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Friday, October 21, 2016

The Vampire Diaries "Hello, Brother" Review

We’ve reached the last TVD season premiere ever, and it’s a lackluster episode, as dull as the season finale. Stefan, Bonnie, Caroline, and Alaric searched for answers about what they freed from the vault, and for Damon and Enzo. Of course, Damon’s evil and his switch is off, but Enzo didn’t flip the switch, and his humanity’s the difference between the two. He leaves little clues about what was released from the vault—it’s a siren from Greek mythology—from one paragraph in Homer’s The Odyssey. Bonnie picks it up. By the end, accompanied by song, the siren rises from her bloody water.

The Odyssey’s the origin story for all literature. Homer chronicled Odysseus’ journey home from the Trojan war to his wife, Penelope, through his various trials. Billions of words have been written about the story. William Gass referenced The Odyssey in his essay on evil; Gass underlined the delightful vengeful violence Homer and the Greeks took in depicting the massacre of the suitors. The Odyssey has resonance for TVD in one aspect. It’s the final season of a journey for their characters who have faced similar trials against foes like the sirens and the Cyclops and Scylla and Charybdis but with different names: Klaus, Kai, the council, Rayna, Katherine, and even themselves. Whereas TVD’s writers always depicted the evil parts of people as a switch, Homer showed evil, violence, brutality, revenge, and the worst parts of human nature as that: an intrinsic part of human nature.

Damon is past the point of hope in his 47th turn as an evil, murderous vampire. I thought Plec and Williamson would used the possession as their ‘out’ for whatever horrible violence Damon and Enzo commit, but they’re committed to redeeming Damon through his faithlessness in himself. He can’t be saved, he thinks, but a corner of his brain remains lighted by Elena, and she’ll be his redemption and a reward, as Penelope is for Ulysses, at the end of this story.

Until then, we go through the motions with the brothers. Stefan hated saving Damon last season, but he’s utterly destroyed by Damon blaming him for ruining him over a century ago. He loses hope as Bonnie restores hers. Enzo actively fights the possession for her. So, they’ll continue trying to save who they love most in life (while writing about it for Elena).

Alaric and Caroline engage in busywork. They learn a few things that’ll help the narrative in a few episodes, but it’s not especially compelling. The most unbelievable part of the episode in an episode that reveals sirens are real, with one living in the water eating humans, with the one paragraph Enzo and Bonnie read in The Odyssey informing the central narrative of the season, and, you know, with vampires, was when Alaric’s hot coworker tried to sleep with him in the formerly possessed vault.

I had a small but unrealistic hope that TVD would surprise the audience by returning Damon (and Enzo) to himself by the end of episode and by ending the story with the supposed Big Bad; however, even if they had used that twist, a new big bad would be introduced, and the same beats of investigations, road trips, threads to families, and all that would repeat as it has repeated for the last several years.

TVD struggled last season. This season, its last, has six less episodes, but Julie Plec and her writers had a full season to learn what worked and what didn’t with Nina Dobrev. They have the advantage of a final season and the nostalgia that comes with the final season. LOST used the sideways to pull at the nostalgia of fans, but Damon Lindelof, Carlton Cuse, Eddie Kitsis, Adam Horowitz, and the other writers wrote a good, quality final season. The teaser of “Hello, Brother” resembled the teaser in the “Pilot”. The last act had Elena from the “Pilot”.  Nostalgia helps distract viewers from a bad final season, but it’s not enough. I wrote at the top of the review that this episode’s as dull as the finale. I hope the season’s not as dull as last season, but it may be.

Other Thoughts:

-I’ll carefully watch which cast members have checked out. The CW announced the end of the show after Ian Somerhalder announced season eight would be his last. Kat Graham announced it’d be her last too. This show would continue like Supernatural if Ian and Paul Wesley wanted to continue. Thankfully, they don’t. Ian seemed sedated. Paul projected a kind of apathy. The others seemed “checked in”.

-Welcome to the final season of TVD and of my TVD reviews. It’s my seventh season writing about the show. I could’ve written 2 or 3 novels, probably, if I wrote those novels instead of these reviews.

Saturday, October 15, 2016

TV With The Foot's Spectacular Sesquipedalian (not really) 2016 Fall TV Roundup!

A month has passed since I finished my Everwood re-watch after I started it five years ago. The network television season began shortly thereafter. A slew of shows premiered, including NBC’s This Is US, which received the most uniformly positive reviews. Critics favored network comedies more than dramas. Speechless on ABC received special praise. Michael Schur’s The Good Place, starring Ted Danson and Kristen Bell, was an anticipated show, especially for fans of Parks & Recs and The Office. Most sighed sadly at the return of Kevin James to CBS comedy, the revival of MacGyver, and the Dr. Phil inspired procedural titled Bull. Last week began the return of The CW’s superpowered series, as well as the premiere of their curious new dramas, one of which is an adaptation of 2000’s Frequency, another which is an adaption of the Archie comics, and a third that follows a couple destined to be together by fate as they complete their bucket list before the world ends.

I watched little of the various networks’ new offerings. This Is Us is passable tear-jerky melodrama, but it’s heavy-handed and relies on contrivances to build drama and potential conflict. I enjoyed Speechless, but it’s no different from ABC’s other comedies. In fact, I’ll a reveal a secret to anyone reading right now. ABC has made the same comedy show for the last eight seasons. Modern Family, The Middle, The Goldbergs, Blackish, Fresh Off the Boat…they are the same. If you watch their comedy block, you’ll think you watched the same episode four times. No wonder Steve Levitan and the other show runners wrap for the day at 5PM.

Instead of network sitcoms and dramas, I watched more cable and premium channel shows, on FX and HBO, mostly. Donald Glover’s Atlanta follows the Louie formula, and it’s been good. It’s grounded, but surreal, too, as in the Justin Bieber episode, or the YouTube star one, or the two short scenes with the kid in whiteface serving in school suspension. I meant to watch Better Things from Pamela Adlon, but I haven’t yet. I watched two episodes of Westworld. The star of the show so far is the Utah wilderness. Westworld’s stuck in sci-fi tropes. Nolan and Joy want to explore consciousness, how it forms, and what it means, but they’re caught up in the typical tropes of sci-fi, and bound by Crichton’s book. Thus, they can only tease at those ideas of consciousness, ideas that work better in prose than in the televisual medium. It’s a huge narrative world filled with diverse characters but at its root is a story of good and evil--unless the writers have planned to subvert the traditional symbols of good and evil in westerns (the white hat and the black hat; the man in black and Ford, who wears white), and the narrative world the audience knows. Westworld’s already saturated in sci-fi and western tropes, Shakespeare’s The Tempest, John Donne, and Gertrude Stein, with Stein being the trickiest allusion, though an apt one for the show because of her dedication to the structure and style of the sentence might inform the structure, style, and substance of the robot soul.

I watched episode one of Issa Rae’s Insecure during the week and really liked it. Sure, it has the trappings of the typical NY-based sitcom, but Issa Rae’s voice, as Dan Fienberg pointed out in his review, sets Insecure apart from the other shows based in New York City around twentysomethings trying to find themselves in life and in love, but, of course, I’ve been slowly charmed by more and more hipsterish NY comedies, most recently by some of Girls’ last season, and Master of None, and Broad City.

Another show based in New York City and Brooklyn that completely surprised me and sort of dazzled me is HBO’s High Maintenance, created by Katja Blichfeld and Ben Sinclair. The show follows a nameless weed dealer across the city as he delivers weed to his clients. The previews and the premise didn’t interest me one bit but, sometimes, one cannot judge a show based on previews and premises, and High Maintenance was the opposite of my expectations. I caught some of the second episode and remained transfixed for the next eighteen minutes. The third episode transfixed me more. I haven’t even told anyone I know about the show. It airs at 11 on a Friday night. TV blogs don’t devote exhaustive and overwhelming coverage to it like they do for Girls. I’d bet a pack of frozen spinach on none of my friends or wellwishers knowing that High Maintenance exists. I should perhaps write more about impresses me and arrests me about the show, but I can’t do that yet. For anyone reading, and there’s not a lot of you, give the third episode a chance. It’s titled “Grandpa”.  

As for what’s ahead in The Foot, my reviews of The Vampire Diaries will resume next weekend. It’s the final season, and I’ll be closer to the TV blog equivalent of Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s Biographia Literaria. Gratias misericors DominusNBC pushed Grimm’s premiere date to January 6, 2017 after announcing the show will end after six seasons. I will write reviews for what promises to be a baffling, incoherent, and nonsensical farewell season because, as evidenced by Everwood, I like to finish what I start.


Friday, September 16, 2016

Everwood "Foreverwood" Review

The CW famously cancelled the low-rated Everwood for the ancient 7th Heaven. Then President Dawn Ostroff thought 7th Heaven would provide a boost to the new network, but it didn’t. 7th Heaven lasted another season before ending again. Rina Mimoun, Greg Berlanti, and the rest of the Everwood staff wrote an episode that worked as a season and series finale. The last minutes of the episodes were the only scenes swapped out for happier, more conclusive scenes. Hannah’s college choice would’ve been a cliffhanger, but in the finale she chose Colorado and Bright Abbott, and Madison returned to upheave Ephram’s stable life, but, because of the cancellation, Amy and Ephram ended the series together.

“Foreverwood” basically concerns itself with loose ends and relationship resolution., i.e. “Who will end up with who?” Low stakes for a show that began with a dead wife, a possibly mad grieving husband, a town without its center, and a broken family. My favorite piece of closure belongs to Harold and Edna. The two sparred from episode one on about this and that, rooted in Harold’s unresolved feelings about his father’s absence from his life and her guilt about her absence from his life because of the war. Her choosing to spend the rest of her life with her son and daughter-in-law, with a little baby to boot, given to them by the plot devices introduced a few episodes earlier, was the sweetest way to end their story.

Andy didn’t propose until the finale’s penultimate scene despite Jake “freeing” Nina at the end of part one. Before his proposal, Andy flew to New York and traveled to Julia’s grave to bid a final goodbye to her, to apologize for becoming the man she always deserved after her death, in a speech that captured the essential themes of Everwood: pain, suffering, tragedy, the important things in life such as going to sleep with the knowledge you were the best friend and parent you could be that day. Nina said yes, of course, because it was the finale of a family drama, and because they belonged together. She was a partner to him long before they realized it was romantic.

Delia got the horse promised to her by Andy in the “Pilot”, his way of buying her vote for the move to Everwood, as seen in the "Pilot". Andy gave his children two speeches. His speech to Ephram was about the importance of being happy on his own, and reminding him that one cannot rely on another to fill an empty spot, to provide happiness, to fill a hole. My mother always told me: "A person should add to your life." His speech to Delia is better: it touches on their bond, of the inevitable rough spots ahead as she grows and changes, of his constant and consistent role in her life as her father who will always listen to her and always remember. Delia helped carry him through those early Everwood days when Ephram hated him, when the town thought he was mad. Delia reached out and grabbed his hand when he danced with Julia’s shade, his memory of her, at the Fall Thaw. Her unconditional love for him lifted his spirits in a time he felt lost and alone. Ephram refused to take that love of hers from him during the nonsense at the end of season three. Lovely stuff.

Other odds and ends were taken care of during the episode. Jake summarized his arc in his goodbye speech to Nina. Harold and Andy shared a last scene together full of recalls and callbacks. The Abbott family spent more time together than they had all season. You know, typical finale fare.

Of course, Ephram and Amy ended the episode. They spent the season apart, aside from their hookup in “Getting to Know You”, because of the old axiom that it’s better for the audience to want two characters together than it is for the those two characters to be together. It’s not dissimilar from Dawson’s Creek’s fifth season for Pacey and Joey. The writers got around their intense relationship and bond by not bothering with it. They didn’t want them together. No good reason existed to keep Ephram and Amy apart except for the reasons that keep every couple apart in a multi-season show: the drama of it. The montage of their deep bond throughout the series in the penultimate act makes the heart sing, especially those season one scenes. Everwood fans famously rented a Ferris wheel in hopes of saving the show from its cancellation because Amy rented a Ferris wheel and saved her soulmate from sailing away with another soul.

No, Everwood wasn’t the same show it was when it premiered by the end. I loved it less, but its last season still had those special Everwood gems unique to the spirit of the show. The first two seasons, but season one especially, bring me back to a nostalgic place and a nostalgic time in my life when I was a teenager, in high school, dreaming of my Amys and Josephine Potters. I don’t associate the final two seasons with a time and a place because I had moved past it as a marker in my life and as something I related things and happenings in my life to. I never planned to write about season two, three, or four when I re-watched and wrote reviews for my first summer re-watch in 2011, but I wanted to finish what I started. I wrote about season one because in March of that year, 2011, like the town of Everwood, like Andy and his children, I lost the center (or one half of the center, for I still have my Mom) of my life, my father, and it was one way for me to make sense of life without him. I related with this tender story about loss and hope differently that year. It understood me and my loss.

Everwood, in a way, is like an old friend I can turn to when I feel low.

Final Thoughts:

-Yes, indeedy, I began my Everwood posts five years ago. I wrote a post about the series finale in December 2011 because I thought I wouldn’t write any more reviews. It’s a quite lazy and thrown together post. I wrote about season two in 2012. I covered season three in an abbreviated format, due to my dislike of the season, at the end of 2015 and into 2016. I thank anyone that read any of my Everwood reviews over the years. Once upon a time, a healthy few stopped by The Foot to read some of those posts. I like knowing the show still has meaning for people.

-I would’ve preferred a different ending for the various relationships having re-watched it again and having aged. TV finales primarily cater to the fans’ wishes, but they often place the characters in the same small, comfy, insulated space they’ve been. Amy used to dream of Princeton. Ephram used to dream of Julliard. Their reasons for remaining in Everwood were different and understandable. Amy stayed for her mom. Ephram resolved his musical ambition and reconciled it with his desire to be a family man and a good husband wonderfully in “The Land of Confusion.” Bright explained exactly why Hannah experiencing new things in Notre Dame would be great and positive. I liked Stephanie as Ephram’s next girlfriend. She lacked the dramatic qualities and baggage of both Amy and Madison. In the end, our characters chose the familiar and safest option. That’s great and happy for those of us who loved and may’ve vicariously lived through Amy/Ephram during a brief spell between age 16 and 17, as well as for the Bright/Hannah folks, but it’s also a bit of a bummer.

-Josh Reims & Anna Fricke wrote the first part. Bethany Rooney directed it, her only episode of Everwood. I wonder how that came about. Rina Mimoun & David Hudgins wrote the second part. Perry Lang directed it.

Monday, September 12, 2016

Everwood "Goodbye, Love" Review

One death brought Andy Brown to a new town and changed it forever. Irv Harper, who admired Andy so much that he wrote a book about him, will do the same in his death. He gradually changed the hearts and minds of Everwood through his marriage to Edna. “Goodbye, Love” shows how Irv touched the lives of Harold and Rose, Ephram, Amy, and Bright, as well as how he indirectly impacted their lives going forward. This episode’s strange, though, because of the flashbacks and for how central Irv apparently was despite his spare interaction with the rest of the show’s characters.

How did Irv impact everyone’s life? Amy remembers her junior year, post-Colin, when she lived with Edna and Irv during her sad and depressed rebellious streak, after she reaches for a mug in her grandmother’s kitchen. Amy broke the mug. Irv fixed it. Ephram stopped by to rekindle their friendship or make more of an effort after they had an unseen fight, though one assumes it copied their fight about Amy using him as a backup plan earlier in season two. Anyway, Ephram told her that her soulmate would wait for her until she believed he existed. Her belief in a soulmate died with Colin. The memory and the repaired mug act as an epiphany, with the mug serving as a symbol for her, and who fixes the mug for her when she breaks it again while remembering the memory? Ephram, the guy who waited for her for two years and who returned from Europe to wait some more, who always was there for her during her worst moments, who always protected her, and loved her.

How else? Bright credited Irv for his relationship with Hannah because he urged him to take responsibility for his life. During season three, the stretch of time between “A Mountain Town” and “Fait Accompli”, they spent mornings together, drinking coffee, discussing life. Irv and Edna had separated. Bright reeled from the sexual harassment incident at work. I can’t remember a single scene with only those two anywhere else in the series.  Bright told Hannah his Irv story. At the end, they held hands, giving the viewer hope for a Bright/Hannah happy ending in the finale.

The rest of the flashbacks include Irv as an anecdote, a periphery figure. Ephram saw him for the last time the day Andy bought Nina an engagement ring, which occurred after their moment in “All the Lonely People”. (Andy actually gave him a clean bill of health, a cruel kind of irony atypical of Everwood’s writer). Harold’s story simply visualized a story Berlanti told in Everwood’s earliest days (and more poignantly in “The Kissing Bridge”).

“Goodbye, Love” is the only episode in the series to provide a “day in the life” story, of what the characters do between the drama. Apparently, Andy and Ephram ate lunch together. Irv had coffee in the morning and afternoon at Sam’s. Nina went to work! It’s a decent episode. Greg Berlanti returned to co-write it with Rina Mimoun, his first written by credit since “The Day is Done”. Irv was the voice of Everwood for two seasons. Saying goodbye to the character, and Everwood’s voice, before the finale felt right.

Greg Berlanti & Rina Mimoun wrote the episode. Joe Pennella directed it.

Friday, September 9, 2016

Everwood "Reckoning" Review

The Internet opened opportunities for fans and staff of a TV show to interact. LOST’s run used to be the apex of fan-creator interaction and fan obsession until Game of Thrones existed. Obsessive fans always want the latest spoiler. They scan websites to find stills from a shoot or episode titles or episode synopses. Fans studied the season six GoT trailer for every spoilerish detail. LOST made fan interaction an integral part of its online marketing. Games, book clubs, scavenger hunts all helped fans feel more involved in the experience of LOST. LOST famously shot three alternate endings to season three’s finale to prevent the Internet learning about the greatest twist in TV history in advance.

Writers like to tease the die-hard obsessives, too. Twitter gave writers’ rooms an easy way to tease, torment, and trick the viewer. Girl Meets World, one of TV’s lowest stake shows, a show so inconsequential, has a writer’s Twitter feed that taunts its most fervid base of fans. Here’s an example: 
“Tonight: Maya shoots everybody, Riley dies and the world ends twice.” 
Some context: it’s about best friends that like the same boy. Read that nonsense again. It’s like a tease for a gritty AMC show, but not even the bombastic AMC shows use such hyperbole. NBC’s Grimm has a writers feed where they’ll pre-apologize (as a tease) to fans for what’ll happen to their favorite characters. Grimm and Girl Meets World share some small things in common besides tantalizing tweets. Both shows feature confounding plotting, plot holes the size of Siberia’s giant holes, odd pacing, inconsistencies, willy-nilly characterizations, and writers who seem oblivious to these shortcomings.

LOST’s Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse subverted the tease, for example, by telling everyone that Charlie would die in “Flashes Before Your Eyes.” The audience, then, thought something or someone would save Charlie. No such thing did happen, which made his death hurt harder.

Everwood’s writers couldn’t use Twitter to tease a big storyline or character choice or an impending death. Obsessive fans scoured episode titles for clues. “Goodbye, Love” follows “Reckoning.” The pre-Twitter days played with the die-hards in ways a more casual viewer wouldn’t know about it. The writers knew some fans would wonder which character would die in “Goodbye, Love.” Who would it be?

“Reckoning” has misleads, forebodings, and an elderly long-lost parent. Would Rose’s cancer return? She already made her decision not to fight its return, so maybe. She asked Edna to come home for her retirement adventures to take care of Harold “for awhile.” Her PET scan was clean, though. She’s cancer free.

Would Bright survive his fall through the bar window? Bright’s brush with death is the most abbreviated version of Everwood’s annual “Life or Death health situation” for a character. Halfway through the episode he hurts his head, and no one knows whether he'll survive. The montage sequence recalls Colin’s first and second surgeries, as well as Rose’s. Ephram buys Amy something. Everyone’s huddled, praying, and hoping. He’s fine, though. Hannah’s plea for him not to die wakes him up.

Did Andy’s absent father return to make amends with his son because he was dying? No. Andy’s father entered the narrative to complete the arc of Andy’s life from the moment he heard his wife died and he took his kids to a small, forgotten town in the Colorado Mountains to his present life as a family man and family doctor. His father did the opposite of what Andy did after he lost Julia.

TV always loved swerving its audience. In Buffy, Joyce seemed on the mend and fine until Buffy walked home and found her prone dead body on the couch. The Summer girls thought they avoided the worst thing in the world until they didn't. It seems the audience avoided death in “Reckoning” by the end, and that “Goodbye, Love” would bid farewell to Nina, Jake, and Sam, who will leave for a new life in Los Angeles after Nina told him she chose him. The last scene of the episode found Irv preparing breakfast for Edna before his old, poor heart gave out on him.  Irv’s heart hadn’t been a plot point for a long time. Rose and Harold will have to look after Edna “for awhile.”

Death at the end of an episode, whether it’s Irv, Joyce Summers, or Mitch Leery, breaks the formula. In TV, that last scene is strange. The viewer may wonder why he or she needs to watch Mitch Leery use an ice cream cone as a microphone while driving or why he or she needs to watch Irv make breakfast, then the viewer glances at the clock, and he or she understands, “Oh, something bad is coming.” In life, one’s routine, one’s own private formula and structure, is thrown off by bad news.

“Reckoning” is an interesting episode, especially the second half of the episode with Bright’s fall and the impressive amount of melodrama the writers condensed into twenty minutes. We needed Andy stepping in to perform miraculous surgery on him, but alas.  Nina made her choice to leave Everwood. Ephram met a woman and brought her to the party right in time for Amy to realize she still loves Ephram. Typical end of season stuff in an otherwise untypical episode.

David Hudgins wrote this episode. David Petrarca directed it.

About The Foot

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Originally, I titled the blog Jacob's Foot after the giant foot that Jacob inhabited in LOST. That ended. It became TV With The Foot. I write regular posts about Grimm & The Vampire Diaries.