Saturday, June 16, 2007

More cooking than you can shake a stick at: Hell's Kitchen/Top Chef roundup

In every person's extended family there exists at least one black sheep. It's with this in mind that I like to watch the culinary shows on the TV, as I can only imagine that this is how "high-brow" cooking shows like Top Chef feel about cooking's bastard child, Hell's Kitchen.

To be honest, I love both of these shows madly, as they seem to speak to two wholly different portions of my psyche. Top Chef to my more refined and cultured side (and yes, I understand the irony of my cultured appetite being sated by a televised competitive cooking show) and Hell's Kitchen to my rubbernecking, ambulance-chasing, schadenfreude side.

Well, to each his own. With that said, that's ultimately why we decided to combine our summer round-ups of these shows into one big revue, since absurdity loves company and no one loves food like I love food.

Top Chef made its season 3 summer debut with an hour and fifteen minute premiere Wednesday night. I can understand the impulse to overstuff the premiere, but the extra time in this episode felt superfluous. This is quite a trick with early episodes of reality programming, as there are generally so many contestants you have little-to-no idea who's who or what, exactly, is happening.

So ultimately, I guess it's a compliment to Bravo that I knew exactly what was going on and thus didn't need the extra 15 minutes. Which also messed up my DVR. So thanks.

Anyway, TC started with a quickfire challenge in which the contestants were tasked with making an amuse bouche (a TC fave) from the multi-table appetizer spread they'd been going to town on. This was entertaining to watch as it always amuses me to see overly made up women competing in high heels, clip-clopping around like so many show ponies, and the chefs completed the assignment with moderate degrees of success. Micah won this challenge, which won her immunity and, as luck would have it, obscurity for the rest of the episode.

The elimination challenge for the episode was about as Fear Factor as this show can get, featuring a slew of unusual proteins for the contestants to cook with, though not the one I was rooting for. The choices ranged from the obviously delicious buffalo steak to the shudder-inducing rattlesnake.

Amusing as this was, the loser was seemingly inevitable; Clay, introduced earlier in the episode as a guy following in his father's restarauranting footsteps, though, as a side note, his dad commited suicide, got the boot. Lovely.

Beyond that Clay's homestyle southern cooking was less than impressive, while Tre and Hung shone with innovative dishes. Tre was ultimately the winner resulting in the prize of . . . I can't remember. Oh right, a big stack of guest judge Anthony Bourdain's book. Joy.

Meanwhile, this week's Hell's Kitchen was as entertaining and inexplicable as ever, beginning with the contestants being summoned in the wee hours of the morning and screamed at by Chef Ramsey for being so wasteful in the kitchen the night before. Their punishment? They have to catch frozen fish that are thrown at them from the back of a truck. So . . . apt . . . I guess?

Anyway, after this exercise in futility, the chefs are forced to satisfactorily prep as many fish as possible within 30 minutes. It's at this point that Aaron started weeping for the first time this episode, claiming to be dizzy and subsequently went to sleep while everyone else competed. Classy. The women won the competition and were rewarded with a fishing trip with Chef Ramsey which was just as inexplicable as it sounds.

Aaron was then tasked to debone the fish, tableside, at dinner service which was just as much of a disaster as one can imagine. All things considered, the men's team was hapless, eventually being kicked out of the kitchen, leaving the somewhat more competant woment to complete the dinner service for both teams.

As one can imagine, the men were found to be the losing team and Rock, the best of the rest, as it were was responsible for deciding who would be on the chopping block for the men. As a complete shocker, and I imagine, with some pressure placed by the Fox execs, hapless Aaron was spared from consideration and vaguely competant Josh and hopeless Eddie were hung out to dry. In what was really no contest whatsoever, it was Eddie that was sent home.

So ends another week of culinary review!

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Oh, sweetie. . .

When this kid's 18, he's going to be SO MAD! But at least the Midwest still has the president's back!

From here.

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Friday, June 15, 2007

"I'm concerned that Doogie Howser is working on my friend and her baby" - Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip

















A pretty decent episode this week, much better than last week’s offering. While I still can’t believe Sorkin and co. are stretching these storylines over three episodes, there was enough to admire and enjoy here that I won’t rip into it as I did last week.

Tom and Captain Boyle’s scenes were the definite standout. Thanks largely to Sorkin’s enjoyable dialogue (he’s still got it, at least in that department) these scenes avoided melodrama and were instead very funny. The Captain Boyle character worked well as a tension diffuser and had some great lines, most especially his silencing of Simon (“Don’t front off with me, I’m not in show business and I’m not from the hood”). He was also very reminiscent of the Morris Tolliver character from The West Wing’s second episode, another military man who is fazed by nothing and full of understated wisdom. It’s rare to meet someone like this in real life, but Sorkin writes such characters with warmth and humanity.

The scenes in the hospital, as Jordan’s pregnancy scare gradually went from bad to worse, were somewhat tedious but saved by great performances. Bradley Whitford gave an accurate portrayal of the feelings of rising panic and frustration that come with waiting around in a hospital waiting room. Even if this setting is overused in TV dramas these days, Whitford’s subtle and understated performance deserves singling out. He has been underused throughout the season, something the writers obviously became aware of and are now rectifying.

Last week’s flashbacks were detestable because of the extreme focus they put on Matt and Harriett’s tiresome bickering, but this week’s benefited very much from a shift in focus onto the comradeship of Matt and Danny. The story being told – how they were fired from the show six years ago – is a plot hole I was eager to see filled in, so it’s disappointing to find that the explanation is just another ‘Art vs. Bureaucracy’ debate which would be dull even without the foregone conclusion. Also, it’s hard not to be irritated by how slowly these flashbacks are moving; I understand they’re not the main story, but last week virtually nothing happened in them, and this week they only got halfway through a story that could have easily been concluded in just as many scenes.

Nonetheless, while nothing about this is gripping, it’s at least diverting enough. Only two more episodes to go, and then we shall be rid of this endlessly frustrating show! Anyone else still watching?

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Thursday, June 14, 2007

Capital letters: The Closer

(So I completely forgot David was off to Paris for a few days -- lackadaisical Brits -- and I didn't TiVo Rescue Me. So that will have to wait until he's back, but I'm sure you can contain yourselves until then. I'll try to come up with something worth posting over the next few days, and there you go. In the meantime, here's my latest TimeOut piece.)

TNT’s legal thriller The Closer, which starts its third season Monday 18, is a series best described in capital letters. Kyra Sedgwick plays Brenda Leigh Johnson, a detective who CARES TOO MUCH. At home, she and her boyfriend SQUABBLE, while at work, her boss, J.K. Simmons’s William Pope, GROWLS AT THE CAMERA.

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You need to read the rest here.

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Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Big Love Tuesdays: season 2, episode 13, "Damage Control"

In some ways, “Damage Control,” the season premiere of Big Love’s second season, is all about the aftermath. In many ways, the whole series is all about the aftermath. The foremost expression of this is in the series’ central question: How much of yourself do you have to give up to be married to a person? Or, if you’re a polygamist, how much of yourself do you have to give up to be married to three people (or share a husband with two others)? “Damage Control” is probably the weakest of the season’s first five episodes, but it does most of the heavy lifting required to get the plot away from the revelation of the Henrickson family’s polygamous lifestyle at the governor’s mansion in last season’s finale (the revelation sunk Barb -- Jeanne Tripplehorn -- in her chance to win the mother of the year award) and on to other business. This mildly irritating plot won’t go away completely, but this week’s episode deals with it the most fully.

The reason this whole mildly soapy storyline works is because of Tripplehorn, who reasserts her character as the show’s center in the premiere. Sure, Bill (the do-gooding Bill Paxton) is first-billed and at the center of most of the show’s storylines, but the series often feels like Barb’s story -- the story of how she became the closest thing there is to an independent woman in a strict religious setting, then lost it all because of her commitment to her beliefs above self. Tripplehorn tells this entire story in throwaway lines and telltale sighs since the show takes place several years after all of these events happened (the show has done nothing so gauche as a flashback episode -- yet). “Damage Control” was the most overt acknowledgment yet of all that Barb gave up and just how much Bill depends on the maturity of his relationship with her to get through his day-to-day life.
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Read more here.

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"We'll have to start at the beginning.": Kyle XY


Last season we left Kyle and the Tragers in turmoil, as the Tragers mourned Kyle's return to his "birth parents." What they didn't know was those weren't Kyle's parents at all, but actors hired to hide Kyle from the evil Zzyzx Project by Tom Foss and the mysterious Kyle look-alike Adam Baylin, who Kyle finally met in the final moments of season one. Will Kyle finally get the truth about his past? The answer is a resounding yes.

Since we last left him Kyle has been a busy boy, hiding from Zzyzx and learning about who he is and where he came from. He's not an alien as Josh Trager suspected, but the result of a scientific study into what would happen to brainpower if human gestation went beyond the typical nine months. You see, because Kyle was gestated in an artificial womb for something like 16 years, his mind can do things that are so powerful they have the ability to change the world, and words like "prophet" are thrown around. The idea of a scientifically engineered person as a religious symbol is an interesting one, and I hope they explore this further as season two progresses. Adam Baylin was an early test subject gestated for 13 months and this prolonged gestation allowed him to develop the ability to do things like move a glass of water with his mind, a trick he quickly teaches Kyle. Telekinesis, awesome. I was born a week early, so I guess that explains why I can never get my cats to come when I call.

Anywho, Baylin explains that with great power comes great responsibility and using your brain without developing your body will lead to your body breaking down before its time, as his is now doing. I assume this was thrown in to allow some gratuitous shows of Matt Dallas weight lifting later in the season, and if that's the case this is foreshadowing I fully support. However, Baylin doesn't get the chance to die naturally because he is shockingly! gunned! down!, leading to a series of events where Tom Foss (aka Krycek) blows up the evil Zzyzx for good, thus paving the way for Kyle's inevitable return to the Tragers.

While Kyle was away doing exciting things like shattering water glasses with his mind and speaking in stilted sentences, the Tragers were left behind to mourn his loss. Mother Nicole took it the worst, going as far as quitting her job, neglecting her family and going into therapy. It seems Lori's boyfriend Declan might have missed Kyle the most, though. I mean, the boy basically passed up sex to talk about Kyle. Methinks someone has a crush. In the end, though, all is well as Kyle returns back to the Trager home just in time for the family's first home-cooked meal in months. I'll admit, it got a little dusty in my living room at this point, as the whole boring hour was paid off with a genuine, emotional reunion scene...quickly undercut by the revelation that little miss Kyla XX survived the Zzyzx blast and will inevitably cross paths with Kyle. She's a girl, so I'm assuming she'll be evil. That's just how sci fi works, my friends.

Overall it was great to have Kyle XY back, but I just wasn't impressed with this episode. The first half was all exposition, presented in the most boring way possible. Don't get me wrong, it's refreshing to have a show actually give answers, but I just wish they could have found a less tedious way to do it. Also, while Matt Dallas has a very expressive face, the fewer lines they give him the better. The premiere was full of dialogue to expose his sometimes wooden acting. Don't even get me started on Adam "Exposition" Baylin. Let's just say, I might have cheered when he got shot. Just a little bit.

I'm glad Kyle is home with the Tragers again because although logically that seems like a profoundly stupid idea (as Zzyzx no doubt will still have it out for Kyle), their relationship is the heart of the show. The last two minutes when Kyle comes home were free of dialogue, yet still the most compelling moments of the hour. Without family interaction, as this episode showed, Kyle XY loses its best feature - its heart.

Random thoughts:
- Sour Patch Kid sightings this episode: 0

- I'm calling it now - Baylin's mysterious friend Brian Taylor is evil. I have nothing to back up this hunch except the fact he is played by Martin Cummins, who is evil in everything he does. It's like when you are watching something and see Tom Cruise's creepy cousin William Mapother. You know that bitch is evil before he even opens his mouth.

- How is it possible that ABC Family is doing a series about college fraternity life and there is not ONE hot guy in the show? ABC Family, this is why I quit Falcon Beach. Hot boys are a necessity, to get over the terrible plots/dialogue/acting.

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Don't stop. . .

(It's another Sopranos finale post, so stay away if you STILL haven't watched it or haven't been spoiled by the attendant media hype. -- ed.)

Far be it from me to provoke SDD's friendly local curmudgeon Wax Banks, but the Sopranos finale has put me in mind of a post he wrote back in March about the end of Angel of all things. The last episode of Angel, as you might recall, ended with the characters about to enter the biggest battle of their lives. Angel and his crew raced toward the camera, toward the demon hordes and the big dragon and. . .the series cut to credits for the last time ever. Fans complained that this was an unbearable cliffhanger (and, indeed, a piece last season on the worst finales of all time listed Angel's as one), since we didn't find out who lived and who died. But creator Joss Whedon had known his show wouldn't go on for long enough in advance to write what he believed would be a satisfactory conclusion. And it was. It expressed one of the series' biggest themes -- the fight (to find redemption, to save the world, to just go on living) always goes on -- succinctly and in one shot. If you've seen The Sopranos finale, you see where I'm going with this.

Wax writes:

So what makes an enjoyable story? That's the thing: tons of stuff. We dig allusion, momentum, rhetorical cleverness, sonority, relatability, simplicity, comfort, thrills, critical insight. The best stories, I think, combine a number of these pleasures and play them off one another. I enjoy the formal wackiness of Ulysses, but I love the story of Leopold and Molly; the formal devices distance the reader from the human reality, for the most part, but it's not like you complain, because you're being taught to want something else, an encyclopedic experience. I want their marriage to work out, but it's not important to find out whether it actually does; what's importance is the reader's gift to Joyce's characters (sympathy) in exchange for Joyce's writerly offering (empathy, relatability), facilitated by the transporting beauty of the form. The reader is brought to that offering by a pattern of frustrated desire. Very simple example: we want to know what happens to Stephen, as well, but the story leaves him behind temporarily after three chapters, and though we trust that Joyce will get to the damn point already, the shift in perspective leaves our expectations confounded somewhat. The 'Telemachiad' climaxes with Stephen's reverie on the beach, and by shifting to comparatively flat narration for the start of Bloom's day, Joyce sets up curiosity, resentment, and (especially) a feeling that his story is prosaic in comparison to the loftiness of Stephen's dialogue with the cosmos - a feeling Joyce slowly does away with, as Bloom's character grows fuller and richer over the course of the day. He wins, you know - after a fashion. And you're happy for him. In part because of where you started.

There's no 'correct' way to desire a story-outcome. Stories offer an opportunity to engage with new desire and the author's work is, in part, to anticipate those desires and deal with them (sometimes by refusing to acknowledge them). But this isn't done consciously. That's why you can't write a novel with a Mad-Libs book.

So now then. . .(oh, and read the rest of Wax's excellent and fascinating post right here -- he'll make a lot of the same points as I will)

One can't say that the ending of The Sopranos wasn't in keeping with the series's themes and concerns. By now, you've either seen it or read a lengthy description of it elsewhere, so I'll just talk about it in brief. Tony sits in a restaurant. He flips through a jukebox, looking for a song to play (a great in-joke). Other patrons file in and sit down. Some look perfectly wholesome (a father and his scouts); others look more suspicious. Tony drops a quarter in the jukebox. As the strains of Journey's "Don't Stop Believin'" begin to ring out, Carmela enters, then A.J. behind a menacing looking man in a Members Only jacket. More people entered. The song continued to play. The cross-cutting and the rising music suggested something menacing was about to happen, especially as the episode cut away to Meadow parallel parking (or trying to) outside. The Sopranos has so often interrupted the mundane with violence that we seemed primed to see something huge happen. The Members Only guy went to the bathroom (a nod to Godfather?!). Meadow parked the car and rushed across the street, a car rolling past behind her. Tony, Carmela and A.J. ate some onion rings. The door dinged. Tony looked up. "Don't stop. . ."

Cut to black.

This is certainly a frustrating ending. And it completely plays against expectations (like the show itself). I can see where you could argue that the ending let the series out of holding itself to some sort of moral framework (though I would argue the episode preceding the ending made abundantly clear everything Tony has lost from being an evil person) and that that fact kept the ending from succeeding. I would disagree (I think it's one of the best endings to a television show I've ever seen), but I would feel happy to argue that point with you. I think the themes of the show (no one ever changes, life goes on for everyone, even sociopaths, we're all spiraling downward) are perfectly encapsulated in those final moments. It was a bold, brave choice, designed to anger at first, then provoke, then cause understanding. Hell, I thought my cable had gone out, so I was mad at first too -- though not at David Chase. (A clever commenter over at HND said that it was great how Chase made all of America stand up at once and say, "What's wrong with my television?!" What's wrong, indeed.)

But most of the big media criticism today has centered around what David Chase "owed" all of us with his ending. David Chase didn't owe us anything. Outside of season one, the traditional narrative structure that we're all accustomed to became more and more a thing of The Sopranos' past. This was a show with very few conventional payoffs, so expecting one at the end was the sort of thing that might have seemed great in the moment but would have disappointed over time. Ending the series definitively would have been the wrong move and would have contradicted everything that came before. This ending provoked, then caused audiences to think about what it all had to have meant. Sure some people are going to walk away from that angered that there was no traditional denouement, but what show have they been watching? The Sopranos, or the version of the show that exists in their heads?

Criticizing the show for not giving us what we want instead of what the story itself demanded and needed seems to me an implicit kneejerk reaction to a brilliant move by a great series. It's indicative of our buzzword culture, the one Chase has mocked so mercilessly over the years. I think in time this will come to be seen as something brilliant and provocative. But today, it's just another thing for talk show hosts to yell about.

In television, especially, we, the audience, often forget our relationship to the creators of our favorite series. Sure, we can get upset and demand more from them, but when they're obviously following their muse, it seems silly to pursue our own ends over a cliff.

So Tony Soprano forever lies, frozen in time, looking up to see who's coming in the door. Maybe you want to see what happens next (heck, even I want to on that brainstem, narrative-conditioning level), but you don't GET to see what comes next. Maybe this frustrates and angers you. Maybe you can come up with a reason for it and argue that in the comments below. But simply saying that you were owed by David Chase isn't enough. To say that you were owed violence or closure or anything just shows that you haven't been watching the same show as the rest of us.

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Monday, June 11, 2007

Today's clip: NBC! Import this next!

The summer TV season started in earnest tonight, so expect posts from our newest contributor, Carrie, on Kyle XY and me (and possibly David) on Big Love.

In the meantime, isn't it about time someone Americanized THIS show?

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Sunday, June 10, 2007

"He's gotta solve some murders of some virtual prostitutes.": The Sopranos

(Do I need to give you a spoiler warning? I guess I don't. But here one is, at any rate. Been fun watching this show with you people, and here's hoping you stick around for our coverage of other shows. I swear we're fun! --ed.)

I'm guessing that around 10:02 EDT, the Internet exploded. That or millions of people called their cable operators. But, yes, that's really how it was meant to end. Mid-scene, mid-sentence, mid-lyric, silent credits. I realize that most of the Internet seems to be completely angered by the ending (which definitely SEEMS like a cop-out at first), but I liked how perverse it was, how much it toyed with expectations and how it, ever so briefly, put us in the mindset of Tony and the rest of the Sopranos gang.

The constantly mounting tension, where every single action taken by any character or any extra (right down to Meadow trying to park and failing over and over again) seemed to usher in some sort of final end, gave us just a momentary glimpse into the life of a man who had seen one of his loyal men flip and whacked a rival mob boss (the death of Phil was blackly comic and finally, finally put those little babies in danger after a season's worth of what seemed like faux-foreshadowing). We know that someone's going to get Tony (his lawyer almost admits as much). We just don't know how. For that scene in the restaurant, we got to see what it was like to be Tony now. To know that it's always coming.

And, hey, that's not just knowing what it's like to be Tony NOW. That's what it's ALWAYS been like to be Tony, at least since the end of season one. A person who has risen as far as he has and stepped on as many people as he has on the way to get there always has to watch his back. He knows it all will end at some point, and he's always got to keep an eye open, even during what would be an otherwise mundane family dinner.

(Internet theory that I like but can't quite endorse: Tony's actually dead. He just never realizes it because "you don't hear it when it happens." That's a clever way to close the series, and a fun way to speculate, but if Tony had been dead, I think David Chase would have been a little more definitive about that ending if it had come. Maybe we'll be informed otherwise, and I'll salute all of you who called it, but for now, I'll stick with the moment trying to put us in the mind of someone who sees the worst waiting for him at every turn -- and with good reason.)

The rest of the episode was a quiet end for the show -- the only major act of violence coming from Phil's murder, which was maybe the most gruesome death in the series' history. Most of the major plotlines of the season were wrapped up (from the war with New York to A.J.'s moral and political awakening), and this was done fairly quietly. Bobby and Sil were mourned, and the episode was filled with howling, wintry winds. It was, definitively, the end.

The A.J. story dominated most of the episode, so I figure that that should be the subject of at least a paragraph. For a while, it seemed like David Chase might invest A.J. with a sense of hope -- with the idea that the youth of America might not be terribly effective at it, but they COULD effect change if they wanted to. Instead, Chase is just as cynical about kids today as he is about their parents. Someone like Meadow or A.J. can SAY they want to change the world (whether through medicine or warfare), but when push comes to shove, they'll take the easy way out just as readily as their parents, the baby boomers, did. A.J. says he wants to make a difference, but after his SUV blows up (which is a catalyst for him in all sorts of ways), he lets his parents talk him into taking a job on what sounds like an awful movie set. The lure of comfortability is just as seductive for the kids as it is the parents.

There wasn't a lot else going on in this episode, which seemed more ruminative, more interested in everything that has come before. How long has it been since there was a scene set in front of Satriale's? In this episode, we got one, featuring just Tony and Paulie, as if reminding us of everyone that has been removed from the story this season, either by these men themselves or people they associated with. That little table looked pretty empty with just those two guys sitting there.

(Side note on the cat: I've seen a lot of people on TWOP and other boards saying that the cat was supposed to be Adrianna, but I think that's kind of a stretch. The cat is a reminder of Tony's murder of Chris earlier in the season. It stares at the photo all the time, and Paulie reminds us of the old wives' tale about cats stealing the breath of babies. Between Tony's interest in "little babies" and his surrogate parental relationship with Christopher, the cat, which Tony seemed to regard as something of a good luck charm, reminded us of the way he had stolen the breath of his own baby.)

So that's the run of The Sopranos, a great, sometimes maddening, usually rewarding series. When the series launched, there was a lot of talk about how it was the pinnacle of the American drama, but it's already been surpassed (or at least met) by the series The Wire and Deadwood. Still, it's impossible to overstate just how important The Sopranos has been to the rise of the television drama (and even the comedy) as an art form. Tony and the gang made it safe for creators and showrunners to scope out more cinematic terrain. If not all of them have risen to David Chase's level, well, we can still thank him for opening up the wild country.

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"They're over-exposing these masked midgets.": John from Cincinnati

I've watched the pilot of John from Cincinnati three-and-a-half times now, and I still don't quite know what to make of it. I tried to write a preview of the show for this site but kept coming up short at, "Okay. I don't know what's going on here, but I'll follow David Milch anywhere." And I've seen the first three episodes!

The last time I felt this ambiguous about a show from a producer I had respected in the past, it was Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, and we all know how THAT turned out, so I'm not ready to sign my checks over to David Milch completely, but Milch is ten times the TV auteur Aaron Sorkin ever was, and Deadwood is one of my favorite TV series of all time (and, to be honest, that one took a little while to get going too, though the sterling direction of Walter Hill got us through a bumpy pilot). So even though I had heard the gossip that the show was a bit of a head-scratcher, I eagerly took it on in the SDD summer TV draft -- I was ready for another challenge after reviewing Sopranos episodes. But I surely didn't expect this -- a barely explicable series that just gets weirder.

One thing I will say for John is that it's hard to stop watching it. It's filmed gorgeously (not that it takes much to screw up SoCal beach location shooting), and the sense of hazy doom that hangs over the proceedings (which mix surfing, illegal immigration, vague spirituality and teddy bears into some pseudo-mystical gumbo) is perfectly pitched. But even though the show is compelling, it's often because you're not sure what the hell it is you're watching. Deadwood also took a while to get its main plot of a lawless society gradually turning into a civilized one going, but that show had several compelling performances and subsidiary plots to grasp onto while you waited for the main plot to kick into gear. Here, the whole series feels like a collection of cultish bits slapped together into a vague semblance of a plot. And the acting is a bit spotty, as if the actors didn't know what to do with some of the stranger, more elliptical Milch speak here. Bruce Greenwood nails every scene he's in, but Rebecca DeMornay often seems lost, and Ed O'Neill occasionally just goes over-the-top as if he didn't know what else to do.

Still, the Milch speak IS there. At first, it's jarring to hear all of those verbal curlicues coming out of characters who are fairly obviously living in "the real world," but you grow used to it as you realize that all of the characters speak this way. And Milch has some great lines he just tosses out here (the long discussion of the California lottery commission pamphlet's guide to self-defense is an instant winner). But the overall effect is that of a very talented writer tapdancing around while we wait for him to show us his next great trick.

Still, John from Cincinnati is instantly compelling. I can see why a lot of critics have derided it as awful, but I feel a sort of calm that this is all leading somewhere. Maybe it won't lead anywhere and I'll be proven a dupe, but John is an interesting look at a sort of end times miasma. It's not instantly as great as NYPD Blue or Deadwood, but what could be? For now, I'm willing to see where this whole thing is going.

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