Monday, May 30, 2011

Game of Thrones proclaims "You Win or You Die"

George R. R. Martin's A Game of Thrones 4-Book Boxed Set: A Game of Thrones, A Clash of Kings, A Storm of Swords, and A Feast for Crows (A Song of Ice and Fire)     Things are coming to a head in HBO's Game of Thrones, as the various forces who want control of the Seven Kingdoms begin to act on their desires. In the latest episode, "You Win or You Die," those plans begin to unfold. Even though Viserys (Harry Lloyd) is dead, his sister, Daenerys (Emilia Clarke), decides she wants to sit on the Iron Throne. After a failed poisoning attempt ordered by King Robert (Mark Addy) on Daenerys, her husband, Khal Drogo (Jason Momoa), pledges to win it for her and their unborn baby. As Robert passes away, Ned Stark (Sean Bean) makes a play to control the throne, exposing Robert's "son" Joffrey (Jack Gleeson) as a product of an incestuous affair, not the rightful heir. Queen Cersei (Lena Headey) has Joffrey rule, though, and a betrayal by Littlefinger (Aidan Gillen) makes Ned the loser. For now.

     This wonderful fantasy series is made more so each week, as tension mounts, and dangers scale up their threat level. The political battles are merely one side of the coin, though they have been front and center, and highly addictive. Ned is clearly in the right, but while he at first appears to have the upper hand, especially after gathering all the intelligence that the last Hand of the King had before his murder, he is still left out in the cold because he doesn't play the loyalty games. Ned is straightforward and honest. Others are not. It's why Ned is not succeeding in ousting the Lannisters, and it's why the hero now finds himself outmatched by the villains. Which makes the story only more interesting.

     It truly is a good versus evil battle. While some of the players in Game of Thrones do operate in a shade of gray zone, like Tyrion (Peter Dinklage), or at least, their loyalties are still unknown, the main group of Lannisters and the Starks are truly assigned a right and wrong. It makes things a little easier on the viewers, as the story is complicated enough without not knowing who to root for. In this case, simpler is better. And it feels good to have the hostility out in the open now, instead of behind closed doors.

     Besides the Lannisters, though, Daenerys thinks she has a claim to the throne. And maybe she's right. Her father was king, after all, until he was overthrown by Robert and others, long before the series begins. Because Daenerys is so far outside of the machinations of the other main characters, she isn't assigned an appropriate label yet. But considering the ruthlessness of the people she is embracing, and the almost saintly goodness of Ned, she will likely by the intruder, not the defender.

     Which begs the question, might the Lannisters and Starks have to join forces against her? Or might Ned be able to team up with her? Thus far, Daenerys only approves of harm done to those who deserve it, as punishment, much like Ned. With a lack of decent candidates to sit on the Iron Throne, might Ned be convinced to support her campaign? It would certainly be an unexpected twist. The truth is, Daenerys is a wild card, and when Drogo and his army do arrive at the mainland, anything may happen.

     The other threat, this one casting a shadow over everything, even though they have not been seen on screen since the opening moments of the series, are deadly creatures that lurk behind The Wall. This week, the danger feels more real, as Benjen's (Joseph Mawle) horse returns without him. Nephew Jon Snow (Kit Harington) would like to look for his uncle, but is kept on the other side by his duties to the Night Watch, of which he is now a full fledged member. Lucky for Snow fans, he has been assigned as a steward, and will not be venturing into unknown territory anytime soon, as the rangers do. It means Benjen's disappearance won't quickly be solved, but does allow an interesting, noble character to survive until he can actually be useful.

     Game of Thrones continues Sundays at 9 p.m. ET on HBO.

     If you like my reviews, please follow me on Twitter! Click here for all of my Current Season Reviews.

     To buy the Game of Thrones books on which the show is based, please click here.

Article first published as TV Review: Game of Thrones - "You Win or You Die" on Blogcritics.

Body of Proof Season One Overview

Body of Proof     ABC premiered a new medical drama, Body of Proof, in late March. After reviewing the pilot, it seemed to be a standard medical/crime procedural, so I allowed it to languish on my TiVo for months. Truthfully, I was just hoping it would be canceled, and I wouldn't have to watch it at all. There are a few interesting procedurals, including Bones and Castle, but most are boring and rote. But then Body of Proof got a second season, and I decided to give it a shot. Having watched the entire nine-episode run these past few days, most of my initial opinions hold firm. It is definitely a standard procedural, and far from the best on TV, but there are a few hints of something decent, so I will at least be watching the season premiere next fall.

     The best thing Body of Proof has going for it is that it stars Dana Delany (Desperate Housewives) as the central character, Dr. Megan Hunt. Delany excels on Desperate Housewives, and continues to stretch her range on Body of Proof. She now plays a surgeon who, after an accident, been forced to switch careers, becoming a medical examiner. Although at first she comes acros as cold, Delany brings an earnestness and compassion to the role. It takes but a few hours for her to start to see the bodies as people, and really care about what happens to them.

     Delany's plot is furthered by the fact that she has an ex-husband, Todd (Jeffrey Nordling, Desperate Housewives, 24, Dirt), and a teenage daughter, Lacey (Mary Matilyn Mouser, Life Is Wild), whom she drove away during her surgeon days. Now that she seems to value more than her career, to which she still devotes most of her focus, she is trying to repair things with Lacey. While Mouser isn't the best actress, the strongest episode of season one, "Talking Heads," is one in which Megan gets very involved in Lacey's life, and Lacey reciprocates.

     Todd, on the other hand, remains an obstacle for Megan. While it may be understandable, given their history, that he harbors bitter feelings towards his ex, he does not think of her when acting, and barely considers her in regards to Lacey. In the season finale, "Broken Home," Megan learns that Todd and her boss, Kate (Jeri Ryan, Star Trek: Voyager, Shark) are in a secret relationship, damaging Megan's relationship with both of them. Todd doesn't seem to care about Megan's feelings of betrayal, and insits that he has done nothing wrong. He may be technically right, but his reaction is not.

     Megan and Kate may or may not be okay when the season ends. A true pleasure of season one is any scene with Delany and Ryan together, both being fantastic veteran actresses. Ryan's role is too small, and for that reason alone, it is forgivable that she gets involved with Todd, which gives her more screen time. Kate's place as Megan's boss, who Megan infrequently listens to, but both seem to have some personal mutual respect, is a delight, and the two have wonderful chemistry. The Todd subplot should be gotten rid of, but any time Kate wants to get more involved in a case, it's welcome.

     Also fun are Megan's co-workers in the lab. Curtis (Windell D. Middlebrooks, The Suite Life on Deck, Scrubs) is grumpy, but helpful, and has an excitement when cases get interesting. Ethan (Geoffrey Arend, Trust Me, Daria) is an eager to please, still learning, underling, who frequently gets saddled with the crappy jobs. Considering that Curtis ranks above Megan, it may seem odd that he often ends up helping Ethan with said disgusting chores, but perhaps realizing Megan's genius, Curtis only good-naturedly complains. Neither get much development thus far, except for Ethan's love story with a beautiful woman (his real life wife, Mad Men's Christina Hendricks) in "Dead Man Walking," but hopefully that will be corrected in season two. Perhaps even a return of Hendricks?

     Sadly, Megan's partner, Peter (Nicholas Bishop, Past Life, Home and Away), is generic and dull. There is nothing about him that stands out or is memorable, and he could be replaced by a similar looking actor tomorrow, and few people would notice. While he does sometimes give Megan good advice and offer her a sympathetic ear, Bishop is doing not a single thing to make his character stand out or interesting. If Peter is going to stick around, or god forbid, be a love interest for Megan, major changes are needed.

     The final main characters, Detectives Bud Morris (John Carroll Lynch, Close to Home, The Drew Carey Show) and Samantha Baker (Sonja Sohn, The Wire), are a mixed bag. While Baker gets some character development while investigating the death of a friend in "Buried Secrets," and Morris is shown bonding with Megan in "Helping Hand," one episode is all either get to do anything other than typical police work. Both seem to be very capable actors, but both also take episodes off, and the plot changes little with only one at a time working. It's a shame, because Morris and Baker are probably the biggest untapped potential of the series. Often on screen separately, as they don't work in the lab, they get cheated more than the others.

     So the main problem with Body of Proof seems to be that some of the supporting characters need to be beefed up. While Delany is fantastic, Body of Proof would be more interesting if it was more ensemble-focused, rather than banking on just one star. It has a deep enough talent pool to do so. Season one is not bad, but it could be better.

     Body of Proof will return this fall to ABC.

     If you like my reviews, please follow me on Twitter! Click here for all of my Current Season Reviews.

     To pre-order the Body of Proof DVD or Blu-ray, or purchase streaming episodes, please click here.

Article first published as TV Review: Body of Proof - Season One Overview on Blogcritics.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Cougar Town looks for "Something Good Coming" in Hawaii

Cougar Town: The Complete Second Season     Last spring, ABC's Modern Family ended their season by heaing to Hawaii. This year, Cougar Town does the same thing. Next year is your turn, Happy Endings! In Cougar Town's final episode of season two, "Something Good Coming," the Cul de Sac Crew take a family vacation to Hawaii with the ulterior motive of bring home Travis (Dan Byrd), who has fled there after dropping out of college and having his proposal rejected by his girlfriend. Laurie (Busy Philipps) feels especially responsible, as it is her "cheering up" talk that gives him the idea to go. Jules (Courteney Cox) and Bobby (Brian Van Holt) fail to get through to him, but Laurie comes through in the end. Meanwhile, Bobby feels left out after spending couple time with both Andy (Ian Gomez) and Ellie (Christa Miller), only to have them ditch him for some alone time. Jules and Grayson (Josh Hopkins) seem at an impasse when it comes to having a baby. And Tom (Bob Clendenin) follows them, but only hangs out at a distance, unnoticed until the final day of the trip.

     Last season, Cougar Town ends with Bobby sad because he is the only single member of the group. This year, that theme recurs. It's a shame that Bobby is in a similar place as he is a year ago, because the season one finale really made viewers feel for him and hope that he would find a girl. To have the second season finale echo those same emotions is a bit regetful, though Van Holt plays it well. Luckily, Bobby has matured and gotten to a better place, with an actual apartment, so he certainly has a better chance to find love going forward. Until then, he isn't completely alone. Travis is single again, but he's not really part of the group, especially after leaving for college. Tom is also not quite a member. Perhaps Bobby can spend some time hanging with Tom next year?

     Does Tom ever have a chance of joining the group? It's unclear. He is kind of like Chang on Community in that he is on the outskirts and yearns to be on the inside, but the individuals only allow him access on rare occasions. What Tom has going for him is that the Cougar Town characters are kinder and less self involved than the Greendale crew (who are awesome!), and they often don't seem completely bothered to have to tolerate him. It may take awhile, but Tom has a shot.

     Speaking of NBC's Community, the character of Abed (Danny Pudi) makes a short but hilarious cameo in an early scene of "Something Good Coming," an obvious response of Community's extended tribute to Cougar Town in a recent episode, in which Abed mentions flying to Los Angeles and being an extra in CT. It's awesome that two wonderfully creative shows can honor each other with such cross promotion.

     And speaking of cross promotion again, this episode of Cougar Town features the return of a Scrubs character in Ted Buckland (Sam Lloyd), who Travis finds also trying to mend his broken heart on the island state. While it is a real pleasure to see Ted once more, the feeling turns bittersweet when Ted mentions he lost his love. Ted has always been such a sad character, and it was a delight that he got a happy ending on Scrubs. This episode kind of ruins that. But overall, it's worth it to see Ted.

     Will Jules and Grayson be able to overcome their dillema? That's the hope. Other sitcoms get main characters together, only to break them up to force drama. Cougar Town appears to be different, choosing to have their people work through problems, rather than break up. It took them awhile to get together, but once they're a couple, they are a couple. It's a welcome change, and a smart move. A baby might shift the tone dramatically. Ellie and Andy's doesn't, but Jules is essentially the main character, and she makes sure everyone knows her business all the time. As such, another child for her would likely have much more affect than Stan has.

     Another episode with some real Travis / Laurie chemistry. Their bond is plapable, and the creepiness has started to wear off. The writers have said they would want to wait until season five, when Travis is 21 and Laurie is 30, to get them together. Yes, Laurie is Travis's mom's friend, but she's also become his. With her age, it isn't too weird. Besides, watching the two of them together, it is clear that there can be a real relationship there. While it doesn't feel like it's quite time yet, perhaps a season three finale? There could be some fun had when Laurie wants to go out drinking and Travis can't. He may also buck hanging out with his mother all the time, as Laurie does. It will be a real shame if this never happens. As such, Cougar Town must be kept on the air for at least a few more years!

     Also neat, the short title sequence, which typically pans up Florida, is extended, as the camera travels across the country and out to Hawaii. A very cool shot, and a fun idea well executed. The title card features the words "We will never stop mocking the title...", a reference, as the series has taken to doing every week, that Cougar Town just really doesn't do the show justice, or describe what it's about. Series creators Kevin Biegel and Bill Lawrence have begun soliticing fans on twitter for ideas for a new title, so if you have one, please tweet @VDOOZER and @kbeigel

     Cougar Town has been renewed, but will not return until November. I recommend watching reruns and following both he writers and the actors on twitter. They do not fail to amuse. The actor's twitter accounts are: @MrJoshHopkins @ChristaBMiller @IBGomez and @BusyPhilipps25 And the character of Laurie (run by the writers) tweets as @TheLarmy

     If you like my reviews, please follow me on Twitter! Click here for all of my Current Season Reviews.

     Click here to buy DVDs and streaming episodes of Cougar Town.

Better With You greets the baby

     ABC's Better With You ended its freshman run with "Better With the Baby." By the title, it's easy to predict the main event in the episode: Maddie (Jennifer Finnigan) searches for her next career path. Oh, and Mia (Joanna Garcia-Swisher) also goes into labor. Everyone rushes to the hospital to be there for her birth, which is complicated when she suddenly decides she must be married before the baby comes. Casey (Jake Lacy), a.k.a. the most patient boyfriend in the world, agrees. The cast must pull together to make that happen, because unlike many first-time mothers, it is soon clear that Mia's baby is coming pretty quickly.

     It's May sweeps, which is the biggest sweeps period for stunts because it overlaps with season finales. Better With You merges a wedding and a birth into one plot, serving the necessary big developments quota. By combining those two particular events, the sitcom could easily shoot itself in the foot, making the episode utterly unbelievable and ridiculous. For a freshman series to do so is unwise. Yet, the series pulls it off with a pretty charming episode.

     That's because 'baby' and 'wedding' are not pounded in the viewer's faces every minute. Better With You's strength is the tightly defined six main characters and their interactions and dialogue with each other. By structuring "Better With the Baby" as a series of those small scenes that happen to surround the hype story, the show strikes a delicate balance in entertainment, pulling off a not-terrible episode from a risky recipe.

     It probably also helps that one character is really not thinking much about the baby at all. Maddie steals a list of patients and their occupations from the nurses' station, and spends much of her time running around to discuss different career possibilities for herself. All of the Better With You characters are selfish, in the tradition of Seinfeld and It's Always Sunny..., but this may be a new low. Her sister is giving birth down the hall! In Maddie's defense, she does keep tabs on Mia, and does not miss anything important. But still...

     This is in character for Maddie, though. She is very career-orientated, and being without one has screwed her up. She needs purpose and goals in her life and doesn't have any. It would be hard for her to devote her full attention to helping anyone else before she rights her own course, which is a little like securing your own gas mask on the plane before your child's. From one perspective, Maddie's need to land that next job before devoting herself to her sister is actually the best way she can help Mia. It's justa bit twisted compared morally to what most people accept.

     Luckily, Maddie's side mission does help Mia, because she finds a judge (the talented Edward Herrmann, Gilmore Girls) who is a patient, and he agrees to perform the ceremony. Any opportunity to see Herrman on screen is welcome, especially one that finds him officiating a wedding in a hospital gown and robe. Perhaps a bit undignified, but funny.

     All of the characters on Better With You are a bit twisted. Joel (Kurt Fuller) and Vicky (Debra Jo Rupp) illustrate this best, especially in their marriage. Perhaps because they're older, they care less about what others think, and just say whatever they feel like saying. While their daughter is in labor, they are involved in a marital squabble about Joel throwing out one of Vicky's family heirlooms. An act he did decades ago, not recently, by the way. They are concerned about Mia, but not so much so that they can't find time to fight.

     Vicky and Joel's relationship works, despite the clashing, because they are both honest with each other, and mostly accept who the other is. Joel ends up screaming at Vicky that he would throw away the precious heirloom all over again because their marriage has been great and he wouldn't change one thing. It may sound like a cop out, but it comes from a place of sincerity. She is moved, and they make up. With lesser actors, this story would not work, because it exposes a very kooky pair that is hard to relate to. But Rupp and Fuller expertly balance real emotion with their weird quirks in a way where even yelling can be sweet. And very enjoyable to watch.

     As reported in other reviews, Better With You has really defined itself by finding a working formula. All six cast members have wonderful chemistry, and the writing is witty. For instance, this week, all of the Putneys couldn't understand why Ben (Josh Cooke) thinks he will be Uncle Ben (wonder why no one made the obvious rice joke?) when he isn't legally married to Maddie. They just state it so matter-of-factly, not intentionally hurting Ben's feelings, but doing so all the same. He rolls with it, used to their dismissal of him. It's almost a throwaway, but is memorable because it lands so well. These sort of amusing bits happen multiple times in every episode.

     That's why Better With You, a bubble show, deserves a second season. It has characters and situations that deliver, and it will break new ground. After all, how many sitcoms rearranged themselves around a baby? Especially selfish sitcoms? Yet, that is likely to happen, as in the confined world of the six main characters, it isn't realistically possible to hide the kid off screen too frequently, as is so often done on television. Please, ABC, give the show a chance to continue. It has met expectations so far.

     If you like my reviews, please follow me on Twitter! Click here for all of my Current Season Reviews.

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Article first published as TV Review: Better With You - "Better With the Baby" on Blogcritics.

Happy Endings bears witness to "The Shershow Redemption"

Pilot      ABC's Happy Endings started slow, but by the season finale, "The Shershow Redemption," the series is finding its way. Like a modern, more diverse friends, it is establishing itself a fine following for a modern sitcom. In the episode, the gang attends the wedding of their old friend Shershow (T.J. Miller, Carpoolers, Cloverfield). Shershow used to be a screw up, but he has things together, and is marrying a beautiful woman, Melinda (June Diane Raphael, Funny or Die Presents..., NTSF:SD:SVU). While several among the group wonder who has become the new Shershow, others seek to redfine their relationships. The real meaning of love and marriage is explored.

     The series begins with Alex (Elisha Cuthbert) leaving Dave (Zachary Knighton) at the alter. It takes awhile for them to get back to a place of friendship, but they must, because they share the same mutual friends. In "The Shershow Redemption," Alex suggests they play each others' wingman, a move that will totally prove they are over each other. But, she isn't, as is soon revealed when Dave overhears Alex confess she may have made a mistake to Melinda. In most sitcoms, the fact that Alex caught Dave sleeping with a bimbo earlier in the episode would prevent her from being able to reconnect with him. In Happy Endings, they choose the more mature route, not even discussing the other woman. Instead, Alex's confession comes after the incident. It's a real touching moment, not only demonstrating some sophisticated writing and storytelling, but opening the door to a possible season two reconnection, or at least a rexploration of the feelings they have.

     Brad (Damon Wayans Jr.) and Jane (Eliza Coupe) have already been married for a numbers of years, but learn that Max (Adam Pally) was not licensed when he performed their wedding, thus nulling the union. Again, some sitcoms might exploit this fact for some overreaching story where it matters they are not legally wed. Again, Happy Endings goes in a different direction. Jane thinks about planning a huge redo so she can have the perfect wedding she didn't get before, but when Brad goes along with her plans, somewhat reluctantly, but with little complaining, she realizes they already have a solid marriage, whether the government recognizes it or not. It's heartwarming, and together with the aforementioned plot, puts Happy Endings head and shoulders above most other comedies on the air. It is earning its place on the network.

     Finally, Penny (Casey Wilson) gets jealous because Shershow was her safety, so she invents a fiance, and tries to have her flaming gay friend, Derek (Stephen Guarino, The Big Gay Sketch Show) pretend to be him. It goes horribly wrong, with Derek channeling Grease's Danny Zuko, before reverting to his natural self. Penny gets drunk and says stupid things. Perhaps she's a little over the top, but not so much so that it pulls the viewer out of the story.

     Wilson is a rare gem on Happy Endings, perhaps the most enjoyable actress on the show. This comes as a surprise, considering I did not care for her at all during her stint on Saturday Night Live. Now it appears she just needs more suitable material, which she finds in abundance on Happy Endings. Kudos for putting such a talented comedienne to good use
     Happily, because of how it has distinguished itself, Happy Endings has found enough fans to garner a second season. It will return to ABC in the fall.

     If you like my reviews, please follow me on Twitter! Click here for all of my Current Season Reviews.

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Modern Family ends with "The One That Got Away"

Modern Family: The Complete Second Season     ABC's Modern Family ended their season with "The One That Got Away," as the family prepares for Jay's (Ed O'Neill) birthday party. Cam (Eric Stonestreet) shoves his baby off on Gloria, then helps Manny (Rico Rodriguez) woo a girl. While shopping at the mall, an old friend of Phil's (Ty Burrell) thinks that Gloria (Sofia Vergara) is his wife, which pleases Phil until the friends points out how luck Phil would be to have Claire (Julie Bowen). Claire and Mitchell (Jesse Tyler Ferguson) sneak into their old backyard to recreate a photo, and get trapped in a treehouse by a dog. The Dunphy kids work together to make Jay a touching tribute video. But as Jay has to save the day repeatedly, and more and more things go wrong, he misses out on the birthday he really wants - a quiet fishing trip.

     Hopefully, this will finally put to rest that subplot of Phil being attracted to Gloria. His old friend (guest star Rob Huebel, Childrens' Hospital, Human Giant) helps Phil remember that he has a beautiful, wonderful wife, and he is lucky to be married to her. While it is reasonable that Phil would find a hot woman attractive, he is, at heart, a family man, and once the show got going, it felt a little silly that he would continue to drool over Gloria. There is little doubt that Phil would never act on those impulses, but as he begins to imagine what it would be like, he is brought back to reality. No offense to Gloria, but Phil should continue counting his blessings that he has Claire, and not allow himself to be disracted any more.

     It is always hilarious with Mitchell and Claire get together because, like many adult siblings, they revert to childish behavior, both good and bad. They fight and argue, but they still care about each other, and they don't abandon their sibling when things gets rough. And their jealousy over the new "kid" in their father's life is both authentic and amusing, as they don't really hate Manny, but worry of any lessening of their dad's affection towards them. Their latest scheme, to break into a stranger's back yard, ends hilariously bad, and the two of them hiding in the tree ot very funny. This is classic for the Pritchett "kids," and hopefully they will have more fun adventures next year.

     The Dunphy kids are getting older, and beginning to find, in small doses, ways to appreciate their siblings. Last week's graduation speech is the latest in a pattern of sisterly bonding, but this week, Luke (Nolan Gould) is the one who helps his sisters. The result is surely more appropriate for a present from Luke than from either Haley (Sarah Hyland) or Alex (Ariel Winter). Bottom line, though, is that these three children have just as much chemistry and comedic talent as the much more recognizable adults, and it is with grreat credit to the writers that this is noticed and utilized. I'll take a Dunphy children plot any day.

     Poor Jay. He always seems to get the short end of the stick, but like any great father, he sucks it up to help his children. Even on his own birthday, he is denied the things that bring him pleasure. After a horrible day, in which Jay once again puts his family first, the trying-to-be-thoughtful Manny sets up a boat in the backyard swimming pool. As a direct-to-camera interview reveals, this is far from a satisfying resolution to Jay. But once more, he pretends it's exactly what he wants to make Manny happy. If anyone is looking for a paternal role model on TV, look no further than Jay Pritchett. Ironic, as he also played Al Bundy. Who says O'Neill doesn't have range?

     Modern Family is very popular, and so of course it will return next fall to ABC.

     If you like my reviews, please follow me on Twitter! Click here for all of my Current Season Reviews.

     Click here to buy Modern Family DVDs and streaming episodes.

Glee coverage to continue throughout the summer

Glee: The Music, Volume 6
    For those of you sad that FOX's Glee has finished its second season and we will be months without a fresh episode, as I am, the Glee love does not have to go away! GLEEKONOMICS will not let you down, with continuing columns throughout much of the summer hiatus.

     Currently, many of the cast are on tour, singing across the country and beyond! Sadly, I will not have the opportunity to see them, but perhaps you will. Click here for a list of tour dates and locations. Even better, a filmed version of the concert will be available on the big screen starting August 12th, and is expected to run for two weeks. I will be covering that event, and hope many of you will have a chance to see it as well.

     Also, The Glee Project will premiere June 12th on Oxygen. It's a competition show to pick a new cast member who will be in a number of episodes in season three. I am not a fan of reality TV as a genre, so I can certainly not guarantee much coverage, unless it turns out to be totally awesome. But many people love it, so if that's your thing, go crazy! I will at least review the first episode. Others depend on the watchability of the program.

     Finally, since I did very little reviewing of season one, despite my in depth coverage of every episode in season two, I will be bringing you reviews of first season episodes. Relive them on DVD and watch along with me! The plan is to review between one and three episodes a week beginning next week, with the ultimate goal being to finish sometime in August. I hope you will join me on this look back at the past.

     Stay strong Glee fans! As you can see, here is plenty to get you through the summer!

     If you like my reviews, please follow me on Twitter! Click here for all of my Current Season Reviews.

     To purchase Glee DVDs, streaming episodes, music, and more, please click here!

Article first published as Glee Coverage to Continue Through the Summer on Blogcritics.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Glee travels to "New York"

Glee: The Music, Volume 6     FOX's Glee ends their season by sending the New Directions to "New York" City to compete in the Nationals for show choirs. The kids are excited, and have a hard time focusing on writing their original songs for competition, instead wanting to explore the city. Finn (Cory Monteith) takes Rachel (Lea Michele) on a romantic date, only to have her reject him because she knows her future is in NYC, and doesn't think his is. Kurt (Chris Colfer) reaffirms Rachel's belief by helping her live out some dreams. Will (Matthew Morrison) makes a decision between performing on Broadway and continuing to teach at McKinley. Sadly, but not unexpectedly, the New Directions do not place high, but emotions are dwelt upon, and most  characters are satisfied with the trip.

     The New Directions's competition performance is exactly what it needs to be. The duet will be discussed later on, but their showpiece is "Light Up the World." It is not a perfect song, but given that the kids didn't write it until after their arrival in New York, it is good enough. What's more, there is never much expectation that they will win. This episode is about getting to the big time, while next season, when most of the star characters are seniors, they will likely take home the 1st place trophy in a triumphant swan song.

     "Yeah!" is a little bit of filler, but gives some comparison point for the New Directions. It is well executed, and a pleasure to watch, even though it will not win, either. The costumes and choreography are bizarre, and bring the performance down enough that it is easy to imagine the glee kids beating them. They ultimately do not because of a lack of professionalism, but that's OK. Showing "Yeah!" gives viewers confidence the New Direction can easily conquer that level of song next year, and proves that not everyone at Nationals is brilliant.

     "My Cup" is a goofy little number, reuniting Brittany (Heather Morris) with Artie (Kevin McHale). Far superior to Rachel's ode to a hair brush, it isn't especially catchy, but the lyrics are funny. While Brittany works better with one-liners, it's nice the writers decide to experiment with something a little more lengthy, similar to her Fondue for Two bit a couple of weeks ago.

     For two years, Mercedes's (Amber Riley) lack of love life has been frustrating. Light breaks the horizon as she is revealed to be having a secret fling with Sam (Chord Overstreet). While this development is hinted at in "Prom," and the two actually make a nice couple, the need to keep things secret is confusing. Sam is a relatively private person, but Mercedes has been complaining about her lack of man for awhile, and all of a sudden, she can't even tell Kurt? Weird. But forgiven, because of how awesome it is to see Mercedes with a good man.

     Kurt and Blaine (Darren Criss) take things to the next level by exchanging "I love you"s over coffee as Kurt enthusiastically recounts his trip to Blaine. This is perfect timing, and as a couple, these two work very, very well together. Obviously, Blaine is moved by Kurt's passion to express himself, and enjoying seeing someone happy is a hallmark of true love. Yay for them!

     In an otherwise excellent episode, two glaring issues stand out. Number one is Will's quick abandonment of his Broadway dreams after rival coach Dustin Goolsby (Cheyenne Jackson) outs Will's plans to the New Directions. Will feels totally at home after taking the Crossrhodes stage to sing "Still Got Tonight," a surprisingly decent song written by American Idol Kris Allen. Although the series chooses to forgo another tasty Kristen Chenoweth guest spot, it is an almost perfect scene, moving in a way Will does not often achieve.

     Will has mentioned before that he always wanted to sing on Broadway. He can do April's show in between glee club seasons, because they are done with Nationals, and he can perform through the summer. Why give up that chance? He can do both. It's not an either / or type of choice. I expected a phone call with Emma (Jayma Mays), where she convinces him to do Broadway, or at least a show of encouragement from the kids as long as Will promises to return in the fall. Surely, at least Kurt and Rachel understand Will's urge. Why cop out so easily by having Will decide not to do it as soon as the kids find out?

     The second is Quinn's (Dianna Agron) similarly unexplored strong emotions. She expresses serious anger issues with Finn, wanting to quit the glee club. She says she no longer cares about the whole thing, which is understandable. But then Brittany and Santana (Naya Rivera) cheer her up with a hair cut, which is clearly a deleted scene musical number, and she's suddenly fine? The episode moves from furious Quinn and team player Quinn in seconds, with no explanation or exploration of how she can begin to heal.

     This likely spells the permanent end of Quinn and Finn. They give it two good tries, but the reasons they should be together are shallow and goofy. Finn realizes this, and moves on. It is time for Quinn to do the same. With her baby arc, she becomes a very strong character in season one. In season two, Quinn is losing her edge, reverting back to who she is in the early days of Glee. After so much good character development, this can not be allowed to happen. With graduation for Quinn looming next year, season three should feature a strong, independent Quinn ready to map out a successful future for herself.

     Rachel's apology to Sunshine (Charice) is unnecessary, and not needed. Much like both "unnecessary" and "not needed" in the same sentence. But considering it leads to Sunshine performing "As Long as You're There," it can be overlooked. It's not the strongest song in the episode, but Charice's talent has been so under utilized, any chance to see it is welcome.

     Glee takes full advantage of location shooting in New York for "New York." The opening mash up of "I Love New York" and "New York, New York" is spellbinding as the kids run all over the city. The scenery is gorgeous and distinctive to the setting, while the costumes and energy do a great job conveying the characters' excitement over the trip. It is everything that needs to be in the episode.

     Even better is Kurt's private tour for Rachel. They have breakfast at Tiffany's, and then break into Wicked's theater to perform an amazing rendition of "For Good," definitely a highlight of the episode. The two enjoy the theater aspect of New York City as no two other characters can, and their enthusiasm is infectious. It is not hard to imagine their lives returning to NYC after graduation, and both being lucky enough to make it there.

     Rachel and Finn finally deal with what a real relationship means between them. Rachel has dreams, and while she is content to be with Finn while in high school, she is not willing to give up being a star for him. At least not yet. He does write a heck of a love duet in "Pretending," which ends in them kissing on stage, likely ruining their chances of a win with such a blatant display of unprofessionalism. But Rachel, uncharacteristically, doesn't care, because she is falling for him all over again.

     Will Rachel's romantic notions grow stronger, clouding out her life's desire? Finn's final play comes on the heels of an overly romantic date on the streets of New York, complete with a chance encounter with Patti LuPone (cameoing as herself) at Sardi's, and serenading of "Bella Notte" from Lady and the Tramp by the glee guys. As such, Rachel may have been a little more open to him than she otherwise would be.

     Perhaps a nice spin-off, post-season three, with Finn deciding to tag along with Rachel, Kurt, and Blaine as the three inevitably travel to New York to become stars?

     Also nice is Jesse's (Jonathan Groff) last ditch play for Rachel. It is probably about as sincere as he can get, and demonstrates once more that he is not good enough for her. It's slightly disappointing that Will seems to encourage Jesse a bit, but perhaps the director is merely being kind. Having Finn be the one to ultimately tell Jesse off may be chauvinistic, but it solidifies his claim on Rachel, who deserves the attention.

     Glee was picked up for a third season long ago, and will return next fall to FOX. In the meantime, check out The Glee Project, premiering June 12th on Oxygen, a reality competition where young performers will compete for a chance to be on Glee next year. This column will review the premiere, but may or (more likely) may not cover it weekly, depending on how good the series is.

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Article first published as TV Review: Glee - "New York" on Blogcritics.