As a big-time fan of the British version of The Office, masterminded by Ricky Gervais & Stephen Merchant, I was, like many, extremely dubious at the prospect of an American interpretation of the show. The Office was so magnificent, so brilliant and so unique, how could an American remake be anything other than a disappointment?
Mostly out of curiosity, I watched the six-episode first season of the American version of The Office, and I was not impressed. The pilot was a direct remake of the first episode of the British version, and it was a real clunker, nothing more than a homogenized, watered-down version of what had been a great TV show. The remaining five episodes, while featuring original stories, still felt highly derivative to me of the British original.
I didn’t watch the show when it returned for season two, but a few months later my sister convinced me that I had to give the show a second try. I grudgingly agreed, and was immediately shocked by how great the show had become. I was quickly hooked, and relished the chance to catch up on the beginning of season two when the DVD set was released. I have been following the show ever since (with only one exception which I’ll get to in a minute).
The makers of The Office made two extremely canny changes, between seasons one and two, that in my mind were critical to the show’s longevity. One, they shifted the show’s tone. Season one had attempted to imitate the British version’s uncomfortability. Ricky Gervais’ version of The Office was often absolutely unbearable to watch, in the very best possible way. He made an art of mining the worst sorts of awkward, uncomfortable moments for the show. Those terrible-to-watch moments are really what the British version were all about! The first season of the American version did the same thing, but not as successfully. But with the start of season two, the makers of the American version seemed to me to shift their focus, slightly, from the uncomfortable more towards the funny. The show became a little gentler, the edges of the characters (especially Steve Carell’s Michael Scott) were softened just a little, and the show became a LOT funnier. Not that the show didn’t continue to mine the awkward and the uncomfortable. (I know some friends who detested season four’s “The Dinner Party,” but that episode’s depiction of a nightmarish dinner hosted by Michael and his then-girlfriend Jan is one of my very favorite episodes.) But it seemed to me that the show regularly focused more squarely on just being funny, and my goodness were the show’s writers able to be successful at that.
The … [continued]
Last year my wife and I discovered the brilliant HBO series Bored to Death… just as the news broke that it had been cancelled. Aaargh! We tore through seasons one and two on DVD (click here for my review of season one, and here for my review of season two), and then had to wait impatiently for season three to be released on disc. I am pleased to report that season three is just as terrifically entertaining as seasons one and two!
The lamentably now-cancelled Bored to Death was an HBO series starring Jason Schwartzman, Zach Galifianakis, and Ted Danson as three Brooklyn-dwelling friends. Jason Schwartzman is Jonathan Ames (named after the show’s creator and show-runner), a lonely not-that-successful writer who finds that he has tremendous passion (and a surprising amount of success) as a private eye. Zach Galifianakis is his friend Ray, a socially awkward (even more than Jonathan) comic book artist. Ted Danson is Jonathan’s other close friend and father figure, the wealthy, pot-smoking, good-times-loving George Christopher. All three actors are phenomenal in their roles, but it has always been the incredible joie de vivre that Ted Danson brings to his performance as George Christopher that I have loved the most. It seems sacrilegious to say this, but despite Mr. Danson’s so famously playing Sam Malone for a decade on Cheers, I think George Christopher might be his very best role. That Bored to Death, starring these three comedic masterminds (all of whom are pretty big stars in their own right), did not attract a wider audience is something of an enigma to me.
The chemistry between these three men has always been the strength of Bored to Death, and one of my favorite things about season three of the series is that the writers no longer had to concoct convoluted reasons for Ray and George Christopher to get involved in Jonathan’s cases. No, at this point in the series, both Ray and George Christopher know all about Jonathan’s private eye work, and they both get the same thrill out of being involved in his on-the-edge-of-dangerous cases as Jonathan does. So the three main characters are all able to be involved together in Jonathan’s cases this season, which leads to a whole lot of fun with the characters. Bored to Death is at its best when the three leads are together in scenes, bouncing off of one another, and season three has plenty of opportunities for that.
There are some great new story-lines in this final season. George Christopher decides to open a restaurant (shades of Ted Danson’s involvement in opening a restaurant with Larry David in Curb Your Enthusiasm’s season three!) … [continued]
In a very cool effort to promote the release of Star Trek: The Next Generation on blu-ray, Paramount/CBS/Fathom Events have held a few events screening some of the newly-remastered episodes on the big screen, in select theatres around the country. I wasn’t excited by the two season one episodes they chose to screen last year, and while I wanted to see the two season two episodes shown in the fall, I wasn’t free the night of the screening. But when they announced a few months back that they would be screening the two parts of “The Best of Both Worlds,” edited together into a movie-length presentation, I made damn well sure to arrange my schedule so that I could be there. This past Wednesday night, I was delighted to join fellow Trek fans in enjoying one of the high-points of televised Star Trek, gorgeously presented on the big screen.
Part one of “The Best of Both Worlds” was the moment when Star Trek: The Next Generation exploded. Star Trek had never before done a season-ending cliffhanger, and while some shows certainly had before (the famous “Who Shot J.R.?” being one of the most well-known examples), those sorts of cliffhangers where no where near as ubiquitous back in 1991 as they were today.
After two shaky seasons, in its third year Star Trek: The Next Generation really came into its own. Under the hand of new show-runner Michael Piller (who deserves almost all of the credit for the lasting success of Next Gen) and a group of phenomenal new writers, many of whom would go on to extraordinarily successful careers in Trek and elsewhere (Ronald D. Moore, Brannon Braga, Ira Steven Behr, Rene Echevarria, Naren Shankar, and more), suddenly The Next Generation transformed itself into a confident, ambitious sci-fi series. Season three of Star Trek: The Next Generation is arguably the best season of a Star Trek show ever. (In fact, back in one of my very first blog posts for this site, I sang the praises of Next Gen season three!) There is not a clunker in the bunch, and many of the very best Next Gen episodes come from this season. There’s “Sins of the Father,” in which we visit the Klingon homeworld for the first time as Worf returns to challenge the accusation that his dead father committed treason. There’s “The Offspring,” the heart-wrenching story of Data’s failed attempt to build an android child for himself. There’s “Deja Q,” in which Q becomes mortal. There’s “The Defector,” a phenomenal Cold War-type tale of a possible Romulan defector. There’s “Hollow Pursuits,” the episode that introduces the wonderfully flawed, holodeck-addicted Lieutenant Barclay. There’s “Sarek,” in which Spock’s father appears and … [continued]
I love the cable model of short seasons presented all in one burst, as opposed to the network model of 24-or-so episodes strung out over a whole year. But boy, sometimes it is really hard to wait for the many months between seasons of those cable shows!! After an excruciating wait, my favorite show on TV these days has returned — Game of Thrones season three launched this past Sunday!
It’s fantastic being back in this world, and season three’s premiere, “Valar Dohaeris,” is a strong return for the show. Over the course of the hour, we check back in with many of our characters (though many major characters are absent. I guess we’ll have to wait until next week to see Arya, Theon Greyjoy, Jamie & Brienne, and Hodor & the little Stark kids who fled from Winterfell at the end of last season).
Right away, the premiere episodes addressed two major gripes I had with the end of last season. First of all, I was very disappointed that, after getting quite a lot of development over the course of season 2, Bronn was totally absent from the season 2 finale!! That was a real head-scratcher to me, and I have been left for months to wonder about his fate. (I have not yet read any of George R.R. Martin’s books, and at this point, I don’t plan to until the TV series is done. I am relishing not knowing where this story is going, and I don’t want to lose that.) So I was delighted to see Bronn reintroduced very early in the season 3 premiere, and I was happy that he got several very nice scenes in the episode. I am glad his friendship/partnership with Tyrion will continue, at least for now.
Secondly, I was very pleased to see the return of the pirate captain Salladhor Saan. There was a whole big scene in season two in which Davos brokered a deal for Salladhor and his men to fight with Stanis Baratheon. And then, we never saw him again! That really made me wonder why the heck they had wasted our time showing Davos and Stannis’ meeting with the pirate captain in the first place. So I was very pleased to see the character re-enter the story. That was a pleasant surprise.
There was quite a lot to enjoy in this episode. I was thrilled to see the return of the old, former Captain of the King’s Guard Barristan Selmy. That was a great surprise, and I am intrigued to see where this heretofore minor character is going to go. That Daenerys just loves to collect washed-up old soldiers, doesn’t she? Ser Jorah better watch out! Speaking … [continued]
I know I’m a little late on this one, but things have been busy, so I’ve finally caught up with the final episodes of 30 Rock.
It’s hard to believe we’ve arrived at the end of the seventh season of this funny little show that I never expected to run more than one or two years. I’m sure I’m not the only one who thought that this TV show about the behind-the-scenes life of an SNL-like TV show would get trounced by the much higher profile OTHER TV show about the behind-the-scenes life of an SNL-like TV show that NBC launched back in 2006. That would be Aaron Sorkin’s Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, and while I think that show was somewhat underrated (no question it was a disappointment, coming after the brilliance of Sports Night and The West Wing, but I would have loved to have seen where Mr. Sorkin would have taken the series), after only a few weeks of the 2006 television season, it was clear to me which show was superior.
The moment of clarity came several episodes into the first season of 30 Rock, when they introduced the subplot of Jenna’s starring in a movie with an impossible-to-pronounce title: The Rural Juror. I remember laughing so hard at that joke, and it was my first glimpse of the absurd comedic heights to which 30 Rock would often reach. The other key moment for me, in that first season, was Paul Reuben’s brilliantly deranged guest appearance as an inbred Austrian prince (in episode ten, “Black Tie”). Not only was this the first of many brilliant guest-star appearances from big comedy names (is there any show in recent memory that has had more success in integrating famous guest-stars in such clever, funny ways?), but it was a big step away from a show concerned with the “reality” at life behind the scenes of a TV show, and into a world of silliness where, as long as it was funny, anything could happen.
It took the show a little while to find its feet, true, but not that long. The key for me was the switch in Jack and Liz’s relationship. In the pilot, Jack was introduced as the obstacle for Liz, who was the hero of the show. Jack was the non-creative money-man who cared nothing about television, imposing his will over NBC and over Liz. But it was only a few episodes in (right around the time when they first introduced Dennis Duffy, one of the show’s magnificent coterie of recurring characters) when the writers shifted their relationship to one of mentor-mentee. This was key, as Jack and Liz’s weird friendship and eventual … [continued]
I hope you’ve been enjoying my Best-of-2012 lists so far! Follow these links to read my Top 15 Movies of 2012: part one, part two, and part three, and my Top 15 Comic Book Series of 2012: part one and part two.
When writing my Top 10 Episodes of TV list last year, I wrote that I’d considered not doing a best-of-TV list anymore, and the same thought crossed my mind this year. My life has gotten so busy these past few years, and as a result I watch far, far less TV than I used to. I manage to do a pretty good job of still seeing lots of movies, but I am much more of a niche TV viewer these days. There are not that many new shows that I watch, and much of the TV that I see is actually old stuff in the form of DVD season sets. But I do still love me some great TV, and so here is my list of the most wonderful television I watched this year. One last caveat before I begin: know that I have not seen seasons 2 or 3 of Louie or seasons 2 or 3 of Boardwalk Empire, or any episode of Breaking Bad and Community. All of those are shows that I would love to catch up on, and I actually have DVDs of all of those shows sitting on my to-watch shelf. Someday! OK, enough delay, here’s my list:
10. Mad Men: “The Phantom” (season 5, episode 13, aired on 6/10/12) – This was a spectacular season of Mad Men, possibly my very favorite season. The year was stuffed with memorable moments and fantastic episodes. I thought about including on this list the season 5 premiere, “A Little Kiss,” for the Zou Bissou Bissou scene; or “Tea Leaves” for the fantastic comedy of Harry and Don Draper back-stage at a Rolling Stones concert; or “Signal 30″ for the hysterical and awkward dinner party in which Pete and Trudy host Ken and his wife and, of course, the fantastic moment in which Lane punches Pete. But, instead, I opted for “The Phantom,” the fifth season finale. There’s a lot of greatness in this episode, moments both comedic and very sad, including the connections between Lane’s suicide and that of Don’s brother , Adam (from season one); Peggy and Don at the movies; and Roger on acid again. But what earned this episode a spot on my list is its closing shot, that iconic image of Don Draper, in all his James Bond badass glory, walking away from his wife on a brightly-lit soundstage and into the darkness of … [continued]
I find Treme to be so much better than pretty much everything else on television these days, so it was with great sadness that I watched the final episode of Treme’s ten-episode third season. (The show will apparently be coming back some-time next year with a five-episode fourth season, and then that’s all she wrote.)
I don’t know any other show on television structured the way Treme is. The show has at this point amassed a ginormous number of characters, and each week we flow around the Treme area of New Orleans and its surrounding environs, checking in with one character for a few minutes before moving on to catch up with another. Most character arcs don’t advance too significantly over the course of just one individual episode. Instead, the character arcs are spread out over an entire season of the show, and things tend to progress fairly leisurely from episode to episode. Each episode flows smoothly into the next, and as each season of the show reaches its conclusion, the grand tapestry of the Treme’s story-telling stands revealed. Despite the leisurely pace, almost every single character in the show is in a dramatically different place at the end of the season than at the beginning, with every character’s status quo being changed more than in the entire run of most TV shows. Treme is a show that rewards the patient and attentive viewer. I find this type of story-telling to be incredibly bold and exhilarating.
This story-telling model works because of David Simon (mastermind behind The Wire), co-creator Eric Overmyer, and their team of writers’ careful attention to each and every character’s story. There really isn’t a weak link in the show’s huge cast of characters. The writing is extraordinary, and the actors are phenomenal, each and every one of them. When the show began, I didn’t have much patience for D.J. Davis, but now I think he’s become one of the show’s most compelling characters. I found his story-line this season to be particularly interesting and ultimately heartbreaking, as we see him hit the wall of the financial realities of the music business in his attempts to create meaningful music and then actually get it released so someone other than he and his friends could hear it. (When Davis, beaten, comments sadly that “I just feel like, at this point in my life, I want to have more control,” my artist’s heart broke for him.)
It was interesting this season to see several characters fail in their endeavors, but find unexpected silver linings. Sonny fell off the wagon but found unexpected support from his Vietnamese girlfriend’s father, who he’d previously seen as impossibly overbearing. Meanwhile, … [continued]
A few weeks ago I wrote about the BBC’s excellent modern-day reinvention of Sherlock Holmes in Season One of their show Sherlock. When the credits rolled on the last episode, I quickly ordered season two from Amazon.
Season Two is of even higher quality than Season One!
With their second series of three episodes (as in Season One, each episode is an hour-and-a-half-long movie), the makers of Sherlock set the bar very high for themselves. They decided to tackle what are probably the three most famous aspects of the Sherlock Holmes mythos: the professor, the woman, and the hound.
The first episode of Season Two, “A Scandal in Belgravia” (based on the story “A Scandal in Bohemia”) focuses on the woman: that is, Irene Adler, the one woman who was Holmes’ equal. I absolutely adore the series’ version of Irene. When we first meet her, we learn that she is a dominatrix who apparently is in possession of some photographs of a member of the Royal Family in, apparently, a compromising position. But we quickly learn that there is a lot more to Ms. Adler than just being a beautiful blackmailer, and as the episode goes on we (along with Sherlock) are subjected to reversal after reversal, never quite sure where Ms. Adler’s loyalties lie. In the episode, Irene Adler is played by Lara Pulver, and she is absolutely magnificent. Yes, it’s true that I, like Holmes, might have been a bit easily smitten seeing as how the lovely Ms. Pulver performs most of her initial scenes with Holmes in the nude, but I was quickly taken by the character’s ferocious intelligence and cunning. This woman is truly Holmes’ equal, and we’re never quite sure, as the episode progresses, whether Holmes is one step ahead of Adler or whether she is one step ahead of Holmes.
“A Scandal in Belgravia” is the best episode of Season Two, and the best episode of the series so far. More than any other episode, this one takes place over a lengthy period of time (almost a year, I believe), and as such, it is densely packed with circumstances. In the opening of the episode, there’s a brilliant montage in which we watch Sherlock and Watson solve a progression of cases. It’s a terrific, fast-paced series of mystery after mystery (many of them referring to various Holmes stories by Arthur Conan Doyle) that not only serves to show that these two men have now been on many adventures together, but also to show their growing friendship (bizarre though it may be). If there’s one thing I thought might have been missing from Season One, it’s a development of the friendship between Holmes and … [continued]
Back in 2010, I started hearing about the BBC’s new Sherlock series. The word was overwhelmingly positive — people seemed to love this new reinvention of the Sherlock Holmes character and mythos, set in modern-day London. I was interested, but frankly having just recently seen and thoroughly enjoyed Guy Ritchie and Robert Downey Junior’s own recent reinvention of Sherlock holmes, in the film Sherlock Holmes (click here for my review), I wasn’t sure I was really all that interested in yet another version of the characters.
Well, I’m kicking myself for resisting for as long as I did, because the BBC’s Sherlock is absolutely magnificent. If you haven’t yet seen it, I strongly encourage you to seek it out!
Sherlock Season One, like most British TV series, is short. It consists of three hour-and-a-half-long episodes, each basically a movie in and of itself. Each episode adapts a different Sherlock Holmes short story. Sherlock is set in modern-day London, and I found myself continually delighted by the way the writers adapted the Holmes stories to modern-day times, while still preserving the heart of the original stories (as well as their delightful complexities). It’s great fun to see the way cell-phones, the internet, GPS tracking, and modern-day science and forensics evidence are seamlessly incorporated into Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s classic stories. It all works because the makers of this show are focused on preserving the core aspects of the original stories, rather than just jettisoning everything other than the character names. Instead, it’s as if the writers have asked themselves, how could Conan Doyle have written this story had he been alive today? Their answers are fiendishly clever.
The two leads are both excellent. Benedict Cumberbatch has created, in just three episodes, an absolutely iconic portrayal of the great detective. His Sherlock is an incredibly cold creature, someone who prides himself on not feeling normal emotions and, instead, seeking complete intellectual detachment from his cases. The show is not afraid to dare the audience to dislike its main character! But Mr. Cumberbatch always shows us the human heart beating beneath Sherlock’s intelligence and his often cruel demeanor. Meanwhile, Martin Freeman (Tim from the original British The Office, as well as Arthur Dent from the film adaptation of The Hitchhikers’s Guide to the Galaxy) adds another classic everyman character to his resume with his portrayal of John Watson. When we first meet him, in the opening scenes of the series, Watson has just returned from military service in Afghanistan (just as the character had in the original stories — a canny bit of serendipity), and he is emotionally lost. Of course, he eventually crosses paths with Sherlock, and a great partnership … [continued]
Mad Men took a little while to grow on me. Right from the beginning I recognized it as an extremely intelligent, well-made show. But while I respected the audacity of crafting a show around a group of pretty much entirely unlikable, despicable characters, I found that kept me at a distance from the show in those early days. (Click here for my review of Mad Men season one.)
(I suppose one might argue with my describing the ensemble as being comprised of entirely unlikable characters, but I stand by my assessment. The characters were well-rounded, but so filled with flaws that it was hard to find a character to root for. Even Peggy, who was perhaps the most endearing character introduced in that first season, was tremendously off-putting at times. Now please understand, this is not a criticism of Mad Men. Quite the contrary, the series’ eschewing of the usual TV need to make every lead character “nice” is a major aspect of the show’s brilliance. But it also was part of why it took a while for me to really fall in love with Mad Men, even as I was intellectually impressed by what I was watching.)
For me, it really wasn’t until season four that I began to truly LOVE Mad Men. I think it took that long for the characters to really grow on me. Whereas at first I found it hard to really care all that much about what happened to Don Draper and co., by that fourth season I was really hooked. It’s possible that the recently-concluded fifth season was the show’s strongest season yet. I certainly was captivated by the goings-on as I’d never been before.
I love the unpredictability of Mad Men. This is a show where I find it almost impossible to predict where it’s going next. Season five contained some bold narrative moves. (Beware spoilers as we proceed.) The demise of a major character was of course one shocking development (made all the more potent by the writers’ cleverly playing off of the parallels between that death and the season one death of another person in Don Draper’s life). But I was also surprised to see Peggy leaving the agency (a move I never expected to see), by Joan’s divorce, by the side-lining of Betty Draper and the tremendous prominence given to Megan, the new Mrs. Draper.
Speaking of new characters, I was worried at first by the introduction of Michael Ginsberg (played by Ben Feldman). When we first meet Ginsberg in the second episode of the season, I found him terribly annoying. I also worried that they were piling on the Jewish stereo-types a little too high. (In … [continued]
I have never read any of George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire novels. But I was hooked relatively quickly into HBO’s first season of Game of Thrones, and the masterfully crafted second-season, which just concluded, was equally enthralling. (I am a bit torn, now, having enjoyed the show so much, as to whether I should start reading the novels. Part of me thinks I definitely should — since I’m loving the adaptation so much, why not dig into the actual source material? But on the other hand, I am having so much fun discovering the story through the show that I am reluctant to lose that thrill. Game of Thrones is a story where anything can happen and no character is safe. I’m LOVING the thrill of not knowing what is ahead for any of the characters, and I’m not sure I want to give that up…)
The first season of Game of Thrones was very strong, and it really built up a head of steam as the ten episodes progressed. The last three-to-four episodes of that first season were absolute dynamite. There’s no moment in season two that ever quite equaled, for me, that “Oh my god I am in LOVE with this show” moment of the shocking character death in the penultimate episode of season one, but that’s hardly surprising. There’s a thrill of discovery that is hard to equal as a TV show goes on. But I adored season two of Game of Thrones, and as TV fantasy spectacle goes, the Battle of Blackwater in the second season’s penultimate episode, “Blackwater,” was pretty extraordinary.
Make that VERY extraordinary. That episode was an amazing achievement, capturing a huge-scale fantasy battle at sea and on land that was viscerally exciting and gripping and epic in scope. It looked gorgeous, but more importantly than that, the show sold the life-or-death stakes for the characters, resulting in a nail-biting hour that was everything I’d hoped it would be. This one is going to be hard to top.
The cast of Game of Thrones dramatically expanded in the second season. Even though the show is fearless in knocking off major characters left and right, season two was still jam-packed with people and places. It’s a huge ensemble, and the quality of the performances across the board is phenomenal.
While Ned Stark was clearly the main character in season one, season two belonged to Tyrion Lannister, played by the spectacular Peter Dinklage. Mr. Dinklage does absolutely extraordinary work in the role, and Tyrion has already become one of the great, iconic TV characters of all time. It helps that the writing for Tyrion always crackles — he always … [continued]
After tearing through the first season of HBO’s Bored to Death on DVD (click here for my review), my wife and I couldn’t wait to jump into season 2. I’m pleased to say the second season was just as much fun as the first!
Picking up just a few months after the end of season one, Jonathan Ames (Jason Schwartzman) is still a writer living in Brooklyn who also works as an unlicensed Private Eye (getting clients from his ad on Craigslist). Though season one ended triumphantly, things have taken something of a turn for the worst for our three heroes here at the start of season two. Jonathan’s book was rejected by his publisher, and he’s had to take work as a night-school writing teacher (which seems like a drag, though Jonathan seems to enjoy the chance to teach and perhaps inspire other young writers). Leah (Heather Burns) has broken up with Ray (Zach Galifianakis). And George (Ted Danson)’s magazine has been bought by a right-wing Christian company, and he’s begun to find himself more and more marginalized by the new management.
The season kicks off with a bang, as the first episode “Escape From the Dungeon!” is absolutely hysterical and showcases everything that is great about the show. I wouldn’t dream of spoiling the fun, but suffice it to say that the adventure culminates in Jonathan’s having to interrupt George’s meeting with his new Christian parent company while dressed in a full-body black-leather S & M “gimp” suit. But that’s not even the funniest part! No, that comes when George leads Jonathan out of the meeting, down the hall to his office (where he hopes to find some tools to help Jonathan out of the S & M suit he’s been locked into), and the two men hold hands while walking down the hallway. There’s something so funny and so wonderfully sweet about that tiny moment, so in contrast to the insane circumstance we’re watching. It’s just brilliant.
The rest of the season continues strongly from there. You’ve gotta love these HBO short seasons — at only eight episodes long, there’s no filler. Each of the episodes is very strong, filled with great moments.
I was a bit surprised at the show’s slight step into more-serious ground with a subplot in which George is diagnosed with prostate cancer. It occasionally makes it a bit difficult to enjoy all the fun, but the storyline gives Ted Danson even more room to show just what a phenomenal actor he is. There’s a scene, late in the season, in which he expresses his fear about the way he could just be “turned off” like a light-switch that is absolutely … [continued]
I’ve made various comments, here and there over the past several months, about how much I dug the first season of Game of Thrones, but I realized I’d never really written about it in-depth here on the site. After recently tearing through the blu-ray release of the first season (in anticipation of the launch of season two THIS WEEKEND!), I figured now was as good a time as ever!
I have never read any of the Song of Ice and Fire novels by George R. R. Martin, but I was intrigued by what I had read about HBO’s epic adaptation. After a good friend impressed upon me how much he loved the series, I decided to sample the HBO show, last year, to see if it struck my fancy. I enjoyed the first couple of episodes but wasn’t exactly blown away. But then something weird started to happen. I slowly got more and more sucked in, and by the time the sixth or seventh episode rolled around I was good and hooked. When a major character’s head got lopped off at the end of the penultimate episode, I became a fan for life.
Game of Thrones tells the story of a group of families all warring for power, influence, and control of the Seven Kingdoms of Westeros. The titular throne is the “Iron Chair” — the seat of the king of the Seven Kingdoms. The focus of this first season (adapted from Mr. Martin’s first novel in the series) is primarily upon the Stark family. In the opening episode, Ned Stark is forced to leave his home in Winterfell (the Northern city his family has apparently ruled for generations) to serve as the Hand of the King. It just so happens that the King is Robert Baratheon, Ned’s old friend and comrade-in-arms. Ned was a key player in helping Robert to win the throne eighteen years previously. But while Ned has little patience for politics, he is thrust into the scheming, back-stabbing world of King’s Landing, the empire’s capital city. Meanwhile, threats to the kingdom have begun to brew on all sides. Some sort of supernatural menace appears to be brewing north of the Wall, the humongous barrier at the northernmost tip of the “civilized” realm. And in the East, the two surviving children of house Targaryen, the family who ruled the Kingdom before being deposed by Robert, have allied themselves with the fierce horse-riding nomads the Dothraki, with the apparent goal of raising a huge army to invade Westeros and recapture the kingdom.
My plot summary doesn’t do any justice to the series’ wonderfully rich, sprawling narrative. Over the course of the first season’s ten hours, we meet … [continued]
What a terrific show!
I feel like I’ve been discovering a wealth of TV show genius on DVD recently: Party Down (click here for my review of season 1, and here for my review of season 2), Louie (click here for my review of season 1), Boardwalk Empire (I am making my way through season 1) and now Bored to Death!
Created by Jonathan Ames (who also wrote or co-wrote all of the episodes), the series stars Jason Schwartzman as a fictionalized Jonathan Ames, Zach Galifianakis, and Ted Danson. The trio are marvelous, and the wonderful way those three marvelous actors inhabit their three characters, and the way the three totally different men are drawn together over the course of the season provides the heart of the show and the main reason why I found it so enjoyable.
Jason Schwartzman plays Jonathan Ames. Like the show’s creator with the same name, he is a writer living in Brooklyn. Unlike the show’s creator, boredom crossed with a mounting desperation at his inability to start work on his second novel prompts this Jonathan Ames to post an ad on Craigslist advertising himself as an unlicensed detective. To his surprise, he begins getting calls from people asking for his help. To his even greater surprise, he finds himself throughly enjoying this new persona he’s able to create for himself, and the fact that, in his bumbling way, he’s actually passably good at being a Private Eye!
Ted Danson plays Jonathan’s mentor, George Christopher. The wealthy, dapper George is the editor of a prominent New York Magazine. I was blown away by Mr. Danson’s performance — he might be my very favorite aspect of this series. I of course loved Mr. Danson’s work on Cheers back in the day, and more recently he’s been entertainingly acerbic on Curb Your Enthusiasm. But, hang onto your butts, George Christopher may just be his best role. Am I overstating things? Well, probably. But Mr. Danson is lovable and hysterical as George, a man who is on the one hand at the height of the New York City intellectual elite, but also incredibly childish — innocent and filled with child-like glee at everything that Jonathan is involved in. Mr. Danson brings incredible joie de vivre to every scene he plays, and it’s quite beguiling.
The final third of this trifecta is made up of Zach Galifianakis as Ray, Jonathan’s schlubby comic book artist Ray. Ray is as much a man-child as George (and, I suppose, as Jonathan himself), though far less successful, and with far less self-confidence. Where George is suave, Ray is a bull in a china shop. But he, too, … [continued]
I discovered the comedian Louis C.K. when he appeared in a recurring role during the second season of Parks and Recreation, and I fell in love with his work after watching his concert film, Hilarious. I’ve subsequently devoured all of his stand-up comedy CDs that I could get my hands on. I knew that Louis C.K. had a show on FX, as well, and as as I started reading the rave reviews for the show’s second season over the past few months, I knew that this was something I had to track down. I’m so pleased that I did!
The structure of Louie resembles that of early Seinfeld episodes. Louis C.K. plays Louie, a fictionalized version of himself: a divorced stand-up comedian with two kids. The narrative of each episode is punctuated with several clips from Louie’s stand-up routines, which usually have a tangential connection to the stories being told.
But Louie is a far weirder concoction than Seinfeld, and I love it for that. For one thing, whereas Seinfeld became known for it’s densely plotted, clockwork-like stories, many episodes of Louie barely have any plot to speak of. Episodes often consist of two or three extended vignettes that have entirely nothing to do with one another. It’s bizarre, and quite off-putting to anyone weaned on the familiar rhythms of the sitcom. But the technique is so determinedly idiosyncratic that I find it makes the show extremely endearing.
Louie is, often, extremely hilarious. In particular, I find Louis C.K.’s stand-up bits to be phenomenal. These stand-up routines (and they’re usually lengthier, meatier bits than the short snippets of stand-up seen in Seinfeld episodes) tend to be the highlight of the episodes for me. But the show is unafraid to have extended sequences that are not funny at all. Sometimes that’s because we’re watching something serious (such as the lengthy conversation, right at the start of the second episode, between Louie and his friends as to whether it’s OK for him to use the word “faggot” in his stand-up routine). Sometimes it’s because we’re watching something teeth-grindingly awkward (such as some of Louie’s failed dating experiences).
The show doesn’t shy away from digging deeply into serious issues. The episode “God” is a notable example, in which we watch an extended flashback of a brutally unpleasant experience young Louie had at a Catholic religious school. By the way, this episode is particularly notable for the way in which we see the real Louis C.K. throwing traditional notions of structure right out the window. The flashback sequence takes up almost the entire run-time of the episode, which is a surprising and unusual choice. The episode also raised some eyebrows for Louis’ casting of … [continued]
Well, we’ve finally arrived at my last Top 10 list for 2011. I hope you’ve enjoyed the previous lists! (Follow these links to check out my Top 15 Movies of 2011: part one, part two, part three, my Top 15 Comic Book Series of 2011: part one, and part two, and my Top 10 DVDs/Blu-Rays of 2011.)
To be honest, I wasn’t sure I was going to put together a Top 10 Episodes of TV list this year. For a whole host of reasons, I don’t watch nearly as much TV as I used to. I’m super-busy, and there just aren’t that many shows that interest me enough to want to watch religiously these days. And a whole heck of a lot of the TV I watched this past year was OLDER TV — in the form of DVD box-sets (of It’s Garry Shandling’s Show, The Larry Sanders Show, Party Down, etc.). There’s a lot of current TV that interests me that I just haven’t had time to watch: Boardwalk Empire, Breaking Bad, Community, Homeland, Louie (season 2 — I have watched season 1 on DVD and LOVED it — I’ll be posting a review soon), Bored to Death (I also just finished season 1 on DVD and loved it — I’ll be posting a review of this soon, as well, and I’m hoping to get to seasons 2 and 3 soon). All of those shows look interesting and I do hope to eventually sink my teeth in them all via the magic of DVD.
So I felt weird putting together a list, seeing that there’s so much probably-great TV out there that I haven’t seen. But when I sat down to start to compile the list, I was pleasantly surprised by how easily the top ten choices manifested themselves. I guess I DID watch some great TV this year! But keep the above list of TV-I-haven’t-yet-seen in mind when perusing my choices. OK, enough intro, let’s dive in:
10. Game of Thrones: “You Win or You Die” (season 1, episode 7, aired on 5/29/11) – I’ve never read any of the A Song of Ice and Fire novels by George R.R. Martin, and I wasn’t immediately taken by the first few hours of the HBO adaptation. But after a few episodes, the complex fantasy story started to get its hooks in me, and by the time I arrived at this stand-out episode I was loving this show like few other things on TV. Pretty much all of the show’s continuing story-lines jumped to the next level in this installment, which left me absolutely desperate for the next episode … [continued]
I’m very excited for the new film adaptation, starring Gary Oldman, of John le Carré’s 1974 spy novel, Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy. (I haven’t seen the film yet, but really hope to get to it soon.) But the release of this new film adaptation spurred me to at last track down something that had been on my “to-watch” list for years: the BBC’s 1979 six-part television adaptation of Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy starring none other than Sir Alec Guinness in the lead role as George Smiley.
(I wrote six parts because that was how the show was presented in the DVD that I have. I am aware that the show was aired in seven parts on the BBC, and re-edited into six parts for the American release back in 1980. I actually didn’t know that until reading up on the mini-series after I’d watched it and, while watching it, I didn’t notice anything that would have lead me to suspect that the series had been re-edited. Nothing seemed to be truncated, and the end-points of each of the six episodes felt natural to me. In hindsight, the film-purist part of me wishes I’d seen the original British seven-part version, but the six-part American version certainly worked for me so I have no complaints.)
George Smiley is a getting-on-in-years British intelligence expert who was forced out of the British secret intelligence service (which all the characters refer to as “the circus”) following a power-play in which his mentor, the head of the agency who was known as Control, was pushed out. But Smiley is brought back into the game when a government official becomes aware of the existence of a possible mole deep within the Circus. It turns out that Control had been aware of the existence of the mole, and had narrowed down the possibilities to five suspects, nicknamed “tinker,” “tailor,” “soldier,” “poorman,” and “beggarman” (from the words of a British children’s rhyme). Smiley is given the near-impossible task of spying on the spy-masters. He must infiltrate the circus and uncover the identity of the mole, all under the noses of the current head officers of the circus, any of whom could be the mole.
I absolutely adored this mini-series, but it’s not for the casual viewer. One has to pay very close attention to the story to suss out who everyone is and what exactly is happening. Although it’s very languidly paced, the mini-series doesn’t stop to hold the viewer’s hand to explain who the different characters are, or what the heck they’re talking about. All of the information you need to understand the story is there, but the viewer has to do a lot of the work to … [continued]
Last month I wrote about the terrific first season of Party Down. I wasted little time in devouring the show’s second season, as well. Sadly, these two short seasons represent the entire run of the show, but I can’t recommend them highly enough to you.
To re-cap, Party Down focuses on the sad-sack employees of Party Down, a small Hollywood catering business. Pretty much every single one of the Party Down staff are wannabe actors, hoping for their big break while toiling away at a menial job they detest. The genius of the show’s structure is that every episode is set at a different Party Down event/party. So each episode becomes its own self-contained little movie, with totally different locations and guest-stars. It’s a brilliant structure for a TV show, and one that could have provided endless story-telling opportunities. Sadly that was not to be.
Season two of Party Down begins a few months after the end of season one. Ron (Ken Marino)’s Soup R Crackers franchise has failed, and he slinks back to Party Down as a depressed, angry slacker. With Henry (Adam Scott) now team leader, the first few episodes of the season revels in the reversal-of-roles. (Now Ron is the difficult one, and Henry is the exasperated boss trying to keep him and the rest of their motley crew in line.)
The only major cast change is that Jane Lynch had left the series (to appear in Glee), so season two introduces us to a new character Lydia (Megan Mullally). Ms. Mullally is phenomenal as the loopily deranged Hollywood mom, trying to guide her pre-teen daughter to super-stardom. The show’s creators wisely chose to create an entirely different character from Lynch’s Constance. While I missed Jane Lynch, of course, Megan Mullally is so entertaining that I quickly accepted her addition to the cast.
Season two of Party Down again blesses us with some terrific guest-stars. J.K. Simmons, Joey Lauren Adams, and Kristen Bell all return from season one. Dave (Gruber) Allen (guidance counselor Jeff Rosso on Freaks and Geeks) gives a memorable turn as a sci-fi author having a brush with Hollywood. But the season’s best guest star, and the star of arguably the season’s best episode, is Steve Guttenberg. That’s right, Police Academy’s Steve Guttenberg. In the episode “Steve Guttenberg’s Birthday,” Mr. Guttenberg hires the Party Down crew to cater his birthday. But his friends throw him a surprise party the day before, and he forgets to cancel the booking. So when Party Down shows up at his house, Mr. Guttenberg (playing himself) decides to invite the gang into his house to have a party with him. It’s a crazy premise, but the half-hour … [continued]
Wow! Add this series to the list of brilliant, cancelled-before-their-time TV shows!
I don’t think I even heard of Party Down during the two seasons it was on the air, on Starz, in 2009-10. But every now and then, since it’s cancellation, I’d hear or read a mention of it, mostly in connection to being a prior great role of Adam Scott’s, who I’ve been so enjoying as Ben Dywer on the terrific Parks and Recreation. A sale on Amazon lead me to buy the first season on DVD, and I was blown away! I’m already almost finished with season two, and deep in mourning that there are no more episodes of this fantastic show!
The series focuses on Party Down, a fairly low-quality Hollywood catering company, staffed primarily by out-of-work actors and actresses. The show is a true ensemble, but if I had to identify a lead character it would be Adam Scott as Henry. Henry was once a struggling actor whose big break came on a commercial, saying the catch phrase “Are we having fun yet?”. Sadly, that break-out role also destroyed his career, forever type-casting him as the “are we having fun yet?” guy. His dreams pretty much crushed, Henry is fairly rudderless when we first meet him, having sworn off acting, but not sure what he should do with his life instead of that.
He’s hired to work with Party Down by an old friend, Ron, played by Ken Marino. The two used to party together, back in the day, but Ron partied too hard and too long. He’s sworn off all booze and drugs now, and he sees his job as Party Down team leader as a stepping-stone towards his dream of one day owning a Soup ‘R Crackers franchise. While everyone else treats their gigs catering with Party Down with apathy or downright loathing, Ron takes things totally seriously, leading to a lot of (very funny) butting heads with his team of misfits. Ron is so sincere, he’s pretty impossible not to love.
The only part of working for Party Down that is remotely appealing for Henry is the presence of Casey, played by Lizzy Caplan. Although Casey is married when we first meet her in the pilot, the show wisely avoids any prolonged will-they-or-won’t-they Ross/Rachel tension by immediately getting the two together. Casey is struggling mightily to succeed as a stand-up comic, and though she’s been pretty beaten down by rejection she sees right through Henry’s “I don’t care anymore” attitude. Lizzy Caplan had a very small role in Freaks and Geeks, but I recognized her most from her role as Marlena in Cloverfield. She’s absolutely dynamite here, tough and … [continued]
Last month I wrote about season one of Garry Shandling’s magnificent HBO series from the ’90s, The Larry Sanders Show. Season one had been previously released on DVD, so I’d seen all of those episodes many times. But NONE of the subsequent seasons had ever before been released on any home video format (except for a few episodes in the series-spanning best-of DVD collection from a few years ago, Not Just The Best of The Larry Sanders Show), and I didn’t start watching The Larry Sanders Show when it aired on HBO until around season four, so there were a TON of season two episodes that I’d never seen before. So I was VERY EXCITED to finally have the chance to dive into this season! The Larry Sanders Show is one of my favorite TV shows of all time, and suddenly having new episodes to watch that I’d never seen before was something of a small miracle for me.
Security Expert: “I’m just trying to give Mr. Sanders the cold, hard reality of the situation.” Artie: “We don’t usually operate that way around here.”
And I was not disappointed! Season two of The Larry Sanders Show is, I believe, the longest of the show’s six seasons. It clocks in at seventeen episodes, and the season premiere is actually a double-length episode. That’s an impressively-sized season for a cable show, and as with season one, there really isn’t a clunker in the bunch! The hour-long first episode, “The Breakdown,” is a terrific way to kick off the season. Larry’s wife is divorcing him, which sends Larry into a spiral of misery. The only woman he finds himself able to connect with turns out being his first wife, Francine, much to Artie and Hank’s horror. (In the next episode, “The List,” Artie remembers in shock how Francine once destroyed Larry’s People Choice award trophy. Larry points out that this was only because she found out he’d cheated on her. Artie’s response: “So you cheated. Don’t take it out on your People’s Choice award!”) That episode, “The List,” is one of my favorites of the season. Larry and Francine decide to undertake the (foolhardy) plan of each creating a list, to share with one another, of all the people they’ve slept with since their divorce. Needless to say, that doesn’t go well.
“The Hankerciser 200″ blesses us with another great Hank Kingsley product endorsement — that of an exercise system that turns out to have the nasty habit of nearly crippling those who use it. This is a great highlight in a season that features a year-long storyline about another crazy Hank scheme — the street-level revolving restaurant (“Hank’s Look-Around Cafe”) … [continued]
In 1998, HBO aired From the Earth to the Moon, a twelve-part mini-series produced by Tom Hanks, Ron Howard, Brian Grazer, and Michael Bostick. The series chronicled the Apollo program, the massive American space-flight initiative that ran from 1961-1975 and which resulted in the first human being landing on the moon.
I am a nut for all things related to space-travel, so I eagerly devoured From the Earth to the Moon when it originally aired. I have re-watched the series all the way through several times in the intervening years, and most recently re-watched it with my wife last month (who had never seen it before). Although the series has nowhere near the intensity of Tom Hanks’ later HBO historical mini-series Band of Brothers and The Pacific, it still holds up as a phenomenal work of television, electrifying and informative.
What’s fun about the mini-series is that each episode has it’s own style and rhythms. Obviously there is continuity from one episode to the next, as the stories have to fit together chronologically to tell the story of the developing Apollo program. But each episode was written and directed by different individuals, and the creative team clearly took great pains to give each hour its own specific feel. The first episode, for instance, titled “Can We Do This?” (which has to cover a lot of ground in setting up the story and summarizing the entire Mercury program — which was the focus of the superlative film The Right Stuff) is separated into a series of individually titled chapters — basically little vignettes that together paint a larger picture. The third episode, “We Have Cleared the Tower,” is presented as the work of a documentary crew which was filming the preparations for the Apollo 7 mission. Episode 5, “Spider,” (one of my favorite episodes of the mini-series) shifts the focus to the incredible amount of work done by all of the designers and engineers who constructed the lunar module. Episode 10, “Galileo was Right,” focuses on all of the archaeological work that the astronauts had to accomplish (and the extraordinary amount of prep work that they needed to put in in order to do so). These are just a few examples. It’s a very clever strategy, as it keeps each episode fresh and new for the viewer.
There are a lot of visual effects throughout the series, and for the most part the quality is high. There are several sequences of space-flight and Earth orbit that are very beautiful. But this area is where the seams of this 1998 production show a bit. I’m sure that today’s technology would have allowed for the creation of far more elaborate special effects. … [continued]
Last week I wrote about season one of It’s Garry Shandling’s Show, the ahead-of-its time sitcom created by and starring Garry Shandling, that aired on Showtime from 1986-1990. As I have been watching It’s Garry Shandling’s Show, I have simultaneously been re-watching Mr. Shandling’s second TV show, The Larry Sanders Show, which aired on HBO from 1992-1998. (It’s absolutely incredible to me that, after a LONG wait, BOTH of Mr. Shandling’s TV shows were released in complete-season sets within just a few months of each other last year. I was originally going to watch It’s Garry Shandling’s Show all the way through, and then revisit The Larry Sanders Show, but frankly I just couldn’t wait that long before diving into one of my favorite television shows of all time.)
Garry Shandling plays talk-show host Larry Sanders, and the show is clearly inspired by Mr. Shandling’s many years on the talk-show circuit, both as a frequent quest and eventually as a regular guest-host for Johnny Carson. (Mr. Shandling was at one time a candidate to replace Johnny Carson as host of The Tonight Show — but ultimately he decided he’d rather play a talk-show host on TV than actually BE one.) In every episode, we see some snippets of the Larry Sanders Show talk-show, though the bulk of each episode takes place behind the scenes, as we follow all of the Hollywood back-biting, self-aggarndizement, and other forms of ridiculousness involved in creating a five-nights-a-week talk show. In one of the show’s most brilliant creative conceits, the footage of the Larry Sanders talk show was shot on video, while all of the behind-the-scenes material was shot on film. This simple visual device is a great hook for the show (and also an easy way for less-attentive TV viewers to keep track of what’s what in each episode).
Mr. Shandling is supported by a remarkable ensemble, most notably Rip Torn as Larry’s loyal, bull-dog producer Artie, and Jeffrey Tambor as Larry’s dim side-kick Hank Kingsley. Artie and Hank represent two of the greatest characters ever created on television — a testament to the magnificent writing on the show as well as the formidable acting talents of those two men. I’m laughing right now, as I type these sentences, just thinking about all of the ridiculous antics those two characters got up to over the course of the show’s run.
The rest of the group is pretty phenomenal, as well. Janeane Garofalo turns in a star-making performance as Paula, the show’s deadpan, seen-it-all booker. Jeremy Piven and Wallace Langham are a riot as the show’s two head writers, each of whom presents a sarcastic, tough-as-nails affect but who are both actually hopelessly needy … [continued]
For as long as I can remember I’ve been hearing and reading about It’s Garry Shandling’s Show, the innovative sort-of-sitcom comedy show that Garry Shandling created and starred in on Showtime from 1986 to 1990. I adored The Larry Sanders Show (Mr. Shandling’s second TV show, which aired on HBO from 1992-1998), and when I began getting into stand-up comedy, during the years that Larry Sanders was airing, it became clear to me that Garry Shandling was a fellow of uncommon creative genius. I’ve long wanted to check out Mr. Shandling’s first show, but there was no easy way to get ahold of those episodes — until now! Last year, the fine folks at Shout! (whose exceptional TV on DVD sets I have often praised on this site) outdid themselves with the release, not just of one season, but of the complete series of It’s Garry Shandling’s Show. My good buddy Ethan Kreitzer (who wrote a phenomenal write-up, last month, of an Albert Brooks appearance that he attended — it’s a great read, you should take a look if you haven’t read it yet) was kind enough to lend me his copy of the set (and he’s been VERY PATIENT with me as the months have gone bye!) so I could, finally, see what everyone has been talking about.
It’s Garry Shandling’s Show is a wonderfully playful version of a sitcom, created and produced by people who clearly grew up watching and loving sitcoms. From the characters’ personas to the look of the sets and lighting, the show is packed full of familiar sitcom tropes. But that’s entirely the point. Throughout these early episodes, the show has great fun constantly exposing all of the silly conceits and traditional devices used by TV comedies. Those conceits and devices are mocked, but what’s so endearing about It’s Garry Shandling’s Show is the way that the mockery is all done with love. If I got the sense that Mr. Shandling and his team of writers HATED sitcoms, and just wanted to expose how stupid and fake they are, I think that would get old very quickly. But it’s clear that Mr. Shandling and his crew LOVE sitcoms, and the sense that they’re all absolutely tickled to be in a sitcom of their own comes across loud and clear.
What also comes across loud and clear is that Mr. Shandling and the show’s team are far too creative to be beholden to the way sitcoms usually are. Indeed, they blow apart the form with enormous relish. (I’m reminded of the creativity shown by Jerry Seinfeld and Larry David when creating Seinfeld, and the glee they took in doing everything their … [continued]
It’s pretty hard to believe that Smallville has been on the air for ten years, and I am even a little bit more astonished that I’ve been watching the show for pretty much all of those ten years! From the very beginning, I have found watching Smallville to be a somewhat frustrating endeavor. I’d be hard pressed to name a show that’s been so wildly inconsistent in quality. A spectacular, exciting, complex episode will be followed by an agonizingly painful, awkward, juvenile installment. But the good episodes have been good enough to somehow keep me watching even through the bad ones (and there have been plenty of bad ones).
Smallville is probably the best argument for the strength of the British TV model (and the increasingly common HBIO/cable model) of shorter (8-12 episode) seasons rather than the standard American network TV seasons of 20-24 episodes. Over the years I’ve read fans writing off this season or that season of Smallville as garbage, while praising other years. Personally, I think pretty much every season of the show has had merit, and has had some great episodes. But boy oh boy have I felt (right from season one) that the story-lines were padded and stretched FAAAAR beyond what made any logical narrative sense. The years and years of yes-they’re-a-couple, no-they’re-not-a-couple Clark Kent/Lana Lang soap opera antics is the most annoying example of this, but even in the later, more focused seasons this has been a problem. The show actually found interesting ways to incorporate Doomsday and General Zod as villains (in seasons 8 and 9, respectively), but by making us wait through the WHOLE long season for Clark and his Big Bad villains to finally come to loggerheads stretched my patience well past the breaking point. Out of the ten seasons of Smallville, I’d say there’s probably a terrific four year-run of a great super-hero show.
That is not a very good record! But Smallville did have a number of moments of real greatness, and those moments kept me from ever giving up entirely on the series. There have been some episodes that have been among the very best live-action depictions of super-heroics that I’ve ever seen, in movies or on TV. (The season two episode, “Rosetta,” guest-starring Christopher Reeve comes to mind, and the show consistently did season-finales like nobody’s business.) The visual effects are not great, but they’ve been good enough to be decently entertaining week in and week out. But when the show was great, it wasn’t because of visual effects, it was because they found a sweet spot between incorporating aspects of the Superman mythology while keeping the over-all narrative fun, engaging, and accessible.
When Smallville was … [continued]
For seasons 2-4, I thought the American version of The Office was one of the funniest shows on television — hitting near genius-level comedy with extreme regularity week-to-week. Things started to slide a bit during season 5, and I thought the last several years have been pretty hit-or-miss. One of the big problems with the show, I think, is how they’ve lost the thread of the Jim character (played by John Krasinski). For the first several years, he was the real hero of the show. Oh, sure, he shared screen time with all the other major members of the ensemble (all of whom are very talented and funny in their own right), but I always thought that Jim was the major audience surrogate character. We saw the office, and all the characters who populated it, through Jim’s eyes, and we invested in the emotional ups and downs of his love for Pam.
But for the past few years, with Jim and Pam a happy couple, it’s seemed to me that the writers haven’t known what to do with him. He’s faded to the background in many episodes, and when he does have a central part to play, it’s often been to appear incompetent. (His hapless efforts co-managing the office come to mind.) That can sometimes be good for a short-term laugh, but I’ve felt for a while that it seemed like a betrayal of the Jim we knew and loved for the first several years of the show. I always though that if that Jim Halpert ever actually tried to work hard and apply himself, he’d quickly be running the office — or, more likely, he’d leave Dunder Mifflin and find himself a more rewarding gig. That neither has happened has puzzled me, and the inconsistent and often uninteresting characterization of Jim lately has been disappointing and, I think, a large reason as to why my interest in the show has started to wane.
In Jim’s place, Michael has stepped to the forefront as the hero of the show. Don’t get me wrong, Steve Carell was always the biggest name in the cast and the star of the proceedings. But in terms of the actual narrative of the show, he seemed to me to be mostly there as an impediment/frustration for Jim. But with Jim sliding into the background, the last three seasons have seen Michael in the more heroic role — achieving victories (most notably the triumphant ending of his “Michael Scott’s Paper Company” story-line in season five) and winning the girl (the delightful Amy Ryan as Holly Flax).
And so I am very curious as to what sort of show The Office will become now that Steve Carell … [continued]
It’s been a long wait since last summer, but one of my favorite series from 2010 finally returned with new episodes this past Sunday night — David Simon (The Wire) and Eric Overmyer’s Treme!
Season two picks up about six or seven months after the events of the season one finale. It’s been fourteen months since Hurricane Katrina, but the city of New Orleans and its denizens are still struggling to get back on their feet. Many who left the city after the flood have returned, but so too have many additional problems — including a sharp uptick in violent crime.
“Accentuate the Positive,” the season two premiere, is a leisurely paced re-introduction to the series and its large cast of characters. There are no earth-shattering developments or plot twists in this episode, but I adored the gentle way we’re dipped back into the experience of life in New Orleans. You’re got to pay attention to keep up with everything, as the show is constantly cutting from one location to another and from one character’s story to the next, but it’s all very skillfully put together. Watching the episode unfold, we can see the interconnected fabric of the lives of all of these struggling men and women. Sure I want to have seen more of every one of these characters, but we’ve got the rest of the season for that! And it’s a testament to how well-written and well-performed the show is that there wasn’t a single character or story-line that I felt was a waste of time, resenting the time that we could have spent following another character. No, every one of these characters could be the lead in their own show, and that’s a key ingredient to the success of this ensemble.
I wrote, above, that the characters are “struggling,” and sure enough they are — pretty much everyone one of them. But as with season one, this episode manages to remain fairly up-beat and full of life, despite the heavy subject matter. There’s humor to be found, and joy, amidst the heartbreak. That balance of tone is one of the reasons I love this show so much.
And, of course, there’s the music. This episode was packed to the gills with amazing music of all styles and types. It’s the music that the makers of this show use, primarily, to set the scene and to illustrate for the viewer the changes in location. It’s an extraordinarily clever approach, and I’d say it’s become this show’s trademark. It’s the music, as much as the plot developments or the character arcs, that propels Treme along from start to finish, and it provides an endlessly rich backdrop for … [continued]
5. 30 Rock: “Reaganing” (season 5, episode 5, aired on 10/21/10) – Jack boasts that he has reached a 24-hour state of perfection that he called “Reaganing,” in which he is unable to make any mistakes. But his perfect game is challenged when he’s faced with helping Liz sort out her latest sexual hang-up. The episode is packed with terrific moments: Kelsey Grammer helping Jenna and Kenneth scam a local bakery; Tracy’s incredible inability to deliver a single line necessary for a commercial; and the revelation of the origin of Liz’s sexual problem. (Hint: it involves Tom Jones.) Very funny stuff.
4. The Pacific: Part Ten (aired on 5/16/10) – I’m a big fan of the final chapters of The Return of the King that chronicle what happened after the victorious destruction of the One Ring and the defeat of Sauron. I also love the voluminous appendices, that detail the final fates of all of the main characters. Most stories choose to end at the moment of our heroes’ triumph, but I find something powerfully sad about exploring what happens in the days afterwards. This might help to explain why I was so taken with the final episode of Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg’s HBO mini-series The Pacific. This episode is set after the end of the war, and we see our characters — most notably Eugene Sledge and Robert Leckie — return home and attempt, each in their own way, to rebuild their lives which were forever changed by their experiences in combat. I found the whole hour to be devastating, particularly the moment when we see Sledge’s father standing quietly, helplessly, outside his son’s bedroom door as he listens to the wails of his son who lies within, unable to sleep because of the haunting effects of the conflict. The series could have easily ended after Part Nine, but it’s the events of Part Ten that, to me, raise The Pacific to the level of greatness.
3. Parks and Recreation: “94 Meetings” (Season 2, episode 21, aired on 4/29/2010) – Yep, I’ve got a second episode of Parks and Recreation on my list. Ron Effing Swanson is threatened with actually having to do some work when he discovers that April has scheduled all of the meetings that he’s put off all year-long for one single day. The wonderfully rich ensemble of the show (which has been so beautifully fleshed out during the show’s second season, after a shaky start in the six-episode first season) gets to shine, when Ron solicits everyone’s help in … [continued]
Andy Richter has headlined two terrific but quickly-cancelled TV series. A few years after the demise of Andy Richter Controls the Universe (which was cancelled after FOX aired 14 of the 19 episodes produced), Mr. Richter stepped into the lead of Andy Barker, P.I. on NBC. The peacock network cancelled that show after a mere six episodes.
After waiting years for both series to see the light of day on DVD, I was overjoyed when both Andy Richter Controls the Universe AND Andy Barker, P.I. were released in complete series sets late last year! (Click here to read my recent review of the DVD set of Andy Richter Controls the Universe.)
Andy Barker, played by Mr. Richter, is a mild-mannered accountant who has just opened up his own office on the second floor of a small mid-western strip-mall. What Andy doesn’t realize is that the previous tenant of that office space was a private eye. When a mysterious damsel arrives at his office door, seeking help finding her husband (she thinks the office still belongs to that of an investigator), Andy finds himself drawn into the world of crime. No one is more surprised than he to discover that he actually enjoys working as a private eye, and that he’s pretty good at it as well! Thus begins his career as the world’s first accountant/P.I.
I found Andy Richter to be just as engaging and entertaining a series lead here as he was in Andy Richter Controls the Universe. Andy Barker is far less zany than the character of Andy Richter was — while much of the comedy in Andy Richter Controls the Universe was mined from the crazy imagination of the character Andy Richter, the joke in Andy Barker, P.I. is just how honestly wholesome and white-bread Andy Barker is. This could be a really boring character, but the actor Andy (Richter) imbues the character Andy (Barker) with an enormous amount of heart and likability. Plus, Mr. Richter has just enough of a gleam in his eye that we can tell that his Andy Barker isn’t just an average boring accountant (no offense to any accountants out there!) — something that is highlighted by just how much fun Andy Barker is clearly having when he dips his toes into the world of criminal investigations.
Andy Barker, P.I. has just as wonderful an ensemble of actors as did Andy Richter Controls the Universe. If anything, this show displays an even greater assemblage of talents! The late, great Harve Presnell played Lew Staziak, the private eye into whose office Andy has moved. In the pilot, I thought this character was a one-off portrayal (as Andy tracks … [continued]
One of the many, many great TV shows that aired briefly on FOX before being cancelled well-before-its-time was Andy Richter Controls the Universe. This short-lived show, which aired in 2002-03, was Andy Richter’s first TV series effort after leaving The Late Show with Conan O’Brien.
I loved this show when it originally aired, and I’ve been hoping for years now that the show would someday get released on DVD. That day has finally arrived! Readers of this site might recall that I gave the complete series DVD set of Andy Richter Controls the Universe a brief mention in my list of the Best DVDs of 2009. I purchased this set at the end of 2009 and hadn’t had a chance to watch it yet when I wrote my Best of 2009 list, so I didn’t feel like I could include it, but I did want to make mention of how extraordinarily pleased I was that this set had finally been released.
Once the summer ended, I had a chance to, at last, make my way through this DVD set. All nineteen episodes of the series have been included — including, to my surprise and pleasure, five installments that FOX never aired. (Four of which are really, really funny.)
While some of the series’ playful story-telling techniques — such as the quick-edits, the voice-overs, and the regular shifts into fantasy sequences — don’t quite have the innovative quality that they had back in 2002, I’m pleased to report that Andy Richter Controls the Universe has aged very well. I found the show just as funny and enjoyable as I had remembered.
Andy Richter is a terrific comedic lead. His fearlessness that was so often utilized to comedic effect on The Late Show (this is the man, after all, who once famously wandered naked onto the set of The Today Show) is well-suited to this show’s flights of fancy. A lot of laughs are mined from the crazy things we see Andy doing in his mind’s eye, whether that be arriving to work dressed only in women’s lingerie or diving out his office window or prancing about in a suit made from shredded documents. Andy is able to come across as a fairly normal “everyman,” while still maintaining his comedic edge. He’s also lovable enough to make the audience want to watch his adventures every week.
Mr. Richter is surrounded by a strong ensemble. James Patrick Stuart plays Andy’s best friend Kieth, a man so good looking that life has been incredibly easy for him. In unskilled hands, this could have been a really annoying character, but Mr. Stuart brings a surprising amount of sweetness to the role … [continued]
I can’t believe it took me this long to get to the 2008 HBO miniseries John Adams!
This seven-episode miniseries introduces us to John Adams as a prominent lawyer in Boston, defending the British soldiers who shot and killed several Americans in the so-called “Boston Massacre.” Throughout the rest of the series, we follow John Adams’ long and eventful life through the American Revolution and the fifty years of American history that follow.
This miniseries is a monumental achievement. Each episode is truly a mini motion picture. (And not so “mini” at that — most episodes run WELL over an hour in length.) The production design, the costumes, the sets, and the visual effects that filled in the environment beyond the sets all combine to create an astonishing recreation of pre-and-post-Revolutionary America.
I happen to be fascinated by the American Revolution, ever since taking a class back at Brown with the scholar Gordon Wood (author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning book The Radicalism of the American Revolution, as well as one of the writers quoted by young Will Hunting in the “how about ‘dem apples” scene of Good Will Hunting), and I really enjoyed seeing that period of history brought to such vivid life. Based on the book John Adams by David McCullough (another extraordinary writer and historian), the miniseries is filled to overflowing with fascinating historical details both large (for instance, I had no idea that Mr. Adams spent so much time abroad, working to garner international support for the fledgling nation during its revolutionary conflict with Britain) and small (I was intrigued to observe the changing fashion in wigs of American intellectuals and politicians).
The sprawling cast is top-drawer. The series is headlined by several “big name” actors who are, to no one’s surprise, quite terrific — but the cast is also filled out by some very talented lesser-known faces. The series rests, of course, on the performances of Paul Giamatti as John Adams and Laura Linney as Abigail Adams. The two are absolutely wonderful, capturing the fierce intelligence and stubbornness of both Adamses, as well as the tender love that they shared throughout their lives. I wasn’t expecting this miniseries to present a portrait of such a strong marriage, but that is a strong through-line to the story. David Morse creates an exceptional George Washington (ably assisted by some terrific hair and make-up). Morse’s Washington might be the most idealized character in the piece, but this ideal come to life is so much fun to watch that I have no complaints.
The biggest surprise of the miniseries, for me, was the quiet, underplayed performance of Stephen Dillane as Thomas Jefferson. I can’t speak to the … [continued]
I was a fan of 24 from the very beginning. However, despite my long-held allegiance to the show, I have not once regretted my decision to sit season eight out. I had become so frustrated by the show’s descent into endlessly recycled story-lines (to a degree that verged on self-parody) that I felt it was time for me to move on.
But having followed the travails of Jack Bauer since his very first really bad day, I couldn’t resist tuning back in for last night’s series finale.
Even though I hadn’t watched any of season eight so far, it only took me a few moments to figure out what was going on. 24 is never that complicated, and it was pretty clear who the good guys were and who the bad guys were. In some respects, I think I probably enjoyed the events of this installment more than I might have had I had to sit through the previous 22 hours of circular storytelling and familiar 24 tropes of moles in CTU, double-crosses, assassinations, and Presidential moral conundrums. It’s sort of like tuning in to the final few minutes of a close-score basketball-game — I can get a lot of enjoyment from the tense final minutes without having to have watched the whole two-hour back-and-forth that got us there.
I found myself quite enjoying the first hour of this two-hour finale event. There were some great tense sequences, such as Jack’s kidnapping of Pillar (and let me say that it was a pleasant surprise to see Dollhouse‘s Reed Diamond) and President Taylor’s manipulation of Dalia Hassan. It was interesting to see how far President Taylor had slipped towards the dark side since I’d last seen her, and it’s always fun to see Jack when he’s in full-on Righteous Hand of Vengeance mode. I felt like this was the fun, fast-paced 24 that I’d loved years ago.
Unfortunately, things slowed down significantly in hour two. I had no patience for all of the silliness with the data-card that everyone was after, and Chloe seemed unusually hapless (particularly considering that she somehow seems to now be in charge of CTU). Most problematically, though, was how quickly Jack got taken off the board. After his confrontation with Chloe, he’s completely passive for the rest of the hour. I can’t say I thought that was a wise narrative choice for the final hour of this action-adventure series.
I don’t want to spoil every detail of the ending, but to me it was a big let-down. It felt like a series finale, not a season finale. Yes, Jack is in a difficult spot when the hour draws to a close, and he’s forced … [continued]
So that’s it. We’re done. ”The End,” the epic-length two-and-a-half-hour finale of Lost that aired last night, was a magnificent episode. It was pretty much everything that I could ask a series finale to be: both a thrilling, emotional episode on its own as well as a wonderful capstone to the series as a whole.
Too bad it comes at the end of one of the most disastrously terrible seasons of a previously-great show that I can remember.
Spoilers obviously lie ahead for the finale of Lost, gang, so be warned!
The Lost finale reminded me of everything about the show that I used to love. From start to finish, “The End” exuded a narrative confidence that has been sorely missed. A two-and-a-half-hour finale could very easily have been a bloated, indulgent exercise, but I found the episode to be exquisitely paced. Yes, they took their time with the story, but I felt this was worth it in order to give all of the wonderful reunions in the sideways world their due. The writers cashed in every single chip they had in terms of the audience’s investment in these characters, but I thought those moments paid off phenomenally well. It was delightful to see so many of the familiar faces return, and each reunion felt like a powerful emotional payoff to six seasons of storytelling. (But where were Michael and Walt??? More on this later.) And those slow, emotional beats were well-balanced by some terrific, tense sequences on the island. (I thought the take-off sequence aboard Ajira 316 was particularly compelling.)
Yes, the exact nature of the sideways world was left vague, but that is the kind of narrative vagueness that I have no problem with. I don’t exactly understand whether that universe was intended to be a glimpse at what awaits us all after death, or whether it was (as Christian Shephard seemed to hint) something magical that was somehow created by the collective unconscious of all the castways. Either way, I don’t really understand why the characters didn’t immediately remember who they were — why they each had to somehow be “woken up.” But, you know, I don’t really care. J.R.R. Tolkien didn’t precisely explain the nature of the Gray Havens in The Lord of the Rings, and it wasn’t necessary for him to do so. What was important here at the end of Lost was the idea that, somehow, all of our characters got a taste of the happiness they’d all been chasing — and that we, the audience who had invested in those characters, also got to taste that happy ending. That the ending was tinged with the bittersweet — since the show made … [continued]
I entered season six of Lost with enormous enthusiasm. After re-watching the first five seasons on the show, I had gained a newfound respect for the wonderful, overall tapestry of the show, and I was beyond excited to see those myriad story-threads get pulled together over the course of the final season.
That didn’t quite work out the way I had hoped.
A few days late, last night I finally had a chance to watch the series’ antepenultimate episode “Across the Sea.”
I don’t, frankly, really even know where to begin.
But looking back, I’ll remember this as the moment when I gave up my last embers of hope that the show would reach anything resembling a satisfying conclusion.
Instead of dissecting the flaws of the episode, let me direct you to this interview with the two show-runners, Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse, conducted by the great Alan Sepinwall (who has just started a new blog over at Hitfix.com).
I have been reading and listening to interviews with Mr. Lindelof and Mr. Cuse for years now, and they’ve always struck me as funny, intelligent men who really knew what they were doing in charting this weird, complex show. But now their comments just make me sad.
There are two exchanges that are really worth noting. Here’s the first:
As we’ve gone into this final season and you’ve introduced new characters like Dogen and Lennon and the other Temple people, and new mysteries, there have been some people who’ve said, “Okay, they don’t have to answer all the old mysteries if they don’t want to, but it’s not fair for them to keep introducing lots of new ones at this late date.” How do you respond to that?
DL: Are there any readers who actually like the show?
Many readers like the show. I like the show. But these questions are out there.
CC: We feel that we as storytellers, basically can only approach the storytelling the way that we do, which is it felt like there was no way that we could just be answering existing questions without the show feeling didactic. There would have been no larger narrative motor. For the show to devolve into running through a checklist of answers, we would have been, honestly, crucified for that version of the show. It’s ironic that the episode that’s generating so much controversy is one in which we answered questions, but it’s not surprising to us. Between what the audience thinks they want and what they will find entertaining – we have tried ot make the show in a way that people would find it entertaining, moving engaging. To do that required having new … [continued]
I was an enormous fan of 24 when it began. I still remember, a few days after the premiere episode aired, my folks sitting me down and insisting that I check it out. (Fortunately they had taped that first episode.) I was blown away, and I remained gripped throughout that phenomenal first season. The production values were extraordinary — it was like a mini-movie every week, filled with incredible action and nail-biting suspense. I was also really taken by the “real-time” conceit of the show: that each of the twenty-four episodes of the season was one hour in the no-good, terrible, very bad day of beleaguered super-agent Jack Bauer.
I still hold the first two seasons of 24 as two of the finest seasons of television ever forged. (The gutsy death of a main character in the season 1 finale remains a high-point for me, and it helped cement my love for this dark show.) Sure, there are some weak spots in those first two years (mostly pertaining to the misadventures of Kim Bauer), but having watched those seasons through several times, over the years (bless you, DVD — let’s not forget that 24: Season 1 was one of the first-ever full-season DVD sets ever released), I think they hold up remarkably well.
Things began to go awry in season 3, when the writers decided to abandon all of the dangling story-lines left hanging by the cliffhanger end of season 2, and instead create an entirely new scenario, with Jack involved with drug-dealers in South America. In hindsight, I respect the writers’ attempt to find a whole new paradigm for the show (something that, sadly, they’d never attempt again, much to the show’s long-term detriment), but at the time, Jack Bauer’s adventures in South America seemed like a big mis-step. Things picked up in the second-half of the season, when suddenly the show became about stopping the release of deadly nerve gas in LA (the first but not the last of the show’s mid-season story-telling about-faces). But looking back this signaled the end of the show’s ability to create a unified story for each season that could sustain over the full 24 episodes. It also signaled the unfortunate end of the writers’ interest in maintaining any semblance of plausibility to the “real-time” aspect of the show’s story-telling.
Though I kept watching, with each subsequent season I became more and more frustrated with 24. It boggles my mind why the writers continued to re-use the same tired story-lines again and again and again. How many moles in CTU could there possibly be?? How … [continued]
I received a lot of response to my post last week in which I discussed my disappointment so far with Lost‘s sixth and final season. Some people vehemently disagreed with my assessment, while others were pleased that I had come around to their way of thinking.
Here’s my more specific episode-by-episode run-down of the season so far:
6.1/2 — “LA X” – A strong start to the final season! All the stuff on the plane was a lot of fun. Here in this initial installment there was nothing but promise to the alternate-universe story, and I was intrigued to see where that half of the story is going. (Sadly, after ten episodes, it seems to be going nowhere…) Glad to see that Boone is still a numbskull in any universe, and I was pleased to see Jack again desperate for a pen to help with a medical procedure. The dude should just start carrying a couple in his pocket at all times.
I was also pleased to see several mysteries get addressed right up front, such as the Locke/smokey revelation (which I called before the show aired, thank you very much, no applause, just throw money). I was also intrigued by the Other Others inside the Temple, particularly the Dennis-Hopper-in-Apocalypse Now translater dude. Is the asian Other Other related in some way to the enigmatic Alvar Hanso? I would love to learn that Hanso had once spent time on the island, the way Charles Widmore did. (Sadly, we have so far gotten little-to-none of the backstory of this Temple-dwelling group of Others. One more unanswered mystery to add to my list…)
Why did all the time-jumping castaways on the island stay in the positions/locations they were in at the end of last season when Jack dropped the bomb, except for Kate who was suddenly up in a tree?
6.3 — “What Kate Does” — After a strong start with the premiere, season 6 took a big nose-dive in this, one of the worst episodes of the entire series. Aside from the title, which was a clever play on the title of the season 2 episode “What Kate Did,” there was nothing of interest happening here. The Claire/Kate stuff, which was supposed to be the dramatic centerpiece of the episode, was absolutely ridiculous. I guess we’re supposed to understand that there’s some sort of connection between the two women, even in this alternate timeline, and that’s why Claire trusted Kate. But it didn’t really work for me. Plus, why weren’t there a thousand police cars following Kate out of the airport?? Why didn’t Claire call the police after getting out of the cab, rather than just waiting … [continued]
I’ve been a fan of Lost since the beginning, and I have always been confident that the writers had a plan for the show, and that much of what seemed bizarre or unexplained at the time in the early seasons would ultimately be explained. Even in the somewhat uncertain 2nd & 3rd seasons, I remained a “man of faith” (to borrow a common phrase from the show). With the absolutely spectacular 4th & 5th seasons, I felt that my faith had been rewarded, and I entered the sixth (and final) season of the show with enormous enthusiasm.
Well, my friends, my faith is now wavering, and wavering big-time.
It seems to me that, so far, season six has been by far the most mediocre season of the show so far. The problems are myriad. The alternate-universe storyline, which seemed so intriguing in the season premiere, has started to feel more and more like a time-waster to me. This is exacerbated by my frustration that the storyline on the island has been moving so slowly. Of my enormous list of the show’s unanswered questions, what have we learned so far this season? We now know the nature of the undead Locke/smoke monster/MIB, and we know Richard Alpert’s story. Is there anything else that has been definitively answered for us?
This is extraordinarily disappointing, and it has caused me to begin to resent the time spent, each week, on the alternate-universe stories. It seems to me that that is valuable episode-time that could be better spent paying off some of the many story-lines that the show has built up over its first five years.
As episode after episode ticks by, my hope that my many questions will be answered begins to fade, and this is really starting to honk me off. And as the burden of these unanswered questions grows from week to week, the same thing is happening to me that happened as I watched the final run of Battlestar Galactica episodes — my growing frustration is impacting my enjoyment of episodes that, in previous years, I would have quite enjoyed — such as last week’s Richard Alpert installment. Yes, it was phenomenal to see Richard finally get the spotlight! But did that episode really tell us anything that attentive viewers hadn’t already guessed? Had that episode aired during the 4th season I would have called it brilliant. At this point in the final season, though, I’m just left scratching my head about issues like Jacob’s motivations. (Why does his long-held commitment to non-involvement suddenly switch to his being willing to guide, through Richard, all the people he brings to the island?) And if the wine-in-a-bottle metaphor is all the … [continued]
Here we go — my final post giving you my thoughts on my Great Lost Rewatch Project! Yesterday I began my analysis of season 5. Let’s continue, shall we?
“What lies in the shadow of the statue?”
5.2 “Jughead” — We open with Penny giving birth to her son with Desmond, who we learn at the end of the episode is named Charlie. Nice. Three years later, we follow Desmond’s efforts to find Daniel Faraday’s mother, Eloise, and we learn more about Daniel’s time-travel experiments that eventually got him thrown out of Oxford and that apparently left his former girlfriend in a vegetative state. Back on the island, we see that our castaways have time-traveled back to the 1950’s. There we meet a young Eloise Hawking and Charles Widmore, and discover that the U.S. Army had been using the island as a site for the testing of nuclear weapons. Meanwhile, Locke meets Richard Alpert, and since this Alpert of the ’50s doesn’t know him yet, Locke tells Richard the exact date and place of his birth which will happen in 2 years. Locke suggests that Richard come see him – thus explaining Richard’s interest in Locke throughout his youth that we learned of last season in “Cabin Fever.” This is a dazzlingly dense episode, filled to the brim with dramatic revelations and fascinating connections.
5.6 “316″ — This episode declares its awesomeness right from the opening seconds — a phenomenal re-creation of the opening scene in the pilot. Jack again wakes up alone in the jungle – but this time it’s after the crash of Ajira flight 316. He’s back. In flashback, we see how this all went down. The episode is filled with amazing moments, from Hurley’s attempt to buy up all the empty seats on the plane to Lapidus’ perfectly-delivered comment of resignation (see the title of yesterday’s post) when he sees the Oceanic 6 on board. You gotta feel for the guy!!
5.8 “LaFleur” – After Locke disappears down the well, Sawyer & co. see the enormous statue (of which we saw a four-toed fragment back in season 2’s finale and hadn’t been seen nor mentioned since). Guess they’re pretty far in the past. Then they flash again, more violently this time – and seem to settle in one time period. It seems Locke has succeeded in his efforts to stop the time-jumping. For the rest of the episode, we cut back and forth between the next few days in 1974 and 3 years later, in 1977, at which point Sawyer and co. are completely ensconsced in the Dharma Initiative. It’s a lot of fun to see how Sawyer, Juliet, and … [continued]
It’s time to begin wrapping up my post-game assessment of my Great Lost Rewatch Project by beginning my thoughts on season 5! Click here for my thoughts on season 1, season 2, season 3, and season 4. As always, folks, MAJOR SPOILERS lie ahead, so beware.
“OK, so what? We’re gonna go back and kill Hitler?” ”Don’t be absurd. There are rules. Rules that can’t be broken.”
Coming after the magnificent season 4, my favorite season of the show since the first year, I wasn’t sure if season 5 would be able to maintain that high level of quality and narrative momentum. But I shouldn’t have doubted. Season 5 is another home-run, one that deepens our understanding of the show’s characters and of the larger backstory of the island.
Here in season 5, Lost fully embraces the sci-fi aspects that have often been a peripheral element of the show, as the writers dove into a complex time-travel storyline to begin the season. Lost has played tentatively with time-travel before, most notably in the two Desmond episodes “Flashes Before Your Eyes” (click here for my detailed thoughts on that critical episode) and “The Constant.” Those episodes had allowed us to begin to get some sense of the “rules” of time-travel in the Lost universe. This isn’t Back to the Future type time-travel, where one could alter the past and thus change the future. Here in the world of Lost, it seems that “whatever happened, happened” — that making major changes to the timeline are impossible. (Season 6 will tell us definitively, one hopes, whether that is indeed the case.)
After Ben moved the island in the season 4 finale, something goes wrong and our castaways find themselves unstuck in time, jumping around into the past and the future. Over the course of these jumps, much of the secret history of the island and its inhabitants is peeled back for us to examine. We travel back to the ’50s, meeting a young Eloise Hawking and Charles Widmore (I LOVE the revelation that he was once an Other!) and learning of the US Army’s use of the island as a test site for nuclear weapons. We learn the reason for Richard Alpert’s interest in a young John Locke (see in last season’s “Cabin Fever”). We see what befell Rousseau and her team. We see how Ben came to raise Alex. And we learn a LOT more about the Dharma Initiative.
The time-jumping storyline is great fun, but things get even more fascinating once Locke turns the frozen donkey wheel himself. The castaways (Sawyer, Juliet, Miles, and Daniel) wind up back in 1977, and become members of … [continued]
“She’s not my daughter. I stole her as a baby from an insane woman. She’s a pawn, nothing more. She means nothing to me.”
“Is he talking about what I think he’s talking about?” ”If you mean time-traveling bunnies, then yes.”
4.2 “Confirmed Dead” – A great episode that begins to introduce us to the “Freighter-Folk” and raises a whole heck of a lot of new mysteries. We see Daniel Faraday watching the discovery of the Oceanic 815 wreckage and crying. We see Charlotte investigating an archaeological dig in Tunisia, where the skeleton of a polar bear (with a Dharma collar!) has mysteriously been found in the middle of the desert. We learn of Mile’s ability to communicate with the dead. We see Laipdus, who was also watching footage of the Oceanic 815 recovery, at which point he becomes convinced that the bodies are not actually those of the survivors, and we learn that he was supposed to have been the pilot of 815 that day. We see Naomi being recruited by the mysterious Abbadon.
4.5 “The Constant” – A phenomenal episode, without question one of the very best of the series. Leaving the island, Lapidus is forced by a storm to shift slightly off the precise bearing that Daniel gave him. As a result, Desmond’s mind is somehow thrown back in time and exchanged with that of his younger self, still serving as a soldier in the Scotts Royal Regiment. Over the course of this mind-bending hour, we are given an enormous amount of information about Daniel Faraday’s time-traveling experiments (information that will prove critical to our understanding of season 5). We also see, in an intriguing scene, Charles Widmore at an auction, bidding on the first mate’s log from the Black Rock (the ship we know is beached on the island), which we learn had formerly been in the possession of Tovar Hanso (an apparent ancestor of the founder of the Dharma Initiative). Suddenly we are forced to reconsider Mr. Widmore — he’s not just Desmond’s troublesome potential father-in-law, he’s a man with some sort of connection to the island. But, of course, none of this fascinating back-story would matter at all if not for the episode’s emotional center: the star-crossed love story of Desmond and Penny. Their tearful reunion, when Desmond calls her from the freighter’s radio room after having obtained her phone number in the past, is wonderfully powerful stuff, and a highlight of the season (and the series).
4.9 – The Shape of Things to Come – In one of my … [continued]
“Rescuing you and your people… I can’t really say it’s our primary objective.”
There were times, watching seasons 2 and 3 of Lost when they originally aired, when I must admit that my faith in the show wavered. There were so many mysteries raised but not answered, and after the terrific first season there seemed to be many times when the show was spinning in circles, narratively. But season 4 firmly established Lost, in my mind, as one of the greatest TV series of our time, as opposed to a show that started off brilliantly but then slowly settled into mediocrity (cough 24 cough).
The writers brilliantly reinvigorated the show by abandoning their signature story-telling device, the use of flashbacks. Instead they began presenting us with tantalizing flash-FORWARDS that hinted at what would befall to our castaways in the time between the on-island events of 2004 and what we glimpsed of 2007, when we met the desperate, suicidal off-island Jack in the season 3 finale. That finale set up all sorts of questions: How did the castaways get off the island? Why did only SOME of the castaways leave? What happened to everyone else — were they dead, or did they decide to stay for some reason? What happened to Jack (and the other Oceanic Six) in their three years off the island? What drove Jack to become the destroyed, shell of a man that we saw in the season 3 finale? Whose body was in that coffin??
One of the great strengths of season 4 is that way that, in decidedy un-Lost fashion, every one of those above questions were answered by the end of the season. Season 4 feels like the most complete of all the seasons of Lost, with a distinct beginning, middle, and end, and in which all of the major questions raised at the beginning of the season (well, really by the finale of season 3) were answered by the end of the season. That all this was accomplished despite the fact that the season was truncated due to the lengthy writers strike is quite astounding. (Season 4 was scheduled to be 16 episodes long — much shorter than the 24 episodes-per-season that seasons 1-3 were — but it was shortened to only 13 episodes because of the strike.) In many ways, I suspect the shortened length of the season turned into one of its greatest strengths. There’s no flab in season 4 — with only 13 … [continued]
“This is future crap, isn’t it?”
3.7 “Not in Portland” – Juliet gets a terrifically juicy flashback as we see her performing secret (and somehow unethical?) research on her sister, who Juliet is able to help get pregnant despite her being stricken with cancer. Richard Alpert makes his first appearance as a well-dressed representative of Mittelos Bioscience who tries, repeatedly, to recruit Juliet to come work for him in Portland. We see a few glimpses of Ethan, who has apparently been hanging around Juliet’s place of work, and who is perhaps the one who brought her to Richard’s attention. We see Juliet frustratedly confess to Richard that she can’t work for him because her ex-husband (and boss) would never allow her to take her research elsewhere, and she hysterically wishes that he’d get hit by a bus. Which he does. At which point Alpert tries again to convince Juliet to come work for him, admitting that they don’t really have offices in Portland…
3.8 “Flashes Before Your Eyes” — Click here for my detailed thoughts on this bombshell episode!
3.10 “Tricia Tanaka is Dead” – Oh my goodness do I have great and powerful love for this episode. Hurley finds an overturned, rusted old Dharma van. Convinced that the gang needs a win, he sets out to repair it, with some help from Charlie, Jin, and Sawyer. And repair it they do. In flashback, we meet Hurley’s dad, played by Cheech Martin. He apparently left Hurley’s mom when the kid was about 10, but she doesn’t seem all that sore about it, as she welcomes him back into her life after Hurley wins the lottery. I guess he’s a jerk for ditching them all those years ago, but he seems like a good-hearted fellow who is genuinely concerned with the depressive spiral that Hurley has fallen into because of the curse he feels is upon him. We see good evidence for that curse early in the episode, when an unfortunate reporter, the titular Tricia Tanaka, perishes when an asteroid (or meteor?) smashes into the Mr. Cluck’s that Hurley purchased. D’oh! There are so many great moments in this episode. All the silliness with the head of Roger, Workman (who, in a terrific turn, we later learn is none other than Ben’s dad, Roger Linus). Jin and Sawyer drunk on decades-old Dharma beer, and Sawyer teaching him the English phrases he’ll need to keep a woman happy. Hurley looking death in the face. Fantastic.
3.14 “Expose” – Oh … [continued]
“The man from Tallahassee? What is that, some kind of code?” ”No, John, unfortunately we don’t have a code for ‘there’s a man in my closet with a gun to my daughter’s head’. Although we obviously should.”
Whereas season 2 broadened the canvass of Lost to include the characters of the Tailies and their stories, season 3 expands the focus even further to begin shedding light on the heretofore enigmatic figures of the Others.
In many ways, season 3 represents a mid-series turning point for Lost. Towards the end of the original airing of this season, it was announced that the show’s producers had come to an agreement with the network on an end-date for the show. I don’t think I’m exaggerating to say that this announcement (quite unprecedented for a successful network TV series), literally saved the series. There were points in season 2 that felt like treading water, and I got that same sensation more than once in the early going of season 3. But the announcement that the series had a definite end date restored narrative thrust and energy to the show, and allowed the writers to begin parcelling out answers to long-held questions and moving forward on the storylines and plot-twists that they had intended for the end-game of the show.
“Pushing that button is the only truly great thing that you will ever do.”
Season 3 began with a “pod” of six episodes. When watching these episodes originally I found them to be excruciating, as all sorts of weird things seemed to be happening with no explanation whatsoever. At this point in the run of the show I was long-since ready for some answers, and I had hoped that this batch of episodes — in which Jack, Kate and Sawyer found themselves held captive by the Others and so we were at last taken inside the Others’ community — would give us some insight into just what the heck had been going on for the first two years of the show, but that was not to be. To say that this was frustrating would be putting it mildly. In addition, over the course of these 6 episodes we continued to have to suffer through watching our beloved characters treated incredibly cruelly (something that I mentioned that I found bothersome during season 2 as well), abused mentally and physically by the Others. This is tough to watch, and as I commented in my write-up of season 2, the Others’ continued … [continued]
“Boy when you say beginning, you mean beginning.”
2.3 “Orientation” — What a wonderfully bizarre and perplexing episode. While the opening courts my annoyance by showing us (for the THIRD time!) the held-at-gunpoint scene between Jack, Locke, and Desmond, we finally get some tantalizing new pieces of the story of the hatch and the larger back-story of the show. We get to watch our first Dharma video (the Swan Station Orientation video) which is a tour-de-force of hints and questions. We learn that the Swan is only one of several Dharma stations on the island. We learn that the Dharma Iniviative was funded by Danish Indistrialist Alvar Hanso. We see the model of the swan station that we’ll see Radzinsky building in season 5. We hear about “an incident” that lead to the button-pushing being necessary. Awesome.
2.7 “The Other 48 Days” — A genius episode, in which we follow the Tailies from the crash of the plane right up through Ana Lucia’s shooting of Shannon. We get lots of information on what happened to this group of survivors (who had it a lot tougher than our castaways), who they are and what makes them tick, and also some intriguing hints about the mysteries of the island and the Others. (I love that they find an old-style army knife on the body of one of the two Others killed by Mr. Eko. A souvenir of the army team supervising Jughead, I presume?) I also love that we learn that Bernard was on the other side of Boone’s radio call from the Nigerian plane. Didn’t see that one coming!
2.10 “The 23rd Psalm” – I love this episode. It blows my mind. Eko gets a flashback and we discover how he used to be a violent mercenary, and it was his brother who was a priest. Eko gets his brother killed and, when he’s then mistaken for a priest, steps into that role. We learn that the plane carrying drugs in Virgin Mary statues that crashed on the island was actually sent by Eko (though his intention wasn’t for the plan to crash on any mysterious island, of course!!), and his brother’s dead body is aboard. Crazy. In this episode we also get our first full glimpse of the monster, and see it’s black-smoke-like nature. Eko stares it down, and as he does the camera passes tantalizingly THROUGH the monster, thus giving a work-out to the pause button on DVDs world-wide.
“This is not your island. This is OUR island.”
There’s a whole heck of a lot to enjoy in season 2 of Lost. I had a great time revisiting this season during my rewatch project, but I strongly remember how tough this season was to watch, at times, when I first saw it week-to-week on TV. There are a number of reasons for this, I think.
Season 2 of Lost goes to some dark places. Many of the characters find themselves regressing and forced to continue struggling with the demons that we might have thought they’d conquered in season 1. This is realistic storytelling, in which one’s issues can’t necessarily be put to bed so easily, but it also lent season 2 a feeling that we were treading water, narratively.
The same held true for the flashbacks. This innovative storytelling device (that is so easy, looking back now, to take for granted), is a big part of what gave season 1 its narrative power. But in many of the season 2 flashbacks, I didn’t feel that we learned much new about our castaways. (For example, what did we learn in “Adrift” about Michael and his wife that we hadn’t already learned in “Special” from season 1? What did we learn in “Everybody Hates Hugo” about Hurley that we hadn’t already learned in “Numbers” from season 1?)
Also, in this season the writers expanded on the fractured story-telling style they had played with at times during season 1, in which often they would only give us one piece of what was happening, making us wait to get the rest of the pieces until later episodes. This is in evidence right from the start of the season, in which, for instance, in each of the first 3 episodes we get a different character’s perspective on what happened down in the hatch after Locke and the gang went down. Re-watching the show now on DVD, this splitting up of the narrative makes a certain amount of sense, as it enables each episode to have a focus, as opposed to feeling the need to jam updates on every single character into every single episode. However, I clearly remember watching these episodes when they aired weekly on TV, and this storytelling style was TORTUROUS. I was desperate throughout the season premiere, “Man of Science, Man of Faith,” to learn what happened to the folks on the raft, and I was desperate throughout the second episode, “Adrift” (and, frankly, throughout the entire rest of the season) to learn more about just … [continued]
Yesterday I gave my over-all impressions on Season 1 of Lost. Today I’m going to get a bit more specific about some of my favorite and least favorite episodes and moments of the season!
“There’s a fine line between faith and denial. And it’s much better on my side.”
1.3 ”Walkabout” — Our first spotlight on John Locke. The ending, in which we learn the truth about his “condition,” still packs an emotional wallop even knowing what’s coming (and totally blew me away the first time I saw it).
1.14 ”Special” – Michael and Walt get their flashback and it is HEARTBREAKING. It’s one of the strongest, most poignant flashbacks the show ever did, in my mind. Poor Michael gets screwed over by the cold, cold Susan (Walt’s mom) who leaves him, taking Walt and moving out of the country and eventually shacking up with her boss. Contrary to what we had assumed so far, we learn that Michael desperately wanted to be a part of Walt’s life but that Susan shut him out, going to the point of not even giving young Walt all the letters that Michael wrote him over the years. Then there’s the scene in which Charlie wrestles with himself over whether or not to read Claire’s diary — this is comic gold, and a terrific example of what a brilliant performer Dominic Monaghan is.
1.18 — “Numbers” – At last, a Hurley flashback!! And it rocks. If the purpose of the flashbacks is for us to learn things about the castaways that we wouldn’t otherwise expect, and to set the stories on the island in a dramatically different light, then this episode succeeds in spades. The whole scene in the insane asylum (when Hurley goes to visit the fellow, Lenny, who gave him the numbers) plays a whole lot differently now that we know that Hurley was an inmate there. (That also explains Hurley’s angry reaction here when Charlie tells him that he’s acting like a lunatic.) It’s great to see Hurley succeed in finding Rousseau (and getting her to give them a battery to use for a radio in Michael’s raft) despite everyone’s disbelief that he could do so. Hurley can charm anyone!!
1.23 “Exodus” Part I – A terrific, terrific episode. Through a series of flashbacks we get intriguing glimpses of each of the castaways (including Boone, back for this episode!) in the hours before Oceanic flight 815 launched. We also meet Ana Lucia (who will be such a key character in season 2) for the first time! (It was very clever of the writers to introduce her here, at the end of season 1.) There are a ton of … [continued]
As I’ve mentioned in my recent posts about Lost (my discussion of the implications of Desmond’s time-traveling in the season 3′s “Flashes Before Your Eyes” and my voluminous list of the burning unanswered questions still hanging at the end of season 5), my wife & I have been engaged for several months now in a massive (and massively entertaining) project of re-watching the entire series in preparation for the beginning of the show’s final year. (I am pleased to say that we just made it in under the wire, finishing the season 5 finale mere hours before the airing of the season 6 premiere!!) Over the coming weeks I’ll be sharing my thoughts on the series, in a season-by-season run-down.
As with all of my Lost posts, these articles will be replete with spoilers — there’s just no way to discuss the series without mentioning some of its plot twists — so anyone who hasn’t seen the show should read on at their own peril.
OK, here we go!
“Guys… Where are we?”
It’s extraordinarily impressive to me just how well the show’s pilot and early episodes fit with the show today. Those early installments all “feel” like true Lost episodes, unlike many shows whose first season episodes bear little resemblance to what their shows ultimately became. The biggest difference, of course, is the amount of time spent with characters who are no longer around: Michael, Walt, Charlie, Boone, Shannon, Claire (though hopefully she’ll be back in season 6!). Also surprising is just how little screen time John Locke has in the pilot – though his “do you want to know a secret” line to Walt remains a powerful and mysterious introduction to that compelling fellow. I am also impressed how nothing that we’ve learned about any of the characters in the subsequent seasons makes anything in the pilot not work (because the writers hadn’t figured out “x” aspect of any character’s back-story yet). Rather, the iconic character traits of many of the castaways are established right from the beginning — Jack’s desire to always fix things, Kate’s instinct to run away, Locke’s mantra of “don’t tell me what I can’t do,” etc.
It is interesting, though to see how far John Locke has strayed from the person he was when he first crashed on the island. I really like the Locke that we see in the first half of season 1 — I miss him! This Locke has great moral certainty, he’s very helpful (keeping his cool when Charlie stumbles onto the hornets’ nest; trapping, killing, and cooking boar for everyone to eat) and I find myself agreeing with him a LOT in these early episodes. (The … [continued]
Yesterday I began my list of the Top 10 Episodes of TV from 2009. Click here for numbers 10-6. Now here is the rest of the list!
5. Lost: “The Incident” (season 5, episodes 16/17, aired on 5/13/09). Everything comes together, questions are answered, and (of course) new questions are raised. We finally get to meet the oft-discussed Jacob, and we see how this apparently ageless man has interacted with the lives of many of the castaways long before they ever crashed on the island. In the ’70s, Jack seeks to change the future by detonating a hydrogen bomb, thus destroying the island. This once again puts him in conflict with Sawyer, who believes that “what’s done is done.” In 2007, Locke, Ben, and the mysterious other survivors of Ajira flight 316 converge in the shadow of the statue, we learn the true final fate of Jeremy Bentham, and a shocking murder is committed. The cliffhanger ending leaves us in the dark as to whether Jack’s audacious plan has succeeded, or whether he has just caused “the incident” that we’ve been hearing about since “Orientation” in season two (that necessitated the construction of the Swan Station and the button). Either way, this was a magnificent two hours of television. It’s been a great delight watching the makers of Lost weave together the show’s many characters and story-lines as we prepare for the show’s final year. I have high hopes for what’s ahead!
4. Parks and Recreation: “The Hunting Trip” (season 2, episode 10, aired on 11/19/09). I thought that Parks and Recreation was extraordinarily mediocre in its first season, but just as NBC’s The Office only found its footing during its second year, Parks & Rec has really turned things around this season. Many weeks I consider it — are you sitting down? — the strongest of NBC’s Thursday night comedies. ”The Hunting Trip” is a prime example as to why. Ron prepares to take the men in the office out on their annual hunting trip, but Leslie (Amy Poehler) wants the girls (and Tom Haverford) to be included too. Since Ron is legally forbidden from excluding them from what is tenuously a work-related outing, the whole gang heads out to the woods, rifles in hand. What follows is an escalating series of madness that culminates in poor Ron getting shot (not fatally, of course!!). The whole episode is a riot, in which every member of the ensemble gets a lot to do. But Leslie steals the show when she realizes that she cannot reveal the identity of the person who shot Ron to the ranger who comes to investigate, so she tries to take the fall … [continued]
Hi everyone! It’s that time of year again — welcome to the first of my four Best of 2009 lists! We’re kicking things off today with part one of my list of the 10 Best TV Episodes I saw in 2009!
Let’s dive in, shall we?
10. Lost: “Jughead” (season 5, episode 3, aired on 1/28/09). The craziness of Lost‘s superb time-hopping fifth season kicked into high gear with this episode, and all sorts of fascinating connections were made. Trapped in the past, Locke meets a young Charles Widmore and Richard Alpert and we finally get an explanation for Alpert’s weird childhood visit to Locke (that we saw in “Cabin Fever” ). Meanwhile, Daniel Faraday discovers that the American army came to the island in the 1950′s to test hydrogen bombs, explaining a lot of tiny references that have been layered into the show since back in the second season (such as Ana Lucia pointing out to Goodwin that the Other they killed carried an army knife from decades ago). But this episode gets the nod because of its focus on one of my very favorite Lost characters: Desmond, who spends the hour attempting to unravel the secrets of Daniel Faraday. Mind-bending Lost at its best.
9. Dollhouse: “Belonging” (season 2, episode 4, aired on 10/23/09). Oh Dollhouse, we hardly knew ye. Though Joss Whedon’s short-lived series was frustratingly hit-or-miss, episodes like this make we wish fervently that the show was continuing. This episode spotlights Sierra, one of the “dolls” (men and women regularly programmed with completely new personalities in order to meet the whims of the Dollhouse’s wealthy clients), and we learn how the young woman once named Priya came to be a doll. It is a twisted, heartbreaking story, and an absolutely riveting hour of TV.
8. The Office: “Broke” (season 5, episode 23, aired on 4/23/09). I’ve been a bit let-down by The Office this year, but the mid-fourth season run of episodes centering around the Michael Scott Paper Company were classic, and this episode provided a note-perfect culmination of that storyline. Michael & co. have finally succeeded in cutting into Dunder Mifflin’s business by undercutting their prices, but that action has also left Michael’s company penniless (and unable to afford even a delivery van for the paper they’re selling, as we see in the episode’s opening). Luckily, David Wallace decides to try to buy Michael out. The negotiations that follow are hysterical — and also a stunning moment as Michael rises to the occasion by serving as a surprisingly sly negotiator. Also, Charles Miner (The Wire‘s idris Elba), who has been running the Scranton branch in Michael’s absence, is finally undone … [continued]
A little over a year ago, I wrote that I was excited to have begun watching the newly-released (and long-anticipated) DVDs of Spaced: The Complete Series. Well, I can’t believe how long it took me a while to finally finish the set (despite there only being two seasons of seven episodes each, Steph and I decided to draw out our viewing to savor the enjoyment — we didn’t want the series to end!), but I’ve finally done so.
I am happy to report that the series is every bit as wonderful and weird as I’d been hearing for all these years!!
Spaced was a short-lived British TV show that had two seasons (or “series,” as they like to call them across the pond) of seven episodes each (with the first batch coming out in 1999 and the second in 2001). It was written by and starred Simon Pegg (Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz, and now Scotty in J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek) and Jessica Hynes, and was directed by Edgar Wright.
Simon and Jessica played Tim and Daisy, two mismatched North Londoners who pretend to be married in order to qualify for renting an affordable flat that they both had their eye on. The series follows the misadventures of Tim and Daisy and their small and bizarre group of friends: the military-loving Mike, the delightfully daft Twist, the depressed conceptual artist Brian, and Tim and Daisy’s droll, alcoholic landlady Marsha.
What’s so wonderful about the series is the way that it doesn’t idealize the lives of these sort-of-lost (mostly) young people. This isn’t Friends, where everyone is perky and lives in extraordinarily large and beautiful apartments. Tim and Daisy are both unendingly lazy and unambitious, and their flat is endearingly small and believably cluttered.
But the series isn’t depressing — rather, it is a ridiculous amount of fun. Though each character is filled with quirks, they all quickly become surprisingly lovable, and it is great fun watching them go through their little day-to-day adventures. Also, the series is practically built around an ever-increasing number of rapid-fire references to (and parodies of) a wide variety of movies, TV shows, and all sorts of other aspects of sci-fi, comic books, and lots more geeky stuff. The closest thing I could compare all of this silliness to is the fantasy sequences found in Scrubs — though the fantasies here are much more elegantly done and more intricately woven into the narrative. It is great fun spotting all of the little winks and nods included in each episode. (There’s even an homage-o-meter included as a special feature on the DVDs.) Some of the references are a little dated … [continued]
One of my earliest posts for this blog last year was a list of a bunch of DVDs on my “to-watch” shelf that I hoped to get to some time in the near future. One item on that list was the first set of DVDs collecting The Adventures of Young Indiana Jones.
Well, it took me quite a while, but I am pleased to report that almost a year later I have made my way through that DVD set! (It’s the first of three sets that collect the entire run of the series.)
The Adventures of Young Indiana Jones was a TV series that ran, somewhat sporadically, from 1992-1996. Alternating episodes would follow the adventures of 10 year-old Indy (played by Corey Carrier), and teen-aged Indy (played by Sean Patrick Flanery). In each episode, Indy would find himself in adventures in varying parts of the globe, each time running into many real-life historical figures, Forest Gump style. ABC cancelled the series after its second season in 1993, but the USA network picked it up and aired a number of new episodes in two-hour mini-movie formats until 1996.
For the 1999 release of the series on VHS, the entire series was re-edited chronologically, with each episode paired with the next one in sequence to form a two-hour mini-movie (similar to the way the episodes were aired on USA). In so doing, all of the framing device scenes with a very Old Indy (93 year-old Indy was played by George Hall) that used to start and end each episode were completely removed. These are the versions that have been released on DVD. Also in 1999, Lucas, ever one to re-name his work (Star Wars eventually becomes Episode IV: A New Hope; Raiders of the Lost Ark eventually becomes Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark), at this point also changed the name of the series from The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles to The Adventures of Young Indiana Jones. (And thank heaven for wikipedia for that little tidbit. Writing this whole review I kept writing The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles, but I could see that the title on the DVDs was The Adventures of Young Indiana Jones. I had no idea why I kept getting the title wrong! Well, it’s because I always knew this show as The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles! Sheesh!)
(By the way, here’s another amusing tidbit. Does anyone but me remember how, when this series was released on VHS in 1999 in the form of 22 mini-movies, each labeled “chapter 1″ through “chapter 22,” Lucas also re-released the Indy movie trilogy, labeling the movies “chapter 23″ through” chapter 25″?? This … [continued]
5. Cause and Effect (ST:TNG season 5, episode 18) — The Enterprise blows up. Over and over again. What a great idea for an episode! This is a classic Next Gen spatial anomaly mystery/mind-bender, as the Enterprise gets caught in a temporal loop in which the ship meets with terrible catastrophe over and over again. I know some people find this episode to be boring (it basically depicts the same events, five times), but I absolutely adore the way subtle differences start to emerge with each repetition, as the crew slowly realizes what is happening to them and try to come up with some sort of way out. From the intense opening tease (where the Enterprise is annihilated right in the middle of Picard’s desperate cry for all hands to abandon ship) right up through the end (with Kelsey Grammer — Frasier!! — guest starring as the unfortunate Captain Morgan Bateson), this is one of my very favorite hours of Trek.
4. The Inner Light (ST:TNG season 5, episode 25) — Captain Picard is struck by a beam from an alien probe and awakens on an alien world. As months and then years pass, Picard eventually gives up hope of escape or rescue and settles into a life with the friendly people of that planet. Right away it is made clear to the viewer that all of this is happening only in Picard’s mind (as there are occasional cut-backs to the Enterprise crew, trying to awaken their Captain, in which we can see that only minutes are passing for them while years pass for Picard). While there is a mystery aspect to the episode as the viewers wonder what exactly is going on, the real focus is on the wonderful, touching story of Picard finding for himself the peaceful family life that his devotion to Starfleet has always prevented him from having. In the end, Picard comes to realize that the probe contains the records and memories of an alien culture that has long-since been wiped out by a terrible natural disaster. The people who Picard (and we) have come to love — his friends, his wife, his children, and his grand-children — are all long-since dead. It is a sad, haunting episode, and one that has colored the character of Picard ever since. The mournful flute melody that Picard learns, and that plays over the final moments of the episode, is one of my favorite musical motifs of the show, and a not-to-be-overlooked key to this … [continued]
10. All Good Things (ST:TNG season 7, episode 25) — The two-hour series finale of Next Gen is not just a phenomenal finale but also one of the greatest episodes of the series. Picard finds himself moving back and forth through time, bouncing between the present day, a time just before he took command of the Enterprise D (in the series premiere, Encounter at Farpoint), and 25 years in the future. It’s fascinating to take a look back at the show’s early days (the mimicry of the costumes from that first season is particularly fun, as is the reappearance of deceased security officer Tasha Yar), but it’s the peek at the future of the Next Gen crew that, I think, really captured the fans’ imaginations. A wonderful reappearance by Q further strengthens the “full circle” connections to the show’s premiere. The episode boasts some terrific visual effects and a wonderful sci-fi paradox mystery makes the whole enterprise (sorry, couldn’t resist) truly compelling. Finally, there is the magnificent last scene, which ends the show and the series on a perfect note. The sky’s the limit, indeed.
9. Sarek (ST:TNG season 3, episode 23) — In its early years, the Next Gen writers strove to avoid any mention of characters or storylines from the Original Series in an effort to make sure this new show could stand on its own. But fans were delighted when, in this third season episode, Mark Leonard reprised his role as Spock’s father Sarek. That guest appearance alone would make the episode a winner, but it’s shot into the stratosphere by a terrific storyline about Sarek being affected by an Alzheimer’s-like disease that begins to weaken his mental controls, and by the absolutely amazing performances by Mark Leonard and Patrick Stewart. Stewart’s monologue (after Picard has mind-melded with Sarek and is being affected by the ragingly intense emotions that the elderly Vulcan has kept bottled up for almost two centuries) as the camera slowly circles around his face and Picard is pummeled by a roller-coaster of rage and grief is absolutely magnificent. My favorite moment: Picard/Sarek’s one subdued, lonely cry for his estranged son: “Spock.”
8. The City on the Edge of Forever (Star Trek season 1, episode 29) — One of the most well-known episodes of Star Trek, and for good reason. Harlan Ellison wrote the script for this, one of the most powerful and moving episodes of the original (or really ANY) Trek series, one that is also filled with a lot of terrific, unique sci-fi ideas. The … [continued]
Yesterday I began listing the Twenty Greatest Episodes of Star Trek. (Click here for numbers 20-16). Let’s continue, shall we?
15. Treachery, Faith, and the Great River (ST:DS9 season 7, episode 6) — The title of this episode sums up everything that DS9 was about — character, faith, and politics. It’s a small episode, with little of galactic import happening, and yet it is a critical episode nonetheless. A familiar Vorta offers Odo important information about the Dominion in exchange for Odo’s protection if he defects, and back on the station Nog utilizes all of his Ferengi wiles to help Chief O’Brien track down the equipment he needs to repair the Defiant despite shortages caused by the war. In this seemingly minor episode, we learn an enormous amount about the cultures, history, and beliefs of the Ferengi and the Vorta, as well as so much about many of DS9′s regular characters.
14. The Measure of a Man (ST:TNG season 2, episode 9) –Not only is this one of the few watchable episodes from Next Gen‘s first two seasons, it is also (as you can see by its inclusion on this list) one of the finest Trek episodes ever crafted. A Starfleet scientist wants to disassemble Data in order to learn how his positronic brain works, in order for Starfleet to construct more androids like him. When Data refuses to submit, he is ordered to do so. What follows is an emotional, thought-provoking examination of what makes someone a sentient being. Is Data a man, or is he a piece of property? Witness tour-de-force performances by Brent Spiner and Patrick Stewart as well as Whoopi Goldberg as Guinan (in one of the best Picard-Guinan scenes of the entire series).
13. The Way of the Warrior (ST:DS9 season 4, episode 1) — After three somewhat uneven seasons, DS9 reinvented itself with this amazing two hour episode that turned the show around and set the stage for the ground-breaking storytelling of seasons 4-7. The Klingons send an enormous task force into the Bajoran sector, ostensibly to help defend against the Dominion. But several troubling incidents make clear to Captain Sisko that the Klingons have a hidden agenda. In order to help him ferret out the truth, Starfleet assigns Worf (without a posting after the destruction of the Enterprise D in Star Trek: Generations) to DS9. Worf’s discovery tears apart the Federation-Klingon alliance (which had been a centerpiece of the 24th century Trek shows), and leads to what was by far the best sci-fi action sequence ever televised at that time (and still one of the greatest today) in which the Klingon fleet brutally attacks the … [continued]
I have watched a lot of Star Trek in my day. A LOT of Star Trek. And quite a lot of it was pretty damn good! Here’s what I feel is the best of the best. (Hmm, no episodes of Voyager or Enterprise to be found on this list…!)
20. Unification Part I (ST:TNG season 5, episode 7) — A high-ranking official of the United Federation of Planets is believed to have defected to the Romulans, and Captain Picard is sent after him. The individual in question? Ambassador Spock. Having Leonard Nimoy reprise his role in this Next Gen two-parter was an astounding moment, something the fans never thought would happen. But as great as all the Spock-Picard-Data stuff is in part II, I’ve chosen part I (in which Spock only actually appears at the very end) for the brilliance of its gripping build-up in Picard’s, ahem, search for Spock. My favorite moment? The late great Mark Leonard’s show-stopping scene as Spock’s father Sarek, at death’s door and suffering from a debilitating neurological disease, who delivers a monologue that is one of the most powerful and emotionally devastating things I have ever seen on television.
19. Rocks and Shoals (ST:DS9 season 6, episode 2) — In the middle of the Dominion War arc, Sisko and his crew have commandeered an enemy Jem’Hadar warship behind enemy lines. In the exciting opening moments of the episode, they are shot down on a desolate planet. But a small group of Jem’Hadar have crashed on that planet with them. The focus of this episode isn’t on the action — it’s on a fascinating exploration of the Jem’Hadar. Phil Morris (most famous as Jackie Chiles on Seinfeld) is fantastic as the central Jem’Hadar character. (“Then we will hold this world for the Dominion. Until we die.”) But what really gets this episode onto this list is it’s cold, tragic ending.
18. Penumbra (ST:DS9 season 7, episode 17) — Deep Space Nine’s “final chapter” (the last nine episodes of the show’s final series) begins with this engaging installment, in which so many long-running character story-lines and plot developments begin to weave together for the show’s denouement. Worf is lost in the Badlands after a Klingon attack group is destroyed by the Jem’Hadar, and Ezri Dax sets off on a desperate mission to find him. The female changeling in charge of the Dominion’s forces in the Alpha Quadrant begins to succumb to the plague that has stricken the Great Link. A weary Damar sinks further into a daze of alcoholism, but is spurred into action by a visit from Gul Dukat. And Captain Sisko finally proposes to Kassidy Yates, although a … [continued]
I was excited, last month, to finally sample one of the best-reviewed new shows of the past several years: Mad Men. No surprise, Steph and I made pretty short work of the 13-episode first season on DVD.
Mad Men depicts the lives of the men and women who work at Sterling Cooper, a Madison Avenue advertising agency in the early 1960′s. It’s a tough business, but one in which the successful have the opportunity to taste great wealth and privilege. It’s also a rapidly changing world, as social mores shift and the concepts of traditional “family values” and the strictly defined roles of men and women begin to adjust.
Mad Men is notable for its sharply-written dialogue and its extraordinary ensemble of actors. Jom Hamm plays the lead character, Don Draper, a enormous success both as an ad man in the office and with the women in his life, although as the season progresses he finds himself struggling to cope with the secrets of his past and to adjust to the new world of the 60′s. The aforementioned women in Don’s life include his wife Betty (January Jones), who is devoted to Don but also beginning to chafe at the edges of her housewife life, and Rachel Menken, one of the few Jewish clients of Sterling Cooper to whom Don finds himself immediately attracted. Much of Mad Men focuses on the hierarchical structure of the Sterling Cooper ad agency. There are the men on top, like Don and Roger Sterling (the absolutely terrific John Slattery, a real stand-out). There are the younger executives beneath them, looking to get ahead in any way that they can. These include Pete Campbell (Vincent Kartheiser), Paul Kinsey (Michael Gladis), Ken Cosgrove (Aaron Stanton), Harry Crane (Rich Sommer) and the head of the design department, Salvatore Romano (Bryan Batt). Then there are the secretaries. The show’s pilot takes us through the first day at work of Don’s new secretary Peggy Olson (Elisabeth Moss, Zoey Bartlet from The West Wing). One of the first people she meets is the queen bee of the office, Joan Holloway (Christina Hendricks, a familiar face to fans of Firefly). The complex interactions between these characters (along with a variety of supporting players and guest stars), each fighting in some way against the confines of his/her job and obligations, each looking for some way to get ahead, and each flawed in his/her own way, make up the meat of the show’s drama.
Of course, along with the talented writers and actors, we must also praise the amazing production team for the great success of the show. From the sets, to the wardrobe, to the hairstyles and make-up, Mad … [continued]
In my review of season one of Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles as well as my review of the season two premiere, I indicated that while there was a lot that I enjoyed about the show, I also felt that it was far from living up to its potential.
Now that season two has drawn to a close with the airing of “Born to Run” this past Friday (which just might turn out to be a SERIES finale, not just a season finale, as the Fox has not yet announced whether it will renew this ratings-challenged show), do I still feel the same way?
There is so much to enjoy about this exploration of the Terminator franchise. The acting is solid, both amongst the main cast (particularly, to my great surprise, 90210‘s Brian Austin Green as Derek Reese, brother to the ill-fated Kyle Reese from the first Terminator film) and a high caliber group of guest actors that includes Richard Schiff (Toby from The West Wing), Dean Winters (Oz, 30 Rock) Stephanie Jacobsen (Battlestar Galactica: Razor) and, in the finale, Joshua Malina (Sports Night, 30 Rock). The action and special effects are terrific, quite consistently impressive for a weekly television series. We got to see a lot of great Terminator-on-Terminator combat, and some exciting peeks into the post-Judgment Day devastated future.
The writers were ambitious in their story-lines, bringing back all sorts of characters and story-threads from the first two Terminator films (the show’s continuity ignores the third one), and taking viewers along on some fascinating explorations of the Terminator world and mythos. I was overjoyed when the very first episode of season two introduced a new liquid metal T-1000 (like Robert Patrick’s fearsome character in T2). That was a development I never expected to see. One of my favorite episodes of the season also had one of the show’s most direct ties to the Terminator films — “The Good Wound,” in which a grievously wounded Sarah Connor hallucinates visions of the long-dead Kyle Reese. I mentioned above that we got some fascinating looks at the post-apocalyptic future that was briefly glimpsed in the two Terminator films, and I loved that the show wasn’t afraid to explore that time-line along with Sarah and John Connor’s adventures in present-day. Stand-outs in this respect would be the episodes “Allison from Palmdale” in which we learned some of the background of Cameron, the female Terminator played by Summer Glau, as well as the really excellent two-part “Today is the Day,” which depicted an ill-fated submarine expedition lead by a Terminator that had been reprogramed by John Connor. Or so everyone thought.
What was … [continued]
I’d been reading about it for months now, so I was very pleased to watch this Sunday’s episode of Family Guy, “Not All Dogs Go to Heaven,” which featured the entire cast of Star Trek: The Next Generation.
The episode opens with the Griffin clan attending a Star Trek convention at the Quahog Convention Center. Unfortunately, this leads to a number of very obvious “Star Trek fans are hapless geek” jokes, which was a little disappointing. In all of the interviews leading up to this episode’s release that I have seen and read, Seth McFarlane and his team seem to genuinely be big fans of Star Trek. There have been a lot of Trek references and jokes (and Next Gen references in particular) on Family Guy even before this episode, many of them quite obscure references that could only be dreamed up by serious fans. (My favorite was the ending of the “Stewie Kills Lois” cliffhanger, with ended with the words “to be continued” reproduced in the exact same font, with the exact same music, as the end of Next Gen‘s season three-ending cliffhanger “The Best of Both Worlds.” How many people in the world got that joke?? Me, I loved it.) Anyways, all of that made it a bit of a let-down to see the writers go for the easy, lazy jokes at the expense of Trek fans in these opening minutes.
Things pick up from there, however, when Stewie — angry that he didn’t get to ask a question of the assembled Trek cast members — constructs a working transporter in his room and beams in the entire Next Gen cast, so that they can spend the day together. The cast are portrayed as amicable but with about the intelligence of a kid Stewie’s age. This leads to some fantastic scenes in which Stewie attempts to corral the hapless gaggle of actors into a trip to a fast food joint and a bowling alley. There are some funny Trek jokes (such as Stewie’s immediate execution of Denise Crosby, whose character Tasha Yar bought it during Next Gen‘s first season; the revelation of what Levar Burton really sees through that visor of his; and Stewie’s inability to properly pronounce Wil Wheaton’s name) mixed with the usual Family Guy style of random lunacy (Patrick Stewart’s refusal to remove his loafers at the bowling alley; Michael Dorn’s insistence on ordering a McDLT).
The other story-line of the episode, in which Meg finds God after watching Kirk Cameron on TV when she’s home sick with the mumps, sounds like a funny idea but in execution I found it to be a bit slow. I kept waiting … [continued]
Last week I waxed poetic about my favorite TV series finales. Today let’s examine the other side of the coin — what I feel are the three WORST series finales that I’ve ever seen!
One quick note, before we begin: St. Elsewhere is renowned for having one of the most ludicrous series finales ever, in which it was revealed that the entire show was just the dream of an autistic child. However, since that wasn’t a show that I ever watched, it’s finale isn’t on my list.
So what is?
The West Wing — “Tomorrow” — I thought the show would be lost after the departure of Aaron Sorkin at the end of season 4, and the limp season 5 didn’t do much to discourage me of that notion. Season 6 started off just as badly, but about halfway through that season the show completely reinvented itself. Suddenly the story focused on the race for the White House, following a variety of characters, new and old, through their involvement in the primaries and, ultimately, in the Presidential election. Not only did this change bring a lot of new energy and intensity to the show, but by moving the show outside the confines of the White House and into new territory, it made it easier for viewers to stop comparing the new episodes to the Sorkin classics. I got really into the show again, and was very excited for the finale to wrap things up in grand style. Sadly, what we got was a tepid, boring hour in which nothing really happened. The much-heralded return of Sam Seaborn (Rob Lowe) turned out to be barely more than a cameo. Many long-running characters and storylines were ignored entirely (Toby doesn’t appear at all?? No resolution to the long-simmering Charlie-Zoey romance?) or handled in an entirely trivial, superficial manner (Gee, President Bartlett sees Charlie as his son? That was obvious ever since the first season!). Most disappointingly, the first episode of season seven had opened with an intriguing “three years later” flash-forward. It had seemed clear to me that the questions raised in that scene would be addressed in a book-end scene at the end of the finale. And yet, nothing! Why include that scene at all in the season premiere if they weren’t going to go anywhere with it? What a let-down.
The X-Files — “The Truth” — Although the show definitely should have ended after the seventh season, when David Duchovny (who played series lead Fox Mulder) left, I’m not one of those fans who thought the final two seasons to be entirely without merit. There were still a lot of great spooky adventures to be had, and I … [continued]
So, it’s over.
I can count on one hand the number of truly great science fiction TV shows. As I look back at Ron Moore’s reimagined Battlestar Galactica, there is no question that this epic tale is high on that list. Seeing the show come to a close is a great loss — although I am comforted to know that in the often-brutal TV marketplace that’s out there, Moore & his team were able to end the show on their own terms, when they felt their story was finished. This is a saga that I am certain I will revisit many times in the year to come.
It is staggering to consider all the little choices that Moore & co. made correctly, right from the beginning, that all came together to make BSG such a masterpiece. The brilliant casting of the enormous ensemble. The decision to forgo most of the Star Trek ideas that were so innovative 30 years ago but that have become such sci-fi cliches over the past four decades (such as aliens with strange foreheads in funky suits, magic transporters, view-screens, a bridge with a big captain’s chair in the middle of it, super-duper shiny computer consoles everywhere… I could go on!) and create a retro look for the show. The fearlessness with which the writers tackled the inherent darkness of the premise — the near-total annihilation of the human race — and all of the logical questions and struggles that would come out of that apocalyptic event. (What will our society be like? Will we have a government? Courts? Freedom of the press? Where will we get fuel, or food, or water? What happens when we start running out of supplies like medicine, or toothpaste? Who will be in control, the military or the civilians?) And finally, the choice to center the stories not in sci-fi mysteries (no time-travel, no alternate universes, no weird astrological phenomena to investigate, no aliens to make contact with) but in characters. There were no cardboard cut-outs, perfectly moral characters to be found on this show. No, everyone (even the robots!) were completely human — flawed, imperfect, and capable of making terrible decisions (even our most heroic characters!).
The show has made some mis-steps over the course of its run, there’s no question about that. I, for one, felt that it nearly lost its way in the latter half of season 2, after the Pegasus three-parter concluded. There were a couple of stand-alone episodes there that were weak in the extreme, particularly the notoriously terrible “Black Market” (by the way, if you haven’t heard it, Ron Moore’s brutally honest mea culpa podcast for that episode is a must-listen). But as I … [continued]
The great Battlestar Galactica saga comes to an end, tomorrow. I am trying to be brave! In preparation, I have been thinking about some of my favorite series finales. Click here to see numbers 10-6.
5. Arrested Development — “Development, Arrested” — Cut down before its time, creator Mitch Hurwitz and co. at least had enough notice to be able to craft a fantastic finale. Structured to echo the events of the pilot (I love it when series finales bring things full circle like that), it’s another momentous party-boat ride for the Bluth Clan. Young George Michael confronts his feelings about his cousin Maeby (Michael: “How long has this been going on?” George Michael: “I don’t know… about 53 weeks?”). Lindsay stresses about getting older (“I’m going to be 40 in three years!” Michael: ”You know, being twins, our birthdays are pretty close to one another…”). Tobias… well, remains Tobias (“Perhaps I should call the hot cops and tell them to come up with something more nautically themed. Hot Sailors. Better yet, hot se–” Michael, interrupting: “I like hot sailors!” Tobias: “Me too.”). And many, many long-running jokes are revisited (“Ann.” — “Her?” – “That was a freebie” — “I think I’ve made a terrible mistake” — “Annyong!”) You might have noticed yesterday in part 1 of this list that I focused a lot on the final scene as the true measure of a series finale’s worth. No surprise, the geniuses behind this show bring it all home in a note-perfect epilogue, in which Maeby attempts to sell the Bluth family story to Ron Howard (who was, of course, the narrator of the show for its entire run). Says Howard: “I don’t see this as a series. Maybe… a movie?” We can only hope!!
4. The Wire — “-30-” – As the fifth and final season of The Wire unfolded, I was petrified as to what would happen, in the end, to all of the beloved, damaged characters on this take-no-prisoners show. Would ANYONE get a happy ending?? Somehow this finale managed to bring proper closure to almost every member of this amazing, one-of-a-kind sprawling ensemble cast. Without breaking from the tough, down-beat tone of the series, I still felt throughly satisfied with where everyone wound up — quite a feat. This episode is filled with all of the intensity and emotion that made this series such a powerhouse. In particular, the Irish wake for one of our good friends was a profoundly effecting scene. And the final montage of life in Baltimore? Phenomenal. Makes one want to watch the entire series through again.
3. Quantum Leap — “Mirror Image” – To be honest, while I really enjoy Quantum Leap… [continued]
As I prepare for this weekend’s series finale of Battlestar Galactica (and contemplate life without that brilliant show, one of the greatest of the last two decades), I’ve been thinking about some of the great series finales of the recent past. Here are some of my favorites, counting down from ten!
10. Cheers — “One For the Road” – Diane Chambers (Shelly Long) returns in an attempt to re-kindle her romance with Sam (Ted Danson) in this extra-long finale. To be honest, it’s been years since I’ve seen this one, but my recollection is of really enjoying it. Bringing back Shelly Long, who was pretty much the star of the show (along with Danson) for the first half of its run, was a brilliant idea. And the final scene is perfect — Sam waving away a customer while saying “sorry, we’re closed.” Sniff!
9. Star Trek: Deep Space Nine — “What You Leave Behind” — I am giving props here to the entire 10-hour, 9-episode “final chapter” of this, the greatest of the Star Trek series. The show finally becomes what it has always flirted with: a true serial, as seven seasons worth of storylines come to fruition over the course of this magnificent final epic run of episodes. The Dominion War escalates, a secret section of Starfleet’s complicity in attempted genocide is revealed, and Captain Benjamin Sisko must finally fulfill his destiny as Emissary of the Prophets (a story thread begun in the series’ pilot episode). The show was notable for its enormous cast of recurring characters, and everyone gets his/her due here (with quite a number of popular characters meeting their demise!). The show gets bumped down a bit on my list because the actual final two-hour episode isn’t quite as great as the episodes leading up to it (it looks like they used up their special effects budget, as one of the major battle sequences is composed almost entirely of recycled footage, something that eagle-eyed fans like me noticed). Still, the melancholy tone (so unusual for a Trek series) and the sad, final shot of Jake Sisko looking out the window for his lost father as the camera pulls back and the station slowly fades away into the blackness of space is just perfection.
8. Justice League Unlimited – “Destroyer” — Classic DC Comics villain Darkseid launches a full-scale invasion of Earth, and even the combined might of practically every character (hero & villain) who ever appeared on this amazing animated show are powerless to stop him. In an epic battle atop the ruins of the Daily Planet building, Superman ultimately falls before the might of Darkseid. (That sequence, by the way, is a showcase for the … [continued]
Last week I wrote about the terrific new soundtrack collection of music from the early episodes of Batman: The Animated Series. That got me reminiscing about that amazing cartoon series, and so of course I busted out my DVDs to enjoy a few episodes.
Several few years back, I was rather shocked to discover that one of my good friends who dug comics had never gotten into Batman: TAS. So I put together a collection for her of several of my favorite episodes — everything I could squeeze onto one VHS tape. A few days ago I happened to stumble across the list of the episodes I’d selected (yes, I save everything), and I thought I’d share it with you all.
So what follows are some of the best half-hours of animated television you’re ever going to find, and also among the most perfect non-comic book depictions of Batman. If you’ve got these episodes on DVD or on tape, then dust ‘em off and give ‘em a watching! If you don’t, then go out and find a friend who does!!
1. The Demon’s Quest , Parts I & II — Batman traces a criminal conspiracy across the globe, in an effort to locate a kidnapped Robin. Liam Neeson was fine in Batman Begins, but if you want to see the REAL Ra’s Al Ghul, check out this version, voiced by the incomparable David Warner (Time Bandits, Star Trek VI).
2. I Am The Night — A depressed and disillusioned Batman goes into an emotional tailspin when Commissioner Gordon is shot during a botched stake-out.
3. It’s Never Too Late — There are no supervillains to be found in this episode — it’s just a small, personal story about an aging mobster’s fall from grace. This is why this series is awesome.
4. Robin’s Reckoning, Parts I & II — Perhaps the series’ finest hour. Batman and Robin’s relationship is strained to the breaking point when the man responsible for the murder of Robin’s parents returns to Gotham City.
5. Legends of the Dark Knight — This episode pays homage to some of the most iconic comic book depictions of Batman over the years, from Dick Sprang’s Batman of the ’50s to Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns from the ’80s.
6. Mad Love — A disturbing examination of the twisted relationship between the Joker and his “hench-wench,” Harley Quinn. Plus, Harley asks the Joker the question that comic fans have been wondering about for over 50 years.
7. You Scratch My Back — I really enjoyed how, over the life of the series, we saw a noticeable passage of time. This episode from late in … [continued]
With Battlestar Galactica, Scrubs, 24, and now Lost all returning to life within the past two weeks, I feel like this year’s TV season has finally gotten underway!
Wednesday night saw the airing of the first two new episodes of Lost in quite some time: ”Because You Left” and “The Lie.” Typical of a Lost season-opener, it began with a totally unexpected and bizarre scene: Dr. Marvin Candle (or Edgar Halliwax, or Pierre Chang — this man has gone by a different name every time we’ve seen him!) recording another Dharma instructional video and being interrupted by the discovery of the power source (and giant wooden wheel) at the heart of the Island. What a great way to dive right back into the weirdness that is Lost!
I’ve been wondering for a while whether the Dharma videos that have been popping up every now and then are real insights into what the Dharma Initiative was up to, or if somehow they’re just a put-on, to distract from whatever was REALLY going on. At first, when we see Candle/Chang being recorded in this year’s opening, it looks very much like he’s sitting on a set, leading one to suspect that my initial idea is correct. But then he seems genuinely concerned about the potential danger of the energy source discovered, so that would seem to indicate that the Dharma folks really WERE investigating all the weirdness of the island (including time-traveling bunnies). SO I remain uncertain on this issue. But intrigued!
There were a lot of balls in the air, story-wise, in these two episodes. I was fascinated, and also a little nervous, by the distinct sci-fi elements of the story: that is, time-travel. Time-travel is a tricky, tricky thing. It has become a most over-used story device in sci-fi/fantasy TV shows and movies, and it is very tricky to tell a time-travel story properly. The jury is still out as to how this time-travel story will shake out on Lost. While one might not have predicted all the craziness on display in this season premiere, attentive viewers knew that this sort of time-travel story was on the horizon. We’d already been introduced to Desmond’s mis-adventures through time, and the mysterious importance of finding one’s “constant” to keep from becoming unglued in time… and we’d also seen Faraday discover some sort of time-differential between the Island and its surroundings. So clearly some time is not always quite linear on Lost.
I am excited to see these background story-elements get pushed front-and-center. (As we enter the penultimate season, we need to have some of these long-running mysteries addressed and solved.) But so far, as usual with Lost, I have far … [continued]
Today we continue my list of the 10 best things I saw on TV in 2008! (Click here to read yesterday’s installment, listing numbers 10-6 and several honorable mentions, if you missed it.)
5. Battlestar Galactica: “The Hub” (season 4, episode 9, aired on 6/6/08). Trapped on a Cyclon basestar with Gaius Baltar, cancer-stricken President Laura Roslin begins seeing visions of her long-dead friend (who bought it on Kobol in season 2) Elosha, and Helo is given an order that puts him at odds with his conscience (as well as his Cylon wife). In one of my favorite moments of the entire fourth season, Baltar attempts to preach to a mechanical Cylon Centurian. But the emotional climax of the episode comes at the end, when Roslin must decide whether to let Baltar, who she now knows to be responsible for the genocidal Cylon attack on the Twelve Colonies that nearly eradicated humaity, bleed out and die. In any other show we’d be certain that, by the end of the episode, she’d “do the right thing” and let him live. In Battlestar Galactica, in which there are never any easy answers or easy decisions, the result is terrific suspense and gripping character drama of the best kind.
4. 30 Rock: “Believe in the Stars” (season 3, episode 2, aired on 11/6/08). 30 Rock has made great use of some phenomenal guest stars in the past (Steve Martin, Jennifer Aniston, Carrie Fisher, Paul Reubens, Isabella Rossellini, Edie Falco, Matthew Broderick, Will Arnett, Rip Torn, and so many others), but Liz Lemon’s hilarious plane ride seated next to Oprah Winfrey takes the cake. That story-line alone would make this episode a winner, but there is so much more fun to be had as Jack puts Kenneth’s country-boy morality to the test and Tracy and Jenna begin a bizarre social experiment in order to see who has it harder in America: blacks or women. Best line of the episode comes from Tracy: ”I watched Boston Legal nine times before I realized it wasn’t a new Star Trek!”
3. Robot Chicken Star Wars Special: Episode II (aired on 11/16/08). I’m not sure what more can be said that I didn’t already cover in my initial review of this special on 11/24/08. For 22 gut-busting minutes the Robot Chicken gang mercilessly skewer all six Star Wars films in their second Star Wars special. The jokes are delightfully random, from the House parody “Dr. Ball, M.D.” (“she lost the will to live? What is your degree in, poetry??”) to the Cantina Band’s attempt to pitch a commercial jingle (“it works better as an instrumental”), to an awkward meal on Cloud City (Leah to … [continued]
Hi everyone! Welcome to the first of my four “Best of 2008″ lists. In the coming days I’ll be sharing my Top 10 Movies, Top 10 DVDs, and Top 10 Comic Books of 2008. Today we kick things off with my 10 absolute favorite things televised during 2008, starting with some honorable mentions and then counting down from number 10. (Special thanks to TV.com for helping me to find all the original air-dates!)
Honorable Mention #1 — Battlestar Galactica: “Revelations” (season 4, episode 10, aired on 6/13/08). Plotlines converge in this mid-season finale as the Cylons and the Colonial Fleet race to discover the location of Earth. There’s been a lot of discussion, over the brutally long hiatus, about the Planet of the Apes ending, but for me it all comes down to the nail-biter of a scene in which Lee Adama orders Colonel Tigh, now revealed as a Cyclon, into an airlock for his execution. (Why isn’t this in my top 10 list? I just wasn’t wowed by the “surprise” ending.)
Honorable Mention #2 — The Office: “Goodbye, Toby” (season 4, episode 14, aired on 5/15/08). Michael is so excited by the imminent departure of his “nemesis,” the sad-sack Toby Flenderson, that he commands his party-planning committee to throw the greatest celebration the Dunder Mifflin office has ever seen. The Jim-Pam story is a bit of a downer, but guest Star Amy Ryan (The Wire) positively killed, and her storyline, in which she becomes convinced that Kevin is mentally challenged, is pure genius. (Why isn’t this in my top 10 list? The Jim-Pam story felt too much like a writers’ device to keep their relationship from moving forward.)
OK, and now here’s the top 10:
10. Terminator: the Sarah Connor Chronicles: “The Demon Hand” (season 1, episode 7, aired on 2/25/08). Would that every episode of this uneven show were as good as this one. In a surprising move, the show reprises a number of storylines and characters from James Cameron’s T2, including psychologist Dr. Silberman (played here by the terrific Bruce Davison). Sarah and John Connor struggle with her guilt and his anger over her seeming abandonment of him during the years when she was institutionalized, and Agent James Ellison (Richard T. Jones), the Jean Valjean of the show, confronts powerful evidence that everything he thought he believed about Sarah Connor might be wrong. Great drama, great action, great exploration of the Terminator mythos. I loved it.
9. Battlestar Galactica: “The Ties That Bind” (season 4, episode 3, aired on 4/18/08). Lee Adama, now out of the military and serving as a member of the governing Quorum of Twelve, must decide how far his loyalty … [continued]
It has been a long, long wait for the Sci-Fi Channel to begin airing the final 10 episodes of Battlestar Galactica. (The first ten episodes of BSG’s fourth season aired from April 4th through June 13th, 2008.) At last, this past Friday, the wait was over.
For any of you who haven’t been following this spectacular series (without a doubt one of the best shows currently on television), Battlestar Galactica is a “reimagining” of the classic (yet, let’s admit it, also pretty unwatchable) series that lasted one season in 1978. Galactica follows the last survivors of humanity (the military folk on the Battlestar Galactica and a rag-tag fleet of civilian survivors), following the annihilation of the Twelve Colonies of the human race by the robotic Cylons. In one of the great reversals of standard heroic television & movie behavior, the series began with the humans deciding to flee the Cylons, rather than stay and fight to the last man. Of course, things weren’t quite that easy. Over the course of the series we have seen the men and women of the Galactica struggle to survive, and to keep some semblance of human civilization together, in the face of crises and horror at every turn. To say the show is gripping would be an understatement of the highest order.
The latest episode, “Sometimes a Great Notion,” picks up with the crew of Galactica at their breaking point. Having been searching for so long for the salvation they thought the fabled “Earth” would bring, in last year’s cliffhanger they finally found Earth — only to discover it was a wasteland (having suffered the same fate of nuclear annihilation as did their Twelve Colonies). This year’s premiere doesn’t contain any action-adventure whatsoever. Rather, the show takes an unflinching look at the reactions of all of the show’s characters to this crushing disappointment. Most of them do not react well.
One of my favorite things about BSG is the way the characters in the show are always depicted as real people, with real human failings. I have seen plenty of sci-fi adventure shows in which we see heroic characters always making the right decisions. Not BSG. “Sometimes a Great Notion” is a prime example of that.
Spoilers from here on out, gang, so if you haven’t seen this episode yet I suggest you move on.
The biggest shock of the episode came from the suicide of Dualla. I was totally caught off guard by this moment. Dee has been in the show since the mini-series, and she was always one of the sweetest characters on the show. It was a total shock to see her fire that gun (particularly since the few … [continued]
Not to distract anyone’s attention from MotionPicturesComics.com, but I wanted to point out to y’all that Drew McWeeny, one of my favorite writers over the years at Aintitcoolnews.com, is now writing for HitFix.com and his blog (about movies, DVD, and lots of other fun, related stuff) is definitely worth checking out. I’ve always enjoyed Drew’s writing over the years (he was known as “Moriarty” over on AICN), particularly his articles on all of the many many DVDs that he watches. Those DVD pieces, in particular, were among my inspirations when I started this blog.
McWeeny’s new blog attracted a lot of attention last week when he posted a lengthy open letter from one of the producers of Watchmen about the on-going litigation between Warner Brothers and 20th Century Fox over the film (and Fox’s attempts to stop Warners from opening the film as scheduled in March). If you are at all interested in this story, you should click on that link and read this fascinating letter. Another recent post of interest drew my attention to a phenomenal evisceration of Ben Stein’s recent “documentary” Expelled (if you haven’t heard about this film, it’s a defense of creationism and an attack on the theory of evolution) by none other than famous film critic Roger Ebert. This is an older article (Expelled was released last year), but it is a terrific read.
But enough of all that — let’s talk about the first four hours of 24‘s much-delayed seventh season (it was supposed to have launched LAST YEAR at this time, but was scuttled by the writers’ strike), which premiered on Sunday and Monday nights.
I have made no secret of my opinion that, for some time now (since, oh, I’d say about season four) 24 has been crying out for a total reinvention. Keep Jack, keep the adrenaline-pumping real-time format, but start telling some entirely different types of adventures. For too long now, 24 has been telling the same types of stories over and over and over again, usually involving some variation on the following themes: a terrorist captures someone and forces them to help with a nefarious plan… Jack tortures someone for information… there’s a lot of technical talk about access codes and opening sockets and someone gaining access to a weapon or a code or a piece of equipment that they can use to menace the United States… Jack winds up on his own with no one to trust, because there’s a mole or multiple moles in the government agencies trying to stop the bad guys… and meanwhile there’s a lot of intrigue in Washington involving the President trying to make some big decisions about important world … [continued]
One of the first full-season-of-a-TV-show DVD sets that I ever purchased was Season 1 of The Larry Sanders Show, released back in 2003.
After having risen to prominence as a stand-up comedian in the 1970′s & 80’s, Garry Shandling became a fixture of late-night television as a regular guest host for Johnny Carson on The Tonight Show. In 1985 he created It’s Garry Shandling’s Show, which ran on Showtime through 1990. (I have heard that It’s Garry Shandling’s Show is a magnificently bizarre, surreal adventure in television, although I have never seen a minute of it. I live in hope of an eventual DVD release!)
In 1992 Shandling created The Larry Sanders Show for HBO. Sanders was a sharp satire of the world of late-night comedy which Shandling knew so well, and was notable for including various celebrities (actors, comedians, and musicians) in each episode, poking great amounts of fun at their public personas. The show was also notable for its look, which mixed footage shot on video (the segments of the show which chronicled Larry Sanders’ late-night talk-show) with footage shot on film. Nothing like this had ever been done for television before.
The comedy is powerful and brutal, and revels in awkward moments and painful situations. (In this way it can be seen as a direct forerunner of the original British version of The Office.) And yet, the beauty of the show is that you can’t help but fall in love with the show’s central trio: the neurotic Larry Sanders, the clue-less and self-absorbed side-kick Hank, and the fiercely loyal and astonishingly profane Artie, the show’s producer. A great number of talented comedians and actors also did great work in supporting roles: Janeane Garofalo, Penny Johnson (Sherry Palmer on 24 and Kassidy Yates on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine), Jeremy Piven (Entourage), Mary Lynn Rajskub (Chloe on 24), Sarah Silverman, Bob Odenkirk, Scott Thompson, Wallace Langham, and many many others.
I discovered The Larry Sanders Show fairly late in its run. My parents taped many of the episodes of the last few seasons for me when I was away at college. So I was thrilled when Season 1 was released, as I finally had a chance to watch the earlier episodes that I had never seen. I quickly devoured the 13 episodes on the set, and waited patiently for the release of season 2.
No other season of The Larry Sanders Show has ever been released on DVD. The information I have been able to find on-line seems to indicate that there is an issue with the exorbitant cost of licensing all the music featured on the show.… [continued]
I suppose I have high standards for the TV shows that I watch. Is that a bad thing? I don’t watch TV casually. I don’t sit down and flip around to find something that looks interesting. There are a bunch of shows that I watch, and I watch them religiously — every week, every episode. That’s how I watch TV.
Why am I talking about this?
Well, I decided last week that I think I’m done with Heroes.
Much has been written in the past few months about the show’s creative decline. Entertainment Weekly wrote a scathing cover story about the show’s woeful third season, and (possibly in response) two of the show’s head writers (co-executive producers Jeph Loeb and Jesse Alexander) were unceremoniously canned.
I certainly agree that the third season has been dreadful. But let’s be honest with ourselves — the show was never really that good to begin with.
I resisted watching Heroes throughout its entire smash-hit first season. There was something about the show, from all that I had seen and read, that just seemed off to me. I got the sense that the show’s creators were a little embarrassed that the show was about super-heroes. Sort of the way J.J. Abrams seems to be trying to get non-Star Trek fans to go to his new Star Trek movie by proclaiming to everyone that he’s not a Star Trek fan, I read a lot of interviews and articles where the Heroes cast and crew kept saying, “come watch us, we’re not just about tights and spandex, we’re really a drama!” or “we’re really a character study!” or “we’re really a mystery!” or something else like that.
But when the first season came out on DVD, after so many people I knew encouraged me to give it a try, I finally gave in. And I must admit there was something there in that first year. The show was silly and astoundingly derivative (of other movies, of other TV shows, and especially of LOTS of great comic book stories), but there was still a goodly amount of entertainment to be found. I enjoyed the continuity — the cliffhangers that ended each episode were fun, and it was neat how the season really attempted to tell one long, interlocking story. And the production values were, for the most part, pretty impressive for a weekly TV series. We got to see a lot more super-hero action than I had expected.
But the holes started to show even towards the end of that season. Much has been made of the first season finale, which many felt was anticlimactic after all that had been built up over the … [continued]
When the new TV-movie 24: Redemption begins, television super-hero Jack Bauer is in Africa, helping out at a school for orphans and trying to avoid a subpoena that would summon him back to the States. However, this being 24, it isn’t long before a perfect storm of evil warlords, conniving businessmen, and some pretty bad luck result in Jack being stuck in the middle of a coup, determined to protect the school’s kids and get them safely to the American embassy.
And, hey, I sort of remember why I used to like 24 so much, back in the day!
For the record, my position on 24 is as follows: the first two seasons were pretty much genius (except for the occasional stupidity with amnesia and Kim Bauer in jeopardy); the first half of season 3 (Jack Bauer fighting drug lords in Mexico) was dumb, but the second half (which, as I recall, dealt with the potential release of a horrible toxin) was better; season 4 started off great with some interesting new characters (“Behrooooz!!”) but quickly got bogged down in ridiculousness; season five was pretty much the same; and season six was, for me, just unwatchable.
But this new installment is pretty entertaining. Not phenomenal, mind you, but better than 24 has been for years.
The story is stripped down — gone are almost every familiar character and location. This enables the writers to jettison all of the baggage of the last several seasons and concentrate on telling a tight, exciting story — Jack’s mission to protect the kids and get them to the embassy. It’s a very linear action-adventure. (The only two characters other than Jack who we’ve seen before are Powers Boothe as President Daniels, on his last day in office, and Peter MacNicol as his advisor Tom Lennox. Frankly, I wish the writers had gone all the way and gotten rid of these two characters as well. First of all they remind me of annoying past storylines that are far-better forgotten. Secondly, both play one-note, unlikable characters. Its good to have villains, but that’s not these guys.)
Wait, I was talking about what I liked! Robert Carlyle does some great work as Jack’s old friend Carl Benton. Its nice to see another character on 24 who is as capable and heroic as Jack. I liked seeing Tony Todd (Worf’s brother Kurn from Star Trek: The Next Generation), although he has a very small role here as the evil Colonel Juma. Hakeem Kae-Kazim gets a lot more time on-screen as the Colonel’s right-hand man, and he’s a lot of fun to watch. Note to Powers Boothe: this is how you play a villain — … [continued]
I’ve seen some very funny movies in the theatres lately, but let me tell you about the two best pieces of entertainment that I’ve seen this week:
Sold Out: A Threevening With Kevin Smith — Back in 2002, film-maker Kevin Smith (Clerks, Mallrats, Chasing Amy, etc…) released a two-DVD compilation of the best moments of five lengthy Q & A sessions he had held at various college campuses. This little slice of comic genius was called An Evening With Kevin Smith. It is a raucous, profane, and relentlessly entertaining four hours spent learning FAR more than you probably ever wanted to know about Kevin Smith’s life, career, show-biz interactions, and sexual habits. The kids ask Smith questions on all sorts of topics, and he answers with surprising honesty and brilliant humor. The man is a spectacular story-teller. There are so many gems to be found on this DVD set (one of the most-watched in my large DVD collection), but my two favorites concern Smith’s experiences filming documentary footage for Prince (“Chaka mad? Chaka real mad!”), and his lengthy tale of the year he spent, in the late 90′s, working on a Superman movie script for Warner Brothers. In addition to being one of the funniest stories I have ever heard (as Smith goes into painful, hilarious detail of the ins and outs of trying to get the relaunch made in crazy Hollywoodland), that tale also serves to explain (to me, at least) why so many big-budget Hollywood movies wind up being so awful. Oh, and the epilogue to the story, about Smith’s public fight with Tim Burton, is a classic as well. Oh, OK, and I must also mention the tale of Smith’s first hook-up with the woman who would become his wife. This story might sound innocuous, but it has to be heard to be believed. (Remember what I wrote before about Smith’s honesty? Let’s just say that it is on full display here.)
In 2006, Smith released An Evening With Kevin Smith 2: Evening Harder. While bearing a phenomenal title, this set contained footage from just two Q & A shows, and as a result it was a bit weaker. (There was less material to draw from.) However, that’s not to say that there’s not a lot of fun to be had. The discussion of Jason Mewes’ “half-half-whole” technique (which I will not explain any further here) in particular is a winner, and left me anticipating the hopeful future release of a third DVD set.
Which brings us to Threevening. This double-DVD contains footage from just one show, but it’s a doozy: Kevin Smith’s celebration of his 37th birthday with an almost … [continued]
After much debate, I decided to skip the animated Star Wars Clone Wars movie that was released to theaters in late August. It is almost unimaginable to me that I wouldn’t rush out to see a new Star Wars ANYTHING on the big screen. But as I read bad review after bad review, claiming that the Clone Wars movie was chock-full of all the worst aspects of the prequels — stupid, juvenile jokes, wooden characters, etc. — that, in short, it was a movie clearly made for KIDS and not adults, I decided to pass. Why go see something that it was certain I’d hate?
When the Clone Wars TV series began this past week, I again had a decision to make. Should I tune in? (You see, the Clone Wars movie was the first three episodes of this new show edited together. It was really just a splashy launch for the new, half-hour weekly animated show.) But this time, the decision was much easier. These shows were on TV — it was free, after all, and if they stunk I could always turn them off.
So I checked out the first two episodes, which Cartoon Network aired back-to-back. Things started off strong with the first episode, “Ambush.” Yoda and a group of clone troopers head to the planet Toyndaria (the species to which Watto of Episode I belongs) to negotiate for permission to construct a Republic military base. Of course, Count Dooku and the separatists are interested in the planet as well, and Yoda and three clone troopers quickly find themselves on the run from a horde of Battle Droids. This was a solid episode — very fast-paced, with a ton of great Yoda-vs-droid action, and surprisingly good characterization for Yoda, Dooku, and the clones and Toyndarians. With almost no human characters to be found, this episode also showcased what the computer animation does best — droids, ships, and actions. (As became apparent in the second episode, the animation of humans is rather weaker, displaying a lot of the same problems seen back in the first Toy Story movie — the humans wind up looking rubbery and weird.)
The second episode, “Rising Malevolence,” reintroduces us to many of our familiar characters — Anakin Skywalker is the focus, but we also see R2D2, Obi-Wan, Mace Windu, and others. Anakin and his padawan apprentice Ahsoka (a young girl apparently introduced in the Clone War movie — and how young Anakin has a padawan of his own is a mystery to me) investigate a new ultimate weapon that Dooku and General Grievous are testing. We also spend time with Jedi Knight Plo Koon (a character seen but not given much to do … [continued]
I love sci-fi. Movies, TV shows, novels, comics, whatever. If its sci-fi, I’m interested.
I’m also a big fan of J.J. Abrams. Not of everything he’s done, mind you. (I certainly was never interested in Felicity, and despite sampling episodes during each of the five seasons of its run I just could never get into Alias.) But I adore Lost, and I also really enjoyed Mission Impossible III (which Abrams directed) and Cloverfield (which he produced).
And so it was that I tuned in to the first two hours of J.J. Abrams’ new series, Fringe.
Its been getting a lot of hype, so most of you probably know what its about, but just in case: the series features an FBI agent named Olivia Dunham (Anna Torv) who, during the circumstances of the pilot, finds herself paired up with sort-of-sketchy Peter Bishop (Joshua Jackson) and his kooky-but-brilliant father, Dr. Walter Bishop (John Noble, who played Denethor in The Return of The King). Together, they investigate all sorts of strange and paranormal events, which have been nicknamed “the pattern.”
Abrams, along with writers & executive producers Roberto Orci & Alex Kurtzman (who together wrote Transformers and the script for the upcoming Star Trek re-launch, which is being directed by Abrams), have stated that, in creating this show, they were inspired by Robin Cook’s Coma, Twin Peaks, Real Genius, and Croenberg’s The Fly among other things…but if you think the description (a male and a female investigate paranormal phenomenal) sounds a lot like The X-Files, you’re not alone. Now, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. The X-Files was great, so more television like that would be OK in my book. But for Fringe to be enjoyable it would need to re-create some of what made the X-Files so enjoyable, while at the same time being new and different enough that viewers won’t feel “been there, done that.”
So does Fringe succeed in that?
While I really wanted to like it, I must say that, so far (I’ve seen the first two episodes that have aired), it doesn’t. The lead actors are all likeable, and there’s an interesting dynamic between them. But so far they don’t have a lot of life — they’re more vehicles for the weird, paranormal stories than they are interesting, three-dimensional characters in their own right. Which is fine — but I can’t help but think back to our first glimpses of Special Agents Fox Mulder and Dana Scully in the pilot of The X-Files (it helps that I’ve recently re-watched the first season of the show, as I wrote about here a few weeks back). They both seemed so REAL, … [continued]
Since I decided to write an in-depth dissertation on Season 1 of Terminator: The Sarah Chronicles a couple of weeks ago (back on August 29th), it seems like I also should weigh in on the season premiere that aired this past Monday.
Over-all, it was a lot of fun — although since so much of the episode was SO good, the few parts of the show that were dumb were VERY annoying.
What did I enjoy? The episode was INTENSE — right from the terrific opening sequence, picking up seconds after the end of season one’s finale, the show never stopped until the final moments. Cameron, the Terminator protector played by Summer Glau, has had her control chip damaged, and she reverts to her primary programming: kill John Connor. That was a great twist, turning the dynamic of the show on its ear. There was some great action — several sequences with various cars and trucks getting mangled really were exciting. Most of all, I really liked the DESPERATION of Sarah and John in this episode. They were alone, injured, and on the run from an unstoppable Terminator for almost the entire hour. I liked how everything they tried, until the end, failed to work. About half-way through the show they’re able to knock Cameron out with an electrical surge, and John tries to pry open the panel in her head to remove her chip which, as we saw in other first season episodes (and in the extended version of T2), would shut her down. Watching that, I thought — oh, so that’s how they’ll make Cameron a good guy again, that’s sort of lame — but IT DIDN’T WORK, and Cameron gets right back up and begins chasing John again. That was a nice surprise.
Props to Summer Glau. In some respects, as enjoyable as I’ve always found her to be, she has sort of played variations on the same not-quite-human character in Firefly, The 4400, and now in Terminator. But her protrayal of the now-evil, damaged Terminator in this episode was really impressive. Watch the way she moves — so different from the stealthy, lithe model she had been portraying in season one. She really created a different character. And she was scary. Very impressive.
I should also add that I was really excited to see a new, somewhat familiar character be introduced in the closing moments of the show. A GREAT introductory scene. I really can’t wait to see where that goes.
So what didn’t I like? Well, I mentioned above that I enjoyed Sarah and John’s desperation in this episode — alone and on the run. Part of what contributed … [continued]
I love movies, and I love watching movies on DVD in the comfort of my own home. Here are some of the great DVDs I’ve watched recently:
Heist and State and Main — I’m in the midst of a sort of David Mamet retrospective, tearing through a number of his earlier works, many of which I haven’t seen in years! I’ll be writing a more detailed piece about my journey into Mamet-world in a few weeks, so keep your eyes open for that. Next up, I’ll be watching Spartan (which I’ve only seen once and am eager to revisit) and The Spanish Prisoner (possibly my favorite Mamet film after the incomparable Glengarry Glenn Ross. ”Will you go to lunch?!!”)
Wonder Boys — What a masterpiece. Having just completed the summer of Robert Downey Jr. (in Iron Man and Tropic Thunder), it was a lot of fun to re-watch his magnificent turn in this film. Tobey Maquire is also great, as a talented but rather messed-up youngster. (Its sort of bizarre to watch Maguire and Downey Jr. in this film, having seen them together in one of the fake trailers that preceded Tropic Thunder. If you’ve seen it, you know exactly which one I mean!) The always terrific Frances McDormand is quietly touching as the university chancellor torn between two men. But this film belongs to Michael Douglas. He plays college professor Grady Tripp, a man who once wrote an extraordinarily successful first novel and has seen his life slowly crumble as he has struggled, over many many years, to write a follow-up. Wonder Boys is a coming-of-age story — for Maguire’s character, and also for Douglas’ Grady. Its a rare movie that can balance deep laughs and powerful poignancy, and Wonder Boys just nails it. I give director Curtis Hanson a lot of credit for that, as well as Steve Kloves for the sharp screenplay. This movie sits next to Igby Goes Down on my DVD shelf. The two films have a lot of similarities, both in terms of tone as well as the themes explored. If you’ve seen and enjoyed Wonder Boys but have never seen Igby, I encourage you to check it out.
City Slickers — Boy, I haven’t seen this movie in YEARS! I remember going to see the sequel, The Legend of Curly’s Gold, in theatres when it came out and being so disappointed that I don’t think I ever watched the original again. The film is a bit dated — its not quite as timeless as When Harry Met Sally — but it was a lot of fun to return to Billy Crystal’s little ode to suburban men looking … [continued]
Its always fun to be watching an old episode of a favorite TV show and spot a great guest star actor you’d never realized was there before. This happened twice to me recently.
I was watching an old episode from the first season of The X-Files called “Shapes.” Its about cowboys, Indians, and werewolves. Its a decent first season episode — solid, but nothing spectacular. But, even though I’d seen this episode a few times before, I was startled to notice that one of the cowboys was played by Donnelly Rhodes, none other than Doc Cottle on Battlestar Galactica! He looked totally different — in this X-Files episode he was all decked out in cowboy gear, with grey whiskers — but that gravelly voice was unmistakable.
The same thing happened only a day later. I was watching an old Star Trek: Deep Space Nine episode called “Shakaar.” It’s a third season episode that introduces us to several of Kira’s old chums from the Bajoran resistance movement (including their leader, Shakaar). In the course of this episode, Kira and her old mates wind up taking up arms again, and find themselves pursued by other Bajorans — lead by a tough general named Lenaris Holem. Now, I’ve seen this episode many many times before — but not since having devoured all five seasons of The Wire last year. And so it was with delight that I realized that General Lenaris was played by John Doman — Rawls himself! (According to imdb, its one of his earliest film credits.)
Who knew?… [continued]
Most of the sci-fi franchises that I grew up loving haven’t been doing too hot this past decade. The lame AvP movies. The disappointing Star Wars prequels. And there hasn’t been any truly great Star Trek around since Deep Space Nine (by far the best series of the franchise) went off the air back in 1999.
So it was with some trepidation that I approached The Sarah Connor Chronicles. I caught a bunch of the episodes last spring, and this week watched (in pretty short order), all nine episodes now available on DVD. My reaction? Well….sort of middle-of-the-road. Actually, I feel about this series almost exactly the same way that I felt about the third, James Cameron-free Terminator film: there’s a lot to enjoy, and it wasn’t nearly as bad as I’d feared, although its still a long way from the brilliance of the first two films.
The series starts off with a bang, with a cool apocalyptic vision of what will happen if Sarah and John fail to stop all the robots — nuclear armageddon, with a metallic Terminator robot, wreathed in flames, choking the life out of Sarah after having just shot John. Of course, its just a dream — but its a pretty great way to kick off the series. Not only does the sequence clearly remind the audience of what the stakes are, but its also a chance for the show to showcase some pretty snazzy effects. I was rather impressed with the visuals throughout the first season — there’s a lot of great action stunt work (car chases, Terminator battles, etc.), and the show is able to show the fully robotic Terminators (as opposed to the ones clothed in flesh that can be played by an actor without special effects) a lot more often, and more convincingly, than I’d expected. (I have no way of knowing, but I wonder if the show’s effects artists haven’t been able to capitalize on the groundbreaking work in this area done by the folks over at Battlestar Galactica. They’ve been able to beautifully incorporate the full metal “toasters” into their live action shots for years now.)
Unfortunately, after the kick-off, things slowed down for the next several episodes. We spend time with a computer programmer Andy Goode, whose chess-playing computer nicknamed “the Turk” may or may not be a first step on the road to Skynet…and with John and Cameron (his female Terminator protector, played by Summer Glau from Firefly) in school…and none of that really held my interest. While there was some interesting serialization beginning to happen (Andy and the Turk’s storyline played out over several episodes, for example), there was also a paint-by numbers … [continued]
I have been (and always shall be) a die-hard Star Trek Fan. But this past decade has been a rough time to be a Star Trek Fan. The last two Star Trek TV series have been terrible (Star Trek: Voyager) and mediocre (Star Trek: Enterprise). The last two Star Trek movies have been mediocre (1998′s Star Trek: Insurrection) and terrible (2002′s Star Trek: Nemesis). There is a new hope (ahem) on the horizon with J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek
relaunch scheduled for next summer, but that’s a long ways away.
These days Star Trek seems to be, in many ways, dead dead dead. My
sci-fi passions are fueled by other shows like the amazing Battlestar Galactica and the late lamented Firefly. But this past weekend, while working on a variety of illustration projects, I popped my DVD set of Star Trek: The Next Generation season 3 into my player. And while drawing and painting away, I proceeded to tear through the entire season. What a magnificent season of science-fiction, and of television period. My goodness I had forgotten.
These episodes originally aired in 1989-90. This was a groundbreaking season for Next Gen. For the first two years, the show had struggled to find its footing. It was popular, but the quality of the episodes were wildly uneven. The writing staff went through constant upheavals. But in Season 3, a talented writer named Michael Piller took over as the show-runner, and proceded to do two important things. One, he re-focused the show on the CHARACTERS. Two, he brought on board a number of incredibly talented writers who would proceed to guide the Star Trek franchise for many successful years to come. These include Ronald D. Moore (who, post-Trek, would go on to create and run the new Battlestar Galactica), Rene Echevarria (The 4400), Jeri Taylor, Brannon Bragga, and many others.
What’s incredible about Next Gen‘s season 3, looking back on it, is just how well it holds up today (as opposed to, say, season 1, which today I find to be pretty much unwatchable). Here are just a sampling of the greatness of this season:
Yesterday’s Enterprise — The Enterprise C travels to the future and accidentally changes history, creating a tme-line where the Federation and the Klingons are locked in bitter, unending war. And Tasha Yar dies again. Time travel has become a much over-used TV sci-fi device, but this dark tale is one of the best.
The Offspring — The android Data takes it upon himself to create a child. Haunting and poignant, its a classic.
Deja Q — The omnipotent Q loses his powers and … [continued]
Well, its been a somewhat bizarre strike-interrupted TV season. The most exciting new program I watched this year was The Wire which, as I’ve mentioned in this blog before, is what got me through the months-long writers strike. But there was still a lot of fun TV-watching to be had, and these past few weeks of season finales was no different.
30 Rock — In a show that has had no shortage of terrific scene-stealing guest-stars, Matthew Broderick’s appearance as “Cooter” (so nicknamed by President Bush) was one for the books. Jenna’s concept of “backdoor bragging” as well as the explanation as to the cause of Liz’s pregnancy scare were also highlights. A hilarious end to a terrific season.
The Office — Speaking of guest-stars, The Wire‘s Amy Ryan was absolutely terrific as Toby’s replacement, and the genius notion of her thinking Kevin has “special needs” had me howling with laughter. I was a bit put off by the somewhat glum Jim-Pam story, which seemed like a bit of a transparent way to extend their courtship…but that was somewhat redeemed by Andy Bernard (Ed Helms)’s antics as well as Angela’s perfectly-played response to his proposal. “I SAID OK!”
Scrubs — This imaginary fairy tale was pretty terrible, sadly. I can’t totally blame the show’s creators, as NBC made the poor decision to run the episode out of sequence (the show was meant to have taken place earlier in the season), resulting in such oddities as Bob Kelso still working at Sacred Heart despite his having left earlier in the season. Guess NBC assumed that we stupid TV viewiers wouldn’t notice. Still, I can’t imagine this episode would have seemed much funnier even in its proper spot in the season.
Lost – While not quite on par with last season’s phenomenal flash-forwarding season-ender (“we have to go BACK!”), this was a very solid ending to what has been, in my opinion, the best season of Lost since the first. We got some definitive answers to some burning questions (Why is the island so hard to keep track of? Who was in the coffin we saw in last season’s finale?), while also lots of new questions were posed — specifically, about what has transpired in the 3 years since the Oceanic Six were rescued…and about if/how they’ll be able to get back to the island as Ben wants them to. It was a particular kick seeing Walt again — I only wish his scene with Hurley had been longer. Hopefully we’ll see him again next season. I was pretty convinced it was going to be Ben in that coffin…but I was intrigued by the person it was. Can’t wait for next … [continued]
Just a quick note today. In yesterday’s blog I referred to what I called “The Wire Effect.” And what do I read this morning? Amy Adams – so terrific in The Wire as well as in Gone Baby Gone – is set to appear in the season finale of The Office.
I can’t wait! Here’s hoping all of the other amazing actors from The Wire continue to get work…… [continued]
So my wife Steph and I were watching Gone Baby Gone last week, and I must confess that we both let out a bit of a squeal at a certain moment during the flick. No, it wasn’t during the nail-biting quarry shoot-out in the middle of the film. No, it wasn’t during scene with the Jamaican. And no, it wasn’t during the devastating moment of choice that forms the crux of the end of the film. All of those moments are terrific, don’t get me wrong – Gone Baby Gone is one of my favorite movies from last year.
But the moment where Steph and I really sat up and took notice was during the funeral scene, when Patrick Kenzie (Casey Affleck) catches the eye of a police offer who he knows. Steph and I looked at each other. “Is that…OMAR???”
And indeed it was. Michael K. Williams, who has basically one scene in Gone Baby Gone (but it’s a doozy — the steakhouse meal with Patrick), is the same actor who portrayed the shotgun-carrying, drug-dealer-murdering, criminal-with-a-code Omar Little for five amazing seasons on HBO’s The Wire.
And this is what I refer to as The Wire Effect – the phenomenon on which one is so in love with the characters in a beloved TV show that you sit up and take notice whenever they appear elsewhere. Part of the reason we were watching Gone Baby Gone in the first place was because, after watching Amy Ryan on The Wire, Steph and I wanted to see her performance in GBG again (since the first time we saw the flick was before we’d ever seen The Wire). I love Lost – but I lost it even more this season when Lance Reddick (Lt. Cedric Daniels on The Wire) appeared briefly as the mysterious “assembler of freighter folk.” Heck, I even got excited by The Sarah Connor Chronicles when I saw Andre Royo (“Bubbles”) appear on that show as a resistance fighter (in a tiny role that was a sad waste of his enormous talents).
This has happened to me with other shows. I got very excited when Alexander Siddig, who played Dr. Bashir on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine (by far my favorite of the Star Trek series) appeared last season on 24. (And I was very very annoyed when he was unceremoniously killed off-screen after only a few episodes.) And a grin always appears on my face whenever I see an alumna of the late, great Arrested Development like Jason Bateman or Michael Cera or Will Arnett. (He’ll always be GOB Bluth to me!)… [continued]
Here are five more DVDs (continuing my list from yesterday) that I loved loved loved this winter, when the pleasant caress of new TV shows had been denied me:
VI. Eastern Promises — I have seen this movie 3 times now since it came out last year, and I enjoy it more every time. (And I liked it quite a lot the FIRST time I saw it!) Viggo Mortensen gives an amazing you-just-can’t-look-away performance as the deadly Russian Nikolai, whose path crosses with a midwife named Anna (Naomi Watts). And let’s not forget the amazing Armin Mueller-Stahl, who is as amazing as he always is. (I must admit, though, that I’m such a geek that whenever he’s on screen, in this or any other movie, I always hear him in the back of my head saying: “not even zey…can stop ze future.” X-Philes know what I’m talking about…)
VII. House of Games: The Criterion Collection – A terrific new DVD of the first film that David Mamet directed (from his own script). I’m a big Mamet fan. There are some flaws in the story, sure…and I’ve never been, as a viewer, quite fooled by the central con of this flick. But the simple joys of watching the great performers (Joe Mantegna, Rickey Jay, the late great J.T. Walsh, among others) mouth Mamet’s rat-tat-tat tough-guy dialogue is more than enough for me.
VIII. Volver – Pretty surprising for a sci-fi nut like myself, but I found myself completely swept up by Pedro Almodovar’s story about the intersecting lives of various women in Madrid. Penelope Cruz is spectacular.
IX. The Best of the Dick Cavett Show: Stand-Up Comedians – This DVD set contains several notable episodes from the great Dick Cavett’s 1970’s talk-show, in which he engages guests in fascinating hour or hour-and-a-half long (really!!) conversations about their lives and work. This set focuses on his interviews with stand-up comedians such as Woody Allen, Groucho Marx, Bill Cosby, Bob Hope, Carol Burnett, and many others. I love the Daily Show and all of today’s late-night talk shows, but after watching these incredibly in-depth interviews its hard to take any of today’s five-minutes-then-you’re out “interviews” seriously. This is the way it should be done. If you have any interest whatsoever in stand up comedy, you need to track down these DVDs.
X. The Wire – My sister got me the 1st season set for my birthday earlier in the year – and my wife and I promptly devoured the entire 5 seasons of the show. Truly one of the greatest TV shows ever made. I’ll discuss this in greater depth at a later date, but for now, let me just say that I … [continued]
I’m a bit of a TV nut. So, like so many of you, I had to go through a bit of an adjustment this winter without any new installments of Lost, The Office, and all my other TV pals.
How did I survive? DVDs, my friends. God bless ‘em.
Here’s just a sampling of the Digital Video Devicey goodness that I enjoyed over the past few months:
I. Futurama: Bender’s Big Score – There aren’t a lot of shows (only Firefly and Arrested Development come to mind) whose cancellation burned me more than that of Futurama. My goodness I loved this show. I still remember the moment when I first understood that this Matt Groening creation was a thing of awesome beauty and genius. It was season two’s episode “I Second That Emotion,” (that’s the one where the Professor installs an empathy chip in Bender), in which it was revealed that the colony of underground mutants (long story) worshipped an unexploded nuclear bomb but, as one of the mutants commented, “its really just a Christmas and Easter” thing. Any show that makes Beneath the Planet of the Apes jokes (that’s where the whole mutants-worshipping-an-unexploded-nuclear-bomb thing comes from) without care as to the tiny amount of viewers who would actually get that joke is a show that guaranteed itself my viewership until the end of time. Anyways, this DVD movie was the 1st of 4 DVDs rescuing the show from oblivion. It’s the bees’ knees, baby.
II. Battlestar Galactica: Razor – Another direct-to-DVD continuation of a brilliant TV show. If you’re not watching Sci-Fi’s stunningly amazing reinvention of BSG, then I have only pity in my heart for you. This installment was, no surprise, gripping and surprising…in particular, the multi-layered structure of flashbacks-within-flashbacks was super-cool. And we got to see a young William “Husker” Adama battling “toasters” in the First Cylon War!
III. Zodiac – I totally missed this David Fincher film, about the real-life Zodiac murders of the 60’s & 70’s, when it was in theatres…and I don’t know quite what prompted me to pick it up on DVD. But I found this film to be completely gripping. A terrific cast, including Jake Gyllenhaal, Mark Ruffalo, Robert Downey Junior, and many many other familiar faces really kept things moving. And the beautiful set design & costuming combined with some really beautiful but extraordinarily subtle visual effects work brought San Francisco through the years to gorgeous visual life.
IV. Igby Goes Down – Check out this cast: Kieran Culkin, Clare Danes, Jeff Goldblum, Amanda Peet, Ryan Phillipe, Bill Pullman, and Susan Sarandon. Find it. Watch it. You won’t regret it.
More DVDS I watched and loved this winter coming tomorrow!… [continued]