Monday, December 10, 2012

Franklin & Bash: Viper Review


Barely Able to Leap Buildings In A Single Bound...

It's amazing that we're barely two episodes into the second season of Franklin & Bash and we could have one of the worst episodes so far.  Franklin & Bash has always had offbeat characters, but never a group of people that is borderline insane.  The two stories running through Viper, our second episode, feature two notable guest stars (Samwise and Solitaire)...well, perhaps three (more on that later), and they played their parts correctly.  However, that is one of the problems with Viper: the characters were caricatures that we've seen before and the resolutions seemed rather pat.

Jerod Franklin (Breckin Meyer) and Peter Bash (Mark-Paul Gosselaar) want to burnish their credentials at Stanfield & Infeld by having a murder case.  This will show the partners that they, our renegade lawyers, do indeed merit full partnership.

They have one fall at them: Steven Piper (Sean Astin...the Samwise part of Samwise and Solitaire), college security, has been accused of throwing a petty thief off a roof after a chase.  The boys are naturally thrilled to have this case to show that they do more than girls and booze-centered cases.  However, there is one small catch...

When Franklin & Bash first meet him, he isn't Steven Piper...he is RAVEN VIPER, superhero.  He is in full costume, or correction, uniform (Viper informing our leads that THEY are wearing costumes, HE is wearing a uniform).  The case itself is pretty straightforward: Viper/Piper (oh, NOW I get it!) chased the criminal up to the roof after he had stolen a purse.  Viper says that he didn't push or throw the criminal off the roof but instead that he fell. Now we have the mystery.

We then shift from the murder case to Bash's very complicated love and family life.  In comes his mother Colleen (Jane Seymour...the Solitaire part).  She is a MILF extraordinaire, unafraid to talk openly about everything, even if it causes Peter either embarrassment or uncomfortableness.  Be it bed-wetting or her sexual desires, nothing is censored.

She does have a case involving their home which Peter wants nothing to do with: she sold it (which he likes) but now wants it back (which he dislikes).  Still, Damien Karp (Reed Diamond) is more than willing to help her, partly to embarrass Peter, partly because Colleen is hot. From there, Viper goes primarily with the murder case, where we find with a little investigation what really happened up on the roof, a truth that will ruin Viper's rep with his version of the Justice League. 

Finally, while Officer Cowell (Kat Foster) continues to enchant Peter Bash, his mother seems to get in the way...until she arranges a booty call for her much-tormented and taunted son.  This however, takes place AFTER Peter learns that Jane (Claire Coffee) the prosecutor for whom Peter has been carrying a torch, has postponed her wedding indefinitely (foreshadowing?).

I figure that Dana Calvo's screenplay was ramping up the crazy in Viper, giving our boys to revel in the fanboy side to their personalities with their superheroes and comic book knowledge.  What I found troubling is that when one looks at it, the group of people Steven Piper was surrounding himself with (and Piper himself) really were nothing more than vigilantes with a tenuous grip on reality.  That is at the very best.  At the very worst, these people were certifiably insane.  There is something irrational in grown men dressed up in outfits who live by a self-created code, no matter how noble their intentions.  Some of the powers they have (such as preventing women from going home with men when intoxicated) may be innocuous, but Viper never questions whether any of their actions are right or wrong.  Rather, it almost makes this Kick-Ass style of vigilante an object of mockery. 

Again and again I couldn't help think almost everyone involved in the main case was pretty much crazy.  I have to figure that Piper could distinguish between reality and fantasy, but I have to question whether he was fully aware that hiding evidence that would save him just to protect the reputation of his alter ego was the act of a rational man.  This isn't The Reader, where someone would rather admit to murder than admit a shameful (to them) secret about themselves.

The Man Was Arrested in a Costume, and frankly I think Franklin and Bash were almost cruel in their determination to keep up Piper's rather unorthodox fantasy about himself.  It seemed that they decided it would be more cruel to have him recognize that he wasn't some sort of superhero rather than break his own delusions of grandeur.  I never have been comfortable in having vigilante justice (no matter how tame, even amusing) celebrated, and moreover the idea that Piper was held up to us as some sort of joke (forty, living alone after barely moving out of his parent's home, no girlfriend or wife, dressing up in a uniform, and a hyper-dutiful law enforcement officer wannabe) is for me less hilarious and more upsetting.

In short, the case itself appears to be resolved in Piper's favor more by chance than by any clever legal strategy on the part of Jerod and Peter.  Also, while I'm no expert I did wonder how it was that the police could not figure exactly how this criminal fell based on the position of the body.  While we were never shown the body the point of debate was on whether he was pushed or fell accidentally.  Perhaps I've been influenced by CSI thinking, but I couldn't shake that off my mind.

In regards to the subplot involving the Bashes, while it was amusing to see how blissfully unaware Mother Bash was to how her frank talk embarrassed her son again, a little part of me wondered whether Peter was being made out into a joke.  Having people learn he was a bed-wetter wouldn't embarrass a grown man who prides himself on his suave moves, right?  It just seemed that Peter was being set up to be the joke again and again.  Also, I did wonder whether Jerod had some sort of repressed jealousy (or repressed something else) with his best friend.  Jerod knew that Peter was getting it on with Officer Cowell, so why did he knock at the door to tell him he had to 'suck' the keg tube, or constantly take delight in whenever Colleen did or said something idiotic?     

Viper isn't all bad: Seymour (who still looks as ravishing as when she was Bond Girl Solitaire in Live and Let Die) showed a comic flair as the delightfully daffy Colleen, perhaps unaware that her behavior could provoke even someone as cold as Karp into feelings of desire. Astin made his Piper/Viper someone who fully believed he was some sort of hero, not the lonely man he really was. 

On the whole though, Viper was in some ways terribly cruel to its characters (guest and regular), and the resolution to both cases seemed to come from out-of-the-blue.  Rather than find some legal way to get Piper out of his trouble, they basically forced him to admit to himself (and the jury) that he was more coward than clown.  I always felt that the people here were not loveable eccentrics, but either highly unstable or simply stupid people who were there to be mocked, not embraced.  A terrible disappointment.

Oh yes, one last thing.  I had mentioned that there might be THREE guest stars in Viper.  We have Samwise (Sean Astin), we have Solitaire (Jane Seymour), and there is one more...   

Born 1978
He's 34?!
Jesse Heiman, the person dubbed "the world's greatest extra" due to his numerous appearances in the background of several television and film projects was sitting front row behind Franklin and Bash.  I question WHY director Timothy Busfield (best known for his role in thirtysomething) would have put his face in so prominent a position unless he WANTED to draw attention to this "Background Actor With Fans".  What does it say about Viper when you remember HIM more than you remember the episode?


Next Episode: Jango & Rossi 

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