Across the Universe: TV Universe
Our take on 'Doctor Who,' '666 Park Avenue,' 'Fringe' and more
By Don Kaye
Special to MSN TV
There’s a lot happening on geek-related TV this week, including a major farewell, a highly anticipated return and the debut of two new series. Here’s what we’ve got:
“Last Resort” (Thursday, Sept. 27, ABC): Is this show science fiction or not? While positioned ostensibly as a high-octane military adventure, its speculative premise and hints at futuristic technology (like the sort of “cloaking device” installed on the submarine) at least give it a toehold in sci-fi territory as well. Andre Braugher plays the captain of a U.S. nuclear sub who is given suspicious orders to launch missiles at Pakistan amid a backdrop of international tensions. When he questions those orders, he is relieved of command, but his first officer (Scott Speedman) also defies them, leading to an attack on the sub itself by U.S. forces. The captain steers the sub to the tiny island of Sainte Marina, where they take over a NATO communications center and establish a 200-mile exclusion zone around the island, protecting themselves while trying to find out who or what has led to this situation.
It’s an intriguing premise, and the pilot itself is fast-paced and often thrilling in the relentless style of movies like “Crimson Tide” and “The Hunt for Red October.” The story also opens up numerous subplots ripe for investigation that all tie into the main narrative: Who are the Navy SEALs who came on board just before the attack was ordered? What is the agenda of the woman whose company has installed the new tech on the boat? And just who is trying to start a nuclear war in the first place? (Let’s at least hope it’s not aliens or Observers.) We look forward to seeing how “Last Resort” tackles all this.
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“Fringe” (Friday, Sept. 28, FOX): Victory lap or limp to the finish line? We lean toward the former, because no matter how you look at it, the fact that “Fringe” made it this far – four seasons completed, and the fifth about to start despite ratings that would have killed most shows long ago – has to be seen as some sort of success. “Fringe” has always had three things going for it: its devoted following, the quality of its writing and production, and the truly mind-bending scope of its premise. How will it all end? Only the show’s writers and producers know, but the fact that they’ve been given a 13-episode fifth season to wrap things up should allow them to bring the story to a suitably epic conclusion.
Season 5 will kick off with “Transilience Thought Unifer Model-11,” which picks up right where Season 4 episode “Letters of Transit” left off. Peter (Joshua Jackson) and his daughter Etta (Georgina Haig), having been sealed in amber, are awakened in 2036. The Observers are ruling a drastically altered Earth, and Peter and Etta must fight them while also searching for Olivia (Anna Torv). Fasten your seatbelts, everyone. It’s going to be a wild ride for sure.
“Doctor Who” (Saturday, Sept. 29, BBC America): After two and a half seasons (more or less), Amy Pond (Karen Gillan) and her husband, Rory Williams (Arthur Darvill), will depart as the Doctor’s companions on this Saturday’s episode of “Doctor Who.” The episode, titled “The Angels Take Manhattan,” will also feature the return of the malevolent entities known as the Weeping Angels as they invade and conquer New York in what is sure to be a frightening confrontation.
Last week’s “The Power of Three” set up an intense, emotional goodbye, as Amy and Rory struggled with their personal conflict of whether to stay at home with the life they’ve built or rejoin the Doctor on his cosmos-spanning adventures. One beautiful scene midway through the episode found the Doctor giving an eloquent, wistful rationale for why he clings to his companions – that time, at least to him, flies by so fast before the people he cares for “fade away.” In the end, Amy and Rory – with a gentle push from Rory’s dad, Brian (Mark Williams) – take off with the Doctor once again, although Brian’s request that he “bring them back safe” is loaded with implications.
Gillan’s Amy has been a delight since day one, and while we’ve had our reservations about Rory, Darvill’s portrayal has grown on us over the past two years. Their relationships with each other and the Doctor have led to some of the most emotional moments of the series, and we expect this week’s farewell might bring out the handkerchiefs. The show takes a break after this. The mysterious new companion (Jenna-Louise Coleman) will debut on the Christmas special.
“666 Park Avenue” (Sunday, Sept. 30, ABC): Every network wants a piece of that “American Horror Story” action now, and this serial supernatural drama from ABC is the first out of the chute. Young couple Henry (Dave Annable) and Jane (Rachael Taylor) land a job as live-in co-managers of the Drake, a posh Upper East Side apartment building owned by Gavin and Olivia Doran (Terry O’Quinn of “Lost” and Vanessa Williams). The Dorans are not just landlords but apparently demonic entities – kind of the same thing, actually – who take their tenants’ souls in exchange for their admittedly great apartments.
Before you shout, “Spoiler!” at us, calm down: The premise is established very early in the show, which leads us to wonder just how far the series can take it. Plucky and somewhat irritating Jane is already investigating the hotel’s history, and while the pilot contains its share of creepy moments, it doesn’t generate a lot of suspense. Nor does it have – at least not yet – the over-the-top imagery and antics that have made “American Horror Story” such a delightfully shocking surprise. O’Quinn and Williams are terrific, though, and there’s just enough atmosphere and intrigue to keep us interested in this one, with reservations.
Other premieres to watch for this week: the sixth-season opening of “The Big Bang Theory” (Thursday, CBS) and the second-season launch of “Person of Interest” (also Thursday, CBS), and the second-season premiere of “Once Upon a Time” (Sunday, ABC).