish is decent but unspectacular) but also with the wildly creative writing with twists and complications akin to The Twilight Zone Meets The French Connection; the good episodes of recent such as the Season 19 opener are solid but don't capture the engagement of the show's apex, and the increasing number of inferior episodes drag the series down more and more. One reviewer scathingly notes the insulting preachiness of episodes since star Mariska Hargitay assumed more of an executive producer role (here it shows in Raul Esparza's childish rant of a closing argument, the kind of whiny delivery made by someone knowing he's lost the argument), and that definitely needs to stop.
The only thing that salvages an episode otherwise unwatchable is the debut of potential series semi-regular Brooke Shields and the return of Peter Hermann as attorney Trevor Langan. The on-screen interaction of the real-life husband-wife tandem of Peter and Mariska is always enjoyable to see and here they face the potential crisis that Olivia's adopted son Noah has a grandmother who'd covered her tracks for years but now is in town - and appears at Olivia's very door. Though her scene is brief, Shields manages to convey a striking balance of ladylike, motherly innocence with the malice akin to classic TV villain Fred Johnson, haunting the life of the series protagonist even when unseen.
Olivia naturally is taken aback by this development, to where she lapses into a surprising burst of accusatory anger at Trevor that makes her disturbingly unsympathetic; Olivia should know better than this and Trevor apologetically makes sure any action against Noah will be resisted.
This subplot will drive the series for the time being, but it still needs to clean up its weaknesses of poor storytelling.
And Baby Makes.....The Ultimate Scam
Design is designed to deliver one of SVU's most Rod Serling-esque teleplays and does so with the aplomb that has carried this series into nineteen seasons, and it has a surprisingly effective taste of sci-fi.
Estella Warren is April Troost. We first meet her straddling the edge of a large hotel's roof, threatening to jump - and almost ready to bear a child, a child she claims resulted from rape by a chemist named Barkley Pallister (Julian Sands). After Olivia Benson talks April out of the jump, Pallister is ready to go to trial when April disappears, and her car is found crashed and burned to a crisp.
Pallister covering his tracks, right? Wrong. April Troost's baby is real, but is also a master swindle on hopeful couples who are paying enormous sums to adopt the child, a girl. And it gets worse, for April has marked a slew of handsome men to seduce, and had worked for a creepy medical chief (Ronny Cox of "Total Recall") who is trying to create "designer" babies - babies injected with DNA of people with superior talents or IQs. All of April's marks have the same story - including Pallister.
All of this leads to the ultimate switcheroo, all of it leaving Olivia enraged at being taken in - but just when you thought you'd see every conceivable plot twist it all winds up leading to an actual adoption of a newborn girl.
Warren commands this episode, but also grabbing strong attention are Cox, Sands, and Lynda Carter as April's mom, who herself has a dirty little secret.
Kimble Prays For Sister Veronica - Again
Writer-director John Meredyth Lucas had been The Fugitive's co-producer with Wilton Schiller for nine of the Fourth Season's episodes but decided to leave as co-producer when executive producer Quinn Martin was upset by the tone the series had begun to take. The irony is Lucas had begun to figure out the show's subtleties by the time he left as co-producer to where he submitted scripts later in the series, among them this superb sequel to the first-season two-part episode "Angels Travel On Lonely Roads." Among the series' best, this episode re-teams Richard Kimble with Sister Veronica.
The good sister is principal at a Catholic school for girls in Sacramento and as such has her hands full with budget concerns and also two troubled students - a gum-chewing blonde named Marie Dormond who harasses the school janitor for alcohol, and Dormond's friend, a brunette named Vicky who is promiscuous (her idea of lashing out at her mother for leaving her father) and already in trouble with local police. Kimble arrives at the school having been shot in the leg escaping a police dragnet - he'd been set up after acquiring information on Fred Johnson, who is in Tarleton, over a hundred miles away. He thus needs Sister Veronica's help, at a time when Veronica has to track down the wayward Vicky and also when Marie harasses Kimble - before recognizing who he is.
Kimble had helped Veronica travel to Sacramento and in the process restore her faith in life, and now Kimble winds up helping the overly stressed Sister find her strength to go on yet again. The interplay between David Janssen and Eileen Heckart is excellent, and also interesting is Kimble's encounter with Marie - Heather North plays the malicious student (and proves herself a capable dramatic actress) and an interesting irony is she encounters David Janssen here while under a week after this episode first aired North goes from David Janssen to David Jones in her appearance on The Monkees episode "Prince And The Paupers." Adrienne Hayes meanwhile plays Vicky, and nails it as a troubled teen even though she was twenty-nine years old at the time of filming.
The series' ability to draw in the viewer and leave the viewer emotionally drained at the end once again comes to the fore as Kimble and Sister Veronica finally try to track down Johnson.
Batman Beyond (2014)
Batman Beyond The Rebirth Of HARDAC
This one-minute-plus short was written and directed by Darwyn Cooke to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the Batman mythos, and it succeeds perhaps beyond expectation, leaving the viewer wanting more.
In the future elderly Bruce Wayne is attacked in the Batcave; when the new Batman, Terry McGuiness, arrives, Bruce reveals the Batcave was attacked by "me" - which turns out to be a robot replica of Batman in Bruce's heyday; the robot fights Terry, and as it turns out, there are seven other Batman Duplicates waiting in the wings.
The eight Batman Duplicates resemble the Batman character design spanning different periods of the character's existence; sharp-eyed viewers will recognize the Bill Finger original, the Adam West and Michael Keaton Batmen, and the Brave And The Bold character design.
The short screams for full-length treatment and brings back reminiscence of one of the strongest story arcs of The Animated Series - the HARDAC story arc, about a supercomputer and artificial intelligence that decides to replace human beings with robot duplicates. Given the success in the Batman Beyond series with such classic Batman villains as Mister Freeze, Ra's Al Ghul, and a reborn Joker, the rebirth of HARDAC makes too much sense not to be given full-length Batman Beyond treatment.
Pretentious Politics Ruin Decent Season Finale
The 18th season of SVU proved perhaps the least satisfying season in the show's seemingly endless run and the season finale Sanctuary established something of a nadir in the series, as pretentious politics drive the two-part story and thus wind up ruining what overall is a decent season finale.
Cultural "warning" about "Islamophobia" has been a cliché for well over a decade despite zero evidence of anything except Islamic aggression, and this episode dredges up all the nonsense associated with culture's bizarre fixation about preventing "Islamophobia." A Muslim is killed by several whites and SVU must investigate and find the killers as crowd anger escalates into multiple shootings. Throughout two Muslim women are seen, victims of this crime.
The episode's timing could not have been worse as it aired barely days after Islamic terrorists blew up a concert in Manchester, UK, killing over twenty people - mostly young girls, a common target of Muslim violence - and a Raul Esparza pre-telecast interview displayed nonsensical tone-deafness about illegal immigration, a tone-deafness about Muslims and victim-hood that permeates despite genuine tautness and a strikingly more determined mood by Lt. Benson, who comes off more like Lt. Gerard as a police lieutenant obsessed with capturing the ones responsible for this murder.
The episode sees a twist of plot very late that no could see coming when one of the Muslim women perjures herself on the stand, and ADA Barba's reaction is even more stunning and compelling.
The episode also stirred controversy when Christopher Meloni was listed in the episode credits though he does not appear in the actual telecast - a fitting comment on the disappointment of SVU's 18th season.
Curious Character Study Of An Olympic Wannabe
SVU takes an interesting turn as an Olympic hopeful gets assaulted while the squad's Amanda Rollins faces her own potential headache.
The nuts and bolts of the criminal case are secondary to the mini-character study of Jenna Miller (Brit Morgan), an Olympic wannabe whose introduction comes as she brutally trains on a treadmill in her living room with her husband and child watching; that night she goes on a girl's night out downtown and soon meets business sleaze Michael Wheeler (an effective Theo Stockman); next thing we see is Jenna, her expensive dress torn between her legs and obvious bruises on her calves, vaulting between two buildings and incoherently screaming to a black-and-white that she won.
While this is starting Amanda Rollins is tending to a parole hearing for her ne'er do well sister Kim (Lindsay Pulsipher); she is released on parole and stays with Amanda, and Amanda is not in the mood for any shenanigans from Kim (Olivia Benson, herself with experience with wayward siblings, isn't either, threatening to yank Amanda's badge if Kim screws this up), especially as Kim must help take care of Amanda's child.
The accusation against Wheeler is investigated and it doesn't take much to establish him as guilty, but where everything starts going awry is when Jenna Miller in essence refuses to press charges because if word of this gets out she will lose her chance at the next Olympics and resultant endorsement deals. Even when she agrees to wear a wire to try and smoke out a confession from Wheeler that gets botched when Jenna's husband barges in and confronts Wheeler.
Though Jenna is clearly the victim, she is a curiously unsympathetic character for refusing to press charges and for the ridiculous obsession with an Olympic dream (and endorsement deals) that never comes across as plausible. In several spots it is stated she missed the Rio games on a technicality, yet this comes across as something tacked on by the writers to provide some sympathy for Jenna, and she makes it worse when she has to be in court and erupts in a full-undress meltdown on the stand.
The reason why only becomes apparent at the end and winds up tying into the subplot with Kim. Amanda's ne'er do well sis lives up to the promise of working to stay straight, and perhaps the strongest scene in the episode comes when Amanda winds up with egg on her face upon learning something Kim hadn't told her yet.
It all adds up to an interesting character study.
Nixon's The One As SVU's Prize Pest
SVU by 2007 was more than established for viewers and its tautness of plotting and strength of cast show through again in this very good episode with a show-stealing performance by Cynthia Nixon as the ultimate nut job, a split-personality who leads SVU on a wild goose chase for her sister.
This episode brings out the inadvertent humor that adds charm to the series as Nixon dons several guises, first as a lawyer reporting a child is being abused, then as a waif holed up in Central Park, then as a bitchy broad who tells off her own lawyer and then explodes in the subsequent trial - the bitchy broad telling off her lawyer is funny as heck, and the only thing this daffy duck doesn't portray is the telephone with dial tone - a Warner Brothers gag that, given how nutty Nixon's character is, would almost work in all seriousness on this show.
Easily the creepiest scene comes soon after Elliott Stabler has to sleepily tell off his teenage daughter who is griping about her punishment for drunk driving - Stabler goes to work, then gets a call that Nixon, in a hayseed guise complete with crude ponytails that looks like a deliberately atrocious Holly Marshall getup, has boldly walked into Elliott's house and is chatting with his wife and teenage children - complete with tightly-held butcher knife.
The other source of humor stems from the temporary "reassignment" of Captain Cragen over incidents of rule-breaking by Elliott, Olivia, and Fin; Munch is hastily promoted to oversee SVU and his protest to Fin et al that he wasn't seeking any promotion naturally isn't believed by anyone; he also doesn't inspire anything but snickering when he has to don the officious blues of his new assignment - which thankfully isn't permanent.
It's Always The Psycho You Don't Suspect
Zebras is an episode that seems to strain credulity at times but which allows for scenery-chewing at its best. We get that aplenty here when a woman is found mauled to death in a park with her child stacked in its carriage near a tunnel.
The first one there is a new member of CSU, Dale Stuckey. Right away Stuckey gets under everyone's skin with his deranged theorizing about mafia hits and his bellicose enthusiasm for his job, and we become more leery when we realize he's the first not only on this murder but a subsequent one.
SVU initially suspects a prisoner on work release, Peter Harrison. Harrison is mentally unstable and at one point tries to kill Stabler and Fin with poison gas. Nick Stahl is cast as Harrison and the character is played like a parody of Stahl's most famous role, as John Connor of Terminator fame.
By this point in the series the viewer should know it tends not to be the psycho you suspect who's guilty, but the one you don't. And when blood samples turn up that prove who the real killer is, the result gives Mariska Hargitay the best opportunity to chew up the scenery and it's obvious she's enjoying it for all it's worth and so does the viewer. One recalls her "getting abused" in the sham sibling rivalry fight in an earlier episode and here we see her "getting revenge." The plot may at times strain credulity but the end result is still brilliant.
The Fake Fight And The Judges' Card Game
Bound turns into a bit of an unusual episode for the SVU series in that while it has the usual high-quality tautness of presentation and strong Twilight Zone-esque plot twists, it also features a bit of a twist for primary characters Olivia Benson and Elliott Stabler.
The strangulation of an elderly lady is linked to a home-care foundation run by two twins, Matt and Emma Spevak, and as SVU investigates it finds evidence linking Matt Spevak to several other strangulation murders for access to substantial wealth - which Matt Spevak needs to pay off severe gambling debts.
But when Matt himself is found shot to death at the abode of his latest victim, SVU's resident psychologist George Huang and Medical Examiner Melinda Warner quickly find the setup doesn't make sense, and suspicion now centers on Emma.
It is here that one of the episode's two strongest scenes occur. SVU can't prove Emma is guilty, so they have to smoke out a confession from Emma. To do this Huang recommends Olivia and Elliott fake a "sibling rivalry" fight in front of her. Olivia's reaction when Huang recommends this course of action is priceless, a mild anticipatory glee in her eyes (and a credit to Mariska Hargitay's ability to convey emotion through her eyes in the best David Janssen mold), while the sham fight itself allows Hargitay and Chris Meloni an opportunity for minor hamming.
Then there is one of the inadvertently funniest scenes in the series - ADA Casey Novak must get a judge's signature on a warrant to exhume Emma Spevak's mother, and she happens upon a poker game involving seemingly all of NYC's judges, a setup that works humorously for two reasons - it brings to mind such entertaining card game scenes as the Presidents' Card Game sketch from Rich Little and Batman The Animated Series' "Almost Got 'im" card game - one half-expects a judge to mutter, "Not the robot theory again." And adding to the unintended humor is ADA Novak's confession to having nightmares of facing all of the city's judges - while naked. Judge Petrovsky (Joanna Merlin)'s reaction to that idea is worth seeing as well.
It adds to an entertaining murder mystery.
Timid Tabby (1957)
Refreshing Change Of Pace For Long-Running Series
Timid Tabby is a superb change of pace for the long-running Tom & Jerry series, in that we see another member of Tom's family and also for a change see Jerry get the worst of the varied encounters. George is Tom's cousin and is deathly afraid of mice, a fact Jerry exploits by scaring George all over the house. Tom, however, bashes Jerry at numerous points of the short, then teams with George to trick Jerry into thinking he's gone insane, leading to an appropriate ending.
George is voiced by Bill Thompson, which adds to the strength of the character's weakness. As George is drawn as a twin of Tom it allows the animators to animate dialogue into the design while leaving Tom mute; given the quality that neither Jerry nor Tom speak in almost every episode, allowing a character who looks like Tom to speak is an interesting angle.