Friday, October 30, 2009

Jordan's Review: 30 Rock, Season 4, Episode 3: Stone Mountain

This week’s 30 Rock had a lot of the problems that people often accredit to the show. It had a plotline about smug superior liberals, a large dash of Jenna, and an overabundance of celebrity cameos. However, “Stone Mountain” also had a fine heap of hilarious lines to counteract the somewhat heavy handed plotting tonight.

The A-plot is easily the worst offender. Liz’s ongoing quest to recruit a new cast member that is representative of “the real America” has lead her to San Francisco (in what Jack decries as “The People’s Gaypublic of Drugafornia”) and next she’s heading to Toronto, far from where Jack thinks the new recruit should be found. So, in a gamut that has rarely paid off for the show, Jack and Liz go off the reservation and to Stone Mountain, Georgia, near where Kenneth grew up (after his descendents left their original home in “Sexcriminalboat. Do you think that’s Cherokee?”).

There they find Fatty Fat’s Sandwich Ranch, a polite desk clerk, and a new comic played by guest star Jeff Dunham. The idea that Dunham’s style of “comedy” is even worth recognition by the show that remains the funniest thing on network television irks me, and his appearance on the show falls incredibly flat only partially because it was designed to. Liz’s repeated insistence that there is no “real America” and that everyone in the country is the same is the stuff liberals have been complaining about for over a year now, and her speeches come off as heavy handed and more than a little unnecessary. No one watches 30 Rock to be proselytized at, and when Fey goes off on a monologue about how liberals are Americans too, she should know she’s preaching to the choir. The only saving grace to the scene in which Liz tries to heckle Dunham out of becoming a cast member is that it ends with Jack literally decapitating his puppet, an act I’ve dreamed of often in recent weeks.

The B-plot centers around Jenna’s overly complicated relationship with the writers. It begins as an attempt to butter them up so they’ll give her better material (oh yeah, they still do a show!), then devolves into the writer’s quest to prank Jenna into leaving them alone, then further devolves into the writer’s attempt to butter her up so she’ll invite them to Gay Halloween. The quick turns of the plot are pretty weak, but the idea of Gay Halloween as a Mecca of sorts, and the return of Sacha from Jenna’s entourage provide laughs to sustain the story.

In the C-Plot, Tracy fears the “Rule of Three” after the man who inspired Pac-Man and a popular clogger/Huffington Post contributor both die (Tracy vows that, “I will eat a bowl of cherries and some ghost meat in his honor.”). This leads to the most consistently amusing storyline of the night as Tracy plots to ensure another celebrity dies first. He tries to kill Betty White (by calling her and yelling “Boo!”) and when that fails, he hopes to bludgeon Queen Latifah’s friend (Jimmy Fallon, in a pretty rote cameo that becomes wryly clever when he acknowledges the crappy guests he often has on his own show, vowing to kill his first guest, which will be a dog that plays soccer, if someone hasn’t died by then).

Looking at the episode objectively it is filled with three pretty unfunny plotlines and has a few overly long scenes that don’t deliver nearly enough laughs to warrant their length. This may be the weakest episode the show has done yet this season, but “Stone Mountain” still had enough hilarious moments to keep me generally happy throughout.

Grade: B-


-“Stop trying to amuse yourself and start thinking about what makes actual human beings laugh!” Followed immediately by a pratfall from Lutz. This is a recurrent theme this season, that the show is out of touch with America. I’m not sure if its Tina Fey worrying this is the case or network tampering, but it tends to come off as smug and condescending, even when its as funny as that joke.

-“Orange and black decorations? Is this Halloween or Princeton Parents Weekend? I don’t know whether to be scared or proud of my cousin!” “Its Halloween sir.” “Proud it is!”

-The gag of everyone in Georgia looking like Kenneth also fell flat. Less of Jack McBrayer continues to be more.

-“This is going to be the scariest Princeton Parents Weekend Ever!”

-“I’m not going to be pushed aside and forgotten like that time at my sister’s funeral.”

-Lady airline pilots make Kenneth laugh.

-“At night The Chuckle Hut becomes The Laugh Factory, and that’s a comedy club!”

-“I gotta go somewhere where nothing will happen to me. Can you get me on Charlie Rose?”

“It’s a myth. Like going bald with dignity.”

-“Keep refreshing. Maybe Andy Dick has died in the last 20 seconds.”

-“Any arm pain? Shortness of breath? Plans to investigate corruption in Russia?” I love that all celebrities know, and fear, the “Rule of Three.”

-“Choir member, desert storm veteran, father of three. I made all that up, but you get my point.”

-“And some of them are skeevy dirtbags like the Dukes of Hazard, driving around like madmen. Children use those roads!”

-“All of god’s children are terrible.” A lovely moral, 30 Rock style.

-“What’s wrong Ken? That hatchet isn’t real, is it?”

Jordan's Review: Community, Season 1, Episode 7: Introduction to Statistics

It was Halloween this week on Community, which satisfied my need for some holiday themed chicanery to help me pass my Thursday night. There’s something magical (if all to overdone) about the Halloween episode of a show. It gives you insight into the characters as you watch them dress up, and it generally allows shows to have a little fun with their own premise. “Introduction to Statistics” was more the former than the latter, but the laugh quotient in the episode hasn’t been this high in several weeks.

The main storyline tonight gives us a welcome break in the Jeff-Britta saga as Jeff courts his statistics teacher who notoriously doesn’t date students. Jeff tries to argue that he is older than her, and has no friends on campus, but unfortunately, the rest of the cast tend to show up at the worst moments, begging for Jeff’s help, and giving his teacher the chance to ask, “Are you like a court appointed guardian for these people?” Indeed, the inspired lunacy Jeff’s “friends” get into this week reminds me just how wacky this show can get, and how good it can be at it.

Annie, ever the over-achiever, is throwing a Dia De Los Muertos party for extra credit, and wants Jeff to show up because he’s popular, and her parties are prone to failure. While he tries to resist her tears (“This won’t work. Last time you tried this I saved a vile of your tears and I’ve been slowly building up an immunity”) he ends up agreeing to go to her party. There he encounters Britta, dressed as a squirrel to counteract the stereotype that women dress slutty for Halloween, Troy as Eddie Murphy, Abed as Batman, Shirley as harry Potter (whom everyone hilariously keeps mistaking for Urkel) and Peirce as The Beastmaster. The party leads to a sitcom cliché that always manages to make me laugh—an unlikely character gets a very powerful dose of drugs and bad trip antics ensue. Pierce’s trip leads to him cowering in a fort he created out of desks and chairs, and leads to the return of the always welcome Star Burns, so its pretty hysterical on the whole.

Shirley is busy plotting how to take vengeance on Jeff’s teacher for Britta, who is mostly ambivalent about the whole thing. This leads to another of the show’s now patented heartfelt moments as Shirley confesses her anger at the other woman stems from her ex-husband’s request that she give him her ring back. We also get a nice moment in which Pierce confronts his fear of death, only to be confronted by it and then saved by Abed’s Batman. On the whole, “Introduction to Statistics” is one of the weirder, and more hilarious, episodes the show has done yet.

Grade: A-


-“Are you trying to be formidable with me?” “It worked on Pierce…” “Infomercials work on Pierce.”

-“Which is actually quite offensive to people familiar with Mexican Halloween as a sexual position.”

-“I was so unpopular during high school the crossing guard used to lure me into traffic.”

-I loved Pierce’s visions of Annie taunting him about his age. “Tell me about the Beatles, Pierce. Tell me about Woodstock. Tell me about Sputnik.”

-“Jeff, get over here! Pierce is going to kill himself and you’re the only one who can help!” “How do you know that?” “Is Jeff out there? He’s the only one who can help!”

-Abed’s Batman monologue at the end was the perfect amount of ridiculous.

-“It's like Grumpy Old Men, only not hilarious!”

Monday, October 26, 2009

Jordan's Review: Dexter, Season 4, Episode 5: Dirty Harry

This week’s Dexter had exactly one plot point to parcel out, and wasted most of its 48 minute runtime avoiding it. The show always tends to tread water in the early episodes of the season (as I find myself saying on a weekly basis in these reviews), but few episodes have felt so burden with useless plotting as this one. To be fair, we did see the end to the pointless Vacation Murderers plotline tonight, but every other plot just seemed to recycle information we already knew, leading up to a conclusion that is supposedly shocking, but mostly just par for the course.

In the Angel and LaGuerta storyline, we’re reminded that there’s tension because they’re both cops, and the show reiterates that Maria went behind Angel’s back and reported their relationship. This is a huge “who cares” storyline, and is even more boring for how easily it will be resolved. La Guerta is ordered to transfer Angel, but he’s a cast member and something tells me he won’t be leaving the show. Even deeper down something tells me that I don’t care how this storyline progresses in the least. On another pretty rote note, Quinn is banging that reporter whose name I don’t care about again, leading to the most paltry exchange of the night, when reporter says, “I thought you said this was too complicated, you being a cop and me a reporter.” She might as well have said, “we’re star-crossed lovers! This tension caused by us being together should cause some pretty run of the mill drama!” To which he so boringly replied, “I like complicated.” Both of those characters are so flat and personality-lite I almost wish I could just fast forward through all of their scenes together. The writers, ostensibly realizing how boring those two are, throw in a nude scene for her every episode, as if that will spice things up again, but really, their conversation cuts any of the edge off the scene.

As I suspected last week, the show is determined to destroy an interesting plotline as it did tonight by killing off Lundy. His interactions with Deb were the one non-Dexter area of this show to be consistently entertaining, so of course he was killed off right when things started getting good. This show could really use Carradine’s wry wit these days, but instead they put his character in the ground and left Deb crying and alone. Watching Deb sob and say “I’m broken” is certainly a lot heavier handed, and a lot less compelling than the scenes we would have had if Lundy had lived (or at least been in life-threatening surgery as a result of the shooting). Alas, Frank Lundy has left us, and with his departure, I can say goodbye to the other Dexter character I really like.

Watching Dexter trail Trinity tonight should have been pulse-poundingly exciting, except that we know the show’s formula by now, and so knew that Dexter would not confront his new prey tonight. So Dexter tracked him, witnessed his most recent crime, and followed him home to discover that Trinity is a family man, just like Dexter only more successful in every way. This is a potentially interesting storyline, but it will likely end up going exactly how season three did, except in reverse: Dexter will try to learn how to be a family man from Trinity, only to realize that it doesn’t really work and have to kill Trinity. If I had faith in this show to plumb the depths of its dark potential, this episode would excite me as it set dexter up as the true lone wolf, standing outside Trinity’s house, watching him interact with his family in much more realistic fashion than Dexter can pull off. If the show had the edge I hope for, it would lead Dexter down a very dark path, either to his eventual capture, death, or to the breaking point at which he is forced to kill a member of his family.

Instead, I worry that the show moves inexorably toward a happy ending for all, which might not fit realistically into the pattern the show has created, but which will allow everyone to leave happy. This is not to say I have lost my faith in Dexter, nor that I doubt this season can become incredible in its latter half, but that I worry the show is too afraid to go darker. Regardless of its long term plans, it looks like we’re almost past the killing time phase of season four and on to what I hope will be the suspenseful, thematically rich portion that will redeem the weaker aspects of the season and remind us all why we watch Dexter and why we plan to continue watching it for a while yet.

Grade: B-

-There is no reason for this episode to be called “Dirty Harry” save for the fact that the show has yet to use that pun. And here I was hoping we would find out some dark secret from Harry’s past.

-Which reminds me, his character is still as useless as ever tonight, simply pointing out details that would have been better off being left unsaid. Showing us a picture of the security guard and his two kids is enough, we don’t need Harry there saying “he has two kids, just like the last victim.” Let us figure things out for ourselves and realize that Harry outlived his usefulness when there stopped being more backstory to fill in.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Jordan's Review: Mad Men, Season 3, Episode 11: The Gypsy and The Hobo

For the past few weeks, I have been lamenting the lack of Roger this season, and more specifically, the lack of development that left me wondering where his newfound hatred of Don and his matrimonial bliss left him as a character. “The Gypsy and The Hobo” goes a long way toward answering the latter part of that question, even if it does so only as a tangent to the episode’s central plot.

This tangent is born when Annabel Mathis sweeps into Sterling-Cooper offering the firm the business of dog food company Caldecott Farms if they can help her ditch the rep she has from making the food out of horse meat. She doesn’t want to change the company name, and she doesn’t want to change the product, but somehow she expects to convince people that using horse meat is perfectly fine. She suggests labeling the meat, as we do when we call pig meat pork or cow meat beef, but people refuse to forget that Caldecott Farms peddles in horse meat. Her plight mirrors that of the erstwhile Dick Whitman, yet he was willing to make sacrifices Annabel will not. In order to become something more societally acceptable, Dick Whitman did change his name and became Donald Draper; He also changed the product, from a son of a whore raised in abject poverty to an ex-football hero who hated his father. Yet, at the end of the day, Don Draper is still the same horse meat he’s always been in many ways.

That is all tangent to the real drama Annabel brings in her wake. It seems she and Roger were engaged in an epic romance in pre-war Paris, when he was an expatriate boxer and she his paramour. She recalls it like Casablanca, he, ever the cynic, points out that “That woman got on a plane with a man who was going to end World War II, not run her father’s dog food company.” Annabel left Roger for another man, and has regretted the decision ever since. As she tells him, heart-wrenchingly, “When I was burying this man, all I thought was that I would have rather had my heart broken by you every day. You were the one.” To which Roger coldly responds, “You weren’t.” He may have loved her once, but his heart now belongs to Jane. It seems he has truly fallen for her carefree, youthful ways (which I find as inexplicable as Don does, though a bit more believable after tonight). Roger initially came off as a philanderer, plain and simple. He seemed even more rampant and carefree in his infidelities than Don at the series’ opening, but I wonder now if that wasn’t a misconception. Sure, Roger cheated on Mona with Joan, but he loved her dearly (and clearly still does). And when he began cheating with Jane, he quickly left Mona to be with her outright. Given the opportunity to cheat on Jane, even considering how unlikely it was that she would find out, Roger refused tonight because, after all, he is a married man.

It seems that for all his world weary cynicism, Roger Sterling is still a hopeless romantic at heart. He has more of Bogie’s Rick in him than he would like, and he may have been spurned before, but he has found a woman he thinks he can truly love, and he plans to stick with her. Whether or not Jane is the dream he now believes her to be remains to be seen, but for the moment, he is content with what he thinks he has.

In a little apartment elsewhere in the city, his former dream girl (and, I would argue, still his perfect match) Joan is definitely not content with what she has. Greg has failed as a surgeon, and now it appears is failing at becoming a psychiatrist. As he whines to Joan, “You don’t know what it’s like to want something your whole life, to plan on it, to count on it and not get it.” The wrongness of Greg’s statement strikes the audience as fiercely as Joan strikes Greg with a vase in response to his tantrum. Joan knows exactly what it’s like to dream of becoming a comfortable house wife, to plan through years of work at Sterling Cooper to land the man of her dreams, to count on a marriage to remove her from working life, and then to get none of what she was looking for, waiting for, hoping for in return. Instead, she is trapped in a marriage with a man unfit for her brilliance, unmatched for her wit, and unable to provide the life she so desires. It is fortunate then (if morbidly so) that Greg has signed up to be a surgeon in the army. He’ll probably (not) just have a desk job, likely (not) in New York City, and if he ever gets deployed, it’ll only be to West Germany, or Vietnam if that’s still going on (spoiler alert: it will be).

This week’s main event, however, comes back at camp Draper. With Betty and the kids gone for the week, Don gets to put in some quality time with the new mistress. Suzanne is sad throughout their encounters, knowing that as much as she wants Don, she will never have him. And Don puts on his much practiced “doomed romantic” face and tells her that her tragedy is his as well. It’s an act we’ve seen before with Midge (as imdb tells me Rosmarie DeWitt’s character was called) with Rachel, and with Bobby. Don Draper likes his conquests to be a challenge, and to be challenging. Where Betty exists as the trophy wife, who does his chores, cooks his dinner, raises his children and generally makes his life go smoother, his mistresses make his life more complicated, add that sense of romantic mystery that he so desperately needs. But perhaps that is not all he needs. It seems Don might also thrive on the “doomed” aspect of his conquests—each of them wants him, as he wants them, but all parties involved know there is an expiration date (except Rachel, who came closest to winning his heart and was willing to accept no less). Don may want these women, but he may also want the freedom that comes along with a fleeting affair.

Don’s mystery, and a bit more of his freedom are chipped away when he returns home (about to whisk Suzanne away for a few days) to find Betty waiting, and armed with all of her new information. She knows he was Dick Whitman, she knows he was previously married to Anna Draper, and she knows that he has a brother named Adam. Don has never been quite so craven as in the moment that he discovers his past has been laid bare for his wife whom has always been a creature he sought to protect from the evils of the world. He cultivated Betty’s naivety even as he hated it about her, but the walls built around the man who calls himself Don Draper shattered as soon as Betty asked him to open that drawer. “I can explain” he meekly, repeatedly protests, but Betty knows of his facility at deception, his ability to sell what needs to be sold and round off the sharp edges and she will have none of it. What she gets instead, is the truth. Don looks longingly out the window of the kitchen, to where Suzanne and his freedom lie, but Betty sees this, and understands Don better than ever before, asking, “Are you thinking of what to say or are you just looking at that door?” Don knows that what freedom he had is gone, at least for now, and instead tells Betty of his past. He explains that he assumed the identity of a dead soldier, stole his reputation, divorced his wife (but only three months before marrying Betty) and became the man he wanted by shaping his personality himself. After he explains it, Betty pointedly asks him, “What would you do if you were me? Would you love you?” She asks this, at least partially because she has been taking her guidance from Don for most of her adult life, but more painful is the realization that no, Don would not love himself. He has never loved himself, and that is what has made it so easy for him to pretend to be what he so desired.

So his affair with Suzanne comes to a halt (At least for now, but something tells me permanently). She takes their separation as par for the course, heartbroken but prepared, and asks him, as only she would, if he is ok. Of course, he is far from ok, but the knowledge that she cares provides some cold comfort to Don, while simultaneously driving deeper the knife of their separation. Suzanne cared about him, and he cared about her, and that is over now. Perhaps that’s what Don always wanted, but he was not ready yet, and their separation stings him as well. The episode ends with Sally and Bobby (fuck New bobby) trick or treating as the titular gypsy and hobo. At the first house they reach, the man who answers recognizes each of their costumes instantly and rewards them. Then he looks at Don and asks “who are you supposed to be?” That is the question at the center of Mad Men. Don Draper does not know who he is, or who he is supposed to be, and nor do any of the people around them, and so they struggle, day in and day out, to fit into the time and place they are forced to, and to fit more comfortably in their own skin.

Grade: A-


-Mr. Hooker has arranged the secretaries alphabetically.” “By cup size?” “well I know where you’d be sitting…” Ah, Roger and Joan. So perfect together.

-“Look at you figuring things out for yourself.” Both are too proper to directly engage each other while they are married (though Roger less so in Joan’s case), yet their feelings for each other are clearly still present, as is their aptitude for banter.

-“When people are protesting, I am on board!”

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Jordan's Review: Dollhouse, Season 2, Episode 4: Belonging

This week Fox announced that it will not be airing Dollhouse during the November sweeps, as it tries to woo advertising dollars its way. Instead, those of you who are home Friday nights and looking for some challenging, dark, complex, and excellent television will see reruns of House and Bones (neither of which I watch, and frankly, neither of which have this show’s potential for layered greatness). This is a tragedy, as it makes the show’s cancellation all the more inevitable. Fox currently plans to burn off the next six episodes in two hour blocks over the month of December. The final three of the order will air, but it has not yet been announced when. All of this is prologue to an analysis (which I warn may get a bit long) of what may be the finest episode the show has done yet. “Belonging” gives us important insights into almost all of the major characters and pushes them to places most never thought they would go. Because of this, I would like to break the review down by character, starting, of course, with the episode’s center.

Sierra: Last season’s “Needs” told us that Sierra (formerly Priya) had been forced into the Dollhouse against her will by the nefarious and wealthy Nolan, whom she apparently rejected. Tonight’s episode shows us how something that is so antithetical to the Dollhouse’s alleged mission was allowed to take place. We see Priya as an earthy craftswoman, peddling her wears on Venice Beach and being wooed (none too smoothly) by the shady Nolan, who constantly buys and praises her paintings. He even throws her a show, where he has hired Echo and Victor to be random art critics who can praise Priya and talk him up. This is all by way of seducing her, which he mangles, becoming increasingly desperate and violent as she tells him she’ll never love him. Which leads to the phenomenal cut of Sierra locked in a passionate embrace with Nolan, heartbroken to have to leave him. As she does, he takes a picture to remember her by, and throws it in a drawer that is full of them. Nolan has been using Sierra for over a year now, after drugging her to make her appear insane and tricking the Dollhouse into “helping” her. This episode also allows the real Priya to be put up against Nolan, where she kills him, just as the bastard deserves. She also learns tonight, consciously for the first time, that she is in love with Victor, a pure, trusting, caring love that shakes her to her core. As she tortures Nolan, she explains, “I love him so much more than I hate you.” At episode’s end, Priya still has to be wiped and returned to a life of slavery and prostitution she never asked for, but at least when she walks down the stairs, she has Victor waiting for her, and when they sleep at night, it is in the same pod.

Adelle: DeWitt has always been one of the most compelling characters the show has to offer—cold, hard, and seemingly amoral she runs the Dollhouse with an iron fist, if only so she can exert her own strong ethical code over her surroundings. Adelle has never been as unfeeling as she wants people to believe; she is a woman with a strong ethical code who has been, as she says, morally compromised. She attempts to do the right thing in this episode, confronting Nolan and depriving him of contact with Sierra, yet her attempt at righteousness is quickly undermined by Keith Carradine’s Rossum higher-up Mr. Harding, who assures her that she will run the Dollhouse as they tell her because, “you won’t like the early retirement plan.” Pushed up against a line she has promised never to cross, Adelle breaks and gives in to her superiors wishes. She has pledged to protect the people under her care, and has made many a self-righteous speech about how she is doing the right thing, yet when push comes to shove, Adelle abandons her ethics entirely and agrees to give off a human being to appease her client and her superiors.

Topher: In arguably the most interesting character arc the series has offered yet, Topher began as a glib, amoral wunderkind who saw the Dolls under his care as little more than science experiments. As DeWitt coldly points out when Topher resists imprinting Sierra for the last time, “You’ll do it because you must. The cold reality is that everyone was chosen here because their morality has been compromised. Except you. You were chosen because you have no morality.” She dispassionately reminds him that he has always seen the Dolls as “new toys” a fact that is displayed when we see, in flashback, his excitement over Sierra’s schizophrenia. What an experiment she will be. Yet Topher has grown over the course of the series, and “Belonging” gives him his first real ethical quandary. When faced with giving off a woman to a disgusting, murderous, violent rapist, Topher reaches his limits and takes a stand. He imprints Priya as her original self and tells her what has been done to her. He arms her with the knowledge to destroy Nolan and looses her on the monster himself. He of course did not think that his actions could lead to Nolan’s death, and as Boyd points out to him, his first brush with having a conscience did not go well, but we have now seen that Topher is developing a system of morality, and unlike Adelle, he will not be so quick to compromise it in the face of authority. As Adelle tells him, “If you are starting to develop pangs of conscience, you may comfort yourself that you had no choice.” In Topher’s mind, for the first time, he didn’t have a choice. He knew what the right thing was and he did it, in spite of potential consequences. And, at the episode's end, as Topher put Sierra back to sleep, he found himself truly awake for the first time.

Boyd: We have known since the series began that Boyd was an ex-cop with moral quandaries about working at the Dollhouse. He has seemed like the good guy in a den of evil, a more cynical Ballard, perhaps, but with his heart and his ethics in a similar place. Tonight gives us several inclinations we may have been wrong. For one thing, Adelle reminds us that everyone in her employ has been morally compromised in some way. Then there’s the exchange after Nolan’s death when Boyd tells Topher, “You’re a Doctor, you know how to dissect a body.” Topher, a little terrified, responds, “That was in school. And why do you?” More important than even that is Boyd’s call to an old friend The Goose. We don’t know what his history is yet, but I hope we get a chance to find out (while admittedly, fearing that he may become another Shepherd Book, a mysterious character from Firefly whose past was never explored due to cancellation).

Victor: His love for Sierra has been a known quantity for a long time, though its development tonight takes some adorable turns. When he sees Sierra painting dark pictures with black paint, he tries to wash the paint down the drain in the showers, so she can’t be sad anymore. This leads to an adorable moment between the two as they paint their faces and play around. Yet when Sierra playfully calls Victor an Indian Chief, he glitches, again to his past in the military, and collapses, begging “I don’t want to be in charge.” We knew before he had a dark past in the military, but now it seems he was a failed leader and that is what led him to the Dollhouse. He was so scarred by what he had done while in charge that he was willing to give up control of even his own body to escape the horror of what he had done.

Echo: “Belonging” is an Echo-lite episode, which (not always purposefully) often means its one of the stronger ones. Yet Echo’s developments tonight are important. She points out Sierra’s paintings to Topher (he humorously refuses to hang it on his nearly empty fridge) and puts him on the track of Nolan. But more importantly, Boyd finds a journal she has been keeping, and writing on her pod to remind her who she is and what she’s doing. Echo plays dumb when he confronts her, but he knowingly ,almost fearfully asks, “Echo…when did you learn how to lie?” She has become self possessed and is determined to awaken all of the Actives before a cataclysmic event occurs. She has even saved an access card, wrapped in a piece of paper that reads “For the storm.” Echo reads and writes of her life in secret, much like many slaves in the antebellum period, and has seemingly formed a secret community with Victor and Sierra. While she plots and remembers in her journal, they illicitly bunk together in the same pod. She wants everyone to have gained consciousness before the “bad things” come, but as Boyd reminds her, “Some people are not ready to wake up.”

Dollhouse at its best is an often squirm inducing look at the dark side of humanity, populated with compromised characters who are committing morally repugnant acts on a daily basis “because they must.” Adelle has yet to awaken to the choice she has in the matter, to her ability to fight the seemingly insurmountable odds, but Topher has. Echo has. And even Ballard (absent tonight) knows that in the face of an enemy that cannot be defeated, you can still choose to stand and fight. As each character grows toward this realization, and toward the very difficult road ahead, paved by their previous indiscretions and outright acts of evil, they develop into some of the most compelling, layered, and imminently watchable television characters in recent memory.

Grade: A


-Keith Carradine was excellent and quietly menacing as Mr. Harding. I hope he returns.

-“You’re taking matters into your own hands.” “They’re in my shirt.”

-Sierra tries to take Victor to the treatment with her. Their love is so pure!

“Thanks for the treatment, shaggy.” “No problem, can’t remember your name today.” My how Topher has grown, and also, the look of disbelief Adelle shoots him here is hilarious.

-“Do you know where you are?” “I’m in hell.” “You’re in Los Angeles. I understand the mix up.”

-“I woke up from a nightmare, only to live in one. Are we happy here?” “I…you…most of you…I have no idea.” This is the first time Topher has ever even thought of that, and the realization pains him.

-Sierra asks Topher to permanently delete this day from her when she reawakens, and asks him “This secret we have. Can you keep it?” Topher, now wiser from his experience responds, “I can keep it, but I don’t know if I can live with it.”

Friday, October 23, 2009

Jordan's Review: 30 Rock, Season 4, Episode 2: Into the Crevasse

It was inevitable that Liz’s suddenly popular “that’s a deal breaker, ladies!” catchphrase from last year would pop up at some point during season four. What was surprising is that it was placed on bookshelves between “The Cigarette Diet” by Dr. Spaceman, and “From Peanut to President,” the biography Jack’s father promised to finish if he got that kidney he needed. It was also imminently enjoyable to watch all of the men in Liz’s life have their own love lives breakdown due to her (often ridiculous) romantic advice.

Its slightly unfortunate that this plotline got sidetracked in the land of sitcom clichés when Tracy decided to move in with Liz (commenting along the way that, “A book hasn’t caused me this much trouble since Where’s Waldo? got lost in that barber shop pole factory!”), but in true 30 Rock fashion, the joke became funny again when no one blinked at Tracy answering Liz’s phone.

More focus tonight is dedicated to the return of the always welcome Will Arnett as Devon Banks, Jack’s corporate rival. It seems Devon has ingratiated himself with the Obama Administration (by gossiping with Sasha and Malia) and is now chairing a hearing looking at GE’s misuse of corporate money (including a big gay Cabaret themed Halloween party on Fire Island, thrown by Banks himself). Banks forces GE into financial ruin, which leads Jack to the writers of TGS for a brainstorming session. Jack isn’t asking much, as he say, “All I need from you is one idea as good as the lightbulb.” The brainstorming session quickly devolves, from an idea for a giant microwave on wheels to the accidental recreation of a Pontiac Aztek, and Jack is forced to do what he has sworn he would never do—take a bailout, which he sees as corporate welfare.

In largely unnecessary B and C-plots, Jenna goes to Iceland for a role as a “moonologist” in a werewolf movie, and in one of the most predictable jokes in recent memory squanders the one minute of nightfall the crew has by forgetting which hand to hold a flashlight in, while Kenneth adopts a bunch of puppies and offloads them on Tracy. As usual Jenna is useless, and Kenneth is misplaced as a character who can head up his own story. Jack McBrayer is hysterical, and Kenneth is a great character, but he was always meant to be a bit player, a side character who supported the leads in zany ways, and he continues to be best served in a smaller role. I did however like his cameo in the microwave ad from the 50s, perpetuating the subtle joke that Kenneth is exceedingly old (he had that parrot for 60 years, after all) and ending with Liz asking, “wait, is that a thing that happened?” Only 30 Rock could pull off a joke about the microwave craze of the late 50s.

The episode has an odd, but amusing resolution in which Liz allows Tracy, who has procured her life rights, to make a porno out of her life. Ridiculous? Yes. But also very funny. Looking at the episode objectively, it had more weak storylines than strong ones, but any time Will Arnett and Alec Baldwin can engage in a “talking like this” contest that gets a little too gay while Tracy brings a reef shark along to Liz’s, I’ll be more than willing to let the lamer storylines roll off of me and revel in the hilarity that takes place between them.

Grade: B


-Jack’s blurb for Liz’s book: “Lemon numbers among my employees.”

-Before going to the hearing, Jack places a JC Penny sticker on his tie to make it look like he’s making sacrifices. Awesome.

-In Kenneth-land, Big Brother isn’t a charity, but a group of people that monitors others to ensure they’re behaving properly.

-“Let’s behave like adults here.” “Liz Lemon, you booger face! I’m going to kill you with a bazooka!”

-Banks brought his own gavel from home.

-“As my mom would say, ‘You can’t eat love.’ And as my mom’s friend Ron would say, ‘The donkey died. You’re the donkey now Kenneth.’”

-Tracy thinks its “too soon” to mention “Thriller.”

-“I could’ve had any ambassadorship I wanted. Even to the world’s gayest country: Ireland!”

-“Now that we’re all up, do you want to talk about the elephant in the room?” “No! I don’t even know why you brought that.”

Jordan's Review: Community, Season 1, Episode 6: Football, Feminism, and You

Last night’s Community delved into the character of Troy a bit more, using a formula the show has been developing for a while now. It threw seemingly random characters from its excellent ensemble together, and watched them mesh perfectly. And while, “Football, Feminism, and You” was not the funniest episode the show has done so far, it did some heavy lifting character and story wise that will pay dividends in the long run.

The A-plot threw together Troy, Jeff, and Annie as the Dean plotted to get former superstar Troy to play for the football team, The Greendale Human Beings (more on that later). Troy was initially reluctant to rejoin the team, and Annie supported his decision. Annie, it seems, loved Troy all through high school, but was ignored by him due to his jockiness, and now sees her chance to get close. Unfortunately, Jeff becomes embroiled in the scheme to get Troy back on the team when the Dean threatens to use him in publicity for the school otherwise (Jeff fears that will hurt his law career). Jeff lawyers Troy into joining the team, hurting Annie in the process. The storyline doesn’t have a whole lot of laughs, but it establishes some important relationships and foils that may fly throughout the series. It seems the show originally envisioned foiling Jeff and Britta, he being a world weary cynic and she an idealist who values honesty, but has since realized that the two will work better in an eventual relationship if they have some subtle similarities. Instead, Annie functions as Jeff’s foil; she actually wants to do well by her own means, she’s naïve where Jeff is street smart, and she’s a goodie two shoes where Jeff loves to cut corners.

In addition to setting up this foil more starkly (in their excellent confrontation before Annie stomps away), the episode shows a softer side of Annie as she shows up at the football team to support Troy after all (“People are deployed in football, yes? I went with the rhyme over the fact…”). Annie’s feelings for Troy can be mined for some time to come, and also gives her character and his some needed depth.
The B-plot is a throwaway sitcom cliché in which Britta realizes she has never been able to pull off going to the bathroom with other girls (which is totally a girl thing, right? Man, those women sure are from Venus, what with their bathroom camaraderie). This storyline was pretty much used up by 90s stand-up comics (which the show gets points for saying, via Jeff) but it gives Shirley and Britta something to do, so I’ll accept it.

Plus, the C-plot in which Pierce and the Dean work on a race-neutral mascot, which turns into a terrifying gray mass by episode’s end, provides plenty of humor. Over all, the episode does some important things for the series, while still managing to be a solidly entertaining episode of television.

Grade: B


-“This is our gender-neutral color wheel. It goes from Seal to Seal’s teeth.”

-I like Jeff’s observation that trying not to be racist is the new racist.

-“That’s sort of my gimmick, but we did lean on it pretty hard last week. I can lay low for an episode.” I love Abed as the meta character.

-“I’m not having a conversation with someone who emerges from a bush.” “Because I’m right?” “No. Because I’m not in a commercial for breakfast cereal.”

-Troy’s nickname was T-Bone. Because he’s a football player and his name starts with T. His. Name. Starts. With. T.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Jordan's Review: Glee, Season 1, Episode 8: Mash-Up

Glee’s continued quality shifts leave me pretty unsure what to expect walking in to any episode. On a good night I’ll laugh hysterically for a full hour and find few plotting or story flaws to make my blood boil. On a bad one, I’ll find myself so angry at the show’s story choices its hard to crack a smile. “Mash up” was fortunately closer to the former than the latter, though that is not to say the show has reached perfection yet.

The episode focused mostly on the love triangle that has formed between Will, Emma and Ken. Emma and Ken are preparing for their upcoming nuptials, and as part of the process hope to recruit Will to mash up their two choices for song, “I Could Have Danced All Night” from My Fair Lady (or, in my mind, from The Birdcage) and Sisqo’s “Thong Song.” The very existence of this story point irked me from the get go, as I think the idea that Emma would agree to marry Ken, whom she clearly does not love or even particularly like, after dating him for a few weeks is insane. Also, I find it sweet that Ken loves Emma enough to put up with her indifference, but I don’t think he’s so desperate he would put up with a wedding ceremony in which the two are not in the same room. However, the fact that this plotline actually resulted in a confrontation between Will and Ken, and in Will’s realization that he is improperly leading Emma on actually earned the show some points in my book.

The B-plot (or one of the many B-plots) is also to the show’s credit, as it improbably paired Rachel and Puck, and then made it work as an interesting romantic pairing. Puck, motivated by his mother and a sex dream (“I knew it was a dream because there’s no way Rachel could climb up the wall outside my window with no shoes on”) decides to date Rachel, mostly because “We’re a couple of good looking Jews!” However, he soon finds her kindness and her depth actually get to him, and he chooses Glee Club over football (in a plot point I’ll address in a moment). The Rachel-Puck pairing actually seemed like a very interesting direction to take the show in. For one thing, it would put up a plausible, not overly contrived block between Rachel and Finn, which is exactly what this show needs. Additionally, the subtle tragedy of those two dating while they each knowingly pine after another could add some real emotional depth to the show.

Unfortunately all good things must come to an end, and as has been a Glee tradition, they must be neatly tied off within 45 minutes. I don’t mind if the show wants to take a largely stand-alone approach, it just seems to be squandering many potentially fascinating storylines that could deepen the show and help it reach its potential simply so that each episode can end exactly where it started. As I’ve said before, without any real, lasting character development, the show is just a procedural with songs.

Another very funny plotline that was thrown away is Sue’s interest in local news anchor Rod, whose random non-sequiters made for some of the best moments of the night. Having markedly evil Sue Sylvester fall in love and soften up toward Will and Glee is an interesting (if a bit obvious) plotline, but this is another instance where the show made me wonder if this story wouldn’t be better off thrown in somewhere down the road (say in a season or two). I consistently worry that at the rate this show burns through story, there will be nothing left to cover or care about by the end of its first season. (A further example of this trend is Emma and Will wedding dress shopping. I understand the scene was played to show that these two should be together, but all I could think was that when they are finally together the moment of her picking a wedding dressed will be cheapened by the fact that we’ve been here before. Also, as a rule, don’t put a character in a wedding dress within your first ten episodes unless it’s to quickly establish that she won’t be getting married).

Back to the aforementioned choice between Glee Club and football, Ken’s anger at Will manifests by him requiring his team to choose between the team and the club. This becomes a major conflict in the episode, but it already feels a little done. It seems as if every episode throws a roadblock in front of the success of the Glee Club, which prevents us from getting more character stories. If every episode forces a character to choose between Glee and something else, the show will feel rote very fast. Instead, I hope episodes begin focusing on character development again. When Finn left Glee tonight, there was no danger because this plot has already been done four or five times in the last eight episodes. We knew that he would be back in the club by the end of the episode, so watching him do it was actually a little boring. Instead of doing another story about someone leaving Glee, why not deepen some of the lesser seen members like Arty, who has been wheeling around uselessly as a background character for the whole series.

While on that point, I think the lack of depth in many of the characters makes a lot of the scenes with the whole club bonding feel a little cheesy and overdone. Their dancing during “Bust a move” exhibited the same problems I saw during their jam session last week—it felt more like a bunch of high school stage actors pretending to have a good time and cheesily dancing around together than a group of people who are actually enjoying themselves. The moment at the end where the whole club threw slushies on Will also felt a bit fake, simply because the bonds this team claims to have don’t feel real yet. That being said, Kurt’s decision to slushy himself for Finn was a very sweet moment, and more of these will likely make the moments with the whole club feel more genuine.

At the end of the day, though, this episode of Glee was a step back in the right direction. For one thing, it had no Terri or fake pregnancy scenes, which automatically bumps an episode up in my mind (if the show decided to violently and inexplicably kill Terri and then never mention her again, I would actually go for it at this point). Also, it had a little bit of its dirtier edge back, which nicely subverts its cheesy musical sheen. Plus, it made me laugh more than last week’s did, which considering the show is a comedy, is a very good thing. There are still major problems for the show to work out, but I hope someday soon I will write a review of it that doesn’t quickly devolve into a rant about the show’s shortcomings.

Grade: B


-The show should try an acoustic number every once in a while. Puck’s “Sweet Caroline” was a nice moment, especially for the cut to Quinn, but had it not been as overproduced, it might have struck home more.

-I’m kind of sad we never got to hear the mash-up between “I Could Have Danced All Night” and “The Thong Song.” After the successful ones of two episodes ago, I was kind of curious to hear what they would do with them. On the bright side, we finally heard Emma sing, and the show has been hiding her excellent voice all season. I see some awesome duets between her and Will in the future.

-“Don’t you have a wife Rod?” “She drowned. Now I’ve got the condo all to myself.”

-Did anyone else find Will’s dancing with the cheerleaders during “Bust a Move” just a tad inappropriate?

-“I can’t be caged in Sue. That’s why I got my tiger tattoo.”

-I loved the scene between Rachel and Puck on the bleachers. Why did they have to kill that coupling so fast?

-“I don’t think one decision makes your life. Unless you accidentally invent some sort of zombie virus or something.”

-Marrying an animal is ok, but bestiality is still uncool. Intimacy doesn’t belong in a marriage. That is just to say that I continually love how Sue “C”s it.

-“Leaders can imagine a world that others don’t. Like Thomas Jefferson or that kid in the Terminator movies.”

-“If it is one minute late, I will go to the animal shelter and get you a kitty cat. I will let you fall in love with that kitty cat. And then on some dark, cold night, I will steal away into your home and punch you in the face.”

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Jordan's Review: How I Met Your Mother, Season 5, Episode 5: Duel Citizenship

After last week’s lackluster offering, How I Met Your Mother could have used a solid episode to erase the taste it left in my mouth last week. “Duel Citizenship” is better than “The Sexless Innkeeper” but it still strays far from the quality of this season’s opening episodes. The show may have spoiled me by starting off so strong, but now I am left waiting for the next stellar episode.

The premise of the episode’s A-story is strong enough, as Marshall and Ted discover that a pizza place in Chicago they used to road trip to in college is closing, and decide to head there one last time. Ted thinks he will have the chance to bond with Marshall again, just as they did on the trips of yore, but Marshall brings Lily along, as the two cannot be separated (and Alyson Hannigan needed something to do this week). I always enjoy a nice callback, and the references to the Fiero (may she/he rest in peace) and to “500 Miles” are both solid, but I think I was looking forward to some Ted-Marshall solo bonding just as much as they were. The show has always struggled to give Marshall and Lily any stories beyond their relationship, even more so since their marriage. It is true to their characters that they are virtually inseparable, but both Jason Segel and Alyson Hannigan are incredibly capable comedic presences, and they often feel squandered when they are painted into the “married couple” corner. That being said, the subplot does give us Kenny Rogers’ reading of “A Dog Named Sparky” which provides for some serious laughs (as when Sparky, who apparently lives for like 20 years, gets hit by a car and “smashed like Gallagher used to smash watermelons.”).

There’s also a solid joke in Lily insisting the three stay in a bed and breakfast, especially one that caters specifically to couples. When Ted tries to find something to entertain his single self, the proprietress says, “I suppose I could arrange a little recreation. Do you enjoy sitting on a bench?” She also sends Ted off to find the Wishing Well. This provided for a few laughs, but also one of the episode’s suspension of disbelief stretching moments when Lily didn’t notice Marshall had left because she was so relaxed she ignored her phone.

In the B-Plot, Robin must consider becoming an American citizen after a bar fight at the Hoser Hut (also a solid callback) results in assault charges. This plotline allows for some excellent America jokes, and a few more increasingly tired Canada ones, but its really Neil Patrick Harris who carries it through (as he so often does). Barney sets out to ensure Robin becomes a citizen by Americanizing her. His plan? “Ok, I’m going to drill you…and then we’ll study. We’ll do some cramming…and then we’ll study. We’ll bone up…and then we’ll study.” He tries to explain to her that to Americans, the Queen is Elton John, and teaches her that George Jefferson lived next door to the Bunkers, but Robin is tempted into the Hoser Hut for one last drink. She wakes up in a room full of Canadian memorabilia, where Barnet tells her she went Canadian, and flings open the curtains to reveal…a brick wall. “This was supposed to be a dramatic view of the Toronot skyli—youre in Toronto!” Barney discovered Robin’s whereabouts and flew “across the Atlantic” to retrieve her in time for the test. This all leads to a pretty cute speech wherein Barney claims Robin as his own and gets his ass kicked by a Tim Horton’s full of large Canadian men (and one hockey stick wielding boy). This is all humorous, but never hysterical, and the plotline has some inherent problems as well. For one thing, I don’t think you can successfully apply for citizenship with pending charges against you, and for another, it seems a bit stupid that it took the whole episode for Robin to realize she could just get dual citizenship.

Overall the episode was pretty run of the mill. There were a few nice surprises, but no big laughs and a bit more stretching of the truth than I usually look for in this show. Here’s hoping the writer’s find something to latch onto to bring us back on track after the last few episodes have strayed a bit from the standard hysterical HIMYM path. If that something happens to be the master-plot, I’ll be all the more excited for it.

Grade: B-


-The blip at the end was profoundly stupid. Lily on top of the car? This isn’t Scrubs, and this show tends to require its occurrences to be at least physically plausible.

-While we’re on Lily, her repeated need to pee tonight reminded me that we are about 1 year past “Intervention,” the episode in which we got a flash forward showing Robin and Barney acting couple-y. Also in the flash forward was Lily drinking water while the rest of the gang enjoyed their bottle of scotch. I really hope this is just another pregnancy red-herring. This show does not need a baby yet.

-Marshall ripping the phonebook on Tantrum.

-“You guys want to talk about bitches? I’m just kidding, they’re called women!”

-"I don’t care, that’s dumb; let’s go buy something that’s bad for us and then sue who made it. That’s America!”

-“Sparky loved to chase balls. Tennis balls…Soccerballs…Baseballs…Grapefruit, which isn’t a ball but is round like a ball…footballs, which aren’t round but are technically balls…”

-“I’ve abandoned my wife! How am I supposed to have fun?” Immediate jump cut to Ted and Marshall rocking out to “500 Miles.”

Monday, October 19, 2009

Jordan's Review: Dexter, Season 4, Episode 4: Dex Takes A Holiday

Dexter tends to lag at the early points of its seasons (at least the last two) as it pulls the pieces of the season long arc together and sets the tension to boil. As “Dex Takes a Holiday” suggests, this season may have more to offer than the first three episodes allowed us to see. For one thing, the show went back to its roots a bit this week, as Dexter was out to prove that a criminal walked free so that he could satisfy his endless urge. The episode also gains major points for letting Dexter go solo like back in the old days, and yet proving why that system just isn’t enough anymore.

This week’s victim to be is Zoe, a cop that killed her family and blamed it on a gang member. Thanks to a cousin’s wedding, Rita and the kids are all out of town for a few days, so Dexter uses his free time to work out the mounting tension in his life. Watching Dexter stalk a victim and exercise his stringent code provide for plenty of fun, but this episode rackets up the tension as his victim realizes he’s onto her and engages him in a game of cat and mouse that could be disastrous for both parties involved. There was never any real doubt that Zoe would end up under Dexter’s blade, but the interplay between the characters made for added suspense the show has been lacking all season. Additionally, Zoe served as a thematic foil to Dexter. Having a family proved too much for her and she killed them to regain her freedom. Dexter has always known he would never result to killing his family, but tonight he finally realized, “I’d rather risk them knowing the truth than lose them.”

This is an interesting step as the show seems to have discovered a character development for Dexter that doesn’t change his nature. He can care deeply, even vitally for his family without losing the urge to kill. His family can be adopted as a part of his code, as one of the lines he draws to pen in the monster inside of him. Michael C. Hall plays this revelation for all of its earth-shattering effect—Dexter is literally stopped in his tracks when he realizes how far he would go to protect his own.

Lundy makes real progress this week, both on the trail of Trinity and in his pursuit of Deb. He follows the evidence to a building now at the site of a former Trinity killing, and actually comes face to face with the killer himself. Instead of using this moment for dramatic irony, as the show has done in seasons past, Lundy picks up on the oddities of the man and makes a note of several identifying features. Unfortunately, due to Quinn’s reporter, Trinity also knows who Lundy is, and this set up could easily lead to an excellent, season spanning game of cat and mouse.
Unfortunately, the show seems determined to avoid its most interesting routes, as Lundy and Deb take bullets from an unknown assailant in the episode’s closing scene. In the cliché to end all clichés, the moment comes right after the two romantically reunite, and this likely means we can say goodbye to Frank Lundy. Killing off Lundy would be a profoundly stupid move, especially this early in the game. While the idea of Lundy dying has always been inevitable since his return, I hoped he might last further into the season as he is such a compelling character. For now, however, his fate still hangs in the balance and makes for a nice episode ending twist. If Lundy lives, that cliff hanger will avoid its clichéd outcome and may make the resulting consequences all the more riveting to witness. For now we are left wondering whether the Vacation Murderer plotline has finally found resonance, or whether Trinity got one over on Lundy and shot Deb in the process. My bet is on the former, since the show loves to make everything tie together, even if it has to result to contrivance, but I hope for the latter. If Trinity is gunning for Lundy and Lundy lives to fight another day, we are in for some excellent Dexter in the future. If not, at least “Dex Takes a Holiday” played with some interesting ideas and created the most riveting hour of the show yet this season.

Grade: B+


-The other storylines still fall flat, though Dexter’s accidental good advice to La Guerta and angel is sort of funny.


-“What is it with you and rape? No one is raping anyone!”

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Jordan's Review: Mad Men, Season 3, Episode 10: The Color Blue

Tonight’s Mad Men was all about perception, what we see and what we want to see. Early in the episode, as Don lies next to his current conquest Suzanne Farrell, she tells him that one of her students brought up a standard philosophical question while painting in class that day. He asked her how she knows that what she perceives is blue is actually what anyone else sees. No matter how many times this question is posed, it retains its depth, and its importance—we see the world through our own eyes, and never anyone else’s, so how do we know that anyone sees what we see? What I think is blue could very easily be your orange, which displays very simply how difficult it is to bridge the gap of isolation, to actually communicate with another human being and know you are being understood. Don’s answer to the question speaks volumes about his proficiency at his job, but also about the way he views humanity. He tells Ms. Farrell that he knows that at least 45% of the world agrees on what blue is, and so, speaking to the lowest common denominator, he can capture a large audience. As he puts it, “People may see things differently, but they don’t really want to.” Most people are just happy fitting in, so if you tell them what blue is, they’ll believe it.

Don’s perception of Ms. Farrell (like real life teachers, I find myself unable to refer to her as simply Suzanne, as, it seems, does Don) was altered a bit this week, both as his understanding deepened and as her flaws became more noticeable. Her epileptic brother blows into town after losing another job, and she does her best to get him back on his feet and into another job. This conflict has her relying on Don more than he would prefer, for lasting emotional support and eventually to drive her brother to his new job (though Don, in an act of developing intimacy, actually volunteers for the latter). Ms. Farrell is in many ways Don’s type—she’s independent, strong-willed, intelligent, challenging, and brunette, but she also has a bit of Betty in her. She is attracted to teaching because she gets to see the world through children’s eyes, which in turn attracts Don to her (Betty doesn’t recognize that she often sees the world as a child might, but Suzanne willfully puts herself in that position). She also has a liberal dose of Betty’s naivety; she may have been around the block a few times before, but she still rushes to Don for support as if he doesn’t have a family to think of and doesn’t need the air of secrecy surrounding their tryst. She sees Don as a man who likes his privacy, and for now at least, he sees her as a woman he might connect with as an equal.

Ms. Farrell’s brother is also cursed by the perceptions of others. He may be smart and capable, but all the world ever sees is a man prone to fits in which he wets himself. He is unable to rise above menial work because he is seen as weak and unreliable when in fact he is much more complicated than that. In an act of Don-like proportions he takes some money from his sister and then Don and disappears into the night rather than become a janitor at a hospital. He hopes to create a different image for himself, and find a life where he can be seen as a more powerful, capable human being. Don sees a bit of himself in the boy, and gives him his card in case he ever needs help. Don knows what it’s like to run from your weaknesses and to seek a better life, to control people’s perceptions and allow them to only see what benefits you.

This becomes a problem as Betty discovers the key to his drawer of secrets. It was bound to happen eventually, but tonight, Betty Draper discovered that her whole life is a lie. She now knows that Don has colored her perceptions of him from the moment they met. She knows his real name is Dick Whitman, she knows he did not earn the accolades he was awarded in Korea, and she knows about the “ex wife” who lives in California. Don’s whole life is held together by the veil of secrecy he uses to disguise his weaknesses and his moral transgressions, and it also hinges on the wads of cash he leaves stashed with all of his secrets. Don is a man who is ready to abandon everything he knows and loves at a moment’s notice, and know his wife knows how tenuous their bond is. Unfortunately she has secrets of her own, thinking that a “wrong number” might have been a call from her aborted affair Henry Francis (when in all likelihood it was a call from Don’s more successful romp with Ms. Farrell).

Paul becomes embroiled in an office rivalry and a crisis when he feels Peggy has been outpitching him, due more to her spontaneity and feminism than through actual talent. He gets the chance to prove himself when he is struck with a brilliant campaign for telegrams, but unfortunately, in the drunken revelry that results, he forgets to write down his idea and loses it. Peggy, proving just how wrong Paul is, manages to triumph developing a brilliant campaign that markets telegrams as keepsakes that can outlast a memory. Paul’s perception of her proved false, and in fact there was a much more complex and capable woman underneath the stereotype he colored her with.

Earlier this season, Don knowingly advised Sal (through the guise of a London Fog pitch) to “Limit your exposure,” and every character has been struggling with this challenge ever since. Sal’s failure to do this resulted in his firing last week, and Betty has managed to do this by simply avoiding becoming engaged in the affair with Henry Francis. Don has built his entire existence on only allowing people to see what he wants them to, on shaping an ideal persona to reveal to the world. Roger reveals his own attempts at the same as he gives a gracious, if disingenuous, introduction to Don, who is about to receive an award as the episode ends. Roger has come to despise Don over the course of the season, yet for appearances he praises him as a paragon of success, a war hero, family man, and advertising giant. The camera lingers on Betty throughout the introduction, focusing on the new knowledge she has. She now knows Don is not a war hero, can hardly be called a devoted family man, and as far as she knows may be as dishonest in his work as he has been in his private life. Whether she will make like it’s the ‘60s and repress her new knowledge remains to be seen, but the discovery she made has fundamentally altered her view of Don from here on out.

The episode ends with Don receiving thunderous applause as he steps up to accept his new accolade. The room seems to be acknowledging his various successes, but in fact, each person clapping has a very different view of the man they applaud. Betty knows him to be a fraud, Roger believes him to be an ingrate, and many of the guests must see him as a commodity they can purchase or a tool to accent their own success. Every person sees the world differently, but for the most part, people would be more content to pretend that they are all looking at the same thing. Blue is blue, whether or not what you see is actually yellow. A great idea is a great idea, whether it is used to win you the favor of your boss or the business of your client. Success is success, whether it means you have made your parent company profit or made yourself a more viable property to unload. And Don Draper is Don Draper, regardless of whether he may be Dick Whitman. People will see what they want to see, both from a desperate desire to fit in and from hope that they too can control the views others have of them. So it seems, what matter at the end of the day is not what we dream, or what we think we see, but what we can prove concretely. As Mad Men hurtles toward the end of the season (I never thought I’d use the word hurtles in reference to the plot of this show, but after tonight, it seems fitting) each character has many hopes, dreams, and perceptions that color the way they see each other in the world, but it looks as if Betty Draper may be holding the facts that can bring Don’s house of cards tumbling down.

Grade: A-


-As I think over potential buyers of S-C, the only character who comes to mind with enough money or influence to actually purchase the firm is Conrad Hilton. I’m not sure if the idea of that makes any sense to me, but there it is.

-“Churchill rousing or Hitler rousing?” I’ll certainly miss Lane when he’s gone.

-Roger’s tale of his discovery of Don “working at a fur company and going to night school” reminded me of a blank spot in Don’s past, and also of the relationship he and Roger used to have. I hope we get a Roger heavy episode that details his development and their rift more directly.

-The Draper’s only go to church at Christmas. Carla goes every Sunday.

-The Kennedy assassination is still looming, and Roger’s daughter is set to be wed on the same day. Things could get tricky.

-The return next week of Betty’s brother is nerve-wracking, He has always hated Don, and if she gives him new ammo against him, things could get ugly.

Jordan's Review: The Invention of Lying

The premise behind The Invention of Lying is a great one. In a world where no one has ever told a lie, one man discovers the ability and is able to utilize it for personal and professional gains. It provides ample opportunities to look into the benefits and detriments of bending (or in some cases shattering) the truth, and allows for an examination of the role dishonesty plays in our daily lives. Unfortunately, the movie is dragged down by its high concept and never manages to reach either the comedic or the intellectual heights it might have.

The film is centered around Mark Bellison (Ricky Gervais, who also co-wrote and co-directed the film) a screenwriter at Lecture films, where movies are made of popular lecturers reading about historical events. In a world without lying there is no such thing as fiction, so the writers are simply assigned centuries to mine for interesting historical details. Ever the sad sack, mark has been assigned to the 13th century, where the only thing that happened is the Black Plague. His movies are failures and he is soon fired, which just compounds his misery at being rejected by his longtime crush Anna (Jennifer Garner). Alone, jobless, and facing eviction, Mark discovers that people will believe anything he says whether it is true or not, and hijinks ensue.

Or rather they should. Instead, the film is bogged down in confusion over its rules and mistaken assumptions about its premise. The simple fact that no one can lie does not mean that everyone on earth would be incredibly stupid. Nor does it mean that people would be predisposed to believe things someone could not possibly know. The inability to lie also does not imply that you must say everything that pops into your head, no matter how socially awkward. Finally, not being able to lie would not turn people into boring, one-dimensional automatons as it seems to in this movie. The film is filled to the brim with cameos by some of my favorite comedians—Louis CK, Jonah Hill, Tina Fey, Jason Bateman, John Hodgman, Martin Starr and even Phillip Seymour Hoffman all appear and are then simply squandered. After the first scene establishes that these people share every thought they have, each joke is then telegraphed for the rest of the movie (for example, the fact that people will find Ricky Gervais to be overweight and unappealing is obvious from the get go, and each joke that references this actually becomes less humorous as a result).

What started as an excellent idea, with some very clever asides (a Coke commercial that encourages people to drink it because “It’s very famous” and a sign on a rest home that reads “A Sad Place for Hopeless Old People” both spring to mind) quickly devolves into an uninspired romantic comedy and a pretty predictable exercise in obvious deceptions (like cheating and the development of religion). There’s no investment in Mark’s love for Anna, because she’s basically a robot, but on top of that, she’s a robot who does not recognize any of his good qualities as attractive, and simply wants to find the most handsome man to procreate with. This makes her a very unappealing romantic interest, and as the intelligent protagonist at the film’s center, Mark’s undying love for her feels forced.

The Invention of Lying is a clever idea that never gets beyond clever. The movie would have worked brilliantly as a piece of sketch comedy, but as it stands, its 99 minute runtime feels overly long and meandering, and the plot feels overwrought and somewhat done. Gervais is a charming comedic presence, but the film feels as if he resisted the urge to explore the darker side of his premise. The truth is, the woman he loves finds him unattractive and all of the deceit in the world can’t get him what he really wants, but this movie is too determined to be conventional to allow itself to dabble in the sadness that makes the best of Gervais’ work (he was the creator and star of the phenomenal British version of The Office and also of Extras) as funny and affecting as it becomes. The movie fails mostly because it tried to fly too close to the sun—the concept behind it was very high, but somewhere along the way, it lost the realism behind its idea, and it seems that along the way, it forgot to add the funny parts to the comedy.

Grade: C

Sam's Review: The Invention of Lying

The Invention of Lying, the new film written by and starring Ricky Gervais, falls doom to having an incredibly clever premise. What would the world be like if everyone told the truth? What would happen if you were the one person who could lie? All interesting questions that seem tailor made for a comedy-especially in the hands of a genius like Gervais it seemed like it would be a winner. But something got lost in the concept-the laughs.

The premise seems simple enough but it ended up leading to the downfall of the film. Ricky Gervais learns how to tell lies in a world where everyone always tells the truth. So when he lies, naturally everyone believes him. Life in this world makes for some pretty funny gags, that unfortunately get a bit predictable if not outright stale by the end of the film.

It seems as though everyone in this world is a shallow asshole except Gervais. Granted many of the things most people think are on the shallow end of decency, it seems as though the characters in the film were just mean robots spouting insults at Gervais. It was fun when it was commenting on things that people generally lie about, but it just grew tired hearing about how Gervais is fat.

Jennifer Garner plays Gervais’ love interest who makes it clear basically throughout the entire film that she is not interested in Gervais because of his looks. Why he is still in love with her, who knows but she seems like a bitch if she only cares about passing on Rob Lowe genes to her kids.

Another problem in the film is that the rules are hard to keep straight. Apparently, being able to only tell the truth also means saying whatever pops into your head out loud. This does not really make sense but whatever. At times it felt as though some of the weakness in the script was meant to be covered up by the gaggle of cameos from fantastic comic actors like Jonah Hill, Jason Bateman, Louis CK and John Hodgman just to name a few.

At times the film seemed like it was ready to just be a wacky comedy but then there is a sharp turn where the idea of religion and god come into play. This is a natural question to arise in a world like this but, alas, hearing about how there’s an invisible guy in the sky controlling every aspect of life is a bit I’ve heard from every halfway decent atheist comic. But this tangent seems to hit at the core problem of the movie. There are some funny parts without a doubt, but it seems that Gervais and co-writer Matthew Robinson are trying to hit on all of the implications of a world like this. The problem was they forgot that this is a comedy and after a while, we stopped caring about Gervais’ wild new discovery.


Sam's Review: A Serious Man

The Coen brothers just can’t seem to help themselves. It is getting to the point where it is just common knowledge whatever moves from their minds to celluloid is gold. A Serious Man is no different.

The story starts out ominously enough with an old jewish story involving possible ghosts of rabbis. What does this have to do with a 1960’s jewish professor having almost every bad thing happen to him at the same time? Well, it could mean a number of things. But to illustrate what it can mean the Coen’s show us the film.
The plot of the movie is the bad-to-worse scenario audiences have seen in their previous films like No Country for Old Men and Fargo. Professor Larry Gopnik (Michael Stuhlbarg) is having a crisis. He is being bribed by a student to increase his grades, his shut-in brother is staying at his house, he may not get tenure, his son is prepping for his Bar Mitzvah and his wife is divorcing him. So Larry does what any good Jew would do and goes to his rabbis.

Without revealing anything pertinent to the plot, Larry questions his faith and the film starts to look like one of the stories his rabbi would tell him to calm him down. This is just one layer to a film that is dripping with understated humor on being Jewish and feeling as though the world is coming down on top of you. Stuhlbarg portrays Gopnik with the perfect amount of despair mixed with desperation. The Coens surround their leading man with an excellent supporting cast that includes Richard Kind as his genius and socially stunted brother and Fred Malamed as the man Larry’s wife is leaving him for.

The Coens establish a brilliant rhythm throughout the film that makes their astounding trailer for the movie seem all the more relevant. There is a pattern to how problems are brought to Larry throughout the film that is just subtle enough to make the audience feel as though we are struggling to go through the weeks just as Larry is.

The writing in the film is at times earth shatteringly sad, yet the Coens manage to find a way to make the worst situations unbelievably funny. The pairing of this cast with the brilliant screen play was a match made in heaven as Stuhlbarg and Melamed are set up to be major contenders for best actor and best supporting actor respectively. There’s even an argument to be made for Richard Kinds performance which is both sad and comical.

The amount happening in simultaneously in A Serious Man is, to be honest, too difficult to completely recount after one viewing. But, in short, the film deals with faith, Judaism itself, growing up and looking to break out of your life. The Coen’s have somehow done it again. A Serious Man looks like a serious Oscar contender.


Sam's Review: Where the Wild Things Are

Spike Jonze’s latest film, Where the Wild Things Are, had been subject to rumors about how much control the director would have over the film. Word was that the film was originally too dark or scary for a wide audience made up largely of children. If Jonze had to make any changes, he didn’t let them tamper with the quality of the film.

Like the original book, the plot of the film is incredibly basic. Max (Max Records) is an angry kid whose life seems to be getting worse and worse. Through his eyes, the eyes of a child, running away from his mother (Catherine Keener) is the only way to deal with his troubles. Max’s frustrations are established early on as his mother starts dating a new guy played well, and briefly, by Mark Ruffalo. After getting in an pretty big fight with his mother Max runs away and ends up in the land of the wild things.

Max’s time with the wild things does not seem to really go anywhere, which is the point. The different creatures each represent a different part of Max’s personality (and in the grander scheme, the personalities of many kids Max’s age). His time with the wild things is spent playing exactly as any real kid would. Perhaps the greatest achievement of the film is the Jonze is able to perfectly capture what playing around like a kid looks and sounds like. Until this film, it was hard to see that every other movie was getting this wrong because Max Record’s interaction with the wild things was spot on.

The voice work for the wild things is excellent as are the costumes designed by the Jim Henson Company. The creatures seem real enough without straying far from Maurice Sendak’s illustrations. The cast of wild things is led by brilliant voice performances from James Gandolfini (Carol) and Lauren Ambrose (KW). The two are joined by other strong performances by Catherine O’Hara, Forest Whitaker, Paul Dano and Chris Cooper.

Anyone who is familiar book knows the ending of the story and it remains just as sweet as it was on the page. In any other movie the ending may have felt unsatisfying but it made sense to the story and the spirit of the book, so kudos to Jonze for sticking with the source material. Needless to say the film is beautifully shot and the production design is Oscar worthy. In fact those costumes should take home the little gold man as well. Somehow they made those giant monster outfits incredibly agile.

The film feels as simple as it should and that is a credit to Jonze. Almost all of the emotional notes strike when they need to and we are put in the same place as Max, which is the goal of the film. As children’s films go, Where the Wild Things Are is not life changing but still an incredibly strong film everyone should enjoy.


Jordan's Review: A Serious Man

Larry Gopnik (Michael Stuhlbarg) is having a tough few weeks. His wife wants a divorce, his son is smoking pot, a student is trying to bribe him, an anonymous letter writer is hoping to deprive him of his tenure, and on and on and on. To call him a figure of Job-like proportions might be an understatement. He is a man pushed to the edge of the abyss, both financially and ethically, yet when he goes looking for answers, all he finds is endless confusion.

A Serious Man opens with a Jewish parable about a man who runs into an acquaintance of his wife’s on the road and invites him over for dinner only to discover that said acquaintance supposedly died three years ago. It is fitting, then, that the rest of the film is structured as a parable, following Larry as he visits three Rabbis, looking for spiritual guidance. While his life is being dismantled from all sides around him, Larry seeks the wisdom of those purported to be wise, and finds instead a series of muddled messages and absurd anecdotes.

Stuhlbarg is superb as a man continuously put upon by plagues of misfortune and clinging desperately to the things he believes. Larry wants to be a good man, a capable man, a faithful man, and yes, a serious man, but the world around him doesn’t seem to be looking for him to be anything at all. Fully a Coen brother’s movie, the film is full of comic exaggerations and almost ludicrous acts of cruelty, arguing that in a world without greater significance, the lyrics to a Jefferson Airplane song can hold as much meaning as the words of the Torah. The film coats its nihilism in a sheen of sympathy for its hapless protagonist, who really is just a nice guy trying to do the right thing.

The film is set in the late ‘60s suburbia of the Coen’s childhood, a time of soaring optimism and crushing devastation, of high ideals, and the destruction of promised dreams, yet rather than demand depression, A Serious Man reminds us that if we pause amid the chaos of our world, we may realize what we want, “when the truth is found to be lies, and all the joy within you dies.” Funny, thought-provoking, and finally oddly affecting, the film is a parable only the Coens could make, and as might be expected of them and of life, one where the questions asked are more clearly defined than the answers proffered.

Grade: A

Jordan's Review: Where The Wild Things Are

Where The Wild Things Are was never going to be an easy movie to make. An adaptation of a book that is only 300 words long, and more than a little scary, the movie had to be child appropriate, faithful to the book, and satisfactory to the many acolytes of director Spike Jonze, who has previously stunned and challenged with Being John Malkovich and Adaptation. By any measure, Jonze succeeded admirably, creating a work that is simultaneously faithful to the spirit of the book and a kid’s movie that, more than just aiming to entertain children, is actually about the experience of being a child.

Max (Max Records) is a pretty standard 9 year old boy—imaginative, attention-seeking, lonely, angry, and even a little violent. He wants the attention of his sister, and the approval of his mother (Catherine Keener), but when he throws a tantrum and his mother gets angry, even screaming, “What is wrong with you?” Max reacts as many scorned children might: he runs away. Retreating from his conflict, he enters his own mind, where he sails a violent sea and finds himself in a land where enormous creatures are trying to work out their own issues. The “Wild Things,” comprised of the violent, angry Carol (James Gandolfini), the nurturing, if distant KW (Lauren Ambrose), the negative Judith (Catherine O’Hara), the timid Alexander (Paul Dano), the loyal Douglas (Chris Cooper), and the quiet Ira (Forrest Whitaker) each represent part of how Max sees himself and those around him. This makes him by turns ecstatically happy and woefully depressed, as he does his best to solve the problems of those around him and, consequently the problems he faces himself on a regular basis.

The voice actors each do an incredible job of bringing forth their characters, both in times of big emotion, and in quiet, revelatory one on ones, but the film truly belongs to Records who can be gleefully engaged in a snowball fight one moment, and angrily, sorrowfully sobbing the next. Child actors can often make or break a movie, and this one depended heavily on the work of its star, but he rose to the challenge admirably and created a character that is a fully realized child. Max may be violent, angry, lonely and lost today, but that is not to say he won’t be the happiest boy in the world tomorrow, and the variable state of his emotions is both clear and realistic throughout.

Not a whole lot happens in the movie, which plays out much like a child’s play date, but beneath the surface, Max is coming to understand how he functions and what that means for his interactions with other people. This is not a movie with a broad moral, or a big group hug at its conclusion. Max doesn’t necessarily learn a whole lot from his sojourn, but he certainly discovers much, and watching him run rampant through his own imagination is as rewarding as it is revealing.

Grade: A-

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Jordan's Review: 30 Rock, Season 4, Episode 1: Season Four

The new season of 30 Rock began with the sort of joke the show has been doing well for a full three seasons now—Jack broke the fourth wall, welcoming all of us to Season Four, which is of course a new Asian Fusion restaurant serving the most popular food in “real America”, which is of course hot dogs wrapped in pizza. He has called a meeting because he feels The Girly Show has lost touch with most of the country and he wants to bring the numbers back up. The cold open for the new season oozes the show's signature meta humor; 30 Rock has always been poorly rated and never appealed to the flyover states. It is a show who’s high-minded, absurdist tendencies are more engineered for the “cultured elitists” who live on the country’s coasts. As Jack tells the gang encouragingly, “We’ll trick those race-car loving wide-loads into watching your lefty homoerotic propaganda hour yet!”

Needless to say, this is exactly the type of joke that will not play well to most viewers, and I have conflicting emotions about that fact. Part of me sees a good portion of this episodes thesis (that most of America is full of red necks who love country music and hate intelligent humor) as exactly the sort of smug, elitist, condescending intellectualism that liberals are often criticized for. The other half of me tends to be one of those smug, elitist, condescending intellectuals and has a good time laughing at the stereotypes the show throws out for both ends of the spectrum. Either way, “Season Four” left me wondering if my laughter at 30 Rock tonight didn’t make me complicit in extending a stereotype of liberals as unwelcoming, pretentious, and a little snobbish.

Fortunately those worries were banished for at least a half an hour by the sheer level of hilarity the premiere brought to the table. In the most throw away of the plots, Jenna decides to “go country” by making a crossover hit about off season tennis to promote NBC sports. This plotline brought more worries to the surface than it did laughs, but I’m used to Jenna being the drag on any given episode and was not perturbed (at high points last season, Jenna proved her comic utility, but she is still the weakest link in the cast I think). Tracy was worried he had lost touch with America and so set out on a quest to reconnect with the common man. When he realized the guy from Brooklyn Grizz and Dot Com dragged in didn’t know Moby, he tried to connect by talking about losing the remote control. This was working until he added, “and then your wife starts getting all mad because the roof won’t close and the bed that’s in the shape of your face is getting rained on?” Failing that, Tracy set out on the world, meeting strangers and asking them questions like, “Are you a large child or a small adult?”, “Are you a pre-op Centaurian?” and “Excuse me, do you have change for a $10,000 bill?”

Liz is trying to appease Jack by hiring a new actor, which forces she and Pete to sneak around to avoid angering the actors (in a nice touch, both Jenna and Tracy fear the hiring of a slender blonde woman). The two think this cover up should be no problem, since the entire cast and crew is exceedingly dumb and they are good at lying, but they prove to be so hilariously bad at excuses the jig is quickly up (Pete tries to claim that “Nothing is ever weird now,” and Liz explains that she can’t share a cab because “I’m picking up my new…tritionist and his elderly…son.”). Finally, Kenneth has decided to go on strike after learning that Jack took a bonus while depriving the page’s of overtime pay. This plotline edges out the others for laughs, if only because it allows for the return of Steve Buscemi’s slimy PI, who tries to integrate himself into the protest only to dismantle it (by attempting to seduce Kenneth while wearing a blonde wig).

30 Rock is pretty notorious for starting off weak and building throughout each season (particularly the first, which started off as a pretty bland sitcom and grew into the funniest show on tv over the course of its 22 episodes) so this episode was a surprisingly strong opener for the show. As the series ended last season with the gloriously self-referential “Kidney Now!” episode, I admitted to finding the finale hilarious (and, had we been reviewing it, would have given it an A-), but also found myself worrying that the show might lapse too far into meta. To clarify, I am potentially the world’s biggest fan of fourth wall breaking, self referential humor, but last season ended with an episode dedicated to spoofing the show’s use of guest stars, catch phrases, product placement, commercials in general, and even its own characters. I laughed each and every time they did it, but I wondered if at some point the show would become so meta it forgot to be funny, and instead spent its time pointing out that had it done a joke there, it would have been hilarious. Tonight’s episode had a huge amount of meta jokes, from the fourth wall breaking opener to the repeated references to everyone forgetting about Josh (who scarcely appeared, or was missed, last season), yet each one was perfectly executed, and had an actual joke for it. The amount of meta humor shoved into the episode should have perpetuated my fears about the show lapsing too far, but as long as it keeps the laughs coming, 30 Rock can reference itself until the end of time, and I’ll be there, laughing and wondering how I managed to achieve immortality (but guessing it was all of the liberal condescension that kept me going).

Grade: B+


-Tracy burns money while Jack claims he’s out of touch with America.

-“I am in the middle of a RAGING PERIOD…of economic turmoil.”

-“It’s like I tell my assistant. Your weight is a reflection on me.”

-“Pete and I are intercoursing each other.”

-The page union also includes mall Santas, horse whisperers, and bucket drummers.

-“You’ve got to use your lower back”-Pete, advising on how to properly lift something.

-Jack keeps his picture of Nixon right behind his picture of Jesus.

-“Sir, you sound like the mall Santas when they come back from lunch.”

Jordan's Review: Community, Season 1, Episode 5: Advanced Criminology

Community already excels at pairing its characters off and exploiting the absurdity of the Community College at its center, and “Advanced Criminology” takes both to the next level of hilarity. This week Senor Chang is threatening to fail his entire Spanish class unless the person who cheated on the last test steps forward, Pierce is arrogantly accepting the challenge of writing the school a theme song, and Abed discovers that he has no conception of how to mess with a friend.

The first conflict is resolved early when Britta steps forward and admits she is the cheater. Jeff, in yet another attempt to win her heart (or at least help her avoid expulsion so he can live to woo another day) jumps in to represent her against a clearly biased tribunal made up of her accuser Senor Chang, Jeff’s drinking buddy and psychology professor Dr. Duncan (the always excellent John Oliver), and the hysterically insecure Dean Pelton (Jim Rash, who has been criminally underused before tonight) who really just wants people to think he works at a real university. The best way he can show that is by saying things like “This sure feels like a real college to me” and holding the “tribunal” at a very expensive judges table he purchased for the school’s diving team. This leads to several absurd exchanges as the group tries to get through a trial with any level of dignity, while people dive off of a diving board, walk soaking wet through the proceedings, or just skinny dip behind them. The scene is a perfect set piece, filled with hilarious actors exchanging brilliant dialogue with amazing sight gags throughout.

After the excellence of the A-plot, the other two stories could really just rest on its comedic laurels, but both fire on all cylinders. Pierce wants to prove he’s a genius, so he agrees to write the school a theme song just like he wrote jingles for his company back in the day. Unfortunately, he forgets to mention to Annie that he stole every one of his jingles from incredibly well known children’s song (and his newest idea is to crib from “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star”). That Pierce ends up stealing yet another song while thinking he has composed an original masterpiece is just icing on the cake of a solid B-plot.

Abed continues to be endearingly naïve as he discovers he is inept at messing with people. Troy convinces him, in one class period that he is Obama’s nephew and related to Danny Glover, so Abed sets out to get Troy back in a series of ill-conceived set ups that are as comically obvious as they are patently ridiculous. The further into its debut season we get, the more assured I am that Community is gearing up to be an excellent comedy for years to come.

Grade: A-


-“Are you tow an item and if so, is that item impervious to sabotage?”

-“Except you Toby.” Senor Chang is very creepy, in all the right ways.

-“Well I may be a genius, but I’m not a lesbian.”

-“It’s not that easy to get human beings to turn on each other.” “Turn on her!” I like that the class already has balled up paper to throw at Britta on command.

-“All dogs are blue now. Every single dog in the world is blue.”

-“I’m no more of a songwriter than you or Billy Joel.”

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Jordan's Review: Glee, Season 1, Episode 7: Throwdown

Last week I discussed pretty extensively the areas where I think Glee is going wrong, but I was still won over by the laughter levels. This week marks the first time I have ended an episode angrier than I was endeared. “Throwdown” did not leave a smile on my face, but it did leave me with graver doubts about the future of this show. It’s early yet, and I still have high hopes that everything will get worked out, but tonight’s Glee was the first flat out miss the show has had.

The episode centered on the conflict between Sue and Will in the wake of her being chosen to coach Glee alongside him. I addressed the ridiculousness of that decision last week, but I was strapped in to enjoy a whole lot more Sue as a result. And we got a whole lot more Sue, to mixed effect. She immediately set to tear the club apart, using Quinn as a continued mole and breaking the team in half to form “an elite Glee Club called Sue’s kids.” To stick the knife in deeply, she took with her all of the “minorities” who felt they were being underrepresented by the show tunes and Rachel-Finn centric songs of late. I thought this was a decently clever way to address the show’s underuse of the diverse cast they have assembled, but am also slightly offended by the sensibility that Mercedes only likes R&B, even if it was chosen by Sue because of her own subtle racism.

Will strikes back at Sue by failing all of her cheerleaders who studies have shown to be functionally illiterate. This allowed the Principal to have at least one moment where he acts like a responsible individual in authority—he refused to cave to Sue’s intimidation and stuck by Will’s decision to rightfully fail the cheerleaders (one of whom misspelled her own name and wrote only sombrero’s on the test). I also liked how Sue’s blackmail backfired when he put the video she held over him on Youtube, to a fanfare of two hits.

Speaking of blackmail, the stupid-subplot-that-just-won’t-die that is Terri’s attempt to hide her non-pregnancy just kept on kicking tonight as she and her half-wit sister blackmailed an OBGYN into faking an ultrasound for Will’s benefit. The idea that these figures of authority submit so easily to ridiculous threats of blackmail makes me flat out angry. Sure if Terri and her sister had some actual dirt on the doctor it would mke some sense, but threatening a bogus lawsuit that no one would buy into is not going to convince a doctor to break his oath and fake an ultrasound (just as threatening to embarrass a principal with a clip of him as an actor would not put him under Sue’s thumb at all, but at least the show got wise to that this week). It seems the show is determined to keep Terri’s pregnancy charade going as a long term arc, which is truly disappointing. The show has multitudes of potential storylines, and even if it sticks to the largely stand-alone pattern it has so far adopted, it can be a rich and enjoyable show for seasons to come. Yet when they choose their worst, least workable stories (a fake pregnancy that is exponentially more ridiculous by the week, or romances that clearly need to be put on the backburner lest everyone end up together and resolve all conflict in the next few episodes) as ongoing arcs to tie things together, they start digging a quality whole that could get hard to climb out of.

In terms of the music tonight, I thought that most of the performances fell a little flat. I’m pretty sure Rachel doesn’t have the ability to auto-tune herself during a rehearsal for one thing. Additionally, the Club’s jam session was badly choreographed and felt incredibly staged (and I mean this in a bad way. In a musical, it’s ok for dance numbers to be highly choreographed—in fact, it’s necessary. This number just felt like it was choreographed by a middle school drama teacher). Quinn’s performance of “Keep Me Hangin’ On” stood out as the solid number tonight, and also stood in counterpoint to the “jam session” by showing how a clearly choreographed segment can still flow and feel confidently put together.

On the whole, this episode showed the dark side of Glee, and it didn’t provide nearly enough laughs to hide its shortcomings. I’m hoping this is just a misstep for the show, but if they continue to stick to profoundly stupid plotlines and avoid the talented and interesting characters at the show’s center, they will have a tough road ahead before they actually reach their potential, if they ever do.

Grade: C


-“Look at us. We’re even fighting in our voice overs.”

-“Your delusions of persecution are the telltale signs of early paranoid schizophrenia.”

-“You are so dedicated to that dying language!” Sue thinks Spanish is on the way out.

-Finn’s suggested name for his daughter: Drizzle.

-“Bye white people.” An excellent exit by the “minority group.”

-“I know the Dutch are a famously cold people, but that’s no reason for him to treat you like a half-priced hooker in Amsterdam’s red light district.” I enjoyed how Sue was continuously more racist than anyone else, yet attracted all of the “minorities” (which apparently includes the Dutch) by exploiting their actual inequalities and force feeding them what amounted to stereotypes that were far more demeaning and ridiculous.

-“I know I’m not like the rest of you hippies caring about [the students] feelings as if they’re real…”