And now your host…Starlord!

Chris Pratt hosted the season premiere of SNL last night, and I was excited to watch. Pratt seems ideally suited to be a host. Genuinely funny, relaxed and someone who seems to really want to just have fun. He can embrace the spirit of hosting—which is to enjoy yourself. Because if you do, the audience will too.

There are some new faces on the show this year, as there always are. (And notable traditional elements gone as the show enters its 40th season. RIP Don Pardo. The open is not the same without you.) Weekend Update was one place where these new faces really performed. Michael Che, recently of The Daily Show, was lured away by SNL to help anchor with Colin Jost. He’d obviously more than proven himself in the fake news arena based on his three month stint under Jon Stewart. (Stewart and the rest of the correspondents gave Che a hilarious send-off based on the fact  that he really hadn’t worked there that long, and he was already leaving.) Che is the first African American anchor of Weekend Update, and in my opinion is funnier than Colin Jost. (Jost may be a great writer, but his delivery still seems a bit flat.)

The other new face that stood out for me was a young (VERY young) performer named Pete Davidson, who did a bit on Weekend Update that I can’t really adequately describe here, in terms of content. I can only say that it ended up being very funny, in a way that I didn’t expect it to be, and that Davidson impressed me because he is so young and he seemed incredibly comfortable and confident in front of the camera.

Pratt definitely jumped into all the roles he was called to tackle, including a very odd but funny sketch about He-Man and Lion-O where he and Taran Killam wore elaborate makeup and costumes and learned about the pleasures of cake and touching their crotches. There was a pretty funny Guardians of the Galaxy parody citing Marvel’s ability to put their brand on any odd collection of characters and still score a big hit. My favorite of these was “Marvel’s Pam.” (Cut to Aidy Bryant in a cardigan and khakis, walking down the space ship hallway, waving at people. Followed, naturally by “Pam 2: Winter Pam.”)

Aidy Bryant actually had a great night. Not all the sketches landed, but she was the bright spot in almost everyone she was in. She has a remarkable ability to sell ballsy, sex-focused characters in a way that is really hilarious to watch. She and Pratt had a particularly good sketch together later in the evening where they were shyly and awkwardly approaching each other to flirt, only to suddenly burst into sexually charged rap verse.

For the sketches that didn’t land as solidly, the endings seemed to be the weak point. The Lion-O and He-Man sketch had a fairly funny premise, but it was clear the writers weren’t sure how to end it. And there was another sketch that felt the same way…like the actors just kind of exited the set, and that was it. It’s a bit disappointing when that happens, and leaves you with a less positive impression, even if most of the sketch WAS funny. The other really odd choice of the night was a purposefully bad sitcom parody with Christ Pratt, Kyle Mooney and Beck Bennett. I laughed some when I watched it, but it was SO odd I think I also spent a fair amount of time going, “What IS this?” It had purposefully bad sets, dialogue, costumes, musical transitions, and audio. Meant, it seems, to mimic the TGIF style sitcoms of the early 90s. All three actors gave unenthused, almost wooden line readings. The whole thing was just very strange…and went on longer than I thought it would. I still can’t decide if I liked it for being so risky and weird, or just feel like it was a lot of effort for small payoff.

As for Ariana Grande, I can’t say anything about her. I fast forwarded through most of her performances. I had a vague impression of cat ears and high heels, and that’s about it. Overall, though, I did enjoy the episode, even if it was only lukewarm in parts. Pratt’s energy and enthusiasm carried him through, most of the new cast seems game, and there were a few standouts that indicate promising things for the future of the show.

Gotham and Sleepy Hollow: Mondays are fun days!

I just watched Fox’s new Monday night line-up. Gotham premiered at 8 on Monday, and Sleepy Hollow returned for a second season at 9. I was excited for both shows. Sleepy Hollow was a surprise guilty pleasure for me last fall, and Gotham had one of the more intriguing premises this year. Spoilers ahead if you haven’t watched and you’re planning to…

Let’s start with the newbie. There was a line in Gotham where one of the characters says to Jim Gordon (Ben McKenzie) that the city stands on knife’s edge. That’s actually a pretty accurate description of the show itself. After watching it, I can’t tell you if I thought it was good or bad. I honestly don’t know yet. But I would count it as a successful pilot because it made me want to tune in again…and that’s where the “knife’s edge” metaphor is applicable. The second episode could be really great, and I wouldn’t be surprised. Or it could be really terrible…and I wouldn’t be surprised.

It gets points for style. The city looks grim, but not too grim, and they do some fun and interesting things with color and light. Some scenes are warm and saturated, others are cool and blue-toned…kind of like the ongoing struggle between good and evil that is at the heart of the city and its characters. I still don’t find McKenzie especially dynamic, and that’s a shame…the dialogue was one of the weaker parts of the show, and for us to buy into a do-gooder protagonist like Jim Gordon, McKenzie has to sell it. The actors who did more scenery chewing actually gave more effective peformances—especially Donal Logue as Harvey Bullock, Jada Pinkett Smith as Fish Mooney, and Robin Lord Taylor as the creepy Oswald Cobblepot (before he learned to embrace his Penguin moniker).

The winks and nods to the canonical figures from the Batman mythos can be amusing, but also overdone. (Anyone else care to speculate that the young comedian auditioning for Fish Mooney is someone we might see again as the Joker? He was never mentioned in the press that I saw, but I wouldn’t put it past them to be planting seeds for Batman’s most iconic villain.) So we’ll see what next week brings. I’m definitely willing to give it at least a few more episodes to settle into a groove.

Now, on to Sleepy Hollow. The first ten minutes of the episode made me really angry. I couldn’t BELIEVE they would do a time jump after that cliff-hanger ending last year. Or eliminate Jenny and Katrina in one fell swoop. “Lazy writing!” I was thinking. “Poor form!” But of course, I didn’t give the show enough credit. One of the things that was so remarkable about the first season of Sleepy Hollow was the breakneck pacing of the plot…and yet the writers managed to keep building that plane in mid-air, instead of falling out of the sky like many of us predicted. And they haven’t lost their touch. It’s hard to always say exactly what’s happening in any given episode, but when you’re watching it, you don’t question it and you just enjoy the ride. That’s the sign of a winning formula, I think.

Beharie and Mison were back, both in prime form, and I’m glad the episode didn’t leave Abbie Mills stranded in Purgatory overly long. Their chemistry is great and they’re so much more fun to watch when they’re working as a team. Crane got a few great “Ichabod and modern technology” moments—including an attempt at driving a car and trying to record a video with his phone. There were some highly humorous Ben Franklin flashbacks (Ichabod was his apprentice, because OF COURSE he was), secret codes and a hidden key, fights with the Horseman, and most importantly it seems John Noble is not going anywhere any time soon. And there’s almost no show I can think of that wouldn’t be improved by adding John Noble. So all the essential ingredients of a Sleepy Hollow episode were present.

I did find it interesting that Katrina is once again separated from Ichabod. They made his quest to get her back last a whole season, and that was enough for me. I don’t care if they reunite, but I think of her as a distraction from the insanity of the horsemen, so I’d rather she was all the way incorporated with the characters in modern times, or not in the show at all. But it looks like, from the teaser for next week, we’ll get more about Katrina’s fate.

All in all, I was pleased with Sleepy Hollow’s season opener…even the bait and switch at the top. Is it an insane show? Yes, undoubtedly. Is that why we find it so entertaining? Yes, undoubtedly.

Fall Preview: High Hopes Edition

Every year, the new slate of fall shows is like a trip to Vegas. You’re hoping to win big, but you know you’re going to end up disappointed. The odds are simply not in your favor. There’s always a few pleasant surprises—I would point to last year’s dark horse, Sleepy Hollow, as an excellent example. I was sure it was going to suck, and it was actually very enjoyable. But other shows, even those from show creators or stars that you’ve liked in the past, will then disappoint.

All that being said, there are a couple of shows I am looking forward to checking out. Both just happen to be new dramas on Fox.

1. Gotham. I would put this at the top of the list. It’s a risky premise…it’ll probably get high tune-in initially because it’s tapping into the ever popular Batman mythos. But should they handle it poorly, it’ll implode in spectacular fashion. Still, the trailer had me intrigued…more intrigued than I expected to be. I like Donal Logue a lot, I think Benjamin McKenzie is competent, if not especially exciting, and the prospect of seeing some young unknown actors sink their teeth into the rogue’s gallery that is Batman’s collection of villains could be a lot of fun.

2. Gracepoint. I am more curious than anything else to see an American take on a British series (Broadchurch) that was such a perfectly executed gem. Sure, they managed to grab David Tennant to take on the co-lead again, but he’s playing an American…which in and of itself is a bit off-putting. Anna Gunn was great on Breaking Bad, and has the Emmys to prove it, but this is a tricky piece of work. There are basic logistical questions. As a viewer, if I’ve seen the original, do I still know how this mystery ends? Because frankly, there’s no way to win there. The ending of the original was incredibly powerful and horrific and made the series so impactful…but if they keep it in the American version, anybody who watched Broadchurch will have the whole mystery spoiled.

I wish I could say there was more, but right now nothing else is really making me excited. There are a few return series I’m pumped about, but that’s about all that can be said. And no new comedies look that great. I wanted to say I’m excited about Mulaney…John Mulaney wrote Stefon…perhaps one of the greatest recurring Weekend Update characters ever. I should be looking forward to his sitcom. But I haven’t heard much that sounds promising. And there are a couple of shows (looking at you Bad Judge and Mysteries of Laura) that just look awful. Again, I could be totally wrong. A series can surprise you…or start out weak and get stronger…or have a great pilot then drop off the map entirely.

For a TV fan like myself, the beauty of where we are now is that when word of mouth builds for a show, and I haven’t seen it yet, I can, simply by catching the episodes I missed on demand. It’s a sort of “let’s see what all the fuss is about” setting that’s permanently enabled in your cable box. You can let things shake out a little before you commit to a new series. I love that flexibility. And I hope this season will surprise me again with a show that hits out of nowhere.

And so it begins…

Fall television premieres have officially begun. Last night Fox aired its season premieres of New Girl and the Mindy Project, two shows that have ranked among my favorite comedies in the past few years. New Girl hit a great stride in the middle of first season, with its writers learning to tap into the vast comedic potential of its cast, playing off their phenomenal chemistry. And the Mindy Project came into its own in its second season, establishing Mindy Kaling (in my humble opinion) as great new comic voice.

I was a little disappointed with how the premieres tonight went down. Neither were terrible, but both were a bit underwhelming, leaving me wondering whether or not they’re suffering from the same Roman Candle syndrome—burning brightly, but not for long. I’d like to think both shows have staying power and will be able to be consistently funny, but the season premieres tonight were a bit weak. (Spoilers ahead if you haven’t seen them.)

New Girl was the most problematic. The premise of the premiere is that the gang goes to the last wedding of the summer together, making a pact that all of them will find someone to hook up with. From the start, there’s issues here. First of all, while the “everyone-goes-to-the-same-event” approach has worked for New Girl in the past, they’ve done weddings before. More than once. And the hooking up conceit is a little tired as well. There were a few standout moments—Nick’s reaction to the suggestion of a four way with two bridesmaids, himself and Schmidt, Jess’ impression of how her dancing is like sex, and Nick’s unconcerned reaction to discovering he accidentally bought tap shoes. But in general, I didn’t laugh as much as I normally do.

Jessica Biel guest starred as a weirdly competitive rival who was fighting Jess for a chance to sleep with the best man, played by Veep’s Reid Scott. Their storyline ended in an odd and unsatisfying way, and Biel’s character, whose seeming perfection is meant to be hilariously offputting, was so offputting there weren’t any laughs there. Winston was, in general, not given enough to do, which is a shame, since we know Lamorne Morris is a very gifted comedic actor. And Coach had a one note story that included a brief montage of the women he slept with lecturing him. Again, just not that funny. In general, for a comedy…the episode was weak sauce. Plus, they’re trotting out more and more of those “aw shucks, it’s great we’re friends and we have each other” moments on the show, usually at the end, and it’s not cute any more…it just seems sappy. (“We’re not going home alone,” says Jess…get it? Because they’re GOING HOME WITH EACH OTHER. Barf.)

The Mindy Project was a bit stronger, though plot wise it was all over the map. The main narrative, of Mindy and Danny navigating the beginning of their relationship, and adjusting to each other’s personalities in that context, wasn’t bad. Chris Messina and Mindy Kaling still have fun chemistry, and they’ve managed to transition the “will they won’t they” into a likeable couple. But there were so many sideplots…Peter’s girlfriend hooking up with Jeremy, Morgan’s cousin (played by Rob McElhenney) working at the office, gossip and secrets being shared…all of it got a bit muddled. But it was worth it for Chris Messina stripping at the end of the show. It was funny AND hot! And Mindy got in a few choice lines, as per usual.

I’m always excited to watch the fall shows when they’re back, but I was bit bummed that this was the way we kicked things off. We know these shows can be great. Let’s hope we see that again…sooner rather than later.

The Movies That Make Us Remember Why We Love Movies.

In our current era of informational overload, the entertainment business traffics in as much speculation and gossip and teases and sneak peeks and casting rumors as one would expect. This can be a lot of fun for a pop culture dork like myself. I love to read about what’s happening in the industry, what movies are in development, which of my favorite books are being adapted, who was cast as a classic character, or which director is going to helm the newest tentpole-franchise-blockbuster.

But.

It is also a double-edged sword. For one thing, the experience of the movie itself can sometimes be dulled by overexposure prior to release. We’ve already seen the domestic trailer, the international trailer, the featurette, the cast press interviews, the sneak peek, etc. So there’s less surprises in the movie itself, less wonder and excitement. It’s still fun, but we’ve SEEN this already.

The second issue is that it’s much more likely that a movie will disappoint. So much anticipation has built up from all the marketing we ingest that we’re so excited, so pumped…and quite often the movie doesn’t measure up. At least not fully. It might be good, but was it AS good as what we were hoping for?

But we all have movies we’ve loved since we can remember. The movie that, if it’s playing on TV, we have to stop and watch, no matter how close to the end of the movie it is or what else we’re meant to be doing. The movie that we can quote, virtually line by line, only vaguely aware that we’re annoying everyone around us. The movie that reassures us, by its mere existence, that movies can still be about unadulterated joy, about immersing oneself in a world that is, above all other things, still entertaining.

For me that movie is Ghostbusters.

I love comedies of all kinds (except bad ones). But Ghostbusters, for me, is special because it is a perfect marriage of a script that is not only hilariously funny, but incredibly unique, with a cast and a director who are all a precise fit. Obviously I’m biased. There are a lot of great comedies out there. But Ghostbusters is MY number one. It would be hard for me to find fault with it. Even things about it that are dated, like the soundtrack or the special effects, just add to the charm for me.

I got to see it again last night in the theater, and despite the fact that I’ve seen it a million times (only a slight exaggeration) it’s still makes me laugh from start to finish. I recite my favorite lines like an asshole, I grin in anticipation of Peter Venkman’s wry barbs and I cackle every… single… time Louis Tully locks himself out of his apartment. Seeing the movie WITH me is probably not always the most fun, but this is one movie where I honestly don’t give a fuck. I’m in it, man. This is Ghostbusters.

I think it’s just nice to be reminded of what movies can be to us. No matter what YOUR movie is—Caddyshack, Back to the Future, Pulp Fiction, The Empire Strikes Back, Rushmore…you know that’s it there for you with the characters that will never stop being family, and the scenes that will never stop being home.

A Brief Tribute to Joan Rivers

As a young woman with an interest in comedy and feminism, I have to write a few brief words about Joan Rivers. We lost another great one. People will tell you she had controversial opinions on certain issues. She did. Some people may say she was mean. She definitely could be. But you know what else she was? Unapologetic. Outspoken. Funny as hell.

Male comedians can get away with that more easily than women can. Maybe you disagree, but I think that, as much progress as we’ve made, there’s still a gratuitous double standard when it comes to gender and comedy.

And Joan started doing comedy in an era when it was nearly IMPOSSIBLE for a woman to be those things. Not everyone may have found Joan’s style to their liking, and that’s fine. I usually found her to be hilarious. But no one can deny the impact that she made in a field that hasn’t always been kind to women. No one can deny that she was a trailblazer, and no one can deny that she worked her ass off for her entire career.

That may be what I admire most about her. She never stopped working, even when she easily could have. She did stand-up the night before the ill-fated surgery that eventually took her life. They taped a red carpet special of Fashion Police just last week after the Emmys.

Joan was one of a kind.

She was a true bad-ass bitch of comedy.

RIP Joan. What are we gonna do without you?image

The Mehmmys.

I don’t really have a lot to write about the Emmys, guys, because the Emmys this year were fucking boring as hell. There was just not much to it. I don’t dislike Seth Meyers, but he was a pretty bland host. He got a few good knocks in during his opening monologue, but otherwise, it was not too memorable.

I’m glad Breaking Bad won for so many categories in its final year of eligibility, and annoyed that Modern Family won for so many categories in NOT its final year of eligibility. Modern Family isn’t that great any more, Emmy voters! And it has never EVER been as funny as Veep or Louie or Parks and Rec!

I was very happy to see Julia Louis Dreyfus win. I know she’s taken the trophy before, but she is so damn good on Veep. And her moments on stage with Bryan Cranston were some of the few funny moments of the night. And I’m thrilled that Louis CK won for writing “So Did the Fat Lady,” and that he thanked Sarah Baker for her role in it. It was an amazing episode…funny and wry and sad.

But in general, this telecast was a snooze. The fashion was okay. Some pretty gowns, but no out and out disasters to make things interesting. Lena Dunham’s hair and dress came the closest, but she’s Lena Dunham, so, as “Joy Behar” would say…

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And speaking of Fred Armisen, you guys…the juiciest news to come out of the Emmys…Natasha Lyonne of Orange Is the New Black might be dating Fred Armisen, which would be like the biggest celebrity couple chaos vortex ever. And if it meant Lyonne, who is funny as hell and a little scary, guest-starred on Portlandia next season, I’d be ALL FOR THAT.

Holy Bleak.

I went last weekend to see Calvary, the new film starring Brendan Gleeson, about an Irish priest who is having, if you’ll pardon the pun, one hell of a week. If you haven’t seen Calvary yet and you plan to, be mindful of this review, there are some spoilers ahead.

Calvary, written and directed by John Michael McDonagh, begins in the most startling way possible. We are in close-up on Father James’s face (Gleeson) as he hears confession from a member of his parish. The voice is telling him terrible things about abuse suffered at the hands of a pedophile priest when he was a child. He ends his visit to the confessional with a promise to kill Father James. Killing a bad priest would mean nothing to him. He wants to kill a good priest. Father James has one week to “get his affairs in order.”

Father James IS a good man. We watch him go throughout his weekly duties in the small Irish village where his parish is located. He counsels the sick and those in prison. He performs last rites and comforts a grieving French widow. He spends time with his damaged daughter—the daughter from the life he had before he lost his wife and, we learn, turned to the priesthood. (The daughter, played by Kelly Reilly, is herself recovering from an attempted suicide, the bandages on her wrist a constant visual reminder.) Each day is fonted on screen over a shot of a beautiful yet slightly menacing Irish hillside—a visual reminder of the Golgotha that is looming over Father James, the threat to his life that he does not know if he can avoid.

The film is probably best described as a drama, but it is NOT without dark humor, thanks mostly to the VERY colorful cast of townspeople that are part of Gleeson’s world. There is the loose woman, the cynical doctor, the mysterious immigrant, the horny young man, the overly wise altar boy, the rich prick, and James’ own fellow priest, who means well but is a bit of a boob, missing the mark every time. Some of these actors were familiar to me (Aiden Gillen, Dylan Moran, Chris O’Dowd) and some were not, but all did a great job surrounding Father James with morally gray, flawed people…evoking his compassion and his ire as the week progresses.

If you are going to see this movie, even if you don’t like it, I don’t see how you’ll be able to help being impressed by Brendan Gleeson. He must carry this movie, and is in basically every frame. And he did an amazing job. McDonagh favors a fair amount of close-up shots on Gleeson’s face, like the opening scene in the confessional, and the amount of world-weary heartsickness he’s able to convey with only his eyes and a few subtle movements of his mouth is incredible. The film also looks beautiful overall, shot on location in County Sligo in Ireland. The countryside is lovely, yet shot in such a way that the grey skies and shifting winds make you feel the approaching darkness and growing melancholy as Father James’ week progresses.

So here’s my caveat, and the reason I titled my post the way I did. This film is dark. Like, really dark. It ended in such a way that when the credits started rolling and the lights came up in the theater, everyone in our audience just sat silently for a few seconds. Nobody really wanted to say anything or move. We were all just sort of processing those last few minutes. It was sad and strange and violent and…well, those are all words that would adequately describe Christ’s crucifixion, no? So the title is more than accurate. It was a pretty, oddly funny, and terribly haunting experience.

So much good will.

Like many people the world over this past week, I was shocked and saddened to learn about the loss of Robin Williams. His career and his life have been a demonstration of just how much one man’s generosity, as a person and as a performer, can reach people. It’s been very moving to read the outpouring of stories people are sharing about him now—little personal interactions that say so much about who he was when he wasn’t on stage or in front of a camera.

There are so many wonderful movies that I could choose from as personal favorites. The child in me would say Hook or Aladdin or Mrs. Doubtfire. The film-loving adult would say Dead Poet’s Society or Awakenings or One Hour Photo. The movie I chose to watch tonight was Good Will Hunting, the only role he won an Oscar for, despite being nominated three previous times.

I hadn’t seen it in a few years, but I remember it well. Williams’ performance as therapist Sean Maguire is everything he was best at in dramatic roles. Williams’ comedic antics and gift for improvisation (an almost unmatched gift, I might add) were probably what got him the most attention and recognition over the course of his career. But his dramatic performances are striking examples of true talent—they demonstrate just how much range he had.

Maguire, like many of Robin’s previous dramatic roles, is a restrained and almost quiet character. He loses his temper infrequently, and the scenes where he does are all the more jolting because of it. (I especially enjoy when he threatens to “end” Will during their first session, when Will goes around his office finding things to pick apart, and finally hitting a nerve when he brings up Maguire’s deceased wife.) But there is also warmth and humor there, and a kind of genuine understanding that is the reason Maguire can connect with someone as damaged as Will.

Williams’ more serious films always felt like that. Like they came from a place of fundamental human connection. And the passion that enlivened his comedy always came through in the drama as well—more restrained, more focused, but still infusing the performances with life. A sort of embodiment of the Walt Whitman poetry that Williams’ John Keating espouses so emphatically to his students in Dead Poets Society.

Parts of Good Will Hunting were still able to move me to tears, I’m not ashamed to say. The movie is great, but it was also nice to be reminded again of what Williams’ legacy is. At his best, he had a way of bringing a beating heart to the stories that we tell, the things that make us laugh and cry, and sometimes do both at the same time. In answer to Walt Whitman’s question, that was his verse.

Feeling Outlandish.

I recently watched the pilot of Starz’ new adaptation of the Outlander series, historical romance novels by Diana Gabaldon. The books are immensely popular, though I’ve never read them. So if you think you’re going to watch the show or read the books, and you haven’t yet…spoilers lay ahead.

The series centers around Claire Randall (Caitriona Balfe), a young woman who served as a nurse in WWII, and is happily married to a history professor (Tobias Menzies) named Frank. The two are traveling in Scotland, after the war, to explore her husband’s Scottish heritage. In the pilot, Claire and Frank spy on a secret pagan rite out on the highlands, and when Claire returns to the site later, she is magically transported to the past, to 1743, when Scotsmen and British soldiers roam the land, engaging in bloody skirmishes.

Claire is attacked by a British officer who just so happens to be her husband’s direct ancestor (and so is also played by Menzies). She is rescued by a band of Scottish rebels at the last second, and her ability to help heal one of the young Scots’ injuries, using her own wartime nursing experience, tells them she is not just some prisoner to be easily discarded. Claire doesn’t fully understand what is happening to her, or why she’s suddenly found herself two hundred years in the past, but she is a smart and steely character, and does her best to keep her wits about her.

The young Scotsman that she helps to heal is named Jamie Fraser (Sam Heughan). Though she does not trust him, he’s grateful for her assistance and tries to be kind to her, as much as possible. Of course, because this series is based on historical romance novels, Jamie is strapping, handsome and fascinated by Claire’s modern ways, rather than put off by them. So I think we can see where this is going…

Outlander looks lovely. It was filmed on location in Scotland, and it shows. The rocky hills and green valleys of Inverness form a beautiful backdrop to the action. The score is also a big part of this atmosphere, filled with instrumentation and melodies that invoke traditional Scottish tunes. Balfe seems to be holding her own as Claire. So much of the success of this series will depend on how realistically she can convey the distress of a character caught in a situation that is, quite literally, unbelievable. She narrates the opening episode, a conceit I assume they’ll continue using. It’s hard to tell right now whether that will be helpful to the audience, or a distraction. As a character, however, Claire is strong and has keen survival instincts, so if Balfe can keep tapping into this side of her, she should be fascinating to watch.

Menzies also impressed in the pilot. Frank, Claire’s husband, is a gentle and likeable man—someone who, like many in his position, is carrying some psychological baggage from the war, where he worked with British spies to infiltrate Germany. But it is clear from the first half of the episode that he adores his wife, and their relationship is passionate and strong. His work as the villain Black Jack is only glimpsed briefly, but Menzies was able to admirably switch gears and make the British officer both a creep and a menace. And it’s a juicy twist that Claire is confronted with such a terrible man who resembles exactly the husband she loves and trusts.

I’m not sure I would have watched Outlander at all, but many of the reviews have been quite positive, so that piqued my curiosity. And I’m glad I did. The pilot had a lot to do, setting the table for what was to come. Claire and Frank’s relationship, Claire’s nursing in the war, their trip in Scotland, the time traveling, and finally Claire meeting up with the Scottish rebels. There was a lot of ground to cover, so my only complaint was that none of it got quite enough time to breathe. That will probably change, now that our story and characters are well established. While Jamie, clearly meant to be the romantic lead, hasn’t made a huge impression yet (other than being much better looking than his cohorts), that story will probably also move faster now. I look forward to seeing how their relationship heats up.