Archive for the 'television reviews' Category

A triumph in our Sick, Sad World

Happy Daria Is Finally Out On DVD Day, everyone!

Even with the annoying news that apparently just about all of the original music has had to be replaced, I am mega excited to dash out and purchase Daria: The Complete Series. Daria was a show populated by such a sharply built cast of characters that I have zero worries it will feel like it’s lost anything to time. Lawndale could still be just about any place in the U.S., and every teenager you know could still be one of those characters.

I was about to turn 14 when Daria premiered. Though I didn’t quite reach her level of misanthropy, I saw a lot of my own deadpan, sarcastic, eye-rolling self in her. These are not what society has decided are desirable qualities in a teenage girl. Not to get too “it spoke to me personally”—Daria is universal on a lot of levels—but that scene in the credits where she lets the volleyball go by her in gym class and then half-heartedly sticks out an arm? That was basically a scene from my life. Funny joke, yes, but also an all-too-true moment for a certain kind of high schooler. I don’t think I can overemphasize how amazing it was to see a show with this girl as the heroine.

And let’s not forget our amazing supporting characters! Jane, Trent, Quinn, Brittany, Kevin, Jodie: I love them all. I still consider Daria’s dad, the tightly-wound Jake Morgendorffer, to be one of the funniest characters in all of TV land. Also, fun trivia: did you know that the same actress, Wendy Hoopes, did the voices for Quinn, Jane, and Helen? I just discovered that today. So crazy. That is some talent.

In conclusion, whatever you had planned for today? Please draw a triangle in the air and repeat after me: “Change. Of. Plans.” (And if you don’t remember that reference, just trust me when I say you should not ride with the Fashion Club if you want to make it to Alternapalooza.)

The two things we’re allowed to discuss today.

LOST‘s final season premiere and Oscar nominations on the same day?! Thank god I’m going into work late today and I have time to blog.

Regarding LOST: I could not care less what the smoke monster is. I am unconcerned with any logistical contradictions in last year’s time traveling escapades. And I really think you’re missing the point if you still want to know “what the numbers mean.” The only mysteries I’m interested in are the character-based ones: the ultimate connection between Locke and Jacob, the whereabouts of poor Claire, the true relationship between Ben, Widmore and the island itself. Stuff like that. Emotional satisfaction, not nuts and bolts. I want all the time I can get with my beloved characters, not with ‘ol Smokey. And please, please let one of those characters be Daniel FaradayI need him back!!

I’m comforted by the fact that the writers of LOST are very much on the same page as me, according to this epic, entertaining, spoiler-free interview with Cuse & Lindelof, by the Chicago Tribune’s great TV critic Maureen Ryan. Read it to get even more excited for tonight!! Eeek!!

Okay: Oscars, and all ten of those Best Picture nominees. All it took for me to get on board with expanding the field was to see that it helped Up make the cut. Up is a wonder, as are most Pixar films, and absolutely deserves to be put up against the entire field, not just other animated films.

Other good: Kathryn Bigelow for directing The Hurt Locker, obvs. With her DGA award she is officially the favorite to win (the oft-cited trivia fact is that the DGA and the Academy have only voted differently on Best Director 6 times since 1948). One only needs to take a look at Bigelow’s diverse-yet-action-centric filmography to realize that the perpetual discussion of her as a female filmmaker is sort of sillynot that the emphatic categorization isn’t an eye-roller for any woman who happens to make films, but for her it seems particularly maddening. Yet, the fact is that her gender is significant, because this is Hollywood, Crown Prince of Boys Clubs we’re talking about. They were making jokes about her great legs at the DGA awards, for cripes sake. She needs that statue just to have a tool for bludgeoning once the champagne starts flowing on Oscar night.

Also nice to see: the ladies of Up in the Air getting acting noms, District 9 for best pic (doesn’t deserve to win, but so nice to see something very outside-the-box on that list), recognition for The Hurt Locker’s screenwriter Mark Boal, who is a little lost in the Bigelow-madness, and that the rumors that The Hangover might sneak in for best pic were thankfully untrue.

Not nice to see: no Zoe Saldana. I don’t know who I would kick out of the best supporting actress category for her, but still. I was also hanging on to a shred of hope that we’d see some significant nominations for Bright Star, but really the buzz didn’t last long enough, and it only squeaked in for costume design. A phenomenal film, though, and we will see Abbie Cornish on an Oscar list someday soon.

Hmm, no other egregious snubs are coming to mind for me. Anyone else mad about something?

Enjoy LOST tonight and the countdown to Oscars on March 7!

Take me to Dillon tonight.

Know what today is? Today is FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS day. My lucky, lucky DirecTV-having self will be nowhere but right in front of my television at 6 PM tonight (Eastern time yesssssss) to transport to marvelous Dillon, TX once again. Oh God in heaven, how I love this show. And I never get tired of re-visiting where it all began, with one of the best pilot episodes I’ve ever had the privilege to watch:

This is what television is for.

The usual new TV season overload

Over the past month, I’ve spent a fair amount of time sampling the new fall offerings. Usually this is a busy but giddy time. This year….I dunno. I feel like I’ve reached the point where sampling new series is like work, rather than fun (yet I’m nowhere near getting paid for this stuff). Still, here come my opinions. We’ll start with the most promising and continue from there, ok?

Glee
opinion based on episodes 1-6

I’m sure you’ve heard by now what an offbeat, entertaining show this is. It’s by far the highlight of my new season, the one new show I’d be truly sad to miss. There’s so much to explore: the depths of lovely offbeat main characters like Rachel and Kurt, further focus on those like Tina-the-punk-Asian, who are waiting in the wings for their day (sooner rather than later would be good). Yes, there are a few weak points, such as the too-over-the-top fake pregnancy storyline…but since this is the baby of Ryan “creator of Nip/Tuck” Murphy we’re discussing, it’s actually a model of restraint so far.

8/10

Modern Family
based on eps 1 and 3

Woohoo! It’s funny! The premiere started slow, but built to a climax that almost had me at the coveted crying-because-I-couldn’t-stop-laughing point. The DVR box ate episode two (sort of…the picture was there but the dialogue track was gone. Very odd). Missing that one, I still giggled my way through episode three. Promising cast, promising writing.

7/10

Community
based on eps 1-3

While I’ve been entertained by the first few episodes, I’m wondering how long the show can keep our cast of characters, who all share a “Spanish study group” (in which they never study), sufficiently involved with one another. I was also overly bothered by the fact that they were all still adding and dropping classes in episode three…oh well. I heart Joel McHale, I support Chevy Chase’s comeback, and I love that one chick who also plays Trudy Campbell on Mad Men.

7/10

Flash Forward

based on eps 1 and 2

Ok, I’m fairly intrigued by the premise. I love watching John Cho, Penny from Lost, and the hot guy who used to be Jett Jackson do their thing. But despite the intriguing premise, the tone of this show bothers me…it’s overly intense at some points, followed by odd comic relief at others (such as when the boss describes being in the john during the blackout…TMI). Everything’s still a little frenetic for me, but I do want to know why the kid freaks out so much at the end of ep 2. So, I’m in it for a few more hours at least, I think.

6/10

Cougar Town
based on eps 1-3

I didn’t have huge expectations for this show, but I gave it a chance based on Courteney Cox, the great supporting cast, and awesome creator Bill Lawrence. (Ask me to defend the show’s premise, if you dare…I noticed how none of the pieces criticizing it early on seemed to reserve any judgment based on the pedigree of those involved. Shame, shame.) The pilot was funnier than I’d hoped for, episode two was solid, episode three was lame. I’m hoping it will bounce back…I love the supporting actresses (Busy Phillips!) and the actor who plays the son (RIP Aliens in America), but the young-boyfriend character is painfully underdeveloped. It’s a glaring problem I hope they’ll fix soon.

6/10

The Good Wife
based on eps 1-3

So, I like Juliana Margulies. But I loooove Christine Baranski. I aspire to be Christine Baranski someday. And I’m not seeing enough of Christine Baranski, so then I forget how much I like Juliana Margulies. This show needs more Baranski! That said, while it’s not the most exciting show ever, it’s well-acted, with a timely premise, decent cases, and a nice cast. Very solid for a Tuesday, which is by far the slowest day of this season.

6/10

Bored to Death
based on eps 1 and 2

While this show has an enjoyable cast, and I wouldn’t automatically turn away from it should I stumble across it, it’s been demoted from my DVR. I wanted to like it more, I really did. Jason Schwartzman is a lovely person, but the character he plays here is exasperating well beyond whatever likeable traits he demonstrates. The show is not awful, but not good enough to commit. Watching it I feel a bit like the main characters’ ex-girlfriend is meant to….sad that she cannot say she likes the situation more.

4/10

Anyone seen any great new shows I haven’t sampled?

The looooost episoooooode

Watching the unaired 13th Dollhouse episode on the just-released DVD cemented my anticipation for season two.

(For those who haven’t seen it, I’ll let you know when the spoilers begin.)

It seems to be pretty much the consensus that the second half of Dollhouse’s first season was more “Joss-y” than the first half, possibly/probably because FOX took a step back. It hit its groove, started asking bigger questions, making bigger revelations, and still delivered its best stand-alone episode all season (“Haunted”, when the woman had prepared to be an imprint so she could solve her own murder…all kinds of awesome; I watched it twice). But still missing was the sort of overall theme or mission statement of the show. As viewers we’d heard many characters raise questions about the purpose and/or morality of the Dollhouse, but these eloquent speeches hadn’t resulted in much more than indignation or defensiveness. The ideas weren’t advancing the plot.

Now, maybe, we’re getting somewhere. Watching ep 13 is odd, though, like watching Dollhouse filtered through the mind of the creators of Lost. We’re in the future, then the not-future, then between the future and the not-future….oy.

SPOILERS BEGIN HERE.

In 2019, LA is ravaged. Gradually we come to understand that a technological mistake or revolt is the cause. Felicia Day (woo!) and a band of other refugee-types search for a safe place to stay. They’ve got a pre-adolescent girl in tow. Her father is behaving like an imprint-less doll. I’m not alone in asking that universal sci-fi fan question: what the frak is going on?

Imprints have gone rogue, and wireless. Bodies can apparently be taken over without warning. “Actuals” (those who are in their original bodies with original personality) tattoo themselves to prove a point, run away from “Butchers” who seem awful like the Earth-version of Joss’s Reavers. It’s scary. And it’s all the Dollhouse’s fault.

Somewhere in that mid-time-space, we see our cast of favorite Dollhouse employees. Dr. Saunders/Whiskey has finally agreed to have her facial scars fixed, which might have something to do with the fact that she seems to have fallen in love with Boyd. He’s setting forth to run away somewhere, away from the danger, promising he’ll send for her. Sometime previous, a rich man lets Adelle know his intention to keep downloading his personality into new bodies, willing or not, to achieve immortality. Her objections seem desperate. Sometime after that, Topher is, quite simply, a mess. Adelle acts a mother towards him as he spews forth a jumble of nonsense and deep philosophical questions, forgetting and then concluding again that he was the one who came up with whatever idea it was that set forth all this chaos in the first place. Sierra and Victor know who they really are. She wants to love him like they did before, but that is over. He demonstrates how he cares for her still by showing where he stashed copies of the original hard-drive-saved personalities of their generation of dolls, should something happen. Something bad, unknown, has already happened to November, though maybe not the November we know. Then Caroline and Paul show up to rescue everyone.

It’s a lot to follow.

It’s also more engaging than any previous episode, even though you can see how the show can go on without ever considering this episode to be part of the continuity. Put simply: we don’t know whether this is the future, or just one possible future. And we have no idea how long it might take for us to find out (Caroline on waking in Iris’s body: “2019??“).

SPOILERS END

Things I do know: while I still have issues with the actor, Topher’s character has grown on me, and his purpose besides being resident techno-geek is becoming clear. Olivia Williams as Adelle is wondrous. I want as much Amy Acker as possible. And the bigger themes of this organization in Joss’s imagination will make for more compelling TV than the everyday minutiae. Though I will watch any amount of minutiae if it involves Victor acting suave and/or having his shirt off. Mmmmm.

I imagine people should be able to follow season two whether or not they’ve seen “Epitaph One”. But I also imagine Joss knows that the majority of his fans will seek it out before season two begins. And that’s a day to look forward to.

P.S. The DVD also contains Joss’s unaired version of the first episode of the series. I sort of think it’s a lot better than the one that actually aired. I also think I don’t know whether that opinion’s biased, since knowing what comes in the rest of the season kept me from possibly being confused while watching. Still, I implore all future people who work with Joss: just trust the guy.

Mid-summer TV round-up

1. Reality

Summer is truly the time when you should not feel ashamed about indulging in some reality TV. At least, I don’t. I’ve already thoroughly enjoyed The Real Housewives of New Jersey (previously I had seen most of the Atlanta installment, but I can’t handle O.C. or New York at all), and gotten sucked into a season of The Bachelorette for the first time in years. Actually, maybe I should be a little ashamed at how invested I am in which generic white guy Jillian chooses in the end (go Reid). And let’s not get into Daisy of Love. I have to watch it but I can’t explain why. Lemme alone.

In more respectable reality, there’s the trio of So You Think You Can Dance, blissfully new episodes of What Not to Wear (please let them never stop making this show), and Top Chef Masters (not as exciting as original flavor but still mouth-watering). Dance is the classiest competition of its kind (as long as you fast forward through Nigel’s perviness), with deeply endearing host Cat Deeley perennially winning the award for most crazy/awesome dresser on TV. And it’s just getting to the really good part of the competition, folks, so tune in tonight if you know what’s good for you. Also, their results show doesn’t suck!

2. Awesomeness

Can we talk about the amazing return to form that Rescue Me is experiencing this season? Season four was a let down, seeming like nothing happened or everyone was going around in circles. This season, people are still going around in circles…but the circles are getting tighter and tighter, and we can sense an impending something—a sensation that was glaringly missing for a while. The show is also outdoing itself in its patented brand of leaping from shattering pathos to absurd humor. From Sheila’s haunting life-without-Jimmy monologue (Emmy? Hello?) to Tommy and Janet drunk at that B&B, from Tommy practicing his own brand of cutting by turning on himself with a blowtorch to a “cancer kid” absconding with the fire truck, the show is unpredictable and heartbreaking and hilarious. Emmy time, seriously.

My other fave-of-the-moment is clearly HBO’s gruesomely entertaining True Blood. How pissed was I that there was no new episode this weekend? Real pissed! A well-done vampire story is always welcome, but the thing this show gets right that no other such project does is the sheer grossness of it all. Vampires are enduringly appealing because of the whole sensual immortal angle, but we must not forget that they are also almost cannibals, having been human themselves, and the concept of a body sustaining itself in that manner is, in a word, icky. When the first vampire staking occurred on this show and instead of a pile of ash we got an explosion of blood-soaked entrails, I knew I was hooked for life. This show is funny and weird and dark, and the only thing they could have done to earn more of my respect after last season would have been to add Michelle Forbes as a regular. Which they did.

Also totally watchable: USA’s In Plain Sight. Female main character kicking ass, male sidekick quipping hilariously, satisfying crime solving in every episode, and their boss is that one guy who was the liaison between the Greeks and the Sobotkas on season two of The Wire. So there’s a lot to like. Just be warned that the B stories with our heroine’s family are occasionally maddeningly insipid.

3. New Stuff

Two new shows so far that show promise, though we’re only one episode into each of them: Hung on HBO and Warehouse 13 on Syfy (yep they started their name change thing). Hung features your requisite HBO anti-hero, a down-on-his-luck dad and teacher (Thomas Jane, random) who doesn’t mind a little moral ambiguity if it will help him get back on top. (Get it, on top. Cuz it’s a show about a male prostitute.) The pilot was funny in parts, but too obvious with its jokes in others (see my last parenthetical for the sort of thing I’m talking about). But the main character is compelling, as is his would-be pimp/hapless poet, played by Jane Adams, who I like quite a bit in most things. I will be giving it a few episodes before I make my final verdict.

I had very little interest in Warehouse 13 until I found out it was co-created by Jane “totally wrote your second-favorite episode of Buffy” Espenson. While I didn’t see why it was the type of show that needed a 2-hour event premiere (“wrap it up already” went through my mind a couple of times toward the end), it was funny in that great Jane way and the cast and characters fall squarely into the brand of likeable I’m sure they were going for. Bonus: the presence of the great CCH Pounder (she has the most bad-ass name, right?), who I am currently enjoying very much as a no-nonsense detective as I DVD my way through The Shield, and who I’m sure will be very enjoyable here as a no-nonsense mysterious government official. Probably won’t go on the must-watch list, but it’ll be worth a hulu when bored for sure.

4. Anticipating returns

Finally, while my schedule already seems packed, I’ve got at least four favorites still returning before summer ends: Entourage this Sunday, Mad Men on August 16, Project Runway on August 20, and Psych, on some undetermined date in August.

I have no idea how I have time for all of this.

Scrubs: farewell?

It’s still up in the air whether last night’s one-hour Scrubs finale was the end of the series, or just the eighth season. As a goodbye to J.D. it was satisfying, hitting the right notes of closure (Elliot’s moving in; Dr. Cox finally admits he respects J.D., albeit when he didn’t realize J.D. was listening; J.D. heads off to his new job closer to his son without dramatic tears from anyone, just acceptance), but I’d say we didn’t feel like we were saying goodbye to the rest of the characters. This is probably a smart move, since ABC may well keep Scrubs going without Zach Braff, but should this end up being the series finale, at the very least I could have used a good Turk-and-Carla scene.

I’m torn about whether I want Scrubs to go on. Eight years is plenty of time for a sitcom, or probably any show, and yet Scrubs has proven with the new crop of interns this season that it is capable of pulling new characters into the mix and making things feel fresh. Surly, insecure, sarcastic intern Denise has quickly turned into one of my favorite TV characters, and I can definitely imagine a sitcom based around her career path much the way these past eight years have been based around J.D.’s. Her relationship with Elliot as Elliot tries to mentor her and show Dr. Cox that such teaching can be done without humiliation has been a high point of this season. Making the Denise/Elliot dynamic a focal point of the show the way the J.D./Dr. Cox dynamic has been could really work.

Except…Scrubs has a very specific formula, probably more so even than most sitcoms. And that formula involves the fantasy sequences…sequences that go on inside of J.D.’s head. They managed to serve up a fairly great J.D.-free episode earlier this season, but I’m not sure if they could do it every time. J.D.’s ability to bounce from whimsical and silly to thoughtful and serious made the show’s very odd tone work. Other characters make similar leaps, but shifting the main burden onto someone else might feel false.

Should ABC decide to solider on and see what they can make of Scrubs without the original scrub, I’ll tune in to see how they handle it. If they don’t, I’ll always be a bit curious, and I’ll certainly miss the characters, old and new. But overall I’ll be satisfied with the great run of a truly original show.


Other projects:


Downton Gabby: podcasting about Downton Abbey from a funny, foul-mouthed, feminist perspective

Quick Lit: reading one short story a day in 2015

Grand Dames: collecting sundry achievements of admirable women

The MacGuffin: archive of my days as a film critic

I love Twitter.

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