Tuesday, February 23, 2010

"Lost" recap: The Number 23

This post contains spoilers for this week's episode of "Lost." Don't click through if you haven't seen it.

"Men of a Certain Age" finale recap: "Back in the S---"

Just wanted to offer a few quick words about the season finale of TNT's "Men of a Certain Age." Back when this show was first announced, I was both excited and skeptical.
I was excited because it starred three of my favorite TV actors -- Ray Romano, Andre Braugher and Scott Bakula. But I was skeptical because I wasn't sure how these three very different performers would mesh on-screen.
I needn't have worried. Together they made one of the most disarming, likable ensembles on TV. It was because of the performers that I stuck with the show through any potential rough spots (its characterizations of women still need some work) and kept coming back.
In this week's finale, we found our three leads reaching some some of tentative peace. Joe (Romano), after a tense night out with his son, has vowed to quit gambling. He's done it before and, since this is only the first season, I doubt he'll be able to just drop it cold turkey. That wouldn't be realistic, and one of this show's strengths is its realism. But I also don't want to watch a show in which we slowly watch Joe's gambling problem destroy his life. Here's hoping they strike a balance.
Owen (Braugher) , meanwhile, quit his dad's dealership and found a new gig at a rival joint. Though he thrived there, he and his dad agreed that the new job wasn't really what either of them wanted. Thus, Owen became manager of his dad's dealership. Whether that will work out remains to be seen. Owen suddenly became more motivated once he went to the new dealership, and maybe he'll carry some of that zip into the management job. But I forsee a lot of clashes with would-be manager Marcus.
Meanwhile, Terry (Bakula) seems to have temporarily abandoned acting for a gig at the dealership, once he realized that his old acting "friends" were just using him. Of the three guys, Bakula got the best material this episode -- a rarity for the series, which usually gives the meatier stuff to Braugher or Romano. Terry's meltdown during the hike was a season high point for Bakula, and he nailed it, seeming both pathetic and utterly relatable.
All in all, a solid finale, and one that has me interested in seeing where the guys are headed. Thoughts?

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

"Lost" recap: The simple things in life are all complicated

This week on "Lost," we got a glimpse of the non-Swan life of one John Locke, got a little more insight into the mysteries of the island, and learned why it is VERY important to throw away the used coffee filters.
Spoilers below

Monday, February 15, 2010

Put a period on it: A plea to "Big Love"

Some months ago, I had been toying with the idea of doing a weekly recap on "Big Love," much like the ones I've done on "Mad Men," "Lost," and "True Blood." But I didn't, for a number of reasons. A) I didn't really have the time and B) there's just too much going on!
Yes, I realize that I write about "Lost," which is far twistier and more complex than "Big Love." But, while "Lost" is, in many ways, a messy show, it's a controlled mess. "Big Love," with its ever-growing web of plotlines and character relationships, is really starting to spiral out of control.
When it began, "Big Love" was about a man, Bill Hendrickson (Bill Paxton) with three wives (Jeanne Tripplehorn, Chloe Sevigny and Gennifer Godwin). The show was about how this unconventional family functioned, and how Bill balanced his many home responsibilities with running a business (a home improvement store) and engaging in power struggles with the local demigogue, Roman Grant (Harry Dean Stanton).
The show, from the beginning, had a lot of balls in the air. But that was OK. After all, this was the story of a man trying to take on too much. A little chaos in the story-telling was par for the course.
However, over its past few seasons, "Big Love" has kept adding stories and complications. In addition to the wives, the power struggle and the home improvement business, Bill's taken on running a casino and running for office. If that weren't enough, all the other characters have multiple plotlines as well.
We've seen Nikki (Sevigny) struggle with her identity, deal with the discovery of her long-lost daughter, confront waning feelings for Bill and learn that her widowed mother was marrying Nikki's ex-husband. Meanwhile, Margene (Godwin) is running a business, dealing with her feelings for Bill's eldest son, and still trying to claw out a place in Bill's family. And Barb -- look I don't even know what's going on with Barb this season.
In previous seasons, Barb has been a wise mother hen, full of love but also capable of manipulation. This season, however, she's become a bit of a dummy, incapable of handling her responsibilities at home or at the casino.
And don't even get me started on the storylines of the show's many, many supporting characters.
To make matters worse, last night the show added yet another plot thread -- the re-appearance of Ana, who was briefly Bill's fourth wife. Ana, as it turns out, is pregnant with Bill's baby. Sigh.
There's still a lot I love about this show, particularly the acting. The women are all good, with Sevigny a standout as the angry, damaged Nikki. The show also is capable of delivering strong moments, like the harrowing bit from a few weeks ago when Bill forced loyal sidekick Don to out himself as a polygamist for the good of Bill's campaign.
But the good stuff often gets lost in the midst of so many twists and turns. It needs to focus. And, in my view, there's no better way to do that than by setting an end date for the series. When the creative forces behind a show know they have a time limit, they're more likely to pull things together. Just look at "Lost." Look at how much more organized it became once it had an end date. Also, "The Shield," while always strong, had a particular clarity in its final season. And the main reason "The Sopranos" floundered in some of its later seasons was that David Chase and HBO kept delaying their end date.
When will the TV powers that be learn that putting a period on a show's run only helps it creatively? Wouldn't the TV powers that be rather guide still-excellent shows gently to their finish, instead of yanking them off the air when a dissatisfied public jumps ship?

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

"Lost" recap: Aaron has two mommies

WARNING: Don't continue unless you want spoilers on this week's "Lost."

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

"Lost" season premiere recap: WTF?

"Lost" has always been a high-degree of difficulty series. I mean, asking fans to accept multiple timelines, enigmatic characters and MONSTERS, FOR GOD'S SAKE -- it's demanding a lot from an audience.
But, on last night's season premiere, "Lost" -- to paraphrase the show itself -- brought crazy to a whole other level by practically splitting into two separate shows. That's right -- none of this flashforward/flashback baby nonsense. Now we're into full on alternate realities, which may or may not converge at some point.
Argh! My brain! Ow! Ow! Ow!
Spoilers on the season premiere, "LAX Part 1 and Part 2," below.
The show picked up where last season left off, with Juliet covering the world in white light by detonating the hydrogen bomb in the yet-to-be-built Swan site. Quickly, the white light transformed into the view outside the window of a plane -- yep, we're back on Flight 815, with a fresh-looking Jack sitting in his seat. The bomb has re-set everything! Rose is sitting next to Jack, waiting for Bernard to come back from the bathroom, just as she was before the plane crashed on Crazy Ass Island. And hey! It's Cindy the stewardess, before she was kidnapped by the Others! The plane shakes. Jack is tense. Rose consoles him. Jack is still tense and the plane continues to shake until...it stops. Nothing. The plane crash doesn't happen. We've officially entered into an alternate reality, where the plane doesn't crash and Bernie finally gets to finish going to the bathroom and make it back to his seat. Of course, there are few things different about THIS 815 flight. For one thing, Desmond's on it. There's something else different, too. As the camera pans out the window, it heads down, down, down into the water. Underwater, we see what looks like a sunken city and...Oh my God! Is that the four-toed foot statue?? Is the island under water now? WHAT THE HELL IS GOING ON?
To make things even more confusing, when we return from commercial break, we're back on the original, non-sunken island, where our heroes are no  longer in the 1970s following the blast. They wake up and realize that...they're standing near the pit left when Desmond blew up the Swan. So, the Swan was built. The bomb didn't work.
OK, so, now we're dealing with two separate realities: what happen if the bomb worked and what happened if it didn't work. It's sort of like the Gwyneth Paltrow movie "Sliding Doors," only with gunshot wounds, hippie monks and druggie rock 'n' rollers.
Gotcha. So how long will this last? Will the show just keep tooting along in two separate realities, never telling us which one is "real"? Or, will it, just like in the Paltrow movie, finding a way to eliminate one of the realities, revealing one of them as the truth path? Who knows? But, for the purposes of expediency, I'm surmising the rest of the episode in two parts: If the Bomb Worked and If the Bomb Failed.
If the Bomb Worked:
In this new 815 flight -- the one that doesn't crash -- most of the characters are back to behaving the way they did when we first met them. Jack is earnest and helpful and hasn't yet become the self-righteous asshat we now know. Kate is in cuffs, seated next to a very much alive marshal. Sawyer is rakish and nicknamey (he calls Cindy "Earhart." Ha ha!). And Charlie -- wait, Charlie is alive! And Boone! Boone is alive, too, and seated near a still-paralyzed Locke. The two of them talk and...is that Frogurt in between them, taking a nap? Ah, Frogurt. My only regret about this alternate reality so far is that you might not get hit with a flaming arrow. We see other familiar faces, too, including Dr. Arzt, who is still in one piece, and still annoying. He's chatting with Hurley, who, apparently, still owns Mr. Cluck's. Which, apparently, didn't blow up. Whah? Why? Well, as he tells a mystified Sawyer, "Nothing bad ever happens to me. I'm the luckiest guy alive." Really? What happened to the cursed Hurley we all know and love? Perhaps, if the Swan was never built, then Hurley's lottery numbers didn't come from the lid. Maybe they weren't cursed. Maybe they were just numbers. OK, now I'm starting to wig out a little.
Later on, Jack and Sayid help save Charlie, who's choking on a bag of drugs in the bathroom. Guess if the plane doesn't crash, he can try to get his fix after all. When Jack saves him, Charlie is arrested. As he's led away in cuffs, Charlie ruefully tells Jack that he never should have saved him. "I was supposed to die," he says. Jack is taken aback. Clearly, those words mean something to him. Something deeper than what Charlie intends. In fact, Jack is the only one who seems to be having deja vu throughout the flight. He panics during the turbulence. He recognizes Desmond from somewhere, though it could be from that morning run they shared back when Jack was still trying to save Sarah. But he feels...something.
Anyway, off the flight, Jack's father's body is missing. So is Locke's bag. The two of them chat while waiting in the airport. It's funny to see the two former enemies enjoying each others company. Locke shows that he's still the philospher he was when we first met him, telling Jack it's just his father's body that's gone -- not his father. Jack, grateful for the comfort, tells Locke to come by for a free consult. Maybe he can help Locke with his spinal injury. Hmm. Could we be setting up a future where Jack is obsessed with saving Locke, rather than with besting him in a game of Island One-Upmanship?
Meanwhile, Kate escapes the marshal, makes a break for it and ends up sharing a cab with...Claire!Yay! Claire's back! And sitting, terrified, in the back seat of a cab with the woman who will steal her son in an alternate reality that may or may not be the true reality.
Oh, brother.
If the Bomb Didn't Work:
Back in "we're still on the island" land, Sawyer is pissed at Jack for getting them involved in the whole Dharma-pocalypse and, he thinks, killing Juliet. Even worse, he thinks the whole thing was for nothing, as they're still on the island and the Swan was still built. Jack is devastated and mortified. But there's a glimmer of hope when the gang hears Juliet scream. They unearth her and Sawyer goes down to see her. She tells him about the bomb, and how she detonated it, because she wants him to be happy. She says she has something important to tell him, then dies in Sawyer's arms. Meanwhile, Sayid is also dying, and Hurley gets a visit from Jacob, who suggests taking Sayid to the temple. So wait -- Hurley isn't crazy? He really can see did people? Or can he only see magical dead people, like Jacob?
Anyway, he tells Jin he needs to go to the Temple, and they head there with Jack and Kate. Meanwhile, Sawyer and Miles stay behind to bury Juliet. Sawyer wants Miles to talk to Juliet. He does, and he finds out what she wanted to tell Sawyer: "It worked." Sawyer is confused. What worked? Well, of course, we know that the bomb worked, and that there's another reality where Sawyer is flirting with a handcuffed Kate in an elevator. Or, possibly dead Juliet is talking about something else. I don't know. The dead are so cryptic.
Speaking of which, Hurley and co. arrive at the temple, which appears to be populated with monks and hippies. Oh great -- just what this show needed. Yet another society living on the island. There, they see a familiar face -- Cindy the stewardess. Also, John Hawkes from "Deadwood" and "Eastbound and Down" is there, and sporting a disconcerting hairdo. They ask what the gang wants. Hurley replies that Jacob sent him, and hands over the guitar case which, as it turns out, contains a giant ankh, which, in turn, contains a note. The head monk and John Hawkes read the note and agree to help Sayid...by drowning him? Where's the logic, guys? After being submerged in an icky pool somehow doesn't help Sayid, all seems lost (hey, that's the name of the show!). The monks also drag in Miles and a roughed-up Sawyer. Through all this, Jack is uncharacteristically quiet. He seems morose. Beaten. For once, Jack doesn't have a plan. The monk asks to talk to him. Jack resists and, as the fight, Sayid pops back to life. What the hell is going on!!??
Meanwhile, on the other side of the Island, we learn that Fake Locke/The Man in Black is actually the smoke monster, and he unleashes hell on a bunch of the "What lies in the shadow of the statue" crew. Apparently, they're Jacob's bodyguards, or something.
Ben is mystified by all of this, and Michael Emerson gets ample opportunity to try out his wide repetoire of "Oops, I crapped my pants" expressions. Awesome. Smoke Monster Locke tells Ben that he wants the one thing that real Locke didn't: to go home. But where is home? Seriously, does the monster really have, like, a nice little cape somewhere in the midwest? Where is he planning to go?
Ben and Smoke Monster Locke exit the base of the statue to see a pissed off Richard. SML tells Richard it's nice to see him out of his chains. "You!" exclaims Richard. "Me," replies SML, and then he clocks Richard.
OK, I'm totally confused. But I'm really intrigued, and fascinated to see where they're going with this.
Here are a few more thoughts:
* In alternate flight land, Jin and Sun are still having problems, and she lets the cops take him away for undeclared cash. Wait, we finally see Jin and Sun together again, and it's THIS Jin and Sun? Unfair!
* Why was Desmond on the plane?
* Furthermore, why wasn't SHANNON on the plane? We saw Boone, but he was alone. He told Locke that he tried to get his sister out of a bad relationship that she didn't want to leave.  How did the Swan not being built affect her?
OK, I have to go. Please share your thoughts below.