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Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Warehouse 13 trapped on "The 40th Floor"

The 40th Floor [HD]     "The 40th Floor," the latest episode of SyFy's Warehouse 13, finds the agents tracking down, and trapping, Sally Stukowski (Ashley Williams, How I Met Your Mother, Saving Grace). Unfortunately, Sally's boss's plan is already in motion. Artie (Saul Rubinek) and Myka (Joanne Kelly) soon find themselves protecting some Warehouse regents in a building that is rapidly being destroyed around them. Pete (Eddie McClintock) and Claudia (Allison Scagliotti) try to assist by looking for the artifact that is causing the trouble. Mrs. Frederic (CCH Pounder) decides torturing Sally might be the best option, but Jink (Aaron Ashmore) disagrees most vehemently, even pulling a gun to stop her. Which distracts them enough for Sally to escape.

     Of course, Myka does manage to rescue the most important regent, Jane (Kate Mulgrew, NTSF:SD:SUV, Star Trek: Voyager). As Jane now holds the key to Warehouse 13's last line of defense, it is essential she survive, though just about every other, less important figure, dies in the process. Which is a lot more death than is typical for the series to tackle. Thankfully, the amazing Mulgrew is slated for three more episodes, so whatever plot is unfolding in "The 40th Floor" is far from over.

     Pete lends a hand in a big way by halting the damage the dangerous artifact is doing. This is yet another example of Pete and Myka's great teamwork paying off. While Warehouse 13 shies away from hooking up its leading couple, the chemistry between the two is fantastic. They have come to know each other so well that they are a perfect match, both on the job and off. It's a shame the show hesitates to take the bold step of putting them into couple status, even though it's not unexpected. Yet, it's hard to complain too much, when Warehouse 13 is willing to ditch the typical procedural set up for episodes like "The 40th Floor."

     The big twist, of course, is that Jane is actually Pete's mom. Which means she probably has something to do with why Pete is now working at the Warehouse, even though he doesn't seem to know that she has that position until this episode. This adds a deeper layer of plot for the show to explore, giving serious back story to a central character. Good job!

     It is a real shame that Warehouse 13 kills off Sally this week. Williams does a fantastic job playing the baddie, and she is most enjoyable in the scant episodes that she does. Even worse, Jink's actions lead to him getting fired. While this may make sense on a personal level, considering the moral code that is being broken, Ashmore is even more welcome than Williams, and it is a strong hope that he does not leave the series after this episode.

     For Mrs. Frederic to commit torture in the first place is surprising. She exudes threat, but has never been seen purposely hurting anyone up til now. It's a new low for her. Perhaps her actions can be forgiven, given her position and the situation, but that doesn't make them right. Will she be allowed screen time to recover from "The 40th Floor," or is it now only a matter of time before she is killed off? Hopefully it will be the former, as Pounder is exemplary, and there is so much more she can do for Warehouse 13.

     If anyone should leave, it's not Jinks, Mrs. Frederic, or Sally; it's Leena (Genelle Williams). It continues to baffle why such a small character, who rarely gets anything of substance to do, is still a main character. This is not a criticism on Williams, as there hasn't really been enough of her to judge. Rather, if the writers are not going to use her, set her free. She serves no purpose at present.

     Watch Warehouse 13 Monday nights at 9:00 p.m. ET on SyFy.

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

     Please click here to catch up on Warehouse 13 DVDs and streaming episodes.

Article first published as TV Review: Warehouse 13 - "The 40th Floor" on Blogcritics.

"Problem Dog" causes trouble for Breaking Bad


Problem Dog [HD]     The title of this week's Breaking Bad is "Problem Dog." This refers to Jesse's (Aaron Paul) pretending that Gale (David Costabile) is a dog when telling the story of how Jesse kills him, which he does to get issues off of his chest at his Narcotics Anonymous group. Jesse is torn, because Walt (Bryan Cranston) asks him to kill their boss, Gus (Giancarlo Esposito), which he agrees to do. But later, he passes up two opportunities to carry out the plot. It might be wise for Jesse to hurry up and complete the assignment, considering that Hank (Dean Norris) now seems to suspect Gus of heading a drug organization. If Hank catches Gus, it could expose Walt and Jesse. 

     Breaking Bad is a slow burn show that features long, powerful scenes, rather than lots of action. It gives the viewers a chance to really dwell on the characters, and what they are going through. It's a brave concept for television, and not one seen a lot. For it to work, the actors must be top notch. Luckily for Breaking Bad, it features Emmy winners Cranston and Paul. Not to mention, Norris deserves an Emmy, and has been robbed of nomination multiple times. The same might be said for Esposito. So there are a lot of very clear voices making Breaking Bad an absolute must-see show.

     "Problem Dog" gives Jesse many chances to shine. Dealing with grief and guilt for killing Gale, Jesse spends much of his time with drugs and at parties, trying to forget that he's a murderer. Then Gus sends Mike (Jonathan Banks) to pull Jesse out of his downward spiral by making him look like a hero in a staged robbery. This works, giving Jesse purpose as muscle for Gus. However. Although that emotional journey is apparent in prior episodes, "Problem Dog" really lets Paul breathe life into Jesse's whole mental state, and it works brilliantly.

     The aforementioned support group meeting is a powerful scene, but it's the culmination a journey, not its starting point. First, we see Jesse playing a violent video game, with Gale's visage flashing into it. This is not social commentary on how video games can cause bad actions, but rather, more like a PTSD flashback situation. Then Jesse feels accepted when protecting Gus, so he doesn't poison him like Jesse promises Walt he will do. The meeting is Jesse's explosion of his pent up thoughts and feelings, as the earlier scenes allude to, and really explores the character in a very moving way. Killing someone is not as easy as it seems on television. But Jesse might be able to live with himself for it. The question is, is he willing to do it again?

     Will Jesse kill Gus? This is a thought ripe for fan debate. Gus is playing a naive Jesse, pure and simple, but Jesse doesn't know that. Jesse now has self-worth and purpose, which pulls him out of the dark place he is in. Yet, Jesse does seem convinced by Walt's sales pitch that whatever Gus does now doesn't make up for the horrible things that he had done before.

     But then Jesse hesitates to take out Gus. Jesse is not being weak willed and easily manipulated, as much as he might appear to be during some points of "Problem Dog." Instead, he is taking in all the information before he makes a decision. At this point, while the structure of the series points to Jesse eventually trying to murder Gus, likely after lies are exposed, or Jesse's life is in jeopardy, it could still possibly go the other way. Viewers will just have to wait and see.

     As Jesse moves towards stability, pulling himself away from reckless action, and working on a major decision, Walt goes in the opposite direction, his behavior getting more and more reckless, perfectly exemplified by the way he torches a car in "Problem Dog." Walt doesn't even try to be discrete, causing the vehicle to explode, and calling a taxi to come and get him from the scene. Sure, Saul (Bob Odenkirk) is able to negotiate down to only a fine, and keep Walt's record clean, but what is Walt thinking? And, feeling indestructible, he doesn't even care that he got in trouble. That's dangerous. It seems, as Skyler (Anna Gunn) earlier accuses him, he wants to get caught. Why else commit such a blatant act of destruction? The money lost may not be much of an issue, but the attention surely is a big risk.

     On a semi-related note, why is Skyler asked to launder a bunch of fifty dollar bills? Saul did encourage other investments than the car wash, but as someone experienced in illicit activity, wouldn't Saul realize that the large bills would be difficult to do something with? Wouldn't he be helping with a solution, rather than leaving it in Skyler's lap? Saul doesn't want to get caught, and while Skyler does take over this part of the operation, it would be in the lawyer's best interest to help out as much as he possibly can in the illegal scheme.

     Hank is a brilliant character, who isn't very interesting when sulking in bed, collecting minerals. Thankfully, the super detective is not only on his feet again in "Problem Dog," rapidly improving his walking ability, but also already hot on Gus's trail as a meth kingpin. This is a fascinating development for Breaking Bad, and it's now only a matter of time until Hank blows the whistle.

     Hank's extended spiel to his former co-workers in "Problem Dog" is exhilarating and suspenseful. Norris gets a chance to deliver amazing lines once more, as the character almost instantly recovers from being a drag on the series to once more mattering in a very big way.

     How much does Gus continue to be important? From his meeting this week, it's obvious that Gus is not the biggest fish in the pond. With some very, very bad men wanting to knock him out of business, will it even matter if Hank catches him? Will Hank catch him in time to save his life, perhaps? Or will Jesse kill Gus first, opening up the opportunity for these new villains to take over the operation, or for Hank to reach another dead end? It doesn't appear that Jesse hesitates in killing Gus because he is afraid of someone else taking

     Do not miss Breaking Bad, Sunday nights at 10 p.m. ET on AMC.

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

Article first published as TV Review: Breaking Bad - "Problem Dog" on Blogcritics.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Death Valley should die

     What can be said about the new MTV series Death Valley? Not a lot that's good, unfortunately. It is not set in Death Valley, if that's what you're wondering. Rather, it takes place near Hollywood, and follows cops on the UTF (Undead Task Force) who deal with zombies, werewolves, and vampires.

     Yep, that's right, the supernatural featured on many, many, many books, television shows, and movies right now. There is no attempt to explain why these creatures are in this area. Apparently, they've only been publically known for a year, and there is a high concentration of them near Hollywood. Perhaps they came to get revenge on the people who exploit them? That doesn't quite ring true, since they seem to have already become completely integrated into society within that first year, already taking jobs as prostitutes and the like.

     Basically, Death Valley is Reno 9-1-1, but with far more gross gore than necessary, and far fewer laughs. This is a bad combination. Too little gore on a series like this, no problem. But without enough funny to keep viewers tuning in, there doesn't seem to be much hope for a lengthy run. At least in "Pilot," the premise seems like a one note gag that will wear thin very quickly. Only time will tell if this assertion is true, or Death Valley will go somewhere.

     The cast isn't bad. Comic Bryan Callen (MADtv, Oz) leads the crew. John-John (Texas Battle, The Bold and the Beautiful) is appropriately doughnut-obsessed, much to the chagrin of his partner, Rinaldo (Tania Raymonde, Lost). Partners Stubeck (Charlie Sanders, Cedar Rapids) and Billy (Bryce Johnson, Pretty Little Liars) are inept, but come closest to echoing the more successful characters in Reno. Newcomer Kirsten (Caity Lotz, Mad Men) is much more prepared, though inexperienced and undervalued by her teammates.

     In "Pilot," Rinaldo and John-John go to a doughnut shop to confront a zombie. John-John is filling a box with pastries, and thus distracted, allows a sound guy to get bitten. Then they beat the poor man to death with a baseball bat so he doesn't turn. Stubeck and Billy arrest a frequent offender, and end up killing her pimp in the process. Billy is kidnapped in revenge, and Stubeck must trade the dead vampire's body to get his partner back. All fairly standard, but the execution and material is substandard, and thus, the plots fall flat.

     What Death Valley needs is better writing, plain and simple. These actors can handle the humor, but they must be given something to work with. Unless it's just a bad editing job, that falls to the guys who come up with the dialogue. In this, Death Valley is a failure. Or at least the first episode is.

     Death Valley airs Mondays at 10:30 p.m. ET on MTV.

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Glee jumps on a "Mattress"


     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]     One episode of FOX's Glee that seems pretty bizarre is "Mattress." That's likely because there's a lot of sadness and anger in the episode, not your typical Glee fare. As such, it's a little unclear whether it fits in appropriately with the series overall, or if it's a stand alone oddity. Pathos are fine on Glee, and often done well. But when the whole episode revolves around depressing material, it tends to almost seem out of tone.
     "Mattress" aired just before winter break, so a lot of it builds up to a mid-season finale. Will (Matthew Morrison) discovers Terri's (Jessalyn Gilsig) treachery, and considers leaving her. Emma (Jayma Mays) is forced to choose between attending the glee club's Sectionals, or her own wedding to Ken (Patrick Gallagher) when he purposely schedules the latter event on the same day as the former. Quinn (Dianna Agron) stands up to Sue (Jane Lynch) once and for all. And all of the New Directions worry what might happen to their year book photo, if they even take one.

     The plot between Will and Terri is a long time coming, and not exactly unwelcome. While Terri's intentions are originally good, as Emma admits she sees to Will, the lies are carried too far. There is no happy ending possible for the couple, and years of resentment and anger erupt. It's startling to see Will get so mad, but at the same, it's the only logical way to act after being betrayed so deeply. A root cause of the problem is, as Terri says, "This marriage works because you don't feel good about yourself." But Will has found purpose with the glee club, and that has ruined their status quo, even if that status quo isn't exactly great in the first place. Thus, without Will acting like that, they are disrupted.

     A quick note about Will's heroic self-sacrifice at the end, removing himself from the glee club so that the group can still compete at Sectionals. This is how a hero acts, and what he does is very noble. Great use of a lead character, and it redeems him after the ugly fight scene with Terri earlier.

     The larger implication of a Will/Terri dissolution is how it may effect Emma. Emma is in love with Will, and is only marrying Ken to try to move on, deciding that Will will never be available. Now that idea is turned on its head, and while Will says he isn't yet sure if divorce is in the cards, it seems likely Will may be single again soon. With that tempting prospect, should Emma go ahead and marry a man who has, as she states, "Seventy-four flaws, as of yesterday?" Truthfully, she should not be marrying him in the first place if she feels this way, so the wedding has a very good chance of not happening.

     This melancholy tone is reflected in much of how "Mattress" plays out, and, of course, in the music chosen for the episode, even though the titles of the songs sound happy. "When You're Smiling" is sad as Rachel (Lea Michele) tries to gain the courage to take a smiling photo. The Charlie Chaplin version of "Smile," which ends the episode, is even more blue, not least of which because it plays over footage of Dave Karofsky (Max Adler) defacing the New Directions year book photo with his laughing friends around him. What a depressing final shot!

     The Lily Allen version of "Smile" is just plain weird. It is an atypical choice for a Rachel and Finn (Cory Monteith) number, and neither looks entirely comfortable singing and dancing it. The piano player bobbing along with that odd look on his face is actually, by far, the best part of the song. While not sad, this "Smile" doesn't do anything to make the episode better. It just doesn't work too well at all.

     Strangely enough, among the episode's many sad moments, there is the joyful, stand-out performance of "Jump." More than anything else, "Jump" is what "Mattress" will be remembered for. Not quite fitting in with everything else, it is still one of the best choreographed performances in all of season one, and is incredibly fun to watch. Good thing the mattress store just happens to have big mattress trampolines laying around for the kids to use! Oops, being too critical again.

     Quinn really shines in "Mattress." Up until now, there are occasional hints of a good person, but Quinn is kind of one of the main villains of Glee. Yet, she completely makes up for her bad behavior when she stands up to Sue. Not only does she get the glee kids one of Sue's six (six!) cheerleading pages in the yearbook, but she also puts Sue in her place. Quinn admits that glee teaches her more than the Cheerios does, and it's a superior club. Bravo, young lady! Way to go!

Random Bits:
  • The news program in which Sue does a segment appears to be filmed in Columbus, Ohio. Though it's not a cityscape view usually used, a couple of the buildings look like this is so. This is especially odd, as Glee takes place hours from Columbus. Maybe. Read my full rant about the inconsistency of Ohio layout in another Glee review.
  • Great Brittany (Heather Morris) line! When Rachel says that maybe the glee club photo won't be defaced in this year's yearbook, Brittany replies "Yes it will. I'll be the one doing it." At least she's honest!
  • Why does Rachel go through the charade of picking a co-captain through a process? She approaches Mercedes (Amber Riley), Artie (Kevin McHale), and Brittany before asking Finn. Not only do none of these three options make any sense for Rachel to choose, but it's completely obvious to viewers that Finn will, and should, be the co-captain. It feels forced that Rachel would even consider anyone else.
  • How did Quinn get to be Cheerio captain as a freshman? That's almost unheard of in high school! Yet, she is clearly the captain in the 2008 yearbook, and she will not be graduating until the end of season three, the 2011-2012 school year. So this must be so.
  • Which leads me to ask, why is there a yearbook being put out in the fall with the fall semester's year anyway? Isn't that unusual? Don't year books come out in the spring, with the calendar year that ends the school year on the cover?
  • Isn't it unethical for a school to leave a club out of a yearbook? Is that even allowed? Any yearbook I've ever come into contact with includes ALL school clubs, no matter how minor. Charging a teacher to get their club into the yearbook defeats the whole purpose of a yearbook, and is probably illegal, or at least against state guidelines, since the other clubs aren't charged similarly.
  • John Ross Bowie appears in "Mattress" as the photographer/commercial director. This very funny actor currently has recurring parts on both The Big Bang Theory and Childrens Hospital.


     Check back for another season one Glee review soon!

     If you like my reviews, please follow me on Twitter! Click here for all of my Glee reviews.
 
     To purchase Glee DVDs, streaming episodes, music, and more, please click here.
 
 
Article first published as TV Review: Glee - "Mattress" on Blogcritics.

Doc Martin The Movies comes out on DVD

Doc Martin: The Movies     Acorn Media will release Doc Martin: The Movies this week. For those already familiar with the British television series Doc Martin, these made-for-TV films may be a bit surprising. Predating the regular show, they follow Dr. Martin Bamford (Martin Clunes), not Martin Ellingham, an obstetrician (not a surgeon) as he goes to the small village of Port Isaac (and not Portwenn). Actually, it's the same village; it just has a different name. And if you want to get technical, the character of Doc Martin was created for the film Saving Grace, which came even before these films, so this isn't even the start of it.

     There aren't a lot of familiar faces in Port Isaac. In fact, only one actor besides Clunes appears in both versions, and that's Tristan Sturrock, though he plays a different character in the movies. The townspeople in these films are more fully developed people, which makes them less distinctive characters from those in the series.

     The Doc Martin from these movies is grumpy and anti-social, but only a bit. He has no problem smiling, and seems to enjoy the local villagers. As long as they don't break into his house, answer his phone, and read his mail. Which, of course, they do. Still, Bamford is not on the same level of unpleasantness that Ellingham is. Also, his reasons for fleeing the city and winding up in this setting are very different. But it's neat to see the origin of a character before fully developed.

     The first movie on the two-disc set is simply called Doc Martin. In the beginning, Martin discovers his wife, Petronella (Lynsey Baxter, Peak Practice), has been cheating on him with three of his best friends. Not sure what else to do, Martin clears his schedule and flees to the small hamlet, winding up on a fishing boat. Enjoying getting away from his busy life, and the town soon needing a general practitioner, Martin decides to stay. It's quite a sad story, creating a different tone than Doc Martin usually exudes.

     In the second installment, Doc Martin and the Legend of the Cloutie, Martin begins to become annoyed with his neighbors and seeks to buy a farm house a couple of miles outside town. Unfortunately, an unpleasant family gets to it first. Martin is willing to resort to anything, including calling upon the local residents' superstitious "magic," to win the estate. This is a more recognizable Doc Martin, in that his negative attitude begins to come out. But he still has friends whose company he enjoys, so it's not a total switch. Also, the supernatural elements, while not totally explicit, give the tone a very odd feel.

     There are no bonus features. Both movies are presented in 16:9 widescreen with stereo sound.

     If you are a fan of the series Doc Martin, I do recommend checking out the movies. If you haven't seen the show, watch the movies first, and you'll get to see the evolution of a character.

Doc Martin: Collection - Series 1-4     Click here to buy Doc Martin The Movies on DVD.
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Article first published as DVD Review: Doc Martin - The Movies on Blogcritics.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Desperate Housewives The Complete Seventh Season out on DVD


Desperate Housewives: The Complete Seventh Season     Coming to DVD this Tuesday, August 30th from ABC Studios is Desperate Housewives The Complete Seventh Season. Subtitled "Wild, Wild Westeria Edition," just because, as all of the DH DVDs have 'edition' titles, it contains all twenty-three episodes of the hit dramedy's penultimate season. Getting back to the show's roots, the seventh season returns some characters not seen in quite awhile, and tries valiantly to recapture the original tone. Couples fall in and out of love, and secrets get darker. This DVD set is a must-watch for anyone who hasn't seen the series yet. And like other ABC shows, it is only available on DVD, not Blu-ray.

     As season seven begins, Paul Young (Mark Moses, Mad Men), fresh out of prison, moves back to Wisteria Lane, determined to get even with the neighbors who abandon him after his trial. He brings along a new wife, Beth (Emily Bergl, Southland, Men in Trees), who also has a dark secret of her own. Beth is actually Felicia Tilman's (Harriet Sansom Harris, Frasier) daughter, there to get revenge on Paul, who murders Felicia's sister, Beth's aunt, in season one. As both Paul and Beth try to carry out their plots, emotion gets in the way, and Paul soon finds unexpected compassion from one of his old friends. It's a great throwback to what is arguably the best storyline from the entire series, even though it happened at the very beginning.

     Joining the cast in season seven is the amazing Vanessa Williams (Ugly Betty) as Renee Perry, an old friend of Lynette's (Felicity Huffman) who moves to town. Renee stirs up trouble and shakes up the dynamic of the housewives in deliciously interesting ways. Williams manages to hold her own against the long-time stars, and actually carves herself a nice little niche that she will sadly get to occupy only one more year, before the series goes dark forever.

     Also appearing in an arc throughout much of season seven is Brian Austin Green (Beverly Hills, 90210 and Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles) as Keith, a much younger love interest for Bree (Marcia Cross) after Orson (Kyle MacLachlan) finally moves out. MacLachlan is missed, but Green is also great, in a totally new-flavor way. John Schneider (Smallville, Dukes of Hazard) plays Keith's dad, who takes an interest in Bree, too, a more age appropriate, albeit wrong, choice. Both are gone by season's end, but then Jonathan Cake comes along as Chuck Vance, Bree's newest love interest, so it's safe to assume that Bree's bed won't remain empty for long.

     The seventh season of Desperate Housewives ends with quite the cliffhanger, and a beautiful set up for the final season. All of the housewives, and one of the men, are involved in a murder and the cover up of said murder. For those who haven't seen the episode, I won't spoil the twist with too many details, but needless to say, their actions are not evil. But this does set up a very intriguing final season plot where the four women have to band together as never before to protect each other and stay out of prison. Making matters even more complicated, Bree's new guy, Chuck, is a homicide detective. Talk about a conflict of interest!

     Of course, the real soul of Desperate Housewives is provided by the four main women, all of whom undergo major upheavals in their lives in season seven prior to the awesome finale. Bree not only searches for a new man, but also helps son Andrew (Shawn Pyfrom) deal with the alcoholism he inherited from her. Susan (Teri Hatcher) faces her own mortality. She and Mike (James Denton) also face money problems, and have to temporarily move off of Wisteria Lane. While Mike goes out of town to find work, Susan becomes a sexy online cleaning lady for her landlord, Maxine (Lainie Kazan, My Big Fat Greek Wedding). Gabrielle (Eva Longoria) discovers her and Carlos's (Ricardo Chavira) eldest daughter, Juanita (Madison De La Garza), was switched at birth in the hospital, and their biological child is being raised by illegal immigrants who must flee authorities. It's an Emmy-worthy performance for Longoria, though she is not nominated.

     Lynette faces the possible end of her very long marriage to Tom (Doug Savant), the most stable relationship on the series, up until now. This is a very sad state of affairs. While Mike and Susan have had extremely rocky patches over the years, and Gabi and Carlos even divorce for a time, Lynette and Tom have always been rock solid. With that foundation crumbling, and the threat of a permanent divorce looming, it's going to take much effort to come back from the brink. Given the final season status, a reconciliation would seem to be a no-brainer. But seeing how bad things are as season seven ends, it won't be an easy fix, either.

     On Desperate Housewives The Complete Seventh Season, there are an average number of bonus features for an ABC release, but they are mostly worthwhile extras. Twelve deleted scenes are interesting, but don't add much. Most are from the episode "Assassins." More than four minutes of bloopers seem like too much, yet they are pretty entertaining. A five-minute feature called "Desperate for Trivia" finds the four main women, their three steady men, and Mark Moses answering trivia questions pertaining to all seven seasons of the show. It's hilarious to see who knows what. For instance, did you know that the episode titles in Desperate Housewives are all Stephen Sondheim references? Ricardo Chavira does! Though it's also easy to understand how just being on a series doesn't mean you retain every intimate detail.

     The best bonus feature is "Growing Up On Wisteria Lane." In it, a number of the child actors, especially those who grew up on the series and were never recast, talk about what it's like to be on the set. Some of the adults also provide insight about working with these particular kids. It's a poignant retrospective, appropriate with the end so close. It's also touching that the children, who are forgotten about from time to time, get their very own ten minutes of focus among so few other features. A very worthy addition!

     Make sure you check out Desperate Housewives The Complete Seventh Season, on sale this Tuesday, August 30th.


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Article first published as DVD Review: Desperate Housewives The Complete Seventh Season on Blogcritics.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Cougar Town The Complete Second Season on DVD

Cougar Town: The Complete Second Season     For those who haven't watched ABC's Cougar Town, or only caught the first few episodes of the first season, then you have no idea what you're missing. What started as a series about a 40-something year old woman named Jules (Courteney Cox) seeking to date much younger men, morphed into an adult buddy sitcom in the middle of the first year, and solidified into what the show ends up being by the first season finale. Basically, it's about a group of adults who dearly love each other drink wine, hang out, play Penny Can, and get into some goofy situations.

     Cougar Town The Complete Second Season hits store shelves this Tuesday, August 30th, and it much better exemplifies the series than season one does. Included in this three-disc set are all 22 funny, remarkably consistent season two episodes. In the second year, Jules and Grayson (Josh Hopkins) begin to get serious about their relationship, Travis (Dan Byrd) goes to college, and Bobby (Brian Van Holt) attempts to make something of himself. Laurie (Busy Philipps) searches for love, which Andy (Ian Gomez) and Ellie (Christa Miller) already have. Tom (Bob Clendenin) tries to worm his way into the Cul-De-Sac Crew, as they call themselves, and Barb's (Carolyn Hennesy) occasional appearances are the only real reminder of the failed start to an otherwise wonderful show.

     Oh, and the title, of course. The title card changes every week in season two to poke fun at Cougar Town, which series creators Bill Lawrence (Miller's husband) and Kevin Biegel freely admit is the one of, if not the, worst show title on television. They are considering changing it, but no official news on that front has been announced as of yet. However, if Cougar Town had not been named that, we would never have gotten such hilarious title cards, so there is a silver lining in it all. If a name change is imminent, might I suggest The Series Formerly Known as Cougar Town?

     Season two is bolstered by new guest stars and recurring characters. Smith (Ryan Devlin, Brothers & Sisters) returns to spark Laurie's feelings once more. Travis's attentions are torn between high school girlfriend Kylie (Spencer Locke, the Resident Evil movies), who'd like an open relationship, and new grad student love interest Kirsten (Collette Wolfe, Hot Tub Time Machine). Kevin (Lamarcus Tinker, Friday Night Lights) is Travis's roommate, though Glee has snapped him up this summer, so it's uncertain how much of season three he might be in. Wayne (CT producer Michael McDonald, MADtv) opens a new wine bar. On a more personal level, Gomez's real life wife, Nia Vardalos (My Big Fat Greek Wedding), drops by as Andy's flirty cousin. Ken Jenkins, who starred in Lawrence's Scrubs, is Jules's father, Chick. And Sam Lloyd reprises his Scrubs character of Ted in the two-part, Hawaii-set, season finale. It's a very talented group.

     As far as DVD extras go, there are a half dozen deleted scenes totaling less than three minutes, a two minute blooper reel, and an eight and a half minute featurette listed as (still called) Cougar Town: Season 2, which does a fine job establishing the new tone of the series. One would only need to watch that bonus feature to get what Cougar Town is all about now. Andy's Dreams is a six webisode series, mostly involving movie parodies, and they are included on the DVD, as well as an introduction and behind the scenes look at the web series. It's about one episode-length all together, and provides a fun, alternate look inside Andy's head.

     What is missing from the special features are any commentaries at all, and the Actors Vs. Writers Vulture.com web series that was online during the long winter hiatus last year. The Vulture videos were fantastic, and it is really too bad they are not included, as they really helped fill the gap for fans missing their beloved show.

     In any case, Cougar Town: The Complete Second Season is well worth the purchase. Be sure to buy it when it comes out on Tuesday, August 30th.

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

Article first published as DVD Review: Cougar Town The Complete Second Season on Blogcritics.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Louie and a "Duckling" travel to Afghanistan

     Last night, FX presented the first hour-long episode of Louie. To do double length, there must be a big idea to fill it, and there is. "Duckling" finds Louie (Louis C.K.) going on a USO tour to the American troops in Afghanistan. When he lands, he discovers his youngest daughter has hidden a duckling in his luggage, a class pet that Louie was taking care of the night before, with a note that it will keep him safe. Louie is frantic, whether it be because he is afraid he will be caught with the duck, which he hides, or because it's an innocent life dropped into a very dangerous situation. But in the end, his daughter's prediction proves true, and the duckling diffuses a hostile situation, saving Louie.

     Louie doesn't often tackle anything too serious or scary. Setting the main character in a war zone is quite a risk, but one that pays off handsomely for the brilliant series. Louie still delivers his trademark humor, some of it material heard before. But in the new setting, with the weary audience, it plays fresh all over again. There are no attacks or shells hitting any of the camps Louie stops at, but that doesn't take away the very real threat that something might happen. Thankfully, it doesn't. Louie returns home intact, though slightly more aware, along with the audience, of what our men and women in uniform face every day, and the conditions they must endure.

     It's a humbling experience, to come face to face with the soldiers. One that would not typically take place in a sitcom. Which may be why Louie chose to shoot "Duckling" in a more cinematic fashion. The camera shots and the picture quality do not feel typical for an episode of Louie, but rather, feel more crisp and grand in scope. There's definitely a different tone, and while I cannot say for sure, it appears the episode was filmed on location in the Middle East, even if some (if not all) of the events are staged. One part tribute, one more realistic look, with a dash of Louie's style tossed in. "Duckling" is an artistic achievement.

     To use the innocence of a duckling to ease tension is a brilliant move. Louie gives credit to his real-life younger daughter for the idea of the episode in the ending credits, and if so, it's a true "out of the mouths of babes" treasure. "Duckling" doesn't focus on politics, or why our army is overseas. It is about the harsh reality, and how something cute and simple can appeal to human nature in everyone. As the armed Afghanis sit down with the American troops to pet a baby duck, there is a real connection. Louie leaves the duck with the locals, and viewers are left with a comforting assurance, though not spoken, that the creature will be well taken care of. A spot of light in a dark situation.

     It may be easy to underestimate Louis C.K. and what he is doing with his own TV show. But if you watch it, it is clear he is doing something groundbreaking. "Duckling" may not be the typical Louie episode, but the impression is given that there will be other hours that bend the mold in an already unique show. Very good work, indeed.

     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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Awkward. faces "Queen Bee-atches"

     In this week's episode of MTV's Awkward., "Queen Bee-atches," Jenna (Ashley Rickards) attempts to help her mother, Lacey (Nikki Deloach), get into a high profile charity club run by Darlene Saxton (Heather Mazur, Crash). Yep, that's Saxton, as in Sadie Saxton's (Molly Tarlov) mother. Things don't look good for Lacey's admittance until Jenna finds Sadie's food journal and gains some leverage. Also, while working the recruitment event, Jake (Brett Davern) tells Matty (Beau Mirchoff) about kissing Jenna. While Matty doesn't reveal his own personal bond with her, the competition between the two is starting. 

     Awkward.'s quality has been top notch so far in this freshman season, but "Queen Bee-atches" really achieves pitch perfectness. It is the story of several characters, and how they deal with their insecurities. Jenna, of course, is the main girl, and she is really finding herself as she emerges from her shell. This week, she is given some really great dirt on Sadie, but is too sweet to use it for anything more than to help Lacey. It shows strength of character advanced for such a young girl, and is done in a totally realistic way. For instance, Jenna begins to feel charitable, seeing Sadie's inner pain laid bare on the page. Then Jenna turns to the next entry and finds a mean comment about herself, sparking anger all over again. She's only human, after all.

     Sadie is becoming likeable, albeit just behind closed doors. She may not have written the letter to help Jenna, as Jenna suspects early in "Queen Bee-atches," but Sadie is trying to deal with some serious turmoil. In high school, it is no secret that many people feel like they must be popular, well liked, and great looking in order to have self-esteem. Sadie is in this trap, concerned with her appearance. She's furious at herself for giving into the cravings the make her heavy, as well as genetics that don't do her any favors. But while breaking down in tears to her mother, it's hard not to feel her very real pain. No wonder she's so mean! Plus, Sadie gets straight A's, so there is definitely more to her than her looks, which aren't bad in the first place.

     Again, kudos must be given to Tarlov for the bold, brave way she tackles the complicated character,  as well as her hilarious physical humor. Hopefully Jenna will eventually help Sadie see her good features, since Jenna is the only one likely to offer a kind word now and then to the "Queen Bee-atch."

     I didn't initially like Lacey. She's an adult acting like a child. But stop and think for a moment about how teen pregnancy robs a girl of her youth, and there is readily something more than pathetic desperation apparent in Lacey's attempts to fit in. Wanting to join the charity club is her way of making up for missing those formative social experiences. Sure, it is misguided, and she sort of uses her daughter, wrangling Jenna to participate in something she has no interest in. But there is real love between the two. Not only that, but when Lacey learns she is accepted only as a charity case, she sets a great example by not sticking around. She's not a push over, and now one begins to see that Lacey actually gave Jenna some fine personality traits. Here's a strange, off-the-wall musing: might Lacey have written the mysterious letter?

     The dynamic between Matty and Jake in Awkward. is hilarious in this episode! Matty clearly has some real feelings for Jenna, even if he's struggling with what dating her might do to his image. Jake doesn't care as much what others think, but is torn because he still has a girlfriend, Lissa (Greer Grammer). As Jake talks with Matty, both understand they want Jenna and would be lucky to have her. And they are pretty funny, spilling all that alcohol.

     I don't think that Matty is willing to take the leap yet of a public relationship with Jenna, but Jake looks to be seriously considering moving on from Lissa. It's a jerk move to want to talk about feelings with Jenna before breaking it off with Lissa, whom he isn't in love with. But teen boys can be jerks, and still be good guys at heart. It's the jerkishness of Jake's actions, his own weakness, that keep viewers torn between Jake and Matty, both of whom have their pluses and minuses.

     It is not often I watch a half hour of television and can not find at least one small criticism. Yet Awkward. achieves this feat. I am blown away by the talent that creator Lauren Iungerich, the cast, and the crew have to put together such a consistently amazing show. I generally like to focus on the positives in my reviews, and then toss in a couple of things that could be improved. I have no such remarks to make about "Queen Bee-atches." It's all good.

     If you are not watching Awkward., which airs on MTV Tuesday nights at 11 p.m. ET, you are missing one of the absolute best series currently on television. Do yourself a favor and correct that.
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Article first published as TV Review: Akward. - "Queen Bee-atches" on Blogcritics.