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Episodes: some thoughts on the series and the Season 2 premiere

19 Jul

Episodes Season 2 Promo Poster

Last season, I was on the fence about the Matt LeBlanc comedy, Episodes.  I couldn’t decide exactly how I felt about it, although I found myself drawn to the show every week.  First of all, it was a mix of British and American television comedy which is, for American television, I would argue, a bold step.  I believe it was the shift in comedic sensibilities, between the British-ness of the UK leads Tasmin Greig and Stephen Mangan, the American-ness of Matt LeBlanc, and the overall satire of the television industry represented by the network honcho, Merc (John Pankow) and his pot-smoking creative exec who he screws, Carol (Kathleen Rose Perkins), that kept me a bit unbalanced.  I started wondering if the average American audience would even understand the subtleties at play.  Then I had to remind myself:  this is pay cable, they can take these liberties.  The fact I kept musing on this every week threw me.  That isn’t the show’s fault, that is a sad commentary on the state of many television shows. Second, any television show with any of the Friends actors has to contend with their former respective roles on the popular sitcom.  And yes, it took me a few weeks just to stop thinking of LeBlanc as Joey, even with the gray hair.  Note to Matt LeBlanc:  yes while you can pull off the gray hair, I honestly think you would look better with it gone.  Your face is far too young to have old hair.  It’s not a criticism, it is an observation.  After getting past that small hurdle (yes, I am that shallow), it was hard knowing that I was going to be watching a train wreck because that is the only plausible outcome that can happen when bringing British TV writers/producers, in this case a married couple, into the very screwed up Hollywood system.  Furthermore, it is clear their partnership and marriage would have to suffer as again, that seems to be par for the course for many couples in Hollywood when they first arrive and can’t help but be seduced.  Even when they dislike the individuals they work with.  I suppose, if nothing else, it should serve as a cautionary tale.  A kind of — this is how not to screw up your life if you come to Hollywood manual.

The storyline of the first season is simple:  Beverly (Tasmin Greig) and Sean (Stephen Mangan) get ‘invited’ to Hollywood to turn their hit British sitcom into an American television adaptation.  By the end of the first series, the entire subject has changed from an old headmaster at a boy’s school to a youngish hockey coach (Matt LeBlanc) who flirts with the female school librarian at a boy’s school.  And the title becomes Pucks!, one of the worst possible words for a title in the English language.  Things get crazy for Beverly and Sean as they negotiate network politics and Sean’s infatuation with the actress playing Morning (Mircea Monroe), the librarian.  By the end of the last episode, Beverly and Sean have a giant fight (row if you are British) and Beverly somehow ends up having sex with Matt LeBlanc even though she detests him.  Sean finds out which leads to another fight/row, featuring Matt LeBlanc spraying Sean in the face with his signature cologne.  It should not be missed as it is more of a girl fight and possibly the funniest scene in the first series. Just as the two might actually physically harm each other for real,  they get a call with the worst possible news, the network has picked up the Pucks! pilot for the next season so everyone now has to work together.  Just a note to anyone who hasn’t worked in film or television, you had better hope you like your co-workers because once something goes into production, you are looking at twelve to fourteen hour days at a minimum with those people and there is no escape.

Episodes is a joint financial venture between the BBC in the UK and Showtime in the US.  It was created by former Friends‘ creator David Crane and former Mad About You producer, Jeffrey Klarik. In several interviews, Crane and Klarik explain how the process of working with a premium cable network affords far greater creative freedom than the regular American networks.  Or even cable networks.  They credit Showtime’s freedom with giving them the ability to hone the story lines and character arcs they didn’t always have the time to think out so intricately when working for network television since they could actually write all the scripts before anything was shot, a luxury network shows never get.  This is also because there are far fewer episodes in premium cable shows (as well as all British series) so there is the possibility that some actual quality work can get done instead of pleasing focus groups and being slaves to ratings. And while we learn about the pilot process in the first series, since Showtime picked up the series for a second season, we get to learn about the pitfalls of producing a sitcom for a network, something Crane and Klarik have experienced — intimately.

In the Season 2 series premiere, we enter into a slightly more sedate world for Beverly and Sean when it comes to their marriage.  They are now separated.  Matt LeBlanc tries rectifying his friendship with Sean who wants nothing to do with Matt.  Merc (John Pankow) still knows nothing about his own shows and continues his blatant affair with Carol (Kathleen Rose Perkins), the weed-smoking creative exec but Jamie (Genevieve O’Reilly), his blind wife, spices her life up a bit when she ends up deliberately giving Matt LeBlanc a hand job at the private screening premiere of Pucks! in their home.  While Beverly deeply regrets her romp with LeBlanc, Sean is about to get the opportunity to enjoy a bit of revenge when Morning offers herself as his birthday gift.  And yes, that really does happen in Hollywood.  It’s clear this season will hold yet another high learning curve for Beverly and Sean, as Pucks! premieres to outstanding numbers and they are on top of the world but in previews we see the numbers plummet and everything starts to go wrong including LeBlanc’s starring role in the show in jeopardy.  The real question will be what is going to happen with Sean and Beverly.  Crane and Klarik have done an excellent job of taking a happily married couple and throwing them back into a status of utter uncertainty.  I’m not on the fence any more, I enjoy the show thoroughly and can only hope for yet another cat fight between LeBlanc and Sean which I’m sure won’t happen but still… I can hope.

Watch the Episodes Season 2 premiere on Showtime while it is still available.

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…

House of Lies: Pilot “The Gods of Dangerous Financial Instruments” review

12 Jan

I’ve been a fan of Kristen Bell ever since Veronica Mars so I was enthusiastically looking forward to this series. But this isn’t really in any way Veronica Mars especially since it is a Don Cheadle vehicle.  So if you were in any way hoping for any type of Veronica Mars-like elements, just let it go.  I had to.  This show is all about Don Cheadle’s character, Marty Kaan, the Hank Moody of Management Consultants.  Now, the only real problem with this is that Management Consultants are not actually glamourous.  They are um…. boring.  At least all the management consultants I’ve met.  So, I’m looking forward to seeing if House of Lies created by Matthew Carnahan (Fastlane, Dirt) can keep me entertained this season.

Now, I will give the pilot points for the clever beginning because as I watched Marty try to dress his naked and very wasted sex partner only to discover as his son walks in (SPOILER ALERT!) that this is his ex-wife, Monica Talbot (Dawn Olivieri).  Even more surprising is that about halfway through the episode we discover (SPOILER ALERT again) that she’s his chief competition in the consulting business and usually smarter than him – she has the #1 Consulting firm to his #2.  There is something refreshing about the line Marty says to Monica, “… you’re a sociopath and an addict and I can’t even stand to look at you right now…” and her reply is, “Right back attcha…”  Then you suddenly have a clear idea of the characters you are dealing with.  Fatally flawed.  The show has some hope.  Because seriously, who wants to watch normal characters?  If I want to see normal, I’ll go to Ralph’s and watch people shopping.  I don’t have to pay a monthly subscription for that.

Domestically, Marty has a full plate, his live-in retired psychologist father, Jeremiah (Glynn Turman) fully judges and doles out advice, ignoring, for the most part, the fact that he helped shape his sociopath son into what he’s become.  An even bigger handful seems to be Marty’s skirt-wearing adolescent son, Roscoe (Donis Leonard Jr.), who announces he’s trying out for the role of Sandy in his school’s production of Grease.  We learn by the end of the episode that not even Roscoe’s dreams are safe from Marty’s desires as he negotiates his son’s hard won lead role away from him so he can sleep with his stage rival’s mother — during the performance of the show.

Professionally, Marty and his Pod (his consulting group – I really hate business jargon – I’m convinced it’s created by men with very small penises) must win the New York City mortgage banking client, MetroCapital (one of the evil companies that helped ruin our economy).  His contact and rival, Greg Norbert (Greg Germann who has never failed to entertain me yet), go head to head although they really should be on the same team.  Marty and his Pod expense a night with strippers as a legitimate business dinner.  Really?  Ok that was really just pathetic.  No, I’m not a prude, but strippers?  That is just unimaginative and honestly, the only thing that saves that narrative misstep is the payoff when Marty’s stripper pretends to be his wife at business dinner with Norbert the next night.

By the end of the first episode, I’m intrigued enough to want to keep watching this show, because the characters are appropriately flawed and will do things that will get them into enough trouble to keep me entertained.   And it looks like Greg Germann will appear in more episodes and he’s a great foil every time.  Not that Marty’s greatest foil isn’t simply himself and his screwed up desires.  But a little extra always helps.

Californication: Season 5 “JFK to LAX” premiere review

11 Jan

I was not sure how I felt about Hank Moody (David Duchovny) coming back for another season.  Not that I don’t love Hank.  I do.  But after last season and the whole statutory rape trial and the ending, which seemed like a series finale more than a season finale (which is how the producers meant for it to look since they were not sure if the show was definitely coming back at that point in negotiations), I didn’t know where Hank could go to be happy.  Or miserable.  Since he is always happiest or maybe at peace when he is mostly unhappy with everything.  But I shouldn’t have worried on Hank’s account.   Hank is still Hank, even if Tom Kapinos takes us a few years into the future at the beginning of Season 5.  Because in this episode, Hank leaves New York City to come back to Los Angeles for work and to get away from the most recent crazy woman he dumps.  Since there are always a few crazy women in Hank’s life.  Hank’s written a new best seller, titled what else but…. Californication and now he’s been invited out to the West Coast to work with a notorious rapper/actor, Samurai Apocalypse.  Or Apocalypse Samurai (does it really matter with a name like that?) played by RZA.  Can’t anyone just have kind of normal names anymore?

SPOILER ALERT:

A plane ride with Hank would not be complete if he didn’t at least try to get laid while in the air.  He does try, but fails.  Not because his participant, Kali (Meagan Good) was unwilling, but because an old lady needs the toilet and kicks them out.  She leaves without giving him her information, but we know they will meet again.   This is Hank Moody after all.  But Hank doesn’t have time to dwell on lost partners because Charlie Runkle (Evan Handler) has arrived in the quintessential Hank Moody ride, a convertible black Porsche, complete with his two and a half year toddler in tow, spawn of Charlie and Marcy (Pamela Adlon).

If I tell you all the sexual situations you encounter, it will take away from the fun of watching the episode yourself, which you can currently watch online at Showtime.  But you won’t be disappointed.  Marcy and Charlie are divorced.  Karen (Natascha McElhone) has remarried her former professor (also a novelist), Richard ( Jason Beghe), who got in a fist-fight with Hank in a previous season.  The only reason Hank probably doesn’t assault him now is that Richard doesn’t like Becca’s (Madeleine Martin) new boyfriend, Tyler (Scott Michael Foster), who is essentially Hank at 24.  Karma’s a bitch Hank…

Since things seem to be going a bit too smoothly in Hank’s life, we get to discover, along with Hank, the chick who almost entered the mile-high club with Hank, Kali, is Samurai Apocalypse’s girlfriend.  And seriously, wouldn’t you be looking elsewhere as well if your boyfriend has a stupid name like that?  I, for one, am looking forward to all of Hank’s screw ups this season.  And unlike a real boyfriend, I can forgive him for all his character flaws since he keeps me entertained.

Dexter season 6 finale: “This is the Way the World Ends” episode review

9 Jan

This is one of those seasons on a television show that I actually don’t care about the main storyline. I just care more about how the characters react in the story which says, yes, this show is getting a bit old. But by the end of this episode, I have hope that new life will be brought to the Dexter series next season. As this particular episode stands, they could have cut out the entire DDK segments and I would have been perfectly content.

SPOILER ALERT:

When Dexter (Michael C. Hall) gets rescued by a Cuban refugee boat as he floats in the ocean and almost gives up, it almost seems too convenient, until we see the human smuggler is a bad guy.  It makes us wonder how much fight Dexter actually has left in him after almost becoming a human marshmallow roast in the ocean.  Apparently he still has plenty.   There is something so very satisfying watching Dexter stab the coyote/human trafficker who tries to rob all the refugees.  It felt cathartic to watch Dexter openly murder someone with a group of people who were grateful for his violence and — relieved.

While I know I should be worried about Harrison’s welfare and whether this season will end with him becoming the next sacrifice in Dexter’s life, even in his cute little lion suit, I am far more concerned whether or not Debra (Jennifer Carpenter) is going to reveal her incestuous feelings to her brother.  Not concerned in a bad way because I find it sickly fascinating if the show goes there.  This just goes with my overall dislike of the DDK storyline.  It’s not that Travis (Colin Hanks) doesn’t do an excellent job at being a creepy loser, he does.  End of the world storylines just never interest me.  I was also banking on the fact that it was bad enough they made Professor Gellar (Edward James Olmos) another Harry (James Remar).  Okay, evil Harry.  But if they were going to kill Harrison as well, I would give up on the show.  Because that would signal they had run out of fresh sick ideas.  But the incest story line, in my book, qualifies as a fresh sick idea. It gives me hope that next season might be really screwed up.  And there is nothing I love more than screwed up characters.

While there is drama between Batista (David Zayas) and Quinn (Desmond Harrington) who he wants transferred, it doesn’t go very far.  Quinn fights back by talking to his Union rep and claiming he has a problem with alcohol.  As far as Quinn is concerned, he is staying put.  Perhaps there will be increased tension between the two next season.  That could get interesting.

Travis is obviously on his way out.  Nobody breaks into Dexter’s apartment, eats his cereal and drops it everywhere, steals one of his shirts and then lives.  Dexter does not violations of personal space.  Especially by those he is hunting down.  When Travis does take Harrison from the children’s pageant, it seems almost anti-climatic.  As if Dexter will let anything happen to his son… And he doesn’t.  The whole scenario quickly (thankfully!) ends with Travis knocked out and tied up in back of Dexter’s car.

In the meantime, Deb does her best to lead the manhunt for Travis.  She must be having quite a hard time concentrating, especially since at the beginning of the episode she rushes to Dexter’s apartment, hugs him while he is shirtless, looks like she’s in complete bliss and declares her love for him.  He reciprocates by telling her that he loves her too (but most likely in a brotherly way).  Too bad for Debra Travis’ actions interrupt their intimate moment and they get called to his latest crime scene.  But it’s Debra’s excitement about her declaration of love for Dexter that motivates her to go visit him while he does one last sweep of the church… just in time to watch her beloved brother plunge a knife into Travis’ heart.  And for Dexter to realize he’s actually been caught.  NOW I can’t wait for next season.

Dexter: “Talk to the Hand” episode review

26 Dec

I think this Dexter episode might be my favorite this season. It has just the right mix of perverted sex, death and a bit of suspense. And I like the title.  This show was originally going about going to dark places and sometimes, over the last few seasons, I felt like it didn’t always go dark enough; however, with this episode, I can see we are back on track.  You can’t get much darker, really.

SPOILER ALERT:

Dexter (Michael C. Hall) gets called to his own crime scene, something I always find amusing. By the time he arrives, the police have fished Holly’s body out of the water.  Deb (Jennifer Carpenter) recognizes Dexter’s victim, Steve Dorsey (Kyle Davis) and Louis (Josh Cooke) informs Deb that he told Batista (David Zayas) about his lead last episode (regarding Steve Dorsey and his address), which leads Deb to ask where Batista is and Quinn (Desmond Harrington) rushes there just in time to disrupt Travis’s (Colin Hanks) plans to shoot Batista.  But Beth (Jordana Spiro) has already left to create Wormwood at the Miami Metro PD building in Deb’s office.

Beth makes it into the office with Batista’s ID/key card and waits to talk to Deb.  Dexter passes her on his way in and once he starts looking up Steve Dorsey, he notices a picture of Beth and makes the connection.  He rushes out just in time to see Beth following Deb into her office pushing the button to discharge the poison gas.  Dexter pushes Beth into an interrogation room and we get to see her gas herself.  It’s a gross but fitting death for a nutter.

Deb’s doctor sees the siblings together recovering from the Wormwood aftermath and brings up Deb’s feelings for Dexter in their session.  And yes, she says what you never think you will hear broadcast on American television, that Deb has incestuous feelings for Dexter.  Of course, Deb blows a gasket and denies it but later, she has a very vivid dream that lets us know that yes, she does indeed harbor romantic feelings for her brother.  The big question now is:  what is Deb gonna do about it?

Louis, aka Creepy Man, has also lost the plot.  It looks like perhaps he is going to try to be his own serial killer, or at least a demented stalker and he starts his real life game by sending Dexter the Ice Truck Killer’s hand in the mail.  It looks like we will be seeing more of Louis next season.

In the meantime, Dexter’s been slightly poisoned by the Wormwood gas but still goes after Travis.  First by getting his attention, defacing an Angel in the museum courtyard where Travis works, then by sending him a taunting video.  Travis obviously takes the bait but when Dexter tries to attack, he has a dizzy spell and a bloody nose and Travis injects Dexter with his tranquilizer.  Dexter wakes up on a boat, tied up and surround by gas canisters.  Travis plans on creating his own burning lake of fire, which he does.  Dexter narrowly escapes and knows he must hunt down and kill Travis before the DDK deadline…

Dexter: “Ricochet Rabbit” episode review

26 Dec

As we near the end of this season, Dexter (Michael C. Hall) closes in on Travis (Colin Hanks) – almost  – while Deb (Jennifer Carpenter) seems to slowly realizes that Dexter is the number one man, as well as person, in her life.  What exactly does that mean?  I think we all know what that means.  Yes, I’m going there because that is exactly the path the writers are leading us.

SPOILER ALERT:

Dexter tracks down Holly, the victim Travis previously freed, but not in time to save her from Travis’s new found followers, the crazy loser couple, Steve (Kyle Davis) and Beth Dorsey (Jordana Spiro), who believe in “Gellar’s” prophecies.  Holly, who ironically is a whore, and it appears disliked, gets herself murdered on her lover’s yacht, the Ricochet Rabbit.  Because going on a boat alone is the smartest thing to do after a homicidal maniac almost put you in a death tableau once.  Fortunately, for Travis and company, her stupidity makes their successful murder of her go as easy as pie.  She also managed to give them the privacy they needed to cook up.  Smooth move, Holly.

In the meantime, Deb has more moments with her therapist realizing how important Dexter is to her.  She also does some quick detective work and discovers who was with Jessica, the murdered prostitute.  She turns to Dexter for advice.

Louis (Josh Cooke) tries to show Dexter his homicide game which is about becoming serial killers.  One of the characters the player can be is The Bay Harbor Butcher, in other words, Dexter.  He gets offended and tells Louis to find another idea.  Louis gets upset but still manages to work through his disappointment and ID Travis’s accomplices.  Or at least the husband.  Batista (David Zayas) goes to follow up the lead on his own since Quinn (Desmond Harrington) is MIA.  Most likely, hung over.  Probably not the best idea…

By the time Dexter discovers the boat, it’s too late.  Holly is dead.  Dexter spots someone on the boat in a hazmat suit and knows something bad is going down.  He mistakes Steve for Travis, attacks and kills him, only to discover it’s not Travis in the suit.  And while Dexter makes an anonymous call to 911 about poison gas because this is too big for him to handle, Batista finishes questionning Beth Dorsey and realizes she’s lying and working with Travis, just in time to be hit over the head by Travis and become his next prisoner and potential victim…

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