Friday, October 29, 2010

Jordan's Review: Community, Season 2, Episode 6: Epidemiology 206

Remember a few weeks back when I praised "Basic Rocket Science" as a solid episode of Community but said that it did not rise to the level of classic parody episodes like "Modern Warfare" or "Contemporary American Poultry"? If you don't, I just reminded you. The problem I had with "Rocket Science," and it was a minor one, was that for all the accuracy of its parody, and for all its brilliant absurdity, it did not follow a definable character arc the way the other two episodes did, and thus was a little less than transcendent. What makes Community great is that its a very smart, consistently hysterical half hour of television. What makes it the best comedy on tv right now is, as I have said many times before, that it is both of those things while also managing to be about something. At its best, the show is an amazing half hour of comedy that actually tells a story and fits into a larger examination of these characters and their personal journeys toward self improvement. And "Epidemiology 206" is Community at its best.

The story is a pretty simple Halloween episode plotline: The Dean bought a bunch of rations from an army surplus store for the Greendale Halloween party, and one of the packages was actually an experiment in biotechnology that turns people into zombies. Let's pause for a minute to let that sink in. No other show on television could put forward a legitimate zombie episode, in which every one of its characters (save The Dean) becomes a flesh eating creature, and actually enter it into the show's canon believably. Of course no one remembers the events of the episode at its end, but nevertheless, Community didn't half ass it with an "it was all a dream" ending or set its Halloween episode outside of reality, "Treehouse of Horror" style (though it did have some excellent narration from George Takei). I feel comfortable calling Community the best comedy on TV right now in large part because its created a world in which literally anything the show wants to happen can happen, and there's no problem with suspending disbelief. Greendale Community College is the weirdest place on television right now, but that also makes it the freest. I am never quite sure going in what any episode is going to deliver, except that it is going to be hilarious, smart, and well executed.

Of course, I don't think the show could pull off an "Epidemiology" type feat every week, nor would I want it to. The reason this episode works (and again, its pretty shocking how well it works considering how out there it is) is because the show spends a good deal of its time on episodes where its characters just hang out and act like themselves, so that when it goes incredibly high concept, it has fully realized characters to fit into each situation. I mentioned earlier that the reason I think this episode works better than "Basic Rocket Science" is because there is an actual character arc to be invested in here. While that episode had its tenuous Annie conflict, tonight has Troy going through something actual. Troy is a nerd, which is what makes him pair so well with Abed. Yet he is not so sure, tonight, that being a nerd is the best thing for him socially or romantically. Rather than coming out of nowhere, this storyline feels like exactly something Troy would go through when off at college. Troy wants to be cool like Jeff, and so he ditches his pair costume with Abed and becomes a Sexy Dracula by putting a toilet seat cover over his neck and taking off his shirt (I'll talk about the significance of the costumes down in Notes). Watching Troy abandon his friendship with Abed, then quickly come to realize that his geekiness is a part of himself and that Abed's acceptance of that is what makes them best friends is a valid emotional arc to take the character on, and grounds the ludicrous "Epidemiology" in real, earned emotion.

Add to that the subplot that throws Shirley and Chang together, and actually makes that pairing work, and this episode easily goes down as one of the greats. Shirley and Chang are both being mistaken throughout the nigh for people they aren't. They both keep getting thrown into confined spaces together, and they're both obsessed with the idea that this outbreak means the end of the world. So instead of seeming like the hookup was designed by drawing names out of a hat, as a show like Glee would have, Shirley and Chang's union, however brief, actually made sense. There is nothing like Community on TV right now, and at its best, this show manages to be completely absurd and yet totally grounded in the real, believable emotions of its characters. I cannot praise "Epidemiology 206" highly enough for taking on an incredibly risky conceit, throwing itself completely into the concept regardless of how insane it is on its face, and pulling it off, making a hilarious parody of zombie movies that is simultaneously an episode of the show that fits perfectly into its overarching themes. God damn, this show is good.

Grade: A


-Costume dissection time: I always give a show props when it manages to make the "Everyone dresses up in silly costumes" conceit of Halloween episodes actually say something about the characters wearing them. The Dean is Lady Gaga (of course he is), Jeff is David Beckham so he can wear a $6,000 suit, Troy and Abed are Predator and a hunter, a film reference and a show of their union in geekery, until Troy decides to go for the "sexy [blank]" costume to get the ladies, Annie is Little Red Riding Hood because she's innocent, but really sexy, Britta is again a shapeless, formless animal costume because she is a nonconformist who doesn't go in for Halloween sexiness, Shirley is Glinda the good witch because she's a saint, and Chang is Peggy Fleming because he's fucking insane.

-How great was The Dean's playlist of ABBA songs mixed with personal reminders? ABBA backing scenes of zombie massacre worked shockingly well.

-"She is not Miss Piggy. I repeat, she is NOT Miss Piggy."

-"I'm Peggy Fleming. You've just been proven racist by the racist prover."

-"How much did you eat Starburns?" "i didn't eat anything. And my name is Alan!"

-"We need to perform an orderly evacuation without causing a panic." "Holy crap! Leonard's a zombie!" "Zombie attack!"

-"Add Eat Pray Love soundtrack to workout mix."

-"Oh great. Nobody's special! And RIch, just so you know, I hate you less now. That's how much I hate your normal self."

-"Don't look back!" "Why not?"

-"What is up with that Cat?" "Is someone throwing it?"

-"What about the zombies?" "Backburner Troy. This cat has to be dealt with!"

-Best thing to yell before being torn apart by zombies, from Jeff: "That's my jacket. You're stretching it. You're stretching iiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiit!"

-"Troy, make me proud. Be the first black man to make it to the end." Clearly Abed doesn't remember Dawn of The Dead, though if I am giving this show the insane level of credit I sometimes too, you can take the fact that it made Troy the hero in its zombie episode as a sly commentary on Romero's tendency to make black men the protagonists of his zombie films.

"Zombie Annie, what big fists you your face!"

-"Hi. Kevin can't come to the phone right now. He's on a spaceship with me, George Takei."

Monday, October 25, 2010

Jordan's Review: How I Met Your Mother, Season 6, Episode 6: Baby Talk

If How I Met Your Mother remains on its recent trend of turning out 24 episode seasons, then "Baby Talk" will mark the 1/4 point of the show's Sixth Season. Which I feel is a fair time to begin expressing concern. Season Five started out as a slump, then slowly became the sort of season that even the creators apologize for and promise to improve. Yet Season Six has been pretty much all down hill since its premiere, turning in episode after episode of mediocre sitcom plotlines and not even delivering the laughs this show used to bring in with ease. Its time to start wondering if How I Met Your Mother has lost its edge for good. This isn't to say that I've given up hope, of course, nor that I would stop watching even if I had. This season of 30 Rock has reminded me that a show can bounce out of even a very long slump, and regardless of quality, HIMYM has me until its end. Once a show hooks me, I tend to stay loyal regardless of a drop in quality (I watched Scrubs all the way until JD eft Sacred Heart at the end of Season Eight, despite loathing most of what the show did after about the half way mark of Season Five).

Tonight had us dealing with Marshall and Lily's season long arc, the potentially show-killing quest to bring a baby into a show primarily set in a bar. I have talked at length about the possibility that the introduction of a baby would equal a shark jump for this show, but I have often added that if any show was going to be able to do the pregnancy and childbirth arcs with any sense of originality or humor, How I Met Your Mother at the top of its game was the prime candidate. Unfortunately, this show is many lengths away from the top of its game, and so instead we get a pretty rote plotline in which Marshall and Lily argue over baby names and go to ridiculous lengths to ensure they will have a baby of their gender. Both of these are plotlines that pretty much every sitcom does once a baby is on the horizon, and the show didn't really add anything new to the idea. I liked the scene in which Marshall video chats with his parents, mostly because their ineptitude with the technology was good for laughs, but the plotline didn't really pay off as anything more than just an excuse for the show to check "fight over the baby's name/gender" off their sitcom cliche board.

The subplots tonight fare slightly better idea wise, but are unfortunately pretty short on laughs as well. I think the entire "who's you daddy?" concept is pretty creepy myself, but understand Ted's point about how its nice to feel needed in a relationship. The idea that Ted would ever be attracted to Becky is patently silly and incredibly against type, but I would have been willing to forgive this mistake if the storyline had actually been funny. Meanwhile, Barney tackles one of his self-imposed challenges by trying to pick up a girl while talking like a little boy. NPH does his best with the material, and he is excellent as usual, but even a comedic master like himself is going to have trouble selling lines like "I wet myself! Will you change me?" The reveal at the episode's end that Barney's selfish, childish side emerged once he thoguht he had failed the challenge worked mostly because we've seen Barney act that way before and it fit within his character. And the moment in which Barney explains that Robin's self-sufficiency is what makes her wonderful was a solid one, reminding me how much I love the idea of Barney and Robin together when the show isn't telling me I shouldn't. All in all, "Baby Talk" was an extremely mediocre episode of How I Met Your Mother in the midst of what is quickly becoming another extremely mediocre season. Here's hoping the show finds its old rhythm sooner rather than later.

Grade: C


-"Let's call her vodka. Then at least we know you'll hold her tight and never let her go." "Don't knock vodka. Wouldn't have a baby without it!"

-Nice callback to the pilot with a flashback of Rob grabbing Lily's boob and smearing finger paint all over her.

-"Our DVR won't recognize it as a television program."

-"Sweet mother nature!" "That WAS my card!"

-"You want anything Marshall?" "Mom, I'm in the computer."

-"No one's going to say 'who's your daddy?' to Robin Sherbatsky. You're your own daddy...and mommy...And weird survivalist uncle living in a cabin with a shotgun blaming stuff on the government."

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Whose Film Is It Anyway?: John Carpenter

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.

“In France, I’m an auteur; in Germany, a filmmaker; in Britain, a genre film director; and, in the USA, a bum”-John Carpenter

Determining whether a given director is an auteur is not always easy. Sometimes a director makes each film their own in very small, hard to notice ways, yet still manages to leave a mark on every film. In other cases, though, determining the true author of a movie is pretty simple. John Carpenter, like most of the directors I cover in this column, is a part of the latter group. Not only does he direct his films, he also usually writes, produces, scores, edits, and occasionally acts in them. With that much involvement in each of his movies, it is pretty simple to declare the man an auteur. Throughout his work, he utilizes minimalist lighting, static cameras, and the steadicam (a camera that is mounted to the cameraman in such a way as to isolate the movements of the operator from the camera, and thus allowing for incredibly smooth shots), all in service of building suspense and delivering shocks. While John Carpenter has made forays into science fiction and action films, this column will be focusing solely on his contributions to the genre of horror (this is, after all, Halloween Horror Auteur Month).

Carpenter’s most famous film, Halloween, almost single handedly created the slasher film, and established many of the tropes that remain at the center of the genre. The film is set in the fictional Midwest town of Haddonfield, Illinois, on the titular holiday, and follows Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis, in her film debut) as she and her babysitting friends are stalked by the psychotic Michael Myers (Nick Castle). The film opens with a classic Carpenter point of view scene, as the camera peers out from behind the masked eyes of a young Michael Myers as he takes his first life. Halloween may be best known as one of the founders of the trope throughout slasher films in which promiscuous girls die while the chaste and innocent central girl survives, but the film also features an incompetent cop who is reluctant to believe that a killer is stalking the streets. Carpenter refuses the notion that the movie is a morality play, though, dismissing the idea that he is murdering young women for being sexually promiscuous, and even disavowing critics of the notion that Curtis survives the film because she is chaste. As he puts it, critics, “completely missed the point there […] The one girl who is the most sexually uptight just keeps stabbing this guy with a long knife. She's the most sexually frustrated. She's the one that's killed him. Not because she's a virgin but because all that sexually repressed energy starts coming out. She uses all those phallic symbols on the guy." During the shooting of the film, Carpenter pushed to keep the gore level low, hoping to build suspense and trade on the audiences dread more than actually relying on gore to create the fear. He also worked very closely with his actors to manage their level of terror at any given point, as the film was shot out of sequence. To do this, he created a “fear meter,” telling his actresses (and especially Curtis) where on the meter they would be in each scene. His score also perfectly meshes with the tone of the film, building a slow since of dread and impending doom as Michael Myers slowly stalks his prey.

Carpenter’s next film, The Fog, is less successful, even by Carpenter’s own admission. He describes, “It was terrible. I had a movie that didn't work, and I knew it in my heart". The film tells the story of the centennial celebration in Antonio Bay, California, that is interrupted by mysterious fog that envelopes the town and brings with it vengeful ghosts who have returned to make the town pay for the sins of the past. This is a recurring theme throughout Carpenter’s work, as his characters are often faced against evils focused on revenge and punishing people for previous indiscretions. Here, the indiscretions taint the entirety of the town, which, in another horror trope was actually founded with gold stolen from a ship that the original settlers caused to sink. Knowing that the film was not particularly good, Carpenter did heavy reshoots on it, adding the tale by the old sea captain that opens the film, and breaking with his desire to use suspense rather than gore to add frights to a movie by throwing in more gratuitous death scenes. This became necessary in Carpenter’s mind when he realized that the horror market had become decidedly gorier in the two years since Halloween and that his new film would have to keep up. The score is reminiscent Halloween as well, using similar musical progressions to build dread.

The slow, deliberate pacing of Carpenter’s films is an often frustrating tendency. In his best work, like Halloween and The Thing (which I will discuss in a moment), the pacing works to draw you in and keep you riveted when the actual scares come in the final act. In The Fog, and They Live, however, the pacing makes the films feel uneventful for almost their entire runtime. They Live is the worst offender in this tendency. Ostensibly, the film follows Nada (Roddy Piper) as he discovers a pair of sunglasses that allow him to see the world as we all know it truly is—a mass heap of subliminal messaging keeping us calm and sedated while alien overlords disguised as the moneyed elite reap the benefits of our endless, meaningless toiling. The premise is pure gold, especially as a satire of Reagan era greed and overconsumption, but the pacing (along with many, many other mistakes) brings the film to its knees. The sunglasses that reveal the true nature of the world aren’t discovered until nearly 45 minutes into the film, and the alien killing glory that is theoretically the draw to the movies is confined almost entirely to the last act of the movie. For an example of how ridiculously drawn out the movie is, look no further than the scene below, a six minute long fight scene between the film's heroes in which Nada spends the entire time just trying to make his co-worker try on the glasses. While the pacing is bad, it certainly isn’t helped by the terrible dialogue (including the laughable moment in which Piper walks into a bank holding a shotgun and says, for no apparent reason, “I have come here to chew bubblegum and kick ass. And I’m all out of bubblegum."), and a score that sounds as flat and synthesizer heavy as pretty much every score composed in the latter part of the ‘80s. Carpenter made bad decisions at pretty much every turn in They Live, yet those decisions are clearly his. Even in making a shitty, shitty movie, John Carpenter made his own movie.

Fortunately, he fared much better a few years earlier in 1982’s The Thing, a taut science fiction horror film that builds tension through accumulating paranoia. After a dog wanders into their Antarctic Research Center, a team of scientists (including Kurt Russell and Keith David) discover it to be a parasitic alien that can take the form of any creature it kills. As the team tries to determine whether The Thing has infected any of them, and who may not be what they seem, paranoia grows. The Thing succeeds by building a claustrophobic tension as the characters realize how complete their isolation is, and how little they can trust even those that they have around them. An unapologetically dark and hopeless film, The Thing also combines the escalating tension of Halloween with the increased gore levels of The Fog (actually taking the gross factor up a thousand percent here). While most horror films try to hide the antagonist for as much of the movie as possible, The Thing revels in the disgusting monster its created, giving the villain of the title substantial screen time and yet never failing to make the site of it terrifying. In part this is because of how well Carpenter manages the mood of the cast, but the fear also comes from how completely horrifying the threat at the film’s center is. Carpenter is also helped by the masterful score composed by Ennio Moricone (who I have already discussed at length in my examination of Sergio Leone), who understands musical composition in film better than pretty much anyone.

John Carpenter is not the greatest director of all time, and in fact, has become more inconsistent in recent years (let’s not even mention Ghosts of Mars, his most recent effort), but each of his movies is unmistakably his own. He puts his heart and soul into every one of his efforts, and the results bear his mark regardless of their quality. His examinations of the effects of the past on the present, his haunting scores, and his use of lighting and camera techniques remain consistent throughout his work, whether or not he employs them successfully. An auteur is not required to be a good director, nor a consistent one. All that is required to mark a filmmaker as an auteur is the unmistakable note of a personal authorial stamp on each of their films. And, for better or worse, John Carpenter only makes one kind of movie: his own.

Read more Whose Film Is It Anyway? here

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

11/7: James Cameron

11/21: Kathryn Bigelow

12/5: Darren Aronofsky

12/19: Frank Capra

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Jordan's Review: 30 Rock, Season 5, Episode 5: Reaganing

30 Rock occasionally over-relies on coining terms and theories to fill out episodes. Some of these are clever little theories and ideas that are actually worthy of hanging a story on, while others are just there because the episode would only be 15 minutes long without them. Fortunately, I found the concept of "Reaganing" to be a smart one, and totally in keeping with Jack's egomaniacal tendencies and Reagan worship. Plus, call me a sucker, but Kenneth, Jenna, and Kelsey Grammar forming "The Best Friends Gang" and pulling a long con on Carvel's has got to be one of the best premises in recent memory.

Jack is coming close to "Reaganing," pulling the equivalent of the perfect game for an entire day and making perfect decisions, including green lighting "Child Hell Flight." This leaves him feeling bullet proof and omnipotent...until Liz Lemon shows up with her unsolvable sexual problems. I generally find the show's tendency to make Tina Fey off as disgusting and undesirable pretty silly and occasionally annoying, but one running joke that always seems to work is Liz's revulsion at the idea of sex. As many of the flashbacks tonight show, Liz has a long history of saying hilariously absurd things about the act itself, and all of this deriving from her mother "taking all the people away" and tearing down her posters after finding a 9-year-old Liz (a freakish gag I hope never happens again) splayed beneath a poster of Tom Jones on her way to the bathroom. While Liz's sexual problems were more creepy than funny, the conversation surrounding them was actually very funny.

The subplot surrounding Kenneth and Jenna was a plotline you see in sitcoms all the time, mostly because there's something undeniably awesome about con man lingo, and something endlessly hilarious about straight arrows like Kenneth getting involved in a good grift. This plotline would have been transcendent with just that, but adding in Kelsey Grammar as an all too willing participant in their con was a stroke of pure genius. 30 Rock has taken a lot of flack, some of it from me, for stunt casting, but I think they don't get enough credit for how well they use some of their guest stars. Grammer is a very funny man by himself, but he is utilized perfectly in this episode, being surprisingly interested in the con from the start, and being totally willing to move to Florida with "The Best Friends Gang" to start a new con. There's just something hysterical about the idea of someone as rich and reputable as Kelsey Grammar being a lowly con man that I could not stop laughing at.

Tracy spends the episode doing what he always does--fucking up lines for a commercial for the Boys and Girls Clubs of America. Again (I feel this sentence has come up a lot tonight, but its been applicable a lot), this was a pretty obvious plot, right down to the ridiculously complicated commercial leading up to a single line Tracy could not nail, but give Morgan a chance to be completely insane and incompetent, and he will make it comedy gold. 30 Rock is on a run the likes of which it hasn't had since way back in season two, churning out another fantastic and hilarious episode tonight and making me regret ever doubting this show. I wrote, minutes ago, that Community was quickly becoming the best comedy on tv. That may be true, but reigning champ 30 Rock isn't going down without a fake.

Grade: A-


-"Ugh, she likes that?" "No, but she respects it when its done well."

-"I have to talk to Rachel Maddow. Only one of us can have this haircut."

-"We've had to sell off Sally, Julie, and Poppy." "Are those some of your pigs?" "...Yes."

-"What's my cue? You know what, it doesn't matter. I don't know my line."

-"Bappy Hirthday Gremlin."

-The Parcell farm is just past the tire fire.

-Kelsey Grammer's one rule before joining the gang: "Anybody gets hurt on the score, we leave them to die."

-Another great moment, when two celebrities and Kenneth are celebrating: "$800 split three ways. Carvel will rue the day they messed with The Best Friend's Gang."

Jordan's Review: Community, Season 2, Episode 5: Messianic Myths and Ancient Peoples

One of the sitcom trope that Community often latches onto is the idea that one member of the group leaving said group to join another group, one that they might fit in better with. The show has done this with several characters (most recently with Jeff in "Accounting for Lawyers"), and "Ancient Peoples" was finally time for Pierce to begin hanging out with his own age group. I generally think these plotlines are a waste of time when other shows do them, especially because its obvious that the character won't actually be leaving the group for longer than the twenty minutes that comprise the episode, but somehow this show makes it work each and every time. It helps that "Ancient Peoples" has some inspired subplots, but even the Pierce story works sufficiently well to overcome the cliche that it could easily end up mired in.

Pierce is tired of everyone mocking his old person sense of humor and view of the world, and he's tired of being bossed around by younger people in his group (which leads to a clever running gag that I'll discuss below) and so he begins hanging out with the "hipsters on campus," so called because they have all had hip replacements. Leonard, of course, is their leader, and the gang pretty much functions like a gaggle of rastabout teenagers, with Pierce playing the role of the concerned do-gooder who has fallen in with the bad crowd for the course of the episode. Once the hipsters steal a car and crash it into a light pole, Pierce realizes where he truly belongs. If I have a problem with this plotline, its less that its cliche, and more that it plays an old man's descent into senility as a running gag. The moment is actually pretty heartbreaking, and it is played for a pretty cheap laugh.

However, that misstep is saved by the brilliant running gag that casts Jeff and Britta as Pierce's over-protective parent figures. While the "character leaves the group" storyline is overused, and the "generally good teenager who tries to rebel" storyline comes up pretty much as often, I thought turning Pierce into the teenage character, and having Jeff and Britta spout the lines usually handed to "concerned parents," albeit reluctantly, breathed new life into what is a pretty tired premise.

In the excellent subplot, Shirley tries to recruit Abed to help her make a pro-Christian movie, and Abed ends up splintering off to become his own Christ-like figure for the post-post modern age. The brilliance of this storyline comes in the way it already anticipates the praise that will be heaped upon it by fans of the meta (myself included) and mocks them for adoring meta jokes for meta's sake. I like to think that I enjoy meta jokes for deeper reasons than the episode points out, but maybe I'm just the Dean in disguise (I do love Charlie Kaufman...). Anyway, its pretty hard to deny the comedic glory of Abed in a Jesus wig preaching about how we all live films every second of every day. "Ancient Peoples" subverted a standard sitcom trope in its A-plot and a standard Community joke in its B-plot. In other words, it was a solid episode of an incredibly solid, incredibly intelligent sitcom that is quickly becoming the best comedy on tv.

Grade: A-


-"I'm the ski lift ninja!"

-"That's blasphemous. Who would want to see that?" "17 million people." "Oh. There were 9 people at my church last night..."

-"Auto tun God of Farts."

-"ABED. All caps. Film making beyond film making."

-"I mean come on Charlie Kaufman, some of us have work in the morning, damn!"

-"Unacceptable. None of your business. And barely the whole truth."

-"We are film." "This is totally meta."

-"I heard that the deleted scenes are the scenes, and the scenes are the deleted scenes."

-"Every minute of our lives is the premiere, and my dad's already bought the popcorn."

-"Say what you will about Abed, but its almost like he can't be killed...Because he's just like Jesus." "I got it!"

-"I'm Pierce Hawthorne's emergency contact." "Are you here to pick him up?" "No, I'm here to be removed as his emergency contact." It was a sweet moment that Jeff stayed on there, and a sad one that no one was coming for Leonard.

-"Ok. Open your books. Because Abed has broken the Internet."

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Jordan's Review: Running Wilde, Season 1, Episode 5: The Party

In he early going of a show, it i not too uncommon for the network to air episodes out of order in an attempt to put the show's best foot forward first. Fox is the most notorious example of this, having aired shows like Firefly so out of order that characters appear only to be introduced three episodes later. "The Party" was pretty clearly intended to be the second episode of Running Wilde, and in many ways it plays like one. It spends much of its run time re-establishing the character patterns set up by the pilot and settling us into the ways these characters will behave. It has may callbacks to jokes from the pilot, and it puts us in a place where Steve's attempts to win Emmy over romantically were more overt than they have been since the pilot. As much as it frustrates me to watch episodes out of order like this, I can also sort of see where Fox is coming from on this one. "The Party" is not a particularly funny episode of Running Wilde and certainly doesn't put the show's best foot forward.

The day after Emmy and Puddle officially move in to Steve's house, he decides to throw a party, which Emmy of course sees as extravagant, and which Fa'ad sets out to top. In an attempt to win Emmy over, Steve allows her to help him pare down his party, which of course makes it insanely lame. Meanwhile, Fa'ad steals Steve's every idea in an attempt to top him. I see what the episode was going for, and it does establish the dynamics between all of the characters pretty nicely. Steve will fall all over himself to impress Emmy, Fa'ad is not a particularly loyal friend and is always committed to besting Steve, and Migo wants to protect Steve even as he steals from him. And then there's Puddle, always pushing Steve and Emmy together to further her own agenda, and always narrating in annoyingly obvious ways.

The episode also has some inspired running gags, most specifically Fa'ad continuously being attacked by his pet falcon, and constantly showing up with new scratches on his face. This is the type of joke that Mitch Hurwitz does very well, and its very well done here. The biggest problem with "The Party" is its characterization of Emmy. In my ideal version of Running Wilde, Steve is a boorish, extravagant, ignorant conservative, and Emmy is an unrealistically idealistic, foolishly sacrificial, self-righteous liberal. The constant tension and pull between the two, if done well, would allow Hurwitz to tell a screwball romantic comedy while simultaneously mocking the stereotypes about people on both sides of the political spectrum. Here, Emmy comes off as too unattractive and patently unfun to believe Steve's unerring love for her. I get that she's uptight and never compromises on her insanely rigorous principles, but to make her as out of touch as Steve (as she seems thinking that twizzlers and a seven hour slide show are going to provide a good party to the rich and entitled) defeats the purpose of her character and compromises her comedic potential. Steve is out of touch and ignorant of how the world really works; Emmy, on the other hand, fails to see the forest for the trees. I see that the show wants to make part of her character that she does not get high society, but I think this is a bridge too far for a workable premise. Emmy was raised in the shadow of Steve's opulence, and she would likely know exactly what that entails. Stick with Steve as the ignorant one and make Emmy uncompromising and idealistic to a fault. This is a comedic pairing that could work for seasons. Trying to mess with a potential goldmine like that will doubtlessly lead the show to disaster.

Grade: C+


-The theme song is pretty awful. They should really go back to just the title screen and move on.

-"Don't worry, I recycled. And the metal cube I turned it into is now...a coffee table."

-"Steve, she can't have a car. She's 12." "Boo!" "Hey, don't complain. It got you into the waffle trolley."

-"The unneces-soiree has become the most meaningful meaningless party of the year."

-"So if Fa'ad finds out that I'm throwing an unnecessary party he will swoop in on my guest list like..." "Like one of my falcons? Ha-ha!...Does anyone have a dead mouse on them by chance?"

-"Steve, you said you'd be less extravagant. And then you go buy these giant tents?" "Oh I didn't buy them. They come free with Whitney Houston."

-"We'll find a discount store." "If they even have them!"

-"Does it seem like were unusually tired today?" "It has come up a lot..."

-"Why are we so tired?" "I don't know. Maybe it was your trip to the store." "Yeah, and all your recent hawk attacks."

-"I could still hire a band. Or Whitney Houston. That won't be excessive! She won't deliver!"

-"Honestly, I think you're my only friend whose close enough to stick around...oh, you're a balloon!"

Monday, October 18, 2010

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

Allow me to open up discussion a question that may have crossed the minds of some viewers of How I Met Your Mother during the opening episodes of it's sixth season: Does a sitcom actually have to be funny? In its prime, HIMYM was hilarious on a pretty much weekly basis, and also packed an emotional punch tied to our investment in the characters and our deep, lasting interest in the resolution of the masterplot. As the seasons have rolled by, the show has become far less consistently hilarious. At this point, I can go whole episodes without a real hardy laugh. Yet, unlike last season, in which a laughless half hour meant pretty bad television, I can't say that I'm not enjoying the Sixth Season so far.

Tonight, we watched Ted develop and then lose interest in a girl who loves the building that will be destroyed to make way for the new GNB headquarters he is designing. The girl wasn't a particularly humorous character, as she was pretty transparently crazy from early on, and there were no real stakes to the flirtation. We now know for a fact that Ted meets the mother at a wedding, and so until we see that, there's no question about whether a random girl he meets might be the mother. Beyond that, it was clear from the start that Zoey was a one-episode character who would leave almost no impact on the characters or the series. The subplot had something to say about what we give up and what we are willing to pretend to like (or even convince ourselves we actually like) in a relationship, but it was nothing the show hasn't touched on before, and better.

Meanwhile, Marshall ad Lily are having sex like a married couple trying to conceive until Marshall discovers that (gasp!) girls talk about sex with an astonishing level of detail. This subplot smacked of a misstep the show occasionally makes based on its success in the early years. Episodes like "Nothing Good Happens After 2 am," "The Pineapple Incident," and even the lesser episode "The Platinum Rule" all commented on truisms in life that made the characters seem more realistic and aware of the world than most sitcom characters ever are. Since those early successes, the show has occasionally struck gold again, but these days, it just as often misses landing on truth. The idea that the guys are disgusted that the girls share sexual details is a little silly. An while some guys do tend to be subtle about the details of their sexual encounters, just as many are horribly explicit in a way that would shock Lily and Robin, and I find it hard to believe that Barney is not the latter. Add to that the fact that the "girls talk about sexual details" subplot has been done many times before, and often better, and you have a pretty lackluster plotline for the show to plod through.

"Destruction" didn't really have much to say about the characters, it didn't have any life lessons to impart, and it didn't move the masterplot forward. Also, as I said before, it wasn't very funny. There is something to be said for the level of investment I have in these characters, which is to he show's credit. It can turn out an unoriginal, unfunny episode like this and I will still watch it, and even enjoy it. After six seasons, How I Met Your Mother has made a very loyal fan out of me. I just like spending time with the characters its created and in the world that they live in. That's a huge achievement, and a necessary one for any sitcom to be considered a success. But in answer to the question I posed at the opening of this review, yes a sitcom has to be funny. This show can get away with doing more dramatic episodes, more heartfelt episodes, longer, more involved story arcs, and even romantic masterplot episodes. Bu it can't get away with turning out sitcom tropes and forgetting to add the laughs that are supposed to accompany them. After six years, expect more from it.

Grade: C


-"Working together is going to be legen-wait for it...I'll send you an inter-office memo with the rest because we freakin' work together!" And then he did.

-"Max is both his name, and his level of awesomeness."

-An interesting idea that the show flirted with but then abandoned tonight is Barney's "New is always better" rule and its contrast with Ted's "old is always better" proclamation. Both are obviously wrong, but some of the show's funniest moments tonight came from Ted's efforts to prove that to Barney, and a duel between the theories could have provided laughs, if not originality.

-"The first three barely mention the intricacies of intergalactic trade law."-Barney, on why the new trilogy is better than the old (if you have to ask what trilogy, I have nothing to say to you).

-"Max's penis is stuck in my brain like a splinter. Like a splinter sized splinter."

-"Zoey, I'm Batman. That'd be cool..."

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Jordan's Review: Mad Men, Season 4, Episode 13: Tomorrowland

Thirteen weeks ago, a reporter asked us, "Who is Don Draper?" The ensuing season of Mad Men has done a lot to answer that question, even as it tells us lot about all of the other characters and the upheavals they all go through in the tumultuous 1965. This show has always been one to defy expectations, often almost perversely. This season had many examples of that, as when Don was almost exposed, but then was not with little fanfare, or when the company teetered on the edge of bankruptcy, and then quietly just kept going as the season ended. "Tomorrowland" was less about where SCDP is going as a company than it was about where each of the characters are going on their own personal journeys. These people are living through a decade of great change, and each of them are changing, or not, in their own very significant and telling ways as the stellar Season Four closes.

This season, more even than any in the past, has really been all about Don Draper. Yet before I dive into his somewhat shocking proposal, I'd like to take a look at where the show left each of the other characters as the season ended. For starters, just as we all guessed a few weeks ago, Joan did not go through with her abortion, and just as Roger suggested, she i lying to Greg and claiming the baby as theirs. Greg, of course, doesn't care enough to think about the math, focusing only on the prospect of Joan's already ample bosom getting bigger. Even earlier this season, the isolation of her uncaring husband and her unthinking coworkers would have driven Joan to well deserved tears, but she has grown a thicker skin over the course of this season (and her skin was quite thick to begin with. As she observes in a wonderful bonding moment with Peggy, the men in their lives are not who they should be, and certainly fall short of the ideals that she and Peggy (rightly) believe they are entitled to. Joan held out to marry the perfect man, then eventually gave in and married the incredibly inadequate Greg; this, and her terrible experiences with Roger this season, have shown her that all of the men in her life are at best "between marriages" and will never recognize the brilliance in their midst. Sure, Joan is better off than she was at the old Sterling Cooper--she even gets a title-only promotion to Director of Agency Operations--but no celebratory drinks are sent her way, and the promotion does not mean she won't still be fetching the drinks and delivering the mail the next day. Joan ma have earned everything she has by working ten times harder than any of the men of SCDP, but they will be the last ones to recognize her for it.

Peggy, meanwhile, is similarly frustrated at Don's sudden announcement, and at the lack of recognition she receives for bringing in the first new business since Lucky Strike left. Even more than Joan, Peggy has dealt with a lot to get where she is, but that doesn't mean she'll be recognized for her efforts, nor does that mean that she'll get the candor she expects from Don, who is too caught up in his new fiance (again, we'll get to that) to recognize what Peggy has done for the company, or what she's willing to do for him.

Before I move on to the season's (and, really the show's) center, I want to pause for a minute to mention Roger's season long arc, which gets only a mention here as he offers to lose to lose at golf to a potential client, only to be told rather bluntly by Pete that he is not necessary for their success. Roger has been increasingly marginalized in all areas of his life this season, and now he stands at its end, effectively useless to everyone around him, with an incredibly thin autobiography of beefed up accomplishments and an empty-eyed trophy wife waiting for him at home.

Roger has also served for most of the series as a cautionary tale for Don, a fact that became even more apparent tonight as Don mimicked Roger's action of a few seasons ago and abandoned a wonderful woman for a secretary that seems, on her face, to fit his needs. To my mind, Don latched onto Megan as quickly as he did tonight not only because, as Faye pointed out, he loves the beginning of things more than anything else, but also because Megan succeeded where Faye failed--she was good with Don's kids. Don Draper loves his children more than anything, though he increasingly recognizes that he is not made for fatherhood. He also knows that his ex-wife, the increasingly horrible Betty (who I could devote a paragraph too, but instead will mention in passing as increasingly angry, selfish, childish, and sad) is not fit to be a mother, and I think there is something pure and noble in his attraction to Megan as a potential mother figure for his children. Beyond that, Don mentioned earlier this season in his journal that he saw his relationship with Faye as a relationship between equals, as one that required true emotional investment. And, as he immediately followed that observation with, that is not what Don Draper wants. Don wants a modicum of control over his feelings, and that means that to be happy, Don needs to date down. He needs to be with someone who is not his equal, because that will allow him to control his relationship, and his life. It will also probably alleviate some of the guilt associated with his inevitable cheating.

Something to consider after this episode, and as we head into Season Five next summer, is who exactly Megan is and what her intentions are. Her every move with Don has been incredibly calculated, from seducing him in his office to swinging by dressed to the nines on her way out. Yet from what she told us, Megan's path is not akin to Joan's or Jane's; she is not looking to land a husband and settle down. Rather, it seems she has been angling for a cop-writing job from day one, and being married to a partner is likely to help her get that. I immediately see the benefit of this union from Don's perspective--Megan is a solid presence who will be loyal to him, easy to control his emotions with, and a solid mother figure for his children. What Megan hopes to get out of this marriage is slightly less straightforward, and I expect the answer to that question will play a large role in Season Five.

This is a lot of the plot development, but what of the actual quality of the episode? I must admit that as a pretty committed fan of the Faye-Don union, I was saddened to see her pushed to the margins. Faye would have made Don into a better man, I think, but after a season's worth of searching, Don knows who he is and who he wants to be, and he has made his choice. As much as he likes his dalliances with women he considers on his level, he does not want to commit to a relationship with one. In seasons past, I always pegged Don as unhappy in his marriage with Betty and cheating on her with women he would prefer to be with. Yet I was giving Don too much credit. Don was shocked and angered when Betty ended their marriage, because his emotional control in that relationship was exactly where he wanted it. He has pursued affairs with women on his level not because he wants to be with them, but because he wants a taste of what that might be like before retreating to the safety of his comfortable, though ultimately loveless marriage. "Tomorrowland" was not the huge, dramatic game changer of "Shut the Door, Have a Seat," but it did change the game in its own, quiet way. As Stephanie tells Don tonight, her still has his whole life ahead of him, and it seems that Don takes that to mean he can remake himself once again as a happily married and successful man, even if this is little more than a lie he tells to himself and the world. Don Draper is,at heart, an existentialist. He saw the hand that life dealt him, found it lacking, and so decided to change it, to remake himself into his image of success and happiness. It seemed for much of this season like Don was headed for total ruin, and he may still be, but "Tomorrowland" reminds us that for a man like Don Draper, the future is his to create however he sees fit. As for how he will do that, well, that's a question for next season.

Grade: A-


-Its been great covering another season of Mad Men. Thanks to everyone who's been reading!

-I didn't mention this above, mostly because I avoided belaboring the Betty subplot when there was much juicier material to cover, but Carla's dismissal was a real heartbreaker. At least she lashed out at Betty a bit before she left though.

-"Maybe is not all about work. Maybe that sick feeling would go away if you take your head out of the sand about the past." Don wants, more than anything, to just be an ordinary guy. Yet the terrible things he does haunt him at his most introspective, and I'm not sure he'll ever be able to let go of the past. I'm not sure he should.

-"Did you get cancer?"

-"Its not worth the risk. Cynthia is my life. My ACTUAL LIFE." Ken, who I also neglected above, values family over business. That certainly makes him the odd man out at SCDP. But also, remember that Ray Wise plays his father-in-law, so his priorities may shift next season, as the show will almost definitely be bringing Wise back.

-"You said you didn't have any experience and you're like Maria Von Trapp." And Don's relationship with Megan is a tad bit like The Sound of Music, isn't it?

-"I waned a fresh start. I'm ENTITLED to that." "There's not such thing as a fresh start. Life just goes on." Wise words by Henry to an impetuous Betty. Don could also use to her them tonight.

-Trivia: Don and his kids ate in the same diner set that a used in Pulp Fiction.

-"What about Tomorrowland? I don't want to ride an elephant, I want to fly a jet." New Bobby (Fuck You, New Bobby) got a line, and it was a meaningful one.

-"Ms. Calvay and I are getting married." "Who the hell is that?"

-"Whatever could be on your mind?"-Joan, when Peggy storms in after Don's engagement announcement.

-And, to play us out, as it did the episode, a nice, period and story appropriate use of Sonny and Cher's "I Got You Babe." See you all next season!

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Jordan's review: 30 Rock, Season 5, Episode 4: Live Show

Every once in a while, a sitcom that's getting on in years decides to spice things up by doing a live episode. When 30 Rock announced theirs, I was not too surprised. For one thing, the announcement came in the summer, when it seemed like the show was well past its prime and in need of a stunt like this. For another, it is written by and stars former Saturday Night Live head writer Tina Fey, and also former cast member Tracy Morgan and frequent host Alec Baldwin, so its safe to say the show could pull it off without making a fool of themselves. And they did. "Live Show" is a very solid episode of 30 Rock, and it plays with the idea of a live episode in a meta way that only this show could really pull off.

Its Liz Lemon's 40th birthday, and no one remembers it. Jack is distracted trying to distract himself from drinking at Avery's request. Pete is distracted trying to keep the show on track. Carol is distracted by his nearly crashing plane. And everyone else is distracted being as self centered as ever. This is a pretty simple plotline for the episode, which the show has displayed of late is all the better to allow its cast to shine. This is 30 Rock though, and so of course they anticipated many of the concerns people would have, and played with them in kind. Tonight Tracy decides to try "breaking," the industry term for when actors break character and laugh during a scene, which clearly comments on the concern that "loose cannon" Tracy Morgan would do something unpredictable when the show was live (which was a little silly seeing as he spent years as a castmember of SNL doing a live show weekly). And Jenna's continued threats to pull a nip slip--well, that was just funny.

In addition to very solid work from the entire cast, the episode was rife with awesome cameos. the aforementioned Matt Damon returned as Carol, Chris Parnell stopped by as Leo Spaceman, Jon Hamm returned as Drew, Rachel Dratch showed up for the first time in years as a Persian janitor, and Julia Louis Dreyfuss played Liz as she thinks of herself (in a hilarious commentary on the character that doubled as a smooth excuse for not being able to get Tina Fey onto another set quickly enough for the jumo cuts). All of them were fall down funny, and did so in the live format very well (though this isn't all that impressive...they are actors after all). I think people tend to give live episodes a bit too much credit, but there is something to be said for pulling off an episode this funny without a hitch in real time, and the show should be commended for doing it so well. I had hoped to wait and review this after seeing the west coast feed as well, but NBC is not running it here (opting to let Jay Leno be on tv instead) and I am not going to hold off until tomorrow when it will be posted on the internet. So the whole thing could really go off the tracks during the west coast feed, but somehow I doubt that it will. these people are, after all, professionals.

Grade: A


-After pointing out that people tend to give live episodes too much credit, I fully admit that I am giving "Live Show" too much credit. This is probably an "A-" episode, but come on people. They did it live!

-"it was destroying lab rats'...oh, what's that word...brains."

-"My memory has Seinfeld money."

-I have to say, Jane Krakowski singing the theme song was really terrible, and fit into my theory that Jenna's constant insistence on showing off her excellent voice is derived from Krakowski's obsession with same (see her character on Ally McBeal for further evidence of this).

-"Yes. Bullet in brain move. Much hospital."

-"A Mr. brett Fav-ray stopped by. he left a picture of a hotdog." "Finally." See, the show was live!

-"I promise. I swear in my mother's grape." "Did you say grape or grave?" "Thank you. Goodbye."

-"Tonight I'm laughing harder than I did at Dot Com's play!" "It was Angels in America, Tray!"

-"You say its your birthday, time to party hard, choke a cop with your panties..."

-"Welcome back to Fox news. I'm blonde."

-"Erectile Dysfunction is not just a problem for dogs anymore."

-Dr. Leo Spaceman's Love Storm. Awesome.

-"Why does anyone do anything? They're rich or they have attention defecit dis...Look at Lutz' shirt!"

"You know I've always loved you." "Not now Kevin." Bill Hader! I forgot to mention him above, but it was a nice cameo.

-"Wow. You were very fit back then.' "yes. But my penis was smaller."

-"Why are you speaking like a Persian immigrant?"

-"This is an exciting mishap! This is live!"

-"I warned you Liz. And now I'm slipping a nip. The big one!"

-"Hands from executed criminals are now making their way to people all over the world." Hilarious cameo by Jon Hamm. That man can do anything.

-"Nevermind what happened. That's water under the bridge." "I'm sorry. We don;t have that expression in Canada. Does that mean that what we did can be used to power a lumbermill?"

-"This one time a bunch of us pilots got together and went to a haunted house in Germany. That was messed up!"

-"To Liz Lemon. You're halfway to death!"

Jordan's Review: Community, Season 2, Episode 4: Basic Rocket Science

Community is a show that is deeply in touch with pop culture. In addition to Abed's nearly endless barrage of meta jokes and Jeff's pop culture literate barbs, this is a show that knows how to do a parody. In fact, some of the better episodes in its first season, were high concept parodies that mixed their satire with fully realized character explorations (remember my consistent theory that Community is a sitcom that's actually about something, and so tends to do more than just make us laugh). "Contemporary American Poultry" was an insanely intricate Goodfellas parody, sure, but it was also an episode about how Abed relates to the world and the relationships he has built with the characters. "Modern Warfare" was a satire of action movies, but it was also about Jeff's slowly shattering detachment from the gang and his pent up feelings for Britta. These episodes were two of the best outings for the show during its first season, and likewise "Basic Rocket Science," with its Apollo 13 parody is probably the best episode the show has done so far this season. It doesn't quite reach the level of "Poultry" or "Warfare," mostly because its character focus is more abstract (and not handled quite as adeptly), but it is a wildly funny episode, and a blast to watch.

When Greendale's (new, and welcome) rival City College gets a space simulator, the Dean feels his school will be overshadowed (all they have to brag about is a foosball table). So he buys an ancient space simulator from a nearby museum and recruits the study group to clean it off as punishment for their practical joke in the flag designing contest that won the popular vote and has been adopted as the school's flag (its a pretty obvious picture of a butt that reads, hilariously, "E Pluribus Anus"). They don't get to pilot the simulator, a job reserved for Leonard, but because this is a sitcom, the gang finds themselves trapped inside the simulator anyway, with only Abed left behind. And when they get towed away from the parking lot, they have to work together, and listen to Abed, who is of course an expert on the shuttle, in order to get the simulator back to campus for its big debut.

As I said above, the episode's character focus is not as well handled as in the other parody episodes. This is an Annie episode, about her innate earnestness and her Greendale pride, and the way that this doesn't always mesh with the group's cynical attitude. Annie, angry about the group's flag joke, is considering transferring to City College where she could have more pride, and has been scheming with the dean over there to foil Greendale's debut in order to secure herself a spot. There are a few reasons this doesn't work as well as a center point for an episode as Abed and Jeff did in "Poultry" and "Warfare." First off, the episode describes Annie's problem, and gives us a hint at the conflicts that have lead to it, but it also forces her into the background for most of the episode, leaving us without the emotional investment and the conflict resolution that her story needs. Additionally, this plotline is kind of a nonstarter, as we know from the moment Annie raises the issue that she will not go to City College, because she can't. This is a tv show, and that means that Annie, a cast member on said show, will not be leaving to go to another college. This, along with the other attempt to give the episode stakes (the Dean beign afraid that Greendale will close down if the simulator doesn't show up City College), doesn't really work, and so contributes to make "Basic Rocket Science" slightly less excellent than some of the best episodes of the show.

And yet, good God this episode is funny. This is a show that is often transcendant because it back up the laughs with meaning, yet even if the meaning in an episode doesn't really connect, it doesn't stop the show from delivering on the laughs. Add to that the fact that this is an excellent Apollo 13 parody, even if it doesn't stick the second level of meaning, and you have a real winner. Little moments, like Britta falling into Troy's lap, or Abed's team of randomly collected geeks scurrying around as he tries to communicate with the group, or the group's tearful, triumphant return to Greendale, or even the Dean proudly waving his newly adopted ass flag, exuberant at his victory are all so funny, its hard to fault the show too much for not telling a very coherent Annie story around the parody. "Basic Rocket Science" isn't a classic episode of Community, but its a damn funny one, and it certainly reminded me (as if I was ever in need of reminding) that this show is capable of turning out a classic on any given week.

Grade: A-


-Really, shockingly funny moment from Ken Jeong when Chang rushes up to Abed and says, "I figured out to reroute the power" and Abed asks "To what?" and then Chang just backs away slowly.

-"This is now our school flag forever!"

-"We don't know that! It was 80s. Everyone who made it was on cocaine."

-"Alright, this is a long shot...but maybe if I do THIS, it'll solve everything!"

-"So handicap spots count on Saturday?"

-"We are 40 lightyears outside the buttermilk nebula, although it's possible that...yeah, this is a sticker."

-"We stopped moving...Pierce has got space madness, or he's just old or something."

-"I'm not buying it." "Yeah, let's kill her."

-"How many schools would let you get a degree in theoretical phys ed?"

-"There is a time and a place for subtlety. And that time is before Scary Movie."

-"I tried to buy some time with these double down sandwiches, but they just thought I was doing product integration for KFC. These are delicious by the way." The really obvious product placement joke has been done before, but it still works for me, and I still think its funny. Plus, if Community got an episode paid for by setting it inside a ridiculous KFC space simulator, I am totally ok with that.

-"If NASA ever needs someone to keep an arrow inside a moving rectangle, I know who I'd recommend."

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Jordan's Review: Running Wilde, Season 1, Episode 4: The Junior Affair

If you haven't read any of Mitch Hurwitz' recent interviews about Running Wilde, and are excited about this show's prospects, consider yourself lucky and steer clear of anything the creator has said about it since the show premiered. Also, don't read this sentence: Hurwitz has basically been on a campaign of lowering expectations, and is doing this so well as to make me seriously worried about the future of the show (he has literally said that because he is following network notes this time around, Running Wilde will be less funny, less innovative, less complicated, and more repetitive than anything he's done before). Reading all I have of Hurwitz' interviews in the last few weeks may have made me dislike "The Junior Affair" more than I otherwise would have. Essentially, this is an episode in the standard Arrested Development model, in which all of the characters try to solve a pretty straightforward problem, yet fail through their own vanity and obtuseness. Its a model Hurwitz has done very well before, but its also one that is bound to draw the kind of Arrested Development comparisons I have tried so hard to avoid in my reviews, and unfortunately, Running Wilde doesn't really keep up.

Here is the basic run down of the plot, so that I can spend more time in this review breaking down what the show did right this week, and where it misstepped: Puddle tells Steve and Emmy that she and her boyfriend broke up so they won't chaperone her dance and embarass her. Steve and Emmy, each trying to right their own perceived wrong from decades earlier when they failed to go to a dance together, set about trying to show Puddle's boyfriend, and her father, the error of their ways, and in the process, each ends up accidentally dating their mark. Comic hijinks ensue.

On the surface, this sounds like a description for any number of Arrested Development episodes, and on the surface, it is. The problem for Running Wilde is that in an attempt to attract a larger audience, it is staying on the surface. From the beginning of the episode, it was clear that Puddle hadn't actually broken up with her boyfriend, just as it was clear early on that Lance thought Emmy was trying to seduce him and that Dan (played by the always excellent Andy Richter) thought Steve was hitting on him. And just in case it wasn't clear, Puddle's narration spelled it all out for us. The reason that this sort of plot structure served AD so well is because the plot of any given episode had an air of unpredictability, so that even as you knew that the characters would misunderstand things, and that their entire goal was probably off from the start, you had no idea what exactly they would be failing to grasp, and the reversal at the end of the episode almost always came as a surprise. Here, it all has a vague sense that its been done before, and better, but mostly because the show is still spelling out all of its jokes too much.

Even the revelation that Steve and Fa'ad have used their riches to try to break into show business, while humorous, was less funny because it immediately brought to mind Michael's musical performance as Peter Pan in The Trial of Captain Hook, and George Michael's star wars kid parody, both of which were much funnier. Yet Fa'ads Gangs of Gangsters and Steve's Junior were both funny gags, especially the way the footage from Fa'ad's film cleverly obscured his ridiculous "New York" accent (which was an incredibly spot-on Alan Alda impression, pulled off marvelously by Serafinowicz, whose name I have learned to spell if only because I keep praising him as the show's ace in the hole) until it could be perfectly employed against Dan at the end of the episode (Though even that felt a little forced and telegraphed).

There is a lot of very solid material in "The Junior Affair," and I laughed throughout. Yet for the second week in a row I was left a little cold by Running Wilde in its execution. Don't misunderstand my criticisms these last two weeks as the words of someone souring on the show--quite the contrary. I honestly believe that there is a great show in Running Wilde, and I think it can, and will get there if it is given time to find its footing. I just hope that it manages to figure out how to appease its network overlords without simplifying all of the comedy out of its premises. There was a great episode buried inside "The Junior Affair" and begging to get out. I just hope Hurwitz can stop preemptively bagging on his own show for long enough to mine the comedic gem out of his newest creation.

Grade: B-


-I honestly try to avoid Arrested Development comparisons, as it really isn't fair for Running Wilde to have to live up to the greatest sitcom of all time right out of the gate. But tongight openly invited the comparisons, and so I thought them apt.

-"Well its easy to criticize me now. I mean I was the cowardly Tin Man right? But you're the one who should have had the straw to give me the courage to stand up to my father back when we were in Toto!"

-"Well I was outside today, you bastard! From noon until 4:15."

-"I don't have time for 'I don't have time for this.' Not this time, Dad. I don't have time for this."

-"I'm in the middle of some important business with one of the many private armies I run."

-"Fa'ad, it takes a lot to emasculate me. I didn't even cry during my last Brazilian."

-Nice background gag of Fa'ad trying to bring his tough guy into the country club, onyl to be required to change into a jacket to meet the dress code.

-I loved Steve washing the car while Dan watched. It was so obviously homo-erotic and Will Arnett played it with naive glee.

-"Lutz, unlokc my Junior High School Dance Wear Closet!"

-"Don't look now. That's the cute Regatta statue I once dated."

-"I think this song's for the kids Dan." "You let the mtry to stop us." "I don't think anyone is trying to stop us, but it is for the kids..."

Jordan's Review: How I Met Your Mother, Season 6, Episode 4: Subway Wars

Every once in a while, when life has got you down and you feel like all you do is fail, you need a win. When those times come, pretty much anything will do, whether its a small victory or a momentous success. This week, How I Met Your Mother dealt with each of the characters (except Barney) in this situation, and though "Subway Wars" fell into the standalone category that I am weary of after last year, it did service each of the characters enough to make me appreciate the good effort.

The episode starts out with a very solid premise: as the gang scolds Robin for not being a real New Yorker, they begin to debate the quickest way to get to a downtown steakhouse, and decide to race there to see who will make it the fastest. Each of the characters has their own reason for needing a win, and they all fit nicely with their personalities as we know them. Marshall and Lily are having trouble conceiving, and Marshall's confidence in the fertility of Erickson men makes Lily think the fault lies with her. So she hops on the subway, uses her native New Yorker understanding of conductor to determine there wil lbe a delay, and then dashes out to find another way.

Marshall, meanwhile, has talked up his fertility so much that he's beginning to think his body is failing him. So in the most entertaining segment of the episode, he decides that he can beat any motorized form of transportation by simply running downtown, even though its seven miles (he did train for the New York Marathon that one time...). To help himself along, he composes a folk song while he runs detailing his epic battle against all machines.

Ted needs a win after one negative review on a Ratemyprofessor type website gets to him, which is typical of Ted's tendeny to overanalyze. And while his segment of the episode didn't really shed light on his development or move his arc forward in any way (another example of the show forgetting that Ted-movement is the most important progression for the series as a whole), it did have him whipping out his architecture fun facts and learning that he was the crazy person on the bus.

Robin, meanhile, needs a win after her new co-host begins overshadowing her on Come On, Get Up New York. As Lily points out, Robin has been having a tough year, and this is underlined in another funny moment when Robin tears a poster of her new co-host off a metro wall only to reveal a poster of her and Don. Robin's depression leads to Barney's good character moment this week, as the show gave us one of the classic "Barney has a heart" moments that they pull out once in a while to allow him to be an asshole the rest of the time, tackling Ted to allow Robin the win that she needs more than the rest of the gang. If one of this season's arcs is the maturation of Barney (and if the wedding we flashed forward to in the premiere is he and Robin's) this was a good example of Barney's forward momentum.

Ultimately, "Subway Wars" had good moments from the entire cast, character wise, but it was hardly a flawless episode. For one thing, the laughs still aren't coming as fast as they should be, nor are the gags as funny as I expect from this show. Season Six has a startling tendency so far to invent a gag in an episode and stick with it even though its painfully unfunny (I'm thinking of Lily saying "Where's the poop?" last week and the incessant Maury Povich cameos tonight), and this needs to stop quickly. A terrible running gag can drag a decent episode down, and Maury's constant appearances tonight hurt my overall enjoyment, while not being quite egregious enough to tank the whole episode. I did like the Woody Allen style intertitles between scenes though, and I hope that the reference to Robin meeting Woody later in the season means we have a guest spot to look forward to (I think that Allen could actually be stunt casted in a positive way on this show). Over all, this episode was pretty mediocre, and not terribly hysterical, but it at the very least did some good, solid character work and gave some lip service to some of the ongoing stories the show is working on.

Grade: B-


-Sorry this is going up late. Midterms are a killer this year.

-"She's so sad and defenseles...anyone have a condom?"

-"Every time I take the bus, there's one crazy person no one wants to sit next to...That is why I have never taken the bus."

-The map gimmick also didn't really add anything in my mind, and was pretty crappy.


-Times Marshall has beaten machines: He triumphed over pinball, vanquished the fire alarm, and brought the jukebox back to life with his Fonzarelli arm.

-Times Marshall has been beaten by machines: The cable box when he wanted the Playboy Channel, a stapler, and the cable box when he wanted Spice.

-"Hey toots, how about a ride? Hey Robin, its you!"

-Continuity Error that bothers me: Barney is in a poker group? And no one in the gang is bothered by that? Remember, dedicated fans, that Barney has a serious gambling addiction. Sloppy work, HIMYM writers.

-"Ah! The machines have won!"

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Jordan's Review: Mad Men, Season 4, Episode 12: Blowing Smoke

The first half of this season of Mad Men showed us Don Draper at rock bottom. The back half of it is showing us SCDP at rock bottom And thank God that Don went through what he did earlier this season, because he is back in full force just in time for his firm to need him most. Yet his demons are still haunting him. The liquor is still flowing, and the past comes back to remind him of his prior sins, in the form of Midge.

We last left Midge living the bohemian life in the village in 1960. When she returns, its to shake Don down for heroin money, under the guise of selling hi ma painting, to feed her heroin addiction. As she puts it, her husband "said it would help me take my mind off of work. And that is a full time job." Midge's addiction mirrors Don's of course, but more importantly, his experience with her shows him how far he has to fall, and inspires him to do some quitting of his own. Not alcohol, of course (that's a much more difficult beast to tame), but his association with big tobacco. Its not for nothing that the first time we saw Midge, back in the pilot, Don was trying to figure out how to pitch to Lucky Strike. Its also not for nothing that that episode was called "Smoke Gets In Your Eyes," and now, five years later, we get "Blowing Smoke" where Don finally kicks the habit (business-wise anyway) and strikes out in a bold new direction. Tobacco was big business for advertisers in 1965, and SCDP is taking a bold stance by saying that they don't want a part of that business' hypocrisy, even if it is just for business purposes.

Of course the rest of the company isn't exactly happy with Don's choice. They all think he's pretty much shot the company in the head, but as he tells them, "If you don't understand what I did, you shouldn't be in this business." We know that Don will get the last laugh here, but its interesting to watch everyone panick at his revolutionary strategy. Bert automatically resigns, which seems sad until you recall that he was not even important enough to warrant an office. And the rest of the partners need to put up serious money to keep the company afloat. Pete is having trouble getting the money together, but Don pays his half, which I'm sure squares the two for Pete having to drop the account a few weeks back, at least in Don's mind. We know that Don thinks money will solve all of his problems, and in this instance, he's probably right.

Finally, poor, poor Sally (which is pretty much how I should always refer to her, just like I always refer to her younger brother as Fuck You, New Bobby) got her heart broken by Betty again, and had her tenuous relationship with Glenn torn away from her by her mother's wrath and fury. Betty not only humiliates her directly ,but also tells Henry its time for the family to move, tearing Sally away from literally everything she has (and potentially even Dr. Edna). Sally and Dr. Edna have formed a strong connection, with the former recognizing the latter's insight and intelligence, and the latter providing exactly what Sally has needed her whole life: Someone to say "I'm proud of you" which Edna does tonight. Sally brushes it off like its nothing, but Edna knows better. This is a girl who needs someone, somewhere to validate her as something other than just a burden or a screw up. And in Edna's brief conversation with Betty, she suggests that perhaps betty should seek the help of a professional psychiatrist. In a moment that's almost too perfectly telling, Betty sullenly asks, "Why can't I talk to you?" and Dr. Edna patiently replies, "Betty, you can talk to me. But, as you know, I'm a child psychologist." Of course Betty knows that, but as Dr. Edna can clearly tell, that's really exactly what Betty needs, and Betty none too subtly refuses to seek other help and pushes to stay with Dr. Edna.

This week gave us a lot to ponder, and made me even more excited for what will happen next week. Don is back on top of his game, both at work and in his relationship with Faye (who he should really just marry already), but his firm is in serious trouble. And they need an idea man of Don's quality to pull them out of it.

Grade: A-


-Sorry if the insight is a little lacking this week. Time is not on my side at the moment. Also, I'll apologize, but my coverage of Boardwalk Empire just isn't happening right now. Better luck next season. The first year of law school isn't hard, right?

-Sally doesn't believe in Heaven. "When I think about forever I get upset," she says, and describes this frustration using the Land O' Lakes logo, just like dear old Dad would.

-Watching Don shil for Heinz' business, and fail, was a little heart rending, and a whole lot of desperate.

-"Food is cyclical." Yeah, ok. I bet next week I'll want baked beans instead of ketchup.

-Another great moment was Don calling the waiter back once the Heinz guy left. We didn't need to see Don take the drink. We knew it was coming.

-"You are forbidden from giving more to that company." "You don't get to forbid me!" Backbone Trudy! And bitter, childish, misogynistic retort, Pete!

-"Little mix up there. It was Eunice Kennedy."

-"I'm no longer part of this agency. You there, get my shoes!"

-Nice moment between Peggy and Faye. "You do your job so well. And they respect you. And you don't have to play any games. I didn't know that was possible."

-Notice Sally was still eating with the kids at the end of the episode. Henry had to come to her, she didn't get to move up in the dining hierarchy.

-"Its pretigious." "We can't eat prestige."

-"Well, I gotta go learn a bunch of people's names before I fire them."

Whose Film Is It Anyway?: George Romero

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.

“They’re coming to get you Barbara!”-Johnny (Russell Streiner), Night of the Living Dead

Before we begin, a confession: I’ve never been a huge fan of horror movies. This is true for many reasons. To begin with, when I was younger, I was legitimately terrified of even the idea of a scary movie. My fear that scary movies would, you know, scare me was probably stronger than my reaction to any given horror movie would have been. To this day, I’m not sure I really get the idea of watching a movie for the express purpose of being made afraid. I understand going to see a comedy—everyone wants to laugh. I get going to see a drama—they can make you think and make you feel. I don’t understand why anyone would actively try to frighten themselves for fun. It just isn’t in my DNA.

Beyond that, there is a dearth of quality films in the horror genre that seems to me more apparent than in any other genre. There are going to be bad movies of all types, but to my eye, horror films have produced the largest number of subpar entries imaginable. Terrible subgenres like the torture-porn craze that began with Saw (I did see the first one, and was unimpressed. So I skipped the subsequent 30 or so entries) and Hostel spring up, and people with pretty much no budget, no ideas, and a video camera can make an independent horror movie that’s a smash hit even if it isn’t actually good (see The Blair Witch Project which would have been awful at any budget). Combine my general lack of interest in being terrified out of my wits and the lack of quality horror movies being produced, and you see why I mostly steer clear.

Yet one of my ongoing quests in life is to see as many “classic” movies as possible (hence my ongoing Movie Quest feature, which I promise is not dead, just delayed indefinitely by the constant parade of movies I have to watch in order to write this column on a bi-weekly basis), and so, seeing as October is Halloween season, and Halloween is a time for a few frights, I have decided to dive into horror with the next two installments of Whose Film Is It Anyway?, tackling two of the genres auteurs, and seeing some of its most famous entries in the process. This week, I will be examining the films of B-Movie legend George A. Romero.

It would be impossible to try and get a handle on Romero as an auteur without diving into his “The Living Dead” films, which are by far his most famous movies, and also an excellent place to begin an examination of Romero’s defining aesthetic: his tendency to inject social commentary into his films. As Romero himself put it, “I don't try to answer any questions or preach. My personality and my opinions come through in the satire of the films, but I think of them as a snapshot of the time. I have this device, or conceit, where something happens in the world and I can say, 'Ooo, I'll talk about that, and I can throw zombies in it! And get it made!' You know, it's kind of my ticket to ride.” Romero also made each of the three films that comprise the original “Living Dead” trilogy (he has made three subsequent “Living Dead” films in the last ten years, to mixed success) in different decades, allowing him to explore the issues of the day in each of the films, and keeping those examinations contemporary. Romero explains, “My zombie films have been so far apart that I've been able to reflect the socio-political climates of the different decades. I have this conceit that they're a little bit of a chronicle, a cinematic diary of what's going on.”

In that view, Romero’s first film, Night of the Living Dead is clearly a tale of social upheaval that was right at home in its release year, 1968. The film centers on Ben (Duane Jones), an African American taking charge of a group who have barricaded themselves within a farmhouse in an attempt to keep out hordes of “ghouls” who are trying to eat their flesh (the creatures are never called zombies in Night, and in fact Romero did not necessarily intend them to be read that way. Once the term became popularized in reference to the film, though, he adopted it for the subsequent entries). Ben’s race is significant not only because the film can be read as a satire of America’s often narrow-minded views on race (and in fact, SPOLIER ALERT FOR A 40 YEAR OLD MOVIE Ben’s death at the end of the film is not at the hands of the hordes of the undead, but rather by the pistol of a redneck police officer), but also because Ben is the first of a trend in Romero’s films of subverting the horror trope of the black character dying first. In fact, instead of quickly dispatching the African American’s in his films Romero often champions them as heroes who can make sense of the chaos and lead the survivor’s through the dangers they will face. Another trope Romero subverts first here is the early death of the blonde girl in the cast. Instead of killing Barbara (Judith O’Dea) in the film’s opening scene, Romero keeps her alive, and involved in the action, for most of the film’s run time. Additionally, instead of portraying her as a slut, as many horror films tend to, Barbara is seen as a shy, quiet girl who is dedicated to her family (Though there is an argument to be made that Barbara is pretty helpless and lacks the empowerment that might have made her a feminist figure in the film). Romero also notably utilizes catharsis throughout his films—characters generally get what they deserve, and you can expect the most unlikeable characters to have the most violent and bloody deaths when the zombies come a-knockin’.

In 1978, Romero released Dawn of the Dead, which switches the target of Romero’s satire to consumerism. Four people attempt to escape the chaos of the collapsing society by barricading themselves alone in a mall, replete with every resource they could ever desire. They eventually grow bored with their materialistic paradise, but before they can learn any meaningful life lessons about the power of human connections over the possession of goods, a gang of looters break into the mall and bring with them swarms of the undead, who near the film’s end, still pace empty eyed and groaning through the mall (for the scene in question, go to 10:37 in the video below and enjoy). Even after we’re dead, it seems, we still like “stuff." Dawn also continues Romero’s tendency of subverting race and gender expectations of the genre as African American SWAT member Peter (Ken Foree), and blonde woman Francine (Gaylen Ross) are the only survivors left by the film’s end.

The final film in the original trilogy, 1985’s Day of the Dead, is less successful, both as a film, and as a satire. Romero aims his satirical eye at both sides of the political spectrum as the denizens of an underground military base try to cope with the destruction of society. On the one side of the debate are the scientists, chief among them Dr. Matthew Logan (Richard Liberty) who wants to train and domesticate the zombies. On the other side is Captain Rhodes (Joe Pilato), a violent, power hungry military cliché who just wants to kill all the zombies, and anyone who stands in his way. Between them is Sarah (Lori Cardille), a doctor who tries to bridge the gap between the two camps. The problem with Day of the Dead (which is much more long-winded and involves far fewer scenes of zombie slaughter) is that neither camp is right, no character is particularly sympathetic, and audiences are left alienated and rooting for everyone involved to be slaughtered by the masses of undead sooner rather than later. I never mind a film filled with unsympathetic characters if they are unlikable for a reason, but Day of the Dead just seems misanthropic without lending any particular theme or reason.

Far more successful is Romero’s favorite of his own film’s, 1978’s Martin. Leaving behind the zombies that made him famous, Martin takes on the vampire mythology, though with an interesting twist. Romero pays lip service to the economic strife of the late ‘70s, but he is more interested here with the conflict between the superstitions of the old world and the cynicism of the younger generations. Martin (John Amplas) is a vampire—or at least he thinks he is. Really, he isn’t repelled by garlic or crosses, and the sun only sometimes bothers his eyes a little bit. But he does have urges to consume human blood, which leads him to murdering beautiful women, stripping them naked, and drinking their blood. When he is forced to move in with his superstitious granduncle Tada Cuda (Lincoln Maazel), who calls him Nosferatu and threatens to murder him if he does not keep his unearthly urges under control, the generations clash. Tada Cuda believes Martin is the newest in a line of vampires that have appeared in the family for generations, a demon from hell who must be controlled or killed. But Martin knows better. “Things only seem to be magic,” he insists throughout the film, “There is no real magic. There is no real magic ever.” The horror aspects of the film play out more like scenes from Dexter as Martin stalks, and often ineffectively attempts to subdue and murder his victims. Yet Romero parodies the tropes of the vampire film as Martin fantasizes about being a real vampire in black and white sequences that play out like overdone versions of the Lugosi starring Dracula films.

Looking at Romero’s films through the lens of horror, they are solid achievements in a genre I am prone to dislike. Examining the idea of Romero as an auteur, it is clear that certain tendencies persist throughout his work. Romero is at heart a satirist, exploring the issues of the day through the prism of the undead, and throwing in enough blood and gore to keep the weak-hearted away. Each of his film’s is a personal expression of his feelings at the time he made it, and an examination of the construction of our society at the moment of its release. The world of Night of the Living Dead is one in the midst of great social upheaval, Dawn of the Dead condemns the materialism that drives us, Day of the Dead pleads against extremism (though poorly), and Martin, at heart, examine the conflict between the generations. Each of these movies examine real life problems that plagued us both at the time of their releases and still today. The zombies that trudge through Romero’s films are (un)dead, but issues like racism, materialism, and extremism live on. And that, Romero tells us, is what’s really scary.

Read more Whose Film Is It Anyway? here

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

10/24: Halloween Horror Auteur Month: John Carpenter

11/7: James Cameron

11/21: Kathryn Bigelow

12/5: Darren Aronofsky