Saturday, February 03, 2007

Possibly, Maybe: Bloc Party "A Weekend In The City"

There are moments where it becomes more than a little difficult to take this seriously. Because of that fact, there is a distinct possibility that Bloc Party's much anticipated sophomore effort, A Weekend In the City, will be poorly received--and understandably so. The album's maudlin post-rock stylings are subdued but grating; its pacing is deliberate but no less plodding; Its concepts are needlessly dark and, at times, even seem downright disingenuous. However, I am slowly becoming convinced that it is possibly one of the strangest, almost inadvertent, masterworks of the decade. Really, though, my hyperbole fits in quite well with the aura this album exudes. Everything about A Weekend In The City is massive and overblown to the point where it passes being ludicrous and comes back around to being brilliant.

Silent Alarm,
the band's debut, laid a magnificent post-punk foreground for Bloc Party to play on. Like most Gang of Four knock-offs, their wiry guitar riffs and thump-heavy percussions provided a readily available identity, while the album's moody aesthetic and Kele Okereke's sketchy vocals helped push it to the brink of arguable greatness. Here Bloc Party has a decidedly forced maturity under the guise of jaded cynicism and existential angst. The album's pitch-perfect atmospheric accomplishments are somewhat overshadowed by its nihilistic tendencies, but they remain unwarranted, unwelcome, and unwanted. It is in that truism that the album finds its most peculiar stride that keeps it afloat creating a unique and disjointing experience that is far more memorable than maybe they even planned on.

Album opener "A Song For Clay (Disappear Here)" sets the tone with an only mildly misguided dedication to Bret Easton Ellis' protagonist in Less Than Zero. Much like any Ellis novel, it is apathetic, melodramatic and has a predilection towards vampires in the metaphorical sense. It's not deep, but it thinks it is. Because of that, you get a purity of emotion that is simultaneously frustrating and exhilarating. Okereke's musings on East London and the coldness of his own heart and East London in relation to the coldness of his own heart is kind of funny when you hear it at first. However, the more he keeps on with the joke the less funny it becomes. Honesty, after all, is hard to come by with bands immersed in the "scene" as it were, and emotion, by and large, is found to be hilarious. I don't feel what Kele's going through in his songs, but I believe that he's going through it. In that sense, A Weekend In The City is very much a confessional of an album. A personal story for the entire band.

Even lead-off single "The Prayer," with it's Timbo inspired opening and far too heavy production, serves as an interesting take on the band's sudden jump to the mainstream. "Is it so wrong to crave recognition?" An honest to goodness account about feeling bad about not feeling bad. Again, it sounds kind of ridiculous but it always works here. You just have to have the right mindset.

The group has vastly left behind the drummer's rule so prevalent on their debut. Here, drummer Matt Tong is mostly put on the back burner. For where he was once technical, loose, and energetic all at once, he mostly remains in the shadows with violent, sporadic bursts overdubbed with warbly drum machines and sharply timed popgasms. It plays well below his ability, but works within the scope of the album to an alarmingly perfect degree. Because, as forced as it seems at times, this is a new version of Bloc Party. Sure, as the album trails along things get even more introspective--and, let's face it, Okereke's versions of love stories are always a bit off-center--but the more he forces his over the top dramatics on us the more we see the genuine nature behind the album's half frown.

A Weekend In The City takes Silent Alarm's framing, which featured four very talented musicians at its core, and doesn't so much add to it as much as it piles on to it. It sounds like a horrible idea, but the brilliance of A Weekend In The City is the very excess it hurls upon itself. The sonic and atmospheric grandness instilled by its sometimes staggering complacency presents a dichotomy that is not only confusing but truly exciting. Surely destined to be a misunderstood statement, A Weekend In The City is an utterly manic, misguided, depressing, and invigorating masterpiece.


Friday, February 02, 2007

“Welcome to the love fest!” – Smallville

An offbeat and very un-Smallville-like episode this week; and I mean that in a good way. Red kryptonite was used (quite cleverly) as a plot device to either advance or doom the show’s central relationships. By the end of the episode, the notion of Lois and Clark was definitively introduced, Lana and Clark had shared a kiss, and (most unfortunately) Jimmy broke up with Chloe over her obvious devotion to Clark. ‘Crimson’ was a bit all over the place, true, but it was a very enjoyable episode because it suggested some satisfying (if not exactly deft) plot machinations to come.

I’ve pretty much come to accept that Smallville refuses to just have its characters just say what they feel, instead bringing about some honesty through yet another ‘mystical happening’. This was at least one of the better examples of that device, since infected Clark is a welcome relief from usual colorless Clark. The whole thing was also quite amusing – who knew Tom Welling had a knack for comic timing? And it led to an inspired scene where Clark crashes Lex and Lana’s engagement party and taunts everyone there with undeniable truths. The way he mocked Chloe’s “years of unrequited pining” was harsh, yes, but also right on the money.

Then again, I mostly liked this episode because it set up the possibility of some great stuff to come; so maybe I shouldn’t get too enthusiastic, as Smallville isn’t exactly known for going in the right direction with its arcs. Maybe Clark and Chloe will get together (yes, that's what I'm hoping for). But maybe they’re just gonna stick him and Lana back together, a horrid mistake since the two have no chemistry to speak of and just moan a lot whenever they’re together (they're kind of like Ryan and Marissa in The O.C.). The ending also suggested that Lana was going to find about Clarks’ powers, and hinted that her baby was…well I’m not sure what, but the creepy doctor said that it was “not the most typical pregnancy…but everything’s on schedule.” Eh? Nonsensical it may sound but it's intriguing nontheless, so I’m holding out hope that Smallville might be enjoying an upswing of sorts.


"She's Callie O'Malley!": Grey's Anatomy

There was a LOT going on in this episode. Which is good. It was sort of a Grey's event-episode without anything too crazy happening (although Ellis' lucidity was a little crazy, I guess--how improbable is it? I actually have no idea). The whole cast delivered, there was a cool medical case, a quickie marriage and Kate Burton firing on all cylinders.

The weakest plot, in my eyes, was the clinic. Let's just ignore the implausibility of the whole thing, if we can (how did they build it so fast!? why would such a snazzy private hospital have one!? who does it appeal to!?), the whole thing is clearly to take the burden off of the surgical side of things and mix in some more humanity. Hence, Izzie's involvement, but does Miranda have to be such a caring, motherly, wonderful person these days? I miss cut-throat Miranda, kicking ass and taking names on the surgical floor! Chandra Wilson is a gifted actress and I had no problem with her scenes this week, but I'm not sure this is the best direction for her character. Izzy is suited to the clinic, and once she stops babbling about Denny Duqette and the 8 million dollars I think they can throw her some fine plots over there. But it seems like such a superfluous thing right now. Maybe once it's teeming with patients, it'll be better.

I have no complaints about George and Callie, my two favorites these days (along with Addison) who were really great this week. Sara Ramirez just keeps getting better and better: she's easily one of the most consistent performers on the show. Her revealing Callie's middle name, and George standing up for her against Izzie's really bitchy behavior, was obvious, but really sweet. Normally I would think such a quick marriage would be a bad idea, but since everyone's getting married on TV these days, why the hell not? George and Callie are definitely older and more in the money than say, Jason Street and Lyla Garrity.

There was a deep-background patient plot that turned out to be your classic Grey's case--totally unbelievable and totally arresting. The woman with the TOXIC BLOOD that seemed to turn her into human chloroform was certainly different, and the reveal on the whole surgical team collapsed around her was a nice touch. Led to in-character heroics from Addison and the yellow-bellied Sloane hiding behind his seniority (I still dig him, though!). Definitely one of the better patient plots in recent episodes.

Undoubtedly the showcase here was Kate Burton. She's always been very capable as Ellis Grey, but as the REAL Ellis (i.e. briefly unencumbered by Alzheimer's) she really knocked it out of the park. It was interesting to see her with Cristina (who obviously gives off an Ellis vibe) and Webber. Even smarter was that they spaced out her interactions with Meredith. Ellen Pompeo is always at her best with Burton and she was no different this time around. Kept what could have been a really soapy plot full of histrionics from going over the top. This could definitely be an Emmy tape for Pompeo (let alone Burton). Only makes you wish Ellis could be around more often as her tempestuous self. Maybe they'll give Meredith some flashbacks later on or something to bring her back. The only misstep was the reveal that Ellis has shifted back into Alzheimer's after Meredith's impassioned speech. That was pretty obvious and a little lame, but the actors made it work.

Okay, so no ferryboats this week, but NEXT WEEK begins the big arc, I think. Right? Yes. See you then.


"What is it, Slagathor?": Scrubs

The "His/Her Stories" on Scrubs are always a highlight, and here they finally got to the under-sung Bob Kelso, who's always been one of my favorites. I just love that mix of twisted childishness and real-world pragmatism, and his internal monologue had it down just right. Whenever they do these monologue episodes, they tend to just deliver something we already know about the character--i.e. that Dr. Cox does care about JD, that Carla is insecure about the future, that the Janitor is insane, and so on. So the insight gleaned into Kelso (that it's his job to be the hospital bad guy to keep it running smoothly) was hardly revelatory. In fact, the setup for this revelation seemed slightly specious to me--it was news to me that Kelso had been slacking off or softening up. Cox trash-talking him that badly and Kelso just taking it on the chin was particularly out of character.

Thankfully, that wasn't the only plot of the episode, or even the major plot. By bringing a wounded Iraq solider into Sacred Heart, Scrubs went somewhere it never goes--political humor! It was a fun conceit, considering that Scrubs tends to exist so far out of reality most of the time, especially in the case of JD. His little moments in the episode show how great a scene-stealer Braff can be when the burden of the plot isn't placed on him. His conversation with Turk about Marmaduke and The Boondocks ("they really hate honkies!") was a highlight. The political divisions of the hospital (Cox's right-on liberalism, Elliot's proud Republicanism, Ted agreeing with everyone) made sense, too. In fact, the political humor was in general pretty smart, considering how alien it was to the show. The writers did a good job not heavily treading on anyone's toes, but getting a lot of fun jabs (for both sides) in there. The only complaint I have is the Janitor: couldn't he have been crazier. Revealing him as some sort of anarcho-fascist would have been funny!

--Some great callbacks, especially on Kelso's part. His military buddy Johnny, his fascination with cupcakes, and best of all his Vietnamese mistress (the double Officer and a Gentleman sequence was hilarious).
--The Janitor's globe, in case he gets lost. "That's China." "You're China!" "That's an outrageous accusation!"
--That dude from Garden State and The Last Kiss was pretty good as Private Dancer. I'm not his biggest fan, but Zach Braff clearly is!


"You will be my seeing-eye gay.": Ugly Betty

I don't normally like guest stars who are famous, but not so famous that they're instantly recognizable so one of the characters has to say, "Hey! You're (name)! I love your work!" But I just want to say that Katharine McPhee has a very real screen presence, and she managed to gloss over most of the awkwardness in the one scene featuring her. Also, she remains really, really, really, really, really hot. This helps.

Anyway, Ugly Betty veers closer and closer every week to becoming dangerously overstuffed, but the more crap they throw on screen, the better the show gets (and if next week's preview with the "stop hitting yourself!" gag is any indication, things are only going to get better). It's a weird mix of silly, soapy and dramatic that works completely because you a.) buy Betty Suarez and b.) buy the relationships between the characters. Amanda and Mark's relationship isn't anything that could be that over-the-top in real life, but it feels grounded in something real, so you go with it. Similarly, as long as Betty's home life makes some sort of logical sense, we'll go with the rest of the show.

That said, Katharine McPhee! And Tim Gunn!

But by far the best thing about the episode was the way it sort of spun out of control when Alexis revealed her secret to her brother. The shattering wine glass and the dizzying plot complications and the end cliffhanger all contributed to something that went so far over-the-top it somehow became compelling television. I find it easy to forget why people watch soapy melodramas, but Ugly Betty reminds me week after week that there's a lot of fun to be had in a perfectly deployed plot twist that sends the world of the show spinning off of its axis and into the sun.

As I said, in the first half of the season, I wasn't sure if this show could sustain itself, but the addition of Rebecca Romijn has been just what it needed -- her character prods everyone into new situations, and the whole thing goes nuts.


Thursday, February 01, 2007

Meatwad gets the money see

Expect Ugly Betty, NBC comedies, Grey's Anatomy, Smallville, The O.C. and ER recaps sometime in the early morning or tomorrow.

In the meantime, because I know my parents have been asking, "What's an Aqua Teen Hunger Force?" here's the best possible explanation of the growing Internet generation gap.

Mom? Dad? THIS is an Aqua Teen Hunger Force.

Here's a great collection of Mooninite invasion links. And AlterNet compares it to the Orson Welles War of the Worlds broadcast. And, of course, you can buy a T-shirt already.

This whole thing may be the funniest news story I've seen in a long time, from the fact that these were out there for weeks, to the traffic jams, to the befuddled Associated Press trying to explain a little-known cartoon about fast food products who solve crimes, to the bizarre Perfect Hair Forever news conference. It's rare to find a news story where EVERYone's ridiculous (aside from the early responders, who treated it with the seriousness it should have afforded -- from there on out, once it was clear it wasn't a bomb, everything seems to have fallen apart), so this is great fun. The icing on the cake was that no one noticed these in Los Angeles. Maybe we're just assuming Jack Bauer will save us from the Mooninites. Or maybe we're SO HIP that we've become completely inured to viral marketing. We're BAD twentysomethings.

The Internets move faster than just about any institution or individual out there. And every day, that becomes more and more clear.

ETA: Denis McGrath compares the suspects to Jonathan Swift. I admire what they're trying to do by refusing to play along with the media that overinflated this story (and even find it a touch heroic), but. . .they just weren't that funny?


"From now on, you livin' on the down low.": The Knights of Prosperity

Once again, as the only person in America watching this, I feel it is my duty to report to you what, exactly, is going on.

I think this was probably the funniest episode of the series' run so far. And that's not because the writers suddenly hit a groove or anything. It's because they realized that pretty much anything they give to Rockefeller to say in his basso voice will become, by its very nature, hilarious. Even the speech about how Eugene would fall into a homosexual love he couldn't understand was funny (despite being rather predictable), just because it was a long monologue delivered by the guy.

But there was some good guest casting here too. Milwaukee's own (I should know -- he lives in my former neighborhood!) Dustin Diamond acquitted himself well as a slightly heightened version of himself (and the business with when to call him Screech and when not to call him Screech was funny), and comedian Ben Bailey was a nice choice as the guy who falls in love with Eugene. (I should note that this plotline has become well-worn, and the only thing that made the tired knee-jerk homophobia of the guys not completely unsalvageable was Eugene's devotion to not screwing over a working stiff, regardless of orientation -- okay, and that giant pink bear was pretty funny too.)

I like the way the cast is becoming a true ensemble -- the intern isn't horribly well implemented (and is another butt of tiresome jokes), and Sofia Vegara is still wasted, but the other guys have an easy rapport that's starting to really gel. It's too bad that this show won't get a second season to click, because I think it really would have.

There's not a lot more to say about this episode, but if you had one that you were going to check out to convince you to pick up the show, this would be it. Check it out on the ABC Web site and see what you think.


"Proud in defeat and humble in victory": Friday Night Lights

Welcome back, shaky cam! How we've missed you!

I enjoyed this episode, finding it to be easily the best since November sweeps. That's not to imply that the show has been in a huge slump or something (clearly, it hasn't), but there was a little too much "stunting" for me. While I liked Smash's drug use as a way to give him something to do, it flirted a little too much with very special episode territory. This episode was back to the bleak yet somehow hopeful Friday Night Lights from the start of the season, with the exception of one plotline that was good except for a few small things.

One of the things I've always liked about the Lights is that it treats the faith of the people of Dillon matter-of-factly, not condemning them for holding it, nor putting them on a pedestal for having it. The show had skewed away from this in recent episodes (the only scenes in church were when Smash took the collection raised for him to buy drugs), but it was nice to see Smash praying before the game again, Coach Taylor with head bowed and eyes screwed shut.

I quite liked the scene where Smash and Coach played football with the little kids. It could have been excessively maudlin, but, as always, the show found a way to do this plot point without seeming as if it had dropped in to fit some sort of "TV template." I think it's because the show doesn't pull its punches in regards to how important football is to these people and how much of a life-saver it can be that scenes like this work when they wouldn't on pretty much any other drama. Whatever it is, the series uses these scenes sparingly, and that makes them effective.

I wasn't sold on the Saracen/Julie drama, which dropped in at the end of the episode. I can't imagine that she won't forgive him right away, as he didn't do anything THAT bad, to be fair. These kinds of needless speed bumps in TV relationships make me roll my eyes.

The Jason/Lyla engagement storyline also played out well. Buddy Garrity may be my least favorite character on the show (most weeks, he drifts uncomfortably close to a stereotype), but his interactions with Jason and Lyla in this episode (and the two as a couple) rang true, and Jason's scene with Coach near episode's end (right before the lawsuit Jason's family had brought against Coach went to court) was another sterling scene in an episode full of them.

The only thing that was occasionally off was the Riggins meets his dad subplot. Much of it worked (and I liked the scenes before the falling out quite a bit), but when the two had their big fight, it felt a little over-expository -- as though two people with this much water under the bridge needed to get down in the water and muck around in it instead of just knowing what was in it already. Still, even though you knew it was coming, Riggins' dad showing up at the big game at the end made an already happy ending even happier.

Most weeks, this show ends on a bit of a down note, but this one chose to end on something approaching hope.

This is probably a BAD sign for weeks to come.


Wednesday, January 31, 2007

"I don't wanna chat about philosophy!": House

Hoo boy. I still enjoy House and all, but the Tritter storyline really struck out for me (especially considering how good it COULD have been). I was hoping for a nice typical episode, complete with acid-dripping barbs and multiple misdiagnoses, to snap me out of my disapproval. Instead we got...this. "One Day, One Room", to be precise, which seemed to me like an attempt to do a very special episode focusing on patient tragedy. In season 2, "Autopsy" did this very well in tackling a cancer patient and House's mask of indifference to her, later cracking to reveal a sliver of sympathy. This time around it was rape victim Eve (played with some competence by Kathryn Winnick). And Eve, instead of trying to find House's inner good person, looked for his inner darkness, i.e. whatever's the cause for his outer darkness.

She managed to get a story of child abuse from his father out of him, and, for want of a better word, ugh. They've brought up House's daddy issues before but this seemed so obvious and way too on-the-nose. Explaining House's nastiness at all is a bad idea--explaining it in such a lazy, simple way is even worse. I don't really want them to delve into it further (cause it's such a lame idea) but I don't want them to just leave it either. All in all, a totally bad idea, I think. House's interactions with Eve were in general not too fascinating. It's nice that the writers want to depart from the formula once in a while and it was in some ways an admirable effort (bringing up a rather heated religion/abortion debate was a little daring, although it didn't feel organic), but it was too moribund and not very arresting or dramatic.

The subplots ranged wildly too. Cameron had a bizarre solo effort where she treated an odd old man who wanted to impress the singularity of his death upon her. Or something. I was left scratching my head. Did I miss something? Why did he know about her husband? It's nice giving Cameron her own subplot (I like her a lot more than most people do), but this was so limited and bizarre, it was really a hindrance to an already sparse episode. The clinic, on the other hand, returned for the first time in a little while, and that's always a lot of fun. The first five minutes of this episode were great. Too bad about the rest of it, I guess. I never thought I'd be saying this about House, but more formula please!


"I can't wait to come home and watch flat sports": Gilmore Girls

Gilmore Girls fans across the internet world have been up in arms about the Palladino-less seventh season, but if there's one formula David Rosenthal has strictly stuck to, it's the old setup, setup, setup, payoff midway through the season routine. I'm being a little unfair, seeing as he did have Lorelai and Christopher marry in episode 7, but we've all been waiting for the inevitable payoff to their impulsive union and it looks like we shall receive it next week. The central conflict of the episode came as Chris discovered Lorelai's character reference for Luke and blew his top over her choice of language. Honestly, the whole thing's a little undercooked but I guess that's the point--Chris' immaturity.

The meat of the episode was dominated with other less compelling plots. Most dubious was the custody battle, which was happily resolved, and (even more happily) with April not going anywhere. The whole thing was rather unsettling, though--it all really felt like a story from another show. It's all very well and good have Luke standing up for his fathering rights, but since he's such an inoffensive guy and Anna has been portrayed as such a paranoid shrew, it was really obvious they were only ever going to go one way, realism be damned. I wouldn't object if the plot twist hadn't been so artificial, basically to give Luke something to do while Lorelai can't visit the diner. Basically, Gilmore Girls reminding me of Judging Amy is just not a good thing (not that I didn't watch Judging Amy in the day. But I'll watch anything).

Rory's conflict with new friend Lucy (Krysten Ritter aka Gia from Veronica Mars, who I've actually quite enjoyed although I think I'm in the minority there) also felt artificial and never really played right. Bringing back Marty simply to have him act weird and drive a wedge between Rory and Lucy didn't make much sense, considering how cute a character he was in seasons 4/5. Really a total waste, but I guess having him as a romantic foil for Logan wouldn't work, seeing as they already tried that. Having Paris resolve their tiff through her transcendence of social conventions was funny, though. Then again, when isn't Paris funny? She's actually been one of the most consistent parts of the show, even though she's had absolutely nothing to do. Also, Is it some sort of rule that Paris and Lane can't appear in the same episodes? We usually get one or the other, never both anymore.

There was also Jackson and Sookie acting weird and fighty and Lorelai trying to get to the bottom of it. Oh great, I thought! Finally, a storyline for these two, the most neglected in terms of solo plots. What was the grand revelation, though? Oh. Sookie's pregnant. Again. Now, I realize Melissa McCarthy is actually pregnant and the writers were forced to put it into the show, but jeez. Sookie's storylines after the first couple seasons have involved pregnancy, and pregnancy alone. Poor gal! Congratulations and all that, I suppose. The only interesting part of this plot was that it raised the idea of Lorelai as a mother (to a young kid) again, especially with Davey's "magic socks". As hackneyed as it might be, a pregnancy story for Lorelai might not be the absolute worst idea in the world ever. Just because I think Lauren Graham could play it really well, and Lorelai's quirks would be accentuated that much more. Just a thought.

Finally, Richard made an appearance for one. Richard/Emily have also felt extremely neglected in this season. They usually have at least one big long showcase every year (like Rory moving in with them in season 6, their separation/reconciliation in season 5, Digger Stiles in season 4, etc.) but they've been sadly absent except for their usual barbs at the dinner table this time around. Obviously Richard's health scare can bring them to the foreground for at least a few episodes, but here's another plot that just seems like it's from another series! Not that Richard didn't have a health scare in season 1 (the awesome Forgiveness and Stuff, one of my favorite episodes), but this one just seems more artificial, right down to his public collapse to leave the episode on a cliffhanger.

Here's looking forward to next week, anyway. Apparently the episode drops GG conventions and is set almost entirely in the hospital. Could be interesting.


If ever there was a show with no memorable quotes, this is it – Prison Break

Spoilers, if you care.

It has become very difficult to get excited about Prison Break over the course of its second season. At first, I was hugely excited at the prospect of a runaway thriller sprawled across a whole ensemble (not to mention the whole of America) and lasting twenty-two episodes. The first few episodes were exactly what I had been hoping for: as entertaining as the show’s first season, but with a considerably racked up pace.

However, this proved impossible to maintain. Not only has the pace of the show buckled, the writers seem to be under the mistaken impression that any of the show’s characters, other than Michael and Kellerman, are in any way compelling or sympathetic. Sucre and C-Note, the romantics of the group, are perfect examples. They've spent fifteen episodes chasing their true loves; that could have made a decent jumping off point, but streching it over the whole season is dullness defined – who actually cares about these relationships? In last night’s episode, Sucre’s scenes consisted entirely of him stealing a kind old man’s car. This is Prison Break, not freakin' Waiting for Godot.

Come to think of it, the show actually has three romantics running about. T-Bag has spent the the entire season so far searching for the Hollander family, which he longs to be a part of. It’s an astonishingly lazy direction for the character, and any shred of menace left in T-Bag is now a distant memory; the guy just doesn’t work outside of a prison setting. Brad Bellick, meanwhile, barely deserves mentioning - although Wade Williams has proven himself a very capable actor, no-one could draw anything interesting out of the assorted insults and catcalls Bellick constantly drawls.

The only truly interesting characters, tellingly, are the ones who hide every shred of their personalities. Fichtner’s Alexander Mahone is a decent villain and an always arresting presence, despite the heavy-handed attempts at humanizing him. He pales in comparison, however, to Ex-Agent Kellerman, who has become the show’s best character. This is mostly down to Paul Adelstein, whose startling intensity and inexorable charisma have carried Kellerman through even the show’s most ridiculous conceits. Having him defect to the good guys was one of the few clever storylines season two has offered up.

Which brings us to Michael and Lincoln. Wentworth Miller’s work this season has been stellar; somehow he continues to overcome the pathetic plotting and impress me. He and Purcell also make an engaging duo thanks to believable chemistry. Sadly, that's where the positives end. The Burrows plotline is going round in circles: they continue to allude Mahone, but any and all of their attempts to bring down The Company are thwarted within an episode or two. It gets frustrating, fast. Throwing Kellerman into the mix was an undeniably smart move, but it’s quickly proving too little, too late.

I had planned to spend more words on the developments in Monday’s episode, The Message’, but this rant has gone on longer than I’d planned so I’ll just mention one thing. This week saw the return of Haywire (Silas Weir Mitchell) who has been trying, unsuccessfully, to build a raft. So he can go to Holland. That’s it. And I swear to god, that storyline does not feel slow in comparison to the others. Sigh.

Next week: why it's time to bring John Abruzzi back from the dead. Anything's possible on Prison Break, right?


Tuesday, January 30, 2007

"Oh, I don't know. I find solving an investigation very relaxing.": Veronica Mars

I'm of two minds about this episode -- I really liked a lot of it, but I found some of it to be pretty ham-handed. We'll look at both ends here.

First things first, though. I'm not horribly worried about V. Mars going to standalone mysteries anymore. These last two episodes have been all but standalone mysteries, and the mysteries have been better written now that the writers have to focus on the smaller mysteries themselves. I daresay that last week's stolen monkey and this week's find-me-the-hooker-I-fell-in-love-with storylines were the best mysteries of the week the show has done. The suspects and other ancillary characters were quickly developed (and well-developed), and they allowed Veronica to show all sides of her personality -- from flinty to flirty (and, no, I can't believe I just wrote that).

The missing hooker plotline (which twisted and turned both intelligently and wittily) relied on the strong performances of a couple of guest stars (Adam Rose and Brianne Davis), and the guests made their storyline emotionally affecting, even though it was the old hooker-with-a-heart-of-gold plot you've heard a million times before. What made it different from Pretty Woman was that the guy couldn't, in the end, forgive the girl her past transgressions, and the story ended in heartbreak. Not the most original plotline ever, but Rose and Davis sold it. Veronica Mars' guest stars can be a little over-obvious sometimes, but the casting department found some good ones for this episode.

While the mystery of the week and the humorous quips worked this week, I wasn't sure about some of the things Veronica did to keep the plot moving. I liked that she extorted the judge (it pays to let us remember every once in a while that Veronica's not the world's most moral person), but I didn't buy that she would just go to the locker like that without scoping out the joint or get in a limo with a threatening man without making a backup plan. I know the girl's headstrong, but she's not terminally stupid.

The Veronica/Logan stuff was about as good as it could have been, especially as it tied into the main mystery (learning how much you can trust a lover). It was nice to see the two behaving like a normal couple, but I'm tired of the endless twists and turns in their relationship. Either keep them as goofy kids in love or break them up and go back to the prickly attraction that fueled the back half of season one. Don't throw constant plot contrivances in their way. Please?

What really didn't work for me this episode was the interaction between Veronica and Keith, which felt forced and hammy. Usually, you can count on the father/daughter scenes to keep even the worst episodes afloat, but this episode was unusual. I guess when the mystery of the week is the strongest element, this has to be uneven to compensate or something. Furthermore, I didn't really need the flashback to the rape plotline either, and I especially didn't need the return to that plotline's weakest element -- the militant feminists. (I actually agree with Rob Thomas that he's earned some leeway in how he portrays the feminists just thanks to the character of Veronica, but everything about this bunch was cloying and over-obvious from the first.)

But, all in all, this last handful of episodes has been really strong. Here's to a Veronica Mars that finds a way to tell stand-alone stories that are as compelling as the big mysteries of these last seasons. And here's to ratings that weren't totally decimated by House!


"Why is everyone always chasing us?": Heroes

Claude. Like Claude Rains! I get it! I can't believe I didn't catch that earlier.

Anyway, for me, the story of Heroes tonight began and ended with CHRISTOPHER ECCLESTON. Yes, the Ecc (a nickname I just coined!) made a definite impression in "The Fix", carrying over the sarcastic charm of his Doctor Who but adding a pinch more angry bitterness. What's great so far here is, apart from references to others before Peter seeking mentorship (implying these powers are not an entirely new thing), Claude the invisible man is already spicing up the often staid Peter Petrelli stories. With Eccleston's grimly experienced Northern soul and Milo Ventimiglia's doe-eyed idealism, the world is their oyster! Or something. Definitely a worthy addition to the cast, though, and one of the most watchable threads of the episode.

Sadly, there were other, far duller things going on as well. Perhaps worst of all was Matt sinking back into the marriage thing. He seems to have comfortably forgotten his wife's infidelity (is the baby even his? That's probably been confirmed, but I just haven't been paying attention) and now he's having fun guessing what color she's thinking of. Pardon me while I nap. Matt has a fun power and after FBIing it around the country I was hoping he'd break out of his story bubble, but it looks like the writers are keeping him on the back burner for the next few episodes at least. Of course, the way the plot moves on Heroes, I may be wrong. But right now it looks like Grunberg is stuck in one of the more useless roles on such a hot show. Shame.

Hiro and Ando getting abducted by men in black had some nice comic touches but really was a lot of buildup just to reveal...GEORGE TAKEI! And because I (and I suspect, many others) knew that Sulu was clearly behind all of this cloak-and-dagger nonsense, I wasn't too impressed. Still, Takei is a pretty cool reveal and they totally did it right. The quiver in Hiro's voice (and his subtitled "GULP!") was pretty darn funny. But if Nakamura Sr. just turns out to be a stern father who wants Hiro to drop all this time-travel nonsense, I can't say that's especially thrilling. Maybe there'll be a more interesting angle on it (maybe to allow future Takei appearances!)

And let us not forget D.L. walking into the nuthouse to plead Niki to return to family life. Only a few episodes ago, Jessica was trying to blow his head off, and now he wants her back because Micah complained about his sandwiches? Pretty weak. Although revealing more of Micah's power, technopathy, was a good idea. Maybe not the most visually dazzling power, but in this day and age, definitely one of the best. Niki's own attempt at purging her multiple personality seems to be setting her on the road to controlling her powers, which would be a good idea if they want to keep her around (I'm still hoping they don't).

Other brief thoughts:

--Obviously, at least there was a good cliffhanger. Reveal of Claire's mother's power was nicely done, and Sylar on the loose is obviously necessary. We should start checking off which X-Men powers Heroes hasn't aped yet.
--Hiro's selflessness (and naivety) in giving himself up for Ando (and thus getting them both kidnapped) was great. One of Heroes' better presented themes is the types of heroism it explores (Hiro's pure belief in his quest, Niki's struggle with evil, Nathan's fear of being revealed, Peter's fear of losing control, etc.) along with the various types of powers.
--HRG remains my favorite kind of 'villain', the ambiguous working man type. Instead of going crazy when hearing of Sylar's death, he just had to take it on the chin and swallow the threats he'd made earlier. "That's less than ideal".
--GEORGE TAKEI! Here is a picture of George Takei.



"We're going to be over. Tonight.": Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip

So no one told me that this was the middle part of a three-part story (last week's episode, with the "romantic" stalking and whatnot being the first part). I would say that this episode was better than the last (that creepy behavior really threw me off), simply because I liked some of the storylines, but Aaron Sorkin -- MASTER WRITER Aaron Sorkin -- fell back on some truly hackneyed plot contrivances, and that kept the episode from being all it could be, as it were.

But let's start with what I liked.

There was a rather big logic hole in the snake wrangling story (don't mongooses hunt snakes, not ferrets?), and it was completely predictable that when the snakes (the poisonous snakes, mind) showed up, one would escape. But I still sort of liked the "There Was an Old Woman Who Swallowed a Fly" wackiness of it all. I can't wait for that coyote to show up!

And while I don't like the Matt and Harriet storyline (their chemistry has always felt forced to me), I DID like seeing him learn the true, boyish identity of lukes5858 and his crestfallen comeuppance after that (it's nice to see the too-praised Matt get his ass handed to him). And every scene with that teenager was golden (somebody needs to cast that kid as the unlikely heartthrob jock in season two of Friday Night Lights pronto).

And Steven Weber continues to turn in great, great work. If 30 Rock gets canceled (please, no), can we please get a show where Jack Rudolph and Jack Donaghy take over a boutique cable operation and try to turn it into the next Fox News or something? The NBS plotlines didn't work when this show started, but now they're often the best things about the episodes they're in.

But there was just too much that DIDN'T work. Last week, I was thrilled that a little bit of the focus of the show was shifting to Tom and Lucy, whose relationship is completely disarming and sweet. Instead, Tom lied to Lucy about the reason he had to miss their date (he had been ordered by network brass to talk a beautiful Chinese woman out of becoming a sketch comedian -- no really). Naturally, Lucy discovered this when she showed up at the SAME DINNER where Tom and the beautiful Chinese woman were. Now, I know that maybe most of you have never heard of a show where the plotline involved someone accidentally having TWO DATES at the same time and having to juggle them only to have the one he really liked find out, but it used to be common back in the day.

But even that paled next to Danny, trying to tell Jordan that he was sorry for stalking her last week (a noble development) leading her out on the roof. You get ten points if you can tell me what happened when he closed the door to the inside behind them.


That's right. They got locked out on the roof. The horror. Also, for some reason, their cell phones didn't work. In LA. Scratch that. In HOLLYWOOD.

And it looks like next week they kiss. Please. Put this plotline down, Sorkin. I beg of you!


Monday, January 29, 2007

The Bauer Family Smiletime Variety Hour: 24

Spoilers within, though that photo only spoils the first few minutes of the episode anyway (and I think it's probably from last week's show, at any rate).

So the Bauer family storyline isn't as dumb as I thought it would be, but it's still pretty dumb. I guess that's a testament to my ability to imagine some really dumb stuff. James Cromwell, though, as Father Bauer sort of makes all of this hang together, just by being there and being calm and acting as though his two sons being allied with the various forces of good and evil is just the most normal thing in the whole world. Cromwell has always been an actor who seemed like he might be well-suited for television (he was saddled with an unfortunate Six Feet Under storyline that obscured his talents for playing affable curmudgeonhood), and his work as Jack's dad was easily the best thing about the episode, which tried to convince you Cromwell's character was evil, then good, then evil again, and finally good (though it could all be an elaborate ruse, of course).

Paul McCrane's a good actor too, but his character is harder to get a handle on. The writers seem to be painting him as President Logan lite -- all sniveling ineffectuality in front of those who could put him away; all business when it counts. His relationship with Jack, though, is well-sketched enough that you can't help but think it was inevitable that one of them would end up a terrorist and the other one who fights terrorists and that it was obvious from the earliest point in Bauer family history.

Otherwise, this episode was kind of a yawn. It's the sort of filler episode 24 has to do when it's trying to link us between major twists (which the season was frontloaded with) and action sequences (which, again, the season was frontloaded with). There was too much stuff in the White House, and the interpersonal politics in CTU have never been the show's strong suit. It was nice to see the Bill Buchanan/Karen Hayes plot be resolved this quickly, though. Hopefully, she'll be back among the CTUers soon and helping them out. I wasn't sure I could stand another "your spouse or your country!" plot from this show, and the writers sidestepped that issue nicely.

I like the idea of the country turning against Muslim-Americans, but it hasn't been deployed in the most skillful manner (largely because the cast has no regular Muslim characters, so the scenes featuring this storyline are always happening to theoretical people that we don't know at all). Here's hoping this pays off in a more substantial way than it has in these few episodes.

The preview for next week, seeming to comprehend that this episode was not the most exciting, promised a week full of Jack exacting revenge on his brother (of COURSE he escapes right away!) and Palm Springs possibly getting it (not before I get to visit, 24!) from the nuclear brigade.

But none of that was enough to keep me from yawning.


"She answers your phone?!": Everybody Hates Chris

Everybody Hates Chris is at its best when everyone in the family has something to do. This usually leads to the series breaking down thusly:

A story) Chris at school
B story) Julius and Rochelle do parent-y things
C story) Drew and Tanya scheme together or something

Of course, this gets mixed around a bit, so you'll have an A story about Rochelle and Tanya or something, but most weeks take the format above. When Chris has a bad episode, it's almost always one following that format. But the series' superlative episodes tend to follow it as well.

Now, Everybody Hates Hall Monitors, Monday's episode, wasn't a superlative one by any means, but it wasn't awful either. The three storylines were all pretty well-conceived, and it was fun to see Chris go mad with power, since Tyler James Williams always makes the most of whatever he's handed. Williams is a fun actor, and I hope he has a long career ahead of him, instead of some sorry E! True Hollywood Story.

The storyline where Rochelle kept complaining about work and Julius didn't exactly enjoy listening was also well-played, and it finally focused on the marriage, instead of the parenting. Terry Crews and Tichina Arnold have an easy chemistry that gives the whole rest of the show a strong center. This is never better than when Crews is putting up with Arnold's ball-busting without the slightest sense of hen-peckery. Crews is a huge guy, so you expect him to play the stern taskmaster, but his cuddliness is oft disarming.

The Drew and Tanya scenes didn't make as big of a mark with me, but they rarely do. They're often there to give the kids in the audience something to watch. Not a slight to either of the actors, who are fine, but I relate more to the parents and to the adolescent nerd that is Chris.

There's not a lot you can say about a show that's clicking along at its own little rhythm from week to week like this one is. Suffice it to say that Chris is a weekly pleasure, just the right way to start off the week.


"Pick on someone your own size, fatty.": Extras

So. . .halfway through the season then? Not sure I could get used to British TV. . .

Anyway, this season seems to get funnier and funnier with every episode. I don't know if writer/creators Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant just figured out what the show's strengths were this year and wrote to those or if they just decided to do what amused them or what, but I'm enjoying this season in a way that I simply didn't enjoy season one. A lot of it has to do with the show's stronger, more-focused presence. Ordinarily, I shy at shows about the travails of famous people, but Gervais and Merchant have succeeded at finding the worst possible things that can happen to the famous (emotionally) and turning those into the sort of warmly humanistic comedy that made The Office so great.

The series also makes great use of celebrity cameos, and Daniel Radcliffe's work as a teen boy hot for his elders was nicely played against type (or perhaps a heightened version of "type" -- I'm not familiar with Radcliffe tabloid rumors). And the plotline with the Down syndrome child that Andy (Gervais) accidentally made fun of was one of the better bad-situation-going-to-worse ideas I've seen on TV in a while. It also critiqued the entertainment press rather savagely and completely effectively (in under a minute no less!) by employing an old gag (the "telephone" game) in new ways.

All in all, this was a fine and funny addition to the season. And if rumors are to be believed, next week's episode with Chris Martin of Coldplay is even better.


BSG Mondays: Season 3, episode 50, "Taking a Break from All Your Worries"

When Battlestar Galactica began its run, if you had held a poll to see which character fans most expected to be portrayed as a Christ figure, James Callis’ Gaius Baltar probably would have ranked near the bottom of the list. But in "Taking a Break From All Your Worries," Baltar -- who, with his beard and mustache growth while in Cylon captivity, has been looking superficially Christlike -- died and was resurrected by a trio of Number Sixes (Tricia Helfer) posed like Raphael’s cherubs. Granted, this happened in a hallucination; the real Baltar died and was resurrected in a far more mundane way (via CPR, it would seem), waking up with his arms outstretched as though he had been crucified. From there, Baltar was strapped to a table and sent into a second hallucination in which death always hovered nearby (not unlike the Harrowing of Hell, but with water substituted for fire), then forced to submit to a series of God-like voices and betrayed by a close confidante (or at least that's how Baltar saw it).

It all begs one question: Does Galactica mean us to take these Baltar-as-Christ suggestions at face value (and these are hardly the first the show has dropped), or is the series just having fun at the expense of Baltar's tendency to hold his own interests above everyone else's, even during the End of All Things? Given how little patience the series has shown for Baltar’s sniveling self-regard in the past, the latter seems more likely -- but it’s also possible that Baltar’s utter failure as a leader and long captivity among the Cylons has sent him on some sort of redemption arc.
Check out the rest here.


The joy of Smallville

In case you hadn't noticed, we've got a new staff member here at SDD. Joseph Sims, no less than David Sims' brother, will be posting recaps of Prison Break and Smallville in the weeks to come. Join me in giving him a warm welcome.

And if you need something to read, this interview with Veronica Mars creator Rob Thomas will kill an hour or so of your time. It's positively epic.