Tuesday, March 31, 2009

"Friday Night Lights" is back in the game

No. I will not do it.
I simply won't.
I refuse to follow the lead of every other TV writer/blogger who has written about the renewal of NBC's excellent, yet low-rated drama "Friday Night Lights." I absolutely won't make some sort of clever play on the series' motto "Clear Eyes, Full Hearts Can't Lose" in this piece. That would be cliched and hackneyed. I am above that.
However, I will say that I was absolutely thrilled when NBC and DirecTV announced this week that they'd be picking up "FNL" for not one, but two more seasons. Though I was a late comer to the series, I've loved it ever since I started watching it during the middle of season one. It's remarkable for a number of reasons. One, it's among the few shows to capture the way that real teenagers speak and act. Yes, there are unrealistic moments, like Landry committing murder in season two (nope, still not over that) and Street getting a job with a high-powered sports agency just by wanting it really badly. But there are moments that make up for all that, like the one this season when Tyra finally realized how bad Cowboy Cash was for her. It was dark and painful and scary -- just as it would be for a real teenager.
Two, the show portrays possibly the most realistic marriage on TV, between Coach Taylor (played flawlessly by Kyle Chandler) and "Mrs. Coach" Tami Taylor (an equally excellent Connie Britton). Yes, they fight. But, unlike most TV couples, they are genuinely loving and affectionate.
Three, "FNL" gives us possibly the most realistic teenage girl on TV right now in Julie Taylor (Aimee Teagarden, in yet another of the show's pitch perfect performances). She's sometimes a spoiled brat, but so are a lot of teenaged girls. Julie is constantly trying to find her place in the world, even if it means butting heads with her parents (the scenes among Britton, Chandler and Teagarden are among the show's best).
Four, Tim Riggins. Need I say more?
True, Riggins, Matt and a lot of the show's other main characters are set to graduate at the end of this season, which -- along with the show's poor ratings -- made a fourth season seem unlikely. Having already seen the third season in its entirety on DirecTV last year (it's currently airing on NBC), I can confirm that many characters' arcs seem to be coming to an end. But the season finale does set up some juicy story lines for potential new seasons.
So I'm looking forward to those two new seasons. After all, clear eyes, full hearts...oh damn.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

"Lost" recap: You heartless bastards

Note: This post contains MAJOR spoilers about last night's episode of "Lost." If you didn't see it, please don't read this. If you fail to heed this warning, and get spoiled don't come crying to me about it.

It's an age-old question: What if you had a chance to go back in time and meet someone who was responsible for the deaths of millions of people (Adolf Hitler, say or Osama bin Laden) when he or she was only a child? Would you have the heart to murder this individual, possibly saving the lives of many? Or would you be halted in your mission by the fact that this person -- as vicious as he or she would grow up to be -- was still an innocent child? Could you really murder one child, even if you knew it could benefit humanity as a whole?
It's a fascinating problem, and one that was confronted head-on in last night's episode of "Lost." Sayid, still held prisoner by the Dharma folks, meets a 12-year-old Benjamin Linus, who befriends him, thinking Sayid is one of the "hostiles," whom he hopes will offer him salvation from his abusive dad.
Sayid, previously thinking his return to the island was pointless, realizes (or believes) that he's found his purpose: he must kill young Ben, before he becomes older Ben and is responsible for the deaths of many people.
When this possibility was raised in last week's episode, I thought it would be debated for a couple of weeks. I thought Sayid would weigh the pros and cons -- maybe discuss it with someone who would talk him out of it. I thought it might come down to a moment where Sayid had a chance to kill young Ben, and simply couldn't do it.
I thought wrong.
Last night's episode ended with Ben helping Sayid escape from Dharma jail (with the help of flaming bus -- clearly, the mad genius Ben we all know and love is already forming inside that tiny head) and the two of them running into the jungle. Jin finds them, signals for Sawyer, and you think -- that's it. Sayid's not going to do it. But no. He knocks out Jin and turns around and shoots Ben! A 12-year-old kid!
I couldn't believe it. "Lost" has done some crazy crap over the years, but this is the first time I was actually speechless. Seriously. When it happened, the only sound I was capable of was a long, strange noise that sounded like "GAHHHHH!" My husband, meanwhile, did manage a complete sentence "What the @$#*??!!" he gasped.
Not sure if Ben is dead, but if he is, I'm both awed and appalled. Killing a kid is a rough move, but, in doing it, "Lost" has shown itself to be truly raw and uncompromising.
Still, can Sayid really kill young Ben? Hasn't Faraday said repeatedly that there are rules to changing the past -- i.e. you can't do it unless you're an unshaven Scot with a romantic soul? So maybe Ben is alive -- and now thinks that he's invulnerable. Oof. Too much!
Anyway, here are some other thoughts on episode 10 of season five, "He's Our You."
* Before their fateful confrontation, there's a lot of care to draw parallels between Ben an Sayid. Both were raised by hard men who turned them into killers. Ben, it seems, embraced this transformation, but Sayid keeps trying to be someone else. As Ilana later tells Sayid, this is impossible. When you're good at what you do, she says, there's always someone who won't want you to change. Of course, for Sayid, that someone is Ben.
* The early scene with Sayid, his brother and the chicken is the first time we see Sayid as a child. And, of course, it showcases the two qualities we've come to associate most with Sayid: viciousness and bravery. Also, we see early signs of his compassion, as he steps in to protect his brother. A nice, quietly unsettling moment.
* The episode takes its title from Sawyer's line about Oldham, the torturer that "LaFleur," Horace, and the increasingly unhinged Radzinsky take Sayid to. Oldham, of course, was played by William Sanderson, one of the most versatile character actors working today. His roles include sleazy innkeeper E.B. Farnum in "Deadwood," the seemingly good-natured sheriff on "True Blood," and, of course, Larry, on "Newhart." Embarrassingly, despite his impressive filmography, every time I see Sanderson, all I can think is "Hi. I'm Larry. This my brother, Darryl. And this is my other brother, Darryl." Sigh. I know. I'm an idiot.
* By the way, the torture of Sayid by Oldham wasn't nearly as graphic as some of the things we've seen Sayid do over the years but, in a way, that whole psychotropic sugar cube was even creepier than Sayid's technique. And Sayid's drugged out ramblings were perfectly delivered by the ever-reliable Naveen Andrews.
* Loved the close call in that scene, by the way:
-"Ask Sawyer."
-"Who's Sawyer?"
- "Who cares?!"
I hope LaFleur buys Radzinsky a fruit basket for unintentionally saving his ass.
* Jack was convinced that coming to the island was a good thing, but I believe he's quickly learning that Sawyer and the others don't need his help. In fact, Juliet and Sawyer seem more annoyed by the Six's return than happy. I'm sure that feeling will only intensify when they learn what Sayid did.
* Hurley once again proves his odd knack for understanding the emotions of others, quickly and correctly figuring out that Sawyer and Juliet are a couple, and calmly assuming that everyone else has done the same.
* And can I just say that I love Chef Hurley? "Try the dipping sauces. They really bring out the ham." I do want to try the dipping sauces! I do!
* Also loved the gentle standoff between Juliet and Kate. Juliet tells Kate it's better that she found out about the Juliet-Sawyer thing from Hurley. Juliet says she didn't know how to tell Kate without sounding like she was telling her to stay away. The subtext? "Seriously, bitch -- stay away."
* Ok, we have to talk about the outfit Ben wears when he tells Sayid his assassination vacation is over. What was WITH that? Was he wearing a fedora? Who knew Ben even owned a pimp ensemble?
* So, now we know how Sayid ended up on the plane. The question is, was Ilana really working for Ben and didn't know it? And is it somehow important for HER to be on the island, too? And what about Kate and Hurley? Kate tells Sawyer that she knew why she came back to the island, then promptly shuts up.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Sunday night recap

So, last night was a big one in the world of TV: three HBO series concluded their seasons (or, in at least one case, possibly concluded for good) and a much-hyped death on "Desperate Housewives" finally took place (I think -- more on that later).
Below is a brief summary of my thoughts on last night's episodes of "Big Love," "Flight of the Conchords," "Eastbound and Down" and "Desperate Housewives." Don't read any further if you haven't seen the episodes.
* Big Love: The recently concluded third season of this absorbing drama about a polygamous family living in Utah was perhaps the show's best yet. There were a lot of amazing twists, such as Sarah's pregnancy and miscarriage, Kathy's death, and the Nicki's betrayal and banishment. Last night's finale wasn't quite as good as some of the episodes leading up to it, but it was still a solid offering. We learned that, not only did Nicki have a daughter from her previous marriage, but that abandoning that child might have been the root cause of a lot of her emotional problems. Chloe Sevigny has had a knockout season, but last night she delivered some of her best work, both when finally seeing her now-teenaged daughter, and when confessing her sin to Barb. It's hard to find the tenderness and decency in a character like Nicki, but Sevigny does it week after week. Give her an Emmy, now.
Also noteworthy was the death of Roman Grant. Yes, I know the show has faked us out with supposed character "deaths" before, but Roman looked pretty dead to me. While I'll miss Harry Dean Stanton's work, his character's death will surely set in motion a delicious power struggle at Juniper Creek. Also, Joey's decision to kill him illustrated the difference between him and Bill. Bill's biggest problem is that he makes things too complicated, attempting to juggle too many things at once: wives, business ventures, diabolical schemes. He, of course, set in motion an elaborate plan to bust Roman for Kathy's murder (it did seem to be successful, but just barely). Joey's approach to dealing with Roman was more direct: he simply killed the man. What will happen next? I don't know, but I'm dying to find out.
* Flight of the Conchords: While the songs in the second season of HBO's whimsical musical comedy weren't as good as those in the first season, the show was still consistently funny. Last night's finale was no exception. We finally got a closer look at the Mel-Doug marriage; Murray wrote a musical and Dave dressed as the statue of liberty. Oh, and we saw Bret and Jemaine tending sheep back home in their native land after being deported. It definitely felt like a series finale and, indeed, HBO hasn't yet renewed the show for a third season. But I hope it continues. It's one of the few really pleasurable shows on TV, and, if Bret and Jemaine were to depart my life, I'd sorely miss them. At the very least, could we get a spin-off about Doug and Murray's consulate co-worker Greg? It could be called "The Saddest Men in the World," and feature a harp-based theme song.
* Eastbound and Down: Let me say this: if nothing else, this broad, raunchy sitcom about Kenny Powers (Danny McBride) a disgraced former ballplayer had the good sense to revive the deliciously cheesy Kenny Rogers ballad "Love will Turn You Around," using it in not one, but two episodes. Still, I'm really conflicted about it. On the one hand, every single episode made me laugh out loud at least once. On the other, it had a tendency to go overboard too often. For instance, Kenny hitting his former rival in the face with a ball during a pitching contest was funny. The fact that the pitch knocked the guy's eye out, and that we saw his pulsing, disembodied eyeball on the ground? Not so funny. I also couldn't get my head around the fact that Kenny was hired to teach kids. He's so vulgar that, in real life, a mob of angry parents would have called for his head after one day. But, vulgarity aside, the show did one thing right: it made me like Kenny. Yes, he was an obnoxious jerk but he showed enough moments of genuine affection -- toward his family, his former girlfriend and even his goofy boss/romantic rival Principal Cutler -- that I bought him as a human being. The big reason behind Kenny's humanity is McBride, who has proven not just that he's funny, but also that he's a pretty good actor. He lets us see glimpses the wounded pride behind Kenny's bravado, never more so that in the final scene in last night's finale, as Kenny drove toward Tampa and a major league job that never existed, burning with shame.
Like "Conchords," "Eastbound" hasn't yet been picked up for another season, but I'd kind of like to see more of it, and of Kenny Powers.
* Desperate Housewives: Oh my God, Edie -- just die already!
Look, I love Nicolette Sheridan's sassy, smart and slutty "Housewives" character as much as anyone, but the wait for Edie's departure has been interminable. First, let me say that I find it RIDICULOUS that the show went so public about Sheridan's departure. So many publications have reported that Edie will die, the season has turned into a death march for the poor girl. And what was with the multiple deaths last night? First, she's strangled by Dave. Then she runs off and gets in an accident. THEN she's electrocuted...or so it seems, until we see her fingers wriggle. GRRR! Could we draw this out any more? At first, I thought the show was going to pull a fast one and kill Orson instead, which would have been great. But no. Sigh. This season started off so well, but this storyline (the whole Dave storyline, in fact) is making me nuts. Stop dragging us along! Just give Edie the graceful exit she deserves and be done with it.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Lost recap: "Oh...what?"

The words uttered by one Hugo Reyes during last night's episode of "Lost" kind of sum up the feelings of many fans about the show. It seems like just when we kinda know what's going on, BAM! The whole damn thing changes, and we're back in the 70s, wearing jumpsuits and being told that we're best suited for janitorial work.
Still, this week's episode was pretty awesome. We learned that Amy/Michelle's baby is named Ethan -- presumably the same survivor-infiltrating, Claire-napping Ethan we all know and love. There was a reunion of on-islanders and off-islanders. We got to see Jin go all bad cop on Sayid. Sun walloped Ben with an oar (which was so rule-some, I can't even begin to go into it. Sun is fierce!). And, of course, we were once again treated to the sight of a young Ben, bearing a sandwich for poor caged up Sayid. Clearly, with so much awesomeness floating around, this episode defies a straightforward recap. So, I'm just going to sum up some of the highlights of the ninth episode of season 9, "Namaste."
* We see a little more of the Ajira 316 incident, in which Jack, Kate, Hurley and Sayid traveled in time, while the rest of the poor souls aboard crashed (I'm heretofore referring to this incident as the flash-crash). Before things get hinky in the cockpit, there's an odd exchange between Lapidus and his co-pilot. Odd because Hurley is apparently the only member of the Oceanic 6 that the co-pilot recognizes. I know Hurley is instantly recognizable, but he seriously didn't recognize any of the others, even after noticing Hurley on the plane? Also, it's odd that he only recognized Hurley as a survivor, not as a lottery winner (as the convenience store woman did) or as the suspect in a recent string of homicides. I doubt this means anything. I just think it's odd.
* After the flash, as Lapidus attempts to land the plane, he sees a runway on the island. In her blog posting, Lost guru Nikki Stafford surmises that this is what Kate, Sawyer and the other prisoners are building while they're held hostage in season three. So, did the Others know the crash was coming? Odd.
* Just as everyone predicted, Sawyer-Kate-Hurley-Sayid traveled to 1977 Dharma-land, and Sun-Lapidus-Ben-Locke's body crashed in the present. Why? Why did they separate? And what is poor Jin going to do when he finds out what happened?
* The reunion between Sawyer and Jack, Kate, and Hurley was great, particularly Hurley lifting Sawyer off the ground and saying he misses Sawyer's nicknames. Also, Sawyer's explanation of where they are, along with Hurley's aforementioned reaction, were also pretty good.
* Interesting mindgames being played by Sawyer and Juliet when the three-of-six start registering as Dharma recruits. First, the mysterious Dr. Chang tells Jack that his aptitude test shows he's best suited for janitorial work. I'm guessing that was a set-up by Sawyer (however, if that really is what Jack is best suited for, it would explain a lot). In other manipulation news, Kate's name isn't on the sub manifest. Just when it looks like she's toast, Juliet pops up with a last-minute "rescue." Oh sure, Juliet. Like we don't know that you're the one who left Kate's name off the list in the first place, as a warning to Freckles not to mess with your man.
* The song playing when the recruits arrive is "Ride, Captain, Ride," a song my ex-boyfriend used to refer to as "Fly, Fatass, Fly." So now, every time I hear it, I have "Mallrats" flashbacks.
* How great would it have been if one of the foods served at the cookout presided over by "Mad Men's" Jimmy Barrett had been Utz potato chips? Alas, it was not.
* Sayid's discovery and capture by Jin was a pretty amazing moment, and showed Jin relying on the skills he learned as a mob enforcer. He goes from gentle Jin one moment to raging badass in the presence of Radzinsky. Good work by Daniel Dae Kim.
* I don't remember Radzinsky being mentioned before, but, apparently, he was in the hatch before Desmond arrived at the island. Again, I refer you to Nikki Stafford.
* The Muppet Show is playing on one of the screens in the Flame. I didn't notice at first, but my husband pointed it out. I took a closer look and there, sure enough, were Statler and Waldorf.
* Again, where is Faraday? When Jack asks Sawyer if Faraday is with them, Sawyer replies "Not anymore." !!!! Then where is he, Flower Boy?!
* Loved the exchange between Sawyer and Jack in Sawyer's house. Though I thought Sawyer was a little unfair (in those early days after the crash, Jack had little choice but to react. Also, no one else stepped up), it was insightful and in-character. The best part, though, is when Sawyer tells Jack it must be a relief to not be leader anymore and JACK AGREES! I'm not quite sure how to read that moment, but I think it's sincere. Look at all the damage that Jack has done to himself and others by always having to be in charge. Maybe he is grateful not be the one at the wheel anymore. Maybe he's actually happy to have no real responsibilities other than floor mopping and toilet scrubbing.
* I've already mentioned the naming of Ethan, one of the episode's two big gasp moments. The other was when we see the child bringing food to Sayid in Dharma jail. Of course, it was immediately obvious who the kid was, particularly since they didn't show you his face until the episode's last few moments (why would they do that if the kid's identity wasn't significant?). Still, it was a nice twist, particularly given Sayid's veiled look of horror when he realizes this is mini-Ben.
* Overall, a strong showing, if not quite as great as the Locke-focused and Sawyer-focused episodes. But still good, with lots of nice twists. Next week: Looks like all hell busts loose. Woo hoo!

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Gossip Girl is back...sort of

The CW soap "Gossip Girl" returns to the air at 8 p.m. Monday after a long absence. That's probably a mixed blessing to the many of you who have found this season a bit uneven. Personally, I agree there's been a lot to loathe this season (yes, Aaron Rose and Agnes the Skanky Model, I'm talking to you), but I'm still on board, due mainly to the often hilarious dialogue and some brilliantly sleazy storylines, such as Dan and Serena sharing a sibling and Lily's legitimately horrifying near-rape by Chuck's creepy uncle. And, of course, there's the ceaseless brilliance of Leighton Meester's performance as Blair Waldorf. Even in the worst GG episodes, the Blair stuff always shines.
But, I'm thinking that the two new episodes will perk up some of you who have been moaning that the show is losing its sheen. I've seen them and, while there's nothing quite as awesome as Chuck showing up drunk to his dad's funeral and calling his stepmom a whore, they're both pretty decent. First of all, it looks like two much-hated storylines are coming to a close (I won't spoil you by saying which ones, but I will predict that many of you will be pleased). Also, we see Blair fall apart a bit, which I think we can agree is always good for the show, as our Queen B is never quite so lovable -- and so vicious -- as when she's backed into a corner. And, best of all, in this Monday's episode, we see Nelly Yuki in a fat suit. Yes, you read that correctly. I won't reveal why exactly (quick hint: It has to do with why Blair is dressed like a Victorian widow in the above photo), but suffice it to say that that image alone makes the episode worth watching.
I know many "Gossip Girl" fans are worried about an upcoming reunion between two characters (no, I won't say which ones), but that reunion starts in next week's episode and, so far, I'm hating it a lot less than I thought I would.
Overall, the new episodes are fun and give me hope for the rest of the season.
"Gossip Girl" airs Monday at 8 p.m.

Friday, March 13, 2009

McShane rules in "Kings"...but can't quite save it

Often, I wake up in the middle of the night missing Al Swearengen. I do. I miss his gravelly voice, his ruthlessness tinged with vulnerability, and the way he masterfully manipulated profanity, decorating his speech with curse words with the carefully precision of a housewife placing throw pillows meticulously on a sofa. Yet Al, great as he was, would have been nothing without Ian McShane, who played him for three years on the HBO drama "Deadwood." The burly actor portrayed Al's violence, rage and surprising moments of tenderness with such grace, power and conviction that, when I heard the actor was returning to television, I got all giddy.
Alas, Silas Benjamin, the character McShane plays on the bizarre new NBC drama "Kings" is no Al Swearengen. And the show, which premieres at 8 p.m. Sunday on NBC with a two-hour pilot, is no "Deadwood."
It's not that "Kings" is bad, exactly, it's just...strange. It's based on the story of King David, and tells of an alternate reality in which King Silas Benjamin (McShane) rules over his country, which I think is located somewhere in America (but I can't be sure). This nation is at war with another nation and soldiers fighting in that war include Benjamin's son Jack (Sebastian Stan) and the humble but brilliant David Shepherd (Christopher Egan). David is heroic in battle, and becomes the darling of King Benjamin, who sees him as a surrogate for his own disappointing son. I got sort of confused by all the details of the scenario, but I absorbed enough to know that "Kings" is pretty ambitious in its goals. It seems to be making comments about monarchy, the influence of corporations on war, the sacrifices men (and women) make for power, and a whole bunch of stuff.
I admire the show's vision, and some elements of the production, including its sweeping photography, and the performance of McShane, who never disappoints. But there's something so stilted about the pilot. In fact, I might have actually liked the show better had it been a little worse. There are moments when it seems to be just this side of campy, with some truly pulpy dialogue ("War asks the heart to freeze at room temperature"), some fairly corny imagery (wait until you see the last shot of the pilot) and enough latent homoerotic tension to fill eight gladiator movies (what is UP with the way Eamonn Walker's character stares at David?). If it had gone just a little bit further in that direction, it might be more fun and enjoyable.
Though NBC sent me the pilot and two more episodes, I only had time to watch the pilot. So, perhaps "Kings" improves and finds its rhythm later on. But, right now, the show has little going for it, other McShane's performance. And even that made me keep thinking that I'd rather be watching "Deadwood."
"Kings" premieres 8 p.m. Sunday on NBC.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

"24" and the silent clock of doom

The following post contains a MAJOR spoiler about last night's episode of "24." If you haven't seen the episode yet, please avert your eyes.
I guess you don't know what you've got 'till it's gone.
Last night, the time clock on "24," which is always silent following the death of a major character, went quiet yet again. This time, its victim was none other that Bill Buchanan (James Morrison), former CTU director and leader of this season's rag tag band of disgraced former government employees. Poor Bill threw himself in the line of some explosives to help derail a terrorist attack -- and to keep Jack Bauer from plunging into the dynamite himself.
You know, I've been pretty hard on old Bill, mocking how, despite constant reassurances from everyone in his life that he's great at his job, he is ALWAYS getting people killed. And yeah, I've poked a little fun at his newly suave look this season, with the stubble, and the long-ish hair and the cat burglar turtleneck. But you know, I'll miss him. I'm not sure why, but this is the magic of "24." We can rail against it, say it's right-wing propaganda, say that its plots are ridiculous and its characters are cardboard cutouts -- yet, on the last score at least, we're wrong. I'm surprised by how much I care about many of the characters on "24." And, while Bill's death isn't up there with Teri's or Michelle's or even poor Edgar's, it was sad nonetheless. So goodbye, Bill Buchanan. "24" fans will mourn your death -- even as we hope it allows us a chance to find out just what happened to your wife, Karen Hayes, who hasn't been mentioned at all this season.
Seriously, where is she?

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Motivated sellers: The return of "Breaking Bad"

One of the many, many, crummy effects of last year's writers' strike is that it cut short the first season of AMC's dark, bizarre and brilliant new drama "Breaking Bad." The show centered on Walt (Bryan Cranston, a million miles away from his role as the goofy dad on "Malcolm in the Middle"), a former scientist and current chemistry teacher who discovers he has terminal lung cancer. Determined to leave a nest egg for his family (which includes the unborn child his wife is carrying), he teams up with a former student to become a crystal meth dealer. As a result, he finds himself using his considerable brain to make life or death decisions, all while his body continues to betray him. The first season only lasted seven episodes, but that was enough to earn Cranston a 2008 Emmy as best dramatic actor.
Now, the show has returned for a second season, which starts at 10 tonight on AMC. I've seen the first three episodes and, while there are some rough spots (mostly involving Walt's relationship with his wife), it remains one of the best shows on TV. When we rejoin Walt and his meth-dealing cohort Jesse (Aaron Paul), they have just gone into business with a ruthless, insane drug lord (Raymond Cruz, in a huge departure from his role as Sanchez on "The Closer"), and realize their lives are in danger.
The result is a dizzying set of episodes that manage to be harrowing and deeply funny at the same time. One of this show's great assets is that it always finds the dark humor in Walt's situation. A sequence in which Walt and Jesse are holed up with the drug kingpin and his ill uncle, watching cartoons and plotting the drug lord's death, is both scary and absurd. It's sort of like a Coen brothers' film, without all the mannerisms and with a lot more emotion.
And, while the show clearly lives or dies on Cranston's performance, the actors surrounding him are quite good as well, particularly Dean Norris as Walt's DEA agent brother-in-law, Hank. Since the protagonist of the story is a drug dealer, "Breaking Bad" could have turned Hank into a brainless cowboy. Instead, the character -- while definitely a cowboy -- is as sympathetic as Walt. He cares about his family and his job, and he's actually quite a competent DEA Agent. One of the main reasons he hasn't unearthed Walt's secret identity is that Hank underestimates his brainy brother-in-law. But that could change.
Presumably, the second season will be a bit longer than the first, allowing this series to flesh out its story and characters. I hope so. This is a daring, intelligent show that deserves to tell its story.
"Breaking Bad" airs at 10 tonight on AMC.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

"Lost" recap: Michelle Dessler lives!

So, there were a lot of amazing moments on last night's episode of "Lost" -- the discovery that the left-behinds were stuck in the 1970s; the complete meltdown of Daniel Faraday; the gang's assimilation into Dharma culture; Juliet and Sawyer's romance; Sawyer's odd decision to use a girly pseudonym, etc. But maybe the best part of it all was the introduction of a new character, Amy, played by Reiko Aylesworth, whom I will always know as Michelle Dessler on "24." Sigh. I really miss her on "24," don't you? She really humanized Tony.
Anyway, back to "Lost." Not only did we get the revival of Reiko/Michelle, we also got a brief appearance by "Mad Men's" Jimmy Barrett (aka Patrick Fischler), a little background on the Other/Dharma tension that will eventually result in mass genocide, and a pretty awesome inside joke for the fans.
Let's dig into recapping episode eight of season five, "LaFleur."
When the episode starts, Sawyer, Juliet, Miles and Jin are where we left them, hovering slack-jawed around a rope stuck in the ground -- a rope that once had John Locke at the end of it. Then, we see Locke push the donkey wheel for, like, the millionth time, and cut back to the islanders. Another flash. When the flash subsides, the well appears to have come back but, when Sawyer attempts to jump in, he finds that it's only half-built. Whanh-Whanh. After his embarrassing actions, he and his gang find their headaches have subsided. The flashing has stopped. Their adventures in time travel also seem to have stopped -- but when are they?
We then jump ahead three years and Herc from "Friday Night Lights" is in a Dharma station, wearing a Dharma uniform, and getting his groove on to Tony Orlando with some chickie when Jimmy Barrett busts in, freaking out. The monitors show erstwhile Dharma leader Horace Goodspeed drunk and blowing up trees. Sigh. Those wacky Dharm-ites, with the booze and the explosives. Jimmy and Herc decide they must find "LaFleur." They go to a Dharma house knock on the door and...it's Sawyer! Clean shaven! What's going on? He and Miles find Horace, and Sawyer takes him home to his wife, Amy, who is pregnant and, it seems, as patient with Horace as Michelle was with Tony (I'm sorry, but she'll always be Michelle. Forever. So get used to it). Michelle goes into labor and they head to the hospital.
Jump back three years again. Sawyer and co. head to the beach, and come upon two men with guns. The men have already shot another man and have a bag over a woman' head, ready to do the same to her. Sawyer intervenes and tells the guys to put down their weapons. They don't and Sawyer and Juliet take the men out. They then pull the bag off the woman's head...yep, it's Michelle/Amy. She freaks out, and insists they bury the gunmen and take the third dead guy, her husband, with them.
She wants to know who they are, Sawyer gives her a story about being shipwrecked, they head off and she tricks them into getting zapped with the electric fence.
Ok, around this time, I had some difficulty keeping track of the whole Three Years Forward/Three Years Back thing, so I'm just going to divide the rest of the recap into two sections.
Three Years Back
Sawyer wakes up on a couch in Horace's office. He tells Horace that his name is Jim LaFleur (seriously? LaFleur? Mr. Badass would really want to be known as "The Flower?" Questionable). Horace is suspicious that Sawyer and co. are "hostiles," aka Others -- island denizens with whom the Dharm-ites don't get along. Sawyer say that he and his people were looking for the wreck of the Black Rock. Horace say they need to leave on the submarine. Sawyer said he wants to wait for the rest of his people but Horace says no go. Shortly thereafter, Richard shows up, as we all knew he would. He tells Horace that he knows their "truce" was broken and wants blood. Horace denies they had anything to do with it. Sawyer confronts Richard and fesses up to killing the guys, but points out that, since he isn't with Dharma, the truce wasn't broken. By the way, he says, did you bury that bomb? Oh, and I know that crazy bald man who came into your camp 20 years ago and said he was your leader. Richard is impressed, but he still takes the body of Amy/Michelle's husband. Horace, pleased with Sawyer's quick thinking, grants him two more weeks on the island.
Three Years Forward
The gang is still on the island. Michelle's baby is breech and the doctor doesn't know what to do. Sawyer hunts down Juliet, now working as a mechanic (?). She protests at first, but Sawyer tells her that the time they're in is so long ago, the island might not yet be a killer of moms and babies. She goes, and delivers the baby. It and its mom are fine. We also learn that Sawyer and Juliet are playing house now, and the appear to really care for each other. Uh-oh. This will could get ugly when Kate arrives. Meanwhile, Sawyer goes to Horace, now married to Amy/Michelle, and asks him why he got drunk. He found Amy's husband's necklace among her things, he explains. She isn't over him -- how could she be? It's only been three years. Sawyer/LaFleur explains how he got over a woman in three years, and Horace comforted. Then, Jin calls Sawyer to tell him that he's found Kate and company. Sawyer lies to Juliet and takes off. So much for being over Kate.
Highlights and notes:
* In between the episodes two flashes, we get a brief glimpse of the four-toed statue again...then it disappears and is not mentioned for the rest of the episode. Oh "Lost," how you tease.
* Three years forward Jin speaks perfect(ish) English, which makes sense. He's been around English speakers for a while now, so it seems reasonable he'd grasp the language.
* Great inside joke: Sawyer refers to Richard as "your friend with the eyeliner!" Ha! See, there were rumors that Nestor Carbonell (who plays Richard) was wearing eyeliner in his scenes. The rumor became so prevalent that the show's writers and producers have actually stepped forward to deny it.
* I've pointedly avoided mentioning Daniel, because I wanted to save him for last. First, what happened to Charlotte's body? Do the dead not travel in the flashes? And where was he during the three years forward scenes? We didn't see him. Is he already on the construction crew? Also, did he really see young Charlotte in the Dharma camp, or is just losing it big time?
* When Daniel declares that the time travel has stopped, he uses the metaphor of the stuck record again. Now that the travel has ceased "The record has stopped spinning." During this line, the camera spins around the circle of islanders. Nice effect.
* Just as last week's episode was a showcase for Terry O'Quinn, this was a centerpiece for Josh Holloway, who did an excellent job portraying Sawyer's nascent leadership. We saw him evolve believably from the rough and tumble skeptic to the smooth con man, ready to the play the part he needed to play in order to survive. Holloway has been underused lately, and it's nice to see him in the spotlight.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

So long, Spaceman

Unofficial word came down today that ABC would not give a second season to its promising freshman series "Life on Mars," starring Jason O'Mara as Sam Tyler, a modern cop who finds himself transported back to 1973 after getting hit by a car. Though I can't say I'm stunned by the news (ratings for the series weren't great), it saddens me nonetheless. "Life on Mars," a remake of a well-received BBC miniseries, wasn't groundbreaking television, but it was fun and charming. It also had a wonderfully over-the-top performance from Harvey Keitel as gruff police Lt. Gene Hunt. In fact, one of the saddest things about the cancellation of "Mars" is that I won't get to see Keitel on my TV every week. I'll also miss seeing Michael Imperioli (who plays another rough and tumble cop) and his fabulous, 70's-era 'stache. And I'll miss the show's excellent use of '70s music. And I'll miss Gretchen Mol's sweetness and pluck as a brainy policewoman. Sigh. I'll miss a lot of things.
However, there is a silver lining to this cloud. Sources say that the decision not to renew "Mars" came early enough that the show's creative team will be able to provide it with a proper ending, explaining just why and how Sam ended up in the past and, possibly, bringing him back to the present. That's a relief, considering that many canceled shows (including another series with "Mars" in the title) get their death notice after their last episodes have been filmed, often leaving major plot threads unresolved.
Glad that fans of "Life on Mars" will at least get some closure.
The other bright spot is that the original British "Life on Mars" will be released on DVD in July, giving fans of the American version who haven't seen it (including yours truly) a chance to view it.
It doesn't totally take away the sting of losing a solid show, but at least it softens the blow.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Running with the Devil

I love Satan.
Oh, well, not the actual, biblical fire and brimstone Satan.
No, I'm referring to the quippy, charming well-dressed version of the Prince of Darkness played by Ray Wise on the CW's lovable, if uneven, horror comedy "Reaper." When the series debuted last season, it was one of the standouts of the freshman class. It focused on the adventures of young Sam (Bret Harrison), who finds out at the age of 21 that his parents sold his soul to the devil when he was a baby. The devil (Wise) comes to collect, making Sam his own personal bounty hunter, returning escaped souls to hell. The pilot was bright, funny and smart, with a standout performance by Wise.
If subsequent episodes weren't quite as good, they were still charming diversions, with Wise dependably hilarious as one of the wittiest devils in pop culture. Harrison was also good, believably befuddled and easy to root for, and he had great rapport with Wise. Tyler Labine was a love him or hate him presence as Sam's obnoxious best bud Sock, but I found him funny, and liked the relationship between them and their third friend, Ben (Rick Gonzalez). The show was a pleasant, if undemanding, way to spend an hour.
The show's second season starts Tuesday at 8 p.m. and, while it still isn't a slam dunk, the episode is a strong one, with Sam coming to grips with the fact that he might be devil's son. This new aspect to their relationship adds a nice friction to the scenes between Wise and Harrison, and Wise delivers a fairly creepy speech in which he informs Sam that there are no real benefits to being the Son of Satan.
In other developments, Sam's love interest. Andy (Missy Peregrym), wants to end things and Sock finds out that his mom's new husband has a hot daughter his age who is SO excited about having a big brother. Ouch.
Add in a fight club of escaped souls, Sock's frightening list of nicknames for himself (e.g. Sock Puppet and Johann Sebastian Sock), and the always-welcome use of Joe "Bean" Esposito's 80's classic "You're the Best," and you have a pretty solid hour.
Reaper airs 8 p.m. Tuesday on the CW.