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Thursday, June 30, 2011

State of Georgia not in a good state

     ABC Family's State of Georgia premiered last night. In the episode, Georgia (Raven-Symoné, That's So Raven) tries to audition for a role on stage. The casting director isn't impressed, telling her she's too fat, her talent isn't any better than anyone else's, and she's never be believable as a seductress. Georgia sulks briefly, then, encouraged by her Aunt Honey (Loretta Devine, Eli Stone, Grey's Anatomy) and best friend, Jo (Majandra Delfino, Roswell), Georgia returns to seduce the director and prove him wrong. She succeeds, without actually going through with anything sexual or losing her dignity.

     It's hard to keep an open mind about any Raven-Symoné vehicle. Despite being the cutest kid ever on The Cosby Show, since then her career has been overacting in ridiculous, unwatchable ways. She's popular with kids, but anyone who reaches teenager levels of age would have a hard time stomaching her. Yet, State of Georgia may be a transitional show into actual adult acting. Much of her character is overly dramatic, and she quickly falls back into the "too much" she learned as a child actor. But there are glimpses, especially as she deals with the casting director, whose character is as dreadful as the acting behind it, where Raven-Symoné actually shines through as a decent actress and singer.

     The demographic for this series is likely tweens and up, who were fans of Raven-Symoné before. In that regard, State of Georgia should do just fine. By making the lead less obnoxious, but not completely forgetting her previous work, there's a certain balance that might help usher maturity into fans and star alike. If these people, by and large girls, tune in, the series has a shot. Anyone else, please avoid, as it's not worth the effort.

     Speaking from the perspective not in Raven-Symoné's demographic, the series is borderline horrendous, and certainly not worth the time. Fluffier and less realistic than its lead-in, Melissa & Joey, which is pretty fluffy and unrealistic itself, State of George does not have any hallmarks of a series that will be anything special or win any awards. It's even less well made than pretty much any other ABC Family series, which is certainly not a top tier cable network. Which is too bad, because once Raven-Symoné shows she does have some talent hidden away, one wishes she would get more of a chance to use it.

     The supporting players are also well cast. Delfino shows range and the ability to do comedy, including physical comedy. She over blows some scenes, but likely because she was instructed to. She's still fun to watch, even then, though it's too bad her character is reduced to a bunch of bad hair jokes. Devine, of course, is amazing, and she is only being wasted on a series like this. Given crappy dialogue and nothing to play off of, she withers. Hopefully, she will be allowed to do other projects at the same time, so she doesn't forget what it's like to do something worthwhile.

     State of Georgia airs Wednesdays at 8:30 p.m. ET on ABC Family.

The Big C is "Losing Patients"

The Big C: The Complete First Season     Showtime's The Big C returns for a second season with "Losing Patients." In the premiere, Cathy (Laura Linney) questions whether staying with Dr. Todd (Reid Scott) is the right choice after he discontinues the treatment she began. Cathy confesses to Paul (Oliver Platt) that Dr. Todd kissed her, and her husband takes the news predictably bad. Adam (Gabriel Basso) deals with his mother's illness by becoming an aggressive farter. Rebecca (Cynthia Nixon) learns of Cathy's disease, and lets it slip to Sean (John Benjamin Hickey), who is furious that his sister didn't tell him herself. And as Cathy deals with all of these emotional eruptions, as well as trying to secure a new doctor, she is visited by visions of dead neighbor Marlene (Phyllis Somerville).

     As a season premiere, this one kind of stinks. There is a lot of wrapping up of loose threads left hanging from last year (Todd's kiss, Sean not knowing), but does little to move things along, other than Cathy seeking to switch health care professionals. But The Big C forgoes big stunts for a longer series of arcs, and as an episode, "Losing Patients" is not bad at all. In fact, it captures the same spirit and tone of the rest of the episodes thus far, and so if you are a The Big C fan, it should fall right into the wheelhouse of what you enjoy.

     It is regrettable that this appears to be Dr. Todd's last episode. Scott is a talented actor, who was enjoyable in My Boys, and it is nice to see him doing something different. Because Cathy's next doctor will be played by the great Alan Alda (M*A*S*H, The West Wing), and there would never be any more romantic development between Cathy and Todd, the character is no longer necessary. But that doesn't mean he won't be missed.

     Choosing to keep Marlene around is both strange and wonderful. Strange, because using ghosts as part of the main story, especially when the conceit doesn't begin until season two, isn't really the vibe that The Big C puts off, so it is a little out of place. Wonderful, because Somerville was one of, if not the, best parts about season one, and so her suicide is a heartbreaker. It does not cheapen Marlene's death at all that she appears again. Somerville has been reduced to special guest star status, so how often and for how long she will be around is unknown at this point. It is unlikely she will stick for the entire series run, unless The Big C only goes for two years.

     Nixon should be upgraded to main character, because she really provides a necessary service to the show. Sean is a strange fellow, and many of his homeless for morality bits have already been covered. Rebecca gives him new elements to play off of, and provides some nice drama when she comes between Sean and Cathy. She's not a very likeable person, but most of the characters are, so she provides a good balance.

     The Big C still suffers from meandering and cheesiness, something the first season struggled with. It's definitely the weak link in the Showtime half hour dramedy line up. However, the actors involved are fantastic, and any weaknesses may potentially be overcome. It's not terrible, just not excellent. For now, it's worth sticking around and waiting to see if that changes.

     The Big C airs Monday nights at 10:30 p.m. ET on Showtime.

     Please click here for all of my The Big C reviews.

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Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Weeds packs its "Bags"

Weeds: Season Six [Blu-ray]     Last night kicks off Showtime's seventh season of Weeds. The premiere episode is titled "Bags," and it finds Nancy (Mary-Louise Parker) being released from prison after serving three years of her term, said to be far less than half of her sentence. As season six ends, it's obvious Nancy is going to jail to protect one of her sons, but the series skips over the period of her incarceration almost completely. It is revealed that Esteban (Demián Bichir) has been killed in prison, and since Nancy is of no more use to the FBI, they do her the final favor of sticking her in a halfway house in New York City. Nancy asks her sister, Jill (Jennifer Jason Leigh), not to tell anyone about the development, but Jill doesn't listen, and it isn't long before Nancy's family is on their way to her.

      It's a shame there isn't some exploration of Nancy's stint behind bars, but the time jump does nicely set things up as fresh, with various characters moving in various directions with their lives in the intervening time, and what will come next is highly unpredictable. What is known is that Nancy has a plan to get back on top, and it begins with a cache of weapons she is told about by her cellmate.

     Nancy being involved in a lesbian relationship in prison is not unexpected, as she always seeks physical comfort and protection, no matter what position she finds herself in. As such, while the kiss between Nancy and the other woman is likely intended to shock, instead, it merely triggers a, "Oh, of course." What will be far more interesting is if the lover gets out of jail and searches for Nancy, who, outside of the prison walls, will most likely no longer want female companionship of that sort, especially not from a convicted felon.

     Another bump in Nancy's road ahead will be the aforementioned sister, Jill. From the short conversation they share over the video chat, it appears Jill is raising Nancy's young son, Stevie, as her own, and has no intention of giving him back to his mother. In fact, Stevie thinks Nancy is his aunt. This is not new behavior for Jill, who previously tries to "save" Nancy's other children. Unfortunately for Jill, Nancy will not take no for an answer, and at the earliest opportunity, she will try to reclaim her missing offspring. Knowing Nancy, she will probably succeed, but not before causing herself and those around her more unneeded trouble.

     A halfway house does not seem a natural environment for Nancy, the former pot dealer. She is not in her new quarters an hour before she engaging in illegal activities that most certainly violate her parole. The only real question is, how soon before Nancy makes a break for it, and has the law chasing after her again? Despite numerous bad experiences, Nancy is not the type to sit tight and wait things out for an indeterminate amount of time, and the chances of her serving out her time there are small, indeed.

     Shane (Alexander Gould), unsurprisingly, has things together the best when the series rejoins the rest of the cast, who have spent the past three years living in Denmark. Shane has a regular girl, though she dumps him, and is leading a life he enjoys, putting on shows with marionettes. It's also Shane who makes the decision to return to Nancy, and predicts that Uncle Andy (Justin Kirk) will want to join him.

     Andy cannot let go of Nancy, despite her many rejections of him as a romantic partner. Nancy's dead husband's brother, Andy has a fantasy that, because he serves as a father figure for his nephews, he will someday get to be their actual step-father. Nancy merely uses him and strings him along. Too bad, then, that Andy's reticence to return to the states upon learning that she has regained her freedom is token, at best. Even after having three years to ruminate on all of the ways Nancy has screwed him, not literally, Andy still is ready to rush to her side. He is, at heart, a very good guy, and Nancy does not deserve him. It is sad she will never realize that.

     Also accompanying Shane and Andy is Doug (Kevin Nealon). Despite being left behind by the Botwins many times, living with them in a foreign country for three years seems to finally have made Doug a part of the family. Though, they must not show it to him, judging by his surprise that he is invited along on the newest journey. Andy and Doug are good friends, but Andy puts his family first, always. Shane realizes that Doug is now included in the group, and it's touching when that is made known to Doug.

     Unfortunately, the same courtesy is not extended to elder brother Silas (Hunter Parrish), who has found work as a male model for some type of beverage. While it is understandable that Shane would not expect Silas to want to go for a variety of reasons, not least of which is Silas's extreme anger at his mother when last the two were together, it is also not kind to leave him behind in Denmark, either. Whether Silas wants to go to New York or not should be up to him, and the least Shane could have done is presented it as Silas's choice. To not do so is a sign Shane may have turned his back on Silas, a regrettable development for the brothers.


     Make sure you tune into Weeds next week as Nancy gets her boys back. The series airs Monday nights at 10 p.m. ET on Showtime.

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

     For Weeds DVDs and streaming episodes, please click here.

Article first published as TV Review: Weeds - "Bags" on Blogcritics.

True Blood looks for her, but "She's Not There"

True Blood: The Complete Third Season [Blu-ray]     HBO's True Blood returns with "She's Not There," the season four premiere. Sookie (Anna Paquin) encounters her long-missing granddaddy (Gary Cole, The Good Wife, Entourage) living in the fairy realm. Seeing the creatures who inhabit the space for what they are, unlike the other humans present, Sookie tries to escape, and her grandfather helps, dying in the process. But when Sookie returns to the "real" world, she realizes that while she only spent a few minutes living on the other side, twelve and a half months have passed in Bon Temps.


     Such a time jump is a huge deal for True Blood, because the first three seasons take place within in a couple of months. Other series routinely go through a year or so in a season, but not True Blood, so making such a time jump a fresh, startling reset. The book series does not have a time jump its fourth book.  Nor does it feature the fairy world, at least not at this point.

     Sookie finds that much has changed, and most people had given up looking for her long ago, including her brother, Jason (Ryan Kwanten), who has sold her house. Sookie must now not only readjust, but convince everyone she has a good reason for disappearing without a word for over a year; telling them the outlandish truth will not do her any favors.

     Poor Sookie. She has already been through so much, and on top of it all, she has to deal with a completely different reality than the one she's left behind. Not only that, but surely the fairies are not finished with her. They are in the midst of a civil war, and cannot seem to seal off the two worlds until all beings with fairy blood are on their side. Thus, Sookie provides a thorn in the side for a whole other group of supernaturals, and if they succeed in taking her over again, even if only for a few minutes, it will really screw up her life.

     The good news is, "She's Not There" makes it seem like Sookie's journey to the alternate world is her choice, not something forced upon her. So, she has power over her decisions, and can choose not to return. Unless there is some compelling, yet unknown reason for her to, and then True Blood could be looking at another big lapse later this year, or next. If there is, it will most likely involve her family, whose past is mentioned in snippets, but rarely dwelt upon.

     It is a shame that Sookie's grandpa is introduced, and then done away with so quickly. Cole is a fine actor, who has lent his considerable skill to many a great series for a limited time. For him to only appear in the opening ten minutes or so of "She's Not There" is regrettable. Unless, somehow, he will be returning, and then his casting is wonderful, wonderful news.

     In the time since Sookie departs the plane, the most drastic change occurs in her best friend, Tara (Rutina Wesley). Living under the name Toni, Tara seems to be some sort of competitive fighter. Tara has a rough time of her first encounters with the supernatural in True Blood, and so it is expected she needs to blow off some steam. As tough as she is, and as stubborn, this is an appropriate, if unexpected, career move for her. Less predictable, is that the previously-straight Tara is shacking up with a woman. But after the last couple of men she falls for, and the way things end with them, it makes sense she would want to try something new.

     Jason is now a full-fledged cop, also making time to take care of Crystal's (Lindsay Pulsipher) kin, as he promises her that he will. Crystal has been missing for over a year, and the residents of her compound look healthier, no doubt owing to Jason chasing the bullies away, and also providing some sustenance. Which makes it confusing when a couple of them lock him in a freezer. The only ready explanation is that perhaps the man who has Crystal is returning, and these guys are still loyal to him. Otherwise, what possible benefit is there in messing with your benefactor?

     Arlene (Carrie Preston) has given birth to her son. Despite Terry's (Todd Lowe) assurances to the contrary, she isn't convinced the baby doesn't have a little of his serial-killer biological father in him. Only time will tell which one of them is right, but the way the tyke pulls heads off dolls does not bode well for the couple.

     Sam (Sam Trammell) seems to be much more at peace than when last seen in True Blood's third season finale. Ever since being outed as a shape shifter to a few friends, Sam has trouble adjusting. He didn't know there are others like him, and more just keep popping up. In particular, relations with his younger brother, Tommy (Marshall Allman), are rocky, but relatively stable. Luckily, Sam finally seems to find others that share his sensibilities, and whom he can be himself around. This is good news, as a happy Sam will make a happy Merlotte's, the setting of many a scene of True Blood.

     Lafayette (Nelsan Ellis), on the other hand, resists getting to know others like himself. Jesus (Kevin Alejandro) tries to convince his partner to join a coven led by Marnie (Fiona Shaw, Harry Potter), but after seeing that Marnie has some real talents, Lafeyette resists. Why, though? The character doesn't like new things, but he has had time to adjust to the idea that he may possess some magic. Besides, he is clearly still in love with Jesus, who feels comfortable with Marnie. Perhaps Lafayette has some sixth sense that things in the group are about to go horribly wrong, as they are.


     Bill (Stephen Moyer) is now King of Louisiana. Does this mean the last has been seen of Sophie-Anne (Evan Rachel Wood), his predecessor, or does he have her locked up somewhere, just biding her time until she can escape? Hopefully, it's the latter, as Wood brings a charm and presence welcome in any vampire series, especially this one. With all of the new duties Bill faces, he probably won't have much time for Sookie, which is fine, because she has no desire to be with him. Perhaps she should consider other options...

     ...such as Eric (Alexander Skarsgård). Fans of the book series on which True Blood is based know that the fourth installment is the one where Sookie and Eric get it on in an infamous shower scene. That's not a spoiler for the series, because the talent has been tight lipped as to whether this will happen or not on screen, and True Blood frequently breaks from the books. If they did not, not a single supporting character would get practically any development, and they'd get through several books per season, instead of one. However, Sookie and Eric's pairing would be most welcome for most fans, so maybe they won't deviate in this case.

     Both Bill and Eric are engaged in the vampire campaign to clear their "good" name. Led by Nan Flanagan (Jessica Tuck, now a series regular), the vampires have much to make up for after Russell Edgington's (Denis O'Hare) exploits of last season. They seem determined to make it work, but with the vampire struggle echoing other minority cases, and their species being significantly more threatening, it remains to be seen if they have any real chance of making a go of it in the human-dominated world.

     Jessica (Deborah Ann Woll) doesn't seem all that happy to be settled down with Hoyt (Jim Parrack). It's not because she doesn't love him, but because her vampire nature makes her yearn to be less tame. Monogamy is extremely rare in the vamp world, though not completely unheard of, Russell springing to mind. Still, Jessica's domestic situation is unusual, and it will be very interesting to see if she can resist urges and lead a relatively normal life. Or perhaps she should invite Hoyt to join her on the wild side?


     And that's "She's Not There," a fully packed first hour to begin the fourth season of True Blood. Tune in Sunday nights at 9 p.m. ET on HBO for more new episodes.

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

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Article first published as TV Review: True Blood - "She's Not There" on Blogcritics.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Glee explores "The Rhodes Not Taken"

     This summer, I'll be going back to review the season one episodes of FOX's Glee. These are fresh reviews, not reposts, and I hope you will enjoy reliving the first season with me.


Glee: The Complete First Season [Blu-ray]     "The Rhodes Not Taken" introduces recurring character April Rhodes (Kristin Chenoweth, The West Wing, Pushing Daisies). April was a senior when Will (Matthew Morrison) was a freshman in glee club, and he always admired her. After Rachel (Lea Michele) quits the New Directions, Will discovers April never officially graduated, and convinces her to take Rachel's place. April jumps at the chance, having been squatting in an empty house, imbibing heavily, and presumably sleeping with many men. April has a fantastic voice, but she's an irresponsible alcoholic, and that does not mesh well with the high school kids. Finn (Cory Monteith) sways Rachel into returning, and April heads off to try to fix her life.
     Chenoweth is amazing, of course, both musically, and with comedy chops. She is the perfect actress for Glee, so it's no wonder she's been asked back twice more since "The Rhodes Not Taken." I would never say a word against Chenoweth's personal contributions to the series, or the talent she wields with such grace and charisma. Chenoweth's presence will always be welcome, and something to look forward to, and I hope she returns to the halls of McKinley many, many more times. In fact, should Morrison ever decide to leave the series, she would make a perfect glee club director.

     That being said, the character of April is far from appropriate in a school setting. In a twisted variation on Never Been Kissed, April recaptures her high school glory by giving Kurt (Chris Colfer) alcohol and showering, and likely sleeping, with the football players, including Puck (Mark Salling). Emma (Jayma Mays) comments on the bad behavior to Will, disapprovingly telling him that April's backpack is always "clinking with empties." If Emma notices, surely other teachers do, too, and they do not share Emma's loyalty to Will. Glee sometimes goes down outlandish paths, but this is one of the most unrealistic. April would never get away with acting like this in high school, especially with the extra scrutiny that she surely faces, being an adult in a typical childish setting.

     But the inappropriateness does not end with April. I remember being shocked that a high school would allow Will to stage a production of The Rocky Horror Show in season two. Not only is Sandy (Stephen Tobolowsky) doing Cabaret, which has at least as much adult content as Rocky Horror, but he speaks of putting on Equus, including the full nudity aspect. Even if Principal Figgins (Iqbal Theba) gives his staff a very loose leash, none of this would ever happen. Figgins would likely lose his job, and so would all of the teachers that went along with the schemes. Suspending disbelief only goes so far.

     "The Rhodes Not Taken," like a handful of other episodes of Glee, is particularly sex obsessed. Besides April sleeping with students, Jacob Ben Israel (Josh Sussman) tries to trade a good review in return for seeing Rachel without her shirt on, and Finn plays on Rachel's sexual attraction to him to get her to rejoin the New Directions. This is not a complaint. At times, Glee can actually seem a little chaste, since it follows the "good" kids at McKinley High, and has an innocent, crackerjack quality to many of its musical numbers. I applaud the inclusion of an adult topic, when kept between students, as sex truly does rule many high school minds and bodies.

     Well, that, and gossip. At this point, none of the non-jocks are friends with Quinn, or very close to Finn, so it's forgivable that they take such delight in the pregnancy scandal. Luckily Glee will soon correct that, and many students will face the realities of such an occurrence, not just scoff about it.

     Unfortunately, it's really unfair of Finn to play on Rachel's attraction. Finn is many things, but his devious side is not one that comes out all that often, and hurts his character when it does. He was not raised to act like this, and even though it's in service of the glee club, it's hard to forgive Finn for hurting Rachel in this way. Rachel is willing to set aside a lot of her own interests for Finn, and if he cares about her at all, he shouldn't ask her to, let alone trick her.

     Rachel angrily tells Finn, after being hurt, "My dreams are bigger than that... They're bigger than you." I'm not convinced this is strictly true. The same issue crops up at the end of season two. Rachel is torn between singing on a Broadway stage and her desire to be with Finn. Even though her words say that her professional goals come first, her actions often make Finn more important. It will be interesting to see how she eventually chooses. If she, and fans, are lucky, she will not have to pick. Finn should allow her to be a star, and stand by her as she is.

     Rachel isn't all selfish. She claims friendship is the reason she returns to the New Directions. This is debatable, but I'm willing to give her the benefit of the doubt. She is still new to having peers care about her, but as the series goes on, Rachel will form close bonds with several of the others.

     It doesn't seem like there is a ton of music in "The Rhodes Not Taken," yet the songs that are performed are above average, if not including a couple of the best numbers in all of Glee. Interestingly, this episode also contains some actual songs used as background music, sung by their original artists, not the cast. Other shows do this all of the time, of course, but Glee rarely does so.

     The beginning of the episode has yet another rendition of "Don't Stop Believin'," with Quinn (Dianna Agron) standing in for Rachel. It sounds good, though it is cut very short by Quinn's morning sickness. As such, it's hard to tell if Quinn is up to the task. Her fellow students certainly don't think so.

     The New Directions later perform "Last Name" with April, which is good, but not great. Country music is fine for Chenoweth, but it's not exactly in the wheelhouse of the cast. They do a serviceable job, but it's quickly forgotten. This is probably because the number that follows, "Somebody to Love," is downright amazing. The power and vocal talent showcased among several of the group shakes the rafters, and is a top notch example of what the kids can do.
 
     Will and April sing "Alone" in the bowling alley, and much like "Last Name," it's good, but not particularly memorable. The pair need a sweet moment to show how they have bonded this week, and Will finally gets to sing with his former idol, something that is expected in such an episode. There's not really anything specific to complain about, but not much justifiable praise to heap, either.
     Rachel also performs part of "Cabaret," which is hard to enjoy because of Sandy's incessant interruptions. Rachel and April do "Maybe This Time" from separate rooms, and that, along with "Somebody to Love," is the highlight of the episode. Both women have very strong belting voices, and kill a song meant for a diva, which they arguably are. Chenoweth has plenty of experience on the Broadway stage, but Michele holds her own, and proves that she has a future in this field. Wonderful job!

My Weekly Random Bits:

     Jacob Ben Israel is slightly stalking Rachel throughout season one. It's too bad he's reduced to a very occasional cameo in season two. Sussman is very funny.

     I understand Puck and Matt (Dijon Talton), whom we never find very much out about, sleeping with April, but Mike Chang (Harry Shum Jr.), too? Even though Mike is on the football team, he always comes across as a very unusual type of athlete, and certainly not just a boy who would chase anything in a skirt, like his teammates. Chalk this one up to the creative team not yet knowing who Mike is, or his place in the show, yet.

     Emma tells Finn that there are far more music scholarships available than athletic ones. While much google searching has not given me exact numbers, this statement seems circumspect. Wwhen broken down to Divison I football scholarships versus number of kids competing for them, as compared to overall music scholarships at every college, the figure is definitely correct. However, many music scholarships only give a little bit of money, far from a full ride. And both represent very different levels of success for the future. Basically, what Emma says is incomplete, at best, and irresponsible, at worst.

     Glee has a love affair with Wicked. There is nothing wrong with that, as it is a fantastic show, and still relatively new, as compared to many other musicals. Both stars of the original Broadway version, Kristin Chenoweth and Idina Menzel, play recurring roles on Glee beginning in season one. Some of the most memorable Rachel and Kurt songs from the first two years are from Wicked. Rachel and Kurt even get on the Wicked stage during the New York-set season two finale. "The Rhodes Not Taken" begins that love affair, which shows no signs of abating. Is it too much to hope for a Joel Grey guest spot next year?

     Look for another season one review soon!

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

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

Article first published as TV Review: Glee - "The Rhodes Not Taken" on Blogcritics.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Burn Notice now employs a "Company Man"

Burn Notice: The Fall of Sam Axe [Blu-ray]     USA's Burn Notice begins its fifth season with "Company Man," an apt description for main character Michael West (Jeffrey Donovan) as the season begins. For six months, since the previous episode, Michael has been partnered with Max (Grant Show, Melrose Place, Big Love, Private Practice), a CIA agent, as the two take down the organization that burned Michael back when the series began. Fiona (Gabrielle Anwar) and Sam (Bruce Campbell) feel left out, so Michael convinces the CIA to let his friends tag along when they head to South America to take down the man behind it all. The CIA tries to limit the involvement of Fiona and Sam, but luckily for Michael, they go behind the agency's back and prove invaluable. Michael and Max corner their target, but the bag guy kills himself before they can question him.

     Burn Notice has a history of lame season premieres, following amazing season finales. That's because premieres usually return things to business as usual, no matter how the game changes at the end. But "Company Man" is different. For one, Michael is finally out of Miami, where he was dropped when burned four years ago. For another, he isn't helping some case of the week. He is hunting down the man that ruined his life. There's excitement and action with real stakes, not just a standard episode.     It's a little hard to believe that all of the villains that are part of the secret company are taken down in a mere six months, even with CIA help. And now Michael has nowhere to go after one man offs himself? Surely, there are further leads. Please do not return Burn Notice to procedural formula after a mere one episode! Michael may be in the good graces of the government, but his repuation has not been restored, and surely there are things he can do help that.

     Sam and Fiona will draw Michael back to the old gang soon enough. Max will never replace the two devoted confidants who Michael cares very deeply about. And that's fine. Family is important, as Michael's mother, Maddie (Sharon Gless) always insists. Michael can both be involves with his Miami existence and still look into plots and concerns much bigger than one city. Striking that balance is the challenge the series faces moving forward.

     Perhaps the most interesting development in "Comapny Man" is that Jesse (Coby Bell) soon quits his government job to return to Miami and take a gig with a private security firm. While this at first points to Jesse staying with the team, later comments in the episode between Michael and a man he captures about the pain of bueracracy instead mean Jesse may be toying with a very bad path. Should Jesse go full renegade, tossing aside the rules, he could be part of the next big group that springs up to replace the one Michael just took down. While Michael works outside of the system, he does so by a code of ethics. Jesse is a good man, but could fall into a dangerous trap if he is not careful.

     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 Burn Notice reviews.

     Click here to purchase DVDs from Burn Notice.

Rhett & Link are the Commerical Kings for "Cats & Dogs" everywhere

Los Angeles / Cats & Dogs [HD]     IFC presented a new series last night called Rhett & Link: Commercial Kings. The stars, Rhett McLaughlin and Link Neal are two popular web personalities, and some of the videos they created online were local commercials. Armed with a budget and now living in Los Angeles, they are bringing those talents to bear on helping business owners there. In the first episode, Rhett and Link's clients are a woman who runs a cat hotel, and another woman who provides a shuttle service for dogs. Rhett and Link interview both the animals and people involved, trying to figure out an angle to play up, as well as capture the spirit of the business they are promoting.

     Rhett and Link have done a wide range of hilarious videos online, but the local commericals were always some of the weaker entries. However, with this series, spending all the time behind the scenes (which, admittedly, they also posted video of for many of the web bits) makes it take on a whole different tone. Rhett and Link are charming and humorous, but also seem really, really nice. This is important in their line of work, and they are portrayed as working man serving a client, intead of TV stars who are nice enough to bestow their gifts upon "normal" people, as could have happened. Perhaps in the future they will be more cocky, though it's doubtful, as they have not let any of their fortune go to their heads.

    The secret to Rhett and Link's sucess in Rhett & Link: Commerical Kings are their personalities. "Cats & Dogs" is a good first episode. It features clients who are kooky, and many people would look down upon as weird. This provides the entertaining hook, as opposed to if the commericals were about more normal businesses. But even though Rhett and Link do seem to be in on the joke about the insanity, they also are sweet enough to treat their clients with resect and decency. They forge funny bits to show, but also satisfy the needs and wants of the people they are working for. It's a fine balance to walk, as in this situation, it would be easy to come across as abnoxious jerks making fun of people. They do not in the slightest.

     Which makes their television career one to root for. So often, people in the spotlight are revealed to not be good people. Rhett and Link have big hearts, and it shows. They are the types of guys anyone would want to be friends with. I honestly tuned it not expecting much, despite being a fan of their non-commerical videos, and was completely won over by the series. It's quirky, but not insulting, and highly entertaining. What more can one ask for in a television show?

     Watch Rhett & Link: Commerical Kings Friday nights at 10 p.m. ET on IFC.

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     Please click here for streaming episodes of Rhett & Link.

Futurama - "Neutopia; Benderama"

Futurama: Volume 5 [Blu-ray]     It's hard to know which season Comedy Central's Futurama is currently on, since different sources disagree, what with the cancellation and straight to DVD movies that followed. But the latest batch of new episodes began this Thursday with two episode, "Neutopia" and "Benderama." The first finds the Planet Express crew opening an airline. After crashing during the very first flight, a mysterious creature takes away everyone's genitals to increase cooperation and harmony. The second concerns Bender (John DiMaggio) using the Professor's (Billy West) new machine to make smaller and smaller copies of himself, eventually threatening the Earth. But an overflow of Benders may just come in handy when a very ugly giant (guest star Patton Oswalt, United States of Tara) attacks.

     These two episodes, while funny, are disappointing. Unlike The Simpsons, also created by Matt Groening, Futurama sometimes does some things that are part of larger arcs, and continuity is often respected. Not only are there no scenes pointing at Amy (Lauren Tom) and Kif (Mauriche LaMarche) being together or not, but events happen in the first that are gone by the second. For instance, there is no mention in "Benderama" of Planet Express being an airline, nor is there any indication that it stopped being one at the end of "Neutopia." Also at the end of that episode, when everyone is restored to their proper sexes, Scruffy (David Herman) is not, but he's back to being a boy in the next episode. "Benderama" nearly destroys the world, and leaves open a disastrous possibility that there are still many Bender copies around, but that will likely not be followed up on. 

     Futuama is not perfect, nor has it ever been. But it used to respect the things that happened before on the show, and having changes stick is a refreshing departure from other, less creative animated series. To have the show devolve into a standard story of the week format with no connecting threads is beyond disappointing. It's an insult to those diehard fans who called for its return to television years after cancellation.

     Neither "Benderama" or "Neutopia" are particularly bad episodes. Both have plenty of funny lines and situations, and much of what happens is perfectly in line with what Futurama is about. But those big twists that suddenly drop make it an inferior show than it used to be, and possibly signal a decline. Last season, the first new year back, danced back and forth between the two formats. Clearly, a decision has been made, and it's the wrong one.

     I will continue watching Futurama, at least for now, but Mr. Groening, please fix this show! It used to be better and could be again. Futurama airs Thursday nights at 10 p.m. ET.

Louie - "Pregnant"

Louie: Season One (DVD/Blu-ray Combo in Blu-ray Packaging)     FX's Louie begins season two with a dark look at Louie's (Louis C.K.) failings as a father and in life, which is not unusual for the series. Like most episodes, a number of things occur, sometimes a bit randomly. One of his daughters tells him she prefers her mother's house, and that mom cooks better. Louie prepares a nice dinner, but no verdict as to whether his daughter appreciates it is shown. Louie muses on stage about how he loves his children dearly and wishes they were never born. Louie's pregnant sister comes to stay, and cries out in pain in the middle of the night. Neighbors that Louie does not know knock on the door and offer to help, one staying with the girls, while the other helping Louie take his sister to the hospital. Louie is torn in the dillema of caring for his sister or his kids, but eventually accepts the assistance.

     Does this make Louie a good or a bad father? Not many people would be OK with leaving their children in the care of someone they have never met. While, obviously, Louie's sister needs his help, and as a decent brother, he must give it, he should also be worrying about his children. Why didn't he wake them up and let the neighbors accompany the whole group to the hospital? This option may not occur in a sleep-deprived, panicked brain, but it's a little unsettling that Louie goes along with it. That being said, Louis is naturally distrustful of people, so his willingness to accept the neighbors' help at a time when he needs it is a nice development for him.

     Louie's parenting style is an interesting one, casually imparting the cruel truths of the world on his young children. For instance, in "Pregnant," Louie gives one daughter some fruit and not the other. The hungry child says she "gets" something, too, but Louie says, no. Her sister is lucky right now, and she is not. No one "gets" anything, and life will never be equal and fair. While all of this is accurate, the flippant way he speaks to the girl causes a bit of cringe. Is Louie doing her any favors by not protecting her from reality, or is he just needlessly upsetting a kid? Either way, it's intriguing, entertaining television. 

     Louie is very funny, but often in ways that make the viewer feel bad for laughing, or groan internally when something negative hits home. Underneath the laughs are painful insights into how the world works, and the essential qualities of mankind. It makes for an odd combination for a sitcom, but also a welcome, enjoyable one. Louie isn't like anything else you'll find on television. A large part of that may be credited to the extremely small budget and vast control Louis C.K. has over the project. He is being allowed to illustrate his voice on the air, not forced to work by committee, and it's a privelege to see the results.

     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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