Thursday, November 26, 2009

Jordan's Review: Glee, Season 1, Episode 11: Hairography

I was asked by a friend recently why I review Glee on Wednesday nights instead of Modern Family, which I think is a very funny show that is much more consistent than Glee. Which is the largest reason why I'm sticking it out with this show, which can do some pretty solid character work last week in "Ballad" only to trash most of the good will I had toward it again in "Hairography." I'm fascinated by the show's ups and downs, and what drives them. When Glee is good (and it really is a shame I must keep referencing the pilot as the true stand out episode) it can be very good, and has the potential to even be great. Yet when Glee fails, it also swings for the fences, coming up with some gloriously stupid plotlines, unfathomable character twists and occasionally, really offensive stereotyping.

The basic premise of this episode revolves around scrimmages held with the club's rivals for sectionals. When they mentioned in passing several episodes back that the competition was a halfway house and a school for the deaf, it got a big laugh out of me. Unfortunately, in execution it fell largely flat. Glee does a pretty bad job of not offending me on a weekly basis, and this is especially true when it wades into the waters of stereotypes. See, the deaf teacher can't hear Will, and that's funny! Except instead its totally expected and more than a little stupid. Will's experience with the halfway house (led by guest star Eve) leads him to up the showmanship of his club by making them wear wigs. This is also stupid, as is the idea that several of the kids seem to be having trouble shaking their head. It does lead to a nice Brittany moment when she tells them to think of it "like cool epilepsy." Her character is pretty useless, but at least they've decided over the last few weeks that she's so painfully stupid they can make jokes out of it (I also laughed when her defense for taping practice was "Coach Sylvester didn't tell me to do this.")

At home, Will's wife is, guess what? Still faking her pregnancy in the most insultingly dumb plotline I can think of. This story eats of screen time and spits out my dreams of what Glee could be in the process, giving me nothing for the amount of time I'm forced to invest in it except a death wish toward a fictional charater (and her even more angering fictional sister). I liked the idea of Puck and Quinn babysitting, but the sow fell back on its damaging tendency to need everythin back at square one plotwise when the episode ends. Quinn and Puck make a good couple, and Puck has been fighting for her for weeks now. There is no way he would do anything to screw that up unless a contrivance in the plot needed to keep he and Quinn apart.

The more believable subplot tonight focused on Kurt's makeover of Rachel, which he of course sabotaged to get her out of competition for Finn's affections. That plotline sounds promising as I type it, yet it mostly just makes Kurt inexplicably into a villain, and over-stereotypes his sexuality yet again. See, he's gay, so of course he loves makeovers! The show can't seem to decide what to do with Kurt and Rachel. Are they friends? Rivals? Fellow divas? They can't just shift into whatever roles the plot needs on a weekly basis or they sacrifice any meaningful character growth. This is true of every character on the show though. This week, Will is totally into fixing up an old car when we've never seen him even glance at a car before (Also, how did the reference to Grease lead to an aborted number from the finale instead of to "Grease Lightning" which would have both made sense in the plot, and been pretty awesome). Also, Sue is back to her anti-Glee ways with a veracity and interest level she hasn't shown in months. If these characters keep ricocheting, they will never make any progress.

This episode failed not only because it pulled characters into some unbelievably stupid plotlines, but also because this is a show that doesn't know how to use its plots yet. Worse than even a standard run of the mill sitcom, Glee uses its characters to fit its plots instead of the other way around, making me often question whether we're even supposed to be watching the same show every week, or whether there are alternate universes at play that explain the shifts in characters and tone (in actuality I believe its the three creators vying for control, but they need to get their shit together at this point). Additionally, I long for the days where, if nothing else, the show made me laugh for a solid hour a week. This week all it gave me were sporatic chuckles. Glee has a long road to hoe before it can sashay down it to success.

Grade: C


-"Not interested? I'm the fine arts administrator, or something."

-"One, I'm a sucker for makeovers, and two you need something to distract from your horrible personality." I love Rachel to death (As is evidenced by me constantly saying that), but even more I love how much even characters who like her sort of hate her.

-"Do you think I'm rolling around in deaf choir money?"

-"You look like a sad clown hooker."

-Quinn handles the older pop songs very well. Her "Papa Don't Preach" was solid, but since Madonna donated her entire discography to the show, I fear its the first in a very long line of Madonna songs that I don't really want to see.

-"Asking someone to babysit with you is super 90's." It is, but this line showed why background cheerleader should stay that way. Also, does anyone ever really say "sexting"?

-"Imagine" is a phenomenal song that fits in well with major Glee themes. Why did they waste it here when it felt contrived as opposed to saving it for when it fits with the plot?

-I hope they never, ever, ever sing anything touched by Phil Collins on Glee again.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Jordan's Review: How I Met Your Mother, Season 5, Episode 9: Slapsgiving 2: Revenge of the Slap

From the moment I read that How I Met Your Mother was planning a sequel to the beloved "Slapsgiving" I knew I was in for a bad episode. For one thing, the idea of the episode is literally identical to one we've seen before, showing the utter lack of ideas the writers have at the moment. But more importantly, "Slapsgiving 2: Revenge of the Slap" did damage to one of the most vaunted jokes in the show's history, adding insult to the injury of an episode that slogged through twenty-two minutes without providing a single big laugh.

When I name my favorite episodes of How I Met Your Mother, "Slap Bet" is always near the top, if only because it gave us arguably the greatest recurring gag in television history. We left that episode knowing that four more times over the course of the series we would get to see Marshall slap Barney. And it would be hilarious. The pressure for each slap grew slightly, as the second one came out of left field and the third was delivered on slow boil, building with a slap countdown to let us know it was coming months in advance. After that, I expected Slap #4 would be a huge event. Perhaps I wanted too much, but I never thought the show would just wait two seasons to have Barney get slapped on Thanksgiving again.

The slap gets doled out to Robin and Ted after they find Marshall's turkey he's proud of, and the two commence fighting over who gets to slap him. This is ludicrous because, a) I didn't buy for a second that Marshall was so enamored with that turkey he was willing to part with a slap, and b) the ensuing fight was far from humorous. Because the plotline had one very obvious resolution, the show needed to throw something else at us as a distraction, and it chose Christ Elliot. Which brings us to the second cardinal sin a How I Met Your Mother episode can commit: a continuity error. Several times throughout the course of the series we have heard Lily talk about her father, and never in an even slightly negative way. Further, she has made explicit references to her father paying for her wedding, which, if he was broke and living in his parent's basement, is flatly impossible. To be clear, continuity errors will always irk me, but I especially rely on this show, which prides itself on meticulous attention to continuity and detail, to get its backstory right.

So Lily apparently hates her deadbeat father, but she forgives him. Oh, and Marshall slaps Barney. This episode lacked any of the banter that one expects from this show. That has happened before (during a few episodes in Season Three right after the writer's strike) but the show has always been carried through by the simple chemistry of its cast, each of whom are excellent and can deliver even lackluster lines solidly enough to warrant a chuckle. Not even MVP Neil Patrick Harris could make Barney's fear seem realistic or funny tonight. Every single moment of the episode fell flat. But it wasn't simply a laughless episode. That would have been bad enough, but "Slapsgiving 2: Revenge of the Slap" actively did damage to some of the things I love most about How I Met Your Mother as a whole. I know the show is in a slump, and perhaps the writers got so desperate they thought they had to go to their deepest comedy well. Yet instead of rescuing them, bringing back their greatest running gag just demonstrated how off its game the show is this season. I have rarely been so deeply disappointed with the show, nor so quick to call an episode among my least favorite. For shame, How I Met Your Mother. For Shame.

Grade: D+


It feels shameful to give this episode any props at all, but there were a few amusing things to note.

-I enjoyed Ted wishing to be Robin's slapprentice and Robin calling Ted Eric Slapton.

-Marshall's mannequin hands during family dinner were both creepy and funny.

-"I've never slapped Barney...above the waist."

-"This once pure fruit has turned into a slapple." And yet, even writing this I realize that the best jokes tonight were puns. Again, for shame.

-"It's not real bile. It's just lead based paint from China. And horse bile."

Jordan's Review: Dexter, Season 4, Episode 9: Hungry Man

I was truly loving almost everything about "Hungry Man" in the last minutes of the episode. I saw hoe Season Four, which has been troubled and often lackluster, seemingly without direction, actually fits into the show at large. Dexter has, in each of its seasons, explored a facet of its central character--both what he is and what he tries to be. In Season One we got a look at the curtain he'd built up and at the man behind it. Season Two showed us just how far his survival instinct could carry him. Season Three showed him the ups and downs of friendship. And Season Four has been entirely about family. Beyond that, though, each season also gives us a look at a different kind of monster. Ice Truck. Rita. Miguel. And now we are seeing the monster that is Arthur Mitchell, the Trinity Killer, in all his crazed, demonic glory. I was regaining a lot of the confidence I have lost in the series over the course of this season, when suddenly, the ending twist came.

Let me say that it was expected at this point that the reporter shot Deb and Lundy. However, as I stated last week, no matter how they made it happen, it was going to be ridiculous. The theory I developed, about her being too overzealous as a reporter, made me angry enough at the truth stretching, but the idea that she is Trinity's daughter is just fucking ludicrous. I have already mentioned (often almost jokingly) how much the truth is stretched by the idea of the crazy amount of serial killers who happen to live in Miami, and come up on Dexter's radar about once a year, but that's the sort of suspension of disbelief you have to be willing to have in order to watch this show. The idea now that there is a family relation between them may break the tenuous grasp on reality that portion of Dexter has. And even if the reporter (who, true to form, is incredibly boring, even when she's naked as she is yet again tonight) is related to Arthur, that does not provide her with a reasonable motive to shoot Deb. Protecting Daddy? We've already seen Arthur engenders hatred and fear, not protective feelings. That ending twist made me almost angry enough to spoil the good will the rest of the episode had built up.

But let's not forget how expertly tension was built during Thanksgiving at the Mitchell's house. John Lithgow has perfect control over his portrayal of Arthur and excercises the profoundly creepy layers perfectly. Arthur rules over his house through violence and fear, using his family, as Dexter puts it, as "human body shields" protecting the monster within from being detected. He beats his son, even breaking his finger. He locks his daughter in her room, causing her to very creepily come on to Dexter. He even calls his wife a cunt, though he has clearly broken her down beyond repair already, as she just begs him, and Dexter, to ignore the cracks in the surface of the family so they can just survive another day.

Watching Dexter interact with these people, and seeing him truly worry whether his own family made for excellent television. Dexter tries to be a hero, but he is really only using his internal monster in the best possible way. And the cracks in Dexter's own family are already apparent as Rita carries on her particularly bland flirtation with the guy next door (another character I don't care about enough to find out his name). Yet when push came to shove, the first thing COdy mentioned at Thanksgiving dinner was how thankful he was for Dexter. Our favorite serial killer may never be the normal family man he is trying to, and he may have toruble keeping the love of his wife, but for now at least, he has maintained a solid parenting relationship with his step children.

Had the episode allowed its climactic moment to be the scene in which both Dexter and Arthur snap and resort to violence, exposing the monster's inside of themselves, I would have left this week a happy Dexter fan. the ending scene's of Thanksgiving would have been the perfect cap to that moment. Instead, they went and spoiled it with a stupid, poorly though out twist. Nevertheless, at day's end, this was still one of the better episode's of Season Four.

Grade: B


-I make a point often of how much I love Michael C. Hall and his performance here. He is very ,very, very, very clearly the best thing about this show. Tonight reminded me how well he plays Dexter when Dexter is playing someone else. Every layer of the character is apparent, but it's all through subtext.

-John Lithgow is matching Michael C. Hall point for point this season though. Truly an excellent performance.

-Oh yeah, Angel and La Guerta were in this episode. Too bad.

-The multiple ovens thing felt very zany sitcom to me.

-God I wish Dexter would put Harry's ghost on his table. I am so tired of that convention.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Jordan's Review: 30 Rock, Season 4, Episode 6: Sun Tea

This week, 30 Rock set aside its master plot elements (the Dealbreakers talk show and the new cast member) for a one shot on Liz vying for a bigger apartment and Jack considering a vasectomy. Liz finds out that her apartment is being converted into a super-condo and determines that she will buy the apartment above her and convert it into the place of her dreams, the apartment she wants for her future children and her imaginary husband, astronaut Mike Dexter.

When she heads upstairs, she meets Bryan (Nathan Corddry, of Studio 60 fame) who doesn't have a tv and wears political t-shirts. Liz agrees to move in with him and privately schemes to drive him out. She first tries Jenna's method of becoming a drama queen, only to discover that Bryan is gay (and everyone knows, "drama is gay guy gatorade"). She then follows Tracy's advice that black people drive white people away, and so she recruits tha hapless Dot Com to pretend to be her angry black astronaut boyfriend. Unfortunately, Bryan is also a cop, and handles the situation easily. Finally, she uses Frank's disgusting "Sun Tea Method" of peeing in a jar to drive Bryan away.

Jack is shocked when he discovers that Don Geiss' son Bertram is suing Kathy Geiss for his father's inheritance, and decides he should get a vasectomy. When he asks Tracy for advice, Tracy raves about the downside of children, proclaiming, "I thought having children was going to be like The Cosby Show. Oh no, Vanessa went to a concert! Oh no, Rudy and I are making a sandwich for 25 minutes!" Unfortunately, having Tracy Jr. around (for "Take your black son to work" day, which is always on a wednesday) just keeps Tracy from telling his crazy story about when he went to a strip club with Charles Barkley and "one of the hobbits."

Jack and Tracy take their issues to Dr. Spaceman, who is of course willing to perform vasectomy's for them (and warns them not to eat before coming in, because of the huge breakfast he'll have waiting). Tracy goes under and has a hilarious Cosby fantasy, which convinces him he wants to have a girl, while Jack discovers the joy of having children as he helps Tracy Jr. write a paper about his awesome dad.

Much of the criticism about this season of 30 Rock rests on the idea that the characters are all pretty one note and therefore are hard to gain emotional stakes in. This may be valid, but as long as the one note the characters strike is as funny as it was tonight, 30 Rock can stay pretty shallow for years to come without drawing much complaint from me. I'll look elsewhere for my depth.

Grade: B


-"Holding up one finger to get someone to stop talking? He invented that."

-"There are no rules. It's like check in at an Italian airport."

-"If he was a mokney, then why was he killed by a monkey?" I love Kenneth's understanding of science.

-TGS' topical cold open was abotu Omarosa borrowing Bjork's swan dress. Sounds like they are as on top of it as SNL of late.

-"I have this strip club story from this weekend to tell you, but I can't because I've got this little d-bag with me." "I know what that means." "And yet you won't tell me."

-"Who are Rudy and Vanessa?" "Your adorable sister and your sister!"

-Tracy yelling at the laugh track. "Don't patronize me!"

-"'Don't be a zero, be a good guy!' It seems like a missed opportunity..."

-"If a patient's friend runs into the operating room and yells at you, you have to stop. It's in the doctor code."

-"Tracy Jr. made you an acrostic." "Well I hope he made me an across helmet so I don't get hurt playing across."

-Al Gore is magic. And he recycles his "a whale is in trouble" joke.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Jordan's Review: Community, Season 1, Episode 10: Environmental Science

There is no questioning it. Community has left that gray area in which a television show, when first starting out, stumbles and makes the occasionally mistake. This show has figured out what its about, where its going, and how the characters will need to behave to get them there. “Environmental Science” is an episode structured like many others—in which Jeff starts the episode behaving selfishly and slowly moves towards selflessness and altruism by episode’s end. This could be annoying or predictable at this point, but man does Community still know how to make it work. In other news, Senor Chang got his first real episode tonight, deepening him as the other characters have slowly come into focus over the last ten weeks.

Senor Change assigns the entire class a paper (which is first one, then two, then six, then twenty pages) that no one will be able to do. The gang thinks Jeff should talk him out of it. Jeff, as unwilling as ever to lift a finger or help anyone else, successfully convinces the gang he’s unconvincing, which unfortunately for him just convinces them that he is in fact convincing. Jeff then goes reluctantly to talk to Senor Chang, where he uses his lawyer powers to discern that Chang’s wife left him (from a repeated shirt, him teaching them the word for liar, and the speech bubble over his wife’s mouth that says “enjoy it while it lasts”) and then agrees to hang out with the professor, only to decline because he has the essay. The tactic works, for Jeff, and his essay gets cancelled. Jeff begins to use his friendship with Senor Cheng to his own advantage, until the group finds out. They’re reactions, done one after another in ensemble, are a priceless example of how well this show is working: “You devious clump of overpriced fabric and hair product!” “Speaking as one of the meek, as soon as I inherit the earth, you a dead man!” “You have a weird forehead!” “We are all very disappointed in you.” “ Alright, dial it back a little Britta.” In quick succession, each character muttered a hilarious line that totally fits with their character, and quickly advances the plot. The show has become leaner in the last few weeks, whittling its story down to the essentials: laughs and emotions.

In the B-plot, Troy and Abed have to train a rat to respond to music. Abed has picked the song “Somewhere Out There” from An American Tail and, likewise, named their rat Fievel. Troy, meanwhile is afraid of rats (or, as he quips, “I’m not afraid Abed. I choose not to be next to rats because they’re unpopular. Same goes for centipedes and lakes!”). Troy must face his fears, however ,after his terrified reaction to a rat near him leads to Fievel’s escape.

The C-plot revolves around Shirley’s presentation for her marketing class, which terrifies her so much, she agrees to let Pierce help her. Pierce may not be good at almost anything, but he is a good public speaker, and he teaches Shirley not to lock her knees (or she’ll die), to give hand motions, and to wake up the audience with buzz words.

It was not just that all three story lines managed to mine sitcom cliché and find as yet undiscovered gold the was impressive about this episode. There were some excellent meta moments (like when Pierce, in sitcom cliché mode, sat in Jeff’s chair and tried to assume his role. Abed pointed out the joke, and no one was taken in, but as soon as Abed left, they all immediately started treating Pierce like Jeff, just as they would on a sitcom), funny moments from every character in the cast (even Star burns got a cameo), and, a very funny running plot about Greendale’s efforts to celebrate “Green Week” by changing its already workable name into “Envirodale” and hiring (apparently Celtic folk group) Green Daye to perform at the concert. Community has come a long way these first ten weeks, but it has arrived at a place where it is quickly becoming one of my favorite shows each week.

Grade: A


-“Well guess what, handsome hobo. You’re gravy train is leaving the station.” “Ignore what she’s doing, we are serious!”

-“This better not awaken anything in me.”

-I like the weird interaction when Abed bursts into Chang’s office, and Jeff thinks hes found out. “Is there a rat in here?” “I don’t know what you’re talking about.” “Abed.” “Le tigre.”

-“I believe that fusing brownies with the internet is going to create the next Napster for brownies.”

-Britta, not Annie, is looking at Jeff during the amazing (and surprisingly funny) “Somewhere Out There” montage from the end, during the line “love will see us through.” Damn it, Community, how you toy with my emotions! Plus, Jeff and Britta dance together at the end.

-Another great meta gag when the gang showed up to explain away the resolution of their storylines all at once and then just dance.

-Great blip. “Pierce, I hope that’s the tiny gun that you throw at us to confuse us while you grab the real gun that’s strapped to your back!” Pierce then shoots them with pepper water in the eyes.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Jordan's Review: Glee, Season 1, Episode 10: Ballad

Glee established itself from before its existence as a musical. Which means many things, one of which is that when I’m feeling magnanimous, I tend to write off its cheesier moments and more unlikely dialogue as par for the course. I have seen a decent amount of musicals in my day, and many of them are filled to the brim with cheese and overwrought encounters. “Ballad” was an episode that used its musical numbers, as musicals often do and as this show has done more sparingly, to look deeper into its characters and explore what is driving them currently. It also advanced the little master-plot that we have at this point, and even had some laughs along the way.

The show seemed to comment on the intent of this episode as Kurt repeatedly reminded Finn, and with him the audience, that characters in a musical often sing when their emotions get too big to be said regularly. That was the case for most of our major characters tonight. From the outset, Rachel discovered feelings for Mr. Shue as they did a duet to “Endless Love.” At first I thought this storyline would be another example of a plotline that angered me to no end and came out of nowhere, but it was handled very believably. Rachel has low self confidence and doesn’t believe in her own worth, so she develops feelings for someone that is sure to reject her which will reaffirm her own self-loathing. This was pointed out by Suzie Pepper, who used to have a crush on Will herself, and then went into a tailspin after his rejection, eating one of the hottest peppers in the world and being put into a medically induced coma for three days. Fortunately her two years of intensive psychotherapy and an esophagus transplant taught her the error of her incredibly creepy ways.

While Rachel deals with her newfound love and what it means for her, Will grapples with her feelings in his own way: by mashing up two songs, including the Police classic “Don’t stand so close to me. Unfortunately, Rachel understands this as, “I’m very young, and it’s hard for you to stand close to me.” Emma, who was there to back Will up, is so swept up by his performance she forgets her role in the whole thing. And, because I would be remiss if I didn’t curse this plotline whenever it reared its ugly, stupid head, Will’s wife showed up and refused to show her husband her not-pregnant stomach. Terri actually got a few great one liners in, but I am hoping Will discovers her deception and drops her sooner rather than later.

The other big plotline tonight centered around Finn deciding to tell Quinn’s parents she is pregnant, through an on the nose song called “You’re having my baby.” Quinn’s parents, being Glenn Beck watching monstrosity’s of conservative repression, kicked Quinn out and she was forced to move in with Finn. This whole plotline was a little rote, but it was handled well by the actors, and at least moved a storyline forward in a more permanent way. The far more interesting portion of this story went (as storylines often do) to Kurt, whose secret love for Finn hit home more realistically and emotionally than anything else in the episode. Perhaps it is Chris Colfer’s softly expressive face, but he gets all of Kurt’s triumphs and defeats across as we watch him suffer silently through a love that cannot possibly happen. Maybe it was just me, but I would have greatly preferred watching Kurt sing to Finn than watching the whole club sing the incredibly predictable “Lean on Me.” This episode left me wishing Finn would suddenly discover he was gay, just so he and Kurt could be together.

All in all, the episode used its music well to explore the goings on beneath the surface of characters who to this point have often been far too shallow. I wish the show had used this opportunity to give us ballads from some of the under seen or under used characters as a means of deepening them, but what we got came across quite well.

Grade: B+


-Music Round up: I thought “Endless Love” came across well, and I especially liked the touch of having the club wave their cell phones around during it. Finn’s version of “I’ll Stand By You” was awesome, even if he was singing to a fetus. Matthew Morrison rocked his mash up. I wish the show would choose slightly less on-the-nose music sometimes, but I am in the camp believing that “Lean on Me” is a cliché largely because it’s so effective.

-“You knew it was me just by the sound of my breathing. How romantic!” God I hope Suzie Pepper comes back.

-“Listen, this is Will’s wife. If I don’t get enough sleep my antidepressants won’t work and I’ll go crazy and kill you.”

-“You can’t threaten me Pepper! I’m not afraid of you!”

-Good God, how many songs are these kids expected to perform at sectionals? They’re preparing a new one every week, and it’s always just a few weeks away. Unless the back half of this season is taken up by sectionals, I think they may have a few too many numbers prepared.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Jordan's Review: How I Met your Mother, Season 5, Episode 8: The Playbook

After slinking through the first several episodes of its season depending almost solely on Barney and Robin, tonight’s episode, which is basically about Barney and Robin, managed to unwittingly display why the first part of the season has failed so miserably, and yet also be one of the more solid episodes of Season Five so far. While I am a huge fan of Barney and Robin together, it is impossible for them to get together without each settling down a bit, which will hurt the awesome. I think the writers learned this lesson the hard way, and so those of us pulling for Barney and Robin may have to wait until the end of the series to see it (if we see it at all. This Don character sounds like he may be a big player in what happens to Robin over the next few seasons).

Barney, back on the market, decides to run the gamut on his classic and complicated “get women into bed” schemes by relying on “The Playbook.” This comprehensive list of all of his tricks will allow him to get over his break up with Robin and resume his awesome ways. While I am a bit saddened to watch Barney take major steps backward in terms of personal development, I have to admit I’m glad to have the old freewheeling woman-eater back. It seems you can’t cage Barney (at least not yet), and so the writers letting him out of the Robin cage seems like a good move for the coming episodes.

On the Robin front, she has decided to focus only on herself and her career for the time being, which, as Ted and Marshall point out, is what people always say right before they meet the love of their lives. Robin dismisses this, but the two are insistent, and at episode’s end we meet Don, Robin’s new co-anchor. Whether Robin will marry Don, as Ted and Marshall think, or whether she will just fall hard for him, it seems we’ll be spending some time with Don over the coming weeks (and, if a marriage is in the cards, a lot longer than that). Combing through my sadly almost encyclopedic knowledge of the things we know about Robin in the future, we very clearly do not know if she is married or ever has been. We also do not know if she is in a relationship in 2030. The only future character shrouded in more mystery is Barney, whom we know literally nothing about in the future.

The contrast between Barney and Robin tonight was clear and, I hope, intentional. Barney continues to score by pretending to be other people, but Robin has found someone by just being herself. Perhaps Don will teach Robin the keys to a successful relationship, while Barney will learn how to stay awesome in one over the next few seasons. Or perhaps Robin has just met the man she will spend the rest of her life with.

After an opening that made me hopeful we were finally getting a Ted episode, he was relegated to the background again, though at least he and Marshall had some great lines throughout the night. The show may not have re-grabbed the master plot like it needs to, but “The Playbook” did play with the narrative in the way the best episodes do. It was obvious to any long time viewer pretty early on that Barney’s “The Scuba Diver” was just his most elaborate play, revealing the playbook, bagging Lily’s friend, getting the gang to trash him then playing the insecurity card all to get into the pants of one girl. But this sort of narrative complexity and clever turns are exactly what How I Met Your Mother has been missing all season, and it’s good to see they haven’t entirely forgotten what made the show great in the first place.

Grade: B


-Barney’s plays are as follows:
· The Don’t Drink That
· The Mrs. Stinsfire (which continues the tradition that characters on a sitcom blatantly mocking Mrs. Doubtfire is hysterical)
· The Lorenzo von Matterhorn
· The SNASA (Barney works for “Secret NASA” which goes to the “Secret Moon.”)
· The Cheap Trick (actually very expensive)
· The He’s Not Coming (the optimist buried deep inside of me shudders to think that one of those guys did show up after Barney bagged his girl).
· The Ted Mosby (wear flannel and claim you were left at the alter)
· The My Penis Grants Wishes

-Marshall had some great moments tonight, like awkwardly calling Barney Steven King because he’d written another book, and asking for frozen waffles after an extended metaphor about how they were Robin’s dream man.

-“When you pick up the newspaper, be sure to check the wedding announcements…for yours!”

-Barney thinks Al Qaeda stole The Playbook.

-“An actress. Of course! That explains her impeccable diction, and her sluttiness.”

Jordan's Review: Dexter, Season 4, Episode 8: Road Kill

“Road Kill” provided an excellent opportunity for us to examine Arthur and Dexter, both individually and in the way they interact. When Dexter discovers that Arthur is heading to a build in Tampa, he fears that the cycle of murder is about to begin again, and so forces himself along so that he can kill Arthur before Arthur can kill anyone else. What follows gives us a bit more insight into Arthur, and into Dexter, but it also comes across mostly as another placeholder episode in a season full of them (last week’s episode, which I unfortunately missed reviewing, was arguably the most egregious offender in this category).

We learn that Arthur inadvertently caused his sister’s death, when she saw him watching her in the shower, got startled, and fell, shattering the glass and cutting her own leg. Her death lead to his mother’s suicide and left him with an abusive and alcoholic father whom he most likely killed. Thus, Trinity’s cycle was created. As Arthur shares all this with Dexter, he seems insanely desperate. He unburdens his dark secret and with it he seems to loosen his tenuous grip on sanity. As long as he has remained driven by his endless cycle, he has managed to seem sane, but when he thinks his life is over (as he plans to kill himself) he frees himself from his act and allows the maniac inside to come out and play. This results in him bursting into his childhood home, commandeering a family’s lunch and finally in his attempted suicide. But by episode’s end he has lost his death wish and found his cause all over again, putting him back on the path to Dexter’s table.

On the Dexter front we discover that he feels remorse for killing an innocent man, which moves him closer to aligning with the rest of the human race. This is exactly the opposite of where I want Dexter to go as a series, but it seems he is becoming more and more human as the show continues. Perhaps his reluctance to kill Trinity is a symptom of that, or possibly it comes from his desire to keep the monster in each of them alive against the crushing tension of societal assimilation. Looking at how the show has gone this season, my bets are on the former.

In the round up of irrelevant and boring plotlines this episode, Angel and LaGuerta are banging again, and the reporter is still digging for a story (what else do reporters do, after all?). And while Deb has been the most interesting plotline other than Dexter’s this season (As usual) the idea of someone else shooting her is kind of expected, and pretty annoying. Every suspect other than Trinity is a pretty big stretch. So who shot Lundy? Is it the reporter? She does need a story pretty badly, but that making her a murderer seems like the dumbest plot twist ever. Was it Quinn? He does like to steal money from crime scenes but how in God’s name would that lead to him shooting Deb? Whoever it was, I feel like it’s going to be a pretty large leap to buy their motivations, and, more importantly, to make me care.

Grade: B-


-“I really do need something to stab.” –Dexter, after talking to Quinn.

-I like the joke that no one gets Dexter’s science.

-“I’ve almost banged so much tail at those geekfests…”Poor, deluded Masuka.

-Apologies again for missing last week. time got the better of me.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Feature: Jordan's Movie Quest: The Year 2005

As we draw closer to the end of the decade, I too draw nearer to the completion of my “Top Ten of the Decade” list. In furtherance of that goal, here are my favorites from 2005, with a short discussion of each:

10. Cachè-Director Michael Haneke (Funny Games) keeps the tension on a constant boil in his story of a married couple (Daniel Auteuil and Juliette Binoche) who are terrorized by a series of videotapes taken of the front of their house. While the idea is a bit derivative of David Lynch’s Lost Highway, Haneke turns his thriller into a thoughtful examination of the lasting effects of discrimination, an allegory for the French-Algerian conflict, and a look inside a slowly crumbling marriage and the vulnerability that drives its partners. Technically brilliant, quietly meditative, and edge-of-your-seat tense, Cachè will leave you uneasy, especially once its final moments process.

9. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory-Much controversy was made of Tim Burton remaking the beloved Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, but Burton stuck close to the original novel by Roald Dahl, and provided something wholly different. Darker, more visually stunning, and downright weirder, this take features Freddie Highmore as Charlie, a poverty stricken boy who lucks into a golden ticket, and with it a guided tour of the world’s greatest chocolate factory. Along the way he meets Willy Wonka (a tour de force by Johnny Depp, who has no trouble plundering the depth of eccentricity), an army of Oompa Loompa’s (played by Deep Roy, but voiced by Danny Elfman, whose lyrics were lifted directly from the book), and some of the world’s vainest, dumbest, and most spoiled children. Burton creates a fully inhabited world as only he can, and the manic set pieces, off-kilter performances, and fable-like nature of the story all fit perfectly into it.

8. Batman Begins-It had been several years since the Batman franchise was effectively driven into the ground by Joel “Give Him Nipples” Schumacher, Christopher Nolan emerged with his vision of the bat. Telling the story of Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) and his transformation into The Dark Knight, the movie follows the vigilante from the mountains of Tibet back to the slums of Gotham City. After being trained by Henri Ducard (Liam Neeson) and the League of Shadows, Bruce abandons them for their ruthlessness, and returns to fight the corruption rotting his city, specifically Carmine Falcone (Tom Wilkinson, who has fun filling in the broadly menacing role). With the help of his childhood sweetheart Rachel (Katie Holmes), his loyal butler Alfred (Michael Caine), Waynetech scientist Lucius Fox (Morgan Freeman), and the one cop in town beyond corruption (Gary Oldman), Bruce begins to realize the good he can do as Batman. Featuring a stellar performance by Cillian Murphy as the Scarecrow, the film is dark, brooding, moody, and thoughtful like no other Batman movie before, and shows that the superhero movie can be for thinkers as well.

7. Sin City-In the noir-ish night’s of Basin City, everyone is looking for something. Be it redemption, money, or a pedophile whose been died yellow, each character has deep seated wants that drive their bleak, brooding, often violent trajectories through the blood stained and rain soaked night. Directed by Robert Rodriguez, the film oozes stylistic intent. Shot in color, then sapped into black and white, only to be re-infused with blasts of color when something is significant, the film feels like a moving comic strip, and is drenched in the pitch black humor and bleak nihilism of Frank Miller’s original work. The movie follows three stories through the night—Marv (an excellent Mickey Rourke) wants to know who killed the only woman to ever show him affection, Dwight (Clive Owen) who tries to protect one girlfriend (Brittany Murphy) and ends up in the arms of another (Rosario Dawson), and Hartigan (Bruce Willis) who tries his best to keep a little girl, and later, the stripper she becomes (Jessica Alba) out of the clutches of a murdering rapist (Nick Stahl). Dark, brutally violent, heartbreaking, and occasionally very funny, Sin City is a stylized masterpiece of neo-noir.

6. Shop Girl-Mirabelle (Claire Danes) is bored with her empty life selling gloves at a high end department store. That is, until her well ordered life is disrupted by the appearance of two very different suitors—Ray (Steve Martin) is suave, sweet, rich, and older. Jeremy (Jason Schwartzman) is immature, awkward, and broke. It’s no surprise, then, when Mirabelle embarks on an affair with Ray. He hopes to keep her at arms distance as a temporary fling, but she is convinced she has met the man of her dreams. As the two dance around their varying expectations, a true connection is formed. Meanwhile, Jeremy embarks on a quest of self-discovery as a roadie, with his mind always on how to win Mirabelle when he returns. When depression strikes, Mirabelle comes to depend even more heavily on Ray, but his apprehension leaves her wondering whether she is better off getting her heart broken earlier or later. Adapted from Steve Martin’s novella, the film is often funny and sweetly sad in its exploration of what motivates romantic entanglements, the dangers of differing expectations, and the wisdom that comes from having your heart broken.

5. Broken Flowers-Don Johnston (Bill Murray, laconic and morose as ever) is a lifelong bachelor and a lover of women. When his newest girlfriend (Julie Delpy) leaves him and he gets an anonymous note from an ex telling him that he has a son, his best friend Winston (Jeffrey Wright) convinces him to visit each of the women who could have fathered his son. As Don sees each of his former lovers (played by Sharon Stone, Frances Conroy, Jessica Lange and Tilda Swinton) he is reminded of what drew him to each of them, and gets a glimpse at the chasm that now divides him from those he was once so close to. Jim Jarmusch builds the film slowly into a thoughtful meditation on mortality, love, the passage of time, and the frailty of human connections.

4. Serenity-After the heartbreaking cancellation of Joss Whedon’s masterpiece-to-be Firefly, the rabid fans were left wanting more. And, after pushing for a long time, they got it. Time has passed since we last saw Captain Malcolm Reynolds (the always charming Nathan Fillion), but the main conflicts in his life are still much the same. Since taking aboard a fugitive doctor (Sean Maher) and his sister (Summer Glau), a mentally damaged psychic turned into a weapon by the corrupt government, nothing but trouble has followed the already unlucky crew of the spaceship Serenity. Yet things get exponentially worse when they begin being taunted out of hiding by The Operative (a chilly Chiwetel Ejiofor), a government agent willing to kill thousands to get his hands on his quarry. The crew scrambles desperately for their own lives and for a better understanding of the motivations of those among them and those forces arrayed against them. Equal parts sci-fi action epic, and ethically dense morality play, Serenity combines Whedon’s penchant for witty one-liners and an existential scope that spans galaxies into a hilarious, heartbreaking rollercoaster ride that examines the nature of social contracts, the mentality of Confederate sympathizers after the Civil War, and the bonds that tie us together into unlikely families as forces much larger attempt to tear us apart.

3. Brokeback Mountain-Known to most simply as “the gay cowboy movie,” Brokeback Mountain is often overlooked for its moving look at a doomed love. Ennis Del Mar (Heath Ledger, in an Oscar nominated performance of startling subtlety and depth) is your standard stoic cowboy. Jack Twist (Jake Gyllenhaal, who got a supporting actor nomination) is a rodeo rider looking to have a good time. When the two take jobs as herders on the slopes of the titular mountain for a summer, they find a connection that both confuses and enthuses them. They depart to lad separate lives—Ennis to marry his longtime sweetheart Alma (Michelel Williams) and Jack to fall in love with a rich rodeo girl (Anne Hathaway) but the two reunite whenever possible for “fishing trips” when they can just be their true selves. As Alma discovers her husband’s secret, Ennis is driven further and further into a repressive seclusion, and Jack is tormented by his love for a man who cannot let himself return it. Watching Ennis in all his inarticulate torment as he grapples with shame, self-hatred, and unstoppable desire, the film shows us a portrait of the tragic possibilities of repression.

2. Good Night and Good Luck-The story of Edward R. Murrow (David Strathairn) and his battle against Joseph McCarthy, Good Night and Good Luck throws us into a world torn apart by fear and suspicion, where most people are willing to abandon their principles to ensure their careers. At its center are Murrow and his producer Fred Friendly (George Clooney) who refuse to cease their exploration of the truth and their stand behind their principles, even in the face of a political machine that is willing to tear them apart. With stellar supporting turns from Robert Downey Jr., Patricia Clarkson, Jeff Daniels, and Ray Wise, the film examines one man’s bravery and thestrength of character it takes to stand by your beliefs no matter what it costs you.

1. The 40 Year Old Virgin-For decades the “sex comedy” has turned out turgid examinations of the male psyche and its apparent obsession with just one thing. The 40 Year Old Virgin (the directorial debut of Judd Apatow) could easily have stayed the course with standard raunchy jokes and disgusting occurrences (and the film has plenty of both), yet it also added heart. Any (Steve Carrell) has been so unlucky in love that he has given up entirely. All of that changes when his coworkers (Paul Rudd, Seth Rogen, and Romany Malco) set out to get him some, and when he meets Trish (Catherine Keener, her full versatility on display), a grandmother who sells other things on e-bay professionally and who may just be the woman of his dreams. Carrell imbues Andy with serious amounts of pathos as he struggles with his insecurities, his past heartbreak, and (it is a sex comedy after all) his unwillingness to masturbate, and it is this heart that brings the movie its emotional depth. Raunchy, hilarious, adorable, and heartwarming, The 40 Year Old Virgin displays the fully realized potential of an attempt to combine the romantic comedy and the sex comedy, and to look at the depths that exist beneath two genres that are all too often confined strictly to the surface.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Jordan's Review: 30 Rock, Season 4, Episode 5: The Problem Solvers

In my review last week, I said that I was not yet ready to throw in the towel and declare 30 Rock in a slump as many critics have this season, and I hoped the show would show a gallant return to form this week. My faith has been rewarded, as “The Problem Solvers” is easily the best episode so far this season, and definitely a return to the type of episode this show should be turning out on a weekly basis. Each season of 30 Rock has started out a bit shaky and then found its footing as it went along. I hope that this episode shows us the buildup is over, but only the next few weeks will let us know if we’re out of the woods and into the sun of comedic genius just yet.

The plot this week centers on Jack offering Liz her own talk show based on her hit book Dealbreakers. She at first accepts, but at the advice of Tracy and Jenna (whose plotline I’ll get to in a minute) she decides to play hardball instead, hiring an agent and exploring her options. Long time viewers should know this was a foolish step, as no one is better at business and negotiations than Jack Donaghy, but Liz set out with her agent, who had just begun catering to humans and primates after a long career of representing dogs. She managed to secure a meeting with the maverick producer of Sport-Shouting (a program where analysts simply shout their opinions at the same time). We all knew where she would end up, but the hilarious and slightly heartfelt take on romantic comedy endings as she and Jack realized they were (professionally) perfect for each other and shook hands really hit home.

After his hiring last week, the robot, revealed tonight to be a Canadian immigrant named Danny (his real name is Jack, but there aren’t allowed to be two Jack’s, so now he is Danny) who just wants to get on everybody’s nice side. This includes Kenneth, so he refuses to let the page do anything for him. Unfortunately, Tracy and Jenna, who have dubbed themselves “The Problem Solvers” of the episode’s title, see the wisdom of this practice and leave Kenneth with nothing to do. This plotline winds up in a hysterically absurd sequence in which Kenneth proves how good he is at his job by producing a pizza box to assuage Tracy’s hunger, then revealing that the box is in fact full of the waffles he secretly desired. Everyone cheered inexplicably and Kenneth grinned like a mad man, and the whole world was right again.

I would be remiss if I did not mention tonight’s cameo by Padma Lakshmi of Top Chef fame, who Jack brings in to host Dealbreakers in Liz’s stead. Padma is not much of a comedic actress, but the show uses her pretty wooden delivery to its advantage as she proves that she has gotten by simply on her beauty and then steals some of Jack’s food, cramming it into a clear sandwich storage bag she claims to have invented and has therefore embroidered with her own initials. She may not have lit up the episode on her own, but the show new just how to use her, more evidence of a strong return to form. This episode was not perfect, but it made me laugh harder and more often than anything else the series has provided so far this season, and it gave me hope for the weeks to come.

Grade: A-


-In China, Liz’s name is Lesbian Yellow Sourfruit.

-The continuity gag was a cute, inoffensive sort of meta joke, even if it was a bit obvious and on the nose.

-“Must I live by Superman’s moral code and will the sex woman get older?” The questions of our age.

-“Spit take! Are you serious?” I love when the characters simply say what they would do or what is going on. The best other examples are Tracy’s “wordplay!” and when every character gasps and says “twist!”

-“I feel about as useless as a mom’s college degree.”

- Another in the growing list of successful books in 30 Rock land: The Founding Father’s Diet.

-“I’ve already spoken to Padma.” “Then who’s going to host Top Chef? You’re ruining my life!”

-“Kenneth, you can’t be a page forever.” “Who said I’ve been alive forever?” I love the running joke that Kenneth is immortal. So absurd but so consistently hilarious.

-Tracy makes Kenneth brush his teeth.

-“Do you want to switch where we’re standing or switch our shirts?” “Just to be safe let’s do both.” I’m no Jenna fan, but when she’s paired with Tracy, a lot of good tends to come of it.

-“I didn’t get a bathroom door that looks like a wall from being bad at business.”

-“What’s a problem other than a stripper having a seizure on your boat disguised as an opportunity?”

Jordan's Review: Community, Season 1, Episode 9: Debate 109

A few weeks back, I wrote on the idea of Jeff and Annie as long term foils for one another—he a cynical smooth talker, she a bumbling optimist. Tonight plays on that relationship and takes it to some exciting, and hilarious new areas. It seems Annie is on the debate team, and the Greendale Human Beings really need a win (the closest thing they can get to a compliment is that their basketball team is really gay). So the Dean and Professor Whitman (John Michael Higgins, an excellent re-appearance in Community’s growing lexicon of recurring characters) join with her to convince Jeff, a former lawyer to join the team and hand them a win.

Jeff thinks it will be a piece of cake and agrees in exchange for a better parking spot, but is soon faced with a wheel-chair ridden nemesis hell bent on his destruction. The debate, whether humanity is inherently good or evil, is really one of the major questions of this show, but its so hidden behind inspired lunacy that it simply exists as a perfect running subtext throughout the episode. The fact that an episode this funny can also address a major (if a bit standard) philosophical issue and give it weight as well as laughter says volumes about the show. Community is a comedy that has something to say about the nature of humanity and how we interact, and at this stage, that is as intriguing and exciting as the show's quite capable comedy. Of course Jeff is a proponent of the evils of humanity, but that Annie quickly jumps on board and is even key to that side’s victory is telling, and more than a little awesome. When their opponent throws himself out of his wheelchair to prove that Jeff, who hates him, will catch him (and thus, that humanity is inherently good), Annie kisses Jeff, forcing him to drop a handicapped man in his fit of lust.

The sexual tension that appeared between Annie and Jeff tonight was surprising, but more than that it was surprisingly hot. I’ve always thought the Jeff-Britta chemistry was pretty decent (and had a great moment tonight when she told him, “I will slap that smug look off your pointy face!” and then affectionately referred to him as pointy face), but there is something very intriguing to me about the idea of a Jeff-Annie pairing. It may be wishful thinking to hope that this plotline will come back in future weeks, but I loved the awkwardness with which they avoided their obvious attraction, especially when Annie dejectedly instructed him to, “just pat my head” as they parted ways at the episode’s end.

The show dealt with Abed’s tendency for the meta in a very clever (and very meta) way tonight as his student films proved oddly prescient in their ability to predict character interactions. Heretofore Abed has commented on the conventions occurring within each episode, tonight the show allowed him to actually predict events and dialogue, which lead to Shirley being afraid of him, and to his fear, at episode’s end, that she might be devoured by a werewolf. This was a great gag on the fact that sitcom characters are largely pretty predictable, and it was pulled off handily throughout. More impressive than the stark originality of their meta gag (which I don't think I've ever seen before, and I am a student of the meta) was that it actually worked within the story as well, as Abed learned much about just how keen his observational abilities are. For added points, faux-Shirley being chased by that werewolf was just hysterical.

Finally, Britta was attempting to quit smoking tonight, and after yelling at Pierce, agreed to let him hypnotize her into quitting. Of course he did this ineptly, but it was humorous to watch Chevy Chase expertly pratfall through the music room (twice) in his attempts. And, as a bonus, his faux-suggestion that she and a friend with low self esteem engage in a three way with him actually caused her to effectively stop smoking.

I have said before that this series has an incredibly strong ensemble, and this held true tonight. But more excitingly, the show is quickly developing a large cast of recurring heavyweights to balance out the excellent cast. From Britta’s ex Vaughan to Star Burns, to John Oliver’s psych professor, John Michael Higgins stat professor, Ken Jeong’s Spanish teacher, and the Dean himself, the show already has a huge number of people that can be thrown into whatever situations it comes up with in any given week. I sort of hope Jeff’s wheelchair bound nemesis joins this group in the coming weeks. Community has mixed with the dynamics of its show, introduced some fun new characters, and handed down an all around excellent half hour of television.

Grade: A


-I love that the mascot is the Human Beings, and that we got a call back to the creepy gray suit Pierce and the Dean designed a few weeks back.

-“This is wrinkling my brain.” “This is wrinkling my brain.” “THAT’S wrinkling my brain!”

-I loved the chaos when Annie, the Dean, and Professor tried to cut Jeff off, and then attempted to spin around in order to follow him. Just an inspired bit of physical comedy.

-"Why am I crying? Will I accidentally listen to "Come Sail Away" by Styx again?"

-Nice recurring joke that Pierce thinks Britta is a lesbian.

-“You tell me my future right now you evil wizard!”

-“By Zeus! What sort of jackassery is this? We’re in the middle of a championship debate!”

-I liked the blip at the end with Abed and Troy’s look alike’s re-creating an earlier blip. A nice call back handled deftly.

Jordan's Review: Glee, Season 1, Episode 9: Wheels

So Glee is back, and it’s as divisive as ever. After a two week imposed hiatus (some men wanted to wave sticks around in a diamond and people cared for some reason) the show returns with the Artie episode so many of us have been longing for since day one. The show has an incredibly large ensemble, and so I’m inclined to give it the benefit of the doubt when it takes a while to develop some of its supporting characters. Slowly but surely Glee is giving us an idea of who these people are, and if it takes them a little while, that’s all well and good. Especially if they manage to do it in ways that are less preachy and obvious than “Wheels” which basically amounts to a “very special Glee” in which we learn that everybody is really the same, and we shouldn’t treat people differently because of their handicaps.

The biggest problem I have with the episode is that it instills this heavy-handed lesson in us by doing just the opposite of what it proposes—the episode singles out Artie, and to a lesser extent Becky, as the “different” people who need to be treated “the same.” Even Will seems oblivious of the counter-intuitiveness of claiming that these kids need equal treatment, then singling them out by first forcing everyone into a wheelchair and then spying on Sue’s treatment of Becky. The moment where sue shut him down, arguing that she abuses all of her students and Becky is no different, would have felt rewarding if it wasn’t so blatantly obvious.

So while I had been rooting for an Artie episode for weeks, I left his first major outing knowing exactly what I already did about him—he is in a wheelchair, and that makes it hard to be normal in high school. That this observation is true, again, makes it no less obvious, and the show missed a real opportunity to give Artie some actual depth as a character. When he recedes to the background again next week there will be no opportunity to infuse the few moments he’ll be given with anything of real depth, because all we know about him is still pretty surface. We don’t even know his likes and dislikes really; we just know he’s paralyzed from the waist down (but still has the use of his penis).

His abortive romance with Tina (whose name I honestly had to look up because Sam and I have called her, true to her stereotype, “stuttering Asian girl” until tonight. As of next week, she may have to become just “Asian girl” or perhaps “blue haired Asian girl”) does nothing to deepen either of them either. So Tina doesn’t stutter. How does that effect her as a character, except to show that she’s shy? And her speech about Glee Club bringing her out of her shell felt extremely forced and obvious to boot. Plus, the idea that Artie only wants to date kids with other handicaps seems incredibly stupid. I understand that he would be hurt that she had lied to him (I guess, in a sort of dumb, abstract way), but I would think he would be more excited that she felt close enough to share her secret with him. Instead he is off put, mostly because the show likes to leave almost everything exactly where it found it at the end of any given episode. It is a testament to the show, however, that when it puts characters together, even for an episode (Puck and Rachel before, Artie and Tina tonight) it manages to make me root for them, even when I really don’t care about the characters independently of that. If Tina never appeared on the show again at this point, I might not notice, but if she and Artie became a storyline it could provide a gateway into deepening both of their characters to the point where I could care.

It is perfectly normal for a show to struggle in the early episodes of the first season, and this is especially true for a show that is as ridiculously high-concept as Glee, which has the added burden of being pulled weekly in disparate directions by the three creators. However, this episode left me again worried about the show as it shifts to the long term. Setting a show in a high school is tricky simply because there is a timeline on how long you can maintain your cast before their characters should graduate, but this is far from becoming an issue here. The main problem I have is that the show’s main characters, who could easily be very interesting, are already feeling a little tired and overdone in their plotlines. We know that Will misses his glory days on Glee club, that Rachel feels disliked and overlooked, and that Finn feels overburdened by his life. The show just seems to be struggling to show us that there is more to these characters, or even that what we know can translate into any story in the long term. Additionally, doesn’t it feel like the gang has been prepping their one song for sectionals every week so far? Since they only get to do one number, why don’t they make up their minds already? I worry that sectionals is a sort of macguffin to drive forward the singing each week, but since this is a musical we don’t really need much reason for the characters to sing.

All of that being said, the show is finding some resonance, and long term possibilities, in some of its minor characters. Kurt’s relationship with his dad felt mostly authentic tonight, as his father struggled to show his love for his son and balance that with a worry for his safety. That would feel a bit cliché as well, but it was played solidly on both sides, and in small town America I can see why Kurt’s dad might be worried. And Kurt’s quest to sing “Defying Gravity” (which, realistically, could be sung a few octaves lower and still be quite the song) made for some great character moments as he threw his High-F to protect his dad. Also, Puck and Quinn’s relationship has real depth and long term possibilities. Quinn has chosen Finn as the more viable father, but Puck doesn’t want out that easily. He is struggling to provide for her behind the scenes, and her attraction to him clearly deepened tonight as she realized he is more than just a meathead. Their scenes really hit home, and reminded me of the Glee that I hope to love someday.

Grade: B-


-Music round-up: Artie’s version of “Dancing with myself” was very solid. In terms of “Defying Gravity” I loved the cover, but found the way they cut between Rachel and Kurt incredibly labored and repetitive. And is there a more cliché wheelchair-related song choice than “Proud Mary”? But hey, it gave a good portion of the cast the chance to sing, including the oft-underused Mercedes.

-I failed to mention Sue at all. I think that finding out Sue has a down syndrome older sister is sort of cheap, “pull at your heart strings” twist, but damn it if Jane Lynch didn’t play it to the hilt. Even when she is given sort of labored material, be it dramatic or comedic, the woman pulls it off with aplomb. She remains the series clear MVP.

-“You sing like a girl! You know, in a good way.”

-Anyone annoyed by the show’s lack of continuity? How can Kurt possibly try out for the Cheerios when he is already on the football team?

-There was some pretty god-awful dialogue tonight. Lines like “You haven’t done spit for her” seem jilted no matter how hard the actors try to pull it off.

-“I want to be very clear. I still have the use of my penis.”

-Does this show have narration rules, or does it just let whatever character go for it whenever in an episode they feel like it? I’m not sure if this is lazy writing or just a “quirky touch.”

-“The doctor said the shark shattered my spinal cord.” “This is why I don’t go to the aquarium!”

-“We’ve got homework and football and teen pregnancy and…lunch.”

Monday, November 9, 2009

Jordan's Review: How I Met Your Mother, Season 5, Episode 7: Rough Patch

Two words describe the failure of tonight’s How I Met Your Mother: Fat suit. As far back as I can remember, it has never been funny to put someone into a fat suit, and “Rough Patch” is no exception. I spoke last week about being nearly ready to declare the show in a slump, and this week proved it: Seven episodes in to Season Five, How I Met Your Mother has hit its very own rough patch. This season so far has been spent mangling the very promising Barney and Robin plotline, mashing Lily and Marshall into an inseparable mass of bored couple-related stories, and basically forgetting that Ted, the series protagonist and emotional center, even exists.

For the seventh straight episode the show harped on Barney and Robin’s relationship and how it just doesn’t work. Needless to say making that pairing the center of the show for seven episodes would lead to fatigue regardless, but I feel the blame for this tattered storyline lies with the writers. In Season Two, when Ted and Robin were together for 20 episodes straight (recall they broke up weeks before the wedding but kept it a secret until after Marshall and Lily left on their honeymoon) they were rarely the center storyline for an episode, and their relationship never took center stage for a stretch of episodes like these last several. Barney and Robin would work fine together if the writers would just leave them alone for a while and let them date in the background of some other interesting and funny storylines. Pushing them to the front has put too much pressure on their coupling to produce the conflict the show thinks it needs, and that pressure has caused them to buckle.

I have always been (since Season One when Robin and Barney Bro’d out together) a big fan of the Robin and Barney pairing, and I continue to think they make a perfect match, but even I breathed a sigh of relief tonight when I found out they had broken up. Finally the series will get a chance to focus on something else, like, say, how Ted meets the mother of his future children, for example. The fact that Barney and Robin’s break-up was disappointing shouldn’t be at all surprising—the writer’s have bungled their entire relationship to this point, so they might as well mess up its end as well.

It all begins with Barney giving up his porn collection, which gives us another opportunity to be reminded that the only character trait Lily has ever been able to hold onto is her eternal horniness, and ends with a solid idea for a callback in Lily “coming out of retirement” as a relationship killer to break the duo up. On paper her plan is hilarious: It involves Alan Thicke, an ex of Barney’s simply known as Crazy Meg, a storm trooper, and a waiter with dirty dishes. Were the show firing on all cylinders, this would have provided a classic episode with cut aways, mix ups, and general hilarity as the plan was put into action. Instead we are left to watch Ted, Marshall, and Lily sit in a station wagon (the van was too expensive to rent, because tonight Ted is cheap) argue over whether storm troopers are robots (again, funny in theory but flat in practice) and snipe with Alan Thicke and the Lost in Space robot that arrived in place of a storm trooper.

It is hard to pinpoint exactly where this episode failed, except to say that somewhere en route, the show forgot that its supposed to be funny. I chuckled sparingly tonight, and was not even saddened by the breakup of a couple I have been rooting for since the show began. If How I Met Your Mother doesn’t provide any laughs, and doesn’t tug at my heart strings, I’m not really sure what it’s supposed to be doing. “Rough Patch” easily makes my top five worst HIMYM episodes of all time list, and is likely a contender for the Worst Episode Ever title. Even the best players in any sport are bound to hit a slump at some point if their career goes on long enough, and this show is certainly one of the best comedies on television in the last several years.

So how does it climb out of the hole it’s been digging and claw its way back to the top? The show needs to go back to the basics and remember what made it great in the first place. Everyone who has been watching from the beginning is still here because (whether or not you’re a big Ted fan, as I, for the record, am) they are deeply invested in the master-plot of how Ted meets his perfect woman. Remember that most, if not all episodes of the show should at least reference this quest, and that if there are no more developments to Ted’s character along his road to meet the mother it is time for the series to wind down and get to the big reveal. Remember that the classic episodes of the show play with time, either by being told in a non-linear fashion or relying on flashbacks. Remember that strong continuity breeds loyalty among the fans and reassures us that the writers are on their toes (little call backs like “Murder Train” are gravy, but can we not throw in character traits like Ted’s thriftiness randomly with little precedence?). And, for the love of god, remember the laughs. With all of that in mind, I remain hopeful that How I Met Your Mother can get out of its slump and turn this season around yet.

Grade: C-


-“It was Legend…wait for it…s of the fall. Legends of the Fall! It was ok.” One of the few laugh lines of the night.

-The other big laugh came from the gag at the end where Alan Thicke references a short lived variety show he did with Robin Sparkles, chuckling “Imagine if anyone ever got their hands on that!” Barney then proceeds to turn and run out of the bar.

-I like the idea that stakeouts must be held in vans and Lily’s assertion that Storm Troopers were robots in theory, but neither led to many laughs. I did like her horror at realizing that actual people died when they blew up the Death Star, and Marshall’s retort, “it was called the Death Star baby, they knew what they were getting into” though even that felt a bit too derivative of Clerks.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Jordan's Review: Mad Men, Season 3, Episode 13: Shut the Door. Have a Seat.

A lot has happened over the last season of Mad Men. We have watched Betty learn the true nature of her relationship with Don and attain a better understanding of her place in the world. We have seen Don’s freedom curtailed as he felt boxed in by his marriage and his job. We have seen Roger enjoy his new marriage, even if that happiness was only shallow. We have watched Joan suffer in her new pairing, Peggy feel disrespected and under-valued, and Pete get passed over for the promotion he felt entitled to. All of that and more came to a head this evening. One of the best things that can be said of a finale is that it leaves you craving the next season. In that respect, as in many others, “Shut the Door. Have a Seat” succeeds wildly. I have discussed in my examinations of many other shows (most recently Dexter) how tv series often lack the guts and the will to make difficult changes, even if they are the best, most realistic steps for the show. There are some lines you know (or fear) most shows will never cross, and the fact that Mad Men crossed several tonight reaffirms its position as the best show on television.

The episode opens as Conrad Hilton ends his professional relationship with Sterling-Cooper. He has discovered that they, along with their parent company P-P-L are about to be bought out, and his dislike of the new company leads to his departure. Don is just as reluctant to become a part of this new venture, and so he hatches a plan with Bert Cooper to buy back Sterling Cooper. Along with an at first reluctant Roger, the plan is hatched to make an offer to P-P-L; unfortunately that offer is soundly rejected by Lane Price who believes that his company will keep him around. When he discovers that they are in fact being sold, he gets in on a conspiracy to fire Roger, Bert, and Don and to launch a brand new agency.

This is the perfect situation for everyone involved, and sets up the series to follow along on a new and fascinating dynamic wherever Season Four will pick up. Roger realizes he inherited his place at S-C and has never built anything for himself; he now has the means and the reason to try. Bert has been faced with irrelevancy all season long, and sees a chance to return to a position of importance. Lane has been undervalued and abused by his superiors, thrown about to the places he might due them good and then cast aside when the company is sold. His departure will allow him to become a partner in a new enterprise.

The group recruits Pete, Harry, Peggy, and Joan to come along with them, creating a lean, mean, perfect advertising machine. Pete will get advancement to partner and the respect he has always felt entitled to. Peggy finally gets an admission of admiration from Don (In a heartwarming exchange where she asks, “What if I say no? You’ll never speak to me again.” And Don wonderfully replies, “No. I’ll spend the rest of my life trying to hire you.”). Harry gets to become the head of the media department, and Joan gets to re-enter the working world without a mark on her pride (and, as an added bonus, gets to be near Roger again).

As for Don, the episode gives him a very large helping of the freedom he so desires, and has been greatly deprived of over the course of the season. Professionally he is no longer under contract to S-C, and in fact now has his name on the door of a brand new company. Like Connie, he will get to make his own way, building something that is truly his. Personally, the marriage that has entrapped him in a largely loveless union for years is at an end as Betty demands a divorce and kicks him out of his house. Don is deeply hurt by this, but it seems mostly because he has lost the sense of togetherness she gave him, and because he is separated from his children. Betty will also get the chance to be happy—she has been crushed, ignored, disrespected, and cheated on by Don, but now gets the chance to be with Henry Francis, a much better match for her personality. As their marriage disintegrates before his eyes, Don cruelly lashes out, telling Betty, “You’re a whore, do you know that?” As if on cue, the baby that has consistently been a symbol for their troubled marriage awakens and begins crying, as if little Gene knows his parents union is no more. Sally blames Betty for the divorce, which shed light on exactly how similar to Don she is. Bobby (fuck New Bobby) just clings to the past, begging Don not to leave them.

But leave Don must. This chapter of his life, and of Mad Men as a series, is at an end. The show has always been about our perceptions of the American Dream and how the real world interacts with those hopes, about the quest for freedom, for realization, and for self-actualization, and “Shut the Door. Have a Seat” moves each character toward their long term goals. By starting their own agency, these characters are showing faith in the American Dream that anyone can pull themselves up and make themselves into a success. By leaving behind the firm that has by turns entrapped, repressed, or ignored each of them, these characters move toward achieving freedom and accepting themselves for who they are, and for who they can become. I don’t know when next we will meet these characters, or what will have happened to them in the intervening time, but I do know that this episode has taken large steps toward realizing the series long term goals. I also know that I cannot wait to see where Season Four takes us.

Grade: A


-“There are people out there who buy things. People like you and me. And something happened. Something terrible. And the way that they saw themselves is gone. And nobody understands that. But you do.” Moving words from Don to Peggy, that are also telling. Tonight we saw the show close out the Camelot era after JFK’s death last week, and move ahead toward a far less certain future. When beginning that journey, Peggy is someone you want at your side.

-The insight into Don’s father’s individual streak and the knowledge that Don watched his father die are both moving and very telling. When Don’s father tried to fight the system, it lead to his downfall and his death. He was tied to his coop as Don was tied to S-C, but when he tried to break free he drove his family into ruin and got himself killed. Let’s hope things go better for Don.

-Don and Roger discover some common ground again tonight, and begin to rebuild my favorite friendship on the show. Their re-bonding is tenuous, as Roger recognizes, but the two are not separated by the infinitely wide chasm they both believed they were.

-“We want you to join us as head of media.” “Are you kidding?” I love Harry’s earnestness. He is the most decent man of the bunch.

-I love that Roger knows to call Joan. She is the best. Thank God she’s back.

-To that end, if this episode disappointed me at all, that disappointment was derived from the lack of Sal. He would fit perfectly into this new firm that will allow its employees more freedom and the chance to actualize themselves. No one needs that more than Sal does, and I hope Season Four finds him working with the rest of the gang (if they can find a way around Lee Garner Jr. They do need that Tobacco money…).

-“Did you wash your hands?”-Bert to the mover’s. I love his eccentricities.

-“You’re fired!” “Very good. Happy Christmas!” I love Lane. So glad he’s coming along for the ride.

-“How long do you think it’ll take us to be in a place like this again?” “I never saw myself working in a place like this.”

Friday, November 6, 2009

Jordan's Review: 30 Rock, Season 4, Episode 4: Audition

There has been a lot of talk so far this season about the supposed decline of 30 Rock. I have yet to take sides in this war, as I thought the first two episodes in the season we pretty high quality and made me laugh hard enough to overlook their shortcomings. The last two weeks though have been pretty definitive missteps for the series. Last week I called “Stone Mountain” the weakest episode of the season so far, and it looks like the show was out to make me regret those words with “Audition.”

The storyline of Liz trying to find a new cast member has felt contrived and failed to be funny all season long, and that trend continues tonight as she and Pete scheme to ensure that their pick is approved by Jack. They use the “Hornberger System,” which is funny when it involves the Australian Jackie Gleason, A woman wearing a bolo tie and a one man band who only plays Halloween music, but gets stretched very thin after that. Dot Com takes the funniest bits of this storyline when he worms his way into the audition process (Tracy first mocks his previous experience as “That one time you played a bird in a school play” only for Dot Com to reveal that he played Trigorin in Chekhov’s The Seagull. The joke comes back when it is revealed that Tracy is terrified of Dot Com’s abilities because “he became Trigorin at the Wesleyan Performance Space!”).

For perhaps the first time in the entire series Jack’s plotline falls entirely flat. Not even Alec Baldwin (who, as I’ve said many a time is worth his weight in comedic gold) can squeeze laughs out of an almost boring subplot in which he has bed bugs. There is also the way too long segment continuing the show’s penchant for blatant product placement as Jack rants about the glories of Cisco, “The Human Network” to almost no laughter. The show is, at this point, often resorting to overly obvious meta gags in place of the machine gun fire one liners that used to drive it on a weekly basis.

I am an unabashed supporter of the meta-joke, yet I fear the show has lost sight of the joke portion of that hyphenate. When they were plugging Snapple they made a joke out of it. Now Jack just yells Cisco a lot as if the audience is supposed to jump on the meta train and laugh simply because the show is referencing that it’s a show. Not all of the meta jokes are misses (Jack saying, “Human empathy. It’s as useless as the winter Olympics…This February on NBC” made me laugh, but more because the Winter Olympics are kind of useless than because it was a meta joke) but the show’s success quotient has decreased exponentially of late.

Finally, the episode resorted to a pairing that has always been great in the past—throwing Jenna and Tracy together has produced some of the show’s most epic moments of lunacy—but again the jokes mostly fell flat. There were some funny moments, like when they recruited a gay man waiting in line to see Hugh Jackman on Inside the Actor’s Studio or when Jenna yelling “Actor Emergency!” cause Tracy to grab his masks of comedy and tragedy, but mostly these tow were just killing the minutes between the largely laugh-less segments in between.

I am not ready to call in the towel on season four as some people are, but this episode was one of the worse shows 30 Rock has ever done. The plotting was spotty, but beyond that more of the jokes were misses tonight than hits, which I’m not sure has ever happened to this show before. Here’s hoping we see a gallant return to form next week that makes me look back and call myself crazy for bashing this show.

Grade: C+


-The long, complex joke of Jack telling Liz to be more like a robot only to become more human himself and then to be treated most humanely by a man in a robot suit is more smart than it is funny. Yet another example of 30 Rock being intelligent at the expense of its jokes.

-“I don’t have bed bugs Kenneth. I went to Princeton.” A lot of love for Princeton this season.

-The Mayor of Stone Mountain was a horse who wore pantsuits. I am halfway between thinking this joke is a bridge too far into ridiculousness and thinking it is pretty funny. Any thoughts?

-Jenna can’t tell the difference between Grizz and Dot Com.

-“Happy?” “No, not since I was a child.”

-Brian Williams’ efforts to get on TGS were maybe the funniest thing tonight. I loved his bit about what happens when the light goes off in the refrigerator.

-“I don’t know how you dragged this idiot in on your paranoia…” “Paranoia? Where?!?!?”

-“Was describing your sandwich necessary to our understanding of what happened?”

-Josh Girard has been relegated to gay porn since he left TGS.

-“This is a learning and friendship adventure.” I think Jenna is the show’s weak link, but when they put her and Tracy together it often results in some great comedy.

Jordan's Review: Community, Season 1, Episode 8: Home Economics

I never thought I’d be saying this, but Community is just a little like Mad Men thematically. This show is not about the failings of the American Dream, the repression of the sixties, or about the quest for freedom in a society that only wants to tie us down. The comparison is a tenuous one, and I’m not suggesting that Jeff’s real name is Dick Whitman, nor that Abed is a closeted art designer, simply that both shows are about the people we see ourselves as, the people we want to be, the things we strive for, and the fact that often in life, we end up settling.

Each of these characters has a past that shames them, none (save perhaps Abed) is at Greendale because it’s their dream school, yet each of them is there with the hope that they will be able to reach their dreams, when in fact, they’ve already been settling for years. Troy settled for shallow popularity, Annie for comfortable anonymity after her efforts to go higher ended in a drug addiction. Shirley strived for a happy marriage, Pierce strived for riches, Britta wanted to prove how cool she was to Radiohead, and Jeff just wanted to be really, really, really rich. Yet each of these characters has either settled, or in Pierce’s case, achieved his dream only to discover his accomplishments leave him feeling empty. The only exception is Abed, who blindly enjoys his lot in life, even if that just means watching television and eating cereal. But even the validity of that life choice is questioned tonight when Jeff is made into Abed’s foil for an episode, in order to show how dissimilar the characters actually are.

All of this is pretty dark and heady for an episode mostly about faucet-heads and songs about how characters are “B’s,” but that the show has such thematic resonance so early in its run shows a lot about its lasting power. The main plot tonight focuses on Jeff losing his fancy apartment and moving in with Abed. What initially seems like the most humiliating moment of Jeff’s life becomes weirdly ok when he starts to enjoy the Abed lifestyle, bragging about spending only a quarter in a whole day. They bond, watch tv, eat cereal, hang with the Polish kid next door, and don’t bathe all that often. And Jeff seems perfectly fine with just sitting back and letting life pass him by. But Abed knows this will not work out for Jeff, that Jeff, like E.T., is better off in his own environment, even if it hurts Abed to let him go. Abed is satisfied with the simple things, but Jeff is a man who loves his material riches. That the show jumps to Britta to resolve the conflict also gives it some points. Every character on this show recognizes the Jeff/Britta chemistry, and her willingness to save him does, as he suspects, show us a little bit about how much she needs him.

Meanwhile, Troy asks Annie for advice about a girl—and it isn’t her. Annie, desperate to spend time with Troy anyway, offers to give him advice, go shopping for supplies with him, and even fake appendicitis to keep him from his date (which leads to a wonderful, if all to brief, cameo from Patton Oswalt. The man is getting around of late, and that makes me very happy. I hope his mildly lecherous student health employee returns). With moments like Troy pretending to be Annie’s backpack, being totally oblivious to her obvious disappointment that he isn’t asking her (“Oh, you thought…don’t worry, Randy can be both a guy and a girl’s name…And in this case, it’s a girl!”), and her running in a hospital gown to steal the blanket he and his date are sharing, it’s no surprise I find myself rooting for these two over Jeff and Britta. Donald Glover and Allison Brie have an excellent chemistry, and her naïve fawning plays perfectly against his macho ignorance.

Finally, Pierce gets the chance to defend Britta when her ex Vaughan writes a song about how much she sucks. Instead though, he ends up joining the band and co-writing the song “Britta’s a B.” It’s all working out fine until he grows suspicious that Vaughan is trying to Garfunkel him (to which Vaughan replies, “Assuming to Garfunkel somebody is to keep putting up with them even though they’re a fat, lazy cat who eats all the lasagna”) and quits. This leads to a pretty awful song about Pierce being a B (where Pierce gleefully points out, “I’m Pierce! The song’s about me!”) and extending the rivalry between the two when Pierce hires Vaughan’s rapper to compose a juvenile retort. I sincerely hope the Pierce-Vaughan rivalry continues in future episodes.

“Home Economics” is not as hysterical as last week’s episode, but it does give us a nice glimpse at the themes, as well as giving most of the cast some fun material to work with. Shirley is cast to the back of the ensemble tonight, and I hope she gets more to do in weeks to come, but for the most part, it has become a weekly pleasure to hang out with the Greendale gang and see what shenanigans they can get up to.

Grade: B


-“It’ll be better if it’s man to man. That way we won’t be talking about our chubby thighs or how we can have babies.”

-Abed worries consistently about talking in his sleep. His most common topics: farm animals and Robin Williams.

-I'm pretty sure no Community Colleges have dorms, and that no concert held there would get a crowd and attendance like Vaughan's, but hey, I don't care. If the show wants to play real college occasionally, that's fine by me.

-“There’s a silver lining here. You’re attracted to bums.”

-“A picnic blanket. Genius! I was just going to lay down newspaper!”

-“I was wrong. Material possessions are important! Look how much happier The Jeffersons were than the people on Good Times!” “But they had good times!”

-“I’m kind of the Hawkeye around here.” You sure are, Patton.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Jordan's Review: How I Met Your Mother, Season 5, Episode 6: Bagpipes

This season of How I Met Your Mother has been inconsistent at best so far; at worst, I have been on the verge of declaring the show in a slump. Tonight’s episode swung just in between, serving up a mediocre, if ultimately almost entirely forgettable, episode of the show.

The A-plot, for what has to be the sixth time this season, focuses on the relationship of Barney and Robin. See, they aren’t too good at being in a couple, and in case the first five episodes this season didn’t convince you that this sometimes causes them trouble, here’s a sixth. The two have developed a system for never fighting (Barney leaves the apartment or Robin gets naked) which works out fine until they are trapped on a ski lift together and get into a fight. They then cannot stop fighting, but pretend everything is fine for the benefit of their friends, and so they can still seem like the awesome-est couple ever.

Barney’s arrogance has also sparked a fight between Marshall and Lily (who, for the life of them cannot have a separate story any more) over doing the dishes. Barney lays out an argument to fell Lily, but Marshall, whose legal prowess is dampened in front of her, simplifies it to, “I make more money than you… Dance for me.” Those two then become involved in an explosive fight, which leads to Ted winning he and Marshall’s slap bet, in a call back that mocks how drawn out the Barney-Marshall one has been. As much as I love waiting for the next slap (and believe me, it’s a reason to wake up in the morning), I enjoyed that this version took literally thirty seconds to resolve itself.

Relegated to the C-plot yet again, Ted has to deal with his neighbors having loud sex, which he euphemizes as playing the bagpipes (despite the fact that he has discussed sex countless times before on the show). Let’s pause for a second to consider how Ted hearing old people have sex could even possibly be relevant to the story of how he met his future wife and the mother of his children. If that moment of thought didn’t worry you that the show has lost a little focus these last few weeks, consider this: every episode in the series stellar first two seasons was fairly directly related to Ted’s quest or to his development as a person that would make him the man he needed to be.

When Season 3 started to shift away from that master-plot, it was because Ted had his heartbroken and needed a break from the quest. Season 4 opened with the Stella arc, which definitively tied in, but since then, the show has largely been lost in a sea of Barney and Robin plotlines. I believe that Barney and Robin are a good couple, and I’ve been routing for their pairing since they bro’d out back in Season 1, but I never wanted them to be the show’s focus. This series, despite its many tangents, is about Ted meeting the woman he will make a life with, and when the show loses sight of that for weeks on end, it is disconcerting to say the least. It was announced that creators Carter Bays and Craig Thomas planned on doing 7 seasons a few years back, and I took that to mean they had a master-plan that was being carefully executed. This season so far makes me wonder if they aren’t just treading water until they can bring up the next big development.

However, “Bagpipes” did something “Duel Citizenship” and “The Sexless Innkeeper” often forgot to do—it made me laugh. Further, it did not outright anger me in the way the last two episodes did. Was it perfect How I Met Your Mother? Far from it. But at least it entertained me for 22 minutes before I went on to forget much of its happenings.

Grade: B


-“She keeps asking her to bagpipe him harder, but from the sound of it he’s bagpiping her pretty hard already.”

-“Why is there a bag of panties in your closet labeled ‘April 2008’?”

-“There was a small debate once about which of us was more awesome, but we just called it a draw and had sex.”

-Segments from Marshall and Lily’s hilarious multi-pronged fight: “I teach kindergarten. I mold the future leaders of tomorrow.” “You eat cookies and glue stuff!”… “My mother doesn’t hate you. She’s neutral.” Also to be noted, Lily’s hilarious The Shining impression, and how much it scares Marshall.

-“I’ll wash my manhood when I’m good and ready!” “Ok, where was he not sitting?”

-CONTINUITY POLICE: Robin does nicknames. She liked to call Ted “Teddy Bear” when they were together. Also, remember several episodes so far this season when Robin and Barney fought?

Jordan's Review: Dexter, Season 4, Episode 6: if I Had A Hammer

This week’s episode of Dexter made great strides towards dealing with the weakest aspects of the show, even if it mostly accomplished this by flat out ignoring them. There was no Harry this week, Quinn’s reporter was in it so briefly she didn’t even have time to get fully naked (only stripped down to lingerie, because the show knows no one will be paying attention to her useless and trite dialogue anyway), and Angel and LaGuerta’s bore-fest of a subplot got dealt with. The episode focused instead on the main event—Dexter and the inevitable confrontation and defeat of the monster known as Trinity, or, to his friends and family, as Arthur Mitchell.

Dexter tracked Trinity to his house last week, and has since been figuring out his schedule. He is a dedicated family man, an occasional tutor, a deacon at church, and a big volunteer in an organization that builds homes for the homeless. Oh yeah, and he’s a serial killer, but after completing his most recent cycle, the beast lies dormant for a moment. Dexter enters his life as “Kyle Butler” a man who has lost his family and is looking for his way. This mirrors Dexter’s own personal crisis, as he attends therapy with Rita and tries to make his struggling marriage work. He knows his family is the only thing keeping his veneer of normalcy in place, and he watches as Arthur Mitchell lives a life nearly free of secrets.

His trophies (plaques from the volunteer organization centered in each city he kills in), his tools (the hammer he used to bludgeon his third victim in the cycle last week), and even his “dark passenger” (the vase containing his dead sister’s ashes) are all on display for his family to see, and if he ever snaps in front of them, they know it’s a result of his dark past. While I have previously discussed the possibility that Dexter might have to dispatch one or more members of his family, this episode posits the exact opposite—could Dexter’s familial ties be the key to his salvation? He may never defeat his dark urges, but if he learns from Arthur Mitchell, he may very well be able to lead a full life, hidden from judgmental eyes.

One pair of those eyes belongs to a couple’s therapist Rita drags him to see. It is quickly revealed that Dexter’s mother died and that he has issues with commitment, opening up, and having no personal space. The series drops most of its trickery for the scene—there is no need to see Harry yelling at Dexter or even to hear Michael C. Hall’s perfectly dispassionate voice over. All we need is to see Dexter squirm as he tries to deal with the idea of actual human expression, as he tries to reach out and connect with Rita. This is a moment of real feeling for Dexter; he actually hopes to save his marriage and seriously longs to connect with her.

Additionally, Deb’s subplot tonight provided some great character moments for her, and a nice moment for Quinn as he tries to talk her into being a better cop than he is. Deb struggles with the idea of lying to pin Lundy’s death on Nicki, the surviving Vacation Murderer, and makes steps toward discovering Harry’s past. Since the show began the show has teased that Deb may discover Dexter’s secret, and her investigation into Harry brings her steps closer to this. All in all though, this episode positions things nicely for the conflicts to come, and gives us a much needed glimpse at some actual subtext that will work nicely into the story as the conflict between Dexter and Trinity mounts in the coming weeks.

Grade: B+


-The scene with the Dexter holding the ashes to provoke Arthur built the tension masterfully. It was easily the most suspense I’ve felt in weeks on this show, and Lithgow’s reaction was intense and excellent.

-“How are we supposed to decide what’s more important, our jobs or each other?” Shut the fuck up Maria. I hope now that these two are broken up the storyline will be totally forgotten and shitty lines like this can be a thing of the past.

-The scene with Arthur recreating his murder with his wife in the tub was so creepy. Trinity is an excellent character, and Lithgow is playing him to the hilt.