Category Archives: television

Three Things That Brought the Hammer Down Last Week

1. Thor smashed me pleasantly in the face with the mighty hammer of its polished superhero/mythological/space fantasy mashup. Thor has never been my favorite character, either in comics or in Norse mythology, but this movie was the real deal. My biggest concern going in was that the Asgardian fantasy trappings would look inherently goofy captured in the real world. Thor works pretty well for me when he’s running around punching frost giants and cracking trolls in the jaw with his hammer. Walking down the streets of NYC, the whole thing can fall on the wrong side of goofy. Kenneth Branagh largely avoids this problem by keeping the Godly sections of the movie distinct from the mortal, except for a few scenes where the Warriors Three strut down the street in full-on medieval garb, but that’s mostly played for laughs. I also loved how much of a Bro they made Thor as he learned his humility. The S.H.I.E.L.D. stuff took up a good chunk of time, but didn’t feel too shoe-horned in. I am salivating for Captain America and the Avengers will be awesome.

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2. The Hot Sauce Committee (Part Two) by the Beastie Boys has been at the top of my most anticipated albums list. It rocks. I had kind of forgotten how many sucka MCs are out there, so I’m glad the Firm of Horovitz, Yauch, and Diamond is back to school them all with their blistering similes.

3. Archer is the funniest show on television. I’ve been catching up with the last season on Hulu, and the show is really coming into it’s own. What started as a take on the more self-centered and misogynistic aspects of a James Bond-style superspy has developed into a workplace comedy with just a hint of surrealism. The episode “Placebo Effect” had the eponymous secret agent search out the criminal mastermind who had been selling counterfeit cancer medication (sugar pills and Zima). He insists on a “rampage” of revenge, and ends up interrogating the Irish mobsters behind the scheme while physically falling apart from the real meds he finds and engaging in an elaborate Family Feud homage. Hilarious.

My Kingdom for a Rocket Launcher, or Decent Ratings

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Is anybody else out there watching Kings?

After an abortive stab at latching on to the television viewer’s consciousness in the spring, NBC declined to pick up the show and moved its remaining episodes into the graveyard of summer saturdays. The move bummed me out because I think the show is all kinds of awesome.

It’s a retelling of the Book of Kings from the Bible, set in a kind of modern day alternate reality. In the pilot episode a young farmboy-turned-soldier named David singlehandedly destroys a Goliath tank, rescuing the King’s son and setting off a chain of events that insinuates him with the royal family. I have a soft spot for anything that remixes, re-imagines, and updates a familiar story in a novel setting. MacBeth as a gangland crime saga or a dark comedy set in a fast food burger joint? I’m in. Emma, as experienced by high-fashion Beverly Hills teenager? Yes, please. I’ll even see a version of Othello that takes place on basketball team. I’m not sure why, but any kind of alternate take on a familiar story intrigues me. I once unsuccessfully tried to write a screenplay that was The Tempest set on a strange planet before losing interest the way I always do.

But even if Kings didn’t have its biblical pedigree, the show would still rock. Perennial badass and Deadwood alumni Ian McShane stars as the current King and serves up his usual dose of awesomeness. The dialogue is an odd mixture of modern-sounding plain English mixed with a grandiose and poetic style, tinged with just a hint of faux-King James Shakespearian flourish.

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The rest of the cast does an able job, even the slightly bland lead who plays David but this was the kind of dialogue McShane was born to deliver. The plot is grand and sweeping, with royal intrigues taking place alongside romantic subplots bolstered with the occasional action scene. The cinematography and set design are top-notch. Every shot is both beautiful and lived in.

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The alternate history of the world of Kings is doled out slowly. It is a modern world with skyscrapers, cell phones, tanks, and television. Most of the action takes place in Shiloh, the capital city of Gilboa and obvious stand in for New York. It is the power base for King Silas, from which he plans his war with a neighboring country called Gath. Silas is a King, and rules by divine right although he has an array of ministers and advisors to help him keep public opinion up. There is an element of the supernatural at work, as God apparently takes an active hand in affairs of state, usually by sending dreams and omens. Its understated and highlights the source material even as it adds a dimension of grand fate to the story. And I am no theologian, so many of the biblical allusions go over my head but the show still works even without them.

The characters are engaging, from the Rosenkrantz and Guildenstern like palace guards who comment on the action around them to the semi-creepy industrialist borther-in-law who makes life hard for King Silas every background character is well-drawn. The leads are pitch-perfect. Silas is conflicted but assured, while the potential upstart David is innocent, but not too innocent. He gets in a tabloid sex scandal at one point. The King’s son Jack is a closeted and power-hungry villain, while the Queen is both mysterious and capable. Dimensions, people.

But it all adds up to naught because I seem to be the only person in America who even knows this show exists. When the show first premiered people stayed away in droves and it seemed to exist just under the radar of the zeitgeist. That’s a shame. I haven’t really been upset at the loss of a show since the underappreciated Carnivale went off the air. For the last few years, the shows such as Heroes and Lost that I have liked have stuck around and I have been indifferent at best to shows like the Sarah Connor Chronicles and Journeyman that have been canceled. But Kings was different. While I am enjoying the remaining episodes, I do so with a certain melancholy, intensified by the reality show dross that encrusts our television screens while great scripted dramas go ignored. Plotlines will dangle for all time, and I will never get resolution to any of the stories. It’s no fate for a King.

I Have Decided What Area of the Law I Wish To Practice

John Adams and George Washington

Old-Timey American Revolution law, as practiced in the excellent HBO miniseries John Adams. I’m greatly looking forward to wearing breeches and a powdered wig. I’m not much of a history buff; before I started watching this I may have been able to identify Adams as the 2nd President and that he was married to a strong-willed woman but that would have exhausted my knowledge of the subject. I certainly had no idea that he actually defended the Redcoats who fired into the crowd in the Boston Massacre, much less that he was the guy behind the guy when it came to write the declaration of independence. I don’t know how accurate the mini is, but it is most certainly well-made and I find myself wanting to learn more about the founding fathers. Good thing I have Constitutional Law next fall.

Thanks, HBO. I thought I was done with you when Detective McNulty drove off into the sunset, but every time I think I’m out (ready to cancel my subscription), they pull me back in (with kick-ass original programming).

Cornell West on the Real World/Road Rules Challenge: MTV Delivers a Sign that The End is Nigh

Against the advice of my gastroenterologist, I found myself watching MTV last night and I bore witness to something that has to be a sign of the apocalypse. Either MTV has decided to splice footage of noted scholar Cornell West of Princeton into their programming, or I suffered some sort of episode that has caused me to hallucinate images of respected African-American professors in between episodes of Rob & Big. The Cornell West footage had no discernible purpose or context. It was just pictures of some crazy looking dude running around in a scarf.

cornell west, the eminent Princeton scholar for some reason appeared on MTV

I don’t know why it was shot, but MTV would cut to it as interstitial bumpers between commercial breaks and then run it on one side of a split-screen during the end credits and promotions for upcoming episodes. Now, I know that West is no stranger to the pop culture. He appeared on Real Time with Bill Maher a few months back, and even had a cameo in the Matrix sequels. But in what kind of world does one see images Cornell West dancing on one half of the screen while Danny and CT (shirtlessly) talk about their strategy for Real World/Road Rules Challenge: The Gauntlet III. There is something so fundamentally jarring about that juxtaposition that that I could feel my neurons misfiring as I tried to take it in. I could do nothing but blink and sputter for a few seconds, the cognitive dissonance was so strong.

Some youtube hunting and a casual search of the MTV site reveals nothing that can help me understand what I saw and put this disturbing experience behind me.  Did just hallucinate the whole thing? If not, what can it mean for us and the future of our society? What’s next, Noam Chmosky hosting TRL? Up is down, black is white. Nothing makes sense anymore.

Scripters of the World, Unite!

So it looks like the the music makers and the dreamers of dreams are taking it to the streets. The WGA is striking and couch potatoes across the country are freaking the hell out. No one seems to know how long it will last, but it’s a certainty that the networks will be foisting more reality television on us.

I’m more of a movie fan (even though I do watch a a lot of TV) so it’ll take a little while before I really feel the effects because the studios have stockpiled a mountain of scripts to get themselves through the labor action. Hopefully they’ll get everything sorted out before I have to stop going to the movies because there literally isn’t anything to see.

I am a little bummed that the Daily Show and the Colbert Report will have to go into repeats, because there won’t be any writers to turn the events of the day into topical sketches. The only thing left to watch would be the interview, which is my least favorite part of the whole affair. I will also feel the pain once Heroes runs out of ready to produce scripts, but the way the season has been progressing so far, it’s a loss I think I can bare.

My first thought when I realized that the strike was a reality was “Oh well. Now I’ll have even more of a chance to catch up on old shows from Netflix.” I’ve got about a million seasons of a thousand shows in the backlog. I may even up my discs per month until the strike plays out. Which really is kind of the point of the whole strike.

Oh, What a Fool, I’ve Been: Why Wasn’t I Watching The Wire on HBO?

The Wire HBO

For some reason, I never watched one of the best shows of all time until four years into its run. I missed out on the Wire for its first three seasons on HBO. It’s funny because until recently I’ve been an HBO addict, religiously settling in on Sunday nights. With shows like Rome, Carnivale, Deadwood, and of course the flagship Sopranos it seemed like there was always an excellent show waiting for me after the static-y opening graphic. So why didn’t I watch the Wire? I like cop shows, and by all accounts series creators David Simon and Ed Burns are masters of the form. I think it had something to do with missing the first season when it first aired on HBO. I vaguely remember watching an episode or two from the end of the phenomenal first season and being turned off by the sprawling cast of characters and intricate plotting. I know, I know. I was worried about being lost and a few feet behind the trolley because I wasn’t in on the ground floor. Remember, this was before the days when I could buy the first season on DVD, or have it shipped disc by disc to my door via netflix (as I have been doing lately). If I didn’t see the first few episodes of the Wire, I reasoned, then I would be utterly lost. That is a valid concern, but looking back I wish I would have had the will to dig right in. It would have been worth it.

But instead I held off. Every time a new season started, the critics would sing the shows praises. It seemed like you couldn’t pass a newspaper or entertainment magazine without reading an endorsement that The Wire is the finest creation in the history of the television set. “The Wire: The Best TV Show Since God Created Man” or “Can The Wire Cure Cancer With the Power of Its Greatness? Yes!” Still I held off. It wasn’t until earlier this year and the show’s fourth season that I finally came around and gave it a shot. I sat in my chair, nodding out on the awesomeness like Bubbles the hapless junky after a fix.

In the latest issue of the Believer, author Nick Hornby and Simon sat down and had a little chat. Simon said that he pitched the show “as the anti-cop show, a rebellion of sorts against all the horseshit procedurals afflicting American television.” The Wire could not be further from shows like CSI or Law & Order, which is a bonus for me. HBO has a history of shows that expect more from their viewers, and the Wire is no exception.

My standard for verisimilitude is simple and I came to it when I started to write prose narrative: fuck the average reader. I was always told to write for the average reader in my newspaper life. The average reader, as they meant it, was some suburban white subscriber with two-point-whatever kids and three-point-whatever cars and a dog and a cat and lawn furniture. He knows nothing and he needs everything explained to him right away, so that exposition becomes this incredible, story-killing burden. Fuck him. Fuck him to hell.

That is an approach to storytelling that I can get behind. In the Baltimore of The Wire, Simon gives us an extended gray area. The show centers on the drug trade and the cops who fight the losing war against them, but both sides seem equally likable and despicable. The cops aren’t above brutal acts of brutality, like Officer Prez pistol-whipping and blinding a fourteen year old bystander. For most of the season, I found myself resenting the character and the act and feeling sympathy for his victim. Then, Simon reintroduces the boy who had lost and eye and reveals that he is a heavily involved in the drug game and a pretty despicable character. Nothing is ever easy on The Wire.

The Wire HBO

The backstage maneuvering that hamstrings the police department and the increasingly baroque machinations of the drug dealers make for a first rate drama. The show never strays from its bleak realism, foregoing many of the stylistic flourishes of other cop shows in favor of focused, solid storytelling. There are no flashbacks or montages, just a straight-ahead narrative that commands you to pay attention. But The Wire never sacrifices characterization to the purposes of tedious procedural particulars. Whether it is Jimmy McNulty drunkenly assembling an Ikea bed before his estranged sons come visit him or the young drug dealer Wallace taking care of a number of young boys in an abandoned building. And don’t even get me started on Omar.

At the same time, the Wire moves from issue to issue. Over the seasons, the show has explored not only different facets of the war on drugs, but the role of power politics and local corruption, unions, the breakdown of industrial labor, and the different aspects of capitalism. In the next season, I understand that he will be taking on journalism and the role the media plays in creating, reporting, and perpetuating social ills. It’s like the world’s coolest civics class.

I’ve been tearing through the seasons so far, and while I regret taking as long as I did to get onboard, I’m glad I finally did. The Wire has one more season to come, and I for one can’t wait the re-up.

The Stupidest Terrorists in the World

With the success of the Transformers movie, it seems quite likely that other 80s toy properties will find their way to the big screen. G.I. Joe seems like ti could be at the top of the list. Despite the fact that no one ever died, even in jet airplane explosions, this was my favorite cartoon when I was a kid. Something else that always kind of bothered me was the way that Cobra would try an insane plan that made zero sense to rational human beings, like tying chainsaws to cats or something. Then their retarded plan would almost work, except for one little problem that enabled the Joes to triumph by using mice to distract the cats. Then, in the next episode Cobra would come up with a completely new bat-shit crazy plan instead of refining their attempt by using dogs or something. I realize that it would not have made for great Saturday morning television, but from a resource allocation perspective, it would have made way more sense for Cobra.

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I realize you might be thinking that I spend way too much time thinking about this stuff. You’re probably right, but I don’t spend anywhere near as much time as Zack Parsons over at Something Awful. Thank god for that. He looks at what went wrong with Cobra operations at the strategic, tactical, and logistical level in his Cobra After-Action Report. If only Destro would have cc’ed Cobra Commander on one of these things we might be living in a very different cartoon society.

L+O+S+T=AWESOME

There have been some Lost-haters this past season. It’s probably my favorite show on the TV, and while I recognize many of its faults I am so invested in the mysteries of the island that I am willing to forgive them. But ever since the show came back from the mid-season hiatus, I feel like the creators have been firing on all cylinders; they’ve been hitting us with bombshells, playing with the narrative format of the show, and delivering some genuine pathos to boot. Has the second part of the season been perfect? No, but even the relatively uneventful standalone episodes were entertaining enough. But episodes like “Not in Portland” and “Flashes Before Your Eyes” which included a Scotsman who has come unstuck in time(!) have been off-the-charts bad-ass, and the show has delivered some of the most solid episodes in the most consistent manner since it returned.

Noel Murray over at the Onion A.V. Club has just written about last night’s season finale, and I pretty much agree with him (BEWARE OF SPOILERS). The resolution of the Charlie storyline was well-handled, and the set-up for future plots makes me wonder (like always, but in a good way) how the writers are going to have this make any sense. The mind-blowing revelations will have to wait for future seasons, but as far as suspense, action, and mystery go last night’s finale delivered.

I also think the shift to shorter, more tightly-focused 16 episode next year will be a good thing. It will do away with the momentum-killing hiatus and make the producers focus on chipping away the more extraneous plot threads. From here on out, it’s all killer, no filler. And I can’t wait.

Old Faithful

I just caught last week’s Ultimate Fighter (thanks to DVR, I don’t miss an episode even if it takes me a while to get caught up sometimes) and I think this season has the wackiest bunch of misfit fighters yet. I’m sure it has something to do with them being lightweights and constantly feeling like they have to prove how tough they are to the world but these guys come off like total wackjobs. Please note: I recognize that they are very tough hombres, I’m just saying there seems to be a lot of unnecessary posturing.

I’m thinking especially of Corey here. Passion and inner drive are great; I would even go so far as to say they are vital tools for anyone who calls himself a fighter. But (note to Corey Hill) you can be passionate and fired up without looking like a complete and utter raving lunatic. He’s running around practice screaming and yelling to himself, entering some kind of weird berserker rage for no apparent reason. I realize that this is a reality show, and to a certain degree I’m sure he was cast precisely for his brash personality and not his experience. And I know they need people like him to liven up the show, but I was distinctly turned off. He is a tremendous athlete, and if Jeremy Horn is impressed with his chops as a learner, I can’t argue with that. I think the ability to absorb coaching and internalize techniques quickly is more important than natural ability, and it looks like Corey has both. He just needs to calm the fuck down before he steps into the octagon. I’ve trained with fighters like him before, and they can have a tendency to huff and puff and psych themselves up so much that they lose focus in the hurly-burly.

The other notable craziness of the episode revolved around good ole Gabe trying to shed his extra chub before he has to fight. I don’t understand why these fighters come in to the show so heavy when they know they are going to have to get down to their weight class. Again, I have to wonder if Dana White recruits these guys on purpose so that those of us out there in TV Land get to watch the madness when they frantically try to cut weight. Gabe Ruediger turned to colonic therapy. He took some serious flack for wanting to lose weight by having a water hose shoved up his nether region and I probably would have mocked him mercilessly if I had been in the house. His coach Bj Penn didn’t really seem to understand the whole thing and was pretty dumbfounded. The assistant coach (whose name escapes me) gave Gabe a talking to, telling him that he doubted his commitment. Questioning whether he came on the show to get a contract or to get a colonic. I think that was specious reasoning on his part, as the two things were not mutually exclusive and I highly doubt that Gabe decided to go on SpikeTV in some sort of scheme to get a free colon cleaning. But I also don’t think having a guyser of water run through your lower bowels is the most effective weight loss strategy. What ever happened to jolly ranchers and saunas?

Dana White v. Tito Ortiz

What a rip off. I got suckered in to watching this mess after The Ultimate Fighter lat night. At first I assumed it would be a half-hour long affair that explored a little of the backstory on their feud and culminate with their boxing match. A half hour had passed and they hadn’t gotten anywhere. I figured it had to be an hour (I was too lazy to check the guide) but it was a full hour and a hlaf long. Most of the show revolved around UFC president Dana White training for a contractually obligated sparring match with Tito Ortiz. There was a rather uninspired telling of the disagreement between them which revolved mostly around contract disputes and ill will from White’s time as Ortiz’ manager. It was a little dull, but okay. Then at the end, Tito doesn’t show up for a weigh in and they never fight. It was ridiculously anticlimactic and I had to wonder why I had bothered staying awake.