Saturday, November 17, 2007

"You're just as stubborn as my brother. Soon you could be just as dead.": Smallville

This week on Smallville…stuff happens! Like, actual stuff. Now normally I’d be pessimistic about the ominous foreshadowing that took place in ‘Blue,’ but spoilers indicate that there really are some big developments on the horizon. Next week reportedly sees the return of some past foe (hopefully not Bizarro), week after that James Marsters returns as Braniac, week after THAT we have the Green Arrow and Black Canary showing up. What sounds more exciting to me, however, is next year’s instalments exploring the mythology in a way that will apparently see “long-standing elements and arcs in the overall Smallville mythology…come together.” I didn’t even know there was long-standing elements and arcs, so should be interesting. (That quote and information comes from Kryptonsite by the way – if you’re like me and you’re stupid enough to still get excited over this stuff, its got all the info you could need.) The only downside is that Smallville is now going on a four-week hiatus, presumably due to the writer’s strike. And those last few mythology episodes might never get made if production shuts down. In answer to your question, no, I don’t think I’m jumping the gun at all in getting excited.

Anyway, back to this week’s episode. ‘Blue’ was fairly poor for most of its running time, but made up for it in the final minutes. It mostly involved the return of Clark’s heavenly mother Lara, played again by former Supergirl Helen Slater. Slater was just as deathly boring as she was a couple weeks ago – although to be fair, she’s not getting much to work with. The entire point of Lara is that she’s an utterly perfect angel of a woman, and there’s really not much to play in that. ‘Blue’ at least tried to liven things up by also bringing back Zor-El (Christopher Heyerdahl, well-cast and creepy looking) who is totally fucking evil (duh). He goes and throws a baffled Lionel about, then punches Clark around, then throws down with his daughter Kara. Basically he’s just a big bully. Why is he throwing all these people across rooms? Erm…it was something about a…erm. Well, never mind.

Meanwhile, Lois and Grant engage in a secret romance but are discovered by Chloe and Lex respectively. At first both try to end it, but that just results in one of those annoying scenes where a couple insists they’re breaking up and then start making out. So instead they decide to embark on an even more secret relationship! Like this time, they might actually lock the door or something. Now you might be asking why Lois and Lex are suddenly so pally all of a sudden. At first I thought this was just the writers being irritating by proclaiming that two characters we never saw together before are in fact the best of friends. Apparently though, I don’t give the Smallville writers enough credit! (Poster quote, anyone?) Turns out Grant Gabriel isn’t Grant Gabriel at all – he’s Lex’s long thought-dead son Julian! That is a nice, nice twist. I like it.

How unfortunate that just as things are becoming properly compelling, a four-week break is upon us. And how typical too of Smallville to start getting interesting just as a writers strike rolls around. Ah well. See y’all in a month.


"That didn't sparkle with her...did it?": South Park, Season 11

South Park ended its 11th season on Wednesday with a wonderfully devilish episode, rich in parody as well as heart. When South Park is able operate on this level of limitless irony and farce, there really is no stopping it. Regardless of the odd machinations of the plot--which does leave some loose ends come episode’s finish--“The List” is probably the most successful episode of a season filled with mostly home runs.

Starting off as a simple grade school story of awkward adolescence, “The List” switches gears halfway through, morphing into a raucous political thriller. As a bonus, we get to see Stan and his heart breaker Wendy together again through most of the episode’s action. I’m not entirely sure if Trey is parodying the genre in general or a specific film, but “The List” hits all the right notes nonetheless.

When a list ranking every boy from cutest to ugliest is rumored to exist by Butters, Cartman and the boys make it their mission to find it. Kyle points out the inconsequential truth about such a list, but is mostly ignored. When the list is finally recovered over two attempts (the first try suffered due to a lack of the knowledge that girls don’t have testicles), Kyle is revealed to be the ugliest boy in the class. The realization that the class girls find him the least attractive of all troubles Kyle deeply (with, of course, no help from Eric), so Stan takes it upon himself to figure out exactly how this happened.

Against his better judgment, Stan commissions Wendy to help find out if this vote can be changed. She assures him the the girl's lists making is taken very seriously. We get a glimpse of just how serious when we are shown the List Making Committee, in a brilliantly realized and hilariously go for broke scene. When Wendy asks to re-open the cutest boys list, she is told that she would need to find significant evidence warranting further investigation. Yeah, I like this too.

Meanwhile, Kyle is becoming more and more of an outsider, as the student body seems to be adhering to the specific rankings that the list put forth. Butters runs around the school like a giddy little jackass with a "#11" shirt; Clyde, after being ranked #1, sports a Letterman jacket and prowls the halls spitting lines at the girls, promising them new shoes; Kyle is forced to hang out with the "ugly kids," becoming increasingly angry and isolated in the process. Kyle spends most of the episode isolated from the core group of characters which worked really well. His ill-fated spiritual journey with Abraham Lincoln (an ugly person who turned out fine, we're told) is one of the high points of the episode. The futility of the venture quite easily pinpoints adolescent woes and anxieties, and the almost necessary inevitability of them.

While Wendy and Stan dig deeper into the making of the list, they discover plenty of malfeasance and dishonesty, all the while becoming closer in the process. The episode starts to go over the top here, and that's just where you want it to go. They discover that the vote was in fact rigged! And that the list was a fake! Kyle was just a fall guy. This conspiracy went all the way up to the head of the committee, Bebe. Apparently this was all done so Clyde would get all of the girls in on it new shoes. She reveals as much while holding a gun on the roof top of the school, where the climax of the episode plays out. Kyle is there to burn down the school, while and Wendy and Stan are there to tell him that the rankings were false. When the cops take Bebe away (yes), Stan, Wendy and Kyle BURN the real list. Kyle never knows just where he was in the actual rankings.

I'm having a hard time conveying just how good this episode was. As a finale, "The List" is Emmy worthy. Even more than that, though, "The List" takes a mostly shrugged off subject and deals with it in an even handed, unique, and entertaining way. Trey has shown a lot of focus and control in Season 11. He still has the balls to go for the over the top ideas, but he has the hands to guide them in the most satisfying directions.

It's been a real treat covering South Park this season. If you enjoyed it as well, I'll see you next time around for sure.


Friday, November 16, 2007

"You were fired from being a doctor and they let you cut open my ass!?": Grey's Anatomy episode ever?

And I don't mean of Grey's Anatomy. I mean of TELEVISION. Best episode EVER. Ha! No, even I'm not THAT crazy. Grey's has been kicking ass though over the last few weeks (I've been kept offline by a broken laptop - it's still in the shop!) and "Forever Young" really felt like an episode of the show I love - back in season two, the wild, sappy, totally over-the-top, beautiful mess that it was. Beautiful! The best thing about "Forever Young", apart from the fact that there was barely ANY Gizzie, was that it was the 'tell it like it is' episode. Yeah! I swear there were like TEN scenes where someone TOLD IT LIKE IT WAS. And I guess most people probably thought "ugh, we get it", but I like that literally everyone got TOLD this week (I'm sorry about all the caps). Nobody got too high and mighty cause once they turned a corner, someone else was all up in their grill. I love it! Also the medical stories were pretty good. And no Gizzie! Please God, end the writer's strike. I don't want anything screwing up this great run of material!

OK, who's first? Miranda, aka MANDY. This would be a fantastic Emmy tape for Chandra. I don't always like the "softer side of the hardass" story that shows like this do (oh, who am I kidding. I'm a total sucker). But I loooooved this. DB Woodside was cannily cast as a patient/former high school idol who Bailey totally crushed on when she was a booksmart nerd. Normally I find Woodside pretty bland, but he took it easy here and actually showed a little bit of charisma, mostly in that big ol' smile. I have no idea if I've ever seen him smile before! Anyway, Bailey, cock of the walk after becoming chief resident, instantly falls into her teenage dumbstruck routine, filling out forms and generally hovering instead of barking orders as usual. It was a little jarring, because in other "Bailey cares" episodes she's still kept up the whole hardass thing, but it paid off bea-utifully. When George calls her on her behavior, she breaks out a fantastic speech about how she can't believe that she, a strong, confident, married professional mother, is putty in this guy's hands. In the hands of another actress, it's totally cheesy, but Wilson is one of the best performers on network, and she owned that scene. And this episode. Emmy!

The rest of the ep was similarly framed, with a high school bus crash (DB was the driver, or the teacher, or somethin') making the docs reminisce about their youth, or lack of it. Mark, who has become quipmaster general recently, was wonderfully deflated when two giggling schoolgirls said he looked like their dad (the guy has salt and pepper hair that errs on the salt - what did he expect, Leo DiCaprio comparisons?). I like Mark's antics in the background and his rediscovered banter-fests with Shepherd, but I'm hoping he gets some more centric stuff soon. They rightly dismissed the idea of him and Hahn immediately getting together (too obvious, plus I bet they write Hahn gay - Grey's has been wanting a gay character outside of Joe, I hear). So it doesn't HAVE to be a girl, but maybe a cool case? I'd just like a nice Sloan episode. I'd also like him to make a guest appearance on Private Practice. That show needs some life. It needs some SLOAN!

Next up, Shepherd and Meredith. And Lexie, by extension. Oh, it's all a bit complicated. I really liked Shepherd's material this week. I'm reminded that I really love Derek as a character when he's not with Meredith. I love his bedside manner, basically, although it can be a bit holy, which the writers called him on this week - even better! He treated the two 'freaks' from the high school bus crash, the girl being that one from that old show who was recently naked all the time in Californication. They were good though, although I usually object when the one-episode 'freaks' in shows like this are so pretty. But it's Grey's Anatomy. Everyone's pretty! Dempsey played the sad crying material good though, so good on him. ALSO, his sassy new love interest was introduced, an awesome (and really, really hot) nurse who totally scoffed at his bullshit "Man, aren't I godly?" thing in surgery. Or something about the hospital not having cliques. Basically, she's gonna bring him down a notch, and then he'll shack back up with Meredith half a season later. Fine by moi! She's great! The best scene of all, though, was when Callie harumphed at him identifying with the high school losers. And he was all like, dude, I was a total dork in high school. Of course he was! Go Dempsey! Yay for beautiful people!

Ummmm who else. Oh yeah, Meredith and Lexie. So Jeff Perry dropped by, he's a total drunk now (poor guy - Perry's so great though) and Lexie's embarassed by it. Meredith was charmed by her dad's loopy rantings about how great she was, which she (as a drunk herself) should have recognized as "you're my best friend in the whole world" alkie-talk. Lexie straightened her out, though, describing just how erratic and scary her dad could be. That's right, Lexie told it like it is. Then Alex settled Lexie's hash cause he wrote the book on being bullied by a drunk father. Also, Izzie somehow managed to tell it like it is about how she was from a trailer park and got knocked up, at some point. Lexie was involved in that somehow too. So many things being told like they were! It was bewildering, but it was a rush. Grey's is all about instantly switching from "seriously." relationship talk to big speechfying and they did it so darn well yesterday. The central theme was fun, the actors did a good job, when it got heavy it was just heavy enough, and there was NO GIZZIE! Okay, there was a tiny bit of Gizzie, but just enough to let us know they're on the rocks. In fact, they're so ridiculously on the rocks that I'm afraid they might fix things just to shock us. Hopefully not though. Death to Gizzie! Life to great Grey's Anatomy! Huzzah to all!

(Oh, also, Cristina did some stuff about brown-nosing Hahn. It was good. All is well. My laptop comes back on Monday).


Inside Man: Jay-Z “American Gangster”

Jay-Z doesn’t need to prove anything to me. I mean, really. I’m some loser on a blog talking about “beat structures” and “flows.” It doesn’t really get anymore transparent than this. Young Hova and his empire of fans, his millions of dollars, and his collection of gold records need not validation from the hipster elite. Perhaps that’s why American Gangster, his second LP released since retiring, is so surprising with how magnanimous it ends up being.

Inspired by the Ridley Scott film of the same name, American Gangster finds Jay waxing poetically about "black superhero music" as he fashions himself not as a savior or prophet, but as a part of something larger than even him. American Gangster is, perhaps, one of his most grounded efforts (maybe this is what the poor reception of Kingdom Come has done to him). It blends the charming hubris that makes him so affable and the gritty eloquence that makes him that good.

Playing with expectations as well as personality, American Gangster is not really as successful as a “concept” album as Jay-Z might want to believe. There really doesn’t seem to be a linear narrative to speak of—not one that I can see anyway. There is, however, a clear and definable tone and theme that make this one of his stronger albums, in the truest sense of the word.

There are occasional throw away tracks, and the length of the album suffers because of them. You get the feeling that things could be a little bit tighter overall, which is admittedly odd for a Jay-Z LP. It’s not so much a production faux pas though, as much as it is an overall shortage of crispness in the mentality and a generally odd lack of coda to the proposed “story.”

American Gangster may have you scratching your head ever so briefly, but it is clearly one of the best albums of the year, and the most fun I’ve had while listening to a Hip Hop album in a long while. Jay-Z and the guys at Roc-A-Fella seem to be on a bit of a roll lately. While they clearly don’t need the help of the snotty blogosphere to get them over, it looks like they're gonna get it anyway.


Thursday, November 15, 2007

"What's that, our sex tape?": Gossip Girl

It's official: I'm in love with Blair Waldorf. Of all the things this show has going for it (and please know there are many, many things) she is by far the best. Numero uno. The queen bee. The bees knees. I want to follow her around with a little notebook and write down everything she does and make a little "book of awesome" out of it, and then use that book as my personal Bible. You guys, I want to be her Jenny Humphrey.

Why is Blair so awesome? Um, well, she's fabulous and gorgeous and classy. There's that. Beyond those more external things, though, she's a complicated character that doesn't fit into any one stereotype about rich, privileged, parentally neglected prep school girls. She sort of encompasses them all at once and mixes them together into something new to create someone you not only root for when she's being good, but when she's being evil as well. Largely, though, credit for Blair's awesomeness has to go to Leighton Meester. I've mentioned her performance in the past, but it deserves to be brought up again and again, because it's what she's doing with Blair each week that makes the character come to life. There's something to be said for acting beyond the page, and Meester is doing that and more. You believe her when she laughs, cries, manipulates, wishes, hopes and dreams, and feel for her when it all inevitably falls apart. Because it always falls apart.

That leads us to Blair and Chuck. I've made no secret of my affection for Chuck, despite his dubious date rapist-wannabe past. I would feel more comfortable about him as a character if they kept him essentially evil, but Ed Westwick's strange charms and some decent backtracking writing for his character have won me over, despite my misgivings. What's fascinating about them as a couple is that they are on equal ground: they can't fool each other, because they are essentially the same person. This was never the case with Blair and Nate. Blair and Chuck both straddle the line of sincerity and manipulation so easily that you never seem to know which side they are landing on at any one time, and two people like that in any sort of relationship (be it emotional or simply sexual) is a fascinating idea. Does this relationship have any chance of working? Doubtful, but the downward spiral will surely be interesting. But I am secretly hoping it does.

Serena and Dan once again did the everything is great/everything is not so great/everything is great again dance which, while Serena and Dan are very appealing characters and have great chemistry, was pretty darn boring. Vanessa was possibly the most annoying she's been in the series so far, intentionally sticking her nose into Dan and Serena's relationship and then acting as if she never meant to do such a thing. It's so obvious and desperate, and the character needs more of a purpose on the show than Dan's best friend/thorn in his relationship, because right now I can barely tolerate her. Go away, Vanessa! The one amusing thing about this story was when Dan was absolutely flabbergasted that Vanessa and Serena didn't get along, considering they both liked Dan and he liked them both. So obviously the girls should like each other! They have Dan in common, after all! If Dan really doesn't know why this isn't possible, ever, he's going to have a very painful dating life.

Getting a bit of a better showing this week was Nate. The only way he is ever going to be interesting is if he stands up to his parents and becomes his own person, and this week he took a huge step in that direction by rejecting his parents idea that he give Blair his mother's engagement ring to secure his father's business deal with Blair's mother. He also had a few pleasant moments with Jenny, and if they are hinting at a relationship in the future for them I could be on board for that. The age difference between the actors is a bit visibly uncomfortable, but the idea of social climber Jenny dating Blair's castoffs is quite fun. Also, Nate loosened up a bit in his scenes with Jenny and it is a welcome side of his personality to see.

Now, even though I really don't want to I suppose I must mention the adults. Jenny brought her mother home this week, and let's just get it out there right now. She SUCKS. The actress is bland, the character is shallow and not well thought out, and the story is a retread of things done many, many times before, and done better. Here it is in a nutshell: Mom wants another chance, Rufus gives it to her, Jenny is happy, Dan is not, and no one cares. The end. Lily and Rufus are a million times more interesting, so hopefully she will pop back up to inject some caffeine into this plot line pronto.

This show is almost out of episodes due to the strike, and I have to say it's one I am going to miss the most. I've already set my Tivo to record episodes of The O.C. on SoapNet to fill the Gossip Girl-sized hole in my life in preparation. As much as I love Summer Roberts, though, she's no substitute for Blair.


“Casey, your jaw was chiselled by Michelangelo himself.”: Chuck

I am more and more inclined to agree with Sepinwall's declaration that the saddest casualty of the writer’s strike is going to the increasingly fantastic Chuck. This week’s episode, ‘Chuck versus The Truth,’ continued the streak of really exemplary instalments this show has been producing. Also, Rachel Bilson! She alone would make even the worst of shows instantly perk up.

Bilson is playing Lou, a customer of Chuck’s who works at a nearby deli. She calms herself by thinking about sandwiches, and when Chuck fixes something for her she names a sandwich after him. So, yeah, she’s pretty much perfect for Chuck. Bilson and Levi have great chemistry right off the bat, if not quite on the same level as Summer and Seth (I know that’s a completely unfair comparison, but I can’t help making it). Lou presents a problem in Chuck’s fake relationship with Sarah, which is just beginning to fall apart at the seems. On an amusing double-date with Ellie and Awesome, they are questioned about their clearly non-existent sex life. In attempting to fix the predicament, Sarah oversteps some boundaries and Chuck (completely fairly) decides that he wants out of their fake relationship.

This storyline is cleverly resolved when Chuck, Sarah and Casey are all infected by a poison/truth serum, an otherwise hilarious sequence. Chuck takes the opportunity to ask if Sarah could ever truly like him, and she responds with a negative. Thus Chuck goes after Lou, and the story concludes with them getting together. Hold on though – Sarah was trained to resist the effects of the poison! Predictably it may be, but good drama it is too. I really like where this triangle is going.

This week Ellie gets caught up in Chuck’s spy business, which was bound to happen eventually – I expect Morgan’s next. When the evil Kevin Weisman off Alias (suitably creepy) sees her treating the guy he was using to get government codes, he doses her with the same poison/truth serum. This results in Ellie going on a rampage of truth-telling, first at poor Awesome (usually unflappable, but here very much flapped) and then briefly at Chuck (who kinda does need a haircut) before collapsing. The threat to Ellie’s life adds genuinely alarming stakes to the story, so I felt cheated when the villain turned out to be kind of a loser. It did provide that great moment between Chuck and Awesome when Chuck calls him by his real name, Devon.

There was also a sidelined Buy More sub-plot which seemed to exist entirely to get Harry Tang out of the picture, as presumably C.S. Lee was too busy on Dexter. I’m not too broken up about it really, as I never found the character very funny. Again though, it provided a great moment when Big Mike admitted he had been cheating with Tang’s wife for months: “I will forever dream about the Lady Tang.”

Finally, choice Casey moment of the week: in response to Chuck asking how many people can say they’ve said the lives of innocent people, Casey mutters to himself “Courageous and honourable members of the United States Military.” I’m not sure why, but that has me laughing just thinking about it.


"Farthingale" - Life, episode 1.8

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Charlie Crews sits in his car, taking pictures of two men arguing. One is retired Det. Carl Ames, the cop who put Crews away 12 years earlier for the murders he was later cleared of. Ames, who has spent most of his retirement drinking, is exchanging angry words with a middle-aged, silver-haired man we haven't seen yet. As Charlie conducts his illicit surveillance, the meditation tape in his car reminds him and us of the interconnectedness of all things. By the end of "Farthingale," Charlie will learn how the forces arrayed against him may affect parts of his life that he hadn't even imagined.

This week's murder case takes up the now-cliched idea of a man leading two lives. When the Crews and Reese arrive at a nondescript empty house they discover a body that thanks to a deliberately set gas explosion has been turned into merely a torso; everything below the waist was vaporized. Do people who leads two lives always have two ID's in their wallet? It doesn't take Crews and Reese long to figure out that the victim, a Rudolph Farthingale, had two wives who were ignorant of each other's existence. Each wife thought that her husband (who went by Farthing with one wife and Gale with another) was a government agent, thus accounting for his long absences. I had the same problem with "Farthingale" that I had with "A Civil War" last week. Each episodes murder case turned on an improbable and underexplained fact. In this case it's revealed that in his real work as an IRS analyst, Farthingale had (apparently by examining thousands of individual tax records) discovered the identity of the next Unabomber.

If the stand-alone plot felt rushed it's because there were big doings in the puzzle of the now unsolved murder Crews went away for. Not long after Crews takes his picture, Ames turns up shot dead in the LAPD parking garage. Crews has an alibi, he was with Reese in the lieutenant's office when it happened. But as Lt. Davis points out, that doesn't mean Crews wasn't involved. When Crews's police union rep shows up, two things become clear. First, someone at Life must have worked at Deadwood because actors from that show keep popping up. (The union rep is played by Michael Harney, who played the loudmouthed drunk Steve) Second, the rep tells Crews "off the record" that if someone had put him away for twelve years he would have killed him too. Charlie is presumed guilty, at least by the other cops. This point is underscored by a private conversation between Davis and Reese in which the lieutenant tells Dani that Crews now has "nothing to lose," meaning she thinks his vengeance has only just begun.

A few episodes ago we said goodbye to Charlie's smitten lawyer Constance; she was leaving for an extended business trip to New York. Back she comes this week, since Charlie has called her after the shooting. But wait! Constance has taken a job with the DA's office, who apparently would love to see Crews go down for the Ames murder. It's not lost on Crews that Constance was offered a job a week before the murder, but after he Zens out in front of Internal Affairs it looks like he should have gotten another lawyer. Constance's inside knowledge of the DA's office proves useful though when, loyalties still conflicted, she tips off Crews about a police search of his house. The huge flow chart on the wall that Charlie was using to unravel his case goes away just ahead of the cops, with an assist from Ted.

The big reveal at the end of the episode is that the man Ames was arguing with at the top was Dani Reese's ex-cop father Jack, who was intimately involved in the Bank of L.A. shootout we've heard so much about. I've written in other posts about the pace at which information is revealed on this show, and I liked the balance between the stand-alone and mythology arcs this week. Crews may not even completely understand the reasons he was set up for murder 12 years ago, but he now has a potential ally in the D.A.'s office and a potential enemy (Reese's father) closer than he ever imagined.


"Daddy, you're so wasted!" - Dirty Sexy Money

There are only so many complaints I can have when Donald Sutherland spends an hour of television getting drunk on tequila. When the frustrating Karen and Nick storyline rears its ugly head, all I have to do is think back to Tripp Darling carrying around a giant bottle of tequila and a smile cracks my face.

But the smile wasn’t there for long: while the show’s zip is certainly not lost in this episode, I am fairly certain that the show’s current direction is like Karen’s fifth wedding just waiting to happen.

And yes, there may be a fifth wedding in Karen’s future: after realizing that Freddy actually loved her, Karen requested an annulment 45 minutes after tying the knot. The ceremony itself was quite nice, with a charming sermon from Brian, but Karen just wasn’t willing to accept an image of Freddy beyond his gold-digging ways. I liked that it was his elevator address that put her over the top – it seemed natural for her to panic in that situation, as it fits her character.

But then they had to spoil it all by doing something stupid like framing her decision around her love for Nick. She proclaims her love to him, and then kisses him, and I immediately became entirely sick of this storyline. I liked Karen’s obsession with Nick when it was a light-hearted comic undertone, but now Karen is actually gunning for him (with her mother’s help); next week appears to bring yet another dinner table confrontation that results in Lisa running off and Nick following her.

The show can’t dip into the same well for long with this storyline, nor do I think there is any water left: for better or for worse, I don’t buy Nick even considering it. He has a wife and a daughter, and should be inscrutable to Karen’s overt ploys by now. The show is already dealing with two philandering husbands, why would Nick ever consider joining their club? It’s not that Karen’s isn’t a catch: four marriages or not, as a single male I’d be all over that. But Nick isn’t single, and I don’t see the logic behind his inability to just ignore it entirely.

Speaking of the other cheaters, Patrick took center stage this week as his relationship with Simon Elder resulted in the arrest of Tripp’s close pals, Patrick moving out of Maison Darling, and Elder turning the tables by secretly informing Patrick’s wife about Carmelita. While I enjoyed his wife’s cold realization that she didn’t marry a Darling for nothing and would have to live with a third wheel, Patrick’s storyline still often feels like a half-cooked device to give Donald Sutherland more scenery to chew (Did I mention he drank a bottle of tequila? And that it was awesome?).

In other news, a big “Awww HELL No!” to Brian Jr.’s mother – not only were you played by a different actress (The original, Brooke Smith, is now a regular on Grey’s Anatomy), but you also are attempting to take away the ever-fantastic Brian Jr. from me…and by me, I mean his father who loves him. I’d feel worse for Brian if he hadn’t also slept with said mother who desires to head back to Brazil, but I can’t possibly desire to tear these two apart: plus, I seriously doubt there’s fencing lessons in Sao Paolo [I may stand corrected: in 2004, Sao Paolo was the site of the first International Seminar of Wheelchair Fencing…but still, you can’t take my Brian Jr. from me].

Further Observations

- Seriously, people, Donald Sutherland drunk on tequila. It doesn’t get any better than that, I’m sorry.
- Kiki, Nick and Lisa’s young daughter, finally had actual lines this week. She even had a few neat little lines in the episode’s brief foray into the world of the tabloids (Where Karen’s wedding pictures weren’t worth quite as much as she’d hope to…mildly humorous results, I guess). But she’s no Brian Jr., even though she towers over him.
- Juliet and Natalie Kimpton became friends again in two scenes flat: and Jeremy had maybe two lines in this episode. I don’t know why we even bothered with the Juliet/Natalie reunion when it provided nothing of import to the episode.
- The end of the episode turned oddly serious, with Tripp discovering that Elder was using Patrick and that war was on their hands. This leads into next week’s country getaway which will see much hunting and wine-drinking commence. Personally, I’m more excited to know that the more we see of Elder, the closer we get to Gina Torres (Alias, Firefly) playing his ex-wife.
- Karen had three note-worthy quips this episode: the above title, “I want a Divorce. Now.” And “I would never ruin a party.” Oh Karen: hopefully they don’t tear your quippiness away.


"Harold Hunden was, indeed, a damn polygamist.": Pushing Daisies

Well, it wasn't QUITE Big Love.

I really liked about four-fifths of this week's Pushing Daisies, the first episode where I felt like the writers got something like a good mystery. There was a compelling murder. There were a number of suspects with varied motivations. The murder commented on the regular characters in some fashion. It was all well and good. I just felt that the mystery kind of let itself down in the end, when it sort of avoided the pre-established clues and went for a resolution that didn't jibe with a lot of what came before. Well, SURE she was jealous of the other wives. I'll go along with that! I mean, Jeanne Tripplehorn was!

That was about the only thing I didn't like in this episode, though. Pushing Daisies continues to surprise me with how it manages to spin new stories out of its universe and reveal new quirks of its concept. Perhaps this means that the show only has this handful of stories in it, but for now, I'm really enjoying it so far.

Anyway, one thing I also like about the show is how it's increasingly unafraid to do really dark and disturbing things (like the guy slipping on the spilled coffee and endlessly stabbing himself on the dog brush) and how it's also slowly letting a mournful sadness creep around its edges (Olive's sad optimism is one of the sadder things I've seen this TV season, particularly as her unrequited love seems so. . .Peanuts-y, for lack of a better term). After the last episode, I thought I was sick of the Ned/Chuck longing, but they somehow roped me back into it this week by reintroducing that third element of Olive. (Or, apparently, I'm really easy when it comes to this show.)

I liked the crime-solving in the episode as well, particularly when it sent each of the main four out to interview a different wife, particularly in how it played up each of the four characters in subtle ways through how they lied about their relationships to Digby to get closer to the wives. I also really liked Bubble Gum, the world's most perfect dog, largely because I just like cute dogs. And I liked how Ned and the others finally solved the crime by bringing the dead guy to the other dead guy's funeral and "reactivating" him there, Weekend at Bernie's style.

The four wives were all well-cast, and I liked the relationships built with each of them by our four protagonists, and I liked that Ned's session with the psychiatrist seemed to give us just a bit more information on his character (it was nice to know, for instance, that he hasn't been a COMPLETE shut-in, as he's not a virgin, apparently).

The young Ned flashbacks are increasingly superfluous, but they're usually handsomely produced. I liked Emerson's dream for the same reason, which offered up some of the art directorial excitement the show could do on a budget.

So, anyway, that's all I have to say this week, apparently. We've only got three episodes left before the season ends thanks to the strike. Here's hoping Daisies can bat 9-for-9.


Wednesday, November 14, 2007

"That don't look like no invitation to the Sona Hawkins dance.": Prison Break

by Benjamin Alper

After a two hour special last week that turned the plot upside down, Prison Break’s fall finale ended with not only a bang but also a bit of a burn this Monday night. The bang came with the final scene’s action packed, helicopter, explosion fest, and the burn came with the realization that after an entire fall season nothing much has changed for the characters of Prison Break.

Michael is regrouping from his most recent failed escape plan and is now working with Lechero to formulate a new plan. The company has told Michael and Lincoln that they have four days to plan a new escape and get Whistler out of Sona. However, Susan, the company’s sexy yet sadistic operative, gets an unexpected visit from the “General”, a creepy old white man who appears to run the company.

The General tells Susan that he is sick of her failures and wants to go with the “Bang and Burn” option to get Whistler out of Sona. Susan feels this is too risky but the General alleviates her concerns by threatening her with torture if she doesn’t follow his orders. Susan seems to get the message and visits Whistler to tell him to be ready by five that afternoon. Almost as an afterthought she tells Whistler that he has to kill Michael before he leaves.

Inside Sona, Michael, Lechero, and Whistler inspect the tunnels underneath the prison. Michael tells Lechero that he might be able to dig them out of Sona in a few days and begins to formulate a plan. Whistler, a bit nervous about whats in store for the afternoon, conspicuously checks his watch to see what time it is every 5 seconds, tipping Michael off to the fact that Whistler has plans of his own. Whistler’s weird attempts to get Michael alone with him so he can stab him also don’t help. Lechero’s control over Sona seems to be slipping as well, as Sammy, Lechero’s number two, begins to recruit new gang members of his own.

Outside of Sona, Lincoln and Sucre start putting together secret plans of their own in preparation for Michael and Whistler’s second escape attempt. Whistler’s girlfriend, meanwhile, gets a phone call from Whistler’s old landlord. It appears Whistler kept an apartment on the side that his girlfriend didn’t know about. The girlfriend goes to check it out and finds that Whistler left a passport at the apartment but under a different name. She gets suspicious and confronts Whistler who tells her not to worry and to stay away from Lincoln because it might be “dangerous” to do so. Once again, Whistler fails to be subtle, and his girlfriend realizes that she is being lied to. She then heads straight out to find Lincoln.

Even further away from Sona, Mahone is going through a bad drug withdrawal but is forced to testify at a hearing so that they can determine whether they’re going to let him off the hook for the half a dozen murders he’s already committed. Shaking and sweating profusely, Mahone goes on an insane, nonsensical rant at the hearing while trying to describe the power of the Company. No one believes a word he says, and Mahone is informed that he is (surprise!) heading right back to Sona. As horrible and pathetic as Mahone is you really have to feel sorry for him at this point. He was offered four years in a minimum security prison for murder and treason, and he can’t hold it together long enough to get the deal. Now, he is headed back to the worst place on earth for what will most likely be the rest of his life (unless he manages to escape!).

As soon as Whistler’s girlfriend catches up to Lincoln and Sucre, the three are ambushed by Company goons. However, Lincoln and Sucre manage to overpower these goons with great ease, and they finally begin to realize that something isn’t right. Lincoln calls Michael on Lechero’s cell phone, and the two realize that the Company is trying to get rid of them because the Company has their own escape plan and they don’t need Michael anymore. Michael then sets off to find Whistler and confront him.

As Michael closes in on Whistler, two Company attack helicopters attack Sona, taking out the guards with extremely excessive force. Whistler runs to the roof of Sona and one of the helicopters drops a rope to him. As Whistler picks up the rope and is about to be whisked away, Michael jumps on Whistler and hangs on for dear life. The two men struggle in mid-air for about 10 minutes and eventually fall back onto the roof. The Company is forced to abort the mission and Whistler and Michael remain in Sona.

Although last week’s escape attempt didn’t upset the guards enough to do anything, the mass slaughter of dozens of prison guards finally does the trick. The chief-guard in charge of Sona finally realizes that if Michael Scofield is in your prison and two escape attempts are made in two days, Michael’s probably got something to do with it. Michael is forced to leave Sona; where he goes only time (and the end of the writer’s strike) will tell.

Thus ends Prison Break’s fall season. It was great to see Michael back in prison and trying to break out. However, the ancillary stories all feel like teases, and this fall season is remarkably similar in structure to the first fall season of Prison Break. Michael has an amazing plan that is foiled at the last minute by something he can’t control, and Michael is forced to spend the spring season making and implementing a new plan.

After this fall season, all of the characters are pretty much in the same positions they were in at the beginning of the year. Nonetheless, this season was still very entertaining, and the helicopter scene at the end of Monday’s episode was really cool. Prison Break will still keep an audience as long as the writers keep coming up with fresh situations that test Michael’s ingenuity. Hopefully, the strike will end soon enough, and we’ll get to see whether Prison Break can keep things interesting.


"Men with guns always want to control men with ideas.": Journeyman

Although not quite as good as the past few very entertaining weeks have been, Monday's installment of Journeyman was still very compelling and revealed a twist about Livia's character that was both interesting and genuinely surprising. We all know the strike is going to negatively affect all of our favorite programming very soon, but it might have done this show a favor by NBC giving it a chance to run all of its ever-improving episodes despite dismal ratings simply to have something to put on the air. It will be a shame when they run out, because an additional episode order at this point looks very unlikely and the show is just hitting its stride.

Best things first. Livia finally revealed some background on her character, albeit only because Dan found out first and she was forced to confirm. It turns out she lives in the past, in 1948 to be precise, and travels forward (while Dan travels back).
They gave us a hint of this last week when Livia jumped forward to grab the Dylan McCleen money in Dan's closet, which I thought was interesting when I watched but completely glossed over in the recap. Oops. She ended up in San Francisco in the 1980's with no mission, so she made the best of it and formed a life there. When she disappeared on the plane, that was her going back to 1948 for good. This is interesting for a few reasons, but not any that seem to make sense to me right now. Exactly why has she been time traveling since the 1940's? Is someone or something controlling both her and Dan's time travel from a specific place in time, forcing him to go back and her to go forward? Why would this happen to both of them?

None of these questions are answered yet, but for right now just knowing that there is something more complicated going on is enough. In the past it seemed like Livia's character was a bit useless, but when she reveals backstory like this you remember that she is an essential part to what makes the time travel portion of this show work. Additionally, it's good to have someone for Dan to bounce exposition off of while he's gallivanting in the past. Finally, Moon Bloodgood is just an appealing actress that I want to watch every week.

Another character that is growing on me is Jack, Dan's brother. His obsessive mission to find out what is going on with his brother created quite the unlikable character in the past few weeks, but a character that was flawed in a way that made sense. He's compelled to find these answers for many reasons, including the protective nature of his relationship with Dan and the conflicting feelings he obviously still has about his brother marrying and making a life with his ex-girlfriend. It's a testament to the writers and actor that he manages to come off as flawed and confused and not just vindictive and petty. The FBI investigation of the Dylan McCleen money has added a tension to the show that feels earned and exciting, and also an inevitable risk to being a time traveler. It also gives the show a chance to have a little fun. How great was it when Katie tricked the FBI into looking in Dan's briefcase for the money while she sneakily hid it in his coat? Also, tying the "counterfeit" $20 from way back in the season to the FBI money and suggesting a pattern was a fun continuity payoff for loyal viewers, and might just cause Jack to believe Dan is a time traveler after all.

Also packed into this loaded episode was another appearance by Elliot Langley. This time, he contacts Dan and warns him not to tell anyone at the FBI about his "book." I get the feeling Elliot knows Dan isn't writing a book. Just a hunch. He also hints that he left one of his research projects on tachyons because the government got too interested and started meddling in what he was doing, and mentions a possible connection between time travel research and stopping terrorism. He also makes the point to tell Dan he is working at a university now, researching quartz. Hmm. What exactly did Langley do in that think tank? What is he doing now with quartz? And are we ever going to find out, seeing as we're almost out of episodes?

Least compelling this week was the "past person of the week" story featuring a key party, hippies, and lots of 70's tunes. But even this had its good moments, like the welcome cameo by John Schneider (a.k.a. my first television boyfriend, Bo Duke) as a 70's swinger, the hippies mentioning that quartz keeps time better than any other organic compound, and the ridiculous moment when one hippie, fearing Dan might be a cop, said "Dude smells like bacon." Gold, people.

A good episode yet again, even if it does leave me with more questions than answers. If any of you out there are still watching, what do you think is going on? Because time travel always stumps me, and my brain is beginning to hurt from trying to figure it out.


"It's a science, Lynette. It's called mixology.": Desperate Housewives

It's no secret that most of the characters on this show are kind of assholes. As a viewer, it's one of those things you accept and sometimes it even makes you like a character more. For example, I absolutely love the way Bree is an asshole because Marcia Cross plays that wound-up, controlling, less than likable aspect of her character so well. This week, though, we learned that there are people more of an asshole than our usual characters: Lynette's sisters.

Let me explain. This week, Lynette's battle with her supposedly horrible mother took center stage. I say supposedly because aside from a few small instances the writers have barely mentioned Lynette's mother at all, let alone what a horrible person she is. Nevertheless, after her mother brings home a one night stand Lynette insists she has to leave. Unfortunately for Lynette, her mother is broke and can't afford to move out. Thus begins a horrible campaign by Lynette to get one of her sisters to take her mother in. Truly, it's awful, with Lynette going so far as to ditch her mother's bags in her sister's trunk and take off, forcing her sister to take their mother home. Just as my anger for Lynette's asshole behavior came to a head, though, the writers threw Felicity Huffman a bone by revealing that, while she wants her mother out of there, her sisters don't even care about their mother at all and don't even really love her. Lynette, absolutely ruined by this revelation, kicks them out and says she will take her mother back in. Mom, having heard all what her daughters had to say about her, has other plans and takes off in a taxi, much to Lynette's dismay.

Gabby spent the episode pretending to still like her husband and then maybe sort of accidentally killing him when she discovers that he knows about her affair. In his defense, she thought he was going to kill her first. Honestly, what the hell kind of world does Gabby live in that, when she learns of her husband's knowledge of her affair, the first place her mind goes is straight to "he's going to murder me and hide my body?" Gabby needs some therapy. Carlos comes to help her find him, and they do...but they immediately maybe sort of accidentally kill him for real. Their story ends with them hiding the evidence of their maybe murder. I'm sure two lovers will never be implicated in the murder of one of their significant others! I would be worried if I thought Victor was dead (which he's so not) or if I cared at all about Gabby and Victor's fate.

For once, Susan got a serious and potentially good storyline with the discovery of Mike's growing pain medication addiction. Susan's "comedy" routine storylines were always the least interesting thing this show did, but Teri Hatcher is a decent dramatic actress so this is definitely a step in the right direction. In the end, Mike pours his pills down the kitchen drain and promises to give them up, and naive Susan believes him. She really should have hit the garbage disposal switch, though, because Mike the plumber uses his technical skills to retrieve the pills in the middle of the night while Susan is sleeping.

Bree got the humor storyline this week when she learned Orson didn't want their son Benjamin circumcised, which lead to numerous shenanigans and eventually took her to another baby's briss, where she conned the Rabbi into performing one on little Ben as well as the original guest of honor. Although what Bree did was pretty horrible, it led to a great scene where Orson accuses her of not viewing him as Ben's father, and her agreeing and promising to do better. Kyle MacLachlan really hasn't gotten enough to do on this season, but that scene was wonderful.

Once again, Dylan confronted her mother about her father, this time because of a genealogy project she is assigned in school. I'm pretty sure that in the history of television, no school assignment has ever been used as much as the good old "genealogy project" as a plot device. I'd like to see some research on that, actually. Catherine once again lies to Dylan (this time complete with fake crying and abuse victim guilt trips!) in order to throw her off track. Again. Some more. There is definitely merit to a slow burning storyline, but the danger here is having it become so protracted that we simply don't care about the eventual resolution. I'm already pretty much at that point.

Is Victor alive or dead? Will Susan discover Mike's betrayal? What really happened to Dylan's father, and why the hell is it taking so long for them to reveal it? Will we learn any of this before the episodes run out because of the writer's strike?

I'm going


"When I reach the end, maybe I can lay to rest the monster formerly known as Dexter.": Dexter 2.7

Is it just me, or is this season going by really fast? I suppose that's a good thing. Lately I get the feeling that Dexter could handle a 22 episode season with little to no problem. Though the finite number of episodes in a 13 episode season probably helps the sporadic writing team stay a bit more focused. That being said, "That Night, a Forrest Grew" was something of a maddening affair. It was probably one of the most uneven exercises of the season, writing wise. Dexter is usually pretty good or pretty bad. With this, the seventh episode of the second season, things were just massively disparate.

We were dealt moments of shining clarity, and the obligatory misstep (or two) that...seems to happen in every epsiode. Here, though, they seemed a bit more prevalent. It's nothing major--which is what is so annoying. The main arc of the epsiode was executed fairly well. It was the peripheral storylines; the ones the show has been trying to get a handle on that really had me scratching my head. Surprisingly, one of the elements I minded the least: Sgt. Doakes.

I've spoken extensively on my dislike for the character of Doakes. However, "That Night, a Forrest Grew" ups the rivalry of Doakes and Dexter to irreperable heights. And, really, that's what I've wanted all along, because it means that he'll be DEAD soon. Well, I don't need his blood, necessarily. However, the closer he and Dex come to a final confrontation, the closer we are to ridding the show of the way or another. That's where the final part of the phrase comes in.

Dexter finally fighting back Doakes in his own methodical and evil genius way was great to watch. Similarly, his decision to toy with the detectives hunting the Bay Harbor Butcher, by sending the local paper a "manifesto" filled with moronic red herrings and easily defined psychosis was viciuously droll. Both of these decisions being a direct result from his relationship with Lila. Lila has been providing him a sort of pro-active clarity these days, though, by episode's end, the mystique seems to be wearing off. We learn this when Dexter gets a call from Cody (Rita's son) and his previous felings start bubbling to the surface. Dexter used to lead a simplistic life. Sure, it involved a lot of murder (he hasn't felt the need to "use" in some time, btw) but living the simple life with Rita and her two children had him grounded in a reality that he could handle. What we are slowly learning is that while Dexter likes the idea of not being ruled by some misguied ethos, he does seem to need some form of structure. While freeing at first, he needs a blending of the two (the free spirit and the grounded) in order to remain centralized. The last shot of the episode, when he seems to realize that it was Lila who may have set her own apartment on fire is a really well-done foreshadow of things to come. It was also kind of ominous and creepy. Which is always aces!

Everything with Dexter was perfectly fine. That's usually the case. Debra's stroyline, and her proposed love affair with Lundy, however, is way forced and ultimately rings hollow and...annoying. This week they were given more than ample screentime to make this nonsense work, and they failed. The two have absolutely no on-screen chemistry. Carradine is not to blame for this. He is a good-to-great actor with an okay character (if not a tad too dry at times). However, I have yet to see Carpenter have real, passable chemistry with anyone, really. It's a shame, because she is a perfect fit for the role, but is constantly given arcs that inadvertantly put the focus on her shortcomings as an actress. They finally kissed, and I think I am supposed to care, but I was mostly creeped out (in a BAD way) and uncomfortable. I think Lundy deserves someone smarter?

Also, Rita has been having to deal with her judgmental tyrant of a mother coming back into her life since ousting Dexter. She is a miserable, one dimensional character and this is a really lame way to try and provide Rita with growth and strength as a female character by telling off the ass. That's really all I have to say about that.

In retrospect, I suppose this wasn't that uneven of an affair--but the two components that didn't work for me...didn't work AT ALL. They presented a serious weight on the episode. Otherwise, things are really moving along nicely into the final third of the season here. Dexter seems to be approaching a crossroads in every aspect of his life, and the end result really isn't all too clear. At this point, I think that is pretty high praise for a show with such a simplistic premise. Thumbs up from me.


Searching For a Former Clarity: Streetlight Manifesto “Somewhere in Between”

At this point, it is a non-issue to profess that Ska is dead. Not even Ska, really--the idea of it; the movement; the scene. As far as "sub-cultures" go, it all but dried up back in the late nineties with little to no awareness. This is not news. It is interesting, however, to see the fruits of that movement’s labor flourish in the light of day.

There is no 4th wave of Ska on the horizon--not yet anyway. The lads in New Brunswick’s own Streetlight Manifesto (maybe the last great Ska band bred from the 3rd wave) recognize this fact and do the damn thing anyway. Whether it is their deft use of classically stylized brass, their jazz influenced structural choices or the romanticized misanthropy that front man Tom Kalnoky wields to his advantage at any given moment; Streetlight Manifesto possess a pain and a poetry that is carefully calculated to ring true, relevant and, above all else, resonant.

Streetlight has always been able to set up an interesting dance between the cathartic, intense and joyous aspects of life. Though their latest (long awaited) album entitled Somewhere in Between leans toward the gloomy side of things at times, it follows the aforementioned lines fairly well. As per usual, Kalnoky can seem a bit immersed in the hapless melodrama he positions around himself occasionally. However, the band is elevated by an ardor and devotion that shines through any angst ridden persona that is brought forth.

Moreover, Somewhere in Between strikes a delicate balance between careful framework, grim emotion, and jumping exuberance that makes the music as satisfying as it is impressive. This is a very rare occurrence when it comes to Ska bands in particular. More often than not, Ska bands (especially 3rd wave ska) are slaves to structure and normality; Streetlight Manifesto, on the other hand, seem to take particular pride in finding the unique tonal and harmonic structure for each particular song. Somewhere in Between is a massively controlled and intense showing of Streetlight’s talents as writers, musicians, and craftsman.

While the scene kids may not be ready to start skanking again just yet, Streetlight Manifesto remain true to their name; the lonely poet under the spotlight of the moon, singing until he has no voice. It’s a sad vigil, but a logical continuation of the story. Let us not forget what Chinaski said, "The greatest men are the most alone."


Heroes: Season 2, Episode 31, "Four Months Ago"

After the promising strides of last week’s episode, Heroes takes a turn for the dull again with a wrenchingly uninteresting super-flashback, imaginatively titled “Four Months Ago”. Written by showrunner/creator Tim Kring and directed by Greg Beeman, the episode has been hyped as the answer to unresolved mysteries and a jump-off point to reboot the increasingly derided second season. Sadly, the only answers “Four Months Ago” provides are those that the audience had either guessed or didn’t care enough about to guess. Building a flashback narrative into one-hour dramas has been a popular television conceit since the success of Lost, but “Four Months Ago” is a flashback for flashback’s sake -- there is very little here that the audience shouldn’t have just seen in the season two premiere.
Read the rest of the article here.


Tuesday, November 13, 2007

"You can't imagine the rush you get from killing an unwanted puppy.": How I Met Your Mother

This episode of How I Met Your Mother is going to be a tough one to get 500 words out of, I'll warn you. It's not that the episode was bad, by any means, but that it was just so typical of the show, to the point where there's not a whole lot to say about it beyond basic plot summary. There was a lot of really funny stuff in this episode, but what am I going to say about it? HIMYM was playing with the nature of the fact that it's a story being told and did some jumping around in time and stuff? Because, I mean, it does that all the time? And, once again, there was something of a storytelling gimmick (the glass smashing), which was utilized fairly well, then slightly overutilized.

But, y'know what? I'd rather watch a typical episode of HIMYM than a typical episode of almost any other show on the air. Watching even a bad episode of HIMYM (which, I'll hasten to add, this was not) doesn't feel like work, so watching a pretty good episode like this one is always a blast. "Spoiler Alert" was well-constructed, finding an ingenious way to dovetail its A plot (where the gang found out just what each of its members did that was annoying) with its B plot (where Marshall waited for his bar exam results). It's just finding something to say about it beyond that that won't feel like something I've said about a million episodes of HIMYM before is tough.

So I guess I'll just talk about some of the things I found funny about this episode in particular and hope to make some cogent points in there somewhere.

I don't quite buy that everyone had these shattering revelations about the others just now. It made sense that Ted wouldn't have realized Cathy was a chatter, and it made sense that Marshall didn't realize how loudly Lily chewed (love blinds all), but beyond that, who wouldn't have realized that Marshall sang nonsensically all the time (even if I loved the montage of him doing so)? And why would Ted's habit of correcting others be something everyone had to realize? Both of these character revelations were very much in character, but it seemed out of character that no one else had ever seen them before.

That said, I really liked Lindsey Price's work as Cathy, who's probably the best "girlfriend of the week" this season so far. She had a real zest to her and had a great deal of fun with her various lines and jokes. I really loved the coda where Ted ran into her three years later (which also had a throwback to the revelation that Ted speaks sign language). If her character hadn't been so obnoxious, I'd demand Price get tossed into the "could be the mother" pool with Ashley Williams, Danica McKellar and Jayma Mays stat!

But the best thing in the episode was how it tied together those two stories. Having everyone else remember Marshall's password and not know it was great, and even better was the subsequent celebration of his professional success. The show's greatest moments come from when it sets us in a room with this group of characters and just lets us be with them, and this was no exception. It's what keeps this series humming.


Monday, November 12, 2007

"Drag queens are the worst.": Brotherhood

Episodes like this are pretty much the reason I watch Brotherhood and stick with it through the long, stultifyingly dull hours that often clog up the show's midseason. Brotherhood is a tragedy of inevitability and all of the storylines this season could lead only to this episode, where both Caffee brothers committed some pretty big sins and Colin was left to pick up the pieces of another situation.

My favorite storyline tonight, hands down, was Tommy's decision to go dirty in an attempt to win the election at any cost. I love when the show shows just how much like the underworld the world of politics can be (especially state politics). While it's not exactly the most original sentiment in the world, the show makes great work out of these sorts of stories. Tommy has been willing to do anything he can to hang on to his seat in the Legislature, and at some point, the lines between what was honorable and what was done just to get by started to blur. He completely crossed the line tonight when he seemingly played every dirty trick in the book to get the Hispanic vote (squared against him) suppressed. He went from going out and urging his supporters to vote to actively lying about how long the polls would be open and leaning on party chairs to close down those polls right at 9 p.m., regardless of who was in line. He even had his wife call prospective voters with misleading information about his opponent's stance on illegal immigration. Granted, he did all of this through surrogates (and almost certainly wasn't aware of what was being done on his behalf), but he seemed unconcerned with what he had done, and, indeed, almost happy that his underhanded tactics had worked. I don't know if the Tommy of the pilot would have done that, and the show's slow manipulation of this character into a position where he was fine with these sorts of things has been pretty masterful. Every single plotline in Tommy's storyline has moved him inevitably to this point, in an attempt to see what mattered more to him -- his job or his ethics. Now we know. (The one thing I could have done without was the last shot of someone throwing their "Re-elect Caffee" sign in the trash. Thanks for the heavyhanded symbolism, Brotherhood!)

Michael, meanwhile, couldn't go with Kath to the abortion clinic because he was with someone else, holding up a middle-aged couple (and I'll admit I didn't follow this storyline as closely -- I usually tune out the mob stuff). While I don't like the mob storylines on this show as a rule, I did find this one strong, largely because it showed Michael's seemingly growing distaste with his line of work. The guy he was working with was a real psycho, and when he roughed up the woman and later shot both her and her husband, Michael seemed disturbed. I hate shows where the criminals have hearts of gold, but Michael's beatdown in last season's finale probably gave him the sort of impetus he would need to change his entire world, and it seems he just might be slow in coming to that.

Colin and Kath going to the abortion clinic was also well-handled, in a mostly subdued manner. Television rarely makes abortion a background story, but this series portrayed it as almost another fact of life, to the point where Colin was trying to crack wise afterward. Kath's breakdown seemed to work, and I liked the idea that Michael couldn't be there. Obviously, he had other commitments, but he also seemed to have put the whole thing out of mind. Is this laying the ground for a Kath and Colin affair? Whatever keeps Brian F. O'Byrne around is fine by me.

Annabeth Gish floored me again with her work as Eileen, someone who seems to be trying to make up to her husband (or at least seems to be willing to play along with what he wants for appearances' sake). Eileen got to be the voice of reason in the whole ethics debate over the cold calls, and she got to do some great, silent acting (Gish is great at this sort of thing, and it reminds me of a nugget gleaned from the commentary track on the new Criterion edition of "Days of Heaven," where there's talk of how Terrence Malick always shoots several takes of his actors not doing dialogue, because he finds silent acting to often be better). Her final realization of her husband's mistress and who that mistress was was pretty terrific, and I loved the way she laughed and laughed, all the way into the elevator.

So now that everyone has betrayed their principles, where does that leave us in the final few episodes to come? Predictions for how this season shakes out?


Sunday, November 11, 2007

"Are you asking me on a date?": Friday Night Lights

There was a while there that I thought Friday Night Lights would completely redeem the "Landry kills a man" subplot. I've been sort of grudgingly fascinated by the way Landry has let the actions he took eat away at him the last two or three weeks, and I've also loved the way Glenn Morshower played Landry's father as an almost sad man who loves his son but doesn't quite understand him. The tension between the two struck me as the sort of honest tension that would exist between a small-town father and son in a situation where the son seemed poised to go on to much greater things and the father couldn't quite put his finger on why that bothered him so much.

So when all of this built to that scene in the garage where Chad confronted his son with everything he had found out and Landry tearfully confessed to what had happened, I thought perhaps it would make the whole storyline worth it. I still didn't LIKE the storyline, and I still thought it felt completely unrealistic and out-of-nowhere (and I still thought the writers had to force it to happen at all), but I liked the way the show had ultimately dealt with the aftermath of the event. It put Landry in the middle of a situation he couldn't completely control and saw what he would do, and a lot of what Landry did (after the unfortunate "he and Tyra are in love" subplot) rang true to the character. Even better was Morshower's work as Chad, trying to figure out his son and why this strange girl had an interest in him and then trying to keep the end from coming. So the garage scene was great. Aces, really. Everything the show had promised it might do with this storyline and then some.

And then the two drove somewhere, and it was great and fraught with tension and WAS LANDRY GOING TO CONFESS?! and WHAT WOULD THEY DO?! and. . .

They set a car on fire.

OK. Look. I get that people make stupid decisions in the heat of the moment, but this is a LAW ENFORCEMENT OFFICER who is presumably AWARE that a car of the make and model that the police are looking for turning up as a burned-out husk MIGHT, oh, I don't know, raise some eyebrows, especially as the DMV would have to know it was existed and whom it was licensed to. I liked the idea that Chad would put his whole career on the line for his son, his whole LIFE, really, but at some point, you just have to say "Oh come ON!" (Another thing I liked was Chad's decision to ask for God's forgiveness later, which strikes me as true to the way a lot of religious people live their lives -- they put themselves and their families first and know that God will forgive them later.)

Shame, too, because the rest of this episode was pretty awesome, all things considered.

Jason Street, in particular, finally got a storyline that seemed worthy of the character's rather tragic weight. The show has been dangling the rather fascinating notion that the wheelchair isn't what Street feels imprisoned by anymore for a few weeks now, and it finally made that concrete this week with his little speech to Lyla and that heartbreaking scene where he watched footage of his former greatness while at his birthday party. To a degree, it's always felt like a contrivance that this kid stuck around Dillon, even if Scott Porter and the writers somehow made the completely false "Jason's a coach now!" plot play. I don't know if the character has a future as a part of this show, but it's an interesting chance to see who he is when he's not surrounded by Dillon and is actively engaged in finding a new life for himself.

I also liked that Riggins was finally making an effort to get back on the team (though, again, how is he still playing if he was left back and. . .oh, never mind), even if he was doing so through the complete personality vacuum of Santiago (a character who seems increasingly useless the more they give him to do). I really liked the scene between Riggins and Smash where Smash sort of came right out with his self-centeredness in regards to getting Riggins to play again.

Meanwhile, Matt and Julie continued their delicate little dance of almost-forgiveness and heartbreak, as Matt finally realized that even if he's completely awkward, he IS the quarterback for the team and he IS pretty good looking and. . .hey, other girls might want to kiss him. I'm just thankful that the first girl he macked on that wasn't Julie wasn't that live-in nurse/plot device. Julie is finally getting back to a place where she's not just whiny (I've loved Aimee Teegarden's performance this season, and I've loved how brave the series is about writing Julie as kind of a whiny idiot, but it does get tiring after a while), but it was good to see her realize some of the stupid stuff she had done when she saw Matt kissing the cheerleader.

The Taylor family had to deal with Jessalyn Gilsig in a plot that didn't interest me nearly as much (and had the token "Green is Universal!" plug), but it wasn't bad by any means, and I always like to see the Taylors hang out and do their Taylor-y things.

So that's two pretty good episodes in a row. I think we're back on track here, just so long as no more cars get set on fire. Yeesh.