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Saturday, October 15, 2016

Newsworthy? Sure. Groundbreaking? No. Notorious? Eh! #Notorious #3weekroundup #ABC

Newsworthy? Sure. Groundbreaking? No. Notorious? Eh! #Notorious #3weekroundup #ABC

All pictures courtesy of ABC 

It’s time for another... ah, you already know if you’re familiar with the blog. Today’s new show up for review of its first three episodes: ABC’s Notorious. A non-Shonda Rhimes show stationed on Thursdays at 9pm in what has been prime Shonda Rhimes real estate for the last decade, does Notorious live up to its name, or is it a far cry from even being memorable? Let’s find out together!

Notorious (#Notorious) stars Piper Perabo as Julia George, a two-first-names powerful news show producer that works at a CNN/Fox News-like channel. She is the mega-hit ten-years-running producer of one of the top-rated news shows on TV in LHL: Louise Herrick Live. Louise Herrick (played by Kate Jennings Grant) is a more liberal Nancy Grace/Megyn Kelly-esque character with fiery red hair and, uh... loose-woman tendencies that would make Amber Rose proud. Though she comes off as a secondary character on the show to Perabo’s Julia, we do get a telling intro to her character as she is sexing up a young black guy the first time we see her; in fact, the show’s first episode starts with Perabo’s Julia George in bed with her boyfriend who is also days away from taking an earned judge’s seat. Very Grey’s Anatomy, they fumble around in the dark in what appears to be a bed until she realizes what time it is and everything lights up. As it turns out, the cushions aren’t a bed but a couch, it’s not night but the middle of the day (she has really good blinds/shades), and we’re not in the comfort of either one of their homes but in her work office... at LHL headquarters near the top floor of the building. This serves to show us just how ridiculous she is as well as shows us how committed to her job she is.

Julia hops off her guy, zips up and grabs her clipboard because she has to put on a show literally in a few minutes. She goes to grab the host of the show and is bombarded on her walk through the halls with all sorts of info on the top stories they’ve decided to cover for the night. Not only is she hit with all of the stories, but she is also approached by her boss—we’re talking the biggest wig, the owner/president type of boss—who introduces her to his son, Ryan Mills. Played by Ryan Guzman, Mills is a 20-something, half-awestruck producer/reporter wannabe who wants nothing more than to work with Julia and Louise (more Julia) and prove himself in his father’s company. While his character at first seems very easy to pin down, his motivations really aren’t known as he sometimes seems like he’s just doing things to shake up the status quo and other times is doing things to impress the ladies. I don’t know how best to describe it, but it doesn’t feel as if he is just there to try to be a producer one day, but he’s also not going about the job as if it was some random summer job given to him by his father. I’m getting off track just talking about him as he is a side character, too, but he does play a big part in the drama.

Back to the main characters, Julia is helped by her right-hand woman Megan Byrd (played by Sepideh Moafi) who always has the latest news behind the news stories. She is the one that people call first with late-breaking tips that she then passes on to her boss. She is a woman who knows how to walk and talk fast and with purpose and does so at the side of Julia nearly every time she is seen. She informs her boss that she just got a call on some hot tea on Oscar Keaton. Oscar Keaton (played by Kevin Zegers) is the shows tech billionaire who, in his youth, founded some crazy social media company and became a sensation overnight along with his partner. The story: his car was recently caught on a traffic cam zooming through the dark LA streets late at night, erratically fleeing the scene of a hit-and-run (pedestrian to car; teenage boy clinging to life). Now, he has barricaded himself in his Palisades mansion. Why is this even juicier than it sounds? Because not only does Julia know the man’s lawyer-on-retainer but he is supposed to be on the show.

Enter Jake Gregorian (played by Rescue Me vet Daniel Sunjata) as our other top lead. A high-powered attorney to the stars of California, he has not only represented the young techie for years but also knows the man’s wife. He and Julia also have a history that runs back some years as they are chummy in the elevator and all the way up to the newsroom, even bothering to throw careless flirty banter between each other as he mentions hearing about her boyfriend’s court confirmation. A romantic relationship between them in the future? Yeah, it is not only possible but highly probable if the show makes it past two seasons. For now, she plays rather dirty as she thrusts him into the guest seat on LHL knowing that he doesn’t know that one of his biggest, richest clients has a warrant out for him and is currently resisting arrest in his house while the police stand outside. Breaking news with a copter-feed and everything, they lead the show with that and catch the man off-guard, forcing him to answer surprise questions about his client when he came to talk about something completely different. When he deflects, turns the narrative to his liking and they cut to break, he and Julia meet up behind closed doors only to laugh and glad-hand each other about the twist they just did.

As it turns out, he did know about his client being seen on the traffic cam and instructed the man to barricade himself in the house when the police came because it would go better with the narrative he was trying to tell. And here is the twist and main crux of the story. This is about how news is made and what makes the news rather than the stories that are newsworthy. With their long-standing friendship, Julia and Jake warp, bend, twist and manipulate the news and stories they hear about in any way they can to tell the story that they want to tell, not necessarily the truth. When Jake came to her earlier in the day with news of his client before Megan even heard about it, he already had his narrative and fake outrage in his back pocket—a Broadway show of hooping, hollering, and Fosse-dancing for everyone else. He gives a simple suggestion that maybe it could have been someone else driving and the seed of doubt is planted before any prosecutor even sniffs at a trial.

Jake then goes to his client Oscar, who tells him that he didn’t kill that boy, he wasn’t even driving the car at the time and that he is clean (he once had an addiction problem with drugs/alcohol); however, he also reveals that he has a little bit of cocaine stored in a compartment in his car that wasn’t his but was confiscated from a friend during an intervention. And then they get news of the boy’s death and he gets charged with manslaughter. We briefly get a look-in at Jake’s law firm run by him and his brother played by J. August Richards, and we get a flavor of the show as it is structured similarly to long-form dramas of late (The Blacklist, Scandal, How to Get Away With Murder, Blindspot) where they have one overarching mystery/case throughout the season (in this case Oscar’s) and one or two smaller weekly cases. This week’s smaller case is about some local city official who came under pressure of a blackmailer who took a picture of him in a racially and ethnically insensitive Halloween outfit years prior. Now that he’s running for a higher office, they want dat money! So, while Jake and his brother, helped by one of their junior associates Ella Benjamin (played by Aimee Teegarden) try to frame Oscar’s case, they have to figure out a way to make this guy’s blackmailer, a bartender at the time, go away.

But first, they must get that cocaine out of Oscar’s car. Circling back around to the Ryan Mills kid, the overeager creeper decides to take initiative and get some more dirt on Oscar Keaton. He finds (read: stalks) Ella who Jake tasked with retrieving the coke from Oscar’s car. An immediate love connection between them, you just know it won’t be long before you see these two young hot bodies pressed against each other and sweating heavily in your nine o’clock hour. He tries to get her to drunk-confess to something about the case but it doesn’t work as she has to leave early. But instead, he gets something better as he follows her to the impound lot and sees her and another guy retrieve the coke. An amateur shutterbug, he takes a picture of her dirty deeds and runs to Julia to brown-nose.

Meanwhile, Megan has bad news for Julia. Apparently, in all the time she’s been working for the powerful producer and Julia’s been with her fiance, Megan never met the guy. Only now does she realize that she actually knows him. Megan used to be a hoe... OK, a high-class “escort.” While Julia’s guy only used her once, he frequented the escort service and still does. How the woman didn’t know this after so long with him, I don’t know, but that’s what we are to believe.

As she is dealing with a personal crisis, Jake is dealing with old feelings come to resurface like the Loch Ness monster. Oscar’s wife Sarah (played by Dilshad Vadsaria previously on the now defunct Second Chance; I liked that show) was previously involved with Jake. We’re talkin’ wearing his oversized clothes and slinking around a small crummy apartment in sweltering summer heat when you got no air conditioning and minimal money, but happy as a clam kinda involvement. The boot-knockery in full effect, he sleeps with her in Oscar’s (his client’s) house while he’s not there. Now THAT is scandalous. But, always the sneaky eye, guess who snaps a pic of them in bed together?

Julia goes to tell off her now ex-boyfriend and tell him that since she has proof he ordered two hookers the week of his confirmation, she will lord that over his head and possibly use it at her leisure—leverage for the rest of his life.

Jake solves the small case of the week by having his team comb through the pictures taken and aging all of the kids at the party. A frat party, they spotted at least one underage girl who the bartender who took the pics also served alcohol. The man currently about to open his own bar and restaurant, they could send that picture to the liquor license board and get him shut down before he ever truly opened. He backs off.
But as one problem is solved, another arises when Julia is the first to find out through a cop friend that the first traffic cam picture they have of Oscar’s car is not the only one. They have a much clearer picture taken ten minutes prior, showing Sarah, Oscar’s wife, driving the car and him nowhere in the vehicle. This is something Jake truly doesn’t know. He goes to her and she tells him that she was on some name brand sleep medication that has been known to cause all sorts of strange sleep activities, even sleep driving. He takes that back to Julia who counters that argument with the fact that records show she didn’t get that prescription med until one day after the accident. So, with Jake already molding the defense that Oscar’s best friend and founding company partner actually was driving, and Sarah supposedly on her way to the LHL studio to give an interview on her husband, hell breaks loose when Jake can’t get in touch with Sarah. He then gets a call from Oscar to rush to his house. In a great bit of timing, as Julia is prepared to sub her exes cheating story in place of the now-canceled interview, she gets a picture message the moment that Jake enters Oscar’s house. They see the same thing: Sarah is dead, stabbed on the floor. Jake watches Oscar as he kneels at his wife’s side covered in her blood. Where did the picture come from? You guessed it, Ryan Mills.

That Is Louise On The Right
LHL goes live with the breaking story. After, Jake and Julia do a little Castle and Beckett snooping, ending up at a shady guy’s house they know Sarah visited before her death. There, they learn that she had ordered an illegal fake passport, rush order because she wanted to escape the country quick. Why? No idea. The next day Julia gets photos of Jake in bed with Sarah the night before her murder as well as some photos showing bruises and marks that looked like the results of domestic abuse. Funny enough, she has a dinner engagement with Jake to catch up on the slowness of life.

Episode two starts with a mopey Jake sad that his ex-boo thang and current wife of the guy he has to defend not only lied to him but is now dead probably because of those lies. Aside from the fact that he now has to defend his client on the wife’s murder, he also takes on a secondary consulting case of sorts. The case: a young woman has her child go missing. Already national news, the woman doesn’t want to go on TV and doesn’t understand why she needs a lawyer but she comes to him by way of the Missing Children’s help group that contacts him to be an intermediary between her and people clamoring for interviews. Who gets the first interview but good ol’ LHL. An impassioned plea goes out to find her child and call a hotline if you have any info on the missing young toddler. Some guy watching the show calls in immediately and claims that he has not only been dating the woman for the past few weeks but that she doesn’t actually have a child. Awww snap! Homegirl totally lyin’!

On the case, Julia gets Megan to look into this claim while Jake gets his team on it. Collectively they learn: the single but dating mom was very busy with her job and often kept her child at her mothers, the man who called in that she was dating had an online profile where he explicitly said he didn’t want kids, the single mother’s mother did have pictures of the child and toys at her home where the baby supposedly stayed often, both the single mother and the grandmother were getting multiple harassing calls from a prison number.
As it turned out, the baby wasn’t missing, lost or stolen, but was being kept by an old church-lady. The single mother was single because the baby’s father was a violent, abusive inmate in jail for having beaten her. Now, as he was on the cusp of procuring parole, he kept calling her to make threats about getting his family back, or at least getting the baby. So, to protect her child, the woman spoke with a woman at her church who knew of an underground organization that could find the child a good home with loving parents, similar to the movie The Tall Man starring Jessica Timberlake, formerly Jessica Biel. If I ruined that movie for you, then too bad. It is a little-known indie pseudo-horror that few people saw anyway. Back to the show, upon the single mother’s confession, Jake informs her that if she confesses to this now, she’ll not only be on the hook for conspiracy and flat-out lying to the police but the church-lady helper will also be on the hook for a bevy of crimes. Jake manages to get her abusive ex a longer sentence that wouldn’t see him released until after the child was old enough to make his own legal decisions about meeting the man. Jake also concocts a story where the child is simply returned unharmed on the steps of a church for whatever reason. The police, too busy with other pressing investigations, don’t look farther into it as child reunites with mother, and all is well.

On the Oscar front, however, not only does Julia finally confront Jake with the pictures she got of him sleeping with Sarah, but she also tries to figure out who took the picture of the dead woman. While Louise hoes it up with Diddy—yes, that Diddy—Julia tries to secure her an interview with Alan, the brother of Sarah the dead woman. Jake, in a twisted show of brilliance, orchestrates a perp walk for Oscar out of his wife’s graveyard funeral, making him look both sympathetic (how dare the police harass that man at his own wife’s funeral) and continues to build the narrative that he actually loved his wife and did not do this! Gillian Flynn and Tanner Bolt would be proud. Semi-proud. So upset with the picture Jake is painting of his ex-brother-in-law, Sarah’s brother finally decides to go on LHL to tell his side of the story. Oh, and we find out that Ryan Mills is the one who sent her the death pic. Again, he is everywhere.

Episode three has the weekly case revolving around a comatose superstar singer named Trinity. A white guy (with the name and the stats, I totally thought he’d be black), he collapsed after a concert and is in critical condition. But as people light vigils and even a lot of the LHL behind-the-scenes workers mourn the potential death, Louise interviews the dead woman’s brother and hits him with some shocking abuse photos that get the hashtag Oscar Is Guilty trending on social media.

That is Ella. She Works For Jake

Julia tries to build a show for the next day and gets a hot tip on a video of a journalist’s beheading, but Louise poo-poos the idea of airing a sanitized version of it. We learn later what I expected from the start of the show: Louise is a slut and acts the way she does because she lost the love of her life. Another reporter in a foreign land, he was decapitated a few days after proposing to her and allowing her to see the beauty and luck in the world. She doesn’t believe in any of that anymore, knows that life is short and runs through men like water through fingers to hide the pain, and it is so cliché that it hurts.

Julia initially agrees not to air the tape but doesn’t know if they’ll get something better. They do. It’s a recording of Trinity, the comatose superstar, sexually assaulting a drugged, passed-out young woman... before he was comatose. Coming from an anonymous source, they go back and forth on whether they can air it, the identity of the girl, etc. They figure out the identity, air the tape with her face initially not in the shots, talk to the girl, and convince her to come onto the show and tell her side. One problem: the conglomerate parent company of the station also owns the recording label on which Trinity is signed. They scuttle his career, the company loses a ton of money. But the guy is a sleaze and because of that, he needs to be brought down as he has done this before.

Ryan Mills. Dude is Major Sketch

The woman actually settles and takes a small 40,000 dollar fee of hush money from the company, but uses that to start a fund to help the singer’s other victims. As it turns out, she was the one who drugged him with the same drug he used on her. She tried to use enough to kill him but could only send him into a coma. Her attempted murder swept under the rug by Jake, he agrees to help her amass these victims. Meanwhile, Ryan continues to be sneaky as he does some detective work on Oscar’s best friend, the same one who helped start the company. Another run-in with Ella, and he has to kiss her so they don’t get arrested. As it turns out Oscar’s best friend sent the envelope full of abuse pictures, which, according to Julia, he did because he wants Oscar’s job.

Robbed of another potentially good headline-grabbing story, Julia does decide to slip in the beheading video, earning the ire of her star, Louise. She gets read to filth for that underhanded move and says she’ll never do it again.

And while all of this is happening, Oscar sits in jail denied bail on the murder charge. He confesses to a digital affair with some blond he never met. As it turns out, the picture of the woman is actually a pornstar’s picture, and she hasn’t been talking to him at all. The twist? Again, it leads back to his greasy childhood friend who has been catfishing him for months. And the plot thickens like a novel by Charles Dickens.

What is my grade? I give it a C+. The biggest problem with this show isn’t actually on the show or having to do with the production, but rather the placement of the show on ABC’s schedule. As much as people flood to other modes and mediums to watch their favorite shows, TV scheduling does still matter. It’s like how in this month of horrors, more people are inclined to want to see something scary. It’s not just because Halloween is coming—though, that plays a big role—but the entirety of the season is ripe to harvest that visceral reaction. You want to be scared because Fall, the changing of leaves, the dying back of the world as we see it, is subconsciously scary. So we want to see scary things because, in a strange catharsis, it becomes like fighting fire with fire. If we scare ourselves deliberately, we won’t find the natural horrors of the world so terrifying.

Here, Notorious has the unfortunate sufferance of landing not only out of season in my opinion but in the wrong timeslot. First, the way in which this show plays out, the flighty lilt of the dialogue for both men and women, the overly playful tone suggests that this actually should be a late spring/summer show to me. I think that if you slid this show right into the same spot in the summer, or if you had this replace ABC’s ill-fated Mistresses on Mondays after the Bachelorette and Bachelor Pad, this could be a fun soapy drama. Hell, I could even see this sandwiched between Mistresses and The Catch in a summer Thursday lineup (sadly, that will never be) and all three shows doing amazing, but putting it in the same slot normally reserved for Scandal is the worst thing they could have done. It simply is not on that same level of deviousness. The sex is not as scintillating, the twists are not as jaw-dropping, and the characters aren’t as immersive as Grey’s and How To Get Away With Murder—the two shows that precede and proceed it, respectively. Sandwiched between those two shows, and knowing that the viewer tuned in to see a show which won’t be back until January magnifies any problems that this show already had. I know that this is probably going to sound really sexist and regressive, but I actually, in some way, blame Kerry Washington for this and the Scandal writers. The decision to delay filming until Kerry had her second baby is the reason we get no Scandal until midseason. This show, I’m sure, was not slated for a September debut, and even if it was, it was supposed to come back on a different night. This has mid-season replacement written all over it. If I’m all the way honest, it feels like it either was supposed to be a mid-season replacement for ABC’s other new show Conviction that airs Mondays after DWTS, or it was supposed to pair with The Catch and have Scandal have a shortened season on the front end similar to how How to Get Away With Murder ends in February a few months short of a full season.

Why? The weekly cases are formulaic and easily figured out if you watch a lot of law shows. Julia’s character is not a strong, driving female presence like Olivia or Annalise, and doesn’t have the bubbly charm that Meredith Grey had in the first few seasons of Grey’s. There’s not an immediate click with the audience like there was for these women. Thinking about it, it reminds me of the short-lived FX show Dirt starring Courtney Cox, in which she played a tabloid editor-in-chief in LA. This was of course after Friends and she tried to go with a harder role to distance herself from that role and stretch her acting skills before returning to comedy in Cougartown. This was also during the days of Nip/Tuck and slightly before people really started taking FX seriously TV-wise. Both shows felt like they were trying to be shocking too much, but failed to live up to a really shocking twist. Even though there's murder and sex and betrayal and all of what the other three successful ABC Thursday night shows have, it tastes Vanilla.

Should you be watching? Maybe. Don’t expect Scandal. This ain’t that. But Perabo and Zegers do turn in some pretty good performances. I wish I can say the same about Daniel as Jake, but something about him rings false. The mystery of why that woman is dead is compelling, but... you know what? Maybe you shouldn’t watch. It’s not that this is a bad show, but it is a bland show. There’s not much you’ll remember from it in, say, two weeks after watching an episode. I really had high hopes for this and, clearly, so did ABC. Maybe it can survive and benefit from a schedule change because right now, I don’t see it catching on.

What do you think? Have you seen Notorious? If not, do you think you’ll tune in after reading my review/recap? If you have, what is your favorite part of the show? Do you think it would do better on a different night? And what do you think Sarah was really getting into that made her want to leave the country? Let me know in the comments below (hint: click the no comments button if you see no comments).

Check out my 5-star comedy novel, Yep, I'm Totally Stalking My Ex-Boyfriend. #AhStalking
If you’re looking for a scare, check the YA novel #AFuriousWind, the NA novel #DARKER#BrandNewHome or  the bizarre horror #ThePowerOfTen. For those interested in something a little more dramatic and adult, check out #TheWriter. Both season 1 and season 2 are out NOW, exclusively on Amazon. Stay connected here for updates on season 3 coming summer 2017. If you like fast action/crime check out #ADangerousLow. The sequel A New Low will be out in a few months. Look for the mysterious Sci-fi episodic novella series Extraordinary to premiere sometime this winter on Amazon and my blog. Join us on Goodreads to talk about books and TV, and subscribe to and follow my blog with that Google+ button to the right.

Until next time, "That over there is the Notorious B.I.G.”
‘Who’s that other skinny guy dancing around behind him?’
‘Really? So, he can sing?’
“God no!”
‘Huh! An ironic name like tiny for a big man or King Bey for a woman. Ha! Black people are so fascinating.’

P.S. Seriously why the hell did Diddy come on this show? He had a two-second cameo that implied he’d be sexing up a red-headed white woman Cameron Diaz-style and was out. I swear to goodness, the only reason they had him on was because they knew that tons of people would immediately think Notorious B.I.G. and, by way of association, Diddy. Might as well have him on the show then, huh? The people already expect it. Sigh! SMH. The mind of Hollywood TV creative and marketing executives. I’ll come up with a better sign-off next time.

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