Saturday, January 12, 2008

"Damn, Julie. Damn.": Friday Night Lights

(Yeah, I know, that pic ain't from this episode. It's the best I could find at short notice!)

This week's Friday Night Lights, "Jumping the Gun", was probably one of the strongest episodes the show's put out this season, although it still sometimes felt a, if you know what I mean. "Jumping the Gun" and last week's "There Goes the Neighborhood" made up a kinda really loose two-parter, which showed off the strengths of the show, while also having a little fun with itself. Last week's episode felt a little TOO silly, with prankster rivals and house parties, but "Jumping the Gun" got in some nice character stuff, focusing only on the Taylors, Smash, and Riggins. Both episodes kinda gave off a relieved vibe of "don't you worry, that whole murder story is done with now!", but there were still some plot elements that had me raising my eyebrows.

Take Smash's story, for example. Now, the recruitment process by big colleges for sports scholarships is interesting, and the writers have generally done a good job illuminating a basically unknown subject for me. Still, although Gaius Charles always nails the Smash-heavy plots and his scenes with his mother were as good as they always are, the resolution of where he's going to college next year seemed a little rushed to me. It was all a little confusing - we basically lept from vague examples of courtship to a big showdown crunch-time thing where Smash had to make his decision ASAP. Alabama! Oklahoma! Michigan! All sounds good to me, but about halfway through the episode, we suddenly became aware that of course Smash was destined to go to TMU (that fictional university that Coach Taylor worked at a while back), that everyone wanted him to go to TMU, that his mother knew he was supposed to go to TMU. I started wracking my brains, wondering if this had come up before, and maybe it has, but it was still totally out of nowhere for me. Once TMU entered the mix, it seemed obvious Smash would go for it - it's not too far off in Austin, so if the writers have a plan for what they're gonna do in season three (and I hope they're thinking of one, cause they may well get renewed) it'd be good to put him there. Plus, Coach Taylor's big scene where he dissuaded Smash from Alabama was just about the best darn bit in the episode and one of Kyle Chandler's best moments in what's been another astounding year from the guy. Almost nobody on this show ever puts a foot wrong, but Chandler is intimidating when he really settles into a speech like that.

Hell, this whole episode was a fantastic Coach Taylor showcase. Sometimes Eric can slink into the background when it comes to non-football stuff, because Tami is such a domineering character, but he was just terrific in every one of his scenes. He moved from enraged (bitching out poor Riggins) to crabby (bitching out Shelley for never leaving), to enraged, but this time totally collected (bitching out Julie for drinkin'). His final shutdown of Julie was worthy of Tami & him combined, and might have been his most convincing act of parenting, like, ever. I was scared, that's for sure. I won't be playing quarters anytime soon. I was happy the way this developed, too - mostly because Julie needs a little shake-up and I wanted Eric and Riggins to make up. I always knew his rooming with the Taylors wouldn't be permanent (these storylines never are) but I liked the father-son thing they were building up together, and unless Riggins gets shot by a drug dealer anytime soon (not impossible), I'm looking forward to more of that from them. I giggled a little that Eric congratulated Riggins on his honor in saving Julie, as Riggins had just ripped off a drug dealer, but whatever. It was a nice moment.

OK, I was gonna do Tami next, but seriously. Riggins ripped off a drug dealer!? Is he nuts!? Especially after Riggins' brother declared the ferret meth dude "one of the biggest drug dealers in Dillon". I'm not sure how the ferret meth dude, who spent most his time on the show hunting in his underwear, is now a Dillon drug lord, but Tim's newfound maturity does not really gel with stealing $3,000 from an extremely unbalanced, gun-wielding maniac. I'm gonna blame the Brothers Riggins' dumb call on the fact that Tim was despondent cause Eric was yelling at him, and that Billy was despondent cause that cougar mom broke up with him (as well as motivated cause he needed $3,000), but I hope this storyline doesn't end up dominating the next nine episodes. That's a joke, but seriously. Let this one pass quietly, please guys! I don't want Riggins to die. He's definitely my favorite of the teen cast this year.

Tami's storyline was probably the least interesting cause it was the most predictable (Shelley was doomed to depart the minute Eric pulled a face at the 'new phone line' idea), but I thought Britton and Gilsig did a great job anyway. Tami and Shelley's relationship has been one of the biggest surprises of the season for me, especially how their conflict/love swung between nicely subtle tension to huge bombastic arguments in a totally believable way. Their farewell played out just like that - although Eric did most of the yelling this time around. The fact that Tami didn't get too mad at Eric suggested she was happy to see Shelley go, but she really served as a buffer for everyone - the family's gonna start bumping up against each other real soon, I predict, especially if Julie keeps acting out, or if life with the baby gets tougher (and you gotta think it's gonna). Jessalyn Gilsig was basically an unknown quantity to me before this, but she was one of many successful guest stars this show's had this year, and I'd like to see her pop up elsewhere. And return here sometime.

Finally, I'll touch on the football story, a rarity these days, and I always enjoy the games and greatly miss the more dominant presence they had last year. Last week, the rival team setting up shop seemed like a good story opportunity, but they basically wasted it by turning it into a series of boring stock moments. This week, it was the other way around. I liked Eric's rivalry with the other coach, and I liked their tense moments, and hell, I even liked that the coach went nuts and tackled Riggins. Yeah, that moment was a little outside of reality, but it was a pretty well-done moment anyway, and I can believe that a bigshot high school football coach at the end of his tether could go nuts for a second. But then they had to go and slip in that totally unnecessary "my wife has three months to live" thing at the end! It seemed the coach made that confession only to give us another powerful, dramatic scene and to totally over-justify a previous dramatic moment. I dunno, it bothered me.

That was the only big misstep of the week, though. Overall I think FNL's been steadily improving since the very shaky early episodes of this season, and the tone has been successfully and consistently re-established. What do we have, like five more episodes left? Hopefully now that there's literally no scripted material on television, people will start tuning in a little more and they'll like what they see. Right now, I definitely like what I see.


Friday, January 11, 2008

"You're too pretty.": Grey's Anatomy

Hey, remember me? I thought I'd chuck in a final review of Grey's Anatomy, seeing as it's likely there won't be any more episodes this season. Which is sad. I hear you laughing, but Grey's Anatomy has been one of my biggest viewing pleasures this year, especially after the wrenching crawl that was the previous year. It was so easy to fix, too - it just rediscovered the sense of fun it used to have, reverting back to wacky patients and sexy doctor antics, coupled with frequent musical montages to hit home broadly emotional serious stuff. It didn't blow anyone's minds, but I bet all twenty zillion of its viewers were way more satisfied this year (and just don't mention Gizzie).

All that said, it's a bit of a shame the 'finale' was a little sub-par, despite the juicy prospect of Bailey getting to narrate.

Previous "other people narrate!" episodes (the one in season two after George slept with Meredith, and the one in season three where Cristina blows Burke's cover) have been good, plus Bailey's the best, so how could it go wrong? Well, pretty easily, really. For one, Bailey barely narrated as it was. I seem to remember some cliche about God creating man at the start, and some other total cliche about how we all come together at the end of the episode. For two, the Bailey-centered crisis, where a bookcase fell on her baby, never quite grabbed me. It seemed shocking for the sake of being shocking, and while Wilson hit all the right notes in her emotional scenes, I didn't really think Shonda was gonna whack Bailey's baby. Sure, Shonda's had her moments of cruelty, but KILLING BAILEY'S BABY? That's a blow the series would have a ton of trouble recovering from. So I didn't buy the immediate crisis, and I also didn't buy Bailey's marriage crisis. They've definitely been laying the groundwork for tension between Bailey and husband over the last few episodes, but before then, it was pretty much out of nowhere, and again, it seemed like crisis for the sake of it. This is so often the problem when you set up a character who's cool, calm and collected - when you try and knock that character around later on, it's tough to make it really convincing. I'll always love Chandra Wilson, but I think Forever Young, a few episodes back, which I mercilessly raved at the time, was a far better "Bailey tape" than this one, one that had a much more plausible plot device to shake everyone's favorite Nazi up.

What else happened in this episode? I suppose I might as well confront the remnants of Gizzie, which hopefully reared their head for the final time this week (famous last words, I know). George Porgie's mom was in town, and through hilarious misunderstandings, she finally found out about her son's marriage breaking up and her son flunking the intern exam, from Izzie no less! Poor George's mom. I forget her name. Anyway, the whole thing kinda seemed like a big ol' epitaph on George and Callie's marriage, and George and Izzie's affair, and thank God for it, too. The scene where Mama O'Malley comforted Callie was a good one. The scene where George admitted to his mom that he'd basically been a total douchebag the last year was great. Great, and true. I mean, does anyone else remember the time when sttutering, flop-haired George was one of the best characters in the crazy gin-joint that is Seattle Grace? Or was that just me? I'm hoping that in season five, or four and a half, or whatever follows the WGA strike, George will be back to his uncomfortable, lovable self. His chemistry with Lexie in this episode was indicative of this, I think. Despite the fact that it's insane they're already throwing another love interest his way (maybe she can just stay a friend of his, a la Izzie back in the day), his brief few scenes with Lexie this week were great. Crashing on the couch with her, then giving her a shot, then inviting her to find a new place with him? I can't wait to see how that plays out.

The latest episode in the Meredith/Derek absurdity of a relationship would have me tearing my hair out, but honestly. Who cares anymore? Does ANYONE care anymore? Meredith's yo-yoing, nonsensical demands from Derek, and Derek's schizo switches from cool passivity to insane proactiveness are making me doubt that they're even human beings. They're behaving like robots with malfunctioning emotion chips. It doesn't help that Derek doesn't have a ton of chemistry with the nurse, who's pretty, but boring. In fact, Derek, has much more chemistry with McSteamy, but ain't that always the way? I'm glad to see they're back to being full-blown buddies now, anyway. Palling them up was one of the writers' best moves this year. Grey's has always suffered from an imbalance--too much girl talk, not enough guy talk. Shepherd/Sloan is helping correct that.

Other guy plots this week were brief - Sloan stepped up his flirtation with Hahn, but she shut him down again, this time saying they have TOO much chemistry. Or something. I didn't really follow it, but I don't think that one's quite in the ground yet. Karev had to deal with this week's craaaazy patient, who was a wacky healer walking around the hospital, healing everyone's illnesses! Crazy! As usual with these kinds of plots, the healer's healing whammy seemed to work, but we were told there were "a thousand other scientific reasons" for her success. Whatever. I found this plot boring, and horrendously on the nose, but I was happy that they brought up Karev's dark past, although they did it rather ominously. Karev's dark past (involving abuse, drugs, musicians, and wrestling) has been alluded to, but sparingly, so sparingly that I wondered if they'd ever pick it up again. Well, we got a reminder here, maybe just to justify Karev's jerkish behavior (sleeping with Lexie and Rebecca at the same time, that McBastard), but maybe a a nice dangling plot thread to be picked up whenever Grey's comes back. We'll see.

So yeah. Season four's been fun. Despite the fact that I've been bashing this latest episode hard, I'm gonna miss Grey's more than most other network TV during the strike. The plus side for you folks is, I'm gonna be reviewing Friday Night Lights now, from tomorrow, so you won't be rid of my dulcet prose anytime soon. Cloud...silver lining. You heard me.


Thursday, January 10, 2008

"Interrogation bear!": 30 Rock

I don't know which NBC executives had to find rays of sunshine in their dark hearts to make this episode get finished, but I'm sort of glad they did. I had no idea how much I missed this show and how much I WILL miss it until I watched tonight's episode, which was somehow the sort of hilarious send-off that might have made an apropos season finale under better circumstances, bringing to a close a handful of storylines as it did and offering up the sorts of daffiness that this show does so well. In short, I'm glad that the strike didn't completely kill this episode, as it put a cap on a regrettably shortened season that seemed to be shaping up to be one of the all-time greats before production had to shut down.

So join me as we look over an episode that had so much more good than bad that I don't know that I'll have a lot to say about it outside of just wishing it didn't have to go away.

The weakest part of the episode, of course, was the bit with Kenneth becoming addicted to coffee. Jack McBrayer's acting was hysterical, but the arc of the story was pretty predictable (how could it not have been?), though the final moment, when the whole cast came together to sing "Midnight Train to Georgia" stayed ever-so-slightly on the right side of the "too goofy to work" line (I'm going to guess everyone's mileage will vary on this, but I have previously shown myself to have a large heart for musical numbers).

All of this was sort of worth it to see McBrayer jitter, and any time that you get to throw Kenneth and Tracy into a storyline together, there's going to be an underlying strangeness that makes the whole thing work better than it should, but I feel like I saw this plotline on some mid-90s office-set sitcom that aired on NBC (probably Newsradio, but I wouldn't be surprised by Just Shoot Me either). Fortunately, the musical number made it all worthwhile, and it was a small-ish part of the whole episode.

I've seen some complaints that the Liz Lemon tries to buy an apartment storyline was similarly predictable, but I loved the desperate notes that Tina Fey played so perfectly and the way the episode conflated the process of buying an apartment (and being approved by a co-op board) with the process of getting over a bad relationship in a way that seemed both at once completely familiar and completely new. I'm almost certain I've also seen THIS plot somewhere, but something about the fervor of Fey's performance and the drunk-dialing montage made it new enough that I just didn't care. It helped that Edward Herrmann was the co-op board president. Though he didn't really have enough to do, his reaction shots to Fey were terrific, and that last scene where the whole co-op board was out walking with the woman who actually got the apartment (a completely ridiculous scene that perfectly closed the storyline) gave him a moment to play as ruefully as possible, something he does well.

But the story of Jack and C.C. was the one that drove the episode, and it was one of the best storylines the show has had in this wonderful season. Edie Falco has been a great foil for Alec Baldwin, and the story of the two being torn apart by their romance affecting their work lives was both hilarious and strangely touching (a whale torture bill? co-sponsored by Arlen Specter?). I also loved the moments of Liz having to interact with the Germans, then buying their television station (and I loved the German television shows too -- and the Werner Herzog narration!).

As I said, there wasn't a lot I didn't like in this episode. Whether that was because I'm just sad to see the thing going away (seriously, I'm about to overrate The Sarah Connor Chronicles in my print review just because it's so nice to have scripted programming again!) or because it really was that good, I don't know. But let's get this strike over with, AMPTP. I can't handle much more time without Liz Lemon!


"I command myself not to be pregnant.": Gossip Girl

If the writers strike annihilates the rest of the 2007-2008 television season like it is so cruelly threatening to do, then last night's episode ("A Thin Line Between Chuck & Nate," which: genius) was a damn fine way for Gossip Girl to end a surprisingly great freshman year. Yes, the idea of a pregnancy scare storyline is more than tired, but by mining it for everything it's worth and having the repercussions affect each major cast member in some way, they managed to lift a common plot point into something much more compelling. Add to that Blair's devastating fall from grace and her vow to seek revenge on everyone who wronged her, and we have a blueprint for what promises to be a glorious season two.

Let's start with Blair and the aforementioned pregnancy scare, because who are we kidding: everything on this show starts and ends with Blair Waldorf. After the news of Serena being spotted buying several pregnancy tests hits the Gossip Girl site, the whole Upper East Side is buzzing about her potential pregnancy. Jenny spots the blog post but when confronted by Dan and Rufus can't pull off a believable lie, so the boys see the news and freak out, as boys do. Dan, because he is good and honorable and never does anything wrong ever, tells Serena he will be there for her because he loves her (the first time he's trotted out the old "I love you" card) only to learn that it was a false alarm.

Or was it? It seems that dear Serena was buying the tests for Blair, whose period is late but is in denial and refusing to find out why. This frustrates Serena, who angrily leaves Blair to deal with the problem herself. At a romantic dinner with Dan, though, she spills the news that the pregnancy tests were for Blair and that the potential father is Satan himself, Chuck. Sneaky Jenny hears the whole confession, unbeknown to poor Serena and Dan. Seeing she has no other choice, Serena goes to Chuck to tell him that he's potentially a Baby Daddy. Chuck confronts Blair, who continues her shame-filled (and longing-filled, methinks) tirade on Chuck by being cruel, which compels him to immediately text Gossip Girl and tell her about Blair's dalliance with two boys in the span of one week. Mean, but delicious!

While Blair is celebrating her negative test results in her amazing bathroom that I covet, the whole school is buzzing about Blair's supposed slut spiral, including Nate. Unluckily for Blair, Nate runs into Jenny right after he finds out the news and she vindictively confirms that it's true, and that the third leg in this vicious triangle is Chuck. After an amazing boyfight on the streets witnessed by several classmates, the jig is up and the gruesome threesome is exposed for the whole school to see. Sensing a chance to make her move, snake-like lackey Hazel immediately turns Blair's minions against her and takes over as the new Queen Bee of Constance, taking the scarily remorseless Jenny along with her. I said it in a previous recap: Blair might be a manipulative bitch but Jenny is the one who truly scares me. Her naked opportunism is frightening. Of course, since she's the girl Blair is the only one in the triangle to suffer any real social consequences for daring to - gasp! - have sex. Punishing the girl, hooray! It's comforting to see nothing has changed since I left high school so many years ago.

A beaten-down Blair goes to Nate to try to reconcile, but Judgy McDoesn'tHaveALegToStandOnBecauseHeCheatedOnBlairWithSerena Judgerson kicks her out of his life for good. People in glass houses, Nate. Look it up. Blair then continues on her path of life destruction by shaming Serena and accusing her of being the cause of all of her problems by telling Dan. As a last resort, Blair goes to Chuck and tells him "he's all she has left," which is exactly what someone wants to hear, that you're only being friendly with him out of pure necessity! Chuck will have none of it, and savagely ruins Blair's last hope of a friend in New York by telling her he's done with her for good, citing her virginity being his only interest in her and even calling her "rode hard and put away wet," a slogan which has brought some humor to my life in the past but used here nearly wrecked me. I know Chuck is doing it out of hurt and pride and his warped love for Blair, but damn. That was harsh. My strange crush on Chuck has diminished by at least 25%.

Sensing that her life on the UES is pretty much over, Blair asks to live with her father for a semester and her bewildered mother agrees. As she is preparing to go, Serena receives a welcome, real "I love you" from Dan and his speech to her about how super-awesome she is makes her realize that she needs to mend her friendship with Blair. Where were the boyfriends that gave speeches like that when I was in high school? Oh yeah. On TV. Serena catches Blair at the heliport (She's taking a helicopter! To JFK! Man, my life is terrible.) and convinces Blair that she should stay and they will be friends and face the world, or at least the school, together.

As a closing note on an awesome chapter in my TV life ends, Gossip Girl assures us that Blair is not going down without a fight. She's taking everyone down! Man, I hope Jenny is the first to fall. Destruction by Blair Waldorf sounds like a pretty sweet way to go to me.


Wednesday, January 09, 2008

"Conference Call" - Cashmere Mafia, episode 1.2


I'll come clean. I have a weakness for shows in which good looking women wear incredible clothes and navigate the social byways of Manhattan. That's why I was glad no one else wanted to write on Cashmere Mafia; I was all set to have one great big guilty pleasure of a time writing about a series diametrically opposed to Life, the other (sorely missed) series I've been working on. But then....

...a comment I received about my post on the pilot has stuck with me. Yes, the Cashmere Mafia ladies are strong and assertive professional women. But (the commenter said) they're punished for trying to have it all. Let's consider: Mia (Lucy Liu) loses her fiance when she lands a huge promotion at her magazine publishing firm. Juliet (Miranda Otto) learns her husband is sleeping with someone in their social circle. Zoe (Frances O'Connor) finds her job incompatible with parenting, and Caitlin (Bonnie Somerville) realizes her own sexuality has been subsumed by career.

It was the spreadsheet that really got to me. Early on in "Conference Call" the ladies huddle over a spreadsheet listing revenge lovers available to Juliet, who at the close of the pilot had vowed to get even with cheating husband Davis (Peter Hermann). Since it has already been established how hard all these ladies work, this scene of four women searching for a non-threatening sex partner for one of them felt not only reductive but wildly implausible. The eventual winner is an ex-business school classmate (Bill Sage) who offers Juliet a no-strings attached affair, but will stepping out on Davis really heal Juliet's hurt? "There's no such thing as getting even," as Kathryn Erbe observed in the Law & Order I watched right before flipping to ABC.

The other married Mafiosa is Zoe, who tonight feels the heat not at work but from her other flank: a stay-at-home Mom. Zoe's husband Eric (Julian Ovenden) is an devoted and agreeable architect, but clearly feeling the strain of doing most of the parenting. The Queen Bee Mom (a well-cast Krista Allen) at the school Zoe's kids go too wastes no chance to make Zoe feel inferior for working. The highlight of the episode was the scene in which Zoe opens the "Working Mom" bear that her children have made while on a playdate with Allen's kids. I thought the bear - which chirps "I'm on a conference call - was a softer way of reminding Zoe how much she has to fight for than having Eric get hit on by the rival Mom (of course, this happens anyway). Zoe wins by finding a way not only to accompany her kids on a field trip but including all the other parents in the class as well.

On her first day at her new job Mia is ordered to fire her mentor, a plotline that would have carried more weight if said mentor hadn't played so indifferently by Damian Young. (Next week promises a parting shot from Mia's ex-fiance, that should be better). Caitlin bungles her date with Alicia when they run into an ex of Caitlin's who boorishly comments on her dancing with a woman. Things are happily resolved with a kiss; Caitlin gets outed next week in a plotline that should have more substance. (Mia fires her director of marketing, Caitilin is a director of marketing. Just a thought.)

I don't know if ready to say that Cashmere Mafia punishes its heroines, but it does spend a good deal of time putting them in dilemmas that a man would never face. How about showing them demonstrating the skills that got them their jobs in the first place?


Why politics and TV should mix more often!

We try to skew away from politics here, but these videos from contributor Andy Scott make the case that we really shouldn't.

I hope Michelle Obama uses these in a campaign ad or something.


"Americans are a stupid people, by and large.": The Wire

First, a couple of notes. . .

Unlike most critics, I have seen nothing of The Wire's fifth season beyond the first episode (I plan to watch the second episode on demand at some point, but Rock Band is currently dominating the television). As you probably know if you watch the show, The Wire succeeds because of the cumulative effect of the show -- it's good in single episodes, but it becomes great or even transcendent when you watch episode after episode after episode. It's only from the accumulation of time that the show's careful considerations of the failures of the American system grow to have actual tragic weight.

To that end, I really won't be able to say which plot points are going to become insanely important at some point (the answer: all of them), and I may overlook things that in retrospect will seem ridiculous to be overlooked. If there were any show that I wish I could do 5,000 words on weekly, it's this one. Sadly, though, I've become much too busy, so this one will get weekly glosses (hopefully in a more timely manner than this week's episode).

While we're at it, I've worked for many a newspaper. While I'll try to keep my nitpicks to a minimum (I generally find this "style" of criticism sort of irritating), one or two may creep in. Forgive me if this is the case.

Follow me after the jump for thoughts on the season premiere. . .

For the first episode, I'm GOING to focus on those newspaper scenes, which I thought centered in on something that The Wire does well -- detail work. The way of the world is to do good work and focus in on the things you love doing, getting down into the nitty gritty. One of the best things about The Wire is how detail-oriented it is, how happy it is to get down into the procedures of day-to-day life in the institutions it covers. David Simon has said that the show uses the framework of the Greek tragedy to tell its stories -- it substitutes the gods who dictate the fate of Oedipus and pals for giant institutions. But the way you prolong your life in Simon's world is just to do good work.

That's why the newspaper scenes were so thrilling to me. While we were introduced to the newspaper folk (especially Gus, played very well by Clark Johnson) in a scene where they
gossip about buyouts and bitch about the declining quality of their product ("Someday, I'd like to work for a real newspaper," mourns one of them). Later, Gus comes across people standing to watch a fire, not having called someone to go and look in to what's going on. His anger at them is palpable. People grow comfortable in their jobs and forget either what it was that they started out doing or just the tiny things that need to be done to keep the machine humming. When you don't make that call, you're almost saying you no longer care about what you do or about trying to stand up to the gods themselves.

Gus' later catch of an item on a city council agenda (where the city is making a deal with a known drug lord) is one of those perfect journalism moments that those in the profession live for -- when everyone comes together at the last minute to pull off some seemingly impossible task (I love the way that the young reporter is happy with just a contributing line). I also liked when the old copy editor pointed out that you can't evacuate people, but you can evacuate people. The details, as always, remain important.

If there's one thing I don't like in the newspaper scenes, it's the opportunistic reporter from the Kansas City Star. He strikes me too much as a character I've already seen before, and I'm willing to bet he gets caught making up stories or something in his attempts to move on to the Post or Times (speaking of which, why hasn't someone made a movie of the gloriously, goofily tragic Janet Cooke story?).

As for the rest of the show, I want to wait a while and see what transpires. The Wire always begins with a little pause before the storm, even if a major plot point was set up at the beginning of the episode (with the shutdown -- again -- of Major Crimes). I'm interested to see how far McNulty goes before he reaches his breaking point, and I'm fascinated to see if the scattered MCU guys can bring down Marlo.

But it's the newspaper stuff that got me in the premiere. It's just RIGHT, from the rhythm of the dialogue to the various characters in the newsroom. This is a solid, solid portrayal of an institution that's gotten too little portrayal on television, and I hope it continues in this vein.


Tuesday, January 08, 2008

'One Tree Hill': The more things change, the more they stay the same

It's four years later in Tree Hill, and although a lot of time has passed things don't seem all that different. Perhaps it's because their parents were never around and school played such a small part in the proceedings, or perhaps it's because all of the actors look the exact same age, but Tree Hill of the future feels shockingly like the Tree Hill we saw back in May. Still, people have changed (slightly) and hairstyles have changed (dramatically) but that One Tree Hill drama we know and love remains intact.

Let's do a rundown and see where all of our favorite Tree Hill denizens find themselves after a four-year jump, shall we?
Read the rest of the article here.


Sunday, January 06, 2008

"Pilot" - Cashmere Mafia. episode 1.1


So here we are. Take 4 female friends, New York City, and a helping of workplace politics and other gender issues and we have "Cashmere Mafia," a new ABC series from executive producer Darren Star of "Sex and the City" fame. I doubt they'll be turning "Cashmere Mafia" into a feature film, but the pilot has its charms....

The Cashmere Mafia are four business school friends who have each risen to prominence in New York business and social circles. I wish the pilot had been a little more specific about what each of the women did. Only Mia Mason (Lucy Liu) gets sufficient exposition. She's up for the publisher of a major media conglomerate, but the central story arc of the pilot concerns the fact that she's competing against Jack Cutting (Tom Everett Scott). Jack is aggressive, talented, and (after the opening scene) Mia's fiance. The two are pitted against each other to sell the most ad pages in a week; the winner gets the job and the loser is out on the street. The Mia-Jack storyline sets up a central theme of the show. Mia keeps a client that the two are competing for out so late he cancels a meeting with Jack the next day. When he complains she points out that she wasn't invited when men made the rules, so she's got to fend for herself. Even if Mia and her friends are just as capable and driven, sometimes they've still got to do something extra.

Caitlin Dowd (Bonnie Somerville, whose credits include roles on "Friends," "The O.C.," and "NYPD Blue") is the "head of marketing" somewhere, but we're never told more about what this means. I was pleasantly surprised to discover - when Caitlin locks eyes with a cute female business contact named Alicia (Lourdes Benedicto) - that she's a budding lesbian. Caitlin immediately runs to confess her sexual confusion to her brother, who turns out to be an incredibly open-minded Catholic priest. Somerville's reaction after getting a kiss from Alicia is the most touching moment of the episode.

Less well developed is Zoe (Frances O'Connor), who has child care issues and a husband who travels for business. When a nanny they've hired turns out to be a ninny, we get a monologue about how the women entering the work force now have a sense of entitlement while women of the Cashmere Mafia's generation were forced to kick, scratch, and sometimes be grateful for what they could get at work. The final Mafiosa is Juliet (elegant Miranda Otto), whose husband breaks their tacit understanding by sleeping with someone in the ladies' social circle. The pilot ends with Juliet and her friends trying to decide who she should take as a revenge lover.

All four actresses look fabulous and are tremendously appealing. I was particularly happy to see Liu get to show a lighter side and some vulnerability, she hasn't had much chance since making her bones with hard-ass characters on "Ally McBeal" and in "Charlie's Angels." My worry is that each lady will be saddled with one "thing" (career, mommy, gay, sex) that defines them and makes their interactions with each other predictable or cliched. I'm not going to pretend "Cashmere Mafia" isn't mostly light entertainment, but a smart show about women fighting on both the work and home front (including against younger women) has a chance. "Cashmere Mafia" returns Wednesday at 10; since "Life" on NBC has disappeared for the moment I'll be following the fortunes of Mia and the ladies.