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Fall 2011 Review: The Playboy Club

18 Oct

Of the two set-in-the-early-‘60s shows (Pan Am is the other), Playboy is  making much more of an effort to be Mad Men.  I’m not going to say that’s exactly what it is, or that it’s ripping if off, or anything of the sort, but I’ll make the mild comment that of the two shows, Playboy Club is clearly leaning more in that direction.

The Playboy Club is about the title location in Chicago, about a few of the girls who work as bunnies there, and about the manager and one particular key-holder (I guess you need a key to enter) named Nick Dalton who is a mysterious figure running for state attorney general but with a past that ties him to the mob.  The first episode is centered around a new bunny, portrayed by Amber Heard. Nearly the first action of the show is a man attempting to rape Heard.  Heard, helped byDalton, accidentally kills him, resisting the rape, and then finds out he’s a powerful Chicago mobster. Dalton and Heard bury the body and invent a story that she went back to his place to sleep with him, ruining his relationship with another bunny in the process.  They have to keep up the cover, while Amber Heard learns more about the salacious and exciting world of being a bunny.  There’s a vague hint that she has some sort of mysterious background which could have come out if the show lasted longer.

Unsubtlety is a hallmark of the first episode of Playboy Club.  It’s the ‘60s, and times-they-are-a-changin’!  That point couldn’t have been made more blatantly.  Literally, there’s narration at the beginning and end of the episode by Hugh Hefner basically saying as much (apparently the narration is only in the pilot).  The civil rights movement is on!  The one African-American bunny gives an incredibly unsubtle monologue about the opportunity working in The Playboy Club provides for someone of her race.  Gays have no rights!  One of the other bunnies and her husband live together in a sham marriage because they can’t come out with their homosexuality at the time.  We get it Playboy Club, you’re trying to put yourself at the heart of the cultural and political changes of the ‘60s.  Next time remember that these things work better when there’s at least a modicum of subtlety.

I’m fairly confident the main draw of this show is the attractive women wearing little clothing.  Not that that’s not a real draw, but there isn’t really much else.  That said, I’ll damn the show with faint praise by saying it’s not quite as bad as I thought it would be.  It’s not a truly terrible show; what I’ve found at least this year so far is that the worst comedies are significantly worse than the worst dramas.  It’s kind of offensive, and it’s attempt to say that these women are really not being objectified, but that they’re rather on the edge of a new femininity doesn’t really work.  The problem with the show more than that was just that it was boring.  Nothing happened in the episode that made me want to tune in for another one.

I realized The Playboy Club is cancelled already as I post this, but at least it’s nice to know there was no big loss there.

Will I watch it again?  Well, it won’t be on again, but no, I wouldn’t have anyway.  It wasn’t truly awful but it wasn’t by any means good either.  The only friend I know who watched all three episodes admitted a large part of his choice was made because of the scantily clad women.

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Fall 2011 Review: Homeland

15 Oct

There were a couple of candidates for the most interesting new show of the Fall, but I think I’ve found it in Homeland (so far, anyway).  I only kind of understood what the show was about coming in, but I leave the show a lot more intrigued than I was before watching.

At the beginning of the episode, Claire Danes’ character, Carrie Mathison, CIA officer, is in Iraq, and gets a message from an Iraqi prisoner set to be assassinated.  She gets the message after she promises to protect his family after bribing her way into the prison to talk to him.  Ten months later, she’s back in Washington and on the CIA shitlist for bribing her way into the prison.  We then learn two key pieces of set up for the show.  First, a marine taken prisoner of war eight years ago has been found alive by American special forces and is coming back home a national hero, and two, the piece of information Mathison got was that Al Qaeda had managed to turn a prisoner of war, which Mathison guesses to be the marine, Nicholas Brody, portrayed by Damian Lewis.

The episode follows the twin paths of Mathison and Brody.  Mathison, a career-driven agent, who is convinced that Brody is a terrorist, trying to circumvent the law whenever necessary to get the information to prove to her boss and mentor that Brody was turned, and Brody slowly trying to work himself back into a society he’s been out of for eight years, meeting a family he hasn’t seen, and a son he barely knows.

The supporting cast played less of a role in the premiere, but seems interesting.  On Brody’s side are his wife and his good friend, who have been sleeping together in his absence.  On Mathison’s side are her mentor, Saul Berenson, played by Mandy Patinkin, who believes in Mathison’s competence but is concerned about her tendency to take things too far, and her boss David Estes.

Underpinning this all is an intense psychological thriller.  Danes might be right, and Brody is a terrorist waiting to happen, and every moment not following his every move is a moment wasted.  Or, Danes might be crazy or obsessive – we get some hints she’s a little off her rocker in the first episode.  It may slightly lean towards the former in the first episode; we know he lies in his debriefing from quick visions we see inside his head.  Still, I’m counting on the fact that there’s a lot we don’t know and that it can still go either way.  In my opinion, the show would lose a lot if it just spilled the beans too early about what was really going on; part of what’s great is the intense psychological showdown and the lack of clear objective truth.

Will I watch again?  Book it – this is one of the highlights of the new shows, if not the best.  Danes is fantastic, and there’s a lot of different ways this can go, and still be great.  I can’t think of another television show quite like it.  After watching The Killing, I’ve developed a fear that every intense show with a great premiere is just waiting to go downhill, but hopefully this show will start building back my optimism.

Fall 2011 Review: Hart of Dixie

13 Oct

Unforgettable was exactly what I thought it would be, and so is Hart of Dixie, but as a very different type of show.  I’ll talk about the premise in more detail below, but I can pretty much sum it up like this:  big-city-super-educated-doctor-girl moves into small-hick-southern town, learns that the people there aren’t so bad after all.

That’s basically all I need to get across the main gist of the show.  That said, here’s a little bit of a longer version.  Rachel Bilson portrays Dr. Zoe Hart (yes, let’s spend a second on the literalness of the pun in the title, Saving Grace and others like it have a successor), a high-powered doctor whose had her whole life planned out since she was a kid. She wanted to be like her dad and become a Cardio-thoracic surgeon, working with him in his practice.  She is shocked when she doesn’t get the fellowship she needs because, as she learns, she doesn’t have the people skills needed to be a top doctor.  The person who grants the fellowships tells her to get some practice as a general practitioner, and then come back and reapply.  Meanwhile, she has had a strange outstanding offer from a general practitioner in a small Alabama town, a Harvey Wilkes, to come down to his practice and help out.  She takes him up on the offer, only to find out when she gets there that he died recently, but left his half of his practice to her.  She then has a number of City Slickers moments, meeting the (main) characters of the town and not fitting in everywhere, and she feels alienated.  Her mother comes down begging her to leave, and she is planning on it, until she is forced to help deliver a pregnancy at a wedding, and also finds out that Harvey Wilkes was her true biological father.  She then decides to stay and learn about her biological father and about being a general practitioner and about growing as a person.

Okay, so the simple explanation was probably just as useful as the long one in determining what kind of show it is, but that doesn’t say whether or not it’s good.  Like Unforgettable, I think part of it is just whether the type of show appeals to you, in particular because I think the show was nothing notably good or notably bad.  I liked Rachel Bilson more than I thought I would, and I do think she has the charm and likeability to carry a show, and I enjoyed Scott Porter (Jason Street from Friday Night Lights) speaking with a southern accent.  If you like the actors, and you like a little fluffy drama with some probable light soapiness,  you’ll probably like the show.  It’s not close to can’t miss television though.

Will I watch it again?  No, I won’t.  There just isn’t enough going on.  There’s nothing wrong with it, per se; it’s not bad.  It’s just not that interesting either.  It’s cute and it’s light and I appreciate the draw of shows like that but I already watch a couple that satisfy that sector for me.

Fall 2011 Review: Unforgettable

12 Oct

Poppy Montgomery’s character Carrie Wells can never forget.  No, really, she has an exceptionally rare medical condition in which she remembers EVERYTHING.  She used to be a cop up in her hometown of Syracuse, but she couldn’t deal with the memory so she moved toNew York, volunteers at a nursing home and makes money counting cards at blackjack.  That is, until a murder happens in her building and she runs into her old partner and lover, played by Dylan Walsh (of Nip/Tuck fame).  After catching up, he convinces her against her initial resentment to help them with the case by remember some things about the murdered woman’s apartment, which Carrie had been to a few weeks before the murder.  She helps them arrest one suspect, and then another more correct one and her ex eventually convinces her to come on board by showing her that she can still get closer to figuring out the one thing she can’t remember, the mysterious disappearance of her sister which she’s been trying to figure out since she joined the force years ago.

While American Horror Story was the strangest show amongst premieres, Unforgettable was probably the most predictable.  It’s as close to a straight CBS procedural as there is amongst the new shows this year.  Every week, there will be a crime, and Wells will consult to the police using her memory somehow to solve it (I’m not sure how they use this gimmick for twenty two cases a year, but I’m sure they’ll figure out a way).  Every once in a while, we’ll see a little bit of plot movement on the serial story of her figuring out what happened to her sister, and if we get a few seasons, maybe we’ll actually find out.

It’s hard to say much about this show that goes farther than what you already know from reading the summary.  It’s exactly what you think it is, and that’s neither a good nor bad thing.  If you like that kind of show, if you’re always watching CBS procedurals, it’s worth at least giving a chance, and if you like the actors, you’ll like, and if it’s not your kind of show, don’t even bother.

Two quick points – first, CBS is the network forNew Yorkshows this year, and Unforgettable continues the trend of A Gifted Man and Person of Interest highlighting the fact that they’re set in NY, here with some seriousEast Rivershots.  Second, there’s a flashback to when Wells is first getting together with Dylan Walsh and they play the song “It’s Been Awhile” by Staind to both represent the year (2001) and the fact that, well, it’s been a while since that scene happened.  Pretty brilliant.

Will I watch it again?  No, I’m not going to.  I don’t watch any police procedural show on a regular basis, be it a CSI, Mentalist or NCIS.  I hold absolutely no animus towards any of these shows; they’re almost all various degrees of watchable and I could do worse than spending a lazy morning hour watching Criminal Minds or an Unforgettable.

Fall 2011 Review: How to Be A Gentleman

11 Oct

I expected How to Be A Gentleman to be truly despicably awful on the level of Whitney, but it really wasn’t on that level, it was just merely not good at all.  It wasn’t cringeworthy.  I didn’t have trouble getting through the show.  It was just quite bad.

The premise is that David Hornby (Rickety Cricket from It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia) portrays an old school “gentleman” who opens doors for women and helps old ladies cross the street, and writes a column titled “How to Be A Gentleman” about well, you can figure it out.  His magazine, boss Dave Foley, lets him know, has been bought and is changing its target, and if he wants to remain employed he’ll make his column young and edgy and far less Gentleman-like.  Of course, he doesn’t know anything of that world.  He uses a birthday gift from his sister (Mary Lynn Rajskub, or Chloe from 24) for a training session at a gym which it turns out is run by a old high school bully, Bert Lansing (Kevin Dillon, or Entourage’s Johnny Drama virtually reprising his role).  Bert, feeling guilty about all the bullying years ago, is a bro, who wants to help Hornby’s character out, and Hornby, needing to learn this lifestyle for his column agrees.

It’s a CBS comedy and it feels like a CBS comedy.  The laughter is canned, the angle is multi-camera, and there are slow breaks between jokes as we gather ourselves to prepare for the next one.

Even in a weak new season for comedy (New Girl is the best, and it’s not great), How To Be A Gentleman is fairly terrible.  One of my issues is that it conflates being a “Gentleman” with being a total loser.  I’m not sure why those things need to go together, but that seems to be what’s going on here.  His family, at his birthday dinner, notes what a loser he is and how he wouldn’t have to be if he wasn’t so uptight, or in his mind, so gentlemanly.  It’s kind of irritating to watch just how loser-ish he is time and again, more so than anyone would be in real life.  Every character is far over the top, unrelatable, and not funny.

This is one of a mini-trend of sitcoms about emasculated men searching for manliness with ABC sitcoms Man Up and Last Man Standing.  I’m really to think of a way for the trend to work, but it seems misguided from the get go.

Will I watch it again?  No.  I honestly wish the cast assembled had something a bit better to work with but I can’t in good conscience be wasting time with a lousy show like this when there are so many better shows on tv.

Fall 2011 Review: Whitney

7 Oct

Whitney Cummings has two television shows on the air, both of them awful, and both of them naturally inviting comparison to one another.  It can often be difficult to compare two things that are both very bad, but I’ll make an attempt but describing them as thus; 2 Broke Girls is more offensive, but Whitney is worse.

What galls me more than anything else is that Whitney is given a spot on the NBC Thursday line up, the home of the most progressive and best comedies on network tv in the last decade.  Whitney, like Outsourced, shares absolutely nothing in common with what works about these other shows (The Office, Community, 30 Rock, Parks and Recreation) and I’m honestly not sure how the network could think for a second that it’s a fit.

Before I actually go into the substance of the show, which is terrible, the style itself immediately separates it from these other shows.  First of all, it has a laugh track.  I didn’t spend as much time on this with 2 Broke Girls because, well, as much as a laugh track is awful, every single show on CBS has a laugh track (CSI: Miami even I think) and that’s just the way things operate around there.  But Whitney is put in a context next to shows that have no laugh tracks; in fact I’m fairly certain no other comedy on NBC does.  Frankly, there’s absolutely no excuse for having a laugh track in this day and age.  It’s insulting to the viewer, who clearly can’t figure out when to laugh on his or her own, and it slows down the show, placing strange awkward gaps between lines.  It’s even more noticeable because of the contrast with the shows airing before Whitney.

Second, there’s the multi-camera format, while all the other NBC comedies are single camera.  Unlike with a laugh track, this isn’t bad by nature; there’s no reason a multi-camera comedy has to be bad, but it tends to be by practice – it just doesn’t feel modern, and on top of that it leads to, combined with the pauses due to the laugh track, posing, and staring right at the camera after a joke, which feels painful, especially when the joke is awful.  It feels like a canned comedy from the 1950s or ‘60s.

Wow, that was all on style.  Substance, well, Whitney just isn’t funny at all.  Whitney is supposed to be this woman who doesn’t fit in the box we put woman in or something; she’s crude and having fun and the leader in her relationship.  Honestly, I don’t really care one way or the other who her character is.  It fails the first rule of comedy – being funny (yes, there are exceptions for shows that are not really funny but technically comedies like Entourage, but let’s move past that for now) The laugh lines are corny, stale and predictable and the side characters seem like they were purchased from the bargain bin at the Sitcom Store (it’s like a Home Depot for Sitcom characters).  They include a man-hungry single woman who can’t stand men with emotions, and a sexist single guy.  Whitney herself has no charisma, whatever scraps of enjoyment can be taken from a sea(ocean?) of terrible are from her long-time boyfriend Alex.

Will I watch it again?  Nope.  I don’t know why anyone would ever watch this show ever again if they’ve seen three minutes of it.

Fall 2011 Review: American Horror Story

6 Oct

When I watched Homeland, I made the possibly too soon comment that I had just seen the best pilot of the fall 2011 season.  Well, after watching American Horror Story, I feel far more confident than that that in saying that I’d just seen the strangest.

Here’s the set up.  Connie Britton and Dylan McDermott are married with a daughter, living in Boston.  He’s a psychologist.  She comes home to find him cheating one day, and we find out later that she recently had a miscarriage, after which they had been distant emotionally.  They move out west to try to save their marriage and their family, and move into a creepy looking Victorian house because it’s twice the size and half the cost than the neighboring houses because the prior residents died inside, in a murder suicide.  We know the house is haunted already because, well, first, the show is called American Horror Story, and second, we saw a prologue in which a couple of mischievous twin pre-teen boys walked into the house to bust stuff up, were warned by a creepy girl that they would die inside, and then were brutally murdered by mysterious paranormal causes.

They enter the house and things are strange.  I’m going to engage in a bit of summarizing here, but this is as much for me as for you, because I need to write it down to have it all make sense to myself.  The mysterious girl from the prologue shows up out of nowhere, a bit older, telling Connie Britton she’ll die, and Jessica Lange comes into the house to take her, introducing herself as the neighbor, but she’s clearly also in on the supernatural.  A woman comes in claiming to have been the maid at the property for years and years, played by Frances Conroy, best known as the mother on Six Feet Under.  She’s hired, but oh, she’s in on the crazy too, in that she looks like a young attractive woman to McDermott but an old maid to everyone else, and she tries to seduce McDermott when she has a chance.  McDermott is treating a high school aged boy who has fantasies of murdering kids at his school, and who befriends McDermott’s teenage daughter who is having trouble fitting in and apparently also cuts herself.  McDermott begins sleepwalking naked (there’s a lot of naked Dylan McDermott) and starts playing with the flames on his stovetop.  Britton has sex with something a latex suit that she thinks is, but is not, McDermott.  McDermott runs into a mutilated Denis O’Hare (Vampire King of Mississippi from True Blood) who claims he lived in the house, which told him to kill his family, which he did, and now he’s only out of jail because he’s dying, but he’s warning McDermott, or maybe he’s just part of the whole supernatural business also.

It’s not just the fact that things are strange.  It’s that they are strange to the point of being extremely confusing (as you probably are if you read that whole summary paragraph), and I don’t mean that in a blatantly bad way as much just an extremely confusing way.  There can be a benefit to a certain amount of confusion in a show like this to get a certain feel, but that can be defeated if it goes too far and the viewer doesn’t have any idea what’s going on halfway into the season.  The style validates this confusing plot with frequent camera jumps and strange coloring.

Where do we go from here?  I’m not sure how this is sustainable for a long period of time.  Either they go crazy and die one way or another, or they get out of the house.  Those seem like the only two options, and though going crazy and dying can certainly take a couple of hours, it’s hard to see it taking more than that or they’d leave the house, unless they’re trapped or who even knows.

Will I watch it again?  Recently I said Pan-Am was the show that I said no to which was the closest to yes of all the series premieres so far.  Well, this is even closer, in that I honestly don’t know.  I’m leaning towards giving it another episode, because I’m curious where it could go, but it has the potential to burn out or get repetitive really quickly.  It may well be a game time decision.  I’m leaning towards watching it, but if I fall behind I can easily see just giving up.