Saturday, March 15, 2008

"Everybody loves a panda!" - Lost


There’s a moment, about halfway through Ji Yeon, where Jin is at a toy shop and he demands to have a stuffed panda that has been placed on hold. He’s downright ruthless; he bribes the clerk, but judging Daniel Dae Kim’s smoldering expression and line delivery, we get the hint that he would have been willing to resort to violence, just to get this toy.

It’s a sudden reminder of how Jin was introduced as a character. Recently, he’s been portrayed as sweetly loyal to his wife and incredibly close to his fellow castaways, despite the language barrier between them. Think about great moments like his telling of the ghost story in Catch-22, or when he falls over laughing when Hurley tries to beat Sawyer up in Dave. Jin as we know him now is a teddy bear – a stuffed panda, if you will. However, in the series’ first couple episodes, before our entire outlook of Jin was flipped around in . . . In Translation, he was a downright brute. He did everything he could to keep himself and Sun isolated from the rest of the camp. We learned that Sun was onboard Oceanic Flight 815 to run away from Jin after she had grown fearful of what exactly Jin was doing under the employ of her father. There was even that subplot in season one where the animosity between Jin and Michael led to violence more than once.

So, it’s with this reminder of how far we have come to love Jin-Soo Kwon that the finale of Ji Yeon feels especially poignant. Through the series’ run, we’ve not only learned that, above all things, Jin loves Sun, but he also earned our respect as we discovered that he was more than the man we saw in those first episodes. As our understanding of Jin grew, our involvement in Jin and Sun’s marriage grew as well. Amidst the Sawyer/Kate/Jack/Juliet love squabble (with the briefest of detours with Ana-Lucia), Charlie and Claire’s spurting relationship and the forever star-crossed Desmond and Penny, Jin and Sun stood out as a relationship that, by and large, worked. Even when paired up against Rose and Bernard, Jin and Sun have the advantage because we’ve seen so much more of their nuances; I thought S.O.S. was one hell of an episode, but Jin and Sun have had so much more opportunity to grow as characters that their relationship feels more realistic and genuine. It was hit with some awkward moments like Sun’s extramarital affair, but even that was partially redeemed with the pay-off in D.O.C. and this episode.

At the start of the season, Todd and I discussed whom we thought would constitute the remainder of the Oceanic Six. He was sure that Jin and Sun would be included. When I brought up the idea that just one of them would, he suggested that it would make their relationship too much like Desmond and Penny’s. And he’s right – if Jin is, indeed, alive on the island, we don’t really need to retread this ground. But if he’s dead, we must face the tragedy of not only losing one of Lost’s best characters, but the loss of its best stable relationship.

Now, on to the rest of the episode.

We’ve finally come to the big reveal of the worst kept secret in Lost history. Michael is on the freighter! I don’t think anybody was really shocked by this development. Even if you missed ABC announcing that Harold Perrineau had signed on for season four back in the summer, even if you failed to notice Perrineau’s name rolling in the opening credits for the previous six episodes, from the moment that Ben mentioned he had a spy on the boat, I’m sure just about everybody assumed it would be Michael. Having said that, the moment played out fairly well. Sayid’s look of shock was priceless, as was him playing off like he didn’t recognize Michael. I’m not sure why Desmond looked surprised – did he ever really meet Michael? The only opportunity he would have had to do so was when his sailboat drifted back to the island during Ana-Lucia and Libby’s funeral – and I doubt either were in the mood for meet-and-greets.

Captain John Gault’s (wow, an Ayn Rand reference – they’re running out of philophers. It’s only a matter of time before we have a character named Socrates Confucius) introduction was something of a non-starter. The episode kept building up to something more, but Gault’s not a lot more than a typical hard-ass. And while it’s good that more of the characters have learned that Widmore is behind the freighter’s mission, it’s not big news to us.

This episode also features some fallout from The Other Woman. Kate acts like a supreme bitch (with good reason, but still) in regards to both Charlotte and Juliet, leading Sun not to trust either. I can’t help but wonder whether this is a start of a storyline involving Kate having larger dislike towards both the freighter folk and Juliet, but it was more likely just a way to get the plot a-rollin’. Plot device or not, it served as a nice parallel to Sun’s story. Juliet’s devious ways catch up to her when Sun decides that she can’t trust her and, in the process, puts her unborn child at risk. This forces Juliet to reveal Sun’s affair. So, we have two characters whose previous dishonesty comes back to bite them each in the ass when they want to do the right thing.

So, that’s all for this week. What did you think of this episode? Did you like the final twist, or did you think it was cheap manipulation? Do you think Jin is alive? Who’s the final member of the Oceanic Six? Were you the only person in your Lost viewing party who was surprised to find out who Kevin Johnson was? Comment away!

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Friday, March 14, 2008

"Take the High Road" - Lipstick Jungle, episode 1.6


The "season finale" of Lipstick Jungle - it felt like we were just getting started - finds the ladies at odds with each other, and in Victory's case with the man in her life. The woman-on-woman tension makes this a different show from the one we've been watching the past five weeks.

There's something about Kirby. From the moment he showed up in Nico's life, she has been both renewed by the sexual and emotional energy he provides and guilty about betraying her husband and her friends. Things come to a boil tonight in true season finale style. Word of a possible Harry Potter prequel (I hope J.K. Rowling got a kick out of this one) sends Nico to Scotland in order to secure a deal to excerpt the book in Bonfire magazine. Things aren't going well at Bonfire (first we've heard of it); we know this because of an early scene in which Nico and colleague/rival Mike (David Alan Basche) get chewed out at a meeting.

It was Wendy who brought the Harry Potter scoop to the table in the first place, but because Shane is bus with the movie composing gig he landed last week she may not be able to make the trip to Scotland to meet with Rowling. (I've heard of media conglomeration, but I keep forgetting that Wendy and Nico both work for the same company) Sensing an opening, Nico invites Kirby along - though he'll have to fly separately and get his own room. When Wendy does make the flight to Edinburgh, Nico is appropriately alarmed and the inevitable revelation leads to a meltdown between the two friends. Wendy caps it off with a crack about being glad Nico's not a mother, and we've got ourselves a season ending cliffhanger.

Shall we consider Nico for a moment? She gabs about Harry Potter immediately after being told not to by Wendy and uses her friend's overstuffed personal life as an excuse to bring her lover to Scotland. Is it possible Nico is spending so much time with Kirby her work is suffering? It seems like just a couple of weeks ago Nico was being told how valuable she was. Exploring the consequences of Nico's actions on her friendships and professional lives is a good road for Lipstick Jungle to go down I think. Not to bring Carrie Bradshaw into it, but other than the whole cheating-on-Aidan-with-Big thing the Bushnellian version of female empowerment hasn't included a lot of guilt up to this point.

I actually enjoyed Joe and Victory's story this week. Last week Victory received an infusion of cash into her struggling fashion design business from the mysterious venture capitalist Mr. Quintero (Ronald Guttman). Quintero seems delighted to accommodate all Victory's wishes: new space for the company, exotic feathers from China (a ruse she devises to test him), etc. Joe, who is sure Quintero isn't laundering money through Victory's company, invites Victory to temporarily move in to his enormous apartment; things seem to be going well between the two.

Victory is heartbroken when she discovers Quintero is actually an agent acting on Joe's behalf, and that Joe now owns her company. I'm not arguing it's the most realistic situation, but this twist is the best example of the problems of "having it all" the show has come up with yet. Victory can't bear to be financially dependent on the man she has feelings for and knows she won't be able to keep the two sides of the relationship separate. If this is Andrew McCarthy's exit from the show, so be it. I'd love to see Victory paired with someone on an equal economic footing.

Not knowing when or if Lipstick Jungle will be back, I pronounce the series so far a promising piece of light entertainment. If only Nico hadn't brought Kirby on that trip.

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Thursday, March 13, 2008

'Big Brother: 'Til Death Do You Part' preys on the fear of the unknown


Tonight, Big Brother: 'Til Death Do You Part asked the question that's been plaguing game show contestants since the days of Monty Hall: should you go with what you know, or take your chances on the mystery box and potentially get zonked? Except in this case, the zonks aren't cute like donkeys, but annoying like Allison and Jen. Really, is there much of a choice at all when faced with an outcome like that?
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Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Drug of choice: Breaking Bad

AMC's Breaking Bad, about a terminally ill chemistry teacher who builds a nest egg for his family by manufacturing crystal meth, is not a great show. But it has the makings of one, and it's already striking for a number of reasons, one of which is its status as latest in a string of promising, flawed series dragged across the finish line by a revelatory central performance. Like Michael C. Hall in the first season of Dexter and Hugh Laurie throughout the entire run of House, Breaking Bad star Bryan Cranston (formerly Malcolm in the Middle's frantic dad) is turning in the strongest work of his long and varied career. The show's gimmicky premise is helped immeasurably by Cranston’s willingness to play it straight. In its strike-shortened first season, which ended Sunday, Breaking Bad seemed as though it was building towards realizing its strengths and ditching its weaknesses. If AMC sees fit to give it a second season, it could become richer still.
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Hulu is going to save the world



NBC and Fox's Hulu is way, way, way better than major media corporations usually are when they take a stab at beating a homegrown phenomenon on the Web. I'll hope to get into some of the reasons why I think it's a big step forward for entertainment on the Web this weekend (when I should finally have some time to write, thank goodness), but for now, just go and play around with it. So far, my favorite feature is that it lets you edit down clips to post just what you want on your blog or Web site (hence the terrifically bizarre Lou Grant credits above, something I would have loved to have had access to during the top 100 project).


Actually, that's a lie. My favorite feature is the surprisingly extensive library, which rolls up many, many Fox and Universal properties (as well as a few from Sony and MGM) and posts not just clips (as I initially understood Hulu was going to be) but full episodes of an impressively diverse number of shows, ranging from cult sitcoms like Newsradio to massive hits like House to Web hits like Family Guy to cultural oddities like the TV series they made of the Fudge books. Assuming they get the complete runs of more series on the service (only one-season wonders and Arrested Development have their complete runs up there now -- one of my few complaints), Hulu and services like it are going to make TV scholarship a lot easier -- something comparable to how DVD made film scholarship a lot easier. Putting a whole season of Hill Street Blues on DVD is still a considerable expense. Throwing it up online doesn't cost nearly as much. You can put stuff up there that has a minimal fan base, and it's not going to matter if the ad revenue isn't spilling in to it because something like The Simpsons is going to more than cover it. That's why Lou Grant, a series that was never really seriously considered for DVD (what with it being a mostly forgotten drama that never really caught on in syndication), is up there. Or, hey, St. Elsewhere.

Hulu's not perfect. I don't mind having to watch ads, but the way the service forces you to watch them when you're just searching for a particular part of an episode is sort of annoying, as are the occasional banner ads for Chili's popping up across the bottom of the classic Sliders episode you're watching. Also, the library is probably the best of its sort online, but it's still pretty sparse when you look at the whole of TV history. Here's hoping the other majors get on board or start their own services. Finally, the library in the movies section is INCREDIBLY sparse and leans too far toward the "oddity" side of the scale. If you're not a TV buff, and you're looking forward to watching movies online, there's not going to be a lot there for you.

But the absolute best thing about Hulu is the promise it holds that advertiser-supported TV can survive online. What's more, if things this sharp and clear (even in full-screen video -- which is not perfect but way better than YouTube full screen) can be this easy to use (no pop-up windows, no real hang-ups on a suitably fast connection), it offers promise to the idea that independent TV can finally rise up on the Web as something beyond the collection of five-minute sketches it is right now. If you could raise a couple hundred thousand dollars to shoot eight episodes of a sitcom and you knew you had the scripts to pull it off, something like Hulu would make a natural showcase for it, without the overhead problems on a major network. Things like Hulu are going to niche-ify TV even more than it already is, but if there's good stuff to be found in those niches, I'm game.

Hulu, so far, is closed off to the public, so you won't get the crazy, homespun charm of YouTube or Google Video (no 9/11 conspiracy theorists or wide-eyed Japanese girls staring at their cameras here!). Hulu is a decidedly slick product, but it's a good kind of slick, like iTunes. It has a kind of swagger to it, knowing that it has the scripted entertainment content you've always wanted from YouTube, and it's going to make it easy for you to find it, so long as you'll put up with a short ad. I've always been skeptical that YouTube was the future of television because it has so many restrictions that work against the creation of the kinds of narrative and artistic works that humans have always tended to prefer. The real future of television probably lies somewhere between YouTube and Hulu, but now that we have the two endpoints, we can find the ground in the middle that our kids will take for granted.

Or, if nothing else, I can just turn this blog entirely over to Simpsons clips.



(On a personal note, sorry I've pretty much disappeared. There are some extreme personal situations going on in my life right now that have made writing a real bear. I'm going to try and start getting some content up again, so keep checking back through the month of March. Thanks for your understanding.)

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Tuesday, March 11, 2008

'One Tree Hill': Blasts from the past


The funniest thing about One Tree Hill's flash forward this season has been the way it messes with our minds. Suddenly, characters who have really only been gone for six months seem to have been off of our TV set for years, so when they return it causes creepily unearned celebration. At least, that's the excuse I'm using to explain why I screamed out loud at least two times in this episode when old friends from last season returned.
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'New Amsterdam': The one gets a new wrinkle


[I guest blogged the third episode of New Amsterdam for zap2it this week, so I thought I'd throw up a link in case anyone here was watching the show. Is anyone here watching? Unfortunately, it seems like a potentially interesting protagonist stuck in yet another tedious cop show. Sigh. - C]

After getting a double-barreled promotional push behind American Idol last week, New Amsterdam settled nicely into its regular time slot tonight with an installment that asked: what will John Amsterdam do once the path to his newly found "one" becomes a bit bumpy?


It's only the third episode, but already the structure of the show is well established, with part of the episode devoted to Amsterdam's personal life and search for the one, part of the episode devoted to the murder of the week, and the final part devoted to flashbacks to a period in Amsterdam's previous life (which helpfully tie into his case of the week and shed some light on the psyche of a person who's lived for over 400 years). So far, the weakest portion of the hour has always been the murder of the week, and unfortunately this one was no different.
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