Saturday, July 28, 2007

"They see a rocket and build a bomb shelter.": Mad Men

(My apologies for the lateness of this review. I've been a little nuts and overtired lately, so I'm only getting to it now. Hopefully, things will smooth themselves out a bit this week. -- TV)

If episode one of Mad Men was all about establishing the world of the series and taking us inside of the high-stakes world of the ad agency Don Draper works at, episode two was all about establishing the domestic nature of the world Don occupies. Unburdened of trying to pretend Don doesn't have a wife (as the show weirdly tried to make us think in the pilot), the show's universe expanded to give us a little more about Don's wife, Betty, as well as the other women in his life, from his mistress to the newest secretary in his office. Fittingly titled Ladies Room, the episode was about the ways the genders strike different balances in different arenas of life, especially in a world where women have to fight to move beyond the kitchen or the secretarial pool. What's more, if the first episode struck a tone that occasionally seemed unsure of itself in driving home that, yes, this show took place in the 60s, the second episode was far more at ease with itself and what it was trying to do. The show occasionally beats us over the head with the idea that things were a lot more unfair for minorities and women in the 60s, but it finds its tone in that regard as it goes along.

The episode works as well as it does because of a fine performance from January Jones as Betty Draper. She's nervous and anxious and not entirely sure why. Her hands lock up at key moments, not allowing her to open her lipstick one time and causing her to get into a minor fender bender another (here's a place where the "Wow! Times sure were different!" stuff works dramatically because when her hands lock up, you know the kids aren't belted in and fear for their safety). As I said last week, Jones is not an actress I've had a great deal of affection for in the past, but she really works well as the submissive 60s housewife. The part is almost a cliche at this point, but Jones is able, somehow, to find the rootless anxiety at the heart of the character. You just know the tidal wave of change coming in just a few years is going to sweep her away and she'll either be a complete reactionary to it or flow off with it. It all may depend on how much she finds out about her husband's philandering ways.

But Don's got his own free-floating anxiety (he seems worried about the end of the world when discussing Right Guard, of all things). Even at his mistress' place, he can't seem to relax, asking her why she has a TV and getting into tiny squabbles with her. When he sees his kids watching his mistress' favorite show later, it seems all he can do to hold it together (though he does, stoically). He later calls the therapist his wife goes to see to get the therapist's report on what's wrong with Betty (he's told she's an anxious woman). In a beautiful final shot, the camera pulls away from the closed door Don has put between himself and the rest of the house while he talks on the phone to the therapist, drifting out to the hallway, the stove in the kitchen dead in the center of the frame, lit softly.

Things are also going poorly for Peggy, who finds herself surprised to be attracting most of the men at the office, even after her poorly timed tryst with Pete in the pilot (it was but days before his wedding, and Pete's on his honeymoon for the whole of this episode -- probably as a cost-cutting measure on what must be a deeply expensive show). She laments to a co-worker about how every lunch with her male co-workers seems to come with the unspoken promise of dessert, and she is taken aback when a guy who seems to just be befriending her ends up wanting much more from her. It's as though she's suddenly become aware that she has sexual power over men, and I hope that more is done with this character development and theme.

As far as the advertising campaigns that float throughout the episodes, few were prominent in this episode (aside from the Right Guard campaign that caused Don to wax poetic). We got another story-building moment when Don was told he would be running the campaign for Richard Nixon's presidential campaign (it seems likely this storyline will drive much of the season). Instead, the episode was a bit of a breather, designed to turn much of the focus away from Don and turn it on many of the side players from the pilot. As it happened, most of those side players were female, and the episode was a fine showcase for those actress' strengths. The thing that strikes me as the most promising about Mad Men is the fact that the show isn't just interested in its titular characters. It's interested in all of the characters who orbit them and interested in making those characters as well-developed as possible. When a hint of new possibilities dawns on Peggy's face when she finds out there are female copy writers or when Betty lays on that psychiatrist's couch and tries to articulate her rootlessness, you know this is a show that's dedicated to building an entire, humane world.


Friday, July 27, 2007

“Daleks have no concept of worry!”: Doctor Who

‘Daleks in Manhattan’ is the first categorically awful episode of Doctor Who since its revival in 2005. Considering we’re currently in the show’s third season, that’s more of a compliment than it is an attack. After all, I clearly have great affection for Doctor Who, so it pains me to proclaim that ‘Daleks in Manhattan’, despite the geek-tastic promise of its title, is almost excruciating in its awfulness.

One problem that immediately struck me was the irritating and over-the-top American accents put on by the British cast. Of course Brits wouldn’t have been bothered by this, and I get that they are the show’s primary audience. Yet would it really have taken much effort to get a few genuinely American actors in, or if not that, then to tone down the accents a little bit? Personally I found it impossible to enjoy many scenes because the accents were grating on me so much. The representation of American life at this time is unfortunately severely limited by budget restraints. Rarely venturing into the actual city, Helen Raynor’s script is content to never go beyond Hooverville, the sewers and the Daleks’ lab.

Perhaps if the material had been strong enough this wouldn’t have bothered me, but Raynor’s script is insipid and dull. The usually scary Daleks are lumbered with unintentionally comic lines and a lame evil scheme that even Dr Evil would scoff at. While I appreciate that it was Raynor’s intention to reduce the Daleks from their former glory to a rag-tag gang, this leaves the story without any formidable villain. And the interaction between the Doctor and Martha, which the past three episodes have so benefited from, is tossed aside here (except for a couple early scenes which are the best of the episode).

One of the things I’ve always liked about Doctor Who is that it spends time characterizing its guest stars and encourages the viewer to care about them. ‘Daleks in Manhattan’ runs with this idea – it introduces five such supporting players and gives them all plenty of screen time. Unfortunately, Raynor utterly fails in her attempts at making them empathetic. Most of them never go beyond caricatures – Tallulah the streetwise showgirl (couldn’t they have come up with another name?), Solomon the wise leader, Frank his youthful protégée and Laszlo the handsome suitor who, um, becomes a pig. Their depictions are simply lazy – for instance, in Solomon’s introduction he solves a dispute over a piece of bread by splitting it in half. (Again, the reference is a little too obvious.)

I don’t mean to bash Raynor herself too much here – after all, she did serve as script editor throughout the second season, and the second part of her story is a definite improvement over the first. But look at it this way – with every other episode of Doctor Who I have recapped, I’ve looked forward to viewing it a second time. With ‘Daleks in Manhattan’, having to watch it again felt torturous.

Next week: The first human Dalek shakes things up, in the conclusion of this disappointing two-parter.


"I'm like, so money on the basketball court": Rescue Me

OK. So, I didn't blog Rescue Me last week because, I didn't think it had aired? I know that's an incredibly lame excuse, but there had been like, no press on it at all! Blame me for not taking Sepinwall's threat of completely giving up on it seriously. (I didn't blog last fortnight cause I was graduatin').

Anyway, it's not that Sepinwall's threat didn't have a little merit. While none of these episodes have been like, gratingly bad, they feel REALLY disconnected, the worst the show has ever gotten. After the initial buzz of the first three episodes, which sort of set up where all the characters were at after season three's cliffhanger, things really seem at a standstill. Worst of all is Tommy and Janet's situation together. I mean, seriously. What the HELL is going on here? Andrea Roth must be going out of her mind having to don a horrible bathrobe and yucky makeup and just lie around on the couch while Tommy ignores her every episode. The whole thing is basically one of the worst drags on plot that I have ever seen. Of all of Tommy's setups, his ones with Janet have always been the worst, but this really, really takes the cake. I hope they do something about the baby soon, but the one idea that's been floated so far is Sheila's demand that Tommy give the baby to her after one meeting. Which is stupid. And ridiculous. And if they do it I'm gonna pitch a fit. I mean, does this show just think children are commodities you can trade? I hated the "Susan Sarandon steals Franco's kid" storyline from last season because it was A: absurd and B: ushered in the boring girlfriend (now fiancee, and even more boring) and her Tourette's-afflicted brother, a one-joke character that just would not go away. UGH! Anyway, back to Tommy and Janet: fix it. Worst thing about the show right now.

The best thing about the show always has been the firehouse scenes, but even they've been kinda off lately. I'm don't mind the Black Sean (aka Bart) character cause the firehouse could use some new blood (Jerry Adler is decent casting as a replacement Chief, too). All the other firehouse sketches have been a little too out of nowhere, though. Sometimes funny, but often you're just thinking, where is this going, and do I want it go there? A lot of people have complained about the Chief's suicide being basically ignored, and honestly, Peter Tolan claimed they offed the Chief to raise significant issues among the men but we haven't seen any of that so far. Instead Lou's nun girlfriend slept with his cousin, Franco proposed to his boring girlfriend in between vomiting spells, Sean has split from Maggie and also burned down Mike's house. What does it all mean? I think the writers are just heavily stalling for whatever denouements they have planned, and these eps really bear the brunt of it. Here's hoping they introduce some new plots soon, cause right now it really seems like the show is spiralling out of control.

I will give praise to the one scene others have highlighted of these three episodes, that being the fire in the office. This show so rarely does fire scenes anymore, in fact so sporadically it's bordering on unrealistic (the only two I can think of are the equally cool fire scene in the first episode, that was very creepy and dreamlike, and this one). The whole thing was very effectively shot, again quite creepy, a nice subversion of the firefighter heroics we often see on this show. It also nicely commented on what Rescue Me seems to be doing right now: that is, wandering around through the smoke, looking for something it's lost. Ooh, how clever of me. Still. This is a show that I have always enjoyed far more than maybe I should. It's gonna take a LOT to make me give up on it, and I'm not even close yet. So, I will see you not next week (not even sure an episode is airing, but also I'm going to Turkey tomorrow!) but the week after. Keep it real. I'll be picking up Damages from the Tuesday after next as well.


"Barney's a fictional dinosaur character. I don't think he has a sexual preference.": Big Brother

[Thanks for taking the reins last week, Justin! I hope no one noticed how much better your recap was than mine usually are, you talented bastard. -C]

It's the end of week three in the Big Brother house, or as Dick would like us to think of it, "The House That Dick Built, and No One Can Ever Challenge Him, Especially a Woman, Because He is the All-Knowing Master." Dick is a bully.

In the aftermath of Joe's eviction, Kail realizes she cast the only vote to keep him in the house and sees the writing on the wall. What does it say? I can't be sure but "You're screwed (and also a bigot)" is my best guess. She blames her crumbling alliance on the weak-willed men she chose to align with, but I'm pretty positive Kail sealed her own fate by creating the dreaded Mrs. Robinson on the first day in the house without getting to know her houseguests first. Rookie mistake, Kail. She immediately sidles up to Dick and starts negotiating for her life, using the "no one likes me" defense. After Dr. Will's domination of the game using this strategy in two separate seasons, I really doubt that's going to work, sweetie. Nice try, though.

Remember the live feed clip I put up a few weeks ago about Nick's Top 5? Well, the producers must have been low on "comedy" this week because it finally pops up. Nick would like America to know that he is not homophobic and is comfortable with his sexuality, especially the part where he likes to have sex with both men and women. Oops, did I say that out loud? Sorry. (I actually really appreciate this viewpoint and wish more alpha males would be like him. Good on ya, Nick!) Also, you know what I would be comfortable with? If he would shave that horrible sleazestache and soul patch thing he's got working. Yuck.

After a stupid food competition called "Mission ImPastaBowl" that I refuse to recap, it's time for Dustin to give Kail a lesson on Being Gay. It's too bad Kail is beyond hope, because Dustin is really sweet about helping to broaden her horizons a bit. This enlightened quote from Kail tells you all you need to know about how the lesson went: "I don't think I'll ever be good at spotting a gay guy just because I don't look for that. Unless they are going to be wearing their full makeup, then it's a giveaway." Yeah.

At the nomination ceremony, to no one's surprise Dick nominates Kail and Jen. He is very specific in stating his goal: to get Kail out of the house. This is probably because he knows saying things like that to Kail's face might make her cower in fear and/or cry, and he loves it when people are afraid of him. Jen is an emotional robot and wouldn't give hi the satisfaction of a reaction, therefore she is no good to him.

After the nomination ceremony Kail goes into total self-preservation mode, selling out the Mrs. Robinson alliance (which Dick already knew about) and telling him anything and everything in the hope he will keep her over Jen. She even calls out Jen as wanting to get rid of Daniele. Dick wants none of it and calls out her pathetic attempts at manipulation. I have to say, as much as I hate Dick I do like how he tells you to your face when you're being an idiot rather than just gossiping about it behind your back. It's too bad he says it in such a hurtful way most of the time.

America tells Eric to vandalize Jen's property. American then yawns, finally accepting the stupidity of this America's Player "twist."

While the houseguests prepare for the veto competition, Dick takes this opportunity to yell some more, this time at Jen. He tells her that Kail is trying to "send her under the bus' by campaigning against Jen. Um, Dick? That's kind of what you are supposed to do. Even Jen realizes how stupid Dick is being, and her response to this is along the lines of "whatever." Of course, Dick can't handle someone not bowing down to his enormous knowledge, and skulks away, threatening everyone in the house to throw the competition to him.

Oh, the veto ceremony of my nightmares. The houseguests are dressed like rejects from the Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers "Don't Come Around Here No More" video. (That video totally gives me the heebie jeebies. I mean, they eat Alice! Shudder.) Each participant has to stand on a toadstool and balance a glass on their creepy top hat while the other houseguests heckle them. If the glass falls, they're out. Kail is out almost immediately, followed in quick succession by Zach, Nick and Jessica. When it gets down to just Dick and Jen, Dick tries out his Dick logic on her, telling her that Kail is out no matter what and she should just step down and give him the veto. Jen, who is quickly becoming one of my favorites by sheer process of douchebag elimination, tells him to suck it and stands her ground. Then things really start to get interesting when Mike (who?) decides to fight for Kail and tries to distract Dick into dropping his glass. Now, I respect that Mike will fight for Kail until the end but this really makes no sense for him, game-wise. He can't win the power of veto himself and Kail's already out, so best case scenario Jen wins and takes herself off, and Dick has to nominate someone else against Kail. Knowing Dick is a completely emotional, egotistical player Mike has to know he will be the target. Apparently integrity is more important than intelligence to our dear, mute Mike. As expected, Dick loses his shit, willingly takes himself out of the competition and promises to put Mike up. Both of them were idiots in that situation, methinks.

Later, Daniele and Dick fight again, some more. It's hard to watch, yet I can't look away. I know many people have issues with their fathers, but I especially feel for Daniele because most people's fathers aren't as awful as Dick. I can't imagine having to argue with him. It's like kicking yourself in the head repeatedly while someone stands over you and tells you you're doing it wrong.

At the veto ceremony, as expected Dick puts up Mike in Jen's place. Even though he vowed to get Kail out of the house at the beginning of his reign of terror, his poor little ego couldn't tolerate Mike's disobedience and now Mike is the main target. I can't bring myself to care about Mike's fate because he is so fucking boring. Soon, the entire house is gunning for Mike, except Eric, who has to try to swing the house back to Kail because America compels him to. He's actually pretty good at it, but so far this America's Player thing is one big bust. Producers, can't we have him try to make out with someone already?

On the live show, it's Learn Something New About Our Houseguests time, with this week's subjects being Daniele and Jen. Jen's is your typical "I'm not a dumb girl, I just play one on TV" reality show contestant lie. Daniele's, however, is magical. Her poor boyfriend Chris actually shows his humiliated face on national television and says Daniele is his "soulmate" (ew, Dawson Leery) and he trusts her. The whole time he looks like he just cut an onion and is two seconds from bawling. The lovely Big Brother editors intercut his loving declarations with footage of Nick and Daniele getting cozy and even possibly smooching under the covers. Poor Chris. Poor average-looking, nice guy Chris.

Enough of the soap opera, back to the game! In your typical anti-climactic live vote, Mike is evicted 7-2 with the only votes for him from Zach and Eric. As he leaves the house, Dick immediately jumps all over Jen, accusing her of voting for Mike to stay instead of Kail. He is such a hateful bully, you guys. Also, who cares if she voted for Mike to stay? You nominated her for eviction. You continually berate her. She's not in your alliance. Why does she have to do what you say? What a jerk.

This week's HoH competition is called "Know Your Fallen Houseguests," and it's one of the best they have ever done, because only one person can get a right answer each round and if you get it right you can knock someone else out. No stupid tiebreakers here! Eric totally dominates the competition, eliminating everyone not in his inner circle of Dustin/Jameka/Jessica until he finally takes a dive and pretty much gives the HoH to Dustin. Dustin is predictably happy, as am I because I am really interested to see who he nominates. I hope he sacks up and puts up Dick, but I have a feeling it's looking more like a Zach/Jen week.

Live feed clip of the week:

Apparently, the producers wake the houseguests up with music. One day they forgot to turn the feeds off first. George Lucas is gonna be PISSED.


Thursday, July 26, 2007

"Lying in a crumpled heap at the airport, how's that pay?":Burn Notice

So I've started to watch 'Burn Notice', the latest new show on USA with the 'characters welcome' slogan attached. I think that is sort of a funny slogan, because it gives the impression (at least to me) that their shows are full of quirky, odd people, which to a certain extent is true, but I wouldn't necessarily consider that a good thing. I was a little suspicious of this show, because I've previously watched and hated both 'Monk' and 'Psych', and original basic cable doesn't have a very good track record with me so far. But I will give a lot of stuff a couple chances at least.

The show follows Michael Westen (Jeffrey Donovan), a former covert CIA agent who has received a 'burn notice.' This means that he was fired and all communications and resources from the agency were cut off with no explanation, and he s left to fend for himself in Miami after being dumped there after an operation gone bad in Nigeeria. The over-arching plot is that Michael is on a mission to find out exactly by whom and why he was burned, and meanwhile, in order to finance his investigation, he becomes a sort of 'fixer' and takes a different case each week. I've tried to figure out where I have seen Donovan before, as he seems really familiar, but after looking up his history on IMDB I think it is just becuase his voice sounds a lot like Kevin Spacey.

Of course, if you're going to fix people's problems every week, you're going to need some help, right? Along for the ride are ex-IRA ex-girlfriend Fiona (Gabrielle Anwar, who I like, but not with the Irish accent, which I hated in the pilot, and I'm guessing test audiences did too, because they got rid of it in subsequent episodes with an offhand comment), friend and ex-FBI agent Sam (Bruce Campbell, which I'm sure many people appreciate). naggy mother Madeline (Sharon Gless), and loser brother Nate (Seth Peterson). What isn't exactly clear is exactly why Fiona stays around to help him. Sam is being used by the FBI to spy on him, while he also informs Michael of what the FBI asks about. His mother and brother serve to create conflict.

In the latest episode, Michael gets a call from Nate, who got beaten up at a local private airport. Oh no, apparently troublemaker Nate has been going around claiming to be working with Michael, in order to get jobs on his own. Considering the fact that Michael is an ex secret agent, I am not sure why this provides any clout. He is not up to the task, however, and he needs his brother to bail him out, if the beating he took is any indication. Nate's client is a sort of dorky guy who works at the airport keeping track of plane logs. He unwittingly gets himself involved with some Lebanese arms dealers, who after first bribing him start theatening him when they want him to erase records of plane departures.

Michael's plan to solve the case is to pose as a kind of more James Bond-like version of a secret agent, who happens to be an arms dealer as well. He wants to set up a fake deal with the Lebanese in order to find the location of their warehouse, so he can get them all arrested. Luckily for him, one of the Lebanese (Ari) happens to be the stupidest arms dealer of all time, and he falls for the act, is impressed by a plastic exploseives display, and takes Michael to their warehouse because Michael needs to 'checkout his operation' in order to agree to sell him even more lucrative fifty caliber machine guns. That's one thing that I don't like about this show, some plot elements are just so ridiculously improbable, I mean nobody would ever be as stupid as this guy is. But I digress, eventually, after having someone follow him when he visits the warehouse, Michael has the client go to visit the Lebanese and claim that his fake identity was hitting up the client for favors as well, and tells the Lebanese father that his moronic son has given away the location of the warehouse, which spooks the Lebanese to go back there where they find that Michael has stolen all of their stock. Poor, stupid, stupid arms dealers. They end up leaving the country, and the client is safe, because they fear that bugs were planted and they could be busted if they ever mess with the client or Michael's fake identity again.

The show includes lots of snarky voice-over narration by Michael, expositing to the audience exactly how all this spy business works. Normally this kind of thing really irritates me (see: Criminal Minds, which isn't narration but still explains every single thing that is happening to the audience to the same degree), but since it is sometimes amusing it kind of actually works. Even though it is a pretty standard mystery procedural plot-wise, the dialogue and characters make it more interesting than the average, similar show. I like the performance from Donovan, and the supporting characters aren't too bad themselves, although I wonder how long they are going to run with the Bruce Campbell is a dirty old drunk gag. In any case in the past week I've watched (including today's) the show's first five episodes, and so far I suppose it is decent enough, but still light, fluffy time killing fair. Right now? Good enough for me.


Wednesday, July 25, 2007

"Its not every day I get drunk with my daughter.":Meadowlands

Previously on Can't you see, people, that this is mysterious?: Zoe played Teen! Dectective!, Danny got tortued and released for committing a murder, and one offhand comment by a peripheral character framed for the same murder will drive the rest of the series.

'Cape Wrath'. That's what Ormond, who was framed for Jack Donnelly's murder by the Meadowlands Secret Agency to protect Danny Brogan, briefly mentioned to Danny as he was being dragged away to Some! Bad! Place! at the end of the last episode. This is actually the title of 'Meadowlands' in the UK, so I figure it must be imoprtant. Danny, however, seems to think that it is extremely important, despite the fact that it is just two words spoken to him with no explanation by a guy he happened to know before he came to the town. So its Falsely! Motivatied! Witchunt! Time!, in which Danny will go around bugging all the secret police, "what is Cape Wrath!?!?"

Danny goes to see Samantha, his 'handler', first, but for once she is not there, and he happens to run into her two minions, who do the worst nonchalant act of all time when he asks them about Cape Wrath. Meanwhile, Samantha has gone to London, so for the first time in the series we get to see something that isn't the Scary Suburbs of Doom. Hooray. She visits a classroom, in which a college professor is teaching, and it turns out to be her father. She bugs him for a piece of paper, which turns out to be test results. He has cancer and is going to die. Because of this, I burst into tears immediately, because I care so much about this character we've seen, well, never, and he is apparently related to this other character who we've seen, well, barely at all, and hasn't been developed in the slightest so far. But there has to be some way to reveal portions of the Overarching Mystery, so I suppose it may as well be her. Apparently her father is a scientist of some kind, who had some breakthrough experiments in the past with memory alteration on a subject referred to only as "Una." Samantha receives a call from her minions, in which they tell her about Danny asking about "Cape Wrath" and she orders them to initiate some kind of plan they have had prepared.

Meanwhile, back in Meadowlands, Danny has several encounters with Freddy, one of the henchmen, who starts attempting to taunt Danny. There are also a couple of really bizarre sequences, which I am sure the creaters thought would be super scary, but are more intentionally funny, where Danny gets assaulted by a fly. That's right people, a human being assaulted by a fly. They even go so far as to show Danny being attacked by the fly from the fly's perspective, so it's time for some crazy shaky camera action! Yawn. Shortly after, and this is never explained, but perhaps the fly was a super secret LSD fly, Danny starts having bizarre hallucinations, outbreaks of anger, and severe headaches. I guess it gives the producers an excuse to show a guy with his hands on fire, a weird jack in the box, and Jack Donnelly back from the dead. Apparently they have performed the plan on Danny, which is some kind of procedure to make him stop asking about Cape Wrath by associating it with his murder of Jack Donnelly, which he doesn't want to remember. However, again, they don't explain this in the slightest, so I guess the Super Secret Meadowlands Agency sent a killer fly to attack Danny. If I was going to assault someone with a hallucinogen, I would probably think of a cooler delivery mechanism than a stupid fly with annoying camera angles.

What else is going on in the mystery town? Well Mark is still sleeping with his much older next door neighbor, except towards the end of the episode she breaks it off with him because she gets threatened by Danny. Zoe gets threatened by Wintersgill the psychotic policeman, who wants his files back. She is catty to him and refuses, until her very best buddy Tom the golfer, after being threatened by the secret police yet again, tells her to give back the files. I also knew exactly when Tom was going to show up, because they showed the Overhead View of the Golf Course of Bareful Portent again. They've really got to cut it with the overhead shots with the creepy sound effects, its gotten very, very old by now. Evelyn continues her encounters with the creepy Yorks, where she thanks Dr. York for not telling Danny that she cheated on him and his children aren't his, then accuses Dr. York of trying to break up her marriage by making prank phone calls to Danny, then goes shopping with Dr. York's wife, then gets yelled at by a quite mean Dr. York for trying to interfere with his marriage. Really boring, time killing stuff, all of it.

Back to Samantha, who we didn't care about until this episode, and actually we still don't, but hey, she gets lots of screen time now. Her father informs her that he is going to kill himself as soon as his pain from the cancer is unbearable. She complains, of course. Now in a good show, I might have actually cared about any of this. Or maybe in a show where this relationship wasn't introduced maybe 20 minutes ago. Then they mysteriously go off to get wasted, after which they take a walk on the Thames river, where Samantha's dad starts stumbling, presumably because he is drunk, but really because he has already poisoned himself back at the restaurant/bar. In a later scene, despite the fact that he was completely incapable of walking and poisoned, they are back in his offices, where Samantha starts going through his files. It turns out that she is the mysterious "Una", her dad's original experiment, and the basis for what is going on in Meadowlands now. It is a community where they experiment with memory control on the inhabitants in an attempt to make them happy. They use people from witness protection because they will be afraid to leave. DUN DUN DUN.

After she figures out that she is an experiment herself, Samantha notices that her 'father' is now dead, apparently while she was going through his files instead of getting him medical attention, and she flippantly makes some mean remark to him while she's talking on the phone to her minions. She returns to Meadowlands, gives Danny some BS story about what is really going on, and threatens him that she will kick his family out of the town if he talks. He returns to his house with an 'I Love Meadowlands' on it, but I'm not sure if they altered his memories or not.

Well, there are only two episodes left now, so I may as well watch the rest, but boy, I was expecting more than a secret government experiment to be the big reveal about the town. I mean, why is everyone So! Weird! Oh well, at least Brotherhood and Dexter are coming up.


T.V. on TV: Damages

Damages is a fairly typical FX show. It’s got the look of quality television down, and it has the ambiguous characters most other quality shows have. It’s got a strong central performance from Glenn Close, and the plotting is so comprehensive and tight that it leaves you little room to breathe. But, at the same time, it feels a little shallow, as though there’s nothing more going on in its head than being riotously entertaining and keeping the plot moving along. It’s been compared to movie thrillers simply because of its labyrinthine plot, but if this were a movie, we would sigh at its convolutions and just long for something more straightforward, about real human beings. In short, Damages feels like a show that you should like more than you actually do.

Don’t blame any of this on Close. As star litigator Patty Hewes (the woman goes on the Greta Van Susteren show), Close turns in a great performance. Her tightly pursed smile is terrifying, and the way she makes everyone around her dance to every little tune she conjures up is mesmerizing. FX has made a lot of noise about coming up with a female protagonist who is the unethical match of Michael Chiklis’ Vic Mackey on The Shield or Denis Leary’s Tommy Gavin on Rescue Me (most of this noise was centered around the debut of the Courtney Cox vehicle Dirt). The network may have finally found that character in Patty. Close holds Patty’s motivations so close to her chest that you watch just looking for a chink in the armor, a way to figure out exactly what she’s up to and what her end game is.
There's more on that here.


Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Big Love Tuesdays: season two, episode 19, "Good Guys and Bad Guys"

Big Love’s seventh episode of its second season, “Good Guys and Bad Guys,” written by series creators Mark V. Olsen and Will Scheffer and directed by Michael Lehmann (yes, the Heathers director), bounced back and forth between the series’ best and worst impulses, often irritatingly. Even the scenes at Juniper Creek, often the series’ Achilles’ heel, bounced back and forth between very good and overstated and over-obvious. The war between the two sects of polygamists arrived as promised, and if it wasn’t quite as bad as the audience might have feared, it didn’t work entirely, either.

At least the episode crystallized the season as being the Ginnifer Goodwin show. The other actors have all turned in great performances from week to week, but Goodwin has taken her character, Margie, to new heights this year. From her adoring glances toward her mother during that awkward get-to-know-the-family-you-don’t-know-is-my-family meal to her near meltdown when Nicki (Chloe Sevigny) outed the Henricksons as polygamists to Margie’s mother, Goodwin took her meatiest script yet and knocked everything she was given out of the park. It’s rare to have a show that has, effectively, four lead characters, but the one thing Big Love does better than just about anybody else is balancing those characters and their storylines. The show has subtly shown the selfishness of Bill (Bill Paxton), increased Barb’s (Jeanne Tripplehorn) claustrophobia, redeemed Nicki’s shrewish character from the first season and given Margie more to do, all without losing track of the other leads (or the Henrickson children).
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"These Sour Patch Kids are different. They're extreme, like my punishment.": Kyle XY

I've said it before, but after last night's episode it must be said again: Kyle XY is a much better show when it focuses on teen and family drama instead of mysterious Madacorp tomfoolery. Yes, "Free to Be You and Me's" concept of students rebelling when their school won't allow gay couples to buy tickets to a dance has been done before (Dawson's Creek's Anti-Prom, anyone?) but damn if it wasn't a great time. There were some mysterious moments as well, and it all added up to one of the best episodes of the season so far.

They must know I've missed the school scenes this year, because this episode is chock full of them. It's Jessi's first day at Generic Seattle High School (I have no idea what the school's name is, so GSHS it is) and she is nervous. She's always nervous, however, so this isn't anything new, it's just that now she's nervous about something normal: being the new kid. Jessi's not the only one in a funk, as Kyle is bumming over Amanda big time. Ladies and gentlemen, he's got it bad. Luckily for him Amanda seems to be feeling the same way, in no small part I'm sure because Kyle gave her a piano to replace the one her mother had to sell for groceries and hair products. Amanda is so touched by the gesture that she invites Kyle to go with her to the spring dance. You know what they say, show a virgin a piano and she will play it for a day, but buy a virgin a piano and you can get in her pants. Or something like that.

Also down in the dumps? Hillary. You see, the poor girl just went off on a PMS-fueled rage because the dance committee wouldn't sell tickets for her and Lori to go to the spring dance together because they won't allow "same sex couples." Kyle: "That's stupid." Not enough of America: "Agreed." And, can they please just say gay? Come on ABC Family, last week you had fraternity boys sneaking out of each other's rooms after a hookup on Greek. Can't you just say the word gay? Anywhoodle, Lori and Hillary agree that this policy is stupid not just because they aren't gay, but because even if they were it shouldn't matter. Preach it, sisters.

Andy, because she is awesome, concocts a little bit of civil disobedience to protest the administration's decision. I say a little bit because this obedience only involves skipping class to put up posters in protest of the dance, but at least they are doing something! Of course, the principal catches them in the act and calls all of their parents to tell them what horrible immoral children they have. Nicole, because she is even awesomer than Andy, tells Principal Bigot his policy against gay
couples is discriminatory and hurtful. His response is, basically, "whatever." Jerk. Andy again proves her awesomeness by suggesting an alternative dance with Nicole as the chaperone. Jack McPhee would approve, young lady.

The only wrinkle now? Kyle doesn't know how to dance, not that it will matter because Amanda's lovely mother grounded her and she can't go anyway. Those poor kids who live right next door to each other and attend the same school, how will they ever get a chance to see each other if they don't go to the dance together? Teenagers are so dramatic. Kyle does learn how to dance, though, thanks to the hip hop hooray moves of Josh Trager. Remember last week when I said I hope Kyle has moves like David Silver? Well, Kyle might not but Josh sure does! The more I think of it, the more i realize that Josh really is the David Silver of Kyle XY. All he needs now is a mushroom haircut and a singing "career" of his very own. I think Andy is a bit precious to him, no?

Let's move on from my 90210 obsession, shall we? At the dance, Andy and Josh continue to dance around their feelings for each other. Mostly, Josh is being an idiot which is right in character for him, so good job, show. I hope he wises up soon because I like that Andy. Also, to Kyle's delight Amanda decided to perpetrate a little civil disobedience of her own and sneak out of her house to attend. She looks great (because she finally got those awful bangs off her face) and she and Kyle dance quite cutely. They really are sweet, in a Sour Patch Kids induced sugar coma sort of way. Not to be outdone, Declan decides that his season-long feud with Kyle is getting ridiculous, and Kyle agrees and says he will tell him everything about Foss and Baylin. Finally, my boys are back together again! Suck on that, Principal Bigot. Just as Kyle and Declan start making eyes at each other over the possibility that Tom Foss might be threatening Lori, Lori is attacked in the alley by an unknown assailant! RUH ROH! Also: awesome.

I realize I've left the entire Jessi subplot out, but that's because I honestly just don't care. I know I should feel for her, but her neediness and desperation really just bore me. In quick summary: she and Kyle finally meet face-to-face and nothing happens, Lori befriends her much to Nicole's chagrin, Declan makes out with her, and Emily makes the Tragers suspicious by her less than kind treatment of Jessi at the dance, which in turn causes Jessi to blow the lights like Carrie at the Prom. Jessi was integrated into this episode better than usual, but I still can't bring myself to be invested in her. I hope she goes dark side soon, at least that might be interesting.

Next week: Apparently, Lori is just fine because they put lots of Lori scenes in the previews! Great job, ABC Family! Also, Kyle and Amanda make out.

Random thoughts:
- Sour Patch Kid sightings: 1. This one was a highly awkward and hilarious full-on mention. "They're extreme, like my punishment." Ha!


Monday, July 23, 2007

"I'll have a $2 million advance check cut today. How horrible.": Entourage

Much like HS with 24 last season, I am beginning to dread recapping each episode of Entourage. It's not like the show is nigh-unwatchable or anything. It's just stuck in a rut, one where the writing seems particularly lazy and slow and the laughs just ain't coming. Jeremy Piven has always been Entourage's cleanup hitter when it comes to yuks, but the whole gang could usually be relied on to merrily roll things along, even in the most plot-thin weeks. These days, like I said last week, it's like there are two or three different shows (with occasional interactions) going on at the same time, each of them only consequential enough to be called a sketch.

This week, there was another installment in "The Hi-larious Hi-jinks of Drama and Turtle", in which Louis Lombardi (Ed-guh Sty-uhls of 24, fondly remembered and cruelly whacked) rolled in as a shlubby shyster relative of Drama's (or Turtle's, I wasn't really listening) looking for cash to fund a get-rich-quick scheme. Now, look. I know most comedies on television (most SHOWS on television) are guilty of recycling their formula a thousand different times in different episodes, but this is getting ri-god-damn-diculous. It literally goes like this: in scene one, Turtle and Drama set up their plot at breakfast with Vinnie and E (who I'll get to in a minute). One of them is usually excited about it, and the other cautious. In scene two, a nutty guest star compounds the plot somehow. In scene three, Drama does something arrogant or ridiculous that you know's gonna end up with him getting bitten in the ass. In scene four, Drama is made to look ridiculous (usually in public), and Turtle tuts. Guest star is gone, never to be seen again. This has happened every week since the documentary episode, and I'm wondering if one day Drama won't just end up murdering Turtle, or vice versa. I've nothing more to say about this.

As bad as Drama and Turtle can be, how bout Vinnie and Eric? I've even less to say about this, but it really does feel like a whole different show, an industry pastiche that's getting more intricate and boring by the episode. Eric has gone from being the supposedly helpful chief pal of Vinnie's to a whiny, obstructive presence in the actor's life, folding his arms and throwing a strop about having to be around Billy Walsh again despite it being for a project Vinnie is into (and, let's be honest, desperately needs). Where, WHERE is the comedy? Where is the ANYTHING? We're in our sixth episode and so far the season's central plot has been that Eric and Billy Walsh don't particularly like each other. Vinnie, too, a character I've always appreciated for being a defuser of some of the show's more hyperactive situations, is literally barely detectable these days. He sort of half-agrees with everyone, but really only speaks when he's spoken to!

Yesterday's episode, "The WeHo Ho" threw in an Ari-Lloyd story, in the interest of keeping things presentable. Sadly, it was pretty much a misfire. Mostly because Ari and Lloyd weren't at all together during the ep--their interaction mainly consisted of Ari screaming down the phone at Lloyd, bedridden with grief over a breakup. Waving away backup assistants, Ari decides he must have his Lloyd and tracks down his boyfriend to talk him into un-dumping him. Who cares? I love Ari and Lloyd's banter and skulduggery in their industry plots, but this stuff is pretty useless. Ari's homophobia is a joke beaten to death (indeed, even the references these days are delivered with a sort of insouciant offhandedness by Piven), and by now we're all very aware that Ari and Lloyd have a special bond. It was terrific when Lloyd lectured Ari in his car in the season 2 ep "Exodus", yes. That was a long time ago. Sort it out, Ellin! And bring back Debi Mazar already!

Jeez. With a heavy heart, I shall say see you next week.


"Are we happy, Wonderboy?": John from Cincinnati

So what if Shaun has been the Christ figure all along?

I mean, yes, I briefly considered this after the second episode when he was the one resurrected (by a parrot, you'll recall). But, by and large, I've lost all of this in the John from Cincinnati as Christ speculation. But what if John from Cincinnati is more of a John the Baptist figure after all -- here to tell us all that a little child shall lead us and all that. If you'll recall, in the New Testament, Jesus was initially seen as just a follower and rip-off of John the Baptist (OK, I'm paraphrasing and speculating here, but you'll notice that Jesus is referred to as John's cousin more often than not until he really takes off on his own). Now, there are a lot of holes in this theory (not the least of which is that speculating about this show still feels kind of irreverent), but I'm going to jump onto it -- for this week at least. I don't know exactly what Shaun's message to the world is (and John certainly seems to claim God as his father), but some of the other pieces fit.

This was the second episode in a row that didn't feature Mitch, and it was also John-less for a long period. Pretty much anything would have felt like a comedown after last week's mesmerizing piece of television perfection, but the extended examination of Linc's status within his company and whether or not his job was in danger just didn't interest me. I think this had a lot to do with a few more new characters being shoehorned into the plot line and the very prosaic nature of that plot line. Maybe this is all leading somewhere to Linc having some sort of epiphany, but he still feels very much like the character most wrapped up in earthly concerns at this moment.

That said, I liked how John's absence forced the other characters to come together and continue to solidify their ad hoc community. Most of this had to do with Palaka's mystery illness, which was largely uninvolving in and of itself but was interesting as a way to bring the characters together and, once again, give Dr. Smith something to do (I'm down with whatever David Milch cooks up to keep Garret Dillahunt around). But as the season wears on, I get the sense that the grand overarching plot so many of the show's critics (and even its champions) seem to want just doesn't exist. Instead, the show is sneakily about how a messenger of God brings together a large number of wounded, damaged people and makes them whole again -- not because he fixes their problems or even because He fixes their problems but because they fix each other. That's what a community is for, after all.

Also, isn't that the ending of Magnolia, minus the frogs? I kind of hope not.

So while the central plots of this series continue to disappoint, I'm bewitched by the stuff happening on the sidelines. That final montage where John (sometimes silently) visited all of the people of Imperial Beach and looked in on them in their moments of near-healing was powerful stuff, especially when he commiserated with Cissy about how there was more misery in the world (but, again, we're still alive). I particularly liked everything with Shaun, who went from tears to being someone who held his family together this week. And his scene with Bill (where the two talked about overcoming loss) was beautifully written and performed.

The problem many see with John from Cincy is that the show doesn't work in the sense we understand TV to work. There are well-developed themes and interesting characters, but they're not tied into anything approaching a coherent over-plot. We want to have some incentive to tune in week after week, and the series seems unwilling to give us that. But what it does offer us is something approaching a meditation. It's not perfect by any means, but the series is a long stretch of sermons, not about how God can help us, but about how we can help each other.

Or maybe Shaun's Jesus. I mean, I don't know here. Help me out!