Archive | September, 2011

Show of the Day: Life on Mars (UK Series)

30 Sep

I watched Person of Interest’s first episode on CBS, and it looked like it was trying to be the rare fusion between science fiction and a police procedural.  This is unusual to say the least, and it didn’t quite work in the first episode, or at least seemed just like a procedural with an irrelevant-to-the-show sci-fi premise.  One rare example of a show that melded these two genres in a way that not only appealed to both audiences but put an interesting spin on each of the genres was the British Life on Mars.

The premise is ridiculous but simple at heart.  At the beginning of the show, Sam Tyler, a police officer (Detective Chief Insprector, to be technical, in British terms) in Manchester gets hit by a car and wakes up as a slightly lower ranked police officer (Detective Inspector) in 1973.  How he got there is a mystery to us and to him; it could be a coma, time travel, madness, or post-death.

The show in practice operates as follows.  Each episode contains a new case, in which Sam and his 1970s boss, Gene Hunt, as old-school as old-school gets, even for the ‘70s, have to solve a case (along with the members of the squad, occasional love interest Annie Cartwright, incompetent Ray Carling, and youngster Chris Skelton) clashing constantly between Hunt’s traditional and often racist and sexist methods and Tyler’s newer and more scientific and rational theories.  It sounds as cliché as cliché can get but the constant frustration of Tyler to be able to explain things he knows from our present, plus the quite frankly excellent execution of what sounds like an extremely simplistic procedural makes it more than interesting to very good.

While this is all going on, we are reminded several times an episode that something is wrong here and that we’re watching a science fiction show. Tyler hears voices constantly from televisions, telephones and radios telling him things, or sounding like voices from the future talking about him in the third person.  He also sees a young girl who tells him things.  He brings up his situation, aware how insane it sounds, only to Annie, who things he’s crazy and does her best to persuade him that there’s nothing going on except he’s in 1973.  Sometimes the paranormal phenomena deals with the case in hand, and in one episode the criminal is one Tyler locked away as a much older man in the future.  Future knowledge is used for humorous purposes as well with the insensitive Hunt making jokes about things Sam and we know come to pass in the future, and with Sam referring to technology that doesn’t exist and having the rest of his squad be confused.

The two aspects of the show, which could easily clash, instead blend beautifully.  As with most British shows, its run was relatively short, with a total of sixteen one hour episodes, and the series may have benefited from the relatively short format, especially the science fiction aspects.

I can’t honestly speak to the American version.  I never got around to watching it, and I’ve heard mixed things (I know the ending is different, but the ending isn’t really that important, though I’m glad they at least got to end it).  In addition, the series had a sequel of sorts in Ashes to Ashes about another police officer who is shot and ends up with the same characters, aside from Sam and Annie, in 1981, in London instead ofManchester.  I have not seen this either, though it received more mixed reviews than its predecessor.

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Ranking the Shows I Watch – 18: Dexter

29 Sep

Dexter is a show that more than any other show I watch is season-based.  What I mean is that, within each season, the show is entirely serial – watching episode 6 in any season out of context would be absolutely useless (although Dexter has the longest “previously on” catch ups of any show I’ve ever seen – maybe this is why), but you could more or less, with a short catch up, watching season 3 without having seen the first two.   Each season has a very distinct set up – Dexter, serial killer of other serial killers and police blood spatter expert, goes tet a tet with a major villain of the season, who causes Dexter to look inside and deal with who he is to successfully deal with the villain.  Each season also has a primary serial killer, which the entire police force is dealing with, which, depending on the season may or may not be Dexter’s villain.

This past season a lot of people were disappointed with the show, feeling either that it was a pale imitation of the internal battles for Dexter’s soul of earlier seasons and/or they didn’t buy this new relationship Dexter was developing, particularly with Julia Stiles.  Personally, I felt that the show was still good and compelling, but that it was definitely also the weakest season yet and it made me continue to wonder about the writers’ ability to keep coming up with new ideas.  Dexter’s internal battle was the weakest of the seasons and the season kind of felt more written by numbers.  That said, there were absolutely some good points.  Johnny Lee Miller was a definitely highlight of the season, as the sociopathic leader of a group of childhood friends who torture and kill attractive young woman, who also doubles as a hugely successful motivation speaker (Jordan Chase’s (Miller’s character) constant refrain of “Take it now!” was easily the most repeated line from Dexter amongst my friends).  Another was Peter Weller as the sleazebag suspicious detective Quinn hires to go after Dexter, but who goes rogue after Quinn attempts to fire him.  Weller was delightfully despicable, but the way they wrapped up his plotline was rather unsatisfying and felt too easy.

Of course, what always prevents Dexter from being quite as great as it could be is that when he’s not on screen, the show often takes a step down.  Particularly the boring, frustrating and pointless feeling relationship battles between Angel and Maria laGuerta, which cause my brother, when watching the show to literally just skip them, are just not up to par.

Why It’s This High:  Michael C Hall is fantastic, as is the Dexter character, and the show, based on its premise should be way more repetitive than it somehow manages to be

Why It’s Not Higher:  It’s hard to prevent it from getting at least a little bit repetitive, also Dexter is great, the rest of the characters are just okay

Best Episode of the Most Recent Season:  I wish I remembered the episodes a little bit better, but we’ll say “Take It” in which Dexter and Julia Stiles track one of her attackers at one of Jordan Chase’s seminars

The Zeljko Ivanek Hall of Fame: Lenny Venito

28 Sep

Venito has made a career largely of playing an Italian stereotype, both in drama and in comedies.  At the beginning of his career, television appearances came infrequently.  In 1988, he appeared in an episode of The Equalizer, in 1992 in an episode of Here and Now, in 1995 in an episode of The Cosby Mysteries and in 1996 in an episode of New York Undercover.  He appeared in the TV movie Witness to the Mob about Sammy “The Bull” Gravano, who was played by Nicholas Turturro.

He next appeared as a regular in extremely short-lived sitcom Living in Captivity on Fox in 1998.  The show was about the ins and outs of a gated community inCalifornia.  Venito starred as Carmine Santucci, an auto parts mogul.  He next appeared on a 2002 episode of short-lived Dennis Leary show The Job and in six episodes of NYPD Blue as Julian Pisano.  He appeared in a Third Watch, a Hack, and as two different characters in two early 2000s Law & Order episodes, one of them as a mobster in Everybody Loves Raimondo’s, an episode I think I’ve seen half a dozen times.  He started to work more regularly in the 2000s, showing up in a The Practice, and in two The Jurys in 2004, and in two episodes of Blind Justice in 2005, one as his NYPD Blue character.

In 2006, he started a nine episode run in Sopranos as James “Murmur” Zancone.  Murmur was a friend and sponsor of Christopher and helps kidnap screenwriter J.T. Dolan.  He’s perhaps best remembered for helping to stealHollywoodgift baskets, wrestling them away from actors Ben Kingsley and Lauren Bacall.  In 2006, he also appeared in three episodes of more successful Dennis Leary show Rescue Me and in the pilot of The Black Donnellys.  In 2007, he was in two episodes of Queens Supreme and co-starred in the nine episodes aired of Knights of Prosperity, an ABC sitcom in which the title friends were plotting to rob Mick Jagger (the original title was Let’s Rob Mick Jagger.  Venito portrayed Francis “Squatch” Squacieri, next to Donal Logue and Sofia Vergara.  He was also in a Law & Order: Special Victims Unit in the same year and in an episode of Flight of the Conchords as John, an incompetent mugger who later befriends Jemaine, both of whom were abandoned by their partners.

In 2008, Venito was in single episodes of Life on Mars and Ugly Betty.  In 2009 he reprised his Flight on the Conchords mugger role in another episode.  In 2010 he appeared in a Law & Order: Criminal Intent, and showed up in two episodes of Bored to Death as a mounted policeman who hires Jonathan to steal back some incriminating photos of him before the police raid an S&M club.  He most recently appeared in two episodes of short-lived but well-reviewed FX show Lights Out and in an episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm as the not-otherwise-named one armed man.  He evades Larry several times during the episode, as no one else believes in his existence.

Ranking the Shows I Watch – 19: Friday Night Lights

27 Sep

I don’t compliment my brother all that often, but there is absolutely no denying he does a wonderful impression of Coach Eric Taylor giving an inspirational speech to a player, family member, or random Dillon resident.  I wish I could somehow textually demonstrate his not great but still enjoyable fake southern twang and repeat his impressions word for word, but the crux of it is that Coach Taylor will tell this person, who has asked him for advice, or come to him with a problem, something like, “I can’t tell you how …(fill in the blank with whatever the person needs help doing),” implying that he is unqualified to give advice on said topic.  After a breath, though, he comes in with a “but I can tell you this” and precedes to dish out some fairly generic speech which leaves the target invigorated, recharged and/or inspired.  This really encapsulates everything about the show.  It’s essentially a soap, but one that instead of being designed to be trashy and low-brow, is designed to make you feel good and that through everything people are innately good, and that all is right with the world (though they did make just about all the woman extremely attractive – they’re not crazy).  Although it’s by no means a religious show, if you had to convince someone who had been isolated away from humanity of the essential good of humankind, I can think of no better programming to send that message than Friday Night Lights (though you best show them whole seasons – things can get a little morally stickier in the cliffhangers).

What’s possibly more impressive by my standards, is that, while pushing this story that has a man-is-generally-good feel and with ridiculous inspirational dialogue happening in nearly episode that people don’t say in real life, or certainly not that often (to be fair, sports is one of the places where it happens, but at least half of the inspirational dialogue on the show has nothing to do with football), it seems neither righteous nor cloying.  Righteousness probably drives me crazy as much if not more than almost any other quality, and my nose for it usually picks it up if I think there are even the slightest traces left at the scene.  Yet, I don’t really feel it here.  A lot of things about the show aren’t perfect – the plots certainly aren’t the most original or interesting and I’m probably a little biased because subjectively it doesn’t have the feel I prefer in a show.  I can’t think of another show that pulls off what it does well though, and it’s watching for that alone if for nothing else.

Why It’s This High:  Kyle Chandler rules as does Connie Britton, and the heart the series shows should feel cheesy but always feel authentic

Why It’s Not Higher:  The show has great heart, but the plots can be incredibly simple and the dialogue, although feel good, is unmemorable

Best Episode of the Most Recent Season:  I’m not fully caught up yet so I’m limited, but “Kingdom” – the road trip was fun and heartwarming which is what the show does best, and watching coach get frustrated playing cards with the fellow coaches was fantastic

Power Rankings: Full House

26 Sep

(Power Rankings sum up:  Each week, we’ll pick a television show and rank the actors/actresses/contestants/correspondents/etc. based on what they’ve done after the series ended (unless we’re ranking a current series, in which case we’ll have to bend the rules).  Preference will be given to more recent work, but if the work was a long time ago, but much more important/relevant, that will be factored in as well)

Back to back early 90s show rankings.  Sometimes it just goes that way.

9.  Andrea Barber (as Kimmy Gibbler) – Yeah, she retired from acting after Full House ended.  Oh well.

8. Jodie Sweetin (as Stephanie Tanner) – She was in two episodes of Party of Five, one of Yes, Dear and hosted the second season of Fuse show Pants Off Dance Off.  That’s just about it.

7.  Dave Coulier – (as Joey Gladstone) – Most of his post-Full House work has been voice roles, including individual episodes of Pinky and the Brain, Extreme Ghostbusters, Dexter’s Laboratory, Teen Titans and six episodes of Robot Chicken.  He appeared in person in an episode of Nick Freno: Licensed Teacher, four of George & Leo and in The Even Stevens Movie.

6. Candace Cameron (as DJ Tanner) – She appeared in a number of TV movies in the late ‘90s, and in single episodes of Boy Meets World and That’s So Raven.  She finally got another real shot with her role in ABC Family gymnast show Make It Or Break It, where she is a regular and plays Summer Van Horn, a true to real life a devout Christian, who is also manager of the gym.

5. Ashley Olsen (as Michelle Tanner) – Here’s how this is going to work.  95% of Ashley’s post-Full House work is the same as Mary-Kate’s.  We’ll discuss that here.  Under Mary-Kate, we’ll just work with her separate work, which is why she’s ahead.  They both appeared in at the end of Full House and right after video series The Adventures of Mary-Kate and Ashley and You’re Invited to Mary-Kate and Ashley’s….  They starred together in a number of twin related films, such as It Takes Two in 1995, Passport to Paris in 1999, When In Rome in 2002, and New York Minute in 2004.  They also had their own animated series Mary-Kate and Ashley in Action! in 2001.

4.  Mary-Kate Olsen (also as Michelle Tanner) – she’s got all that Ashley good stuff, and 8 episodes of Weeds and 2011 film Beastly.  And yeah, when you’re that similar, that’s all you need to get ahead.

3.  Lori Loughlin (as Rebecca Donaldson-Katsopolis) – The last three are quite close, and I’m honestly not sure how to rank them at all.  Loughlin is probably the single most underrated cast member. Loughlin has appeared on a number of shows since the end of Full House.  She starred immediately after Full House ended in Hudson Street for its one season next to co-star Tony Danza.  Like many of her fellow cast members she spent the late ‘90s doing TV movies, but she also appeared in a Suddenly Susan and a Seinfeld as Patty, Jerry’s girlfriend who tries to get him to be more in touch with his feelings.  In 2001 she was on three Spin Citys and in 2002 she was on two Drew Carey Shows.  In 2004, she co-created and starred in Summerland on the WB as a fashion designer.  The show lasted a year.  She appeared on episodes of Ghost Whisperer and Jake In Progress, and from 2008 to 2011 starred in 90210 as Debbie Wilson.

2. Bob Sagat (as Danny Tanner) – Saget also struggled post-Full House, though his second gig as host of America’s Funniest Home Videos lasted a couple years after the end of Full House’s run.  He starred in the 21-episode WB series Raising Dad again as a widower, this time with two kids, Kat Dennings and Brie Larson.  He appeared in Dumb and Dumberer and in single episodes of Huff and Listen Up.  He directed the Norm McDonald film Dirty Work. In 2005, he started his role as the narrator of How I Met Your Mother, which he continues to this day.  He hosted the two year game show 1 vs. 100 and guest starred in episodes of Law & Order: SVU and Law & Order: Criminal Intent.  He also starred in the short-lived 2009 ABC sitcom Surviving Suburbia and has made multiple appearances as an exaggerated version of himself on Entourage.

1. John Stamos (as Jesse Katsopolis) – Stamos’ post-Full House career started out slower than he would have liked, as Stamos did nothing but a handful of TV movies until 2000, with names like Sealed with a Kiss and The Marriage Fool.  Time was kind though.  In 2001, he got a starring role in the show Thieves, which failed after 10 episodes.  2003 saw an appearance in a Friends episode and appearance in TV movie The Reagans.  In 2005, he starred in short-lived Jake in Progress and got a role on ER which he continued until the show’s end, for four seasons.  In 2010, he got involved in recurring roles in both Entourage, as himself, and Glee, as dentist Carl Howell.  In 2011, he appeared in a Law & Order: SVU.

Breaking Bad – Season 4, Episode 7: Problem Dog

25 Sep

(A few weeks ago, I started these Breaking Bad recaps, and then fell a bit behind.  Not one to give up without a fight, they’re still coming, just a tiny bit late.  I’m going to dump a few of them today, so read them if you wish, and if you don’t watch Breaking Bad, turn off your computer and start it today)

My brother, when talking about this episode, made the great point that, if you hadn’t watched a single episode before, you might well think that the show was about Gus rather than about Walt and Jesse.  Gus seems to be in the position of the most peril.  He’s got the cartel breathing down his neck, threatening his drug operation.  He’s got the cops, though he doesn’t know it yet, possibly figuring out who he is.  He also has a troublesome chemist who keeps making problems for him who also has a newly-clean partner only a couple of weeks away from a serious meth addiction.

I’ve said before that if you could describe Breaking Bad in one word, it would be tension.  Tension is manifest in this episode on at least three separate major occasions in ways short and long.  First, there’s a smaller moment as Walt, realizing he can’t return the car which he breaks, lights it on fire and waits for it to blow up.  If this was another show, the car would blow up almost immediately as Walt jumps out of the way at just the last moment.  But here, we’re put in the tense and uncomfortable position of waiting for the car to blow, knowing it has to eventually, but not how long it could take.  Second, Walt provides Jesse with poison to slip into Gus’s drink when he has a chance.  Now, every time we see Gus and Jesse together we’ll have to be on the edge of our seats to see where the poison is.  Will Jesse do it?  Can he pull it off?  Will Gus or Mike catch him?  In this episode the scene comes when Jesse is asked to make coffee for Gus when Gus is meeting with the cartel.  Jesse ultimately does not use the poison.  Third, Jesse himself is being battled over between Walt and Gus and Mike.  Each time Jesse meets with either Walt or Gus or Mike, every word they say might swing Jesse in their direction.  Having Jesse by itself might seem unimportant, but it also might give either party the upper hand in their  passive aggressive battle.  Without Jesse, Walt is isolated with no one else he can trust.  Without Jesse, Walt loses his chance to kill Gus.

When Walt brings his earnings to Skyler, Skyler is simply floored by how much money it is and instantly tells Walt that there’s no way they can launder this much.  Walt makes the fair point that the laundering is supposed to be Skyler’s business to figure out (though how the amount they’d be laundering never came up I’m not sure). Like Walt was when he started, and still is, in the drug business, Skyler out of her league here as a criminal.  Though she seemed so confident and on-point with her plan, this amount of money has flabbergasted her.  She has no conception of what Walt does and how much he makes.

Jesse takes a new approach to his emo-self-pity-depression spiral post-murder of Gale.  He goes to his old Meth addiction group and confesses his killing of Gale, only replacing Gale with a dog, and then strikes out at the group, telling him he had only starting going to sell them meth.  I’ve got a feeling this murder is going to haunt Jesse for a long time, maybe even two more seasons.

Breaking Bad – Season 4, Episode 6 – Cornered

25 Sep

(A few weeks ago, I started these Breaking Bad recaps, and then fell a bit behind.  Not one to give up without a fight, they’re still coming, just a tiny bit late.  I’m going to dump a few of them today, so read them if you wish, and if you don’t watch Breaking Bad, turn off your computer and start it today)

Walt’s both too smart and too stupid for his own good in this episode.  Walt is too smart for his own good when, tired of Jesse running errands with Mike, and wondering where this plan could leave him, he questions Jesse’s record of events the night he saved Mike.  Perhaps, Walt theorizes, the whole night was a set up.  Even Walt couldn’t imagine just how right he was.  No matter, with no way to prove it, he just ends up alienating Jesse by pointing out how useless he is and attacking his already fragile self-confidence.

Walt proves to be too stupid for his own good when, after Jesse is unavailable to help clean up, he hires three Hispanic laundry workers to come into the methlab and clean.  This is obviously a terrible idea, but Walt is pissed and to some degree, probably actually right about cleaning up being a two man job.  That said, when an employee of Gus’s comes to take the women back to their home countries in South America, Walt is somehow shocked, as if he couldn’t predict something bad would come from allowing people to see a top secret meth lab.  Walt feels awful about it, and tells Gus’s henchman to not blame the woman, but to blame him.  The henchman assures Walt that Gus does.

Jesse, finally feeling good about himself, is helping Mike out.  This is help Mike doesn’t really seem to want or need, but he understands why it has to be done.  Out on the road with Mike, Jesse tries to use his familiarity with methheads  figure out a shortcut to getting into the house of two methehads with Gus’s product.  It partly works; he gets into the house, knocks one of the methheads out, but also ends up at gunpoint.  Maybe Jesse is not entirely useless after all, and patience isn’t the only way.

Skyler gets her own Carmela Soprano type moment, albeit not nearly as bad.  She knows what’s up, and she takes an active step towards leaving her family and state, driving out to the four corners, and tossing up a coin to see where she would head.  Even though the coin came up with her leaving, she decided to stay.  Sometimes you don’t realize what you want until you flip a coin and realize that you want the side you didn’t land on.  Either way, Skyler’s now in.  She’s certainly no Walt, but she’s not blind and she’s partially culpable.  If Walt goes down, she’ll go down too.  I’m not sure whether the criminal activity has turned a switch in her on that she didn’t know was there, or whether it’s due to love of her family, but there’s no way to now claim she was innocent.