This week I recap and explore returning shows like Leverage, Alphas and The Closer as well as touch on True Blood and The Newsroom!
Welcome back to This Week in Black Television. I don’t know about you but I’m as happy as clam (what does that mean anyway?) that Leverage, about a team of expert cons aiding people in need of help get ‘leverage’, helping get their due over folks who did them wrong, is back. Although its season runs twice a year (as most of the non-premium cable series do) Leverage is most fun during the summer. Now two episodes into their fifth season, the first returning episode begins with what team leader Nate Ford (Oscar winner Timothy Hutton) thought of as a check-in/stopover on his pals in Portland, Washington turns into the new headquarters for the Leverage team, with computer hacker/tech genius Hardison, This Week in Black Television favorite Aldis Hodge, tricking out their new spot behind a new bar/restaurant that he and his new girlfriend, team thief Parker (Beth Reisgraf) bought. The first new con reuniting the team involves them going after a global aviation executive (guest starring Cary Elwes from The Princess Bride and Robin Hood: Men In Tights), and as part of their con, must convince him that they can lay hands on Howard Hughes’ vintage aircraft, the Spruce Goose. (NOTE: Leverage has been filming in Portland for some time now, but doubled it as Boston in years past. As Nate Ford is a wanted man in Boston, the shift is rather convienent in all respects).
All in all it was an entertaining episode with great moments among all the cast, including Elwes, though more far-reaching than usual with what Hardison rigs up to convince the baddie that he’s flying the actual Spruce Goose. This past Sunday’s second episode was sort-of ‘ripped from the headlines’ (see: the troubles with Sean Payton, coach of the New Orleans Saints) and involved the team stopping a minor-league hockey team owner played by Treat Williams who put out a ‘bounty’ on his star enforcer, leading him to get life-threatening injuries, in order to collect the bets for and against the hockey star’s fight ratios. Team hitter Elliot (Christian Kane) got to do his retro Mr. T bit two episodes in a row with consoling/looking out for the young people who hired the team. Future Leverage episodes look really good including this coming Sunday’s “The First Contact Job” in which the team have to convince a thieving scientist that he’s made contact with extraterrestrials and August 26th’s “The DB Cooper Job” in which Nate becomes obsessed with the legendary D.B. Cooper when a dying FBI agent’s request puts him on the trail. If you don’t know who D.B. Cooper is research him up, it’s a fascinating story. I should note, tha
Now that Eureka is gone (wasn’t that a satisfying finale?), you can get your SyFy fix with Alphas which returned this week and followed up on the fantastic season one finale in which Dr. Rosen, their Professor X-type (the always fantastic David Strathairn) outed the secret that people with special abilities, Alphas, exist to the public at large by taking over the nationwide airwaves & network devices. Fast-forward eight months later and homeboy is in the loony bin. Meanwhile, team strongman Bill Harken (Malik Yoba) is back to working with the Dept. of Defense along with sharpshooter Hicks and hardcore government agent Clay (Mahershalalhashbaz Ali fromThe 4400, who seems to have a lot of fun playing an antagonist), the latter of whom we last saw hunting and imprisoning the team, while Nina is living the glamorous life, Rachel is at home being annoyingly affected by her enhanced senses and Gary is locked up in Alpha-jail ‘Building 7’ up in Binghamton NY (which hmmm looks a lot like Canada) after not being able to handle working for the NSA.
See, Building 7 is where the most dangerous or at-risk alphas are held, and where a prison escape was engineered by the inmates, leading Clay to release Alpha-expert Dr. Rosen from the madhouse and Rosen’s having the liberty to bring back his old team to capture these the escapees, and allowing Alphas to return to its weekly ‘catch the bad guys’ routine, which works very engagingly for us audiences. Still, the best parts of the show are the moments in between the action when the autistic Gary (he is tuned into all communication networks and can process it all past computer speed), who talks a mile a minute, says something smart-assery to Bill, or when Nina (who can reprogram people’s minds), attempts a closeness that she can’t really achieve because of her constant misuse of her power, and you see the personal things that each player goes through. I’m sure during this second season of another 13 episodes that there’ll be a few you can miss, but Alphas is to me still more superior than the consistently annoying Heroes, which many compare it to because of the ‘super human’ connection.
The Closer returned two weeks ago and it’s, well, I’m glad there’s only four episodes left. It’s been pretty week and derivative of older episodes, though this past week’s episode ‘Drug Fiend,’ which dealt with the death of a beloved cancer doctor who it seems was not giving the proper treatment to his patients, was both well acted and heartfelt and had great personal moments with Chief Brenda Leigh Johnson, show star Kyra Sedgwick, whose TV father (the wonderful Barry Corbin) has cancer. And we finally got to see more of the personal life of Sgt, David Gabriel, played by Corey Reynolds. The show opened with him coming back from church and chatting with his new now live-in girlfriend Ann, played by an actress who doesn’t get enough attention, Shanti Lowery from The Game. As they head to a post-church brunch with Sgt. Gabriel’s family, whose mother doesn’t seem to care for Ann, he is called into a crime scene and takes her with him. Ann, a law student, ends up adding unsolicited information about a witness’ rights causing Brenda to dislike her as well, but still using Ann (supposedly as convenient payback) to aid her case later in the episode. Since the return we’ve had little focus on Gabriel, but as we know he’s not asexual (he’s been seen with other love interests including ex-cast member Gina Ravera’s Det. Daniels) so it’s good to see the brother doing his thing. (I actually wrote a screenplay with Shanti Lowery in mind for the lead, so if you’re reading this Shanti don’t be shy about hitting me up!)
Curiously, as the show still has not uncovered the department mole, and as Sgt. Gabriel isn’t among the cast of Closer spinoff Major Crimes, which premieres in a few weeks with an intact cast minus him, I wonder if he may be revealed as ‘the mole’ or if he’s just moving onto the other things…or worse, killed off? Hopefully to not just fill their “Black” quota, Major Crimes has added Kearran Giovanni from the soap opera One Life To Live to the cast. See the full cast below which still includes Robert Gossett and Raymond Cruz.
So I was called out by one of the readers to examine True Blood more closely again as he felt that it is much deeper than I say it is, so I did. Unfortunately, I remain steadfast in my opinion that the show truly sucks, pun not intended but entirely accurate, most especially in their treatment/disregard of Rutina Wesley’s character Tara, who is now a vampire and a stripper (?!?) at the vampire bar Fangtasia. We know people change and become totally uninhibited when they become vampires, but Tara’s always had a lot of pride in that aspect of herself and her womanhood - I mean she was a cage fighter at the top of last season - and is now as a fellow reviewer put it “an object of lust in the vampire world.” Sigh. If you indeed want to go deep, it’s telling that they’d do that with a Black female character. Still, this week held a rather poignant scene with Tara and her ex-alcoholic & physically abusive now church matron of a mother Lettie Mae (played by Adina Porter - more on that actress later) wherein moms shows up at Fangtasia to tell Tara that she disowns her. A little bit of classic Tara, who in the past despite the abuses would constantly seek Lettie Mae’s attention, seemed heartbroken that her mother gave up on her, but then classic Tara blended with present one and her angry hissy-fit fangs surfaced, chasing her mother away. This was actually pretty sad though, and that’s the thing with Tara - all we are ever prompted to feel is sad or pity for her. Though this overall episode was fun and had nice moments, I do still disagree with the reader and feel that True Blood has still lost its overall luster. It now feels like a bad comic book movie. Also of note though is Nigerian/Indian actress Jessica Clark now playing Lilith, the original of original vampires (it’s said she even preceded Adam & Eve - go figure!).
Lastly, have you been watching The Newsroom? Adina Porter is also a recurring cast member on the new Aaron Sorkin show playing Kendra James, one of the show bookers for the fictional NewsNight program. Episode 2 introduced us to actor Chris Chalk (recently on Showtime’s Homeland) as Gary Cooper (much fun was made at his expense) who came on as another associate producer and like Porter is very involved with daily aspects of the newsroom and had an increased amount of lines in this past Sunday’s episode "Amen." Chalk normally does not get more lines than the other recurring characters, though he does tend to get better lines than Porter does. Dunno if that’s a sexist thing or not, but feel free to lend your opinions on such. Terry Crews is slated to guest star on this Sunday’s episode.
No column next week, but I’ll leave with the still red-hot trailer for the next season of The Walking Dead featuring Danai Gurira as Michonne. Still waiting to see when they’ll bring in the character of Tyrese, though I’m sure they don’t want another alpha male challenging Rick Grimes for leadership - especially a brother! I still think Chad Coleman (Cutty from The Wire and Noel Calloway’s recent movie Life, Love, Soul) would be perfect to play Tyrese. We’ll see… (meantime, watch the clip again)