Monday, October 26, 2009

"Mad Men" recap: "And who are you supposed to be?"

This week on "Mad Men," we saw several characters haunted by their pasts, and considering their futures. Roger was reunited with an old lover; a job-hunting Joan called on ex-boss and ex-lover Roger for a recommendation and Betty and Don...well, that's probably the best place to start this recap, isn't it?
Spoilers ahead
Betty is still reeling from her discovery of Don's box o' Dick, and still unsure of what she should do with this new information she's learned about her husband. During a visit to Philadelphia to deal with her father's affairs, Betty tells her father's lawyer about her discovery. Now, you'd think Don fabricating an identity and defrauding everyone in his life would be pretty solid grounds for divorce. But no, the lawyer says. Betty would have to prove adultery. Well, given that her husband has "entertained" women all over the country, that shouldn't be difficult. The lawyer says it will be tougher than Betty thinks, and she could lose her children and all her money.
Sigh. Divorce in the 1960s kinda sucked, didn't it? I mean, it's no picnic now, but I'm pretty sure modern lawyers would consider Betty's case a slam-dunk. The lawyer tells Betty that, as long as Don provides for her and isn't mean, she should just suck it up.
Betty, understandably, is horrified.
Now, this is where the Betty of season one probably would have just slunk home and tried to pretend she knew nothing of Dick Whitman. But Betty has grown since then. She's already thrown out her husband once and taken him back. She's cheated on Don, both with the random bar patron and Henry Francis (Yes, it was cheating, even though there was no sex. The making out and sneaking around more than qualifies it). And, of course, both of her parents are now gone.
Betty has gone from a child to a grown woman. She's no longer content to push her anger and fear aside and hope it goes away. So, she comes home early from her trip, surprising Don. And, summoning all her courage, she drags Don into his office and demands to know what's in the drawer. Don is terrified. He flails for a way out of telling the truth, accusing Betty of invading his privacy. He's a complete mess. In fact, in this moment, he's no longer the slick Don we first met in season one. He's Dick Whitman -- lost, weak and totally without the polish and panache of his alter ego.
Clearly, this broken Don is no match for his increasingly strong wife. So he does something he almost never does. He tells the truth. He tells Betty everything. He tells her about Don and Anna; about how his mother was a prostitute; about how Adam killed himself because Don/Dick wouldn't help him. Don opens up completely. He's totally vulnerable.
Betty, at first, refuses to feel sorry for him. After all, she's the one who's been lied to all this time. But it would be hard for any woman to be completely unmoved by Don blubbering over his dead brother, and she does show sympathy, rubbing Don's back.
Does she believe him? I think she does. But where do they go from here? Don, at least, doesn't seem to know. He breaks things off with Miss Farrell, whom he left sitting his car as Betty confronted him (during the whole, powerful confrontation sequence, my husband kept asking "Where's the teacher? Where's the teacher?" He was relieved to finally learn that she made it home all right).
Don also seems softer and more present in the episode's final scenes than he's been throughout the whole series. He's amazingly grateful when Betty agrees to go trick or treating as a family, rather than having one of them stay home with the baby.
But how long will this last? Can Don be Don and Dick at the same time? And what about Betty? Her husband literally became a different man before her eyes. Will she still love him?
And what about that double edged question, asked by Carlton at the episode's end (which also provided the title for this post)? Who is Don supposed to be?
With all this going on, I barely have time and space to discuss the other episode plotlines, but I do want to at least deal with Roger. This is the most we've seen of the Silver Fox all season, and it was great to see John Slattery get such a nice showcase. Like Don, Roger sees his past come back to haunt him as an old flame, Annabelle, comes to the Coop offices. She's shopping for an ad agency to improve the image of her late father's company, which makes dog food from horses.
Well, that's what she says. Really, she's there to see Roger. She left him for another man, who has since died, and she wants to rekindle her old flame. But Roger refuses to be lit by anyone but Jane. This marriage is different from his last, he says, and I kind of believe him. He even turns down the offer of a drunken romp with Annabelle. Good for him!
Of course, he might not be totally reformed. He's all too happy to help Joan when she calls him for a job recommendation.
But maybe Roger, like Don, is tired of lying. Perhaps both men are sick of giving only part of themselves to their wives. Maybe they're both looking for a way to be whole.
Anyway, here are some more thoughts on "The Gypsy and The Hobo":
* OK, I have left out my favorite part of this episode (and perhaps the season thus far). I'm speaking, of course, about the moment when Joan, completely disgusted by her worthless husband's bellyaching, hauled off and whacked him over the head with a vase. YAAAAAAAY Joan!!!!!!! To his credit, Worthless Greg actually wakes up a little after the assault, and decides to do something with his life. He joins the army. With Vietnam about to hit full stride. My heart nearly split in half when a happy Joan and Greg hugged over this exciting news, oblivious to the fact that their lives will soon be more f'ed up than ever. Oof.
* Seriously, if Greg does end up as a surgeon in Vietnam, and comes back alive, that couldn't possibly be good for Joan. War can have a terrible effect on the most well-adjusted of men. I hate to think what it would do to someone like Greg. Sigh.
* In the midst of all the intensity, we did have some levity thanks, of course, to Roger. I loved the totally flat, totally American way he said "avec plaisir" to Annabelle's French restaurant invite. And only Roger could sound charming when complimenting Joan on her cup size. By the way, I miss Roger and Joan as a couple. They're both so smart and witty; watching them banter is a joy. And Christina Hendricks and John Slattery somehow manage to have chemistry, even when they're not in the same room. How is this possible?
* Must comment on the ENORMOUS symbolism of this episode taking place around Halloween. Don, of course, doesn't need a special holiday to pretend to be someone else. He's not a child but, for him, nearly every day of his adult life has been Halloween. Also, check out the costumes his kids wear: gypsy and hobo. They're both ways to describe much of Don's life, bouncing around with no real home. Now that he has a contract at the Coop and a wife who truly knows him, Don isn't a hobo or gypsy anymore. So, to reiterate Carlton's question, who IS he?
* Also want to mention the use of light and dark in this episode. When Don goes to Miss Farrell's, the light is on, but she's not there. When he goes into his own house, the lights are off, and Betty and the kids are home. Maybe it means that his affair with Suzanne is like the house -- bright, shiny, but without substance. Yes, she clearly cares for Don. But she cares for DON -- not Dick Whitman. Not his true self. So it's empty. His life with Betty, meanwhile, is murkier, gloomier. But there's something inside of it. It's alive. His wife, finally, knows who is. Of course, I could be over thinking this.
* OK, on another light note, I love that Don tells Annabelle that he's going to talk to "the fellas" about reinventing her company. Of course, he includes Peggy as one of "the fellas." I don't whether this is a triumph for Peggy or an insult.
* Interesting that Don's solution to Annabelle's problem is to change her company's name, no? Is a name change the solution to ALL Don's problems?
* OK, there was a (I'm guessing) totally unintended message about the power of advertising embedded in this episode. When Betty is talking to the lawyer, there's a fish mounted on the wall behind him. All I could think of was the McDonald's commercial with the singing fish ("What if it was you hanging up on this wall/ if it was you in this sandwich you wouldn't be laughing at all!"). I don't think this was the effect Matt Weiner and co. wanted this scene to have, but there you go.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Mad Men recap: "Dick" in a box

This week's "Mad Men" recap will be a bit short, as I'm experiencing some technical difficulties that require me to type this on my husband's computer. Because my husband is convinced that my computer problems stem from my being magnetized (I'm not, to the best of my knowledge, but he won't believe me), he'd prefer I'd spend as little time on his machine as possible. Thus, I'm going to do a much shorter summation than usual, followed by the usual bullet points.
Spoilers ahead
Tonight's episode started off like a typical "Mad Men" episode, rife with office politics, infidelity and a lot of secrecy. Don is still continuing his affair with Miss Farrell, which is becoming a bit more serious. Paul is jealous of Peggy, and accuses her of stealing his thunder on an Aqua Net campaign because she's "spontaneous" (the disdain with which Michael Gladis says that word is delicious). Sterling/Cooper is about to have its 40th anniversary and, unbeknownst to the firm's employees, the Brits are planning to sell the firm.
Oh, and last but not least, Lane Pryce's wife hates New York.
It all goes along as usual, with portentous conversations, loaded looks, and the usual witty rapport (my favorite line might be from Bert Cooper, to Pryce -- pardon me if I'm misquoting: "You really pour on the honey. And then you lick it off.").
Then, we get to the Moment. The Moment we've been building to since season one, when we learned the truth about Don Draper's past as Dick Whitman. Betty finally learned her husband's secret. Well, we knew it was only a matter of time. But when Betty opened that drawer and saw that familiar shoe box, I gasped. It's, of course, the box that contains evidence of Don/Dick's true identity. And, unlike Bert Cooper, Betty Draper cares that her husband isn't who he says he is. Hoo boy, does she care.
Horrified and bewildered, she plans to confront Don that night, but he never comes home (he says he's with Hilton. We know he's with Miss Farrell). Later, Betty is forced to attend the Sterling/Cooper 40th anniversary party with Don, and has to hear no less than Roger Sterling go on and on about how great Don is.
Look, I've bagged on the Betty storyline a lot, and my criticism of Betty could be misinterpreted as criticism of January Jones, who plays Betty. Granted, I think Jones is by far the weakest of the show's actresses, but her work in tonight's episode was stellar. When she opened that box and saw the pictures of Don/Dick and his family (not to mention the deed to Anna Draper's house, his divorce papers and the dog tags), her look of confusion, hurt and anger was dead on. But she was even better in that final seen, watching with disgust as her husband reacts with false modest to Roger's empty flattery. She's absolutely simmering and, despite the disdain I've felt for her all season, my heart goes out to her.
I have no idea what this is going to mean for Betty and Don's marriage. Will she confront Don? Or has she lost her nerve? My guess is that she'll do the Betty thing and push down her rage, letting boil underneath her ladylike fa├žade until she finally erupts and breaks a chair or shoots some pigeons.
But even if Betty tries to forget what she's learned, she can't unlearn it. I'm pretty sure that her trust in Don is broken for good, and that will no doubt have serious implications down the line.
Now, here are some more thoughts on "The Color Blue."
* I should point out that this was the last episode written by recently fired "Mad Men" writer Kater Gordon. There has been a lot of speculation on the blogs about why Gordon was fired. I can't imagine it had anything to do with this episode, which is quite good.
* We learn this week that Miss Farrell has a brother who is epileptic. Though Don is rattled by the brother's arrival initially, he seems sympathetic to this young man. He even drives the kid to his new job at the VA hospital in Bedford. But the kid bails, telling Don that he doesn't want to scrub toilets for the rest of his life. Don desperately tries to talk him out of it and tells him that, for once, he wants to "get this right." What does he mean, you think? The kid insists, and Don gives him money and his card. Why is Don so concerned about this boy? Does the brother remind Don of his own lost, unstable brother, Adam? Or do I just think that because this storyline exists in the same episode as Betty's discovery of Don's background?
* OK, did anyone else get a "Fatal Attraction" vibe when Miss Farrell sat down next to Don on the train?
* Paul Kinsey sure is creepy, isn't he? I don't think there's any question of why he took out that old Maidenform Jackie/Marilyn ad (the unbuckling of his pants should have been a clue). Look, I know guys will do what guys will do, but in the office? Especially when he believed Peggy was right down the hall? Ew. Just, ew.
* That said, I kind of liked the storyline with Peggy, Paul and the Western Union campaign. When Paul got that great idea during his conversation with Achilles, I started screaming at the TV "Write it down! Write it down!" When he woke up with no recollection of what his brainstorm was, I cringed with recognition. I, too, have had great ideas in the evening that I've forgotten about by the morning. Every writer does. That's what saves Paul with Don. Well, that and Peggy's awesomeness. She thinks up a campaign on the spot in Don's office, as Paul looks on with a mix of shame, envy and just a hit of admiration.
* So who did call the Draper house? Is Miss Farrell lying? Is Henry Francis? Or was it someone else? Maybe it really was a wrong number. Perhaps we'll never know...
* So, do you think the sale of Ster/Coop will go through? I kind of hope not, because I really like Jared Harris as Lane Pryce. I want to learn more about him. I like his attempts to ingratiate himself at firm that doesn't really want him, but that he kind of admires and prefers to his life in London. I also like that he's more than capable of playing hardball with that cagey old codger Bert Cooper. And I like that Cooper seems to grudgingly admire this interloper. It's a rich storyline and I don't want to lose it.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

New season "30 Rock" not perfect, but no Lemon

For all its praise and Emmys, even the biggest fan of NBC's sitcom "30 Rock" will tell you that it's wildly uneven. Yes, the show can be gut-bustingly hilarious (Bijou, anyone?) but it can also be painfully strained and manic.
As long as the funny moments outweigh the flat ones, I'm OK with this, but it can be touch and go at times.
The fourth season of the series premieres tonight at 9:30 and it's a pretty mixed bag as TGS ("30 Rock's" show within a show) starts its own fourth season.
Jack Donaghy (Alec Baldwin, as oily and awesome as ever) wants TGS creator Liz Lemon ("30 Rock" creator Tina Fey) to make her show more mainstream and accessible to the American public. Or, as Jack puts it, "We'll trick those race-car-loving wide-loads into watching your lefty homoerotic propaganda hour yet!"
That line is funny. So is the attempt by TGS star Tracy (Tracy Morgan) to reconnect with the common man, and Jenna's (Jane Krakowski) attempt to be more accessible by "going country" (there's a Hank Williams Jr.-inspired video involving off-season tennis that's alone worth the price of admission).
And the whole episode is capped off by a deliciously snarky bite-the-hand-that-feeds-you dig at a certain late night host whose show follows "30 Rock."
But, surrounding those few minutes of funny, there's a quite a bit of blah. The episode squanders Jack in a plot involving a strike by NBC page Kenneth (Jack McBrayer). The story is amusing, but it provides few real belly laughs, despite Steve Buscemi's return as Jack's investigator. There's also a subplot involving Liz's search for a new TGS cast member, which I laughed at exactly once.
"30 Rock" episodes always tend to fire off jokes rapidly, in all directions. And while this method does result in a lot of hits, there are almost as many misfires. I would really like to see the show tighten its scope a bit, and be more consistent.
There are hints of that in this season's second episode, which made me laugh a lot -- most likely due to the return of Will Arnett as Jack's nemesis Devin Banks, and to a pretty strong main plot involving Liz and Tracy.
When it works, "30 Rock" is one of the best shows on TV. It works more often than it doesn't work, but if it upped its average just a little bit, it would be close to perfect.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

All style, no substance: Reviewing the new season of "Nip/Tuck"

When I first started watching the FX plastic surgery soap "Nip/Tuck," I didn't love it, but I did kind of admire it. It was so unapologetic in its tawdriness; so bold and crazy. I didn't totally warm to its tale of two morally bereft plastic surgeons, Christian Troy (Julian McMahon) and Sean McNamara (Dylan Walsh), but it was slick, well-made and decently acted. Over time, the characters and the story did grow on me, and "Nip/Tuck" became my guilty pleasure of choice. Yes, the parallels between the medical stories and the personal ones were often clumsy, but the show -- at least for its first two seasons -- knew how to go cheerfully over the top (remember that Famke Janssen-transsexual storyline?), and keep its emotional resonance (the very real rift between Sean and Christian when Sean learns Christian is the real father of Sean's teen son). Plus the stylized plastic surgery scenes -- always set to music that reflected the case at hand -- were great fun to watch.
But then, in the third season, it went too far over the top, with its insane story of a serial mutilator called "The Carver." That story and its anti-climactic denouement made the show feel like a trick, like something that would dazzle and disgust us but provide no real payoff. The show never really recovered. Yes, there have been bright spots, including last season's arc about Christian's breast cancer. But, overall, it's just not that much fun anymore.
Wednesday at 10 p.m., the show begins the first half of its final season and, well, the first two episodes are more of the same. Rose McGowan bizarrely replaces Katee Sackoff as Sean's love interest, Dr. Rowe, and the plastic surgery business is suffering in this down economy, but, other than that, things are sort of status quo. After their relationship and marriage last year, Christian and anesthesiologist Liz Cruz (Roma Maffia) are back to hating each other (divorce will do that). Sean is back to engaging in his lifelong mid-life crisis. And Sean and Christian's son Matt (John Hensley) is back to making random inappropriate life choices (this season, he's chosen to combine armed robbery with the art of mime. It isn't as good as it sounds).
On the upside, Mario Lopez's abs are now featured cast members, so the thing isn't a total loss.
Still, even Lopez's chiseled mid-section isn't enough to bring the show back to its bright, trashy self. That's too bad, because I do enjoy the performances of many of the actors, particularly Walsh and McMahon who give their characters' bromance just the right mix of affection and tension. They snipe and backstab each other, but ultimately care for and take care of one another. It's a believable relationship and has always been the cornerstone of the show. The problem is, I'm just not that interested in the elements surrounding the relationship any more.
I do hope to stick out the show until the end of its run, but I'm not sure I'll take any pleasure in it. Not even the guilty sort.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

"Mad Men" recap: Booty calls of all sorts

On this week's "Mad Men," we saw late night (or, in Betty's case, clandestine) rendez vous have major consequences for several of our characters. I have to say, even after last week's Creepy Pete plot and the Peggy-Duck hook-up of the week before, I was not prepared for the heartbreak I felt following a particular scene in this week's episode. It was a scene so devastating, I actually felt my heart drop. In fact, I'd like to start this week's recap with the circumstances leading up to this scene and its aftermath.
Spoilers below
OK, so now that the spoiler-phobes have left, I can tell you the scene I was referring to: The firing of Salvatore Romano. After last week's episode, in which Don came off relatively well, I felt my goodwill toward him returning, even with his horrifying dressing-down of Peggy the week before. But this week, that goodwill was all squandered in that single moment when he totally sells Sal out. But let's start at the beginning of this plot thread, shall we?
Sal is now officially a commercial director, and is working on a commercial for Lucky Strike, one of The Coop's most important clients. Lee Garner Jr., of Lucky Strike, is on hand at the shoot, and takes issue with Sal's decision to have the actor stare into the distance during the commercial. It's an artistic decision, Sal says. Lee doesn't like it. He wants the actor staring directly into the camera. Harry, weasel that he is, backs Lee up, saying the client is always right. Those words will come back to haunt him.
Later, Sal and Lee are in the editing room. Lee admits to having had a long "wet" dinner. Then, as Sal's looking at his commercial footage, Lee comes up behind him and starts groping him. Unlike with the bellboy, or even the Belle Jolie rep, Sal totally shuts him down. I'm married, he says. So am I, replies Lee. Sal stammers about being uncomfortable, and Lee says he understands and leaves.
Well, of course Lee doesn't understand. His pride is wounded and he drunkenly calls Harry, demanding that Sal be fired. Why me? asks Harry. I have no power. I have to tell Roger. No, Lee replies. I want this between us. OK, this isn't spelled out, but I'm guessing Lee saw Harry as an ally after Mr. Bow Tie backed Lee about the commercial shot.
At any rate, a befuddled Harry opts to ignore the call. After all, Lee's drunk and the whole thing will likely blow over. Kinsey, who's in the room when Harry gets the call, agrees. See, Harry -- that was your first sign that this was the wrong move. Kinsey AGREED with you! No good can come of Beardy McBeard's approval.
Sure enough, when Roger and co. gather to watch the commercial footage, Lee comes in the room...and walks out as soon as he sees Sal. Everyone is aghast. A stammering Harry fills them in. A furious Roger fires Sal, and hands the whole thing off to Don.
Now, when Sal came to Don I foolishly thought that Don might be sympathetic upon hearing the real reason Sal was fired. After all, he helped Peggy conceal her childbirth. And, so far, Don has kept mum about what he saw in that Baltimore hotel room.
But, when Sal recounts how Lee "cornered" him, and Sal rejected his advances, Don is totally unsympathetic. Lucky Strike is an important account, an angry Don replies. They could "shut our lights off" if The Coop can't win Lee back. Translation: Sal should have just given Lee Garner Jr. what he wanted.
Sal is appalled. What if it was a girl Lee was hitting on, Sal asks? It depends on the girl, Don replies.
Then, Don proceeds to back up Roger's firing and sends a shocked, miserable Sal on his way. What? We now have a Sterling Cooper with no Joan and no Sal???? Sorry, folks, this simply doesn't work for me.
And why was Don so angry and so cruel to Sal, when he had previously been at least grudgingly sympathetic? Don has already implied that he's willing to keep Sal's sexuality a secret as long as Sal himself keeps it under wraps. And Sal, in rejecting Lee Garner Jr.'s advances, was just following orders (also, Lee Garner Jr. is kind of gross and creepy. I'm pretty sure anyone of any gender would reject him).
But, I guess Sal isn't supposed to repress his sexuality if, say, pimping himself out to a cigarette magnate is good for business. Oh, Don. I thought you were better than that. It's one thing to ask Sal to hide who he is. That's wrong, but it's something Sal's been doing himself for some time. But to ask him to exploit the homosexuality that you usually ask him to ignore to curry favor with a client? Sigh. Don, I hate to say this, but that makes you no better than someone like Pete Campbell.
Poor Sal, completely disgraced, is last seen calling his wife from a some shady-looking place (a park? a highway rest stop?), and pretending he's working late.
Sigh. This just all makes me so sad, I'm not even sure I have the energy to write about the rest of the episode.
I guess I have to but make no mistake, Don Draper -- it will take me a long time to forgive you for this one!
Well, anyway, the episode actually starts with a dream sequence, featuring Betty lying on the hideous fainting couch, as a man gently caresses her. Right before Betty wakes up, we see that the man of her dreams is Henry Francis. So much for her assertion last week that her association with Henry is over. Betty and Don are both awakened by a call from Connie. Connie excitedly announces that he wants to spread Hilton's empire all over the world -- even to the moon. Can Don help him with that? Don concurs, apparently thinking Connie is joking about the whole moon thing.
While Don talks to Hilton, Betty feeds baby Gene. After Don hangs up, Betty muses that their infant and the hotel magnate operate on the same principle: "I want what I want when I want it."
At any rate, Don can't sleep and drives into the office in the middle of the night. On his way, he sees Sally's former teacher, Miss Farrell, out for a pre-dawn run. He offers her a ride home. She points out that this rather defeats the purpose of going out for a run, but agrees. They flirt and chat as Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech plays on the radio. Miss Farrell tells Don that, once school starts, she's reading a copy of the speech to the children, claiming that they need to hear these words coming from an adult they trust. Don sort of laughs at her, and tells her that he's not sure whether she's pure or just dumb. Or, Don, it could be that she's part of a new breed of people who want the world to change and want to pass a message of equality onto the youth of America. But you wouldn't know about that, would you, you big Sal-firing jerk!
Sigh. OK, I've collected myself now. Let's return to the recap.
At the office, Don is feverishly working on the Hilton campaign, and rejecting nearly every idea that Peggy, Smitty and Kurt come up with. Peggy is obviously wounded, but has learned her lesson about whining to Don, so she plugs on.
Meanwhile, Connie continues his late night phone calls and, one night, invites Don to a late night drink. Don pulls himself out of bed and goes.
During their chat, Connie opens up about his loneliness and his sadness. He says that he thinks of Don as a son -- no, Don's more than a son. Unlike Connie's children, Don came from nothing, like Connie, so he better understands the pitfalls of a hard-won rise to the top.
Don leaves the talk feeling pretty good. He also feels good about the campaign he presents to Connie, which emphasizes the universality of the Hilton name. Or, as the tag line puts it: Hilton -- it's the same in every language.
Hilton seems to like it at first, then asks: what about the moon? I specifically told you I wanted a Hilton on the moon. A befuddled Don tells Hilton he can add the moon into the campaign, but Hilton isn't impressed. When I ask for the moon, I want the moon, Hilton says. Don is aghast. The campaign is good and this nut rejects it because of the damn moon? Why are my daddies always disappointing me? Well, he doesn't REALLY say that, but he might as well have.
To make matters worse, he gets a dressing down from his arch-nemesis, Roger Sterling, who informs Don that, if he's not careful, disappointing clients is what The Coop will be known for. Well, "that and some guy getting his foot run over with a lawn mower." Hee hee. Even during a smackdown, Roger is hilarious.
That night, a shattered Don can't sleep and wakes Betty. He pretends that Hilton has called, and he's going into work. Really, he goes off to see Miss Farrell who, once again is doing her whole come-here-go-away dance. Though she's clearly kind of psycho, Don makes his move and they make the beast with two backs. And I quietly marinate in my overwhelming revulsion and disappointment with Don.
Anyway, let's talk about the Betty plot, which, once again, just isn't as good as the rest of the episode. However, it does give us a nice dose of the ever-perceptive, ever-wise Carla. Betty, inflamed by her dreams of Henry Francis, starts sending him letters. Henry, likewise inflamed, charges over to her house one afternoon, and grabs her hands, clearly on the way to a passionate embrace. But Betty hears Carla enter and they stop. When Carla walks by them, Henry pretends that he and Betty are discussing a potential fund raiser to be held in the Draper family home.
Carla, of course, isn't fooled, but says nothing. Betty, in an attempt to cover up for Carla, actually goes through with the fund raiser, and is devastated when Henry doesn't show up. She charges into his office and starts throwing things. That Betty -- always a mature one.
Henry points out that, if they're going to have an affair, Betty has to come to him. You know -- 'cuz she's married and all. Betty calms down and they start making out. But she stops him. She doesn't want to make love on his office sofa with the door locked. He agrees and offers to get a hotel room. No, she says. That would be tawdry.
Oh really, Betty? Would it be more tawdry than hooking up with some random in the back room of bar?
Henry is understandably confused. "I don't know what you want," he says.
Oh, Henry. Get in line.
Anyway, here are a few more thoughts on this week's episode.
* OK, let's give it up for Bryan Batt, who was so great as Sal. From the editing room meltdown, to his gobsmacked reaction when Don betrays him, he totally brought it this episode. Let's hope the show isn't totally done with Sal, and that, at some point, he'll resurface as a window dress for Bonwit Teller. Oh, what great gossipy lunches he and Joan will share!
* There was little Peggy in this episode, but I love any scene that allows Elisabeth Moss to give loaded sidelong glances to Jon Hamm. You could write a whole book on the subtext of these glances. For instance, this week, as she leaves the moon meeting with Connie, she gives Don a look that clearly says: "Whatever happens, this isn't my fault. I hope you'll understand that, and remember that this is a good campaign."
And she conveys all that in about five seconds. What an actress.
* Well, if we weren't sure that Harry Crane was a useless sack of crap before this episode, we know it now. He completely mishandles the Lucky Strike situation and, though I'm not giving anyone a pass in Sal's firing, his ineptitude is really what put The Coop at odds with Lee Garner Jr. If Harry had told someone right away, they could have possibly come up with some other way to appease Garner. Maybe. Sigh. I don't know. Nothing makes sense anymore.

Please find "Southland" a home

Many entertainment reporters, including Entertainment Weekly's Ken Tucker, are announcing the NBC has canceled the fine cop drama "Southland"... before the show even has a chance to start its second season.
It was bad enough that NBC was dumping this fine, if low-rated, drama on Friday night. But, at least there, it might have had some shot at building an audience. But to cut off the show at the knees before it even starts the season? Tsk, tsk.
Such a shame. Though "Southland" had its flaws (it could be tough to engage with at times), it was intelligent, challenging and gave meaty roles to talented performers. Chief among these was Regina King, who was so good as a compassionate but tough cop that she put a new, refreshing spin on this increasingly ubiquitous archetype.
In his story, Tucker holds out hope that "Southland" could go to another network, and suggests TNT. I agree that the show would fit nicely with that network's slate of character-driven cop shows. I also think it would be excellent on FX (a worthy successor to The Shield, perhaps?), but that network is already so crowded, with a large slate of shows coming. So what do you suggest? Would you like to see "Southland" continue? Where do you think it should go?

"Dollhouse" recap: To the Victor goes the booty-shaking

This week's episode of "Dollhouse" was a pretty strong one, highlighting the show's creepy underpinnings (it is SERIOUSLY dangerous to meddle in family disputes, particularly when they involve homicidal maniacs), while also providing some solid entertainment value (every time I think of Victor as Kiki, I smile).
Despite some weaknesses, which I'll touch on below, this episode is an example of how good "Dollhouse" can be. I seriously hope its ratings improve, because I'd really like to see where they're going with this. You?
Below are some more thoughts on this week's episode "Belle Chose."
* I like the moral complexity they're giving to Ballard as Echo's handler. Despite his decision to work for the Dollhouse -- and his own past with November/Madeline -- Ballard is SUPER uncomfortable with Echo going on sexually charged engagements. So much so that he'd rather profile a serial killer than watch Echo seduce a skeevy professor as the coquettish Kiki. Does this make him a hypocrite? Does it mean he truly cares for Echo/Caroline? Thoughts?
* By the way, I loved the doll costume room and am glad we're seeing it again after that glimpse in the "Needs" episode. And I loved that image of Ballard and the other handler waiting awkwardly for their charges as they "shop." "I won't even do this for my wife," moans the other handler. Ha!
* Ok, let's get into the meat of the episode -- the killer plot. Clearly, we're meant to notice that the sociopath in the coma isn't that different from the folks at the Dollhouse. He kidnaps women and forces them to play the roles of women in his life. He uses paralytics and not cutting edge technology, but there isn't a huge gap between this guy and Topher, brain scan not withstand. I guess Topher is marginally better, as he doesn't actually beat people to death with croquet mallets. Still, did he really have the right to get all judge-y about waking coma guy? Or, in the words of a highly amused Boyd Langton: "Topher has an ethical problem. Topher!"
Also, isn't it kind of weird that no one remarks on the similarities between the killer's actions and the Dollhouse? Not even Ballard or Langton? Wouldn't someone say something?
* In Topher's defense, I was happy to hear him use the phrase "man reaction" again.
* Reservations about the killer scenario aside, I loved that this week's episode was really a showcase for Enver Gjokaj as Victor. It's hard to say I have a favorite "character" among the actives as they are, by definition, without character. But Gjokaj is by far the best actor, able to be convincing in any persona. He was amazingly creepy as the killer, and sounded just like the actor who played the part in the episode's early scenes. But he was just as convincing as Kiki, prancing around like a nympho sorority girl, oblivious to the fact that he's really a man. Oh, and what a dancer!
* That said, it did Eliza Dushku a MAJOR disservice to have her and Gjokaj play the same characters. Though I think Dushku's really good as the evolving Echo, she's just not a chameleon-like performer, so it's hard to buy her as all these other characters. The scene where we realize the killer has been transferred to her body is jarring, and I did love the moment when "Echo" returns and warns the kidnapped women that the killer won't be truly gone until she is dead. But after Gjokaj's amazing, natural work as the same character, Dushku seemed a little flat. This isn't a knock on Dushku. When she's playing to her strengths, she's excellent. But Gjokaj is more versatile and this episode really showcased that.
* By the way, if "Dollhouse" doesn't make it beyond this season, can someone please find a vehicle for Gjokaj? He's a real find, and I'd love to see what he can do with a more developed character.
* OK, so why did Echo return to her body? Was it just a glitch? Or was it that she sensed what she was doing was evil and wanted to try and stop it? Also, the killer still seems to be in there. Is that just a tease, or is Mr. Creepy bound to return?
* Also want to mention that Dr. Saunders's departure finally came up this week. I liked the disagreement between DeWitt and Langton over whether she's "missing" or if she just left. Their differing viewpoints on this matter of semantics speaks to a larger issue. DeWitt still sees Saunders as an active. Langton sees her as a person. For all his supposed loyalty to the Dollhouse, he sees the soul in Saunders, just as he eventually saw it in Echo. Makes you wonder about that loyalty, doesn't it?
* One more point: Topher talks about the code needed to do a remote wipe via phone. I'm assuming this is the technology that he (or someone) will use to cause all the hell that happens in Epitaph One. Thoughts?

Monday, October 5, 2009

"Entourage" finale recap: "Give a Little Bit"

I don't have much to say on this season's finale of "Entourage," except that it didn't really feel like a finale, did it?
Most of the major arcs revolved around the supporting characters and not Vince, a rarity on this show (for finales, at least). I liked how it resolved the Lloyd-Ari plot, and believed that Ari would forgive Lloyd for abandoning him (because who wouldn't love Lloyd?). Did I believe Lloyd would forgive Ari for all his abuse? Eh. I don't know. But I bought that Lloyd would buy Ari's epiphany following the apology from Terrance. And, honestly, I like these two better together than apart. It's sort of like a dysfunctional marriage. These two men might fight and insult and torture each other, but there is real love and dependence there. In fact, I'd say it's the most believable relationship on the show.
The second most believable is that between Ari and his wife. I liked that therapy scene, as it showed a very honest push-pull between this very authentic married couple. Of course, she wouldn't just hand her money over to Ari, especially since she's sure he's just using it to exact revenge.
But, of course, Ari could talk her into seeing the situation his way. That was, after all, a very good speech.
As for the relationship between the four guys, it was, as it's been all season, the weakest part of the show. I did really love the Matt Damon cameo. The star again showed his versatility, played a hilariously self-righteous version of himself (also loved the brief, but equally funny, bits by Bono and LeBron James). The Damon cameo also inspired the best Drama line of the night ("He Jason Bourne-d me!").
But, as for the Turtle-Jamie and Eric-Sloane stories, I just didn't care. I will never care. Yes, Eric's been marginally less dull this season, and Turtle's been a skotch less useless, but it's just too little, too late. I really hope HBO gets the good sense to pull the plug some time soon.
I'll stick with it for the continually great work by Jeremy Piven by Ari and the underrated work by Rex Lee as Lloyd.
But I'm not terribly invested.

"Curb Your Enthusiasm" recap: This review is somewhere between begrudging and sincere

Though I love most things TV-related, I must admit there are several critically acclaimed shows I just can't get into. Shows that have garnered love and Emmys, yet leave me cold. It's not that I think they're bad -- it's just that I admire them more than I like them. Chief among these shows is HBO's funny but blisteringly caustic "Curb Your Enthusiasm." The show, as everyone knows, centers on "Seinfeld" co-creator and George Costanza template Larry David (playing himself) and the foibles and faux pas he commits while navigating life in Hollywood. I've only watched the show a few times and, though it does make me laugh, it never fails to set my teeth on edge. In fact, I get so uncomfortable watching it that I'd just rather avoid it. Perhaps I'm a wuss (though I have enjoyed several other comedy-of-discomfort shows, including "Arrested Development" and, of course, "Seinfeld").
Whatever the reason for respectful aversion to this show, I put aside my personal prejudices Sunday night to watch the first episode in the series much-ballyhooed "Seinfeld" reunion arc. And, as usual, the episode did make me laugh. I particularly liked Larry's riff with Jerry Seinfeld about Natalie Wood's death (what WAS Christopher Walken doing on that boat anyway?) and Larry's half-hearted attempt to apologize to the head of NBC ("Too begrudging?"). Plus, it was good to see the "Seinfeld" cast together again, including the recently-embattled Michael Richards. And I approve of any excuse to get Jerry Seinfeld to say the word "apoplectic."
But...sigh. I just can't like this show. I always sit there waiting for Larry's plots to go awry. And, in this episode at least, they didn't go awry in interesting ways. As soon as Larry started interrogating Julia Louis-Dreyfus's daughter about the birthday party, I knew it was going to be Louis-Dreyfus's OTHER daughter who had the party. And I knew Larry would find someway to jeopardize the NBC deal.
So I probably won't watch the rest of the "Seinfeld" arc or, at least, will just check in with it periodically. Because I've really tried to like this show. But, I just can't.
I'm sorry.
What -- too begrudging?

"Mad Men" recap: When in Rome...

This week on "Mad Men," we take a closer look at our two main married couples, the Campbells and the Drapers. We saw how Don and Betty responded to getting some time alone together (favorably)and how Pete responded to spending a weekend without wife Trudy (not so great).
We also learned a little bit about what's become of our beloved Joan since departing the Coop.
So let's get to it, shall we?
Spoilers below.
The episode opens with Pete preparing to spend a weekend alone, as Trudy goes out of town. He's clearly anxiety-ridden already about the prospect of spending time solo, and offers all the other office boobs out for a drink to delay his return to an empty apartment.
He returns home that night, too drunk to even undo the buttons on his shirt (gotta love that image of poor, lonely Pete pulling a button-down over his head). He spends much of his weekend alone as, I imagine, most married men do when relieved of their wives: sitting on the coach eating cereal and watching children's television (in this case "Davey and Goliath"). I guess there were no sports on TV that day. When he finally does leave the apartment, he runs into a damsel in distress. That would be Gudrun, who works as an au pair for Pete's neighbors. She seems to be shoving a pink tutu down the trash chute, and crying inconsolably. Pete, gallantly removes the tutu from the chute, revealing that it's actually a pink cocktail dress. Turns out, Gudrun was trying to shove the dress down the chute because she stained it with wine. See, the dress belongs to the lady of the house she works for, and it's ruined. Gudrun was trying to hide the evidence. Oh no, says Pete, master of weasally behavior. If you toss the dress, Boss Lady will think you stole it. What you want to do is stash it in the closet. When Boss Lady finds it, she'll think the kids did it. Gudrun is, understandably, appalled. I would never do that, she declares. So Pete decides to be a hero and heads off to Bonwit Teller to exchange the dress. He initially encounters a brick wall, as the saleslady refuses to acknowledge the dress is from the store and, even if it is, it's from last season and they won't have it. Pete is beside himself, and demands to speak to the manager. Of the whole store? asks dress lady. "Of the Republic of Dresses!" declares Pete (side note, I just love Vincent Kartheiser's clipped delivery on this line, don't you? His Pete is never better than when he's being indignant).
A chastened dress lady retreats and sends out the manager who is...Joan! Oh my God! It's Joan, now reinvented as a clothing store manager! Both she and Pete are flustered by the encounter. Joan explains to Pete that she's just "filling in" at the store. Of course, we know she had to go back to work because Worthless Greg got passed over for chief resident. Pete doesn't know what to say at first, but quickly goes back into conniving weasel mode, telling Joan that the dress is Trudy's, that he spilled wine on it, and he wants to replace the dress. No problem, says Joan, though that doesn't look like Trudy's size... Oh, it doesn't really fit, Pete explains, but she loves it. Joan, being a world-class problem solver, finds the dress and sends Pete on his way. However, I don't really think she believed it was Trudy's, do you?
He gets the dress home and Gudrun is thrilled. Pete invites her to his place for a drink. I have a boyfriend, she tells him. Pete retreats, then has several drinks on his own. Then comes the moment we knew would happen all episode. The Creepy Pete moment. Pete shows up at Gudrun's door and gently but firmly demands to be let in. I went through a lot of trouble for that dress, he tells her. I deserve to see it on you. She begrudgingly lets him in.
Before she can even grab the dress, however, Pete shuts her in her room and plants a kiss on her. She doesn't really resist, but I think that's more from a fear of authority than from any kind of attraction or interest.
The next day, Pete is at home when Gudrun's boss, Ed Lawrence stops by. He wants to talk about Gudrun. Pete, stupidly, pretends he never met her. Ed isn't fooled. He tells Pete the girl has been crying all day. Look, he tells Pete, it's fine if you want to play while your wife is away, but stay away from my au pair. Heck, try leaving the building, you lazy creep. Again, I'm paraphrasing that last part, but you get the idea.
Pete is finally cowed. In fact, for the first time, we see him having real remorse about his infidelity. That remorse continues when Trudy gets home. The couple sees Gudrun and the Lawrence children in the elevator. When the Campbells get back to their apartment, Trudy is frisky, but Pete holds back. She thinks it's because of the kids. You always look guilty when we see small children, she says. But that's not it. Did something happen? she asks. Pete says nothing and starts to cry. Trudy, horrified, pulls away. The next night, Trudy has poured herself into preparing a whole buffet of salads (for two people? She must be upset). She babbles on about a new fruit market and cherries and fruit salad, until Pete finally stops her. He doesn't tell her what happened, but says he doesn't want her going away without him again. She looks relieved. Maybe Pete has finally had a turning point of some sort? We've never seen him this embarrassed and sad about cheating on Trudy -- not with Peggy, and not with the young model he seduced last season. Maybe the difference this time is the circumstance of his infidelity -- that she wasn't really all that willing to be with him. Maybe it makes him feel like a brute, and he's retreating to the comfort of his marriage to make that guilt go away. Or maybe he's growing up. Maybe he realizes that throwing away his marriage would destroy him. Whatever the reason, there are, apparently, no more weekends of cereal and Goliath in Pete's future.
Meanwhile, on the Draper side of things, Don is jetting from Hilton hotel to Hilton hotel, testing out the quality of the establishments he'll now be representing. And Betty's career in politics progresses. She and the junior league ladies head to a town meeting, where they want for Henry Francis to show up and help them in their reservoir case. He makes it at the last minute, with a letter from the governor, saying further study is required before the reservoir can be drained. The town governor decides to delay the project, and the ladies are elated. In the parking lot, Henry works his line of patter on Betty, telling her he'd take her out for coffee if anything was open. He tells her, not so subtly, that he took on the reservoir project for her. He says, when he how happy she was in the meeting, he thought "Dear God, did I have anything to do with that? Because that would make me happy." She says he did, and then Henry leans in and kisses her. Betty seems headed for another infidelity but, that night, she tells Don she wants to go with him on an upcoming Hilton-related trip to Rome. She'd said no before, as the trip was only two days and she worried about leaving baby Gene. Now, she just wants to get away. Don agrees, and soon they're in Italy, where men randomly light your cigarette without even being asked. Especially if you look like Betty. Betty, apparently, speaks nearly fluent Italian, and is able to hook herself up with a beauty appointment. That night, preparing to meet Don for dinner, Betty is dressed to the nines, with her hair up and big dangling earrings. No doubt, she is catnip to the local men at the table next to her, who all but drool at her feet. She flirts with them and pushes them away at the same time, asking them questions, then sneeringly telling one of the men he isn't a gentleman when he makes an obscene remark about her cigarette.
Then Don shows up, pretending to be a stranger. The men tell Betty to shoo him away, telling her Don is old and ugly. She offers him a seat and they storm off. Don continues to play the interested stranger game, telling her he's only in Rome for one night. She tells Don what the men said about him and he asks if it upset her that they called him ugly. She asks if he thinks she's shallow. He says he's just hoping she's easy. Suddenly, Conrad Hilton happens by their table and sees this couple in what he doesn't know is an atypical moment of schmoopiness. He compliments Betty's beauty, calling Don an "indecently lucky" man. They all have dinner and, that night, Don and Betty have an idyllic romp in their lovely hotel room overlooking Rome. When they return, Don tries to keep the spark alive, by lighting Betty's cigarette without asking. At first, it seems like their marriage really is refreshed. When Francine drops by to tell Betty that it looks like the mayor and council will overturn the ruling on the reservoir, Betty says she doesn't want to go back to Henry Francis for help, meaning, maybe, the flirtation is over. But then, she goes back into cranky Betty mode, telling Don she hates everything about their lives and snapping at him when he gives her a charm shaped like the Coliseum. Oh well. It was nice while it lasted.
Here are some more thoughts on "Souvenir":
* While Don and Betty are away, Sally has another incident, punching the crap out of Bobby after he teases her for kissing the neighbor boy. Carla tells Betty when she returns from Rome, and Betty makes Sally apologize. Sally does and sweet little Bobby forgives her immediately. Show of hands: who else thinks Bobby will grow up to be a serial killer? Anyway, Betty isn't done with Sally. She tells her little girl, gently, that she shouldn't just go around kissing boys. Kisses are supposed to be special. It's a rare tender moment between the mother and daughter, and even though we know it's related to Betty's incident with Henry Francis, it's still sweet.
* Here's a thought, though: Does Betty plan to avoid Henry because she doesn't want to have an affair, or because she knows every kiss with him will be, as she tells Sally, a shadow of that first one? And maybe that's why she's so angry after the Rome trip, because she knows that, try as they might, she and Don will never truly recapture the magic of their early relationship.
* I love the whole scene with Pete and Joan in Bonwit Teller -- starting with the fact that he greets her with the stupidest of questions: "Joan? Is that you?"
No, nitwit, it's the other hyper-competent redheaded Amazon with big doll eyes. Later, as she wraps the dress, Joan tells Pete that Worthless Greg is thinking of switching his focus to psychiatry. Yikes! Can you imagine Worthless Greg responsible for any slice of America's mental health?
But the most heartbreaking moment was subtly mortified look on Joan's face when Pete leaves the store. Though Pete has told her not to tell anyone about the dress, it's clear that she plans to tell no one at the Coop about what she's been up. In fact, she seems pretty upset that anyone had to find out. Oh well. At least it was Pete, and not Roger. Or Peggy. Or, heaven forbid, Jane.
* I loved that scene with Betty fixing her makeup as Sally lingers in the corner of the mirror, the little girl clearly an afterthought in her mother's life. Betty doesn't even seem to notice the little girl beside her, only acknowledging her when she gets up from the vanity. Even then, all poor Sally gets is a pat on the head.
* Last week we learned Betty majored in anthropology at Bryn Mawr. This week, we learn she's fluent in Italian. So, then, why does she talk like an empty-headed Barbie doll?
* I don't know what Conrad Hilton was like in real life, but I like the version of him on the show, don't you? I don't know how much of that is the writing, or how much is due to the excellent work of Chelcie Ross in the part. The way he bites off the phrase "indecently lucky" just makes you smile.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

"Dollhouse" recap: One bad mutha...

I've gone back and forth about writing weekly recaps on Fox's "Dollhouse," mainly because I don't often get to watch the show live, and because I'm not sure how much an interest there is in this show. I didn't get to do a recap last week because I had a few other things I needed to do, and I debated about whether to skip this week's recap as well.
But, eventually, I decided it was a good idea to do a recap this week, and to check in with the show as often as I can. After all, I do like it and it's one of those shows that gives you plenty to talk about.
Talk this week's episode for example. We open with that Ballard/Topher scene in which Topher babbles about how he's perfected "Dollhouse" technology to the point where he can make physical changes in the dolls, as well as mental ones. I was a little confused at first, because we did see him make some physical changes last year, as when he turned Echo into a blind woman so she could infiltrate that cult. But we shortly see what Topher's talking about: he's turned Echo into a young mom. And he's added all the bells and whistles, including maternal instinct and, um, lactation. Eek. Yeah -- no way this could go wrong.
Turns out, the Dollhouse has been hired by a dad who lost his wife in childbirth. Due to her death, Dad can't bond with his son, so he hires Echo to love the child. Again, eek. Echo (as Emily, the mom), senses how distant the dad is and goes snooping. She finds what I assume are pictures of the man's dead wife and assumes he's having an affair. He tells her the woman is someone he loved who died and she believes him. All seems well, until Echo overhears Daddy calling the Dollhouse to come "take care" of Echo/Emily. Of course, she thinks this means "dead" as opposed to "rendered memory-free," and panics.
Eventually, Echily attempts to flee with the baby, going so far as to contact the police. When the police learn that Echily, despite her protests, isn't the baby's mama, they take the child away and Ballard takes Echily back to the Dollhouse so she can become Echo again. doesn't work. Echo retains memory of the baby, whether as a continuation of the composite effect she's experiencing or because, (as Ballard tells Topher) the maternal instinct he gave her was so strong that it couldn't be erased with a regular wipe.
Whatever it is, Echo takes out Topher with a palm to the nose and runs back to get what she thinks is her baby. She nabs the kid, and threatens Dad with a knife, but he manages to calm her down, convincing her it isn't really her child. She drops the knife and Ballard comes in to collect her.
Now here's the part I want to talk about. Echo tells Ballard how intensely she loved the baby, and how much it hurt when he was taken away. She doesn't understand why it's necessary for the Dollhouse to give her such real feelings on engagements. Because she really does feel everything they've ever done to her. Ballard tells her he knows that she remembers the other identities. No, she tells him. Not remember. Feel. She feels that she got married. She feels motherhood. And it all hurts. Ballard, in an odd, but convincing, twist, suggests she tell Topher. Maybe he can fix her so she doesn't feel all the painful memories. After all, he's willing to tackle the Dollhouse himself. He doesn't need her to keep putting her heart and soul at risk.
No, she tells him. Feeling nothing would be even worse than feeling pain. She was asleep before. She wants to be awake now.
What do you make of this exchange? It's sort of the mirror image of the conversation between Ballard and November/Madeline earlier in the episode, in which she tells him that she preferred to "sleep" for five years rather than deal with the pain of losing her daughter. Echo prefers the pain. She prefers awareness. She wants to be whole again, inasmuch as that's possible.
Another thing I want to pull from this scene is Ballard's seemingly selfless offer to take Echo's pain away. For the past season or so, we watched him trying to find Caroline, Echo's true self. Now, he's willing to sacrifice Caroline so Echo doesn't suffer. So where does Ballard's obsession lie? Is he now obsessed with Echo, as opposed to Caroline? Is his obsession all about physical appearance? Or is it that Ballard was initially obsessed with Caroline because of her looks, but appreciates Echo for different reasons, primarily her ability to evolve?
I hope this show stays on the air long enough for us to get answers to these questions. Meanwhile, here are some more thoughts on "Instinct."
* By the way, this episode drove home for me just how closely the active/handler imprinting ritual mirrors parenthood. As Adelle points out, babies need to be imprinted with love and care. So do the actives. Think about the script for the imprinting process: "Everything's going to be all right." "Now that you're here."
"Do you trust me?" "With my life."
Isn't that the unspoken exchange that takes place between every parent and child?
* Hey! November's back! Or, rather, Madeline. Adelle pays her a visit and gets her to come in for a diagnostic. Madeline, we see, is living the sweet life. It's unclear whether she was rich before, or if this is the spoils of an active's paycheck. At any rate, she gets a knock to the head while at Dollhouse headquarters, thanks to a hysterical Echo. Maybe this triggers the problems with November/Madeline that are eluded to in "Epitaph One?"
* Any idea why Sierra was put on the mommy job as well as Echo? Was it just to provide support for Echo? I guess new moms need a confidant, especially new moms with creepy, distant husbands. But it just seems like a waste of resources in this economy. Also, she wasn't really much help, was she?
* We get another glimpse of Alexis Denisof's Sen. Perrin. So far, his story seems to be all exposition. Though I am intrigued about who's leaking him information. Thoughts?
* All in all, I felt this was a bit of a comedown after last week's "Vows," but it was still a solid outing. Also, how devastating was it when Echo was pulled into the wipe room, screaming for her baby? Yeesh.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

A tale of two D-bags...

Since I've been very neglectful with the posting this week, just thought I'd take a few minutes to weigh in on two of the major TV stories circulating this week, both involving men who've made, um, questionable choices.
The first of these charming gentlemen is reality TV star, tabloid fixture and father of the year Jon Gosselin. Gosselin, as you surely know, was, until recently, the "Jon" in the TLC reality series "Jon & Kate Plus 8." Following his much-publicized divorce from Kate, the show was retooled and, this week, TLC announced it was retitling the series "Kate Plus 8." Shortly after, Jon suddenly decided that it was wrong for his eight children -- 5-year-old sextuplets and 8-year-old twins -- to be televised, and the show has been shut down indefinitely.
So Jon, let me get this straight -- for years, exploiting your children was just fine, but, the minute you're cut out of the fame and money loop it's wrong? Jon claims his decision was the result of an "epiphany." That epiphany being: "Oh my God -- I'm no longer famous! Even worse, my payday is gone! get...attention...and...screw over...ex-wife!"
While Jon was practicing his brand of douchebaggery, another, more famous and arguably more respected, TV personality was taking his own plunge into jerkhood. On Thursday night, "Late Night" host David Letterman stunned and confused the audience of his CBS talk show when he followed his usual monologue with a lengthy and bizarre description of a fellow CBS employee's attempt to blackmail him. By now you know all the details: the man, Robert Halderman (a producer for "48 Hours), allegedly threatened to expose that Letterman had sex with female employees, unless Letterman payed Halderman $2 million. Halderman has since been arrested and plead not guilty to the charges facing him. Letterman, meanwhile, used his TV show as a platform to confess to the affairs...sort of. If you can call that a confession.
Letterman began, out of nowhere, to talk about finding the blackmail package in his car, slowly leading up to his admission about the sex allegations and his admission that he had slept with women who worked on his show. But Letterman peppered his story with jokes (quipping that, as part of a sting against Haldeman, Letterman paid him the $2 million using one of those giant checks they give golf tournament winners) and his usual folksy mannerisms.
It wasn't the somber confession we've come to expect from public figures who admit to wrongdoing. In fact, the studio audience kept responding with laughter and applause, obviously thinking this was some sort of elaborate comedy bit. You can almost hear the confused fans muttering "Where is he going with this? What's the punchline?"
It was all so strange. Here was Letterman, admitting to something that was, at the very least, unethical and unwise, and treating the whole thing with an alarming degree of levity. Was it fascinating TV? Yes. Did it make me a little nauseous? That's an understatement.
Between this and the Jon debacle I can't help but ask: What is WRONG with our world? Have people no shame? At least Jon's toolish-ness might have a positive effect -- yanking "Plus 8" from the air and inadvertently giving his children some shot at a quasi-normal life. But he's still a jerk. And Letterman, while a talented entertainer, is a jerk as well. He can say that he wants to "protect" the people in his life from scandal following his ordeal, but then, why make jokes? Probably because that's what he does best. Probably because he saw humor as his only way to emerge from this whole thing with something approaching dignity. Has he maintained dignity? I don't think so. What will happen to him? I don't know.
But once again I must ask: What is WRONG with our world?