Saturday, April 30, 2011

What I’m Watching: Glee

Glee: Season 2, Episode 18 “Born This Way” (B)

As far as entertainment goes, this episode was a knockout. With several notable grand performances and some powerful celebrations of character, this was one of the most enjoyable episodes of the season. There are a few important holes to be addressed, but I won’t spend too much time on that. Mainly, it’s the notion that Karofsky could so quickly go from being a demonizing, horrible bully to an enforcer of non-bullying throughout the halls of McKinley High. Principal Figgins in particular is a bothersome character who seems to back whoever shouts loudest and whatever works most conveniently for the trajectory of the plot at that moment in time. I do like the pairing of Santana and Karofsky, even if it makes no logical sense, not to mention the fact that Karofsky would never be caught dead wearing a beret. Seeing everyone talk about and feign vomiting upon seeing the two of them as a couple was entertaining. Welcoming Kurt back to the school is a nice development, and since Blaine was so popular, it’s likely that he’ll either recur as Kurt’s boyfriend or end up transferring himself to McKinley so as to be kept involved in everything. Lauren going to war with Quinn was an amusing subplot, and this whole prom king and queen craziness sort of goes over my head, but I guess that’s what high school can be like sometimes. I’m glad that Will and Emma are continuing to bond again, and I’m hopeful that their relationship can begin blossoming anew.

Friday, April 29, 2011

What I’m Watching: The Event

The Event: Season 1, Episode 18 “Strain” (F)

I feel like it should just be a ritual at this point for me to run through all of the stupid things that happened in this episode to point out how senseless they are. The Vice-President poisoning the President himself is impossibly foolhardy, and I can’t understand why Blake needs to have indisputable proof of his complicity before bringing it to anyone. Once he’s President, there’s nothing to be done about it. If Sophia wanted him to become President right away, why did she bother using a time-release toxin rather something that would take effect right away and guarantee Jarvis’ succession? I don’t even have to do any work deconstructing Sean and Vicky’s trip ‘round the globe since they both explain just how futile and ridiculous their plan is. It frustrates me that Sean needs to keep asking Vicky why she’s helping, mainly because, as she almost admits, her character is inconsistent. I am somewhat perplexed by their seemingly endless travel budget that allows them to take a luxury train cross country on a hunch. I feel like the overarching story here, poor as it is, is still considerably better than how it plays out here, mainly because we’re focused on looking at security tapes, cleaning blood, and investigating alien corpses, which is dull as anything. The larger story, of course, could also use work. Wasn’t Martinez’s wife supposed to be an alien last episode? I guess that must not be true anymore since there are bigger fish to fry.

What I’m Watching: Treme

Treme: Season 2, Episode 1 “Accentuate the Positive” (B+)

A year away from any show might make it less than entirely easy to get back into the spirit of the series. This show, however, doesn’t skip a beat, making its opening scene all about the dead, with cemeteries and memories of Creighton, and getting right back to establishing its signature tone. Though the show continues to be all about New Orleans, I’m happy that Janette is still included, as she experiences a tyrannical chef at a restaurant in New York. There’s actually quite a lot that doesn’t happen in New Orleans in this episode, and that all serves to reinforce the notion that people who haven’t lived it can’t understand it. That line “It’s never going to be the same” followed by “I get to say that, you don’t” was particularly powerful. Seeing New Orleans through the eyes of an opportunistic outsider is quite intriguing, and Jon Seda’s Nelson seems like a terrific addition to the cast. I’m also pleased to see David Morse’s cop added to the opening credits as a full-time player, and his scene with Toni was one of the best in this episode. It’s good to see Sophia making videos and taking the torch from her father, even if she seems altogether miserable. I’m also glad to see Davis still making trouble by refusing to play anything but the music that means something to him. It’s good to have these characters back, and I’m looking forward to another meaningful year of drama and rebuilding in the treme.

What I’m Watching: The Killing

The Killing: Season 1, Episode 5 “Super 8” (B-)

While it does still seem quite clear that time is not of the essence, even with Sarah’s wedding approaching, I’m glad that this show is offering up regular plot developments. To his credit, Rick does a very succinct job of summing up his bride-to-be’s character and his doubts about the certainty of their impending union. The investigation into Bennett’s character and history is particularly interesting because it seems too clean, and there’s a sense of something more dangerous and serious hanging over it. That’s helped partly by the fact that we don’t see Bennett and his wife at the same time, and therefore his life doesn’t ever feel like one complete picture. That last shot of Darren and Bennett smiling for the cameras is particularly haunting, and especially because the principal asks the detectives not to bring Darren back into the investigation, I’m inclined to think that he’s involved in some way, even if it’s not malicious or he’s not aware of it. Darren has now burned more bridges than he’s built in his office by not trusting those closing to him, but then again, it’s important to consider everyone when there’s a mole, even if it’s simply to ensure that they are in fact clean. The desire of Rosie’s father to know more about the circumstances of his daughter’s disappearance and murder also suggests that he’s going to be an antagonistic force in the search for the truth, circumnavigating the police so that he can enforce his own version of justice.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Round Two: Game of Thrones

Game of Thrones: Season 1, Episode 2 “The Kingsroad” (B)

I’m still having some trouble permeating the world of this show, and it continues to be difficult for me to identify which characters are which, and, most importantly, how they relate to one another. That said, this second installment intrigued me greatly, and it had a few standout moments that made for a generally strong episode. I’m most fascinated by Peter Dinklage’s character, who serves up the comedy regularly and also manages to get himself taken a bit more seriously, as discussed in his defense of his reading habits. It seems that rivalries start young in this kingdom, as a mere fraternization between a butcher’s son and a girl results in a cut to the butcher’s son’s face and a mangling of the prince’s hand. Those wolves are truly impressive, rising to the defense of their masters on more than one necessary occasion in this episode. I’m curious to see more of the illicit acts of the Lannister clan become revealed to the Starks, whose young offspring they are trying to eliminate. The conversations between King Robert Baratheon and Ned Stark are among the most interesting moments the show has to offer, and their relationship is complicated, like two best friends when they are alone and two disconnected brothers when in front of an audience. Queen Cersei Lannister’s cruelty seems to know no bounds, and it’s not surprising, therefore, that the prince has inherited such ignoble traits. I’m hoping to be able to stick with this show and to make an effort to get to know its characters better in the coming weeks.

What I’m Watching: Desperate Housewives

Desperate Housewives: Season 7, Episode 19 “The Lies Ill-Concealed” (C+)

Is this what we really need right now? It’s decent, captivating entertainment, but is it really worthy of these characters? Susan having sex dreams about Paul is an unnecessary trigger for her to reestablish her friendship with her former neighbor, and the repeated dreams and her encounter with him in his robe don’t lead to anything productive – thanking him for allowing her to take the kidney might have been enough. The insinuations of a sexual affair between Gaby and Bree are entirely pointless, and I didn’t laugh at any of those allusions. Both Marcia Cross and Eva Longoria were playing it so broadly that it was hard to take them seriously. The pineapple upside down cake swap was decently clever, but then it all went away as Carlos found out anyway and Gaby moved out. I highly doubt that Carlos would let her take the children with her, though, so that part didn’t win me over. Lynette upset about being a plus one garners little sympathy from me since she is in fact a guest at a conference for employees, of which she is not one. The rude comment by Meg Butler does legitimize her actions slightly, but would that worker of the event really not know who Meg was, and would she really have been so late to her own speech? I’m far more intrigued by Mrs. McCluskey’s role in Felicia’s faking of her death, and Felicia’s re-spinning of her daughter’s tale is definitely going to stir up some new problems on Wisteria Lane.

What I’m Watching: Smallville

Smallville: Season 10, Episode 18 “Booster” (B-)

You’d think that a show airing one of its final five episodes wouldn’t need any help from a hero from the twenty-fifth century to establish its own hero as the man he was destined to be. I won’t argue too loudly, however, since the presence of Booster Gold definitely served to amp up the energy level, and I suppose it is all in service of putting the Blur, soon to be known as Superman, on a pedestal and transforming him into some version of the classic character we know from the comic books and movies. Clark training to be clumsy is, just as he says, a regression to his Lana-inspired pratfalls of season one, and it’s generally pretty amusing to see him fake a fall and move around differently so that he’ll both be less memorable and impressive. His made-up excuse about needing to find a bathroom because he had a milkshake on the way was particularly entertaining. I’m glad to see a bit of Cat in the role that Lois has never quite occupied, as the doe-eyed reporter looking for a big story but not too full of herself to prevent her from being wowed by something truly miraculous, like the Blur coming in and saving her from certain doom and decapitation. Only Clark and Lois were on duty in terms of regular players in this episode, and I’m hopeful that we’ll have fitting goodbyes for some of our other more (relatively) recent additions like Oliver and Tess before this show signs off for good.

What I’m Watching: Secret Diary of a Call Girl

Secret Diary of a Call Girl: Season 4, Episode 3 (B-)

It’s tough to watch a show after things have been changed for the worse and it doesn’t seem like it will ever be possible to get back to the way things were. This happened with “The L Word” when it started its third season, and for the next three years, it couldn’t hope to recapture the same quality it had before that. This show isn’t quite there yet, but I’m still disappointed every time I see this new Belle with a giant ego and a sarcastic mean streak that she never used to have. The introduction of this police officer interested in romancing Belle is decently intriguing, but it seems as if he just came out of nowhere and is inserting himself into Belle’s life in a way that she would not deem acceptable, making her lack of protest all the more puzzling. The discovery of her mother’s true business by Poppy was something that was going to have to happen eventually, but did Belle need to be so careless about it? She had escorts coming by the house and discussing business with whoever answered the door, had photographers coming by to hand-deliver seductive pictures, and went by her escort name rather than her real name. The acting Lily James as Poppy, however, was quite strong, and that counts for something. It’s nice to have one bright spot on an otherwise (currently) unimpressive show, and I do hope that her latest realization doesn’t mean an imminent departure for her from the show.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

What I’m Watching: 30 Rock

30 Rock: Season 5, Episodes 20 & 21 “100th Episode” (B+)

Though I’m not all for each and every one of its nutty gimmicks, I think that the hundredth episode of this show worked pretty well overall. Having quick flashbacks to a few past events rather than a full-on clip show is a smart move, and I like how one such cut was triggered by Liz calling out “Flashback, please!” I’m impressed that this show avoided making the same mistake that other series have by remembering that Danny has not been around for the entirety of its run, and chose to make the most of that by having Jenna think he has been there the whole time and even having Danny start to think he’s Josh. I enjoyed a few of the subtler jokes in this episode, including the NBC store always being empty and Ken Howard, real-life president of SAG, knocking that very organization. The return of Dennis is always welcome, and I liked his idea about something like Netflix, but where you have to go to a store. Jenna’s instantly appearing and then disappearing hysterical pregnancy was amusing enough, and a decent use of her kookiness. Tracy’s efforts not to be taken seriously anymore were funny, and Jenna’s suggestion that he kill someone was exactly the kind of wacky thing he needed. Jack’s hallucinated versions of himself were amusing, and I liked three lines in particular – “Power clashing: a striped shirt with a striped tie,” “Sharks don’t have claws; you don’t even know what a shark is anymore,” and “I studied time dilation in college.” The guest appearance by Tom Hanks calling an “actor emergency” to take Tracy off the A-list was very much in the style of the show, as was Jack’s brilliant suggestion of how to lose Tracy his respect: do TV.

What I’m Watching: Parks and Recreation

Parks and Recreation: Season 3, Episode 10 “Soulmates” (B+)

I’m continually impressed by this show manages to incorporate traditional sitcom plotlines and not make them seem forced or even the slightest bit out of place. In her post-Chris dating spree, Ann’s recommendation to Leslie that she create a profile on an online dating site, especially following the failure of any romance with Ben to materialize, makes sense. Tom having created twenty-six profiles, each with a different middle initial, also makes sense and is quite hilarious. I love that this show can have Leslie kiss Tom after he refuses to stop bugging her, and then he can comment on how skilled a kisser she is before the show just goes back to normal. I never get tired of seeing Tom’s excited face that adorns the opening credits. Andy and April tagging along with Chris and Ron to the health food store was great, and I can’t think of a more fantastic platonic television relationship than that between April and Ron. Like Leslie’s kiss with Tom, their marriage has just become a fact of life: nothing much has changed, and both characters are still just as magnificently antisocial and unmotivated as ever. It’s interesting to see Chris transformed into more than just a health nut and someone who, like Ben used to, actually implements policies and serves as the bearer of bad news. I like how Ben and Leslie seem to be on the same page now that both parties are aware that the other is interested and that nothing can occur at the moment, and I look forward to seeing their friendship blossom.

What I’m Watching: Nikita

Nikita: Season 1, Episode 19 “Girl’s Best Friend” (B)

This episode had an interesting setup, and while it didn’t play out perfectly, I’m glad to see some decent plotting going on here. Double missions are always exciting, and I flashed back to all the times on “Alias” when Sydney Bristow was operating with her partner on one level and carrying out an entirely separate operation via earpiece (the great music score throughout helped as well). Planning to have her die was an additional thrilling twist, and I also liked the idea for a second season of a new Division led by Michael that might not be so evil. “Alias” did survive the takedown of SD-6 midway through its second season, at which point it moved on to other things, so maybe this show could too, even if we’re not at that point yet thanks to the petering out of the mission thanks to Jaden’s inability to work well under pressure and not shoot people. Percy is made out to seem like a very nice guy when he congratulates Alex on a job well done, and it’s that reassurance that totally negates her desire to leave Division and escape to a life free from everything. Percy using Jaden as a spy is clever and definitely a bad thing for our heroes, and they’re going to have to get their acts together and start trusting each other. Percy telling Alex and Jaden that there is no one else reminded me of Richard Walsh’s profiling of Jack Bauer’s importance in the “24” pilot, though admittedly this show has never been anywhere near as awesome as that.

What I’m Watching: The Office

The Office: Season 7, Episode 21 “Michael’s Last Dundies” (B+)

Though Steve Carrell’s impending departure has been trumpeted for what feels like ages, it makes sense that he has to be transitioned out of the show, and that he needs to pay tribute to the things for which he has become most famous over the past seven years. The Dundies are always an awkward ceremony, and there was something different about this year’s awards and their presentation. As evidenced by the amusing goodbye song sung by everyone at the office in the conference room at the end of the episode, people are starting to realize that they’re actually going to miss Michael. Deangelo may be able to get more done and may have a similarly fun-oriented spirit, but he isn’t able to speak in front of people when he’s not at a meeting without a helpful hook-up from Michael inspired by “The King’s Speech.” As far as the awards themselves go, I was surprised that Jim won the Best Dad honor and not Darryl, and Meredith’s coronation as Best Mom seemed to upset Pam quite a bit, and the moment was played out perfectly. Ryan getting up and then sitting right back down when the Hottest in the Office award was presented was funny. Michael’s video where he posed as a number of people in the office was entertaining if not entirely on target, and the tribute song to Michael was enjoyable. Michael doesn’t have much time left, but it’s nice to see his greatest accomplishments celebrated and honored one last time.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

What I’m Watching: Justified

Justified: Season 2, Episode 11 “Full Commitment” (B+)

There’s little more entertaining than watching Raylan try to duck his assigned protection duty over the course of an episode. Few people can pull off a charming expression of purposeful intent to defy rules like Timothy Olyphant and his already-classic character Raylan Givens. The scene in the convenience store was particularly clever and enjoyable, and this caper episode should be termed an enormous success. It’s not much of a surprise that Gary once again had gotten in over his head and was having his strings pulled without having any idea. Seeing Gary’s joy about having Winona back at home, even under such extenuating circumstances, was a throwback to another, earlier last season when it actually appeared like Raylan might not be the one to end up with his ex-wife. The constant touching between Raylan and Winona, however, indicates that such is no longer the case. Speaking of romances from last season, it’s clear also that Ava has moved on from the lawman and is now fully committed to another Crowder. It’s great to have her showcased as Boyd’s leading lady, and so interesting to see her interact with Helen to discuss the code of honor among the wives of these lifelong bad guys. Unfortunately, Helen may not be long for this world as the latest blaze of glory may have just taken out one of the only people Raylan genuinely cares about and set off an entirely new firestorm that will play out as the season winds down in the coming weeks.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Take Three: Breaking In

Breaking In: Season 1, Episode 3 “Need for Speed” (B-)

It seems to me that Bret Harrison always plays the same part, no matter the show. He’s making a fool of himself as usual and lusting after a girl he could never hope to get because she’s blindly in love with a loser boyfriend. Even more so than in the past, his secret crush isn’t all that secret, to the point that everyone except for Melanie and Dutch is completely aware of his affection for her. I’m rather impressed by the somewhat surprising promotion given in this episode, making Dutch into a regular player by adding him as a regular team member. I’m completely entertained by Michael Rosenbaum, and I like the idea of having him on the show in a bigger role, even if I’m not so committed to sticking with it yet. I liked his line, “My favorite guy on the planet, right after the guy who invented boobs.” I also like the notion of Dutch as a character able to interact with Cameron on a level separate from the relationship of both men to Melanie. I don’t really understand why Cameron felt the need to help Dutch and Melanie get back together, but it did provide a pretty nice scene. Cash’s conflict with the super-brained computer is nothing wholly original, as was the reveal that it was Oz who was messing with him, but it’s still a good usage of an otherwise uncontrollable character who often just serves as a loud distraction and a nuisance to Cameron.

What I’m Watching: Modern Family

Modern Family: Season 2, Episode 20 “Someone to Watch Over Lily” (B+)

It’s been a while since we’ve had an episode that has done justice to the magnificent character that is Phil. It’s not often that Claire manages to put her foot in her mouth much more grievously than her goofball of a husband. Phil’s first terrific moment came when he delivered a brilliant rendering of “Hello, Claire!” when he tracked her down at her secret appointment with Luke. Once Claire came out with her true feelings, Phil went until full self-parody mode, which turned out to be quite hilarious. The two parents leaving Luke stranded at the office when they were fighting was an amusing twist, and his ride back in via limo was quite funny. It was a nice treat to see Alex and Haley spending some together and even joining forces to commit a crime! It was great to see Alex confess that she had skipped her lesson and have Haley tell her that she doesn’t need to be so perfect all the time. Having a baby has provided Cameron and Mitchell plenty of opportunities to explore the complications of their parenthood, and finding someone to watch over Lily is just the latest in the series. My favorite part of the whole search was Mitchell’s disbelieving reaction to the story about the frozen cows, and this episode was definitely one of the best choreographed in a while with the frequent displays of bad parenting from the frazzled Claire and Phil, the not so gentle Jay, and the rather eccentric and excitable Gloria.

What I’m Watching: Better With You

Better With You: Season 1, Episode 18 “Better with Lying” (B+)

Here we have a great conventional episode which is one of the defining elements of the traditional sitcom. While not flat-out hilarious throughout, it’s a strong example of using something that’s been done before and making it work in a new setting. What makes it most effective here is the characters, who are incredibly fun. The image of Ben and Casey sharing a bed is humorous enough, mostly for the looks on their faces. It became clear about halfway through the episode where it was that the two of them had ended up, and I enjoyed that particular twist as it was revealed. I was impressed by Ben’s detective skills, and equally so by Casey’s, in throwing a considerable pin in the first meeting stories told over and over by Mia and Maddie, respectively. Mia and Casey going into so much detail about their real experiences was appropriately embarrassing and over-the-top, and the ending scene provided a great corny flashback to the 1978 swingers party at which Vicky and Joel, as it turns out, actually met. I was a big fan of two of Casey’s lines: “Why would you think I would leave a piece of floss for you” and “This room knows exactly what you don’t want and it gives it to you,” both perfectly delivered by the token oddball. Of course, the single greatest line of the episode is uttered, as usual, by Ben, in his ill-fated attempt at making a chess metaphor, referencing “the horsey piece and the tall one.”

Saturday, April 23, 2011

What I’m Watching: Parenthood (Season Finale)

Parenthood: Season 2, Episode 22 “Hard Times Come Again No More” (B+)

It’s weird to think that one show has already concluded a full 22-episode season. Still, this has been a packed year of ups and downs for the Bravermans. The show had a few less-than-stellar episodes, but for the most part, it was a strong year, if not quite as great as the first. This finale helps to firm up a few important things about our favorite characters. Despite a scare in recent episodes brought on by bad decisions brought on by rejection from college, Amber is now back on track after being in a serious car accident and getting an extraordinarily severe and helpful pep talk from Zeek (“you do not have my permission to mess with my dreams). Julia is determined not to give up on trying to have another baby, while Kristina’s unplanned pregnancy will likely create some conflict and drama. Adam’s firing was a long time coming, but its prolonging to this point doesn’t make it sting any less. The timing of Adam’s unemployment, Kristina’s pregnancy, and Max’s successful location of his retainer was entertaining, and serves as a nice setup for a presumable third season. I’m extremely excited that Crosby was able to win back Jasmine, after he looked at her so longingly at the hospital when she arrived and then told her he wouldn’t pursue her anymore, only to be encouraged by Joel not to give up. Sarah’s play didn’t go too far, but it was a fun representation of how she sees this family. I don’t know what the future holds for this show, but I’d be happy to see another season.

Season grade: B+
Season MVP: Mae Whitman as Amber

Friday, April 22, 2011

What I’m Watching: Glee

Glee: Season 2, Episode 17 “A Night of Neglect” (B)

After a month off the air, this show is back stronger than usual with a great performance showcase and a decently entertaining, if entirely preposterous, subplot putting Sue and a few other crazy characters to productive use. The sudden surprise return by Charice as Sunshine Corazon isn’t unwelcome, thanks mostly to her powerful rendering of “All By Myself,” even if it’s not within the realm of possibility that New Directions couldn’t have seen this coming (which they did, yet somehow, they let her sabotage their fundraiser anyway). I enjoyed Sue’s troop of theoretical evildoers, and it’s a good way to bring back such personalities as Sandy Ryerson and Terri, who I still have a hard time believing is still a cast member on this show. Cheyenne Jackson is an especially fun addition who didn’t have all that much to do last time he was on the show, and given the fact that he doesn’t have all that much to do on “30 Rock” most of the time anyway, it’s a pleasure to see him spotlighted, especially in such a humorous role. It did seem that Gwyneth Paltrow was getting to be a rather frequent visitor to McKinley, and therefore her finale song and departure in this episode (left open for future appearances, of course) was fitting. Carl’s convenient departure, coupled with Holly’s, should help Emma and Will finally get together, if Terri doesn’t pose too much of a problem. The diva behavior exhibited by Mercedes and encouraged by Lauren was amusing, and I also appreciated Brittany’s convenient knowledge of such things as cat diseases.

What I’m Watching: The Chicago Code

The Chicago Code: Season 1, Episode 9 “St. Valentine’s Day Massacre” (B+)

This show continues to impress me with its demonstration of staying power by offering up one of its strongest episodes yet without even mentioning or hinting at Alderman Gibbons. Having the mayor, played by the always oily and reliable John Heard, publicly announce that he would replace Theresa if she didn’t prove herself to be effective on the eve of a union vote on whether or not to impeach her was an intense motivator for the episode, and tying in the plot involving the sister in charge of a bunch of gang members was very interesting. I enjoyed seeing a bit of opinion from Caleb about the superintendent, something which he hasn’t expressed before, and it was clearly an opinion because it got him booted from Wysocki’s car. I particularly liked the ending scene with Theresa’s discussion with Wysocki about why they weren’t still partners, and it’s nice to have some humor after such a heavy hour. The subplot involving Isaac and Vonda was rather serious as well, and it provided a harrowing look at the occasional unforeseen implications of police work. It’s not a surprise that Shawn Ryan cast his wife Cathy Cahlin Ryan, who played Corinne Mackey on “The Shield,” as the cutthroat lawyer assigned to Isaac’s case, but what’s more impressive is that she actually did a spectacular job. That speech at the car towards the end of the episode was quite cruel and powerful, and just one more indication that this show can be above average.

What I’m Watching: The Event

The Event: Season 1, Episode 17 “Cut Off the Head” (F)

The inconsistencies just keep piling up, and it’s getting even more ridiculous than it has been in the past. This idea of the First Lady actually being an alien sleeper agent is intriguing, but it’s completely undercut by the fact that Senator Lewis was able to dig up dirt on her in just a day that somehow wouldn’t have come up in his presidential campaign at all. Additionally, Martinez is proving himself to be dumber and dumber with each move he makes, and now he may well pay for it by being poisoned by the Vice President. Things have gotten considerably more complicated here, with Sophia now bartering with the leaders of different countries to keep their citizens alive. Dempsey’s suicide was rather senseless, especially because he was judging Sean’s competence based on the fact that he happened to make it in time to save Vicky from burning to death in a fire. There’s a point at which scare tactics become ineffective, namely when the threat maker is no longer alive to inspire fear in the people he wants to motivate. Leila is continuing to cause trouble, and now she’s gotten out an important message before her father becomes the one to discipline her for her actions. This show isn’t headed anywhere coherent, and now it’s literally Sean and Vicky versus the aliens and the Vice President. There are still five episodes left in this show’s season order, and I couldn’t possibly imagine that anyone would want to stick around for a second go at this inanity.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

What I’m Watching: Chuck

Chuck: Season 4, Episode 21 “Chuck Versus the Wedding Planner” (B+)

What a blast this episode was! After I expressed my doubts last week, it’s so thrilling to see a fantastically creative episode that so completely circumvents the storylines that have been holding this show back in recent weeks and still manages to address enough of them to drive the plot forward appropriately. Starting with the flashbacks to a young Sarah and her piggy bank was smart, and it was cute to have her father leave it for her at the end with plenty of money to pay for the wedding. I loved the setup of this episode, with Chuck and Sarah’s wedding planner revealed to be a con woman. This caper was so much fun, and it was hilarious to see Chuck and Sarah try to create a fake mission, complete with Chuck’s inability to fake a flash and Sarah’s impression not turning out to be too much better. Morgan and Alex both trying to convince Casey to talk to Alex’s mother was fun, and it’s enjoyable to see the two of them displaying such similar physical mannerisms. This show is succeeding so well in crafting two wonderful couples, and it’s a pleasure to see them trying to pull off their respective goals. The Bat Mitzvah-based mission was great, and I really liked the trajectory of this episode. Awesome meeting Sarah’s dad was fun too. My favorite line from the episode, hands down, was all in the delivery, conveying Sarah’s lack of knowledge about some of the smaller things in life: “What is a Super Shuttle?” More episodes like this, please!

What I’m Watching: Burn Notice: The Fall of Sam Axe

Burn Notice: The Fall of Sam Axe
Premiered April 17 at 9pm

What could be more exciting than an off-season dose of the best burned spy show set in Miami? This mostly Michael-free tale of the last mission undertaken by Sam before he was booted by the CIA is pure entertainment, and it’s a whole lot of fun. I’m especially impressed by the fact that this standalone TV movie doesn’t use its series origins as a crutch. Michael appears only a few minutes in, but it’s fun to see him sprouting a beard and quite a bit of confidence. To be fair, Michael is a better narrator, but Sam’s still a blast. The only major connection to later events in the series itself is the origin of the Chuck Finley name from a magazine cover, which is a lot of fun. In terms of supporting cast members, the casting of Kiele Sanchez and RonReaco Lee is impressive, and I like how they work as foils to Bruce Campbell’s Sam. This TV movie has the same feel as the show while containing the story to just one plot for a double-header. This certainly works infinitely better than something like “24: Redemption,” and I was fully engaged and enthralled for the full two hours of this production. I particularly liked Sam’s description of building a bomb as doing the opposite of what the warning label says, and his training of the non-terrorists with football plays. The situation-relayed-in-trial format has been done many times before, but here it worked wonders, and now I’m looking forward to the return of the show in just two months!

TV Movie Grade: B+

Pilot Review: Game of Thrones

Game of Thrones (HBO)
Premiered April 17 at 9pm

I wasn’t sure that I would like the much-hyped adaptation of George R.R. Martin’s fantasy novels as a TV show. I anticipated that, like many other HBO, Showtime, and Starz period dramas, it might prove exhausting to keep track of the many characters and heavy storylines, and that I might be ready to check out long before any of that became very clear. That doesn’t reflect poorly on the shows at all; it’s just not the kind of series to which I’m often willing to commit. My suspicious were all but confirmed in this pilot, and therefore I can’t guarantee that I’ll be sticking around in future weeks. I certainly am intrigued, however, and would like to know more about this intriguing universe. I did notice that this show is fond of casual beheadings, something which has become entirely commonplace by the fourteen minute mark. It’s an intense story that definitely has some strong moments, firmly establishing the state of fear and disbelief in the eyes and faces of the people when they’re facing their deadly, long-thought dead enemy. Among the large, large cast, I was amused to recognize Peter Dinklage, who gets blond hair and plenty of cockiness while receiving affection from several prostitutes at once. I’m not quite sure what to make of the greater show, however, and the final act of the episode, which shows Jaime Lannister (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, formerly of the incredible would-be series “Virtuality”) pushing a child out of a window and saying, “the things I do for love,” makes this whole thing seem just like a game. Do you want to play? I’m not sure I do.

How will it work as a series? The first season is slated to be ten episodes, which should cover considerable ground with the many characters while exploring the storylines of the books. This is the kind of show that requires weekly viewing, and even regular viewers may have trouble following along. It’s just the kind of show that can use a hardcore devoted fan base, and this show has just that.
How long will it last? The premiere numbers were much improved from those of “Mildred Pierce,” which held this timeslot in previous weeks, but not as strong as those for “Boardwalk Empire.” Still, this series has such an excitable group of fans that I’d imagine HBO will want to keep it around for a while, maybe even into a second year. Revision: I wrote this before the news came in on Tuesday that the show has already been renewed. Wow!

Pilot grade: B-

What I’m Watching: The Killing

The Killing: Season 1, Episode 4 “A Soundless Echo” (B-)

I’m pleased to report that I found this episode to be a notch more engaging than the previous installments. It still hasn’t reached that point where superb quality becomes evident, as was the case early on in the runs of fellow AMC shows “Mad Men” and “Breaking Bad.” I’m not ready to give up yet since I now do find myself decently interested in finding out exactly what’s going on with all the people who might have been involved in whatever way in Rosie’s murder. It’s not as easy to keep track of the various boys in Rosie’s life as it was with Laura Palmer’s men on “Twin Peaks,” a show of which I am constantly reminded when watching this series. The Larsen parents seeing the photos of their daughter by accident was definitely not good, and providing the most powerful moment for those parents that I’ve seen thus far. Continuing the trend of some big revelation at the end of each episode, we’re now privy to the knowledge that Bennett may have been involved somehow in her death, making his bonding with Mitch all the more intriguing. Sarah’s visit with her husband-to-be on the boat was somewhat alarmingly peaceful, quiet and away from everything. Her interactions with her new partner continue to be less productive as articulated by him when he expresses his frustration that she never shares her intel with him. The basketball meeting between the candidates was quite interesting, and I’m curious about the addition of Alan Dale as a senator and Gwen’s father.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

What I’m Watching: Desperate Housewives

Desperate Housewives: Season 7, Episode 18 “Moments in the Woods” (B)

There’s some good stuff in here for sure, and I’m happy to see at least a few of the plotlines head in a positive, or rather, compellingly dramatic, direction. It’s a real blast from the past to think of Andrew having run over Juanita Solis, and having him try to apologize to Carlos was definitely a bad idea for the Van De Kamp-Solis relationship. Gaby saying that Andrew being gay would make his murder into a hate crime and the whole setup of Bree and Gaby suspecting that Carlos had killed Andrew was clever, even if them confessing Andrew’s sin to Carlos was a bit forced. A vengeful Carlos forcing Andrew to break his sobriety and drink with him and then cutting Bree off completely were strong instances of the kind of drama this show used to incorporate regularly. The same quality was evident in the Paul-Felicia dynamic. The way Paul says “Whoever’s in here, I own this house, and I want you out now” is just so terrific, and Felicia’s nuttiness works very well. I do worry that she’s a bit too crazy for her own good, since it would be nice for the hatchet to be truly buried after all this time. It’s also nice for Susan to get a good therapeutic pep talk from Roy after losing her friend. What doesn’t impress me anywhere near as much is Lynette’s storyline. Her not knowing what to do with $10,000 was funny, and it managed to give Renee a bunch of good one-liners, but her disappointment and surprise with Tom actually being busy at work and enjoying what he’s doing is a predictable plotline we’ve already seen once or twice over.

Monday, April 18, 2011

What I’m Watching: Smallville

Smallville: Season 10, Episode 17 “Kent” (B-)

We’re now officially in the home stretch, with this serving as the first of the final five ever episodes of this superhero show. Maybe it’s a sense of nostalgia coming over me or the fact that we’re so close to the end, but I do think this episode was considerably better than some of the recent installments, mainly because it references that alternate reality we first saw a couple of episodes back. Even if I’ve never been particularly impressed by the acting abilities of Tom Welling, Clark Luthor and Clark Kent do seem like two completely different characters. It’s weird only to see Tess and Lois as the supporting players with old favorites like Chloe and Oliver gone, but we do get a chance to see one character I know to be beloved by many fans of the show: Jonathan Kent. It’s good to see Clark get some therapeutic closure by talking to his dad once again, and this show is really hard to emphasize the idolization of Clark as a hero. Having Clark Luthor present just helps to underline the fact that Clark is perhaps the nicest, most well-intentioned crime fighter ever to exist. With the Kent farm being sold off, Clark and Lois can move to Metropolis to abandon the show’s title for good and help him to become the Daily Planet reporter and Superman he was always meant to be. I’m not sure how far things are going to get in the show’s final four installments, but I’m looking forward to them.

What I’m Watching: Secret Diary of a Call Girl

Secret Diary of a Call Girl: Season 4, Episode 2 (C+)

There comes a point in the run of some shows where suddenly things just don’t feel like they used to anymore. I often wonder whether the show actually used to be that much better or if I simply remembered it more fondly for whatever reason. I do think that there has been a noticeable shift in how this show operates, and it saddens me. What seems to be the problem is an inflation of ego. This show was surprisingly unassuming when it first started, and part of what made it appealing was the fact that Belle really is very sweet and likeable. She now seems completely self-centered and it’s as if Billie Piper is playing an entirely different character. It’s a huge disappointment because she used to be so great, and now I find her character off-putting, and not in an intriguing way. Her session with the virgin is a particularly strong example for an unexplained personality shift since she used to always be supportive of her clients, no matter what they did or didn’t want to do. I don’t like her new associates, and one of them is particularly prickly and unfriendly. I want to see more of Stephanie’s daughter and have her get involved with everything, because I think she’s an intriguing character, and may be the last best thing on this show that could make this final season, so far removed already from what came before, worth watching. I would hate for this show to go out on a negative note.

What I’m Watching: 30 Rock

30 Rock: Season 5, Episode 19 “I Heart Connecticut” (B-)

Some of the stuff this show does is so off the wall that it’s hard to imagine where it could possibly have come from. Some of it works, and some doesn’t. It seems as if this show is trying to pull off more and more in the 10pm slot, and its effectiveness varies as well. What’s less than effective is the Pete stuff, which starts out stupidly with the “your wife in the shower” jokes, then improves moderately with his shocking arm-wrestling skills, goes back to being pointless with an unnecessary shift to dramatics, and then ends with a quick cut to Pete losing to Frank. The search for Tracy wasn’t anywhere near as funny as Liz and Kenneth seemed to think, though it was moderately amusing. The revelation that he was in Liz’s apartment is so ridiculous that it sort of has to be hilarious, and I loved the quickly fired-off anecdote about the NAACP having once hired someone to kill Tracy. The trajectory of the “Take My Hand” production was entertaining as detailed by Jack, and my favorite bit was about the first-class flights for the drill. I’m glad that Jenna’s being put to some productive use here, and her interactions with Jack (“I’m an 11, but continue”) were fun. It was enjoyable watching this Connecticut-focused episode while aboard a train passing through Connecticut. It’s hard not to laugh when the characters applaud themselves for a joke, and “we produce more failed pilots than the French Air Force” was definitely a winner.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

What I’m Watching: Parks and Recreation

Parks and Recreation: Season 3, Episode 9 “Fancy Party” (B+)

Leave it to this show to have two characters get spontaneously married, have it go off without a hitch, and not seem forced! The wedding, as it turns out, was sort of wonderful, with the dramatic playing of Simon & Garfunkel actually creating a surprisingly touching scene with a beaming April going to marry a man who doesn’t understand that you only have one best man, and who thought that she might be pregnant or dying when she sarcastically said so to Leslie. The dinner party, sort of like an Xbox pancake, was a roaring success, and I loved how April and Andy invited everyone and asked them to bring everything. Chris’ contribution of a vegetable loaf instead of a cake, quite upsetting Ron, was terrific. Chris talking to the creepy guy and scaring him away with his optimism was a priceless scene that could only happen on this show. Ron had some great moments in this episode, including the removal of his tooth with pliers and his instant tutorial about burning an ex-wife effigy. Leslie’s concern about April and Andy was sweet, and it was nice to have Ben’s potential departure worked into the same event. I liked her awkward handshake with him after refusing to tlel him what to do, and it’s really great that he’s staying. The interactions between Donna and Ann work very well, mostly because Donna is so mean to her, and I’m personally enjoying the way Ann is being used even if others aren’t so impressed. I’m also very glad she didn’t try to disrupt Andy’s wedding. This show rocks.

What I’m Watching: Nikita

Nikita: Season 1, Episode 18 “Into the Dark” (D)

Wait, so suddenly Michael’s a good guy? This doesn’t bode well for a second season, because where could this show possibly go? The way Michael and Nikita talk about each other now, it’s as if they’re dating (“did you tell Alex about us?”). Having Owen return just as Michael has switched sides seems inconvenient, and just adds complications when the show just doesn’t need any. The hand-to-hand combat between the guardians several times throughout this episode is decently effective, but the dialogue is still inane and awful. I’ve decided that characters should just punch each other and not be allowed to speak. I was hoping those headaches were going to be something cooler than just a drug reaction, sort of like the implants in “Mission Impossible III.” Owen’s drug supply running low was a bit conveniently timed, and resulted in some pretty dumb behavior, like Owen throwing the guardian off a bridge and pushing Nikita in front of a car in the clumsiest and most obvious manner possible. That final scene with Owen shouting “No!!!” as Michael shot the black box was almost comic in its stupidity. The lie detector test back on the home front was equally preposterous and infuriating in execution. Is there really such a need to check whether she’s lying and report back on it in front of Alex? Melinda Clarke deserves much better material. At least Xander Berkeley gets to smash phones! Let’s hope the next episode is much better than this. This show could be a whole lot better.

What I’m Watching: The Office

The Office: Season 7, Episode 20 “Training Day” (B)

With an increasing number of famous guest stars being announced as this show tries to recover both from a later-seasons slump and the impending departure of Steve Carell, it’s going to be a delicate balance between easing in the new and completely jumping the shark. Fortunately, this first meet-cute is fairly subtle and decently done. While it isn’t without its less effective moments, it’s generally entertaining and enjoyable. The meeting at the bar was a bit dumb but both Will Ferrell and Carell played it well, and they also excelled at fighting over how things should be done in the office. Michael, if nothing else, knows how to fight back, and bringing out peanut butter and jelly sandwiches since Deangelo has a peanut allergy was brilliant. Deangelo calling the conference room a multi-purpose room was amusing to me, and I like how everyone is trying to suck up to him, especially Darryl and his new big hat. I’m less comforted by his abrupt snapping at Jim and Pam about their baby talk and his usage of Andy as a court jester, and I think the character needs some finessing. Everyone at the office may have warmed to him immediately, but I think I’m going to need some time. His politically correct but factually incorrect question about the Native American girl was hilarious, and I liked Michael’s appropriate, mature response: “you’ll figure it out.” He’s going to miss the office, and we’re definitely going to miss him. One of his parting words of wisdom: “I’ve been working so hard, I forgot what it’s like to be hardly working.”

Pilot Review: The Paul Reiser Show

The Paul Reiser Show (NBC)
Premiered April 14 at 8:30pm

When I heard about this show premiering, I couldn’t quite understand why. I never watched “Mad About You” since it aired mostly when my television intake was limited to PBS and some comedies that aired during the daytime, and since it hasn’t had the same kind of afterlife in syndication as many of the shows that aired with it, I have no real frame of reference for Paul Reiser. What I can say right off the bat is that it’s rare for shows to have their stars’ names in the title, and more often, projects start out that way and then get renamed. It seems, as I suspected, that the idea for the show was that Paul Reiser wanted to do a show, and then something had to be built around him, and whatever it is, it’s not funny at all. Instantly referencing (and featuring) Larry David elicits a comparison that I’ve already seen many make, and there shouldn’t be a need for that crutch, especially since it’s unfavorable. Paul’s lunch with Larry shows that he’s not nearly as unlikeable, but he’s not as funny either. He can’t talk fast or obnoxiously enough, and therefore it just seems like he’s permanently in a bad mood. The show also achieves a moment that’s just too meta, when Larry essentially suggests the idea for this very series by saying that Paul should do a “Curb Your Enthusiam”-like series. It just doesn’t work on any level. People thinking he’s funny while he’s not funny doesn’t make the show funny. Mark Burnett deems that his misery is the funny part, but who’s laughing exactly? Habib gluing himself to the car is moronic, and the proud father bit in the last scene is way too forced. I noted the one time that I did laugh in the pilot, and that was one of the game show responses: “Who won the Civil War?” / “We did!” One might call that a success, but when jokes are produced rapid fire and only one in a dozen it’s funny, that’s hardly a hit. This show is terrible.

How will this work as a series? Not well. There’s no premise besides Paul going on about how he doesn’t know what to do with his life. This might be a show about nothing, but why then do there have to be the typical supporting characters who are Paul’s friends? Having fathers trade their children’s school projects is going to get old fast. There’s not enough of a basis for anything here, and what does exist is awful.
How long will it last? Not long at all. It’s a show for an entirely different demographic than anyone who watches any of the other programs on NBC Thursday night, with the possible exception of “30 Rock,” with which it’s not paired. This is the kind of series that represents immediate failure, and even committed detractors of NBC can recognize that most of their programming is better than this. I’m not even sure it will make it to a second week.

Pilot grade: F

Saturday, April 16, 2011

What I’m Watching: Justified

Justified: Season 2, Episode 10 “Debts and Accounts” (B+)

This show continues to be incredibly fascinating, unmissable television. The characters are so rich, complicated, and interesting, as are all of their interactions. Perhaps the most intriguing scene of the episode, though it’s hardly the default winner, is the one between Art and Raylan. To this point, at least recently, we’ve only seen Art in a generally comic context, chastising Raylan in a sarcastic manner. Now, we get a more serious, if similarly sardonic, slap on the wrist courtesy of Art, mostly to express that he isn’t going to have the conversation Raylan is trying to have with him, though he certainly doesn’t approve of his actions and doesn’t want to hear any more about them. In the same vein, having Raylan take Winona for a car ride (“I’m robbing a bank and need a wheelman”) was a brilliant idea, and their conversation was very insightful. That final scene also played pretty well. Raylan’s rather direct confrontation with the guys he thought might be tailing him was quite entertaining. Mags’ meeting with Helen was quite compelling, and it’s good to know that at least the Bennett matriarch isn’t intent on doing harm to Raylan. Dickie and Boyd sitting at the same table is a recipe for intensity, and I’m curious to see how all that pans out since the second dumbest Bennett brother now has it out for his mother. It was good to see Ava actually get a few lines, even if she wasn’t as able to hold her ground with Boyd as she might have liked.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Pilot Review: Happy Endings

Happy Endings (ABC)
Premiered April 13 at 9:30pm

ABC is working hard to ensure that it has a steady lineup of sitcoms ready for Wednesday night, to the point that it can’t fit them all in its two-hour block and had to wait for one to finish its run for this one to premiere and then necessitate it being bumped to the 10pm slot starting next week. I say this mainly because it doesn’t seem that we need another show about friends who were supposed to be married trying to give their non-romantic relationship a shot again. Maybe it’s also because there isn’t a single laugh to be found in this entire pilot. That presumably sounds far more damning than it’s meant to, since this isn’t all bad or terribly off-putting; it just doesn’t have much in the way of appeal. Zachary Knighton and his hopeless quest for his mysterious love was easily the most boring part of “Flash Forward,” and therefore I don’t much care whether he wins back the girl of his dreams. Additionally, all of his antics were highly original and rather obnoxious in his post-wedding mourning period. When I read that Elisha Cuthbert was in this pilot, I was intrigued, but the moment she opened her mouth at the ceremony, I remembered that she is not actually a very talented actress. Hopefully this will be better than her work on “24,” but I don’t have high hopes. Eliza Coupe was much better in the final two seasons of “Scrubs,” and no one from the supporting cast, including Damon Wayans Jr., son of the eccentric comedian, stands out. This show feels like any number of series I’ve seen before, and about as unengaging as “Romantically Challenged” from last year. I’m willing to give it another shot in the name of a Wednesday night comedy block, especially since I only currently watch two of ABC’s programs on that evening, but I don’t have high hopes.

How will it work as a series? While some members of the group search for true love, the others will search for friendship with each other. It’s not exactly a novel premise, and there are too many preexisting couples within the group – one actual couple and another former couple – that there isn’t much freedom for them to go anywhere creative. It’s a sitcom, so it will likely not so boldly go where so many sitcoms have gone before.
How long will it last? The premiere numbers were good, but not as good as those of “Mr. Sunshine.” Still, it’s not overly significant since it’s more about whether ABC wants to hold on to this show as part of its block, and with five other series in the running for four slots, I don’t see this one as having the lasting power, both story-wise or ratings-wise, to make it to next season.

Pilot grade: C

Round Two: Breaking In

Breaking In: Season 1, Episode 2 “Tis Better to Have Loved and Flossed” (B-)

I’m still not sure exactly what to make of this show. At times it feels like it’s very on, and at others it’s considerably and distractingly more irreverent. The show’s heist-like scenes tend to be its strongest, especially when they don’t encounter much surprise resistance in their escapades. The show doesn’t run quite as smoothly all the time as it’s prone to stream of consciousness narrative interruptions that get it distracted from the main plot. Fortunately, Cash is much less obnoxious and loud than he was in the pilot, and he doesn’t seem quite as intent on causing Cameron stress. I thought that the Alyssa Milano plotline worked exceptionally well, and it definitely caught me by surprise, but not in an overly “gotcha” kind of way. It was well worked into the episode’s primary plot without seeming like it was too important. The reveal that Cameron was the leak was a lot of fun, and it’s amusing to see just how much Oz is actually aware of, mostly thanks to his rather invasive watercooler cam. Oz is another aspect of the show that’s improved a decent amount since the pilot, thanks mostly, and this may seem strange, due to Christian Slater’s hairstyle. He seems much more relaxed and buoyant, and his telepathic presentation at the beginning of the episode was amusing. I’m also continually thrilled by the all-too-brief appearances of Michael Rosenbaum as Melanie’s boyfriend Dutch. While I’m of course rooting for Cameron to get the girl, I’d hate to see him no longer on the show.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

What I’m Watching: Modern Family

Modern Family: Season 2, Episode 19 “The Musical Man” (C+)

This show certainly doesn’t deserve being condemned as being in the middle of a sophomore slump, but it’s fair to say that this outing is probably the show’s weakest yet. Even an unfunny installment of this series is much better than most other comedies on the air, but the problem with this week was that everything was so blatant and obvious, and the show didn’t let up trying to show just how obvious its jokes were. Take Phil’s van, for instance, which was a mistake from the get-go and went on far too long as both Claire and Haley received a considerable amount of cat calls from random passersby. What’s nice is that the dramatic ending worked decently with Phil revealing that most of the calls were, fortunately enough, for her, thereby reassuring her that she still has good years ahead of her to which she can look forward. Cam’s direction of the school play was more than a bit over-the-top, and we’ve seen far subtler, more effective similar storylines in the past (this actually happened recently on “Parenthood” as well, and was much better handled). The presence of Jay’s brother was considerably more dramatic from the get-go, and it’s fun to see Jonathan Banks, better known as Mike on “Breaking Bad,” step into a less serious role. That all felt a bit obvious too, though, and didn’t go anywhere terribly surprising. This show is capable of so much more, and it’s a disappointment to see a lackluster episode like this.

What I’m Watching: Better With You

Better With You: Season 1, Episode 17 “Better Without a Job” (B-)

This is one of those sillier episodes that still tends to be funny even if it isn’t quite as logically coherent. Maddie talking herself back into her job, or rather, thinking that she had, was relatively amusing, though her subsequent meltdown into a cheese puff-covered hermit was more than a bit predictable. I always enjoy seeing familiar faces on shows like this, and therefore it was a treat to see Todd Stashwick, most memorable as the creepy Dale on “The Riches,” as her new boss. While this may mean that we won’t get to see any more of Jonathan Slavin’s obsessed assistant, but both are such fringe characters that it doesn’t matter all that much anyway. Some of the stuff in this episode works better conceptually than in execution, like Joel attempting to high-five Casey when he puts down Vicky. The discovery of the racist children’s book was entertaining, mostly for the reactions it elicited from everyone, including Casey the Vermont native. I’m a sucker for Casey’s impossible stupidity, and therefore his recollection of his favorite book, also known as a stereo manual, was rather hilarious. Unfortunately, this show does seem intent sometimes on drilling the jokes into your head, something which definitely decreases the level to which it’s funny. This show has been off the air for over a month, and this return wasn’t terribly strong. We’re getting awfully close to the end of the season, and though ABC likes it comedies, I don’t see this one returning for another round next year.

What I’m Watching: Parenthood

Parenthood: Season 2, Episode 21 “Slipping Away” (B+)

Just as Sarah hasn’t seen this kind of violent rebellious behavior from Amber before, we also haven’t seen such incredibly dramatic, intense interactions between parents and children, even when Haddie wasn’t speaking to Adam and Kristina. That stems mostly from the fact that Amber is an entirely different person from Haddie, and she’s capable of much more rebellion and anti-authoritarianism than her cousin. I think this marks the first time that one of the characters on this show is actually in mortal danger, and the next installment is sure to be rather wrenching and difficult. Mae Whitman is always great, but Lauren Graham deserves the credit this time around for that scene in the restaurant where she got incredibly serious and then started yelling at Amber for being high. Seeing Adam completely stop talking to Haddie is also rather tough, and for that matter, Crosby isn’t holding up too well either. It’s been a hard episode for most of our characters, even if it was peppered with one major success that was completely overshadowed by her family developments. It was fun to see Steven Weber in a guest spot that so perfectly suits him, though I’d love for the role to be a bit meatier if he becomes a recurring player. One thing is for sure, and it’s that Gilliam is nuts, yet somehow he manages to be terribly effective in getting Sarah’s play produced. I’m not sure exactly where Adam’s work stuff is going to go, but he definitely did not look pleased to see that lollipop.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

What I’m Watching: The Good Wife

The Good Wife: Season 2, Episode 20 “Foreign Affairs” (B+)

Before we get to that whopper of an ending, it’s worth addressing the other less significant developments in this episode. It’s nice to see Natalie, and by extension America Ferrera, incorporated into the business at Lockhart and Gardner in such a big way, and this serves as the perfect send-off for her. I liked her boyfriend’s attempt at a confrontation with Eli, and she and Eli had a great least moment at the party. The case itself was rather ridiculous but, like with the judge who insists on having her lawyers attribute their claims to their opinion, not everything in this show is meant to be taken entirely seriously. Hence a faceless Chavez rambling about Courtney Love and an actor serving as his defense counsel is more just for amusement, and I think it’s all worth it for the delight Will takes in making a breakthrough that he can hold over his opposition’s head. Cary asking Kalinda for a favor was an interesting twist since we’ve only ever seen the reverse, and it’s somewhat strange to think of Cary working for Peter with his animosity towards Alicia. I, as I imagine others were, was so distracted by all the excitement of Peter winning the election that I momentarily forgot about the threat of Alicia finding out about Kalinda. The way it was presented, using Kalinda’s former name, was quite brilliant considering the fact that Alicia had overheard that name several names when Blake called her by it. The last few moments of this episode were exceptional, and I’m quite looking forward to seeing what happens with the fallout.

What I’m Watching: The Chicago Code

The Chicago Code: Season 1, Episode 8 “Wild Onions” (B+)

I guess it’s only been a few weeks, but I feel like this show has been off the air for longer than that. Maybe it’s the fact that it’s already April and we’re only eight episodes into this show, with its future looking bleaker and bleaker for no logical reason. This now serves as the only procedural I’m currently watching, and therefore it has a certain appeal, especially as a more serious show than “Chuck” and a far better one than “The Event,” as far as Monday nights are concerned, that is. Framing any television show or movie on the hottest day of the year is usually a recipe for success, and this episode was no exception. It served as a particularly strong way to get too previously sidelined characters together, involving a decently steamy shower scene with Vonda and Isaac at the end. Liam’s immersion into Gibbons’ business is interesting to watch, and I like the fact that he’s now on the payroll for Gibbons as well as for the police force (I just keep flashing to Martin Sheen explaining to Leonardo DiCaprio that he won’t be paid as a regular cop). What’s the most intriguing and engaging part of this episode, however, is the hiring of Theresa’s new driver. I love it when a high-ranking official like Theresa gets into the action (see also: Captain David Aceveda messing up by taking some innocent kid’s bike in an installment of Shawn Ryan’s other cop show). Bidwell’s use of Wysocki-endorsed blackmail to get Theresa to agree to accept overnight detail was very clever, and his explanation of why he thinks she picked him for the job was a more serious but equally effective way to start their relationship.

What I’m Watching: Chuck

Chuck: Season 4, Episode 20 “Chuck Versus the Family Volkoff” (B)

I’m sad to be appearing to lose faith in this show since I’ve always been a staunch supporter of it, especially after Chuck and Sarah officially got together as a couple. For starters, and this should be obvious from my episode grades, it’s nothing like some other shows such as “Desperate Housewives” or “Smallville” which have almost completely lost me, winning me back only occasionally and briefly. Instead, it’s just a bit less engagement with the storyline. I still like seeing my favorite characters, but I don’t feel that their current overarching plotlines are as strong as they’ve been in the past. Namely, Volkoff, his daughter Vivian, and normal Mama Bartowski just aren’t as awesome as Shaw, the Ring, or a number of the episodic villains we’ve seen over the past few years. It’s still a whole lot of fun, and I particularly like how the music continues to be incorporated excellently into the show. The relationship drama also works rather well, and it’s sweet to see Chuck attempt to write a prenup that necessitates a promise never to get divorced or stop loving him. It’s fun to see Casey try to step into his role as a father, awkward hug at all, and I’d love to see him get some romance if Alex’s mother finds out that he’s alive. Alex is definitely a great character, and I’d love to see her showcased more on the show, and maybe even involved in some sort of mission since it’s always fun to bring in the fringe characters for the action.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Round Two: The Killing

The Killing: Season 1, Episode 3 “El Diablo” (C+)

Perhaps it’s unfair of me to continually compare this show to “Twin Peaks,” but it’s hard not to when the musical cues are almost identical to those of the classic David Lynch series. This show continues to proceed along at an extremely slow pace, which wouldn’t be a problem if there was more that could potentially be going on. Looking at the first two installments and this one, it seems that the format will be that things build very moderately throughout the episode, with a grand disturbing revelation made right at the end each week. I’m not sure that I can bear that since there isn’t much payoff in the lead-up to the last few minutes. “Twin Peaks” had plenty of curious characters who might not have had any ties to the major crime. Additionally, there was actually something besides the main plot going on, which doesn’t seem to be the case here. The duplicity of someone involved in the campaign doesn’t seem to be terribly layered, and this sure-to-be-postponed wedding isn’t headed anywhere original. The incorporation of the Larsen family into the season-long story also seems like it will simply create problems for the detectives. The one ounce of true intrigue is the apparent side mission of one Detective Stephen Holder, whose conversations seem to indicate some serious spying. I’m still not drawn in, but I know many (such as G1000) are enjoying this far more than I am, and with little else to watch on Sunday nights, I can afford to stick it out for at least a few more weeks.

What I’m Watching: Mildred Pierce

Mildred Pierce: Parts 4 & 5

After premiering only two weeks ago, this miniseries comes to a close with this powerful double-hitter. So much ground has been covered in only five installments, and while they’ve all been equally terrific, it’s easy to consider this last set the most powerful of the bunch. The main reason for that is that Mildred has nowhere to go but down from her high perch at the beginning of part four. In the first two hours and especially through the third, Mildred overcome adversity and hardship and made a name for herself through her business. It seems as if things might be going well here, but her dwindling finances quickly bring her down. Additionally, Veda proves that sometimes a horrible brat of a child only gets worse as she gets older. It’s not to say that Veda’s affair with Monty is unexpected, but that doesn’t make it any less shocking and hurtful. It’s hard to figure out who deserves more blame: the actual adult in the room, Monty, or the girl who has throughout her entire life been insubordinate and outright cruel to her mother. It’s nice to see that Mildred is able to find happiness again with Bert, the man who she left. Unlike many other stories of women trying independence and ending up back where they started, Mildred actually does accomplish something great, and leads a fulfilling life. This miniseries was expertly directed, and finely acted by the likes of Kate Winslet, Brian F. O’Byrne, Guy Pearce, Mare Winnigham, and Melissa Leo. I’m sure Winslet will have no trouble picking up accolades for this, and I hope she’s not alone since the other players did a stellar job as well.

Round Two: Chaos

Chaos: Season 1, Episode 2 “Song of the North” (C)

So much for some clarity in episode two. Instead, we’re treated to just more chaos and unevenness. While the team which Rick has just joined continues to impress with its abilities, there still isn’t any kind of true bonding that goes on or elaboration of the characters beyond the fact that they might all have one woman in mind whose allure they have never been able to forget. The show could benefit from a female presence aside from Christina Cole’s Adele, but mostly, the plot just needs a bit of sharpening. While it’s definitely supposed to be a comedy in most respects, things do feel a bit too goofy, like the happenstance presence of the wife’s extended family when the team had only prepared to extract one person with a fake passport. Mainly, there isn’t enough backing to justify it all. Rick still seems like too much of a fish out of water, just happening to run into the ambassador while scouting out the roof, and even the threat of death (note: not torture) in North Korea isn’t anywhere near as serious or grave as it should be, and the same goes for the joke of a Pyongyang Film Festival. I was especially disappointed in the reaction by Higgins to the situation, since, after a strong opening last week, he couldn’t even muster any energy to chew Rick out or make any sort of jokes. The presence of Currie Graham’s political figure also needs to be evened out sooner rather than later to help this show establish its tone. I’m not sold.

Monday, April 11, 2011

What I’m Watching: Secret Diary of a Call Girl (Season Premiere)

Secret Diary of a Call Girl: Season 4, Episode 1 (B)

I’m so very happy to have Belle, one of television’s best characters, back, even if it’ sonly for one final eight-episode season. What’s somewhat less pleasant is the state of the show as compared to what it once was. Now I haven’t even come close to starting to turn my back on it; it’s just that change sometimes isn’t as delightful as it might otherwise be. That is to say that I greatly miss Bambi and the way things used to be. It’s nice to see Belle showing off a tour of her new place (“So much to tell you”), yet I didn’t mind a Belle of simpler, albeit still elegant, means. Ben was always a fantastic character, and its newfound alternation between cocky guy and hopeless stalker doesn’t suit him entirely well. There’s much more comedy in this episode than I remember from the show in the past, especially when it comes to Liam, who, to his credit, does seem like a strong new character. There a lot of cuts to imagined visuals that I don’t recall being there before, and they’re occasionally jarring. Fortunately, there are plenty of familiar elements that still work just as well as they always did. The characterization of Stephanie, most notably through the reveal of what was in her trunk, is still exceptionally well-done and over-the-top, and I think that her daughter could make for a good new Bambi prototype, albeit less self-confident and far more ignorant about the business. Ben making a pro and con chart on the wall was a fun scene, and I’m curious to know what becomes of him and Belle. The setup of Liam as Stephanie’s lawyer and then a client of Belle’s was smart, and the judge sex scene was pretty fabulous and hilarious. The show’s best element remains its usage of music, most specifically “Perhaps, Perhaps, Perhaps” in this episode. I’m looking forward to the remaining seven episodes; I’d just like to see the show find its groove once again before we really get to the end.

What I’m Watching: Nikita

Nikita: Season 1, Episode 17 “Covenants” (C-)

This episode doesn’t do anything for me, utilizing something which should have been incredibly intriguing and abusing it entirely for at least this entire episode. What comes next may prove to be much more interesting, but for the moment, this episode was a waste of time. We were treated to shots of Nikita wowing us with her incredible abilities in the first episode of the series, and to spend so much time emphasizing just how impressive a force to be reckoned with she is unnecessary. I’m also rather surprised to learn that one person on his or her own is single-handedly capable sabotaging up a shipment for al-Qaeda, and by that I mean that I don’t buy the incorporation of the real-life terrorist group into the plot for one second. The revelation that the big bad guy is actually a Division agent who has been working for Percy all along is a bit of a whopper, and I’d love for Michael to pick up the pace and actually do something about it. Maybe it’s because this show has been off the air for over a month, but it feels like things are stalling. That’s definitely true for Alex, who was told to break off ties with her boyfriend but instead can’t resist his allure and decides that running off with him might be a smart idea based on the size of his hotel room. She seems to be setting herself up for obvious heartbreak, mostly because her beau adds nothing to the show, and this series is setting itself up for major predictability.

What Drew’s Watching: Bones

Bones: Season 6, Episode 17 “The Feet on the Beach”

I haven't been exposed to a Canadian stereotype in quite a while! I always enjoy how this show makes no effort to hide stuff like this -- Bones references the "Canadians are polite" stereotype just before we meet the extremely polite Canadian. Ballsy, for sure. I've got to say that I'm jealous of these people constantly, constantly going out to eat; would that I had an income that let me indulge in diner food every day! The dialogue is surprisingly snappy today, with some nice humor-punctuation by Cam and Hodgins. Even the excruciatingly polite Canadian podiatrist is funny in his unrelenting awkwardness. Here's the money line by Sweets (not because it's good, but because it's so stupid): "Canadian...or afraid?" Oh! It's nice to see some product placement for Windows for a change! I thought everyone in television-producing land was a Mac fan. Like many Bones episodes, this one's a mixed bag -- the paralyzed podiatrist angle is stupid, but the Cam and daughter angle is great. The mystery's not so good, but the exploding corpses all over the place make up for it. All in all, it's pretty classic Bones: not going to win an Emmy, but there are far worse things you could do with forty minutes.

Plot: 4/10
Action: 7/10
Characters: 9/10
Comedy: 8/10
Bones's Makeup: 7/10

Overall Grade: A-

Sunday, April 10, 2011

What I’m Watching: Justified

Justified: Season 2, Episode 9 “Brother’s Keeper” (A-)

Talk about a whopper of an episode. This installment incorporated music in a way that none before it have, and also in a manner reminiscent of the sequence in the “Bainne” episode of “Sons of Anarchy.” When Loretta sees Coover wearing her father’s watch, the mood immediately changes and the moment becomes incredibly powerful, and things don’t let up for the rest of the episode. One of the things that’s so incredible about this show is the way that it handles the Bennett family. Coover in particular is so dumb that he could easily become a baseless caricature, yet somehow he remains completely fascinating and honestly terrifying up until his very last moment. The same is true for Dickie, who is clearly more intelligent than his brother but still not up there with the rest of the folks in the world. Brad William Henke and Jeremy Davies do a magnificent job of helping to make these characters believable, and there’s no matching Margo Martindale, who was wonderful enough to serenade her audience with a song in this episode. Raylan shooting Coover is definitely going to have bad implications for everyone, and I’m curious to see whether the mesmerizing Rebecca Creskoff will stick around as Carol following Mags’ harsh takedown of her and Boyd’s betrayal. It’s hard to match the caliber of this cast, and seeing Carol so outwardly come on to Raylan was fun. Also, it was nice to see Ava again for a change, even if she does seem awfully moody and little else these days.

Pilot Review: Breaking In

Breaking In (FOX)
Premiered April 6 at 9:30pm

Just over five years ago, FOX premiered a new spring series with a seven-episode order starring Bret Harrison as a young airline executive in the wacky comedy “The Loop.” The show was very funny at times and less amusing at others, and its surprise second season the following summer, which lost the two female cast members the show had, was an enormous bomb. Harrison, along with several other members of the cast such as Philip Baker Hall and Mimi Rogers, was the highlight, and it was clear that this young actor could do well in comedy. Now, FOX is once again premiering a spring series with Harrison in the lead role, this time as a hacker hired by a security firm to help expose flaws in other companies’ security systems. Harrison plays the role he’s always played, a nice guy without too much self-awareness, eternally destined for mediocrity and boredom and for second place with the girl of his dreams. It’s a part that Harrison plays well, so having him there is no problem, and he excels in it. Unfortunately, his character is the only one who really feels developed. I’m intrigued to know more about the female on Cameron’s team, played by Odette Yustman in what may be her first significant job involving acting, and she definitely has mastered the allure aspect of her character. I’m less impressed by Christian Slater’s one-note commander-in-chief, but he seems like he’s having fun, so it’s not an enormous issue. Alphonso McAuley’s Cash, on the other hand, needs to go. Maybe I’ll warm to him eventually, but for the moment, he’s acting like he’s on his own show, and bringing this one down with it. This pilot is certainly better organized than “Chaos,” which premiered on CBS last week, but I still need to see a few episodes before I decide that I need to make time every week to watch a comedy on FOX. One standout performance that might keep me coming back: Michael Rosenbaum, the onetime Lex Luthor on "Smallville," as Melanie's boyfriend Dutch.

How will it work as a series? This is a perfect setup for episodic adventures, and only having seven episodes in this season should guarantee plenty of room for freshness and creativity, allowing Cameron and his team to help out companies around the globe while learning more about each other. Its half-hour format enables it to be just curbed enough that it shouldn’t go too far in each episode, and also allows each installment to be digested as a standalone experience rather than necessitate chronological viewing.
How long will it last? Ratings for the pilot may have been good, but I can’t remember a FOX sitcom that was an actual hit besides the current “Raising Hope” and the deceased “Arrested Development.” That said, this is the kind of show FOX would ideally like to have in its lineup, and given the fact that “Traffic Light” isn’t going to cut it, this may be just the show to join FOX’s other successful comedy this fall. It’s too early to tell, but this one might make it to a second season simply out of curiosity from those who want to see more than seven episodes.

Pilot grade: B-

Saturday, April 9, 2011

What I’m Watching: Lights Out (Series Finale)

Lights Out: Season 1, Episode 13 “War” (B+)

Technically speaking, this is only a season finale, but we because we know that the show is ending for good and presumably the writers used their heads-up from a few weeks back as well, it makes sense to consider it for what it actually is. Most relevantly, it’s a conclusion to the main arc that has been going all season: whether Lights can pull together and defeat Death Row, proving his superiority once and for all. This show chose to go out on a very bleak note, showing him rally and win, only to fall apart mentally and not remember that he was the one that won the fight. That penultimate scene with him wandering the halls looking for everyone, following up on a shot of Johnny, Robert, Barry, and Hal all standing in the hall waiting for him, was extraordinarily well-done, and it’s easy to see the pain and confusion in Theresa’s face as she finds him and is greeted by his very surprising question. Watching him approach the microphones as a crowd cheers him on was a nice way for the show to go out, even if we know that he has a tough battle ahead of him. This episode also introduced an entirely new dimension, that of Hal trying to poach Barry’s clients and change the way the boxing world works. I liked Lights’ contribution of a fighter’s health fund, and while we’ll never know exactly where that plotline would have gone, it’s interesting to note that Lights might be the first one to benefit from it. This show, for its brief life, has been consistently above average in its handling of tried and true subject matter. FX has always produced quality television, and this one-season series was no exception.

Season grade: B+
Season MVP: Eamonn Walker as Ed Romeo

Friday, April 8, 2011

What I’m Watching: Parenthood

Parenthood: Season 2, Episode 20 “New Plan” (B+)

This episode presents an interesting mix of people in crisis and other people creating crisis because one doesn’t already exist. As far as the latter is concerned, take Adam and Kristina, who have now come to terms with the fact that their daughter is allowed to date a 19-year-old recovering alcoholic, and they get themselves all worked up over the idea of Haddie having sex, based mainly on the rather lewd actions taken by Adam on his prom night. It’s not that their concerns aren’t valid, more so that things are so much more peaceful and civilized than they were just a few episodes ago when Haddie was living away from home and seeing Alex without her parents’ approval. Unfortunately, Haddie’s happiness means that other characters have to be in turmoil, such as Amber, whose academic future is inadvertently revealed to her mother and then causes her such distress when she explains her plans to a fellow student at prom. I’m not sure exactly where Sarah’s playwriting career is headed, since Gilliam is already proving himself to be way too crazy to be able to actually work with a sane human being. Crosby’s current state is rather saddening, and it’s nice that Adam eventually does come through to support his brother in his time of need. It’s not entirely necessary for the purposes of the show for Jasmine or even Crosby to be permanently around, and therefore I’m a bit worried about how things might turn out for the former boat owner.

What I’m Watching: The Good Wife

The Good Wife: Season 2, Episode 19 “Wrongful Termination” (B+)

It’s very intriguing to see how this show uses and incorporates its fringe characters, bringing them back every once in a while and making them a huge part of the plot when it’s appropriate. That’s certainly the case here with Stern, who’s back for only a moment before his death has created a humongous business opportunity for Diane and Will. I very much enjoyed their conversation about how to be respectful yet opportunistic in their approach to contacting Stern’s clients and paying their respects at shiva. It was a surprise to see Louis again, and I like the fact that he’s popping up so frequently without it seeming like he’s dominating the show. His new role and his attempted poaching of Alicia was interesting, and I’m hopeful that he will be back more in the future, since his clashes with Lockhart Gardner are always fascinating. The ongoing plots involving Peter’s campaign and the investigation into Kalinda are equally intriguing, both featuring intersecting developments this week. Eli’s fury at the reporter asking Alicia questions was intense, and it was amusing to see Alicia so calm and Eli not listening to his own advice. Cary’s inquiry into what was being covered up revealed some surprising things on his end, and he definitely decided to confide in the wrong person when he got chastised for trying to continue covering it up for her sake. With only four episodes left this season, I’m really interested to see if Peter is going to get elected and just what’s going to happen when Alicia finds out what Kalinda did.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

What I’m Watching: No Ordinary Family (Season Finale)

No Ordinary Family: Season 1, Episode 20 “No Ordinary Beginning” (F)

Even when a show that had slipped off its track like “Flash Forward” ended, it indicated some sort of coherence and, if not, some organized chaos at the very least. This show, which started off strong and had plummeted in quality by episode four, reveals a hidden madness to its whole scheme that replaces the sloppiness and lack of intrigue that up until now had dominated the show. This presumed series finale is nothing if not schizophrenic, indicating a complete mess of ideas all thrown together into about fifteen minutes of action. Dr. King, who has been nothing but a background mustache-twirler for the majority of the series, is cast as a sudden hero when he rushes to the aid of the Powell family, then comes out as a villain when he tries to kill Jim and take his place in Stephanie’s life, and then redefined as a supervillain with a whole array of powers, only to be felled by a comic needle to the eye. This episode’s success hinges largely on the coincidental ability of its villains not to properly take away the powers of our heroes, prompting certain victory on their part thanks to Jim’s faux-shocker that the serum had worn off. More jarring, however, is the experience of watching this episode not live but online with a countdown clock, to the point that, with less than sixty seconds left, it was completely unclear in which direction this episode was going to head. Since prison guards apparently don’t bother checking to see if inmates are wearing suits or jumpsuits, George, along with 80 prisoners, now has powers. The Powell family has been recruited by the government to safeguard the human race. This all happens so quickly and unexpectedly that it’s as if all the events of the first season, including characters like Litchfield and Victoria, entirely irrelevant. This show feels even more like a waste of time, and I’m not happy that I stuck with it for the entire season. It doesn’t deserve a renewal, and I don’t think it’s going to get one. I’m curious to know what others with more faith in the series thought.

Season grade: C-
Season MVP: No one. This is a waste of the potential that actors like Michael Chiklis, Autumn Reeser, and Romany Malco have.

What I’m Watching: The Event

The Event: Season 1, Episode 16 “You Bury Other Things Too” (F)

Not that this hasn’t been a problem before, but does it really make any sense for the president to be so directly involved in every single minute step of the process here? Hasn’t he heard of plausible deniability? Martinez’s exclamation of “Another mole?” is particularly laughable, and his presence in the room when Simon was able to so easily escape, thanks in no small part to the presence of not one but two getaway cars, seemed like an enormous waste of his time. Sophia’s speech to her people proves that Martinez was an idiot for responding to the destruction of the Washington Monument with cold-blooded murder, inciting the very enemy he sought to destroy, pissing them off and just egging them on even more. The idea that Martinez’s own wife could be the second mole is pretty dumb, and if that’s the case, she’s an incredibly ineffective mole, having done nothing productive so far and now so easily and unnecessarily blowing her cover. Leila is now officially around just to cause problems, but, to be fair, it’s not entirely her fault because the guy tasked with looking after her is rather purposely creepy. Simon seemed far too easily able to convince Michael to become a traitor, and the fact that it was a setup just means that Sophia is wasting her time when she should be busy killing humans so that can replace the entire population of the planet. This episode’s torture scene was highly unconvincing, especially with Sean fretting so much during it. Vicky’s allegiance to Sean doesn’t add up, and now we have to deal with him wasting time by going to rescue her from the fire because it doesn’t seem that anyone pull off a simple task like execution anymore these days.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Pilot Review: The Killing

The Killing (AMC)
Premiered April 3 at 9pm

Since not all that much actually happens in this two-hour premiere, it’s worth taking a moment to frame expectations when it comes to this network and its previous pilots. I was incredibly intrigued and engaged by both “The Walking Dead” and “Rubicon,” even if subsequent episodes couldn’t quite match their intensity and originality. “Mad Men” was somewhat slow but clearly rich in story and subtext, and “Breaking Bad” still hadn’t established its proper tone. The latest of the once film-focused network’s series premieres doesn’t quite have the draw of any of those, partially in terms of its subject matter and also because it just doesn’t pick up the pace enough to draw in an audience. Its final moments were the best in the entire show, and they’re far more invigorating, mysterious, and enthralling than the entirety of the two-hour production that came before it. This pilot is heavy on exposition, to the point that nothing actually gets accomplished in two hours other than establishing where the show might be headed in the future, most relevant to Sarah’s belief that she won’t actually be stuck in Seattle investigating this murder for the foreseeable future. The lead-up to the discovery of Rosie’s body also takes far too long, and isn’t nearly as impactful or horrifically moving as it should be. This seems to be an inferior take on the “Twin Peaks” story with far less Lynchian bizarreness and considerably less appeal when it comes to characters. It’s a fairly standard, dark murder story, and that seems to be about it. I’m not particularly impressed by Mireille Enos and Joel Kinnaman as our lead detectives, and no one else in the ensemble seems to be much on their game besides Billy Campbell, who, to be fair, has the meatiest part. I’m still searching for the real hook in this show, and for the moment, it doesn’t seem too much like something I need to be watching.

How will it work as a series? It’s set up as a season-long mystery rather than one that might evolve and change each episode, and while that’s worked before, on shows like “Twin Peaks” and “Murder One,” it’s not terribly common. There also aren’t all that many characters for the show to utilize, so I imagine it may find itself filling in holes and stretching out to even out having more time slots to fill than material.
How long will it last? This show certainly was well-advertised and promoted, but necessitating weekly viewing like this in order to keep up with the one main plotline may not work well for AMC, which cancelled the ratings-challenged “Rubicon” recently. Especially since it’s designed as a season-long mystery, I think that’s all we’ll see of this show.

Pilot grade: C+

What I’m Watching: The Kennedys (Miniseries Premiere)

The Kennedys: Parts 1 & 2 (C-)

I really try not to read too much about a given program before it premieres because I don’t want my opinion to be influenced by the perspectives of others. It was hard to ignore all that with this miniseries being rejected by the History Channel and then passed on by almost every other network until it ended up on the completely unknown Reelz Channel. It also appears that most of the criticism I’ve read of the miniseries is spot-on. Documenting the Kennedy family in a lengthy, multigenerational production sounds like a great idea, yet this product does not do justice to that at all. Things get problematic even at the very start, when the credits suddenly turn from a political drama into a thriller and the names of multiple members of the production team from “24” grace the screen. This is a very showy dramatization that emphasizes stark characterizations and embellishment of themes over anything else. Joseph P. Kennedy only wants to use his money to get power, while his son Joe wanted glory, John didn’t want much, and Bobby just wanted to get out of it all. The scenes dealing with Joe’s lack of faith are particularly irksome and overdone. This production is heavy on the nauseating accents, demonstrating that its creators value imitation over compelling performances. It seems like there’s a need to make every character as despicable and horrible as possible, and it’s hard to take this project seriously. Eight hours is an awfully long time, and with this as the product of the first two, I’m not impressed.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

What I’m Watching: Mildred Pierce

Mildred Pierce: Part 3 (B+)

In the third of its five installments, this miniseries continues to impress. Starting off with that wonderful theme, of course by talented composer Carter Burwell, this show strongly dives into its content after a beautiful musical introduction. I’m particularly wowed by the gorgeous shot of food being cut, cooked, and prepared, which helps us root for Mildred to succeed because the food she’s making looks so absolutely delicious. The opening of the restaurant made for an especially magnificent scene, with the first guests coming into the restaurant and then the kitchen being crowded with friends of Mildred’s looking to help her out and make her first night a big success. Monty’s entrance with the giant gift was quite memorably, shocking and one-upping both Burt and Wally. The couch scene with Monty was very well-scored with Vida’s piano playing, and the piano teacher proved to be quite a foe for Mildred’s monster daughter. Vida really is the snootiest, most awful child ever, being so bold as to smack her mother back after being admonished for being ungrateful for her gifts and refusing to put out her cigarette. Monty does feed into her haughtiness horribly, of course, by treating her like an adult and over-sharing far too much information about his love life with Mildred. This episode came to a rather mesmerizing end with Mildred nearly drowning as she rejected the violent advances of Monty and fled his home in the midst of a rainstorm. I’m looking forward to the conclusion of this great project with parts four and five this Sunday.

What I’m Watching: Desperate Housewives

Desperate Housewives: Season 7, Episode 17 “Everything’s Different, Nothing’s Changed” (C+)

It’s equally intriguing and irritating to me that this show continues to resort back to age-old plotlines when it needs to fill some sort of void in the action for one or more of the characters. This episode invokes Andrew, Tom’s career, and Felicia Tillman all in one, to various degrees of effectiveness. Andrew’s reappearance and split from his boyfriend seems completely random since we had all but forgotten about him, and his references to his childhood and Bree’s mistreatment feel quite dated given the fact that they buried the hatchet and got back on good terms a few seasons back. Additionally, wasn’t Bree more than eager to give Susan a kidney, and shouldn’t that have been something she should bring up when it seemed that Beth wouldn’t be the donor for which Susan had been hoping? Paul coming to terms with Susan taking Beth’s kidney was a nice development, and it’s therefore frustrating to me to see that Felicia still harbors ill will against him and that her display of emotion may have actually just been a ruse to get released from jail. This reassertion of the business relationship between Carlos and Tom feels like it comes from out of nowhere, and we’ve seen this manipulation of Tom by Lynette before, almost exactly like this. Unless I’m mistaken, didn’t season one end with Tom telling Lynette she had to go back to work because she had interfered and tried to accept a promotion on his behalf? I didn’t buy this reiteration of that plotline at all, and I think that Gaby’s life of lavishness has been diagnosed so much as overcompensation that we don’t need that to apply to Renee too.