Saturday, April 30, 2011

Friday Night Lights "Gut Check" Review

The perfect season's over for the East Dillon Lions. The vitriol in the locker room found its way onto the football field. Vince and Luke, particularly, destroyed any chance of the Lions winning the game because Vince took Luke out of the game by calling his own plays, as Coach paced the sideline looking like someone about to burst. Following the game, in the locker room, the teammates continued to bicker and argue with one another until Coach kicked the entire team out of his field house because they didn't deserve to be there. Silently, the team filed out. Later, the coaches met and Coach Crawley said what everyone knew but hadn't spoken: Vince is the problem; he's lost the locker room.

Indeed, Vince became a major problem at the end of "Perfect Record." The QB's worse now. He changes plays in the huddle, talks back to his coach, phases his teammates out in the locker room. He's TV's version of Willie Beaman from Oliver Stone's Any Given Sunday. Lucky for Vince (though he doesn't know this) and the rest of the team, a loss is the absolute best thing that could've happened to them at this point in time. The phrase "gut check" has been used for many, many years in post-game interviews. Lebron James or Dwayne Wade probably used the word gut check during one of the slumps the Heat experienced. Any NFL team that began the season well and lost will use the word "gut check." Winning is a wonderful thing--the best part about sports. Of course, winning hides problems or weaknesses in the team. A gut check allows the team and the coaches to finally correct the problems that exist. This is what happens in an episode titled "Gut Check." Coach gives Luke reps at QB in case Vince needs to be benched. The benching happens after Vince fails to attend a study session with Luke. The flood gates seemingly open.

However, Vince himself needs a gut check--that reality hovers over every Vince scene. The kid opened the season as a hard-working, humble football player who only transformed when his father returned to Dillon. Vince longed for his father but maybe his father doesn't have his best interests in mind (he definitely doesn't but I used Vince's mother's words). In such a short time, Vince lost the locker room, his friends and his girlfriend because his father, and other universities, convinced him that he's bigger than the team, the coach and anyone in his life.

Vince receives a gut check from the women in his life. Jess and his mother have been reduced to the back round in the last few episodes as the males battled for Vince's future. As important as women are in the series, their influence is rarely felt in football situations. It's a man's world that dismisses a woman's opinion. Even Coach Taylor's guilty of that because he essentially ignored Jess' recommendation letter for an internship with Baylor University. Little does Coach know that Jess is responsible for Tinker's improvement as well as Vince AND Luke's grasp of the offense. Anywho, Jess breaks up with Vince because his recent behavior pushed her out of his life. Later, Vince's mother suggests that maybe Ornette doesn't have Vince's best interests in mind. It gives Vince pause. In the course of the episode, he lost the locker room, a start, friendships and Jess. Finally, something gave him pause. Even more of a gut check: Luke leads the Lions into the playoffs with a 19-17 victory. Vince doesn't let his father verbally assault the Coach after the game, which suggests that Vince might have turned the corner because the Vince in "Fracture" would've led the charge with his father.

It's a testament to the writers, directors and actors that the new characters have become as engaging as Smash, Street, Riggins, Tyra, Lyla, Saracen and Landry during the first three seasons. The current stretch of episodes have been utterly fantastic, especially the football stuff. The Julie stuff barely registers when the A story's as strong as it's been for the majority of the season. Matt Saracen's return doesn't even make the C story interesting. I've written about my desire to see some old characters but the show's moved beyond them and the respective return of Street and Saracen exemplifies that, which is the point. Saracen's mature and secure in a way he never was in Dillon. He doesn't belong in Dillon anymore. He's moved beyond it. Julie, meanwhile, has yet to carve out her place in the world--she opts for safety net rather than adventure. She spins tales about how college isn't what she wants, after all. As they depart, Saracen hopes she finds what she's looking for. I have no idea what she's wanted the entire season. Hopefully the conclusion of her arc makes it worthwhile but I'm doubtful.

The Epyck subplot ended. Laurel accused the wayward youth of stealing $20 from her purse. A meeting with Epyck ended with Tami being pushed into a window by Epyck. Epyck left the school in hand cuffs. Later, Tami tells Eric that Epyck's being moved into a reform school and out of her foster home. Tami feels terribly about it. Again, the story is more suitable for Parenthood. I don't have much to write about Epyck and Tami; however, what happens to Epyck leads to a conversation between husband and wife about life out of Dillon, Texas. Coach met with Shane State. Julie doesn't fit into Dillon anymore and the town's wearing out Tami and Coach. Also, the scene with Epyck and Gracie Bell was adorable.

Overall, another strong episode for FNL. David Hudgins wrote the episode. Chris Eyre directed it.

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Friday, April 29, 2011

Friday Night Lights "Fracture" Review

Buddy Jr. suffered a hair-line fracture on his foot during practice. Hair-line fractures are in the middle between broken and healed, according to Buddy Sr. The symbolism nearly concussed me. Turns out, the East Dillon Lions are like Buddy Jr.'s foot. The team's not broken but they're...wait for it...fractured.

In such a short time, the Lions have gone from a tightly-knit team into the fictional equivalent of the early 90s Miami Hurricanes, with the type of team chemistry that would raise the collective eye brows of Portland's beloved Jailblazers of the early aughts. Vince Howard walks around the town of East Dillon like he's Terrell Owens, ignoring the team in the interest of "me me me!" His teammates have begun to resent their QB and their leader because he's hardly a leader anymore. Ornette arranged an unofficial visit to fictional powerhouse Oklahoma Tech and the visit interfered with the Lions practice. Luke and Hastings, specifically, took issue with Vince's absence. Luke, in particular, feels the lingering burn from the TMU sham, in which the university played him to get closer to Vince. At the next practice, Luke takes a cheap shot at the quarterback and insists they worked on the play while Vince visited the college. Coach broke it up quicker than bedroom antics between Saracen and his daughter. Not only do the players have problems with one another, the coaching staff's...fractured. Coach Crawley took issue with Billy's aggressive coaching style and his emphasis on violence during the football game. Before the pep rally, the two coaches need separation as well as the two best players on the Lions. As Scooby Doo would say, "ruh-roh."

Coach is trying to control the team, their emotions and their egos. Ornette Howard's entirely responsible for Vince's change in behavior and his inflated ego. Ornette made it known in "Perfect Record" that he'd run the college recruitment part of his son's life because he needs to protect his son's future. Unfortunately, father and son are on the precipice of so many future NCAA violations. Coach's interest is in protecting Vince from infractions but the influence of one's father is more than the football coach's influence. Ornette even threatens Coach after a conversation in which Coach threatens to bench Vince because he refuses to let one player be above the team. Ornette's done his homework. He's aware that Coach talked with another fictional powerhouse college football school about a head coaching job, and he questions the Coach's commitment to the team. The piece of blackmail doesn't work in that particular scene because any one would be a fool to criticize a coach for moving up in the ranks--that's how it works in professional sports. It only works after Levi commends Coach for reviving East Dillon's identity. The town would eviscerate Coach if word leaked that he talked with a college during the Lions' magical season. Coach is in a delicate spot.

The episode worked despite the sarcasm in one or two sentences. "Fracture" had a weird pacing though. Actually, the episode felt fractured in a way. The writers and the crew were in love with the theme evidently. Transitions to other scenes weren't as natural or seamless (the actual cut of the episode seems like it had a few jump-cuts...weird). The B and C stories had no thematic connection with the A story. Whenever the episode cut to Tami and Epyck, or Julie Taylor in the C story, it felt like another series. The A story dealt with recruitment issues, fractured team unity, cut-throat politics and the B and C story were nothing like it. It's tough to create a balance with these stories and I'm sure the writers tried but it was an oddly edited and structured episode overall.

Tami and Epyck emerged from the broom closet. The last few episodes were Epyck free. Suddenly, the wayward kid's back and the writers want the audience to believe that she and Tami have a connection that didn't happen in front of our eyes. Epyck's story is weird. She lied about her foster home and the people within the house. She lied. Her foster mom opined that Epyck's earlier years were rougher and addiction filled; therefore, she behaves in bizarre ways. Again, though, in an episode with a clearly different focus the story seemed like it belonged in Katims' Parenthood reboot rather than Friday Night Lights.

Meanwhile, Derek, the TA, came to Dillon to convince Julie to return to school. He and wife will file for divorce. He re-signed from the school. He'll live in a cabin in Tennessee for a few months while he completes his dissertation. Derek only wants to save Julie's education. Following their conversation, she informed her parents about her decision to return to school; however, she drove to Chicago to reunite with the one and only Matt Saracen. If the nonsense TA subplot existed to bring Julie to Matt then I feel the writers really should've spent more time brainstorming before resorting to a tired dramatic cliche.

Only five episodes remain and so much discord and divide exists. I'm looking forward to how everything resolves as well as the return of some of the original characters.

Other thoughts:

-Madison Burge has been so good throughout the series. I knew the abortion would make Becky think twice before seriously committing to Luke. Madison played the scene when she told Mindy and the other Landing Strip workers so well. As annoyed as that plot made me last season, the moments following it have been exceptional.

-Monica Henderson wrote the episode. Allison Liddi-Brown directed it.

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The Vampire Diaries "The Last Day" Review

Damon's actions toward Elena in "The Last Day" felt like Spike's attempted rape of Buffy in Buffy, The Vampire Slayer. Both tortured vampires were driven by their undying love and passion for the woman they could never have. Both decided to violate the woman they love (but differently). Fans universally hated the attempted rape scene. I haven't scanned the TVD message boards to get a feel for the reaction to Damon's decision. Stefan attempted to justify Damon's actions by telling his girlfriend that he forced vampire blood into her system out of love--a truth that Stefan hardly wanted to admit. Stefan's first reaction to the incident was more apropo--he kicked his brother's ass until Damon drove a wooden beam through Stefan's chest. Who wouldn't in Stefan's situation?

Damon clearly violated Elena. What he did's worse than anything Klaus would've done. Damon removed choice from Elena's life. For his own selfish reasons, he carved out the girl's fate as a future vampire in three seconds because he couldn't bear the thought of losing her. For whatever reason, the other characters shrug the incident off as "Damon being Damon." The problem is, last week he resembled a wife-beater and the majority of the season he's been an out of control character who would've been locked up by the authorities in real life. The writers of the Vampire Diaries are sending a bad message with Damon's arc. He's surrounded by enablers. Damon killed Elena's brother? Oh, that's fine because Jeremy wore a supernatural ring that brought him back to life. The writers seemingly tried to amend Damon's decision in "The Last Day" in a scene in which he admitted to Alaric that he screwed up followed by his mission to remove the people Klaus needed to successfully perform the ritual to become a hybrid. The tortured and damaged vamp received a piece of karmic justice when Tyler bit his arm as he transformed into a werewolf. But Ian Somerhalder's too valuable to the show, so Damon will probably be a-okay.

Following the controversial (at least in my opinion) inciting incident of the episode, Stefan took Elena to a beautiful part of Mystic Falls for some peace before her night began with Klaus. Stefan wanted Elena to open up on her last day as a human. Stefan explained to her what it's like to be a vampire--the heightened emotions. A vampire's sadness becomes crippling despair, love is hard to remember let alone feel. It's like the vampire mythology was written by a mediocre 19th century English poet or William the Bloody from Buffy. Regardless, Stefan's bout of exposition felt like the writers trying to justify Damon's actions. Vampires and werewolves are treated like wild animals (well the werewolves ARE...vamps are wild beings), thus their actions are somehow justified. This is troubling because of the horrific actions vampires commit because they can't control their emotions. Buffy covered this subject in a season three episode. Maybe the TVD writers need to watch that. I digress...sort of. Anyway, Elena confesses that she doesn't want to be a vampire, that she looked forward to growing up, having children and eventually dying to end her natural life cycle. It's a sad scene that Nina Dobrev nailed because the heroicness and (for lack of a better word) and awesome-ness of Elena's gone once she dies and transitions into an undead creature of the night.

I have one small complaint about the last day concept: it'd be more effective if it happened earlier in the season. Of course, the writers would've needed to commit themselves to the actual curse rather than a fake one for 18 episodes. I wondered, during the scene, the effectiveness of the scene if these feelings had been building and building rather than rushed into the narrative. As is, the scene moved me. With more time, it could've been one of the most tragic scenes in the show. But, of course, I have other thoughts on how this will unfold but that's for later.

Damon tried to right the wrong following his violation of Elena. His entire plan, though, hinged on whether or not Elena went to Klaus. Damon worked his tail off to prevent the ritual from happening but Klaus was ahead of him. Klaus kidnapped Jules and vamped Jenna as his back-up plan. Klaus didn't do much in the episode. He doesn't have much personality. It's difficult to feel extreme resentment for the oldest vampire on Earth. He's benefiting from the stupidity of the core characters of Mystic Falls, after all. Klaus doesn't strike me as a brilliant Big Bad--just opportunistic. Also important about Klaus, he has everything he needs for the ritual.

With two episodes left, and the ritual set to happen next week, what in the world will happen in the season finale? Evidently, I had the wrong episode numbers attached to these episodes for a long time. "The Last Day" felt like a penultimate episode except it's not. Maybe TVD goes "Restless" on us May 13 or maybe Kevin Williamson and Julie Plec watched too much True Blood and we're in for the worst finale since TB's season three finale. The series keeps me guessing though.

Also, this episode was awesome--just to be clear.

Other thoughts:

-Meanwhile, Tyler Lockwood returned to Mystic Falls. He and Caroline were kidnapped by Klaus' warlock but they eventually escaped thanks to Matt and Damon. Caroline and Tyler's brief scenes showed that their feelings for one another hasn't disappeared. If Matt finds this out, his reluctance to join Sheriff Forbes is some half-baked "let's kill the vamps!" idea will probably disappear but he'll get a decent ass-kicking. I continue to wonder how Caroline will respond to this betrayal by her mother and boyfriend. Sheriff Forbes might not make it to season three.

-Now, I'm somewhat foggy about what happens when a vamp's blood is in a human's system at the time of death. Jeremy tried to vamp himself with Anna's blood in his system but he failed. Maybe Elena eludes becoming a vampire. I doubt Elena actually becomes one in the series. I just don't remember enough about that particular mythology to explain what I'm thinking. So, anyone reading...please enlighten me in the comments.

-Many fans speculated that Jenna would be one of the sacrifice in the ritual. Good job. I wonder, if she survives, will she be that character in a genre show who finds herself in peril nearly every week.

-I'm still suspicious of Elijah but less so. In the teaser, there was an interesting shot of Elijah in which he made an expression that hinted he successfully fooled the gang. Maybe it was a choice by the actor. There has to be one last plot twist involving the quarter-throwing vamp.

-TVD was renewed for a third season. It's well-deserved. TVD's terrifically entertaining on a weekly basis. I'll be reviewing the show when it returns in the fall.

-Andrew Chambliss & Brian Young wrote "The Last Day." The Anibal Sanchez to TVD's Josh Johnson (Marcos Siega), J. Miller Tobin, directed the episode.

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Thursday, April 28, 2011

Friday Night Lights "Perfect Record" Review

The final season of Friday Night Lights finally took shape in the seventh episode of the season. While not ideal for a TV show to wait so long to give the season an identity and purpose, Dawson's Creek NEVER gave their final season any purpose or identity. I knew FNL would eventually state what it wanted the season to be. "Perfect Record" cemented the various building blocks in the season into place. The recruitment process became a whole lot uglier, Ornette became the fictional equivalent of Cam Newton's father, the East Dillon Lions emerged as fiction's own Oakland Raiders, Coach's endgame became slightly clearer. All in all, it was a riveting 43 minutes of television. "Perfect Record" is the kind of episode I dig--completely driven by its core characters and without unnecessary melodrama.

Rivalry week came and went without much drama in Dillon, Texas. Well, the Panthers managed to find the criminal records of several East Dillon players. Aside from that, everything else was fry bread. The breach of privacy angered the involved players who felt violated and vulnerable. Specifically, Vince worried whether his recruitment would take a hit because of his criminal past. Fortunately, FNL didn't portray college coaches as sanctimonious or righteous individuals who value high character over anything else. Ornette assured his son that the recruiters continued to call, which is how it should because. Sports, in general, aren't a foundation for good morals. I mean, teams try to deceive themselves as valuing character and class above all but even a malcontent like Jimmy Smith will be drafted in the first round tonight--he'll just go in the 20s rather than the top 20 or top 10. If the player has the talent, he'll be fine as long as his off-the-field issues doesn't destroy his career. Vince transformed himself from a criminal malcontent into a role-model and ideal citizen in Dillon. He'll be fine.

The recruitment process has transformed Vince's ego and arrogance though. Ornette's somewhat responsible for his son's behavior. Right now, Vince is on delicate ground. The man who pulled him out of a squad car and changed his future is being treated like garbage while the man who abandoned him is the beacon of fatherly wisdom and advice. Ornette told Vince that he wouldn't let him fall. One wonders about Ornette's motivations--his selfish interests vs the best interest of his son. Colleges aren't shy to offer large sums of cash to the family of someone they want. It's shady and illegal but it's part of the process. The reason Coach wanted to run the process through him is to avoid that side of recruitment. Ornette pushed Coach out. Meanwhile, Vince runs up the score for the sake of recruitment even if it disobeys the Coach's orders. The 38-7 demolition over the Panthers officially marked the end of any control Coach had over his QB and team.

Meanwhile, Jason Street returned to Dillon for the game between the schools. Street's a more successful agent as well as a married man. Life's treated the boy well since his paralysis happened in the Pilot but he worked to change his circumstances. In an episode that showed so much divide and disconnect, Street's presence is a reminder of how an individual can overcome anything thrown his or her way. Street's presence signifies that resilience. Street's more than a symbol in the episode, of course. He offers Coach representation and, later, suggests Coach Taylor for a head-coaching job at a college in Florida. He also expresses disappointment in what the Lions are versus what the Panthers used to be under Coach Taylor. Street only received a few scenes but they were monumental in terms of the endgame and the current narrative of the season.

I have some complaints about the record. I liked the stuff with Coach, the Howards and the recruitment process as well as the return of Jason Street; however, I wonder how the Panthers fell apart so fast in less than a year. The McCoys disappeared along with that hot-shot head coach. Mac McGill's the head coach. How? What? And when? Are the writers suggesting Landry, with that damn field goal of his, sent the West Dillon Panthers into a spiral of mediocrity? I understand the juxtaposition of the show--the once mighty Panthers are what the Lions were last season. It's karmic and the audience will cheer that. I also have problems with the portrayal of the Lions as the high school version of the Oakland Raiders in their once mightier years--a group of thugs who succeed by being thugs. Teams with discipline issues rarely succeed on the field like the Lions. In "Kingdom," they racked up 24 penalties for nearly 300 yards. Such undiscipline would be hard to overcome. The Lions are one big group of Richie Incognitos and Alex Barrons. Actually, it seems like the writers watched the 30 for 30 documentary on the Miami Hurricanes and thought it'd be neat to make the Lions the high school version of the team. The problem is, the Lions don't have the talent to romp and demolish the way they do. The writers showed the team has one skilled position player for each position group. Not enough. But it's a TV show and a mediocre team isn't interesting so we've got the fictional equivalent of the Miami Hurricanes.

Other thoughts:

-Etan Frankel & Derek Santos Olson wrote the episode. Adam Davidson directed it.

-As always, the show's so good with small moments. During the team BBQ, there was a quick shot of Street and Julie talking. Later, in the back round, Street and Mrs. Coach were conversing.

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Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Friday Night Lights "Swerve" Review

Last season, I disliked the crime arc with Vince so much that I forgot large portions of it. It took some time to remember who Kenard was and why exactly he wanted $5,000 from Vince. Maybe this amnesia should disqualify me from writing about FNL at all; however, Friday Night Lights abandons plots without explanation, so I hoped the writers decided to abandon that particular plot point. They didn't and, suddenly, it felt like season four again in East Dillon.

Kenard gave Vince $5,000 last season to pay for his mother's rehab. Vince hadn't paid the money back so Kenard gave QB #1 a deadline. Vince scrambled to find the money. He found half but Kenard wasn't satisfied. Kenard approached Jess one-on-one outside of the BBQ place to send a message to Vince. Vince tried to handle it himself and almost went to Coach before deciding to consult with his recently paroled father, Ornette (yes he has a name). Ornette promised he handled it. Following a vicious beating of Kenard, Ornette told his son that it was handled without providing any details.

The story connected with the theme of the episode--actions have consequences and, subsequently, taking responsibility for the consequences of one's actions. Ornette blamed himself for his son's predicament because of his son's absence. If he had been a responsible husband and father, Vince wouldn't have needed to make a deal for his mother's rehab. Subsequently, Vince was foolish to think Kenard wouldn't want his money back. In a show of growth, Vince didn't try to hide from the problem. He attempted to handle the problem responsibly and without violence. Last season, he would've done something much worse. Ornette's actions will lead to more consequences. Vince will find himself in the middle of it. Perhaps his football future will be hurt or he might just lose his father from his life once more. Who knows. Maybe the entire plot will be dropped in the next seven episodes but, unfortunately, I doubt it. The theme made the story work but I'm not looking forward to the continuation of the story.

The theme resonated throughout the various plots in "Swerve." Sweet Julie Taylor remained in Dillon following her surprise return to her parent's house. Soon, Eric and Tami learned that their daughter wasn't the sweetest girl in the whole wide world. Julie behaved insanely during portions of the episode like her decision to run her car through a brick mail box to avoid returning to college where the TA and his crazy wife reside. The truth that Julie knowingly slept with a married man shocked the Taylor parents. Eric, in particular, couldn't look at his daughter in the same way. He demanded that she return to school but Julie resisted. Tami insisted that Julie take responsibility for her actions. Julie, of course, tried to convince her mother that she rushed into college, that maybe she needs to travel abroad. Tami didn't buy it. Eric didn't bother listening to excuses. Now, a fractured relationship exists between father and daughter. Julie will remain in Texas. I wonder what the point of the story is. Yes, father and daughter are at odds, which creates drama. But why? What's the point? Julie always knew what she wanted and she's behaving out of character. In "Kingdom," she mentioned Matt. If her behavior can be partially explained by Saracen's absence then it'd make sense. Right now, the arc feels pointless.

Meanwhile, Luke earned his own story. Predictably, he reacted badly to the revelation that TMU only wants Vince. The kid got drunk, thinking his scholarship disappeared, drunkenly called the coach of TMU after receiving advice from Billy Riggins . I have no doubt that the decision will haunt Luke in a few episodes because (say it with me!) actions have consequences. Luke feels stressed because of the pressure he feels from his folks. His dad told others about the impending scholarship. His family accepts his decision to play football because of the potential collegiate benefits. Thankfully, Luke didn't end the episode as a petulant child. Billy talked him into rising to the occasion, into playing well enough to earn multiple scholarship offers from multiple schools.

Overall, though, I wasn't a fan of "Swerve." After the greatness of "Kingdom," I hoped the show would stay away from the types of storylines that annoy me but they were back in full force. Episodes like these are why I rent the show rather than buying the DVD set.

Other thoughts:

-Billy Riggins nearly stole the episode with his speech and his talk with Luke. Throughout the episode, he felt guilt and sadness about Tim. We learned, through a phone call, that Billy made the payments to keep Tim's land. Billy had tears in his eyes while watching Tim on the field. Billy's motivated to live a good life following his brother's decision to go to jail for him. It's been great to watch. I look forward to the episode when Tim's free from prison and the Riggins can finally live peacefully. Billy's speech, and Coach's reaction, suggests that Billy will end the series on a clear path towards becoming a head coach.

-Ron Fitzgerald wrote the episode. Jonas Pate directed it.

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Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Friday Night Lights "Kingdom" Review

Finally, Friday Night Lights produced an episode that's worthy of the show. Throughout the previous four seasons of the series, I've become frustrated with some of their creative choices in terms of storylines and characterization. Jason Katims and his writers borrowed too freely, sometimes, from the land of the daytime soap. The show irritated me when Landry committed murder, when Saracen hooked up with the maid, when the show tried to tell any story involving crime and the Riggins (or crime in general). FNL consists of many deeply layered, complex characters who don't need to put into ridiculous soap-ish situations to make them interesting; however, the FNL writers can't resist those soap-ish temptations and tendencies. When they resist those temptations, episodes such as "Kingdom" happens.

"Kingdom" is one of the finest examples of why I've watched the series through its ups and downs. The story's simple. The Lions traveled to Kingdom, Texas to face the team they forfeited the game to last year in the season four premiere. In between the game and after the game, the team bonded in a way it never had. Last year, they were at each other's throats--a mismatched group of misfits who had no discipline or structure until Coach Taylor instilled those in his player's lives. A year later, the team's winning but they weren't a team...yet. Vince would improvise on the field, taking the open gap rather than wait for the play to develop. The players would fight. The Lions played together but they weren't a team...until they came to Kingdom.

The game against Kingdom represented redemption for the Lions--a chance to correct the mistake they made when Coach forfeited the game. More importantly, the game brought the Lions together. It unified them. Beyond the game and the team's unity, it was important to flesh out the key players on the East Dillon Lions. My investment in the Lions never equaled my investment in the Panthers during the first three seasons because I knew the characters. Hastings, Tinker and Buddy Jr don't have much depth. "Kingdom" gave those three depth. Their scenes were as natural and enjoyable as any scene with Riggins, Street, Saracen, Smash and Landry, which is important for the show to maintain. Before this episode, I didn't care whether or not the Lions wanted to win the state championship. The arc felt forced and contrived, an easy decision to make in the final season. My opinion changed though. It had something to do with the scenes between the key players on the Lions and a lot to do with Coach.

I complained that Coach was arc-less in the last FNL review. The episode made me look stupid because the man's arc began in season four. His team sought individual redemption for the forfeit. Coach wants a different sort of redemption--not even redemption as much as a reminder of who he is and what kind of coach he is. Eric achieved success with the Panthers in season one but his reputation as a coach has been in question since that day. McCoy and the boosters forced him out of West Dillon High, his college experience didn't pan out and he led the Lions to a 2-8 record. Coach wants to remind everyone how good he is, and he wants to do it the right way. The right way is why he stops Vince from improvising during a play and why he tells his team that they won't win that way again (that way being 24 penalties for 230+ yards). The East Dillon Lions would be his greatest achievement yet because of the history, the way the team came together, the difficulties he had. When Hastings asks, "are we there yet?" on the bus ride home, Coach responds "Not yet...we're getting there...slowly but surely we're getting there..."

"Kingdom" is the episode I waited for. It's the episode I heard set the season into amazing motion. It was so simple in its execution and so masterful in its effect on the viewer. It's no surprise that Rolin Jones is the credited writer. He penned last year's critically acclaimed "The Son." "Kingdom" also delved into the recruitment process a bit, which has enormous potential if told realistically.

Other thoughts:

-Julie returned home after Derek's wife confronted her in the library. I have no interest in his story but it happened and it seems like episode six will be about the fall out.

-Tami just hung out with Laurel and discussed how much she misses her daughter. Nothing else happened. I felt obligated to mention these two minor stories though.

-Patrick R. Norris directed the episode.

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Monday, April 25, 2011

Game Of Thrones "The Kingsroad" Review

I wonder, will Game of Thrones ever produce a self-contained episode? If so, will it be like "The Kingsground"? While the series is only two episodes old, Benioff and Weiss didn't introduce any more characters and, thus, allowed viewers such as myself (who never read the book) to feel comfortable within the world of Westeros and to know and understand the various characters better. Now, I used the word self-contained in the broadest sense of the word because "The Kingsground" is hardly self-contained as it advances several stories and deepens the mythology of Westeros, its kingdoms, the political divide as well as the law & order of the land. After all, it's only the second episode of the series.

The conclusion of "Winter Is Coming" introduced the audience to the incestual side of the Lannister siblings through the eyes of ten year old Bran. Jaime wanted to protect he and his sister's love, so he pushed Bran out the window and let the child fall to his imminent death. Only, Bran didn't die. The boy lays in one of the towers in his father's home, comatose and possibly paralyzed for the rest of his life. While Winterfell hopes for the best, Jaime and Cersei await the inevitable death of the child, thus securing their secret once more. Jaime goes as far as to hire a butcher, or hit man, to kill the child but that fails. Following their failure, the Lannisters don't have many more scenes. The most interesting aspect of the story doesn't even involve the Lannisters and their lies. It involves the idea of fate and the difference between life and death. Broad themes but incredibly focused in the scenes revolving around Bran.

The Dire wolves were perceived as a bad omen when the Starks found them in the pilot. Ned wanted to kill the five wolves but, through the intervention of fate (or rather another character), their lives were saved because the number of dire wolves equaled the number of Stark children (with even a "bastard" wolf for Snow). Well, the wolves are more intrinsically linked with the Starks than the children, or viewers such as myself, recognized. When the butcher tries to kill Bran, his wolf protects his life as he slaughters the would-be assassin. Later, when Arya's inches away from Joffrey's sword, her dire wolf saves her life by biting into the arm of the prince. The significance and meaning of the dire wolves is a mystery. Perhaps, this is nature's way of protecting innocent children from evil men and women or maybe the dire wolves existence in the lives of the Stark family suggests a moral order that's kept well beyond the mortal kings and queens of Westeros but I doubt George RR Martin reduces morality to simple black and white in his novels. Regardless, it's nice to know that the innocent children of the Stark family have protection from the enigmatic dire wolves.

Their relationships with the dire wolves extends beyond mere protection and into life and death itself. Arya's incident with Prince Joffrey ended with discipline for the two children and the execution of one of the dire wolves (specifically, Sansa's wolf--Lady). Ned volunteers to execute the dire wolf because the wolf's from the North, and she deserves better than death by the hands of a butcher. His girls are full of tears, and Ned looks mournful as he pets the wolf one last time. Lady's death, however, happens at the same moment in which Bran awakes from his slumber. Coincidence or fate? I lean towards the latter because of the evidence throughout the episode. Besides the dire wolves, a number of characters refer to the gods and prayer. Cat, Bran's mother, sat in the room for, presumably, one month as she prayed for her son's life. Robert briefly brought up the idea of gods during lunch with Ned on the journey to King's Landing. Maybe divine intervention's carried out through those strange animals most adults don't want as pets.

Fate's a funny thing though. Cat's convinced that the Lannisters were involved in Bran's fall from the tower so she heads towards King's Landing to personally tell her husband about the new development. The incident between Arya and Joffrey brought Ned and Robert back to Westerfell to deal with the fall out. Cat expressed downright fear of being apart from her husband. Not just because the Lannisters, who they believe killed the Hand of the King, remained in Westerfell but because of Ned's one-time adulterous affair. For whatever reason, the fates want to keep Ned and the queen apart and that obviously means something in this world.

Meanwhile, Jon Snow leaves for The Wall. His departure re-opens old wounds within the heart of Cat. She's disgusted by his presence as he's as a constant reminder of Ned's adultery. Of course, her revulsion's why Jon decided to become a watch man at The Wall. Jon wants to be more than a bastard in the eyes of his step-mother and the whole of Winterfell. Before he leaves, he gives Arya a sword he made for her. Jaime Lannister plants seeds of doubt within Snow about The Wall but Snow ignores him. Tyrion, however, clearly points out that Snow will be serving with criminals--that The Wall's Night's Watch isn't full of noble souls, just those who didn't want castration. The Wall's sort of Westeros' rock of Sisyphus. No one believes that dangers lurk behind The Wall. The dominant opinion is that the threat's have disappeared, that men have protected Westeros from nothing for the last 8000 years. Jon Snow can't catch a break. With a desire to be more than what he is, he's unknowingly signed up for a life with rotten criminals with rotten souls. Absolute blood's crucial in Westeros though. If Tyrion had any other name, he would've been left to die in the woods because he's a dwarf.

Speaking of Tyrion, the character stole the spotlight in episode two. He's become sort of a mentor to Jon Snow because he relates to the bastard's Other-ness in Westeros. Beyond that, the episode gave Tyrion some depth. The pilot introduced a character who prefered the company of prostitutes and the presence of a book. Episode two explained why he's such an avid. Tyrion's mind needs books like Jaime's sword needs a whetstone. And Tyrion has a sense of loyalty. He slaps around Joffrey after the Prince makes light of Bran's situation.

I feel like this review's largely incomprehensible so far because I'm darting between various thoughts and ideas about what happened without saying much about anything, so I'm going to transition into Other Thoughts for the sake of more focus:

Other Thoughts:

-Daenerys began her sexual awakening storyline in this episode. One of the women Viscerys bought to take care of his sister. Last week, I wondered if she would morph into a Buffy-esque figure of female empowerment and strength but I think such a role's reserved for little Arya. Daenerys' arc's different--it's more about power and control. The woman on top position teaches control and power. I don't think Viscerys thought about the possibility of his sister possessing more power than he. Also, we learned the exiled Jorah Mormont is a fugitive for selling bandits into slavery. Viscerys promised he wouldn't be punished for such nonsense under his rule.

-Robert and Ned learned of Daenerys' marriage to the Dothraki lord. It makes Robert's blood boil as he recounts the history between he and the Targaryen family. The scene's notable for what we learn like how some kingdoms refer to the King as usurper--he has enemies beyond the Targaryen family. The Mad King treated Robert's sister brutally. Ned also spoke briefly about the mother of Jon Snow with a mournful and pained expression. Also, Jaime Lannister killed The Mad King--something to note.

-David Benioff and D.B. Weiss wrote the episode. Tim Van Patten directed it.

-Overall, I loved "The Kingsroad." I'm still getting used to the narrative structure of the show, its characters, the world, etc but I thought episode two was outstanding.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Friday Night Lights "Keep Looking" Review

"Keep Looking" continued the average trend of episodes in the fifth and final season of FNL. I like certain parts while I disliked certain parts and found other parts unnecessary. I'm trying to get a grasp on what the season's about--what the writers want to say about its show, its character and its town in their final season. So far, I don't have a good grasp of what season five's about. The first four episodes have reminded me of the storytelling in an ordinary family drama, with arcs full of guest stars who won't matter, or even be seen, in the series finale. I dare compare FNL to Dawson's Creek because the storytelling so far reminds me of that show.

Of course, there's plenty of stories with the current core of East Dillon; however, I don't have a sense for where any of the stories are going or whether they're worth the time the show spends on a story. For example, Jess' new job as equipment manager for the Lions. Last season, she clearly danced for the East Dillon dance team, who performed at every Lions home game. Her arc, so far, revolved around her limited connection through the team. The writers haven't mentioned why Jess doesn't dance anymore. She just doesn't. The unexplained change is fine by me (obviously since I didn't bother to mention it yet). I just hope the story extends beyond Vince. The story's shifting focus from Vince to Jess herself, which would be great because I'm more interested in how the job affects Jess as individual apart from her boyfriend. She explained to Vince the importance of her job in terms of college applications. The part with the most potential going forward was her smile when Billy told Eric about what's wrong with Tinker. Jess loves football, and if the story can celebrate that, then I feel good about it.

Epyck (or is it Epic?) returned after a one episode absence. Tami continued her mission to improve the education and college chances for the students of East Dillon high. Levi continues to resist Tami's enthusiastic plans but with reason. I wonder how many fans who watched the DirecTV run, and critics, felt angry with the character of Levi or if they sympathized with his unthankful job as the principal in a public school system that is broken. Levi tells Tami that there's only so much he can do to help her because the budget just got slashed by 25%. Tami, ever sanctimonious and righteous, ignored Levi and reminded him that it's about the students. Tami should know, as a former principal herself, how difficult things are for schools. Of course, she came from the wealthy West Dillon, Texas where the school's in top form. Last season, the show received criticism for its iffy portrayal of the ghetto side of East Dillon compared to West Dillon. Levi and Tami's exchange suggests the writers haven't entirely corrected that season-long faux pas. I'm continually interested in where the story goes, especially Levi's role in the story.

Vince's father issues continued. He's moved beyond anger because of his dad's lack of involvement throughout his life but he's concerned about his father's influence on his mother. Through a conversation Eric had with one of the boosters, we learned that Vince's father dealt drugs and abused his wife. Vince makes it clear that his dad cannot bring his mom anywhere near drugs for as long as he remains in East Dillon. Vince's father gives him his word. His father remains a wild card. He says the correct things but his behavior at practice suggests that some plan's formulating in his head. He might not even be harmful to his family but he may emerge as the fictional equivalent of Cam Newton's father.

Amazingly, Coach Taylor's a man without an arc. Sure he's coaching the football team, imparting valuable life lessons but he has no actual arc, which is disappointing. If the writers carved out time for Buddy and his son then they should've found an arc for Coach Taylor beyond getting the team back to State.

Elsewhere in "Keep Looking," Mindy brought Becky into her house full-time after witnessing the treatment she received from Doreen and her father. Becky's decision to live with the Riggins gave her dad the opportunity to return to Seattle. Billy looked fearful of being one of Becky's role mode. I have nothing else to write about the new domestic situation other then I'm a fan of it. Also, the episode spent 45 seconds with Julie and the TA. What a waste.

Bridget Carpenter wrote the episode. Todd McMullen directed it.

THE YOUTUBE CLIP OF THE WEEK

Thursday, April 21, 2011

The Vampire Diaries "Klaus" Review

I don't know about the endgame of season two anymore. I was as excited as any TVD fan about the potential of the final episodes of the season because the preceding episodes have been terrific. Now that we've met Klaus and know his entire plan, the excitement sort of fizzled out because Klaus' ultimate plan is...sort of lame. Two episodes remain so I'm hopeful that a couple of TVD plot twists lurk in the shadows but, right now, I'm pessimistic.

Klaus has loomed as the ultimate Big Bad of season two in a season full of deceptive Big Bads (deceptive because the Big Bads were never Big Bads but, rather, distractions until Klaus rolled into town). The character received a massive build-up. Katherine returned to Mystic Falls because she was running from Klaus, fearful of something terrifying about Klaus. Rose and Trevor ran for 500 years from Elijah and Klaus. Elijah followed those two into town with the motivation to find Katherine for Klaus, seemingly, but he wanted revenge for his own love struck reasons. Episode after episode, we were reminded that Elena's death would break the curse of the moon and sun, that she needs protection from the deadly Klaus and, while she needs protection from the OTHER curse, the fact that the curse of the moon and sun is nothing more than a macguffin sucks.

The reason why it sucks is because the curse had terrific implications and stakes within the narrative of the series. The history behind the fabricated curse is interesting though. The two brothers, Elijah and Klaus, developed the curse themselves and transcribed it on scrolls to gain protection from both species of the supernatural. From country to continent, the boys dropped the scrolls to keep the species in constant search of a moonstone that means nothing. The inventiveness says something about both characters. The conclusion of the season would've been more exciting, though, with that specific curse in danger of being broken because werewolves and vampires would be free to fight at all hours of the day. Plus, the audience is already invested in werewolves because of the mid-season arc, so it'd be personal for all sides in Mystic Falls and for the audience. It was a masterful display of arcing and storytelling that Williamson and Plec seemingly flushed down the toilet.

I use the word seemingly because I'm suspicious of Elijah, his story and his motives. Elena trusts that Elijah's honest and truthful in his dealings with she and her friends but the man just woke up from being killed by them. He dispensed information so easily as well, out of the goodness of non-beating heart--the same vamp who uses loose change to destroy houses and coffee shops. The story that he spun about his brother's true nature is so lame that it has to be made up, especially the part about what Klaus plans to do once his dormant werewolfness springs to life upon completion of the spell (yes, Klaus is half vampire half werewolf). Klaus wants to build his own race of vamp-wolves to wield the ultimate power in the supernatural verse. I ask, who cares? Really, who cares? I understand the catastrophic implications of the super-race of the new supernatural species. Why did the writers spend so much time building and crafting the first curse if they had this half-assed one in their back pocket? The villain's master plan should affect every character, not just he/she and the heroine of the story. Plan #2 is bad, bad, bad in every way.

Flashbacks showed the history of Klaus, Elijah and Katherine. They were flat. If the flashbacks were more engaging then maybe Plan #2 wouldn't have rubbed me the wrong way. Essentially, the trio of old school vamps paralleled Stefan, Damon and Elena; however, Klaus is more evil. Elijah had romantic feelings for Katherine but they lacked chemistry and I felt nothing while watching the scenes. Klaus, for a vamp as historic and feared as he, had an astounding lack of personality. It just felt off. Maybe it was Nina Dobrev's atrocious English accent or the other bad accents. Maybe it's just the story. I don't know. I have a bad feeling about the final two episodes, though.

Other thoughts:

-Jenna knows the truth about Mystic Falls. She felt sad and betrayed. It was an effective scene between she and Elena though.

-Stefan and Damon engaged in fisticuffs over Elena because Damon admitted his affection for her. Stefan told Damon that she'd never respect him. Damon then tried to kill Andie before compelling her to leave.

-No Caroline or Matt in "Klaus." I'm sure Matt and Sheriff Forbes schemed off-screen. Bonnie and Jeremy remained in their hiding spot.

-Kevin Williamson and Julie Plec wrote the script. Joshua Butler directed the episode.

THE YOUTUBE CLIP OF THE WEEK

Friday Night Lights "The Right Hand of the Father" Review

The fractured relationships between fathers and sons has been a theme throughout the series. Besides Coach Taylor and Buddy Garrity, the fathers of the various children in Dillon are absent. Every season of the series had one episode devoted to the return of someone's father. The hour was an angst-ridden ride as the son (and sometimes daughter) tried to reconcile the father's presence with the years he spent away from Dillon. Tim Riggins clashed with his father when he returned to Dillon. Saracen clashed with his father. He even struggled with his dad's place in his life after an IUD killed him in Iraq. Becky longed for her father during season four. When he came home, he disappointed her. Now, because of her father and his lover, Becky's without a true home. Smash's father never appeared in the series. Jason Street's relationship with both parents fizzled after his paralysis, yet another example of the thin ice children and their parents walk on in Dillon, Texas. Buddy Garrity isn't an innocent either. His extra-marital affair destroyed his marriage, nearly destroyed his relationship with his daughter Lyla and the rest of his family moved 1500 miles away from him.

Vince Howard's been a kid who had to become a man at a very early age in life because of the way his father behaved and treated his mother. Vince experienced legal problems as a result of his dabblings in criminal life--something that may've been avoided with a stable father figure in his life. He watched his mother struggle with alcohol addiction for years. We learn that Vince blames his father for making his mother that way. His father's silence only confirms his son's accusations. When Vince's father gets paroled and released from prison, Vince feels conflicted, angry and frustrated--even moreso when he learns his mother granted his dad permission to stay in their house.

Like several characters before him in the series, Vince is confronted by his father's presence and what it means to him. He's a teenager, prone to heightened emotions and fits of rage so he doesn't handle the situation in a healthy way. He acts out at a team event for the community. He lashes out at his friends and girlfriend. Throughout this, Vince is simply trying to process the many emotions he's feelings. He reaches a breaking point in coach's office after Eric asks his QB to strive to be better. Vince tearfully states that he doesn't know how to be better for his coach or for his mother. Eric simply tells him that he's not asking Vince to be better, just to try because that builds character.

After the meeting, at Vince's home, his dad finishes packing things. He explains to his son that he'll follow his wishes because Vince is the man in the family. Before he departs, he tells his son how proud he is of him, about his experience watching his son play football. Vince chokes up. His dad walks out the door but not before Vince wonders where he'll be. "I'll be around," his father tells him. It was a natural end point for the episode. Currently, HIMYM's telling a similar father-son story except the execution of the story is terrible. Conflict disappears quickly because of sitcom magic. If Vince had asked his father to stay, it would've been false and manipulative. Now, father and son have a chance to develop their relationship in a natural, realistic way. Hopefully, he doesn't become the fictional equivalent to Cam Newton's father though (that's from the grapevine though).

Meanwhile, the seemingly harmless high school party that happened in "On The Outside Looking In" turned out to be harmful. Video of the rally girl-as-a-puppet popped up on the internet, with several key Dillon Lions featured in the video. Levi told Eric that parents want the students expelled. Eric negotiates with Levi and saves his team's season by convincing the principal to let their coach handle it. It becomes a joint operation by husband and wife. Eric threatens his players with expulsion from the team should they behave that way again. Tami tries to communicate a very important message about respect and reputation to the girls, especially Mara--the rally girl who threatened to steal Vince in episode two. Tami reaches through to the girl too. I wonder if Mara will be a recurring character or if her arc has ended. I liked the B story because the high school party had consequences. I always forget how good the FNL writers are with the "actions have consequences" idea. I appreciate it as a fan of great storytelling.

There are still elements of FNL storytelling that frustrates me though. For example, Julie and Derek. The student and the TA had sex. What's the point? Every show with a college setting inevitably chooses to tell a story like Julie and Derek, even Joss Whedon couldn't resist the student with the TA relationship. It's pointless. It's filler. I know how annoying this plotline will be. Derek's married to a prestigious professor. There will be drama. It'll end with Julie's expulsion from school, just in time for the final episodes of the series so she can be in Dillon where the quality storytelling's taking place. I have no patience for student/professor affair storylines in television because they end the same way.

Furthermore, I dreaded the A story heading into the episode. I knew that his father would be back because of the spoilerific preview at the end of "Expectations" last Friday night. I tired of parental issues in FNL. The acting saved the story and gave it life. Could Aimee Teegarden and Gil McKinney do the same for their story? Maybe. Michael B. Jordan's performance made me care about the A story. Aimee Teegarden's lovely but her storyline's as useless as Saracen interning with the free-spirited sculptor last season.

Overall, I dug the A story, appreciated the storytelling in the B story, hated the C story and I don't particularly care for Buddy's upcoming arc with his troubled son. I'd be remiss if I ignored Jess' new job as equipment manager for the Lions. Jurnee Smollett's a delight in every episode and I loved the one scene we got with her as equipment manager. The comedic possibilities between she and Billy Riggins are endless. Also, the Lions are 3-0 after another miraculous victory. "The Right Hand of the Father" wasn't mind-blowing. It was an average episode of FNL. The C story hurt the episode though. Blah.

Patrick Massett & John Zinman wrote the episode. John Boyd directed it.

THE YOUTUBE CLIP OF THE WEEK

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Friday Night Lights "On The Outside Looking In" Review

I decided to rent the FNL DVDs rather than watching each episode on a weekly basis for the next three months. Don't read the reviews if you intend on watching the season on NBC until you've seen the episode that I reviewed. Spoilers will exist throughout the review. If you've watched the DVDs or the DirectTV run, then feel free to read each review and share it with your friends. Anywho, onto the actual series:

"Expectations" set up various arcs for different characters. The East Dillon Lions upset the #8 ranked team in Texas. Tami began her new job as the guidance counselor at East Dillon. Becky moved in with Billy and Mindy. Julie moved on from Dillon and into college. "On The Outside Looking In" continues from where "Expectations" left off. Arc building continues. The seeds for the season five story continue to be planted.

The expectations for the East Dillon Lions have gotten greater since their upset victory. The team's no longer content with simply winning. The coaches aren't either. The team feels like they earned a Top 20 ranking for beating a Top 10 team. Eric tries to manage his team's expectations. He becomes perturbed when the players pay more attention to rankings than actual practice. Eric's not immune to curiosity though. Upon discovery that the team won't be ranked combined with news that Luke's hit will be under review for possible suspension, Eric goes to Buddy to see what's what. The team and its coaches feel like the Lions have been given a raw deal and a lack of respect. Buddy more or less confirms the team's suspicions because the athletic association views East Dillon as outsiders. The association has more incentive to protect other teams. Eric doesn't take the news well. He argues on behalf of his player in front of the board but to no avail. The board wants to send a message to the rest of the conference. Before their next game, Eric writers "STATE" on the white board--the one word that rallies the Lions into a frenzy. Game on.

Throughout the series, I've had various issues with FNL's portrayal of football. I like the story the show will be telling throughout the season (or the potential of the story). I wonder, shouldn't the team have waited a few weeks until they've won a few more games? I'm not sure how the high school Texas rankings work but a 2-8 team that upset West Dillon and the #8 team doesn't seem like they should be ranked in the second week of the season. Regardless, I like the story because it's a return of sorts to season one when the Panthers were underdogs after they lost Jason Street. The football team's story became much more than a measure of wins and losses. Coach Taylor was under fire. The team had to come together as family. Matt Saracen transformed himself, personally, through football. The Lions should be as feel-good as those season one Panthers. Last season, they were a rag-tag group of misfits thrown together by coach with no identity and no pedigree of winning. Now, they know how to win, they believe in one another and they believe in coach.

Coach isn't the only Taylor on the outside looking in. Tami continues to struggle in her attempt to initiate change in East Dillon High. Each idea she presents to the faculty is ignored. Their cynicism has zapped their enthusiasm to initiate change as educators. The faculty's a collection of passive teachers collecting paychecks. Tami experiences one iota of positivity though. She seemingly broke through to malcontent Epic who finally showed up for their scheduled meeting. Tami convinced Epic that she'll care about her and guide her even if her foster parents do not. The encouragement's enough for Epic. The relationship's reminiscent of Tami and Tyra during the early seasons of the show. Also, Tami gets one volunteer for her after school "Homework Help" program. Baby-steps.

Tami's story hasn't exactly been a bunch of fun. It feels too recycled. She's been down this road before in the series. I'm not sure what the show wants to accomplish through Tami. It'd be interesting if the story becomes a commentary on the public school system as a whole throughout the country, and the difficulty in changing the existing infrastructure of the public school system. If Tami singularly changed the system, it'd feel good but it'd lack the realism that FNL's nailed in their previous four seasons.

Meanwhile, Julie's transition to college has been rough. She hasn't made friends and she can't even find a study group. Julie meets the head TA for one of her classes, Dustin, and the two hit it off over a football game. The previews made it clear where the storyline's going. Beyond his introduction, Julie's story is thin. I wonder if the fictional B.U. even has freshman orientation. Freshmen, whether they truly like one another, form packs during orientation (especially the freshmen who live on the same dorm floor). Julie's an outsider, which continues that theme among the Taylor family. There isn't much else to say about good ol Julie Taylor. Aimee Teegarden looks fantastic.

Vince receives several letters of intent from various prestigious Davison I football schools. He also meets a local booster who offers to take care of whatever he needs. It should be interesting to watch Vince's ascension into local celebrity. Luke, meanwhile, grows closer with Becky after she drives him home. Becky and Mindy clash at the Riggins house. Mindy's frustrated that Becky stayed out so late without informing she or Billy. Becky's not used to any one caring or noticing. There isn't much to write about the East Dillon kids though. It's only episode two though.

The second episode of the season entertained me. I think the season's still getting its footing. I've read in various places that the season really takes off with episode five. Until then, I'm content with seeing the East Dillon kids in simple yet fun high school plots. The Tami story isn't interesting enough yet because I have no idea what path they'll take with it. But I have faith in the rest of the season.

Kerry Ehrin wrote the episode. Michael Waxman directed it. Ehrin's been with the show since it began. I even read the first draft of his "Who's Your Daddy" script.

THE YOUTUBE CLIP OF THE WEEK

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

The Chicago Code "St. Valentine's Day Massacre" Review

Awhile ago, I argued that Teresa Colvin and Ronin Gibbons were two sides of the same coin. I asked writer Jon Worley during one of the Twitter Q&As whether or not that was intentional. Worley only offered two words "interesting theory." The comparison makes sense to me but maybe TCC writers would laugh me out of the room if I presented it to them. The last few episodes dropped the Colvin vs. The Force arc as the series decided to focus on deepening the central characters of the series. Colvin vs. The Force re-surfaces in the best episode since the Pilot.

The Pilot and subsequent episode established the issues between the new superintendent and the rest of the cops of Chicago. Colvin's immediate goal was to rid the force of the cops who didn't perform their job as they should. The cops felt like they had a target on their back. They reacted with vitriol. "St. Valentine's Day Massacre" shows that the vitriol towards Colvin hasn't disappeared. The vitriol has grown, so much so that the union rep arrived in town for a vote that would decide the longevity of Colvin's job. Without the mayor's clear and unwavering support, Colvin's essentially a dead duck. A radio appearance went horribly wrong when an actual cop called into complain about Colvin and how Chicago's in worse shape with Colvin as the superintendent. Colvin's forced to respond to a crime before she can publicly respond--a decision that's costly because it hurts her image and reputation even more. Luckily for her, the crime allows the superintendent the chance to instill confidence in the mayor, the police and the city of Chicago. TV is a wonderful thing, isn't it?

As the episode opens, Teresa narrates over a collection of photographs from the St. Valentine's Day Massacre. The superintendent lost his job because of the massacre. Al Capone took effectively took control of the city when he dressed his mobsters up as cops and murdered a table. A similar gangland style crime happens, and Teresa's walking in the same shoes as that superintendent. One of Chicago's gangs is responsible for the murder. With the majority of the cases on TCC, the actual whodunit isn't as important as the story of why it happened. The story behind the murder involves a notorious crime family and a power play (sort of). The big boss suffered an aneurysm in prison, which opened a spot for his son Deion to take control of the gang. The leadership transition wasn't so seamless. Deion's sister took control behind the scenes without informing Deion about any decision.

Teresa watches the case develop and identifies an ally in Deion. She and Deion, besides the crime, aren't much different in this specific episode. Deion's leadership has been undermined by the people he's supposed to be leading. Ditto for Colvin. Jarek and Caleb brainstorm ways to indict Bernadette, the sister, as part of the murder. Teresa holds the key--Deion wants respect so she'll get him respect. Teresa wants the same thing. She wants honesty and loyalty from her cops just like Deion wants honest and loyalty from his sister and his gang members. Teresa arms Deion with confidence, and he gets the evidence from his pal that will indict Bernadette. Deion gets his gang. Teresa gets the accolades of the press, the support of the mayor and relative job security.

Throughout the episode, Teresa behaves with a coolness that Jarek lacks. At the union hall, she gives a speech before her fellow cops vote on her job. In the speech, she traces her plans as superintendent to her days as a rookie cop. Teresa reminds everyone about the oath they took as cops to uphold justice and enforce the law. She says that nothing's changed for her since those days as a rookie cop. Indeed, Teresa resists calling the press before they have solid evidence against Bernadette--"Justice first, then my job." If she's going to lose her job, she'll lose it the right way. I respect that in a character. The episode reminded me what I liked about Teresa Colvin in the Pilot. She treated Deion the way she treated her former bodyguard Antonio. She believes in the best, even when she sees the worst of people every day. Bernadette insults her brother while being questioned, insisting that he's nothing and will never amount to anything. Colvin plainly responds, "but he doesn't know that." Teresa Colvin, everyone.

Meanwhile, Isaac's deposed and Vonda provides testimony. A man charged with domestic abuse filed a suit against Isaac for police brutality. The B story presents three separate perspectives. Vonda and Isaac's sexual relationship hurts Isaac the most in the end. Vonda has a relationship with the defendant beyond the confines of the police force. Isaac's forced to settle. The abuser earns $75,000. Afterwards, Isaac yells at the lawyer who defended the domestic abuser in a scene that reminded me why TCC annoys me.

The Chicago Code wants to stand apart from the multitude of procedural cop dramas on network television. Shawn Ryan, Tim Minear, the other writers as well as the cast have said as much. They want TCC to have a realism that other cop dramas lack. Sometimes, the show succeeds. More often that not, the show fails in its realism because of scenes like Isaac and the lawyer or the opening with the disgruntled cop, or that disgruntled cop in the Pilot who eventually murdered someone in the second episode OR the entire existence of Liam the undercover cop.

I hope TCC's renewed for a second season because Shawn Ryan and Tim Minear are nice people. The rest of the writers seem like good people as well,. The cast seems to like one another. If it's renewed, I'm not sure I'd continue to write weekly reviews though. I feel like the show's missing something, and it's hard to connect with the story and its characters.

THE YOUTUBE CLIP OF THE WEEK

Monday, April 18, 2011

How I Met Your Mother "Hopeless" Review

I had a strange sensation during the opening six minutes of "Hopeless." It felt Michael Jacobs and the rest of the BMW writers possessed the HIMYM staff and forced the writers to create situations straight out of Boy Meets World. I don't understand why How I Met Your Mother resorts to tired and outdated sitcom tropes in any Barney episode. How can a group of smart and talented individuals collectively decide that tired, outdated sitcom tropes should make the production draft of an episode? Barney planned a night that would hopefully mark the return of Crazy Jerry, the man his father was before he settled down and straightened himself out. For whatever reason, Barney altered the identities of his friends. The exact same thing happened when Topanga's parents came to Philadelphia in the sixth season finale of Boy Meets World. Cory provided his parents with note cards. The plan went terribly. I digress.

The arc for Barney Stinson throughout the sixth season seems to be his transition into an actual 30something year old. Jerry tells his son that he needs to settle down. Barney, of course, only remembers Crazy Jerry's last words to him: "Don't Stop Partying." The line tried to explain Barney's behavior throughout the course of the series, effectively retconning Barney. The retcon is always dangerous because I loathe the retcon. Other fans may not care but the obvious retcon is no-no in The Foot. Barney needs a stable, healthy relationship with his father before he transitions into a life in which he settles down with a nice girl. Barney's clueless about how to cultivate that relationship or, rather, reluctant to cultivate a relationship with his father. Remember, Barney walked away from his father at the end of "Legendaddy." Between the end of that episode and "Hopeless," something changed. Last week's episode certainly didn't hint that Barney felt any differently about his father. Besides Barney's disdain by Jerry's insistence that he settle down, Barney's less bitter and more open to allowing his father into his life. The show never provides a clear answer as to why Barney's feelings have changed.

Their father and son night has a few enjoyable moments. Lithgow's sometimes so over the top and NPH reacted accordingly. At night's end, Jerry reveals that he faked Crazy Jerry just so he could spend time with his son. Barney feels betrayed. Jerry realizes that he'll never make it home in time for the fishing trip with his son. Barney feels responsible for his dad's predicament. On their ride to Jerry's house, the two finally bond as father and son. Barney admits that he's broken, that he's not in love with his lifestyle, that he wants to settle down. Jerry tells him that it takes one good girl to change a man. Barney feels regretful that he may've met that woman and allowed her to slip away. Jerry provides the support, encouragement and love that any father should bestow on a son when that son needs it. Barney decides to join his half-brother and his father on that fishing trip. The story began badly but ended nicely.

Meanwhile, the four other friends had their nonsense stories as a result of Barney's identity shake-ups. Lily argued that she'd be the more financially successful of the married couple if she were like Meryl Streep in The Devil Wears Prada and Marshall a successful Tony award winning playwright. Lily bases her theory on their relationship history, obviously forgetful that her credit card nonsense forced Marshall into that lucrative position at GNB. Ted and Robin acted like they dated. Some guy that Robin met at a department store was in the same club as she. Nonsense occurred. It's not worth summarizing. All you need to know is that Future Ted promised us that we wouldn't see the last of department store guy.

"Hopeless" was a solid C. Parts of it were terrible. Other parts weren't so bad. Lithgow brought the laughs though. The rest of the cast acts like an NBA team during the regular season i.e. they're mailing it in. They're capable of more but it's the nature of a veteran sitcom. I have nothing else to write about "Hopeless."

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Game Of Thrones "Winter Is Coming" Review


At the 45th minute of the 65 minute Game of Thrones premiere, I said to my mother that I had no idea what was going on. It was a unique feeling, especially while watching television--a medium in which I feel like I have a great grasp of. I dare say the premiere of Game of Thrones, titled "Winter Is Coming," made me feel like I do whenever I try to read James Joyce's Finnegan's Wake or the "Oxen of the Sun" chapter in Ulysses. Again, this is a rare feeling to have in television but, once upon a time, HBO wasn't TV. Simply, it was HBO. The time has come for HBO to revive their slogan because Game of Thrones is unlike any series ever produced on television. The previews and summaries reminded me of The Lord of the Rings--the epic fantasy novel penned by J.R.R. Tolkien and adapted brilliantly by Peter Jackson, Phillipa Boyens and Fran Walsh; however, as grand as LOTR is, Game of Thrones makes Tolkien and Jackson's beloved story seem like children's literature. It is stunning how dense this series is. It's so dense that I cannot do anything but write about it every single week, for the next ten weeks, because it's a challenge.

But then something happened. I rewatched the premiere and the story became clearer. I remembered that, despite all the hype and verbiage from various critics around the blogosphere, Game of Thrones is a TV show and NOT a James Joyce novel (far from it of course). The series' narrative scope certainly sets the series apart from any other series on network or cable channel but, overall, Game of Thrones is a television show at the end of day. Every series places emphasis on world-building because it's vital to any long-running series. Game of Thrones just has more world-building than your average TV show.

Westeros is a land roughly the size of South America, but with the political infrastructure of old England. There are seven kingdoms within Westeros. Each kingdom's run by a lord on behalf of King Robert Baratheon. Among these lords is Eddard "Ned" Stark, who runs the North of Westeros--a land called Winterfell. Ned's an honorable man, with a beautiful family and a deep sense of how things should be done. In simplistic terms, he's a tough but fair man. King Robert and his family visit the North to request the services of Ned--specifically, Ned will be the Hand of the King (a trusted bodyguard is what I gathered from the various exchanges. Ned replaces the old Hand of the King, who died of the fever (but it seems the scheming and incestuous Lannister twins had a hand in the man's death, especially with the knowledge that Jamie Lannister wants the throne all to himself). The Lannisters become more of a threat following a note that Cat, Ned's wife, receives from her sister who fled the kingdom. Ned can't reject the request of the King anyway but that piece of news certainly makes his job more dangerous, and more worrisome to his wife.

The rest of the Stark clan are worth writing about as well. Some years ago, Ned fathered a bastard son in Jon Snow. Jon walks around the kingdom with a scowl on his face because he's treated as an inferior. No one lets him forget that he's a bastard. Ned's brother, Benjen, informs Jon that he always has a place in The Wall. Jon wants to protect the Wall with his uncle because Snow's fiercely ambitious. His bastard-ness will hinder him in the kingdom but The Wall is an opportunity. Benjen is unsure. Tyrion, the dwarf brother of Cersei and Jamie, then relates to being an outcast with Snow. His advice: wear the bastard title like armor, and no one can use it against Jon.

Among the other Starks are: Bran, a 10 year old boy who loves climbing. Ned brings Bran to the beheading of a deserter to teach him about the laws of the kingdom. After all, winter is coming. Bran has two sisters. One is Arya, the tomboyish little girl whose a better shooter than Bran. The other is, Sansa, a 13 year old girl who wants nothing more than to become engaged to the king's 13 year old son. There are more Stark sons but they barely registered in importance so maybe next week I'll write more about them. The gist: the Starks are good family, with good values and morals.

The Lannister twins are the opposite of the Starks. Cersei, King Robert's queen, is a fantasy version of Lady Macbeth. Her beauty hides a madness. I won't be surprised if Cersei, somewhere down the line, tries to rid herself of spilled blood by using all the perfumes of Arabia (but since this is fictional Westeros then maybe all the perfumes of...some land...). She and her brother have the tendency to whisper to one another. A disturbing sexual charge exists betwixt the two. It turns out that it's much more than a charge as the Lannisters indeed roll in the hay with one another. The Lannisters are great antagonists though. Jamie delights in his wickedness. Within the first day of meeting the Starks, he challenges Ned's manhood as well as one of his son's. Cersei's political ambitions conflict with her fierce maternal instincts. Of the two Lannister siblings, Cersei has more depth displayed in the pilot. Her husband isn't a righteous king. He carouses with common whores in plain view of his wife. Cersei must sit on her throne, with a bit tongue. No wonder the woman schemes and plans a power play. Jamie, on the other hand, seeks power for power's sake. Jamie is not Macbeth. He possesses a confidence and resoluteness that the tragic king lacked, which makes Jamie more compelling and dangerous. Plus, he's ruthless as the episode's cliff hanger reveals.

Across the Narrow Sea live the Targaryens siblings. Long ago, King Robert, Ned and Benjen (if I recall correctly) killed The Mad King, who happened to be the head of the Targaryen family. The death of their father left the siblings without a home. The Mad King's daughter, Daenerys, wants to return home. Her brother, Viserys, reminds his sister that he plans to return home with an army capable of murdering those who stole their home. Daenerys, like the other women in Westeros, has no power. She's at the mercy of the powerful men that surround her. In this instance, Viserys uses her to secure the services of the Dothraki army, led by Khal Drogo. The Dothroki wedding celebrations are a failure if less than three people are murder. In the siblings first scene, Viserys disrobes his sister and inspects her body to ensure she's ready to do whatever Drogo wants of her. Following her brother's invasion of her privacy and girlhood-on-the-verge-of-womanhood, Daenerys burns the touch of her brother off of her body in the hot tub.

Viserys successfully marries her off to the head of the Dothroki. At dusk, on the coast of the Narrow Sea, Drogo prepares to rape his bride (any other word is useless because it's rape). Daenerys questions her husband about his knowledge of English tongue. Each question is met with a "no." The scene feels like a seminal moment in the show. The symbolism surrounding Daenerys isn't discreet. At the celebration, Illyrio delivers three dragon eggs. He explains that the eggs hardened into stone but that their beauty remains. Daenerys is like those drago eggs--a beautiful woman being turned into stone by the actions of the men around her. Unlike the eggs, Daenerys can break free, which is suspect she will do. More symbolism: her "honeymoon" took place on a rock surface on the coast of the Narrow Sea. The poor girl hits rock bottom and she's literally rock bottom. When Drogo disrobes her, she tries to cover up before her forcibly removes her hands from her breasts. She has no control. Her brother told her that he'd let the entire Dothroki army f*** her if he had to. So, simply, Daenerys will need to take control. I look forward to her arc most of all.

George R.R. Martin said that Game of Thrones is about people and their politics. He added that magic becomes increasingly important throughout the story but I doubt magic plays a huge role in season 1. The element of the supernatural, however, is introduced in the badass teaser of the episode. Shakespeare began Macbeth with three witches who portended doom for Macbeth. Three guardians of the wall galloped in the south of Westeros. Among them was a madman who found dead bodies in a camp. The bodies, though, disappeared when the other two arrived to investigate. The mad man went searching for the bodies. Soon, a monstrous creature murdered the two other men. The creature, known as a white walker, let the mad man go. This mad man eventually was beheaded for being a deserter. His warnings that the white walkers walk on the other side of the wall was dismissed because Ned believed the man went mad. After the beheading, the Starks find a pack of dire wolves on their journey home. Their mother was murdered along with a moose. Ned orders for the cubs to be killed because their existence is a bad omen. Bran saves the cubs lives though. Speaking of omens, Viserys eagerly anticipates the start of war; however, the Dothroki omen shows that the time for war hasn't arrived. I'm intrigued by the supernatural intrigue.

Conversation about the show in the weeks before its premiere focused on its narrative style. David Simon famously attacked those who reviewed television series on a weekly basis, and Simon isn't wrong to argue against that form of criticism. As someone who hasn't read the books, and knew nothing about the story until the pilot, the concerns about the show came entirely from those who read the novel that season 1's adapting. For example, critics are concerned with the individual episodic structure, worried that each episode will arbitrarily begin and end each episode willy-nilly. David Benioff and D.B. Weiss, the show runners, have my confidence that episodic structure is in place for each episode. They noted in a Creative Screenwriting story that the first book lend itself very well to television adaptation. Benioff, specifically, said that many beautiful endings for individual episodes exist within the book. "Winter Is Coming" shouldn't be perceived as the template for the other episodes. It's a pilot. Pilot episodes are different animals than the normal episode of television.

"Winter Is Coming" is an extremely busy pilot. I'm sure I overlooked characters who are key players because they were lost in the overwhelming exposition. For instance, Tyrion Lannister's definitely going to become much more than a three scene player but I don't think I even mentioned his affinity for prostitutes and books. Little Arya seems like she'll take off as a character in the coming weeks. Plus, the previews make it clear that there are MORE and MORE characters to be introduced.

Other Thoughts:

-Emilia Clarke, who portrays Daenerys, is on the cover of the latest Creative Screenwriting magazine. She immediately caught my eye because of how pretty she is. I had no idea what character she'd play but, again, I had no idea what Game of Thrones was about until last night. The blonde hair makes her pop. Also, Game of Thrones fanatics refer to her as Dany. I'll continue referring to her as Daenerys until her nickname becomes part of the show. Daenerys isn't hard to spell, contrary to popular opinion.

-Tim Van Patten directed the Pilot. Van Patten was all over Boardwalk Empire during the first season as a writer and director. Tom McCarthy directed the original pilot before HBO decided to re-shoot the entire thing. Some of Tom's scenes remain in the pilot. I think Van Patten has the Emmy won, though Scorcese could steal the Emmy for the Boardwalk Empire pilot.

-I tried write as sensible and coherent a review as I could. The story is dense. I'm sure I missed a vital character or two. I covered the essential arcs though. Also, I thought the days of 2,000+ word reviews for individual episodes ended when LOST concluded last May. Game of Thrones seems like a series that will probably average 2,000+ words every single week. I like that, by the way.

-With that said, I hope people actually read these reviews.

-David Benioff and D.B. Weiss wrote the episode.

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Sunday, April 17, 2011

Scream 4 Review

Scream 4 has an intriguing thematic idea--the genesis of celebrity in the 21st century. The movie's final act relies on that theme. In an era that associates Snooki and the rest of the Jersey Shore cast as celebrities, it's timely. The entire movie tries to be a commentary on the 21st century--its youth and technology. The original Scream defined 90s horror, and it sort of defined that decade. Scream 4 tries to be that definitive movie for the present; however, the screenplay's a mess and the story non-existent. If the Weinsteins weren't in such a rush to put Scream 4 in theaters by April and if the duo would've allowed Williamson the freedom to stay true to his vision as well as the time to execute his vision (even with his TVD commitment) then maybe the movie could've been what it tried to be.


Scream 4's notable for its lack of story. Sidney returns to Woodsboro to promote her tell-all book about her experiences as a survivor of the Woodsboro murders. Ghostface begins slicing and dicing once she returns to her hometown. Beyond that, the movie introduces new characters to possibly stay with for a potential fifth and sixth Scream sequel. Among the new characters are Jill Roberts, Sidney's cousin; Trevor, the Billy Loomis-lite character; Kirby, the sort of Tatum-lite character; Charlie; the Randy-lite character. Scream 4 concerns itself with the re-make and reboot. Like the majority of remakes or reboots, Scream 4 is a bit Scream lite. Ghostface patterns the murders of the original Woodsboro murders. Jill and Trevor have a scene that's exactly like Sidney and Billy in the original. The much reviled Scream 3 also went down the path of nostalgia and with much better results. Throughout the fourth Scream, various scenes and beats felt off, unearned and forced. Overall though, much of the story felt off like the story needed more time before a shooting script was locked down for production.

Before I complain more, there were a number of individual things about the movie that I liked. The emphasis on webcams was great. In this digital age, in which everything somebody's filmed can be seen by the world instantly, the webcams added a new flavor to the Scream recipe. Of course, the movie only made use of the cameras in one sequence. Besides that, characters talked about the rules of the new slasher movie, and how the killer would film the murders. The webcams essentially disappear though.

Some of the scenes are incredibly structured, especially in the first act of the film and half of the second act. I found myself in awe of how simple the scenes were and how effective they were. Beyond writing, the performances by the newcomers were fun. Hayden Panetierre didn't suck the energy out of every scene she was in like she did on HEROES. Her character became my favorite, actually. The Cinema Club guys, Robbie and Charlie, successfully existed outside of the shadow of Randy Mears. Besides Kirby, the two were the funnest characters in the movie.

The marital strife between Dewey and Gale felt forced. The great thing about those two was their ability to work with one another. In this film, the decision was made to keep the two separate. While Gale's just fine without Dewey, Dewey became the worst sheriff in the history of horror. The man should've lost his job by the end of the movie. I missed the dynamic between the two. Each scene felt like something one would see between an adult couple in the revamped 90210 series on The CW.

Meanwhile, Sidney Prescott remained as cool as always. The heroine had a strength she didn't in the third Scream. In that film, she lived under a different identity and away from the world. Sidney's truly a survivor, in the best sense of that word, in this one. She faces Ghostface without blinking. Her hesitancy is gone. Early in the film, Jill, Kirby and their other friend refer to her as the Angel of Death but Ms. Prescott is the complete opposite.

The first half of the movie's good. Of course, the second half, and especially the ending, is a train wreck. The Scream franchise always avoided being campy but the ending embraced camp, and it was devastating to watch as a fan who became inspired to write after seeing Scream. The script problems are apparent during the final twenty minutes of the film. I give Wes Craven and company credit for the way Ghostface behaves in the movie though because it's consistent with the identity of the killer.

Overall, Scream 4 was a disappointment. I'd love to read Williamson's original draft to see what he truly wanted. The film isn't much different from any other recent slasher film. There isn't much urgency among any characters. The stakes aren't like they were in Scream and Scream 2. It didn't feel like a Scream movie. I also have no idea how a Scream 5's possible but I doubt the franchise continues beyond this one. Very disappointed.

Some other thoughts (WITH SPOILERS):

-The beginning of the film got off to a bad start with me. Whereas other media praised the stylish and wicked opening, three of my favorite actresses were one scene-and-done. The lovely Shenae Grimes left as quickly as she appeared. The only reason I ever watched and wrote about Life Unexpected was for the beautiful Brittany Robertson. She showed up looking as great as she always does then she disappeared. Coach's daughter herself, Aimee Teegarden, played the pretty blonde with the big tits (Ghostface's words) and then disappeared. I would've preferred either Brittany or Aimee to have more screen time. Emma Roberts didn't blow the doors off of this movie. Regardless, those three girls are awesome.

-That is my only other thought.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Friday Night Lights "Expectations" Review

Friday Night Lights is a show I've watched from the beginning. I remember taping season one episodes on VHS. Naturally, I barely wrote about the series in a public forum except for a few posts during my "I Don't Know What To Write About Now That LOST is Off of the Air" era of the Summer of 2010. When the series concluded on DirecTV in February, I thought about writing a post about the series but I decided to wait until I actually watched the fifth season. News soon broke that the final season of FNL would hit DVD shelves in early April, before its network premiere on NBC. I planned to buy the series immediately and review each episode every day but those plans changed. I eventually will watch the season via DVD and write about the episodes as I see them. Until then, I'll write about the episodes as they air on NBC.

FNL has changed so much in the last four years. Beloved characters have been written off for new characters. It's a creative decision that I wish more shows were brave enough to commit to because it resembles real life. "Expectations" bids farewell to two more Dillion originals, though Julie Taylor will continue as a regular character (I think). Still, Julie and Landry's respective goodbye storylines were handled as well as past characters' farewells. The FNL writers don't have any dramatic exits. The exits are quiet and reserved. Landry remarks that he thought his last night in Dillion would be epic. Of course, his best friends have left Dillion for greener pastures, and Julie cannot even relate with Landry's feelings. Each storyline had great moments, such as Landry's goodbye to Grandma Saracen and Coach Taylor as he simply states that he'll miss spending time with his daughter.

As the show said goodbye to more characters, the ones introduced in season four had story laid out for them. "Expectations" is a typical season opener. Various arcs were established. Thankfully, Vince's criminal past has been seemingly dropped. In place, he's become a role model around Jess' home, or rather, a figure of encouragement for Jess' younger brothers. He and the little brother had a conversation about fathers, and the importance of stepping up when the father isn't around. Becky moved in with the Riggins following an awful time with her step-mother in her father's house. Billy dealt with guilt stemming from Tim's decision to do the jail time so that his father could raise his child and support his family. Also, the East Dillion Lions seem on pace for a miraculous season.

Now, season five is the final season of the show. I'm always interested in the first episode of a final season because it might set the tone for the inevitable end of the show. "Expectations" felt like any other premiere of FNL (besides the season two premiere, which was a trainwreck). The Taylors go about their business. Tami tries to change the culture of East Dillion High. Eric's focused on the team. Essentially, I have no idea what to expect from the final season. I'm hopeful that some of the original characters return to Dillion once last time. I hope the characters returns are natural though. I'm curious about how the story concludes. It began with tragedy so maybe it will end in triumph (and not just on the football field). I'm looking forward to the final twelve episodes.

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The Vampire Diaries "The Last Dance" Review

Kevin Williamson promised "epic epicness" on Twitter. If the TVD writers earned a nickel for every plot twist in a single season then they could buy themselves a few combo meals at Quizno's. The twists continue. The epic epicness becomes more epic. At one point, my mother (who barely watches the show) wondered if "The Last Dance" was the season finale because of the heavy plot being dealt with in a single episode.

The show continues to build, build and build the tension and anticipation of the conflicts between Klaus and the rest of the group. The stakes continue rise like a thermometer in the Canyonlands of Utah. I've said it maybe seven times thus far but TVD is a clinic in excellent arcing and structure. TVD smartly uses simple devices to drive their episodes sometimes. The writers manage to subvert audience expectations. The body-shifting device can be tiresome and lazy in some genre shows, depending on the quality of the writing staff but TVD made it feel fresh, fun, exciting and tense.

The previews for "The Last Dance" spoiled the Alaric twist. Klaus possessed Alaric's body to scout the group of do-gooders and figure out their plan of attack against them. The device is seemingly ageless because no matter how many times a show uses the body-shifter device it is exciting and tense. Alaric, while useless for the majority of the season, is actually very useful when an original vampires to use someone to scout the opponent. As a simple history teacher, he interacts with Elena, Bonnie, Stefan and Jeremy multiple times per day. For a major function like a school dance, he can act as chaperone. Plus, Alaric's such an unassuming individual that Klaus would have to behave strangely for the other characters to suspect anyone. Any time Klaus-as-Alaric entered a scene, one's anticipation went up a notch. Klaus found himself in some favorable situations. He learned about Bonnie's power. Katherine, under compulsion, provided him a decent amount of information as well. In turn, he made her stab herself in the leg repeatedly. Once Klaus gathered enough information, he planned to murder Bonnie.

Now, TVD has killed many characters over the course of the series so far. They've also tricked the audience into thinking major characters were dead only for the show to resurrect said characters. I expected the show to kill Bonnie because the various scenes suggested her death was inevitable in this very episode. Naturally, the show's twist was that Bonnie actually survived. She had a massive throwdown with Klaus before the great power within her caused her death. Or not. Bonnie lived but she had to make Klaus believe that she died in order for the gang to regain the advantage. Only she and Damon knew though so Elena wasn't spared from the intense pain she felt when watching her best friend willingly sacrifice herself for her life. When Bonnie turned around seconds before her death to share one last glance with Elena, there was something so Jossian and LOSTian about the moment. TVD shares commonalities with both shows. TVD's about sacrifice, love, friendship and family. Despite each show's supernatural overtones (for lack of a better word), each have very spiritual elements as well as Christian elements like resurrection and martyrdom. The women of TVD, specifically, have traveled down their own martyrdom paths this season. That theme bonds the women together and, in some sense, makes femininity more empowering than simply having powers (if that makes any sense at all).

Aside from such musings, Bonnie's story was both thrilling and gut-wrenching, especially with poor Jeremy's investment in her survival. It'd be cruel to kill off his last two girlfriends. Bonnie's come a long way from the girl who used to wonder about her psychic premonitions in the initial episodes of the series. She's now as strong and influential as Elena Gilbert.

Damon briefly played hero. He brought the idea to Bonnie and the idea succeeded. Afterwards, the dormant triangle between he, Elena and his brother emerged from hibernation as Damon told Stefan that he'd be responsible for saving Elena's life at the end of the day and not Stefan. Later, he told Elena that he'd let the witch die before her because he loves her. She and Damon shared a dance at the 60s dance before Klaus ruined the fun. The triangle is quite active again.

As for Klaus, he's definitely dangerous but he felt like a small threat in the body of Alaric. Once he's in his own flesh, he'll be more tangibly dangerous. He was a vulnerable figure in the body of Alaric. It's time for the badass Original to show up. Klaus told Katherine that he'd rather not remove the dagger from Elijah's body because Elijah has the nasty habit of trying to kill him. Unfortunately for Klaus, Elena removed the dagger from Elijah (thus restoring that quarter-throwing so and so's life). If the witch is out of commission for the time being then it won't hurt for an original to be on their side.

Meanwhile, Sheriff Forbes and Matt continue to keep tabs on Caroline and that's it. I expect the culmination of this particular arc to end with blood spilled. Caroline may not be able to recover from betrayal by her mother and boyfriend. But this is a wait-and-see.

Overall, "The Last Dance" was packed with plot. The Klaus arc didn't advance very much but the internal conflicts between the characters advanced like the tension between the Salvatore brothers because of Elena, Jeremy-Bonnie, the Caroline arc. There's plenty of story left for the final three hours of the series. Michael Narducci wrote the episode. John Behring directed it.

THE YOUTUBE CLIP OF THE WEEK

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.