Friday, November 30, 2007

"Oh, are you new here? Because Blair is the boss of all of us.": Gossip Girl

It's amazing that an episode heavily featuring characters that bore me to tears could still be so satisfying, but I suppose such is the puzzle that is Gossip Girl. What was it they said on The Facts of Life? "You take the good, you take the bad?" "You take them both and there you have?" Well, if having to sit through a ridiculously childish love triangle plot with adults who really should know better (the bad) gets me to experience the glorious wonder that is flashbacks of the pre-feud Blair, Serena and Nate friendship (the good), I say bring on the bad.

Let's talk about the bad and just get it over with, so we can purge later (spoiler!) by rhapsodizing extensively about the good. The adult love triangle of Rufus/Allison/Lily has got to go. Why? Because when you have the big confrontation between all parts of the triangle and it turns out as dull as this, it's time to reevaluate what you are doing and change course while you still can.

Part of the problem with this triangle is that, aside from Kelly Rutherford as Lily, the actors portraying the adults are quite lacking in charisma and simply don't have the chops to keep up with the lively younger set. More troubling, though, is the immaturity of the plot. Rufus and Allison have been married for at least 16 years. Shouldn't she be over jealousy of his first love by now? It's not as if Lily and Rufus have seen each other regularly throughout the Humphrey marriage. They've made it pretty clear that they just reconnected recently, after Allison left Rufus for parts upstate. So what is Allison's damage here? By making the entire situation a much bigger problem than it needed to be she simply alienated an audience that was just getting to know her and came off as a controlling, insecure little girl.

At this point, if we are going to be forced to deal with separate adult storylines I think they should drop Allison for good and go for the Rufus/Lily pairing, because at least Rutherford has some spark and is enjoyable to watch. Best case scenario, though, is reducing the adult presence on the show altogether to only have them in scenes with the younger set from here out, because what they are doing now is not working at all.

Now the good, which was so good that it permeated the rest of the show and almost made me forget the bad. Gossip Girl went on a well-deserved Thanksgiving vacation this week and instead of new barbed words graced us with "classic" content, which meant FLASHBACKS! Ever since the fun flashbacks of Wild Serena in the beginning of the season I've been waiting for just this very moment, and they didn't disappoint. The trip back in time took us to last year's Thanksgiving which must have been pre-affair, because Serena, Blair and Nate were happy and obviously the best of friends. These flashbacks revealed various pieces of the characters' individual and collective backstories, showing that Blair has issues with food, Serena really was a wild child and alcoholic, and Nate had a personality. I know! The best part of the flashbacks was that it brought a new dimension to the already interesting Serena/Blair friendship, showing that Blair was really Serena's caretaker most of the time and that was probably the most stable relationship in her life. This added additional shading to Blair's heartbreak when Serena left town without a word, and by seeing how much she likes to be in control and how out of control she felt when her father and then Serena left her, it deepened Blair's character even more. And did I mention that flashback Nate had a personality? And smiled? It was nice.

These flashbacks were also really important to Serena's character, to show how messed up she was and why she would do the things she did and then leave to try to deal with the mess that was her life. When she went to help Blair after her (heartbreaking, devastating) relapse with bingeing and purging, you saw just how strong their bond is and why Serena tried so hard to make up with Blair when she returned to New York at the beginning of the season. If you think about teen dramas, it isn't often that you get a complicated, strong, loyal, realistic friendship between two girls, and what they are doing with Blair and Serena here is fantastic. Either one would do anything for the other, but that doesn't mean they don't in some way resent each other and they definitely aren't afraid to hurt each other. It's a great piece of storytelling to behold, and I only hope they can expand on this and deepen their bond as the series goes on.

We also learned more about Nate's family this week, but I honestly don't care. I try to care. I do. But I don't. I think I am doomed to only like Nate in flashbacks.

Next week: Blair and Nate might have SEX. Blair and Chuck might have SEX. Dan and Serena might have SEX. Let me tell you, someone needs to have sex next week or I am going to be really angry with The CW promo monkeys for promo-teasing me like this.


“Dr Cuddy, the face that launched a thousand long faces.”: House

So there you have it! Thirteen, Cutner and Taub. I read the article confirming their selection however many weeks ago, but that didn’t totally ruin this episode for me, for two reasons: one, I was never 100% sure if that information was accurate, and two, ‘Games’ is strong enough even outside of House’s final team selection.

Personally, I’m happy with the team we’ve ended up with. We certainly lost some interesting faces along the way – Bosley (the old one) was great, and I hope he returns – but I’m not too bothered to see most of them go. Cole and Travis were potentially interesting characters, but the actors playing them were bland. Cutthroat Bitch started out plain annoying, though she did grow on me and during ‘Games’ I found myself feeling really sorry for her. However, not even she had long-term mileage. Once she'd found her way on the team, there’d be no reason for her to be cutthroat anymore, so then she’d just be a bitch. Her vulnerability this week made her sympathetic, but that sympathy wouldn’t necessarily have held over time.

That leaves only three, and maybe I’m just saying this because of the advanced knowledge, but the selection seems obvious. Thirteen has developed a great chemistry with House, and Olivia Wilde is great in the role. The reveal of her possible genetic disorder was a slight misstep, as it felt like a heavy-handed attempt at a tragic backstory that didn’t quite ring true. Still, I’m all for (very) gradually discovering more about Thirteen’s past, and appreciate the writer’s attempts to make sure she doesn’t become annoying like Cameron did.

Taub and Kutner are still blank slates to an extent, and I don’t see anything wrong with that. We did learn a bit about Tuab’s situation in 'Ugly' – if you remember, he had an affair with a nurse at his practice and then left so his partners would keep quiet about it – and it felt a lot more buyable than Thirteen’s secret. Not quite so buyable is that House would really care about Taub’s willingness to challenge him - surely that role is already filled by Foreman? Not that extra conflict is ever a bad thing. Kutner, meanwhile, remains a mystery, but full credit to Kal Penn for keeping him interesting even when scripts gave neither character nor actor anything to do. Personally I hope that since the other two have some heavy drama surrounding them, the writers avoid this with Kutner and instead just let him be ‘the normal one’.

Boring, perfunctory feeling case this week – if not for it being decision time for House, ‘Games’ might have been a bit boring. As it was, the episode still lagged around the middle, but picked up momentum again at the end. I loved that there was plenty of Wilson and Cuddy, although I could still use a bit more; that final scene between House and Cuddy showed that their whole mind games dynamic somehow never gets old.

So from next week onwards, it’s something of a new era! I don’t know how much we’ll get of this team before the new episodes run out, but I hope that we'll at least get some sense of how they are going to work. Also, can we please have a lot more Cameron and Chase? Now that the contest is over, there’s really no reason to keep them as sidelined as they have been.


Thursday, November 29, 2007

"I certainly didn't INTEND to hit that.": Three new Bones, two Brotherhoods and a HIMYM in a pear tree

Hi, everyone! My posting will be a little sparse over the next few days -- until we start the 100 Best Shows project -- but here's a quick catch-up on everything I missed over the Thanksgiving week and its immediate aftermath. I'll get up something on two weeks of Pushing Daisies as soon as I can, and I'll do 30 Rock and Friday Night Lights on Sunday (why Sunday, you ask? Because it's my birthday, and I'm going to go overdose on pizza and movies in the BIG CITY).

First, Bones, which is finally settling back into that groove it was in in season two, where the mysteries were solid, the interpersonal stuff between the team members was pretty terrific and the Bones/Booth chemistry was there, but not beating us over the head. Now, granted, the two kissed in the holiday episode (there was a bet and some mistletoe involved), but it was a truly nice moment, and the kiss felt somehow earned, as though the show realized this was a moment they'd been building to for a while and decided to do all they could to rattle both of the characters, who seemed pretty unnerved by just how much they enjoyed what they had just done.

I've liked the mysteries in the last three episodes too, particularly the one with the dead Santa, which was a great blend of creepy ooginess and holiday cheer (and everyone knows how much I like holiday cheer). I was really worried that the show was going to make good ol' Kris Kringle over into some sort of creepy child molestor, but they mostly kept him a good guy, which was a nice lack-of-twist, I thought. The time capsule goop mystery was also a good one, even if the resolution was a little pat (what with the mystery kid and all).

Still, the mysteries are secondary to why I come to the show, which mostly has won my affections by portraying its workplace as the sort of dramatic setting where anyone would like to work (even if there's lots of EWWWWW to go around). Even in the episode with the time capsule goop, the characters were able to make some of the grossness of the whole concept somehow palatable. The ending of the holiday episode was a little maudlin, but I'm willing to forgive that around this time of the year for obvious reasons.

Meanwhile, Brotherhood continues to reward my faith in it with two incredibly solid episodes that were slow-moving (it IS the show's trademark, after all), but felt like they were headed somewhere. The show's season finale is next week, and I'm interested to see how all of this wraps up. How much I had been following and getting into Brotherhood really snuck up on me in the election episode, so I thought the series would head back toward business as usual after that, but it continued exploring the themes raised in those episodes and exploiting the slowly growing cracks and fissures in the Caffee family, especially in the Thanksgiving episode, where the whole crew seemed to just shatter into tiny pieces.

The episode before the Thanksgiving episode was pretty good too, what with Eileen finding herself a bit adrift at the social services office and Tommy fighting it out with Judd for control of the committee (the scene where Judd collapsed was heartbreaking, as was Colin's angry confrontation with Tommy afterward), and any time that there's a major storyline that pairs Michael and Colin together, I'm happy. Still, good as it was, it was just a table setter for the Thanksgiving episode, which might have been the best episode the series has produced yet.

The departure of Rose on Thanksgiving morning, stranding her children to fend for themselves, touched off a slow disintegration of the family (it didn't help that Colin and Michael both had to be other places -- Colin cleaning up some nasty business and Michael dealing with Kath). To a very real degree, the Caffees stick together BECAUSE Rose is at the center of the family. Without her, there's no glue holding everything together, though it always seems as though Eileen might step up at any moment and become that glue. Still, in this episode, she was mostly happy to let her husband deal with their daughter (who came to Thanksgiving high) and watch everything with a bemused smile. There are moments where Tommy and Eileen share a glance in this series that are just devastating. It's that glance you share with a lover who's let you down, when you're not quite sure if you can forgive them, but you just ache to give it a try. I don't think the show will do anything so simple as to have them completely reconcile, but it seems to be on its way to at least letting them forgive each other and forget past offenses.

Still, it was the storyline surrounding the Thanksgiving dinner that set this episode apart. Brotherhood really captures that "this is my family, so I'm going to put up with them through gritted teeth" feeling, so it's a surprise they haven't done a holiday episode before this one, really. Maybe they'll cap off the season with a Christmas episode, but it looks more like it will be your run-of-the-mill Fatal Attraction rip-off. Sigh.

Finally, How I Met Your Mother had another week where a lot of the show was funny and some of it wasn't. Though the plot was derivative (even of past Barney adventures), shaking Barney's confidence always gives Neil Patrick Harris new shades of his character to play, and having him get The Yips was pretty terrific, especially when he was unable to perform in any way at the Victoria's Secret party. I also liked seeing his sexual initiation at the hands of that older woman and his attempts to re-bed her to prove to her how good he was in bed. The storyline with his brother felt a bit forced (yes, we get it; gay men sometimes overdo it before they come out of the closet) and it was all a little too meta, but Wayne Brady is an appealing presence.

The gym subplot wasn't quite as good and felt airlifted in from another, lesser sitcom, but I thought it was a very good way to dispatch of the lingering sexual attraction between Ted and Robin and also served to highlight just how tremendous of a comedic performer Colby Smulders has become over the course of the series. I know I rave about the girl frequently, but she's really become something to see, and she just throws herself into any Robin scene, no matter how small, with a great, goofy abandon. If HIMYM ever becomes as huge as it deserves to be, Smulders is going to be a big, big star, and if it doesn't, she'll become one after the run of the show. I don't usually make predictions like this, but she's really good, and she picks things up really fast.

So what did you think? Are there other shows we've gotten lax on you want to comment on? Do so here, then.

Pushing Daisies posts in the morning/afternoon.


"Keep it in New York City time, that way we're always in sync": Dirty Sexy Money

First off – I totally called it. This was my comment two episodes ago on which of the Darling children was going to face some questions of parentage:

“My money is on Brian - after the Brian Jr. arc sadly ends in the future, he'll need something else to do. He also appears to have the most bad blood with Nick and his father, so I figure it would serve as the most dramatic.”

And, sure enough: just as Brian learns that he is the bastard in “The Watch,” the child who sprung from the loins of Dutch, Brian Jr. is whisked off to Brazil (I’m still in denial about this particular development, though). We can all breathe a sigh of relief that it wasn’t Karen, which Lisa even pointed out. Thanks, Lisa, but that isn’t enough to prove your relevance to this series, even if you had more to do in this episode than…well, ever.

This week’s episode was bizarrely paced, and I’m honestly kind of confused by it. Central to the plot was the ripple effect of Brian Jr.’s departure, Brian’s parentage, and Nick’s reaction to it all. This storyline was extremely meaningful, and had some great acting from all involved. However, the rest of the storylines were oddly wholly different in their pace: Karen begins an affair with Simon Elder, Patrick is hopped up on morphine and quipping like a mad man, and Jeremy gets Lisa’s help in hoodwinking Sofia. None of this fit in with the rest of it, and rather than a balance of comedy and drama it was a schizophrenic hour of television.

The unraveling of truth present within the episode was extremely well-handled. Brian lost his custody battle, not surprisingly, and was promptly arrested for attempting to bribe the arbritrator. We get a whole lot of content here: Tripp trying to keep the family from helping Brian, Nick finally getting the information from Tish, and Brian’s dramatic confrontation with his mother. These scenes were built based on a series of flashbacks featuring Dutch, which were certainly able to resonate within the rest of the story. Somehow, it all comes back to Nick’s relationship with the Darlings (Specifically in a scene between Nick and Tripp), and it all works: a nice, strong, cohesive whole.

And let’s call special attention to the beautiful scene between Brian and Brian Jr. pictured above: the little guy was a great influence on his character, and their goodbye was a poignant coda for the episode. Sure, his mother’s a hussy for taking him away, Gustav incident notwithstanding, but I think that this will do good in allowing Brian’s character to grow now that he is aware of his true parentage.

But with nothing to do with that whole, really, we’ve got three separate side plots of a varying quality. My personal favourite was Jeremy and Lisa’s little fling. Based on next week’s preview, it is clear that there is something more here. But, for this week, it was just Lisa playing Straight Man to Jeremy’s hilarity. My personal favourite was definitely “Jeremy Babeson likes his NUDES!” I don’t know how I really feel about where they’re going with this, but it really did feel like Lisa was finally relevant. It also contains the irony of Lisa, always critical of Nick for falling into the family, doing quite the same herself.

And then we have Karen and Simon Elder’s little affair. Blair Underwood remains wholly unexciting in my view (Although I am extremely excited for Gina Torres (Firefly, Alias) to play his “Ghana Princess” ex-wife), but Karen was great until she became pudding in his hands. Specifically, Natalie Zea’s line reading of “Death! I’m coming for you Karen! Here I come!” It was oh so close to making the title, as most of Karen’s lines are, but the storyline really didn’t resonate in the episode itself.

And the other storyline was certainly even more irrelevant, if humorous: Patrick hopped up on morphine and doling out his own brand of humour. For example, to Karen and Simon: “I got your charitable giving right here.” He basically served as comic relief, and then quasi-reconnected with Carmelita, but it really didn’t seem to matter. His character has oft been marginalized, and turning him into a punchline really didn’t help matters.

And yet, if we were to remove those three subplots, we have an emotional and meaningful story of lives turned upside down. Brian’s farewell with Brian Jr. was heartbreaking, his relationship with Nick certainly more complicated, and the next episode appears to promise further developments with Brian’s character. It just seemed like the show, in an attempt to keep its reputation as a somewhat satirical drama series, failed to strike a balance and just threw comedy and melodrama into a pot and forgot to stir. I think that there’s a better mix possible with these parts, and I think this episode could have been better (not that it was bad) because of it.


Wednesday, November 28, 2007

"Serious Control Issues" - Life, episode 1.9

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The fruit is back. I'm talking about the fresh fruit that Det. Charlie Crews ate and talked about compulsively in the first few episodes of "Life." When Crews stopped talking about fruit some weeks ago I had thought that it was a case of the show still trying to find its voice, to take some of the quirks out of its main character as the two-tiered formula took hold. But in "Serious Control Issues" the fruit (oranges and a very small pineapple) returns along with an angrier and slightly darker Crews, and the results are one of the season's best episodes yet.

The last new "Life" was two weeks ago; the major plot point was the murder of Ames, the now-retired detective who put Crews away 12 years ago. In "Farthingale" Crews observed Ames arguing with a man who turned out to be Jack Reese, father of Crews's partner Dani. Crews wastes no time in baiting Jack with the photos, leading Jack to charge into the lieutenant's office for a confrontation. Once the two men are alone they both show their hands. Crews knows that Ames lied about the 12-year old murder; he fudged a report to make it appear the victim's young daughter was not in the house during the crime. Jack (being perhaps a touch too broad with his threats) intimates that if Crews continues to pursue his investigation he's putting his life, liberty, and career at risk. An odder and perhaps just as ominous note was struck by Lt. Davis. She warns Dani that getting too close to Crews could result in a drugs-in-car evidence plant. Davis is the most opaque character on "Life." She seems to have some vague idea that Crews is the target of forces beyond her control but is unwilling to take a side. I find myself wishing that "Life" was on cable just so we could hear Robin Weigert as Davis bust out a few Calamity Jane-style "Deadwood" profanity riffs.

The loyalty of Dani Reese has been called into question in earlier episodes, but tonight she seems to have taken a side. Dani isn't close to her father; she tells Crews that she's never figured out whether Jack was bad or just mean. Crews and Reese aren't exactly friends, but Reese is beginning to trust her partner. She tells him she doesn't think he's one of the bad guys, and more importantly returns the knife she took from him in "Let Her Go." Reese is given an opportunity to request a new partner even after IAD says Crews can stay on duty during the Ames investigation. She doesn't. Crews may have an agenda, but Reese knows that it isn't the same one that her father, Ames, Davis, and whatever other LAPD power players involved are pursuing.

The last couple of homicides that Crews and Reese have worked turned on bizarre plot twists, but tonight's case was well conceived and gave us the welcome sight of a rattled Charlie Crews. A young girl who was living on the streets is murdered, and her movements are traced to a nearby grocery store where she played guitar for change. In the course of solving her murder (the pervy truck driver who killed her is well played by Michael Gladis of Mad Men) the cops meet a teenage boy with an overly protective father. The boy, Nate, lives in apartment with with bars and locks on the windows. Crews correctly deduces that Nate is being forcibly kept by his dad, and when Nate's true origins are revealed the connection to Crews's situation becomes clearer. "Serious Control Issues" reveals just how far Charlie is away from being adjusted to post-prison life, and how hard he has to work to hold on to what makes him an above-average cop. Charlie has made mistakes (confronting Ames) in his covert investigation into the 12-year old murder, and tonight I believed that as he fights to clear his name in the Ames case he could make more if he's not careful. Though the quest to find out who framed him feels like a story that can play out over 1 season tops, we now know that Charlie could get a good deal darker before things get better.

I'm not an obsessive follower of Neilsen ratings, but (writer's strike or not) I think it has to be good news that NBC is showing two new episodes of "Life" next week. I'll be blogging about a new episode Monday post-"Heroes" and Wednesday as well. See you then.


"I've really stepped in it now, haven't I?": Two weeks of Journeyman

The inevitable has occurred. According to Zap2It, NBC gave Journeyman two weeks to get its Nielsen act together before it gets the ax for good. Seeing as the ratings have shown no improvement since this announcement was made, it's likely that Monday's strong episode might have been the last to ever air on NBC*, even though there are several produced episodes sitting on the shelf. To which I ask...NBC, what are you smoking? Aren't you going through something called a "writer's strike" right now? Aren't you running out of original programming? Wouldn't this show be a suitable plug-in option to fill holes until this thing is over? Oh, never mind. I forgot who your network president is. Carry on.

It's a darn shame that Journeyman is seemingly done for good, because it's improved each week and become a solidly good show. The writers finally have a handle on what works within the time travel conceit and what doesn't, and watching this show go from a muddled mess to an exciting, well-paced, character-driven sci fi romp each week has been a delight to witness. The final two-parter ("Emily" and "Blowback") was a great example of what a fun ride this show has become.

Inevitably, they had to deal with the fact that Dan's sojourns back in time would somehow negatively affect his future life. Each time he steps back into one of his missions he changes something and the powers that be (whoever they may be) seem to have very specific goals for his missions, and when he strays something always goes wrong. In this two-parter, Dan goes beyond his mission of simply helping a kidnapped girl and goes after the kidnapper full-throttle. This causes the ripple effect (or BLOWBACK...see what they did there?) of angering the psychotic kidnapper and causing him to come after Dan and his family once he is released from prison. The kidnapper was sufficiently crazy and compelling, but the real meat of this story was when Dan escaped by jumping back in time, and just happened to jump right into the life of the kidnapper as a young boy. He then uses what he learns then of the kidnapper's tortured childhood to get him to agree to not harm him or his family.

The best result of this story was the development of Jack and Dan's relationship. Now that Jack has seen Livia and knows Dan is telling the truth about his time travels, it opens up a whole new angle for the show to play. Also, it was just plain cool when Jack saw Livia through the glass doors of the newspaper office. Reed Diamond played that moment and his subsequent conversation with her perfectly. A time traveling team with a cop in the future to help them out sounds like a pretty fun endeavor, and it is too bad they never got a chance to play that up a bit.

One great reveal was the discovery that the FBI agent investigating the Dylan McCleen money wasn't exactly who he seemed, and was really some sort of rogue agent who had been tracking time travelers for quite a while. That revelation was also very slyly underplayed, and when it became clear he wasn't exactly who he seemed my brain did a little happy dance of joy. Stories of this nature live and die by their reveals, and this one was subtle and yet still quite chilling. In the end, the agent was gunned down by the kidnapper but I have a feeling his presence was only the very surface of what danger lies for Dan in the future. Remember Elliot Langley's "men with guns always want to control men with ideas"? It takes on a much more tangible meaning now.

Also interesting was the idea Livia held that long mission to the future and engagement to Dan was all about eventually getting Dan and Katie together. Dan and Katie as destiny rings a bit hollow as a reason for a 15 year mission to me, but to the romantic out there I'm sure it adds some nice gravity to the Dan/Katie relationship. If there was more time in the series, it would be interesting to explore exactly why Livia was there for so long, why she left, and why Dan all of a sudden developed time traveling abilities several years after her departure. What is their underlying connection? They've dialed back the chemistry between the two since the pilot to strengthen the Dan/Katie bond, but there is still something really intriguing there.

If these were the last two episodes to air for this series it is quite a shame, but at least the show went out on a high note. There are at least two more episodes in the can and the creators promise the final one does give some sort of small closure to the show, so keep an eye out for them in the future on Hulu or I know I will be on the lookout.

*Update, 11/29: Ain't it Cool News is reporting that NBC will, in fact, be airing the final three episodes. Regular Monday night episodes will resume on December 10th for two weeks, and the 12th (and probably final) episode will air on Wednesday, December 19th at 10pm. I suppose I should feel bad for laying Ben Silverman out like that in my opening paragraph, but...I don't.


"You're not lactating. If our son wants to be near the milk, he'll have to sleep in the refrigerator.": Desperate Housewives

Raise your hand if you thought Victor was actually dead. Anyone?

Yeah, that's what I thought. Of all the annoying things this show has done, the foolish attempt to try to fool the audience into thinking Victor was dead somehow annoyed me the most. At this point in the season Gabby, Carlos, Edie and Victor are such a black hole of unlikable characters that it's hard to muster any sort of concern that one of them might die. Perhaps next week the big tornado will take all of them out. Now THAT would be satisfying!

Lynette got a meaty yet surprisingly dated storyline this week when her beloved stepfather (nicely played by Richard Chamberlian) returned after 30 years gone to help her with her estranged mother. The story was meaty because the acting was quite strong and the connection between Felicity Huffman and Chamberlain felt palpable, yet the entire thing took on a stale feel when we learned that the reason he left all those years ago is that he was gay and her mother was too ashamed to tell her daughters. Instead she allowed them to think she cheated on him, a fact which ate away at their relationship ever since. They've shown Lynette's mother to be something of a wild child and free spirit, so it's hard to understand why she would have kept this fact from her daughters all these years. Also, this story feels a bit perfunctory and done many times before. Still, it was nice to see Chamberlain and the acting was wonderful, making the story seem better than it probably was.

Bree and Orson went through another baby-fueled storyline when Bree decides to let the baby sleep in their bed, which causes quite the rift in their sex life. Bree eventually decides to, um..."service" Orson at his office instead, which pleases him. The best part of this story, however, is the ramifications it has on Andrew when he begins to believe that Bree is ashamed of him and has written him off in favor of the new baby. This leads to a poignant moment when Andrew reveals his disappointment that Bree has not noticed how much he's changed, and forgives her for leaving him on the side of the road to fend for himself all that time ago. I quite enjoy the character of Andrew and Shawn Pyfrom's performance, so this was a welcome development.

At the beginning of the season it seemed that Dana Delaney's character would be a great addition to the show, but it's becoming increasingly clear as the weeks go on that while Dana Delaney is wonderful, her storyline still falls far short of interesting. Her character doesn't make an appearance this week, but Adam's past does finally catch up with them when former, and quite possibly crazy, patient Sophie shows up at their doorstep. Adam shoos her away, but not before Mike sees her and uses that knowledge to convince Adam to give him a prescription for more meds (since he had to fire his dealer after he made a Susan-encouraged pass at Julie). Junkie Mike is boring, even when blackmailing someone for drugs. Was Mike always boring and I'm just realizing it now? I feel lost.

Despite my obvious ennui with almost everything involving this show lately, a few redeemable moments remain each week. Perhaps the best one was Adam casually reminding Orson that he knows all about the baby fakery in order to blackmail him into writing a prescription for pain pills, which Adam was then going to give to Mike in return for Mike's silence about Sophie's surprise visit. It's that sort of soapy secret plot that this show does well, and it was nice to see Nathan Fillion with a little more to do.

Next week: the MOST EXPENSIVE DESPERATE HOUSEWIVES EPISODE EVER! And two people will die! This better be good.


Track Review: "Thnks Fr Th Mmrs," Fall Out Boy

I was gonna keep my mouth shut on this one, but I've decided that discretion will not be the better part of valor on this day. Fall Out Boy is ridiculous. They are the bullshit, spandex-clad, hair metal of today. They just use a different means to create the atmosphere. We all know that already. However, what has always separated them from their ilk (for me anyway) was the slight appearance of self-awareness. I say slight, because, while they seem to have a good sense of humor about themselves, they clearly don't understand the joke that they will be looked back upon as. But, whatever, it's all in good fun. Here's the best part though: it has gotten so much worse. As a result, the music ( a seriously strange blend of emo and pop topped off by massive egomania) and its almost campy entertainment value has only exponentially increased. They seem to be in a place now where they feel that they should present the idea that they are this self-aware troupe of clever blokes, but only seem to prove the exact opposite with their music. And it is awesome. "Thnks Fr Th Mmrs" is a perfect example of this go-for-broke sonic assault that they apparently employ on Infinity on High (which I have only heard a few tracks from). Symphonic, harmonic, melodic; every aspect turned up to 11--and why the fuck not? The louder you play the better you sound. That's a medical fact! What these fools lack in originality and genuine talent they more than compensate for with an unsurprising knack for unsubtle melodies (which pretty much always work) and a now apparent penchant for the grandiose. This kind of spectacle will almost always strike a chord with me. I would call this song a guilty pleasure if only I felt guilty.


“Ah! Not pretty! Ugly!”: Chuck

So, to open on my one and only negative point, I take back what I said last week about Bryce sticking around long-term. I loved everything about Chuck’s latest episode, ‘Chuck versus the Nemesis’ – except for Matthew Bomer’s performance. Bomer is a relatively bland actor, and played Bryce as an ultra-handsome, ultra-serious Bond alike that totally didn’t gel with Chuck’s overall tone. Not that it’s his fault, as that’s the way Bryce is written, but based on this episode I’d say Bryce is too lacking in whimsy to appear more than very occasionally.

Other than that: brilliant. Absolutely marvellous. Bryce’s return was perfectly handled, resolving some unanswered questions while believably spoiling the bourgeoning relationship between Chuck and Sarah. The answers to the mysteries weren’t all that shocking, but who really watches Chuck for that stuff anyway? We watch for the fun! ‘Nemesis’ was even more fun than usual, especially the thanksgiving dinner and the genius last ten minutes.

There were like a million other things I liked here, but here’s a selection: Chuck and Bryce talking in Klingon, Casey interacting with Captain Awesome at Thanksgiving (“I have two words for you: water sports”), Morgan’s orgasmic response to Sarah’s sweet potatoes covered with marshmallows (man, I have to try that), and Casey’s response to Chuck’s worries over Sarah: “Don’t worry Chuck. Sarah leaves, we’ll get you a new girl.” The final scene was a nice capper, with a nuanced Yvonne Strahovski silently making her decision between Chuck and Bryce. The outcome may be obvious, barring any random cast changes, but I liked the way it was done: the two calling at the same time, Bryce on an antiquated looking phone, representing Sarah’s past, and Chuck on the vibrating mobile, symbolising her possible future. That’s right, Chuck can do symbolism!

For the first time, the Buy More plot was just as good as the spy one (although they did intertwine at the end, but still). Big Mike was hilarious as usual, and Morgan and Anna are an amusingly miss-matched couple. The obvious highlight, though, was the Pineapple Incident. (That’s actually the name of the HIMYM episode, but it’s as good a term as any.) Everything about that sequence – Big Mike running in slo-mo, Jeff constantly getting knocked out, Anna screaming as the crowd engulfed her – was brilliant. If that balance keeps up, I’ll have one less thing to complain about, leaving me with not much negative to say at all. Not that I’ll mind that.


Tuesday, November 27, 2007

South Dakota Dark's Top Ten Favorite Albums (Redux)

I've attempted this before, but I never finished. Plus, I wasn’t all too happy with the list. As we all know—as fun as they are—lists are just incredibly arbitrary. I wanted to try it again though. I would say the best album that I’ve ever heard; the album that I feel has been crafted and delivered the best out of all the different pieces that I’ve heard is Van Morrison’s Astral Weeks. However, there is a specific connotation that the album has with me (that I won’t bore you with) and I don’t find myself listening to it all that much; only at certain points in my life. So, are the best albums and your favorite albums different? I say that they are…at least for the purposes of this list. The albums that appear within may not be the most ingeniously realized works of art ever created, but they strike every single right note with me and I would defend their validity until the END OF TIME.

So while this may not be my version of the definitive album list of all time; it is the definitive album list of my life. And that’s IMPORTANT to me, because I really feel that these albums helped in CREATING me (musically). It’s lame, I know. The list is mostly 90’s oriented because…that’s where I lived the most. It doesn’t mean that I don’t find significant joy in albums from other time periods, or that I don’t know that albums like Revolver, Sgt. Pepper, or Pet Sounds or even Closer were some of the most influential and enjoyable albums ever released. I’m just trying to be honest about the music that has shaped me into the music fan that I am today. Fair enough? Okay.

For your reading (dis)pleasure:

Daniel’s Top Ten Favorite Albums of All Time (Part 1):

Liz Phair has always been such a polarizing figure. I don’t really mean that she made music that you either loved or hated--though she did…and still does. What I mostly mean is that her persona--which has never really been a persona--either makes you uncomfortable, turns you on (haha), or simply entertains you. And even that entertainment can come for myriad reasons. Exile in Guyville captured this. Phair is vulgar, sardonic, cheesy, misanthropic, and dramatic. The album unfolds like a stage play of faked emotions or a joke that only she seems privy to. Exile… is a virtual clusterfuck of lo-fi guitars, country tinged love affairs, and straight-forward post-rock all with a wonderfully dirty pop aesthetic. It is invigorating in a way that feels that it shouldn’t. What I mean is that her tongue-in-cheek style should put you off (and it does), but Exile… is crafted in such a way that you appreciate its most audacious cockiness, and actually find it all sort of precious.

Jay-Z isn’t overrated. Not really. I get the fact that he sometimes receives backlash for reasons involving either Nas (until recently) or over saturation. And I get that those reasons can be valid at any given moment. I get that Jay-Z’s royalty can be directly linked to his record sales and affable persona just as much as it can be to his artistic prowess. The Blueprint, though, is something different. The Blueprint is an album that can’t really be held up against Jay-Z’s previous or recent works because it was delivered with a different distinction than anything that came before or anything that came after. Reasonable Doubt laid the groundwork, but the heights of boastfulness and sensory overload displayed on The Blueprint in such a refined way is rivaled by no other album in Jay-Z’s collective body of work. He has never been so focused. He adheres to one sonic vision, it seems, which creates a truly unique experience on the album. The static nature of some of the production somehow adds fluidity, and Jay puts his story at the center. The accompanying bells and whistles contain a soulfulness and regularity that is as ingenious as it is simple, but “Jigga” is able to bleed himself into every track on the album, which is what makes it so damn compelling.

I've spoken recently on Craig Finn, and he is (obviously) one of my most loved musical figures. The Hold Steady as a band, however, have achieved a status of rabid fanboyism in me of which I am actually sort of ashamed. Their second LP, Separation Sunday was the first album that I ever heard from them. It is a concept album with a loosely conveyed narrative that serves both as an indoctrination of the Catholic Church and a joyous affirmation of faith through trial, fire, and trial by fire. The meandering and ambiguous nature of the story keeps things at a level of powerful resonance and recognition. Stranger still is the spit and sputter vocal work by Finn (that makes or breaks any potential fan) put on full display in all its off-colored glory. The most religious of religious experiences, what Separation Sunday lacks in divinity it makes up for in humanity.

Pavement is one of those groups that were so overrated upon their inception that, over time, they became underrated by default. Among most music enthusiasts or hipster elites, Pavement is an everyday occurrence. However, there is a surprisingly large amount of people that I've met that really have no idea who they are or the level of influence they had on the methods used in creating rock music. On Slanted and Enchanted Pavement introduced the lo-fi aesthetic that they would later perfect on Crooked Rain... Slanted and Enchanted, however is special in its ability to blend these melodies and crumbled walls of white noise into an eerie and beautiful mess. There was so little structure or grace involved. Slanted and Enchanted gave way to the more refined trashiness of their later work, but Pavement wouldn't have gotten their without this wondrous work of cause and effect.

After his death, Elliott Smith entered a list of many great artists and musicians who died before their time. However, such a distinction to give Smith seems odd to me. Spending any significant time with his music, one never got the feeling that Elliott thought himself "long" for this world. There was an ever watching eye gazing to the heavens; the beyond; the oblivion. It wasn't to be cool (though most will tell you this). His was a genuine unease in regards to dealing with humanity and, more importantly, being human. He was never hateful or snotty about it. It was simply the truth. Either/Or revels in this personality and is, perhaps, the closest of Smith's work to mirror the perfect sadness and quiet rage he had bundled up inside of him. A smooth album that flows like water rolling down a canvas; Either/Or sees Elliott reaching a peak in regards to his acoustic driven balladry, and serves as a defining moment in an artist's life whose true pain may have been pleasure.

*Stay tuned for Part 2!


"Sublety is for suckers. Real women pop!": Men in Trees

Welcome to season two of Men in Trees, everyone. After awkwardly repackaging the remainder of season one into a makeshift start to season two, we've finally reached new episodes and I finally feel comfortable evaluating this sophomore season.

The episode started out with obvious intent to make the viewers understand that a decent amount of time had passed since Marin and Jack's goodbye kiss on the docks, and immediately cemented that while Marin and Jack are definitely together, a long distance relationship where the Bering Sea makes up most of the distance is not going to be an easy endeavor in the least. While Marin spent the episode neurotically worrying about the other (ultimately imaginary) women in Jack's life, Jack spent the episode enjoying his job on the harsh seas and becoming chummy with cute-but-married colleague Julia. Insecure, neurotic Marin is not a Marin I particularly enjoy, so this plot left much to be desired. It did give the character a nice moment when she speaks to Jack's mother and learns that he has told her all about Marin, but otherwise it just played as a stock "oh, no, insecure girl alert!" story that has been done a million times before. As for Jack, he was definitely enjoying his Bering Sea job until a nasty storm takes out the boat at the end of the episode. Does this mean Jack's job is over and he will return to Elmo? That would be an entirely too convenient solution, so I hope they can hold off on his return for at least an episode or two.

Now, the dreaded amnesia. The funny thing about amnesia plots is that although they are completely stale and uninspired, it is obvious why writers go to them time and time again because they create such great dramatic possibilities for a television show. Patrick's story took the predictable but still devastating turn of breaking up him and Annie, as now that he doesn't remember the old Patrick he also seemingly has not retained any of the good things about Patrick's personality that helped hold his and Annie's relationship together. The use of amnesia as a device to put obstacles in that relationship is troubling, but the actors are having a good time with it and I suppose we'll all just have to go along for the ride and see how it all turns out. In my opinion, the most interesting thing that could happen is if Patrick doesn't end up remembering his past at all, and starts a new life as a different person. Perhaps he could get a new, dangerous love interest? Sticky sweet Patrick could grate at times, and I would be interested to see his character stretch a bit more.

As for the rest of the goings on in Elmo, things are still as quirky as ever. Although this was designed as a season premiere, it was almost a good thing that the scheduling was so strange as to stick this episode right in the middle of the season as it definitely didn't feel powerful enough to stand alone as a premiere. It was cute and had nice romantic moments, but I definitely would not have been satisfied if I was anxiously awaiting it after a three month break.

(Next week, perhaps I can finally stop talking about the weird scheduling of this show incessantly. Until then...)


Your friendly local blogger makes an excuse

I'm busy throwing together a TOP 100 SHOWS OF ALL TIME list for broadcast here in December, so I've been preoccupied. I'll try to do a handful of catch-up posts in the days to come, but in the meantime, you should enjoy some of our other fine posts and posters.


Monday, November 26, 2007

"She is obviously a vampire. A gross. English. Titty. Vampire.": Dexter 2.8 & 2.9

Dexter's world is falling apart; his back is up against the wall; he is surrounded by people that would destroy him if they only knew the truth; his mask is getting heavy; and this is damn compelling TV. The last two episodes of Dexter (entitled "Morning Comes" and "Resistance is Futile" respectively), have methodically created a suspenseful and equally paranoia-driven stage for all of these elements to play out. There are still pieces of the show that aren't quite flowing together, but everything is seeming to serve the larger story arc which is key. Hall has been turning in some of his most consistent work since the show began, elevating the playing field for everyone else involved. Even though having Dexter himself become the hunted so early on in a show that could have a fairly long run may seem like they are overplaying their hand; this is all coming off exceptionally well, as the show is constantly challenging expectations and going in directions one would not initially anticipate.

With these past two episodes we have seen Dexter finally realize that Lila is, ya know, crazy. While she clearly does understand him better than anyone else, she is selfish and impulsive. Those traits mirrored in Dexter have only backfired upon him. The Code of Harry, while perhaps predicated upon something he now perceives to be less than genuine, DOES work best for him. Structure with a dash of chaos has always been his world. Match this realization with Dexter being attacked by the man who killed his mother (and he let go because of her) outside of a bowling alley, which he later finds out was all a set up by Lila...and our hero has had just about enough.

Clearly though, a woman who is willing to burn down her own apartment, as well as put the man that she loves in a life-threatening situation simply to make him stay with her isn't just going to go away. While we get a fittingly eerie threat sequence from Dexter to Lila at the end of "Morning Comes" (she DID steal Rita's key from him and break into her house) she doesn't really seem to get the point. But, really, that's to be expected. Now she seems to be banging Batista in order to get back at Dexter. Despite the threats, though, I don't really fear for her life. This show is so interesting in that way. Because of the nature of the program, you have to assume that almost anybody can be killed off by Dexter simply because they pose a problem to him. However, we seldom go down that road. You always kind of expect it in the back of your mind, but it hardly ever happens. And that's a good thing. The Code of Harry, and all that.

Speaking of which: Sgt. James Doakes. You silly son of a bitch. They have finally pulled the trigger on this rivalry and, I must admit, it is working out better than I expected--even though it is mostly peripheral in the end. Doakes may not simply be killed off and forgotten, sure, but it's not as if he is going to turn Dexter in and save the day. However, having him find Dexter's blood samples and later catch him in the act of dumping the body of the man who murdered his mother was largely exciting and even mildly suspenseful. The whole idea of keeping who Lundy and the feds saw as their chief suspect a secret for most of "Resistance is Futile" WAS pretty lame, I have to say. Who DIDN'T see that coming as soon as Doakes got on the plane to Haiti? Oh yeah, Doakes went to Haiti to hook up with some old Black Ops buddy to, apparently, get the blood samples he stole from Dexter analyzed. Since the blood samples are now in the fed's possession and Doakes is the chief suspect in the Bay harbor Butcher case...not sure what the point of that was, but I guess we'll see. Anyway, for most of the episode, we are to believe that Dexter is about to be found out, only to have it revealed that he is being tailed and investigated to protect him from Doakes. Okay, fine.

So we have Lila acting the damn fool, and playing with serious fire; we have the FBI and Lundy hot on the trail of the Bay Harbor Butcher, realizing that he is in fact in the department and (they think) Sgt. Doakes; we have Dexter and Doakes coming to what we thought was going to be a final confrontation (this built up through out both episodes); we have Debra and Lundy finally screwing and being really oddly matched and creepy (with a equally gross Lundy ass shot in the last episode!); and we have Rita finally coming around to admitting that she still has feelings for Dexter. Only two of these stories are really working on any consistent basis, but they are all wonderfully serving the season's central story. When Doakes and Dexter finally faced off on the docks, I thought my much maligned Sergeant was a goner, but Dex only choked him out! Now he has him prisoner in some cabin in a really odd turn of events. Not sure why he would do this, except it being the writers who want to further allow Doakes to fuck with Dexter's head. Which, I don't like, because Dexter is so much smarter than he is. But, whatever, I already admitted that it's working better than I thought it would.

There are only three episodes left in a really well done season of television. Dexter has accomplished the weird task of stepping out of its established mythos while still being able to stay true to the general structure and theme of the show. Next week is apparently bringing disturbing revelations to Dex about Harry from--you guessed it--Doakes. So, we'll see how this little battle of wits goes for Doakes. Nice knowing ya!


Sunday, November 25, 2007

“Why is the grass wet? Is it raining? Huh?” – The Adventures of Pete & Pete

After a solid, but not spectacular episode and one that could have been perfect but wasn’t, The Nightcrawlers aims a bit lower, but rises above the previous two. It has more polish than The King of the Road and by solidifying a character (in this case, Little Pete) rather than throwing two characters’ relationship into a new realm (Big Pete and Ellen in Day of the Dot), The Nightcrawlers has a more attainable goal, fitting with the show’s humble raison d’etre.

In the past two episodes, Little Pete had spent a lot of time on the sidelines. I already bemoaned that he did little more than spout a few one-liners in The King of the Road. He got a B-story in Day of the Dot, but he wasn’t really the main character of it, with the plot focusing more on Bus Driver Stu. So here is the first Little Pete-centric episode. Indeed, Big Pete has very little screentime, mostly only giving his trademark voiceover. It’s a nice change of pace for the narrative, turning Big Pete from the protagonist filling us in on background story or internal monologue, to a closer to omniscient narrator, lending This Week’s Adventure a mythic quality. Here, Big Pete sounds like he’s telling the tale of a legendary outlaw.

Indeed, Little Pete has always been a brash non-conformist. Even without the shorts or specials (which had already established his urge to fight authority), what scant amount of Little Pete we have gotten heretofore has been Little Pete talking back to his dad or trying to bully or trick Bus Driver Stu into taking him home. Here, he takes on his biggest challenge yet: The International Parent Conspiracy, which the show sets up in signature fashion as the neighborhood parents scheming to oppress their children. The idea of parents plotting to, say, switch to 1% milk from whole is a bit silly, but it works in context.

Little Pete’s attempt to break the world record for sleeplessness in order to protest his scheduled bedtime is the right level of ambitiousness for the show, completely absurd without running too far amok to ruin its deadpan nature. And the whole thing is played off well, like a mix of The Great Escape and a horror film. Little Pete rallies other neighborhood kids (and, of course, Artie the Strongest Man in the World) to join him in his sleeplessness and everybody drops off, one by one. The overwrought drama when each kid falls asleep is hilarious, played off as if the kid died, giving the whole thing a nice edge of dark humor. There’s an especially good scene where one girl, who had realized that staring at the sun causes her to sneeze and thus stay awake, wanders into a garden during a cloudy time of day. The scene’s tragedy only adds to its hilarity. (As a side note, the girl was clearly Asian-American, yet her father is played by a Caucasian man. Was she adopted? Of mixed heritage? I guess it’s another one of the show’s mysteries.)

The episode is full of other great moments and touches: the children gradually going insane, Artie’s funky dance moves, Clem inexplicably growing a beard, the diagram of Mom’s brain. It’s an incredibly fun episode and it all ties together to show Little Pete’s stubborn determination. He is just the type of person who would go through such a ridiculous task to fight a perceived slight like having to go to bed at 9 p.m. When I saw this episode as a child, it was one of my favorites. I loved the idea of fighting bedtimes by staying up all night playing flashlight tag. I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that other kids tried to mimic Little Pete’s act of resistance. And really, that’s what Little Pete is – he’s the hero for every kid who has ever felt like he or she was treated unfairly because he was a kid. Some may dislike him for being crude or impulsive, but most kids would love to be so and get away with it. If Big Pete is the passive observer, finding himself in strange situations, Little Pete seeks them out. He brings the adventures to Pete & Pete.