Friday, September 30, 2011

Fall Pilot #11: Suburgatory

FALL PILOT #11: Suburgatory
SUPPOSED SELLING POINT: Teen angst, snark, and brightly colored satire.
POSSIBLE SELLING POINT FOR ME:  Teen angst, snark, and brightly colored satire.

It should come as no surprise that there's little I love more than a smart teen angst comedy.  Those satirical seasons of Popular (when Ryan Murphy was still fresh and uninhibited), Freaks and Geeks, Daria, MTV's delightfully wry Awkward (watch it, seriously); get it right and the rewatchability factor leaps through the roof.  So, you should have no doubt that I've been harboring secret, very high hopes for Suburgatory, just another in a long line-up of ABC's snarky peeks at the American middle class. The network seems to have the suburban satire market cornered. They're the land of Desperate Housewives, Modern Family, Cougar Town, and soon, Good Christian Bitches (I kid you not).  

Amid the standards, Suburgatory seems special.  While it still boasts the bright color contrasts and perfectly manicured cul de sac lawns of those other shows, the story (at least in this first taste) feels preternaturally focused.  Our fish out of water tale knows where its going, has found its voice, and has pegged its targets in ways that may not be unique, but that are spectacularly charming.  Like a cross-pollinated clone of Emma Stone, Lindsay Lohan (in her prime), and Ashley Rickards, Shameless kid Jane Levy has all the right stuff to make her instantly recognizable to the average high school hater. The show is indebted to Mean Girls, and portions here play as a competent riff on Tina Fey's comedy; complete with a ginger-haired protagonist in ass kicking boots and an army surplus jacket.  As Tessa, though, Jane Levy is far more self-assured than Cady Heron was.  When an unopened box of condoms condemns her to life in a world of teenagers with nose jobs and bottle-blonde text fiends, she doesn't immediately bend over backwards.  No one's there to really show her the ropes, and this time, her single dad (Jeremy Sisto) is sucked into the mayhem too.  

A lot could destroy Suburgatory.  Canned laughter, for example, would be quite unwelcome here.  Luckily, Suburgatory doesn't have that.  What it has is a thus far perfectly cast Cheryl Hines, a constantly watering Ana Gasteyer, a creepily enthusiastic Alan Tudyk, and a dead eyed plastic teen houseplant embodied by relative newcomer Carly Chaikin. Thus far? Um yes, yes, it's good. How good?  In the pilot episode we not only get a Fellini reference (!) and the sort of Lynchian yards you expect to find an ear in, we also get this completely ridiculous outfit.  If it continues like this, I could probably love this show.  Stake that suburban mall culture, kids.  Go for it. 

SECOND EPISODE?:  Absolutely. 
WILL IT MAKE IT TO A SECOND SEASON?:  Thus far, I hope so.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Fall Pilot #10: Terra Nova

FALL PILOT #10: Terra Nova
SUPPOSED SELLING POINT: Avatar meets Jurassic Park, a possible replacement for Lost?

If Terra Nova looks like it's blatantly trying to rip off Jurassic Park and mix it with Avatar and somehow snag a huge audience off this combination of elements, that's because it is.  It's a show built around a million recycles sci-fi plot lines.  Earth is dying, we've killed it with our grubby human ways.  The solution?  Jump through a stargate and start to rebuild human society on a mint condition planet in the Cretaceous period.  It's like Land of the Lost and Earth 2 (remember that show?) had a baby that took itself too seriously.  As can be expected, the show follows a family of sci-fi pilgrims on their magical journey, forging the way to completely mess up all of history.  Within the space-time continuum rules of science fiction, I'm not sure how forcing human life to exist during a time which humans had not yet evolved works, but it sounds like it would probably destroy natural progression as we know it.  It's an interesting concept, and the visuals are rather impressive for a network show.  It looks damn expensive, and it's a major risk for Fox as problem here is that apart from surprisingly decent looking dinos it offers almost nothing new.

Terra Nova has the usual things.  The creators seem to know that while they have a chance of reeling in an action audience, their primary targets are approximately ten years old.  So, it's another forced family drama.  Not space family Robinson, but close.  Instead of opening the group dynamic the way Lost did, introducing us to mysterious characters with complicated pasts, we're immediately pushed into a stagnant set of relationships.  Our patriarch, Jim Shannon (Jason O'Mara) spent some time in prison for protecting his brood, and while he managed to sneak his way to Terra Nova, there's some unresolved daddy issues from his wife and kids.  They talk through things, they try to bond, they marvel at the sights.  Mom is a smarty pants doctor, there's a teen daughter, a little daughter, and a teen son who meets a sparky teen girl.  They take the all-terrain vehicle for a spin and get into trouble.  There are big dinosaurs and small dinosaurs.  There are fences (see above) that really push that Jurassic Park association.  There's a tribe of human arrivals who have turned against this use of time travel and are fighting a resistance from somewhere in the rainforest.  There are politics.  Stephen Lang (the bad guy from Avatar) is in it.  He's the leader but we're not sure what kind yet.  He still looks like an action figure and scares me a little bit.  

It's nice to look at, but oddly bland.  Honestly, I wound up involved for maybe the first half hour, then barely watching it as it slogged through expected terrain.  I can't say it was a disappointment, because I didn't have high hopes to begin with.  What I can say is that I'm pretty sure it's wasting its money on creatures when it should be spending more time with its writers.  

SECOND EPISODE?:  Eh, those two hours exhausted me.
WILL IT MAKE IT TO A SECOND SEASON?:  It's got a good chance of collecting a cult following, and getting canceled...

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Review: Moneyball

“It’s hard not to romanticize baseball.”   Or, so says Billy Beane (Brad Pitt) at a couple key moments in Moneyball.   Though in context I could see what he was getting at, and for many people this appears to be quite true, I have to admit: it’s damn easy for me not to romanticize baseball.   You may be able to romanticize the players or the fans, the upset of not winning or the pain of coming so close, but that’s not unique to the game.  And, I mean, the game?  Call me un-American or whatever but, oh man, how loudly would you like to hear me snore?  Needless to say: I’m not a sports person.   I've never read Michael Lewis's book, can't fathom a reality in which I'd pick it up, have no recollection of the Oakland A’s 20-game win streak in 2002, didn’t recognize the names of any of the players mentioned in the film, and can only tell you that at some point in the last decade the Boston Red Sox won the World Series.  I remember that...

finish this review at

Monday, September 26, 2011

Fall Pilot #9: Pan Am

POSSIBLE SELLING POINT FOR ME:  Wednesday Addams is in this show.

Look!  Up in the sky!  It’s a bird, it’s a plane, no, it’s a plane full of promiscuous stewardesses!  ABC’s Pan Am took flight last night, making it the second hour long network melodrama to be built around an iconic 1960’s uniform this fall.   Where NBC’s bunnies are mixed up with murder and the mob, ABC’s flight attendants get the glossy candy colors of camp espionage; the hair is all perfectly coiffed and capped, the girdles are on, and we’re ready for some in-flight entertainment.  We learn early on that our Pan Am wonder women were an elite group of “evolved” ladies with all the right qualifications to symbolize the luxury, the picture-postcard romance of air travel.  Namely that they were three things: pretty, unmarried, and under thirty-two.   Ah yes, Pan Am: the Logan’s Run of the sky. 

Still, for its frothier components, Pan Am has its charms.  Christina Ricci, who we can assume has a significant role here,  has a surprisingly slight screen presence in this initial episode.  We’re left wondering where her character will factor in, as the first episode frantically opens the boxes on too many subplots.  Thus, it’s a tough pilot to judge as we can’t be sure we know what Pan Am is all about.  Unlike Playboy Club, there’s a more convincing conflict between image and substance here (not too deep, mind you, but there’s a chance it may get there if given the opportunity).  Is it a front for women’s lib?  Will it break down into Cold War paranoia?  How many of these girls will be involved in the espionage antics we see Kelli Garner enter into here?  Where Playboy Club posited its women were empowered because they earned a pretty penny in their skivvies, Pan Am hints at cocktail waitress opportunities for its girls to become worldly, liberated, free agents until 32.  The show wants us to believe that they’re not just handing you peanuts, they’re spies, beatniks, and the actors doing all the work.  For those old enough to remember Pan Am airlines in its heyday, the show is likely all nostalgia.  For the rest of us, it seems to play off of a retro aesthetic fetishized and cultivated in Catch Me If You Can and Down with Love.  The result is something poppy and a little tongue-in-cheek, but not actually humorous enough to thrust it into a cult canon.  While the pilot is a bit of a jumble, it seems likely that the pieces will all land safely, and that there’s potential here for something addictively fun.  At the very least?  It’s watchable and doesn’t have a shoddy narration.      

SECOND EPISODE?:  I will consider giving it a second chance as it seems to need time to settle…
WILL IT MAKE IT TO A SECOND SEASON?:  If they can even out the pacing. 

Fall Pilot #8: Revenge

FALL PILOT #8: Revenge
SUPPOSED SELLING POINT: REVENGE.  Attractive people!  Beach houses!
POSSIBLE SELLING POINT FOR ME:  Calculating manipulation and beach houses, in that order.

I pretty much lost track of what was actually happening in ABC's new "rich people destroying rich people" show Revenge.  This isn't because it's super complicated (but it kind of is), but because earlier in the week I'd been thinking about Josie and the Pussycats (as people do) and wondered what happened to the guy that played Alan M.(Gabriel Mann) in the movie.  Then, of course, the universe has a way of working these things out and soon answered my question: he's on Revenge!  When I went to IMDB to confirm that this was indeed Alan M., I learned that Gabriel Mann has been around everywhere and that somehow I'd completely neglected to recognize him.  When I say everywhere I mean Mad Men and the Jason Bourne movies, but still: I totally watched those things.

On Revenge, Alan M. has grown into a 40-year old version of young James Spader.  As far as I can tell, he's playing Steff in Pretty in Pink if Steff were some sort of genius entrepreneur who really liked animal applique pants from J.Crew.  Speaking as someone who now has to watch The Office just because she finds James Spader hilarious and weirdly magnetic, this is a good thing. I'm all for villainous characters who studied in the Spader school of creepery.  Unfortunately, there's more to Revenge than Alan M.

In the first episode, we learn that Emily Thorne (Emily VanCamp) wants revenge.  Her family was destroyed at some point in the past by the malicious queen bees and kingpins of East Hampton society, and she's taken great pains to transform herself into someone they won't recognize (except Alan M. sees right through that, so I don't know how well that's going to work out for her).  She's going to go Alias on them, with wigs and disguises and poisons and tricky methods of bringing them down.  Hopefully, she's going to drive them to their deaths, but right now she seems mostly interested in 'taking them down a peg', which I find rather disappointing.  We meet a surplus of characters without much context and (since no one ages in the Hamptons) any moments of the show's back and forth temporal flux read as minutely confusing.  When is this happening?  Why is this happening?  Maybe we could meet these people in the next episode?  No?  Ok...

From where I sat, Revenge's hour long pilot felt as though it dragged well beyond its run time.  The landscape, while glamorous, felt stagnant and unchanging.  The characters seemed superficially introduced, relying on our understanding of past archetypes like them: rich bitches, social climbers, fortunate sons. It saves time, but it's not the best way to open a show.  I was plagued by the need to pre-judge all of them as evil based on Emily's blank expression even though the show eventually makes it clear that no, there are some good people here as well.  Is Emily one of them?  Presumably yes, but I'm not so sure I care...

SECOND EPISODE?:  I'm still not sure I caught on to what's going on here.  Oh wait, REVENGE. Why was she in prison,. though?  She didn't see her dad for 10 years?  How old is she?

Friday, September 23, 2011

Fall Pilot #7: Whitney

FALL PILOT #7: Whitney

SUPPOSED SELLING POINT: Another lady comedian on NBC

Isn't Whitney Cummings supposed to be edgy or something?  I mean, I thought that was the word on the street. If her new self-titled sitcom is any indication, however, she was edgy in maybe...1996? 1997?  Remember Ally McBeal's dancing baby biological clock?  The cloud pajamas?  The early days of cosmopolitans and Manolo Blahniks?  That's when Whitney would have been an edgy network sitcom: in the hey day of Bridget Jones singletons shouting loud, proud, and occasionally mussed up.  Nothing against those ladies, but our new female comedy leads are dimensional beyond quirks, uncertainty, and frank sex talk. Whitney feels like a step back in time to a cheap, tacky land of forced jokes, shoddy reaction shots, and brightly colored 'sitcom' clothes (you know, the sort that the characters might never wear in real life).  It's the right idea, NBC.  Putting female comedians in leading roles works out well for you and everyone else.  It's just, in execution, this one feels slapped together and stilted; cheesy, passively feminist tripe chock full of characters who could easily be exchanged with those on the now 100% more self-aware Cougar Town.  

Amazingly, after enduring the first six fairly painful minutes of Whitney, I would have preferred to watch Cougar Town.  You know the difference?  Whitney's got a goddamn "live audience" laugh-track.  In a scripted comedy, nothing could be more distracting.  On Whitney?  That "live studio audience" sounds like a live audience of people operating laugh-track machines.  It's grating, particularly when the laughter triggers at a moment where NOTHING IS FUNNY.  I shut it off.  I shut it off after six minutes, threw in the towel and figured it wasn't worth it.

"Oh, that Whitney, she so crazy, she's eating those wedding cupcakes before they "cut" the wedding cake."

"Oh, that Whitney, she wore a yellow dress to the wedding instead of a white one to try not to upstage the bride, but the bride wore yellow too.  She so crazy."

"Oh, that Whitney, she's so wild and crazy that we need a random wedding guest to tell her boyfriend that she's so wild and crazy so that we understand she so wild and crazy."  

Twelve hours later, I decided to suck it up and finish the remaining 15 minutes.  Whatever.  Hulu in the morning as I ate my breakfast.  My reward?  Watching Whitney Cummings fret about the lack of routine sex in her long-term committed relationship (because we haven't seen that before), watching her put on a slutty nurse's outfit and managing to get her boyfriend checked into the real hospital, and watching her best friend walk into the apartment and start drinking.   Ah yes, I see how deeply neurotic we are...

Character aside, the primary problem facing Whitney is that it's simply rather unfunny.  There's a sense that everyone in the cast is trying too hard, that they're aware they don't have an original concept or a real direction to take the show in.  Whitney may be playing a fictional version of herself, but she doesn't seem to know who that person is.  She and her faux-boyfriend Alex (Chris D'Elia) alternate between kooky kooks and total apathy.  Both, it turns out, aren't particularly interesting...

SECOND EPISODE?:  Um, I'd really prefer not to...
WILL IT MAKE IT TO A SECOND SEASON?: Based on the first one?  I hope not...

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Seen & Heard: Neon Indian

What's that you say? You didn't listen to my Boogie Nights mixtape on Love & Squalor?  Oh, well then perhaps you haven't heard this excellent little fun time synth track by Neon Indian.  Obviously, you should listen to these things. Pay attention, be astute, all that stuff.

Seen & Heard: Magenta Skycode

Finnish group Magenta Skycode's "Kipling."  In which we run with dogs.

Fall Pilot #6: The Playboy Club

FALL PILOT #6: The Playboy Club

SUPPOSED SELLING POINT:  Mad Men-esque retro glamour, attractive ladies.
POSSIBLE SELLING POINT FOR ME:  Retro period piece, high probability of stylish parties.

NBC and ABC are both trying to capture idle Mad Men fans this fall with a bit of retro glamour and a complete misunderstanding of why it is that viewers are drawn to that world.  Where Mad Men wins out time and again in part because the writing is smart, the acting on target, and the setting immaculately conceived; the other part of its success is built off of its culturally relevant, sturdy adherence to story.  Mad Men doesn't glorify the mistreatment of women or play at any sense of glamour in being a Madison Avenue secretary, it subverts that silly notion and pushes its female characters to have an ambition and drive that we see them as socially uncomfortable acknowledging.  NBC's The Playboy Club, meanwhile, is a fetishistic sorority house that seems to be thoroughly committed to trying to convince anyone watching that its glorified cocktail waitresses were nothing if not driven suffragettes.  The sporadic, poorly thought out Hugh Hefner narration tells us that in the 60's "bunnies were some of the only women who could be anything they wanted to be."  Oh, really?  I'm thinking not.  Can anyone explain how that works?  Is it because they made really decent wages (another bunny says "I make more than my father")?  Because correct me if I'm wrong, but the tips are earned by looking good until they're too old to wear the uniform.  At what point does the "be anything you want to be" come into play?  

Where the narration and dressing room chatter between the ladies plays at a preemptive defense of the show's focus on corsets and ass, it seems a slow paced glimpse into the real life of the girls (which would have been potentially interesting) wasn't good enough for the executives at NBC.  So, instead of leaving our story to mine the highs and lows of an iconic position in a tumultuous period of American history, we get murder, intrigue, and a low-rent Don Draper impersonator.   Early into the show, our leggy blonde lead bunny Maureen (Amber Heard) fends off a gropey, rapey, murderous mob boss and accidentally kills him with a stiletto to the jugular.  Our phony Don Draper, the squinty Nick Dalton (Eddie Cibrian), helps her dump the body in the Chicago River.  From that point on Maureen is a shaky, wide-eyed bundle of nerves, a wet blanket, and about as cardboard as they come. We know that one day the secret will be out, that Maureen will be hunted, and that all of this has nothing to do with the conflicts of the other half dozen characters we meet on this first outing. 

It's a vapid, dreary affair that can't decide what kind of story it's trying to tell.  Is it a straight period piece?  Is it another shoddy thriller?  Is it a dark American Dreams-esque showcase for dolled up musical acts (we get Ike and Tina impersonators twice in the premiere)?  Is it just a tarted-up primetime soap?  My money is on that last one.  Don't get sucked in by the allure of all that cigarette smoke and satin, The Playboy Club is really quite poorly conceived in its first outing.  While Gloria Steinem called for a boycott earlier in the summer, I'd say it doesn't even warrant that.  It's offensive, yes, but in such a superficial way that I'd find it hard to believe folks could watch it without an eye roll.  

As this ship goes down, however, someone should save Naturi Naughton (the self-proclaimed "chocolate bunny") from the wreckage.  She was sort of adorable, and I honestly have no idea why NBC didn't filter the focus through her potentially far more compelling story instead of through yet another small-town leggy blonde transplant.  Oh, wait...

Super lame, NBC. Super lame.

WILL IT MAKE IT TO A SECOND SEASON?: Pretty damn doubtful.

Fall Pilot #5: 2 Broke Girls

FALL PILOT #5: 2 Broke Girls

NETWORK: The Abysmal Pit that is CBS.
SUPPOSED SELLING POINT:  People will watch it because if follows that show where Doogie Howser really overacts.  Also, Michael Patrick King and Whitney Cummings put it together. 
POSSIBLE SELLING POINT FOR ME:  I just kind of like Kat Dennings.

I broke my rule, guys.  I watched CBS tonight.  I know, I know, it's terrible.  I feel a little dirty viewing their backwards laugh track comedies on the same night they happened to air. if I've been wronged, somehow.  We've been through this before but I sincerely believe that CBS is the least progressive, blandest network around.  I tend to ignore it, though I've learned to suffer through (on DVD, of course) The Big Bang Theory's antiquated structure to get at those great little morsels of nerddom.  Today, as I watched 2 Broke Girls, hoping for Kat Dennings' snark to pervade through the cheery flat camerawork that mars all CBS sitcoms, I arrived at a new conclusion.  I don't loathe CBS because it's block after block of repetitive police procedurals catering to old ladies, I can't stand it because so many of the shows seem to have been birthed in a previous decade.  For me, television -- and in particular the sitcom -- has evolved beyond certain modes and forms.  The CBS sitcom, with its reliance on the laugh track, its bawdy overacting, and its lack of self-deprecating understanding of its own mechanics, is an outdated machinery best consumed in reruns viewed over leftovers or in college dorms.  It's nothing new.  In fact, it feels quite the opposite.  2 Broke Girls, like Two and a Half Men, How I Met Your Mother, and yes, even Big Bang Theory actually feel old.  They're the TGIF shows of my youth resurrected for some sort of audience who never advanced beyond that level.  I mean, seriously?  Outsourced offered something with more of a postmodern, vaguely satirical edge than almost anything on CBS, and that's really saying something.  Of course, something doesn't have to be new to be effectively funny, but...

While I was momentarily entertained by 2 Broke Girls, I didn't laugh.  Kat Dennings gets a handful of smart, cynical lines here and runs with them, but it's almost as if she were CG'd into a pre-existing show in an attempt to make a stale thing a little bit edgier.  Where even The New Girl knows how to place a pause for comedic effect, 2 Broke Girls fills its silences with a barrage of idle prattle, relying on harebrained gags and raunchy innuendos to spice up mediocre content.  There are logical leaps, stilted characters reading stilted dialogue, and an easy breezy ghost of a narrative arc.  We meet sharp-tongued waitress Max, we see the hijinks of Brooklyn diner staff, and then meet Caroline (Beth Behrs): a down and out ex-trust funder whose daddy just got locked  up for defrauding half of New York.  Voila: they're living together, finding ways to bridge their vast differences, and suddenly planning on saving up money to open a cupcake shop.  How many hijinks will ensue as they hunt for that $250,000, folks?  SO MANY HIJINKS.  I get exhausted just thinking about all those hijinks.  It's like Whitney Cummings fell asleep after watching Bridesmaids and The Odd Couple in quick succession but didn't think through how the relationship could be exploited to be actually interesting.  Just as I'm consistently amazed that Jason Segal remains a presence on How I Met Your Mother, I have no idea why Dennings attached herself to this show on this network.  I could see the premise working out if filmed for Showtime or HBO in a Nurse Jackie meets Bored to Death sort of light.  But, with a laugh track, the shoddy camera work, and the whoopsy-daisy whipped cream bit?  Ugh. She's better than this, smarter than the jokes, and darker as a presence.    

SECOND EPISODE?:  Eh...I just can't do the laugh track. That's it.
WILL IT MAKE IT TO A SECOND SEASON?: Does anything shown on The Abysmal Pit that is CBS ever get canceled?  

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Fall Pilot #4: The New Girl

FALL PILOT #4: The New Girl 
SUPPOSED SELLING POINT:  Zooey Deschanel is bringing the manic pixie dream girl to TV, or something? 
POSSIBLE SELLING POINT FOR ME:  It's a comedy that doesn't have a laugh track.  Also, I'm interested in seeing how Damon Wayans Jr. manages two sitcoms at once (he's also on ABC's Happy Endings).

I don't particularly care for Zooey Deschanel, but I don't loathe her as many tend to.  To some, she's an obnoxious hipster cipher, the source code to the programming of a million 'quirky' girls trying to catch the attentions of boys who have attached mystical properties to her cartoon cute blank canvas.  I don't think Deschanel lacks personality, but I do find that there's something that always seems a little false about her.  Still, I held out hope for The New Girl because, let's face it, Zooey is a star smart enough to know her market.  If she makes the decision to come to network TV instead of latching onto an HBO original, there's gotta be something to it.  

And actually?  Yeah, while the premise isn't so original, the pilot is surprisingly sound and frequently quite funny.  The first episode (currently available early OnDemand, premiering Tuesday evening) plays almost like a mini bromantic film as we're introduced to Jess Day (Deschanel) and her predicament.  Jess is an awkward 20-something who moves in with a ragtag group of dudes after finding her boyfriend with another woman.  She sings to herself and cites Lord of the Rings and then cries hysterically watching Dirty Dancing seven straight times on the couch in her new apartment.  There are moments when she's oddly endearing, and moments where we cringe because her weaknesses and quirks feel so contrived, as though Deschanel had decided to channel Tina Fey's Liz Lemon without understanding the basic self-deprecating elements that made that character truly funny.  If this were a show solely about Jess, it would be a tremendous failure.  She's too much, manically nerdy in a way that's designed to be cloyingly cute instead of risky.  Where Liz Lemon is a tough lady, Jess is helpless and uninformed.  Still, though, there are laughs and the pilot leaves the show with room to grow and sturdy legs to stand on.  Deschanel's quirk is evened out by her three new "bro" roommates.  Damon Wayans Jr., Max Greenfield, and Jake Johnson act occasionally as filters for the audience, occasionally as quirky archetypes of their own.  They work in a way that's charmingly inept even as they try to help, thus making them subdued, unknowingly dorky male counterparts to Deschanel's unapologetic face making.  The show isn't particularly clever, original, or especially self-aware.  It's no Arrested Development or 30 Rock.  What it has going for it, however, is that's it's light, fun, and simply silly without resorting to that condescending laugh track.  As far as network comedies go?  That's a giant step in the right direction. 

SECOND EPISODE?:  Yes, actually. 
WILL IT MAKE IT TO A SECOND SEASON?: Depends on where FOX keeps it in the lineup and if they can balance out the show so all characters are equal to or greater than Zooey Deschanel.  

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Fall Pilot #3: The Secret Circle

FALL PILOT #3: The Secret Circle
SUPPOSED SELLING POINT:  Teen witches are back, yo.  
POSSIBLE SELLING POINT FOR ME:  Campy camp, primed for a Very Special Halloween Episode.  Return of The Craft?

This is another show based on a young adult series.  In fact, it's by the same author (L.J. Smith) as The Vampire Diaries books.  Today, I connected the dots and realized that both are, in fact, from the early 90's.  Color me uninformed.  I mean, do you even know how many times I've referred to The Vampire Diaries as just a quick, moneymaking attempt to capitalize on Twilight's success?  Nope.  Dead wrong.  Spread the blood like mustard, let the fangers lick it up.  If you've seen The Vampire Diaries, or any other supernaturally inclined teen crush generator on the CW, you should know what to expect from this one.  A trendy soundtrack, a wardrobe that makes kids spring to the mall, and a gothic, gravity-hungry melodramatic tendency that kills most opportunities for pure camp (but makes a great clip for The Soup).  Witches are the new werewolves, werewolves were the new zombies, and zombies were the new vampires; but that's not the point.  The point is: HOW DOES THOMAS DEKKER LOOK FIVE YEARS YOUNGER THAN IN KABOOM?  That's him on the far left of the cast photo. Outrageous. Truly.  You give that boy a haircut and suddenly he's a perfectly average teen?  I barely recognized him as our heroine's star-destined love interest.  I mean, I liked Gregg Araki's dirtied up Dekker.  He knew camp.  This one is all serious about making water droplets fly all over the place and leaning in really close for the major moment of magically hormonal tension. 

There's not much point discussing this further.  As teen shows go, it's not so bad.  Our new girl, Cassie (Brittany Robertson) moves to California and is told, flat out, by a gaggle of characters that she is, in fact a full-blooded witch.  Very little build-up.  Cut to the chase.  No slow process of self-discovery or any sort of Smallville set-up where it takes 15 years for Superman to finally realize he can fly.  This is a good thing, I suppose. In the new little little co-ed coven (titular Circle), we've got our unstable, power-hungry Fairuza Balk-type and our sweetly sweet proper good witch.  What's Cassie?  Powerful. Destined. Bound to be manipulated.  There will be combat boots.  There will be cute little leather jackets.  There will be drama. Secret, magical drama.  In this episode?  A spell no more complicated than yellint "STOP THE STORM" over and over again at the heavens...

SECOND EPISODE?:  Let's not kid ourselves, I probably will at some point...
WILL IT MAKE IT TO A SECOND SEASON?: How long did they run One Tree Hill?  Yeah, this will live.

Review: Contagion

Open on: a too-convincingly suffering Gwyneth Paltrow.  No makeup, sweat on her brow, hair frazzled, face hollow, coughing and pallid in an airport bar.  This is a film about an epidemic.  We know that she isn’t just sick.  We know this isn’t a common cold or the result of too much time spent flying over the Pacific.  We know that she’s a carrier, that she’s dying, that her death is inevitable.  We think of the human beings herded like cattle into closed cabins alongside her.  Using the same tin can restroom.  The flight attendants picking up the garbage her hands have touched.  The germs tracked everywhere.  Carry-on baggage lifted, tickets exchanged, bacteria like a cloudburst spraying with each poorly covered cough.  These people will all die.  They will get off of the airplane and proliferate.  They will use public toilets, buy food, grab a drink, they will hire limos and climb into cabs, they will go home to houses filled with family members, apartments filled with people, with loved ones, with children.  They will go to work, their children will go to school and travel on buses, on trains, in carpools.  They’ll think it’s “no big deal.”  They’ll load up on vitamin C, cough suppressants, suck on drops.  They will touch their faces.  They will cough in their hands.  They will blow their noses.  They will not wash after each of these incidents, in between all of them.  Later, they will seize.  They will freeze up, their muscles will spasm, they will foam at the mouth and collapse without warning, biting down on tongues before someone even reaches to call 911...

finish this review @

Seen & Heard: Florence + the Machine

I'm behind on listening to the new Florence + the Machine single "What the Water Gave Me."  I know this.  But I did it now, and it's pretty fantastic in that I SUDDENLY WANT TO BOHO UP MY WARDROBE BUT ALSO HAVE A ONE PERSON DANCE PARTY sort of way.  Florence Welch is some sort of harmonious pairing of Kate Bush and Annie Lennox and that, my friend, is a good thing for pop.  The new album is expected sometime in November.  Looking forward to it.  Observe:

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Fall Pilot #2: Up All Night

FALL PILOT #2: Up All Night
SUPPOSED SELLING POINT:  Thursday Night Comedy on NBC is so good that it needs to expand onto Wednesday.  Will Arnett!  Maya Rudolph!  Christina Applegate!
POSSIBLE SELLING POINT FOR ME:  Will Arnett!  Maya Rudolph! No laugh track!

Dear internet,
      I'm terrified of babies.  
      There. I said it.  Now you know.  Feel free to judge and consider me inhuman and so on and so on, it's already brought about more than one spectacularly awkward situation at work.  Heeeey, what do you do when you wander into work expecting no babies and find a baby right in your path?  Oh, and yeah, it's your boss's baby and you really want to be nice but your mouth pretty much just turned into a claymation desert.  Do you put your stuff away and stand completely silent with eyes the size of fists for the next five, unending minutes as your co-workers turn into cooing, disturbing versions of themselves?  Yes, yes, you do.  Because you're me. And eventually someone tells you to run, and you are saved.  
      Needless to say: I'm not really into the whole "baby" thing.  Don't get me wrong, there's definitely a fine amount of comedy to be mined from improper parenting.  Fox scored big last season with Raising Hope, namely because that show is only tangentially about babies and happens to feature the insanely awesome Cloris Leachman letting it all hang out.  Gem, I tell you, GEM.  I'd hoped that with Will Arnett and Maya Rudolph on board, Up All Night would be a new slightly off-kilter take on the awkwardness of child rearing.  Somehow, I didn't really factor "the baby" being an issue.  She is.  Up All Night starts off suggesting shenanigans, and quickly backslides into something unfunny and loaded with lady show cliches.  We jump from a mildly amusing scene in which Applegate and Arnett reflect on the positives of having a child come the nursing home years and suddenly we're at a cringe-worthy moment of physical comedy in which Applegate is bending over backwards to zip her pencil skirt over her post-pregnancy stomach.  Uh huh.  It got worse.  Enter the baby-centric changes of heart:  the "I love our baby" and "I think about her every waking second" and so on and so on leading through to the moment at which our protagonists realize their lives have changed.  Oh, did I mention this happens after one of the blandest drunk party montage scenes I've seen since Sex and the City 2?  Because it does.  (And yes, Maya Rudolph gets to do her pseudo-Whitney Houston over-belting not once, or twice, but three times as I recall.  I didn't like it when she did it on SNL, why fit it in here?) 

       And then I remembered: this show isn't going to be for me.  This show is going to be all babies because all three of the stars have had new additions to their families within the last year or so.  As they film this there's undoubtedly a room just off set in which their mewling spawn are all under the watchful eye of some studio intern/nanny.  They have this shit on their brains, man.  On their brains.  A show about parenting starring three fresh parents probably won't shoot off in the meta directions of 30 Rock or Community.  It may be time for me to walk away...

If you take nothing else from this?  Watch Raising Hope.  You'll like it.  I swear.

WILL IT MAKE IT TO A SECOND SEASON?:  It's too early to tell...

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Fall Pilot #1: Ringer

FALL PILOT #1: Ringer 
SUPPOSED SELLING POINT:  Sarah Michelle Gellar returns to television.  Sarah Michelle Gellar plays twins.  Sarah Michelle Gellar engages in intrigue.  Sarah Michelle Gellar brings a show with real adults to the CW.
POSSIBLE SELLING POINT FOR ME:  Being able to find a mystery that's not as embarrassing to be addicted to?  Because I really feel ridiculous watching Pretty Little the best way. 

There's been a lot of excited chatter about Buffy the Vampire Slayer's return to network television.  In the years since Joss Whedon's show came to an end, the show has grown exponentially within canons cult and academic alike.  Buffy the series is a thing, Gellar the actress?  Well, in my opinion: not so much.  While I've enjoyed my share of Buffy, Gellar the Sunnydale hamster (and many of the cast members) always struck me as rather here nor there, working with material that played to their individual strengths and happened to have them in the right place at the right time.  Ringer doesn't suggest anything to the contrary at this point, but it does seem to be a good match for the now 34-year-old actress.  Here, Gellar gets the chance to flex her soapy muscles and take a stab at playing twins: Bridget and Siobhan.  Bridget is a little closer to Buffy level casual.  She's a former stripper and recovering addict currently on the run from a dangerous killer, yes, but a likable, potentially talkative former stripper.  Bridget is scheduled to testify in court and is under FBI watch, before she can do that, though, she takes off, escaping to East Hampton with the help of her estranged sister Siobhan.  Siobhan appears to have it all.  She's the cold, calculating, manipulative Sarah Michelle Gellar we got a glimpse at in Cruel Intentions.  One thing leads to another, and after a great shot featuring the twins side by side in an infinity hall of mirrors, a supposed suicide finds Bridget assuming Siobhan's life in full.  The noir melodrama is palpable, the improbability equally so.  Still, Ringer is gripping in a B-movie, conspiracy sort of way.  It's easy to get involved in, namely because we find ourselves quickly worried that Bridget's lies will be revealed as she attempts to slip into Siobhan's pristine Louboutins.  There will be false deaths, there will be identity games, Gellar will look concerned, and I'm sure there will no doubt be twist after twist of the "I'm not who you think I am" sort thrown in down the line.  Right now, it promises evening soap hijinks and delivers in its first episode on all the extramarital affairs and high society scandals your little heart could possibly desire.  Ringer is what happens when you cross-pollinate Gossip Girl and Damages.  That's not a bad thing, really.  It just means it's going to be like crack for the female 18-45 demographic.

SECOND EPISODE?:  Yeah, I'll probably check it out again. 

Saturday, September 10, 2011

I Just Like These Posters...

Guys, I just like these posters.  Let's admire the cleverness of the design for Young Adult and hope that it bodes well for the film itself.  I mean, that's a pitch perfect approximation of so many of the book jackets of my youth.  Now, let's scroll down and look at the simplicity of The Rum Diary's poster design.  Bottle after bottle artfully arranged with a clean, italicized serif font on white.  Very nice.  Almost a stripped down companion piece to last year's I'm Still Here art.

Seen & Heard: Wild Flag

As if Carrie Brownstein's life progress report weren't already enough to put most other lives to shame, this year she had to go conquer comedy on IFC's Portlandia and then remind us that she's still a pretty rad guitarist with her new supergroup Wild Flag.   "Romance" is the first single off the debut album, and now it has a video that's simply a whole lot of fun.

Bonjour, Girl

Sometimes, it's the little things in life.  Like, a simple, sassy voice-over thrown over a Disney song.  You didn't know you needed a version of Belle who sounds a little like Harvey Fierstein, but yep, you did.  "Bonjour, girl!"  

Playlist: Boogie Nights

Occasionally, I like to remind you that most of my more rigorous blogging occurs not here, but at That's the place for all things cinema, including movie-inspired playlists. Because I'm feeling particularly disco-y lately, I figured I'd repost Love & Squalor #12 here for easy consumption.  So here you have it:

We're your 17-year-old piece of gold, baby. We never take our skates off, and we're going to be a big, bright, shining star. See this system here? This is hi-fi...high fidelity. A 19 song mixtape inspired by Paul Thomas Anderson's Boogie Nights.


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