Tag Archives: HBO

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.

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Boardwalk Empire, “Home”: Let’s burn this mother down!

In the second half of its freshman season, ‘Boardwalk Empire’ may not be the well-oiled machine that ‘Deadwood’ was this far into its run, but it’s getting pretty dern close, and getting better every week. “Home” had a very ‘Sopranos’-like vibe to it, not only in Nucky grappling with childhood baggage, but in that storyline’s ultimate resolution.

After their father has an accident, Nucky and Eli decide that it’s time to get rid of their childhood home. So Nucky gives it to his friend, Damien Flemming, telling him that the house is his so long as he promises to fix the place up. Throughout the episode, we learn a lot more about Nucky’s past and his relationship with his abusive father, and the house serves as a sort of catalyst for all that. Nucky’s always going to have those memories, but as long as he’s looking at his father’s house in its current state of disrepair, he’s able to keep them more or less at arm’s length. But once Damien comes in, cleans the place up, and slaps a fresh coat of paint on the place, it’s opens those wounds all over again, and those memories become more and more vivid. By the time Nucky comes with Margaret’s son, Theodore, come to see the finished product, more or less exactly how it was when Nucky was a kid, it’s not exactly surprising when he douses the whole thing in paint thinner and sets it on fire. At least he was decent enough to give Damien a big wad of cash to buy another house.

The episode also introduced us to Richard Harrow, another veteran Jimmy meets at a hospital while getting a war wound looked at. Harrow was a sniper — I guess they were just called sharpshooters then — who’s had half of his face disfigured and wears a mask to cover it up. There was something about the way actor Jack Huston portrayed the character that was really amazing to watch. It wasn’t exactly a sense of brooding, but a sense that this is a person who, because of his accident, has almost completely separated himself from the rest of society. He’s an outsider, and that really gave his friendship with Jimmy an air of authenticity. In any case, if you haven’t had a chance to see the episode yet (and if not, why are you reading this?), he’s one of the best things about the show so far.

Jimmy gets a lead on Liam, the guy who sliced up Pearl’s face in “Anastasia,” and catches up with him toward the end of the episode. His speech about killing a German soldier during the war provided the hour’s most dramatic scene, made even better by Richard demonstrating his skills and shooting Liam from a hotel window across the street. There’s an interesting directorial flourish here, with the camera zooming in through the bullet hole in the window to a shot of the hotel across the street. I think you can make the argument that it was a little too much for this scene, but I like how the show has kept that Scorsese-esque style in its directing throughout the season so far. I think it works. If anything was over the top, it was the Phantom of the Opera theme they played over Marrow’s exit from the hotel room. I mean, on-the-nose much?

We’ve known that things between Nucky in AC and Arnold Rothstein in New York were always going to come to a head, and that’s really starting to pick up now in the season’s back half. After trying to set up a new bootlegging business with Chalky (which Chalky thinks is Nucky testing him and rejects), Meyer Lansky and Lucky Luciano approach the D’Alessio brothers with the same offer, telling them that they can knock over one of Nucky’s casinos and use that as start-up cash, which they quickly agree too. So, for you Philistines who don’t get off on good dialogue and conversation pieces, fear not. There’s some good bang bang shoot ’em up action headed your way.

Boardwalk Empire, “Family Limitation”: Lead in the pencil.

Can STD’s be transmitted through the TV screen? Because every time I see Paz de la Huerta I feel like I need to get tested. I understand some women just ooze sexuality, but she does it the same way an open herpes sore might (or so I imagine (I don’t want you to get the wrong idea about me. My herpes cleared up a long time ago)). Her scenes with Margaret make for some good TV, though. And I don’t imagine we’ve seen the end of things between them with this episode.

I thought it was telling that Lucy, who realizes she isn’t Nucky’s only woman, would once again try exerting her dominance over Margaret by making her take her clothes off in front of her. Especially in light of Margaret’s story about the old man and the rooster who would peck out a tune on a small piano. Lucy’s no more than a one-trick pony, in or out of the bedroom. And speaking of Margaret, she really knows how to pick them, huh? The show seems to set her up only to knock her back down. But, if Lucy can’t expect to be the only apple of Nucky’s eye, then neither can she.

In Chicago, Jimmy’s cementing his place inside Johnny Torrio’s outfit, and for me, their meeting with Sheridan in Greektown was where a lot of the show came together in this episode. Now, I’m honestly not sure if it was any sort of nuanced storytelling that really lit my fire as it was people getting shot up. I will say that Sheridan’s brains splattering all over the floor definitely didn’t hurt things.

Given Jimmy’s new standing in Torrio’s eyes – the bees knees for figuring out the Greek situation – I’m not entirely sure whether or not I can trust Capone’s peace offering at the end of the episode. It’s obvious Capone is the kind of person who can dish it out, but can’t take it himself. And when Jimmy starting making cracks about his service in World War I, you saw how fast Capone froze up. You look at other things, like Capone firing off a gun right next to Jimmy’s head, and you think this is one crazy son of a b**ch. He can’t be trusted. But then again, you look at his admission of his son’s deafness and have to ask yourself if he’s looking for a true friend. Someone who’s going to rise with through Torrio’s ranks.

So, Lucky Luciano’s still in the mix. He has a quiet presence, but when the show calls for it, he really RISES to the occasion. Nucky may try muscling him out, but Lucky’s going to hold FIRM. I guess you could say Lucky’s got a huge BONER for Jimmy’s mom. And that’s alright. But please, no more shots of him walking naked to answer the phone.

This was a really solid episode, and showed that the show is much more than just ‘The Sopranos’ set in the 20’s. Now for the exciting stuff! The Republican National Convention! Some headshots thrown into the mix would not be unwelcome.

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.

Boardwalk Empire, “Anastasia”: Scar tissue.

I’m convinced there are scenes sitting on the cutting room floor of Margaret Schroeder walking up and down the boardwalk, going to work and dancing with Nucky with a big Anastasia sign floating above her head. When she first hear’s the news about Anna Anderson in the paper, she says that it’s like something out of a fairytale, and later in the episode, that’s exactly how Nucky’s world of expensive clothes, important people and lavish parties is presented to her.

I was honestly surprised at how quick on her feet Margaret was when Nucky introduced her to his friends, and wonder if their back-and-forth plays into this idea of Margaret poking her head into a world she doesn’t belong in. But whether she belongs there or not, she’s definitely feeling its buzz. Her trepidation at dancing with Nucky quickly dissolves after she sees the way people are watching them, and later, when she sees Nucky and poor, stupid Lucy walking out of the hotel, there’s a genuine sense of jealousy there. Before going home for the night, she swipes some fancy women’s underwear off a hanger and stuffs them in her purse. She’s getting the junky itch, and is less content with completely separating herself from this world as soon as she clock’s out for the day.

Out in Chicago, Jimmy’s in the same boat. Now that Nucky’s kicked him out of AC, he’s set up shop with Al Capone, helping to consolidate Johnny Torrio’s territory now that Big Jim Colosimo is out of the picture. He’s having moderate success. Capone trusts him but his temper causes him to fly off the handle and make stupid decisions, which lead to Jimmy’s new sweetheart getting her face cut up in the episode’s most gruesome scene. I buy Margaret living in Nucky’s world more than Jimmy living in Capone’s. At heart he’s a family man and I’m not sure he has the stomach to do the things being a gangster will require of him.

Badassery, thy name is Chalky White. While ‘Boardwalk’ is definitely the best new show this season (yes, even better than ‘Blue Bloods’), it’s not great in the way that ‘Mad Men’ and ‘Breaking Bad’ are great. Yes, I know. Those shows have had years to develop their stories and characters. We caught a glimpse last night of what the show could potentially be like once it’s had a chance to do the same. The talk Chalky had with the head of the Klan’s AC chapter was probably the best the show’s given us so far, and felt like it brought the rest of the episode up with it.

Chalky’s relationship with Nucky is an interesting one. Like Nucky said, Chalky tells the black community in AC how to vote, but there’s a limit to what he can sell them. Nucky draws the line at a lynching, but where does Chalky draw it? After all, Chalky’s only achieved his status because of what Nucky’s done for him, so how far is he really willing to go for his principles?

And very quickly, some interesting developments between Lucky Luciano and Jimmy’s mom this week. That woman is definitely full of piss and vinegar, ain’t she?

Boardwalk Empire, “Broadway Limited”: It’ll only hurt a minute.

I think I’m going to write a ‘Boardwalk Empire’/’Deadwood’ crossover episode in which Lucky Luciano and Al Swearengen have pointy things stuck up their private parts the entire hour. You’re going to hate watching it.

I realize that, like most of the things I write, this is coming super late, so I’ll try not to delve too much into recapping what happened in the episode. What stood out to me most about this episode was the subtle shift we’re beginning to see in characters’ allegiances to one another. First is Nucky, who I still feel to be a little more sentimental than a lot of the mobsters we’ve seen, but still primarily driven by greed and money. When he’s in bed with Lucy and she asks about the two of the possibly having a child together, it seemed like his interest in her was already starting to wane. See? His ALLEGIANCE was SHIFTING to Margaret, who I predict he WILL KISS at some point this season (which admittedly isn’t much of a stretch, but still). And Lucy isn’t just the spoiled child we may have taken her for. The way she lorded her superior status over Margaret in the dress shop was, interesting, to say the least. Although, when she told Margaret that Nucky had a real soft spot for charity cases, she seemed to be saying a lot more about herself than Margaret.

Now that Jimmy’s been “fingered” in the hooch ambush from the pilot, I’m wondering how permanent his split Nucky is going to be. In the promo for tomorrow’s episode, we saw Jimmy in Chicago pulling all sorts of nefarious s**t will Al Capone. I don’t necessarily think that when Jimmy returns to AC he’ll be bigger and badder than ever, but I do think he’ll have a little more to leverage over Nucky.

And speaking of Jimmy, I thought his argument with his wife, his jealousy over that dirty, dirty picture (bare shoulders!) felt a little contrived. Maybe it was his way of blowing something up so he’d have an excuse to take off to Chicago, but I actually enjoyed how sweet and genuine his relationship with his wife was, and the split seemed like something I had seen in almost every husband/wife argument on television.

But the biggest lesson to take away from “Broadway Limited” was, if you ever survive an ambush in the woods, but have a gaping shotgun wound in your stomach, stay as far away from Agent Van Alden as possible. That man proved the lengths he was willing to go to in order to get completely insubstantial evidence that probably wouldn’t hold up in court, amirite? I especially liked the scene with his wife toward the end of the episode, and thought it said a lot more about him that what we had seen before.

From the scuttlebutt going around the Internets, tomorrow’s episode is supposed to be great, with Chalky White (aka Omar) dealing with the fallout from last week’s lynching. Stay tuned.

Boardwalk Empire, “The Ivory Tower”: Vote Republican.

While ‘Boardwalk Empire’s’ pilot set several plot threads in motion — and delivered some good action sequences — this week’s episode pulled back and spent some time fleshing out its characters.

First, Nucky Thompson. I’m not sure if this has more to do with Nucky or the way Steve Buscemi plays him, but I get the feeling that he’s a guy who’s still trying to get the hang of being a gangster. When Jimmy walks into his office like nothing happened, Nucky tells him he’s got 48 hours to get him $3,000, the price of being a gangster in Nucky’s town. I asked myself, “What’s he gonna do?” I guess after seeing what happened to Margaret’s husband last week, I should just take Nucky at his word and pony up with the money.

Part of my problem may have to do with how jaded I am from having watched ‘The Sopranos’ and movies like Casino and Goodfellas. That is to say, Nucky isn’t Italian and his operation isn’t run like a Mafia family. Still, I see him as somewhat of a proto-gangster, or maybe someone who wouldn’t be so quick to shoot you in the kneecaps. But then again, Mr. Schroeder.

I liked Nucky’s montage, showing that he’s a man of the people, and how he manages to hang onto power. While all those mob movies portray characters who traffic in violence, Nucky seems much more likely to throw money at a problem.

Agent Van Alden became a much more interesting character this week. In the pilot he came off as some sort of Evangelical abusive father with that, “It’s a godly pursuit,” line. After his conversations with Nucky and Margaret, I thought we were seeing the beginnings of an actual personality poking its head out, all until we found out where Margaret’s ribbon disappeared to. As he wrapped it around his hand and took a good, deep sniff I half expected him to start whipping himself like that albino monk from The DaVinci Code. There is something interesting there, with his Jesuit straight man going up against Nucky’s material excess. Van Alden isn’t blind and understands that Nuck’s “as corrupt as the day is long.” They played nice enough during their talk, but it’ll be interesting to see them together once they become increasingly at odds.

At the end of the pilot, Jimmy’s seemed to be riding high on the hog. Knocking off booze. Teaching Nucky lessons about being a gangster. And he spent his money like there’d be about that much coming in every week. He was moving up in the world until Nucky knocked him back down and told him he about the extra three grand. How sobering for him. He had to take what little money he left, along with stealing back some jewelry he had bought his mom — after his new pal Al Capone hung up on him. He got Nucky his money, and was taken back into his good graces, but you can tell things are going to be different from now on. Nucky took some pleasure in humiliating him, and blew the $3,000 on a roulette bet just to rub the salt in nice and deep.

I’m really interested to see how Nucky’s relationship with Margaret develops, and wonder if she’ll eventually turn into the show’s Peggy Olsen. While it’s obvious that Jimmy will eventually be gunning for Nucky’s seat, I could see Margaret turning into more of a partner. She turns down the envelope filled with money given to her by Eli, instead telling Nucky that she prefers to earn her keep. When she asks what she can do, Nucky tells her to vote Republican. We already established that Nucky’s a champion for the little fella (sometimes literally)[/Homer Stokes], and I could see him using Margaret as his advocate, his woman on the street.

One thing the show does that I really enjoy is switching between AC, Chicago and New York. Checking in on Capone and Rothstein elevates the story to a much grander scale than we might get if we stayed only in AC. I wonder how long it’ll keep up. And speaking of Rothstein, he had some great lines this week, telling Big Jim’s shooter about killing a man by making him choke on a billiard ball. But better than all of that was Nucky telling him to see what happens if he ever shows his face in Atlantic City again. Hardcore stuff. We need to get t-shirts made.