Saturday, November 30, 2013

Grimm "El Cucuy" Review

I wonder will Grimm make a tradition out of bringing Mexican and/or Spanish legends to modern audiences. Last season’s “La Llorona” was promoted in the same way as last night’s “El Cucuy.” Special attention was given to the episode’s source material. “La Llorona” was promoted more for its scary tale than the world in which the scary tale is happening, which is the world of Nick and his friends, with weird murders and different creatures behind those murders. I felt unsure about what kind of episode “El Cucuy” would be. Would it shelve the over-arcing parts of the story for a week to focus exclusively on El Cucuy? The answer is no.

The legend of El Cucuy reminded me of a story I heard earlier this year. This American Life ran a story about “Diana, Hunter of Bus Drivers.” “Diana” shot and killed two bus drivers in Cuidad Juarez. Bus drivers in Cuidad Juarez had been raping women who rode took their buses home or to work. The roots of the story, this woman’s actions rather, seem rooted in this legend of El Cucuy. El Cucuy acts on behalf of the sorrowful voices it hears. El Cucuy comes through a town and acts violently against the criminals who harm people. The cries of sorrow come together to form the most sorrowful cry, a cry wherein all sorrow is connected, and then El Cucuy attacks.

There’s a mother theme throughout El Cucuy. El Cucuy itself is a 77 year old woman who could be anyone’s grandmother. She responds to the cries of mothers she hears in the roughest part of Portland. Two robbers brutally beat a mother’s son, and her cries echo throughout the town; soon, the two robbers are found brutally murdered. Two men follow a young woman, walking home from the bus stop. One man tries to assault the young woman, but gets brutally murdered before he can harm her. The mother of a local do-gooder, Daniel Flores, cries out for aid when her son takes a knife to the local ‘beast of evil’ who pushes drugs and violence in the neighborhood. El Cucuy intervenes on her behalf.

Nick investigates the murders, of course, but he’s alarmed by an e-mail sent from his mother, who hasn’t been seen since last season. Monroe’s mother’s voice is heard for the first time in the series. He’s also alarmed by his mother but because his parents don’t know about the specifics of Rosalee. Monroe’s mother doesn’t really connect, as it were, to the other mother parts of the episode; however, her little role serves as this sort of Old Testament type omniscient force he worries about disappointing (or not). The mother’s role as protector connects Nick’s mother with the mothers seen throughout episode and with The Mother, El Cucuy.

Grimm put a different spin on the legend of El Cucuy. With the role of the mother-as-protector, El Cucuy cannot prey on innocent children. Juliette provides brief exposition about the actual legend when she tells Nick she was told El Cucuy would eat her if she didn’t eat her vegetables or if she behaved badly. Grimm turns the legend around so that it’s about protecting innocent children, no matter the age since a mother always sees her son or daughter as her child. Nick and Hank don’t know what to do with the kindly old woman they find ripping through the throat of the ‘beast of evil’ character in the last act except to let her on her way, to which Renard asks, “Are you kidding me?” El Cucuy punished the bad man and turned a bad neighborhood to good. How does one imprison a myth anyway?

Juliette learns about Nick’s mother, who he speaks about in a bemused way, though the essentials of Nick’s mother are conveyed to Juliette. “M” sacrificed for the sake of her son’s safety and all that. Juliette tracks his mother to a place in Slovenia. Nick assumes she’s headed to Greece. Later, Juliette finds a section in the Grimm journals about a slaughter in Greece during the 1600s. I suspect that’s foreshadowing, but I never thought Nick’s mom would have disappeared for so long from the show.

Other Thoughts:

-Does NBC hate Grimm? I don’t think the network wanted to skip two weeks of Grimm since it had a late premiere. Last Friday the network ran a special about John F. Kennedy. Last night was the day after Black Friday. The episode ran against holiday specials, so maybe it performed decently. I searched for last night’s ratings but did not find any.

-The Adalind story is barely worth a mention. Her baby has two heartbeats. Renard’s getting the medical records.

-John Behring directed it. Michael Golamco wrote it.

Monday, November 25, 2013

How I Met Your Mother "Bedtime Stories" Review

Carter Bays and Craig Thomas told IGN that they wanted to do something they’ve never done before in How I Met Your Mother in the final season. I didn’t know anything about this intention to do something they’ve never done before. How I Met Your Mother has been sort of experimental in its nine seasons. The non-linear structure along with its homage to the oral tradition of storytelling sets it apart from many present and past sitcoms. Experimentalism in art is a worthwhile effort. The arts are better for the experimental projects, regardless of a project’s success or failure. William Burrough’s experimented a good bit and mostly failed, while James Joyce experimented and succeeded wildly, ditto Vladimir Nabokov (and David Foster Wallace). T.S. Eliot chose not to write metered poetry, instead composing in free-verse, which opened up the form.

Bays and Thomas adopted Dr. Seuss’ popular style for “Bedtime Stories.” Seuss told simple stories using simple end rhymes. Third graders write poetry using end rhymes. William Shakespeare, poetry’s giant, used end rhymes. The difference, I’ll assure you, between Shakespeare and third grade poetry, is vast. So, Bays and Thomas wanted to try to tell a story in rhyme for three acts plus the tag. I commend the effort and the ambition. One of the two told IGN that writing in rhyme was easier than imagined, which I believe since end rhymes are indeed easy. End rhymes allow for writers and/or poets to get away with rhyming “questionable” and “impressionable.” There’s nothing impressive or worth merit in rhyming the two words but its effect is simple and musical; however, 21 minutes of that leaves one without his or her sanity.

Marshall explains to a stranger the reasons for his incessant rhyming on the bus en route to Farhampton: Baby Marvin can’t sleep without hearing a story told in rhyme. Nevermind the baby didn’t make noise during the drive from Minnesota to New York City. Neither the plot device nor Marshall spoke in any rhyme. Marshall adopts the style of the books Marvin likes to read. Three stories follow: “Ted at the Bat;” “Robin Eats the Cake;” and “Barney Stinson: Player King of New York City.” The appeal for the viewer the return to familiar sets and stories. Marshall’s bedtime stories take one to the apartment, the bar, and the snug streets of small town New York City. (I know that New York City isn’t snug, but the NYC sets for the city look ridiculous.)

The three stories throw one back to the past one last time before the wedding weekend that changed everything familiar for these characters. Marshall defines Ted through his singledom in the story. Robin’s cake challenge happens after she’s broken-hearted again and then reminded of a past love’s happiness just when she’s at her lowest. Barney recalls fondly a fantasy in his head in which he’s crowned the player king of New York City. Ted won’t be defined by his single life after the weekend; Robin won’t feel brokenhearted enough to steal a cake, eat it all, and then drink a keg by herself; and Barney won’t need to tell himself he’s the player king of New York City because he knows true love.

Marshall’s rhymed storytelling doesn’t dwell on these specific aspects of each character. How I Met Your Mother is basically meaningless silliness for two acts until the writers “bring it home” with emotion in the act three. Robin’s story ends with her doing a keg stand, and Ted’s ends with his realization that he’s on a date with a woman who thinks a skinny white dude in Derek Jeter. Your enjoyment of the three bedtime stories depends on your enjoyment of these kinds of sideway stories the writers have told for nine years. Sometimes it works; sometimes it doesn’t. For a while now it hasn’t, and that didn’t change in “Bedtime Stories.” The rhyming style chips away at one’s sanity with every line. I mean, every line. By the end, Jason Segel’s voice is rhyming in your head on a loop.

The third act doesn’t really bring it all together. The player king story lets Neil Patrick Harris play an assortment of stereotypical New Yorkers. There’s nothing purposeful about the story other than indulging the character who won’t change and an actor who’s too rich to care. The button of the episode happens at the very, very end, once the bus couldn’t move due to a flat tire. Marshall’s outside watching fireworks with Marvin in his story, explaining why he told these stories, and why he’s worried about change when he gets to the Inn. “Bedtime Stories” ends on a sappy note: Marvin’s first memory is of the fireworks he watches with his father. I would’ve liked the episode more had it been framed around Marvin’s first memory; instead, it’s a footnote to an unbearable episode. Rhyming words doesn’t improve the show’s characters or its storytelling.

Bays and Thomas’ effort was admirable. The actors were committed to the material. I still think it’s another horrible episode in a horrible season—perhaps one of the worst final seasons in television history. “Bedtime Stories” was a placeholder, a filler during a sweeps period. Each truth about a character has been hashed and rehashed. We know Ted wants a wife, and we know Marshall’s afraid of seeing Lily. Writing an episode in rhyme is different, yes, but nothing else about the show is. I think experimentation in any form matters only if everything about the form is changing and also if the genesis of experimentation exists already in the form or in its structure. “Bedtime Stories” accomplishes only half.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

The Vampire Diaries "Dead Man on Campus" Review

Damon Salvatore was a character without an arc this season; even Matt had an arc. Damon always had the task of torturing folk, traveling to distant places, or worrying about the stability of his relationship. I began to think TVD’s writers ran out of ideas for Damon. The writers seem focused on keeping Damon and Elena apart even when together. I think they’ve been together the most in the season premiere. Damon doesn’t mope or feel guilt. Whatever he feels he turns into action. He doesn’t dwell, and that may explain the new revelation from his past he didn’t seem to remember or chose to forget. The experiments-on-vampires thing seems likely to fail, since nothing long-term has worked for awhile on TVD. I’ve seen comparisons between season four of Buffy and this season of TVD because of college and evil professors. The worthwhile comparison is between the two shows’ experiments plots: Buffy and The Initiative, and Wes, the Augustines, and now Damon. Of course, Joss Whedon made “Restless” to conclude season four. I don’t think TVD has a “Restless” coming at any point in the run.

Damon’s traumatic past as a lab vamp for the secret society will work really well for Stefan’s own trauma from his summer in the water. The brothers need to bond, to relate, to understand one another, to get beyond their mutual love for Elena and remember their brotherhood. Stefan’s okay at the end of “Dead Man on Campus.” His old love, Katherine, helped him endure the frightening bouts of total recall from his summer drowning in the water over and over again like the song that never ends and goes on and on, my friends. Damon’s solution to internal torment is repression, which is why he’s flawed; Stefan reached contentment through confrontation and comfort. Lexi led him through the nightmares of his past, but now that’s dead, a suddenly empathetic Katherine knows how to help Stefan.

Stefan wanders around the town, drinking and saving a suicidal Katherine after she jumps off of the top of the clock tower. Elena and Damon don’t bother him. Damond reminds her Stefan remembers his negative feelings about them. Stefan’s just trying to get a handle on what’s going on inside his head. A lack of control ails Stefan while absolute control empowers Damon. Katherine makes sure Stefan feels in control of himself, of the fact he’s standing on solid ground, not taking in water each time he opens his mouth. Damon tortures Dr. Maxfield in his quest for answers about what’s going on, why he’s experimenting, and why he’s turning innocent college folk into vampires. For five seasons Damon has been in control. Every character suffered a ‘break’ from themselves or from reality. Damon’s the steady ship withstanding tempests. The idea of Damon losing control is the most interesting development for the character in years.

Maxfield’s plan hinges on vampires becoming addicted to other vampires’ blood, a way to keep humans safe from preying vampires. Wes’ idea isn’t inherently evil. If vampires existed, society would support someone trying to remove a vampire’s desire for human blood. TVD vampires aren’t the traditional vampires, though. The separation between a vampire and a human on the show is feeding on blood, speed and reflexes. Elena waded through heightened emotions from the change, but becoming a vampire did not permanently change her. TVD vampires retain their humanity, and they choose to use blood bags rather than feed directly from humans. The secret society is like a fundamentalist sect. The ideas, the beliefs, about vampires are set and unchanging. At least it’s not another storyline involving ancient supernatural beings.

Elena and Caroline experience a rift in their friendship after Jesse’s staked by Elena. Jesse is really similar to Vickie after she became a vampire. Vickie’s worst parts were heightened by the change. Jesse’s been experimented on and intentionally changed. He’s an actual victim. He has no control over what happens to him, but he still dies. Caroline bitterly points out old Elena would’ve given Jesse a chance that she doesn’t think about giving as a vampire. Caroline’s issue isn’t even the quick decision to stake Jesse, but Elena’s relationship with Damon. Caroline remembers the monstrous side of him. Elena looked at her with that face which conveys acceptance of what one’s saying but reluctance to accept it.

The word ‘monster’ is brought up several times in the episode. Damon refers to Wes as “Dr. Frankenstein,” the doctor, who, of course, made a monster from an experiment. Wes will wreak more havoc through his experiments on behalf of the secret society than our lovable vampires would cause on their own. Damon’s already monstrous, so how much more monstrous can he become when he’s experimented on again? I should add that for all the storyline’s potential and intrigue, I’m not crazy about it.

Other Thoughts:

-Give Paul Wesley the focus of all the episodes. The dude is tremendous. I also think Nina Dobrev’s amazing as Katherine. Let’s see a Stefan/Katherine road trip episode. TVD writers love road trips and parties.

-Matt’s entire arc set up a Travelers arc for Katherine to run away from while her daughter hates her for awhile. Of course Matt’s arc wouldn’t actually matter for Matt.

-Brian Young & Neil Reynolds wrote the episode. Rob Hardy directed it.

-TVD’s back with a new episode December 5!

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Arrow "State v. Queen" Review

The CW is enjoying a resurgence of sorts. The three new dramas were picked up for full seasons. Arrow hit its ratings-high with last week’s Deadshot episode. Many, many people stream CW shows online through Netflix and Hulu. Soon, Arrow’s going to become the consensus best superhero show on TV. “State v. Queen” is an explosive hour worthy of the sweeps periods: the Count returns, along with Malcolm Merlyn; Moira faces death for her role in the Glades destruction; Oliver kills again; on the island, Sara joins Oliver, Shado and Slade in their island adventures of intrigue; and, yeah, basically, stuff hits the fan.

The Vampire Diaries has been The CW’s biggest success for a few years, but Arrow’s probably the second most successful series. “State v. Queen” shows off some of the best things about the series. Unfortunately, the episode lacks a dynamic, breathtaking fight. Oh well. The writers brought back The Count. I understand the draw of the character. He’s charismatic, lively, insane, as well as the network version of Chris Nolan’s rendering of The Scarecrow. The Count likes to make people crazy. Last season’s episode with The Count attempted to affect the viewer the way The Count affects his victims. The visual styles of Count episodes are distinct: epileptic inducing lighting, quick cuts, manic close-ups. The Cou is in your face, staring up or down into the lens, sometimes even through. The visual esthetic captures one’s attention effectively.  The motive for the character is pretty shrug-worthy: he wants revenge for getting thrown into jail last season, hopped up on his own drug, Vertigo.

The Count set up shop during the five months after the Glades opened a hole in his cell and in the structure of the building, allowing him freedom. Diggle falls ill with the flu, but Felicity ran his blood through a lab and found traces of Vertigo. The Count aims for citywide withdrawal for a drug no one is addicted to. The widespread effects get shown in a graphic. The Count used flu shot trucks to inject civilians with vertigo. Oliver catches on to him quickly, which is what The Count wants.

Their initial showdown, when Oliver saves the assistant District Attorney, tests Oliver’s resolve to not kill. Oliver lets The Count live, opting to set a fire to his laboratory instead. The final showdown between hero and temporary villain involves Felicity’s safety. Felicity becomes the unfortunate damsel-in-distress. Oliver will kill for the people he cares about. The Count’s even more arrogant because he thinks he’s got a free pass and that Oliver will stand idly and watch him mess Felicity up with an overdose of Vertigo. Oliver shoots three arrows into The Count’s chest faster than you can say ‘John Barrowman’s back’. Oliver’s willingness to kill for those he loves showed him he could take drastic measures without losing himself.

The fatal solution to The Count problem makes more sense once the curtain lifted on the man who pulled the strings to free Moira from life in prison or a death sentence. The trial was overwhelmingly about Malcolm Merlyn. The prosecution’s trump card was Moira’s affair with Malcolm. The writing hints Thea’s the daughter of Malcolm Merlyn. Finally, Malcolm reveals he never died but only played dead, which is a reveal I should’ve, but didn’t, see coming. Arrow is very much a soap opera. It succeeds with males because it doesn’t seem like a soap opera, but the last two acts underlined the soap opera aspect of the series. Greg Berlanti’s not shy about potentially terrible soap opera storylines. The worst parts of his series, Everwood, were the embarrassing soap opera storylines, such as Andy’s affair with a patient’s wife in season three. Berlanti’s also responsible for a good chunk of the Brothers & Sisters nonsense. Malcolm’s return didn’t provoke excitement and anticipation. I immediately felt dread.

Moira’s day in court explored family and friendly relationships, specifically what makes one a family. Shado and Slade came to rescue Oliver because he’s theirs. They’ll kill and die for him. Lines blur and change. Thea’s a Queen, but she’s not; it’s the same for Oliver. He is and he is not. What matters more is what changes about someone when something changes about another someone. I know that’s a confusing sentence, and I apologize. Anyway, the significant drama comes from Laurel’s rise to prominence in the case after the assistant district attorney is kidnapped. Laurel’s dramatically uninteresting downward spiral continues because of her examination of Moira on the stand. Laurel blows Oliver’s concern for her off, convinced he’s disconsolate over the ruination of his family. I expect Laurel’s next source of agony to come from her inevitable disbarment for meeting with Moira the night before she gave her testimony.

I think the episode soared when Oliver saved Felicity’s life and also when Shado and Slade rescued him. I feel less for the actual Queen family than for Oliver’s other families, past and present. I’m not crazy about The Count. I fear the worst regarding Malcom’s return. I missed the stunning fight choreography. Overall, though, the series is very strong. In two weeks, the midseason finale two parter kicks off, and Barry Allen’s coming to Starling City.

Other Thoughts:

-I didn’t write about last week’s Deadshot episode. I liked the episode quite a bit. Any Diggle spotlight episode’s cool with me. I didn’t get the chance to rave about Summer Glau’s most extended appearance since her introduction.

-Marc Guggenheim and Drew Z. Greenberg wrote the episode. Bethany Rooney directed it. She directed the first part of “Foreverwood.”

Monday, November 18, 2013

How I Met Your Mother "Mom and Dad" Review

How I Met Your Mother received positive feedback for last week’s flashback episode because, uh, I don’t really know. “Mom & Dad” continues the trend this season, which is each episode failing to do anything worthwhile. Future Ted remarks at the end, ‘And for a rare moment all was well that weekend.” The line suggests the audience was given a break from the non-stop drama of the weekend. The non-stop drama, mind you, includes a scrambled egg competition, a poker game, something about whisky, Lily wanting to kill her husband (okay, that’s fair), and Ted standing sadly at the top of a lighthouse, with a woman who can’t even cry right. All was well? Are you kidding me? This show hasn’t been ‘well’ in four seasons.

Barney wants his mom and dad to get back together and then re-marry. Jerry’s cordial and polite ‘hello’ to Loretta in the lobby convinces Barney Jerry and Loretta continue to love each other, thirty years after they parted. Barney’s desire to re-create the family life he didn’t’ experience as a child motivates him to manipulate events in that cheesy and forced sitcom way of the very worst and washed up sitcoms. The lazy devices and gags irks me in How I Met Your Mother. Carter Bays and Craig Thomas once were on the precipice of reinventing the sitcom, according to critics in 2005. I’m sitting on the couch tonight, watching and listening to this episode, listening to the piped in laughter of the audience, and brainstorming something shattering to sum up the creative despair of most sitcoms. I thought of nothing except to recommend anyone looking for the ‘re-invented’ sitcom to watch Community.

James enters the story as Barney’s combatant, for he wants his father to reunite with Loretta. The brothers imagine an idyllic 1950s style family life, which allows for a little musical number. Little musical numbers in How I Met Your Mother don’t work. Neil Patrick Harris has Broadway experience, starred in Joss Whedon’s Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog, but he cannot save the musical number. The musical number annoyed me because it reminded me of those self-indulgent musical numbers I see on any awards show. The number picks up in the second go-around when Jerry turns around, dressed like a rebel with just one cause, which is to make James’ father a cuckold, in Barney’s imagination, and brings attitude with him. The fantasy fits with Barney’s other fantasies. After all, the character writes like he talks, penning ‘wait for it’ in a sentence.

The A story furthers the idea that Barney’s a sociopath, though. Jerry’s wife is taken somewhere for the day to see her husband for a ‘surprise’ date. Barney wrote a fake suicide note to his father from her to speed along the process of his parents’ reunion as lovers. The third act resolves the headaches of the first two acts. Barney accepts Loretta’s love for James’ father. Robin dutifully helps Barney realize why it’s okay for Loretta to love James’ father over Jerry. Evidently, Jerry’s marriage does not communicate anything to Barney. James’ divorce makes family more important for him. Yeah, okay, that’s sloppy storytelling. The writers could’ve weaved Robin’s impending marriage into his family as a comfort for Barney. I mean, Barney wanted a family growing up. He’ll do anything for it. Robin’s his family soon.

Billy Zabka and Ted continue their feud that began in the episode in which Ted got stripped of Best Man privileges. Ted investigates Zabka, a bell hop, and Robin’s Canadian cousin as culprits behind the ink-spill on an autographed photo of Wayne Gretzky. Ted’s motivated to clear his name lest he disappoint Barney as Best Man. The investigation includes poking fun at French Canadians, unfounded accusations of wrong-doing about a black man, and Zabka’s past as a villain in 1980 films. I don’t know what to write other than what I wrote about for pretty much everything I’ve seen this season (except for the premiere) about the Mosby-Zabka feud.

The plot device, meanwhile, made its exit in the C story. Next week’s episode should end on Marshall’s triumphant arrival to the Farhampton Inn, just in time for Thanksgiving, so we can discuss how happy that makes us at the dinner table. The plot device served its purpose. Marshall’s not with Lily, but now he will be with her.

Critics and fans delude themselves if they think whatever they liked about last week’s episode will maintain for the rest of the season. Example: this very episode.

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.