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- 

Monday, October 15, 2012

The Walking Living

Sometimes it takes shows a few episodes to find itself.  30 Rock took half a season.  Parks and Recreation took an entire season to figure out it wasn't The OfficeLost knew right away what it was, and this resulted in one of the best pilots of all time.  Even a show like Breaking Bad struggled through a strike-shortened first season of six episodes before really taking off in season 2.  The Killing never figured it out and so got cancelled after 2 rocky seasons.

The Walking Dead, in contrast, has had 19 episodes spread throughout 2 seasons and 2 showrunners, and inconsistent is probably the most apt word to describe it.  Season one is one of the bloodiest and goriest shows ever to grace the small screen.  But the audience never is able to relate to the characters, because they are all fundamentally stupid, and no one embodies goodness.

And unlike other shows, you aren't rooting for a bad guy to turn it around because you want him to be good (ala Sawyer, Baltar or any other number of characters who are considered evil but show flashes of good and humanity).  Not a single character on the show is relateable, likeable (Dale as the exception) or even a good foil to the rest of the people.  If people die, you don't care.  The Walking Dead was a difficult show to like, but it was an easy show to see potential in.

The first episode of season 3 was, to me, the best one of the now 20 episodes.  Does it create problems for you as a show if you're most entertaining episode is the one that features the least amount of dialogue?  And you find the scenes with dialogue tedious and pointless, while you're hoping to get back to the zombie killing and prison exploring?  (The lone exception here is the scene with Lori and Hershel discussing her zombie baby.  Now this is a good question!  The kind of which the show has failed to answer in the previous 2 seasons, but the kind that is essential for the success of a sci-fi show concerned with the end of mankind.  See Galactica, Battlestar).

So the question is, is this what the show wants to become?  A zombie killing suspense drama?

Here's what we know.  Rick has become a jerk, mad at his pregnant wife and giving his 11 year a gun with a silencer.  The group, as a whole, has gotten smarter, working as a well-formed group to protect all sides of their formation from the oncoming attack.  As the main character of the show, and the last to join this group, Rick has placed all his efforts into survival, rather than trying to figure out where this epidemic came from.  Which is fine, that's probably more real.

What the show is missing, however, is that one character whose goal it is to find ou how this all happened.  Maybe it's a dip from the reality of the show (as real as a show about zombies can really be) to have this happen.  However, as a show whose main goal is entertainment, why not have one one person, even if it's the mysterious zombie hunter, off on their own, travelling the state, looking for answers?

You can't tell me that this story wouldn't interest you.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Quick Hits and Misses

1.  This has been a pretty lackluster fall season, with a lot of shows that won't quite make the list.  The most surprising, though, was "666 Park Avenue" which I originally dismissed as being rubbish and nonsense, but what might surprise me and a lot of people.  Granted, that's probably not going to make me watch it or keep it from being cancelled, but it was still surprising.

2.  "The Walking Dead" returns to AMC this week (but not for DISH subscribers, as the television has been so rudely pointing out.  I'm not yet sure if they're the lucky ones, though).  I can't wait to see where our band of dopey heroes spend too much time this season.

3.  If I had to lose any show that I have been watching, I think it would have to be either "How I met your mother" or "The Big Bang Theory."  The difference between the two is that HIMYM still makes me laugh, and BBT just makes me sad most of the time.

4.  "Dexter" also has me excited for this coming year, not because I look forward to the writes ignoring things from last year, but because for the first time since season 2, we're returning to Dexter's actual need to kill.  Like that if he doesn't kill, he shuts down and cannot function.  The writers are at their best when they're dealing with Dexter's interior psyche, which is why the first part of last season was effective (until they killed Brother Sam and stopped the religious discussion).

5.  I need to say a few things about "Revolution."  I'm liking more and more of the backstory, and more of what's going on.  They are doing a good thing, in my opinion, of showing flashbacks to what happened right after the blackout.  But there are still a few lingering issues.
       a.  I hate to make the comparisons to "Lost" but there are times when I must.  When Charlie on "Lost" killed Ethan, he suffered for a while, going into depression and shutting people out.  When Charlie on "Revolution" killed someone, she was immediately fine.  This is an issue when the show is trying to deal with a new sense of humanity.  You can't just skip over character moments like that when you are trying to develop a program that is about more than when the lights go out.
       b.  I enjoy all the stories on the show except for the main one involving Charlie, Miles and Dora.  It's boring and not as effective.  I think this is due to my main problem:
       c.  Miles.  I'm not buying him right now.  His delivery is slightly off and he isn't quite portraying the man he should be.  He was better in the scene with Monroe and JeremyJacob, and I don't know if Tracy Spiridakos is the problem, but would the show be better off without her?  I think so.
       d.  I know this show isn't the greatest, I know it has major flaws, but I do enjoy watching it, and I can only hope that someone who can write dialogue joins at some point (I'm not asking for a Milch or Sorkin or Yost, but something has to give if they want to be taken seriously.

6.  I must say, I am very glad to have television back.  There is a stretch in August when nothing is going on that I legitimately miss other people's lives.  It's not so much that I like to see how they handle things, it's that I like to see how I am reflected in theirs.  I like to consider my own failings and successes in light of others, and I like to contemplate the higher as others are confronted with their own mortality.

It's a silly thing, but it's more than an escape.  Television helps a person to think and to reason and to learn.  It helps to understand the world and to figure out the people who inhabit it, who suffer with this human condition.  We learn something about a man, we learn about people who are brave, who are cowards, who are shy and who are proud.  We learn about people who believe in God and those who profess a belief but who have no idea what that belief entails.  Through these various men we meet, we learn about Man, and thus we learn about ourselves.

REVIEW: Elementary

CBS - Thursdays 10/9c

We continue the recent resuscitation of the life of Sherlock Holmes with CBS's newest entry into the crime procedural, Elementary.  This time with Johnny Lee Miller as the title character and Lucy Liu as Watson, in the latest character to get the Starbuck treatment.

Viewers can expect everything they love from a CBS show and they can expect their lead character to be interesting and well-fleshed out.  This is the staple of all CBS shows, which is why so many people watch it.

This is also the very problem with Elementary

1.  Does it entertain me?
Immediate thoughts are going to go to BBC's vastly superior Sherlock starring Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman.  The world they have created is vast and secretive, with plots and crimes befitting the most famous reasoning detective of all time.  Cumberbatch and Robert Downey, Jr. have each brought something unique to Mr. Holmes, and Johnny Lee Miller has the unenviable task of following them.

People are going to say not to watch those show because it's a blatant ripoff of Sherlock, which doesn't make sense, since that's just an in iteration of Arthur Conan Doyle's work from back in the day.  This show has every right to exist just as much as any other show, and it's nonsense to claim that you shouldn't watch it because you feel you are superior to other people because you watch a British show.

Instead, you should say not to watch this show because it's lackluster and boring, and more of the same police procedural.

The pilot episode features Holmes and Watson out to solve a murder of a man who has been on some sort of medication but whose doctor was also killed, thus taking away the link there.  What follows is something typical to all crime shows: hero sees the crime scene, processes it, goes through the evidence, questions witnesses, then stumbles upon the answer accidentally and makes the connection, much to the killer's chagrin.

They say it's based on reason, but I didn't see anything in the pilot that Sherlock did that was any different than what Grissom does, or Horatio, or Stabler, or Ted Danson, or LL Cool J.  The crime was boring, the characters were not as sharp as they could have been, and all in all the show felt flat.

But maybe that's because it felt like every other show out there, which is something that Sherlock never did.

2.  Is it realistic?
It is.  Miller's Holmes is a brilliant detective capable of reading things into situations because he's observant.  Excellent.  Beyond that, there isn't a demonstration of his abilities in every day life and instead he appears neurotic.  Which is fine, maybe that's how Sherlock Holmes would be.

3.  Are traditional family values upheld?
There is no sex, no cheating, no affairs, nothing that would fly in the face of the family.  Except for when the doctor conspired to have someone's wife killed.  That was not very family friendly.

4.  Are immoral actions defended?
The bad guy committed murder, was caught and presumably sent to jail.  Where he belongs!
_____________________________________________________________________________
 Elementary is a perfect fit for CBS and its overabundance of crime dramas.  It will find an audience there, but in reality, it's nothing more than an interesting character being placed in an uninteresting world.  The pilot didn't have a gripping crime or gotta find out what happened action.  The characters weren't even that great, but it will find a home and will be watched.  It will make nice "watch if it's on and there's nothing else" television, but it will find a hard time making its way onto many dvrs.

Grade: C

Thursday, October 4, 2012

REVIEW: The Neighbors

ABC - Wednesday 8:30/7:30c

A New Jersey family packs up and leaves Jersey and moves into a small gated community with a golf course.  The bit they didn't tell you about, right, is that all their neighbors are aliens.  I don't know if the well was running dry developmentally at ABC, but at least we have Modern Family from them, right?

1.  Does it entertain me?
I feel like somewhere in this show there is a funny sitcom.  Somewhere in the premise is an idea that works and there are jokes that are funny.  But I honestly don't know how you would make it funny or if all the right players are there.

It seems easy to make a sitcom with aliens as your main characters.  They would find hilarious things that we don't, and they would do things that we as humans would find astoundingly hilarious.  You put them in awkward situations and the sparks will fly and wackiness will ensue!

The problem is that this idea is easy.  The jokes are easy, the laughs that are to be had are not because something is actually funny, but more properly because the situation is different to us.  If you look at the top comedies on television, Modern Family, Parks and Recreation, Community and possibly some of the ones on CBS that aren't named 2 1/2 Men, then you will see first and foremost funny characters.  Second, you will see them getting into situations that we the viewing audience can relate to.

Sure, everyone's had weird neighbors.  But I guarantee that most people could tell funnier stories about their neighbors than the ones that we are being told on this show.

The real issue is that the show devolves quickly into a typical every day show.  The wives have problems with their husbands and can't understand why they won't do things that seem ordinary to them (even the aliens have this problem, which I suppose is supposed to be the joke.  Ha ha, now I get it).  The husbands, in turn, don't understand why their wives don't understand them.  And so we have a show about suburban America that is just like every other show about suburban America, and no one cares there are aliens.

2.  Is it realistic?
Probably, I've never lived next to an alien before (although we did have a cast of characters in my neighborhood growing up, including The Goat, Snail Man, Artie D, Dylan C., Busted Kneecaps.  It was a very colorful neighborhood).

3.  Are traditional family values upheld?
  Yes, no aliens have started cheating on their spouses with the humans yet, and vice versa.  The alien husband got kicked out of his pod, but that's hardly un-family like.

4.  Are immoral actions defended?
The aliens seem to be peaceful, so that's good news.  We don't want warmongering aliens in our premises, that would just create chaos.
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The Neighbors has 6 episodes written all over it, which is fine, because there really isn't enough reason to come back each week.

Grade: D

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

REVIEW: 666 Park Avenue

ABC - Sundays 10/9c

Terry O'Quinn plays his second iteration of the devil (the first being Lost when he was the Man in Black\Smoke Monster\Barry) in this new show that is at times horror and suspense and times morality play.  It has intrigue and sex, which should appeal to a lot of people, but the weird thing is that is uses both of these things in a way that enhances the overall theme of the show:

The Devil is bad and he will make you do bad things.

1.  Does it entertain me?
The Natural Law tells me, among other things, to do good and avoid evil.  The devil in this show, Gavin Doran (O'Quinn), tries to switch this around.  Do evil and avoid good.  He tempts them, he offers them things that they otherwise could not have (one guy becomes concert violinist, one guy gets his dead wife back as long as he continues to murder innocent people).  No matter who the person is, Gavin is convinced that he can bring them over to the dark side.

This sets up all sorts of immoral and illicit behavior.  Murders, beatings, poor golf swings, sex.  You name it, someone has to do it to remain in the devil's good graces.  However, none of these acts are ever presented in a way that the devil doesn't somehow begin.  So while the commercials would lead you to believe that these behaviors are what everyone seeks, they are actually part of a bigger picture: namely that the devil can give you things that you want.

Of course, he says that he gives you things that you need, when in actuality you gives you things you want.  It's similar to Sterling-Cooper-Draper-Pryce.  The devil convinces you that you just don't want this new vice, but that you actually need it, and that you can't live without it.  He is the best salesman in Manhattan.

The show also mixes in all sorts of intrigue, namely that the Drake Hotel (not the one in Chicago, although that could be haunted as well) used to be the center for a cult, and the remnants are still in the basement.  Jane Van Veen (Rachel Taylor) is an architect looking to find out the history of the building.

And this is where the main pull of the show comes from.  Can Jane and the other characters find out the truth of the hotel?  And if so, can they find out that Gavin is the devil?  And if they find this out, can they bring John Constantine by to rid them of their devil problem?

What ABC is banking on is that people will stick around long enough to find all this out.  But I just don't know if there is enough discussion orTheological dialogue to merit a return week after week.  ABC is banking on people returning for the immoral behavior, on finding out people's motivations for committing sin, on seeing who has sold their soul this week.  But I just don't know if people who are interested in the theological nature of the show are willing to sit through all the sex.

2.  Is it realistic?
Your belief in the existence of the devil and the power he wields is going to shape  your answer to this one.  But I for one absolutely believe in things like this, which is why a show like this frightens me so much more than a show about zombies (although that can be equally as difficult to watch.  Thanks Rick).

So if you believe in the devil and his temptational power, then the premise is believable.  That people would be willing to sell their souls to become a concert violinist is also believable.  I'm not sure some of the secondary relationship stories are as believable, but those people will probably be killed at some point.

3.  Are traditional family values upheld?
The whole idea of the show is that people commit sin in order to get what they want.  This will include affairs and extramarital sex.  Families will be destroyed by murder.  So no, the family is not protected.

But it's also not the goal of the show to uphold that.  It's trying to show the flaws of humanity and our desires to have worldly possessions.

Of course, I may be giving the show too much credit here.  There may be no desire to explore the nature of good and evil at all, and in reality, there may just be ratings grabs designed only for entertainment.  Which is fine, people are allowed to write whatever show they want.  We just don't have to watch.

4.  Are immoral actions defended?
By the devil, yes.  But the show doesn't seem to take a stance on good or evil, just that Gavin is in charge, and is clearly making these people to immoral things to get what they want.  I can't imagine the characters support his corrupt beliefs, but you never know.
____________________________________________________________________________
666 Park Avenue doesn't give the audience who might be looking for some theological discussion enough to stick around.  And it doesn't give those people who are looking for the next sex-infused Desperate Housewives enough sex to stick around.  So it might be stuck in the middle, trying to entice people with a bit of a fright each week, with moving hell-walls and floors.

Grade: C+

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

REVIEW: Revolution

NBC - Mondays - 10/9c

Ever since Lost went off the air in 2010, networks have been trying to find the next LostFlashForward.  V.  The Event.  If you look at the television schedule, you might notice none of these shows are still on the air.  That's because none of them captured any of the magic or drama of Lost, but that doesn't stop executives from thinking that they can recreate the unrecreateable.

NBC's newest attempt, Revolution, may be getting closer, but there are still gaping flaws and holes in the finished product.

1.  Does it entertain me?
Yes it did.  The pacing of the pilot was perfect, never dragging and never having to re-explain itself.  It zipped along, and you were left wondering what was coming next.

However, a big part of this might have been the coolness factor.  Namely, what does Chicago look like now that there is no power and the canals have flooded and all the houses and buildings around Wrigley Field have been taken away (seriously, there was nothing around it.  Where's the car wash?  Where's the Cubby Bear?  Murphy's?).  This could pose a problem, as the main attraction of your show should not be what does the world look like (more on this later).

Basically, here's what happened.  15 years ago, something caused the entire world to simultaneously lose all its power and its ability to have anything that the Amish wouldn't use.  So no phones, no lights, no motor cars, not a single luxury.  Like Robinson Crusoe, it's as primitive as could be.  Now in the present, everyone lives in little villages, where cul-de-sacs are now the center, chickens are raied in the square, and vegetables grow out of useless cars.  This sounds quite good to me, and it would have been easy to focus on this premise for the next 6 seasons and a movie.

But wait, there's more!  The United States have been divided into various republics, and the one in Illinois is ruled by a guy named Monroe, who has as his main leftenant Giancarlo Esposito (the best part of the pilot).  He's looking for a guy who may know what happened, finds him, kills him, captures his son and sends his daughter running into Chicago.

Again, the premise is in tact, and quite catching.  However, the reason that Lost worked is because you had a series of adult actors pitted against the Island, and eventually each other, as they struggled for survival and leadership.  Revolution may fail in hiring a pretty girl as its main antagonist, who is not the best actress in the world, and who is not especially believable as the person upon whom the main crux of the show falls.

Where the show works best, as we said above, was looking at this world that has become.  We see The Drake Hotel in Chicago (renamed the Grand Hotel, but still featuring a very clean Lou Malnati's sign).  We see O'Hare International Airport grown over by grass and planes uselessly sitting at rest.  The villages are an interesting idea, the other nation city-states throughout the country is good.

So where's the problem?  The problem is, would the development of this new world without power be more interesting than the struggle to find out why the power went out in the first place?

It's like a cross between The Walking Dead and Lost.  There are no dead people chasing them, but there is also no real civilization any more.  How do people deal without power?  What was the chaos like?

Now, all of this could be solved later by flashbacks, where we get this idea in a world we're already familiar with and how things came to be, and then the present world, where people are trying to find out what went wrong and how to fix it.  The pilot gives no indication that this will happen, but the previews for next week's episode suggests it might.

2.  Is it realistic?
I'm willing to buy that the power has gone out for some unknown reason.  I'm willing to buy all the villages, city-states and everything else involved with the new world.

The part that I'm not yet willing to buy is that Charlie, our heroine, is the one to figure everything out.  Traditionally, no show has been able to survive with a teenager or young adult working as the main protagonist.  Alias is the only show that comes to mind as almost doing it, but Sydney Bristow was not that young.  Sci-Fi shows especially try this formula and fail.  Battlestar Galactica had Adama (both), Baltar, Roslin, and Starbuck.  Lost had Jack, Locke and Sawyer.  Neither show went for the pretty girl or heartthrob hunk to carry the weight of the story, because it's not believable.

If Charlie exists as something other than the driving force, the show will have a better chance of success.

By the way, the other obvious example is Buffy the Vampire Slayer, a sci-fi show which worked because of the youth of Buffy, Willow and Xander.  I don't believe Revolution is going to function the same way.

3.  Are immoral actions defended?
People get shot with guns, crossbows and bows and arrows.  They get stabbed with knives and swords.  But at no point are these actions done by the protagonists out of something other than self-defense, and they are certainly not defended against the moral law.

There is no sex and no language.

4.  Are traditional family values upheld?
Elizabeth Mitchell's character may have died, and the husband got remarried.  That's fine.

But the main idea in the pilot is that Uncle Miles should help Charlie because she's family, which is good, because family is important.

The family seems important to all things, so we can assume it will be defended.
____________________________________________________________________
Revolution is ambitious.  It creates a world that we haven't seen on television before, and it does so in such a way that more questions are raised about how things work.  This is a very good thing.  If the show can succeed in immersing into this future world, and if it can make us care about the characters and their quests, then this is a show that will be easy get on board.

But we could just as easily give up on it if philosophical ideas don't present themselves, and it remains simply an adventure show.

Grade: A-

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Review: Guys with Kids

NBC - Wednesdays 9:30/8:30c

Special sneak peak available On Demand (Xfinity) now.

There was a time when you heard "such and such was filmed before a live studio audience" and you got excited.  Cheers did it.  Frasier did it.  NBC is apparently trying to bring this back, but all that ended up happening when I hear that phrase in front of Guys with Kids is feel bad for the live studio audience.

Guys with Kids features three men at different stages in their lives, one a stay-at-home Dad, one a divorcee, and one a working man married to Meadow Soprano; all of them have kids, and all of them carry their babies to the bar in a carrier.

Also, none of them are funny.

1.  Does it entertain me?
No.  No it does not.

Trying to capitalize on the recent movie version of the book, What to Expect when you're Expecting, Guys with Kids takes the group of Dads in that movie and lets us see them every day.  The difference is those Dads had Chris Rock, and we have Anthony Anderson.  A skinny Anthony Anderson, too, not Teddy from Hang Time.  Those Dads had actual parenting advice, and seemed like actual Dads.  These dads seem like men with rag dolls strapped to their chests.

They don't say funny things, they don't do interesting things, their babies don't cry or even make a noise, and they seem to spend their time whining and making us feel sorry for them.  Except we don't, because we hate that they are on our screen instead of something entertaining.

The pilot follows the three men around as they go from their bar to their home and to a Knicks game, fearing ex-wives and not helping out current wives.  They say stuff and their wives laugh.  I think they must have been drunk at the time, because there's no way that they found what their husbands said was funny.

Unless.

These men are so collossally unfunny, that the putridness coming out of their mouths at that time actually passed for funny, because the wives had spent their entire married lives listening to such nonsense, that this was now the only funny they knew.  Humor is a matter of perception, and over time, their humor genes may have eroded into what they have now, allowing for their husbands to pass off as funny.

This would indeed be a sad fate.

2.  Is it realistic?
I've never seen three men at a sports bar with babies strapped to their bodies drinking beer.  The men, not the babies.  But since the babies weren't making a peep even though they were in a loud sports bar, I wouldn't be surprised if there wasn't a bit of a nip in their bottles.  Maybe they're teething.

The relationships might be realistic, but if that's the case, I will never voluntarily hang out with any of the people on this show.

3.  Are immoral actions defended?
No one seemed to be doing anything too lewd, so that's a good thing.  Two of the marriages seemed strong, one ended in divorce, and she was presented as crazy.  So that's something.

4.  Are traditional family values upheld?
I didn't pay close enough attention to the show to learn any names, so I'm going to just go with it.

One guy didn't want to take his wife to a school dance with the Titanic as its theme, so Meadow went with Teddy's wife to the dance instead.  Or she's still pining for Jackie Junior, and this was her big chance to try to see if he was there.

The divorced couple have a weird attachment/fear thing going on, but other than that seemed ok.

None of the kids had been sent to be raised by wolves, so that's another plus.
________________________________________________________________________________
Guys with Kids won't last until Thanksgiving, so there's really no reason to even start watching.  It might not even make it to the premiere night, which is still a week away.  It will be cancelled, and rightfully so, because it's just not very good.

Grade: D

REVIEW: Go On

NBC - Tuesdays 9/8c

Trying to find yet another project for the most talented Friend, Go On casts Matthew Perry as a sports radio talk show host who has just lost his wife in an automobile accident and must now attend group therapy in order to facilitate his grieving process.

Mixing sentimentality with genuine humor has become a staple for NBC for many of their comedies, from Scrubs to Parenthood (the latter which isn't really a comedy, but you get the point), and for the most part it works here.

1.  Does it entertain me?
Surprisingly, yes.  I went into watching this show knowing that I liked Matthew Perry, but also knowing that the show does not have any other names besides a bit part by John Cho as Perry's boss.  I fully expected it to use Matthew Perry as a name to attract audiences to a forgettable comedy, but what I discovered was something more.

First of all, the pilot starts out slow, with Ryan King (Perry) trying to return to work after a month of grieving over his late-wife.  But unbeknownst to him, his boss (Cho), does not think that one month is enough time to fully grieve over the loss of a loved one, so he gets sent to counseling.

His larger than life personality and competitiveness immediately takes over, and King turns the group therapy into a March Madness (aptly titled March Sadness) bracket to see who has had the toughest road.  All the while avoiding talking about his own grief, of course.

The cast of characters in therapy will undoubtedly provide us with laughs, as they all have their own quirks.  Comparisons are being drawn between Community all throughout the critic world.  This works only in the sense that Community features a group of misfits uniting in some common theme, but Go On lacks the creative wacked-outness of Community (at least as run by Dan Harmon).

But it's Matthew Perry's acting abilities that allow the show to work, as he can simultaneously sell creeped out, enthralled and sad, all while making himself human and relateable to the audience.

There are genuine laughs to be found in Go On, and the show's mixture of dealing with loss and humor actually feels fresh, which gives it a nod over other shows on television.

2.  Is it realistic?
When Ryan King has a small meltdown and throws fruit at Terrell Owens' car (it was nice of TO to make room in his busy schedule to make a cameo), he was merely doing something we have all wanted to do at some point in our lives.

Ryan's inability to deal with his wife's death is probably the most real thing, as we get a montage of all the people in the group grieving, and it's heartbreaking to see Ryan unable to sleep in their bed they once shared and instead opt for the chair in the family room.

Perhaps putting a weight watcher in charge of therapy is a little farfetched, but I'm willing to go with it in terms of plot.

3.  Are immoral actions defended?
The only thing that could be considered immoral is the irreverent way the show seems to deal with death and loss.  But on the other hand, these might be the exact reactions people have and need to deal with grief, and so it's hard not to look at them and say, "yeah, I believe that happened."

In fact, Ryan's grief and loss is treated with respect in the sense that he needs to get over something real that happened.  Is the showing depicting death in a poor light or in a disrespectful light just because it is showing a guy trying to make light of a bad situation?  Absolutely not.

4.  Are traditional family values upheld?
There is no sex, no swearing, no putting other people down.  There's one weird guy with a beard, but he shouldn't be allowed around people to begin with.

Given that the show has been a pretty girl the leader of the group session, I'm sure it's inevitable that Ryan will have a fling with her.

But other than the possibilities, the show is actually very family-friendly, with Ryan speaking of his wife in very romantic and good terms.
________________________________________________________________________________
Go On  may not be the funniest comedy on television, but it is far from the worst.  It's funny and sentimental, without being over the top in either.  It doesn't play for cheap laughs and seems interested in being more than just another comedy.  I saw enough in the pilot that I want to keep watching, and that's all you can really ask for out of any show.

Grade: B+

Saturday, September 1, 2012

To Hell and Back

"If there's a hell...we're already pretty much going there, right?"

It took 5 seasons for Walter White to finally acknowledge that there's an afterlife, and it came as a shocking revelation when he told this to Jesse in "Say my name."

It's not so much shocking that Walt is going to hell.  For us God-loving and God-fearing mortals, that conclusion was already set.  What is surprising is that Walt seems to have no problem with it.  He recognizes that his actions have consequences, and yet instead of the desire to repent and do good, he figures, eh, why not continue with my evil ways?  I've got one foot in the door and I might as well kick it in with the other.

This is something that Tony Soprano could never even come to grips with, maintaining his Catholic faith claims until the day he was shot.  He insisted this was a business and nothing more (interestingly enough, the apt comparison here would be Christopher, who once remarked to Adrianna, "That's the guy, Tony Soprano: the man I'm going to hell for.")

If damnation doesn't scare Walter, then what in this world would?  The problem is that Walter is not just jeopardizing his own salvation, but the salvation of those around him, especially Jesse, who has been trying to get out of the bad guys business for quite some time now.  Unlike Walter, he has a conscience and doesn't like what he did to Gale.   The interesting thing is that Walter has suffered no personal loss in all of this.  No one he has cared about has died (Hank was injured, but now he's doing great).  Jesse, on the other hand, woke up to his dead girlfriend.  Brock was hospitalized.  One of his buddies was killed on the street.

The whole show and evolution of Walter is going exactly as Vince Gilligan wants it to, with the audience slowly turning on him and questioning everything he does and says.  In the first couple seasons, it was possible to sympathize with him, since he was a high school chemistry teacher dying of lung cancer and realizing he couldn't support his family if he was dead; he just didn't have the money.

Now, however, he is a walking contradiction.  He was doing this for his family; now it's for the empire.  He was doing it for the money; now it's ego.  Unlike most protagonists on a show, Walter is not trying to make his life better; he is trying to make his life matter.  But not matter to the people who love him.  No, Walter wants to be remembered as being great at something.  Anything.

I am pretty sure God doesn't want to send anyone to hell.  He would love it if everyone who ever lived would join him in heaven.  But we have to remember that while God is good, he also just.  He gives people what they have earned, what the great gift of free will has allowed them to choose.

I have no idea if Walter White is going to hell.

But I do know that he doesn't seem too keen on making sure he doesn't.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Quick Hits and Misses

1.  So Jesse Pinkman has become the ideas man of the meth cooking group?  It was his idea to rob the train, and his idea to use the magnet.  While Walt and Mike are duking it out for control, Jessie is fine sitting in the background and keeping everyone out of prison and trying to be the moral voice.

Of course, this doesn't help when Jesse is so willing to go along with any idea that is presented.  In this last episode alone, he sided with Mike's idea to get $5 million, and then he sided with Walt at the end of the episode, even telling Mike it was a good plan.  So is getting $5,000,000 without putting your life in danger!

2.  We finally found the underlying motive behind Walt's desire to be the meth kingpin of New Mexico: He sold his share of a dotcom startup for $5K.  Now, Walt has a history of making bad decisions, but this one takes the cake.  That is chump change compared to the billions he would be worth now, and the billions he is trying to get back to.  He could have ruled the tech world, but now he is set on ruling the meth world.

Which would be fine, except that people keep getting killed.  And Walt pretended to be upset by this, but then he proceeded to whistle while he worked, turning into what Tony Soprano would call the "Happy F**king Wanderer."  Which Tony himself had turned into by the end of the series.

3.  Summer time is a dull time, with very few shows of interest.  NBC premiered both "Go On" and "Animal Practice," both of which I'm waiting to post my reviews of, since they were trying to capitalize on the Olympics audience, but which don't actually start their shows until September.  And my feeble mind isn't able to remember show to show what happened a month ago.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Retro Walking Dead

Summer allows me to catch up on television shows I may have missed along the way.  First I knocked out Justified and then thought I'd give The Walking Dead a try.  Talk about a deeply flawed show.  I'll just jump right into it without a lot of fancy introductory words.

1.  For the most part, it's boring.  You wouldn't think that was possible when dealing with a post-apocalyptic zombie show, but The Walking Dead manages to do it just fine.  And as far as I can tell, this can be chalked up to a lack of interesting characters.  There's nothing that sets anyone apart, there's nothing that makes them stand out, or makes me care where they came from.  Worse yet, there's nothing that makes me want them to survive.  Even though I was upset by Dale's death, because he's the one who did seem to have a different voice.

And you could argue that they made the characters real and they don't have super powers and there's nothing unrealistic about them.  But that's just the problem.  We're dealing with a show about zombies, there are things that can be unrealistic.  Make people mysterious, make them have secrets, make them have motivations that go beyond sitting around a farm all day.

2.  Which brings me to my next point.  They were on that farm for way too long!  The second season could have and probably should have been condensed into 8 episodes, there could have been less pointless conversations, and the pacing would have been better.  As it stood, though, everything moved too slow, and too many tangents had to be introduced.  And the tangents that were introduced never went anywhere.

3.  Because we deal with a world where we wonder about the fate of a small group of survivors, comparisons to Battlestar Galactica are inevitable.  Both shows deal with humanity nearly being wiped out.  Both series focus on an ongoing threat from their attackers.  Both shows have to depict a group of people trying to rebuild society.

The problem is that The Walking Dead tried to discuss the questions of what make us human, and how we need to hold onto them, but they did it poorly.  There were no good arguments, no examples that people might take other sides, no attempts to keep up morale.  Galactica mixed this in beautifully with the Cylons and Baltar; Admiral Adama and President Roslyn were able to bring military vs. government struggles to the front.  All The Walking Dead had was Rick vs. Shane, and Shane was clearly losing it.

Where's the discussion of society?  Of religion?  Of politics?  Why isn't anyone trying to rebuild their life?  Instead they stay holed up on a farm rather than seeing if the zombie mania was going on in another state.  What if it's just Georgia?  Then go to Florida.  I understand the highway was blocked, but there has to be back roads around this.

4.  No one has fun on the show.  What people often forget is that Lost weaved this in almost flawlessly.  Although the main theme of the show was still destiny vs. free will and faith vs. reason, Hurley acted as the foil to both these things, carrying some sort of lightness that made the audience like him as well as the castaways.

There's nothing like that on The Walking Dead.  No one is funny, no one makes jokes, no one tries to lighten the mood.  Consequently, no one is really that likeable.  Go out and have a drink.  Have an interesting conversation.  Go play Augusta National.  Do something.

5.  And even with all this said, there is a lot of potential here in the one thing the show doesn't want to seem to deal with, at least in the first two seasons: mythology.  How did the zombies come about?  Where is the helicopter?  How did someone get a helicopter?  Where is it safe?  Where did Altair come from and what's his story?

There's a lot to be explored if the show would take some time to focus on this.  In a shorter season with more focus.  Maybe you can blame the change in showrunners, maybe it's not the writers' plan to do any of this.  But they're not doing the character thing very well, or the philosophy thing, so why not broaden the horizon?

Just don't let anyone shoot someone else in an outrigger.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

The show within the show

TV writers have long been a fan of using other mediums in the middle of their own shows to make a point, either a thematic point or one that helps to accent the character in play.  The Sopranos was very fond of displaying Tony watching the History channel, using something about Nazi German, paralleling Hitler's regime with the terror that Tony brought upon both of his families.

Lost brought this to a whole new level, almost criminally so.  Records, novels, philosophical names, whatever Lindelof and Cuse deemed fit.  After the season 3 finale, "Through the Looking Glass" in which the Looking Glass turned out to be a Dharma station and not quite the Lewis Carroll white rabbit (which was also another episode, season 1's first Jack-centric episode), the drop ins seemed to be more for the joy of the writers and discovery of internet bloggers everywhere than plot-centric.

Last week's episode of Breaking Bad, "Hazard Pay" featured two clips.  The first one was right after Jesse and Walt had just cooked a batch of meth in a house being fumigated.  They were chilling out, relaxing and acting all cool to their favorite episode of The Three Stooges.  The boys were deep in some plot or scheme that ended up being shot at by a gorilla wielding a tommy gun.  Sometimes I wish there were still shows like The Three Stooges on.  It really was a classic and simple piece of Americana, and Sam Malone's realization that he had other interests in the world than just girls.

The idea was that Jesse and Walt (and possibly Mike, although I would not be caught dead calling him a stooge to his face) are mere buffoons is a new development in the world of Breaking Bad.  Immoral, wrong, criminal: absolutely.  But Vince Gilligan has gone to great lengths to prove that Walter White is not an idiot.  He was highly recruited out of college, and he had a promising career, before it was all derailed and he became a high school chemistry teacher (and note that this is an interesting subplot of the series: Why did Walter end up at a high school?  Something happened, something changed for him and his dreams, even referring to his current home as a starter home when he and Skyler first got married).

But a stooge?  Since the death of Gus, Walter has been thrust into a world that he does not understand, but wants to be a part of.  He was the meddling cook before, possibly at peace not seeing the actual effects of his chemistry.  Yet at the same time, he was a little too willing to advance his own career and agenda, and even more willing to protect himself and Jesse.  He now envisions himself something of a badass, an untouchable and an indestructible Robin Hood.  But it's still a world he doesn't understand.  He's beginning a plumbing business with his 2 friends, all the while flooding the basement and hitting each other in the head with pipes.

In a sense, Walter White is lost.  The brilliance of The Three Stooges is that Larry, Curly and Moe never knew they were stooges.  They were three men looking for work (lots of different works) who always find themselves rubbing elbows with people out of their league.  Walter strings along Jesse, putting him in the same world, yet Jesse's motivations are a little more cloudy than Walt's.  His need for a father figure pushes him towards Walter, who doles out parental advice to his new son, someone who doesn't suffer from cerebral palsy.

If the world and the writers see Walter as a stooge, Walter himself sees himself as Tony Montana (a comparison that Vince Gilligan has made often).  So what does Walter do?  Shows his children Scarface of course in the second of the two references, much to the chagrin of Skyler, who is seeing Walter more and more for the gangster he is becoming.

It's almost as if there are two worlds that Walter lives in: the one where he is a stooge, where Mike and drug world sees him as a dope.  Then the other world, where Skyler sees him as a drug lord to be feared, not at all the loving man she married.  She is unfamiliar with the idea of a kingpin, but she's even more unfamiliar with the idea of her husband as that kingpin.

Walter's self-vision of himself as Tony Montana is almost laughable to us the viewer, because we've seen the stupid things he does.  The same way that the average viewer can't understand why Walter doesn't just count his blessings, take his new life given to him, and return to his family.  His family that he is doing all this for.  And his family that he says is a very good reason for doing anything.

All this is Walter justifying his actions and masking his desire to be king.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Emmy Nominations 2012: The more things change, the more they stay the same

The 2012 Emmy nominations have been announced, and everyone thought that this was the year things would change.  This was supposed to be the year when the Emmy board actually watched television and would be able to make appropriate ballots.

Of course, this did not happen.  Because it's a lot easier to read the names of eligible shows and actors than to actually do your research.

DRAMA SERIES
"Boardwalk Empire" (HBO)
"Breaking Bad" (AMC)
"Downton Abbey" (PBS)
"Game of Thrones" (HBO)
"Homeland" (Showtime)
"Mad Men" (AMC)

Not a bad list at all.  This is the first time in recent memory that not a single network show made the list (unless you count PBS's Downton Abbey), and to be fair, there were no network shows that deserved to be on this list.  I would remove Downton Abbey and replace it with Justified, though, and the only other possible addition would be Luck, which was hurt by all those horse deaths during filming.  My pick goes to Breaking Bad for this category, although Game of Thrones would delight me as well.

DRAMA ACTOR
Steve Buscemi as Nucky Thompson in "Boardwalk Empire"
Bryan Cranston as Walter White in "Breaking Bad"
Michael C. Hall as Dexter Morgan in "Dexter"
Hugh Bonneville as Robert, Earl of Grantham in "Downton Abbey"
Damian Lewis as Nicholas Brody in "Homeland"
Jon Hamm as Don Draper in "Mad Men"

Again, not too much to argue with here, with the very notable exception of Timothy Olyphant from Justified.  Michael C. Hall, whom I would've had no problem on this list in the first 3 seasons, is a tired nomination and one that seems boring and lazy to me.  Any time someone plays a character named Robert, Earl of Grantham has to lead to a nomination.  I believe that's a rule in the Emmys.  I'd give this to Jon Hamm.

DRAMA ACTRESS
Glenn Close as Patty Hewes in "Damages"
Michelle Dockery as Lady Mary Crawley in "Downton Abbey"
Julianna Margulies as Alicia Florrick in "The Good Wife"
Kathy Bates as Harriet Korn in "Harry's Law"
Claire Danes as Carrie Mathison in "Homeland"
Elisabeth Moss as Peggy Olson in "Mad Men"

This is Claire Danes' award.  Nothing else need be said.

SUPPORTING DRAMA ACTOR
Aaron Paul as Jesse Pinkman in "Breaking Bad"
Giancarlo Esposito as Gustavo 'Gus' Fring "Breaking Bad"
Brendan Coyle as John Bates in "Downton Abbey"
Jim Carter as Mr. Carson in "Downton Abbey"
Peter Dinklage as Tyrion Lannister in "Game of Thrones"
Jared Harris as Lane Pryce "Mad Men"

Still too much love for Downton Abbey for my liking, and not enough for Justified.  With all apologies to Aaron Paul, there was nothing better than a scene with Walton Goggin's Boyd Crowder.  Let alone one with him and Raylan Givens.   I think Giancarlo Esposito gets this.

SUPPORTING DRAMA ACTRESS
Anna Gunn as Skyler White in "Breaking Bad"
Maggie Smith as Violet, Dowager Countess of Grantham in "Downton Abbey"
Joanne Froggatt as Anna in "Downton Abbey"
Archie Panjabi as Kalinda Sharma in "The Good Wife"
Christine Baranski as Diane Lockhart in "The Good Wife"
Christina Hendricks as Joan Holloway Harris in "Mad Men"

When Fox did their Sarah Connor Chronicles, one of the worst things about the show was Lena Headey as the title character.  Now that she is perfectly embodying Cersei Lannister, her snub from this list is just plain wrong.  I'm sure all those people do a fine job, but no one plays evil and conniving better than Headey does right now.  I'm sure Maggie Smith gets this because everyone has heard of her.  But Anna Gunn should.

Stay tune for a breakdown of the reprehensible comedy categories, where genius is not recognized.  And Ron Swanson is not happy.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Life Lessons with Television Shows

Love is in the air.  And on the air.

And wouldn't you know it, it's easy to fall in love, it happens all the time, and it happens to everyone.  But of course, there is no right way to fall in love, and everyone has a different story.

Take The Bachelorette for instance.  She has the benefit of falling in love with not one, not two, but THREE different men at the same time.  And this is honest to goodness real love we're talking about here, not the type of love that lasts only until a reunion show.  Most women don't ever find the real true love that current star Emily Maynard found with three men (now 2, that third love wasn't really a love apparently.  Not like the realness of the other 2).

To be fair, though, Emily never thought it would be possible to truly love different guys at one time.  This all came about through numerous make out sessions, tv interviews and intimate dates with Emily, a guy, a camera man, a sound man, a guy holding a boom mic, a director and a helicopter pilot.  Also a magician was there.

It was so easy to fall in love for Emily, as she was able to fully commit herself to one guy, and then the next day, fully commit herself to another.  Who needs intimacy when you have a hot tub with 5 guys in it?  Clearly you can learn all there is to know about someone while kissing his friend.

And if you think that Emily has it easy, just talk to Kody Brown.  Emily got to date multiple men, but Kody actually got to marry multiple women!  Imagine that, he had so much love to give, he was able to fully give himself to 4 different women!  Most men only have one self to give to one women, but not Kody!  He has 4 selves, which has to be the case because he has given his whole self to 4 different women, so he must be the most loving person alive.  God only has 3 persons.  Think of that!

Kody doesn't trivialize marriage at all, he doesn't make a mockery out of love.  I'm sure it's easy for his multiple wives to raise their children without him every day, I'm sure they enjoy knowing he's with some other woman that night.  I'm sure they enjoyed dancing at his wedding to his 4th wife, knowing he was going to the honeymoon suite with a new wife.  That's the kind of stuff that makes a family stronger, without a doubt.

It's easy to make jokes about how much harder it is for Kody, because when he gets one wife mad, he has four women mad at him.  But come on, it must be so easy on the kids knowing their dad is going to be home once every 4 nights.  That's the ideal way to raise a family, right?

Polygamy has been around since the dawn of time, and so it must be the preferred way to have a family.  Just like the preferred way to get a wife is to club her on the head and then show her a fire.

The nice thing about having multiple wives, as well, is that you never have to address any problems you have.  You can just let conflicts fester and grow under the surface and let resentment crop up, so that conversations you have are biting and filled with vitriol.  This is exceptionally healthy, as is letting the kids see you act like this.  Then they can bring this same idea to their marriage.

And from everything else we see on television, love is also equivalent to sex.  Once a couple loves each other, or say they love each other, the next natural step is to have sex with them.  Or, on the flip side, as soon as a couple has sex (usually after the first time they meet) they say they love each other.  It's so easy!

The bottom line is that love has become an excuse to do so much more.  Love was not created as a reason or a free pass.  You need to work at love, you need to sacrifice for love, you need to give someone, some one person, your entire life.  Love is when you would give everything you have and everything you are in order to make someone else happy.  Truly happy, the happiness that we share with God.

Reality shows are generally not designed to show us how love should be, they are designed as entertainment.  The problem arises when people who don't have love or know love begin to believe this is how it works.  Reality shows are strange entertainment, designed to tell a story that appeals to the masses, if only to give us the chance to judge the contestants and think about our own lives.

Love is a beautiful thing when it is done properly, when it is done the way Christ taught us and the Church has upheld.  Someone should make a show that follows a family around, a real family, one that eats together, talks together, reads my blog together, and then in the end, stays together.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

REVIEW: Anger Management

FX - Thursday 9:30/8:30c

Charlie Sheen's breakup with CBS was much publicized, as was his meltdown that led to said breakup.  So it makes sense that the first 30 seconds of his new FX show, Anger Management, would feature him yelling at the camera about replacing him and moving on with the show.  This was of course not really a work, but rather took place in the context of his group therapy session, and was a clever breaking the 4th wall that was expected yet still amusing.

The rest of the show was not as amusing.

1.  Does it entertain me?
Let me preface this review by saying that I generally like Charlie Sheen.  Hot Shots is excellent parody, Major League still makes me laugh, and he shows acting chops in both Platoon and Wall Street.  But I find everything about Two and a Half Men abysmal, and I would not have cared if Sheen ever returned to television.

But he did, because he's still a big draw for sit-com audiences, and I'm sure Anger Management will be with us for a while.  That's mostly because the humor is crude and sex-filled, and that appeals to many of FX's target demographic.

I think what's sad here is that Charlie Sheen once again plays a character named Charlie, and his comic timing is not put to good use here.  I don't know if he will ever be an Emmy winning performer, but I can't be alone in wishing that he would do an intelligent comedy, something on HBO or anything without a laugh track.  If he wants to play a fictionalized version of himself, ala Extras or Episodes, that is something that would be welcome.

As it stands, though, this is another forgettable comedy that will stay on the air for a few years and make money.

2.  Is it realistic?
The situations seem fine, but there are no real people involved.  The characters are shallow and one-dimensional and exist to get a laugh only.  That is the ultimate problem with these kinds of shows: character sit on couches in order to get a laugh, and remain there for the entire series.  There is no motivation, no development, and no real purpose or underlying theme.

3.  Are immoral actions defended?
All the time.  Every joke is sexually based, and they can get quite dirty for a non-HBO show.  It's uncomfortable and shameful that there wasn't one single joke the entire pilot episode that was not about sex.

4.  Are traditional family values upheld?
Charlie (the character and the actor) is in bed with a woman, and they have just finished having sex, and he joyfully promises that he will never love her, because the sex is so good.  This is the coke-riddled world of Charlie Sheen: sex and love not only can be separated, but they should be separated.  In fact, genuine love would just get in the way of sex.  Which is probably why he was on a drug bender not too long ago.

Don Draper said it best, after Pete Campbell had just slept with a college girl: "Roger is unhappy.  I never thought you were."
______________________________________________________________________________
Anger Management is another example of wasted talent and sex jokes for the sake of sex jokes.  It's not funny but it will be popular, because that's the way the world works.  But there are better shows out there (just turn on NBC on Thursdays) and you should be spending your time with them.

Grade: C-

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Do we expect too much from television?

We are living in a world that is experiencing a creative boom in terms of television and the arts.  There are more good to great shows on now than at any other time in this year of 2012.

We've gotten to the point, in fact, where we judge people because of what they watch.  Ask someone their favorite show, and if they respond with anything other than Mad Men, Game of Thrones or Breaking Bad, and we immediately dismiss them as credible talking heads.

God help them if they say Jersey Shore.

But with all the television shows out there, it's not possible for them all to be great.  Yet do we, as a viewing audience, have a right to expect more than someone can develop?

It's not enough to just entertain now, shows need to teach.  They need to tell us something about ourselves, our world, our family or God.  There is a necessity that philosophical ideas be explored if a show wants to be considered great, and a show cannot just simply rest on its laurels.  It needs to constantly evolve and push the envelope, or we will turn on it quicker than when Hulk Hogan turned on the Hulkamaniacs by siding with the nWo.

Every episode of every show is dissected and subjected to ridicule throughout the web, by legitimate television critics and by the blogosphere.  It's impossible for someone to do something on a show that is not scrutinized in depth.  We know when characters are being killed off, when buildings are getting blown up and when showrunners are being fired.

So is this a good thing and is this fair?  Do we actually expect too much from our television shows?

I don't think it's too much to ask that a show has more going on than action.  I don't think we necessarily have to be satisfied with a show that doesn't make us think.  For years, television had the rap that it was mindless and the evil stepchild of its more evolved and acceptable film counterparts.  Television was never supposed to exhibit good and evil, it was never supposed to show a knowledge of God and morals, and it was never supposed to act as a character study.

It was an escape from reality, nothing more than fluff to pass the time before the nightly news.

That is not the case any more.  We look for morals, we look for religion, we look for meaning.  The themes are just as important as the story now, and if those themes don't mesh with our worldview, we don't want any part of it.

The most common way that people find this website is by searching for a particular show + Catholic, or + moral.  We want shows that embrace our Catholic faith.  We want shows that feature virtuous characters, characters that are good because they follow the Natural Law.  And when those shows don't feature such characters, we want to know if there is some other redeeming quality.  Do people treat God as the omnipotent creator of the world?

Shows that outright reject God or reject his goodness and thus reject any goodness of humanity are not worth watching for many people.  But more importantly, the shows that don't even address such elements are even worse.  The universe of a show needs to recognize this in some way.

We don't expect too much from our shows, we expect those shows to reveal something about the God-created world we live in.  We expect anything we watch, read of listen to to have a knowledge of the existence of God, and that those who embrace him should be rewarded, and those who reject him should be punished.

Shows with Godly themes (however those are presented) will always be the most popular, because we live in a theocentric world, whether people accept that or not.  We want to see how other people present their beliefs in freedom, sin and redemption.  We would love every show to be about something greater than just the crime of the week, but we also know that is not possible.

In the meantime, we can continue to look for our values, for the values of the Church, to be represented in the world around us, and when those presentations make us think and contemplate God, then they have accomplished the mission of any form of art.

And that is why we love tv.  And how can we ever expect too much from a medium that is already providing us with examples of how everything mentioned above is being accomplished?

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Mad Morals

So this is what a bleak and dark series looks like.

Mad Men, having just wrapped up its 5th season, will look to win its 5th consecutive Emmy no doubt.  But it will do so against the stiffest competition yet (eligible this year will be Breaking Bad, Game of Thrones, Justified, Boardwalk Empire, Luck and whatever network show the voters feel is necessary to self-promote), and it is by no means a sure thing

There was more fluctuation in character than in any other season, as some people evolved, and some people took the low road.

Don Draper - Perhaps the biggest deviation of character, Don was no longer the man who would come home late at night or lie to his wife about where he was after work.  Instead, he was the one sitting at the bar alone, brushing away advances, while his coworkers were engaging in illicit activities.

Whether this can be attributed to his new marriage to Megan or to the fact that Megan knew about his past as Dick Whitman, Don was a changed man.  He wasn't consumed with work, he didn't have to prove to everyone that he understood advertising (and thus the human condition), but he was rather more interested in spending time with his wife.  He shifted slightly back towards his old self when Megan took up acting and stopped working at Sterling Cooper Draper Price, but he still turned his life around, at least temporarily.

I don't necessarily take the final scene of him sitting at the bar with the women as a sign that he would return to his former womanizing ways, either.

Peggy Olson - Peggy has always had the need to fit in, while at the same time possessing the wish to stand apart.  This has led her to try different things, experimenting with what could be seen as non-virtuous activities.  But she finally decided she needed to emerge from Don's shadow, left SCDP and became head of creative at a rival firm.

Pete Campbell - Pete continued his evolution into Don Draper Jr. complete with winning clients over with this pitches and cheating on Trudy with whatever woman he could get his hands on: sorority girl, friend's wife, you name it, he thought he loved it.

Pete always was a bit of a weasel, and has always looked up to Don.  The show has always done a good job, though, of making Don likeable, something they have never done with Pete (and by the way, this is not a criticism, as this is clearly on purpose).  Pete also lacks Don's self-awareness, not realizing that he is the way he is because he is unhappy.

Roger Sterling - Getting a divorce from his second wife is just another of the soul-searching things Roger does in season 5, as he further attempts to find out who he is in this world.  Once he sold the original Sterling Cooper, he discovered that he was nothing without his work place.  He had built that, but he has nothing now, and this leads to Roger experimenting with LSD, to sleeping with Joan (albeit that was season 4 and earlier) to his transgressions with Megan's mom.

Lane Price - The saddest storyline of the season was, without a doubt, Lane's suicide.  And it's even sadder that it was done over money, and that's it.  He had good friends to watch the World Cup with, he had a good wife and a loving family, and he seemed like he was happy with where he was.  He even punched out Pete Campbell, that has to count for something.

This isn't even touching Harry Crane's cavorting with Kinsey's hari krishna not girlfriend, Bert Cooper not doing anything, Betty Draper wearing Lee Adama's fat suit, Sally and that doofus boyfriend, Joan getting rid of her husband before prostituting herself out to get Jaguar, and all else that was in this season.

And for the record, I place Mad Men third on the list of shows on television right bow, behind Breaking Bad and Game of Thrones.