June 2010

Larry King Show Going Bye, Bye

Good times Larry.

Yesterday, Larry King announced that he is retiring this fall from his 25 year old show on CNN. Yes, Larry's ratings were dropping. But after twenty five years, how long is one supposed to sit on top of the world? I liked what Larry King did. I liked his TV and his radio shows. I liked his cameos in those movies of the past. Larry King, a recognizable American, Mr Normal, an icon, for those summer movie in which little was normal.

Larry King says he's stepping down, but not stepping out, that he will be sticking around for specials, --  or for when something from a fantastic summer movie really occurs, and good old Larry King can come on the screen and say something like, "America, these men from outer space, I shall interview them tonight, right here. We are going to find out what they're up to. Stay tune."

First Impressions: FX's "Louie"

Louis C.K. is one of the most consistently hilarious stand-up comics of the past twenty years. He's part of a breed of dedicated stage comedians who have always been a bit too strange, a bit too crass and a bit too honest to really make it as TV or movie stars, but have nonetheless made it their business to be the funniest folks in the room no matter where they are. Back in 2006, C.K. had the chance to bring his brand of downtrodden absurdity to HBO with the short-lived scripted series Lucky Louie. Despite a fairly good ratings response, HBO canceled the show after less than twenty episodes. Perhaps it was because Lucky Louie skewed too much to the depressing end of Louis C.K.'s sensibilities and not enough to the delightful weirdness that makes his stand-up routine so brutally funny. It was like watching a very cynical take on the old-fashioned family sitcom, a version of The Dick Van Dyke Show in which Van Dyke is a balding slob instead of a sharp man-about-town. Today, Louis C.K. has been given the opportunity to helm a new show for FX simply called Louie. As the show's writer, director, editor and star, C.K. has made what I can safely say is instantly one of the funniest shows on television.

Catching Up: Firefly- Shindig

How do you work a sword fight into a futuristic sci-fi show? Well, you can do what George Lucas did and turn the weapon of honor into a sword made of lasers, or you can do what Joss Whedon and Jane Espenson did in Episode 4 of Firefly and just accept that a space show can be whatever you want it to be. Because there's no such thing as human society in space or on other planets, stories that take place in those settings can take any form the writer wishes. Given sufficient technology and enough room for every possible iteration of human civilization, there's no reason why there couldn't be an entire planet dedicated to whatever aesthetic one would want. In "Shindig" we get a closer look at planet Persephone, the first world we ever visited (not counting flashbacks) on Firefly. It's a world dedicated to the finery of an era that's bygone for us 21st century viewers, let alone the 26th century people of the show's universe. Persephone has its own isolated high society of hoop skirts, lavish balls and a code of honor enforced by duels with cold steel. Naturally, it's a great place for the swaggering brigands who live on Serenity to stand out like sore thumbs... thumbs that want to punch people.

The Sopranos: "Pilot"

I love mob stories, but circumstances kept me away from The Sopranos until now. "No more," I said, as I settled in to watch the saga of Tony Soprano (James Gandolfini) balancing his families - one with wife Carmela (Edie Falco) and kids Anthony Jr. (Robert Iler) and Meadow (Jamie-Lynn Sigler), and the other with Silvio Dante (Steven Van Zandt), Paulie Gauliteri (Tony Sirico) and hotheaded nephew Christopher Moltisanti (Michael Imperioli). Both families - including Tony himself - are watched over by the eagle eyes of Uncle Junior (Dominic Chianese) and Livia Soprano (Nancy Marchand), the last vestiges of the older generation of mobsters who won't give their power up without a fight to the death, even if it's against their own blood.

The Good Guys: $3.52

Last week in my review of the fourth episode of The Good Guys I voiced my concern that airing the episodes out of shooting order could have a negative effect on the tone of the series even though it's almost entirely episodic. "$3.52" was the second episode of The Good Guys committed to film and it really feels like it, too. Just as predicted, the way Jack and indeed everyone else at the Dallas PD has come to accept Dan Stark's unorthodox but coincidentally effective methods as the series has progressed just isn't present in this week's episode, due mostly to the fact that it was supposed to be the first episode after the pilot. Though a lot of the things that make The Good Guys a fun show are still present in "$3.52" it's clearly an episode from earlier in the creative process. This is Fox's mistake. The Good Guys is only half a mindless action comedy. The other half is a deceptively smart parody of the kinds of cop shows that went out of fashion more than twenty years ago. Ignoring the subtleties that keep this series from being too dumb for its own good could very well destroy it.

Steve Carell Leaving "The Office"

Since around the middle of its most recent season, The Office (US) star Steve Carell has talked about possibly leaving the show when his contract ends at the conclusion of the upcoming seventh season. During a red carpet interview with E! Entertainment News prior to the premiere of Despicable Me, Carell confirmed that he is indeed going to be seeking work elsewhere in May 2011 when The Office closes out 7+ years on the air. He also indicated that he believes the show could go on after his departure. The question fans, and therefore the writers and producers of The Office, have to ask is, "Do we want the show without Steve Carell?"

Boondocks: "A Date With The Booty Warrior"

Jail is not a funny subject unless it’s all related by Aaron McGruder.

With the well documented trouble that Riley gets into at school, it’s not a surprise that Granddad’s necessitated to head down to school for a meeting with the principal. Huey’s inclusion in violence, though, seems odd and probably included simply to push the plot forward. Either way, the boys are offered one of two options: expulsion or a trip to prison as a part of the Scared Stiff program.

Part of what makes "A Date with the Booty Warrior" so ridiculously funny is that it dove tails with the long running joke about Tom’s fear of going to jail and being raped – there’s an entire episode about it. Here’s another.

Doctor Who: "The Pandorica Opens"

From the tortured mind of one of the greatest artists in history, the Doctor receives a warning sent across time and space. But as he, Amy and Dr. River Song attempt to decode the mystery of the Pandorica, the Doctor discovers that it is opening - for him. What happens as "The Pandorica Opens"? It's the 12th and penultimate episode of the 2010 series of Doctor Who, and sets up one of the most perplexing finales we've seen since the series made its return to our screens.

Party Down: Is it Over?

Bringing back the wayward Jane Lynch was a decent conceptual idea for “Constance Carmell Wedding,” which may or may not have been the final installment in the Party Down  series. Seeing Lynch’s Constance crop back up again could represent a ray of hope for the show’s future. If the series lost one of its principals and carried on, it should be capable of doing it again.

Regardless, Constance snagged herself a rich, aging Hollywood producer whose daughter thinks she’s just after the family fortune. It’s not an original plot, but working to make the episode revolve around Constance’s talking down to her former co-workers was pretty clever.

Futurama Reanimated

Matt Groening and David X. Cohen's frequently brilliant cartoon Futurama is officially back on the air thanks to a long, if shaky, deal between owner 20th Century Fox and the show's new home, Comedy Central. Futurama originally died the death of many excellent TV shows that cross Fox's fickle path. Instead of originally being given a perfect time slot following Groening's unkillable Simpsons on Sunday nights, it was tossed around to various unflattering spots, including a counter-intuitive Tuesday night airing, until it finally petered out by the end of its fourth season. It's not likely it would have lasted even that long had Fox's animation golden boy not fought for it. In the years following its cancellation, Futurama found a devoted cult in the 20-somethings who originally loved it as teens. The series enjoyed a long period of syndication on Cartoon Network's Adult Swim lineup and later on Comedy Central, where it would eventually find a second life. For the past couple years Groening and company have capitalized on Futurama's devoted fanbase by making a few straight-to-video movies, The Beast With A Billion Backs, Bender's Big Score, Bender's Game and Into The Wild Green Yonder. While not smash hits, the movies were successful enough to convince Comedy Central to give Futurama a new season of 26 episodes, two of which aired tonight. So, are the things that made the original series great still intact?

Catching Up: Mad Men- New Amsterdam

Making Pete Campbell into a sympathetic character is no easy task. He was introduced to us as a wannabe hotshot who fancies himself a womanizer even though he looks like he just recently learned how to put on a tie. In short order he cheated on his soon-to-be wife, made a habit of sabotaging the series protagonist and speaks almost exclusively in the slick bullshit of the business world, especially when he ought to just be honest. "New Amsterdam" doesn't exactly turn him into a hero, but it still goes a long way to fleshing out Pete's character enough to make us feel for him.

Catching Up: Carnivale- Black Blizzard

Reluctant protagonists are very bad for televised storytelling. Characters like Ben Hawkins, a guy with incredible powers who absolutely refuses to use them, make for TV that is alternately boring and frustrating. This is a big part of why Heroes failed so miserably. It was a show about people with supernatural abilities but the characters were written in such a way that they rarely used them and when they did they used them in stupid ways. For all of its style, all of its good acting and riveting dialogue, Carnivale seems downright afraid of its own weirdness.

Catching Up: Firefly- Bushwhacked

If "The Train Job" covered the Western half of Firefly's Space Western label, then "Bushwhacked" is roundly the first Space episode. It gets its dramatic tension from the simultaneous vastness and isolation of the deep cosmos, getting both shivers and laughs out of the claustrophobic conditions of life inside a series of giant tin cans. The episode also has a subtle emotional core that comes from the depiction of just what makes one such tin can a home.

The Good Guys: Dim Knight

After a series has been on the air for a little while it makes sense to ask what you want from the show as a viewer. If it isn't delivering what you want, you have to ask why it is you're still watching. Luckily, The Good Guys has been fairly consistent week to week. "Dim Knight" is the best episode of the show since the pilot, though it was the fifth to be filmed. The series is being aired out of shooting order, which isn't such a problem for entirely episodic television but it does make for some concern about the subtle relationship developments that are at play during the essential down times each week. I'd hate to be watching this show for six weeks only to be smacked with an episode in which Jack hasn't yet warmed to Stark's methods. Given that the second chronological episode has yet to air, we may very well have such an episode in our future. Also a point of concern is the show's rather poor ratings performance. It debuted with under 5 million views and has been declining in small but noticeable increments ever since (this week's numbers haven't been published yet). When fall comes around, The Good Guys is set to be moved to Fridays to pair with Human Target. This will either save the show or put the final nail in its mostly undeserved coffin.

"Glee" Movies on the Horizon

When I started covering Fox's musical comedy series Glee last year, I was fairly certain it was going to get canceled before the first season was finished. It was an ambitious show that relied on a cast comprised almost entirely of newcomers and its viewers' willingness to embrace weekly covers of pop songs from pretty much the entire spectrum of music throughout the past century. Granted, that's also the basic model for American Idol, but Glee didn't have the benefit of a reality TV conceit and it made protagonists of characters who are considerably less shiny and trendy than the average AI contestant. It also didn't help that Glee got its spring 2009 preview at the same time as several other doomed Fox properties like Sit Down and Shut Up and The Goode Family. Today Glee is arguably Fox's biggest property, but in its early days the network was treating it at best like a long shot and at worst like a DOA misfire. That's why it's so strange, thrilling and disconcerting to see Glee explode like it has in the past month.

Boondocks: "Pause"

There’s been ample discussion of the whole ‘no homo’ thing in earlier episodes of Boondocks, so “Pause’s” premise is a bit tired. In a wider context, there’s been a huge stink made about the phrase penetrating so far beyond whatever hip hop culture constitutes at this point that structuring a twenty minute episode around the concept seems like a waste.

More astute was the lampooning of Tyler Perry, here turned into Winston Jerome. Setting the entire show up around Granddad’s missed opportunities to get into Hollywood and the persistent desire to make it happen was a far sight better than the gay/straight dichotomy set up by Riley’s adherence to gangster living where homosexuality is wrong on all accounts.

Doctor Who: "The Lodger"

Separated from the TARDIS and Amy Pond, the Doctor faces his greatest challenge yet: pass as a normal human being, with no technology to help him figure out the mystery of what's going on in 79A, Aickman Road. To do so, he must become "The Lodger", the eleventh episode of the 2010 series of Doctor Who. It's a fun little adventure and a surprisingly good breather between a stream of high-drama stories.

Party Down: The Penultimate Episode?

As with any specific plot arc in any sitcom ever aired on any television in the known world, a few of the Party Down assumed tried and true tropes are getting a bit tiresome. Well, mostly just the work place romance between Casey and Henry.

That sort of inclusion is almost a prerequisite for television series today. Sad, but true. And while the tension during most of the first season was entertaining – so were those awkward moments like when the pair did the did mid-party – its gotten to the point where there’s not too much territory to be mined. That, however, won’t stop the show’s writers from pushing on.

Christopher Eccleston talks about leaving Doctor Who

When Doctor Who returned to the airwaves after an exile of seventeen years, the show was spearheaded by two men who had made significant names for themselves in British television: Russell T. Davies as executive producer and lead writer, and Christopher Eccleston as the mysterious and iconic Doctor. However, while Doctor Who easily re-established itself as an entertainment powerhouse, Eccleston was gone by the end of the first season. His replacement was the media darling David Tennant, who championed the show for the next five years, but Eccleston's departure remained a sore, if rarely-talked about, blip on the otherwise magnificent radar of Doctor Who.

Doctor Who: "Vincent and the Doctor"

While standing in the Musée d'Orsay, admiring The Church at Auvers by Vincent van Gogh, the Doctor notices the image of an alien creature in the church windows where there should be none. A quick trip back to 1890 reveals more than what the Doctor and Amy bargained for. It's an adventure - and a journey - for "Vincent and the Doctor", episode 10 of the 2010 series of Doctor Who, and one of the most remarkable and triumphant installments in the show's long history.