Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Please ponder the "Perils of Paranoia" with House

     In the opening hook for the House fall finale on FOX, "Perils of Paranoia," a lawyer (Vincent Spano) collapses. Upon searching the patient's dwelling, Park (Charlyne Yi) and Adams (Odette Annable) discover a secret closet arsenal that the man's wife (Amanda Foreman, Parenthood, Private Practice) knows nothing about. This gets everyone thinking about paranoia, especially after the lawyer insists his collection is just a safety net for the very real possibility of the U.S. government collapsing. It also spurs House (Hugh Laurie) to play on Park's own manifestation of that titular emotion in how she is treated by her co-workers.

     How can one judge paranoia? Everyone is afraid of something, and everyone has a different justification into how much fear they allow into their lives, or in how they choose to cope with that fear. Is it silly to plan for the worst, when the chance of the worst happening seems remote to most people? Should the government actually collapse, this man will be hailed as a hero for having the foresight to predict and prepare. Maybe he is more aware than most. It's hard to decide where the line between paranoia and caution exists sometimes, and "Perils of Paranoia" plays up a threat that many Americans today feel is very real. Which just makes the definition of paranoia all the more elusive.

     House, of course, does not feel confused. He loves to poke fun at inferior people, and he considers everyone inferior. This patient provides an excellent opportunity for House, though he is too busy messing with his employees to take much advantage of it. In fact, House has been letting much slide lately. Did prison change him forever? Certainly not, as he still engages in plenty of shenanigans, including a delightful contest of wills with Wilson (Robert Sean Leonard) in this week's episode. But House is more mellow, and doesn't use every single weapon in his cruel arsenal anymore, and there might be something more there than meets the eye.

     An important clue to what House is going through this season on House might be the subject of the game he plays with Wilson. Wilson insists that House is exactly the type of person to own a gun, but House denies possessing one. Wilson doesn't believe him, and both lay traps for each other. In the end, Wilson does find a weapon in House's closet, though House is able to lie and claim it's only a prop. Instead, viewers see that it belonged to John House, House's deceased adopted father, and is a keepsake, not a source of protection. Might House be dwelling on his parentage, and thus, not have time to needle everyone quite as much as usual? And how can Wilson be so off base, because even though a gun is in House's apartment, he is totally wrong about his theory?

     The other victim of House's half-hearted torment this week is Park, whom House tries to make feel alienated on the team. He is successful, though it doesn't take much. Adams clearly doesn't like her, nor do Taub (Peter Jacobson) or Chase (Jesse Spencer) take a particular interest. Adams suggests that maybe they just don't know her, and her offer of a date towards Chase, as well as shooting down his initial excuses, intrigues him enough to accept. Through Chase, viewers now stand a chance of learning a little more about Park. Though when Chase inevitably dumps Park for Adams, as obvious sparks fly between the good looking docs, it could be a source of yet more tension on the team.

     Taub acts a little like House, and also a little like a mother, in trying to find Foreman (Omar Epps) a date. Foreman is bored and frustrated in his job, and isn't taking time to pursue a personal life. Perhaps there is still some lingering bond from living together, so Taub feels like he can, and should, interfere. Unfortunately, instead of accepting Taub's offer of available women, which might benefit him, Foreman falls for a girl who is already married named Anita (Yaya DaCosta, Ugly Betty, All My Children). This cannot and will not end well, so why does Foreman get involved? Especially after being so judgmental about Taub cheating on his wife. Thus, "Perils in Paranoia" features the return of Foreman the Hypocrite.

     Lastly, Blake Anderson (Workaholics) guest stars as a loser clinic patient who is stealing from his employer in "Perils of Paranoia." One expects better guest stars on this series, such as Amanda Foreman, and it baffles why Anderson appears. He basically is the same seemingly stoner persona he uses in his terribly unfunny Comedy Central series, so why even pop up if no range will be shown? Instead, it's a head scratcher, especially as the scene feels slightly out of place in the overall episode.

     Then again, it wouldn't be the first time House treats someone in the clinic that is not connected to the bigger story. In fact, earlier in "Perils of Paranoia," House searches for a beautiful, big-breasted girl (Rachel Sterling, The Man Show) to treat in a throwaway that may only be intended as a joke punch line. Could both the woman and the young man be another symptom of a changing House? Or could the series just be making a couple of bad decisions, as neither is memorable nor necessary?

     House will return in January to finish what may very well be its final season.

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Article first published as TV Review: House - "Perils of Paranoia" on Blogcritics.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

"Now You See Me" on Terra Nova

     In "Now You See Me," the latest installment of FOX's Terra Nova, Taylor (Stephen Lang) heads off into the jungle to look for his son, Lucas (Ashley Zukerman, Rush), only to be captured by Mira (Christine Adams) instead. Taylor turns the tables on Mira, but soon both must work together to escape a deadly prehistoric predator. Back at camp, Jim (Jason O'Mara) grows closer to uncovering the Sixers' mole, who viewers learn is Skye (Allison Miller). Not to worry, though, as the sweet young girl is only feeding the bad guys information so they will continue to care for her ailing mother.

     There is no doubt that the Sixers are bad. They stop giving Skye's mom her medicine when communication breaks down, and Skye is a little late feeding them the latest intel. This is not the act of someone who has any compassion at all. So clearly, the vast majority of the Sixers are one-dimensional villains that fans of Terra Nova will not be sad to see killed. It certainly makes things simpler when they are black and white, but far less interesting to the viewer.

     Skye's decision to help out the Sixers is predictable as soon as the facts are in, and of course she's not a bad guy. After all, she has been shown to be helpful and caring towards Josh (Landon Liboiron), so the series writers won't write her off quite so easily. Honestly, though, it would be far better if the mole were a complicated character whose loyalties are truly in question, rather than a scared little girl hoping to help her mother. Thus, another failure in "Now You See Me." And now, no one really wants Jim to catch the mole, and the urgency for him to do so is gone, making the plot kind of moot.

     In fact, the only really good part of "Now You See Me" is Taylor and Mira's interaction. It's totally stale and done before that two enemies can find common ground in the field of battle. Still, as the two discuss how, under different circumstances, they might be allies, it's hard not to appreciate it. Adams is a terrific actress, and giving her character a sympathetic little back story goes a long way towards making her likeable and intriguing. Now the only question seems to be, what will it take to convince Adams to switch sides, possibly against her own, evil group. Though, she could lead the others Sixers to reconciliation, if she is as strong a leader as she appears to be, and they are the sheep they come across as.

     The other subplot in "Now You See Me" involves the youngest Shannon, Zoe (Alana Mansour) wanting to keep a baby dinosaur as a pet. Everything about the story, from her sneaking it very obviously under her shirt, to the far-too-perfect reunion of baby and mama, or a dinosaur that is willing to act as its mama, is over the top sappy.

     Yes, Terra Nova wants to be a family show, along with its other qualities, but does it lack all originality? Every thing the series does so far has a rote feel to it, as if it's copying everything else in pop culture. It is enjoyable enough, sure, but it's fluff, rather than serious drama or deep story. It needs to take chances and try something new! There are a lot of really cool ingredients being used here, but it feels like the show gravitates to the lowest common denominator in an attempt to appeal to everyone. Which will backfire by appealing to almost no one. Considering the budget required, Terra Nova would be wise to try to make itself something special soon, if it's not already too late. Hopefully, this is possible.

     Oh, and Reynolds (Dean Geyer) is already declaring his intentions to marry Maddy (Naomi Scott). Seriously?! They just started dating! Ridiculous!

     Terra Nova airs Mondays at 8 p.m. ET on FOX.

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The Walking Dead is far from "Pretty Much Dead Already"

     AMC's The Walking Dead ends its fall run with "Pretty Much Dead Already," the seventh episode, with six more to begin in mid-February. In this week's entry, Rick (Andrew Lincoln) confronts Hershel (Scott Wilson) about the Walkers in the barn, whom Hershel thinks of as people. Hershel considers letting the group stay, as Rick begs, if they will respect his opinions on the undead. But before Rick can appeal to his party, Shane (Jon Bernthal) takes matters into his own hands, leading a slaughter of every zombie in Hershel's barn. The last Walker out (SPOILER ALERT!) is the little girl the whole group has been searching for: Sophia (Madison Lintz).

     One interesting, nagging question: why do most zombies stay away from Hershel's farm, and how is he able to protect it without keeping constant watch? How come only a couple of stragglers get stuck in his swamp? Where are the crowds that decimate surrounding lands? Is there more to this mystery, or is it happy coincidence that he is able to keep his family safe?

     The Walking Dead spends this entire batch of episode searching for Sophia, only to learn she is a zombie in a barn on the property they are staying at the entire time in "Pretty Much Dead Already." This isn't exactly a shocker, since comic book readers already know that Walkers are in the structure, and the barn is within the vicinity that Sophia could be in. It might be assumed, even if not confirmed, that Sophia is one of the captives before this episode. Of course, the one person who would have been able to tip off the group as to Sophia's whereabouts is killed by Shane before he even knows that they are looking for the lost girl, and Daryl (Norman Reedus) discovers enough clues to keep some off balance.

     But whether Sophia's sudden appearance in "Pretty Much Dead Already" is a shocker to you or not, there is much impact in the reveal. Hershel is watching the group kill his family, friends, and neighbors, as he still sees them as such, as Shane and the others shoot the Walkers in the head. These people mean nothing to them. But when Sophia emerges, they all stop shooting. Suddenly, both the main characters and the audience are really given a face to the tragedy of the epidemic. Sophia is not the first actress shown before and after turning zombie in the series, but it is done with such raw emotion, that one cannot help but be moved. Of course, she must die, too, and does. But now none can deny understanding Hershel's stance on the Walkers, even if they don't agree.

     Will Hershel kick the group off of his farm now, since they murder his loved ones, or is he finally seeing the Walkers for what they are? This is a debatable point that will not be answered until February. He is still insisting it's only a sickness in "Pretty Much Dead Already," which may someday be cured, as the zombies are released. But he gets a first hand look at a hoard of hungry flesh eaters, and it must be very scary. Also, watching Rick take down one of his own has got to mean something, and maybe Hershel will take pity on the travelers, despite what they do.

     The people who suffer the most over Sophia's death are Rick, Carol (Melissa McBride), and Daryl. Carol's grief is obvious, being Sophia's mother. Rick takes the loss as a father himself, and the leader who cannot protect everyone. But Daryl's connection is less obvious. He invests a lot of himself into the search for Sophia, and one cannot help but think that Daryl sees finding Sophia as a chance to really be an appreciated member of the group. Often an outsider, rescuing the missing girl would allow everyone to separate him from his also missing, good-for-nothing brother, as Carol begins to. It also gives him a chance to do something good and selfless, something his brother does not approve of. Sophia's death is a set back for Daryl, and there is no telling how he will respond to it.

     Shane is going down a very, very dark path in The Walking Dead. He thinks that he can make the tough choices that Rick can't, and only be being completely logical and ruthless, does anyone stand a chance to survive. He applies this theory when he kills Otis, and continues to bellow it throughout. He is the one who gets the guns and opens up the barn, even when others try to convince him not to. Can he recover from such bad choices?

     Yet, Rick is the one who must kill Sophia in "Pretty Much Dead Already." Despite Shane's insistence that he is a better protector, Rick saves the group from one of their own. Why doesn't Shane act first? Might his theory falter when confronted with a living person that he cares about? If so, then maybe he isn't too far gone to be saved.

     No one will convince Dale (Jeffrey DeMunn) that Shane is salvageable, though. Dale is the one who tries to hide the guns from Shane, and cautions Andrea (Laurie Holden), who shares sex with Shane, not to follow the former cop down his chosen path. Dale tries to act as father and conscience to everyone, but his biggest challenge is Shane. It isn't likely that Dale is strong enough to help Shane, given the way that Dale backs down in "Pretty Much Dead Already." But maybe he can help Andrea see the truth, even if she likes the way that Shane makes her feel, not being a victim anymore.

     Is Lori's (Sarah Wayne Callies) baby Shane or Rick's? Does it matter? Can she ever know for sure? In the world of The Walking Dead, a DNA test to determine paternity will be nearly impossible to come by. Lori's resolve to raise the baby as Rick's, no matter what the truth is, also determines that Rick will be the dad, whether he is the biological father or not. Maybe someone can use a calculator after the baby is born to give a good guess. But given Lori's decision to cut Shane out, as well as Rick's forgiveness towards his wife for sleeping with Shane, given the circumstances, it probably doesn't matter anyway which genes the baby has.

     In the midst of all the darkness in "Pretty Much Dead Already," love finds a way to bloom. Which is kind of a metaphor for the hope that springs in each character in The Walking Dead, no matter their conditions they endure. Of course, the couple referred to is Maggie (Lauren Cohan) and Glenn (Steven Yeun). Despite Maggie's insistence that their relationship only be physical, and her anger at Glenn for telling his friends about the barn, the two manage to forge a bond that seems strong. Especially after Glenn expresses some real care for her. Maggie may love Hershel, but she isn't above questioning him. If the group is allowed to stay on the farm, Maggie will be a big influence in the decision. And she will be so because of how she feels about Glenn.

     The Walking Dead will return in February to AMC.

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Article first published as TV Review: The Walking Dead - "Pretty Much Dead Already" on Blogcritics.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Doctor Who The Complete Sixth Series arrives on Blu-ray

     Doctor Who The Complete Sixth Series is now available on DVD and Blu-ray. Over the course of the season, the Doctor (Matt Smith) worries about his impending death date in Utah, while learning more about the mysterious River Song (Alex Kingston, ER) and the Silence. He is still joined by Amy Pond (Karen Gillan, The Well) and Rory Williams (Arthur Darvill, Swimming With Sharks) on his missions. Together, they continue the very big job of keeping the universe, through time, safe from any number of threats.

     Season six begins big, with the companions being entrusted with a secret that the Doctor cannot know, and all of them having to help Richard Nixon. Things heat up even more in the second part of the premiere, with the FBI on their trail, and aliens that can hide in plain sight, fooling everyone. In other episodes, the team also visits a 17th century pirate ship, explores 22nd century cloning, goes to Berlin in 1938, stays at a hotel that thrives on fear, and confront the Cybermen again. And, the bad guys aren't all whom you may expect in series six, either. Both River Song and a future version of Amy could end it all if the Doctor isn't careful. This spells a thrilling, intense, edge-of-your-seat batch of episodes that just may comprise the best Doctor Who season yet!

     Perhaps because of the high quality of the stories, Doctor Who is able to continue to attract a very good array of guest stars. Sci-fi staple Mark Sheppard (Supernatural, Warehouse 13) gets into the action in the two-part series opener. Listen closely, and one will hear the voices of Michael Sheen (the Twilight movies, Frost/Nixon) and Imelda Staunton (Cranford, Harry Potter). American NBC anchor Meredith Vieira is in the series finale, and Hugh Bonneville (Downton Abbey), Suranne Jones (Coronation Street), Lily Cole (The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus), and David Walliams (Little Britain) are just a few of the other familiar faces. Plus, James Corden and Simon Callow reprise their Doctor Who roles as Craig Owens and Charles Dickens, respectively.

     Arguably, an even bigger get is award-winning writer Neil Gaiman, who pens "The Doctor's Wife," in which the TARDIS is captured by a mind on an asteroid. It's an exciting cat and mouse game, as the villain holds the Doctor's companions hostage. Luckily, the Doctor finds allies in Uncle and Auntie, who are not, in fact, his uncle and auntie. Because of Gaiman's reputation, expectations are high on this episode, and it fully delivers.

     Series six was previously available as two separate sets, but this release is six discs containing all 13 episodes. It also has last year's Christmas special, "A Christmas Carol," which has had its own release, too. Thus, Doctor Who: The Complete Sixth Series is bringing together three different products in one.

     Bonus features are not scarce either. Five of the series six episodes have short prequels to better set things up. There are two Comic Relief sketches from a charity event. Four shorts known as "Monster Files" delve into the Doctor's best opponents, giving a deeper exploration of the rich guest characters. Plus, Doctor Who Confidential has an inside look at all 13 episodes, with a bonus Confidential concerning "A Night's Tale" (see below). There are also audio commentaries on selected episodes.

     Perhaps most valuable bonuses are five Night and the Doctor specials available only on the new release. They cannot be found online, at least not legally, and were not broadcast on television. As such, they make this release a must-own for any completionist fan.

     With 1080i high definition, and 16:.9 aspect ratio, as well as DTS HD 5.1 surround sound, Doctor Who looks and sounds fantastic. It's a science fiction show with a lot of special effects, and thus, fans will want the best viewing experience possible. They get it with this Blu-ray set, featuring crystal clear picture and sound that will look and sound amazing on any decent home entertainment system. Even better, many of the special features, which aren't always up to the same standards, actually are in this set, having the same audio and visual stats as the episodes themselves. This is certainly a truly excellent set.

     Doctor Who The Complete Sixth Series is, as you may expect, excellent.  The blacks, and all other hues, are rich and deep. This allows for a lot of details, even when events occur in shadow. There is no static around the edges of any of the sound effects, which also are not abnormally loud. Sound levels are mixed to a fine degree, and will allow viewers to stay in the moment on screen effortlessly.

     Buy Doctor Who The Complete Sixth Series, out on Blu-ray and DVD today.

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Article first published as Blu-Ray Review: Doctor Who The Complete Sixth Series on Blogcritics.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Frosty's Winter Wonderland gets new DVD release

     Now out on DVD is a remastered "deluxe" edition of Frosty's Winter Wonderland. A 1976 sequel to the original 1969 Frosty the Snowman special, Frosty's Winter Wonderland finds the titular character unhappy being alone. Hearing this, the children immediately set about working together to make Frosty a wife, whom he names Crystal. But it is only after Frosty gives her frost flowers, and through his love, that she comes alive, like he is.

     Meanwhile, Jack Frost (Paul Frees) grows jealous of Frosty's idealistic life, so he blows off Frosty's hat, turning Frosty back into a regular snowman. Once again, however, it is the power of love that rejuvenates him. As Frosty and Crystal prepare for their wedding ceremony, Jack Frost causes a wintry wind to launch his second attack. Frosty and Crystal approach the cad and ask him to be their best man.

     Now friends, they intend on prolonging winter, which would please all three. It is not until Parson Brown (Dennis Day, The Jack Benny Program) raises the point about the trees and bulbs in the ground never being able to bloom if they don't let spring come that they realize it is time for them to go home, and they return to the North Pole.

     With this DVD release of Frosty's Winter Wonderland, the story comes back to life, just as Frosty has a habit of doing, as the holiday season fast approaches. Andy Griffith (The Andy Griffith Show, Matlock) narrates the classic special, with Jackie Vernon (Frosty the Snowman, Rudolph and Frosty's Christmas in July) playing Frosty. Andy Griffith's classic narration style invites the viewer deeper into the story. Jackie Vernon creates a somewhat dopey, yet completely lovable and unencumbered Frosty that is just a magnet for children. And there is no one to match him better than the sweet and adorable Crystal, played by Shelley Winters (A Place in the Sun, The Diary of Anne Frank).

     One of the special features in this set is "Frosty and the Story of the Snowman", providing, you guessed it, the history of snowmen and the creation of Frosty's character. The earliest documented snowman appears in 1380 as an insecure creature. Nevertheless, man has always loved snowmen. They tend to be a reflection of ourselves, created with common or household items laying around. Completely non-denominational, snowmen are the least judgmental form of artwork. Artistic as a child, Frosty's animator, Paul Coker Jr., starts out as a gag cartoonist and drawer of greeting cards. Surprisingly, it is not until the creation of Frosty that snowmen become associated with children. Furthermore, when the song "Frosty the Snowman" originates, snowmen begin to be viewed as a joyous symbol of the holidays. Frosty is now a brand that people look forward to every year. People believe that when they create, dress, and name a snowman, that they are creating a kind of friend.

     Other features include a trailer for Dolphin Tale, starring Morgan Freeman, Ashley Judd, and Harry Connick Jr., and a trailer for Santa's Magical Stories, a compilation of 7 Rankin Bass Productions, including How the Grinch Stole Christmas.

     While this special first aired thiry-five years ago, this DVD presents clear animation, a sharp picture, and quality sound, lasting for the entire twenty-four minute run. In short, the remastered work is great, and Frosty's Winter Wonderland has never looked better!

     With December being just around the corner, we are soon to be inundated by non-stop Christmas music on the radio and twenty-five days of Christmas classics. There is no doubt that Frosty's Winter Wonderland is included in that mix. Regardless of age, no one can deny how classic the character of Frosty is around this time of year. Despite the fact that this short is repeated a number of times each Christmas, it is hard to grow weary of it. Viewing it again recalls many fond memories. Overall, Frosty's Winter Wonderland is short, wholesome, and provides an uninhibited experience.

     You can purchase Frosty's Winter Wonderland on Amazon beginning today!

     *Credit must be given where credit is due. This article was written by my wife.

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Article first published as DVD Review: Frosty's Winter Wonderland on Blogcritics.

"Virtual In-Stanity" reigns on American Dad!

     FOX's American Dad! presents "Virtual In-Stanity." Stan (Seth MacFarlane) realizes he misses most of Steve's (Scott Grimes) major life events, and wants to make up for it, but Steve won't give him the time of day. Understanding that, at Steve's age, his son just wants to talk to girls, Stan inhabits a blond, busty avatar named Phyllis (Sarah Michelle Gellar, Ringer). Unfortunately for Stan, Steve's interest in Phyllis lulls when she refuses Steve any physical affection, and Steve starts to go for a redhead (Alyson Hannigan, How I Met Your Mother) instead.

     "Virtual In-Stanity" reunites two of the stars of the hit series Buffy the Vampire Slayer. In that series, Gellar plays a tough, hot blond, while Hannigan is a geeky redhead. Sound familiar? While the two are rivals, rather than friends, in American Dad!, that doesn't lessen the casting coup's enjoyment. Because of the dork-appeal of both the goofy vampire drama, that could be quite serious at times, and this animated sitcom, it is likely that more than a few fans are immensely gratified by the show using both women in the same episode.

     A lot of American Dad!'s plots revolve around Stan trying to be a good father. It seems that, as he ages and settles into family life more agreeably, Stan wants to be there for his children more than previously. Unlike other animated series, the characters in American Dad! do age and go through life changes, albeit much more slowly than in reality. For instance, Stan's daughter gets married, and it sticks in future episodes. So it seems American Dad! will chronicle much of Stan's growth as a father over a couple of years, giving a slightly deeper meaning to a show that mostly banks on humor.

     Given that American Dad! is created by Family Guy's Seth MacFarlane, it does often venture into gross and offensive territory. "Virtual In-Stanity" crosses a lot of lines when Stan-as-Phyllis decides to have sex with Steve so that they can bond and keep spending time together. Set aside the severe, permanent emotional damage Steve will undergo when he finds out this ruse, which, if they had gone through with the intercourse, he eventually would have had to, the fact that Stan is willing to do this is highly disturbing. No parent should ever agree to such acts with a child, no matter the circumstances. Yes, it is a female body, but Stan would experience everything that "Phyllis" does.

     Luckily, Francine (Wendy Schaal) has the wisdom to realize all of this, and is as repulsed by the idea as viewers surely are. Valiantly, she takes up an armored suit and fights Phyllis, a la Avatar, before "she" can sleep with Steve. Thus, disaster and a yawning chasm between son and father is avoided. As long as Steve never finds out the truth, and he probably won't at this point, given how things end.

     It may be a silly conceit that would not hold up in real life, but Stan playing with CIA technology is always fun. The fact that his boss (Patrick Stewart) can be just as giddy about it is wonderful. Stan is a very relatable character when he takes out the government toys and uses them for his personal goals. Despite the weird stuff in "Virtual In-Stanity," no one can blame him for this aspect of himself.

     The big regret here is that Hannigan's character likely won't show up again. She could make a great, recurring love interest for Steve! True, Hannigan already stars in a sitcom on TV, but surely she could make time to voice a handful of episodes a year. It's unfortunate that this seems a very remote possibility.

     Also, Roger (MacFarlane, too) goes on a killing spree to get even with some frat guys who don't pay for his limo service. Watching a limosuine stalk a jerk into the bathroom is freaking hilarious. The subplot even manages to get creepy at times, despite its absurd nature. A+!

     American Dad! airs Sundays on FOX as part of Animation Domination, usually at 9:30 p.m. ET, but check listings, as the shows within the block sometimes shift.

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Article first published as TV Review: American Dad! - "Virtual In-Stanity" on Blogcritics.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Jason Segel hosts Saturday Night Live

     The (currently) elusive funny episode of NBC's Saturday Night Live comes somewhat close this week, at least at times. This week's show opens with a look at Mitt Romney "Raw & Unleashed." Then it moves on to a monologue with guest appearances by several Muppets, a rerun of the Red Flag perfume commercial, and auditions to replace Regis Philbin. After that, there is another parody commercial, the return of the kissing family, Weekend Update with Seth Meyers, Kermit the Frog, and Jon Huntsman, and a retirement party sketch. Finally, a commercial for New Jack Swing, a digital short, Andre the Giant, and a local band.

     Any fault within the hour is surely not to be blamed on Jason Segel. He is versatile enough to handle the handful of characters he is given, and musical guest Florence, of Florence + the Machine, even participates in a couple of bits. Both are charming, and deserve praise for their appearance.

     Segel kicks off his monologue with a song, and is joined by a number of his Muppet movie co-stars. Their interaction is playful, but not too childish, getting back to the root of Muppets with attitude, a key element in the early, great Muppet films. They also remind viewers that Muppets are in the earliest episodes of Saturday Night Live, so it is fitting that they return.

     Segel is very clever with his "Andre the Giant Chooses an Ice-cream Flavor," bringing back a man many have not seen in quite some time. Odd, nostalgic bits like this are usually quite good, and without having to be timely, are more likely to be funny. Plus, who doesn't enjoy a giant with a tiny ice-cream cone? Who?

     Jason Sudeikis has really honed his Mitt Romeny. It still feels a bit too colored by Sudeikis himself, but the material is getting better. The opening, featuring Mitt "Raw & Unleashed" is quite good, playing up the blandness of the expected Republican presidential candidate. SNL is frequently best around election times, and this act is a positive indication it may be so again in next year's cycle.

     The final sketch of the night, featuring a Massachusetts bar band that references many local things in their music, is only OK. But the joy in that bit comes from cameos of a couple of Muppets, Florence, and Paul Rudd enjoying the tunes. They save the sketch from being a complete waste of time.

     Even in the worst Saturday Night Live episode, Weekend Update delivers, and this week is no different. Seth Meyers gets some great zingers in, including a particularly unexpected one with a Lego that is sure to crack up. Jon Huntsman's actual guest spot is kind of lame, but only because the man isn't very funny in his delivery, and his appearance reeks of desperation to stay in the race. That is not a comment on his politics, just his presence in a sketch comedy series. However, then Kermit shows up to do the wonderful "Really!?!"  recurring segment with Seth, and all is put back right in the world. Perhaps Kermit should be more of a regular co-host.

     Digital Shorts tend to only be really good when there's a song involved. This week's is just not up to par. Except for a cool cameo by Olivia Wilde (House, Cowboys & Aliens), there is absolutely nothing memorable about the short. One longs for another hit like "Lazy Sunday," "D*** in a Box," or "I'm On a Boat."

     The major problem this week is recycled material, bringing back recurring sketches that are not funny the first time, and milking them for yet another laugh that isn't there. The kissing family is only novel in the first place because of the originality and gross factor. But upon reusing it, it loses much of its luster. Even Paul Rudd's return cameo as a member of the clan doesn't help it to live up to expectations.

     On a similar note, the Red Flag commercial is amusing at first viewing, but does not bear repeating. This isn't even a recurrence of a former sketch, but actually airing the exact same, pre-filmed spot. Saturday Night Live does tend to reuse its commercials from time to time, but that's a little sad, given that new sketches are cut to make room for them. Does that mean there just isn't any more funny material waiting for airtime?

     The "Time Life New Jack Swing" commercial may not be exactly a repeat, but it sure feels like one. In recent years, SNL just trots out a bunch of fake musical acts in a certain genre and proclaims it funny. It's not. It's tired and has been done far too often. Time to ditch the conceit.

     A segment about a retirement party falls completely flat. Segel's character is interesting, but Kristen Wiig, the cast's go-to girl, just comes across as annoying in this go round. Her parts need to be better considered, as she really is brilliantly funny, but often used in the wrong way.

     Finally, the Regis replacement auditions could have been really great, but instead, seem like a flimsy excuse to trot out the best impressions the cast has to offer. There is nothing wrong with that, as there are some spot-on parodies of Ricky Gervais, Garrison Keillor, and the return of Wiig's brilliant Kathy Lee. However, because so many others are squeezed in, it just doesn't flow. For a segment like this, there needs to be fewer, and longer, impersonations for it to really soar.
     Ah, well. There are still plenty more chances to get things right, and with the election just around the corner, it seems more likely. Watch Saturday Night Live Saturday nights at 11:30 p.m. ET on NBC.

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Article first published as TV Review: Saturday Night Live - "Jason Segel; Florence + the Machine" on Blogcritics.

Chuck parties in "Chuck Versus the Business Trip"

    On NBC's Chuck this week, "Chuck Versus the Business Trip," Beckman (Bonita Friedericy) removes the Intersect from Morgan's (Joshua Gomez) head and asks Decker (Richard Burgi) to call off the hit on Morgan. He complies, but says there is one super assassin known as the Viper that cannot be called off. So Chuck (Zachary Levi) poses as Morgan at a Buy More retreat, attempting to draw the Viper out into the open. After a false lead, the real Viper, using the name Jane (Catherine Dent, The Shield), is caught. Right assuming Decker will allow Jane to kill them all anyway, since it risks her cover, Casey kills Jane and her crew. Which gives Decker an excuse to arrest Casey.

     The mission of spy versus spy in "Chuck Versus the Business Trip" is straight forward and exciting. Chuck and Sarah (Yvonne Strahovski) fight the bad guys, and Morgan has to run away and hide. Without the Intersect, the Carmichael Industries team still saves the day, with maybe slightly more effort than would be needed previously. If nothing else, it proves they have what it takes, with or without a computer in someone's head.

     Not that Morgan remains a fantastic spy without the Intersect. He shows bravery to protect Alex (Mekenna Melvin), whom he loves, but doesn't try to confront Jane on his own. This is wise. Unlike Chuck, who spends years training, Morgan's experience without the Intersect is very limited. This doesn't mean he can't still contribute to the team, but it does mean he won't be able to do everything he could do. An early scene in "Chuck Versus the Business Trip" shows Morgan enjoying a final stunt, before logically allowing his brain to be fixed.

     But will Carmichael Industries continue? Yes, they have what it takes, but do they want it? This is a question Chuck and Sarah stuggle with in "Chuck Versus the Business Trip." They would quickly grow bored without the adventures, as has been shown before. But at the same time, watching Ellie (Sarah Lancaster) and Awesome (Ryan McPartlin) with their baby, Chuck and Sarah can't help but wish for some amount of normal in their lives. In the end, they realize what they have is enough, because at least they have loved ones to spend time with at the end of the day.

     The final gathering, which finds Chuck, Sarah, Ellie, Awesome, Morgan, Casey (Adam Baldwin), and Alex enjoying each other's company post-mission, is bittersweet. There is some sadness hanging over the affair, with Alex only wanting to be Morgan's friend, since he lied to her about being a spy. Hopefully that will resolve itself soon. But the warmth and affection on the group is touching, and it reminds viewers that this group of complex, lovable characters will not be around much longer, and dark tragedy will likely strike someone soon, before the final curtain call. It is these external elements that fans cannot ignore that color this particular scene, and make it even better than the surface elements.

     What will happen next with Casey? Obviously, Decker set him up. Decker wants to take down everyone in Carmichael Industries, though his motivation as to why is still unknown. But allowing Jane to go after the team, Decker likely doesn't care whether Jane succeeds or not. Now he has a convenient excuse to take one person out of the equation, making the others all the more vulnerable. Without concrete evidence proving he acted in self-defense, how will Casey resolve this situation?

     Side note, the interaction between Casey and Morgan in this episode is top notch. Casey using the geeky movies that Morgan has forgotten to express the feelings he has for his little buddy throughout the episode is brilliant.

     The new Jeff (Scott Krinsky) is turning out to be very interesting. Not only does he help Awesome make Ellie happy by prompting him to go back to work so Ellie can stay home, but he also is a dedicated worker at the Buy More who can inspire the rest of the staff. This doesn't sit well with his frequent cohort, Lester (Vik Sahay), who makes an attempt to put Jeff back to who he was. But Jeff is too smart for this now, having Lester arrested instead. Bravo to Chuck for being brave enough to not have Lester reverse the change after a single episode, and pursue a major shake up such as this within the main cast. Only one problem: if Jeff is so smart and cultured off of the gas, what prompted him to sleep in his running van in the first place?

     Don't miss any of the final season of Chuck, airing Fridays at 8 p.m. ET on NBC.

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Fringe hunts the "Wallflower"

     FOX's Fringe ends its fall run with "Wallflower." A body turns up, nearly all pigmentation gone, and apparently, it's just one of several like this. The Fringe team tracks the bad guy, who is slowly, and unintentionally, killing himself, trying to become visible by stealing pigment. He was the subject of lab experiments, and is now too badly damaged to trust anyone. In the midst of this case, Lincoln (Seth Gabel) struggles to sleep after seeing Fringe events, Olivia (Anna Torv) has strange migraines, and Peter (Joshua Jackson) looks for a way back to his timeline.

     While perhaps not as action-packed as other Fringe episodes, especially mid-season finales, there are many important things going on in "Wallflower." At the top of that list is Peter's realization that he is an alternate timeline. Reality hasn't just been altered by his disappearance, but he is now in a whole different world. This supports the changes that Peter did not cause, as well as the new orange theme song. If Peter gets home, Peter's vision of being in the park with Olivia last week could possibly be a time jump, rather than a dream.

     Of course, this world and Peter's are much more similar than the alternate universe and ours. Both still exist in this both timelines. But there are also notable differences, and this may be best observed by the absence of strong attraction between Peter and Olivia.

     In the regular Fringe timeline, there is something between Peter and Olivia almost immediately after they meet. Even if it takes three years to come to fruition, the flirt and interest is there. Not so in this version of Fringe, where Olivia prefers the geeky Lincoln Lee instead. And he likes her. Peter isn't jealous, knowing that as similar as the two are, this is not his Olivia. Perhaps he finally learns his lesson after being fooled by Fauxlivia last year, and can now tell the subtle differences, since he is intimate with the "real" Olivia.

     Olivia's migraines are a very important clue to something going on in this world. Could they possibly be connected to the experiments Walter (John Noble) ran on her when she was a girl? Certainly Nina (Blair Brown) is involved. As to how long this has been going on, that's anyone's guess, but it could easily be Olivia's whole life. With Nina raising Olivia, she has always had access to her. And viewers know that Nina currently leads a team to drug Olivia in her sleep. This is a really interesting, dark story, and I have no idea where it will go from here.

     Olivia realizes in "Wallflower" that she is not as affected by the Fringe events as her teammates, especially Lincoln, and even Astrid (Jasika Nicole). This could also be linked back to childhood, given that Olivia grew up around strange events and people with unusual abilities. Olivia wonders if there is something wrong with her, but the real issue may just be that exposure breeds complacency. No one has more exposure to the weird than Olivia. Thus, not only this Olivia, but likely the "real" one, too, have a different outlook than most people. This makes her unique, and serves her well in her job.

     At one point in "Wallflower," Olivia expresses sympathy for what the killer goes through. She understands the adverse side effects of being a lab rat, and can understand his reticence to return to a lab, even if it is to help him this time. As such, she offers him assistance, rather than just trying to arrest him. Hopefully, this is just a ploy, since he has her gun. She may understand some of the emotions involved, but as someone who overcomes much, she cannot possibly justify murder, no matter what reason this guy gives for it.

     All told, "Wallflower" is a finale that gets much better upon reflection. Fringe will return to FOX in January.

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Article first published as TV Review: Fringe - "Wallflower" on Blogcritics.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Private Practice stages The Intervention

     In an event dubbed by ABC Private Practice: The Intervention, two episodes, "Who We Are" and "The Breaking Point," air back to back. The major focus of the first hour is the characters staging an intervention for Amelia (Caterina Scorsone), who shows up engaged and high after being missing for twelve days. The practice gets together and tries to get her into rehab, but she only goes after her fiance dies of an overdose. In the second hour, Amelia spends about six weeks in rehab, while Addison (Kate Walsh) keeps trying to get pregnant, Violet (Amy Brenneman) considers leaving Pete (Tim Daly), and Cooper (Paul Adelstein) struggles to balance his son, Mason (Griffin Gluck, United States of Tara), with a patient.

     What Private Practice lacks in intriguing cases of the week, it makes up for when it comes to big, dramatic events. Amelia's arc is annoyingly slow ramping up, but in "Who We Are," it really comes to a head splendidly. The series handles the confrontation of an addict and hitting rock bottom with realism and grace. Amelia is not villainized, and Sam (Taye Diggs) and Jake (Benjamin Bratt), both medical professionals, debate whether addiction can be called a diseases. Many issues are explored, such as what causes addiction, how trauma can affect a person, and the emotional toll such an issue takes. Even Amelia's relationship, though very brief, feels authentic and solid. All in all, this aspect of the show comes through wonderfully in a way Private Practice only manages to do a few times per season.

     Jake gets some back story in "Who We Are" as well. Viewers learn that he is a widower of an addict, and that he raises her daughter, whom is not biologically Jake's. It proves he is a good man who has been through a lot, and come out the other side stronger than ever. His conversation at his wife's grave, revealing how he feels he has finally found a family at the practice, is moving, as well as revealing. The doctors at the practice, despite all of their flaws, are a family. When they remember that, they are at their best.

     Cooper has a real family to think of, now that Erica (A.J. Langer, Eyes) with his son. Charlotte (KaDee Strickland) adjusts far better than she would have before all of the things she has gone through with Cooper, and Cooper is every bit the great dad anyone would expect, having witnessed his bedside manner with his kid patients. It's an adjustment, to be sure, but the biggest obstacle for Cooper will be how his job interferes with his daddy time, something he doesn't really think about until "The Breaking Point." It is likely he will manage, though. It's a good thing he has a mature, understanding son.

     Unfortunately, not every family is destined to survive. Pete and Violet come together in a time of great turmoil, and are really only cemented as a couple around the time that she gets pregnant with his son. Pete sticks with Violet through all of her personal demons, but now that she is better, he is growing resentful of her. At first, she brushes it off as a coping stage after his heart attack. But the more time passes, it becomes obvious that if there was love between them, it is gone now. It's a brave and difficult thing for Violet to leave Pete, who would not end the marriage on his own, no matter how much he'd like to. But perhaps, after separating, they can be better people for it.

     Things also do not look good for Addison and Sam. She is determined to have a baby, something that frustrates him as it threatens her health. He wants her, but does not want to raise another child. When she gets hers, which may be soon, it will probably spell the end of them as a couple. Addison can compartmentalize her relationship with her efforts to get pregnant, but she can't do so for a baby. It is not revealed whether Addison ends "The Breaking Point" with child or not, but given the circumstances and the look on her face, it seems likely.

     Private Practice is enjoying a high point right now. Too bad, then, it's off until early 2012.

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Borgen faces first "100 Days"

     Link TV's Borgen continues with "100 Days." Katrine (Birgitte Hjort Sørensen) gets some information from a leak within the military that the U.S. is using Thule Air Base in Greenland as a stop off while transporting illegal detainees. Katrine breaks the story on air. This is terrible timing for Nyborg (Sidse Babett Knudsen), looking for a positive to play up after one hundred days in office. But with characteristic tenacity, she not only visits Greenland, but takes up some of their causes as well. With the help of Kasper (Johan Philip Asbæk), she also manages to ride the case out of the media spotlight. Unfortunately, as Katrine learns there is still more to explore, her contact dies, possibly murdered.

     The title "100 Days" is not a straight translation of the episode's original title, "Op til kamp." Instead, it appears Borgen wishes to play up the 100 Day milestone, a major landmark for any new leader in the U.S., to an American audience. Nyborg discusses her own 100 Day legacy, but is more concerned with the crisis at hand, and only resolves the image issue with happy circumstance. Kasper, on the other hand, is much more cynical. As unsexy as Greenland is, he'll take it as a win, as Nyborg won't let the conversation drift towards something else anyway.

     Up until now in Borgen, Nyborg only deals with political crisis within the squabbling parties that make up Parliament. But in "100 Days," she is faced with a real international incident. She weathers the storm quite well, not letting the pressure of the situation push her off of message, nor shirking from dealing with the media coverage. She looks at every angle of the situation, and finds the deeper meaning behind the problem. She is learning to play the game a little, allowing herself to lie during an interview. But her intentions seem to be to calm the situation, rather than just to save face.

     While lesser politicians send Intelligence officers to search Katrine's apartment and press charges against the news program and the employees involved, Nyborg upholds the image of free speech. She doesn't try to save the journalists from the law, but she doesn't seek revenge on them for doing their jobs, either. Does this mean Nyborg isn't quite as concerned with her ideals any longer? Is the office changing her? Or does she have to choose her battles, with free speech not being something she considers worthy of her immediate attention, at least not yet? Either way, she does show leadership, but doesn't go quite as far in the name of justice as an idealist might wish she would.

     Katrine is actually proving quite adept at handling tough situations, as well. With much of episodes two and three concerning her grief over losing her lover, "100 Days" gives her the chance to show her professional mettle. She stands up for her source and for the story, caring about her contact, and doing everything she can to help. When her boss, Torben Friis (Søren Malling), backs down, she pushes him, though not going as far as to lose her job over it. This shows intelligence as well as bravery. Thankfully, former colleague Hanne Holm (Benedikte Hansen), finally impressed with Katrine, is able to help out, promoting the story in other news outlets until the police have no choice but to drop their case, as there will be too many people to prosecute.

     There are some interesting parallels in this episode of Borgen, with characters comparing Denmark's relationship to Greenland with the United States's relationship with Denmark. In both situations, a much more powerful country runs over the wants and wishes of a small power, with no regard for those it affects. Nyborg is noble enough to want to do something about Greenland, but the U.S., especially the CIA, are seen as bad people. If only the writers of the series could realize that many, many Americans share the Danes' opinions about President Bush and his policies, and the treatment by our military and government towards other nations. It's not a universal attitude.

     Interestingly, though the "American President" is mentioned a number of times in "100 Days," only Bush is called out by name, and only once. Obama is not mentioned, so it's unclear what the characters think of the current leadership. Along those lines, it could be pointed out that Nyborg having to clean up her predecessor's mess can be compared to Obama cleaning up Bush's. But Borgen doesn't stop to examine that aspect.

     Borgen airs Saturdays at 9:30 p.m. ET, 6:30 p.m. PT, on Link TV. The episodes are also available at for up to two weeks after air date, for those that do not get Link TV.

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Article first published as TV Review: Borgen - "100 Days" on Blogcritics.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

"Documentary Filmmaking: Redux" investigates Community

     In "Documentary Filmmaking: Redux," the latest installment of NBC's Community, Abed (Danny Pudi) decides to make a documentary about Dean Pelton (Jim Rash) writing and directing a new commercial for Greendale. Abed suspects that the Dean will slip into insanity, but things go surprisingly well. That is, until Luis Guzman (himself, How to Make It in America, Oz) wants to be in the commercial, and then the Dean goes off the deep end. The study group turns on him, and things explode. But Abed breaks his creed of noninterference and saves the day.

     The Dean, now a main character, is one who is not delved into too often. But Rash brings a unique brand of humor that makes for a hilarious character, so "Documentary Filmmaking: Redux," which features him at his craziest, is quite welcome. The Dean covers the spectrum of emotional stability in this episode of Community, from living on top of the world, to finding his true inner artist, to slipping into depression and resignation that he will likely lose his job. It's a tour de force, and it is likely that "Documentary Filmmaing: Redux" will be remembered as one of his best episodes.

     The "Redux" part of the title comes from the fact that, less than a year, ago Abed makes a documentary about Pierce (Chevy Chase), who believes he is dying. "Documentary Filmmaking: Redux" is not a sequel or followup to the earlier episode, and other than filming style, and Abed mostly not being seen, they share little in common. This week's entry follows more closely Hearts of Darkness, the Apocalypse Now documentary, in that it is a behind the scenes look at something else being filmed. In both, disaster strikes. Also, the re-released version of the subject film is called Apocalypse Now: Redux.

     Community is brilliant at making the worst things, like the characters' world falling apart, very funny. Annie (Alison Brie) tries to stay calm, forcing herself to believe that the Dean is brilliant, so that she doesn't have to accept that she is wasting her time. Of course, viewers understand that she is, in fact, wasting her time, as nothing the Dean touches ever turns to gold. But it's her sincere efforts to be there for him, until she no longer can be, that crack up. Plus, her crazy eyes and hair.

     Jeff (Joel McHale) is even better, channeling his inner Dean, and making the character even more flamboyant than the real one, if that is possible. At first, Dean Pelton enjoys the portrayal, with Jeff in full costume and bald cap. Then, as the Dean plumbs his own soul, he rejects that image, wanting to be something greater. How exactly that lands on Chang (Ken Jeong) is anyone's guess. But it's silly and zany and one cannot help but love it, especially how the replacement effects Jeff, and causes his own, lesser, breakdown.

     The final aspect of note in "Documentary Filmmaking: Redux" is the strange relationship developing between Britta (Gillian Jacobs) and Troy (Donald Glover). This week is not the first time there are hints at something more than friendship. For the commercial, they have to hug, which becomes extremely awkward. That is, until the end of the episode, where they stay in a hug far longer than necessary. Given Community's penchant for hiding things off-screen from viewers (see: Jeff and Britta's sexual arrangement), could something already be going on between them? Any why would they be hiding it? Or are these the awkward, early stages of courtship?

     Community also stars Yvette Nicole Brown. Watch it Thursdays at 8 p.m. ET on NBC, until it takes a mid-season hiatus to make room for the returning 30 Rock on the schedule.

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Article first published as TV Review: Community - "Documentary Filmmaking: Redux" on Blogcritics.

Parks and Recreation builds the "Smallest Park"

     On this week's episode of NBC's Parks and Recreation, Ben (Adam Scott) tells Leslie (Amy Poehler) that their current project, building Indiana's "Smallest Park," will be their last working together. This is because, after their break up, it is too hard for Ben to spend time with Leslie, even in a professional capacity. Leslie rebels, stirring controversy among Pawnee's residents, and when that doesn't work, lying to create some just so she can continue spending time with him. Of course, Ben sees through this, and vows to just quit. Ann (Rashida Jones) helps Leslie to see that she needs to consider Ben's feelings, too, not just her own. Leslie talks to Ben sincerely, and the two decide to restart their relationship.

     The drama of Ben and Leslie has many ups and downs. Leslie and Ben are very much in love, which is a major reason why Ben decides to settle in Pawnee, rather than continue his habit of traveling around Indiana for work. Leslie, however, ends things so she can run for office, as Ben is technically her boss, and their affair constitutes a breach of ethics. It isn't hard to see why Leslie might choose her career over a guy, given her long history of working towards the goal of public office. But it's still sad. In "Smallest Park," Leslie changes her mind, showing she values Ben more than any job.

     What will that mean for Leslie's campaign? Will she be force to abandon it? One might think a small town like Parks and Recreation's Pawnee wouldn't object to such an innocent relationship, where no favors are traded. Yet, the residents are shown to argue over inane details in many previous episode, and so it seems likely that choosing Ben could very likely cost Leslie her race. Where will she go from there, though? If her political life is ruined, can she find fulfillment in her personal arena? Will she resent Ben for costing her her dreams? Might this decision be, despite the best of intentions, a mistake?

     One solution may be for Ben to quit his job. Yes, he has already sacrificed for Leslie by moving to Pawnee. But if he truly loves her, he will know she cannot be whole without her public service career. Surely, Chris (Rob Lowe) could find Ben another position within the city government that will not present a conflict of interest for Leslie? Sure, Leslie should make sacrifices for Ben, too, but not giving up her lifelong ambition.

     While this is going on, Chris tasks Tom (Aziz Ansari) and Jerry (Jim O'Heir) with redesigning the Parks and Recreation department logo. Tom, predictably, goes overboard, wanting to do much more than change a simple font. Jerry, on the other hand, is content with his position, and simply wants to do as asked. In the end, Tom is inspired by Jerry, something very unexpected, to go with a special "limited edition" retro look, complete with merchandise. It's actually a fair compromise, and one that goes over well. Could this be the beginning of a more regular partnership for Tom and Jerry? They could learn much from each other, as Tom needs to be realistic, and perhaps Jerry could have a bit more fire under his bottom.

     Finally, Ron (Nick Offerman) and April (Aubrey Plaza) help Andy (Chris Pratt) audit college courses, searching for one he should take. April thinks Andy should take something easy, which mirrors her outlook on life, while Ron is in favor of Andy bettering himself, reflecting his own worldview, to some extent. Despite a few missteps, as Andy doesn't really understand the names of some of the classes, he finds one he likes. Unfortunately, he cannot afford the class. But Ron is willing to pay, inspired and moved by Andy's enthusiasm. Andy is nothing like Ron, but for some reason the two connect fairly well. It may be interesting to see how this develops, going forward, and if Ron ends up helping to spark loftier ambitions in Andy.

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