Monthly Archives: October 2010

Boardwalk Empire, “Nights in Ballygran”: I’m the Leprechaun!

After getting dressed but before heading out for the day, Nucky takes the time to enjoy some tea with his brother. I don’t think it bore much relevance to the rest of the episode — the season’s best yet — but I appreciated the picture it painted. Nucky rules AC, and as sheriff, Eli’s his number one. Very militaristic. If I was better read, I’d have some spiffy literary parallel to trot out in front of you. But I’m not, so… bababooey.

The show’s really coming together, isn’t it? I didn’t really spot a common theme uniting the various and sundry storylines, but they all seemed to hang together much better than they have in episodes past. I’m thinking especially of last week’s episode, which was sort of beating us over the head with the whole Anastasia thing.

I can’t say I ever really considered Steve Buscemi to be any sort of romantic lead, but his relationship with Margaret has to be one of the most interesting things the show is doing right now. After Nucky’s birthday party, she obviously thinks there’s some sort of unspoken bond between the two of them, and Nucky wasted no time in shutting that one down when they run across each other that morning. Margaret’s not quite heartbroken, but obviously distraught about her soda bread (what?) Nucky’s obviously not interested in. And that’s when things get plucky. Margaret gets a little petulant at their next meeting and let’s on that Nucky knows about the alcohol trade going on in the city. Never one to be one-upped, Nucky tells her friend from the Temperance League that Margaret was at his birthday party, cutting a mean rug in the middle of all that booze.

Yes, getting sloshed in AC is alive and well, Prohibition be damned. At it turns out that the garage right behind Margaret’s house is a storage depot for a special batch of green hooch Nucky’s had delivered for St. Patrick’s Day. Margaret, our woman scorned, marches to the post office where Agent Van Alden has set up shop and asks him to take the place down.

Now Kelly Macdonald is an attractive woman. I could definitely think of worse things than being stranded with her on a deserted island, but I do not understand the Santeria voodoo magic spell she casts over Van Alden. He doesn’t have to resources to take down 10% of the city’s illegal booze outlets, but he’ll take down this one, and then crash Nucky’s St. Patty’s bash and arrest the owner of the garage. That whole scene may have been the episode’s best. We had belligerent Irishmen, midgets dressed up as leprechauns, and Van Alden’s Untouchables act to top the whole thing off. The dichotomy between his “do no evil” religiosity and his desire to take justice to AC’s mean streets is kind of fascinating. And those half smiles he see him sneak when he thinks no one’s looking show he definitely takes some sort of pleasure in his mean streak.

So, I hear Jimmy’s in Chicago. And maybe that’ll eventually go somewhere. But not this week. We saw the fallout from Pearl’s assault. She’s slowly turning into this show’s Alma Garrett. Or she would have if she hadn’t of killed herself by the end of the episode. It’s a horrible thing that she, faced with being disfigured for the rest of her life, would be driven to suicide, but for the purposes of the story, it had to happen. Remember that Jimmy walked out on his (almost) wife and son to go to Chicago and play gangster with Al Capone, so it was more than unlikely that he was going to play Pearl’s white knight, making her glasses of opium-laced orange juice for much longer.

Speaking of things in Chicago, we had an interesting historical fact thrown at us tonight. Arnold Rothstein’s coming under fire for purportedly fixing the 1919 World Series, which he was involved in. I have to say I was a little disappointed that the show decided to go here. Rothstein did have to testify in front of a grand jury on the matter, but unless the show is planning on turning this into a storyline, I would have preferred that they leave it alone. What was great about a show like ‘Deadwood’ was that it populated by characters who had real life equivalents, and the stories in the show sometimes compelled you to go and learn more about them on your own. The World Series thing felt like it should have been one of those moments. Addressed in the episode, it sort of felt like the writers were just showing us they had done their homework. But maybe it’ll go somewhere.

What A Great Episode Moments:

  • The midget leprechauns. And by that I mean midgets dressed as leprechauns. Not midget leprechauns. How small would those things be?
  • The music over the end sequence. Well done.
  • The Temperance League singing as Van Alden and the boys break up Nucky’s party.
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Terriers, “Ring-A-Ding-Ding”: I knew exactly what I was doing.

This latest episode of ‘Terriers’ took a break from the Lindus-Montague story and instead focused on our intrepid heroes and their respective relationship problems.

Gretchen’s getting married, and Jason, her new beau, was gracious enough to invite Hank to the engagement party. He did this partly to appease Gretchen, who still cares about Hank and wants him to be a part of their lives. He also did it for more personal, dickish reasons. And that was so Hank would come to accept the fact that he and Gretchen are getting married. And they’re probably going to be doing it all the time. What a jerk.

While they’re at the party, Jason gets up and makes the requisite platitude-laden speech about how his life was on the skids, and just before he lost hope completely, Gretchen appeared and pulled him back from the brink. The sentimentality doesn’t do much for Hank, but Britt gets a little choked and makes an excuse so he can sneak off into a corner and wipe the tears from his eyes. When Hank asks him if everything’s all right, Britt tells him that he’s finally decided to ask Katie to marry him. Hank’s happy for him, but only in that, hey-that’s-great-but-it-sucks-I’m-gonna-lose-my-best-friend kind of way.

If Britt’s serious about asking Katie to marry him, he better jump on that quick, because I’m not too sure how long a girl like her is going to be able to hold out. While Hank and Britt are out working a case, Katie heads out to a karaoke bar with some school friends. One in particular, Gavin, tries making several passes at her. And I’m glad the writers chose to name him Gavin, because that ensures that there’s zero chance I would ever warm to or feel any sympathy whatsoever for the character. Britt’s not around much. His job forces him to keep odd hours. We understand that. More importantly, Katie understands that. Enough to ignore all his lame jokes about her dating a ghost, and brush off his sloppy advances in the parking lot later that night. Unfortunately, she’s a little too sloshed to brush off the advances of her professor, who’s sort of a cross between Eric Bana and a woman.

Katie wakes up later that night sprawled out in his bed, and quickly hightails it home. She comes in and looks in horror at the scene laid out before her. Britt asleep on the couch, two champagne glasses and a lit candle on the table. Also a blue diamond ring worth $300,000. Doesn’t she feel like s**t? Well, maybe not so much when Britt wakes up and tells her the ring isn’t what she thinks, that it belongs to someone he and Hank are working a case for.

Katie, overcome with guilt, tells Hank the entire story, who then tells her never ever ever to tell Britt. Not sure about that one. Britt strikes me as the guy who could probably take it. And this is the kind of thing that’s only going to get worse the longer she keeps it to herself. I mean, it’s kind of a given that Britt’s going to find out about it. This is TV. Come on.

This was kind of a Britt-centric episode without being Britt centric, and I appreciated the look at how his problems are distinctly different from Hank’s. It makes you appreciate the dynamic between the two characters all the more when see how fully realized they are. And it was nice to spend a little more time with Katie, not least because of how good she looked in that sun dress, but because she seemed like a character who was getting a little short shrifted this season.

I know there’s a whole other side to the episode I’m not going into. I think a lot of it speaks for itself. As a stand-alone episode it was definitely one of the best this so far. I enjoyed it a lot more than I did “Dog and Pony,” which was much more lighthearted in tone. Although this episode didn’t feel like it had the closure that episode did, shifting at the end to Katie’s conversation with Hank. I’ll be interested to see how all of that plays out. As long as Hank and Britt can keep from crying. Leave that to the women. Am I right, fellas?

Community, “Basic Rocket Science”: Hard to believe I’m not really not really in space.

Jean Claude van DAMME I love this show! This episode parodied space movies like Apollo 13 and Armageddon, as Greendale endeavored to become the first community college to put a man in space. And while they couldn’t get away with doing something this gimmicky every week, every once in awhile is just fine with me. I thought this episode was clever and fun and had that great balance of different types of comedy coming from every direction that keeps you, frankly, off balance.

I wasn’t sure at first how deep into the parody they were going to go, so I had to admire their commitment to putting these characters into hilariously implausible situations and then letting the absurdity of the situation drive the characters’ interactions. But as the episode progressed, and we saw more and more of the “space drama” scenes – Abed running the control room, Pierce succumbing to space fever, and the dean slamming down his, uh, personal map – I realized just how great this was going to be, mostly because the writers keep you guessing all the time.

It would’ve been perfectly acceptable within the parody for Chang to come up with some way to “reroute the power” and save the day, but the fact that Abed called out the fact that the power didn’t need to be rerouted was just fantastic. The writers keep you on your toes because they call themselves out on their insanity on occasion, usually just as you’re starting to buy in to the fantasy.

Am I making any sense here? Are these just the caffeine-fueled ramblings of a Joel McHale stalker, Community fangirl and fervent advocate for really good television? Perhaps, but anyone who isn’t watching this show should be, and if you do, and you don’t like it, well, then CBS has a lineup I think you’ll enjoy very much. Also, you probably suck.

This show really has mastered the formula, and that’s not to say that this is formulaic television, just that you have to get the right mix of all the elements to make a sitcom entertaining and edgy and relevant these days. It won’t translate to the written word, but Troy’s delivery of the line “How do you know it was our design? We submitted it anonymously. Whoops” was a perfect example of why this show is better than 97% of the other comedies in primetime. Because there is a very clear picture in my head of how Charlie Sheen’s character would’ve delivered that line on Two and a Half Men, and even with the laugh track, it makes me want to slit my wrists with the diamond-encrusted checks they use to pay those assholes. But Donald Glover’s delivery doesn’t – and I don’t know if that’s good acting or good directing (it’s not good writing, at least in this case, because that line is mediocre at best), but it’s something, and that something is what makes Community awesome.

Also, I’ve got news for all the kids out there: butt jokes, fart jokes, sex jokes and poop jokes never stop being funny. Your parents WANT to laugh at them, but they can’t because they have to set a good example. And while you can’t pack an entire show with them (or can you, Dane Cook?), you can trot them out on occasion and remind us all that it’s okay to be immature and silly and stupid and laugh at a flag designed to look like an anus as long as you know how to buckle down and steer that arrow into that moving rectangle when it really matters. This episode was a little light on the intellectual humor, but that’s okay because you know that they CAN do it – and do it well – when the situation calls for it.

It may not be strictly “intellectual humor” but I did enjoy the product integration piece for KFC. It’s a callback to the Snapple episode on 30 Rock, but hey – it works and it’s not overdone yet. So, bravo, Community. This episode was more enjoyable than a bucket of delicious chicken in original recipe or extra crispy, with a side of mashed potatoes, coleslaw, and a hot, buttery roll, enough to feed the whole family and all for a reasonable price at convenient locations across the country.

It’s Always Sunny, “Mac and Charlie: White Trash”: We can beat this heat wave, Philly style.

I have spent years reading the TV review of others and always day-dreamed about how I would do it. Would I search for the unappreciated diamond in the rough shows and be that guy who tells you why the joke before the second commercial break in “Two and a Half Men” was actually not that bad? (SPOILER ALERT: It WAS that bad.) Would I ask the tough questions about a quality show that is almost universally praised (“Let me tell you why Don Draper is lamer than Christopher Reeve…”)? No matter what, I was going to bring something unique to the table. I’d critique this like a high school sophomore who connects with Catcher in the Rye – art was going to happen and it would be on my terms!

So, last night, I settled in on the couch, flipped on ‘It’s Always Sunny’ and took in “Mac and Charlie: White Trash”… an average to above average episode. It was my worst nightmare. Nothing terrible happened and I thoroughly enjoyed certain parts, but was not set up to use it as a launching pad to get creepy and up my own butt with what is missing in recent episodes and how the show lost some of the direction I loved. Sadly, I will have to table these thoughts for another day, but I’m happy to bring the first of possibly tens of reviews contributing to this site.

“Mac and Charlie: White Trash” was a nice, simple formula. Faced with a heat wave, Charlie and Mac (I’m not a slave to their title order) decided to hit the local members’ only pool club and go for a swim with a case of Durstin Beer in tow. I have no idea why I noted the brand name, but after reading this, I was really glad I did. AREN’T YOU GLAD I BROUGHT MY CRITICAL EYE TO THIS BLOG? Charlie also sported the same comfortable jorts Dennis introduced in last season’s “The Gang Gets Extreme: Home Makeover Edition.” After what seemed like a much more meandering and longer than normal intro, they were turned away from the pool and the credits rolled.

The boys then created a business plan (or just poster board with cool art taped on) to show Frank how they could renovate an abandoned pool from their childhood and make their own party. Mac decided to wear his classy gold chain and they appealed to Frank’s upper-class sensibilities. Sadly, they learn that Frank sees himself as “fringe class” and the plan dies a quick death. Once Dee and Dennis catch wind of the class debate, they decide that they are already born into class and head off to gain entry to the private pool.

From there, we get the usual, yet essential Sunny formula: Dennis and Dee have their dreams thrown back in their face and are humiliated while Charlie and Mac descend deeper into their own insanity/homosexual tendencies/whatever else is up with them. Dennis and Dee quickly strike out at the private pool and, after charges of racism fall on deaf ears when Dee incorporates the word monkey into her charges, tuck their tails and head to the public pool.

Why the plot exposition? Because I loved the public pool scenes. It was dirty, there were people everywhere, they questioned why so many people had sneakers on and then realized it was because the bottom of the pool was covered in broken glass. This is what works for me in the show – taking something simple, spinning it to the extreme and then committing to the joke beyond most others. It could have been a zany “hey look, pee in the pool” throw away, but they went the extra mile to think you were at a third world outpost where kids throw rocks at each other for fun. The xenophobic, high-class jerk in me appreciates that. I also enjoyed Frank embracing pool culture and playing a game where he chunked a greased watermelon in the pool and covered himself in butter. How can you not enjoy that he didn’t even question being clawed by a Filipino later on?

Then, we had Mac and Charlie’s quest to remodel the abandoned neighborhood pool themselves. Why was it abandoned, you ask? Because a kid died in it. This side of the story also had the standard storylines for these two characters, but it didn’t click as well. I feel like Charlie has been dialed down a bit this season and, while I admit being biased in my love for him, sacrificing him for more of the same Mac jokes leaves me disappointed. Charlie does something dumb and gets them trapped in the pool. Mac tries some kung fu moves and tries to back flip up the wall (without being able to do a back flip) and things look promising when Charlie finally says “all you know how to do is talk me into doing shit,” but then it just drops. In fact, we see several gags with potential that just die: Charlie’s reliance on burner phones, which race of delivery men would do the best job of rescuing them. They decide on a burley Italian pizza delivery guy over a small Asian delivery guy – and then the pizza guy turns out to be Asian. I really like to focus on the racism in my review? What does that say about me? Probably that I have a big penis. Anyway, they checked off a list of good jokes, but just never took them to the level or longer conclusion they consistently executed in previous seasons.

Then, it seemed like time was ticking and they had to wrap the episode up. Dennis, Dee and Frank try to get into the rich pool one more time and fail. Charlie and Mac do more stuff in the abandoned pool. By the time the groups reunite, Charlie and Mac have created a Jamie Nelson pool memorial and are debating how to pray. Mac opts for Catholic-style chants with the words jumbled while Charlie suddenly embraces voodoo. A voodoo Charlie extended out would have been great, and when he blurted out “what is that, there’s a lamb” while Mac recited “Lamb of God,” I laughed.

How did we get Voodoo Charlie and what is his back story? Is it in response to his role as a preacher in season one? It’s a funny concept, but it just seems like the latest in a line of jokes that will be touched on and shelved at the expense of whatever quick, shock value idea they will touch next. Tell me Charlie running around speaking in a Haitian accent doesn’t sound fantastic. If that was a show on CBS, it would be the #1 comedy on TV.

Back to the story, the gang finally left the pool and decided to just turn a fire hydrant like Frank did when he was a kid. Boom. Episode over. Here comes ‘The League.’

I don’t know if the writer’s just have too many good ideas or don’t have time to develop them, but it’s just hard to follow how a show that has managed to make gold out of such simple plots as starting a band, singing an acoustic version of “More Than Words,” running into an old high school friend or selling your own gas is hovering in a B/B- range. I don’t want to just be shocked or weirded out; I want my belly laughs back. I want more Charlie. I want more side characters being ridiculous. And, most importantly, I want the gang to spend more time in the bar. Good stuff happens when they hang out mainly in the bar and the apartments. It’s a scientific fact.

I will always love this show and was one of the original jerks lending DVD copies to friends and insisting they watch certain episodes. I once wore a Green Man outfit to a basketball game. I can reenact the entire scene where they write Day Man with my wife at the drop of a hat. I LOVE THIS SHOW and probably always will – just like folks never lose their love for ‘The Simpsons’ over the years. Am I asking too much or being unreasonable? If so, flame me in the comments. If not, I’ll be back next week and try to go heavier on the ha-ha and lighter on the exposition.

Other stuff:

  • “That girl just jumped in with her sneakers on.”
  • “These people all have sneakers on.”
  • “Stride, stride, stride…execute.”
  • “I do back flips every single day of my life.”
  • “Don’t undermine my prayer with voodoo.”
  • “I hope you trash bags die in the bottom of this pool like Jamie Nelson did.”
  • “Don’t bring Jamie Nelson into this.”

Glee, “Duets”: A duet by yourself? Isn’t that like vocal masturbation?

This week has sucked, so thank you, Ryan Murphy, for a Glee episode that was a bright spot in an otherwise pus-filled, infected and possibly cancerous tumor of a week. It was also flattered to see that Ryan Murphy has obviously been reading this blog, because he provided what I’ve been missing in Glee – the awesome, but upbeat – episode. He also apparently thought that my dig at Puck’s song last week was an accusation that the character is superfluous, which is not true, so I hope Puck gets out of juvie soon.

The episode started a little slow, and I geared up to write about the same issues that plague the show every week, but upon further reflection, I started to wonder if perhaps the bulk of my complaints stem from the writers’ realistic representation of high school students who are, by definitely, terrible people. I seriously want to punch every one of these bitches in the face during at least one point in every episode.

That said, Rachel did have a rare, albeit brief moment of self-awareness which led to a performance that was less hilariously awkward and more awkwardly weird. But Rachel should really only be allowed to sing duets… it tempers her and keeps her performances from being overwhelming.

I thought this episode dealt really well with some serious and legitimate high school issues – Artie losing his virginity, Quinn “getting back out there,” Kurt’s relationship with Finn and Finn’s concern about Ben’s “street cred.” You have to give credit to Glee for tackling these issues head-on and dealing with them in a more-or-less realistic way. I was impressed when Finn made the distinction that his reaction to Kurt’s advances was less about his discomfort with Kurt’s homosexuality and more about Kurt’s aggression. And taking the Glee universe as it is, Finn was absolutely right – Ben would’ve been teased mercilessly and if he’s really as concerned with his reputation and with fitting in at a new school, it would’ve likely been the end of Ben’s Glee club adventure. But we got to see another side of Ben this week, and maybe he’s not as wrapped up in the drama as we thought.

If I may digress for a minute, I read the Twilight books, and before you start throwing tomatoes, I want to confirm what everyone has said about Stephenie Meyer creating a fantasy world essentially for herself and inventing the teenage life she wishes she’d had. But I think Ryan Murphy is doing much of the same here with Glee… you get the same “underdog” tones with the understanding that outside of the construct, no one is really siding with the slushee-throwing football players.

Whether that’s true or not, the bottom line is, most of the time, Glee manages to walk the line between being mindless fun and being meaningful television, and this episode was a perfect example of that balance.

How much fun was the Mercedes/Santana duet? And Mike Chang and Tina? I love when you get chill bumps listening to these songs and immediately log on to download the original versions and the Glee versions, though, if we’re being honest, it’s almost always the Glee version I end up listening to more often.

Moments of Win:

  • Mercedes voting for herself and “Satan.”
  • Brittany moving the meatball with her nose.

No shoehorned-into-the-plot song this week. Within the context of the duets contest, everything made good sense. It was a fun episode, and it looks like next week is going to be even more enjoyable.

30 Rock, “Live Show”: Mexican soap opera.

Is it a gimmick for a traditional sitcom to do a live show? Yes. It’s not when it’s an essential piece of the show’s makeup. No one says that the live aspect of SNL is gimmicky. It’s also a gimmick to book guest stars, but it’s not a complaint I’ve heard leveled at ’30 Rock’s’ pantheon of celebrity guests. Performing live obviously isn’t an essential part of ’30 Rock,’ but it’s definitely within the show’s sometimes-meta, self-referential and over-the-top wheelhouse.

From Snapple to Jay Leno to Maryland accents, ’30 Rock’ has always been able to poke fun at itself, and considering the fact that it does take place behind the scenes at a live sketch comedy show, doing a live episode didn’t really feel like a stretch. I mean, ‘ER’ did it. And if the Cloon-hound can do it, then I would never begrudge Tina Fey and co. their shot.

I think there’s much more room for debate as to whether or not the show was able to pull it off. At its lowest points, the episode felt like an extended SNL skit. There were groans to be sure. Gags like Kenneth’s mindless giggling at Lutz’s shirt and Jon Hamm’s PSA (I love Jon Hamm, but he really could have been used a lot better here) were obviously used as filler while the next scene was setting up. The show’s pacing was also affected by the live audience they were filming in front of. But when the show was hitting, it was really hitting. Jack commenting that everything looked like a Mexican soap-opera. Carol telling Liz that he was in on the surprise party from the very beginning and that it was really expensive. Tracy pulling his Oprah wig off in the middle of a skit. And how the Chilean miners didn’t get stuck down there by being geniuses were all great jokes.

’30 Rock’ has a very unique style, and while a lot of that was lost to the logistics of doing a live episode, it still felt distinctly ’30 Rock.’ They got in a lot of topical jokes. There were a ton of guest stars (Dr. Spaceman!). I especially enjoyed the way the show handled its cutaway scenes. Seriously, can we all take a moment to remember how much we love and miss Julia-Louis Dreyfus? I know she was on ‘The New Adventures of Old Christine’ for five seasons, but nobody really watched that show, did they?

Was the episode a runaway hit? It really wasn’t. Some of that was the writing and some of it was forced on them. But I think by and large the whole cast and crew put a lot of work into the night, and it paid off. Color me happy.

Modern Family, “Strangers on a Treadmill”: Your balls are showing.

There was a lot going on in last night’s ‘Modern Family,’ and the show really handled it admirably. The Mitchell/Cam and Claire/Phil storylines were both competing for first place, and looking back it’s a little hard deciding which one came out on top of the other.

If you were looking for laughs, as I imagine most of you were, then Claire and Phil were definitely the night’s winners. Phil’s been asked to host the Southern California Annual Realtors Banquet, and sees the entire thing as an opportunity to impress the crowd with his special brand of standup. Claire, who realizes what a disaster this could turn into, steals Phil’s note cards he’s written his material on, and leaves him to improv his way through the evening. It’s always nice to see Phil win one, but I wonder how realistic this turned out to be. It’s a little unbelievable that when he’s not trying, he turns out to be quick on his feet and actually pretty funny. Or maybe it’s too believable (?). Another question: How did he know that it was Claire who took his cards? Well, it all worked out in the end, which is more than I can say for my disastrous standup routine I  debuted at a local 9/11 memorial rally last month. How long did it take for AIDS to be funny again, because I obviously jumped the gun on this one.

If you bypass the laughs and go straight to the sweet stuff, Cameron and Mitchell came out on top. And in a lot of ways, their character beats were sweeter last night than they were in “The Kiss” a few weeks back. I was glad to see they balanced the emotion with some laughs, though. Cameron running into the bedroom and crying (because that’s what gay men do), and tipping over the bowl of fruit when Mitchell gives him a look for eating an apple. I especially like the way the whole episode got started, with Mitchell and Claire complaining about their significant others whilst jogging troga-ing. I really like the chemistry between Julie Bowen and Jesse Tyler Ferguson and the show’s done a great job of portraying their relationship.

I thought Jay and Gloria at the quinceanera was entertaining enough, if not terribly interesting. I thought the night’s funniest joke was Jay asking Manny, “Where do you keep popping out of?” I think the show could stand to be a little edgier with how it approaches race. Gloria’s had a ton of great lines about life in Colombia, but it’s beginning to feel a little repetitive. And a lot of stuff at the party really felt like the show was just trying to play it safe. I think they could go a little further without being distasteful.

There are certain things the show does really well, and my biggest fear is that it’ll get complacent in light of its Emmy wins and all the good press it gets. I would hope to see the show grow a bit throughout the season.