Thursday, December 27, 2012

The Best 2012 had to offer

No fancy intro.  Just a nice list.

1.  Game of Thrones
Every year, thefutoncritic.com does a top 50 episodes of the past year.  Usually it focuses on season premieres and finales, and usually it makes some colossal screw-ups.  This year, if anything other than "Game of Thrones'" masterful penultimate episode, "Blackwater" wins top prize, it's just another travesty.  The entire episode was one long battle, but it was packed full of action, humor, drama, character and suspense, that the entire hour may have been one of the finest episodes in television history.  And that pretty much sums up the second season of "Game of Thrones," which has become only the second show in my viewing experience, since the invention of the DVR, that I have to watch the night it airs (the only other one was "Lost").  By far, this is the show I look forward to watching the most every week, and almost every scene not involving Denaerys is riveting.

2.  Breaking Bad
It says a lot when a show enters into the discussion with "The Wire" as the greatest show of all time, surpassing even "The Sopranos" in many camps.  The greatness of Heisenberg and Co. is that the show is unafraid to do seemingly anything.  Really, this is what all shows should aspire to do, because its fan base so rarely questions its choices, knowing that Vince Gilligan knows what he is doing, and that his story about the downfall of Walter White is just that.  And that at the end of the day, while we may not get an happy ending next summer, we will get a satisfying ending.

3.  Mad Men
It's easy to forget how great this show is, how much fun it is to sit back and listen to the rich characters just talk to each other.  Like Gilligan, Matthew Weiner is in complete control of this show, and there's hardly a character or a line of dialogue that is not important in some way.  This past season, we even saw a fundamentally different Don Draper than the womanizing over-confident adman that we have seen since the beginning of the 60s, but everyone was ok with this, because this is television, and characters change.  And characters die.

4.  Justified
When other lawmen are impressed by something you say because it's so bad ass, you know you've said something worthwhile.  Which is exactly what happened when Raylan Givens dropped a bullet on Wynn Duffy and said, "the next one will be coming faster" and the FBI agents investigating him laughed and said that's pretty bad-ass.  This is "Justified," the home of the best written dialogue on television.  So much so that every Raylan Givens-Boyd Crowder scene is must-see-tv.  Season 3 of "Justified" was better than the first two, which is saying something.  Somehow they managed to introduce more great characters to flank Raylan and Boyd, and you could go down the line and name the people you want to see more of, but yet don't want to because then there would be less Raylan and Boyd.

5.  Boardwalk Empire
When a show makes a decision to kill off its most popular character, it makes you do a double take.  But then something interesting happened.  "Boardwalk" got better.  And whether the writers had to take more chances without Jimmy or whether they were just able to flesh out more of the characters without the Nucky-Jimmy relationship, the show began to really solidify itself as a mobster drama.  Capone is coming into his own, Lucky Luciano (whom I didn't even realize was a real person) is beginning to figure things out, and all the historical people don't just feel like shout-outs.  Where the show will go in season 4 is anyone's guess, as it seems like Nucky is stepping away from the limelight for a bit.


6.  Person of Interest
It's a credit to the show that they have managed to make their 4 leads so likeable.  Especially the two main men, Jim Caviezel and Michael Emerson.  They have developed a great and believable chemistry together, and although the main antagonist has a poorly named and not threatening moniker (HR), it at least has Lester Freeman in charge.

7.  Homeland
Perhaps the most maddening show on television.  Chuck Klosterman is right, that something always has to happen.  Whatever "Justified," "Game of Thrones," "Mad Men" and "Breaking Bad" do properly in terms of dialogue, "Homeland" does the complete opposite.  The characters never have truly interesting conversations (with the exception of the Nazir-Carrie Islam vs the West one), and in fact, the ones between Brody and Carrie are almost fastforward-worthy.  Maybe should have been lower, but the first half of the season is still very good.

8.  Luck
Perhaps a little low, but that's because it didn't get its deserved second season.  Which is unfortunate, because we all wanted to see where Ace was taking this.  And more importantly, we are all a little worse off because David Milch is not in our lives.  Perhaps he should have stuck with "Deadwood" instead of insisting on his alien surfing show.  Would things have been different?  Whatever it is, it seems like Milch has a problem finishing his works; could we not have had a second season with less horse racing?  They could even continue to be at the track, but just not show the racing parts.  People would still have watched, and only occasionally said, "Where are the horses?"

9.  Revolution
This show is not very good, I concede.  But I will also admit that I looked forward to every week just to see what happens.  And the parts about the world immediately after the blackout are actually pretty good and interesting.  But there has never been a show that I wanted the main character to be killed so badly as I want that dopey Charlie, who is such a bad actor and completly pointless.  I also believe that this show leaves more on the table than any other show right now, as its potential is one of the highest of any show.

10a.  Dexter
Not even sure what to make of this show any more.  The writers this season killed off Pullo and the rest of the Koshka Brotherhood, then made Hannah the big bad, or something like that.  Or was it LaGuerta.  Mike was killed for no reason, and Louis was killed for even less of one.  Then Doakes was brought back for a pointless flashback, maybe because the actor had nothing to do since Dexter's best season, season 2.

10b.  The Walking Dead
Actually a pretty decent season, and some captivating parts, and definitely its best season to date.  Which isn't saying much, because the first 2 seasons were borderline unwatchable.  For season 3, the show abandoned character and instead went for zombie killing, adding the poorly acting Governor in order to add a bad guy that acts with strange motivation.  Why does he want to kill Rick?  Why did Merle kidnap?  Why can't everyone just be happy where they are and try to live a life where they try to kill zombies or find out what happened?  Or is this the point of the show?

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Dexter Season 7 Finale

I thought I remembered Doakes being ripped, but it turns out he was more fat than anything.  At least according to the flashbacks we saw.

Ahh, those flashbacks.  Has there ever been a more useless series of looks into a character's life than the ones on Sunday's episode of "Dexter?"  They changed the character of Dexter to fit into his current character, as the original season 1 Dexter would never drop his guard like that around Doakes and jump around a crime scene.  He just didn't do that sort of thing.

But now that Maria is the world's greatest detective, I guess anything is possible.  Or should I say she was, since Deb killed her for some reason.

Why did she have to pull the trigger at all?  Couldn't she have just let Dexter do it and that was that?  Why go through the whole crying thing to show that she cared about Dexter?  We know that.  We know she would protect Dexter.  So why did she have to kill Maria?

This season was wholly unsatisfying, and it seems to be a case of a show that has just run its course.  So what, now Dexter is going to fade into the sunset continuing to do what he does, with no one looking into him, and in fact, with no one left at Miami Metro.  Maria's dead, Matthews was forced to retire, Angel is retired, Mike is dead, Doakes is dead.  Of all the detectives who have ever been there, Quinn is the only one left standing.  And Masuka.  But he's a blood guy.  And Deb.

So what happens now?  Are all Dexter's ladies brought back for the next season?  Lumen, Hannah, Deb.  Lyla and Rita are dead.

I know I'll stick around, I just don't have that same sense of excitement I did when the show was at its best.

Homeland Season 2 Finale

I'm going to stay this right now, if "Homeland" wins the Emmy for Best Drama for its recently completed second season, it will be a major upset.  And that's without having seen any of the contenders that will be airing in the spring and summer.

That's not to say that the second season was bad.  In fact, the first half of it was very good; well-written, tight, well-acted, interesting.  It was must see television every week.

Then something happened along the way, and I can't even point to what.  It wasn't the misguided run-over-the-homeless-lady plot that was borrowed straight out of "Friday Night Lights" DO NOT REPEAT bag.  It wasn't Carrie working for the CIA, but at the same time not working for them.  Was she ever hired back?  Was she paid?  How did we let this happen?  It wasn't Abu Nazir, the world's most famous terrorist, being able to sneak into the country undetected just because he shaved his beard.  I would have liked to see him wearing one of those glasses with the fake mustache and bushy eyebrows.

It wasn't because of that, but it may have started there.  Then we got Brody video chatting with Nazir, Nazir hanging out in an abandoned mill, Nazir getting shot and killed in the most anti-climactic bad guy killing of all time.

This led directly to the bombing of the CIA at the end, killing Walden's entire family, Estes, and everyone else at the memorial (but not the President, because thankfully, he wasn't allowed to attend his right hand man's own service.  He must have not been allowed, because I can't figure out any other reason he wouldn't be there).  I have no problem with that bombing, as it seemed like an actual act of terrorism, unlike the killing of Walden.  But the way it was set up seems to leave a lot to be desired.

So the bomb was in Brody's van.  Which we all saw him park in Lot C.  Then presumably, at Langley, someone was able to move his van without being detected by any video cameras and park right next to the window where the service was being held.  Keep in mind that this is the headquarters of the Central Intelligence Agency.

This is where the show struggles.  They ground everything in reality, but then something so outrageous happens, that it makes you question everything else that has come before.  The second season has had a really difficult time with this balance, and it has suffered because of it.

My main struggle with the show, though, is the Brody-Carrie relationship.  By all intents and purposes, this is the main relationship of the show, and the one that is necessary for pulling in viewers.  But for some reason, I have a problem feeling sympathy for an affair between a terrorist and a crazy analyst.  I can never tell if they're playing each other, or if there are actual feelings (and maybe that's the point, and I concede that that is well done).

Add that to the fact that Brody is a terrible father, hasn't been there for his kids, and made the kids' other father, Mike, move out, and it is harder and harder to find someone to root for. 

I hope the third season isn't too much of a stretch, and I hope the characters don't find themselves in a position that stretches the imagination.  I'm sure we're in for a long bout of trying to clear Brody's name in the CIA bombing and trying to figure out who did actually do it.

Here's a hint: check the video cameras in the parking lot.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Golden Globe Reactions

Every year, the Hollywood Foreign Press demonstrates to the rest of the world (or to the people who care) how little they actually know about television.  This is great, because I am convinced that only about 12% of them have ever seen a show from the past year.  But they sure can google them and find out who is involved, and then make an educated guess.

So let's go through the nominations.

Best Drama
“Breaking Bad”
“Boardwalk Empire”
“Downton Abbey”
“Homeland”
“The Newsroom”

This past year, 2012, may have represented one of the greatest year of television creativity, possibly since the dawn of man.  Although many of those early caveman creations didn't survive, I still can't imagine they would make a run at 2012 as a top year.  "Breaking Bad" is now entering the discussion with "The Wire" and "The Sopranos" as the best show of all time, and it may have inched ahead of "The Sopranos."  "Boardwalk Empire" just completed an outstanding third season which many had written off before it had even aired because it had killed off its most compelling character at the end of season 2.

And that's where the good nominations end.

If this list had been released 5 weeks ago, no one would have said a thing about "Homeland," which was doing just great; plot was compelling, acting was above par, and everything about the show was clicking.  Then the CIA let Brody, a known terrorist (at least to them), wander through the Vice President's house alone and VIDEO CHAT WITH THE NUMBER ONE TERRORIST IN THE WORLD (not the number 2 terrorist, though.  Vladikov would not stand for that.) and then text him later.  Meanwhile, no one knows this is happening.  And then Abu Nazir hung out in an abandoned mill, knowing full well that people knew he was there.  So they killed him in one of the most anti-climactic terrorist killings of all time.

"The Newsroom" borders on the absurd, and I can't imagine even the people who love the show believe that it is one of the 5 best shows on tv.  But it has Aaron Sorkin as the showrunner and stars Jeff Daniels.  And was once Dumb.  Or Dumber.

I have never seen an episode of "Downton Abbey," but that's because it doesn't look very good.  So I could say it shouldn't be nominated and still probably be right, I just don't have anything to back it up.

The list of shows that gets snubbed is the real crime here.  "Mad Men" has never dipped in quality, even in a dark season like this past one.  "Justified" will never get its due (no pun intended, even though that clearly works) and its small audience will consider themselves lucky to be blessed by Raylan Givens and Boyd Crowder.  But the real victim here is "Game of Thrones," which gets ignored for unknown reasons, but probably having to do with me endangering people's souls.  You just can't have that.

Best Comedy
“The Big Bang Theory”
“Episodes”
“Girls”
“Modern Family”
“Smash”

This list is so bad it's laughable.  "The Big Bang Theory" is the highest rated show on television, so we're going to go with the fallacious conclusion that if it's popular, it must be good.  "Episodes" stars Joey Tribiani, so that must be good, too.  No one even watches "Smash," but something has to replace "Glee" as the overhyped musical show that is terrible on the list.  "Girls" tried to be the new "Sex and the City" but ended up trying to be too smart for its own good, and alienated a lot of people.

So let's just ignore "New Girl," "Parks and Recreation," "Community," and everything else out there in favor of more mediocre television.

But really, let's just be thankful that "Whitney" didn't get nominated.

And before we finish up, let's hold a small candlelight vigil for the great characters on television who don't have a nomination to warm themselves by the fire:
Troy and Abed.  Tyrion Lannister.  Boyd Crowder.  Nick Miller.  Jesse Pinkman.  Richard Harrell.  

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Quick Hits and Misses

With all the television watching recently, and real world distractions, I haven't been able to update this very often.  Also, it drains on you having to watch some bad television, which seems to be what is new and gets reviewed.  So I apologize to "Chicago Fire," "Vegas," and whatever other shows I didn't get around to reviewing.  For what it's worth, I actually kind of liked "Vegas" as a procedural, but mostly because it's cool to see old Las Vegas and the Strip before it became The Strip (Fremont St. appears to be mostly what Vegas used to be.

So let's check in on our favorite shows.

1.  Dexter - I am not really enjoying this season.  It's about Deb more than it's about Dexter, and I don't know if I care so much about the sister of a serial killer as I do the actual serial killer.  On top of that, the changes in Dexter as a character are marked.  I'm all for evolution of a character, believe me.  But I prefer the actual evolution where it stays consistent with his beliefs and the character just becomes slightly different (see Ford, James).  But Dexter has gone through more of a change, where Harry's Code doesn't matter any more.  That is a problem for me.

2.  Homeland - Mostly consistently good, if not great, television.  It is at its finest when it is working with the smaller nuances, like the Brody-Carrie interrogation scene.  The actual plot is just icing on the cake, really.  But one major misstep could end up being the insipid running over the old lady plot.  Friday Night Lights tried this, and it ended up causing the writers' strike.  That is not good.  I'm not sure this is going to go somewhere, but then again, maybe I should just have a little faith.

3.  The Walking Dead - The decision to abandon character work for zombie killing seems to be a good one, as the show is at least watchable.  We have also been given the first real kinda cool character in the Governor, mostly because he's mysterious and sinister.  Something I wrote about back in July.

4.  Boardwalk Empire - Surprisingly working without Jimmy Darmody, something I didn't think would be possible.  Even with fake Jimmy.  But there's a lot of good work going on in this show, and especially and surprisingly by Stephen Root.  Who knew Jimmy James had it in him to play this kind of character?  So well done, Boardwalk.

5.  How I met your Mother and The Big Bang Theory - The two CBS comedies are slowly losing me.  They aren't that interesting any more, and they also struggle to be funny.  Most of the time, I pop them on when distractions are running around or crawling on em.

6.  New Girl and Modern Family - Both funny, and both funny in different ways.  I go back and forth about which one is better each week, which is a very good problem to have.

The fall is tough, and I really wish shows would stop the insane 22 episode tradition that has not changed in 30 years.  Money is the bottom line, but no show needs to last 8 months now a days.  Let them run for 16 episodes straight, and shows can either be Fall shows or Spring shows.

In the meantime, we can all sit back and wait for the returns of Mad Men, Breaking Bad, Justified and Game of Thrones.

Friday, October 19, 2012

REVIEW: Nashville

ABC - Wednesday 10/9c

Nashville is being billed as the show that brings Tennessee into the spotlight, or I also might have made that quote up.  But it's hard not to think this show is about more than just the city of Nashville, and more than just the drama of rising starlet vs. classic country.

1. Does it entertain me?
There are a lot of stories going on in the pilot, that's for sure.  The main one is Rayna James (Connie Britton) trying to fend off the young Juliette Barnes (Hayden Panettiere) as the queen of country.  It's hard not to think there is more going on with this story, as Juliette could be said to be the fictionalized version of Taylor Swift, but with a drug addicted mother (note: I don't know anything about Taylor Swift's personal life, and I have no idea what her mother is like, and I have no idea if she is sleeping with her producer) and a habit of jumping into bed with guys she works with.

Rayna could be any combination of Shania Twain, Faith Hill or Martina McBride (is she still around); the point to get across is that she is nice and sweet and wouldn't hurt a fly, but she's old news, and can't sell a record.

On top of that, Rayna's father is Powers Booth, and he is very powerful, because Powers Booth is very powerful in every show he's in.  Fantastic.  Papa Powers is trying to get Rayna's husband to run for mayor, because he can be manipulated easily, like some sort of Manchurian.

Rayna's guitarist is really good, and Juliette wants him to be hers (guitarist...and possibly more).

While probably not focusing on the corruption and fall of the city of Nashville the way that The Wire focused on Baltimore, it's clear the city is important as a setting.

The show is well-acted, the writing is strong, they mix in some peppy country songs to keep you tapping your foot.  But whether or not you stick around or not is going to depend on how much you like these characters, and if you believe that out with the old and in with the new is something that interests you.  Or you like the country music scene.

2.  Is it realistic?
Again, I have no idea if this is how country music works, or if this is based on reality at all.  But they set it up like it could be, and the two female leads do a very good job in both their roles.  Even with southern accents.  So let's assume this is real, and that this is how the south works.

3.  Are immoral actions defended?
Juliette sleeps with her producer and has cut out her mother because she's a drug addict.  It's all designed to make her the bad guy, albeit the bad guy with flaws that make her human and make you want to root for her slightly.  If only she wasn't going up against country darling Rayna James.

4.  Are traditional family values upheld?
It's almost like Juliette Barnes goes in the aforementioned section and Rayna James goes in this one as the defender of the family.  She is married to her husband, sticks by him in his political charge, and takes care of the kids on the side.  She has never cheated with the handsome guitarist who writes his songs about her, and she even stands by her pops, even though he's a jerk.

That representation of the family will be important to the southern style of the show, I imagine.
_____________________________________________________________________
Nashville has enough stories and possibilities in it that it could make for an intriguing watch.  But I get the sense that the show is directed more towards women, especially those who fear competition from the younger generation, either based on talent or looks.  It's a show based on insecurities, and I believe that could appeal to a lot of people.  I'm just not sure I'm one of them.  Mainly because everyone is more talented and prettier than I am.

Grade: B

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

REVIEW: Last Resort

ABC - Thursday 8/7c

The networks have been without a truly great drama since Friday Night Lights went off the air a couple years ago.  And that had to be fronted by DirecTV.  Before that, you have to go to Lost, which aired its final episode in 2010.  Cable networks have dominated the drama Emmy's in recent memory, and the networks have been fine with cop procedurals, teenage dramas and failed attempts to find the new fantasy obsession.

With all that said, Last Resort is excellent.  The acting, the writing and the plotting is some of the best the networks have produced in a while, and the entire pilot keeps you engaged the entire time, either with conspiracy theories, smart dialogue and good ole fashioned American honor.

1.  Does it entertain me?
From the very first scene, Last Resort sucks you into a world in which Marcus Chaplin (Andre Brauger) and Sam Kendal (Scott Speedman) are commanding the nuclear submarine USS Colorado with the respect of their crew.  The immediate connection is to the Gene Hackman-Denzel Washington "should we follow unknown orders or not" drama Crimson Tide, where Chaplin and Kendal are suspicious of an order to launch a nuke at Pakistan that came over an unsecured channel designed to be employed if and only if the US has been wiped out.

Sounds good to me.

But Chaplin and Kendal are men of honor, and have suspicions about a command that cannot be confirmed while Hannah Montana does her thing on their broadcast channels and weather reports are reporting not a nuclear winter.  What follows is a back and forth with the Colorado and "Washington" over what they should do.  Eventually the crew parks their sub in the harbor of a NATO command post that looks suspiciously like Oahu and take the post over.

What makes Last Resort so compelling is, first and foremost, the acting job done by Andre Braugher.  He plays Chaplin as a man who could kick your butt and make you feel like you deserved it.  He is well-liked yet firm, and his loyalty lies with his crew and his country.

Along with the submarine, there is the cat and mouse game going on with X-Men Senator Kelly (played by Bruce Davison) and the inventor of a fancy engineering thing on board the Colorado (no idea what it is.  Hey, I'm no friggin genius) who tells Senator Kelly that the sub was attacked by American orders.  Clearly there is more at play here, and we will the season trying to figure out what's going on.

There are so many questions out there, which is exactly what a pilot is supposed to do: engage the audience and give them a reason to come back.  On top of that, Chaplin has become disillusioned by the American government, mostly because of that whole trying to kill them thing, and now wants to stay on the island of Sainte Marina, which does not make the local hostiles happy.

Shows like this succeed with the right production and showrunning, and the right creative choices.  It doesn't fall into the trap of so many other shows by letting the music take over.  Most scenes of dialogue let the words speak for themselves, with the ambiant sounds of the jungle as the background, and thus the tension is not artificially amped up, and inappropriately, too.  It really is a joy to see this, especially in light of Revolution, which attempts to mask the poor dialogue with dramatic strings.

2.  Is it realistic?
I'm not sure Pakistan is our greatest threat and the one we should be nuking, but I could see how some government officials could see that.  And I could buy a submarine captain disobeying those orders because they didn't come through a secure channel.

I think that might be what makes the show actual realistic: it's based in a real world.  It's why Nolan's Batman trilogy works so well, because it's based in reality.  You accept the actions of these men because you accept the world in which the show is set.

3.  Are immoral actions defended?
In Rob Reiner's A Few Good Men, Dawson and Downey were found guilty of manslaughter even though they were given an order to punish Pvt. Santiago.  The idea was that they should have known better than to beat up a weaker kid, and by not disobeying a direct command, they instead violated the moral law, which is still punishable.

Catholic Social Doctrine takes this up as well and says that you must not obey a military command that clearly violates the moral law.

This is the issue that is at the heart of Last Resort.  Should you follow a military order that would result in the deaths of thousands of innocents because it's a direct military order, or do you have an obligation to understand that order and question if it comes from a legitimate government authority?

So because Chaplin ignores the order, he earns the wrath of his more military-order-above-all-else minded underlings.

4.  Are traditional family values upheld?
There is one scene of a half naked woman cavorting with a man, but there is no other instance of sex.  Kendal spends the time looking for a picture of his wife, and his wife is grief-stricken when she fears the false report that her husband was killed.

The show is also setting up a Kendal vs Chaplin feud, with Kendal wanting to go home to his family, and Chaplin deciding that Sainte Marina is his new home.
__________________________________________________________________________
Overall, Last Resort is the best new network show of the season.  Without question, really.  It tries to go with the Homeland idea of corruption in the government and using American politics as the backdrop for the rest of the series.  I still think a show like this would benefit from a 13 episode season, but I think we're a long way from that being the norm on networks, because money is the driving force rather than creativity, and 22 episode seasons mean they need to spend less money on development.

Grade: A-