Archive | July, 2012

Show of the Day: Sons of Anarchy, Plot Notes

27 Jul

Recently, I wrote a spoiler-free post about my experience watching Sons of Anarchy.  Now I move on to some notes on the show which are chock-full of plot spoilers.  Again, spoilers abound.

I hate to start with the end, but that’s what’s in my mind the freshest.  Season 4 is absolutely ridiculous, and far more ridiculous than any other season by a long, long shot.  Basically, season 2 was all about the growing rift between vice president Jax and president Clay.  Season 3 reunited the two of them in a common purpose, the reaquisition of Jax’s kid in Belfast.  For the most part, any discord between the two was quieted during that period, or at least put on hold.  Jax and Clay worked together against their mutual enemies, which were twofold, the treacherous leaders of the Sons of Anarchy, Belfast (SAMBEL, as they are known for short), one of whom was an original SAMCRO member, and Jimmy O’Phellan, their old contact for guns with the Real IRA who turned against the IRA when a chance to make more money was on the line.  O’Phellan also stole SAMCRO member Chibs’ wife and daughter many years ago, adding to the feud on a personal level.  The club stands tall, works together, and figures out a grand plan over the course of the season to get Jax’s son back, take out Jimmy, pleasing the IRA leaders, and at the same time take out the dreaded super-corrupt nefarious Agent Stahl.

Okay, quick note on this, the whole Agent Stahl situation.  Agent Stahl, one of the main villains over the course of Sons of Anarchy, is an ATF (Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, but really mostly with the firearms in SAMCRO’s case) agent determined to take down the Sons in order to further her career.  She starts out as a shady hard ass, and is shown to lie and manipulate at first in order to convince the Sons to turn on another, or bend to her will.  This seems villainous because the Sons are our protagonists, but from another angle, it could be seen as doing anything within the rules to take down violent criminals.  But then, it turns out she’s crazy corrupt and is willing to lie or make up stories to save her own ass and further her career, including framing Gemma Teller for a shooting that Stahl committed, questionably but not obviously wrongly, at the end of Season 2.   Stahl probably shouldn’t have killed the Irishman she killed, but it was probably kind of defensible even if she would face an inquest and some moderate trouble.

So she’s a corrupt cop, with her career as priority #1, but also trying to take down these clearly bad dudes.  But then in season 3, Stahl takes it farther by a power of well, at least 10, maybe 100.  She shoots and kills her own partner, who she is sleeping with, and then frames her for framing Gemma.  Yes, if you didn’t think she was just damn evil before, well, there is absolutely no way to defend Stahl now.  Sons of Anarchy is not big on restraint.

And that actually aptly leads back to what I wanted to talk about before, which was the great Jax vs. Clay battle of Season 4.  Soon after recovering from the events of Season 3, the tension between stepson and stepdad returns.  In season 2, the battle revolved around power and the direction of the club.  I, and most viewers, I would imagine sided with Jax, both because of the general bias towards siding with the protagonist, and because Jax wanted to move the club in a safer, less lawless and violent direction, while Clay wanted to make the most money.  Clay’s position, we thought was wrong, but within the context of SAMCRO, he had fair points.

In season 4, this dynamic has changed completely.  Instead, it turns out that Clay is completely and totally evil, in fact, as exponential a difference as was between Stahl pre-and-post murdering her partner, is between that Stahl and Clay now.  Clay does just about every imaginable awful thing someone in this show could do outside of blowing up an orphanage full of mentally challenged four-year olds, and after watching the season, there’s no doubt he would do that if they got in his way.  But he checks off every other box.  He hires an assassin to take out Jax’s fiancé, Tara.  He beats his wife, Gemma.  He murders in cold blood fellow member, and original member, Piney, who was Jax’s father’s best friend.  On top of this, it turns out he murdered Jax’s father.  He’s EVIL.  Basically, the season pretty much has to end with him going down, and it really should end with him dying (or Jax dying, but that would be the end of the series, and it had already been renewed).  However, because he’s Ron Pearlman, probably, and for whatever other reasons, creator Kurt Sutter did not want to kill him.  So instead they came up with a ridiculously contrived twist that forces Jax to keep Clay alive, albeit powerless.  It reeks of potentially keeping around a main villain too long, a la Sylar from Heroes or Ben from Lost, thinking you can squeeze a few more drops out of what was once such a fruitful source of captivating villainy.  The smart move is to kill them off when they’re on top, when they’re at a place where you say, wow, that was an amazing villain, but if they continued on any farther, they’d start to lose some of their edge, credibility, or begin to come close to repeating an existing storyline.  SEASON 1 DEXTER SPOILER – Dexter did the smart move for example with killing the ice truck killer at the end of season 1 – many other showrunners would have drooled over the dynamic Dexter and his brother had and envisioned a future where they match wits continually.  DEXTER SPOILER OVER

Justified risks facing this concern with Boyd, but so far, the writers have been just clever enough, combined with the fantastic acting of Walter Goggins to keep Boyd interesting without going far enough to put them in a position they have to kill him or look ridiculous for not doing so.

Anyway, this comes all the way back to Sons of Anarchy in that, nothing will irritate me more than a slow rise to power for Clay when he should have been killed.  Sure, he couldn’t have died in the plot, because of the crazy plot twist with the Feds representing the cartel, but that felt a bit contrived as a way to prevent Jax from leaving and to keep Clay around.  If Clay has to be around, I hope he just stays pathetic and on the outs, and if anything a lone wolf, rather than somehow convincing Gemma to get back with him, or the club to follow him again.

Summer 2012 Review: Political Animals

23 Jul

Political Animals in an USA miniseries about a Hillary Clinton-like figure who is now Secretary of State and is facing tricky situations both in her job and in her personal life.  We know she’s a Hillary Clinton-like figure, because the character, Elaine Barrish, played by Sigourney Weaver, lost in the Democratic primary for President, and was married to a two-time former President and former Southern governor, and she was appointed Secretary of State after supporting her former rival in the general election.  You don’t get much more similar than that.  On top of that, she divorced her husband right after her campaign ended, but like Hillary, her overall popularity went way up after she became secretary of state, and the election was over, as she showed a much lighter, more human side of her personality.  Rumors were prevalent that she might want one more shot at the white house.

After an opening scene in which she concedes the election and tells her husband she wants a divorce, we skip forward in time two years.  She’s the high-powered secretary of state.  One of her sons is her chief aide, and is having an engagement party.  Her other son, who made waves as the first openly gay child of a serious presidential candidate, (Didn’t Dick Gephardt have a gay daughter? Maybe?  Or maybe he didn’t count) is more troubled, having had serious drug problems, and having attempted suicide in the recent past, which, up to now, the family has been able to keep out of the press.  At the engagement party, Elaine will be seeing her husband for the first time possibly since the divorce, and she’ll also have to deal with her possibly drug using son who wants money from his parents to start a club.

Oh, and while all this personal drama is going on, there’s an international crisis as well.  Iran has arrested three American journalists and is rushing them through a show trial and sentencing them to death.  The only way this can be stopped is for the president to come to Iran, something the president, played by Adrian Pasdar, who finally got the job he ran for in Heroes (as Nathan Petrelli), steadfastly refuses to do on principle.  Elaine finds out that this whole stunt is a ploy from the Iranian president, who wants to improve relations with America, to please his own hard-line supporters, and that the president knew about it, but didn’t agree with the plan, and she’s got to figure out another more creative way to convince the president to try to save these journalists.

While all this is happening, a journalist, played by Carla Gugino, managed to get an exclusive series of interviews with the Secretary of State by threatening to reveal Elaine’s younger son’s suicide attempt, which makes Elaine none too fond of her.  Gugino has her own problems as well, trying to get hard news, while competing with a younger cutesy twee female reporter who writes about less-lofty subjects, and who she suspects may be sleeping with her boyfriend, who is also her editor.

I’ll give it this – it’s certainly, at least, at this early juncture, less “blue skies” than the traditional USA show.  I would imagine we’ll have a fairly successful and happy ending, that won’t exactly be like the end of a Wire season, but for now, she has more serious problems in one episode than characters on some other USA shows deal with in a season.  Sigourney Weaver does her best, and she’s a less instantly likable character than most USA leads, which is also to the show’s credit, I suppose, if we can compare things to their network mates as signs of interesting-ness.

Here’s the issue, as it is with so many shows that get lost in the shuffle.  It’s not bad.  It isn’t.  But it isn’t great, and it doesn’t really look like it has the potential to grow to great.  If it sounds like something you’d like, then, well, it just may well be.  It’s quite watchable, and if the whole thing aired some lazy Sunday I’d consider not leaving the couch for a couple of extra hours.  But there’s no element in the show that reaches out and grabs you and says, well, that’s why you need to see Political Animals.  Most shows don’t have this, so I don’t mean to be harsh; but it’s worth saying.  I’m very mildly interested in what happens next.

Will I watch it again?  Probably not.  It’s not bad, but it’s not quite good enough to go out of one’s way to watch (I do watch a couple other shows that are probably around this level of quality, but these aren’t must watch, they’re just personal preference).  As I said, maybe one day if they’re all repeating and I’m tired or hung over.

Watch it Again: Community – Season 1, Episodes 3 and 4

20 Jul

A while I ago, I began a campaign of re-watching the first season of Community.  Episodes 3 and 4 of season 1 capsuled and commended on below.

Season 1, Episode 3:  Introduction to Film

Community as the Jeff and Britta show continues, now with some Abed.  The A story is about Abed taking a film class which Britta paid for, in opposition to his dad, who wants him to stay in the family falafel business.  Jeff counsels against Britta getting involved, and the two fight over the benefits of getting involved vs. staying out of it for the entire episode, often while being filmed by Abed, and getting into a fight with Abed’s dad.  Britta and Jeff take on a mom and dad role relative to Abed, and eventually Abed’s film moves his dad to understand.  We get a little bit more of Abed’s inability to relate with people, and his use of film as a medium to help him.  The B story involves Jeff taking a class, which he thinks is the ultimate blow-off class, taught by John Michael Higgins (lawyer from Arrested Development, Christopher Guest movie regular, saying “Owner of a Lonely Heart” a capella in those vaguely memorable commercials for The Break Up) whose only criteria for an A is “seizing the day.”  Jeff desperately tries to manufacture a day seized, failing to fool the professor until he kisses Britta, thinking she was into him, but she was only trying to help him ace the project.  The tiny C story involves Pierce trying to teach Troy how to sneeze manly, and converting Troy’s baby sneeze into a far more imposing sneeze (that is way too many times to use sneeze in a sentence).

The C story actually gets the best bang for the buck; Chevy Chase is at his finest when he’s demonstrated the different sneezes in his arsenal.  John Michael Higgins shows of his impulsiveness a couple of times, and he’s used just enough so that he’s not overused; the best scene is the episode may be when he chastises Jeff for ordering an ordinary coffee, and then tears up the coffee menu and asks for a birthday cake.

Rating 7.0 – it’s a good episode, but it’s not a great episode.

Season 1, Episode 4: Social Psychology

The episode starts with a relatively pointless encounter between Chang and Annie.  I’ve never liked Chang.  He’s always been my least favorite part of the show, primarily because Ken Jeong shows absolutely no restraint.  He’s more over the top than any character, ruthlessly so, with the possible exception of the Dean, but, well, the Dean is generally funnier and doesn’t get as big parts.

The A plot of this episode involves Shirley and Jeff learning the only thing they have in common is a love of gossip – Jeff can now stop timing his exit from one class to avoid having to awkwardly walk with Shirley to the next.  Their favorite gossip topic is Britta’s new boyfriend, hackey-sack loving hippie, Vaughn.  Vaughn is a ridiculous stereotype of course, but he gets some choice lines, such as “What makes Frisbee ultimate?  If I had a nickel for every time I wish someone asked me that”  Britta, learning to be friends with Jeff, trusts him with too much information, particularly considering he still has feelings for her.  Although he tries to be a good friend, when Britta shows him the awful poem Vaughn wrote for her, he cracks, and shows it to Shirley, who, incorrigible gossip that she is, shows it to the group.  Of course Vaughn catches them laughing about, and dumps Britta, making her not too pleased with Jeff.

The B plot involves Annie joining Professor Duncan, who is back, in order to help prove his “Duncan Principle,” which is that left waiting for something, in this case, a fake experiment, over time, even the calmest person will erupt in a fit of insane anger.  Annie recruits Abed and Troy to be test subjects for the Duncan principle, however, Abed ruins the principle altogether by sitting calmly in the room for hours upon hours, even when everyone else has broken, forcing Duncan to give up, and Annie to be mad at Abed.

The little C-plot involves Pierce’s use of ear-noculars, which are the equivalent of binoculars for your ears (kind of the same purpose as that awesome directional microphone in Metal Gear Solid, but a lot more dopey looking).  It’s small, but pretty funny.

Worth noting is that Matt L. Jones, better known as Badger from Breaking Bad shows up for just a second as a stoner-y friend of Vaughn’s.  Also, Abed makes an Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull reference which probably was current at the time.

All right, I feel bad that these episode ratings keep going down, and I know they’ll be going up at least a couple times later in the season, but I guess that’s just the opening pattern.  Remember, all the ratings are simply relative to the first one, which I didn’t want to rate too high (I still rated it fairly high) lest I leave no room for improvement (not to mention, the farther I go in the season, the more ticky-tacky the ratings will naturally get).  There’s plenty of funny parts – John Oliver in particular – but it’s not top level.

Rating:  7.2 – I still don’t understand why John Oliver couldn’t have been shepherded into more episodes instead of Chang – one of Oliver’s best lines, out of context, was “Youre an eight, which si a British 10 – I’m angry.”

Show of the Day: Wilfred

17 Jul

Wilfred is about a loner experiencing a third-of-life crisis, burned out from a job he never wanted as a lawyer, and on the brink of mental exhaustion, reenergizing himself through a friendship with his attractive female neighbor’s dog, who he sees as a man dressed in a dog costume, and converses, watches TV, and smokes pot with.

There you have it; the central partnership of the show is man and dog, with the dog, who no one else can hear, acting as a kind of id to the man, urging on his baser instincts and wants, sometimes for the best, sometimes less so.  The man is played by Frodo Baggins himself, Elijah Wood, while the dog is played by Jason Gann, the Australian actor who played the dog in the original Australian version (I haven’t seen the original, so I can’t compare the American version to it; I do hear that it’s notably adopted a different and sometimes less dark tone).

The man, Ryan, does have the hots for his neighbor, and the dog, Wilfred’s, owner, Jenna, but while I thought that would be a central plot, it’s more often in the periphery.  Ryan’s crush on Jenna comes up here and there, whenever the show decides to remind you that it’s still a thing, but the show is about Ryan and the dog  (Jenna’s current boyfriend Drew is played by former American Pie co-star Chris Klein AKA the one that gets with Mena Suvari).

The show is occasionally funny, occasionally difficult to watch, and more often than not relatively enjoyable.  It’s not a great show; it doesn’t work on enough levels, and there’s no one element it’s brilliant at, but it’s a good enough show, and I mean that generally as a compliment.  I’m absolutely glad I watched it considering the value, in terms of episode number and length.  The last show I watched was Sons of Anarchy, which I liked overall, and while the two shows could not possibly more different, I’m not sure that four seasons of 13 hour long episodes of Sons was worth my time more than one season of 13 half hours episodes of Wilfred.

One of the strangest sub-levels of the show which is odd is the question of whether Ryan’s special, crazy, or whether seeing the dog is just a sort of magical realism.  What I do like is that to start the show, rather than having Ryan wrestle for a while with the fact that he sees Wilfred as a human-in-dog-suit, he pretty much accepts it almost right off; yes, obviously it’s crazy that he sees a man in a dog suit, but get on with the show, already, that’s the premise, and so Wilfred did.  I also like that for the most part Ryan doesn’t constantly screw up and accidentally acknowledge the fact that he’s talking to the dog all the time, which would make him look crazy to outsiders.

The show veers dark, but rarely too dark; sometimes the quasi dark episodes are the best.  My favorite two episodes were probably the darkest and at the same time most absurd; the absurdity probably keeps the level of darkness from getting too high.  The genuinely strange moments are both the best and the funniest (and yes, in a show where a man sees a dog as a human in a dog suit, there are still relatively stranger parts).  The last couple of episodes move further into the actual matter of why exactly Ryan can see Wilfred, whether he’s crazy, etc, and while if you had told me the show would deal with this topic again I would have said, terrible idea, just let it be, these episodes were actually incredibly bizarre and oddly satisfying.  The second to last in particular involved a man Ryan saw, or thought he saw, who claimed to be a previous best friend of Wilfred’s, and claimed that Wilfred ruined his life.  We have no idea if this person actually exists, existed, or whether he also has the power to see Wilfred, or whether Ryan is totally crazy or hallucinating.  Which is actually true is less important than the surreal nature of the situation.  Another surreal aspect I enjoy is that Wilfred is continually humping a stuffed bear named Bear and it seems like he’s always talking to and recieving answers from Bear, and occasionally other stuffed animals, making me wonder whether, like Ryan sees Wilfred as a human in a dog suit, Wilfred sees the stuffed animals as living and talking.

It’s not a great show, but it’s an interesting show, and it’s a short show, and that’s enough to make it recommended viewing.

The Zeljko Ivanek Hall of Fame: Titus Welliver

15 Jul

(The Zeljko Ivanek Hall of Fame is where we turn the spotlight on a television actor or actress, and it is named after their patron saint, Zeljko Ivanek)

It’s been far too long since I’ve done one of these, but I was raised out of my stupor by a true TV that-guy, the wonderfully-named Titus Welliver.  I had been discussing Welliver with a friend recently, and then, upon watching the first episode of The Good Wife, saw that he popped up again.  Coincidence?  Maybe.  Inspiration?  Certainly.  Let’s pay the good Mr. Welliver the respect he deserves with a true Ivanek tribute.

Welliver, born in 1961, made his first TV appearance in 1990 with a role in TV movie The Lost Capone and in an episode of Matlock.  He then appeared in episodes of L.A. Law, Beverly Hills, 90210, The Commish, and Tales from the Crypt, along with TV movies An American Story and One Woman’s Courage.  Welliver then guest starred in X-Files episode “Darkness Falls,” as an ecoterrorist who, along with loggers, tries to avoid a killer swarm of green insects which escaped when an extremely old tree was cut down.  Welliver is dead by the end of the episode.  He appeared in episodes of New York Undercover, Kindred: The Embraced, and High Incident, as well as HBO TV movie Blind Justice, before appearing in three episodes of Murder One.  He followed this with episodes of Nash Bridges, Spy Game, The Practice, and TV movies Rough Riders and The Day Lincoln Was Shot.  In 1995, he was introduced to Steven Bochco with a recurring role in eight episodes of NYPD Blue as Dr. Mondzac.

Bochco would give him his first shot at a starring role in 1997.  He played Officer Jack Lowery in the one season of Bochco cop show Brooklyn South, which had the distinction of airing the first TV-M rated episode ever.  His character, as Wikipedia describes, was, “a tough street cop coping with personal demons which included his selfish and nagging wife, Yvonne, who died early in the season,” After the show was cancelled, Welliver finished out the decade appearing in episodes of Total Recall: The Series (doesn’t even have a Wikipedia entry), Star Trek: Voyager, and Touched by an Angel, as well as in TV movie Mind Prey.

He got a couple of quick starring chances early in the next decade, as a regular on eight episode Ed O’Neill starrer Big Apple, and as second season character in what I-can’t-believe-lasted-two seasons-since-I-don’t-remember-it-at-all dramedy That’s Life, which starred Paul Sorvino, Ellen Burstyn, Kevin Dillon and Debi Mazar.  Before his next big role, he appeared in episodes of UC: Undercover, Third Watch, Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, The Twilight Zone, Hack, and in mini-series Blonde about Marilyn Monroe, as Joe DiMaggio.  He picked up his next major role in 2004 in David Milch’s Deadwood.  His role is not extremely major, but he plays Silas Adams, one of villainous Al Swearengen’s primary and smartest henchmen.  He appears in the majority of the episodes of the show.  He has a rivalry with fellow henchman Dan Dority, but saves Dan’s life from a Chinese man with a knife at the end of the second season, allowing them to reconsider their relationship.

The mid-2000s were a nomadic period for Welliver.  He appeared in episodes of Law & Order, Numb3rs, Kidnapped, Jericho, NCIS, Shark, Life, Prison Break, Monk, Raising the Bar, Kings, and Supernatural and TV movies Danny Fricke and True Blue.  He next played a small but crucial role in Lost as The Man in Black, one of the primary antagonists of the series.  Although Welliver only appeared in three episodes as the character, the role was a major one.  I’m not even going to try to explain the entire Lost Man in Black mythology because it makes no sense and I don’t understand it, but apparently he’s the representation of evil who needs to be kept on the island and he’s also the smoke monster and he also can appear as dead people like John Locke.  Jack kills him at the end after Desmond makes him mortal by pulling some plug in the heart of the island.  Sure, why not.

Welliver was the primary antagonist of the third season of motorcycle gang show Sons of Anarchy.  He played IRA kingpin gone rogue Jimmy O’Phelan.  He’s originally in charge of selling guns to the Sons, and has a complicated history with them, having kicked SAMCRO member Chibs out of the IRA and stolen his wife and daughter.  It turns out that he’s trying to screw over SAMCRO and the rest of the Real IRA.

In 2009, he also began his other major recurring role as new Cook County State’s Attorney in The Good Wife after titular good wife Julianna Margulies’ husband was forced to resign.  He appeared in 16 episodes in the first two seasons.  He’s still looking for a new longer-term home, but since those two shows, he’s appeared in The Closer, Law & Order: LA, Suits, TV movies Awakening and Good Morning, Killer, an episode of Grimm, and in the pilot episode and two others of Fox’s Touch.

Welliver’s TV work is diverse and prolific, and we induct him today into the Zeljko Ivanek Hall of Fame.

Show of the Day: Sons of Anarchy

12 Jul

I’ve watched Sons of Anarchy over the last couple of months, in drips and drabs and spurts, generally watching a few in a row, and then taking a break between seasons, and it’s probably the biggest TV series backlog project that I’ve taken on in quite a while.  (Downton Abbey, the other series I caught up on earlier this spring was only two seasons, and one of them was especially short).  I temporarily forget the different speed and intensity and blurring together that happens when watching many epsidoes of a show in a row, rather than week to week, year to year.  For that reason, I’ve found people who watch a show marathon-style versus as it airs sometimes come to different conclusions and opinions about series.

I’ve gone back and forth in my opinion of Sons of Anarchy overall.  I’m going to hopefully post another piece or two on the show; this one will be an overview without specific spoilers.  Right now, I feel like SoA is a good show, but not a great show, like the Sopranos, or The Wire, or the Breaking Bads, or Mad Mens of the world.  That’s not really all that much of an insult; those are the very top hour long TV shows of the past fifteen years, and not many shows will match them.  Still, it bears saying.  Sons of Anarchy resides somewhere in the tier of a Boardwalk Empire, or a Friday Night Lights; very good but also flawed enough to prevent them from reaching the pinnacle (I know many people would have my head for not putting Friday Night Lights above these, but that’s a discussion for another day).

Here’s the basic premise.  Main character Jackson Teller (“Jax” for short) is the Vice President and heir apparent of the Charming, California branch of the Sons of Anarchy motorcycle club.

Pause a second:  It’s interesting to note, that the way I felt about the motorcycle club culture in Sons of Anarchy mirrors the way I felt about Dixie mafia culture watching Justified; they were cultures I couldn’t relate to and had absolutely no idea existed.  This contrasts with, say, east cost Italian mafia culture of Sopranos, which The Godfather and Martin Scorsese basically made the go-to organized crime syndicates, and which often take place in New York or other Northeastern metropolitan areas.

So, Sons of Anarchy is a motorcycle club with branches all over the western United States, but the founding and head branch, nicknamed Samcro, for Sons of Anarchy Motorcycle Club Redwood Original stands in fictional “city” Charming which seems to be having a shit ton of issues for a town of 20,000 people, half the size of the suburban town I’m from.  Charming is in Northern California.  Samcro legitimately operate a mechanic shop, and illegitimately run guns, operate protection rackets, and participate in a number of other profit generating activities, though notably not drugs.  Most of their money comes from their gun trade.  They also run the town, having the sheriff and county police in their pocket, and basically commit crimes openly in the streets with their Sons of Anarchy jackets on with no repercussions.   What’s amazing is that they do all this with only about eight people total in their charter.  But this is how it goes.

Jackson Teller is the son of dead co-founder of the club John Teller, and in the first episode, Jackson finds a manuscript John left him about change he wanted for the club.  His mother, Gemma Teller is now married to the club’s co-founder and current president Clay Morrow.   The central conflict of the show is often between Jax and Clay, and just as often is not.

My quick take early on was to view Sons of Anarchy as an inverse of the Sopranos formula.  Instead of the patriarch, Tony in Sopranos, and Clay in Sons of Anarchy, being the primary character, it as if the heir, which would be, and I’m aware this is extremely loose analogizing, Christopher in Sopranos was the star.  Obviously a lot of things happen over the course of Sopranos that change Christopher and Tony’s relationship, and Jax is already VP when the show begins, higher up than Christopher, but I think as a very basic rubric that approach holds true.  Jax is constantly juggling what’s best for his club and what’s best for his family, as well as how to keep moving the club forward without endangering everything he believe in.

The three main characters are certainly Jax, Clay, and Gemma, but also main cast members are other members of the Sons, and Jax’s high school sweetheart who just moved back to Charming, Tara.  The other Sons include, Seargeant at Arms Tig, an enforcer who is kind of insane, Chibs, a chipper Scotsman who is generally loyal to Jax, Bobby “Elvis” Monson, the overweight long-suffering treasurer, Piney, John Teller’s best friend and Sons co-founder, Opie, Piney’s son and Jax’s best friend, and Juice, the younger Puerto Rican hacker.  The corrupt yet friendly older sheriff named Unser is a fairly important character as is his younger no-nonsense associate who can’t wait to take over and take on SAMCRO. The different members of SAMCRO get occasionally important stories depending on episode, while Clay, Jax, and Gemma have key stories in just about every episode.

There’s your cast of characters and some quick spoiler free information.  More in depth plot discussion will have to wait for future posts.

Rant: Roger Federer is a big, fat poopyhead (more or less)

10 Jul

(Warning:  The following is a long hateful rant.  If you don’t understand sports, and will think that I’m some sort of ill-spirited right-wing hatemonger because I go off the rails about something in sports, please don’t read.  If you understand that sports makes you do crazy things, and feel irrationally angry at people you’ve never met, and you hate that one guy who robbed your favorite team in their only playoff appearance in a decade from moving forward more than you love your parents, then hopefully you’ll understand)

This isn’t strictly about TV as this blog normally is; but hear me out.  It’s something I simply needed to get off my chest.  My friend wrote a long screed about his absolute and undying hatred of Lebron James after the Miami Heat won the NBA Finals, and I enjoyed his rantings and completely agreed.  However, while I am no fan of Lebron, I did not feel my friend’s inspiration until I realized that I had my own athlete who personally motivated me to rant and rave without reason or logic, while watching yesterday’s men’s Wimbledon final.

I fucking despise Roger Federer.  (note: I’m sure deep down he’s a very nice and good person and if I ever had to shake his hand and went to dinner with him I’d realize this, he’s an ambassador for the game, blah, blah, no I don’t actually think he killed babies or raped anyone.  This is my last consolation in this article to sense or reason.  Now, I can proceed with the unadulterated hate).  No one engenders as much pure bile deep within my soul.  Yes, part of my hatred is due to my complete and total love for Federer’s primary rival Rafael Nadal, and one day, hopefully after Nadal wins another major, I’ll write a more positive ode to him.  But that rivalry just the start of hate; it’s become, overt time so much more – I’ll root against Roger Federer against anybody anytime and any place.

The thought of him winning more major titles makes me physically ill.  I hate every thing about him.  I hate the uber-preppy way he dresses.  I hate his fucking headband.  I hate his false humility; the way he pretends to be humble and every journalist and commentator has to talk about how humble he is even though he’s not humble at all.  In fact, his fucking false humility is far more infuriating than if he’d at least be honest and just talk about how great he thinks he is; at least honest arrogance Chad Ochocinco or Kanye style can be compelling.  He’s so smug.  It comes out in his smile, and his little chuckle, which just scream how pleased he is with himself.

I hate that while Rafa Nadal, my favorite, looks like he’s working up a sweat and burning through hundreds of calories in a single point, it looks like Fed’s not even trying.  I hate that while Nadal has to contend with constant knee injuries, Federer never even gets a scratch, and then journalists have the audacity to add extra credit to Fed’s record because he had the good fortune of having a healthy body.  I hate that the one time Fed was under the weather it was of all things fucking mono, and of course, he didn’t use it as an excuse, but the blathering press corp was there to use it as an excuse for him, even while still crediting him for not getting hurt the rest of the time.  In fact, even more so, Fed took credit for having made it so far in the Australian Open with mono, talking about doctors wouldn’t have let him play; another wonderful example of his world-famous false humility.

You know what I hate?  I hate his fucking hat.  There is no way someone wearing this hat can not be a douchebag.  If someone was in a soup kitchen handing out soup to needy families while innoculating impoverished kids from infectious diseases while wearing this hat, that person would still be a fucking douchebag.  If I saw someone wearing this hat, I would rip it off  his or her head, and then hit him or her with it, and then burn it with matches I carry for that single purpose alone.  I hate that every fucking celebrity comes to sit in Roger’s box.  I hate that he’s home in every fucking tennis arena in every fucking country, that fans root for him no matter what, even though I don’t understand what he did to be the hometown hero from China to France to California.  Anna Wintour roots for him and throws him parties.  Tiger Woods, of course, roots for Federer.  They chat. Gavin Rosdale and Gwen Stefani are friends.  Will Ferrell’s another buddy.  Will Smith roots for Federer.  Smith gave Federer a Men in Black suit for some reason.  Why?  Who the fuck knows?  I hate that no one in his box seems to show any emotion, like they’re all cool and collected because that’s Roger’s rules; winning is merely so expected that there’s nothing to get excited about.

I hate how Roger opposes instant replay.  I hate how he keeps telling Novak Djokovic’s box full of his family members to shut up because he can’t deal with a little noise.  I hate how he opposes a shortening of the ATP schedule which might help a lot of players because he never gets hurt and goes and attacks Nadal and others for complaining about it, because he has the brilliant aptitude to never get injured.  While Nadal and others talk about starting a union, Federer toes the company line.  He’s anti-fucking union.  There are even political reasons to hate R-Fed.  Who sides with the fucking tournaments over the players?

I hate the Gillette commercials that he does.  He does them with other hated athletes of mine, such as Tiger Woods and Derek Jeter (Thierry Henry is a Red Bull, so I don’t him, but still).  In the last scene of this particular commercial the three athletes pelt a poor dude who is shaving with a series of balls from their respective sports, and then laugh about it.  FUCKING HILARIOUS.  He could have cut himself!  He’s using a fucking razor!  I’m not the only one who hated the ad; industry mag Campaign named it the worst ad of the year.

He owns a place in DUBAI, ground zero for hyper-rich assholes.  He doesn’t just own it, it’s his second home.  Who wants to live in Dubai?  Sure, it may be progressive by the standards of some of the regimes in the region, but homosexuality is illegal there, and people actually get jail time for it.  Extramarital sex is illegal and punishable with jail time!  Federer lives and spends months of his year there.

You know what I hate?  When he plays the U.S. Open he has his own fucking special Roger Federer suite at The Carlyle.  The FUCKING CARLYLE.  He stays there once a year, when he plays the U.S. Open but he still has his own suite named after him.  You know what that suite has besides every luxury you could possibly think of and then some?  MONOGRAMMED PILLOWS.  Roger Federer can not sleep on pillows WITHOUT HIS INITIALS ON THEM for TWO WEEKS.  You know – I don’t even think they’re pillowcases.  I think they probably throw out the fucking pillows every day and give him new ones with his initials.  I hate that there’s a plaque on the door to his suite that says how many grand slams he’s won, as if he needs to be reminded of this every time he walks in, or any visitor would be remiss if he or she didn’t know.  Real classy, Roger.  The Observer article with pictures of the suite says he prefers the second bedroom to the master bedroom.  WHY DOES HE HAVE THE MASTER BEDROOM THEN.  Remind by the way, before we forget, that they keep MONOGRAMMED PILLOWS all year long for him so only he can use them during two weeks of the US Open.

Just to go full circle here, nothing shows Federer’s false humility better than this tone-deaf Netjets commercial showing how rough Roger has it as a poor do-it-yourself kind of guy, declining help while he tugs a wagon filled with all his trophies to his private jet.  What would be more humble and relatable?  Nothing has given me more pleasure in recent years than watching this commercial air after Federer is out of a tournament.  If you come away with nothing else, this of this commercial as an example of exactly the type of person Roger Federer is.

I was hoping this would help me excise the demons so I can at least avoid tennis until the US Open and stop thinking about my hatred, but it turns out after writing this, I just feel even stronger.  A sign of true hate, I suppose.

Summer 2012 Review: Men at Work

7 Jul

TBS postured its endless series of Men at Work ads throughout the NBA Playoffs (endless is if anything, an understatement, as they appeared at every commercial break at least once in a couple of different forms – scenes from the show, actors talking about their characters, actors pretending to just be hanging out and having a good time) as a show just about men being men.  It’s the anti-Community or insert your favorite super smart deep and layered comedy-here – it’s turn the brain off, and sit down and have some fun, a couple of laughs, and hang out with the bros doing bro stuff.

The problem with that philosophy is that when you go out trying to make a stupid show, you usually end up with a stupid show.

Our main characters are four dudes who are good friends and also co-workers at what appears to be a magazine of some sort.  The show is apparently supposed to be set in New York, which I would never have known except for an offhand reference at the end, it looks far more like the non-descript soundstage on which it’s surely filmed.  If I’ve complained about shows claiming to be set in New York but looking nothing like New York once, I’ve done it a thousand times, but since there’s far worse things about this show, I’ll note it once and move on.

The four guys are all played by TV veterans.  That 70s Show’s Danny Masterson plays Milo, whose girlfriend (played by Amy Smart, who you’d think they’d bring back because why else have someone of her level of fame be in the show for thirty seconds) breaks up with him in the first episode.  His buds are Tyler, played by Michael Cassidy, who had recurring roles in Smallville and The O.C., Gibbs, played by James Lesure who was the sidekick on Las Vegas for several years (it’s definitely sad that Gibbs just makes me think of NCIS) and nerdish Neal, played my hometown East Meadow’s own Adam Busch, who recurred as Season 6 villain Warren in Buffy the Vampire Slayer.  Neal is the only one in a long-term relationship with his girlfriend Amy, while the others are single and ready to mingle.

I used this word when describing Charlie Sheen’s Anger Management, but it’s just as true here; everything about the show is retrograde.  The laugh track, the that’s-what-men-do situations and banter; it’s like the show ignored the past decade of the evolution of comedy.  I realize there’s an implicit judgment here, but comedy has come so far not just with edgy, interesting shows, but with shows that even simply take the classic formula and just modernize it.  Parks and Recreation is a great example of this.  There’s nothing wild about it’s set up, it’s a workplace comedy essentially but it’s smart, funny, and doesn’t talk down to the viewer.  There’s also room for comedies that don’t make you think a ton; It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia isn’t layered or filled with deeper meaning, but it’s downright hilarious. Easy un-thinking viewing shouldn’t require a lot of thinking for the viewer, but that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t require thinking for the writers.

Men at Work features old, tired, tropes about what being a man is and treats these tropes in extremely unfunny ways.  No real people hang out like this, and if they did I certainly wouldn’t want to watch it.  The boys take their moping, newly broken up with friend, out to the bar to hit on some hotties and get “rebound ass” (in even more obnoxious fashion, the screen helpfully highlights with a TBS-provided definition of what rebound ass means).

Also, it’s worth noting that the show is created by of all people, actor Breckin Meyer, currently starring in TBS sister network TNT hour long Franklin and Bash (as…Franklin?  that’s a guess and I don’t think I care enough to check further).

Unlike with Anger Management network FX, there has never been a single good TBS comedy so it’s not as if I was expecting otherwise.  I just wish the rest of America would catch up with good taste, and yes, I’m being judgmental.  People out there can watch and enjoy this if they want, but that doesn’t mean it’s not bad.  There’s plenty of solid material out there to be written about guys and friends and friends who are guys, but it would be nice if someone thinks about it a little bit before putting pen to paper (fingers to keyboard?).

Will I watch it again?  Not unless those endless TNT commercials for the show put some sort of hypnotic message in my head which forces me to.

Summer 2012 Review: Anger Management

4 Jul

Sometimes the question is why, and then sometimes after thinking for a moment, the real question turned out to be why not.

With Work It, the question really was why – it was so obviously a bad idea, that it was amazing that the show made it through all the barriers to actually area.

With Anger Management, the question really was why not – it was simply so obvious.

Charlie Sheen-mania has faded quite a bit since Winning and Tiger Blood were guaranteed daily punch lines on late night television, but he’s still a controversial and yet well-liked by many actor who was fired after he headlined one of the most popular comedies of the last decade. In the position he’s in, with limited opportunities, he’s available for a relatively cheap cable sitcom, guaranteed to draw the amount of eyeballs it needs to be a success, which are much lower than the amount that would be needed for a network, merely out of people being curious enough to watch.  And if it fails, well, it wasn’t all that expensive of a gamble.

For all this programming logic, it’s, also unsurprisingly, a terrible program which really couldn’t be less interesting or edgy.  For all the brouhaha of Charlie and his women and his coke and his vague anti-semitism, there isn’t anything remotely edgy or controversial about his work, which couldn’t be more conventional down to the multiple camera set up and the laugh track.  Even the bad commercials for the show, which show Sheen doing crazy things, getting in the way of trains and the like, are 20 times more edgy than the actually show which is about as damn run of the mill a generic sitcom as one could put together.  Charlie Sheen plays an anger management therapist who himself as a dormant anger management problem, which seems to be rearing its ugly head again, requiring counseling (and may have been a former baseball player of some sort, though I was kind of iffy on that part).

What’s even worse, or at least stranger, is that the show seems to have no focus and wants to be five sitcoms at once.  Most simple sitcoms have a couple of dynamics, and core cast groups – friends and co-workers, or family and friends, but Anger Management doesn’t seem to know who the show is about.  We’ve got Charlie’s ex-wife and his daughter as one group.  We’ve got his current best friend, lover, and therapist Kate.  We’ve got his next door neighbor and friend.  We’ve got a random bartender played by Brett Butler (Grace Under Fire) who gives advice to Charlie…I don’t even remember what his name was in the show (can I assume it’s Charlie?  Probably).  We’ve got his therapy group consisting of an old anti-gay veteran, a gay dude, a creepy post-teen and an attractive young woman who just joins the group.  Rather than have any semblance of structure, the show bounces around to all of these groups without having any coherent plot other than Sheen realizing he needs to get therapy again.  That’s already more plot than solid jokes though.  My dad, who has a more retrograde sense of humor than myself, laughed maybe twice, so you can count that as something.

It’s not as flat out irritating as Whitney or 2 Broke Girls, but it’s not far removed.  It’s generally insulting to the viewer, but a slight step up than innaity of those shows, possibly because I expect more from shows that try for a younger audience, where this doesn’t even really try.

It’s hard going into a show knowing it’s going to be terrible, because it’s hard to unfairly bias yourself it against it.  It’s just unfortunate when it keeps being true and it just builds to your bias for future shows.

It’s sad that FX, which has generally made edgy, forward thinking comedy, and even its misses have at least had a shot, is jumping onto something that couldn’t be farther away from every other FX comedy.  Of course, if them putting on this comedy helps them spend money and grow other better comedies with the profit, then I’ll bow to their wisdom, but it’s just as sad that this is what people are more interested in watching.

Will I watch it again?  No, it felt like the show was 40 minutes when it was only 21.  Maybe I’ll catch the last 30 seconds before a future Wilfred or Louie.