Thursday, June 29, 2006

Somewhat cloudy

Today's column looks at season two of "It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia," a show I always want to like much more than I do. (I think I was one of three people who actually preferred "Starved" to it.)

And with most of the TV business taking the long weekend off, so am I. I don't know whether I'll be near a computer to do recaps of "Deadwood" and/or "Entourage" over the weekend, but if not, I'll get to them late Tuesday/early Wednesday.

Enjoy your independence, everybody. Remember: they may take our lives, but they will never take... our freedom! Or something like that. Click here to read the full post

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

The week after

I feel like I've written about nothing but "Rescue Me" for the last week, and since the latest episode barely dealt at all with The Incident, I'll keep this brief.

With a lot of the storylines running in place -- the Chief's non-bartending job and struggle to find money for his wife's care, Garrity and Maggie, Probie's non-relationship relationship -- the big developments came from our pair of Oscar-winning guest stars. I'm particularly torn about Susan Sarandon stealing Franco's daughter. On the one hand, she stole his kid. On the other hand, it's not like she plans to shut Franco out of Keelah's life, and she gives Tommy a much more reasonable explanation for why she'd be a better parent to Keelah than Franco -- one of the few times in this show's history where a woman has taken the moral high ground over one of the guys and really seemed to deserve it. But still, she stole his kid! (And, yeah, Franco stole her, too, but from disinterested foster parents, and he's her actual father.)

Meanwhile, enter Marisa Tomei as the latest gorgeous babe to fall improbably under Tommy's manly spell -- or not. I like that she blew off his proposal for revenge sex, and that, even when she finally agreed to it, it was more out of a desire to get back at Johnny than any kind of attraction to Tommy. (And the previews make it look even more fake and businesslike.)

The hour's strongest moment came, as it often does, when Tommy was confronted by the ghosts of his past -- not just Jimmy and Connor, but Billy the well-endowed fireman who died in "Inches." As much as this show can piss me off in other ways, I stick around for scenes like the one at the end.

What did everybody else think? Is Susan a heroine or a manipulative baby-stealer? Is Marisa really just having fun, or is she going to become Sheila 2.0? And how long before Jerry smashes a beer bottle over his boss' head, and/or steals money out of the till to pay the bills?

The column took yesterday off, but today's features an interview with Bill Lawrence about his attempt to resurrect "Nobody's Watching" via YouTube.

And in another "Scrubs" musical link: Payback is a bitch. Click here to read the full post

Monday, June 26, 2006

It's baaaaaaack!!!!

Someone has once again posted the video of Turk dancing to "Posion" on YouTube. If you didn't see it when that episode of "Scrubs" aired, don't miss it. It will fill you with six different kinds of happiness. Click here to read the full post


I don't know that I have a lot to say about last night's "Entourage," other than that I could have lived a million years and still not needed to see Domenick Lombardozzi's ass. Give me him busting heads as Herk on "The Wire," not as this thug who's such an obvious troublemaker that even Vince -- head in the clouds, everyone's my friend Vince -- would have paid for Dom's hooker and sent him on his way by the end of the episode. I like that the show is acknowledging that Vince's new status as the hottest movie star on the planet will have its downsides, as well as making it clear that Turtle and Drama aren't just leaches by contrasting them with Dom, but there had to be a smarter, funnier way to illustrate those points. If it wasn't for Ari's feud with the star of "Young 21 Jump Street" (a show I would pay money to see), the episode would've been a total loss.

Also, in case you checked the Leary/Tolan entry before I was able to include the link to my column, finally posted it. Click here to read the full post

Rape or not rape?

Tolan! Leary! Leary and Tolan! Tolan and Leary! The morning after last week's "Rescue Me" -- specifically, after The Incident between Tommy and Janet at the end of the episode -- I called my friendly neighborhood FX publicist and asked to speak to Peter and Denis about their interpretation of the scene and some of the angry reactions to it.

As I said in a post on Friday, I don't agree with a lot of what the guys had to say, but I respect their willingness to talk about it in a fairly calm exchange. just posted the column I wrote about the interview, but if you have lots and lots and lots of time to kill -- especially on the passage where Denis gives his views on women in the FDNY -- I've put a full transcript of the interview after the jump. I didn't really bother to clean up the grammar on either end, so apologies if my questions are so evasively-phrased that I occasionally sound like a "Deadwood" character.

QUESTION: Peter, from seeing what you wrote on TV Without Pity, you're clearly aware of some of the negative reaction to what happened in the scene at the end of Tuesday's episode. First of all, can you describe what your intention was, what you were trying to convey with that scene?

PETER TOLAN: Well, we're talking about characters we've established who have great difficulty in terms of expressing themselves emotionally, and so at that point, it doesn't seem an option anymore for these people, especially as their actions become more unacceptable to each other, Janet sleeping with Tommy's brother, so forth and all that. We can only expect that the non-emotional reaction, that is, physical or vocal, are going to become more and more dangerous, or more and more intense. So in that way, it seemed right. I mean, we've never said that this is a functional relationship, it's highly dysfunctional. And so it seemed -- we definitely knew that this was a dangerous scene, and in some ways we tried to be very careful about it, but at the same time, those are the characters, this is the show, it's informed by everything that's come before it and it will inform everything that comes after it. If this was the season finale or the finale for the series, I wouldn't blame viewers for burning down FX. And by the way, I'll give the address to anyone who wants it.

DENIS LEARY: The other thing you have to remember with these two people, is the choice she made after Tommy -- discussing this thing amongst ourselves, in organically continuing the characters paths, before the season began and before we started writing it -- Tommy actually says it, I think, in the first episode, you know, 'There's blood on both our hands.' Because she got back into the relationship last year, with that great reading of that line 'Til Death do us part.'. She did it because of financial reasons and to put the family back together for the kids. And Tommy said, basically, if we hadn't gotten together again, Connor would still be alive because he wouldn't have been on that street at that time. It's backtracking, they're both trying to backtrack to explain why they lost that child. Anyways, she made a choice from there that is very difficult for Tommy to swallow. At the same time these two have had an animal attraction to each other going back to when they first met. That, in essence is what that scene [inaudible] of -- everything that antagonizes the both of them towards each other, and then this insane physical passion that they have never been without, really, in their relationship, you know?

Q: So even though he's clearly manhandling her and in charge at the beginning of that scene, you guys would not in any way consider what took place there to be rape?

DL: No, not at all. As a matter of fact, in shooting that scene and in writing it, but especially in shooting it, you go back and you watch the scene and watch it from the beginning of that scene until the end, it's actually one of the -- Andrea Roth was fantastic in that scene, because she goes from fear and anger and punching him in the face and fighting him back, and back to the place where they began their relationship, where the spark occurred. Even her reaction afterwards is that horrible magnetic pull that these two people have for each other, which is ultimately going to be their destruction, because they can't get away from each other and they have to. One of the things I've always said about shooting this scene and knowing that people were going to be hanging on a Tuesday night waiting till the next week is, you know, 'If you want to see what that scene is about, keep on watching, and watch what happens with that relationship over the course of the season,' because, you know, it's about the intensity between them and the attraction -- they'll never get over that attraction, so they have to get away from it, they have to be separated, because it's always going to be there.

Q: Now, I have actually seen next week's episode, because (FX publicity) sent out 4 and 5 together, and there's very little follow-up to that in the next episode, other than Tommy, I guess, being concerned that he might have given her chlamydia. You had to know -- as you said, you had to be careful in the writing and the shooting of the scene -- you had to know that some people were going to take it that way. Was there any thought to doing something in the following episode to clarify exactly what this was?

DL: No. We clarify it over the course [of the season]. It's in six, it's dealt with seven and again in eight. It affects her long-term, and, without giving away how it goes down, comes down right into the last three episodes of the season.

Q: But you're obviously not surprised that some people did take it that way.

DL: No. Whenever you do something, you know, it's not the movie world where you can wrap everything up in the course of 90 minutes or two hours, so these relationships are very detailed and long-term. We knew that some people were going to react the wrong way, in our opinion, but either way that people reacted, that they would get their answers as they continued to watch, because that relationship in particular -- all of them obviously, because you hope you're creating interesting relationships across the board -- but that relationship is so complicated, and complicated even further now by what occurred. And it obviously has an affect on both of them, and on Tommy's brother Johnny, as well.

Q: Other than, I guess, show 3, which ends with us finding out that Probie is having this relationship with his roommate, every episode this season so far has closed with Tommy sort of walking off triumphantly into the sunet or into his car or whatever, and there was definitely, as he leaves Janet's apartment, that look of "I've just accomplished something and I'm driving off because I came, I saw, I conquered." Was that what you were going for with that?

DL: The look on his face afterwards was more about his brother and reclaiming his wife without his brother knowing it. That's what that's about.

PT: There's a lot of conjecture as to what that look means and what the whole act is actually about. And this is what I think it's about, and this shows you how deeply distubed these characters are. Yeah, you could say, yes he has forced himself on Janet to get back at Johnny or to get back at her for her being with him and all that, but I think the truth of it is, in spite of all this stuff that's gone on, he still loves her. In an entirely misguided, crazy way, he's trying to recapture something with her from a million years ago that he'll never be able to recapture and so much water has gone under the bridge, the relationship is irreparably damaged, and they're just going to spin in this vortex for a while until one of them breaks away for good.

DL: I don't think there's any question in Tommy's mind, that's the way, certainly when I'm writing or working the scenes with her, that's the woman he wants. It's obviously a very screwed-up and complicated relationship, but if she said, 'Yeah, I'm coming back tomorrow,' he would take her right in.

PT: A lot of people see that scene, Alan, and say, 'I got her back' [meaning revenge], but I see it as 'I got her back! My wife's back!'

DL: Hopefully it's a long-term effect that, because of that passion, she may come to her senses and say, 'I want to be with you.' That's Tommy's dream come true. With all the water under the bridge fllowing, let's get back together. That's the woman he wants to see when he walks in the door at night.

PT: I think it's a little simplistic for people to look at that and say 'Well, he just did that to get back at Johnny.' He already got back at Johnny, he already beat the shit out of him in the street, I don't think he needs to go this far. I can see how people would make that interpretation, but that's not in our minds what it is.

Q: Now, earlier in the episode there's the Crazy Chick-Calling Day sequence where Tommy's fielding these phone calls from all the women in his life and who are all nagging him, and one of the complaints I've heard about the show and, frankly, that I sometimes have, even though I love it overall, is that, while the men are allowed to be screwed-up and have problems and be reprehensible at times, they're also shown to have admirable qualities. Tommy's good at his job, he cares about Lou, he cares about the other guys, etc. Whereas the women, for the most part, we're only getting the male point of view of them, which is negative. They mainly seem to be there to mess with the guys. What would you say to that?

PT: Denis has always said that, when that complaint comes up, that somehow it's about men who hate women or have some issue with women. The reality is these are men whose actions are determined by the fact that they need these women, and either they love them or need them in some way. Ultimately it's the women in these things who have the power over them. Either they can't express themselves or they're incapable of that, but it's the women who are more powerful. In terms of what those women do, we're obviously only showing parts of their lives, because our main story is the guys. We're not showing the full story. Is Sheila -- yeah, some people say 'Sheila's crazy, 'Sheila's a whiner' -- but is she also a good mother? Because we've only seen her in certain situations where she's done everything she can to protect her son. 'You're not going to be a firefighter.' 'You're not going to be selling drugs.' 'I'm worried about this, I'm worried about that.' We see Sheila, that as a positive. Having said that, when people say 'Why can't there be a good relationship on Rescue Me, why can't we have a positive happy couple?,' I say, 'You know what? I'd love to show that. Do I want to write it? No.'

DL: Do you want to play it, as an actor?

PT: It would bore the shit out of me.

DL: It's not a great story to tell. But at a certain point, this is one of the things we've talked about for next year is how much fun, having had these screwed-up relationships, to have everybody settle back and all of a sudden everybody has paired off and is happy. And then, because it's the nature of life and the stories we're telling, that can only last for so long.

PT: At this point, we've established a format where, every now and then, we offer the prospect of happiness to a couple, or to a man and a woman, and at the last minute, of course, our better instinct comes through and we dash whatever hopes they had.

Q: Well, I'm not even necessarily talking about whether people can have functioning relationships. I think back, you know, to the Diane Farr character, for instance, who when she was introduced, it seemed she was there in part to fill the same role she did on 'The Job,' which was to keep some of the guys' macho bullshit in check and show this is not necessarily the way you have to look at the world, and by the time she left, she had been reduced to this whiney, incompetent character.

DL: In the house that we're working out of, and within the reality of the show, which is based in the reality of firefighting in a big city, that is exactly how that relationship would occur. We've discussed it in the show, and I forget the monologue where we deal with it, but women have, for the most part, including Diane's character, been legislated into this job, because they don't have to take the same physical test that the men have to take, and the Mayor's office and other political aspects have come into it, and they demand a gender balance. And now they're demanding an ethnic balance. They're willing to forgive failure in the physical test because they want more black firefighters, more Chinese firefighters, they want an ethical, politically correct balance. The truth of the matter is that on the job guys are extremely resentful that they had to go through a physical exam that involved so many difficult things, including running up seven flights of stairs with 100 pounds of equipment strapped to you and picking up a 150-pound dummy and carrying it, running down seven flights of stairs with it. If you can't do that, you can't do the job, so when these women and other people are legislated into the job, it pisses these guys off to no end, because it puts their lives at risk, as well as the people they're saving. And that's an issue that will never go away, it's only going to get worse, actually, as the FDNY starts to deal with federal government investigations, 'Why aren't they more ethnically-balanced in the New York fire department?' The truth is, it's a job that you have to want to do and be able to do. I don't know about you, but if my kids are stuck in a burning building, I don't want the person who's legislated in, I want the guy who wants to go in and get them going after them. It's life or death, and that's what her storyline was about. We wouldn't introduce another female firefighter tomorrow unless we were going to make her -- and, by the way, I've met female firefighters from other parts of the country who are supremely physically able to do the job, that we would deal with -- that would be an interesting female character to have. That's why that issue was dealt with the way that it was. She shouldn't have been there. She wasn't capable of doing it.

Q: I guess what I'm asking is, is there a way -- going back to what I said before, it's not like Tommy for the most part is a positive character, but he does have admirable qualities. Is there a way of changing what the show is to maybe alter the balance a little bit in terms of showing occasional good sides to the female characters?

PT: Alan, we have actually talked about this, and at a certain point, yeah, you want to try and balance things out. We've talked about next season, that Probie's going to be a full firefighter soon, and we're going to need to bring in another probie. Who is that? Why couldn't it be a woman? And why couldn't it be a capable woman? And why couldn't it be a lesbian or somebody who's extremely capable in the job and the guys have to deal with that. They'll do the same thing, they'll say she shouldn't be there, but she'll prove herself and they'll have to accept her. And then you'll be getting that woman's viewpoint from a woman they are forced to respect for her abilities. And then you can open the character up and open them up to in terms of having a woman they can talk to about women and get sort of an informed attitude. I think that's an interesting choice we could make.

DL: You start talking about conceivably, possibly, a gay firefighter. Well, I know a chief here in Manhattan who's not only out of the clsoet but was a fantastic firefighter and became a lieutenant and became a chief. And the guys had no problem with him whatsoever, because he was physically able to do the job. And that's what it all came down to. As much as they were probably upset about it at first, once they saw the guy in action, they were like, 'Fuck this. He's good.' That what it's all about.

Q: That brings me to the current Probie storyline. Peter, you were saying in the TV Without Pity message board that it had started out as something else and had morphed. Could you elaborate on what it originally was going to be and why it evolved into this?

PT: I had originally pitched that storyline, and in talking about it with Dennis, we constructed a different story for that, that was certainly dramatic, it certainly had highly dramatic elements to it. Part of that was the Probie actually was -- we'd set up a guy who was searching for love, was restless and lonely and all those things, he'd had the relationship with the overweight woman last season -- and he was just searching. So it made sense that this was the next step that it would be. But it was for the most part a dramatic storyline. In the course of talking about it, we realized maybe we were repeating some things, some storylines we'd done in earlier seasons. That was the main concern, so we started to back off that storyline, but we'd already put it into motion. So at this point we're playing it much more for humor than we did in the original pitch. Whether it's successful is another story, I don't know. A lot of people, from what I'm hearing, either think it's very funny and right on target for the character or really confused by it and not sure why we did it, and whatever. But that happens a lot on our show. We'll start out saying, 'Hey, we're going to do this,' and then either some flaw will come up and we'll move on to something else, or something else stronger will come along and we'll go with that.

Q: Before we finish up, let's go back to the original scene with Tommy and Janet. Dennis, you talked about how it's not a feature, you can't wrap it up at the end of two hours, it's something you're going to deal with going forward. But I've certainly heard and read a lot of people saying that they're done with the show after having witnessed that. What would you tell them to make them maybe want to continue to see where this goes?

DL: It's hard to tell somebody who's giving up on a show... Me, my favorite show on television over the course of the last five or six years has been 'The Sopranos,' and it's always interesting to me that people can see Tony Sopranos kill somebody and chop up a body and get rid of it and not have an issue with it, but in this instance have a problem with Tommy Gavin and his wife in that scene. Maybe you're watching this show for the wrong reasons, and maybe you shouldn't be watching it, you know what I mean? The only time I have a problem with The Sopranos is when I think, 'Oh my god, this is a ridiculous storyline.' or 'Why are we watching this character when we could be watching the main characters?' So I have no answer for them, you know?

Q: Peter, do you have one?

PT: First of all, I think that the number of people who are saying they're done with the show is probably a small number. I would certainly hope so. But the truth of it is, we must believe, and we would not write a scene to be provacative. That was never our intention, this is a storyline that is thought out and is supported by the previous actions of the characters in this relationship and will be answered in karmic ways in later episodes. We're not there to be provacateurs, but I would say to them somewhat the same what Denis said: 'Don't watch the show.' But I have a feeling that a great many of the people who said, 'I'm not going to watch' won't be able not to. Because if they care that passionately to make that statement, there's something that attracts them to the show.

DL: There's actually a woman who called my production office at Apostle and spoke to one of the guys who works for me. And she went into a diatribe about how much she loved the show and was so upset about what happened (last night) and eventually he cut her off and said, 'Why are you calling me?' And she said, 'I just want to file a complaint.' He said, 'Are you saying you're not going to watch the show anymore?' And she said, 'Well, I didn't say that.' That's just kind of interesting to me.

PT: A lot of people, yes, they hated that. They thought it was over the edge, too far. But just like you, Alan, just like what you wrote in your blog, there are other parts of the show that still have their attention that still have their heart, and they're not ready to give up on that. Look, the fact is, people are passionate about it, people are talking about it. In this business, that's always better than people who just don't give a shit.

DL: That's true. If they didn't give a shit...

PT: ... then we've failed all the way around.
Click here to read the full post

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Deadwood: You can leave your capon

Spoilers for "Deadwood" episode three after the jump...

Okay, I am officially scared of Gerald McRaney. Here's a guy I always thought of as a meat-and-potatoes actor, someone who got the job done and not much more. When Milch cast him as Hearst, I assumed there was more to the man than I had seen, but I never imagined him being this bloody good. When Hearst leaned in and told Alma, "You are reckless, madame. You indulge yourself," I don't think I've been as frightened by a fictional character as I was with Gene Hackman's "I'm gonna hurt you. And not gentle like before... but bad" scene from "Unforgiven." If this was a feature, I have no doubt Hackman would be playing Hearst, and I doubt he could play him much better. Sometimes, an actor just needs the right material to show his stuff.

(Hands up, anyone who already knew what a capon is. I had no clue, but upon looking it up, that's exactly how Hearst would view his role in Alma's proposed deal.)

Though he shows no interest in the town beyond its gold, Hearst is a good fit for Deadwood. The town is filled with people incapable of functioning in more polite society, and as Hearst admits to Aunt Lou (who, not surprisingly, is only faking the whole mammy act), he shouldn't be around regular people. The problem is, where Swearengen or Bullock recognizes his need for others, Hearst views himself as the God of The Color, answerable to no one. (Who says evil corporate barons first sprang up in the 1980s?)

As I said last week, the bonds of history are going to prevent any kind of definitive victory for Al in this fight, and as the episode begins, it looks like Al is already waving the red flag, despite Trixie's protest that "the last shot ain't been fired." It isn't until the arrival of Jack Langrishe, of all people. I don't know whether the real Langrishe had met Al years before he arrived in the camp, but my mind is swirling with visions of how these two men became friends.

In a way, it felt like this was the season premiere, what with the arrival of new characters like Jack and Aunt Lou, the return of others like Wu and Blazinov, plus Al's tour of the camp. (When he told Jack, "This is new," it was like Milch was showing off the additional sets they had built during the hiatus.) Brian Cox is one of those actors I'll watch in anything, and he finds the right balance between flamboyant and tough.

On the other end of the capon scene was Alma, who finally appears to be recognizing the limits of her sham marriage, especially now that she no longer needs Ellsworth to pose as her baby daddy. And unfortunately for Ellsworth, he sometimes forgets his place and tries to assert himself like a real husband. Not that Alma would have listened to anybody once she gets her mind set on something, but her "You hardly need explain yourself to me, your wife, in the thoroughfare, having laid down the law…" line was some cold sarcasm. Also interesting that, when Ellsworth later says he was trying to protect her, she barks, "You. Can't." So who can? Bullock? He got his lunch stolen by Hearst, who finally revealed the purpose of letting Al kill two of his guys while two other witnessed: now he has a Mutually Assured Destruction option should Al's ally Bullock ever come up with real evidence of his wrongdoing.

Some other random thoughts:
  • While each episode usually takes place the day after the previous one ended, there are occasional exceptions, like the 10-day gap between last week and this one, which was necessary if for no other reason than to avoid having Alma bedridden for most of the season. Oddly, there's a reference in one of the next two episodes to six weeks having passed since William got trampled by the horse, and since a week elapsed between that episode and the season two finale, does that mean only four weeks elapsed between seasons? Or maybe I should just repeat the line one of the "Deadwood" writers once gave me after attempting to explain the season one chronology: "Now my brain hurts."
  • At what point did Farnum turn into Renfield from the Dracula movies? His lurching and shuffling almost distracted me from the comedy of Hearst talking over E.B.'s "haughty cunt" line. Almost.
  • Not sure which was funnier: Mr. Wu's new look or Blasinov demonstrating his new telegraph equipment to Merrick. Funniest of all was Al's pantomime routine: "'Hello, hello, hello.' The many Chinks."
  • What the hell is wrong with Doc Cochran? It's never good when you cough up blood.
Milch-isms of the week:
  • Al giving some meta-critique: "Ever wonder if you expressed yourself more directly, Merrick, you might fucking weigh less?" (Followed by Merrick's meta-rebuttal: "I see no logic in that whatsoever.")
  • Al exaggerating his resume to Wu: "Swidgen must act as translator, as he is the only one in camp versed in both languages."
  • Al irritated by Jack sucking up to Merrick: "Shit blizzard's early today."
  • Farnum the unsubtle bigot to Hearst: "What depraved creature of exotic origin have you engaged to take my place?"
  • Al on the local bacon: "Might have a human aftertaste."
  • Al on Bullock: "Insane fucking person."
  • Cy kissing Hearst's ass: "If you hadn't met me to wag it, sir, why would the Lord give me a tail?"
Matt's take is posted here. What did everybody else think?
Click here to read the full post

Friday, June 23, 2006

Being Denis Leary

I'm going to be tied up for most of today transcribing and then writing up a very interesting phone interview I did yesterday with Leary and Peter Tolan about The Incident from this week's "Rescue Me." (Much good debate is still taking place in the comments section of the original post.) The story will run Monday, and depending on how ambitious I'm feeling, I may post the complete transcript here. While I don't agree with a lot of what the guys said, I give them credit for being willing to defend their positions in a reasonably non-hostile manner.

In the meantime, some interesting links:
  • Matt reviews AMC's Robert Duvall/Walter Hill/Thomas Haden Church cowboy joint "Broken Trail" in today's column. Not surprisingly, he loves it. I've only seen the first half so far, but I'm inclined to agree.
  • "Futurama" lives!
  • Poor Chicken George is still trying to turn his stint on the first "Big Brother" into a new career as an entertainer. I have to confess a certain fondness for that inaugural season, which was so mind-bogglingly awful in every single way that I was mesmerized in a way that the generic "Survivor"-in-a-house format of the Arnold Shapiro years have never done for me. Bring back Will Mega! Bring back Jordan the stripper!
  • Body image issues: Evangeline Lily hates her body, and "American Idol" helped Katharine McPhee kick bulimia. I am so not looking forward to the gaunt, sunken-eyed version of the McPhee that I'm sure we'll get once Clive Davis' minions are done "improving" her look.

Have a good weekend, everybody. Back Monday with the usual "Deadwood" and "Entourage" reviews, plus the Leary/Tolan extravaganza.

Click here to read the full post

Thursday, June 22, 2006

What's Alan watching? 'Nobody's Watching'

The nice folks at HBO sent out the first six episodes of "The Wire" season four (back in September!), so I spent most of last night watching the first two. I won't say much yet, save that fans are going to be very pleased, especially at the way that Simon has managed to keep around characters you would think the show would be long done with. (Prez is a major player this year, for Pete's sake.)

As a palate-cleanser, I watched a little of "The Gong Show: 2000," aka "America's Got Talent." Almost exactly what you'd expect, save that the judges are actually even less useful here than they are on "Idol," since the contestants aren't all doing the same thing that Hasselhoff, Brandy and Simon Lite can use to provide the occasionally helpful comment. Ratings were good, so I may need to check back in a few weeks professionally, but otherwise I doubt I'd care.

Since I can't discuss "The Wire" in too much detail, today's recommendation is for something anyone can see over on YouTube: "Nobody's Watching." It's a pilot the WB rejected last year, created by Bill Lawrence, Neil Goldman and Garret Donovan, about two best friends and lifelong sitcom junkies (think J.D. times two) who get hired by the WB to develop a sitcom while at the same time living and working on a sitcom set (with a live studio audience) and starring in a reality show about their experiences. It's very meta, funnier than pretty much any actual sitcom the WB has ever aired (with the possible exception of "Grosse Pointe"), and yet I can see why it got rejected, as I'm not sure there's an entire series there. Still, worth a look, if for no other reason than to see Billy from "Battlestar Galactica" be funny.

And if that's not enough YouTube time-wasting for one day, there's always Yacht Rock. Click here to read the full post

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Raping the shark

Big, big, big ol' spoilers for last night's "Rescue Me" after the jump (though I'm thinking the subject line is a bit of a hint)....

God, I don't even know where to start. Wait, of course I do. Let's start with Tommy smacking around his ex-wife, forcing her onto the couch and raping her until she gets into it. Seems a notable event, dontcha think?

On the one hand, Tommy and Janet's have had a dysfunctional relationship since the start of the series, one bound up in anger and mutual self-loathing, so in the context of everything the show has done, I can believe that she might start to enjoy it. But the show has such a pattern of misogyny and pathetic characterizations of women -- in one sequence, Tommy took successive phone calls from Janet the shrew, Sheila the doormat, Maggie the alcoholic bitchy skank and Mrs. Turbody the sexual predator -- that I don't care whether it was consistent or not. It made me uncomfortable and unhappy in a way even the most extreme TV and film almost never does.

As I've said in the past, there's a difference between letting your characters have a despicable point of view and letting the show as a whole have it. The men on "The Sopranos" do evil things all the time, but the writers never try to suggest that, say, Paulie was perfectly justified in smothering an old lady to death so he could steal the money under her mattress. But when Tommy marches out of Janet's apartment, having no doubt just produced the Gavin heir he was struggling to create at the sperm bank, the tone of the show was just as triumphant and unrepentant as the look on Tommy's face.

I'm not saying I'm done with the show yet, since I had already accepted it as a brilliant comedy and a deeply flawed drama, but I think I may have to start treating it the way I did "ER" back when I was still watching it. This was a couple of years into the Maura Tierney era, and the writers had turned Abby into such a pill that I would TiVo the show and then fast-forward anytime she appeared on screen. At this stage, I may have to start skipping over any "Rescue Me" scene that isn't all-male.

And even there, it's not always safe. Probie's "I'm not gay but you kind of are" was just embarrassing. When "The Sopranos" did the Gay Vito storyline, it was an obvious attempt to have some fun at a supporting actor's expense, but the show also took it seriously. Vito was gay, he was conflicted about it, he did find some measure of happiness with Johnny Cakes but they also fought, he went into denial about it to get back into his old life, etc. This was just about making Mike Lombardi squirm, and the tone of this week's scene in no way matched last week's closer where Probie and his buddy rested their heads against each other for comfort after a tough day. Plus, the roommate may be an even more pathetic caricature than any of the women on this show. Ugh.

Some other random thoughts:
  • The reason I haven't given up on the show yet is for scenes like Lou and the bum arguing over who gets to touch the third rail first -- and the bum realizing that Lou's life is worse than his. Now that's the blend of comedy and pathos that the show does so well, and it worked because Lou is a fully-realized character, and so well played by John Scurti.
  • Good opening scene with the bus -- one of the more extended on-the-job scenes we've had in a while -- and if you ever questioned whether Al Sharpton was anything but a publicity hound, his willingness to play himself in a scene that makes his usual shtick seem self-aggrandizing and foolish should put that doubt to rest.
  • On the one hand, I'm glad the show hasn't forgotten that Franco doesn't have legal custody of his daughter, since in the real world that would come back to bite him eventually. On the other, I worry that Susan Sarandon's going to be the one doing the biting, just as she's turning out to be the only decent female character on the show.
  • This was the first episode of the season that I watched live on FX, including the previews. Do they always seemingly give away so much of the next episode? I feel like I just watched the trailer to a Robert Zemeckis movie and don't need to go buy a ticket.
What did everybody else think?
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Tuesday, June 20, 2006

"Good evening. Tonight on 'It's The Mind'..."

Slow morning. In today's All TV column, I finally got around to that "House" finale-themed mailbag I was talking about last week. The delay was because I was waiting to talk to David Shore, who has some definitive answers on what was and wasn't real as well as some hints about where next season is going.

Since I spent most of last night watching the Yankees lose again, time for another open thread. As I mentioned in a post from back when this blog had, like, two readers, I have this weird deja vu thing happen where, whenever I turn to a particular movie on cable, it's always at the same part: "Karate Kid" is always at the scene where Daniel-san goes to pick up Elisabeth Shue for their Golf 'N Stuff date, or the first "Austin Powers" is always at the bit near the end where Austin and Liz Hurley are impersonating tourists to get into Dr. Evil's lair. I firmly believe that TNT only shows five or six "Law & Order" episodes on a continuous loop -- all of them, oddly enough, from the Carey Lowell years -- because those are the only ones I ever see when I surf past it. And for some reason, my iPod almost always spits out T-Rex's "20th Century Boy" at the same point in my workout, even though I have several hundred songs on shuffle each time.

So, two questions: 1)Does this sort of thing ever happen to any of you, and if so, how? and 2)Any statisticians or probability experts have a theory on this? Click here to read the full post

Monday, June 19, 2006

Who needs to hydrate?

Before we get to "Entourage" episode two, the morning column link: Matt on PBS' "The History Detectives" and "Free Speech: Jim Lehrer and Bill Bradley," plus a capsule review from me of the muckraking first segment on tomorrow night's "Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel."

Now, then, on to "Aquaman." I thought the season premiere was just a'ight-blah, but this was much better. I spent the hiatus telling friends that I thought it would be an interesting story direction if "Aquaman" was a flop and suddenly Drama, Turtle and E had to fend for themselves, possibly with Drama experiencing a brief career renaissance and becoming the new breadwinner while Vince struggles to prove he's not washed up before 30. Obviously, they ain't going in that direction, and that's fine, since A)My idea is more one of those things a show tries in its later seasons when it's run out of variations on the premise, and B)The writers clearly haven't run out of variations on "Vince gets everything he's ever wanted while the guys ride his coattails" just yet.

Things to love: Ari denying Mrs. Ari because you don't fool around on game day; Drama going all T.E. Lawrence for the trip into the Valley (Matt's been quoting the "I gotta hydrate" line at me for weeks), Turtle striking out with the older sister, Ari smashing Lloyd's statue, the clever use of an "Aquaman" clip that didn't feature the costume or any major FX (I'm sure the wave was lifted from another movie) and Vince trying to have the "I am a golden god!" moment from "Almost Famous." (I think if Vince had a choice between having lots of money or just getting to re-create scenes from movies he loved growing up, he'd pick the latter.)

So now Vince has starred in the movie with the biggest opening of all time. His playground just got a whole lot bigger. What did everybody else think? Click here to read the full post

Pilot Watch: The end (for now)

To quote a very wise man, all right, all right, all right. I have now watched every pilot the networks sent out, including Fox's "The Wedding Album," which I didn't write about because it's being massively revamped (new lead, new showrunners, new format), but oddly enough not including ABC's "Brothers and Sisters," which as far as I know is only recasting one supporting part.

Rather than just barrel through the pilots network by network, disc by disc, I've been picking and choosing along the way. And though I always try to leave a few good ones for the end, it never quite works out that way. I don't think I'll want to see any of the final four -- "Runaway," "The Game," "Notes from the Underbelly" and "Happy Hour" -- again, barring major changes between now and September. (Which is why, as the song goes, these ain't reviews; oftentimes this stuff can and does change dramatically.) More specific thoughts after the jump...

Who's In It: Donnie Wahlberg, Leslie Hope, Dustin Milligan, Sarah Ramos
What It's About: "Everwood" meets "Running on Empty" meets "Prison Break," as Wahlberg's family is forced to go on the run and move to a blue-collar Iowa town after he's framed for murder by some mysterious conspiracy.
Pluses: I pretty much always like Wahlberg and Hope. Doesn't try to depict Iowa as a complete backwater; Wahlberg gets a job at a coffee shop that has Wi-Fi!
Minuses: The "Everwood"-y parts (including the eldest son being bitter about the move) just remind me how much better "Everwood" did it, and as I've said, I'm completely burnt-out and disinterested in any kind of ongoing crime conspiracy plot anymore.

"The Game"
Who's In It: Tia Mowry, Wendy Raquel Robinson, Coby Bell, Aldis Hodge
What It's About: Fake "Girlfriends" spin-off where Joan's cousin Melanie moves to San Diego where her boyfriend is the third-string wide receiver for a pro football team.
Pluses: Fairly novel premise, and it has "Girlfriends" creator Mara Brock-Akil (responsible for one of UPN's better sitcoms) running things.
Minuses: Didn't make me laugh much.

"Notes From the Underbelly"
Who's In It: Jennifer Westfeldt, Peter Cambor, Rachael Harris, the woman with the squeaky voice from the Glad commercials
What It's About: Yuppie couple argue over whether to have a baby, then freak out after discovering the wife is pregnant.
Pluses: Rachael Harris is funny pretty much anywhere you put her -- VH1's "I Love..." specials, "Fat Actress," or here as the stereotypical bitchy single friend who's annoyed best pal Westfeldt is joining the mommy cult. I liked Westfeldt in "Kissing Jessica Stein." No laughtrack.
Minuses: No real laughs, either. Like Thursday partner "Big Day," it plays on a lot of fairly universal experiences but doesn't really put any spin on them.

"Happy Hour"
Who's In It: A whole bunch of people you've never seen or heard of before
What It's About: Recently-dumped guy wants to stay in his girlfriend's building in hope of reconciling, so he moves in with a martini-swilling Internet t-shirt salesman determined to make his new roommate lighten up.
Pluses: As the token wisecracking but sexy pal, Beth Locke convincingly eats a deep dish pizza (for Fox actresses, this is an achievement) and has some off-beat line readings. Some fun to be had in trying to figure out why so many of the actors bear uncanny resemblance to more famous people. (I spent half the pilot wondering if Nat Faxon, second from the left in that picture, is Jon Heder's older brother.)
Minuses: Didn't the whole Rat Pack nostalgia thing come and go about 10 years ago, sometime after "Swingers" but before "Buddy Faro"? A real mess overall.
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Sunday, June 18, 2006

Deadwood: Bring the pain

Spoilers for "Deadwood" episode two after the jump...

Is it wrong that I want to see Al Swearengen get a finger chopped off with a pick-axe every week? Am I a sadist if I love watching reruns of the kidney stone arc from last season? Or am I a masochist for the way I love watching Ian McShane portray the repeated passions of the Swearengen? Honestly, I'm not sure I've ever seen an actor do a better job of conveying physical pain than McShane does in moments like tonight's closing scene; whenever Al suffers, I wince.

While Al may insist "I'm having mine served cold" (who knew Klingon proverbs were so popular in the Old West?), I'm damned curious to see how the show deals with this conflict. While Milch has introduced some fictional characters like Alma and fiddled with the personal details of real ones like Bullock (Martha was never married to his brother, and they had a daughter who never got horse-trampled), he's not going to make a radical break with history by having Al or Dan execute George Hearst. Since I've seen the next three episodes, I won't speculate too much, but Hearst is the first opponent who's dramatically won the upper hand over Al. Al was so confident that Hearst and the Captain wouldn't try anything -- or that, if they did, he could stab his way out -- that he went over there solo, and didn't even attempt to signal to Dan and the guys when they forced him inside at gunpoint. And if Al is going to win even some small measure of revenge over Hearst, he's going to have to follow his own advice to Dan -- "Change calls the tune we dance to." -- and stop thinking like he can out-think and out-tough anyone.

Maybe he can learn a lesson or two from Calamity Jane, who for one afternoon was able to dry out, clean up her body (that's a nude scene I never expected) and her language, and be an effective, entertaining guest lecturer for the schoolkids. Just a fun, sweet sequence all around, especially the revsiting of her bond with Sofia and her brief compliment to Martha. ("I know another brave person her, too... several.") History (both real and the show's) says this isn't going to last, but it was a nice moment.

Like many fans, I've never really warmed to Alma, and Seth's ring of fire love for her is my least favorite element of his character (he really is the Ryan Atwood of the Black Hills), so I wasn't too caught up in the drama over whether Alma or the baby might survive -- until, that is, she went and passed over Ellsworth in favor of Seth as Sofia's legal and financial guardian. Jim Beaver was so good in that moment. Ellsworth has no illusions about this "marriage," but he's been there for Alma and Sofia when Seth has chosen (with defensible reasons) not to be. For Alma to say, essentially, that his only value was as a beard and that she'd rather turn Sofia's care over to another man was a major slap in the face to one of the most stand-up men in the camp.

Some other random thoughts:
  • Does Charlie understand that Joanie's a lesbian? Does he have a libido? I know he's a good guy -- like Sol and Ellsworth, one of the least complicated, most altruistic man in the camp -- but does he really expect nothing out of this but friendship? Whatever his motives, the scene where he recalled Wild Bill's own self-loathing was very touching.
  • On the flip side of the humanity spectrum is Cy, whose initial response to Joanie's suicide talk was, "What the hell were you doing at Shaughnessy's?," then complains to himself about having to listen to such a story. Then he goes and uses his alleged spiritual awakening as a ruse to pull a gun on Andy -- a scene that Leon thankfully ruined.
  • The monologue the drunk delivers before falling and breaking his neck (which inspired the episode's title, "I Am Not the Fine Man You Take Me For") sure sounded like the kind of thing Milch read in a letter and transcribed.
  • Watching the Doc use Trixie as his vagina model to test the angle of the mirror reminded me how handy her lack of self-consciousness can be sometimes. Almost makes me willing to give her a pass for all the times she yells at poor Sol. (Also liked the oblivious Sol doing his "I bought the house!" pantomime while Trixie is tending to Alma.)
  • During Deadweek, Andrew Dignan wrote an essay comparing "Deadwood" to the "Godfather" films, and watching Adams and Dan constantly jockey for favor with Al reinforced the parallel for me. Al is Don Vito, the stately power broker. Dan is Sonny, the hotheaded eldest son who's good at muscle work but doesn't have the brains to succeed the old man. Adams is Michael, whose savvy and sophistication is sometimes held against him by the other brothers. And Johnny is, of course, Fredo. Not sure it's intentional, but if fits.

And some Milch-isms of the Week:

  • Mose hearing that Jane is taking a bath: "Camp get up a petition?"
  • The Farnum 'n Richardson Smiletime Hour: "I'd like to use your ointment to suffocate you."
  • Charlie walking into The Gem seconds after the two killings: "I'll drink after I vet."
  • Dan explaining things to Johnny: "It was his preliminary signaling that he was gonna show Al his ass."
  • A fart fills the air at The Gem: "That'd knock the buzzard off a shitwagon."
  • Farnum the unsubtle race-baiter: "Farnum, twice-measured; Starr, once cut" and "Farnum! CHRIST knows he's earned it!"

Matt's review is already up on So what did everybody else think?

Click here to read the full post

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Pilot Watch: ABC leftovers

Thanks to another cold outbreak at the Sepinwall compound, column-writing has been at a minimum this week. Matt handles the lead item of today's All TV, which is a (negative) review of NBC's "Amazing Race"-meets-"Da Vinci Code" rip-off "Treasure Hunters." I handle the back half of the column, including a short review of A&E's "Touch the Top of the World" (biopic of the first blind man to summit Everest) and Dane Cook's "Tourgasm," which I really only liked during the performance snippets.

In the home stretch on the pilots. Preliminary thoughts -- say it with me, these aren't reviews, since too many things can and will change before September -- on "Men in Trees" and "Let's Rob..." after the jump...

"Men in Trees"
Who's In It:
Anne Heche, John Amos, Abraham Benrubi, James Tupper, and others
What It's About: "Northern Exposure" by way of the collective filmographies of Meg Ryan, Ashley Judd and Sandra Bullock, with Heche as a relationship guru who discovers her fiance is a cheating louse while on a trip to an Alaskan town where the male/female ratio is 10/1.
Pluses: Heche has dialed down the crazy to acceptable degrees, and judging by Marian's favorable reaction, they handle most of the rom-com tropes fairly well. "Northern Exposure" fans will be very pleased by blatant homages like a sexist macho pilot in the Maurice mold and an eager young DJ who's a cross between Ed Chigliak and Chris in the Morning...
Minuses: ... or they'll be annoyed at the blatant rip-offs. Very little male appeal, and I say that as a guy who digs "Grey's Anatomy."

Let's Rob...
Who's In It: Donal Logue, Mick Jagger, Sofia Vergara, Murmur from "The Sopranos"
What It's About: A lifelong loser decides to take hold of his destiny after watching an E! documentary about Mick Jagger's fabulous apartment, and recruits a posse of fellow losers to rob the Rolling Stone.
Pluses: Mick Jagger does a wonderful job of playing Mick Jagger (it's the part he was born to play, baby!), portraying himself as the worst kind of self-absorbed celebrity brat. Writers Rob Burnett and Jon Beckerman from "Ed" have fun depicting Logue (who played Phil Stubbs in the second version of the "Ed" pilot) as a man blissfully unaware of his own limitations. Good throwaway jokes like the gang plotting the heist in a "Jewish supply house" filled with giant replica menorahs.
Minuses: Mick, who as of now will only appear occasionally, is far and away the best part of the show, and the scenes with the regular characters suffer in comparison. A little too obviously derivative of "My Name Is Earl," notably Logue having his life-altering revelation while watching a celebrity on TV.
Click here to read the full post

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Pilot Watch: ABC romantic comedies

Trying to zip through the ABC pilots so I can get back to the rest of whatever it is I do. Some first impressions -- as always, these aren't reviews, as too many things can and will change between now and September -- of "Betty the Ugly" and "Big Day" after the jump...

"Betty the Ugly"
Who's In It: America Ferrera, Eric Mabius, Vanessa "Miss America, not the other one" Williams, Ashley Jensen, Alan Dale, Tony Plana, etc.
What It's About: An adaptation of the popular telenovela about a plain-looking woman swimming with the skinny, Botox'ed sharks at a high-end fashion magazine.
Pluses: Continuing to show she's one of the bravest, least vain actresses in Hollywood, Ferrera is a lot of fun as the braces-wearing, fashion senseless Betty, who makes up in brains and moxie what she lacks in style. While the tone isn't quite as campy as your average telenovela (as a contrast, producer Salma Hayek pops up from time to time as an actress on a telenovela-within-the-telenovela that's much more over the top), it still has a fizzy tone that works with the material, and Vanessa Williams does a great Joan Collins/Heather Locklear diva turn. Overall, one of the more entertaining pilots I've seen this season.
Minuses: Really, just the timeslot. I haven't seen "Brothers & Sisters" (for some reason, it was the only pilot ABC didn't send out), but I can't imagine it being a better pairing with "Desperate Housewives" than this. Putting this show Fridays at 8 seems like a waste of a perfectly good comic soap opera.

"Big Day"
Who's In It: Marla Sokoloff, Josh Cooke, Wendie Malick, Kurt Fuller, Miriam Shor, Stephen Rannazzisi
What It's About: Real-time comedy spanning 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. on the day of a young couple's wedding.
Pluses: Very simply, it's funny. A lot of ridiculous stuff goes down on anyone's wedding day, and they've found enough of it -- my favorite is the groom wanting to walk down the aisle to the "What's Happening!!" theme song -- to fill out a pilot. Wendie Malick is never not good, and Stephnie Weir from "Mad TV" is great as the pathologically cowed wedding planner.
Minuses: There's definitely enough for a pilot, but an entire season? The last time Wendie Malick starred in a real-time romantic comedy pilot for ABC, it was "Jake in Progress" -- and shortly after the pilot was shot, everyone realized the degree of difficulty was way too high, and that they'd be better off doing self-contained episodes. And we all know how well that turned out for everyone. Will ABC and the producers change their minds a few episodes into the season, marry the couple off and turn it into "Mad About You: The Next Generation"?
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Pilot Watch: ABC's people who need people

Praise the lord and pass the ammunition! The ABC pilots have arrived! And the nice people in the ABC PR department have even thoughtfully grouped them thematically. On the first disc, and the only one I watched, were "The Nine," "Six Degrees" and "Help Me Help You" -- all part of the network's latest attempt to duplicate the success of "Lost." With the failure of "Invasion" and "Night Stalker" (not to mention "Surface" and "Threshold"), someone in development realized that maybe it isn't the skiffy elements that made "Lost" a hit, so now they're trying to borrow another theme: a diverse group of strangers brought together by unusual circumstances.

Will these work any better than the last batch of clones? We'll see. Some first impressions -- remember, these aren't reviews, as many, many, many things about these shows can and will change between now and September -- after the jump...

"The Nine"
Who's In It: Tim Daly, Chi McBride, Kim Raver, Scott Wolf, John Billingsley, Owain Yeoman, Jessica Collins and many more
What It's About: Nine survivors of a 52-hour bank hostage crisis find themselves inextricably bound to each other long after the ordeal ends.
Pluses: Novel concept and a tense pilot, well-directed by "West Wing" alum Alex Graves. The writers (primarily Hank Steinberg from "Without a Trace") do a very cool thing narrative-wise, skipping over virtually the entire bank robbery outside of the first and last minutes -- which makes the crisis seem much scarier than if we had to sit through all the usual hostage cliches. (I have little doubt that frequent flashbacks to fill in the gaps will be yet another gimmick lifted from "Lost.") Good cast, notably McBride, one of the great underrated actors of the last decade.
Minuses: While I have nothing against Scott Wolf, did we really need another "Party of Five" alum to make the "Lost" comparisons more obvious? Does Lacey Chabert have a sitcom deal at ABC? Not sure where the show goes from here; is it just a soap opera about the lives of people who wouldn't have otherwise met, or is there more?

"Six Degrees"
Who's In It: Jay Hernandez, Campbell Scott, Hope Davis, Bridget Moynahan, Erika Christensen, Dorian Missick
What It's About: Like the game says, we're allegedly all connected to each other by only six people. This is the story of six people -- an idealistic public defender, a burnt-out photographer, a widowed single mom, an ad executive, a limo driver with a gambling problem and a young woman on the run -- who eventually won't need Kevin Bacon to be connected to each other.
Pluses: That cast. Hernandez, Scott, Davis, Moynahan and Christensen all have healthy film careers in their respective niches, and whether they're in it because they wanted to work for JJ Abrams or because they all have big mortgage payments, it's impressive to have them all on one show. Good performances, potentially interesting characters, good cinematography and use of New York locations.
Minuses: Like "The Nine," I'm not sure what the show is long-term. Unlike "The Nine," the pilot wasn't exciting enough to keep me from asking that question every 10 minutes or so. Are these six people all best friends and hanging out at a coffee house by mid-season? And how do Campbell Scott and Hope Davis (who've worked together on four other movies, notably "The Secret Lives of Dentists" and "The Daytrippers") not share a frame of film in the pilot?

"Help Me Help You"
Who's In It: Ted Danson, Jere Burns, Charlie Finn, Suzy Nakamura, Jane Kaczmarek and more.
What It's About: A group therapist tends to the needs of his patients while suffering a mid-life crisis.
Pluses: I love Ted Danson. There, I said it. While I rarely watched "Becker," I enjoy the guy in pretty much anything else, and he gives a funny performance as a pompous, pretentious twit struggling to deal with his wife (Kaczmarek) leaving him for Biff Logan. Nakamura is also very good as a social incompetent who can't control what comes out of her mouth.
It's shot on film with no laughtrack, but the writing frequently has the set-up/joke rhythm of a multi-camera sitcom, making an awkward fit.
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Tuesday, June 13, 2006

A tale of two morons

Hey, maybe Tommy really oughta walk away from the rest of the cast in every episode. "Rescue Me" thoughts after the jump...

There are times when it feels like Leary, Tolan and company wrote a bunch of scenes and then edited them together at random -- subplots popping in and out of the show, with Tommy's mood inconstant from minute to minute -- but rarely has it been as glaring as it was tonight. The scene with Johnny and Katy takes place at least a couple of days into the episode's timeline, yet Johnny refers to "the stuff that happened last night." I don't even care much about continuity flubs like that, but it was the symbol of an episode that was disjointed in every way, from time to tone. It's the next day, then it isn't, Tommy's the psycho who beat his brother to a bloody pulp, then he's the goof who asks Mrs. Turbody for a sandwich, etc., etc., etc.

The writers were definitely trying to share the wealth, with about the bare minimum of Tommy and a lot of everyone else. In particular, this was the most screen time devoted to Garrity, and the big non-Tommy-walking finish revolved around Probie/New Mike, who may consider himself lucky if his new nickname is Gay Mike. I like Mike Lombardi and especially Steven Pasquale, but I'm not sure you want to hang so much of an episode on either one of them, or really on anyone other than Leary, John Scurti or Jack McGee. I loved the entire sequence with Garrity and the horse -- the monologue about summer camp, Lou raving about the sturdiness of city buses, Chief's "Take a minute if you need it" -- but all those scenes of Tommy trying to intimidate Sean fell very flat.

And the Gay Mike development? Could be great, like some of the stories with Reilly and his son, or it could be awful and offensive. We'll see.

The one part of the episode that felt consistent throughout was the continuation of The Decline and Fall of Kenny Shea, from his argument with the Chief at the top of the show to him calling Tommy a hypocrite near the end.

Other random notes and quotes:
  • The Uncle Teddy in jail scenes are always gold. "He got a great recipe for toilet wine from his homies in Chino!"
  • Random guy talk: Franco's "You ever sneeze while you're pissing?" Isn't that a line from "The Deer Hunter"?
  • Not sure I care about Franco's anxiety about being a kept man, even if it does involve Susan Sarandon wandering around in a bathrobe. And I know I don't care about Mrs. Turbody, even if it involves Paige Turco writhing all over the screen.
  • "I was like, a forte free safety?"
  • Does Sheila have a job? We're coming on five years since 9/11; would Jimmy's death benefits be enough to keep her going? I did like Tommy defending the presence of roofies in Damien's room: "He's not doing the dating or the raping. He's just doing the selling... to the guys who are doing the dating and the raping."
  • If I had more energy, I would've transcribed Tommy's "We're real Irish. We're not like the fake, faggoty your generation Irish" monologue to Sean, because that was some funny stuff, yo.
So, thoughts? Was I the only one feeling a little underwhelmed this week?
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Go, Gulager, go!

This blog didn't spring up until after the last season of "Project: Greenlight" wrapped, which is a shame, as I would have waxed weekly about my fascination with bath-obsessed John Gulager. But the good news is that Dimension finally has a release date for Gulager's "Feast." Horror's not usually my bag, but anything I can do to ensure the continuation of the man's career, I shall do. Click here to read the full post

We can work it out

Tomorrow's column is going to briefly discuss the "House" season finale (due to scheduling issues, it was the one prominent finale I didn't write up in the paper, and some readers asked about it), and in casting my mind back to it -- specifically, to Elias Koteas' role as House's shooter -- I returned to one of my favorite time-wasting games: People Who Should Work Together Who Haven't.

The fact that Koteas and Chris Meloni have yet to play long-lost siblings in a movie or TV show just saddens me. (When Koteas popped up in the "Conviction" pilot, I was excited by the prospect of the inevitable "Conviction"/"SVU" cross-over. Then they killed him, the bastards.) They look so much alike and have such a similarly intense acting style; why has no one made this happen?

Similarly, when the hell is Hollywood going to acknowledge the demand for a Keith David/David Keith buddy action movie? Come on. Race aside, they're essentially the same actor, and the names confuse the hell out of everybody. (In one of my favorite IMDb errors of all time, since fixed, both were listed with the same birthdate.) Ideally, Alan Ball would have cast them on "Six Feet Under" as a gay couple who befriend David and Keith, but that ship has sailed. It's not too late to do some kind of straight-to-video flick where they take on the Chinese mob, is it?

So today's open thread: which two actors have you always wanted to see together, and why? Click here to read the full post

T'ain't Nothin' To it

Thanks to one of those once in a blue moon convergences of our schedule and our babysitter's, Marian and I went out on what you humans refer to as the dinner and a movie date. Despite my unease at putting any kind of money into Crazy Tom Cruise's pocket (does he get points this late in the release window?), we took in "Mission: Impossible III," which was, as Fienberg pointed out, the best "Alias" episode ever made. (There's even a babbling techie who's Marshall with a British accent.) Staging action sequences has never been JJ's problem -- hell, he even convinced me that Felicity could be a gun-wielding badass -- and while the real Cruise squicks me out, I'm still okay with him in panting, grimacing action hero mode. Plus, Capote makes a great no-nonsense bad guy, even if he doesn't have enough screen time.

Because we were out and about, I didn't get to watch any live TV, but fortunately, I had already seen the season premiere of "The Closer" and the pilot of "Saved." I even reviewed them in yesterday's All TV column, which I forgot to link to yesterday. Don't know that I have a lot to say about either one beyond what's in that column, save that my uncanny memory for faces of Hey It's That Guys always gets me into trouble with mystery shows like "The Closer."

Ebert has his Law of Economy of Characters, which says that, because budgets are limited, any character in a thriller or mystery who has a lot of dialogue for seemingly no reason will turn out to be the killer. I think there should be some kind of corollary to that: the Law of Economy of Character Actors, which would say that if a recognizable face pops up in a mystery or thriller playing a seemingly innocuous or irrelevant role, they'll turn out to be the killer. As soon as I saw Kevin Kilner as the dead cop's ex-partner and realized he was a much bigger name (relatively speaking) than the guy playing the dead cop's current partner, I knew he had done it. After that, it was just a matter of waiting to see how Brenda Leigh did it. Now that the show's dialed down the sledgehammer attempt to make her an underdog, this isn't a bad little show, so I'm sure I'll check in on it occasionally through the summer.

"Saved" is a little more intriguing. As my friend Ellen Gray said in her review, the show is basically a watered-down version of "Rescue Me," and I don't think Tom Everett Scott has nearly Denis Leary's ability to be charming in one scene and an ass in the next, but I like the visual style and the paramedic world doesn't feel nearly as played-out as police procedurals do at the moment. Click here to read the full post

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Why ask why?

Some thoughts "Entourage" and "Lucky Louie" (plus brief thoughts on "The 4400") after the jump. (I'll try to watch "Tourgasm" if I have a chance this week.)

I'm a bad liar, which always puts me in an awkward position when I'm out in Hollywood, a town built on lies and half-truths. Because I've been doing this a while now, when I'm at press tour, showrunners who know me will sometimes ask me what I think of their new show. If I didn't like it, the options are three, involving varying degrees of "Awk-WARD!" 1)Lie and say I liked it, then excuse myself quickly; 2)Lie and say I haven't seen it yet, then excuse myself quickly; or 3)Say I didn't like it, followed by "It's been nice knowing you."

But every now and then, I'm dumb enough to volunteer my opinion without being asked. A few weeks into the first season of "Entourage," HBO had a press tour session for the show, and afterwards I found myself having a long conversation with the creator, Doug Ellin, prompted by me saying, inelegantly, "I like a lot about your show, but the main characters are kind of assholes, you know?" Ellin, to his credit, didn't get pissy about it, but stood there and politely but firmly debated me on the matter, and by the end, I had agreed to look at the guys again with an open mind.

I'm still not sure Ellin was right back in the first season, especially about Vince and Turtle, but during season two and especially now, the show has really nailed that "Diner"/"Swingers" theme of guys who bust on each other but genuinely like and care about each other. Yes, Turtle's a moocher with no ambition but to swim in Vince's wake, but when Eric comes up with his plan to fly all their mothers out for the premiere just so Vince's mom will come, Turtle agrees to the plan, with only brief griping, even though it'll cost him his best shot at scoring in a long time. That's friendship right there.

I'm not saying the show is better only because the guys seem (to me) a little nicer to each other, but it helped. So did putting more of the focus on Ari ("Mouth like a Dyson vacuum!") and Drama ("Top-tall... torso's too long, legs are too short. She's inverted!").

I had thought, by the way, of not using that picture up top, since it gives away the outcome of the mom story, but then I remembered that, with the exception of Mandy Moore, Vince has gotten everything he's wanted for the entire run of the series. Another happy ending isn't exactly a spoiler, is it? Now, the fact that his every wish is fulfilled through very little effort or talent on his own part doesn't make me dislike Vince, but it does mean I don't really care about him. To me, he's a plot device, the reason why Drama and Turtle and Ari and (to a lesser extent) Eric get to have whatever adventures they have.

But that's all a lot of rambling about the show in general and little specifically about this episode. So some premiere observations:
  • Good to see Jimmy Woods sporting an excellent Clairol dye job. The casting of his top-heavy (as opposed to top-tall) girlfriend was one of those have your cake and eat it too kinda things; the show gets to make fun of Woods for toting around a bimbo who has to keep shoving her implants into her itty-bitty top, while at the same time showing said implants falling in and out of her top. (Update: It's been pointed out to me that she is Woods' real-life girlfriend, which actually makes it funnier.) And did I miss it, or was there no resolution to the stolen premiere tickets plot? Obviously, the tickets got used to get Turtle and Eric's moms into the premiere, but where was Woods realizing he got ripped off? The on-camera headlock on Drama didn't seem enough. Still, some fine scenery-chewing from the future star of "Shark."
  • Nice casting on the moms, especially Mercedes Ruehl as Mrs. Chase. (Would've liked to see more of Patti D'Arbanville as E's mom.) She really looks like she could be Adrian Grenier's mother. On the other hand, am I misremembering, or didn't Johnny and Vince share a dad, not a mom? Or is Chase just Drama's stage name that Vince adopted when he came out to LA?
  • More Ari also means more Lloyd, who's funny because he has to take all of Ari's abuse, and more Mrs. Ari, who's funny because she doesn't. Samaire Armstrong-to-Lloyd was a definite upgrade.
  • Seemed to be more classic rock than usual on the soundtrack, especially near the end, with a Joe Cocker/Doobie Brothers/Elton John trifecta.
  • Nice throwaway bit where the guys turn lemons (the broken elevator at Ari's new WeHo offices) into lemonade (a race up the stairs). For all the bling and babes available to them, sometimes it's just about the simple pleasures.
On to "Lucky Louie," which I panned in my review, but which I didn't hate completely. As I said in the review, I admired the bluntness about sex, the fact that Louie can say "jerking off" instead of whatever too clever by half euphemism the writers can coin, but that wasn't enough for me. And I like that Louie's allowed to be genuinely poor with a shithole apartment instead of the sort of million-dollar homes you see most working-class sitcom characters have.

But I think the first time I laughed out loud was when Louie said "We can't afford it!" to his wife's ass. And I laughed again when he threw her into the closet to have sex at the end. That was two solid laughs for me in a half-hour, which is better than a lot of crap out there but not good enough, especially for HBO.

What did everybody else think? Also, feel free to discuss the season premiere of "The 4400," about which I have little to say, save that I admire the producers for embracing their audience and introducing a hot new character (or, rather, aging a previously-infantile character into a hot babe) who prefers to walk around naked. Oh, and that I'm surprised and a little impressed that they didn't reverse the other half of the aging twist.
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Welcome back to f-in' Deadwood!

"Fixin' toward a bloody outcome, boss." -Dan Dority

And with that prophetic opening line, we're back in the blood and shit-stained thoroughfare of "Deadwood," for a season premiere filled with negotiations, circumlocution and more than one bloody outcome. More after the jump, for the benefit of anyone who hasn't watched it yet. (And if you haven't, Deadweek is a great way to put yourself in the mood.)

Thank God for the Johnny Burnses of this show, because there were large chunks of the premiere where I badly needed someone to explain the plot to me. And what purpose does The Gem's barkeep serve if not to allow Dan or Al deliver several foul mouthfuls of exposition?

So let me make sure I have this straight: the Cornish workers at Hearst's mining operation have been agitating for better pay and conditions, so Hearst sends a couple of his goons to kill one of the Cornish at The Gem, sending two messages in the process: 1)Organize against me and die, and 2)I can do whatever I want, wherever I want in this camp -- up to and including the place of business of Deadwood's unofficial mayor. And Swearengen, knowing that Hearst needs the elections to go forward as much as he does (elections legitimize the government, which in turn speeds up the process of annexation and helps assure a level of independence from Yankton), plays the one card he has at the moment by postponing the campaign speeches. That sound about right?

As Al put it to Dan, "Don't I yearn for the days a draw across the throat made fuckin' resolution?" Amen, brother.

In all seriousness, while Milch sometimes makes the plot and dialogue so labyrinthine that I feel the need to hire a Talmudic scholar to keep track of it all, I wouldn't want Al to still be the self-interested cutthroat from early in season one. Change is the dominant theme of "Deadwood" -- the change from lawlessness to order being the biggest, but personal change for everyone -- and no one has changed more than Albert (did we know that was the full name?) Swearengen. Anyone who watched the pilot episode -- in which Al looked like the black hat destined to go up against Wild Bill and/or Bullock -- and then jumped ahead to this one would probably be stunned at his transformation into this paragon of community. He helps stage elections! He buys Sol Starr a house! He sets things up so Trixie can essentially move in with Sol with no one in town being any the wiser!

Which isn't to say that Al has become Fonzie circa the episode where he got his library card. He's still a hard man, capable of staring down one of the richest men in America, downing a bottle of the man's whiskey in one sitting and making a power play that could bring down more trouble than he, Dan, Johnny and Adams can handle.

It's hard for me to judge this episode in isolation, because I've seen the season's first five. In that group, this was one of the weaker hours, but it's just so great to have this show back, to hear Ian McShane wrap his tongue around Milch's dialogue, to witness the show's various two-person comedy teams (Joanie and Charlie, Jane and Mose, Farnum and Richardson) go through their assigned roles, to watch Tim Olyphant play the mental switch-flip between Stick Up His Ass Bullock and Homicidal Rage Bullock... so many pleasures. How the blazes could HBO have canceled this show?

Before I start approaching Norman Mailer length, some other random thoughts:
  • Cy Tolliver lives. Powers Boothe's presence at a press conference on the set last summer (an eventful day that included Paula Malcomson explaining how the actresses use "snatch packs" to keep cool in their unforgiving wardrobes, not to mention me getting a double blow-out on my rental car) spoiled the surprise, if you can even call it a surprise. Milch has too much affection for Boothe (who was the second choice to play Swearengen, in between Ed O'Neill and McShane), and with Al morphing into a vaguely more benevolent figure, we need Cy to illustrate the darker side of humanity.
  • He'll get even more of a showcase in the coming weeks (episodes three and five in particular), but I'm amazed by how good Gerald McRaney is as Hearst. He's a guy I always thought of as a reliable meat-and-potatoes actor, no more and no less. Here he's playing the Gene Hackman part and playing it well. Sometimes, all an actor needs is the right material to show his chops, and shockingly, neither "Simon & Simon" nor "Major Dad" qualified.
  • Getting back to the idea that the pilot was setting up a Swearengen Vs. Bullock paradigm, it's almost comical to see the two act as allies, albeit allies whose interests only occasionally intersect -- and to see Bullock downgraded from our hero to this hothead who routinely loses his shit and pummels someone over Alma.
  • I haven't rewatched the season 2 finale in a while, but was there talk of Alma and Ellsworth having a house built or buying a pre-existing house? Because that's an awfully nice place to be ready only six weeks after the end of last season, show-time.
  • Milch has talked for years about wanting to depict the possibly apocryphal story where Wyatt Earp shows up in town and Bullock sends him on his merry way. I understand that, very early in the writing process for the premiere, the "Parp" gunman was going to be revealed to be Earp himself. I still wouldn't be shocked to see the famous lawman pop up before the season's out.
  • I know HBO claims they don't do product placement, but can't you imagine the endorsement opportunities for Ian McShane and some kind of cleaning product? "If it's good enough to scrub blood off the floor of Al's bar, it's good enough to get orange juice off your couch, by God!"
  • "It's my family luck, over centuries," Steve tells Harry Manning, "to get repeatedly fucked up the ass." So is that why you fucked the horse in turn, Steve?
  • Having lost his ownership of the hotel and seemingly on the verge of losing the mayor's job to Sol, Farnum really doesn't serve a purpose to the community or the show anymore, except as a fool. His scenes with Richardson are the most blatantly Shakespearean this show does (at least until Brian Cox rolls into town in a few weeks), and I alternate between cringing and loving them.
  • Who do you think is filled with more self-loathing: Jane or Joanie?
  • In case you missed Wu, he won't be back until episode three, but his entrance is a beaut.
Back when I was reviewing Milch's "NYPD Blue" episodes, I had a Line of the Week feature that inevitably turned into many lines of the week. Here's just a sampler of Milch-y goodness from tonight:
  • "As to your meeting with Hearst, if the chances comes up natural, stomp on the cocksucker's foot."
  • "Wash and stack, shit-monkey. Or ready yourself for worse!"
  • "My snatch is clean!"
  • "Another day on the right side of the ledger far as pus."
  • "Hell of a beating for EB to take if he's innocent,"followed by "Oh, he's still way ahead of the game."
  • "Custer was a cunt. The end."
If that's not enough for you, Matt offers the first of his own "Deadwood" recaps over at So what did everybody else think?
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Friday, June 09, 2006

Witches, stars and money

In today's All TV column, Matt reviews season three of "Entourage," which he liked. I did, too, and it'll be one of the summer staples of What's Alan Watching?, along with "Deadwood," "Rescue Me," and other shows I'm still working out. Something that probably won't be a staple is "The 4400," which I did take a second look at and even gave a positive review to in the column today, but which I still don't love enough to commit to watching every week. Good story, mediocre characters.

I already linked to my "Windfall" review a few days ago, and I don't know how much more I have to say about it, save that I could have done with at least two fewer "Oh, my God!!!!!!" scenes and that I'm already bored with the Jason Gedrick/Lana Parilla/Sarah Wynter/Luke Perry love quadrangle.

One show I didn't get a chance to review for space reasons was "Hex," which is sort of a British "Buffy" about a teenage girl with supernatural powers who fights evil at her boarding school. A few brief spoiler-laden thoughts after the jump, for the benefit of anyone who watched it.

One of the first notes I took as I watched the pilot (which, as all BBC America screeners are, was the uncut British version, so I can't speak 100% to what aired) was "Is there a typo in the title? It sure seems like the H should be an S." Witchcraft and female sexuality have often been linked, but after all the underwear-posing, porn-watching parties, Thelma the lesbian hitting on Cassie, Cassie getting tarted up immediately after discovering her powers, etc., etc., it felt like the show was either beating me over the head with the link or just really eager to keep the fanboys' attention.

Thelma was definitely my favorite character, and the one the writers had invested most of their energy into, so I was both surprised and oddly pleased when she got killed. Shows don't usually bother giving sacrifical lambs this full a personality (JJ Abrams got talked out of killing Jack in the "Lost" pilot, and even Eric Balfour in the "Buffy" pilot was really just Xander, only less so). So while I was disappointed at the thought of losing the show's most interesting character, I also admired the show for making me care this much about someone they were going to bump off, which suggested that the stakes might be continually high. But when they brought her back as a ghost in the final scene, I was just as pleased. Basically, I'm easy to please.

Not sure yet how interested I am in Cassie, and I'm hoping they give Colin Salmon more to do in future episodes. I suppose I could just go over to some British fan sites to find out, but I hate spoilers. So if you know more about the show than I do (i.e., anything that happens after the pilot), please refrain from mentioning it in the comments.
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