Saturday, July 07, 2007

Big Love Tuesdays: Season Two, Episode 16, "Rock and a Hard Place"

Big Love’s fourth episode of its second season, “Rock and a Hard Place,” written by Mimi Friedman and Jeanette Collins, and directed by Adam Davidson, was kind of clumsy in a lot of ways. It reduced most of the show’s villains to malevolent stereotypes, hell-bent on giving the Henrickson family a hard time. Most of the subtext that makes the show so entertaining was thrown out the window. And things that should have been built up more resonantly or build to more logically were just blown by, including major plot points that have been big parts of the season so far.

But, in some ways, that didn’t matter. This was something of a head-spinning episode where story points blew by at a dizzying rate. So much stuff happened that the episode almost felt like a season finale, instead of the one that marked the one-third point of the season. Newly confident in their storytelling abilities, the Big Love writers seemed intent on shutting off as many go-nowhere storylines as they could and advancing a few of the others that hold more potential (mostly focusing on the wives and teens, though Bill’s flirtation with gambling machine manufacturers continues to be prominent). While the episode’s flaws stood out in the moment of watching the show, the after-effect of having all of that story rush by was that of making the viewer sit back and simply feel surprised by how densely plotted the thing was. HBO shows are not known for their thrill-a-minute pacing (not even Big Love is, really), so it almost felt for a moment as if the show had made the leap to FX or something.
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Read the rest here.

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Trailer curmudgeons

(Well, we're back. We'll be catching up over the next few days, but for now, you get this!)

Hairspray (July 20)



Quicktime.

Todd: Somewhere deep inside of me, in the place where I bury my urges to put on a pink party dress and kill all humans, resides a little gay schizophrenic. Finally, Hollywood has made a movie for that little man. I will see this nine times.

Libby: I loathe John Travolta with the intensity of something intense, but I will see this because Nikki Blonsky is pretty much the most adorable thing I've ever seen ever.

Todd: And she got her start in Cold Stone? So, bonus points for that?


The Bourne Ultimatum (Aug. 3)




Get the Quicktime.

Todd: This is pretty standard-issue action stuff, mostly there to remind all of us, "Hey, you remember those movies you liked quite a bit? The ones that reminded you Matt Damon existed? Yeah. There's another one coming out." And also, apparently, to remind us of how thoroughly every other action movie has copied the Bourne aesthetic. Still, looks like they've loaded this up with fun action sequences (and even more disorienting car chases), so I guess we'll spend August reliving this one and listening to people complain about the camera work. (Side note: We can all join the search for Bourne on GOOGLE?! That's, um, completely unexpected.)

Libby: Feeling wordy tonight, eh?

Todd: Do you have anything to say about the trailer specifically, as opposed to my verbosity?

Libby: I am exactly as excited for this film as I was for all of the other sequels this summer, so, "Woo!"

Bratz: The Movie (Aug. 3)



Quicktime.

Todd: See, I would say that this is set in one of those "movie" high schools, where everyone is in a clique and no one ever talks to anyone outside of the clique and it makes you feel like you understand what's going to happen to you in high school when you're an 11-year-old girl, but they actually filmed this at the high school where some girl whose blog I read teaches, so I guess this is ultra-realistic. Also, why the hell is an elephant in this?

Libby: *a lot of uncomfortable moaning* *repeated self-administered blows to the head* Someday. They will link the downfall of our society to those dolls. Someday.

(Special SDD bonus Bratz video!)



Superbad (Aug. 17)



Quicktime.

Todd: Judd Apatow is my hero. And I love everyone in the cast. But I'm not looking forward to everyone running "McLovin" into the ground (I mean, dear God, it was David's MSN name for, like, a year, and I hadn't even seen the trailer!), just like they ran "Not!" "Show me the money!" "Do I make you horny?" and "Very nice!" into the ground.

...

Actually, in pretty much every one of those cases, it was my dad running the catchphrase into the ground. He actually SAID "Not!" the other night at dinner. WHO DOES THAT?! IT'S 2007!

Libby: McLovin, Todd! McLovin!

The Invasion (Aug. 17)



Quicktime.

Todd: Maybe I'm just a sucker for the Invasion of the Body Snatchers storyline (this is, what, the fourth time they've done this?), but I actually rather enjoyed the first two-thirds of this trailer (until it got all action movie-y). I really liked Oliver Hirschbegel's Downfall a few years ago, and this looks like a stylish way for him to make his Hollywood debut. (We just won't mention how they brought in the Wachowskis of all people to direct reshoots.) Anyway. Good cast (though I'm not a Kidman fan) and a good concept and an eerie trailer. This could be the horror hit every summer needs.

Libby: How can a movie go wrong with Jeffrey Wright as the "Knowledgeable Black Man"?

The Kingdom (Sept. 28)



Quicktime.

Todd: Finally, all of the people you're used to seeing on television for free are starring in a movie directed by a guy you USED to see on television for free with that guy who won an Oscar for Adaptation! Actually, I'll probably see this. Peter Berg is one of my favorite unheralded directors (Friday Night Lights, mostly), and it looks like he's done something vaguely Michael Mann-lite here. Also, Jennifer Garner is the ONLY actress who could sell giving a Tootsie Pop to some generic terrorist's child.

Libby: Who is Jason Bateman's agent? Between this, The Ex and Mr. Magorium's Wonder Emporium, who is selecting these films for him? Really?

American Gangster (Nov. 2)



Quicktime.

Todd: We never knew how lucky we had it. The Sopranos scared away all of the vague and generic gangster movies, forced them into hiding. Now, they see the coast is clear, and they're starting to sniff around the multiplex again. At least Ridley Scott will make things look purty and we can look forward to some truly awful accent work from Russell Crowe. Also, Chiwetel Ejiofor, one of SDD's favorite should-be leading men!

Libby: See, Ridley Scott understands the plight of a black man in America. That's what YOU don't understand.

Lions for Lambs (Nov. 9)



Quicktime.

Todd: Three disparate storylines, you say? And they're all going to be interconnected, you say? And they'll all circle around the same central issue, you say? By golly, that sounds like a recipe for some SERIOUS FILMMAKING. If I had known Traffic was going to lead to this many crappy movies, I wouldn't have reviewed it so kindly back in the day. I KNOW Robert Redford is due for another Oscar, Clint Eastwood-style, but PLEASE make it stop or give him a retroactive award for Quiz Show or something.

Libby: See, Todd, this is why America hates Hollywood.


The Golden Compass (Dec. 7)



Quicktime.

Todd: Hi! We're New Line Cinema. You may remember us from such fantasy epics as THE LORD OF THE RINGS. Do you recall that one? A lot of people sure liked it! It was called THE LORD OF THE RINGS. We didn't pay Peter Jackson sufficiently, and that's why we can't give you another chapter of THE LORD OF THE RINGS. So, we'll just keep saying THE LORD OF THE RINGS. Also, we will keep saying ALETHIOMETER, so you know how to pronounce it. ALETHIOMETER. Oh, who am I kidding? I'll see this opening day. It has armored bears in it. Awesome.

Libby: Dammit, New Line, don't you screw this up for me! Why are they taking every children's book I love and Lord of the Rings-ifying them? It just creates unrealistic expectations, and I can never bring myself to watch them!

Todd: I was particularly upset by the blatant insertion of the Nazgul into Charlotte's Web.

I Am Legend (Dec. 14)



Quicktime.

Todd: I Am Legend is one of those great SF/horror stories that hasn't really been done justice on the big screen despite numerous attempts (the best version is probably The Simpsons' The Homega Man). I can't really tell if this is the definitive version, but the screenplay's been bouncing around for so long and has attracted so many people that there HAS to be something to it, right? Also, with Will Smith and Johnny Depp involved, you know it's going to make a lot of money, at the very least.

Libby: I don't know the story behind this, and I'm not a huge Will Smith fan, but that trailer has me really anticipating this film. I know. I'm as shocked as anyone. No laughs here.

Because you've been so good and we've been gone so long, you get a BONUS TRAILER!

Wall-E (Summer 2008)



Quicktime.

Todd: I have my doubts that a largely silent robot who reminds people that their way of life is unsustainable is really going to be the thing to help Pixar top Finding Nemo at the box office, but I also doubted that Americans would warm to the idea of a French rat who loves cooking. I give up. Pixar can officially make absolutely anything adorable.

Libby: THE ROBOT IS CUDDLY AND THEN THERE'S A BLOCK OF GARBAGE AND IT'S CUDDLY TOO AND THEN HE'S LOOKING SAD AND IT'S ALL CRAZY!!! It's gonna be great!!!

There you have it, folks. We'll try not to be so scarce from now on!

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Friday, July 06, 2007

“She’s as clever as me. Almost.”: Doctor Who



















After a heartbreaking end to season two that saw the departure of Rose Tyler (the lovely and much missed Billie Piper) and the Doctor suddenly all by his lonesome, show runner Russell T Davies cleverly surmised that what Doctor Who really needed was an injection of funny. And who better to deliver it than Catherine Tate, the immensely popular British comedienne? I’ve never been a big fan of Tate’s other work but there’s no denying her talent, and here she excels here as Donna, an unsuspecting bride who is randomly transported into the TARDIS and finds herself at the centre of another one of the Doctor’s adventures. Tate rattles off lines like “Stop bleepin’ me!” and “Santa's a robot!” with a hilarious mixture of enthusiasm and cynicism, and she is the main reason why ‘The Runaway Bride’ is so immensely fun.


Davies’ script is surprisingly different from all his others on Doctor Who. Usually the episodes he pens are full of gradual build-up, taking their sweet time in revealing all the layers of the mystery. ‘Bride’, in comparison, is positively madcap. Events whiz by one after another, and the usually necessary expositional dialogue is replaced with the kind of pace one has not come to expect from Who. Indeed, the most eye-catching sequence of the episode comes just fifteen minutes in, when the Doctor flies the TARDIS through the motorway in order to save a kidnapped Donna. While it’s a bit jarring to see what is essentially a car chase in Doctor Who, the sequence sums up the fun, almost carefree attitude that permeates this whole episode.


Gradually, however, the central mystery monster comes to the forefront and ‘Bride’ loses some of its initial energy. The Huon Particles work fine as an explanation for why Donna ended up in the TARDIS in the first place, but the script gets bogged down in overly complex explanatory stuff, that dreaded expositional element returning in full force. ‘Bride’ is front-loaded, you see – all the fun stuff comes in the opening forty minutes, while the remainder of the episode is dull in comparison. The charismatic performances of Tennant and Tate keep things interesting enough, but both are let down by their nemesis, The Empress of Racnoss. As portrayed by Sarah Parish, it’s unclear whether this enemy is intended to be frightening or funny, but she comes off as disappointingly tedious and frankly pretty lame.


None of this is meant to suggest that ‘The Runaway Bride’ is just Russell T. Davies having a bit of fun. There are dark undertones lurking underneath the proceedings. Rose’s presence hangs over all of the Doctor’s scenes, whether explicitly – Donna finds Rose’s shirt in the TARDIS and questions the Doctor about her on a few occasions throughout the episode, thus acting as a sort of audience surrogate in observing the effect losing Rose has had on the Doctor – or implicitly, in that the Doctor’s hyperactive efforts to help Donna could be interpreted as him making up for his comparative uselessness when Rose was in peril (it was Pete Tyler, rather than the Doctor, who actually saved her). The dark side of The Doctor, an idea Davies has explored throughout the revived series, also reared its head near the end of ‘Bride’ as the Doctor drowned not only the Empress but all her children as well, and then took a moment to take in their screams (a frankly horrifying sound effect, by the way) before Donna snaps him out of it. It’s a dark moment that only becomes more shocking in retrospect.


The final scene addresses each of these themes very simply: Donna advising the Doctor to find someone “because sometimes I think you need someone to stop you,” and subsequently asking what “her” name was. Tennant’s reaction and his delivery of those four heartbreaking, all-encompassing words – “Her name was Rose” – gets me every time. The man is truly amazing. This concluding scene is also a beautiful call-back to the Doctor and Rose’s scene at the end of ‘The Christmas Invasion’, with one big difference – where Rose said yes to travelling with the ‘new’ Doctor, Donna’s answer has to be no. This could be put down simply to Catherine Tate’s various other commitments, but I prefer to think of it as Davies using Donna as a representation of the kind of people never featured in Doctor Who: the lazy types, who would take a nice relaxing evening in front of the TV over grand adventures any day. Like it or not, most of us watching Doctor Who are these types, and with Donna, Davies is rightly pointing out that there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that.

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After he lost Rose at the end of the second season, it would have felt entirely inappropriate if the Doctor had immediately found himself someone else. Luckily the Christmas special gave Russell T. Davies the opportunity to embroil the Doctor in a one-off adventure with a one-off companion, thus giving him someone to play off without having to jump the gun. As the third season began proper though, it was time to unveil what feminine force Davies had in store for us this season.


Like the very first episode, ‘Rose’, which put the focus on Rose Tyler, ‘Smith and Jones’ opens on Martha, swiftly and amusingly introducing both her and her chaotic mess of a family through a quick array of phone conversations which fly by as Martha is walking to work. It’s a brilliantly un-Doctor Who sequence that clearly shows Martha as the rock holding this very screwed up family together, thus swiftly establishing her strong and unflappable nature. Martha is played by Freema Agyeman, who had a small role in the season two episode ‘Army of Ghosts’ and was spotted by impressed producers. As with Billie Piper in the series opener, a lot of pressure is immediately put on Agyeman in this episode; she basically carries it for the first fifteen minutes. Thankfully, Agyeman is immediately in her element. Her energy and charisma prove more than adequate to hold our attention and get us on her side.


All that said, Martha is far from the perfect companion. What’s immediately noticeable is that Davies is not trying to mould another ideal companion who will share as harmonious a relationship with him as Rose did. For starters Martha has much less reason to go travelling with the Doctor – where Rose was stuck in a dead-end job, Martha is well on her way to becoming a doctor. Equally, Martha seems to be a busy and productive person, whereas Rose was bored with her humdrum life and wanted a change. At first glance, Martha does not appear to be a suitable candidate for travelling with the Doctor. Then again, the TARDIS is a time machine, and Martha’s noisy mess of a family has to be wearing her down. At first, Davies’ suggestion appears to be that Martha is simply bored. That alone would be a lame justification for her taking off with the Doctor, true, but it’s more than boredom – Martha has a taste for the exciting and the fantastic. Like the Doctor, she seems to be genuinely enjoying herself for much of this episode. While everyone else in the hospital freaks out and having been transported to the moon, Martha appreciates the uniqueness of the situation while also trying to work it out. She sticks out from the crowd, which is why the Doctor enlists her help and, later in the crisis, entrusts her with great responsibility (first to hold off the Judoon, then later to secure the capture of the Plasmavore).


The Doctor isn’t actually on the lookout for someone new to travel with him. The suggestion is that since ‘The Runaway Bride’ he has been travelling on his own for a little while, probably trying to ignore his own loneliness while also revelling in it. He enlists Martha’s help partly out of a selfish desire to discover what’s going on with someone else. As per usual, he also enjoys a bit of showmanship. However, over the course of the episode Martha manages to both grab his attention and impress him, no mean feat considering he’s a Time Lord. As for any sexual chemistry between the two, well, there’s certainly something there – the Doctor kisses Martha passionately as part of a ‘genetic transfer’ designed to keep the Judoon off his back for a while, insisting both before and after that it meant nothing. Martha doesn’t believe him, instead deciding that he fancies her. It’s an assumption that proves disastrous. For starters it was probably motivated by the strong feelings she was already having for him, evident in her disappointed reaction to his continued insistence that he feels nothing in return. Further, Martha’s assumption is based on her experience with other humans, but the Doctor is far more weird and alien than he appears – in other words, when he says he only kissed someone for tactical reasons, it’s fully possible that he’s telling the truth. Unlike with Rose, Martha’s romantics feelings for the Doctor is not an issue that goes unexplored this season – in fact, it becomes extremely key to the plot.


As a whole, the episode is a lot of fun. Tennant’s performance continues to be exemplary – thankfully he has dialled down his wackiness a bit since season two, giving the Doctor more of an emotional grounding. The monsters, from the rhino-like Judoon to the Plasmavore (which has disguised itself as a sinister old woman) are satisfying, as well as amusing (for instance, the Plasmavore’s over-the-top scream of “You’re gonna burn with me, burn in HEELLL!!!”). The gradually diminishing amount of air also lends the story a welcome intensity. There are some nice little touches: the Doctor’s genuine sadness at having broken his sonic screwdriver, only to toss it away a second later; Leo Jones’ birthday party swiftly collapsing as the family argues and everyone storms off; and Martha’s reaction to the Doctor proclaiming himself a time lord, “Right! Not pompous at all then.” ‘Smith and Jones’ is a very entertaining start to season three (I like to see ‘The Runaway Bride’ as more of an interlude) and I hope it will convince a decent-sized Sci-Fi Channel audience to keep up with the show.


Next week: Martha meets Shakespeare, and three cackling witches stir up some trouble.

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"Somehow, I immaculately conceived gonorrhea.": Big Brother 8


For most, summer means sunshine, lazy days at the beach, vacations and the delicious smell of meat on the barbecue. For me however, summer honestly only means one thing: the return of trashy, delicious, addictive Big Brother. I've been on the BB bandwagon since season two when I fell in love with one of the great reality television characters of all time, the deliciously evil Will Kirby. Ever since then, I've dedicated three hours a week to this show and countless more to talking about it with friends and family. What better way to feed my addiction than to talk about it with you all here at SDD every week? So when Todd offered me the chance to cover this season, I didn't hesitate. After seeing last night's juicy premiere, I'm not regretting that decision one bit.

Let's face it, nothing actually happens on this show. People sit around, talk about nonsense and occasionally hook up. If you've seen the live feeds, you know what I mean. Therefore, the producers feel the need to liven up proceedings by throwing in "twists." This year, there are two main twists. In the first shocking! twist!, six of the players are not strangers. In fact, they are in the house with people they know and loathe. For example, there are a pair of former best friends turned worst enemies (possibly due to a misplaced $5), two ex-boyfriends who had a more than nasty breakup (possibly due to a sketchily acquired STD), and a father and daughter who haven't spoken in over two years (possibly because the father is a totally immature jerkwad). Now, call me crazy but I think this twist has possibilities. The father/daughter situation is terrible, but BB has a history of messing with people's familial relationships without shame (Cowboy and Nokomis, anyone?) and if they are going to be shameless, at least we can get some good soapy drama out of it. I feel absolutely horrendous for the poor daughter, who seems sweet if dim and totally dismayed to see her father there. They obviously have many more issues than can be solved by living together in the BB house. As for the two other pairs, the exes seem to be hilariously catty towards each other, and the girls seem to honestly not care all that much that they are in the house together. Maybe they'll secretly band together to form an alliance while putting on a show about hating each other to the rest of the house. That is a soapy twist I could get behind.

The second shocking! twist! is something called America's Player. You see, BB wants to make some money off text messaging so they've decided to let the audience have some say in the game by controlling the actions of a houseguest via text message (or cbs.com, but really you guys, they want you to text message). If the houseguest completes the task successfully, they get money. Each week the audience will get to vote on the task, and America's Player must attempt to complete it. It could be anything from voting a certain houseguest out, to making out with a houseguest, to throwing a competition. This is a pretty cool twist, and I'm interested to see if America's Player can actually pull it off without tipping off the other houseguests that something is up. I guess if previous houseguests didn't realize that a set of twins was switching off time in the house and pretending to be one person, this year's group probably won't figure out this twist, either. BB isn't known for recruiting the smartest contestants in the reality genre, is what I'm saying.

Despite having to sit through all of this boring exposition and a ridiculously loony Head of Household competition which involved trivia, spinning mushrooms and flying streams of sludge, the premiere was pretty entertaining. The houseguests are a good mix of the sublimely ridiculous, idiotic, and asshole characters we have come to expect from this fine show. Yes, the diversity is nonexistent and everyone looks like a reject from a casting call for The CW, but so far they've got me laughing, which is all I really ask for. The dumber and more ridiculous they are, the more I laugh. Somehow, I think I'm going to be laughing a lot this year.

I'm nothing if not judgmental, so it's snap judgment time. I reserve the right to change my opinion of the houseguests once I actually, you know, hear them talk more.

Amber: The ubiquitous "I'm doing it for my kid" contestant. Ugh. She thinks she has chemistry with house hottie Nick, which could be interesting when he completely rejects her ass, however.

Carol: Actually might have a brain in her head. I immediately like her because she doesn't like Jen due to her "giant boobs." However, she might be too meek for this crowd.

Danielle: Endearingly dumb so far. I automatically have sympathy for her because of her disgusting father.

Dick: Calls himself "Evil Dick." Anyone who gives themselves a nickname like that is automatically a gigantic tool. His Tommy Lee wannabe looks and abhorrent treatment of his daughter don't help any. HATE.

Dustin: Cute. Down to earth. Horrible taste in men. I love him, so therefore he will probably be voted out immediately.

Eric: America's Player. A total Napoleon complex trapped in a house full of buff, gigantic guys. I cannot wait to see how that plays out. I think he was a great choice for America's Player because as a nonthreatening male, he has the potential to go far in this house of alpha men.

Jameka: The one player of color in the game, which she notes with disdain. To which I say, "Girl, have you seen this show before?" (CBS really should be ashamed of themselves for this.) Good personality so far.

Jen: Dumb as a box of rocks. The "use my body to get what I want" type of girl. I hate her.

Jessica: Also not smart. Lists her hobbies as "dancing, cheering, shopping, tanning, working out, going out partying." Yeah.

Joe: A walking stereotype, but full of hilarious lines therefore I want to keep him around for as long as possible. Dustin can do better, though. Don't forget the giant nipples!

Kail: This week's Head of Household (HOH). Token: "old woman," wife, small town girl, bigot, rich person hiding her wealth. If she puts up Jameka and Joe, I'll die laughing. In horror, of course.

Mike: I don't remember him at all. He blends into the wallpaper of tall, buff guys this year.

Nick: Oh, I remember Nick. Nick is hot and from Minnesota, complete with sexy Minnesota accent. (At least it's sexy to me, a native Minnesotan.) Also, he's a "former pro football player," which means he played in the CFL or something. Heh.

Zach: Another hot boy wallpaper dude. Utterly forgettable.

I'll only be doing these recaps once a week, after the Thursday elimination episode. Until then...

[Disclaimer: I worked for the company that produces Big Brother for six years. I didn't work directly on the show, and I no longer work there, but I just wanted to get that out in the open. This does give me some inside insight, though, and the opportunity to still go to the very fun wrap party each year. If I manage to make it this year I'll do a special writeup on it complete with pictures. Bonus for everyone!]

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Tuesday, July 03, 2007

"Do you ever feel like there's nothing interesting about you?": Kyle XY


I've been sitting at my desk for hours trying to figure out what to write about last night's episode, "Balancing Act." This is probably because absolutely nothing happened aside from setup for future episodes. I mean, a show where the main plot line involves a kid getting a car for his 16th birthday is not exactly what I would call high drama.

In the Trager house, Josh is 16 and is ready to collect on his parent's promise that he get a car for his birthday. This reeks of plot point because I can't imagine they did actually made that promise, considering how Josh is a total spaz. But promise him a car they did, and although Stephen just lost he job he wants to deliver because his father always broke promises to him and he doesn't want to be that kind of Dad. Josh brags to/flirts with his cute new friend Andy about his car, and it's obvious he expects to get something new and flashy. In the end, Kyle helps Stephen find an old junker that they can fix up together, and Josh sweetly and genuinely loves it, and so does the very charming Andy. I'm liking this Andy girl, despite the oh-so-twee "girl with a boy's name who likes boy things" stereotype. As long as Andy doesn't go doormat like Joey Potter, I'm OK with her.

In more distressing Trager news, Nicole "accidentally" runs into Emily Hollander on the street and Emily uses Nicole's never before seen ego to make instant friends. Madacorp's method of infiltrating Jessi into the Trager family becomes clear when Emily convinces Nicole to take Jessi on as a private therapy patient. Nicole accepts because of their tight money situation, and I am beginning to suspect that Madacorp just might have had something to do with Stephen's sudden employment problems. If so, bravo. That's damn smart.

Kyle's training with Tom Foss is making him a busy boy, and he isn't all that happy about it. Again. Tom has turned his warehouse lair into some sort of Mathlete meets Strongman extravaganza, complete with a climbing wall for Kyle to scale. As Kyle does exercises like lugging cinder blocks on a pole over his shoulders, Tom quizzes him on mathematical equations. It's sort of like if Pythagoras ran a boot camp. Of course, at one point Kyle doesn't think he can accomplish a physical feat and wants to quit, but when Tom ever so conveniently gets in trouble, he is able to accomplish it with no problem. This same thing happened last week and I am concerned this will become a pattern: Kyle resists a skill in training, someone gets in trouble, Kyle uses the skill and recommits to his training regime. Yawn.

One thing accomplished this week was character development for Tom Foss via some truly devastating backstory about how he accidentally killed his family while driving drunk. Unfortunately, although this makes him more pathetic (or sympathetic, depending on your tolerance of his act) it doesn't help us to understand why he is so devoted to helping Kyle develop his abilities. Is it because he has nothing else to live for and hopes Kyle will give him purpose? What does he do all day, besides crafting ghetto strongman events for Kyle in his lair? I appreciate the attempt to open the door to his character a little bit, but it will take a lot more than a sad history to make the audience truly understand his character and give his interactions with Kyle the weight they need to feel as real and alive as his interactions with the Tragers. Until then, he's kind of like this annoying gnat that buzzes around Kyle's head and yells a lot. Nicholas Lea deserves more than that.

As for Declan and Lori, things are, well, exactly the same. Declan is broody and Lori is sad and doesn't understand, because she doesn't know Declan is (gay and) obsessed with Kyle. Things do get a bit more interesting when Declan decides to go all crazy stalker and follows Kyle to Tom Foss's warehouse lair. He's sufficiently creeped out later to find that someone was stalking him while he was stalking Kyle, and is threatening him to stop digging by intimating his snoopy nature will put Lori in harm's way. Guess who I think is doing the threatening? That's right, Brian Taylor! If I'm right, y'all owe me some Sour Patch Kids or something.

Next week: Something exciting happens! I hope.

Random thoughts:
- Sour Patch Kid sightings: 0

- I know I bagged the new ABC Family show Greek a few weeks ago, but I watched to pilot and didn't hate it. My saving grace: somewhat likeable characters, casual sex and one cute guy! Yup, I'm shallow and proud of it. (You can get it for free here: Greek on iTunes.)

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Monday, July 02, 2007

"Or are you going to part like the Red Sea?":John From Cincinnati


(I am filling in for Todd this week on John From Cincinnati while he is on vacation. -- J)

His Visit: Day 3, or How we all convened at the Snug Harbor motel, and dispersed without a thought.

After watching the first two episodes of John From Cincinnati, especially after watching only the pilot, I was nervous about how this show was going to turn out. The type of dialogue that seemed to sit so well with the characters of Deadwood seemed a little off, nothing seemed to be going anywhere, and I sort of waited around, trusting (like I do with many a show on HBO) that it will pay off in the end. I've been bitten by this before (do any of you remember Carnivale?), but after watching the third and especially the fourth episode, I think everything is going to work out just fine.

As far as plot, most of the episode centered around people looking for someone else. Butchie, Kai, and Bill all spent most of the time meeting up with one another and going on a search for John, who walked off out of Kai's place at the beginning of the episode and was missing (and for most of it he was wounded after being stabbed, unknown to them). The doctor, who now has quit his job in the hospital, was looking for Butchie. Mitch, perhaps, was looking for himself, attempting to understand his bizarre levitation phenomena. Eventually almost everyone in the cast except for the Yosts (minus Butchie, who was there) end up at the Snug Harbor motel, and witness a potential miracle as a healed John arrives with Vietnam Joe, who found him left for dead. They all barely register it, however, and then break off into pairs at the end of the episode, with many new potentially interesting relationships forming (anyone else excited to watch Bill and Steady Freddie launch random diatribes at each other?).

While most of the characters continued on in their odd state of absorption, completely oblivious it seems to that which is happening around them, a select few do seem to know that something strange is happening, finally. I think this episode was a critical mass, where the intensity picked up a bit, climaxing at the hotel, then burning out as everyone broke off into pairs. Now it seems that everyone has their separate journey to understand or cope with what is happening every since the stranger walked into town, if they take the time to care, that is.

The doctor definitely thinks something otherworldly is happening, but for being the one person who is most certainly, keenly aware he hasn't yet thought to connect it to John, and is in fact walking around in somewhat of a daze, as one funny scene where he acquires a catalog demonstrates. Even Cass, whose has a vision which compels her to rush to the motel and then take John in, doesn't seem to know, and neither do Butchie or Kai, who were affected by similarly strange experiences last episode. The only other person other who really seems to be onto something is Mitch, while pondering the levitations, seems to connect it to John being in town, even going so far as to say "he looks at me like he knows something about me" when thinking about how odd he is.

However, the one very and truly great thing about the episode though is that John finally has started to reveal to others (and the audience) that he is a special being and he seems to know it, and finally speaks to people in a way that is not a repetition of what they just said. He does so with the doctor and Vietnam Joe, directing one that he can be healed and to the other that tomorrow is another day. He also repeats conversations that he wasn't even present to hear on a few occasions, although I'm not sure the characters even notice this. In any case, I am excited about this change in the character and hope that the gradual reveal continues, I'm fascinated at where it is going to go.

Also, sometimes the show is just a joy to watch even on it's own terms. I mean is it wrong if I throughly enjoy watching Ed O'Neill alternatively ranting to a staircase (his wife?) wrapped with bubble wrap or at a parrot, from which he seems to be getting telepathic instructions now? Or the antics and interaction of the pair of criminals from Hawaii, who are staying on in town for what reason I'm not sure. Besides the large number of interesting characters, the photography is brilliant, and it is easily the most quotable show on television right now. The only real major drawback I have is the Shaun Yost character, and that is because the actor who plays him just seems so wooden so far, especially in opposition to the color that the rest of the characters have.

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Sunday, July 01, 2007

"Now, I'm going to continue to badmouth you from this other room here": Rescue Me



Spoilers, if you haven't seen this yet (although this review is so late, how haven't you?)

OK, first things first. If you haven't read Matt Zoller Seitz's dish-tastic interview with Jack McGee (Chief Reilly), do so now. Any way you read it, it's a great scoop by MZS, and it's a nice companion to what was yet another macabre twist at the end of the third episode of Rescue Me's fourth season. It also raises a point that I'm sure most Rescue Me watchers have considered at least once--that writer/producer/star Denis Leary may well be a totally egotistical prima donna jerk on set. Of course, maybe McGee's just ticked off that he got let go. That I can only speculate on--but the interview with Peter Tolan does confirm something about the Chief's suicide, and probably other similar twists before (Johnny's death, Connor's death), which is that Tolan and Leary basically cook them up out of nowhere, instead of creating more believable, organic character arcs.

Now, thinking back over previous seasons, there's minor justification for the Chief putting a gun in his mouth once he failed his physical and was told he could never be on active duty again. The justification being that one scene early in season one where the Chief breaks down to Tommy because his job was on the line. Still, I think Leary and Tolan felt they needed a new shocking event to propel their stories for the fourth season, they figured the Chief wasn't quite as funny or lovable as most of the firehouse staff, and that he hadn't had much to do since dealing with his wife's contraction of Alzheimer's in season two. So, he got the chop. In terms of shock value, it certainly was an effective sendoff, and they sure did wrap everything up very neatly for the Chief--he attends his son's commitment ceremony and makes a speech; he saves Tommy's ass during his one and only day as a desk jockey; and the crew gives him a bunch of golf clubs before he leaves the house. No hard feelings, right? Anyway, as twists go, it wasn't as slapdash as Johnny getting shot seemed; neither was it as plainly horrible as Connor getting hit by a drunk driver. If it leads to some legitimate, well-written drama, that's cool. But if it leads to a bunch of self-destructive, ridiculous wallowing, that ain't so cool.

What else happened this episode? All the other storylines were pretty serviceable. I quite liked the interaction between Mike and Tommy, especially their dinner table scene, where Tommy veers between sympathetic and unnerved at Mike's grief over his sick mother. In fact, the sick mother plot went well (although I again fear self-destructive ridiculous wallowing, this time on Mike's part, arising from it). Rather than actually having the probie pull a Million Dollar Baby, they had him think about doing it, but then his mother expires while he's sleeping at her bedside. A little hackneyed, but Lombardi underplayed the whole thing rather well, as opposed to his "what? me so dumb" act last episode at the news of his mother's deterioration.

The Tommy/probie dinner date ended with Tommy running into Jennifer Esposito (I forget the character's name), the fiery female firefighter who rescued Tommy and now wants, apparently, to sleep with him. Now, having her emasculate Tommy by first picking him up, then heading off some bullies for him, then kicking him out of her truck when he won't go the distance with her, is all very well and good. Sticks with the whole "Tommy's at a low ebb sexually" thing that's been running through the season so far. Still, a lot of critics have rightly asked, why the hell is Esposito so stuck on bedding Tommy anyway? Especially when he's such a drippy, evasive screwup? I'm guessing she has some attraction to huge losers that she'll explain later, but it is stretching the credulity of their burgeoning relationship before it's even begun.

Still, Esposito is automatically a better match for Tommy than his two mainstays. Sheila was mostly in the background this episode (in fact, I barely remember what she did) but the symmetry between her dating the guy who saved her and Tommy being pursued by the gal who saved him gives me the sneaking suspicion that she and Tommy are gonna hook up again this season (and this time not when Tommy's unconscious). Not that it really makes sense or we really want it to happen, but I just have an inkling. Tommy and Janet actually had one of their best scenes together in ages and ages, though, the one where she realizes berating him calms down the constantly crying baby. It was a cute little bit, but it still totally worked.

Think that's it for now. I'm still sticking by the show, even though I bet the Chief's death is gonna be poorly handled--I guess I just still see something here. The firehouse scenes especially, but even the bad stuff, once in a while the script will turn a nice phrase or a cast member will surprise me. Guess I'm just a sucker for punishment!

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