Tuesday, December 14, 2010

The Golden Globes Are a Joke

If there's one thing the Golden Globes are most famous for (on the movie side, anyway), it's nominating movie stars for unworthy performances just to get them to show up. So following such gems as Nicole Kidman in Birth and Sandra Bullock or Julia Roberts in anything, I was curious: what kind of craziness would the Globes come up with this year?

The answer? The entire musical/comedy category. That's right, the entire category is awful. Now, we knew going into it that this was a weak year in that area. There was no big popular comedy like The Hangover or big Oscar-baiting musical like Chicago, but there were still some decent enough choices they could have gone with. They could have picked a high-quality cult hit like Easy A or Scott Pilgrim Vs. the World. They could have picked a mainstream but enjoyable comedy like Date Night. Or a slightly more serious pick like Love and Other Drugs, which they clearly liked enough to give Jake Gyllenhaal and Anne Hathaway nods (both totally deserved).

Instead, they took the one serious contender which is a shoo-in to win (The Kids Are All Right) and surrounded it with crap. To be fair, Red was a popular and well-liked movie, so I guess it gets a pass. But the Johnny Depp double dip is exactly the kind of star whoring the Globes are infamous for. Do you know a single person who didn't think Alice in Wonderland was one of the biggest duds of the year? Or a single person who saw the trailer for The Tourist and said "wow, that looks awful"? Followed by critics saying "remember when you said that looked awful? It's just as bad as you think it is." Yet it scored nods for picture, actor, and actress. And Johnny Depp got nominated for both! I'm not even going to bother getting into Burlesque - I think the name speaks for itself. I guess I should be grateful Cher and Christina Aguilera were left out. And at least they had the sense to nominate Emma Stone.

Anyway, the HFPA got most of their star whoring out there so the drama section's a considerably better field. With drama, the Globes like to play at predicting the Oscars, and the five nominees are all likely to make the big 10: The Social Network, The King's Speech, Black Swan, Inception, and The Fighter. The success of the first two was pretty heavily expected, so the only story here is all the love for Black Swan and The Fighter. I think some people online have been underestimating Black Swan cause they think Oscar voters don't know what a good movie looks like. Here's some proof they're wrong. As for The Fighter, this gives it a legit boost and some much-needed buzz to keep it's spot in the 10 (since the movie doesn't live up to the great performances in it). That still won't get Mark Wahlberg in at the Oscars though.

Other things of note in movies: True Grit was completely shut out. Not sure if that means they really didn't like it, or the movie wasn't available to screen at the time they voted. Suspecting the latter. 127 Hours, Winter's Bone, and The Town were all MIA in Best Drama, but none of those were too surprising. The Globes would never go for something as indie as Winter's Bone, or even really 127 Hours, and both still got something (actress and screenplay, respectively). The Town could have used the boost as it's fighting for spot #10 with Winter's Bone, but the nod for Jeremy Renner is a boost enough. And in case you were wondering, yes, the nomination for Halle Berry counts as star whoring.

On to TV, where I have considerably less to say. If the Globe movie nominations are known for star whoring, the Globe TV nominations are known for praising the new and the fresh over the old and the stale. Which often makes the Globes much better than the Emmys, though it also means weak new shows have a better chance than great long-running shows. But in a year with VERY few new breakout hits, this year's crop has a nice mix of both.

On the new front, no surprise to see Boardwalk Empire and The Walking Dead under drama, as they were the only new shows to make any impression this year. It's a strong category overall, as they're joined by Mad Men and Dexter, two shows past the Globes' usual cut-off date that both had great seasons, and The Good Wife, which now seems to really be the only good network drama. True Blood did very well with the Globes the past two years, but after a widely panned season it's deservedly out of favor. And I was happy to see a nod for Idris Elba in one of my personal new faves Luther down in the miniseries category. Though if they were going to reward one Dexter actress, I would have picked Jennifer Carpenter over Julia Stiles.

As for comedy, not a whole lot to say. With nothing new to shake anything up, it's pretty much a repeat. There's a lot of Showtime love with both Nurse Jackie and The Big C in most categories, which I neither support nor oppose. The Office and 30 Rock continue to coast on by with weak seasons cause apparently awards voters don't watch Community or How I Met Your Mother. With Glee less of a force than it was last year, I'd expect Modern Family to take it.

So that's my morning-of reaction. I've been spotty with the blog as of late, but heading into Oscar season I'll try to be on here more reviewing some of the movies in question, keeping you updated on how the Oscar race is shaping up, and of course, my annual top 10 lists for movies and TV. Stay tuned.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Zombies, AMC Style

AMC immediately branded itself with Mad Men and Breaking Bad as a place for sophisticated, mature, and quality TV dramas. And since then it's been trying to help that brand grow. Rubicon attempted to take a similar approach to the political thriller...but forgot that political thrillers aren't supposed to be really, really boring. So now AMC's taking on the zombie genre, something radically different than the rest of its line-up.

The Walking Dead did begin as a comic book, and the pilot is certainly filled with lots of gore, but otherwise it fits right in at AMC for one clear reason: like the titular zombies, it moves very slooooow. At an hour and a half, the pilot has far more long silences than dialogue or action, setting the mood beautifully but not doing a ton for the plot. Most of the major characters beyond the protagonist are limited to a single scene, and the protagonist's lengthy walks around his ghost town might as well be happening in real time.

That said, it's not necessarily a bad thing just yet. This isn't a Rubicon case where we spend a half hour staring at a parked car and aren't entirely sure why. The silences do very much put us in the world of Rick Grimes, a sheriff's deputy who wakes up in the hospital after recovering from a gunshot wound to discover the world around him has greatly changed. There's a whole lot of emptiness, but the only signs of life come from those very much no longer alive. It may be pretty similar to the opening of 28 Days Later, but it's still effective.

Once he finds other survivors things pick up considerably. On a quest to find his wife and son, Grimes runs into a father and son getting by after their wife/mother joined the ranks of the dead. And we soon find out many of the people from Grimes' previous life are out there in a survivors' camp after all. Personally, I'd rather see what happens once Grimes meets up with them, but I get a sense that's how this 6 episode run will end.

If 6 episodes seems short for a first season, here's why it makes sense: this feels way more like a miniseries than a full series. That doesn't mean there's not more life in the show. It could turn out like the miniseries that initially launched Battlestar Galactica which, by the way, I didn't like nearly as much as the series that followed.

Ultimately, Walking Dead's pilot was strong enough to keep me going, but I'm not yet entirely sold. If the moodiness and slow pace of the pilot were intended to make an impression and help this stand out from other zombie things we've already seen (and there's not much else in the plot so far that does), then I'm cool with that. But if they really expect us to accept Rubicon-style pacing in a show about zombies (and zombies that are more sad than scary, for that matter), then I'm not so sure I'll be in for the long haul. Let's see how episode 2 goes.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Sanity Restored

I can't let the month of October end without having made a single blog post, and conveniently I just got back from Washington DC, having migrated there along with thousands of others for the Rally to Restore Sanity. So for any of you who may have watched the rally on TV (whether Comedy Central or C-SPAN) or the internet and wondered what it was like down on the ground, the answer: a whole lot of fun.

Yes, the sheer quantity of people was pretty insane. The estimate is over 250,000 people. A bunch of people I talked to after the fact said they couldn't really see or hear most of what went on. And that was the case for me some of the time too, especially when I first arrived to find myself right in the middle of a busy passing lane, but once I got settled in front of a Jumbotron (and once they finally turned up the volume), it was all good.

There may have been a lot of people, but everyone very much acted within the spirit of the day. There was no pushing and shoving, even in the 45 minutes it took to exit. Instead everyone was polite, courteous, and friendly. Most of the crowd was happy to chat with each other. While I expected a demographic closer to what I imagined Daily Show's audience to be (young white men), that's not who I saw at the rally. My immediate area had more people my parents' age than my age, equal numbers of men and women, and a good amount of racial diversity as well (though yes, still predominantly white).

As for the show itself, I imagine it may have played like a pretty decent episode of Daily Show or Colbert on TV, but of course it was a whole lot more enjoyable live. All the critics concerned about what the rally means for Jon Stewart's role in society can relax. This was no serious political rally - it was a positive, fun, upbeat, and entertaining gathering of good people to have a good time. Much of the content was completely apolitical, addressing sanity and fear more in the abstract. And when it did get political it was always in the most positive way, appealing everyone to just get along.

The Roots made for a great opening act, immediately getting everyone pumped. Then John Legend came on and took the energy down a notch. I guess if the idea of the rally was to keep everyone mellow, chill, and sane, he did his job, but after a little while it started to feel like nap time. I was surprised the Mythbusters segment even made it to TV. It was a clear "warm up the crowd" ploy that went about 15 minutes too long (though I admit I couldn't hear a lot of it).

So the show really got going once Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert took the stage. Loved Colbert's poem as read by Sam Waterston. Enjoyed all of the sanity and fear awards, especially giving one to a 7 year old girl for having more courage than the news organizations that wouldn't let their employees attend. Loved the Stewart and Colbert song, even if it did mean listening to Stewart uncomfortably try to keep up with Colbert vocally. My favorite lyric: "From gay men who watch football to straight men who watch Glee."

Favorite part of the actual show: the dueling train songs. On one side, Cat Stevens/Yusuf Islam, on the other Ozzy Osborne. Hilarious. I enjoyed most of the other guest appearances as well. Fun to see Father Guido Sarducci, though not sure how many other people my age remember him from 1970's SNL. The Kid Rock/Sheryl Crowe duet was...unexpected. A little "We are the World," but felt appropriate for the occasion. And Tony Bennett's presence made the whole thing seem classier.

And Jon Stewart's moment of sincerity at the end felt exactly right to me. It was what those of us who don't throw a fit every time he steps out of his comedian role for a second want from him. He was rational, he put things in perspective, and was even pretty inspiring. It wasn't a tirade against Fox News but a plea for people to strive to be better than all of the sniping of today's age. Very sane.

Best part overall though: the creative signs people carried. Sure, there were a few people who seemed to miss the message of what the rally was about (one poster showing Republicans with Hitler mustaches seemed to completely miss the point), but the vast majority were in the spirit of the event. I wish I could remember more, but here are some of my favorites:

Hitler is a Nazi

No one is Hitler*
*except Hitler

Will Read Tea Party Signs that Need Spellchikking for $5.00

Gay Agenda:
1. Call my mom
2. Buy groceries
3. Equality now

I will hold this sign for 20 minutes max and then I'm done

No more Texas

I Heart Kittens

Bring Back Firefly

Christine O'Donnell turned me into a newt

There's nothing to fear but the Zombie Apocalypse

Any sign referencing The Dude

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

RIP Lone Star

Today, Lone Star became the first cancellation of the new TV season. Which sucks, cause it was actually one of the better new shows. I still haven't seen the second and final episode, but judging from the pilot this was an entertaining and appealing show that, for better and for worse, was very different from everything else on TV. The fact that the show doesn't quite fit into any particular box (smart drama, trashy soap, or both?) made it hard to market, and harder to get people to watch. But still, how are people ignoring this and choosing instead to watch obvious crap like Shit My Dad Says and Outlaw?

Not that it matters much anymore, but the pilot centers on Bob/Robert Allen, a con man running two long cons simultaneously. In one, he's selling shares to non-existent wells to people in Midland, Texas, while living with his girlfriend. In another, he's married and working his way up in his father-in-law's oil company. And in both, his con man father is close by to monitor his progress.

I think a lot of people were turned off by the idea of a guy sustaining two separate relationships, but while it may certainly make him an anti-hero, Josh Wolk has enough charisma as an actor that Bob/Robert remains likable. It also helps that he's trying to get out of the con life and actually believes he loves both of the women. The best stuff in the pilot involves his interactions with his dad, all of which feels like something out of a Sawyer flashback from Lost (which I mean in a good way). When it gets too far into the family drama with the oil company, then it heads a bit into Dallas territory.

So there's the issue right there. For the most part, it's a smart drama, but it's also a bit of soap. It's a con man show, but has a lot of other things going on. It's hard to tell from the pilot what would happen next, and I guess we may never know. Still, this one had a lot of promise, and I'll get to that second episode at some point, even if I don't ever get to see the third.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Premiere Week Part 2

Premiere week is now over, and I still have a lot to watch. But here are some quick takes on all the comedies I watched this week, both the returning and the new. New shows first.

If you listened to most critics on Fox's two new Tuesday night comedies, you'd set the series pass on Raising Hope and figure Running Wilde would be a complete waste of time. But personally, I liked Running Wilde better. It's certainly flawed and far from perfect, but when it comes to which one holds more promise and makes me laugh more, it's Wilde.

From the creator of Arrested Development, starring Will Arnett and featuring David Cross, Running Wilde has very much the same tone as its comedy classic predecessor. Steven Wilde (Arnett) is the rich son of an oil company owner who's never had to work or grow up in his life, and Emmy Kadubic (Keri Russell) is an environmental activist who's spent the past six years in the Amazon. They had a thing when they were teens, and now Emmy's back in town. The show's narrated by Emmy's daughter Puddle, who otherwise chooses not to speak, and the rest of the supporting cast consists of the people who take care of Wilde and his competitively rich frenemy/neighbor.

Like most pilots, this one crams a lot into 22 minutes, so it's hard to tell what a normal episode will be just yet. Arnett and Russell's interactions could use some work, and nobody in the supporting cast has really stood out so well (though I sense potential in the neighbor character). But given the amount of talent behind this show, I bet all of that can be worked out down the line. In the meantime, the pilot has more laughs than most other comedies on TV, the three leads are all likable, and AD's style of humor is very much at work. There's even an overt reference to it with one of GOB's catchphrases.

Verdict: May ultimately go either way, but I'm certainly sticking with it for the time being.

As for the show that airs before it, Raising Hope, I'm betting this falls into the category of decent shows that just aren't for me. From the creator of My Name is Earl, the tone is very similar: sweet and funny, but way more sweet than funny, with a cast of colorful hicks. Jimmy (Lucas Neff) is a young pool skimmer trying to figure out his life's purpose when he ends up in charge of a baby for fairly entertaining reasons. His parents want him to give it away since they barely managed to raise him, but he's determined. So the show's about the three of them not-so-successfully trying to raise the baby.

There's a big missed opportunity by taking the baby's mother out of the picture by the 15 minute mark, since she was one of the better characters. And the pilot's best moment may be an inside joke about My Name is Earl's cancellation. Since otherwise the show's more about awww moments than big laughs. And when it does go for laughs, it tends to be in the broader slapstick direction, especially those involving Cloris Leachman's often-topless senile grandmother. And it doesn't have as strong a hook or characters as Earl did. It wants to be the next Modern Family, but it's just not as clever.

Verdict: I'll give it one or two more episodes to be sure, but this one just isn't for me.

Speaking of Modern Family, it came back this week very true to form: no frills, no crazy plot developments, just simple hilarity. Of the three plotlines this week, I'm calling Mitchell and Cameron the funniest, as Mitchell sets out to build Lily a castle using his supposed college theater abilities while Cameron and Jay try to keep him as far away from the tools as possible. Mitchell defending himself while accidentally cutting down the flowers is classic. But plenty of good stuff elsewhere as well, with the Dunphys taking one last trip in the car they hadn't used in years, and Gloria getting jealous of Manny's study date. MF continues to be the most consistently funny show on air.

On to NBC's Thursday, where Community started off the set with plenty of cliffhangers to resolve. Last year I gave Community three episodes then let it go. But it takes time for a comedy's ensemble to gel together, and when I gave it another shot this summer I ended up really liking it.

The premiere sure makes it seem like this could be a break-out year for the show. With season 1 ending with all sorts of love quadrangle drama, this week addressed everything in a way that stayed funny and set up the rest of the season. Overexposed as she may be, Betty White's guest spot totally worked, and it will be interesting to see how letting Senor Chang into the study group will alter the dynamics.

With The Office and 30 Rock increasingly heading into old age, Community's quickly becoming NBC's top show to watch on Thursday nights.

30 Rock started its 5th (!!!) year with plenty of meta references to the fact that nobody expected it to last this long. It's also no longer top comedy dog now that buzz has shifted over to Modern Family and Glee. Which I think is a good thing, as all the overhyping didn't really serve what's basically a fun little gem. And with lowered expectations, it still delivers.

It does seem 30 Rock is the place to go for dramatic actors trying to prove they can do comedy, as Matt Damon follows in Jon Hamm's footsteps to reprise his season finale role as Liz's pilot boyfriend Carol. Having initially played the role pretty straight, Damon definitely gets laughs as he reveals Carol to be kind of needy. Too bad he can't stay too long if he wants to keep making movies.

Elsewhere, the Kenneth-gets-fired plot continues, as Tracy misses him while he settles in at CBS (sorting the Letterman audience by attractiveness). A bit of a missed opportunity as Jenna is given a producer credit only to give it up by the end of the episode. Would have been fun to see her fight with Liz and Pete on stuff throughout the season. And no sign of Danny, except on Glee. There's a danger this season will continue on the all Jack and Liz's love lives, all the time track it keeps heading on, but so far so good.

Finally, The Office maybe should have ended a few seasons ago (why do they want to continue after Michael leaves?), but it always starts its seasons strong and this year was no exception. Last year we met some summer interns, and this year we got Luke, the new office assistant. Who's also Michael's nephew. And sucks at his job. Which led to plenty of hilarity and great Michael moments.

Even better, a return to the Jim and Pam pranks of old, which had been neglected since the writers decided all Jim and Pam could do was be cute. Unfortunately, Dwight continues to become more of a sitcom caricature with every second he's onscreen. Enjoying Kelly thinking she's smart and professional without backing it up. Sad for Andy that Erin left him for Gabe. And not really sure what the deal with the lip dub thing at the beginning of the episode was about. A take-off on a youtube video I haven't seen?

If this year's like the past few years, The Office has 5 good episodes in it before it starts to drag again. But all the writer interviews I've read say they're stepping it up for Michael's last year, so maybe this will be a return to form. It's certainly possible.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Premiere Week Part 1

With SOOOO many shows premiering this week, both new and returning, it's going to be awhile until I get to everything I'd like to. Possibly weeks. So in order to leave myself time to actually watch some of these shows, I'm just going to do a whole bunch of quick takes on everything I've seen so far all at once.

Glee was probably the returning show I was most looking forward to, and the premiere reminded me how much fun this show is, if also why it's often called out as problematic. Beginning with a list of all the criticisms people have made about the show, the premiere went on to exemplify one of the bigger ones: fitting 5 episodes' worth of plot into a single hour. Which is why I wouldn't say the episode itself ranks among Glee's best.

But as far as setting up the new season goes, it definitely did the job. Coach Bieste throws a whole new twist into the Schue/Sue relationship, and fun to see them working together for a change. Just about every major kid character had some kind of change: Finn getting kicked off the football team, Artie losing Tina, Rachel having to compete with newcomers, Quinn back as captain of the Cheerios, etc. New characters (Sunshine, Sam, and the new Vocal Adrenaline coach) were introduced in such a way that you got a good sense of them without them taking away from the leads. And great musical numbers combined with good Sue Sylvester lines made for a very enjoyable hour of TV.

Going right to the theme episodes next week with a Brittany Spears homage may be a bit too soon, but hey, we knew this wasn't Mad Men. Glee doesn't take its time. The important thing is that all of the fun, energy, and humor of the first season is still very much intact here in year two, and this will continue to be the show I actually watch the night it airs.

I've got a lot of pilots I still need to get to, but the one new show I know I'll be sticking with is Boardwalk Empire. Between Martin Scorsese directing and Sopranos alums running the show, the pilot had a lot to live up to. And as far as I'm concerned, it succeeded. Personally, I'm getting a little of sick of shows on HBO, AMC, and FX that take their sweet time getting to the point, making you sit through a few dreary hours before getting amazing by the fifth episode. Boardwalk Empire is not like that. There's so much action, character, and, yes, actual humor in the opener alone that this isn't just a prestige show; it's actually entertaining.

Beginning right at the beginning of Prohibition, the show centers on Nucky Thompson (Steve Buscemi), a city councilman in Atlantic City, New Jersey who puts together a bootletting operation to keep his city wet. He plays the politician by telling the temperance ladies he's one of them, then makes deals with New York (in the form of Michael Stuhlbarg's Arnold Rothstein) and Chicago (meet young Lucky Luciano and Al Capone). But just as central is Nucky's driver Jimmy (Michael Pitt), a young guy who turned down Princeton to fight in WWI, who plays the Christopher to Nucky's Tony. And at the same time, the Feds are trying to close the operation down, specifically Michael Shannon's Van Alden.

I've heard some criticism of Steve Buscemi as the leading man, and I will say I'm reserving judgement on that front. He definitely plays the part well, but as an excellent character actor he doesn't quite have the gravitas of, say, a James Gandolfini. But with so many great supporting players that may not make a difference. Michael Pitt's character is already emerging as just as much of a protagonist. And while much of the cast can be hard to distinguish as "white guys who look alike," enough stand out right away that everything should fall into place a lot earlier than in other HBO historical series like, say, Rome.

Obviously the production values of the $18 million pilot are extraordinary, and that's a reason to check it out alone. The show brings old Atlantic City to life in a big way, and the visuals are amazing to watch. You can tell the pilot was directed by Scorsese since it has the feel of his movies, which may have a lot to do with why it's so watchable. This is no dry history lesson, but a show that brings its era to life in much the same way Mad Men does, except with a lot more violence.

Given that the showrunners previously worked there, the show feels a LOT like The Sopranos, but in a good way. If you've been looking for something to fill that void, this is definitely it. And if you haven't, it's still a different enough show you might find something to like. With no other new shows breaking out as big hits the way Glee and Modern Family did last year, this seems to be it. HBO certainly thinks so, having already renewed it for a second season. If the rest of the season lives up to the promise of the pilot, we'll be seeing Boardwalk give Mad Men a scare at the Emmys next year.

How I Met Your Mother had what was pretty widely considered a weak fifth year. The showrunners are the first ones to admit that, so they wanted to step it up big time for season six. And in a lot of ways, this week's premiere showed the benefits of listening to your fans. It was a very back-to-basics episode, taking place almost entirely within the bar on a single night. Ted got to be the focus again (but not in an obnoxious way), and every character generally acted like themselves.

But while the rest of the episode was perfectly solid and enjoyable, it's the ending that makes this a great premiere and one that should re-hook any questioning fans. The show may be more of a "Friends for the 21st century" than an actual story about Ted meeting his wife, but this week brought the mother story a big step forward by revealing they meet at a wedding. The bigger surprise: Ted is the best man at the wedding! Ted doesn't know that many people. Marshall and Lily are already married. So the two most obvious guesses would be Barney or Robin. Though maybe it's Rachel Bilson marrying her new girlfriend. Why she'd chose some guy she dated for all of a minute as her best man I don't know, but she does at least she would presumably invite the mother-to-be.

Ah well, plenty of time to keep speculating. I'm certainly intrigued to find out.

Ok, catching up with some stuff from last week, Top Chef: Just Desserts premiered last Wednesday and while it's certainly not up to original flavor standards, I'd rank it above Masters. Like in the original, Desserts has contestants who really care about winning, so it's not all a good-natured lark like for the pros. The personalities are even bigger than on the regular version, so it almost feels more like Project Runway (not saying that's a good thing, just observing). But most importantly of all, there are so many delicious looking desserts that I will immediately need to run out to Crumbs after every episode. Total food porn.

If that weren't enough, everyone's favorite TC judge Gail Simmons is hosting, and Hubert Keller is supposed to show up somewhere down the line. It's hardly appointment TV, so too bad it's on during the busy fall instead of, say, the summer, where it would be exactly the right type of fluffy fun I'm looking for. But as a placeholder for real Top Chef, it works.

Finally (and STOP READING IF YOU HAVEN'T SEEN THE TOP CHEF FINALE YET), I finally saw the Top Chef finale tonight, and somehow stayed spoiler-free beforehand. Which made me all the more shocked by the result. It was clear from the episode that Kevin's was the meal they liked best, so in that sense he deserved to win. But it wouldn't have been clear that he would be Top Chef from any other given episode this season. He always seemed like one of the chefs that was good enough to stay in but not good enough to win too much. Then again, Ed sealed his fate when he decided to delegate the entire dessert course, and Angelo was working with a pretty severe disadvantage. Kevin did seem REALLY happy about it, so it's hard to hold it against him. But he seems more like another Hosea than one of the more obvious winners.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Well...So Much for True Blood This Year

I hadn't been a huge fan of True Blood this season, but I had faith it would pull itself together. Every season has a slow build-up before getting good, so it was ok that the first half of the season was kind of boring. I was frustrated that each of the main characters was stranded in a completely separate storyline and that there were more new characters than returning ones, but I believed it would all come together somehow. And now that the finale has aired, it's clear that....it didn't.

Nope, instead of all the separate characters pulling together to stop Russell Edgington like they did Mary Ann last year, each of the storylines remained just as separate as they've been all summer. Even worse, not one of them was properly resolved. Some fizzled to a lame end with the possibility of an encore, like Russell. Others went the cliffhanger route. And still others made it clear this entire season was just a big set-up for next year.

Let's start with Russell, who was supposed to be the unifying Big Bad this year. The moment that really got me re-hooked on the show and convinced me these last few episodes would kick into gear was, of course, when Russell killed the newsman on TV. Great, I thought, now Russell's going to go absolutely insane and have to be dramatically put down. But he didn't. That was the climax of his character arc. And since he was basically captured at the end of the last episode, he was rather easily defeated by Bill and Eric this time. He's obviously coming back, so I can't even say his cement burying counts as an ending, but since he was the only new character that positively added to the show that's ok with me.

Moving on to the main characters, a whole lot happened between Sookie, Bill, and Eric, but not a whole lot of it really worked. Bill went back and forth so many times it was hard to keep straight what he was up to, except that he may have completely lost it. Maybe this is supposed to signal a darker Bill in season 4 who kills anyone who looks at Sookie funny, or one deadset on covering his tracks. Given how many times Sookie's hated then loved Bill this season, it's hard to say if the reveal of his betrayal affects their relationship any more than anything else that's happened. And it's hard to take the Bill/Sophie Ann airborne fight scene too seriously.

Oh, and all the Sookie's a fairy stuff led to her entering fairyland. So.....again a set up for next year.

But even if it didn't all pull together, the Sookie/Bill/Eric stuff was still the most entertaining storyline throughout a season filled with extraneous ones. Were the sideplots worth sitting through? Let's see, we put up with Sam's consistently painful to watch birth family all year so....he could shoot his brother. Maybe. Seriously? Lafayette's romance with Jesus.....will make more sense next year, cause it was entirely set-up. Tara being depressed...caused her to cut her hair. Arlene being afraid of giving birth to Rene's baby....will continue. And worst of all, the complete waste of Jason's character we've witnessed this year seems to exist solely to put him in charge of a depressing village of meth addicts. That's not getting me excited about next season.

So I think it's safe to call season 3 an off year for True Blood. There was a whole lot of plot, but not a lot of drama. Most of what was built-up hasn't paid off yet because the pay off (hopefully) still has yet to come. Hopefully with Jesus and the Wiccan waitress already on the show there won't have to be too many new cast members next year, and we can spend more time with the ones we got. Hopefully the cast will also spend more time together instead of going off on separate adventures with various new supernatural creatures. Personally, I think witches are better than werewolves (not that the werewolves even served much of a point this year), so I believe next year will be better. Or at least I hope so.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Fall TV Season Begins

Premiere week may not be for another week still, but this past week already saw the premieres of two new shows that caught my attention: FX's Terriers and The CW's Nikita (that's right, I'm letting the Ashley Tisdale cheerleading show Hellcats go by unwatched). I'm still planning to do a full fall TV preview post at some point, but in the meantime here's verdicts on these two pilots.

First up Terriers, a light detective drama starring The Tao of Steve's Donal Logue and True Blood's Michael Raymond-James as unlicensed private detective partners. The two leads are very likable with lots of good banter between them, and the generally breezy tone makes this a perfectly enjoyable hour of TV.

But with all the crime shows on these days, is a straight-up detective series enough to cut it? The clips of upcoming episodes make it clear this is not just a case-of-the-week procedural, and that the events of the pilot will have repercussions on the rest of the season. But while watchable enough, the set-up's not quite intriguing enough to keep me coming back. I'd be curious to hear if things pick up down the line, but with so much else to try out, this just doesn't stand out enough to warrant a DVR pass.

On the other hand, I'm a little surprised to say I will be giving Nikita at least one more episode. I haven't seen the movie or the original USA TV show, but I can say that the newest update is a lot Alias and a lot Dollhouse. But since I like both those shows and neither is still on the air, I'm ok with that.

Nikita (Maggie Q) was part of a secret government organization called Division that trained attractive young people to be assassins. But something turned her against them, and now she's waging a one-woman war to take them down. Meanwhile, Alex (Lyndsy Fonesca) is a new Division recruit, just starting her training. With other familiar faces including The O.C.'s Melinda Clark, 24's Xander Berkeley, and Shane West, it's an appealing group.

The pilot crams in a lot, and it's clear this won't be the most character-based show on TV, but it's got potential. Between this summer's Covert Affairs and the fall's Undercovers, there's a bunch of new spy shows but this is the only one attempting an Alias-like mythology (though without the Rambaldi stuff, I hope). After a few episodes it may turn out to be more of a cheesy CW execution than some of the other genre shows it aspires to be, so I may bail after episode 2 or 3. But I could use a fun action show, and it's possible this could be it.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Must-See Fall Movies

With September starting today, it's time to leave behind this summer's rather disappointing slate of movies and look ahead at what the next few months will bring. Summer blockbusters largely didn't pan out, so brainier fare may be just what we need. Here are the ten I'm most excited about.

Never Let Me Go (September 15th)
Based on an acclaimed book by Kazuo Ishiguro, containing a cool premise (which I won't spoil here), and starring the extremely likable Carey Mulligan, Keira Knightly, and Andrew Garfield, Never Let Me Go has a lot to be excited about. Truth is I've already seen it, but I can confirm it's even better than it sounds and a strong contender for my top 10 list. So definitely a must-see for everyone reading.

Wall Street 2 (September 24th)
Have you ever seen the original Wall Street? Sure, it's a period piece now, but still fun and fascinating today. With Michael Douglas reprising his iconic part, Carey Mulligan in her second buzzworthy role in one month, and trailers showing the spirit of the original is still there, this should be worthwhile even beyond its timeliness.

The Social Network (October 1st)
Somehow "the Facebook movie" has become one of the hottest movies of the fall. Maybe it's the Fincher/Sorkin/Rudin combo. Maybe it's the glimpse of the future Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. Maybe it's that really cool cover of Radiohead's "Creep" in the trailer. Or maybe people are just hopelessly obsessed with Facebook. Whichever it is, I'm going opening weekend.

It's Kind of a Funny Story (October 8th)
As much as I enjoyed Half Nelson, I'm even more excited to see its writer/directors go a little more mainstream with what looks like a teen One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest starring a very appealing and eclectic cast including Zach Galifianakis, Aasif Mandvi, and Lost's Jeremy Davies. Plus the trailer looks great.

Due Date (November 5th)
I'd already be excited since it's Todd Phillips' follow-up to The Hangover, but he made this all the more exciting by rejoining with Zach Galifianakis (also with two entries on this list) and adding Robert Downey Jr. It may basically be a remake of Planes, Trains, and Automobiles, but with the two of them that sounds like a great idea.

127 Hours (November 5th)
Danny Boyle always surprises with his movie choices, whether going sci-fi (Sunshine), horror (28 Days Later), family friendly (Millions) or the Bollywood/Dickens hybrid that is Slumdog Millionaire. So of course I'm excited to see what he does next. The idea of a movie about a guy trapped under a rock for 127 hours doesn't immediately sound exciting, but the trailer shows there's a lot more going on.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1 (November 16th)
If you don't know why I'm excited about this, you probably haven't spent much time on this planet the past decade.

Black Swan (December 1st)
Like Danny Boyle, Darren Aronofsky is following up an acclaimed 2008 release (The Wrestler) with something ambitious and cool. A Persona/Mulholland Drive type thriller set in the world of ballet starring Natalie Portman and Mila Kunis? Yes please. And with universally good reviews coming out of Venice, this one looks like a winner.

The Fighter (December 10th)
David O. Russell may not be a nice person to work for, but he does make good movies. And with Mark Wahlberg and Christian Bale starring, this looks to be one of them.

True Grit (December 25th)
Coen Brothers, Jeff Bridges, Matt Damon, Josh Brolin. Need I say more?

And 5 more:

You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger (Sept. 22nd) - Cause I can't say no to a Woody Allen movie

Let Me In (Oct. 1st) - Definitely curious to see what an American version of the atmospheric Swedish vampire movie looks like.

Morning Glory (Nov. 12th) - The plot may be out of How I Met Your Mother (and the shortlived comedy Back to You), but the involvement of JJ Abrams and Rachel McAdams has me intrigued.

Love and Other Drugs (Nov. 24th) - A Jake Gyllenhaal/Anne Hathaway reunion, and a plot involving Viagra.

Somewhere (Dec. 22nd) - Curious what Sofia Coppola does with what sounds like the plot of a Nick Hornby book.

So there are my picks. Which ones will you be seeing? What did I leave off?

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Last Minute Emmy Predictions

Emmys are tonight, and with a ton of fresh blood in the field it's actually tough to predict this year's crop. Will Emmys keep to their infamous tradition of rewarding the same old same old? Or will they recognize one of the strongest crops of new shows since, well, the year Lost premiered? Here are my (probably very wrong) guesses:

Best Drama
Will Win: Lost (but realistically probably Mad Men)
Should Win: Lost or Dexter
Dark Horse: Pretty much anything but True Blood
Snubbed: Damages
This is a really tough category to call. Do they reward Lost for finishing strong despite a controversial ending (like they did with The Sopranos)? Do they recognize Dexter's best year? Do they reward The Good Wife for being a break-out freshman and a traditional network drama? Do they side with the critics in calling Breaking Bad the top show? Or do they let Mad Men go three for three? Seeing as it's the Emmys, it will probably be Mad Men, but for some reason I'm going with Lost.

Best Comedy
Will Win: Modern Family
Should Win: Modern Family or Glee
Dark Horse: Glee
Snubbed: Party Down
This one's a little easier. Despite 30 Rock winning in all of its three previous years, I think everyone knows this one's really between the two break-out new shows: Glee or Modern Family. Glee's won most of the awards for being the phenomenon of the year, and Emmys have occasionally gone that route in the past (like giving Lost a win in its first year). But Modern Family's so much more Emmy-friendly (and consistent) that I bet it takes the win.

Best Actor, Drama
Will Win: Michael C. Hall, Dexter
Should Win: Michael C. Hall, Dexter
Dark Horse: Bryan Cranston, Hugh Laurie, Jon Hamm
Snubbed: Timothy Olyphant, Justified
Another really tough category. Bryan Cranston won the past two years and Breaking Bad fans say this season's been his best yet, so he's definitely the favorite. But Michael C. Hall's won other awards this year for his best year yet. Plus he's shockingly never won here before. But neither have Hugh Laurie and Jon Hamm, both of whom had very strong submissions. Could go any of the four ways.

Best Actress, Drama
Will Win: Julianna Margulies, The Good Wife
Should Win: Glenn Close, Damages
Dark Horse: January Jones, Mad Men
Julianna Margulies has won everything else so far, and I think it's a safe bet she'll take this one too.

Best Supporting Actor, Drama
Will Win: Michael Emerson, Lost
Should Win: Terry O'Quinn, Lost
Dark Horse: Aaron Paul, Breaking Bad
Snubbed: Campbell Scott, Damages
There is a very strong chance the two Losties (both of whom have already won) will cancel each other out, and Aaron Paul will win for what I'm told is a fantastic performance. But here's my thoughts: Michael Emerson has the better episode submission, since Dr. Linus is one of the best of the season. But Terry O'Quinn gave the better season-long performance, since he had to play polar opposites in the Man in Black and Sideways Locke. And there's always the chance Andre Braugher takes it instead.

Best Supporting Actress, Drama
Will Win: Christina Hendricks, Mad Men
Should Win: Christina Hendricks, Mad Men
Dark Horse: Archie Panjabi, The Good Wife
Snubbed: Jennifer Carpenter, Dexter
Joan may have been woefully underused last year on Mad Men, but the episode she submitted is a knockout, plus everyone loves her. Though Archie Panjabi is just as much of a scene-stealer on The Good Wife, so the Emmys' clear love for the show could carry over to her. I also wouldn't count out Elisabeth Moss or Christine Baranski.

Best Actor, Comedy
Will Win: Tony Shalhoub, Monk
Should Win: Alec Baldwin, 30 Rock
Dark Horse: Jim Parsons, The Big Bang Theory
Snubbed: Jay Harrington, Better Off Ted
Tony Shalhoub has won this category so many times that I don't think the rest of the world's disdain will keep Emmy voters from giving it to him one final time. Though in recent years they've loved Alec Baldwin even more. Most people are rooting for Jim Parsons though, so maybe that will pay off?

Best Actress, Comedy
Will Win: Edie Falco, Nurse Jackie
Should Win: Tina Fey, 30 Rock
Dark Horse: Toni Collette, United States of Tara
Snubbed: Portia de Rossi, Better Off Ted
Emmy voters love Edie Falco, so expect her to be rewarded for making them forget about Carmela. But they also love Toni Collette playing multiple personalities. And they love Tina Fey. But Edie Falco will ultimately win this.

Best Supporting Actor, Comedy
Will Win: Ty Burrell, Modern Family
Should Win: Ty Burrell, Modern Family
Dark Horse: Eric Stonestreet, Modern Family
Snubbed: Ed O'Neill, Modern Family
As long as this isn't a repeat for Jon Cryer, I'm happy with anybody who wins here. NPH absolutely deserves this award, but deserved it more the past 4 years. Eric Stonestreet would be the obvious Emmy pick, but Ty Burrell is really the stand-out. And while Chris Colfer's nomination was a pleasant surprise, he's probably too young and too dramatic a role to take it. But you never know.

Best Supporting Actress, Comedy
Will Win: Jane Lynch, Glee
Should Win: Jane Lynch, Glee
Dark Horse: Sofia Vergara, Modern Family
Snubbed: Lizzy Caplan, Party Down
This seems like one of the biggest no-brainers of the night, though Sofia Vergara is also hilarious. But how can they keep Sue Sylvester from adding another trophy to her case?

Monday, August 2, 2010

Christmas in August

Mad Men typically takes its time to get its seasons started, doing a slow build that pays off big time by the finale. But after two episodes, it seems season 4 is no typical Mad Men season. That extra energy present in the season 3 finale that had been absent in the rather gloomy and downbeat season preceding it was back in full force in last week's premiere, as we watched Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce well into their start-up mode and very much in action.

There's a new feel to this season, and so far the change is for the better. Sure it's sad to see characters like Paul go, but that just means more time for favorites that had been neglected last year, like Peggy and Roger. And I imagine we'll see everyone soon enough, seeing as we've already had returns from Freddy Rumsen and Glenn, both of whom I'm pretty sure haven't been seen since season 2. Though I may need to refresh my Mad Men memory. Is Peggy's boyfriend new, or was he on last season?

As fun as the premiere was, it was actually the second episode I'd put as the first classic of the season. As odd as it may be to watch a Christmas episode in the midst of this heat wave filled summer, it was certainly a great one. Last week I think we witnessed the emergence of Diva Don - Don's the star of the new agency and everyone else pretty much has to do what he wants. But Don's star was nothing compared to that of Lucky Strike Lee, who's previously used his power to get Sal fired. As the sole person keeping the new venture afloat, he got to act like a little kid and have everything his way. The big party, the present, and most forcefully Roger in a Santa suit all came about to attend to his desires. Who else thought Roger might put the company in jeopardy by punching him in his over-tanned face?

While Roger was swallowing his pride to keep the agency going, Don didn't worry about his. Needing to be tucked in at night first by the nurse down the hall and then his secretary, it's clear his post-divorce life isn't going so hot. Though this week's Don's storyline was really ruled by his secretary, who I can't say I had noticed before (did she come over from Sterling Cooper or was she new last week?) but did a pretty great job establishing her character within the one episode. From competently yet flirtily taking care of Don's holiday shopping to thinking her crush had gone requited only to seemingly be paid off to keep quiet, she got quite the arc for a character whose name I still don't know. May be interesting to see if that continues this season.

Finally, I guess Glenn was always kind of creepy, but he definitely went big time creepy this week. I'm not sure if his sneaky phone calls or his breaking in was worse, but he seems to be getting kind of stalkerish towards Sally. Or maybe he's just trying to make Betty jealous. I have to admit I'm not minding the diminished screentime for Betty so far. Her courtship with Henry last year took away valuable time from the office. She's clearly sticking around, but for now at least she's taking up an appropriate amount of the episodes.

Oftentimes when shows try to change things up, it either fails miserably (Weeds moving to the Mexican border) or devolves back into the show the writers were trying to escape from (Nip/Tuck moving to LA). But while it's only been two episodes, it's looking like the move to SCDP was just what Mad Men needed after all. I'm looking forward to seeing how the new agency manages.

Elsewhere on AMC, Rubicon, the network's third original series, premiered last night. Due to a DVR mix-up I've only seen the first of the two episodes, but I can't say I'm excited to keep going. While the premise certainly sounds like my kind of show and the opening credits had me intrigued, Rubicon's pilot had to be one of the slowest moving hours of TV I've ever seen. I swear if they eliminated every long silence it would have been a third as long.

So what did happen? Not too much. Kim Bauer's ex now has Will Schuester's hair and first name and works at some government office where he sits around and does crossword puzzles all day. One of the crossword puzzles turned out to be dangerous and got his boss/father-in-law killed. This caused him to stare at a parking lot for 20 minutes. And....that was the first episode!

I will say that the preview for coming episodes did look a whole lot more interesting, but maybe that's because they took the entire season's worth of plot and condensed it to 30 seconds. I don't want to dismiss this one too soon because I wasn't wowed by Breaking Bad either and now I've got 3 seasons to catch up on since everyone says it's the best show on TV. But so far Rubicon is feeling to me like Treme did: something that's slow and boring but gets critical acclaim anyway. While I now know Treme never did pick up, there's still a chance Rubicon could. Did anyone watch the second hour? Will it change my mind? Or should I just enjoy Mad Men and not worry about what comes after it?

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Emmy Reactions

You can find the full list of nominees elsewhere online, but overall I'm pretty happy. Most of the picks from my Wish List last night (that weren't complete longshots) found their way on, even some less obvious ones like Matthew Fox (for I believe the first time!) and Chris Colfer.

Things I'm Happy About:
Lots of love for Lost, including Best Drama, Best Actor (Matthew Fox), Best Supporting Actor (Terry O'Quinn and Michael Emerson), and Best Guest Actress (Elizabeth Mitchell)
Lots of love for Modern Family, with Comedy, 3 Supporting Actors, and 2 Supporting Actresses
Lots of love for Glee, with Comedy and an actor in each of the four major acting categories, plus guest nods for Mike O'Malley, Neil Patrick Harris, and Kristin Chenowith
Entourage was shut out
Christina Hendricks AND Elisabeth Moss for Mad Men
Martin Short got in for Damages
John Lithgow, Gregory Itzin, and Ted Danson in guest actor. Quite a strong category.
The fact that NPH got 2 nominations.

Things I'm Not so Happy About:
While I'm happy about Damages' 5 acting nominations (including 2 in guest), it still should have gotten nods for Drama and for Campbell Scott. I realize its place in Drama was taken by True Blood, another show I watch and like, and which just had its breakout year, but Damages was better
I'm aware Better Off Ted and Party Down nominations were never going to happen, but Portia de Rossi still should have gotten one.
I've only seen a few episodes of each, but Joel McHale and Timothy Olyphant deserved nominations.
How is Nurse Jackie a comedy?
Jon Cryer.

Overall, a good selection of what was actually good this season, rewarding the new breakout hits (Glee, Modern Family, The Good Wife) while letting long-running shows past their prime take a breather (Entourage, Grey's Anatomy, to a lesser extent The Office). We just better not see a Mad Men/30 Rock threepeat come fall.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Emmy Wish List

Tomorrow morning the Emmy nominations will be announced. Rather than doing any kind of involved list of predictions or picks, I figured I'd list a few possibilities in each category that I'd like to see nominated, regardless of whether there's any probability of that happening. So here's what I'm rooting for tomorrow - the likely and the longshots:


Mad Men


Modern Family
Party Down
Better Off Ted


Michael C. Hall, Dexter
Jon Hamm, Mad Men
Matthew Fox, Lost
Timothy Olyphant, Justified (even though I've only seen one episode of the show so far)


Glenn Close, Damages


John Lithgow, Dexter (he'll be in guest actor but should be here)
Terry O'Quinn, Lost
Michael Emerson, Lost
Campbell Scott, Damages
Martin Short, Damages


Jennifer Carpenter, Dexter
Christina Hendricks, Mad Men
Rose Byrne, Damages


Jay Harrington, Better Off Ted
Matthew Morrison, Glee
Adam Scott, Party Down
Joel McHale, Community


Lizzy Caplan, Party Down
Tina Fey, 30 Rock


Neil Patrick Harris, How I Met Your Mother
Ty Burrell, Modern Family
Eric Stonestreet, Modern Family
Ed O'Neill, Modern Family
Chris Colfer, Glee


Jane Lynch, Glee
Portia de Rossi, Better Off Ted
Sofia Vergara, Modern Family
Julie Bowen, Modern Family
Megan Mullally, Party Down

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

HBO is Summer TV Central

This past Sunday saw the return of Entourage which, when combined with True Blood's third episode, means we're really in summer TV season now. HBO may air a lot of serious stuff like The Pacific and that Al Pacino as Jack Kevorkian movie, but they know what people want to see in the summer: super light escapism. So for those of us who want to turn off our brains but maybe not so much as to tolerate America's Got Talent, here's where we'll be.

I went into Entourage's 7th (!!!) season the way I have every season since like season 3: by saying, "Why is this show still on and why am I still watching it?" But as it did last summer, Entourage reminded me: because there is no other show that better exemplifies summer fluff TV than this one. It's a show about rich people with problems so minor you'll have forgotten them by the time the credits roll. And in the meantime, plenty to live vicariously through.

After the season 3-5 rough patch where the show forgot what it was about and made Vince's career tank, Entourage is back in full-on fluff mode. Last year Vince basically took the year off with nothing to do, but this year he's back doing what he does best: acting as a vessel for a glimpse inside Hollywood without showing any personality whatsoever. This week saw him doing a stunt with no training to prove he's not a pussy, which of course made him seem all the bigger a pussy for not being able to say no to his director. That meant we got to see Vince on set, see a guy light up on fire, and watch his team react to Vince's whining. What more do you need?

Elsewhere, Eric had a light episode, enjoying a lunch with now fiance Sloane (at a restaurant that seemed to employ Top Chef season 5's Stefan?) and doing some basic Vince work. Ari realizes being head of WME (or whatever fictionalized name they came up with) is a lot of work. And Drama and Turtle are still really, really annoying. Turtle wins for worst subplot of the night, partly due to it involving Heroes-killer Dania Ramirez. But hey, Entourage was never a great show. Or even a particularly good one. But it's fun, and that's what makes it good summer TV.

I heard a lot of announcements between seasons about the huge number of new characters coming to Bon Temps this season, which made it all the nicer to see them all largely absent from the premiere. So many shows lose themselves in new characters and new plotlines that it's good to see True Blood sticking by its core characters. But the premiere also saw them all completely spread out. Sam off with his bio family, Bill in Mississippi, Jessica in her house - it was looking like we'd be getting 8 different separate subplots all season long.

While that's still somewhat the case, at least by episode 3 there's been some convergence. Sam is back at Merlotte's and interacting with everyone else. Jessica's been linked back in through Franklin's visit and Sookie's request that Sam look out for her. Sookie's left again in search of Bill, but her trip to Dallas last year didn't hurt anything.

Thing is, True Blood is one of the few shows that actually structures each of its seasons on one of the books it's based on. Which means each season is structured like a novel, with beginning, middle, and end spread out throughout the season. So there's no rush to introduce important characters right away - Eric didn't show up til like midway through season 1, I'm guessing so it would line up with the page he entered on in the book. And these first 3 eps have been a lot of build-up.

So while it's too early to know which of the many plot threads will pay off, here's how I'm feeling about them so far. Among the better ones, True Blood's decision to use actual wolves instead of really crappy CGI has paid off, and the werewolves have come off less lame than on most similar shows and movies. And cool to see Eric and Godric fighting Nazi werewolves. Franklin's super creepy so far, which could go either way. So far so good, but could overstay his welcome a la Maryann. And while she hasn't had too much to do yet, I'm liking the increased screen time Pam's promotion to regular has led to.

On the other end, Sam's family drama isn't doing it for me so far. Maybe it's cause I still remember his little bro being annoying on Prison Break, or because they've mostly been in their own little world, but so far it feels separate from everything else and not so interesting. I've got nothing against King Russell as a character, but that subplot won't kick in until somebody else shows up there. And way too early to say anything on Alcide, who's only barely been introduced (yet I believe is meant to be the biggest new character this season).

However the various threads end up working out, True Blood's got a solid start so far and seems bound to keep getting better each week. I'm glad to have its campy style of fun on my TV this summer.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

This Week in Summer TV

This week, my TV season fully transitioned from regular season to summer, with the finales of Glee and Top Chef Masters, and the premieres of two shows I thought I'd give one (and only one) episode each: Persons Unknown and Work of Art. I already discussed Glee, but here's my brief takes on the other three:

Persons Unknown sounds cool on paper: a bunch of people are kidnapped and put in a mysteriously empty village where they're watched by unknown people. Sounds a little like The Prisoner meets Lost, right? Well, if NBC hoped you'd think that, they didn't work too hard to make it known. I didn't hear about the show until the day of, which makes it all the more clear this is just typical summer burn-off.

But summer trash can still be summer fun. If there's any show Persons Unknown really resembles it's Harper's Island - CBS' attempt to do a weekly horror series that, well, didn't do so well. Like Harper's it's got kind of an intriguing idea, but also like Harper's it's undone by a rather C-level execution. By the end of the first hour, you don't really know anything about any of the characters, other than that they're all kind of annoying. And they don't really do much but wander around and yell "How do I know you're not THEM?!?!"

In the promo at the end, NBC's emphasized that the show will give you answers, and soon. But what they seem to forget is that people wanted answers on Lost so badly because they really cared about the questions. And so far this scenario just isn't quite creepy enough. Lost had the Monster and the polar bear. The Prisoner had the giant bubble and the question of why No. 6 resigned. Persons Unknown has grainy video footage and a bunch of Chinese guys saying "Please" a billion times a second. That's not gonna cut it.

No characters and weak acting and dialogue is one thing. But if this is gonna go for the campy guilty pleasure that is really its only hope, there's gotta be a bit more going on. I wouldn't mind watching another episode, but at the end of the day, I'd rather spend that time working through my TV on DVD.

Last night Bravo unveiled their newest entry into the Project Runway/Top Chef family: Work of Art. It's basically Project Runway with art instead of fashion. Take a bunch of wacky creative types, give them a mentor (but now with an accent!), and have them judged by a panel of experts in their field.

If "Project Runway with art" sounds good to you, you'll probably enjoy this show. Magical Elves make good reality TV, and it certainly feels like Bravo-era Project Runway. And unlike the Lifetime editions, this show actually does have some colorful characters and maybe even some talent (not that I'd have any idea).

But another part of me feels like this is to Project Runway what Top Chef Masters is to Top Chef: it's watchable enough, but it doesn't feel quite as right as the original. The new mentor doesn't have quite the spark of Tim Gunn, and the judges don't have the zing of Michael Kors and Nina Garcia. I'm also a little iffy on the concept. The artists all get to work in their own media, so you've got painting vs. photography vs. photoshop. No wonder the photographers came out on top; which do you think takes longer?

Again though, the reason I can't get into it is I'm just not that into art. And I'm over Project Runway. Really, the only reality TV I want to be seeing is shows involving food. So while I'm not opposed to having this on in the background, if I'm watching Bravo this summer it's for Top Chef.

Speaking of which, Top Chef Masters aired its season finale this week, and we again saw one of the biggest differences between the spin-off and the original: everyone on Masters always makes good food. The finales are never about who's going to win; it's about watching a whole lot of food porn. So the fact that the three came so close in the end is no surprise; any one of them could have won. But it was nice that Marcus did. Guess I should try out Aquavit some time.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Summer TV Preview

There may not be a whole lot worth watching on TV over the summer, but that doesn't mean there isn't anything you could watch. So I've put together a list of the return dates for some of my cable faves as well as what new shows the networks are burning off this summer. Things I'm planning to check out are in caps.

The Good Guys (June 7th, 9:00, Fox)
Bradley Whitford and Colin Hanks star. Kind of looks like a USA show, no?

PERSONS UNKNOWN (June 7th, 10:00, NBC)
Sounds cool, is produced by The Usual Suspects' Christopher McQuarrie, and stars Ferris Bueller/Spin City's Alan Ruck. So why did I first hear of it the day of its premiere?

Pretty Little Liars (June 8th, 8:00, ABC Family)
Alloy Entertainment tries for another YA series to TV show success with this teenage Desperate Housewives.

WORK OF ART (June 9th, 11:00, Bravo)
It's Project Runway but with art instead of clothes. Since PR is no longer worth watching, maybe this will fill the void? (Note: Regularly airs at 10:00)

TRUE BLOOD (June 13th, 9:00, HBO)
A premiere I'm actually excited about! They've announced an insane number of cast additions for the season and the promos all look awesome. Proof that good summer TV can still exist.

Scoundrels and The Gates (June 20th, 9:00 & 10:00, ABC)
It's cute that ABC is trying for original scripted shows in the summer, but that doesn't mean I'll watch either of these. Scoundrels seems like another USA-lite show about criminals trying to go legit, but it stars Tony Almeida! And The Gates is Desperate Housewives with vampires. If you're looking for some trashy fun this summer, maybe that will do the trick.

Rookie Blue and Boston Med (June 24th, 9:00 & 10:00, ABC)
Oh look, another cop show, how original. Boston Med however is not a generic doctor show to logically follow, but a documentary-series a la Hopkins from a few summers ago, this time set in Boston.

Hung (June 27th, 10:00, HBO)
Is this any good? I watched the pilot and wasn't wowed. If you were, this is when the second season premieres.

ENTOURAGE (June 27th, 10:30, HBO)
Mark Wahlberg promises there will only be 6 episodes after this season. So if you've made it this far, might as well see it to the end.

Huge (June 28th, 9:00, ABC Family)
Another show Alloy Entertainment made off of a YA book series. This one's about fat camp and stars Hairspray's Nikki Blonsky.

Louie (June 29th, 11:00, FX)
It's gotta be better than Louie C.K.'s last show on HBO, right?

HAVEN (July 9th, 10:00, Syfy)
The logline sounds like 5 other Syfy shows (mysterious town where supernatural stuff is going on), but it's based on a Stephen King novella and therefore will be awesome. Unlike most of the shows on this list, I actually plan to watch this pilot.

The Bridge (July 10th, 8:00, CBS)
Oh look, a cop show. Way to be original CBS.

The Glades (July 10th, 10:00, A&E)
A procedural....but wait! The main guy doesn't play well with authority. That IS quite a twist!

Rizzoli & Isles (July 12th, 10:00, TNT)
Procedural based on Tess Gerritsen's bestselling book series. Should fit in nicely at TNT.

Covert Affairs (July 13th, 10:00, USA)
The logline sounds like every other USA show ever, but it's got Piper Perabo, who was very cute in Coyote Ugly....not that I saw it or anything...

The Pillars of the Earth (July 23rd, 10:00, Starz)
An event four-part miniseries based on Ken Follett's massive tome. Should be pretty epic.

MAD MEN (July 25th, 10:00, AMC)
Are you ready for Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce? Cause I certainly am!

Masterchef (July 27th, 9:00, Fox)
Since it worked so well when NBC tried to rip-off Top Chef, now Fox is giving it a go.

Jersey Shore (July 29th, 10:00, MTV)
My must-NOT see of the summer. But for those of you that like trash, mark your calendars.

RUBICON (August 1st, 8:00, AMC)
AMC's track record alone (Mad Men, Breaking Bad) makes their 3rd original show worth checking out, but it helps that it also sounds pretty awesome. (Note: Regularly airs at 9:00, and a preview episode airs after the Breaking Bad finale this Sunday)

COMEDY CENTRAL ROAST OF DAVID HASSELHOFF (August 1st, 10:00, Comedy Central)
If I watched last year's roast of Joan Rivers, I'm definitely watching them tear into the Hoff.

Big Lake (August 3rd, 10:00, Comedy Central)
It's a comedy from Will Ferrell's prod.co. that's got some SNL alums in it.

WEEDS (August 16th, 10:00, Showtime)
I hear they're finally ending the nightmare that was the past two seasons on the Mexican border and relocating to Seattle. That's got to mean an improvement, right?

THE BIG C (August 16th, 10:30, Showtime)
A female-centered half-hour dark comedy that may ultimately feel more like a drama? Will fit in perfectly on Showtime.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

That Sue Sylvester - She's a Marshmallow

This year's crop of finales has had quite the mix: crazy twists (Gossip Girl), emotional but puzzling (Lost), out-of-nowhere action (Grey's Anatomy), and business as usual (24, The Office, Modern Family). So while the TV season may have actually ended a few weeks ago, I'm still naming Glee as the one that was overall most satisfying. As tough an act as Sectionals was to follow, Regionals more than rose to the task, reminding everyone all over again why we fell in love with this show over a year ago when they first sang "Don't Stop Believing."

Glee may generally call itself a comedy, but this finale had far more moments to make some hypothetical person (totally not me) tear up than laugh. From Tina breaking down in that super depressing pizza "party" to Mr. Shu pumping everyone back up with his Journey idea, there was plenty of emotion on display well before everyone said how far they had come this year. To casual fans it may have come off as cheesy, but to us true Gleeks it was heart-warming.

While we all knew "Don't Stop Believing" would be sung to bring the season full-circle, the Regionals performance was a whole lot more than that: a medley that also included "Faithfully," "Anyway You Want It," and "Lovin', Touchin', Squeezin'." And as was the case in Sectionals, they showed who brought the fun, getting everyone up on their feet to clap along (except Sue, of course). And everyone got a chance to sing - not just all Rachel and Finn.

While the Journey made for the musical highpoint, there was still plenty of music to go, starting with Vocal Adrenaline's ambitious cover of "Bohemian Rhapsody," which further proved Jesse's assessment of the group as "soulless automatons." Still, that was some of the craziest fill-every-inch-of-the-stage-with-super-speedy-people dancing I've seen. And all the more amusing for being set against Quinn's delivery. Quinn shouting out lines from the song was definitely too much, but otherwise I thought the juxtaposition worked. And I love that Quinn and Mercedes are now bffs.

As for the judging, as soon as celebrity came up you knew Sue was going to show the heart beneath her steel tracksuited shell and save the day. Josh Groban and Olivia Newton-John's cameos were kind of lame last time around, but ON-J was pretty awesome dressing down Sue, being offended only one group chose one of her songs, and insulting just about everyone. Groban still not so much. And though Sue couldn't get New Directions to place, she was able to make a jab at the hilariously named Oral Intensity.

So while I knew Sue would be the one to convince Figgins to keep Glee Club alive, that didn't diminish the super moving "To Sir with Love" performance the club gave to Mr. Shu (though still not as good as "My Life Would Suck Without You"), the series of insults Sue had to get out before she could give him the good news, or how great it was to hear him tell the club "One more year!" Oh, and the twist that Shelby adopted Quinn and Puck's baby? Brilliant.

So to me, the finale had everything we want in a Glee episode: great musical numbers, involvement of all of the characters, classic Sue Sylvester moments, and for it to leave you feeling good. Still one of the most satisfying hours on TV, and I can't wait to watch Will go up against John Stamos' dentist next season.

Free Outdoor Movies!

New Yorkers, bookmark this page! Here is your one-stop guide to all of the many free outdoor screening series this summer. So what are we seeing this summer?

The most well-known of the various screening venues is usually the most creative with its choices, but you can always count on a number of popular picks. All are on Monday nights.

June 21st Goldfinger
June 28th Carousel
July 5th The French Connection
July 12th My Man Godfrey
July 19th The China Syndrome
July 26th Monty Python and the Holy Grail
August 2nd Rosemary's Baby
August 9th The Goodbye Girl
August 16th 12 Angry Men
August 23rd Bonnie and Clyde

RIVER FLICKS (Hudson River Park)
Just like last year, the theme is movies from the previous summer. So I've pretty much seen all of these, but watching The Hangover outside could definitely be fun. Wednesday nights.

July 7th The Hangover
July 14th I Love You, Man
July 21st The Proposal
July 28th District 9
August 4th Julie & Julia
August 11th Public Enemies
August 18th Star Trek

Same series as above but for kids and on Friday nights. I'm always down for Muppets.

July 9th The Wizard of Oz
July 16th Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs
July 23rd The Great Muppet Caper
July 30th Monsters vs. Aliens
August 6th Big
August 13th Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs
August 20th Annie

SUMMER ON THE HUDSON (Riverside Park South)
Another series that seems to lean towards the recent movies. Also on Wednesday nights.

July 7th NeverEnding Story
July 14th Pan's Labyrinth
July 21st Inkheart
July 28th The Fall
August 4th Big Fish
August 11th Stranger than Fiction

MOVIES WITH A VIEW (Brooklyn Bridge Park)
Lives up to its title - this is the best view of any of these series. But you can't always hear when the subway goes by. Thursday nights.

July 8th Annie Hall
July 15th Monsters vs. Aliens
July 22nd The Big Lebowski
July 29th Rear Window
August 5th Brokeback Mountain
August 12th Dreamgirls
August 19th The Blues Brothers
August 26th Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade
September 2nd Public's Choice

RIVER TO RIVER FESTIVAL (Movie Nights on the Elevated Acre)
More Muppets! Also Thursday nights.

July 29th Broadway Danny Rose
August 5th Auntie Mame
August 12th The Country Girl
August 19th The Muppets Take Manhattan

Watch movies on a boat. Saturday nights.

May 28th Top Gun
June 19th Field of Dreams
July 9th Ghostbusters
July 23rd The Goonies
August 6th Raiders of the Lost Ark
August 20th Rocky

I think this is a new one. Friday nights.

July 8th Laura
July 15th Double Indemnity
July 22nd Sunset Boulevard
July 29th All About Eve
August 6th Freaks
August 13th Invasion of the Body Snatchers
August 20th Night of the Living Dead
August 27th Rosemary's Baby

Not yet listed; check back later for schedule