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Showtime’s Summer Dramedy Hour is back: Weeds and Episodes premiere, part 1

10 Jul

Weeds Season 8 Promo Poster

I always like to wait a bit before I judge. I’ve spent time mulling over both of Showtime’s summer Dramedies:  Weeds and Episodes.  While Episodes can be thought of as an understated comedy that satirically examines the television industry, from concept of a series to its premiere, Weeds can be seen as a black comedy that looks at everything in the most pessimistic possible light.  It isn’t completely clear why Showtime decided to give Weeds one final season to wrap everything up since the end of Season 7 was satisfying in a Botwinesque way:  Nancy (Mary-Louise Parker) gets shot and will she survive?  Sometimes it is better to leave an open ending.  American audiences hate open endings though.  They want closure.  In reality, closure is rarely something anyone gets to experience and that is most likely why the American television audience craves knowing a clear outcome. This is usually to the detriment of the storytelling process.  I hope it won’t be true for the final season of Weeds.

Shane (Alexander Gould) dealing with the neighbors after Nancy’s shooting.

In the Season 8 premiere of Weeds, “Messy,” we pick up right where we left off at the end of last season:  with Nancy having just been shot.  In the head.  Ironically this happened in her seemingly safe suburban mansion, in Old Sandwich, CT.  The title, “Messy,” comes from one of my favorite scenes of the episode, when two exceedingly old neighbors climb on ladders to snoop over the fence and see what happened at the Baldwin compound.  If Jenji Kohan got one thing right in this episode, it was the obnoxious behavior of the elderly wealthy residents of Connecticut.  I’m sure there are some very nice elderly people in Connecticut but my personal experience was almost the same while I lived in the uh, nutmeg state – I would sometimes find my landlords standing at the window staring inside trying to eavesdrop. I was brought back to that creepy experience as I watched the busybody neighbors from Old Sandwich comment on the “messy” lives of the Baldwins.  Connecticut hates messy.  Ironic that it is safer to walk around East Harlem than parts of New Haven and Bridgeport, but who am I to judge?  A disgruntled Californian, I guess.

I had pretty much given up on Weeds by the end of last season.  In fact, the only reason I watched it was because I was living in East Harlem at the time, and I could relate to Nancy’s plight of the halfway house, as I was job hunting and staying at a former friends’ condo (yes former, a story which I am sure I can relate to another cable show’s episode considering my life is surely as messy as any fictional characters’), when Weeds aired last year.  And as that bullet rang out at the end of last season, I thought it was a fitting and somewhat sophisticated way to end the series.  I will admit I was highly skeptical when I discovered there was going to be a final season of the series.

But I digress.  We quickly join Silas (Hunter Parrish) and Nancy in the ambulance witnessing Nancy make sexual references to the paramedic in front of her son while shot in the head, bleeding and possibly near death.  And that is the last we hear from her in the episode since she is put into a medically induced coma.  This episode is about Nancy’s family and friend’s reactions to her – tragedy.  Shane (Alexander Gould) at once becomes a predator and a cop, trying to chase down the gunman and then investigate the crime since he is secretly enrolled in the NYPD police academy.  I won’t reveal the shooter’s identity specifically, only to say, it is a former step-child of Nancy’s.  Someone I didn’t even remember existed and a bit disappointing for the triggerman.

Doug (Kevin Nealon) is inappropriate as always, hiding under the table after Nancy is shot (I secretly don’t blame him) and then later feeling her up while she is in a medically induced coma.  Very bad form, even for Doug.

Nancy’s sister, Jill (Jennifer Jason Leigh), inappropriately has sex with Andy (Justin Kirk) in the hospital room next to the bed where Nancy slumbers in her coma. Andy later has a conversation with a Rabbi in the hospital cafeteria.  Very Andy-esque.  Finally, Jill’s evil twin demon daughters post a picture of Nancy online after she has been shot.

Nancy’s (Mary-Louise Parker) shooter returns to her hospital room.

Nancy’s shooter comes back to the hospital to either finish the job he started or muse on his feelings about attempted murder.  Either way, he is interrupted by Nancy’s roommate’s daughter who has been walking in on inappropriate activities throughout the episode.  Nancy must sense danger as she seems to go into cardiac distress as the episode ends.

Will Nancy die? I doubt it.  Only nice people die young.  Evil people live to ripe old ages.  As my father said about one of my mother’s aunts, she was so mean, even the cancer couldn’t stand being in her.  I kind of see Nancy in the same light, though I still enjoy watching her mess up everyone’s life.

And if you think things are screwed up for the Botwins, they are not that much better for Beverly and Sean in Episodes which I will be happy to discuss in my next installment…

True Blood Season 5 Premiere: Turn! Turn! Turn!

15 Jun

ImageBy the time most shows make it to the fifth season, I find myself both pleased the show I like has survived but I dread that this might be the season the entire narrative falls apart. It tends to be a challenge by the time American television programs make it to the fifth season.  Part of the reason, I believe, is that the seasons are longer than in the UK and other countries and sometimes you can only drag out stories so far. Sure it is easy for me to criticize; I’m not sitting in the writer’s room struggling to see the overall season arcs and trying to keep the network executives pleased.  I felt the only redeeming element of True Blood Season 4 was the death of Tara (Rutina Wesley).  Why do I dislike the character so much?  It isn’t the actress, Rutina Wesley — she is doing the best she can with a severely flawed character.  It’s bad enough in real life when people don’t learn from their mistakes but on television shows, unless there is something extraordinary about their character that makes them a truly tragic figure (and this wasn’t the case with Tara), it is hard to keep excusing their stupidity.  Now, I will admit that Tara throwing herself between the bullet from Debbie’s gun and Sookie (Anna Paquin) did make her a hero, it also would have also potentially ended Tara’s tragic existence in Bon Temps on a high note.  And… it was time for Tara to meet her maker, so to speak.  It certainly wasn’t time for Tara to ‘meet her maker’ as the True Blood team intended for Season 5.   Thankfully, the evil Debbie Pelt had no opportunity to come back, of course, when you try to kill Sookie Stackhouse, you are almost guaranteed some sort of true death for your supernatural species.

Since I am never bowled over by the Season Premieres of True Blood, I am hoping things will pick up over the next couple of episodes.  Jason’s (Ryan Kwanten) fling with Jessica (Deborah Ann Woll) seems to be going nowhere fast and while he might be developing true feelings for her, she can’t seem to settle down with anyone.  I actually felt sorry for Jason when she kissed that loser college boy in front of him.  What is more interesting is watching Jason grow into an actual human with feelings (yes he is human but he’s growing up…finally) and resisting a quick lay with a sorority slut for revenge.  It would be a welcome change to see Jason grow as a character and develop a bit more depth.  I’m not even going to comment on the creepy Gay Vampire American scene.  It wasn’t that he was a Gay Vampire American that made it creepy.  It was that he is creepy Reverend Steve Newlin (Michael McMillian) with fangs.

While the witches might be gone this season, there will be no shortage of werewolf angst.  At the forefront of this season’s first supernatural issue is Alcide (Joe Manganiello), the reluctant werewolf leader.  He is going to go up against the evil matriarch, Marcus’ mother, Martha (Dale Dickey).  I’m beginning to wonder why there are so many middle-aged to older evil women that dominate the stories.  While the evil Russell Edgington had a somewhat strange comical edge, none of the maniacal women have any comedic outlets.  They are always a deadly threat.  Marnie, Maryann the maenad, even Bill’s maker, Lorena is an out of control harpie.  Too bad she didn’t have an “M” name as well because I could use French film critic Raymond Bellour’s obsession with women in Hitchcock films whose names begin with the letter M to discuss how these women subvert the narrative through violence, and how, like in Hitchcock’s films, they must always be contained to keep order in society.  Lucky for me, Lorena begins with an L, but it is something to think about.  The truly violent women all suffer a true death while the other women in the show are actually contained because of their subservience to their need for love.  Even Pam (Kristen Bauer van Straten), who is by far the most violent female on the show, serves Eric (Alexander Skarsgård).  Now, we get to experience a woman who is not only slighty older, she is a scorned mother.  Will there be any redeeming features in her character? I’m hoping so because it would be a welcome change to see a threatening female who goes beyond the one dimensional threat they usually represent on True Blood.

It’s amazing what Pam is sometimes willing to do to get back into Eric’s good graces.  Pam is the type of character that shows there is some hope for adding depth the the villainous females on the show.  She mixes humor, violence and anger in order to convey her emotions – and love for her maker, Eric, her true only reason for living, both figuratively and metaphorically.  In some ways, Pam is the most admirable character on the show, since she demonstrates true loyalty to Eric even when he rejects her.  The only bright spot in the premiere is the moment Pam sees the two bloody bodies of Debbie and Tara and she declares, “Color me impressed, you guys know how to party.”

Finally, Eric and Bill (Stephen Moyer), Sookie’s rejects and vampires on the lam, are quickly loosing their luster.  Although, I felt that Bill was more of a doormat all last season, at least he does show some loyalty to his feelings for Sookie even when he is dumped which is better than Eric turning to the arms of his ‘vampire sister’, Nora (Lucy Griffiths), and screwing her as soon as he gets the chance.  Both vampires must face the Authority.  Hopefully that will at least entail some excitement.  Because we are going to need some if we are dealing with Sookie’s grief over Tara seemingly turning into a killing machine and Lafayette’s (Nelsan Ellis) grief over the death of his lover.

Although the premiere ratings were down slightly from last year, True Blood was still the most watched show on cable last Sunday.  Let’s see if it can hold it’s grip or at least sink its fangs into the audience with a bit more compelling storylines as the season progresses because honestly, I don’t give a shit about Jessica’s teen angst any more.  She’s had it for a couple of years now.  Between her feeling sorry for herself, then cheating on the guys who care about her, and Tara being a victim for four seasons, sometimes it’s hard going watching these episodes.  At least Sookie killed Debbie out of hate and admits it.  That gives me a tiny ray of hope.

I’m not convinced I’m going to love this season but I’ve been a fan for the previous four, so I’m hoping I’ll at least be entertained.  And I don’t think “bad Tara” will really do it for me.  Nor will the bromance of Bill and Eric.  Maybe I’ll go ahead and order Season 2 of The Glades because I might need something else to fill up my Sunday nights.

ABC’s Missing: soapy anger and violence

12 Apr

I decided to reserve judgment on ABC’s Missing.  Not because I didn’t like the pilot, I did.  It was slick, compelling and full of clichés, yes, but still, I didn’t get distracted or want to turn it off.  No I was drawn into the screwed up world of Becca Winstone  (Ashley Judd).  Who was this woman?  Why did someone blow up her husband, Paul Winstone (Sean Bean) in Vienna?  Why did her son, Michael (Nick Eversman) get kidnapped in Rome?  Most importantly, when she encounters her first bad guy, how the hell did she learn how to fight like that?  And she only had a clothes hanger for her initial weapon.  We also discover that housewife Becca Winstone isn’t actually a housewife, she’s a retired CIA operative and apparently had a hot affair with Interpol stud, Giancarlo Rossi (Adriano Giannini) and it seems that CIA Paris guy, Dax Miller (Cliff Curtis) has a soft spot for her as well.  They help her throughout the series, when they are not getting in her way.  Strangely, she does get passed between them for the sake of the plot, creating a love triangle without any sex (so far), but it still manages to work.

Gregory Poirier (Creator and Executive Producer) explains how the show got made, “This episode was never conceived as a stand-alone pilot. We already knew we had 10 episodes ordered when we wrote it, which gave us a lot more freedom. “ Poirier and his team were able to get the financing for the 10 episode order by explaining to ABC that it was cost-prohibitive to go shoot the pilot in Prague, then wait and go back and start over again if the show got picked up.  Instead he mapped out the entire 10 episodes for ABC and they green-lighted the project.

This approach allows the show a more organic feel.  The pilot was written knowing how it would be integrated into the next episode, which is usually not the case.  Sure, when pilots are pitched there is a series bible and a proposal about how the season should play out, what the character arc will be and the big plot points but things can change drastically between the shooting of a pilot, its subsequent pickup and the shooting of the rest of a television season.

The first three episodes of the show, the pilot, “Hard Drive” and “Ice Queen” flow seamlessly into each other.  We follow Becca as she bargains with heads of international government organizations, battles bad guys in gun battles and hand to hand combat.  She gets shot, falls into the Seine and still comes out alive.  And she seems to be able to drive anything with a motor.  Expertly.  Between Revenge and Missing, I’m beginning to like ABC’s drama again.  Yes, it is slick soapy drama but it is also network television.  And there is just something cathartic for me watching Ashley Judd kick someone’s ass every week.  She might be a pacifist but I’m not.

Missing airs on ABC, Thursdays at 8/7central

For streaming episodes, click here.

Revenge: “Commitment” episode review

7 Feb

Our commitment to our choices tells us and others who we are.  Ok.  I will buy that.   I always love the ‘profound’ opening thoughts of Emily Thorne (Emily VanCamp), philosopher and destroyer of lives.  The big question for Emily is (and this is a spoiler alert):  now that Emily knows Charlotte (Christa B. Allen) is her half-sister, will she alter her plans?  Most likely, no.  But at some point Emily’s humanity will cause her some problems.  I would be willing to bet it will be with Jack (Nick Wechsler).  For now, Emily will try and frame faux Amanda (Margarita Levieva) for burning down Treadwell’s house in the previous episode, while simultaneously using Charlotte as not only a pawn in the divorce between the Graysons but also making sure she can confirm that Charlotte is indeed her half sister.  It’s at times like these the old saying, “you can choose your friends but not your family” comes to mind.  I actually almost feel bad for Charlotte.  She’s going to be screwed.

Sadly for Charlotte, just when things are looking up, they fall apart.  Conrad Grayson (Henry Czerny) surprisingly offers to pay for young Declan’s (Connor Paolo) tuition to Charlotte’s school.  This offer is far too good to be true.  What kind of dad would do that?  Apparently not a real dad.  As soon as Conrad learns that Charlotte isn’t his, he not only rescinds the offer of Declan’s tuition, he rejects her and sends her to live with her mother.  Not a very nice move.  In fact, such a crappy move that it makes Conrad even more unlikable than he was before.  Which I didn’t think was possible.  This raises the stakes later in the drama as Grayson is surely being set up at some point to be killed off.  At least that is my guess.  You don’t make a character a terrorist, a ruthless capitalist pig and a bad father without him ending up paying some sort of price as the stakes raise.

Daniel (Joshua Bowman) proposes to Emily, who says yes.  Victoria (Madeleine Stowe) suspects that Amanda burned down Treadwell’s house.  She sends someone to find evidence in Jack’s place that will expose Amanda as the arsonist and thief  who stole the tapes revealing that Charlotte was hers and David Clarke’s (James Tupper).  Jack, however, manages to walk in while the perpetrator retrieves the tapes and ends up getting badly beaten.  Obviously it is dangerous to be a friend or acquaintance of Emily Thorne’s.

In the end though, it seems that it is even more dangerous to be the child of Victoria Grayson.  Especially since she would lie to her own son and claim David Clarke raped her rather than just admit she cheated on his father.    But we all know her lies will catch up soon enough.  And I’m not sure how I feel about this.  My overarching question is:  will Victoria be punished for being a bad mother or a bad person?   It isn’t her being a bad mother that caused so much pain, it is about her being a selfish person.  And while one can be a bad mother and a selfish person, I don’t always believe that one continually informs the other.  Or maybe it does.  I do know that while Conrad Grayson is a bad father we are supposed to consider him an evil person above everything else.  Perhaps it is because with men, they don’t always have a choice about becoming a father, but in at least free, democratic societies with equal rights and proper government funding, women do have the choice whether or not they want to be a mother.

As this episode ends, Daniel stupidly seals his own fate by telling Emily that he’d send her own father to hell for raping his mother if her father weren’t dead already.  So Emily decides to move forward with her plan and marry for revenge.  Is that any worse than marrying for money?  We are about to find out.

Revenge: “Infamy” episode review

24 Jan

Sometimes in a series there are episodes that just don’t grab me.  This one falls into that category.  I had to restart it 7 times.    There is too much and not enough happening at the same time.  Instead of wasting my time, writing about an episode that took me about 3 hours to watch with me continually zoning out, I’m going to give a very short recap.

Conrad (Henry Czerny) gives Daniel (Joshua Bowman) partial access to his trust.  He can have the cash but he can’t have voting shares in the company until he is 30 or married.  Gee, I wonder where that story line is going…

Mason Treadwell (Roger Bart), an author made famous by writing about David Clarke (David Tupper), comes back for a visit.  We get to watch flashbacks in which poor Emily, then still Amanda Clarke, decides to trust Mason Treadwell and sadly believes the lies he ends up writing about her father, having no idea at the time the Conrad and Victoria (Madeleine Stowe) bribed him.  I do like how Emily (Emily VanCamp) decides to get this wanker back though… first she sends faux Amanda (Margarita Levieva) to talk with Treadwell and sets up a contentious meeting between the two, then (SPOILER ALERT),Emily burns down Treadwell’s house while Nolan (Gabriel Mann) pretends to be interested in hiring him to do his biography.  At the same time, Victoria wants Treadwell to find out from faux Amanda why she has returned to the Hamptons.

Amanda is ramping up in every sense of the word.  Kissing girls in the bar, pretending like she’s staring in Coyote Ugly, and getting more jealous by the minute about Jack’s (Nick Wechsler) closeness with Emily.

One thing Emily rescues are the taped interviews with her father and she finds out some news I know I suspected from the start – that Charlotte (Christa B. Allen) is his daughter.  We all know Emily won’t be welcoming her with open arms.  Poor Charlotte is probably really screwed now…

Once Upon A Time: “Desperate Souls” episode review

13 Jan

This is the episode where we learn exactly how Rumplestiltskin (Robert Carlyle) turned… evil.  Not that he didn’t have his issues before he was imbued with magic.  And in Storybrooke, Emma (Jennifer Morrison) and Mr. Gold join in an unlikely alliance for her to become sheriff.  He also gives Emma Sheriff Graham’s old walkie talkies so she and Henry (Jared S. Gilmore) can play together.   A rare moment of kindness on Mr. Gold’s part.

It’s almost disarming to witness Rumplestiltskin as a kind, loving, and protective parent.  His son (I actually thought it was a girl at first oops!), is about to turn 14 and be drafted into the ogre wars (seriously?  ogre wars?).  He’ll do anything to make sure his son doesn’t have to fight including running away.  And this isn’t the first time, apparently, as a young man, he deserted his army and caused many lives to be lost in the ogre wars.  Who knew ogres could move so fast and fight so efficiently?  So now a chief knight has it in for Rumplestiltskin once he and his son are caught but the son shows he has integrity.  He’s willing to be drafted and fight.  And while he gets high on his own testosterone, Rumplestiltskin gets some advice from a beggar (Brad Dourrif) on the side of the forest road:  he should get the dagger that holds the Dark One’s name and then he will have power over the Dark One (at this point we have only seen the Dark One be commanded by the knight and he can do some magic but we don’t know the full extent of his power).  Rumplestiltskin takes his advice and with the help of his son, sets fire to the castle, breaks in and retrieves the dagger.  It turns out the old beggar is really the Dark One and Rumplestiltskin ends up killing him with the dagger and inherits all the magic powers.  Now at least we have some idea about him.

In Storybrooke, Mr. Gold deliberately starts a fire at City Hall and Emma saves Regina (Lana Parrilla).  She becomes a hero but discovers Mr. Gold was the culprit and outs him at the debate for the upcoming Sheriff election.  She stands up to Mr. Gold and Regina then walks away from her political debate resulting in her getting elected as Sheriff.  Later, Mr. Gold reveals that he orchestrated everything because he knew she’d stand up to him and gain the people’s trust.  Either way, now Emma has moved into a better position against Regina.  I’m hoping for a lethal, nasty fight.  Because that’s just the way I am…

Revenge: “Duress” episode review

12 Jan

Before Christmas, Emily Thorne’s plan for revenge was starting to unravel.  Her short hiatus from the ABC broadcast schedule did not allow her time to regroup.  No.  She hasn’t regained control and it doesn’t help when you throw a psychotic misanthrope into the mix.  One of the best descriptions of Tyler (Ashton Holmes) in this episode:  Cold Turkey meets Hot Mess.  I might actually miss him once he implodes completely.

SPOILER ALERT:

Conrad (Henry Czerny) and Victoria (Madeleine Stowe) start divorce negotiations.  Both want Charlotte (Christa B. Allen) and Grayson Manor.  It seems like it might be a long, bitter battle.

Emily (Emily VanCamp) suggests they celebrate Daniel’s (Joshua Bowman) birthday by throwing a clambake.  [Aside: There are tabloid rumors these two were hot and heavy in Paris over New Year’s in real life.]  Victoria knows that’s Emily’s idea even though Daniel pretends it’s his.  And who is catering the affair?  None other than Jack (Nick Wechsler).  Because that won’t be uncomfortable.

Emily apologizes to Nolan (Gabriel Mann) and they rejoin forces.  With his help, she searches Tyler’s belongings and discovers Tyler’s psychotic and off his meds, as well as recovering Nolan’s stolen secret camera.  Later, Emily announces Tyler’s little secret to Daniel and Ashley (Ashley Madekwe).  She can’t really defend a psychotic hustler any more.  Daniel’s disturbed enough to want to take a gun to his clambake.

Tyler lets everyone believe he’s left the area but instead he attacks Nolan, ties him up and goes to the clambake to take his own revenge.  Daniel lets his guard down and puts the gun away.  Stupid move, Daniel.  Tyler appears at the clambake, threatening to divulge all the information he knows.  Conrad doesn’t look pleased.  He’s even more tense since faux Amanda Clarke (Margarita Levieva) is also a guest at the clambake and could learn the truth about her father.  But we all know that information is already common knowledge between Emily and faux Amanda.  Just as Tyler is about to shoot Emily, Nolan and Tyler’s brother appear.  Tyler’s subdued and perhaps now some of Emily’s plans can get back on track…

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