Thursday, May 31, 2012

REVIEW: Men at Work

TBS - Don't even bother looking for day or time

Men at Work, TBS's newest attempt to put on a funny show, fails miserably in so many categories.  It's commercials weren't funny, its writing isn't funny, and its attempts to steal a name from both a movie and a band aren't funny.

1.  Does it entertain me?
I think I saw a funny commercial for Conan while watching.  That's about it.  The world seems obsessed with making Breckin Meyer a star, and now that he's responsible for writing this atrocity, that's one more thing that we can cross off the list that he has no skill in.

The jokes fall flat, the timing is off, the show isn't clever, and there's nothing new to offer.

2.  Is it realistic?
There are unfunny people in the world and every day they do unfunny things.  Men at Work does an excellent job of recreating this fact.  The difference is that when the unfunny people in your office do something, they don't make people stand around and watch.

3.  Are immoral actions defended?
Half the jokes rely on the hilariousness of casual sexual encounters, and how anyone not having them is both uncool and doomed for a life of boringness.  The other half of the jokes aren't even considered jokes.

It's a shame that a show still needs to rely on sexual jokes as its go-to audience grabber, especially when all the best comedies on television rarely rely on this.  But Men at Work won't be on television long enough to wash the writers' of those shows felt pens.

4.  Are traditional family values upheld?
Absolutely not.  Offensive in every way to the concept of family.
Don't watch this show.  Don't give it ratings, don't talk about how bad it is, don't even read this review.  I spent more time writing this review than the writers of this show spent crafting the pilot episode.
Grade: F

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Killing the theories

I had written an elaborate intro to this entry, and then realized, why?  I would be just as guilty as The Killing is to string you along, hoping you would forget some of the things written so that I could try to capitalize on emotions that aren't there any more.  It would only be anger, much like I feel every time I watch an episode and come to understand that the writers have as little a clue to where this is going as I do.

So I'm introducing a new feature: Theories of The Killing.

Rosie Larson got caught on the 10th floor of the Seattle Indian Casino and Bordello, where she was admiring the Seattle skyline before she left Seattle forever.  She could always watch The Killing, because that shows more of the Seattle skyline than clues into the mystery of who killed her.  While she was out on the balcony, after having gotten the key somehow (note: I'm guessing this is how most writers' room discussions of this show end)

"Well, how did she get it?"
"Brilliant.  Let's tell Veena."

So Rosie's out there, either as a prostitute or not, I'm not sure any more, and people come onto the construction site to make a deal.  One of them a Seattle government worker.  Probably the mayor or someone who works for him.  The other one most likely Big Chief Jackson, who brokers all her deals in construction sites like any good mobster would.

So they're making a deal for the waterfront and an Indian Pride museum (the same deal that Chief Jackson tried to make with Handicapable Richmond in a conference room with other witnesses.  Somehow!)  Then they see Rosie watching the skyline, who can't hear their deal because the sliding glass doors are sound proof, and they decide she needs to die.  So they kill her, the Mayor takes her body and puts it in a Richmond sponsored car and dumps it in the river to frame Pre-Handicapable Richmond.  Then the Mayor and the obviously corrupt Duck Phillips led police force frame Richmond, and there we are.


It was not the Mayor in the construction site, but rather Sanitation Commissioner Ray Patterson and Chief Jackson.  Patterson was upset because the people were taking out their own trash, thus making the millions spent on waste management every year pointless.  So he went to Chief Jackson, who inherited a large chunk of government land which they would take care of like their ancestors and wouldn't have a garbage dump site on the land at all, and asked her if they could borrow some goons to whack everyday folk in the leg and thus render them useless and unable to take out the trash.

Rosie, having gotten off on the wrong floor, because why would she have a key to the 10th floor? and having accidentally locked herself out on the balcony, started to bang on the sliding door to get the attention of the two dealers.  Misunderstanding the banging for gun shots, Patterson tries to stab Chief Jackson, misses and cuts his own hand and his badge off at the same time, covering it in blood and losing it on the floor.

Chief Jackson rushes to the door to grab Rosie, who is shocked, because she was just stuck outside, falls off the balcony and lands in the trunk of one of Richmond's vehicles, John Waymos, who was just there to gamble.

Waymos, coming out of the casino drunk, gets in his car and drives home, but loses his way and crashes into a small pond.  He scrambles out of the car, and unknowingly leaves Rosie Larson to drown in his drunk.


Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Quick Hits and Misses

1.  While watching CSI: New York last week, Mac was dying in the hospital.  His girlfriend was shown praying over him, rosary in hand, reciting the Apostles Creed.  Two very Catholic symbols.  She recited everything, stopping at "from thence He shall come to judge the living and the dead. I believe in the Holy Spirit..."  The next line is "I believe in the Holy Catholic Church."

Now, I understand the purpose of leaving this part out, because the mere mention of belief in the Catholic Church is enough to turn some viewers off (although CBS would be less likely to lose viewers than another channel).  But it's still significant, almost like they're trying to hide the fact that she believes in the Church.  Yet aren't the recitation of the prayer and the holding of the rosary evidence enough that she is Catholic?  Why must we avoid saying the words, as if the mere whisper of them, or hint of their existence is enough to make us believe that Pope Benedict XVI is one of the writers.

Although I have no evidence that he isn't a writer, I think he is otherwise occupied.

But if he was a writer, I can't wait to see the all-Latin episode coming up for sweeps next year.

2.  The Killing is well on its way to being the first show that has ever not only not rewarded you for watching, but actually made your watching pointless.  The second season is killing off people, writing others out of the show, and creating alibis for anyone else who cares for Rosie's murder.

So then the question is, was all of season 1 a waste of time and unnecessary to find out who killed Rosie?

Already having alienated more of its audience than any other show in history, and treating us like idiots in the process, Veena Sudd is truly trying to hit a new low in television writing.  She puts us through shoddy police work, boring characters, annoying red herrings and now, as if that wasn't enough, she's probably angering the Native American population.  Which is good news, because maybe it will get her fired.

3.  NBC's firing of Dan Harmon represents one of the stupidest and most shortsighted decisions a network has done since, well, since NBC renewed Whitney.

Communitiy is one of the most creative and off-the-wall shows on television.  Its strength comes from the writing and the chances they take, from 8-bit episodes to parodies of Goodfellas.  The people don't want to see a show based on characters at a community college, they want to see Harmon running a show based on these characters that are nutty and wacky.

Having already sent the show to the Friday night death slot next fall, the firing of its showrunner is just more proof that the only reason Community was renewed was to achieve syndication and thus make NBC more money.  This is ignoring the fact that streaming media is becoming the dominant replay medium, and syndication deals (usually occurring at the 100 episode mark) are no longer essential for profit.

Instead, all NBC did was show that creativity is not welcome at their station.  Each show needs to make their network money, yes, but when you become known as a network that lets your genius flow (ala AMC) you will attract more and better showrunners and creators.

4.  If you receive a Christmas Card from Daenerys Targaryen this year,  I bet it would say "Merry Christmas from Dany and the kids!" and then include a cheesy photo of her and her dragons.  Kinda like those couples and their dogs.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Storytelling of Game of Thrones

If I were to pitch a show to you that was set in an alternate universe, loaded with medieval castles and knights and filled with mystical creatures and beings, and which would eventually feature a massive 5 king war for one throne, that's something that would excite you, is it not?

Well, what if I were to tell you that there would actually not be a war the entire time you were watching?  Instead you would be treated to the planning of this war.  Nary a sword would be drawn.

Yet this is the season of Game of Thrones that is currently airing on HBO.  And almost every moment is captivating.

Instead of the swordplay and dragonfire that would captivate the audience, the writers of the show (and to a large extent, George R.R. Martin) have decided to focus on the people in the war, showing their virtues and their flaws and in such a way that would endear certain characters to us and make us abhor others, all through a lost art in television today: dialogue.  It's not even the exposition that plagues so many network shows.  No, the characters of Westeros instead decide to give us a glimpse into their lives by speaking with other characters.

This is an interesting concept for a number of reasons.  Like any good novel, or even how you meet a person of the opposite sex, it's not so much what is said but how it's said.  Huck Finn would not have been the same novel if Twain didn't write it in the first person to show us the changing education of Huck.  So when Arya Stark is speaking to Tywin Lannister, we not only have to pay attention to what is being said, but why it's being said.  Tywin's grandson had Arya's father killed, so there's a bite to everything she says to him.  She is trying to come off as a commoner, but also show to Tywin that she's not quite.

For Game of Thrones, the quest for the throne is not as important as those trying to attain it.  But even with that in mind, it's an interesting choice not to show extended battle scenes (other than the funds available).

For 60 minutes every week, you spend your time watching people talk, and then you wrestle with the idea that nothing happened in that entire time.  How long you stick with that notion, though, is based on what you expect in a television show.  In the CSI age, we expect things to happen throughout the entire episode that leads up to a satisfying conclusion at the end.

With the time spent in Westeros, however, it's not about a satisfying conclusion at the end of each 60 minute stretch.  Even if there is no conclusion, per se, at least the kind that can be wrapped up with a bow, there is an endgame.  Trying to capture the Iron Throne is not a 60 minute trek.  It might not even be a 10 hour quest.  It could very well last the entire series, but it's the motivation of each of the players, however big or small, that becomes key.

In the end, we as the viewers are going to want someone who is virtuous to claim the throne.  Plato spoke of the Philosopher King as the ideal ruler, and through each interaction throughout the show, we have the opportunity to learn of any candidates for the throne have any qualities of a Philosopher King.  We are able to choose whom we would like to see rule, and if there are bits of pieces of each that we would like.  We transport ourselves to the Seven Kingdoms as if one of these flawed men (and Ms. Targaryen) would one day become our leader.

Or we determine, if none of these men are suitable, that we would be better off if war were declared.

Luckily for us this is Game of Thrones.  And war were declared.

Monday, May 14, 2012

2011-12 Season in Review

In many ways, this past television season was a complete waste of time.  Crappy shows were made and then promptly canceled, mostly because the TV viewing audience realized they were crappy and would not support such nonsense.  This is a good thing.  Executives need to understand that unambitious or formulaic shows will not last (except for police procedurals; there will always be a spot for a new one of those).

Networks rolled out midseason replacements that were actually halfway decent, and while some were able to find an audience, others were not.  Comedies continue to their hit or miss trend, and the ones that missed this year really missed.

So with a handful of finales having aired and with others about to, it's time to look at the television season that was, with the winners of the new shows.

Best New Comedy - Network
New Girl - To me, this is the only reasonable choice in this category.  The networks were flooded with new comedies, but most of them didn't last past a couple of episodes because people realized they would rather watch nothing Duck Dynasty than some of these (with the exception of Whitney, which for whatever reason, is actually popular.  It shouldn't be, it's terrible, and anyone who watches it should be in jail).

New Girl, however, managed to feel fresh and, well, new, every week.  It was anchored by an excellent cast (notably Jake M. Johnson and Max Greenfield as roommates Nick and Schmidt respectively).  Building momentum with outrageous scenarios and then topping it off with genuinely sweet moments, New Girl managed to evolve from just a vehicle for Zooey Deschanel (which is not a bad person to build a show off, but the other characters really helped this to become a must watch show).

Best New Comedy - Cable
Life's too Short -  Cable didn't have a lot to offer in this regards this year, but Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant's newest mockumentary proved to be funny and witty, while maintaining the classic uncomfortable moments that make their productions different.

While not as good as Extras (and while being compared to it) or The Office, and perhaps featuring less Gervais than people are used to or would like, Life's too Short featured Warrick Davis in a fictionalized version of his life that made you feel bad for him while not quite falling in love with him because of his arrogant attitude.  It's a blend of character that Gervais and Merchant have worked out well and perfected over the years of working together.

Best New Drama - Network
Person of Interest - A police procedural on the surface, but harboring all sorts of moral questions about government and privacy.  Plus anchored by two excellent leading actors in Michael Emerson and Jim Caviezel, Person of Interest was one of the few new shows to actually make it to a second season.

Spreading the narrative out throughout the entire season and mixing in a couple multi-episode arcs, it was easy to stay interested in this show.  And if that weren't enough, there are the personal backstories of Finch and Reese to keep us interested, to find out why the machine was built and if it was a good and moral decision.

Best New Drama - Cable
Luck - With all due respect to Homeland, Luck was a more entertaining and engrossing tale of gambling and deceit.  Originally given a second season, HBO pulled the plug on it after a third horse was killed in the filming of this series.

David Milch continues his command of intelligent programming and a creation of a world that is foreign to us.  Focusing on the horse racing world and the people who inhabit the track, it was always difficult yet rewarding to focus on an episode.  And although killed off prematurely, numerous stories were wrapped up in the season finale to make it worth your while.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

The Big Fizzle

If you look at the top of the Nielsen ratings, you will find CBS's nerd sit-com as the highest rated comedy.  This is the greatest indicator that popularity does not necessarily mean best.

Once a clever and well-written foray into the minds of physics geeks everywhere, The Big Bang Theory has become almost a caricature of itself.  No longer delving into the physics quandaries that made its initial seasons fascinating, the show has instead chosen to become a typical run-of-the-mill dating show.  It is nearly impossible to distinguish it from one of the other friendship shows out there, except for the fact that the characters dress like they are in the 70s.  Except that even that has changed.

Let's examine each character individually.

Sheldon - The genius that the show was based on, and also the reason for the early success, Sheldon has become quirky now rather than intelligent.  His nuances are not because he is smarter than everyone else, or even a little socially awkward because he was in college at 15.  He is now just goofy, with the writers even choosing to give him a girlfriend, something that Sheldon Cooper was always dead set against, not seeing the purpose.

Penny - Penny is and always was the meanest girl that has ever been passed off as a legitimate love interest to a nerd.  Which, to be fair, is a pretty short list, but she would also probably make it on a list of girlfriends to non-nerds.  Her character hasn't changed, but she has always been difficult to watch as she mistreats all the guys, especially Sheldon, who couldn't help his OCD.  She's just mean.

Leonard - Somehow Leonard has become a ladies man that would give Leon Phelps a run for his money.  He broke up with his Indian girlfriend in a subtle and non-decisive way, almost as if she had declared herself an atheist to the writers and they wrote her out.  He dresses well, everyone loves him, and somehow he is the most popular guy in LA.  Good for him.

Howard - Got someone to actually agree to marry him, even though he has the most over-bearing mother since Estelle Costanza.  No girl who is in her right mind would find that attractive, or marryable.  Yet here we are, on the brink of nuptials, and things are still going strong.  Howard, meanwhile, is becoming an astronaut, which is fine, because that might actually happen.

Raj - Dresses nice, still can't talk to women, and is still consistently humorous.  I have no problem with him.

The real issue is the way that everyone interacts.  Sheldon was the only reason to watch the show at the beginning, since it was his personality that was different and funny.  His reactions to everyday situations and scenarios was fantastic, and provided laughs each time.  Once they ran out of social situations, they normalized Sheldon and the show became regular.

With Community, Parks and Rec, Modern Family, New Girl and 30 Rock ruling the networks, I would find it hard to rank Big Bang in the top 5 sitcoms.

But at least it's better than Whitney.