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Friday, December 16, 2011

Of boardwalks, back braces and Globes


This week in I Screen land, I offer my thoughts on the finales of "Boardwalk Empire" and "It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia," the sneak preview of "Luck" and the always amusing Golden Globe nominations. Read on if you dare.

"Boardwalk" goes where "Sons" fears to tread
Now that, friends, is how you do a season finale. This week, "Boardwalk Empire" wrapped up what turned out to be a devastatingly good second season with a shocking, but definitely earned, twist in which Nucky (Steve Buscemi) shot his surrogate son-turned adversary Jimmy (Michael Pitt), just when it seemed the two men were about to make an uneasy peace. Jimmy had forsaken his new allies and begged to return to Nucky's side. He and his sidekick Richard even killed a key witness against Nucky in the election tampering case. Alas, it wasn't enough. Of the two men who had betrayed him, Nucky chose to forgive his brother Eli and take Jimmy out. I guess blood triumphs over all -- even if blood think that "Julius Caesar" has a character in it named Eli.
It was ballsy, uncompromising and intelligent television. Yes, I'll miss Jimmy. But his demise what was this story was heading to. We'd seen him lose everything he held dear (with the exception of his poor son, now stuck with the predatory gargoyle Gillian for a mother) and learned that his story had pretty much been written years earlier. His death was heartbreaking and cruel. But it was necessary. And (spoiler) it only serves to further illuminate how last week's finale of  "Sons of Anarchy" -- which did backflips to avoid killing a character who absolutely needed to die -- had cheated its audiences.
You can call the "Boardwalk" denouement unfair and dark and game-changing, but you can't call it a cheat. Very, very well done end to a very, very well done season.
The return of the aluminum monster
On the other end of the finale scale was the season ender of "It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia," a show as coarse and crudely made as "Boardwalk" is eloquent and painstakingly crafted. Still, it, too had an excellent season, and seems to have been rejuvenated creatively by creator Rob McElhenney's decision to randomly gain 50 pounds. A weird, extreme choice, but it worked. This season offered some of the series' best episodes, including the instant classic "CharDeeMacDennis: The Game of Games." I even liked the season one universally hated episode -- "Frank's Brother." True, it was the weakest offering of the season, but even it wrung some genuine chuckles out of the gang's deadpan reactions to Frank's bizarre story.
The two-part finale -- in which the gang goes to their high school reunion and realizes anew what losers they are and have always been -- was mean, dark and very funny. If it had given us nothing but the final dance sequence (complete with Dee's squeaking back brace), it would have been worth it. But it also had Dennis's epic meltdown (both funny and intensely uncomfortable), return cameos by Judy Greer and Jason Sudeikis and the awesome revelation of Mac's real name (OK, it shouldn't be funny that his name is Ronald McDonald. But it is funny. It is screamingly, awesomely, tear-sheddingly funny).
I don't know how they can top this season, but, even if they don't, I'm happy for this batch of episodes.
"Luck" be a complicated, wordy, multi-character drama tonight!
In addition to the "Boardwalk" finale, HBO also aired a sneak preview of the pilot of its new drama "Luck" The show is highly anticipated, as it represents the return of "Deadwood" (and, um, "John From Cincinnati") creator David Milch to HBO. And, he's partnering with esteemed film director Michael Mann (who directed the pilot). And the show stars Dustin Hoffman, Nick Nolte and Dennis Farina.
As for my thoughts well, um, I kinda fell asleep for big chunks of it, and didn't quite understand a lot of the banter between the four track rats (this despite a husband who loves horse racing and has taken me to the track many, many times). But still, I have hope. "Deadwood" took a couple of episodes to truly take shape, and, with this cast and premise, "Luck" could evolve into something really special. Plus, I did dig the climactic chat between Farina and Hoffman, who have a lovely chemistry. So, fingers crossed.
Golden, Schmolden
And now, a few quick words on the Gold Globe nominations, which were announced on Thursday. Well, as usual, this particular kudos-fest picked a wacky assortment of quality shows and actors (Claire Danes, "Homeland," Bryan Cranston) and less-appealing, flavor of the month selections ("American Horror Story," Madeleine Stowe and, um, Callie Thorne -- who stars on a show that NO ONE I know has been able to watch for more than 10 minutes).
Look, I know the Hollywood Foreign Press doesn't really care about TV. And yes, I'm happy that they acknowledged "Homeland" on the same week that the Screen Actors Guild refused to admit it existed.
But they didn't nominate "Breaking Bad" for anything but Cranston. They refuse to believe "Justified" exists. And they are painfully trendy. But at least they're good for a few eye rolls.

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