Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Get (back) into the groove

So I returned to the office today to find two overflowing USPS bins full of mail waiting for me. Several hours of unpacking and viewing later (interrupted briefly so I could write up my interview with "Jekyll" writer Steven Moffat for tomorrow's paper), I... well, I still have a whole lot to catch up on, not to mention treats that I would love to watch (the complete "A Bit of Fry & Laurie" box set) if I ever had the time.

But I'll comment on a few shows I got a chance to look at that have already aired. Spoilers for, in order, "Big Love," "The Kill Point" and "The Bronx Is Burning" (plus a question about "Damages") coming right up...

I have a very ambivalent relationship with "Big Love." I admire it, at times even really enjoy it, but as I've mentioned in the past, I always feel held at a distance from it. (This led to much marital friction in the ramp-up to press tour, as my "Big Love"-loving wife complained that I never got into that show and yet was zipping through my screeners of "Tell Me You Love Me," which she hated.) I would be happy if I never had to see another Juniper Creek scene again, as I find all those characters far too broad and thin for a show with such high ambitions. And, frankly, Bill Henrickson himself gives me the creeps. I think that's supposed to be the point of the character, that Bill Paxton is giving an uncompromising performance, and that Bill has to be written this way to make the stories of the wives -- the heart of the show, and the reason I keep checking in despite my dislike of the rest of it -- work, but I wish that could be accomplished in smaller increments of screen time.

All that said, the latest episode was really quite something, absolutely living up to the "Kingdom Come" title. The Roman vs. Hollis action happened largely off-stage, and Roman even took a few bullets at the episode's end. (Though, of course, the direction made note of the fact that he was shot in three potentially non-fatal spots; much as I'm in a hurry to be rid of him, I suspect the writers will stick ol' Roman in a coma for a while and then bring him back in a big way in season three.) Bill grappled with the wives on the issues of free time, adding a fourth wife, and the impact that living the principle is having on their children. (Jeanne Tripplehorn in the scene where Barb hears her son's thoughts on polygamy? Amazing.) When the series moves away from the political gamesmanship and sticks to the nuts and bolts of trying to fit this lifestyle into a modern American life, it can be pretty great. Now that I'm home and at the same point in my viewing as the rest of the audience, I'm going to make an effort to blog at least a few more times before the season's over.

I'm not completely caught up on "The Kill Point" -- the Spike screener I had in my luggage only featured the pilot, so I'll have to track down episode two with the DVR -- but I really liked what I saw, and not just because there are so many "Wire" actors in the cast. (So far, I've got four: Michael Hyatt (Brianna Barksdale) as the SWAT commander, Michael K .Williams (Omar) as the sniper and J.D. Williams (Bodie) and Leo Fitzpatrick (Johnny) as two of the robbers.)

Bank hostage dramas are one of those genres (like underdog sports movies and "12 Angry Men" rip-offs) I'm a sucker for, so much so that I laughed when I realized the father and son in the bank are named Sabian. (Not sure if it's an intentional hat-tip, but Kevin Spacey's character in "The Negotiator" was named Chris Sabian -- a name repeated by every character in that movie so many times that I have to assume it was in Spacey's contract.) There are certain obligatory tropes to the genre, and the pilot handled a bunch of them nicely: the breach gone bad, the push-pull between negotiator and hostage taker and, especially, the "Dog Day Afternoon" moment where the hostage taker gets the crowd and/or media on his side. I could do without Donnie Wahlberg's grammar fetish (I was fine with it as a quirk until he made an underling waste valuable time confirming the apostrophe thing), but unless there was a massive nosedive in episode two (no spoilers, please, though comments on quality are fine), I think I'm in this thing through the end.

Finally, "The Bronx Is Burning" lapped me last night. I had seen the first three episodes before press tour, but while episode four was airing last night, I was in the actual Bronx watching every player but A-Rod hit a home run. Fortunately, the massive mail pile included episode four, so I watched it a few minutes ago. Same basic opinions -- the Son of Sam stuff feels totally extraneous, the mix of actors and archival footage is clumsy, and Turturro's really good -- with one caveat: while I was enjoying Platt's Steinbrenner in the first few episodes, he's starting to feel a little too cartoony, even for Boss '77. Also, I'd have to check my copy of the book (or my tattered copy of Steve Jacobsen's "The Best Team Money Can Buy"), but I don't recall Lou and Thurman's pep talk with Steinbrenner taking place on the night of the Blackout, or that Billy drunkenly interrupted it. (I could be wrong on the latter point, I admit.)

UPDATE: Whoops. Almost forgot that episode two of "Damages" (which I saw a few weeks ago) was on last night. Thoughts?

What did everybody else think?


David J. Loehr said...

I've enjoyed Kill Point as well. Just can't get into Big Love, partly from that same distance and partly--mostly--because I just don't care about the gamesmanship.

But gosh, if you do manage to fold space and time and carve out a few minutes, I heartily recommend Fry and Laurie. We had preordered through Amazon, and have been devouring it through the weekend, and it's just delightful, meta-comedy that's more traditional and, somehow, a little more subversive than Python.

Hugh as a country singer is worth the price of admission alone. (Heck, his line readings in and around the song are worth it.)

Anonymous said...

I'm thinking Roman survives the shooting, but spends a while incapacitated (perhaps in a coma, as you suggest) and hidden from everyone else by Alby, who pretends he's dead and tries to take over the commune in Roman's absence, failing miserably of course.

When he said "the butterscotch is homemade" and smiled at Bill? God, I loved that. I have all the same issues with the show that you do, but it's those little moments of insane, awkward, creepy humor that has me totally hooked on this show. Also, the little moments of unspoken pain, like Barb's moment this episode while Ben was talking about second wives.

Alan Sepinwall said...

Also, it occurs to me that the second episode of Damages (which I saw weeks ago) aired last night. Thoughts?

Tom Servo said...

The second episode of The Kill Point wasn't quite as good for me mainly due to the FBI person who comes in and ,of course, clashes with Wahlberg. Though you liked the obligatory tropes of the pilot, so maybe this one won't bother you as much.

I recently read a negative review for Damages in Entertainment Weekly, and agreed with a lot of it's points, though they don't hurt the show for me too much. I'll continue to watch but if every single character has an ulterior motive or is lying through their teeth it'll get tiring. The biggest problem for me by far is Rose Byrne. I've only seen her in 28 Weeks Later where she was okay, but in this I find her just plain bad. Look at her reaction to when Patty describes the big apartment she got her and maybe you'll understand what I'm saying. Though I have to say the revelation of Ellen apparently killing her fiance was intriguing.

As for The Bronx is Burning, I agree with your criticisms of it but I'll also add the painfully obvious green screen they use when Turturro is supposed to be in Yankee Stadium. I'll probably let it pile up on my Tivo and then blow through them after it's over.

Matt said...

Time Warner was screwed up, so I'm re-recording Damages now. As an NYC "big firm" attorney, I've got to say that it's almost ludicrously unrealistic, but Glenn Close is so magnetic, it makes it work. I'm sold.

And speaking of hostage dramas, anyone trying the return of "The Nine," last year's "we really don't know what to do with this after the pilot!" show. Personally, I'm more interested in the upcoming "Knights of Prosperity" return.

SJ said...

I am really enjoying Big Love's second season. There's more tension, the characters are much more well-defined and the writing is pretty good.

The dynamic between the 3 wives really is the heart of the show, and so well-done.

dark tyler said...

For me it's simple, regarding Rose Byrne. She is good, but not on the level of a Jimmy Smits or a Glenn Close here, where she could create a character out of nothing. Everyone one the show is ridiculously underwritten because actual character development would work against the plot and the twists. I mean, if all these people had personalities, maybe we'd start wondering why are they doing everything they're doing.

Personally, I'm kinda bored already.

Anonymous said...

I enjoy "Big Love" but the shooting of Roman Grant by Hollis Greene's hitwomen seemed to come out of left field. I know there has been a power struggle between Grant and the Greene's for some time, but their humiliation(especially of "brother Selma") and forced evacuation from Utah due to Bill Henricksen's "betrayal" would seem to make him the more likely target. I think his claim of working for Roman is now transparent to them and they realize he is after Weber gaming for himself. The shooting of Roman does open up a lot of potentially interesting storylines, but the act itself seemed forced.

Anonymous said...

I too am an attorney, and "Damages" is pretty silly. I would think that a show shot as stark and gritty with performances as stark and gritty as it would make an attempt to get some details correctly. Oh, well. Quite frankly, the effort to tone down Close's one note killer litigator performance with her son's foibles didn't do it for me. As it stands, Danson's character is the more interesting of the two to me. As you noted last week, the actress playing the associate is lifeless and bland.

Tom O'Keefe said...

Was Big Love ordered by HBO to be more like The Sopranos? Suddenly it seems to have become the Mormon Mafia. Even their latest promos seem to be apeing The Sopranos style.

Anonymous said...

I don't believe that the confrontation between George, Billy, Thurm and Lou occurred on the night of the blackout. As they were in Milwaukee, it's somewhat extraneous, but I never heard anyone make the connection.

However, Billy did hear the voices, demanded entry into George's room and discovered the two players hiding in the bathroom (according to Piniella's autobiography). On the other hand, there's no mention that Billy ditched a bimbo to do so.

As for "Big Love," the interplay between the wives is so great, I'm willing to forgive the increasingly Lynchian stuff with the various wackos. (Plus, I've taken on the Hollis Green habit of ending phone conversations with written "signoffs.")

In "Kingdom Come," Barb finally broke out of her guilt about the Mother of the Year contest and saw that the lifestyle has serious effects on the whole family (and outsiders like Brynn), not just her. It's probably too much to hope that the Emmy voters reward Jeanne Tripplehorn's performance.

Anonymous said...

We watched both episodes of Damages last night (backed up on the DVR) and enjoyed them. Do I agree with most of the critics? Yeah, but it's summer and it's guilty pleasure.

However, I am feeling like they owe more than a little to season one of Alias. Anyone else? Naive young woman joins powerful organization which is actually evil, the boss (and boss's sidekick) is far more interesting than she is, and her fiance is found killed in a bathtub. Clearly, not identical, but the way I've been describing it. (Alias at a law firm)

I also knew I would have to suspend any legal knowledge disbelief when Close's character said "good afternoon" to the jury forewoman. Simply not allowed. Because it happened in the first five minutes of the first episode, I knew what I was in for, law-wise.

Anonymous said...

I've actually been really disappointed with Damages. Rose Byrne is bland, but at least she's not as downright annoying as the girl playing Katie. The plot is also moving at a glacial pace and for the all talk in the press about how interesting Patty Hewes (and wouldn't a woman like that demand to be called "Patricia?") is, I've found her to be nothing but a one-note bitch. Ted Danson and his character are far more interesting.

Edward Copeland said...

I gave up on Damages quicker than any show I can think of recently. Usually, I'll give something three episodes, but I quit this after one and a half. It just all seems too ludicrous. I don't know how you saw this week's Big Love, but I wondered if you saw what has to be the longest "previously on" sequence I've seen anywhere in quite some time. It even included scenes and storylines that weren't even remotely touched on in this week's episode.

Taleena said...

I admit I am hooked on Big Love and the only thoroughly likeable character on the show is Margene. It's easy enough to tune out the cardboard characters of Juniper creek (even if Stanton, Place and Ross dish the crazy well) for the actions of Bill's wives.

Anonymous said...

I wondered what I felt as wrong, once that jury forewoman *spoke back* to the prosecution -- I can understand a lawyer testing the waters, confident of his/her capabilities of justification, but a juror, breaking silence and risking a mistrial, on a jury that's already taking weeks out of her life? Uh-uh.