Friday, April 30, 2010

Jordan's Review: 30 Rock, Season 4, Episode 19: Argus

In the last few weeks 30 Rock has gained back my favor, not by returning to its former glory, but by developing into an absurd one liner machine that glides unassumingly through unexceptional plots creating laughs along the way through sheer wackiness. Tonight had three pretty zany plots that allowed this new form of the show to work very well. The show has certainly grown broader recently, but that isn't necessarily a bad thing, especially if it continues to be as consistently amusing as tonight's episode was.

The A-plot revolved around the inherently funny idea of Jack inheriting a peacock named Argus from his mentor Don Geiss. This in and of itself could have provided some laughs, but when Jack becomes convinced that the soul of Geiss is trapped in the peacock and gets a chance to unburden his soul to his mentor, it becomes a moment of real poignancy. The show has spent so much time developing the relationship between Jack and Don over the last four years that giving it this admittedly weird coda seems appropriate. Plus, it has Kenneth referring to peacock's as "Swamp eagles" which is always fun.

The B-plot has Liz trying to stop Grizz from picking Dot Com as his best man because Dot Com is secretly in love with Grizz' fiance Feyonce. Again, an admittedly absurd plotline that found Tracy using his childish selfishness for good and put Liz in between two gentle giants. It also allowed for a recurring gag in which Pete attempted to reinvent himself as "Dallas" a suave, Indiana Jones like character, which makes his every appearance that much funnier.

Finally, in what has to be the weirdest of tonight's plots, Jenna begins dating a Jenna Maroni impersonator (played by the always solid Will Forte), which pretty much perfectly fits with her insane level of narcissism. 30 Rock may not be the masterpiece it was in seasons past, but with my lowered expectations, I have found the last few episodes of the show very enjoyable and pretty continuously funny.

Grade: B+


-"Maybe that boyhood sled he held so dear. I believe he called it ...sleddy."

-Don Geiss had a secret Canadian family and an even more secret Attic Family.

-Grizz and Liz were the Sam and Diane of 30 Rock.

-"He lives or you die." "I was about to suggest the same thing!"

-"What if he's in a secret back room doing pot?"

-"If we can put an ear on a mouse's back, we can certainly make a peacock immortal."

-"I've known Dot Com ever since we went to Above the Beanstalk, a free summer camp for giants..."

-"How much do you know about him?" "I lost a toe ring in him, so I'd say a lot."

-"I'd never tuck my penis again if she asked me."

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Jordan's Review: Community, Season 1, Episode 22: The Art of Discourse

For a good portion of tonight's episode, I was convinced I was watching the season finale of Community. In my defense, this was the twenty second episode, which is generally the length of a network sitcom season (though the trend toward 24 in the last year or so is apparently continuing, thankfully), and it did a lot of things that made me think it would work as a finale. It raised the question (via some incredibly obnoxious, and none too funny high schoolers) of where our protagonists have gone wrong in life to end up here, created "drama" by having Shirley and Pierce leave the group, and had a wacky subplot in which Troy and Abed try to complete Abed's "things to do in my first year of college" list because the year is almost over. In short, "The Art of Discourse" could have functioned as the season finale and done so pretty well. In fact, had the season ended with a freeze frame and writing reading "Troy and Abed will return in College Cut Ups 2: Panty Raid Academy" I would have been pretty happy.

There are a few reasons I'm glad this in fact wasn't the finale. First among those is the Britta and Jeff A-story, which as I said raised a good question for the show to address, but did not in fact address the question and actually fell flat comedically. In a perfectly executed episode of the show, the two would have become engaged in an epic form of comedic one-upsmanship that would have lead to some gloriously weird moments. Instead, Jeff and Britta spent the episode failing to be funny, which it turns out was not all that funny. I did like that Jeff set out to bang the kid's mom, though, as that is in fact the best possible diss he could have served.

Another reason I'm glad this wasn't the finale: The Shirley and Pierce plotline ended with a decent joke wherein they pantsed the high schoolers, but not with the heartwarming moment I would have expected had this been the finale. I liked how this plotline handled their issues with each other and reminded both us and them what an important role they play in the group, and transitively, the show. Plus it gave the two of them some rare screen time together, again showing that this cast is so versatile you can throw any of them into a subplot together and they can make it work comedically.

Finally, I'm glad this wasn't the finale because I'm just not ready to say good-bye to this show for the summer yet. I wouldn't put this episode up as the shining example of why this is quickly becoming my favorite comedy to watch each week, but it was still a fun half an hour full of a lot of weirdness and a lot of laughter. Troy and Abed's whole plotline was standard Abed fare, in which the two tried to recreate a bunch of college movie cliches, yet somehow it was hilarious in spite of the fact that it was exactly what you'd expect. The boobitron, the fake drama to create the illusion of a story arc, the breaking the guitar and the stealing of another school's mascot were all very solid jokes, and the food-fight/freeze frame ending was played absolutely perfectly within the episode's tone. Thank god this show is not done for the season yet. I'm just not ready to let it go for a few more weeks.

Grade: B+


-The preview for next week's paintball episode/action movie parody was already hysterical. I am extremely excited.

-"Knitting is hip! Winona Ryder knits!"

-"You said I have a crafty Jew brain!" "Nobody knows how to take a compliment anymore."

-I like that Troy considered asking the goat to explain sarcasm to him.

-"My uncle was struck by lightning. You'd think it'd give him super powers, but now he just masturbates in theaters..."

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Jordan's Review: Happy Town: Season 1, Episode 1: In This Home On Ice

There are certain buzz words that will cause me to watch pretty much any pilot. One of those phrases that draws me inexorably to a show is "Twin Peaks-esque." If you tell me a show is striving to be the new Twin Peaks or is balancing surrealism with small town America, or is layering mystery upon mystery so that there are literally dozens of questions for the show to answer, I will definitely watch the first few episodes to see if it can pull me in. Some shows (like Lost and Desperate Housewives, both of which oddly premiered to reviews that claimed they were the new Twin Peaks and both of which lost me after about the first season as one proved to be a none too clever satire and the other stagnated in its own pacing and mythology) pull me in for long stretches, others only for a few weeks. Not a single one of them yet has captured the magic that rendered me obsessed with Twin Peaks for years (even though I discovered it over a decade after its cancellation), but I will keep trying until the end of time.

Now that I've digressed a lot on exactly what brought me to Happy Town, I'll discuss my initial thoughts. This review will focus less on the specific plot and more on what the pilot says and tries to say about the series of a whole. This show, more than any of the other imitators I have come across in my years of searching, screams Twin Peaks. It is set in a small town, centered around a mysterious murder, full of odd characters and surrealist touches. The similarities go on and on (for Peaks' saw mill, substitute Town's bread factory). What this show lacks, however, is the assured tone that David Lynch's wonderfully warped mind brought to Twin Peaks. What Lynch's flawed masterpiece did right was set up a place that felt almost real, settle you into the slightly off cadence of its daily goings on, and then pull the rug out from under you by throwing in a backwards talking dwarf with the clues to unlock it all. Happy Town plays its surreal notes a lot heavier, as if screaming at the audience "THIS SHOW IS WEIRD! EVERYTHING THAT HAPPENS IS WEIRD BECAUSE WE WANT YOU TO TUNE IN TO FIND OUT WHY ITS HAPPENING!"

In fact, if there's one central problem with Happy Town at the end of its pilot, its that it goes too broad with everything its trying to do. In place of exposition that allows these characters' lives to feel lived in and, you know, real we get lazy writing like the introductory scene between Amy Acker's Rachel and Geoff Stults' Tommy (incidentally, telling me Amy Acker is a cast member on a show is also enough to make me tune in to a pilot) in which he tells their daughter, who by the way is shockingly child-like for how old she looks, "Mommy and Daddy still sneak off for smoochies even though they've been married since the prom." More gratingly obvious was the scene just seconds later when he tells his daughter, "Your baby-sitter Joanie is coming by to walk you to school." Are we supposed to believe that his daughter doesn't know who her own babysitter is?

Other things about this episode grate me, including Joanie's forbidden romance with the popular bully, and heir to the town's most powerful family (or at the very least it's namesake). A story of star-crossed lovers doesn;t get any less cliched if you say, "I'm tired of this whole Romeo and Juliet thing." Guess what Happy Town? So are we.

But in spite of all this, there are things about this pilot that do work, or are at least intriguing enough that I know I'll tune in for at least the next few weeks. Sam Neill's mysterious and mildly menacing Merritt Grieves is a very fun character to watch, and his few scenes leave me wanting much more. M.C. Gainey as the town's Sherriff who seems prone to channeling random spooky sentences that theoretically tie into things is interesting, and the montage at the end after he's locked himself in the office set up another thing that will keep me coming back. This is a show with a lot of questions, and I'm at least interested enough in the answers to give it a few more chances. Plus, a show with a great cliff-hanger and a serialized nature is likely to keep me hooked for much longer than I should be, simply because each episode leaves me wondering what will happen next. True Blood kept me on the hook long enough to get good simply by ending each of its subpar early episodes with a big enough question mark that I just had to see what happened next. Tonight's ending does not qualify as "so good I have to come back," but it does set a lot of pieces in motion and keep me interested enough that I will watch in weeks to come to see if the shoe stumbled out of the gate or is just not particularly good.

Other things to get excited about: Stephen Weber as a member of the town's namesake family who owns the bread factory (shades of Peaks's Ben Horne?) and doubles as a bit of a conspiracy theorist, and the hint in the preview that Frances Conroy will be playing his mother in the coming weeks (another big draw to me ever since Six Feet Under). I have name dropped other shows in this review more than I have actually discussed Happy Town which I promise will cease in future weeks, but really, this pilot just seems to have been cobbled together from pieces of past successes. Whether it will reveal itself to be the second coming of Twin Peaks or just another pale imitator is yet to be seen (and if I was forced to lay a bet right now, it would be on the latter), and I can't necessarily recommend tonight's showing as good television for someone without my obsessions, but Happy Town has thrown a lot of pieces on the table, and what they've shown is interesting enough to warrant at least one more shot.

Grade: C


-The villain is called "The Magic Man." A bit on the nose, but also a bit creepy.

-The third floor of the building where Henley (the series potential protagonist, who I neglected to even mention in the review proper) is staying is off limits. Pool on how many episodes before she goes up there?

-Robert Wisdom, aka Bunny from The Wire is Roger Hobbs. Another exciting addition to a cast that so far seems shockingly overqualified for this material.

-Creepy Quotes from the Sherriff that will likely foreshadow some revelation abound in this episode. The one that will stick with me longest: "When did Chloe contact you? Did you realize the glow from her mouth was the silvery moon?"

-Other things we found out in the last 30 seconds of this episode that vaguely intrigue me. Henley's real name is Chloe (twist! That's the name the Sherriff keeps saying!) and she clearly knows more about the town than she's let on. Also, she has a question mark tattoo, and that is important (because the question mark is a symbol somehow related to "The Magic Man." And also a symbol for this show being full of questions. The latter is just slightly more heavy handed).

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Jordan's Review: Glee, Season 1, Episode 16: Home

There are some really solid scenes in "Home," that actually convey real emotions from the characters, and which make sense both within this episode and within the broad types these characters have been drawn within this season. Unfortunately, the myriad stories they try to fit into this episode don't coalesce at all and actually detract from the time, and the pathos, that any of these stories could have created if they had been given a larger share of the episode. I like the idea of Kurt and Finn's parents getting together. I like the idea of Will and April bumping into each other again now that Will is single. And as for Mercedes' after school special on body image and how we should all just be ourselves? More on that in a minute.

The story that worked best for me was the Kurt-Finn storyline, which worked on several levels and made logical sense, something I've stopped expecting from this show, but still enjoy from time to time. It made sense that Kurt would want to set his Dad up with Finn's Mom to get closer to Finn, and I also like how the story pulled a 180 whe n Kurt suddenyl realized that introducing a much more traditionally masculine kid into his father's life could threaten their relationship. The scene in which Kurt and his Dad fight over the new relationship was heartbreaking and actually felt real. In fact, I can say with little doubt that the scene ranked among the best Glee has ever done outside a musical sequence, and looked like a scene from the show I wish this had been from day one. Both sides of the argument made good, realistic points, and Kurt actually mentioned that, though he is gay, he is still a guy. I also really enjoyed the scene between Kurt's Dad and Finn when they discussed Finn's father and sat down to watch a game together. Sure, Kurt's creepy standing outside the window was weird, but damn it if Chris Colfer (who is consistently much better than the material he is handed) didn't sell the hell out of that moment.

This storyline also used music the way I've dreamed the show would--rather than tacking on a heavy handed and random "Theme" for the kids to sing a song about each week, this storyline allowed Kurt to sing a song that deepened his storyline, showcased his stellar voice, and didn't beat you to death with the subtext it was trying to get across. Sure, Kurt was introducing this week's heavy handed theme when he sang the song, but I had almost forgotten that by the end because it worked as a character moment so well. Had this storyline been allowed to take center stage, the show might have turned out its best episode yet, but instead, this plotline had to share center stage with two storylines that try their hand at blending humor and pathos and fail pretty much totally.

The Mercedes storyline, in contrast to the Kurt-Finn one, showcased pretty much everything I dislike about the show currently. The idea of new cheerleader Mercedes developing an eating disorder in her attempts to fit in could have worked if it was teased out over a few episodes, or played out in the background as a singular struggle Mercedes faced. But Glee doesn't do multi-episode arcs, so Mercedes is told directly by Sue to lose weight or she gets kicked off the team, then she is told directly by Santana and Brittany how to develop an eating disorder, and then she drops it because she realizes she likes who she is. And in case we didn't get the meaning of her discovery, she sings the extremely heavy-handed "Beautiful" to bash it into our heads. This is the second week in a row where one of the major storylines was pretty much airlifted out of an after school special, and it raises another issue I have with the show as a whole: its supporting characters, who are for the most part as interesting as the main characters, if not moreso, come across in most episodes as a collection of minorities (black girl, gay guy, asian girl, handicapped guy) who exist to either be shoved into these after school special plots or to complain that they are being given nothing to do. I love a good meta joke as much as the next guy (ok, way, way, way more) but this seems less clever than true. The only time you ever see one of the minority characters in a main storyline, its a giant cliche that usually exploits them for what sets them apart (see "Wheels" for the most painful example of this).

As for the Will and April storyline, it transparently exists so that Kristen Chenowith can sing. I love the lady, and I'm glad they use her singing voice when they have her, but this isn't so much a subplot as a broadly strung together set of songs. The only one that even tries to work story-wise is the duet in Will's apartment, which was nicely implying the two would consummate their flirtation before demurely backing away from the idea because, I don't know, that would be interesting? Also, that sequence may have been the best, but it was also almost painfully over long, which hurt its effectiveness almost as much as the show's unwillingness to let Will bang April as he clearly would have. I like Glee's music numbers a lot, but if the show just exists as a vehicle for the songs, let's turn it into a variety show or a glorified, scripted American Idol. Barring that, the songs should add subtext or move the story along in some way. Most of them tonight just exist.

Grade: B-


-How did this show get a roller rink to use as a performance space and then not do a roller disco sequence?

-The scene in which everyone turned into food was the biggest cliche imaginable, and it literally made me cringe.

-"How do you two not have a show on Bravo?"

-"I feel like the guy who set up Liza and David Guest."

-"I haven't had a drink in 45 minutes."

-"I'm going to mount the first ever all white production of The Wiz!"

Monday, April 26, 2010

Jordan's Review: 24, Season 8, Episode 19: 10:00 am-11:00 am

I have defended President Taylor as a character a lot this season, mostly because of the solid performance by Cherry Jones. But the character continues to try my patience, and tonight lapsed into sheer unbelievability with her waffling back and forth on the cover-up conspiracy. Last week, 24 delivered the best episode of the season, ratcheting up the tension and setting the pieces for an exciting end to what has been a flat out terrible season. Tonight the show squandered what little good will it built up last week by putting the least rational character behind the wheel of the story.

Let's think about the rationale of President Taylor tonight. She is initially behind the idea of a cover-up to preserve this peace treaty whose goals are vague at best, and whose validity is questionable not only because an un-elected figurehead will be signing it, but also because at least one of the signatories smuggled nuclear weapons into the hands of terrorists and assassinated a world leader to keep it from being signed. So the chances of this treaty actually getting something done are shockingly slim. But she decides to engage in a massive cover-up anyway. Until Ethan tells her not to. Then she decides she has crossed a moral line and should end the peace deal and reveal the treachery of the Russians. Until Charles Logan tells her not to. Then she's back on the cover-up train towards impeachment town, and why exactly? Ethan tries to provide some rationale (presumably because even the writers were curious as to what the motivations of her character were) late in the episode, relating it to the loss of her family and personal motivations and blah, blah, blah. Her decisions are motivated by nothing even resuming consistent characterization, she is simply a walking, talking story contrivance with her own Oval Office. Charles Logan may be a bastard, but at least he's a convincing one, and you can understand his motivations at any given point. President Taylor is basically a noncharacter at this point, moving the story with her actions, but serving no other purpose.

The consistent problem with this season is the utter lack of tension, and after building some in nicely last week, the show revealed its hand early this week, and yet again, it had nothing. Think about it: at this point the only characters who are in any sort of danger at all are Jack (who will live not only because the writers lost the courage to kill him years ago, but also because without him there is literally no conflict yet) and Dana (who will live because Jack can't get the evidence without her), niether of whom is really in danger if we pause for a moment. The country isn't in any actual danger, except the scandal of having yet another corrupt President, and as Jack's effortless out-maneuvering of Cole and his men tonight proved, Jack isn't even in over his head like last week left us thinking. Further, it isn't like Chloe will ever fully turn against Jack, so even when Charles Logan inevitably calls in a kill order, she will figure out a way to help him. There is no tension driving this season, and that just leaves us with a whole lot of time on our hand to contemplate how absurd everything happening is. At the end of tonight's episode, I actually groaned at the realization that there are still 5 hours left. This season will not be saved at this point, I just wish someone would put it out of its misery.



-Michael Fucking Madsen guest starred as Jack's contact who had a bunch of weapons...because Jack needed one of those, and Quentin Tarantino isn't filming anything right now...That was the best part of this episode, and that is really sad.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Jordan's Review: 30 Rock, Season 4, Episodes 17 and 18: Lee Marvin vs. Derek Jeter/ Khonani

There was a lot about tonight's 3o Rock duo that has prominently appeared in the past as things I really hate about this season. It prominently featured two of Jack's least interesting love interests of all time (including Elizabeth Banks, who might just be awful incarnate), it focused heavily on the idea of Liz as unattractive, and it gave the writers a stupid, overly wacky plotline with the writers. Yet, to varying degrees, these two episodes largely worked due to a high volume of absurd one liners that distracted from the stuff that wasn't as good.

"Lee Marvin vs. Derek Jeter" had Jack thrown into a Three's Company style love triangle as Nancy (Julianne Moore) returned announcing her divorce, and Avery (Elizabeth Banks, who manages to make some great writing worse by her terrible timing...not that I'm at all biased) continued her courtship of Jack. Meanwhile, Liz is increasingly desperate for companionship and so is attending tons of singles events in the hopes of finding that special someone (spoiler alert: she doesn't). Finally, Toofer quits when he discovers he was hired due to affirmative action, which leads to a lovely, and pretty clever lesson at the end, when Pete points out that, "This is America. None of us are supposed to be here."

In "Khonani," the show finally responded to the whole Conan/Leno thing in a heavy handed subplot in which Jack is distracted from his love triangle by a janitorial emergency that doesn't really parody the situation so much as lay out the exact problem and solve it in the same way NBC did...poorly. Also, the show came off as a lot more Pro-Leno than I think it intended to, which was very disappointing. In the other plotlines, Liz tried to throw a party, and Tracy tried to be a good husband. This episode didn't work as well as the former, but it gave Tracy a chance to say some crazy things which is always nice.

Overall, these two episodes showed some of 30 Rock's remaining strength, but also showcased the weaknesses the show has had over the past season with creating stories that are actually funny rather than weak plotting filled with random jokes. At the show's best, the plots were so funny that the randomness felt like icing on the cake. However, tonight's episodes were a lot funnier than the show has been recently, and that's saying something.

Grade: B


-"Mrs. DOubtfire shimself couldn't do it!"

-"It wouldn't look Santa Claus taking a shower."

-"This has nothing to do with our slight difference in gender."

-"Are these the cufflinks Reagan was buried in?" "Don't ask me how I got them, but I do know the access code to his pyramid..."

-"What, do you just want to sit around and be wrong?"

-Nice Will Ferrell cameo. Bitch Hunters: "Happy birthday, bitches!"

-"At the risk of editorializing, I am personally outraged."

-"Threefer, cause you're also gay!"

-Liz miming sharing a drink with Jack was hilarious.

-Ceri's fiance was kidnapped by pirates, but saved by the A-Team.

-"Because this is NBC: The Biggest Loser network."

-"The secret service never gave me back my tshirt cannon."

-"I am innoventing, a word I just innovented."

Jordan's review: Community, Season 1, Episode 21: Contemporary American Poultry

Let's play a little game. Name a sitcom (discounting Arrested Development which is, bar none, the best sitcom of all time) that has had a better first season run than Community. I'm not sure any other show I can think of has found itself as quickly, developed its style and comedy so fluidly, or realized and executed its major themes with such confidence and (dare I say) panache. If you're just now beginning to pay attention to my reviews of the show, you should realize about now that I'm a big fan. But enough about my love for how the series has come together and how I believe it may go down as one of the greatest sitcoms of all time provided it can keep this hot streak going, let's talk about the glory that was "Contemporary American Poultry."

The show has always been very pop culture literate, generally using Abed to through in the references and meta-humor while the other characters go about their story. But never has the show embraced its parodies as fully as it did tonight. This episode was not, however, simply an insanely detailed parody of Goodfellas with a little of The Godfather movies thrown in for good measure. It also functioned, as those films do, as a story about what happens when one group gains power, and how that power can threaten to tear them apart. Abed takes on the Henry Hill role ("As far back as I can remember, I've always wanted to be in a mafia movie...") when the group decides that they want daily access to chicken fingers, an item always in high demand, and low quantity, on their campus. The storyline works because it doesn't allow itself to be subsumed by the in-depth parody its tackling, and instead additionally works as a story familiar to anyone whose ever been to college: the good food goes fast.

This is a familiar storyline, but one I don't think I've ever seen done before, which allows it to feel fresh and gives the extended parody a spin that makes it funny even to the uninitiated who haven't seen Goodfellas (if you're among them, stop reading this shitty review site and go watch the There are great jokes made better by an intimate knowledge of the movie, like the scene in which Abed sends a message to the gang while the piano solo from "Layla" plays, or the repeated use of freeze framing during Abed's narration, but the episode still works as an elaborate joke about chicken tenders as drugs in an underground community college mafia. And if that last clause didn't make you laugh, I'm not sure what will.

This episode made well a point that I've tried to articulate about the show before: its inclusive in its comedy, in that if a particular joke or reference isn't working for you a very different one is likely right behind it. If you weren't loving the parody portion of this week's episode, you could have enjoyed the silliness of Troy naming his monkey Annie's Boobs or the subtle moment when Jeff realizes his "Shut up" hand motion no longer works, or even the great character moment at the end where Abed gives a long dissertation on why he supplanted Jeff, and the two of them pledge to help each other with their own personal weaknesses. One of the most amazing things about this show is how prolific its jokes are, and yet how well they fit with the characters.

This show is exciting for two reasons, both of which were highlighted in tonight's episode: its gotten to a place where it can figure out how to make basically any storyline work (from an elaborate parody, to a crazy sailboat-in-the-parking-lot bit, to a quiet character moment), and it does so while actually telling a cohesive story about redemption and second chances, with characters who stay shockingly consistent while being impressively diverse. Unlike a lot of other shows, this is one where no line is really interchangeable, because it fits with any given character's voice so well it could only really come from them. They each have jokes, in any given episode, but there is no feeling that any person was given a laugh line just because they hadn't spoken in a while. Every line fits organically with the person they've become. And that's pretty good for a sitcom nearing the end of its freshman season.

Grade: A-


-The fact that I didn't give this a flat A is reflective of my growing expectations for this show.

-"Stop trying to coin the phrase 'streets ahead.'"

-"Why do you have a monkey?" "Uh, its an animal that looks like a dude. Why don't I have ten?"

-"I don't have an ego. My Facebook photo is a landscape."

-"He released Annie's Boobs! Annie's Boobs could be anywhere! Annie's Boobs could be on the side of the road..." "We get it, the monkey's name is Annie's Boobs."

-"You were right." "Now go home and write that on your bathroom mirror." "Wouldn't that make it seem like I was right?"

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Jordan's Review: Glee, Season 1, Episode 15: The Power of Madonna

I understand that Madonna gave Glee the rights to all of her music in a highly publicized move that doesn't at all smell like a publicity stunt. I think that's decently cool of her, and when I heard the news, I imagined the show would put her music to good use. What I didn't think they would do is devote an entire episode to her. But then again, its Glee, so they have to tie all of their episodes together tenuously through obvious song patterns instead of subtly with things like "themes" or "depth."

The plot of this episode, if you can even call it that, did not work on any sort of level. I get that Sue Sylvester is a powerful woman, but everything about her character pretty much screams that she would think Madonna was a "cheap whore" (or the equivalent, as she often refers to her girls as such for similar behavior), and the only reason she doesn't is so that this episode can have a Madonna song in literally every scene. This comes about because the Principal is a total coward, to the point that his cowardice defies realism. If any Principal anywhere allowed Madonna music to be blasted throughout the halls of his school all day, he would be pretty immediately fired. Beyond that, it isn't even necessary for the show to have those songs playing in the background. It stinks of the show using the songs simply because it can, which really hurts their potentially cool ability to use some pretty iconic songs well. Just because Glee now has the ability to use every Madonna song, did they have to try to cram them all into one episode? It took some of the joy out of the musical numbers to know that they were shoehorned in basically because they were a Madonna song, not because they did anything to move the story at all.

The main storyline had all of the girls being mistreated by all of the boys (who this week are assholes) and losing all of their confidence (because this week the girls are meek and lack the self-possession it takes to belt songs like they do). This leads Will's amazingly convoluted assignment machine to pop out the idea that they all sing Madonna songs. Meanwhile Rachel, Finn, and Emma all deal with the possibility of losing their virginities (I wonder where the show got the idea to have three characters feel..."Like a Virgin"?). Over on the Sue Sylvester front, she kept beating the dead horse that is the Will has bad hair jokes, but also got in some wonderful absurdities in her exchange with Kurt and Mercedes. And, just in case you were worried the show had gotten over its seriously problematic misunderstanding of what it means to be gay, Kurt threw in another line about him being an honorary girl tonight. Because, you know, being gay means you're a girl.

All of that being said, the musical numbers tonight were some of the best the show has ever done. They were pretty perfectly produced, sounded great, and were a lot of fun to watch. In a vacuum, each of the songs in this episode were excellent. But tied together by this lazy, boring, offensive after school special of an episode, even the wonderful musical numbers seemed tarnished. I still feel like there is a great show buried somewhere (deep, deep, deep) inside Glee, but with each passing episode I lose a little more faith that it will ever emerge. This show could easily be truly about something. With a little effort, the show could transcend its tropes, cliches, and offensive stereotypes in favor of plot arcs, character development, and thematic resonance. If the show tried at all, it could use the power of song to convey complex, subtle, or insanely over dramatic emotions in a way no other show on television has ever done before. Yet it seems that Glee is satisfied to settle for the least common denominator and be a mainstream success with an empty soul.

Grade: B-


-The grade on this episode was bumped up because the musical numbers were really that good. The rest of the episode was more in C- territory, but they transcended the shittiness around them.

-Simply saying the word aloud makes me feel powerful...even in voice over."

-"When I pulled my hamstring, I went to a misogynist."

- I loved the absurdity of Sue's exchange with Kurt and Mercedes. She claims her parents were Nazi Hunters, but also that she is currently 29. And as an explanation for her hairstyle choice she says, "We bleached my hair with whatever chemicals we could find around the house. Ammonia, napalm..."

-"I've decided to add vocals to my already wildly overproduced Cheerios numbers."

-I got a kick out of the way Lea Michele choked out "No!" when Jesse challenged Finn to a sing off.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Jordan's Review: 24, Season 8, Episode 18: 9:00 am-10:00 am

For the first time all season tonight, 24 had me fairly riveted. And for the first time all season, I actually cared, when the final second was ticked off, what would happen next week. Last week was a piece setter in a lot of ways, an I concluded with my excitement for the way the pieces had been set up. Overall, the show has seriously botched the majority of this season, but it looks like it may turn things around in time for the final few hours. The elements that are likely to produce some compelling plot lines have finally been moved to the forefront and the more ridiculous stuff is being marginalized as much as possible.

Because I am so happy with so much of this episode, let's for once start with the few things I didn't like before turning toward what worked this week. For one thing, I have to comment on the still cheap way that Renee was shuffled off this mortal coil. I accept at this point that it was the only way to get Jack to go dark and turn against the world at a moment's notice, but that doesn't mean it wasn't a cheap story contrivance that actually works to lessen the impact of the previous sacrifices Jack has made on this show, the ones that actually mattered for more than just plot mobility. There were only two other little things that bugged me this week, and both were so minor as to seem like irritations in comparison to the glaring errors and inconsistencies I've become used to this season. Getting Ethan Kanin back on his feet just hours after he had a serious cardiac event and almost died is unrealistic, but only in real world terms. On 24's clock, that sort of development is expected and it makes story sense to bring the President's conscience back just when she is about to compromise all of her morals. In fact, it makes so much dramatic sense that I can barely call it a flaw that Ethan leap frogged his likely months-long recovery in just a few hours. The other thing I ranted about last week, but its just entirely implausible that Dahlia Hassan could be taking power, and this week stretched credulity further when they showed footage of women marching in the streets. In as radical and unstable a place as the IRK is purported to be, there is no way that women would be taking to the streets at all, regardless of the issue. But again, this is a small point, that didn't really detract from my enjoyment of the episode.

What worked best this week was President Taylor's painstaking ethical struggle and eventual moral compromise, and it was nothing short of compelling. Watching her dance around with Charles Logan was a pleasure once again, but watching her take steps toward the sort of compromise he made in his time in office created probably the best scene of the season. As Ethan begged her to show some reason, some sense of justice, she coldly realized that the best thing to do was refuse Jack, Dahlia Hassan, and the American people the truth they so richly deserved. President Taylor has never been particularly well written as a character, and tonight was no exception. Yet Cherry Jones, who is always excellent and usually underused, played the President's conflict and heartbreaking decision to the hilt, and watching her cross paths with the unhinged Jack created another excellent scene.

As for Jack, he rocketed through the episode with as much dark force as I had hoped to see based on last week's promise. After extorting a man by threatening his family, he slapped Dana Walsh around with as much abandon as Nicolas Cage in The Wicker Man before shouting down the President and stealing a helicopter. If I paused for a moment, I could point out how ridiculous all of this is, yet the episode's pacing (hearkening back to better days on 24) never let me stop for long enough to think about how easy it would have been for someone, anyone to stop Jack from stealing that helicopter and put this whole thing to rest. Instead, I was left rooting for Jack's improbable but inevitable escape. Because 24 is never better than when it pits Jack against the world, and while getting here has been an immense trial, it looks like the show might not make me regret spending this last 24 hours with it. The show is never more successful than when it leaves me wondering, "How will Jack get out of this?" and tonight's episode did just that. I mean, I'm pretty sure Jack can't just kill everyone in New York City, and President Taylor's Administration, and Russia, and maybe the IRK. Right?

Grade: B+


-As I wrote this review I sometimes had to fight to keep my enthusiasm for tonight's episode as high as it was when the credits rolled, but honestly this was the most fun I've had watching the show all year, and for that, tonight's episode earned its grade.

-"Sir, are you going to be all right?" I just imagine Jack replying, "I'm covered in the blood of my recently dead girlfriend, who really only died to feed my rage so the show wouldn't stagnate for its last few weeks. How do you think I am?"

-Gregory Itzin is still excellent as Logan, and I'm really glad they brought him back. And hey, Reed Diamond got to talk this week. Bonus Points!

Jordan's Review: How I Met Your Mother, Season 5, Episode 20: Home Wreckers

In a season like the one we're going through right now, its nice to get any little hint that the writers of the show are still able to give out the pathos that How I Met Your Mother excelled at during its prime. The show at its best was not only consistently hysterical, but also packed an emotional wallop, coming from a mixture of the nostalgia generated by the idea of Ted looking back on what turned out to be the best years of his life, and the whimsical romance that was his journey towards the woman of his dreams. There was no way "Home Wreckers" was going to move the shows masterplot forward in any meaningful way--that's too much to hope for in a random episode like this. The show did try to throw us a bone though, by examining a bit of Future Ted's life writ present and playing that up for as much resonance as they could get out of it. Sadly, the answer is not all that much, though I will admit watching the house transform into the den where Future Ted is telling the story to his children did make me feel all warm inside.

The episode began with the announcement that Ted's mother (Christine Rose) and her long term boyfriend Clint (Harry Groener, of Buffy fame) were tying the knot. Their relationship was played more broadly tongiht than we'd ever seen it previously, but it lead to at least a few good chuckles, from his incredibly graphic wedding song to their altered states at the episode's close. their union causes Ted to panick about the lack of a woman in his life (pretty much your standard Ted plotline) and impulsively buy a house. In case it wasn't patently obvious from the moment this happened, that house turns out to be the one he raises his children in, presumably with a mother of some sort (if the show ever gets around to introducing her). But of course, comedy must ensue, so much like the nearly identical Season 3 plotline when Marshall and Lily impulsively bought their apartment only to find it was fatally flawed, Ted discovers the house is a lemon, but too late.

The episode leaned heavily on the pathos to cover up for the lack of actual comedy in the episode's premise, and when it did go for comedy, it was in the form of several running gags, one of which worked and two of which sputtered. The gag that came together well was Marshall's continued game of "Drunk or Kid" when he tells the gang about somethign stupid he did (putting bottle rockets in the microwave, riding his bike down an extension ladder from the roof of his house, driving his brother's care the wrong way on I-94) and they are left to guess whether he was drunk at the time or a kid. Each of those ensuing cut scenes was worth at least a few laughs, especially the one resulting in Marshall's mother screaming "Marshall's dead! Marshall's dead!"

The second running gag centered on Barney (or Robin) crying at Clint's crude song. This joke was predicated on the standard HIMYM set up, where one member of the gang has done something stupid and the others mock him or her, and also played with the now pretty standard unreliable narrator, but for whatever reason the mixture felt decidedly off tonight. Finally, the man evaluating Ted's house kept finding things wrong with it, and that's funny because of the financial catastrophe it puts Ted in (though, to be fair, the guy listting hobo was pretty funny).

At the end of the day, this was a pretty weak episode which coasted on the emotional investment the fans have in the master-plot in the way that too many episodes this season have. I care deeply about Ted meeting the woman of his dreams, but every time the show cheapens that with a Macguffin (be it a job, a house, or even an ankle) I get a little more anxious that the show doesn't actually have a rabbit hidden inside its hat, or at least can't find the pocket where it thought the rabbit was hiding. I sincerely hope that How I Met Your Mother doesn't botch its ending, and I have a reasonable amount of faith that the creators have had at least a vague ending in mind from the start, but I truly wish they would stop distracting us with trivial emotional grabs and get back to the meat of this story already. After all, that's what we show up for every week.

Grade: B-


-"We don't want to know what the internet and you do when you're lonely." "I didn't...I'm not talking about that part of the night!"

-"It'll be a sausage fest. Sausage party? We'll do burgers."

-Moms, right? Always making a big deal out of everything. I was out of that coma in under a week."

-I liked the callback to Barney's desire to hear the story of Virginia's broach. A nice touch in a story that was clearly made up (and also wouldn't have been before Clint as Barney claimed, since Virginia and Clint were already dating when "Brunch" occurred. But hey, Barney was lying, so its cool).

-"Ok, she's a Mellencamp." The second time they've made John Cougar Mellencamp into a cougar joke. Nicely done.

-"Ted...I am so...baked right now..."

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Jordan's Review: Glee, Season 1, Episode 14: Hell-o

Well, Glee is back, and its as problematic as ever. I hoped that the writers of the show would take their four months off to get together, resolve their strong differences about the type of show they want this to be (and the relationships they want their characters to have) and come back strong with a show that aimed for thematic consistence, or one genre, or even one message. Instead Glee is still a mess of different ideas being thrown together, which isn't necessarily a fatal flaw. What takes the show from the level of "convoluted with potential" to the level of "I'm not sure I'll be watching this show next season" isn't the fact that the show is stuck in an endless identity crisis--its that its recycling the same tired, flawed, or outright stupid plots again and again instead of using its immense popularity to take some risks and try to improve.

Take, for example, the set up for the back half of this season, which is exactly the same set up as the first thirteen episodes: the Glee Club has to win [insert level of competition] or it will cease to exist. That was a perfectly serviceable, if slightly overused plotline in the first half of the season, but now the show is just repeating itself, which doesn't bode well, especially considering this is season one. This also leads to the squandering of a potentially rewarding plotline when Rachel's new love interest is almost immediately revealed to be spying on her. Never mind that it doesn't make sense for a team that hasn't lost once in three years to be so concerned by a newly reformed team as to actually seduce one of their singers (and possibly their coach) in an elaborate sabotage plot, but we've already seen a plotline about a rival school bent on sabotaging the Glee Club. Again, it is troubling that the show is so repetitive after such a brief time on the air.

Another troubling pattern the show has lapsed into is the lazy construction of every episode around Will assigning the Club to sing a certain type or genre of song every week. If what passes for a weekly theme on this show is that all the songs have the same word thrown into them, I have serious problems with what's to come. Add to that the fact that the way Will has them prepare songs of a random type each week has pretty much nothing to do with how the actual competition they are in works.

The final recurring problem I have with Glee is its dependence on a level of stasis from week to week that basically makes it stagnant. No matter what happens in any given episode (barring the mid-season finale which did change some things...sort of) everything will pretty much be back where it started by episode's end. So when Rachel almost leaves the Glee Club tonight (for what must be at least the fifth time in fourteen episodes) there's no tension, not only because we've seen this before, but because we know every issue will be resolved by the end of the episode. This leads to stupid contrivances like Sue's immediate re-instatement (which has her actually drugging the principal and blackmailing him either by raping him or making him believe he was raped) where instead the show could have something interesting, like a story or two about what Sue would do with herself when removed from her singular obsession in life.

All that being said, there were some good things in this episode. Jane Lynch's Sue is, as always, the best thing this show has going for it, and when they don't overplay her hand (as they did with her ridiculous spinster's club tonight) she is an easy ace in the hole. All of the musical numbers worked in spite of how foribly they were tied into the episodes central tenet (would it really be so bad if the kids sang a variety of songs every week instead of hearing five songs with the word "hello" in them so you can tie every scene together and name your episode in one fell swoop?), and despite the fact that immediately breaking Will and Emma up played into the show's stasis and back-pedaled one of the few things to actually progress on this show so far, I think the reason they split makes some sort of real world character sense, and is exactly the sort of plotting I wish there was more of on Glee. When all is said and done, this was a very disheartening return for the show (a return to form in the worst way), but hey, maybe things will be better next week.

Grade: C


-But probably not, since every song next week will be sung by Madonna.

-Apologies that this is my third review in a row that basically devolved into a rant. I promise I still like television, and each of these shows, but there has been a bad run of episodes in my recent review schedule. Here's hoping Thursday night returns with new episodes soon, or that next week's shows reverse their recent trends and surprise me...

-Ok, to the random quotes that were actually funny tonight:

-"What do you guys say when you answer the phone?" "No, she's dead, this is her son."

-"Oh, that's why the band is here."

-"I've got a full ride to a school called the University of California, Los Angeles. Maybe you've heard of it. Its in Los Angeles."

-"Did you know that dolphins are just gay sharks?"

-You two may be the dumbest teenagers I've ever seen. And that's saying something. i once taught a cheerleading seminar to a young Sarah Palin."

-"I'm engorged with venom. And triumph."

-"We have to wear sunscreen onstage, but its worth it."

Jordan's Review: 24, Season 8, Episode 17: 8:00 am-9:00 am

Last week I lamented that 24 was effectively dead in the water with 8 episodes left to go. Every plotline was wrapped up, the tension needed to sustain this show was entirely removed, and there was really nothing left to do but stagnate until the final credits rolled. The show managed to get around this problem by effectively nullifying the entire season so far, dramatically shifting gears, and resorting to some pretty cheap emotional manipulation, but to its credit it was definitely not the stagnant, bland procession of events I dreaded was coming. Sure the show is still a shadow of its former glory, but at least something will probably happen in the next seven weeks.

This episode was clearly demarcated as a "moving things into place" hour for the show, which means that everything that occurs largely feels like glorified set up for the weeks to come. Usually an episode this set up heavy comes earlier in the season, but there's always a piece mover at about this stage to send us "rocketing" into the final hours of the season, and it isn't necessarily a bad thing that this week drastically reset the board for the final gamut. Much of what the show has been doing this season has been a failure, so they gain points for trying something drastically different to turn the ship around last minute. Unfortunately, there are a lot of problems with how they did that, but let's for once start with what tonight did well.

The return of Charles Logan was a risky choice for the show, but I would argue a right one. Logan is one of the few characters from past seasons still alive, and he has also been consistently one of the more interesting (if aggravating) characters the show has created. With Charles Logan 24 has tried to create a complex, layered character, and Gregory Itzin has played him very well. Watching him play off of Cherry Jones' President Taylor this week was one of the best moments this season has given us, so much so that I don't mind how contrived his return seems. Sure, its slightly odd that the only person who has the necessary pull with the Russians is a discredited former President and felon, but I like the dynamic he brings to the show and I'm glad to have him back.

Now for the things tonight that ran the gamut from "that doesn't make any sense" to "that is literally insane," with a brief stop off in "I cannot believe how blatantly the writers are emotionally manipulating me right now." For starters, let's talk Dahlia Hassan. I understand that President Taylor is excited about the prospect of keeping her treaty (which apparently will usher in a new era of world peace or something the way its being hyped) on the table, but there is no way she would trust that a treaty ratified by a figurehead would actually hold up under the intense scrutiny that a Middle Eastern Peace Treaty would face. Beyond that, the way Dahlia's succession of her husband is handled flies in the face of any sort of reality. Imagine if you will the Constitution that allows a First Lady to succeed her husband in the event of his death (I can only presume the family dog then becomes Secretary of Defense). Granted, the show claims her ascension is being ratified by the Parliament of the IRK at the moment, which might be a way around any issues of Constitutional violation (sorry, I'm not well briefed on this fictional countries fictitious laws), but that actually leads to the most absurd thing about this development: the idea that the Parliament of a clearly divided, obviously pretty conservative Middle Eastern country would ever even remotely consider electing a woman to the presidency. This is not only the Middle East we're talking about here, its also a country whose last President had to imprison the opposition to keep them from taking over, and whose opposition are religious extremists who hate the west. Apparently these west hating extremists are also forward thinking feminist progressives. Who knew?

Another development that made little enough sense to warrant mentioning is Chloe's promotion to head of CTU. I liked that the show pointed out how ridiculously good her track record is (she's basically saved the country with only Jack at her side like 6 times now), and I know that its a nice, emotional moment for a show on its way out the door, but Chloe is nothing if not abrasive. Her most apparent character trait throughout the show is how bad her people skills are, and brilliant mind or no, it makes no sense to put someone with such an awful attitude in front of a team that needs constant motivation simply to not betray their country.

Finally we get to the episode's end, which leaves me with very mixed feelings. First of all, it was obvious that Jack (who is pretty much a horror movie character in how the show treats his sex life) finally banging Renee meant that Renee would die almost immediately after. I really hoped that 24 would surprise me here, but alas, Renee is literally still naked from her (pretty tame, from what we saw) union with Jack when she is fatally wounded by a sniper's bullet. Let's review why this is a bad choice for the show: its incredibly predictable, its obviously done more for the cheap emotional payoff than as further evidence of the toll Jack's job takes on his life, and it draws a comparison it can't possibly live up to, in that it closely resembles the death of Terri Bauer in Season One, arguably the single most powerful moment the show has ever done. As I've said, I know that one of 24's biggest themes is that Jack sacrifices everything for his country and that takes an unbelievable toll on his life and his psyche, but the death of Renee didn't feel like the show hitting that note one final time, it felt like a necessary development to give Kiefer a chance to show what a great actor he is again, and to get him angry enough to drive the rest of the season. In that regard, Renee's death may end up being successful: I am pretty excited to watch Jack go dark one last time in a revenge feuled race against some sort of deadline, but I'm pretty disappointed in the way the show got us here.

Grade: B-


-How did Russia appoint that transparently evil Bond villain to the UN?

-"I'll take out Bauer while I'm at it." Who the fuck do you think you are, Russian hit man? Have you been watching this show?

-Hey, Reed Diamond from Dollhouse is Logan's personal assistant. I realyl hope he returns with actual dialogue in the weeks to come.

Jordan's Review: How I Met Your Mother, Season 5, Episode 19: Zoo or False

When I heard the title of this week's episode of How I Met Your Mother I was already groaning. and when I heard that a monkey played a very big role in the plot, I was prepared for another trip down "sitcom cliche lane." We've had many brazen cliches trotted out as new over the course of this at best sub par season (the worst offender being Barney in a fat suit), and the "monkeys are funny" cliche is probably the least likely of them to be successful or original. To that end, "Zoo or False" was a failure, yet considering the horrendous pieces in play, I find myself being fairly happy the episode wasn't vastly worse.

The opening narration set us up for what purpose in the scheme of things this episode was meant to serve (spoiler alert: Ted didn't meet the mother tonight, and there was no real character development from anyone): the writers framed this episode as an out for the various continuity errors they've begun to allow themselves to make this year. In prior seasons of How I Met Your Mother continuity was king, but as anyone who has regularly read my reviews this year knows, that is no longer the case. So Bob Saget's opening narration tells us that sometimes the line between a good story and an outright line is a thin one. This may be true, especially in the case of Barney who is touted throughout the episode as the foremost example of this, but that does not comfort me for the overall state of the show. If older Ted (and, by extension, the writers) honestly thinks that exaggerating to make the story more interesting is fair play, that explains any and all continuity errors or unrealistic happenings past and present. Yet it also casts into doubt the validity of the story we as an audience have become invested in, and, more importantly, gives the writers an easy excuse to fall back on whenever they're feeling lazy. All in all, this theory of operation will not do the show any favors if they choose to rely on the "Zoo or False" method of storytelling from here on out.

That is not to say that the writers will definitely be doing this (or, honestly, that they'll even remember they wrote this utterly forgettable episode in a few weeks time) but the idea that they might disconcerts me. Moving on, the episode centers around Marshall's mugging, which may or may not have happened at the hands of a very wily monkey (an occurrence, we learn, which is not uncommon in Thailand, Costa Rica, and many other countries). This story not only cues the entire gang to repeatedly convulse with laughter at the sheer hilarity of a monkey being involved in anything, it also gets Marshall a slot on Robin's increasingly awful early morning show. Let's pause again, for a moment, to point out that actors pretending to find something hilarious absolutely never increases its comedic value, and in fact usually makes a scene feel very forced and unfunny. So having the cast crack up repeatedly at the fact that there was a monkey in tonight's episode actually put the biggest flaw of the episode (hint: it had a tail) in starker contrast.

The whole episode built nicely to a fairly obvious King Kong parody which worked better than it should have because of the episode's previously discussed caveat: stories are sometimes better when exaggerated. Sure, having Ted randomly building a replica of the Empire State Building in the same episode as a monkey was clearly leading to the most obvious parody from the moment of its introduction, but the show played it off as older Ted's exaggerating the story to make it better. This contrivance both made the bit work and further cemented my fears that Ted's exaggerations can be used as an excuse for lazy writing from here into perpetuity. This review quickly became less about the episode, which was mediocre but could have been much more awful, and more about what I fear the episode might foretell, but when all is said and done, How I Met Your Mother made it through the monkey episode without forcing me to replace the phrase "shark jump" with "monkey mugging" and that is something worth at least a haphazard cheer.

Grade: C+


-"Are you acting out the last scene of Sleepless in Seattle with little dolls?" "How long have you been out here?" "Ten seconds." "Yeah, just the last scene."

-Hey, Badger from Breaking Bad is Arthur the delivery man!

-I like how brazenly the whole gang leapt on Marshall when he tried to claim he didn't like pizza, which would violate major continuity. My favorite was when Ted pointed out, "Marshall, we have driven across the country to get pizza LITERALLY hundreds of times."

-The montage of Marshall accidentally injuring Lily was very funny. The methods were the cork from the pilot, accidentally slapping her in his sleep, hitting her in the face with a refrigerator door, dancing, and punching her when she came out in a scary Halloween costume.

-"Are you sure it wasn't one monkey standing on top of another monkey wearing a man's trenchcoat?" "That would be about the right height..."

-"I'll believe that Jack Palance is dead when I see the body."

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Jordan's Review: 24, Season 8, Episodes 15-16: 6:00 am-8:00 am

Its truly sad to watch one of the most innovative shows of the last decade reduced to a bland, formulaic shadow of its former self. Yet that is seemingly how 24 will meet its end; not with a bang, but a whimper. Two-hour events used to be something to celebrate on this show, but now they just put all of this season's flaws in even starker contrast. The characters are mostly flat and boring, the plotline contrived and rehashed (when it even bothers to make sense), and at this point there is little to no chance that Season 8 will redeem itself. This show deserved to go out strong, as a testament to the often poignant thrill-ride it was during its first few seasons, and it is a minor tragedy to see it end like this.

The episode opened with a bunh of melodramatic montages, from Hassan seeing the people his sacrifice would save to all of the major characters looking gravely at their screens and awaiting a detonation. Niether of these worked particularly well because they were both heavy handed and laid their meanings on entirely too thickly. Any audience member with half a brain knew why Hassan was giving himself up, and showing innocent people walking by made it a little too obvious to effectively underscore his intentions. What followed was 24 contrivance after 24 contrivance as Dana "the mole" Walsh helps Tarin avoid the ambush, Tarin careens off the roof of a parking garage (I'm pretty sure Jack has done that before and been fine, but ok...), Hassan is magically transported to another car, and ends up in the hands of Samir, who wants to broadcast his execution over the internet. You know, like they have in the last several seasons.

The one portion about that development that should have worked (that Samir actually managed to kill Hassan) failed simply because there was no other story alternative. There was no possible way even the desperately out of touch writers of this show could have thought the audience cared enough about Hassan to drive even the next few hours worth of tension, so there was not much suspense over what would happen. Also, it wouldn't have made any sense for the terrorists to keep him alive for any period at all if their ultimate goal was stopping the peace process, so barring a contrivance so awful its below even where this show has sunk, Hassan couldn't last. With the bomb threat neutralized, the terrorists seemingly surrounded, and eight hours left on the clock, there was no way Hassan wouldn't get killed, which made his death far less effective, if no less poignant (and bringing back the silent clock that has always signified a major death on 24 was a very nice touch that worked to make the death hit home with more emotion).

At the same time though, this is the sort of gamut that I expect the show to pull around hour 22, leading nicely into a finale where at vengeful Jack tracks down and kills off Samir, while draped in an American flag and flanked by machine-gun toting bald eagles. As is, the show doesn't really have anywhere to go from here, and the last thing this season needs is to get more aimless than it already is at this point.

That being said, there were some things that worked about these episodes, and more of those than we've seen in a few weeks. The car chase with Tarin worked very well as a setpiece, and even though the magic disappearing Hassan didn't really make sense that sort of plothole is vintage 24 and I was immediately willing to accept it. The parking garage shoot out was pretty exciting as well (weird that the major action setpieces were both in parking garages, but then again its unrealistic to expect any sort of originality from the show at this point), though it was partially ruined by the continued hamminess of Katie Sackhoff, whose Dana Walsh has quickly become a charicature of Nina Meyers, the classic mole from Season One. Her 180 into evil psychopath is just bad writing, as is Cole's reactive 180 which has him leaping immediately from incredulity ("my fiance couldn't possibly...") to vengeful ire ("You lying bitch I'll kill you!") in the span of about two seconds.

But pause for a second to realize there's pretty much no place for the show to go from here. The bomb is out of play, the mole has been caught, the hostage is dead, and Samir has maybe one minion left based on Dana's estimates. Sure, the Russian guy who was clumsily introduced tonight is clearly behind everything (a. Because all TV Russians are evil, and b. Because President Taylor made it way too clear that the treaty was against his interests) and apparently Charles Logan is back again next week for some reason, but what is there really left to care about? I'll be here next week to find out, but I'm honestly mostly dreading what's coming.

Grade: C


-Throw away lines that were evidence of lazy writing tonight: "The only reason I'm still here is because I gave President Taylor my word that I would protect President hassan." Sure, Jack. That and because there are 8 hours left. My other favorite was Hastings' claim that Dana's cover up was "not an easy task." Please. A trained monkey could infiltrate CTU, which actually might happen as a wacky filler subplot in these last 8 hours.

-Actually, I think an untrained monkey could infiltrate CTU. Training it would be a waste of resources.

-I may have said it before, but drink every time someone on this show gets immunity. President Taylor has probably signed more immunity agreements than bills into law...

Friday, April 2, 2010

Feature: Jordan's Movie Quest: The Year 1940

After my journey through the last decade in film, it seemed only right to take a trip through a much more innocent time in Hollywood: the 1940’s. Due to a busy schedule and a large number of movies to work my way through, it’s taken me several months to get through the first year of this decade, but I made it through, and here are my findings for my top ten movies of 1940:

10. Road to Singapore-The first installment in Bob Hope and Bing Crosby’s iconic “Road To…” series finds Josh Mallon V (Crosby) and his navy buddy Ace Lannigan (Hope) on the run from Josh’s overbearing father (Charles Coburn) and high-society fiancĂ© (Judith Barrett) in the southeast. Along their adventures, they meet, and both fall in love with Mima (series co-star Dorothy Lamour) and try to get rich, or at least make ends meet through a variety of scams. As their rivalry over Mima builds, and Josh’s father works to track him down, the two become involved in various misadventures, including trying to sell a spot-remover that disintegrates clothing, and getting into more than a few barroom brawls. Filled with plenty of Crosby songs and the quick banter that made the series famous, Road to Singapore is a solid start to what would become one of the longest comedy franchises in history.

9. Kitty Foyle- When Mark Eisen (James Craig), a young doctor, proposes to her, and her ex-lover Wyn Strafford (Dennis Morgan) reappears asking her to run away with him, Kitty Foyle (Ginger Rogers, in an Oscar winning performance) is forced to look back on her life and make a decision that will alter the rest of it. Reminiscing about her days as a lower-class working girl in Philadelphia, and her star-crossed romance with Wyn, a socialite whose family won’t accept their engagement, Kitty examines the difficulties imposed by her class and her gender in turn of the century America. At once a melodramatic romance and an examination of classism and sexism, Kitty Foyle packs an added punch from Roger’s excellent performance.

8. The Thief of Bagdad- Ahmad (John Justin), the prince of Bagdad is convinced by his evil Grand Vizier Jaffar (Conrad Veidt) to go out among his people to experience life as a pauper. Almost immediately arrested, he is broken free by a young pickpocket named Abu (Sabu, in his iconic role). The two then embark on an adventure to regain Ahmad’s throne, which takes them from the court of a beautiful Princess (June Duprez) to the slave trades, from the stormy seas, to a temple atop the highest mountain in the world. Packing in flying horses, swordfights, sea battles, a magic carpet, and the occasional djinn, The Thief of Bagdad utilizes cutting edge technology for the period (the film won Best Cinematography, Best Art Direction, and Best Special Effects) to present an epic whose influence is felt to this day (does the plot sound at all familiar to a certain Disney movie from the ‘90s? That’s because it is).

7. My Favorite Wife- Seven years after a shipwreck that left his wife missing, Nick Arden (Cary Grant) has her declared legally dead to facilitate his remarriage to Bianca (Gail Patrick). Before his new marriage can be consummated, however, his first wife (Irene Dunne) returns from the island where she has spent the last seven years shipwrecked alone with Stephen Burkett (Randolph Scott). When Nick discovers his first wife is alive, he is thrown into a comedy of errors and mistaken identities as he tries to reconcile the life he once had with the one he has since made for himself. Meanwhile, Ellen pretends to be a visiting friend and wreaks havoc on the fledgling new marriage to hilarious results. The chemistry between Grant and Dunne, and their constant banter over an admittedly complex situation makes My Favorite Wife a winning comedy about the bonds that tie us, and how far we are willing to go not to offend.

6. The Great Dictator-Over a year before the attack on Pearl Harbor that brought America into World War II, Charlie Chaplin wrote, directed, produced, and played dual roles in The Great Dictator, a blistering satire of totalitarianism, anti-Semitism, and the leadership of Adolf Hitler. The film opens during World War I, where a Jewish barber (Chaplin) fights for the fictional nation of Tomania, blundering through the trenches, and into a dogfight before crashing and learning that his beloved country has lost the war. Twenty years later, Adenoid Hynkel (also Chaplin) is now the ruthless dictator of Tomania who aims to persecute Jews across the land, with the help of Minister of the Interior Garbitsch (Henry Daniell) and Minister of War Herring (Billy Gilbert), along with a rival dictator Benzino Napaloni (Jack Oakie, in an excellent parody of Mussolini). Meanwhile, the barber is released from a hospital where he has suffered amnesia for the past two decades, and quickly meets a Jewish resistance fighter in Hannah (Paulette Goddard). Featuring some of Chaplin’s classic bits, like a scene in which the barber shaves a customer to Brahm’s “Hungarian Dance No. 5,” and one in which Hynkel ballet dances with an inflatable globe, The Great Dictator was not only Chaplin’s first “talking picture," it was also one of the few films of the era to take aim at the injustice going on in Europe.

5. The Philadelphia Story- Wealthy Philadelphia socialite Tracy Lord (Katherine Hepburn) divorced her childhood sweetheart C.K. Dexter Haven (Cary Grant) because of his alcoholism. Years later, she prepares to remarry, this time to newly rich “man of the people” George Kittredge (John Howard). In a bid to win back Tracy, Dexter agrees to smuggle Macaulay “Mike” Connor (James Stewart, who won Best Actor for his performance) and his photographer Liz (Ruth Hussey) into the wedding ceremonies. As the weekend progresses, Mike and Dexter vie for Tracy’s affections as Liz admits her attraction to Mike and George feels increasingly left out of his own wedding. Directed by George Cukor, the film also won Best Adapted Screenplay for its classic story of a love triangle and the woman at its center who still needs to decide who she really is, and what she wants to become.

4. The Foreign Correspondent- The second film Alfred Hitchcock made in America, and the second to be nominated for Best Picture in 1940 (for the other, see #2), Foreign Correspondent tells the story of intrepid reporter Johnny Jones (Joel McCrea) who is sent to Europe under the pseudonym Huntley Haverstock to report on the growing tensions during the outbreak of World War II. Haverstock is quickly drawn into intrigue when he witnesses the assassination of Dutch diplomat Van Meer (Albert Basserman). In hot pursuit of the assassin’s getawar car, Haverstock draws Carol (Laraine Day), the daughter of a politician, and fellow reporter Scott ffolliott (George Saunders) who refuses to capitalize his last name into his pursuit. When he discovers that Van Meer is still alive, he sets out to discover the plot behind this complex set of circumstances, and is drawn ever deeper into suspicion, intrigue, and paranoia. Fraught with the kind of tension only Hitchcock can produce, Foreign Correspondent is thrilling, thought provoking, blackly comedic, and potentially even tragic in its examination of espionage, political corruption, and the dangers of inaction.

3. Rebecca-Alfred Hitchcock’s American debut, and the only time he ever won Best Picture, Rebecca tells the story of a young woman (Joan Fontaine, who got a Best Actress nomination for her performance ) who works as a companion to an elderly woman until she meets and quickly falls in love with Maximilian De Winter (Laurence Olivier, nominated for Best Actor himself) and the two decide to elope. De Winter whisks his new bride back to his country estate Manderlay, where she learns of his recently deceased wife Rebecca from the distant, ominous housekeeper Mrs. Danvers (Judith Anderson, who was nominated for Best Supporting Actress for her terrifying performance). The new Mrs. De Winter soon finds herself embroiled in psychological warfare with Mrs. Danvers and constantly haunted by the continued presence of Rebecca in the house, and in the minds of its occupants. Thrilling, complex, filled with foreboding and excellently acted, Rebecca is a chilling meditation on the effects of lost love, the dangers of repression, and how the effects of one person can live on far after they are dead.

2. His Girl Friday-Walter Burns (Cary Grant, who was a very busy man in 1940) is a hard-boiled newspaper man who learns his ex-wife and former ace reporter Hildy Johnson (Rosalind Russell) intends to get married to Bruce Baldwin (Ralph Bellamy) and leave the business forever. Never one to lose a good reporter (or a good woman) Walter schemes to keep Hildy around by continuously getting Bruce arrested on trumped up charges and embroiling her in an unfolding story about the execution of a convicted murderer (character actor John Qualen, who was equally busy in 1940). Filled with endless rapid-fire banter, quick exchanges, a reporter’s hunger for a great story and a few excellent sight-gags, His Girl Friday is an enormously entertaining romp through a busy day in the lives of two top-of-their-game schemers who happen to make their living's reporting on the news, and happen to have a romantic history that doesn’t seem ready to die.

1.The Grapes of Wrath-Director John Ford (who won best Director for the film) adapts John Steinbeck’s classic novel, which tells the story of the Joad family’s move from the dustbowl of Oklahoma to California in search of a way to make a living during the great depression. Tom Joad (Henry Fonda, who was nominated for Best Actor for his compelling performance) is released from prison into a world that is falling apart. His family has been reduced to poverty and kicked off their land, so he joins them in their quest for employment and a better life for themselves. As the family encounters hardship after hardship, Ma Joad ( Jane Darwell, who won a much deserved Best Supporting Actress Oscar for perhaps the best performance of 1940) keeps her hard-won optimism as Tom tried to avoid getting into trouble and tries to find a place where his family can earn a living wage for a hard day’s work. Stark, bleak, and depressing even as it remains more hopeful than its source material, The Grapes of Wrath is a stirring examination of the perseverance of the human spirit, the strength of the family unit, the inequities inherent to capitalism (especially during the Depression) and the will of human beings to soldier on no matter how hopeless their situation gets.