Thursday, September 30, 2010

Jordan's Review: 30 Rock, Season 5, Episode 2: When It Rains, It Pours

Remember how I went on and on last week about 30 Rock's fall from glory and how I refused to recalibrate my expectations yet because of a deep seated, though fast receding hope that the show had not lost its charm? Well I would have been eating my words all episode this week if I hadn't been laughing too hard to do so (that line right there is why instead of writing on 30 Rock I write a little read blog in a dusty corner of the internet where long forgotten dreams go to quietly die). This was easily the best episode of 30 Rock in the last year, mixing a variety of brilliant plotlines with the verve of the show during its early glory years, and not dropping the ball in even one of them.

At the forefront, Liz realizes that being in a relationship gives her a confidence that makes her attractive to other men, and imediately sets about taking advantage of that to get what she needs out of the head of the editing department (Paul Giamatti, really stretching his wheelhouse by playing a sad sack). Giamatti was certainly playing a familiar type here, but he nailed the role nevertheless, mixing the perfect amount of comic geekiness and social desperation into his deep seated loneliness and unrequited love for his assistant editor. He uses Liz' fliration to begin a rumor that he is sleeping with her in order to draw the attention of his assistant, and their fake break up at the end of the episode (in which Liz throws in all of the tidbits that will make him attractive to his assistant) was very solid.

Jack, meanwhile, realizes that he is going to be an old dad, and sets out teaching his son the ways of the world on videotape in case he dies before he can impart his wisdom in person. This is a plotline that has been done numerous times before (even once on The Office, which follows 30 Rock directly at this point, and used to precede it directly), yet the plotline wasn't so much a story as an excuse to put Alec Baldwin in front of a camera and just let him throw out one-liner gold for the entire episode (some of which I will recount in the Notes section, which will be extensive tonight). Much of last season mired Jack and/or Liz in story heavy plotlines, which the show has never done all that well. Tonight, Jack was allowed to just be Jack with a plotline so light that there was no need for any exposition, just a continuous flow of brilliant and absurd jokes.

Which is the exact tactic that lead to even greater success in Tracy's subplot this week. Of all the one-liner machines doubling as characters on 30 Rock, Tracy is the character that needs the least prompting. Just putting him in a room allows for the possibility of a long, absurd riff of one liners, and the show took it up another level when he became a contestant on Cash Cab and had to win in order to make it to the birth of his daughter. Again, this is a razor thin plotline that allows for a constant stream of jokes, and even a glimmer of heart (which is all I would ever hope to see out of the generally heart-free show) when Tracy shares the joys of fathering a daughter with Jack (who learns that he is not having a son after all). Thrown into the background of all of these plots (often literally) is Kenneth, who has been sneaking around NBC making sure everything he used to do gets done. The show was clearly going to bring Kenneth back, and this seemed as funny and effortless a way to do it as any.

From its inauspicious premiere, 30 Rock has leapt forward into its fifth season with an episode for the ages. After last week left me pretty numb to the prospect of the show's return to brilliance, this week probably contained more laughter than I ever could have hoped for. As Liz and Jenna say in unison at the episode's opening (and perhaps a little knowingly, 30 Rock writers), when it rains, it pours.

Grade: A


-"Not because you're not cute. You are. Like a pretty refugee on the news."

-This is just whar I store my rock collection!"

-"Do you remember my tattoo mishap? It was supposed to say 'Peace' but it says 'White Hooker' instead."

-"I missed the birth of my sons, for both good reasons." "Cooking a french bread pizza, and forgot."

-"Will I even be there for his first subpoena? Will I live to see that father-son bonding moment when you both realize you were at a masked orgy at the same castle?"

-"I don't get why people like brunch. What's the benefit of combining break dancing and lunch?"

-"That song 'You're So Vain' was in fact me."

-"What are you guys working on?" "A piece for The Today Show about how next month is October."

-"So to get to the birth of my daughter, I have to answer trivia questions, despite having gone to middle school at an Exxon Station?"

-"Your new vibe is a double edged sword. Much like the one Mickey Rourke once tried to kill me with."

-"Neighbors who wear my exact size don't die every day!"

-"...because Centipeding means having sex with 100 women."

-"After I'm gone, your mother might meet someone else. I want her to be his death must look like an accident."

-"Drugs during childbirth? Isn't the whole point feeling God punish you?"

-" 'And the tree was happy.' Shel Silverstein was a communist."

-"Tracy Jordan: Hero. Husband. Diabetic Alcoholic."

-I like that immeditaley after Tracy wins Cash Cab, he can't figure out how to open a door.

-"I wouldn't have missed what just happened here for anything!"

-"Also, I have given a whole lot of money to the Catholic Church and I have been assured I will have special powers in Heaven."

-"I hate to say I told you so, so Welcome to Miami!"

Jordan's Review: Community, Season 2, Episode 2: Accounting for Lawyers

After getting all of the establishing work out of the way last week, Community gets to settle down to the business of expanding the world it created last season. As years of watching television have taught me, the best way to expand the world of your show in its second season is to delve into the backstories of your characters. Finding out what brought each of them to the place that you met them creates a better understanding and allows each character to feel more wholly realized. The show began that process tonight with "Accounting for Lawyers," which shows us what Jeff Winger was like before he was disbarred and sent to Greendale, and also gives us a glimpse of how far he's come in the last year.

It all begins when Jeff's old colleague Allen (Rob Corddry) shows up at Greendale for an NA meeting and invites Jeff to come to a work party with him. Jeff is excited to get back to the world he left behind, and even more invigorated at the idea of leaving behind his uncool friends at Greendale. We haven't seen asshole, too cool for the group Jeff in a while, but the show quickly regressed him when he was faced with the chance to reenter the life he was forced out of. Normally regressing a character to fit plot needs is problematic at best in my eyes, yet I found Jeff's return to his old cynical ways realistic. because watching him grow out of them was so well handled. Jeff is a guy who wanted to be a lawyer at a young age (we learn tonight, after seeing the successful divorce lawyer walk away from dismantling his parent's marriage and seemingly not caring at all), and learned that being as cold, uncaring, and duplicitous as possible was the way to do that. He spent most of his life acting that way until he met his study group at Greendale and realized there was something more meaningful in forming a community.

His return to his old firm, whose senior partner (Drew Carey) started the place to get people to stop making fun of the giant hole in his hand, let's Jeff realize how much he's grown. It also gives the rest of the cast the chance to pull off a quick caper as Annie and the gang try to prove that Allen was the one that got Jeff disbarred. Hijinks ensue, especially when Troy and Abed are caught by a janitor and a panicked Annie chloraforms him. Not sure how to handle the aftermath, all three lie down and pretend they were chloraformed as well. When the janitor is unconvinced, Annie chloraforms him again and they decide to just run.

In the smallest subplot, Chang secures a place on the study group's pop and lock team, and gets a promise that if the team wins, he can join the group. When no one shows up (being that they are all at Jeff's old firm pulling a caper) he pop and locks for 5 hours. Of course, when everyone shows up to save him last second, having rebonded, they are almost immediately disqualified (but not befor Troy and Jeff show off their awesome moves). The "Chang wants to join the gang" arc isn't particularly complex or origninal, but it is consistently very funny, mostly because Ken Jeong sells it with the perfect mixture of desperation and sheer insanity. So long as Chang is as crazed in his efforts as he has been for the last two episodes, I think this subplot could be kept up for several more weeks without any diminishing returns.

On the whole, "Accounting for Lawyers" wasn't as funny as the premiere, but it did some excellent character work, and it had its heart in the right place. Community rarely has to sacrifice laughs to move its story along, and this week's episode had plenty of hysterical moments, even if it did spend more of its time on laying out the plot than it did on executing the gags. In short (and to sum up the reivew in as blunt a way as possible) I didn't laugh quite as much this week, but everything was so well handled and came together so fluidly and heart-warmingly, I didn't mind at all.

Grade: B+


-"Let's get a drink." "Are you allowed?" "Yeah, I quit doing blow, not being rad!"

-"Did you know that gogurt is just yogurt?"

-"Follow my lead."-Pierce, directly before he knocks over a tray of drinks.

-"The credit card doesn't work, the chloraform does."

-"Thank you, Jeff. You make me want to be a worse man." I like that Jeff can completely rationalize amoral and even immoral behavior (because he's a damn good lawyer), but I like even more that he believes his own bullshit less and less as the show goes on.

-"Shirley, don't sue a stripper." "Why not?" "Life already sued her, and she lost."

-Troy freaking out over the body of the chloraformed guard was hysterical. I love his squeals.

-"Somebody...chloraformed...all of us..."

-"It is bad to hunt man for sport." "Bad ass!"

-Another great blip, in keeping with the Troy and Abed can't fail principle. "You have to believe, Troy...Wait, you don't have to believe!" "...I didn't..."

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Jordan's Review: Running Wilde, Season 1, Episode 2: Into the Wilde

To show how far Running Wilde has gone in two episodes, one need only look at how simple the plot of tonight's episode is: Essentially, Steve wants to take Emmy on vacation, and Emmy wants to go on vacation. Yet because the two fundamentally don't understand their relationship, and because of the other elements the show throws in to make that relationship more complicated (and more hilarious), "Into the Wilde" transcended the simple basis for the episode, and became something more singular than just a "the cast goes camping" installment in the show.

First, the fundamental misunderstanding that starts off all the tomfoolery: Steve thinks he should take Emmy and Puddle on vacation to a resort, but Migo points out that Emmy would probably rather reduce Steve's carbon footprint, so Steve sets about sullying a cabin on his property to make it outdoorsy enough to seem like a vacation for the girls (by which I mean Migo sets about sullying the cabin, which, by the way, Mr. Lunt has been fixing up as a retirement home for himself for over a decade). Of course Emmy, having spent six years in the jungle, really just wants to be pampered for once, and so neither of them will get what both really want. This is a solid premise, which I'm sure the show will use repeatedly in the weeks to come: Steve and Emmy are not as far apart as both of them think, but their efforts to one-up each other and prove themselves superior will lead to some comedy gold.

Complicating matters, Emmy's fiance Andy (David Cross) shows up, shocked that Emmy has moved into a McTreehouse. Andy quickly hatches a plan to kidnap Steve and hold him for ransom to buy back the land that Wilde Oil took from the tribe. But because Andy knows Steve could clearly overpower him, he decides instead to invite Steve on a hike, and mail a ransom letter so that everyone will think Steve was kidnapped. Steve goes along with it, because he wants to show Emmy that he can get along with Andy and thus drive Emmy and Andy apart, leaving her free for him. And Fa'ad sweeps in once Steve and Andy are gone to win Emmy over.

All of this is the stuff of great comedy, but parts of Running Wilde still need some work. For one thing, Puddle's narration is seemingly wholly unnecessary, as she spends most of the episode explaining things we already understand. I'm not sure if Hurwitz threw in the narration out of habit (Arrested Development was narrated hilariously by Ron Howard) or as a way to dumb the show down for mainstream audiences, but either way it doesn't really work. When Puddle pretends to be running to stop the ransom letter from being mailed, only to stop running immediately out of her mother's sight, we don't need narration telling us she isn't going to hurrt because she doesn't like Andy. We can figure that out on our own. Also, while this episode through a lot at us, plot wise and joke wise, it did not all fit together as cleanly as it should. Yet it was very funny, and it also had a surprising amount of heart, most of which came from the realization that Steve's father recieved the ransom note, and just decided not to pay it (hearkening back to, and explaining the reson for, the game Steve was playing at the episode's open, in which he would not tell someone he was hiding, and then pay them $500 for finding him). Running Wilde has the makings of a great comedy, and even if it isn't there quite yet, I am more than willing to wait for it to find its feet.

Grade: B+


-"They care about me. They just choose not to show it with words or actions."

-"I just couldn't figure out how to use your dishwasher." "Who, Oleg? Just shove the dish into his chest and he'll take it from there."

-"Oh, admit it, you find my wealth to be emasculating." "I am not a man." "Then shave your legs, sir!"

-"Just three weeks of her, me, and my four poster bed." "You always make me bring that, and we never put it together."

-"I'm not talking about financial worth." "Then please stop using the word worth!"

-"I did not win a Loose Cannon at the Eco Terrorist Awards for not knowing a little something about water pressure."

-Fa'ad confuses his B's and V's. An excellent joke subtly continued throughout the episode.

-"I'm so sorry. I didn't get that at all. Its so hard to hear under that Treehouse." Another excellent running gag, which lead to the brilliant physical comedy of pretty much everyone trying to climb up or down the treehouse ladder at the same time.

-"Is there room for one more on this bacation?" "Of course." "Oh, well then let's bring Steve. He's having a rough day."

Monday, September 27, 2010

Sam's Review: HIMYM, Season 6, Episode 2: Cleaning House

This week’s How I Met Your Mother, felt a bit flat. It was a stand-alone episode which, like all stand-alone HIMYM episodes, has absolutely nothing to do with the mother and in tonight’s episode, Ted.

Barney is able to convince the gang to head up to Barney’s childhood home to pack up his things. Upon arrival everyone learns just how much Barney’s mother (Francis Conroy) has lied to him over the years. Whether it be the Post Master General apologizing for losing all of his birthday invitations or his being cut from the pee-wee basketball team because he was just too good, Barney’s life has been padded by a mother who had to protect a fatherless child.

Barney’s belief that his biological father is actually The Price is Right’s host, Bob Barker, made for one of the show’s best episodes earlier in the series. Now, alongside brother James (Wayne Brady), they figure out that Sam Gibbs (Ben Vereen) is one of the brother’s biological father thanks to a labeled photograph of the pair as youngsters.

They seek out Gibbs and he opens the door and is clearly James’ father as he is African-American. Barney of course stupidly takes this realization to mean that he is in fact half black. This plot really goes nowhere as I don’t particularly care about James and his father even though I’ve liked the work Brady has done on the show. Barney’s heart-to-heart with his mother was sweet and punctuated nicely with the montage of her making up all the lies to make him feel better.

But what this episode came down to was not a lot of laughs and a story that didn’t even have anything to do with the search for the mother which is only a problem when an episode isn’t really funny. The B-stories in this episode were pretty lame with Robin talking to Ted about how she’s described him to a co-worker and his subsequent freak-out that he’s been oversold. There was a micro-plot with Lilly and Marshall talking about how much they would or wouldn’t lie to their kids. This went pretty much nowhere as well and didn’t really yield anything.

All of that being said, Neil Patrick Harris was still able to pull something out of nothing. Barney’s singing during the newly reunited father and son was fun and the emotional moments felt pretty on the mark. The problem is it was hard to delineate how crazy Barney was going to be. On the one hand, his belief that Bob Barker was his father was just something to keep him happy, but in the end never really believed it. This is understandable, but that he had to be told by his mother that Gibbs was not his father seemed a bit much.

HIMYM can never be ONLY about the search for the mother, but when it isn’t, it should really pull out all the comedic stops largely because it’s more freeing for writers to not have to deal with Ted’s quest for his soul-mate. Nothing about this episode, as mediocre as it was, screams out that this season will be doomed. Four more of these in a row? Then we’ll talk.



-Ben Vereen! Of Zoobilee Zoo fame! OK so I may have been the only person to watch the Canadian children’s show, but it kicked ass.

-Would have liked to see how Barney got the gang to go out to his house but the joke still worked.

-Love auto-tuned Barney

-The Post Master General definitely looks like Barney's imagination pictures him.

Jordan's Review: How I Met Your Mother, Season 6, Episode 2: Cleaning House

It finally happened. After six seasons af waiting, we finally met The Mother...Oh, no, wait. Actually, this episode had, as per usual over the last season or so, not even a tenuous connection to how Ted meets the mother of his children (unless you believe that the wedding at which Ted meets The Mother is Barney's, at which point this episode might gain significance in hindsight. I'm open to that possibility, and so will withhold judging this episode too harshly at the moment). Instead, this was The Barney Show, following that character's journey towards emotional maturity. Its a journey I'm more than happy to accompany him on, too. I just wish the show even tried to stick with its premise a bit more.

Barney's mother (Frances Conroy, returning from last season's "The Stinsons") is moving out of the house that Barney grew up in, and so Barney, his brother James (Wayne Brady), and the gang all head out to help her pack up her old house. As Barney packs up the mementos from his awesome childhood, James explains to the rest of the gang that in fact most of Barney's childhood highlights were lies his mother told him. Barney thinks he got kicked off the basketball team for being to awesome, when in reality he was cut from the team. He also thinks he got a letter from the Postmaster General (who, in his mind, has a giant scruffy beard that is a pretty funny visual) explaining that no one showed up at his birthday because the PG lost the invitations. We learn tonight that Barney's belief that Bob Barker is his father is just one of the many ridiculous lies he is willing to believe if his mother tells him they're true. As character revelations go, this is a perfectly realistic one and fits in exactly with who we know Barney to be (in other words, its know "Last Cigarette Ever," where the characters pick up new traits just for the sake of a single episode and never mention them again).

When James discovers a picture of the two of them addressed to Sam Gibbs, and sees that the back reads "Your Son" he realizes that Sam could be his father. Barney at first believes his mother's lie that the picture was taken in "Yourson, North Dakota" and that Sam Gibbs was the mayor there, who wanted the picture to build a statue of the boys after they saved his son from falling through the ice while kayaking. Yet when he meets Sam Gibbs (Ben Vereen), who is clearly James' father, Barney immediately assumes that he is black and that Sam is his father too. Its an extemely silly plot development, and if anyone other than Neil Patrick Harris had to play it, I think the whole plot would have fallen flat. Yet his gleeful exuberance and ridiculous attempts to fit in and win his "father's" approval, from singing back up vocals on "Stand By Me" to running around the yard screaming, "Dad, Look how fast I can run!" really make the story work.

In a go-nowhere subplot, Robin is trying to set Ted up with her make-up girl, and realizes she has oversold him. As the two attempt to hit the elusive sweet spot of underselling Ted, but to exactly the right amount, they end up telling her ridiculously inconsistent things about him. Marshall, and Lily, meanwhile, have an unresolved fight over whether to tell their children about Santa Claus (a subplot which might have been stretched across a whole episode elsewhere, but is graciously condensed here to the point where I actually could have used a few more Santa jokes from Marshall).

So we are nowhere closer to meeting the mother. But Barney has agreed to put his illusions to rest, and decided that he doesn't need to find his father, because his mother is enough for him. The montage as Barney realizes all of the lies Loretta told him to comfort him during an awkward, lonely childhood is very effective, and it makes for an emotional ending to the episode. On the whole, "Cleaning House" is a very mediocre episode of How I Met Your Mother, but it seems to be introducing one of the major arcs of this season--Barney's emotional maturation. If that leads him to the alter later this season, this show will have me eating the words I wrote tonight. And even if it doesn't. if it leads to some better episodes down the line, that too will be just fine.

Grade: B-


-"Deadliest Catch Ever!"

-"I got the Queen to give me a fistbump." "No one believes that story."

-Marshall, on lying to your kids about Santa: "Yeah, but its a good lie. Like when we tell Ted that he'll meet the right girl and settle down."

-"Those statues probably look nothing like us. Damn it, Mom!"

-"Ted Mosby is very handsome, but extremely violent. He's really rich, but has no bladder control."

-"Man, try to hail a cab in Lower Manhattan, am I right?"

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Jordan's Review: Mad Men, Season 4, Episode 10: Hands and Knees

At about this point in every season, Mad Men has a place holder episode, one that may not shine as brightly as a standard episode, but that nevertheless puts all the peices in place for the final stretch of episodes. "Hands and Knees" is that such episode, stepping back a bit on quality, but moving a whole lot of plotpoints into place for the end of the season.

First and foremost, Don comes close to being found out by the government tonight, when he realizes he inadvertently signed documents for a security clearance that contain false information, about his name, his age, his social security number and other facts. Living life as Don Draper for most of his adult life has been pretty easy (it is the '60s after all), yet when it comes to the government looking into his life, Don gets understandably panicked. Betty, in a moment of uncharacteristic kindness, covers for Don when she is interviewed, and Pete, in a moment of shocking selflessness covers for him at work, taking the blame for losing the account that he has to throw away to keep Don from being discovered (more on that later). But most importantly, Don tells Faye about his past, with no provocation at all. He's tired of running and hiding, and he is ready to stop living a lie. This was another great episode for the Faye-Don relationship, which I am increasingly convinced is here to stay (or at least I hope it is). The two make a good team, and Don seems to trust her more than almost anyone else.

On Lane's front, his father comes to town to persuade him to return to England and tie up his affairs with his wife. It seems Lane has taken up with a black waitress named Toni and fallen in love. Which is all well and good until Lane's father beats him with his cane and crushes his hand until Lane submits and agrees to return to England. Its a shocking, demeaning scene, but Lane, ever meek and officious, announces his leave of absence and is off to England. This subplot seems a little shoehorned in to be honest, with Lane and his bi-racial relationship being brought up out of nowhere and almost as summarily dismissed. This brief window into Lane's life does show how much he has adapted to life in America, yet it also seems like Matthew Weiner just realized he hadn't given Jared Harris anything much to do for several weeks and so gave him a girlfriend out of nowhere.

Roger and Joan have the most interesting plotline of the episode, as Joan reveals that Roger impregnated her during their alleyway tryst, and the two deal with their feelings for each other and the possibility of keeping the child (As well as the possibility of getting rid of it). Roger points out that if she keeps it, it would not be his child, and Joan dutifully makes the appointment to have it taken care of (though the episode leaves the question of whether she goes through with what would be her third abortion ambiguous). Roger, meanwhile, loses the Lucky Strike account that is still the centerpiece of SCDP, and is too embarassed to tell the other partners. He screams at Pete when Pete admits "he" lost the airline account, but clearly, he is really screaming at himself. He points out that "you're only job is to hold their hand and to jerk them off" and that is exactly what he has been responsible for throughout his career, and exactly what he failed at earlier tonight. Roger's only use has been schmoozing the clients for his entire career, and as Lee is quick to point out when Roger is outraged at his betrayal, Roger inherited even that account. Roger continues to be a tragic figure, as he increasingly realizes exactly how little he has accomplished and exactly how useless he is. All he really has in the world is his love for Joan, and even that eludes him.

"Hands and Knees" was not the best episode this season. In fact, it was possibly my least favorite all year (Though it was still very entertaining television), yet every plotline tonight set up plenty of avenues for the show to explore over the next three weeks. And that prospect is very exciting to me.

Grade: B


-It was a good day for Sally Draper tonight, as she got tickets to see The Beatles. I was seriously expecting the tickets to fall through (Because, come on, its Sally) and it was nice to see that it worked out for her. Also, the episode ended with "Do You Want To Know A Secret?" though it was a muzak version. Clearly the rights to use the actual song are a little out of AMC's price range.

-So, who thinks that Joan didn't go through with the abortion?

Whose Film Is It Anyway?: Ingmar Bergman

Note: The purpose of Whose Film Is It Anyway? is to examine the validity of the auteur theory through the lens of individual film-makers, taking a look at their bodies of work and highlighting the technical elements, personal style, and thematic consistency of their films. Ultimately, the goal of this column will be to generate a discussion of the merits of auteur theory through examinations of directors widely considered auteurs, analyses of directors whose status as auteurs is more tenuous, and occasional looks at non-directors who may drive the quality and content of their films with more assuredness than the directors they work with.

“We must make an idol of our fear, and call it God.” –Antonious Block (Max Von Sydow), The Seventh Seal

Setting out to write about one of the titans of cinema is always a difficult challenge. Ingmar Bergman directed over 60 films and television movies, and well over a hundred plays during his nearly six decades in the industry. Faced with that much material, and the incredibly condensed time period I have to review it (exactly two weeks between columns, with all of my actual life continuously getting in the way), there is almost no way I can hope to do the man justice. Instead of attempting to condense a prodigious lifetime of work into 2,000 words, this week’s column will instead focus on a narrow period in Bergman’s career, and a point at which he made some of his greatest films. Between 1957 and 1963, he focused almost solely on religious questions in his films, tackling the inevitable mortality of human life, the absurdity of religious extremism, the dangers of certainty, and God’s silence.

While Bergman was raised by a devoutly religious father, Lutheran minister Erik Bergman, who punished his every infraction by locking him in a dark closet, he later admitted that by the age of nine he had lost all semblance of religious faith. What remained in its place was an endless curiosity to explore death, fears of dying, and the way that people deal with these fears in daily life. Bergman dealt with these themes throughout much of his work, but for the sake of expediency, I will examine four of his films, all made during the time he considered examinations of mortality and religion central to his work. The focus of this installment will be Bergman’s “faith cycle,” as the period has come to be called, including his “Trilogy of Faith”, Through a Glass Darkly, Winter Light, and The Silence. Before tackling the trilogy, however, it is important to look closely at perhaps Bergman’s most important film, and the first in the cycle—1957’s The Seventh Seal.

Set during the Black Death, The Seventh Seal is centered on a medieval knight Antonious Block (Max Von Sydow) returning from the Crusades and traveling towards home through his disease torn country. Along the way, the knight engages in a chess game with Death (Bengt Ekerot), under the condition that he lives as long as the game continues. As he plays, he escorts a family of entertainers through a dangerous forest along with his disillusioned squire Jons (Gunnar Bjornstrand), all the while endeavoring to make it home to the wife he left behind before he succumbs to death. The film takes its title from a verse in the Book of Revelation, “And when the lamb had opened the seventh seal, there was silence in Heaven about the space of half an hour.” Fittingly, then, the silence of God is a major theme in the film. As the night asks during a monologue set in a confessional, “Is it so cruelly inconceivable to grasp God with the senses? Why should he hide himself in a mist of half-spoken promises and unseen miracles? […] What is going to happen to those of us who want to believe but are unable?” These are the questions that plagued Bergman through much of his early life, and The Seventh Seal, like much of his work throughout his career, and especially throughout his “cycle of faith” is deeply, painfully autobiographical.

Late in his life, Bergman commented “When I was young, I was extremely scared of dying. But now I think it a very, very wise arrangement. It’s like a light that is extinguished. Not very much to make a fuss about.” Much like Bergman himself in his early life, Antonious Block is tormented by his own mortality, and by his fears that death is in fact the end of existence. In one of the film’s most powerful moments, Block begs Death to tell him of what comes after, and Death coldly replies, “I have nothing to tell.” While earlier in the film, the confused and still hopeful Block might have taken this as a sign that Death himself is as ignorant to the afterlife as anyone, but at this point Block realizes the much darker truth that he has fought against throughout the film—Death may have nothing to tell for the simple reason that after death, there is only nothingness.

In 1961 Bergman released Through a Glass Darkly (which would go on to win the Best Foreign Film Oscar the next year), a “chamber film” taking place over the course of 24 hours, and featuring four characters who act as thematic mirrors for one another. At the center of the film is Karin (Harriet Andersson), recently released from a mental institution and vacationing on a remote and isolated island with her family. Karin’s husband Martin (Max Von Sydow) is desperately in love with her, though he admits early on in the film that her schizophrenia is almost incurable. Karin’s brother Minus (Lars Passgard) feels that he can never truly communicate with his father, and feels deprived of his love. And Karin’s father David (Gunnar Bjornstrand), a second rate novelist who feels he has lost the ability to love at all, now discovers a morbid curiosity in documenting the mental unraveling of his daughter. The title is again a biblical reference, this time to 1 Corinthians 13:12, “For now we see through a glass darkly…” a reference to the inability of mortals to understand or truly view God during their lives. In fact, the only character in the film who claims to commune with God is Karin, who is seen throughout the film as insane, and her vision of God is not as one might expect. Without spoiling the climax of the film, the first in Bergman’s “Trilogy of Faith” examines the possibility that religious faith, or certainty of any kind, may be insanity more readily than it is reasonable. Each of the sane characters throughout the film is certain of almost nothing, contemplating their place in the world, wondering about the importance of love, pondering the meaning of life, and even, in one instance, considering suicide.

If Through A Glass Darkly examines the possibility that certainty is insanity, Winter Light, the second film in Bergman’s trilogy deals with the aftermath of overcoming that insanity, and examines the loss of faith. Winter Light follows a day in the life of Tomas Ericsson (Gunnar Bjornstrand), a pastor in a rural Swedish town, as he grapples with the realization that he has lost his faith, and tries to guide his parishioners all the same. Throughout the day he is confronted by his former mistress Marta (Ingrid Thulin), an atheist who tries to get Tomas to accept that there is no God, and asked to counsel Jonas Persson (Max Von Sydow) who has lost his faith in God and his belief that life has a purpose. In the film’s most powerful scene, a six minute long take in which Bergman stares unmoving into Marta’s eyes as she recounts the contents of a letter she sent to Tomas, Bergman confronts the audience with the possibility that religion is egotism, a fact that Tomas must admit by the film’s end. Tomas realizes that his faith has always been egotistical—he believed that God loved humanity, but Tomas most of all—and now counsel’s Jonas that the world makes more sense if the existence of God is denied, because then man’s cruelty toward man needs no further explanation.

The final film in the trilogy, The Silence, deals with, as the title suggests, God’s silence. The film follows Esther (Ingrid Thulin), her sister Anna (Gunnel Lindblom), and Anna’s son Johan (Jorgen Lindstrom) as they travel through a foreign country where only Esther speaks the language. When Esther falls seriously, terminally ill, the three stop at a hotel, where Anna and Johan wander empty halls unable to speak to anyone, and Esther furiously works to create translations for Anna and Johan so that they can communicate once she dies. Throughout Esther’s life, words have meant everything to her, and her faith has been as strong as her grasp of languages, but as she lies dying, desperately trying to communicate with her sister and nephew, she finally hears the silence that has plagued Anna throughout her life. The futility of communication is an important theme throughout the film, as the characters continuously have trouble communicating with one another, yet Bergman depicts these faltering attempts at understanding as vastly superior to the deafening silence one is confronted with when looking for the Voice of God.

Ingmar Bergman lost his faith at a young age, but he never lost his intellectual curiosity, and his examinations of religion are windows into his own struggles over eternal questions about the purpose of life and the absence of God. Often in this column I focus on the thematic consistencies of directors, and occasionally I focus on their technical tendencies, yet another important aspect of auterism is the idea that filmmakers use their own lives and their own perspectives to create a unique voice that is present throughout their work. Ingmar Bergman, more than many other directors, drew on his own life and his own internal struggles when making his film (this is also apparent in an examination of three strictly autobiographical films he made over the course of his career). While his films are in many ways thematically consistent, and are tied together by a distinctive style (including close-ups and distinctive use of shadows), it is his own personal life that permeates each of his films and leaves them all, unquestionably, completely, works of his own.

Read more Whose Film Is It Anyway? here

Coming up on Who's Film Is It Anyway?:

10/10: Halloween Horror Auteur Month: George Romero

10/24: Halloween Horror Auteur Month: John Carpenter

11/7: James Cameron

11/21: Kathryn Bigelow

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Jordan's Review: 30 Rock, Season 5, Episode 1: The Fabian Strategy

Last Season 30 Rock had a long, pretty unpleasant to watch fall from glory. Where once stood easily the best sitcom on television, and one of the better sitcoms of the last decade, by the end of last Season stood a consistently humorous half hour of television that existed as a pale shadow of the former masterpiece. Which is to say that last year the show went from consistently excellent and endlessly, brilliantly hysterical, to just very good and pretty damn funny. This season opens with each of the cast members quickly explaining how they spent their summers (including Jack, who grew a beard and spent his time banging Avery in "a privacy circle of English butlers.). Perhaps I should have spent my summer recalibrating my expectations for 30 Rock and preparing myself for a show that, while very funny, did not have the spark it used to. Unfortunately, I did not, which left me a little disappointed.

The A-plot of the premiere focused on, as so many have before it, the relationships of Jack and Liz, and the differences in how the two handle them. Jack uses the strategy that gives the episode its title, viewing relationships as an endless battle from which he retreats until his opponent makes a fatal mistake. Liz doesn't want to use the word relationship at all (or the word climax, for that matter), which is likely to spell the downfall of her relationship with the hysterical Matt Damon (if only he would leave his incredibly successful, rewarding, and lucrative career as a major movie star to be a supporting player on a past-its-prime sitcom). Jack, on the other hand, is pleased to discover that Avery (who thankfull does not appear in this episode, but gets a fuck you, Elizabeth Banks, just the same) Hannibals his Fabian, throwing out a gay interior designer for Jack to seduce, only to have said designer feed Jack the idea Avery had in the first place.

The B-plot focused on Jenna's contractually obligated ascension to producer. Instead of the expected disaster, Jenna becomes an incredibly effective producer due to her selfish, calculating personality. And Pete, generally the source of the show's darkest humor, spends his time drinking, avoiding his children, going to the gym, and raping his sleeping wife so he doesn't have to cuddle with her (a disgusting, and yes, humorous act that the show cuts two twice for added effect). Pete is a character I think the show consistently uses in very clever ways. As long as he is on a constant downward spiral towards madness and degradation, he's good for a few laughs.

Another character who is generally aces is Tracy Jordan, who occupies the show's smallest subplot tonight. Pretty much all tracy needs to be hilarious is a string of vaguely connected scenes in which he spouts ridiculous one-liners, and tonight's plotline in which he misses Kenneth (who I had totally forgotten got fired from NBC in last year's finale) and continuously hallucinates him provided just that. It isn't much of a story, but then Tracy Jordan isn't a character who needs one. His humor is in his absurdity, and like Pete, the crazier he gets, the funnier he is.

There's a danger in going down that path, of course. To some extent I'm not sure that Pete and Tracy can get much more over the top than they are, but if 30 Rock decides to just become increasingly manic and insane, it runs the risk of becoming too much eventually. For now, though, its a strategy that seems to be working pretty well for the show. "The Fabian Strategy" is a pretty mediocre episode by vintage 30 Rock standards, but in the show's new life as a one-liner machine, it is a pretty successful premiere. I talked a lot last season about the show's progression (or, more accurately, degression) from brilliant, layered, absurdist, post modernist masterpiece to one-liner machine, and I do still think its a bad thing, on the whole.

Yet the show is still insanely clever, and varies up the one liners plenty. Tracy provides sheer absurdity, Pete the jet black humor of dispair, Jack pop-culture conscious condescension, Liz the overly pathetic and harried "Straight woman," and Jenna the insanely self absorbed. This show has never been one for deeply realized characters, and it is still populated with people who are more traits (or types of one-liners) than actual human beings. But I don't watch 30 Rock for the character development, and I never have. The show has never been about anything more than the best possible jokes (I turn to Community for a combination of laughter and deeper meaning), and while it may be less transcendant than it was two seasons ago, it is still a damn funny half hour of television.

Grade: B


-"You sound weird. Did you grow a beard?"

-"Ok. Season Five, let's go." This line was pretty much just a pale imitation of last year's more inspired "Welcome to Season Four" gag. Also, the writers seem to have forgotten that TGS was on when this show started, meaning that this is at least Season Six of the show within the show (unless they are counting from the beginning of TGS with Tracy Jordan...).

-"Before I know it she'll have me wearing jeans and reading fiction."

-"Kenneth, I need you to go down to the dry cleaners. Find out how Martinizing works. I've always been curious."

-"Kenneth, I knew you'd come back! Let me smell your head."

-"Am I going crazy again? Should I get my rainbow wig out of storage?"

-"The next time you hallucinate, tell yourself, 'this is not real. I'm in control.'" "Like the World Cup!"

-"No. It ok. Don't be cry."

-I like that Jack suggests Liz teach her cat to dial 911 and she triumphantly retorts that she has Life Alert. Then, "Oh, I pushed it. I need a phone."

-"Your health insurance will remain in effect until the end...of this sentence."

-"I have five kids! That I don't want to be at home with!"

-"As great as I am at this, I'm very unnecessay. The last time I said that I was in a three way with two of the Backstreet Boys."

-Liz and Carol growing closer by sharing: "I'm on a waiting list to adopt a baby." "Touched by a priest."

-"She's your pube shirt."

Jordan's Review: Community, Season 2, Episode 1: Anthropology 101

"And we're back." So opens Season 2 of Community, beginning with a meta gag, rather than the far less popular whimper opening. What follows is a very cool opening shot, which pans across each of the character's rooms, reacquainting us with our cast of characters as they prepare for a new school year at Greendale Community College. Last year, Community was the best new comedy by leaps and bounds (and perhaps even the best comedy on television last season), yet it ended on a rather weak note with a series of forced cliffhangers. You may recall that Britta declared her love for Jeff, and Jeff kissed Annie out in the parking lot. "Anthropology 101" has to deal with the aftermath of both of those events, while simultaneously inroducing the show and its premise to new viewers its hoping to catch (this show really needs the ratings, people. So watch it, and tell your friends to. It will hurt me if it gets cancelled). Oh, and it also needs to be funny. So its no small feat that the show does all of this with barely a missed step.

Britta arrives at school petrified that everyone will mock her for her declaration of love, only to find out that her honesty has made her popular, and that everyone hates Jeff for rejecting her. She has also realized that she does not in fact love Jeff (in all likelihood because the writers realized that was a stupid forced cliffhanger), but cannot admit that lest she lose the favor of everyone around her. Jeff, not to be outdone, pretends that he is in love with Britta as well, and the two embark on a faux-mance (get it?) for the ages, complete with an almost wedding and a George Clooney impersonator (who can also do some lines from Batman and Robin). While Britta and Jeff stubbornly attempting to one up each other is fun, the best part of this subpolt has to be Annie, who is not so secretly still infatuated with Jeff and finds his relationship with Britta, fake though it may be, excruciating to watch.

The show smartly avoided trying to shoehorn in much of a B-story, which likely would have overcrowded the episode, and instead tied the A-Story into the study group's first class together, the titular Anthropology, taught by stunt-casted omnipresent octagenarian Betty White. White basically did a variation on her "old lady makes inappropriate comments" character that she's been playing for as long as I've been alive, but with a distinctly Community twist. Instead of talking about sex and drugs, she drank her own urine and created a mega weapon out of the nine tools she gave her "tribes" to survive. When Jeff tries to outsmart the assignment (which is totally in character) by claiming that the key to survival is respect, White pulls out her mega weapon and attacks him with it. As she strangles him, he gasps, "I respect you" and she wails, "That's why you fail!"

The rest of the cast didn't have much to do but react tonight, but because this is an excellent ensemble, each had plenty of hilarious moments nevertheless. As I said above, this premiere was likely more aimed at attracting new viewers to the show, and may even have played better to the unindoctrinated, but there were plenty of in-jokes for those of us who have been counting down the days to this premiere since Jeff and Annie locked lips last May. This episode had to clear up the cliffhangers, introduce its premise, and be hilarious, but because its Community it did one more thing. It reminded us that more than just a premise and some excellent jokes, it is a comedy that is actually about something, which is a very rare thing indeed. This show is about second chances, about the ability to remake yourself, and about the power of friendship to help you understand your self worth (I promise I'm not just making up themes here). Community has a stellar first season, and "Anthropology 101" gives me every reason to think that Season 2 will be as good. It may even be better.

Grade: B+


-I liked Donald Glover wearing the Spider Man shirt in the opening, in reference to his failed Internet campaign to be cast as the new Peter Parker. Giving the show credit for mocking a failed internet campaign in the same episode that Betty White guest starred, riding high off of the success of a campaign dedicated to her may be giving the show a bit too much credit for comedic brilliance. But I wouldn't put it past them to pull a gag that layered.

-"We're like Batman and Shaft!"

-"Hey Toy Stor-...Britta!"

-Starburns added a hat!

-Abed wants to move away from the soapy relationships and tell more self contained stories. I kind of hope the show balances serialization with the occasional self-contained episode.

-Betty White said sister raping. She still has the ability to shock me to laughter. "You will also have to make a diorama."

-Jeff and Britta's kiss was maybe the most awkward thing ever. Especially as a heartbroken Annie watched from in between them and was obscured by their tongues touching.

-"Shirley, would you consider spinning off with me? We could open a beauty salon." "I don't understand. Is this you being met-ta?

-"Maybe its the telescope. You can look through it backwards, shrink your enemies!"

-"Sorry I'm late. I was in my car loving Britta."

-I loved when Annie and Shirley made the exact same noises for exact opposite reasons at Jeff and Britta's marriage announcement.

-"Anyone object to us being referred to as donuts? No one?"

-"He thinks all dogs are boys and all cats are girls!" "There's no way to dispute that. Have you ever seen a cat penis?"

-"your cute 'I can't tell TV from real life' gimmick is so Season One!"

-"The most important tool is respect." "Ha! Gaaaaaaaaaaay!"

-"How abour "Old White Man Says" the tv show?" "Who would watch that?"

-"is there any room in this pocket for a little spare chang?"

-Chang's Lord of Th Rings homage was easily the most absurd thing in an episode that had Betty White building a mega weapon and strangling Jeff. Also, it was hilarious.

-Nice rap from Troy and Abed, yet again. "Dogs used to eat me, but now they bring the paper in."

Sam's Review: Modern Family, Season 2 Episode 1, "The Old Wagon"

The breakout comedy last year not named "Glee" last season was undoubtedly, Modern Family and for good reason. While it may not have been the best new comedy (that honor goes to Community, and I think you'll agree) it certainly had a throwback quality that people latched to. It was in many ways a classic family sitcom that did manage to tie in more modern comedic sensibilities. OK

The second season kicked off last night with the same general formula that made it Emmy worthy and popular amongst the masses. The problems of each family under the 'Modern Family' umbrella has a problem and then at the end they all love each other. Simple, but the writers make it work, and tonight was no exception.

The Dunphy family is getting rid of their old station wagon. When Phil manages to get the hunk of junk sold, Claire remembers all the great times they had whether it be back seat vomiting or windows that don't close. In a purely Phil-ian act of charm, he decides to take the crew out for one last day with the old wagon. In a brilliantly staged bit of comedy, we get one of the episodes highlights as they manage to lose the car after Luke nearly vomits, for one last time, in the wagon.

Cam and Mitchell continue to be the most interesting/fun couple to watch on the show. They characteristically decide to build a princess castle for Lilly who probably won't be able to enjoy it for a couple of years. Cam and Jay plot to keep Mitchell from going near the thing during construction ever since he got the idea that he is handy. Mitchell shows them in the end though that he can build it, of course he traps himself inside the castle with no way to get out.

Finally, we have probably the least interesting, though still mildly amusing, subplot from the episode as Gloria discusses Colombian mothers and the difficult time they have letting their children go. The consummate ladies man, Manny comes home with a girl from class and of course Gloria gets insanely jealous of the girl.

Like most MF episodes, it is tied together with some general theme like learning to let go or something like that. Though that is often a little clumsy, there's no denying the cast's chemistry and there is still that sweet "They still love each other" moment that I tend to be a sucker for.



-Jay on past construction projects with Mitchell- "It was my Vietnam...and I was in Vietnam."

-Salt and chocolate milk...intriguing.

-Phil's mnemonic or m-nemonic devices are classic! hope those come back-I know they won't. If this was HIMYM or Arrested Development it would.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Jordan's Review: Undercovers, Season 1, Episode 1: Pilot

Just last night I avoided comparing a new show to my favorite show by its creator. It wouldn't have been fair to compare Running Wilde to Arrested Development, just as it wouldn't be fair to compare Undercovers to Alias. The latter was an incredibly entertaining hour of television (if not much more) for the majority of its run. To be fair to Undercovers, I will avoid comparing it to Alias. Instead, I will look at it through the lens of the genre it tries to fit into: the action rom com. This is a genre I find potentially incredibly lucrative, and almost always disappointing. The real problem with the genre, to my view, is that it is written by action writers, who may be good at staging action set pieces, but are less adept at banter, which is essential to the success of any show in the genre. JJ Abrams should have been able to pull it off, as Alias was often very clever, but it seems this time he just phoned one in. In the interest of saving you all time, I will dispense with a long plot summary and in-depth analysis, and simply provide a list of all the ways this show went wrong, which I think will also shed light on the ways its unlikely to go right in weeks to come:

-The exposition on the show is handled terribly. Instead of talking like a husband and wife, the leads talk to each other like exposition robots who are just being introduced.

-Using postcards for every location the show visits is not cute. It is grating and boring.

-I don't care how good you are under torture, you don't grunt when someone breaks your finger. You scream bloody murder, last I checked.

-This show uses the word "sexpionage." Many times. "Sexpionage" is probably the least sexy way possible to describe that action.

-Wow. The bad guy killed the henchman who failed him. Has that ever been done before?

-The subplot about the catering business is incredibly boring, just as the sister character is terribly annoying. My guess is both become more prominent in the coming weeks.

-Every time someone says "Get a room," a good screenwriter kills himself.

-You really don't want to pull out the rocket launcher card in the pilot. It sort of thins your deck in the coming weeks.

It may seem like I just phoned in this review, and to an extent I did. But if JJ Abrams can phone in an entire show, I think I can phone in my review of it. In less bullet pointed terms, this show uses the basic template for a show of its kind and does not deviate one iota. Undercovers is not a bad show. It will only make you angry if you really hate mediocrity. It did not offend me, nor did it make me angry. Honestly, the best thing I can say about the show is that within a week, I'll probably forget it ever existed.

Grade: C


-The only thing that felt more like a JJ Abrams show than a cheap rip off of same was the shockingly long cold open. I recall some episodes of Alias where the credits didn't roll until literally half way through the show. Way to make this feel like your own, Abrams!

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Jordan's Review: Running Wilde, Season 1, Episode 1

Ever since Mitch Hurwitz created Arrested Development, expectations for everything he touches have been through the roof. By creating the best sitcom of all time, Hurwitz made it very difficult for himself to make anything else. So when I heard he was re-uniting with Will Arnett and David Cross for Running Wilde, I remembered to keep my expectations low. After all, Will Arnett, Jason Bateman, and Henry Winkler were all involved in Sit Down, Shut Up with him, and we all know how that turned out. However, it was inevitable that I would compare the show to Arrested Development (and I'm willing to bet every other person reviewing it will as well), and to an extent that's simply not fair. The success of AD didn't just come down to Mitch Hurwitz, nor to Jim Vallelly (who wrote for AD and co-wrote this pilot), nor to Will Arnett or David Cross. And the brilliance of that show was hinted at in its pilot, but it surely got better over its few seasons on the air. Yet I will not even compare the pilot of Running Wilde to the pilot of Arrested Development. I have said many times that a pilot is rarely a show's strongest episode, and so I tend to give pilot's the benefit of the doubt. In order to do that, I will avoid pointing out the many comparisons to Arrested Development that the show provides (though no promises that will hold true in coming weeks) and look at the pilot on its own merits.

Will Arnett is Steven Wilde, an oil heir who has lived off his trust fund for his whole life. Arnett has made the unbelievably rich and incredibly naive character his bread and butter for years now, and with seemingly no diminishing marginal returns. He is still hilarious here, whether he is giving himself the "Humanitarian of the Fiscal Year" award or taking credit for building a treehouse in his youth because he showed one of his servants the plan and told him where to build it. Migo, one of his employees who he pays to be his best friend, also skims off the top from him because of his total naivety about what things cost in the real world (he takes one hundred dollars from Wilde for a six pack of diet soda, and tries to hide the cost of other things throughout the episode), and Mr. Lunt, his former nanny who spies on Wilde to anticipate his every desire in order to keep his job.

Wilde has been aloof, and unhappy, ever since his childhood sweetheart Emmy (Kerri Russell) left. Emmy kept him grounded and tried to teach him about the suffering in the world, and what he could do to change it. Now, she lives in the jungle with her daughter Puddle and her enviro-terrorist boyfriend (David Cross, who is hilariously introduced being almost torn apart when he chains himself to a tree and a bulldozer, only to realize he and Emmy never told the driver of the bulldozer he was there). The show hinges, to some extent, on the chemistry between Arnett and Russell, and that was my largest fear going in. Yet when they first meet again and she drags him into a closet, the two enter into a dance of brilliant confused intentions, as each considers seducing the other and badly resists the urge. Its a hilarious moment, but more importantly it immediately reassures that these two are a workable romantic pair, as well as a capable comedic one.

Running Wilde is at its best when it resorts to some inspired and subtle background gags (perhaps the best of which has Wilde dramatically moping and playing the piano, only to have him stand and the player piano continue playing the tune. He quickly darts back to turn it off before anyone notices, and that awkward moment is one of the best in the episode). This cast has a lot of chemistry, the writing is fast, quippy, and subtle, and this pilot hits more often than it misses. If Hurwitz and his gang of merry misfits continue to flesh out the very strange world of Steven Wilde as well as they begin to in this episode, I think Running Wilde may become the best new comedy of the season. At least until Fox cancels it.

Grade: B+


-Great subtle callback: David Cross mentioning mailing the Wilde's three kilos of oil, then, one scene later, walking into his tent saying, "Not enough postage? What was I even sending?" before the oil explodes all over the tent.

-Another subtle joke: The band at Steve's reception quietly playing the theme to The Price is Right while all of the audience members in matching clothes and nametags mill about.

-"Oh. NOT to drill. That's going to be a problem."

-"I saved a horse today! I'm going to...I know where I left it."

-"That's two diet colas. Your total comes to..." "Yeah, we know how much it is!"

-"And I never saw him again." " And that's when Dad bought me my first speedboat."

-"Raising a daughter in the rainforest...I mean, that's where they make all the nanny's, but still..."

-"Oh right, you can't talk, and I'm not a mindreader." "I can't go back to the jungle. I need your help!" "Alright. But if you tell anyone I can read minds, the deal is off."

-I didn't get a chance to mention him above, but Peter Seranfinowicz, as Fa'ad, Wilde's neighbor and rival in riches, is hysterical, especially when playing off Arnett. "Doctor Magazine says you're the best in the world!" "Thank you, Doctor Magazine!"

Monday, September 20, 2010

Sam's Review: HIMYM, Season 6 Episode 1: Big Days

How I Met Your Mother returned giving fans something they had been begging for basically all of last season—a hint about ANYTHING. Boy did they get some hints on meeting the mother. As an added bonus, there were some clues to other characters too.

Opening with a shot of a church where Ted is initially presented to the audience as the groom-to-be he hangs out back while buddy Marshall brings him a couple of years. At first glance this is another HIMYM non-reveal like much of what we saw last season. Ted gets married! Shocker, I know. But the writers pulled a fast one in a vintage twist any HIMYM fan would appreciate.

“Big Days” brought us up to speed with our heroes. First, Lilly and Marshall are trying to get pregnant. Most of the laughs generated in this episode were a product of Jason Segel’s always funny shouts and exuberance. Lilly becomes upset when Marshall’s dad starts taking too great of an interest in the couple’s getting it on and trying to make a new Erikson. Lilly finds out the Marshall has not only notified his father at their attempts at getting pregnant, but everyone at work and pretty much anyone Marshall sees on a regular basis. Little plot-wise is gained from the episode other than Lilly loves Marshall for the same reason Marshall loves his father, they both take Erikson-sized excitement and enthusiasm in everything they do.

Our main man, Ted “Professor” Mosby, is chock full of nerves when he sees a beautiful girl waiting at the bar. When he finally musters up the courage to go talk to her, his ex-flame Cindy (Rachel Bilson) pops in. The episode hints at Cindy’s friend being the mother (!) with flashbacks to the all-useless ankle shown in the previous season. THE MOTHER’S ANKLE, so it shall be called. It’s a representation of non-hints given to the audience last season. Ted eventually talks to Cindy and everything seems to be fine and dandy. He even thinks she’ll introduce her friend. To Ted’s surprise Cindy and mystery friend are really girlfriends (punctuated by an excellent reaction from Barney upon seeing the two women kiss).

To get to the end of the episode, and what was really important, we need to look at Barney and Robin. The relationship that made all the sense in the world and had all the potential to be spun into gold by the show’s writers just fell absolutely flat last season. Barney is still his old self and Robin is in the dumps (literally, it seems) about her recent breakup with Don. Credit to the makeup and wardrobe department for making Smulders seem as unappealing has humanly possible. Here’s where things get fun in this episode. In the opening sequence at the future church where we think Ted is nervous because he’s about to get married. It’s revealed that he is in fact worried about making a toast. Narrator Ted (Bob Saget) says that was a big day (EPISODE TITLE HAD TO DO WITH THE EPISODE HOLY SHIT!) because he was not only giving the toast, but that’s the day he met the kids’ mother.

Undoubtedly this is a huge step for the show. Now we know when Ted meets the mother…kind of. It’s a great hint because whenever that wedding comes, we now know we’ll finally see the mother. This could be at the end of this season, this could be in two seasons. So why did I bring this up when talking about Robin and Barney? Let me take a spin at this. In the opening scene we see the sign outside the church read “To Every Thing There is a Season”. The end of the first scene cuts to Barney talking about the changing seasons, notably how the ladies of New York have started wearing warmer, thus less revealing clothes. Barney laments the loss of the sun dress. In typical list-y fashion Barney goes through all the reasons why sun dresses make Barney go bonkers. There’s the connection to Barney, but what bridges it to Robin is when she wants to prove to Barney she isn’t over the hill, in the hotness department she comes to the bar in a sun dress. She’s hit on in a matter of seconds proving she’s still got it. When she sits down Barney assures her that she looks really hot, in about the sweetest way someone could say that. We all know Barney means it and that he still loves her. So these links in my opinion lead me to believe the future wedding is for Barney and Robin. I could be right, I could be wrong but at least the show has me guessing, which is a marked improvement from last season. Hoping for Big Episodes after “Big Days”, and this premiere tells me they might just deliver.


Random Observations:

-Sorry such a long review, I haven’t written for a while so I guess I’m compensating.

-Marshall’s reactions to Lilly’s flaunting her breasts is always hilarious. “Can you people let me think!”

-The music they’d actually be doing it to? Banjo. Awesome.

-Barney’s turning around to check out the girl at the bar a quick reminder of why NPH rocks. Also Barney never left the bar this episode, did he?

-I’ve got a feeling the story of “Dibs” may be on its way back at some point. Just a hunch

-So whose wedding do you think it is???????

Jordan's Review: How I Met Your Mother, Season 6, Episode 1: Big Days

"For Every Thing There Is A Season." So reads a sign outside the church that opens the newest season of How I Met Your Mother, and I doubt (and seriously hope) that was the opening shot by accident. Last season was seriously flawed, to the point that I have read about even the creators apologizing and promising great things from Season Six. What last season lacked was master-plot, and this episode delivers on Carter and Craig's promise that Season Six would deepen the mythology of the show and give us another piece of the puzzle. Before we get to that, though, there's the episode we have in the moments that aren't flash forward.

This episode pretty much takes place withing MacLaren's, and gives us a chance to catch up on the progress the characters have made since last season--which is none. Marshall and Lily are still trying to conceive, Robin is still upset about Don, Barney is still Barney, and Ted is grading papers, probably because the only development he had last season was becoming a professor. "Big Days" for all the big talk of the narration and the big promise of the flash forward, is pretty much a place-holder of an episode, trying to draw us back in with the hint of what's to come, but leaving us for the moment pretty much exactly where we were.

Ted sees a pretty woman at the bar, and when Cindy shows up, begins to think she may be the one for him. Barney called dibs, which leads to a debate that would probably have been transcendant in Seasons One or Two, but here feels like only a shadow of the brilliant HIMYM that was. Marshall and Lily fight over Marshall's propensity for telling everyone about their efforts to conceive, and it feels like just another worn and tired old sitcom trope being wheeled out because Marshall and Lily are trying to have a baby. And Robin is in a funk, mostly do Barney can mock her and then be wowed by her easy return to being super hot. None of this is the transcendant episode of How I Met Your Mother I hoped for, but none of it is all that terrible either.

In fact, "Big Days" is consistently entertaining and humorous in a way that far too many episodes last season were not. Clearly Cindy's friend is not the mother (and in fact turns out to be Cindy's future wife), but we all knew that from the start. I have to hand it to the writers, though. The flash forward tonight was the stuff to give me goosebumps. It was the stuff made to remind any wayward fan that this show has not forgotten the mythology, and that it still has some excellent moments up its sleeve. At the episode's opening, we are lead to believe that Ted is at his wedding. Yet the end of the episode reveals that in fact he is nervous about giving his best man toast at another wedding. And that wedding is where he meets the mother. When it starts to rain, and Ted mentions that he forgot his umbrella, I recall everything that keeps me coming back to this show. "Big Days" isn't a great episode, but it does what it needed to. It reminded me of what I love about How I Met Your Mother, and got me excited for the season ahead.

Grade: B


-"This is what church has been missing. Dude you fixed church!" "You're welcome God."

-Marshall and Lily like make out music for foreplay, but banjo music for when they actually do it.

-"This, what you're doing now, I'm getting a derection."

-"Don't touch me dude. Its been two weeks."

-I liked the sign at Marshall's office reading, "Good luck Marshall. get your wife Pregnant!"

-"Pickles would have helped that sandwich."

-I have to agree with Ted and Barney. The high six is pretty lame.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Jordan's Review: Mad Men, Season 4, Episode 9: The Beautiful Girls

I went into tonight's episode of Mad Men without knowing the title of the episode, a very rare occurrence for me. When I found out near the episode's end that it was called "The Beautiful Girls," I though it might be a tad too precise. Yet in a way, its also perfect, as tonight's episode did give us an in-depth look at most of the show's major female characters, and did so in a way that made it into a study in the differences between them, but also an examination of what it means to be a woman in 1965, regardless of your age. For sake of organization, I want to analyze this episode through the lens of each "beautiful girl," and there's an easy bookend in the episode's oldest and youngest characters.

Ida Blankenship has been a fairly controversial character among fans of the show. I have often heard her referred to as one dimensional comic relief, and I think that's a fair criticism.Even her death was made into a joke tonight, and it made for an inspired sight gag as Pete and the ladies tried to dispose of her in the background of Don's pitch to Filmore. Yet I maintain that there was more to Blankenship than just a few jokes every week. For one thing, she served as a constant reminder: to Don, of what he did to Alison; to Roger of his distant youth; to Bert as a stalwart from yesteryear; and even to Joan as a sort of cautionary tale. And her death is treated with a beautiful dignity. Roger is especially stricken, in part because someone he once slept with is dead, but more importantly because it reminds him of his own mortality, and gets him worried that he will die in his office (a worry that may prove true by the end of the series, I fear). Bert truly gives her the most moving send off, waxing nostalgic as he says ,"She was born in 1898 in a barn. She died on the 37th floor of a skyscraper. She's an astronaut." The world changed legions during Blankenship's life, as it is changing almost too quickly for most of the show's characters. I for one will miss the character, and I was glad the show gave her a touching send off.

The simple tragedy of Blankenship's life, as Bert puts it, is less that she died in the office (which hits Roger the hardest), but more that she died, as she lived, answering phones for the people she worked for. Blankenship lived through an era that didn't give her many choices, but that era is quickly changing (though not quickly enough). Dr. Faye Miller has had choices, or so she claims. As she fights with Don near the episode's end, she points out that she has chosen not to have children, because work has been more important to her and because she is not good with them (and she is comically awkward with Sally, saying things like, "Hey Sally. Its me, Faye. Remember me from yesterday?"). She is emphatic that she has made her life the way it is, and enjoys it that way. But I am not entirely convinced that a woman at her level, during the time period she came up in, really did have the choices she claims. I appreciate that Faye, an existentialist like Don, wants to think that her life is her own to make and that her choices have guided her more than anything else. Yet society has likely played a large hand in the fact that her professional successes have ensured she remains single and childless (not that these are not valid life choices, I'm just not sure Faye really had the options she claims to have had).

While Faye seems to think she got where she is because of the choices she has made, Peggy is more interested in the limitations that have been placed on her. When Joyce sets her up on a blind date who immediately begins to wax political on civil rights, Peggy is quick to point out that "Most of the things Negroes can't do, I can't do either" to which her date chukles and responds, "Alright Peggy, we'll have a civil right's march for women!" Peggy is struggling to break barriers herself, and is as a result not as interested in the barrier breaking going on in the Civil Rights movement (especially not when its being preached to her by a misogynist, even if Abe did seem like more of an incedental offender than an outright sexist). She has spent most of the series focused on what it means to be a woman, struggling with the work-life balance, fighting off harassment and discrimination, and simply trying to figure out who she is outside of who society tells her she should be. Near the end of the episode, Joyce likens men to a vegetable soup in need of a pot and asks, "Who wants to be a pot? Who the hell says we're not soup?" She's absolutely right in a sense, but Peggy doesn't necessarily see the interaction between the sexes in such a black and white way. What Peggy wants, even if she doesn't realize it quite yet, is a partnership between equals. She is working towards that in her professional life with Don, but has yet to connect this career revelation to her personal life.

Peggy does begin to struggle with the moral implications of her work more tonight, thanks in no small part to Abe's creepiness. Early in the episode he asks her, "Would you have done a campaign for Goldwater?" and she immediately responds "My God that would have been spectacular!" A shocked Abe asks, "Did you vote for him?" and Peggy just as quickly reponds, "Of course not." She sees no problem with working for someone she might not personally agree with--an ad is an ad, and a high profile ad campaign is all the better for business. Yet Abe opens her eyes a bit to the potential damage a great ad for a less than great client could do. Don rationalizes, "Our job is to make men like Filmore Auto, not to make Filmore auto like negroes" and that seems right in line with where Peggy started the episode. By its end though, she's suggesting Harry Belafonte as a jingle singing candidate and pointing out that boycotts aren't good for business. Abe may have been creepy, sexist, and way too much of a hippy for Peggy, but he did make some good points, and those will probably stick with her for a while.

On the Joan front (and front is almost to apt a phrase considering Greg's current situation), her husband has been sent off to Vietnam, and Roger is making more direct advances than ever. He gets her a manicure and a massage, and even takes her out to dinner at an old favorite of theirs, where Joan points out, "The clientele is older than I remember" and Roger quips, "But not us." Roger is having trouble getting his autobiography published, probably in no small part because its excruciatingly uneventful, but it has got him thinking about the best times in his life, and all of them, it seems, involved Joan. And when the two get mugged, they react by quickly jumping into each others arms and getting it on in an alleyway. This seems a perfectly appropriate response considering the death and fear of mortality that pervades their current lives (Greg at war, Roger afraid he will soon die, Blankenship dying, and then a mugging that certainly puts the though of mortality into both of their minds), and is also, of course, a cause for celebration in my eyes. Roger and Joan have something special together. They may be married to other people, and they may even love those other people (though I somehow doubt it), but in some way, these two are deeply connected in a way that transcends their alleyway indiscretion. They are vitally important to one another's lives, and clearly care deeply for one another. Put simply, Roger and Joan are soulmates.

And now we come to Sally. Or, as I really should call her with every mention, poor, poor Sally. She runs away from home and travels by herself into the city to be with Don. She misses him desperately, and his initially cold reaction broke my heart (I have a huge soft spot for Sally, and she always tends to break my heart more than anything else on the show, due in no small part to the masterful performance by Kiernan Shipka. Get that girl an Emmy already!). As I've said before and will likely say again, its clear that all Sally needs is a parent who will just sit down and spend time with her, and watching Don shove her off on Faye (who is not at all prepared for, or happy with, the job) was near tragic. Yet the two do get some quality time, ordering a pizza together and spending a morning in the city. Sally makes it clear that she wants to live with Don, and that she hates it at her mother's (and who wouldn't prefer Don to Betty? He may be absent and a little aloof, but at least he cares about his children as more than just trophies or little dolls to be positioned in his perfect life) and while I knew that Don wouldn't relent this week, I will admit to quietly pleading that Sally be allowed to stay with Don. Living with Betty is doing lasting psychological harm to the girl, and even her one day with Don seemed to improve her immensely, so much so that She screams, tries, and even attempts to flee rather than return to Betty. Sally's fall as she runs is a moment of true tragedy; to most of the onlooking women (and it was a little on the nose to have the entire cast of women looking on, and then following Sally out to reception so that we could get a shot of all of the office women with Betty. What was less on the nose was the fact that Sally was positioned in between them, showing Betty on one end of the spectrum and the women of SCDP on the other, with Sally in the middle, still growing up and finding out what type of woman she will be) it is a small embarassment for a little girl to fall. Yet we know that Sally realizes, in that moment she lies prostrate on the floor, that her escape plan has failed and that she will be forced to go back to that house and live with Betty once again. Sally, like every woman this week, is getting a bit of a raw deal out of life, but there is hope that she will have a chance for something more.

The final shot, which places Peggy in between Faye and Joan in an elevator, is to my eye as meaningful as the shot placing Sally between Betty and the rest of the women. Faye is a woman who has chosen her career and her independence. Joan is a woman who has made career sacrifices to fit into the old fashioned mode of a career woman, staying low on the totem pole so that she can be married (And hopefully have a kid, though with Greg in Vietnam that seems less likely). And Peggy, between them, is a woman who still isn't sure exactly which side of that spectrum she wants to fall on. "The Beautiful Girls" is a masterful examination of the women of Mad Men a study in contrast and a look at the strictures and freedoms that defined femininity in the mid 1960's. In short, its another great episode from the best show on television.

Grade: A-


-I wanted to give this episode an "A," but decided that parts were perhaps a bit on the nose. Still, though, this is an excellent episode of televison.

-"Is it broken?" "The lamp?"

-"You want to leave me here? You sure?" "I'm taking everything interesting with me."

-"Its a business of sadists and masochists, and you know which one you are." Wise words, Blankenship.

-"Men never know what's going on." "I offered you money, and I said thank you." A nice glimpse at a woman outside the scope of the show, and another example of Don not understanding that money does not solve every problem.

-"I would have my secretary do it, but she's dead."

Jordan's Review: Boardwalk Empire, Season 1, Episode 1: Pilot

Its impossible to judge a novel by its first chapter. Likewise, as television becomes more serialized, and shows grow more novelic, it becomes harder to get a good feel for what a series will be like from the pilot. Pilots as a rule rarely put the show's best foot forward, as exposition and introductions tends to weigh them down; on a show like Boardwalk Empire where an expansive set of characters (some of whom only get the obligatory face time necessary to let us know they will soon become actual characters) must be introduced and a mood and setting as delicate as 1920's Atlantic City must be set up, the weights can get pretty heavy. So I walked into Boardwalk Empire both extremely excited for a show that promises to be one of the best of the new season (and will likely deliver on that promise), but also prepared for a pilot that was not going to put the show's best foot forward. To some extent I was right, as I'm sure its only going to get better from here, but this pilot is nothing to be trifled with.

That's not surprising, really, considering it was directed by Martin Scorsese and cost more than any other television pilot in history (reportedly upwards of $50 million for this one episode). It also boasts a fantastic cast, headlined by an excellent Steve Buscemi and also featuring a who's who of the great Michael's in character acting: Michael Pitt (of Hedwig and the Angry Inch and Funny Games), Michael Shannon (who was nominated for Best Supporting Actor for Revolutionary Road), Michael Stuhlbarg (of A Serious Man fame), and Michael Kenneth Williams (Omar's comin'). With other reliable players like Dabney Coleman and Kelly Macdonald, and with the heavy involvement of creator and executive producer Terrence Winter, who had a heavy hand in making The Sopranos the masterpiece it was, the show was pretty much guaranteed to be great from the start.

A lot goes on in the pilot, and much of it will likely pay off in spades later, but what really stands out in this first episode is how expertly the show creates the world of Prohibition era Atlantic City, and fills it in with little details that make it immersive from the start. You can get a palm reading or admission to a midget boxing match for a quarter. You can get a close view of some premature babies, if you really want to, as the sign outside says, "See Babies that weigh less than three pounds!" Or you can just go down to the docks and watch the catch of the day come in. You'll get an idea of what fresh fish will be flowing throughout the city, and hey, you might even get to see a corpse.

One thing that may be harder to get, as the pilot continuously reminds us lest we forget, is liquor. The episode opens with Enoch "Nucky" Thompson giving an anti-liquor speech to a Woman's Club (who may even get the vote soon!) which proudly displays a sign reading, "Lips that touch liquor will never touch mine." There he impresses Margaret Schroeder (Kelly MacDonald), a distraught and destitute young pregnant woman with an abusive husband. He wows the ladies with a story of his drunk of a father and his childhood spent eating wharf rats to survive (when questioned on the veracity of his story, he quips, "Never let the truth get in the way of a good story.") and then quickly moves on to striking backroom deals with many of the cities key players to make sure the liquor stays flowing once the prohibition begins. The pilot spends much of the time setting up the complicated web of relationships that grease the wheels in AC, as well as introducing some "friends from New York" and Chicago who are likely going to make Nucky's life harder in the coming weeks. There's also a new IRS Division dedicated to stopping the flow of liquor, represented by Agent Nelson Van Alden (Michael Shannon).

Honestly, all of this has been done before. The give and take between crime and politics, and the endless battle between the law and lawbreakers have been beaten to death in Hollywood since day one. Yet there are several moments in Boardwalk Empire's pilot that promise greater things to come. Early in the episode, when returned WWI vet Jimmy Darmody (Michael Pitt) pushes for a higher position in Nucky's organization, he says, "All I want is an opportunity" and Nucky snarkily retorts, "This is America. Who the fuck's stopping you?" A lot of the great television of the last decade (and especially The Sopranos and Mad Men) has focused on the American Dream, what it means to people, and how it holds up once its been achieved, and Boardwalk Empire seems prepared to join the examination with gusto. Beyond that, the line "Ambition can be read as impatience" is likely going to be a recurring theme throughout the series.

All in all, Boardwalk Empire's first outing is full of already excellent performances, perfectly directed by Scorsese (who uses many of his signature touches, including some low angle push-ins, iris in and outs, and even a tracking shot through a bustling casino) and absolutely reeking of potential for what's to come. There's greatness already in this pilot, and that bodes well for the next eleven weeks.

Grade: A-


-To clear things up, I will definitely be covering Boardwalk Empire every week this season. From here on out, more time will be spent on plot and character analysis, I just wanted to get my head around how well the pilot set things in motion this week.

-The theme song, which features Buscemi standing on the shoreline of an ocean filled with liquor bottles, is all kinds of cool.

-I liked the jazz-style funeral for the giant bottle of liquor.

-"Where are you going? I thought we were having a drink!" "I already got what I wanted from you. What the fuck would we talk about?" Nucky is a character I am very excited to get to know.

-"A rose by any other name..." "What's that supposed to mean?" "Read a fucking book."

-"Giddyup cowboy." "Stop saying that."

-I wonder already if Nucky's empathy will be his saving grace or ultimately spell his downfall. We've already seen him throw piles of money at the less fortunate, and he takes care of Margaret's husband for her very quickly.

-Another theme I expect to get a lot of play: When Jimmy is hauled in by the IRS, he's told that they aren't interested in Nucky's graft or election rigging, "...just the liquor." Something tells me the law's preoccupation with minor vices, and the larger ones that are allowed to continue because of this, will be explored further. Already tonight we also get the juxtaposition of the IRS raid on the bootlegging operation and the massacre going on just on the other side of the woods. The feds might slow the flow of liquor, but at what cost to their ability to solve and prosecute far more serious crimes?

Friday, September 17, 2010

Review: Easy A

By Jordan

The teen movie genre has a tendency to gloss over some of the stickier elements of being an actual teenager with a cinematic sheen. Just as often, teen movies steal their basic plotlines from classic literature and "update" the story by setting it in a high school where the heightened drama will seem right at home. Easy A ostensibly does both of these things as it examines standard teen fare like rumors and sexual peer pressure in a surface way while taking just the most well known plot point of The Scarlet Letter as the basis of its title. Like the novel it tries aping, Easy A is about how it feels to be an outcast, and its protagonist wears an A on her chest (though, 3 seconds of thinking will have you wondering what her "A" is really supposed to stand for). Other than that, the movie bears almost no resemblance to the book, and is mostly the better for that; Easy A is at its best when it isn't encumbered by any of the things its supposed to be.

The film follows Olive (Emma Stone) as she embarks on an accidental quest to subvert stereotypes and prove that no one should care what others think. When she invents a tryst to mollify a friend, her invention is spread around the school by a religious fanatic (Amanda Bynes) who wants to save her by judging her harshly and getting her expelled. Her newfound notoriety allows her to help save the reputations of some of the school's most tormented boys, who she agrees to claim she has slept with in exchange for money. The plot is pretty straight forward from there, and you can probably guess exactly what happens at every turn (except, perhaps, in an ill-advised and misplaced subplot involving Thomas Haden Church and Lisa Kudrow which could have been entirely excised and done the film no damage).

A few things make Easy A stand out from the masses, though. First and foremost is the very strong lead performance by Emma Stone, who manages to be interchangably funny and moving, and will surely be carrying a much better movie in the near future. Stellar supporting turns by Stanley Tucci and Patricia Clarkson as Stone's parents are comic highlights, and leave you wanting much more from them (continuing my theory that both of them shoudl be in pretty much every movie). And the script is filled with a surprising amount of one-liners, so much so that the unevenness around them stands out more in contrast. The script seems like it was written to be an R-rated movie (and there is a surprising amount of language for a PG-13 rating) in the mode of Stone's Superbad but toned down when its premise seemed to play more to the high school crowd. That's a shame, because when the movie is good, it is fascinatingly earnest and startlingly funny. Unfortunately it spends most of its run time trying to be the good little teen movie that's expected of it. For a movie that claims to be about standing out, Easy A spends too much of its time trying to fit in.

Grade: B-