Friday, May 22, 2009

Comedy Finale Catch-Up

Of the three comedy finales I watched, How I Met Your Mother wins for finding the right balance of funny and season-ending satisfaction. In fact, that balance was best exemplified by Barney and Robin. Since their first hook-up last season, there's always been the danger the writers would cave in to shipper pressure and let that dominate the show. But between coining "The Mosby" as a way to lose someone's interest in 10 seconds and all the flip-flopping of feelings between them, it was funny, true to the characters, and had the result everyone wanted.

The goat was of course completely anticlimactic, after being hyped up since season 1 and especially in "The Goat" last season. Since Ted had already told most of the story, there wasn't too much more for it to do than...well...chew Robin's washclothes. Oh, and send Ted to the hospital for the second finale in a row. Frankly, there was enough else going on in this episode I'm glad the goat was allowed to do its part without stealing too much attention.

Attention from what? How about the biggest clue to the mother yet? Namely, that Ted's future wife is an architecture student in his class at Columbia (Ted going after one of his students? Barney must be involved in this somehow). So Ted met the mother because Tony got him the professor job, and THAT'S why his run-in with Stella was so important. All right, I'll accept that. And we got a nice twist to ponder heading into next year.

Moving on to The Office, a show that more and more is shooting for the warm fuzzies instead of the funny bone. The finale saw the very welcome return of Amy Ryan's Holly, who single-handedly kept the show moving through the first part of this season, and she continued to elevate Michael in every scene they shared. Their torture-filled, intel-dropping take-off on Slumdog Millionaire was certainly a high point for the episode, but their story was more about Michael's "soulmate" speech at the end. Still, gotta be relieved he didn't do any of the number of inappropriate things I was expecting throughout the episode.

The other couple playing cute was of course Jim and Pam, who got some special news at episode's end. I guess this was supposed to be the big end-of-season reveal, but was it really so shocking? This season has shown Jim and Pam go from one life cycle moment to the next. Getting engaged, buying a house, getting pregnant, it's all so...normal. We get that Jim and Pam are a happy, well-adjusted couple, and it's great that a show is finally showing that on TV. But do they have to prove the rule that normal couples are boring? Jim and Pam played the cute card way too many times this season. It's time they go back to being funny.

This was a step up from most of season 5's episodes, but I can't help noticing how poorly it holds up to finales in years past (not counting season 1, of course). Season 2 had Jim and Pam's first kiss, season 3 had Ryan get the corporate job, and season 4 had the introduction of Holly and Jim's botched proposal. After 5 seasons and 100 episodes, The Office is starting to run out of ideas. Maybe it should take some advice from its 12-episode-and-a-movie predecessor and bow out while the show's still good.

Unlike the other comedies on this post, 30 Rock has never tried for particularly ambitious finales. Now, I know that seems weird to say about a show that brought in Elaine Stritch as Jack's mom in season 1, saw Jack join the Bush administration with Matthew Broderick in season 2, and had half of the music industry guest star for season 3. But given the way 30 Rock spent its season, stunt casting is hardly anything unusual.

So I feel like this finale, which only addressed issues raised in the previous episode, should be judged not on finale standards but as any other 30 Rock episode would be. And in that respect, it did just fine. Love Alan Alda and his scenes with Jack. Already can't remember anything else about the episode. As for the "Kidney, Now" benefit song? I had hoped it would be funnier. So it was a fine end to a fine season, not living up to the highs of "el generalissimo" nor falling to the lows of Steve Martin's episode.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Live Together, Nuke Alone

This year's crop of season finales have been kind of lackluster, with shows from 24 to The Office settling for less than the excitement of years past. But you can always count on Lost to go out with a...well...boom. I haven't had this little idea of where the show is heading since the early days of season 1, but with so much crazy new stuff now in play, I'm just as ready for more.

Of course, I'm primarily talking about Jacob, that mysterious God-like figure who seemed too mystical to take on human form. Yet in the opening scene there he was, looking an awful lot like Rita's abusive ex on Dexter. As he chatted with his unnamed counterpart, I got a very God and the Devil viben as they discussed the way island visitors played in to their feud. The show started off with Jack vs. Locke, and recently has been Ben vs. Widmore, but it's looking like the overriding conflict on Lost may turn out to be this one.

We got even more Jacob in the flashbacks, making him seem like the good guy of those two and providing some nice moments with all our originals. Little Kate, the story Jack told Kate in the pilot, Sawyer's parents' death - all key character moments dating back to the first season. I don't know if Jacob was saving Sayid from the car crash or leading Nadia to it (I lean toward the former), but we did get a solid answer in finding out how Hurley made it to Ajira 316.

Back in the '70s, we got an even bigger answer that's been plaguing me all season: what happened to Rose and Bernard? Well, turns out they retired with Vincent, another long MIA character, to enjoy each other's company and stay away from those Losties with their crazy antics. Rose always has a way of putting some perspective on these finales, even if Juliet was the one to say "Live together die alone" this year.

Outside of that sojourn, it was all to nuke or not to nuke. I'm surprised nobody but Miles dared speak the obvious: that the nuke might very well be what causes the incident. Guess they all have more faith in Faraday than that. Or fate. Actually, they seemed more focused on their silly love quadrangle. When Jack told Sawyer it was all about Kate, I think everyone agreed with Sawyer's exasperation. Did he really forget she was a prisoner on that flight? That kind of thinking deserves Sawyer's punches.

Juliet was acting mighty silly too though, wanting to erase Sawyer from her history because of a single look. What happened to the Juliet who was above getting jealous when Jack made googly eyes at Kate back in their days together? And the whole flashback with her parents there only to tie to the present was less subtle than Lost typically manages. That flashback might as well have been a patient on Grey's Anatomy.

Still, the dropping of the nuke produced the kind of classic "and it all goes terribly wrong" moments that are so fun to see on TV (like in the Battlestar finale). Metal goes flying everywhere, Cheng loses his arm, and Jimmy Barrett gets a spike through the chest. What is it about that actor that makes everyone want to see physical harm come to the characters he plays? Biggest "oh shit" of course was Juliet getting wrapped in chains and dragged down into the Swan. With Sawyer left crying after her, there went one of the most believable Lost relationships this side of Desmond and Penny (who were quite noticeably MIA from the finale, btw).

Back to 2007 for the episode's craziest reveal and most mythologically relevant moments. Locke's really dead! As sad as it is to think that there really will be no more John Locke on the show, that was far overshadowed by the realization that Devil Guy from the opening scene had somehow managed to take over his body. In order to get Ben to kill Jacob. Which, after whining over his neglect, he did.

So now what? Smoke Monster Alex told Ben to listen to Locke, so should we question our allegiance to Jacob, who, after all, we just formally met? In season 6, will Ben still be a lost and confused little boy, or will he return to the manipulative bastard we know and love/hate? What does it mean that "they're coming," and how will that alter Fake Locke's plans. And what's up with him anyway? Yeah, season 6 isn't lacking material.

Finally, back to the 70s for that final bump, and what a final one it was. In an insta-classic moment, a bloody Juliet bangs a rock at Jughead until it flashes the screen to white, leaving us with no idea what will happen come season 6. If it worked, the season starts with Oceanic 815 and everyone's back to who they were with no memory of the past 5 seasons. Or, alternatively, everybody flashes forward to 2007 and helps to defeat Fake Locke. The third option is everyone dies, but that seems kind of unlikely.

What I don't quite get is why everyone is so sure Juliet is dead. Yeah, she was badly injured, but not as much as Sayid. And yeah, she was right next to a nuclear bomb, but everyone else was certainly within the blast range as well. So unless everyone flashes away but her (making her the Sun of the group), it seems Juliet should be back with the Others as planned. So cool it with the mourning, k?

The ending's been compared to that shot down the hatch in season 1, Desmond turning the fail-safe key in season 2, and The Sopranos infamous cut to black. It is certainly frustrating to have no idea what the outcome of the season is, and what next season will be about. But who didn't get goosebumps when the white screen hit? Like Walt's kidnapping or Jack's "We have to go baaaack," that ending helped cement this finale among Lost's many successes. Between that and Jacob, it will be a long wait for the final season.

Finale Fever: Serena Blasts Back and Jack Takes a Nap

Tonight marked the last night of the TV season for shows I watch, yet I'm also just beginning to discuss the finales here. I still owe you a big post on Lost's explosive (yes, I went there) finale and the far tamer cappers on NBC Thursday, but for now I'm sticking to Monday night TV (minus How I Met Your Mother, due to DVR constraints).

For a show that's had such a messy, ADHD-plagued season as Gossip Girl has, it actually did a surprisingly good job of tying together some of the many loose threads. Remember that New Year's Eve Blair spent with annoying Uncle Jack? Here it is! Ditto Nate's easily forgettable romp with the Duchess. And Jenny's strip-tease photos. And Teenage Teacher. Gossip Girl played the great unifier for bad plotlines.

Better was how Gossip Girl had something to do besides narrate. Sure, Serena's vendetta over being called "irrelevant" was kind of silly (and most of the labels were confusing or lame anyway), but it did get back to the title of the show. And as much as I generally dislike anything to do with the mean girls, it did seem in the spirit of how the series began for Jenny to be crowned leader (but will she get to meet Jacob?)

Still, there were a few things that bugged me. First off, we've seen the Chuck and Blair "I love you" "I don't love you" scene almost as many times as we've seen Dan and Serena break up. I'm over it. Second, what's with Dan suddenly going to NYU? I assume it's because he couldn't afford Yale, but newsflash, NYU is more expensive than Yale. Maybe he got a scholarship, but it would have been nice if they explained that, or people might start believing Blair that NYU is a state school.

This year's finale was less ambitious and less disappointing than last year's, creating a solid end to a less than solid season. More importantly, the set-up for next season seems promising. Everyone's set to stay in New York except for Serena (who will stay at Brown for...2 episodes?) More Georgina messing with Blair (though a little Georgina goes a LONG way). And most intriguing, Dan's supposedly dead half-brother wants to be his new bff. Am I foolish to think Gossip Girl may be the rare teen show to avoid the college curse? Probably.

Season 7 won't go down as one of 24's greatest, but it was a consistently entertaining comeback from season 6. Which made me expect more than the bloated tearfest we got in these final two hours. I'm used to the main action ending with a half hour left to go, as that's happened every year since season 4. What I'm not used to is nothing else happening instead.

Let's start with the good stuff: Tony's only sort of evil. You knew when he asked to meet Kaaara's leader he was planning to take him down. That was even clearer when he went all Locke, asking Jack to be his Ben in killing Jacob (Lost references will not end). You knew Tony would get taken down before he could kill Wilson, but his little speech was still kind of moving, especially for how it tied together with 24 history, justifying all his good guy/bad guy flip-flops. Mostly I'm glad to see Tony survive the day, which no sort-of bad guy has done since Nina.

Once Tony was out of the picture, what was left? Mostly Olivia's rather tiresome cover-up story about indirectly ordering Jonas Hodge's hit. When I'm questioning Aaron's involvement, it's a bad sign. But hey, if it gets Olivia and the First Gentleman off the show before season 8, then I suppose it was worth it.

Then there's Kim. The writers did everything in their power to free Kim from her cougar-bait image: stabbing a guy with a pen, pulling a laptop out of an exploding car, yelling "Dammit!" She was a regular mini-Jack. Fair enough, writers. I'll stop the cougar jokes. But the last 45 minutes of the episode was mostly Jack lying in bed being read his last rites Islam-style. Better than staring off into the water after being told off by Audrey's dad? Not sure.

Finally, the torture debate. Jack gave a whole long speech about how torture is wrong but it feels so good, which I guess was suppose to make people on both sides of the aisle feel good. Or it was just there to let Freckles get her Bauer on, pulling a gun on liberal punching bag Janis to torture solo. I kind of wished she had given Janis the sleeper hold and said "Don't fight it," but what can you do. If this was meant to be a cliffhanger, it was a really lame one. I just hope it's there to set up Freckles as part of Jack's rogue torture team in New York. That is, once the magic stem cells bring him back to life.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

The Private Practice Curse and Other TV Catch-Up

We heard the rumors that the CW had already passed on its Lily in the 80s themed Gossip Girl spin-off, and now we know why. Having just watched Monday's backdoor pilot (moving put me behind on TV, and no, I can't explain how I'm caught up on Gossip Girl but not on Lost), it seems that this is the worst potential spin-off since Private Practice.

Ok, this is probably the only spin-off since Private Practice. But think of all the similarities: a female character we like on the original show (Lily/Addison) goes into a spin-off and suddenly becomes a babbling, annoying mess (see: Lily's prostitute speech). The dialogue is uniformly horrible ("This is the part where you fall in love with me. It is, isn't it? You totally are." Guess what? We're not.) And the whole episode you just got annoyed every time they cut away from the original show.

I mean, come on, why would they put the crappy spin-off on the same week as the prom? Prom led to Buffy and Angel dancing to "Wild Horses" and the Sam/Cindy "Come Sail Away" dance on Freaks and Geeks (not prom, but still a high school dance). And in the few minutes not spent making us forget why we usually like Brittany Snow and demonstrating Cynthia Watros' horrible impression of adult Lily as CeCe, what did we get? Chuck finding new levels of softness planning Blair's prom. One step closer to becoming the guy from Twilight. Let's make a deal: we forget the spin-off was ever suggested, and you go back to making good episodes that focus on the kids. K?

Speaking of things related to Private Practice, I stopped watching Grey's Anatomy back in January somewhere along the ghost Denny storyline. But I happened to catch the last 5 minutes of tonight's finale, and (SPOILER ALERT) I couldn't help but notice it ended with Izzy and George about to board an elevator to heaven. Let's put aside the fact that this seems cribbed straight from Six Feet Under's second season-ender with Nate stepping up to the death bus, and just look at how sad this whole situation is.

Obviously, they know we know both actors want off the show. So either they're setting the actors free, or using real-life info to artificially build suspense. I have no idea what happened to George or any context, but the whole situation still bothers me. They're 2 of the 5 original interns, and without them Grey's is just a crappier, soapier version of ER. And couldn't they find a way to write them out that didn't involve super dramatic season finale cliffhanger death? So I found it sad, not for the intentional drama, but for remembering what the show once was.

On a more positive note, How I Met Your Mother has become more must-see than ever, now that they're talking about zooming in on the identity of the mother. I'm not sure how the whole Ted/Stella/Tony drama from Monday's episode plays into the overall story, but I do know a. next year's finale will involve Tony's movie about their love triangle, b. Barney's porn version of avoiding a speeding ticket was awesome, c. murder house, and d. Let's Go to the Mall ringtone.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Get Ready for Outdoor Movies

One of my favorite parts about being in New York over the summer is the free outdoor movies. You have a little picnic, enjoy the weather, and see a classic film you somehow missed, all for free. So if you're going to be in New York this summer, you may want to bookmark this page, as I've compiled all (ok, most) of the different schedules for summer 2009. Which ones are making your summer to-do list?

This is the biggest and most well-known of the outdoor movie venues, and usually has the movies I'm most interested in seeing. This year I'm putting all 3 of the August movies at the top of my list.

June 15 The Sting
June 22 Breaking Away
June 29 Gold Diggers of 1933
July 6 Dog Day Afternoon
July 13 How Green Was My Valley
July 20 Harold and Maude
July 27 The Defiant Ones
August 3 Kramer vs. Krame
August 10 The Magnificent Seven
August 17 Close Encounters of the Third Kind

RIVER FLICKS (Hudson River Park)
Everything's from last summer, but those do make fun movies to see outside.

July 8 Iron Man
July 15 Vicky Christina Barcelona
July 22 The Dark Knight
July 29 Hancock
August 5 Tropic Thunder
August 12 Sex and the City
August 19 Pineapple Express

It's Friday nights and there will be kids, but for Muppet Movie or Ghostbusters it may be worth it.

July 10 Wizard of Oz
July 17 Kung Fu Panda
July 24 Ghostbusters
July 31 Star Wars: The Clone Wars
August 7 Muppet Movie
August 14 Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa
August 21 Curious George

MOVIES WITH A VIEW (Brooklyn Bridge Park)
You can't always hear due to the subway, but the view is fantastic.

July 9 Raising Arizona
July 16 The Maltese Falcon
July 23 Paper Moon
July 30 To Catch a Thief
August 6 The Return of the Pink Panther
August 13 Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid
August 20 Catch Me If You Can
August 27 Edward Scissorhands

SUMMER ON THE HUDSON (Riverside Park South)

July 8 The Age of Innocence
July 15 Wall Street
July 22 Dinner at Eight
July 29 The Out-of-Towners
August 5 Drums Along the Mohawk
August 12 Sweet Smell of Success

RIVER TO RIVER FESTIVAL (Movie Nights on the Elevated Acre)

July 6 The Seven Year Itch
July 13 The Taking of Pelham One Two Three
July 20 West Side Story
July 27 Sweet Smell of Success

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Did We Meet the Mother?

At the end of last night's How I Met Your Mother, my first thought was "Holy shit! Stella's the Mother!"

Then I thought about it and realized that doesn't make sense. When Stella left Ted at the altar, Future Ted made it very clear that Stella was not the Mother, even going so far as to show the blonde children he and Stella would have produced. Since Stella is still clearly blonde, the years-old stock footage of Ted's children (seriously, it's the same shot every time) cannot be her doing.

So where does that leave us? With the yellow umbrella. We know the Mother left it at a bar on St. Patrick's Day where Ted grabbed it the next day while looking for his phone. We also know Stella was at the same bar that night, and might happen to know the umbrella's owner. Could it be the extra Ted said hi to in an otherwise unnecessary moment? Do I watch this show way too closely?

I do know that I certainly was not expecting an answer to the series' titular mystery when I sat down to watch this week's episode. So, assuming Stella is not the Mother, we will have a little bit of build-up rather than an out-of-nowhere "so here's the mother" episode. And I still maintain that the show can continue after we find out her identity, just as long as they cast someone good enough to become a 6th cast member on the show.

Even with the unexpected ending, best part of the episode still goes to Marshall's chart addiction. Not only did he make a "Cecilia" themed Ven diagram, but we got a reference to my fave season 4 ep, "Intervention." Referencing a previous episode with no explanation for non-fans? We're entering Arrested Development territory here, and I like it. Maybe slap #4 will be coming up soon.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Happy 100 Episodes, Lost

I'm about a week late on writing this recap, so I'm going to cut right to the chase: why did we lose another freighter member so soon after Charlotte? With only peripheral characters Miles and Lapidus left standing, are the Freighter Folk going to become the new Tailies - important for one season before disappearing without leaving any impact on the series?

Well no, because as this episode made even clearer, Faraday was and will continue to be a central figure within the Lost mythology. After all, his parents are Charles and Eloise, those former Hostile leaders who still presently control everything from off-island. Flashbacks not only expanded scenes we had already seen (witnessing the fake Oceanic 815, meeting Dr. Chang), but also tied up all his loose ends. We got confirmation Widmore's his dad, found out why he went to the island, and even saw him give Little Charlotte the message she would remember on her deathbed.

As for his death, it was certainly dramatic. Not only was Faraday killed by his mother, but he realized in his final moments that she always knew she would kill him. Crazy stuff. And it sets Jack up to take over Faraday's mission to change the past, which is important since Jack has nothing better to do. But something about the scene still seemed a bit rushed. Maybe I was bothered by Faraday's insistence on waving around a gun, which seemed designed solely to get him killed. Or maybe I just don't like losing a good character so early.

As a final note: welcome back Desmond. We'd like to see you more often.