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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