Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Five Questions for Mad Men Season 4

The end of Mad Men’s Season 3 saw Don Draper’s work and home life in a state of flux. He’s entering a world without Betty and into a new business with familiar faces. With this universe upheaval comes some questions for the season premiere airing this Sunday on AMC at 10pm.

1.What’s ahead for Sterling Cooper Draper and Pryce?
When Roger and Don stood in the gutted Sterling Cooper offices at the beginning/end of their coup Roger asked, "How long do you think it'll take us to be in a place like this again?" to which Don replied, "I never saw myself working in a place like this."

We can probably assume the days of hard drinking, endless partying and general debauchery are over in the new company. Who would they party with anyway? There’s so few of them. But it also means an end to doing business the old way. Don has always been a master salesman; it’s his true gift. But after the falling out with Conrad Hilton, I can’t help but think the new agency will go about their business in a very different, much more progressive way. I like this idea from the context of the show because it gives the chance for business to change with the times. These are the sixties after all.

2.The Draper marriage, kaput or on hiatus?
Season 3 ended with Betty on a plane to Reno alongside new beau Henry Francis and Don promising to not meddle in the split. It also detailed painfully just how difficult a divorce like this would be on their kids as they sat watching television without either parent.

Given that January Jones is up for an Emmy, she will certainly continue to be a major focus of the show. But how? Does she realize life with Henry isn’t so different from life with Don? Does Don do what he does when he’s trying to land an elusive account? Make great sales pitch after great sales pitch? Or do they reconcile Tony and Carmela-style with more a business approach to fidelity than a loving one? Whatever the answer, there’s no easy way to completely separate them.

3.Is Don finally over Dick Whitman?
The end of Season 3 showed us the death of Dick Whitman’s father (murder by horse hoof). And with it, I can’t help but feel the story of Don’s secret life may finally be over. To some degree that happened when Betty found his memory box, and in some ways freed Don from his past.

Much of Mad Men has been about the Don vs. Dick debate waging inside Jon Hamm’s character, but the move out of his old office, his heartfelt pleas to retain Peggy and Pete, his divorce and final move into the new company looks like it could finally merge the two personas into a powerful and personal combination. Or he could remain dichotomous but now with an Old Don vs. New Don inner debate.

4.How goes the empowerment of Peggy Olsen?
Peggy has always been, in my opinion, the most mysterious of all Mad Men characters (outside of Don, of course), mainly because I’ve struggled to come to grips with her motivation. Is she searching solely for respect? Does she want to believe in herself? Does she just yearn for success? Or does she epitomize the gaining steam of Women’s Lib Movement? This last one is probably the best explanation; she wants equality after all. But Peggy goes about her empowerment more as a one-on-one war without involving the strength of her sisters. If anything, she just doesn’t get other women and doesn’t understand their complacency. Is this the season she has an awakening outside of her own job?

5.Mad Men and the Vietman War?
Historical events have mostly operated around the periphery (and sometimes in the margins) of Mad Men. Of course the Kennedy assassination in the penultimate episode of season 3 was a story in and of itself, whereas things like the Cuban Missile Crisis and Marilyn Monroe’s death were dealt with in the context of how Sterling Cooper did business.

But like JFK, the Vietnam War is just too big to ignore or cast off as a simple historical subplot. As we saw in Kevin Arnold’s kitchen in The Wonder Years, the Vietnam War was the first one televised and these guys work in advertising. Is the war an opportunity for them? A distraction? An office joke? (Mad Men has joked about worse.) Whatever it becomes, the war will certainly play a role.
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Monday, July 12, 2010

Huge Reaction - Live Action Role Play (I wish the real world would just stop hassling me)

I’m excited to lose weight, I think. I just can’t imagine what it will be like, if it’ll actually change anything. - Alistair

“Live Action Role Play” showed us each character seeking a little power in his or her life, real or fantasy. All of these kids came to Camp Victory to lose weight, but beyond that, they’ve also come seeking something else. Whether it’s love, friendship or confidence they’ve come looking for a way to feel accepted, which isn’t easy for everyone. Because even at Camp Victory, solely populated by a group of kids who’ve surely been picked on their entire lives, some still can’t help reveling in the ability to finally be the one throwing sticks and stones rather than deflecting them, making Alistair’s quote even more prescient. Read the rest of my reaction at CinemaBlend.
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Saturday, July 10, 2010

Friday Night Lights Reaction - I Can't (The Kids Aren't Alright)

"I Can't" dealt with two heavy issues without ever getting heavy handed about any debate. Instead, the writers focused on kids making adult choices. Above all, Friday Night Lights is a story about growing up and Becky and Vince were forced into impossible situations. Continue reading my full reaction at CinemaBlend. Read more!

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Emmy Nominations: Outstanding Drama Screws the Pooch

I'm not asking a great deal from the Emmy's. I generally don't care too much. But when two clearly undeserving shows make the list over two of the best shows of the season? Then my friends, we have a problem. Read the entire rant on CinemaBlend. Read more!

Monday, July 5, 2010

Huge Reaction - Letters Home

“Letters Home” began to explore the pain these kids feel concerning the outside world while they continue to find their own place in Camp Victory. If the outside world has chosen to mock and deride these kids for their weight, Camp Victory forces them into the very situations with which they’ve become the most uncomfortable. There is logic in this strategy. After all, once a camper leaves Victory, the same problems still exist. So goal one seems to be “lose weight.” But goal two is “learn to deal, because the world’s a mean place.” You can read the rest of my reaction at CinemaBlend. Read more!

Friday Night Lights Reaction - The Lights of Carroll Park (I feel a lot better now)

"The Lights of Carroll Park embodied much of what we've come to know and love about Friday Night Lights. Finally taking to the time to explore the pain behind Vince's struggle to do right made a character out of just a role. You can read the rest of my reaction on CinemaBlend television. Read more!

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

American Idol Review - The Top Two (Is the winner clear? Crystal)

Tonight wrapped up a down year for Idol in terms of talent. I know that's been written about ad nauseum, but it's true. Thankfully, the best two made it to the finals and had decent performances tonight. Read my reaction at CinemaBlend where I break down each song. Read more!

24 Finale Reaction - The Final Beeps (Thanks Jack)

Last night was the series finale of 24. Jack spent his last hours as a man on a mission and the show wrapped up a remarkable, and groundbreaking run. Jack was always a symbol of justice (however flawed the means) and stayed true to his character throughout the show's run. Check out my reaction to the last moments of the real-time classic on CinemaBlend. Read more!

Monday, May 24, 2010

Lost Reaction - The End (A World Apart)

One of my biggest fears in recent memory centered on whether the Lost series finale would live up to expectation. After all, like you, I’d spent incalculable hours over the last six years watching, reading about, discussing, re-watching, re-discussing, analyzing and writing about a series that defied so many television conventions that it probably entered into a genre all its own (serial, sci-fi comicbook romance we’ll call it).

I didn’t know what my expectation was exactly, and I wasn’t the kind of person who sat on the edge of my seat waiting to hear why exactly Walt was so special or why in God’s name the writers ever decided to introduce Dogen and the Temple-ites so late in the game only to kill them off. I’m a classic nitpicker, but for the Lost finale I was willing to just go along for the ride. So I was afraid, not that my questions wouldn’t be answered, but that the finale would instead leave me wanting too much more of something I knew I’d never get. It was an almost impossible situation as a viewer, but as Jack laid down in the bamboo patch and closed his eyes I felt oddly satisfied; pleased even.

Lost is many things. It’s a story about love and violence, morals and monsters, time travel and numbers, plane crashes and pushing buttons, questions and some answers (that often led to more questions), commitment and family, The Others and The Tailies, good and evil, friendship and choices. These are only some of the things that Lost encompassed and making a list of everything that happened on the most mysterious island ever is a fool’s errand. Ultimately, Lost was about what you wanted it to be.

Like the characters, the island (and Lost itself) means different things to different people. Were you like Jack who never, until the very, very end knew exactly what he wanted from the island? Were you Ben, who just wanted a little power over it and a little understanding so the whole story (and all the work) wasn’t for nothing? Were you Hurley, who just basically, also until the end, saw the island as one big form of entertainment? Were you Sun and Jin that saw the time on the island as a love story? Were you Sawyer who ended up there by accident and just could never get the hell off? The island is a metaphor for a lot of things and one of them is for how we watch television.

Some people will be disappointed by the two and a half hour finale. That’s inevitable. It won’t take on the vitriol of The Sopranos ending and we mercifully weren’t subjected to a cut to black (or to the Lost sign) without some stories wrapping up. Were all the questions answered? Of course not, we knew that going in. But did “The End” serve as a culminating piece of work that acted as a definitive stopping point? Most assuredly.

If you loved Lost for the characters and the stories, then “The End” was nothing short of a masterstroke (cheesy religious overtones aside). It brought to light (no not that light) an over-arcing sense of finality and closure to the relationships that vacillated back and forth from the very first episode to the final closing seconds. If stories are circular, then Lost told its in a spiral; where we started on the outside, walked to the middle and walked right back out to the start.

I don’t know if it’s worth recapping all of the machinations that brought the Losties back together in the church (or gateway to Heaven, or whatever it was) and I actually don’t think it’s worth getting too caught up in where exactly the sideways story was happening (purgatory maybe?). Because to do that would be to miss the jungle for the trees. It never really mattered where Oceanic 815 landed in the first place. Sure it was the coolest island ever, and for that purpose it acted as more a plot device than a central idea. If you saw it that way, then “The End” was satisfying and final.

If you we were caught up in the mythology, the mystery, the Dharma initiative, the button, the light, the underground island shifting donkey wheel, and other mysteries, then “The End” was most likely one big long disappointment. I hope that wasn’t the case because Lost told its story with a singular purpose: keep these people together for better or worse. And, in “The End” we understood they were forever attached.
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Sunday, May 16, 2010

Friday Night Lights Reaction - After the Fall (Picking up the pieces)

"After the Fall" is exactly where this week's episode picked up, a day after the characters had reached new lows. Coach Taylor forfeited, Riggins is homeless and Saracen doesn't know which direction he's headed Click here to read the rest at Cinemablend. Read more!

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Friday Night Lights Reaction - East of Dillon

Although Friday Night Lights has already run its course on DirectTv this year, the show returned to NBC on Friday to begin its fourth season. Simply stated, Friday Night Lights is on the short list of best television shows out there right now. It is a program that clicks on almost every conceivable level from dramatic, to humorous, to touching, to tough, to redeeming. Friday Night Lights sets the bar extremely high for what a network, hour-long drama can accomplish if given the freedom to create something outside the normal realm of crime-solving stand alones.

Coach Taylor’s (and half the town’s students) move to newly reopened but overly dilapidated East Dillon High (with its equally rundown supply of quality football players) has the town divided between the haves and have nots. When the town redistricted, at the behest and direction of Joe McCoy: the wealthy thug and father of suddenly very douchebaggy, star quarterback J.D., it set in motion an outline of how far down people are willing to go on the morality scale in order to ensure a winning football product. “East of Dillon” did as much to remind us of the built tension between Taylor and McCoy (with Tami caught directly in the middle) as it did to remind us what happens to those who finished high school, but can’t ever really leave Dillon.

Tim Riggins lasted, what appears to be, exactly two weeks in college before deciding higher education wasn’t really his thing. Not surprising considering he barely graduated high school. But he, along with Matt Saracen who forewent a chance at art school in Chicago to take care of his ailing grandmother, offer harsh glimpses of how quickly the high school football star falls after throwing their caps in the air at graduation. This is somewhat new ground for Friday Night Lights, but an important look at how the world forgets, almost instantaneously, your exploits on the gridiron. And while Riggins never struck me as the kind of guy (or Saracen for that matter) who reveled too much in the glory football provided him its another thing to look at the lack of prospects for guys hanging around the town that once provided them with an insular bubble of local fame. Riggins’s return home to an unwelcoming brother and pregnant sister-in-law, subsequent sleeping with the towny, quasi milf bartender, and breakdown of his truck mean he may have left high school, but he’s just still the same Tim Riggins.

It’s clear from the beginning of the episode that this season of Friday Night Lights will be about Taylor’s forced reclamation project of a football team. It’s an interesting move from the writers’ standpoints seeing as how there weren’t too many more directions for Taylor to go with the powerhouse Panthers. The rebuilding process comes in a variety of forms from fixing a field littered with beer bottles, ridding raccoon-infested locker rooms of vermin, and training a group of players that not only lack the respect Taylor once enjoyed, but the relative discipline he once maintained in his old digs. The reclamation also comes in the form of running back Vince Howard (the anti-Smash Williams) who’s quiet and subdued, but also a kid looking to avoid going to juvenile hall with another offense against his record.

And although we were treated to a signature “Clear eyes, full hearts...can’t lose,” before the first game, the tale on the field told something completely different. The East Dillon crew, so overmatched and underprepared, forced Taylor to reevaluate his mission at halftime. This final scene of the episode encompassed everything beautiful and perfect about Friday Night Lights. With Sufjan Stevens’s “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing” playing in the background, Taylor sized up his battered army, the players that stuck with him (including Landry), the players that emulated Taylor’s toughness in their refusal to admit pain or defeat and he saw the scene through clear eyes that told him he had begun to shape young men again, but a full heart that knew he couldn’t send them back out on to the field. So he forfeited, but I saw this less an admission of defeat and more prologue to a long season; a sign that although a battle may be lost, the war is what counts.

Other thoughts:

- While I’m not necessarily happy it happened, it was an interesting direction to go with J.D.’s character as he became the typical cliché, QB-1 for a winning football program. The show has been almost devoid of guys like this (Smash for all his “me first” attitude, was still extremely likable), even though they exist in every town in America.

- I know a couple of guys just like new assistant coach Stan Traub. A guy so excited to just be doing something he loves, he can’t come up with a single thought of his own. He added some much needed comic relief to a heavy episode.

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Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Lost - Sundown: The Long Journey Right Back to the Middle

Either the Lost writers are total geniuses and are building to something so unbelievably awesome that I can’t conceivably predict what it might be; or more likely, they have totally gone off the rails and spent the last couple of years throwing darts at an “idea board” in the hope that something would stick. After last night’s “Sundown,” I am going with the latter. I have a great deal of patience with Lost; even writing last week that I was content to sit back and watch the cards fall as they may. I wrote about how my patience level remained intact because of the character development-focus this season had employed. And then I watched “Sundown,” and instantly dismissed any positive collateral I’d kept from “The Lighthouse.”

“Sundown” was a classic example of marketing a solution to a problem needlessly created. Think: cutting down trees that could fall on powerlines. It makes no sense to punish the tree for our own folly. This is exactly what Lost has done with Esau AKA Dead Locke AKA the Smoke Monster. To illustrate, I’ll start with the ending of the episode first where Smokey runs roughshod through the temple scooping up those unfortunate few stupid enough to stick around the temple after the sun went down. Smokey picked off each one by one, except for Kate (hid with Claire), Miles, French chick, et al (hid in the wall?). He was like Terry Tate Office Linebacker but less funny. My problem with the Smoke Monster here isn’t his inclusion in the story necessarily because the concept is fine. It's his sudden all-encompassing importance in the storyline. A storyline, I might mention, that has been seemingly created out of nowhere for the sake of creating a new antagonist in a place (the coolest, craziest island of all time) that didn’t need anything else pushing the protagonists anymore.

Of all the questions Lost has created over the years (too many to count), why would the writers choose to make this storyline the central focus of the show’s last season? Ignoring for a second the alternate timeline, a total throwaway in this episode, the Lost writers have gone a long way to basically find themselves right back square in the middle of a plot line that makes almost no sense. Sure it boils down to the fight between good and evil (I assume), but they’ve done it in a way equivalent to an author starting off a chapter by saying, “In this chapter I will talk about how evil so and so is and I will show you that when he kills someone.” Is the Smoke Monster evil? Of course, we knew that in previous seasons. Is it an all-powerful being, a literal unstoppable force, with end game unknown? For the most part. Can it inhabit and change others? It appears so. Did we need four episodes of new character intros (Dogen, his translator) only to have Sayid unceremoniously kill them just to prove the point? I vote no. It’s just lazy and needless. It’s especially puzzling because it begs the point: why bring Dogen and his crew in the temple in at all? Smokey destroyed it just to prove to us that he’s got some violent chops. Again, we already knew that.

So now the temple is gone (back to square one), Claire and Sayid are with Smokey (nothing really too outlandish considering Sayid’s character would probably never be redeemed), Kate is with them (not for long), Miles, Sun, Lapidus and the French chick are in the wall (starting the resistance?) and that’s about it.

Another frustrating aspect of Esau’s recruitment of the various Losties is how exactly he sways them. You can get off the island and go home, you can get Nadia back. Great, except that this theme has been retread ad nauseum throughout the entire history of the show. If Lost has proved one thing it's this: Once you’re there, you really can’t leave. You can even blow up a nuclear bomb. You know what happens? You end up right back on the island. Once you lose something, it’s gone. Even if the characters are inclined to believe him, why should the viewers? Ultimately, that might be the point: empty promises are just that. They are especially false coming from something evil like smokey. Or maybe he really IS the only way off. I suspect Sayid and crew will learn it the hard way.

Now, the diagonal time reality. (I really don’t know what else to call it). This episode’s arc with Sayid reuniting (kind of) with Nadia was particularly frustrating in its lack of movement. Again, here, Lost goes a real long way to end up in the exact same place. The diagonal reality is supposed to mirror the island story line in its themes and character development. We learn that as much as Sayid wants to be a good and peaceful guy, he can’t. Again, this is something we were already well aware of. Did we really need him popping off some low level mafiosos (even if one was the soldier from two seasons ago, don’t remember his name) in order to show that Sayid is too far gone to ever seek redemption? I am growing increasingly concerned that the diagonal reality theme is strictly a device to show that these characters are hopelessly connected for better or worse. In this case they’ve done almost too much showing and not enough telling. Throwing random Lost folks into each of these little flash sideways lost its appeal totally for me during this episode. Because the more they bring them in, and kill them off, the less and less it means to everything else that’s already happened. Even finding Jin in the freezer wasn’t enough to pull everything back towards any intrigue because at this point, who the hell cares how Jin got there?

Next week will almost certainly be a Jin or Sun-centric episode where we find out exactly how diagonal Jin got out of the airport security and into the freezer. It will probably mirror some problem Jin is having on the island (finding Sun, etc), but it’s just too much too late. Until all characters are reunited and begin conflicting on a meaningful level, the rest of the story is strictly filler.

Look, I’m not saying I need answers all the time. And I certainly don’t mind new answers producing new questions; that’s one of Lost’s go-to devices after all. The problem with “Sundown,” was that it gave us neither. Literally, nothing was accomplished. Nothing of real, end of series, only a limited number of episodes left, importance. Again, Lost went a long way to bring us right back to the beginning of the episode.

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Monday, March 1, 2010

This Rotten Week - Alice and Brooklyn's Finest

Do you know what people do when they hit rock bottom? When they're out of options? When they find themselves in their backyard, in a t-shirt, in the middle of winter getting pelted with tomatoes because they're convinced of some movie critic conspiracy out to get them? What do they do? They get help and go back for some more. That's what they do. Click here to read the rest of this article. Read more!

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Rules of Engagement Season 3 Review

I realized something pretty quickly while watching the first minute of Rules of Engagement's Season Three premiere: I don't watch any shows with laugh tracks. I hadn't really thought about this at all until the first line of the episode. Patrick Warburton and David Spade sat around in a diner, one of them said something supposedly witty and the "studio audience" erupted in laughter. I almost did a double take. Had it really been that long since I watched a show where I was, in essence, being told when to laugh? Click here to continue reading this review on Cinemablend. Read more!

Thursday, February 25, 2010

American Idol Reaction - Top 12 Guys

Tonight the Top 12 guys performed on Idol. To say it was rough would be a massive understatement. At this point I can safely plug Casey James and Andrew Garcia into the next round. Otherwise almost every other performer tonight could take a hike and I wouldn’t bat an eye (believe me, it’s no secret these two went last tonight). Click here to read the rest of the post on CinemaBlend. Read more!

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Lost Reaction - The Lighthouse

If we learned something from the "The Lighthouse" it was this: sometimes just sitting back and listening is the best way to find the most important answers. I can imagine Lost fans are reaching their breaking point. With every episode that goes by and some major question isn’t answered the more people are tuning in and thinking, “What the hell is going on here?!?! Get on with it already!” I was definitely right in the same boat. Every time a Lost promo promised to have “Questions answered,” I got my hopes up a little more that I’d learn everything Island-related. Typically I’d leave each episode frustrated. Until last night. I decided to take a new approach. Like a performing a trust fall where I needed to assume someone was there to catch me when I fell back blindly; I’ve decided to do the same with the Lost writers. I decided to just sit back, relax and trust that the writers would take care of the rest. “The Lighthouse” was the perfect episode to start this new line of thinking.

Jack-centric episodes are usually my favorite because he, and to some extent Locke, are the most complex, frustrating and tortured people in the Lost universe. For better or worse, and in Jack’s case it’s usually for worse, they make decisions based on this unrelenting need to find and fix something in their other’s lives. That Jack usually does the thing exact opposite of what he should makes episodes like “The Lighthouse” even that much more intriguing. But where “The Lighthouse” differs from many of these other episodes is that, for the first time, Jack’s machinations and choices seem to serve some greater, and hopefully more positive, purpose. When he and Hurley set off into the woods on Jacob's quest I couldn’t help but wonder what stupid, ignorant or misguided thing Jack would do to unknowingly f-up his current situation. I didn’t have to wait long because when he smashed the compass mirror I mumbled, “Here we go again.” But who can blame the guy?

If any character reflects the feelings of the entire Lost fan-base it’s Jack. He was the one, like us, that couldn’t wait to get back to the island. He needed to get back to island because “I was broken and I was stupid enough to think this place could fix me.” What Lost fan hasn’t thought some approximation of those words along the way? Jack is the one constantly, and fruitlessly searching for answers. And eventually he’s the one, who strictly out of frustration, smashes one of the most interesting devices (both physical and plot) we have seen on the island. Just when we are getting these imposed images of temples and houses and whatever else as the compass turns, Jack sees his name, loses his mind and smashes the thing to bits. And just when Jack’s actions seem unredeemable, rash and just plain stupid, we find out that his destruction of the lighthouse was exactly what Jacob wanted.

In the diagonal-Lost World (for lack of a better name) Jack’s character deals with David, his son?!!? I can’t help but think that Jack’s son is some sort of reflection of all the other characters on the island that Jack so desperately wants to help and save, even though he doesn’t have the ability to do so. Sure he wants to be a good dad, but he’s never been taught how. He doesn’t have the answers. But what we learned at the end of the piano recital, and what hopefully Jack learns as well, is that the answers sometimes come in the form of just sitting back and listening (and doing little else). That is a character trait Island Jack most definitely does not have. When he just appreciated David’s playing for what it was, brilliant, he actually formed one of his first good and hopefully non-destructive relationships in Lost history. I hope it leads to Island Jack mirroring some of the same things in his remaining time with Jacob.

“The Lighthouse” was chocked full of those “little” moments that would be easy to miss if the viewer is concentrated solely on “finding the answers.” I think the writers do this purposefully and use Jack as the message delivery man.

Will post some other random thoughts in a little bit.
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Tuesday, February 23, 2010

24 Reaction - 12AM-1AM

Tonight 24 went back to its roots. Last second misses and ridiculous storylines abound. Click here to read about Jack and his new girlfriend. Read more!

Monday, February 22, 2010

How to Make it in America - Crisp

The second episode of this new HBO dramedy keeps the ball rolling with a strong showing. I am officially on board. Click here to read the rest on CinemaBlend. Read more!

This Rotten Week

This week the Rotten Watch takes a look at Cop Out and the Crazies. Its going to be a rotten week. Click here to read the full article at CinemaBlend. Read more!

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

American Idol - The first half of the Top 24

And it only took us two hours to get there. What a freaking bore. Click here to read the rest of the reaction on CinemaBlend. Read more!

This Rotten Week - My new CinemaBlend feature

Each week I will be contributing This Rotten Week to CinemaBlend. Read more. Click here to read this week's predictions and click here to read last week's. Read more!