Tag Archives: entertainment

Lights Out: How Many Boxing Metaphors Can I Cram Into This Review?

You can’t go so far as to say that Patrick “Lights” Leary is washed-up. He bowed out of the sport after losing the heavyweight title, and has spent the five years since then doing interviews, running a failing gym, and letting his brother shuffle around all the money he made so that it doesn’t look like he’s hurting as much as he is. Leary isn’t begging for interviews (although he’s not above hosting the odd bingo tournament here and there) or appearing on ‘Dancing with the Stars.’ He’s not a drunk. He loves his wife and his three daughters and does his best to do right with them. So early in the pilot episode I wondered if maybe the show wasn’t as complex as I was hoping for. Leary’s hurting for money — he’s got the IRS on his back — so there are definitely things he’s hiding from his family, but all things considered, he seems to float pretty close to the surface.

It turns out I was wrong, and what I mistook for being shallow was more akin to a snake, coiled and ready to strike. Leary doesn’t like doing bad things, but his desire to provide for his family overrides all that, and the pilot gives us a small, yet very satisfying, glimpse of that.

I guess I’d be wrong in saying that the desire to be a good husband and father is the only driving force behind Leary. The fight that lost him the heavyweight title five years before was controversial, and the fighter to whom he lost is on TV, asking for a rematch. He left the sport mainly due to his wife, who after the fight told him that if he couldn’t leave the boxing world behind, their marriage was over. Since then, Leary’s had something to prove, although who he has to prove it to is a question Leary himself may not have the answer to.

You may recognize Leary, actor Holt McCallany, as that guy from Fight Club. He also did a stint on ‘CSI’ and a few other shows, but yeah, he’s that guy from Fight Club. And he really brings a sort of childlike fascination to the people and events happening around him. I guess being famous for beating the hell out of people will do that to a person. The ensemble the show surrounds him with does a pretty good job, too. What I like most about Leary’s family is that none of them are boozers, hooked on drugs, or out until all hours of the night fornicating. Well, his oldest daughter is out until all hours of the night. The fornicating thing, we’ll just have to wait and see. All of that could come out in later episodes, it just hasn’t in what I’ve seen so far.

FX hasn’t been doing much in the way of bad TV lately, and judging from its first episode, ‘Lights Out’ looks to be another notch in their belt. Unlike the ill-fated ‘Terriers,’ the show’s commercials are pretty clear on what the show is, so here’s hoping it’ll have that much more staying power. Still, you have to ask what the sell-by date for a show like this is. From what I’ve seen so far, the first season deals with Leary’s comeback into the boxing world. So, he either makes it or he doesn’t… and then what? I definitely don’t see Leary as a saint, but I also don’t see him sinking as deep as Walter White. But wherever the show goes, I can’t wait to see it. Showrunner Warren Leight’s already done such a great job right out of the gate that I’m more than willing to see where he takes us. I guess you could say, ‘Lights Out’ delivers a knock out punch!**

**One. One boxing metaphor.

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The Year End Review: TV

It’s that time of year again. And I mean, it’s really that time of year. Any more time and it’d be next year. Speaking of which, how many of you are absolutely sick of the fact that I can’t get my s**t together and update this thing more regularly? Well, too bad! I’m pretty set in my ways, and if I wouldn’t change for any of my three wives, I probably won’t change for you. Anyway, it was a pretty good year for TV, and for those of you who care, these are my top 10 picks. If I had more time on my hands, this list might look somewhat different**, but I can’t watch everything. So, in no particular order…

Lost. I’d be remiss (what does that mean?) if I didn’t mention one of the greatest TV shows in the history of TV (and shows). ‘Lost’ earns its place on the list more in recognition of the entire series than the sixth season, which most people will admit had its problems. But for all of the questions that were left unanswered and weird, glowy caves that had holes in the middle that needed to be plugged up or else the world would explode — I mean, seriously, what was that? — the show delivered a finale that was as emotionally satisfying as I could have hoped for. And before the numbers, polar bears and four-toed statues, it was the characters that made the show what it was. And that damn dog gets me every time.

Treme. For a little while, ‘Treme’ felt like the kid who was a little too cool for school. It didn’t really invite us into its world, but kept us at arm’s length, telling us that we just didn’t get it. But slowly, as if in the arms of a generous lover, it opened up to us. And once the characters started doing a little more than hang out, drink and play music it turned into appointment television. And the fact that it comes from David Simon and could probably go on for six or seven seasons without building toward any clear ending makes it one of the best character studies in recent memory.

Louie. Hands down, the best comedy of the year. FX told Louie CK that, even though they couldn’t pay him as much as other networks, they would give him complete creative control over his own show, and the opportunity was not wasted. I hate to sound trite (no I don’t), but he’s really reinvented the sitcom, with each episode taking the form of a mostly-self-contained short film. And not only is it hilarious, but introspective and thoughtful. Not to mention gorgeously shot. If you haven’t caught this one yet, you can stream it on Netflix. I really can’t recommend it enough.

Archer. ‘Mad Men’ and ‘Boardwalk Empire’ are all good and well, but man cannot live on live-action drama alone. Solid animated fare is important, and unfortunately ‘American Dad’ can’t carry the load all by itself. ‘Archer’ comes from the fine folks who brought us ‘Frisky Dingo,’ which for two short years carried the mantle ‘Arrested Development’ left behind after it was canceled. The show takes the world’s most self-absorbed incompetent, gives him a double-0 rating and sets him loose on the world. Hilarity ensues. And when I say hilarity ensues, I mean it. Did you read what I said about ‘Frisky Dingo’? The show comes back for another season in January, so check it out.

Breaking Bad. Suck it, ‘Supernatural’ fans. In its third season, ‘Breaking Bad’ made the jump from engrossing (and high-grossing!), to the best show on TV. And the season before was already pretty great. Watching the lengths Walter White is willing to go to, at first to provide for his family, but then to satisfy his own ego is completely devastating. Walter shooting that drug dealer in the head at the end of “Half Measures” had me screaming at my TV, and if the season finale is any indication (it is), things are only going to get darker going forward. Unfortunately, AMC’s schedule is all jacked up, so the show won’t be back until July. The curse of cable television!

Mad Men. This is another show that doesn’t really have any sort of clear end in sight. And because it’s AMC’s darling, they’re probably going to try and keep it around for as long as they can. The trick then becomes how to keep it feeling fresh and not like it’s spinning its wheels. Season 4 did that. Don has his own agency, and now that he’s divorced he’s back out on the prowl. Although I guess that was the case even when he was married. Anyway, the season featured some of the series’ best work. “The Suitcase” and the showdown between Don and Peggy being only one example. Expect that one to be showered with Emmys at next year’s ceremony. For my money, the show came in just a hair behind ‘Breaking Bad’ this year, but…it was a very fine hair.

Fringe. I don’t think anyone really gives a s**t if a show comes “from the mind of J.J. Abrams” anymore. And if you ask me that’s only worked in ‘Fringe’s’ favor. When it wasn’t the hit some expected it to be, it kind of dropped off the radar. That really gave it carte blanche to go balls to wall and make a show for the people who were watching it, the people who were carrying it into second and third season renewals. This season’s proved that like no other, and really shows what risks the showrunners were willing to take with things. Thankfully they all paid off. I’m feeling a little better about the show’s move to Friday now than I was when I first heard about it, so hopefully its audience will move with it and it’ll be back for a fourth season.

Boardwalk Empire. AMC winning all those Emmys must have really pissed HBO off, because they’re coming back in a big way. It took ‘Boardwalk Empire’ about four episodes to find its footing, but after that it was strong all the way to the finish. It’s always good to see such a big show get things right, and that was before we saw exactly how big a freak Agent Van Alden was, and met Richard Harrow (who’s thankfully been promoted to a series regular in season two). What the show lacks in ‘Sopranos’ it makes up for in ‘Deadwood,’ which sucks me in every single time. Can we lay down some cash that season two will open with a montage of all the characters getting dressed in the morning?

30 Rock. Oh ’30 Rock,’ it’s so good to have you back. After a lackluster fourth season, the show’s really amped things up this year, delivering several episodes that are as good as anything they’ve done in the past. I mean, you’ve got Matt Damon! Paul Giamatti! Liz’s Julia Roberts laugh! John Effing Slattery! I cower before the brilliance of his performance. Now, if the show could just find more excuses to bring Jon Hamm back, all would be right with the world. Really, this is the show propping up NBC’s Thursday night lineup. ‘The Office’ has turned into the grandpa with Parkinson’s disease. Every once in a while it remembers how good it was, but it mostly thinks we’re its wife and yells at us for not having supper on the table when it gets home from work. ‘Outsourced’ is garbage and ‘Community’ is too busy smelling its own private parts to do much else. When the lineup grows by a hour come January, it’s gonna be ’30 Rock’ and ‘Parks and Rec,’ so get ready for it.

Justified. FX is really trying to roll with the big dogs as of late, at thanks to shows like ‘Justified,’ it’s paying off. The show had a mix of procedural and serialized storytelling, and I think that as the season progressed, it realized how much stronger those serialized elements were, and so followed them more as the season closed out. Timothy Olyphant is a great actor, and fans of ‘Deadwood’ know that this role was almost tailor-made for him. The back and forth between him and Walt Goggins is great, but honestly, I’d watch a show of Olyphant just ramming Dewey Crow’s face into steering wheels.

And there you have it. A pretty good year, all things considered. And next year we’ve got ‘Game of Thrones,’ ‘Luck,’ ‘Lights Out,’ ‘Curb Your Enthusiasm,’ and more ‘Parks and Rec’ to look forward to, so it’s going to be pretty crowded. So until then and as a always, excelsior true believers!

**’Community’ still wouldn’t be on it, because it still isn’t that good.

“I can do nothing for you, son.”

I feel like the Coen Brothers making great movies is one of the few constants in my life. That, along with death (although I’m not throwing in the towel on that one), taxes, and vacation constipation. Sure, every now and then they throw a Burn After Reading at us. But they make up for it with a Big Lebowski, a Fargo, and a No Country for Old Men. Yes, what a time to be alive.

And before you ask, you can go ahead and add True Grit to the pantheon of Coen favorites. As the last film I’ll see at the movies in 2010, it more than made up for the bitter disappointments the year opened with, with films like Daybreakers and Legion kicking me in the balls and leaving me curled in the fetal position.

The film — the second adaptation of the 1968 Charles Portis novel — is narrated by Mattie Ross, a 14-year old girl whose father was murdered at the hands of outlaw Tom Chaney. After some questioning around town, Mattie seeks out Rooster Cogburn, whom she believes possesses the titular true grit to track Chaney down and bring him to justice. Accompanying them on their trek is Texas Ranger La Boeuf, who’s after Chaney for separate crimes. Together, the three learns lessons about each other, life and each other.

Those of you going into the theater expecting another No Country may be a little disappointed, as True Grit is a much more straight up western than that previous film, but at the same time it’s no less good. It’s superbly acted all around, which should come as no surprise. Tron notwithstanding, since when does Jeff Bridges not bring a healthy dose of badassery to the roles he plays? Matt Damon was a big surprise here. His portrayal of La Boeuf seemed to be one part Jason Bourne, two parts Mark Whitacre and Linus Caldwell. What was so great about it was that it was funny without trying to be funny. And oh, how wrong things could have gone there. I mean, how tired are we of the snarky sidekick who’s only snarky to be snarky?

But the real showstopper here is Hailee Steinfeld, who plays Mattie Ross. She’s come out of obscurity and proven in just two short hours how capable she is of rolling with the big dogs. Now, if you’re asking who Hailee Steinfeld is, I don’t imagine you’re much different from the rest of the world, and that’s including her parents. But fear not, because you’re probably going to be hearing her name much more in the future.

True Grit is definitely one of those the-journey-is-more-important-than-the-destination films. The relationship between Mattie, Cogburn and La Beouf and how it develops is what keeps you glued to the screen. The actual resolution to their journey, the reason they’ve all banded together in the first place is over so quickly you daren’t (DAREN’T!) blink for fear of missing it. And once it’s all over, the film peters out a bit, with its coda feeling more like a, “Well, we sure had some fun, eh?” than anything that really adds to the story. I’ve never read the book, so I couldn’t say how faithful this is to that, although I’ve heard that the film as a whole toes the line pretty close.

I really liked this one. The chemistry (as we say in the hard sciences) between the leads is more than enough to make up for whatever small shortcomings the story has. And at two hours, the whole thing goes by pretty fast. As westerns go, this is probably one of the purest we’re going to see in a while, which is a credit to the Coen Brothers and the tone they’re able to set in their films. Tickets cost about, what? $30 apiece now? Go out and spend it. It’s completely worth it.

It’s Always Sunny, “Charlie Kelly: King of the Rats,” and “The Gang Gets Stranded in the Woods”

“Gatsby believed in the good joke, the kick-in-the-nuts future that year by year recedes before us. It eluded us then, but that’s no matter — tomorrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther. … And one fine morning —- So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the MEH.”

This altered quote was one of my first brushes with literary depth when I was 13 years old. The Great Gatsby opened the door for a year of reading One flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, The Scarlet Letter, Catcher in the Rye, Huck Finn and some accompanying bleak short stories that would reaffirm my cynical world view and remind that I am not the first person to think people are inherently disappointing and terrible. My father had done his best to remind me to cultivate a basic mistrust of people outside our inner circle, but to know that Mark Twain agreed people sucked was a powerful thing.

For some reason, as I sat through a long backlog of recorded shows after the Thanksgiving holiday, the altered quote above kept rushing back. I prefer TV comedy to any other option (sorry zombies, vampires, crime procedurals and Two and a Half Men), but want to have at least 2-3 wow/lolz moments per 30 minutes invested. This can be as simple as a wiener in a mousetrap or as elaborate as hiding $200,000 in a banana stand – just bring the funny.

As low a bar as this sounds, you’d be amazed how often TV fails to reach it. The last two episodes of Sunny left me with a few laughs, but, when combined with the other dross clinging to my DVR, just left feeling like I would spend most of my TV time borne back ceaselessly against the meh.

So, now that I’ve journaled my feelings, let’s look at two exciting episodes of Sunny…together. Two weeks ago, Charlie killed a bunch of rats and went into a depression. I enjoyed his funk because it reminded me of my friend who reminds of Charlie getting depressed, well at least until I felt bad for everyone involved. Anyway, the gang decided they should be nice people and plan him a birthday party – but not really try – and then a bunch of boring crap happened that proved they weren’t really nice, which is totally shocking six seasons in. There was a friend who lives under a bridge and smokes crack and just made me feel dirty about myself who was on screen for awhile and something about a gifted shirt that was quickly returned and replaced for a better shirt. Oh and Charlie and Dee decided to go to a spa together (more on that later.)

It wasn’t bad or anything, but it just never resonated with me. I did laugh out loud when Dee asked Charlie to go to a spa with her. His response: “What is this word ‘spa?’ I feel like you’re starting to say a word but not finishing it. Are you trying to say ‘spa-ghetti?’ Dumb Charlie will always have a special spot in my heart, which is why the end of the episode made me at least end happy.

After an episode of teasing references, we got to see Charlie’s “Dram Bok” (or dream book.) This contained everything that goes on in his head between when he sniffs glue before bed to when he wakes up again the next day with cat food breath. Charlie’s book shows us ridiculous sketches for his denim chicken, teeth bird and worm hat. Sunny has always had the market cornered on denim comedy (remember the work out episode where Dee wears jeans to work out), but the idea of denim chicken really spoke to me. I would like to put one on my desk tomorrow. If you’re a coworker reading this, there are now 19 days until Xmas (Futurama, whaddup!?) Still, the meandering of the rest of episode cannot simply be redeemed by a bunch of teeth glued to a bird or a rat stick.

The next episode was going to be even ZANIER. You see, the commercial said the gang was going to get lost in the woods! Can you imagine those crazy kooks trying to survive a night in the wilderness? How would they find food, shelter and beer (because they like to drink!!!!!)? How would they escape? It’s all so darn zany!

So yeah, my attitude wasn’t the best at this episode and the part in the woods pretty much went how you would expect – except for the bunny. Dee, Frank and Mac decide to capture and kill a bunny, but they soon become convinced it is stealing their souls and grow to love – even worship it. Dee even names him Peter Peter Nickel Eater (which I imagine I will enjoy referencing later around small animals.)

Meanwhile, Dennis and Charlie are paired up to hitchhike to safety away from the wilderness and deliver a pretty good A Plot. I’m too lazy to look back on this, but I feel like it has been way too long since we’ve seen a good Dennis and Charlie pairing. They gave us Day Man – why not keep them around each other more? Anyway, they hitch a ride with a man-loving Tom Sizemore (add cock to his many addictions) who thinks they are “lot lizards.” Their goal is to get to Atlantic City for an animal rights fundraiser Frank donated money to so he could tell off the people running it.

As an aside, sometimes the use of money on this show drives me insane. Are they poor? Do they live off Frank’s riches when needed? Does the bar have customers? Every time I see someone bad with money, I blame TV. I’m not asking for a shot of their bills the way Roseanne did, but at least give me a framework.

Anyway, Dennis and Charlie escape Tom Sizemore and make it to the casino. Dennis convinces Charlie that he needs to start saying yes to life more, and he quickly wins $15,000 in roulette, tries asparagus and delivers a speech to the audience. Then, they get to hang out with their favorite Philadelphia Phillies ballplayers – Chase Utley and Ryan Howard. I was kind of hoping they’d pair up and hit the town for a bit, but the image of them wrestling homoerotically on the floor drunk while the two professionals watch dumb-founded worked for me, too. Before the night ended, they made sure to text photos with the ballplayers back to the gang in the woods to taunt them for missing their heroes.

The episode gave Sizemore one more appearances to pick up the rest of the group in the woods before the credits rolled and then I happily moved on to watch The League and drool over another Archer promo. Maybe I’ll get a chance to review THAT show two weeks too late in the middle of winter. After this handcrafted nearly 1,200 word masterpiece, how could I be asked to stick around and help drive traffic?

The Walking Dead, “Wildfire”: I’m okay!

I spent years working as a substitute teacher, then as a teacher, then as that creepy guy who kept showing up to high school football games, so if there’s one thing I know, it’s high school kids. And I’ve seen my share of kids freak out, start crying, or cuss someone out, because mister, I just can’t deal with this mess today. It’s stupid and I have about zero patience for it, so when Andrea sticks her gun in Rick’s face because he had the audacity to tell her that her dead sister is about to turn into an effing zombie, and they need to put a bullet in her head quick, I found myself grinding my teeth.

But everyone backs off, because hey, she’ll do it! And eventually Amy opens her eyes, takes a few ragged, shallow breaths and begins grasping for Andrea’s BRRAAAAAINNNSSS!1! Andrea says her goodbye’s, cradles her baby sister’s head in her arms, then proceeds to blow it off. Good thing she was wearing protective gear, shooting that Desert Eagle or whatever the hell it was off six inches from her own head.

Like the zombie attack in the episode before it, “Wildfire” was able to get rid of a few useless characters, chief among them the Mexican stereotype and his family. I believe his character was listed as Juan Sanchez-Gomez on IMDB. Of course, the big revelation was that Jim got bit in the attack, and doesn’t have much longer himself. Now, him I will miss. Because one, Andrew Rothenberg is a good actor, and two, I felt Jim actually brought something to the group. His heat stroke induced grave digging, his mindless, “I’m okay. I’m okay. I’m okay.” Every group like this needs at least one crazy person around. But it looks like we’ll have to turn to Shane for that, at least for the foreseeable future. That look on his face as he tracks Rick down the barrel of his shotgun was truly maniacal.

At this point it’s obvious that the Shane/Rick blowout isn’t going to play the same as it did in the comic. It’s a pretty big card to play so I can understand why TPTB would want to hold off on it, but I feel like the story needs to take a bigger leap than it has so far. That may be me fooling myself into thinking ‘The Walking Dead’ is a show that it really isn’t. This is a character drama, but the zombies and blood and guts have me treating it like a genre piece. I may half expect the Smoke Monster to fly out of the woods and kill all the zombies before they can hurt any of the survivors, but it just isn’t gonna happen.

After some tearful goodbyes, everyone jumps in their cars and takes off for the CDC in Atlanta in a nice little driving montage with some great scoring by BSG-alum Bear McCreary. When Jim gets worse, he asks Rick and Shane to be left on the side of the road. His thinking is that, once he becomes a zombie, he’ll be able to be with his family again. I understand that people in zombie movies have never seen zombie movies themselves, but man, Jim’s just an idiot. I know that Jim doesn’t really think he’ll be rejoining his wife and kids, but who would want that for themselves? What sort of weird fulfillment would it bring? My wife and I have already pinky-sworn to kill each other in the event one of us is ever bitten by a zombie, and waste no time getting freaky with the other’s attractive best friends. Double tap. Get freaky. That’s the plan. None of this quasi-spiritual BS about being reunited after being bitten ourselves. That stuff’s for the birds. And by that, I mean the Hitchcock movie.

So Noah Emmerich is the last man in any sort of official capacity who may know what’s going on with things. When Rick and the gang start asking questions about what’s happened, I bet he pops up with some brews and starts talking about high school, just to make sure they don’t notice all the cameras filming them, or how none of them have actually ever left the city. It’s always more realisitic to have characters in these sorts of situations seek out answers when some seriously crazy stuff is going down. We all remember how frustrating things got on ‘Lost,’ when everyone was stuck on this island with Others and polar bears and French women and didn’t really seem to care what it all meant. But, this could also be a serious misstep for the show. Introducing this sort of authority into a show with genre elements (even if the show isn’t necessarily genre itself) is almost always never good. And if they were ever to introduce the president, I think I might tune out entirely just on general principle. We’ll see what secrets are revealed in the finale.

A stunning, sometimes disappointing first season. And it’s all been building toward, what, we’re not really sure. But we can definitely say that we’re going to find out. Yep. We suuure are.

The Walking Dead, “Vatos”: I’m glad that’s over.

I think most will agree that it’s a good thing ‘The Walking Dead’ is taking departures from the comic. It keeps things fresh and exciting, and keeps the fans guessing what’s coming next. So let’s see those new characters. And let’s see that horde of zombies bring God’s swift judgment upon their heads, because man, were they annoying. I mean, I can’t be the only one who thought the last ten minutes of the episode were the best part, can I?

Four episodes in, and I’m still waiting for the show to click. It’s doing so many things well that it hurts that much more when it does things wrong. “Vatos” touched on several ideas that felt like they sounded great in the writers room, but came out half-baked. Let’s take a look. ISSUE THE FIRST: The Mexican gang. These guys would have worked so much better had they been either a straight up gang or just a group of nurses, doing good, helping the sick and afflicted. There’s a really interesting idea that was touched on in “Dirty Hands,” an episode of ‘Battlestar Galactica’s’ third season. And that was, in a post-apocalyptic society, when the job you’re given is usually where your skills are strongest and where you’re needed the most, do you really have any freedom to move around, to eventually do something different? On BSG, you could see these people doing a certain job year after year, and got the sense that their descendants, years and years later, would be doing the exact same thing. On ‘The Walking Dead,’ I thought it would have been much more interesting to see the foundation being laid down for some sort of Canticle-of-Leibowitzesque guild of healers. All the guns and tough talk kind of ruined that.

If, on the other hand, they hadn’t been nurses, but just a group of Crips, it would have brought up questions of how different groups of survivors are beginning to govern themselves. Questions that the comic has raised already, and I imagine the show will eventually. Speaking of the gang, how much cooler would things have been if the leader was played by Ludacris? I imagine it would have gone something like this…

Rick: We came to get our man back.

Luda: I be that ni**a named Luda, A.K.A. L-O-V-A L-O-V-A, f**k that s**t, ni**a what you wan say one time, Southside let’s ride. And if you love what you do, do what you feel. Then I know you gonna mark my words. Y’all drop s**t like birds. Then it’s about the time for yo ass to get served. Just lay it on down. Just lay it on down, while we relax to the tight raps and the phat tracks that that ni**a Timbaland put down.

He was great in Crash. No reason he couldn’t work the same magic here. Anyway. ISSUE THE SECOND. I understand Rick is a tough guy who needs to show his mettle in front of the gang, but can we please stay away from these gruff platitudes about having blood on your hands? Who talks like that? I guess it should also be noted that “Vatos” was written by Robert Kirkman, the creator of the comic. Taking that into account, I feel like the episode would have worked much better in that format. At least it would have given Kirkman a reason to parse down some of the dialogue. It would have made things a lot tighter.

ISSUE THE THIRD. Jim’s “Aha!” moment at the end of the episode. That’s why he was digging all those holes; to bury all the dead people! This one is kind of a cop-out on my part, because I don’t have a really good excuse for why I took issue with it. It just seemed like the show was trying to be a little edgy and ended up falling flat. It’s like in ‘Boardwalk Empire,’ where every character has found an excuse to flip through a popular book that’s somehow thematically tied to the episode. After the fifth or sixth time, it was just like, alright already, we get it. So anyway, there’s that.

It wasn’t all bad, though. One thing the episode did unquestionably well: Killing off half of the survivors. It was necessary. Eventually the group is going to have to move on, and I don’t think it would have served the show very well to keep such a large group around. Although, on the other hand, there was always a pretty big group in ‘Lost.’ You just had a lot of background players who never had any lines. They just hung out, surfed and cooked ribs while Jack, Kate and Sawyer ran around the island, carrying out all their clandestine BS. Although here it seems that everyone is getting their own time to shine. The downside to that being, when a character doesn’t click, or feels like they’re falling a little flat, it’s that much more noticeable, stacked up against the other characters. Case in point, the Mexican guy and his family. After he compared Dale to a village priest, I knew it was time for him to go.

I really feel like the show is almost there. And I’m wondering if, with only a 6-episode first season, it’ll pull a ‘Parks & Recreation’ and really come together when it returns next year. We’ll have to see. We just found out today that Frank Darabont fired the show’s entire writing staff, so who knows how that will affect things next season. We’ll be waiting with baited breath, I’m sure. That, or ‘The Event’ will get really good and we’ll all start watching that instead.

Friday Night Lights, “On the Outside Looking In”: Babies smoke in Texas.

Granted this is only my second review of Friday Night Lights, but it’s just getting tough recognizing each week what a solid show this is and that this will be its last season. Even more tough looking at the ‘this new show looks so terrible, I can’t stop from groaning every single time I see its ridiculous previews” replacements that surely won’t fill the FNL void. But this episode (expectedly) seemed to have more meat to it than the first, now that we’ve gotten through the off-season catching up. While there weren’t any crazy revelations, scandals or football sparkle reels, we did see some dimension and conflict added to a few of our newer, less familiar characters. Conflict like, perhaps, being the outsider…looking in [/callback].

Anywho. To borrow from Superman, East Dillon is starting to look a bit like bizzarro Dillon, where opposite…is opposite. Mrs. Coach Tami Taylor is mega unpopular. Jess is fighting in the girls room and binge drinking. No one knows the name of star running back Luke Cafferty.  Mrs. Billy Riggins is actually acting like a parent. Becky is keeping her emotions in check and acting like an adult (besides missing curfew). And the freshly top-of-the-world East Dillon Lions aren’t even ranked. Normally I’d write off this much change to a show just getting desperate to keep things fresh, keep the ratings up. But the writers have kept the changes close enough to the realm of possibility to make it really interesting. And while I’ve never particularly cared for the Jess and Mindy characters, I was a little surprised to find myself identifying—or at least commiserating—with them through this episode. I’ll be curious to see how the writers play out both of their identity question marks.

The one move that wasn’t so uncharacteristic, unfortunately, was with Vince. Not to delve into the whole race issue—especially race in sports…in Texas—but please, please tell me we’re not being set up for another Smash-type fall from greatness. Back in—what was it, Season 1? Season 2?—Smash was at the top of his game, football had helped him stay off the streets and work toward a better life, letters of interest were coming in. Then he starts juicing. Downhill from there. And with Vince now in a similar situation—East Dillon had a great season, he’s getting some recognition as QB, his relationship with Jess is pretty solid, he’s also getting some collegiate interest—are we really going to see another black kid from the poor side of town get the rug pulled out from under him? Because if they’re busting Luke for rough tackles, does anyone believe they’ll get away with Vince’s mom’s new wink-wink-under-the-table job? Please, for the love, let just one kid keep his head on straight, get the college scholarship and go on to have a successfully football career.

But on a similar note, I continue to appreciate how realistic the scenarios and dialog are in this show. For those who aren’t familiar with Texas football, especially high school football, these same issues of eligibility, drugs, rabid parents/boosters and lawsuits are pulled right out of the local headlines. It makes the show feel real, rather than just pulling from the same old tired football clichés of learning to work together, homecoming rivalries, stealing the QB’s girlfriend, or whatever. And beyond football, kudos to whoever wrote the scene that introduces us to Epic. That snotty, teenage, defeatist attitude and the helplessness of Tami as she watches Epic just walk off campus makes me grind my teeth, flashing back to my time as a substitute teacher. If they’re going to keep this one realistic, though, it had better take the better part of the season, not an episode or two, for Tami to win over Epic.

Questions for pondering:

  • What’s up with Tami’s co-worker enemy all of a sudden turning on a dime to help her out? Ulterior motive?
  • Is it just me or is Julie’s TA kind of a creep? (And by creep I partly mean not a great actor.) He’s got to be married or something, right? I just don’t understand why she can’t get back together with Matt—you can make it work!!!
  • How cute was Coach Taylor relaying the message to his wife that their creepy-looking baby would like mac and cheese for breakfast.
  • Are there any other Parenthood/FNL watchers out there who are kind of getting Vince’s character on Parenthood and his character on FNL mixed up a little? Because I have to sometimes remind myself that he’s not cheating on Jess with Haddie. At least on Parenthood he’s got the evil-Spock goatee to help us tell the two apart.