Saturday, May 12, 2007

“It’s on the DVD extras, it’s labelled ‘Vagina’” – Scrubs

After an aimless two-parter that more or less wasted the talented Keri Russell, Scrubs got back on track this week with an amusing and dramatically effective episode. One problem that many (including myself) have had with Scrubs’ sixth season is that it has become too wacky to operate on a dramatic level, and yet JD’s principal storyline has been one of the heaviest of the show’s run. Well ‘My Conventional Wisdom’ rectified this somewhat with the return of Dr. Kim Briggs, which was nicely handled and helped along by well judged performances from Zach Braff and the always lovely Elizabeth Banks.

Kim’s return was combined with JD and Turk going to a medical convention in Phoenix. It was almost a shame that these two storylines had to coincide, as everything before Kim’s appearance was hilarious. For instance, Kelso’s chief of medicine ‘posse’ and Old M.C.’s constant exclamations of ‘Bust a Move!’ Obviously Briggs’ reappearance meant JD discovering she was still pregnant, so things quickly took a dispiriting turn, but good writing and great performances (especially from Braff, whose reactions to the discovery were heartbreakingly believable) saved it from becoming a bore-fest. It’s also great to have Banks back, although it remains a great shame that she’s ended up with such a downer of a role.

Back at the hospital Elliot is having doubts about marrying Keith, at first brought on by Dr. Cox but lingering even after he had reassured her. Once again Sarah Chalke excelled here, her superb comic timing taking a back seat to her equally superb emotional range. Travis Schuldt is also doing a great job as Keith, keeping him loveable but not so much so that we hate Elliot for messing him around. Elsewhere, the Janitor pretended to be the Chief of Medicine while Kelso was away. His stuff wasn’t as funny as it could have been, but Ted becoming so attached to him made up for it (“I need you! Doesn’t that mean anything?”).

Personally I think it would be cool if JD and Kim got together and Elizabeth Banks became a regular for at least a good chunk of next season. But events will probably take a completely different turn - we shall see. One thing we can be sure of is that this season is going to end in a dramatic fashion (apparently with a cliffhanger and everything) so I hope the writers can pull that off while also remaining consistently funny. Scrubs has successfully struck that balance for years, so one hopes it can strike it again with next week's double-episode season finale.


Friday, May 11, 2007

Clip of the Day: Jane Fonda's infatuation with Stephen Colbert's Lips


"I am being stalked by pregnant women!": Grey's Anatomy

Ugh, not a great one this week, as we lead up to the finale next week. Looks like Grey's Anatomy just has a problem doing finale storylines. I mean, think about it. The final-third-of-the-season arcs have been Gizzie (bleh), Cristina & Burke getting married (double bleh), Meredith and Derek drifting apart (5x bleh) and Alex & Jane Doe (yay!). It's not that there's anything as stupid/crazy as last year with Denny and the hospital prom. This year, it's just...boring.

So, we've got George/Izzie/Callie. George is considering transferring, but he probably won't because Izzie told him she had no feelings for him (and then went off and cried quietly about it) and Bailey told him to shape up and shut up (good advice, Bailey!). He also probably won't because him leaving Grey's Anatomy cause he slept with Izzie after getting married with Callie cause his dad died would be a LAME REASON FOR HIM TO LEAVE. Personally, I hope in the finale Callie breaks up with him. Hangdog George is what we need. Now, let's be clear on this--I don't want mopey George of season three, I want HANGDOG George of season 2 before he slept with Meredith. Are we clear on that? Good? Good. Also, sidenote: I know it's a dumb complaint that the metaphorical status of the patients of the week is very obvious. But this week it was like, INSANELY obvious. There were four different instances where a patient was talking about his problem, and there was this like, INCREDIBLY long take of George/Izzie/Meredith/Addison, so we'd get that it was about them. It just seemed a lot more on the nose than usual. Gross!

What else happened? Oh yeah, Meredith's dad waltzed into the hospital and told Meredith to basically go die, rather than come to Mare Winningham's funeral. Mean Mr. Grey! What was bad about the scene (apart from the nastiness of it) was that while Thatcher ranted at his daughter for a whole minute, all the people crowded around Meredith (especially the Chief, who seems to have been appointed her new protector) just sort of quietly stared at them instead of stepping in. Very strange. So poor Meredith blew off her test, blew off her boyfriend and sat around being Little Miss Unhappy. Until the Chief rescheduled the test for her. Too bad she never talked to Derek, right! Cause then he would have felt included and not flirted with Chyler Leigh at the bar! Wait a second, wasn't Meredith being really open and inclusive to Derek the last few episodes? Wait, she was?! WOW! And Derek was still thinking about breaking up with her? Oh! The problem with this breakup (which sadly seems almost inevitable now) is that it's coming around basically because the writers haven't included much, if any, material of Derek and Meredith together since she drowned. So they're not using any outside excuses, it's just, they're 'drifting apart'. Please. LAME. I really don't want them to break up, because then we'll have to suffer through their boring nonsense until they reunite, but if they stay together they might be boring and 'distant', so looks like a Catch-22.

Only other thing this week was all the pregnant women. To taunt newly barren Addison, I suppose. You had Waverly from Friday Night Lights (which just got a pickup! WOO!) as Joe the bartender's possible surrogate, except she collapsed at the end of the episode. And there was the Chief's wife Adele (Loretta Devine), also pregnant at the age of 52, except she collapsed at the end of the episode as well. And then there was lovely Jane Doe, who revealed, in a really really dumb twist, that she's actually known who she was for days. Guess her little freakout over the operation was just a really good bit of acting then. I mean, HUH!?!? What!? Whatever, Reaser's still great. Looks like she's not a doctor, though. Sigh.

I dunno what else to say. Finale next week. Woo. See you then.


"Watch out for snakes!": The Office

Man, am I glad the rumored plan to expand The Office to an hourlong show fell through! As much as I like the show, these super-sized episodes of it almost never work. I liked Benihana Christmas all right, and I liked the Jim and Pam stuff in Casino Night, but most of the other super-sized episodes have just felt flabby, full of gags that were a little too wild and meandering plots that didn't go anywhere.

Thursday night's episode, sort of a necessary bridge episode between the rest of the season and what promises to be a finale that will change a number of things from who works where to which couples are paired up, was flabby, full of some good slapstick and sight gags but minus the cutting dialogue and goofiness that the show usually promises. Sure it was fun to see Andy float away in a sumo wrestling get-up, and it was funny to watch Jim, Dwight, Stanley and Andy choose teams, but the whole episode relied a little too much on some too wacky stuff (like Creed devouring a raw fish of all things or Michael asking Pam to warm up 800 hot dogs in 10 minutes).

(By the by, the quote up above was not the episode's funniest moment, but it did make me think of Mystery Science Theater 3000, and that's always a good thing in my book!)

Anyway, I liked that both Jim and Karen applied for the job that Michael was asked to apply for at the corporate level. Since both Michael and Jim are integral to the success of the show, it seems likely that Karen will get the promotion and become the new Jan or something, but it's nice to see Jim take action to improve his life as well. Dwight's sorrow over Michael's impending departure was all right, and Stanley tackling Jim in the sumo outfit was pretty funny too. But the whole thing just sort of meandered along finally ending at a firewalking sequence that wasn't terribly funny (Dwight falling on the hot coals was sort of tiring to watch).

I did like Dwight and Angela's discussion of sabotage (along with Dwight saying that if there was a group hug later, Angela should be near him), but it was one sparkly conversation in an episode that was, all told, sort of boring.

Finally, the Jim and Pam and Karen triangle moved forward an inch or so as Pam told everyone what she really thought after daring herself to run across the coals. I didn't buy that Pam would say all of this with Karen right there, but it was a well enough written speech (loved the little Pam-ish interruptions and digressions as she got uncomfortable but then forced herself to push forward). I don't buy that Pam's new honesty kick would let her overcome her politeness to tell Jim exactly what she thinks of him (or, rather, hint strongly at what she thinks of him), but, hey, at least we're moving forward.

The things I enjoyed the most in the episode were the employees of the office singing songs on the bus on the way to the beach. It felt like the sort of closely-observed moment the show pulls off when it's at its best, largely because it was just people having a good time (the show is always at its best when it feels this breezy). In some ways, I almost want to ask the writers to get their damn plot out of the show and just let me enjoy these characters. But, hey, at least we don't have to put up with an hourlong show that just wants to be a half hour next year.

Predictions for the finale?


"Something about her accent really turned me on.": My Name Is Earl

My Name Is Earl ended its weird, wacky second season with an honest-to-goodness cliffhanger. Granted, it was the exact same cliffhanger 24 ended on last year (OK, minus the Chinese), but it was the sort of thing you wouldn't expect to see on this show, which has spent most of its second season doing exactly the sorts of things you wouldn't expect to see within its confines and torquing off quite a few of the people who first made the show a hit (the critical reviews of the season as a whole have ranged from scathing to slightly miffed, but it's hard to find many raves). The show has so abandoned the simple formula that brought it to prominence that it's easy to see why some are just not sure this is the show they signed on for. Me, though? I've enjoyed this weird, weird, formula-busting season. The wackier it got, the better. And the season finale was plenty wacky.

Let's start with Earl falling in love with Joy's deaf lawyer. At first, it seemed like a stretch until you realized that, yes, Marlee Matlin is still a foxy lady, and, yes, she and Earl didn't meet all season long. Jason Lee and Matlin have surprisingly good chemistry, and the scenes on their date were quite amusing. Also, so long as Matlin is on the show, Byron from Andy Richter Controls the Universe is guaranteed a job, which is nice because he's a funny actor (but when do we get our DVD set of that brilliant show?).

The bulk of the episode was about Joy's trial and how a situation where everything went wrong turned into a near acquittal for Joy before everything went wrong again. The procession of various translators (sign language into Mandarin, Mandarin into English) was good, as was the constant checking of the status of the jury. I wasn't so sure that Earl would perjure himself, what with his attempts to turn his life around and be good, but his eventual confession to the crime that was going to lead to Joy's imprisonment was built to well, and the final twist that he would be in jail for two years was handled nicely as well. Now does he actually spend the two years in jail and the show jumps forward 24 style? That might be an interesting gambit.

Some other random things I liked in the episode included Randy and Earl's walkie talkies, Joy getting caught by Dog the Bounty Hunter and Darnell's increasing state of distress at being forced to stay alone with the kids (the live crab served up to his restaurant patrons being the best example). I also liked the long string of. . .something. . .Catalina said in Spanish. I couldn't catch all of it, but it sounded like she was thanking the viewers for watching or something, which the show has done before.

I originally said I wasn't sure I liked Earl having newfound respectability, but I actually don't mind the jail twist so long as it's handled well. It could be botched and that would be irritating, but Earl's self sacrifice to save his ex-wife's family is perhaps the nicest thing he's done since becoming a better person. And if the show wants to go back to the old, bad Earl, now, they'll have more than an ample excuse to do so.

So what did you think of the finale and the more experimental second season as a whole? And who's your favorite secondary character who turns up every once in a while (mine's Tim Stack)?


Thursday, May 10, 2007

"It means the woman's nuts. A minute ago, she was eating a candle.": Ugly Betty

Of all of the things I expected Ugly Betty to resemble as it plowed toward its season finale, the episode of The Simpsons where Homer goes on a mystical journey with a spirit guide coyote after eating a hallucinatory pepper was pretty far down the list. And yet, there we were, riding through the Mexican countryside on a bus with our favorite nerdy assistant when her crush, Henry, appeared out of nowhere on a bike and she had to race after him, the bus leaving her behind. It was all well and good though because the knowledge imparted to her by a strange old woman at a family gathering led her to the home of her maternal grandmother, whom she had never seen. It was an odd storyline that managed to deliver a nicely emotional payoff (the grandmother apologized to Betty as though Betty were her mother), but it still seemed to come out of nowhere in the greater scope of the season. Vision quests are all well and good for one time things on these sorts of goofy shows, and it was nice to find out more about Betty's mom, but the way this whole side of the family was dropped on the story then quickly dropped in the same episode was whiplash-inducing.

Simply, we haven't been led to care about Betty's mother for a while now. She's mentioned every so often, and we know that Ignacio killed a man to be with her, but we haven't been given many stories about her (when it seemed that her absence would be a marked part of the plot from early episodes). It was nice to have that storyline return, but it might have been nicer to have it result in some sort of gradually earned payoff instead of the rather sudden (if affecting) one that we did get.

The Mexico scenes were the best thing about the episode, though, as the stuff back in New York was rather dreary without Betty there to play along. Amanda and Marc were the only highlights, especially as he discovered that her boyfriend wasn't gay and then the two hatched their plot. But Bradford re-emerging as Brad Meade was too silly even for this show, and the love triangle between Alexis, her ex-girlfriend and Daniel was just uninteresting. It would be fun to see a love triangle with the two former brothers as two points, but this one was executed poorly. Even Vanessa Williams' Wilhelmina seemed a little stranded.

Yessir, the Mexico stuff was the best, even if it was a little weird. I liked that scene with the family having the big party and Betty getting to meet all of her relatives (I also liked that her command of Spanish wasn't as good as it might be and that her sister had to translate for her). Ignacio trying to navigate the waters of the family he left was touching, and his arrival to rescue Betty when she stumbled upon her grandmother was also good. I'm not so sure I want to see him get in trouble with the guys seeking to get revenge on him for his killing of his wife's first husband, but it seems unlikely I won't get to see that. And Hilda met a man who convinced her that maybe marriage wasn't the right thing for her (between this and Scrubs, it was "Maybe you shouldn't get married" night on TV). Side note: I've always liked that Hilda has such a frumpy name and is clearly such an attractive woman. It's a nice visual gag that never really gets commented on.

But the episode's heart was Betty's vision quest. I don't know if this is going to become a regular thing or anything, but the out-of-nowhereness of it didn't help the show as it heads to its finale next week. Here's hoping that episode is able to tie together the season's many disparate plot threads a little better.


T.V. on TV: Traveler

ABC’s Traveler, debuting tonight at 10 after Grey’s Anatomy, is a lot of fun, but it exposes one of television’s weaknesses as a medium, specifically in regards to the serialized dramas that are all the rage recently. When the pilot is working, it moves like a rocket, never stopping to let you think too hard about just how implausible the whole thing is. But the very fact that it arrives last in a season littered with the wrecks of other serialized shows -- some better and some much, much worse than Traveler -- casts a bit of a pall over it. When I first saw the pilot last summer, I thought it was one of the better ones of the young season. But when I watched it again this week, it was hard not to yawn.

Traveler tells the story of three college roommates who decide to take one last road trip before beginning lives of respectability. They plan to follow the plot of Kerouac’s On the Road as closely as possible, right down to pulling a prank in a New York City art museum. Jay (Matthew Bomer) and Tyler (Logan Marshall Green) dart on ahead on roller blades, racing through the museum on a stupid bet (and, it must be said, for the action sequence that kicks off the episode, this one is sluggishly paced, especially when compared to later sequences). Their friend Will Traveler (Aaron Stanford) stays behind to videotape their shenanigans, but when Jay and Tyler exit the museum, a phone call to Will ends cryptically as he apologizes to them. Then the museum explodes, and Jay and Tyler are blamed for the explosion.

From there, the show turns into a weird hybrid of 24 and The Fugitive. It stretches plausibility almost too often for this sort of escapist entertainment (the boys never even bother to change clothes, and they take breaks from their race to visit a girlfriend or have a long discussion about how they’re fundamentally different from each other), but it’s mostly a four-barreled race forward as the boys try to stay one step ahead of the FBI (led by the excellent Viola Davis and Steven Culp) and rely on Tyler’s father (William Sadler) for which steps to take next. The duo delve into the mystery of Will Traveler, believing that he was a central figure in this strange conspiracy, and discover that they have no photos of him and that they know surprisingly little about him.
Read the rest here.


Oh. What. You. Do. To. Me: Femme Fatale

Mary Timony, of Helium semi-fame, possesses a distinctive charm that overrides the derivative nature of her most recent work. Still shying away from the mythological pretenses that cluttered her earlier passes at solo fame, Mary continues to employ that abrasive femme swagger that someone like Liz Phair would use to her advantage with little to no effort. Timony's latest LP, The Shapes We Make continues the fashioned hybrid of indie-pop and riot grrl mentality employed on 2005's Ex-Hex. The result is a wildly engaging, decidedly loud venture into morbid curiosities and half-dead truisms that have plagued Timony throughout most of her career. The Shapes We Make is surprisingly personal and arguably the most god damned rocking album of '07.

There is a point where every hipster fanboy, and elitist jackass has said just about everything that there is to say about Icelandic queen, Bjork. While her most recent display of oddities, Volta remains about as colorful and strange as its loudly mournful cover, there still seems to be a personal lack of purpose in finding anything relevant to share about the work. Now, I wouldn't go so far as to say that the law of diminishing returns is kicking in here, because if there is one thing consistent about Bjork's oeuvre it's how different each album strives to be. However, I think it is safe to say that there is, arguably, a strong disconnect forming between her intentions, innovations, and the blandness of the final product. While Volta is capable, solid, strange, and interesting, it fails to reach levels of compelling or exhilarating like most of its predecessors. This seems mostly due to how expected and common Bjork's artistry has become. She hasn't run out of ideas or become a bad artist, but her portraits have become depictions in staying power more than anything else. This is all just so obliviously mundane that it's become a sort of static lullaby; it's kind of depressing and it's putting me to sleep.

Sally Shapiro delivers the type of pop goodness that feels like it should be the guiltiest of guilty pleasures. Disco Romance (right from its ironically blunt title, to the forced, minimalist structure of its cover, to the abundant supply of caricatured melodrama inside) finds genius in its own simplicity. I feel incredibly pretentious having just said that, but I do believe it to be true. The melodies and palettes employed here are not only from another time, but serve as stark recollections of a time when enjoyable music was simply easier to make. However, the real star of Disco Romance, obviously, is Sally Shapiro. Her demeanor, be it heartbroken, lovelorn, or in love is palpable through every short story that she tells. Shapiro is able to make so many exaggerated instances of melodrama seem plausible simply through the power of her sly charisma. Basically, Disco Romance is the exact album you would expect after hearing its title--except it's amazing.


"Kinda hard to celebrate on the day you killed your mom.": Lost

(A note: I don't know if you noticed, but L.A. landmark Griffith Park is ON FIRE. Local CW affiliate KTLA devoted its Tuesday night lineup to coverage of the event -- sort of a more apocalyptic version of the Midwest's tornado porn. This kept me from viewing last night's Veronica Mars, but I'll try to get in a review before the end of the week. Sorry! If you want thoughts on it, Sepinwall has some.)

Tonight's Lost, "The Man Behind the Curtain," was sort of remarkable for how it smushed together both the awkward and the stellar aspects of the show, veering wildly from awful scenes (little Ben's father berating him about his mother, who died in childbirth) to excellent scenes (Ben and Locke's visit to the little cabin in the middle of the jungle). The episode had enough strong stuff to make it another solid entry in the series' recent run of good episodes, but it was the most erratic of this recent string by far, reminiscent of those season two episodes where nothing would really happen except for a few cool scenes full of portent and then at the end someone would get shot or something.

The episode was notable for just how creepy it was willing to get. I've long been a fan of EVPs, those totally bogus but compulsively listenable sound files that purport to be the dead themselves trying to communicate with us via our modern technology. The plaintive cry of "Help me" from the unseeable "Jacob" to Locke in a distorted, but obviously human voice shocked that cabin scene to life, turning what looked like a scene designed to make Ben into the island's resident loon into a horror setpiece. The little cabin became a terrifyingly haunted house for the space of about 30 seconds, complete with a flash of a strange man in a chair (one that was only really noticeable if you slowed the sequence down), a strange man we'd never seen before. The fact that the whole cabin was surrounded by a strange, ashy substance added to the weird, ghost story nature of the sequence, which proved that Lost can turn on the horror movie charms whenever it wants.

This was the long awaited Ben flashback, and maybe it was the fact that I had hoped the Ben episode would solidify a lot of things in the minds of viewers, but the flashbacks were a little weaker than I had hoped they would be, though the kid playing Lil' Ben was quite good at evoking Michael Emerson's portrayal of The Others' shifty-eyed leader, and it was nice to see that Samantha Mathis wasn't dead. Some of the sequences in the past worked (I liked the birth of Ben and the initial visit to the island), but the scene where Ben's father berated him for his mother dying in childbirth was just embarrassing. I'm sure that this has happened in the past to a kid whose mother died in childbirth, but usually this sort of thing stays subtext, a reason for the father to be mad at the kid for years to come that's never quite articulated. Even if it's not subtext, I doubt a father would be as blatant as Ben's dad was. The scene where Ben killed his father was nice in how grim it was willing to go (the shots of the dead Dharma folks laying all around their compound were chilling), but it stretched credibility when Ben simply pulled on a gas mask and gassed his dad to death without dad doing anything about it. He wouldn't even fight? Really? At least the question of what happened to Annie was left open, meaning that Ben might be back next season (having survived the rumored coming cast purge) to tell us more stories of his sordid past. Emerson has been a tremendous boon to the show, and I look forward to more of his work. The scene where he closed the eyes of the Dharma corpse, only his eyes conveying his sadness and fury, was impeccably acted and not self-consciously showy at all.

It was nice to get a better sense of the relationship between Dharma and The Others, and the flashbacks sort of clarified the timeline and started to explain why The Others have appeared to have supernatural powers sometimes while they appeared to be white collar scientists at others. I don't know that there's any way to satisfactorily resolve this tangle of a storyline, but it was nice to see the whispers return momentarily, and it was nice to get another hint that the island manifests the subconscious wills of its denizens (since all pregnant women die before their seventh month -- when Ben's mother died giving birth to him).

The final scene -- Ben shooting Locke and leaving him for dead in a mass grave -- was a good shocker of the sort the show used to pull out (again, in those largely uneventful season two episodes). I can't imagine for a second that they'll kill Locke, one of the pillars that makes the show work, but it was nice to see his return to the devil-may-care attitude of season one land him in danger. I'm also glad the show showed a group of people we've come to know and sympathize with effectively committing a genocide. It's a risky move, but it doesn't undercut the fascination of Emerson's performance for me.

I'm surprising myself by having so much to say here, but I must touch on the scenes at the beach. I was really, really hoping that Jack would be proven to be a traitor or at least a complete dolt who got used by Juliet. Having him be right again was irritating. The character's self-righteousness has become so evident this season that I assumed he was being set up for a downfall, but it doesn't appear one will be in the offing. Oh well.

Frequent 24 commentor Luke proffers this theory about Jacob (without having seen the episode or read any spoilers about it!): He's a slave to The Others. Given his dress, I wouldn't be surprised if he was one of the captains of the Black Rock, and therefore, his status as a slave to the people who worship him would be an interesting twist.

Anyway, much to talk about in re: the Dharma timeline and such, so when you're dissecting the episode's quality (or lack thereof) offer up your pet theories as well. It'll be just like season one again!


Wednesday, May 09, 2007

“You know, I think I’ll get my own avocado tree” – Gilmore Girls

Now that we know this season of Gilmore Girls will be its last, the already sizeable expectations for its final episodes have rocketed to unreachable heights. Those looking for an absolutely perfect Gilmore Girls send-off are likely to be disappointed. Overriding nostalgia and the last couple episodes aside, let us not forget that Gilmore’s seventh season has been a definite disappointment, most especially on a writing level. The dialogue has at no point reached the heights of the Gilmore Girls we love (exemplified by basically every other season, although seasons three, four and five are prime examples). As such, perfection would not be a realistic expectation. That being said, ‘Unto the Breach’ was an effective and very satisfying forty minutes of television, if a little slow for Gilmore’s penultimate episode ever.

That said, there was nothing slow about Rory’s emotional journey throughout the episode. She started the episode on a nostalgia high (I can definitely sympathise with her there) at the end of her time at Yale, but ended it on an entirely new road, with Logan out of the picture and truly no idea of what life was going to bring. I was especially pleased with the handling of her and Logan’s break-up. His actions, if a little unreasonable, were always believable, as was her response. Her gradual journey towards the inevitable answer of ‘No’ was well played. Some might argue that it was a rather sudden turnaround for a relationship that had remained so stable throughout the season, but this didn’t bother me, mostly thanks to the beautifully subtle performances of Alexis Bledel and Matt Czuchry, who both excelled in this episode.

No, my problem was more with Lorelai’s scenes. Just as taking fourteen episodes to round out the Lorelai and Christopher relationship was excessive, so too is waiting until the season finale to bring Lorelai and Luke back together. Yes, the show has always been known to take its time, but that was when the superb dialogue made up for it – in absence of this, Rosenthal would have been better off making up for this weakness by speeding up the plot movement instead of dragging everything out to an unnecessary degree. I don’t know about anyone else, but I’m well and truly sick of Lorelai and Luke casting longing glances at each other instead of just TALKING IT OUT. In a perfect example, this week Luke was hurt to hear Lorelai say last week’s song didn’t mean anything and went into sulking mode for the entirety of the episode. Perhaps next week’s finale will make up for it, but to me to me it just reeked of an unnecessary stalling tactic.

Still! As I said, this was a superb episode in all other regards. The graduation scene was very touching; Emily’s constant complaining was hilarious and Richard’s line "This is as much your moment as it is Rory’s" was a nice surprise from a usually unsentimental character. Topping it all, though, was the expression on Lorelai’s face as Rory took her diploma. In a single shot I was reminded of all Lorelai has done all the struggles she has gone through for the sake of Rory’s education and Rory herself. It was a phenomenal piece of acting by Lauren Graham. To say she deserves an Emmy doesn’t even begin to cover her stupendous work throughout Gilmore’s run. But more on that next week, as those lovely Gilmore Girls say ‘Bon Voyage’. Expect some special features on the show by myself, David and Todd, by way of marking the occasion.


"I've been very careful not to sing about being a loser on American Idol.": American Idol

Ah, well Melinda ... unfortunately everyone is a loser when it comes to American Idol.

Tonight was yet another miserable showing from America's #1 show. As opposed to doing something interesting with the theme "Boogie Music" AI decided to limit the songs to those from Barry Gibb. Joy.

Perhaps I should explain something to the producers of the show. If you limit songs to those from a man with approximately 3 recognizable songs, then have him 'mentor' on a night with EIGHT songs performed, IT'S GOING TO BE A BAD NIGHT. Gah. Not brain surgery, people.

Let's get this over with.

1. and 5. Melinda Doolittle - "Love You Inside and Out" and "How Can You Mend a Broken Heart": Most everyone had a slow start tonight, and Melinda was no exception. "Love You Inside and Out" was fine, if bland, though the judges were less than impressed, but they don't get to talk, as, well, see above. Doolittle was stronger with the more familiar "Broken Heart" and the judges were receptive. Let me just say this again: Doolittle is obviously the strongest, most talented contestant of the entire season. If she does not make the final two, you'll have a different reviewer for the finale. So. Yeah.

2. and 6. Blake Lewis - "You Should Be Dancing" and "This Is Where I Came In": Again, a slow start for Lewis with the very familiar "Dancing" but he too brought it for the second go round. Choosing a less familiar song, Lewis was able to make it his own, which, no surprise, the judges hated. Lovely. Of course, according to DialIdol, their negative comments have had the complete opposite effect intended, and, well, that's all I have to say about that.

3. and 7. LaKisha Jones - "Stayin' Alive" and "Run to Me": Jones, the slowest starter of all, literally slowed down "Stayin' Alive" making it forgettable and unremarkable. Unfortunately for her, she didn't do much to redeem herself with her second song, making her the easiest mark for elimination.

4. and 8. Jordin Sparks - "To Love Somebody" and "A Woman in Love": Sparks was easily the night's winner with two sound performances with "Somebody" trumping "Woman" as her best of the night. As big of a Sparks fan as I am, I'm alarmed at how blatantly the show has begun pimping her, and a crazier me would accuse them of manipulation. But Barry Gibb thinks she'll be one of the finest female recording artists of all time, so, I guess I'm just nuts. Eh.

Tonight was a disappointing show and I have to say I'm wary for tomorrow's results. Tonight was remarkable though, for it showed the purpose of Seacrest for the first time ever, as he deftly shoved people out of his way and cut off rambling individuals in order to get the show in on time. Let me say, I'll take that over a needlessly 2 hour episode, any day, so kudos to Ryan Seacrest.

Tonight's winner: Jordin Sparks
Tonight's loser: LaKisha Jones
Tomorrow's loser: LaKisha Jones


Tuesday, May 08, 2007

"The universe cannot be that lame": Heroes

OK, not the most exciting episode, but given that it was the first part of a three-part season finale, it seems forgivable. After all, Battlestar Galactica had a three-part finale with a pretty dull first part too this season. So it was mostly setup, setup, setup, with the main plot being a pretty irritating one.

That would be the half-hearted attempt to make Sylar redeemable, by having him visit his dear ol' crazy ma. See, Sylar's totally misunderstood. He's not a MURDERER, he only dissects the brains of people with special POWERS! See? He's fiiiine. He's fiiiine! No, to be fair, the writers didn't exactly make Sylar suddenly a saint. Even though he was alarmed at the thought of exploding and killing many innocent people, he still acted basically totally nutso. Still, through her behavior, the mother kinda was given a big share of the blame for Sylar being such a whackjob. The driving force behind all of this seems to be justifying keeping Sylar around for season 2 (I still don't know why, but if Kring is a fan of Quinto's work, fair enough). It's not unusual--comics rehabilitate popular villains all the time (see: Catwoman, Sabretooth, Venom etc. etc.), I just don't find Sylar quite interesting enough to justify the move.

All that said, the thing with the snowglobes was pretty cool! The thing where Sylar accidentally scissored his mom was less cool (totally saw it coming, didn't really find it plausible). Hiro's fight with him was less then spectacular, but I Hiro's journeying in the episode was fine, if a bit stally. And if the sword being broken AGAIN leads to his powers not being in use AGAIN, I'm gonna pitch a fit. Enough with the bloody sword! It's like the writers are scared of using Hiro too much, cause his power is just too good.

What else happened? Seriously. The rest was very filler. I've liked the Petrelli mom up til now, but she was SO obviously evil and manipulative when she made Nathan fall in line with Linderman's plan, it had me (and other fans) guessing if she was actually shapeshifter Candice. Even though it seems unlikely it was, seeing as Candice was hanging out with Micah in Vegas. Sidenote: it seems the writers have clarified Candice's powers and made her someone who projects images, rather than a physical shapeshifter. So, Mastermind instead of Mystique. Fits more with the powers we've seen so far, so that's cool. Also in Vegas, D.L. and Jessica trying to get Micah back, and found out that Micah was basically genetically bred by Linderman cause he matched Jessica and D.L.'s genes together to make the power he needed. Just like Mister Sinister with Jean and Cyclops! (I'm really into pointing out the comic book references these days). D.L. and Jessica are boring, so this plot was boring. And there wasn't even any Malcolm McDowell to spice it up.

I won't comment on the 'Mohinder saves the adorable hero-locator child with his own blood' bit, because it was kinda painfully sandwiched in. Mohinder really is just becoming baggage to the show. We really don't need to see all the boring things he does every week.

Also at the Petrelli house was Peter trying to convince Claire not to high-tail it to Paris, cause he needs her to off him just in case he goes nuclear. Hardly the greatest job in the world, but whatever, it's obvious Claire isn't going anywhere. Also, it's not like Claire shooting Peter is going to do any good, is it? HE CAN HEAL, PEOPLE! The whole thing ended when Peter and Claire met up with HRG, Matt and...uh-oh! Ted! And Peter started to go nuclear! Uh-oh! TO BE CONTINUED?! Well, I bet he'll definitely explode, cause there's only two episodes to go...oh wait. That's just silly. Here's to next week, I guess?


And now, a box office word from your infrequent SDD contributor, Jon...

The summer season has come upon once once again, and opened with what should end up being a prophetic bang. After all, five of the strongest franchises/brand names are touching down this summer (Spider-Man, Pirates, Shrek, Harry Potter and Pixar), along with some medium-to-semi-large size names (Fantastic Four, Bourne, Rush Hour), some hopeful breakout comedies (Knocked Up, I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry) and The Simpsons.

So let's run them all down, shall we?

1. Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End
Opening Weekend: $138 million ($164 million 4-day)
Final Domestic Total: $390 million

Damn you, back-to-back sequels, screwing up analysis on this film!

After all, the only other films to pull such a move (Back to the Future and The Matrix) had first sequels that were pretty badly received with "WTF?" endings that scared off the audience from returning to the second sequel, which would then disappoint six months later. With Pirates 3, however, the producers corrected two of these problems: Instead of waiting the incredibly short six months that those two franchises did, they expanded it to a year (Well, 10.5 months to be exact), and instead of screwing with the audience's heads, they gave us a simple-ish cliffhanger (They're off to save Jack with the back-from-the-dead Barbossa, but the evil pirate-hater has the heart of Davy Jones!). Whether or not audiences hated it is debatable, as critics were mixed, but audiences enjoyed it enough to make it only the third movie ever to gross over $1 billion worldwide and make it the fastest-selling DVD of all time.

Now, with Spider-Man 3 likely to freefall after this weekend, it shouldn't be too much of a problem by the time this comes out. I don't see Shrek the Third setting the world on fire like the first two (More on that in a bit), but it'll still be there to keep it from reaching the mass saturation that Spider-Man 3 reached this weekend in order to beat it.

Still, $165 million is hardly anything to sneeze at. However, the key to winning the summer lies in the lack of competition in the following weeks. Outside of Knocked Up, I see nothing in its second or third weekends breaking out, and I think the tentpoles in its fourth (Fantastic Four 2) and fifth (Evan Almighty) weekends are more likely to disappoint than break out. And of course, WOM (word of mouth for you box office illiterates) should be decent enough to let it survive (not in my house! -- ed.). Most series fall apart due to taking themselves too seriously or not seriously enough, but Pirates has always been so all over the map in that regard that the audiences shouldn't notice.

2. Spider-Man 3
Opening: $151 million (Just a hunch)
Total: $360 million

Yeah, yeah. It's already opened, but I might as well include it, no?

Anyway, a large opening was already expected, but the "bleh" WOM wasn't. Couple that with the most massive theater saturation ever (10,000+ screens, more than any other film before it) and competition in weeks 3 and 4, and it's gonna start freefalling before it can reach its far-better received predecessor.

3. Shrek the Third
Opening: $105 million
Total: $330 million

This film is leaving me conflicted. The first film in the franchise blew away all expectations in 2001 when it opened to $42 million (The second biggest opening for an animated film ever at the time) then proceeded to continue blowing expectations away by passing all other summer blockbusters that year and becoming the biggest movie of the summer and second-biggest animated film of all time.

The second film then one-upped its predecessor by clocking in the second-biggest opening of all time and becoming only the second film ever to open with over $100 million, proceeding to once again pass all other summer blockbusters, becoming the third-biggest film ... of all time.

So why can't I wrap my head around this blowing people away again? Not that there's anything disappointing about tripling your budget in the U.S. alone, but still.

First off, CGI animation isn't nearly as rare as it was three years ago. That year, you had three CGI films for the entire year (Shrek 2, The Incredibles and The Polar Express). But we've already had two this spring (TMNT and Meet the Robinsons) and will have two more this summer after Shrek (Surf's Up and Pixar's latest, Ratatouille). The niche there is gone.

Also, the series' mixture of kiddie fun and adult innuendos has been adapted by just about every animated film since. And honestly, the trailer just isn't that good.

But most of all, being in between the far more eventful Spider-Man 3 and Pirates of the Caribbean 3 makes me think that audiences that don't want to see all three will find this one the easiest to catch up on when it comes out on DVD.

Either that, or it'll open to $175 million and finish with $720 million. Maybe I just underestimate the love for butt-scratching jokes. (My Spider-Man 3 audience sure loved that baby throwing up! Libby holds them in glowering contempt. -- ed.)

4. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
Opening: $130 million
Total: $300 million

Last year I was thinking the seventh and final Harry Potter book certainly wouldn't be released in July 2007, since the fifth and not-quite-final Harry Potter movie was being released at the same time and the two would eat at each other. Instead, once they made the move to have both released within eight days of each other, I realized it was probably the smartest possible move they could have made.

It's quite simple, really: By releasing the biggest publishing event of modern times right after a blockbuster adaptation of a previous installment, you're guaranteed to have the media's eye on you all month, turning July into "Harry Potter Month."

The release of OotP will almost certainly get every Potterhead hyped up just a week before the final book, especially if it's as good as the trailer promises (I don't think I've seen a better trailer for any summer blockbuster than the final trailer for this), WOM should be positive.

Granted, Book 7 will cause the film to have possibly the biggest drop for any mega-opener, but the opening should be enough to carry it just past $300 million.

5. Transformers
Opening: $61 million ($100 million 5-day)
Total: $230 million

First off, the '80s appear to be in again, so nostalgia is on its side. Second, it's got the invasion-disaster aspect that helped Independence Day and War of the Worlds (Before bad WOM kicked in) over the same holiday. Third, they're marketing the film big-time on MySpace, allowing users to sort their pictures or something (I don't get the MySpace either. Those fool kids today! -- ed.).

But most of all, it's about robots. Giant-ass robots. Giant-ass robots FIGHTING EACH OTHER IN METROPOLISES. If that doesn't inspire every boy both big and small to race out to the theaters, what will?

6. Ratatouille
Opening: $63 million
Total: $220 million

It probably would have been smarter for Pixar to wait until November to release this, seeing as this summer is already crowded to the brim with so many event movies this could end to suffocating. It comes late enough into Shrek's run to not have to worry about that, but Transformers steals little boys in Ratatouille's second weekend and Harry Potter taking a dual-medium attack in weeks three and four at the cinema and the bookstores. Finally, The Simpsons movie opens in week five. Seems kinda crowded, no?

Still, being Pixar, it's guaranteed to pull in families and non-families alike at least in its opening weekend, though that'll probably make it the studio's most frontloaded movie ever, and competition will also make it the least-attended Pixar. But still, $220 million? Very good.

7. The Bourne Ultimatum
Opening: $65 million
Total: $203 million

Bourne seems to have become the thinking man's movie franchise. Back in 2002 it surprised by matching the gross of The Sum of All Fears, the other spy movie from an already established franchise. It went on to become the biggest rental of 2003, and the sequel increased on the original by nearly 45%, and perhaps even more surprisingly matched the original's WOM (With the exception of those that despise the shaky-cam).

Marketing hasn't been heavy yet, but since the franchise skews older than most, that isn't too necessary at the moment. Also, being the second-to-last major blockbuster of the summer should keep it's legs good (More on that in a moment). Assuming, of course, that it's good.

8. Rush Hour 3
Opening: $47 million
Total: $155 million

The biggest thing going for this film is that it's the last surefire blockbuster of the summer. After this all you have are films that are either being dumped by the studios or films the studios hopes can be a late-summer sleeper hit, 40-Year-Old Virgin-style. This almost always benefits the last blockbuster in line - hell, even XXX (does anyone even remember this film? -- ed.) went on to more than triple its opening weekend purely because the only other choices were Signs and My Big Fat Greek Wedding.

Still, this is coming at least two years too late to have any hopes of reaching the highs Rush Hour 2 reached. (That was another film that benefited from being one of the last blockbusters of the summer season.) Jackie Chan is no longer nearly as cool as he once was, and Tucker has been MIA since RH2. Again though, the lack of competition will help it in the long term.

9. Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer
Opening: $56 million
Total: $140 million

The first film opened two years ago to magnificent numbers, largely due to being a rare glint of sunshine in a summer full of gloomy, dark blockbusters (Star Wars Episode III, Batman Begins, War of the Worlds). Alas, the legs were not quite as sunny, leading to a still-good finish at $156 million, enough to put a sequel on the fast track.

Again, this film could go either way. The teaser was a great attention-grabber, using the Devil Wears Prada method of taking one scene to sample to the audience (in this case, a chase between the mysterious Silver Surfer and the Human Torch). Still, there are many more event movies vying for the attention of moviegoers this summer than there were in 2005, and I'm not sure FF4-2 (What a redundant title) will be able to stand out. Well, it should stand out enough to match the original's opening but not much else.

10. Knocked Up
Opening: $25 million
Total: $130 million

When I first saw the trailer for this, I didn't think it would have enough jokes to pull in an audience as large as The 40-Year-Old Virgin did. However, in recent weeks, there has been insanely positive word coming from advance screenings, and tracking is already at $33 million with almost a month to go.

So, I've decided that this will indeed be THE comedy of the summer, even though the It Summer Comedy usually doesn't come until at least July (There's Something About Mary, American Pie, Wedding Crashers, etc.).

And some other films of note:

The Simpsons Movie
Opening: $52 million
Total: $115 million

This has potential to either tap into nostalgia big-time and be a smash ($150+ million) or have people shrug it off and fizzle out ($75 million or even less). I'll stick to the middle at the moment.

I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry
Opening: $32 million
Total: $105 million

Place him in a broad, mainstream comedy and Adam Sandler is one of the most consistent draws in Hollywood. (Take him out of a mainstream comedy, and you have Spanglish and Reign Over Me.) Chuck and Larry is a broad, mainstream comedy, but outside of the usual Gay Panic jokes and a scantily clad Jessica Biel, is the appeal there as much as Click or Anger Management? I'm not feeling it, but then again I didn't feel it for Click, so ...

Evan Almighty
Opening: $25 million
Total: $85 million

I want this film to succeed, if only for the sake of Steve Carell's movie career. But I worry that the stories of running way over-budget and the label of "Most expensive comedy ever" at $175 million (damn those animals and water effects!) are going to hang over the film. And do audiences know it's supposed to be a family comedy?

Live Free or Die Hard
Opening: $26 million ($40 million 5-day)
Total: $80 million

Rocky Balboa's decent B.O. run this Christmas showed people won't always laugh off a fading star's return to the franchise that made them. However, I think a rumored PG-13 rating will do more harm in the long-term than good.

Surf's Up
Opening: $18 million
Total: $70 million

The trailer for this appears to be reaching for a cute-ish mockumentary-style, which sounds kinda cool in conception but may not be that interesting in execution. Also, it comes out directly in between the other two, far-more-eventful CGI films of the summer, so it'll probably end up getting lost in the shuffle.

Ocean's 13
Opening: $23 million
Total: $65 million

The second one was pretty wretchedly received, and while Todd thinks this can overcome noted bad WOM, I'm not sure that many people were interested in a second, let alone a third. And in summer? (I'm not excited, but Libby insists we see it because we so rarely get to see so many pretty people in one place! -- ed.)

Opening: $16 million
Total: $60 million

This is a film whose hype perplexes me. The trailer wasn't awful (and surprisingly kept the "John Travolta in drag!" jokes to a minimum), but does it really have THAT much appeal? The only musicals to truly break out this decade have both been aided by Oscar hype (Dreamgirls and Chicago), something Hairspray has none of. Or maybe I just underestimate the appeal of John Travolta-in-drag.


And now for something completely different ...

We don't often pimp websites here at SDD, however, it is rare that a website of this caliber is brought to our attention. I would go on at length, but words are insufficient to describe the quality of entertainment contained in these pages.

So, I give you ... LOLcats @
Perhaps my word is not enough to convince you to visit.
Let these be proof:

Perhaps you don't like cats.

But what then, do you say to this!?

Truly, these are enough to convince you to waste countless hours at work searching this site. All other doubters ...


"There's been enough bloodshed today.": 24

Even I'm not enough of a 24 season six hater to say that the CTU raid sucked. Indeed, it was the first truly effective action sequence on the show in a good while, complete with armed dudes entering with guns blazing and Jack giving himself up for the greater good and a teenage kid rattling around in air ducts and also giving himself up for the greater good (I suppose now we have to believe he's Jack's son -- well, those of us who don't read spoilers at least). It was tensely paced action, and it culminated in a great moment when useless drone Milo got himself shot in the head. Sure it was ripped off plot point for plot point from the CTU bomb in season two and the nerve gas attack in season six, but at least it was slightly different from those and had evil Chinese people and such (also, I totally missed the memo on when it became OK to shift the nationality of evil villains over to China).

Now, this is all a weird plan by Papa Bauer -- and stop reading here if you don't watch the "next week ons;" the next paragraph is safe for sure -- (James Cromwell, not seen for many weeks) to get his grandson so he can take him to China (as revealed in the next week on promo) of all places. I'm not sure the show was calling out for more Bauer family action, but at least it has nothing to do with suitcase nukes or anything.

That said, wasn't Audrey written out of the show awfully quickly? I was pretty sure she would stick around for a while longer, but off she goes to film the pilot for Lipstick Jungle or. . .whatever she was off to do. And she took William Devane with her, which is too bad because I was looking forward to getting to see him do more glowering.

Other than the CTU raid scene, though, this was a pretty typical hour for the season -- there was malfeasance in the White House (and Tom Lennox has hung on as a regular for far longer than anyone ever thought possible) and super fun computer adventures at CTU and it was all pretty boring, to be honest.

But, hey, at least we know 24 still knows how to bring the CTU raid scenes!

OK. I can't promise that next week will be any better than this week, but I do promise to you that the two-hour season finale will get some sort of detailed attention. I owe it to you, my dear ones. So that is my promise to you.


Monday, May 07, 2007

"Did he look like a guy who tried to be an umpire but failed?": How I Met Your Mother

While Everybody Hates Chris was doing plots from seasons past and barely enlivening them, How I Met Your Mother took one of the hoariest of sitcom cliches -- the wedding where everything goes wrong -- and made it all setup and no punchline, choosing instead to make the payoff for the episode a sweetly emotional scene where Marshall and Lily pledged their love to each other away from the milling crowd, surrounded only by their closest friends. The episode then wedged the long succession of punchlines (the flowers showing up late, the harpist's baby coming, the usher tackling the old boyfriend who showed up) into a 30-second montage that was funnier than it could have been at normal speed.

Maybe I'm not as sick of the wedding where everything goes wrong as I am some other plot devices, but I thought this was a fine and funny way to spice up the old chestnut, and I thought Mother's structural playfulness (compressing both the "everything's going wrong!" and the "everything's gone wrong!" into only a few minutes of show time) saved them from falling too squarely into all of the traps inherent in this plotline.

It didn't hurt that all of the actors were on their game tonight. Reportedly, this episode (a two-parter which concludes next week) was written as both a season and series finale in case the show was canceled in an untimely fashion by CBS (and, again, CBS, don't make David's wrath rain down upon you). So it makes sense that the show would be giving us lots of great little moments with all of the characters, just in case this is the last time we ever see them. Everything from Barney learning the power of saying "It's for the bride" to Marshall shaving off a strip of his hair to Lily confronting Scooter to Ted and Robin's sad little exchange at the wedding was spot on. If I have to leave these characters here (please, no), I guess I can live with that.

But the big question, of course, is in the title. And it certainly seems that Ted and Robin may be split up (the episode, of course, kept them apart for its length, but there were little clues). I don't know if this is the case, but the sad look the two shared when Barney (of all people) was talking about a couple belonging together (and how hilarious that he couldn't help but cry!) and then the little peck on the cheek Ted gave her afterward seemed to suggest that they had realized they just can't make it work (perhaps it will have something to do with the spaghetti sauce incident from last week -- I hope so!). This, of course, means that season three will be back to Ted trying to find the girl of his dreams but now without the distraction of Robin. Here's hoping that this leads to a more confident Ted. Because flirty Ted is fun (see: Okay, Awesome) while mopey Ted. . .not so much.

But the best part of the episode may have been Marshall and Lily's well-nigh moving wedding ceremony (the one before the disastrous one). At first, I thought the show was making a mistake when it got them together again relatively quickly, but their couplehood is one of the rocks of the show, and it makes more sense to have them together and married than anything else. And, as mentioned, Barney was great in the scene, as was the hat.

So what happens now? What would it take for you to see next week's episode and be satisfied with an end for the whole SERIES instead of just the season? Or aren't you ready to make that call yet?


"I can't. My cousin from South Jersey wants to drive me around Brooklyn and listen to Born in the USA.": Everybody Hates Chris

About halfway through, this episode of Everybody Hates Chris just gave up. It was a solid entry in the series, albeit one that was built around a pretty flimsy premise, but it had some good laughs and some fine work from the actors.

And then? Then the episode just sort of petered out. I laughed a few more times, but the plot didn't really have enough oomph to it to carry a full episode, and the ending didn't really carry through. What's more, the act breaks were weak. That may seem a bit too wonky, but I'll explain what I mean.

The act break is what takes us from one portion of the story into commercial, hopefully prodding us to stick around through the commercial and watch the next bit of the show. The best act breaks change something or reverse some existing situation, but more and more, it seems, shows are using "soft" act breaks, where the real jeopardy the characters are placed in is some sort of mild emotional jeopardy. This may be a response to years of forced physical jeopardy (and lord knows I sympathize with TV producers who are forced to find ways to keep us coming back after commercial break after commercial break), but the soft act outs sometimes feel as though the story doesn't necessarily need to be followed. Of course, TiVo eliminates the problem of having to sit through a break, but if I had gone wandering off to, say, How I Met Your Mother, I might not have returned after the riveting break where I had to worry about whether or not Chris would get caught in a fight between his mom and grandma over who got to teach him math.

Yeah, this episode went to the old kid's show standby of "Math is hard, yo." Maybe it's because I never had trouble with math, but I've never been able to get into storylines like this. It doesn't help that every show ever has done a twist on this same plotline. Chris' attempts to learn math from his mother were funny at first, but the episode eventually hit all of the usual beats in this sort of story (as his grandmother soon showed him that he could use math to calculate sports stats!). I liked the idea of the math pizza party (as I fondly remember the days of Book-It), but it wasn't enough to pull the whole storyline through.

Maybe if the other stories had worked a little better I would have enjoyed the main one, but Julius being forced to cope with the guy who just wanted to engage in shady behavior was little more than an amusing runner. And the story about Tanya holding Drew hostage after he broke Julius' chair was yet another kid's show resurrectee. It's not that I hate stories that have been done a million times before, but Chris usually puts a new spin on them (it's why we cover the show here), and it's disappointing to see something played so note for note like it was on that episode of Fresh Prince where the girl had to bark like a dog (as I recall).

Any thoughts on this show at all?


"She'd go to the Gaza Strip in a yarmulke for Vince": Entourage

Great fun this week. Ever since last season's "The Bat Mitzvah", I've been hoping for another episode that got Ari into temple again, and what better holiday to pick than Yom Kippur? As a Jew myself, I know how frustrating the whole no-food no-work day can be, and I'm nowhere near as high-strung as Ari.

So watching Ari frantically try to cut a deal on Medellin for Vince, while having his phones confiscated by his wife and all the execs similarly locked down in temple, was a whole lotta fun. What made it even more fun? They threw Adam Goldberg in to increase the stress factor by a thousand! Even though he's often typecast and tends to appear in a lot of bad stuff, I love Adam Goldberg. There's no one who can play desperate, insane frustration quite so well as him. So even though his character came out of nowhere, it was great to have him kvetching with Ari. Harris Yulin made an amusingly random appearance, too. And Mrs. Ari was as miffed/sexy as ever.

As for the whole Medellin thing itself, is the movie really over? Honestly, I don't care WHAT Vince does, as long as he does something very very soon. I was thinking he'd hop right onto Medellin, but if that's over it's fine, get him a new project (I always preferred the Ramones project). I always knew Amanda was getting fired/quitting/whatever after five episodes, but it was done a little abruptly (the final dinner scene was pretty darn short). They did let Gugino go out with a little dignity, but her epitaph seems to read "never really got the whole 'boy's club' thing". At the end, she tried to call Ari on his bullshit to Vince, but since the movie collapsed as Ari predicted, it was tough for her to really take the moral high ground. Especially as she was sleeping with Vince, too. So I wish they could have ushered her out a little more gracefully.

The other plot (aka the Turtle/Drama mischief plot) involved Drama buying a crappy horse, or something. It was silly and not particularly interesting. Ed Burns made another appearance. When is Drama's pilot going to actually hit the air, btw? Because Yom Kippur tends to fall around late Sept-early Oct, so I'm looking forward to that actually hitting on the show. I wonder if they'll have it tank, or actually give Drama a little slice of success for himself. Might change up things considering Vince is such a bum these days.


"Last time, you started crying and had to leave the Starbucks.": The Sopranos

As it heads toward its climax, The Sopranos appears ever more to be about exactly what it's always been about -- the creation and destruction of American families, both in the business and sociological senses. Even as Tony's work life is crumbling to pieces all around him, he's making moves to strengthen his biological family. He may not always go about this in the most effective way possible, but he's trying.

"Walk Like a Man" contained plenty of consideration of masculinity in American culture (right down to Tony stopping A.J. to watch a John Wayne movie on TV). Christopher commits the murder that may prove to be his undoing largely because he feels a lack of respect from both Paulie and Tony (Paulie, in particular, gave Christopher a hard time through the episode, though it must be noted that Chris gave back as good as he got). He mentions, obliquely, the murder of Adriana (looking more and more like the pivotal turning point that will bring the whole Soprano family down) and then all but confesses all of the murders he's been privy to to J.T. Dolan. Initially, it would seem that this would bring down the family, as J.T. would go to the authorities or something, but, instead, Chris shot him in the head for being the final person who didn't respect him enough.

The American masculine ideal (best expressed, it would seem, through John Wayne) has always been an undercurrent of The Sopranos. As early as the first season, it was implied that a strong gangster (and, by implication, a strong man) wouldn't go to therapy or perform oral sex on his significant other. And in the first half of season six, Vito pushed the code of masculinity too far, daring to be homosexual and getting killed for his efforts (after trying to run away -- don't know if you've noticed, but the failure of people to change is another constant undercurrent of the show). And tonight we saw AJ coping with his breakup with his fiancee poorly and being upbraided by Tony, who urged him (in so many words) to take it like a man, to go out and find someone to use as a rebound girl and get drunk and so on. After finding out from Meadow that AJ might be suicidal, though, Tony sent AJ to therapy (which proved more effective than the therapy he once sent Meadow to), giving in to the modern world of sharing feelings and talking it out.

Christopher, obviously, dealt with the slights to his masculinity much more poorly. It's always seemed that David Chase and the Sopranos writers side more with Tony and Dr. Melfi in the most effective way to deal with problems, but tonight's episode seemed to definitively take their side, as Tony came home to his loving family, AJ in tow, and sat down to enjoy their company, sharing the details of their respective days and laughing about what happened on Meadow's mystery date. Christopher, meanwhile, came home to the dark house he shares with his wife and child and entered, drunk and alone, unable to share just how guilt-ridden he feels (as J.T. told him, "You're in the Mafia," as if that would explain a lifetime of sins).

Tony seems to have been saying goodbye to a variety of counterparts in every episode so far this season, and tonight, he seemed ready to stop going to therapy with Dr. Melfi (as she suggested he do last week). I don't actually believe that this is the end of Lorraine Bracco on the show (I couldn't imagine a series finale without her), but these next few steps, Tony will likely have to take alone, as Dr. Melfi seems unwilling to be complicit in Tony's life any longer, especially as it seems his therapy is completely at a stalemate.

Random note: Tony talked to the feds about the Muslim guys that he saw. He didn't have anything concrete, but it seems the latest attempt by him to stumble toward doing what he believes is the right thing. But how far does this go? I've jokingly said several times that I think the show ends with Tony as the state's witness (like Goodfellas, a mob movie Chase and Co. seem to obviously want to emulate), but could they really go that far? I still say no, but the seeds are certainly being planted.

With the murder of J.T. and Christopher's anger at both Paulie and Tony over slights as diverse as Paulie driving his car on Christopher's lawn and Tony ordering the murder of Adriana, it seems we've truly entered the home stretch of the series. Have your predictions for what happens in the final four episodes altered at all? Or are you still confident in what you've got predicted?


Sunday, May 06, 2007

"Give me some of that web action!": Spider-Man 3

The fair-to-middling reviews of Spider-Man 3 and the somewhat insane fan reaction might have you believe that the film is a travesty on par with, say, Fantastic Four or Ang Lee's Hulk (a movie I sort of stubbornly liked in spite of myself). But, really, Spider-Man 3 is a tumultuous, messy melodrama, a weird bildungsroman about moving from adolescence to adulthood. It's the Buffy season six of comic book movies.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer's sixth season inspired similar reactions from fans at the time it was airing (though said fans have calmed a bit about it since). That season ditched the traditional setup where each season featured the gang taking on a bigger and larger evil (indeed, in the season before, Buffy had defeated a god). In season six, perhaps realizing that there was no way to top a god without going to the source of evil itself (attempted and not really pulled off in season seven), the show turned inward, arguing that life itself was the hardest thing, that just trying to make your way as a young person in the world was hard enough for anyone, even a superhero. In some ways, the fan reaction was to be expected -- we watch genre TV or genre movies to escape from the sort of real-life problems Buffy and Peter Parker face in their respective entertainments.

Spider-Man 3 has its share of supervillains (three to be precise), but the actual arc of the story is about old friends losing and finding each other, selling out your dreams to stay alive and trying to forge a lasting connection. The film feels so odd and different from the previous entries in the series because the villains are largely supplemental to the plot. They don't drive the plot itself. Indeed, Thomas Haden Church's Sandman disappears from the movie for a great deal of time and Venom doesn't turn up until the third act. (It's pretty clear from how the character is treated that director/screenwriter Sam Raimi has less affection for the monstrous villain than many fans do.) The central scenes have less to do with heroes and villains doing battle than with people earnestly describing their feelings and talking about their hopes and dreams.

It's all ridiculously cornball at times, but this series has always been overly earnest. Heck, I'm not sure Raimi possesses a different method of telling stories. Even his Evil Dead, as full of horror and zombie action as it is, has a really genuine love for the old monster movie classics that it's roughly based on. Raimi loves this pulpy stuff, and perhaps the best single pulp moment is the man who becomes Sandman slowly trying to rebuild himself out of sand, as though he has a strong urge to simply exist again. He tries and fails and tries and fails, finally giving himself the drive to rise up out of the dust. It's a richly evocative series of images, told entirely without words, owing a lot to the special effects wizards behind the spectacle and Church's fine performance.

Unfortunately, the cornball dedication to the emotions of the characters means that plot gets sacrificed. More than any other entry in the series, this feels like a collection of events haphazardly thrown together at the script stage simply to get from point A to point B. One character offers exposition he couldn't be privy to. Another suffers amnesia so he'll be effectively out of the way for a while. On paper, this all sounds a lot worse than it actually plays (and, indeed, I went in fearing the worst based on some of the disconnected bits I had heard about the storyline), but the script never achieves the cohesiveness that made the second film such a joy to watch.

The action sequences are probably the best of the series from a technical standpoint. There are a lot of them (a lot more than the relatively simple and pared-down second movie), and all of them are filmed with a real sense of what's happening where and when and who it's happening to (a big step up from most modern action movies). But while scenes like a crane accident or Peter's fight with Harry Osborn high above New York City are thrilling to watch, they never quite have the emotional consistency that ties them in to the story and helps them to match the second movie's train fight, which had a few bum special effects but was deeply moving, telling the story of the superhero as Christ figure and most accurately expressing Spider-Man's New York City.

Still, most of the individual scenes work in the movie -- even the much-maligned scene where Peter dances around a jazz club has its own sort of internal consistency. They just don't add up in the way they probably should. In some ways, this feels like two movies clumsily stitched together to make one, just so Raimi and his stars wouldn't have to return to make yet another movie.

But the scenes work simply because the actors in them are so engaging. Tobey Maguire is probably the best he's been in the series as Peter Parker, as is James Franco as Harry Osborn. Kirsten Dunst has gotten a little worse with each successive movie, but she's not horrible here, even when she's singing (which is, strangely, a lot). Church is great, as is Topher Grace as Peter's photographer rival, Eddie Brock. And Bryce Dallas Howard is both gorgeous and under-used as Gwen Stacy.

Even the supporting players are fun here, though they have less to do than in previous movies. J.K. Simmons' J. Jonah Jameson, of course, is hilarious, as is Elizabeth Banks as his assistant. Rosemary Harris is able to put over the clunkiest of dialogue as Aunt May. And Bruce Campbell is hilarious in a brief cameo. Raimi and his actors fill the frame with engaging performances, and the goofy tone of these movies is unlike any other comic book movie, somehow balancing the silliness of the scenario with the seriousness of the drama.

Honestly, I can see why so many are dead set against this movie. There's a lot that's flawed about it, and it didn't improve on the second chapter like the second improved on the first. But Raimi and the actors have a faith in the simple little story they're telling about a group of friends making their clumsy first steps into the real world. And it shows in scenes like one where two old friends cook an omelet together, then start dancing to the music on the radio. In many ways, it's an unnecessary scene that could have been cut down significantly, but it feels real, as if these are real people who are confronting alien symbiotes and men made out of sand. Even when the movie is at its most flawed, it earns our good will.


T.V. on TV: Grey's Anatomy and Entourage

Grey’s Anatomy and Entourage, two shows of the moment, would seem to have little in common. One is a one-hour medical soap opera with some of the best ratings and most convoluted plot twists on TV. The other is a loosely plotted comedy with ratings that are good for cable but that would barely register at a broadcast network. Grey’s is seen as a “girl” show, while Entourage is seen as a “guy” show (though a cursory glance at Internet fan sites would show that both series readily pull in viewers from both genders). What’s interesting, though, is that these two seemingly disparate shows have surprisingly similar strengths and weaknesses -- indeed, both are going through third seasons that are seen as considerably weaker than their predecessors. So why, exactly, are these deeply flawed shows two of the series of the moment?

It all comes back to wish fulfillment. Grey’s Anatomy has the tone of chick lit (to be fair to the show, at its best it’s significantly better than almost all chick lit), and its popularity stems from a similar setup -- through various on-screen proxies, the women of America (and some of the men) get the chance to bed hop, meet surprisingly sensitive men (even the token jackass, Justin Chambers’ Alex Karev, has revealed himself to be a really nice guy underneath it all) and be the subject of unmitigated desire from those surprisingly sensitive men. Entourage, meanwhile, is more like a Maxim magazine article full of “yes, you can have sex with this woman” and “being rich is better” bravado. Through roughly similar proxies, male viewers (and presumably some women) get to hang out with their best high school pals, bed surprisingly willing hot girls and then suffer no ramifications (aside from the occasional arc with Mandy Moore or the like).
Read the rest here.