Sunday, February 26, 2012

"Luck" recap: People, let me tell you about my best friend

From left: Joan Allen, Dustin Hoffman, John Ortiz and Dennis Farina on HBO's "Luck"

Spoilers for this week's episode of "Luck" below. Don't click through if you don't want to know.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

"Luck" recap: Becoming whole

A recap of this week's episode of "Luck" below. Don't click through if you don't want to know.

HBO: It's not TV. It's really, really uncomfortable TV

If there's any genre of TV about which I'm especially picky and critical, it's the squirmcom. You know what I'm referring to: that particular brand of comedy that finds its humor in horrifically awkward situations created by characters who have a staggering lack of awareness, both of themselves and the world they live in.
The two giants of this form of comedy are, of course Ricky Gervais -- who created the incredibly squirmy series "The Office" and "Extras" -- and HBO -- which aired "Extras," Larry David's masterpiece of squirm "Curb Your Enthusiasm" and the one-season squirmfest "The Comeback."
Tonight at 10:30, HBO will debut its latest partnership with Gervais, the mockumentary "Life's Too Short," featuring Warwick Davis, the dwarf actor best known for his work in movies like "Willow," the "Harry Potter" films and "Return of the Jedi" (he played an Ewok, a fact that's referenced endlessly in the three episodes I watched). At 10 p.m. HBO will also premiere the third season of its extremely squirmy "Eastbound and Down," which has become something of a cult hit, likely due to Danny McBride's impressively committed performance as boorish ballplayer Kenny Powers.
Both "Eastbound" and "Short" feature obnoxious characters who don't understand why the world doesn't bow at their feet. In "Short," Davis plays a particularly boorish version of himself. He steals all the best roles requiring a dwarf for himself, even though he's running a talent agency for other short-statured actors. He dumped his wife because he thought he could do better (and soon realizes that he can't, and repeatedly breaks into his ex's house). He insults fans and generally behaves like a jerk. I guess this is supposed to be funny, but Gervais and his producing partner Stephen Merchant have gone to this well once too often, and to better effect. Yes, the lead characters of "The Office" and "Extras" were jerks, but, in both cases, there were sympathetic supporting characters who balanced the shows and gave them a sense of realism. Here, all the supporting characters -- including heightened versions of Gervais and Merchant -- are just as annoying as Davis. In fact, a lot of people who pop up here are actually cruel to Davis, mocking his height and lowered celebrity profile. I guess we're supposed to enjoy people taking this pompous actor down a peg, but it just kind of made me sad. Slurs against someone's height, weight, race, gender or the like don't become funny simply because the person being slurred isn't likable. And that's what these are -- slurs. Calling a dwarf "it" isn't a joke that could be funny with the right delivery. It's an insult.
Yes, there are parts of "Short" that are funny -- mainly the cameos by such celebrities as Liam Neeson and Johnny Depp. And Davis is a good sport with a decent sense of timing. But, on balance, "Short" is a lot of discomfort with very little payoff.
However, I have become a fan of "Eastbound and Down," even though that show is incredibly uncomfortable, and lacks the veneer of sophistication that adorns the Gervais shows. I'm not sure why I like it, other than I simply find it funny. McBride, whether he has a career beyond this show or not, is amazingly willing to behave like a complete jerk. Kenny Powers isn't simply unsympathetic. He's reprehensible. This season features him trying to raise his baby son, and it's the rare time when I feel a TV baby is actually in danger. There are also various strange subplots, including a jaw-dropping one involving Will Ferrell's return as demented car salesman Ashley Schaeffer. The season that debuts tonight is supposed to be the show's final one, and that's probably for the best. I'm not sure the show could keep up this level of insanity much longer.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

"Luck" recap: The rise of the Four Amigos

Gary Stevens plays jockey Ronnie Jenkins in "Luck"
Spoilers for the third episode of "Luck" below. Don't click through if you don't want to know.

Brace yourself: The second half of "Walking Dead" season two might not be terrible

Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln) and Hershel Greene (Scott Wilson) - Photo Credit: Gene Page/AMC
Though it started strong in 2010, with a good pilot and a lot of buzz, AMC's zombie drama "The Walking Dead" seemed to have lost its way by season two. As the gang looked fruitlessly for little Sophia and found themselves setting up camp at the seemingly idyllic farm of Hershel Greene, the show offered precious little zombie action and a whole lot of talking. They talked about religion and relationships and the wisdom of raising children in an apocalyptic hellhole. They talked about fears and love and duty. They just talked. A lot. And it was boring. So, by the time the first half of the season came to what could have been a gripping conclusion -- Rick had to kill Sophia, who had been turned into a zombie and was living in Hershel's barn -- I just didn't care any more.
So, it's with some hesitation that I tell you that the first episode of the second season's second half (which airs tonight at 9) is pretty promising. In short, stuff happens. Nothing that really moves the plot dramatically forward, but stuff. There's one zombie jolt at the beginning, some decent imagery and a fairly tense confrontation in the final sequence between Rick (Andrew Lincoln), Hershel (Scott Wilson), Glenn (Steve Yeun) and a couple of creepy fellow survivors (one of who is played by the always-welcome Michael Raymond James of "Terriers"). It's a decently dread-filled episode and gave me some hope. The real question, however, is where will the show go from here? Will there actually be plot movement, gripping action sequences and real character development? Or will we just spend a bunch of episodes watching Shane (Jon Bernthal) glower and listening to everyone else contemplate giving him the boot? This episode, admittedly, contains a really frustrating sequence between two character, in which one espouses a theory about Shane that the audience knows is true, but which another character stupidly refuses to believe. So maybe my hope is misplaced.
But I like pieces of "The Walking Dead" enough to give it a shot. Here's hoping that this is the beginning of good things.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Seven things I learned from this year's Super Bowl

So, like a lot of people, I watch the Super Bowl primarily for the spectacle. Yeah, living New York-adjacent, I was happy the Giants won and all, but I was much more amped about Madonna playing "Like a Prayer" in the half-time show than I was about anything that happened in the game (side note -- so M.I.A. made an obscene gesture during the show? How did I miss that???!).
Anyway, the big draw for Super Bowl viewers like me is usually the commercials. Sadly, this year's crop was kind of weak, though I did have few favorite. I also found the commercials fairly educational in a way. Below is my list of seven things I learned from this year's crop of commercials. Enjoy.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

"Luck" recap: Exposition city

Spoilers for this week's episode of "Luck" below. Don't click through if you don't want to know.