Category Archives: recaps/miscellaneous

The Big C: What’s my motivation?

Prepare yourselves, people. Showtime’s new series, The Big C, is profound television. It’s touching, it’s devastating, and it’ll make you step back and examine your life and the relationships you have with those around you. How is all this possible, you ask? Engaging storytelling? Is the show something we’ve never seen before? Well, no. But it’s got Laura Linney. And c’mon. She’s got cancer.

Linney plays Cathy Jamison, and Cathy’s story is one TV is showing us more and more these days. Circumstances beyond her control – in this case, an untreatable case of skin cancer – have caused her to make drastic changes in her life. No longer is she content to play the timid, quiet spouse. No longer will she let others walk all over her. From now on, things are gonna change! She’s gonna speak her mind, scream at her neighbors and eat onions, because dammit, you only live once, amirite?

Faced with her own mortality, Cathy’s grabbing life by the balls. Okay. I can understand that. We’ve seen similar things in Breaking Bad and other shows. The problem with The Big C is that the show doesn’t bother to properly set things up so that the changes Cathy’s decided to make make sense. In Breaking Bad, we saw that Walt and Skyler weren’t exactly rolling in the dough. We saw Skyler selling things on eBay to earn extra cash. We saw all the crap Walt was taking at the car wash. Then, when he found out he had cancer and began cooking meth, we understood his reasoning and it made sense.

Things here don’t work like that. We’re supposed to understand that Cathy’s husband is basically an overgrown child because he rides a Vespa to work and likes video games. We’re supposed to understand that Cathy isn’t really in control of her own life because she lets a contractor talk her into getting a hot tub instead of the swimming pool she wanted. And we’re supposed to understand that she constantly eats up everyone’s crap because Gabourey Sidibe gives her some guff after showing up to class late.

But all things considered, and definitely all things we’re shown in the pilot, it doesn’t really seem like Cathy has things that bad. But before we know it she’s doing cartwheels down hallways and cussing out her neighbor. It’s a transformation that I don’t think the show has really earned for itself, and I wonder if it’ll be disorienting for anyone tuning in. Of course, Laura Linney is the star, so there are more than a few people who will be willing to forgive the pilot if the show can pull itself together in later episodes. Still, Linney has her work cut out for her. A capable actress though she is, her performance throughout the pilot is pretty uneven. She’s quirky, she’s flirty, she’s defeated and she’s angry, and not necessarily in that order. At this point, I’m not sure she’s settled on how she wants to play the character.

She comes off best when she’s sarcastic and pissed off. The problem with that is her being sarcastic and pissed off isn’t what the show is ultimately going to be about. Another problem is that sarcastic and pissed off isn’t pissed off and pissed off. In one scene where Cathy confronts a neighbor who’s been nothing but rude to her in the five years they’ve lived next to each other, she really comes off as mean and a little over the top. The show obviously thinks it’s profound, so I wouldn’t expect Linney to go out and start shooting people, but right now she’s taking the character from 0 to 60 in about three seconds, and she’s going to need to find a way to even that out.

Adding to the cast are the aforementioned Sidibe and Oliver Platt, who stars as Linney’s husband. They obviously don’t get as much screentime as she does, but in the end they feel more consistent, and for my money, more entertaining. But despite its shortcomings, I’m more than willing to stick around and see how the show develops. I mean, it is Laura Linney. And she’s got cancer.

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Rubicon: Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they aren’t out to get you.

In the post-Lost era, you’d think that vast government conspiracies would be easier targets for serials which are meant to last six or seven seasons. But the few, quickly-canceled series we’ve seen these past few years which have dealt with such hefty subject matter have shown us that these types of shows aren’t always the easiest to pull off. But while, during the pilot episode of AMC’s third original drama, I may have felt like someone was going to rush into the Oval Office and tell the president, “Sir, he’s going to tell them about The Event,” I walked away feeling like they had finally gotten it right. Or that at least they were on the right track.

With Mad Men and Breaking Bad, and now The Walking Dead on the horizon, I can understand how people might look at AMC and think, “They can do no wrong!” The similar-minded amongst you need only turn your attention to Exhibit A to realize that not everything the network puts its name on is going to be a guaranteed hit. And so it may turn out with Rubicon. But assuming the show does stick around, it will definitely be a much different animal than AMC’s current lineup in just about every way imaginable. From the show’s color palette to its acting, Rubicon just about screams low-key.

James Badge Dale plays Will Travers, who works at the American Policy Institute, a think tank which looks for threats based on patterns found in big file folders full of files and books, which also happen to be filled with files. And it turns out they’re not above searching through crossword puzzles, because apparently these groups which secretly control the world are never happy with just controlling the world, they have to drop clues and be so in your face about it.

So yes, you have to admit that for all it has going for it, there are a few things about the show that make you go, “Hmmm.” But in the end I didn’t think that this or the fact that technology seems to have taken a back seat to things detracted from the show in any big way. The world depicted in Rubicon is a dreary one. It’s a world where people talk in quiet, inside voices, look pensive most of the time and buy all their clothes from Banana Republic. It’s as if their world operates under different rules than ours. But while there are some aspects you can tell the writers are stretching just a bit, everything still seems to work.

If you’ve read other reviews of the show, one thing a lot of people are talking about is the show’s pacing, in that it seems to be moving very slow. This wasn’t as big an issue for me. I feel that if we were watching Rubicon on NBC or FOX, we’d mostly be treated to big explosions and people speeding away in dark sedans while being shot at. So I’m happy to watch AMC take a more subdued approach to things.

So while the explosions may be absent, it looks like AMC’s got another solid show on its hands. Well acted and brooding, it’s a kind of drama that’s been absent from television for a long time. And once the show’s had a chance to work out some of it’s kinks, I think it’ll be a welcome addition to those in the market for a smart, thinking man’s (or person’s) show.

Persons Unknown: I just want my kids back.

Lost giveth and Lost taketh away. The giveth is one of the best shows ever to grace our TV screens. The taketh away is hours and hours of networks trying to find the NEXT Lost. Some, like *shudder* Vanished are horrible right from the start. Others, like FlashForward start with a bang but quickly fizzle out. Will a replacement ever be found? We’re not sure, but we’ll keep looking.

The next show trying to fill that Lost-shaped hole in our hearts is Persons Unknown, which, for some reason is already drawing comparisons to that very same show. And like so many shows before it, it’s not quite as good. But yet, in the middle of all its stereotypical characters and cheesy acting, we catch a fleeting glimpse of promise. How’s that? Let me tell you.

In Persons Unknown, a group of strangers have been abducted by — get this — persons unknown. When they wake up they’ve all been placed in a small town in the middle of nowhere. They’re all alone, if you don’t count the creepy night manager at the hotel they’re staying at or the staff at the Chinese restaurant across the street. They find devices implanted under their skin. And they’re being watched by security cameras installed all over town. Who’s behind it all? Luckily there’s a reporter out in the real world looking into one of the victim’s disappearances, and I have a feeling that with a little luck, he’ll have the whole thing figured out in six or seven seasons.

Unfortunately, we may not have that long, because I have a really hard time seeing this one last past its 13 episodes. And it isn’t entirely because of the show itself. It has to do with it airing during the summer and the amount of promotion NBC is giving it in addition to that. If the show’s continued existence depended only on the content, we might have something to talk about. Because with some work this could really go somewhere.

As things stand right now, Persons Unknown seems a little too polished. It’s as if the entire show was put together with only its promotional pictures in mind. The show can’t simply tell us who these characters are, they have to show us that Jason Wiles is a little rough around the edges and has a shadowy past because, you know, he’s got stubble. I understand that certain characters have a hard time trying to break out of their types, but this cast has really got its work cut out for it. We’ve got Janet, who we can tell is deeply worried about her 5-year old because she says, “I’m just worried about my daughter,” about every five minutes. And then there’s Sergant McNair, who I have a feeling is in the Army because he’s wearing a uniform and says things like, “Sir, yes sir,” and “I’ll go do a recon.”

If the cast can forget that they all come from such different walks of life and concentrate on the fact that they’re stuck in some weird ghost town in the middle of f’ing nowhere, I think they’ll work well together and the show could potentially go far. But just like any other new show trying to find its footing, it’ll take a bit for it all to come together. Let’s hope it doesn’t take too long. Because television, just like Lost, giveth and taketh away.

The Good Guys, “Pilot”: Let’s bust some punks.

Fans of The Shield will know that Shawn Ryan has another cop show coming down the pipeline. Fans of Bradley Whitford and big, gross, 70s-style mustaches will wish that his new cop show, The Good Guys, had instead been titled Free Mustache Rides.

The Good Guys stars Whitford (who’s aged terribly) as grizzled veteran Dan Stark and Colin Hanks as his partner, Jack Bailey, the young idealist who likes to play things by the book. The show also stars just about every cop cliché you’ve seen in movies and television over the past thirty-some-odd years, and very obviously enjoys wadding them up and throwing them in your face.

Take all of these things, put them together and what do you get? Well, at least until the show figures out exactly what it wants to be, you get a pretty uneven hour of television. It’s obviously a comedy, but what sort of comedy? There were times when I felt that the show was trying to go over the top, venturing into that realm where only comedies like Arrested Development and 30 Rock dare tread. I don’t think that’s the sort of show The Good Guys is trying to set itself up as, so it’s going to have to bring those beats down a bit, especially when you take into consideration the healthy dose of good, old-fashioned drama it’s hinted at.

Uneven though it may have been, I enjoyed it. Bradley Whitford and Colin Hanks have good chemistry between them and are obviously having fun in their new roles. Some might find the dynamic between the by-the-book rookie and the has-been old-timer a little played out, but that’s exactly what the show has going for it. The Good Guys never forgets that it’s a walking, talking stereotype, and more importantly, it doesn’t care. In the end neither do you.

Much like Justified, The Good Guys pays a lot of attention to the criminals Dan and Jack are chasing. I’m not sure if this is something the show will keep up in the future, or if it will follow a strictly procedural format, but in the end I don’t think it matters. The show has so much fun with itself that I’m willing to just sit back and see where it takes us. And if that weren’t the case, I’d come back just for Bradley Whitford’s mustache.

Stuff I liked:

  • Mo Ryan had it right when she said that The Good Guys is just the music video for The Beastie Boys Sabotage turned into a TV show.
  • “Let’s bust some punks.”
  • PO-lice that MOO-stache!

Parenthood, “Pilot”: I’m doing the right thing, right?

“I’m doing the right thing, right?” If you caught maybe five or ten minutes of the Olympics these past couple of weeks, you can almost imagine NBC asking you that very same question. After all, the way “Parenthood” is being marketed makes it seem like it’s supposed to be the 100% surefire cure to EVERY SINGLE ONE of NBC’s problems. Gone are the days of fourth-place shame, and it’s clear skies from here on ahead. Or, maybe it’s the opposite of all that. I forget.

It’s important to realize that the premise of “Parenthood” isn’t new, so there’s little chance of the show being groundbreaking in any way. Really, the most you can hope for is that the writing will be better and the characters more engaging than the last show like it. It wasn’t the ratings giant NBC was hoping for, but still, last night’s premiere did meet those expectations, and dare I say, exceeded them? Also no, but it was pretty good. Much like these things do, “Parenthood” deals with a large family, sometimes spending their time together, sometimes not. Each of the kids — along with their spouses and their own kids — are all in slightly different situations. They live, they love, and they learn. Along the way we learn that some parts are much more entertaining than others.

Overall, I think the decision to bring in Lauren Graham to replace Maura Tierney was a good one (Tierney bowed out of production last September because she was undergoing treatment for breast cancer). She’s a good actress and more than believable as a single mom almost at the end of her rope with two teenage kids. Still, I’m thinking it might be hard for her to get out of that Lorelai Gilmore frame of mind. She delivers some of that dialogue a little too quickly if you smell what I’m cooking. Peter Krause plays Peter Krause as the easily frustrated everyman. Most of the the pilot’s more poignant moments come from a storyline involving his son being diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome.

It’s Graham’s and Krause’s stories that play at the heart of the show. Krause shows real emotion coming to terms with the fact that there’s something wrong with his son. Graham’s scenes with Mae Whitman (our beloved Ann from “Arrested Development”) play as some of most show’s most natural (although a surprisingly small amount of time is spent dealing with their relationship). The other brother and sister, played by Dax Shepard and Erika Christensen, almost seem like they were thrown in to the show out of necessity. Shepard is the younger son who discovers he’s got an illegitimate child. He’s funny in the role, but that’s just it, the whole thing seems like it’s there to serve the show’s need for comedy. Christensen’s character, a working mom who feels distant and detached from her young daughter doesn’t offer very much in the show’s first episode. And that’s important to remember. It’s only the first episode, so we’ll have to see how everything plays over the next few weeks/months.

“Parenthood” has no chance of not being compared to that other show about a large family, “Brothers & Sisters.” I think one of the largest things that separates the two is that “Parenthood” doesn’t have the underlying sense of foreboding that “Brothers & Sisters” sometimes does. I don’t feel like there’s a mistress who’s about to be introduced or a drug habit that’s about to be revealed. Now that’s not to say that these things won’t happen, but the show’s lighter notes keep you from looking for it.

Again, from NBC’s marketing of the show, it looks like they expect “Parenthood” to be a game changer. Honestly, that’s probably not going to be the case. It looks like they’ve got a good, solid show, but the entire thing’s going to be hurt because of how hyped-up it’s been. *cough, cough* “Studio 60,” anyone? And even that show got a full first season. NBC’s obviously got some money riding on this, so I think they’re going to give it every chance to succeed.

The Marriage Ref: Whoever Wins, We Lose

There were a few moments during last night’s premiere of The Marriage Ref where I said to myself, “Okay. Alright. I can do this.” But by the time it was over all I could see was this dystopian 1984 nightmare in which the government hooked us all up to computers and pumped pre-approved entertainment directly into our brains. It consisted mostly of episodes of the The Marriage Ref and that song “I Gotta Feeling” by The Black Eyed Peas.

The show takes couples who for some reason actually spend time arguing over the most over-the-top, ridiculous crap, then brings in a panel of celebrities to swap jokes and smug comments in an attempt to “debate” the pros and cons of each side of the argument. Host Tom Papa (the most advanced robot the Japanese have ever created) listens to both sides before deciding on a “winner.”

It isn’t the premise of the show that bothers me. In a world where reality television is just an unfortunate fact of life, I’ve come to expect shows that become more and more ridiculous every year. And hey, it’s Jerry Seinfeld, so how bad can it possibly be? Pretty bad, actually. Still, what bothers me most about The Marriage Ref is how prepackaged and fake the entire thing is. Almost everything that comes out of the participants’ mouths sounds like it spent a week in a writers room being put together, and the show is so heavily edited you can hear the cuts in the audience’s laughter from camera angle to camera angle.

Tom Papa’s (somewhere out there is a pornstar who’s just begging for a name like that) cutesy introductions to each couple just add to the overall smugness of the show. Some of that might be lessened if the jokes made at their expense weren’t so obvious and contrived, but as it is that’s not the case. The great thing is that NBC is so certain of what a hit they’ve got on their hands that they didn’t even bother sending out screeners before the premiere. Can you believe it’s that good? I’m not sure, but I think that’s how you spell “irony.”

I’m kind of amazed at some of the panelists they’ve been able to get for upcoming shows, including Tina Fey, Larry David and Ricky Gervais. Maybe they know something we don’t and the show is just going to unload a whole mess of comedy goodness on us in the next few weeks. I don’t think so, but you never know, I guess.

Archer premieres tonight on FX

If Michael Scott actually got the chance to make Threat Level: Midnight, I imagine it would look something like this. FX’s new animated comedy comes from the creator of Frisky Dingo and Sealab: 2012, and if you’re a fan of that Adult Swim style of humor, you’re almost guaranteed to like this one. The show  – the latest in a long line of spy parodies – centers around Sterling Archer, who works for the International Secret Intelligence Service. When not dealing with global intrigue, he’s dealing with his boss, who also happens to be his mother, and his ex-girlfriend, who he sees every day at work.

I like Adult Swim, but some of their shows (I’m looking at you, Aqua Teen Hunger Force) seem like they’re geared more toward being as wacky and zany as possible than they are at making any sort of sense. Wacky is good, but when not taken in moderation it gets old quick. From what I’ve seen so far, Archer looks like it’ll do a much better job of keeping itself focused on what it is – an international intelligence agency populated by sometimes over the top but still real world stereotypes – rather than ride the Silly Train of the tracks. While Archer’s plot seems ridiculous, its humor always stays grounded in reality. This isn’t Top Secret.

A big part of that premise isn’t that Archer is incompetent at his job, but that he’s a womanizer, incredibly arrogant and immature. When you pair this with his pissed off ex-girlfriend, his overbearing mother and the agency’s HR rep, the humor is witty, sometimes irreverent and always laugh-out-loud funny. It’s definitely R-rated, and as such fits in perfectly on FX, who also airs our dearly beloved It’s Always Sunny. And with a cast featuring H. Jon Benjamin, Chris Parnell and Jessica Walter, you know they know their business.

The first two episodes air tonight at 9 and 9:30 CST. You’ll want to set your DVRs.