Monday, January 31, 2011

The Cape "Dice" Review

Photo Credit: Trae Patton/NBC

An outline for The Cape must resemble Aja's third act for High Tension. It must look like nonsense and read like nonsense because episodes of The Cape are nonsense. Each act begins with a title card. For instance, the first act began with the title card 'OUR FATE IS FIXED.' Thus, Vince and Max had a conversation about fate vs. free will. The following title card has nothing to do with fate. The problem with the title cards is, none of it connects into a cohesive whole. Maybe it's an homage to the Silver Age comics (I possess zero knowledge of comics. Maybe it's simply nonsense. Besides the title cards, Tom Wheeler and his writers seem like they want to do too much in one episode. It seems like they have no patience. The "Pilot" had such odd pacing and in the third episode written by Tom Wheeler, the same problems surface.

"Dice" introduces the most deadly Ark invention yet which makes Peter Fleming an even larger threat. Meanwhile, a woman returns to Palm City seeking revenge for the death of her father. Vince's wife and son struggle to return to their normal routines. His wife, in particular, suffers because she feels like she isn't adequate enough for Trip. She can't be both parents and she struggles with that. All the while, Vince struggles to accept his fate and wonders what would happen if he simply returned to bed rather than follow Orwell's instruction to go to the train yard.

Each story in "Dice" could've been better if Wheeler devoted more time to a certain one and, perhaps, saved another story for another episode. Vince's family had three scenes. Vince's fight between fate and free will barely received ten minutes total. I suppose the most important story of the episode belonged to the nonsense Fleming/Traci/Vince plot. Traci returned to Palm City to assassinate Peter Fleming for murdering her father. Earlier, Vince had an epiphany to use the skills he learned as a cop to pin a murder to Chess/Peter Fleming, which would clear him and return him to his family.

While Traci and Vince share the same purpose (to take down Peter Fleming), the two have different opinions regarding how to take down Fleming. Traci simply wants to destroy Fleming while Vince will live within the law to stop him. Vince represents stability and control. He's attempted to maintain stability and control despite his chaotic position in the world as a fugitive and the vigilante Cape. Traci represents chaos because she actually says she represents chaos. Fittingly, a dice is the episode's most obvious symbolism. Vince wonders if the dice of life can be controlled to land on certain numbers. Ms. Chaos herself only cares about exploding di (which happens in the episode). Max, meanwhile, argues that no accidents exist. So, when Vince is forced to protect Fleming's life, such a situation was meant to be even though its meaning has yet to surface. While Vince doesn't understand his fate, the viewer (meaning me) does. You see, he'll eventually clear his name and return to his family. He'll stop the evil Peter Fleming. After all of this, he'll continue as The Cape because it his true calling in life.

Vince and Traci barely communicate their intentions so they never come close to working together. Orwell forces Vince to protect Fleming because he's her father even though she never states it to Vince. Vince embarks on a complex mission to protect Fleming which involves tight rope walking and some experimental form of tight rope walking. And it ends with Fleming saved from Traci but with mass production set for a futuristic looking glass that will, eventually, be able to tell Fleming who wears The Cape. "Dice" had two Alice In Wonderland parallels by the way.

Overall, "Dice" was sort of a mess but the predictable seeds were planted for the uplifting season finale. Mena Suvari looks better now than she did during her boom period in the early aughts but her character lacked personality.

This will most likely be my last Cape review for awhile since How I Met Your Mother returns next week and The Chicago Code premieres during the same time-slot as The Cape. But I'll stick with the show and offer my thoughts later in the year.

THE YOUTUBE CLIP OF THE WEEK

What is the Best Buffy Teaser from Season One?


Teasers are, perhaps, close to extinction in the world of network television. In recent years, in the interest of making more money, networks have changed the structure of their shows in the interest of shorter acts and more commercials. The six act structure used to be as mythical as Big Foot or the Loch Ness Monsters. Writers knew the six act structure existed for television but no one thought they'd ever see the six act structure or have to write it. In the late 90s, television episodes clocked in at 45 minutes. In 2011, hour-long dramas have decreased by 3-4 minutes. Also, in the late 90s, the majority of shows used the four act structure with a teaser whereas shows in 2011 use either the five act structure or the six act structure. The shift in structure might not seem drastic to most people but it is. Trust me.

Honestly, I miss teasers (or cold opens). Teasers remain a part of certain shows but even those shows barely separate the teaser from the first act. The purpose of the teaser is to convince the viewer to not switch the channel. The hook of the show is in the teaser as well as the episode's inciting incident. The show runner as well as the writers and the network wanted the viewer to be there once the episode returned from commercial. The teaser bleeds into the first act now. Instead of a quick 3-4 minutes that puts the episode's best foot forward, more pressure mounts on the shoulders of the writers because the first ten minutes have to be good enough to convince the viewer to stick around.

Teasers were fun. In the interest of celebrating teasers, I had an idea that will span an unknown period of time in search for the best teaser of a television series. I'm going to watch every teaser from a specific series and, eventually, name the best teaser from said television series. There will be only two rounds. For each season, a best teaser will named and then those teasers will compete for the overall best teaser award. It's a fairly simple process.

Buffy, The Vampire Slayer will be the first series that I write about. Theoretically, the search for The Best Buffy Teaser should take seven days because the series spanned seven seasons; however, I might split the 22 episode seasons into two parts in the interest of time. Also, ideally, I'd prefer readers to join in on the discussion for the Best Buffy teaser because that's funner but I'm not holding my breath.

LET IT BEGIN:

WHAT IS THE BEST BUFFY TEASER FROM SEASON 1?

"Welcome To The Hellmouth"--Written By Joss Whedon

The teaser for the pilot seems like a slam dunk no-doubt-about-it win for season one because the teaser establishes the world of the show so well. Joss Whedon wanted to reverse the old trope about the pretty girl who finds herself danger in a dark alley and he successfully reverses the trope in the first three minutes.

Two teenagers wander around Sunnydale High after hours. It follows the traditional beats of a horror scene. The girl hesitates about being inside the school while the cocky dude has no fear and SEEMS like potential danger for the girl. The girl hears an ominous noise. The boy assures her that no one's inside the school but the two of them. The girl turns around in vamp-face and proceeds to murder the boy.

The teaser doesn't introduce the heroine but it does show danger can come from a petite, pretty girl (and anywhere even). And, most importantly, as Jane Espenson pointed out on her blog, women will have power in this world.

"The Witch"--Written By Dana Reston

The second episode of Buffy, "The Harvest," is a continuation of the pilot episode so I moved on to "The Witch."

The early episodes, and the first season really, focus on Buffy's desire for normalcy. Also, Joss Whedon wanted to take ordinary high school experiences and transform them into actual horror. "The Witch" tells the story of a mother who is envious of her daughter, and she actually switches bodies with her daughter in her quest to experience her youth again.

The teaser drops some hints when Amy, the daughter, tells Willow and Buffy about how much time she spends practicing with her mother. The teaser also offers a good ol' inciting incident. Whereas the pilot offered a statement about the show's identity, "The Witch" isn't the pilot and it's concern is with establishing the story.

It opens with Buffy dressed in her outfit as Giles tries to forbid her from trying out because of her sacred birthright but Buffy craves normalcy and safety. But nothing is ever normal and safe in Sunnydale. At practice, a girl's hands light on fire and Buffy saves her. The teaser establishes that Buffy won't ever have a normal, safe life. Also, we know that a witch exists in Sunnydale who certainly has something to do with the fire. But how and why? And those questions are answered in the rest of the episode.

"Teacher's Pet"--Written By David Greenwalt

The fourth episode of Buffy won't win any awards with its preying mantis plot but the teaser's quite enjoyable. Since Buffy arrived in Sunnydale, Xander's had a crush on the girl but the romantic feelings aren't mutual.

The teaser begins with Xander's dream of rescuing Buffy from a vampire. He not only rescues her with the promise of a kiss but he'll also impress her with a great guitar solo. Unfortunately, he wakes up after Buffy tells him he's drooling--in biology class. The dream scene reminds the viewers of Xander's infatuation with Buffy as well as how far he is romantically from her once he awakens, which opens the door for the Xander-Miss French story. Meanwhile, the biology teacher offers Buffy a rare shoulder of support after class. She's sort of considered a wild card because she accidentally burned her LA school down fighting vampires but her teacher believes in her and tells her to not listen to any negative opinions from any one in the school. Of course, after she leaves, a preying mantis kills the biology teacher. But the exchange gives Buffy a personal stake in the preying mantis story and, most importantly, the audience will care because Buffy cares.

"Never Kill A Boy On The First Date"--Written By Rob Des Hotel & Dean Batali

An old TV writing lesson is to reiterate your show's premiere for the first six episodes. Buffy's the slayer, but she wants to be normal. "Never Kill A Boy On The First Date" repeats that. Buffy trains with Giles in the graveyard, but he's too critical. Buffy needs a break, but she can't have one due to the Master's plan to raise The Anointed One. Giles is like an overbearing parent who isn't satisfied with his daughter's good grades; so, what does the daughter want to do? Rebel. Escape her duties for one night. But Buffy will never find the normal she wants.

"The Pack"--Written By Matt Kiene and Joe Reinkmeyer

Buffy, Willow and Xander are at the zoo, on a field trip. A pack of four teenagers bully Buffy, and a tertiary character. Soon, the pack, and the tertiary character, enter the hyena cave. Xander tries to play hero but, once inside, he and the rest of the teenagers get possessed by hyenas (it's a weird story). Outside, a zookeeper warns Buffy and Willow about how hyenas learn human speech and prey on the weakest of them at night. I told you it was weird. He emphasizes that a pack preys by separating a person from his (Xander) group; but, instead, Xander joins the pack of jerk teenagers.

The episode's essentially about how rotten a group of teenagers can be. Xander gets drawn into the pack because of the hyenas but it's like any teenager who drops his old friends for the cooler, and meaner, friends.

It's a rare instance of Joss Whedon beating the viewer on the head with what the metaphor is.

"Angel"--Written By David Greenwalt

The teaser for "Angel" is great. It opens with a short scene between The Master and Darla. Darla insists on being the one to kill the slayer because she has a personal interest in the matter. The Master sends Three vampires to kill the slayer because he doesn't want Darla to get hurt in pursuit of revenge. Meanwhile, Buffy is in The Bronze and lost in thought because she's thinking about Angel but he's a mystery to her. Despite the mystery, she likes him a lot. She leaves The Bronze, thinking she's a buzz-kill and is soon jumped by The Three.

It's an intriguing teaser especially because of Darla. What is her personal interest in the matter, and who EXACTLY is Angel besides a stranger who only pops in when Buffy's facing danger? A fantastic episode unfolds after the teaser by the way.

"I Robot, You Jane"--Written By Ashley Gable & Thomas A. Swyden

"I Robot, You Jane" is a bad episode, and the teaser's really bad, but I'd still watch it over a select few episodes from season six and season seven.

Two minutes are spent introducing a demon named Moloch whose soul is confined in a book. In Sunnydale, Willow scans the book. That sends Moloch's soul into a computer. Willow loves Xander, but Xander loves Buffy. Her loneliness makes her vulnerable for Moloch's later charms. In between, Giles and Ms. Calendar have a spirited argument about the emergence of technology (which is the only good part of the teaser) that sets up the amusing technophobia theme. How things have changed since 1997.

The teaser serves as an effective reminder of Willow's longing for Xander, Moloch's charms (I guess?), and the amusing theme of technology's dangers.

"The Puppet Show"--Written By Dean Batali & Rob Des Hotel

The teaser introduces Principal Snyder and sets up Snyder's distrust of Buffy, her friends, and Giles--that distrust would continue until Snyder's last episode in season three.

Snyder forces Giles to oversee the Sunnydale talent show because he thinks Giles should have more contact with the students, and after over-hearing Buffy, Willow and Xander mocking the talent show, he forces the three to participate. The trio sits down to watch a teenage boy audition with his puppet. The boy is a terrible ventriloquist until the puppet begins carrying the act. You see, the puppet comes to life. The boy goes with it because of the receptive cheers and even Buffy's charmed by the act.

Of course the teaser becomes more ominous when a poor girl gets attacked by a mysterious presence in the shadows who declares, "I will be flesh!" It might be the worst line in the entire series, as well as the worst delivery in the entire series. Unfortunately, "I will be flesh!" eliminates "The Puppet Show" from Best Teaser of not only the series but of season one.

"Nightmares"--Teleplay by David Greenwalt

Fittingly, the episode begins with a nightmare--Buffy's nightmare. She dreams that The Master caught her and will murder her. She wakes up to find her mother gently waking her for school, with news that Buffy will be able to spend time with her father. Her father becomes an important figure later in another nightmare of Buffy's. At school, Buffy talks to Willow about her parents' divorce. We learn how Buffy feels responsible for the separation and divorce. In class, a student opens a book and spiders pour out as a little boy stands by the doorway/

Once again, a teaser establishes the emotional arc for Buffy in the episode. "Nightmares" is creepier than the other teasers because of its nightmarish quality. And the teaser promises a weighty emotional episode for the Buffster, which is good.

"Out of Mind, Out of Sight"--Teleplay By Ashley Gable & Thomas A. Swyden

Whedon used this episode as an example for the kind of storytelling he wanted to do on the show. In this episode, an ignored girl actually becomes invisible. Naturally, the teaser showcases Cordelia's popular, visible life because the antagonist of the episode is Cordelia's opposite. Cordy's boyfriend is attacked in the locker room by Marcie, the invisible girl, after he tells his friends that he wants to have sex with Cordelia.

The teaser's well-done. Cordelia and Marcie are the central focus of the episode, and the teaser establishes how sweet life is for Queen C, how invisible Marcie is, and the danger of that.

"Prophecy Girl"--Written By Joss Whedon

During the Seven Business Days of Whedon, "Prophecy Girl" was the only season one episode to make any of the lists because season one, despite exceptions, isn't Buffy's greatest. But "Prophecy Girl" is an example of why Buffy continues to be written about.

The teaser is outstanding. It sets up The Master's ascension, the chief threat to Buffy's life and to Sunnydale, and it re-states its mission statement. While Cordelia and a boy kiss in her car, which is what normal teenagers do, Buffy fights a vampire close by without anyone noticing. It's that visual reminder of what Buffy wants but can't have. Instead, after staking a vampire, she remarks, "three in one night. Giles would be so proud." She's just a sixteen year old girl, but she's superpowerful and amazing, and she's taking back the night from the evil vampires and demons, yet she only wants to fit and blend in with her peers. Isn't it so common for teenagers to miss what makes them special and amazing?

Also, Xander practices what he'll say to Buffy to Willow because the season-long infatuation he's had with Buffy will be resolved along with a whole host of other arcs built throughout season one.

AND THE BEST BUFFY SEASON ONE TEASER GOES TO..."Prophecy Girl" for all of the reasons above. It's an all-timer.

Tomorrow, I will tackle season two. Please feel free to comment with your opinion on the best teaser of season one.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Thoughts on Parks & Recs, Community and Soccer

Last's week Random Thoughts was such a failure, readership-wise, that I can't help but return to Random Thoughts for the second consecutive week. Why, you ask? Well, I doubt anyone is actually wondering why considering no one will read this week's Random Thoughts. I simply enjoyed writing last week's Random Thoughts. I thought I offered a thoughtful argument about why critics need to quit criticizing Community for the same things every week. Alas, it went unread but it won't stop me from writing other arguments for or against shows. Anyway, it is time for this week's Random Thoughts:

-As yet another insane weather system made its way through Philadelphia, I mindlessly searched through the NBC sitcoms to see if any shows were worth watching after Community. I happened upon the description for Parks & Recs second episode, "The Flu." Intrigued by the premise, I watched last week's third season premiere yesterday. While I feared the show would follow The Office too closely, I felt pleasant surprise when I discovered the series carved out its own identity. I enjoyed the episode. Rashida Jones surprised me the most. I couldn't stand her character on The Office and I didn't enjoy any of her other roles in movies but she's wonderful as Ann. I enjoyed "The Flu" as much as last week's episode. Parks & Recreation doesn't seem as annoyingly as The Office was. The humor comes from the characters more than external pop-culture references. Unfortunately, the show uses the same documentary style and the characters speak directly to the camera but it's a minor quibble if the show continues to amuse and entertain. Rob Lowe's character is a candidate to be inducted into the Great Character list.

-Community continued its excellent streak of great episodes with "Celebrity Pharmacology 212." The greatest run of jokes occurred during the anti-drug play when Pierce took the show over and made drugs into a lovable character that 50 at-risk children armed with baseballs embraced and cheered for. Dean Pelton earned MVC (Most Valuable Character) for the episode as he showed in the teaser (or cold open) dressed as a bumble bee for a meeting in a hotel by the airport. Later, he had the great line about the 50 at risk pre-teens chanting for drugs armed with baseballs. And then he had the line of the night when he remarked, "well that answers my question...Jeff Winger is even sexy in a coffin." Friends and well-wishers, it is never too late to begin watching Community on a weekly basis; however, considering my pleas for anyone to watch Terriers went ignored, I won't hold my breath.

-February sweeps begins on Wednesday. Your favorite shows will return with relevant, filler-free episodes as well as notable guest stars. TV Squad has a list of things to look forward to during sweeps if you're interested in what's ahead. Katy Perry guest stars on How I Met Your Mother during the period but there's nothing much about the shows I write about. I hope that something actually happens on No Ordinary Family and that Steph's parents don't return. I also hope that The Vampire Diaries limit their use of modern alternative rock during each episode but that isn't sweeps related.

-Amazingly, chances are relatively high that I spend some time writing about The Cape for the second week in a row. Why? I don't know. Mena Suvari's guest starring and it'll allow me the opportunity to write a paragraph about the first two American Pies, Loser, American Beauty and her role on Six Feet Under. It might even be two paragraphs because of how much I might write about the first two American Pie movies.

-The 2011 AFC Asian Cup Final will be played tomorrow between Australia and Japan. I was wrong about many of my predictions but I nearly nailed the final as I predicted Australia and South Korea. Australia whooped Uzbekistan earlier in the week and the Socceroos seem poised to take home the Asian Cup trophy. They did not make me look like a fool as they did during the World Cup. I'd watch but that will cost $14.99. Instead, I'll watch the FA Cup games tomorrow morning or a German Bundesliga game or BOTH.

My quick picks for FA Cup Round 4: Chelsea over Everton; Swensea City over Leyton Orient; Aston Villa over Blackburn; Brighton over Watford; Bolton over Wigan; Burnley over Burton Albion; Coventry City over Birmingham; Stevenage over Reading; Crawley United over Torquay; Hereford over Sheffield; Manchester United over Southhampton; Arsenal over Huddersfield; Stoke over Wolves; Notts County over Manchester City; Nottingham Forest over West Ham; Tottenham Hotspur over Fulham

THE YOUTUBE CLIP OF THE WEEK

Thursday, January 27, 2011

The Vampire Diaries "The Descent" Review

Photo Credit: The CW/cwtv.com

Before I write about the newest episode of The Vampire Diaries, I'd like to inform the masses that the first five episodes of Terriers one and only season are available to watch on Hulu. I guarantee that you won't regret the time you invest in Terriers. Moving onto the vampire show now...

Ever since the show introduced Rose, I wondered what the purpose of the character would be. I assume L.J. Smith included the character in the book series as well and the character served the same purpose. Would she be a tertiary character, I wondered, or would she be a pivotal figure in the Klaus arc or merely the Jen Lindley to Damon's Pacey Witter (For non-Dawson's Creek folks, Pacey and Jen briefly hooked up during a time when Pacey fought his feelings for Joey who Dawson claimed as soul mate. Now Dawson and Joey didn't date at all during this period but Dawson had the sensibilities of a nobleman from Europe who believe women were "his"). Essentially, Rose was only a plot device for the personal arc of Damon and for the larger werewolf arc that is finally picking up speed.

Though merely a plot device, the death of Rose offered a moving scene about humanity, death and letting go even if the death caused yet another regression from, perhaps, the most overrated character on television. After being bitten by Jules, Damon tried to find a cure for Rose but that search failed quickly. Without a cure insight, and death an inevitability, Rose tried to cope with what laid before her. Most of her unlife consisted of running from a mysterious and frightening vampire. She lived for 506 years and spent most of it in a constant state of fear. As she waited to die, she wondered why she was so afraid for such a long time. She began to regret those wasted years on the run as well as those years with Trevor who she didn't get involved with for reasons she couldn't remember while running. In her final moments, she existed in a dream in which she hoped to see her family, friends and her best friend Trevor. She enjoyed the brief moment of fresh air, sunshine and she missed being human so much then she died.

Near the end of the episode, Damon lays on the street and awaits an innocent person to murder. He does so because he explains that he's experiencing a crisis of existential proportions causes an interesting interpretation of Rose's dream before death. Usually, The CW won't have shows that deal with heavy philosophical thoughts like existentialism. Damon reduces his existential crisis to mere self-pity when he explains that he wants Elena and wants to be human and he can't have either. But the dream and the initial existential crisis makes one ponder the life, or unlife, of a vampire cursed to walk the earth for an eternity. Damon's state of mind occurs after the death of a woman-vampire who lived for over 500 years and barely found any joy in those 500 years, and he wonders if the same fate awaits him if Elena eludes him as well as authentic humanity that would eliminate his animalistic behavior, brought on by his reliance on human blood to thrive. It's a compelling shift for the character of Damon.

Rose also talked about choice and free-will. Damon tells the innocent girl he eventually murders about how he has a choice to let her live or to let her die. Such a choice with inform his identity and place in Elena's life. Since Damon's without hope and on the verge of nihilism, he makes a rather poor decision and shatters the growth he showed during Rose's suffering. But the choice might benefit himself and the people he cares about when Jules and her werewolf friends gather in Mystic Falls for some fun.

Speaking of Jules, she is a great villain. By the end of the teaser, I couldn't stand her. It's fantastic. She's the opposite of the Lockwood men, who want to control their werewolf turns. Jules has no interest in chaining herself up for any interest in not harming innocent people. Furthermore, she's not afraid of vampires and she has a toughness that reminds me of a Faith. She told Tyler that Caroline shared responsibility in the death of his uncle. Jules might yet save the werewolf arc.

Meanwhile, Caroline found herself in the middle of two men. Tyler developed feelings after the werewolf thing and Matt continues to love his ex-girlfriend, and she's interested in both men equally it seems. I doubt Tyler will feel the same attraction or love for her when he pieces together exactly why she helped Tyler during his first transformation--she felt guilt about Mason. The love triangle itself is rather bland but the impending Caroline-as-vampire vs. Tyler-as-werewolf holds intrigue.

The Klaus arc didn't progress too much, though good ol' Uncle John returned after Stefan tried to reach Isobel. Good times. Also, the Elena/Rose scenes were well-done. They felt like a horror film. Marcos Siega did a great job directing the episode. "The Descent" was a good episode for TVD to return with. I enjoyed it.

Sarah Fain & Elizabeth Craft wrote "The Descent." Marcos Siega, as I mentioned already, directed it.

THE YOUTUBE CLIP OF THE WEEK

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

The Best Directed Episodes of Television Part Two

The week continues with an alarming lack of original and new scripted television. As I brainstormed ideas for today, I considered writing about tonight's 76ers game. I considered writing a new Classic TV episode post. I searched for anything non-reality television before settling on the ever popular Best Directed Episodes of TV list. I considered writing about some TV scripts worth reading before realizing that I'd need to prep that more thoroughly before writing it. So, directors of individual television episodes, the spotlight has returned you again once more.

In the inaugural post, I wrote about the life of a TV director and the kind of control (or lack of it) the director has on television show, how one director along with the show runner directs the director on how to shoot a certain episode. I forgot to mention one other interesting piece of information (and it might very well be extremely uninteresting to everyone else) about television directors. I listen to my fair share of audio commentaries on DVDs. Sometimes, a commentary track includes a television director. Unsurprisingly, the tracks are as interesting as a block of plywood. There are scattered comments about how long a scene took or how a certain actor is a delight to work with. Among first-time directors, a large chunk of the commentary consists of alerting the viewers about the stress of making the day--as in getting the scenes shot so the episode wouldn't go over-budget and all of that fun.

However, Joss Whedon is a different kind of audio commentator. He enjoys sharing his creative process, both as writer and director. During his tracks, he'll comment about a certain scene being too boring and TV-ish. The shooting schedule for an episode is so compressed that it really is about making the day, and getting good performances from the actors and actresses rather than focusing on being the Guillermo Del Toro of TV. Joss makes an effort, as a director, to bring a unique style to television. Most episodes have tons of coverage, and most shows are reluctant to let scenes breathe. For an example, watch any episode of a crime procedural and find anything interesting about it from a directorial perspective. Hawaii Five-O is an entertaining show but it won't leave anyone shouting for the show to win an Emmy for Best Direction. I think the point's been made so I will move onto the episodes and their directors:


DOLLHOUSE--"The Attic"--Directed By John Cassaday

Usually, I'd be reluctant to include two episodes from one series so early in THE LIST but John Cassaday's first episode as TV director is "The Attic" and it's tremendous. Joss Whedon's notorious for giving his writers the opportunity to direct on his shows as well as crew guys the opportunity to direct. Whedon knew Cassaday had tremendous vision as a director and allowed him the opportunity to direct "The Attic"--an episode that I'd compare to Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind visually or Inception. Cassaday was tasked with creating this world of nightmares and minds, and he succeeded admirably. Cassaday was also tasked with one of the most important scenes in the series--when Ballard's imprinted. It's an episode of television that would make Michel Gondry and Christopher Nolan proud.

Watch the Episode here: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B0031CHP4I


MAD MEN--"The Fog"--Directed By Phil Abraham

There are many strong episodes of Mad Men and many wonderful directors who shoot those episodes. Among them is Phil Abraham who has directed quite a few episodes. 'The Fog' sticks out in my mind because of the visuals like the fever dreams Betty has while in labor. The episode's alternately bright and sterile as the story shifts from domestic life to the hospital where baby Gene's about to enter the Draper household. There's a scene when Don becomes attracted to his daughter's teacher, and he strokes the grass as a way to connect with the woman in the only way he can in that moment. Later, a solar eclipse occurs in one of the prettiest scenes of the episode. Color-wise, the contrast between the environments informs the viewer of the distance between Betty and Don. It's an instance of the director conveying something in the script that can't be said by any of the characters.

Watch Here: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B002P3CPMG

Photo Credit: NBC
FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS--"I Think We Should Have Sex"--Directed By Allison Liddi-Brown

Friday Night Lights isn't the first series to devote an episode to teenage sex but it avoids the usual melodrama found in such episodes with this content. There's an honesty in the performances from the actors that separates this episode from the many others about teen sex like Connie Britton's portrayal of Mrs. Coach after she sees Saracen buy condoms. The anxiety and worry she feels translates to a great scene between Mrs. Coach and Julie. There are scenes like foot wrestling after Saracen and Julie decide not to have sex. Peter Berg deserves some credit because he's responsible for the visual style of Friday Night Lights, and the style enhances the show's realism.

Watch Here: http://www.amazon.com/Think-We-Should-Have-Sex/dp/B000V5VJJA

THE YOUTUBE CLIP OF THE WEEK

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Hellcats "Papa, Oh Papa" Review

Photo Credit: The CW

Once upon a time, I chose Hellcats as one of the shows I'd review weekly without actually watching a single episode. I figured my musings on Hellcats would help increase hits to the blog. It didn't work. I actually watched two episodes and discovered that I didn't actually enjoy anything about the show besides Ashley Tisdale's performance and Aly Michalka's great body. During this time, Terriers also aired an hour after Hellcats. Obviously, Terriers blew my mind with awesome storytelling, awesome acting, awesome writing and directing. Plus, I wrote wordy pieces about Man Vs. Wild and the NFL regular season during the time frame. It was a rather fun period of constant writing for a few hours but Hellcats had to be cut after Terriers destroyed it each and every week--watching Hellcats before Terriers was like watching Rocky Biddle spot start and then watching Roy Halladay pitch. I digress. Moving onto my triumphant return to Hellcats (I explained why in yesterday's Cape post).

Oh, Hellcats. It seems as if we've been separate for centuries rather than four months. Actually, that is hyperbole because nothing seemed to change on the show besides a few additions to the cast. I'd like to think The CW put together the "Previously On..." just for me once I announced that I'd return to Hellcats. Surprisingly, the "Previously On..." contained information from the first two episodes besides a dramatic plot point involving Marti, Dan, Savannah and the entire Hellcats team that threatened the team's chances to win sectionals and advance to the nationals. Does any of this make sense to anyone who hasn't seen any of Hellcats?

Hellcats remains a familiar world after all of this time. Marti remains a slightly rebellious woman while Savannah continues to be the sweet, do-gooder and Alice continues as the antagonist to the rest of the team. The inciting incident of the episode seemingly occurred in a past episode. Marti's best friend, Dan, began dating Savannah. Apparently, Savannah and Dan had a good relationship until Marti and Dan hooked up randomly. Marti may or may not have been dating Louis during this time. Savannah and Dan might've been broken up before the actual hook up between Marti and Dan. I'm not entirely sure and, frankly, I'm glad that I'm not sure of the entire backstory. The situation caused issues with team chemistry. Marti became the Lyla Garrity figure but the Marti/Dan hook up seems much less an offense than Lyla who cheated on her paralyzed boyfriend with his best friend during the first season of Friday Night Lights. The hellcats are nicer to Marti though. Marti mostly stands around without talking to anyone.

The inciting incident propels the A story which is between Marti and Savannah--specifically, how can the two co-exist after the Dan stuff especially when Alice adds nonsense drama into the mix because of her inability to tell the truth to her father? The dramatic situation is sort of non-dramatic. Savannah briefly abuses her power to remove Marti as a flier from the competition. Marti tells her coach that Dan was her's first--a defense mechanism. Among the very few things I liked about the series is the friendship between Marti and Savannah. There's a genuine friendship between the two and the emotional beats are sort of subtle for Hellcats. Savannah's a quiet, selfless girl who'd rather be hurt than hurt anyone that she loves. The girls make up near the end of the episode and Marti begins mending the fence by offering her flier spot to Savannah (after Savannah's blackmailed by Alice to give up her spot). Marti acknowledges that the act is small compared to what she did to Savannah but she wants to do something for her best friend. Ashley Tisdale and Aly Michalka played those scenes of forgiveness very well. Those two girls are, by far, the strongest part of Hellcats.

Meanwhile, Mario Van Peebles guest stars as Alice's alpha male and sexist father. Yes, the same Mario Van Peebles who directed the second best episode of LOST's final season. A year ago, he's prepping for "Dr. Linus" and now he portrays a bland father. The father character at least provides insight into why Alice behaves the way she does. She strives to impress her father because he hates failure but as she strives to impress her father he always lets her down when it matters most. Only a talk with her new step mom helped Alice gain the courage to stand up to her father.

You know, the women in the show are written quite well. For instance, in many other series, the story with the new step mom would've been a predictable tale of shallow women interested in man for his money and resentful of the younger daughter. The step mom of Alice's, Kelly, has plenty of personality and I really liked the character by the end of the episode. I think Hellcats is a good show for young women to watch because of the writing for the female characters.

Hellcats won't earn its spot back in the weekly review rotation. I most likely won't return to the series until the season finale to see if the team wins nationals (i have a feeling that they will win nationals) but I didn't mind watching Aly Michalka shake her ass for portions of the episode.

Kevin Murphy and Jennifer Schuur wrote "Papa, Oh Papa." Andy Wolk directed it.

THE YOUTUBE CLIP OF THE WEEK

Monday, January 24, 2011

The Cape "Scales" Review

Photo Credit: NBC

This will not be a banner week for TV With The Foot aka The Blog Formerly Known as Jacob's Foot. Instead of preparing for another season of LOST, I'll be reviewing such shows as The Cape and returning to the hellish world of Hellcats. Why exactly? Well, the normal shows I review aren't new this week so other shows will receive a spot start in the review rotation. Think of Hellcats as Rocky Biddle--the former Expo who went from closer to middle relief to spot starter in one season who boasts a career ERA of 5.47, a career 1.5407 WHIP and an ERA+ below 100. I don't think The CW will use this comparison on promotional posters or future DVDs. I digress.

Mere days after declaring that I'd never return to the world of The Cape again, I found myself watching The Cape. Recall, if you will, that I couldn't even make it through the entire third episode without becoming extremely annoyed; however, I prefer to write every day from Monday through Friday and I needed The Cape tonight unless the readers wanted another post about how great Joss Whedon is (which I'd love to write but my Whedon posts aren't popular unless the great Whedonesque.com finds them and links said posts).

The fourth episode of The Cape didn't annoy me as much as last week's episode--mostly because grown men weren't arguing over a piece of clothing. In "Scales," Vince began turning some of Fleming's pawns against him like Scales, and the list of pro-Vince or pro-Cape people began to grow. The Cape doesn't move as slowly as the other superhero shows I watched (Heroes and No Ordinary Family). The Cape benefits from a 13 episode order due to its mid-season placement but Tom Wheeler, the creator, seems to have an actual plan. It's a wild idea to have the season arc outlined from beginning to end. And, yes, I know that shows are organic and evolving but any good showrunner has the landmarks for every season. Tim Kring and his writers barely planned ahead and it showed. Wheeler has the season obviously planned even it's full of clich├ęs. I digress, sort of. The point, episodes of The Cape don't feel like complete messes.

For example, "Scales" toyed with the idea of Fleming discovering that Vince Faraday is The Cape while Trip began his elaborate plan to get his mother's employer to prove his father's innocence to the world. Fleming also came a step closer to figuring out who Orwell is. These three respective stories aren't exactly page-turners, and I'd probably ignore the comic on comic book shelves, but it's better than nothing. Fleming and The Cape are forced to work together when the train they are on won't stop. As Vince lowers Fleming to fix the brakes, Fleming demands The Cape to reveal his true identity. It sort of reminded me of the scene in Point Break when Bodhi refuses to pull the parachute cord and makes Utah do it but Point Break's much better. I digress. Fleming eventually fixes the break and, seemingly, forgets his demand to The Cape after a bout of maniacal laughter. The Cape, however, re-threatens Fleming shortly after the bout of maniacal laughter that springs amnesia.

The Vince/Fleming feud isn't that bad though it is tiresome already. The show has yet to reveal how Fleming became so powerful and influential to get away with running his own privatized police unit without the federal government intervening. "Scales" seems like the tip of the iceberg in terms of bad plotting for Vince and Fleming. Vince became the reluctant protector of Fleming when he learned that the circus planned to rob the patrons on the train. Vince became the protector because he thought Scales would reveal Fleming-as-Chess and the people on the train would instantly believe a thug with actual scales on his face. How stupid is Vince? The plan fails and this leads to Fleming nearly learning the identity of Vince-as-Cape.

Speaking of the Circus, Vince couldn't avoid the fact that his new friends make their living through robbing innocent people. In my review of the first two episodes, I noted how the main character wasn't exactly the swellest dude on Earth considering he ignores how the criminal behavior of Max and company. Vince essentially ignores the criminal behavior again though he warns Max that one day they will oppose one another--I assume when Vince feels like being self-righteous.

Also, the events of the episode took place on Trip's birthday. Vince kept remembering times with his son on this day and, near the end, Orwell asked Vince if a parent will ever stop loving their child. Vince says no. Orwell, obviously, is the daughter of Peter Fleming. But, at least, the two continue to bond. Speaking of Trip, he made friends with a powerful defense attorney so Vince will have his defenders by season's end. By the way, Trip is 10.

The Cape's a simplistic series. The theme of the costume party on the train was heroes vs. villains after all. But it doesn't take itself too seriously which is a positive. Unfortunately, it's not interesting to watch or write about. But don't surprised if I write about The Cape in the future if desperate.

Tomorrow, I return to the world of Hellcats for the first time since September.

THE YOUTUBE CLIP OF THE WEEK

Friday, January 21, 2011

Random Thoughts On Fringe, The Cape, Hawaii Five-O and Critical Response to Community

Photo Credit: NBC

The Vampire Diaries won't return with new episodes until Thursday. The Best Directed Episodes of TV might return in some distant future but neither I nor, presumably, the readers are eager to return to such a list. The new NBC lineup debuted last night. Naturally, I only watched Community and I watched the newest episode OnDemand at a late hour so The Foot is not the place for analysis of the new NBC comedy lineup. Instead of focusing on a single episode from a single series, I'll offer a few musings on this Friday afternoon:

-Fringe returns with new episodes tonight on FOX. The episode, titled "The Firefly," may or may not be a coincidence. Firefly, of course, is the beloved short-lived Joss Whedon series that began and ended its run on Friday nights. Fringe is a series I want to give a second chance. I watched the pilot several years ago and lost interest halfway through. After the buzz for "Peter," and then the third season, I considered watching the show especially when I heard that new fans could enjoy the show without knowing the intricacies of the mythology. Perhaps tonight, in mid-season, The Foot will finally watch another episode of Fringe. The writing staff's full of writers I respect like Jeff Pinkner, Graham Roland, Alison Schapker and Monica Owusu-Breen. Famed director Brad Anderson directs multiple episodes of the series a season. I might be completely confused but I'm searching for an entertaining series in this post-LOSTworld. I thought I found that series with Terriers but the poor show couldn't attract an audience.

-Community returned with a great episode last night. It's one of the most consistent comedies on television. Harmon, his writers, directors and actors have found the perfect balance. The annoying aspect of Community are its critics--the professional television critics. These critics should find a different tune. Every single week, since September, Community reviews have spent an inordinate amount of time criticizing the show for its meta-ness or its lack of meta-ness or, rather, the desire for balance between the down-to-earth stories with the parody stories. What's the point? Both aspects of the show make up Community's world. Community's a goofy, silly, fun, surreal, heartfelt, honest show. "Modern Warfare" has become the show's worst enemy in a way because fans who loved it crave more of that style while the blowhards love the episode but criticize the show for returning to the "Modern Warfare" style of storytelling.

The most common argument used is, the parody needs to be rooted in character, or a character moment, which isn't groundbreaking analysis, as any Creative Writing 101 class would teach their students that rule. Each of these episodes like the Godfather parody, the paintball episode, the zombie episode, the rocket episode and the stop-motion episode have been rooted in character. Episodes like the rocket ship episode has gotten criticisms because of the lazy way the writers created character conflict like Annie wanting to transfer from Greendale without any previous evidence. But, if one recalls, she thought about leaving Greendale in the finale for a life with Vaughn, and the Jeff situation played out fairly poor so the idea that Annie might want to transfer didn't feel so lazy to me. Annie's the kind of person who would plan a transfer without telling anyone.

When Community has episodes that are non-parody, critics become hyper-aware of anything meta in the episode. For instance, the most complaints lobbied against last night's episode were about the ending when Jeff ran through the rain because it reversed a common romcom trope in an episode designed to be rooted in reality (whatever the hell that means). Was it weird? Sure. But don't criticize Dan Harmon and his writers for an addiction to meta storytelling--the scene didn't work plain and simple.

The lesson: maybe I need to stop writing what critics and fans thought of Community. If one recalls, the LOST fandom and the television critics basically made me insane during the last season and most of seasons 3-6. The LOST archives feature numerous rants about the fans and critics. I digress. Maybe the critics need to find another tune to hum in their Community reviews as I suggested in the first paragraph or maybe remember past plot points so their reviews of episodes like "Basic Rocket Science" don't seem so lazy.

-CBS has been promoting the tidal wave episode of Hawaii Five-O constantly. Will I watch the episode? I will. Hawaii Five-O is a series I enjoy weekly even though procedurals annoy me; however, I lose interest in the show whenever an episode belongs to Alex O'Loughin's back-story and the mystery surrounding the circumstances of his parent's death which isn't a positive sign for the show's most central character. Five-O is sort of throw-back. The issues in the episode are always black and white. For example, the team needed to protect a dictator from possible assassination. The team's devoted to their jobs so they protected the man even though he committed crimes against humanity. Halfway through, the dictator confesses that he came to America to turn himself on and pay for his crimes because he wants to be a good father. The Five-O team ends the episode as heroes for protecting the dictator. It's rather annoying, and one of the reasons I'll bail on an episode halfway through if I feel like the direction's heading down a nonsense road.

-I watched the third episode of The Cape and could not finish the entire episode. The back-and-forth between the Russian criminal and Vince was so ridiculous as the two grown men argued about a friggin' cape. I know that the cape is a powerful device that evil men used for evil things but it's still a piece of clothing.

-The kind folks at HBO OnDemand added Deadwood so I plan on watching the series for the first time. David Milch's Game Of Thrones premieres in April so maybe the Deadwood thing is some sort of 'this is how great a David Milch series can be.' Perhaps I'll write about Deadwood every so often.

-Finally, Spartacus: Gods of the Arena begins tonight on Starz. I planned on watching the entire first season but I wasn't prepared for how much I disliked the pilot episode and the subsequent episode. Steven S. DeKnight is one of my favorite television writers. Imagine my dismay when Spartacus turned out to be nothing more than True Blood except with gladiators in Ancient Rome. DeKnight's written some of my favorite episodes from the Whedonverse too. I was so disappointed.

If I watch Fringe, I might write something tomorrow. If not, expect more nonsense on Monday.

THE YOUTUBE CLIP OF THE WEEK

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Thoughts On The Series Finale of Life Unexpected

I'm a huge fan of series finales. Chances are, if a series ends then I will watch their final episode. When NCIS finally ends after its 45th season, I'll probably watch the episode despite never seeing any previous episodes. Last night, The CW aired the final two episodes of Life Unexpected--a show I watched 30 minutes of in two years. Naturally, I didn't bother watching the penultimate episode but the "Previously On..." seemed to provide the broad beats of the major happenings in the episode.

Apparently, Lux (Britt Robertson) dated her teacher for an extended period of time and everyone learned the truth. Her parents, Baze and Cate, told the man to leave town to avoid legal action. Lux feels like an outcast and fears being known as the girl who slept with Mr. Eric, the teacher. Meanwhile, Baze learned that the woman he dates was in an affair with his father at some point in time. Also, Cate became pregnant. It feels like sufficient context for me as well as you, reader, to understand and appreciate what happens in the final episode of Life Unexpected.

I read the Life Unexpected pilot screenplay a few months ago out of curiosity. Apart from being stunned that the production draft was only 41 pages despite its five acts, reading the script was actually beneficial because the final episode returned to certain moments in the pilot to give the series a sense of circularity and completion. The core of the show belonged to 16 year old Lux and her biological parents, Cate and Baze. She spent years in foster care until she found her parents, and she began a life with them in the first season. Throughout the series, Lux battled her sense of normalcy. She felt less than normal because of her years without a nuclear family and without the love and warm that comes from that world. In season two, seemingly, the girl became more rebellious as she committed misdemeanors with her friend Tasha and dated a middle-aged man at the age of 16.

In "Affair Remembered," the writers address the reasons behind Lux's behavior. Lux's problems aren't that much different than other teenagers though she thinks her experiences are singular and inclusive to her only. She feels withdrawn from her mother, unable to communicate honestly and openly with her. Perhaps she acted out because of those communication problems. Her problems are fairly normal among her peers though. Once Lux opens up to her mom and dad, her life becomes more normal, more stable and the tears diminish greatly. She and the nice guy with the seemingly normal life begin to date once Lux learns that he has problems like everyone else doe. Lux apologizes to her father for intentionally hurting him with the Emma/his father news. Lux and Cate finally begin a healthy mother/daughter relationship after Cate realizes she needs to listen to her daughter.

Cate's transformation occurs after she receives the devastating news that she lost her baby and won't be able to have any children. Ryan, Cate's husband, thinks stress contributed to the miscarriage. The show never explains the reason for the miscarriage nor the inability to have children in the future. The lack of explanation has makes sense. From what I gather through the random scenes I've seen from the series, and the pilot script, is that Cate's a woman who constantly looks toward the future and barely appreciates the present. She has a teenage daughter who came back into her life after adoption, and hasn't taken advantage of the opportunity to be a mother. In Lux and Cate's darkest moments, they finally agree to communicate open and honestly. It felt like a moment the show built towards since the pilot but I'd have to ask actual fans of the show whether or not the moment was as significant as the show made it seem.

The finale, obviously, wanted to provide closure for the three main character's series-long personal arcs. Baze, the father, began the series as a screw-up who hadn't shaken his frat boy days and needed his father to bail him out. The arrival of Lux in his life began his transformation from frat boy into mature, responsible adult. The finale completes Baze's personal arc. He longer needs his father's assistance. Baze becomes his own man, separate from father and no longer chasing his shadow. He tells Lux how fortunate he is that she returned to his life. And by series end, the three main characters become a nuclear family without explanation.

From a sole writer's perspective, the final episode succeeded as a series finale because it provided closure and a conclusion to the narrative of the series though the conclusion felt a bit forced, and I had no idea who half the people were in the flash-forward sequence but HEY maybe I needed to watch more than one complete episode.

The series finale didn't make me want to watch the previous 24 episodes though. Life Unexpected isn't my kind of show. Before its premiere, it received comparisons to TheWB shows of old that intrigued me because I enjoyed TheWB. But Life Unexpected is a CW show. It is a series that embraced it's soap-opera elements and it's full of drama that I simply don't care about like love triangles, affairs and so on and so on. But I like series finales and the Classic TV episodes feature has had about as much success as Heidi Montag's musical career so I watched and wrote about this show.

Other Thoughts

-Look, the other thoughts section has returned! Anywho, the Lux/Teacher relationship apparently created controversy. Dan Feinberg of HitFix criticized the writers and the network for their attitude towards the relationship. Rather than focus on the predatory/creepy aspects of the relationship, they played it as a romantic relationship but sources tell me Lux's peers told the girl how gross the relationship was. I have no opinion on what the show did with the relationship because I didn't watch any of those episodes. Apparently, Pretty Little Liars has a similar attitude about statutory rape as well. Additional sources inform me the Lux/Teacher relationship never reached statutory rape but 30-something teacher with 16 year old student is a horrible idea. The point, network execs behind teen dramas can be foolish.

-The episode had a flash-forward to high school graduation and Lux's speech. Naturally, I barely listened to the speech because speeches at graduation (high school AND college) are boring.

-Michael Kramer wrote the episode. Rick Bota directed it.

THE YOUTUBE CLIP OF THE WEEK

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

No Ordinary Family "No Ordinary Detention" Review

Photo Credit: ABC

What the hell did I just watch? For the second time in the show's history, stuff actually happened in an episode like revelations and the progression of the overall narrative. Nevermind that the Powell family managed to keep thing their secrets secret during the episode but, at least, the truth about Sylar II began to unearth itself. Now, friends and well-wishers, the degree of things changing was about as seismic as Qwest Field during Marshawn Lynch's 67 yard run against the Saints. The episode provided the illusion that great changes happened for each of the main characters in their respective stories.

Indeed, Stephanie learned that Rebecca Mader's a shady, shifty woman (or rather Katie did but one imagines Stephanie will get that information between episodes) and Jim managed elude punishment even though he clearly violated protocol in the police department by being a vigilante. And just when the expectation that Jim would reveal his powers to the most important woman in his field, the show reminds everyone why it has many miles to go before it's good again.

The most interesting story of "No Ordinary Detention" felt like the B story, which is weird. Stephanie, Katie, Sylar II and Rebecca Mader were locked down after Mader forced a lock down. Sylar II fell victim to Katie's plan for Stephanie to check him out since Sylar II felt under the weather. He suffered from withdrawal following his stance to never inject the super serum into his body. Unfortunately, once Katie's life became threatened, Sylar II injected the serum into his body so he could throw Mader through a glass window with his mind. THERE IS NO SPOON. Conveniently, Stephanie's knocked out throughout the fun so she remains unaware of what exactly happened. In fact, the more I think about it, Katie will keep Sylar II and Rebecca Mader a secret because Sylar II asked her to which is an annoying trait of the show. One step forward seems to be two steps backward. But the B story seemed to plant the seeds for May sweeps when Dr. King's plan becomes known, and the Powells have to band together to stop he and Rebecca Mader. Katie will inevitably be forced to make a decision between love and her best friend, and then Sylar II will most likely leave the show a villain as the show, in all likelihood, might be too lazy to tell a redemptive story about a recovering addict even if it's just a super powered person.

In the A story, a criminal and his three lackeys decided to take the entire police department hostage. Fittingly, Jim stopped the criminal in the teaser of the episode just as a woman arrived at the police department to investigate the possibility of a rogue cop in the department. Jim became paranoid, seemingly unaware that he could get in trouble for being a vigilante. Throughout the hostage situation, Jim put the lives of all the hostages in danger as he slowly beat the criminals up one by one. The situation works out wonderfully for Jim. While he continues to break PD protocol and endanger the lives of many others, he ends the episode as a hero and in the good graces of the the woman from Internal Affairs. She decides to protect Jim because he's a hero.

Throughout the two most important stories, the possibility that Jim or Stephanie or both would reveal their powers to one of the guest-stars seemed realistic. Unfortunately, everything remains the same as in the beginning of the episode--except the Powells actually eat family dinner together (Stephanie desired a family dinner in the beginning of the episode). Sylar II and Katie's relationship changed but that won't go anywhere until late April or early May.

But credit where credit's due, the A and B stories were entertaining and I actually enjoyed myself during the episode. Rebecca Mader brought the evil quite well, and I kept waiting for Juliet to show up so she could kick Charlotte's ass one last time but they were characters on a far more superior series. The two Katies was fun as well as Jim's delight at having the upper hand over the devious villains. As always, I understand what No Ordinary Family is. It will never have the serialization of LOST, Terriers, ANGEL or Buffy. But if the series can entertain me once every 3 months then I'm a happy camper.

In the C story, the teenagers found themselves in detention with the rebel from last week, JJ's girl and Bailey, the prettiest girl in school. NOF detention did NOT resemble actual high school detention. But detention subplots rarely resemble the actual experience as any teen drama would prove. Detention existed to bring the rebel and Daphne together as well as JJ and Bailey, following the end of JJ's relationship. The teacher didn't bother to stay in detention so all sorts of fun occurred like truth or dare. Also, JJ made a romantic gesture towards his clearly disinterested girlfriend by making snow because she once witnessed snowfall in a town that never got snow before. Blah.

Also, Andrew Rothenberg portrayed the central antagonist of the episode in the A story. The last time Rothenberg was on TV, he portrayed Jim on The Walking Dead, who had the fate of joining the zombie apocalypse as a zombie.

Leigh Dana Jackson and Zack Estrin wrote the episode. Longtime TV Director David Petrarca, who directed quite a few episodes of Dawson's Creek and Everwood, directed tonight's NOF.

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Monday, January 17, 2011

How I Met Your Mother "Last Words" Review

Photo Credit: CBS

Whenever TV shows deal with the death of a character, I hold my breath and hope that the episode comes somewhat close to capturing the actuality of the death of a loved one. Largely, television writers struggle to write funeral episodes unless the funeral episode involves conflict between the deceased and the show's most central character or, in an ensemble, one of the main characters. The majority of funeral episodes involve that conflict but it usually works--critics and fans usually embrace these episodes but, for me, it's actually annoying. The only episode of television I've seen that nails the experience of losing a loved one is Buffy's "The Body." The episode abandons the tropes seen in the majority of funeral episodes.

How I Met Your Mother's "Last News" focuses on Marshall's grief over the death of his father. One wondered how the show would handle the episode--would there be any unresolved emotions from a past conflict? Of course Craig Thomas and Carter Bays had to create some internal conflict for Marshall. After a pastor asks for the family to talk about last words at the service, Marshall frets over the last words his father spoke to him. With the knowledge that his father loved and supported him as well as the fact that he was Marshall's best friends, Marshall prefers their last exchange to be more meaningful than a recommendation for Crocodile Dundee 3. But, really, Marshall's trying to come to grips with the fact that his father is gone for good, that his best friend and hero passed away. It's difficult to cope with such a reality in real life but on TV Marshall finds the closure he wants in the course of 22 minutes so that he and the gang can get back to their antics. And, really, the idea of last words is wishful thinking because rarely does one get those last words from a loved one. The death of a loved one is always sudden no matter how young or how old. The core of the story belonged to the idea of closure and moving on essentially. Some sense of emotional closure is needed before one can move on. Craig Thomas and Carter Bays were successful in conveying the core emotions of Marshall during this life-changing experience.

And one would have to be made of stone not to feel the emotion after Marshall hears the voice-mail from his father whose last words to his son is "I love you." When Alyson Hanigan's tears began to fall, so did America's or, at least, it got a bit dusty.

"Last Words" is difficult story to do in a sitcom because a balance is needed between sad and funny. The episode achieves the balance through Marshall's friends as they try to figure out their place to be helpful. Ted remarks that he's never felt so helpless. Robin's the seasoned veteran and brought along a bunch of vices for the grieving family and friends. Lily takes advantage of her opportunity to be the helpful daughter-in-law. Robin's the smartest of the friends--the Tara of the episode as it were--because she recognizes that no one can make Marshall feel better until Marshall comes to terms with his father's sudden death. Ted and Barney overcompensate in their quest to bring normalcy to Marshall but normalcy cannot be forced in such a situation. Eventually, the boys understand and the funeral motivates the two to call their fathers (or in Barney's case...actually meet him).

For the most part, "Last Words" is a successful episode. Funeral episodes aren't my favorites unless they're done very, very well because shows usually sacrifice their identities for The Very Special, Serious Hour and these episodes feel lazy and like the writers themselves don't know what the hell to do. "Last Words" maintained their identity while telling a moving A story with Marshall and his dad's death.

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Friday, January 14, 2011

The Best Directed Episodes of Television Part One

The old adage goes, movies are a director's realm and television is a writer's realm. Unless you're Aaron Sorkin, no one has openly disputed that old adage (but who would dare try to change a Sorkin script? That's career suicide). The smart ones write and direct (like Tarantino, Woody Allen, The Coen Brothers, Sophia Coppola etc) in the feature film industry, and even some writers try to direct their own television episodes but it's rare unless you work for Joss Whedon or you're Matthew Weiner, or basically a show-runner who can do whatever he or she pleases.

I noticed, as I study the ways of Hollywood, that the film industry and television industry are spiting one another. Frustrated writers leave the film business for television because their scripts get butchered by the studio or the director. In television, the show-runner i.e. writer controls everything including the directors for the entire season. The directors strip away the creative power of the writers in the film business while the writers strip the power from directors in television. Not a single episode of television is produced without the show-runner or executive producer essentially telling the director how to direct that certain episode. This happens for consistency's sake. The show-runner must maintain the consistency of the show's tone, atmosphere and yada yada throughout a 13 or 22 episode season. Every series has an ace director of the staff though--the director responsible for the visual look of the show as well as tone. Jack Bender had that job on LOST. Tim Van Patten has that job on Boardwalk Empire. The Russo Brothers have that job on Community.

Today begins the first part of the Best Directed Episodes of Television list that seems infinite considering how many episodes of television are produced in one year. The question is, how do I evaluate the episodes? How much freedom did such and such director? In the case of LOST, Bender fought Marita Grabiak about a certain scene in "Raised By Another." Bender won the argument because he was king, and Grabiak never worked for LOST again. Bender deserves credit for that particular scene in "Raised By Another." I'll mostly look at a particular episode, and then the series to see how many times the particular director returned for more episodes but one-and-done directors can leave their style on a single episode. I suppose evaluating the best directed episodes of television isn't any different from compiling lists for the best written episodes in television. The credited writer of an episode usually received a partial or page one re-write from the show-runner, or another staff writer. It is difficult to truly know who deserves the most credit in television because of guild rules and the dynamics of television staffs.

I will try though. Television directors rarely get the accolades they deserve. In fact, ask any person about their favorite episode of their favorite show and he or she will most likely not know who directed their favorite episode. Maybe, by the time this list ends in 20 years, people will know who exactly directed their favorite episode of their favorite show.

Since I have no idea how this will actually work, I'll keep the list small today. If it goes terribly, I might simply list my favorite TV directors in a separate post.

Let It Begin:

DOLLHOUSE--"BELONGING"--Directed By Jonathan Frakes

Frakes' is a fairly well-known television director because of his work on Star Trek: The Next Generation, and Star Trek fans claim Frakes' directed the best Star Trek movie (First Contact). He mostly directs television episodes though. "Belonging" is his only Dollhouse episode but he made sure he directed the best episode of the entire series. There are fantastic shots such as Topher, covered in blood, standing in front of the mirror as well as terrific scenes such as Topher and Priya's heart-to-heart after the murder. My favorite imagery of the episode is when Priya's being taken from the mental institution to the dollhouse--it's a combination of wonderful direction and terrific editing.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RrEXAUd1_Hg

VERONICA MARS--"A TRIP TO THE DENTIST"--Directed By Marcos Siega

He was the head director on the first season of The Vampire Diaries. He directed three episodes from the first season of Veronica Mars. "A Trip To The Dentist" is an emotionally-taxing episode for Veronica as she searches for the man who raped her the night of Shelly Pomroy's party. Out of context, the episode's rather soapy and overwrought with melodrama. In the context of the entire season, it...isn't THAT overwrought with melodrama. I'm not surprised Rob Thomas and, whoever else held the power to hire directors, decided to have Siega direct this episode because it's a huge episode for the personal arc of Veronica. Kristen Bell, in particular, has to play a number of intense emotional scenes. Siega achieves the intensity of the script, achieves the balance between Veronica's personal arc with the Lily Kane murder arc and etc. With 8 days of prep (usually), little rehearsal time, and an 8 day shooting schedule--it's a credit to the directors and the actors for the kind of performances they get/give.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wC9MTQJnHSY

EVERWOOD--"PILOT"--Directed By Mark Piznarski

One of the best Pilots of all-time largely because of Greg Berlanti's great script and vision for the story of Everwood, and also because of Piznarski's direction. Everwood's quintessential small town but the fictional town is unique and has its own identity from the other television shows that were set in small towns. There are many moving scenes during the "Pilot" such as Delia telling Andy that she knows he suffers from a distraught heart or, before the Delia scene when Andy sits on the porch talking to himself and his wife who is with him in spirit and memory as he recalls why he moved to Everwood. These scenes are quiet and filled with such honesty about grief and the struggle to move on and let go. There's also the scene when Andy sees Edna's wife for the first time. And, of course, there's the shouting match between Andy and Ephram that showed exactly what made Everwood special. Piznarski owned this episode. It's a pity he didn't direct more.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j-pKvphl4zs

And that concludes the inaugural list of Best Directed Episodes. In the coming weeks and months, more and more TV directors will be celebrated.

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Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Classic TV Episodes--ANGEL "Sleep Tight"--The Most Important ANGEL Episode Ever

Photo Credit: buffyworld.com

The sixteenth episode of the third season of ANGEL, "Sleep Tight," might be the most important episode in the entire series. The episode rarely receives a place in any Best of ANGEL or the Whedonverse list though it should because the events of "Sleep Tight" have a ripple effect until the end of the series. "Sleep Tight" one of the darkest and saddest hours in the series. In fact, the episode is even darker and sadder when watched with the knowledge of the entire series.

In the third season of the show, Angel had a son through a divine gift from the Powers-That-Be. In season two, ANGEL fought for the life of Darla in a trial. While he failed to win Darla's human life, he earned another life--the life of his son. Soon after the birth of his son, a prophecy is unearthed that states "The Father Will Kill The Son." Wesley becomes increasingly concerned about the prophecy, and the arrival of Holtz (Holtz, in a sentence, hates Angel for killing his family in the 1700s) only creates problems for Wesley as he struggles to accept what the prophecy foretells. Meanwhile, Wolfram & Hart wants the baby in their possession, and Sahjahn (a demon) wants the child murdered. Holtz, of course, wants revenge. By episode's end, Holtz has successfully kidnapped Connor and taken him into a demon dimension. Wesley betrayed his closest friends and lays on the ground with his throat slit. Angel lays on the ground, unable to move after his son's taken from him and into hell dimension.

It's a a terrific script from co-creator David Greenwalt but I'm not interested in writing about only "Sleep Tight." "Sleep Tight" sets in motion so many things for the final two years of the series. Many fans think of "Inside Out" as the example of brilliance from the ANGEL writing team as they weaved 3.5 seasons of story into an explanation about why Jasmine's happening. But "Sleep Tight" and everything that happens after should be the defining example of what makes Joss Whedon, David Greenwalt, Tim Minear, Jeff Bell and the rest of the ANGEL writers who made up the writing staff during the final two years of the show brilliant.

The prophecy represents something fundamental about ANGEL. Joss Whedon and David Greenwalt embraced the existentialism in ANGEL. In "Epiphany," Angel tells Kate that, "if nothing we do matters then all that matters is what we do." Regardless of the statement, Angel and his gang feel like pawns of the Powers-That-Be. The battle between free will and destiny looms large throughout the series. In season four, Gunn comforts Fred, after Skip the Demon tries to strip everyone of their free-will, by saying that he knows he has the power to do things as he wants. Prophecies pop up throughout ANGEL. The Shanshu Prophecy promises that a vampire with a soul will become human if the ensouled vampire atones for his past sins. There's a religious element to that idea--the promise of resurrection, essentially. Angel, to a certain extent, takes comfort in the Shanshu because the Shanshu promise--he smiles. But prophecies are rarely what they appear to be upon introduction. The Shanshu's relatively meaningless by the end of the series. Angel signs away the Shanshu because he knows that the fight will never stop, and that if nothing we do matters then all that matters is what we do.

"The Father Will Kill The Son" prophecy gets mis-interpreted and manipulated by those who desire a certain fate for Angel and Connor--sort of like how fundamentalists use holy texts to justify horrific behavior. But, as we know from that poor so-and-so Oedipus, a prophecy cannot be avoided. The characters in ANGEL get played by some evil characters. Wesley's the tragic figure of the show because he gets played the most by Holtz but, of course, Holtz gets played by Sahjhan (who wants to get rid of Connor because a prophecy exists that foretells Connor killing Sahjhan). Of course, lost in the misinterpretations and manipulation is the fact that the prophecy is actually true--the father WILL kill the son--except no one can possibly know exactly how the prophecy will happen. In the season four finale, Angel kills Connor in a department store to give him a new life (and hey Tim Minear says it in the "Home" commentary). ANGEL never took shortcuts to Big Moments. When Wolfram & Hart spike Angel's blood with some Connor's, maybe the audience should've wondered if it'd be so easy to make a prophecy happen. Could humans manipulate an ancient prophecy? Not at all. The "Father Will Kill The Son" takes 25 episodes to actually happen once Connor returns from the hell dimension as a teenager. Season four becomes more special when one is aware of the progression to that damn prophecy that changed everything.

"Sleep Tight" is responsible the entirety of season five. I refer to the mind wipe specifically. The episode changes the dynamics between Angel and Wesley forever. The trust and loyalty disappears when Wes betrays Angel. Most importantly, the father and son relationship between Angel and Connor will never be the same. Holtz will brainwash Connor to hate his father. The saddest scene in ANGEL is Angel's goodbye to baby Connor in "Sleep Tight" because everything will change between father and son but change exists everywhere in the episode. The birth of Connor will eventually result in Cordelia's death during season five. She dies because Jasmine used her as a vessel, and her body couldn't recover. Connor bears responsibility for Jasmine because he and "Cordelia" slept together as fire fell from the sky.

Thus far, this has been a rather long-winded way to highlight the strength of Joss Whedon and his writers. Shawn Ryan tells fans that the most important thing he learned about storytelling from Joss Whedon and Tim Minear is, story comes from character and not plot. The major personal arcs for the rest of the series, as well as the apocalypse Big Bad arcs, begin with "Sleep Tight." The origins of the arcs stem from the characters--Angel, Wesley, Connor, Cordelia, Holtz, Sahjhan. And everything in ANGEL, Buffy, Dollhouse and Firefly comes from characters.

And "Sleep Tight" is a tour-de-force in storytelling and in arc-building--a classic episode of television.

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Tuesday, January 11, 2011

No Ordinary Family "No Ordinary Brother" Review

Photo Credit: ABC

Any lazy series with a twenty two episode order on network television will have more than one filler episode. Usually, great series with twenty two episodes have one or two filler episodes a year. Buffy and ANGEL were not the exception to filler but the two shows were great and their filler episodes were always entertaining. The problem with filler episodes in lazy series is, the episode's usually full of cliches and familiar tropes like the distant family member who visits to bring nonsense drama until the nonsense gets resolved, and smiles fill the final frame. Dawson's Creek went to this well of tropes more than once in their six season. Everwood couldn't resist the occassional distant-family-member-arrives-in-town. In "No Ordinary Brother," Jim's brother arrives in town with (you guessed it) nonsense drama.

The episode was both filler AND transitional because No Ordinary Family can't have enough transitional episodes. For the second time in four episodes, Katie and Stephanie have a fight that threatens their friendship. Dr. King continues to sit in his office as he fails to make the lives of anyone associated with Stephanie miserable. Daphne helps a delinquint student who isn't actually a delinquint student. Jim sorted through ten years of pent up anger towards his brother, Mike, who developed a habit of messing up his life.

But, really, nothing happened in "No Ordinary Brother." Dr. King and Rebecca Mader (LOST!) schemed to move Katie to an entire different city. When that failed, they tried to murder her. How is she a threat? Her relationship with Sylar II made him desire a life free from Dr. King's serum so Dr. King wants to eliminate the Katie problem. But it isn't a threat. We learned that King and Sylar II are family which is relatively underwhelming. The revelation didn't change anything about that dynamic or provide the relationship with greater depth. It felt like a lazy parallel to the A story with Jim and Mike. Considering the show drops plotlines weekly, I wouldn't mind if the family revelation went away. The story ends on an ominous note as Dr. King has some plan to keep Sylar II as his hitman and, surprisingly, only Rebecca Mader's privy to the information. Each week, it seems like Dr. King has an evil plan that the viewer never learns about.

The other non-happenings in the episode involved Jim and his brother in the A story. Mike never handled his life well. Jim evidently had to clean up his messes. Mike never offered the emotional support his brother needed in a time of crisis either. Apparently, the ill feelings festered in Jim for half of the episode as his brother takes JJ to a horse track to gamble. Jim hadn't forgiven Mike for his failure to show up in the hospital after their father's heart attack. The scene represents Mike's past, as the writers button the scene with Jim telling his brother that he never thinks about other people and their needs.

The show wants the A story to be more powerful than it actually is. The show wants the viewer to experience empathy for Jim as he pours his heart out to his brother. No Ordinary Family employs professional writers so it's amazing that basic storytelling rules are ignored. In television, stories and moments have to be earned. No Ordinary Family never earns any of their beats. The first time we hear anything about Jim's father and his history with his brother is in the episode. The father stuff, in particular, comes out of left field. Fans complained about the ending of the How I Met Your Mother episode "Bad News" because it came out of left field but the series earned the emotional impact of that ending. This is just a lazy, lazy show.

The A story plays out in predictable fashion. Mike owes $150,000 to a loan shark. He needs help. Jim tries to help him but he doesn't have the money. Mike emerges from the ordeal unscathed and with plenty of cash for helping the police arrest the loan shark. Mike thanks Jim for saving his life well before he had superpowers then smiles fill the frame.

The rest of the episode was uninteresting. It involved Daphne and the origins of another romance with a boy.

I have an unrelated tangent now: do writers forget what it's like waking up in the morning before school? After Mike arrives, the family's eating breakfast at the table before school. Everyone is wide awake. When I was in high school, I had to wake up at 6:30AM to catch a 6:51AM school bus. At school, me and the other early arrivers waited for thirty minutes each day before the opening bell rang. It was like The Walking Dead in the cafeteria.

Friends and well-wishers, this show is awful. Any potential the show had once upon a time disappeared. It won't stray from its formula. "No Ordinary Brother" wasn't terrible--just mediocre and on par for the show. I'll continue writing about the show because I like to finish what I start. I hope the show improves. Right now, it's terrible. And where did Amy Acker's character disappear to?

THE AFC ASIAN CUP UPDATE

Since thousands and thousands of people read my Asian Cup preview, I'll provide a small update. Uzbekistan and China lead Group A with 3 points. Syria leads Group B with 3 points. Australia and South Korea lead Group C with 3 points a piece. Iran leads Group D. The DPRK drew with UAE today. Uh-oh.

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Monday, January 10, 2011

Thoughts on the First Two Episodes of The Cape


Photo Credit: Hulu/NBC

So, The Cape had its two hour "preview" last night. For some reason, NBC didn't opt for the word premiere because the show will air regularly on Monday nights. The Cape follows the antics of an ex-cop, Vince Faraday, who finds himself a fugitive following the death of the Police Chief and the rise of a billionaire corporation called Ark. He has a loving wife and a son who idolizes him. Before his son, Trip, falls asleep, father and son read a comic book about a superhero called The Cape. When Vince needs to live in hiding following the fun times that comes from being framed for murder and explosions, Vince decides to become The Cape so that he can communicate with his son AND bring Ark to justice for its crimes. With the help of carnies, Vince transforms into a superhero without superpowers through the power of illusion.

The Cape isn't too complex but the first two episodes weren't terrible. The beats are familiar. The villainy’s familiar. Vince is a simple, cookie-cutter hero the audience can root for. Chess, the first season's Big Bad or super villain, possesses zero redeeming qualities and, therefore, easy to root against. I doubt I continue writing about series in the future because the series is rather straight-forward and simple in its concept. It doesn't beg people to look for Easter eggs and ruminate on the latest 41 minutes for a full week until a new episode. No, The Cape's about a guy who wants his life back (family and job) and justice for himself. Until he brings down Chess in the season finale (or makes him go away until the show wants Chess to return), each episode will devote itself to other criminals who The Cape needs to stop. After all, the police force has become corrupt and sort of militarized since Ark took control of Palm City (which is complete nonsense by the way).

The pilot moved at a fast speed so jarring to a weekly viewer (and reviewer) of No Ordinary Family that I experienced massive whiplash. In one single act, Vince Faraday masters the art of illusion from the head of the circus/carnival, Max. Max, during the pilot, draws comparisons between the circus and Vince's life constantly. Max and his crew also rob banks. Immediately, we learn that Vince will not bring justice to any criminals who help him. He even makes robbing banks EASIER for Max and the gang by parting with his Ark card that opens everything in the city with one swipe. The pilot might've moved too fast. Tom Wheeler, the show's creator and writer of the pilot, presents many situations to the audience and essentially says "accept the situation for what it is and don't ask questions." Questions regarding how Ark gained so much power in an American city because Wheeler doesn't bother explaining why Ark's so powerful. Perhaps we'll learn more about Ark as the series progress.

Anyway, the pilot moves so fast that it hurts the entire episode. In interviews, Wheeler expressed The Cape as a throwback to The Silver Age of comic books. Wheeler would've been wise to devote the entire first hour to a classic origin story. The Pilot is an origin story but a rather lousy and truncated one. The characters exist as one-note archetypes rather than fully developed characters because of the insane pace. Maybe the network wanted The Cape to dive into the Chess arc early because Vince has possesses the skills to fight Chess one-on-one by episode's end. I wanted an origin story with more time and care than the one we received. Batman Begins had a two hour run time but Christopher Nolan spent plenty of time on Bruce Wayne as he learned to be Batman.

The second episode, "Tarot," falls into a procedural formula. Chess hires an assassin to kill the secretary of police because he has issues with the way the police force is run. Vince must stop the trained assassin. Of course, Max informs Vince that he will not return the cape to Vince because he isn't ready. During the middle part of the episode, with the help of Summer Glau's Orwell, Vince becomes a self-sufficient vigilante and earns the respect of Max so Max returns the cape in time for Vince to defeat the trained assassin.

The Cape has imagination and a clear interest in establishing a world like Batman's or Spiderman's. The characters aren't very engaging though, and characters make or break a show. I love Summer Glau but she clearly needs Whedon writing for her because Tom Wheeler's character for her lacks the greatness of River Tam and Bennett Halverson. But I don't mind the short skirts and high boots Summer wears constantly in the first two episodes.

Overall, I might continue watching The Cape for the upcoming appearance by Mena Suvari and the recurrence of Summer Glau but The Cape did not earn a weekly spot in the review rotation. I might re-visit the series later on with a post. Who knows.

Fun Fact: Deran Serafin directed “Tarot.” He directed “?,” a second season LOST episode. Originally, Darren Aronofsky was supposed to direct it but that fell through so Serafin replaced him.

That is all.

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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 in 2010. I wrote about a lot of TV.