Friday, April 20, 2007

"Not only is that a huge downer, but scarves are tacky" - 30 Rock and Scrubs

I think, at this point, everyone is aware of how awesome NBC’s Thursday night programming is. Every one of the four shows it offers are among the most consistent currently on television. Unlike Todd’s super-sized, all-encompassing column last week though, this week I’ll just be covering 30 Rock and Scrubs. (I’m quite far behind on Earl and Office, I’m ashamed to say.)

First, 30 Rock. Another absolutely hilarious episode this week, among the show’s best. One of the show’s weaknesses has been that there’s often one storyline weaker than everything else, but happily that wasn’t the case this week – everything was comic gold, from Liz’s momentary infatuation with Cleveland, to Phoebe’s suspicious activities (the moment where her accent disappeared was priceless, and I didn’t see it coming) to Tracy being stalked by the Black Crusaders.

This episode saw a crisis in Liz and Floyd’s relationship. Floyd doesn't get his promotion, so he accepts a job in Cleveland and wants Liz to come with him. The montage of their visit to Cleveland was an episode standout (“Would you like to pet a real police horse?”) and I enjoyed how it compared to New York ("What's this fungus cream for?"). I also liked the constant repetition of ‘Blurgh’, and of course there were plenty of other little throwaway gags peppered throughout the episode, too many to mention but all of them funny as hell. Eventually Liz realises she can't leave New York and her and Floyd's relationship breaks down, although apprently he'll be back next episode, in the season finale! Can you believe it's almost over? I certainly cannot.

Scrubs wasn’t on as high form. It went against its usual format again this week, but instead of giving the narration to another main cast member it instead shifted the focus onto supporting players Todd, Jordan and Ted. The show wouldn’t be the same without its background characters – not just these three, but the whole huge ensemble – but nonetheless, in the background is where they should really remain. As hilarious as these characters can be, they work better in short bursts. Then again, the storylines the writers built around them were both funny and believable, so as a one-off experiment the idea worked well enough. I especially liked Jordan’s scenes; her little 'Beard of the Month club' fantasy was amusing and her final scene, where she shed her bitchy tendencies and was honest with Elliot, was poignant but not overly sentimental.

One odd thing about the episode was that J.D. only made two very fleeting appearances. I get that the focus wasn't meant to be on him, and maybe the idea was to make him like one of the background characters who only appears once or twice a week. Still, even in other format-defying episodes J.D. has had something to do, so his complete absence was somewhat off-putting. Nonetheless, a fun episode, if not one of the show's best nor as good as the Laverne two-parter that came before it.


Thursday, April 19, 2007

"I'm sure something's going to go wrong soon enough": Lost

David here, filling in for Todd while he's away. Expect recaps of The Shield, Gilmore Girls and House to hit soonish, plus all the Thursday shows as well.

Anyway, "Catch-22" was a bit of a wheel-spinner, sadly. Maybe because it hasn't been that long since our last dose of Desmond (although it was actually like 9 episodes ago, but this whole no-repeats thing makes it all go so quickly), but I didn't really feel like what we learned here justified a whole episode. Let's run it down, strand-by-strand:

First off, in the flashbacks, apparently Desmond became a monk on a whim and then got fired a few days later, before meeting Penny. Pardon me for calling Lost on its realism--it's a complaint others make that bugs me, cause this is hardly a realistic show--but even I couldn't buy the whole monk thing. The point, I think, was to show the audience how easily led Desmond is, seeing as how he basically wanders into the DHARMA Initiative without a second thought. Still, not even Henry Ian Cusick could pull off that speech he gave to his ex-girlfriend of six years saying he had a religious calling after a few too many pints a week before their wedding. Weirder still was Desmond's friendly monk-boss having him do the whole vow of silence, but chucking him out just a couple days after Desmond is accepted into the fold. Just about the only thing the flashbacks got right this week was Desmond's encounter with lovely plummy Penny, cross-cut with the island scenes of Desmond rescuing the fallen paratrooper. Still, the sentiment was not altogether different from "Flashes Before Your Eyes", i.e. Desmond really, really misses Penny.

To the island, where I have another complaint to voice (I know, I'm so whiny compared to Todd!). I really appreciate Henry Ian Cusick's work on the show, but I wish the writers would give him a little more range on the island. He's really stuck in a rut with this whole despondent mystic act, when they could be having so much more fun with the character. It's bad enough that Charlie bores everyone to death these days, do both British characters have to be so gloomy? I realize it's a bit much to ask Desmond to cheer up, and recent episodes have actually done a good job giving us a bit of island comedy (almost always involving Hurley/Sawyer), but still, I'd like to see Mr. Hume get a little more settled among the other islanders. Anyway, Desmond's island arc saw him silently wrestling with whether he should once again save Charlie from foreseen death, or let him die, which would hopefully lead him to his beloved Penelope, who he thought had fell out of the sky. I was pretty much 100% sure Charlie wasn't going to bite the dust this week (his days might be numbered, but I'm sure he'll get a centric episode as a sendoff if he does buy the farm) but the fakeout at the beginning was pretty nifty nonetheless. Still, it bothered me a little bit that Desmond was so conflicted about letting Charlie die vs. not being able to rescue the paratrooper, when in fact they rescued the paratrooper AND saved Charlie's life. Basically everything in his flashes came true apart from Charlie being throat-skewered, so was Desmond really caught in a Catch-22 at all? That question will probably be answered within the next few episodes, but still, it bugged me.

I won't comment on the paratrooper (played, slightly worryingly, by Marsha Thompson of Las Vegas 'fame') aside from guessing that she's another of Penny's agents sent to find Desmond (like those Antarctic guys in the season 2 finale), and NOT a member of a secret subterranean race like some have been saying over the last few weeks. Always sounded like a foiler to me (watch it turn out to be true). So, aside from the drawn-out A-story and fairly useless flashbacks, the only other thing going on in this episode was the Kate/Sawyer/Jack/Juliet quadrangle, which is clearly going to be built on as the season draws to a close. It wasn't particularly exciting seeing as Kate is the only one who's antsy about anything (Jack seems pretty into Juliet right now, and Sawyer is just happy to get laid every once in a while). Won't be long before Jack is tempted back, I figure (after all, one of this week's highlights was the gratuitous underwear shot of Kate in the tent), but this week it seemed like a whole lotta nothin'. Boo!

The worst thing about this episode? Chief emperor of awesome, Brian K. Vaughan (aka writer of comics Y: The Last Man and Runaways, among others) got his first writing credit on the show here, but he just didn't totally knock it out of the park like I would have expected. A shame.


"This is important! The minotaur is speaking!": Gilmore Girls

With rumors of a shortened eighth season next year, I watched Tuesday's Gilmore Girls (back after a big long break) with a mix of mild excitement and the feeling "just let it die!". Apart from the odd episode, the show has been pretty lame and has shown little sign of improvement (although many fans would argue that the departure of Christopher was definitely a step in the right direction). Well, this episode, with its supposed reconciliation of Lorelai and Luke, had been hyped as the big game-changer of the season, and I guess it wasn't so bad.

One reason might be cause it was written by Rebecca Rand Kirshner, former Buffy scribe and also the only GG writer under the Palladinos to stick around past season six. She also wrote "I Am Kayak, Hear Me Roar", the season's other standout episode. Anyway, it was a fun slow-burner in traditional Gilmore fashion, culminating in Lorelai and Luke finally, quietly, apologizing to each other for their various relationship sins over the past year. Both parties were perhaps stirred by the examples of maturity they saw in their own children--Rory showed up with Logan to show him around the town for the Spring Fling, and April arrived from New Mexico with pierced ears, a new vocabulary and better glasses. Now, I really should mention how ridiculous it is that Logan would have not seen Stars Hollow over the two-plus years he's been dating Rory, but whatever. I guess Lorelai and Rory were estranged for a fair amount of that time, and Rory/Logan were broken up for a bit too. So I can just about allow it.

This episode reminded me how little Rory has had to do all year, however. Really, what has been her arc this year? Mostly she's been saddled with being Logan's responsible partner and maybe occasionally having some sparky dialogue with Paris, or Emily and Richard. But really, I can't remember a single significant thing that's happened to Rory all year, and that's a terrific shame. Not to beat a horse that is dead, buried, and totally decayed, but I bet Amy Sherman-Palladino's idea of bringing Jess back into the mix would have been a lot more fun. Am I right? Am I right? OK, forget I said anything. Anyway, it's a total bummer that Rory's been so deprived of cool storylines, considering how Bledel's grown as an actress, and what a good job she did in season six with considerably more interesting material. In this ep, Rory really had to start thinking about her future with Mr. Huntsburger, when she got a job offer from a paper in Providence. She turned it down, in hope of a fellowship at the New York Times, but still it seemed like she was putting off the inevitable confrontation she's going to have to make when she gets a job and Logan's plans (which, after his big dotcom bust, currently consist of "writing down ideas") don't mesh with hers.

What else to say here? I don't always enjoy the town madness episodes, especially ones dominated by Taylor (there's a certain fascinating quality to the endless speeches he can go on, but they're rarely good television), but the storyline here was just amusing enough. Taylor's autocracy at the town meetings reached an amusing level of insanity as he literally turned the whole town into a hay bale maze. Nice touches were Kirk dressed as a fairly cubist minotaur, Zack's increasing savant-ish obsession with how to solve the maze, and best of all, Luke and Taylor blindly ranting at each other, a sight that's always made me smile, but has been less and less frequent these days. Luke and Lorelai's little confrontation was very well-done, if quite long overdue (episode 17! Rosenthal certainly didn't rush to overturn the season 6 finale), and April's always great to see. I imagine we'll soon have news whether this is the final season of GG or not, so weigh in if you think it should end now, or if there's life in the old dog yet. Despite the relative quality of this episode, I'm still leaning towards putting us GG fans out of our misery.


Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Farewell, my beloved Sanjaya!

Well, I knew it was bound to happen. But through it all, I remained optimistic, hoping there was a divine intervention of sorts.


Here is a touching tribute to Sanjaya and his most worthy attribute: his hair. Courtesy of E!'s The Soup.


"I liked him last week, big mouth!" - American Idol

It's been a tough week, and at 1:30 a.m. with no sleep in sight, I have no patience for this show or this episode or anything, so don't expect anything more than the bare bones, kids.

It's country week on AI and it was just as mediocre as one might expect. The only bright spot of this dismal show was that the quality performers (see: Melinda and Jordin) were back and better than ever this week, so that's some consolation.

1. Phil Stacey - "Where the Blacktop Ends": Gah. I have nothing new to say about Phil Stacey. Tonight was one of his better performances, as he was consistently okay throughout, as opposed to only bothering to REALLY sing the choruses as he's done most of the season so far. I'm just completely over all the men in the competition.

2. Jordin Sparks - "A Broken Wing": Beautiful. I hope to someday have as much poise as this 17 year old. God knows I love Melinda, but Sparks is my pick to win it all.

3. Sanjaya Malakar - "Something to Talk About": Malakar hoped to do Bonnie Raitt justice by singing this song? Then sit down, son, because it's not going to happen. I'm just so tired of this whole thing. It's not going to come around to being funny again ... it's just tired. Please, someone just end it.

4. LaKisha Jones - "Jesus Take the Wheel": So ... this was the first time I'd heard this song that's garnered so many awards for Carrie Underwood, and I have to imagine that this was not a great version for me to start with. Jones seems tapped out at this point, trying to recapture the audience's awe and failing miserably. It's only a matter of time now.

5. Chris Richardson - "Mayberry": Yes, Chris, nasally IS a type of singing ... it's called BAD singing. As for the Virginia Tech thing ... I can't even comment. I'm through with Richardson. And am seriously considering not reviewing him for the rest of his run on this show, as inevitably, his pity plea will work on America's sympathies and he will unjustifiably, make it through another week.

6. Melinda Doolittle - "Trouble is a Woman": It was great to see Melinda back on form tonight, and with her hair extensions, she looked hot to boot.

7. Blake Lewis - "When the Stars Go Blue": Blake was fine tonight, not the strongest singer left, so topical work seems to test him even more than others. He'll stay around but I just don't know how much longer he can last.

Simon and Seacrest were back to fighting tonight, but it was much less lover's quarrel-y than in past shows, so it was a nice change of pace. Also, Paula is the most useless judge in the history of the world. Lame.

Tonight's winner: Jordin Sparks
Tonight's loser: Chris Richardson
Tomorrow's loser: Sanjaya Malakar*

*Who knows? I was right last week!


Tuesday, April 17, 2007

"Mr. President, you owe me.": 24

When I don't know what to say about 24, I turn to Luke, who always has something to say. Fortunately, once again, our man in Edmonton knows what I should say about an episode where there was a lot of wheel-spinning and transparent attempts to shift the storyline from the one about the suitcase nukes to the hunt for Audrey (mostly shunted off to the White House plotline, where it rather died on the vine).

So here we go!

Luke says that the presidency in 24 has become a comical game of musical chairs. He's right, you know. In the 24-verse, there have been seven presidents since the show started: whoever was president when David Palmer was running, David Palmer, David Palmer's season two vice president, Keeler, Logan, Wayne Palmer and Daniels. Of these seven, three were never elected, advancing to the seat thanks to political machinations and the general misfortunes of their bosses. I realize that this made for some good drama in the past (Logan's ascent was great, as was the attempt to strip David Palmer of his office), but it's become ridiculous, especially now that the presidency has see-sawed back and forth between Wayne Palmer and Daniels all season long. The storyline has recycled bits from prior seasons endlessly, and it's probably time to ditch the White House as a place to cut to.

It's also time to ditch CTU as a place to cut to, even if that means we have to get rid of Chloe. Luke maintains that Chloe is a perfectly built character, largely due to Mary Lynn Rajskub who can say just about anything and chalk it up to her character's social awkwardness. Now, I liked it when Chloe disputed Jack about Audrey being alive just as much as anyone else, but she's the only good thing about an office that's dragging the show down overall.

Other than that, I don't have a lot to say about this episode. All it did was drag a new storyline out into sight (and now Jack's going to sacrifice everything for a woman he loves -- again?) and set up the latest international conflict that Jack is going to be involved in. It wasn't bad -- the scenes between Doyle and Jack were pretty good and it was nice to have the focus be back on the main character -- but it wasn't extraordinary or anything either.

In other news, I'm going to Miami for a few days. The other contributors will be taking care of you for the next few days. Try to treat them well while I'm gone.


"You brought home literature from that meeting!" - Drive

After its opening double-bill, I hoped Drive’s future episodes would accomplish two things: keep up its breakneck pace, and reveal more about its characters so we could actually understand why they were racing. Last night’s episode, ‘Let the Games Begin’, gave us one but at the expense of the other. We learnt satisfying amounts about most of the ensemble (even if the ones we had already been properly introduced to didn’t do much of anything), but the sense of fun and adventure that graced the first two episodes had all but disappeared.

Not to mention that in giving its supporting players more stuff to do, their flatness in comparison to Nathan Fillion and Kristin Lehman became frightfully apparent. I was distracted from this fact because everything whizzed past so swiftly in the first two instalments, but without that sense of pace to mask it, the show’s main fault was clear as day – these people aren’t interesting or entertaining enough to hold our attention. Fillion is proving in every scene that he is a fantastic actor who can easily hold a show on his back. Perhaps the show would be better off getting rid of a few characters and giving him and Lehman (who’s also charismatic, and has great chemistry with Fillion) more screen time.

I doubt the show is going to survive long enough to even consider changing its formula, though. Last night’s ratings were up a bit from Sunday’s, which might be reason to keep the show in its spot for a few more weeks, but unless things turn around dramatically I think Fillion and Minear are on board yet another sinking ship.


Monday, April 16, 2007

"I've met all the Joneses, and I've kept up with all of them too": Brothers & Sisters

A real step up from last week here (Libby, you were right on the money in your review). Instead of out-of-the-blue weepy melodramatics and breakups and such, we got what this show does right--a big showcase of the whole family bickering at each other. Todd pointed out the formula of this show a couple weeks ago (really, both of you did too good a job covering my shows while I was gone...I smell a coup), which is basically the various cast members talking to each other on the phone about various gossip, until they all get together and yell at each other/crack jokes/drink. When they get it wrong, it can be a really drippy hour, but when they get it right, it's a bundle of fun!

The setup here was great too--a game night against a punch of patrician Bizarro-Walkers, right down to the lesbian who was Kevin's beard in high school. Also, Jenna Elfman (honestly, this show always has some big guest star, even in the smallest roles--Jon Robin Baitz must have tons of friends from Broadway) was kinda funny as an endlessly pregnant anti-Kitty, although she couldn't resist playing it wayyy over-the-top. Also, wasn't that Susan Sullivan, aka Greg's mother from Dharma & Greg, as Elfman's mother? What a strange casting coincidence. The game night scenes, all frenzied shouting and Kevin loudly interpreting everyone's clues as abuse towards Kitty (because she set him up on a blind date without letting him know it was with McCallister's gay brother), were a riot--in fact, could have done with more of them. In fact, the setup beforehand was a little dragged out, the only major incident being Kitty meeting wayward half-sis Rebecca and Rebecca getting friendly with Sarah's husband (more on that later).

About McCallister, I'm really not sure where the writers are going with all of his Presidential campaign stuff. I love Rob Lowe in the show, he's doing a terrific job, and I'm totally excited that he'll be back next year, but I have a sneaking suspicion that his campaign is going to have to be a bust eventually. The show can't exactly relocate to Washington DC, and I'm not even sure it could accommodate the frenzied cross-country touring McCallister would have to begin soon. I mean, the ensemble of this show is quite expansive, but I doubt they can have no Lowe/Flockhart being with the family for weeks on end. Plus, the only seed that's been planted that could unseat McCallister's campaign is his supposedly dark secret, which is...that when he made his daring helicopter rescue mission, it was all a blur and he didn't really know what he was doing, but he's the only one who can testify to that so it's not really a big deal, plus it's not like he didn't make the rescue anyway. Which is literally the least shocking secret ever. I know it doesn't take much to smear a candidate these days, but...c'mon. They have to do better than that. As long as Lowe's still around though, I'll be OK. Even if all he does is live in public disgrace with Kitty and Nora and Justin.

So, let's touch on that big reveal at the end, shall we? When Rebecca got pally with Joe (Sarah's guitar-toting husband), I thought they were just bonding over being outside of the close-knit family circle. How innocent and naive I was, forgetting how soapy this show could really get. Plus, I had read Rebecca would have a dalliance with one of the cast (totally blanked on that). The whole thing made a DEGREE of sense, seeing as how the writers set up trouble in the marriage beforehand, but I sorta thought they'd gotten over that somewhat. The plot had laid dormant a little too long for them to totally pull off this twist, basically. Sarah and Joe had seemed fairly stable over the last couple of eps. The interesting thing was that we didn't see the kiss, so could Rebecca be lying? I imagine she'll be accused of such by the more hostile siblings, but I'd rather it didn't become an Oleanna-type situation. I was hoping Rebecca was just going to be smoothly accepted into the family fold (she's a regular, after all), but no path is that smooth on this show. Oh well. I guess Sarah and Kitty are gonna hate her again now.

Sigh. I had to blitz the last three B&S eps today so I could write this review, so I'm a little soaped out, to be honest. Thankfully there's a repeat airing next week, and then the run-up to the season finale, which I imagine'll be full of more twists. So, here's looking at sweeps.


"I am an American of Chinese descent": Entourage

It's gonna be a little tough to write about this episode, because this was one of those Entourage episodes where like, NOTHING happens. Seriously, the show can be worse than Gilmore Girls when it comes to that.

OK, I'm not quite being fair, because even though Ari/Lloyd's storyline was meaningless in terms of the season's overall arcs, it was sweet, and memorable. I guess the writers are just stalling Vince/Ari's eventual reunion by a couple eps (I'm thinking Vince sleeps with Carla Gugino, because honestly, who wouldn't) just so it doesn't seem like they weren't broken up JUST for a cliffhanger. So we got Ari, training faithful Lloyd in agenting, trying to nail down a big, fat, gay, too-rich-for-his-own-good writer to a contract. Honestly, I barely remembered that Vince and Ari were broken up, because Piven and Rex Lee have such fun chemistry together. Every time Lloyd wearily brushes off one of Ari's loving racial never gets old! The climax here, where the writer demanded Lloyd's presence at a club to sign his contract, had Ari dashing in to save his tipsy assistant from a fate worse than death, proclaiming "We may be whores at my agency, but we ain't pimps". Not sure how true that sentiment rings, but the sentiment between Ari and Lloyd was adorable. Who needs Vince!

OK, I'm being a little mean. I actually like Vince, even if his super-laid-back deal is beginning to grate (he used to be easygoing, but now he's just coming across as lazy!). But he just didn't have anything to do this week. For one, ignoring his agent because of a vague hope that Ari might land him the Escobar movie is immature even for him. I mean, it deprives the audience of Carla Gugino (seriously. give her a spinoff), AND it means we have to snore through Eric agonizing over how to tell Vince not to go on a couples weekend with him and Sloane. I mean...what!? I know Vince is dependent, but surely he's not so weird that he can't tolerate Eric being in Napa with his girlfriend for a few days. Wasn't Eric running a pizza joint in New York while Vince was getting famous in LA anyway? Didn't make much sense to me. I actually happen to like Sloane--she's not particularly exciting, but she's a nice normal character in a nice normal relationship, and it's not like all four characters need to be total players. I think she might be on her way out, though, which is too bad.

The other plot had Drama and Turtle trying to hook up with girls by going to a dog park. Now, that's a recycled plot (I swear I've seen it on a sitcom before), but that's all I really expect from Drama and Turtle, so it was fine I guess. Busy Phillips, aka Kim Kelly from Freaks & Geeks (among other things--she's also been doing a good job on ER this year) was one of the dog-toting girls, but didn't get enough to do. Boo!

Anyway, this was a real wheel-spinner, even by Entourage's standards. Next week sounds a bit more exciting, so here's looking forward. BTW, it's good to be back! I know everyone missed me, instead of totally not even noticing I was gone.


“I don’t mean to wobble” – Drive

It’s funny to go from reviewing Prison Break to reviewing Drive, because my one big negative in regards to Prison Break – it’s ever escalating level of silliness – could also be said of Drive, and yet with Drive I count its silliness as a definite positive. Drive proves that if a show manages to strike the right balance between silly and just plain stupid, it can work brilliantly. But it takes as great a writer as Tim Minear, and as clever a premise as a illegal cross-country road race, to strike that balance just right.

Not to say that Drive is perfect. The simplistic action movie-style car chases aren’t very well shot and end up the most boring parts of the show; though admittedly, they are few and far between. The show also seems unconcerned with making its characters empathetic – Nathan Fillion’s Alex Tully is undoubtedly the show’s moral centre, but he’s also the only member of the ensemble with a backstory that truly invests us in his fate. Most of the other characters are selfish assholes without any trace of morals. His partner Corinna has admittedly been given her own backstory in the second episode that explained her own reasons for being in the race – avenging the death of her parents – but she’d screwed Alex around so much in the past two hours that it’s still hard to empathise with her. Hopefully this flaw can be fixed in subsequent episodes by giving more background to the rest of the ensemble.

These flaws, however, are easily forgivable in the face of such an unashamedly fun show. After a slightly slow opening, Drive soon kicked into gear (sorry) and from that point on delivered one of the most entertaining eighty minutes of this television season. The introduction of the plot and characters, which can often weigh a pilot down, whizzed by at a lighting-fast pace and yet I never felt overloaded with information as I did with the pilot of The Nine, for instance. As soon as the road race kicked off and the camera began flitting between the various vehicles, with the various characters inside shouting at each other as they speed through the motorway, Alex finding himself chased down by a gun-wielding mystery man, and Corinna popping out of his trunk – the whole thing had such an infectious enthusiasm to it that it quickly won me over. Fillion’s immense charisma and star-power were no hindrance either.

Despite its disappointing ratings, I’m hoping Drive isn’t doomed to cancellation as everyone seems to think it is. If Minear and co. keep up the pace, the fun and the surprises as they have done with these first two episodes, they could have a hit on their hands. Either way, they’ve got me hooked already.


Prison Break, Season 2

Prison Break, I’ll happily admit, is not an especially difficult show to review. Its flaws are glaring, its strengths are easy to pinpoint because they stick out like a sore thumb, and nothing about it is complex or layered. Nonetheless, it’s quite difficult to offer
my own critical viewpoint on a conceit so insane as a gladiator prison. Yes, a gladiator prison. What is there to be said about that? Shall I consider its possible implications for the coming season? How it might affect character dynamics, or themes, or plot directions? How? *cries*

Seriously, though. Prison Break’s first two seasons may have been stupid, but at least they were the stupid we knew. Ensemble-based prison breakout? Its been done, most famously with The Great Escape. And season two’s basic premise is The Fugitive, except plural. (Tommy Lee Jones’ response to Ford insisting he’s innocent – “I don’t care!” – is even a perfect summing-up of Agent Mahone’s character on Break.) But a gladiator prison? Merely the fact that Break’s writers have gone there belies any notion of predicting their intentions. Clearly they see themselves as having no distinguishable boundaries, and one can only make wild stabs at what they might have planned for next season.

First, though, lets take a look at the season past. I've already gone into considerable detail on why this season of Prison Break has been lacklusture, but there are a couple remaining points I’d like to make. First of all, the show has utterly wasted its great cast, not just by giving them bad material – that’s obvious – but also by so rarely bringing them together. These characters worked in season one because they bounced off each other well and the actors had good chemistry. This season, they were most kept to their independent plot strands, and only reunited by way of a sweeps event. Even characters who existed in the same plot strand, such as Mahone and Agent Kim, rarely had scenes together – they just growled at each other over the phone. Phone conversations are fundamentally less dramatic than actually bringing two characters together. Similarly, Michael and Mahone could have made for a great rivalry if Fitchner and Miller had ever been allowed more scenes together (you might quibble that since Mahone was trying to kill Michael the two could hardly have a chat, but a show as ridiculous as Prison Break could easily have found ways around this).

Second, by softening Mahone and Kellerman and giving them both tragic back stories, and with the loss of Patricia Wettig to Brothers & Sisters, eventually the show was left with no legitimate villains for the audience to hate. Agent Kim was obviously a replacement stuck in after the loss of Wettig, and his character was never able to rise above that (despite an energetic performance from Reggie Lee). Also, Kim’s constant failure to catch the brothers made him appear useless rather than threatening.

Anyway. Onto season three, and that finale.

As Todd already noted in his recap, the third season will have Michael once again trying to escape prison, now enlisting the help of Bellick and Mahone. Meanwhile Lincoln will be on the outside, presumably spending the first few episodes working out where Michael has been taken, then once he knows, either helping him from the outside or taking a leaf out of Michael’s book and getting himself in. (I’d guess the latter.) Sucre will presumably join up with Lincoln, as Bellick is the only one who knows where he can find his Maricruz. T-Bag’s level of involvement is less clear; I presume he’ll end up at the gladiator prison too eventually, unless there are plans for a spin-off that I am not privy to. That just leaves Sarah. Well, since actress Sarah Wayne Callis is pregnant, I’m betting Sarah won’t actually show until a ways in. When she does, maybe she’ll hook up with Lincoln. She can’t wait for Michael forever.

This all sounds logical enough, but not especially exciting. What escapades Michael and his new gang might get up to at the gladiator prison I can only imagine – perhaps each week will see a different WWE wrestler making a guest appearance. The idea of teaming up Michael, Bellick and Mahone is admittedly clever, and should make for some entertaining tensions if and when the three are forced to rely on each other. But I hate it when shoes do one episode centred around characters taking part in fights, so if that’s really the idea of the Sona prison, I’m definitely not gonna like the third season. The very idea of Michael being constantly beaten up or at all abused by fellow inmates is, to me, distasteful rather than entertaining. Seeing it happen once or twice over a season is fine, but every episode? That’s a little too realistic for this show. I’m hoping that Sona will prove just a starting off point for season three, not a long-term setting – but I could easily be disappointed.

Then again, General Pan Man (a big ugly guy who appears to be in charge of The Company) had a suggestive line at the end of the finale, in response to an aide saying Scofield will break out again: “That’s exactly what we want him to do.” From this I choose to discern that Sona will only be a significant part of Break for the first half of season three. I could be wrong though – maybe they really are just doing season one all over again, except without any guards. (Todd also took it to suggest that Michael is somehow ‘programmed’ to be an escape artist, which wasn’t something I picked up on, but a little injection of sci-fi sounds like the most interesting plot possibility I’ve so far heard.)

It all makes a kind of sense when you lay it out, but I still can’t see it working as a twenty-two episode season. I foresee the show collapsing under the weight of its stupidity during the third season, losing viewers and not being renewed for a fourth. Creator Paul T. Scheuring has already confessed that the show was only supposed to run for two seasons, an intention that clearly should have been stuck to. I’m certain that the conclusion Scheuring intended would have felt like a satisfying end to the show; as it is, the writers’ attempt at keeping the show going is so obviously tacked on at the last-minute that’s it just stupid – stupider than even Prison Break can get away with. (And that’s a whole either dimension of stupid.)

Further, because it was trying so hard to justify its return, the finale itself ended up rather boring. Little was revealed about The Company or Sona, the show’s two central mysteries. Only Agent Kim and Kellerman met their final fate, and those two were obviously going to die – how about some surprises, like an untimely end for T-Bag? Mahone and Sucre obsessing over their loved ones was just as dull as usual (although the final phone call between Mahone and his wife was surprisingly effective, thanks largely to Fichtner’s expressive voice); not only that, but Sucre and Maricruz looks set to become a major plot point of the next season too. Dragging that plotline even longer exemplifies another problem season three will experience (the last I’ll point out): by the end of ‘Sona’, very little had really changed. The main cast remains the same; the basic format has shifted, yes, but into a peculiar blend of the last two seasons; and The Company is still the ‘big bad’ pulling the strings. Despite Kellerman exposing them at Sarah’s trial, the implication seemed to be that their power was far from diminished – not only that, but they had basically won. It just feels like a complete cheat, on a par with Alias dragging out the Rambaldi mystery for five whole seasons.

I’ll stop now. Perhaps, one might argue, I’m spending too much time and effort critiquing a show that was never intended to stand up to close inspection. But even a mindlessly entertaining show has to have limits on how stupid it can become, or it’s likely to lose sight of everything that made it so entertaining in the first place. Unless season three turns out to be dramatically different from what I’m expecting, Prison Break is all ready a lost cause.


Sunday, April 15, 2007

"I'm glad you caught that Alexandra. Very observant. The sacred and the propane.": The Sopranos

I was pleasantly surprised to find the minimum of grousing about last week's Sopranos episode. Perhaps this was because fans were just so happy to have the show back, but I'd prefer to believe that they've also realized that The Sopranos has always been as much (if not more) about its slow, meandering passages, full of portent, as it is about its big, bloody gun battles and moments of extreme violence. Still, for the small number of fans that found last week's show too slow, tonight's episode more than made up for it by piling on the ominous doings and stapling them together with a healthy helping of plot advancement and even some whackings (one from cancer, one from gunshot). And the episode ended with a nicely portentious montage, one that seemed to boil with undercurrents for the season to come.

For starters, the episode gave Vincent Curatola his finest showcase to date as Johnny Sack. Johnny Sack's character has really grown as the show has gone on, and this episode showed just how vital he is to the New York family. His death seems likely to touch off a huge war that could drag even Tony's family into it. The first strike in this war came when an assassin knocked off The Hairdo while he was having supper (in a nicely shot sequence that seemed almost as if Silvio were seeing the hit before it happened until we realized that time had just slowed down from our point of view). It was one seeming Godfather reference in an episode full of them -- almost as if the show were playfully acknowledging its debt to that stalwart of the mafia genre.

The episode was also scathingly funny, full of terrific one-liners and other jokes. Terrence Winter is maybe the show's best writer after David Chase (it would be between him and the team of Robin Green and Mitchell Burgess, which has left the show), and he's always able to mix the show's darker moments (of which there were many in this episode) with some great jokes (of which there were many others). One of the things that The Sopranos does well that many of its imitators never got down was having a sense of humor. The Sopranos' humor is ever-present -- scabrous and ready to be deployed at any moment.

The foreshadowing in the episode was also spot-on. I'm actually not expecting the FBI agents' constant warnings of possible terrorist attacks to pay off in any real way, but I do like that it's giving us a sense that there are certain things Tony might actually place ahead of the Family (namely, his actual family). And the christening scene at the end was both a sly Godfather shoutout (okay, not actually THAT sly) and a way to increase the tension between Tony and Christopher.

The Christopher stuff (in which Tony saw that Chris doesn't think as highly of him as he would like via the device of the tired Cleaver movie that seemed like it wouldn't have a point until this week) was pretty good, but it was a little over-obvious for this show, complete with that final scene with Dr. Melfi that drove the point home (Tony wants Christopher to respect him!) devoid of subtext. Still, the gradual building of anger between these two doesn't bode well for the future, and I imagine the final conflict will come because Chris betrays Tony somehow. One question about Cleaver: Why couldn't they get a bigger star to be in the movie-within-the-show? David Chase seems able to make anybody do anything (or so David says), so why not get a Ray Liotta or someone for the part? Also, on a completely unrelated note, is A.J.'s girlfriend pregnant?

But I keep coming back to Johnny Sack. His sad swan song, dying of lung cancer over the course of the episode, was beautifully acted and heartwrenchingly written and directed. That this vital man would be taken out by something so prosaic seems in line with the show's brutal view of life and the toll it takes on people. And Johnny's sadness that he had finally changed only to see his prior lifestyle catch up with him seems emblematic of the way the show views change -- you can try to change, but it will probably be too late. In my review of the show's fifth season, I said that I thought the show's novelistic construction meant that the characters would get their just desserts, starting with the more innocent evildoers. While Johnny Sack was far from innocent, he's being karmically paid back for a life of wrongdoing, perhaps in the most mundane way possible. There's an almost Catholic undercurrent to The Sopranos that manifests itself in unusual ways.

Finally, the episode title, Stage 5. While it literally referred to the movie stage where Cleaver was shot and edited, it also seemed to be referring to the stages of grief (or perhaps even the fifth of the seven souls from the poem that opened the season way back last year). Your thoughts, of course, are welcome.

But don't stop here! Go read Sepinwall's commentary and then check out whatever Matt Zoller Seitz has to say at The House Next Door.


Quote of the day: The real Ghostbusters

(Todd and Libby are watching a special on UFOs and how most alien abductions can be explained by sleep paralysis, which also explains everything from succubi to the Old Hag.)

Todd: When I was a little kid, I had an episode like that. It was really scary! Have I told you about that?

Yeah. You saw. . .was it the Old Hag or a witch or. . .?

Todd: Well, it was Slimer, but it was still really scary.
Quote of the Day is an infrequent feature designed to resurrect Todd's first claim to Internet fame, a mailing list in the late 90s that reached thousands of people with the weird antics of Todd's small-town friends (a more detailed description is here). It consists entirely of nonsense quotes and conversations. Subsequent attempts to revive the format have all failed, but if you have a quote, send it to us or post it in the comments.