Friday, March 30, 2012

Live-Blogging 'Supernatural's' "Party On, Garth"...

- I hate when the "previously on" completely spoils a character's return even before the credits get to. It's going to be a long episode just waiting for the special moment...

- Ah, old school. Sitting around a fire with some kids is oddly reminiscent of "Wendigo" for me.

- These kids are out in the middle of the woods, and this show wants me to believe only one of them is wasted? Please. Sera Gamble may know her Sam suffering, but she doesn't know kids today! (Okay, I know Gamble didn't write this particular episode...)

- At this late stage in the series, let alone season of heaviness as a whole, I have to admit I have severe reservations that this episode is going to be solely stand alone and not move forward the whole Dick Roman/Leviathan battle/Dean depression story at all. I'm thankful for the laughs that watching DJ Qualls pull rank, let alone get drunk, will surely provide, but I want something as epic and emotional as last week's!

- True story: every time I see Qualls I see fake Cousin Leopold, his Big Bang Theory character.

- Drunk and yielding a rifle: better or worse than drunk and brandishing a sword?

- Garth has a girlfriend!? Who does he "heart!?"

- I guess "to Garth" is like "to Britta."

- Dean (Jensen Ackles), if you have to wonder how Sam's (Jared Padalecki) "custard" is, maybe you shouldn't be letting him drive. It may not be the beloved Impala, but he just got out of the crazy house. He's probably not fit to be behind the wheel. Even if visions of Lucifer have been vanquished.

- They're in Kansas, and neither Sam nor Dean were planning to note the significance of being in their home state? What is going on on this show!? It's like they're completely different people. I mean, I know they've been through a lot, but geez...

- Having a Canadian actor take a crack at America with the line about why someone is being sued seemed kind of unfair. Not wrong. Just unfair.

- Sorry, but one sip of vodka does not a drunk kid make. Especially not a 2012 kid.

- This feels very much like a first season episode so far-- and I don't mean that as an insult. Just getting back to the "scare" of the week and being able to travel this deep into the episode without really knowing the significance of the creature attacking those that it is. It's a throwback in a way I didn't even realize I was missing.

- It's a bit poetic to see how Dean deals with Garth. Garth is pretty much Dean a few years ago, having fun, hitting on girls, drinking too much, enjoying the ridiculousness of low rent motels (those who use magic fingers should not throw stones at hot tub soakers). Maybe Garth can bring out the fun-loving Dean I've missed this season (and most of last).

- Oh, the eye-roll. Or Dean will just treat Garth the way he used to treat Sam, as the annoying little brother.

- I don't know, dude; two strange men (who probably smell like booze), not even in suits, want to sit alone with your kid and you let them?

- Oh that sock is just making this creepier. Tell your dad where the sock touched you...

- I don't know. I think it's a big leap, even for Dean who has seen it all, to assume you have to be drunk to see this monster just because the one thing that set the kid apart was "drinking a grown up drink." Usually being plastered is cause enough to assume the person didn't see things clearly. I mean, as it was, "monster" wasn't even an accurate description.

- Well, if Dean still carries things of Bobby's, then absolutely that explains the EMF spikes and weird energy around him. We all know that you don't just have to burn the body but the "artifacts," too. Hell, they acknowledged as much earlier in this episode when Garth thought that homeless girl was the ghost ganking people.

- Sam is huge. How much do you think he has to drink to get drunk? Even if on an empty stomach.

- Is it wrong I now have a craving for sushi?

- I'm glad the show is acknowledging that beer disappearing and how Sam reacted to it. When I interviewed Sera recently, we talked about her intentions for that scene, but sometimes (cough, Ringer) a showrunner has a lot of ideas for things that should come across on-screen but execution falls short and therefore they never do. But Sam dealing with his grief over Bobby by trying to contact him, even if we didn't get to see him do it, adds some insight into the kind of man he is. Though, I admit, I still think that beer had more to do with Dean drinking so much he didn't realize he downed it. His spiral is great-- perhaps even greater than Bobby's resolve.

- Only on the CW would a janitor look like THAT.

- Poor Garth didn't get to use the sword at all!? Bummer.

- If Bobby is here for something so inconsequential, he'll have to be around for the Leviathans, right? Also, I don't think it works like that, Dean. I don't think spirits can always just knock something over to let you know they are there. As much as you may really want to have your answers, um, you're shit-faced. Now more than ever you shouldn't exactly trust that you think the sword moved. Sam had his moment of unraveling and hallucinating. Maybe now it's just your turn. (Can you tell I don't believe in ghosts?)

- So...drunk to see a Shojo; do they have to be high to see Bobby (Jim Beaver)? And am I the only one who hopes he doesn't actually make contact with the boys until the end of the season?

Closing Remarks: A lot of people on Twitter are calling tonight's episode "filler," and I have to say, while I don't agree with the terminology, I do agree with the sentiment. It did prove to be a stand-alone, case of the week, old-school episode. Enjoyable, absolutely, but still leaving something to be desired, yes. As I said earlier, there is just so much going on this season, and the stakes are so high considering the Leviathans are creatures that can't be killed-- and ones that heaven itself had to lock away (I think I have that right, but it's been a long time since I read the Bible, and honestly, I don't remember them even being in there in the first place). I'm getting antsy, wanting the show to continue down that path. I don't know how the show will wrap it up-- or even if it can-- by 7.23, but everyone keeps saying it will be. So it worries me that we just spent an hour doing something completely different. I get it, Dean and Sam have to take detours sometimes when other cases come up or old friends (or in this case, one of their only remaining friends) call, but still. I'm chomping at the bit here!

Also, the character return I referred to in the "previously on" was Bobby. Because the minute they show a long gone character in that lead-up, it's a reminder to the audience their significance and the last time you saw them, almost as a way to ease them back into your life. But Bobby needs no reminder; his death was the single most emotional moment of this series. Yes, even more so than Dean making a deal to save his brother's life or getting dragged to hell, or Sam detoxing off demon blood or getting his soul crammed back in his body. I love the character, and I love the actor, but in a strange way I was at peace with the way he went out. I know why the boys aren't, and why they want to try to hold onto him or see him in the world around them, but... well, for once I just wanted them to have to come to terms with the fact that he's really gone. So many of their other loved ones were brought back (not necessarily from the dead, but their likenesses were in front of the boys again nonetheless) and used as devices to torture them, emotionally and at times physically. Ultimately this had to cloud and color the way they thought of these loved ones. Can Dean ever really think about his mother without remembering the scene from the diner, even if intellectually he knows that wasn't her but a demon wearing her face? I don't want them to do that to Bobby. And I really don't want them to use Bobby as another Castiel, swooping in with some other worldly knowledge or skill to help them defeat the Leviathans at the last minute. That's too "easy." If nothing else, I just like the fact that Bobby is there, keeping an eye on them. Because isn't that what we've all been taught happens when people die anyway? They leave this plane, but they never really leave us. And Supernatural has certainly played with that concept before, but I just don't want them to mess with it too much when it comes to him.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Tonight's TV Talk: 'Community', 'The Vampire Diaries', 'The Big Bang Theory', and 'Touch'...

TV Talk for Thursday, March 29th 2012

The Big Bang Theory (CBS, 8pm) - S5, Ep20: "The Transporter Malfunction" - I'll be really honest: though I watch this show every week, I very rarely choose to write about it because just about every other week I flip-flop on my opinion on the series as a whole as spurred on by the current week's episode. Some weeks I laugh a lot and am delighted to see such a unique and quirky group of people on television. But more and more I find myself distracted by the stereotypes and actually thinking this show is mocking nerds more than it is celebrating them. Which is ridiculous because in today's climate, the nerds are the cool kids, and people like Penny are shunned as the oddballs out. On one hand, you have an episode such as tonight's bring on one of the most beloved, and biggest name, stars in nerd culture. But on the other hand, the story surrounding the special guest star is so socially awkward you have to wonder if deep down they're not just playing to said guest star's inner Shatner. Now, I don't really know anything about Leonard Nimoy, so I can't assume he ever would pull a Shatner, but still. I didn't quite know what to make of things. It's season five, and though this is a traditional sitcom, it's season five, and there should be some character growth. I guess I got it with Raj (Kunal Nayyar) on his double date, even if it still required alcohol first so he could talk to the surprisingly pretty and seemingly sane woman with whom his parents set him up, but honestly all the gay jokes were just off-putting and somewhat immature. If nerds are the new cool kids, metrosexuals are even farther along in the "accepted" characteristics. So this old-fashioned in style sitcom actually matched in tone tonight. The story itself was a very real-- and touching-- one. Raj wondering if fake-marrying someone was the best he would ever get could have been poignant and emotional but since it was so punctuated with stabs at him, it just went nowhere. Though anyone embracing life with a little dog deserves SOME props. And Sheldon (Jim Parsons) and Leonard (Johnny Galecki), so obsessive over keeping their "collectibles" in their boxes (and then freaked out over a broken toy) seemed like a season one plot point at best. The only salvageable part of that story was the fun the show had with the Spock action figure. Someone on that staff likes miniatures as much as I to put him in fun poses while he "spoke" to Sheldon!

Community (NBC, 8pm) - S3, Ep13: "Digital Exploration of Interior Design" - Oh Subway, how your placement in the Greendale cafeteria is indicative of what creative, unique artistry has to do in order to get a place in the world of entertainment today. But hey, it kept Chuck around, so I'm not going to complain too much! Same goes with the lockers. It's the little changes that jar me the most, and I'm glad Jeff (Joel McHale) addressed it because it was seriously distracting me. Mostly because it made him and Annie (Alison Brie) look like they were in a CW drama for a minute there. Anyway, going back to Travis Schuldt as Subway for a minute, I just need to comment on the fate that I happened to re-read "1984" last week. It's like Dan Harmon knew and this was my reward! If the last time I had read it was in high school, then I probably wouldn't have picked up on all of the little similarities between Subway and Britta's (Gillian Jacobs) clandestine meetings and the ones between Winston and Julia in the actual book. Though, there is something to be said for the amount of times she hooks up in a fort of some kind. This episode had a dark undertone that took the show to a different level in my mind. It was the kind of episode I would have expected at the end of a season-- or the end of the semester-- when everyone is burnt out and getting on each others' nerves. Annie was on edge and being passive aggressive about her life lessons to Jeff; Troy (Donald Glover) and Abed (Danny Pudi) were fighting over something ridiculous; Pierce (Chevy Chase) was the "voice of reason" Party narc; no one could see that a blanket AND pillow fort would be the real record-setter; and then there was just John Goodman "going through some things" in a way that put me on edge because he should never be in charge! He's only the Vice Dean, after all! At first it seemed he wanted to manipulate Troy to get him to join his air conditioner repair annex, but then he advised Abed to also stand up for himself. Normally that would create friction because the two guys would both refuse to back down, but they had already gotten themselves to that point, so I felt like the scene with him in the fort making clear his motives was mis-edited-- or at least redundant. Though, I have to say, I was super curious to see what a self-implosion of a pillow fort would look like. The blanket fort last time was so perfectly orchestrated, but pillows seem more like dominoes and therefore more of a wild card. It just takes one slightly off-kilter placement to stop the whole thing in its tracks. How's that for a production nightmare? I have great faith that "Kim" is not the death McHale let slip recently, but I can't help but wonder if it's Pierce even though all current signs point to Garrett (Erik Charles Nielsen)-- with their "save him" campaigns and rallies. See, Pierce has been utilized quite well in the episodes since the show's return. Chase has been allowed to tap into his old-fashioned physical comedy (the chair pants, the soft serve bit, the ink in the mouth). It's as if the show is misdirecting by showing us we can, in fact, love the old kook before BAM! it rips the rug right out from under us.

The Vampire Diaries (The CW, 8pm) - S3, Ep18: "Murder of One" - So here's the thing: I love Klaus (Joseph Morgan). I don't care what kind of dark, twisted human being that makes me. He is my favorite vampire. On this show and maybe ever. So from the minute the binding spell "took," I was hoping that maybe something went wrong, and he wasn't actually tethered after all. Because here's the other thing: I know this show well by now, and I know Julie Plec likes to kill her characters! I would not stand for Klaus dying, let alone all of the Originals dying (um, where would the show conflict be then!?). So Bonnie (Kat Graham) never proved her usefulness more than when she overturned that spell tonight so one of them could perish. Sorry Finn (Caspar Zafer), we hardly knew ye, and we hardly care. Well, Sage (Cassidy Freeman) cared, but Sage is incidental, anyway. And I don't just mean because she died because of who she was sired to. I just mean in the overall story. She came, she reminded Damon
(Ian Somerhalder) of simpler times, she left, but she left her mark on him nonetheless. But regardless of the emotional turmoil for Bonnie, or the physical torture for Damon, or the mental aerobics for Elena (Nina Dobrev), the hands down best part of tonight was considering just which Original turned which beloved vampire. Because you all know the vampire rules: when the Original dies, so do all of the vampires the Original and any of its spawn turned. Admittedly, I thought it would be a little quicker, even if just as gruesome, as we saw with Sage, but still. Pretty cool to consider. Because Damon and Stefan (Paul Wesley) want to take out Klaus, but what if Klaus was responsible for turning the vamps who ended up turning them? MENTAL AEROBICS! But Tyler (Michael Trevino)? The show barely cares about Tyler; he's written out every spring! So I kind of don't care about Tyler. So I don't really care if he dies, but considering the only real way he would is if the plan to kill Klaus is successful-- well, he should just be thankful he is connected to Klaus. Because The CW is far too invested in Morgan to allow Stefan to kill Klaus. I loved that Caroline (Candice Accola) thought Sage just died of sadness (how cute is she!?), but when you think about it: that's exactly what Elena will go through. What would her life be if all of these vampires who came in and turned it upside down when she was just a schoolgirl three short years ago suddenly ceased to exist? And can she afford to play so fast and lose going after Klaus if they're just not sure of the bloodline? Can they definitively trace the bloodline? Can one of the fans? I sense a detour into looking into Jeremy's (Steven R. McQueen) well-being! I mean, as a good sister, she should have been doing that all along, but it seems like she's going to need to shift her focus as a distraction. And in other news: Damon forcing Alaric (Matt Davis) to wear his ring annoyed me. Not because it would turn Alaric further into a psycho who would steal daggers to take out Damon later but because when he wears the ring he can't be killed. I'd like Alaric to come close to death one more time-- and this time his family (cough, Elena) just lets him die for real, rather than risking the side effects of the ring. Because Davis has booked The CW's new pilot, Cult, and I think I'll really like him in that. MUCH more than I like Alaric.

Touch (FOX, 9pm) - S1, Ep3: "Safety In Numbers" - I'll admit it: I got all I needed to get out of this series in the pilot episode. Knowing that week to week every character we met was going to be intertwined in some cosmic way, and having Martin (Kiefer Sutherland) feel obligated to find that way because it was a pattern his son saw and his only assumed way of connecting to his kid-- or at least, you know, making his kid smile and feel like he was paid attention to even though he had been shipped off to be "studied" by a social worker, I kind of couldn't get too emotionally invested. These players were people we'd be immersed so deeply in for only an hour. The show wanted us to make a strong connection to them only to rip them away at the end of the episode, so I kind of felt like my hormones, let alone my heart (hypertension, you know), couldn't take that. But tonight Rob Benedict guest starred as an "invisible" man who was pretty much Martin's glimpse into the future for his son. Benedict absolutely killed as a guy who saw the same numbers and patterns as Jake (David Mazouz). What are the odds of those two coming in such close proximity to each other when so few people in the world have the ability they do? Well, if you believe this show, the odds are great because guys like them can see the details that others miss that would lead them to each other. But Benedict was homeless, years of obsession with the numbers, and presumably no parental indulgence, keeping him from being a traditionally productive member of society. Yet, he was productive in his own way-- like a scruffy Shaman. He hinted at deeper affliction, though: telling Martin following the patterns helped keep away the pain in a way that, to me-- someone who doesn't believe in the magic behind all of this-- screamed mental illness, not magic anyway. Yes, Jake is special. Yes, he is helping people right now. But Martin shouldn't be chasing him down a rabbit hole, grasping at childish ways to get the kid to like him enough to maybe, just maybe say his first word to him. Instead, he should be a man and a father and consider the harm Jake could be doing to himself by focusing so much on these external events rather than on himself. They need to keep Benedict around as that constant reminder but also as a way for Jake to actually connect. Something tells me he'd take an inherent, almost unconscious shine to this guy. They'd just "get" each other. Maybe I'm just too cynical for this show, though. Maybe, as much as I'd love to always see the good in humanity or positivity in television, let alone the world, it's just not a realistic look for me. For one thing, I couldn't suspend my disbelief long enough to believe that the internet connection in a remote African village would allow those kids to connect to the dance competition at a, well, competitive speed. Even if I would have let them win simply because their ingenuity and spirit deserved it. I may be the only one to focus on such details, but it's those details that make well-intentioned stories like this feel sloppy and too fantastical.

From LA Examiner: 'Happy Endings' Cast Talks "Big White Lies"; 'Community' Pillow Fort Photo Preview; 'Scandal' Advance Review; Megyn Price 'Rules'...

"VIDEO: The Happy Endings cast previews their “Big White Lies"

We’re not going to beat around the bush. We promised you a video chat with the Happy Endings cast about what lies their characters tell to get out of hanging out with an old friend who comes to town (guest star Mary Elizabeth Ellis), and now here it is (in the video clip to the left)! ... [MORE]

"PHOTO PREVIEW: Community takes on a pillow fort"

Blanket forts are so last season, right? Well, that may be what Abed (Danny Pudi) is thinking when he decides it's time to step it up to the next level and go for the Guinness Book of World Records gold with a new kind of relaxation: the pillow fort! But things aren't all fun and games when Community takes on an epic, two-part event spread over the next two Thursday nights with "Digital Exploration of Interior Design" and "Pillows and Blankets." The specific nature of pillows, combined with some "fort purist" thinking, and a little assist from the "going through some stuff" Vice Dean Laybourne (John Goodman) ends up pitting Abed against his BFF Troy (Donald Glover) as they race to each build their own fort... [MORE]

"Mid-Season Preview: ABC's Scandal"

ABC’s Scandal had us with its opening Aaron Sorkin-esque rapid-fire dialogue exchange between Olivia Pope’s seemingly personal cheerleader Harrison (Columbus Short) and potential new employee Quinn (Katie Lowes). It was the first time those two characters meet, and it was the first time we were meeting anyone inside the high-powered, and apparent high-energy, world of crisis management, and immediately we’re thrust into the attitude, mentality, and speed at which we must live in order to just keep up. It is intense for some, but for us, it is just perfect... [MORE]

"Megyn Price previews the return of Rules of Engagement"

Rules of Engagement has proven to be the little show that could for CBS. Now in its sixth season, Rules has bounced around the primetime schedule as if the various nights were relatives willing to take in a problem child-- but only for a short amount of time. But Rules has never really been a problem child in the way of television shows. It has delivered consistent ratings just about every night and time slot it was fit into, and even after long hiatuses, its audience always seemed to find it. Returning the traditional sitcom to Thursday nights following The Big Bang Theory for the back-half of its sixth season, then, seems a reward, not a last ditch effort to garner this series some traction... [MORE]

Monday, March 26, 2012

Live-Blogging 'Smash's' "The Coup"...

- I hate Julia's (Debra Messing) floral headboard the way she said she hated show business. Except she doesn't mean it; she's just frustrated and nervous. I really hate the headboard. And Frank (Brian d'Arcy James). And I really don't need him to sing-- even if it's kind of a joke. Not sexy. Not a Michael Swift (Will Chase) substitute. Not. At. All.

- Leo (Emory Cohen) cares WAY too much about his parents' relationship. He should be cringing at the cute, lovey-dovey bullshit he hears through the wall, not allowing it to make his day.

- Tom (Christian Borle) doesn't need you, Ellis (Jaime Cepero), because you're the WORST. If he wasn't so swamped with writing the musical, he would have seen that. And can you help this girl? You don't live or work there! You have no business "helping" anyone!

- Derek (Jack Davenport) was so anti-working with Tom in the beginning, that I'm actually kind of surprised he wasn't scheming to have a second version of the musical being worked on this whole time. He's clearly been behind the concept, but not the execution-- or executioners. I do find it curious he went to Karen (Katharine McPhee) first, especially after how dynamite Ivy (Megan Hilty) was in the workshop performance. She really owned and embodied Marilyn; Karen still has star quality, but she will have to just start working at this late stage in the game to connect with the material the way Ivy already has. Granted, Ivy would undoubtedly be loyal to Tom, so I'm sure it's a matter of Derek not wanting to raise red flags, but it's only going to make things worse for the "relationship" when Ivy inevitably finds out.

- Ew, Tom, using Ellis to spy on Eileen (Anjelica Huston) for you? If you don't learn, then you bring his awfulness on yourself AND others. And that makes you an accomplice of awful.

- Oh hi Michael and your soft, soft sweater. But seriously, if you can be so cold just because of the firing... You're kind of bi-polar lately. It's one thing to fall so hard for someone you never got to have closure with, but to then turn it off just as quickly? Well, I guess it never was so real after all-- more about the conquest. I want to see the good in you; I want to assume you're just hurt by the professional betrayal and acting out because of it. But you are not making it easy. At all.

- Karen, let him go to dinner with some hotsie totsie reporter. You can do better than dull Dev (Raza Jaffrey).

- Grace Gummer is very talented but all I can hear is "all that money." Like, how much are we talking? Because you could have solved all of your mother's problems by using your father's "gifts" to fund her new musical...

- Oh damn. This show really wants us to believe Karen and Dev are right for each other; they both have big consciences clearly created from their small town childhoods, but such things have no place in a cold, hard, dirty city like New York...let alone show business!

- He may be Ryan Tedder, but that's no excuse for that hair. And clearly he's not that famous anyway if Karen had to remind the audience what band he's in. Oh, I hope we don't have to see too many reaction shots of him "mixing beats" or whatever while she sings.

- Julia, your coddling and constantly sticking up for this kid is part of why he's so insufferable. Yes, you have a mother's instinct to protect, but come on, the kid f-ed up. If he had the gall to smoke pot in his own room in your house, don't you think maybe he was lying about the signage and how close he was to it? And if you keep defending him and bailing him out, he really will eventually escalate to murder. Hopefully of Ellis.

- Seriously, Grace Gummer, just go around your father and share some of your money with your mother. Do you really need three million dollars flat? What do you do with it when you backpack around whatever poverty-stricken country you clearly just came from?

- Derek, did you ever know that you're my hero? I should write an open letter to you next. You want to make Karen better (because she is still green); you tell off Ellis, even if casually.


- I don't know what to make of this bowling "number." They didn't really sing anything, so it felt kind of out of place. And honestly? I like bowling, so I would have been cool to just watch them have a regular conversation in an interesting location. It's Screenwriting 101, but it works on me if the conversation holds my interest. And Ivy's "I love the theater" despite the clear limbo they're all in would have been it.

- Dev's buddy looks like a poor man's James Wolk. Also, Dev working on a 9/11 memorial makes me like him even less. Stop capitalizing on a tragedy!

- Ellis saying he is taking ballet is the most believable thing to ever come out of his mouth. I'm sure he just said it to throw Ivy off the fact that he's a lurker, but still.

- It looks like it just dawned on Ivy that she could be replaced with Karen, but um, isn't that what the whole first half of the season was about? How she worried she couldn't maintain or measure up? How she thought this nobody would come out overnight and steal something she worked so hard for? Are the pills just messing with her memory?

- Close your legs, Ellis; I don't want to see that! Actually, NO ONE wants to see that. And you're disparaging artists? You are absolutely the worst person on the planet. You are working in an industry of artists. Even the producers of theater have creativity running through their veins. If you have disdain for that, why are you there at all? And why are you trying to undermine everyone to get ahead? There is no payday in the world of theater. If you think there is, you're much more naive than I ever realized. How old are you? Because you look 30 but you act 20, and that's not cute. How do you know so little about the world in which you're working? If you want to be "that" kind of producer, you belong here in Hollywood. Except don't come here; we don't want you. We're trying (one unique and different show at a time) to force gross people like you out.

- Dev keeping a not-important secret from Karen is not enough to drive a wedge between them. And I want a wedge driven.

- If Eileen didn't hang out at dive bars, I never would have expected her to ever willingly go to Brooklyn. I'm glad she's not as severe as you might assume from looking at her guarded body language.

- I'm going to ignore Ellis and Ivy snooping by the SUV like in an old Scooby Doo.

- I don't think Derek's assessment is entirely right: I don't think Karen's necessarily afraid of sex; I just think it's not something that comes inherently to her. I think she was one of those kids who hit her growth spurt early and was uncomfortable with her lankiness so she never quite grew into the sensual side even when she started to see herself as beautiful. I think that causes a disconnect when she sings. She focuses more on the movements; they're calculated, rehearsed, not necessarily natural. And yes, I did just analyze a fictional character.

- "Be my Marlon Brando" is jarring but still a better line than "be my black Kate Moss." So kudos, Tedder?

- I love the idea of Smash season two being about dueling Marilyn shows: one focusing on the history and reality and being told through traditional Broadway tunes, and one that has much more of a rock sensibility to appeal to the modern audience. As it is, some of the criticism I've been hearing from fans of the show is that it can go "too Broadway" at times (with its original tracks). That's a ridiculous, Randy Jackson way of thinking, and yet, I get it. If Broadway crooning isn't your thing, the musical wouldn't be for you. And this show would only be half for you.

- Also, Smash season two needs to keep Grace Gummer and let her come on as a producer of the musical. Eileen is a little too personally mixed up in this right now. The history indicates she's a good producer, but she's also friends with these people. Or friends enough. If she wasn't, she never would have bothered to apologize. Daughter being disappointed or not.

- "How did he get here?" Julia Houston, voice of reason. Ellis really is the fruit fly that you could swear you swatted away a dozen times, but he's still there, somehow surviving even though you don't even have any damn fruit in your house. And since he's always conveniently there, of course Eileen will scoop him up and use him to her advantage. Half the people who keep moving up in this business are truly awful, but they have connections, and sometimes, just plain good timing.

- Oh Tedder, you're almost as bad as Ellis. Apologizing and practically groveling just so you don't burn a bridge because you may need a job someday? We're finally getting some of the subtle seedy underbelly.

- This Tom and Derek scene is my favorite thing. More of this, please!

- If Eileen wants to go edgier with Marilyn, then Karen is really not the person to cast. How to make her to make her fit...I smell understudy!? Maybe she can learn to be edgy over time and by mimicking someone else?

- There are theater workshop blogs? Because I may want to write for one. This show really makes me miss theater. Or at least live performances. And sitcoms are a really shitty substitute. I'm glad Tom was the one to break the news to Ivy, though. This is the time when having a friend in this business really matters for "letting her down gently."

- I'm more glad that Derek was a man and faced Ivy after everything he did with Karen. I like those two, and now that I don't have Julia and Michael to latch onto, they are my second favorite couple.

- Also, I don't mean to sound like a glee fan, but where was all the music tonight!? Stupid Frank gets a few bars of a song, and there's a bowling number that's not really a number, so there's only one real performance plus a sad refrain of "Let Me Be Your Star" that will never end up for sale? I know there is a lot to fit into a 44 minute episode, people, but I need more music! They don't have to be originals; at this stage in the game, they shouldn't be originals. But there are so many songs to be covered to exemplify what's going on in these characters' heads, let alone worlds.

Closing Remarks:
There have been moments within this series that I've felt the comparisons to Marilyn's life and what characters were going through on the show were a bit heavy-handed. But what I think was perfectly captured tonight, and hopefully indicative of the trend to come, was how what was going on with the Marilyn musical was mirroring what was going on with Smash itself. The musical picked a tone and stuck to it, much to the disappointment of some critics. In order to appeal to a broader audience, Derek wanted them to go edgier, darker. And the episode around the musical kind of followed in kind with the fighting and the underhanded nature of the players. Now, I don't particularly think a show should change its tune (or tone) just because it faces some criticism from those who don't like it as is. Far from it actually! Not everyone will like everything. If you don't connect, you don't connect, and do you really want to pander? My feeling is no. But I like the idea of the show diverging down a road of questioning the tone of Marilyn itself-- manipulating which parts of her life they play up and which they conveniently leave out-- in order to craft a tale most interesting, but yes, palatable for the audience. What can I say? I like it when shows go meta. Smash may heighten the drama in many areas, but that struggle is certainly very real in show business. Let's see how it plays out: it won't merely be about Team Ivy or Team Karen anymore; it will be about Team Classic or Team Contemporary. I honestly don't even know what side of the line I'd fall down on.

I will say that this has been my least favorite episode of the series (yes, even less likeable than episode three, which I still don't find that many problems with). Structurally, I feel like they were trying to infuse too many "other than the musical" stories in now that the Marilyn musical as is may be DOA. Personally, I would have preferred the workshop to be the season finale episode, leaving us hanging about everyone's fate. It would have given us more time to explore the building the musical (and introduced us to lots more music-- that actually had a point in the story. And it probably would have minimized Dev's role. You know how I feel about him, and I just don't care about his shady politician and potential reporter mistress. Without the workshop to keep all of these people together, their storylines are bound to diverge, but this episode focused on the ones I care about least while only giving us snippets of the ones I care about most. So that was disappointing. But with such a large cast of characters, there is bound to be an imbalance; the show can't focus on my favorites all the time. Hopefully next week will provide a reprieve.

From LA Examiner: 'The Killing' S2, 'Apartment 23', & 'Nurse Jackie' S4 Advance Reviews; 'Happy Endings' Season Finale Photo Preview...

"In defense of The Killing in the preamble to its second season premiere"

With all of the online explosion at the end (or lack thereof) of the last season of The Killing, we seem to have forgotten one very simple thing: the entire span of that season was only about two weeks in time in the story. And if we have learned anything from more typical crime dramas, it is that the detectives and investigators looking into the case meet a lot of leads, potential witnesses, suspects, and dead ends before getting their guy*, so to speak. The fact that we are getting to explore each of those things, in relative real time, along with Detective Sarah Linden (Mireille Enos) is what still makes the show, now entering its second season, a strong piece of storytelling. It’s not all about the “endgame” of solving the Whodunit? mystery; it’s about the bits of character and complicated relationships we are immersed in along the way... [MORE]

"Mid Season Preview: ABC's Don't Trust The B In Apartment 23"

Formerly Don’t Trust The B---- in Apartment 23 and now mostly just Apartment 23, ABC’s newest Wednesday night comedy proves to be banking on silly, rather than edgy to draw in an audience... [MORE]

"PHOTO PREVIEW: Happy Endings season finale wedding, Skype & Brian Austin Green"

Happy Endings may be closing out their second season early (in just over one week. Boo!), but they are going out with a big celebration: another wedding. Derrick (guest star Stephen Guarino) is getting married (and to think-- he just developed a crush on a gym mate a couple of episodes prior), and the gang all shows up in their best tuxes to celebrate the happy occasion... [MORE]

"Nurse Jackie rehabs Showtime’s Sunday night schedule"

We honestly don’t know how it is the fourth season premiere of Nurse Jackie already. It feels like just yesterday the show about a drug-addicted nurse was debuting and surprisingly winning us over. But maybe time really does fly when you’re having fun because season four starts as if Jackie Peyton (Edie Falco) did not spend the last few months of our own lives away from us-- and the last few months of her own life unraveling in her own web of lies. The fourth season premiere, “Kettle Kettle Black Black” is strong enough that it could have been the pilot to this series all on its own but instead just acts as the first step toward Jackie Peyton’s new and hopefully improved, sober, life... [MORE]

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Television and You: Examining Expectations in the Wake of Finishing My Pilot...

I've been doing a lot of thinking lately about today's television viewers and how much they want to get out of a show based on the baggage (or perspective for you non-cynical folks) they already bring to it. A couple of my personal favorite dramas these days have been coming under by other critics, and most of what they are disliking are the exact reasons I am liking so much. Is it a case of "we just want different things" from the shows? And how does that bode for my own show, should it eventually ever go somewhere?

Let me explain: the primary shows I am referencing here are Smash and The Killing. Smash is a relationship drama set in the world of musical theater. The pilot episode was very a much a "setting up the world and the characters" type of pilot; we were introduced to everyone at the start of building this Marilyn musical, not thrust into their world while they were already a year in and forced to keep up. Therefore, we saw a lot more of the ins and outs and behind-the-scenes of the process in the pilot than we have sense. Perhaps that led some to believe the show would be more heavily focused on such elements in every episode. I wouldn't have been disappointed if it was, but I'm not disappointed that it's not, either.

Whereas, with The Killing, the tag was "Who killed Rosie Larsen?" so when season one ended and the audience, even if not the protagonist, Detective Sarah Linden, still didn't know, many felt cheated. Suddenly the twisty, emotional journey we went on all season seemed to be rendered irrelevant without the immediate payoff. I don't see what the big fuss is. The Killing is a crime drama-- not a procedural. We are seven seasons into How I Met Your Mother and we still don't have the answer to the titular question of just what low self-esteemed young woman hooked up permanently with narrator Ted. Yet, most seemed to have forgiven that.

I certainly don't feel lied to or mislead by either show. Sure, there are elements I wish I could change to both-- characters I think need tweaking, or blatant killing off, story points that could be tighter or, time permitting, given more time to be explored. To me, neither show lied about what it would be, so I can't be mad at it. If the types of shows they are just aren't your thing, or you don't think the characters are executed particularly well, that's a different story-- and not one I am arguing in this particular post. To me, the best television is the kind that stirs thoughts and discussions, and yes, opposing reactions anyway. Life doesn't come neatly wrapped in a bow, so why should television?

Still, it makes me wonder about my own pilot. Though I've been garnering positive reactions from those I've been showing it to for pre-pitch notes, I do have to acknowledge that it lends itself toward Smash's way of doing things. It is not a musical, but it is set in the world of entertainment. Since the pilot script itself starts the show with the main characters first meeting each other and entering into their relationship (a conscious decision rather than showing them a year or so in; I want the audience to fall in love with them as they do with each other and see everything that they see in each other to understand why they've fallen in the first place), it does rely kind of heavily on the Hollywood elements at the moment. But it is not a show about Hollywood, just one that is set there. It is a relationship drama featuring some Hollywood "types." I can see people watching the pilot and thinking they're going to be focusing on the ins and outs of "behind the scenes" business deals, but they're not. Not on a week to week basis. And should I ever get the chance to show people episode two, I hope they will enjoy the characters so much that that doesn't matter to them, but you just never know.

Being on the blogging side to this business, I know how I respond to shows when I assume them to be one thing and then they turn out not to be. I have certainly gotten irrationally angry when shows with premises I loved didn't play on the elements I wanted them to right away. I'll tell you right now two of the major offenders just this season were Alcatraz and Awake. As a creative type myself, though, I'm always inclined to blame the business side of things-- to say the writers compromised some of their grand mythology-driven visions to fit a network's brand or placate their fear of serialization. I have no way of knowing if that's true or just what I tell myself because I'll always side with the artist over a suit, no matter what. I also know how to anticipate the criticisms and the questions. I can tell you right now, when I was outlining this series idea and first season arc, I could hear some of the critical questions that would surely be brought up at TCA. I feel anticipating them, and making sure the series acknowledges and answers them (not just that I do if directly asked) should give me a leg up. But you just never know what people will connect with versus over what they'll want to cause controversy.

Television is anything but a passive medium these days. We get out of television as much as we're willing to put in; if we have preconceived wants or needs from a show, sometimes, no matter the show's intentions, no matter the show's set up or promises, we'll just never get what we're looking for. To me that doesn't mean the show is bad-- or even that you should stop watching it-- it just means you should look elsewhere to find your very specific want or need.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Live-Blogging 'Supernatural's' "The Born Again Identity"...

- The sasquatch runs funny when he's tripping off Satan. But with all the fuss about Misha Collins returning, I have to say I was thrilled to see Mark Pellegrino again.

- The last time Sam (Jared Padalecki) didn't sleep it was because he had no soul. The last time Sam got "high" was from Ruby (Genevieve Padalecki). I'm liking the callbacks to the good ole days already!

- I won't lie: I was kind of hoping Lucifer would pull out bigger guns than just annoying Sam. But then again, I guess he doesn't need to call in additional hallucinations like Bobby (Jim Beaver) or Jess (Adrianne Palicki) or dear old dad (Jeffrey Dean Morgan). He's more than enough, even without reminders of how Sam hurt in hell. His needling now seems like it's nothing compared to what Sam has gone through before, but when it all piles on, and it's literally every second of every day, it's enough. And seeing that, and saying that, there better not be some magical fix at the end of this that just wipes the slate clean. That's not realistic, and that's not interesting.

- Sorry, but Sam looks good in the hospital. The scruff is working for him. If he's going to look like that when he's crazy, let's keep him crazy.

- Was the last faith healer reference talking about season one's "Faith," or was there something after that I forgot? Because damn, that was awhile ago! I'm surprised these guys even remember that! They've been so many places and seen so many things since, and any job begins to blend after awhile.

- Poor helpless Dean (Jensen Ackles). I feel worse for him every episode. Is he so bad off he needs divine intervention to even call someone else for help? That book didn't just leap onto the floor by itself, but I would like to believe the strong hunter he once was is still in him and he could have found that card for himself. Come on, show; stop making him so passive, just going through the motions!

- Oh never mind, I guess Lucifer does like to mix it up when he can.

- Really, Emmanuel? Didn't Castiel make a joke about Emmanuelle in Space a few seasons ago?

- There's nothing weird for you. You didn't have a bromance with his angel doppelganger and then get betrayed so badly you're still reeling without the proper outlet to express your anger and disappointment.

- Hey demon boy, you can't fight, and you can't properly pronounce people's names. You, sir, are a poor substitute for Crowley (Mark Sheppard). Bring back Crowley!

- If you're a faith healer, and you can do remarkable but admittedly mystical things, would you really be so surprised to see something dark but magical on your porch? I'm surprised nothing has come for Emmanuel sooner-- assuming, you know, he didn't just magically form on Earth when Castiel left it, with all the memories and properties as if he had been there the whole time.

- Misha's wearing mom jeans!

- If Emmanuel has such special gifts, how has he never seen another demon's true face before?

- Dean is doing a really good job at holding in the rage and confusion and discomfort he must be feeling toward this stranger with an all-too familiar face. But maybe he's just sliding into the numbness portion of depression.

- It is kind of hard to believe Sam was a guy who saved the world once, Lucifer. He's screwed up in the head now, but he often screwed up on hunts and in life in the past, so he's the unlikeliest of heroes. But isn't that why everyone loves him? He's the underdog.

- I'm glad they explaining Emmanuel's "emergence," and I'm glad it may finally give Dean a chance to get a lot of crap off his chest. But I'm really unnerved by how calm and quiet Emmanuel is. He seems sedated, and it's not because I'm comparing him to Castiel's personality or anything. He just seems barely a person. But I guess that makes sense considering he just kind spontaneously formed on afternoon.

- Okay, I don't care how cute Sam looks in his whites, if I were a tiny little girl in a psych ward who saw this huge, hulky dude freak out and not be in his own right mind just a few hours ago, I wouldn't get so close to him. I wouldn't walk into his room without an orderly behind me. And I certainly wouldn't give him my chocolate!

- What kind of f-ed up Dexter and Debra Morgan situation is going on with this girl? "Kill yourself or I'll do it for you" so they can be joined in the afterlife? That's incestuous and creepy on a whole new level!

- It was good to see Dean still had his fighting instincts in him in the refrigerated aisle. He's still nimble, quick on his feet, and tuned into his surroundings and (mostly) his instincts. That bodes well for his mental state going forward, as well as the possibility of him actually helping his brother beat this Lucifer thing and eventually beat the Levitathans. And his reaction about assuming it was Emmanuel turning on him immediately spoke volumes about his Castiel-created issues. Will he ever be able to trust anyone other than Sam ever again?

- Maybe I have Smash and Ashley Judd's new face on the brain, but I never would have shot Rachel Miner from that angle. She looked like she had Prednisone chipmunk bloat.

- Also, I don't like Meg. And I'm not happy to see her return in this episode or at all. Out of ALL the demons they could have brought back!

- Nope, never mind; doesn't matter how you shoot her; that's just her face now. She moves her mouth too much when she talks and her eyes not enough. It's making everything look like a weird mask. Did I mention I don't like Meg? Don't talk about Crowley; SHOW Crowley. Bring him back instead.

- This is ridiculous. Dean was always the one to get on Sam about making deals with demons, and now he's doing it, even if it's for short-term. Good luck to him explaining to Emmanuel why he's asking him to trust her messed up face.

- This story this girl is telling about her brother being lonely and whispering to her about wanting her to join him-- they've done that before. I can't pinpoint the episode right now, but I like that callback. But I especially like that she's not crazy; that there really is a ghost causing her problems. At least she's not a lost cause/soul. And if Sam can keep it together enough to help her, it will prove he's not a lost cause either. It is super weird that Lucifer is being so quiet when he talks to this girl, but maybe all Sam needs is constant distraction-- to focus his mind on a task, on what's physically right in front of him. Maybe the key is just constantly keeping him busy.

- Aw, Emmanuel doesn't understand our jocular colloquialisms either...

- This is the worst hospital ever! She can just steal weapons. The doors are left wide open and the patients just wander around willy-nilly. The doors slam and the lights flicker and no one comes running? Or they come running, they're just slow. I expect the suicide rate within their walls is very high.

- I suspect this bald doctor is a demon. This is 2012. ECT should not be a viable option.

- For someone who just "formed" a few months ago, Emmanuel may be the best adjusted character of them all. He didn't flinch when he was told he was an angel-- a different species. He actually put it together himself that he was Castiel. And then he went off to try to find his old power.

- This show does the best montages! All of the classic Castiel moments and the perfect way for him-- and us-- to remember why he matters and the mark he made on this world, this show.

- Oh my God if Castiel heals Sam, I am going to be SO annoyed. He was the magic button that could fix the boys' problems, and that is too easy as a story device and boring after all of this time.

- I wonder how hard Sam would have freaked out if he saw Castiel standing above him for a few seconds. I'm sure he would have still assumed it to be a hallucinated, but would he have recoiled the way he does with Lucifer?

- I don't know about this shift. It makes Castiel out to be a martyr in a way that feels too little, too late. He made the ultimate sacrifice, which should have been indicative of early Castiel-- the good guy angel who helped whenever he could-- but in reality, it felt like quite a selfish act, too. Maybe in regaining his old memories he forgot all about the false ones heaped upon him when he walked out of the river (something I wish we could have seen as part of his montage, by the way, but if old memories replaced the new, it explained why we didn't). But I'd hate to have to be Dean, compelled to go visit his wife and try to explain why her husband is not only not coming home, but he's locked away in an asylum. An asylum controlled by demons. Additionally, this doesn't fix all of the things he did to hurt the brothers, or you know, all the people he killed, before, and taking himself out of the equation doesn't really give him the opportunity to answer to those things.

- How the hell did Sam just walk out of the asylum? If it was a normal place, you'd still have to convince them you were sane, and after the episodes he had, that would take awhile. And this one wasn't normal, and they had invested interest in keeping him there, and yet... But when he did walk out, he seemed to be thinking clearer than ever before, even calling Dean out on his demon deal, and I respect that. Maybe the ECT jolts kicked Sam's personality up a notch. I want to see him as a fighter and see him pull his brother back up into the same shape.

- I don't care about this end tag with Meg. I'm sure they wanted to set up the possibility of returning to these two down the line, but honestly, I don't need it. This episode finally gave Castiel proper closure, even if it came kind of quickly and wasn't necessarily the kind I would have personally liked. He is working some things out with his brother now, and you know what? That's where he should be. All of this shit started because God's kids were as screwed up as the rest of us-- moreso, considering their fights became centuries-long feuds. The Winchesters have other issues to deal with and messes to clean up now.

Closing Remarks: Can I just say I don't get what all the fuss was about last night on Twitter when it was leaked that Collins' character was married? It was widely known that when he returned he wasn't going to be Castiel-- to have Castiel's life or memories. Different characters have different lives and backstories, and this was such a minute detail-- a part of the character's life that had no bearing on the story or the part he had to play to get Sam help-- it was barely worth noting. Maybe it was because the news came out without context that fans got spun in a tizzy, imagining ways the show could jump the shark by utilizing it as a major plot point (*cough, "Season Seven, Time For A Wedding," *cough). Maybe it was because the fandom was already so divided over Collins' return that any bit of information was sure to kick-start a heated discussion. I don't know. Jimmy was married and had a kid, and we were all okay with that. Well, maybe not "all;" I can't speak on behalf of everyone, just those who interact with me. But I will say that it's hard to judge before you see, and after I saw, I just felt like it was a nice tidbit to make his character different in as many ways as possible from Castiel-- and also to drive home the destruction Castiel has done. Though he only smited demons tonight, by stepping into Sam's shoes without thought for this woman Emmanuel supposedly loved, he did ruin one more life before he was "out." I was much more concerned with Sam, though. Sam and his ECT and this shift that I'm just not sure has to be a permanent shift. I have a feeling we'll see Castiel one more time before season's end, but even if we don't, there may be another force that steps in and tries to get under Sam's skin. If the wall in his head had crumbled to dust, and some creature-- Leviathan or more simple supernatural being that can prey on weaknesses-- sniffs that out, all bets could be off. Lucifer never did say good-bye to Sam anyway. I like the idea of playing with Sam's mental state now that he's "clean" but has the emotional memories of his recent struggles. It's like when he detoxed off demon blood; the destructive catalyst may no longer be there, but now you have to live with what you witnessed, how you acted, what you felt. Everything Sam heard Lucifer say to him in the beginning, when he was tearing him down and reminding him about hell is all still in his mind. How far in the back can he personally bury it? But other than the return of Meg, tonight's episode was super solid, and I have to give Sera Gamble kudos for that. She had a tough task on her plate, with both Collins' return, as well as wrapping up Sam's insanity without killing off the character, and she handled both with grace and care. Hopefully from here on out all episodes can be as poignant as this one, even if some feature a little more levity. Let's face it, after how dark things got tonight, I am eagerly anticipating the drunken sword-fighting of next week!

Lionsgate Is The Capitol: Why 'The Hunger Games' Book Is Better...

Taking a story like The Hunger Games-- not even considering how beloved it is-- and adapting it from a tumultuous novel that lives and dies on its readers connecting to Katniss Everdeen, the Girl on Fire, victor of the 74th Annual Hunger Games, savior of District 12, and heroine of this tale, is a feat befitting only the best and brightest in Hollywood. And yet, allowing for that-- allowing anyone to come in and tweak this tale-- seems to me no different than how the Capitol themselves were controlling the story they wanted their districts and their people to witness play out in that arena during the actual Games. Elements and even people were omitted in order to tell the story they thought most appealing-- to those who were already emotionally invested but also for their own financial and status gains; visuals controlled to one specific look; relationship dynamics tweaked to uncomplicate third party identification and sympathizing with its heroes. Film adaptations of any kind take often epic stories and strip them of much of their uniqueness and imagination, reducing them (for time and physical limitations) to something that can be mass consumed. We've always accepted it-- hell, thrived on it-- for the chance to see how beloved literature characters can pop off the page, but considering that kind of "forcing the narrative" is exactly what the Capitol should have been criticized for within this story, the meta similarities with its own adaptation were just a bit eerie.

It's poetic-- but upsettingly so-- that a big film studio like Lionsgate would be behind a story like
The Hunger Games. In a parallel to 1984 that didn't seem entirely intentional, this film seemed to thrive whenever in the presence of the Capitol. Perhaps in order to keep the rating down, perhaps in order to appeal to cautious parents who worried about depictions of poverty and violence being too much for their precious children to handle, but Lionsgate and Gary Ross' telling was very "pretty." It is one thing for everything in the Capitol to have a sheen or a gloss over it; the Capitol is a fantastical world that kids like Katniss can't even bear to dream up. But it was harder to get that feeling when Katniss' world just looked like the lowest socio-economic areas we have today. Her eyes lit up with pure joy when Gale gave her a (presumably stale) roll, but we barely got to see much of District 12, and what little we did see did not scream dystopia by any means. The devil's in the details in a story as rich and intricate as The Hunger Games, and when the details are clean, though a bit unkempt, faces and clothing, things don't seem all that terrible. The dilution may have been intentional-- in order to infuse a political statement that our own society could not be that far away from something like The Hunger Games, but if that was the case it got a bit lost in the spectacle that followed-- the spectacle that seemed to celebrate the Capitol, even in all of its ridiculousness, as only the wealthy, image-conscious Hollywood could.

The Hunger Games was absolutely emotionally powerful and really just the jumping off point for Katniss' epic story, but
unfortunately, partially due to time constraints, the film adaptation forgoes a lot of the elements that made her and her fight to stay alive so unique, reducing Katniss' tale to staying alive simply to stay alive. For one thing, the film never explicitly explained that if you go into the Games and emerge victorious, you and your family gets set up for life, and are therefore immune from future Reapings. Watching Katniss push her way to the front to take her sister's place was a noble moment in the film, but without that added piece of pivotal information, a sense that it's only a temporary fix. Prim would still have about six more years of eligibility. This film adaptation was clearly made as a supplement to the books-- to satisfy already existing fans. Audiences going in without the background knowledge and insight from Suzanne Collins' novels are getting a rough sketch outline of the complexity of this world-- and this girl-- at best. And that feels like they'd be getting cheated.

Admittedly, it may be hard to find a viewer who hasn't already read the books these days. Even if you weren't interested when they were initially released (I know I balked from the Young Adult label at first), chances are when the movie started getting buzz, you may have checked them out to see what all the fuss was about. Regardless, you shouldn't have had to. The film should stand on its own and tell the complete story. And in a way, it does. It just tells a less vibrant one, which is kind of ironic, considering how impossibly pretty the scenery of the Games is when imagined by Ross.

Additionally, many of the characters are compartmentalized. It's one thing to have to cut sequences or moments and not get to know them as well as we could-- and did-- in the books. It's another to string all of their importance together to "wrap up" their storylines quickly, neatly, and efficiently. That is the antithesis of the savageness of the Games and was quite disorienting when noticed. It clearly occurred with Cinna, who in this telling seemed like a gentle, kind, perhaps slightly romanticized man, but who barely said a few words to Katniss before we were supposed to accept that they had connected. And Haymitch, like his drinks in the film, was watered down. So much about a character like Haymitch can be said with just a look at him-- the whole him, with the unstable swaying and inability to meet your eye at first. But he was softened, made more palatable, downplayed on his drunkness in order to not dive into the very dark, but very real issues of life post-Games. Even Elizabeth Banks, who was absolutely phenomenal and the stand-out performance here, as Effie, was reduced to comedic effect, zingy one-liners. But it was most troublesome with young Rue, whose relationship to Katniss in the Games couldn't help but have your mind wandering to Prim back home-- how Prim was reacting watching her sister take someone else under her wing, how Prim would have reacted in the Games without someone like Katniss to take her under her wing (or if one of the other Tributes would have and who). But all of her scenes were strung together, in one little "short Rue film" within the film, which diminished that bond and made it feel like just another plot point to "get through." They didn't even release a cannon when Rue died! Though it was undoubtedly omitted to allow Katniss her quiet, lonely grief, punctuating her flowered good-bye with the sonic boom would have not only brought it all home but simply stayed continuous for the most basic elements of the Games.

Rue wasn't the only Tribute who we didn't hear a cannon ring for or see a face flash in the night's sky. As a film, The Hunger Games didn't seem to care about the structure of the Games at all, only Katniss' "learn as you go" way to survive them. It is Katniss' story, and being alone with her in the woods, watching from her vantage point, solidified that. But she used those faces in the night to mark time-- passed and left, depending on how many more had to drop before they could crown a victor. And the audience wasn't glued to her; the film pulled away numerous times to show what was going on behind-the-scenes-- from the Capitol creating fire to get Katniss closer to the other Tributes, to Haymitch rallying and convincing sponsors to help his Tributes, to President Snow and Seneca's discussions of story arc. So to let the details of the Games go just felt sloppy, as if the film couldn't decide what it wanted its POV to be.

There was so much buzz, and yes blow-up, after the initial castings were announced. Diehard fans of the novels feared the guys were mismatched in their roles, yet it is Jennifer Lawrence who can really make or break this franchise. It's a lot of weight to put on a young actor's shoulders, just as a lot of weight was put on her character's shoulders stepping in for her younger sister and heading to the Games. The parallels between the women, though admittedly in worlds that could not be more distant, should have automatically created a fusion between the two-- Lawrence's real life overwhelmed sensation bleeding over into her portrayal. But where Lawrence is sweet, humble, and lately it seems a bit self-deprecating, Katniss is humble, too, but also strong and somewhat calculating. In the novels she begins to manipulate the system within the Games. She hears Haymitch's voice in her head telling her that to be liked is to be saved, and she plays on that-- she plays to the cameras and the sponsors watching. Finding and mending Peeta is not out of love or some deep common bond in the beginning; it is out of the recognition that strength is in numbers; that an alliance can buy you more time (and with the Capitol's "twist," life). In the books, you were in Katniss' head. You understood her motivations, her movements, her manipulations, even if at times you felt sorry for Peeta because of them. She certainly used him, but in the end it got them both ahead, so he'd have to forgive that, right? But it wasn't love. If it was love she would have put him out of his misery when she saw how badly he was wounded before knowing the Capitol would provide some aid.

Lawrence was good in The Hunger Games, but she was not truly great until the very end of the film-- when Katniss had returned home, with Peeta at her side, and she took in the enormity of the situation she created, by ultimately, getting into bed with the Capitol. Her unhappy, uncertain smile on stage set up the emotional conflict I wish we had seen from her back in that cave, when she decided to really play the game. She spent most of the film instead, though, with a stoic, somewhat gentle poker face. As she told her mother not to cry when she was taken away to train, she seemed to take the same advice: don't let them see what you're thinking; don't let them see you sweat. It worked for a young woman who didn't want to appear weak in front of peers who were sizing each other up like trophies, but it didn't always work for the audience trying to connect with this central heroine. More often than not you couldn't see the wheels turning behind her eyes.
You couldn't see her mental game-- and her mental game was everything. You could say this made her more likeable because it made her less conflicted, but wasn't her great struggle what so many connected with in the first place? I know it was for me. And really we don't see implications of how she used Peeta affecting her until the final moments of the film, which perfectly sets up a strong arc for her in the second installment but doesn't do much for this opener.

Peeta famously tells Katniss that if he's going to die, he doesn't want the Games to change him. He doesn't want to lose himself to the system. It is a poignant line in the book and perhaps even more so in the film since it is the first and only moment of true intimacy we get between the two characters. But it's poignant for other reasons, too: the Games will forever change the way the tributes are viewed and remembered-- by their Districts, their families, themselves. Just as this film adaptation will change the way this story is remembered by its fans. The world will be watching, indeed, but the world really should be reading.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Tonight's TV Talk: 'Community', 'The Vampire Diaries', 'Awake', and 'Archer'...

TV Talk for Thursday, March 22nd 2012

Community (NBC, 8pm) - S3, Ep12: "Contemporary Impressionists" - This is the episode with which the series should have returned from hiatus. Not just because of the chronology (the study group welcomed each other back from break and Shirley wasn't yet wearing her new wedding ring), but also because it so perfectly punctuated the wacky, wonderful weirdness of this show and this group. Sure, it's actual return episode was a bit more welcoming to those who may have seen the grumblings about the hiatus and tuned in for the first time, wanting to know what the fuss was about, but this-- well, this is just what makes Community great. Also, this episode featured so many fantastic callbacks to the reasons we long-term fans have fallen so deeply in love with the show: intervention, students being used as safety officers, acting with prop guns, Brown Jamie Lee Curtis, another dig at Seacrest... I will say, though "Both versions of Michael Jackson" absolutely killed me, I never drew that comparison before, but I certainly will now! I never thought we'd see a worse therapist than Britta (Gillian Jacobs) herself, but whoever was prescribing Jeff (Joel McHale)-- certainly worse. Though, it did give us the gift of a shirtless meltdown, and that was pretty perfect. Also, the cameo (J.P. Manoux and Jim Rash were the same person in my mind for much of the early 2000s, I'm kind of ashamed to say these days) and the fake Bono (better than the original!) and the guest star (Workaholics' Blake Anderson) were cool, but what was cool cool cool was the hint of a major thread to come in the "Chang Rises" tag. Usually the tags are reserved for something fun but just a bonus to what we have already seen. This one ensured you stuck around because if you missed it, you'd miss the set-up for what's to come. Also cool cool cool was seeing Evil Abed again and having him be the one to nod at the fans and the show's meta-ness. I'll admit, the concept for tonight's episode was enjoyable, but I didn't really understand why Abed needed this new hobby at all-- when did the Dreamatorium stop being enough for him!? His imagination is like a drug, and now he is chasing a rush he may never find again. Wow, maybe I'm the darkest timeline...

The Vampire Diaries (The CW, 8pm) - S3, Ep17: "Break On Through" - Was it just me or when Alaric (Matt Davis) was lying in the MRI machine did he look notoriously like Taylor Kitsch? It instantly made me like him a lot more-- just in time to see him lose his mind, kill people, and potentially get killed off the show. But that's just my timing. Elena (Nina Dobrev) really annoyed me in this episode. It's always all about her and her problems. Okay, this time she wanted Bonnie's (Kat Graham) help for her family member, Ric, but it was still an issue with her family member. She stalked Caroline (Candice Accola) because Bonnie wasn't returning her calls, but um, hello? Bonnie has problems of her own right now-- and every right to be mad at Elena for a little while. Elena's selfishness to call upon her for more witch magic just got on my nerves. I think it's something that's been building for awhile; she often seems so self-righteous, especially after seeing Stefan (Paul Wesley) drinking human blood. Of course she had a right to be upset at that revelation, but her reaction was more of a slight towards her, as if he wronged her personally. He let her down, but she wasn't mature enough to see past her own personal disappointment to how bad things must be for him if he took such a step. All she saw was how it affected her. And she still used him for his information. So tonight I was happy to get a little bit of a break and spend some alone time with characters like Bonnie, Caroline, Ric, Sage (guest star Cassidy Freeman)-- weird dancing threesome and all-- and even Dr. Fell (Torrey DeVitto) and that new "not related to Bonnie" guy (Robert Ri'Card). I mean, Elena sent Jeremy (Steven R. McQueen) away to be safe in Denver, but she knows he has a ring of his own, and she doesn't make sure he's okay? Calling is the minimal effort-- well, next to texting, I guess. Sure, he's going to say he was fine. Ric said he was fine! You can't take him at his word; you have to check in with those he's staying with or see for yourself. Worst. Sister. EVER. Though I was kind of tickled that this episode answered a problem of another show's by explaining there is a spell to reverse witches' magic when they become obsessed with the dark stuff. Are you listening, Cassie Blake? It might bring to an end of The Secret Circle, but so be it. And on the subject of Sage, if she's as important to Damon (Ian Somerhalder) as Lexi (Arielle Kebbel) was to Stefan, then we get to see her stick around awhile, right? I like her; she's sassy!

Awake (NBC, 10pm) - S1, Ep4: "Kate is Enough" - I know Kyle Killen has said he's not going to do the thing where it turns out Michael Britten (Jason Isaac) is the one who died in the car crash, now stuck in purgatory, watching half-lives play out, not fully present in either. Or that Michael is still stuck in the moments of the car crash, trying to decide which person to save by watching his life play out without one of them, in both equations. But I'm going on record saying that I think he's in a different level of consciousness right now. And I believe the world where his son (Dylan Minnette) is still alive is the one that isn't quite a dream but still isn't quite "real." Here's why: in a regular procedural on today's television landscape, it would have been the successful Kate (Brianna Brown) who was the murderer. The one who was the investment banker and wore a sleek dress and was just too happy to pull the "Rex' babysitter" card at the boat. That should have been a red flag that she wanted special treatment to sneak out. Also a red flag? The mysterious red stain on her dress. In a regular procedural, it would have turned out to be blood, and Michael's previous connection to her wouldn't have wanted him to see it, but eventually he wouldn't have been able to ignore the evidence. In real life, people are complicated, and on procedurals even more so. The "coincidence" of running into someone like that with no other significance just doesn't happen in this genre. Just because she pulled herself together professionally was not a deterrent from crime, it was the perfect motive. If her firm had money at stake in this company, and there were things going on to jeopardize that, of course she'd want to take out the whistleblower. But that's not what happened. Instead, the show used the two versions of Kate to teach Michael a lesson about parenting (convenient and schmaltzy, no?). It was just too "easy" that the screwed up Kate who lost her sister and didn't have parents to help her get through it would be the one who was the murderer. It was what Michael's subconscious needed him to believe so that he'd step up and step in with his son. Again, I say, for the procedural part: "too easy." This show can't have it both ways: it can't try to be so smart in concept and then so lackluster with the genre elements that it uses to execute its concept.

Archer (FX, 10pm) - S3, Ep13: "Space Race, Part II" - ISIS in space sounded like an out-there concept even from conception-- even for this show. And I hate to say it, but that kind of fantastical setting made this season finale feel lackluster to me-- or at least not quite like the Archer episodes I have come to know and love. Yes, it still featured all of the same characters and humor-- the racism over the space slaves was certainly on par with their usual sensibility-- but there's just something to be said for a good old-fashioned car chase or shoot out, and it's the typical spy stuff that Sterling (H. Jon Benjamin) screws up so atypically that makes this show fun. The "cliffhanger" over Ray's (Adam Reed) potential paralysis was a nice throwback to last season, but it made me stop and think about just how much changed in the episodes in between because really we were put back in the same place with his character, and it made me stop and think how little growth there may have been in other areas. Yes, it's a cartoon, but yes, I expect character growth. Not for Archer himself (I don't dream that big, and honestly, would I love the show the same if he wasn't such a terrible human being?), but maybe those around him. The over-the-top or overtly cool adventures aren't enough, perhaps especially because it's a cartoon, so the imagery isn't even something to behold. I can't help but wonder if the series will come back to space-- or at least see a return of Drake (Bryan Cranston) down the line since he had such grand plans to colonize another country, but we didn't get a whole lot insight into the hows or the whys past "space psychotic break." Um, hello? He spent the most of the episode just yelling "MARS!" Though the "Mars Forever" made me smile in a Riggins nostalgia sort of way. Everything was left unresolved; everything felt unfinished. Will next season pick up with a part three? That might help things because right now I'm still waiting for more, and to not get it next week feels weird. But aside from the fact that this episode felt like an odd choice for the finale, it did have some of the best lines and Archer/Lana (Aisha Tyler) arguments, namely over "Animal Farm." Cheryl (Judy Greer)'s "Martian Queen" get-up and negotiations, as well as Pam's (Amber Nash) teaming up with Malory (Jessica Walter), Cyril's (Chris Parnell) constant ineptitude, the return of Maggie Wheeler in a new role, and the all-too-convenient return of Barry (Dave Willis) were strong, show-defining moments, as well. It may not have moved the characters, or even the plot, forward, but it certainly reminded me why I laugh at these "agents" every week. If Drake wasn't so baby-obsessed, he probably would have fit in as a part of their team nicely.

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