Sunday, September 30, 2012

Once Upon A Time "Broken" Review

Nothing in Once Upon a Time surprises me. Wait, I've written that before, last May actually, in my review of the finale. But, of course, Once Upon a Time is uninterested in breaking their formula, even though the curse has been broken, and magic returned to the small fictional town in Maine, good ol' Storybrooke. The Purple Smoke Monster evaporated to reveal a beautiful blue sky on a New England afternoon, which contrasts with the ravaged lands Aurora, Mulan and Phillip traverse in their pursuit of Safe Haven. Oh, but surely the two things aren't connected; no way is there a reversal of fate or a price on the use of magic. The adventures of Mulan and Aurora and Bearded Prince are another FAIRYBACK, yes? Oh, no, my friends and well-wishers; you see, we were watching two parallel timelines: fairytale land is back, ravaged and grey and full of terrible CGI, and Storybrooke is a land with magic. Ah, Once Upon a Time, I did not miss you.

The most disappointing part of "Broken" is Mr. Gold's reasons for bringing magic back to town. Mr. Gold/Rumple was written as the master manipulator in season 1; he used people's emotions to get what he wants, through that dastardly favor every character owed him. Being the Dark One assisted his ability to manipulate the masses, but his ability to use language the way he uses magic was important, too. Rumple had a plan for the plan of the plan. Yes, his plan is to use the magic to call forth a wraith that sucks souls to suck the soul out of Regina, but that's it. Mr. Gold's as concerned about the plan as he is about being with Belle; in fact, his affection for Belle dwarfs his desire to kill Regina for locking Belle in a mental hospital for years. Yet, Belle comes back to him to tell him she wants a monster in her man, right after Gold informs her she'll never find the man she wants, because he's more monster than man. Gold/Belle/magic was yet another instance of inconsistent writing by the OUAT writers.

Once Gold marks Regina, the rush to save her life begins for Charming, Snow, Emma and Henry. The morality of the decision is worthwhile. The trio of adults save Regina's life from an angry mob because they believe they're above murderous revenge. Regina's hatred led to a curse that trapped and isolated them. They will not become her. Henry, in a horrible character beat, lazily whines for the trio to save his mother because she's his mother. Perhaps I'm made of stone and lack a heart, because nothing inherently is bad in the idea of a child wanting to see his mother, foster or not, be saved, but the beat didn't work. It felt false, more of a shoed-in reason for the writers to spare the character's life rather than a genuine desire by Henry to see. Plus, the coverage was horrible, like they brought in Jared S. Gilmore one minute after he woke up and Hemecker told him to say the lines (maybe it was bad ADR). So, whatever, get on board with saving Regina's life.

The wraith-who-feeds-on-souls lives in a golden pendant, a possession of Mr. Gold's. He marks Regina for the wraith to kill. Meanwhile, in the fairy tale world, Prince Phillip and Mulan find Sleeping Beauty and wake her. Soon, though, Phillip's marked by the wraith. Phillip eventually sacrifices himself to spare the lives of Mulan, his warrior partner, and Aurora, his beloved. The storytelling's sound. The structure of the episode was exactly like a season one episode, and it's a trick Kitsis and Horowitz brought from LOST. The purpose is to play on audience expectation before pulling the rug out from under them to show you what you've seen is what you think you've seen, that the narrative landscape has changed.

I really like the decision to drop Snow and Emma into the fairy tale land. The Storybrooke side of the wraith story doesn't have much depth to it. Charming clashes with the women over whether or not to save Regina's life. The wraith is transported to fairy tale land through the stupid magic hat. Regina turns heel again and threatens to kill Charming until Henry and Red wander in from literally nowhere to inject a tiny bit of conscience into The Evil Queen. Henry walks away from his mother, hurt by her betrayal, and leaves with his grandfather, Charming. The wraith pulled Emma into the hat, so Snow jumped in because she didn't want to be away from her daughter again. It's a moment that works because of the build to it. Snow reached out to her daughter throughout the episode to talk as mother-and-daughter. In my favorite piece of writing in the episode, Emma conveys why she feels reluctant to become the daughter Snow wants her to be. Emma's reasons touched on her abandonment issues, the struggle of being alone for 28 years, and concluded on a question she's had all her life: why did they leave her? The curse for Emma was being separate, isolated, and
unloved. Their time in fairy-tale land will be good.

Of course, they're going to wake up to a pissed off Mulan and Aurora. The twist in "Broken" is the reveal that what we watched is the present and that Snow and Emma brought the wraith which killed Bearded Princely Phil to fairy tale land. The introduction of Mulan is meant to be a cool moment when she takes off her helmet, but really, no man would be able to fit in pants as tight as Mulan's. I felt disoriented by Jamie Chung (Real World San Diego Jamie Chung), initially, as Mulan; she's not bad, but she's not what I pictured as Mulan (but I love the animated Mulan). Aurora's realization of Mulan's feelings for Bearded Princely Phil was a terrible moment as it unites them against the women who brought the wraith back to their land, a land, mind you, that is populated with untold dangers; a place, indeed, with no happy endings.

Other Thoughts:

-The barrage of questions by the seven dwarves weren't answered. Emma was entirely uninterested in answers. She scowled a lot, walked with purpose, but she was sweet with Henry.

-Dr. Whale refused to reveal his fairy tale identity. Wouldn't someone in Storybrooke recognize Whale? It seems the characters remember everything from Storybrooke. I personally don't care who Dr. Whale is. I just want to know why no one would know him. Did he change so much?

-The teaser of Once Upon a Time recalled season premiere teasers of LOST right down to the music. Michael Raymond James is a mysterious New Yorker who receives a note from a pigeon which simply has, "Broken." Michael Raymond James is spectacular. I dare say I can't wait to watch what happens with that character.

-I've been writing this review as fast as possible during the Eagles game.
-My former Hollywood crush, Emilie de Ravin, is back on my television screen every week. She was promoted to regular during the summer.

-I'm going to write about Once Upon a Time throughout season two. I'm also reviewing Revenge, so expect Once Upon a Time reviews on Sunday nights every other week.

-Eddie Kitsis and Adam Horowitz wrote the episode. Robert Hemecker directed it.


Friday, September 28, 2012

Grimm "The Good Shepherd" Review

"The Good Shepherd" is not one of Grimm's best episodes. It harkened back to the really bad season one episodes, between October-January, when I wondered why Greenwalt and Kouf were imitating uninteresting and rote procedurals. Now after watching the peaks of Grimm, and knowing its lows, I'm confident in declaring the latest episode a slip-up. Maybe it was a product of the quick turnaround in production after season one. Grimm's earned the benefit of a doubt.

Religious stories never really work on TV. Procedurals usually choose to tell the story of a cultish preacher who compels his congregation into self-destruction or murder or both. Grimm did not try to re-invent the religious story for TV. The congregation were literally sheep. They volga'd into sheep, cowering because of their fear of the almighty preacher. The preacher, a blutbad like Monroe, had red eyes like the devil and drew in the masses through the power of speech and the style of his orations. The congregation is a herd, and the preacher is their shepherd. Monroe explains to Nick and Hank that the sheep-like creatures (I struggle to recall the German names, folks) are born followers. It reminded me of the Arrested Development episode when the employees of the Bluth company became sheep during the day and even ended up at a farm. I also thought about Bigwig's "Thinning the Herd," which is a rather angry tune about the harm religions have caused. Arrested Development and Bigwig thought about herds/religion/groupthink more deeply than the Grimm writers.

The church's accountant disappears one night, along with $400,000. The reverend reports the missing person and money to the authorities. Hank and Nick can't legally inquire about the funds for 60-90 days. Once the accountant's dead body is found, they're able to investigate deeper into the history of the church and its preacher. The case becomes convoluted. Nick and Hank learn the reverend created his current identity seven years ago and bolted a church in Texas after a person went missing, along with a sizable sum of six figures, just like in present day New Orleans.

Monroe works undercover for the cops to test the reverend's story of being a reformed blutbad. Monroe knows the difference between reformed blutbad and deceptive blutbad. The reverend does his best Lyle Lanley impression and convinces Monroe to fund the construction of a monorail. Monroe raves about the reverend to Nick. Nick reminds Monroe that the reverend is a con-man. It's an insult to the character to make him susceptible to the Reverend's charms. The writing for the character is really bad. The acting is bad too. He's a bit like Joel Osteen. Grimm seemed like it tried to tap into the hypnotic aspect of large worship services. Osteen and his ilk draw the audience in with their impressively eloquent and articulate monologues. Preachers like Osteen and the fictional reverend Calvin strive to help the congregation feel safe from sin and the devil, unlike Catholic priests who love to beat the drum about the fires of hell. Calvin fails as a hypnotic preacher, though he succeeds in helping the sheep-like creatures feel safe from blutbads, which makes the congregation dangerously loyal.

Nick and Hank patiently wait for clues to surface, for a break in the case, and it happens when Calvin's assistant is found to be his lover, and the lone person who left Texas with him after the death of her husband. Nick and Hank don't really figure into the case. Nick's occasionally a threat as a Grimm to the church but he and the Rev. soothe the congregation. Nick's character beats happen away from the story, with him and Juliette reforming their bond, becoming closer, as well as in the story of the Family's French assassin who fights him and loses. The religious herd nonsense is the main event.

The case quickly becomes something one would find in Wild Things 5: Mitch Williams. The assistant left her husband, Calvin killed him, and they made off with the money to run away together to form a new life. Calvin's a piece of shit, though, so he knocked up another woman. With the police closing in, the assistant wanted to leave before the sun came up. The Rev. had a plan that totally failed. The assistant learned about the other woman. She revealed her lover as the murderer of the accountant and the thief of the church money. The herd mentality turned on Calvin, and they destroyed him. They wanted to destroy Monroe but couldn't once Nick showed up to stop them.

The herd theme did not carry throughout the episode, which was sort of disappointing but not really considering how uninteresting the reverend was. The sheep-like folk weren't coerced into committing any illegal acts. Nothing from the case commented on the dangers of a bovine-like herd, drooling over scripture and promises of rapture and eternal Paradise. No, its focus was more on the corruption of a preacher, of his slimy ways of using his eloquence to convince God-fearing individuals to commit evil acts against their fellow man, like going along with murder and stealing money. Unfortunately, Grimm failed to say anything of substance. The bad man went down, the bad woman got away with the money, and no one learned a damn thing. Monroe got to be funny at least. Oh, and the ending reminded me of Ira's final scene in "Best Man for the Gob" ("Let it ring...").

The case-of-the-week failed, but, as I've written already: it's just a slip-up. I believe in Grimm, and I bet they rebounded with #206. I liked the cutesy stuff between Juliette and Nick. It was reminiscent of the innocence of high school and even college courtships. Renard's having vivid memories of his kiss with her. I suppose one isn't pure-of-heart for a day without consequences.

Other Thoughts:

-The assassin chose a poor time to go to the trailer. Nick won in resounding fashion.

-Hank kept waiting for Monroe to Volga. Monroe was not amused. No Rosalee. She probably won't be around for a bit due to the actress' pregnancy; she recently gave birth.

-Wu got one scene in which he confirmed his intention to process a vehicle. There a bit too much focus on the uninteresting case of the week.

-Dan E. Fesman wrote the episode. Steven DePaul directed it.


Thursday, September 27, 2012

Last Resort "Pilot" Review

One of the most memorable chapters in Leo Tolstoy's War & Peace involves the possible assassination of Pierre Bezukhov, the hero of the story. Moscow's been abandoned by the Muscovites and overwhelmed by French officers. The ancient, sacred and holy city, with its many cathedrals, burns as French soldiers’ loot stores and invade homes. The streets are chaotic. Pierre remained in Moscow to assassinate Napoleon but is distracted saving a baby from a burning building for a hysterical mother. The mother disappears. Pierre's in a state of bewilderment, and is soon arrested. Orders are given to execute the group of prisoners Pierre's with. They’re led to a post two-by-two to where a group of soldiers fires and kills the two prisoners. Pierre's life is spared. The first six were killed as a warning to the remaining six prisoners, which is a tactic the Tsar thought merciful.

Pierre's thoughts are wild throughout the sequence as he contemplates the oblivion his existence will plunge into. Most striking of all in Tolstoy's prose is the impressions the soliders make on Pierre as they walk past him, pale and frightened after what the act they've just committed against other human beings. The questions most integral to the narrative are, "Why?" and "What For?" Pierre's based heavily on the author. His feelings about war and murder are similar to Tolstoy's. For Tolstoy, the pale and frightened French soldiers were more influential to the war than Napoleon, the Tsar, Bennigsen, or any other general, with the exception of Kutuzov, who understood what was needed and when during the war effort. The armies dictate history more than a general seated on his horse above the battlefields, those people the historical books don't bother to remember; they were the driving force of Franco-Russo war.

Last Resort introduces the crew of the USS Colorado as the near and then pass the equator. The series' creators, Karl Gajdusek and Shawn Ryan, imagine an even more divided American government where an impeachment vote looms for the president and tons of staff choose to re-sign. The USS Colorado receives an order from the government to launch nuclear missiles against Pakistan. Capt. Marcus Chaplain prepares to execute the order but then questions why the order came from a remote outpost and not Washington. The government relieves him of his duty. Marcus' second-in-command, Wes, also questions the order. The government responds to their questioning by striking the submarine with a nuclear missile, and then they blame the attack on Pakistan, which starts a war.

I'm intrigued by the potential political commentary, specifically the questions raised by the two men who lead the USS Colorado. I'm not an overly political person, though, so I won't dwell on politics. The show intrigues me story-wise, too. I love the idea of three people altered the course of American history by not turning a key, and how that decision led the country it protects to attack him. It reminds me of Tolstoy's wave of soliders who affected the war far more than the generals in charge of their armies. Last Resort, at its core, is a story of a group of courageous people who will sacrifice their lives rather than give into a country's dangerous orders. That's compelling.

The "Pilot" is quite rote though, despite the epic cinematic feel of the episode. Gajdusek and Ryan introduce the world, the stakes, the characters, their personal stakes, the island, the power folk on the island, the enemies, and the war in the episode, with enough beats between the introductions to make them feel seamless and organic to the story, rather than a checklist of points to hit. Andre Braugher has terrific presence on the screen. Marcus commands the ship. Braugher commands the TV audience. Scott Speedman's a capable second lead, too. Marcus and Sam have a relationship where one or the other need simply look at them during a crucial moment to communicate what's on their mind.

The mysteries are the funnest part of the "Pilot." Mysteries abound in Last Resort. From the mysterious reason for ordering a first strike assault against Pakistan, to the presence of the soldiers who hold the crew at gun-point for not following orders, to Autumn Reeser's role in everything, and so on, plus the mysterious histrionics of the inebriated soldier, who promised to shoot every member of the island gang before they shot him, when footage of the war breaking out appears on the bar television; all are incredibly intriguing, and I want to find out what's what. A smaller mystery of the "Pilot," which is the disappearance of two crew members, is answered in the climatic final moments of the episode: they've been kidnapped by the most powerful man on the island.

The tropical island intrigue is barely explored in the pilot, aside from three or so scenes. The Hawaii locale not only guarantees a beautiful setting but a wealth of land to explore. LOST used Hawaii wonderfully over six seasons. Jean Higgins is the line producer for Last Resort; she line produced for LOST and helped make the show as dynamic as its scripts intended it to be. Initially, the conflict between the island natives and the USS Colorado team seems to be a matter of control and power. The USS Colorado team runs around in camo, and with guns, using them to get where they need to go, like inside of the NATO headquarters. Unfortunately, since I graduated with an English degree, I immediately think of the conflict as post-modern colonized vs. colonizer. Aside from the war between the government and the men who fight serving the country, the island stories should provide fireworks, post-modern nonsense or not.

Marcus Chaplain delivers an intensely stirring speech in the final act of the episode, in which he demanded no bombs be dropped on their island, because they've got 17 missiles which they'll use if forced to. The speech calls back to an early conversation between Marcus and Sam about appearing crazy enough to push a button that would devastate the world. Marcus is all about appearances. There's no doubt he's the hero of Last Resort, and I even detect a little General Mikhail Illarionovich Golenishchev-Kutuzov in him (to bring the War & Peace commentary full circle). Kutuzov was criticized for failing to attack a vulnerable French army following the Battle of Borodino, and for abandoning Moscow to the French. Marcus receives criticism for failing to follow orders, and for retreating to a remote tropical island in the South Pacific.

Kutuzov absorbed the criticism but didn't give into the many voices who told him the decision to retreat was a mistake. Kutuzov reasoned the French would fall apart without any attacks. Their army was severed in half after Borodino; Moscow accidentally burned, the harsh cold of autumn and winter took lives, and the rations weren't enough to sustain the French. Also, he wanted to save a weakened Russian army from battle for as long as he could. The French withered away. The Russians perceived Kutuzov as a weak and cowardly old man, but Tolstoy saw a hero in him. Kutuzov died after he received the St. George medal for courage.

Last Resort's Marcus Chaplain isn't trying to save an army, just the men and women on his ship. A salient point the character hits in his speech to American is his reluctance to serve a country that'd harm its own. By the end of the episode, Marcus admits he's comfortable residing on the island for the rest of his life, to which Sam and Grace react with nervous expressions and narrow eyes. Marcus is a man of conviction who launches a missile to show he's serious about what he says to the USA government. I don't know where the story is going or how it'll end, but Kutuzov ended his life a vindicated general; to some, he was the man who saved Russia. Something tells me Marcus will have that in common with Mikhail Kutuzov.

All there is to do is watch each week and see how Last Resort unfolds. That's what I will do.


Wednesday, September 26, 2012

The Neighbors "Pilot" Review

Dan Fogelman studied at Penn and Oxford. Fogelman wrote last year's Crazy, Stupid, Love. The Neighbors is his first series on television. No show has earned more contempt from critics than The Neighbors. Some critics seem mortally offended by the premise of the show, its jokes and punch lines. They feel contempt for someone who's trying to get people to laugh for 21 minutes every week, for entertaining families across the United States of America. The Neighbors doesn't deserve contempt. The sitcom is okay, occasionally funny, and even endearing.

The series reminds me of Dude, Where's My Car, the 2000 picture starring Ashton Kutcher and Sean William Scott. The aliens of The Neighbors could've been in the film. They're strange. None of them know how to use a hose, not even after spending ten years on planet earth, in the same neighborhood and in the same houses. Golf carts are used by every alien family in the community. Females fertilize male eggs; males carry a child and give birth. The aliens wound up in New Jersey after crash-landing ten years ago. They patiently awaited a message from their home planet. The message didn't come. The receiver, with a silly name, ran out of batteries.

A family from Queens moved into a vacant house after an alien couple leaves the neighborhood. The family from Queens is the typical nuclear family. Max and Debbie Weaver are the traditional network couple. Max is a man's man. He lives by New York Mets baseball and, presumably, football. He tries to raise his kids right, be a good husband, and find success in the workplace. Debbie's a supportive wife who loves her husband and her children. Max and Debbie have domestic squabbles, but the issues are resolved by dinner or bed-time.

The Weavers move into a New Jersey community is motivated by Max's desire to succeed and provide the life his father wanted him to have. The neighbors are weird. Max assumes they're European. Max's first prayer to the Almighty is for the neighbors to be normal, which is a common prayer of anyone moving into a new neighborhood or apartment or a box on a city street. The Weavers react to the Zabvronian's abnormal behavior, but they're open-minded and agree to dine with the Bird family. Dinner doesn't end until someone in the Weaver family knows their neighbors are aliens. Cue the freak-out by the humans, as well as the various reactions when they learn a new fact about Zabvronian life.

Peel away the differences of culture, physical appearance, and ideology, and the Weavers discover a commonality between themselves and the Zabvronians. The neighbors share a universe in common. Max admires the patriarchal construct of Larry Bird's home. Debbie encourages Jackie to stand up to her husband. Max feels Larry may teach him how to take back the household. Jackie stands up to her husband in deciding to recharge the silly name device, which unfortunately involves sacrificing her son to a jump in time where he'll be raised by his grandchildren in a very happy place. Human and alien connect despite their differences.
Max's total acceptance of the Bird family is endearing, especially in contemporary America where people of different races or sexual orientation or religious belief are hurting, fighting, and even killing one another. I theorized in the Fall TV Preview for new shows on ABC about the possibility of Fogelman purposefully telling a story about two different species coming together to form a community. I thought of The Neighbors as a sitcom that'd stress the importance of tolerance, understanding and acceptance. The friendships developed between the adult humans and aliens are sweet. Max and Debbie openly communicate about their insecurities, and Jackie succeeds in creating a slightly less patriarchal home.

Fogelman's Crazy, Stupid, Love wit is rarely heard during the "Pilot." My favorite joke was about seeing strange things all the time in public school. I knew the famous sporting figures' names would be used for the alien family, but I still chuckled when I heard the names. The silly name device did not delight me, though; the silly-name device feels lifted from Dude, Where's My Car. People probably laughed when they heard the name because humor is subjective. While I may find John Cleese torturing Graham Chapman during a job interview sketch that involves bells and strange noises and an insistence that Chapman do something silly, followed by Chapman making a silly noise to which Cleese seriously responds, "Very good, very good indeed" and then marks the silliness down in a notebook, only to inform Chapman the position he interviewed for was filled months ago, funny, others will not. Others will find a man being hit in the groin by a football funny whereas I will not.

So, yeah, I liked The Neighbors. I'm going to watch and write about the show next week and maybe write about it until Arrow premieres.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Vegas "Pilot" Review

Ralph Lamb beats up the owner of the Las Vegas airport because he broke his word about a no-fly zone over Lamb's property. The planes scare the herds on the farm. Lamb initially drives to the airport to remind the owner of his promise. The owner treats him with no respect. Lamb decides to beat him up. A few hours later, Lamb starts working for the Mayor to solve the mysterious murder of the governor's niece.

Vegas is based on the true story of fourth-generation rancher Ralph Lamb. The series is set in the 1960s Las Vegas, when Las Vegas began to transform from tumbleweeds into the strip. Lamb's agrees to work for the Mayor under one condition: that the planes don't fly over his farm. Lamb's brother wonders why Lamb agreed on that. Lamb wants to keep what he has; he fears the day the farm will be bought and turned into a highway. The exchange is essentially a microcosm of the series. Lamb struggles to retain the tumbleweeds and dirt and farms of Las Vegas, while literally everyone else in the series pushes for casinos, money and power.

Michael Chiklis portrays Vince Savino, the kingpin of the new mafia in the City of Sin Las Vegas, a name that probably originated with Vince. Chiklis made a horrible decision two years ago to work on a series titled No Ordinary Family, which I thought would forever mar my opinion of him. Chiklis looks like a goofball whenever he's not wearing a hat; however, the menace he displays in several scenes showed The Shield side of Chiklis. Vince's introduction is slightly ruined by the promos for Vegas. Vince is basically an owner of a casino for a bit, with albeit shady designs on running Las Vegas. The "Pilot" has a scene where the District Attorney, a character who dramatically opposes Lamb's work with the mayor is revealed to be working with Savino. Vince and his cronies kill a police officer who threatens to expose the DA's corruption. The scene is designed to surprise the audience. In the first act Savino aids a casino worker being beaten, and it appears as if Savino is a righteous man. Savino's 'turn' or what-have-you is a nice piece of writing by Pelligini and Walker.

I'll admit to being drawn in as the pilot episode progressed. Dennis Hopper's great as Ralph Lamb. The procedural mystery wasn't interesting, but originality or unoriginality didn't really matter. Of course I'd like to see a procedural tell a story I've never seen before, but one would be a fool to expect originality from CBS. The resolution to the mystery didn't matter. What was revealed about the city's government, the mafia, and Ralph Lamb was important. The resolution of case revealed a mob connection. Clues that Lamb found led to a confrontation between he and Savino. The men are cordial and respectful in their initial meetings. Savino shows his true self when Ralph "I am the Law and I will decide the Law" searches his casino without a warrant.

Ralph Lamb is a throwback hero, a cowboy who only exists in stories now. Lamb lives by a code (the 'I am the Law' statement is Lamb's code). Motorcycle gangs are a red herring for a period of time. Lamb actually tells a biker his code. Lamb and the biker are juxtaposed. Bikers live by a code. The gang went through three towns and wreaked havoc because they felt they were the law. Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world when violent bikers like the gang depicted in the "Pilot" decide they are the law. Lamb believes being the law involves discipline, accountability, and responsibility. Ralph Lamb is the ideal hero of a CBS procedural. He is the triumphant cowboy in paintings, riding his horse as the sun sets, lit up by the dying rays.

The "Pilot" is well-done. The mysterious case-of-the-week follows the typical beats. The writing is strong. The performances are good. The direction was terrific. It does feel like you've been dropped into 1960s Las Vegas. The creators promised a mixture of serialization and procedural. The ending provides a preview of the balance. Ralph needs to investigate the death of the officer we saw earlier. I'm not interested enough in the show to continue watching on a weekly basis though. I watched the episode without any expectations, and I found that I quite enjoyed it. It could be one of those shows one can watch every now and then if you're in the mood for classic Western with more than touch of mafia intrigue.


Go On "Bench Clearing Brawl" Review

Moving forward is tough. Move too fast and people get concerned. Move too slow and people get concerned. Ryan wants to move fast, as fast as Zdeno Chara slap shot from the point. The group is concerned. Lauren is concerned. Janie's sewing machine is the symbol of Ryan's speed through the grieving process. Ryan gives away the sewing machine when he needs more room for a life-size cutout of him; he wants to make room in his life himself because he's all he's got.

Ryan's emotional journey is framed through a group activity during therapy. Lauren tasked her patients with creating a collage about their past and their future. The activity is designed to help people realize a future exists, even though they each suffered a loss. The show's tone continues to be problematic. The sitcom format dictates a wacky approach be taken to Ryan's journey through the episode. Lauren tries to connect with the part of Ryan he hides from others, the part who cries because he misses his wife and who cries because she's gone. Ryan names Lauren's technique "going for the cry." Lauren denies she goes for the cry. The group supports Ryan's new name for the technique.

Anne's Ryan's dance partner through their shared uncomfortable and difficult moving on process. Neither know the speed they must travel nor are they sure they're prepared for what lurks in the future. Ryan stresses how unsentimental the sewing machine is to him. A memory of Janie sewing his name to a jersey isn't dwelled on. Janie just did it. That's all. Anne anxiously talks about a wedding she's been invited to. The woman's anxious because the wedding is the first occasion she'll be alone without her Patti. Ryan agrees to attend the wedding with her. Weddings are holy union of soul and body. Anne thinks about the soul and the body. A pretty woman meets her look from across the room. Ryan obnoxiously nags Anne about what she'll do. Anne wants to do nothing. The looks freeze her in her place, and she can barely strain her neck to look behind at the woman who's interested in her, body and soul. A life and a love without her Patti is incomprehensible; however, Anne converses with the woman, Sasha, because she's curious, which causes her to feel more conflicted about the future.

Our protagonist learns nothing from the wedding experience. Ryan's not a character who places himself in another person's shoes; his personality and radio persona are the same. Go On could've had a side commentary on the duality of radio personalities and The Self. Oh well. Ryan, as we've seen, tries to solve problems the way he solves problems on his radio show. Sports talk radio deals in absolutes. Shades of grey aren't welcome. Ryan advises Anne to casually meet for smoothies with Sasha, evidently forgetful that Sasha is a woman who's unaware of the pain Anne feels, and so she'll interpret drinks as serious interest and possibly try to take things to a more intimate place, like a kiss. Anne scolds Ryan in the evening, hours after a surprise kiss from Sasha, because Ryan gave her bad advice.

Go On basically gets the essence of moving on. Moving on after the death of a loved one isn't like moving on after a relationship goes bad or a job is lost or a team loses an important playoff game. Ryan and Anne share their feelings about the impossibility of moving forward. The idea of moving forward seems synonymous with forgetting. Moving on isn't about forgetting the person you lost. The collage represents what it's like to move forward after a loss. The group's poster board is cut in half between past and future. Ryan and Anne will hold onto the past; they need to understand they aren't letting go of the past, never to remember it. Instead, they're holding onto their past but feel secure in being able to move forward.

Ryan misses his old self so badly. The life-size cutout of himself feels like a poor effort of Ryan's to return to his old self. The hockey game is representative of his feelings as well. Ryan wanted to compete in the game for years, but there were no spots for him. Jeremy Roenick lets him in when Steve plays the 'deceased wife' card. The guys go easy on Ryan, until he tells them to knock it off. No one needs to go easy on him anymore. He can take the pain, and he can recover. Losing Janie taught him that. The pain will be the worst he's felt in all his life, but it'll gradually subside, and he'll get up and compete again. That's what life is.

It takes a lot for Ryan to learn this truth about grief turning into mourning, but, you know, it takes a while.

Other Thoughts:

-Anne announces her preference for the new Ryan as she leaves the house. The crucial moment of their one-on-one scene was Anne kissing Ryan on the lips. The kiss symbolized the start of her future. The episode doesn't answer whether or not she went back to Sasha.

-Ryan cries during his radio show when he sees a picture of Sonia next to the sewing machine with a sweater she knit for her cat. I'm confused by her ownership of cats. #102 emphasized Sonia's detachment from cats. Perhaps she kept one, and I don't remember. Lauren also cried upon listening to Ryan explain his collage to the group. Lauren's not a developed character, but of course she's a therapist. Therapists are closed books.

-No George at all this week. I didn't notice until the third act when every actor in the group got coverage, except for George.

-Jeremy Roenick was great in his cameo. I'm a JR fan. I'm a Flyers fan. His OT goal against Toronto in the 2004 playoffs is engrained in my memory. JR suffered a broken jaw earlier that season.


Ben & Kate "Pilot" Review

TV Pilots are among my least favorite episodes of a series. There are exceptions, namely the LOST "Pilot." Through the years, I've understood that a great series usually has an underwhelming pilot, and a forgettable series has an outstanding pilot. Two of my favorite "Pilots" of the 2011-2012 TV season were A Gifted Man and Awake. I know, I know, no one remembers either show. I fell asleep during episode 2 of A Gifted Man and bailed on Awake when Laura Innes showed up. Pilots are difficult because of their scope. Creators need to introduce the premise, the characters, tell a story, and show enough to ensure the viewer that their series is worth sticking around for.

Ben & Kate is a typical pilot. Dana Fox establishes the premise and the core characters in a neat narration delivered by Kate, the heroine of the show. The story of the episode is self-contained. The wild and hard-to-contain Ben, Kate's older brother, returns to town randomly for unknown reasons. Ben's wanders in and out of his little sister's life. The character's sort of like a tempest. He disrupts the day-to-day existence of Kate and her daughter and throws their routine into chaos. Ben's a goofy character, portrayed really well by Academy Award-winning screenwriter Nat Faxon, and the entire show is elevated by his presence. Unlike a tempest though, Ben helps his sister and daughter feel better whenever he passes through. His heart is made of gold and he's the kindest person Kate knows.

The story Dana Fox tells in the "Pilot" is unremarkable, something you've seen too many times on in the movies, but the story reveals the fundamentals of Ben and Kate both. I paid attention to the little details throughout the episode. Ben came to town to visit with his old girlfriend, but when he learns she's going to marry a man, he plans on crashing the wedding and deliver a speech leading men used successfully in so many films before Ben's moment of misguided glory. Kate's a girl who grew up too fast, which happened the moment she was pregnant; now, she's working in a bar, struggling to find love and to meet ends meet. Kate's defined through her clothing. The fanny pack she wears suggests she's out-of-touch and behind the curve. She expresses an anxiety about being sexual because she hasn't been sexual in years, and so her stereotypical English friend instructs her to be sexy using horrible teaching methods; this all happens to show Kate's sweet but aloof, and she's too old to be so young.

I wrote a bunch of crappy screenplays during my teenage years, and I'd often write a character like Ben. I responded to the character's eccentric and goofy behavior. Ben's able to determine the moral compass of a man by high-fiving him. A babysitter doesn't want Kate's daughter to color the sky green, because the sky is blue. Ben watches uncomfortably, almost in agony, and fires the babysitter for restricting his niece from coloring the sky green. Later, Ben tells Kate that George, her boyfriend, is cheating on her. Kate expresses gratitude because she would've slept with George. Ben's best friend is Tommy. Tommy goes along with Ben's plans and even confers with him while wearing lucha libre masks. Tommy's also in love with Kate. He's not really defined beyond being a supportive best friend and in love with the other main character. Similarly, Kate's English friend isn't defined much beyond being English and sexual.

Ben's master plan to crash the wedding and win back the woman of his dreams fail. Among the character's attributes is a refreshing self-awareness and honesty. During the rehearsal of the wedding crashing, Ben essentially admits he deserved to be dumped and that he's no different, it's only that he loves her and doesn't want to part with the idea of being with her. The moment of truth is a disaster. Ben's not a dashing leading man in a romantic comedy starring Richard Gere and Julia Roberts; he's just a simple Californian with a lot of ideas and a lot of heart. The bride allows Ben and his friends to stay for the wedding. Underneath a table with Kate and his niece, he informs them he'll move home to help them both because he's their family.

Ben & Kate is a good show to pair with Raising Hope. The little girl, Maddie, is given decent material. The little actress, Maggie Elizabeth Jones, interacts well with Nat Faxon. Child actors are a mixed bag. I didn't know what to expect from the kid element, but the scene when she's wearing night vision goggles and on board with the wedding crash plan won me over. The Maddie character should add to the show rather than detract some of the quality. I barely watch Raising Hope. Greg Garcia has a distinct voice and he likes to populate his world with quirky characters. The tones of each show work well. Ben & Kate fits in nicely with the FOX Tuesday night lineup. FOX has cultivated a distinct brand. The four sitcoms have similar styles and tones. That's what a network wants.

I absolutely don't think Ben & Kate is for everyone. Comedy is very subjective. What I find funny, others don't. Ben & Kate's not funny, but it's amusing. Ben's an amusing character. Kate's not funny at all. Her moments of comedy are unintentional. Dakota Johnson's given an opportunity to show off her physical comedy skills in the final scene of the episode. While she's not a Marx, she's not bad at it. The punchline can be seen coming from 45 miles away. It is a network sitcom, after all, and network executives prefer to guide the viewer like village idiots rather than trust them to experience a show how they want to, and trust that they'll get the joke. So, this is a 'safe' show; good for families to watch on a Tuesday night, and watchable for fans of New Girl and Raising Hope.


Thoughts on Hawaii Five-0's "La O No Makuahine"

Around the fourteen minute mark of the season three premiere of Hawaii Five-0, I lost hope in seeing my favorite character serve shrimp. The episode was too sad. Chin-Ho's wife died. McGarrett unleashed years and years of anger on his absentee mother. Terry O'Quinn wandered off after bringing McGarrett to the door. Wo-Fat escaped yet again with the help of Billy Baldwin's Delano in a truly nonsense way. No, my favorite shrimp cook seemed as likely to appear as the chances of the team capturing Wo-Fat by episode's end, or Christine Lahti proving to be trustworthy.

Out of nowhere, though, Kamekona showed up with a bag of shrimp for McGarrett, but he wasn't home, so he gave the shrimp to to McGarrett's mother. Kamekona told a few jokes, smiled a lot, and all ended well in the third season premiere of H5-0.

Oh wait. No, all didn't end well in the episode.

-Christine Lahti did not entice viewers to watch the season three premiere. A benefit of writing about the episode 19 hours after it aired is knowing the ratings for the premiere. They weren't good. Les Moonves might've passed out when he learned an NBC drama crushed Hawaii Five-0 in the ratings. Revolution had 1.3 million more viewers, but the key demographic is where Hawaii Five-0 fell hard. Five-O's steadily dropped in the last couple of months. The show used to average double-digit numbers. I'd like to think Lenkov's insistence on employing Billy Baldwin is directly related to the ratings drop.

-The season three premiere resembled season two's premiere. The action began immediately where season two ended in May. Meanwhile, Chin raced to save his wife's life, and Kono's boy raced to save her life. Kono was saved, but Mrs. Chin-Ho wasn't. A death in the 5-0 family was promised during the summer; of course the death would be a minor character like Chin's wife. Daniel Dae Kim's performance outshined his fellow cast members. Dae Kim plays loss and grief really well, as well as stone-cold anger and resentment. The scene of the episode was when he walked through his home for the first time since his wife passed. The table was set for dinners, the roast chickens were in the oven, and he collapsed onto the ground in tears. Dae Kim and Baldwin also had an anti-climatic show-down, which is a moment one saw coming from the second after emergency medical declared his wife dead.

-Billy Baldwin's Delano is one of the worst villains ever introduced on network TV. 5-0's villains are usually badly written. Since Baldwin is a Baldwin, his terrible character lasted nearly a full season. Baldwin pulled out the tricks that'd make him a success in a direct-to-DVD crime film about an ice cream man gone corrupt. The writing for Delano made no sense. He complained to Wo-Fat of a lack of criminal resources to ransack HPD and run off with $30-35 million in meth. The complaint happened after he rented a huge helicopter to lift an armored vehicle into the air and drop it into the ocean, hire super divers to shoot the officers and pull Wo-Fat out, where they then brought him to a rented boat, also rented by Delano. Lenkov's telling the viewer Delano needs help stealing meth from a police department already hurting from an explosion because he thinks his viewers are idiots.

-McGarrett's familial issues are my least favorite part of the show. Since Delano and Wo-Fat referred to Lahti as Shellburn, I will, too. Shellburn and McGarrett have it out about the last twenty years. McGarrett reacts badly to the news his mom didn't teach school at all; instead she spied on folk. Just as everyone in McGarrett's pre-5-0 life betrayed him, so too does his mom. Danny isn't sure, but he suspects Shellburn intentionally missed Wo-Fat when they were face-to-face with guns in McGarrett's upstairs bedroom. Lahti's already on a plane out of Hawaii by the time McGarrett hears Danny's suspicions. I already think Wo-Fat's overstayed his welcome, but the writers will keep him around because the original series kept Wo-Fat around for 12 seasons or something.

-Danny and Kono aren't doing much. Danny's custody battle with Rachel should be the stuff of the Lifetime Movie network. McGarrett adds a little foreshadowing to Danny's arc during a car ride somewhere: he warns his friend that Grace will be more affected by the custody battle in court than either him or Rachel, i.e. taking the case to court won't be worth it in the long run; inevitably, Grace will be torn away from one of her parents. Danny and his hair are stubborn though. Meanwhile, Kono hugs Chin-Ho and, later, holds hands with her boyfriend. Grace Kelly needs more to do on the show. By 'more to do,' I'm not suggesting Lenkov hire Stephen Baldwin for a 'Kono-might-be-a-dirty-cop-again!' arc. Let's see her surfing and solving cases and being involved in an actual story aside from her usual role as 'girl-who-tracks-criminals-using-high-tech-GPS.'

-One more note about Danny: his relationship with the museum curator, portrayed last season by Autumn Reeser, won't last. Danny acknowledges her as someone he's seeing. Autumn Reeser is in ABC's Last Resort. She'll still be in Hawaii but on a better show.

-Anyway, Season 2 had many lows and some highs. It lacked the adventurous fun of the first season. Season 3 seems on track to be less fun than even in season 2, with the sadness and betrayals and whatnot. Lauren German won't come by, as she's on NBC's Chicago Fire. McGarrett's Navy girlfriend might get more screentime, which I'd care about if the character had a personality. I'm going to check in with Hawaii Five-0 two more times this season.


The Mindy Project "Pilot" Review

Mindy Kaling's new project is The Mindy Project, but her fictional counterpart's project is self-improvement. Kaling broke out during her tenure as a writer/actor on NBC's The Office. In between The Office and The Mindy Project, she wrote a non-fiction book that became a New York Times Best Seller. Kaling is also a different kind of leading lady. TV executives don't put Indian-American women in leading roles, but she is creator/writer/actor/executive producer. The woman is pretty much kicking ass.

During my two week long Fall TV Preview, I basically wrote off The Mindy Project after watching the official trailer for the show. The emphasis on romantic comedies killed my interest in the show; however, I thought it worthwhile to watch a full episode and not judge a TV show by its trailer. Mindy's foundations as a romantic are the romantic comedies she watched while growing up. She longs to meet her Hugh Grant or Billy Crystal. She'll watch these movies late at night when she's alone. To Mindy, it's so easy in the movies, but why isn't it easy in real life? Her romantic comedy moment happened on an elevator. A dashing man, portrayed by Bill Hader, shared the ride with her. The elevator broke down. For 20 minutes, Mindy and the dude shared lunch then moved in together two months later. Mindy got her happy ending.

The payoff to the expositional set-up is great. Aspiring writers are taught to capture and engage their audience within five minutes. Mindy Kaling's an adept and skillful screenwriter. She's able to subvert the audience's expectations by using the predictable and lazy narrative device to sort of lull the audience into comfortable expectations before pulling back the curtain to show that what you've heard and saw is only a memory. Mindy's sitting in a holding cell, telling an officer a sob story about how the memory led her to this room and to this conversation. Gwen, her friend, bails Mindy out. From this day forward, Mindy swears to improve her life. No more public displays of intoxication and no more convenient sex with the handsome British co-worker. The Mindy project begins.

The pop-culture references fly throughout the episode. The humor of the show is derived from situations and set-pieces as well as from pop-culture references. A lot of jokes depend on one's knowledge of popular culture. Downton Abbey is referenced in one scene. Mindy's co-worker announces how he's never seen the show and doesn't understand what the show means. The joke works because Mindy incorporated an actual popular culture discussion into the episode. I appreciated the humor because I'm like Danny, the male co-worker. The phenomena of Bruce Springsteen concerts is referenced along with Katherine Heigl movies and the differences between masculine reality shows and feminine romantic comedies. The emphasis on pop-culture isn't alienating. Basically, if you're familiar with popular culture, that familiarity will enhance your viewing experience, but it won't decrease your enjoyment. Kaling's a smart writer; she knows well-written characters and a relatable, entertaining story will be the reason people watch the show.

The medical element of the show isn't expansive yet. Mindy works as an OB/GYN and has two supportive girls working for her. Part of her self-improvement is motivated by missing out on the birth of her patient's baby because she got arrested and didn't make it on time. The hospital scenes are set in the 'lounge' area. Mindy interacts with the British man she sleeps with, and Danny, the Springsteen fan. Danny's critical of Mindy's style of life, of her dress, of her philosophy towards dating, and offers suggestions to correct it. Mindy is not appreciative. Little does Mindy know her life is set up just like a romantic comedy.

The beats of the 21 minute episode are broad. Characters need to be defined in situations in a pilot. Mindy meets an immigrant woman and her son. The woman is pregnant and needs a doctor for the delivery, but she does not have health insurance. The boy pleads with Mindy to treat his mother. Mindy will, but only after the boy swears his mom will have insurance. The mother won't; however, Mindy wanted to hear the promise because she wants to treat the patient. She explains to the boy that men tell her things that aren't true all the time and makes decisions based off that. The line is sad, funny and representative of why Mindy feels she should change her life. She's tired of being lied to, and tired of being sad; that is why Mindy requests her assistants find her patients with insurance after meeting with the boy and his mother.

The Mindy Project seems promising. It's usually foolish to judge an entire series on one episode without watching any other episodes. Mindy Kaling knows what she's doing as an actress, writer and show-runner. Danny's the only character with any development. The secondary characters lack distinct voices. Best friend Gwen is married, a mother, and Mindy's voice of reason; but she's off screen most of the time, popping in and out whenever Mindy needs to confront her conscience. Gwen's like the angel on her shoulder, while everyone else is the devil, and Mindy's definitely leaning to the far left in the pilot. All of it seems purposeful. Mindy is our lens, so what she sees, we see. I look forward to future episodes when the characters are more fleshed out, and I'm interested in how the medical element will be handled weekly, and all that. It's a really solid pilot.


Monday, September 24, 2012

Revolution "Chained Heat" Review

The "Pilot" set-up the series; "Chained Heat" had some major world-building.

I read Entertainment Weekly's interview with JJ Abrams after I finished my review of the "Pilot." I thought his idea of the series as optimistic, hopeful, and something about the re-birth of a world that's been lost, was intriguing. Evolution appears before Revolution in the credits. The world devolved after the blackout; now, people want to evolve, to take back what was lost, and to end the tyrannical reigns of republics, especially the Monroe Republic. The birthing process is painful and a struggle, and so too will be the re-birth of the world.

Eric Kripke's vision of a future world without power is interesting and intriguing. Elements of "Chained Heat" seemed designed to shock the audience, like when Neville orders the American flag be burned, or when Charlie learns about slavery in the Monroe Republic. The Militia is written with more depth. They're not the cold-blooded killers introduced in the "Pilot." Capt. Neville is a religious man; a man who comforts a dying soldier with descriptions of an afterlife full of warmth, food and family. The Militia ceremoniously bury their dead. Danny, the uninteresting younger brother of Charlie, scoffs during the burial of their deceased soldier. Neville angrily looks him in the eye and urges the boy to speak with conviction. Conviction, for Neville, separates himself from the likes of Danny and other civilized folk. (I wonder if Kripke watched ANGEL's "Conviction" before writing the scene, specifically the last scene between Angel and the dude).

The Monroe Republic and The Militia are opposed by a group of people known as The Rebels. The Rebels use guns, attack the camps of the militia, and carry around the good ol' stars and stripes. The Rebels want to restore the United States of America. Rebels are killed, or tortured and then killed. In one scene, Monroe preaches about treating a prisoner humanely, minutes before putting a knife in the rebel's gut for refusing to provide information about his fellow rebels; and later, when it's revealed that Rachel lives, Monroe physically restrains her when she tries to hit his face. Monroe uses malice and threats to get what he wants. A sense of how Monroe gained so much power and men is given in a flashback when a man threatens to snap Charlie's neck if he didn't get their food. People were desperate after the blackout, so it seems republics sprung up and took advantage of desperation.

Revolution's seemingly uninterested in the immediate aftermath of the blackout, unless it involves an integral memory of Charlie's. The man who tried to snap her neck ended up dead, shot several times in the back by Rachel. Right now, tyrannical republics exist because they exist. The government fell, people took advantage. I'd like to know how exactly the government fell, and how Monroe gained power. Did he ensnare people with powerful orations and a brutality befitting a centuries old dictator? I'm sure the answer will come during November sweeps.

Aaron and Maggie get their own storyline while Charlie and Miles go off to find a woman named Nora. Aaron's theories about the blackout connect with Monroe's last scene with Rachel. Monroe's confident the Matheson brothers, and Rachel, know a great deal about what caused the blackout, and how to restore power. Aaron's Grand Theory about the blackout is obvious: what if man caused the blackout, since the blackout itself defies the laws of nature? Maggie embraces the hope of the silver pendant. Aaron tells her their road leads to Grace. Grace, though, comes face-to-face with a brute named Randall. Kripke established the emotional journey of Aaron and Maggie. Maggie wants to see her children again; Aaron wants to solve the blackout mystery.

I really disliked the reveal last week about Grace and electricity. I disliked, even more, the introduction of Randall. Revolution depends on its viewers wondering what exactly's going on. Mysteries aren't my favorite parts of serialized shows. Characters are the reasons I stick with a show or I don't. So, yeah, I'm interested in learning about the formation of the republic, but that's different than caring about who's on the other side of the computer. I don't. Will it really matter? Probably not.

Charlie and Miles are the most important characters in the show, and they're entirely uninteresting. Charlie's personal arc throughout "Chained Heat" is driven by her memory of the promise she made to her mother about protecting Danny. Another memory propels her to kill the warden of the Republic slaves. Family drives the girl, which is why she follows Miles to find Nora. It's basically a retread of her arc in the "Pilot." Miles is completely uninteresting. Being a badass sword-fighter whose friend with a smoking Latina doesn't make a character interesting. I still don't know what Billy Burke's doing in the role. Miles doesn't care about anyone. Not caring is a hard trait to give a character, because characters need to care, need to push on and persevere. Not caring can work, but it'll rarely, rarely work on network TV. Thus, we get a weird performance by Billy Burke in which he doesn't care but cares; he's supposed to be layered and complicated, but he's confusing and inconsistent.

Giancarlo Esposito's been great. Elizabeth Mitchell is lovely to watch. But I dislike the rest of the show a lot. I'm not sure whether I'll write about episode 3. There are too many balls in the air right now. No narrative is set besides the overarching one. Revolution needs focus. Revolution needs to settle down with the heavy mythology and mysteries, and spend some time with the characters as they check out their post-blackout world.

Other Thoughts:

-Charlie and “Nate” share a moment when she handcuffs him to a pipe. No, his name isn’t Nate, but he cares for Charlie. Their tortured whatever is about as interesting as watching the Jonas brother’s reality TV show on E!

-Eric Kripke wrote the episode. Charles Besson directed it.


How I Met Your Mother "Farhampton" Review

The mother of Ted's children, and presumably his wife, has a yellow umbrella for when it rains, as well as a guitar. The night of Barney's and Robin's wedding, her and Ted took a train from Farhampton to somewhere. Of course, that happens a little ways down the road, because eight years into the show and Future Ted still hasn't figured out how to tell a story. "Farhampton" begins with a story of pre-future-but-still-future-of-Ted's that he tells an innocent elderly woman who made a passing harmless remark about Ted's dress, so Ted launched into the tale of what happened ten hours ago. Robin wanted to leave through a window as the moment of holy matrimony bore down on her, but, you see, we, the audience, needed to go back to May 2012 to where we left off. Future Ted barges in on pre-future-but-still-future-Ted to take us back to present Ted and the wacky misadventures of leaving town with a woman who left the altar to be with him.

How I Met Your Mother still sucks, my friends and well-wishers. Marshall and Lily's new baby nonsense did not get off to a promising start. The Quinn-Barney engagement is a ticking time bomb which will probably blow up around one of the sweeps periods. With the way Bays and Thomas drag their feet, though, it could be November 2013 sweeps. Robin still has nothing to do except pick her teeth, be ignored by a sleep deprived Lily and Marshall, and have a random boyfriend with abs she wants to lick 24/7. The season eight premiere essentially puts the button on the season seven finale; complete with the same annoying Mother teases that haven't been exciting for, eh, three seasons.

The forward momentum of season eight has yet to happen, unless one really looks forward to the tale of how Robin and Barney found their way back to one another. Back in May I theorized about the significance of the Barney-Quinn engagement in regards to the character development of Barney Stinson, assuming Bays and Thomas planned ahead and chose to engage Barney and Quinn for a reason. Barney's decision to propose marriage was a triumphantly mature moment for the character. It marked real growth in a character that'd become a caricature right around the episode after he and Robin broke up. Robin looked genuinely heart-broken by the news of Barney's commitment to Quinn. The beats had to mean something, right?

The story of Victoria and Klaus is meant to juxtapose Barney and Robin. Barney's decision to propose marriage to Quinn may or may not be significant to the character's personal arc. Through one episode of season eight, the engagement seems like a plot contrivance meant to trick the audience in the finale, which failed miserably of course, as anyone who's watched the show saw the wedding between Robin and Barney coming since they hooked up that one time. Barney and Robin play their roles well through their storyline. Barney claims he wiped out every last piece of evidence of their relationship while Robin boasts about her aforementioned boyfriend with the six-pack abs. Quinn threatens to end the engagement once she learns about Barney's past with Robin, but Robin makes a spirited pitch which saves the relationship. Neither wants to admit they're right for each other, because it's a mutual truth that hurts too much to accept, especially when they're so far from where they want to be with each other.

Ted's planned exodus with Victoria is tiresome and unoriginal and lazy because Mosby insists Victoria leave an "I'm leaving you" note as it is common courtesy. Bays and Thomas stereotype Germans the same way they stereotyped Russians last season. There are visual gags and a surprising twist: Klaus is ALSO fleeing the wedding. Ted tracks Klaus down to the Farhampton station out of curiosity (after switching the notes to make it seem like Victoria's the victim). The fateful plot point between a stereotyped German character and Ted Mosby is a contrivance; hell, Klaus is a plot device. It's deflating that a crucial moment for the show's most important character is dependent on a stereotyped German plot device.

After a run of German words, because the sound of the German language is hilarious for the HIMYM writing team, the plot device gets to the point: he isn't marrying Victoria because she's not the one for him. Does Ted have a woman who makes him feel like she's the one without him even thinking? Oh no, because Ted hesitates when answering. Victoria isn't it. The plot device's monologue happens over a series of shots of the characters. Marshall and Lily's new family is a symbol of the love the plot device and Mosby seek; Robin tearfully looking through the box of mementos of her relationship with Barney, and Barney looking out of the window forlornly signifies their mutual love for each other, whereas Ted's just with a distraction; and he's keeping Victoria from the person she's meant to be with. After all, the plot device believes everyone has their special and destined someone.

And that is where the episode essentially ends. "Farhampton" is a mostly terrible episode, except for the rare times Jason Segel was allowed to be funny. The same old nonsense continues to be written. There is speculation about season eight being the last. I don't believe it for a second. The possibility of a final season won't improve the storytelling. Don't think the mother tease is a guarantee she'll be introduced by season's end. Carter Bays and Craig Thomas haven't demonstrated an ability construct arcs or tell good stories for three seasons now, and season eight won't be any different.


Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Go On "There's No 'Ryan' in Team" Review

"There's No Ryan in Team" was messy and problematic.

Tone is the major problem of the show. Scott Silveri tries to balance the sad with the funny, the healing moments with the irritating ones. The balance worked fairly well last episode (the problem in that episode was too much storytelling in too short a time span---a trend among network TV writers, comedy and drama). The balance did not work out this week. The episode began with Ryan's radio show voiceover, which dealt with final cutdowns for NFL teams. Ryan wouldn't talk about the cuts, because he dislikes giving bad news to people. At home, his gardener Miguel is unaware of Janie's death. Ryan tries to avoid telling him because he hates giving bad news. Miguel's fond regard for Ryan's wife makes Ryan fear Miguel's histrionics once he hears the news.

Ryan's worried the news will put him in an awkward position. Matthew Perry plays Ryan's feelings rather well; Ryan's mixture of dread and anxiety worked and is relatable. It's hard to tell someone bad news. It really is, especially when it's about the death of someone one loved very much, like a parent, grandparent, sibling, child, etc. Tension builds up in one's chest and one would rather be anywhere else than in front of someone who doesn't know. Miguel takes the news well and walks away. Ryan exhales, looks around, and smiles, relieved by the burden lifted. Miguel begins to construct a fountain fixed with the Virgin Mary on top. Ryan's freaked. The turn in the story is played for laughs. The jokes stem from Ryan's stereotypical opinion of the histrionics of Hispanics. The fountain with the Virgin Mary is identifiable iconography of Catholicism. Many Hispanics are devout Catholics. I probably didn't need to write four sentences explaining the joke.

Ryan isolated himself from the group, Miguel, and his friend Steve. It's part of the grieving process. He has a moment in group therapy when he opens up about a painful time of the night. 1:23AM every night Ryan wakes up alarmed, waiting for his wife to turn over in his sleep and hit his face. The nightly jolt is a painful reminder of his loss. The group therapist commends him for making progress in his personal growth. The lesson Ryan will learn is the healing that'll happen when he lets people in. Ryan joins the group for bowling. Later in the night, at 1:23AM, the group shows up to support him in his minute of need. Miguel's statue is actually beautiful and holy. Silveri executed a sort-of forgotten aspect of grief very well, the kind of grief that happens after the funeral happens, and the fruit and flowers stopped coming to the house, as well as the sympathy cards.

The goofy stuff in Go On just doesn't work. It's possible to write a sitcom about someone overcoming the death of his or her spouse but not the way Silveri set up the show. The group is a major problem, especially because the group is supposed to be Ryan's comfort zone. The radio station is for work; that's why he and Steve can't hang out or bond the way Steve wants to. Ryan wants a place where life is normal, and a place where he can talk about what happened in his life. Steve's attempt to let Ryan open up about his loss fails. Steve's too affectionate and touchy to be taken seriously. The group gets pissed off when Ryan blows off bowling. Ryan smoothes things over with Steve by assuring him it's okay if they don't talk about that stuff. Guilt moves Ryan to attend the bowling outing. By the end, all are gathered in Ryan's backyard to be with him at 1:23AM.

The goofy stuff in between the heartfelt and heartwarming scenes involves the group pitching their ideas for letting Miguel know via license plate that Janie is dead. Sonia tries to 'aww' everything Ryan says about the group, but the abrasive woman who wears glasses shuts her down each time. The tall goofy bastard tricks George into wearing basketball gear to a meeting under the idea the entire group will play a game of pick-up basketball. Ryan receives a new car and lets the group members drive around, which is a chance for each member to show off his or her quirk. Now that I think about it: sadness and comedy were blended real well in DFW's Infinite Jest. Silveri would be wise to take a page from DFW in depicting the group in its sillier and light-hearted moments. The comedy can be heartfelt and touching and heartwarming. All of the gags are designed for cheap laughs and Matthew Perry's reaction shots. None are funny.

Go On's is a product of the Hollywood bubble. I think it's a show that could only be made for TV and on a network. The group members are stereotypes of the ideas of quirk Hollywood executives seem to have. Go On's still in its infancy. There's potential for the show to be an average sitcom if the aforementioned tonal balance is balanced.

Other Thoughts:

-I barely watched Friends, so I don't know how Matthew Perry portrayed Chandler. Perry, in Mr. Sunshine and Go On is, in a word, theatrical. It seems like Mr. Perry finds the jokes unfunny and overcompensates for it by reacting like he just saw two squirrels debating 19th century Nihilistic ideas. Perry should tone it down.

-John Cho is a hilarious actor. Cho's one of my favorite actors because of his work in Harold & Kumar and the American Pie franchise. Cho stole American Reunion from every other actor in just one scene. I laughed during Cho's abandoned lot scene with Perry--the only time I laughed during the episode. John Cho deserves better.


The 2012 Summer Re-Watch: Everwood "The Day is Done" Review

Madison's pregnancy was the worst creative choice made by Greg Berlanti, Rina Mimoun Michael Green, and whoever else had the power to create a lousy and melodramatic pregnancy arc. Everwood's second season seemingly has nowhere left to go once Linda leaves the show. The final two episodes are the equivalent of busy-work; the kind of work teachers make students do when there's no actual work to do, but both teacher and student are stuck together for the next seven hours, and so the students color or make stick figures. Any first time viewer of the second would wonder where the series is going in the season finale. Sure, Ephram's going to New York and needs to decide how to be with Amy, and Harold's job status needs to be solved, but beyond that, life in Everwood is fine.

Until Madison shows up in Andy's train station, that is. The Madison pregnancy storyline derailed my interest in Everwood until it ended. Only on a re-watch of seasons three and four did I soften and forget about the moments when Madison would ruin everything. Season 2's already a shaky season of TV. Amy's out-of-character during her seven episode Lifetime Movie of the Week arc, and Madison and Ephram do the same stuff every episode. The focus and purpose of season 1 died with the character Colin Hart. Season 2's all over the place tonally. Madison's pregnancy is the low point of the series.

A week after Andy Brown's personal arc comes a bit full circle, the writers basically, "eh not so fast, viewers." The same Andy Brown, who acknowledged he didn't save Donald's life, but rather his quality of life, transforms into the hardened prick of a surgeon he was in the scenes with Madison. Madison wants to be sure before she tells Ephram. Andy decides Ephram needn't know, because he's so excited about Amy and the Julliard summer program. In the worst scene of the series, Andy banishes Madison from Everwood with the promise he'll meet her every comfort. Madison's shocked and speechless. Andy's motives are terrible, especially when he talks about the death of Julia being the reason his son should not know about the pregnancy; his innocence is important and blah blah blah.

Andy's dream are designed to contextualize his behavior in the present. The dream happens in New York City, seemingly 3 years ago, because Julia is alive and Andy is beardless. Andy's late for a Friday night dinner. He arrives to see his family gathered around the table, laughing and enjoying themselves. Andy stands, watches, and smiles, and then wakes up. His interpretation is: life knocked him on the ass three years ago and he hasn't gotten back up, that he'd give everything he gained back if he had Julia back in his life. Harold listens and disagrees, imparting great wisdom to his bearded friend about life and its lone certainty being that it keeps happening, so count your blessings when things are bad and be grateful when things are good. Their conversation concludes with Andy's offer about them working as partners, which Harold accepts.

The answer to Andy's odd behavior throughout the episode does reside in the dream; it's just Andy misses its meaning. The dream isn't of the past, it's of the present--this weird dream-present where he's the same New York doctor getting the same looks of resentment from his son and the same lack of sympathy from Julia. Julia leaves him alone at the table after wondering aloud what it will take to wake him up, that what she thinks it will take scares her; and, of course, what it took to wake Andy up was her death. Andy's remembering the former life he lived throughout the episode. He dreads Ephram's trip. Subconciously he fears life returning to the way it was. The worst aspect of his fear is the absence of Julia. Andy wants to protect Ephram from Madison's news, confident he'll maintain the life he worked so hard to put right. It won't work out, but he'll have more normalcy with his son before he learns the truth.

The regression of Andy's character was an unfortunate circumstance of the series renewal. Andy couldn't have peace with another season of story to tell. The Andy-Ephram relationship couldn't be permanently healed either. Andy's arc wasn't necessarily complete, because the writers wanted Andy to find a new wife; however, the harmonious Brown household didn't need to be disrupted. I think it's a sign of lazy writing to throw in a pregnancy surprise in the last episode of a season, because it shows the writers had nothing better than one of the oldest tropes-for-drama in the business. It's so disappointing for a show that nailed its first season.

Ephram and Amy were finally put together in "The Day is Done," and Harold and Andy finally became best friends forever in Harold's failed bagel shop. The bagel shop storyline of Harold's is ridiculous. Harold buys the space and opens for business a day later and then closes the following day because no one in Everwood eats bagels. Harold and Andy's conversation redeems the story, though. Ephram and Amy waste twenty minutes before kissing and agreeing to go steady during a picnic. The wonderful coda to their story in the finale is Amy surprising him on his flight. Season 3's a lousy season, but Amy and Ephram, the couple, make up for a lot of the nonsense.

The Everwood re-watch ends today. I won't write about the series anymore, because Everwood posts are about as popular as camping in the Siberian wilderness. I wrote about season three, and I wrote about "Foreverwood." I feel like I've covered my bases. I'll always love the first season of the show, but I feel indifferent about seasons two and three, and slightly less indifferent about season four. The worst qualities of the show were highlighted more than its strengths after season one, which produced a weaker show. In the fall of 2004, I watched season three but I barely remember watching it week-to-week, because a series called LOST was blowing my mind every week.

And next summer I will write about a LOST season once more.


Monday, September 17, 2012

The Mob Doctor "Pilot" Review

The Mob Doctor is busy. Between the mafia nonsense and the hospital nonsense, plus the interpersonal relationship drama, and the many shots of Jordana Spiro looking stressed, there isn't much time to switch the channel to see if the Falcons picked off Peyton Manning again. A busy episode isn't guaranteed to succeed. Ken Levine wrote a good blog post about the dangers of over plotting in today's procedurals. If Josh Berman and Rob Wright read Levine's post, I bet they'd like to travel back in time to reduce a plot or two from the pilot episode.

Within the first seven minutes of the episode, four medical cases have been introduced or resolved. Jordana Spiro's Grace Devlin works on a mafia man's head wound in a veterinary operating room during her beak. When she returns from break, she saves an 8 year old boy's life, and then she cares for a man who's been brought in with chest problems. The last case involves a 14 year old girl, but paramedics weren't sure what went wrong in her body. Again, the first seven minutes introduces the audience to four cases, the main character, her boyfriend, her feelings about her mother, hospital rivalries, and so on. Josh Berman and Rob Wright packed in a ton of storytelling in a scant seven minutes, and it's only when the first act begins that the lazy narration device is used once again in a 2012 Fall TV Pilot.

Grace Devlin's caught between two worlds, conflicted by her profession and obligations to the mob. The mafia spared her brother's life in exchange for medical care. Grace visits the Don to inject needles into his arm daily. The hospital world is just as chaotic and conflicting. Colleagues disobey her orders. Grace goes over her superior's head to bring justice to him running the risk of alienating herself from her colleagues. Other surgeons in rotation glare at her for being the Chief of Surgery's favorite. Jordana Spiro plays Grace with gusto and energy, and her beauty is truly stunning. Grace's boyfriend works in the hospital, so of course they clash; her mother is overbearing, so they clash too; her brother needs protection, so they clash over whether he needs protection. It all gets a tad mind-numbing.

Network writers run the risk of cramming way too much story into 42 minutes of episode. Cable is where the best shows on TV air. Networks want to match cable shows, but when they try, as FOX did with Lone Star two years ago, the numbers aren't good enough; thus, shit like The Mob Doctor is developed and picked up and ordered to season. Maybe the thinking of network writers is, "well, we can't do what cable does, but we can be more creative, create puzzles out of plot, and tell so much story despite the fragmented acts that we'll best cable this way." I don't know. I do know The Mob Doctor crammed too much story into its first episode and that nothing hit. The characters were hollow, and the human interest medical cases with the little boy and 14 year old girl blurred together and lost whatever effect they were supposed to have on the audience. The mafia elements came and went and then a dream sequence happened and then it went away until a car chase happened and somehow Grace found herself DEEPER in the mafia world after disobeying their orders.

Pilots are designed to show the audience what the series will be as a series and as an episodic series, meaning a story needs to be told in the episode, but the story should show what the series will be in weeks six and nine. Grace's important patient is a mob informant whom the mob wants killed on the table because he's due to testify in court against them. Grace volunteers to perform groundbreaking surgery on the informant. Her reputation as surgeon rests with the fate of the patient, but her brother's life is in danger should she save the informant's life. The storytelling is tight and professional but entirely uninteresting because each twist and turn is as obvious as a giant foot on the shore of an island. The resolution is the worst part of the story. Michael Rapaport is the demanding mob man who threatens Grace's mother when the informant's life is saved. He's thrown off by Grace hitting his car; he then chases her to the Don's where he publicly insults him until he's shot--absolutely contrived nonsense. Grace and her family are saved, but the old man warns Grace about the loyalties to Rapaport, so the deal isn't dead, nor is she safe.

A staple of pilots is the 'pulling back the curtain' device to close an episode. Revolution did it with the goddamn electricity/computer scene. The Mob Doctor concludes with the revelation about the mafia killing Grace's father, which kept her family safe from him, but now they're not safe with the mafia. I sat on a loveseat and sighed, put my head into my hands, and shook it, wondering why series are in love with nonsense endings. I know the intent is to get the audience to watch the following week. The ending seemed so damn forced, though. I imagine not even Josh 2.0 is happy with writing that ending.

FOX continued its wonderful tradition of releasing awesome teaser trailers for their show, which only sets up the audience for disappointment. I never expected anything from The Mob Doctor after writing my preview of FOX shows last month. Whatever I gleaned from the trailer was essentially what happened in a full episode. Move along, my friends and well-wishers; there is nothing to see in The Mob Doctor.


Revolution "Pilot" Review

Fatigue is the word that best describes my initial reaction to Revolution way back when, during the Upfronts in May. NBC's pushing the series as aggressively as The Event two seasons ago. The heavy promotion for The Event did not pay off for NBC. The series lasted a full season but it went away slowly like the last embers of a fire on pre-dawn morning. The promotional tagline didn't even change between the two shows. Like The Event's "What is The Event," Revolution promos want the audience wondering, "What caused the blackout?" I understand why NBC pushes a question about an event, but, really, a show's characters should be the most important part of the build. Audiences are drawn towards well-written characters. The many questions about what was what on LOST happened well after the writers established the characters as the most important part of the show.

Fatigue is what I felt during the pilot as the mysterious premise deepened and the bearded man clutched the silver locket like it was the One Ring. I'm tired of these kinds of dramas. I feel like Terra Nova resided in the same fictional universe as Revolution, except for the dinosaurs and time-travel differences. The electricity inexplicably goes out across the entire world on a random weekday night. Ben Matheson rushes home to tell his wife "it's coming." A call to his brother is made about the impending blackout and, soon, the audience is transported fifteen years post-blackout. Life is more or less back to 18th and 19th century America. Young characters even dress like they're in the 18th and 19th centuries. Questions exist. Answers do not. Ben's trying to reside quietly in a former gated community-turned-farmland. His son and daughter, Danny and Charlotte, walk around the wilderness hunting and exploring. Their mother, portrayed by the lovely Elizabeth Mitchell, passed away sometime between the blackout and the present. Family tensions exist between Charlotte and Dad's new beau, who's the town doctor. The community is peaceful, populated by doctors and teachers and families, trying to survive and avoid trouble. Thanks to a narration at the start of Act I the audience learns that cities are places of death while rural communities are relatively safe, unless the Militia visits. The Militia visits the Matheson's little community and when they leave life isn't the same for the young heroine Charlotte.

The Militia is my least favorite part of the pilot because of what the presence of the group means for the future of the series. The tagline on the poster ends with "...power is everything." Eric Kripke's script is full of bits of expositional dialogue to tell the viewer about what America is fifteen years after a permanent blackout. The United States government fell and was replaced by numerous Republics, all who battle for the most power on the continent. The Militia is the most powerful. Giancarlo Esposito's Capt. Tom Neville isn't the leader of the republic, but he's the dangerously sadistic and remorseless captain of one of the republic's regiments. Esposito plays menacing well. As someone who never watched him in Breaking Bad, and who only saw him on Once Upon a Time, it's good to watch Esposito in a role that'll highlight his strengths. Great writing will elevate an actor just as bad writing will hurt an actor. Once Upon a Time is a terrific example of the latter. Esposito’s comfortable glaring menacingly at anyone who dare give him trouble. Tom Neville's an intriguing character, especially when he tells someone about his past. Tom wants Ben to peacefully surrender because he's tired from traversing through mud and filth to find him, and all he wants to do is go home to his wife and sleep. Later, during an encounter with a woman who's hiding a 'fugitive' of the republic, he tells her about his work in insurance; he was the guy who figured out if people were being truthful. I doubt the series will explore the idea of what turns honest working citizens into people who can shoot four people without blinking; perhaps the answer is inherent in the premise about a post-apocalyptic existence. The Walking Dead was supposed to explore the same thematic idea, too. Capt. Tom Neville is relentless in the "Pilot." I wonder if Kripke and his staff will humanize him in the weeks to come.

Tracy Spirodakos' Charlie is a character that owes its existence to the popularity of The Hunger Games. Charlie's just a badass braid away from being Katsniss (mind you I've never read/seen THG and am making a wild generalization and supposition about its heroine and narrative). The young actress seems comfortable in the role of a teenage girl who's thrust into a leadership role to save her brother's life from the Militia. Spirodakos particularly shines during a scene with Charlie's Uncle Miles. Miles is Ben's brother, a target of Monroe's Republic because of their theory that the Matheson boys know how to turn the power back on; however, Miles is the opposite of Ben. Miles is good at 'killing,' according to Charlie, when responding to a question posed about her uncle's personality. Charlie has been hardened and toughened by circumstances. She barely smiles and wants to travel alone to Chicago to find her uncle, unwilling to let doctor woman, the woman she feels tried to replace her mother in her life, and the town genius from going. The lone moment of happiness for Charlie is when she meets a boy in the woods. But, yes, her shining moment is the scene that's been advertised quite a bit, in which her voice breaks when she gives her reason for why Uncle Miles should join her: "'Cause we're family." Charlie's no longer a badass Katsniss type in that scene, but a girl who's overwhelmed by her circumstances, in need of help and someone to carry the burden with her. Charlie soon reverts to her tough girl demeanor after her tearful plea fails.

The newly formed team encounters a few dangers on their way to Chicago, mostly so the audience will have an idea of what the new America is like. Bands of outlaws hang out in abandoned airplanes; doctors carry around poison whiskey; no one should trust anyone else, because the instant a character trusts someone else, that character will experience the sharp pain of treachery. Trust between the group members is built through action scenes. The "Pilot" makes no time for conversation. Conflicts are eased through meaningful stares, recognition of bad judgment, and contrite hearts. Any significant character gets a beat or two to stand out. Aaron and Doctor Woman are defined by their physical appearance and their attitudes. Aaron is bearded and suffers from cowardice, whereas Doctor Woman is blonde, British, and tough.

"What caused the blackout?" won't be answered in the "Pilot." The elements of the first episode related to the question combined to be my second least favorite part of the "Pilot." The specific offending scene reminded me of the closing scenes of many failed post-LOST shows. Meanwhile, he character of Uncle Miles, who's related to the question above, is as important to the narrative as Charlie. Billy Burke isn't a charismatic actor in the role. Miles isn't supposed to be bouncing off the walls, but some energy in the performance wouldn't kill Burke. So much of Miles' character development is saved for the final act. Miles is written as the mysterious brother of Ben, so much so that Charlie doesn't know what he looks like. Billy Burke doesn't need to play Miles as boring to be mysterious, and I feel like that's what he's doing. Also, Burke is the laziest actor in a fighting sequence.

All of the fireworks surrounding Revolution and their terrific creative team resulted in a very ordinary series. The premise is original, but the rest of it has been done before, sometimes worse and sometimes better.


About The Foot

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Originally, I titled the blog Jacob's Foot after the giant foot that Jacob inhabited in LOST. That ended. It became TV With The Foot in 2010. I wrote about a lot of TV.