Sunday, July 31, 2011

Burn Notice plays "The Enemy of My Enemy"

     This week's Burn Notice on USA is called "Enemy of My Enemy." Michael (Jeffrey Donovan) helps Pearce (Lauren Stamile, Community, Grey's Anatomy) recover a stolen military warhead by sending Sam (Bruce Campbell) undercover into the hands of dangerous heroin kingpin, Carmelo (Todd Stashwick, Men of a Certain Age, Heroes). Sam convinces Carmelo that the Serbians that took the warhead really have Carmelo's drugs. Things take a dangerous turn, and Michael finds the CIA unwilling to help Sam. Fiona (Gabrielle Anwar) and Madeline (Sharon Gless) are not pleased with Michael's willingness to risk his best friend's life.

     Fiona and Maddie seem to think Michael is being awfully selfish in sending Sam into such a risky situation. Are they right? Michael certainly seems to give them consideration when they confront him. But in this scenario, Michael is already known to Carmelo, and there is a lot at stake in recovering this warhead. Michael is worried sick about Sam, and goes in himself to rescue his friend when things get dicey. Yes, Michael is shown to be too-mission driven plenty of times, often at the expense of his friends. But in this case, there is a lot more going on than just looking into revenge. Michael knows he is playing a dangerous game, but Sam is willing, and the end result is important.

     It's great to see more of Jesse (Coby Bell) this week, as the fifth main character has been absent much screen time this season. This is due to plot circumstances, and understandable. But it is also regrettable, as Bell is now a valued member of the cast, deserving of his fans and attention.

     Fiona and Madeline have their own side mission, attempting to find the man who looks like Michael on a security camera, furthering the investigation into who killed Max (Grant Show). Anwar and Gless have delightful chemistry. Their characters are different in many ways, but both are tough, and they deeply love Michael, so they also have things in common. Any time they can go off together is a good time. Their aliases are very humorous, matched only by yet another variation of Chuck Finley.

     Speaking of Max's death, why is it that Burn Notice has a tendency to kill off wonderful recurring characters so quickly? This is far from the first time it has happened. Richard Schiff and John Mahoney have also been victims of this trend. It would be nice if the series would keep around some of the very strong talent it attracts for a more considerable length of time. Which is not to say that Show's replacement, Stamile, is inferior in any way. But he is still missed.

     Not everyone on Burn Notice gets killed off. "Enemy of My Enemy" actually returns several previously seen characters. Sugar (Arturo Fernandez) puts in his fourth appearance, while Carmelo is in a 2007 episode. Agents Manaro (Brendan O'Malley) and Bailey (unable to find the actor name) are in the TV movie, Burn Notice: The Fall of Sam Axe, which conveniently was released on DVD this week. They are silly in a good way, and hopefully will return to bother Sam again.

     Burn Notice airs Thursdays at 9 p.m. ET on USA

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

     Click here to purchase DVDs from Burn Notice.

Article first published as TV Review: Burn Notice - "Enemy of My Enemy" on Blogcritics.

Childrens Hospital presents "Children's Hospital: A Play in Three Acts"

     On this week's Childrens Hospital, the regular story is abandoned in favor of an old-style play, evoking Thornton Wilder or Tennessee Williams. While the episode title is "Children's Hospital: A Play in Three Acts," it is not divided into acts, though it is a narrated play. The plot follows Owen (Rob Huebel) as he leaves his friends and fiance to take a hospital job in the big city. Owen soon realizes that the city hospital is cold and heartless, as does the audience, because of lighting and music. Our hero returns in time to save Sy (Henry Winkler), who has taken ill quite rapidly.

     This episode of Childrens Hospital is special because it is a departure from the normal scenario. While the series has done this before, including going back to the 1970s a few weeks ago, it never gets old. The point of Childrens Hospital is not to tell a narrative, but to deliver pure, belly-aching comedy. Allowing an entry to take place in a different universe, with odd clothes and dialogue patterns, only let the cast stretch, expanding their source material to draw upon. As such, "Children's Hospital: A Play in Three Acts" is yet another great episode in the series.

     Interesting, Ken Marino plays two roles this week. Not only does he tackle his usual main character, but he is the seducer from the city who lures Owen away from his home. Is this done because Marino plays a close friend of Owen's character, and the familiar visage better tempts Owen than a total stranger would? Not likely. Though that could be a possible explanation for anyone who would likely to deeply analyze the situation, Childrens Hospital defies critical thinking. Looking for explanations only prevents total enjoyment, and should be avoided. Normally, that would be a negative mark against a show, but in this case, Childrens Hospital works so well that it would be folly to question their techniques.

     Do not miss Childrens Hospital, Thursdays at midnight on Cartoon Network.

     If you like my reviews, please follow me on Twitter!

     Please click here to buy the first two seasons of Childrens' Hospital on DVD.

Article first published as TV Review: Childrens Hospital - "Children's Hospital: A Play in Three Acts" on Blogcritics.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

NTSF:SD:SUV brilliant parody

     Cartoon Network's Adult Swim has now done for cop shows with NTSF:SD:SUV what Childrens' Hospital, on the same network, does for hospital series. Namely, embrace every cliché and give them new, interesting, hilarious twists. NTSF:SD:SUV stands for National Terrorism Strike Force: San Diego: Sport Utility Vehicle, but that isn't really important. It's much funnier just to toss in a bunch of letters, poking fun at the numerous procedurals currently on the air. The series is based on a commercial that aired during Childrens' Hospital last year, and while several actors from that short are in the series, a number of changes have been made, including who wears an eye patch. Continuity for NTSF:SD:SUV, like it's sister show, Childrens' Hospital, is ignored, but viewers will likely not care because they will laugh so hard.

     In this week's episode, the series's second, "The Birthday Party That Was Neither," a former member of the team named Chip (John Cho, FlashForward, Star Trek) blackmails four of them for one million dollars each. He is bitter because they left him behind after ninjas cut off his thumbs. When his old friends show up with the money, each gotten in immoral, illegal ways, Chip plans on blowing them up, and somehow donating the money to the park service. That's because his bomb will take out an area of parkland. Though, as one character points out, how will the money survive the explosion? The situation is resolved happily, but then boss Kove (Kate Mulgrew, Star Trek: Voyager) shows up and takes out Chip, still ending happily for everyone else.

     The main characters have all proven their comedy chops long before NTSF:SD:SUV in other projects. Series creator Paul Scheer (The League) stars, and is joined by Brandon Johnson (Funny or Die Presents...), June Diane Raphael (Bride Wars), Martin Starr (Party Down), and Rebecca Romijin (Ugly Betty). A number of guest and  recurring characters are also big names in comedy, including Rob Riggle (The Daily Show), Ed Helms (The Office, The Hangover) and Keri Kinney (Reno 9-1-1!). Mulgrew may be the most surprising member of the cast, as she is known for dramatic roles. However, in "The Birthday Party That Was Neither," she proves herself worthy, getting frustrated at the "birthday party" her employees are secretly being invited to without her. All the performers sell the parts with total commitment.

     The enthusiasm and gusto of the actors is really what makes NTSF:SD:SUV work so well. Like Childrens' Hospital, the stories are secondary, and watching the work of masters is the main draw. In this, they succeed with flying colors. This is one comedy show that you will not want to miss.

     Catch NTSF:SD:SUV Thursdays (technically Fridays) at 12:15 a.m. EST on Cartoon Network.

     If you like my reviews, please follow me on Twitter!

Friday, July 29, 2011

Does Wilfred have a "Conscience" ?

     FX's Wilfred finally delves into Jenna's (Fiona Gubelmann) love life this week. Fans of the original version may be used to the idea that the main girl and the man guy are shacking up throughout. But in the Americanized remake, Ryan (Elijah Wood) is thwarted in his pursuit of her by the fact that she already has a boyfriend - Drew (Chris Klein). In "Conscience," Wilfred (Jason Gann) helps Ryan break up Jenna and Drew, only to see Ryan have a guilt trip afterward. Will Wilfred allow Ryan to have a change of heart? Or will the dog murder his new best friend?

     The Wilfred character, of which even its existence is an enigma, is getting harder to figure out. While in earlier episodes, Wilfred has very clear motivations in retrospect, in "Conscience," things get a bit murky.

     Wilfred wants Drew to go away, but that doesn't mean he wants Ryan to take his place. Is Wilfred jealously trying to keep Jenna all to himself? While the mutt is played by a human, he shows little signs of sexual attraction to his owner, but instead, a fierce, dog-like loyalty. But wouldn't a dog welcome someone new to give him attention all the time? And since he spends so much time with Ryan anyway...

     Plus, why turn on Ryan so quickly? How come Wilfred can accept Drew's alpha male role without striking back directly, but goes after Ryan with a vengeance?

     The scene that feels most out of character for Wilfred is his mad scientist routine in the basement. It is hilarious that he tries to poison Ryan with chocolate and raisins, which are toxic to canines, but losing the typical voice and mannerisms of the titular character are confusing. It could be argued that Wilfred is slipping into a persona, a reasonable explanation. Instead, though, the script meanders, and it is disappointing how unclear that character has become.Ryan, on the other hand, remains true to the guy shown these past five weeks. He does want to improve his life, and being with Jenna is a goal, but he isn't willing to make Jenna unhappy, or hurt an innocent guy. Sure, Drew can be a jerk when acting ultra-competitive, but who doesn't have their faults?

     Klein makes the boyfriend sympathetic as he confesses he knows what he is doing wrong and, but struggles to stop it. His apology cinches the deal. Ryan's compassion mirrors the viewers', and so he must step in to correct his mistake. Drew makes Jenna happy, so he can't be all bad.

     Over all, Wilfred is quickly winning hearts as a charming comedy. But the dog needs to be nailed down a bit better. His motivations can stay a mystery, as long as they make sense in the larger context. Explanation for behaviors.

     Also, remind me again why the perpetually missing Kristen (Dorian Brown) is a main character?

     Watch Wilfred Thursdays nights at 10 p.m. ET on FX.

     If you like my reviews, please follow me on Twitter!

     To catch up on Wilfred with streaming episodes online, please click here.

Article first published as TV Review: Wilfred - "Conscience" on Blogcritics.

Login to Web Therapy

     Now on Showtime is Web Therapy. Web Therapy began life as a series of short webisodes available online. Now Showtime has ordered it to series, so what is airing on television is a compilation of the shorter bits, edited together with connecting scenes. In the first two episodes, we meet Fiona Wallace (Lisa Kudrow, Friends), who is starting a new "modality" for therapy - offering three minute sessions via web cam. This works for her, as she is lazy, and would rather avoid the human contact that comes with fifty minute meetings in person. To begin, Fiona calls upon some people she already knows in the "real world," hoping to establish a brand, then franchise it and become rich. Ideally, this will happen within a couple of months. The series is made up completely of web cam shots.

     Two episodes in, Kudrow has banished Phoebe from the minds of viewers. A different voice and mannerisms assure virtually no connection between the character Kudrow is most famous for, and the one she now inhabits. Fiona herself is odd, with an annoyingly lilting tone, and her own, distinct pattern of dialogue. One episode in, she is easy to despise. Two half hours, and suddenly she is incredibly enjoyable, even though it is still apparent she is a horrible human being. For instance, she tries to exploit a patient named Jerome (executive producer Dan Bucatinsky), who thinks he was unknowingly sleeping with his half sister (Rashida Jones, Parks and Recreation). Fiona takes the role of victim when it turns out the woman is not related to him. After all, she intends to use his story to get investors! How dare he be boring!

     Part of the reason Fiona may be the way she is could be the lack of affection she gets from her husband, Kip (the great Victor Garber, Eli Stone, Alias). Kips is, to keep with the show's format, only seen via web cam, too, whether he is on Fiona's computer, sitting next to her, or being called while in the bedroom on his own laptop. It makes for an odd communication style between the two, and most moments of their lives are missed by the viewers. However, there is enough insinuation to figure out that Kip wants to stay in the marriage, cares about Fiona, but avoids her sexual advances. Could he be gay?

     To compensate, Fiona acts inappropriately towards other men, but can't bring herself to go through with anything. One in particular, Richard (Tim Bagley, Monk, Will & Grace), she now counsels, and tries to interfere in his new relationship. You see, her departure from her previous job came after she made many advances, but she rejected Richard when he tried to act on them. Now she doesn't want him to be with anyone else, and he is confused. Wholly unethical, it's still a pretty funny situation, and actually exposes a vulnerable side of Fiona. Which is when she begins to be a character fans can get behind, if only slightly. What is shown most of the time is a persona, and this situation peels down into a deeper layer.

     High quality guest stars abound in the first season, including Jane Lynch (Glee), Lily Tomlin (Damages, The West Wing), Alan Cumming (The Good Wife), Courteney Cox (Cougar Town), Jennifer Elise Cox (The Brady Bunch Movie), Maulik Pancholy (30 Rock, Weeds), Julie Claire (24, Dirt), and more. It should be an exciting bunch of whackos, perfectly complimenting Fiona's insanity.

     Web Therapy is nowhere close to realistic, but it is pretty funny. Check it out Tuesdays at 11 p.m. EST on Showtime.

     If you like my reviews, please follow me on Twitter!

     Click here to purchase Web Therapy.

Article first published as TV Review: Web Therapy on Blogcritics.

Awkward. not a bit so, to its credit

     Awkward. is new to MTV, premiering last week, and continuing every Tuesday. The series centers around Jenna Hamilton (Ashley Rickards, One Tree Hill), a girl who feels like an unnoticed outsider in her typical, popularity-run high school. Her dream nearly comes true when she loses her virginity to her crush, Matty (Beau Mirchoff, Desperate Housewives). But then he says he doesn't want to be with her in public. Upset, she writes a sad blog post, then accidentally trips in the bathroom, knocking several items about. This improbably makes Jenna appear to her parents (Mike Faiola and Nikki Deloach, North Shore) to have attempted suicide. The rumor spreads around school, and suddenly everyone notices Jenna, though not in the way she particularly wants.

     MTV has finally done it. That is, made a great television series that transcends the cliches usually abundant on the once-music video-focused cable network. Jenna is a very interesting character, who decides to be bold after her "scandal," and after receiving a mysterious letter offering her advice on how to have a better reputation. Who the letter comes from is an as of yet unanswered mystery. Jenna is actually pretty open even before this, letting her inner emotions spill onto a public blog. But she is also genuinely nice, even to mean girl Sadie (Molly Tarlov), who is determined not to let Jenna into the circle of "cool" people. This kind of perspective, realistic and brave, yet modest and good, is a rarity in any television character, especially one still in high school. She combines many great traits to make a capable lead.

     The supporting characters are not bad, either. Sure, Matty is a bit of a stereotype thus far. He is willing to be Jenna's hero, as long as no one knows about her. Jake (Brett Davern) is the one who likes Jenna for who she is, and gets upset at the way she is treated. However, Jake is dating Sadie's best friend, Lissa (Greer Grammer), and until Lissa's deviousness is exposed, he won't pursue anything with Jenna. This sets up a rivalry for Jenna's affections, as when her stock rises, and Lissa's falls, both guys will have no problem publicly making their affections known. The truth is, though, while at first Jake appears to be the better catch, he is with a not-so-nice girl, so there must be some negatives to him. And Matty's concern over his own reputation can be forgiven because he is a teenager, as long as he makes right in the end. It is truly unknown who Jenna will eventually choose. Could go either way.

     Even better is Sadie. Jenna's internal monologue provides possible reasoning behind Sadie's wicked streak, and so, like Jenna, viewers will soon feel sorry for Sadie, rather than hate her unconditionally. It is also bold of MTV to go with an overweight, smart brunette as leader of the popular kids and head cheerleader, instead of the usual skinny, dumb blonde. Both types exist in real life, but normally that isn't obvious on television. Sadie gives Awkward. a dose of healthy realism, and is complicated enough to be interesting.

     Sadly, the adults on Awkward. are horribly developed. Jenna's parents don't even consider that she isn't trying to off herself, despite her insistence to the contrary. In the second episode, her mother even suggests a boob job to improve self esteem, though thankfully, her father nixes that idea. Not that Jenna would have gone through with it. Even worse, school counselor Valerie (Desi Lydic) is only concerned with being the students' friend, allowing herself to be easily manipulated by Sadie. Why such flat grown up characters, when the kids come multi-layered?

     Still, there's enough here to be an intriguing drama, separate from the crap that usually inhabits the network. And, to be fair, the teens that the reality fluff is targeted to, and who enjoy it, will likely like Awkward. as much as those with different tastes. It's really a show that should have wide appeal.

     After posting this review on another site I write for,, I got an e-mail from series creator Lauren Iungerich, who couldn't have been nicer. In the e-mail, she addresses my complaints about the adults, I wanted to share some of those thoughts with you, as an extension of my review. I certainly felt I understood the characters better after reading them.

Lauren says:

     "Lacey, the mother, is actually one of the more complicated characters on the show and it will be revealed as the season progresses. Jenna's parents had her as teenagers and where her father sees her as the blessing that guided his life in the right direction, her mother sees her as a bit of curse because Lacey feels like her life was interrupted by having to raise a child. She is still struggling to find her own identity in the same way her daughter is trying to find hers. She loves her daughter but is misguided in her own desire to be a popular adult and make her daughter into the girl she once was and still wants to be-- instead of allowing Jenna to be who Jenna is. This is a common occurrence in the dynamic of mothers and daughters and while my mother was not as self-absorbed as Lacey-- she was always trying to mold me into a person i could never be. And this also gives Jenna an added complication in her life-- she does not have a strong mother to guide her. So she is left to her own inner spirit to guide herself. My goal was to have Jenna teach her mother how to be a good mother. And for Lacey to discover that her journey of self is far more enriched by having Jenna in her life.

     "As for Valerie- the counselor. She is a nut. She was inspired by a woman I worked with for a long time who was in a position of power and had absolutely no clue about anything. I have found it particularly fascinating that there are so many administrators in high schools that are clueless about kids. Valerie is trying to reinvent her own high school experience and in the process revealing that she has no true authority or expertise to be guiding anyone. Including herself. And you will see thru the season that her unprofessionalism does not go unnoticed..."

     I think both of these descriptions really help to understand what is going on, and counteract my reservations, as I hope they will yours.

     Watch Awkward. Tuesday nights at 11 p.m. EST on MTV.

     If you like my reviews, please follow me on Twitter!

     Click here to catch up with streaming episodes of Awkward.

Article first published as TV Review: Awkward. on Blogcritics.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Breaking Bad defends itself with a "Box Cutter" and a "Thirty-Eight Snub"

     AMC's Breaking Bad finally returned last week after more than a year's absence. Like much of the series, the first two hours flow with connecting arcs, rather than tell stand-alone stories. In the first episode of the fourth season, "Box Cutter," Walt (Bryan Cranston) secures jobs for Jesse (Aaron Paul) and himself, narrowly avoiding death at the hands of Gus (Giancarlo Esposito). But Gus shows his displeasure at Walt's ruse by butchering one of Gus's own henchmen in front of them. In "Thirty-Eight Snub," Walt seeks a more permanent solution to his continued well being, but Mike (Jonathan Banks) is unwilling to form an alliance, and tells Walt he will never see Gus again. Which means Walt and Jesse can continue making meth, but only until Gus finds a replacement and takes them out, and there's nothing they can do about it.

     It is no coincidence that both episode titles are weapons. "Box Cutter" features one of the most graphically violent scenes ever shown on basic cable television. The murder Gus commits is both chilling and fascinating, proving that Esposito is on a tier of his own in terms of acting talent. The frustrating silence and steely eyed glare make the long, drawn out scene one of supreme artistic excellence, as well as keep the suspense taunt. It is no wonder. too, that Walt is now deathly terrified of Gus, and thinks the only way to take him out may be to do a little killing of his own. Obviously, Gus is a very dangerous man, and Walt and Jesse are only alive to keep production flowing.

     Walt and Jesse handle their fear in very different ways. Walt goes for the tough guy routine, something the once meek chemistry teacher steadily grows more and more comfortable with, by buying a "Thirty-Eight Snub" and trying to turn Mike against Gus. Whether Walt has any chance at all of overcoming a powerful, cold-hearted criminal mastermind like Gus remains to be seen. Luckily, Breaking Bad has a masterful way of delivering twists, and the outcomes expected likely won't play out in a predictable way.

     Jesse, by contrast, begins growing reckless. He spends massive amounts of money on a new stereo system, and parties hard. This means Jesse's sobriety is out the window. If Gus doesn't take out Jesse, Walt's assistant will remove himself from the equation soon enough. Interestingly, Jesse shows he has lost faith only in himself, not the world, by giving Andrea (Emily Rios) a large amount of cash and trusting her to buy a better life, rather than spend it on drugs. He is a very complicated character indeed.

     In the meantime, blissfully unaware of the danger, Skyler (Anna Gunn) inserts herself more dominantly into Walt's affairs, attempting to buy the car wash her estranged husband used to work at. Unfortunately, the owner remembers her, and shuts down that idea quickly. But Skyler's concern for Walt is more than about money, as evidenced by the way she frantically searches for him when he is missing. True, she could just be concerned about her family's financial future, but her frenzy seems to indicate that she still has feelings for the man that she now keeps at arm's distance. Any possible reconciliation will be long off, but the door is not yet closed forever.

     Marie (Betsy Brandt) scores a bit more screen time in season four of Breaking Bad as she suffers through husband Hank's (Dean Norris) recovery. Hank is surly towards her, though kind to his physical therapist. He tries to get better, but won't accept the slightest comfort from the woman he is closest to. Who would have thought that Marie has the saintly patience to put up with such a grouchy, uncooperative spouse? Yet, Brandt finds inner strength from somewhere, and swiftly develops Marie from an annoying woman into a near hero. Her strength as Hank undergoes the turmoil that comes with his trauma is impressive, and the subplot is most welcome.

     Breaking Bad airs Sunday nights at 10 p.m. ET on AMC.

     If you like my reviews, please follow me on Twitter!

     Please click here for streaming episodes, Blu-ray, and DVDs of Breaking Bad.

Article first published as TV Review: Breaking Bad - "Box Cutter" and "Thirty-Eight Snub" on Blogcritics.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Entourage wishes for "Home Sweet Home"

     As HBO's Entourage begins its final season with "Home Sweet Home," a lot changes for the boys. Vince (Adrian Grenier) is out of rehab, and Johnny Drama (Kevin Dillon) goes to great lengths to make sure there isn't a substance around to tempt his brother. Drama is only partially successful, as Turtle (Jerry Ferrara) can't bear to part with everything. E (Kevin Connolly) and Scott (Scott Caan) have taken over the management company they work for, and their names now grace the letterhead. Sloan (Emmanuelle Chriqui) upsets E when she mails back his engagement ring. Ari (Jeremy Piven) is in much the same boat as E, learning Mrs. Ari (Perrey Reeves), from whom he is unhappily separated, is seeing another man.

     Ari is the single best character in "Home Sweet Home." At heart, he is the same guy he has always been. Ari talks a big game, as he needs to, to be successful in his chosen career. But he is still a devoted family man to Mrs. Ari and the kids. After ten weeks of being apart, Ari is letting work slip, though, as Lloyd (Rex Lee) points out. This is a change for the sharkish agent, and almost a tad regrettable. Ari does have a tendency to let work rule his life when it shouldn't, but only because he cares so deeply for his family and certain clients. Certain clients, of course, being Vince. However, Mrs. Ari says she wants Ari to put family first, and he is doing that now more than ever. He is bending over backwards to try to make her happy.

     Is it too late? While Ari does his best to work his way back into Mrs. Ari's good graces, she reveals to him that she is seeing another man. Ari talks tough, but he never cheats on her. They have been married many years. Besides only recently splitting, they are in counseling together. That, along with the lengths Ari is going to win her back, which are implied, even if not explicitly shown much, makes her reentry into the dating world so soon a severe betrayal to him. If she is that done with her marriage, why keep stringing Ari along, as counseling does? Why not tell him sooner? It's pure torture. Mrs. Ari is the heartless one in this coupling.

     The tears rolling down Ari's cheeks at the end of "Home Sweet Home," as he says he doesn't want to be left out to the guys, may be Piven's most moving, best acted scene to date. It also demonstrates range away from the loud, foul-mouthed character he usually is. Though, of course, no one wants him to permanently change from that guy.

     E has been in an on again/off again relationship with Sloan for nearly the entire run of Entourage. Disappointingly, they are currently off. Why? Haven't they been through enough? It almost feels like a cop out, that the fight over the prenup is only shown in aftermath. Did the writers decide that fans have seen enough of the duo arguing? Because that is true. But when there is a real issue to work out, and surely they will work it out before Entourage comes to an end, it would be nice to see them really explore their feelings. Instead, they are already in a bitter feud as "Home Sweet Home" starts.

     Professionally, E is having a better time of it. He doesn't always see eye to eye with Scott, but considering how the latter has become a part of E's circle of friends, there is enough commonality for them to work out a business arrangement. With the two having taken down their boss, again, something it would have been nice to see on screen, they will likely be capable of keeping things running smoothly. E certainly has his weaknesses as a manager, but Scott is a nice balance, who can pick up the slack where E falters. A brief scene where the two try to sign Johnny Galecki (The Big Bang Theory) as a client is nothing short of wonderful.

     Johnny Drama actually has an acting career in "Home Sweet Home," something he has merely yearned for throughout Entourage's seasons. With his animated series going well, and a possible TV movie in the pipeline, the older brother is in demand more than he has been in years. Will he screw it up? Inevitably, he will probably fail again. Drama is his own worst enemy, and cannot allow himself to do well for long. However, with the series so close to a close, perhaps this time will be different. Fans will be disappointed if Drama is back in the unemployment line as the final credits roll, which hints that maybe this time fame will stick. Well, relative fame, anyway.

     A sober Vince is a strange sight to behold. The lynchpin of Entourage, Vince has many ups and downs. Last season, his drug use reveals a brand new, very deep low. Now Vince is staying away from even alcohol. With his friends walking on egg shells around him, even Billy Walsh (Rhys Coiro), who knows how Vince feels, they are doing more harm than good. Vince needs to find normal again, albeit a new normal, where mind altering substances are not a part of it. If he cannot feel relaxed with the people he cares most about, how can he be expected to reacclimate? Worse, Vince may soon begin blaming his sobriety on their new behavior, and seek to return to an arrangement he is comfortable with, which will include alcohol and drugs.

     But, again, because Entourage is in its final season, it is more likely Vince will stay on top of his problem. He only has seven short episodes left to reignite his career, and so much focus will be on getting him there, rather than fighting old demons. His next big picture is months away, so something else will have to come along in the meantime. Whatever it is, for a storytelling climax, it is likely to be life altering.

     Entourage continues its final season Sunday nights at 10:35 p.m. ET on HBO.

     If you like my reviews, please follow me on Twitter!

     To catch up on Entourage with streaming episodes and DVDs, please click here.

Article first published as TV Review: Entourage - "Home Sweet Home" on Blogcritics.

Monday, July 25, 2011

The Bretts The Complete Collection on DVD tomorrow

     Available starting tomorrow from Acorn Media is The Bretts The Complete Collection. This six disc set contains all nineteen episodes from both series of The Bretts. The series centers around a theatre-loving family as the world begins to shift its obsession to film. The Bretts aired in the 1980's, but is set in the 1920's, during that exciting transition as technology improves. The Bretts stick to their guns and buy a theatre in London's West End, not realizing at first that much of their hard work will soon be benefitting others. After all, where else has Hollywood to look for its talent but the stage? But don't let that description fool you, as the best bits happen not on stage, but in their own home.

     The leader of the family is actor / manager Charles (Norman Rodway, The Empty Mirror). His wife, Lydia (Barbara Murray, The Pallisers) is also full of ego and star power. They are the heart and spirit of the show, something both performers capture admirably. Joining them are their children, who aren't nearly so resistant to the new world before them, which, of course, causes no shortage of drama with their parents. Edwin (David Yelland, Agatha Christie's Poirot), Thomas (George Winter, Knights of God), Martha (Belinda Lang, 2point4 Children), and Perdita (Sally Cookson, The Murders at Lynch Cross) are the fine actors who play the Brett children, and as actors and writers round out the clan nicely.

     There are plenty of other characters besides the Bretts, as they have numerous relationships with many partners. Since The Bretts has some behind the scenes connections with Upstairs, Downstairs, it is not surprisingly that the Bretts have a household staff, many of whom are even more amusing than the family themselves. I've probably already given too much away, so I won't go into details. But the other major players include Tim Wylton (My Hero), Emily (Rebecca Lacey (Casualty), and Billy Boyle (EastEnders), so there is no shortage of talent.

     The Bretts is a period piece, and one done very well. There's a style captured in a very sophisticated way, and the charm is oozing from the seams. The costumes are nearly all pitch perfect. The characters are selfish and arrogant, but still somehow likable. And funny. It's a specfic look at a certain type of person and the era they thrived in. There are twists galore, including rape, secret pregnancies, fatal illnesses, murder, scams, lawsuits, and drug addictions. The only real complaint is how some of the characters disappear so suddenly. The first couple of episodes start the series off a bit slow, but stick with it, as it will prove its worth over time.

     The DVD set itself is sparse, with no special features. The picture is 4:3 full screen, as you'd expect, and there are subtitles you can turn on. It looks a little dated, but it was made more than two decades ago, so that's to be expected. Even without the extras, it is still worth checking out for the episodes alone.

     Check out The Bretts The Complete Collection, on sale tomorrow.

     Please click here to buy The Bretts The Complete Collection now.

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Sunday, July 17, 2011

"Always" Friday Night Lights

Friday Night Lights: The Fifth Season     It may be July in the real world, but it's Christmas time in Dillon, Texas on Friday Night Lights, as the five-year series comes to a permanent end with "Always." Knowing the Lions will soon be no more, the team still faces one final game - the state championship. Eric (Kyle Chandler) is pressured to sign a contract to coach the Panthers "super team" next year before leaving for the game, but wife Tami (Connie Britton) goes cold every time he brings it up. Matt (Zach Gilford) finds it easy enough to propose to Julie (Aimee Teegarden), however, getting a blessing from her parents proves far more tricky. Tim (Taylor Kitsch) ponders his future. And eight months later, life goes on.

     Friday Night Lights spends most of the series only covering football seasons, so it is not unusual for fans to have to imagine what happens during huge gaps in the characters' lives. Yet, the final scenes, set eight months later, or what would have been the beginning of a sixth season, should there have been one, are the last glimpses viewers will ever get. It's bittersweet, seeing how things continue, but already missing those people so many have grown to love. Even with only a few brief cameos by some long departed series stars, seeing the current crop's stories come to an end, along with the Taylors', is a moving finish.

     The transition is brilliant. Just before the skip ahead, the Lions are playing in their final game. Little ambient sound is heard, but a series of plays are shown over trademark music. The faces of the Lions' fans as they cheer are panned over. In stereotypical sports drama fashion, the favorite team is down by a touchdown, and there is only one play left to win the game. But between the musical strains and the camera constantly switching perspectives, the minutes spent on the field are anything but typical. Even more surprising, as the final pass goes for the player's hands, no resolution is shown. Sure, soon enough there are indicators that the Lions won, seeing the championship rings on their hands in the future. But choosing not to air the game winning catch is a bold choice that really pays off.

     Happy endings do come true. The interesting thing about Friday Night Lights is that the happy ending is merely a temporarily stop as lives continue on. Only five brief seasons play out, and despite learning all of the characters' back stories, little of their futures are shown. Many of the principal players are just graduating high school, or early into college. There is no completion. The only thing that ends is the Lions football team, and the Taylor's residence in Texas. So to sum up the entire show, Friday Night Lights, it's about when the Taylors briefly move to Texas and change many kids' paths for the better.

     And they really do. Whatever else can be said about Eric and Tami, they help children. None of Tami's connections are shown in "Always," though there are many. But Eric gets a scene each with Jess (Jurnee Smollett) and Vince (Michael B. Jordan), letting his two latest projects know that he loves and respects them, and will do anything for them, anytime they need it. He leaves them both in great places, much better than when he met them. Jess moves to Dallas and helps coach a high school football team, and Vince switches to the Panthers. But both owe much of their future careers and accomplishments to Eric Taylor. Vince also owes Eric for helping begin a healing between him and his father (Cress Williams).

    Besides mentorship, the most important element of Friday Night Lights is the marriage between Eric and Tami Taylor. It has been discussed at length in many a review, but never has their bond been tested like it is in "Always" and the episodes leading up to the finale. Tami is offered a huge career opportunity, and after following Eric around for years, thinks she deserves the chance to have a turn dictating the family's living situation. Eric likes things as they are, and has trouble seeing any future but the one he leads in building. The couple's give and take virtually disappears over this argument, and things between them take a very dark turn, even as their love is still evident.

     It's not the problems that arise that define a marriage, but how bride and groom deal with them. The climax of this arc comes as Eric lectures Matt and Julie on successful marriage. Tami is shocked at the hypocrisy in Eric's words, and Eric realizes, for the first time, how deeply it hurts Tami that he's ignoring her career. Soon after, she gives in, not seeing a way out of the argument if Eric persists on being stubborn. Even through her grief, she chooses her man. But she shouldn't have to choose, and eventually, Eric makes the right decision, telling Tami it is her turn.

     Eric's sacrifice comes late in the game, almost too late. There is plenty of reason to be angry with him for not capitulating sooner. It isn't fair how he treats Tami. But his apology, asking her so politely to take him with her as she accepts this great honor she has worked so hard to earn, makes up for it, somehow. Maybe it's the sincerity, or the knowledge that Eric knows he screwed up royally. Still, fans are just as apt as Tami to quickly forgive Eric. He has already won the battle, but forfeits anyway, because some things are far more important than getting your way. Tami's happiness is one of them to Eric.

     It's not hard to see how Julie and Matt may end up being a similar couple to Eric and Tami. The personalities in the four do differ, but facing trials and finding undying devotion is present in both instances. Eric and Tami are better people than Julie, but she is still a kid in many ways, and still has a lot to learn. Not the best written character on the series, it's still gratifying to see the Taylor daughter find such a romantic notion as the series comes to a close. And Matt does deserve her. In time, Eric will appreciate his son-in-law in time, whom he already cares for, but stumbles upon the shifting roles.

     Besides the Taylor family, many other characters come through Friday Night Lights over the years. Most get satisfying endings, whether they happen in earlier seasons, or in "Always." Landry (Jesse Plemons) and Grandma Saracen (Louanne Stephens) are two characters that are brought back, but do not get focus, in the final episode. Both are shown in brief scenes, typical for their characters, but not particularly special. Which is OK. As mentioned above, the show only covers a period in the lives of the characters. It isn't time for something large to happen to either of them, so the writers don't force it. But they are involved with characters who do need them, so they are present. Buddy (Brad Leland) is along those same lines, but with a bit extra screen time.

      Hastings (Grey Damon) alone gets no closure. Perhaps he has the unfortunate luck of joining the cast too late in the game, and disappears into the background almost as soon as he appears on the show. It seems likely, had the series not been ending, Hastings would get more to do. With other loose ends to tie up, he gets the short end of the stick.

      The final season of Friday Night Lights develops Mindy (Stacey Oristano) far better than any previous year. Her relationship with Becky (Madison Burge) is sweet and lasting. Even though Becky's mom (Alicia Witt) returns in "Always," and Becky moves home, Mindy and Becky's relationship cannot suffer. They are family, as sure as any blood relation. Thank goodness, for Mindy's sake, the young woman comes along, so that a long-time supporting player finally gets her due.

     Luke (Matt Lauria) gets the only confusing ending. He is shown, eight months later, leaving for the army. As Friday Night Lights winds down, Luke is trying to decide between football and farming, leaning heavily towards the latter. Military service comes out of nowhere. It's a believable path for him, but one that needs some sort of set up that never happens.

     Finally, there's Tim. More than any other character, Tim has to fight to overcome who he is. For nearly four years, Tim struggles with this, and then makes a heroic sacrifice. But after that act, Friday Night Lights still follows the young man, as he tries to figure out where to go from there. Seeing Tim sit on a hill with brother Billy (Derek Phillips), sharing a beer while they build Tim's dream house, is an absolutely average life, and a huge step forward from where Tim begins. While Tim has no romantic resolution with Tyra (Adrianne Palicki), there is hope there, too. His future is so much brighter than his past, it's astonishing. Guess who Tim should be thanking, besides himself, of course? Yep. Eric Taylor.

     Friday Night Lights has come to an end, but it will be sorely missed. Words cannot express the gratitude owed to everyone involved in the production of one of the most memorable, highest quality television series of all time. Thank you.

     Clear eyes. Full hearts. Can't lose.

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Article first published as TV Review: Friday Night Lights - "Always" on Blogcritics.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Louie meets "Joan"

Louie: Season One (DVD/Blu-ray Combo in Blu-ray Packaging)     This week, on FX's Louie, the titular character (Louis C.K.) meets comedic legend Joan Rivers (herself) in "Joan." This occurs while he is working a lounge at a Trump hotel and casino. She has a stage show, and he approaches her after her act to compliment her. She invites him up to her suite to talk, and the two discuss why Louie just quit a steady job over stupid reasons when gigs in their field are so hard to come by. The night ends with a very awkward romantic hookup.

     Louie often explores Louis's life in funny and interesting ways, coming at things from unexpected perspectives. Joan seems to stand in for Louie's other half as he argues with himself. Their words could easily have happened completely inside Louie's head. His instinct is to quit this job that he loathes, especially if they won't let him be himself. But Joan is recommending what is best for Louie, and he is wise to listen to her. It's slightly surreal.

     As for the sexual stuff, it's got to be awkward with the two of them in their current states. There's just no other way. It's an unexpected ending, and because of that, it's funny. The two have great interplay, and going out on such a limb ratchets the joke up another notch. Fantastic.

     Setting aside that Joan may serve as Louie's other half, she is also a legend unto herself, and so it is wonderful to see her appear. She keeps her own sassy, self-deprecating humor, not completely unlike Louie's own trademark brand. As she berates him, it's in her own voice. Rivers is recently enjoying a career resurgence, one of many over the years, with her turn on The Celebrity Apprentice and getting her own reality show with her daughter. Ironically, these events take place in her Apprentice boss's building. Under any circumstances, Joan is welcome.

     As mentioned, Joan has struggled, and so has Louis C.K. Having had failed TV shows before, he is supremely lucky that FX takes another chance on him. But FX gets Louis in a way that other networks have not. Louis's comedy is a truly unique vein, and trying to box him into a generic, "popular" vehicle does not work. Allowing Louie the freedom to do what he wants to do provides a much more fitting, brilliant series. Critics' raves are not unfounded.

     In the end, when someone working so hard fails, their fans want to pick them back up. It's why Joan keeps coming back after many a stumble, and it's why Louie, even having limited success with Louie, gets the attention and support of his fans rallying around him. In this series, there is both critical success and ratings disappointments. But he gets to make it, and that's what's important.

    Also in "Joan," if you like scatological humor, there is a doozy during Louis's stand up segment at the beginning. I generally don't care for this brand of humor, but somehow, Louis makes it acceptable. Even when going to totally wrong places that should never be spoken of. There is a mental image you will never be able to take back.

     I highly recommend that you buy Louie The Complete First Season, and then watch new episodes Thursdays at 10:30 p.m. ET.

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Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Alphas pilot good, not great

Alphas -- Behind the Scenes Sneak Peek [HD]     SyFy's Alphas premiered this week. In the pilot, Dr. Rosen's (David Strathaim, Temple Grandin) team track Cameron Hicks (Warren Christie, Happy Town, October Road), a man who can be superhumanly precise, for murdering a witness in custody. They discover that Cameron was brainwashed, and did not act on his own free will. Cameron agrees to help them catch the real villain, a man who make anyone do exactly what he wants with a touch for his horribly disfigured hand. The bad guy is eventually caught, and Rosen blackmails Cameron into joining the team full-time.

     The term 'alphas' in the series refers to anyone with abnormal powers. 'Mutant' or 'superhero' can be easily substituted, which is fine, because this is sort of an X-Men: The Series. Rosen is like Professor X, in that he is measured and cool, and also the team leader, helping his charges as much as the world. Besides Cameron, the team consists of: Gary (Ryan Cartwright, Bones, Mad Men), who appears to have Asperger's, and can visualize any signals moving through the air; Bill (Malik Yoba, Defying Gravity), who has super strength for a limited time when his adrenaline ratchets up; Nina (Laura Mennell, Watchmen), who can override people's will power, though she's not enough it seems unnecessary; and Rachel (Azita Ghanizada, General Hospital: Night Shift), who can enhance any one of her senses greatly, but the others don't work when she does so.

     Rachel and Bill, especially, have inherent weaknesses with their abilities. This is interesting, because generally heroes with powers have a weak spot, but the ability isn't the cause of it. The power itself is nearly unlimited. Yet, Rachel becomes very vulnerable when using hers, and Bill can't keep his up for long. There are also personality clashes between various members of the group, as each have their own issues that are barely touched on in the Alphas pilot, but the team functions well enough together to get the job done.

     Which is kind of why Alphas is a bit boring. When bringing together such complex, eccentric people, more clash is expected. The personal drama would better inform the series, instead of making the first episode sort of like a crime procedural, as the characters look for the bad guy behind the murder. Perhaps Rosen's crew has had time to work through any such disagreements, but by robbing viewers of that experience, it also robs the show of something, too. The actors are decent enough, but only Strathaim and Cartwright stand out in the first episode as doing something more than following the script.

     Special effects aren't a big issue on TV today, as it is relatively affordable to make the action look good, as Alphas does. It's hard to pin any other complaints, besides the one above, other than things are just a bit too predictable, and opportunity for greatness is squandered when using standard formulas. If Alphas wants to establish itself as a great series, which SyFy is capable of making (think Battlestar Galactica), there needs to be some retooling. Sure, there is a big, mysterious group that needs taken down. But with the focus on the weekly villain, that gets a little lost in the shuffle.

     Alphas airs Mondays at 10 p.m. on SyFy.

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Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Warehouse 13 meets "The New Guy"

Warehouse 13: Season 2     Season three of SyFy's Warehouse 13 begins in "The New Guy." With Myka (Joanne Kelly) still refusing to return to the Warehouse, a replacement is hired named Steve Jinks (Aaron Ashmore, Smallville), who can tell when someone is lying just by looking into their eyes. Pete (Eddie McClintock) at first clashes with his new partner, but they have a mission, so he buckles down. Perhaps a little too much, as he is missing Myka terribly. When the investigation uncovers a literary angle, Pete is quick to get Myka's help on it. She saves the day. Mrs. Frederic (CCH Pounder) arranges for the still reluctant Myka to have a chat with H.G. Wells (Jaime Murray), who alone convinces Myka she should return to her odd job. Ironic, since Wells is part of the reason Myka left.

     What an opening! The whole Jimi Hendrix guitar going haywire is a perfect Warehouse case, complete with their trademark brand of humor. It also introduces "The New Guy," Jinks, appropriately enough. Despite only seeing a sliver of this adventure, nothing feels missed. Following it up with one of Mrs. Frederic's creepy dark surprises gives fans everything they've been looking forward to from Warehouse 13 in the first few minutes.

     It also sets up the new Pete, who is a lot more changed by Myka's leaving than many would expect. He is now immune to the charms of women. Similarly, Myka seems to have undergone a transformation into more of a geeky bookworm than when we first met her. The two cannot thrive without each other, reduced to something less than their potential. Not only does this satisfy everyone who wishes them to remain partners, but it proves the depth of the feelings they harbor for each other. Fantastic!

     Warehouse 13 could use some fresh blood, and choosing Ashmore, a sci-fi vet, is a smart decision. While Jinks gets a little annoying early in the episode with his frequent "You're lying"s, as soon as he stops saying it every five seconds, he melds well into the current ensemble. His inability to get Peter's humor at first (and really, who would?), coupled with his eagerness for the new career combine to make a valuable asset to the Warehouse. The only question is now, with Myka back, what is there for "The New Guy" to do? Will the Warehouse be sending out a team of three from now on?

     Interestingly, Claudia (Allison Scagliotti) isn't too happy about Jinks's presence, but not because of the man himself, who she seems to be fine with. She obviously wants Myka's job and feels she is qualified. Her past performance indicates that she likely is, and is probably being held back because of Artie's (Saul Rubinek) fatherly care for her. Which begs the question, that will surely soon be answered, what will it take Artie to get over this? Will an increase in weird activity prompt Artie to partner Claudia and Jinks, and send them out in the field? Or should he split the veterans with the newbies, which would be a smarter decision, albeit rob fans of much great Myka / Pete interplay, at least temporarily?

     Having an extra pair of hands not only sets the scene for a lot more action, since there can be field agents in multiple places at once, but also allows Leena (Genelle Williams) the possibility of more story. After all, if Claudia starts going out, Artie will need some help back at base. More importantly, with more agents, Warehouse 13 can handle greater challenges and more complex villains, something that will make the series even better than it already is. Also, the show can afford to kill a main character off in an emotionally moving way. Might I nominate Leena, the only truly expendable one?

     There is already a new threat brewing. The bad guy of the week gets away, but is killed under orders of a mysterious figure sitting in shadow. Committing the actual murder is an FBI agent (Ashley Williams, Saving Grace, How I Met Your Mother), who obstructs Pete and Jinks during their mission. Setting aside why Pete doesn't just whip out credentials to get past her, as he has done with others, how might she figure into future episodes? And what evil plan is behind it all?

     Myka's absence for the first half of the episode is regrettable, but some of the tension is immediately removed because Kelly's name still appears as a starring cast member. While mucking with the opening credits probably would require some new contract negotiations, it would have been worth it to build suspense for the fans. Had Kelly's name been saved for the ending credits, then properly restored next week, it might have caused viewers to wonder if she will ever come back, even after she returns to assist on the latest case.

     The case itself is pretty cool. Anytime Shakespeare can come alive as a serious, fatal threat is an accomplishment. His plays are full of death and violence, but so often, modern cinema makes him seem tame. The average American does not seek out Shakespeare's works for leisure reading or theater or movie viewing. Warehouse 13 reminds us that the bard is still very relevant, and has a lot to offer, should one take the time to peruse his pages. If "The New Guy" spurs a dozen people to read a bit of Shakespeare this summer, it has done its job.

     Watch Warehouse 13 Monday nights at 9 p.m. ET on SyFy.

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Article first published as TV Review: Warehouse 13 - "The New Guy" on Blogcritics.