Monday, August 31, 2009

"Mad Men" recap: A brief musical interlude

This week's episode of "Mad Men" was full of music as Kinsey and his drug dealer/former schoolmate did their impression of Michigan J. Frog, Pete and Trudy did a Charleston that would put Jimmy Stewart and Donna Reed to shame, Joan played the accordion and Roger, um, donned some blackface. Oh Roger. You truly are a prize a-hole.
Anyway, when we left the Draper family last week, Betty's addled dad Gene was moving in with them. This week, he's fully ensconced in the household, as evidenced by the piled of peeled potatoes that awaits Betty and Don in the kitchen. He thought he was on KP duty, Betty explains to a perplexed Don. Don and Betty aren't the only ones to notice Gene's befuddled state. The ever-curious Sally spies Grandpa's billfold in his room and snags $5, probably thinking that he won't notice it's missing. He does, and soon charges into the living room declaring that he's been robbed. Don, Betty and Carla all subtly roll their eyes, even as they offer to help look for the money. They think he's imagined it. He knows he hasn't. From here, I sort of expected this to result in Gene, in a fit of racist pique, accusing Carla. But he doesn't, not really. In fact, will you agree with me that he suspected Sally pretty quickly? At any rate, Sally is eventually overcome with guilt and "finds" grandpa's money on the floor. Both Gene and Carla know what's up, but they don't say anything. Gene calls Sally into his room at episode's end, and we think we know where this will go, too. But instead of punishing her, he asks her to continue reading "The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire" to him (yes, believe it or not, that is NOT a punishment in the Draper/Hoffstadt household).
I kind of like how this story surprised me, by making Gene a little more together and understanding than he's been painted in past episodes. Still, it was a bit anticlimactic.
At any rate, the real magic this episode is happening on the Sterling-Cooper side of things. Roger and his dippy young bride Jane are throwing a Kentucky Derby party at the local country club. Don, Bert, Pete, Ken and Harry are all invited. Kinsey, to his dismay, is not. Instead, he has to work on the Bacardi campaign all weekend with Peggy and Smitty (remember him from last season? He was one of the two guys brought in to "young" the place up. The other was Kurt, the gay German. What happened to that guy? I wonder if we'll see him again).
The country club party is quite the to-do, with Mint Juleps and all the trappings. Everyone tries to have a good time, but there is discomfort in the air, particularly when Roger, in blackface, warbles "My Old Kentucky Home." To their credit, both Don and Pete look a little taken aback by the performance. But dopey Jane loves it.
Meanwhile, Betty meets up with a silver fox outside the ladies room (no, not Roger. But kind of a similar type, don't you think? Only gentler.) He's enchanted by her, even with her big pregnant belly. He asks to touch it, and she concedes. I'm sorry, but did this scene remind anyone else of Betty allowing little Glenn to collect a lock of her hair in season one? Betty is always allowing guys to do odd things. At least this time it's an adult. Of course, she runs into him later at Roger's party, and they exchange meaningful glances. Will she seek him out again, or is this merely a charged interlude?
Oblivious to the cad fondling his unborn child, Don seeks out the bar and ends up making a friend of his own, though not one with sexual possibilities. This was a nice scene, with Don and the stranger bonding about how neither of them really fits in with the country club set. We do know that Don still considers himself an outsider, despite having all the trappings of a privileged life. But, instead of pushing away other outsiders, he embraces them. That's a fact about Don that was established in the first season, in that flashback when the young then-Dick Whitman befriended a hobo. Don's just more comfortable among people who are as lost as he is. Yet, oddly, I doubt that he'd ever really leave the golden sphere in which he resides. He's toyed with it before, but I think he fears that on some level (hence, his rejection of his own brother).
Even in the scene with his fellow bar patron, Don doesn't prolong the bond. He talks to the man, makes their drinks, then returns to Roger's party. Sort of sad, but Don is in a prison of his own making.
So is Roger, who oddly reads Don's distaste for him as resentment of Roger's happiness. Don nips that in the bud: "No one thinks you're happy Roger." Ouch.
Anyway, back at the SterCoop offices, Peggy, Smitty and Kinsey are brainstorming about the Bacardi campaign. They're also drinking. The guys get into a conversation about alcohol vs. marijuana. Peggy, in true Peggy fashion, leaves the room, realizing that this will be yet another instance in which the guys mess around and she's left to do all the work. She seems to be right: soon after her departure, Smitty and Kinsey call an old Princeton classmate of Kinsey's, who now deals drugs. The guy shows up, supplied with every narcotic in the book. Meanwhile, Peggy's new secretary -- a matronly, somewhat judgmental woman -- tells Peggy not to go in the office. She knows what the guys are doing and Peggy shouldn't be a part of it. Peggy, of course, walks in, but doesn't scold the guys. Instead, she surprises us for the second episode in row. The drug dealer seems a bit taken with her, and asks her name. Peggy then utters what is, by my count, the funniest line ever read on "Mad Men": "My name is Peggy Olson, and I want to smoke some marijuana." I don't know why it's so funny. Maybe it's the simplicity of the line or Elisabeth Moss's wonderfully understated delivery or the fact that the line is a total surprise. But it cracks me up every time I think about it.
The guys are sort of turned on by the appearance of Bad Peggy, and waste no time in lighting her up. They spend the rest of the episode being silly, until Peggy gets an idea for the Bacardi campaign and runs off to her office to work. Her secretary knows what she's done and doesn't approve, but Peggy gently tells her not to worry: she'll be fine. She then proceeds to knock stuff over in her office.
OK, you've probably noticed by now that I haven't mentioned a very important person from this episode: that lady pictured at the top of this post. Ah, Joan. I'm not ignoring you. It's just that it pains me to mention you because you break my heart. Honestly. Not only did you marry that horrible brute who raped you in your own workplace, but you're pouring as much energy into this marriage as you do into your work. Why, Joan? This man isn't good enough for you. That's clear even to his co-workers. You are awesome. You can run a seamless secretarial pool, dabble as a script reader, throw an awesome buffet dinner and play the accordion. Your husband, meanwhile, is a jerk who, as it turns out, even isn't that great a doctor. The only thing he has going for him is you. Get out, Joanie, please! Before you lose yourself.
Anyway, here are some more thoughts on "My Old Kentucky Home."
* We find out in this episode that Paul Kinsey was in Princeton's glee club, called the Tiger Tones. Also, they probably kicked him out, no matter what Paul says.
* I haven't mentioned that awesome Charleston done by Pete and Trudy. It was the complete flip side of Roger's blackface: un-self conscious, sweet and full of joy. I really like that Pete and Trudy seem to be getting along. Sure, we know that Pete, being Pete, will likely screw it all up. But it's hard not to see their goofy glee while dancing with each other. It just makes me smile.
* Not smiling? Harry Crane's wife. What was up her butt? I guess she wanted her husband to be the one making a splash and garnering all the spotlight. It's been hinted before that she resents Pete for the fact that Harry slept with Pete's secretary. I guess she just can't see him being the hit of the party. Relax, Mrs. Harry Crane. You're a character on "Mad Men." Your husband's lack of charisma is NOT the biggest problem you're going to face, I guarantee it.
* Loved the tense, teeth-gritting conversation between Jane and Joan in the SterCoop offices. Jane wastes no time in bossing Joan around, asserting herself as the wife of one of the bosses, now leagues above the woman who once owned her soul. Joan plays along, but just barely. There's no mistaking her deep disdain for the flaky Jane. You see the way Joan is holding her cigarette? You just know that she's dying to put it out in Jane's eye.
* I feel it's necessary to mention it again: Gene is forcing his granddaughter to read "The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire." With that, the drink mixing and lack of affection, there's no way little Sally will escape being messed up for life. Book her room at Betty Ford right now.

True Blood recap: "The oral history of the zombie war"

Last night's "True Blood" was the penultimate episode of season two and, I must say, it was a bit of a wreck. Maybe it's because it came on the heels of last week's outstanding (if too short) episode, "New World in My View," or maybe it's because this week's was nearly all about the Maryann story, which I dislike more and more.
Maryann kills everything for me. I just think that there should be more people who can resist her power. There has to be a stronger conflict. I was excited for a moment, when her voodoo powers didn't seem to work on Tara anymore. That would have been interesting -- showing that Tara was resistant now that she no longer believed in Maryann's power. It also would have fit in nicely with what Sophie-Anne said about Maryann's immortality stemming from sheer willpower.
But no. Tara quickly succumbed, as did every other non-special who came in her path, including the dynamic Lafayette. Maryann's strength stacks the deck so much in her favor that the scenes are less suspenseful than they are merely uncomfortable. We know that every time Maryann comes into contact with a human, it's only a matter of time before their eyes turn black. There would only be suspense if there was a way to fight her influence. Now, all we can do is sigh and wait for the inevitable.
Still, the great thing about "True Blood" is that, even when the episodes aren't great, they're never boring. I won't deny that the Maryann story is creepy, particularly when Sookie wandered into what's left of her home and saw all the depravity happening inside (Jane Bodehouse slicing off her own finger was truly horrifying). And I did love last night's introduction of carnal, Yahtzee-loving vampire queen Sophie-Anne (played with wicked glee by Evan Rachel Wood). Plus, there was a nice dose of Jason and Andy, two of my favorite characters.
Anyway, here some more thoughts on last night's episode, "Frenzy." Also, next Sunday, the HBO shows are on break in honor of the Labor Day weekend, so the finale won't air until Sept. 13. Unfortunately, that's the day of my friend's wedding, so the recap won't publish until Monday or Tuesday. Friends before vamps. Sorry.
OK, on to the bullet points:
* Let's talk some more about Wood's glorious Sophie-Anne, an old, wise and very frisky vampire whose every scene injected life into the episode. From her first appearance, drenched in the blood of a willing minion (who turned out to be Sookie's cousin, Hadley), she became one of my favorite characters. Unlike the tormented Bill, Eric and Godric, Sophie-Anne seems to take great glee in being a vampire. It's fun to see someone who is so comfortable with this life. And it's even more fun to see her try to impose her vampy enthusiasm on Bill. One of the episode's funniest scenes had Bill poolside with Sophie-Anne, clad in swim trunks and vastly uncomfortable with this forced recreation. Good stuff.
* Also good: the continued intrusion of the real world on the magical one. I do like the way that "True Blood" shows the toll that living in a world full of supernatural creatures has taken on regular folks. Lafayette is still suffering from post-traumatic stress from his dungeon days, resulting in a bizarre but terrifying sequence in which the rifle-wielding Lettie Mae morphs into Eric -- still wearing Lettie Mae's clothes, yet no less frightening for that. Eek. We also saw what Arlene's descent into Maryannism is doing to her children, who are practically starving to death in the woods. It was a nice moment, especially when Sam took on the role of substitute parent, cooking for and watching the children. Though I'm not sure it was a great idea to take the tots to Fangtasia. I realize Sam didn't have a lot of options, but introducing already-traumatized children to Eric is a bit iffy. Yet, without that scene, we wouldn't have gotten the moment where Eric refers to kids as "teacup humans."
So I'm torn.
* Oh, by the way, Eric can fly. As Sophie-Anne would say, that's random.
* Speaking of Eric, I really liked the bonding moment between Sookie and Lafayette, when they talked about being forced to take Eric's blood. It was like a little support group: "Hi, I'm Sookie, and I'm having erotic dreams about a vampire I hate after he tricked me into sucking his magic blood."
"Hi, Sookie!"
* After his heroic moment last week, Jason is back to behaving like a boob again, though a well-intentioned boob. He's taken Andy with him, and they're arming themselves to the teeth, despite the fact that we know full well their efforts will likely have no effect on Maryann. Still, it was good for a few laughs, like Jason's speech near the top of the episode, which contained the title of this week's blog post. Is it just me, or does anyone else think that Jason is supposed to be a sort of parody of former President George W. Bush? The mangling of the English language, the enthusiasm for war, the blind belief in American dominance -- it all seems so, familiar.
* By the way, was it jarring to you that the show was so cavalier regarding that story about Jason having sex with an unconscious woman? His defense that she was "fine when we started" was clearly meant to be a laugh line, but that just made me uncomfortable.
* OK what is up with that egg? Is Maryann fertilizing some sort of demon baby? Where did this thing come from? And wait...has she done this before? Is Eggs called Eggs not because his name is Benedict but because he came from an egg? Sigh. I have no idea.
* Note: don't read further if you haven't read the Charlaine Harris novels the series is based on.
Fellow Harris-ites, what do you think of the way the show is condensing the books? This season is based on "Living Dead in Dallas" but, Lorena, you'll recall didn't appear until book three and the Sophie-Anne and Hadley stories weren't dealt with until much later. So why are these things popping up sooner on the show? Maybe Alan Ball doesn't want to film all the books and is giving himself options?
What are your thoughts?

Saturday, August 29, 2009

More actresses who should think small (screen)

This week, Showtime announced that it was producing a new sitcom called "The C Word," starring acclaimed film and theater actress Laura Linney. This makes Linney the latest in an increasingly long list of talented actresses who, after finding only modest success on the big screen, have migrating to TV seeking a steady paycheck and meatier roles. She joins the likes of Glenn Close, Holly Hunter, Toni Collette and many others. Even acclaimed British actress Miranda Richardson ("The Crying Game") is making the AMC series "Rubicon."
So who do you think will be the next fabulous but under-appreciated actress to come to TV? Below is a list of the ladies I'd most like to see migrate.
1. Rene Russo: Every time I see the movie "Major League" on TV, I turn to my husband and say "What ever happened to Rene Russo?" I still wonder. Through the late 80's and mid-90's, Russo was a solid female sidekick in a series of comedies and thrillers, including "In The Line of Fire," "Outbreak," "Ransom," and two "Lethal Weapon" movies. Where did she go? Does she still act? I repeat -- WHAT HAPPENED TO HER?
2. Bridget Fonda: One of my favorite movies of all time is "Jackie Brown." And yes, that movie is all about the underrated talents of Pam Grier and Robert Forster. But Fonda, playing a persistently stoned beach bunny, is fantastic. She was so funny and tough that we saw that there was a lot more going on with this vapid character than we realized. She's pretty darn good in a bunch of other movies as well, including "Singles" and "It Could Happen to You." Yet for several years, she's been MIA. Was it by choice? What is she doing now? I'd hate to think she's quit acting or, worse, languishing in direct-to-DVD movies. Let's find this woman a sharp cable dramedy worth of her talents -- maybe something like Showtime's "Nurse Jackie." Just don't make her a mom on a treacly teen drama. She deserves better.
3. Linda Fiorentino: My guess is that Linda Fiorentino's portrayal of a man-eating crook in "The Last Seduction" dissuaded a LOT of men from trying to pick up women in bars. Playing a smart, evil, sexually aggressive character, Fiorentino was electric. Yet the movies had no idea what to do with her. So how about TV? I see her playing a tough but sexy businesswoman with a complicated personal life, possibly on FX. She could totally do it. Let's bring her back!
4. Uma Thurman: Ok, face it -- aside from Quentin Tarantino, NO ONE in the movie industry knows what to do with this lady. She's too blond, too tall, too beautiful and too talented. So she gets lost in the shuffle or (shudder) shoved into silly crap like "My Super Ex-Girlfriend." Uma might be a bit too intimidating for the small screen, but it would be so exciting to see her tackle a rich, complicated role. Someone please write it for her.
5. Frances McDormand: Of the women on this list, she's the one who has done the best for herself, winning an Oscar for her unforgettable work in "Fargo" and landing steady supporting work ever since. But why must she be SUPPORTING? Why can't she be the star again? I have a feeling that TV would kill to have this gifted, acclaimed woman headlining a series. Why hasn't it happened yet? It needs to happen now!

Who do you think should make the jump from movies to TV?

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

"The Closer" season finale recap: "Waivers of Extradition"

I know the season finale of TNT's "The Closer" aired a few days ago, but I didn't get a chance to watch it until last night, and wanted to just say a few things about the episode and this season.
First, the season finale, "Waivers of Extradition," was a pretty strong episode. I always like when the scripts give Kyra Sedgwick's Brenda an equally strong-willed character to bump up against, and this time we got Xander Berkley (George Mason from "24"!) as a tough Texas lawman who -- shocker!-- actually wins a battle of wills with Brenda, getting her to release a creepy serial killer to Texas so he can face the death penalty. I also thought it was interesting that Brenda would rather see someone like this die than win a power struggle. This goes to her strong sense of vengeance, which we've seen before. She's set people up to get killed, remember (I'm thinking particularly of the young mobster who trafficked in women in season one. She let slip to his bosses that he was an FBI informant, and he disappeared, if I recall correctly). It's odd to make a character so blood-thirsty -- especially a woman, and especially one who's painted not an anti-heroine, but as a true heroine, all be it a slightly flawed one.
It's bold, refreshing, and gives you something to think about in this otherwise old-fashioned, briskly entertaining series.
I also wanted to mention how impressed I was with the storyline about Brenda's niece. We probably knew that, once her cat died, Fritz would see this as opening to broach the subject of kids. Instead of a hackneyed series of pregnancy debates, we saw Brenda get some practical parenting experience, looking after her troubled young niece. Her efforts were mixed. I, personally, don't think it's a good idea to use a teen you're supposed to be looking after in a murder investigation.
But, on the plus side, her time with Brenda and Fritz seems to have given niece Charlie some focus, purpose and confidence. She has a greater respect for life, now that she knows how awful life -- and death -- is for many people.
I should mention that Charlie was played by Kyra Sedgwick's real-life daughter, Sosie Bacon, who was actually quite good. This sort of casting-by-nepotism doesn't always work out (remember Autumn Chiklis as Vic's daughter on "The Shield?"), but this time, it did. The mother and daughter worked well together, playing aunt and niece. That scene at the end of the finale -- when Brenda realizes that she doesn't really want Charlie to leave, but that she has to let her go -- was tender, moving and not overplayed.
All in all, a good episode and a good season.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

"Nurse Jackie" season finale recap: "Healthcare and Cinema"

Because I watched most of its episodes far in advance, I never really got a chance to do a week-to-week recap of Showtime's excellent new dramedy "Nurse Jackie." But I wanted to say a few words on the finale, because I do think it's the best new show of the year so far, and I particularly admire Edie Falco's work as conflicted nurse Jackie Peyton. Like most TV characters today, Jackie is a study in contrasts. She's a loving wife and mother...but she's also cheating on her husband with the pharmacist at the hospital where she works. She's a dedicated professional...but she's also a pain pill addict who sometimes lets her addiction cloud her judgment. She lets down friends, co-workers and her kids. She also cares for and supports her friends, co-workers and kids. She's dark and smart and fascinating and, even if I don't always understand her motivations, she's never boring.
The rest of the cast is often excellent, as well, particularly Peter Facinelli as a cocky but not totally useless doctor and Merritt Wever as an adorably earnest nursing student.
So, without further ado, here are some of my thoughts on the season finale, "Healthcare and Cinema."
Spoilers below
The season finale of "Nurse Jackie" contained perhaps the most uncomfortable sequence I've seen in a long time: the prolonged conversation between Eddie and Kevin at Kevin's bar. I can't think of the last time I'd felt such suspense over what was, on the surface, just a barroom chat between two guys. But every time Eddie opened his mouth, I kept waiting for him to say "By the way, that married girlfriend I mentioned? It's your wife." But he didn't. Every time Jackie called Eddie, and Eddie pulled out his ringing phone, I expected him to show the caller ID to Kevin. But he didn't. For some reason, his decision not to reveal who he is (and I'm convinced that, even in the parts we didn't see, Eddie never told Kevin that he's Jackie's lover), made the whole thing even more uncomfortable. It had to have been uncomfortable for Eddie, too, especially when he realized that Jackie indeed loves Kevin (the lost look on Eddie's face when Kevin mentioned Jackie making him breakfast after her long shifts was devastating. Excellent work by Paul Schulze).
The whole thing came to a head not at the bar, but at the hospital, where a drunken Eddie burst in and, just before being dragged away by security, whispers to Jackie that he met Kevin and saw the bar. Ugh.
Jackie, of course, deals with this by taking enough painkillers to drop a horse. It looks like she's pretty incapacitated by episode's end, but we won't know until next season, I guess.
Overall, it was a strong finale, but a very serious one, with few of the show's usual doses of humor. Yes, we had Gloria and her ridiculous shenanigans in the elevator, and we also saw Dr. Cooper trying to befriend MoMo now that Eddie's gone. But it was darker that usual, with even the typically cheerful Zoe down in the dumps, wearing gray scrubs to show her remorse over putting the film critic in a coma. Her moping was good for a few laughs, however, especially when she told the model she'd been "stripped over my powers." Ha! What do you want to bet that Zoe imagines herself as Nurse Girl, fighting illness and injustice wherever she goes?
Also worth noting is O'Hara's kidnapping off her mother, which results in the gush of emotions she swore she'd never show. Her collapse was sad and crushing, made worse by the fact that her best friend Jackie is too busy raiding the pill machine to rush to her side.
Anyway, what did you think? Will you watch next season? What do you want to see happen?

Monday, August 24, 2009

"Mad Men" recap: How Peggy got her groove back...kind of

This week's "Mad Men" was all about trying to reconnect. Betty tries to reconnect with her dad. Peggy tries to reconnect with her sexuality. Don tries to reconnect with a client that Kinsey has alienated. Roger kind of tries to reconnect with his angry daughter (before deciding that he'd prefer to "win" in what he sees as a power struggle with Mona).
And Pete, as always, tries to reconnect with his dignity, if he ever had it in the first place.
When we revisit our beloved gang of miserable ad folk, Peggy, Ken, Harry and Sal are watching a clip of Ann Margaret in "Bye, Bye Birdie." The guys want to use an Ann Margaret look alike to sell a new diet drink called Patio ("a drink that sounds like a floor," Don will later scoff -- not unreasonably). Peggy objects to using sex to sell a product for women. Actually, she tells the guys that SHE doesn't like the approach and SHE is the intended target for the diet drink. "But you're not fat any more," Harry points out.
Sigh. Remember when Harry was the nice guy in the office?
Elsewhere at SterCoop (yes, that's my new nickname for it. I refuse to type Sterling Cooper repeatedly every week. Embrace it.), Pete is hard at work on the Penn Station/Madison Square Garden project, but Kinsey unintentionally sabotages him by telling the client that he objects to the redesign. Oh, Kinsey you arrogant tool! Pete looks distressed. Don is later able to smooth things over, but the Brits decide at the last minute that they don't want the project. Don is beside himself, and I agree with him. This seems short-sighted.
Why did you even buy us? Don laments to Pryce. Pryce, surprisingly, doesn't know.
Don has a little more luck handling the women in his life. Betty's poor ill dad has been abandoned by his wife. She wants to see him, and asks her brother and sister-in-law to bring her dad by. Don obviously objects, but, admirably, wants to make Betty happy.
He agrees to let her family visit. And then Betty's family arrives and makes everyone miserable. Her brother William, whose identity Don assumed last week, starts making noise about sending Dad to a nursing home. Either that, or William and company will move in with Dad. Betty, upset, assumes they're after her father's house. She feels helpless to stop their descent on the old man...then Don steps in and strong arms William into letting Betty's dad stay with them. Nice touch: he takes William's Lincoln in the bargain.
Meanwhile, when Peggy approaches Don about Patio, Don explains the guys' approach to her. Using a sexy woman to sell a product made for women is effective, Don says, because men want a sexy woman and women want to be her. Peggy grimaces, but reluctantly concedes.
Then, Peggy makes an unusual decision. After denying her own pregnancy, rejecting Pete and insisting that she "wanted other things," Peggy decides it's time to get some. She goes to a bar and puts the make on a guy who -- surprise -- looks a LOT like a certain petulant head of accounts. No, not Ken Cosgrove. He looks like Pete. If Pete were warm, kind and considerably less whiny. He and Peggy hook up, but -- gasp -- he doesn't have protection. Peggy, even a newly carnal Peggy, is a smart girl and refuses to have unprotected sex. But, she tells Faux Pete, we can do other things. Oh, Peggy. You have a whole other side we know nothing about, don't you girl?
Here are a few more thoughts on "Love Among the Ruins."
* I haven't said anything about Roger's storyline. Clearly, Roger is feeling some repercussions from marrying Jane (yes, he's married. And so, apparently, is Joan. Sigh. Poor thing.) His daughter is mad at him and doesn't want Jane at her wedding (which, incidentally, is slated to take place Nov. 23 1963 -- the day after the Kennedy assassination). Mona makes a show of wanting to "compromise," but Roger thinks his little girl's anger is all Mona's fault, and seems like he's going to drag Jane to this wedding even if it causes his daughter to hate him forever. Oh Roger. You ass.
* By the way, Roger, apparently, still hasn't learned how to talk to Betty. He greets the pregnant woman with the less than charming "Looks like Grace Kelly swallowed a basketball." You know Roger, just because you're a silver fox doesn't mean you can get away with treating women like dirt.
*Peggy tells her bar conquest that "I work for a jerk." Wait -- does she mean Don? Does Peggy really think Don is a jerk? Or is she just mad at him for not taking her side in the Patio debate? I hope Peggy doesn't secretly hate Don. The Don/Peggy relationship is one of my favorites on the show. You can reject Pete, Peggy, but don't you dare reject Don!
* Um, how awkward was that dinner between Don, Betty and the Brits? Even weirder, the Brits didn't seem to notice how bored and hostile the Drapers were. Sigh. Silly English.

"True Blood" recap: Jason Stackhouse is a golden God! With horns!

Usually, when I write these "True Blood" recaps, I try to find some sort of unifying theme that holds the episode together. Is it about betrayal? Loss? Sacrifice? How do the different stories tie into that theme?
Well, this week I was hard-pressed to find a theme. This episode, like most episodes near the end of a season, was mainly about advancing storylines. Bill, Sookie and Jason ended their Dallas adventure and came home to a ravaged Bon Temps (or should I say "Bone Temps"?), and resolved to end the Maryann plague. All the stories centered on that, so there wasn't time for a deeper message. That's OK, though. Because instead of a unifying theme, what we got was a whole lotta crazy: a possessed Tara, a heroic Jason, a tower of rotting meat and the most intense Wii-playing session ever. With all that, it's hard to be disappointed. Here's more on this week's episode, "New World in My View."
Spoilers below
* A few weeks ago, I was clamoring for a crime-fighting team of Sam, Andy and Lafayette. What we got was a crime-fighting team of Sam, Andy and Jason Stackhouse. I'll take it! The whole sequence with Jason pretending to be "the God who comes" to fool the revelers was one of the most hilarious things I've seen in a long time. And it allowed Sam Trammell, who plays Sam, a chance to have some fun. Usually, Trammell's overshadowed by the show's more flamboyant characters and performances. But when he started playing along with Sam and Andy, pretending to be smote (smitten? smited?), Trammell cut loose and was a joy to watch. But the whole sequence was great: Andy and Jason using flares, a gas mask and a tree branch to make Jason look godly; Jason's mangled but still convincing attempt at God-speak; Jason and Andy's stunned faces as Sam disappears and, of course, their equally bewildered looks at seeing Sam reappear wearing only an apron. The capper: Andy taking a swig of booze and proclaiming "That's the last drink I'll ever take."
* By combining their Wonder Twins powers, Sookie and Bill are able to de-Maryannify Tara. How? How did it work? Did the combination of Sookie and Bill in Tara's brain force Maryann out? What happened? Furthermore, just what is the Maryann sickness anyway? Upon entering Tara's brain, Sookie sees that the Tara she knew and loved is gone. Indeed, we see no traces of Tara in the black-eyed beast tied to that chair. But clearly, not all the revelers are erased of their identities. Terry, even in his zombie state, still loves and wants to protect Arlene. Town tramp Jane Bodehouse is still capable of being distracted from her Maryann mission by the promise of a good time with someone named Peanut. So what is the black-eyed insanity, exactly? Is it possession? An intensification of the ID, but with an implanted purpose? Whatever it is, maybe it gets worse with prolonged exposure, which is why Tara is such a shell of herself, with no emotion left for the people she loves? I don't know.
* OK, how stupid was it for Sam to be so easily fooled by Arlene into returning to the bar? In the words of the revered Dark Helmet "Now you see that evil will always triumph, because Good is dumb!"
* Must mention the incredibly, awesomely surreal scene of Hoyt getting a bewitched Maxine to focus by having her play the Wii. It helps me focus, too. But it by no means calms me down.
* Very little Eric this episode. We did get another tantalizing dream sequence, but it seemed a bit cheap to me. Either it should have been real...or it should have been Eric having the dream, to spice things up a bit and show the attraction isn't all on Sookie's side (wait -- do vampires dream? Sigh. I have no idea).
* Is there anything more inconvenient than having your cousin's exorcism interrupted by a random college student looking for you to hook her up with some vampire blood? No. No there isn't. Poor Lafayette.
* So what DID Sookie do to Maryann? What was the glow of light? It can't be that dangerous, as Maryann was more fascinated than distressed. But what is it?
OK, that does it for me. Next week, we learn more about Bill's field trip to see the Queen (what's up with that bloody foot?) and Maryann gets pissed.

Monday, August 17, 2009

"Mad Men" season premiere recap: Hearts on fire

I wanted to do a recap of last night's season premiere of "Mad Men" but don't have a lot of time, so I'll just jot down a few thoughts. Feel free to comment below.
On last night's episode we learned to be careful what you wish for. Several characters got things they wanted, but it didn't turn out quite the way they planned.
Via flashback, we learned that Dick Whitman's (aka Don Draper's) stepmother badly wanted a child, but, upon learning that her baby was coming from her husband's dead hooker girlfriend, was less than thrilled. Pete finally got the head of accounts job he'd been coveting, only to learn he has to share it with Ken. And Sal FINALLY got some honest-to-goodness same sex lovin', only to get caught in the act by Don.
Here are some more thoughts on "Out of Town."
* I don't know if the flashback to Don/Dick's childhood is what actually happened or just Don's idea of what happened (because how could he know, really?). Whatever, it's upsetting. And I really hope he wasn't named Dick because his mom threatened to cut his dad's dick off and boil it in hog fat. Depressing.
* This season seems to be set only six months or so after the last, as Betty is still pregnant, and Sterling/Cooper is stilling feeling the growing pains of its British takeover.
* Have we seen Bert Peterson before? He's head of accounts, so we must have, but I don't remember him. At any rate, this is likely the last we've seen of him, as he was laid off in last night's episode. Too bad. I kind of liked his full-on, bridge-burning meltdown. "Drop dead, you Limey vulture!" Fantastic.
* Want to mention briefly how great Vincent Kartheiser was in the whole Pete Campbell/head of accounts subplot. From his goofy, joyous dance when Pete got the job, to his elevator conversation with Ken to his meltdown after learning he had to share the position, it was all brilliant. I like how Pete still can't help behaving childishly, but knows that it's wrong. It shows a weird kind of growth on his part, don't you think?
* A shout out to Bryan Batt as well, as Sal finally did more than ogle a hot young guy. However, his hotel tryst was interrupted first by the fire alarm, then by Don. On the plus side, if there's anyone at Sterling Cooper who knows how to keep a secret it's Don "Dick Whitman" Draper.
* Nice touch: Sal's pen explodes as he's making out with the bellboy. A bit crude and obvious. But still funny.
* I loved the scene with Roger, Don, Pete and Bert Cooper in Don's office at the end. Clearly, being accepted as one of the guys takes a little bit of the sting out of Pete's disappointment (at least for now). But the acceptance has limits. "Help yourself," says Roger, adding "NOT the Stoli." Ha ha.
* A sad observation: Peggy asks Joan if she's scared to wear her engagement ring on the subway. Joan says she doesn't take the subway, but does worry about being followed. It's a perfectly normal, boring conversation, until you realize that the person Joan really needs to fear isn't some anonymous mugger, but her own fiance. Poor Joan.
That's it for me.

"True Blood" recap: Oh, to be a fly on the wall

This week's "True Blood" was all about sacrifice. The episode, of course, picked up where last week's left off, with Soldier of the Sun Luke detonating a suicide bomb in the vampire's lair. He died, as did several other vamps and humans, but Sookie, Jason and Eric all survived (because Sookie is the star, and Jason and Eric are simply too hot to die). Throughout the episode, we saw many other examples of sacrifice. Sookie unwillingly sacrificed a piece of her freedom when she took some of Eric's blood. Maryann demanded the sacrifice of Sam Merlotte who, in turn, sacrificed a little pride by turning into a fly, escaping from prison and buzzing to the doorstep of the one person in town who believes him: drunken Andy Bellefleur.
Hoyt was willing to sacrifice his relationship with his mom to be with Jessica, and Jessica learned that, by becoming a vamp, she had been forced to sacrifice being a mother.
In a more heartbreaking example of sacrifice, Godric, we learned, volunteered himself to meet the sun, out of a desire to protect the other vamps and because, well, enough is enough. And poor, gorgeous Eric had to sacrifice his maker, perhaps the only other being that he truly loved.
Here are a few more thoughts on this week's episode of "True Blood," "I Will Rise Up."
* I'm going to get the Tara/Eggs/Maryann storyline out of the way as soon as possible. I continued to be annoyed with this storyline because of the way it has caused so many characters to devolve. Last season, Tara developed before our eyes from a whiny, one-dimensional character, into a strong, three-dimensional woman. By turning her into Maryann's plaything, the show has taken all that away. Every time her eyes turn black, my heart sinks. Plus, Maryann is too invincible. A villain who can control everyone and has no mercy isn't interesting. There's no complexity to this character at all. I just want this storyline to finish quickly. Unfortunately, I'm pretty sure the last few episodes are going to be all Maryann all the time and I am dreading, dreading, dreading.
* OK, let's move on to the stuff I did like about this episode, which was plentiful. In "Living Dead in Dallas," the book on which this season of "True Blood" is based, Sookie witnessing the sacrifice of Godric (or Godfrey, as he's called in the book) is one of the most moving scenes, and the show did a beautiful job of recreating it. The show upped the emotional impact by having Godric be Eric's maker. We got to see the usually stoic Eric fall apart, and Alexander Skarsgard was simply extraordinary. It was also a nice moment for Anna Paquin, who gets a lot of crap because many people don't like her character. Her conversation with Godric about God and forgiveness was one of the most beautifully shot and acted moments this season, and showed real growth in Sookie's character. I like her better now, don't you?
* We saw another side of Eric, this episode, too, as he tricked Sookie into taking his blood. Despite her assurances to Bill that she still feels nothing for Eric, we know that's not true, as her blood intake led to a pretty hot dream about ol' Blondie. Slight quibble: I have to look at Anna Paquin's breasts, but don't get to see all of Alexander Skarsgard's bottom? Unfair!
* Poor Jessica. Not only is she a virgin forever, but her boyfriend's mom hates her and she just realized she can't have children. Being a new vampire is, like, sooooo hard! By the way, great work by Deborah Ann Woll as Jess went from fang-bearing anger to sadness and shame when Maxine pointed out that she can't give Hoyt babies.
* Loved that, during his TV appearance, Steve Newlin still had a welt on his forehead where Jason shot him with the paintball gun.
* We did get a little more Lafayette this episode, even if it was in service of the Tara plot. I really wish we got to see more of him this season. Nelsan Ellis always brings the goods, and I'm dying to know where this whole "return to dealing V" plot is going.
* And, I know I keep banging the drum for Chris Bauer, but, in his one, nearly wordless scene this episode -- when Andy opens the door to find a naked Sam -- he produced one of the episode's biggest laughs.
What did you think?

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Past perfect: Review of the new season of "Mad Men"

For a show set in the 1960's, the AMC drama "Mad Men" is amazingly contemporary. Sure the clothes and decor and social code portrayed onscreen are much different than those we employ today. But certain core things never change. For all its style and period detail "Mad Men" is, at its heart, about identity. It's about finding who you are and what shapes you, whether that's work or marriage or assuming the identity of a dead man you fought with in Korea. Whatever works for you.
The new season of "Mad Men," which starts Sunday at 10 p.m., is particularly relevant. I can't get into too many details -- the press release that came with my preview screener actually included the sentence "Don't be a spoilsport!" (in all caps, natch), and I'd hate to disobey.
But I will say that, when we rejoin Don Draper and the gang at Manhattan ad agency Sterling Cooper, they're in the midst of layoffs. It's painfully timely and accurate, as is the general upheaval going on at Sterling Cooper. Last season's takeover by the British has a number of repercussions, of which the layoffs are only one.
That's this show's real gift: it painstakingly recreates a long-gone period of time in a way that those who weren't alive then (or who were too young to remember it) can relate to. We might not be able to relate to concepts like drinking during the workday, but we can relate to fearing for our jobs.
We can also relate to being unsure of our place in the world. In the premiere, most of the characters -- including Don, his wife Betty (January Jones), and underlings Pete (Vincent Kartheiser) and Peggy (Elisabeth Moss) -- are, as always, looking for satisfaction, meaning and happiness. Without spoiling anything, let me just say that a few characters briefly do find satisfaction in the premiere, only to cruelly have it taken away from them.
When these things happen, "Mad Men" manages to make us both wince in pain and laugh in recognition. No matter what world these characters live in, some things are universal. "Mad Men" recognizes that, which is its true triumph.
The new season of "Mad Men" premieres 10 p.m. Sunday on AMC.

Monday, August 10, 2009

"True Blood" recap: Heart habit to break

Warning: Spoilers for this week's "True Blood" below

This week on "True Blood," we learned that there are benevolent vampire dictatorships; that, if you find a dead woman in your freezer, your first move should NOT be to partially cover her with garbage bags; that you never give an idiot a paintball gun and that Maryann has seen the Hannibal Lecter trilogy one too many times.
I'd like to start with Maryann, if I could. I must say, the Maryann/Tara storyline is probably my least favorite part of this season. Yes, Maryann is creepy and Michelle Forbes is undeniably rad in the part. But so much of it just seems like ickiness for ickiness's sake.
The cooking of the heart; the feeding of the souffle de nasty to Tara and Eggs; the laughing maniacally when dinner devolved into an impromptu fight club between Tara and Eggs -- it was all so over the top. Granted, this show is built to be over the top, but usually, there's some anchor grounding it in reality. There's no emotion in this storyline, just discomfort. Yes, I'm scared for Tara, but I know she probably isn't going to die, so I just want the story to hurry up and be done with.
But I'm nit-picking. Overall, this was a good episode, mainly because the vampire/Fellowship of the Sun stuff was so strong. I've been really impressed with the way Jason has evolved from the dumb hunk of season one into something more complicated. Still dumb, but with layers of bravery and decency that make him a pretty admirable character. I loved the twist that he -- not Bill or Eric -- was the one to save Sookie from Steve. Jason's tender heart-to-heart with Bill was also great, just because Bill is so obviously uncomfortable with Jason's outpouring of emotion.
And how awesome is this Godric fellow? I love that the Dallas vampires have a benevolent leader who is sympathetic to humans. And I think it means something that such a principled vamp is Eric's maker, don't you?
Lest we forget, this episode had the most shocking ending of the season, with Luke wandering into the vamp party, tricked out with a bomb made of anti-vamp weapons. A Fellowship suicide bomber? Oh yes, "True Blood" -- bring it on.
Anyway, here are some more thoughts on this week's episode, "Timebomb."
* So, Bill finally overpowered the evil Lorena, only to have her turn up at the vamp party to harass Sookie. Is it just me, or did Sookie look a bit turned on when she heard that Bill walloped Lorena with a flat-screen TV?
* Sarah, it turns out, shot Jason with a paintball gun, not a real gun. She has good aim, but not as good as Jason, who uses it to shoot a REAL gun out of Steve's hand. I played paintball once and couldn't hit the broad side of a barn. Jason Stackhouse is BADASS!
* This week, we also learned, courtesy of Jessica, why it's important for a woman to lose her virginity before becoming a vampire. When you're a vamp, things tend to heal whether you want them to or not. Things like a broken hymen. Ow. Hope you got your ears pierced before getting turned, Jess.
* I haven't yet mentioned the framing of Sam Merlotte for Daphne's murder, mainly because I thought that storyline was a little flat. But let me say that the whole awful Maryann story will be worth it if we get to see a crime-fighting team comprised of Sam, Andy and Lafayette. I don't think it will happen, but wouldn't that be fabulous?
* Look, I love Eric and loved that we saw so much of him this week. But he needs a new outfit. A man who has been alive for hundreds of years surely owns more than a single black tank top. Spice it up, Northman! How about some colors? Maybe not pastels with your skin tones, but some brights could really perk you up.
*Speaking of Eric, I did adore this exchange between him and Sookie, about Godric:
Sookie: He's your maker isn't he?
Eric: Don't use words you don't understand.
Sookie: You have a lot of love for him.
Eric: Don't use words I don't understand.
Sigh. Oh Eric, I forgive you your poor fashion sense. You're awesome!

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Catching up with the British "Life on Mars"

Unlike some of the other folks who cover television, I did not spent the past week or so at the high-profile Television Critic Association conference in Pasadena. Though it's sad to not be in the thick of things (particularly with Paula Abdul dropping out of "Idol" and CBS apparently insulting cable during its conference about the Emmys), I'm not bitter. That's because I've spent the past week catching up with the original British "Life on Mars" -- a pretty terrific TV show that I missed during its initial run. The first of the show's two seasons arrived on DVD last month, and I was eager to get a glimpse of it.
I really liked the short-lived American version (well, except for those mind-boggling last five minutes), and was curious to see if the source material was truly as good as I've heard.
It is. For those unfamiliar with the premise, "Life on Mars" is about a modern cop, Sam Tyler (John Simm), who is hit by a car and lands in 1973. He doesn't know how or why he's there and doesn't know how to get home. Perhaps worst of all, he must work with a group of thuggish cops who don't exactly cotton to Sam's genteel modern methods. The leader of the gang is Detective Chief Inspector Gene Hunt (the absolutely wonderful Philip Glenister), a gruff, vulgar type who isn't opposed to slugging suspects -- or his own officers.
While I was charmed by the remake's stylized, old-fashioned, almost corny approach, the British version is, unsurprisingly, superior. It's a bit grittier and a little more serious, delving deeper into the dark side of Sam's "condition." But there's plenty of humor here, mostly from Glenister. Though I adored Harvey Keitel as the American Gene, his was a theatrical, outsize performance. Glenister has certain grand elements in his performance as well, but there's more depth and texture in his portrayal (plus, of the two, Glenister gives the better delivery of the line "You're surrounded by a bunch of armed bastards!").
Simm is also charming and effective as Sam, and the whole show is smart, fun and addictive. I'm sorry it's taken me this long to watch, and I greatly look forward to season two.

Friday, August 7, 2009

"Burn Notice" summer finale recap: "Long Way Back"

I don't have much time, but I did want to post a quick recap of the "Burn Notice" summer finale, which aired last night on USA. (Spoilers below).
In last week's episode, Fiona decided to leave rather than watch Michael go back to his old job, and Michael realized he'd have to choose between her and the job. He seemed to be leaning toward the job. But this week, he was faced with an even more concrete choice between the job and the girl, when Thomas O'Neill, an old enemy of Fiona's resurfaced, looking for revenge. Michael opted to protect her. In fact, when Strickler revealed that he was helping Fiona's would-be assassin because she was an inappropriate associate for Michael during his new-found quest to come in from the cold, Michael shot the sleazy agent dead. Now he's more isolated than ever.
I like that the episode showed Michael's human side, and that he chose his love for Fiona over a job that seems to constantly require compromise and sacrifice, with little promise of reward. It also sets up a good "problem" for the next chapter in the show: What will happen to Mike now that he has, apparently, no friends in high places? Will he rely on some of the less prestigious buddies he's made this season, such as the cop and the whacked out math genius?
We'll see.
Here are a few more highlights of the "Burn Notice" summer finale, "Long Way Back."
* Best line of the night, from Sam: Calling O'Neill and his cronies "The sons of the Lucky Charms revolution." Ha!
* Know everyone hates Fiona's Irish accent, but in an episode where we saw her Irish-accented brother and her Irish-accented nemesis (and in which Michael resumed his Irish-accented persona Michael McBride), it seemed odd for her not to use it, no? I thought I heard her slip into it briefly when she was upset, but it seemed inconsistent that she didn't use it the rest of the episode. Maybe there were fears that Gabrielle Anwar's ridiculous accent would disrupt an otherwise serious episode.
* Loved that Sean called Michael's American accent "dodgy." Ha, again.
* Poor Ms. Reynolds. Last week she loses her Sammy time, this week she loses her Buick. Oh well.

Monday, August 3, 2009

"True Blood" recap: Mother Maenad

This week on "True Blood," we learn that if you believe in something or someone and risk everything for that thing or that person, you'll only end up alone, betrayed and usually suffering some sort of wound.
Thanks for the uplift, Alan Ball.
Spoilers below
So, we finally learned what Maryann is, a maenad, aka the handmaiden of Satan himself. Wow. I know Bon Temps is full of supernatural beings, but that's a little heavy-duty, isn't it? At any rate I'm glad that, thanks to Daphne, we know a little more about Maryann and what she's doing here. She's fixated on Sam because Sam escaped her clutches when he was a boy. She wants him in her sway -- but (and it was stupid of Daphne to mention this, really) Maryann might not release Tara and the rest of the town even if she gets what she wants. She's having too much fun. Sam is properly appalled.
At any rate, who wonders if any of this is true as, shortly after her expository monologue to Sam, Daphne is knifed in the belly (oh I get it! Because she's a pig!), by Eggs, converted into a dead-eyed zombie assassin by Maryann. Yeesh! Creepy.
We also learn who betrayed Hugo and Sookie to the Fellowship of the Sun: it was none other than Hugo himself, so full of self-loathing and anguish about his relationship with Isabelle that he "repented" for his ways, only to end up trapped in a small, dark room not unlike a closet.
The homophobia metaphors on this show really are subtle, aren't they?
And let's not forget poor Jason, who always seems to be just dumb enough to not figure anything out. When Steve learns that the fang-banger in his lair is Jason's sister, he automatically assumes Jason is a spy. Noooo, but he is boffing your wife. Not quite smart to suss that one out, are we, dear Reverend? Steve goes after Jason, who, of course, believes Steve knows about Jason and Sarah. This leads to Jason admirably beating the stuffing out of the sadistic Gabe, only to later be shot by a scorned Sarah (who, thanks to her husband, probably believes Jason was using her all along).
Here are some more thoughts on this week's episode, "Release Me."
* I kind of liked that Andy is the one who, however unwittingly, frees Sam from Maryann at the orgy. Again, I must point out the very under-rated work by Chris Bauer on this show. The shock and drunken confusion on Andy's face when he happens upon that scene in the woods is spot-on, as is his almost absent-minded firing of the gun.
* One other key point about that scene -- Sam, in trying to escape, turns into a bird. So he's not just a dog! Interesting...
* During his confrontation with Daphne, Sam learns that Maryann can't seep into the brains of supernatural beings, including shifters and (I'm guessing) vampires and telepaths. But she can influence them in other ways. We've seen her force Sam's shifts and almost kill Sookie -- what can she do to vampires, though? Guessing we'll find out...
* Assuming Daphne is dead, I'm kind of glad she's gone. She didn't really add much to the story, except some much-need explanations. But couldn't that have been accomplished with another, more interesting character?
* We also learned a little more this week about Lorena and Bill, though I didn't find that stuff all that interesting -- until poor Barry the telephath wandered into their clutches. Poor guy.
* Side note: My husband is a big racing fan and thinks the actor who plays Barry looks uncannily like controversial NASCAR driver Kyle Busch. Google him. My husband's kind of right.
* OK, I have to put this out there: I love that Gabe is basically presented as being the world's most evil gym teacher. He dresses like a coach, yet all the sadistic stuff that you believe is lurking deep in the heart of your average PE professional is right on the surface with Gabe. As someone who hated gym class, I deeply appreciate this.
* I must add that I really like the way Alan Ball adapts Charlaine Harris's books. This episode took a lot from the novel on which this season is based, "Living Dead in Dallas," but Ball managed to be somewhat faithful while simultaneously creating something original. It's not unlike a musician reworking a song to the point where the basic DNA is still there, but has been used in a way you might not have expected.