Tuesday, September 30, 2008

TV Catch-Up: How I Met Your Mother, Dexter, and The Office

How I Met Your Mother

Tonight's How I Met Your Mother addressed a common debate among New Yorkers: where can you find the best New York burger? I would love to hear the real-life inspiration for the burger that puts Corner Bistro to shame. Having still not been to Corner Bistro or Burger Joint, my pick is Shake Shack (picture above). Drop a comment to proclaim your fave New York burger, and we'll see if we can get a poll going.

As for how the episode fared beyond making me hungry: Regis Philbin was a good sport to play an angrier version of himself, although the Million Dollar Coin Toss game show joke felt a bit dated. Barney's shilling for the fictional bank his company bought (oddly appropriate given the Wall Street situation) was eh, but any excuse to hear Neil Patrick Harris sing is a good one (and makes me need to watch Dr. Horrible's Sing-a-long Blog again for the 50th time). So overall, a perfectly solid episode based on a delicious idea.


From burgers to pudding, as Rita's chocolate craving made her realize she's pregnant with Dexter's baby. It's nice to see Dexter's evolution continue after his identity crisis last season. As his relationship to dead foster dad Harry is off due to abandoning Harry's code, Dexter will have to figure out what kind of a father he can be.

Just as last season switched up the "catch a killer" formula by having that killer be Dexter, this year sees an even more drastic shift in the season-long plot. Dexter kills accidentally for the first time, leaving him emotionally confused and heading towards a friendship with Jimmy Smits' ADA, Miguel Prado, the deceased's brother. With suspicions about the dead guy's story and a drugdealer leaving bodies, there's plenty of story to last, but it's still harder to see where this season is going than the last two. Changing things up has kept the show great for two seasons already, so it's looking like this season should be just as good.

Side note: Those minor characters who looked sorta familiar but you weren't sure from what? Dexter's dentist also played Mr. Turner on Boy Meets World, the Harry to Sean's Dexter. And that kind of annoying IAB girl who looked about 16? Asian girl from 21. But as much as the new detective with a crush on Deb may have seemed like a cross between Jack's ex-son-in-law on 24 and Keamy on Lost, he is actually neither.

The Office

Hard to say anything against The Office's satisfying and hilarious season premiere. First off, yay to Jim and Pam! And just in time too, what with Mad Men's Harry cracking her up with jokes about professors. We all know laughter is the key to Pam's heart, even if it is from someone with such unconvincing hair.

Back at the office, Holly continued to prove a valuable addition, proving there may be someone right for Michael after all. Whether putting her foot in her mouth with Oscar or beatboxing to Michael's lame rap, she clearly fits into the cast perfectly. She even seems to bring out the best in Michael, as he seemed unusually restrained in this episode (outside of tearing up the Counting Crows tickets and Michael Klump. He's still Michael).

It was also a nice surprise to see Ryan back in the office, filling in for Pam after his arrest for fraud. With Michael's love still just as strong, it's almost like Ryan never left for New York.

A few other noteworthy gems:
-The photo of younger Stanley
-Holly discovering Kevin is not mentally challenged
-Andy's girly wedding plans to the uninterested Angela
-The whole office doing Michael Klump impressions
-Creed giving Kelly a "tapeworm"

No Office this week for the Vice Presidential debate, but with Sarah Palin there it's looking to be just as funny.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Gut Reactions on the First Debate

Tonight's debate is not the type where you can clearly say that one candidate won while the other lost. For the most part, Obama and McCain both stayed true to the message they are sending voters and repeated the points we've heard many times before. To the crowd I watched with this meant a pretty expected and uninteresting debate. But behind that cool, politician exterior, the candidates did let out a few moments of debate drama gold. And for that reason, it's worth looking at how they fared.

The biggest irony of the debate was that McCain's finest half hour was the first one, focused on the economy. During the first third, McCain had complete and utter control of the discussion, whipping out accusation after accusation against Obama. The fact that most of the accusations were either untrue or heavily distorted only added to his dominance: they forced Obama to go on the defensive. Obama spent so much time correcting McCain's false assertions that he couldn't make any of his own. By putting Obama on the defensive, McCain made him look weak, which is the best thing a Republican can do to a Democrat.

But as the second third hit and the focus shifted to international politics, the playing field became a bit more even. Suddenly, Obama went on the offense, speaking out strongly against the Iraq War and in favor of stopping Al Qaeda. But McCain fought right back, name-dropping General Petraeus on a biminutely basis and voicing his support of the surge. But it was also at this point that McCain began to make some mistakes. His constant references to Reagan might have mobilized the Republican basis, but his continued insistence on mentioning politicians last relevant before I was born seem unlikely to help. More significantly, his suggestion that the bailout be paid for through a spending freeze on everything but defense, veteran's affairs, and something else seemed out of the blue and erratic. Beyond the obvious pandering to veterans, it showed a McCain willing to act on temper that we would see again very shortly.

If the score so far is first third to McCain and second third tied, I have to give the final third to Obama. Here Obama made some of his more popular points, such as advocating (for the 6th time or so) alternative energy and speaking of restoring America's reputation in the world. But while these are points McCain essentially agrees upon, he failed to connect himself to them. When asked how he felt about America's position in the world, he ignored the question to talk yet again about Iraq, missing a surefire way to gain some immediate approval. He also provided the night's most shameful display of pandering by speaking against a "second Holocaust" in an attempt to show he loves Israel more than Obama. If any Jew falls for that, I will be deeply ashamed for my people. But his weakest point in the debate came when Obama attempted to quote Henry Kissinger against him. McCain's interrupting, outraged tirade about how he's known Kissinger since before Obama could read made him look not like a president but like a child throwing a temper tantrum. John McCain of the erratic temper showed his face today as Obama asked moderator Jim Lehrer to ask a new question.

So overall, I expect the debate to go down as a draw, as each candidate ably outlined their plan of how to fix our country while ignoring every question Lehrer asked. But forgive me if, perhaps through bias, I feel that Obama came out of this debate stronger. They may have been an even match in policy, but Obama passed what many Americans look at as the stronger test: who can appear more presidential. While McCain yelled and spent his listening time looking like he wanted to punch Obama, Obama remained cool and collected throughout. Their closing statements each aptly summed up their performances. Obama summed up his platform again, while McCain mentioned his Vietnam experience again. Obama mostly played it safe tonight, giving a solid if perhaps uninspiring performance. But he also did nothing to embarass himself, which cannot be said of the bold emotionality of John McCain.

UPDATE: I watched the Kissinger clip again and admit that I may have (greatly) exaggerated McCain's temperament. It may have been less a case of temper taking over than of just being very firm with his statements. But even if McCain did not lose it as I suggested, he still looked angry a good portion of the debate and did not appear as presidential as Obama.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

The Wisteria Lane Theory of Foreign Policy

A review of Choke (releases tomorrow) and thoughts on the season premieres of The Office and Grey's Anatomy are coming soon. In the meantime, enjoy my favorite clip of the day:

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

How Many Angels Can Dance on the Head of a Pin?

After a second season bogged down in too many characters and boring storylines, last night's third season premiere of Heroes was quite the return to form. The second season was forgotten after quickly identifying Nathan's shooter, putting the focus back on what was right about season 1. Of course, the premiere featured a lot of Heroes' trademark silliness in the pursuit of profundity (see post title above for my favorite line of dialogue, courtesy of Sylar), but that's been there from the start. Heroes has never been a great show, but last night showed it could go back to being a good one.

I'll go through the recap by character, starting with Future Peter. I've always found regular Peter kind of annoying, so badass Future Peter is a nice change of pace. After dodging Future Claire's bullet to put a few in Nathan, Peter goes on a quest to change the future. His quest brings him in contact with most of the regulars, uniting the cast and giving the season a focus the earlier ones lacked.

Hiro & Ando were back to their usual dynamic until Hiro saw a super-powered Future Ando kill him. Even with that development, they still keep things light, using Batman and Catwoman as a model to catch the Speedster, a new character who intrigues without taking over the story. They continue to prove a show about superheroes shouldn't be so angsty.

As opposed to Nathan, who had some of the best and worst from the episode. On the one hand, his return to politics puts him back on track, and it was fun to see Nathan go all Hurley playing chess with dead Linderman. But Nathan's talk of religion and angels is the type of thing Heroes does worst, and was no less laughable this time around. As for Ali Larter's attempt to repent for the always-annoying Nikki, Tracy does show vast improvement with a real power included. We'll see if she holds up or goes back to being someone to fast forward through.

Which is why I'm grateful the writers have paired up dull Mohinder and the universally hated Majjjja, to keep the worst characters contained. I'm still not sure which was sillier: Super Strengh Suresh throwing muggers in the air or coming on to Majjja by referring to "that extraordinary body of yours." Their scenes are a reminder of why it is always good to DVR Heroes.

Sylar, a character who has already oustayed his welcome by a season, finally got Claire's immortality, which I suppose means we're stuck with him. But it was nice to finally have an answer to how he gets other people's powers, when Claire asks if he is going to eat her brain. "Claire, that's disgusting." Almost as funny as the "deep" questions he sees there.

As for the rest: We finally find out Mama Petrelli's power as she yells "The Butterfly Effect!" every few minutes. Parkman talks to a turtle. Noah plays catch. Big Bob dies (so long). And in a nice Veronica Mars reunion, Elle's electric meltdown gets Weevil/Jesse/Peter out of jail.

With a potion that creates heroes, new villains on the loose, and an ever-changing future, there's plenty of good new stories to keep things interesting. Does that justify ending the first hour with a recitation of Yeats' The Second Coming? No. Creator Tim Kring needs to remember this is a comic book show, not The Sopranos. But when Heroes stops philosophizing and sticks to what it knows, it's actually enjoyable to watch again. So I'm taking it off probation and back on the season pass. For now.

Welcome to Zandervision

At the urging of a friend, I have finally decided to enter the world of entertainment blogging. There's no set mission to the blog. It will likely be a mix of film reviews, TV recaps, and my thoughts on news or events. Anything in the realm of entertainment is fair game. With the election, a little politics might slip in as well.

Because it's premiere week on TV, expect my first few posts to look at how the new season is shaping up for different shows. Heroes and Grey's Anatomy are each demanding two hours of us after lackluster seasons. I'll let you know if they're worth it. The first presidential debate is on Friday, during which I will see which candidate says "change" the most. And my most anticipated season premiere comes this Sunday with the third season of Dexter. If you don't already watch it, start now. There's plenty going on in entertainment now, and I'll be writing in soon to discuss it.