Sunday, February 28, 2010

Shameless Self-Promotion: 7 days until Oscars Liveblog: Oscargeddon!: This Time It's Personal: The Squeakquel

I think the headline says it all. Join Sam and Jordan for an extravaganza of sorts on March 7th at 7:45. Be there or not be there! To the max!

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Jordan's Review: 24, Season 8, Episode 9: 12:00am-1:00 am

I discussed last week how 24 has to make logical and plot leaps in order to get us through a full day's worth of story, but that its hard to hold those leaps against the show and still count yourself as a fan. Tonight was a prime example of that, as the ability to overlook some pretty clear logical flaws in the structure of this episode's plot allowed for probably the best tension this season has come up with yet.

Case in point was the scene between Renee and Justice Department stooge Kristin Smith: Pause too long to think about it and its pretty clear that it makes no sense for Chief of Staff Rob Weiss and CTU Director Brian Hastings to be looking for a fall guy at this point in the crisis. Sure it sucks that they didn't get to the rods, and that a "lead" as killed, but really that lead had proven useless to the investigation, and without Renee's work they wouldn't be bearly as far along as they are. Plus, in every single investigation CTU undertakes at a certain point a lead dies or doesn't pan out and it is never labeled a catastrophe.

The same would logically be true here: provided CTU stops the attack on New York, there would be no need for a scapegoat, so logically they should be focused on that. Yet the scene in which Smith pushes Renee on her intentions was flat out compelling television, as Renee grappled with her tortured past and muddled motivations and the show actually felt for the first moment in quite a while like time was an issue. Think of the tension you (or at least I) felt when the scene was cut short to show Jack pulling into CTU; if time has ever felt more of the essence this season than at the moment it becomes obvious that Jack could save Renee from being made into the fall guy this season, I missed it. This show is at its best when viewers are compelled to overlook its flaws because they just have to know what happens next, and watching Jack burst in and grab Smith by the throat definitely had that effect on me.

In terms of the masterplot we made some good progress this week, though at the tragic (to me anyway) loss of David Anders' Josef, which means the Russian threat is over with. However, the show actually addressed a nagging continued flaw with this season this week, and that made me a very happy camper. From the beginning Farhad Hassan has been a shitty villain. He always seemed too weak and mild-mannered, and like too much of a pussy to actually pull off anything threatening and that seriously hurt the tension of the show. Plus, when Samir pointed out that they wouldn't realistically be smuggling the nuclear materials out of the country anymore, Farhad's motives to do evil disappeared. It wouldn't have made any sense for him to attack the U.S. when his ultimate goal was to gain power back home. What did make sense was having him pretend to go along with the plan for long enough to escape and contact the proper authorities. So the pieces are set for Samir to be the next Big Bad for us to deal with (though its early yet, so potentially not the last), and he is a much more threatening force than Farhad. This doesn't resolve the lack of tension fully, as something about a nuclear attack has just stopped being as threatening this far into the series, and their plan doesn't have any added levels of nefariousness to spice it up, but at least things are better off on this front than they were last week.

Even Dana's plotline with her ex and his even creepier friend had some really tense moments tonight. Though it was pretty clear Dana didn't have the cojones to actually pull the trigger on the boys (this is 24 after all, and that means women must be saved by the menfolk. See: Jack saving Renee and Cole saving Dana as just tonight's evidence of the continuing problems the show has with creating realistic or empowered female characters. But that is a rant for a different day), having Cole become complicit in her crimes by agreeing to cover them up if the guys leave his woman alone was actually pretty interesting. Darkening Cole up is a natural progression for this show, whose protagonists must always be gray lest we all get very bored very quickly, but I am actually interested to see how this will affect his relationship with Dana in the weeks to come. And caring about Cole and Dana is huge news at this point. Beyond that, it wasn't exactly unpredictable that Kevin's creepy friend wouldn't give up that easy, but it was an exciting moment when Cole turned around and took him out with a shotgun. For the rest of the season I look forward to watching what I'm sure will end up as a failed cover up (my guess is Dana takes the fall to protect her beloved) just because that means more of the action takes place at least around the masterplot.

This episode got me to give a damn about most of what was going on, got Jack fully in for the season (because that was totally in doubt before tonight) and moved everything along nicely. If this had been episode 4 of the season instead of episode 9, we'd all be better off, but at least we've made it here. Let's hope the show, having faltered out of the gate, kicks into full gear for the remainder of the season.

Grade: B+


-No Hassan this week. I almost forgot about that until the preview. He was not missed.

-The score this week seemed a lot more rock heavy than usual.

-Two fucking bad ass Jack Bauer lines tonight: "Son, you better put that down or you're going to get hurt" and "Sorry, I guess I wasn't clear. I meant I'd call the President" both made me cheer.

-I like that Owen, Cole's replacement team leader, looks all of 12. Good casting 24.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Sam's Review: Shutter Island

Martin Scorsese’s newest film, Shutter Island, is certainly a departure from his previous work. The movie takes place on the mysterious island off the coast of Boston. US Marshall, Teddy Daniels (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his new partner Chuck Aule (Mark Ruffalo) are sent to the hospital for the criminally insane to investigate the inexplicable disappearance of a patient. With help of one of the head psychiatrists (Ben Kingsley) the two start their hunt. As Daniels and Aule get deeper into their case strange things start occurring making Daniels think there is more to the island than meets the eye and allows for a peek back at the dark spot that is America's past history treating the mentally ill. Daniels fights with his own past while trying to figure out the case on the island in what turns out to be Scorsese’s most surreal film of his career.

Martin Scorsese is most commonly associated with the gangster film. Mostly set in New York and recently with this film and The Departed, Boston. Moving away from the urban environment, the Oscar-winning director thrives and manages to keep “Gimme Shelter” far away from the rocky coasts of Shutter Island. In many respects, getting away from the city gave Scorsese an opportunity to play and he took full advantage. The film constantly conjures up images from Kubrick films of past, namely The Shining. So much so, Teddy Daniels could have easily been played by a young Jack Nicholson back in the day. Scorsese’s films tend to find their beauty in the grit like the smokey dank streets of Taxi Driver and the black and white classicism of Raging Bull. Shutter Island is no different, except here Scorsese gives the audience an other-worldly type grit that can only spill out of the mind of a true master. Many people will be surprised at the stark beauty Scorsese has to offer.

In addition to beautiful visuals, the film sports a top notch cast with a number of cameos a cinephile can really salivate over. Just a glance at the cast list, one can tell that this would at least be a well acted film. Everyone delivered a typically strong performance though DiCaprio’s Boston accent was a bit distracting at times, but then again, it’s a Boston accent. At the end of the day, DiCaprio did a stellar job at holding the film on his back. It's no wonder Scorsese has made him his go-to leading man. Besides DiCaprio, Kingsley, and Ruffalo, such great actors as Particia Clarkson and Michelle Williams appear along with a handful of others that will bring a smile to the faces of many film fans.

The film is not without its faults as minor as they are. The handling of the story, at times, is a bit ridiculous and does not seem to give the audience as much credit as they deserve in following the story. Also there are no any really big surprises in the film. For anyone who has seen the trailer (and by this point how can anyone have not seen an ad?) the plot points are to be expected. A good thing about the film though it really is more about the journey rather than just the resolution. It’s a shame the film was kicked back a few months because it surely would have gotten its fair share of Oscar nods and likely knocked off some ridiculous choices (*cough*Blind Side*cough*). Hopefully academy voters will not forget about this film as it will undoubtedly be amongst the best 2010 has to offer.


Jordan's Review: Shutter Island

From its opening image of a boat slowly emerging from the fog, to its often nearly oppressive score, from its police procedural groundings to its surreal journey through the human mind, there is little doubt that Shutter Island is an excercise in pulp. The pieces, from a hardened, self righteous cop who just wants to learn the truth to a sinister psychologist who seems to be hiding something, to the setting of an inescapable island asylum for the criminally insane are standard fare. Further, the plot has its contrivances and its turns (none of which I'll reveal here, but none of which should be too surprising to any viewers nevertheless), but at the end of it all isn't really the point of the movie at all. This is not Scorsese's attempt to create the most original or twisty film of his career; its his take on The Shining, and his influences show through from the first.

U.S. Marshall Edward "Teddy" Daniels (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his partner (Mark Ruffalo) are sent to Shutter Island after a patient reportedly escaped and soon find themselves caught in the midst of a hurricane that complicates their attempts to investigate her disappearance. With those pieces in place, Scorsese has plenty of room to play with the standard genre fare, and with surrealistic glimpses into Teddy's tortured past. And play he does, creating some of the most artful scenes of his career, filled with fire, ash, and Kubrick-red blood, with haunting images and cryptic warnings.

The movie doesn't get its joy from its plot, but rather from the ride it takes you on in the process. Shutter Island is an examination of how we define insanity, a glimpse into the troubled past of a tortured protagonist, a walking nightmare and a wall-to-wall thriller all rolled into one frantic, go for broke suspense film, handled by one of the masters of cinema, and at its best, it is a pure joy to behold. Fortunately it spends most of its run time operating on all cylinders, and supporting turns from Ben Kingsley, Jackie Earle Haley, Michelle Williams and Patricia Clarkson fill it in well. This is more than simply a film, its a collection of very talented people working well together and having fun doing it, and that makes it hard to hold any of the movie's (admittedly minor) flaws against it for very long. It accomplishes everything it set out to, and what it aimed to accomplish is a hell of a thing to behold.

Grade: A-

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Great writing...

Want to see some great writing on a great writer check out this story on Roger Ebert....

Ebert Story

Monday, February 15, 2010

Jordan's Review: 24, Season 8, Episode 8: 11:00 pm-12:00am

One of the major criticisms of 24 is that the show needs enough story to fill its titular requirement, and this generally leads to a narrative that is impossible to unravel once the season reaches its end. If you pause, at the end of a season, and try to trace where the story ended up back to its beginnings, you are sure to find some logical leaps or plot holes to nitpick at. That's just the nature of the beast when it comes to 24, however, and even a man such as myself who loves to nitpick so much he spends much of his time doing just that can't be bothered too much by it. The show needs to generate story, and so there are bound to be some clumsy leaps.

The bright side of this is that even a season that starts off shakily like this one might go to interesting places in its later episodes, and so even though Season 8 has yet to wow me, I keep hope alive that we are headed to great places. That's an unlikely hope, but one I choose to maintain for now. And tonight's episode had some really solid elements, though its ending twist (involving Sark, as I can't stop calling him, stealing the rods from his Dad and aiming to deliver them to Hassan's brother) was the most standard possible extender of the masterplot so far. Jack's story tonight was the most compelling escalation of that plot so far though, throwing in some torture, escape, and gunplay and letting Bauer be Bauer for the first time all season. We also got a look at Dana escalating toward murdering her ex-boyfriend and his dickweed of a friend, and watched Hassan delve even further into paranoia and cliche-ism.

As I said, the ending twist barely qualifies as a twist it was so obvious, but it looks like next week we could be in for some interesting moments as Hastings moves to frame Renee for this whole mess and Jack decides to go dark to get her free. Everyone knows 24 is at its best when Jack goes dark, so here's hoping we're getting to the good stuff.

Grade: B


-Take a drink whenever someone on 24 asks for "full immunity."

Friday, February 12, 2010

Sam's Review: The Office: "Manager and Salesman"

Well it’s a good thing everything’s back to normal on The Office. Of course I can be talking about any of the many episodes when Michael is in danger of losing his post as manager of the Scranton branch of Dunder Mifflin. Now owned by Sabre, a company that makes printers, Dunder Mifflin is undergoing some changes which aren’t really changes at all. But first let’s backup to see where are character are and what they’re going back to.

Jim and Michael continue to run the branch as a dysfunctional team until the new owner Jo Bennett (Kathy Bates) flies up from Sabre headquarters to see how everything’s going. Well this is The Office so of course things are looking kind of bad at the branch. Bennett with her giant dogs by her side, ask Michael and Jim to decide who will remain manager and who will go back to sales. Michael employs his typical misguided chicanery to try to get the job for himself. But trusty Pam lets Jim know that he can make more money in a sales position. This would be great if Oscar hadn’t let the same info slip to Michael. So after Jim went in to cede the position to Michael pulled rank and got back to the desk.

Seeing Michael man a sales desk while Jim was in his office was weird at first and completely unlikely to stay that way until the end of the episode. When Michael realizes all the perks that come with being the boss he goes to a fed up Bates to get his job back. Jim happily takes more money . There everything’s back to normal. But there was some forward movement in the episode with Andy finally, awkwardly making some headway with Erin. In a sweet and misguided attempt to avoid embarrassment he decides to get everyone a Valentine’s Day card instead of just Erin. Kelly gets a particular romantic card and thinks Andy is into her. Quickly realizing how horrible a future with Kelly would be, Andy sends a mass e-mail saying that the cards were not meant to be for anyone in particular. In this grand speech to the office (they like to have these moments) Andy mumbles that he likes not Kelly but someone else in the office. Erin seems to maybe, possibly get the hint. The two were made for each other.

“Manager and Salesman” may be a necessary episode to position everyone correctly for the rest of the season but it just did not really deliver on the laughs. It’s great that Jim is back to dipping Dwight’s tie in his coffee and Pam can cutely look on, but beyond that the episode seemed like an empty exercise. But hey, maybe this means we can look for some of that old office hilarity in the future.



-Meredith’s kind request to men: “Don’t cut my throat.”

-“Me and Truman Capote slept with three of the same guys.”

-Kathy Bates, as always, plays kind of a badass

-Smooth move by Andy to spray Erin’s card with a cologne called “Roger Federer for Men”

Sam's Review: Parks and Recreation: "Galentine's Day"

This week’s Parks and Recreation started as ominously as any Valentine’s Day sit-com episode could. Everyone on the show was getting ready for the big day with their significant other. But first there was a ladies only get together where the episode gets its title. At the Galentine’s event we hear a truly romantic story about Leslie’s mother meeting a lifeguard who saved her life. The story is totally romantic and schmaltzy until the end where it comes to an abrupt halt. This inspires Leslie’s boyfriend Justin to reunite the two lovebirds. The only problem is that the young lifeguard that saved Leslie’s mother’s life is now crazy, old John Larroquette.
There is no single B plot but rather a number of small love issues playing throughout the office in Pawnee. Tom is still trying to get over (and get back together) with his green card wife, Wendy. Aziz Ansari’s Tom is always a happy party bro, so seeing him as lovelorn and depressed is quite the 180. Ansari is handling it deftly while still remaining one of the most consistently funny characters on the show.

Anyone who watches the show knows that the most important romance on the show is between April (the oh-so hot Aubrey Plaza) and Andy (better known for his work in the band Mouse Rat). April has been giving Andy the ol’ fuck eyes for most of this season and it was a matter of time before she threw here two gay boyfriends to the side to focus completely on Andy. But there is a new hurdle for April to jump over-Ann who is now having second thoughts about dating Mark who is helplessly shitty at being a boyfriend no matter how many times he is reassured that he’s not. While all of this is going on Andy is completely ignorant, like the man-child he is, to the women paying heed to his slovenly ways.

What made this particular episode particularly enjoyable is that everyone either breaks up with their significant other or remains hopelessly alone. Leslie breaks up with Justin after the disaster that is crazy John Larroquette, much in thanks to a startlingly candid and insightful with Ron Fuckin’ Swanson (aka Duke Silver for the older folk). Swanson points out to Leslie that Justin is a tourist going from person to person trying to impress and take their stories. He’s inconsiderate to no one but himself and Leslie is not that person and that’s why she doesn’t like him. God this show needs more Ron. April drops her boyfriends after an evening of dealing with their obnoxious irony. Tom hatches the dumbest scheme ever to getting an ex-wife to go out with you-sue them. Obviously it backfires and he his left by himself. So everyone at the end of this Valentine’s Day is left single or days away from becoming single for better or for worse. That’s a Valentine’s Day episode I can get behind.



-Leslie on her mother’s story-“Makes The Notebook look like Saw V.”

-Leslie describing Galentine’s Day-“Like Lillith Fair minus the angst, plus frittatas.”

-Good to see Jerry’s been happily married for 28 years. Oh, Jerry.

-Ron Swanson + “Nooner” = AWESOME

-April telling the old couple how adorable they are is way more adorable than the old couple

-“Why does everything we do have to be cloaked in like 15 layers of irony?”

-Tom is sad

Jordan's Review: 30 Rock, Season 4, Episode 13: Anna Howard Shaw Day

How do I loathe Elizabeth Banks? Let me count the ways: She's a consistently overrated, none too funny lady. I can literally see the gears turning in her head as she tries to make jokes work. And she seems hell bent on destroying everything in the world that I love. After single-handedly bringing about the shark jump of Scrubs (I will never forgive her, nor admit that the blame is only partially on her and partially on the quick descent into madness of the show's writers...), she took part in a sincerely mediocre Kevin Smith movie and has now moved into guest starring on shows I very much enjoy playing characters I very much don't. To say I am biased against "Anna Howard Shaw Day" by her presence is an understatement. Let me be very clear here: The grade for tonight's episode is docked significantly due to her mirth-sucking presence.

The plotline which dragged this humorless harpy onto my television yet again involved Jack's romantic conquest of her MSNBC anchor, who hosts a talking heads show that provides plenty of room for a more talented actress to banter, but plenty of moments for Elizabeth Banks to talk fast and hope for the best. Watching Jack try to woo her was marginally entertaining, but I honestly left each scene just hoping she would disappear for the rest of the episode.

Liz, meanwhile, attempted to ignore Valentine's Day altogether by getting a root canal, yet her plans were foiled when she was required to get a ride home and was forced to confront her loneliness. This lead to a hilarious hallucination in which many of her exes returned and she tried to make out with a tree she thought was Bon Jovi...several times. Tina Fey is a capable comedienne to say the least, and pulled this off solidly. In addition, the moment between she and Jack at the end was very sweet, and I can never complain about a Liz/ Jack bonding moment.

The C-plot revolved around Jenna discovering that her stalker has moved on and being broken up about it. Generally I find the less Jenna the better, but she was well served tonight, playing off of Horatio Sans as her ex-stalker and reminiscing through montage about the great times they had together (including when he filled her refrigerator with disembodied doll's heads) to "I Will Remember You." Also, Kenneth pretending to be her stalker at the end was perfectly ineffectual and gave us another glimpse of the patented so happy its insane Kenneth smile.

Overall this was a pretty mediocre offering from 30 Rock tarnished further in my mind by the presence of Elizabeth Banks, who cost this episode a full letter grade (as I believe docking a show she is lightly affiliated with in a forum that is barely read by anyone who isn't me is the best way to get my revenge). What we did see tonight was that Jack and Liz care about each other, and that despite her independent streak, Liz really does want to find love.

Grade: C+


-"One word: oral. Two words: Oral Surgery."

-"I'm attending an all day abstinence rally. You're welcome to come, I think I havean extra gender neutralizing hood..."

-"Has the dog who gives you your orders died?" "No, Brendan is fine."

-Top Chef Bon Jovi.

-Liz uses her treadmill to zip up her own dresses.

- Tyke Mison, baby boxer.

-Excuse me, Bon Jov. I'm in the middle of a conversation."

Jordan's Review: Community, Season 1, Episode 16: Communication Studies

Ah, the obligatory Valentine's Day episode. As Sam discussed in his review of Modern Family (and triumphant return to the blog!) this is the sort of episode that all TV shows must attempt at least once, and there are only a limited number of plotlines that can be used. More likely than not someone hates Valentine's day, someone is sad that they are alone, and someone almost, but not quite screws up their fledgling relationship, only to save it in some romantic way by the episode's conclusion. This is pretty much the formula that "Communication Studies" adopts, but it does so with a lot less of the metatextualism and self-referentiality that generally makes their coopting of sitcom tropes one of the more enjoyable things to watch currently.

The A-plot focuses on another sitcom cliche, a slight riff on the "one character sees another naked" plotline that involves restoring the balance to a friendship. Britta drunk calls Jeff in a pretty obvious admission that she has a thing for him, and to avoid embarassment, Jeff must return the favor. He thinks he is great at playing drunk, but Abed proves quickly that Jeff's performance is subpar, so the two decide to get drunk together, resorting in another one of the show's excellent run of montages. They wake up with only fleeting memories of the night before (TV characters black out like its nobody's business) and discover that Jeff not only called Britta, but also his current girlfriend Michelle. Also, Abed has lost his ability to make pop culture references due to his hangover, and humorously tells Jeff, "You broke me."

The other plotline is a vague non-starter, as Pierce and Troy bring on the wrath of Senor Chang and are forced to wear pantsuits to the Valentine's Day dance as retribution. It does provide for the cute moment where the boys realize that their predicament was caused by Shirley and Annie, but further intuit that this means they do have women who care about them, but for the most part this seemed like a flimsy excuse to get Pierce and Troy to dress in drag and dance with Chang. It didn't really work, but it was a harmless sort of failure and there were enough laughs to make it passable.

This episode was filled with all sorts of nice Jeff and Britta moments, which is great for those who love the idea of those two coupling, but as a fervent (and often re-affirmed) fan of a Jeff-Annie pairing, I was left disappointed by this evening. I know that sitcom law dictates that Jeff and Britta end up together, as she was the first person the show set him up to be with, but deep down in my heart of hearts (this is a Valentine's Day review after all) I hope that this show is better than that, and will surprise me by allowing these characters to grow out of their standard assigned pairings and into a more organic group unit...that would allow Jeff and Annie to bang. Call me a romantic, but I think this show might just prove to be that good.

Grade: B


-The Greendale Human Being is still terrifying and hilarious.

-"Oh it has arrows! That's safe."

-Can I get you anything? Water? Pills? An alibi for Cobain's suicide?"

-"You have to tip the balance like in that sitcom trope where one character sees another naked."

-"This kid's going to be a star. He's a young the asian guy from Lost."

-"She's passionate, which I find entertaining."

-"I feel like that person in that TV show."

-"Movie reference."

-"Chubby hubby? Could you pick a scarier flavor?"

-"We were the ones that sent the letter to Chang!" "You work at Princeton?"

-Jeff left a 40 minute message.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Sam's Review: Modern Family-"My Funky Valentine"

Holiday episodes of sitcoms tend to be groan-worthy, this is true even more so for Valentine’s Day episodes. This week’s Modern Family bucked the trend by doing what it does best-being harmlessly charming. Not so shockingly the episode went in the most obvious route possible, focusing on just about everyone’s Valentine’s day.
Phil and Claire decide to dabble in the role-play (with sexy results!), Cam and Mitchell are on oppsosite ends of the spectrum when it comes to how important the holiday is (guess who loves it more), Jay decides to take Gloria to see the comic stylings of the David Brenner who is funny to people Jay’s age. The most anticipated story was Manny’s pursuit of yet another girl. Valentine’s Day was made for this young Casanova so his outrage at being cockblocked by a mop head named Dirkus was especially heartbreaking.

The episode’s highlight had to be Phil and Claire’s meeting at a bar. Ty Burrell’s Phil gains comedic momentum as he slyly walks to the bar with a classy turtleneck and a not so classy nametag with one of the better fake name’s “Clive Dixby”. Phil manages a way to be both cool and fumbling at the same time as he accidentally makes it sound as if he does want to cheat on his wife-with his own wife. The ensuing argument Claire and Phil have over her lists of chores threw a nice wrench in the role-play. Claire eventually goes to the bathroom to and changes into absolutely nothing under a rain coat. If you’ve ever seen a sitcom, it’s obvious what happens next.

The rest of the family also have trouble with their special days as David Brenner starts ripping on how much older Jay is than Gloria causing him to feel bad. This is territory the show has covered before so it did not feel like a problem at all. In fact, it left one wishing for more chatter with “Clive Dixby”. Mitchell and Cam decided to help out poor Manny to prove to a girl he likes that she should be with him and the poem that Dirkus gave to her was in fact Manny’s. This leads to an entertaining presentation of Mitchell’s lawyer skills which helped prove Manny was the real writer. Of course the stupid girl went for the flop haired dud instead of Manny. As is life.

This week’s show was about as pleasant an episode of “Modern Family” could be. Then again that does not mean it was so laugh out loud funny. In fact, this show is really just consistently watchable rather than miss or big reward like 30 Rock tends to be these days. “My Funky Valentine” did not go anywhere new with Valentine’s Day episodes, but managed to tread in comfortable waters.



-Dylan is a great boyfriend making Haley and print of a photo to look like a painting. This show could always use more Dylan

-Phil to Claire “Little Kitty has claws-I like that.”

-Gloria has no clue who Johnny Carson is…I don’t buy that at all.

-“The universe is cold and loveless”-Keep fighting the good fight, Manny.

-People not to run into while naked stuck on an escalator: Friend from work, school principal, son’s math teacher.

P.S. Good to be back on the blog-hope to write more often than once every five months now.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Jordan's Review: 24, Season 8, Episode 7: 10:00pm-11:00pm

So this week's 24 was a step in the right direction, even if it was a pretty small step. I would take most of the near boredom of the last several weeks just to get to the scene where Jack pulls a knife out of his stomach, and throws it into another guys throat. As a 24 fan, this is the stuff I live for. Most of the plotlines tonight moved from insufferable and boring to just pretty dumb, but at least we've stepped into watchable territory now.

On the main front, Renee pushing Vlad harder and harder (and then pushing that knife into his face harder and harder) was realyl pretty interesting, and I would have loved it a lot more if she didn't get "woman on 24" syndrome the second she had to kill Vlad. The show really has a problem with female characters, who (with the obvious exception of Chloe, who can be filed under "Awesome" instead of "Female" on any list of 24 characters) are almost always victims or manipulative bitches, with almost no wiggle room in between. The show's introduction of Renee last season seemed a step in the right direction, moving them past their reductive and occasionally flat out misogynistic view of the fairer sex, but this year has taken her character several steps back on the path to equality. Last season it looked like she could keep up with Jack, trauma for trauma and torture scene for torture scene (after of course being torubled that they were torturing people for a few episodes to show she's human), but now she clearly has a few screws loose, and instead of being the empowered Dark Renee that I thought we'd be treated to, the show has reduced her to a simpering road block between Jack and day save-age.

Speaking of the show's inability to present a realistic, well rounded and capable female character (or, to some degree, not Jack Bauer or Chloe character) Dana's plotline tonight demonstrated mostly what a boring character Dana was. Yet, for the first time there was an upside, as Kevin's attempt to slip past the cop was probably the first scene of true tension this season has given us so far. Sure, Dana just furthers my belief that CTU should really increase its internal monitoring protocols, and has so far shown herself to be every bit the victim that 24 must think every woman is, but if her plotline can give me even half as much suspense as it does annoyance, I'll stop complaining about 24's lack of female empowerment for a while.

Meanwhile, President Hassan is quickly changing from Middle Eastern Jesus (or, I guess, just Jesus) to Middle Eastern Dictator as he rounds up even those loyal to him and threatens to torture children to get the truth. I think Hassan was a much more compelling character when he wasn't a cliched paranoid and power hungry Middle Eastern leader, but rather a progressive working against a system that is begging for his failure, but again, the show has trouble with complex and realistic characters outside of its main duo, so we're left with the inevitable cliche in place of a far more interesting character dynamic. While we're on the political front, does it feel liek President Taylor has literally done nothing this season to anyone else? She seems concerned a lot, but that amounts to little more than a time waster at this point.

So clearly, I still have problems with how this season is progressing, but tonight's episode presented the first ray of hope we've had this season and gave me some reason to become cautiously optimistic about the weeks to come.

Grade: B-


-"Yeah, sure. No biggie. Just unsecured nuclear materials." I know Arlo was being sarcastic, ut I couldn't help but think, that this threat still feels like "No biggie."

-If the show entered a contest to see how much expository dialogue could be fit into an episode, it would win in a landslide.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Jordan's Review: How I Met Your Mother, Season 5, Episode 15: Rabbit or Duck

One of the legs up that How I Met Your Mother has always had on other sitcoms is the way it plays with timing, often jumbling up the narrative on an otherwise straightforward story to provide an interesting reveal or just spice up your standard sitcom plot enough to make it serviceable once again. "Rabbit or Duck" did play with time a bit during the third act, but that wasn't what was so impressive about its structure. This time around, the show managed to pack an almost ridiculous amount of story into its 22 minutes, but it also pulled off hiding which plotline was the true A-story all the way until the blip at the end.

From the Superbowl gimmick, the show could eaisly have gone with a Barney A-story about his cursed phone and what it means about the quest for romance. With the relative weakness of the earlier half of this season, there was a solid chance that would have been the episode. Instead, Barney was utilized perfectly, as a metaphor for the problem of singleness and the fickle nature of human emotions, while simultaneously allowing Neil Patricj Harris to be hilarious (and providing an excuse to get Ranjit back for an episode, which is always a treat).

With Barney safely out of the way as solid subtext to the episode, it appeared like we might have an A-plot in Ted's idea to have Lily and Marshall "arranged marriage" him by setting him up with a woman who he might actually marry. This not only sounds like the makings of an A-plot, it sounds like pretty vintage How I Met Your Mother and a solid plotline for a Valentine's Day episode. Yet it almost immediately goes underground in favor of an extended second act in which these characters, who we have grown to love and therefore adore spending time with, just sort of talk out their issues...with jokes.

The Rabbit or Duck question is another classic bit of HIMYM as it packs a kernel of truth beneath a very clever turn of phrase. Yet Ted was also not intended to be the A-Plot for this episode. Instead, its a Robin episode tonight as she moves closer to her inevitable coupling with her co-anchor Don. We have known for a while now that the two of them were going to get together, yet ghosting this plot through the episode with a call back to "The Naked Man" and some Robin's show sucks jokes got us to the end in time for another classic move: The twist. Except this episode had several as we discover Ted has become cursed by Barney's phone, then learn that he and Robin may be content to just be with each other (fortunately platonically this time), and finally are presented with Robin's realization that Don is, in fact, a duck. All and all this was a near-flawless episode of How I Met Your Mother, beautifully constructed and excellently pulled off by all of the cast. It also packed some solid subtext, which at the end of the day was pretty much the icing on the cake of an excellent episode.

Grade: A


-"How many chicks do I have calling me? Infinity!"

-"That beer looks a little flat." "Its scotch."

-"You're going to marry this guy so freakin' the butt."

-"Getting drunk and cleaning up the apartment was a plan?" "I did not say it was a good plan."

-"And the adies love Teddy Westside." "You're waiting for me to comment on your self-assigned nickname...I love it. Teddy Westside--continue."

-The whole Rabbit or Duck fight was peppered with excellent jokes, including "Who carries around a duck's foot for good luck?" and "Why don't we stick a rabbit and a duck in a cardboard box and let them fight it out?" "Because its illegal Ted!"

-"Don...Donald...Donald Duck. And what does Donald Duck never wear?" "Pants." "Don is a duck. Permission to say lawyered?" "I'll allow it." "Lawyered."

-There were a surprising, and very satisfying amount of callbacks tonight. The show is remembering its awesome roots.

-"I don't know what kind of architect! Houses, buildings, that kind of crap!"

-"Oh, and you can be choosey! You're in a bar on Valentine's Day!"

-Trudy is married huh?

-"Why would Ted order rabbit if he's just going to run out?" Marshall missed the metaphor...

Friday, February 5, 2010

Jordan's Review: 30 Rock, Season 4, Episode 12: Verna

I've fought admitting the decline of 30 Rock for a long time now, and I still haven't lost hope that this show remains the best comedy on television. But tonight, in a disturbing pattern that is happening with increasing frequency, 30 Rock was the weak link in NBC's Thursday night block. The show used to be easily the funniest thing not just on Thursday, and not just on NBC, but on television everywhere and really set the standard for sitcoms in a post-Arrested Development world. This season, as of yet, does not really live up to the show's former glory. That isn't to say that "Verna" isn't a solid, often funny piece of television, but it is certainly not the 30 Rock I know and love.

Jenna's leech of a mother is in town tonight, seemingly to make up to her daughter for years of emotional abuse and petty theft, but in actuality to pitch a mother daughter reality show with "topless arguments" and "infections caused by jacuzzi water." Jack, with years of family skirmishes under his belt, knows better than to trust Jenna's mom, and teaches her his patented "say no, talk low, let her go" approach to parental interactions, but Jenna is taken in by her mother yet again. In a pretty sweet moment, Jack pays Jenna's mother to be nice for her, then pretends to be the fool to allow Jenna to believe she is getting some approval.

The B-plot focused on Liz and Frank moving in together to fight their vices: smoking and junk food. After a hilarious dream that she is married to Jack and giving birth to Meat Cat, a cartoon mascot for her favorite junk food, while Tracy serves as doctor and Kenneth attends in drag, Liz decides to kick her horrible dietary habits and try to lead a healthy life. The highlight of this plotline was Pete, whose growing desperation and near insanity this season have provided a highlight, especially when compared to everyone else's mediocrity. In a season where Pete is the only character to get funnier, the show clearly has some issues.

Yet whether the show is in decline or not, its still a very fun and funny way to spend a half an hour on a Thursday. The mighty may have fallen, but (to mix metaphors as only I can) the fat lady has yet to sing. Here's hoping 30 Rock is back on top again before long.

Grade: B


-"That fire in your apartment was no accident!" "I know! I just wanted to be in control!"

-"Manufactured in a facility that also processes food. This is what Meat Cat spoke of."

-"Could a bad mother have raised a daughter that was engaged to a Congressman at 16?"

-Jenna keeps a microphone in her purse.

-"How are you not moved by this?" "Because I'm listening to the words."

-"You didn't believe in me, but I believed in myself. Just like the end of every movie."

-"Some of the people on Match Game are drunk--with power!"

Jordan's Review: Community, Season 1, Episode 15: Romantic Expressionism

I have praised Community several times before for its excellent ensemble and their very solid chemistry. The skill with which these characters interact, and the wit that results from their pairings have quickly escalated this show to one of the best comedies on TV, but more than that, it has made it a show that I love even when it churns out less than stellar episodes. Having praised the last new episode of Community as better than it should have been because of the show's good will, this week's "Romantic Expressionism" reminded me exactly where that good will has come from. This show has a decided advantage not just in its excellent cast who can handle any plotline thrown at them or any character pairing imaginable, and not just in its often superb writing, but also (as I've noted before) in its very solid stable of recurring characters who can appear out of nowhere to spice up the already very palatable mix.

This week, Vaughn is back, and he has become the object of Annie's affections. Jeff and Britta scheme to break the two up "for Annie's own good" but by episode's end it is revealed that each had ulterior motives. While the show set up a standard pro Jeff and Britta coupling episode, including a pretty cute moment where they discussed the future, the writers threw a curveball in a perfectly executed scene in which secret motivations were revealed and the question of the study group as a metaphor for family was dealt with. Turns out Britta wanted Annie out of the way because she was jealous, and Jeff wanted Vaughn out of the way because of his feelings for Annie. This was enough to have me jumping for joy, as I am fervently in favor of Jeff and Annie over Jeff and Britta, but the scene went further, using the excellent chemistry this cast has built up for a hysterical moment where the gang all look at each other as sexual prospects for the first time.

The B-plot comprised the rest of the cast (including Senor Chang) as they gathered to watch a bad movie and mock it. Pierce felt left out when everyone was better at it than him, and so hired the sketch comedy troupe to write jokes for him. the jokes were pretty awful, and he read them at a breakneck pace, but only once Pierce realized that the point was just to have fun with friends (and after he did a classic Chevy Chase pratfall) did he finally feel like part of the gang.

The episode ended with a scene that was equal amounts sweet and hilariously stupid, which is a combination the show does exceedingly well. As Vaughn came back and wooed Annie with another ridiculous song, the group all stood there together, just happy to be around one another. And I sat on my couch at home, just happy to be able to watch them on a weekly basis.

Grade: A


-"He never wears a shirt, he never wears shoes. Why hasn't he died from lack of service?"

-"You think I'm too old to make monkeyshines at a picture show?"

-Vaughn is a gateway douchebag. Starburns is lower on the list.

-"Freeze police? Don't do that, they'll get cold."

-"Troy, I want you to clear your head." "Done."

-"Sorry it took so long. They made me buy a shirt."

-"Let's not confine ourselves to your wheelhouse. This problem won't respond to tap dancing or casual revelations that you spent time in New York."

-"Everything is connected. Rocks. Eagles. Hats." "Some things are more connected. Like tarantulas and me peeing my pants."

-"Hey guys, thanks for eating all the macaroni!" "Shut up, Leonard! No one knows what you're talking about... I did eat all the macaroni, its messed up that he knows that."

-"Dude, even I know you're lame, and I'm a tenured professor sitting in a beanbag chair. "You're not a professor."

-"That kiss wasn't for pleasure. It was strategic and joyless." God they have such tension it kills me.

-"So, just to be clear, I don't have a shot with any of you?"

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Jordan's Review: 24, Season 8, Episode 6: 9:00pm-10:00pm

If asked to describe this week's episode of 24 in two words, I think it would be a pretty simple task: nothing happened. Literally. Not one thing of major note occurred. its true that the show needs episodes to put pieces in place for what's to come, but this didn't even feel like a piece moving episode. It felt like an episode where nothing I cared about at all occurred. Annie Wersching is getting in some very solid scenes out of Renee's on screen breakdown, and watching her skirt the edge with a combination of fear and cynical detachment is remotely interesting because she handles it so well ,but she is really stretching the material as far as it can go.

Meanwhile, President Taylor still wants to get the peace dea through, Hassan seems to be a little nuts after the assassination attempt, Dana is still going through the motions of her incredibly rote "forced mole" plotline, Arlo is still kind of a jerk who is kind of right, and Jack is still stuck ineffectually behind the scenes calling out Renee for being far less crazy than he has been before (until he finally gets moved to the front line near the episode's end). Maybe becoming a grandfather has softened Jack, but this is a man who has done things far darker and crazier than anything Renee has thought yet who is freaking out over her. I desperately hope this doesn't turn into another damaged romance subplot as Jack's overreaction seems to indicate, as we all know Jack is cursed by his past to never be truly happy.

I'd love to stretch this review more, but there isn't much to say. I found Renee's idea to take a shower while her former rapist was in the next room entirely preposterous, and thought that the russian crime boss killing his son was very "look how evil I am, I kill my own men" cliched, to the point that it didn't even shock me. Clearly he wasn't going to kill David Anders, because no one kills Sark that easily, and because he is the thing I'm most excited about so far in this season. Let's pause for a moment to consider that fact: the semi-rebellious son of a disconnected and none too threatening bad guy is the closest thing we have to a solid plotline yet this year. Which reminds me, does anyone else feel like there isn't really a threat or tension in this season? I mean sure, there's a chance someone will get a nuclear weapon, but we already saw Los Angeles get a huge pock mark a few years ago (which was, by the way, incredibly shocking and a great moment for the series) and they really can't pull that trick again. Plus, I seriously doubt 24 is controversial enough to set off a nuclear bomb in New York City, which leaves literally zero tension. The preview for next week promised some cool looking action, and I seriously hope there are a few plot twists or complications thrown in to get this incredibly lackluster season off the ground. Otherwise we too are about to experience a very long day.

Grade: C-


-Freddie Prinze Jr. is not nearly as bad as I'd worried he might be, but to this point has been pretty underused. I wonder when he'll get pulled in majorly...

Jordan's Review: How I Met Your Mother, Season 5, Episode 14: The Perfect Week

Generally the ideal How I Met your Mother episode is mythology based, following an advancement of ted's quest to meet the mother or at least giving us hints at what is to come. Occasionally an episode becomes legendary for its use of the flash-forward to foreshadow major events in our characters lives. Sometimes the episode becomes legendary by introducing an excellent new running joke that will keep us waiting for seasons before the pay-off. "The Perfect Week" is none of these things, yet it is still the show at its near-best, with every character getting some excellent moments, a clever use of the flashback structure the show is built around, and an excellent guest role by Jim Nantz.

The episode is framed around the idea of Barney's favorite way to calm his nerves: pretending he is being interviewed by the aforementioned sportscaster. While Barney waits to see if the axe will drop on him at work, he recounts to fictional Jim Nantz the story of his quest for the legendary Perfect Week. It starts off in a standard "calling of the shot" in which Barney points his finger at a girl and decides he's going home with her (a little adjustment is required). Soon he is racking up enough consecutive nights to make the difficult feat seem within reach. Neil Patrick Harris is almost always the show's strongest comedic link, yet often when he steps into the center of the storyline, things fall off the rails (see: the first half of this season when the Barney-Robin pairing was botched). Tonight his status as one of the most entertaining performers around carried the episode beautifully, as did his nigh inexplicable (yet hysterical) chemistry with a game Jim Nantz, who was funnier than he had any right to be.

Yet a great A-plot cannot an awesome episode make. As Barney struggles for his (don't say it) the gang watches, first with disinterest and disgust, and eventually with a sports fan's zeal for the way the game is played as each of their week's plummets. The show really hits its stride when the cast is making fun of each other and trying to one-up every one else with their jokes, and tonight was a perfect storm of mockery as each member had something that could be insulted. Robin grew increasingly desperate after an awful first date (with a lazy eye and a love-hate relationship with Gargamel) doesn't call her back and allowher to properly reject him. Ted feels dejected after his mockery of a student with a funny name makes her drop his class (in his defense he thought it was a joke name, and she was called Cook Pu). And Marshall and Lily have dropped the ball yet again in their never ending quest to find couple friends by admitting that they share a toothbrush (an extremely gross tidbit that only gets funnier when its revealed that Ted and Robin unknowingly shared their toothbrush for years as well).

As the episode ends, Barney triumphs, entering the "Hall of Game" and retiring the tie he wore on the seventh night. Oh, and he doesn't get fired, which would have been a bigger deal if the show didn't so perfectly immerse us in Barney's narrative. It has been far too long since an episode of How I Met Your Mother has been this hysterical, allowing every member of the cast to shine and engaging us in a story that really is as one-note and stand alone as any the show has forwarded of late. In terms of stand alone episodes, "The Perfect Week" may be just about as good as it gets.

Grade: A


-"You know how Lily and I have been looking for new couple friends ever since we lost Barney and Robin, and Ted and Stella, and Ted and Robin, and Ted and Victoria. Jeez Ted, when are you going to get your life together?"

-"See that girl over there having a Black Russian? She's about to chase that with a White American. What up?" Even better was him following the gang's eye rolls with, "if you guys aren't careful, you're going to lose me."

-"Giddy...what up?"

-"Are you happy now Truthy McGee?"

-The only man to achieve both a perfect game and a perfect week was Mustache Pete Drexel back in 1896. Continuing a subtle tradition of casting NPH as a variety of historical figures.

-"Don't talk about Dale that way! He is twice the man you will ever be!" Something about obsessed Robin is a never not funny.

-"Eight o'clock?"--pauses to count-- "I need to go to the hospital."

-"You are a keen observer of the human condition, Jim Nantz." Also worth praising was Nantz's reaction to the second member of the gang claiming there is no such thing as a jinx, when he stood up, threw up his hands, and kicked over his chair in disbelief.

-"Lily, I'm getting my own toothbrush."