Friday, February 09, 2007

“I want you to be there on our wedding day, to see what you lost” - Smallville


A mixed bag this week. Once again Smallville recycles a tired old plotline, with Lana finding herself the victim of a mysterious stalker. However, there was still some interesting stuff going on. Lana commenced her belated ‘investigation’ into Clark’s secret, staring intently at a flattened piece of metal Lex stabbed Clark with last episode. Chloe and Jimmy confronted their relationship issues, offering some welcome relief as the more more believable of the two couples (not to mention adorable). The final scene also offered a welcome confrontation between Clark and Lex, albeit a civil one. Sure this post's title was about as heated as things got, but it’s such a pleasure to see those two spar off that I honestly didn’t care.

It’s really too bad that ‘Trespass’ got so bogged down in a lame stalker storyline, because it could have been a continuation of the run of good episodes the show has recently been enjoying. Instead it felt like more of a downturn, as Lana wandered about dark corridors, haunted hospitals and the severely un-creepy Kent farm looking frightened. It was obvious from the beginning that one of the security guards was behind it – why else would they give those characters names and lines? – yet the final reveal was treated like some sort of major shocker. Still, the whole plotline (even the deathly boring chase scene that followed) could have been saved if there had been some kind of advancement in Lana’s suspicions, but it seems Clark's secret is safe for now. The show has gotten into a good rhythm regarding plot developments in the last few episodes (i.e. there’s been some) so I hope it doesn’t stall again now.

The saving graces of ‘Trespass’ were good old Chloe and Jimmy. They’re such an adorable couple, and every step of their relationship has been easy to swallow. Jimmy’s worries about Clark were justified; yet their eventual reconciliation when he realised he couldn’t live without Chloe was heart-warming and didn’t feel at all too easy, because the chemistry behind Mack and Ashmore is so natural. Lets hope those two aren't going anywhere any time soon.

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Thursday, February 08, 2007

Not In Portland



"Not in Portland", as a single episode, had quite a lot to do. Considering we've had no Lost for something like three months, which left us fans to mull over the iffy six-episode mini-season, "Not in Portland" really had to deliver, if only to allay fears about the show's creative direction. Mostly, it was a hit--smoldering and suspenseful, with a good amount of action and a flashback story that for once, felt really worthwhile.

That's not to say it will dispel all the criticism that has been thrown at the show during its hiatus. Like many of season 3's episodes so far, "Not in Portland" focused only on the Others' Alcatraz mini-island and only on the characters Jack, Kate, Sawyer, Ben and Juliet (and other assorted Others). I'm sure we'll be back to the main island soon, as show-runners Carlton Cuse and Damon Lindelof have promised, but withholding Locke, Charlie, Hurley et al was a ballsy move by the writers. I can see why they did it (episode 6 "I Do" left Jack/Kate/Sawyer on a big cliffhanger that had to be resolved), but it may not have satisfied everyone. I myself like the Others stuff just fine, but I think the writers need to start balancing stories out rather than having different mini-arcs with just a handful of characters in each spaced out among the episodes. Basically, everyone needs to meet up again. "Not in Portland"'s ending suggested that Kate and Sawyer were on their way back, but that still leaves Locke & Sayid in the jungle and Jack on the mini-island.

In season 2, things were actually rather similar to this situation, but it didn't feel so bad because there was no miniseries, no long break. Not to say that many fans and critics didn't complain about the heavy devotion of attention to new characters, or the fact that the Losties were spread out all over the island, but it just didn't take so damn long to reunite them all and integrate the new characters. One of this episode's main strengths, I felt, was in its flashbacks, which is unusual for Lost these days. Juliet has already been a truly compelling figure but her past was unfolded carefully and with the right amount of mystery and shock, revealing that the Others clearly have ties to the mainland and a great interest in fertility. As well as running over Ċ½eljko Ivanek with a bus. Elizabeth Mitchell has definitely been Emmy-worthy so far, and this was a real showcase for her. Probably only the second truly successful new character Lost has ever had.

The whole Jack/Kate/Sawyer drama is of a little less interest to me but I think Lilly sold the walkie-talkie scene pretty well, and all three actors basically did a bang-up job. I think the writers have addressed the whole 'love triangle' issue a little TOO much after playing it in the background for so long, and I sadly have a feeling that it's not going away anytime soon. Their promises of more action and romance this season are all very well and good, but I'm sure some more revelations would also be much appreciated by fans. For example, the whole brainwash video/Clockwork Orange thing that we saw in this episode had me wincing slightly because it was obviously really just for the Tivo freaks to dissect, but it also had me grinning cause it was really cool. I personally love the whole Others thing, I find them rather fascinating, so anything totally crazy like that really gets my nerd-juice flowing. Probably the most wide-eyed I've been since the door that held back all the water opened in the season 3 premiere.

I've been quite tangential this whole review, but overall I was personally pretty pleased with "Not in Portland". I still think the writers need to consolidate a little, and the 13-week break was undoubtedly a misfire for everyone, but there was some great material here and some barnstorming action/suspense. Really, I'm just happy that we finally have a long slate of Lost ahead of us where the show can really prove itself again, so let's hope it delivers like we know it can.

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Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Super Tuesday: House, Veronica Mars & Gilmore Girls



Three solid, unspectacular episodes from each of Tuesday's big shows, but they were all somewhat reassuring in their own ways (even though Ronnie's ratings weren't--cancellation seems likely for everyone's favorite PI). Let's look at them one by one.

House: After the Tritter arc and last week's bizarre "House vs. rape victim" deal, it was nice to see Dr. Curmudgeon settle into a nice old-fashioned bit of formula yesterday with "Needle in a Haystack", which checked all the requisite boxes. Fun B-story? Yes. House becoming wheelchair-bound and bickering with Cuddy over a handicapped parking space was a nice little idea. It even included House donning his moral poker face, falsely admitting he'd stood up to race to an operating theater when in fact he'd foolishly gone down a flight of stairs in his chair. Did he stay in the chair to be stubborn, or to honor his deal? I'm going with stubborn, but whatever.

Other boxes checked included a funny clinic scene, some slightly outlandish patient relatives (with the Amish showing up in Grey's Anatomy and a Romany family here, I wonder which isolationist American subgroup will show up on ER!) and heavier focus on one of House's team, in this case the undersung Dr. Foreman. The episode referenced the team's loneliness, which may foreshadow future plot developments. I assume some sort of development is in place for the latter half of the season romance-wise. Anyway, nice to see the show back on track somewhat.

Gilmore Girls: Mixed bag overall here. I've always tried to be cautiously optimistic about the lack of the Palladinos, but I found it glaringly obvious here. These event episodes really were Amy Sherman-Palladino's forte, and I think she could have handled this episode much better. Wait...don't tell me...she already did! Did anyone else get MAJOR deja vu to season 1 ep "Forgiveness and Stuff"? Richard in hospital, Luke supporting the Gilmores, Emily going a bit bonkers, Lorelai being all squirmy about death? "I'd Rather Be In Philadelphia" definitely took this template and ran with it, so I was a lot more bored than I thought I'd be.

Kelly Bishop got a chance to shine and had no trouble knocking it out of the park, but that's to be expected of her. If anything, her sterling work here just underlined how lacking the senior Gilmores have been this season. Too much time spent on Lorelai and Rory's boy troubles, I guess. Anyway, as good as Bishop was, we've seen this kind of behavior from Emily before--snapping into crisis mode, trying to keep her emotions/fears in check, etc. It was so clear what she was doing, it made her later breakdown a little less affecting. I did, however, like her brusque treatment of Luke. It was in character and not sappy at all.

Speaking of Luke, I do love seeing him in gallant mode. It's been done before and it made sense in this episode. Which means they just about got away with making him the white knight and Christopher the evil spawn, but it seemed a little too sudden to me. It's been clear this is the direction the show's been heading in from the start, but I do feel bad for any Lorelai/Chris fans (I know you guys exist!) who are seeing Mr. Hayden written so bluntly here. Logan's maturity was also obviously underlined, especially when we learned he was laying out most of his trust fund in an effort to expand his internet start-up. I'm still sure I want Rory to be single as the series ends, but Logan's developed into quite a solid guy nonetheless. Anyway, the whole thing was an interesting enough experiment (setting it mostly in the hospital was at least a new twist), but only helped to emphasize the show's current faults for me.

Veronica Mars: Basically the third stand-alone mystery in a row, and it was plenty good too, although not quite as shiny as the last two. I like how they're doing the Dean O'Dell mystery--no reason to have it dominate the plot this early seeing as Ronnie barely knew the guy. Laying down possible suspects & clues and giving Keith some nice solo material is good enough for me right now. They brought back the annoying (in a good way) mystery geek Tim this week, which makes me think he must figure in a major way.

The mystery itself was fine, too. I liked the fair and balanced look at the preacher guy, and there were some classic VM hallmarks, like dumb blonde Veronica ("my parents just told me I'm adopted"!). Plus, nervous guy Doug from Scrubs made an appearance! Wasn't Todd in an episode a while back, too? I'm rooting for Laverne to show up next. I had guessed the mystery's solution simply because there weren't a lot of suspects introduced, or basically any at all, aside from the roommate. Plus, she seemed kinda haughty to me. Still, the whole thing flowed well and has me convinced the show could do fine on stand-alones. If it gets picked up.

The LoVe stuff was less fascinating. I like those two kids together as much as anyone, but I think it's time to put them on a break. I actually admire that Rob Thomas broke them up in a normal manner in "Spit & Eggs" before briefly re-uniting them, because that makes a kind of sense to me--this couple lives for drama, and a simple nullification speech by Logan just wasn't going to do it. Then again, bringing Madison back in to split them apart seemed a little lazy. Although it does give Dick something to do, which I'm in favor of. He's woefully underused at the moment. His little talks with Veronica are always a highlight for me. Anyway, I'm hoping for less LoVe next week. Bring on...Pizonica? Veroniz? Whatever.

Anyone else got an opinion?

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Tuesday, February 06, 2007

"I just want to go to Holland!" - Prison Break



Spoilers.

This week’s Prison Break suffered from some ludicrous and deathly uninteresting plot turns; so basically it was business was usual. First there was the whole train set-piece. Now, I’ve gotten used to the brothers constantly evading the law through the most wretched escape plans known to man, but dressing up train workers to look like them could and should have failed in so many ways. Obviously the show isn’t bothering to keep up the conceit of Michael being a genius. Worse still was the idea that Kim and his government subordinates (including Mahone) would actually make such a fuss just over killing Haywire. The evil Company going to all that trouble - including having their main man take a breather off chasing Schofield - just to find some wacko in case he blabs was a hard sell indeed. And considering Mahone is something of an evil genius, I found it equally hard to believe that he wouldn’t have moaned a bit more about being sent on such a lameass mission.

There was some other stuff going on – T-Bag entertained house guests, C-Note got caught up in a robbery and Bellick threatened Kaley Cuoco – but the only interesting scenes involved Haywire, who sadly died at the end of the episode. Sure his storyline was lame; but they’re all lame, and at least his character had a little depth to him. Mahone also seemed to have an astonishingly easy time convincing him to give up on life - what about Holland, Patoshik? I’m not actually too shook up at the death of course, but it felt like a cheap excuse for the show to off someone just because there hadn’t been a major death in a while.

In the episode’s final minutes, as Mahone assured Haywire that there was a way out, his response got me thinking. “A way out?” he repeated disbelievingly, “Of this maze?” True say, Haywire. It's seeming pretty unlikely that Prison Break will recover from its slump in any noticeably way with its final episodes. I’m usually quite optimistic about my preferred shows but, well, Prison Break isn’t really one of them any more. At least next week will apparently feature the return of Ex-Warden Pope (Stacy Keach). He was a character I always liked, so lets hope they can reintegrate him in a meaningful way

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M.I.A. "Bird Flu"



If I called this shit crazy, I wouldn't be doing it justice. Just...damn.

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"I'm your daughter, and I can regrow my kidney": Heroes

GEORGE TAKEI! I never thought I'd buy into stunt casting like this, but Sulu lived up to the hype this week, in a much improved episode of Heroes. Takei's plot (aka Hiro's story thread) was actually one of the less interesting strands here, and without Mr. Takei's involvement probably would have been a complete wash. But he was so intimidating, so terrifyingly memorable (even though he did almost nothing except stand around and rip up a painting) that I hope they bring him back another time. Because the whole "you should come home, son...ah, okay, don't come home" thing was hardly original, more of just a stopgap in Hiro's quest. Giving Hiro a little backstory isn't a terrible idea, though, so I'm going to give the whole thing a thumbs-up. Somehow I feel Nakamura Sr.'s big giant corporation could end up being involved in the plot somehow, leading to an excuse for more Takei. After all, big corporations are always involved in these sorts of things, right? Maybe not.

My favorite this week was probably Peter Petrelli again, but that's probably just because of Eccleston. I should stop pointing out why he's so good for this show, but it can't be emphasized enough. He has just the right kind of earthy unpretentiousness to balance out the ponderous side of the show, which often makes itself apparent though Peter. Plus, he's someone who uses his powers far more indelicately and realistically than most of the main cast, who are still trying to figure their powers out. I was worried that this episode would spend time on Peter & Simone's connection, which is so sparkless I always forget about its existence, but instead their 'relationship' was effectively finished off, so that's pretty cool. Also, Peter finding out about Simone and Isaac (by secretly watching them on the roof) was well done, and it's a cool idea to have less noble behavior from him. The final revelation here was that Peter can retain powers he's previously synched (to use an X-Men term), which basically makes him the most powerful hero of all, a less invasive version of Sylar. Having him re-use Claire's power, rather than Nathan's, was a nice bait-and-switch by the writers as well as underlining Claire's Petrelli connection.

The even bigger twist concerned Claire's parentage, although others have informed me it was obvious thanks to 'next episode' previews (which I rarely see). Anyway, I'll put in a spoilers reminder if you haven't seen the episode yet, but, well, it's Nathan. Which is cool, although I guess I dunno who else it really could have been. Anyway, Claire doesn't know much of anything yet, except that her mother can make fire out of her hands. I'm not very familiar with Jessalyn Gilsig's work (I vaguely remember her on Nip/Tuck and don't at all remember her from Prison Break), but she was pretty good here. Although I can't figure why some of the people in Claire's stories have Texan accents, but others (particularly Claire, her father and Zach) do not. Did Tim Kring not want to bother with an accent for her? Because, as we all well know, Friday Night Lights has made the Texan accent cool again. Outside of Claire we saw her mother have a run-in with Sylar, who is not quite crazy evil enough for me. I think Zachary Quinto just looks a little too dorky for my liking. Power-wise, he's scary, though--we should see more of his powers, because right now all we know is telekinesis and faking his death. Although maybe talking to puppies is another one, seeing as he was so interested in the Bennett dog. Anyway, the final big revelation tonight was that HRG has met Claude before, which leads to the question: how long has HRG been raggin' on heroes, anyway?

The only other major storyline of note was Niki's attempt to subdue Jessica and how badly that went. I thought it was interesting that they were attempting to use real-world science (well, psychiatry) to bring Niki's powers under control. Until Jessica showed up and just killed the psychiatrist, making that point rather moot. How did Jessica kill the psychiatrist, exactly? All I saw were a bunch of smoky holes. Pretty creepy, but I couldn't figure how it had happened. Jessica's specific strengths remains somewhat of a mystery to me. Later on, Niki was released from prison by Linderman's people and was subsequently trapped in a mirror by Jessica. How does that work, exactly? Is it still just a metaphor, or is Niki ACTUALLY inside the mirror? On a show less silly than Heroes, I wouldn't ask, but here I feel I have to.

Other random thoughts:
--Funny hiding of HRG's name, Simpsons-style. I wonder how long they'll keep that up for.
--Was it me, or did HRG's gun look weird? What exactly was it, and what did it do?
--Although I'm no fan of Simone, I kinda like Isaac. His power is useful, I wish they could have him do a little more. Maybe he'll come into play more outside of the studio later on.
--No Mohinder this episode. And this episode was way better than the last two, which he was in. I wonder if those facts are at all related. Hmm.

Anyway, I liked "Distractions" quite a bit. Had some nice plot twists, moved along at a brisk pace and ended quite well. Anyone else got an opinion?

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"These are acts of cruelty disguised as cuteness": Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip

Uhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh. . .

Ummmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm. . .

Okay. I want to like this show. I really do. But. . .gah. . .it's asking us to care about characters with no chemistry in relationships we haven't even seen (the entire Matt and Harriet relationship is clumsily deployed backstory) doing completely nutzo, out-of-character things (Jordan is CRAZY about Danny? Even though he STALKED her?). I mean. . .I'm not sure I LIKE any of these characters anymore. They're all mean to each other, with little-to-no provocation. Is Simon's treatment of Darius supposed to be amusing or endearing him to us? I get that he's saying that the art comes first when you're a writer, then the political and social concerns, but that still doesn't excuse him calling Darius wacky, borderline-racist names. I don't know what, exactly, that's supposed to teach us.

Okay. I still like Cal. I still like his "the show much go on" ethos. I still like that he was totally cool with sending a coyote under the floor of the theater. And I like that everything fell apart under his supervision, but it didn't really seem like it because he was such a good bluffer. Ditto Jack, who's just a good character, and is showing some new sides of his character (the one who's been relatively consistently written for the length of the series).

But other than that. . .what? HUH? And was that end montage supposed to be moving or something?

I don't get it, folks. I just don't get it.

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Monday, February 05, 2007

"They're all dead because of me.": 24

Okay. Maybe this whole "Jack Bauer has an evil family" thing won't turn out to be SO bad. James Cromwell makes a good baddie, and while his episode-ending murder of his own son (disguised as a medical death, natch) wasn't exactly a surprise, it was a good jolt, and it sets Jack up with yet another enemy who cannot be beaten (to go along, I guess, with Drazen, Saunders, Robocop, President Logan and his brother -- though all of these people went down pretty easily). Father Bauer is a tough nut, and Jack thinks he's a good guy still. How long before he puzzles out that his dad is bad.

This was a marked improvement over last week's episode, even finding a new way to do a torture scene. Torture has become something people engage in far too complacently on 24. That's not just a moral standpoint either -- it's a structural one. Torture almost always gets the desired result on this show, which means that whenever Jack breaks out the implements o' destruction, we know that the show is just killin' time before it gets to the next plot point. In earlier seasons, when torture was something we embarked on at Great Peril to Our Souls, it was an interesting story point every once in a while. Now, it's always the way CTU gets information, and that information is always accurate. It's become a lazy storytelling device, and that offends me more than any moral scruples.

That said, tonight's torture scene was pretty rich -- Jack had to torture his own brother to get information, something he was surprisingly eager to do. But when it was all over (and Graem Bauer had said that, really, they were just the same man on different sides of the issue of what was best for the country), Jack broke down, giving Kiefer Sutherland a chance to show off his "manly men DO show emotions" acting style, and all was well with the world.

As always, the CTU scenes were a big snooze. I might care that Morris was kidnapped by the terrorists if I cared at all about his character, but I don't. I don't mean to second guess the writers, but having Tony or Edgar around would provide a welcome friendly face this season, and I'm sure they wish they had that go-to.

24, of course, has never been realistic, but the show is starting to grow untenable. Tonight, a friend and I tried to lay out the extent of the conspiracy that seems to run throughout the whole series, and it's grown completely unbelievable. Then again, 24's greatest strength is that it makes you forget about all of this stuff, thanks to its sheer momentum. And the episodes with enough stuff to get us over the hump (like this one) are still pretty good.

Final note: This was the first episode I bought Wayne Palmer as the president in. For such a conservative show, 24 seems to really favor liberal Democrats in the White House (at least, I THINK we're supposed to be on Palmer's side here). I guess it all goes to my theory that the creators are Kennedy Republicans or Reagan Democrats.

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Huh?

Hopefully, 24 and Studio 60 will go up later tonight, though Everybody Hates Chris may have to wait until tomorrow sometime.

I'll be going on vacation on Wednesday, and David will be covering many of the shows I cover (including the return of Lost). I'll hope to hop on here and post a few things, but there's no guarantee one way or the other. At least you'll get my BSG review.

Also, yesterday was by far our biggest day EVER at SDD. Does anyone have ANY idea why? Our Super Bowl-related posts didn't go up until Monday morning, and I didn't see any new links out there on the Interwebs. Anyone have any ideas?

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"Would you come to the Welsh BAFTAs?": Extras

Apologies if all you saw was the photo. I hit "publish" too soon.

So Alan Sepinwall has said that one of the things that keeps him from liking Extras as much as he might is how limiting some of the cultural references are. When we hear that Andy (Ricky Gervais) lost his virginity at the age of 28 to a woman who looked like Ronnie Corbett. Now, this is probably a lot funnier if you know who Ronnie Corbett is (and, indeed, one of Sepinwall's commentors chastises him for NOT knowing, since apparently Corbett was the star of a British show that was also popular in the U.S. -- who knew?!), and the gag where Corbett is snorting cocaine is also apparently funnier if you know that Corbett would never do such a thing.

That said, though, Gervais and his co-creator Stephen Merchant (who also plays Andy's agent, Darren) do a pretty good job of making the jokes around these British personalities specific to the people they're about so that you can sort of guess from context what everyone's talking about (and the episode plays better a second time through when you know what Corbett looks like).

Fortunately, the show has the truly famous in it (tonight -- Chris Martin of Coldplay) for we sly Yanks to latch on to. Normally, I would deplore the use of big guest stars to float episodes (I certainly did in Will & Grace), but it usually seems a cool bit of meta-commentary on both Gervais' newfound fame and the ways that sitcoms use big stars to float along after a few seasons. What's more, these stars are usually playing slimier versions of themselves, which makes their appearances that much more amusing. Is Patrick Stewart going to play a pompous buffoon or an idiot? Figuring out how Gervais and Merchant tweak the public images of these figures is half the fun.

I'll have more to say in an HND review that will be going up soon, but suffice it to say that I quite liked Martin tonight -- especially the silly way he was written into When the Whistle Blows (perhaps a commentary on Extras' use of guest stars itself?).

Your thoughts?

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"Dance, my friend": How I Met Your Mother

Honestly, when I first heard about this episode (Monday Night Football), the show's bid for the post-Super Bowl slot, I thought it sounded kind of ridiculous, and I wasn't sure how the show would pull it off and make it believable. Well, not everything about the storyline made sense (I didn't buy that Robin would put her job in danger just to avoid hearing the results of the game), but the show was rather game about playing the silliness of the scenario up and admitting that it didn't make a whole lot of logical sense. Ted's sensory deprivation outfit was a great sight gag, and his inappropriate shouting was funny too. And the Marshall/Lily subplot was even better, as it pitted Marshall against a kindergartener, letting Jason Segal play up the youthful elasticity of his performance.

It's essentially impossible to talk about this episode without sighing about how much better it would have been as a Super Bowl companion when compared to the grim and dour Criminal Minds that actually showed after the game. This wasn't HIMYM at its best, but it was a solid second-tier episode, filled with some good gags for all of the characters and great moments for Barney, the show's breakout character. His encounter with Emmitt Smith (which, even though I knew Smith was to be in the episode, came out of nowhere) was the highlight of a delirious section when he ran down the streets of New York, unable to find anyone who could tell him anything about the game.

Did it seem weird to anyone else that they didn't work one or two superfluous references to the teams playing in the game? I realize this was filmed long ago (and I'm sure if it had gotten the primo slot, this would have happened) and that television production schedules are insane, but surely it wouldn't have killed them to film two versions of a scene (one for if the Bears won, the other for if the Colts won)? Then again, maybe I'm insane and there was no way they could ever pull off a 30-second scene in the two weeks' time they had. Again, I'm sure they would have done this if the show was on after the Super Bowl. Maybe when they didn't get the slot, they didn't feel it was necessary.

All in all, this was a nice midpoint for the season, and a good introduction to who these characters are for any people curious about the show after last night's Super promos. The closing narration, while a little more cloying than the show usually is, was a good introduction to the idea that the show has a heart, that these characters care about each other.

So did any of you watch this for the first time based on the promos? If so, what did you think?

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The best (and worst) of the Super Bowl ads

It was a rather lackluster year for Super Bowl ads, all told. What's more, the game itself was nothing to write home about.

But here are Todd and Libby's choices for the five best and five worst Super Bowl ads. If you can't get the embedded clips to work, check out the iFilm showcase here.

The Best:

1.) Emerald Nuts -- Robert Goulet goes nuts



The best Super Bowl ads (to us) are always the slightly surreal ones, and this one was the sort of daft absurdism that wakes you up in the third quarter. Just when you think it's maybe a tired one-joke ad, you get the sight of Goulet crawling on the ceiling.

2.) Bud Light -- Axe Man



The "arc" of the beer commercial, as it were, is that there's absolutely nothing the protagonist won't do to get the beer advertised. This clip takes that to its logical extreme and has a great closing joke.

3.) CareerBuilder.com -- Pit Fight




The Monster.com ads of years ago (the ones with the kids talking about how they wanted to work their way up to middle management) set the tone for these sorts of ads -- nobody wants a soul-sucking office job. This one adds lots of physical comedy to that general theme and also has a flailing delivery man.

4.) Sierra Mist -- Beard Comb-over



Jim Gaffigan is funny, and he really makes this spot worthwhile. Without him, it's a pretty lame sight gag. But with him, it's bizarre perfection.

5.) Coca Cola -- Happiness Factory




This has been playing in theaters for months. There's nothing all that special about it, but I really like the idea that some bizarre fantasyland is inside of all Coca Cola machines. Is it too much to ask for a blatantly Coke-promoting movie spinoff?

Others we liked, devoid of commentary:











The Worst:

1.) SalesGenie.com -- Some guy does stuff



Honestly, just. . .no.

2.) Flomax -- Here's to men and their urinary tracts



Finally, the world is safe for old men to pee again.

3.) GoDaddy.com -- Sexy marketing



I've never liked this campaign. Yes. Sexy women. But how does that help me get a Web site?

4.) Revlon -- A long-ass ad about Sheryl Crow



Honestly, who's the target market here? The women watching the Super Bowl and the men who style them?

5.) Coca Cola -- Black History Month



Did you know that Coke was instrumental in the civil rights movement? And that nothing of note has happened to black people since the 1960s? Well, both of those statements are, apparently, true.

Others we loathed:











Special award for the ad that seems funny until you realize it came from a company that just laid off a bunch of people:




Special award for best network promo:



We'll see you guys next year!

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Sunday, February 04, 2007

David Letterman hosts the Oscars

Letterman's gig at the Oscars has been held up as an example of a host bombing. I saw most of it live, and I remembered liking it, but that might have been my Letterman-worshiping adolesence speaking (I was 14). So I just assumed I had mis-remembered until someone at the New York Times (Virginia Heffernan, probably) said that Letterman was funnier than anyone remembered.

What's more, Chris Rock and Jon Stewart's hosting gigs in the last two years also got bad reviews from the mainstream press, and I thought both were quite good in a tough situation. And, what's more, I've never really liked Billy Crystal's forced, hammy hosting gigs, which got worse as he went along (his hosting in 2004 -- the ceremony where Lord of the Rings won everything, making for a boring night -- was particularly bad, turning to making fun of New Zealand in a weird attempt to make the whole night "us vs. them"). I did like Steve Martin, but he had more mixed reviews than Crystal ever got.

The problem, I think, is that the Oscars are a deliberately old school event that just doesn't mesh well with the new school of ironic commentary, which holds anything old school up for contempt and mockery. The Oscars don't want to be in on the joke. They don't even want to be in the general vicinity of it.

All of this is preamble to saying that I found some of the Letterman Oscar stuff on YouTube, and it holds up surprisingly well. It's not perfect (then, no Top Ten list ever is), but it seems to get pretty big laughs, and even the much-maligned Oprah-Uma bit ends with a pretty great punchline. Am I not remembering the truly awful stuff or something?

See for yourself. . .

First, Oprah-Uma (the YouTube commentors seem confused as to why this is vilified -- vindication!):



Now, the "Want to buy a monkey" bit and top ten list:



Here's the opening from the 2004 Oscars, which has its moments (Michael Moore, in particular), but is mostly very, very broad:



And just because I always liked it, Stewart's "gay cowboys" montage:

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"Co-ed naked strippers. In this office. For realsies.": My Name Is Earl, The Office and 30 Rock

Sorry about the delay in posting on these. I'm getting ready for a vacation, and that's taking up my time.

That said, all four NBC comedies were pretty funny Thursday night. Between these four and ABC's solid lineup, Thursdays are a tough time to be a discriminating television fan, and sweeps aren't making it any easier.

Earl is pretty typically the least of these four shows, even though it and The Office trade off which show is the most popular from week to week. But the show's been riding a pretty solid wave of good episodes in the second half of season two (the journey to Mexico seemed to kick it off), and the writing staff seems to have figured out a way to make the show about Earl's list without actually making it about his list.

One of the things Earl has always had going for it is its unique setting. You could probably write a whole post on the importance of a specific setting in a good sitcom (whereas a drama can often be set at "any old" hospital or "any old" police station). Sure there are exceptions (Scrubs takes pains to be as non-specific in its setting as possible), but the more devoted a sitcom is to its setting, often, the better it will be. Think of how Seinfeld took place in a very specific New York City or how The Office is both specifically about Scranton, Penn., and more generically about small town America.

To that end, Earl has always had Camden County going for it. The setting is kind of a combination of much of the Coen Bros. ouevre, but it's also come into its own as very specifically the place that Earl and friends live. A lot of the best jokes are often centered in just how weird this little county is, and this episode (contrasting Camden with the generic France the French guy came from) was no exception.

But there was a lot of good stuff in this one. The French guy and Earl's quest to cross him off the list was a good story, but having it be the B story made it even better, as the show could branch off into Randy's attempts to consummate his marriage to Catalina. Joy's advice to Catalina was very funny (I know that Jamie Pressly's pregnancy is keeping her in limited screentime, but that helps, as small doses of the character are sometimes more potent), and the end reveal with Catalina finally falling for Randy just as he loses interest in her was well-done, even if I generally abhor these kinds of plot shenanigans.

The Office has made Phyllis' wedding the centerpiece of its February sweeps (which is hilarious to me -- this may be the only show where the wedding of a character this minor would be treated with appropriate pomp), and Thursday's episode focused on her bachelorette party and her fiance Bob's bachelor party. To some degree, the whole premise that these parties would be held at the workplace was sort of flawed (and it's odd how every episode of this show seems to revolve around a party happening at the office), just because I couldn't buy that anyone would think this was a great idea, but the execution of the idea was spot-on, even giving a line to Meredith, who's been sort of ignored this season (and, honestly, was there a bigger laugh than "Shut up, Angela!").

The main conceit of the episode (that Jim hired a Ben Franklin impersonator for the girls while Dwight hired an actual stripper for the guys) was handled well, especially the Ben Franklin, who turned out to be more of a danger to morality than the stripper. It helped that the situation threw a lot of characters into situations together, particularly Karen and Pam. I know that Ed Helms has become a series regular while Rashida Jones has not, but I wish the show would figure out a way to keep Karen around when the inevitable Jim breakup happens (it would be great if she and Pam became best friends and Jim had to negotiate those treacherous waters). The episode also saw the return of Todd Packer, an annoying character who is used specifically to be annoying. David Koechner is a fun actor, and I'm glad he hasn't been abused yet, when it must be a sore temptation to do so.

For all of that fun, though, 30 Rock was the funniest show of the night. The show hasn't had a perfect episode yet, and that keeps it from being a truly great sitcom, but the sheer number of jokes it crams into 22 minutes of screentime is on a par with Arrested Development. The willingness to veer off into crazy, farcical territory is another strength the show shares with Arrested.

I was sad to see that Paul Reubens' Prince Gearhart Hapsburg had died by episode's end, just because his performance was so funny and the conception of the character so amusing that I had hoped he might return. His random yelling may have been the funniest thing this show has done (a close second might have been the revelation that he was only 25). Reubens brings an odd energy that meshes well with the rest of the cast, and he made the most of his appearance. So did Isabella Rosselini who has a knack for wacky comedy, surprisingly. Her jealousy when she believed that Liz and Jack had gotten engaged was both believable and funny.

The Pete subplot didn't work quite as well as the other storylines. A lot of critics don't think the show has quite figured out what to do with Tracy Morgan as Tracy Jordan. I actually like a lot of what the character does, but this episode wasn't his finest hour. I know the show is mocking the trappings of hip hop fame and culture, but this episode veered a little too far over the stereotype line to work completely. Still, seeing him pop out of an air vent as the devil was perfect (as was his admission that he was just looking for the lobby).

30 Rock has grown confidence so quickly that I can't help but think by the end of the season it will be one of the best shows on TV. Here's hoping I'm proved right.

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