Saturday, November 10, 2007

“New from Mattel, it’s Hypocrite Barbie!”: Scrubs

Eventually, I’m going to get tired of ending these recaps on a positive, hopeful note. As much as I’ve loved Scrubs over the years, it’s getting progressively difficult to remain optimistic about where the show is going. Episodes like ‘My Inconvenient Truth’ are doing nothing to help.

J.D’s brother Dan returns, completely reformed and now a successful businessman. The last time we saw Dan was back in season five, when J.D. pushed him to change his life and stop being such a loser. At the end of that episode, Dan appeared to have taken the advice to heart. Apparently J.D. doesn’t have as good a memory as me though, as he assumes Dan remains just as much of a screw-up as he was back then. Fair enough, I suppose – it’s not usually that easy to fix someone (a basic weakness in Dan’s whole metamorphosis, if not one worth moaning about). When he finds out Dan has in fact sorted himself out, J.D.’s worst traits come to the forefront and he starts acting like a complete asshole. No surprises there.

I like the basic idea behind ‘My Inconvenient Truth’: just when J.D.’s life is at its crappiest, his reformed brother shows up just to ram the point home. On paper, it sounds like a situation where we should feel sorry for J.D. Except he’s so, so, so annoying. He’s probably the least likeable character currently on network TV (including George and Izzie). In this particular episode that’s the idea, and it is addressed (thank god!). Every main character on the show even tells J.D. in no uncertain terms that he needs to grow up. The message gets through, and J.D. makes up with his brother and goes to see his baby. None of this forgives how irritating J.D. has become since last season, but at least it’s a step in the right direction.

Honestly I can’t remember a single other thing that happened in this episode, so let me just go and check…ah right. As it’s green week at NBC, the Janitor tries to save the environment, gets bored and gives up. Heartening! Elliot and Cox spar over acting hypocritical with patients, a vaguely promising idea that ultimately goes nowhere. Carla lectures most of the main cast,a reminder of how much smarter she is than all of them. It’s all very forgettable, and there’s not a single strong moment/line to be found.

Like I said, if Scrubs doesn’t improve soon then I will grow tired of maintaining a cautious optimism. But not quite yet. The saving grave of ‘My Inconvenient Truth’ was that it ended on a heartening note for J.D.’s future growth. Hopefully his newfound maturity will carry through in the remaining episodes.


Friday, November 09, 2007

"Don't objectify me!": Supernatural

Apparently, catharsis is a good thing. Taking the show to task last week for its inconsistent season must have knocked something loose in my brain, because I thoroughly enjoyed this episode even though, upon further reflection, it was more than a little bit annoying. Still, Sam and Dean spent almost the entire hour looking rip-roaringly hot in either suits or tuxes. How can you take issue with genius like that?

The best thing about this episode (besides the aforementioned wardrobe coup) was the monster of the week story. After a season filled with snooze-inducing demons, the return of a good old fashioned ghost story was a welcome one, especially since it brought with it the return of the rock salt guns. Oh, how I love it when Dean shoots rock salt from sawed-off shotgun. I was skeptical about the idea of a ghost ship, but the execution was fairly decent and kept me engaged for the whole hour. The actual ghost himself and the way he killed people by literally filling their lungs with water was very creepy, but all I could think of when I saw him was...he's Old Greg! (Which honestly induced more giggles than scares, but whenever I get a chance to link to that clip, everybody wins!)

Also entertaining this week was the lighthearted humor. Dean and Bela (more on her soon) had a decent amount of chemistry and funny banter, and their spy-like mission this week to steal the ghost's hand of glory was entertaining. Bela was a bit of an audience stand-in when she saw Dean come down the stairs in his tux, with her tongue practically hanging on the floor in awe. This ensuing banter was probably the highlight of the season so far for me:

Bela: "You know, when this is over? We should really have some angry sex."
Dean: "Don't objectify me!"

Sweet, sexy Dean. You know you love it. Less entertaining, but still amusing, was Sam's plight of being burdened with an...erm...older lady who wanted to get her a piece of that fine Sammy ass. This story really was a great example of the law of diminishing returns, because the more uncomfortable they made Sam, the less funny it became. I've stated in the past that subtlety is not one of this show's fortes, but really. This one was a bit too much.

Even though this week was heavy on the monster story, there was still time for a few brotherly moments. I've not made it a secret that I am having a hard time with the characterizations of Sam and Dean this year, and their conversations this week did nothing to alleviate my fears. In fact, they only heightened them, especially in the end when Dean simply showed no emotion or empathy at all when confronted by Sam about his feelings towards his imminent death. Dean is being an ass, plain and simple, and it's not becoming for Dean the character or Jensen the actor, and in turn I think the whole show is suffering a bit because of it. One refreshing thing, though, is that the writers aren't having the brothers keep huge secrets from each other like last season. Dean found out about Sam killing the Crossroads Demon right away, much to my relief.

Now that I've talked about the good stuff (and the not-so-good stuff), it's time for the bad. Bela. I take back what I said about Bela in her previous appearance, because Bela sucks. Bad actress, bad character, even worse accent. I know that the British accent is Lauren Cohan's real voice, but it sounds completely false. And completely like Hermione Granger. When she was posing as a reporter this week and speaking in a very pleasant American accent, I honestly couldn't believe they EVER decided to let her speak in her normal voice. Also, although her role as Sam and Dean's antagonist causes some amusing moments (Dean hyperventilating over his missing car, for example) she still manages to feel shoehorned in and ultimately unnecessary.

Despite my reservations about the actress and character, I was still ready to go along with her completely until the reveal that she has some sort of tortured past and killed a loved one. That's when I checked out for good, because giving her depth is a bad idea. With a different actress and a story that better enmeshed her into the fabric of the series, a tragic backstory might be compelling. But as is, it feels like an obvious ploy to manipulate the audience into liking her, and I'm not buying what they are selling. Bela is scheduled to be in as many as 10 more episodes this season, and I'm already dreading her return, especially if we are supposed to feel bad for her or something. Newsflash, Kripke: we don't. Hire a more sympathetic actress next time, though, and you might just have something.

Next week: Gordon is back and out to get Sam! Damn, that is going to be awesome.


"There's lots more coke and sex in the house!": South Park, Season 11

What we sometimes miss about South Park is that besides being a sharply fanged satire; besides being a wickedly offensive gross-out exercise; besides having the will to go further to prove its labored points than most programs (animated or otherwise); it is, essentially, one of the more finely tuned commentaries on pop culture that we have. While I’m certainly not the first person to say this, the mere fact that this is one of the many cases to be made for the show’s relevance is a serious credit to its success. Despite the fact that there are many who would like to dismiss South Park as immature tripe, shooting fish in a barrel (like, say, Family Guy), one would be hard-pressed to find a series more…opinionated, funny, or utterly fearless.

Even when the show is slightly less overtly hilarious, Trey is almost always able to infuse a sense of cultural relevance while remaining current and universal at the same time. Its reasons for success are the same reasons why a show like Family Guy usually fails. The most recent episode entitled "Guitar Queer-O," is a perfect example of this method. This is a much needed subdued affair in a season that just finished a needlessly large, epic trilogy. While it may not be as laugh-out-loud hilarious as South Park can sometimes be, it is a mostly winning examination of a recent cultural phenomenon and contains a surprisingly sweet center. The simplicity here is key.

Stan and Kyle open the episode wailing on their plastic axes while playing the latest installment of Guitar Hero in front of a room full of amazed friends. The two went halfers on an X-Box 360, and seem to be novices on the simulated rock star game. Despite attempts by Stan’s dad Randy to show the boys how awesome it is to play actual guitar, he is abruptly dismissed by the boys (Cartman, natch) as "gay." Later, in the middle of the night, there is a pretty hilarious bit where Randy tries to play the game only to be booed by the video game crowd for sucking so bad. Apparently guitar skills aren’t quite the same as Guitar Hero skills. Who would’ve thought?

As Stan and Kyle continue to get better at the game, they eventually reach 100,000 points. Inexplicably (and this is where the episode takes off), a record executive shows up at Stan’s door. He heard about their arrival at 100,000 points, and wants to make them stars by eventually reaching 1 million points. This crystallizes the central parody of the episode, calling upon the classic rock star story structure.

Stan and Kyle are signed to a record contract, taken to wild "coke and sex parties," and are eventually driven apart by the record company. Kyle goes off on his own, while Stan becomes an ego-maniac and hits rock bottom before their inevitable reunion. This is all, of course, with them not knowing how to actually play one note of real music. You following yet? This slight indoctrination of the music industry is brought further to light when the record executive, after forcing Stan to part ways with Kyle, replaces Kyle with Thad (clearly an Indie kid skewering), who you have to see and hear to truly appreciate.

The episode, however, is not so much attacking the recording industry as it is observing a trend emerging in valuing the simulated over the real. Children soaked in a culture of video games and false realities tend to not appreciate the finer misgivings of the real world. This point is hit home when Stan, instead of getting addicted to actual heroine (like a real rock star would), gets addicted to a game called Heroine Hero!

Later, after completely destroying and embarrassing himself, Stan is left alone. In a pretty hilarious scene, he is playing a nondescript driving game by himself with Kansas playing over the soundtrack ("Carry on My Wayward Son" was the song he and Kyle scored 100k points to). This is obviously supposed to substitute the usual scene of the down trodden protagonist going out for a drive to reflect on his mistakes. Finally he decides to leave and find his friend.

We find Kyle at a local Bowling Alley playing the Guitar Hero arcade game to the patrons around the bar. He gets free Frescas! Stan apologizes and admits that he NEEDS Kyle. Together they decide that they can make it to 1 million points, and they are just going to do it for themselves.

The news spreads to the neighborhood kids of the reunion and they all gather to watch this event at Stan’s house. Focused, the boys play their hearts out and finally reach a million points. The game congratulations them and let’s them know, once and for all that they are…FAGS.

You can kind of see the ending coming, but the journey to get there is a lot of fun. This is probably one of my favorite episodes of the show simply because it has such attainable goals and never stretches beyond its means--as Trey is often known to do. The rock star story formula utilized here is always loads of fun, though. Even Saved by the Bell used it to perfection for God’s sake! Compounded by a nice little statement about technological saturation and you’ve got a damn solid episode. This issue has sort of been touched on before with the popular "World of Warcraft" episode, but that was on a completely different playing field (quite literally). "Guitar Queer-O" can almost serve as accompaniment to said episode, simply with a far more romanticized method and a much sweeter disposition. However, they both work as raucously funny situational comedy material and, as an adjunct, a more than apt pop culture commentary. And, really, that’s the whole point of the show.


"This Earth is ruined. We've gotta get a new one!": 30 Rock

When did 30 Rock become one of the most political shows on TV? Granted, it's mostly political in the sense that it takes sidelong swipes at everyone who claims to have the solution (especially when that solution comes from some place corporate), but it has become thrillingly about the ways that corporate mindsets have seized on to progressive and even countercultural ideas and dismantled them, making them blander and blander until they're a part of the mainstream. Tina Fey is using what amounts to a "platform" (an incredibly low-rated show that could be yanked at any minute) to say things about society in a way that few shows would even dream of (I mean, how many other shows would have both mostly happy marriages have the wife be an overweight woman who's proud of her sexuality -- even IF Pop Tarts are involved?).

The biggest political commentary of the evening, of course, was the merciless storyline about the ways that big corporations pay lip service to having environmental policies but never really do anything beyond paying that lip service. The slow growth of the self-awareness of Greenzo was hilarious, but the accompanying self-righteousness and tiresome antics of his character seemed to also parody the environmental movement itself. One reason Al Gore turned up, I think, was to remind everyone that the environmental movement CAN have a human and believable face to it. It needn't all be strident.

That said, 30 Rock saved its most vicious satire for Jack and the GE suits themselves. In creating Greenzo, Jack wanted to create a mascot who was all about saving the Earth but also all about maximizing profits and doing everything needed to keep the business humming along. This skewering ran closely parallel to the demands NBC sent down this summer that every one of their shows would run an episode based around some sort of environmentally-friendly theme for one week in November. This has led to some truly odd programming (and increased suspicion that notes from Ben Silverman are a bit more heavyhanded than those under Kevin Reilly) and some unintentionally hilarious moments, but it tied in to what 30 Rock was saying. It's much easier for NBC to run a week's worth of environmentally-themed programming than for the network to lobby for real change that might, say, curb carbon emissions. (My Name Is Earl also did a nice riff on how hard it was to work these sorts of things into a show's storyline organically.) Having Gore show up at the end was maybe the best joke of all, as he basically did everything he said would be truly daring and was mostly ignored by everyone else.

But the Greenzo subplot (which, I should add, was buoyed by great work from both David Schwimmer and, oddly, Meredith Viera) wasn't the only good thing about the episode. The story of how Kenneth's party went from an odd little thing that only Liz would be attending, most likely, to a huge blowout where everything went horribly, horribly wrong was also very funny, particularly in the morning after scene, where Jack's hair was mussed and Liz had made Grizz and Dot Com cry. I also liked the long buildup to the party, as the slow accumulation of rumors got more and more ridiculous (the girl from Heroes taking a shower? awesome).

The storyline about Pete and his wife getting back together wasn't as good as the other two, but it was still good for a laugh (and what DID they do with that Pop Tart), and it added to the chaos Liz had to put up with, which is always a plus in my book.

Greenzo was one of my favorite episodes of 30 Rock ever. I think the show has slowed down its pace just a bit this season, but it's also really sharpened its point-of-view. All of this has combined to make the show that much more entertaining and hilarious.


Thursday, November 08, 2007

Something on the strike to tide you over

While I don't presume to speak for all of this blog's contributors, I, myself, as well as our other editors (the ones I HAVE talked to) support the Writers Guild of America in its strike. While I don't have time to write in depth on this (and while all of us will miss our favorite shows something fierce), I'll be doing a more comprehensive post over the weekend. Hence, for now, the button, because the U.S. is all about simplifying your opinions on complex issues down to something that can be expressed in a 6K JPEG.

In the meantime, what sorts of things do you want to see in 2008 when the only television we have to watch is American Idol (looking forward, Libby and Andy?) and Celebrity Big Brother (Carrie, I know you're SO ready)? We'll literally do whatever you want. We live to serve.


Prison Break: The Story So Far

(Our newest writer is Benjamin Alper, who will be taking over Prison Break, as well as some other shows down the road. And with the strike now upon us, did I pick a good week to add a bunch of writers or what?! Hope you guys enjoy your three episodes before your shows go off the air! -- ed.)

Despite the desperate and elaborate attempts of Michael Scofield to flee the United States with his brother Lincoln, the finale of Prison Break’s second season led the main character back to where the show is at its best: in prison.

However, Michel, T-Bag, Bellick, and Mahone are not locked away in a nice, warm, cushy American prison. Rather, they now find themselves trapped in the Panamanian hellhole, Sona. A prison filled with -- and for the past year run by -- the worst of the worst in Panama.

But don’t fret. For those of you viewers who crave the complicated uber-conspiracy that surrounded the first two seasons, this season does not disappoint. As Lincoln is on the outside trying to free Michael (legally) from Sona, he is approached by a mysterious femme fatale, Susan, claiming to work for the even more mysterious “Company."

Lincoln learns that it was the Company that had Michael placed in Sona. The Company is in need of someone with Michael’s expertise to help them break yet another mysterious person called Whistler out of Sona. But why would Michael and Lincoln work to help the Company? The answer is as simple as you could have guessed. The Company is holding Lincoln’s son LJ and Michael’s girlfriend Sara hostage until Michael gets Whistler out. The Company has given them a deadline of one week to break out of Sona with Whistler in tow.

Inside Sona, Michael is trying to stay alive long enough to break Whistler out. Meanwhile, T-Bag has been sucking up to the chief criminal who runs the prison, Lechero (played by The Wire’s Bunny Colvin), and has now managed to weasel his way into his inner circle by selling drugs to the Sona inmates. Mahone is trying desperately to convince Michael that he can stop shaking long enough from drug withdrawal to be useful and join in the escape plans. Bellick was walking around in a diaper for the initial episodes but thankfully has obtained some clothing and now spends most of his time whining and trying his best to thwart Michael for his own benefit.

Outside of Sona, Lincoln has teamed up with Whistler’s girlfriend and Sucre (now conveniently in charge of grave digging at the prison) to try and help Michael escape as best he can while trying to learn what the hell the Company is really after. In doing so, Lincoln figures out where the Company is holding Sara and LJ and, in the worst rescue attempt ever, manages to lose them.

To teach Lincoln a lesson, and to get rid of the character played by an actress no longer with the show, the Company kills Sara and places her head in a cardboard box for Lincoln to find. Lincoln is distraught over this for about thirty minutes and then seems to forget it ever happened. Lincoln decides not to let Michael know that the love of his life was beheaded for fear that Michael will be so enraged that he will forget about Whistler and thus causing the Company to behead Lincoln’s son.

This past week’s episodes really shook up the plot. On the day set for the escape, Mahone is visited by his former federal colleagues and is offered the deal of a lifetime. In their infinite wisdom, the US government has decided to offer Mahone four years in a minimum security American prison for the half a dozen murders and treasonous acts he’s committed so long as Mahone provides testimony about the Company’s conspiracy last season. Mahone takes the deal and gets to leave Sona but then freaks out and gets suspicious when the deal gets delayed and he has to stay in Panama a day longer.

Michael demands to see pictures of Sara and LJ (Lincoln's son) alive before he breaks Whistler out of Sona. Despite the Company’s vast resources they are unable to photo-shop a new photo of the recently beheaded Sara (hey, Photoshop is hard! -- ed.) and Lincoln is forced to come clean with Michael and tell him Sara is dead. Michael cries for a bit but then continues his escape plans, vowing to Whistler that he will seek revenge against those that killed Sara.

Michael orchestrates a diversion and gets ready to escape. Whistler and Michael climb out of the window, but as soon as they make it into the yard something goes wrong and Michael and Whistler have to abort their escape attempt. Michael and Whistler make it back inside just before the guards see who is trying to escape. However, the guards do notice the ladder Michael and Whistler used to climb out the window and lock down the prison.

In the process of locking down the prison, the guards embarrass the head criminal Lechero, causing him to fear that his hold on the prison is weakening. Lechero, afraid that his days in Sona are numbered, then tells Michael that he must break him out of Sona as well. So now Michael must come up with an entirely new escape plan within the next week to break him, Whistler, and Lechero out of Sona. Luckily for Michael, Lechero presumably has much greater access to materials that will be beneficial to Michael in the escape.

Meanwhile, Lincoln realizes that Michael is not going to make it out of the prison and attempts, with Sucre’s help, yet another pathetic rescue attempt of his son. Lincoln fails to rescue his son but does manage to negotiate an extension of the deadline to get Whistler out to another week.

But the final twist of this week’s two hour extravaganza came at the very end, when the Company femme fatale Susan visits Whistler at Sona. From their conversation, it is clear the Susan is working for Whistler and that Whistler has been masterminding the Company’s plans from the beginning. Michael sees the two talking and begins to realize that Whistler is not at innocent as he pretends.

So there you have it. The writers were smart this season to bring Michael back to a prison because the show is clearly at its best when Michael is using his cunning to engineer an escape. The rest of the plot lines with Lincoln, Sucre, Whistler’s girlfriend, and the Company are uninteresting for the most part and really only serve to fill in the gaps between the Sona scenes.

That being said, I commend the writers for being able to take what most people thought could only be a single season show and making it relatively entertaining for at least two and half seasons. Prison Break will never be a particularly deep show, but it's fun, and it still manages to entertain me from week to week.


Dark Passenger/Dark Defender: Dexter, Season 2

(An "exhaustive" examination of the story so far.)

“I’m still going to kill you. I just don’t have to.”

As my esteemed colleague Justin wrote some weeks ago, Dexter started off its second season reasonably strong. Interesting arcs were proposed and introduced, and even Dexter himself was temporarily repackaged through stark anxiety and regret for killing his brother (the Ice Truck Killer); the only person who could ever understand him. Even though these elements admittedly had a direct correlation with the events that ended Season one (to an almost crippling degree), they were interesting nonetheless. This was proof positive that the show had a patience and a method much stronger in resolve than most had previously thought.

The curious thing about Dexter has always been the disparity between the uncommonly powerful central character and the surprisingly weak ensemble. More often than not it is the sometimes hollow dialogue and poor performances from the supporting cast that end up dragging the show down from an otherwise rapid ascension. Season two is slowly trying to reconcile these two components through focused, character driven arcs, and has done an admirable job thus far--if not still lacking some validity.

Since the last time we covered Dexter (the premiere), the show has been trailing along smoothly at a mostly even pace, finishing up episode six this past Sunday. The most important arc introduced, of course, is that the “big bad,” as it were, for the season is Dexter himself. Scuba divers came upon his watery graveyard of villains, and the FBI has been called in to work jointly with the Miami PD in apprehending the quickly named “Bay Harbor Butcher.” Though, Dexter doesn’t much care for the moniker. This plot point has been able to produce many ingeniously written moments for Dexter himself, as well as the show in general. It pushes the boundaries of his phony persona, and, at the same time, has been able to collectively question just how phony it really is.

Dexter’s personal belief system has been kind of thrown into upheaval since the discovery that his foster father, Harry (of the Code of Harry) was essentially banging his real mother, an informant for the police department. This calls into question Harry’s motives for taking Dexter in to begin with, and has cast a shroud over the dubious “morals” that he instilled in his damaged foster child. At least that’s where the writers seem to be taking us. Dexter recently had the opportunity to kill the man that murdered his mother and opted against it. More on that later.

Dexter’s past has been examined in a fairly satisfying way this season. It’s logical really. By the end of Season 1 we thought that we learned all that there is to know about Dexter’s childhood and past. Now discovering that not everything is what it seemed is, pretty much, cheating. However, there seems to be enough dime-store novel, soapy elements as well as off-the-cuff psycho-babble to make it interesting in a guilty kind of way. Obviously, this is not something that they could pull off every season, but it really isn’t a problem as of yet.

I like the whole dynamic, also, of the “Bay Harbor Butcher” being championed as a vigilante hero (The Dark Defender) of sorts. The proposed public acceptance of this character is a little obvious and, well, stupid, but you couldn’t really expect it to go any other way. This has called into question just how inherently evil Dexter truly is. If his actions are socially acceptable, are they then morally acceptable? Does he care? And if so, why does he care all of the sudden? The Code of Harry doesn’t seem to be the answer to all of his questions anymore.

Meanwhile, after discovering that Dexter did, in fact, set Paul (her junkie ex) up to be put back in jail, Rita comes to the conclusion that Dexter is an addict himself. How else would Dex know just the right amount of heroin to give Paul? Uh…okay. She is of course, right; just not right about what Dexter is addicted to. In an odd story twist that is both logical and…fucking strange, Rita orders Dexter to join a program to keep himself clean or they are through. This sets in to motion a chain of events that is seemingly shaping the entire season, as well our hero’s mental state. Side bar: I find it odd that Paul’s death was only heard about, and not actually seen by the viewer. Was this a quick attempt by the writers to rid the show of a serious weight on its forward momentum; or, possibly, a really bad idea that will come to fruition later in the season? I’m not going to speak aloud what I am suggesting, but…you know what I mean, and damn that would be lame. Hopefully, it was more of a proactive decision. The show clearly doesn’t need two Sgt. Doakes watching Dexter’s every move. One is annoying enough.

The introduction of Lila (Jaime Murray) as Dexter’s sponsor is probably the second most important arc this season. Lila is able to see through him remarkably easy. She sees the “Dark Passenger” with him and wants to help. She appears to be just as morally damaged as Dexter and has also (as we’ve recently found out) killed in the name of goodwill. Their scenes are filled with mostly cliché psycho analyses, as well as a palpable hint (promise) of sexuality. Hall works very well with her, though, and they produce a compelling chemistry that he and Benz (Rita) never seemed to display. Though, I should note that Dexter and Rita’s lack of real connection was clearly a calculated choice by the writers--and a good one. Dexter and Lila having finally “sealed the deal,” and Rita leaving Dexter for good (or so it seems) should yield some interesting results. Their’s is a strange relationship because as much they seem to help each other, they seem to bring each other down even more. It is a constructive relationship of deconstruction. It makes things interesting to watch. Lila is the chief reason Dexter’s mother’s murderer is still alive. Talking to her on his cell phone just as he was about to do the deed, she talked him down like a heroine addict about to use again. The fact that it worked both surprised and intrigued Dexter. Now that the two are “together,” expect significant chinks in the armor to be put on display, because, well…their’s is a strange relationship.

Elsewhere, Sgt. Doakes has upped his suspicion as well as surveillance of Dexter since suspecting him of “knowing more about the Ice Truck Killer then he let on.” I liked Erik King on Oz well enough. I also can appreciate that a role like this is him maybe playing against type…but it’s not really. The truth of the matter is that Doakes is an idiot, and his suspicion of Dexter is rooted in personal dislike-- not police intuition. This fact does seem to be partially emerging, but not fast enough. Sure, we all know that he is right about Dexter, but his stalker antics only serve as a hindrance to the plot, as opposed to a genuine antithesis to the character of Dexter himself. While they have hinted at a definite darkness within Doakes (apparently he was a Special Forces badass) there has never been enough there to sell the character as a real threat. He is nowhere near a worthy adversary and the writers need to end this arc fairly soon (like this season) before it gets so annoying that people no longer want to watch. This, of course, is coupled with the fact that, as valiant an effort as King puts forth, he is still a fairly untalented actor who is given plodding, tough guy dialogue and a character with only the faint illusion of layers. We recently thought that this madness of him “tailing” Dexter would come to an end when he found him at an NA meeting. He seemed to show approval and a willingness to back off. However, when bringing up Dexter’s non-existent substance abuse problems to Debra (Dexter’s sister), his suspicions were once again awakened, only with more vigor this time. Yay! This will end well.

Debra still seems hell-bent to perpetuate the middle child syndrome that she’s been displaying since day one…and she’s not even a middle child! This is another case of a slightly sub-par actor given a character that only appears to have depth. If she’s not stumbling around a crime scene making an idiot of herself, she is whining about how everyone (including her father) liked/likes Dexter better because he is more capable and smarter than she is. Well, you know, he kind of is. She seems to be saved as a detective due to her ability to infuse the occasional jolt of common sense into a situation at key moments. Her entire career seems predicated upon this fact. I refuse to believe that she would be any kind of successful detective in the real world if not surrounded by over worked morons who find it impressive that she can have a good idea every now and again. She is still trying to get over the fact that she, a DETECTIVE, was dating and almost married the serial killer she was so actively pursuing. She has become a sort of local joke and really just wants to get back to work and not be bothered with her recent, unfortunate celebrity. Lightning strikes again as Special Agent Lundy, the head of the FBI task force assigned to catch the “Bay Harbor Butcher,” sees something special in her and puts her on his team. He is an older man with a dry wit, played well by Keith Carradine. There are many awkward moments that ensue between the two due to the fact that Debra clearly has a crush on him. The reason for this crush clearly has to do with her more than apparent “daddy issues,” coupled with an almost debilitating inferiority complex.

As a show, Dexter is slowly coming into its own as a heavy weight drama with a slight penchant for not-so-veiled social commentary. Most of what it has to say isn’t terribly insightful, but it has developed something of even brush stroke while painting these situations for its odd array of underdeveloped characters. I like the way that the writers are making a conscious effort to give Hall’s surrounding playmates something in the way of “meat,” even if the end results are still largely lacking. Dexter is probably never going to be an all-around great show. However, the continued effort to raise the playing field of our hero by surrounding him with characters that seem to be developing something in the way of personalities is a big step forward, and the effort shines through.

No one really expects Dexter to get caught by Season's end. Nor do we expect, or even want, Dexter to stop killing (what does that say about us?!). However, the paradoxical nature of the themes emerging here are wildly compelling, if not a shade underwhelming with some of their deliveries. As a drama in only its second season, Dexter has a strong sense of itself, but is careful not to remain static. This can become a problem in the future seeing as a lot of shows go off in a lot of stupid directions in order to remain “fresh.” Dexter seems determined, though, to remain refined and simply work the formula that it has the best that it can. I think one can appreciate this, and that it will give this show a longer than expected shelf-life.

*Check out Justin’s great review of Dexter: Season 2, Episode 1 here.
*Expect weekly recaps of Dexter from now until the end of the Season.


"They’ve got a satellite aimed directly at Cuddy’s vagina. I told them the chances of invasion were slim to none... ": House

Well, I guess it couldn’t go on forever. Last night House broke its streak of consistently great offerings with ‘Whatever It Takes’, a disappointing bore of an episode. This isn’t the end of the world, nor do I think it suggests any larger problem for the series – every show should be allowed the occasional dud. ‘Whatever It Takes’ just didn’t work on any level.

The story inter-cut between two separate narrative strands: House working for the CIA, and Foreman taking his place as head of the batch of applicants. House’s parts were by far the worst, combining a boring patient, off-putting guest stars and a bothersome level of isolation. House had virtually no contact with anyone, beyond a single phone-call to Wilson. I understand that Foreman’s story wouldn’t have worked if they’d been able to reach House, but it still bothered me, as I think both sections would have been improved by an occasional outside voice commenting on the proceedings. House’s CIA adventure proved dull, partly because Laurie had little to play and partly because of the snore-inducing guest stars. Holmes Osborne’s Dr. Curtis, a dorky anti-House, annoyed me not because of his constant moaning at House (as seemed to be the intention) but because he was so thinly drawn. As for Michael Michele…ugh. So, soooo boring. Her re-appearance at the end had me groaning. Thank God she’s not going to be around for long, or I’d be seriously worried.

Back with Foreman and the team, events were only mildly more interesting. For reasons I can’t quite pinpoint, I found the general idea of this story – Foreman struggles to stay on top of the doctors when left in charge – basically flat. I didn’t buy Grumpy getting all pissy, or the final reveal that he deliberately infected the patient with polio for the sake of more research. Come on! No way would he do that. Omar Epps was mostly fine, although he overplayed Foreman’s guilt after the initial discovery of the polio. I have to admit, however, that Cutthroat Bitch is starting to grow on me. (And I loved that House listed her as that on his phone.)

Hopefully just a one-episode lull. That is if Michael Michele doesn’t ruin next week merely through her presence.


"What's with the business formal? Are you being arraigned for something?": Gossip Girl

The previews for this episode touted that after this week "nothing would be the same." While I recognize the statement for the promotional hyperbole it is, after seeing last night's episode I do tend to agree a little bit. I mean, this one really ended with a bang. Literally.

Let's get right down to that ending: BLAIR AND CHUCK TOTALLY DID IT IN THE LIMO! Holy gravy, I was not expecting that. After all of Blair's sturm and drang trying to get her perfect first time with Nate, she ends up breaking up with Nate and impulsively sleeping with his best friend (and attempted rapist) Chuck in a limo after performing a strip tease at a burlesque club! Blair Waldorf, we hardly knew ye. This is the perfect soapy development, and it's sure to cause no small amount of drama in the weeks to come.

The one troubling thing is this. In the very first episode of the show, they established Chuck as a complete slime ball and had him attempt to rape two women. If they are trying to use some sort of relationship with Blair to rehabilitate the character, they are going to have to work much harder than that because I'm not selling what they're buying yet. I love the character of Chuck, but I don't want him to become someone we're supposed to respect, because he's a pig. The reason it seems they will attempt to rehabilitate him is because directly before the macking commenced, Chuck asked Blair "are you sure?" Listen, Charles. Chucky. Chuck-meister. If you would have asked any of those girls you attempted to rape in the pilot if they "were sure," or paid any attention to their protests at all, I might feel better about the direction your character is taking right now.

Despite my worries, Leighton Meester and Ed Westwick have fantastic chemistry and this story should take full advantage of that. Meester in particular has been quite the revelation on this show, infusing a potentially loathsome character with real emotional depth. Just watch the scene where Jenny reveals Nate's confession to her about still being in love with Serena. The acting Meester does in that scene with only her eyes is incredible.

Nate. Nate is a potentially satisfying character stuck in the body of an actor with little to no charisma. Chace Crawford was given a lot of great material this week, between
fighting with Blair, telling his mother about his father's drug problem and then ultimately sending him to jail, but although he was slightly more interesting than in the past everything about him still left me cold. Nate is totally the Marissa Cooper of this show, and I won't be surprised if he becomes an alcoholic and Chuck has to carry him through the back alleys of the Hamptons after a particularly bad bender, and I'm not looking forward to any of it. I will say this, though: Nate's parents are horrible human beings. No wonder he sleeps in Chuck's hotel room every night.

Serena and Dan. Serena and Dan spent the hour in their own little world making out and generally being ridiculously cute. Romantic pairings on teen dramas like this almost always come down to personal preference, so I'm sure there are others that are not quite as enamored with Serena and Dan as I am. Still, the actors have undeniable chemistry and the writing for them has so far been surprisingly non-cringe inducing. The use of humorous flashbacks and dreams to illustrate Dan's fear of sex was fun, and it was nice to see the male teen perspective on sex with a more experienced partner rather than the other way around, and ultimately having her be the one to decide to wait on sex. However, something about this story in juxtaposition with the Blair/Chuck story was worrisome. Why does the female virgin get deflowered by the attempted rapist and the male virgin get a romantic, sweet night with the "promiscuous" girl? Perhaps I'm just hyper sensitive because they are trying to make me genuinely like Chuck. I don't know.

Vanessa. I stated my fear that I already hated Vanessa after her first appearance. She was much more tolerable this week (except when extolling how slutty Serena is to Dan) but the main problem with her character is that she's completely unnecessary. Why bring in a third wheel in the Dan/Serena relationship now? There's no need for the complication for at least six more episodes. Until then, she'll just be hanging around and being useless, and it bugs. I will say that the actress is growing on me, though.

The adults. Ugh, the adults. For the most part, I enjoy them when they are in scenes with the younger set (the Lily/Chuck scene was gold) but any scene solely featuring the parents is so deadly dull. One potentially interesting development this week is the imminent return of Dan and Jenny's mother, at Jenny's behest. Although, if she's just returning to become the fourth side of the Bart/Lily/Rufus rhombus, count me out.

Next week: Fallout from Blair and Chuck's limo lambada! (Did I just say limo lambada? Yikes.)


"You're not here to protect Joel anymore. You're here to protect you.": Journeyman

[This is perhaps my favorite production still ever. The flying chair, the look on the shooter's face, the little puff of smoke from the gun...brilliant. - C]

Despite a slight creative uptick in Heroes this week, Journeyman once again managed to be far more compelling than its sophomore slumping lead-in. I mentioned last week how the show finally feels like it has settled on a tone (which is something like "family drama with a bit of time travel thrown in") and this week that tone is celebrated with another excellent episode focusing on Dan and how his time traveling ability affects his life and the lives of everyone around him.

Things started out on a great note when it became clear that although Dan was seemingly sent to the past to help prevent a witness from being murdered by the gang he was planning on testifying against, the story quickly becomes about Dan trying to prevent himself from getting murdered by the same gang and therefore completely altering (or erasing, I suppose) his future life. Time travel stories have always relied on these types of stories for their bread and butter, and this version definitely doesn't disappoint. Things get even more complicated when Dan realizes that while working to fend off the gang, he accidentally almost blew off an important day in his and Katie's history that could end up erasing their entire future and would, most importantly, mean that his son Zach might not exist. With Livia's help he gets everything back on track and ensures his future is safe, a sequence that featured a very fun fistfight between "past Dan" and "future Dan."

The "reliving your own life to make sure it goes the way you want" thing is interesting, but the problem is you can't think about it too hard or else your brain might explode. I know "past Dan" was drunk, but wouldn't he remember that something was off about that night? Also, if Dan's past was affected by "future Dan" would he and Katie only be together if this time travel thing existed? Unfortunately I think linearly and If you put all the pieces together it doesn't completely make sense, but I suppose that's the rub with time travel stories.. Still, it's great the writers finally have the confidence to take these risks and tying the time travel to the characters in a way that elevates both to a more interesting level. Hopefully they will figure out a way to continue this trend and not go back to the disconnected, stand-alone "past person of the week" stories that were dragging the previous episodes down.

The other main thing happening on this show right now is Jack and his bullheaded quest to "fix" Dan and Katie's problems, or at least figure out exactly what those problems are. While babysitting, Zach innocently reveals the existence of Dan's Dylan McCleen money and Jack is immediately suspicious, grabbing one of the bills and taking it to the police station for tracking. Of course, this triggers the FBI to come a-calling since the bill was stolen money, and Jack immediately goes to Dan and Katie's house in search of the money (which luckily Livia had just jumped in to take in connection with what she and Dan were doing in the past). Jack had cagily rebuffed the FBI agent's request to know where the money came from before this, but when the agent confronts him again he tells them it came from his brother. Although I hated the Dylan McCleen episode, what they've done with the money from it so far has been very good. How will they explain the existence of this bill? Will Jack ever stop being such a freaking jerk? Both questions that must be answered.

Surprisingly, this show has gone from one I begged to be allowed to quit recapping to one I actually look forward to each Monday in a matter of two weeks. With the strike's ugly head looming over every new series head right now, I can only hope that somehow this one can survive to at least finish out the first season. Next week, Elliot Langley returns to hopefully shed some further light into why Livia and Dan are able to time travel, and what this all means.

(Side note: One thing I absolutely hated at the beginning of the season was how whenever Dan would travel back in time, a song would be playing from that year to clue you in on what time period he's in. I still hate it as a narrative device, but I've learned to have some fun with it by guessing what year he's jumped to by only the song. I'm good with the 90's rock and 80's pop, but I had a hard time with "La Vida Loca" this week, guessing 1996 when the real answer was 1999. All of those late 90's years blend together for me. I blame the beer.)


Wednesday, November 07, 2007

"A Civil War" - Life, episode 1.7

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In this week's Life we heard the satisfying click of pieces falling into place. The relationship between Detectives Crews and Reese deepened last week after Reese fended off a serial rapist intent on preying on her alcoholism. Tonight the episode's central revelation was also Dani-centric and maybe relevant to Crews' bogus murder conviction. After Reese reacts to an offhand remark by Charlie's old partner Stark, Crews (in an illicit search of a secure LAPD server) learns that Dani's father Jack was the SWAT captain at the much discussed Bank of Los Angeles shootout. This of course means that the comment two episodes ago by the Russian mobster Roman that Crews should "ask his partner" about the shootout was misunderstood. Crews naturally thought Roman was referring to Stark, since Dani was only twelve years old when the shooting occurred. I have a guess about where this is going, but for now I'll just say that if you recall the 1st season of NYPD Blue you might be able to figure out a plausible explanation for Dani's behavior. (Remember, Roman seemed to have an unusual amount of personal information about Dani when they met)

The stand-alone plot clipped along well enough, but turned on a last-minute and somewhat improbable connection between two characters. Two young Persians are found shot and stuffed in a convenience store cooler with the words "Go Home" written in oil on the glass. Since the cops have to diffuse a riot outside the crime scene, anti-immigrant sentiment is almost immediately settled on as a motive for the murders. The two victims were drug dealers; a third Persian, Amir, who has gone missing is believed to be in league with them. Amir's mother and sister hover around the cops and declare that he couldn't possibly be involved, but after a spreadsheet is discovered on Amir's video game console it's clear he was the dealer's accountant. Computers played a major role this week. There's a funny LAPD computer geek character that I could see coming back in future episodes. and the unlocking of the spreadsheet only happens after a slightly overlong montage in which everyone stands around and watches Amir's sister get to a certain level on a video game.

The case turns on the fact that the mother of the kidnapper (Sarah Clarke of 24) is apparently in love with Amir. I say "apparently" because we don't know until Crews explained it to us. This plot twist felt very forced, as if a writer was just trying to do what wasn't expected for its own sake.

Last week I complained that Adam Arkin's Ted had too little to do, and my cries were heard. Crews decides (after a dream) to buy a "solar farm." On a trip to check one out Ted winds up in the company of Olivia (whom I didn't realize in her first appearance is played by Christina Hendricks of Mad Men), the bride-to-be of Crews's as-yet-unseen father. The trip goes comically awry, and Arkin sweetly reveals his attraction to Olivia and his awkwardness around women. This week Ted worked as a nice counterpoint to the serious main plot.

Although the Persian murder/drug plot left me a little cold, this was a very strong episode of Life. It was good to see the nutty side of Crews come back out, and great to see Reese's character get more complicated (Oh, she's half-Persian and speaks fluent Farsi). I hope the show goes further with the idea that Charlie's eccentricity heps him figure out all crimes aren't as simple as they first appear - Lt. Davis tells him most crimes are about "drugs and money." Charlie is still working on that flow chart, trying to figure out who set him up. As Reese's history and the connection to her father came out the chart went in some new and unexpected directions. We'll see whether Reese's place on the Wall of Shame is justified, but for now trust no one.


“Leave the quips to me.”: Chuck

Chuck is going strong, and only getting stronger. ‘Chuck versus The Alma Mater’ was yet another fine offering, showing off many of Chuck’s fine qualities and adding something new to the table.

Namely, backstory! Or mythology, or a central mystery, or whatever you want to call it. There had always been the question of why Bryce sent the Intersect to Chuck, but this episode gave some much appreciated context to Bryce and his relationship with Chuck. Basically it did everything an early ‘mythology’ episode should – provided an answer to a smaller mystery, while deepening our interest in the main one. We discovered that Bryce deliberately got Chuck kicked out of Stanford because he didn’t want him to be sucked into a CIA life that Bryce didn’t think he could handle. Bryce’s actions are questionable – after all, Chuck could have turned down the offer – but I think that’s the idea. Overall it is the well-meant action of a friend, and a nice explanation for Chuck’s abrupt exit from Stanford. The flashback scenes between Chuck and Bryce were sweet, and I especially liked the dramatic effect of their playing backwards chronologically.

Writer Anne Coffell Saunders made a welcome, if not entirely successful attempt to tie every character into the central mission. The only problem here was that as well as making this effort, Saunders also tried to frame the story as a personal journey for Chuck. The emphasis ends up swinging towards the latter - probably the right approach, but as a consequence Ellie and Awesome basically disappeared halfway through. Sarah and Casey get more to do, although I can’t help but keeping wanting more Casey than we’re getting. Maybe the writers think he will work beter as occasional comic relief – if so, I strongly disagree.

As has become the norm now, Morgan and the Buy More folks get a sub-plot all to themselves. This week’s, involving Harry Tang’s reign of terror as the new Buy More assistant manager, was entertaining enough while never hitting any great comic heights. At least Morgan wasn’t annoying. Eventually this structure is going to become tiresome, but for now I can live with it.

Forgivable criticisms aside, another solid episode. Looking ahead, it seems like there’s plenty of good stories coming before the strike starts to affect the show, starting with the beginning of Rachel Bilson’s arc next week. Essential viewing, methinks.


Heroes: Season 2, Episode 30, “Out of Time”

After weeks of slow buildup, story padding and other barely disguised stall tactics, Heroes finally kicked into gear on Monday with its seventh episode of the season, “Out of Time”. Written by Aron Eli Coleite and directed by Daniel Attias, we finally get to see more than two main characters interacting together, as well as some decent twists and a good deal of advancement in the season’s main arcs. The same flaws are still there -- stilted dialogue, those ever-present wooden characters and a recycled time-travel plot -- but because the pace is much improved, the flaws become so much less important. It doesn’t forgive that it took us six weeks to get here, but “Out of Time” certainly proves that the faster Heroes moves, the better it seems.
Read the rest of the article here.


"I've been told I have alabaster skin that is irresistible to touch.": Two weeks of Bones

So the week I have deadlines on other projects is also the week when Bones has its best episode in quite some time. Go figure. Fortunately, the show followed up that excellent Halloween episode with another good one this week, though this one was a little more turgid. The show has mostly gotten away from the forced Brennan/Booth moments in the last two episodes, and that makes for a happy Bones recapper.

Last week's episode was really Bones at its best, particularly as it put Brennan into a bunch of situations where her headstrong skepticism clashed with the people she was supposed to be a little sympathetic around. Mixing up the Bones gang with a Hell House (a TV plot that should be boring and cliche by now but isn't for some reason) made for a nice twist on the same old Halloween episode, and the mystery of the mummy in the maze was probably the twistiest one the show has done yet this season. It wasn't the best Bones ever, but it certainly was the best of the young season.

Also, since it was a Halloween episode, we got COSTUMES, which is the best reason to do a Halloween episode anyway (even though I rarely check out Homestar Runner anymore, I always look at the Halloween cartoon to see what all of the characters dressed as -- it's always perfect and ridiculous). More shows need to do episodes where they dress up their characters in a ridiculous fashion. Imagine what The Wire or Battlestar Galactica could do with this sort of set-up! I'm picturing Mary McDonnell dressed as somebody from The Dark Crystal or something (I've never seen it, but it seems like the sort of pop culture reference the kids would like). Awesome!

To that end, I was happy to see Brennan dressed as Wonder Woman and Booth as a squint. Zach dressed up as a cow was also inspired, though I felt the rest of the characters' costumes weren't exactly that imaginative. The best thing about putting your characters in costume is that you can then send them into some sort of situation where the costume would be hilariously inappropriate and watch them fumble through. It works every time!

So, yeah, costumes = good.

Anyway, tonight's episode was also pretty good, particularly as it dealt with the tensions between the team members themselves when someone who worked at the Jeffersonian was a victim of the crime and others who worked there were involved or committing the crimes. It wasn't the most complex mystery in the world, nor was it all that hard to figure out, but it's always interesting to examine aspects of the team that don't stem automatically from their usual chain of command. I'm less interested in how these events relate to the Brennan/Booth pairing, but I do like how they shook up the team.

So that's two good episodes in a row. Here's hoping the early season jibblies are all worked out and we're off on a good stretch.


Tuesday, November 06, 2007

"You came as a self-important queen who lost her power. Isn't that a bit on the nose?": Desperate Housewives

Ladies and gentlemen, Nathan Fillion made me laugh this week. One time. By pure force of will, delivering the hell out of one simple word, "Arrgh." Granted, he was dressed as Frankenstein at the time which I'm sure aided the humor, but I'm giving him the credit. Let us recognize this with a moment of silence, because it will probably never happen in the confines of this show again.

Okay, moving on. Center stage this week was the birth of Danielle/Bree's baby which, naturally, happens in the middle of the block's Halloween party (where Danielle is hilariously dressed up as Bree, complete with spot-on mannerisms). After determining that they won't have time to get Danielle to a hospital, Bree summons Adam's help and he tells her he's known the pregnancy was fake all along, which...should have been a more interesting reveal than it was. Anywho. Adam, clad in a Frankenstein costume that suits Nathan Fillion far better than you could ever dream possible, delivers the baby in the Van De Kamp kitchen surrounded by Andrew dressed as Cher, Orson as George Washington (I think?), and Bree as Little Bo Peep. It's wacky, but forced in a way that makes the entire endeavor fall flat, even the gag of having Lynette's kids see Frankenstein holding the baby (see above picture). Later, Danielle does get a gorgeous moment when she holds the baby boy for the first time and decides to let him go for his own good. I will admit, it got me misty. I'm not sure where this story goes from here, but I'm assuming Bree's subterfuge will be revealed eventually.

With their wacky quota filled for the week with the birth, Susan gets a chance to have a serious storyline for once involving Mike's imprisoned father. She is surprised to learn he is alive, considering Mike told her he was dead so he didn't have to tell her about the prison thing. Susan demands to visit him, and sees that he doesn't show any remorse over the murder. This causes her to freak out in concern that she is carrying a child with no conscience. After visiting Mike's father again by herself, he reveals that he has plenty of remorse but buries it so he doesn't kill himself with guilt and warns her that Mike is the one she should be worried about. I know now that Susan and Mike are happily married they need to give them storylines, but clunkily hinting that he's going to do something evil is not the way to go. I mean, Susan should know he's not entirely on the up and up, right? He's been convicted of manslaughter in the past, and then there's like EVERYTHING he did in the first two seasons to give her pause. But she finally gets worried when his deadbeat Dad says something? Whatever, show.

As for Gabby and Carlos, they finally decide to do the right thing and leave their spouses but it all comes back to bite them in the ass when Carlos tells Gabby about his $10 million account. Since he had the money when they were married, Gabby is furious he "lied" to her in their divorce and kept her away from the money. Seeing as the only thing Gabby loves more than herself is money, she calls things off with Carlos on the grounds that he "lied" to her and runs back to Victor. See how "lied" is in quotes? I would like those quotes to go smack Gabby right in the face because she is so, so hateful. Not that Carlos is any better. Sensing opportunity, a spurned Edie shows Victor the P.I. photos she had taken and blames the entire affair completely on Carlos. Will Victor plot to have Carlos killed? Will anyone care? I honestly hope Carlos ends up killing Victor instead, because that character and this storyline are both a complete dead end.

Lynette spent the hour wrapped up in a metaphor involving an evil possum and her cancer. She defeats both, just in time for viewers to decide that this show should never do metaphors like that again. Please, never, ever again.

Not the strongest showing this week, but at least Nathan Fillion made me laugh! Maybe next week he'll actually get an entire line that's funny, instead of just one word!

Next week: Gabby kills Victor! Maybe. Well, probably not...but wouldn't that be awesome?


Monday, November 05, 2007

"Tell him you saw a ghost. Tell him it's haunted!": How I Met Your Mother

If How I Met Your Mother is never going to be a big hit (and it seems increasingly unlikely that it ever will be one), I think part of what's keeping it from hitting that Friends status so many have predicted for it is its sheer devotion to having its characters (all sympathetic to a fault) make really stupid but realistic decisions, ones that seem destined to screw up their lives. We know from the future scenes that Lily and Marshall are financially well-off in the future and that their marriage is sound, but it seems more and more like there's going to be a long, hard road on the way to achieving that stability. Obviously, there are bigger things standing in the way of HIMYM's hit-ness (its network, for one, as well as its timeslot and its format, which goes against the grain of what's "hip" now), but the show's dedication to treating these characters as real people who mess up and make mistakes goes against the typical sitcom grain.

In particular, the show has now shown Lily and Marshall committed to living with a lifestyle they can't afford, in an apartment that's well outside of their income bracket (the show played a bit fast and loose with buying an apartment, but that was fine because of how the plot played out). On top of this, Marshall has committed to a job that he doesn't really like and one that will cause him to betray his principles and ideals (or at least stretch them), and now he's in it completely, largely so he can float his wife's debt. Sure the show spins great comedy out of all of this, but this emotional core has a lot of bleakness in it and gives the lie to what a lot of sitcoms do, which is leave the characters in a place where they never have to worry about money ever.

Now, HIMYM's universe depends on Marshall and Lily being together, so the moment where everyone worried that Lily had called a divorce lawyer never seemed as threatening as it could have (and it was mainly interesting for the reactions it spurred in Ted, Robin and Barney, who have very different attitudes toward commitment). We know that this show would never go so bleak as to dissolve the Erickson-Aldrin marriage now that it's together, but giving the two of them such big issues to surmount pushes that central tenet of the show far enough to believably portray just how fragile the setups of so many sitcoms are (after all, Robin wouldn't hang out with Ted and Barney without the Marshall/Lily glue).

The episode was tied together with a smart recurring gag where someone would say something smart, then Bob Saget would say, "But what they really said was," followed by what was really said. The gag itself was only mildly amusing, but the way it showed how these characters have a long way to go before they grow up enough to stop chasing instantaneous pleasure gave the whole episode a bittersweet undertone. Most sitcoms eventually become about people who are too old to believably do the wacky and farcical things that propel the episodes. This sitcom seems to be about people going through the painful process of growing out of that.

All of this philosophizing should not cover up that this was another very funny episode, particularly in the subplot where Barney used Marshall and Lily's prospective apartment to score with a beautiful woman. I also liked Ted's CSI deconstruction of various bits of garbage to reconstruct Marshall and Lily's fight (complete with putting on his glasses and saying a snarky one-liner), which didn't go on too long, as these sorts of things tend to do on sitcoms. And, hey, I'm down with any episode that uses the word "jackassery."

The final revelation of what Dowisetrepla really meant was the coup de grace for the episode. Marshall and Lily wanted too much to play the knowledgeable grown-ups but they were unable to just ask the questions a real "grown-up" might have. Life in the HIMYM-verse is all about playing at making the tough decisions but really just going along with whatever comes along first. It's unpleasant, but unusually realistic. And very, very funny.


"You're more like me. A sassy thing!": Brotherhood

First of all, thanks for the comments on the last episode of this. It's nice to know I'm not just shouting these things into a vacuum, y'know! We Brotherhood watchers are a small club, and we must stick together. Or something.

Anyway, this was probably the best episode of the season so far, and it actually had a nice pace to it. I didn't constantly hit the button to see how far along I was in my DVR playback, which was nice, and I liked most of the plots, if not all of them (I'm still a bit undecided on the mob stuff, which continues to feel so, so derivative). The best stuff probably focused on Rose, who is chasing her own obsession with youth to the point where she refused to even acknowledge that one of her best friends had had a stroke (and subsequently died). Her continual boasting about her youthful good looks and her hanging out with her granddaughter (and buying said granddaughter revealing dresses and bragging about her "sassiness") both seem like interesting storylines to pursue, especially as we enter a period of more and more baby boomers getting older and older.

I'm also enjoying the slow dissolution of the Caffee marriage, though this week's episode seemed to hint that Tommy and Eileen might keep it together for the sake of appearances and their kids. The scene where Eileen gabbed with her friends about how often their husbands wanted sex was a little on-the-nose (in that manner of predominantly male writers rooms trying to write about how women talk about sex), but I liked the way she looked to Judd and his wife's (whose name I'm blanking on) marriage and seemed to see that there was something there she could emulate. I also liked that Tommy seems to be looking to her and hoping to recapture what they had before he found out about her infidelities, though he seems increasingly aware that that may be impossible.

One thing I'm not so sure about is the Dana subplot. I think it's been interesting seeing Tommy outside of his marriage, pursuing someone else, but I'm also not wild about him trying to turn Dana into Wife #2 (Tommy seems too compartmentalized and bottled up for that). What's more, turning Dana into kind of a psychotic hellbeast seemed far too abrupt and convenient. We know that Tommy's not going to end up with this woman long-term, since she's a guest star, but making her a raving bitch makes it too easy for him to get out of the relationship. If our main character and good guy gets into an affair (even if his wife is hardly blameless), we don't want to see him get out of the relationship easily. It should take a little pain.

I am liking Michael and Kath's struggles with their baby and whether or not to keep it. Michael wanting to terminate the pregnancy was a nicely believable and in-character turn, I thought, and I'm interested to see how the relationship between the two progresses from this revelation onward.

I wasn't as wild about the plot where Tommy wandered into a Hispanic neighborhood and ended up seeing a brawl that the cops broke up using rather too enthusiastic tactics. It's interesting to put Tommy on the side of the cops (who seemed clearly a bit over-eager), but I was a bit irritated to see this immediately get tied into the election, which seems to dominate minute after minute of airtime every week. Couldn't this have been solely a character moment?

As I mention every week, Brotherhood isn't a show where a lot of plot happens all at once, but this episode seemed to be picking up the pace quite a bit, heading in to the bottom of the season. Things seem to be moving toward some sort of resolution, and it seems like the election will prominently feature. I'm finally interested to see where this is going.


"I find that fun is more spontaneous when there's careful planning behind it.": Men in Trees

Last week I opined that this show was entering tricky territory in regards to the Marin/Jack relationship, not sure where they were going and expressing a little bit of concern. One episode later, I can say that any worries I had are quickly dissipating. Their relationship was front and center this week, and instead of being tiring like the central relationship on another quirky ABC soap, it was honest and sweet.

Jack, having rid his life and body of any vestige of Lynn, decides he is ready to give his relationship with Marin another try. Despite her repeated protests, he finally gets her to agree to go on a kayaking date with him. Considering Marin's penchant for clumsiness this is obviously a bad idea, which is proven when she tips her kayak to avoid Jack's kiss. His matter of fact admission that he simply wants another chance to get things right with her is welcome, as is Marin's sincere rejection of his advances on the grounds that she's not ready yet. The entire thing feels completely earned and is just plain pleasant to watch. In the end, Jack gets offered a job on the Bering Sea that would cause him to be away for nine months and he takes it. Marin seems surprised he would go to such lengths to give her space, and we'll just have to see what happens next. You know James Tupper isn't really going away for nine months, so let's hope they can continue their streak of keeping all developments in this relationship honest and heartfelt.

Taking up the bulk of the episode, however, were Patrick and Annie's bachelor and bachelorette parties, respectively. Marin plans both events to their specifications and both are a hoot, Patrick's revolving around yards of beer and a giant female mud wrestler and Annie's involving pottery painting, karaoke and lots and lots of shots. These stories are the kind of thing this show does perfectly, light hearted and quirky with a poignant undertone. This time the poignancy came when Annie learned that Celia really does like her, but puts on a show otherwise. Still bitchy of Celia, but sweet for Annie to find out nonetheless.

Also spot-on this episode was Sara's relationship with her minister boyfriend, Eric. After getting hot and heavy during a CPR lesson, Eric reveals his ministry doesn't believe in premarital sex. Sara has a hard time dealing with this at first, but after seeing how great Eric is with her kid decides to give it a shot. Nicholas Lea and Suleka Mathew are an off screen item as well, and that chemistry definitely translates to the show in a very positive way. I'm biased because I will always, always love Lea since he was Krycek on The X Files, but he is really a nice addition to the cast.

Another very pleasant episode. It's too bad the move to 8pm on Fridays hasn't seemed to help the ratings, with this show coming in a distant third to Ghost Whisperer and Deal or No Deal. I don't know about you guys, but I'd choose spending my Friday nights in Elmo over watching Jennifer Love Hewitt's boobs act or Howie Mandel's shiny head any day.


“Lots of things you can do with a stopwatch.”: Torchwood catch-up

So, yes, I’m very behind on Torchwood. In my defence, this is the least interesting portion of the season, when the show is just starting to find itself but still isn’t quite good. So basically there's no laughably awful stuff as in the early episodes, but there’s not enough positive stuff either. Quickly though, here’s a round-up of the last three episodes.

When the show was first airing, around ten minutes into ‘Greeks Bearing Gifts,’ was the point at which I originally gave up on Torchwood. It’s not actually a bad episode – in fact, it’s the best since the premiere – it just opens very weakly. The teaser is cheap and uninteresting, and the main plot hinges upon the idea that Toshkio would trust a complete stranger, and spill Torchwood secrets to her almost instantly. I was happy to see Toshiko getting the focus for once, but the only thing we really learn about her is that she’s astonishingly stupid. All that said, the scenes with her reading peoples’ minds are very funny, and it is one of the more gripping stories Torchwood has produced. It’s simply a shame that writer Toby Whitehouse so abuses Toshiko, the only blank slate this show had left.

‘They Keep Killing Suzie’ is better. It brings back Suzie Costello (Indira Varma – excellent) in exactly the right way, by revealing that her suicide was just part of a grander evil plan that she had already set in motion. It’s silly in a way that works. Serious themes are touched upon, but rarely dwelt on long before something else exciting happens. The plot moves at such a frenetic pace that it’s often difficult to grasp what’s going on, but that doesn’t really matter when the ride is this fun. Obviously Torchwood’s basic flaws – uninspired dialogue, stupid characters (this week it’s Gwen) and a weak ending – still remain; they’re just that much more bearable in a story that grabs a hold of you and refuses to let go.

Finally, ‘Random Shoes’ is a sweet but ultimately pointless diversion. It takes a similar tack to the Doctor-lite episodes of Doctor Who, but just because the idea proved perfectly suited to Who didn’t mean it would work for Torchwood as well. Why, when characters like Toshiko, Ianto, and most of all Jack need attention, would you spend a whole episode on an entirely new character? Eugene is an okay protagonist, thanks largely to Paul Chequer’s lively, likeable performance. The episode itself is nicely written, occasionally touching, and gets a powerhouse performance out of Eve Myles. It’s also the most human, most heartfelt tale Torchwood has yet offered. Yet still I can’t shake the feeling of pointlessness. ‘Random Shoes’ could have justified itself as an examination of Gwen, but it’s unarguably an examination of Eugene in which Gwen happens to be involved. If only Torchwood could just do a nice, heart-warming story about one of the core characters, instead of feeling the need to invent a new one.


"I tell you one thing, there's no way I'm kissing a damn frog.": Supernatural

I am having a really hard time wrapping my head around Supernatural this season. I don't mean individual episodes per se, but more like what the season is going for as a whole. I'm pretty sure why, and I'm just going to come out and say it: I hate the "Dean has one year to live" storyline. I've hated it ever since Dean drove to the crossroads in last year's season finale, because I knew it would affect Sam and Dean's relationship in a way I wouldn't be fond of. I was willing to cut them a break and give the story a chance to develop in an interesting way, but five episodes into the season it is starting to become clear that all of my fears were well founded. To top it all off, some creative things about the show have obviously changed and it all adds up to a season three that for me is less than exciting to watch each week.

To discuss why this storyline isn't working for me, I must first discuss why I like the show so much in the first place. What brings me back week after week is twofold: the fun of the monster hunts and the relationship between the brothers. I am equally happy when the brothers are trading quips while shooting ghosts in the face with rock salt and having heart-to-heart emofests in the Impala. As long as they are doing it together, I'm happy. By its nature, the Crossroads storyline divides the brothers and even takes away many of the heart-to-heart moments I grew to love so much last year. Exactly as I feared, it has caused Dean to completely shut down and Sam to act independently of Dean to help him, splitting them up for most of the episodes so far. Also, unless the show gets canceled Dean isn't going to die, so the entire quest just feels false. How are we supposed to feel worry about something we know isn't going to happen? Things like that are usually done on lesser shows like Smallville, and it's concerning.

Another thing that has changed is the production of the show. I don't know the reasoning behind it, but the cinematography is different. The color palette is brighter and the shots are much less interestingly composed, and it is flat-out hurting the show. One of the things I've always admired about Supernatural is that even when the show was on The WB it felt different than anything else they had. Darker, more polished, more cinematic. Now it feels so generic, and it makes me sad. Also different is the score. What used to be an exciting, scary, nuanced horror score has now turned into some obvious, loud, Mickey-Mousing crap. There have barely been any classic rock songs this season as well, a fact that becomes more depressing each week.

The one bright spot this year has been the reveal that Sam might not be all that he seems. Sam has always been the more empathetic brother, quick to sympathize with a potential bad guy and slow on the kill. This year, however, he kills demons without thought and with little remorse (in turn killing their innocent human hosts by default). This evolution was cemented this week when Sam summoned, questioned and then killed the Crossroads Demon in cold blood even though it would ultimately do him no good in his quest to free Dean of the deal. He just did it because she pissed him off, and it was kind of awesome. It's nice to see Jared Padalecki play a different side of Sam, and I hope they allow this evolution to continue in new directions and not hit the same beats each week (as the show is wont to do at times). We now definitively see that Sam is different, now we need to explore why. Is it because he "came back wrong?" Or does it have something to do with the demon blood he was fed as a baby and has he had this inside him all along? Also, how does his mother fit into all of this? And Ruby? These are the questions I am interested in finding out answers to.

All of the above criticism is not to say that I completely disliked last Thursday's episode, "Bedtime Stories." Overall it was a pleasing episode and had some standout moments. The creepy, gory Hansel & Gretel-inspired death of the hiker in the woods was vintage Supernatural. The eerie and all-too-realistic image of a (Little Red Riding Hood-ed) girl getting into a minivan only to realize that instead of her grandmother driving it was the Big Bad Wolf kidnapper gave me chills up and down my spine. There were even some decent brotherly moments where they discussed Dean's reluctance to get out of his deal and Sam's determination to find a solution. Unfortunately those moments didn't really reveal anything we didn't already know about the characters. In fact, it feels like they've been hitting the same beats with Dean's character all season and it's getting tired. He has self-esteem issues. We get it. Move on.

I realize this entire post reads like a letter from a jilted lover, and it makes me sound a little bit crazy. Perhaps I am taking it too seriously. After all, this is just a personal preference as online reaction shows that many fans are enjoying this season immensely. I know everyone watches this show for different reasons. That being said, there is still plenty of time for the writers to pull a few tricks out of their proverbial hats and salvage this season into something truly interesting (although with the strike it becomes less and less clear how much time they will actually have). I'll be watching every episode to see where it goes, because I am nothing if not a loyal fan of Supernatural, warts and all. All I know is, I miss the Sam and Dean Winchester I used to know.


Sunday, November 04, 2007

“We’re mutants!” – The Adventures of Pete & Pete

(Every weekend, particularly if the strike stretches on, we'll be looking at episodes of classic TV shows -- either ones that are established classics (Hill Street Blues) or ones that we feel have been overlooked (Pete and Pete). Here, Moses McCluer gives you a taste of what to expect with this look at the first episode of The Adventures of Pete & Pete. Expect more articles in weeks to come. -- ed.)

I guess it’s not really fair to consider “The King of the Road” The Adventures of Pete & Pete’s first episode. The show began as a series of minute-long vignettes shown during commercial breaks on Nickelodeon before spawning five half-hour specials and finally becoming a regular series. It wasn’t even the pilot – based on the information I could gather, “Day of the Dot” was the first episode shot, but Nickelodeon decided to air “The King of the Road” first.

This decision strikes me as odd, as there very well could have been viewers who came to the show with blank slates (and those who discover the show on DVD only get some of the vignettes and specials as bonus features). And here we are, with a rather strange episode to open the series. Two regular characters aren’t involved in the story at all; Artie gets about thirty seconds of screen time and Ellen is merely mentioned, never shown. The bulk of the episode takes place outside the regular setting of Wellsville. “The King of the Road” doesn’t even have one of the Petes as its protagonist – it’s a strangely Dad-centric story.

On the other hand, it nails several of the show’s recurring styles and themes quite nicely. Like so many Pete & Pete stories, the episodes primary plot revolves around an adult dragging kids along on his own neurotic goals, in this case, Dad’s love for the Hoover Dam and his pride in his self-proclaimed title. While it’s out of the ordinary to have an episode where the central conflict doesn’t actually involve one of the Petes squaring against the adult, Dad’s obsession here isn’t far removed from adults that we’ll see later in the show.

The episode could have used more of the Petes. Big Pete’s B-story of becoming smitten with the daughter of a man who also claims to be King of the Road is kind of bland, despite leading the cute joke of him writing poetry for her in the dust in the car. Little Pete is relegated to nothing more than a few gags.

Yet, there were several keen touches. The big conclusion is as out-of-left-field as it is hilarious. Mom twirling in a field like Julie Andrews in The Sound of Music while looking for a place to urinate is a textbook example of the show’s absurd humor. Same goes for a great moment where Dad lowers the radio antenna to half-mast as he eulogizes the workers who died while building the Hoover Dam. However, the episode still feels off, as if the writers were still trying to figure out how to make a regular series.


“Nope – Tastes Better Naked”: Dirty Sexy Money, so far

(Please welcome our newest writer, Myles McNutt, who will be writing up Dirty Sexy Money for us from now on. -- ed.)

ABC’s Wednesday night lineup was a huge gamble heading into this season – it was an entirely new night of programming, something that most networks shy away from due to the highly unpredictable nature of such a thing. Two of the three shows have gained a lot of notoriety: Private Practice for its Grey’s Anatomy pedigree, and Pushing Daisies for being … well, for being pretty well just plain awesome.

However, ABC Wednesdays also have another member of the family, and I don’t think it’s fair to turn Dirty Sexy Money into the forgotten stepchild of the evening. I’ll admit to treating it poorly at first glance: Even with Peter Krause (Six Feet Under) and Donald Sutherland (most recently on television, Commander in Chief, but he doesn’t really need a credit here to prove his greatness), I wasn’t “excited” about the prospects of another “wacky rich family” drama, and I wasn’t even alive when the genre hit its peak with Dynasty and Dallas in the early 80s.

But the show has surprised me by not falling into its broad brushstrokes of dirtiness (adultery), sexiness (guest star Eddie Cibrian) and extravagance, and instead has painted a subtle portrayal of sympathetic characters in a show that was supposed to be about insufferable rich people. The comedy has remained sharp, the writers have learned how to use their actors to serve their story, and there is not a single character that I outright despise – these feats have proven its worth, at least in my eyes.

All of the things I could say about what has made the show great thus far can really be found within this last week’s episode. With a high stakes poker game pitting Tripp Darling (Sutherland) against Simon Elder at its centre, “The Game” brought to the table moral dilemmas for the elder Darling children while providing some strong forward momentum to the show’s occasionally trite murder plot. But, before we get to that, let’s take a look at what’s happened thus far.

And now, an introduction into the world of Dirty Sexy Money – there’s only been five episodes (six counting Wednesday’s), but they have been five fairly exposition-heavy outings and have resulted in some rather fundamental changes in certain characters.

Nick George – Lawyer, philanthropist, sell-out. After his father, Dutch, who served as the Darling’s attorney, died in a mysterious plane crash, he was offered millions for charity to take over his father’s job. The result is the usual story – he’s overworked and overextended, losing touch with his wife and daughter, not to mention his charity work. Add on the attempt to solve his father’s murder, which he feels might connect to the Darling family, and you have one messed up lawyer; luckily, Peter Krause remains grounded and realistic in what could be a messy role managing the Darling family craziness.

Tripp and Letitia Darling – I am glad this show exists just so I can see Donald Sutherland and Jill Clayburgh argue for 10 minutes a week. The family’s figureheads, these two have drama of their own – Tish had a 40-year affair with Nick’s father, and Tripp might have killed him because of it. Their tension has only increased since Tripp found out that one of his children (Or two, but I’ll get to the twins later) are Dutch’s. But, in the end, they are defined by some glorious acting of acerbic dialogue by two screen legends.

Patrick Darling – One of the qualities that made me fall for the show was that Patrick’s love affair with a transsexual was handled like an actual relationship: not some “It was dark, I didn’t know!” scenario, but a realistic emotional connection. The show hasn’t spent much time with Patrick outside of his race for Senate, but he’s having issues living up to his father’s expectations and his own hopes and dreams at the same time – typical eldest son stuff portrayed well by Billy “I Refuse to Call Him William” Baldwin.

Brian Darling – After the first episode, many were calling Glenn Fitzgerald’s foul-mouthed and hateful priest the show’s breakout character, but he became fairly mundane for a spell. Then, his illegitimate son (The adorable and awesome Brian Jr.) entered the picture, and his character gained a heart while maintaining its edge. Plus, seriously, the kid is awesome. Donald Sutherland tried talking to him in Swedish (long story – it involved live lions), and it was the greatest scene ever. And, most recently, Brian moved back home with Brian Jr. after his wife found out he had an illegitimate child, which promises some awkward (aka awesome) breakfast chatter.

Karen Darling – Oh, how I love thee Karen. She’s a hilarious drunk, she’s deliciously catty, and she has perhaps the best dialogue on the entire show – while everyone was saying Brian would be, I knew that Natalie Zea would be the show’s breakout star in this regard. Karen is still caught up on her high school love affair with Nick (Which is awkward enough now that she’s engaged for the 4th time, but imagine if she’s Nick’s half-sister too), and her falsified naivete has not yet missed the mark whether it was trying to hide a sex tape, blackmailing Patrick about his illicit activities, or hijacking Nick and his wife Lisa’s Italian getaway.

The Twins – Juliet and Jeremy Darling are in their mid-20s, have never held a job in their lives, and are supposed to be the Paris Hilton/David Foster’s Kids of this equation. However, they have revealed themselves to be much more than that: Samaire Armstrong and Seth Gabel have formed a strong sibling bond between their characters as they’ve been split apart. Both have shown considerable growth, especially in last week’s birthday episode in which they came to terms with Jeremy’s relationship (now over) with Juliet’s ex-BFF, and where Jeremy agreed to work for his father. These are the two shallowest characters on paper, but the writers have done a lot to make me care about them.

Simon Elder – Blair Underwood just recently joined the cast, but with him comes a new dynamic for the show’s murder mystery storyline (And not a second too soon). Nick’s father was working with him at the time of his death, and there is a lot of bad blood between Elder and the Darlings.

Elder adds a great dynamic to the murder mystery because he’s yet another morally questionable individual, but this episode might have taken him a bit far – rigging the game of poker places him blindly on the evil side, and the show insinuated he was responsible for the mechanic’s murder. When Patrick walked into his office to discuss his future, you felt like he was meeting the devil, and I think it’s a bit too early for that characterization.

Speaking of characterization, this week’s episode was chock full of it: Patrick coming to terms with his father’s control was perhaps the most shallow (Although featured yet more positive characterization of Carmela), but Karen and Brian came into their own. It was great to see Karen face off with her mother, and the parallel of the trifecta marriages was fitting: her character actually seemed to have a conscience about her own actions this week, which adds a solid layer of depth to her exterior. Sebastien (The aforementioned Cibrian, in a pure eye candy role) was a necessary step for her character, so it was more than worthwhile.

The same goes for Brian, who spent the episode seeming like a real human being: he showed concern for his son, chummed around with his brothers, and then realized he needed to spend more time with Brian Jr. (who remained adorable, even when becoming a spoiled rich kid).

And even Jeremy and Juliet got in on the action, as Jeremy came to terms with his new job parking cars (By crashing one and flirting with Sofia Vergara) and Juliet has a moment of maturity when she tells off Brian for not spending enough time with his son. It was also good to see Juliet in a smaller dose: she’s a bit unbearable in larger ones, but the character worked fine as Brian Jr.’s chaperone.

The most important plot development was that Nick and Tripp are now working together to solve Dutch’s murder, and it’s kind of left their relationship at a largely resolved point: Dutch is going to put Nick in charge of the company one day (Really?), and Nick appears to be serving more as Tripp’s spy than anything else. By putting Darling Plaza on the table, Tripp made a cold statement to his wife and allowed for a great deal of rather fantastic acting from Jill Clayburgh. Their act hurt a lot of people, so the stakes remain high for all parties involved – I still think all individuals are more ambiguous than their current position, so much intrigue can still follow.