Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Gossip Girl "Gaslit"

     The CW's Gossip Girl seems to have raised the stakes this season. Long gone are the high schools days of the show's first two years, and here to stay seem to be adult consequences for the decisions the characters face. Luckily, almost all of them have matured enough to handle it. Notice, I say almost.

     The past few episodes have followed Juliet Sharp (Kate Cassidy, the Melrose Place reboot) as she enacts her mission of revenge against Serena van der Woodsen (Blake Lively). Why Juliet hates Serena is still unknown, though it seems to have something to do with her brother, Ben (David Call, Mercy, Rescue Me), who is in jail. However, after Juliet teams up with Vanessa (Jessica Szohr) and Jenny (Taylor Momsen) to alienate Serena, Juliet goes up a step further and druggs her enemy, leaving her in a motel room surrounded by pills. Even Ben is shocked at how far Juliet has gone, leaving our main cast with quite a conundrum.

     Perhaps most impacted by Serena's supposed actions, is her mother Lily (Kelly Rutherford), who doesn't seem to know how to handle Serena's slide. Though Serena insists that she doesn't remember what happened, and has not returned to the mistakes of her youth, her mother doesn't believe her. But an interesting confrontation between Lily and Dan (Penn Badgley) in last night's episode, "Gaslit," seems to imply that Lily's reticence to deal with Serena may be more about herself than her daughter. It's hard to argue that Lily has been a better than average mother, and shutting Serena up against her will in rehab is just one more bad idea. Lily is turning more into her own mother each season, and that's not a good thing.

     The question now is, how will Serena possibly clear her name? She has suffered so much recently, as Juliet has sabotaged her school career, her love life, and her friend and family relations, that it may take Serena a long time to claw back to what she worked so hard for. Dan is fully on Serena's side, being the only one who is willing to believe her unlikely claims of innocence. After a confession from Jenny, it looks like Serena's best friend Blair (Leighton Meester) is climbing onto the revenge train. But Juliet has fled town, and with Gossip Girl (Kristen Bell) having trashed Serena so hard publicly, it will not be an easy time. I'm not so much worried about her personal life, as I don't see Columbia accepting her back as a student, even if her name is cleared.

     I am thrilled that Serena and Dan are heading for a reconnection. Dan's original pursuit of Serena is a big chunk of season one, and I have never liked her much with any of the other many men she has been paired with. Similarly, Dan doesn't click as well with any other girl. Should the series continue with a Dan/Serena couple, I would ask them to please, please, please make it long lasting. I know this show thrives on drama, but drama can be had in a relationship. Enough already. These two belong together. In my opinion. I'm sure many people disagree.

     Of course, with Gossip Girl, the drama is not just happening on screen. Lately, Taylor Momsen has been created plenty of her own angst with a reportedly diva-like attitude. She has barely appeared on the show this fall, and it was announced that she will be taking an undetermined continued absence. Now, of course, most of the information floating around is rumor, so it's hard to be sure exactly what's going on. But it sounds like she's throwing a tantrum, and the people working on the show are giving her a time out.

     The other couple still dancing around each other are Blair and Chuck (Ed Westwick). The two were red hot and together for much of last year. They had some rough times, and seem to have settled into an uneasy friendship. It's clear that neither are satisfied with the arrangement, Chuck telling Blair directly in this week's episode that he can't be her friend right now. These two are much more likely, in my opinion, to be in a stable relationship than Serena and Dan, as much as I like them. In fact, I would not be surprised if Chuck and Blair are reunited no later than February sweeps, and hopefully this time it sticks.

     It's not unheard of for a Gossip Girl couple to end up permanently attached. Lily and Rufus (Matthew Settle) had been will-they or won't-they for a long time, Lily even marrying another man. But now their marriage seems solid, despite many difficulties, and it doesn't look like they will be breaking up anytime soon. Sure, those two are much older than most of the cast, but I'm ready for at least one pair to last longer than half a season in the younger group, too.

     Lastly, Nate's (Chace Crawford) parents are suddenly back in the story. Early in the series, Nate's father, known as "The Captain," (Sam Robards) went to jail. Nate visited him earlier this fall, though the elder Archibald had not been seen on the show in two years. In last night's episode, Nate discovers that his mother, Anne (Francie Swift), is filing for divorce. Nate truly believes his father has changed, and so has worked to reunite them. All had gone well, until Nate discovers that his father just may be putting on appearances for a parole board hearing. This plot, though so far fairly small, is likely to pull more focus in coming episodes.

     Generally, while I have always liked this show, it's good to see such high stakes drama after a period of small tiffs. I'm glad to report that in its fourth season, Gossip Girl is as strong as ever, and has grown out of its high school pettiness. Though some aspects of that will never end. Thankfully.

     Gossip Girl airs Monday nights at 9pm on the CW.

For frequent mini-reviews and occasional tv news, follow Jerome on Twitter.

Article first published as TV Review: Gossip Girl - "Gaslit" on Blogcritics.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Glee - "Furt"

     Bizarre. That is the best word I can use to describe last night's Glee, or at least the first half. I certainly can't call this one of the best episodes of the series, although it did contain a few of the best moments. It felt to me like a season one episode, a bit all over the place, except that the plot didn't bend to the songs. In fact, it was a full twenty-two minutes into the episode (counting commercials) before the first note was even sung. When was the last time that happened?

     I was really looking forward to the arrival of Sue's (Jane Lynch) mother, ever since it had been announced that Carol Burnett would tackle the role. I still submit that it is a perfect mother-daughter pairing. And I'm glad they got to sing together, especially a weird song like "Ohio". Their chemistry was fantastic. But why did it take such a weird plot to bring them together? Sue had some of her best moments of the series thus far, but it had nothing to do with the wedding, and I'll get to that in a moment.

     In this week's episode, Sue signed up for online dating, and discovered that her only match was herself. How does that even happen? Had she previously created a profile that she had forgotten about, and apparently, despite Sue's previous relationship with a man, both Sue profiles were looking for other women. I have no problem with Sue the lesbian; the actress that portrays her is one, and I adore Lynch. But to marry yourself, and the fact that no one was really shown trying to put a stop to it, other than her mother, but for self-serving reasons, was truly weird. The only great part about it was that we got to see Sue in a tracksuit gown.

     The Season of Kurt (Chris Colfer) continues. I know this upsets some people, but as an avid Kurt fan who didn't get nearly enough of him in season one, I'm delighted. This week, Kurt had three major, somewhat connected plots.

     Let's go with Karofsky (Max Adler) first. The bully has continued to torment Kurt, and it came to a head this week as Kurt's friends finally decided to stand up for him. The result was that Sam (Chord Overstreet) ended up with a black eye, Mike Chang (Harry Shrum Jr.) became even more likable, quite a feat, and for some reason, Artie was included in this, too. I'm all for equality of handicapped people, but did anyone find it strange when the mostly timid guy in a wheelchair tried to intimidate a big, strong guy physically? And the fact that they didn't accomplish anything by the confrontation, except to further a Finn (Cory Monteith) plot was confusing, too.

     Regardless, it was awesome to see Sue stand up for Kurt. We've seen the protectiveness Sue can have for the unfairly treated before, both with her sister, and at Regionals last year. She's never shown the same deference to Kurt. I think it did not detract at all from her compassion that she continued to call Kurt 'lady'. She was even willing to give up her job as principal to defend him. This is a Sue that I love.

     But when Karofsky was returned to the school by the board, Kurt gave up. This was probably the most bizarre twist in the episode. He finally has an awesome support system in place, with friends, a new brother, and even Sue looking out for him, but he chooses this moment to stop fighting. It was a slap in the fact to Sue, Finn, and the others. I'm sure something will bring Kurt back to McKinley, but in the meantime, it was not a cool move. Not to mention, as I've said before, the private school he will be attending is at least TWO HOURS away!

     I've referenced Finn, and he definitely had his best story of the season so far. I haven't been a big fan of Monteith or his character as a rule, but he really nailed it, deftly handling the part in a way we haven't seen the character in a long time, reminding us why he was cast as a lead in the first place. Hit with doubt about himself, realizing he was not living up to his role as a leader or a brother, he stepped up to the plate and did what was right. Go, Finn!

      Of course, the biggest draw was the wedding of Kurt's father, Burt (Mike O'Malley) to Finn's mother, Carole (Romy Rosemont). Their relationship has really grown, and despite the short time they had been together, it felt right that Burt should propose. I do question how quick the wedding came together, especially as fancy as it was, and Kurt was planning it alone while dealing with everything else. But the wedding and the reception provided the most solid scenes in the episode. Every single actor and actress looked to be genuinely having fun, and it was infectious to myself, and likely many other viewers.

     Finn's song to Kurt, "Just the Way You Are" (another song I don't like that Glee has improved measurably) was certainly a high point, as was the ceremony song with the kids and Burt dancing down the aisle. Yeah, Carole danced, too, but she wasn't having as much fun as the rest of them, especially Burt. It was a long wait last night for a couple of good songs, but they finally arrived.

     One last night, the official proclamation of Sam and Quinn's (Dianna Agron) relationship was expected, but wonderful. However, now practically everyone in the club has paired up except for best buds Kurt and Mercedes (Amber Riley). Not only is that unnatural, though predictable for a TV show, but it leaves poor Mercedes out in the cold! As much as I love Kurt's beefed up role this fall, I think come winter it should be the Season of Mercedes! Who's with me?
     Quick trivia! I could be wrong, but was Kurt wearing that huge airplane broach on his sweater in the principal's office scene a homage to Lost? The man playing Karofsky's father, Daniel Roebuck, was a small, but important, presence to the now-ended ABC drama. Maybe I'm reading too much into things, but it tickled me. Why else would Kurt wear it? It looked a bit out of place.

     Glee airs Tuesday nights at 8pm on FOX. Next week is Sectionals, and we're almost done with this batch of episodes. The show won't be back until February, so make sure you don't miss it!

For frequent mini-reviews and occasional tv news, follow Jerome on Twitter.

Article first published as TV Review: Glee "Furt" on Blogcritics.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

House "Small Sacrifices"

***There are spoilers below. If you have not yet viewed the episode, please do so before reading.***

     Most episode of FOX's House are great, but sometimes an episode so superb comes along that I can't not write about it. This week's entry, "Small Sacrifices" was one such episode. There was so much going on, from religious debate, to major character developments, that I will likely miss some important aspect in this review. However, I'll try hit all the highlights. For more information on it, I recommend you check out Barbara Barnett's take. She is also a writer (and editor) on Blogcritics, as she delivers excellent, weekly in depth coverage of the show.

     The main medical case this week involved a patient named Ramon (Kuno Becker) who annually has himself nailed to a cross (through his palms, not his wrists) as part of a deal he believes he has made with God to make his daughter cancer free. House (Hugh Laurie) wants to offer Ramon treatment he believes will heal his patient, but Ramon refuses to accept it, thinking it would break his pact. As House doesn't believe in God, a standoff between the two begins, with House only eventually winning by lying to Ramon, making him believe that his daughter is not cancer-free, calling into question his faith.

     Is it ethical to call into question a belief system to save a life? Of course House thinks so. Ramon isn't upset with House for his deception, thinking it only proves god all the more real. So was anyone really hurt? Well, yes and no. Ultimately, House's goal of saving his patient's life was met, but at what could have catastrophic costs. Ramon could have sued Princeton Plainsboro, got House's medical license revoked, and made all sorts of trouble. Luckily for House, Ramon is a forgiving guy.

     But is it ever ok to lie to a patient, even in a life and death circumstance? After all, Ramon has a right to choose his treatment (or lack thereof), and House went against Ramon's known wishes. For the audience, there is now a character to bring life to that very question, as well as a whole slew or moral and honesty issues, in the newest doctor on the team, Martha Masters (Amber Tamblyn).

     Masters has already appeared in three episodes, and been given an "Also Starring" opening credit line, putting her in the same league as House's second team these past few seasons. Meaning, it looks like she is here to stay for the foreseeable future. I don't like her. I don't know if my distaste is about her, or about how she is getting in House's way and making doing what he does that much harder. I also think my distaste for her is far from universal, so I'll try to break it down.

     House likes Masters. He likes a challenge. Masters has already carved her niche in the team, which admittedly, has gotten more accepting of the way House does things. Complacent, even. For that reason I should welcome Masters, as House has, in his own way. But I can't help but feel the patients would be better off without her, and if she does get kicked off the team this year at some point, that will be the reason for it. Even Masters was the first to admit this week that if House had let her in on the plan, she would have spilled the beans and the patient would have died. Yet, that is not enough to make her rethink her beliefs. She is like Ramon in that even why her way defies what needs to be done to save a life, she will stick to it.

     That certainty should make me admire her, as I would most people with such strong convictions. It makes her a truly unique character on the series, and an interesting addition. Somehow, though, I don't. I think in this case, her inexperience is coloring her work, and it's not helping anyone, least of all her. In order to be the best doctor that she can be, she has to start seeing the world in shades of gray. Honesty is a virtue, but not an infallible one.

     Which kind of brings me around to the House-Cuddy (Lisa Edelstein) relationship, which I am enjoying, even as I worry about the blow it recently suffered. For weeks, House has maintained that he did the right thing by lying to Cuddy to save a patient's life. While Cuddy may have accepted that before they became a couple, she cannot separate her personal and professional lives, and so has forced House to resort to self pleasure.

     By this week, it felt like make it or break it time for the pair, as Cuddy seemed tired of fighting with him about it. Wilson (Robert Sean Leonard) kept telling House to lie and apologize the save the relationship, but instead, House was determined to prove to Cuddy that lying is sometimes necessary and beneficial. It was classic House, and of course he succeeded. But it didn't fix anything. In fact, it made it worse. Because Cuddy wasn't ever debating the positives or negatives of lying. She was upset about a lack of trust and openness that the two of them need to make it work. In the end, House took Wilson's advice. While I would have called this uncharacteristic of him a short time ago, it reflect the new House, who really cares about someone other than himself, and it looking for a new balance.

     Will Cuddy ever find out about this latest deception? Will it change the way she feels about him? Surely, she knew going in that she couldn't change House. Not fundamentally. The audience is quickly learning, though, that if anyone could shift who House is, it's Lisa Cuddy. I like the growth. It looks good on House, and I hope that we've seen the end of this particular fight. It would serve no purpose for her to know he was lying when he apologized. In fact, that he was willing to speaks volumes.

     Sadly, House and Cuddy were the only strong couple on display this week. I was very disappointed to see Sam (Cynthia Watros) leave Wilson shortly after his proposal, even though her reasons were solid. Maybe the patient files were forged, but it doesn't seem to me that Sam did it. She was pretty consistent in her statements. It may even have been a manipulation by House to undermine them, and if so, it worked. Wilson missed the point by thinking if he told her he was proud of her for lying, she would be happy with him. Again, it wasn't about the act or the words, it was about some fundamental communication level in their relationship, and Wilson sailed it. But I was enjoying Watros, having been missing her since her way-too-early departure from Lost, so I hope that a reconciliation is in the cards, even though it felt like her leaving was final.

     Taub (Peter Jacobson) also faced martial woes. His wife, Rachel (Jennifer Crystal), who is seen too infrequently for my taste, as Crystal does such a bang-up job, is having an emotional affair. That it is with a guy who lives across the country and exists only in email is immaterial. Taub is right to ask her to stop it, because as long as she has someone else to open up to, she won't ever do it with him again, a necessary step if their marriage is to survive. Yes, Taub cheated. And unlike Taub, I didn't think that Rachel had moved past it. But to see her so blatantly defy him to speak with another man was sad. They had a lot of work if they're going to make it. My money regrettably is on a divorce by February sweeps.

     Chase (Jesse Spencer) is embracing the single life, having hooked up with three women at one wedding (two were part of a threesome, if that makes it any better). No one could have been sadder than I when he split with wife Cameron (former cast member Jennifer Morrison) last year. I guess I should be glad that he's getting some, and beginning to get over for her. However, the behavior is destructive, and will not lead to anything good.

     Foreman (Omar Epps) is on a long dry spell, and just when Chase was helping him get over it, his co-worked abandoned him. I think Foreman still pines for Thirteen (Olivia Wilde), but as that doctor isn't coming back soon, it will be sometime before a resolution is in sight.

     All of this points to a major erosion of House's core team, with each member (except Masters) on a path that could lead to self-destruction. Could it be that once the titular character finally gets his own life under control, those around him have theirs come crashing down? It makes a twisted kind of sense. And gives us fans plenty to look forward to as the season continues to unfold.

     House airs Monday nights at 8pm on FOX.

For frequent mini-reviews and occasional tv news, follow Jerome on Twitter.

Article first published as TV Review: House - "Small Sacrifices" on Blogcritics.

Internet Frees People to Be Rude

     Before I get started, a quick confession: Is this article self-indulgent? Yes, it probably is. I realize I am complaining about people being mean to me, which on the surface, sounds childish. Will it help? Probably not. My purpose in writing this is just to make people think. If you've been the victim of such attacks, you're not the only one out there, and others know how much it sucks. If you are the attacker, I hope you will realize, though I know you probably won't, that what you type does hurt someone, even if you don't know them.

     I had seen the way people on the internet will write whatever pops into their head, with no consideration for the feelings of others. However, I had never experienced it in any volume firsthand until I wrote a review for the television show The Mentalist last week. The comment sections on both websites where I posted the article were flooded with personal attacks on me.

     Were my feelings hurt? Of course! As I'm sure many of yours have been, if you have ever written anything and experienced the same thing. We slave for hours a week for almost no pay and no recognition as a labor of love, and then are shot down with cruel, ill-thought-out attacks.
     In my case, I was told I had no education (I am a couple of classes away from a Master's degree), am full of hate (the word most people use to describe me, even if they don't like me, is "nice"), and I shouldn't judge a show by one episode. But aren't those same people judging me by one review, instead of the 290 I have written in 2010 alone?

     Critics are people who criticize. By definition, we are evaluating others' work. Sometimes, if those people read our articles, their feelings might be hurt. As such, I know I try to be fair. I try to support negative comments with reasons for my opinions, and also put in positives. Sometimes a mean sentence or two may slip in, but I do my best to avoid that, and if I don't, it's usually a plea to the network to pull a bad show instead of the many good ones that don't make it.

     Perhaps my review of The Mentalist did not live up to my usual standards. It was a quick review about a show I don't often watch, and thus lacked detail. I did put in positives, but the commenters certainly didn't notice them, or pretended not to. It was not one of the reviews of which I am most proud, but as it got much, much more attention than usual, I feel inclined to defend it. I stand by the opinion I put forth. Upon rereading, I don't think there's anything I wrote that I would have left out, but I definitely would have done a more thorough job if I knew it would be subjected to such intense scrutiny.

      As to the criticisms that I shouldn't write what I don't know about, I didn't. Perhaps I don't know a particular series that well. But I watch more than enough hours of television to formulate opinions of what is good versus what is bad. I even go to lengths to make sure I am being fair to the genre, even if it's not one I particularly care about. In the instance I keep coming back to, I wrote almost an entire paragraph outlining my shortcomings of knowledge on the particular show, so readers would know where I stood.

      Bottom line, don't be mean. Just because you don't know the people you are writing to or about, don't trash them. The internet can be a great forum for thoughtful debate, or it can be a junior-high-level hate forum. It's especially easy to be cruel because you don't have to actually put yourself out there by name to be responded or stood up to. Bullies come out much more quickly when they don't face retribution.

     Please, please, please, be nice to each other. And to me. :)

For frequent mini-reviews and occasional tv news, follow Jerome on Twitter.

Article first published as Internet Frees People to Be Rude on Blogcritics.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1

     What does the world, and this site, need more than another review of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1? Am I right?  But each person has a different perspective, and as a long time fan of both the books and the movies, I'd like to toss my hat into the ring as well.

     We'll start at the beginning, and probably my biggest (and one of very few) disappointment with the film: The Dursley's departure. The family that (poorly) raised Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) has often been dropped or shortened in the film versions. I understand that with limited time and at an effort to keep strong pacing, this may have been necessary. However, we barely got glimpses of Vernon (Richard Griffiths) and Petunia (Fiona Shaw), and though he is listed on IMDB as being in the film, I don't think I even saw Dudley's (Harry Melling) face. Being that this is the last time these pivotal character appear, couldn't we have gotten sixty seconds with them? That touching goodbye between Harry and his cousin for the book? It would not have hurt the movie at all, and been a nice payoff for fans.

     However, the Dursley scenes were split with something awesome and unexpected. The extra moments not explicitly shown in the books with Hermione's (Emma Watson) parents were heartbreaking. It really informed the audience just what Hermione was losing, and colored her fabulous performance for the rest of the movie. What a brilliant addition. It was so good, it didn't occur to me that the Dursleys were so cheated until much later.

     The opening battle was stunning. Again, a few things I wish had been handled slightly differently. I would have liked to see Mad-Eye (Brendan Gleeson) go down, just because his death was unclear immediately to non-fans of the book series. I also remembered being terrified that Hagrid (Robbie Coltrane) was dead when reading, but although he was slumped over in the film, it didn't have that same sense of dread. That being said, it was still an intensely exciting scene, beautifully stage, and full of action and danger.

     From there we move onto the Burrow, which thankfully was rebuilt a bit different, paying homage to the fact that the Weasley house was firebombed in the sixth movie. The inclusion of Bill (Domhnall Gleeson - yes, Brendan's son) and Fleur (Clémence Poésy) was necessary, both to plant seeds of doubts about Dumbledore (Michael Gambon) into Harry's head, and to hurry the three leads on their journey. I don't fault the films for not including Bill and his bride before now, as it was an expendable subplot. I do wish, though, that scars on Bill's face were a bit more pronounced, and that the battle in which Bill received them at the end of the sixth film had not been axed. But that is one of my many complaints about The Half Blood Prince, that could fill up a whole different article.

     The Weasley plot I really, really wanted to see was Percy's (Chris Rankin). He did not appear in this movie at all. He had one of the best plots in the book series, but it became apparent long ago that it was not be make it off the pages. His break from his family was hinted at in The Goblet of Fire, and the sharp eye noticed him in Order of the Phoenix. I was hoping for a few words before the wedding about him, so that perhaps a hint of the story would make it in. Sadly, this was not to be, though Rankin is listed in the credits for The Deathly Hallows Part 2. I doubt he will be seen much, but at least he will be there.

     I read a couple of early reviews that said The Deathly Hallows grew boring after the wedding, as Harry, Ron (Rupert Grint), and Hermione searched high and low for the Horcruxes. In fact, although I adore the final book, it was more meandering in that format, as the Hallows began to take precedence. In this recent movie, the Hallows are introduced, but not until near the end, so they never become a front-and-center mission. Even Ron's absence seemed shorter, as the move rushed ahead and kept the twists coming. As such, I completely disagree with those early reviews, and found the two and half hour runtime flew by, and was over much too soon.

      Some criticism has also been heaped on that nude make-out session between Harry and Hermione in Ron's dark vision. I admit, it was a tad adult, however, none of their naughty bits were actually shown. I think the way it was done was artistic, a bit sexy, and a perfect representation for the doubts that had surely been plaguing Ron's mind during his separation from them. Plus, it allowed some justifiable rage that Ron needed to destroy the Horcrux.
     More essential was the awkward dance between the two that happened in reality. In the books, Ron and Hermione were always an inevitable couple. I am always baffled by my movie-only friends, who root for Harry and Hermione, even after the Harry - Ginny (Bonnie Wright) romance finally blossomed. The dance, as well as Hermione's obvious grief over Ron made it very clear where Hermione's heart stood, and was a nice payoff to those who had been sidetracked by the on-screen chemistry of Radcliffe and Watson. Nicely done.

     The Malfoy Manor scene provides the few other complaints that I have. Certainly not about the Malfoys themselves, as Jason Isaacs wonderfully portrayed the desperate cad Lucius, and Tom Felton's tortured Draco is superb. I really believed that he was not going to give the (too) slightly disfigured Harry away on purpose, although his awkward non-answer did it for him. Draco is a boy, and unlike Harry, has not looked death in the face. He doesn't possess the same heroic traits that Harry does, and I loved how Draco, who started as a series villain, was shown to be just a kid.

     No, my complaints stem for the two pivotal deaths. Well, one, since Wormtail (Timothy Spall) was never killed, and his name appears in the credits for Part 2. The film Dobby (Toby Jones) was annoying from the beginning; the Jar Jar Binks of the Harry Potter world. It is no surprise that all of his subplot had been removed from movies 3 through 6. However, this has made his death mean so much less, as movie goers have not invested in him. Instead, what I argue was the single most tragic loss in a book filled with loss came across as noble, but not all that important. The exchange between Dobby and Bellatrix (Helena Bonham Carter) only worsened it, as it felt out of place.

     However, the scene immediately following where Harry mourns Dobby was splendid, even if movie-only fans were probably confused at the level of emotion shown. The mourning of the main characters drove home that Dobby's death meant something, and was not just a bow to popular opinion.

     Over all, the movie lived up to expectations quite well. As expected, the cuts were less than in previous installments, since two films allow a more expansive story. While it did not exactly stand on its own, it certainly will have fans chomping at the bit for eight months for the capper. Eight months is far too long. I wish it would come sooner. If you are a fan of the series, both movie and / or books, it should satisfy fairly completely, even in wanting more.

     A number of new actors joined at this late time in the series, including the always flawless Bill Nighy as the new Minister of Magic, Peter Mullan as the evil henchman Yaxley, David Ryall as Elphias Doge, Andy Linden as Mundungus Fletcher, and Rhys Ifans as Luna's eccentric dad, Xenophilius Lovegood. Each delivered outstanding, but brief performances. As most characters in the movie series, I only wished the got more screen time. Similarly, familiar favorites such as John Hurt as Ollivander, Frances de la Tour as Madame Maxine, and especially Imelda Staunton as Dolores Umbridge were welcome returns, but barely got anything to do. This final film belongs to Ron, Hermione, and especially Harry, and while they own it, as they should, that does give less time for the deserving others.

     A note, for any parents considering taking children to see it. Please don't. If you've followed the last few films, it's obvious that Harry Potter may have started as a children's series, but was never intended to stay that way, hence it's huge range in popularity among many age groups. But these final two installments are much more adult than any before, featuring multiple deaths, as mentioned above. In fact, the second part should have more than double the kills than this first one. The PG-13 rating is well deserved.

     Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1 is playing in theaters everywhere now. I suggest you see it as quickly as possible, and multiple showings is not out of the question.

For frequent mini-reviews and occasional tv news, follow Jerome on Twitter.

 Article first published as Movie Review: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1 on Blogcritics.

It's Okay to Watch a Show Called Cougar Town; I'd Even Encourage It

     The above line is from the opening credits card from last week's episode of ABC's Cougar Town, "Little Girl Blues".  Except for episode two, every episode in this second season of the sitcom has had an amusing slogan above the title.  It's the show that isn't afraid to make fun of itself.  I've covered the series's rise over the first season, and it's growth into one of the most consistently funny shows currently on television before, so I won't do that again.  But it's awesome, and if you're not watching it, you should be.

     This week Travis (Dan Byrd) brought home his new college girlfriend, Kirsten (Collette Wolfe, 100 Questions, Hot Tub Time Machine) to meet his family.  Travis's high school girlfriend, Kylie (Spencer Locke), who won't let him go, was shown hilariously in a short clip, telling Travis he'd be back.  Mind you, she may not have been concerned because she's seeing other people, but she also thinks she can keep a hold on Travis.  In an ideal world, Travis will slowly grow closer to Kirsten, who is played by a wonderfully funny actress who I'd like to see stick around, until a full-blown rivalry erupts between Kylie and Kirsten.  See, I also really like Locke.  Ultimately, I'd like Travis to end up with even-older-than-Kirsten, Laurie (Busy Philipps) because they have such great chemistry.  But it will be years before the two of them as a couple will really be socially acceptable.

     The introduction left much to be desired.  Travis's mother, Jules (Courteney Cox), was predictably over protective, to the level of psycho.  She has an unhealthy obsession with her son, and pity the girl who tries to come in between them.  Plus, Kirsten is a grad student, four or five years older than college freshman Travis.  Jules will probably never accept Kirsten, though she was becoming used to Kylie, because Kirsten broke Big Joe, Jules's giant wine glass, whom she dearly loved.  Big Joe was an icon on the series, but was replaced with Big Carl, so the wonderfully bordeline alcoholic Jules will not be running dry anytime soon.

     The main subplot involed Grayson's (Josh Hopkins) house becoming the new hangout for the gang.  Unlike other shows, this one did not jump the shark when Jules and Grayson finally began dating, breaking the romantic tension built over the first season.  In fact, it's rarely a main focus of the show, which is probably why it works so well.  Grayson, while pretty integrated into Jules's gang at this point, still tries (and usually fails) to maintain some level of privacy.  The invasion of his personal space was met with much unhappiness, to the point that he asked the sometimes-evil Ellie (Christa Miller) for help in stopping it.  She reluctantly agreed, though he pretty much solved the problem himself.  Also, weird neighbor Tom (Bob Clendenin) is trying to worm his way into their cliche.  I like the element Tom brings to the show, but am not so sure I'd like him as a main character.

     My favorite storyline, though, this year has been Bobby's (Brian Van Holt).  Bobby is Jules's ex-husband, and he's still in love with her.  He didn't take Grayson and Jules so well, and a layer of sadness has hung over every scene he's been in this season.  Bobby certainly isn't the smartest member of the group, but he may be the biggest hearted, and the most emotional.  It's a testament to Van Holt that he has been able to pull off this subtle layer without detracting from the show, or making Bobby the least bit unlikeable.  Ideally, he will find love before too long.

     Cougar Town also stars the hilarious Ian Gomez.  The show airs Wednesday nights at 9:30 on ABC, including in two days.

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Thursday, November 18, 2010

The Mentalist "Red Moon"

     I haven't watched CBS's The Mentalist since it premiered in the fall of 2008, so when I heard of a chance to get a screener for this week's episode for review, I jumped at the chance to check it out. After all, though I hadn't cared for the series on my initial viewing, the show is in its third season, so I figured it had likely gotten better.

     I'm sad to say, I was wrong. It is a typical crime show procedural. The gimmick of The Mentalist is that the central character, Patrick Jane (Simon Baker), pretends to be psychic to help the police solve crimes. I have to say, I didn't notice any psychic shenanigans in this episode at all. I checked Wikipedia, but it didn't appear that the premise has changed. USA already has a fake-psychic detective on Psych, and their version, albeit sillier, is better executed. I think it's Jane's quiet calm that throws me off. If a show is going to build around an eccentric central character, the person should actually seem eccentric. Otherwise, he's just boring. (See House or Castle for successful examples.)

     The ongoing plot involves Jane hunting for Red John, who murdered his family. This provided the sole interesting moments of the episode. The exchange between Simon and Teresa (Robin Tunney) about revenge, and the purpose it may or may not serve, was fascinating. Sadly, it was short, and didn't go very deep. I feel like this was an opportunity for the show to shine, and like Jane, it slunk into the shadows instead.

     The central story this week involves a serial killer taking out cops, who seems to have broken his or her pattern. Patrick, Teresa, and the others partner with the local law enforcement to take down the treat. Star Trek: Enterprise's former series regulars John Billingsley and Connor Trinneer guest star, as does Chris Ellis (Catch Me If You Can, Apollo 13, Armageddon). They each does a fair job pulling their weight, but are constantly sucked down by what happens around them.

     Though procedurals are not at all my bag, I can recognize a good one. I have tuned into an episode or two of Law & Order: SVU and been blown away. The Mentalist does not fall into this category. How it has lasted three seasons is beyond me.

     The Mentalist airs Thursday at 10pm on CBS.

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Article first published as TV Preview: The Mentalist - "Red Moon" on Blogcritics.

NOTE: This review has garnered personal attacks and rude comments on both of the news sites I write for.  I welcome all constructive criticism and debates about the series itself, but any personal attacks will be deleted.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Glee - "The Substitute"

     Glee, Glee, Glee! I admit, most of my Glee reviews have been overwhelmingly positive. I believe that this is a wonderful show that has been having a stellar season so far. However, this week's entry, "The Substitute", will surely rank among the best of the best when this season is over and done with. An A-list guest star, spectacular musical numbers, moving emotional moments, and an advancement of several large story arcs.

     Perhaps the most anticipated part of this week was the Gwyneth Paltrow arriving at McKinley High as substitute teacher Holly Holliday. She took over Mr. Schuester's (Matthew Morrison) Spanish class while he was out sick. Later, at the urging of Kurt (Chris Colfer), who was fed up with bossy Rachel (Lea Michele) trying to run the show, she took on the Glee Club as well. (Side note: how hilarious was Will's hallucination of the Glee members as toddlers?) Besides the cutsie name, Holliday was every students' dream sub. She made the classroom fun, and wasn't afraid to break the rules. Her personal mission was to keep kids in school, and to do that, she looked to please them. For awhile, I believed Holliday could take Schuester's place, and there would be no negative impact on the show. Until it was revealed how bad she is under pressure from authority, especially in protecting her students.

     The biggest change to the series was cheerleading coach Sue Sylvester (Jane Lynch) being promoted to principal of McKinley. Principal Figgins (Iqbal Theba) was sort of an unnecessary character, with Sue often blackmailing him into doing what she wanted anyway. He was sometimes fun, but I doubt he'll be missed that much. While Figgins was home sick, Sue took over, and later in the episode, it was revealed that Figgins had been fired and Sue was here to stay. She can create far more trouble in her new job, so it was an excellent move for the series. The drama started almost immediately when Sue befriended Holliday, then fired Will and gave Holly the job.

     Obviously, this did not last. At the end of the day, though Sue is sometimes cruel to Will, she does respect him. The begrudging friendship they seemed to form earlier this year was a nod to that, although Sue can't bring it in herself to be nice to him for too long, as exhibited by her response to him last night that being friends "got boring" for her. Yet, she does genuinely care about her students (when she stops to think about it), and Will is much better for the kids than Holly any day. Hence, Sue relented and allowed Will to return to the school.

     What can be expect in the future from Principal Sue's reign? Surely, she will keep attacking programs. Last night, she attempted to fire Beiste (Dot-Marie Jones) and get rid of the football team, until Beiste pointed out to her that, without football, who would Sue's squad cheer for? The humilation only provoked Sue, who banned tator tots from the school, sparking a protest that nearly destroyed Sue's car. I think we can expect more of the same: Sue wildly overreaching her boundaries, and eventually, being put in check by the students and teachers. It is my hope that Sue will mature a bit, and give more depth to her nefarious schemes as times goes on, instead of just doing the outrageous.

     Another long-simmering plot was addressed last night with the return of Will's ex-wife, Terri (Jessalyn Gilsig). The two divorced at the end of last year, but Terri remains a principal cast member. This feels a little odd, since last night was the first substantial screen time she's seen this far into the season. She often had little to do last year, and even her little bits are mostly done, with her not appearing in the vast majority of episodes so far. Sure, I enjoyed seeing what worked between her and Will, and I wasn't hating their ex-sex, though it was clear that there would be no relationship reconciliation. But did Gilsig need to remain a main character for that? It doesn't seem like enough, unless she has some major arc planned coming up.

     Things between Kurt and Blaine (Darren Criss) are heating up. The two seem to spend all their free time together now. Remarkably, because as I wrote in last week's review, they live about two hours away from each other. This week, Mercedes (Amber Riley) began to feel that her friendship with Kurt was suffering because of his new "not-boyfriend". She takes her frustration out on Sue's tator tot ban, but her feelings are coming from her suffering personal life, not just a diet restriction. I thought it was a little too flip for Kurt to dismiss her, though. It's Kurt that needs to balance friends and a crush, not Mercedes that needs a boyfriend. Though I would not object at all to that development.

     The last plot point I'd like to touch on is the development of Dave Karofsky (Max Adler). Last night was his eleventh episode, but only about the second he's been noticed as a character. Seems to be that Dave has a crush on Kurt, too, evidenced by his wink and treatment. Yeah, he still shoves and threatens Kurt, I'm assuming to keep appearances, but the anti-gay bully can't stay away from the gay kid. Adler is not a bad actor, and with a little bit of a clue into who he is, not just what he is (a jock bully), I welcome him on the series.

     I realize this is a stereotype in action, but Glee has a chance to address a few real issues here. If the writers don't bow to the anti-Kurt that seems to be brewing among critics, myself not among them. I love that Kurt has been such a focus this year so far, and will mourn if he gets scaled back, as he often (but not always) was last year. He is may more interesting than Rachel or Finn (Cory Monteith).

     As I mentioned at the start of this review, this show had some awesome musical numbers. From Holliday's teaching moments like the Schoolhouse Rock classic "Conjunction Junction", to the silly Will and Mike Chang (Harry Shum Jr.) "Make Them Laugh", the songs went for a chuckle. Then Paltrow killed the watered-down "Forget You", the radio version of Cee Lo Green's "F**k You", and made us forget there was ever any vulgar language in the tune. I was most skeptical about this, absconding "Forget You" in favor of the original version of the song until last night. Now both are acceptable.

     The number with the biggest hype was the mashup of "Umbrella" and "Singin' in the Rain". Done on a stage covered with water, the kids, along with Will and Holly, kicked up their heels and got wet. It was visually stunning, as well as incredibly interesting musically. Glee's mashups are becoming one of the show's better-known signatures, and with quality like this, that's likely to continue.

     Next week: a Glee wedding! Why not? It's still November sweeps. Watch Glee Tuesday nights at 8pm on FOX.

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Article first published as TV Review: Glee "The Substitute" on Blogcritics.

Weeds "Theoretical Love Is Not Dead"

     Six seasons in, is anyone getting tired of Showtime's Weeds?  'Cause I'm sure not.  And after this week's season six finale, I'm not sure how anyone else could be either.  The series is constantly reinventing itself, and this year was certainly no different.

     The show spent it's first three years in a quiet, suburban community.  It got a little grittier as pretty much all of the main characters moved south to the California-Mexico border for seasons four and five.  Season six found the Botwins, along with pal Doug (Kevin Nealon) on the run.  They went through the northern states of Washington, Montana, Colorado, and a few other places, before ending up in Dearborn, Michigan, Nancy's (Mary-Louise Parker) hometown.  They crash with her former teacher, who was also her lover, Warren (hilariously, Richard Dreyfuss).  Of course, they cannot run forever, and their enemies track them there, as well.

     As the finale began, Nancy was being held hostage by her husband, Esteban (Demian Bichir), and his henchman, Guillermo (Guillermo Diaz).  They have come for Esteban and Nancy's baby, who she took when she fled.  Esteban wants Stevie back, and then he will kill Nancy.  Nancy's family is already at the airport, waiting for her.  She manages to sneak a call off to Andy (Justin Kirk), telling him they will be going with Plan C, which Andy is not at all happy about.  Through a series of small twists, Warren is arrested, Andy, Shane (Alexander Gould), and Silas (Hunter Parrish) make it safely on a plane to Paris, and Nancy willfully stays behind with Steview, Esteban, and Guillermo.

     At this point, viewers like may were wondering if the crazy woman had finally snapped.  Did Nancy actually believe that Esteban would let her live after, from his viewpoint, kidnapping his child?  Esteban has killed for far less.  However, Weeds has a repuation for delivering each season finale a twist ending, and this one was no different.  As Nancy and her captors walked out of the airport, a squadron of police and F.B.I. were there waiting for her, and she quickly confessed to the murder of Pilar Zuzua, an act that Shane actually committed.

     Where does this leave Weeds for season 7?  Obviously, Nancy will be spending some time in lockup.  She may be released, as the evidence may not point to her.  Afterall, she didn't do it.  But of course she'd lie to protect her son, so she will do her best to convince them that she did.  Will Esteban release the videotape that proves Shane killed Pilar?  Will Nancy's family come back and try to break her out?  Will they come back at all?  Will Doug be returning?  Fans were upset about the depature of long-time star Elizabeth Perkins, who played Celia Hodes, this year.  Is this an opportunity to bring her back?  Or will Doug join her on the used-to-be list?  Will a couple of years have passed, so her sons can be the proper age (only four years have passed in the first six seasons)?  There are so many questions!

     But there are always so many questions left on Weeds.  Luckily, the series has been renewed for a seventh season, so they will not be left unanswered.

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Tuesday, November 16, 2010

The Big C "Taking the Plunge"

    Showtime's newest half hour dramedy, The Big C, got off to a rocky start this past summer.  However, happily, the series improved as the episodes went by, and the show ended with an exciting finale last night.  In the beginning, it was cliche and one-note characters that harmed The Big C, but as each week unfolded, each figure got more defined, and developed personality.  There were a few bumps along the way, but some surprises twists and touching moments made this show a permanent spot on my TiVo season pass list.

     Cathy (Laura Linney) finally told her family about her cancer, and that's when things really started taking off.  A large chunk of the season was plagued by marital drama between Cathy and her husband, Paul (Oliver Platt), whom she kicked out almost as soon as she was diagnosed.  Perhaps it's a bit convenient that their union was saved so completly by Paul finding out why Cathy had been acting odd, but Paul always loved Cathy, and it's no wonder he wanted to protect her.  The show touched on Cathy having issues handing over control of anything to Paul, and asking for help.  Although they were not in evidence last night, I assume that will be the ongoing disagreement in season two.

     Cathy's son, Adam (Gabriel Basso) was handled more off-screen.  We only really saw his reaction to his mother deciding to undergo a dangerous treatment.  At first, I was sad at the omission.  But in retrospect, there was plenty of screen time given for Adam to seem completly unaffected by what should have been very emotional stuff, and so, the missing moment wasn't necessary.  Instead, Adam had a much more satisfying climax.  He accidentally discovered a key that he shouldn't have to a storage locker he wasn't supposed to go to until his mother passed away.  It was filled with gifts for his future birthdays, Christmases, graduations, etc.  While Adam had not even shown a frown through other issues, this brought him to tears, as I'm sure it did to any member of the audience with a soul.

     Sean (John Benjamin Hickey) also faced some last minute growth when his former lover, Rebecca (Sex and the City's Cynthia Nixon) told him that she was pregnant with his baby.  Homeless by choice, as part of an environmental activist philosophy, Sean had to do some major self reflection, knowing he would soon be responsibile for another human being.  Sure, Rebecca offered to raise the baby herself, but did anyone believe for a minute that Sean would accept that offer?  Cathy's gift of a house to him was the perfect step.  It didn't seem forced at all.  Still, there will be adjustment.  I chuckled when Sean went out and slept on the lawn because he just couldn't feel comfortable on the couch.  I hope this will earn Nixon a full-time promotion come season two.

     One of the biggest twists, though, came at the end of last week's penultimate episode, when Marlene (Phyllis Somerville), battling Alzheimer's, decided to put a bullet in her own face.  Her funeral was almost fun, as she planned it herself, complete with polka band and scratch off lottery tickets.  Marlene was probably my favorite character, and I felt as affected as the other characters by her choice.  At first, Cathy seemed to see Marlene's act as noble by ending things on her own terms.  Thankfully, the writers took the opportunity to show some of the consequences of her passing, and Cathy came to understand that she wanted to live.  I understand why someone facing such a grevious condition might choose to end it, but others are affected by your actions.  And some will be sad to see you again.  She will be missed.

     All in all, the show did not reach the brilliance of other Showtime hits, such as Weeds or Nurse Jackie, but it carved out it's own little niche, which it will hopefully occupy for at least a few years.

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Bored to Death ends second season

     Last night, HBO's Bored to Death finished its second season. It's a noir-comedy, and that if sounds odd, you should see it! I liked the second season way better than the first. The characters were better defined, as were their relationships to each other. The humor was tighter. Guest stars became recurring characters. Less case-of-the-week, and more play into an ongoing plot. Plus the cases-of-the-week they did have often came back up later, and they were just more fun.

     In the finale, Jonathan (Jason Schwartzman) contemplates whether he should let Nina (Zoe Kazan) move in after one night of great sex. By the end of the episode, Jonathan still hasn't made a decision. He's too involved with his friends' drama, and fighting with nemesis Louis (John Hodgman) to think all that much about it.

     In fact, all three principal characters are pretty self-involved. They care about each other, but that's about it. Only Ray (Zach Galifianakis) truly loves a woman, Leah (Heather Burns). But while Ray is still thinking about her, he beds several other women this season, whom he doesn't seem to care a lick about. Jonathan similarly doesn't seem to let his most recent breakup affect him that much. Even Jonathan's pining over his ex in season one seemed more for his benefit than to make her happy. Thankfully, the pining did not really continue into season two.

     Self-involvment can be funny (think Seinfeld or It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia), but somehow this show makes it seem fresh all over again. Not to mention, the characters stay very likable. They're not mean to others; they let Vikram (Ajay Naidu) hang out with them instead of treating him like a driver. They just don't take much interest in others.

     The heart of the series is not love. It's the hilarious hijinks in a three-way bromance. Whether it's rescuing a lovely Korean tranny from his father's spa, or buying rubber bullets when high to stage a rescue from real bad guys. Jonathan did eventually go to lengths to save Ray from his stalker, but he cut an earlier stakeout short because he had to get to a job interview.

     George (Ted Danson) is the most clueless, but he mostly just rolls with whatever happens. He will occasionally take a stand, such as quitting the magazine in the finale. But when he's with Ray and Jonathan, he just seems along for the ride. It probably helps that he's usually incredibly stoned. I think he's also trying to recapture his youth through them, and there is a genuine father-son-esque bond between Jonathan and George.

     I have referenced three main characters. While it is true that Leah was upgraded to series regular for season two, she still wasn't in every episode, and had not independent plot apart from the main three. Hence, despite her name in the credits, she still comes across as a supporting player. As she should stay, because any dissolution from the three guys would probably bring down the show. Other actors appearing are quite capable, but the three men have a chemistry that defines the series.

     I could spend paragraphs dissecting each of the three leads. There is ample neurosis and depth to them all. But it's not necessary. The show is enjoyable at a surface level, as well as with some after thought. It's three A-list actors, taking a break from careers to film eight half-hours a year. I am very glad that they do. I look forward to a third season.

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Article first published as TV Review: Bored to Death Ends a Second Season on Blogcritics.