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Thursday, December 31, 2009

Golden Globes need polish part I: drama and miniseries

     On January 17th, the Golden Globes will kick off the winter awards season by naming their winners.  Globes are given for both TV and movies, but since I write mostly about TV, we're just going to deal with that.  Here's who is nominated for dramas and miniseries and who should win, in my opinion.  Disclosure: I never score very well with awards ballots, so these predictions may be way off.  I will post an article on comedy and supporting roles next week.

*BEST TELEVISION SERIES – DRAMA - Big Love (HBO), Dexter (Showtime), House (Fox), Mad Men (AMC), True Blood (HBO).  Not being subscribed to HBO and Showtime, I have to wait for DVDs and haven't seen the latest, but I hear True Blood is only getting more awesome, and I'm sick of boring old Mad Men winning, so True Blood.

*BEST PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTOR IN A TELEVISION SERIES – DRAMA - Simon Baker, The Mentalist; Michael C. Hall, Dexter; Jon Hamm, Mad Men; Hugh Laurie, House; Bill Paxton, Big Love.  Hugh Laurie or Michael C. Hall.  Laurie's two episode turn in the mental hospital was his top acting of the series, while Dexter went twisted in a completely unexpected way.  Personally, I would choose Laurie, but either deserve it.

*BEST PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTRESS IN A TELEVISION SERIES – DRAMA - Glenn Close, Damages; January Jones, Mad Men; Julianna Margulies, The Good Wife; Anna Paquin, True Blood; Kyra Sedgwick, The Closer.  Let's give True Blood a little more loving and go with Anna, shall we?  Don't get me wrong, Glenn was fantastic, but she won last year, and I don't believe in double winners unless they really do something unusually special the second time.  The other shows are subpar, so we'll toss those three out.

*BEST MINI-SERIES OR MOTION PICTURE MADE FOR TELEVISION - Georgia O’Keefe (Lifetime), Grey Gardens (HBO), Into the Storm (HBO), Little Dorrit (PBS), Taking Chance (HBO).  Grey GardensDrew Barrymore and Jessica Lange reminded us that celebrity fascination is nothing new, and in a year where the obsession has been kicked up a notch, let's continue the trend by honoring one of the original examples of our voyeurism.

*BEST PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTOR IN A MINI-SERIES OR MOTION PICTURE MADE FOR TELEVISION - Kevin Bacon, Taking Chance; Kenneth Branagh, Wallander: One Step Behind; Chiwetel Ejiofor, Endgame; Brendan Gleeson, Into the Storm; Jeremy Irons, Georgia O’Keefe.  Brendan Gleeson should win.  Here's more than just Professor Moody in Harry Potter.  He's a fantastic actor, as proven in his turn as Churchill.  Give him an award.

*BEST PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTRESS IN A MINI-SERIES OR MOTION PICTURE MADE FOR TELEVISION - Joan Allen, Georgia O’Keefe; Drew Barrymore, Grey Gardens; Jessica Lange, Grey Gardens; Anna Paquin, The Courageous Heart of Irena Sendler; Sigourney Weaver, Prayers for Bobby.  Let's go with Joan Allen.  You can't split the Gardens duo, and Georgia O'Keefe won't get any love anywhere else.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

500 Days of Summer Not Enough

     One week ago today, the movie 500 Days of Summer was released on DVD.  It stars Joseph Gordon-Levitt (3rd Rock From the Sun) as Tom, a young man who believes in fate and love and all of those other gushy things.  Tom meets a girl named Summer (Zooey Deschanel, Elf, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy) at work and decides that everything he has hoped for is coming true.  The movie chronicles the first five hundred days of Tom's life after he meets Summer, but not in a linear order.  One of the first things the narrator of the movie reveals, though, is that this is not a love story, and though I was skeptical when I heard those words, it is very true.

     It was a very artistic and well made movie.  The skips were not jarring.  They made sense to get the overall feel of the relationship and Tom's life.  The story was told in the order it would make the most sense.  The relationship that developed between Tom and Summer was realistic.  Tom was wracked with indecision and doubt before he got with her.  Then, Summer said she wasn't looking for a relationship,  but she, like many other women in the world, meant she wasn't looking for a relationship with him.  It is a familiar plot, but rarely seen on the movie screen in this manner.  I refuse to spoil the ending, but Summer and Tom as a couple are over long before that 500th day.

     The tone of the movie was very storybook for a large part, sort of like the television show Pushing Daisies, though not to that extreme.  The music fit perfectly, and Gordon-Levitt and Deschanel both did outstanding jobs.  Between the casting, tone, direction, and everything else, I have only praise for this film.  I only wish it were a little longer than its ninety minute run time so I could see what happened after the 500th day, but then that would spoil the part of the story that was important.  This movie set out to tell a very specific set of events in Tom's life to get him from one place to another, and it did that, without falling into stereotypes or destroying notions of love and destiny.  A charming and heartbreaking tale told beautifully.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Catch up on the Gossip (Girl)

    CW's Gossip Girl has already gone off the air, unfortunately until March, but its not too late to catch up on what has happened with everyone's favorite East Siders in their third season.  So far, it has been quite the roller coaster, and the fall finale left plenty of unanswered questions and flitting rumors to keep us guessing until its return.  Despite the fact that most of the main cast graduated from high school last spring, all have remained in Manhattan, and the show has lost none of it's zeal that made it a guilt pleasure triumph.  In case you missed it, let's review who's doing what and what's coming up next.

     Let's all breathe a sigh of relief that Serena (Blake Lively, The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants) and Blair (Leighton Meester, who seems to be trying to launch a singing career now) have finally set aside their differences and cemented a fast friendship.  Watching S and B go back and forth could be fun, but they have both matured into more adult characters.  Sure, Serena was involved with a married man, and Blair still gets involved in school politics, but they both seem to have finally passed the point where they will be at war with each other.  Speaking of Blair, her settling down with Chuck (Ed Westwick) has done both of them a lot of good.  Chuck has finally become a respectable adult with real emotions and left behind most of his childhood tantrums.  It's nice to see some genuine character development among the leads.

     Nate (Chace Crawford) has returned to family roots, and seems to be seriously in love.  While Nate was almost always above the backstabbing and manipulating, the other characters starting to rise to his level makes him feel more a part of the ensemble than he did before.  He has ceased to become an extraneous character and matters to the overarching plots now.  Same goes for Vanessa (Jessica Szohr, What About Brian?).  After her threesome with Dan (Penn Badgley) and Olivia (Hilary Duff, Lizzie McGuire), resulting in their breakup, it appears that a happy ending for her won't be too far down the line.  The only holdout in the growing-up group is Jenny (Taylor Momsen, How the Grinch Stole Christmas), who, not coincidentally, is the only one still left in high school.  Jenny's balancing act between decent human being and queen of mean is finally finding a balance, but hopefully the correct side of her will win out in the end.

     The only major concern for the show is the always too fragile bond between Rufus (Matthew Settle) and Lily (Kelly Rutherford, the original Melrose Place).  The took so long to make it to the altar, the threat that it may fall apart so soon is too much to bare.  Either they need to be left alone to grow old together, or break them up and get them out of the cast.  The back and forth has become too frustrating.

     All in all, though, the show has only gotten stronger with time, and it is shaping up to be something much more than what it started as.  If it continues on this track, there is nothing but blue skies ahead for the whole gang.  Unless Georgina (Michelle Trachtenberg, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Mercy) comes back again.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Taking Woodstock for a spin

     Ang Lee's (Brokeback Mountain) newest film came out on DVD a week ago.  Taking Woodstock stars Demetri Martin (The Daily Show With Jon Stewart) as a young man who, trying to help his parents avoid foreclosure on their hotel, brings the famous Woodstock festival to his hometown, turning it upside down.  While many in the town protest, others enjoy the commerce and attention.  Soon a million hippies invade, bringing their peaceful, drug-filled, sex-fueled ways.  The movie meandered at a slow pace, but stayed interesting.  It was a journey of self-discovery for not only Martin's Elliot, but also his parents, played by Henry Goodman and the fantastic Imelda Staunton (Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix).  Both delivered superb performances, proving that you are never too old to undergo a transformation and be true to who you really are.

     Adding to the humor and full picture of this small town was Eugene Levy (American Pie, Best in Show) as the farmer who rented his fields out for the festival and pocketed every penny he could, and Liev Schreiber as Vilma, the cross dressing security guard.  The latter, in particular, was a surprising delight.  It was a part that was a real departure from Schreiber, and his mother hen rendition could not have been more appropriate.  He played huge roles in each of the main character's plots.

      The tone was great, and unlike many recent releases, the concert was never really shown in the movie.  That wasn't what was important.  It was a character-driven piece, seeking to capture a moment and spirit in American history, and largely succeeding.  Plus, there was lots of non-sexual nudity, something not so common in modern cinema.  I would highly recommend this film.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Bones's Christmas Visitor

     Recently, Fox's Bones went away for 2009, but it ended on a high note.  The biggest story was the guest star appearance of Zooey Deschanel, Emily Deschanel's real life sister, playing Brennan's cousin.  Several characters commented that they "looked like sisters", and this is why.  I make no secret of the fact that of all the celebrities in Hollywood, Zooey is my dream girl, especially after I heard her sing in Elf.  If you aren't familiar with her work, I would recommend checking out her many movies and her album under the band name She & Him, entitled Volume One.  Her appearance as the habitually quoting Benjamin Franklin relative was wonderfully fun, and hopefully she will return to clash with Brennan again.

     The episode, though, was not just about Zooey.  Brennan is finally starting to wake up to reality, and her finding the holiday spirit was certainly a bright spot.  The series started strong and has only gotten better.  Why Emily has not been nominated for anything for playing the brash, blunt Bones remains a mystery.  Her slowly blossoming romance with her partner, Booth (David Boreanaz, Angel) is surely to credit for her softening, and it seems to finally be going somewhere.  This season, Booth has been dealing with his feeling for her, though not actually talking to her about them.  Surely, they feeling is mutual, as Brennan defended him to her cousin, saying she found him "pleasant to look at".  Hopefully, after five season, the wait may almost be over.  Though, I wouldn't hold my breath for it to happen before the end of the season.

     The only complaints I have with the episode deal with two of the supporting characters.  The entire plot where Cam (Tamara Taylor) adopted a daughter has been strained.  It was sort of unrealistic to begin with, and while I applaud the show's writers for giving the character some plot in her personal life, I question the method in which it was done.  Fans were slow to warm up to Cam when she joined the cast in season two, but by this point, she is accepted and deserves a bit more.  Secondly, while Sweets (John Francis Daley, Freaks and Geeks) has been an absolute joy to see added to the cast, his girlfriend Daisy (Carla Gallo, named Daisy as well on Californication), also a welcome addition in the rotating pot of assistants, seemed to loose all character this week.  The abnormally hyperactive woman was kicked out of the program for too much enthusiasm, and this was dealt with in her last appearance, where she earned her way back in.  However, while this episode had much to get to without giving her development, in her sixth appearance she seems totally normal.  This was a mistake, and should it continue, she would no longer be needed or wanted on the show.  Please fix Daisy quickly!

Monday, December 21, 2009

The Closer closes fifth season

     I am not a fan of Kyra Sedgwick, and as such, have never given The Closer a chance.  This, despite the fact that it is the highest watched cable series ever, and the number of viewers has grown every season.  So when I received the screener DVD for tonight's season five finale, I decided to give it a shot.  After all, I can't stand Sarah Jessica Parker, but I liked Sex and the City.  I thought that maybe this would be the same.  I soon confirmed my suspicion, though, that this was a procedural show, not serial, and so while I may like an episode, it is not something I would probably watch regularly.  The following review does contain some slight spoilers, but does not ruin any big twists or the ending of the episode, which airs tonight on TNT.

     This was a great episode.  Sedgwick's Brenda Leigh Johnson is a tad annoying, but she is surrounded by a strong supporting cast, especially J.K. Simmons (Spiderman trilogy) as Chief Pope.  He is grumbling, but lovable, and this week, he has a major beef with Johnson that goes beyond the current case.  If only she knew what it was, she might also discover why her live-in boyfriend Fritz (Jon Tenney, who recently did an arc on Brothers & Sisters) seems irritated with her as well.  The answer to that question may throw quite a wrench into her relationships with both men.  Or maybe not.  You'll find out if you watch the episode.

     The rest of the police team really gelled.  I don't know if they've been fleshed out as individuals, as they all sort of blurred together this week, aside from Taylor (Robert Gossett), who's tough demeanor with the warm center, played apart from the stereotypical, would make a welcome addition to any show, crime related or not.

     This week's main case revolved around the suspected abuse of an officer under the command of Captain Raydor (Mary McDonnell, Battlestar Galactica), returning as a nemesis to Johnson.  Raydor wants Johnson to investigate if one of her women is being beat by her husband, but wants Johnson to tread lightly, though the officer refuses to cooperate.  Of course, things do get ratcheted up a notch, and while the conclusion was predictable, (I knew what really happened as soon as Johnson arrived at the crime scene) watching Sedgwick and McDonnell spar was massively entertaining.  It was a great dynamic, and were McDonnell to return to the show, I'd certainly be interested in watching again.

     Even if you have never watched The Closer, I do recommend turning it on.  You might be pleasantly surprised by what you see.  No prior knowledge needed.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Glourious Basterds

     Quentin Tarantino's latest film, Inglourious Basterds (the spelling is correct), was released on DVD earlier this week, and it represents a departure or maturing of his distinctive style.  It still has some witty dialogue, long conversation scenes, jarring music, and a bit of blood and gore, but it was much more understated.  The language wasn't as vulgar.  There weren't so many disturbing images.  Yet, it was very intelligent story telling that actually went somewhere.  And it made me think.

     If you had caught the trailer, you'd think the movie was mainly about a gang of Jews led by Brad Pitt that went around killing Nazis.  You would be wrong.  Practically every scene that the Basterds appeared in was present in the trailers.  Instead, there is a deeper story about a woman who watches her family get butchered, the Nazi who hunted Jews better than anyone, and the afore mentioned woman's quest for revenge.  But, no, it's not Kill Bill.  The Jewish heroine is not on a mission, but can't resist a chance when it falls into her lap.  It seems unfortunate that there is so little of Pitt and the others, especially Donny (Eli Roth) and Utivich (B.J. Novak, The Office), as that would have made quite a comedy.  Of course, it would have been close to Tarantino's old schtick, and as mentioned before, this film represents a new direction for him.

     The real stars of the film are Melanie Laurent as the wronged Jewish woman, Shosanna, and Christopher Waltz as the Nazi hunting her people down, Col. Hans Landa.  Both of these characters are fictional, but appear authentic.  Each has deep motivations, and each performer delivered an outstanding feat.  Waltz was appropriately creepy and confident, barely verging on the overly so, and Laurent seethed with hatred, but managed to stay unnoticed by the occupying army in France of the early 1940's.  The opening scene was classic Tarantino, but after that, the paths that these two led, which coincidentally came together, were believable and brilliant.  I even cheered at the twist, history-altering, ending.

     Fans of Tarantino should still enjoy this, as there is enough of his old self left in it to be appreciated, and his new style may be even better.  Fans of the trailer may not like the movie, as they certainly won't get what the expected.  Fans of cinema in general should find this an intriguing plot with wonderful pacing, beautiful scenery, and a fine example of a great film.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Sitcom Roundup '09 Part II

How I Met Your Mother (CBS) ~ Who'd have guessed that every main character on How I Met Your Mother smoked?  Crazy, right?  The show took a page from Mad Men and let everyone light up this week, but I guess the censors allowed it because it proved just how bad it was for you.  Some may have not been pleased that this was a secret kept from the viewer all of this time, mostly, but the explanation offered, that Ted (narrated by Bob Saget, Full House, played by Josh Radnor) just didn't want to reveal it to his kids made perfect sense.  This episode also contained plenty of good future spoilers, a welcome convention often employed in the series, to let you know not only when each character kicked the habit for good, but also when Robin (Cobie Smulders) would begin dating her jerky co-worker.  It was a great addition to the fall finale, giving something for the viewer to look forward to.  Funniest part of the episode was Barney's (Neil Patrick Harris, Doogie Howser, M.D.) denial that he is an addict.  No one could have added as much depth and physical comic genius to the part as Harris does.

The Big Bang Theory (CBS) ~  The Good Wife let Christine Baranski take a break so she could reprise her role playing the mother of Leonard (Johnny Galecki, Roseanne) on the fall finale.  What a Christmas blessing that was!  Her chemistry with Sheldon (Jim Parsons, Judging Amy) was electric the first go round, but who would have thought that she'd connect so fully with Penny (Kaley Cuoco, 8 Simple Rules)?  Their scene getting waste in The Cheesecake Factory was hilarious!  Though Mommy Dearest may not have imagined her the ideal mate for her son, there was clearly some good vibes there.  I wonder what will happen when Leonard eventually finds out what happened between his roommate and mother?  And is anyone else disappointed that that was all that happened?  Surely there should have been more spark!  No matter, it was hilarious, just as almost every episode of this third-year show is.

The League (FX) ~ One of the funniest show of 2009, The League has taken us through a fall fantasy football season and into the payoffs with their fall finale.  The only really bad part about it was that it only lasted six episodes.  Next season will not air until next summer, and I hope that it's considerably longer.  The finale centered around who would win the trophy this year, the coveted 'Shiva', a girl the guys all drooled over in high school.  Andre (Paul Scheer) was having a bit more luck than expected, however, and it was attributed to the fact that he was dating (surprise!) the real life Shiva!  This was funny because Andre is stupid about sports, and he unseated frequent winner, Pete (Mark Duplass).  Of course, these guys play dirty, and I won't spoil what happens, as I hope more viewers catch it on the rerun, but it was hilarious!  Love live The Shiva!

It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia (FX) ~ This show had a Christmas special this year, but the powers that be chose not to air it on television, and instead make you purchase the DVD.  That would be fine, if they weren't charging $18.99 on Amazon for a 43 minute show, and I found only slightly cheaper in stores.  What happened to iTunes episodes for $1.99?  Anyway, instead of that incredibly overpriced ripoff, I will review the final episode that did air.  The gang finally had a ten year ban lifted on a flip cup tournament, and they were anxious to get their rivalry going again.  Of course, their old nemesis didn't even remember them, and now ran a classy joint.  Trying to first recruit and then challenge a fraternity, they continue to be disappointed.  However, in true Sunny fashion they quickly move on, not caring that they've ruined several lives in the process.  This demented version of Seinfeld, while sometimes straying a bit too gross, continue to amuse to no end, and this episode was definitely a funny one.  Not quite funny enough to ease the pain of their greed concerning the Christmas special, but pretty funny just the same.

Click here to go to Sitcom Roundup '09 Part I (ABC & NBC).

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Aqua Teens celebrate Christmas

     As part of Cartoon Network's Adult Swim, Aqua Teen Hunger Force has been around since 2000, airing six seasons in that time.  The sixth season ended in May, so I was a little surprised to see a Christmas special air this week.  The episode title was "A PE Christmas", although it wasn't readily obvious that PE stood for Public Enemy.  That's because as part of the plot, Master Shake (Dana Snyder) and Meatwad (Dave Willis), having stolen Flavor Flav's identity, decide to record a Christmas album.  Well, one twelve-second track that Master Shake plans to release and make millions off of for Christmas, even though it is already December 24th.  The sound technician humors them, barely, and readily agree that the new CD will be shipped out to stores immediately so he can get home.

     Fans of the show know that even though episodes are a mere eleven minutes or so, that main plot, taking up the middle chunk, will have little to do with the beginning or end of the episode.  Cartoon Network was initially scared to put on a show about good items (Carey Means's Frylock being the third member of the cast) doing random things, but the show has enjoyed a cult following and relative popularity, even earning a feature film.  Don't worry if you hadn't heard about the film, few did, but it existed, and was in actual movie theaters.

     This Christmas episode was every bit as good as Aqua Teen gets.  It began with the trio of 'heroes' in church, one plotting to rob the collection plate, another confused as to why Santa Claus was skinny and hanging on a cross with an appendectomy scar, and the third just shaking his head and getting them out of there as quickly as possible.  It ended with Shake breaking into a Better Buy store so that customers could get in to buy him album, and then randomly exploding in jail from eel diarrhea.  In short, it was wrong, gross, and hilarious.  If you stuck around past the end credits, pervy, sweatpants wearing neighbor Carl (also Willis) delivered a heartwarming rendition of "I'll Be Home For Christmas" concerning what exactly self-pleasure he would be doing.  Clearly, the show is not for everyone.  But for it's target audience, it succeeds.

     They also released a Christmas album this year, on sale now.

Felicia Day can Lie to Me anytime

     Is this the beginning of a larger arc for Felicia Day (Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog) on a major network program?  It is unknown for sure how much Day may play a part of Fox's Lie To Me, but after their recent season finale in which she was clearly very smitten with Eli (Brendan Hines), the door is certainly open for her to come back.  The question is, will the show even come back?  After a popular thirteen episode first season, premiering in January last year, the show was only picked up for ten episodes this fall, the last of which was the episode Day appeared in.  While Fox has announced that it wants an additional nine episodes, a return date has not been announced.

     Day, creator and star of the very popular web show, The Guild, could do better, certainly.  The show is a formula crime drama, the twist being that the team the show centers on can read faces.  Sure, that part is different from most other shows, and formula dramas certainly have their place in American culture.  But I prefer something more consistently original, different, that keeps you guessing.  Lie To Me does not do that.  I watched this week's episode, the first I'd seen since early in the first season, and it was entertaining.  They certainly deliver that basic framework in a compelling way.  I just could not stay entertained week after week by the same thing.  And Felicia Day is a great actress, worthy of a show that gives her a chance to show her talent.  I mean, have you seen her web music video hit, "Do You Want to Date My Avatar"???

     In this week's episode, Day played a schoolteacher who brought her children to the building where Dr. Lightman's (Tim Roth) team works.  Because of a bomb threat right outside, she and her charges are placed in a conference room, and the teacher and Eli have to keep them entertained.  The series did right by Felicia by giving her a charming duet to sing with Eli, the highlight of the episode.  Day was, as usual, sweet, adorable, and very talented.  She conveyed fear without panic, and emotion without a lot of dialogue.  It wasn't a huge role, but she played it well.  If she were hired on a recurring basis, as a steady love interest, it might be enough to get me to watch the show.  Or at least TiVo it and fast forward to any scene with Felicia Day in it.

     Full disclosure: I do not know Felicia and no one has paid me or even asked me to write this article, other than my normal examiner.com royalties.  I, like most other even remotely geeky men in the world in their twenty's, am just smitten with her.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Private Practice not making perfect, but it's improving

     When the Grey's Anatomy spinoff, Private Practice, first premiered on ABC, I, like many others, had high hopes.  It was taking popular character Addison (Kate Walsh, The Drew Carey Show) and putting her with an all-star cast.  It had great writers, a successful creator, cream of the crop actors.  So when the show largely began sucking, it was both a disappointment and a surprise.

     Since then, it more or less has found its footing, though it still has trouble with consistency.  December 3rd's double episodes were the last two of 2009, and they were both excellent examples of when the show gets it right.  Dell (Chris Lowell, Veronica Mars) finally was rid of his drug-abusing wife in a heartbreaking story.  It showed the pain of addiction, not just to the addict, but to their families as well.  Dell was caught in a tough place between love and trust and taking care of his loved ones.  When he broke down, yelled at her, and told her to die, it proved what a fine actor Lowell is.  Though Dell is only doing a limited number of episodes this year, he is still listed in the principal cast, and if his story stays this strong, he will be fine.

     Addison had a great plot, too.  She was finally able to learn about and confront her parents for their cheating, lying ways, and she was more or less driven into the arms of Sam (Taye Diggs, Rent).  While Sam and Naomi's (Audra McDonald, A Raisin in the Sun) divorce has been a weak point of the show, and they should definitely get back together, he and Addison have had budding chemistry of late, and it might be interesting to see him take a detour to her before hopping back in with his former wife.  Sam and Naomi also had a really great story with their daughter, and it allowed them to show their parenting skills and weaknesses.  It's a welcome change from petty fighting and Naomi's personal dramas, which led to the splitting of the practice, a not at all welcome development.

     Meanwhile, the tension between Cooper (Paul Adelstein, Prison Break) and Charlotte (KaDee Strickland) since he found out that she had previously been married needs to lessen.  While the two had a wonderful courtship, beginning with a purely sexual relationship, and evolving into one of the best couples on television, sometimes their banal bickering is too much, as it is in this case.  It should get resolved soon, and let them finally grow and be more comfortable with each other.  Yes, we get it, they have a rocky deal going on, but they've come through enough.  Just give them some peace.

     Lastly, the Pete (Tim Daly, Wings, The Nine) and Violet (Amy Brenneman, Judging Amy) story needs resolution even sooner.  What started as a fan tryst, and went into some dark, serious dramatics last spring when Violet's baby was cut from her has become uncomfortable and boring.  While, yes, Violet was traumatized deeply, and it's nice that her dealing with it is a plot, she needs to begin to come out of her stupidness, while there is still a chance for her to get back with Pete.  Both characters have been emotionally paralyzed and wasted for several episodes now.  It's time to begin to move on.  The best thing to come out of the whole plot was the addition of Sheldon (Brain Benben), Violet's other former lover.  He is now listed as 'Also starring' in the opening credits, which hopefully points to him sticking around.  He adds a humor, and sometimes sanity, to the otherwise lacking office.

     Private Practice shows enough signs of life to warrant not giving up on it, but it still has a ways to go.

Animation Domination certainly decks something

     Sunday marked the end of 2009 episodes of Animation Domination (or, Seth McFarlane & The Simpsons Night) on Fox.  Let's look at the results.

     The Simpsons, the only holdout against giving the entire night to McFarlane's series of practically the same shows, absconded the Christmas theme for an episode about Bart wanting a baby brother.  Homer (Dan Castellaneta), of course, would have none of it, and all of Bart's (Nancy Cartwright) attempts to trick his parents into it failed horribly.  So he went and adopted an orphan.  The episode had some of the best gags in a long time, from the boys dressed as the South Park kids, to the montage of famous brothers (many voiced by the actual celebrities portrayed).  For those who argue that the show has passed its prime and it so longer as good as it once was, I think this episode joins the ranks of recent ones proving them wrong.  Besides, without Simpsons, could we really take another McFarlane clone?

     All kidding aside, McFarlane's latest creation, The Cleveland Show, is actually fairly funny, just like his other shows, although some of the novelty of the original has long worn off.  This episode went all out for the holidays, even adding a new theme song, with a few fun throwbacks to the show it spun off from.  Cleveland does get to deal with reality of a broken family, though, and for the Christmas drama, Cleveland (Mike Henry) had to find his new stepkids' father and get him to come home to restore the yuletide spirit.  This show tries to be edgy, with Cleveland's boss proclaiming "Hide the silverware!" when his dark skinned employee arrived, but ends up being a bit too silly to be offensive.  My only real complaint about this episode was letting neighbor, Arianna (Arianna Huffington), an uber-religious bear, drop character to enjoy letting the reindeer watch her have sex with her husband, Tim (McFarlane).  Continuity, people!

     Family Guy really kind of skipped the holiday, too, but was ok for it.  Peter's (McFarlane) father-in-law, Mr. Pewterschmidt (also McFarlane),  lapses into a coma, Peter gets to take over his multi-billion dollar company.  Like most episode, the main plot isn't what makes the show.  This one was full of great gags.  For instance, while the town's bar is called the Thirst Clam, apparently it's strip club is the Fuzzy Clam.  When Mr. Pewterschmidt collapsed, he said he was having a "heart attack-ack-ack-ack-ack-ack, you oughta know by now", reference to legendary Mr. Billy Joel.  The doctor at the hospital, as well as a surprise pop up at the end, was none other than Hugh Laurie playing his popular fox character House, from the television show of the same name.  Jim Parsons also made a guest appearance as his character, Sheldon, from The Big Bang Theory.  Plus, there were some great Scooby-Doo moments.  And let's be honest, moments are what Family Guy is all about.

     The best of the night was probably American Dad.  It felt like a bizarre series finale for Stan (guess who?  McFarlane), though the rest of the cast didn't get the same payoff, and the series isn't ending.  This episode apparently takes place outside of the show continuity.  Stan and Francine (Wendy Schaal) had sex in a church on Christmas, and so are left behind as the rest of the congregation, including their children, are raptured into heaven.  Stan blames Francine for seducing him, and she leaves him and ends up as Jesus Christ's girlfriend.  Seven years later, as the end times come to an end, Jesus asks Stan to help him rescue Francine from the anti-Christ, and we see what is really in Stan's heart.  It was incredibly trippy, weird, and wonderful.  One of the best episodes of the series thus far, which is saying something, as Dad is probably consistently the best of the Sunday night lineup at present.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Taylor Lautner pads onto Saturday Night Live

     As with any show that has been on a long time, NBC's Saturday Night Live has its ups and downs.  I can think of no other show like it that has been on for thirty-five years, and its ups are good enough to keep watching through its downs.  Unfortunately, after last year's very big up, this year has been mostly down.  The one exception that leaps to mind is the Taylor Swift-hosted fantastic episode more than a month ago, and possibly some of Joseph Gordon-Levitt's.  Another Taylor, Lautner, (Jacob in the Twilight series) stepped up this week, and sadly did not do as well.

     The opening monologue was amusing enough, with Taylor reliving the Kanye VMA moment, and somehow keeping it from being stale, though the event itself is by this point.  It will only fuel more rumors on if the two Taylors are in fact dating (Swift dropped a more obvious hint in her opening).  The best skit he was in by far was the Team Jacob vs. Team Edward skit, where he was the girl defending the Edward side, of course.  It was a play off of the commercials.  He also performed admirably in the football interview skit, and was the only (slight) redeeming part of the middle school choir piece.  His love connection segment was terrible, one of the worst in recent memory, but was unable to salvage "Surprise!"  As much as Kristen Wiig is the star of the show now, if she never revives Aunt Sue, many will give thanks.

     The rest of the show without Lautner fumbled, mostly.  Seth Meyers is trying, and sometimes succeeding, hosting Weekend Update alone, but Amy Poehler is certainly missed in that spot.  Nasid Pedrad delivered a very funny take as Mistress #15 during Update, and Jason Sudeikis tried very hard to make the Tiger Woods scandal shine during his PGA announcements, with mixed results.  The rest of the episode, as has too often been the case this season, was forgettable.  Even musical guest Bon Jovi was dull, his tunes more mellow than in years past.

     Can SNL revive itself again?  Surely so.  Andy Samberg has given us many a gut-splitting Digital Short.  Wiig, Sudeikis, Will Forte, Kenan Thompson, and Meyers are far from past their prime, and the new additions of Pedrad, Bobby Moynihan, and Abby Elliott were very helpful.  And the rest of the cast isn't half bad.  Hopefully the writer's will find another dash of genius soon.  They have one more chance in 2009.  Come on guys!  Sarah Palin is back in the headlines.  Take a cue!

     Saturday Night Live will present a two hour primetime Christmas special this Thursday (unfortunately hosted by Wiig's most uber-annoying character, Gilly), and will conclude their fall batch of episodes this Saturday with host James Franco and musical guest Muse.

Sitcom Roundup '09 Part I

     Many great sitcoms finished their fall run this week.  I had nine sitcoms that I wanted to cover, so I'm breaking them into two parts.  First is ABC and NBC.  Expect the other one, including FX shows, sometime after CBS's Monday finishes tomorrow.  Here we go.

Modern Family (ABC) ~ Hands down my favorite new sitcom this year.  With a fantastic, large cast, this is the dysfunctional family of modern America.  The Christmas episode was fantastic.  Slowly, it is being revealed that Jay (Ed O'Neill, Married... With Children) really is a great dad, and he is proving it again while helping raise Manny (Rico Rodriguez).  Jay not only got into the spirit of Manny's Columbian traditions, he really made the kid's Christmas.  As much as I love the gays, Claire (Julie Bowen, Boston Legal) and Phil (Ty Burrell, Back to You) took the cake this week as they canceled Christmas when they thought their kids were lying.  Tough parenting done right.  Though Phil, of course, overdid it.  If you are not watching this show, start immediately.

Cougar Town (ABC) ~ It started off a little slow, but this sitcom from Bill Lawrence (Scrubs) has really become something.  Led by Jules (Courteney Cox, Friends), the show revolves around her friends and family in Florida.  This week, Andy (Ian Gomez, Felicity) proved his parenting skills to his wife, Ellie (Christa Miller, The Drew Carey Show) with less than hoped for, but hilarious, results.  Also, things seemed to be heating up between Grayson (Josh Hopkins, Private Practice) and Jules, but with the introduction of a new guy this week, he could face at least one more obstacle before the inevitably get together.  I also have to give props to Dan Byrd (Aliens in America) who plays Jules's son, Travis, and mostly takes his mother's insanity in stride.  With this series really starting to find its path, ABC has the makings of a comedy night!

Parks & Recreation (NBC) ~ The Amy Poehler-led series had a rocky first season, but has found its groove this year, especially with the expanded rolls of Donna (Retta) and Jerry (Jim O'Heir), who really fill out the department.  Unfortunately, it looks like Leslie (Poehler) has lost her first stable relationship, as Dave (Louis C.K.) told her he was going to San Diego for at least a year.  Let's hope she takes him up on his offer to go visit.  Also, I love that Andy (Chris Pratt of Everwood) is finally getting over Ann (Rashida Jones, The Office) and falling for intern April (Aubrey Plaza).  The two will make a great couple.  The plot this week finally made Ron (Nick Offerman) and Tom (who may be the funniest character on television, played by Aziz Ansari, formerly of Scrubs) actually appreciate Leslie, so maybe her life will improve.  A little.  Aw, who am I kidding?

The Office (NBC) ~ This show has done some very wrong things in the past, but the week before the finale hit a new low when Michael (Steve Carell, 40 Year Old Virgin) let down a group of high school seniors who thought he was paying for their college.  Not that he was much better this week, trying to force Phyllis (Phyllis Smith) out of her Santa role.  I am quite disturbed by Dwight's (Rainn Wilson) new mission in life to take Jim (John Krasinski) down.  It had appeared that they might actually be friends after Angela (Angela Kinsey) dumped Dwight.  Speaking of guys dumped by Angela, Andy (Ed Helms, The Daily Show) was so sweet with his failed gifts to Erin (Ellie Kemper), though he really made up for it at the end.  Oh, well.  More disturbing was the news that Dunder-Mifflin has been sold, and the New York execs are being fired.  Not the merriest Christmas they could have imagined, but I think this particular office will be all right.

30 Rock (NBC) ~ How many Emmys did this show have to win before people started tuning in?  As someone who has been watching from the beginning, I admit, the show did improve since then, but not much.  It has always been funny.  This week Liz (Tina Fey, Saturday Night Live) tried to go head to head with Jack (Alec Baldwin) for giving the best Christmas gift.  Guess who won?  Thought Liz sure gave a good one.  More funny was the writers, including  Frank (Judah Friendlander), who convinced Kenneth (Jack McBrayer) that they were a religion that didn't participate in Secret Santa.  What their religion did do was hilarious, but cause poor uber-religious Ken to stop believing in God.  Uh, oh!  Was it merely coincidence that both 30 Rock and The Office's final episodes were called "Secret Santa"?  Hmm.

Click here to go to Part II (CBS & FX)

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Yes, Virginia gets a no

     CBS showed a new Christmas special this past Friday night called Yes, Virginia, inspired by the true story of a little girl name Virginia who wrote to ask the New York Sun  if the jolly old elf really existed.  It has been adapted many times before, with a variety of results, but the latest certainly falls into the shallow end of the pool.

     To be fair, the animation wasn't bad, and a good voice cast was recruited.  Neil Patrick Harris (How I Met Your Mother) portrayed the father, while Jennifer Love Hewitt (Ghost Whisperer) was the mother and Alfred Molina (Spiderman 2, The DaVinci Code) was the newspaper editor.  It also had a good message and was loosely based on a part of Americana history.

     But unfortunately, it had many flaws.  Each character was flat and uninspired.  While Virginia could have had depth, instead the viewer had to rely on the Believe Meter on the tower to tell how she really felt.  The bully girl switched opinions as soon as the letter was printed, but didn't seem to feel any point of view with conviction.  The newspaper editor, too, had not only an inexplicable change of heart, but read the reply editorial with such a lack of emotion, it almost warranted turning the television off, not what I expect from a well-known movie star.  Harris and Hewitt, great personalities in their own right, were largely wasted on a few, very short scenes.  Did they just do the parts to support their network?  The story didn't flow well.  It kind of wandered until it had to end because time was up.  Also, what should have been a central character, known only as Scraggly Santa (Michael Buscemi), was largely ignored and forgotten before the end.  His important to Virginia should have obvious, but his once scene where he got to save the day played very dull and uninspired.

     I am not down on Christmas specials.  I love a great many of them, and would highly recommend Disney's Prep & Landing that aired last week.  But this one was only sub par, and will soon be forgotten.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Up, up and away

     The latest film from Disney / Pixar (Toy Story, Finding Nemo) is Up, which was recently released on DVD.  It was a cute movie, not short on humor or pathos.  But much of it did not live up to previous ventures.

     Up opened beautifully, with a long sequence featuring Carl (voiced by the wonderfully gruff Ed Asner) and his life with his wife, Ellie.  Like Wall-E, there was not talking in the beginning, just music and montage.  Pixar has proved that they do this well, and this was no exception.  Twenty minutes in, there were tears in my eyes.  All of that really set up the story, as Carl tied a bunch of balloons to his house, rather than go quietly into a nursing home, and set off to place it at Paradise Falls, a dream of Ellie's since childhood.  When several obstacles tried to prevent him from getting the house in place before the balloons lost helium, he ignored others' feelings and needs to try to satisfy what he thought of as a last tribute to his deceased wife.  It was sweet, if a bit short sighted, and that part of the movie was wholly satisfying.

     The end, too, was done right.  Carl needed to learn that others could care for him, and that he could still have a life after Ellie was gone.  While it was a bittersweet lesson, the ending again got me choked up, and things ended the way they should, albeit a lot more predictably than, say, Ratatouille, the 2007 film from the same company.  Still, making the obvious choice can be forgiven if done correctly, as the ending in this film was.  I'll even give them credit for creating a villain who was not entirely two dimensional.

     The problem with this film was the middle.  Yes, Carl needed to learn his lesson, but certain events to get him from the beginning of the mission to the end were just plain silly.  The dogs with the talking voice boxes, yes interesting and clever, but overused, especially in making Alpha's malfunction.  Some jokes were used over and over again until they were no longer amusing ("Squirrel!").  And why didn't Russell, a young boy who accidentally came long for the ride, have a worried mother mounting an all out rescue mission to find him?  The one scene we even got of her was her smiling on at the end as Carl played father to Russell.  Really?  Your boy disappears for an extended time to South America, and you're going to just let him hang out with the old man who took him?  It just shucked reality and sense a little more than other Disney / Pixar projects.  Also, the short attached to this one was quite a bit goofier, in a not so good way, as the other shorts released with Pixar movies, though it was still somewhat charming.

     Was the movie worth watching?  Yes, of course.  Pixar has yet to make a bad movie.  Will it be remembered as one of the studio's best?  Probably not, at least in my opinion.

Friday, December 11, 2009

If a Tiger cheated in the Woods...

     Everyone in America is obsessed with Tiger Woods right now.  He's been all over the news, talk radio, late night chat shows since his car accident and subsequent adultery revelations.  There are articles about him in every newspaper and on every online site.  Examiner.com already has plenty, and they top the popularity list.  Though I thought I was about to enjoy my weekend, I guess I am jumping into the fray and joining the band wagon before I relax.

     I am the Lexington TV Examiner, and as such I feel I need to tie this story into my topic.  That's easy.  The one place Tiger Woods is not right now is on television commercials.  While sponsors have just begun to drop Woods, many are still sticking behind him, but none are running ads featuring the golfer.  According to CNN, there has not been a single commercial aired this month yet with Tiger Woods in it.  I, for one, am equal parts relieved and disappointed.  Relieved, because Tiger is not totally dominating my world.  Disappointed because commercials are the one thing on TV I pay very little attention to.  That's why I have two TiVos.

     It bothers me quite a bit that everyone is talking non-stop about Tiger.  I couldn't care less that he had an affair, or many.  I don't follow sports, so maybe I just don't understand the need to keep up with athletes.  However, I really don't care when any famous personality has an affair.  It's not that I support going outside the marriage.  Quite the opposite.  I just don't understand how this is news.  How does this story affect you in any way, except that you don't get to see Tiger pop up in between scenes of your favorite television show?

     I realize I have no hope of changing the culture.  Throughout human history, the masses have always been obsessed with the well known personalities.  In the internet age, where information is instant and constant, it's only gotten worse.  And if you are reading my article, it's probably because you were searching out the topic, and may have already clicked away, frustrated at my condemnations.  Let me say, I do not think ill of you if you have been one of the many thus far.  However, I beg of you, reconsider how you spend your time.  I think it likely I may regret the few minutes it took me to type this up.  I could have been watching Bones instead.

Julie & Julia is jaunty & joyous

     Released on DVD this Tuesday was Julie & Julia, starring Meryl Streep and Amy Adams (who also costarred together in last year's Doubt).  I was lucky enough to have it delivered the day it was released from Netflix, and though I had heard mixed reviews, I loved it.  It has been mentioned for possible Oscar nods, though it is not expected to take any big awards.  Led by two plucky actresses (even if they both had terrible hair in this movie), the twin stories sparkled.  It had great pacing; I never once got bored.  The movie is based on two true stories, as it says in the opening, and it is nice to note that the movie is fairly rooted in reality itself.

     Bouncing back and forth between Julie Powell, an insurance worker in New York City a few years after 9/11, and Julia Child, the famous American-French chef, the transitions never seemed forced, and it was always easy to follow.  There were no outlandish twists, and I was pleased the writer didn't feel the need to force more connection between the two than there actually was.

     Adding to the pleasure were the husbands, played by Stanley Tucci and Chris Messina.  Supportive, yet different.  Both couples, though much more so the modern one, had their share of martial disputes, and yet the viewer was left with no doubt that they were part of solid, lasting love stories (at least as portrayed on screen).  There was much effort made to let the audience feel what it must be like to be married to such a powerful woman, and it added to the realism and the charm.

     Do I think it will be a dark horse in the Oscar race?  Not really.  But I do recommend this film as a feel good movie for some cold, winter night.  You will not be disappointed, and it is probably better than many of the movies that will actually take home the prizes.

Glee Triumphant!


     Fox's Glee went on intermission last night, and like most intermissions, it is far too long.  They will be taking seventeen long weeks off before returning in April, and it will be the longest wait of many television viewer's lives...  Ok, perhaps I am exaggerating the situation a little, but you'll forgive, as I just finished viewing the finale episode moments ago, and it was knock-your-socks-and-shoes-and-everything-else-off fantastic.

     The show centers on McKinley High School's Glee Club.  While McKinley High School in Ohio is real, the series doesn't actually resemble the real place, but for an Ohioian like me (I lived in Ohio all of my life until two months ago), it doesn't matter.  It's a thrill to simply be referenced.  The club is led by Will Schuester (Matthew Morrison), who finally has gotten rid of his annoying, scheming, shallow wife, Terri (Jessalyn Gilsig, Heroes) and overcome all obstacles.  Will got to end the final episode of the fall kissing the woman he was always meant to be with, school guidance counselor, Emma Pillsbury (Jayma Mays, also of Heroes).  Of course, Will is not yet divorced, but hopefully, that will soon be corrected.  If you aren't a fan and you think he has no excuse to be kissing anyone when he's married, keep in mind that his wife lied to him about being pregnant, and he had already told her it was over.  However, what the ramifications will be for Emma's recent ex-fiance, Ken (Patrick Gallagher, Night at the Museum).  Rounding out the adults is the villain of the show, cheerleader coach Sue Sylvester, played by the inestimable Jane Lynch.  While Sue did finally get her comeuppance, she will be returning for revenge, and to highly entertain everyone.  I submit, she may be the best part of the show, and that is saying something.

     Moving on to the students themselves, almost all of whom were virtual unknowns before being cast, my favorite is Kurt (Chris Colfer), who continues to get too little screen time, but has some of the most moving plot.  The one I give best scene to in this final episode, though, is Mercedes (Amber Riley).  I submit that her performance of "I Am Telling You" rivaled even Jennifer Hudson's.  She got to stand up to the head diva, and come out gracefully.  That diva, of course, is Rachel (Lea Michele) who single-handedly won Sectionals before the others opened their mouths with her opening number "Don't Rain On My Parade".  It doesn't matter that she didn't get her guy yet.  Now that Finn (Cory Monteith, Kyle XY) found out that Quinn (Dianna Agron, yet again, Heroes) is actually pregnant with Puck's (Mark Salling) baby, he will certainly be hers by the time the show returns.  Speaking of Finn, his shining moment was more quarterback than soloist, but it works for him.  It was wonderful to see some of the background students get a little plot, too, concerning who betrayed the club.


     It will come to no surprise to anyone that the kids took first place at Sectionals and will be moving on to Regionals.  The question is, why would Fox put such a popular show on the back burner for such a long time?  With American Idol returning, I realize that many hours of prime time will be gone, but couldn't they find an hour somewhere?  The good news is, there are nine more episodes slated for this year, so presumably it will run well into June.  I guess that means this break will be longer than next summer's, and that certainly brings me Glee.
 

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Better Off Ted back in business

     Last spring's surprise hit, Better Off Ted, has returned!  For whatever reason, ABC opted to run new episodes this summer after a strong spring premiere, so Ted had to wait until December before it could bank up enough new ones to begin its second season.  The president's speech last week delayed the start date an extra seven days.  As one of my favorite shows of last year, I must say, it was well worth the wait!

     The show takes place at the thankfully fictional Veridian Dynamics, which appears to be a company that invents and makes just about everything, especially the zany and unusual.  There is usually a 'commercial' for the company during one of the breaks.  Veronica (Portia de Rossi, Arrested Development) oversees the pivotal department as the straight laced powerhouse, and the manager underneath her that sees to the day to day operations is Ted (Jay Harrington, Private Practice and Desperate Housewives).  Ted is in love with coworker Linda (The Class and Joey's Andrea Anders), but they have decided it is not a good idea for them to date.  Rounding out the staff are scientist geniuses (genii?) Lem (Malcolm Barrett) and Phil (Jonathan Slavin, Summerland).  Each week there is usually some unusual invention, and a host of personal issues.

     I fell in love with the first season, and the premiere of season two lived up to expectations.  This week, Phil and Lem were growing a fast-reproducing moss for NASA, but the big plot was that Veridian had genetically matched their single employees.  While Linda and Ted tried to resist their pairings, the found their number one options to be very attractive (Linda's was Taye Diggs, taking a break from Private Practice), and soon broke off the pact.  Of course, true to the nature of the show, incredibly, unexpected wackiness ensued.  Even funnier, Veronica decided that Lem as the perfect match for her, so she demanded that he freeze his sperm.  Veridian apparently has no sexual harassment or personal liberty policies.  And poor Phil was told to get a vasectomy, on the house, courtesy of the company.

     Each actor pulls their own weight splendidly, leading to the best truly ensemble comedy in a very long time, definitely of last year's television season.  Though Ted is the title character, everything doesn't usually revolve around him, though he may eventually get involved.  The strange world he inhabits is what makes the show works, and with or without him, it could successfully go on.  Let's hope for the foreseeable future, it's with him, and it goes on a long time.

Prep & Landing lands gracefully

    Disney launched a new Christmas special this week on ABC called Prep & Landing.  I don't want to overplay it, but I think it will become an oft-rerun show.  It stars Dave Foley's (News Radio) voice as Wayne, an elf who has been on Santa's prep and landing crew, the advance team to prepare homes for the big guy, for well over two hundred years and is ready for a promotion.  He assumes he will naturally get one, but when he is passed over in favor of his partner, whom he trained, he loses his Christmas spirit.  Assigned a new partner, Lanny (Derek Richardson, Men in Trees), Wayne slacks off and disaster strikes.  Though it was only twenty-two minutes, Wayne still found time to save the day and remember what his job is all about, of course.

     The animation was reminiscent of Toy Story, and the humor is as well.  It brings to mind when Disney made good cartoons, as have been lacking lately, unless the Pixar name is attached as well.  Perhaps the company had something to prove before their new movie, The Princess and the Frog, comes out this Christmas.  If so, it was a good move.

      This special was totally appropriate for the entire family, and even us older people will find plenty to smile about.  The characters are fun, the pacing is perfect, and the story has heart.  Rounding out the cast are Magee, the control center elf, voiced by Sarah Chalke (Scrubs), and the little boy in the house, Timmy (Mason Vale Cotton of Desperate Housewives).  All in all, I do recommend it, and give it about an A-.  Check it out!