Thursday, August 31, 2006

In 'Justice'

Another night, another new show: I weighed in on "Justice" a couple of days ago, but I'm curious if anyone bothered to watch and what they thought.

I'll say that I thought it was a cop-out that the client in the very first episode had to be innocent, even though the producer insists they will sometimes defend guilty clients, but I liked a lot of the little touches like Victor Garber's bit about kicking the table forward. ("Hey, every little bit helps.") Click here to read the full post

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Rock Star: Do you remember how to mosh?

"Rock Star" results, PDQ...

Big, big, BIG sigh of relief from this Storm fan at the moment. She dodged a bullet, and deservedly so. But we'll go in performance order, since everybody but Magni got to sing.

Lukas, "Crap-Ass Supernova Song #3": You know, it's getting to the point where I can't imagine a scenario where Toby doesn't win. The two front-runners, Dilana and Lukas, have both sounded either ordinary (Dilana) or incoherent (Lukas) while playing with the band, and neither has really seemed to fit, whereas Toby, while unspectacular, at least had some on-stage chemistry with the guys and seemed to match the tone they were going for. Plus, he's not high-maintenance like the other two, and even if this is going to be a two-month tour (as opposed to a twenty year run with the band -- RYAN), who wants the headaches? Not good at all for Lukas, and I actually had Toby's "Hey hey hey"s and "Ho ho ho"s running through my head throughout it.

Toby, "Rebel Yell": Not as good as last night, but still fun, and I like that he went all the way back to the bleachers (which is where I had to sit for my taping). Looks like he's replacing Ryan as the teacher's pet.

Ryan, "Baba O'Riley": I'll admit it: I looked at some spoiler boards this afternoon to prepare myself for the inevitable disappointment of Storm's exit. And after doing a fist-pump over news of her survival, I was surprised to read several accounts that said Ryan got the biggest crowd reaction in the show's history and that everyone was going nuts when he was sent home. I can see how that might have played well to the crowd, what with the running and the jumping and the two or three other tricks in Ryan's bag -- not to mention the House Band outdoing its usual genius at playing The Who (this was maybe the best I've ever heard them) -- but the actual vocals were screechy as hell, he mangled a bunch of the lyrics, and the jumping off of stuff had devolved into self-parody even before they showed that "Ryan jumps off of stuff" montage during his biographical package last night. And again, 20 years? Really? Really? This band isn't going to be together for 20 months, maybe not even 20 weeks. Definitely the angriest exit we've had this season.

Storm, "Helter Skelter": Well, now I can see why she's been itching to perform on elimination night, because that was all kinds of cool and a badly-needed return to Crazy Punk Storm instead of Selfless Balladeer Storm. And, yeah, she was screaming too, but this is a song designed for it. (I'd argue that it was the first heavy metal song rather than the first punk song, but she sure as hell made a punk song out of it.) Would've liked to see the crowd actually mosh, but it's not that kind of crowd (and the paid hotties downstage sure as hell weren't going to do it). Lots of energy -- even some crowd-surfing -- but energy that felt spontaneous. I still fear that she's gone next week, but that's only one week short of the finals, and at least she got a chance to remind the band and the audience that she's not just a cabaret act.

Dilana, "Psycho Killer": Wow, this was just a complete disaster. I'm not sure how this is possible, but her energy level was really low, even though she was screaming and jumping up and down the whole time. I think the criticism of the last two weeks and now being in the bottom three has really thrown her for a loop, and she can't handle it. Which is a shame, because she was far and away my favorite performer for quite a while, and it feels like she's imploding. Also, am I going crazy, or was she yodeling at a few spots?

I'm hoping that we actually get to hear the original songs on the show next Tuesday, since the last time they did a songwriting clinic, it was confined to the webisode. And shame on the producers if they don't let everybody sing twice. Even "Idol" isn't shameless enough to try to stretch out five songs over a whole hour. Also, with Zoolander gone, Magni and Storm are the only ones who haven't performed with the band, or even one member of the band. Unless they're going to let both of them play with Supernova at the start of next Wednesday's show, it's pretty obvious that whoever doesn't get to is the one going home, no?

What did everybody else think?
Click here to read the full post

Big screen, small screen

Today's column deals with the staggering number of familiar movie actors who are on new shows this year:

BACK DURING Virginia Madsen's first stint on the A-list, when she was an in-demand young starlet, a script crossed her desk called "Long Gone," a movie about minor league baseball in the Jim Crow South. She loved the story, loved her potential role as a groupie with brains and sex appeal -- basically, the Susan Sarandon character from "Bull Durham," but a year earlier. It was a great part, one of the best she would ever play -- and everyone she knew was telling her not to do it.

Why? Because "Long Gone" was being produced for HBO, which in 1987 was the acting equivalent of being sent to the low minors.

"(It) was thought to have been a huge mistake, a huge step down to go for that cable channel," Madsen says now. "I loved the story, but it did some damage to my career."

Jump ahead a couple of decades, and her Oscar nomination for "Sideways" has Madsen back on the A-list again, getting significant movie offers again. And yet here she is doing TV again, playing Ray Liotta's wife on CBS' upcoming heist drama "Smith."

To read the rest of the column, click here.

And speaking of celebrity crossovers, I did my professional duty and watched about 15 minutes of "Celebrity Duets" before switching over to "Rock Star." All I saw were two of the people with musical theater experience (Lucy Lawless and Alfonso Ribeiro) sounding fine and the Olympic gymnast, not surprisingly, not. Unless it turns into a "Dancing with the Stars"-level ratings phenom, I don't think I need to come back. Anybody else watch? Click here to read the full post

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Rescue Me: Burnin' love

"Rescue Me" spoilers start immediately after this...

As I was watching the finale, I was taking notes on my computer, and here is exactly what I typed as Sheila went into the kitchen to fix Tommy another drink:
Oh, God, she's again crushing the roofies into his drink? NO! NO! NO! NO!
Dammit, not even "Grey's Anatomy" or David E. Kelley have the ability to make me as angry at a show I otherwise love. How can they be as brilliant as they are in moments like Tommy telling Stack to let go or the visit to the 9/11 memorial tonight and then do stupid shit like having Sheila go for the RoHypnol AGAIN? And to trot out a cliffhanger that, while it fits as a bookend with Tommy's dream in the season premiere, is a classically phony Hero in Jeopardy stunt that even Leary and Tolan admitted the audience would see through. A conference call excerpt, after a reporter asked why they would do that if the audience knows Tommy won't die:
LEARY: "Because it's television."

TOLAN: "There's always an element of false jeopardy in a cliffhanger because you know we're not going to kill Tommy -- probably. But the question is, 'What is it going to get you for next season?' And we thought about this, and we're going to have a lot of fun with what gives us."

LEARY: "Don't forget: when a person on this show dies, their part only gets bigger."
Look, you drug Franco or Garrity or even, God help us, Lou, and trap them in a burning beach house, and I can picture the possibility that they could die, or get scarred or crippled or whatever. But Tommy's going to emerge physically unscathed -- how is he going to maintain his supernatural ability to bag hot women otherwise? -- and even if Sheila dies, I won't exactly mourn the loss of the poster girl for how horribly this show usually writes women.

And yet the show that can be so predictable -- they barely even bothered with the pretense that the squad was going to break up -- and annoying and self-indulgent at times can also give us bits like:
  • The entire flashback sequence, which was done so slyly (with Tommy staying in modern costume and there never being an obvious edit) that at first I thought Reilly was going senile when he was calling Franco "Probie" (it wasn't until Jimmy and Lou's Red Sox argument that I figured it out);
  • Chief Pecher (nicely played by Tolan) walking in on Garrity and Maggie humping away in his office ("I had a magazine..."), and also his random singing of "Poor Wandering One" from "Pirates of Penzance";
  • Tommy's rant about his sperm having "ant strength";
  • Mike's "Guys, I think I'm not bi anymore" (predictable, but the way the camera framed it was hysterical);
  • Lou's sadness at seeing Reilly show up at the station in his hospital gown;
  • Lou crawling around on the docks;
  • The entire 9/11 memorial scene, even if, like the scene in the season two finale where they're looking at the skyline, the actors were clearly talking as much to the audience as each other;
  • The whole "Don't look at me, I'm the dead guy" shrug Jimmy gives Tommy before quickly exiting what he knows is going to be a hellacious argument between his best friend and his widow.
I'm not even sure what the origin of the old "girl with the curl" cliche is, but if ever a show fit that description, it's "Rescue Me." When it's good, it's very, very good. And when it's bad, I have to ask myself why I'm even still watching.

Some other quick thoughts and notes:
  • On the call, Leary also said that Tommy's karmic payback for The Incident (or, as Tolan described it, "Tommy's thing with Janet") wasn't Sheila raping him, or Johnny's death, or even him getting trapped in the fire. "It doesn't happen until sometime in the middle of season four, but it's coming." I dunno; I have a feeling that Sheila raping him was intended to be the payback, and when the audience didn't buy into it, they changed their story.
  • Even after all the contortions to keep the rest of the guys in the house, is there any chance they might actually follow through with that Chief/Lou scene and get rid of Jack McGee next year? And, if so, what type of character might you like to see as the new chief, since I know Tolan's not moving to New York full time to play Pecher? Also, since they've talked about adding a new Probie, what kind of character do you want to see there? (I liked Tolan's suggestion in our interview of it being a super-capable woman -- straight or lesbian, I don't care -- who forces the guys to reassess a lot of the macho BS that chased away the Diane Farr character.)
  • I wasn't really feeling either of the precocious kid scenes, whether it was Katie playing with Tommy on the definition of sperm or Keelah's "Did you try your best?" speech to Franco. I don't know about Tolan, but I know Leary has two kids, and those two scenes felt off to me.
  • Where does Jimmy get off calling Tommy's 5'2" conquest a midget when Sheila's lucky she's that tall in heels?
And that's it for me on this show this season. I can only hope the good "Rescue Me" outweighs the bad again next summer, but I know I'm going to be there, regardless.

What did everybody else think?
Click here to read the full post

Rock Star: Impending doom?

First of all, can I give a resounding "Boo!" to the "Rock Star" producers for padding the hell out of what could have been an awesome show. You're down to six contestants. You've squeezed as many as 14 performances into an hour; why not let everybody go twice, once with the Fan's Choice and once with their own (whether an original or something from a list of covers)? I didn't need the biographical clips.

Also, the Fan's Choice gimmick was pretty lame. Every contestant had four choices: three songs they did before, and a Wild Card that another contestant (or, in the case of "Bring Me to Life," two contestants) had done. Of course everybody was going to pick the Wild Card, even if the song wasn't really a good fit for the contestant, simply because it would be new for them. It really feels like the music budget has been drastically lowered from season to season, or am I remembering year one's musical diversity a little too fondly?

Anyway, on to the performance-by-performance breakdown:

Lukas, "Lithium": In the webisode, he complained about not knowing the song and not even liking Nirvana (another lame element of the Fan's Choice, since "Mother, Mother" is something Dilana has done in her stage shows for years, whereas Lukas, Ryan and Storm all got stuck with songs they barely knew), but I think that worked for him in coming up with a very tight new arrangement. He made the verses plaintive rather than frustrated and angry, then brought the energy on the chorus before shifting gears back for the next verse. I don't know if this was Lukas' best performance, but it was up there.

Magni, "I Alone": I'm not sure his vein has ever throbbed this much, and I'm starting to worry; I want the baby to grow up with a father, you know? This was very typical Magni: great energy, great vocals, and 100% faithful to the original version. I like the guy a lot (he and Storm are easily the most appealing personalities left), but I want to see him mix a song up, just once, to show there's some creativity to go with the singing and guitar-playing talent. Also, I don't know what Gilby's talking about in terms of Magni suddenly displaying star quality, as I can think of at least three other performances of his that were at least this good, if not better.

Ryan, "Clocks": I want him gone, not just because I dislike him personally (I love how all of a sudden he's so sensitive about being slagged by Dilana when he was ripping the hell out of Dana and Patrice in the early weeks), but because he feels so practiced and phony. Even as he was kicking out the piano stool and doing his Luke Duke slide across the hood or busting out his Michelle Pfeiffer in "Fabulous Baker Boys" impression (minus the red dress, sadly), I can't shake the feeling that it's all been calculated to within an inch of its life. And I'm sure somebody like Lukas spends just as much time rehearsing every lurch and stagger and lip quiver, and yet it feels natural when he does it most of the time. Plus, Ryan's performance style is so humorless and doesn't feel like a good match for the band.

Storm, "Bring Me to Life": Oh, Stormy, I have a very bad feeling about this. First, where everybody else gets a biographical clip about how swell they are (or, in Dilana's case, about how determined she is to atone for her mistakes), hers is all about her struggles with this song. Second, it's, I think, her fifth ballad in a row at a time when she desperately needed to do something up-tempo and rocking, ala "Anything Anything" or "Surrender." Third, the band's clearly losing interest in her, as evidenced first by the "I Will Survive" pile-on and now Gilby's "I won't remember that tomorrow" slam. Even if she kills it in the bottom three tomorrow (and here's where not having been bottom three the last two weeks -- when she could have kicked ass on a song of her own choice and would have been safe because Zayra and Patrice were still around as cannon fodder -- is going to hurt her), I think they've already made up their minds about her. Which is a shame, both because I thought she sang the hell out of the song even when you factor in the degree of difficulty -- and her voice blended really well with Toby's -- and because I just enjoy watching her, and not just from a lecherous standpoint. I don't care if she wins -- I don't care if any of them win -- but I would have liked to see her make it to that final night. Ah, well. Maybe she'll at least get to sing with the band tomorr -- ah, who am I kidding? Sigh...

Toby, "Rebel Yell": Has he displayed this lower register before and I just missed it? Because he sounded great here with the deeper voice, and was really in command of the stage, even before he pulled a Springsteen and started pulling the paid dancing babes out of the front of the audience. After last week's jam with the band and tonight, I can genuinely see a scenario where he could win this. Given what little we've heard of Supernova, he seems like a better stylistic fit than either Lukas or Dilana, plus he'd be an easier guy to deal with on the road and would help these four middle-aged guys attract a younger female crowd.

Dilana, "Mother, Mother": This was the best I'd heard Dilana in weeks (and it oughta be, given how well she knows the song), but WTF with Navarro's comment that it was the best performance of the two seasons? Hell, it probably wasn't even the best of the night (I'd give that honor to either Lukas or Toby). Still, the angry song fit her like a glove and allowed her to display a more powerful, less raw side of her voice on the verses. And, of course, it neatly concluded the whole Fall and Rise of Dilana storyline that the producers have been working so hard the last two weeks.

What did everybody else think?
Click here to read the full post

Let me stand next to your fired agent

Blogger somehow ate an entire post, which contained thoughts on the "Entourage" season finale and the new episodes of "Prison Break" and "Vanished," and I'm on deadline for tomorrow's column, so I don't have time to recreate it all. Short versions:

"Entourage": A mediocre conclusion to an up-and-down season. I've always wavered on how much, if at all, I like Vince, and his refusal to acknowledge even a tiny bit of responsibility for his current predicament -- throughout the series, and this season in particular, he goes out of his way to jeopardize his career, often against Ari's advice -- really turned me against him again. On top of that, I don't buy that Ari would be so stupid as to give the exact same hackneyed branding speech to Vince -- especially since, as Rich Heldenfels pointed out to me, he knows Josh Weinstein's M.O.

I'm also disappointed that they got rid of Bob Ryan so quickly. I would have loved spending some time actually watching Vince make a movie for once, both to see whether he's just as big a flake on company time and to see Bob attempt to fit into modern Hollywood outside the cutthroat deal-making.

The season wasn't a total loss -- the trip to the Valley, Eric's threeway, Drama in Vegas and the introduction of Bob made it worth sitting through the episodes that dragged -- but it feels like the writers aren't sure what to do now that the show is becoming more popular (at least in Hollywood, if not the rest of the country). They spent large chunks of an episode on Vince buying Turtle a pair of $20,000 sneakers, for God's sake. I'm hoping the spring episodes with Carla Gugino are an improvement.

"Prison Break": A strong second episode, highlighted by Pope taking a stand for his guy (even though Bellick deserved to be fired) and Linc improvising a rescue attempt for LJ (including the first of what I'm sure will be many face-to-face encounters between Mahone and Michael). On the other hand, the bit with T-Bag preparing to kill the poor veteranarian made me uncomfortable. I'm glad the writers aren't trying to soften the character now that they know he's a fan favorite, and I completely believe he would kill the guy under these circumstances. But it felt like the show reveled in T-Bag's sickness more than it needed to in that scene with the vet taped to the table, begging for his life. Is it just me?

"Vanished": Placed in the Life's Too Short file after an unimpressive second episode. I don't have time to detail all that's wrong, so go read Fienberg saying almost everything I would.

Today's column mostly deals with "Justice," a pilot I dismissed back in June, but which grew on me in second viewing, mostly in the little details I didn't pay much attention to during my pilot marathon. I don't know that I'll feel compelled to watch it again, but that has to do with my own personal burn-out on the Bruckheimer formula than the show's actual merits, which aren't half-bad. Victor Garber fans will enjoy watching their guy play a cheerful bastard. Click here to read the full post

Monday, August 28, 2006

How race made its way onto the island

In a story that was originally planned for the Friday paper, then the Saturday, then the Sunday, and which finally wound up sitting right next to my Emmy column today, I talked to Jeff Probst and several "Survivor" experts about the segregation gimmick. Given some of the speculation, I figured I'd excerpt this quote from Probst:
"I think the notion of how long we keep them divided is a fair question," said Probst, "and I would say to that, you have to remember that there is a show we are putting together. If we leave people in the same tribes for a long time, they become so entrenched that there's no way they're ever going to leave their tribe, and that makes for boring television. We're already putting people in strong groups, you can't have much stronger an identification than your own ethnicity. We have strong tribes that are going to be aligned together from the beginning, we're not going to leave them like that forever."
To read the rest, click here. Click here to read the full post

The morning after

On the Emmys:

If the Emmy officials couldn't apologize for this year's nominees, then at least the winners could.

For virtually the entire three-hour telecast -- really, up until "24" and "The Office" became first-time winners in the drama and comedy series awards, respectively -- winner after winner greeted news of their victory with some combination of astonishment and shame.

Both Jon Stewart and Tony Shalhoub used the phrase "terrible mistake" while picking up awards (Stewart for the fourth consecutive "Daily Show" win for Outstanding Variety, Music or Comedy Series; "Monk" star Shalhoub for his third win in fourth years as lead comedy actor).

"It's not supposed to work this way, is it?" said a stunned Blythe Danner after winning for her supporting role on Showtime's defunct "Huff."

Danner was also one of four actors to win for shows that had been canceled, an awkward roster that also included Megan Mullally for "Will & Grace," Alan Alda for "The West Wing" and Andre Braugher for "Thief," a drama that was only dubbed a miniseries after FX failed to renew it for a second season.

Four of the five lead comedy actress nominees were from canceled shows; in a stunner, the winner was the fifth, Julia Louis-Dreyfus from CBS' "The New Adventures of Old Christine."

"Well, I'm not somebody who really believes in curses," she said, referencing the bogus "Seinfeld" Curse, "but curse this, baby!"

Maybe the signature moment of the night was when Jeremy Irons, winner for his supporting role in HBO's "Elizabeth I," made a beeline for the podium, not bothering to even pick up the Emmy itself. (He was briefly rendered speechless when someone shoved the statuette into his hands.)

To read the rest (much of it in praise of Conan O'Brien for saving what would have otherwise been a gruesome three hours), click here. Click here to read the full post

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Deadwood: Final curtain

When I got done watching the "Deadwood" finale, my initial thought was "good season finale, an absolute joke of a series finale." The more I thought of it, though, the more I realized that maybe there was more closure than Milch intended. Either way, I'm depressed that one of the best TV shows of my lifetime is over, probably never to return. (I believe the movies will happen the same way I believe Isiah Thomas is building a championship contender at MSG.) More after the jump...

So let's see: Hearst is gone, the camp is spared destruction by the Pinkertons, Alma sold her mine so she could stay in camp, and Seth is going to lose his badge thanks to Hearst and Jarry's vote-tampering. That's a fair amount of significant threads tied up, albeit many of them happening in the last 15 minutes or so. So what was left unresolved, and what were the odds Milch was going to deal with them in the mythical season four? In no particular order:
  • Where is Joanie and Jane's relationship going? The whole thing was both slow-building and sudden (took Milch forever to inch up to it, and then when he did it was quickly a full-on romance, or the closest thing Jane is capable of), and while they ended the season on a relatively happy note, I think there were interesting roads this could have traveled. Would Milch have eventually gone back to the history books and had Jane become a whore, possibly to spite Joanie? How would Joanie manage to stay out of the legend of Calamity Jane? Etc. (On a side point, Charlie giving Joanie Bill's coat for "you and the other one" answers my question from earlier the season about whether he knew Joanie was a lesbian.)
  • Why oh why oh why did we spend so much time with Langrishe and his theater company? You could argue that Milch was setting the stage for a lot of more significant theater stuff in year four, but I'm not so sure. That scene with Jack and Claudia where he lamented an actor's usefulness in the midst of such real-life drama as the camp was facing sure sounded to me like a meta comment on the value (or lack thereof) of these new characters. Then again, Milch rarely seems interested in going meta, so maybe not. Frankly, losing the chance to find out what's up with Jack, Claudia and the two mystery women won't be keeping me up at night.
  • What's eating Cy Tolliver? Okay, in this particular case, it was pretty clear: he was hoping his partnership with Hearst would lead to lavish criminal endeavors and the chance to kill or crush his enemies, and instead he became just another cog in the mining operation. Still, it felt like Cy outlived his usefulness a long time ago -- maybe not a surprise, since the character only existed because Milch felt bad that Powers Boothe was too sick to play Swearengen when the pilot was filmed -- and he spent most of his seasons being irritated at how marginal he had become. Hell, maybe Milch really does like writing meta, after all.
  • Odell's death and the Earps, two plots that popped up mid-season, didn't really go anywhere and then stopped abruptly. I doubt we would have seen Wyatt and Morgan again, and with Hearst on his way to Montana, would Aunt Lou be following, or would she be one of the people Hearst left behind to keep an eye on his interests (in this case, how E.B. runs the Grand Central)? And would she even be willing to work for him anymore? I suppose Lou might have become yet another member of this sprawling supporting cast in season four, because the show already didn't have enough characters to service. But I doubt we ever would have found out what Odell's game was, any more than we found out what Wyatt's genius plan was.
  • Is the Doc really dying, or is he just a hypochondriac with a bad cough? Not sure if Brad Dourif had other commitments that kept him away from the set a lot this season, but I felt like Doc, Sol and Adams suffered the most in terms of screen time sacrificed to new characters and concerns. I can only hope Al's "Get busy living or get busy dying" speech would have continued to keep Doc upright and active through the final season.
  • What does Ellsworth's death mean for Seth and Alma -- and, of course, Martha? This could have been one of season four's most interesting subplots: how does Martha balance her innate decency and selflessness with the knowledge that her husband is spending more time with his ex-mistress?
  • Whither The General and Steve? Ehhh... I love Franklin Ajaye in this role but could live without more of this odd couple.
  • What will Harry Manning be like as sherriff? I actually find it a bit sad that he won, not because Seth is out of a job that he didn't really want, but because the only reason Harry ran was to get enough attention to become a fireman. Tom went and bought the firefighting equipment, and now Harry's going to be stuck policing the camp when he'd rather be polishing the fire wagon. Still, I think I'm okay not seeing where this goes.
The most important question: what did the future hold for Al, Seth, The Gem, Sol, etc.? Well, you can find out the reality of what happened to most of the major figures here, and I suppose if the movies actually do happen, they would tackle a lot of this. But even though the fire was technically the end of the camp, I feel like we reached a good thematic end with Hearst's arrival and departure. After all, the show has always been about how civilization is born of chaos. We've seen the imposition of law & order and with the successful (albeit rigged) elections, the camp's assimilation into the United States is a fait accompli. And once you bring order to a lawless place, all that's left is for those with the most money to start swinging their weight around to prove that the law doesn't apply to everyone equally.

So we have greed and wealth (Hearst) triumphing over the rule of law (Bullock), common decency (Ellsworth) and even our famous Yankee cunning and know-how (Swearengen). (Warning: liberal political commentary ahead; skip to the next paragraph if you think I'm a commie pinko.) I know Milch and our Commander-in-Chief were frat brothers, but this scenario feels eerily relevant to our current socio-political situation. As David Simon from "The Wire" likes to say, unfettered capitalism is not a social program, and Hearst represents capitalism in its purest, bleakest form.

We all knew that evil was going to triumph to some degree, in that Hearst's survival and later ascendancy to the U.S. Senate is the kind of historical fact that Milch wouldn't fudge (as opposed to, say, Bullock's family situation), but what was surprising was what a rout evil accomplished. For all of Al's plotting and maneuvering over the last half season -- the stuff with Wu and Hawkeye and the editorial and even Alma's walk to the bank -- Hearst got virtually everything he wanted. Ellsworth is dead, Bullock is out of a job and all of Deadwood's gold claims belong to him. I've said that I wasn't expecting any significant gunplay, but at the end all of Al's scheming feels like just another narrative dead end like Odell and the Earps. Really, the only thing Al accomplished was preventing his people from giving Hearst any justification to have his men start a massacre and burn the camp to the ground. And even that came with the pricetag of two bodies: Ellsworth and Jen.

When Matt's review is up, I'll post a link to it here, but he had a big problem with the death of Jen -- or, rather, the lack of any opposition to it besides Johnny. I can see how even Bullock would be conflicted about the choice between an unknown innocent whore and his best friend's guilty woman, but I would have liked to see some arguments about it, or at least some more obvious internal wrestling by some of the "good" guys (if that term fits any living character on this show) than this. It also would have helped if Jen had been more of a known entity to us. I can barely remember her outside the incident with her and Morgan Earp, which in retrospect was supposed to be a hint that Johnny was sweet on her but at the time just seemed like a sign that Johnny was growing up into a true henchman like Dan.

But even within the all the bumps and wrong turns and whozawhuzzahowzahuh? moments, there was still plenty of room for reminders of the genius that's kept us all so riveted to this show for the last three years: Johnny explaining the meaning of the wall to Jen; Farnum's rant about Hearst and "oozing, gruesome goo!"; the look on Harry's face when Tom shows him the crate; Aunt Lou helping Richardson get dressed to cast a spite vote against Hearst; the troublemaking drunk from the No. 10 quoting the 15th Amendment at the Pinkertons; Al's "Play the lie as mine, knowing I speak of you in Heaven" speech to the troops; every word, look and gesture to come from both Gerald McRaney and Ian McShane; and, of course, one final shot of Al scrubbing blood (the symbol of how, yet again, civilization is built on acts of violence) off his floor.

If that's not the most fitting image to end the series on, I don't know what is.

For the last time (sigh...), the lines of the week:
  • Charlie to Hearst: "I'm the guy that, the next time you see me, you better take a different fucking tone with."
  • Hawkeye to Adams: "I came to camp to tell you, but I fell one saloon short."
  • Hearst to Seth: "You mistake for fear, Mr. Bullock, what is, in fact, a preoccupation. I'm having a conversation you cannot hear."
  • Con to Joanie: "I got 'stay the fuck out' written on a stone tablet in my bedroom"
  • Johnny to Jen: "On the surface, yes, it is (a wall). But inside, many creatures go about their lives, such as ants. They got a whole operation going. Soldier ants and worker ants and whore ants to fuck the soldiers and the workers. Right inside that wall, baby ants. Everybody's got a task to hew to, Jen. You understand me? Jesus Christ, fucking sake. We'll talk about this later."
  • Charlie to a Pinkerton: "If he don't make it, you'll be eating your spuds running till I hunt you the fuck down."
  • Al delivering the final line: ""Wants me to tell him something pretty."
And, finally, because it wouldn't be a "Deadwood" farewell without it: cocksuckers!
Click here to read the full post

Not that anybody should care...

... but the Emmys are on tonight. In today's column, I rant about the lameness of this year's nominations, talk about who got snubbed and who among the actual nominees deserves anything. Click here to read the full post

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Rescue Me: Love and death

Finally got to "Rescue Me" last night and started writing my review before fatigue set in. And before I was coherent enough to start writing this morning, I skimmed a couple of blogs and message boards, plus my in-box, and was surprised to see so much vitriol directed at what, to me, was the best episode of the season and one of the better (albeit stranger) hours this show has ever done. More after the jump...

Understated isn't a word you often associate with Denis Leary, or with anyone who works on the show, but I thought this week's episode was superb because it had so many opportunities to go over the top and almost never did. Even the opening sequence, with Tommy and then Janet and the girls finding out about Johnny was done with the music overriding any sounds of weeping or wailing. And Tommy's confrontation with the shooter could have gone in all kinds of obvious and/or cheesey directions -- Tommy kicking the guy's ass, Tommy yelling at the guy, Tommy trying to make the guy feel guilty, etc. -- but instead Tommy realized there was no point to doing anything (save the prepare-to-be-a-prag bit at the end). He arranged for the death of the drunk driver who killed Connor, and it gave him no peace.

The two highlights of the less-is-more approach: Tommy's Dad excusing himself and then struggling with the bathroom door (Charles Durning absolutely destroyed me, both in that scene and the one where he apologized to Rosemary), and Tommy and Lou silently working in the kitchen as they listened to the answering machine messages -- and everyone who saw a message from Johnny coming, move straight to the head of the class. (Someone on TWoP raised an interesting question: is the fact that both Gavin brothers left each other apologetic voicemails around the same time a corny coincidence, or did Tommy send his after Johnny died as a ploy to get Janet's attention? Would explain why Tommy imagined Johnny's eyes opening wide when he mentioned the message.) And, as always, I got chills by the casual appearance of the ghosts, especially Jimmy taking Connor under his wing (in a better way than Tommy's done with Damian).

(UPDATE: Vis a vis the chronology of exactly when Tommy left that voicemail message, I asked Leary and Tolan about it on a conference call, and Denis said, "We, I think, would prefer to leave that to next season." Hmm...)

The beef people seem to have is with Maggie and Sean's wedding -- not only the fact that the priest would agree to do it, but that the entire crowd of mourners would stick around and be enthusiastic about it. But it worked for me, because it seemed to fit into Tommy's Dad's request for a celebration instead of a sad day. Everyone on this show has been through so much horror; why wouldn't they want to find some excuse to be happy, even if it's wildly inappropriate?

I've been waiting long enough to post this, and I have a screener of the season finale I want to get to, so on to the quick hits:

  • Sue Thomas, F.B.Eye is a Gavin? Another gem observation, courtesy of TWoP (really, I have no insights of my own when it comes down to it): the Gavins, like the Kennedys, are an Irish clan where the men have a habit of dying tragically young, and like the Kennedys, there's a sister named Rosemary who was shunned for having a disability. No way that's not intentional.
  • Not sure which was the funnier part of Sean and Maggie's marriage: "Mr. and Mrs. Gavity" or the two of them consummating the marriage in the bottom bunk bed.
  • Noticeably absent from the funeral: Marisa Tomei as Johnny's ex and James Badge Dale as Timo, the cop brother who popped up a few times near the end of season one when Dean Winters wasn't available. Cable drama budgets being what they are, I understand not being able to get Tomei to do a wordless cameo, but what's Chase from "24" doing to keep him away?
  • Did I miss an episode? When did Mike go from being conflicted, if not in outright denial, about his interest in men, to gleefully hitting on that brother and sister?
  • It hadn't even occurred to me that Franco's girlfriend looked like Keelah, but now I can't not see it. They say that women tend to marry men like their father, but this reversal is skeevy.
  • Doesn't seem much point to Lou and the nun, save that it's creating even more promise of his life that will no doubt be dashed when he and Tommy wind up staying in the firehouse for some reason.
  • Good to see Chief Reilly's son again.
  • Bored with Teddy and Patti D'Arbanville. Not that I would trade Scurti or McGee for Lenny Clarke (who was, I believe, supposed to play either Lou or Jerry but had another commitment), but I really wish he could be in the firehouse (ala "The Job") instead of off in his own pointless subplots.
Off to watch the finale, to be followed tomorrow afternoon by a Leary/Tolan conference call. Can Leary injure me through the phone?
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Everyone's (still) a little bit racist?

So after thinking about it for a while, I decided to devote today's column to "Survivor" segregation. Here's an excerpt:
At first glance, the idea's appalling, but there might be some genuine merit in it. If nothing else, after years of casting only one or two minority tokens each season, Burnett finally has a cast that resembles the population of America.

Previous contestants of color -- Gervase the loafer, Clarence the bean-stealer, Sean and his cries of slavery -- had to carry the banner for an entire race. When the show casts its latest blonde princess, no one cries sexism because there are a half-dozen or more other white women of various personalities and work ethics.

"It's just unfortunate that there aren't more minorities on the show," Gervase Peterson told me four years ago, while acknowledging that the show's applicants are overwhelmingly white. (Burnett and company made an extra effort to find minority contestants this time.) "If there were, you would get a totally different mix of people. You would have people who would totally reinforce good stereotypes of black people, Asians, Puerto Ricans, and you'd get people who reinforce the negative stereotypes. When the pickings are slim, this is what you're getting."

By the very nature of boxing's demographics, the contestants on Burnett's "The Contender" have been mostly black and Latino, and they run the emotional gamut, from cocky to humble, from hotheaded to thoughtful.

And by segregating the contestants, even if only for a few episodes, the show may be able to deal with another minority contestant complaint: that being surrounded by nothing but white people either altered their own behavior or caused it to be misinterpreted.
To read the full column, click here. Click here to read the full post

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Rock Star: Hero(ine) takes a fall

Since everyone in the world including Patrice knew that she was going home from "Rock Star" tonight, the most interesting part of the elimination show wasn't the debut of Supernova's second song (though it was slightly catchier) or the presence of Toby in the bottom three only a few minutes after he sang with Supernova. It was Dilana, the clear front-runner from week one, taking a couple of image hits. (According to people in the taping, the bit about talking to reporters went on for more than a half-hour, with Dave and the band all savaging her.)

The honest to the point of rude side of Dilana isn't a surprise to me -- even back in week three, she was dogging all the male contestants to any reporter who asked -- but the double pile-0n was. Maybe the producers felt they had to do damage control after everyone said that her singing with the band last week made the rest of the season a waste of time, or maybe she really is getting on everybody's nerves and they need to start laying the groundwork for her eventual defeat.

I still think the final two comes down to Dilana vs. Lukas, but for argument's sake, let's look at the chances of each remaining contender after the jump...

THE FAVORITES: Dilana and Lukas
"Lithium" and "Zombie" established Dilana as the most original, compelling contestant this season, and she's looked pretty comfortable jamming with both Gilby and the entire band. Working against her are an apparently abrasive personality (though that didn't exactly hurt J.D. last season) and the fact that, as Magni pointed out in the Mansion segment, she's really plateaued. Feels like it's been a month since her last really memorable performance ("Time After Time"?).

And speaking of J.D., we have Lukas as this year's token homeless Canadian assclown, the polarizing figure whom you either love or despise. He definitely has the stage presence down, and he's shown on a few songs like "Creep" that he can really sing when he wants to. Plus, Tommy digs him and Jason seems to view him as a pet project. On the downside, his "Celebrity Skin" was by far the worst performance by any of the remaining contenders, and the producers may try to nudge Supernova away from picking him to avoid making this season feel like a rerun of year one.

He and Storm are the sanest, most professional people left, as well as the best pure singers. He's also a good guitar player (though not in the class of the guy from the House Band, who was amazing on "Fire" and has repeatedly outclassed Gilby by an order of 10). Plus, Newsted loves him. Pick him, and you don't have to worry about headaches on the road and in the studio -- or about being upstaged by a singer who's too charismatic or distinctive. But by the same token, he only occasionally comes off like a bonafide rock star ("Fire" being one of those rare occasions). If they're expecting the frontman or woman to actually draw in a significant audience, I don't know that he's the guy.

THE DARK HORSES: Ryan and Toby
I've been pretty clear about my boredom with Ryan, but the band doesn't seem to feel the same way. Of the three originals that have been performed so far, "Back of Your Car" sounded most like something Supernova might actually play. Toby, meanwhile, can sing, had nice on-stage chemistry with the band, and will arguably have the most female appeal of any of the remaining men. The fact that he was chosen second to play with the band suggests they're taking him more seriously than I have. (That, or, again, reaction to Dilana with them last week scared them and the producers into picking someone who obviously isn't going to win.)

It pains me to say this, since she's my favorite, but if Storm is in the bottom three next week, I think she goes home. Again, she's a mature, talented pro -- and, judging by her interactions with Navarro and the band, she'd be a lot of fun to have on the road -- but she's only knocked one song out of the park ("Anything, Anything") and has spent every week since singing songs that aren't remotely the sort of thing this band is going to do. She has to absolutely kill it next time, and if they're only singing one song each on Viewer's Choice week (last year, I vaguely recall that everyone got to do two, one chosen by viewers, one an original), she could be in trouble, because two of the choices ("Changes," "We Are the Champions") are ballads, one ("Bring Me To Life") has been done, like, 12 times already this season, and the fourth ("Anything, Anything") is something she's already done twice. If a second song is on the table, she needs to fight, shove, bully, whatever to either do an original or play with someone in Supernova.

What does everybody else think? Are my rankings way off? If you were one of the three chuckleheads in Supernova and you had to make the choice right now, who would you pick?
Click here to read the full post

Everyone's a little bit racist?

Thoughts on the new "Survivor" twist of dividing up the teams by race? Given the show's queasy history with minority casting and portrayal, I'm having a hard time seeing an upside. Click here to read the full post

What are you laughing at?

I went with "Rock Star" over "Rescue Me" last night, so I won't get to Tommy and pals until sometime this afternoon at the earliest. In the meantime, the daily column link: the upcoming showdown between new sitcoms with laughtracks and those without. Click here to read the full post

Rock Star: Come down here and take it, bitch!

"Rock Star" line of the night, if not the season, goes to Storm for her comeback to Navarro. (Which I understand wasn't even the sauciest thing said during that exchange, since they had a whole back and forth about safewords and ball-gags. Ah, the FCC.) Singer-by-singer breakdown after the jump...

Patrice, "Beautiful Thing": This, I liked -- and a lot more than that T-Rex by way of Poison and Warrant song that Supernova (Featuring Dilana!) performed last Wednesday. Peppy guitar pop is one of my things, and I could imagine this in heavy iPod rotation without difficulty. As Dave said, not sure it's right for whatever the hell it is Tommy and the guys want to do, but the best Patrice has been since "My Iron Lung," if not "Somebody to Love" on opening night.

Magni, "Smells Like Teen Spirit": Tough song to make your own, because it's so indelibly Nirvana in a way that no other Cobain song is. Magni played it straight down the middle, doing a very faithful cover (has he ever really mixed up an arrangement?) and screaming his lungs out in honorable fashion. Not mind-blowing, but solid, and one of those numbers that I imagine played better in the room than at home. Also, why hide the head vein beneath the wool cap on a song where you're going to go this bonko?

Ryan, "Back of Your Car": No. While his ability to move with the guitar
was better, I feel like this guy gives the same. exact. performance. every damn week, and I'm bored with him. Plus, how much of a blatant suck-up was the guitar toss? Way to congratulate him for doing something the guys just suggested five minutes earlier, Dave.

Storm, "Crying": Stormy was in her element on this one, with the dramatics and the high notes and all the gyrations, and yet I kept being reminded of how much better Steven Tyler's voice sounds on this -- and that's coming from someone who always gets sad listening to early Aerosmith and imagining what Tyler would sound like today if he hadn't done so many drugs. Storm has a great voice and nobody else left would have come close to what she did with this, but if you can't match an iconic singer's voice, you should change the song up enough to cover for that.

This is also, like, Storm's fourth ballad in a row, and if she wants to even be included in the discussion with Lukas and Dilana, she needs to get out there and kick some ass on a harder, preferably faster song. That's why I was so frustrated she gave in to Ryan on the original song. (If you want an R-rated preview of what she plans to sing if she ever gets that chance, click here. There's a version with PG lyrics out there somewhere -- "What" in place of the F-word.) Question is, does she even want to win anymore, or does she just want to stick around a long time, then go back to doing her old gigs, only with a higher profile? I have this weird feeling her heart's not in it anymore, but I enjoy watching her and hope she has another "Anything Anything"-esque performance in her.

Dilana, "Every Breath You Take": OMFG, did she really sing her own name repeatedly at
the end? I don't care if the "la la"s in the actual song sound a little like "Dilana," that's like one of those Pizza Hut pizzas where, just in case your cholestorol wasn't already jacked up, they have to shove extra cheese into the crust. That moment was an angioplasty special, and the capper to Dilana's most pedestrian performance by far. (Though it was still a step up from the version she was practicing in the webisode, where her falsetto sounded like a strangled dog.) I still think she has in the inside track on the job, but it's been a while since she really dazzled me performance-wise.

Toby, "Layla": I'm usually pro-rearrangement, and anything to take the song the hell away from the godawful Unplugged version Clapton perpetrated a decade or so ago is alright in my book, but this one just felt off. In general, Toby's been really manic and trying too hard the last few weeks. Plus, with the hoodie on, I kept wondering when he was going to break into "You All, Everybody." (Or am I the only one who thinks he looks a bit like Charlie from "Lost"?)

Lukas, "All These Things That I've Done": Great manic energy and
vocal intensity, if not quality. Maybe he was just out of breath from all the moving around, but his voice wasn't a patch on the original, which is one of my favorite songs of the last five years. Still, I like watching the guy jump around, but I'd like to hear him sing in his "Creep" voice again, and soon.

I think Patrice is going home no matter what. Hard to figure the encore, since nobody was head-and-shoulders dazzling. I'll be stunned if anyone but Lukas gets to play with Supernova.

What did everybody else think?
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Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Vanished: I already have

I feel like I said everything I care to say about "Vanished" in yesterday's column. I may give it one extra week, given that it's summer, but this was one of the few absolute dud drama pilots I saw this season. Anybody watch, and, if so, what did you think? Click here to read the full post

Monday, August 21, 2006

Prison Break: Locked up

Anyone who was expecting Bill Fichtner to enter "Prison Break" with a monologue about how he wants a hard target search of every dog house, hen house and outhouse, raise your hands. Just me? Why is it always just me? Spoilers after the jump, with the biggest one first...

VERONICA'S DEAD? I'm both shocked and excited. Rarely have I seen a character with more show-ruining potential than Veronica, whose naivete and involvement with the show's lame-ass conspiracy storyline were a drag on every single episode last year. I almost don't care whether this was a course correction in response to the fans' hatred of her, an attempt to deal with the loss of two of the conspiracy's main actors (a very happy accident, far as I'm concerned), or just an attempt to jolt the audience by getting rid of a peripheral character. I'm just glad to see her gone. (And Dominic Purcell played the hell out of Linc's end of that phone call.)

Rest of the episode was more promising than I was expecting when I pretty much dismissed the show's future last spring. Fichtner's a good addition, an actor I always like (especially when he's selling Confederated Products) and a more challenging nemesis than Bellick, who would never have figured out about the tattoos in a million years. Scheuring and Olmstead insist that the tats are still a crucial part of this season; maybe Michael's just so damn smart that he had some red herrings designed in for just this eventuality.

While some of the details of the escape were lame (a train happens to come by at the exact moment that all the search copters are refueling?), putting the guys out in the open has created some good new dynamics. Exchange of the show:
Abruzzi: "Trousers are too short."
Linc: "Chop your feet off. You're good at that."
And speaking of the choppee, T-Bag remains a very, very bad boy. I'm a little disappointed they went for reattachment right away, as I was hoping they would go in either Buster Bluth territory or, even better, Carl Hiaasen territory and have him attach a weed-wacker or something to the stump. This makes life easier on the makeup people and on Rob Knepper, but they better not show T-Bag touch-typing anytime soon.

Not much else to say. With Veronica dead, the conspiracy back-burnered and no other network show in the timeslot for a month, I'm back, at least temporarily. It's not a great show (never has been), but the premiere was significantly better than I was expecting. What did everybody else think?
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Deadwood: But does she get a set of Mardi Gras beads?

Serious "Deadwood" spoilers after the jump...

First of all, Trixie's botched hit on Hearst shows the perils of nude assassination. If she'd just gone topless, she might have been able to aim better and do more damage with her teeny purse gun, but she had to go a step too far by lifting her skirt and trying to distract Hearst with her answer to the carpet/curtains question. (Question for the gallery: did Trixie have more than distraction on her mind when she popped her top? She's been fairly respectable for the last two seasons; was there a part of her that felt she had to look like a whore again before doing such an extreme, illegal act?)

Second, let's all hang our heads in a moment of silence for our pal Ellsworth. In his honor, I present the first, and arguably best, of the show's profane monologues:
"I may have fucked up my life flatter'n hammered shit, but I stand here before you today beholden to no human cocksucker, and holdin' a workin' fuckin' gold claim, and not the U.S. government tellin' me I'm trespassin', or the savage fuckin' red man or any of these other limber-dick cocksuckers passin' themselves off as prospectors had better try and stop me."
Poor damn Ellsworth, sweetest man in the Black Hills (the above speech excepted). He's happy to be Alma's beard (and to let Sophia touch his own) and he has to die because Hearst was in a snit that no one rose to his bait last week? I should've known he was in trouble as soon as he began that monologue to the dog (ala Steve's speech to the horse what kicked him), or even last week when Alma started displaying genuinely wife-ly feelings towards him, or hell, when Hearst and his goon started talking about tents, but the shooting caught me unawares. And Gregg Fienberg's decision to use the corpse-eye-view camera to show Alma's reaction was just devastating.

What Hearst doesn't get -- what he'll never get, at least Milch's interpretation of him -- is that every time he tries to scare the citizenry, he only brings them closer together. A couple of years ago, Al killed Alma's husband and tried to kill both her and Sophia; now he's her port in a storm. Ellsworth's death has turned Charlie into drinking buddy with Dan and Johnny, had the guys helping Jewel up those damn steps, had Aunt Lou send over a sympathy basket (and can she start putting some freaking grinded glass in Hearst's food already?), made allies of Sol and Al (who have always been uneasy around each other because of Trixie), and brought the best out in the Doc. (The scene where he explained to Alma the import of Sophia getting to see Ellsworth's body was a thing of beauty.)

And meanwhile, ol' George stands around, barely slowed by the bullet wound, whining about how "I was not made to crush my own kind." Poor, poor baby. And great, great Gerald McRaney, who scared me about 17 different times in the episode, most notably when he sent Langrishe scurrying into his room. Given the historical straightjacket Milch has to write in, can this season end with anything more than Hearst deciding on his own to get the hell out of town? Do the reinforcements provided by Wu and Hawkeye (who I'm guessing is going to prove Al very, very wrong) lead to a full-on battle, or just a stalemate. Or do we, for the love of God, end this "season finale" (one of the phoniest uses of that phrase I've ever seen) on a cliffhanger?

Some other random thoughts:
  • It's hard to look at the scene where Seth hugs Sophia and Alma and not think about what might have been. Poor Martha. Every time it looks like she has all of Seth's heart, some tragedy has to befall the other woman in his life to distract him.
  • Pick a theory for why Cy had a hissy-fit with his whores: 1)He thought Hearst had hired bare-breasted Trixie for a quickie and was annoyed that his fancy-dressed women were passed over; 2)He thought Hearst was dead and was mad that he backed the wrong horse; 3)He saw Ellsworth's body and realized that Hearst was prepared to kill anyone and everyone in camp -- including Cy himself; 4)Like last week, he's just mad at feeling left out of all the action to hang around with his whores and Leon and Con.
  • Good of E.B. to grow a pair and all, but why would Al or Seth or anyone else want the two-faced weasel around for any kind of discreet strategy session?
  • Not since Spider-Man and Superman met for the first time have I been so excited by a cross-universe team-up like the one between Jewel and Richardson.
  • Richardson also had the one saving moment of the usual time wasting with the theater company, when he introduced himself to Claudia by reminding her that he juggled on Amateur Night. I've said it before and I'll say it again: as a foil/sidekick to Al, Langrishe has been a great addition, but as emcee of this pointless group of actors, he can't get out of town fast enough. (Though here's another case where history gets in the way; Jack was apparently a Deadwood fixture for years.)
  • Duck, duck, duck... Goose! Just thought it had to be said.
  • Line of the night: "Wu big man!" Had to smile for the guy having his moment. Though did I miss the explanation for why he's stopped dressing American?

One more episode. I can't believe it -- especially since I'm skeptical that the movies will ever happen. Sigh...

What did everybody else think?

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What if I was to tell you...

... that in today's column, I review the season premiere of "Prison Break" and the debut of "Vanished"? Is that something you might be interested in? And what if I was to tell you that today's paper also features Matt's review of Spike Lee's Katrina documentary? Now, is that something you might be interested in? And what if I was to tell you...

...sorry, had to get that out of my system. Martin Landau does that to me (or, at least, he has for the last eight days). "Entourage" wasn't as good this week as last -- not enough Bob, the sneaker story wasn't very funny (even if it did do a good job of showing where Vince and Turtle's heads are at after the last few weeks) -- but I can't complain too much about any episode featuring a mic'ed Drama practicing the self-love that dare not speak its name, or one that allowed Bob to be so gloriously vindictive at the end. For him, it's clearly not about the money. He wanted to be a player again, and Ari tried to deprive him of that. We'd heard that Carla Gugino was going to pop up at some point this season as an agent who interests Vince; based on the previews, I'm guessing we see her next week.

(The Drama scene reminded me a bit of the classic scene in "The Naked Gun" where Drebin, still wearing his radio mic, takes the world's longest, noisiest piss in the middle of a press conference -- and in turn reminded me of something that happened on the L.A. trip. When we were leaving the "Rock Star" mansion, I checked my digital recorder to make sure all the interviews had gone over okay, and discovered that I had accidentally left the recorder running for the entire two-hour jam concert. Excited to have an accidental bootleg, I was preparing to send copies to some of the other reporters who had been there when I went back to the beginning to discover that, in addition to the concert, the tape also included a couple of trips to the bar and a Drebin-esque men's room stop. To quote Frank, "Whoops." Suffice it to say, the recording remains unshared.)

Even though Fox has been jumping the gun on the season for years, it still feels odd to have two network dramas premiering this early. Time to start prepping tomorrow morning's "Prison Break" review -- after, of course, I finish with "Deadwood." Click here to read the full post

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Sunday links

Catching up, in reverse order: this morning, I have an interview with Jason Ritter where he talks about trying to learn the sitcom craft and what he inherited from his old man; on Friday, I panned Lifetime's Fantasia biopic (not that the review matters now, since it aired last night); on Wednesday we ran a mailbag topped by Jim Beaver (aka Ellsworth on "Deadwood") saying nice things about Matt; and on Tuesday, I wrote up my most recent encounter with Katie Couric, minus Wardrobegate: The Sequel. (For my brief account of that, read the comments in this post.)

Oh, and Fienberg has a good post about why "Snakes on a Plane" wasn't the box office phenomenon that some had predicted. Click here to read the full post

Friday, August 18, 2006

Okay. Snakes on a Thursday.

What the hell, I said. Now or never, I said. If I'm going to see those motherfucking snakes on that motherfucking plane, it's going to be at the very first motherfucking showing, I said. So I drove to the local five-plex, plunked down my $9.25 and stayed up past my bedtime for a raucous screening of "Snakes on a Plane."

Short version: I had feared that, after all the hype, the movie itself would be underwhelming, neither good nor bad enough to merit all the attention. But it delivered exactly what the greatest title of all time promised: lots of snakes, lots of screaming, lots of silliness, and Sam Jackson again demonstrating that he can take anything seriously, so long as there's a paycheck involved. Not a great movie -- not even really a good one -- but no worse than, say, "Tremors," and with a more elegant concept. I definitely got my $9.25 worth. Of course, it helped that the small theater was packed with kids from the local high school who went nuts for everything, up to and including some of the trailers (whoever got Jackson's "Black Snake Moan" trailer attached to this movie deserves several raises).

Significant spoilers (of the kind you shouldn't read until after the movie -- though, in this case, does it matter?) after the jump. (And if you would rather read a less spoiler-y review that pretty much echoes everything I've said, go read Fienberg, who's certainly not doing his part to prove we're not the same person.)

First, the downside. As the witness who inspires the evil mobster to put those snakes on that plane, Nathan Phillips is laughable. (It doesn't help that it's never clear whether the murder he witnesses is of his dad, in which case he's even worse.) Ordinarily, I wouldn't care, but the movie takes so damn long (at least a half-hour) to actually release the snakes, and most of that throat-clearing time hangs on Phillips. The low point is his whine about how this is all interfering with his plan to go surfing in Bali, a weird, probably unintentional homage to Luke Skywalker's rant about going to Toshi Station to pick up some power converters. Also, the scenes on the ground with Bobby Canavale advance the plot (barely) and nothing more; when you've got weird character guys like Bobby Cannavale and Todd Louiso working together, how do you not find a way to make any of that funny? And the ending, again heavy on Nathan Phillips, is seventeen times cheesier than anything to come before.

But up in the air, once those snakes get loose, whoa Nelly. This is a gore-y, gore-y movie, more graphic than you'd expect even with the title. I think they picked every part of the human anatomy (male and female) that I would be most afraid to have attacked by a snake: eyes, mouths, genitals (the urination scene almost drove me from the theater), etc. The CGI was usually unconvincing, but it didn't really matter, especially in over-the-top moments like the boa constrictor crushing, then devouring the Evil Businessman.

And while I could see EB's demise coming from the second he walked on the plane and started bitching about having to fly coach, I like that the movie wasn't 100% predictable about who would live and who would die. You know the horny young couple trying to join the mile-high club are toast (has there ever been a horror movie where sex didn't equal death?) and that the two kids and the mom and baby will survive, but I never would have expected the sweet honeymoon couple would get it the way they did, and I had the germaphobe rapper marked for death from the jump, and he made it.

I was also glad to see Dave Koechner (who had the audience laughing and yelling "Whammy!" as soon as he walked on screen) die and come back to life a couple of times before they had to kill him for good so an amateur had to land the plane. (Though I had Julianna Margulies pegged for that job; maybe I've seen "Executive Decision" too many times on cable.)

But really, the entire damn movie hangs on Sam Jackson, who has long since established that he will star in any script you put in front of him while bringing more authority than most of them deserve. Doesn't matter whether he's striding along the armrests, tasering snakes without any of them attacking from above (you have to refuse to even think about the logic of when and where the snakes would and wouldn't attack or else you might as well not go at all) or pulling the plane out of a steep dive simply by gritting his teeth a little more: I believed every single ridiculous thing he did and said. And his delivery of The Line is a thing of beauty. You know it's coming, you're expecting it to come, you've said it to all your friends several dozen times in the last six months, and still he kills with it. (Though part of the genius of it is how blatantly it was inserted later, sort of like the high production values in the "Gotcha, suckers!" shot from the end of "Chubby Rain" in "Bowfinger.")
And, of course, the theater went berserk as soon as he said it. I'm not sure I was able to hear another line of dialogue for at least three minutes.

On my way out of the theater, I got into lockstep with a middle-aged guy (I think we were the only non-teenagers in the crowd) and we were both just laughing our asses off. "I got up to walk out three or four times," he said, "and just as I was about to, there'd be something on the screen that made me sit back down again."

That about says it. Like "Rocky Horror Picture Show," it's not a movie to see in a quiet matinee, or on DVD. See it in a crowded theater, or don't bother.
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Thursday, August 17, 2006

Snakes on a Thursday?

Just out of curiosity: anybody planning to go to "Snakes on a Plane" tonight? A bunch of the local theaters here (and, no doubt, around the country) have 10 p.m. and midnight showings, and there's a part of me that feels like, if I'm going to see "Snakes," it should be tonight or never. On the other hand, I'm an old suburban man who's often contemplating sleep around 10, so...

Thoughts? Click here to read the full post

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Rock Star: That's all there is?

"Rock Star" elimination spoilers after the jump...

Like I said last night, Zayra needed to go. She had no business fronting this band, and after a few weeks where the guys were keeping her around as a freakshow for their own amusement, demonstration of her actual talent seemed to jar them into recognizing that, whatever career she's going to have, it's better off away from them. Patrice isn't going to win, and unless she miraculously avoids bottom three next week there's no way she doesn't go home, but at least she sings, plays and writes a similar style of music to what the guys want to do.

And speaking of which, before we get back to the elimination stuff, am I the only one who was, um, massively underwhelmed by the debut performance of Supernova, featuring blatant frontrunner Dilana? Not a terrible song, and maybe something I might start singing along to if I heard it on the radio 57 times (which, if I still listened to NY/NJ's abysmal terrestrial radio stations in the car, I might), but nothing I'm going to rush to download to the iPod or share with friends. And is it too late to have Gilby replaced by the House Band lead guitarist?

To me, the highlight of the night was watching Storm psyching herself up for the bottom three performance she believed was inevitable, only to be crushed when Magni wound up there instead. (As with "Idol," we may have reached the stage in the contest where it's better to be bad than mediocre; outraged Storm fans were no doubt power-voting, while Iceland assumed Magni was fine.) It was funny to see how excited both Storm and Magni were by the possibility of the bottom three showcase; done right, it can almost be better than getting the encore (different song, not one off a list, etc.). It illustrated not only their personalities, but their obviously secure place in the competition (compare their faces to Toby, who looked like he'd just been offered a supporting role in Crocodile Dundee 5).

I'm getting a little frustrated at the amount of in-season repetition of songs. I understand Magni auditioned with "Creep" and feels strongly about it, but Lukas only sang the freakin' thing last week, and better, at that. (Though Magni approaching Patrice and Zayra as he sang "I don't belong here" was hella funny.) And while I applaud Patrice for getting all the words to "Celebrity Skin" right after Lukas' mangling, can't we please have some more originality on the second night?

What did everybody else think? And what would Dilana have to do between now and the finale to not win this?
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Weeds: Burning down the house

What if I was to tell you that there was a TV show about a hot suburban mom who deals with the financial stresses of widowhood by becoming the neighborhood pot dealer? Is that something you might be interested in?

Sorry... wrong pay cable channel.

Anyway, because I got to see this season's first five episodes of "Weeds" last month, and because Matt wound up writing the review for the paper, I completely blanked on the fact that it debuted on Monday night -- even though I actually linked to Matt's review here. I'd like to blame it on too much of Nancy Botwin's product, but sadly, this is how my brain functions even when straight-edged.

"Weeds" is a show I didn't have much use for last season. I still hadn't forgiven Mary-Louise Parker for inflicting Amy Gardner on "The West Wing" (even as written, she was probably an irritating character, but M-LP went the extra mile), I was wary of any project featuring Kevin Nealon in a significant role, and I felt it suffered from Single Camera-itis, in which the makers of laughtrack-free comedies are too busy being impressed by their own cleverness to notice that their show isn't, you know, funny. (There was also a trace of Alan Ball-itis, in which Hollywood types are so pleased to be ripping suburbia's lid off, Ron Burgundy-style, to notice that the audience realized years ago that suburbia was rife with dysfunction.)

But, like the (non-medicinal) weeds I can't seem to purge from my own suburban backyard, the show grew on me. (Thank you. Try the veal, and don't forget to tip your waitress.) I developed a real affection for Mary-Louise and her bizarre line readings, I discovered that Nealon was perfectly cast as a pathetic middle-aged pothead, I applauded the arrival of Prior Walter from "Angels in America" as Nancy's irresponsible brother-in-law and, most importantly, I started laughing. Not just at Elizabeth Perkins, who was genius from the start, but at everybody. And with the arrival of the deader-than-deadpan Martin Donovan, whom I've loved ever since I saw him in Hal Hartley's "Trust," the ensemble (also including Romany Malco, the secret weapon from "40-Year-Old Virgin") was complete.

Because all five have blended together in my head a bit, I don't have a lot of specific things to say about the premiere, except that I love the complete disdain that Nealon and Perkins have for each other, and I love Uncle Andy having to deal with an Israeli ex-soldier who could no doubt snap him like a twig.

Back when the network season was winding down and I put my poll in the field about what summer shows you all wanted to see discussed here, "Weeds" got a couple of mentions, so if there's enough interest, I can take a second pass through episodes 2-5 and work them into the rotation. But if nobody cares, I'll just enjoy the DVDs as they arrive from Showtime. The power is in your hands. Use it wisely. Or something. Click here to read the full post

RIP, Gas Man

Subject line stolen from my friend Dez (in reference to his "Homicide" guest spot), but I remain bummed about the death of Bruno Kirby at 57 from Leukemia complications.

Too many great Bruno movie moments to list here, but I'll highlight a few: the tight-assed non-comedian in "Good Morning, Vietnam" (especially the "Eatie Gourmet" non-joke), pretty much every word out of his mouth in "When Harry Met Sally" ("You made a woman meow?" and "Baby fish mouth is sweeping the nation!" especially), his taunting of Daniel Stern in "City Slickers" ("Is this getting you hot? 'I need a price... I need a price...'"), his Italian speaking as Young Clemenza in "Godfather, Part II," and, especially for me, this one exchange with Matthew Broderick in "The Freshman" (apologies if it's not word for word):

"Rudolfo Lasparri of Palermo, Sicily? You want me to be Rudolfo Lasparri of Palermo, Sicily? I don't want to go to Palermo, Sicily!"
"Have you ever been there?"
"Then I really don't think you can make an informed judgment, can you?"

Time to put some Kirby in the Netflix queue. Click here to read the full post

Fair is fair

When Denis Leary is funny, he's really funny. Go enjoy him and Lenny Clarke endangering the livelihoods of both Red Sox announcers in this clip on Deadspin.

UPDATE: NESN got the clip pulled, so go to Seth Mnookin's blog to read what Denis and Lenny had to say about Kevin Youkilis vs. Mel Gibson. Click here to read the full post

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Rescue Me: Sufferin' Sipowicz?

Not messing around. "Rescue Me" spoilers after the jump...

So, three questions to start:

1)Is there anyone out there who, when we got to see Johnny on the job in a scene unrelated to Tommy for the first time ever, didn't assume that he was about to catch a bullet?

2)Has Tommy yet reached that later-stage Sipowicz point where the sheer amount of tragedy befalling him starts to feel silly?

3)Anyone want to tell me that I'm wrong that the season's remaining episodes will see Tommy abandon the Florida plan and get back with Janet so they can raise the Gavin male heir (whether it's his or Johnny's) together?

Maybe it's just because I watched this one at the office, where there are more distractions, but Johnny's death didn't do a lot for me, both because it was so obvious and because of the Sipowicz factor. I'm gonna be a lot more pissed if Chief dies, though I can't imagine Leary and Tolan being dumb enough to get rid of Jack McGee.

If there was a heart-clutching moment in the hour prior to Jerry's fall, it was Charles Durning singing "Neither Have I Wings to Fly" at his wife's grave. (Though I'm biased on any use of the song, since it was the centerpiece of the amazing unaired final episode of "EZ Streets," and you all already know how stupid in love I am with that show.) I've really enjoyed the back half of this season's focus on Tommy potentially leaving the FDNY. We all know it's not going to happen (else no show), but both Tommy and the show have been taking the idea seriously and giving us so many good reasons for him (for all of them, really) to get the hell out of the firehouse.

It's late, and I don't want to wait until morning to post, so I'll hit the episode's many, many other subplots quickly so conversation can start, ASAP.
  • Comic highlight of the night: Tommy's freakout over Lou sleeping with a nun, even a soon-to-be-ex nun.
  • How dumb are Franco and Lou that they needed Mike to explain the retarded brother's motivation? Liked Franco getting agitated about the sundae on the bro's behalf.
  • I felt for the priest having to deal with Garrity and Maggie. Frankly, I'm surprised they haven't been banned from ever entering any Catholic-run facility again.
  • So, how much of the widow money do you think Sheila just blew on a house that no doubt will turn out to be a lemon?
  • And is Probie still gay or isn't he?
What did everybody else think?
Click here to read the full post

Rock Star: Death before disco?

"Stripped-down" night of "Rock Star" wasn't as much fun as last season's (which gave us Jordis' "Knocking on Heaven's Door" and Marty's "Baby One More Time," among other highlights), but there was some interesting stuff going on, including my first near-violent disagreement with the judges. In order after the jump...

Zayra, "Lluvia De Mar": Best performance she's given this season, and they should send her home for it. And no, those two clauses aren't contradictory. Listening to her sound so much more confident and melodious doing a Spanish ballad should erase any doubt that she's all wrong for this band. With Josh gone, she's the squarest peg left.

Magni, "Starman": Every time I see that vein on the right side of his head throb, I keep worrying that he's going to wind up in the ER -- especially when it goes that berserk even on a relatively mellow song like this. He's a much better pure singer than I had realized in the early weeks, but, like Tommy with Storm after the previous two episodes, I really want to see him go bananas, and soon. Can he be as interesting on a song that's faster, or angrier, or more upbeat, or anything that sounds closer to the kind of music these guys want to do?

Patrice, "Message in a Bottle": For the first two thirds, this was the best I'd heard her sound since "My Iron Lung," but she ran into some trouble at the end (ironically, the part that the judges liked the best), and the smiling was once again all wrong for the lyrics. While I think Zayra should go home tomorrow, I think Patrice will. She has obvious talent, but she's plateaued, and the audience doesn't seem into her.

Lukas, "Hero": And he's dressed as an androgynous priest why, exactly? Not as powerful as "Creep" or as energetic as some of his incoherent early numbers, but I'm starting to like the stupid little hobbit. After Dilana, he seems most sure of who he is and how to play to the crowd.

Storm, "I Will Survive": I call seven levels of bullshit on this. First, what the hell is this song doing on the show at all, let alone on the acoustic night? Storm or someone else could have ripped the daylights out of this one on a regular evening, but whoever got the song this week was starting out with both arms tied behind their backs. (And, yeah, Marty had to sing Britney Spears on this night last year, but the acoustic format was an ideal change of pace for that, whereas Gloria Gaynor was already singing a ballad.) Second, given the limitations, I thought Storm did a great job on this, finding the ugly, raw emotion at the center of the song and making it sound like something that, if not exactly right for what Supernova wants to be, at least something that would belong at an arena rock show. For me, this was at least the second-best of the night, and she had a much higher degree of difficulty than the potential top dog. I'm so irked with Dave and the guys for dumping on this that I actually went over to MSN and voted a few times, and I never do that for any of these shows.

Toby, "Solsbury Hill": Is it me, or did Toby make as bad a hash of the lyrics as Lukas did on "Celebrity Skin"? It felt like he was mixing and matching lines from different verses and at times introducing entirely new words (and not intentionally, the way Storm did on "IWS"). And while the singing was some of Toby's best for the first minute or so, once he made the move over to the bongos he got very screechy. Plus, this isn't really the week to fight for the chance to play with one of the guys, since this set-up is so unlike what the band is generally going to do.

Ryan, "In the Air Tonight": No piano and Neo coat aside, this felt like a carbon copy of his "Losing My Religion" from a few weeks back. Like Patrice, I think he's as good as he's going to be on this show; the only difference is that he started off so poorly that he's giving the band this false belief that he's only going to get better and better. Bored now, except for the string quartet, who sounded killer on this.

Dilana, "Cat's in the Cradle": Probably the best of the night, though her version was much more faithful to the original than what Storm did. Also, she took the song in an angrier direction than I think it probably should go, even though it fits her style. But she has such incredible stage presence that, unless she gets too cocky and starts coasting, everybody else is playing for second.

What did everybody else think?
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Deadwood: The rug really tied the room together

It was the best of "Deadwood" (Al being Al again), it was the worst of "Deadwood" (every scene with Langrishe). It was the age of wisdom (Al figuring out Hearst's game), it was the epoch of foolishness (Hearst sending a henchman alone into Al's lair). It was... ahh, before I do my umpteenth hackneyed riff on "Tale of Two Cities," let's go to the jump for the real observations, shall we?

It's amazing to me how one episode of "Deadwood" can seem so tight and yet contain so much filler. So let's get the latter out of the way as quickly as possible so we can tend to the chocolatey goodness.

First, I never want to see any of the theater people again, and I think that may include Langrishe. Brian Cox is a great, great actor and has been a fun foil for Al, but by God what was the point of the scene with Jack's two women? I'm assuming the dancer is his daughter and the painter is a former lover... or maybe they're both daughters... or they're his sisters... his daughters... his sisters... Whatever the bleep they are, I could not give a good damn about any of it, or about Con's blood flow problem with Claudia, or whatever the hell Bellegarde's going to be doing when we see him next (and here I thought Dennis Christopher had a lifetime pass with me thanks to "Breaking Away"). David Milch is a grand, grand thinker, but sometimes his eyes are bigger than his stomach, you know? I can rattle off a half-dozen "NYPD Blue" story arcs off the top of my head that began with great promise -- or, at least, sounded great when Milch described them -- and then never went anywhere because he got distracted by other things. (In a couple of cases, the stories never even happened at all outside of some interviews Milch gave.)

At first, I was willing to indulge the arrival of the theater company, even though it meant less time for characters like Sol and Adams, because of Cox. Then I was willing to indulge them some more because of all the talks Milch has had with Matt about the nature of drama as a mirror for life and how the theater company's arrival would be the culmination of that theory. Then I was willing to indulge them just a bit more because I made myself forget about all those other Milch digressions to nowhere. But no more. I'm not saying there isn't a point to the theater stuff. There just isn't enough of one to justify this much screen time devoted to them, especially at the expense of an ensemble that was already too full by at least a third.

More randomness: Cy bitching out Janine from Cincinatti, which has to be one of the weirdest in-jokey plugs I've ever seen (assuming it was even meant that way, as opposed to Milch -- or W. Earl Brown, who's the credited writer of the script, even though I'm sure it went through several dozen Milch polishes -- having Cincy on the brain when the scene was being written). I get that Cy has been cut off from most of his usual punching bags (Eddie and Andy are long gone, Joanie's on the side of the angels, Leon's high all the time and Con's too stupid to bother with) and has been reduced to mocking the new whore's name, but still -- too long.

There was some good randomness, however, notably the whores at The Gem (and Jewel) all developing girl-crushes on Alma. Those fit in not only with the episode's depiction of her as heroic for being willing to make the second walk solo, but with what I imagine her real image in the camp would be. She's not a whore, not a schoolmarm, not a vulgar cross-dressing drunk. She's a beautiful, impeccably dressed, well-mannered independent woman who happens to be the second-wealthiest person in town. Of course the whores are going to be impressed by her -- especially since they don't know about the drug problem, or the general haughtiness, or the infamous gift basket scene from season two.

And those bits were only a tiny bit of the genius in "A Constant Throb." Howzabout Al leaping off the freaking balcony to rescue Alma? Or that entire final scene at the Bullock dinner table, with everyone trying very hard not to provoke Seth? (Though, if this episode takes place the day after the Amateur Night, as Jack suggested, how does Bullock make the close to 30-mile round trip ride to and from Sturgis in less than a day? Or am I underestimating horsepower?) Or Adams standing up to Al on the Hawkeye issue? Or Jarry, having just been accused of being gay by Hearst, kneeling down in front of Hearst's crotch to beg forgiveness? Or Dan explaining the facts of life to a trussed-up, raging Ellsworth? Or Alma talking Ellsworth down off the ledge (and, at the same time, maybe realizing that she feels more than affection for him)? Or, hell, even Jane's dream monologue to Joanie, one of those moments where I didn't quite get all the words but understood the melody?

But, obviously, the highlight was Al getting the upper hand on both Barrett and Hearst. If ever a character on this show has been in need of a prolonged beat-down, followed by a throat slash, it's the head brick. In addition to all the sins Al recited, he's also the one who shattered the foot of the salesman -- who, as Doc explained in passing to Cy, is going to lose his leg for the simple sin of calling "No cutsies." (At least, I think that was Barrett; if not, he was the one who orchestrated crap like that, and still deserved the beating.) I loved Al turning the tables on Hearst, who had played on Al's overconfidence with the whole smashed finger incident early in the season and now felt so secure in his position that he sent his top gun into the lion's den with no protection and no witness. Al's taunting of Hearst on the balcony -- particularly the "How's your back?" -- was just an aria of smack talk.

As I've said in the past, I'm going to be damn curious to see how Milch resolves this without turning the finale into Gunfight at the O.K. Corral (minus the departed and pointless Earps).
I just hope like hell that there is a resolution -- at least to the Hearst situation, if not to every story and character thread -- and that Milch didn't just leave everything hanging in the belief that he'd actually get to do the promised fourth season.

Sorry for the multiple delays yesterday. What did everybody else think?
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Monday, August 14, 2006

I'll be back in a jiffy!

Have to run into the city for a few hours, so I'll do the "Deadwood" write-up sometime this afternoon. In the meantime, go read Matt's review of "Weeds" season two.

UPDATE: I got roped into writing up my interview in the city for tomorrow's column, so "Deadwood" is being pushed back until the evening (say, 9-ish?). Fortunately, Matt's analysis was posted while I was in NYC, so have at it. Click here to read the full post