Once Upon a Time Review: “The Garden of Forking Paths”

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This third episode of season seven was the most quintessentially Once of the three we’ve seen so far, switching easily between past adventures in the forest and present-day ones in Hyperion Heights. The first two episodes did that as well, but here the stories in both places had the similar thread of Cinderella/Jacinda learning something and Regina/Roni helping her get there. This sort of mirroring was done a lot in the first season especially, and it felt pleasantly familiar here, much like the references to the past in the first two episodes did.

The interactions between Cinderella and Regina worked the best for me. Regina quickly adopted a sort of mothering presence with her, which was both sweet and logical considering Cinderella will one day become Henry’s true love. However, I also got the sense that Regina saw Cinderella as an equal, an independent woman she instantly respected, regardless of the choice she made in this episode.

Their conversations also had the most direct connection to the past, with Regina telling Cinderella that she needs to forgive herself first and that “Believe me, I’ve done a lot worse.” Regina has always made a habit of reminding people of her past deeds whenever possible, almost as if in penance for what she put her family and friends through. It’s a pretty defining part of her character at this point, so it was nice to see that in play here. TV is my favorite storytelling medium largely because of how easily it allows for character development, so it’s extremely satisfying to see Regina go from the Evil Queen terrorizing everyone to a key part of another kingdom’s resistance.

The Henry/Lucy scenes also worked well and did a lot to further establish that relationship. It’s tough because there can only be so many scenes of Lucy begging Henry to believe before it becomes exactly what Emma and Henry’s relationship was in the first season, but I think they’ve done a decent job of differentiating it so far. Even though, as Lucy said, their storyline here was very similar to Henry looking in the mines, I appreciated that they acknowledged that similarity. Plus, it makes total sense that Lucy would use Henry’s book as research of sorts.

Three episodes in, certain new characters are starting to pop for me, like Cinderella and Tiana, while others, like Victoria, aren’t. Until that last scene, Victoria felt like a dime a dozen villain to me, both in the forest and in Hyperion Heights. The mystery prisoner, however, feels like she could be a very interesting villain, or at least play a role in making Victoria a more interesting villain herself. I’m also glad we found out exactly what Lady Tremaine/Victoria’s motivation is. It’s pretty dark for this show but enjoyably so, and I’m sure that information will help make her a more specific villain as well.

A couple of other thoughts on “The Garden of Forking Paths”:

It was a very small moment, but there seemed to be a hint of something between Hook and Tiana. It wasn’t a big enough thing for me to properly gauge how I’d feel about it, but there’s no doubt that seeing Hook with another person might be a little strange, especially at the beginning. Even though he’s not our Killian, it’s been several seasons since we’ve seen him with anyone but Emma Swan.

The Weaver/Rogers storyline fell really flat for me this episode; I just don’t find their dynamic all that compelling yet. They seemed to tread pretty much the same ground they did in the last episode, with Weaver establishing that he also wants to take Victoria down, albeit in a less moral way than Rogers does. I’m assuming I’ll be more interested in Weaver once we find out in next week’s episode exactly what led Rumple there.

What did you think of “The Garden of Forking Paths”? Let me know in the comments!


Brooklyn Nine-Nine Review: Jake Plans a Heist of His Own in “HalloVeen”

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Well. That’s going to be hard to top next year.

I have a history of loving Brooklyn Nine-Nine‘s Halloween episodes, mostly because they’re unapologetically fun in a way that’s becoming rare on television. Sure, they make you suspend your disbelief and would probably feel repetitive if you watched them back-to-back, but as the last four seasons of this show have proven, you can’t go wrong with putting this crazy group of characters in an extreme competition and letting them go wild. It also helps that the Halloween episodes 1) let Holt take off his Captain hat and descend into the madness and 2) allow the characters to be both amusingly and unusually mean to one another.

This year’s heist had a lot of specific things working for it, too, including a great cold open that really told a story and an always welcome appearance by Cheddar. Naturally, said appearance was made by Andre Braugher’s delivery of “This bitch? Please!” as well as “You betrayed me. You’ll explain yourself later.” There were also a couple of nice references to Gina that made her feel a part of things; I’m always glad when shows actually acknowledge an actor or actress’ absence instead of hoping the audience won’t notice. Plus, anyone who follows their high school friends on Facebook can appreciate a good pyramid scheme joke.

Of course, there was one very specific thing this episode had going for it and that’s one of Mike Schur’s patented out of the blue relationship moments. If you watched Parks and Rec—and you may want to avert your eyes if you didn’t—then you’ll know that show was pretty well-known for sneak attack proposals and weddings. Ben and Leslie, for example, didn’t get engaged during a sweeps episode or a premiere or finale. Instead, it happened in an otherwise uneventful episodethe show’s Halloween outing, as it were.

I loved this way of approaching big couple moments on Parks, and specifically this way of approaching proposals, because it mirrors the way those moments go in real life. They don’t have to be, but proposals are oftentimes spontaneous and surprising—especially for the person being proposed to—and slipping a TV proposal in at an unexpected time lets the viewer feel the excitement of that.

Ben and Leslie’s is one of my favorite, if not absolute favorite, TV proposals ever. It’s realistic, romantic, both surprising and completely logical, and very, very them. I feel exactly the same way about Jake and Amy’s.

For one, I loved that it happened during a hugely over-the-top competition; competitiveness has always been a big aspect of their relationship, and they both love the Halloween Heist especially. I loved the proposal’s role reversal, with Jake making an elaborate plan in hopes of actually surprising Amy, the planner and predictor of all things. And I loved the proposal itself, with its hilarious and specific references to their relationship, including “title of your sex tape!”, Jake happily calling Amy the best detective, and their eternal disagreement over Die Hard.

I’d also be remiss if I didn’t mention Andy Samberg and Melissa Fumero, who made it feel raw and genuine to the point that I started to wonder if any of it was improvised and who have just generally done a fantastic job of making their characters’ relationship feel realistic and well worth rooting for.

What comes after a big moment like a proposal can often feel anti-climatic, but much to my surprise, the last two minutes of the episode packed a sweet punch as well, with Jake’s awesomely feminist way of asking Amy’s dad for permission and his reveal of when he decided to propose: during a wonderfully normal moment where Amy was arguably at her most Amy. I know I already gave him kudos, but Andy Samberg’s blink-and-you’ll-miss-it reaction there was absolutely perfect.

I’ve buried the lede, though, because we can all agree that Charles, Jake and Amy’s greatest ‘shipper and champion, actually passing out from enthusiasm was the episode’s, nay, season’s greatest moment.

What did you think of “HalloVeen”? Stoked for the Santiago-Peralta union? Hit the comments, and let me know!

Once Upon a Time Review: Emma Returns in “A Pirate’s Life”

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I went into this episode expecting to feel disappointed once it was over, knowing that it was our last one with Emma, at least for the time being. While I had a few issues with this one, I actually feel more optimistic about this season now.  It gave me a better idea of what a standard episode will look like and also alleviated any concerns I had about Killian and Emma’s long-term happiness.

For me, the biggest problem with this episode was the amount it expected the audience to suspend their disbelief. That’s par for the course with this show, considering the fantasy elements and their habit of breaking previously established rules. However, they’re usually very good at keeping it real on a character level; the more unbelievable aspects of the show work because the characters and relationships feel so grounded.

Here, I didn’t totally buy everyone’s actions, from Emma suggesting that Henry and Wish Realm Hook team up to Regina choosing to stay behind. It’s not that they weren’t believable decisions, just that they happened very quickly. I felt similarly about Hook’s turnaround from leaving Killian for dead to feeling terrible about what he did. It was nice but very fast, which is another reason I was surprised that Emma wanted Henry to stick with him.

This episode also really made you cling to the idea of time moving differently in other realms because there’s no way that Emma and Regina would have let Henry grow up without seeing him once. I would have liked a little more clarity on how long it’s been since Emma and Killian’s wedding, or at least on how long it feels like it’s been for them.

Despite the speed of it, though, I don’t hate this new status quo. You have to give the writers props, really. It’s extremely rare for a show to continue past its natural endpoint without torpedoing the characters and relationships that the audience loves (cough, Castle, cough). Emma and Killian fans (including myself) can’t complain because they’re not only happy and together in Storybrooke, but expecting a baby to boot.

As a Regina fan, I’m pleasantly surprised that we’ll presumably get to see her in the forest flashback scenes, instead of just as Roni. She and Henry were really the only two characters who left last year’s finale not wholly satisfied, so it doesn’t feel like they’re blowing anything up by continuing their stories. Plus, there’s something kind of poetic about starting the next chapter of the show with Henry and Regina the only original characters playing themselves, similar to the way it was in the pilot.

This episode also lent some clarity to Rebecca Mader’s return; Zelena is another character who definitely has more story to tell. I also buy it because Regina’s her only family aside from Robin, and it makes total sense that she’d stick with her. I’m assuming there will be words about Regina up and leaving Storybrooke without telling her, though. I’ll also be curious to see how Rumple got mixed up in Hyperion Heights, but I’m assuming we’ll find out when Belle returns in a couple episodes.

Other thoughts on “A Pirate’s Life”:

We have to talk about Robert Carlyle in head to toe denim, too good!

Female friendship has always been a big part of this show, so I’m enjoying Sabine and Jacinda’s relationship a lot. Looks like we’ll get a taste of Cinderella and Tiana’s next week as well.

I can’t complain about how Emma and Hook’s story ended—let me say for a minute how absolutely lovely it is that two people who have been through so much wound up where they did—but I wish there had been slightly more Emma in this. Probably knowing it was her last episode made me greedy, but I would have loved to see her in a couple more scenes.

Why did Henry keep referring to Emma as “Emma”? She and Regina were always adorably just “mom” and “mom,” and Regina obviously would have known who he was talking about if he’d said “mom.”

I feel like Jennifer Morrison and Lana Parrilla got a taste of what Ginnifer Goodwin and Josh Dallas had to do with the “acting like a parent to someone your age” thing. Wonder if they called for tips…

What did you think of “A Pirate’s Life” and the Henry/Regina/Faux Hook teamup? Let me know in comments!

Brooklyn Nine-Nine Review: Jake and Rosa Take Some “Kicks”

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This wasn’t Brooklyn Nine-Nine‘s funniest episode by a long shot, but it felt like a necessary transition between the first two prison-centric outings and the rest of the season. This was a big, serious thing that happened to Jake and Rosa, and they needed to show the ramifications of it, for Jake professionally and Rosa personally. It’s true that this show prides itself on making Andre Braugher say ridiculous things with a straight face, but it’s also just as good at making its characters feel like real people, and a real person would absolutely be affected by spending six months wrongly incarcerated.

Jake’s reaction wasn’t at all what I expected, but it was wonderfully in character. A different person would have left jail bitter about a system that failed him. Instead, Jake struggled because now he knows exactly how terrible prison is and feels slightly bad about sending people there. It was very Jake to somehow leave a horrible situation a more empathetic person and, as Holt pointed out, a better detective. There was also a nice maturity in Jake’s decision to take a few weeks off when he didn’t have to. That’s not a choice that season one Jake would have made, and it’s always nice to see characters evolve.

I will say that I would have liked Amy to share Jake’s first case back; I feel like it’s been awhile since they’ve had one together, even looking back at the end of last season. Hopefully, we’ll get one in the next couple weeks. Also, while I’m glad Jake and Amy’s relationship is solid enough that they can act like those six months never happened, I’m still hoping for a conversation about that time apart. We got a moment like that when Jake returned from Florida, and it seems even more necessary in this situation.

Rosa’s breakup with Pimento wasn’t directly related to her time in jail, but I do feel like it played a role. I’ve never loved them together, mostly because Pimento feels more like a caricature to me than a real person. Honestly, if they’d sprinkled in a couple more genuine moments throughout, like the one here where he admitted to learning Spanish, I might have liked the guy more. I also think there’s only so many times you can make the “hey, they’re almost having sex in public!” joke before it stops being funny, and I didn’t find it that funny here. I would love to see Rosa in a relationship again because it’s yet another way of letting Stephanie Beatriz show off her range and add nuance to her character. Hopefully next time it’s someone I connect with a bit more than Pimento.

All told, not the funniest episode of Nine-Nine, but one of the more successful ones emotionally.

What did you think of “Kicks”? Hit the comments, and let me know!


Once Upon a Time Kicks Off Season 7 in “Hyperion Heights”


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Once Upon a Time kicked off season seven with what was dubbed a “requel,” or combination reboot and sequel, of the show we know and love. For me, “Hyperion Heights” felt more like a spinoff: new location, new characters, but with the same tone and themes I’ve come to expect from Once. As a premiere episode, it wasn’t great. It felt pretty overstuffed due to all the new characters, making me wonder why people like Ivy and Sabine, neither of whom played a huge role in this episode, weren’t introduced in the second or third hour instead. That being said, if we’re looking at this as a more of a backdoor spinoff pilot, I get it. Pilots are always setup heavyit’s just how you establish thingsand this show has always required more setup than most.

One good thing about this premiere was that it didn’t make me miss the original incarnation of the show as much as I thought it would. It probably helped that Roni, Rogers, and especially Weaver were more side characters than anything else. This is firmly Henry, Jacinda, and Lucy’s story, to the point where I wonder if it would have been better to completely leave the original characters behind and let this stand on its own. As excited as I am to see Emma next week, for example, that episode probably will make me miss the original version of the show, as will any episodes where old favorites return, or the current cast plays themselves instead of their Hyperion Heights alter egos.

As I said, the tone and themes of this were textbook Once but in a way that felt reassuring instead of repetitive. Henry and Cinderella’s time in the forest, especially, was reminiscent of a lot of things we’ve seen before. Their first meeting wasn’t unlike Snow and Charming’s, the addition of the motorcycle making it a romance for modern times. Plus, how great was it when Henry looked on ruefully as Cinderella stole his bike? The product of two take-charge women—plus Grandma Snow—he can’t have been all that surprised.

In the present-day, Cinderella’s alter ego, Jacinda, bore no small resemblance to Emma Swan, from standing up for herself when her manager treated her like crap to swallowing her pride and apologizing to the same manager, all so she could take care of her kid. Fierce moms are such a hallmark of this show, and it’s another aspect I’m very, very glad made the jump to this season. Though, I do feel like more needed to be done to explain why Victoria is able to take Lucy whenever she wants. She may be powerful, but there are obviously judges and lawyers and all sorts of people who need to be involved in custody issues.

Even with the familiar themes, the most familiar aspect of the premiere was the returning characters: Regina, Hook, and Rumple, here playing completely new versions of themselves. Of the three, Regina’s Roni got the most screentime, and, unsurprisingly, it was a ton of fun to see Lana Parrilla immerse herself in yet another version of this character, though we’ve never seen Regina quite this casually cool. In some ways, Roni is Hyperion Height’s version of Emma Swanor at least seems like she may become that—, and I love the idea of Regina going from the villain of one town to the savior of another. 

One of Roni’s big moments was meeting Henry, though I would have liked that scene to have a bit more warmth. They legitimately felt like strangers, which I guess was the point, but, beyond the winking “Imagine if I walked in here and told you I was your son?”, there wasn’t any indication that either of them felt a connection. A moment similar to Rogers looking at Emma and instantly knowing she was important to him would have been nice.

Killian’s alter ego didn’t make quite the impact that Regina’s did, but I like that Rogers is not only a cop like Emma but also a real “boy scout,” a fun flip on his pirate identity. As mentioned, the look he gave Emma’s picture was nice and also a good way to tee up Jennifer Morrison’s return next week. I also like the idea of Weaver and Hook as partners, particularly because both Rumple and Hook would hate it so much. Weaver was only in a couple of scenes, but he certainly seems like a morally complicated dude, which jives with the Rumple we know.

Other thoughts on “Hyperion Heights”:

At Comic-Con this year, they released the opening scene where teenage Henry says goodbye to Regina, and there was originally a line about Emma and the Charmings knowing that there was no changing Henry’s mind, but it seems to have been cut from the broadcast version. The scene still felt unrealistic without that line—Emma would obviously have been there to say goodbye, even if she approved—but I think cutting it was a mistake.

While explaining the curse to Henry, Lucy started to mention that some of their family was in Hyperion Heights but got cut off before she could say where everyone else was. I’m assuming that’s how they’ll explain the missing members of the cast, saying they remain trapped in Storybrooke or the Enchanted Forest.

I loved Alice’s frustration about also being from other places, and it was very in-character of Rumple to use someone else for his dirty work.

Good to see that Killian’s sword fighting lessons paid off for Henry, and he channeled Emma in the best way possible when he told Lucy that Cinderella needed to save herself.

I’ve written some version of that “Poetic opening line goes here” placeholder in pretty much everything I’ve ever written and can guarantee most writers have done the same. Henry finally writing that first line—”Once upon a time,” naturally—was very reminiscent of the end of the original pilot.

What did you think of Once Upon a Time’s “requel”? Let me know in the comments!

Let’s Grade Some Pilots!

Last season was a great one for new network shows, with This Is Us, The Good Place, and Speechless all breaking big. This fall’s batch of shows isn’t quite as promising, but I still found a few to check out:

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Young Sheldon (Thursdays at 8:30 on CBS)

As I mentioned in my What I’m Watching post, I enjoy The Big Bang Theory while still recognizing that it’s, as the kids say, a problematic fave. Young Sheldon isn’t something I’m going to feel guilty about watching, which was nice. It’s very different from the mother ship: kind of a combination of an ABC comedy and the This Is Us flashback scenes. That’s not a criticismI love both of those thingsbut it is new ground for CBS, king of the multi-cam comedy and procedural drama. One concern I have going forward is that we know what eventually happens to Sheldon’s dad, as well as that Sheldon doesn’t have a good adult relationship with either of his siblings, and, for me at least, that knowledge made the pilot sadder than it was probably intended to be.

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Ghosted (Sundays at 8:30 on Fox)

Of the four pilots I checked out, this one grabbed me the least, though I still think I’ll tune in a couple more times. Adam Scott and Craig Robinson were the whole reason I watched in the first place, and, as expected, they have great comedic chemistry. There’s a scene with the two of them involving improv and a fax machine that took a delightful turn and became my favorite moment. A lot of critics warned that the pilot was pretty expository, and I largely agree with that sentiment. There also wasn’t a lot of time to get to know other characters, even though it’s a pretty small cast. This feels like a case where the second episode will be much more indicative of what the show looks like on a weekly basis. At the very least, it piqued my interest.

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The Gifted (Mondays at 9 on Fox)

This was one of the most effective pilots I’ve seen in awhile, when you consider that the entire point of a pilot is to grab the audience’s attention and make sure they tune in next week. It was tense, action-packed, and twisty; it almost played like a mini-movie up until the killer cliffhanger. There are quite a few characters, but they spent adequate time introducing each one, no small feat in a pilot. My hope going forward is that they find a way to inject more humor; there was a fun little moment between Amy Acker and Stephen Moyer’s characters after a parent/teacher conference, and that levity helped make them feel like real people. The pilot reminded me of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.not a surprise, considering the Marvel connection—which is a show that uses levity very well.

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The Mayor (Tuesdays at 9:30 on ABC)

My only complaint with this one was that it didn’t breathe quite as much as I wanted it to. They went through a lot of story for a half hour, and it made some moments feel a little disingenuous, such as Lea Michele’s Valentina assuring Brandon Micheal Hall’s Courtney that he’s far from hopeless. But, other than that, this was a strong pilot with a great castespecially the always excellent Yvette Nicole Brownand a very timely premise. It’s almost the reverse of our current political situationwhat if a good outsider had won?but it’s also far enough removed to be the escapism it wants to be. It had shades of Parks and Rec or another show of underdogs, and it’s nice to see ABC branch out from standard family comedy. It also smartly showed that Courtney and his friends do take some things seriously and, on the flip side, that Valentina does have a sense of humor. My biggest concern after watching the trailer was that she would constantly be the buzzkill, a role female characters fill way too often, so I’m glad that wasn’t the case.

What pilots have you watched so far? Any coming up you plan on checking out? Hit the comments, and let me know!