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TV Review: Wayward Pines

Posted in botch, california, entertainment, TV Shows by commorancy on August 27, 2018

WaywardPinesNote: *** Contains Spoilers ***

Here’s yet another M. Night Shyamalan thriller, this time in the form of a two season TV series.  Let’s explore.

Comparisons

This show has a similar premise to Stephen King’s Under the Dome. However, it is based on novels by Blake Crouch. Basically, it’s a small town that’s been cut off from everything and everyone. As a result, the town must live by its own rules. These two premises pretty much match up.

The way in which the Wayward Pines diverges is how the plot unfolds. With Under the Dome we come to find that the town is encased in a huge dome that, when the dome wishes, allows some exchange of air with the outside. In the case of Wayward Pines, we come to find that it’s supposed to be set in the year 4028, after a great holocaust mutated the human population. Both Under The Dome and Wayward Pines have populations that are cut off from “the outside world”, but for differing reasons.

Both towns, however, fundamentally operate in very similar ways with the exception that Dome runs out of resources a whole lot faster since they were cut off from the world without any resource planning. The dome town’s resources wear thin much, much faster. Wayward Pines, on the other hand, has the benefactor, David Pilcher, who not only had foreseen this event, but seemingly planned for it well in advance by building infrastructure and storing limited food rations to sustain the small town. We’ll come to find that Pilcher didn’t quite think ahead much or have planned for all contingencies.

Characters

The Wayward Pines town is inhabited by a number of adults and children including a sheriff, a nurse, a doctor and several primary families who become part of the series. It’s a similar kind of makeup as there was in Under The Dome. There’s also a faction of disenchanted citizens looking to escape from the city… so they can get “back home”. The characters change over time, particularly in season 2.

Weak Opening Premise

The show starts off entirely on the wrong foot indicating the “making it up as we go” syndrome. Meaning, the show begins by making no sense. Burke wakes up near a creek, beat up, bruised and injured. The question is, why stage this 2000 years in the future? What purpose does it serve?

If he had just awakened from cryosleep, why take him out of his cryosuit, dress him back in business attire and place him in the woods? Is it simply stage his awakening as though he had just crashed from a car? Why not start the episode off with Burke in a hospital bed recovering from his car injuries. That’s just as easily explained and shows us the Wayward Pines hospital right from the start.

If they want Burke to accept his life in Wayward Pines, why spend that time and effort staging his awakening? Did they stage other reawakenings in this way? They didn’t do it for Burke’s wife and kid. Staging reawakenings like this also means that someone at Wayward Pines needed to be 100% up to speed on exactly how Burke (or anyone else) was abducted into cryosleep to know exactly how to restage the reawakening. There are so many better things to worry about in a burgeoning town than dealing with staged awakenings.

Trapped in the Past

As with the isolated town premise in Wayward Pines, I find that there are a lot of stupid ideas, particularly from the supposed creator of the town, David Pilcher. According to his telling, the first time Pilcher tried to set up Wayward Pines, he chose to reveal the 2000 year old truth to the residents. While the children seemed to accept their fate, the adults couldn’t face life in this way and eventually the town self-destructed. This forced Pilcher to commit genocide by using the indigenous mutated humans to clear the population. This idea is stupid from the go. If you’re trying to repopulate humanity from limited pool of people, why kill them? You’re going to need that genetic diversity to repopulate… as much of it as possible.

David Pilcher has his (very large) crew (including his sister Pamela Pilcher) clean up the town, only to reset it all and restart it for a second time with group B. For group B, instead of revealing the truth, this time Pilcher decides to only tell the children the whole truth and withhold that information from the adults. This led the adults to believe they are still in 2014 (or whatever time period they came from). It also meant the adults believed they could leave the town and get back to their families… the idea that would inevitably become the town’s undoing. This keeps the adults in the dark of the reality of the world. This second time up to bat, Pilcher decides to incorporate corporal punishment in the form of town center lynch justice as a means to control order in Wayward Pines. If someone gets out of line or breaks rules, they are summarily brought to town center and executed by slitting their throat in front of the town mob. This is called a reckoning.

Here’s where I dislike this plot idea, where I feel this part was entirely unnecessary and sent the story premise off the rails. Pilcher is indeed correct to be worried that his group B town is degrading into chaos and destruction, just has had group A. It is. There is an underground movement that is growing and sowing the seeds of a second town self-reckoning once again. However, the reason for this is primarily because of Megan’s ideas she fed Pilcher. Megan’s ideas were the poison seeds that fueled Wayward Pines’s destruction, every time. Megan is a cancer on Wayward Pines.

Cryonics and The Past

To give a bit of backstory here, Pilcher foresaw the destruction of the 2014 world due to a DNA mutation he found, a mutation that would lead to humanity’s destruction in the future. He tried to alert the attention of the scientific world, but failed. Instead, Megan Fisher (eventually becomes the teacher at Wayward Pines school), urges David Pilcher to take whatever means necessary to ensure survival. This was the primary piece of bad advice David Pilcher took in securing his vision and the piece of advice that single-handedly ensured Wayward Pines’s demise. Megan would go on to not only continue giving bad advice, but poison the children and jeopardize the entire project.

Anyway, Megan’s continual bad advice leads Pilcher (being all wealthy that he is) to use his great wealth to hire people to nab random folks off of highways and put them into cryosleep. One set of unwilling participants is our protagonist Ethan Burke, his wife Theresa Burke and his school age son Ben Burke (season 1). Ethan Burke was sent to the area by the secret service (?) to investigate the disappearance of two of his colleagues. Ethan becomes the eyes of the audience as the great mystery of Wayward Pines unfolds. Of course, the premise includes everyone else in Wayward Pines, who were all unwillingly abducted and cryofrozen. The only people willingly there are those that who David Pilcher hand picked to operate the mountain complex to keep Wayward Pines functional as a township.

The Philchers (Pam and David) call Wayward Pines the Ark.

Aberrations

In season 2, we find out more about the original awakening of group A via C.J. Mitchum. He was the advanced cryo engineer who was the first to awaken and who awakened group A. He was also the person who found the aberrations and alerted Pilcher to them. This is also where the story takes a bad turn. Instead of staying and killing off a bunch of indigenous humanoids, C.J. suggests heading back into the pods to wait more time for them to die off. In fact, there were so many ways this story could have been handled, Wayward Pines might have worked as a simple utopia. Pilcher decides not to wait… yet another dumb idea from someone who’s supposed to be very smart. Anyway, Pilcher clears the area and erects an electric fence.

Outside the electrified fence, the indigenous humanoids (called Abbys … short for aberrations) inhabit the countryside. They also inhabited the area where Wayward Pines has been built. This means that David Pilcher kicked them off of their land. The aberrations are the remnants of humanity left over after the DNA mutation and the event that David had predicted. The aberrations are vicious carnivores that eat any animal flesh they can find, including any 2014 humans that happen along the way.

However, we come to find in season 2 is that Pilcher cleared out the area where Wayward Pines was to built by killing all off the indigenous folks. This action effectively starts the war between the aberrations and the humans and ensures all of the problems for Wayward Pines going forward. A problem that could have been avoided had Pilcher taken CJ’s advice and waited longer.

Keep It Simple Stupid

The first problem I have with this premise is that Pilcher kidnapped folks without consent. He also didn’t vette them for suitability or compatibility for living in a utopia city project. He yanked them out of their life and put them into cryosleep. After unfreezing them in the year 4028, he has two options. Tell them their reality or make them think it’s still 2014. After all, the town looks like it did in 2014 so it’s not that hard to convince those who are unfrozen.

There are lots of reasons why this town won’t ultimately succeed. The primary reason it is doomed to fail is that these folks didn’t consent to be there, the problem treated by Megan. They still think it’s 2014 and they think they can leave and get back home. Yet, they are being told never to talk about that. That idea won’t work. You simply can’t tell people to suppress their desires to go back home to their families and loved ones. If he had explicitly kidnapped folks who didn’t have loved ones waiting, then perhaps he could have used that. David didn’t think the kidnapping idea through very well.

Another secondary reason why this township won’t work is limited food and medical supplies. While he did stockpile food to get the town started and maintain certain levels of conveniences like ice cream, liquor, fudge, toy shops, hair stylists and various amenities offered by the 2014 standards, that cannot possibly last. There is also simply not enough food resources to maintain a growing community of people. Pilcher also failed to foresee the need for medicines in the future. While he did bring some medicine forward in time, it simply wasn’t enough (season 2). Over time and with enough generations, there would be no way for 2014 humans to survive, particularly without access to modern medicines. It’s not like he also brought along a pharmaceutical company and people to run it.

This lack of foresight sows the seeds of destruction for any forced community at some point in the future. The corporate punishment only serves to double-down on this destruction by, along with microphones and cameras monitoring everything in the town, eventual dissent and violence. If David stays this course with each successive town reset and restart, he’ll eventually run out of people to inhabit the town. Thankfully, Pam puts a stop to that, but too late to really save Wayward Pines.

Survival

Even if there had not been any indigenous population to defend against, the community would still have failed. As I said above, Pilcher didn’t bring along enough medications, vitamins and food to last indefinitely.

If the town had been able to survive without the threat of attack, the population would have eventually overgrown the town. They would have had to either institute population controls or force people to leave and settle elsewhere. There were so many better and more horrifying story avenues than the aberrations, the aberrations simply ended up as a convenient copout distraction from all that was missing when actually trying to build a utopia.

Season 1 versus Season 2

Season 1 started out promising by offering hope that the town might survive and morph into something useful. By season 2, not only had the show jumped 3 years into the future, which robbed us of the internal struggles, we come to find that the first generation is now running the town. While this is a fairly stupid premise to begin with, it effectively turned the show into a Young Adult novel.

On so many levels for a TV series, this change doesn’t work. You can’t start out with adults running the show only to turn it into a teen fest. That, in and of itself, caused too many problems going from season 1 to season 2.

Additionally, season 2 introduces a lot of foreign concepts that take the show in a direction that really doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. While I have not yet read Crouch’s novels, I’m assuming that the two seasons follow the novels to some degree. Ultimately, I can see why this show was not renewed after season 2. It just wasn’t strong enough of a premise to survive such jarring changes between season 1 and season 2. By jarring changes, I not only mean the survival concepts, but also the never ending cast changes, particularly the teen fest.

Overall

This was not a great show. It had a lot of promise when it began, but it quickly degraded into a story place that couldn’t work. Additionally, there were so many unaddressed mistakes made by Pilcher, these made the show’s story entirely weak. For example, where was the livestock? If you can cryofreeze humans, why didn’t Pilcher cryofreeze cows, pigs and chickens? They will need protein and vegetables as food sources… particularly if they’re to repopulate the earth.

Also, if Megan’s population birthing initiative was so all fired important, then why didn’t they cryofreeze a bunch of babies or pregnant woman to immediately restart the repopulation process?

Additionally in season 1, it was never addressed where all of the food was coming from or how much food there was. By season 2 and three years later, the town was already running out of food and needed to build farms to sustain the population. However, the valley soil where Wayward Pines is situated is supposedly tainted and cannot grow food with no real explanation of this. If food was an important thing to consider, why didn’t Pilcher cryofreeze some farmers and botanists? Also, why wasn’t this idea addressed in season 1?

Also, if Pilcher wanted his Wayward Pines town to thrive as a small town circa 2014 style, he must have packed enough rations to last for well more than 3 years. I’d suspect he’d brought along enough to last 10 or 20. If you don’t bring along enough rations to last 10 or more years, then why lure people in with all of the ice cream and hot dogs when in 1-2 years they’ll be starving or subsistence farming? Also, ice cream is made from milk. Where was the livestock to keep it all going? What about clothing? What about making cloth? What about growing cotton to make yarn to make cloth? What about sheep to make wool for winter clothing?

Clearly, the show’s writers weren’t thinking ahead. They might be able to blame some of this on Blake Crouch, but the show’s writers should have been able to read the book material, see the problems and fix them in the series. Overall, it’s a generally weak show that appears better than it actually is. It’s easy to see why it was cancelled after 20 episodes. In addition to being only half-assed in concept, the stories were simply not thrilling enough. The story needs a whole lot more thought and work.

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Remembering the 80s: Moonlighting

Posted in botch, entertainment, TV Shows by commorancy on July 24, 2018

MoonlightingIn 1985, Moonlighting began as a show TV viewers seemed to both love and hate. I personally became very fond of this show at the time. Today, it is simply a product of its time period. Let’s explore.

80s TV

After coming out of the 70s, where crime dramas tended to rule the roost, the 80s spawned more lighthearted comedy to balance out those 70s serials. In fact, the 80s spawned a lot of TV shows that are fondly remembered. One of these is the screwball romantic comedy Moonlighting produced by Glenn Gordon Caron.

Moonlighting hearkens back to screwball comedies of the 40s with a straight man (or woman) character Maddie Hayes (Cybill Shepherd) to the cuckoo character David Addison (Bruce Willis). At the time, Willis was an unknown. I’m sure the TV executives weren’t sure he could pull off the role at the time, but once the chemistry between Bruce and Cybill became palpable, all executive misgivings evaporated.

Moonlighting and Chemistry

Like Charlie’s Angels before Moonlighting, this cast was as tight on chemistry as they come. The on-screen chemistry between these two actors was amazing to behold. Unfortunately, what made the show a winner would also see to its demise. The quick and witty repartee between Maddie and David would become deeply symbolic of what went on behind the scenes. After the second season, the apparently deep and constant bickering between the two actors would ultimately end up in tabloids, tarnishing this series irrevocably. However, what ultimately did this series in was its writing, production in-fighting and Cybill’s pregnancy.

Biting off more…

The witty rapid fire repartee of the Moonlighting character dialogue wasn’t without peril. Oh, it was most certainly fun to watch. Apparently, each script required double the amount of written exposition found in a similar series. This meant writing double the amount of pages in a script. Effectively, each episode was two episodes worth of material. Instead of cranking out several episodes rapidly, writers were only able to produce half the number in the same period. Because of the quick witty interrupting repartee, sometimes with Maddie and David talking over one another simultaneously, this would only serve to delay how quickly an episode could be shot.

At the time, it was said that it took upwards of sometimes 10-14 days to complete one episode of Moonlighting when most series with half the dialogue took about 5-7 days.

For both filming and writing reasons, trying to reliably release one episode per week was a chore for the Moonlighting team. This meant that episodes didn’t reliably show up every week. Usually there was a rerun in between new episodes. This also meant you’d never know if the show that week would be a rerun or a new episode until it showed up in TV Guide. This didn’t happen during season one and two because these seasons had many episodes in the can by the time the show aired. However, once the series airings caught up to the currently filmed episode, they never could get ahead again.

For a viewer, this unknown led to a lot of disappointment after finding out that this week’s episode was a three or more weeks old rerun. That’s not to say that those episodes weren’t funny, but they were way too recent to rewatch. This problem stagnated the series and was Moonlighting’s first blemish. More blemishes would show as time progressed. Though, the reruns were helpful if you missed that episode.

First Two Seasons

For the first two seasons of this series, which encompassed a total of 24 episodes (6 in season one and 18 in season two), the series kept its chemistry entirely on track. The writers kept Maddie and David in check and at just the proper distance from one another as Maddie constantly played hard to get. The constant keeping-David-at-arms-length premise kept the sexual tension at just the right level. It’s what kept people coming back week after week to see if Maddie finally gets together with David. Between the magic of the witty repartee and keeping David and Maddie at arm’s length, this was the show’s mojo. However, the witty rapid dialog and sexual tension began to wear a little thin by season three. Viewers wanted to finally see David and Maddie get together. Careful what you wish for.

Season Three

In Season three, when Maddie and David finally hook up in the episode I am curious… Maddie, the series deflates like a balloon. That episode singlehandedly took the wind out of the sails of Moonlighting. Not only did the sexual tension vanish, the constant rumors of the on-set fighting between Cybill and Bruce began appearing in tabloids and only served as a major distraction to the series. This coupled with Cybill’s real life pregnancy and Bruce’s leave to be in Die Hard left the series in a quandary:

  • Incorporate the pregnancy into the show or go on without her
  • Go on with or without Bruce

This is also where the actor’s real lives intruded into the production of this fine series. This season also marks when the series ran off the rails.

Season Four

At this point in the series, had I been the producer, I might have opted to create episodes with other characters while Cybill takes maternity leave if Bruce had been available. However, because both lead actors were otherwise tied up with outside commitments, the choice should have been to delay any further production of the series. The network apparently didn’t want this which led to a bad decision.

After the series introduced Agnes DiPesto (Allyce Beasley) as more than just a charming rhyming receptionist and brought in Herbert Viola (Curtis Armstrong) as her love interest, the series tried expanding on these two characters in their own episodes while waiting on Bruce and Cybill to be available. This really didn’t work. Beasley and Armstrong had very little on-screen chemistry leaving the episodes flat and boring. Beasley was charming as the rhyming receptionist role, but she wasn’t in any way able to carry the series in an expanded role. Neither could Armstrong. Together, they simply had no chemistry together nor were the characters leading character material. They simply could not carry this series.

By this point, I felt that the series was way offtrack. At the time, I knew it was only a matter of time before Moonlighting was cancelled. Not only was the sexual tension lost, the series began focusing on forgettable side character arcs that didn’t matter. This all happened simply because the two lead actors were unavailable. You can’t run a series when your leads are missing in action. While I understand Cybill’s pregnancy, I can’t understand why the series allowed Bruce Willis to sign a contract to be in Die Hard while the series was still in production. This just makes no sense.

Without its leads, the series should have taken a hiatus. Coupled with the slow shooting schedule, the longer than typical scripts, the show just couldn’t make any headway. If this had had a normal filming schedule, they could have put a few (or many) episodes in the can in advance of both Cybill’s and Bruce’s departure and then had them to fill out the time slots when the actors were unavailable. Because of the size of the scripts, this was impossible. Though, they did get pre-work from Cybill before her maternity leave and before season four began. But, this pre-work was filmed before the full episodes were fully scripted or shot.

By the time Cybill went on leave with her pregnancy and Bruce was tied up with Die Hard, this meant that a lot of season four was created by the actors phoning in their parts. As stated above, Cybill had pre-shot her dialogue scenes separately which had to be worked into as yet uncreated episodes. Because the leads were never seen together in scenes, the series ratings continued to decline. You can’t exactly create sexual tension between two characters when they’re talking to each other over the phone and not in the same room.

The ratings didn’t improve when the series tried focusing on DiPesto and Viola in an attempt to carry the series. In season three, not only had Maddie and David come together and split, the series introduced Sam Crawford (Mark Harmon) as Maddie’s new love interest. By season four, Maddie gets pregnant (assumed to be by Sam, but could have been David), thus integrating her pregnancy (and the unnecessary Sam character) into season four. It was a horrible plot choice, particularly the ambiguity of the father of the baby.

There’s no way faster to lose the hot model image than by knocking up your main character, particularly if by a transient and unnecessary character. This third character also transformed the series from a twosome into a threesome, which also didn’t work. The chemistry between these three did not work at all. This further served to degrade this series into a train wreck about to crash. Not only had Maddie and David gotten together and split forever, Maddie takes on a new boyfriend which is assumed she consummates that relationship with a baby. It was the wrong play. It added a new character dynamic at the wrong time into a series that least needed it. It also implied that Sam, not David, was the father of the baby. As well, having characters phoning in their parts didn’t make the episodes great. It would have been a better choice not to incorporate the pregnancy or Sam at all. The best choice was hiatus.

By halfway through the season, I’d grown tired of seeing stories about DiPesto and Viola and Maddie and Sam. The series was originally about the detective agency and the relationship between Maddie and David. We lost that when the series began focusing stories away from Maddie and David and more on other characters. The magic, at this point, was irreparably lost and the ratings continued to reflect that change in creative direction.

As for Maddie’s baby, just think what would have happened to the Charlie’s Angels ratings had one of the main characters gotten pregnant on Charlie’s Angels? That series would have tanked harder than when Farrah Fawcett left the series. The Charlie’s Angels story is about hot female detectives performing detective work. Not about rearing children or getting knocked up. Same for Moonlighting. Moonlighting was about a hot model owning a detective agency. It’s not about getting knocked up and rearing babies.

By season four, the writers had lost their way with the plots. This was in part because, according to the tabloids, the actors were not only fighting with each other, they were also fighting over what they were being paid. It was also in part because of the lack of their lead actor’s availability to film episodes.  It was also in part due to the writers strike. This led to poor story choices and a swirl of tabloid gossip.

Season Five

By this season and after the writers strike concluded, which cut short the final episode of season four, the writers and producers seemed to have realized the error of their ways with Maddie’s pregnancy and penned a season opener that sees Maddie miscarry and lose the baby. It was too little, too late. It was also a bad idea overall. Setting Maddie up to have a baby, see her carry it and then miscarry? This isn’t a topic for a comedy show. This topic on this show misfired. This is a detective show, not a home and family show. The damage was already done.

By season five, the show couldn’t get its mojo back for a number of reasons. The first reason is because of the lack of enthusiasm by the show’s stars. Bruce had further created a successful new franchise in Die Hard. Cybill now had twins and wanted out of the long working hours to be with them. The second reason is that the writing failed to go back to Blue Moon cases with Maddie and David in the office trying to rekindle the sexual tension spark with witty repartee instead of dealing with Maddie’s personal life. This change in show direction was due to Glenn Gordon Caron’s departure. The creative team was gutted. The episode that attempted to reignite the sexual tension spark failed and tanked the ratings further. Ultimately, season three showed it had entirely spent its mojo capital when it got Maddie and David together. Everything after that point couldn’t save the series from cancellation. If season four was the purchase of the coffin, season five nailed it shut.

Aresto Momentum…

Even still, the show did reach two more seasons after David and Maddie got together.  That’s respectable, but not necessarily unexpected. Some of the episodes in seasons four and five were okay, if not a little tired. However, the show still had a lot of momentum going into into the fourth season if only the actors had been available to shoot every episode and keep that momentum going. Unfortunately, Moonlighting just couldn’t withstand the turmoil, chaos and the cast unavailability. The series eventually succumbed to its ratings slump and the eventual loss of Glenn Gordon Caron, the series creator by season five due to a rift between Cybill and Glenn. That change in the creative team didn’t help the stories in any way.

The Fourth Wall

By the third season, the shows regularly opened with David and Maddie staring directly at the camera offering some kind of message. Usually the message existed simply because the show ran short on time and they needed to fill it. These messages made no bones about it. These show opening messages would become the first salvo in fourth wall breaking that the series would begin exploring.

Personally, while I didn’t mind the show openers, I didn’t want to see fourth wall breaks within an episode. It is what it is. The show would take this to the extreme in the final episode. The series ending in season 5 shows the crew breaking down the entire set while David and Maddie are still trying to play their detective character roles while the producer states that the show has been cancelled. It was somewhat funny to watch, but it really dissed the show. Sure, it’s fun for shows to poke fun at themselves, but this went way beyond what I thought was appropriate for a professional series.

Everything that went wrong with the series was pretty much summed up in the series closing episode by breaking down that set.

A product of its time

Moonlighting was cute, funny and endearing when at its best. It was a hot mess when at its worst. However, it was also a product of the 80s in which it was spawned. Time has not been kind to this series. Producers today reference this series as something to avoid when creating new productions. They simply don’t want to revisit what happened when Maddie and David finally got together. That single episode is now considered the poster child of what not to do with characters in a TV series.

Because Moonlighting never went into syndication in the traditional way, it simply hasn’t had the power of reruns on its side. I don’t think syndication would have helped this series much, anyway. Unlike I Love Lucy, The Dick Van Dyke Show, Gilligan’s Island and The Brady Bunch, which saw continual and never ending reruns, Moonlighting never got that chance. It’s probably a good thing.

The series was fun to watch during its era, but today the show’s comedy and antics seem antiquated and pretentious. Where I Love Lucy is mostly timeless, Moonlighting is a time capsule out of time when watched today. This show was definitely a product of the 80s with its shoulder pads and dated hair styles and clothing. If you like 80s TV, it’s a must watch. However, if you’re looking for something modern and relevant, you won’t find that in Moonlighting. The stories are definitely dated to its era.

If you really want to watch this series at its absolute best, I suggest watching seasons one and two and season three up to I am curious… Maddie and stop there. The last episode of season 5 is fun to watch if for no other reason than to watch the cast break through the fourth wall. Though, you can watch season four and five, don’t expect much from these two final seasons. Season three is ultimately where the series should have ended.

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Review: Law and Order Special Victims Unit

Posted in entertainment, TV Shows by commorancy on July 10, 2018

When Law and Order: Special Victims Unit began in the late 1999, I only watched it sporadically… basically whenever it was on. I’ve continued that same viewing behavior throughout the years. I’ve recently found that Hulu has 19 seasons streaming and I’ve decided to start watching it from the first season. I’m done watching all of the episodes to date. Let’s explore.

Sometimes silly with repetitive plots

The first season for this series started out extremely rough. Not only did the show not really know how to handle each of the characters in the squad room or how often, this season focuses almost entirely on Olivia Bensen and Elliot Stabler. It also didn’t really nail down its visual format until episode 3. It’s understandable I guess when it’s a new show. I’m uncertain how this show has managed to make it to 19 seasons considering the show is limited to sex crime which includes, rape and statutory rape and rape and rape. Did I mention rape? Sure, the circumstances are different in each episode. Sometimes the victim is dead, sometime the victim is alive. Sometimes the victim is alive, but then gets killed. The base stories are always similar. The perp might be the guy next door, a priest, a friend, a co-worker, a rich kid, a poor kid or whomever makes the most sense for the episode.

Cases that don’t belong in SVU

I also find that there are many cases that end up on the SVU desk that have no place being there. They aren’t even sex crimes, S5 E2 for example. I thought that when SVU determined the case wasn’t a sex crime that it got handed over to another appropriate division? Why would you waste valuable SVU resources (which are quite limited) on a case that isn’t sex related when there are other cases that need SVU’s attention. SVU has certainly had cases handed to them mid-investigation when a sex crime was uncovered. Why doesn’t this go the other way? Just have the writers hand it over to another division and introduce a new plot at that point. Just be sure to do it early in the episode. If you want realism, handing over unrelated cases certainly fits that bill. Having SVU hang onto a case just because they started with it makes no sense. See BAD writing below for more about this.

Early Seasons

The first season is both a mix of sex crimes and personal stories, sometimes intermingling. I thought the show might continue heading this direction, but it’s moved away from this direction as the seasons have progressed. Even by the second season, the stories mostly focused on sex crimes. I also thought the show’s writing would have stabilized into a regular format. Not really. Not only is the writing inconsistent in quality, the show displays a number of fairly egregious technical problems (booms in camera, booms in reflections and even a sound guy captured in frame — S2 E21). I’ve watched a wide array of series and have not encountered this many egregious technical snafus by halfway through third season. You’d think by the third season they’d have solved all of these silly filming problems.

I am also surprised to find the writing in many episodes is subpar. It’s a police procedural, how hard can it be to sweat the details?

When the writing is bad, it’s B A D …

Throughout the seasons leading up to this point, the show has touted each of the detectives to be the best and the brightest at what they do.. ‘An Elite Squad’ as the show announcer states. While I realize as a detective you can’t do anything about the things you don’t know, glossing over details you do know is not only stupid, it’s negligent… and it can get people killed. I realize this is “just a show”, but each episode attempts to tell a story that purports to be realistic (at least by Hollywood standards).

Well, this next episode’s writing is particularly awful, though it’s not the only episode. Not only does it show that the detectives are insanely inept, they probably shouldn’t even be detectives when they gloss over such visibly simple, but incredibly important details.

Here begins the list of the most clumsy and sloppily written SVU episodes.

Contents

S3 E17 – Scourge

As a synopsis for this episode, Emily Deschanel’s character ‘Cassie’ is assaulted and potentially raped in her own apartment. The detectives come to find that her apartment is bugged with 4 cameras watching her every move. How the cameras got there is a mystery yet to be solved.

Over the course of the episode they find a stalker named Terry who’s been stalking her since college. He’s recently moved into secretly filming her by bugging her apartment with cameras using the stolen credit card of the landlord where Terry lives. After being let into Terry’s apartment by the female landlord and discovering a shrine to Cassie, Benson and Stabler have a conversation with this female landlord, who claims to be Terry’s girlfriend.

Okay, stop right here. This is major story strike #1. Not only did Benson and Stabler choose to ignore this statement from the landlord, they proceed on the assumption that Terry is the attacker based on the shrine alone. Not following up on this landlord conversation is not believable, but I’ll let it slide for the moment.

Later, the detectives grab Terry from Cassie’s viola performance at an arts center and pull him into the interrogation room at the station. During the course of the interrogation, Terry states that he is not the landlord’s boyfriend. He also states that he loves Cassie and would never hurt her. Strike #2. The guy’s been stalking her since she left college. If he wanted to hurt her, he would have done so long before she (and he) moved to NY. So, right here Benson and Stabler should have stepped out of the room and had conversation discussing the inconsistent statements between Terry and his landlord “girlfriend”. She says he is, he says she isn’t. The first thing this says to me is that the landlord girlfriend is either lying or she has a personal vendetta. Whatever the reason, it’s definitely now suspect enough to follow up on this lead. The landlord “girlfriend” is also very likely a stalker intent on going after Terry. On that new information, the investigation should have turned attention to the landlord girlfriend and brought her in. Who would have more intent to harm? Terry, who idolizes Cassie and who’s been stalking her for years or a distraught woman claiming to be a “girlfriend” and who’s seems angry at Cassie? This is where this episode writers jumped the shark. Strike #3. Also, where was the psychologist in this episode?

Not only do Benson and Stabler miss this crucial clue that practically slaps them in the face, what does it say of their detective skills? This missed detail makes them seem like rookies. This TV show, up to this point, has prided itself on making these detectives, particularly Stabler, look to be articulate, intelligent investigators and sticklers for details. So, how could they possibly miss this clue? It’s one thing if the writers don’t tell the characters (or us viewers) crucial details and, instead, reveal them at the end. It’s entirely sloppy detective work when the characters have the information in hand and do nothing about it. Both Stabler and Benson have followed up less important clues in other episodes. They should have followed up on this one. Bad writers, bad.

Benson is also particularly sensitive to missed clues leading to the death of someone. She continually beats herself up about these. Yet here, not only did the show not acknowledge this missed clue leading to the death of Terry, it ends before we find out what happens to the perpetrator. The show also, way out of form, treats Terry with all the dignity and respect as that of a piece of human garbage. Prostitutes in other episodes have gotten more respect (and coffee and donuts) than Terry. This show, up to this point, has always been sensitive to any victim. Terry didn’t deserve his fate, even though he had stalked Cassie. Terry’s death could have been prevented if Benson and Stabler had simply followed up on the inconsistent statements back when Terry was in the interrogation room. The show didn’t even acknowledge this deficiency of the detectives.

S5 E2 – Manic

And the inconsistent writing quality continues… I don’t understand why this episode opens with Stabler breaking down doors with uniformed cops (even before Benson arrives). What’s the deal with that? I thought they were detectives, not street cops. The point to becoming a detective is to sleuth the situation after-the-fact. Are the NYPD cops somehow now so short-handed that they need help from detectives in breaking down doors and apprehending suspects? Also, why is Stabler the one there doing this? Is he getting so disenchanted with being a detective that he feels the need to go back to the front line? Also, he’s in a hoodie seemingly without wearing a bullet-proof vest. Seriously? He’s also the one taking the lead and calling the shots.

Worse, after all of the breaking down doors and entering, we find a kid whose head has been grazed by a bullet and who has not been sexually molested and is very much alive. We come to find that the kid had taken a drug that caused him to go manic and kill two kids. At this point, Captain Donald Cragen (Dann Florek) should have referred this case to appropriate narcotics division and gotten it off of SVU’s desk. Does he hand it off? No.

Horrible writing.

S9 E15 – Undercover

I know the stories have been a lot the same and Dick Wolf wanted something different in this episode. Well, this episode is totally improbable and unnecessary.

Despite being strongly advised not to do so, Olivia chooses to infiltrate a prison to find a guard who is raping female inmates. Yet more bad writing starts right here. Even Cragen says that its not NYPD’s job to police the prison system. That should have been a done deal, yet Cragen still allows Olivia to go into the prison undercover? Under any other circumstance, Cragen wouldn’t allow this of one of his top detectives.

This is a stupid story from the get go. Not only is the setup implausible, why would Olivia ever consent to put herself into such a degrading position? Why would Cragen even allow this? This is a woman who is intensely private and unwilling to share much with even her closest friend, Stabler. She won’t even share that she has a boyfriend. Yet, she’s willing to go into a prison knowing she’s going to be entirely degraded, humiliated and beaten? No, I don’t think she would have agreed to that. This episode is entirely out of character for how Benson had been portrayed up to this point. Then, when the perp takes Olivia down to the rape bed, she’s not raped, yet she’s left with severe mental anguish? And this piece they decide to carry into future episodes? Dumb writing at its best (or worst?).

S9 E17 – Authority

This episode features Robin Williams as a guy who always seems one step ahead of the detectives. Unfortunately, instead of the story making the Robin Williams character look he’s intelligent, smart and outwitting, it makes Stabler and Benson look like rookies just out of the academy. At every step, Benson and Stabler are played by this guy… not once, but many times. Never did Benson or Stabler make the observation that they’re being played.

If this story had had an element like one of Stabler’s kids involved, I could understand how Stabler’s personal interest might heavily cloud his judgement and put him into an emotional rage. I know that the writers were trying to use Benson to play the personal clouded judgement card, but it just doesn’t work against Stabler with Benson. Elliot is definitely fond of Olivia, but he’s not so fond of Olivia as to go manic like he does with his family.

The writers attempting to play this Stabler clouded judgement card here just doesn’t work. There were so many times that Stabler and Benson could have apprehended this guy, yet the story has him walk away. And, it makes both Stabler and Benson appear inept. For one, I thought cops were supposed to carry tasers for non-lethal take downs? Seriously, how hard is it to take down a suspect and cart him in? With a taser, it would have taken all of a few seconds. I also find it terribly hard to believe that Benson, as capable as she is, would simply allow herself to be carted off to an abandoned recording studio and be hooked up to wires without any kind of a struggle. This episode was so far fetched as to be stupid. It once again shows how rookie Benson and Stabler are. And, of course, this series will never bring this story arc back around. This Robin Williams character will simply be forgotten in among many hundreds of other forgotten and unresolved stories.

S9 E19 – Cold

This episode is convoluted, hard to follow and entirely implausible. This episode starts out with us finding out that Detective Lake likes to solve cold cases through an outside advocate group consisting of off duty law enforcement officers from all over. An advocate group that NYPD is aware of and dislikes. Upon leaving this particular advocate group meeting that we see him attending, he gets into a gun battle with two other people leaving another detective dead. In the process, Lake is injured and hospitalized. Lake also invokes a 48 hour NYPD policy that he cannot be questioned about the incident during that 48 hours. This 48 hour period conveniently overlaps with the 48 hours when the crime scene is the most fresh and when evidence can be lost. Convenient. Apparently, this policy trumps all other policies and even laws and prevents Stabler and Benson (or anyone else) from questioning Lake about the incident. Also, that Lake invokes this 48 hour holding period does not in any way prove innocence or guilt. Stabler comes dangerously close to having questioned Lake during this period and Novak calls this out. If Stabler had gotten anything out of him, it would have been inadmissible. Yet, Novak seems to be under the gun to determine what happened and get this case in front of a judge in less than 48 hours.

*needle rips across the record*

Wait.. what? Why would anyone want to get the case in front of a judge in 24-48 hours without having the detectives do their due diligence? How can the ME properly investigate the body, let alone the crime scene evidence and document it properly in less than 48 hours? How can the detectives even know what’s going on while within Lake’s 48 hour silent period? The writing on this episode is so intentionally atrocious as to be trite. Lake later escapes from the hospital and tries to run away, still during his 48 hour silent period. Up to this point, SVU has tried to remain reasonably believable. This one, however, is so unbelievable, it’s trash writing.

At the end of the episode, Lake is dismissed from SVU along with Novak who is to be hauled in front of the bar questioning her license over a Brady violation. A violation, I might add, that was not even of her doing. We’re talking about taking a case to court in less than 48 hours that had no business being there before all of the evidence and testimony was in. Talk about premature. How can you possibly take a case to trial without getting a statement from the one witness (Lake) who was there? I’ve seen Novak prevent trials for less than this. How can a medical examiner even rule on what happened in less than 48 hours? What DA would ever intentionally do such a piss poor job? If there was a Brady violation here, it wasn’t Novak who caused it. It was her superiors who set her up to fail by forcing the trial to proceed before all of the evidence was available. There was no Brady violation, only stupid superiors who rushed the case to trial before it was ready. Let’s not even discuss the weird editing and convoluted story pacing. Horrible episode through and through. Why are so many of SVU’s season enders so bad?

S12 E9 – Gray

In among the never ending parade of ADAs through Seasons 10, 11 and 12, Sonya Paxton (Christine Lahti) makes her first reappearance after alcohol rehab in this episode. Unfortunately, this episode’s writing is so atrocious, it makes the above episodes look great by comparison. I’m not particularly a fan of the ADA Sonya Paxton character. She is self-righteous, abrasive, condescending and she’s not a very good attorney. It’s one thing to be good at your job and have an attitude (i.e., Novak or Cabot). It’s entirely another when you’re bad at your job and have that same attitude. I don’t fully understand why Dick Wolf keeps bringing this character back. She’s a bad attorney and doesn’t do any favors for this show or this episode. Sorry, Christine. I know you put a lot of work into this character, but a crap written character always remains a crap character.

This episode features a college rape case. A girl claims rape against a guy she met at a college party. Later, after a series of convoluted scenes that slowed the pace, we find that she had been pregnant and miscarried a baby from the rape. Further, we find that her rapist came back a second time to have sex again… Wait what? *** hold it right there ***

The show has now gone painfully off the rails. If a female is claiming rape, why would she ever let her rapist back into her bed a second time? And, 8 weeks later? She willingly let him into her bed and willingly allowed him to use “Love potion #9” while she was pregnant ?!?

At this point, this is no longer a case of rape. It is consensual sex. If she willingly allowed this guy into her bed a second time, she willingly allowed him into her bed the first time. You can’t have it both ways here, writers. Let’s continue with this crap story…

Then, the episode turns away from the victim and plows forward with a trial against the male rapist based on evidence given to Stabler by his daughter from the University where Stabler’s daughter attends (conveniently, the same school as the victim). Yet, Stabler being a seasoned detective doesn’t even put 2+2 together to ask his own daughter if she knows the victim or the rapist? He only finds this out after the college’s psychologist points Stabler to his own daughter? *eye roll*

Anyway, Kathleen Stabler (Allison Siko) obtained that file of information from a guy she likes who works in the Dean’s office. Once again, Stabler acts like a rookie and doesn’t tell anyone about where he got this information and, of course, no one asks… not even Olivia… you know, the partner who questions everything? And, Stabler takes solely the word of his daughter (you know, the one who got arrested for a DUI) that the information he receives from her is admissible. Really? Kathleen Stabler is now an expert on all things law? So anyway, the victim claims that the second round of (ahem) consensual sex with her rapist, she miscarried the following day after having that sex.

After some investigation into the evidence, it’s uncovered that the rapist used a drug called Misoprostol in his “love potion” that the rapist’s attorney alleged was used to treat his erectile dysfunction symptoms, even though he had no troubles ‘getting it up’ during the alleged rape or during the second round of consensual sex. While the defense attorney claims he used Misprostol for E.D., the prosecution claims it is being used to abort the fetus… which, of course, it did. After all, that’s what the drug’s primary use is.

Later in the episode, the victim dies because the miscarriage was incomplete and caused a systemic infection which killed her. Even a quick search on Google demonstrates the number one use of Misoprostol is for pregnancy termination, not E.D. Further, if this guy had a problem with E.D., why choose Misoprostol over Viagra? A pill is a whole lot easier to consume and would have lasted a much longer than using Misprostol when combined with a vacuum pump. A lot less trouble too and wouldn’t have endangered the fetus. This was a slam dunk case that this rapist kid intentionally used Misoprostol to force terminate the pregnancy. A good ADA with should have been able to prove this beyond a doubt. Yet, we have Sonya who’s just out of rehab, not sure on her feet and not a great attorney. I can’t even fathom why the D.A. would consider rehiring her after that drunken stunt she pulled in the courtroom in S11 E4 – Hammered.

All other above stupidity aside, let’s cut to the chase on crappiest part of this episode which is also the worst part of this episode’s writing. Against all of SVU’s training which the 11 other seasons have proven, the detectives did not have the victim go to the hospital to be checked out… particularly after finding out she had miscarried about a week before they talked to her. In fact, her death was entirely preventable had Olivia followed her training, had been sympathetic to the victim… and escorted her to a hospital to be examined. If a hospital had examined her after Olivia’s prompting, they would have caught the incomplete miscarriage, then admitted her and treated her for it. Yet more rookie moves by SVU’s most seasoned detectives. A rookie move, I might add, that resulted in the death of the victim… a preventable death. Yet, once again, neither does Olivia nor does Stabler recognize their egregious mistake… because, you know, writers. Of course, her death conveniently leads to the close of the episode by getting her (ahem) rapist behind bars for manslaughter… or at least, we assume this to be true as the episode closes with yet another cliffhanger and no closure. Such crap writing.

S12 E24 – Smoked

While this episode’s writing is particularly bad, this episode follows in SVU’s past footsteps as yet another exceedingly bad season ender. I’m unsure why the season end episodes are so bad, but here we are. This one, however, most certainly deserves to be on SVU’s worst written list.

Suffice it to say that a rape victim is killed while walking down a street with her daughter a week before her trial to convict her rapist. Convenient… at least for the rapist. Of course, the kill is pinned on the rapist, but predictably he had help. As the plot thickens, we come to find that the FBI is involved in, of all things, an illegal cigarette tax evasion sting. Here’s where this one goes off the rails. The FBI snatches the alleged killer from SVU’s lockup and takes him to an FBI facility. Because, you know, the SVU is so excellent at all things cop, they pose Stabler as a shop owner looking to score cigs from this ring that the FBI wants to bust. This all goes down because, hey, can’t we all get along and because SVU needs this killer back in custody and the FBI isn’t willing to give him up before this sting goes down. Enter Stabler posing as a shop owner… as if SVU detectives can just do anything in the cop world and be great at it.

So, this FBI arc is entirely stupid and unnecessary filler. Anyway, Stabler goes in with the rape victim’s killer (???) as his sidekick to pull off this cigarette sting. Why would Stabler ever go along with this shenanigan? Seriously, just take the perp back to SVU by force and leave the FBI high and dry. They can get him back after they’re done arraigning him. Anyway, the cigarette sting goes bad because, you know, bad WiFi reception and the killer gets away.

Fast forward. The killer is found again and put in custody at SVU, along with the FBI guy who gave him the gun and the rapist who set it all up. Yes, three different perps in this one.

The daughter of the rape victim waltzes into the SVU station and, after asking Olivia to take her to the lockup to see the killer, she pulls out a gun and attempts to kill everyone in the lockup and also kills Sister Peg and injures a few blue shirt cops. Moments later, because she finds that after nearly entering a full clip into the lockup and the squad room hadn’t killed her mom’s killer, she attempts to shoot him, only for Stabler to shoot that grieving daughter turned killer. She dies in Stabler’s arms. Fade out.

Once again, they let anyone into the precinct without any kind of search? Really? After a number of previous gun shootouts in the SVU offices, how did this happen again? Seriously, how many times does a grieving relative have to come into SVU offices and shoot up the place before they institute some security measures… before being allowed into the building? Worse, Olivia didn’t even notice that the rape victim’s daughter was not only distraught, but agitated. The show has continually put both Olivia’s and Stabler’s victim sensitivities on parade for all to see. Yet, at the end of this episode, where was Olivia’s sensitivity awareness? Why was Olivia so oblivious to the this girl’s completely obvious anguish. Worse, it’s SVU’s job to keep anyone in their custody safe from harm. Yet, this precinct has continually put people in their lockup in harm’s way time and time again. And, for whatever reason, this lockup is right out in the open next to all of the detectives desks where anyone can take a pot shot.

Why hasn’t One Police Plaza stepped into shut down this precinct? With so many egregious and fatal mistakes, this entire precinct needs to be furloughed and re-hired. Reassign those people who can be and let the rest go. This precinct is a disaster. I can’t even imagine what the Bronx and other SVU teams think about the Manhattan SVU team with as many mistakes and deaths that this precinct has intentionally caused by its mistakes. The writers should be entirely ashamed at writing this dreck.

S14 E24 – Her Negotiation and S15 E1 Surrender Benson/Imprisoned Lives (two parter)

Here begins the tale of the serial killer, William Lewis. I’m clearly unsure what’s going on in the writer’s minds in SVU at this point. Sure, this one is a two parter that spans two seasons. I get that. I also get that it was likely trying to boost ratings. But, instead of writing actual detective stories, the writers appear to want to write IAB driven stories about dirty cops or prosecutorial misconduct or the personal lives of the detectives in the squad room. It’s less about doing their detective jobs and more about everything other than detective work. In this two-parter, Olivia is kidnapped by a guy named William Lewis (Pablo Schreiber) who gets off on serial sexual assault possibly leading to death of the victim at the “end”. Not only is Pablo Schreiber’s acting work laughable rather than menacing, the story is contrived, trite and stupid. Olivia taunts the guy in the interrogation room in the first part who then later kidnaps Olivia (end of first part) and sets out to “make her dreams come true” in a sadistic torturous way. Let’s forget that Olivia is a seasoned detective. Let’s forget that she carries a weapon that she failed to use when she heard a noise in her apartment. Let’s forget that she failed to call for backup when she heard the noise.

I’m sure when this episode was on, many people ooo’d and ahh’d it. I just want to roll my eyes at it. How many of these silly episodes do we need to endure? Yes, this sadistic character is a butt. Yes, he needs to be taken down. Yes, there are at least 3 or 4 times when someone could have popped a bullet in him and yet they let him live over and over. Even when Olivia has the chance to wound him, she doesn’t even after the beating she has taken.

Don’t even get me started on the ludicrous setup when the William Lewis character burned his finger tips off to prove a point to his roommate at a halfway house. Ok, let’s. Seriously, he turns the grill on and 20 seconds later we’re led to believe it’s hot enough to burn his fingertips? No, I don’t think so.

Then after about 1/3 of the way through S15 E1, a new episode begins and we’re seeing a story about a guy who abducts kids and then raises him in another house somewhere else and keeps them locked up in cages in the basement? Because it was only given about 25 minutes of a 40 minute episode, this partial episode just didn’t work. Why didn’t the writing team just make the entire episode about Olivia and William? I’d have been more interested to see the William Lewis character take her on a very long outing forcing her into Stockholm Syndrome. Then once she’s back, require her to be deprogrammed before being allowed back onto the squad. If you’re going to take Olivia to Victimsville, let’s take her all the way there.

S15 E5 – October Surprise

Once again, the writers surprise us with yet another weak and horrible story idea that doesn’t belong under the purview of SVU. Yet, here we are and here they are investigating a story about a mayoral candidate, Alejandro Munoz, who is a close friend of Barba from childhood. It also seems that this mayoral candidate’s wife may have had an affair with Barba. However, Barba refuses to recuse himself from this investigation, allegedly at the DA’s prompting. I highly doubt that.

Anyway, the Munoz is apparently paying off women he’s slept with or otherwise had indiscretions to prevent losing the election. Clearly, there is not a “special victim” here. SVU comes to find after tremendous digging and way, way later that Munoz has some kind of sexting fantasy and, in that process, he received (but did not prompt) nude pictures of a 12 year old girl from the Internet.

Hold it right here… There’s no rape victim, no one claiming to be a victim, no one coming forward as a victim… So, why again is SVU investigating this?

Overall, this episode was another non-starter and shouldn’t have even been handled by SVU. I still don’t understand why Cragen refuses to punt these back over to other teams. This one had nothing to do with special victims as Munoz’s worst offense was possessing pictures of a 12 year old girl when he likely didn’t even know her age. Not once did he rape any of these women. Not once did he assault any of the women. The 12 year old girl consensually sent him the photos. Sure, it’s pedophilia by the legal statutes, but SVU wouldn’t have even known if they hadn’t been told to intentionally go look for dirt on Munoz by the DA. If anything, this seriously shows that the DA led some kind of conspiratorial effort against Munoz to try to get him removed from the running… and SVU colluded with the DA in these efforts. This is one of those episodes where the writers were entirely misguided by the story’s idea and misguided in how SVU works.

I’d much rather have a straightforward case of rape than dealing with these sideline non-starter stories. I know that the writers are trying to freshen up the series with interesting stories, but these kinds of stories aren’t the answer. It’s no wonder why John Munch (Richard Belzer) left SVU during season 15 with these trite, horrible plots. Hey, at least they gave John Much a proper send off (S15 E5 – Wonderland Story), unlike how they handled Elliot Stabler’s departure, who got absolutely nothing (S13 E1 – Scorched Earth).

S15 E9 – Psycho Therapist

I debated about even watching this episode because I knew the writers would screw the pooch. I wasn’t wrong. William Lewis (Pablo Schreiber) is now standing trial and he’s up to all his courtroom shenanigans again… first by self-representation, next by playing games, then by making wild accusations all while ADA Rafael Barba (Raúl Esparza) sits there and does nothing about it. But, that’s not the primary problem with this episode.

If I didn’t know better, I’d say Barba was colluding with William Lewis. Why? At one point it becomes known to Barba that after Benson had broken free from Lewis in the final act of her abduction, Benson ushers an immigrant maid and her daughter out of the house quickly. But, that’s not the problem. We’ve already established just how much of a loony psychopath that Lewis is.

Why then do I think Barba is colluding with William Lewis? During this episode and after one segment of a day’s trial, Barba asks Benson, “Why weren’t [the maid and her daughter] in the house when the police showed up?” Barba, what are you, stupid? Seriously? William Lewis is the very definition of a dangerous psychopath who would kill anyone who got in his way. Lewis had already proven this mental state several times in both the S14 and S15 episode. If the maid and her daughter weren’t in the house when the police arrived, it’s because Benson told them to leave because of danger. It’s 2+2, darlin’. Yet, Barba asks the question in some kind of accusatory fashion like Benson did something wrong simply by asking them to leave the house? Benson had already told you she broke free just as Lewis pulled the maid and her daughter inside. The question Barba should have asked Benson is, “Why did you ask the maid and her daughter to leave the house?” Even then, it’s still a stupid question with an obvious answer.

This Barba story point makes no sense at all. If anything, it points to Barba’s collusion with Lewis. Are the writers so blind to their story creations that they can’t see proper story logic? There’s no other explanation for this silly question except that Barba is helping Lewis go free. In fact, I’m also seeing more and more of Barba helping Lewis win this case. That’s not what an ADA is supposed to be doing. Of course, nobody recognizes this collusion.

This next story point (which happens before the maid incident) corroborates Barba’s collusion. Lewis dismisses his lawyer and requests self-representation. Yes, defendants do have the right to self-representation… but, the judge can also curtail it “…when self-representation is [excessively] disruptive of orderly procedures…” In this case, based on past Lewis antics in (and out) of the courtroom, his request to self-represent fully falls firmly under ‘excessively disruptive of orderly procedures’. Barba should have argued this point vehemently by showing past courtroom examples when Lewis requested to dismiss his attorney and self-represent. What the hell, Barba? Of course, the writers would make Lewis win no matter what just to prove this point.

I’m actually tired of the unrealism of the William Lewis character. There is no way that this person would have this much continual dumb luck and be this bad of a person. That is unless he was continually drinking Felix Felicis (Harry Potter luck potion). Lewis’s luck had to change. Seriously, with the amount of luck that William Lewis continually has, he should screw banging people over the head and go into a casino and rob them blind. Play the lottery. Then, go into bank and jewelry store heists. Anyone with THIS MUCH dumb luck should be able to do all of that, get rich and never get caught at it.

All the while that Lewis is tormenting Benson on the stand, Barba sits there saying absolutely nothing. What the hell, Barba? He should have been objecting every other word coming out of this guy’s mouth.

Worst of all, when it comes time for Barba to make closing arguments, the episode conveniently skips this. So, we get to watch the defense’s demeaning closing arguments but not Barba? Then he gets 25 to life. Then he fakes a seizure with his attorney? Really? There is absolutely no way they would transfer a 25 to lifer outside of the prison. He would get medical aid in the prison or die there. The writers seriously want us to believe this trash? SVU has seriously jumped the shark here. I’m surprised it wasn’t cancelled in season 15.

Oh, and I should also mention that Pablo Schreiber’s one-note scenery-chewing smirk-acting in this episode is actually worse than in previous episodes. If I never see this guy in any other program, it’ll be too soon. Pablo, find another profession.

S15 E19 – Beast’s Obsession

As we continue the saga with *eye roll* William Lewis, we find that he died and couldn’t be resuscitated, but then mysteriously comes back to life in Bellevue, then conveniently escapes without being seen. This episode also introduces the new ‘acting’ Captain to take Cragen’s place. This new boss pops up without showing so much as a shield and everyone just accepts him at face value without checking with One PP? Yes, they were little suspicious of him at first, but how is it they all seem to just know this guy? Rollins knows him and so does Amaro and Benson, but the rest?

*sigh* This ludicrous story arc has become the bane of SVU. It has nothing whatever to do with SVU and simply exists in some fantasy world that resembles SVU. Let’s just say that, for whatever reason, Benson decides to forgo better advice and her two person protection detail to gallivant off into the waiting arms of William Lewis, yet again. It’s almost like she likes doing this or something. This story arc is so completely ludicrous and unbelievable as to be intentionally this level of stupid. Seriously, Benson is still recovering from her previous ordeal. Why in the hell would she do this once again? Lewis has captured a little girl (predictable) and takes her off to some place somewhere. He lures Benson to him with the promise of getting the little girl back.

Anyway, long story short. Lewis, once again, sets Olivia up to take the fall for his suicide in a nebulous way. He sets it up so that it could appear incriminating towards Benson, as the ME rules the death as caused undetermined (CUPPI). Basically, his death could appear as his own suicide just as Benson describes or it could appear as if Olivia intentionally pulled the trigger on him. Fade out.

Actually, the writers and cinematographers for this episode attempted to be too smart for their own good and made a tremendous writing mistake. The medical examiner, Melinda Warner, states there was gunshot residue on both Lewis and Benson (S15 E20 – Post-Mortem Blues). However, this statement was so casually tossed out and not at all examined properly that when coupled with the screenshot below, this is a serious writing blunder.

img_3833.jpg

This is a screenshot moments before Lewis pulls the trigger. As you can so clearly see, only Lewis’s left hand is on the gun, not Benson’s. The medical examiner didn’t have this screen shot to examine and had to work strictly from gunshot residue (GSR). And, the GSR tells us (and the medical examiner) exactly what happened. While GSR might be sprayed onto Benson based at the angle and proximity of Lewis to Benson, the GSR would not have appeared on Benson’s free right hand in the correct pattern to implicate her in firing the weapon. The only way Benson’s hand would have had GSR consistent with firing this revolver would have been if Lewis had forced Olivia to hold the gun along with Lewis’s own hand and they pulled the trigger together. While Lewis was twisted enough to think of this, the writers (and the filmmakers) failed to show Lewis doing this.

One might argue that they both played Russian roulette. Well, yes they did. But, it doesn’t explain anything to do with the GSR. Olivia didn’t fire the weapon during this game otherwise she’d be dead. Olivia also didn’t fire this revolver at any other time during this scene. She held this revolver, yes. Yes, her fingerprints would be on the revolver. Since she never fired this revolver (or any gun during this scene), she wouldn’t have GSR blowback residue on either of her hands. This further reiterates this writing blunder.

This means that Benson’s free right hand would be entirely free of gunshot residue blowback in the quantities necessary to prove that she held the gun when it fired. The GSR pattern would have conclusively proven that Lewis held the gun in his left hand alone when it fired, which then conclusively proves that Benson was not holding nor was her hand anywhere near the revolver when it fired. Based on forensic testing of the crime scene, this should all have been captured. This further means that the medical examiner should have ruled Lewis’s death a suicide. The medical examiner was either complicit with Lewis to hide this GSR evidence or this has to be one of the biggest forensic blunders in the history of SVU. Melinda Warner should have her license revoked. Everything that happens next to Benson (accusations from IAB and the Grand Jury) after Melinda Warner’s inept report is entirely the fault of Melinda Warner.

I’ll reserve further judgement of this arc until after ….

S15 E20 – Post-Mortem Blues

Here’s where the fallout from Lewis’s suicide takes shape in the form of legal problems for Benson, singlehandedly because of Melinda Warner’s inept handling of the GSR forensic evidence. Benson is thrown into a long arduous IAB investigation which eventually leads to a Grand Jury hearing regarding Benson’s actions. Since the police headquarters at 1PP are looking for a scapegoat to hang out to dry, Benson is being set up for the fall. The prosecutor in the Grand Jury hearing, Derek Strauss (Greg Germann), appears to intentionally throw out only one-sided arguments regarding Benson’s actions, disregarding all else at the expense of throwing Benson under the bus.

As the hearing progresses, it’s clear this is entirely a fantasy world. Lewis has intentionally left a wake of raped and dead victims all along the way. He’s an escaped convict who is now at large and considered armed and dangerous. He’s also kidnapped a little girl and is now holding her hostage at gunpoint. Oh, but let’s forget all about those pesky details and focus on how Benson lied when she claimed she beat Lewis within an inch of his life while he was cuffed to a bed OR how she *might* have pulled the trigger on this known serial killer, kidnapper and rapist, which the evidence shows she didn’t.

No, let’s simply ignore this killer’s heinous acts, his escape from prison and focus on the red tape to convict Benson by completely disregarding any of those pesky Lewis details that just get in the way of this crap storytelling. Wait what?

What the hell Dick Wolf? You really expect us to swallow this trite, unrealistic, pretentious bullshit?

You can damned well bet that any prisoner who manages to escape from prison will be considered as top priority and not just by SVU. An escaped armed prisoner is well beyond a handful of sex crime detectives to be tasked for recovery. No, his recovery to prison would be top priority by law enforcement throughout the state. When prisoners escape, they aren’t allowed simply to gallivant off into the sunset freely. Worse, after he shot and killed several people at the hospital to escape, he would be considered armed and extremely dangerous. Lewis’s recovery would have been ordered as apprehend by deadly force, if necessary.

Based on this order, whatever it took for Benson to subdue Lewis would have been considered reasonable and appropriate force rather than suspicious. Not only was Benson robbed of her kill. She was then hung out to dry by the Grand Jury for doing her police duty against an escaped and dangerous prisoner. The medical examiner, Melinda Warner, also egregiously failed to do her forensic duties properly with the GSR evidence, which would have clearly exonerated Olivia Benson entirely. Worse, it was an entire slap in the face when the Grand Jury hearing completely and conveniently ignored Lewis’s heinous acts, including the little girl’s abduction and kidnapping let alone his prison escape and his killings along the way.

And here I thought seasons 13 and 14 were bad. Season 15 is the single worst season of SVU by far. But, that’s pretty much because of the William Lewis story arc, which was not only the single worst story arc in the history of SVU, it also has one of the worst casting decisions ever made on SVU with Pablo Schreiber. Schreiber couldn’t act to save his life. This guy simply has no talent, unless you count his incessant one-note stupid smirk-smile as acting talent. In fact, placing this guy into any scene drags down the acting talent of anyone around him.

The second worst casting decision was the introduction of Lt. Declan Murphy (Donal Logue) as Cragen’s SVU replacement. He simply has no charisma at all and no chemistry with the rest of the cast. It was entirely no consolation to the viewers when he steps in and defends Benson in one of the worst monologues in SVU’s history at the Grand Jury. Seriously? You’re going to pick the second worst actor ever in SVU to be the voice of reason and pull off a Benson save? Why couldn’t it have been Tutuola, Cragen or Munch. You know, someone we actually care about and have invested time in, not some random actor you’ve picked up in Toronto. Heck I’d even taken Cassidy, Rollins or Amaro in a pinch. Why choose this guy who’s been on maybe 3 episodes and in whom we have no interest to become Benson’s savior? The is so unsatisfying on many levels.

I realize the show started this story arc and needed to end it. It’s clear, the writers on SVU simply don’t know how to handle anything but fantasy writing with long arcs. There is absolutely nothing realistic at all in the William Lewis story arc… which then led to an entirely unsatisfying conclusion. Sure, he died (or did he?). If we’re going to get into the situation where people can now magically come back to life on this kind of series, then there’s no reason to continue it.

I’m entirely surprised that Mariska Hargitay has stayed with this series after this trash arc. We’ve gone from being a decent police procedural early on with Benson and Stabler to a Buffy the Rapist Slayer wannabe. What’s next? Cartoons running around with the main characters? Or, Superheroes?

This ends the crapfest tale of William Lewis.

S18 E20 – American Dream / Sanctuary

This one starts with a somewhat minor nitpick and progresses from there. After bursting through the front door of Hector Ramirez’s apartment, they find his wife and two kids, but no Hector. After a bit of searching, Detective Carisi (Peter Scanavino) meets up with Detective Rollins in the kitchen with Hector’s wife. Carisi calls the wife her name, Soledad. Wait… what?

This writing blunder is that nowhere leading up to the detectives entering Hector’s apartment is it disclosed that Hector’s wife’s name is Soledad. Also, there is no time after they burst through the front door where she discloses her name to them. While it’s possible that Carisi could have looked up her name on the police computer on the way or before heading there, this detail was not established either in dialog or in any other way.

The writers need to be much more careful about these types of establishing details.

Beyond the above, the ICE grab and deport a material witness in SVU’s double homicide case. The SVU team finds out the witness is already on a plane over the Atlantic. Hello? It’s a plane. Contact air traffic control and have them reroute the plane and have it land back at JFK. Then, pick the witness up there. Why does NYPD always feel helpless under certain situations like this? As soon as they found that the plane was in the air, they should made a call and required the plane to reroute back to JFK.

Oh, and this episode gets even worse. How is it that the season ender episodes are almost always the worst written, least realistic and most illogical of the entire season? Anyway, Hector provides testimony to the Grand Jury that he has pled guilty to murder two and kidnapping. Yet, immediately following this, some random shmoe kills Hector just a block away from the courthouse? Seriously?

How is it possible that Hector ended up “walking around” free after having just pled guilty? What the hell is wrong with the writers? How is it in any way believable that the NYPD would let a man who has just moments before pled guilty tp murder two simply walk away free from the courthouse? Shouldn’t he have been in custody at the very least? He obviously wasn’t in custody because there were no cuffs. What is it with the writers here? The NYPD wouldn’t be so careless as to let a material witness in an extremely high profile case walk around unprotected on the streets of NYC knowing the amount of protesting at the steps of the courthouse. Yet, the writers want us to believe this? Of course, the writers put Hector into the hospital with a nicked aorta in some dramatic fashion. What’s the point in the hospital scene if Hector dies just moments later? Just have him be dead on the sidewalk. What trash writing!

S19 E1 – Gone Fishin’

While I’ll let the child aging thing with Noah slide, I can’t let the whole Benson and Noah and first day of school thing drop. Olivia Benson is a whole lot smarter than this episode suggests. What were the writers thinking? The first day of school and the school finds a bruise on Noah. Olivia suggests maybe he fell down. The next day, Olivia is called into the school and is patronized by the teacher because Noah told the school nurse that Olivia gave him the bruise. The only way she could have given Noah a bruise is when she yanked him off the street just before being run over. Though, I doubt that gave him a bruise.

Because Olivia knows she didn’t give Noah that bruise, she should have turned the tables  on that instructor. She should have explained that this is Noah’s first day at this school. If anyone gave Noah that bruise, it was likely someone at the school. Further, she should have strongly suggested to that teacher the she will be opening an investigation into that school for further bruising and other injury complaints by parents. If she finds anything amiss with the school, she would see that appropriate charges are filed against the school and any instructors. She should have put he fear of god into both that teacher and the nurse. Olivia should have made certain that the school understood that you don’t screw with upstanding cops and expect to get away it. Yet, Olivia walks away sheepishly. That is not a Benson cop trait.

S19 E20 – The Book of Esther

Here’s another episode with writers who are writing beyond their means. A girl shows up at the station malnourished, underweight with physical injuries consistent with assault, who we come to know as Esther. She babbles on Bible quotes and it’s clear that she’s not all there. She doesn’t test positive for rape, so they let that one go. Her father shows up and attempts to spout a bunch of holier-than-thou crap and threatens legal action if he doesn’t take Esther home. The father shows a piece of paper that purports that Esther is 27 even though she looks like she’s 16 or so. This means she’s not a child and that child welfare laws wouldn’t apply. Convenient.

Rollins confronts Benson and states they can’t just let her go back home, that they have to detain her. Benson states they have nothing to detain either of them on. Let’s hold it right here. What the hell writers?

It’s clear that Esther is both in physical and emotional distress. In fact, there is at least one applicable New York state law that would have allowed them to detain the father. Specifically, reckless endangerment and assault. There are even degrees to reckless endangerment, but that’s for a court to decide. When Rollins asked Benson to detain someone, the father should have been detained for reckless endangerment. He could have also been detained on assault charges.

Are the writers even trying? This is supposed to be a police procedural isn’t it?

This writing jackassery aside, Rollins goes off on her own to investigate the family. She follows them to a bowling alley as the whole family piles out of a van with a bunch of children. Yet, Rollins just sits there and does nothing? It’s clear that they have underage children. Call ACS right then and there. What the hell is wrong with you, Rollins? Are you even a cop?

The story then escalates into a Waco-like standoff at a house when Esther and a couple of other kids are killed. Later, we come to find through some miracle of writing that one of Rollins’s bullets managed, through brick and mortar, through walls and through kitchen appliances to pinpoint kill Esther in the head… in the back left side of the house, in the kitchen. No, I don’t think so.

Boy, ballistics works fast considering how many rounds were fired and that both suspects only just moments before got into their respective interrogation rooms. Why doesn’t Benson question these findings? Benson needs to investigates the ballistics lab. Thanks writers for not allowing SVU to do its job and stop this before it even started. Thanks writers for pinning it on Rollins with such improbable scenarios. Stupid writing trumps this show once again. *eye roll* This episode’s writing is so atrocious it matches only one other story arc in SVU’s history… the William Lewis story arc. If this is the level of writing we’re getting at this point, I think it’s time for SVU to retire.

S19 E21 – Guardian

I’ll to cut to the chase with this one. Three kids are being accused of rape of a girl on a playground at night. When they’re rounded up and thrown into interrogation rooms, the first kid interrogated says of meeting the girl and her friend on a playground, “They were drinking Absolut. We asked if they wanted to party.”

Then, his lawyer says, “This is not a rape, not by a long stretch.” Carisi interrupts and says, “This victim was incapacitated. She had drugs and alcohol in her system.”

The lawyer leans over to the kid and asks, “Did you know this?” Hello, not 1 minute earlier the kid had confirmed that they were drinking Absolut Vodka. He most certainly did know that, he confirmed it to the cops just two sentences earlier. Yet, no one calls this out? Stupid writing trumps this show again.

S19 E23 — Remember Me / Remember Me Too

This is effectively a two parter in one and the season ender, not that that makes any difference here. Almost every season end SVU episode is poorly conceived and written. I really should know better by now. I’m not sure what the writers were attempting to show with the Benson character, but this episode is so far from what the show has established Benson to be, it’s beyond stupid. I’m surprised Mariska Hargitay is still putting her name to this farce they call a police drama. Anyway…

A girl meets a guy at a night club and they head back to “his place” for some casual after-club sex. Instead, she pulls a gun on him and holds him hostage. Turns out, it’s not his place. It’s his friend’s place and it’s wired with cameras on the ‘dark net’. Yes, that ‘dark net’ thing rears its tropishly ugly head, again. Anyway, the whole thing is streaming live on the ‘dark net’ preventing law enforcement from finding the location easily. Based on some ridiculous visual and aural clues, Benson and team determine the building’s general vicinity and begin canvasing the suspected area.

Benson, once again, stumbles upon the correct building and, without a partner, manages to find the suite and enters without gun drawn, without backup and without radioing in. Peeking her head in the front door, which was naturally wide open, you can see that the decor matches what they’d been staring at for the last hour or so on the video. Instead of stepping back into the hallway and calling for backup, she rushes in because a cop had already entered… as if that somehow makes the situation in any way okay.

So then, Benson allows herself to become a hostage of this clearly deranged girl, Lourdes, who is holding a revolver on Miguel (probably the same prop used in the William Lewis episode) and she proceeds to listen to what Lourdes has to say. Hold it right there.

I can buy some of this to a point, but story’s writing is difficult to swallow. Benson is a Lieutenant. What the hell is she doing working the field? Cragen rarely, if ever, stepped out and hand participated in investigations. As a captain or lieutenant, this is what your team does. So what the hell, Benson? Shouldn’t you be either back at HQ coordinating from there or standing on the street and coordinating your team from a van? Why are you entering apartments?

Suspending the ridiculousness surrounding Benson’s involvement in the situation she’s put herself in, I can then understand Benson doing whatever she needs to do to diffuse the situation and disarm the suspect. I get it. You say and do whatever it takes to diffuse it. It doesn’t mean you believe a word of what they’re saying, but you agree with and you appear empathetic and sympathetic because you need the situation to be resolved without casualties. I totally get it.

What I don’t get… when the situation is resolved, Benson is still painting the girl holding them hostage at gunpoint to be the ‘victim’. Damn Benson, where the hell is your head? She’s not a victim, she’s a perp facing a class D felony charge in NY. I don’t care what happened in her past. When she pulled that gun and pointed it at a cop’s head (not to mention shattering the skull of and killing the apartment owner), her past history is no longer relevant. If she wanted justice for a rape or trafficking committed on her past, she lost that chance by pulling a weapon on a cop and by assaulting and killing people. She needs to be convicted and sent to prison, end of story for her. If there are any traffickers in Rikers seeking a vendetta there, she should have thought about that before pulling a loaded weapon on a cop and before bashing in the skull of the apartment owner.

As for whether Miguel’s the guy who trafficked her (as she kept claiming), that’s an entirely separate investigation. Hold him and investigate his past. If he was involved in any human trafficking, then go find the evidence to uncover that. As it is, he appears innocent based on his statements. Also, anything he might have confessed while being held at gunpoint by her is considered coerced. It won’t hold up in any court. And, it cannot be believed. He was also doing and saying whatever was necessary to survive the situation. Worse, Lourdes fed him everything he parroted back, which is the very definition of a coerced confession.

In part two, two more improbable things happen. First, Miguel admits to having trafficked Lourdes and other women from Mexico. Convenient. Second, the newest ADA Peter Stone (Philip Winchester) is threatened that his sister may be hurt by someone who seems to be from the Mexican cartel. Comes to find that improbably, a single individual manages to take out the protective detail surrounding where Peter Stone’s sister is being held. Amazingly, even though the entire protective detail, about 3-5 people, are all dead, at least one guy is left alive to tell the police what happened. There is no way that would happen. If the Mexican cartel were to kill the protection detail, they wold kill everyone but the one they want to kidnap. So, the guy who threatened Stone kidnaps Stone’s schizophrenic sister and takes her to a warehouse.

The SVU and ESU teams meet at the warehouse. Effectively, the ESU goes in guns-a-blazin’ ultimately killing Stone’s sister. However, it takes hundreds of round of ammo hitting everything but the target… which eventually does bring down this lone dumbass guy. Did the ESU guys earn their weapons certifications from the Stormtrooper school of weapons training?

Yeah, it’s definitely as bad as it sounds.

Continued Bad Writing

I don’t know what Dick Wolf is thinking with this series in terms of consistency, but he’s definitely put some questionable episodes on the air. However, I will say that from seasons 5-7, the stories were acceptable with the occasional stinker, usually related to the personal lives of Stabler. In fact, the Stabler household stories are usually some of the weakest and most predictable, with Elliot usually abusing his shield to get one of his kids off of some kind of charges.

I don’t even fully understand why Dick Wolf added the Lake character to the cast for season 8. This character was absolutely not needed. He did nothing to fix a perceived squad shortage condition. In fact, the stories never once showed that the squad was short staffed. As an adjunct SVU Bronx character for a single episode, fine. As a recurring character given main title billing, what? This guy can barely act with his incessant mumbling. The only thing he had going for his looks… and even that wasn’t enough. This actor had zero chemistry with the rest of the cast. Worse, Wolf decided to push Munch aside and partner Tutuola with Lake even though Tutuola could barely work with the guy. It was like oil and water between the original cast and this new guy.

By Season 9, the series takes a serious turn for the worse. At the end of 9, there’s a continuous string of poorly written episodes that show, once again, not only just how green and novice Stabler and Benson are, but also Munch, Tutuola and even the absolutely useless and newly introduced Chester Lake (Adam Beach) character. Starting at S9 E17 to the end, these three episodes are possibly some of the worst writing I’ve seen so far in SVU and is at least as bad as the writing in seasons 14 and 15.

Thankfully, Lake lasted two seasons and departed at the end of season 9 along with ADA Kasey Novak. While losing Lake was actually a benefit for the show, Kasey Novak’s departure handling was surprisingly atrocious. As seasoned a lawyer as Kasey was, she knew the Brady law. Kasey wasn’t at all this level of stupid. Yet, the show treated her like a rookie green lawyer just out of college. It was a cheap and stupid story move. If you’re planning to have an important character like an ADA leave, have them leave of their own accord because they’re a victim. This is Special Victims Unit. Let her become a victim of a crime that leaves an emotional scar so intense she has to move away from the city. This is a fitting reason to leave the series. Using a stupid rookie maneuver to ruin her career says the writers are hopelessly amateur.

The Multi-show Crossover Episodes

For whatever reason Dick Wolf and crew decided to link the his police and fire procedurals together through several different crossover narratives between seasons 15 and season 17 of SVU. This is frustrating on so many levels, particularly if you’re binge watching. The binge watching problem forces you to stop watching SVU and then go find the Chicago Fire and Chicago P.D. Episodes to complete the narrative. Hulu doesn’t have them. You’ll end up over at Amazon buying the episodes to complete watching the full narrative. THIS is a primary reason the crossovers are frustrating. I’m sure it was fine when they were aired on TV, but when you’re binge watching later on streaming, there is no warning about these in the SVU episodes. They just happen and you’re expected to figure out what the CF and CPD episodes that match are. Otherwise, the episode is just lost on the viewer.

The other problem with these crossovers is the change in show format between the storylines. If you’re used to watching SVU’s way of doing things, you’re in for a culture shock when you watch Chicago P.D. Not only is the entire series format different and, of course, the characters, but the way the story unfolds is also entirely different.

The first three-show crossover between Chicago Fire, SVU and Chicago P.D. saw the worst of the narrative on Chicago Fire. Not only did the writers wait until practically the last second to introduce the crossover narrative in CF, what they did include was pointless. In fact, the tiny segment on CF can entirely be skipped. The SVU episode was average, but not outstanding. The conclusion on CPD was horrid because of not only the change in show format which is jarring, the way the story unfolds is entirely unsatisfying. I mean, you get used to seeing the conclusion in SVU based on the way SVU does things, yet you’re robbed of that conclusion because it ends in CPD with CPD characters using CPD style endings. I didn’t bother to watch the second three-show crossover because, at the time, I hadn’t chased down the other episodes until just now while writing this update. The first crossover was just not worth the time to go watch the second one.

Here are the crossovers if you’re interested in watching:

Crossovers in order of appearance

  • SVU S15 E15 Comic Perversion and CPD S1 E6 Conventions
  • CF S3 E7 Nobody Touches Anything, SVU S16 E7 Chicago Crossover and CPD S2 E7 They’ll Have to Go Through Me
  • CF S3 E21 We Called Her Jellybean, CPD S2 E20 The Number of Rats and SVU S16 E20 Daydream Believer
  • SVU S17 E14 Nationwide Manhunt and CPD S3 E14 The Song of Gregory Williams Yates

Enough with the crossovers already, Dick Wolf.

Season 13

This is the first season sans Detective Stabler (see Stabler’s badly handled departure) and the show feels empty without this character’s presence. Worse, the episodes are now slow and oddly paced. SVU now feels more like a soap opera than a detective show. Clearly, the creative team has changed and not for the better. As this season progresses, the writing takes a terrible turn towards the last half of the season. SVU supposedly has one of the highest conviction rates of all SVUs in New York. Yet, you wouldn’t be able to tell this by season 13. This is particularly true of S13 E18 entitled Valentine’s Day. This episode is about an sociopathic nymphomaniac who, in her own trial, tampers with one of the jurors. Yet, even with all of the evidence, Novak (who’s back again, by the way) can’t even get a conviction of this manipulative woman. Who writes this stuff?

If the there’s even a hint of jury tampering, Novak should have called to have the entire jury replaced with alternates. That’s her right to ask for this. Why didn’t this happen? Seriously, let that suspected juror continue? No, I don’t think so.

Worse, episodes which would have been written for Stabler are now being given to Benson and which make her look like a stubborn unwavering cop. Stabler had a temper, could be stubborn and didn’t always follow the rules. Olivia simply wasn’t like this. However, in S13 E17 entitled Justice Denied, this episode sees Olivia wrongfully imprison a suspect 8 years earlier based on a 9 hour coerced confession. That’s not a Benson tactic. That would have been a Stabler tactic. And, 8 years earlier Stabler would have been in the room with her. Where the hell was Stabler during that 9 hours of coercion? If you’re planning to write an episode 8 years in the past, then you better hire in the cast that would have been there at the time… yes, this includes Elliot Stabler.

Additionally, not once in the 12 previous seasons had we seen an interrogation last more than a couple of hours. There were none that took 9 to get a confession. And, if it had taken 9, the DA couldn’t have used the confession because it would have been considered coerced. Further, why wasn’t this given to Munch or Tutuola? They’ve been with SVU long enough to have had such an incident take place. And, both could have been placed in the room at the time. In fact, it would be nice to see old cases before Tutuola or Munch joined SVU to come back and haunt them. It would have fleshed out more details about Munch and Tutuola both whom we rarely get to see much of their past. In fact, we know so little about Munch, it would have been better handed to this character. We already know what we need to about Olivia, there was no need to add this to her repertoire of character development. Giving it to Munch would have worked far better.

Then there’s the episode with Olivia’s half brother, Simon Marsden in S13 E16 entitled Child’s Welfare. We see Simon back creating more havoc for Olivia. Here Simon and his fiancé are being investigated by child services for alleged brutality of his kids. The kids are taken away. Olivia is pulled in by Simon to help him get his kids back. Olivia makes a bunch of stupid decisions again and so does Simon. The episode is a non-starter and really shouldn’t have been greenlit.

Also, why has the series abandoned having a shrink in the precinct. If George Huang had been watching the conversation given by the alleged rape victim in S13 E18, he would have seen how manipulative she was and could have given the detectives advice on how to break her down.

Season 13 is overall poorly written and out of place for SVU. I hope the subsequent seasons after this one get better. I’m unsure why this show has continued beyond season 13 all things considered. This season is a serious low point for the SVU series.

Season 14 and 15

These seasons continue the trend from season 13 and perpetuate the odd, disjointed and poorly written episodes. The introduction of ADA Barba was an odd choice. The departure of George Huang didn’t hurt the series directly, but the show should have replaced the role with a new psychologist character. Without this character in the series, the stories are much less credible. The psychologist who can sit outside the room psychoanalyzing both the suspects and the victims gave immense insight to both the audience and the detectives. Without this crucial bit of information, the detectives seem trapped by their own preconceived notions, which don’t always turn out for the best.

Unfortunately, many of the episodes within seasons 14 and 15 continue the downward writing trend which began in season 13 compared to season 12 and earlier. It seems the show is still reeling from the loss of the Stabler character dynamic whether the creative team recognizes it or not. And as such, they keep giving Olivia all of the weird episodes.

Season 15 is also seeing main character cast departures. With both Munch and Cragen leaving, the show is, yet again, losing more of its mojo and charisma. It’s not that Benson can’t be acting Captain, it’s that it’s way too early after her Lewis ordeal for that to happen. This show just seems to rush things along without thinking the story arcs through. It’s just another form of the World Reset problem.

Seasons 16 and 17

If Season 16 was the return of some sanity, then the insanity returns in season 17 with all of the unnecessary and frustrating Chicago Fire and Chicago P.D. crossover episodes. Season 16 was at least somewhat better than the bottom of the barrel season 15. However, many of the Season 16 episodes were average with many unsatisfying conclusions. If you like SVU, season 16 isn’t a horrible watch. However, Season 17 is terrible with its incessant crossovers. So far, I’m only halfway through Season 17 and there have been 3 crossover episodes. Give it a rest Dick Wolf, will ya? I mean, one crossover episode… okay. But three?

Personally, I find Chicago Fire to be a snorefest. Watching the characters bicker about their problem-of-the-day is about as much fun as burning myself with a lit cigarette. The crossovers were entirely unnecessary.

Arrests and Asking for a Lawyer — Plot Conveniences

This show started off by making a big deal about not being able to arrest people in their own homes. Also, when a suspect asks for a lawyer in interrogation, the detectives must stop what they are doing and walk out of the room. By season 13 and above, these concepts are mere plot (in)conveniences. There have been many times when they have arrested people in their own homes without showing a warrant (one example, S16 E3 — Producer’s Backend) when Benson (of all people) arrests a Lindsay Lohan clone in her own home without asking her to step outside first.

This convenience problem is even worse when it comes to suspect interrogations. I’ve lost count of the number of times that the detectives have continued to interrogate the suspect after the suspect has asked for a lawyer. If the writers can’t even follow the real laws of NY when writing scripts, then why is this show still on the air?

Weird Endings

One of the things that irks me of this show is the odd cliffhanger endings. I’m guessing that this is a thing that the producers like. Well, I dislike it… A LOT. We watch through an episode where Benson and Stabler, Tutuola and Munch run around chasing and apprehending the perpetrator, yet at the very end, the screen fades before we find out the perp’s fate? Isn’t this supposed to be Law and Order? We get the Law part, but where’s the Order? Meaning, once the show catches the perp, aren’t we supposed to get see the adjudication proceedings? That’s the payoff. We want to see exactly how the perp gets sentenced. We don’t want to be left hanging after the fade. When we don’t get to see this payoff, as viewers we feel robbed. This makes watching seasons SVU frustrating and unsatisfying.

Character Musical Chairs

The ADA characters seem to come and go. At first it was Angie Harmon as Abbie Carmichael as a crossover from Law and Order, then she disappears in replacement with Stephanie March as Alexandra “Alex” Cabot. Before March joined on, it was a random array of ADA characters in and out with Angie Harmon in a lightly recurring role. In fact, I would have preferred to see a guest star in the ADA role every week. It’s not realistic, but it allows the show to hire a guest star whenever an ADA character role is infrequently needed. It’s not that I don’t like Stephanie March as an actress, I just don’t like the Alex character who’s ideas blow with the wind… or more specifically, whichever the way the writers need her to blow to make the episode work.

Stephanie’s acting of Alex certainly comes across as staunch, righteous and indignant as a DA’s office defender, sometimes to the point of endangering people’s live. I always felt that ideology was wrong for the role. Angie Harmon’s character was a whole lot more right for it. Not sure why the show went with March over Harmon in the early seasons.

Then there was detective Monique Jeffries (Michelle Hurd) and several medical examiners before the show settled on Melinda Warner (Tamara Tunie).

Also, the first psychologist Emil Skoda (played by J.K. Simmons) disappears for a random second replacement with George Huang (played by BD Wong)? In fact, I liked Emil Skoda better because he at least he acted normal with reasonably normal dialog. The George Huang character has both an oddly soft speaking style, a condescending tone and pretentious dialog as to be distasteful. Why the producers thought this character might be a better choice, I have no idea. You do want your main characters to be likeable, right?

What’s with the introduction of Detective Lake in Season 8? I know they trialed this character in an earlier episode. I didn’t like him then. Yet, Dick Wolf decided to bring him back in as a regular in season 8. He lasted two seasons before being given the boot. This character was a horrible addition to the squad room. Not only was he now the odd man out, the actor Adam Beach had no chemistry with the cast. Whenever he was featured in an episode, I found it excruciating to watch. The actor mumbles and chews his words badly. It’s not a good trait in an actor. I know he has other acting gigs under his belt, but Adam Beach was way out of his element in this role. It’s good thing that Dick Wolf dumped him at the end of season 9. He should have been dumped earlier.

Next, it’s Declan Murphy.

Elliot Stabler’s Badly Handled Departure

This one goes hand-in-hand with the musical chairs of cast. While it’s always up in the air what happens behind the scenes with an actor’s contract negotiations, it’s crystal clear what happened (or, rather, didn’t happen) with the exit of Elliot Stabler. Basically, Stabler is there one episode, gone the next. The all of about 5 minutes of screen time devoted to the memory of Elliot Stabler was so tritely handled in S13 E1, the show should have convicted itself of a crime. Considering how long this character had been with the show, Stabler deserved a properly crafted longer story arc exit. Instead, we get the most minuscule thing possible in the opening of Season 13. This crap treatment treats Elliot with all of the grace as one time throw-away characters. Even Sonya Paxton’s ADA character got a more befitting exit from the show than Stabler.

I can’t understand why the show runner didn’t at least have Olivia stop by Stabler’s house and have the tiniest bit of a conversation. Heck, even if Stabler did quit the force, that wouldn’t have quit Olivia’s friendship with Elliot. She should still occasionally stop by on her off time to catch up. Eventually, they might grow distant and lose touch, but not right away. And, what about Stabler’s wife and kids? That whole family was a staple on the show… and then what? They’re just gone? How hard would it have been to at least contract Christopher Meloni for one episode in Season 13 to give proper closure to Elliot Stabler and family?

What I will say about this is that the dynamic of SVU changed dramatically (and not for the better) after Christopher Meloni’s departure. Mariska Hargitay just doesn’t have the same chemistry with the then new rookie cast members. Season 13 simply doesn’t have the same feel as previous seasons for many reasons beyond just cast. Stabler and Benson were the cornerstones of SVU. To kill the show’s chemistry so completely by not keeping Elliot is just stupid. Even beyond Stabler’s crap departure, it also doesn’t help that the episodes in Season 13 are much slower paced and oddly off-key than in previous seasons. That’s partly because it seems they also changed the show runner. It also seems they try to give stories which would have been better handled by Stabler to Benson. The stories just don’t work. Let’s just hope that from here the show gets better again in later seasons, but I’m not holding out much hope.

Duds

With any series, there are always duds. In the case of SVU, there’s a first season episode that stands out: S1 E12. In fact, it’s so bad I couldn’t make myself watch the whole thing. It’s about a rich guy who gets killed leading to some Russian females as suspects. This episode is jam packed with Russian stereotypes.. to the point that they hired white American actors and asked them to put on fake Russian accents. It was not only cringe inducing to watch, the episode was highly boring. Skipped this one. If you can’t do it right, don’t bother. This is not the only episode this bad. I’ve skipped 2 others in addition to this one in 3 seasons. I guess that’s not a bad track record, but a good TV show shouldn’t have any worth skipping.

World Resets

More bad writing here as this style of episodic TV is one of my biggest pet peeves. Here we have a story about Stabler who assigns a protective detail to Benson (against her wishes and unknowing to her) because a former case perp has come back to haunt and target her. When Benson finds out about the protective detail, she becomes distraught and distrusting of Stabler (her partner) to the point where she avoids him. By the end of the episode, Benson isn’t on speaking terms with Stabler and she is sitting at home alone crying, fade out. The next episode, Stabler and Benson are happy as larks working together just fine like nothing ever happened. This lack of continuity in character relationships drives me nuts. How can you have two characters who have this level of falling out and then the next episode it’s like the world has reset and nothing has happened? There has also been no further mention of this issue in later episodes. So, what gives SVU? If characters have a falling out, then carry it over into the next episode…. or fix the problem before the episode ends.

Note that similar issues occur between many episodes. This example above just happens to be one of the most egregious I’ve seen to this point. What’s more frustrating about this situation is the randomness at which the writers choose to or not to world reset. Sometimes the show continues to carry forward plot ideas, sometimes it doesn’t. It’s entirely random.

Overall

Many of the stories are watchable if not predictable, but be prepared for the problems described. Also, how many stories can be written about rape? Most SVU stories are about female rape victims. Even in the 3 seasons that I’ve watched, I feel the stories are already treading dangerously close to one another. I’m unsure how the show has managed 19 seasons worth of original stories. Though, the episode about a male being raped by 3 women brings up a very good point at a time when it wasn’t considered possible. This story is a bit hackneyed. I would have preferred a more legitimate story rather a private male dancer who took money to please the women who allegedly raped him. Ultimately, because he was a male dancer for pay, the women got away with the rape. This episode would have been far more interesting to watch if the male could have conclusively been found to have been raped without the extra mitigating circumstances.

With SVU, it seems the writers like to add circumstances to the plot to intentionally make it more difficult for the DA to prosecute or simply to further convolute the plot. I’m not trying to imply that cases of rape are easy to prosecute in any way. But, some cases are likely to be easier than others depending on the circumstances. SVU should show cases of all difficulty levels. Some unwinnable, some practically handed to them on a silver platter and many somewhere in between. It seems the writers preferred creating stories about the most difficult end of the spectrum (i.e., extremely hard to impossible to prosecute).

I give Law and Order: SVU a 3 out of 5 star rating. Most of the positive portions of this rating is due to the stellar cast up to season 12. At season 13, the stellar casting breaks and doesn’t really recover. While the story writers do not get the stories right each time and there have been a number of technical filming problems, up until season 12, these well cast actors have amazing on-screen chemistry and give it their all each and every episode. They also do a spectacular job even with the crappiest of stories and dialog. Even as good as the actors perform and as decently written as some of the stories are, the mounting technical problems combined with too many sucky plots, poor endings and near constant cast changes drags down this rating and this series.

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ABC’s Lost: What really happened?

Posted in entertainment, TV Shows by commorancy on March 15, 2014

For 6 years, we tuned in to find out what the next episode would be. For 6 years, we wondered as the premise got stranger and stranger. In the end, we finally see all of the plane crash victims that we knew together one last time in death. So, what really happened?

Common Theories

A lot of people theorize that they were dead the whole time. Others believe everything from seasons 1-5 were real events. Other theories are somewhere between these two. None of these scenarios fit exactly with what I believe happened. Keep in mind that these theories below are mine. If the writers choose to revisit this story and alter their vision of what really happened and how it happened, then that’s up to them. Any new stories they put forth could also negate the below theories. As the show sits today, here is my theory.

Were they dead?

Yes. They were dead before the plane crashed on the island. In fact, they probably died from a crash at sea. If they were supposedly dead, then where were they and what where we watching? Though they were dead from our Earthly plane of existence, they did seem very much alive. You’ll need to understand the writers’ use of the jumbo jet plane archetype is a literal metaphor (and pun) for carrying these people to the next ‘plane’ of existence. Once you realize that the plane is merely a metaphor, then you’ll understand the entire show. Even the title ‘Lost’ is both a pun and a foreshadowing of the main characters’ ‘awakening’ when put into context of the story.

That flight literally moved each of the victims to the next existence plane which allowed them to continue their lives right where they left off from their former reality (in excruciating detail), just as though the plane had really crashed. Let’s start off understanding that plane of existence. The next plane is supposedly the plane of imagination and creation (and as a way point for the next step in our journey). If this territory seems unfamiliar, you should probably research more on the 7 or 12 or 31 planes of existence theories. In the next plane from ours, you can create a realistic universe of your own choosing. So, the island represents this plane of existence. The island had rules because the person who imagined the island created those rules. It looked, smelled, felt and tasted like a real island because that plane of existence was just as real to those involved.

In the case of people new to that plane, they are not yet aware that they are dead (from the Earthly reality) and continue onward ‘living’ their lives as though they were still alive in the Earthly plane. The reason the physicality of the island mirrors our physical human reality so closely is that all people who recently die end up there. Because each person’s essence is so heavily tied to the Earth plane for so long, it’s natural to bring that familiarity into the plane of imagination and creation and then recreate those things most familiar exactly as it were (people and all). Hence, the Island.

The Glitch

In that plane of existence, things will be a little off kilter here and there (like the cat glitch in the Matrix). For example, the smoke monster, the island barrier, Jacob, people randomly appearing and disappearing on the island, items they need randomly appearing and disappearing, being cured of illness, time travel, magical events, etc. These are all manifestations of someone’s imagination and/or of being in that non-physical plane of reality. Because none of the people realized they were effectively in a dream reality, they never ‘woke’ up to it… all except Desmond. He didn’t wake up, but he could manipulate parts of that island reality. In fact, he may have been the ‘constant’ who unknowingly created the island from his imagination after having died sometime earlier. Assuming Desmond was the creator of the island, he couldn’t wake up before the rest of the characters or the Island might drastically change.

Note, the characters discount or disregard the glitching because that plane of existence is less rational than the Earthly plane. So, events that would seem way out of place here on Earth are more readily accepted in that plane. Acceptance of the glitching is part of the awakening process.

Why strand them there?

That’s a good question. Let’s understand that they would have ended up in that plane of existence simply by their physical body dying. However, for no other reason than the writers needed a place to put the plane crash victims to create this story, placing them all into Desmond’s plane of existence was as good a place as any. If you have a bunch of dead people, to the writers it seemed to make sense and it produced a good enough show.

But, they left the island!

Well, yes and no. Because that plane of existence can manifest anyone’s imagination, it’s easy to have characters end up back at home. That doesn’t mean they were really there. What the characters saw was merely a shadow world created by that character in the imagination plane. That’s why the real world always seemed just a little bit odd, somewhat unnatural and unreal. So, anyone they interacted with was simply a dream character. Because not one of the characters ever woke up, they never knew they could learn to manipulate their own world in any way they saw fit. But, if they had awakened, they would also know that they’re dead. So, for the writers, it would have revealed the ending too soon to have any one character actually ‘wake up’.

Some of the people died on the show

Yes, they did. But, they were already dead? Yes, those characters who died on the island suddenly realized they were already dead and moved on from that plane to the next plane earlier than the rest of the characters. Because ‘moving on to another plane’ is a different event from physically dying, all of the characters who thought they were still ‘alive’ perceived that person’s exit as a death. If they were to perceive another character’s death in any way other than by our plane’s means, they would wake up to the fact that they’re dead. It also makes perfect sense that some characters might figure it all out sooner than others. There’s no need to stay on the island once you know the truth of it.

What was the island?

Was the island a type of Purgatory? Not exactly. Purgatory assumes you believe in Christianity. Purgatory is defined as an intermediate state between death and Heaven. A place to purify before reaching Heaven. If the Island were Purgatory, that would assume all of the characters were destined for Heaven. In fact, there were plenty of characters there that didn’t seem to deserve entry to Heaven for the things they had done in life. But, who am I to judge that for them?

Instead, it’s better to adopt the wider view of planes of existence outside any single organized religion’s ideas. These views define planes as, yes, intermediate planes after death, but more than that. There are anywhere between 7 and 31 planes. I won’t get into further details about this topic as it’s well beyond the scope of this article. There are plenty of books describing these planes, what they are and why they exist.

Anyway, the Island is one of these planes and a type of ‘waiting room’ (if you subscribe to the Catholic view, it might be considered Purgatory) for people to make peace with their old life allowing them to ‘wake up’ to their new existence slowly before moving on. It’s a place to let you replay events from your physical life and unshackle yourself from the confines of a physical body to transition to the next plane. Think of the Matrix and waking someone up there. It’s kind of the same thing, but you get to wake up on your own rather than by taking a pill and finding yourself in a new reality immediately. The island is simply that stopover point that leads each of those people to the next step of their existence.

Note that during season 6, their existence was defined to be ‘Purgatory’, but by season 6 the characters were beginning to wake up. During seasons 1-5, the characters thought they were still physical. In their reality, that was all an illusion. The only thing real during seasons 1-5 was they were in that waiting room that appeared to be an island. In fact, they were in an alternate plane of existence where imagination and creation makes things appear real.

Why 6 years?

Understand that time in that plane of existence is meaningless. 6 minutes, 6 hours, 6 days or 600 years could all pass in the blink of an eye to us. Time doesn’t work the same in the next plane of existence. To us, we watched 6 years of episodes, but to the characters it may have seemed to happened in less then 30 days. Time is relative to where you are.

Why not all 250+ passengers?

Those specific few people were likely chosen by Desmond to live out their reality on his island or simply found their way to that island because Desmond wanted it to happen. The rest of the 250 passengers ended up in their own different realities, perhaps living out their own lives as if the plane had crashed, but others could end up making a world back at home with their families. The unseen victims of the crash made their own realities outside of the island reality and we didn’t get to see their lives unfold. Some of those people might also have moved on faster than those we saw on the island.

They weren’t dead until the very end?

Yes and no. They were dead in our reality. But, they weren’t dead in their plane of existence. A plane that is outside of our existence (or at least a plane that we cannot get to in our current tangible form). Because their bodies had died, their essence moved on in what appeared to be a body that looked, acted and dressed just like the living counterpart. The theory is that when you die, you continue to see yourself as your last physical body even in the next plane of existence. That is, until you slowly wake up to your new non-physical existence.

At the very end, the characters were finally awakened to their own Earthly death. A death that happened before the island. Once they awakened, they could realize the truth of it and return to the Earthly plane as ghosts. For whatever reason, they all awakened in unison, that or it was simply just time. Though, to them, the island was still just as real as any event on the Earthly plane. But, to the Earthly plane inhabitants where their physical bodies had died, they had died at sea in the plane and that’s all their Earth families ever knew.

In essence, Lost was a show about ghosts living in an alternate plane of reality.

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Dear TV Show producers, Let ‘V’ be a lesson to you

Posted in streaming media, TV Shows by commorancy on June 10, 2011

As was predicted in Randosity’s earlier Boycott V Series article, V has officially been cancelled by ABC as of May 13, 2011 (Friday the 13th).  This was not a good day for the V series cast and crew as they had just lost their jobs.  Oh well, such is life in show business.  However, this cancellation goes to prove yet another experiment a failure at the expense of what could have been a good series.

Since V’s second season launch in January, the producers and/or ABC had made the insane choice to not allow V back onto Hulu, iTunes, Amazon or any other streaming media service (including ABC’s very own streaming TV web site).  So, that meant no way to watch back episodes or catch up on missed V episodes.  This also meant as people began missing episodes, they couldn’t catch up and said,  “f-it” and moved on.

Lessons Learned

When your series targets the exact age demographic of people who do watch their TV series via Hulu (or any other streaming site) and also when you decide to cut these exact viewers off from your show, it’s the kiss of death.  V is, unfortunately, a perfect shining example of what not to do with streaming media and a TV series.  Don’t shun streaming media, embrace it.  Embrace it with open arms and nurture and foster its growth.  As a producer you want, no, you need viewers.  The more the better.  It doesn’t matter if you have to rip the video of each episode and personally seed the file yourself on bitorrent.  Do it!

What you don’t want is, well, exactly what the producers did to V.  Don’t bite the hand the feeds you.  Worse, the show began to feel the effects of its lower and lower viewership (and ratings) and began making more and more desperate, drastic and insane story choices to try and recoup viewership.  It didn’t work and the choices killed off main characters from the show, yet didn’t do anything to increase viewership.  This only made the show worse and more pointless.  But, these story choices were simply a side effect of the stupidity of not allowing streaming sites to stream (or back catalog) the series.  You can’t change the story to attempt make up for the ‘no streaming’ decision.  To get viewers back, the producers would have had to rescind that decision and allow the show back onto Hulu, iTunes and Amazon.  But, by April  it was already too late to rescind that decision and gain the lost viewership back.

Back Catalogs & Advertisers

Still, any show should allow a back catalog of episodes to be available on streaming sites for even just a few months to allow viewers to keep up with a show (even if the shows aren’t available to streaming for 30 days).  A back catalog of older episodes allows viewers to take their time catching up and feel good about the time when they watch.  Sure, these views may not give the immediacy of the Neilsen ratings, but so what?  That system is so antiquated, it needs to die.  Instead, we need a new ratings system that takes into account real viewers from streaming sites and next day views.  Skip the ‘night of’ viewership numbers and go with a model that resembles how people are actually watching TV today.  Internet enabled TVs are not going away and neither are mobile devices.  Hello advertisers like Proctor and Gamble, get with it.  Same day viewership of TV shows is over.  That day has passed.  The future of TV is through next day viewing or even month later views.  That’s where the advertising revenues will be had.

So Long ‘V’

It’s unfortunate that the producers felt the need to make stupid choices like ‘no streaming’.  It was a gamble that simply didn’t pay off.  It turned the series into a shambles through poor story choices.  Oh well, V has had its short-lived day.  Tomorrow is another day and with it new TV shows to sink your time slots into.  But, let’s just make sure they continue to do it on our, the viewer’s, terms.

To the producers, embrace change or perish.  That’s the prime lesson to take away from the ‘V’ experiment.  Yes, the V ‘no streaming’ experiment was truly a failure.

A call to boycott ABC’s V series

Posted in computers, entertainment, itunes, science fiction, streaming media, TV Shows by commorancy on January 20, 2011

[Update: V has been cancelled as of May 13th.  Bye ‘V’.].

I have personally decided to boycott watching the new V series. No, not because the series isn’t good. It’s a reasonably good series, so far. No, it’s also not for any creative or story reasons you might think. The reason I have decided to boycott the V series is that whomever owns the rights or produces this series has decided to no longer allow streaming of new episodes in any form or on any Internet site, like Hulu or iTunes.

No more V on Hulu?

It’s not just Hulu that’s cut out of streaming for this show. It’s all streaming sites including ABC’s very own ABC.com site. You would think that since ABC owns the broadcast rights to the series and, in fact, are the ones who make the very decision whether V lives or dies as a series, that ABC would have the rights to stream this program online. No, apparently they do not. Very odd. It’s also not available on iTunes or Amazon either.

It almost seems like the producers are biting the hand that feeds them (in more ways than just one). Seriously, not even allowing ABC.com to stream episodes of V on their own site? This seems like the kiss of death for this series.

Rationale behind this decision

I have no inside scoop here, so I really have no idea what the producers were thinking. But, I can only guess that the reasoning is to force viewers to watch the show live on ABC (the TV channel) and only on the TV channel for its first run. So, on the one hand, this seems like a ratings bonanza. On the other hand, let’s explore the downside of this decision.

Viewer Demographics

Because V is very much a long continuous story arc format, if you miss even two episodes, you’re hopelessly lost. V isn’t a one-off monster-of-the-week series where you can watch an episode now and then. No, it is a long deep story arc that needs to be watched one episode at a time in order.

On top of the long story arc format, it is a science fiction program involving heavy uses of technology and intrigue. This genre choice automatically limits the types of viewers. So, the types of viewers that V tends to draw in are those who tend to be younger, tech savvy, internet knowledgeable types. Basically, the kind of viewers who tend to watch things on Hulu and download content from iTunes.

Producer miscalculation

So, on the one hand, the appearance is that this decision should allow the program to get higher ratings by forcing people to watch it live. On the other hand, Hulu and iTunes (and others) no longer have the rights to carry the back catalog of episodes to allow people to catch up.  If viewers can’t catch up, they’ll not watch it live either. If you get lost, there is no reason to watch as you can’t understand what’s going on anyway.  So, turn the channel and watch something else.

By alienating the exact demographic who tends to watch programs on Hulu combined with the lack of back catalog of episodes on Hulu for people to catch up with missed episodes, my guess is that this decision will seriously backfire on the producers. The ratings will, instead, drop and drop precipitously as the season progresses. In fact, I’d venture to guess that this decision may, in fact, be the sole reason for the death of this series. It’s clear that ABC won’t keep V on the air without viewers.  We know that.  But, you can’t keep viewers watching V by trying to appeal to the wrong demographic or by pissing on the fan base.

The streaming and Internet genie is out of the bottle.  You can’t go back to a time before the Internet and Hulu existed.  The producers seriously need to understand this. It’s unfortunate that the producers chose V for this experiment.  So far, V appears to be a good series and is probably worth watching. But, the producers also need to realize that removing choices of where and how this program can be viewed is not the answer. You need more viewers, not less.

Underground distribution

Of course, that just means that people will create xvids or mp4s of the show and distribute them via torrents.   So, instead of seeing legitimate views on legitimate sites with legitimate ad revenue, the whole thing now gets pushed underground where there is no ad revenue and views don’t help the show or the producers at all.  Not smart.  Not smart at all.

What is the answer?

The answer lies with Neilsen Ratings. In a time where streaming and instant (day after) releases are nearly common place, Neilsen still has no strategy to cover this media with ratings. TV ratings are still and only counted by live views. This company is seriously antiquated. It still solely relies on active Neilsen households watching programs live. Hulu views, DVR views and iTunes downloads do not count towards viewership or ratings. Yet, these ‘day after’ views can be just as relevant (or even more) today than live views. Today, counting only live views is fundamentally wrong.

Change needs to come with the ratings companies, not by producers trying to force the 70s viewing style in 2011. Neilsen needs to count all views of a program no matter where they are or when they are. The ratings game needs to change and must change to accommodate the future of TV. As TVs become Internet connected, this change will become even more important. Eventually, TV programming will be seamlessly delivered over the Internet. In fact, there will come a time when you ‘tune in’ and you won’t even know if it’s streamed or over the air.  In fact, why should you care?  A view is a view whether live or a month later.

Understanding Neilsen’s antiquated system

Of course, once you understand Neilsen’s outdated model, you can also understand why Neilsen is not counting any ratings other than live TV.  Why is that?  Because counting any other medium than live TV threatens the very existence of Neilsen’s service. Once broadcasters realize they can gather these numbers through Hulu, Roku, Slingbox, Netflix and other DVR and on-demand technologies directly, there is no need for Neilsen.  That is, once we’ve moved to streaming TV 100% it’s easy to get accurate counts.  Neilsen’s service was born out of the need to track viewers in a time when the Internet did not exist.  With the Internet, it’s much easier to track viewer activity and data in real time.  It’s also easy to get this information right from the places that have rights to stream.  So, with these real-time reporting methodologies, Neilsen really is no longer necessary.

Neilsen has always used an extrapolation methodology for its ratings statistics, anyway.  That is, only a tiny subset of homes throughout the country are Neilsen households.  So, when these Neilsen households watch, these small numbers are extrapolated to the larger population, even though there is really no way to know what non-Neilsen households are watching.  So, Neilsen’s ratings systems are actually very inaccurate.  Counting the numbers of views from Hulu, iTunes, Amazon, Roku, Slingbox, Netflix and other streaming sites and technologies are exact and spot-on accurate.  In fact, these numbers are so exact, they can even be traced back to specific hardware devices and specific households, something Neilsen’s rating systems have never been capable of doing.  This is why Neilsen is scared to count online views.  This is why Neilsen is no longer needed.

Goodbye V

It was nice knowing ya. My instincts all say that the fan backlash from this decision will be swift and final. If this series manages to make it to the end of the 2011 spring season without cancellation, I’ll be amazed. However, if ABC cancels this show before June, that won’t surprise me. So, unless the producers make an about-face really fast with regards to this no-streaming experiment, this series is likely already cancelled… it just doesn’t yet know it. I’d also urge anyone reading (and especially Neilsen households) to boycott the new V series and send a message to the producers that not offering streaming options is not acceptable and that your program is dead without them. I can tell you that I won’t watch this series again until streaming options become available. This is not really a problem for me as there are plenty of other TV shows available. The problem here is for the cast and crew. These people are dedicating their time, effort and livelihoods to putting this series together only to be screwed over by the producers. Such is life in Hollywood, I guess.

The reality behind Reality TV: Hell’s Kitchen Edition

Posted in food and dining, reality tv, TV Shows by commorancy on October 15, 2009

[Updated: August 2, 2018 Jessica Vogel, Season 12 contestant dead at age 34.]
[Previous update: February 10, 2018 — Seasons 14 thru 17 and Where are they now?]

Hell’s Kitchen

For those of you who like Reality TV shows like Gordon Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares and Hell’s Kitchen, realize there is even more reality than what you see on the tube. For example, in the first two seasons of Hell’s Kitchen, the winners didn’t actually win what the show promised during the seasons. The first season winner, Michael Wray, was to win his own restaurant, but the show didn’t deliver on that award. Instead, he was awarded kitchen equipment and a trip to the UK to study under Ramsay. He first accepted and then later declined the trip. The second season winner, Heather West, was promised a newly built restaurant in Las Vegas in which she would have an investment stake and help design it.  This prize also never materialized. Instead, she signed a one year contract to be Senior Chef at Terra Rossa (an existing restaurant) in Las Vegas. After her contract terminated, she left and became Sous Chef on Hell’s Kitchen during Season 6.  Still, not the prize she had won.

It wasn’t until the third season that Hell’s Kitchen actually awarded the prize to Rock Harper that it had announced all season. He became Head Chef of Green Valley Ranch’s Terra Verde. Of course, the question remains, was it just a limited stint for Rock like it was for Heather?  Only time will tell. Fast Forward… The award for Season 6 was to be ‘Head Chef’ at the Araxi in British Columbia. Unfortunately, the restaurant began to get cold feet at the start of Season 6 after seeing the contestants. So, Ramsay apparently had to talk with the owner to quell any fears that there would be a competent winner. Unfortunately, Araxi had already made up its mind. The winner of Season 6 (Dave) will simply become an ’employee’ and not ‘Head Chef’. So, once again, Hell’s Kitchen has not delivered on its announced award.

I also have to wonder about those other award winners (see updates below). Did they only somewhat win or slightly win? At least Hell’s Kitchen should award cash and tangible prizes. As long as the sponsorship remains, the prizes will be there. Top Chef got that one right at least.

Winners List Seasons 1 through 4

Season 1 winner
Michael Wray
Prize: Tatou in Los Angeles
Status: Not Awarded
Alternate: Study under Ramsay in London + Kitchen Equipment

Season 2 winner
Heather West
Prize: Her own custom designed restaurant in Las Vegas.
Status: Not Awarded
Alternate: Terra Rossa at Red Rock Resort Spa and Casino in Las Vegas, Nevada

Season 3 winner
Rahman “Rock” Harper
Prize: Terra Verde at Green Valley Ranch in Henderson, Nevada
Status: Prize Awarded

Season 4 winner
Christina Machamer
Prize: London West Hollywood in Los Angeles (Chef Ramsay owned) + $250k yearly salary
Status: Prize Awarded

Kitchen Nightmares

Kitchen Nightmares, on the other hand, is its own nightmare.  Of course, it doesn’t help that Ramsay attempts to save restaurants on the brink of collapse.  Needless to say, in the first 2 US seasons of this show and of the 13 he’s tried saving in New York, only 5 are still in business. Sebastian’s in LA has also closed. Most of the failed restaurant owners blame Ramsay and Ramsay blames the owners for not following his advice. The reality is probably somewhere in the middle combined with the economy. The downturn has taken its toll on lots of places, including restaurants. Fine dining is quite expensive. People are cutting back and eating more frugally. It doesn’t help that most of these ailing turned failing restaurants really had no regulars anyway. So, giving it a coat of paint and a new menu is probably not enough. Their reputation was already tarnished.

Of course, Kitchen Nightmares also pays to have people dine at the restaurant so that it appears as though it might succeed. The reality, of course, is far different. This is all Hollywood smoke and mirrors. After the cameras stop rolling and the production is no longer paying diners, the restaurant goes back to its old dismal self (bad sales and all). Basically, polishing poop doesn’t make it better. Kitchen Nightmares is now moving into its fifth season and counting.

Update for Kitchen Nightmares – 2010 Edition

Joseph Cerniglia found dead in Hudson River. According to witnesses, they saw someone jump from a bridge. Joseph was the owner of Campania restaurant that was featured on Kitchen Nightmares. At the time when Ramsay stepped in, Joseph’s restaurant was in debt by more than $80,000 to his suppliers. Ramsay tried to get Campania back on track, but we know how this works. After the cameras stop rolling and the paid diners stop, as stated above, the restaurant goes back to is old dismal money-losing self and falls back into the death spiral. Whether or not KN is responsible, in any way, for his apparent suicide has yet to be determined, but this is definitely a shocker.

Campania Episode on Hulu [Defunct Link: Here for historical purposes only]

Warning: Contains explicit language

Update for Kitchen Nightmares — June 2014

As of June 2014, Daily Mail UK reports that the Kitchen Nightmares series has officially ended. I’d say, it’s really about time. In it’s run, KN has tried to help many restaurants survive, recover and prosper. KN was primarily smoke and mirrors, TV cameras and paid diners. The truth is, more than 60% (and counting) of the restaurants Kitchen Nightmares has tried to save have folded. That’s not a particularly spectacular track record and just points to the fact that not all is a perfect shade of deep fried golden brown in Gordon Ramsay’s world.

Makes You Wonder

I have to wonder just how many more reality game or fix-it shows really work after the dust settles and the cameras are gone. With shows like Trading Spaces and Bridezilla, is it only about the cameras and drama? Does the ‘reality’ really mean anything. After the cameras stop, it’s really not that exciting. In fact, when the cameras are rolling, it’s not that exciting. That’s why they hire excellent editors to take random shots and intercut them together. For that reason alone, that’s how Tek, who was eliminated much earlier in Hell’s Kitchen, can reappear in an episode where she shouldn’t have been.

Smoke and Mirrors

Remember, Hollywood is all about appearances. Appearance is the only thing that matters. As long as its glitzy and offers some drama, Hollywood assumes people will watch. To some degree, I guess that thinking is valid. But, once you realize that it’s only smoke and mirrors, then it becomes just fluff. For me, that’s not really enough to keep watching.

Hell’s Kitchen Updates

Season 5

Winner: Danny Veltri
Prize: Head Chef at Borgata’s Fornalletto in Atlantic City
Status: Not Awarded
Offered: Sous Chef position

Danny Veltri was to have won the head chef position at the Borgata’s Fornelletto restaurant in Atlantic City and, unfortunately, ended up as sous chef at the restaurant under head chef Stephen Kalt. Danny didn’t immediately appear disappointed in the change according to this NY Daily News story and wanted to learn from Kalt. Apparently, Danny stayed for only several months and then, after frustration set in, departed back to Florida to work at Flip Flops, his own and previously operating restaurant. So, once again, HK didn’t deliver its announced prize fully as described.

Season 6

Winner: Dave Levey
Prize: Araxi in Whistler BC for the Olympics
Status: Not Awarded
Offered: Line Cook

Dave Levey didn’t stay long at the Araxi in Whistler, BC. After not receiving the head chef position that he was promised, he apparently only stayed just long enough to help with the 2010 Olympics. After that, Dave packed up and has returned to his native New Jersey to work at the Il Giardino restaurant where he had been previously employed prior to HK.

[Update 2013] Dave has since left Il Giardino and has moved to The Publick House as Executive Chef which is located in Chester, New Jersey or visit their direct web page at The Publick House Tavern and Inn. Apparently, both Il Giardino and The Publick House Tavern and Inn are owned by the Lubrano family according to this 2009 nj.com article. Apparently, this family also owns a third restaurant named Provesi in Morristown. Effectively, Dave is still working for the same restaurant family.

Season 7

Winner: Holli Ugalde
Prize: Savoy Grill in London
Status: Not Awarded
Offered: Undisclosed sum of money

[Updated: 11/30/2013] Reader Morten writes in saying that, according to this Daily Mail UK article, Holli was not awarded the Savoy Grill position and apparently she’s ‘fuming’ and feeling ‘betrayed’ by Ramsay. Not sure what’s going on between these two, but whatever it is doesn’t seem appetizing.

The finals came down to Holli and Jay. Drum roll please… Holli Ugalde wins. This time the prize is likely something that can actually be awarded as this is a restaurant owned by Ramsay himself. Hell’s Kitchen always seemed to get in trouble when awarding jobs to contestants where Ramsay had no ownership stake in the restaurant. This season, the prize is a head chef position at Ramsay’s newly opened (reoponed?) Savoy Grill restaurant in London. Because Ramsay will own and operate this restaurant, HK will likely be able to actually award the prize fully.

Of course, that depends on the Savoy’s successful reopening launch to work. We’ll have to see, though, if that promise holds true for Holli. Of course, Ramsay may end up hiring both Holli and Jay should the Australian trip turn out better than expected. I’m quite sure Ramsay considered this in his decision when not only picking the winner, but also when he picked the two finalists this season. Pulling Holli and Jay together through an Australian trip may mean Ramsay will get 2 chefs for the price of one if the relationship holds and they both move to London together. It’s a long shot for Ramsay, but if it works, it will work out great. If it doesn’t work out, he still gets Holli.

But wait, there is now speculation that Holli is a lesbian. I’m not specifically seeing it in the photos from this web site. But, you can visit and be the judge. Is she or isn’t she? If so, then the Jay and Holli romance thing was all a sham as Ramsay (and HK) would likely have known this fact. You might also want check out Holli’s MySpace page which may have more details about this.

Oh, and if you didn’t watch the final episode closely, you might want to watch it again. Dave Levey makes a cameo complete with chef’s outfit, knit cap and arm cast. Although, if his arm hasn’t healed in 12 months, he needs to see a specialist.

Season 8

Winner: Nona Sivley
Prize: Head Chef at L.A. Market
Status: Awarded

Season 8 has now been over for quite some time, but I’ve been lax on updating this article.  The winner is… drum ro.. nevermind, this season is not worth getting excited over.  Between Russell and Nona, Nona wins, for whatever that’s worth. This season was an unmitigated disaster. The professionalism of this show dropped tremendously. The drama went way up and the fighting was at a boiling point nearly every episode. Yet, there was little actually boiling in the kitchen, other than Ramsay. Anyway, I guess Nona gets the position at L.A. Market, even though there’s was no clear executive chef material in any of the contestants. Good luck Nona, you’re gonna need it. With that said, between Jillian, Russell and Nona, Jillian was the most consistent cook of the bunch. Russell had a big mouth and liked to run it, but when it came down to meals, he just couldn’t cut it (or, in this case, cook it). We’ll see if Nona hangs around long at L.A. Market.  My guess is that, like past HK winners, she’ll do a couple months there as a token prize and then be off back home. Note that Nona apparently started work at the L.A. Market on January 1, 2011 January 25th, 2011.  So, Nona should now be working there as of this [latest] update.

Season 9

Winner: Paul Niedermann
Prize: Head Chef at BLT Steak in Manhattan
Status: Awarded

Season 9 has now concluded. The winner turns out to be Paul Niedermann who began his career flame broiling burgers at Burger King.  He has won the spot as Head Chef at the BLT Steak located in Manhattan. According to this ‘About Us‘ web page for BLT Steak, it does actually appear that Paul Niedermann did get the gig at BLT Steak. Mind you, this particular restaurant doesn’t appear to be any kind of super upscale establishment, but it at least appears to offer reasonable quality food.  Definitely a step up from Burger King, but perhaps not by that much. Yelp gives NY BLT Steak 3.5 stars.

Yelp consensus for BLT Steak NY — overpriced for the quality.

A quote from the BLT Steak’s About Us page:

Paul Niedermann

Head Chef, BLT Steak New York

As the Season 9 winner of Fox’s hit reality show, Hell’s Kitchen, Paul Niedermann recently traded Florida sunshine for the glittering lights of New York City. As Head Chef of BLT Steak New York, Paul brings Italian and Mediterranean influences to the kitchen, his culinary palette pairing light fresh food together with citrus and other influences from his time spent in southern Florida. He also brings, of course, a killer competitive edge.

Watch Paul talk about his experience in New York City and working at BLT Steak. [Below]

With that said, the runners up were Will Lustberg and Elise Wims. While I would like to discuss this specific show’s qualities, it has gone way too far down in recent years to really get excited by it anymore. So, for sheer informational purposes, here is the winner information.

Season 10

Winner: Christina Wilson
Prize: Head Chef at Paris, Las Vegas
Status: Awarded

Season 10 is now over and the winner is …. Christina Wilson. She takes her place among the other Hell’s Kitchen winners. The runner up, Justin Antiorio.  You can find out more details about this season at this Los Angeles Times article. Basically, it as a play between palette and passion.  I’m guessing that Ramsay is more a fan of passion than palette, but that’s a bit unusual considering that taste in food is everything. Passion is great, but if you can’t make creative foods that taste great, then you’re not likely to do that well as a successful chef. I guess Ramsay will have to deal with that now since Christina Wilson wins her spot at Gordon Ramsay Steak in the Las Vegas Paris hotel.

Yelp’s rating for Gordon Ramsay Steak Las Vegas is a solid 4 stars. A large number of the most recent reviews (as of 9/25/2012) are 5 stars with many people saying the steak is outstanding. Of course, in the restaurant biz, quality can change on a dime. That’s why there are sites like Yelp. So, there you have it. If you like steak, this is probably a great place to try. Albeit, it’s a bit pricey with the average price per guest around $85.

Season 11

Winner: Ja’Nel Witt
Prize: Head Chef position at Gordon Ramsay’s Pub and Grill in Las Vegas
Status: Not Awarded — failed required drug test

I’d been lax in updating this page, but there’s been some actual real-life drama involving the winner of HK season 11. So, the winner is Ja’Nel Witt. I won’t really get into how she won HK (it doesn’t really matter at this point). Instead, let’s get into the real-life drama. Keep in mind that I’ve been waiting for a story like this to break for 10 seasons.

According to TMZ, Ms. Witt failed her drug test that Caesars Palace required her to take upon assuming her winning position at Gordon Ramsay’s Pub and Grill in Las Vegas. After going through all of that hassle for an entire season (granted, it’s really just a couple of weeks time in real-life when they film the whole season), she was allegedly stupid enough to run some rails. Now she’s being run out of town on a rail. Yes, some things don’t stay in Vegas and it appears Ms. Witt won’t be one of those things. Yes, this also means Ms. Witt won’t be assuming the role at Ramsay’s restaurant.

Although, Ms. Witt won against Mary Poehnelt (the runner up). I’m hoping that Mary Poehnelt will end up taking the position and getting the money as it doesn’t bode well to give that to someone suspected of being a drug addict. Not the right role model to be endorsing here. Although, again according to TMZ, Gordon Ramsay still believes in Ja’Nel and he says his ‘door is always open’ once she ‘sorts out her personal issues’.

Maybe Gordon Ramsay has learned his own life lesson: even though it’s consumable, it’s not always about food. You’ve got to know that as cranky as Ramsay gets at raw scallops or an underdone Wellington, he’s got to be fuming over this. I think it’s time for HK to start doing drug tests all throughout the seasons to make sure the contestants aren’t coking while cooking.

Season 12 (Spring 2014)

Winner: Scott Commings
Prize: Head Chef at Gordon Ramsay Pub & Grill in Caesars Palace in Las Vegas. The prize was carried over from the previous season from Ja’Nel Witt’s drug test failure and awarded this season. Not sure why the show didn’t award it to the Season 11 runner up. Isn’t that why there’s runner up?
Status: Awarded
Runner Up: Jason Zepaltas

Season 13 (Fall 2014)

WinnerLa Tasha McCutchen
Prize: Head Chef at Gordon Ramsay Pub & Grill in Caesars Atlantic City (thanks go to reader Kenny)
Status: Awarded. She served her time, but has since left to go back to 3030 Ocean (a previous restaurant) several times. She wants to become a private chef.
Runner UpBryant Gallaher

Season 14 (Spring 2015)

Winner: Meghan Gill
Prize: Gordon Ramsay Pub & Grill at Caesars Atlantic City
Status: Apparently awarded, but she waited over a year to start in 2015 and appears to no longer be there. According to the restaurant’s web site, the current chef is “Georgeann Leaming”.
Runner Up: Torrece Gregoire

Season 15 (Spring 2016)

Winner: Ariel Malone
Prize: BLT Steak at Bally’s Las Vegas
Status: Awarded, but she’s no longer there.
Runner Up: Kristin Barone

Season 16 (Winter 2017)

Winner: Kimberly-Ann Ryan
Prize: Yardbird Southern Table & Bar at The Venetian Las Vegas
Status: Apparently awarded, but the chef listed for this restaurant is currently “John Kunkel”. Not sure what’s going on here.
Runner Up: Heather Williams

Season 17 (Early 2018)

Winner: Michelle Tribble
Prize: Hell’s Kitchen Restaurant at Caesars Palace
Status: Not Yet Known
Runner Up: Benjamin Knack

Commentary

Chalk this next commentary all up to TV smoke and mirrors. These winner “head chef” jobs seem just a tad strange. They claim to win a head chef position, but I rarely ever see the name of the winner listed on the web page for the restaurant. Then, inexplicably after a few months, the winner has already left the restaurant. It almost seems like the restaurant is embarrassed to state that they have a Hell’s Kitchen winner in the kitchen. It seems to me that the restaurants would want that publicity instead of shying away from it. It’s so odd.

As a chef, why would you put yourself through the grueling rundown of Ramsay’s tirades and not know if you’re actually going to win even if that door opens? This show has lost its steam. My guess is that all that steam is evaporating from Ramsay’s expletives rather than from the pots. Personally for me, this show has worn out its welcome. But, apparently, Fox keeps ordering more seasons… And, 2 HK seasons in one calendar year in 2014? What was that all about? At least they stopped that silly business during the 2015, 2016, 2017 and 2018 seasons. We’ll have to wait and see what happens with Michelle Tribble since her win was only just aired on February 2nd, 2018.


Where Are They Now?

Update for Previous Winners

Welcome to the “Where are they today?” section. I will attempt keep this information up to date as I locate information on each of the previous winners and other important contestant news. If you see a news article updating an HK’s winners whereabouts, please leave a comment below. Stay Tuned and Enjoy.

Michael Wray (Season 1 winner)

We know that Michael didn’t win the prize that he was promised. Instead, he was invited to study with Ramsay in the UK. He opted out because he stated it would be hard on his family at the time. Since then, he has been head chef in two Los Angeles restaurants (Tatou and the Standard), but ultimately didn’t stay. He left the Standard after stating that it was a good job, but the duties kept him out of the kitchen more than he liked. After leaving those restaurants, he moved to Arizona to be close to his family and, later, in hopes of opening his own restaurant named the HK1. In 2009, after failing to secure the funding for his restaurant venture then to be named HK1, he has apparently joined the staff of an Arizona College to teach cooking. However, scouring colleges and cooking schools in Tuscon and Sierra Vista Arizona areas, I’ve been unable to turn up which school, if any, where he is teaching. If you’re a reader in Arizona and know where he’s working, please comment. After this, I have not been able to locate information on what he’s doing.

Heather West (Season 2 winner)

Heather was to win her own restaurant in Vegas. She didn’t get this prize. Instead, she became Senior Chef at Terra Rossa at Red Rock Casino Resort Spa for one year. In 2009, she moved to Long Beach, New York where she became head chef of the Monterey Restaurant until September of 2010. From here, she’s moved around to various Executive Chef roles including at Jellyfish, Ciao Baby and R2 Events Corporation as a Corporate Executive Chef. She is now at Schafer’s in Port Jefferson, New York as Executive Chef where she’s been for 7 months.

Rock Harper (Season 3 winner)

Rock Harper is located in Virginia. He has a Twitter account and a blog site called Rock Solid Creative Food Group. He also apparently hosts a podcast called the Chef Rock Xperiment.

Christina Machamer (Season 4 winner)

Christina is located in or near Napa, California. Christina has a web site named ChefCMac.com. On this site she writes:

Today, I keep one foot firmly plated in the wine industry, consulting for Caldwell Vineyard and Eleven Eleven Winery, while working as a private chef for clients renting exclusive estates while visiting Napa Valley…. Click through to read more…

Danny Veltri (Season 5 winner)

Danny Veltri’s location is currently unknown, but he may still live in or near New Smyrna Beach, Florida. In 2012, he was arrested for a DUI. He started his own catering service named Back from Hell catering sometime around 2012. It is unknown if he still operates this service. He was also chef for Gnarly Surf Bar & Grill in Smyrna Beach, which he also helped open. While Gnarly Surf Bar and Grill still appears to be in business according to Yelp, it is unknown if Danny is still involved in it.

Dave Levy (Season 6 Winner)

Where’s Dave as of 2014? He was briefly in jail, but was released on bail pending a hearing, reports nj.com. According to the article, he was a back seat passenger during a routine traffic stop sometime in August that led to discovery of narcotics in the vehicle. Dave was arrested on suspicion of being under the influence of a controlled dangerous substance. Also, according to this same nj.com article, he was heading back to his restaurant job at Il Giardino ’86 (?.. eh, don’t think so.. see below). Of the bags that were consented to be searched, the officer found the bags to contain illicit prescription drugs (i.e., not prescribed to person in possession of them), a white powder substance suspected as a controlled substance, money and a ledger book which may have documented narcotic sales among other things. These bags were apparently not owned by Dave.

Purported by to this same nj.com article, Dave was apparently on his way back to Il Giardino ’86. I don’t know how that’s possible since Dave had moved to The Publick House quite a while back. Also according to this article and confirmed by Yelp, the Lubrano’s Il Giardino ’86 restaurant has now been 86ed (er.. closed). Its liquor license has been transferred to H2Ocean (not owned or operated by the Lubranos) now operating at the same location. Dave was likely on his way back to his executive chef position at The Publick House Inn and Tavern which is where he was as of 2013 and it is assumed it is where he still works unless this drug charge gets in the way.

Holli Ugalde (Season 7 winner)

I haven’t been able to locate Holli’s exact whereabouts, but I believe she may be near Redlands, California based on her Twitter account. However, her Twitter account hasn’t been updated since 2016. She also had a web which was located at and is now only available through the Internet Archive as www.chefholli.com. The http://www.chefholli.com site is no longer working and must have disappeared sometime in 2017.

Nona Johnson (Season 8 winner)

Nona went by her maiden name of Sivley when on Hell’s Kitchen Season 8. She has lost weight, gotten married and is known as Nona Johnson. She has a Twitter and a Facebook account. She has been operating the Sizzling Peach catering service for at least 4 years. She and her catering service are located in Norcross, Georgia. Here is Sizzling Peach’s Facebook page.

Paul Niedermann (Season 9 winner)

Paul Niedermann has left BLT Steak New York and is now located in Delray, Florida. Here’s a Delray Newspaper article talking to Paul from late 2017.

Christina Wilson (Season 10 Winner)

Where’s Christina now? In 2016, Christina moved to overseeing several of Ramsay’s restaurants both in Vegas and Atlantic city, she’s done a stint as Sous Chef on Hell’s Kitchen and she’s writing menus for Ramsay’s hotel rehab show, “Hotel Hell”. Since it’s now 2018, I’m not entirely sure what Ramsay has Christina doing. Apparently, she’s one of the rare HK winners. Apparently, she’s been able to milk the most out of her win on Hell’s Kitchen (and out of Ramsay) where most other winners have gone their separate ways in short order.

Ja’Nel Witt (Season 11 Winner)

After not being able to claim her prize due to a drug test failure, Ja’Nel has created her own web site and describes how she got started. She’s currently located in Houston, Texas. The site says:

Chef Ja’Nel found her passion for food helping her mom in the kitchen as a little girl. After college she realized she could take that passion and turn it into a career. She initially earned her Bachelors of Science in Health and Human Performance, but then quickly followed her heart into the kitchen and has not looked back since. Click through to read more

Scott Commings (Season 12 Winner)

As of 2018, Scott is located in Las Vegas. As of July 2017, he was located at The Las Vegas Room at the Downtown Grand. The Las Vegas Room is private rental dining room. It is presumed he is still operating this private dining restaurant. The Downtown Grand web site states:

This venue is available for private events and whether your preference is a romantic, 2 hour cocktail reception with heavy hors d’oeuvres or a formal sit down dinner, you’ll find a swanky, sophisticated scene in the Las Vegas Room. The Las Vegas Room is 1,700 square feet with a guest capacity of up to 100.

Scott is also working with The Freedom Beat also located in the Las Vegas Downtown Grand. On Feb 13th, 2018, he’s offering up a pre fixe menu with The Culinary Road trip, a monthly dinner he hosts. Cost is $38 or $48.

new Jessica Vogel (Season 12 Contestant)

Jessica Vogel competed along side Scott Commings in Season 12 of Hell’s Kitchen. She was eliminated from the show on episode 10 of season 12. On August 1, 2018, it was reported by USA Today that Jessica Vogel had died on July 30th, 2018 of heart complications after being treated for colitis, an inflammatory bowel disease. She was 34.

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American Idol: Failure to launch (artists)

Posted in concerts, music, TV Shows by commorancy on May 31, 2009

While I understand the hype about this series (the competition and all), I don’t really understand why this show continues to exist.  Yes, we go through each season and whittle down contestents to the final two.  But, after the winner is chosen, then what?  Oh yeah, they get a recording contract.  What happens after that?

Spotting Commercial Viability

The ‘judges’ (and I use this term loosely) seem to think they know what’s best in the ‘pop music biz’.  Frankly, if they could discover real talent, they would be working for a record company locating and signing talent right and left and not hosting a silly variety hour show.   But, here we are… and here they are.  So, I must honestly question the sincerity and realism of this show.  The whole thing is staged, yes, to find someone who can sing.  But, it’s really there as a money maker for whomever is producing that show.   The underlying values aren’t to get someone signed to a contract.  The real point is  to put on a show.  And, thats what they do, for better or worse.

Judges

It’s funny that they pick judges who are has-been recording artsts and supposedly A&R people like Simon Cowell.  What’s funny about Simon is that his ability to pick talent has been extremely spotty.  For example, he signed and produced Westlife.  Westlife is a boyband that’s a meager shadow of N*Sync and The Backstreet Boys at best.  What’s even more funny is that THAT is really his BEST claim to talent selection outside of Idol.  Every other artist beyond that isn’t even worth mentioning.

So, how do these washed-up has-beens end up judging a show that supposedly prides itself on selecting quality talent?  Well, let’s examine Idol more closely.

Winning Contestants

Since 2002, there has been (in order), Kelly Clarkson, Rubin Studdard, Fantasia Barrino, Carrie Underwood, Taylor Hicks, Jordin Sparks, David Cook and Kris Allen (most recently).  Arguably, the biggest name to come out of the Idol circle is Kelly Clarkson with Carrie Underwood as a solid second.  The rest, well, what about them?  They may have produced records, but few appear to be listening.  This isn’t a good track record for Idol.

Let’s consider Kelly Clarkson for a moment.  Even she has had her ups and downs (mostly downs).  While Kelly has a resonably strong voice, the question remains just how commercially viable it is.  With a name like American Idol, you’d think that Kelly Clarkson would have taken the pop crown away from the likes of Madonna and Britney.  Yet, while Madonna’s star is fading, Britney has taken the crown over and firmly holds it as far as pop acts go.  Britney wasn’t even ‘discovered’ on Idol.  More than this, Kelly has a stronger voice than Britney, yet you see what that gets you.  Kelly isn’t even close to being in Madonna’s league and, while Britney has her own personal issues, her music producers provide a much better music experience than most of Kelly’s efforts.

Outside of these ‘winners’, we also have non-winners like Jennifer Hudson (who’s at least as well known as Kelly Clarkson and she wasn’t even a runner-up) and she’s also an overall more complete ‘star’ than Kelly.  Then there’s David Archuletta, Chris Daughtry and Clay Aikin.  These four people are the proof that the judges cannot pick winners.  In fact, these 4 people should have won Idol, but didn’t.  Yet, they are still successful on their own.

Track Record

Just looking at Idol’s track record, you can see more of the Idol winners have failed to be commercially viable than have been successful (Fantasia who?  Jordin who? David who?  Rubin who? Taylor who?).  The point here, that the judges clearly are not capable of spotting talent.   Even when someone has real singing talent, is young and good looking, clearly that’s not everything that’s needed.  Otherwise, everyone graduating from Idol would have become an instant success… which, of course, has not happened.

I understand the fervor over this show and I understand that the point in watching is more about the competition than the outcome.   But, isn’t the outcome why we come to watch?  Don’t we actually expect the winner to become popular, make great music and usurp the pop crown from Britney?  After all, that’s what Idol started out promising.

Idol is Flawed

The premise of Idol is flawed.  The barometer by which they choose winners is in versatility in singing already commercially successful songs. The real barometer of talent is both in songwriting and performing.  Even though someone has a great singing voice, that doesn’t automatically make them a pop sensation.  Becoming a ‘Pop Idol’  comes with singing unique new songs.  Songs that have not been heard before.  Better yet, it proves talent when the person can both write and sing their own music.  Artists like Prince and Sarah McLachlan are capable of this.  To me, this is talent worth finding.  But, today, commercial pop music is more about the look and voice than it is about songwriting.  Music producers are far too prone to run to Taxi and buy a song or commission their favorite songwriter to write a song rather than having the singer write something.

For me, Idol would be a much more rounded show if they actually required the singers to also write all of their own material.  This would be a lot more time consuming, but requiring this would also show the true talent of the artist.  This premise would show a contestant’s ability to write music under pressure and, at the same time, perform that music admirably.  Using this model in the show would likely have changed both the contestants in the show and the outcome of the winners.  I would also have a lot more respect for the winners of the show.  I also believe the winners would have been far more commercially viable as artists than anyone Idol has, so far, produced.

Idol’s days are numbered

We are now going into the 9th season and I believe this show is wearing out its welcome.  Talent shows like this do come and go, so I expect this show go packing probably in one to two seasons.  If it lasts beyond 10 seasons, I’d be highly surprised.  I’m honestly surprised that it has survived this long with its dismal track record of spotting viable commercial talent.  Yes, the winners can sing, but can they produce an album that people want?  In 8 seasons, I’d say the answer to that question is unequivically no.  The spectacle of the live performance is great, but it doesn’t mean the contestant has what it takes to succeed in the music business. Clearly, Idol has failed at it’s primary goal.

Entertainment Awards: Why so popular?

Posted in awards, entertainment, TV Shows by commorancy on January 26, 2009

What is it about entertainment awards shows that make people want to watch?  Is it the women’s dresses, the celebrities or what?  Whatever it is, I really don’t get awards shows.  Further, I don’t get why news outlets feel compelled to show us these boring affairs.

What’s the point?

First, think about where you work.  Then, ask yourself if you have ever gotten an award simply for doing your job?  Rarely, if ever.  So, why does the entertainment industry feel compelled to pat themselves on the back by giving out awards?  If someone excels at doing a job well, that’s what the company paid you to do.  They didn’t pay you to do a poor job.  So, do you deserve an award for simply doing your job?

Celebrities are paid to act, sing, dance or whatever.  They’re paid to do it well.  In fact, the point to them paying the actor at all is to make sure the movie or music is done well.  Sure, some of the quality is in the hands of the producer, director, writers and other technical behind-the-scenes people.  But, a convincing performance is the basis for much of the quality of the entertainment.  Again, that’s what they are paid to do.

Red Carpet

So, why do people feel compelled to watch celebrities strut down the red carpet in their latest (borrowed, in many cases) designer fare?  Well, I can tell you that I am not one of those people.  I don’t want to hear about them, I don’t want to watch them and I certainly don’t want to read about them in the news.  For me, news is about events that matter.  That someone was handed a trophy for doing a job they were paid to do doesn’t do anything for me.  Watching someone thank every person who ever mattered to them (and possibly stumbling over their words, or on the carpet) doesn’t interest me overall.

Mutual Admiration Society

For whatever reason, Hollywood (and the rest of the entertainment industry) insists on foisting these annual awards programs on us year after year.  I always dread the start of the new TV year just for that reason.  I really don’t care that someone in Hollywood feels compelled to hand out a trophy (gold or otherwise).  I don’t want to watch them do it.  I don’t want to watch the entertainers who dot these extremely boring affairs and I certainly don’t want to be invited to any of these plastic mutual admiration events.

The Academy allegedly prides itself on its standards.  Yet, year after year it digs itself into deeper and deeper holes by picking only those stars who produced the most ‘popular’ films.  I can understand why some celebrities actually snub awards shows and refused to attend or accept any awards.  Then you have the other side where certain celebrities want nothing more than to be graciously accepted with open arms.  In fact, they try so hard that these awards outfits intentionally snub them time after time.  So, it’s less about how well you do and more about who’s butt you kiss.  And here I thought the awards were about how well you did? 

Awards Shows and their societal significance

Considering that the best thing that movies and music do is fuel more movies and music (by unloading large sums of cash to that industry), this entertainment is simply vacuous forgettable time wasters.  In a rare instance, Hollywood might produce a salient worthwhile work, but these are so few and far between that awards shows don’t need to exist.  These rare worthwhile informative works are the ones that awards are made of.  However, these cheesy Hollywood awards are given out so frequently to the wrong people, the awards themselves are meaningless trinkets.

Good Riddance

If the awards shows disappeared today, I wouldn’t even miss them.  It might put a few people in LA out of business who might otherwise organize such an event.  In time, society wouldn’t even miss them.   As it is now, the media feels compelled to shove these trite affairs down our widescreen plasmas.  However, I’d much rather see an actual educational and informative program than watching an hour and a half  of vacuous boring people serving meaningless trinkets to people who simply did their job (or kissed a butt or two).   I’m just confused by people who don’t understand that that’s an hour and a half (or longer) of your life that you will never get back when you watch these empty shows.  So, why watch?

Is Battlestar Galactica Christian allegory? Certainly appears so.

Posted in science fiction, TV Shows by commorancy on January 9, 2009

In Battlestar Galactica season 4, the writers’ religious allegory subtext is becoming ever more clear.  Not so much that the ‘Human’ Cylons look and act like humans, but it’s more about the underlying story subtexts.   Consider the story of 12 apostles vs the 12 cylon models.  Also, apparently, when the 12 models do come together, the world will change.  Consider that the human Cylons believe in ‘the one god’ vs the human humans who still believe in the ‘pagan gods’.   This is a blatant metaphor between our history of those Greeks/Romans who believed in the pagan gods vs those who believed in God (and Christ – Christianity).  Consider now that Baltar appears to have healing abilities and is also on an unknowing teaching mission.  Baltar also looks, at times, like BSG version of Christ.  In fact, the Cylons have practically hand picked Baltar to do their ‘one god’ spread-the-word bidding.

The story of finding Earth really is less of a goal than it appears.  Sure, Earth is the hope that the BSG survivors cling in order to start a new life.  But, inevitably, the Cylons will find any place that the humans choose to inhabit.  The whole story arc has set up so so many Christian religious allegorical undertones that I’m not thrilled by this aspect of the show.   The writers are at a crux.  They can either continue down the 12 Apostles + Christ path and conclude this show as a blatant metaphor for Christianity, or they can drop this subtext and turn it back into the Sci-Fi series that it should be.

Obviously, BSG is taking liberties with the Christian history in order to fit the context of the show, but it certainly appears that allegory is where BSG is heading.  I personally like Sci-Fi series that don’t try to bring real-world religious metaphors and morality plays as the show’s subtle (or blatant) message.  But, I guess the show writers are gonna do what they’re gonna do.  I’ll keep watching until this religious allegory arc becomes so unbearably tedious to watch, I’ll stop watching.  If I really want to read the Bible, I can read it for myself.  I don’t need to see it played out in a Science Fiction show.

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