Archive | August, 2012

End of Season Review: Boss, Season 1

29 Aug

Boss, the Kelsey Grammer Starz show about a corrupt long-time Chicago mayor with an incurable brain disease (not a spoiler, you learn this in the first five minutes of the show – this article is low on plot specifics and thus spoiler free for all but the most sensitive of readers) not willing to give up his perch of power without a fight, is a surprisingly interesting and enjoyable way to spend eight episodes as long as  you’re willing to temporarily put aside some of your beliefs about, I don’t know, reality and the like (that sounds like a negative; but it’s not intended that way; Boss would hardly be the first quality show demanding this).  Boss, sometimes cleverly and sometimes not so cleverly takes little bits and pieces from a number of the best TV dramas of the past decade or so, and repurposes them for its own uses.

Kelsey Grammer plays longtime Chicago mayor Tom Kane, who has kept himself in power through a combination of canny manipulation, well-timed brutality, and giving all the right people just enough to be satisfied.  In addition, his threats carry more weight because he’s been there so long, and he seems unbeatable, and well, if you can’t beat him, you might as well join him.  As we join him, a year away from his own reelection efforts, at the same time when he discovers his neurological condition, or perhaps because of it, his opponents smell weakness, and see a real opportunity to end the Tom Kane era.  They’re willing to pull out every stop to do so.  A test of Kane’s strength is represented by the upcoming Democratic primary election, where he chooses to throw his support behind young renegade Democratic gubernatorial candidate Ben Zajac against long-time governor McCall Cullen.  Meanwhile Kane is alternately helped and hindered by his two primary advisers, Ezra and Kitty, as well as by his wife Meredith, who married Tom as a measure of political convenience; she was the previous mayor’s daughter.

Boss takes from 24 the sense that there are moles all around constantly reporting on and sabotaging your every ploy, and occasionally overcomplicated, though exciting if you don’t think too much, and confusing plotlines.  From Game of Thrones Boss takes the idea that there are a few real players manipulating others for their own ends, while some, who think they are players, are merely pawns.  Everyone’s got their weakness, it’s just a matter of playing into it.  There are also got plenty of completely unnecessary boobs.  From The Sopranos, Boss gets Kane’s pure physical brutality, reminiscent of Tony, and his struggle to control an organization and hierarchy below him that is not always satisfied with his leadership, for different reasons.  Echoing Breaking Bad, Tom Kane has Walter White’s sense of survival at all costs, with his back up against the wall, and his willingness to use everybody around him, family and friends, however he needs to, in service of his own goals.  Boss has adopted Deadwood’s sense of language, in monologues in particular, as well as more careful manipulations (credit to Vulture for turning me on to the Deadwood comparison with a headline for article I didn’t want to read because I hadn’t seen the show yet).  Oh, and from Damages, Boss features a random hitman/shady dude who convinces a lot of people under threat of physical pain to do things, even though we have no idea who the guy is aside from these scenes or who he exactly works for.

I seriously hope real world Chicago politics, as potentially corrupt as they may be, don’t actually mirror Boss politics, because as far as Boss goes, the phrase skeletons in the closet needs to be altered to something like skeletons in the parking garage (a big garage, like four, five stories).  Also, although I’m fairly sure the skeletons in the traditional phrase are metaphorical, in Boss, at least some amount of time, they’re real.  Everybody’s cheating on everybody, nobody is honest or up front, and everybody has a plan to get what’s best for them, some of the plans better than others.

The events of Boss are utterly outlandish and frightening (actually less frightening for being so utterly outlandish) and stir up a lot of the much asked, but still always valid question of how far is too far for the end to ever justify the means.  Even more than that is the question of the just as old, power corrupts, absolute power corrupts absolutely.  Characters are constantly choosing actions which put them in power while stomping over others, believing some combination of the idea that their being in power will help others and the idea that they simply need to be in power.

It’s not a perfect show by any means.  The pacing in episodes is not always the best, there’s sometimes a little too much Rubicon-like shady old white men in rooms planning things, and it hits some of the questions it asks a little too on the nose.

Still, flaws aside, I’m absolutely glad I watched the show.  After watching The Good Wife recently. I found it, though not a bad show, a show that was thoroughly uninterested, especially compared to the top shows I’m used to watching, and the distinction really struck me more than I expected.  Interesting’s such a mundane word, but shows that don’t follow the set obvious path over the course of a sesson, either by subtle tweaking, by treading on new ground entirely, or just by applying a new focus or a new lens are unfortunately uncommon. Potentially interesting shows often do fail, either very quickly, when they run out of ideas after the premise, like Terra Nova, or like Lost, remain, well, interesting, but become terrible for other reasons.  Being interesting is certainly not sufficient for a quality show.  However, I think it’s not a bad first hurdle to pass.  While Boss takes pieces from all these other places, it does make the synthesis all its own.  It’s not quite canonical but it’s not a show I feel like I’ve seen a hundred times before, and I enjoyed it.

Fall 2012 Review: Animal Practice

24 Aug

When you watch so many pilots, sometimes you see episodes that really generate strong opinions, either positive or negative, and sometimes you see episodes that really just don’t generate strong feelings at all, and the words don’t flow so easily.  The debut of Animal Practice was in the latter category (I probably wouldn’t be wasting words on this if it was in the former).  And yet, we (I) must find something to say.

Here’s the premise in short:  Veterinarian, loves animals, hates people.  Here’s the episode sum up in slightly longer:  Justin Kirk, best known as Nancy’s ex’s bro from Weeds, is a vet, George Coleman, who loves animals, loves sleeping with women, but yes, still hates people.  He’s big dog at an animal hospital (pun intended), and works aside a couple of his other main characters, er, colleagues.  One is a Korean with a mustache who mentions several times how whipped (pardon the colloquialism) he is by his wife.   Another is an insecure co-worker who was just dumped by his girlfriend and is apparently very socially awkward.  Third is a super weird women who well, is well more socially awkward that the awkward guy.  Their everyday routine of caring about animals, while ignoring humans is put to a stop by the arrival of some woman (apparently named Dorothy – with names like George and Dorothy, it feels like this show should be set in the 1950s), who we learn was George’s ex, but walked out on him a couple of years back never to appear again until now.  This was because, we learn, when she told him she loved him,  he responded with, “awesome.”

Also, apparently her grandmother owned the animal hospital George works in, and that grandmother died, so she’s taking over the hospital.  He threatens to leave because she wants to change the way things are organized – pay more attention to the lousy people who own the animals.  Eventually she understands his point of view (ie – some of the pet owners (Matt Walsh in the first episode) are jerks who deserve George’s disdain) and he decides to stay and keep working there, with the probability of some serious sexual tension between the two at about 99.9%.

I actually kind of like Justin Kirk.  I don’t really have a good reason for or against that position, but I like him.  I watched two seasons of Weeds, which I found to be generally a disappointing show, but I liked Justin Kirk as an actor even if I didn’t always love his character Andy.   Animal Practice is single camera and the humor is fairly generic. I don’t remember any particular lines or laughing much, though not never, and there was nothing offensive or cringe worthy, which is saying something, even if a backhanded compliment.

Wacky side character alert:  Angela, who, well I don’t exactly know what her job is, but she’s absurdly ridiculous.  She makes awkward sexual comments to everyone in the show, but apparently they all know her, so it’s not weird.   She seems kind of like a poor man’s Jillian from Workaholics (if you don’t understand that reference, please start watching Workaholics now.  I’ll wait).  All of the non George and Dorothy characters are weirdos (people you’d describe as “characters” in the colloquial sense if you met them) but only Angela is on the level of no-person-is-actually-like-this-in-real-life.

I’ll note that with the casting of Korean Bobby Lee (as the whipped married doctor), Animal Practice immediately moves into number two in the rankings amongst shows with Korean actors, behind Hawaii Five-0.  Also, there’s a monkey in the show that does lots of cool stuff.  I’m not a monster; it’s absolutely pretty adorable.

Will I watch it again?  No, I won’t.  It wasn’t really good, but it was actually better than I thought it would be, which if I was grading on expectations, is kind of a compliment.  I thought it was going to a bad show, and it was merely a thoroughly unmemorable show.

Show of the Day: Luther

20 Aug

British drama Luther is a House M.D. of crime.  Detective John Luther is an eccentric, kind of crazy, but extremely devoted and brilliant policeman who gets stuck with the big hard-to-solve cases.  He also has an extreme temper problem, and possible internal sanctions hanging over his head after, in the first couple minutes of the show, he drops a probably guilty man to the ground in a chase on a bridge rather than arrest him.  Luckily, the victim is in a coma and can’t talk.  Additionally, his ultra-driven career has led to him losing his wife and love of his life Zoe to another man.  Luther works with a team of generic cop characters to solve a new crime in every episode, generally involving serial killers, but with a kidnapper and the like here and there.

There’s one very intresting character in Luther, and it’s not Luther.  Luther’s good, well, because Idris Elba (um, Stringer Bell from The Wire is actually British, and speaks with a British accent – too weird) is good.  Otherwise, Luther isn’t really that interesting.  We’ve seen this character before, as mentioned before, he’s good, he’s damn good at what he does, but he’s angry and tormented and obsessive.  Every time you want Luther to do something just slightly different than you would expect, he almost never comes through.  He’s still the second most interesting character in the show by a long shot.  Also, it’s worth noting that Luther, the show, and Luther, the character, have absolutely no sense of humor, which, as House showed (House, the show, and House, the character, had some issues, but plenty of good points as well), would lighten up the show and the character a little bit (Humorless shows can work; not every show needs humor in its arsenal, but there’s a risk run of episodes really slogging along without it).

The most interesting character is Alice, who I haven’t mentioned before in the short sum-up, because her role actually requires an explanation.  First episode SPOILER – in the first episode, Luther attempts to solve the murder of Alice’s parents, and while he’s nearly certain Alice did it the entire time, he’s unable to prove it.  Instead of ever being found guilty, Alice gets away, and Luther develops a grudging respect for her, while Alice, who is a sociopathic nihilist, but not always nefarious, comes to respect and like Luther.  Over the course of the season, she acts somewhat as Hannibal Lecter to Luther’s Clarice Starling, helping him solve other crimes by viewing them through a sociopath’s perspective.  Not only is Alice the best character in the show, but Luther is also at his most interesting when dealing with Alice, and their tet a tets discussing Luther caring too much and Alice caring not at all are the best parts of the show altogether.

Here’s the other problem with Luther.  When extremely dramatic events occur late in the first season, you realize that not only do you not really care about the characters, but that you barely known any of their names.  Cop who is kind of friends with Luther and he talked with for five minutes in the first episode?  Cop who is his boss and is generally friendly to him but sometimes restrained?  Cop who is his younger protégé and new partner?  I don’t know what their names are and I finished the first season.  I know it’s only six episodes, but that’s enough time for a modicum of name-saying.  I don’t really care about any of them either either.  As long as they get the murderer in the end, that’s pretty much what does it for me.

In short, here’s what’s good about Luther; you mostly watch it for the cases, you watch it for Alice, and you watch it for Idris Elba.  For six episodes that’s enough, and I have four more in the second season which I’ll watch soon.  The cases are actually well executed and interesting and enough to make the show somewhat compelling as a simple procedural without all the baggage of Luther’s temper and personal problems.  It could be a lot better, but it slides in above the worth watching line, especially for so few episodes, if not much higher.

Fall 2012 Review: Go On

16 Aug

In Go On, Matthew Perry plays sports talk radio host Ryan King, who we find out is being suspended temporarily from his radio program to  to deal with the sudden death of his wife.  Before he can come back, his bosses mandate that he must take a 10 session course with others who have lost loved ones, in order to have some proof he’s appropriately dealt with his grief.  King naturally wants nothing to do with this; he doesn’t want to talk about his feelings, but rather wants to get right back to his outrageous sports shock jock broadcasting.  He reluctantly goes to his forced counseling sessions, and when the leader is absent, he takes control of the room of misfits, having them compete to see who has the saddest sob story (if only George Costanza had been a contestant).  When the actually group head arrives, he refuses to take part in her hippie-dippie share-your-feelings exercises, and demands that she sign his form so that he can go back to work.  In his short time attempting to ignore the leader’s instructions in the group, he gets one of the younger members to share about his traumatic experience.  Frustrated, the leader signs the form, but then when King goes back, he has a screaming incident after interviewing Terrell Owens (good sports get!) and realizes that maybe he needs therapy more than he originally thought.  He then voluntarily returns to the group, where he leads the band of merry misfits in  an uplifting activity.

Here’s my first issue.  I’ve never particularly liked Matthew Perry.  I never liked Friends, but I haven’t seen all that many episodes, and though I watched a disturbing amount of Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, Perry had little to do with why that show was such a disaster.  Probably the primary reason I have an intuitive dislike of Perry is his ability to constantly come off as smug, and smugness is one of my least favorite qualities in a person.  Immediately Perry began to rub me the wrong way in Go On, and though that’s probably partly the intent, it forced me to lower my expectations just a couple of minutes into the episode.

Additionally, It’s hard to watch this show as a Community fan and not think of it in comparison; the premise is that an arrogant, self-centered jerk is forced to take a pause in his career to spend some time with a diverse group of fuck ups who all have some quirky issues, and that this jerk must learn how to become a little less jerky, and does, through the input of the group, while helping lead them through dealing with their issues.

The problem of course is that this isn’t Community.  While Community didn’t manage to flesh out its chracters either until at least halfway through the first season (the first few were the Jeff, Britta, super weird Abed and others show), the pilot was very funny.  If I dissect Go On and look at the parts inside, I can see exactly where the writers scientifically put in all the elements; the wacky side characters, the heart, King’s possible evolution as a person, and such, but the writing’s not as good and it just doesn’t come together the same way.  There’s really only one real character in the first episode, and that’s Perry, and he doesn’t quite have the charisma to sell the show by himself.

Comedy’s a tough game and it takes more than 22 minutes to develop the elements for success, especially when in the first episode time is wasted explaining how we got to where we are, an explanation that should never need to be repeated again.  With that in mind though, in the pilot you hope to see just enough of certain elements that if you model future episodes in your brain these elements flesh out logically into funny, well developed episodes.  This takes a lot of guesswork, and while truly awful shows are obvious from about 3 minutes in (try watching Anger Management or Men at Work), the good shows need time.  However, forced to make a guess here, I’m not seeing it.

Will I watch it again?  I’m not going to watch the next episode.  It’s a comedy, and successful or not,  it is actually trying to be good comedy (it’s not a CBS multicamera sitcom) so I’ll be open to the possibility of chatter that the show is really finding its legs or “hitting the jukebox.”  If I had to guess, I would guess that it won’t, but I’ve been wrong before.

Addendum:  Although a few of the group members are wacky, and they barely have names in this episode, I regret omitting originally my relatively new review segment of “Wacky Side Character Alert” if only because I didn’t pause to comment on the work of Brett Gelman who plays a super creepy nameless guy who is by far the wackiest, and is better known by me for his exemplary work as Brett on Adult Swim’s Eagleheart.

The Good Wife: Additional Notes on the First Season

15 Aug

I wrote about The Good Wife earlier this week, but noted that I had seen just the first third of the season.  I finished the rest in about a week and a half.  Why?  I’m not really sure.  I don’t really understand why people love it so much, but I had it on my computer, so damn well, I apparently decided I’d get through it.  Will I ever watch the remaining seasons?  Only time will tell.  Now, a couple of quick thoughts I had during the rest of the season.

The firm is going through hard times, as is the rest of the legal world, the show tells us a million times.  Senior partners Gardner (Josh Charles) and Lockhart (Christine Baranski) are looking for a third partner, after they break off with their original third partner early in the season.  Amongst the choices are Clinton adviser and famous 90s-political figure Vernon Jordan, who actually makes a 20 second speaking appearance on the show.

Did you know the firm in The Good Wife is undergoing layoffs?  If you watched any three minute segment of the show, you know, because they announce it about a thousand times.  Times are tough, and everybody needs to watch out because layoffs are coming!

Again, an obsessive TV fan like myself truly appreciates the who’s who of minor tv actors and actresses, in which this show seems to out law & order even Law & Order in this respect.  Among the actors and actresses appearing in more than one episode are True Blood’s waitress Arlene, as a lawyer, Royal Pains’ Jill Flint as a recurring FBI agent who apparently as a thing with Kalinda, Raising Hope’s Martha Plimpton as an attorney, Gary Cole as a conservative ballistic expert with a thing for Christine Baranski, Oz’s Terry Kinney as a contractor who might testify against Alicia’s husband, The Wire’s Chris Partlow, Gbenga Akinnagbe, as a pastor advising Alicia’s husband (The Wire’s Commissioner Burrell, Frankie Faison, plays his dad) and just so many more.

Dylan Baker (fantastic character actor, and Zeljko Ivanek contender who appeared as Lena Dunham’s father in Girls and Katherine McPhee’s father in Smash just this past year, and was also Curt Connors in Spider-man 2 and 3 as well as many other roles) plays a sexually adventurous hyper rich possible killer of his wife and a stalker in two separate episodes in the first season, which is far and away the  most out there plot of the season, and which feels like it is has no place in this show.  The Good Wife is hardly grounded in reality, but it’s mostly not this sensational either.  It really seems like something out of The Practice, where defending a possibly deranged serial killer was the subject of at least one out of every three episodes.

I had known the show was filmed in New York and not in Chicago, where it’s set, and often the streets look largely like New York, but in one scene I straight out saw a Brooklyn street sign, Flatbush and St. Marks.  Oops.  I’m sure I was just about the only one who noticed, and then went back to confirm, but still.

In every other episode, even though 90% of her clients are the “good guys,” Alicia Florrick gets this disgusted look on her face and wonders if they really should be standing up for this or that client every time there’s a whiff of defending a guilty criminal, or a despicable corporation.  Yes, for the 100th time – sometimes the guilty get off, Alicia – you have to zealously represent your client, you don’t get to impose your ethics, those are the rules.  Here’s an idea – you can work for plenty of legal organizations that don’t do that kind of work, and forfeit your expensive salary, and then you can get to live with yourself ethically if that’s your issue.

Summer 2012 Review: Perception

14 Aug

  Perception is TNT’s new dramatic entry in its ongoing identity crisis to figure out what the hell the network is.  You’ve got ambitious action sci-fi shows like Falling Skies, gritty cop dramas like Southland, primetime soaps, like Dallas, and USA-like character based procedurals like The Closer and now Perception. Perception stars Will and Grace’s Will, Eric McCormack as a neuroscience professor known as the leader is his field and a forensic neuroscience expert who is eccentric, brilliant, and clinically crazy, in that he sees people who aren’t there who talk to him, giving him clues that his conscious mind apparently cannot. He fits the USA main character rubric to a T – he’s absolutely brilliant but has a major personal flaw he must struggle with (for Neal in White Collar, it’s the whole criminal thing, for Monk, OCD, etc.).  He’s approached, in the first episode, by former student, and previous colleague Kate Moretti (played by Rachel Leigh Cook, who seemingly disappeared from acting after She’s All That and Josie and the Pussycats, but reappeared on TV with a reoccurring role in Psych).  Moretti now works for the FBI.  It seems Daniel has helped out Kate before, but left when Kate moved to Virginia, but now that Kate’s back, he’s in again.  She recruits him to help solve the case of a murdered pharmaceutical executive, and he does, in stops and starts, with a little help from his imaginary friends who aren’t really there.  He does this with the help of his student helper, Lewicki, who helps organize his life and tell him if people are really there or not in exchange for free board, and his confidant and advisor Natalie, who we learn at the end of the episode IS ALSO IN HIS HEAD.

This promises to be our week to week format.  Dan uses his brain skills to solve the case, along with help from Kate’s on the ground common sense police work, and learns a little bit about fixing himself, with any luck, along the way.  Maybe there will be some slow character growth or the possibility of a love interest or a new friend, but maybe not.   The entertainment value is simply in how entertaining the cases Daniel must solve are for the viewer.  We’ve seen this show a thousand times.  That doesn’t make it bad, but it makes it very difficult to stand out.

Oh, and LeVarr Burton plays the dean of his school in which I’d hope is a recurring role.   Also, it’s eerily similar to the short-lived Jeff Goldblum NBC show Raines, where Goldblum played a detective who talked to apparitions of crime victims which gave him information about their killers, and then went away when the crime was solved.  Luckily for Perception, the existence of Raines has been all but forgotten.

Will I watch it again?  Week to week, no.  I have enough USA shows in my life that I’m committed to.  On a Saturday afternoon while having coffee and lying on the couch?  Wouldn’t rule it out, if Monk and Pscyh and Law & Order and Law & Order: SVU aren’t on.

Show of the Day: The Good Wife

13 Aug

Opening Note:  Okay, this show is 23 fucking episodes a season; I’m not used to watching network dramas and I forget just how long they are, which is nice when you’re in the middle of watching live a show you love, but not so nice when you’re in the midst of catching up on a show you’re not sure if you care about yet.  So I’m going to comment after watching the first third or so of the first season, and then we’ll see again when I finish.

Procedurals are the rom coms of television; you know exactly what’s going to happen, but the joy is in seeing exactly how each episode hits each prong of the formula.  It’s kind of like a gymnastics or ice skating routine; you know what you’ll be grading them on, it’s how high they get the jump, how the form is on their spins (axels, whatever else they’re call), and how they stick the landings.

It’s both hard and easy to watch a procedural like The Good Wife after watching many other, more serial, more unorthodox shows.  On one hand, it’s harder because there’s just less to it, it’s less complicated, and there’s nothing that makes it really stand out.  On the second hand, it’s easy, well partly for the same reasons; it fits a model your brain recognizes and you can sort of kick back without thinking too hard; I don’t mean this as an insult; as much as I’d love to, even I couldn’t take hours and hours and hours in a row of Mad Men and Breaking Bad in any mood.  Good Wifes are easier to just pound back, and for that reason I understand why people like procedurals in general.

The titular Good Wife is Alicia Florrick, played by TV vet Julianna Margulies.  She was an ambitious law school grad who took a back seat as a housewife to her husband’s career in politics, which took him (Peter Florrick, played by Law & Order and Sex & the City star Chris Noth) all the way to state’s attorney of Cook County, home county for Chicago.  This empire came crashing down when he was found to have slept with escorts, and accused of using public funds to pay for them, landing him in jail, and his wife as torn apart and having to work.  She gets a job at a high-powered maybe midsize firm Stern, Lockhart, & Gardner, thanks to a friendship with senior partner Will Gardner (Josh Charles).  She’s in competition for a full-time position with fellow junior associate Cary, a fratty, younger, but not entirely unlikable lawyer. Each episode features a case for the gang to win, along with slow progress on the plot of Alicia’s husband, trying to appeal his sentence, and Alicia and her kids’ home life.

I’m honestly not quite sold yet.  It’s eminently watchable but it’s not challenging at all.  Challenging is maybe a bad word; but as far as procedurals go, I’ll take my Law & Order any day of the week, or a Psych, which is admittedly silly, but yes, admittedly silly.  And you know, what, challenging is a bad word, because it sounds pretentious, and I don’t really mean that.  Revenge is not challenging, but I enjoyed the first season of that show a bit more than the first season of The Good Wife.

Okay, you know what, here’s my real problem with the show when it comes down to it.  Florrick’s persona life and figuring out how to deal with the strange situation she’s been dealt by her husband is great, and interesting, and not something we’ve seen a million times before.  The legal procedural part just isn’t that interesting on the whole, though.  I don’t mean to week to week.  On a one-by-one basis most of the cases are fine, and yeah, by the time we reach the last ten minutes I want to know who did it, or have Alicia string them up in court, and yes, that’s all good.  But every week, week to week, the structure is so repetitive.  Even though she’s allegedly working for a kind of big law firm that does work for big shady or corporate clients, she’s always somehow working for the poor child or the innocent housemaid of a big client.  Her clients are always innocent, no matter how unlikely that is.  She’s always right.  Her investigators are always right.  Even when there’s a twist in what she believes, it’s a relatively underwhelming twist.  Most procedurals are like this, and with entertaining stories, they can still be worth watching (I excuse it even more for shows like Monk and Psych that are essentially comedies), but with the type of reviews and praise The Good Wife gets I expected more.

Now just a few stray notes:

The best part is the guest stars!  Combinations of that guys and people who later became regulars on other shows are everywhere.  Gillian Jacobs!  Titus Welliver!  Nestor Serrano!  David Paymer!  Peter Riegert!  Every episode is guaranteed at the least one or two random TV characters I recognize; it’s wonderful watching the credits and waiting for them to show up; even in incredibly minor roles.

There’s an episode about about conjugal visits; internet tells me those don’t exist in Illinois  I looked it up!  Now look, I know, you change up the rules for story sometimes, and unless you’re Matthew Weiner or David Simon, you don’t stay on track to all the actual truths and facts as close as you can.  Sometimes it just seems lazy though.  Like, sure, playing with some legal procedure is inevitable to make shows dramatic and watchable, but there’s absolutely no need to have a conjugal visit to make the story work.  I admit I’m probably being irrational here, but just putting that on the table.

One episode suggests that idea that a clip featuring an interview by the prostitute who slept with Peter Florrick on Chelsea Lately is seen by everyone in the show.  Sure, the family would find out because it’s relevant to them, but in what world is everybody watching Chelsea Lately?

Final word is basically that I don’t think it’s bad by any means, but as of yet I’m not seeing what makes this so good.

One Comment About the Olympics: The Disqualified Badminton Players Were Right

8 Aug

Time for another polemical entry that’s only peripherally about TV, in that the Olympics air on TV.  It’s a little late, but I want to talk about and defend the women’s badminton players who got disqualified from the Olympics for some trumped up version of “not trying hard enough”   For those who don’t know, well, that pretty much sums it up.  Because of the way the non-eliminator preliminary rounds of the Olympic badminton tournament are set up, certain competitors believed it would be to their advantage to lose games to gain better seeding going forward to the elimination segments.  The Badminton World Federation claimed that this violated the Olympic ideals and disqualified four teams.

You know what, this is total bullshit.  Let’s not fucking kid ourselves.  The Olympics, and all sports, are not about some amorphous playing-your-best standard.  They’re about winning.  Sure, those goals are intertwined 99% of the time, and I don’t mean this statement in a way that people playing their best without hope of actually winning shouldn’t be proud of themselves.  What I do mean is that, people who actually think they can win, should be focused on how to get there, rather than playing their best every second of the time, first and foremost, and they are, in all sports.  For example, teams consistently rest their best players after they’ve clinched playoff spots in team sports.  Their health is too important; winning is not the priority in those games.  Sure, you say, they’re not trying to lose, though, they rather don’t care one way or the other.  Well, occasionally in the NBA, an odd dance emerges, when, for playoff seeding, a team does activiely want to lose, such as when Dallas, who finished with the second best record (2005-06), but was second in its own division, was seeded fourth, and teams preferred the sixth spot to the fifth to avoid Dallas, even though the seed was nominally lower.  Now, of course in team sports, the way to actively lose is simply to keep your best players out of the game as much as possible, and watch as your worse players, who are still incentived to play their best in the race for playing time, lose on their own.  In individual sports with no subs, you can’t put on the scrubs and watch them lose without the ethical quandary of not trying hard enough.

Even in the Olympics, you see ethically approved not-trying-as-hard-as-you-can in swimming and track heats.  Runners and swimmers who know they’re virtually assured of moving to the final take it easy in their heats, especially towards the end.  The best teams use substitute swimmers, who won’t be participating in the finals.  You may argue here that the intention is not to lose, but rather not to care if they win, but I’d argue that’s a thin line at best.  After all, there’s no incentive for these players not to win, just not to care where they finish as long as they advance, and that’s precisely what happens.  I’d ask how do you know these players were trying to lose, in any sport, and you’d reply, “it was obvious,” which is really kind of a cop out.  Obviousness is never a good objective standard for anything.  Especially when there’s a superior alternative, which is to restructure the tournaments to incentive winning.  Major soccer tournaments made a move to play the final matches of their round robin stage at the same time to avoid situations in which the last match is between two teams who know that if they draw they both advance, and thus have no incentive to try to score.  Of course, people could have complained then that they should all be thrown out for non-competitiveness, but thankfully for the soccer players it’s far easier to bury non-trying in an 11 on 11 soccer match than in a 2 on 2 badminton match.

I admit certainly that losing for betting purposes rather than simply the long-term purpose of winning is extremely problematic for sports, and it can be very difficult to discern, but there’s the added major advantage of being able to sniff it out through changes in betting patterns.  No one is accusing the badminton players of this, but if anything, I’d add, the so-called obviousness of their not trying would belie any accusations anyway, because certainly, with the potential repercussions, any athlete would go to great lengths to avoid being accused of fixing matches for cash.

The fault here is not the badminton players at all.  In fact, the advice I’d give them is do the same thing next time, except try a little harder so they have plausible deniability, and can claim to have passed the arbitrary “trying hard enough” standard that somehow somebody in the Olympics thinks they have the ability to decide.  Were you trying 60%?  70%?  What if they were tired?  A little hurt?  Had a stomach or headache?  It is absolutely ridiculous to be asking anyone to defend how they feel.  Here’s a fucking idea – design your sport so it rewards trying as hard as you can all the time, if that’s what you want, and the players will do it.  Design your sport in a way in which losing occasionally increases their odds of medaling, and well, I say, resepect to these players for doing everything within their power to win – this was not cheating.  These athletes should certainly not be punished for thinking about the bigger prize; winning the gold medal was their primarily goal, rather than a amorphous impossible to judge standard of playing as hard as they can every match.  That’s all that one can reasonably ask from athletes.

Quick addendum:  Another not trying hard enough scandal has broken out at these Olympics, this time involving Algerian runner Taoufik Makhloufi who stopped running in his 800 meter race heat, allegedly to save strength for his bid in the 1500, in which he was more likely to medal.  Track’s governing body, the I.A.A.F., disqualified Makloufi from the Olympics, but he was reinstated after claiming injury.  A couple of track stars weighed in, on Makloufi’s side, with former medal winning sprinter Ato Boldon saying, “Anything that maximizes your chances to win a medal for your country, you should be able to do.  If I’m in the 100 and 200, and if I think I have no chance in the 100 and should keep a full tank of gas for the 200, I didn’t harm anybody by not qualifying. I didn’t keep somebody out of the next round.”  Sprinter Allison Peter added, wisely, “It’s his choice.  It shouldn’t be up to an official’s choice to judge. How do you know if I was trying or not?”

Summer 2012 Review: Dallas

7 Aug

Dallas is part of a recent spate of TV soap revivials including the kind of successful 90210 and the unsuccessful Melrose Place, but this revival is of a slightly older show, and with more original characters and actors playing more important parts.

I can sum up what I know about the original Dallas in a couple of sentences.  I know J.R. is the bad one and Bobby is the good one, and that the events take place near and on the Southfork Ranch in Texas.  (Sidenote:  My parents took my brothers and I to the real Southfork Ranch when we visited Dallas as kids).  I knew the Ewings were the good guys and the Barnes’s were the bad guys, and who shot J.R.  I also know the theme song.  That’s about it.

The theme song is back (smart move; the theme is a total classic, and hearkens back to the best of themes from that era) along with J.R., Bobby, as well as Sue Ellen, J.R.’s wife in the original, and now ex-wife, all played by their original actors and actress.  Even as someone who never watched the original Dallas, I can appreciate there’s something to having the old actors back at their classic parts; it’s like watching an old pitcher you didn’t get to appreciate as a youngster back on the team later in his career.  The new major characters are Bobby’s son Christopher (Jesse Metcalfe, who played John Tucker in John Tucker Must Die, and also appeared in Desperate Housewives), and J.R.’s son John Ross (Josh Henderson, also a recurring character in Desperate Housewvies), along with their respective belles, Rebecca (played by third season Veronica Mars actress Julie Gonzalo) and Elena (Fast and Furious veteran Jordana Brewster).  Bobby also has a new wife played by Brenda Strong (best known, you guessed it from Desperate Housewives).

Okay, let’s run through the pilot episode right quick.  Christopher went abroad for a while before the series, where he met Rebecca; they’re now engaged, and he comes back to Southfork for their wedding.  John Ross and Elena made a huge discovery of oil on Southfork, drilling without asking Bobby, owner of the ranch, for permission.  Bobby’s got stomach cancer but is reluctant to tell his family before the wedding.  He visits J.R., who is rotting away in a home, suffering from depression.  While John Ross has put his stock in oil, Christopher is all in on alternative energy, and he’s got a big plan with methane, but he needs money.  Bobby is ready to sell Southfork off to a conservatory to provide him with the cash.  Bobby finds out about the drilling on his land and is furious.  It turns out that Chris’s methane technology has major issues, which John Ross, after spying on Chris’s work to discover the information, threatens to tell Bobby about on the day of the wedding.  Fortunately for Chris, Bobby doesn’t care, and a petulant John Ross goes to see his father who rises up for the first time in ages, spurred by the desire to take back Southfork for himself.  It also turns out that Elena was once engaged to Bobby; they had each thought the other had broken the engagement, but the break up was due to an e-mail sent by a mysterious third party telling Elena that Bobby wasn’t interested anymore.  The episode ends with a handshake deal between Bobby and the woman from the conservatory, followed by consecutive scenes showing that either J.R., John Ross, or both, have the conservatory woman in their pocket.  Oh, also John Ross meets this woman on the center of the new Cowboys field for a reason I’m not aware of.

I’ll admit.  I haven’t really been huge into primetime soaps over the course of my teleiviosion watching days.  I don’t really have a great reason for it.  In fact, after watching all my favorite but often more serious shows, it might be just what I need.  I didn’t watch 90210 or Melrose Place as a kid and I never really got into The OC or Gossip Girl when they were big.  Revenge is a big moment in personal prime time soap history for me, following one regularly, and I quite like it, and while I’m probably not going to watch more Dallas, it really wasn’t bad.  Larry Hagman as J.R. already seemed more put together and cunning than his son in about three minutes of non-comatose time.  The show wasn’t incredibly compelling, but it was a little bit, and the warring family classic soap pattern still has some potential juice in it.  It was irony-free prime time soap, unlike the Gossip Girls of the world, but it seemed like it could have the right level of trash to keep things going.  I may be couching this in a surprising way, but that might be because whenever I watch a show that I don’t have a high expectations for, I have low expectations for it, and even just exceeding those is kind of impressive.  The old characters were actually more riveting than the new.

Will I watch it again?  You know, I probably won’t.  I have Revenge in my life as my current top soap, and it’s better than this, at least from the first episode of each.  Dallas isn’t close to must watch TV.  But I was interested enough to read the quick wikipedia summaries of each episode, and that’s perhaps worth something.  The show is a solid okay.