Friday, August 31, 2007

"After I took my clothes off it was like, 'Oh, it’s a whole new me!'": Big Brother

If you don’t like Amber (which I’m assuming is 99.99% of our readers since it’s Amber) the past week in the Big Brother house was a bit of a double-edged sword. As fun as it was to watch Amber finally get her comeuppance, you still had to, you know, watch her. A lot. Amber’s teary stranglehold on America is over now, however, and let me just be the first second to say “Thank you, God. God bless you.”

Jen is gone, but the house is still feeling the effects of her parting words to Amber, “make sure you tell Jess.” Jessica is obviously particularly interested in their meaning. Amber relents and tells Jessica that Jen said Eric told her he has a girlfriend outside of the house. Jessica is a bit perturbed to hear this news because she hates cheaters. Don’t we all, Jess. Eric finds out about this and explains to Amber and then Jess the real situation: he has an on-again, off-again relationship with a girl outside of the house, but nothing more. How…boring.

Now that Jen is gone and Dick doesn’t have anyone to focus his negative energy on, his relationship with Daniele is starting to suffer. Instead of picking at Jen negatively, he starts picking at Daniele in what can be perceived as a positive manner – take your vitamins, make sure you eat, etc. – and it is driving Daniele crazy because the last thing she wants is to be parented by Dick. She’s sort of a brat about it, though, so any sympathy she might have gained goes right out the window. Dick tries to have a semi-adult conversation with her about it, but when she finally tells him what’s bothering her he immediately turns back into a child. Make no mistake about it, those two deserve each other.

In more amusing news, Amber apparently thinks she is going to be famous once she leaves the house. Just look at all of the examples of famous former reality contestants she has as role models! Jameka insanely strokes Amber’s ego by saying she will be on magazine covers, which causes Amber to pontificate on how she could totally be on America’s Next Top Model. She has the hair, the face, and the personality, you see. You just know the first thing Tyra would do is shave Amber’s head to make her cry. Amber’s real post-house life: cut to six months from now, when Amber’s back in Las Vegas doing the “former reality star” circuit at the Bunny Ranch. I know, that’s harsh but…she is so delusional. I can’t help myself.

Jessica talks about splitting up Dick and Daniele (and SHOULD split up Dick and Daniele), but Jess just wasn’t cut out to play this game ruthlessly and nominates non-threats Zach and Amber, who both promised they would be on her side. Oh, Jessica. Amber and Jameka are convinced Daniele is the true target, even though last week they made the astute observation that Jessica and Eric have a final four deal with Dick and Daniele. Where that knowledge went, I don’t know. Maybe the reason Amber is so stupid is that when she cries, brain matter leaks out in her tears! It would explain so much.

The Gregorian chants of “it’s time for the producers to make fun of Jameka’s religion” start up, and we see Jameka praying alone in the HoH room. You know, at first I thought the church music soundtrack they give Jameka was amusing, but now I just find it offensive. She’s praying alone, not preaching to other people. Leave her be, show. Jessica hilariously comes in and thinks something is wrong with Jameka because she is crying while praying, and Jameka assures her she’s OK. Jessica comforts Jameka’s prayer tears. Okay, I admit that part was little funny.

The houseguests get to see a video package showing how Amber and Daniele did on Power of 10. Even though I said I wouldn’t last week, I couldn’t help myself and watched the episode. I was flabbergasted that Amber kicked Daniele’s ass so thoroughly, and overjoyed that she ended up only going home with $1000. My favorite part was when Amber started crying before anything even happened and Drew Carey said, “Amber, let me just ask you: is being in the Big Brother house getting to you?” Ha! The houseguests are similarly surprised that Amber won so handily and obviously happy she didn’t win a significant prize. Also, Daniele finds out Nick would have been her helper had she gone to the final round and immediately starts crying, and at home Daniele’s boyfriend Kris finally gives up and throws his TV out the window.

What happens next is strangely uncomfortable for me to watch. Eric awkwardly starts put the moves on Jessica and they end up making out. After they kiss for the first time Jessica says, “It’s about time!” which absolutely floored me. I had no idea she had honest interest in him. She’s always so standoffish! More macking ensues, and I obviously find Eric grosser than I realize because I can barely watch. Maybe it’s my longstanding fear of night vision that makes it squicky. I don’t know. Even grosser is later, when Eric has to kiss Jessica for an America’s Player task and makes a big production of it instead of being a normal person and kissing her in a realistic, casual manner. Eric was not lying: he really has no game. I’m guessing Jessica is not going to be thrilled when she's watching these tapes at home and sees him kissing her for money.

The veto competition is some sort of musical chairs race where a Cheshire cat that sounds like Barry White gives you an answer and you have to find a rat that has a riddle on it that matches the answer. The last person to find the correct rat each round is out. Wow, that sounds really stupid when you explain it in writing. Eric wins, and both Zach and Amber separately approach him with pleas for removing them from the block. Zach has a reasonable plan to get rid of either Dick or Daniele, but all Amber brings to the table is begging and an insistence that she wants to stay in the house. Jessica clearly wants Eric to use the veto and take Amber off so she can put up Daniele in her place, but Eric’s hidden America’s Player agenda rears its ugly head again and he decides not to use the veto. Amber, wearing a top that makes her look like a circus tent at Ohio State University’s “carnival freak week" fraternity event, diary rooms how Eric is “evil” and “selfish” because he didn’t use the veto on her. I’m sure she would have used it on him, right Amber?

Now it’s time for the live show, which I had to watch online this morning since it was pre-empted in Los Angeles for a preseason football game. Instead of airing the episode in the middle of the night like most markets, when that happens here they show it on KCAL and my Tivo doesn’t pick up on it. So, while I was trying to catch up with some quality programming (The Wire Season 3, which is awesome) my Tivo was happily recording reruns of The Office and 30 Rock and not Big Brother like I thought it was. Sigh. Have any of you used CBS’s online viewer, Innertube? It is terrible. Innertube can kiss my ass.

On the live show, we learn that Jessica thinks she made the wrong move putting up people who care about her and not people who don’t like Dick and Daniele. Eric “comforts” her by pulling the “Amber doesn’t like you, either” card out of his back pocket. What a sweetie, that Eric. When he leaves, Jameka and Amber start getting in Jessica’s head about Eric being shady, saying that he never wins HoH (they finally noticed!) because he doesn’t want the show to give him pictures of his girlfriend and out the relationship to Jessica. I love how they are always right about the things Eric does but so, so wrong about why. Amber says she can tell Eric is manipulating Jessica because she manipulated her boyfriend for three years and just like con men, can tell another one when she sees one. Jessica nods her head and agrees. Jessica: Amber is manipulating you RIGHT NOW. Jess later spills everything they said to Eric and he sincerely tells her he has her back. Unless America tells him to vote her out, of course, but he conveniently leaves that part out.

Amber’s tour of desperation continues as she begs Daniele for her vote. It’s rather pathetic, honestly. Then there’s some Zach/Dick tension which the editors try to emphasize so it’s not such a foregone conclusion Amber is going, but it’s all very boring because there is no danger Dick will ever attack Zach like he did Jen. Zach’s a man, sillies! At the live vote, Amber is evicted 3-1 and we learn Eric has made $30,000 so far on his America’s Player tasks. Not too bad, but he needs to keep working on those tasks because he’s never going to win the game unless he’s up next to Dick, and maybe not even then, because almost every houseguest in the jury completely blames Eric for their eviction.

Amber’s goodbye is predictably teary, and she immediately gets on Julie Chen’s good side by calling her beautiful when they sit down. Julie gets a few props from me when she asks Amber how she determines who is a good person in the game and who is a bad one. Amber’s answer unsurprisingly nonsensical. I wait for Julie to ask a good follow up question, like “Does a good person think all Jews are greedy?” but then I remember Julie Chen’s not a real journalist. My bad!

The HoH competition this week is a physical competition, finally. The houseguests have to transfer water into a fishbowl until a silver ball floats up high enough they can grab it out of the bowl. The catch? They have to fill the fishbowl with a 3 ounce teacup. Julie tells us the bowl is 16 gallons, which translates into 683 trips with the teacup, or seven miles! SEVEN MILES! This is the best HoH competition ever. I’m all about torturing these assholes.

Next week: We see who won HoH, and a double eviction live show! Which means this season is almost over! WOO!


"Remind me to stop hiring young people.": Mad Men

After an episode I wasn't horribly taken with, Mad Men redeemed itself with an episode that was all about the codes of manners between husbands and wives, as filtered through Don's relationship to Betty, Pete's relationship to his wife and Roger's relationship to damn near everybody. In some ways, the series seemed to start off with most of its characters off in their own little orbits, independent of each other. Now, as the season draws nearer to its close, Mad Men is bringing them closer and closer together, seeing the interesting ways they all bounce off of each other. After putting Pete in Peggy's arms in the pilot, the show has kept them at arms length. Now, even as Pete finds that marriage isn't all he dreamed of, it slowly pushes them back together. But now, Peggy's got a sliver of confidence from being asked to write ad copy, while Pete has seemingly had his confidence beaten out of him.

For me, the best scene was the one between Don and Betty after he accused her of flirting with Roger (Roger certainly seemed to think she was too). The whole dinner scene (filled with war stories and small talk) was a slowly accumulating storm, building from a few clouds and eventually pouring out, quietly, in the scene where Roger came on to Betty. Mad Men has been good about showing all of the flaws in the Drapers marriage, but tonight, it showed why they still work as a couple. For as little as Don seems to respect Betty, she certainly knows him and knows how to defuse him when a situation threatens to turn nasty. There's a heavy suggestion that Betty's whole lifestyle is infantalizing, even as she seems to have dreams she hasn't admitted to herself. Don's rebuke of her is meant to sting, but she manages to sting him as well, suggesting just how powerless he is (because he wouldn't bounce her around, would he?). And she does seem intrigued by Roger, but, unlike Don, she doesn't pursue that to any sort of end. The whole scene plays out as a fascinating display of just how broken the Drapers marriage is but also just how well those pieces might fit back together.

But the Draper marriage isn't the only one to go under the microscope. Pete finds himself trying to return a wedding gift (a ridiculous looking chip-n-dip) to a department store. While trapped there in line, he's surrounded by women who subtly mock his masculinity for doing something for his wife. Even when he tries to turn the situation on its head and make it to his advantage, he bumbles, unable to charm the girl at the returns counter, largely because she knows he's a newlywed (and he's as lost in this world as the men presume the women are lost in theirs, unable to figure out what name his registry is under). Pete exchanges the platter for a gun, only to find himself berated by his wife and comically toting the gun around the office.

Roger and Don's relationship got the workout in the final act, as Don, marginally chagrined by the fact that his wife wasn't totally repulsed by Roger, tried to prove himself younger and more virile than the older man. At first, just drinking and having oysters seemed like the thing to do, but when the elevator was broken, Don and Roger had to climb 23 flights of stairs. Don made it to the top and was able to pull himself together, but the exertion caused him to throw up right by the guys from Richard Nixon's team. Smiling confidently, Don walked off, having won this minor struggle.

The Nixon campaign was the strand that tied these stories together, as everyone at Sterling Cooper (prompted by the great Robert Morse) tried to figure out a way to help out Nixon and dismissed Pete's idea that maybe the young people of America would want a man who doesn't wear a hat (like Elvis!). This was the only scene that directly expressed the series' central conflict of the future bearing down on these people like a train, but it was a strong one, potent with the knowledge we have that Nixon is doomed to lose, particularly because of the out-moded thinking he followed throughout his campaign.

But what I most liked about this episode was that it felt like three different short stories with some thin connective tissue between them. There was the story of the married couple and the husband's friend, whom the wife found fascinating. There was the story of the young married couple and the husband's attempts to find his place in the new world. And there was the story of the two old friends, who had what seemed like a minor indiscretion come between them. There were other stories dancing through this (namely Peggy and Pete's discussions and Betty's attempts to solidify support in the neighborhood after being accosted by Helen in the supermarket). But the central structure was of three very small stories playing out, one for each act. It's a sort of structure I haven't seen on TV a lot, and I'm interested to see if Mad Men employs it again.

And, hey, wasn't that scene between Pete and Peggy where they talked about hunting creepy? I love the way Elisabeth Moss just lets her face be absolutely blank for scenes like this, where you can tell that she's not sure what to think, whether to be excited or repulsed.

What say you?


Thursday, August 30, 2007

Open thread: Which WB stalwart's cast did the best for itself after cancellation?

Which of The WB's "big three" from the late 90s had the regular cast that went on to do the most? Make your argument in the comments!

Buffy the Vampire Slayer

Check out the cast here.

The argument you can make here is that most of the players have gone on to some level of success in television, be that recurring arcs (Charisma Carpenter), TV movies (Emma Caulfield) or roles on successful series (David Boreanez, Alyson Hannigan). But outside of a handful of movies for Hannigan and Sarah Michelle Gellar (the American Pies, The Grudge), there's been little success on the big screen. Anthony Stewart Head has been successful in British television.

Dawson's Creek

Check out the cast here.

The best argument here is that Michelle Williams is an OSCAR NOMINEE, as well as mother to a very cute baby. The Beek and Jackson haven't really set the world on fire post-Creek (though the Beek squeezed out some big film roles early in the show's run), while Kerr Smith and Meredith Monroe seem stuck in 13-episodes-and-done hell. And then there's Katie Holmes. . .

Still, Williams' Oscar nomination is a pretty big plus in the Dawson's Creek category, as is the Beek's early film success.


Check out the cast here.

The Felicity cast's success often seems directly dependent on show co-creator J.J. Abrams giving them steady employment. But recently, Keri Russell and Greg Grunberg have found success outside of Abrams productions (in Waitress and Heroes respectively). Scott Speedman's in the Underworld movies, and Scott Foley's in The Unit. But, all in all, the success of this cast matches up well with the success of Buffy's cast, and the Buffy gang has been ever-so-slightly more successful.

So, for me, it all comes down to how heavily you weigh popular success vs. critical success. Do you go with the Oscar nomination, or the large number of successful projects?

I say Buffy. What say you?


"I can't wait any more.": A collection of network promos presented sans most editorial commentary

For more on my love of this sadly underused genre, go here. Though I hear ABC has something like this running this year. Good for you, ABC!

(Probably the last really successful "network branding" was when The WB basically disinvited anyone over 34. Well, they could come over for 7th Heaven, but that was it. The WB reran this promo as the last thing ever shown on its airwaves, only it was the one that ended with the ginormous forehead of the VanderBeek staring up at the camera. Awwwww.)

(This, on the other hand, just makes me feel stupid for owning a television.)

(I don't especially miss Very Special Episodes, but this one looks like a doozy.)

(I miss you, Treat!)

(This is incredibly hard to see and the video and audio don't sync up, but it's full of some truly amusing moments from when ABC was in a nadir in the mid-80s, despite having Dynasty, and had to proclaim the excitement of "Webster!" and "Fall Guy!")

(Oh, hey! AIDS paranoia!)

(By 1990, ABC was feeling better. They had Full House, Wonder Years, Roseanne, etc. Even the dog wanted to watch ABC, saith this promo.)

(By the 2000s, networks couldn't haul all of their actors down to a soundstage to make them cavort, so they just did stuff like this. Contrary to whomever posted this, this clip is not especially prescient or ominous. Unless you're Jeff Zucker and you still wake up in sweats about trying to lure all of the Friends back for one more season.)

(I'll leave you with a little more vintage early '90s excitement.)


Wednesday, August 29, 2007

“Operation Vengeance in effect. I brought cookies!”: Kyle XY

The penultimate episode of the season in any television series with a mytharc is notoriously anticlimactic, as by design they are almost always episodes filled with setups and no resolutions, simply there to build suspense and introduce obstacles for our heroes to overcome in the impending season finale. Monday night’s episode of Kyle XY, “Lockdown,” suffers a bit from this fate yet still manages to find enough of its own ground to be considered more than just an empty, plot-advancing vessel.

The episode picks up the day after the Hands on a Hard Body competition and the entire Trager family is still reeling from the revelation that Jessi was Lori’s attacker. Nicole feels guilty for bringing Jessi into their lives, Lori feels angry wants revenge, enlisting Josh and Hillary to help her concoct revenge scenarios, and Kyle feels caught in the middle as usual. Although the gang wants to go their separate ways to deal with their reactions, Nicole puts her foot down and tells them no one is leaving the house until Jessi is found and she can be sure they are safe.

To pass the time, Lori invites Hillary over to help plan that revenge. Declan shows up as well, and Lori takes offense when he suggests she may be overreacting to being attacked. Lori really loses it when her father suggests the same thing, and gives him attitude like only a teenage girl can. Stephen, sick of being mistreated by his daughter, lays down the law and it’s realistic and sort of heartbreaking to watch a distraught Lori deal with his outburst. Not that he was wrong, but it completely sucks that no one (save Josh and Hillary) is on her side about Jessi’s attack, with all of them giving her a pass because she’s “troubled.” Listen, serial killers are troubled but that doesn’t mean we should throw a ticker tape parade for Ted Bundy, you know?

At Madacorp, Ballentine and Taylor muse over Foss’s unconscious body. Since Foss survived the procedure (although how damaged he is because of it is still up in the air), Ballentine wants to use the machine on Kyle as soon as possible, to Taylor’s objections. Emily Hollander overhears this and calls Kyle to tell him he has to help her bring Jessi in right away, or both of their families will be in real danger. Kyle is rightfully freaked by this threat. I don’t know if it’s just me, but I am having a hard time understanding Ballentine’s plan here. At the beginning of the season, the reasons for using Jessi to bring Kyle in and not just having Madacorp grab him off the streets made sense as they wanted to stay low profile, but that obviously hasn’t worked out as intended and Jessi is a loose cannon. At this point you’d think he’d just give up the ghost and send some scary guys with guns to kidnap Kyle. Why would it matter if the police got involved? They are a super-secret shady military-like organization, they’ll never get caught! It all just seems like a lot of unnecessary moves designed only to exist so the show would have a mystery arc for season two.

Back at the Trager house, Kyle starts to have strange sensations. In his pants. (No, not really, but I’m sure that’s because he’s thinking about grapefruit all the time.) While he overhears Nicole and Stephen fighting about Lori's assumption he was having an affair with Emily Hollander, Kyle slips full-on into some sort of conscious dreamland, where he sees a vision of Adam Baylin. It’s not truly Baylin, but a projection of Baylin by his own subconscious. I think. This show simply makes up new abilities for Kyle whenever they need to get him out of a jam, so forgive me if I don’t understand them all. Through Baylin, he reasons with himself that Jessi is somehow working for Madacorp without her knowledge and cannot be trusted. How convenient, that Baylin dream-guy is!

Since Josh couldn’t leave the house to visit Andy, he decides to invite her over and puts out a very cute spread of video game playing snacks, complete with Sour Patch Kids of course. He even cooks her Rice Krispie Treats. Mmm, yummy. If some guy wanted to get into my pants, making me Rice Krispie Treats would be a damn good start. His plan for a perfect day is dashed, however, when Andy tells him she is starting chemotherapy tomorrow and today will be their last day together because she doesn’t want him to see her when she’s sick. Despite the persuasion of an intense makeout session and Andy’s offer to slide into second base (what did I say about cancer getting you some under the shirt action?), Josh is still very upset that Andy won’t let him see her when she’s sick. She finally relents, and it is endlessly cute. No, I’m not going to get sick of how cute they are any time soon and I am going to gush about them every chance I get. Deal with it. Also, if you don’t find them cute I worry about you. Have you no soul?

Not as cute are Lori and Declan, who continue their season-long fight about why Declan inexplicably broke up with Lori. Hillary, or Dr. Hills, as she would like to be referred to, decides to intervene and mediate a resolution to their problems so they can become friends again. Hilariously, she blames the breakup on Kyle and Declan’s “bromance” and calls them “Keclan.” Ha! So the subtext becomes text. When accused of coming in between their relationship, Kyle awesomely just looks troubled and says, “I’m sorry.” It’s OK, Kyle; you can’t help it if Declan loves you more. Sick of Hillary’s interference, Declan approaches Lori on his own to talk and he apologizes and asks to become friends again. Finally! Also, Declan finally got a haircut. Everything’s coming up roses!

After his conversation with Hillary Kyle realizes he’s brought nothing but trouble into the Tragers’ lives and decides to go after Jessi and take down Madacorp for good to make sure they can’t hurt his family ever again. Nicole catches him sneaking out and is very hurt, but doesn’t stop him from leaving because she knows whatever is going on with Kyle and Jessi is related and is so much more than she can even comprehend. Kyle tracks a very confused and scared Jessi down in the woods near where he released Baylin’s ashes and convinces her he can help and not to give in to her bad instincts, and that she can change and they can fight Madacorp together.

In the aftermath of his fight with Nicole, Stephen goes to Madacorp to get some work done and runs into Emily. She tries to explain why the server is locked and the trial data from yesterday was erased, but she does a really horrible job and Stephen gets suspicious. (Also, speaking of Emily: where the hell is Paige? Did Jessi eat her or something? I need an explanation of what happened there.) Stephen sneaks into the test room and sees Foss strapped in and has a total “WTF?” moment, but starts to put the pieces together when he conveniently hears Taylor giving an oral history of the Kyle/Baylin/Madacorp saga to Foss’s semi-lifeless body. Foss, because he’s a bad-ass, manages to grab Taylor’s neck and start to choke a bitch even in his weakened state. While the security guards rush to Taylor’s aid, Stephen slips out and books it home to Nicole, who is waiting for him on the front steps. They have one of those “I need to talk to you” “NO, I need to talk to YOU” moments that only happen on TV, and they finally realize they both have secrets to share about Kyle. It's about damn time.

Next week: the season finale. I can’t wait!

Random thoughts:

- Sour Patch Kid sightings: 1.

- Hillary is like a pop culture encyclopedia. In this episode alone she made references to Dr. Phil, Oprah (calling herself “Faux-prah” – ha!), Heroes and Lost. I hated Hillary for most of season one, but she’s really growing on me.

- Matt Dallas needs to stop wrinkling his forehead so much. I should mail him a picture of Luke Perry these days and say “Don’t let this happen to you!”


Tuesday, August 28, 2007

“I like your verbs that are things. I think I’m going to sandwich after I sofa here for a little bit.”: My Boys

[Note: This picture obviously isn’t from the actual episode. But isn’t it nice? – C.]

Last night’s episode (“ the City”) was a wonderful showcase of what works in this series and what doesn’t. My Boys is at its best when dealing with the core group of friends and their interactions with each other, as exemplified by the Brendan storyline. Much like the How I Met Your Mother gang, this cast has a wonderful and believable energy together which elevates sometimes mediocre stories into something special. My Boys is at its worst when it tries to branch out beyond this world, bringing in guest stars or stories that isolate the characters from one another, as exemplified by the P.J. storyline.

Let’s start with the story that works. The crew is gathered together for their usual poker game when Brendan shows up late with a friend, and is obviously about to completely blow them off to go somewhere with said new friend. And this is where my notes devolve into capital letters and exclamation points, because OH MY GOD THAT’S RYAN REYNOLDS PLEASE TAKE OFF YOUR SHIRT!!!!111!!!

Ahem. Sorry.

Reynolds plays Brendan’s friend “Hams,” and he’s the inspiration behind Brendan’s sudden downward spiral into douchebaggery via overly styled hair, ridiculous clothing and the reduction of his vocabulary to words like whatevs (whatever), vods (vodka), show show (shower, maybe?) and waffs (waffles). Bobby: “That’s…annoy.” Much to P.J.’s chagrin, Hams spends his three minutes of screen time on his cell phone dissing her apartment, rating her “a 6, 6.5 tops” and asking to get online “ASAP.” I spend the next 27 minutes of the show wondering why they would waste Reynolds in a throwaway cameo. Not to say I didn’t like it, because oh, how I did.

After Brendan ditches the gang's plans for a midnight showing of The Simpsons Movie (“I’m playing laser tag with Jeremy Piven”) and screens Mike’s call at a trendy club, they realize he needs an intervention. A douchebag intervention. The brilliant thing about this intervention is it allows the actors to say various forms of “douchebag” over and over again. Man, douchebag is a funny word. They take the intervention very seriously, reading letters they wrote about what a douchebag Brendan is and how it has affected them. My favorite is Kenny, who says “when you tried to get me to buy the new Fergie album it made me feel so lonely.” But Kenny, don’t you know big girls don’t cry? Brendan denies he’s changed at first, but when P.J. forces him to really look at his insane belt buckle, he finally snaps out of it and realizes what a jerk he’s become. It’s sudden, yes, but funny and funny forgives all transgressions in my book.

Now for what doesn’t work. At all. P.J. is excited because her college newspaper editor, Lissa, is visiting from New York City. P.J. obviously looks up to her, but when she arrives, she does so with three friends in tow and they so clearly are meant to represent the four women on Sex and the City that it’s insulting. When the bus splashes Not!Carrie! just like in SATC's credits, I want to cry. P.J. tries to act like nothing has changed, but at brunch Not!Charlotte! uses the word “champers,” Not!Miranda! is rude to the waiter, and Not!Samantha! makes so many double entendres that P.J. almost commits seppuku right there at the table. I know the writers were probably trying to do a “we are not a Sex and the City retread, look at what Sex and the City really was” thing here, but it is completely unsuccessful on almost every level. The first problem is it’s not funny. The second problem is it’s not clever. The third problem is it made me think about the fact that I watched every episode of Sex and the City even though I sort of hated it most of the time. Why did I do that?

Peppered throughout is an amusing gag about Andy’s new suburban neighbor “Fritzy,” who is so overly friendly that Andy resorts to driving his car down the driveway to get the paper in order to avoid seeing him. The best part is how Fritzy keeps pawning zucchini and zucchini-related foods off on Andy, including some sort of zucchini spread that Andy threw out of his car window onto the highway because it smelled like “hot pond.” This is so hilariously on point because everyone with a garden knows that if you grow zucchini in your yard, you will be eating zucchini every day for the entire summer. That is one bountiful vegetable. It also nicely sets up dynamics for next week’s episode where the gang goes to the suburbs for a get-together at Andy’s house.

Until then, my friends.


Track Review: White Rabbits, "The Plot"

For a six piece band, White Rabbits are able to use that three part vocal harmony much to their credit in creating a very simple, very soulful sound. Their first single, "The Plot" off of their debut album Fort Nightly is an easy going, steady beat number that sweetly trails along with slightly cryptic lyrics and a vocal urgency evoking The Walkmen more than, say, Bono. This keeps the track small but also tuneful and grounded. "The Plot" is a song that could have easily gone off in a much larger direction, losing its way in melodrama and grandness. White Rabbits, however, exhibit impressive control here and simply go for broke with what they have. What they have, incidentally, is probably one the the best Rock singles of the year.


Monday, August 27, 2007

Big Love Mondays: Season Two, Episode 24, "Oh, Pioneers!"

Big Love’s second season finale tries to do so many things at once that it periodically flies off the rails, only to find itself righted again by a single powerful scene or moment. The episode is perhaps the best evidence yet that the show can always rely on its phenomenal cast to grab hold of it and wrench it down to earth when it seems likely to go floating off into the stratosphere. The episode isn’t an awful one, by any means, but it commits one of the cardinal sins of the season finale: It turns into the “And then this happened! And this happened! And this happened!” like a child breathlessly recounting a series of events instead of an actual dramatic recreation of those events. A lot of season finales, trying to tie up everything that happened in the season preceding, fall into this trap, and it’s hard to skate past all of those plot points and make them feel like they have some resonance to them (the Battlestar Galactica season three finale, of all things, is just about the best recent example of how to make the overstuffed finale work).

Normally, I complain that Big Love spends too much time with the Juniper Creek gang (though I know many of you disagree -- thanks for the e-mails!) to the detriment of the more interesting, more believable Henricksons, working their way through life on their mini-compound in Sandy, Utah. This week, though the best scenes and moments are all Henrickson-centric, the Juniper Creek storyline is actually more compelling for once, as it illustrates perfectly how the compound’s tendrils wrap into the life of Bill Henrickson (Bill Paxton) and his wives. What’s more, the Juniper Creek storyline (featuring Alby (Matt Ross) trying to seize power while Roman (Harry Dean Stanton) worked to recover in time to reclaim his power) feels focused and assured, even as the Henrickson stories are jumping back and forth from plot point to plot point. In rough order, we retouch on Bill’s flirtation with taking a waitress (Branka Katic) as a fourth wife, Margene (Ginnifer Goodwin) entertains an offer of being a surrogate for a neighbor, Sarah (Amanda Seyfried) struggles with her boyfriend AND her brother, Barb’s (Jeanne Tripplehorn) doubts about her polygamist life, and a host of other minor moments and storylines (from Nicki (ChloĆ« Sevigny) suspecting Bill of having her father shot to the whole Weber Gaming situation). That’s a lot of story to service in one episode, and it meant that the show got to do very little in regards to its favorite themes of compromise, honesty, and choosing between the self and a greater creed. To actually do the episode justice would be to write a basic plot summary, as that’s what "Oh, Pioneers!" feels like at moments.
There's more here.


"I've seen Scary Movie 10 times": Entourage

My brother (Joey) wandered into the room as I finished the latest episode of Entourage ("No Cannes Do"), and as I marveled at the wincingly insane ending that incorporated another wooden guest star turn (the third in this episode alone) along with the most glaringly awkward "everything comes up roses for Vinnie Chase" wrap-up (thanks for stealing my thunder on that one, Todd), I said "this show has lost its mind". It's a few hours later, but I still believe it. I mean...what WAS that? What was the whole episode, for that matter? It felt like a few barely-strung together half-jokes that were never finished, set around one of the lamest story ideas they've ever attempted. I mean, literally, the entire plot of the episode could be described thus: "the gang waits for a plane to take them to Cannes. Shenanigans occur". I mean, honestly. It's not like I think half-hour comedies need intricate plots. Think of Seinfeld, setting whole episodes in a parking garage or in line at a Chinese restaurant. But Seinfeld had jokes that dovetailed into each other majestically, every character's action having reverberations throughout every other plotline. This was just a few crudely banged-together C-stories the writers had lying around to fill the gap before their big Cannes-set finale.

Let's pause on that for a second: the FINALE of season four is being set in Cannes! That means stupid frickin' Medellin has supposedly dominated this whole season, and it doesn't even have a fake release date yet! I say supposedly because this season has in fact had no real arc to it at all. There's been the odd Medellin episode and a couple about the gang finding a new project (what was a mountain movie became a dystopian thriller last week, but it all--surprise surprise--worked out in the end), but most episodes have been structured around Eric moaning and Drama scheming to engage in some form of deviant sex. The whole season, I think, has been a disappointment because Doug Ellin and his staff never committed to an industry plot, like they did in season 2 with Aquaman and (to a lesser extent) season 3 with Medellin. The show is at its best when it's satirizing the industry. Yes, there should be the odd party episode where the gang just fools around, but that's heavily dominated this season, and I think that's been the real downfall here. Although, last week was an Ari-dominated industry plot, and while it was better, it still wasn't nearly as sharp as the show used to be.

I'm going to briefly touch on the Anna Farris stuff just because it was so, so irritating. Again: it's not like I have any problem with Anna Faris. But to have Billy Walsh suddenly chime in on her prodigious talent and treat her like his next muse was a bridge too far. I hate how self-serving this show is to its guest stars! This week we had Sydney Pollack, Kanye West and Faris, and each one of them got a sort of silent reverence whenever they entered the scene. It really breaks the rhythm of an episode, even one as bad as this, and the haphazard way that they're introduced (like, who HASN'T Ari represented at one point or another?) is so cringe-worthy. I'm glad they dumped Faris after this ep, because her stuff with Eric was so boring, but that's a plot that would have worked far better with a different actress. They just didn't get the right fit at all.

I won't even bother with the rest of it. Ari bickering with both his wife and Lloyd was nothing new--neither were his reconciliations with them. Yeah, Piven's good, and it's nice to include Perrey Reeves and Rex Lee week to week, but give their spats a rest--it just clogs up the episode, especially when they're this meaningless. Turtle's irrational fear of terrorists was probably the most halfhearted joke the show has ever tried to make (they backed down from it almost immediately) and all Drama did was preen in the background. I dunno what else to say. I'm sure I'll be able to rant a little more at next week's (one assumes) star-studded finale. It's been a tiresome summer with this show, that's for sure.


Dude, Pushing Daisies

I showed this to Libby for the first time last night, and after she got done doing little dreamy sighs and talking about the general excellence of Anna Friel, she then said that I had to start pimping the show hard.

Consider it done, my sweet.

Expect further advice on what to watch this fall later, but know that Pushing Daisies is at the top of the list. I have concerns about how it will work as a series, but, God, I can't wait to see if they can solve those issues. And given how many of my issues with the pilot they solved IN THE COURSE OF THE PILOT, I'm feeling pretty damn safe.

Caveat: At least 30% of you will hate this.

Look, though! She's so cute!

Confidential to David: If you don't blog the absolute nadir of Entourage's celebrity cameos AND deux ex machinas which occurred in the EXACT SAME PLOT POINT, you are fired.