Sunday, February 27, 2011

Les Miserables: The 25th Anniversary Concert

Last week, Universal released Les Miserables: The 25th Anniversary Concert on Blu-ray and DVD. I was lucky enough to get a screener of the Blu-ray, and I have to say, I was highly impressed! I was a little hesitant to watch it, since I have never seen the show, though I've really wanted to for years. Plus, this is a concert, not a full-blown performance of the musical. The singers mostly just stand in front of microphones. But all hesitation was wiped away within minutes of starting the disc.

The picture and sound are flawless. Cameras frequently zoom in on whomever is singing to provide crystal clear closeups of the faces. Even when viewing a wide angle shot, the details visible on this Blu-ray are amazing. The sound is mixed perfectly, allowing you to hear every note of the intricate, rich harmonies with no static or feedback. In a packed arena, I am in awe of just how well this disc looks and sounds. It couldn't have done any better in an empty studio.

The staging is simple. The background fits the piece well, with barrels and big wooden wheels and other period-appropriate things tucked in. Performers mostly enter and exit through a door in the middle, but also use stairs on either side. A row of microphones dominates the front of the stage. Behind and a level up is the orchestra, and beyond them, a choir made up of cast members from several companies. I am more than 500 performers are a part of this, and at times the wall of sound just blew me away. Not to mention the lighting, which is so well done; it is a spectacle unto itself. Whole gun battles are fought with just red and white lights.

As mentioned, I haven't seen the show, so I don't know if anything is cut out. The story seems to flow along in linear order, with all of the beloved songs intact, including "One Day More," "I Dreamed a Dream," and "Do You Hear the People Sing?" Alfie Boe is superb as thief-turned-hero Jean Valjean, and Norm Lewis shines as his hunter, Inspector Javert. Both are definitely the heart of the show. While almost everyone is stupendous, these two are sheer delight, and their talent fills the entire O2 space with ease.

Unfortunately, Nick Jonas (yes, that Nick Jonas), though hyped in the press info and on disc cover, is underwhelming. I'm not calling his singing voice into question, but he suffers from camera close-ups, as he really demonstrates no ability to convey emotions with his face, or act in any manner. Also highlighted is Lea Salgona, who has not only won a Tony, but is also the voice behind the singing Disney characters of Mulan and Jasmine. Salgona takes on Fantine, and fares much better than Jonas. Her "I Dreamed a Dream" inspires an immediate second.
Matt Lucas, the famous comedian behind Little Britain and Little Britain USA, among other projects, is clearly a crowd favorite, playing Thenardier, the "Master of the House." While not as strong vocally as the others, his wild turn in a comic part is more than good enough, though I can't decide if his singing style is a choice or of necessity.

The show itself runs a little less than two and a half hours, but don't turn off your player during the applause, as there are still almost thirty minutes left. Four Jean Valjeans, including original Colm Wilkinson, sing together, followed by a 1985 cast-led "One Day More." Then lots of speeches and acknowledgments that, while certainly deserved, drag on, and ending with school children flooding in to join the casts for a rendition of "Do You Hear the People Sing?" that might very well bring you to tears.

The Blu-ray edition is unique only in that there are tons of language options for subtitles. While the DVD offers merely English and Spanish, the Blu-ray adds to that French, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Swedish, Danish, Finnish, Dutch, Norwegian, Portuguese, Hungarian, Polish, Turkish, Icelandic, Mandarin, and Cantonese! A plethora of choices for people all over the world. Considering the international impact the show has had, I think that is probably a wise option.

Of course, the sound and picture quality are also far superior to the DVD, but the rest of the disc features, well feature, is the same. The lone special is a five-minute series of clips tracing Les Miserables from its inception twenty-five years ago, up through today. It is essentially a trailer for the stage show, with pictures and footage from various productions, as well as staggering statistics boasting to the amount of times and places Les Miserables has been performed, and ending with a clip of Susan Boyle's now infamous performance on British television. Honestly, I was inspired watching just this, before I even put on the film proper.
les mis, les miserables, blu-ray
Amazon is currently selling the Blu-ray for $26.99. Or you can rent it from Amazon's Instant Video service for a mere $3.99. It is worth every penny, and begs for repeat viewings, which is why I recommend the purchase over the rental. Do yourself a favor and check it out.

The Vampire Diaries Invites in "The House Guest"

     The CW's The Vampire Diaries is taking about six weeks off, as many shows do at this time of year. As such, the series decided to make sure they went out with a bang before their break, and did they ever deliver! Unexpected deaths, secrets revealed, relationship pathos, a singing vampire, and a surprise at the end that perhaps no one saw coming. Oh my!

     While much of the last weeks have been spent dealing with Elijah (Daniel Gillies) and his witch minions, Jonas (Randy J. Goodwin) and son Luka (Bryton James, The Young and the Restless, Family Matters), those three now appear to be out of play, at least two permanently. Elijah is dispatched by a special dagger. Jonas and Luka show some really neat, previously unknown to us viewers, magic, as Luka somehow invisibly manifests himself in the Salvatore house to remove the dagger from Elijah and bring him back to life. Katherine (Nina Dobrev) sees the dagger moving and calls for Damon (Ian Somerhalder), who, even though he doesn't know who the unseen assailant is, fries Luka to a crisp. Jonas then goes on a revenge kick, stirring up all kinds of trouble at The Grill, before Katherine and Stefan (Paul Wesley) permanently take him out of the game in Elena's (also Dobrev) bathroom.

     Luka and Jonas are just the latest non-villains to check in to town and meet their demise. Previously, Rose (Lauren Cohan) similarly died. Whereas Rose's death, though, is not the fault of our band of heroes, Jonas and Luka's somewhat are. It's sad, really. They are sympathetic men. If only they had agreed to help Stefan, as he asked. It really pounds home the point that what is going on is some dangerous stuff. Magic and supernatural creatures are often portrayed as tame on the series, especially the main characters, but flashes of danger and death belay that conclusion. While Jonas's death is really his own fault, his motivation to save his daughter is pure, as proven by his final gift to Bonnie (Katerina Graham). As such, it is hard to blame him for what he does. I am really anxious to see how Jonas's daughter will take the news, and will she turn on the people that will surely rescue her after she learns of their part in her family's death?

     Luka and Jonas, along with Katherine's actions in this episode, also demonstrate complicated characters. The Vampire Diaries prefers shades of gray to black and white heroes and villains, and they are the latest good example of this characteristic. Damon, of course, has always struggled to balance his dark and light sides. But seeing the people that Damon, Stefan, and Elena fight against being portrayed as not necessarily bad guys, too, makes the story so much more intriguing. I look for Klaus, the forthcoming big bad of the season, to be a little more on the villainous side, but we'll have to wait and see.

     Katherine becomes even more mysterious this week, willingly assisting Stefan and Damon in the take down of the male witches, as well as helping in the research that will allow them to kill Klaus. This seems out of character for her, as she often tries to kill the brothers and their friends. I'm not the only one who thinks so, as Damon also finds her behavior strange. Why Katherine is being friendly is not revealed this week, but there is surely a selfish bend to her actions. Katherine has been shown over and over again to care only about Katherine. Surely, she cannot be trusted in any life and death confrontation.

     Even more interesting, Katherine decides to make a move on Damon, and Damon rejects her. Damon is in love with Katherine, and has been since they met. Does this mean he is getting over those feelings? I find that doubtful. I think Damon is trying to protect his heart, knowing he cannot trust Katherine. As such, if she continues to be helpful and continues to show an interest in him, I think Damon will eventually act on his feelings for her. I also think this would make a great arc, and would like to see the Salvatore brothers each dating a woman who looks exactly the same as his brother's girlfriend. Do I dare to hope this is what will happen? Of course, Katherine surely is just trying to get in good with at least one one of the group before betraying them all.

     I think the only moment that felt fairly unauthentic this week was when Bonnie asks Elena's permission to date her brother, Jeremy (Steven R. McQueen). Elena's reaction is just plain weird. It looks like the director purposely has her make a face that doesn't seem to indicate she is OK with the situation to build false suspense Seconds later, her blessing seems totally sincere. The two do not match up, and Elena would never keep Bonnie squirming just to torment her. It wasn't the reaction that Elena should have had. Yes, Elena would have conflicting emotions when presented with this arrangement, but it was just so poorly done, in my opinion, which seemed out of step with the usually great execution in the show.

     Bonnie and Jeremy themselves are a little strange. Bonnie is definitely weirded out when she first starts to feel something more than a basic fondness for her best friend's younger brother. While Jeremy is gung-ho immediately, it takes Bonnie longer to warm up. I really like them together, and have enjoyed seeing this natural, organic relationship rise up between them. Any hesitations are beginning to fade away, but not too fast. This was not a plot I was on board with originally, but it has been done in such a way I find it hard to complain. Quite nice.

     Almost every person important to the story now knows what is going on in Mystic Falls. This week, Alaric (Matthew Davis) asks Elena to consider telling her Aunt Jenna (Sara Canning) about the vampires and such, though Elena has yet to make a decision. Alaric doesn't feel like he can have a true relationship with Jenna until he can be honest with her, which is understandable. I kept expecting Elena to invite Jenna in to talk to all of her friends and fill her in on the family secrets, but she never does. It's a shame, as Jenna is in constant danger from the threats, and I really feel she could better handle herself if she knew what she was up against.

     However, I find it likely that the choice has been made for Elena with the surprise visit from Isobel (Mia Kirshner, The L Word) at the end of the episode. Isobel is Alaric's ex-wife, who he tells Jenna is dead. Plus Isobel is Elena's biological mother. I find it highly unlikely that whatever reason Isobel came to town can be disguised from Jenna after such a blatant confrontation. Jenna has already been asking questions after Uncle John (David Anders) drops cryptic hints. I do not see it likely that Jenna will take simple answers and let the subject drop. I'm excited! Jenna will totally be a wild card in the mix, if she survives the season.

     Besides Jenna, Mystic Falls's other character in the dark is Matt (Zach Roerig). It's been a big issue that has kept Caroline (Candice Accola) away from him. She worries about trying to carry on a relationship with someone now that she is a vampire. Yet, she can't bring herself to stay apart from Matt. Caroline sings a declaration of love to him that was a high point of the episode. Accola has a voice! Minutes later, though, Matt is lying on the floor bleeding to death and Caroline must use her blood to save him, though he did not die fully, and thus did not become a vampire himself.

     I thought that Matt was the next death, and I was kind of excited that he should die just after reconnecting with Caroline, but also while still being in the dark about so much. He has become a little boring, written into the corner he is in. However, that all changes in an instant. To say that Matt reacts badly is a massive understatement. He immediately connects vampires to his sister Vicki's (Kayla Ewell) demise last year, perhaps even a little too quickly, as if he has already suspected something along these lines. Just like that, a plot I thought was long over is brought back to life with a vengeance, and sets Matt up to have an exciting spring as he learns hidden details and puts pieces together. How will he react once he hears the whole story? I honestly have no idea. I also worry that he, like Jenna, may not live to see season three.

     Who will indeed live? And where has Tyler (Michael Trevino) gone? Be sure to catch The Vampire Diaries when it returns to the CW on April 7th. The series airs Thursday nights at 8 p.m.

Article first published as TV Review: The Vampire Diaries Invites In "The House Guest" on Blogcritics.

Click here for an alphabetical list of all of Jerome's Current Season Reviews.

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

Saturday, February 26, 2011

The Big Bang Theory Figures Out "The Toast Derivation"

     Now that the women are firmly in place on CBS's The Big Bang Theory, it's time to take a look at the new chemistry combinations. For years, Penny (Kaley Cuoco) has been the only female among the four lead guys. But last spring, two others were tested, and they were liked so well that by this winter they were added to the main cast. Bernadette (Melissa Rauch) is a smart scientist who happens to be Penny's co-worker, and a love interest for Howard (Simon Helberg). Amy Farrah Fowler (Mayim Bialik) is proving that a female version of Sheldon (Jim Parsons) can be just as good as the original. I'm not saying that the guys have gotten stale, but adding the girls ensures plenty of fresh material to mine for years to come.

     The situation reminds me of when Alvin and the Chipmunks added the Chipettes. There were female counterparts for each of the three main characters. Similarly, Bernadette is like Howard, Amy is like Sheldon, and Penny goes with, even though she's not that much like, Leonard (Johnny Galecki). Which leaves only poor Raj (Kunal Nayyar) out in the cold. Though, it could be argued that Raj's sister, Priya (Aarti Mann), who does not star on the series, but is currently doing an arc, is his counterpart. But Priya is here as a love interest for Leonard, shaking things up with Penny, so no matter which way you look at it, Raj is still left out.

     Which is all right. It would be hard to add yet another new full-time character so soon. The new women are just getting settled in. Eventually, someone may come along for Raj, but I'm not in a hurry, as I actually like watching Raj play the odd one out. After so long of Leonard being the oddball for actually dating, while the other guys stuck to their boys' club, it's fun to see the dynamics totally shift as three of them move on, and Raj is left behind. Plus, before Raj can even entertain a love interest, he has to get over his phobia of speaking to women. I am hoping that his constant exposure to three females will gradually help him. His shyness has been a fun element for awhile, but it's time to move on from it. Then, once he is mostly cured, the series can bring someone in for him.

     Something I think the show is doing really well is giving the women screen time apart from the men, having ladies' nights and sleepovers. Penny has always been one of the stars, but we really only saw her interacting with her geeky neighbors. These new characters give us a chance to explore her, seeing other sides of her life. I find it interesting that Amy Farrah Fowler seems to be the advocate for the trio's activities, as she is introduced as a loner, but is really embracing having a social circle. Of course, she is such a delight, and it has been handled in a way that seems realistic, so I'm not pointing that out as a flaw. On the contrary.

     I love Amy and Sheldon's relationship, a term I use in the loosest sense of the word. While they have thus far avoided a romantic entanglement, I have to think that one will be coming, likely at Amy's aggression. Their frequent interaction, often though video, is perfect for the two modern, anti-social geniuses. But more important, Amy understands Sheldon, and knows how to talk to him in a way that others don't. In this week's episode, Sheldon is missing his friends, who have deserted him. Amy gets to the heart of the problem, and helps Sheldon understand the group's dynamics, namely, that they are Leonard-centric, not Sheldon-centric as Sheldon has long believed. She, more than anyone else, is tethering Sheldon to the real world. I understand the argument against that notion, as Sheldon's male friends are his most obvious connection, but without Amy, I'm not sure he can make his way back to them as he does.

     Which brings us to this week's episode, a memorable gem. Leonard is getting serious with Priya, so he, Raj, and Howard are hanging out over at Raj's place with her. Amy and Bernadette cheer Penny up, who has, of course, been left out. But that still leaves Sheldon, who stubbornly refuses to change his habits. In true Sheldon fashion, he finds it easier to construct a new social group, rather than adapt in the slightest way. In the end, Sheldon realizes that it is not as easy as he thought to replace his friends, and he ends up making some concessions, which is something the character probably wouldn't have done a couple of seasons ago.

     The group Sheldon puts together, thankfully, is not made up of new guest stars, but returning, recurring favorites. He chooses comic book store owner, Stuart (Kevin Sussman, Ugly Betty), rival co-worker with a funny speech impediment, Barry Kripke (John Ross Bowie, Childrens' Hospital), and a dumb, former love interest for Penny (who strangely likes her nerdy neighbors), Zack (Brian Smith). Sheldon wants them to follow the schedule he prepares, but they'd rather drink and sing karoke, so they do, ignoring their host.

      While not working out as a good group for Sheldon, the three of them seem to bond fairly well. Plus, it's a welcome sight to see those three again, as each are wonderful character actors, who have been in on many good jokes in the series's past. I'd like to see them return as a rival group, a la Wil Wheaton, who plays a somewhat dickish version of himself on the show. Maybe they could even be Wil's new group, as the guys Wil brings around haven't made an impression. I'm not even sure he has appeared with the same friends twice.

     Watch The Big Bang Theory Thursday nights at 8:00 p.m. on CBS.

Article first published as TV Review: The Big Bang Theory Figured Out "The Toast Derivation" on Blogcritics.

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

Thursday, February 24, 2011

V Getting Past "Birth Pangs"

     While I have mostly enjoyed ABC's V, it has had wild swings in quality. At times, the episodes flow nicely and make a lot of sense. Other times, there are gaping plot holes a whole fleet of invading V ships could swarm through. This season has been a bit more even than the first, but the show has gotten to a point where it is exciting enough to overlook some of the flaws. Just some, mind you. If they start to swing too far back the other way, it won't take long to turn against the show once more.

     Erica Evans (Elizabeth Mitchell) is series heroine. The last couple of weeks, Erica has been taking a turn towards bada**, which is welcome. It's about time. For too long, Erica and her friends have been hiding in the dark, barely fighting back against the V invaders. They've done a few little missions, but nothing that meant all that much in the larger scheme, other than slaughtering the eggs at the end of last season. However, after the death of international Fifth Column leader Eli Cohn (Oded Fehr), Erica now finds herself in charge of a vast organization, and she decides to use it.

     At first, though I love seeing Erica in that position, I was resistant to the change. What a coincidence that the worldwide leader just happened to be in Erica's neighborhood! And after only a week or so of knowing each other, he hands the whole thing over to her, rather than the people he has been working with for years. Then I stepped back and tried to view it from his perspective. Erica is a very formidable woman, and has huge stakes in what is going on. Additionally, she has ins and connections that the other followers do not. As such, I began to accept that twist. Eli's top lieutenants doubting her until she could deliver to them progress and a plan also helped with the transition, though I'm not sure that what she accomplished this week would really have been enough to win over her skeptics, converting them into enthusiastic followers.

     That being said, Erica has already uncovered more about the V in the last few weeks than she has all season. She and Hobbes (Charles Mesure) have a rousing sequence in the apartment complex, and her video chat with her original cell is pretty inspiring. With Sid (Bret Harrison) on board, real progress is being made on understanding the V's DNA tampering. As Erica gathers more and more people working for her, I get more and more behind the belief that Erica can topple the technologically-superior aliens. And now that her son Tyler (Logan Huffman) is not around, she has a bit more focus.

     On the subject of Tyler, why the heck doesn't Erica tell him the truth? She should have done so a long time ago. I can't believe that she can't stop him from going to the Vs if she just explains what is going on. Tyler's true loyalty to the aliens is bonded mostly through one particular V, Lisa (Laura Vandervoort), who is on Erica's side! If Erica doesn't want to inform Tyler, can't Lisa? She cares about him, too, so she should stage some sort of break up to keep him safely away. Instead, both Lisa and Erica, who are supposed to care about the boy, let him be pulled into Anna's plans, in which, by the way, Tyler is expendable. Great job, you two!

     Erica has a chance to succeed because of the V uprising brewing against Anna (Morena Baccarin), the series' other leading lady, only on the opposite side of the fight. While thus far the show has shown a two woman battle of the wills between Anna and Erica, every week Anna's daughter, Lisa, is growing more formidable. Yes, Anna is beginning to suspect that Lisa's loyalty isn't with her mother, casting suspicion on her actions. But Lisa has the support of her imprisoned grandmother, Anna's mother, Diana (Jane Badler), which I am thinking may give Lisa the power that she needs to take over the fleet. But if she does that, the show will be over, so I'm not expecting it anytime soon.

     Diana, on the other hand, is simply mysterious. I know she stands against her daughter, but Badler's sly looks make me think that Diana is not just going to stand behind Lisa, either. She must have her own motivations, and while Diana does exhibit emotion, I'm not convinced she suddenly developed feelings for her just-reconnected with granddaughter. I worry that once Lisa gets Diana free of her prison, Erica and the others may suddenly be battling two formidable enemies.

     Luckily, all of these power struggles have been the most interesting part of the show. On both sides of the line, leadership is being questioned and changed, in sometimes action-packed ways, like buildings blowing up and fierce shoot-outs. Honestly, as much as I like the personal drama side of things, V can be a little weak with the writing, so a focus on big action and betrayals is probably the smartest way to go to keep an audience. Know your strengths and your weaknesses, and play to the former.

     I am pretty unnerved about Anna's new hold over Hobbes, supposedly having his wife prisoner. It feels like this has already been done before with Ryan (Morris Chestnut) and his daughter. I think it's lazy of the writers, having lost Ryan from Erica's central group, to just do the same thing to another one of her friends. Unless they play it quite differently going forward, this was a bad move.

     As to how Ryan may or may not be relevant to the story anymore, I don't really see his place. His daughter is more attached to Anna than him, and she's the subject of Anna's latest experiments. The only place story-wise I see to go with Ryan is to have him rescue his daughter. In which case, he will need to find a hiding spot and be a father. I don't see how Ryan could re-enter the fight, unless his daughter is aged to at least teenager before he rescues her (a possibility, I know). Then perhaps they could get into the Fifth Column together. As such, I wonder why Ryan even survived the explosion last week. I think it may have been more dignified than what is character is about to become to the show - a drag.

     Then there's Father Jack (Joel Gretsch). While he has pledged to be a soldier now that he's been kicked out of the church, I can't imagine that means he'll be fine with a killing spree. Will he be Erica's moral compass, letting her know when she's gone too far? I hope that is how he will be used, as if he's not willing to step up in a violently aggressive manner, and I don't see that as a realistic choice, that's his only real purpose.

     Lastly, we have Chad (Scott Wolf), who is just a courier right now. I'm glad that he was swayed from V-supporter to a member of the Fifth Column. But now what? Will he just be a message relayer from Lisa to Erica? I don't see him excelling in combat. His access is limited, at best. Anna uses him, but doesn't really trust him. His place in the series confuses me.

     We're definitely more in the middle of a story arc than at either end, so now is mostly just the time to wonder. To see what comes of things, watch V on ABC Tuesday nights at 9 p.m.

Article first published as TV Review: V Getting Past "Birth Pangs" on Blogcritics.

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

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Glee's "Blame It on the Alcohol" Needs to Blame Something

"Ke$ha has been a cultural icon for weeks and I really want to do her justice." ~ Brittany Pierce (Heather Morris)

     The best word that comes to mind to sum up last night's episode of FOX's Glee, entitled "Blame It on the Alcohol", is weird. That's Weird with a capital W. Don't get me wrong; I still enjoy it. There are some fantastic one-liners, as always. Santany and Artcedes - best nicknames ever, delivered in such a casual way. And Brittany's dance-led "Tik-Tok" is amazing, at least until the puke-fest at the end. I don't do vomit humor. But with our favorite glee clubbers suddenly showing a taste for alcohol, I was left wondering if what they were doing is true to the characters.

     I am under no delusions about teenage drinking. Although I didn't have my first sip until spring of my freshman year of college, I know plenty of kids do it much earlier. Probably even a majority. But as someone who participated in choir, band, and drama, those are the 'good' kids, the ones not getting plastered on the weekends. At least they were at my school, which is in Ohio by the way, where Glee is set. I can see the football players and cheerleaders in the group imbibing, of course. That's a basic, but very true, stereotype. But I am really surprised at how the rest of the group takes to it so quickly, and that Rachel (Lea Michele) seems to be the only first timer.

     That being said, most of the characters act exactly how fans of the show would expect them to with their inhibitions stripped away. Yeah, it may not be nice to call teenagers angry drunks or stripper drunks, but that's what some of them are, and our glee kids are no different. Embracing this with "Blame It" was a nice idea, but I wish it was a less boring song. Staging is great, music not so much.

     Now, before you rise up in arms, this is an anti-drinking episode, with a moderation or abstinence message. As mentioned before, a couple of singers end up vomiting during a song after doing shots before the performance. Lucky for them, Principal Figgins (Iqbal Theba) assumes they are merely acting a role to discredit the practice. But there aren't actually any serious consequences for the drinking, and it feels a little odd that everyone, including Will (Matthew Morrison), who we'll get to in a minute, agrees to sign a sobriety pledge that will last until after Nationals.

     I do give the writers credit for putting together a scenario where the New Directions aren't more hated by their peers for performing at an alcohol awareness assembly. I assumed when it is announced that that's what they are doing, this will hurt their cool factor, which is already far too low. It was handled well, avoiding that pratfall.

"Blaine is the first in a long line of conflicted men that you will date that will later turn out to be only the most flaming of homosexuals." ~ Kurt Hummel (Chris Colfer)

     Poor Rachel. Overall, this is a pretty good episode for the diva, as far as focus. She has plenty of disappointing things happen, and reacts to most of them appropriately. Though why she isn't upset about missing the Rosie cruise her dads are on, I can't imagine. Anyway, the only scene that really doesn't sit well with me as being realistic for her character is her performance of the original song, "My Headband". Rachel has more talent and taste than to write and sing something so trivial.

     Rachel's party best exemplifies who she is, more so than almost any scene in the series that I can think of. The atrocious dress, the dated den-with-a-karoke-stage, the wine coolers, the sparkling wine... all of it is perfect Rachel. Much of the elements feel like they were ripped from an old movie. So what? That's a great example of who she is.

     I even like her fascination with Blaine (Darren Criss). Everyone has known girls like Rachel, and they do often end up dating the gays who are trying to seem straight. Most of the time, they are oblivious to their mistake, as Rachel is. The fact that he goes for it with her can be explained away by his impaired condition. The "Don't You Want Me" duet is a long-anticipated pairing between two great singers I didn't even know I was waiting for. More, please! Even their date is acceptable, because plenty of teenagers question their sexuality. Those Blaine fans who are upset by the sequence, and I'm not just talking about Kurt, should try to remember that.

     In the end, though, Rachel gets a painful experience that she can milk a song out of it. As much as I detest "My Headband", I have a feeling that Rachel's next attempt will be oh so much better.

"I sat through that whole Brokeback Mountain. From what I gather, something went down in the tent." ~ Burt Hummel (Mike O'Malley)

     Previously, I dismissed Kurt's anger at Blaine trying bisexuality, but while I don't think that's a good reason to get mad, I do feel sorry for poor Kurt. While Blaine's wondering of who he is is natural, Kurt feeling rejected is, too. After all, Kurt recently found himself tossed aside in favor of another guy. Blaine favoring Rachel is pretty much the same thing. I don't think Kurt is upset that Blaine is thinking about a woman, per se, but rather, because Blaine is thinking romantically about anyone else besides Kurt at all.

     This may not be a popular stance, but I like the interaction between Burt and Kurt in this episode. Both raise such great points during their discussion of Blaine sleeping over. As a parent, Burt has every right to be upset when his gay son lets another gay guy sleep in his bed. Kurt's claim of homophobia at that comment is unwarranted. However, his later barb about wishing he could talk to his father about sex may have hit a little closer to home.

     Burt is a splendid father. He is very accepting, despite being polarly opposite Kurt. It is clear he truly accepts Kurt for who he is. But is accepting enough? Parents have to teach their children. Shouldn't Burt take it upon himself to educate himself, and then his son, about worldly issues? My best guess it that Burt hasn't thought of doing so until Kurt zings him, and will quickly correct the matter.

"Yay! Happy face. Valiant effort. You get an A+! That's how I roll." ~ Will Schuester, grading papers while drunk

     Is Will a good role model? When he talks to the glee club about the dangers of drinking, Quinn (Dianna Agron) tells him he is 'the pot calling the kettle black'. I disagree. The crazy time he has at the bar and his drunk dialing foibles are, indeed, in that category. But there are several important distinctions that make Quinn's accusation unfair. Number one, Will is of legal age. He takes a cab home. He does nothing that will get him in any trouble with the law. Number two, Will generally has a beer or two at the end of the night. He does not frequently get drunk. I think he sets a fine example the vast majority of the time, and the exceptions here are Sue's fault much more than Will's.

     Of course, Will has his share of problems. He goes to a country western bar because his friend Bieste (Dot-Marie Jones) is attempting to cheer him up. Will's divorce is going through, and his crush, Emma (Jayma Mays), is married. Will's problems are much more romance-related than alcohol driven. I don't know why Sue (Jane Lynch) gets it in her head otherwise, other than perhaps she drinks not at all. We've certainly never seen her drink. So perhaps she judges anyone who drinks even a bit.
     The chemistry between Bieste and Will is wonderful. I love their growing friendship. Without Emma, Will needs a friend, and as the new teacher, Bieste does, too. Not that they are using each other. It seems to me that Will connects with Bieste in a way that he doesn't with any other adult on the show. I am not advocating a romantic relationship between the two of them. Their interactions don't forecast that, in my opinion. But they are quite a pair, and I treasure every scene that they do together.

     Well, that's that. Another week of Glee analyzed. Sadly, the series is taking next week off, but it, and this column, will return in two weeks. In the meantime, download some Glee tunes from iTunes and pop a Glee DVD into the player, as I will surely be doing to avoid withdrawal.

     Glee airs Tuesday nights at 8 p.m. on FOX.

Article first published as TV Review: Glee's "Blame It on the Alcohol" Needs to Blame Something on Blogcritics.

House Tells "Two Stories"

     I always love it when FOX's House departs from its standard formula and does a different format episode. This week's "Two Stories" was the latest example of this, and it did not disappoint in the enjoyment factor. Framed by House (Hugh Laurie) talking to two fifth grade students, events are told disjointed and out of order, and often times, House is just downright lying. Add to that, parts of the episode involve House telling the young couple about him telling a fifth grade class a story. Mix in several bits he tries to pass off as reality, but were actually ripped from popular movies, and you have one entertaining hour!

     Despite the chaotic nature of the narrative, the plot is pretty easy to follow. I assume that's because the story House is telling is kept simple. There are only two elements, and both are relatively short. First, House's team treats a patient that literally coughs up a lung (gross, but funny). Second, Cuddy (Lisa Edelstein) grows tired of House's inconsiderate nature and the duo have a fight. At first, House doesn't even understand why exactly she's angry, or that this is a culmination of a behavioral pattern, but instead seeks a singular event. Then House tries to figure out what he can do to make it right, but after his conversation with the students, he realizes his manipulative games are what got him into the mess in the first place. Simple, honest sincerity was what it takes to win the day.

    The fact that House can embrace such a concept shows just how far he has come, as well as how deep his feelings for Cuddy go. As House told the principal, he doesn't just love Cuddy, he needs her. Sadly, he has a hard time actually caring about her, as she is quick to point out. Which is what makes them such a great couple. She calls him on his faults, and he really does attempt to be a better man, one worthy of her. It's a process, of course, but I think they both realize that, and House's progress has been satisfactory, overall.

     The reason that letting the two leads pursue a relationship is usually avoided on television is because many shows quickly grow stale when that happens, though there are a number of notable exceptions, Chuck being the most recent. The tension of 'will they or won't they?', even when the audience knows that the answer is almost always 'they will, at the very end of the series', provides dramatic tension and allows fan interest to build momentum. The problem is, after many years of this, it begins to grow stale and feel unrealistic. At that point, it becomes a double-edged sword. If the pair get together, they could become a boring couple. Problems are either unrealistically forced upon them to try to build tension, which doesn't usually work too well, or viewers just can't see how two people can dance around each other for so long and not eventually make a move. There has to be some natural growth after the couples gets together in order for the concept to work, and that groundwork must have been laid long before the relationship begins.

      House has solved this by making the main character so anti-social in the first place. While House has always had a special fondness for Cuddy, I don't think the good doctor ever believed she would go for him until it happened. It is throwing his whole world out of order, and that's a good thing. There is plenty of story to mine about someone who got what he wanted and doesn't know how to keep or enjoy it. Suddenly, House, who has overcome plenty of obstacles, but remained a fairly static personality at his core, has to find his way. While fans know he hasn't always been the Grumpy Gus that we've watched for seven years, House has lived that way for so long that it's hard for him to remember who he used to be. This season has delighted in that discovery, and there's at least another season or two worth of material here.

     The foils of two fifth graders to Huddy's love story is clever. House is, at heart, somewhat childlike. It makes sense that his actions have an immaturity two children can relate to. I think that the young girl is a cross between House and Cuddy's more aggressive sides, while the young boy is their softer sides. Or what their softer sides need to be, as Cuddy is clearly more developed in this area than House. As such, House can learn from watching the boy's example. The boy chooses to support the girl, and be there for what she needs and wants. House does that, too, at the end of the episode.

     An elementary school is such a bizarre place for House to be, and not just because he doesn't have kids. But once I got over the fact that the teacher lets House keep going with his wildly inappropriate stories, which would never happen in real life, I enjoyed the way that kids don't buy into House's crap as much as adults do. They can see through his bluster. I especially enjoyed the kid who keeps pointing out which movies House is referencing.

     On the other hand, I also see House's appeal to the children. He is an interesting man who does exciting work. It's readily apparent that he is also a very smart, talented individual who excels in his field. Plus, his manner of storytelling is just plain fun, and makes you want to hear more. I can relate to that. After all, I've watched six and a half seasons about the guy! Kids haven't yet developed their preconceived notions, and are more open to hearing about the world, as they are not fully in it. This was the most receptive audience that House could ask for, save a room full of med students who have been studying his cases. But that's already been done.

     House is, at his heart, a teacher. Perhaps an abrasive one, but he knows how to set people up to learn. Look at how he treats his team. You cannot tell me that any of them haven't benefited from working under House, learning his techniques and how his mind works. He espouses unconventional thinking and self-motivation. House teaches you how to learn and figure things out for yourself. Any teacher will tell you that teaching someone how to learn is far better than just giving formulas and answers. Whether he is in front of young children, med students, or his own staff, this element, which often gets buried beneath his blustery, over-sized personality, is essential to knowing who House is.

     Now that I've gotten through the serious, deeper elements of the episode, I want to delight in the fun parts. Besides peeling aside the layers of House's soul and the inner workings of his romantic relationship, this week also brings along some of the funniest moments the show has exhibited in awhile. The fact that most don't actually happen in no way lessens the enjoyment. We see House shoot a college student to influence another into hacking into Cuddy's laptop. Taub (Peter Jacobson) and Foreman (Omar Epps) help House stage an elaborate break-in to Cuddy's office. House shouts at a student, "You can't handle the truth!" All wonderful moments.

     My favorite scene in the entire episode, though, was when House makes up dialogue for his fellows, playing on broad stereotypes. Chase (Jesse Spencer) and Taub both proposition a new nurse in lecherous ways, but also in references to sexual experiences both have had (Taub cheats on his wife in past seasons, and Chase engages in a threesome at an administrator's wedding). Masters (Amber Tamblyn) is shot down by other team members, and Foreman takes control, even though he isn't actually their boss. It is a smart play, not wholly out of character for any of them, and yet, of course, using dialogue they would never actually say. The entire scene deserves continuous laughter.

     Also, just the basic image of House being sent to the principal's office is plenty entertaining. That he gets into a fist fight in the classroom, of the sort that elementary students might engage in, only adds to the scene. In some ways, the hospital where House works in like a school, and Cuddy is like a principal. Too bad for House, the principal in this episode doesn't have the same fondness for him that his boss possesses.

     The last thing I'd like to mention, since I don't review every episode, is something that happened last week. Taub moves in with Foreman. Their bonding over video games and love troubles is a high point of the series, showing characteristics of both men that we haven't seen that much of. I am very pleased by this development, and hope the series shows us plenty of downtime together for the two of them in future episodes. Though most of the show takes place in the hospital or wherever House is, Taub in particular has been getting a lot of outside material lately, and it is something I'd like to see more of for all of the other cast members.

     House airs Monday nights at 8 p.m. on FOX.

Article first published as TV Review: House tells "Two Stories" on Blogcritics.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Episodes - "Episode Seven" (Season Finale)

     Seven episodes of Showtime's / BBC Two's Episodes is not nearly enough! Despite a weak and confusing premiere, the following six episodes are gems of comedy genius, delightfully played by a very gifted cast. Matt LeBlanc's Matt LeBlanc is funny, but not over the top. Stephen Mangan's Sean is the exact combination of neurotic and faithful needed. Tamsin Greig's Beverly is the right mix of jealous and uptight. Kathleen Rose Perkins's Carol is pitch perfect. Even John Pankow's Merc is a deliciously sleazy, yet not quite villainous, boss. I know a couple of those parts were recast as the show was being made, but I can't imagine anyone else in any of those five roles.

     Which makes me incredibly sad that the series has not yet been picked up for a second season. The finale may have ended with the show-within-a-show, Pucks, getting a series order, but the fate of Episodes still hangs in limbo. I am most displeased, as it is a clever and unique show, and I see no reason at all why it shouldn't be renewed. Except for ratings, of course, which have been so-so, despite mostly good critical reviews.

     The characters are mostly realistic. I can definitely see how Beverly ends up in bed with Matt at the end of "Episode Six", believing as she did that her husband Sean has been cheating on her with Morning (Mircea Monroe). I can also see why Matt doesn't try that hard to set her straight, as the show's Matt is very much a horn dog, and the detestation Matt and Beverly had for each other would likely make very passionate intercourse. Their hatred also didn't let me see it coming, unlike other hate-duos before them, since I didn't think the straight-laced Beverly would ever stray outside of her marriage, no matter the circumstances, until I saw it unfold that way it did. The writers managed to find the only set of variables that could have driven Bev to do the act.

     I'd also like to heap praise on the way that Sean discovers the indiscretion. Matt and Tamsin both mix the right balance of guilt and dishonesty that Matt and Bev would show. But neither confesses. Sean puts together the pieces as anyone would be able to. It wasn't a stretch that Sean figures things out, or that Bev and Matt seek to get away with it. Other shows would have lowered themselves to spell things out more explicitly, but not this one. I have a hard time finding just the right words to write this, but somehow the whole series of events seemed more natural and true than I've ever seen the situation done before. And boy, has that situation been done over and over before!
     Which is why I want to see more Episodes. It somehow scratches an itch I didn't even know needed attention. It's comedy at its best, and simply one of the best made shows on television. Please, please, please renew Episodes!

Californication - "The Recused"

     Why does Hank (David Duchovny) have to be such a womanizing screw up? Things take a much darker turn this season on Showtime's Californication when Hank faces both assault and underage sex allegations, the latter of which leads to Karen (Natascha McElhone) finding out about Hank's one night stand with step-daughter Mia (Madeline Zima), which happened all the way back in the first episode. Hank's teenage daughter, Becca (Madeleine Martin), who usually stands by her father and overlooks his flaws, doesn't even want anything to do with him. Losing his family and facing jail time, one would think that Hank has been given a much needed wake up call. Sadly, that does not seem to be the case.

     The newest flub? Hank is now sleeping with his lawyer, Abby (Carla Gugino, Watchmen, Entourage). She attempts to recuse herself by passing Hank off on her boss, Lloyd (Alan Dale, Ugly Betty, Lost), but of course, Hank can't mind his manners for one day on the golf course with Lloyd. They erupt into fisticuffs, only to laugh and bond as soon as Abby agrees to take back Hank's case. Later, she has sex him one last time before telling him he is cut off from that pleasure until after the trial. Not only that, but by the end of the day, Hank has Karen smiling at him, too. How long does anyone seriously believe either women will stay out of his pants this time?

     What charm does Hank have to allow him to get away with all of this? I mean, I get it, having watched the show. Hank is just such an open, honest, likable guy. He may sleep with lots of women, but he'd happily commit to one, especially if that one was Karen. He has proven he can be faithful. Hank's ability to win Lloyd over post-fight is a little more confusing, both of them being dudes, but I think the same things that women find attractive in Hank, men find endearing in a different way. Hank doesn't hold grudges, his emotions are out there for all to see, and once Hank and another man get into it, they have taken out their anger and can move on from it. Even Karen's new love interest, Ben (Michael Ealy, The Good Wife, FlashForward), despite Hank's rotten behavior towards him upon their first meeting, is willing to befriend him.

     However, some things are above even Hank's charms. Despite his unknowingly bedding Mia, and Karen knowing that it was ignorance, neither she nor Becca can bring themselves to move past it. I think this is a case of both of them trying to bridge a disconnect between the Hank that they know and the man who can sleep with an underage girl, who was Karen's then-boyfriend's daughter, to boot. Yes, the facts support Hank, but it is still such a depraved act that it's hard to reconcile it with the Hank who would never knowingly do such a thing. Which he didn't knowingly do. They will eventually wrap their heads around it, but I don't think that might be such a good thing for Hank, in the long run. He has been forgiven a lot, and while I'd like to see him have a happily ever after with his family, he needs to make a few changes first.

     In the B plot, I am hoping that Charlie (Evan Handler) and Marcy (Pamela Adlon) are finally coming back together. Sure, Charlie is still continuing his conquest to bed one hundred women (he's up to twenty one), and Marcy is dating Stu (Stephen Tobolowsky, Glee, Heroes), but they make a great team, as evidenced by their pitch to Showtime this week. I wonder that they can't bring themselves to move past the past yet, as they clearly both see each other in that old, rosy light during the pitch meeting. Once Marcy admits to him that she is pregnant with his baby, which looks likely, I think it will come together. I guess some things just have to run their course, and Charlie and Marcy haven't finished the current track yet.

     Californication airs Sunday nights at 9 p.m. on Showtime.

Article first published as TV Review: Californication - "The Recused" on Blogcritics.

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

Monday, February 21, 2011

Being Human (UK) meets "Lia"

***This review would sound better if read in a British accent. It is not necessary, of course, but that would be my personal preference. :)***

     While you blokes across the pond are already halfway through Being Human's eight-episode third series, those of us in the States just got the series premiere this past Saturday night. I'm not complaining; other than incessant reruns of Top Gear, BBC America has become my new favorite obsession, though I suspect we do get edited versions of the show. We have our own (lesser) version of Being Human now on SyFy, of which season one will deliver 13 episodes, enough to cover all the plot in the first two British series. However, as the series premiere "Lia" showed once again, yours is better.

     Series three moves the roommates from Bristol, where things ended in a bloody mess last season, to Wales. Nina (Sinéad Keenan), reunites with George (Russell Tovey), and isn't happy that they will still be living with his friend, Mitchell (Aidan Turner). But George can't stand to kick Mitchell out, seeing as he seems to be losing his marbles. Despite a rocky second series, Nina and George seem to fully commit to each other once more, though she'd like a bit of privacy. Mitchell is bent on finding Annie (Lenora Crinchlow), who disappeared in the series two finale through The Door to the other side. Plus, there is nary a glimpse of old villain Herrick (Jason Watkins), whom we saw resurrected at the end of last year, so there's that dread hanging over everything. The audience knows that he will be back soon. Basically, things are chaotic.

     I do like the new setting. The original apartment was a bit drab, definitely just set trapping. It served its purpose, but will not really be missed. The new dwelling, on the other hand, has some serious character, including the tropical wall and the counter in the middle of the room. It could become a character unto itself, especially if there are some strange secrets hidden within that we haven't discovered yet. If not, it's still fun to see the stars dance in front of painted palm trees.

     We also got to meet some new characters this week. McNair (Robson Green, Wire in the Blood) and his son, Tom (Michael Socha, This is England), are werewolves shown quite a bit, mostly in scenes without any of our main characters around. McNair is captured by vampires, and Tom rescues him. What are they up to? Are they just trying to live a quiet life, as our roommates are? Have they come to town with some kind of mission? How will they affect George and Nina, or are they just there to show that there are some dangerous vampires around that like to play with wolves? So little is revealed, they definitely spark more questions than they answer.

     Mitchell spends the first part of the episode acting deliciously crazy, delivering a funny scene with a realtor, not knowing how to even begin to find his missing friend. Then Annie calls to Mitchell through a television, and he figures out a way to hitchhike on the back of a recently deceased man through The Door and come after her. Little does he know, the powers controlling the other side want exactly that. They are not holding Annie for her own sake, but to lure Mitchell. You see, he went on a bloody rampage in the tunnel and killed a bunch of people last season. Lia (Lacey Turner), his guide, was one of the victims. Mitchell is unaware of this fact and Lia walks him through some of his embarrassingly brutal past, dredging up all sorts of emotions.

     The Mitchell-in-purgatory bit is easily the most creative part of the episode, and is a highlight of the series as a whole. Lia is great, both memorable, but not overpowering. Mitchell has always been a tortured soul, but never has it been more explicitly demonstrated than this sequence. Having a victim he doesn't even remember killing as his escort only adds to his depravity. Mitchell seems stripped bare, incredibly vulnerable. It is masterful writing, and Turner handles it with great care and talent.

     George, who is often the comic relief, mixes his comedy with some real danger, and also gets to show some real depth. His arrest in the woods with the sexual deviants, including Bob (Torchwood's delightful Kai Owen), seems merely a funny happenstance. And then, as Owen battles his change in a cell with Bob, it takes a much darker turn. Kennan is amazing as Nina struggles not to change while bailing George out. There is an intense energy to the exchange that did not disappoint. Later, watching George cry at Annie's return, I realize he played anger, sadness, joy, lust, and the wolf ferociousness all in one hour, often intermixed, with serious skill.

     There are some strange implications to ponder in this episode. For instance, what does it mean that George and Nina seemingly have sex in wolf form? Will Nina carry a wolf baby? Or a fetus that changes inside of her on the full moon? Because that would be mighty strange. Who is the werewolf that will kill Mitchell, and will we see his death this series, or much later, if there is a later? If he does die this series, how will he be brought back for another series? Or will that be the end of him entirely? Will Annie have any lasting effects from her time in purgatory? I can't wait to find out!

     Being Human airs Saturday nights at 9 p.m. on BBC America.

Article first published as TV Review: Being Human (UK)- "Lia" on Blogcritics.

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