OMG, like, I can’t believe Chloe actually said that quote? The IRONY? I didn’t even know Smallville could do irony!!
Not really. Actually, this is hardly the first time the writers have pulled some jokey references to Clark’s future, nor will it be the last. It’s actually really irritating, as anyone still watching this show have resigned themselves to the fact that we will not be seeing Clark make the change from farm boy to superhero until probably the last few episodes of the series. And who knows when that will be. So we have had to put up with the Green Arrow going on about Clark’s responsibility to the world, and now Lana admitting that one day the world will need Clark more than her, knowing all the while that this ain’t gonna happen any time soon. Such references are therefore less foreshadowing, and more a giant FUCK YOU to the audience. (As you can probably guess, I didn’t think much of Clark receiving a red cape as a present this episode. It was a pathetic and unnecessary moment.)
Luckily, Smallville has picked up a good new habit recently – when one storyline goes nowhere we haven’t seen before, there’s often another going somewhere more interesting. In ‘Action’ that was the journey of Lana, who it seems has taken up the mantle of Lex as the official shipper for ends-justifying-the-means. This week saw the return of Lionel, who initially seemed to be caught in a bizarre remake of Misery, right down to his captor’s choice of weapon: a hatchet. Thankfully, things quickly take a turn for the more interesting – turns out Lana’s the one who captured Lionel, and had been paying crazy hatchet woman to keep him in the middle of nowhere. She’s still got some stuff to learn, as at the moment she’s about the worst fake-Lex ever, but any plotline that takes a Smallville character in a genuinely new direction has got my support. Best of all, Lana’s transformation is effectively showing the effect her and Lex’s disastrous marriage has wrought on her. This was shown in a well-written and well-played scene between her and Lionel near the end of the episode. He warns her against going down a dark path for the sake of revenge, urging that she let Lex go before it’s too late. One could argue that this plot just makes Lana the secret-keeper in the Clana relationship rather than Clark, which is hardly genius writing. But I like it nonetheless, and Kreuk seems to be relishing Lana’s new direction.
The baddie this week was interesting – a comic fan who is so outraged with the changes made in the film adaptation that he becomes murderous. In a plot point which will resonate with all manner of comic geeks, he is angry because the hero’s love interest, who dies in the comics (à la Gwen Stacy), is going to survive in the film. This fan believes so intensely that the hero must suffer loss as part of his journey that he tries to kill the actress playing the love interest (guest star Christina Milian – not bad at all). However, after witnessing Clark’s powers he turns his attention to Lana, attempting to kill her instead in the hope that Clark will then become a proper superhero. As a show that has close to cannibalised its source, it’s hypocritical of Smallville to attempt critical commentary on this subject. But the villain’s motivation was clever and very original, if extremely silly.
All in all, not a bad episode, if an especially ridiculous one. It was particularly chock-full of references, and while those to the Superman mythology didn’t work, the other comic allusions were more compelling. Not looking forward to next week though, as it places the focus upon Kara, who I really didn’t miss this episode. Not encouraging for such a new character.
Saturday, October 27, 2007
Well, well, well. I have to say, everything's going veeerry smoothly in Grey's Anatomy land. I'm really enjoying everything about it, except for...well...you know what. Last week I tried to ignore it til the very end, but this week I'm gonna get it out of the way first.
GIZZIE! AAAAAAGH. Okkkayy. Actually, this week's episode gave me a little hope for the whole thing. Not just because at least now it's all out in the open and George & Izzie have to actually confront the idea of them being together. Because, no, that's not interesting or a good storyline (although I get the feeling Shonda thinks it is). It's downright creepy to see them talk like morons to each other about the future of their relationship, honestly. T.R. Knight and Katherine Heigl might be the best of friends but they have AWFUL romantic chemistry and they aren't getting any better. No sir. Anyway, why was I hopeful? Cause now I see the big picture. There's only one way this story ends, and it ain't with George and Izzie living happily ever after. Shonda might be intent on dragging this thing out mercilessly to prove how good an idea it was and how it's gonna lead to all this fabulous pathos and drama, but I sense she knows as well as any that the door on Gizzie is getting closed soon. I predict by around episode nine or ten, they're history. So I'm gonna ignore this from now on until it goes away.
Otherwise episode five, "Haunt You Everyday", was a lot of fun! It had lots of nice bond-y moments between characters, it had a guy chainsawing his own leg off in the middle of the hospital (sick!) and it had...oh yeah. AVA. OR REBECCA! WHATEVER! ELIZABETH REASER, YO! *pulls lever, balloons fall, music plays*. Yes, finally, the lovely Ms. Reaser is back, looking better than ever I might add, and her reveal was great. And she and Alex got down to it right away! Perfect! Or...almost perfect. Cause even though Reaser was fantastic and totally ready to settle down with Alex, he was distracted from her in the second half in the episode by the contrivance of poor stormin' Norman (the world's oldest intern ever, if you've forgotten) having a stroke. Which Alex is understandably upset about! But he leaves Ava/Rebecca (let's just call her Reaser?) hanging, and that's not cool. I hope the writers didn't invent that as an excuse to drive a wedge between them and sabotage my long-marinating plan to get Reaser added to the cast permanently. I hope it's just bad story structure, I really do. Cause if that and maybe a tacked-on fight scene later on is all we get of Reaser, I'm writing a strongly-worded letter to ABC. STRONGLY WORDED.
Oddly enough, and with basically no fanfare, another new cast member DID appear tonight. Just the same as every other addition to the Grey's cast, it was a formerly recurring character who has impressed in her guest spots. Yes, it's Brooke Smith as the acerbic Dr. Erica Hahn, taking over Burke's abandoned spot as head of cardio surgery. She even got a nice emotional heart transplant storyline for her first episode in the credited cast. Good for you, Dr. Hahn! Anyway, this was a no-brainer call. Smith (who's also great on Weeds this year and showed up once in Dirty Sexy Money too) is a pro and she was just terrific every time she's appeared before. With Burke gone, it's a good idea to go in another direction - i.e., more of a Dr. Bailey direction than a Dr. Shepherd direction. I'm really hopeful about this idea, and I think she and Cristina or she and Bailey could make a good pair, too.
Another pair that started up this week was new BFFs Cristina and Callie. Yep, now that Callie's dumped George officially, and announced it to everyone in the hospital (really, they should have gotten a better reaction line about that from Meredith or Cristina), she needs a new buddy and a new place to live. Who better than Cristina, also recently dumped? Nobody, that's who. Although Cristina at first offers Burke's apartment to the newly-divorced Chief, she then withdraws her offer (poor Chief!) and instead shacks up with Dr. Torres. Great idea! It's a pairing they should have thought of ages ago, but now that Callie and Cristina are done having all their plots tied to their long-term love interests, maybe they can have a little more fun!
The medical plots this ep were fine, nothing too exciting. I liked how the show almost mocked its more mawkish tendencies with the kid who talked all cute in a shrewd strategy to get some pro bono surgery done on his ears. I liked it cause Meredith is always good with kids (probably because she's usually behaving like one) and because Mark got a great scene where all the nurses say they've formed a club that hates him. Like the No Homers club. His nonplussed reaction to that was really funny. And his earnestness to do something decent after that was funny too. I love Mark. More Mark, always! On the Lexie front, nothing, except Cristina fooled her into dressing like...Pippi Longstocking? Or Raggedy Ann? I couldn't quite tell. Funny moment, though.
What are others thinking? Honestly, I'm quite pleased with the show, but I'm just literally blacking out all the Gizzie segments to do so. Oh well.
Friday, October 26, 2007
Within seconds, it all went wrong. As JD and Elliott were closing in for a kiss, one of them wisely pulled back. But it wasn’t JD, it was Elliott. No! Wrong! One of the main complaints now levelled at Scrubs is that JD has become immature, obnoxious and generally irritating. So here the writers have presented themselves with a perfect opportunity to advance their main character’s maturity hugely within a single moment, and all they had to do was have JD be the one to pull back! Apparently not. So already, a disappointing opening to what I really, really hope won’t be a disappointing season.
You see, I love Scrubs. I love the characters, I love the ideas, and I think it has maintained itself season after season better than many shows. But the sixth season was undeniably bad, and ended on a very weak note with a return to the whole JD & Elliott thing. Last we heard, the writers were divided over where the two should end up together, with half the room for it and half against. For me, ‘My Own Worst Enemy’ was proof that the two have become annoying as a couple, and that the wisest move would be to conclude their whole saga within the next few episodes. If the writers have decided to end with them together, personally I’m going to find it a tough sell.
Aside from JD’s drama, ‘My Own Worst Enemy’ actually had plenty of funny stuff going on. I enjoyed all of Dr. Beardface’s scenes, everything with Kelso (his cynical quips are an increasingly essential antidote to the show’s more saccharine tendencies), Cox commenting wryly on the melodrama going on around him (although he's become less effective, simply because we’re so used to him by now). Elliott and Keith’s break-up was reasonably well-played, and allowed Sarah Chalke a lot of killer moments which she totally sold (I especially liked her inappropriate jokes to a heartbroken Keith). Some other choice gags: the entire hospital watching Elliott reject Keith’s proposal, everyone falling in love with Joe, and Carla agreeing that perhaps Elliott is a pig whore. Bits that fell flat: the whole awards show thing, the Janitor’s girlfriend (who I hear we’ll be seeing more of) and the references to Occam’s Razor, simply because House had already done it.
Overall, not an encouraging start, but I’m still optimistic about this season. I’m just not connecting emotionally with these characters at the moment, especially JD, who has never been more unsympathetic. Still, it’s way too early to judge.
(By the way, if anyone’s interested you can see a video of this episode’s table read here. Worth watching for anyone interested in the page to screen process, or because it’s about as close as you’re going to get to hanging out with the cast of Scrubs.)
Hmm...after a rather good one last week, I thought this week's Reaper was in major stall mode, decent fun but...enh. Enh enh enh. I don't like it when people judge the future of a new show SO quickly when it has a lot promise, but Reaper definitely needs to pick up speed soon, or else it could slip into 'minor diversion' permanently. And nobody wants that, right?
Problem A: Andi. I always start these reviews with Andi. I wonder why. No, I know why. We all know why. Andi's story this week was pretty recycled from that thing a couple episodes ago, except now it looks like it could be more permanent. She's dating some anonymous bore when she should be dating Sam, basically. So, great, more stalling. Not only is there this anonymous bore, but literally three times per episode, Sam about to do something awesome with Andi but then Satan makes him do something else so he has to make up some dumb excuse about why he stood her up. It's okay once in a while, but come on. Why would Andi ever give Sam the time of day anymore? He's all over the bloody place!
Of course, getting Andi in on the whole Satan thing would fix that. But this week the Devil warned Sam against including her in the big secret, making vague doom-and-gloom threats about his secret "dying with him" and stuff. Weird. Actually, the one good thing about this episode was it made slight inroads into the deeper mythologies of the show. Which is essential for Reaper's long-term prospects. Again, it was all very vague. Satan's warnings and the stuff with Sam's dad getting all worked up about not getting to meet the big dude. At first I assumed Sam's dad wanted to offer himself in the place of Sam or something noble like that, but then I remembered that had already been kiboshed. And then we see dad (if he has a name, I don't remember it) burning specific pages of the contract. Creeepy. What's up with that? I guess we'll find out later.
What about the actual plot this time? Eh. Slime-man was actually kinda cool. The effects were mostly solid, especially when they were costume/prosthesis (the VFX were way weaker, but hey, it's the CW, whatcha gonna do). Still, it was pretty weak overall. No pathos, the demon wasn't even a character, man! The magical ugly sweater never really paid off either. I guess it was funny seeing Aaron Douglas as a demon UPS agent. Ugh. Anyway, some funny lines, I always love Rick Gonzalez, but it was weak overall. I'm willing to endure maybe a couple more of these, but Reaper needs to pick up steam soon. Soon. V. soon.
30 Rock topped itself yet again with another hilarious episode and one that managed to have something to say, both about its characters and the world at large. It was funny on levels that went from broad gags (the page-off) to meta commentary (Liz insisting that the show couldn't do racial humor. . .only for exactly that to happen) to social issues jokes (I can't believe a show made me laugh about H.R. Haldeman). It was a well-nigh perfect half hour for this show, one of the few that hasn't disappointed me in its return this fall.
The best thing about the episode was how it used its guest star, Carrie Fisher. I'm not wild about the show having celebrity guests in every episode, but it can work as long as those guests are playing funny characters. The Simpsons, perhaps the most guest-happy show ever, is usually better if the guest is voicing a specific character and not themselves. Will & Grace usually followed the same principle before I started watching it. 30 Rock seems to be following this as well, as the one guest who played themselves, Jerry Seinfeld, was one of the weaker guests the show has had. Fisher was just the right choice to play the spiritual mother of Liz and someone that Liz realized was someone she didn't want to be. The show's snide commentary on how the heroes of the '60s either became irrelevant or had to sell out was both funny and sort of sad, something 30 Rock excels at.
Good as Fisher was, nothing in her storyline could compare to the strange, wonderful, sort of frightening monologue that Jack gave in therapy with Tracy (where he simultaneously pretended to be Tracy's dad, Tracy's mom, the white guy Tracy's mom left Tracy's dad for and Tracy himself -- all four, I think, as characters from previous sitcoms, including Fred Sanford). Alec Baldwin's work as an impressionist is sorely underrated, as he proved in this scene, where he managed to nail every character. This scene alone should win him the actor in a comedy Emmy, though I'm not counting my chickens. Jack can only be crazy when he's trying to help one of his employees, so it made sense for him to be nuts tonight.
The Kenneth subplot -- where he got involved in a grudge match with the head page -- wasn't nearly as good, but it did have some terrific stuff, including the history of the show Supercomputer (which was, I think, a riff on Supertrain?). I have no idea which show could spinoff Cosby Show, Miami Vice and Cheers, but apparently Supercomputer could. The Jenna/Kenneth pairing has great potential for comedy, so I hope they utilize it more in the future.
I also liked that this episode worked the gang in the writers room back into the show. I had been missing them, and it was great to see Pete and Frank, and even get a line or two out of Cerie. I don't think that these characters are the most compelling on the show, necessarily, but it helps them not over-expose Kenneth to use them, and it gives greater dimension to Liz when she has to be a boss to them.
I'm going to have to cut it short, as I have Stuff to Do tomorrow, but I wanted to make sure I reminded you of the mailbox falling over. Shocking. I mean, think about it.
Thursday, October 25, 2007
Early on in this week’s episode, ‘Guardian Angels’, House notes of his applicants “I really think there are no bad choices in this group.” It’s a wonderfully loaded piece of dialogue which speaks magnitudes about House’s character. In torturing his many servants, House is obviously having the most fun he’s had in a long time. However, it’s fun for all the wrong reasons. House doesn’t just enjoy abusing them – that would be far too commonplace for a man like him. Instead, he savours the process of picking favourites based maybe a tiny bit on their talent as diagnosticians, but predominantly on which ones are more interesting. As House is a medical genius, he doesn’t even need to feel bad about this.
This week House fires Bosley (aka the old one, but I'll just call him Bosley) for an undeniably fair reason: they’ve both been constantly thinking along the same lines, and House has no use for someone who always agrees with him. Unbeknownst to him, Chris Taub (Peter Jacobson) was actually helping his case by protesting against this throughout the episode. One can’t help guessing, however, that House’s real reason for firing Bosley was something less genuine. He had clearly been fascinated by the fact that Bosley wasn’t a real doctor, but unlike the savvy Thirteen (Olivia Wilde, ever more charming), Bosley told House all about himself all at once. So since House knew everything about him, there was no mystery. And as Bosley wasn’t an interesting diagnostician to make up for this, he was gone. I’m not proclaiming the reason one or the other – too many TV characters have their motives spelled out by writers. House, on the other hand, is complex enough that his actions could have multiple explanations, or even no explanation at all. Which is just much more interesting.
‘Guardian Angels’, while diverting enough, wasn’t up to the standard set by the last three episodes. The problems may have stemmed from the case. The patient’s various hallucinations were creepy at first (especially in the disturbing teaser) but became tiresome when played more for emotional effect. The effect simply wasn’t there, despite fine performances and heartfelt dialogue. We hadn’t spent nearly enough time with the patient to feel her pain. Not that I’m suggesting House should start devoting more time to its patients – that would be a waste of its brilliant (and now, many) primary characters, plus that approach is currently ruining the considerable potential of Private Practice.
I did like all the stuff with House’s old team, although I hope we get to see a bit more of Chase soon. Cameron, who seemed to be enjoying herself nearly as much as House, placed a bet with him that Cole (Edi Gathegi) wouldn't take House being too mean to him. Cole does indeed punch House in the face, which I didn’t quite believe, but then I guess we don’t know enough about him to judge. Either way it keeps him on the team, in typical House style (another week, if House had been in different mood, he might have been fired on the spot). Meanwhile, Foreman searches in vain for another job. Finding that no-one will touch him after his gutsy call last week, he ends up back at Cuddy’s door. It’s a strong explanation for Foreman’s return, and I look forward to his reunion with House next week.
Oh, and one more thing: please let Bosley come back! It was hinted that he and House would now become actual friends, and I'd like House to finally find himself another pal (not that I don't love Wilson). Plus Bosley would make a cool recurring character.
For some reason, each week when I sit down to watch this show I cynically think to myself, "This is the week it's going to start sucking, I know it!" And then each week, without fail, it somehow defies my expectations by getting better. This show is just a little lifeboat of awesome on the sinking ship that is The CW, and I think all of America should climb on board and start baling water. I mean, can you imagine how fabulous the "We Survived Certain Death" party would be?
I absolutely think the smartest thing this show has done is revolve every episode around a different party. At first I thought this would get tiring, but it is actually perfect for bringing all of the characters together and forcing interactions that might not have happened without a party to facilitate it. Also, I love party dresses and champagne flutes. They're pretty! The only party story that hasn't worked so far this season was Chuck and Nate's boy's night party, because it split up the characters and seemed really boring as well. And it didn't involved party dresses.
This week the party was an old staple, the masquerade ball, perfect for mistaken identity tomfoolery! Blair spends the day preparing by ordering Jenny around like her little lapdog. Jenny happily complies because she is expecting an invite to the party like when she did the invitations for the "Kiss on the Lips" party. To Jenny's dismay, Blair is still forcing her to pay her dues and bitchily yet nicely at the same time tells her she can't go. How Leighton Meester plays bitchy and nice at the same time, I do not know. That is a talent, right there.
Meanwhile, at Blair's urging Serena finally gets up the nerve to invite Dan to the party, putting Dan in a bad spot because old love Vanessa has just returned to town and surprised Dan at his apartment. Serena hears Vanessa's voice in the background and Dan lies about who it is like a stupid teenage boy, and Serena catches him in the lie and decides not to invite him to the ball after all. Dan, crushed, decides to go to a movie with Vanessa instead. This leaves Serena dateless and Blair puts the word out, a plea which ends up on the Gossip Girl website. She ends up going with a jock from Newport that she meets online, which: creepy. Also, ha!
Dan decides to "be a man" and go after Serena at the party, lying to Vanessa by saying he's writing a paper and can't go to the movies. He sneaks in using some drunk rich kid's name and goes off looking for Serena. While he's sneaking in through the front door, Jenny is sneaking in the back with help from Vanessa. Okay, confession time you guys. I sort of hate Vanessa. I'm not sure I have a reason yet, it's just a feeling I have. Anywho, even though she thinks masquerade balls are "pretentious" Vanessa sticks around. I don't know why. Free champagne, maybe? Jenny spends her time tricking Chuck into following her to the roof and then locking him up there in his skivvies. Yes, it's mildly amusing, but if the show is trying to say they're even now I'm going to have to disagree. Dan, meanwhile, cuts in with Serena on the dance floor and they do the kiss and make up thing again. I hope they don't break up/make up each episode because that's going to get old. Awesomely, Vanessa sees them making out and everything becomes clear. They have a little fight on the dance floor and Vanessa reveals Dan told him he loved her right before she left town a year ago. She obviously came back expecting things to start right back up again, but Dan tells her the "loved" is in the past tense and he's with Serena now. I'm sure he'll never be conflicted again! Ugh.
Nate isn't having such a good time this week. Even though all of the money missing from his trust fund was replaced, he is still stressed over his father's apparent money issues. He goes searching his father's study and finds a bag of coke. Daddy's a druggie! He tries to talk to Blair about his problems, but she's too busy being fabulous so he goes to Serena for advice instead. He tries to get all up on her, but she rebuffs him because Serena is awesome, y'all. At the ball when he's supposed to be going on a scavenger hunt with the prize being Blair's virginity, he simply can't take it anymore and runs up behind Serena and tells her he's in love with her and kisses her right on the mouth. Too bad for him it's actually Jenny in Serena's mask and jacket! Masquerade ball, you tricky devil you! Blake Lively is at least six inches taller than Taylor Momsen so I don't know how anyone could confuse them, but just go with it. Nate's not that smart anyway, so I suppose it's believable. Jenny keeps quiet and runs away, obviously saving this information to use at the most advantageous time. Jenny, I love you, you social climbing party crasher. Things only get worse when Nate goes home and his mother confronts him with his father's coke. It's obvious his dad totally sold him down the river and expects Nate to take the rap for his drugs. Wow, Nate's dad really sucks. If I liked Nate more I might care.
As for the parents, they were back to being mostly boring after a strong outing last week. I think I've finally sussed out the reason their story doesn't work (besides the fact that I find the actor who plays Rufus to be completely without personality): it's that it feels too similar to the Blair/Nate/Serena drama. Both of those plots are completely trite, but at least with the younger set it can be explained away by immaturity and inexperience. With the older folks, it simply seems tired. Aren't they old enough to be beyond these types of games? I guess in a TV world populated with Shonda Rhimes characters the answer is no, but I at least wish the writers would give it a more creative spin. Until then, it's back to ignoring the parents again for me.
Next week: no show! They're back on November 7th, and the previews promise that NOTHING WILL BE THE SAME. Nothing! Oh, Gossip Girl. You know I love you. (xoxo)
Written very plainly as a middle story, the second chapter in the Imagination Land Trilogy did not disappoint. Perhaps it wasn't quite as good as Episode I, but the set-up is almost always a little more interesting than what follows. However, the writing with Episode II had the opportunity to have more fluidity through out, and the story was certainly less confusing.
The two main threads met up nicely, as the government is using Stan and Kyle to find a way into Imagination Land to stop the terrorists from attacking our imagination; Cartman treks to Washington to make sure that Kyle makes good on his agreement to suck Eric's balls if he could prove the existence of a leprechaun. The Imagination song that I mentioned last week comes heavily into play in how the U.S. military opens their portal to Imagination Land. This scores points for story continuity, and for obeying the rules of a trilogy: something from the previous episode thought to be insignificant WILL come back and prove to be otherwise.
Meanwhile, IN Imagination Land, the evil side has taken over. Freddy Kruger, Jason Voorhes, The Tripods from War of the Worlds...and in two amazing South Park cameos: Manbearpig and The Woodland Critters! If you don't quite remember these joyful creatures, take a look here. Along with hundreds of other figments of the evil imagination, the surviving members of Imagination Land are caused to flee through the Gum Drop Forrest to the Castle Sunshine. After watching the mayor murdered (totally wicked chest burst by a Xenomorph from Alien)Butters must also escape, and heads for the castle with the Lollipop King and Snarf from ThunderCats.
Back in Washington, the portal has been opened, becoming a complete parody of Stargate. Kurt Russell is commissioned to lead the team of soldiers into the portal to fight the terrorists. Though they are all quickly raped by the Woodland Critters.
In the midst of all of this, Cartman, having finally found Kyle, savors the moment as he prepares for Kyle to suck his balls. A cape, a crown, and a camera are just a few of his chosen items brought in to enjoy this moment. However, a breach through the gate forces everyone into the main lobby of the Pentagon and Cartman suffers with dry balls again.
Manbearpig has come through the gate! As all the different scientists get murdered they, of course, first speculate as to just what portion of this creature is more man, bear, or pig.
Back in Imagination Land, after arriving at the Castle Sunshine, Butters is brought before the Council of Nine, which is, by far, the best idea of this trilogy so far. The Council of Nine runs Imagination Land, and consists of nine of the highest regarded characters from human imagination: Aslan, Zeus, Morpeheus, Wonder Woman, Luke Skywalker, Gandalf (at least I THINK that it is Gandalf,) The Tooth Fairy (though that COULD be the Good Witch from The Wizard of Oz,) Popeye, and OF COURSE, Jesus. After some deliberation, the council comes to the agreement that Butters may just be the "key." Whatever that means. Butters is not pleased, as he really would rather go home and have waffles and nannas with his parents.
At the portal, Manbearpig is still attacking. They find a way to reverse the portal, but this accidentally pulls Stan in along with Manbearpig. Not before, however, Manbearpig deals a fatal blow to our beloved Jew, Kyle. Kyle is pronounced dead, but Cartman will have none of it! In ANOTHER brilliant homage (this time to The Abyss) Cartman furious and tearful is able to revive Kyle.
When Kyles comes to in a hospital room, Eric is there waiting with a camera and his signed contract.
End Episode II.
Not QUITE as good as The Empire Strikes Back, perhaps as good as The Two Towers. (hehe) I love how far gone they are into this entire concept. There really isn't any snobbery or asshole-ery to be found either. Again, the central conceit that when our imaginations get carried away in regards to terrorism, or really anything, it can lead to disaster is fairly simplified, but it seems to work as a thesis for now. The writing is just as good as they've ever displayed.
This is focused, funny and downright offensive. It's everything that makes South Park great.
My greatest dream for this blog is to get it on the first page of search results on Google when you search "Jayma Mays," so that someday, she might see that even when she appears only tangentially in an episode of television, we make the subsequent post all about her, as we feel she is America's greatest star. She will see this blog, smirk to herself in that charming way she smirks and proclaim South Dakota Dark the official blog of Jayma Mays. And, in this way, we will have done the world a favor.
Actually, the good Miss Mays wasn't the highlight of the episode (and thank God, because she was in it so little that if she HAD been the highlight of the episode, it would have been a dreary affair indeed) tonight; the highlight of the episode tonight was how it's split the regular cast in two, sending Emerson, Ned and Chuck off to solve mysteries while Olive and Chuck's aunts have even weirder adventures. I don't mean to besmirch the mystery-solving portion of the show (which is doing a yeoman's job of keeping the show grounded) when I say this, but the "Wacky adventures with Olive!" part of the show is rapidly turning into my favorite show on television. The mysteries are interesting, and they have their moments, but the Olive and Aunt Adventure Hour gives us lots of Kristen Chenoweth (who is FINALLY doing work on television that manages to channel what makes her appealing as a stage actress), as well as some pretty daffy stuff from Ellen Greene and Swoosie Kurtz. Hell, tonight, they sang along to They Might Be Giants after sewing a parrot's wing onto a pigeon named Pidge. (Please go back and read that sentence.) If Pushing Daisies is too precious (and it can be), the Olive and Aunts plots are injecting a needed bit of weird darkness into the proceedings to keep everything from getting too cutesy-wutesy (and that IS the technical term). It's even interesting to see how these three break down along the same lines as our central three -- Olive=Ned, Chuck=Vivian, Emerson=Lily. This allows the show to follow roughly the same path in both storylines, so it doesn't get too disorienting (all of the whimsy is doing that for the viewer).
All in all, I liked this week's episode a lot, even if I liked last week's episode slightly better. I'm actually a little sad to hear that Barry Sonnenfeld will be returning to direct a couple of episodes at midseason, since I think the show has gotten better with budget constraints. The first couple of episodes could get by skating around character logic because the show was so new and offering up some weird world-building around every turn. Now that they can't art direct everything to within an inch of its life, the Pushing Daisies creatives are figuring out some interesting and emotional stories that can be told about these characters, rather than throwing some swoony moments between our heroes on top of a weird mystery.
What let this episode down was the mystery, which was maybe too twisty for its own good. It certainly wasn't predictable (in that I couldn't have called how the mystery would end when it began), but that was mainly because it was so convoluted, not because it was so well-plotted. It's one thing to have a mystery that is so smart it keeps the audience guessing; it's quite another to have a mystery so twisty that it's just there to out-guess the audience. Pushing Daisies hasn't strayed quite that far yet, but when you open with a suspected hijacking and end with a treasure hunt, you know things are going all over the map.
I'm finally on board with everyone who's hoping that they tone down the Jim Dale narration. There were some scenes where it just grated tonight, while there were others where it was quite well done (that opening scene with young Ned and Digby, for instance). I think it's nice when, occasionally, the narrator says something that the characters then repeat verbatim, but when you do it too often, it feels like you're just filling out time. I love the tenor of Jim Dale's voice, and I love that he's not a character in the show, but I do think that the show could sell some of its moments without his voice on the soundtrack. For example: When Olive and Charlotte were both talking about the aunts early in the episode, I didn't need to have him there to remind me that they were talking about the same people. I get that it's a way to dispense with a lot of "previously on" information in a quick and easy manner, but this is the kind of show that inspires cultish devotion. It should trust its audience to know very basic concepts of the show.
I am glad that the show is putting a slowly rotting core at the center of the Ned and Chuck pairing. The two are already beginning to become too sweet, and it's nice to know that the show is aware of this and is introducing elements that threaten to tear them apart (like the guy Chuck sort of fell for tonight before learning he was the bad guy). That final dance in the beekeepers uniforms was supposed to be romantic, I think, but there was something off-kilter about the way it was conceived and shot that made it suggest that this is almost the point where Ned and Chuck realize they need something more than just kisses through Saran Wrap.
I don't mean to sound down on the episode, which was another solid entry in this show's already impressive resume. Believe me when I say that the Olive and the Aunts storyline was just what this show needed -- some interesting, dark, even emotional storytelling, anchored by great work from all three actresses. If the mysteries aren't quite there yet, they're getting better, and I like that they give the guest players (like our lovely Miss Mays) something to DO beyond sit there and be killed. There are always lovely little vignettes about how our guests got to where they are today, and these scenes also feature narration I don't hate.
Pushing Daisies is doing a Halloween episode next week, which sounds like a good idea. If ever there was a show that could pull off such a thing, it's this one. Let us know if you're still enjoying this show or if it's trying your patience in the comments.
Wednesday, October 24, 2007
If you're the sort of TV fan who spends his or her time worrying about how networks interfere with good shows to make them more marketable, then "The Fallen Woman" might upset you. The Zen-loving, fruit-eating, Det. Charlie Crews of the first couple of episodes is gone, in his place we have a slightly offbeat cop whose spiritual focus this week shifts from Buddhism to angels. This episode also dials back the who-set-Charlie-up overarching storyline in favor of a meditative, stand-alone hour that deepens the connection between new partners Crews and Reese.
A gorgeous young woman wearing angel wings is pushed out of a hotel window. The case attracts heavy media attention and a parade of nuts shows up at the police station to offer various theories about the dead "angel." One diffident man knows the truth. A frightened glue factory owner named Jasper (Steven M. Porter) met the deceased, Lena, in a bar frequented by young Russian women. (Jessica Pare is terrific as a friend of the victim who helps out the cops despite her fear of Roman) The two had married after a happy year together, and that's when Jasper was visited by Roman (Garret Dillahunt, another Deadwood alum checking in). Roman is the sort of Russian gangster people attribute paranormal powers to. Judging by his calm (sociopathic) demeanor and knowledge of the detetctives' personal lives, something is going on with this guy.
It's not surprising Roman would know about Crews, everyone else seems to. But he also provides the first real backstory we've gotten on Reese. Although we don't know where he's getting his info, it's still a genuinely chilling moment when Roman asks Reese about her drug addiction while undercover, affair with a junkie, and subsequent rehab. Reese is appropriately rattled, and (the promos for next week suggest) might be headed back to the bottle. She also seems to have lost her religious faith, and is seen in a closing shot pondering a cross necklace. Sarah Shahi hasn't gotten the hype given to her costar Damian Lewis, but this episode proved to me her acting chops are more than up to the challenge. I'm looking forward to next week, which the promos the suggest will be a Reese-centric episode.
Roman is eventually tied to the murder, but the ending of the episode is bungled thanks to a plot twist I won't reveal. Let's just say the resolution of this case will be familiar to anyone who has seen "The Departed" and Roman is free to return in future episodes. I was looking forward to a good interrogation room face-off between Roman and the cops, though I did enjoy the scene of Reese giving a Homeland Security agent some attitude.
In the subplots, Charlie's lawyer Constance was wrong to take on that shady client Neil Cudahy last week. Neil gets rough with her and Charlie eventually gives him a smackdown in a restaurant bathroom, leading to a look-in-the-mirror moment as Charlie gives into the violence of his prison days. Constance, married but in love with Charlie, is headed for New York on a case as the episode ends. Robert Stark (Brent Sexton), Charlie's partner from his pre-jail uniform days, is back this week. Stark (who let Charlie go down for the murder 12 years ago) has always seemed a little too eager too see his old buddy; at episode's end Roman drops a hint Stark may know something about 15-year old missing money. More to come on that....
"The Fallen Woman" feels like an episode of a show that wants to be around awhile, that wants to put character on an equal footing with story and isn't always about the payoff. I'm not saying its Homicide or anything, but in five weeks Crews and Reese have become very rounded, appealing, and yet believably flawed characters. Life continues to be my favorite new show of the season.
After a brief resurgence in energy and fun last week, Heroes’ second season takes a real dive with its fifth episode "Fight or Flight". It is definitely one of the worst episodes the series has produced in its young life, but not because any of the material is particularly shockingly bad. It is just lazy and sluggish, lacking any sense of forward momentum and weighed down with plodding, expositional dialogue.
Consider the fifth episode of the first season, 'Hiros', which featured a conversation between Peter Petrelli (Milo Ventimiglia) and a future version of Hiro Nakamura (Masi Oka), a confident warrior who seemed to know Peter well and knew the trials they would face together. This twist suggested quite an exciting future for the show's characters, where they were hardened warriors who fought alongside each other in full mastery of their powers. Yet currently, Peter is an amnesiac, dilly-dallying in Ireland rather than do-gooding in New York (easily the best real-life superhero location in comics lore), and Hiro is stuck in an increasingly boring feudal Japan trying to woo a beautiful princess. There are smatterings of intrigue, some domestic drama and a couple of fledgling romances, but for a show called Heroes, there's really not a lot of heroism going down at the moment.
Read the rest of the article here.
For how much is actually going on in this show right now, it sure is boring me. In this episode alone there were at least four different continuing storylines running, along with the past "person of the week" Dan was prescribed to help. Some of these stories were even mildly interesting. However, something happens when they put them all together that sends me right into dreamland, and I can't quite put my finger on what it is.
Let's start with the interesting stuff. Probably my favorite thing that's happened this entire season was Dan's storyline with his son Zack. Jumping while he was looking after him at a local farmer's market was a great way to add tension to Dan's abilities, because it hammers home the fact that he can never be alone with Zack for fear of what might happen, which is pretty darn tragic. The best twist was when Zack saw Dan jump and told his dad how he understands him now because he saw "his magic." It was a nice little moment of child wonder, something that the show was smart by featuring.
Also interesting is Elliot Langley, the tachyon expert. He randomly showed up for a meeting at Dan's office and proceeded to be...well...strange, and sort of awesome at the same time. Dan asked him about time travel and its possibility and Langley was cagey at best. Dan also asked if they had spoken before in the 90's, which Langley denied but could definitely be lying about. It's obvious Langley knows more than he is saying, and seems to be playing along with Dan at this point and seeing what he knows more than telling him outright what's going on. This time travel deal has to lead up to something more, but if it does they are definitely not showing their hand just yet. Hopefully this storyline will pick up soon because it is probably the most compelling thing they have going on.
Slightly interesting is the story behind Dan's father (played by Joel Gretsch of The 4400, seemingly making a living off of the sci-fi genre) who Dan goes to visit while in the past to get help on a case. It seems that dear old Dad left Dan when he was very small, and generally seems like a self-involved ass. Dan visiting his past like this is something the show needs to do more, and considering that his father is played by a semi-known face I have a feeling we might be seeing him again.
Much, much less interesting is Dan's brother Jack and his continued meddling in Dan and Katie's life. There should be some sort of rule that "Jack" can no longer be used for television character names, because ENOUGH with the Jacks already. Jack sucks, and I wish they could just convince him of Dan's time travel so we can be done with this ridiculousness for good. Also wrapped up in this ridiculousness is the continued pursuit of the robber from last week, which the police believe was Dan. Honestly, this is just one more complication to the time traveling thing that I don't think needs to be there yet. Isn't his family situation enough for now?
Also uninteresting is the past "person of the week" story which is quite sad because it is shamelessly ripped off from the D.B. Cooper story, which I find fascinating. Unfortunately, Journeyman's D.B. Cooper (called Dylan McCleen) was a special forces soldier who served in Vietnam and only stole the money and jumped out of the plane so he could use that money to bring a Cambodian family to America because they had helped him when he was wounded in the war. YAWN. Really, show? You have the entire D.B. Cooper story and decide this is what you want to do with it? Whatever. Everyone knows Jimmy James is really D.B. Cooper anyway.
Overall, there are definitely things to like about this show but it's just not coming together for my own personal tastes. What do you guys think? Is anyone out there still enjoying this show or is everyone, like me, just using it as an insomnia cure?
Here’s the deal: I am bored at work. I have nothing to blog about until I watch South Park later tonight, and I feel like writing. So, you, dear reader will have to suffer through me spouting off about recent bands and albums and songs that I’ve heard and what I think of them. That’s one of the perks of being a TV writer AND the sole music writer on the blog. Hey, does that make me the music EDITOR? That would be cool. I’ve always wanted to be an editor: Daniel Rivera, Senior Music Editor for South Dakota Dark. Where can I make business cards?
Boring! These guys have been talked about a lot lately, scored a lot of great ink, and (apparently) had an impressive showing at CMJ. I’m not buying it! Their sound is pleasant in a mostly organic kind of way, and it leans towards the interesting in regards to overall structure. However, they really don’t have any substantial tricks up their sleeves to differentiate them from any sort of Indie herd. They have an all expansive palette of influences; they seem to even borrow heavily from the Go! Team; they produce an end product that most would consider blissful pop. Okay. I just described like 100 bands that also played CMJ. It’s not bad music or anything, but I’m a busy man! I like snapping my fingers and movin’ my hips as much as anybody else, but I don’t see why this is special. And let me clarify by making it known that I’m not trying to be contrarian here. Black Kids are a talented band, and I wish them success, but I am not jumping on any band wagon that labels them as some sort of “it” group for the Florida music scene (GAG.) Also, The whole ironic name thing works against them because you expect them to be far more interesting than they actually are. I could be wrong on this one, seeing as I haven’t heard QUITE enough of them, (just their debut EP which you can hear on their myspace linked above) but I am not clamoring for more, as of yet. B…F…D.
Bloc Party, "Flux"
This is Bloc Party kind of going off the map here. Digital…electronic…fresh beats…FAT beats. YOU KNOW. This seems like something that they’ve wanted to do for a while though, ya know, since the whole remix album. I have to say that I love it, in any case. Bloc Party has quietly become one of my very favorite bands, though, so I may be biased. Anyway, this comes from their digital EP of the same name to be released in November. The Flux EP is supposed to coincide, I believe, with the digital re-release of A Weekend in the City (my pick for one of the best and most underrated albums of 2007.) As a track, "Flux" is both epic and self contained. Its static momentum should work against it, but seems to uplift the song with every driving moment. Downtrodden and slightly vicious, Flux takes a mostly generic approach to the break-up song, but adds a rich texture to it that surprises you. This is pretty addictive.
Well, I thought I would be bored for a bit longer than this, but it's BACK to work!
Stay tuned for South Park thoughts, as part II of the Imgination Land (Kyle sucks Cartman's Balls) Trilogy continues.
Tuesday, October 23, 2007
(Because I wanted to use the screencap of the Hot/Crazy scale from Alan Sepinwall's blog and because I found it fascinating, I'm reprinting part of this comment for your enjoyment and edification. -- ed.)
Faithful blog reader (and great blogger in his own right) Kenny pointed out something in a comment made to yesterday's HIMYM post. As I recall, Kenny spent a little time in the HIMYM writers' room in season one, which leads to his impressive insight (and causes a quick pang of jealousy from your friendly blogger).
The "This is my year!" blow-up by a girl who makes handbags was taken directly from something that happened to writer Ira Ungerleider during the first season, and seeing it finally make it into the show after all this time made the moment even more hilarious to me.
I don't know what else he knows about which jokes that get into the show come from which sources, but I know I'm interested. You won't see THAT at TV Squad!
I'm starting to think maybe Brennan and Booth should just sleep together.
I know, I know. When you end up a will-they/won't-they storyline with the two characters doin' it, it often leads to the chemistry the two have dissipating because all of the mystery has gone out of the relationship. But if you extend the period of time that the two are forced to NOT have sex, it just become unrealistic that they wouldn't have noticed their chemistry before. This is why episodes in Bones' third season are full of scenes where the audience is clubbed gently over the head with the knowledge that BRENNAN AND BOOTH ARE AFRAID TO ADMIT HOW IN LOVE THEY ARE. Or something.
For the first two seasons, this dance of chemistry was fairly enjoyable (indeed, it was pretty much all that kept the show afloat during the early days of season one, when it felt as if the show didn't know what it wanted to be). Emily Deschanel and David Boreanaz definitely have chemistry together, and the show also gave them the sort of characters who could be believably prickly with each other. In the first two seasons, it was also fairly good about throwing believable obstacles in their way -- oh, he has a kid; oh, she's falling in love.
But now that we've hit season three, it's starting to become unbelievable that these two wouldn't even notice that they have this terrific spark to them (when Angela told them their arguing was kind of hot, I rolled my eyes). While I love Sam Weir (oh, fine, John Francis Daley), the new psychiatrist the two are visiting feels increasingly like a way for the show to have its cake and eat it too. It's as if the show really just wanted an audience surrogate to chuckle and say, "Those two crazy kids! When are they going to get together!?"
The episode centered around the death of an organic farmer who championed environmental causes. In his death, it was revealed that he wasn't REALLY that much of an environmentalist, choosing to do a "do as I say, not as I do" sort of thing. Now, I may be completely pulling this out of thin air, but hasn't this sort of hypocrisy already been a plot point in something very recently? Why is this the new storyline du jour? The brief furor over Al Gore preaching the ills of fossil fuel consumption and the dangers of climate change while living in a ginormous house and flying around in jets died down in the summer of 2006, when episodes of LAST season were being written. Was it revealed that the leaders of Greenpeace spend all of their time devouring baby pandas or something? Did I just miss this? Because I have no idea why environmentalists who don't practice what they preach is so popular right now.
Actually, I think I do. It's the same principle as every show trotting out a corrupt pastor -- there's nothing more we love to see than those who abuse their power get what's coming to them. There's a weirdly religious aspect to environmentalism, even that which is steeped completely in science, simply because of how insignificant we are in the face of the natural forces of the Earth. Therefore, the proponents of taking care of our planet almost have that allure to them of the preacher (and, indeed, a lot of pieces on An Inconvenient Truth called Gore messianic). There's something about as humans that likes to see these people tripped up, so I guess that's where all of this is coming from.
It still didn't change my feelings about the mystery, which was often rote. Fortunately, I don't turn to Bones for the mysteries; I come to see the character work. Unfortunately, that feels more and more forced this season, as the writers keep Brennan and Booth apart, making them feel more and more like emotional adolescents. I know that Moonlighting fell apart after David and Maddie got together (not because of it), but there was another show around the same time that proved you could have a central couple get together and break up in an endless cycle and keep it fun. It was called Cheers, and you may have heard of it. Here's hoping the Bones writers can figure out a way to ape this format or, at the very least, a way to more believably keep their two central characters apart.
Last week I noted that the episode’s final scene, in which Chuck appealed in vain for Sarah to tell him something about her that’s true, was affecting enough to make me hopeful for the show’s long-term future. This week, my optimism was rewarded with ‘Chuck versus the Sizzling Shrimp’, the best episode Chuck has produced so far. It was fun, lively, sharply written, but most of all it was sweet, and that a show primarily about secret agents and government secrets can be called sweet is an achievement in itself.
This sweetness came mainly from the scenes between Chuck and Ellie. As I’ve said, Ellie is the most stable figure in the show and in Chuck’s life, and the one who should always bring him back down to earth whenever he gets too caught up in his new life. While Chuck’s irritating duty to his country meant she often didn’t get the chance to do that this week, by the end Chuck was able to appreciate the important things and spend some quality time hanging out with his sis. Writer Scott Rosenbaum brings a deft human touch to this story, to the point where I felt like shouting at Chuck ‘screw national security and go home already!’ Also, Sarah Lancaster is insanely likeable, not to mention pretty.
The spy plot concerned a Chinese intelligence agent trying to rescue her kidnapped brother. It did everything right: plenty of Levi, Baldwin and Strahovski messing around, well-choreographed action sequences, Casey at his funniest and the hilarious bit with Chuck eating shrimp at the stakeout. Every previous episode has lagged at some point or another, but this one sped along nicely and I wasn’t bored for a second.
Most impressive was Morgan’s storyline, because he was much less annoying (thank god). Big Mike starts a sales competition between the Best Buy employees, proclaiming that whoever does the worst will be fired. Unsurprisingly, thanks to his terrible social skills, Morgan is an awful salesman. I actually really felt sorry for the guy. Gomez played Morgan’s ever mounting desperation exactly right, and him and Ellie bonding over their frustration with Chuck was a nice moment. I also enjoyed the complete absence of comradery between the Best Buy co-workers – the rest of the gang not only don’t help Morgan, but scare off the first girl to be legitimately interested in him.
Finally, we got another touching conclusion. Chuck tells Sarah about his and Ellie’s parents – a father who walked out on them, and a mother who they were glad to be rid of. This backstory gives Chuck and Ellie a whole other layer, specifically as a brother-sister unit. With just a few choice lines, Schwartz and co. have depended our understanding of these characters and increased our empathy for them. Suddenly, I feel like I know and like Chuck and Ellie that much better. Geeky as this may sound, it's a nice feeling.
It might seem strange to put the last joke of the episode -- which wasn't even close to the funniest thing said in a ridiculously amusing half hour -- atop this post, but one of the things I love about Mother is the way that it feels like it's marching toward an inevitability. It's all there in the title -- even though we're invested in this young man's life, even though we've invested in previous relationships he's had, the most important person on the show is someone we haven't even seen yet. We come for the characters and the great jokes. We stay for the time-bending plots and the great chemistry the cast has (even in lackluster episodes). But what intrigues us is the fatalism. Will she be a character in the show's last seasons (and please let there be more seasons, CBS!)? Or will we only meet her in the finale, perhaps only seeing a beautiful girl as Bob Saget blithely intones, "And that's how I met your mother"?
Possibilities, possibilities. There's a sense of instant nostalgia to Mother, the feeling that what we're living in is some sort of golden age that we can only dimly see right now but will more clearly understand in the year 2030. In a way, it almost feels like the show is yearning for a simpler time and placing that simpler time in the here-and-now. We don't have to worry about terror alerts or wars or anything like that. We can take a trip in the wayback machine to the halcyon days of 2007 and think about what the world was like before that. Recently, I interviewed a guy who talked about how the only way people seem willing to accept a true sitcom or drama the whole family can watch together (7th Heaven excepted) anymore is when it's rooted in a prior age -- like The Wonder Years or (going further back) The Waltons. Mother is certainly not a "family" sitcom (the jokes about eating sandwiches tonight assured that), but it makes a very staid format -- the traditional, stage-bound sitcom -- more palatable by shooting it through with an instant nostalgia that lets you get your guard down.
All of this is a way of saying that when Ted says "Where's my wife?" it's just another way the show makes a contract with the audience it intends to keep.
I'm not a huge stickler for continuity. Fans can wank just about anything nowadays, and shows that are written by huge writing staffs over long periods of time are bound to have weird continuity errors. But I do love that Mother seems to keep its promises -- Ted and Barney did, indeed, meet at a urinal, and more slaps are forthcoming. Really, Mother could get away with more continuity errors than most shows, writing it all off as a failure of older Ted's memory, but the fact that it doesn't, that it actually takes on the character of a long, loopy story, told in several sessions, makes the show that much better.
This is all a lot of preface to say that tonight's episode was Mother at its best, probably one of my top ten favorite shows they've done so far and definitely my favorite of the season so far (only the premiere comes close). Mother is never better than when it's dashing through the long timeline that older Ted covers, darting from 2020 to 2001 to 1996 in the blink of an eye. It's also fun to see the show play with the WAY older Ted is telling the story, as it did tonight when he forgot the name of the girl he was dating (substituting Blah-Blah, making her dreams of grandeur at the end that much more amusing) and substituted eating sandwiches for smoking pot (someone could probably write an article on the way Mother uses the idea that this story is being told to the protagonist's children to sneak a lot of content by the censors that would be challenged if it was presented more straightforwardly).
But, all in all, the episode was terrific. I loved the hot/crazy scale (and the way the gang just watched Barney as he introduced the concept and drew imaginary lines in the air, nodding as if they could picture what he was doing). I thought the World of Warcraft throwaway gag was inspired (and I'm incredibly impressed they managed to put the oldest Internet chat joke in the book over on me -- maybe because they had acknowledged it before, in Barney's line about the only hot women on the Internet). I had great fun with the return of college Ted, that pompous buffoon with the too-easily-punctured sense of self (who mixes cranberry juice with Pinot Noir!). Josh Radnor isn't afraid to let Ted be a jerk this season, and while I've seen criticism of that, the appearances of college Ted remind us that he was this way before, and he can slip into this again. I even loved the "she doth protest too much" response of Robin to the idea of dating Barney and her summation of why she and Ted's relationship went sour.
Every player in the cast got a moment to shine tonight, and that's what makes the show tick. Recent episodes have tried to more firmly put Ted and Robin front and center as the "lead" characters, but the show works best when it's got all of the characters bouncing off of each other, not when anyone is taking the horns of a central plot. I realize there are only so many origin stories about the gang that you can tell (and this episode seems to jump just BEFORE some of the things we've seen before to get away with it), but here's hoping that there are more ensemble efforts like this one, where we learn that this is how everything came to be the way it was. The story's one long "The Way We Were" story anyway. Just let it go all out more often.
In the fourth episode of its second season, Brotherhood continued to settle into a pattern that seems likely to dominate its run -- family scenes good, political scenes middling, mob scenes kind of boring. Fortunately, the show has placed a stronger influence on these family stories. Unfortunately, most of the series' plot is being borne on the back of the mob storyline. The first season showed that this show could do a really interesting portrayal of state politics, but this season seems less interested in that, eschewing the political machinations of season one for an election campaign that's frustratingly similar to every other election campaign you've seen on TV.
Fortunately, the family scenes are very good indeed. That final scene of the episode (or close to final -- I can't recall if it actually was the final) set around the dinner table was nice and moody and positively Rockwellian, even as Michael sat at the head of the table, taking the position of power he so desperately craves in his work and longs to ditch in his personal life. (Sidebar: I love the way they do the sound mix on this show so that the scenes where people eat -- of which they are many -- prominently feature the sounds of silverware scraping against plates and clacking against teeth; something about it increases the immersiveness of the show for me and makes me really hungry.)
I also liked the bonding of Eileen and Kath, who launched a complicated scheme involving Ma Caffee's car (which somehow improbably worked out and actually inspired some laughs -- a rarity on this oft-gloomy show). The women of the Caffee family really came to the forefront in this episode, and I think that was a good thing. The cast is uniformly strong, but Fionnula Flanagan and Annabeth Gish are probably the two strongest cast members, so it's always nice to see them get some material with some real meat on its bones. Heck, even the young Mary Rose continued her spiral into teenage hoodlumism. Brotherhood's cast is its best asset, so it's nice to see it playing to more of its actors like this, as opposed to last season, when it could become the Brothers Caffee show.
Tommy, meanwhile, has embarked on an affair with a woman named Dana (which is one vowel too close to Donna -- the character Janel Moloney played on The West Wing). It's interesting to see Tommy try to work out his issues with his marriage with another woman (and I'm mostly relieved he didn't hook up with that awful actress from last week and instead hooked up with Dana -- I knew Moloney was joining the cast for a handful of episodes, but not as this), and Moloney proved to be a fairly good foil for the character. I was less interested in the political intrigue surrounding her, but that seems to be par for the course for the political stories this season.
The mob stories continue to feel a bit forced, though I did like the intersection of Michael's mental health issues and his life of crime. It's also fascinating to see Declan drawn into this world, on the order of his bosses, and get the sense that it's a world he may never emerge from. Ethan Embry didn't really impress me in season one, but he's been just great in season two, playing a man with increasingly little room to stand on a sandbar that's being rapidly washed away.
From the "next week on" previews, it looks as if some big events in Brotherhood land will happen next week. This is good. I'm still enjoying the show (well, I don't know if enjoying is the right word, but I never feel sorry that I've watched it), but it would be nice to have a few of those big, meaty scenes happen and have them advance the plot.
Monday, October 22, 2007
My question to the Desperate Housewives writers is this: are they TRYING to make their characters so unlikable that viewers can barely tolerate them for the 44 minutes we dutifully allot each week to watch their trials and tribulations? Judging from Susan Meyer's horrific storyline this week, I think the answer is no doubt a resounding yes. (And that Gabby is no princess, either, but I'll get to that soon enough.)
Let's start with Susan. Horrible, annoying, insane Susan. This week new neighbors move in next door to her, and they just happen to be a gay couple moving to the suburbs to escape the evils of the big city. Apparently, Susan lives in 1955 and has never actually visited a big city, because when she meets them she acts like she's never seen a gay person in her life, embarrassing herself completely by sticking her foot in her mouth multiple times. They take an immediate dislike to her (smart guys) and Susan becomes determined to make them like her. After a few other mishaps which only serve to confirm the new neighbors belief that Susan sucks, she lucks into a brilliant plan to win them over: kidnap their dog and curry favor by helping them look for the poor mutt, which she will all along have locked in her garage and will "find" at the most opportune moment. Of course, this all goes horribly wrong when Mike comes home and opens the garage door, letting the dog out and revealing that Susan had it hidden all along. What I don't understand is, are we supposed to find this funny? The whole storyline was absolutely insulting and did nothing except confirm my long-held belief that Susan is an idiot with almost no redeeming qualities. I mean, Mike must be blinded by...something in order to put up with her on a daily basis. I've never been a huge fan of Susan's, but in season one she was slightly goofy, klutzy and charming. Now she's just a ridiculous caricature. The one thing I hope comes out of this storyline is a serious rivalry between the gay couple and Susan, with Susan coming out on the losing end. A lot.
Also coming out on the despicable side of things this week is Gabby (and Carlos too, really). Edie learns why pale should be the new tan when she contracts a wicked case of the crabs from a dirty tanning bed. EW EW EW. She tells Carlos, who then realizes he needs to tell Gabby. Unfortunately, Victor is already showing signs of being infested (EW) and Gabby has to resort to sexual trickery to get him to use the special medicinal shampoo. Gabby and Carlos, thinking they are in the clear, actually get off on the fact they are pulling one over on Edie and Victor in such a bold way. Gross. It looks like this secret isn't going to stay kept much longer, though, because Edie smells the medicinal shampoo on Victor and puts two and two together, with the help of a passed crab cake appetizer to fill in the blanks. This story was slightly more amusing than the Susan debacle, but Gabby and Carlos are not quite a couple you can root for here. After seeing how horrible their relationship went the first time around, are we really supposed to be on their side? Edie and Victor are no innocent victims here, but Gabby and Carlos are becoming so much worse. Gloating that you got away with giving your significant others an STD and didn't get caught? And getting sexually excited over the fact that if you did get caught, you might get murdered? That's just a step too far for me, my friends.
Lynette was kind of unlikeable this week, but she had a funny line where she called herself a "cancer bitch" and eventually apologized, so I am cutting her some slack. Also, she has cancer. I can't even hate a fictional character if they have cancer. I have issues.
Again, the only redeeming housewife this week was Bree. It's strange that although her storyline is the most over the top and stupid, it is still consistently the most watchable part of the episode for me. Marcia Cross owns. This week, her mother-in-law shows up in town and learns that Danielle is actually having the baby. When Bree says she won't be allowed to be in the new baby's life, her mother-in-law secretly goes and takes Danielle from the convent! I have a feeling this one could get very interesting as that due date approaches.
In season-long mystery arc land, Katherine brings her aunt home from the hospital to die. She's dismayed when the aunt decides she doesn't want to go to the grave without telling Dylan the big secret, but Katherine icily stops her every attempt to tell Dylan the news. The aunt does manage to give Dylan the hint that something isn't right, though, and as she dies she hastily writes some sort of confession note which falls to the ground and goes unseen under the bed. Will Dylan find it and learn the secret of her past? Will Dylan ever serve any more purpose on the show than a plot point? I'll guess we'll have to tune in next week to find out, but I highly doubt it.
Sunday, October 21, 2007
"This isn’t a spaceship--it’s a time machine. It takes us to a place where we ache to go again.": Mad Men
Mad Men's last two episodes of its first season were so good that they retroactively made an already pretty good season even better. The season was clicking along nicely enough before these two episodes, but these were revelations, the sorts of episodes that announce boldly that a show is here and it's going to be around for a while, attempting to challenge some of our ideas about its world and characters. The season finale, in particular, was maybe the best episode the show has done yet, even if one of its concluding moments seemed a bit false in the moment (even though we can see how the writing staff will write their way out of it). In an increasingly disappointing fall, I watched this episode four times, finding it the perfect antidote to a cluttered season full of disappointing returns and even more disappointing pilots.
The centerpiece of the episode was two monologues, stacked back to back, delivered by both partners in the Draper marriage. In their own ways, Don and Betty both had realizations about their marriage and how it's a front. For Betty, this was devastating, but for Don, it was oddly reassuring. Every aspect of Don's life is part of a grand performance, and as he gave that moving monologue/sales pitch about the power of nostalgia and the wounds of the past, he seemed to realize that the part of that performance he connected to the most involved the one thing he had that he hadn't had as Dick Whitman -- a family. It's a bit more complicated than that, since it's pretty clear that Don's love for Betty is as much wrapped up in his desire to protect and control her, but he does really long for the world presented in those photographs, so much so that he tries to rush home to head to a family Thanksgiving with Betty's family, whom he's not terribly fond of.
Betty, meanwhile, allows herself to admit that Don is hardly faithful to her -- far from it, in fact. It's clear that she's known about it for some time but refused to admit these things to herself. But when she crouches in the hall and finds out that Don has been calling her therapist every night, she's able to lash out at Don through him, in the only passive-aggressive way she knows how (Don's equally noncommital response to her question of why a husband would cheat on a wife -- he responds that no one knows why anyone does anything -- is what drove her to open up the floodgates of realization in the first place). I don't think these wounds are going to be enough to destroy the Draper marriage, but they're the first cracks in the facade. As much as Don wants to fill them, he's going to have trouble.
The episode's other major plot threads ran through Pete and Peggy, the other two major characters (the only characters who didn't appear were Rachel -- off on a cruise -- and Roger -- still recovering). Sure, we got some hints as to what was happening with the other characters (particularly Harry, who got his own monologue about cave paintings and tried to talk his way back into his marriage after he cheated on his wife on election night), but this episode was primarily interested in the ways the four main characters shifted and changed.
Pete (whom Andrew Johnston has called a George W. Bush standin over at House Next Door -- a reading that put the character into instantly sharper relief for me) tried to leverage his relationship with his father-in-law to land the Clearasil account. His father-in-law expressed certain misgivings, but he was able to pull off the deal, only to find that Don had handed over the copy writing on the job to Peggy, whom he promoted to junior copy writer. Pete and Peggy's storylines have collided throughout the season, often in unexpected ways, and it seems likely that these two are going to represent two faces of the future of Sterling Cooper in the seasons ahead.
Another collision between Pete and Peggy came when she gave birth to their baby. The show had seemingly set up Peggy to be pregnant, but then insisted that all that was going on was that she was gaining weight (possibly from sublimating her sexual desires for Pete). When she gave birth, it was a twist that came out of nowhere. The first time I watched the episode, I was convinced that the storyline was completely pointless and nutzo. But as I watched it more and more, I became convinced that Peggy's denial about the whole thing made the storyline work -- in a way, denial is a big part of Peggy's character (witness how she's almost sexist when casting the voice actor earlier in the episode). I can already see how the writers will get out of this plotline (Peggy was in such deep denial that it became a psychological issue, and she'll give the baby up for adoption), and I like the way it creates another Don Draper. I'm just not sure it should have come out of nowhere like that.
Small quibbles, though. This was my favorite show of the summer, and it just might be my favorite show of the year too. It'll be interesting to see what happens in season two.
Gonna blast through both Shondas tonight, cause I was away over the weekend and I'm just catching up now. Grey's first, then. I haven't blogged this since the premiere but it's not out of dislike. Gizzie is still toxic and just not going away, but apart from that the show's having fun with itself, so I'm happy. More Gizzie later. Let's do the rest first.
Edward Herrmann! Hahahaha. *giggle*. He's basically playing the world's oldest intern (Arthur, right? Let's call him Arthur) in the exact same way he played Richard Gilmore - bemused, bit posh, kinda charming, slightly scatterbrained. Still, it's a good storyline, and I especially liked his interactions with Meredith. The whole thing kinda reeks of a three-episode arc, but I'd love it if he stuck around a little longer. His "I'm saying the things young people say!" schtick will get old (no pun, I promise!) but they could have a lot more fun with him if they toned down the jokes. They're not gonna, though. Dunno why I'm even wondering. Still, he's added a nice element of slapstick humor to the plots he's been involved in, and keeping things light on Grey's Anatomy is always good.
What else has been happening? Ignore Gizzie, ignore Gizzie...Lexie is great. It's amazing how good Grey's is at introducing new regulars and having them just fit in immediately. Addison, Callie, Sloan, now Lexie--it takes a couple episodes, and then it's as if they were always there. Really, one of the show's biggest strengths, and Lexie is working out great. Not only is she really sweet, but...well, okay. Mostly she's just really sweet. Still, she has that doe-eyed vibe this show had in its early episodes. She kinda reminds me of George and Meredith and Izzie back then, and how much more I liked them, and how much more normal and excited they used to act around medicine. Dunno how I feel about Shepherd and Lexie getting all pally, though. It's a little creepy? Can't she be buddies with George, or someone? Shepherd's her boss, he's so much older than her, and he's doinking her half-sister. I was almost on Cristina's side when McDreamy bitched her out, even though Cristina was being a total pain.
Cristina's one of the show's best assets right now, though. She had really suffered in the third season cause she was always paired with Burke and her storylines with him were insular and basically ineffective. Now, she's allowed to be Queen Bitch again, and I love the way she's working through her breakup with Burke. No big stupid freakouts (at least not after the season 3 finale), instead she uses her fake grief to score cool surgeries off Meredith. In fact they're building up Cristina/Meredith again, which is also great. Getting the ol' crew united again really would be helpful. In a really retro move, they even had Alex admitting he's still got a little bit of a thing for Izzie! Not news that I'm entirely thrilled with, honestly. Just because Izzie drags down characters so badly these days, and Alex is basically my favorite, plus, hello? Ava? Who is returning soon? Still, planting that germ of an idea will hopefully pay off in future episodes when they use it to finally get rid of Gizzie.
Gizzie. I won't say much. It's bad. It's bad enough that Izzie and George behave so badly,, and talk such nonsense, and claim to be in love with each other (ugggh). But it's even worse when CALLIE gets on my nerves. Her whole "I forgive you" stuff to George and "how DARE you humiliate me" stuff to Izzie just made me nauseous. I'm sick of the whole thing. Bah. Fix it. Please?
Private Practice, eh? I'm more up to date on this one, so less to say. The most recent episode had Addison planning a party and nobody remembering to come, which I thought was kinda funny. Cause it confirmed how like, she's barely ever there on this show. It ended with the lot of them getting together at her place and partying on the beach, though, and it was quite nice. Getting Addison integrated and having the staff really work as a team rather than bickering is really gonna help this show. Also, they revived the idea that Addison could have a baby, after basically killing it dead in the backdoor pilot. Good idea, cause that was a pretty harsh thing to do to ol' Addison. Still, not sure I like the idea of her being pregnant so early into this show. Maybe it's just in case Kate Walsh gets knocked up by her new hubby.
We also had the revelation that Cooper has been harboring a long crush on Naomi. Hmm. Now, it was obvious that the idea of Cooper/Naomi (still easily the show's biggest assets) in a romantic configuration was going to come up. How could it not. Playing this card, which seems like basically a rehash of George and Meredith from GA (except they're like, 15 years older), doesn't seem like the perfect move. However they want to justify it, I guess, but still, means they're probably going to draaaggg it out and that's never fun, is it. Cooper's storyline with the gay skateboarder was great though.
Other plots were pretty boring. But PP, which just got a pickup, is growing into itself a little bit. I'm not loving it, but I can see liking it a lot one day. Here's hoping it doesn't settle into a rut as the weeks go on.
"How do you tell someone it's over? You send them a notarized letter, right? Well, what if the recipient is your notary?": Three weeks of The Office
(Contributor Erik Anderson and I got together over the ol' MSN to discuss our very general thoughts on the last three episodes of The Office, the highs and lows. We should have weekly posts on the show from now on. Sorry for the delay. -- ed.)
EA: Oh, i HAVE to say ... since no one has mentioned it yet ... my favorite line of the night was "It's Scrantonicity II, not Scrantonicity!" because, like, with The Police, Synchronicity II is totally their best album
And so, yeah.
TV: I am sadly unfamiliar with the works of The Police. But I did like this latest episode quite a bit. I thought it was the first hourlong episode this season that worked all the way through.
The doc crew following characters way outside of work doesn't make sense. Not all the time. Especially to Dwight's farm?
Yeah it was funny but like, on a Jim/Pam date? Overnight?
TV: Well, heh, that's a criticism that I think will always follow the show, I guess. One of those suspension of disbelief things you'll just have to go with.
EA: Well, sales calls, yeah. Date nights, no
TV: They're been bending the limits of what the doc crew MIGHT conceivably film since late season two. Which I'm fine with.
EA: Yes, but you're easy. Like a Sunday morning.
TV: Sadly, I am.
EA: Also brilliant was Pam's Embassy Beets, Beets Motel, Radish Inn.
TV: Heh. Now, the criticism flying around that the last four have been so bulky BECAUSE they're hour-long episodes is kind of reductive, though, I think.
EA: What's funny about these hourlongs too is that if that strike happens, NBC could have had four more weeks of the show instead of dumping their comedy load up front
TV: Indeed. But the show's ratings are huge, so it was clearly the right call from a business perspective.
My biggest problems with the hourlongs are that their conclusions often stretch the bonds of believability. But that's a complaint I had with a lot of late season three episodes too.
EA: And still no Phyllis time! Except her thing with Angela, lol. That was funny.
TV: The show right now is sort of caught between three worlds -- workplace satire, character-based comedy full of nuance and zany single-camera stuff (like you might see on Arrested Development).
EA: I agree. It is kinda trapped. Or at least it doesn't balance its worlds all that well.
TV: And I like the first two worlds, but the third just doesn't work if we're to pretend this is a realistic documentary. The show aims for verisimilitude for its first two-thirds, then veers into farce at the end, often. Like, I could buy Earl and Randy from My Name Is Earl driving into a lake while following a GPS. Jack Donaghy on 30 Rock has probably done it before.
EA: Good point.
TV: But it's just too unbelievable when Michael does it, even if he's a manchild. This week's episode, when he loudly declared bankruptcy, stayed on the good side of stupid, I thought. But the previous three all had moments where they seemingly forgot how to write Michael.
But, yeah, the way for them to go is to delve into their characters more. Like they did with Angela and Phyllis. *tying things together*
EA: Well, I'm getting worried there are too many touchy feely moments
TV: Oh yeah? Explain.
EA: Dwight and Jim on the stairs. Jan pep-talking Michael on the train. It just went a bit long, and the episode as a whole then felt like a 'very special episode.'
TV: Hmmmm. . .I can see that.
Dwight and Michael have become such caricatures through the first few episodes that I felt it was a nice touch to have their "other halves," as it were, humanize them. Dwight, in particular, bounces back and forth between about four different personalities, depending on which one the writers need that week.
EA: Yeah, in real life he would be in jail. LOL. He's a total creepy freak.
TV: I don't mind a character who has a lot of emotions or moods (better than just having him be the office nerd or something that a CBS comedy would do), but there's a real sense that Dwight's a different person from week to week.
And he's OUR creepy freak.
EA: Pairing angela with andy should make for many comedic/stalker/crazy moments for him.
TV: Yeah. The Angela/Andy storyline is really great. In fact, everything with Angela this season is really great.
EA: And I love that Kelly's just 100% fucking gonzo now. And that Darrell might whip her into shape?
TV: Really, what's interesting, is that everything with the supporting players this season is 100% excellent. And everything with the main four cast members is hit-and-miss.
(I don't count Ryan as a main cast member, apparently.)
EA: More Phyllis!
TV: I DO like that Ryan is just a younger version of Michael. Or, as some commentors have said, he's more like David Brent from the UK Office.
EA: Except that i'd sex Ryan.
TV: Well, that's hardly surprising.
Oh, it was a nice touch to see that at another office Michael is deemed 'cool'
TV: Definitely. His whole second job plotline was really well done. Especially when he talked about how his boss' meetings were unnecessary. He's apparently completely lacking in self-awareness. Which is not a surprise.
EA: He has to be; otherwise, there's no comedy with him. He has moments where he does see himself and his behavior but they're shortlived, thankfully.
TV: Oh, surely.
Anyway, to tie back in to what I was saying before (I think).
Any sitcom in its fourth or fifth season has to get broader and broader to keep drawing laughs. It's just the way the format works, even one with soapy elements like this one (and promise me we'll talk about Jim and Pam soon).
EA: I think the Jim and Pam stuff is actually better now.
TV: We'll talk about that in a second. My frustration with the above is that it's just harder to watch The Office get broader and broader because it was originally so small and intimately detailed.
TV: I don't think they should be doing every episode about a workplace story because they've clearly just about run out of those. But they also shouldn't be taking pizza boys hostage.
EA: Ugh. That was HORRIBLE, but the kid was funny.
TV: And then there were no repercussions! I wasn't expecting anything SERIOUS (after all, TWO NBC comedies can't be set in a jail), but I thought something might come of it.
Anyway, why do you like Jim and Pam better? Because I'm kind of sick of them.
EA: I dunno, since being outed they're just randier and somehow funnier. Besides, it let Michael have the line "Whaddya talkin' about, Jim and Pam havin' sex? Oh hi Pam."
TV: It is nice that they're close again. I didn't realize just how much they drove the comedy in season two, still my favorite season.
EA: Mine too.
TV: I like that they split that up in season three, as it forced them to develop the characters outside of their relationships to Jim, but it's nice to have that back now that the other characters are more clearly defined.
Three out of four Jim/Pam plots have been about how they're a couple now, which is sort of irritating, and I'm getting sick of them, especially as I was on Team Karen.
TV: I know, I know. I'm America's worst person.
But, I mean, we're supposed to find all of this coupledom adorable, and most of it is, but I think their plots should extend beyond "Hey, we're a couple now!"
EA: I like their preciousness, and I normally would vomit over it.
TV: It seemed they were heading to another "We're a couple!" story this week, but it ended up being more about how the two of them helped Dwight.
EA: I'm sure they'll move away from that. It's only the beginning of the season.
TV: (Oh, sidebar, I also loved when they pranked Dwight by being the SUPERCOMPUTER.)
EA: Sidebar: I want to marry Mose
TV: I know how you feel about the Amish.
EA: Return sidebar: yes, the supercomputer thing was effing BRILL. And in re: Amish...you have NO idea. Iwould totally raise his barn
TV: My mother is going to cluck her tongue at this.
Anyway, as I talk about this, I realize how much of each episode I really DO like, but there's always one BIG fly in the ointment that ruins the whole thing and rips me out of the show's reality. Where this week's mostly avoided that, I guess, and had that perfect whoever/whomever scene.
EA: Yep and yep
OMG, I forgot, Andy's "wide stance" while talking to Pam? LMFAO
TV: I was going to say that Andy has been my favorite character this season, until I realized how much I'm still liking Creed, Stanley and Angela, who were my old favorites. I'm also enjoying Ryan's blatant antagonism.
EA: Creed is always awesome. And don't forget Kevin and Toby! And more Phyllis!!!!
TV: I think the thing is, we know so much about the central four that anything we learn about them just starts to feel tacked on, whereas the other characters are still relatively unknown to us. This show's got such a huge cast that it could run for literally years before having to go broad and farce-y, but they're not utilizing some of their best assets for whatever reasons, so they ARE going broad and farce-y.
Granted, I'm not sure a Meredith-centric episode would be all that memorable, but who wouldn't like to see Stanley's home life, say?
EA: Except he doesn't even like PHONE CALLS at home. Dunno if that'd work. But Creed? Gold mine. Sweeps?
TV: That would actually MERIT a one-hour episode. It might require all three hours of NBC's primetime real estate that night.
If not all 22 hours in that week.
EA: A miniseries.
TV: Yes. The Creed Bratton Story. As told by those who loved him.
(Then we mostly talked about Ugly Betty for some reason, before I promised to post some scenes from Erik's favorite scary movie to pad out the post length.)