Monday, February 28, 2011

Jordan's Review: How I Met Your Mother, Season 6, Episode 18: A Change of Heart

For the second time this season, How I Met Your Mother pulled out a ridiculous gimmick to help guide the way to a dramatic story point. And, for the second time this season, it ended up undercutting the drama and making a potentially excellent storyline seem somehow trivialized and over-the-top at the same time. In "Bad News" the giant countdown distracted me throughout the episode and didn't lend any additional weight to the news that Marshall's father had died. This time around, the "hear monitor" gimmick fell completely flat, actually making the moment that Barney realized he wants something more from life seem cloying and grating when it should have been romantic and winning.

That Barney really is a softy deep down and will grow by series' end into a functional adult ready for a long term relationship has been pretty clear from Day One. As much as the show likes to play Barney as a heartless horn dog 9 episodes out of 10, we've known since "Game Night" way back in season one that he is actually a wounded romantic, a guy who got his heart broken at a young age and has decided to avoid intimacy because he associates it with that traumatic pain (and also, probably, because of his crippling daddy issues). I like this about his character, and I like a plotline that lets him grow a little bit. The "player" Barney is ultimately not all that ineresting unless the real Barney emerges every once in a while. Unfortunately, I know the show can't let Barney grow too much until its in the home stretch. HIMYM relies far too much on Barney's sexual shenanigans and slutty entendres to really let him mature too much, and the writers already proved that they aren't particularly good at writing a mature Barney in a relationship with the Robin debacle last season(though I do still hold out hope of him being with Robin at the end of the day).

So while I appreciate that this episode let us know that Barney truly does want to settle down someday, I already knew that. And while I'm glad to see a tentative step forward for the character, its clear this is a very small step forward that will likely be forgotten entirely by the next episode. Also, though, I really, really, really hated the heart monitor gimmick. First and foremost, the human heart doesn't work the way the show needed it to tonight, and that means that Barney (and by extension the rest of the gang) was either at a terrible cardiologist, or has serious heart problems. Your heart shouldn't actually skip a beat when you see a girl you like. THAT'S AN EXPRESSION. And if Lily punching Barney actually sent him into cardiac arrest, that means he had a fucking heart attack at the booth and no one did anything about it. Perhaps I should suspend my disbelief for the jokes and the romance the show is going for here, but since the jokes fell flat and the heart monitor actually undercut the cuteness, I can't really give it any credit here. The episode's central gimmick actively took away from the effectiveness of a moment that should have made a softy like me say "aww" instead of "ugh" and that makes the episode a failure, to a certain extent. Which is a shame, seeing as it was written by Matt Kuhn, the author of the Barney-authored books the show has put out and the writer behind some real How I Met Your Mother classics, like "Three Days of Snow," a definite "aww" episode, and Barney-centric episodes like "The Playbook," which was one of the stronger episodes last season.

A weak central story can always be saved by a great subplot, but sadly this episode had a dud for a B-plot too. Robin wants to get a dog, but instead starts dating a guy who, wait for it, ACTS LIKE A DOG. This storyline, like the A-plot, could have been handled well and ended up being very funny, but unfortunately it went way over the top. I always enjoy when the gang sits at the bar trying to one-up each other, both because its usually funny and because it feels like something cool, smart, funny people do while hanging out together bagging on their friends. and I enjoyed the moment when the gang was getting as many dog puns as possible into conversation with Scooby, but let's pause for a moment (eh? eh?) to look at the guy Robin is dating. She throws her keys and he fetches them. He gets outside and just pees on a fire hydrant (in his defense, he did eat A LOT of sandwich brownies). These are not behaviors of a normal human being. These are things he did only because they are dog-like behaviors. Again, I probably would have let this go entirely if I laughed at the subplot, but as Sam quipped, I mostly just wished they would put this plot down.

Any time the show goes to the "Barney has a heart" well, it should at least resonate emotionally. And any time the show brings the sandwich gag back, it should be as hysterical as it was the first time. Both of these were wasted tonight, which is a real travesty because I can see a great episode buried beneath this mediocrity. The Barney story here has all the makings of a great plot, and Robin dating a guy that acts like a dog could have been done really well. Instead, though, two solid story ideas were squandered in an era when this show can probably use every strong idea it can get its hands on. How I Met Your Mother was chasing a good tale tonight, but where it should have caught the frisbee in its mouth, it instead had a pretty rough time. See, I can make dog puns too.

Grade: C+


-I thought about giving this episode a straight C, but there were a lot of good ideas here. None of them were executed well, but there was enough potential that I'll give it the C+.

-"Wow. She nursed you back to health?" "No! I didn;t even see her boobs."

-Barney's dirt on the gang: My. Buttons the class hamster (Lily), the calzone (Marshall), the Mr. T dream (Robin), and the ballet class, N'Sync concert, and really, the thermos (Ted).

-I really enjoyed Lily consulting with Marshall and then leaning in, speaking into her wine glass and saying "I do not recall" while being questioned by Norah.

-Again, I just want to stress how ridiculous it is that Barney's heart skipped a beat, and that he went into cardiac arrest from being punched. Just poor, poor writing there.

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Sunday, February 27, 2011

Whose Film Is It Anyway?: Quentin Tarantino

By Jordan

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.

“The violent intensity of Pulp Fiction calls to mind other violent watershed films that were considered classics in their time and still are. Hitchcock's Psycho [1960], Arthur Penn's Bonnie and Clyde [1967], and Stanley Kubrick's A Clockwork Orange [1971]. Each film shook up a tired, bloated movie industry and used a world of lively lowlifes to reflect how dull other movies had become. And that, I predict, will be the ultimate honor for Pulp Fiction. Like all great films, it criticizes other movies.”-Gene Siskel

“I steal from every movie ever made.”-Quentin Tarantino

In the 1970’s, widely considered the best decade in cinema, a wave of directors appeared on the scene who changed everything. Quickly gaining great freedom in Hollywood to make movies that fit with their own personal views and pet themes (this was helped by the death knells of the traditional studio system), this generation of directors, this batch of auteurs, are collectively known as the film school brats. Scorsese, Coppola,Lucas, Spielberg and several others emerged from film schools in the late ‘60s and by the early ‘70s were making movies that permanently changed the face of cinema. However, there is a law of physics that tells us for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction, and while this column doesn’t set out to make the argument that this always holds true in Hollywood, I think there is a certain potency in the view that the video store brats of the early 1990’s can be seen as the equal and opposite reaction to the film school brats. Robert Rodriguez, Allison Anders, and Kevin Smith are all members of this cadre. Yet the reason the video store brats can even be counted within the same league as the film school brats is a pretty simple one. It’s because the most acclaimed of the video store brats is Quentin Tarantino.

There is an argument to be made that Tarantino has influenced film in the last two decades more than any other single director. Think of all of the Tarantino-lite fare that has been released since Pulp Fiction. Most of the Tarantino “inspired” movies are little more than rehashes of his style that ape his pop-culture hyper-literacy, banter heavy dialogue, and ultra-violence. I can’t imagine Tarantino minds this phenomenon too much, though, as he freely admits that all of his own movies are giant homages to the films and the genres that he loves.

Tarantino’s first film, Reservoir Dogs, was widely seen as a sea change in American cinema. At the time of its release, Jami Bernard of the New York Daily News compared it to L’Arrive d’un Train en Gare de la Ciotat, the 1895 film that depicted a train coming at the camera and lead audiences to scream and scatter in fear. In short, he said, “I don’t think people were ready for it.” His use of non-linear storytelling, strong language and graphic violence shocked viewers and raised expectations immeasurably for the quality and verve of independent cinema. The film follows the planning and botched execution of a diamond heist by six “nameless” criminals, using colors as aliases, a crime lord (Lawrence Tierney), and his rough edged son Eddie (Chris Penn). After a brief introduction to the gang as they eat breakfast before pulling the job, the film leaps immediately to the bloody aftermath, with Mr. Orange (Tim Roth) gutshot in the backseat of a car being driven by the sympathetic Mr. White (Harvey Keitel). The two head to a safehouse, where they are joined by the paranoid Mr. Pink (Steve Buscemi) who believes that one of them is a rat. As the men try to determine who among their numbers betrayed them, the film jumps back and forth to the formation of the group, the planning of the heist, and the histories of some of the people involved.

Heralded as blazingly original and the arrival of a completely unique cinematic voice at the time of its release, Tarantino quickly, and often, rattled off numerous influences to the film that shaped the characters, the style, and the story. He says it was most directly influenced by Stanley Kubrick’s The Killing, calling Reservoir Dogs, “…my Killing, my take on that kind of heist movie.” Tarantino has also listed Kansas City Confidential (in which an undercover cop has infiltrated a heist), The Big Combo (in which a cop is tortured while tied to a chair), and the original version of The Taking of Pelham One Two Three (in which the people involved in the crime name themselves after colors to preserve anonymity). The title is also theorized to be a reference to Louis Malle’s Au Revoir Les Enfants and to Sam Peckinpah’s Straw Dogs. In spite of all its filmic antecedents, Reservoir Dogs is still completely infused with Tarantino’s flourishes, from the banter between the characters to the ‘70s heavy soundtrack, and manages to be a film that is in many ways greater than the sum of its parts.

While showing Reservoir Dogs at a variety of European film festivals, Tarantino began work on his next screenplay, which he hoped would be a movie version of the hardboiled crime fiction magazine Black Mask, aiming to tell three stories that would fit into the crime fiction genre with a hardboiled pulp feel. Originally, Tarantino was to write one story, his friend Roger Avary was to write a second, and an unknown third director would write a third. The three would then each shoot their story and create an anthology film. This idea was quickly abandoned when a third voice never materialized and both Tarantino and Avary’s stories became longer than was intended. Tarantino described his intent with the film thusly: “the idea was basically to take the oldest chestnuts you’ve ever seen when it comes to crime stories—the oldest stories in the book.” What emerged from this exercise was Pulp Fiction, which would win Tarantino and Avary Oscars for Best Original Screenplay and would change movies for the foreseeable future.

Pulp Fiction is centered around three classic crime fiction stories: the idea of the heavy (John Travolta, who was nominated for Best Actor and had a major comeback due to the film) taking out the boss’ wife (Uma Thurman, who was nominated for Best Supporting Actrss), the idea of the boxer (Bruce Willis) paid to take the fall in a fight, and the idea of two hitmen (Travolta and Samuel L. Jackson, who as nominated for Best Supporting Actor) taking on a seemingly simple task. Tarantino cites Kiss Me Deadly, a short film called Curdled,Jean-Luc Godard's Bande a Parte (which was also the inspiration for the name of his production company, A Band Apart) and dozens of other films as inspiration. Yet Tarantino’s non-linear storytelling, predilection for letting these venerable tropes of crime fiction veer off the established rails, use of surf-rock and ‘70s tunes, and pop-culture savvy dialogue are the real legacies of Pulp Fiction, inspiring legions of imitators.

Following the widespread success and critical praise of Pulp Fiction, Tarantino wanted to adapt the work of another, both to alleviate the pressure of following up what some were calling a masterpiece, and to put his own touches on the work of another. He adapted Elmore Leonard’s Rum Punch, changing the race of the main character and creating a noir movie that also commented on the conventions of blaxploitation. The result, 1997’s Jackie Brown, follows the titular smuggler (Pam Grier) as she plans to play her gun-running boss Ordell (Samuel L. Jackson) against the ATF and agent Ray Nicolette (Michael Keaton) to talk away with $500,000 of smuggled money. With the help of an infatuated bail bondsman (Robert Forster) and working against some of Ordell’s heavies (including Robert De Niro), Jackie plays both sides against each other in an increasingly elaborate game of cat and mouse.

Inspired by Leonard’s novel, as well as many blaxploitation films, especially those actually starring Pam Grier (including Black Mama, White Mama, Coffy, and Foxy Brown) and even including an opening homage to The Graduate, Jackie Brown continues to be Tarantino’s least appreciated and referenced movie, which leaves the film criminally underrated. Smart, savvy, complex and flat-out fun, Jackie Brown is certainly Tarantino’s most straight forward film to date, yet it still retains his artful touches.

Tarantino has spent the last decade exploring the genres he most loves exceedingly closely, making films that can at times seem more like long-form homages than blazingly original works, yet he has never lost the ability to make his movies his own. Kill Bill, his fourth film (and his fifth, if you consider the cleaved movie two separate films) is at heart his most epic homage, a four hour love letter to the revenge drama that is heavily influenced by the traditions of Hong Kong martial arts films, Spaghetti Westerns, Japanese Chanbara films and exploitation movies. The movie follows the vengeful quest of The Bride (Uma Thurman) an assassin left for dead on her wedding day by her ex-lover Bill (David Carradine) and his cabal of assassins, who awakens from a coma four years later and sets out to take bloody vengeance on those who tried to kill her. The film(s) follow her gore-filled quest for revenge in a (who’s surprised) non-linear fashion as she tracks down and dispatches Vernita Green (Vivica A. Fox), O-Ren Ishii (Lucy Liu), Budd (Michael Madsen) and Elle Driver (Daryl Hannah) all on her path to finally coming face to face with the love of her life and the man who tried to murder her, the shockingly sympathetic and intuitive Bill.

Directly inspired by Lady Snowblood (which follows a woman murdering the gang that killed her family), the film also contains direct references to Samurai Reincarnation, Kage no Gundan, and Shogun Assassin, as well as more subtle homages to en grym film, Jackass: The Movie, Grease and dozens of others. At the core of the movie, though, is Tarantino’s deeply felt passion for the character, his pop-culture sensibility, his musical taste, and his nigh-magical way with words.

Tarantino followed Kill Bill with his most direct homage yet: Grindhouse, a double feature anthology he co-directed with Robert Rodriguez as a mainstream re-creation of the run down nature of B-movies and the theaters that the two had frequented as kids. As such, both halves of the film (Rodriguez’ zombie movie Planet Terror and Tarantino’s vehicular slasher flick Death Proof) are shot on grainy film, contain missing reels, and are generally written and performed to evoke the poor production values of the exploitation movies of the ‘70s.

Tarantino’s half of the film, Death Proof, tells of a deranged stuntman (Kurt Russell) who stalks women and murders them by causing car crashes, which he is sure to survive because he has made his car “death proof.” Tarantino structured the movie on slasher films, but did not want to make a direct slasher film because of the rigid rules of the genre. So instead he used the basic plot points to create something different, a film about a misogynist that becomes a triumphant celebration of feminism by its closing shot.

Following Grindhouse, which was critically acclaimed but did poorly at the box office, Tarantino finally put into production the screenplay he had been working on for over a decade: Inglourious Basterds. A World War II epic more satisfyingly read as a Tarantino treatise on how he makes his films, the movie includes references to all of his previous works in addition to having as its thesis the idea that cinema can completely reform the world, changing history and our perceptions for at least the run-time of a great movie. Ostensibly following the titular band of Jewish soldiers turned ruthless Nazi hunters, lead by Lt. Aldo Raine (Brad Pitt) and including BJ Novak, Eli Roth, and Samm Levine, the film quickly becomes more of an espionage thriller than a war film as The Basterds, with the help of a British spy (Michael Fassbender) and a German double Agent (Diane Kruger) aim to use the premiere of a new German film as a chance to assassinate the German High Command, including Joseph Goebbels (Sylvester Groth) and Hitler himself (Martin Wuttke). As they prepare to execute their plan, a similar effort to destroy the attendees of the premiere is being plotted by an escaped Jew who owns the cinema under an assumed identity (Melanie Laurent) and her lover (Jacky Ido). However, each plan may be foiled by the brilliant, seductively evil Nazi “Jew Hunter” Hans Landa (Christoph Waltz, who won Best Supporting Actor for his seductively sinister, linguistically acrobatic performance) who seems constantly a few steps ahead of his adversaries.

Where each of Tarantino’s previous films heavily references cinematic history, Inglourious Basterds focuses more heavily on referencing the way that Tarantino himself makes movies. His tendency towards pop-culture references, ‘70’s music and non-linear storytelling are all given attention, and he directly references each of his own films within the movie. Perhaps most telling, then, is the film’s last line, when Aldo Raine looks right into the camera and says, “This just might be my masterpiece.”

Tarantino has built his career on his near encyclopedic knowledge of film history and his ability to rework and recycle the best of genre fare, yet his true success as a filmmaker comes from his ability to make what he “steals” his own. While Reservoir Dogs, Pulp Fiction, Jackie Brown, Kill Bill, Grindhouse, and Inglourious Basterds all owe huge debts to movies that came before, none of them are as excellent as they are because of the movies they reference. Each has a distinct sensibility, and a unique sense of humor that belongs to Tarantino alone. Like many people of the generation in which Tarantino came of age (and in subsequent generations, including my own), the world is best viewed through the lens of pop culture. Yet using the realm as a looking glass into the world at large need not distort one’s individual voice and perspective. Rather, in Tarantino’s case, it appears to have magnified that distinct authorial voice, and helped to cement him as one of the most influential and important filmmakers of our time.

Read more Whose Film Is It Anyway? here

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

3/13: Hal Ashby

3/27: Michael Bay

4/10:Aaron Sorkin

4/24: Christopher Nolan

Want to keep tabs on all of our updates? follow us on twitter @reviewtobenamed (follow us here).

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Random Pop Culture Question of the Week: Dream TV Spinoff

Random Pop Culture Question of the Week is a bi-weekly journey into the headspace of the Review to Be Named gang, in which a pop-culture question is posed, answers are sought, and discussions are generated about issues and hypotheticals from throughout the realm of pop culture.

Welcome to the inaugural installment of Random Pop Culture Question of the Week, a new feature that will give the contributors here at Review To Be Named the chance to probe each other’s minds with our own with pop culture queries and hypotheticals. This week’s question comes from our own Chris, who wondered,
If you could helm the spinoff of any character or group from any TV show, spinning it out from any time in that show’s history, who would you spinoff and what would be the premise of your show?
With that question in mind, here are the responses from several Review To Be Named Contributors. Comment and let us know what we missed!


My immediate thought when I heard this question was, “Which Joss Whedon show would I most like to spin off?” While I did think of some fun ideas there, it seemed a little bit obvious. Next, I considered the idea of a Twin Peaks spinoff focusing on Gordon Cole and the FBI that Lynch had created. Everything in that organization is a few steps off the beaten path, a little odd, and ultimately endlessly fascinating. Delving into the strange code they communicate with (including the Blue Rose and Lil, the dancer Cole uses to communicate information to his agents), the nightmarish cases they investigate, and the mysterious nature of the world and their place into it would all be fascinating. Plus, we would inevitably get to dive into what happened to Chester Diamond and, more importantly, who the hell Phillip Jeffries is and where he disappeared to. Which would be cool.

Ultimately, however, the spinoff idea that excited me most, the one that made me wish it had really occurred, is the idea of a spinoff of The West Wing focusing on Sam Seaborn as a congressman. Though in the show’s continuity he lost (because Rob Lowe stupidly wanted to leave the show, something I have only started to forgive him for now that he is so excellent on Parks and Rec), my spinoff would presuppose that he won, and thus was a freshman congressman on his way to fulfilling President Bartlet’s prediction that he would someday sit behind the big chair in the Oval Office. Sam’s disappearance from the show hurt The West Wing almost as much as Aaron Sorkin’s, and the fact that he was dropped from the show kept the potential of his growth into a formidable politician from ever being realized. If given the chance, I would have changed that.


My wish for a spin-off comes from an obvious place if you know me well (or at all, really). It’s Chief Wiggum P.I. from "The Simpsons Spin-Off Showcase" episode from season eight. The Spin-Off Showcase offered three different possible new series based around beloved Simpsons characters. In addition to Wiggum P.I., host Troy McClure offered up The Love-Matic Grampa, a show based around the dead Abe Simpson’s soul returning to Earth in the Love-matic machine in Moe’s bar. The other show offered up was The Simpsons Smile Time Variety Hour, a take-off of similar projects from the likes of The Brady Bunch where (nearly) the entire cast returned for a variety show that included very 70’s guest stars, like Tim Conway. But Wiggum P.I. really took the cake. Like the other two shows it was terrible if it existed as a show outside of The Simpsons universe but it’s take on the buddy cop genre could have been a gem. Wiggum is joined by his son Ralph (who could probably hold a show of his own on a more allowing channel like Adult Swim or Comedy Central) and Principal Skinner, who quit his job and is now “Skinny Boy.” The duo have been relocated to New Orleans to face stereotypical bayou crime lords while managing life in The Big Easy. Great setting plus great characters could make for a good show. The police procedural cartoon sit-com had only been done once before with Disney’s Fillmore (very well done I may add) and The Simpsons writers could make something equally enjoyable for an adult crowd. At the end of the episode, when the evil “Big Daddy” gets away from the law, Wiggum thinks aloud that they will meet again in future episodes “in a more exciting and sexy way.” If only.


I thought long and hard about my response to this fantastic question. The consummate overachiever, I wanted to look good. I considered going cult-classic, with a Freaks and Geeks spinoff (clearly it would follow Daniel, because I think his character had a lot of unexplored potential. Also James Franco is stupid-pretty). Sticking to the stupid-pretty reasoning, I thought about a House spinoff following Thirteen on her various escapades after learning about her Huntington’s diagnosis (I pine for the days of witty, pre-rehab House banter). Then there’s the sheer spectacle of a True Blood spinoff following Pam (definitely the most criminally underused character on the show. Every word out of Kristin Bauer’s mouth is pure gold). But I wanted something meaningful. So I settled on Rugrats.

If you were lucky enough to be a 90s baby, Rugrats was a cornerstone of a slew of amazing Nickelodeon cartoons (kids these days are missing out. I-Carly? Hannah Montana? WTF is that shit?). And if you didn’t like Rugrats, there was clearly something wrong with you. Talking babies—awesome. An incredibly baller dog—every child’s dream. But, with the distance of a decade between me and my Rugrats days, I’d want to see a spinoff focusing on the parents. Mostly because the Rugrats: All Growed Up edition was seriously disappointing.

Stu Pickles, in addition to being an amazing dad, was a super cool inventor. His wife Didi was a schoolteacher (and had two spectacular Jewish parents who I would totally want to make consistent appearances. Maybe coming to live with the Pickles as a foil for Grandpa Lou). Angelica’s mom Charlotte was an uber-powerful CEO who, when paired with Betty Deville, the quick witted, Venus-sign sweatshirt wearing jock and Chaz Finster, the sensitive widower single dad, were surprisingly cutting edge for a children’s show, pushing the boundaries of typical gender roles. Then there’s Dr. and Mr. Carmichael (the Rugrats’ Cosbys), she a Harvard-educated doctor and he a successful cartoonist. Around the periphery of the episode, these characters managed to do way more than hem in the hijinks of their precocious little tots. They balanced out plot lines so well, they distracted us from the fact that they seemed to be borderline negligent of their kids. I’d love to see what they were up to while the kids were off getting into trouble.


Before Showtime became a network with somewhat respectable, HBO-esque programming, it was the network with the gay shows. The worst of these was the exploitative, poorly written, and consistently frustrating series The L Word, which ran from 2004-2009. In addition to having what may be the worst theme song in television history, The L Word wasted a lot of talent; capable actresses like Pam Grier, Jennifer Beals, Mia Kirshner, and Marlee Matlin were mired in silly, melodramatic story arcs. But perhaps the most egregious example of unrealized potential can be found in the characters of Shane McCutcheon (Katherine Moennig) and Alice Pieszecki (Leisha Hailey). Best friends, as well as resident voices of reason, Shane and Alice were the only reasons why I watched all six seasons of this godawful show (to be fair, I also wanted to have sex with both of them, possibly at the same time). I would have loved a spinoff that gave the two of them and their assorted exploits (Alice’s adorable, and ultimately tragic, relationship with Dana; Shane’s failed attempts at monogamy) more screen time. The Alice & Shane Show would certainly lean more towards comedy than drama, and ideally include a more realistic supporting cast so that it looks less like a lesbian soap opera (in which everyone is beautiful, skinny, famous, wealthy, and femme) than its originating series. There’s a lot of support for this particular spinoff idea on YouTube; in case you needed a Shane and Alice tribute montage set to the theme from Free Willy to support my argument, it’s available.


Battlestar Galactica SPOILER ALERT

Battlestar Galactica is probably my favorite show of all time. However if I had one critique of the series (aside from the standalone episodes that SyFy forced on them) it's that one of the more fascinating elements of the series never received the full attention I felt it deserved, the status quo altering introduction of a second Colonial warship, the Battlestar Pegasus.

Ideally, I would have liked to see a Battlestar Pegasus, spinoff that would have served as a concurrently running companion series to Battlestar Galactica, beginning during the season 2 break of Galactica. The show would probably have a limited shelf life, as it could only exist so long without dramatically altering the events of Galactica.

Battlestar Pegasus would give the creators of Galactica to tell two very fascinating stories that were only touched on in the made-for-tv-movie Razor:

1.) Flashbacks that would reveal the backstory of the Pegasus, from the attack on Scorpion Fleet Shipyard to their discovery of Galactica and her civilian fleet. Rather than running from the Cylons, Admiral Cain decided to engage in all out guerrilla war, hunting them with an obsession to rival Ahab himself, despite massive losses to her crew and ship. Cain personally executed officers who disobeyed her orders, drafted civilians into military service at gunpoint, and left a fleet of civilian ships helpless after stripping them of any useful components Pegasus could use. It's clear that Pegasus was a very dark environment, as evidenced by the atrocities committed by Lt. Thorn and the fact that Pegasus quickly became the focal point of the Fleet's black market after Cain's death. However nothing in the world of Galactica was ever as black and white as it seemed as there were still many good people serving on Pegasus (Lt. Hoshi), and many more who were haunted by the guilt of their actions (Major Kendra Shaw). Throw in the spineless and corrupt Col. Fisk, and the civilian Deck Chief Laird, who was forced into service when Admiral Cain threatened to kill his family, and you have a really solid cast.

2.) The second storyline would focus on the present. Following the death of Admiral Cain, Lee Adama takes over as Commander of the Pegasus and finds a ship in disarray, where fear, mistrust, and brutality were the environment cultivated by his successors. This would allow for some great story lines as Lee struggles to get his command in order, facing numerous power struggles with crew members that worshipped Cain, and tries to shut down the black market that had been running through Pegasus during Fisk's brief time in charge. The series could also heavily focus on Lee making the difficult transition from a soldier to a general, ordering men into battle rather than leading them personally. Finally, having seen Lee clash with his father numerous times throughout the series, making Lee responsible for the lives of an entire crew would only escalate the tension between him and his father if Admiral Adama made military decisions that Lee didn't agree with.

Alas this will never come to be, for like I said, Razor already touched on many of these elements, albeit lightly, and any Battlestar spinoff will most likely be a prequel, but I can't help but take a longing look back at what might have been.

Read more Random Pop Culture Question of the Week here

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Friday, February 25, 2011

Review to Be Named Podcast # 1: The Oscars

Here is the inaugural installment of the Review to Be Named Poscast, where Sam and Jordan try to figure out "what this thing is," try to avoid the terrifying thought of Natalie Portman birthing a Black Swan, and give something slightly less prestigious than The King's Speech while talking about Oscar nominations and who they think will take home the awards.

My Year in Lists: Week Eight

By Jordan

My Year in Lists chronicles one blogger’s quest to understand why music matters to us and what makes it a lasting aspect of our existence. To facilitate this examination, three music fans have contributed a list of 52 essential albums. Each week this year, one album off of each list will be analyzed in an attempt to understand why some music sticks with us and what it means for our lives.

“For me to say that I was enthralled would be an understatement. I had never heard such magical sounds, so amazingly recorded. It undoubtedly changed the way that I, and countless others, approached recording. It is a timeless and amazing recording of incredible genius and beauty.”-Sir Elton John, on Pet Sounds

“That ear—I mean Jesus, he’s got to will that to the Smithsonian.”-Bob Dylan, on Brian Wilson

“Obscure upon release and obscure even now, for all the cult appeal, Underground is music at its most experimental and relentlessly uncommercial, using late-60’s inspirations as a launching ground for what came to be described as Krautrock.”-Ned Raggett, on Psychedelic Underground

“Won’t you please let me go? These words lie inside, they hurt me so…”-New Order, “Age of Consent”

What do the ‘60s sound like to you? At first glance, this may appear akin to me asking, “what does the color blue taste like?” but I believe there’s more to it than that. Music can be connected inextricably to the age in which it was released, and perhaps more than any other period, the 1960’s has a distinctive sound. It’s the era that invented rock and roll, modern soul, psychedelic and experimental music. It’s the era of The Beatles, Bob Dylan, Jimi Hendrix and Marvin Gaye. It’s the era of Woodstock. Every decade, every era has a feel to it, and yes, each of them is often associated with a certain type of music, but I would say that isn’t the case with the ‘60s, not really. While most eras have one sound, the ‘60s is a veritable cacophony of brilliance and innovation, filled to the brim with different genres and iconic bands, all operating at their apex.

This may not hold true to people who were alive and musically aware during the era, but to me (and I suspect to most people of my generation, born roughly 20 years after the ‘60s ended) there is an almost mythic vibe that emerges from the ‘60s. One might even call it (put your segue helmet on, boys and girls) a good vibration. And while picking the band that defined the ‘60s single-handedly is impossible, it is easy to look at the period and see certain bands coming to represent a culture and a feeling. To me, one of these bands has always been The Beach Boys. In their heyday the band were considered rivals for America’s hearts and minds with The Beatles (and you need look no further than last week’s installment of this column to see which side of that debate I land on), but I’ve never really seen them that way. To me, The Beach Boys define what it must have been like to be young in Southern California in the 1960’s. Having grown up in the area, the carefree surf-culture that the band seems to embody is still present, yet it has always seemed to me at best a shadow of what it would have been like to go on an actual “Surfin’ Safari” with The Beach Boys during their prime. In my youth I always associated the band with surf rock pretty much inextricably: to me, The Beach Boys were surf rock, and represented surfing culture. That meant I never really looked at the band as a potential rival to The Beatles, nor did I ever honestly see them as one of America’s great bands. Whenever I was a kid and a Beach Boys song came on, I just thought of the summer.

In recent years I have admittedly began to see that view as naïve, but I don’t think I’m the only one who ever held it. In fact, much of The Beach Boys fan base seems to have thought similarly, especially during the band’s early years. Formed in 1961 in Hawthorne California, the band was initially composed of brothers Brian, Dennis, and Carl Wilson, their cousin Mike Love, and their friend Al Jardine. The band was initially famed for their surf rock, but they grew in style and complexity as Brian Wilson, the band’s driving artistic and creative force, developed in ambition and ability. Pet Sounds, Collin’s pick this week, is The Beach Boys eleventh album in just five years, showing them to be as shockingly prolific as they were willing to experiment with new sounds and styles as they grew to maturity. Pet Sounds, the band’s first truly divergent album, is widely heralded as one of the best and most influential albums in the history of popular music, ranked #2 on Rolling Stone’s “500 Greatest Albums of All Time” list (behind The Beatles Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, which Paul McCartney has called a response to Pet Sounds). Created after Brian Wilson had stopped touring with the band in order to focus on writing and recording, the album aimed to layer vocal harmonies, adding unconventional sound effects (including bicycle bells, dog whistles, Coca Cola cans and barking dogs) to give the album a unique sound.

Brian Wilson was inspired to create Pet Sounds after hearing the U.S. release of The Beatles’ Rubber Soul, of which he said, “I really wasn’t quite ready for the unity. It felt like it all belonged together. Rubber Soul was a collection of songs…that somehow went together like no album made before, and I was very impressed. I said, ‘That’s it. I am challenged to do a great album.” Let’s pause for a moment to recognize that Rubber Soul inspired Pet Sounds, which in turn caused The Beatles to respond with Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. Perhaps The Beatles and The Beach Boys had a stronger rivalry than I had previously realized. Or maybe they just only listened to each other’s music.

The album’s opening track, “Wouldn’t It Be Nice” is one of the band’s best and most enduring songs. It follows a young couple who dream of being old enough to get married and live together. Breathlessly romantic in a youthful and, yes, naïve way, the song expresses the frustrations of youth and the innocent dream of what independence might be like. “That’s Not Me,” a lament by Wilson about his fears that he might find himself unrecognizably changed, is sung by Mike Love atop a percussive track. Unlike every other song on Pet Sounds, this track actually featured The Beach Boys playing the instruments (Brian Wilson had been using session musicians since Today! Note to self: Next time I’m engaged in a “Beatles vs. Beach Boys” debate, remember to point out they weren’t usually playing the instruments).“Don’t Talk (Put Your Head on My Shoulder)” is one of four tracks on the album in which no Beach Boys other than Brian appear (Second note to self: The Beach Boys are absent for a lot of The Beach Boys best album).

Two instrumental tracks, “Let’s Go Away For Awhile,” a wistful melody that originally included the parenthetical “(And Then We’ll Have World Peace)” and the title track, a brass-heavy surf track that hearkens back to the band’s roots, break up the album nicely. “Sloop John B,” a rearranged cover of a West Indies folk song, was suggested by Al Jardine. Brian Wilson found the song too simple and didn’t like folk music, so Jardine made it slightly more complex to sell him on it. The next day, Brian called him to the studio and played him the finished arrangement, which was far more complex and melodically satisfying.

Another of the band’s all time classics, “God Only Knows” was composed by Brian with vocals by Carl Wilson. It was more technically sophisticated than any other song the band had tried to that point, with both a complicated melodic structure and complex vocal harmonies. “I Know There’s An Answer” was originally written as “Hang on to Your Ego,” a reference to the idea that your ego is smashed when you try LSD (which Brian was experimenting with heavily at the time), but the band found the idea too controversial so Brian changed it. Personally, I found “Hang on to Your Ego” (included on the 40th Anniversary reissue) much better than “I Know There’s An Answer” without ever having done acid, but maybe that’s just me.

The Beach Boys were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1988. Paul McCartney has called “God Only Knows” his favorite song ever written, and admits that he bought Pet Sounds for his kids as part of their musical education. Many other musical titans, including Elton John, Eric Clapton, and Bob Dylan consider the album a masterpiece and admit that it influenced their subsequent work. The Beach Boys will never beat the Beatles in my mind, but that’s not really the point. The Beach Boys captured the feeling of a certain culture at a certain time, and didn’t let that hold them back from experimenting musically and changing the face of popular music.

While on this side of the Atlantic The Beach Boys had large sway, across the ocean in Germany it was the psychedelic sound of the ‘60s that started changing things permanently. Amon Düül began as a German political art commune formed out of the student movement of the 1960’s, but became most well known for its free form musical improvisations. Psychedelic Underground came out of a mammoth jam session held by the band, which was treated heavily with studio effects to enhance the sound and the strangeness.

The opening track, “Ein Wunderhubsches Madchen Traumt von Sandosa” is a 17-minute long jam session with heavy percussion, a chugging guitar riff, and chanting vocals that mirror a call and response vocal structure. At one point the session fades out for a brief respite involving a piano melody and train noises (of course) before coming back just as strong.

“Kaskados Minnilied” mixes acoustic and electric guitars deftly and adds some string instruments for a melodic drone that balances the whole track. “Im Garten Sandosa” is a sparer song, focused more on a strummed guitar and with a heavier influence on vocals than the other tracks. Amon Düül is consideredwidely influential to the foundation of Krautrock and Psychedelic Underground is considered a free form response to American psychedelic rock. While Amon Düül never legitimately existed as a band (the entity known as Amon Düül refers to the entire collective, and every album they released is taken from one mammoth recording session in early 1969. The more musically inclined members had broken off to form Amon Düül II by the time of this album’s release), the sound of their album and the political and artistic views they espoused became central to the fast emerging genre of Krautrock.

The ‘60s had a vibrant tapestry of divergent sounds. The sound of the 80’s, on the other hand, is much easier to pin down, and much of it can be traced to New Order. Formed by Bernard Summer, Peter Hook, and Stephen Morris, the remaining members of Joy Division after Ian Curtis’ suicide, the band combined new wave and electronic dance and became one of the most critically acclaimed and highly influential bands of the 1980’s. The band’s first release, 1981’s Movement, was stylistically and thematically a continuation of the work Joy Division had been doing prior to Curtis’ suicide. The band considered the album a low point, as they were still reeling from Curtis’ death, and Hook later claimed that the only positive thing to come out of the sessions was that producer Martin Hannet taught the band how to use a mixing board, which allowed the band to produce their own records from then on.

New Order’s second album, and Ashley’s pick this week, Power, Corruption, and Lies was a dramatic change in sound and is considered the point at which the band found their footing. “Age of Consent,” the album’s opening track, is a bold and powerful step forward for the band, shedding all of their Joy Division ties and emerging fully formed as a new wave synth band that would define the sound of the ‘80s. The song can be easily read as addressed to Curtis, whose suicide had angered and sidetracked the band for years. “Age of Consent” is the moment the band fully broke free of Curtis’ artistic vision, the moment they reached their own artistic maturity and began to pursue their own vision. At the risk of being accused of bias, “Age of Consent” is a fucking fantastic song and colors the rest of the album with its splendor.

“The Village” is another upbeat dance song with rock undertones and an optimistic view of love and life in general. “586,” meanwhile, is a much darker, synth heavy melody that picks up into a dance beat by its middle stretch, managing to avoid too many similarities to the sound of Joy Division by remaining beat-driven even in its darker moments. “Your Silent Face” is a synth-heavy melody that evokes romance and nostalgia in equal measures, opening quietly and building toward profound realizations about change.

It would be impossible to discuss New Order during this period without bringing up “Blue Monday,” which was not included on the initial UK release of the album (instead becoming the biggest 12” single of all time), but was included on the album’s American release. The song beings with a distinctive kick drum intro before leading into a throbbing synth bass line during the verses. “Blue Monday” is seen as one of the most important cross-over tracks of the 1980’s pop scene, bringing the influence of the New York club scene to Britain. The band heartily influenced techno, rock, and pop, including Pet Shop Boys, The Killers, and Moby. In addition, they are largely considered one of the foundations of new wave, the genre that would dominate the alternative movement of the 1980s.

Music can define an era, influencing it as it occurs, and forever coloring it in hindsight. It can become indelibly attached to its era, but more importantly, the era can be permanently viewed through the lens of the music that defined and shaped it. Music can be timeless as easily as it can be timely, and the best music can manage to be both at the same time. Pet Sounds, Psychedelic Underground, and Power, Corruption, and Lies all define the music of their period, but still sound just as great now, even decades later.

Read more My Year in Lists here

Next time on My Year in Lists:

Jimi Hendrix wonders Are You Experienced?, we take a more in-depth look at the development of Krautrock with Can’s Monster Movie and Soundtracks, and travel with Husker Du to a Zen Arcade.

Want to keep tabs on all of our updates? follow us on twitter @reviewtobenamed (follow us here).

Jordan's Review: 30 Rock, Season 5, Episode 16: TGS Hates Women

Tina Fey is one of the funniest people alive. There is no doubt about that at all in my mind. One of the biggest issues she must have had throughout her life is the fact that in addition to being one of the funniest people alive, she also happens to be a woman. To me, this doesn't present a problem, but to society at large, it can be a pretty big deal. So I'm sort of surprised that 30 Rock hasn't dealt with gender issues too prominently before this episode. I'm not surprised, however, that when it does it handles them deftly, honestly, and hilariously.

An important part of the point this episode is making lies in the distinction between Tina Fey and her onscreen counterpart Liz Lemon. For one thing, Tina is hilarious, while the show often displays just how unfunny TGS, and therefore Liz Lemon can be on a weekly basis. Additionally, while Liz is a liberal, it would be hard to say she's a thoughtful one. Liz knows the position to take, but her politics, and her tendency toward mishap, make her into a huge overreactionary, to the point that she often ends up undermining her honestly liberal goals (like, for example, when she got her neighbor detained as a terrorist back in season two). Tina Fey is a thoughtful and insightful woman, but she's also a satirist who is perfectly at home with self deprecation and so in Liz Lemon she has created the ultimate satire of herself (or at least of her public perception).

This episode's A-plot focuses on Abby Flynn, apparently the freshest female voice in comedy at a time when TGS is accused of hating women (and for good reason. The entire Jenna-centric episode seems to boil down to period jokes). Liz hires her to beef up the show's feminist cred, only to discover she is actually a scantily clad, infantilized sexpot that seems engineered to gain the approval of men more than to actually champion the cause of women. This allows the show to take several jabs at the many women in our culture who can be accused (and often rightly) of the same thing, but by episode's end, it also lets Liz look like an overreactionary when its revealed that Abby (who used to be a brunette comic named Abbby Grossman) has changed her voice and her appearance not to gain the attention and approval of men, but to hide from the crazed ex-husband who is trying to kill her. I think when all is said and done the ending is a bit of a cheat, allowing the show to go pretty far in its condemnation of faux-feminism that actually just masks a way for women to play the game in a "man's world" without actually improving their positions, but keeping it from actually landing the punch where it was aimed. Instead of letting Abby's transformation say something about how sexist our society still is and how someone like Abby probably would be more successful as a baby-talking porn star caricature than as a smart, funny stand up comic, the show went with a "Sleeping with the Enemy" joke. It was still very funny, but like many episodes when 30 Rock tries to have a political message, it didn't exactly know how to stick the landing.

The B-plot, on the other hand was pure gold, putting Alec Baldwin up against the hilarious Chloe Moretz in a stand-off that I hope becomes a recurring rivalry in the mold of Jack and Devon Banks. Moretz here plays the granddaughter of the CEO of Kabletown and the heir to his job, a job which Jack covets. Her Kailey is a brilliant and ambitious schemer who uses her age and a pretended interest in Oceanography to send Jack on a nostalgic trip back to his youth and his dream of being an explorer/adventurer. It was a brilliant move, but even better was the final showdown in which Jack confronts Kailey and she shows her true colors and pledges to take him down. Please, please, please bring Chloe Moretz back, 30 Rock. She was hysterical tonight and I can only imagine the rivalry between Kailey and Jack will get better with repeated exposure.

This was a solid episode of the show that landed some political punches and a ton of laughs but failed to get the K.O. it should have. I don't know if Tina Fey decided long ago that the show should always prize comedy over political messages (not a bad decision by any stretch, considering how funny she is and how hysterical her show can be), or if the show's writers are just wary of stepping over the line and seeming too "message-y" but whenever the show becomes a political satire for an episode, it seems to have its heart, and more importantly its mind in the right place, but it always seems afraid to go in for the kill. This leaves the satiric episodes of 30 Rock feeling incomplete and under-done, but when a half-baked satire is as good as this one, its hard to find too much to complain about.

Grade: B+


-"This is Amelia Earhart. I'm halfway across the Pacific. Oh no, my period!"

-"New Blood is the Lifeblood of Every Company's Blood. He's not a strong writer."

-"The aunt smokes pot and "paints," the father is trying to sail an inflatable castle across the Atlantic."

-"She should be careful around the crew. New York gives us a tax break for hiring sex offenders. Its a terrible program."

-"Tracy Chapman. She's a woman, right?"

-"Bob is short for Bobbert."

-"I'm not going to live forever no matter ho much gold I give Poseidon."

-"Is this where you got your V card punched?" "What? No! Does this look like the make up room at a clown college?"

-"Slaves of Jesus, hear my tale..."

-"Mr. Donaghy, what are you doing here?" "I could ask you the same question, but that would make no sense."

"The ocean is awesome and for winners. YOU'RE for tools!"

Jordan's Review: Community, Season 2, Episode 17: Intro to Political Science

After last week's harrowing journey into Pierce's soul, it was obvious that Community would need to go lighter to keep things from straying into the abyss. And so, Pierce's cruelty last week was barely mentioned (except when the group wondered if they were glad to have him back) and the show was turned over, kinda sorta, to my favorite coupling for a Jeff and Annie storyline. Jeff and Annie have phenomenal chemistry that the show can turn on whenever it needs a great romantically charged episode. But the problem with the pairing, and, I think, the problem with "Intro to Political Science" is that the show doesn't honestly know how it would handle a Jeff and Annie relationship. The writers recognize, just as Jeff does, that Annie is 19, and that having her date someone in his thirties would probably be very creepy. Empirically, this is true, but I wish the writers would get over their squeamishness already, because the more they return to this plotline, the clearer it seems that these two belong together.

When Community began, it set Jeff and Britta up as the "will-they-won't-they," but thankfully the show pretty much abandoned that idea once Jeff and Annie worked so well. I love the Jeff-Britta pairing now mostly because it has become some freakish revelry of self-loathing that is a terrible thing the two keep seeming to fall into. That's much funnier than trying to put them together, and it makes episodes when the show decides it wants Jeff-Britta tension that much funnier. What the writers haven't quite figured out is hoe to let Jeff have what he, and everyone else, seems to want. This is good because it never makes the stalling portion of any "will-they-won't they" feel forced, a big problem in most tv shows that fear putting their couple together too early. In this case, the two have real reasons not to be together, and it never feels like stalling when Jeff is uncomfortable with his attraction. Yet that uncomfortableness squelched the ending of this episode, which took the pairing so far, and then no further, on their road to a relationship.

The construct that this tension plays out in is pretty predictable, really, but also pretty funny so I can't complain too much. Joe Biden is coming to Greendale (ok...) and the Dean needs to elect a student body president to meet with him. Obviously Annie, ever the idealist, wants to be elected, and Jeff, ever the cynic, wants to prove to her that politics is silly and the least common denominator wins votes. You expect both of them to behave exactly as they do, and this might have gotten a little boring for its patness were it not for the chemistry between Jeff and Annie, whose competition is as much about winning the other's respect as it is about winning the election.

The Election is pretty great stuff, honestly. The Dean is wearing a ridiculous Uncle Sam get up, and we get appearances from some great recurrign characters, including Starburns, Leonard, and Magnitude. We're left with a strange, Greendale-ized refraction of the 2008 election as Leonard plays his age card and changes his name to Rodriguez to court the Latino vote, and Magnitude just yells "pop pop," is youthful, and seems to want to bring an eternal party to Greendale. Yet this is a terrible, silly place and so instead of electing either of the only sort of legitimate candidates, Greendale elects South Park president (with help from Troy and Abed, who both voted for it).

While all of this is going on, Abed has a suitably strange, abortive romance with an awkward Secret Service Agent (Eliza Coupe, who played a sassy intern in late-era Scrubs) who continues to try to make him seem threatening so she can spend more time with him. There wasn't much here, and I kind of hope to never see her character again, but it was a little fun watching someone be truly interested in Abed and watching him actually know just what to do to win her heart (like saying the recipe for napalm during his campus TV election coverage). Look, there were some very good things in this episode, but ultimately it was felled by something this show almost never has a problem with: tentativeness. Community is a brave, audacious, experimental sitcom that seems willing to try just about anything. Its time for the writers to man up and give Jeff and Annie the real effort their plotline deserves.

Grade: B


-I LOVED Jeff's Real World audition. I'd like to see more young, stupid Jeff in the future please.

-Abed keeps notches on the desk of "Classic Winger's" and also, apparently of "Notches."

-Newscrawl items: Apparently Slater is still missing (?), there are still chicken finger shortages, Starburns REALLY wants people to call him Alan, and there will be no paintball this spring. Also, it looks like there may be a Western episode in the show's future.

-"I'm more a silverback gorilla with the claws of a lion, the teeth of a shark, and the quite dignity of a tortoise."

-"I believe humankind should not be governed!...I don't care." "Well, its good to know there's a floor to this thing."

-"Its like God spilled a person."

-"Do you just constantly have your own side adventures?" "Yup." "...Me too..."

-Nice to see Greendale is still represented by the butthole flag from earlier this season.

-"I always found the distinction between duck and goose very arbitrary."

-"The margin of error is 98%." "Could be higher. We don't even know how to do a margin of error. We just talked to two people by the vending machines."

-I think our own Chris will be a little upset tonight, as his dream of an episode set around Greendale's TV Station seems to have been sort of crushed.

-"You smell like nice soap. I have to go. I'm sorry you aren't a more obvious threat to the country."

-Joe Biden: "I just had a dream that I was a regular president."

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Rachel's Review: Chuck, Season 4 Ep. 16: Chuck vs. the Masquerade

I know you’re not supposed to switch horses mid-stream, but I hope the RTBN faithful won’t mind if I jump into the middle of a season of Chuck to start reviews. For those of you who haven’t had the opportunity to revel in the ridiculousness that is Chuck, here’s the skinny: the titular Chuck is a geek-turned spy who has fallen into his place with the CIA after accidently being exposed to a supercomputer program called the Intercept, which has given him the ability to recall all types of confidential information and spy training when triggered (“flashing”). His now-girlfriend Sarah started as the agent tasked to protect him, and the lovable curmudgeon Casey is their muscle. Chuck’s former haunt, the Buy More (think Best Buy) is peopled with delightfully awkward nerds. Hilarity ensues. Now to the episode.

It’s Valentine’s Day in the Chuck-o-verse (ok, it’s a week late, but whatever), and Morgan and Chuck are pulling out all the sappy Hallmark stops. But this is Chuck we’re talking about, so, of course, nothing really goes according to plan. While the roommates have carefully coordinated plans, the team soon gets called into a mission: crashing a fancy masquerade party to find a counter intelligence agent on a murdering spree. It provides ample opportunity for the smoking hot Sarah to wear a delightfully revealing dress (although, considering the earlier scene of Sarah decked out in skimpy V-Day lingerie, complete with wings, it isn’t as stunning as usual). The typical scene unfolds: hot girl, hot dress, big gun.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, Chuck’s sister Ellie and her husband, Captain Awesome (also known as Devon) are desperately searching for ways to get their new daughter to sleep so they can sleep together (literally and figuratively). A stuffed sheep that plays “Send Me On My Way” seems to do the trick, but only for a while. When the team returns from their mission (in apparently no time), Casey does his best to throw a major monkey wrench in Morgan’s sexy-time Valentine’s Day plans with his girlfriend Alex, who happens to be Casey’s daughter. So he trades paperwork with damage control, and Sarah decides it’s time to spend some quality time with her fiancée’s best friend. Sarah the automaton fails to grasp the difference between toys and collectible action figures, sending Morgan into a tailspin on whether or not he’s just a child, (worries that Casey planted earlier) inspiring him to move out of the apartment he shares with Chuck as a means of instant maturation.

Chuck, meanwhile, attempts to turn Vivienne, the newly discovered daughter of the evil Alexei Volkoff, the villain extraordinaire who is this season’s main target. They bond over being the unwitting children of spies, as Casey is wooed by the NSA, which appeals to his aloof juggernaut nature. A plan is hatched to lure out the evil psycho picking off Volkoff lieutenants, Boris, by using Vivienne as bait. Chuck has to juggle the mission with his Morgan issues, which are made all the more moving by the use of an Alexi Murdoch track to play up their nostalgia, embodied in the splitting up of the accumulated trappings of their geekery.

Sarah is sent in as a double for Vivienne to draw out Boris, but when the plan backfires and Sarah is ambushed and identified, Vivienne decides to take the reins (actual reins. She’s on a horse.) of her own life for the first time and become more than just a pawn. Chuck induces a flash so that Vivienne can help the (tranquilized) Sarah and Casey escape. But when Vivienne returns to the stable, Boris is waiting for her, and points out how her father, who, on the surface, made it seem like he was trying to protect her from the hard life of a terrorist, has actually been grooming her to takeover his company. And she proves him right when she shoots him in the chest with a rifle hidden in her saddle. She then covers up the information Boris gave her about “the Key” to keeping Volkoff industries together, feigning ignorance when Chuck asks.

Chuck returns from Castle, the team’s headquarters beneath the Buy More, the find Morgan all packed up. Blah blah blah, profession of bromance love. They decide to give their Han Solo and Chewbacca action figures to baby Clara, so they don’t have to split up the dynamic duo. Under their watchful eyes, Clara finally falls asleep and Ellie and Awesome hit the sack (and promptly pass out).

In a twist, Casey, who originally turned down the NSA because of his ties to Burbank and the team, learns that the agency is creating their own headquarters at Castle, leaving enough room for split loyalties and dilemmas to grow in upcoming episodes. Then we cut to Vivienne at Volkoff headquarters in Moscow, using her necklace to open the doors to a secret compartment as she takes up the mantle of her father. And a new villain is born.

The heart of show is Chuck’s ongoing struggle to balance his personal life with his burgeoning career as a spy. He desperately tries to protect and help everyone he knows, holding them all together. His overly emotive nature has melted the cold, cold heart of Sarah, and it’s nice to see her coming into her own emotions. And Casey’s growing fatherly instincts are charming, when juxtaposed with his typically surly nature.

But my problem with this episode is the same problem I’ve been having for most of this season. It’s just nothing special. There’s a cold open about an evil-doer juxtaposed with a scene of domestic tranquility, followed by the planning phases, diluted with a B-plot. Then comes mission, regrouping, new mission, narrow escape, and a return to the home front, where the personal issues of the characters are made out to be just as complex as the covert operations they engage in. While the delightful Timothy Dalton as Volkoff provided a bit of a respite from the wrought story line, with his surprisingly well-timed humor and alternating sociopathic/hilarious behavior, his arrest three episodes ago has left a bit of an action vacuum. But it was an arrest, not an assassination, so here’s hoping for an escape.

I’ll keep watching, because Zachary Levi is adorable and Yvonne Strahovski is a babe, but I hope that the writers pick up the banter, get a good villain, and do something to distract us from the fact that our main couple is now together, which makes for some relatively boring television, even if they’re spies.

Overall Grade: C

Stray Observations

-Children eat all time previously dedicated to sex. Who knew?

-“It’s like our souls are so close, they’re vibrating.”

-“Don’t get me wrong, I’m a huge Kubrick Fan.”

-“I’ve been to those kinds of parties and they look nothing like this.”

Monday, February 21, 2011

Jordan's Review: How I Met Your Mother, Season 6, Episode 17: Garbage Island

I love How I Met Your Mother flashforwards. In the show's prime, a flashforward meant foreshadowing about future developments. It meant hints about the mother. It meant a clever reminder of this show's frame tale premise that allowed for non-linear steps that kept the story interesting. So when "Garbage Island" opened with a flashforward to Hong Kong in 2021, I got really excited really fast. What would be happening in the lives of the characters then, and how would that give us some foreshadowing about what was to come? My feelings about this episode, and my worries about this show when it has an off week can all be summed up in what that flashforward does, and more importantly what it doesn't do.

What do we learn about our characters from the flashforward? We find out that Ted is married with two kids in 2021. Which, from the age of his children in 2030, WE'VE KNOWN SINCE THE PILOT. We learned that Zoey isn't the mother. Which we've known since we met her, when we weren't introduced to her at a wedding at which Ted was the best man. So we learned nothing of substance about our characters or where they're headed. Unless you're really invested in Wendy the Waitress and her happiness, this flashforward did nothing for you. Which is a continuous problem for How I Met Your Mother these days. The show, at its worst, is all about wheel spinning and stall tactics. In a way, it always has been. The show has to put off Ted meeting the mother until its entering the endgame, because it can't run too long after she's introduced (though I think they could do around two seasons with her personally, to match the length we spent on the Ted-Robin saga). I understand that. But at the same time, most of the previous stalling has made sense from a character development perspective. Robin showed Ted he was ready to get serious. Stella showed Ted he was ready to get married. What Zoey will show Ted I'm not really sure. And while it may be something (it may even be the lesson she started teaching us tonight), I'm not sure how much farther Ted realistically needs to go before he gets married.

I've said it before, but high concept shows need to be cognisant of the fact that they can't run forever. Weeds went on too long and completely fell apart (I hear it got a bit better this last season, but personally I stopped watching about halfway through season four, after the show left Agrestic). Dexter has been spinning wheels for seasons now. Breaking Bad has been phenomenal so far, and gotten better every season, but I constantly worry it will run too long and fall apart. Similarly, How I Met Your Mother is a show with a lifespan. Honestly, as I've previously mentioned, I think the show probably should have ended after season five, allowing that season to introduce us to and get us to fall in love with the mother. It didn't though, and at this point all I can hope for is that it enter the endgame soon, before it truly tarnishes its legacy beyond repair.

Last week I talked about how difficult it is to analyze the quality of a season midstream, and this is a perfect example of that: the last several weeks have been pretty solid, but this week didn't really work, and that's because it all felt like wheel spinning. The A-plot had Ted coming into contact with The Captain, which was nice since Kyle Machlachlan is always excellent on this show. It also had Ted learning that when a relationship is formed, there is often someone who is hurt by that. In this case, its The Captain, and from one perspective, Ted really is the bad guy. He stole another man's wife, and he hurt that man in the process. But Zoey was looking to be stolen, and if the two of them ended up happy together, wouldn't it be worth the pain in the end? We know they won't, so that's a little bit moot, but its a nice idea anyway.

In a subplot, Marshall is still dealing with the loss of his father and having the same career crisis he's been having since season one's "Life Among the Gorillas" (one of my least favorite early episodes of the show, by the way). He really wants to save the planet, but he also wants to make enough money to support the family he's about to have. This crisis is realistic enough I guess, but we've done it before and at this point (or at least, as executed here) it just felt like wheel spinning to keep Lily from getting pregnant too soon. Meanwhile, Barney is smitten with Nora, which is sweet and all, but probably ultimately meaningless, at least if you still hold out hope for Barney and Robin (which, sadly, I do, even after the catastrophe that was their first coupling). Nora may actually help Barney to become comfortable with intimacy, which would be real character development, but she also feels like wheel spinning before Barney and Robin finally get together and have it handled correctly.

This episode wasn't bad, not really. I laughed several times, and none of the plotlines were complete duds. But it did remind me of my consistent worry at this point in the show: that its just spinning its wheels and trying to run as long as it possibly can. I don't mind this show stalling with purpose, like it used to. If Ted really needed more development before he met the mother, I would buy it. But the show hasn't given me a reason to think he does. I don't want Marshall and Lily to have a kid because I think babies can kill a sitcom dead, but I also don't want the show to stall as obviously as it has been this season. It seems like every few weeks there's a new, minor setback to the couple getting pregnant, just to stretch this story out to season-length, and that's as lazy as it is boring and repetitive. And Barney has gone through fitful movements toward an actual relationship before, only to reset, because the show is afraid to change its breakout character. It either needs to man up and let Barney develop or stop flirting with the idea and then jumping back. I'm ok with a Nora relationship as a stall tactic before Barney and Robin get together, but only if she's a real girlfriend to Barney. If he dates her for a few weeks then breaks up with her because of his intimacy fears, well, it'll just feel like a cheap rehash of the Robin story. So this episode wasn't bad, but it did remind me of my worries about the show. How I Met Your Mother needs to move forward. If it stalls in place like this for too long, it will tarnish its legacy and will ultimately be a worse show in total than it should be. This show shouldn't run much longer (and I say this as a die hard fan), but as long as it is on it needs to make a better effort to keep things moving.

Grade: B-


-"You should work at a carnival." "I try, but they're pretty strict with backgrounds."

-"We're exes. We're probably due for a backslide. Or we could just do it the normal way."

-"But L'amour means love, they're going to the cafe of love!"

-I really didn't know about garbage island until tonight. Nor did I know it was actually twice the size of Texas. Holy shit. I wish I cared enough to actually do something.

-"I'm Barney Stinson. I don't get smitten. I smite!"

-"With great penis comes great responsibility."

-"Damn good brandy." A Twin Peaks joke in a scene with Kyle Machlachlan. Huzzah!

-"Maritime justice demands physical retribution! Who is this flower child and what has he done with my friend Ted Mosby?"

-Want to keep tabs on all of our updates? follow us on twitter @reviewtobenamed (follow us here).

Hey, It's Rachel

So…My name is Rachel and I’m rather thrilled to be joining Review to Be Named. I’m really not nearly cool enough to be a contributor, but I swear I’ll do my best to fake it (first time I’ve said it, not the first time I’ve thought it). I enjoy trips to the Zoo, fruit snacks, and television shows that are so awful they’re awesome. Picking a favorite TV show/movie is basically a Sophie’s Choice, so I can’t make any definitive assertions, but some current options include: Community, Mad Men, The West Wing, The Fall, Casablanca, and Pocahontas. As a Lit. major, I also read every once in a while. Look to me for the low brow and the girlie…or, at least, more girlie than Jordan and Sam (at least most of the time).

Want to keep tabs on all of our updates? follow us on twitter @reviewtobenamed (follow us here).

Thursday, February 17, 2011

My Year in Lists: Week Seven

By Jordan

My Year in Lists chronicles one blogger’s quest to understand why music matters to us and what makes it a lasting aspect of our existence. To facilitate this examination, three music fans have contributed a list of 52 essential albums. Each week this year, one album off of each list will be analyzed in an attempt to understand why some music sticks with us and what it means for our lives.

“People are still looking at Picasso… At artists who broke through the constraints of their time period to come up with something that was unique and original. In the form that they worked in, in the form of popular music, no one will ever be more revolutionary, more creative, and more distinctive than The Beatles.”-Robert Greenfield, former Rolling Stone associate editor

“Everyone should own a copy of that album.”-Henry Rollins, on Fun House

“They’d showed how far an underground, punk-inspired rock band could go within the industry without whoring out its artistic integrity in any obvious way. They’d figured out how to buy in, not sell out—in other words, they’d achieved the American Bohemian Dream.”-Charles Aaron, Spin Magazine on R.E.M.

“R.E.M. mark the point when post-punk turned into alternative rock.”-Stephen Thomas Erlewine, Allmusic

Opinions are, by their nature, singular and in a way infallible. If you tell me that vanilla ice cream is your favorite flavor, that’s an immutable fact I’m faced with. I can’t convince you that chocolate is better (though, come on. It is.), because you like what you like, and there’s nothing anyone can do to change that fact. When it comes to matters of opinion, I fully recognize that there is no right and there is no wrong. An opinion is someone’s personal outlook; it will always be correct to them, regardless of how you feel about it.

That being said, some opinions are better than others. If you tell me that Crossroads is your favorite movie, you may have very good reasons for holding that opinion. Maybe you think it’s the perfect metaphor for the ascendance of bubble gum pop or an ideal picture of a certain moment in American history (the time when Britney Spears was Queen of teen Pop, and thus before she became a bald crazy lady we were forced to worry about as a culture), or maybe you just think it’s so bad it’s good and you can laugh at its failings. All of these are defensible reasons for enjoying something, but the point is that Crossroads requires a defense. It is clear that what you like is of much less importance than why you like it; I think a defense can be made for enjoying almost anything that would allow me to accept the person’s taste, even if it seems ludicrous to me on the surface.

Some opinions, however, don’t need a defense. If you think Citizen Kane or The Godfather are greatest movies of all time, I get that. They are of such high quality and contribute so much on so many levels that I don’t think twice about whether someone should call that their favorite movie of all time. My dear friend Ashley, a contributor to this blog and to this feature as one of the three list-makers at its center, has commented before that The Godfather is her favorite movie, but that sometimes she feels the choice is cliché. I maintain that it doesn’t matter; when something is at a certain level of excellence, calling it your favorite is totally defensible even if that’s what the rest of the unwashed masses are doing.

This is why I feel no shame when I say that The Beatles are my favorite band of all time. How could I? Over the course of the ‘60s the band changed the face of rock and roll, releasing masterpiece after masterpiece and creating such an expansive, prolific catalogue of songs that there’s a Beatles song for every mood, every style, and every moment of any given day. They are the band that was quite literally bigger than Jesus Christ (even if John did have to apologize for saying it) and pretty much every band that came after is lying if they claim to not owe an unpayable debt to the Fab Four. Every rock band, pop sensation, politically motivated singer-songwriter and person who thinks about picking up a guitar owes a debt to The Beatles. Even those at the most experimental fringes of music have to look at “Revolution No. 9” as a source of inspiration.

So it would be impossible for me to do the band justice in the few hundred words I can reserve for them. If you don’t know the story of The Beatles, from their rise out of Liverpool to their fall after that last set played on the roof of the studio on Abbey Road, there are about a billion books, articles, movies and TV specials that will tell it to you in greater detail and with more poise and ability than I can attempt. I will confine myself, therefore to an examination of just the album at hand, Collin’s pick for this week, the band’s fifth British album (and ninth American album, due to all the creative rereleases), Help!

Fit between my least favorite Beatles album, Beatles For Sale, and Rubber Soul, this album can be considered the last of the band’s early period, when they were still writing exclusively pop-rock songs about love, and the quiet beginnings of where they would be heading starting with their next album. Written as a soundtrack to their second feature film (following 1964’s A Hard Day’s Night) the album finds the band at the height of their early period game, riding high on Beatlesmania and a continuous stream of #1 hits that seemed like it might never end.

“Help!” the albums opening track, and the title for both the album and the film, was written primarily by John Lennon, though it was polished by Paul McCartney. Ranked 29 on Rolling Stone’s “500 Greatest Songs of All Time” list, it is also one of John Lennon’s favorite songs he ever wrote. Lennon remarked in a 1970 interview that “Help!” and “Strawberry Fields Forever” were the most genuine and personal songs he wrote while with The Beatles. The song is also a turning point in the roles of the group, as it is the last of Lennon’s five number one hits in a row (on American charts) before Paul McCartney took over as the hit maker, producing eight number ones in a row beginning with “Yesterday.”

“You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away,” written and performed by Lennon, was heavily influenced by Bob Dylan. The song is supposedly about the band’s manager Brian Epstein a closeted homosexual (seeing as homosexuality was still a criminal offense in Britain at the time). Lennon’s singing “two foot small” instead of “two foot tall” was a mistake, but one he decided to leave in because “all those pseuds will really love it.”

After two albums in which George Harrison was not able to contribute a single song, Help! Has two Harrison tracks in “I Need You” and “You Like Me Too Much,” both of which discuss his building relationship with the woman who would soon be his wife. “Ticket to Ride” was written by Lennon (though McCartney claims he should be given 40% credit for his extensive contributions) and is considered an important step in Lennon’s development as a songwriter. The song is considered harder, heavier, and more psychologically complex than what had come before. “I’ve Just Seen a Face,” written and performed by McCartney, is one of the few songs the band ever did with a guitar lead and no bass backing. The song is the closest to a country song the band ever recorded, nearly a bluegrass track in speed and tempo.

Paul McCartney’s masterpiece “Yesterday,” is the most covered song of all time, being recorded over 3,000 times by different artists. Voted the best song of the 20th Century in a BBC Radio 2 poll in 1999 and voted the #1 pop song of all time by both MTV and Rolling Stone, “Yesterday” is the first song recorded completely by a single member of the band, something that would be done much more often as the group began to have personal problems and divergent artistic tastes in the coming years. McCartney claims to have written the entire melody in a dream, only to wake up and rush to a piano before he forgot it. It was originally called “Scrambled Eggs” and McCartney tinkered with it constantly throughout the filming of Help! and the recording of the album, much to the chagrin of the rest of the band. They may have been upset at his constant tinkering, but the result is undoubtedly one of the greatest songs ever written. The influence of The Beatles is impossible to describe, yet they are arguably the greatest band in history. So they’ve got that going for them.

Turning our attention to Tab’s picks this week, The Stooges and Fun House, we look at a tiny little band with a giant influence on the development of punk rock, The Stooges. Although they were commercially unsuccessful and often performed before indifferent or outright hostile audiences in their heyday, The Stooges are considered instrumental to the rise of punk rock, alternative rock, and heavy metal. Formed by James Newell Osterberg, known as Iggy Pop due to his first band The Iguanas and a local figure he somewhat resembled called “Pop,” the band aimed to create a whole new form of blues music.

Their self-titled debut album was focused on replicating the basis of the band’s live set at the time, and was recorded as a five song set. When they submitted the album to their label, Elektra, according to Iggy Pop, “We handed (the five song version of the album) in and they refused it. They said, ‘There aren’t enough songs!’ So we lied and said, ‘That’s Ok, we’ve got lots more songs.” Originally mixed and produced by The Velvet Underground’s John Cale, the studio rejected the mix and forced the band to remix them with Elektra president Jac Holzman. The album is ranked 185 on Rolling Stone’s “500 Greatest Albums of All Time” list and the opening track “1969,” a rollicking celebration of late ‘60s rebellious youth, was included in the magazine’s “100 Greatest Guitar Songs of All Time” list.

The album’s second song, and my personal favorite Stooges song “I Wannt Be Your Dog” established the band’s cutting edge sound at the forefront of the birth of punk rock and heavy metal. The song discusses the singer’s willingness to prostrate and degrade himself at the feet of his beloved, and is seen as a self-loathing monument to the state of blue collar tedium and alienation of the late 60’s industrial Midwest. “We Will Fall,” the epic 10 minute follow up to “I Wanna Be Your Dog” is a darkly melodic, methodically hypnotic prophecy about the downfall of mankind through the lens of a lonely man’s attempts to comfort himself to sleep (and possibly into death, the final slumber) while alone in a hotel room.

The band’s second album, Fun House, was also a commercial failure, but has been considered deeply influential on the development of punk rock. Iggy Pop has said that the album is greatly influenced by the sound of Howlin’ Wolf, saying, “That stuff is Wolfy, at least as I could do it.” The album’s opening track “Down on the Street” was recorded when Elektra suggested that “Loose,” the intended album opener was a weak opening track. “Loose” then became the album’s second track, and it features a simple guitar line and a pretty obvious innuendo. When you hear the line “I’ll stick it deep inside” in a song called “Loose” you more likely than not understand that the band is referring to attempts to plug the drain on a shower, and nothing else. Nothing else.

“1970” is a spiritual sequel to the previous album’s “1969,” aiming to capture the feeling of that year just as the previous song had. As such, the song is about being quite intoxicated and feeling all right, which is exactly where the whole of America was in 1970 if my history lessons were accurate. The Stooges are credited with creating, or at least largely influencing, the genre of punk rock, and have been cited as major influences by Sex Pistols, Sonic Youth, Kurt Cobain, Jack White, Gogol Bordello and Red Hot Chili Peppers, among others. Punk writers Legs Mcneil was a champion of the band, and Henry Rollins called Fun House and The Velvet Underground’s White Light/White Heat the two greatest rock records ever made.

Slightly a decade after the emergence of punk rock, R.E.M. emerged from the end of post-punk and became the first major band of the alternative rock movement. Formed in Athens, Georgia in 1980 by Michael Stipe on lead vocals, Peter Buck on guitar, Mike Mills on bass and backing vocals and Bill Berry on drums and percussion, R.E.M. is considered the first great alternative rock bands. Murmur, the band’s debut album and Ashley’s pick this week, was released in 1983 and built a reputation over the next few years as the band released more albums and toured constantly.

Upon its release, the album was lauded for its unique sound, Stipe’s cryptic lyrics and Buck’s “jangly” guitar style. The band’s label I.R.S. refused to let the band’s producer Mitch Easter produce the album and forced them to work with Stephen Hague instead. Hague made the group do multiple takes and demoralized them with constant criticism. He then took their first completed track “Catapault” to a different studio and added keyboard without the band’s permission and to their dismay. The band asked I.R.S. to let them record with Mitch Easter, and due to the bad experience with Hague, the band recorded through a process of negation, refusing to incorporate rock clichés like guitar solos and synthesizers, aiming for a more timeless feel. In this respect the band was successful, as Murmur sounds like it could have been recorded at pretty much any period in time, and still be a solid rock album.

“Radio Free Europe,” the opening track and the band’s first single, features the soon-to-be-trademark unintelligible lyrics. When the band first began playing the song live before signing with a label, Stipe would just improvise different lyrics every time the song was played. While he has rejected the claim that the lyrics on Murmur are indecipherable, he acknowledges that “Radio Free Europe” is “complete babbling.” The band’s second single, “Talking About Passion” has been called a “hunger song” by Stipe though the only clear reference to this in the song is a single lyric about “empty mouths.”

My favorite song on the album, “Perfect Circles” is purposefully opaque and can be interpreted in many different ways. Peter Buck says the song reminds him of children playing football in the evening. Michael Stipe calls it a song about longing in a relationship, though he says “It was an intensely personal song for me. I really like that it can mean two different things… It has the exact same feeling, but the details are different.” R.E.M. would go on to achieve mammoth success (and we will revisit the band at a point of huge success when we talk about Automatic for the People later this year), and laid out the path to similar success in alternative music that would be followed by Sonic Youth, The Replacements, Nirvana, Butthole Surfers, Pavement, Live, Dream Syndicate and dozens of others in the decades after the band’s debut. Most recently, The Decemberists new album The King is Dead has been heavily influenced by the band, with Peter Buck contributing to several tracks. Colin Meloy, The Decemberist’s lead singer, has said, “I’ve basically been writing fake R.E.M. songs my whole career. And I don’t think I’m alone there."

So yes, opinions are individual, singular, and in a way infallible. You can love The Beatles, The Stooges, and R.E.M. or you can wish you’d never heard them and that this column didn’t even exist. What is tougher to do is to deny the vast influence each of these bands has had on music in the last several decades. R.E.M. created alternative rock as we think of it today and blazed the trail that dozens of indie bands would follow in the years to come. The Stooges created punk rock and heavy metal, paving the way for R.E.M and countless other bands. And The Beatles? The Beatles changed everything.

Read more My Year in Lists here

Next on My Year in Lists:

We look at the old guard with The Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds, examine the New Order with Power, Corruption, and Lies, and travel with Amon Duul to a Psychedelic Underground.

Want to keep tabs on all of our updates? follow us on twitter @reviewtobenamed (follow us here).