October 2010

Boardwalk Empire: Home

Boardwalk Empire seems to have two modes. It either devotes an entire episode to one theme (like last week's parade of misconceptions) or it just throws plot at the screen without any real effort to tie it all together. The latter isn't necessarily any less entertaining and in many ways I prefer it, but it still feels like a completely different show. The version we get in "Home" is really just a story for its own sake rather than a coherent narrative that's supposed to mean something. Boardwalk Empire is consistently good but it's far from sharp or focused. In a series with clear aims, every plot in "Home" would be a side story in several more thematically solid episodes rather than serving as stand-alone patches in a quilt of character studies.

The Walking Dead: Days Gone Bye

Robert Kirkman and Tony Moore's comic book series The Walking Dead is one of the most successful monthly books running today. It's the quintessential zombie apocalypse story, all survival and gore and the tension of being some of the last people left on Earth. For fans of the genre it's second to none, so AMC decided to capitalize on the strangely persistent zombie craze by adapting The Walking Dead for the screen. AMC got lucky with the calendar this year and got to premiere America's only zombie-centered show on Halloween. They didn't waste the opportunity, either. The Walking Dead looks amazing and makes a strong case for why it can pull off 6 1/2 hours of TV time when even most movies in the zombie genre can barely justify 2 hours on screen.

The Big Bang Theory: Roseanne and Indian Food

It’s difficult to conceive of a universe where The Big Bang Theory is a (relative) hit. We live in it, though. And that’s an endless confusion.

Constituting nothing all that new – it’s still a sitcom, mainly set in an apartment building, Friends, minus attractive male characters – the show has still been able to reel in a pretty diverse amalgam of fans based, in part on its characters’ interests.

George Smoot, an actual astrophysicist, as opposed to simply playing on television, was actually enamored of the show to the point that he contacted producers in an attempt to wind up on the show. It worked and The Big Bang Theory all of a sudden had proper ties to the world of science.

"Married To Rock"

The new season premiere of “Married to Rock” is airing this Sunday, November 7th on E! Online network. “Married to Rock” is featuring four wives married to rock and roll musicians in the entertainment industry. It takes you behind the scenes of all the drama, chaos, action, adventure, and of course, the lovely ladies married to these rock star hubbies. My ex was a rock and roll musician so I can totally relate to these beautiful wives. My first glimpse of a musician’s lifestyle, career, management crews, studio recording, wild fans, and everything else related to their life can be very hectic and wild. Believe me, it is not an easy roller coaster ride.

Boardwalk Empire: A (Pretend) Racial Outrage

I’m relatively removed from caring about racism. I don’t practice it – unless it’s about to save my life – and I don’t find it practiced on me frequently. When I do, of course, I make a stink about it. The thing is, though, when that happens, I wind up appearing like the guilty party.

All of that is only tangentially tied to the depiction of black folks in Boardwalk Empire, but tied nonetheless. Before delving into this, though, it’s worth pointing out that the show, despite pervasive positive comment, is pretty dull. Booze and hookers shouldn’t be this boring. And Steve Buscemi’s a brilliant actor. So, what the problem is, I don’t know.

Stargate Universe: Cloverdale

And then there was one. Sci-Fi/Syfy has really tried to class up its image for the past several years but I think it's pretty clear at this point that the audience for high-brow material either doesn't exist or would rather watch their favorite shows online. Caprica is officially dead thanks to its inability to pull in more than 200,000 viewers per episode, which really shouldn't come as a surprise. The ratings for critically acclaimed Battlestar Galactica were never stellar, hovering in the 1-2 million range for most of its run and dwindling considerably in the fourth season, and that show had sexy robots and space battles. The same can be said for Stargate Universe. It's staying afloat with around 1 million viewers per week and a decent Hulu presence, but the prospect that it's going to get a third season is very much up in the air. I imagine Syfy will pull in larger numbers with tonight's premiere of the original movie Red: Werewolf Hunter thanks to its populist premise and the fact that it stars geek icon Felicia Day. If SGU is the last of the serious-minded Syfy shows, at least it's attempting to do interesting things like it did with "Cloverdale".

Who Got Dee Pregnant?: IASiP

That was just short of bloody amazing.

It’s a double edged sword when television leaves one endlessly happy – if only for a few minutes. But the twenty of ‘em counting as the duration of “Who Got Dee Pregnant?” was unrelenting from beginning to end.

Just like every other episode, this IASiP begins with the gang sitting around the bar engaged in nothing more than bullshitting. It’s something we each do on a frequent basis. But rarely, if ever, do non-televised people spin a series of events from a simple statement.

The Office: Costume Contest

Halloween episodes on The Office are always among the best. This is because there's a purity to them, a direct connection to the original premise of bored white collar workers embracing any distraction from their interminable desk jobs. From a TV perspective, it's easy to write. There are plenty of laughs to be had from just the costumes, not to mention the work-party mentality of the day. Because no one is expected to be on their best behavior, few of them actually are. And, as Kelly points out, parties at Dunder-Mifflin almost always devolve into a staging ground for Michael Scott's many insecurities.

In Treatment: Jesse and Adele, Week 1

Jesse

Until this season, In Treatment has never done a proper in media res for one of Paul's patients. They've either been completely new to the practice or old hangers-on who really had no business staying on or returning to Paul's couch, like Laura and Mia. This season we get to see Paul with Jesse (Dane DeHaan), a troubled teenager he's been working with for long enough to have a shorthand for things they've talked about in previous sessions. Watching those segments, it's pretty clear why it's taken so long to spend some time with someone who has been in therapy with Paul for a while. Just like Paul and Jesse have a shorthand for their process, returning viewers have a firm understanding of how Paul works, so there's nothing confusing about watching him spar with a long-time patient as there would be in Season 1. After all, patients like Laura and Mia were there more to show how Paul has trouble keeping his professional life from becoming his personal life than they were to show people working through their issues.

Caprica: False Labor

According to the little bit of expository dialogue we get about it, Zoe's apotheosis program creates a person's Holoban avatar from a patchwork of personal information floating around in the virtual world. Everything from medical records to diary entries and news stories are compiled to piece together a functionally exact replica of a person. Or at least that's the idea. What the program actually does has been a matter of debate for much of the series. Does it really make a proper copy or does it just play on the imperfections of our memories? If it even creates an intelligence with its own thoughts and motivations, is it a reflection of the original person or is it an entity unto itself?

Terriers: Agua Caliente

Stories set in Southern California these days have a convenient and seemingly limitless source of dangerous villains. Namely, Mexico. The existence of everything from chop shops to drug cartels south of the border makes it easy for SoCal fiction to spend some time in the sun-drenched world of crime that seems designed to make American gang activity look tame. Even on Terriers, Mexico represents a place of incredible foreignness and danger. The white collar criminals who have populated the villain cast of the series are still bad, messed-up people, but their petty conspiracies aren't nearly as scary as the gun-toting banditos of the show's version of Tijuana. "Agua Caliente" is still a fun, exciting episode with a lot of good scenes, but its unwillingness to show anything about Mexico except for tourist traps and crime doesn't fit with the depth and nuance usually afforded to the settings on Terriers.

No Ordinary Family: No Ordinary Quake

In any story where the world is full of people with super powers, there are historically two molds. In one, they're all running around in the open committing or stopping crimes. In the other, they're either hiding from or prisoners in some secret facility designed specifically for them. No Ordinary Family kinda mixes the two, but it's more the latter than the former, or at least it is now. One of the night's three plots finds Jim and George hunting down the culprit of some synthetic-earthquake-aided pharmacy robberies, who turns out to be a girl with the ability to project shockwaves from her hands. By the end of the episode, the Global Tech CEO and his telekinetic henchman capture the girl to "return her to the facility". And just like that, No Ordinary Family has a specific central conflict.

Glee: Rocky Horror Glee Show

I like Rocky Horror. I mean I genuinely, unironically enjoy it. I think the songs are fun, the story is deeper than it's usually perceived to be and I can appreciate the ambition behind even its most iffy moments. That in mind, I was actually looking forward to Glee's take on it. After watching "Rocky Horror Glee Show", I can say that the series finally has a solid example of its limitations. Despite its ratings, its critical praise and its general cultural saturation, Glee isn't cool. It's entertaining, funny, unique and sometimes bold, but it's ultimately as much of a geeky theater kid as many of its characters. Even outside of the high school setting, Glee just wouldn't have what it takes to pay homage to the ultimate subversive musical. It's not just that this episode pulls its punches, it's that wouldn't have even succeeded had it gone all-out.

The Big C: I Promise, It Won't Happen Again

Firstly, allow me to apologize, The Big C stinks. The only reason I find myself watching it is because I’m already waiting around for Weeds and I happen to have a ridiculous amount of free time. That’s sad, huh? I should probably be reading a book. Whatever, I’m just another dumb American.

Apparently, not as dumb as all the folks behind this steaming pile, though.

After watching the series’ first episode, it became clear that the Laura Linney starring show was devised to be slotted to benefit from the demographic engaged with Weeds – at least the portion of viewers who were women and found themselves concerned with womanly things.

Dearborn-Again: Weeds

At the very beginning of “Dear-Born Again,” one of Nancy’s kids spits out a line about it not being a good idea to head back home if law enforcement is out on the prowl, looking for you. Nancy and the television universe in which she lives has stopped reflecting anything resembling reality and tromps through myriad tableaus with nothing more than the gusto of a women who believes nothing worse can happen.

Good thing she remembers exactly where her high school math teach lives – and move over, good thing he still lives there, despite being removed from his job for what apparently were sexual indiscretions involving a teenaged Nancy. Richard Dreyfuss’ Warren Schiff is a bit more creepy than necessary. But maybe twenty some odd years back, he was a dashing dude. Slide rules are sexy to teenage girls, right?

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In Treatment: Sunil and Frances, Week 1

After taking a year off (during which the prospect of a new season was very much in the air), HBO's intense therapy drama In Treatment is back for a third go-round. Pared down to just four episodes a week instead of five and flying without original scripts to adapt (Israel's BeTipul, on which In Treatment is based, only ran for two seasons), these new episodes are going to show if this series can hold itself together and remain as deep and riveting as it was in 2007 and 2008. HBO is airing two episodes on Monday and the other two on Tuesday, but because of TV World's schedule the Tuesday episodes will get a write-up on Thursdays. Without further ado, let's dive into the first of the introductory episodes.

The Event: Loyalty

It must be remarkably confusing and frustrating to be a writer in the stable of a major network, especially for a show like The Event. Every day would consist of being thrown into a narrative mess of producer's notes, overly ambitious "master plot" nonsense by the show's creator and the need to tell a dozen different stories in the space of 42 minutes. The whole thing is such a hopeless tangle that even the show's best moments look like flukes because they rise out of a horde of ridiculous, boring or just plain stupid moments. And then, when it comes down to The Event's compulsive drive to manufacture more suspense, it ends up removing one of its only interesting characters from the story, not because he has nothing more to offer and not because it really serves the plot, but because the episode needed its cliffhanger like a junkie needs his next fix.

An Idiot Abroad with a Head Like a Fucking Orange

Karl Pilkington’s ascent to relative fame was obviously facilitated by his working with Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant. Surely, the man with a head like a fucking orange wouldn’t disagree. But at the same time, Pilkington would probably toss something in there about his tremendous intellect.

Granted, the guy does think in a manner unlike just about anyone else on the face of the earth, but that doesn’t quite explain how he’s managed to pen four books in as many years while still being able to helm a travel show. That’s pretty nuts. Maybe Gervais underestimated this guys abilities. After watching An Idiot Abroad, though, that might not be the case.

Eastbound & Down: The Music Behind the Trash

It’s truly difficult to figure out if HBO’s Eastbound and Down is genuinely funny, or if the show simply collects the worst aspects of humanity into the body of Kenny Powers. Doing so, I suppose, creates a character that can basically do anything awful and have it come of as natural. Being tremendously rude to whoever’s around isn’t a surprise, commenting in sexually explicit ways about some women he’s speaking with isn’t taboo. But at the same time, that all pretty much disallows for any sense of reality to seep in. It’s TV, though, so who cares.

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