Friday, May 29, 2009

Terminated! A Review of TERMINATOR: SALVATION and MORE!

Well, I said I'd be back.

It just took a while ...

Well, it's been a week of craziness here in Hollywood. This past Memorial Day weekend saw my brother Matt visit in LA, and the Brothers Baram set out on a number of adventures. We partook in a couple of epic basketball encounters that saw me lose horribly and in convincing fashion. We partook in a couple of epic videogame battles that saw me lose horribly and in convincing fashion. We saw Terminator and Star Trek. We dined at many of greater Burbank's finest dining establishments, including Matt's first taste of the fabled In N' Out Burger. On Memorial Day Monday, we even drove to the Staples Center to take in a live showing of WWE Monday Night RAW, during which we saw Vince McMahon call out the owner of the Denver Nuggets, an appearance from "The Nature Boy" Ric Flair (Whooo!), and a colossal 10-man tag-team match as our main event. Quite the spectacle. But also, Matt interviewed for the NBC Page Program, which I of course was a participant in a couple of years ago. Yep, it's all coming full circle. Will my brother don the legendary garb of the NBC Page? Stay tuned ...

In any case, it was nice to get out of the usual LA loop a bit and more or less go off the grid for a couple of days. It's amazing what you can accomplish when you have a willing accomplice and don't have to wait around all day for flaky LA people to decide whether or not you are worth their time. 'Nuff said!

Anyways, a review of TERMINATOR is long overdue, so, let's get to it:


- Terminator movies are an odd beast. On one hand, the series is known for its balls-to-the-wall action and pull-no-punches violence. On the other hand, the series, particularly T2, is known for its grand themes of fate and destiny, man vs. machine, etc. Some iterations of the franchise have emphasized the action part of the equation (T3), while others have focused in on character development and the high-concept sci-fi that James Cameron brought to the table (The Sarah Connor Chronicles). Throughout the history of Terminator though, one thing has remained constant: the hints and glimpses of a future war between humans and evil robots that seemed to be seven shades of awesome. Terminator: Salvation comes with the promise that, finally, we will see the epic future was of awesomeness that we have, until now, only imagined. But that has both an upside and a downside. Bringing to life a story that people have for so long only imagined carries with it a lot of expectations. Would we see armies of exoskeleton terminators raising hell? An uber-badass John Connor finally fulfilling his destiny and leading the resistance forces? Narrative closure to all the "Judgement Day" nonsense that has been talked about since T1?

Well, as it turns out, TS is not exactly the ultimate sci-fi uber-epic that we had hoped for. McG is not going to supplant James Cameron in the hearts and minds of fanboys anytime soon. And T2 is not going to be usurped as the king of Terminator flicks. But at the same time, this isn't the rape-my-childhood disaster that some are making it out to be. The fact is: TS is an entertaining action-flick that, while nothing spectacular, is still well worth checking out.

What does Terminator: Salvation do well? Well, it features two heavy-hitting badasses, for one thing, in Christian "insane rant" Bale and Sam Worthington. Bale doesn't have a whole lot of meat to chew on in this movie, but the fact is that he's still Christian Bale. What I mean is, the guy is capable of being badass in any given scene, even if he isn't fed a great line of dialogue or whatever. And when Bale is given something cool to do, his acting abilities, charisma, and overall, well, gravitas, make those moments of coolness that much better. But, by the same token, the movie makes a mistake in not really building up Bale's JC as the icon that he should be. In T2, T3, and the TV show, we've seen endless hype about how John was this messianic figure who was crucial to humanity's anti-Skynet resistance. Here, JC is sort of just another badass. Sure, he has his little radio broadcasts that make him a beacon of hope for the pockets of resistance. But this probably should have been John Connor's movie, and it should have helped to build him up as *the* man.

Instead, we get Sam Worthington as Marcus Wright, a character whose strange origin the movie opens with. Worthington is suitably tough-as-nails in the role, and his character is potentially an interesting addition to the Terminator mythos. But the emphasis is on potentially. We skip over a lot of Marcus' backstory, and to that end the character never feels fully drawn. We have no idea why he's in the future or to what end, and it's frustrating that these key plot points were so blantantly left out, presumably left to be addressed in a future sequel.

In fact, a lot of the movie feels only partially-realized. I found it weird that so many characters come in and out of the story without much real fanfare or impact. Helena Bonham Carter is there in the beginning as a terminally-ill acquaintance of Marcus, and then resurfaces as the human face of Skynet. Bryce Dallas Howard is in the mix as John's special lady friend (wife? girlfriend? not even sure ...), but has no real depth to her character, and no real chemistry / connection with Bale. Moon Bloodgood is good in the role of generic female badass, looking and acting very similar to the Jesse character from Sarah Connor Chronicles. But again, the character itself is somewhat cookie-cutter. Same goes for a lot of the other side characters, who all seem to come from the Mad Max / post-apocalyptic playbook. The one guy who sort of stands out is Anton Yelchin as Kyle Reese. He and Marcus make a fun dynamic duo, and Reese gives a nice touch of lightheartedness to the movie.

I think this is one of those films where you kind of take the good with the bad. Some of the dialogue had me absolutely cringing in parts (the opening with Worthington and Bonham-Carter was particularly painful), and the plot is extremely all-over-the-place in the interest of leaving as much time as possible for the action. And some of the action scenes *are* pretty darn cool. Some really fun variations on the ol' Terminators keep things lively, and McG's direction is, if nothing else, pretty kinetic and visceral.

On the flipside, the movie eventually settles into a kind of bland, by-the-numbers mode that makes its middle section inexcusably boring. For a little while, the movie really started to lose my attention. What changed? Well, I have to admit, the much talked-about Ahnold cameo was kickass. As soon as we got a glimpse of the old-school Terminator model, thanks to some amazing digital wizardry, I along with the entire audience perked up and was back into the movie, bigtime. Suffice it to say, from that point on, the movie really began to fire on all cylinders, and delivered an exciting climax. Yes, there is a pretty lame and tacked-on feeling epilogue, but the movie does certainly have its moments. Will I be running to see this one again anytime soon? Probably not. But will I be there for a hopefully-bigger and hopefully-more-epic sequel? Yep, I'll be back.

My Grade: B

- Alright, I'm locked and loaded for a jam-packed weekend. UP ... I can't wait. And Drag Me to Hell ... bring it on, baby. Also, stay tuned for some thoughts on Jay Leno's final episode of The Tonight Show, and the beginning of the CONAN O'BRIEN era! Have a great weekend, everyone.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

THE SIMPSONS, KOTH, and FAMILY GUY Finales! GLEE Pilot Review! Plus: ANGELS & DEMONS - Reviewed!

It's been a crazy week so far, but luckily, the weekend is almost here. This memorial day weekend will be marked by a Baram brothers reunion here in LA, during which feats of strength will be performed, genetic superiority will be determined, and old rivalries will be settled. Sounds epic, right? In the meantime though, here's some reviews for ya'.


THE SIMPSONS Season Finale:

- After a horrendous effort last week, this week's Simpsons season finale was a huge improvement. In fact, I'd say that this episode, about the migration of the residents of Ogdenville to Springfield following the collapse of their farming industry, was a lot of fun. Yep, Ogdenville: made famous in the classic Monorail episode, where Lyle Lanley declared that Ogdenville was one of a handful of neighboring towns that had successfully built a monorail of their own. In any case, even a monorail couldn't help those Oggies this time, and as expected, hilarity ensues when Springfield is hit with an influx of outsiders. At first, the Springfieldians enjoy having the ultra-handy Ogdenvillians around to fix their roofs, clean their kitchens, etc. But soon, tensions mount between the two factions, and a clash of culture breaks out. The Ogdenvillians, with their odd, Norwegian dialect (they even sneeze differently!) are shunned by the Simpsons and the rest of Springfield. All in all, this was a pretty darn good episode. A couple of the jokes really worked well, and the plot was simple, coherant, and told a fun allegory. Sure, the allusions to our country's own issues with immigrants weren't exactly subtle, and yes, The Simpsons has dealt with similar subject matter before. But again, I came away pretty pleased with this one - it was up there with the better eps of this season, which, I'm happy to say has been pretty good overall despite a couple of clunkers.

My Grade: B+

KING OF THE HILL Season Finale:

- Man, what a long, strange trip it's been for King of the Hill. The show was cancelled two seasons ago, then resurrected, then cancelled again, then ABC wanted to pick it up, then they didn't ... and while this is the official "season finale," there are, apparently, still a couple of more episodes in the can, including a proper series-ender. When those last couple of episode will actually air I have no idea, but ... WTF, Fox? It goes to show that this show has always been a utility player in the eyes of the network. It's been jerked around more than any long-running show probably ever. It's aired whole seasons at 7 pm. Even as recently as several weeks ago, FOX benched KOTH so that Sit Down, Shut Up could take over it's traditional 8:30 timeslot. But within weeks, KOTH was back at 8:30 where it belonged. No big surprise there, this is one of the most resillient shows around. It makes me want to forgive the show for having a merely-okay season, because the show has been remarkably consistent throughout its storied TV run. Throughout all of the timeslot changes and near cancellations, Mike Judge and co have simply been going to work and churning out one solid episode after another. Hank Hill would be proud.

As for the finale, it was a solid if unspectacular effort that saw Boomhauer participate in a house-exchange with a Canadian family for the summer. The Canadians move in next door to Hank and at first seem likable enough, despite their differences. Hank even bonds with his new neighbor over a shared love of topline lawn-mowers. But soon enough, Hank realizes what earlier struck Peggy - that the Canadians are passive-aggressively rude and stand-offish, unfriendly, and just plain bad neighbors. The episode was fun, although I do sort of understand the gripe that there've been a lot of eps this season where Hank has come off as annoyingly self-righteous. Still, a decent enough effort from KOTH.

My Grade: B

FAMILY GUY Season Finale:

- This season of FG has been sort of abysmal, and it's at the point now where I am watching out of habit, but rarely go into an episode with any kind of expectations. I guess the problem is that, for the most part, I still really enjoy the *characters*, but the overall humor just seems to fall flat to a greater degree with each passing week. I mean, the show has its moments, but when was the last time that a given episode of FG has been good enough to measure up to the glory days of seasons 1 or 2? That said, this year's season finale was just bad. Like, really, really awful. Hard to sit through, even. The extended flashback episode that reimagined the Griffins as colonial-era settlers landed with a huge thud. The jokes that tried to work on shock value alone bombed. As did pretty much everything else about this episode. Family Guy is in desperate need of a shock to its system, because right now it simply reeks of sucktitude.

My Grade: D

MORE TV Reviews:

GLEE Pilot Review:

- I wasn't quite sure what to expect with Glee. It seemed like it was sort of a blend between the offbeat humor and characters of Arrested Development and the upbeat teen fantasy of High School Musical. Given the inclusion of hilarious cast members like Jane Lynch, and given that it was airing on FOX, known for its subversive comedies, I thought and hoped it would be much more AD than HSM. Turns out, the scales might be slightly leaning in the other direction.

Don't get me wrong, there was a lot to like in this pilot, and there IS a lot of potential for the show going forward. The cast seems excellent top to bottom. Even better, like AD, it looks to be a dense show. Meaning, there are all kinds of potentially interesting and funny minor characters that I'm curious to see more of. Even the primary cast members in this one don't all get a lot of exploration.

And that was definitely part of the problem ... this could change, but right now way too many of the characters seem one-note and cliche. There's the sassy black girl, the effeminate loser, the jock-who-really-just-wants-to-rock, etc. I was hoping that we'd see a deeper dive into some of these would-be stereotypes, but, at least in the pilot, it never really came.

The other reality here is that, let's face it: even though I found a lot to like with GLEE, a couple of minutes into it it was clear that this was a show with a heaping dose of female fantasy-fulfillment. All one had to do was log onto Facebook following the premiere and gaze at the endless status updates from the female population already declaring this show to be a new fave. So yeah, not a criticism of the show, it's just that the main glee-club girl is the kind of characters that girls and women are going to love and root for but that guys are just going to find annoying. Same goes for the idealistic young teacher who guides the glee club. Women are going to love him and hope he ditches his shrewish wife for the school's guidance counsellor, aka his not-so-secret admirer. Guys are going to to quickly tire of his wishy-washyness and hope that he grows a pair. Again, this WAS only a pilot ep, and there is a lot of opportunity for things to change, but ... the only reason I really harp on these things is because I was kind of hoping this might be the second coming of Arrested Development or something, and that's not quite what this was.

But Glee definitely has a lot going for it. The production was great - there was almost a hint of Pushing Daisies-style whimsy in the bright colors and larger-than-life feel. As I said, the cast was clearly pretty awesome. Even if the characters aren't written to perfection right out of the gate, it seems like this cast could likely help to elevate the material. As for the musical numbers? To be honest, I'm not sure what to think, exactly. On one hand they seem tongue-in-cheek, on the other hand, they seem 100% as unironically earnest as anything in a Disney musical. It's funny, because it's hard to see how self-aware comedy and giant non-ironic performances of "Don't Stop Believin" go together. But maybe this show can make it work. I definitely give it a lot of credit for trying something different, and I will definitely be onboard to see how things shape up. All in all, this was in many ways a pretty amazing pilot in the sheer amount of stuff it packed into it. I can't deny that it built up a lot of momentum by the end - if nothing else, I'm curious to see what's next. At the same time, not yet ready to declare it the best thing ever quite yet.

My Grade: B+

- And now, a movie review ...


- I wasn't crazy about the movie version of The Da Vinci Code, and I didn't have huge expectations for its sequel. But, something about the subject matter seemed too intriguing for me to pass up. The fact is, I love stories that examine the intrigue and mysteries behind institutions of religion, and the combination of murder, secret societies, doomsday weapons, and conspiracies in the Catholic Church sounded like a a potentially potent mash-up. Even if The Da Vinci Code turned out to be pretty lifeless, it seemed like a lot of elements were in place to make Angels & Demons an entertaining and intriguing romp.

There's good news and bad news here. The good news is that, overall, this one is a lot more entertaining than its predecessor. Particularly in the movie's second half, things get big and epic enough that you can't help but be sucked in. The bad news is that a lot of the first movie's inherent flaws carry over to this one. There's still a blandness to the movie and its characters that makes the plot less exciting than it should be. And there's still a sense of cheesiness to the plot and dialogue that undermines the serious and urgent tone that the movie is going for.

To start with probably my biggest complaint about this franchise in general - the leading character is pretty dull. Sometimes it's fun to have a somewhat mysterious central character - it allows you to fill in the blanks and use your imagination a bit. But, this is not really one of those cases. The fact is, Tom Hanks plays a pretty bland character in these movies, and it makes the movies a bit bland by osmosis. Hanks does a lot of good things in this one - his sense of timing with dialogue is always sharp, and he is, as always, great at upping the intensity of a given scene when called upon. But, at least as far as the movies go, Dr. Robert Langdon is not exactly up there with the great icons of cinema.

The Hanks issue is funny too, because it's kind of carried over to the rest of the cast. What I mean is, Angels & Demons is overflowing with great actors playing bland characters. In most cases, the actors are able to give their characters a little extra kick, but still, it's crazy how little most of them are really given to work with. Ayelet Zurer, the Israeli actress from Munich, is fine here as a brilliant scientist ... but her character is pretty hollow. There's no real chemistry between her and Hanks, and there's no real reason for her to be tagging along with him throughout the adventure. Armin Mueller-Stahl, so great in Eastern Promises, gives it his all as a sinister-seeming Cardinal ... but his character is ultimately a walking red-herring. In fact, the one area where this movie probably falls short of the original is that The Da Vinci Code had a couple of crazy performances from the likes of Paul Bettany and Ian McKellan. No actor here really shines like those two did last go-round.

The one guy who comes close is Ewan McGregor as a progressive protege of the recently-deceased Pope. At first he kind of looms in the background, but when his character steps into the spotlight in the movie's second half, the film really begins to gain momentum. McGregor's character is, in the end, easily the film's most intriguing. It's kind of strange to see such a great actor in what is still something of a side role, but the truth is that they probably needed someone of his caliber to effectively sell the various twists and turns that the character goes through.

In general, I'd say the movie excels when its focused on being a mystery, on unravelling the layers of intrigue that it sets up. When it tries to be an episode of 24 set in Rome, it struggles. The part of the movie that plays as an against-the-clock wild goose chase often just kind of lost me, with Langdon flying from historic site to historic site with little rhyme or reason. It's a nice tour of Rome, but it felt like Langdon's intellect and knowledge base was up and down given the writer's whims. Given some of the past works of the writers involved (Akiva Goldsman and David Koepp), it should be no surprise that there isn't exactly a lot of subtlety to the script. Every other sentance seems to be a grim proclamation of impending doom, which definitely procues some unintentional giggles. Meanwhile, Ron Howard directs a couple of really cool action scenes and set pieces, but never gives the movie much of a distinctive style or tone.

At the end of the day, this was a movie during which I was able to sit back, relax, and let myself be entertained by, even if there were numerous groan-inducing moments and characters that never truly grabbed me. But I did find a lot of the ideas here fascinating: the Hadron Collider that can produce antimatter (which can then be used as a doomsday-device weapon), the existence of the Illuminati and their centuries-old vendetta against the Church, the inner-workings of the Vatican, etc. Basically, the movie puts just enough meat around these bones to make for a fun night at the movies.

My Grade: B

- That's all for now. Almost ... the weekend ...!

Monday, May 18, 2009

24: The Season 7 Finale - Reviewed! Now With More GRAVITAS.

TWENTY BY-GOD FOUR (24) Season Finale Review:

- Man, I want to be writing this still riding a buzz from an awesome season finale, but the truth is, this latest season of 24 ultimately ended without much of a bang. This episode did a lot of course correction, which was cool, but at the same time, there just wasn't enought momentum to keep the intensity up until the final clock counted down. By the end of Season 7, the show had simply run out of steam.

That's not to say that the finale didn't do a lot of things right. Last week, I was pretty vocal in expressing my disappointment at the been-there, done-that cliffhanger in which Jack is forced to aid Tony and work against the FBI because Tony's people were in a position to harm Kim if Jack didn't cooperate. I figured that that cliffhanger tried (but failed) to go over on shock value alone, and that we'd see that part of the plot wrapped up pretty quickly in the finale. I was happy to see that the show nearly leaped past it altogether. Instead of a tired "Jack-gone-rogue" angle, Kim was warned of the plot against her, and then all broke loose at the airport where she was located as the badguys realized that their jig was up. What ensued was a pretty kickass sequence that saw some great, chaotic action. Not only that, but Elisha Cuthbert actually got a chance to show her inner Bauer and kick some ass. Yep, Kim actually managed to contribute to the good guys' effort rather than impede it - no cougar traps tonight folks. It goes to show - there are no bad characters, only bad storylines. Kim even got to do her daddy proud by uttering a well-timed "dammit!". Not bad, Kim. Not bad at all.

The other key thing that this episode did right was that we finally got an explanation of Tony's motives, and with it the revelation that, as some guessed, the Soul Patch-ed one was really working to further his own interests. Namely, his whole plot was to get deep inside the big conspiracy we've heard so much about, to the point where he could get a one-on-one meeting with its head honcho, played by Will Patton. In the end, Tony was convinced that this guy was not only the head of the current conspiracy that was trying to engineer a bioweapon, but that this same dude was behind the killings of David Palmer and Tony's wife, Michelle Dessler. More on that in a second, but what I'll say for now was that this is, really, the only explanation for Tony's actions that really would have made sense. So, I'm glad they went with it. All around, this was a really strong ep for Tony. Seeing the usually-stoic Mr. Almeida show some real emotion and desperation was pretty intense. They even let Tony get in one final, emphatic "yeah" before all hell broke loose. Dammit all.

What else worked in this ep? Well, like I said, there were some great action scenes. The aforementioned airport scene was really well-done. Also - Jack's last-minute escape from captivity toward's episode end was particularly badass. Since he had the bioweapon-generated disease inside him, Tony's group planned to produce another bioweapon by harvesting Jack's blood. However, Jack showed some vintage Bauer badassery and took out about five guys before a thrilling mano e mano showdown with Tony. Good stuff. It's funny, because I feel like one thing this season lacked was an abundance of classic Jack moments. When you think of this season, the image will likely be Jack cringing in pain or (god forbid) Jack crying like a baby. This season was so concerned about moralizing the whole torture thing that it rarely let us just have fun as Jack whooped ass seven ways to Sunday as only he can.

And that's one thing that annoyed me about this ep - suddenly, the whole torture thing was once again front and center. I mean, who really cares if Renee tortures that Alan Wilson guy or not? To have that be the character's big season-ending exclamation point - that she is going to torture this apparently wickedly evil guy - I just didn't think it was that big of an exclamation point. I just think that putting real-world morality into the fantasy world of 24 has been one of this season's biggest failings. 24 has always subscribed to a comic book mentality, and therefore I can't help but think that the pundits who have tried to draw real-world parallels between the show and real-life politics are idiots. It's annoying that the show had to spend so much of this season dealing with this kind of meta-commentary rather than just telling a good story. It's like if you write too many stories about why Batman doesn't just kill the Joker. You can get one or two good stories out of the question, but dwell on it too much and you just expose the limitations of the fiction. It's the same with 24: Jack was originally written as a violent badass not for political reasons, but because it made for entertaining television. To then try to retroactively insert this whole morality question into the equation is lame in my book. And worst of all, it weakened the character of Renee Walker. A character who could have been a real standout was ultimately reduced to a woman whose main character arc was: "how willing is she to torture a known criminal?" Again, it might make sense from a "real-world" angle, but 24 has never been about playing by the rules of the "real" world, and there was no reason for it to start doing so now.

Another less complex yet equally irritating problem: the President's daughter, Olivia Taylor. The problem with 24 is that its structure is designed to make each storyline as intense and urgent as possible. Olivia's subplot over the last several episodes, on the other hand, has been a total momentum killer. To think that so much of this finale was spent with Olivia and the discovery of her scheme to kill Jonas Hodges ... well, you couldn't help but be annoyed whenever we cut away from Jack, Tony, or Walker to focus in on this neverending Presidential soap opera. Yes, there was a thematic tie to the season's overarching ideas, but, there's no delicate way to say that Olivia was simply a grating character from start to finish in Season 7. If nothing else, her storyline should have been wrapped up as quickly and painlessly as possible. Instead, it dragged and dragged to the bitter end. And to make matters worse, we got a last-minute injection of further family turmoil when the President's husband returned and out of nowhere turned on his wife and blamed her presidency for destroying their family. Um, what? I mean, man, I give Cherry Jones credit for doing a great job with everything she's been given this season, but by the end, you just wanted to be rid of the President, her husband, her daughter, her aides, and the entire 24-verse version of the White House. To add insult to injury, the great AARON f'n PIERCE, who we all want to see kicking ass and taking names, was reduced to being a bit player in all of this melodrama. The "Agent of Awesome" deserved better.

And then there is the whole conspiracy angle. Last week I talked about how 24 has seemingly introduced a new all-encompassing evil conspiracy every season, set the group up as the season's Big Bad, and then unceremoniously forgotten about them. Well, this ep made some kind of half-hearted effort to TIE THEM ALL TOGETHER. Yep, Walt Cummings, Naked Mandy, Graem Bauer, the Blue Tooth Mafia, Charles Logan, that guy from Saw ... all of them were apparently merely stooges to this Alan Wilson character. Okay ... I thought he simply led a group of PMC's looking to undermine the government? I'm sorry, but this came off as half-assed. How many times now has 24 introduced the "real" mastermind behind Palmer's assassination, et al?

The thing that kills me about it too is that this season of 24 had a number of potentially awesome villains who deserved more time in the spotlight. TONY TODD! I mean, come on! Who wouldn't have enjoyed seeing the season build up to a climactic confrontation between him and Jack? And how about Jon Voight as Hodges? It just seems odd that he was ultimately not the main badguy. Sometimes, you get the feeling that 24 gets so hung up on its twists and turns that it ignores the more straightforward but ultimately cooler options for telling a season-long story. It reminds me of last season when Graem Bauer was set up as a potentially classic villain only to be abruptly killed off. Don't worry though, he was apparently working for Alan Wilson the entire time!

Finally, I just kind of felt like the episode ended without much of a bang. I don't mind them going for a quieter sort of ending, but the final scene was just kind of there. We all knew that Kim would ultimately try to undergo the procedure to help save her dad, so I felt we needed some final twist or reveal to really end things with a "wow" moment. Even a little mention of CTU needing to come back, or a scene implying that Tony escaped custody, or ... something! Anything! Instead, what we got was a bit anticlimactic.

In the end, this episode for the most part got the job done, and was workmanlike in that it got us from Point A to Point B pretty much how many might have expected. But, this is 24 we're talking about, dammit. I expect to be shocked and amazed. I expect a killer ending that will send me running to call my friends and share my excitement. I expect an ending that will have me waiting with eager anticipation for next season to arrive. This episode entertained, it had some great action, and it featured a typically-awesome performance from Kiefer Sutherland, who makes you feel every cough, every gasp, every eye-twitch. Thanks to him, there was no shortage of *gravitas* to be found. But did this episode go above and beyond? Was it a game-changer? Did it remind us all why 24 is still the undisputed king of the TV mountain? Nope, it was merely competent. In the end, this was a good, solid season of 24. But next year, I think it can do better.

My Grade: B

Saturday, May 16, 2009

PRISON BREAK: A Tribute and Final Review For TV's Craziest Adventure

- Whenever I talk about the best shows on television, there are of course the usual suspects like Lost and 24. But for four years now, there's been a show that some would call a guilty pleasure, but others, those of us who get it (Stephen King even called it his favorite TV show!) place in that same tier of truly must-see TV. We would call this show a high-octane thrill ride, a balls-to-the-wall action-adventure that rarely fails to entertain. We'd call it a show that has some of TV's coolest heroes and most vile villains. That show is PRISON BREAK, and I am here to give one of TV's best series the send-off it deserves. Because, man, it's been one hell of a run.

I remember sitting down to watch Prison Break's pilot episode with my brother one late summer night while visiting the family in CT. Fox had seemed to bill the show as the second coming of 24, and though both of us may have been slightly skeptical going in, you had to be impressed by the ambitious premise. I mean, so many shows are built around the most generic of ideas - doctors, lawyers, cops - how many shows come out of the gate with a high-concept plot about a guy trying to break his framed brother out of a maximum-security prison? I wish more series had the guts to aim for something similarly original. Anyways, as we sat down to watch that first episode, I remember kind of taking it in, digesting everything that was going on, figuring out the many characters introduced to us, from the McGuyver-esque Michael Scofield to the deranged inmate Theodore "T-Bag" Bagwell. But I also remember that, when the episode was over, my brother and I shared a similar thought: "wow, that was actually pretty damn cool." From that moment on, we were hooked.

Season 1 of Prison Break was great from start to finish. For one thing, the show was one of the few on TV that could match the intensity of 24. For another, it introduced a hero almost as fun to watch as Jack Bauer - that being Michael Scofield. Wentworth Miller helped make Scofield into one of the most iconic TV characters of the last several years - a brilliant structural engineer who was cool as ice under pressure and always, *always* had a plan. Scofield faced down countless dangers with a nod and a smile. Not to mention his uncanny ability to fashion explosives out of common household items. In Season 1 of the show, one of the main gimmicks was the fact that Scofield had actually tattooed his entire body with a complex series of symbols that actually served as coded plan by which to escape the prison where he and his brother were being held. What could have been cheesy instead became a fun-to-decipher plot point. At the same time though, Prison Break never exactly played things safe ...

... Because part of what made PB so great was that it had absolutely zero shame in being over-the-top, crazy, and basically a weekly B-movie in the best sense of the word. Season 1 never pretended to be a straightforward drama. There were the crazy tattooes. There was action-movie icon Stacy Keach as the badass prison warden. And then there was T-Bag ...

I mean, what other show on TV (let alone network TV) would feature a rascist, bisexual, hillbilly redneck serial killer as one of its featured characters? T-Bag has to be one of the most bat-$%#* insane characters ever on TV, and also one of the most entertaining. His Southern-fried drawl, strange facial ticks, and penchant for speaking in very, um, "colorful" prose made him a villain who you couldn't help but love to hate - even root for at times. But, T-Bag also served an important role on the show - he was there to show that this wouldn't be a series simply about heroic characters who don't deserve to be imprisoned. This would, in fact, be a show with a lot of moral ambiguity. Even our hero, Scofield - if in order to free his brother, he had to work with and in some sense enable the likes of a T-Bag - what did that say about the ends justifying the means? To its credit, the show consistently kept this theme at the forefront of the writing even up until the final episode -- they reminded us that, even though Michael *could* have destroyed Scylla and ran as Mahone suggested, ultimately had *had* to do some good with it, otherwise all of his stuggles would have really been for nothing.

Speaking of Mahone, a lot of people prematurely dismissed Season 2 of PB simply because they didn't think the show needed to continue post-breakout. But it turned out that having the convicts on the run was equally as fun as having them in jail. A huge part of why the season worked was William Fichtner as Alex Mahone - aka one of the most badass characters on TV. As a relentless but unstable FBI agent with an ultra-violent, semi-psychotic streak, Mahone was the perfect foil for the ever elusive Scofield. With Fichtner on board from Season 2 on, PB got an instant injection of 100%, pure gravitas - a dosage that would make Jack Bauer himself just a little bit jealous.

Mahone was one of a number of the show's great characters. Lincoln Burrows was in many ways the perfect compliment to his brother (or not-quite-brother) Michael. He was like the Jim "The Anvil" Neidhart to Scofield's Bret "The Hitman." (yeah! 80's WWF references!). The muscle behind the brains, if you will. Fernando Sucre became a fan favorite because he was basically the good-hearted guy who just wanted to reuinite with his family, but who, at the same time, would risk anything to help Michael. Dr. Sara Tancredi was the prison doctor with a heart of gold, who also had a dark side that included drug additiction and alcoholism. And who can forget Brad Bellick, a sad-sack prison guard who was a c-grade thug and the classic loser / lackey. Brad was a classic, Stephen King-esque character, who you had to root for almost out of pity. In addition, each season tended to have its own breakout characters - many of whom took a little while to really hit home with the audience, but who soon became indespensible to the show's mythology.

Season 1 had Abruzze - a silent-but-violent gang leader who was played memorably by the great Peter Stormaire. There was C-Note, a hardened con also looking after his family's interests. It also had Robin Tunney as Veronica, the intrepid girlfriend to Lincoln, and Charles Westmoreland, an old-timer said to actually be the famed criminal D.B. Cooper . And as mentioned, Stacy Keach, who pretty much just plain rules it. Later came Mahone, and Paul Kellerman - another great villain who made a surprise return in the series finale. There was Lechero, who took on a large role as the imposing boss of a Panamanian prison - that served as the setting for much of Season 3. As the mythology of the show deepened to include the conspiratorial schemes of The Company, we in turn were introduced to some of the show's most memorable antagonists. There was the sinister head of The Company - The General, Michael's own treacherous mother, Christina Rose, and of course, one of the show's best characters - Gretchen. Gretchen evolved into one of the most fun and downright evil characters out there - always one step ahead of everyone else, tough as nails, and willing to do pretty much anything if it meant coming out on top. As played with tons of femme fatale cruelty by Jodi Lynn O'Keefe, Gretchen was easily one of the best things about the show as it progressed through seasons 3 and 4. Season 4 also brought in Michael Rappaport as Agent Don Self, a smart-assed FBI Agent who at first worked with Scofield and co, only to betray them for his own selfish reasons.

As you can see, the show had no shortage of memorable characters. Most shows would kill to have so many great heroes and villains, and yet Prison Break seemed to never be in short supply of fresh new faces. They also consistently cast actors who seemed to have a ton of fun with the show's unabashed campiness. I mean, PB put each of its characters through hell, and yet the actors always seemed game for just about anything.

TV will simply be a lot less awesome without PB on the air. Not many other shows have or will ever dare to be as insane, as twisted, as action-packed, or as full of twists and turns, as Prison Break. PB is that rare show that didn't really play by any "rules" of TV and therefore left you with almost no idea of what to expect episode to episode. And as I'm about to get into, the show never really let up throughout its four years. Even if there was a little drop in quality towards the end, the finale more than made up it.

Which brings me to:

PRISON BREAK - Series Finale Review:

- Wow, what a way to close the book on Prison Break. Previously in this post, I've talked extensively about why this show has been so thoroughly entertaining throughout its four year run. So for now, I'll keep this review short and just say this: after a couple of episodes that didn't feel like PB at its best, the show rebounded completely for its final installment - delivering a blistering finale that was an exciting, sad, and fitting finish to a great series. This was one hell of a double-sized episode.

Part of what made this episode work so well was that literally every major character had their big moment. One of the biggest complaints over the last several weeks was that characters like Mahone, Self, and T-Bag at times seemed merely along for the ride, with no real reason to still be hanging around after all this time. Because they were not the focus of the plot, characters like Mahone and T-Bag started to feel a bit watered-down. I mean, what good was Mahone if he wasn't the unstable ass-kicker that we knew and loved? What was the point of T-Bag if he wasn't the psycho-killer that we knew he could and should be? Well ... those complaints were handily addressed in this finale. Mahone's conflicted emotions over Scylla were put in the spotlight here - we saw that, while he had become loyal to the Scofield and Burrows, he also wanted a way out of all the craziness. But we also saw Mahone as the uber-badass. I mean, holy crap, when Mahone was stuck in a room with the ultra-evil Christina and her henchmen, and had to kick some ass in order to see Michael's plan through to completion ... well, come on, who *didn't* want to stand up and cheer when William by-god Fichtner took the %#$@ down. What an awesome moment.

Same goes for T-Bag in this ep - Bagwell's scenes with a held-hostage Sarah were vintage Prison Break, aka a glimpse of the old-school T-Bag, the guy who, before becoming something of a comic foil, was in fact deadly, creepy, and downright disturbing. How the writers consistently came up with the sketchiest things ever for T-Bag to say I do not know, but man, has he said some disturbingly quotable lines over the years.

Even Don Self was pretty kickass, continuing from his strong showing last week in which he showed glimpses of the Self from earlier this season, who was fun to root for and a nice compliment to the rest of the cast. His final "kiss my ass" to the FBI agents dogging him for information was pretty great.

This ep also had some bigtime returns. Sucre's eventual return was pretty much a given, but I didn't guess that Michael's longtime ally would be paired with a returning C-Note. It was a lot of fun watching the two reunited amigos swoop in to save the day, and it was cool to see some resolution given to their long-running storylines. Kellerman's return was a big surprise - I was definitely shocked to see him back in the mix,although the return made sense and worked well as a plot device to help get Michael and co out of a seemingly impossible situation. I like the fact that Kellerman legitimately helped Michael and exposed the Company, but at the same time isn't some great altruist - clearly, his actions helped further his burgeoning political career, having him follow in the semi-shady footsteps of his old vice-presidential mentor.

And again, I really have to give some credit to Kathleen Quinlan as Michael's uber-bitch of a mother, Christina. At first, I hated the idea of Michael's mom emerging as a big bad, and the character seemed like an unnecessary addition to the mix for a while. But, Quinlan made the character SO impossibly evil that I don't know if I've ever rooted harder for a television villain to get taken down. "Born a Scofield, die a Burrows!" Damn.

Finally, the show did a nice job bringing home the relationship between the brothers Scofield and Burrows. They nicely showed that even if they are not, in fact, related by blood, the two have a strong bond that keeps them fighting for one another through thick and thin. After a couple of somewhat flat attempts to put the two at odds, it was nice for both to once again be on the same page. Plus, Lincoln got off one of the lines of the night when he called out his wicked stepmother for being a psycho-%#&$.

One more thing this episode excelled at - giving us Michael Scofield at his best - making intricate plans in high-pressure situations, using his wits to outthink his opponents, pushed to the limit and yet able to overcome impossible odds.

The ending of this climactic episode was breathtaking. Finally, a happy ending for our heroes. Lincoln was reunited with Sophia and LJ. Sucre and C-Note were free to be with their families. Mahone was a free man. T-Bag got his ultimate reward - a trip back to Fox River penitentiary and a return to a life behind bars. Self, tragically, ended up broken and vegetative following his run-in with The Company. And Michael and Sarah, well, they *seemed* to have their storybook ending. They were free, exonerated, ready to live life, start a family, and move on and into a normal, peaceful life. Only an ominous nosebleed from Michael hinted that something might be a bit off. But the shocking revelation of the finale's four-years-later flash-forward was that this happy ending was not meant to be. We saw the characters gather and reunite - we assume it's a happy occasion, but then the truth is revealed: they met to visit the grave of Michael Scofield.

Michael's death was shocking, sad, but in many ways appropriate for the show. It showed that, ultimately, Michael had sacrificed himself for the greater good - ultimately, his legacy was this group of free, happy people who before they met him were on a path of destruction. But as for Michael, well, he could escape a maximum-security prison, but he couldn't escape death.

Of course, there are still a few questions about what happened to Michael, and a nagging feeling that there might be more to his apparent death than meets the eye. Michael always had a trump card to play, so who knows, perhaps he does have a trick or two up his sleeve. I suspect this will be revealed in the upcoming Prison Break special - "The Final Break" - but for now, the great thing about this ending is that it feels like a perfect finale even if, at the same time, it leaves things open for one final adventure.

But man, what an amazing episode of television. It's a testament to the writers and actors and the rest of the show's crew that PB rarely stopped being fun, it rarely stopped being exciting, and it always was home to a cast of characters that you either rooted for or loved to hate, and, sometimes, both. Like I said, it was one hell of a ride.

My Grade: A

Friday, May 15, 2009

STAR TREK - Reviewed! A Vulcan Death Blog Written by Baram Prime


- While Wolverine started off the Summer '09 movie season with a whimper, STAR TREK shifts things into warp drive. What JJ Abrams and co. have done with this franchise relaunch is in many ways remarkable - they've taken the core concepts and iconography of the original series and simultaneously paid homage to what's come before while reinventing the brand for a new generation. The new Star Trek is exactly what it needed to be: a legitimate blockbuster adventure movie that is a slick and fun dose of pop culture sci-fi. While it may not be up for an Oscar anytime soon, it is a great example of blockbuster, franchise filmmaking done right.

In many ways, I probably fall into the key demo that this movie was aiming to please -a guy open to liking Star Trek but in need of a fresh reason to really invest in this universe. I never 100% got the appeal of the original Star Trek series. I liked the concept and some of the characters, but to me the old series felt like a relic of the 60's - a campy throwback that lacked the darkness or intelligence or complexity of The Next Generation. I was just barely old enough to begin to appreciate TNG during its original run, but I've caught a lot of the classic episodes in reruns and on DVD (I love all the Borg stuff), and enjoyed the last couple of TNG movies (love First Contact). Patrick Stewart is easily one of my favorite actors, and someone who can elevate the material he works with. Stewart is essentially an instant dose of gravitas, and I worried that the new Trek might suffer without an actor of his caliber in one of the lead roles.

Luckily for Abrams, his new cast steps up to the plate and delivers. Again, I don't think that Chris Pine or Zachary Quinto is going to be up for an Oscar anytime soon, but the cast is a happy medium between the more generic CW-style stars and legit thespians. I mean, when you've got guys like Karl Urban and Simon Pegg in supporting roles, kicking ass and entertaining as Bones and Scotty respectively, you know that you're in pretty good hands. Still, with Shatner and Nimoy, you had two actors who were instantly iconic, and I don't know if anyone in this cast is quite at that level. But, luckily, Nimoy is on-hand as Spock Prime to infuse the movie with a bit of that old-school presence.

Nimoy's presence is both a blessing and a curse. Personally, I love that the movie addresses the series' past continuity and ties into what's come before. The time-travel plot is an elegant solution to avoid a complete reboot. In essence, the movie explains that this new version of the OG Enterprise crew exists in an alternate timeline than the original Kirk and Spock, after some time-travel shenanigans caused a divergence from the original's history. The movie doesn't dwell too much on the particulars of time-travel, but hey, if you subscribe to the theory that every alternate timeline exists as its own separate reality in an infinite multiverse (as seen on JJ Abrams' FRINGE), then you can take comfort in the fact that the reality in which the original Kirk and Spock, as well as Picard, Janeway, and the rest, had their adventures still exists parallel to this new timeline. (And interestingly, since the timeline divergence takes place post-"Enterprise," I guess we can assume that Scott Bakula and his crew's adventures remain intact in both the old and new timelines? See - nobody messes with Backula!). ANYWAYS, as I was saying, the whole time-travel thing works fairly well and, mainly, it allows the great Leonard Nimoy (arguably the best thing about the original series), to reprise his iconic role as Spock (now "Spock Prime"). Seeing Nimoy don the pointy ears and bowl-cut once again is great, and it's cool to think that young kids who see this movie will get a glimpse of the older series and have their curiosity piqued. BUT ... you have to wonder, who will inherit Spock Prime's elder-statesman mantle in future installments? By this I mean, the new cast has no single character who brings that same kind of gravitas to the table. So if an 80 year old Nimoy has to carry the load in this one, who is going to do it in a Part 2 or 3?

Again though, the new cast is really quite good. Pine is fun as Kirk, Zachary Quinto pretty much nails it as the younger Spock, and everyone else from Urban, to Pegg, to Bruce Greenwood as Captain Pike, is excellent. A bit baby-faced? Sure. But the cast excels at the movie's rapid-fire banter, swashbuckling action and adventure, and there is a good sense of comraderie / tension between the principles.

What I really liked though was how the movie gave us insightful glances into Kirk and Spock's past, but at the same time didn't dwell *too* much on their origins. I loved the glimpse of Kirk as a kid driving around a futuristic midwest, stopped by a robo-cop in an early display of youthful rebellion. I loved seeing a pint-sized Spock on Vulcan, teased mercilessly (yet unnervingly logically) by his peers for being half-human. What these scenes helped to do was to establish Kirk and Spock as being not just generic characters, but icons. Abrams and co deftly play off of the fact that we know that these characters are / will become legends. So even if the new actors are not yet as iconic and larger than life as their predecessors, the characters that they play are given that built-in mythic quality. Abrams has a lot of fun with all of the fan-favorite aspects of Star Trek lore. From Bones' "dammit, Jim", to Spock's Vulcan death-grip, to Nimoy's repetition of his "I shall always be ... your friend" speech from Wrath of Khan, to the mission statement to boldly go where no one has gone before ... all of the little moments that you'd want to see included are here. Kirk even gets down n' dirty with a strikingly green alien lady-friend, in a fun homage to the original series. So even as old-school fans will enjoy the references to classic Star Trek lore, new fans will instantly be clued in to all these moments as being somehow important and iconic. Abrams and co are not slaves to the mythology, but they do pay loving tribute to it.

To that end, I also enjoyed how Abrams, well, spruces things up. Visually, he gives his Star Trek a glossy, shiny sheen that fits the franchise's utopian, optimistic brand of futurism. Plus, he imbues the movie with a sense of imagination that has typically been the hallmark of that *other* franchise with "Star" in its title. We get all kinds of cool creatures in the movie, from odd-looking aliens aboard the Enterprise to fearsome snow-beasts on remote planets. We get sprawling Starfleet bases on earth and ominous, intricate chambers on Vulcan. Aside from the badass Borg designs in First contact, rarely has Trek looked this slick. In addition, the score is stirring and epic - a great compliment to Jerry Goldsmith's classic soundtrack.

With so much going on, it was inevitable that parts of the film would feel slightly rushed. The biggest rush-job involves the main villain, a time-travelling Romulan with an axe to grind named Nero. Nero seems to have a lot of potential as a badguy, and Eric Bana plays him as mean and imposing. But we don't get a true sense of his motivations other than a somewhat standard-issue revenge scheme. In the original Trek timeline, it appears that Nero's planet of Romulus was blown to smithereens, and Nero blames Spock for the tragedy. So after travelling back to the past, Nero intends to blow up rival planet Vulcan to spite his hated pointy-eared nemesis, who also ends up in the past. The plan is a bit convoluted and never quite makes sense, but hey, it ultimately serves the needs of the script. By the same token, Abrams and co. obviously wanted to end the movie with Kirk as Captain and the crew of the Enterprise locked and loaded for further installments. Problem is, within a very short time-span, Kirk goes from a nobody to a Captain in what feels like a pretty compacted timeline. Again, it all feels a bit rushed, and there are times when it's clear that the movie is intent on simply getting us from Point A to Point B, without a whole lot of consideration for how we get there. Suffice it to say, when it comes to some aspects of the movie, the viewer is asked to make a few leaps of logic and to fill in a lot of gaps (some of which I hear are filled-in in the prequel comic book series ...?).

In the end though, the structure that the script serves turns out to be fairly brilliant. Even if there are some bumps in the road to get to that ultimate end-point, the magic of this movie is that, without negating the history of the franchise, we end up with a Star Trek that is polished up, refurbished, and reborn for a new generation. The iconography of Kirk, Spock, and the spirit of the original series is restored to its former glory, and yet at the same time it's a movie that accomplishes all of this in a way that is completely accessible for newbies. In many ways, this IS your father's Star Trek, but kids watching this one will never suspect it. From the moment the film kicks off with its spectacularly exciting opening, new and old fans alike will be hooked.

Most importantly, the movie got me excited about Star Trek. It made me want to revisit the old series and speculate about what a Part 2 might have in store. This movie, if nothing else, took Spock and Kirk back from the geek ghetto, and restored their status as pop-culture icons for the masses. The franchise is healthy once again, and I think it will, indeed, live long and prosper.

My Grade: A-

Thursday, May 14, 2009


Well, after basically talking and thinking about LOST all day, you'd think I'd be TV'd out. But no, loyal readers, being the intrepid purveyor of pop-culture wisdom that I am, I'm back to deliver another round of reviews for your reading pleasure.

And like I said yesterday, there's a lot to talk about. Season finales out the wazoo. So, let's get to it.

FRINGE Season Finale Review:

- I've said this numerous times over the last several weeks, but I'll say it again: it really is amazing how good of a show Fringe has become in such a short time. For the first half of it's freshman season, Fringe seemed like a series with a lot of potential but a lot of question marks as well. What was it really about? What, if anything, was the overarching mytharc that was driving the story forward? Who were these characters, and why should we care about them? It took a while for the show to really find its legs in this regard. But, when it did, things really got cooking.

In my last review of Fringe, I said that where Lost's storytelling style is somewhat abstract, part of what I'm loving about Fringe is that it is telling a huge, high-concept sci-fi story in a remarkably straightforward manner. Don't get me wrong - like Lost, Fringe is packed with mysteries. But with Fringe, especially over these last several episodes, this is some TIGHT storytelling. It's dense, packed with brain-stretching concepts ... but the show has been great about adhering to its own continuity, about putting the pieces of the puzzle into place and building each week upon the previous week's foundation. Fringe makes you think, but it's never really *confusing*. It's been a pleasure to just watch it over these last several eps and just put your faith in the hands of the writers and producers. Again, it took a while for Fringe to hit that top-tier, A-level of quality. But once it finally did, the show has never looked back.

Tuesday's season-ender was a HUGE and JAW-DROPPING closer to what has been an overall awesome first season. The whole concept of alternate universes has been handled in a really cool and intriguing fashion by this show, and what's great is that not only is the concept itself dealt with skillfully, but it's used to further the character-arcs in dramatic and unexpected ways. We now know, for example, that Olivia was not assigned to the FBI's Fringe division by mere coincidence, but was essentially tasked with unravelling her own past. It turns out that, as a child, Olivia was part of a secret drug test conducted by Walter Bishop and William Bell, in which subjects were injected with a mind-altering substance that would in theory open their conciousness to the reality of alternate planes of existence. It turns out that not only was Walter a key player in these trials, but that he himself may have actually travelled to another reality. Because, as it turns out, Walter's son Peter is apparently dead and buried - meaning that the Peter Bishop we see each week on the show could very well be not of this particular universe. Again, this revelation isn't 100% out-of-nowhere, it's been - hold the phone! - foreshadowed. But still, pretty darn cool.

Oh yeah, there's also the fact that Massive Dynamics is this crazy conglomerate whose leaders include a creepy woman with a bionic hand and an otherdimensional enigma who happens to be LEONARD NIMOY.

There's also pale, bald, psychic dudes called Observers who seem to be multiversal guardians - and one of them pals around with Walter.

And how about this episode's visually-breathtaking cliffhanger? Olivia finally meets William Bell (Nimoy) face to face, except that it turns out his futuristic HQ is in an alternate reality ... at the top of one of the two still-standing towers of the World Trade Center. Sure, the "oh my god, in this reality 9/11 never happened!" thing has been done before (Brian K. Vaughan's EX MACHINA says "hi"), but still ... damn, what an image, and what a way to drive home the point that no Sir, we're not in Kansas anymore.

But forgetting all the cool imagery, all the interdimensional intrigue, and even the appearance of Spock Prime himself, the true star of Fringe is John Noble as Walter Bishop. Noble has been absolutely remarkable on this show, and he turned in yet another dynamite performance in the season finale. As the memories of past lives and past sins flooded back into Walter's addled mind, Noble's acting deftly portrayed a man teetering on the edge of madness. The anger, sadness, and confusion of Walter was tangible and palpable, and man, Noble just killed it throughout the episode. Ana Torv as Olivia has grown leaps and bounds. Lance Reddick is a great presence on the show. And now, finally, Joshua Jackson has that final layer of texture that his character needed to feel important and vital to the fabric of the show.

This may stand as the best finale of the season. Fringe is on fire, and I can't wait for Season 2.

My Grade: A

SMALLVILLE Season Finale Review:

- This season of Smallville has definitely been something of a different beast than the previous few. There's no doubt that Smallville has never quite reached the same heights of quality and creativity it enjoyed during it's first three seasons or so. But even when Smallville has been sub-par, you could always count on the show to really up the ante and deliver with its "big" episodes, particularly its season finales. Smallville has usually managed to deliver season-enders that felt fittingly epic, with great action, heroics, and a spirit of adventure that felt true to the legend of Superman.

This season, despite a number of mainstay characters conspicuous by their absences (Lex and Lionel Luthor, for instance ...), Smallville defied expectations and enjoyed a mostly solid year. The show kicked off with a new status quo (Clark as a Daily Planet reporter), a renewed focus on Lois Lane (Erica Durance, infinitely more fun than Lana), and msot importantly, a more tightly-plotted overarching storyline that set up a number of ongoing plot threads that would continue throughout the season. One of these threads was the introduction of Davis Bloome, aka Doomsday. Again, this plotline defied the low expectations and started out very solidly. Davis was built up as a tragic character and a worthy adversary. The inevitable showdown between Clark and Doomsday was actually looking like a true television event worthy of our anticipation. However, what seemed like a strength at first eventually backfired. The Davis storyline just kept going and going, and the writers seemed to be dragging their heels. After some strong midseason eps, like the Geoff Johns-penned Legion of Superheroes installment, Smallville began to lose steam. Every week teased that Clark was inching closer to becoming Superman - but we knew that this likely wouldn't happen, so the build-up seemed pointless. Making him into a mysterious hero called the Red-Blue Blur was a goofy and frustrating compromise. Without even the hope of any payoff to all this buildup, the show seemed stuck in an endless holding pattern. Same goes for the Doomsday storyline. It dragged and dragged, and whenever the show seemed to promise us an epic, comic book-worthy brawl between Clark and the monster, Smallville failed to deliver. So ... surely tonight's season finale would, FINALLY, give us some payoff to the endless build-up, right? Well, after all this time, tonight's ep was ultimately anti-climactic. It felt small in scale, rushed, and severely lacking in intensity. Clark and Doomsday's battle was short, sloppy-looking, and ended abruptly. In fact, the closing moments of the battle were glossed over so the show could cut to a melodramatic scene between Chloe, Jimmy, and Davis, who thanks to a piece of black kryptonite, had been seperated from the Doomsday monster and was now just a regular old Joe Sixpack. Playing out like a bad high school play of Shakespeare, we saw that even without Doomsday, Davis was still pretty evil. When he sees Jimmy and Chloe mend their differences and share a kiss, Davis guts Jimmy with a giant rod. But before he dies, Jimmy pushes Davis onto a metal spike. Holy gratuitous violence, Batman! WTF was that? And oh, for the Superman fanboys like myself who were all like "whaaat, Jimmy Olsen can't die!", it is revealed at Jimmy's funeral that he has a LITTLE BROTHER (presumably ALSO named Jimmy) who looks like the Jimmy Olsen from the comics (even wearing a bowtie!), and who, it is implied, will grow up to be THAT Jimmy Olsen. Like I said, WTF? As always, rather than give us an extra ten minutes of action, Smallville feels obligated to use its final ten minutes of the episode to feature CLARK KENT'S EMO MOMENT OF THE WEEK. Clark confesses to Chloe that he no longer wants a connection to humanity, and that he will no longer embrace his human side. Therefore ... (wait for it ...) ... CLARK KENT IS DEAD. In his place is ...? Um, yeah, clearly he didn't think that part through very well. So Clark walks off dressed in black, BUT WAIT, there's more! In Tess Mercer's office, there's a weird light, she opens a door that leads to a giant outer-space void, at which point we see a dude standing over a giant "Z". Yep, ZOD! Kinda cool, I guess? Well, not really, since Zod's appearance seemingly has nothing to do with anything! What about, you know, Doomsday?

And by the way ... how many times this season did people stand around and talk while Davis was RIGHT THERE ready to go medieval at any moment? I thought the whole point of Oliver and co's assault on Davis was to take him out quickly and efficiently. And yet, they stand around talking to Chloe for ten minutes? And yeah, nice idea to have Davis just lyin' around unguarded at episode's end. Very smart, Chloe.

The bottom line is ... this episode had a couple of decent moments (the Lois and Clark interaction in particular was well-done, and it was fun seeing Oliver's junior Justice League again), BUT, ultimately, the ep failed to make much of an impact. More importantly, it was an anticlimactic culmination of build-up that began all the way back in the season premiere. We NEVER got the giant battle royale between Clark and Doomsday that we all wanted. Why, I have no idea. Lois was transported into the Legion's future in a pretty out-of-nowhere plot point that was never really followed up on at episode's end. We got a somewhat pointless death for Jimmy, and yet the increasingly annoying Chloe lives on. And Clark's character development took one step forward and two steps back. There's really no reason for him not to be Superman at this point. I almost would hope that next season does something radical like have him adventure off in outer-space or travel around the globe or ANYTHING that gets us away from the show's now-tired formula. But personally, I am sick of Clark's internal struggles at this point. I want to see him on some good old-fashioned adventures, with huge villains and epic stakes and lots of action. But wow, looking back on this season, it's amazing how little payoff there was to the whole Davis Bloome thing. Maybe the movies will eventually do Doomsday right. Until then, the Smallville faithful will keep watching and hoping for some small sign that the minds behind the show actually get it.

My Grade: C+

THE OFFICE Season Finale Review:

- Man, it pains me to say this, because this season of The Office has been absolutely brilliant in my opinion ... but, last night's finale was, to me, a disappointment. Throughout this season, The Office has struck an amazing balance between laugh-out-loud hilarity and smaller and subtler character moments. Last week's dance party episode, for example, was flat-out brilliant - every character moment wa completely organic to the storyline, as was the humor. In last night's finale though, the writers apparently forgot that the show is supposed to be a comedy. This annoys me to no end - I know there are some people who would be perfectly happy if The Office dropped all the jokes and just became a weekly soap opera, but to me there's no excuse for a show like this to focus solely on melodrama at the expense of the laughs.

Last night's ep just plain fell flat. Yes, I got caught up in the Michael and Holly tension, and wondered if they'd rekindle their ill-fated romance. Yes, I rooted for the Dunder-Mifflin crew to stick it to Corporate in the company volleyball tournament. But The Office to me has never been about will-they-or-won't-they romance. It's about the little moments and quirks that make the workplace and the employees so endearingly odd.

There were a couple things I loved in this one -- Dwight's newly-revealed best friend was great. Any running around during the game and asking people if they were blind was pretty funny. The cold open in which the office crew tricks Michael into thinking its 5 o'clock when in fact it was much earlier was a lot of fun. But Michael and Holly's Slumdog Millionaire parody? Ummm ... not so much. Seriously, why would anyone give Michael the stage at an event like that anyways? And even Michael doesn't seem dumb enough to reveal that a branch might be closing in such a bone-headed fashion. Surely, Holly isn't that oblivious. I also thought it was jarring that Charles Miner suddenly morphed from being kind of uptight and prickly to being a complete dick. I mean, openly mocking Jim at a family picnic?

Finally ... Pam is pregnant? I don't know, I am not really a fan of this development. It seems like the show jumped the gun, it feels way too early to have this happen. I have enough faith in The Office to assume that the pregnancy will be handled well, but still, it just seemed unnecessary, and too "sitcom-y" to boot.

Again, I hate to bash on this episode so much because a.) for all its faults it was still entertaining and did have some genuinely great moments, and b.) this season of The Office has been, as a whole, amazing, But I've got to call a spade a spade, this season finale fell well short of expectations.

My Grade: B-

30 ROCK Season Finale Review:

- 30 Rock to me has lot a little momentum this season as compared to last - as I've talked about a lot, the show still delivers the funny each week, but the great jokes now seem more spread out amongst more standard sitcom-style plotting, as opposed to the show's old laugh-a-minute pacing. That said, if this is now 30 Rock 2.0, last night we at least got a very good episode of 30 Rock 2.0.

I mean, you can't argue that the show pulled out all the stops last night. Dr. Spaceman (!) returned to hilarious effect. Alan Alda reprised his role as Alec Baldwin's liberal, kidney-needing father. And a collection of about 20 all-star pop stars appeared and performed a hilarious, awareness-raising charity song as part of a benefit show for Jack's dad. A lot of the musical guests had great lines to boot - Cyndi Lauper giddily exclaiming that she was one of three singers drunk on stage was comedic gold. Mary J. Blige's insistence that her charity organization has done a lot to aid in the quest for the Loch Ness Monster was similarly hilarious.

But there's one element of 30 Rock that can not be bottled up or contained within the confines of standard sitcom trappings, and that is Tracy by-god Morgan. Let me just say: Thank you Tracy Morgan. You do your own thing, and basically everything you say on any given episode of 30 Rock is freaking hilarious. Last night was no exception - Tracy's ghetto-fabulous story of how he had to drop out of high school, and the subsequent revelation that he actually left after crying in class due to not wanting to dissect a frog - oh man, so funny! When Tracy then gave a speech at his old high school, telling the students that each and every one of them would grow up to be President, well, that was just the icing on the cake.

So yeah, good stuff from 30 Rock last night. While The Office has been better and funnier overall this season, last night was, no contest, 30 Rock's night.

My Grade: A-



- Man, tonight is shaping up to be one hell of a series finale for PRISON BREAK. As has been well documented here on the blog, the show really struggled with its first couple of Friday episodes, but last week's ep, finally, kicked things into high gear. Now THAT was some old-school Prison Break - great villains, impossible situations, intense action, and the best and most over-the-top collection of pulpy characters on TV.

Last Friday's PB, for one thing, finally made Scofield's mother into the uber-dangerous villain she should have been all along. I never loved the idea of bringing in his long-lost Mom as a big bad, but, when she's as cunningly EVIL as she was last week, you can't help but appreciate her icy resolve and begin to eagerly look forward to the bitch goin' down. Similarly, Don Self, who I really liked earlier this season, has been pretty much useless over these last several episodes. But, last week's ep built the character back up again and made us remember why he was once cool. The General's cold-blooded murder of Self's wife gave Michael Rappaport something substantial to work with, and he rose to the occasion, giving the weaselly Self an added layer of tragedy and urgency. And then, finally, T-Bag was back to being the psycho-killer we know and love to hate, hopefully setting up one final confrontation with Scofield in tonight's finale.

And on top of all that intensity, the episode ended on one heck of a badass cliffhanger, upping the ante and having Lincoln kidnapped and in danger at the hands of his wicked stepmom, and Sarah in the hands of The General -- with Michael having to figure out who to save as the clock counts down. Yep, PB brought the GRAVITAS last week, and after slowly losing a lot of my enthusiasm for the show, I am back on board, baby. Tonight I hope that one of the best TV shows of the last few years goes out with a bang. Bring it on.

My Grade: A


- So what did I think of last week's totally-80's flashback episode, aka the backdoor pilot for a possible "Lilly" spin-off series? Well, it was a fun little experiment, and I did really like the 80's cast. Britanny Snow was excellent, for one, as a young Lilly Vanderwoodsen. But was it compelling enough that I'd watch it every week? Probably not. Nevermind the fact that I typically don't want to commit to more than one teen-soap guilty pleasure at a time, but I just think that there are a lot of inherent flaws with a Lilly spin-off. I mean, part of the problem is that Lilly is so unlikable on the show. She's supposed to be one of the more sympathetic characters, but she's played like a total upper-crust snob. I don't even want to see her end up with Rufus, let alone have her own series. In any case, part of GG's problem of late has been that every character is now an unlikable nutjob. I think it was a big mistake to give Dan all of these badboy issues like an illicit romance with his teacher. Dan used to be the entry-point character into this crazy world of upper east side debauchery. Now he's basically as messed-up as every other character. Plus, GG is starting to suffer from OC-syndrome, meaning that its world is becoming way too insular. Dan at this point has no real reason to ever run into Blair or Chuck or Nate, and yet every week he's mixed up in their shenanigans. Branch out some of the characters, introduce new ones, and have new people for Chuck and Blair and Jenny to play off of. As for the 80's ep, it was a fun diversion, but I'm curious if this week's finale can get me hooked on the show like I used to be.

My Grade: B

Next: STAR TREK Reviewed!

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

From Beneath The Shadow of the Statue: LOST Season Finale - Reviewed!

Wow, so much to talk about, as for the film and TV fan, May is always exciting. Even as the big television series are upping the ante with their season finales, the summer movie season is kicking off with the first of the season's big blockbusters dropping into theaters. And that brings me to ...

LOST - Season Finale Review:

Tonight though was essentially television's version of a summer blockbuster: the much-anticipated, sure-to-be-controversial season finale of LOST. If you think about it, tonight's episode HAD to be huge. Because next season is the series' last, tonight was, in turn, Lost's LAST chance to deliver one of its trademark season-ending game-changers. Not only that, but this has been an interesting season of Lost in that it's been consistently good from the get-go ... and yet, there's been that feeling of anticipation that SOMETHING ... something REALLY big had to happen to put a definitive exclamation point on the year. Lost has been jabbing at us throughout the season, now it was time for Lost to deliver a knockout punch.

So, did it?

I think that, in many ways, tonight's LOST was huge. Epic. In many ways, some literal, it was downright biblical. As always, the tension from moment to moment was simply off the charts. No other show keeps you on the edge of your seat, hanging on every word, every image, like Lost. And by the way, a huge shout-out to the music - gotta love the "adventure" theme - this show has a better score than most blockbuster films. In any case, the pacing of this episode was spot-on. While you can criticize Lost at times for its bigger-picture storytelling issues, on an episode-by-episode basis, no show is better at grabbing you and pulling you into its world.

To me, the highlight of tonight's season finale was clearly the introduction of Jacob, as well as his rival / counterpart. What I loved about the entire Jacob thread was that we got an amazingly textured plotline that brilliantly fills in a lot of the gaps we've been wondering about, while at the same time setting up a number of intriguing new mysteries. But what's great here is that, whereas in the past, Lost has frustrated with its tendency to pose questions just for the hell of it, tonight's ep, as has been par for the course this season, slowly but surely put the puzzle pieces into place. Even if we are left with a lot of questions about Jacob, this episode also gave us a lot to work with in terms of what was hinted at or implied. As this episode is discussed throughout the summer, I don't think us fans will have to resort to wild guesses or crazy theories as in previous seasons. This time, the ever-elusive answers seem to be staring us in the face, if only we know where to look.

Going back to the very beginning of the ep for a second though -- wow, what an intro. The introduction of Jacob, debating philosophy with his counterpart (let's call him Esau), was a fascinating and stage-setting way with which to kick off the finale. As the fabled Black Rock approaches the island, we get a sense from Jacob and Esau of the way the game works. We see that there seems to be a basic and long-standing conflict between the the two with regards to human nature. For all we know, it's a cyclical argument that is played out over and over. And more than likely, the Lostees (and all the others (and Others?)) who have found themselves on the island have been pawns of sorts in their struggle. And, we find out, perhaps most intriguingly, that Esau would love to kill Jacob, if only he could find the proper "loophole" by which to do so.

Man, so many parallels and allusions. The biblical story of Jacob and Esau, in which Jacob stole his elder brother's birthright, leading to an ongoing war between the brothers (would this make Locke - Joseph? Hmmm ...). How about THE STAND by Stephen King - the apocalyptic struggle between good and evil? One thing Lost always does well is to draw on so many sources - literary, biblical, mythological, that you can't help but analyze the hell out of the plotlines in the interest of finding the key to it all in some biblical passage or Stephen King novel or episode of The Twilight Zone.

You have to wonder though -- are Jacob and let's-call-him-Esau LITERALLY the biblical characters, or simply analogs?

Are Esau and The Smoke Monster one and the same? If so, it'd make perfect sense. If they are separate, then surely they are in collusion. Why else would Smokey tell Ben to follow every word that Not-Locke uttered? In fact, as many speculated over the last few weeks (myself included), it seems probable that all of the "dead" people who have shown up are merely "avatars" of sorts - forms taken by Smokey (aka Esau?) to manipulate the Lostees. In any case, it makes sense that this has NOT been the real Locke. And who knows, maybe Esau / Smokey have been manipulating Ben Linus for a lot longer than we think. Maybe some of the Others' orders from Jacob have in fact been from Esau?

One more theory while I'm throwing them out: At episode's end, when Ben "kills" Jacob, Jacob mentions that "they're coming." My guess? Jacob allowed himself to be killed - maybe even coerced Ben into doing it - so that the death would serve as the eventual motivation to get the Lostees back on the island. Someone (Desmond? Eloise?) will find out what happened to Jacob and make it their mission to make sure that Flight 815 crashes as intended, so that Jack and co. can prevent Jacob from being killed. For whatever reason, the "war" that's been talked about is in fact between Jacob and Esau, and the Lostees are most likely the chess pieces with which their cosmic war is being waged. How Whidmore fits into this is unclear, but perhaps he and Ben are essentially the proxys to Jacob and Esau.

Suffice it to say, the mythological aspects of this episode were fascinating. The show has always emphasized a science vs. religion, will vs. destiny dichotomy, and whereas this season showed the extreme limits of human logic and science (time travel being the sort of endgame), next season looks to throw a giant dagger into what we've seen so far, taking us from the world of science into that of the spiritual. Faraday's realization that humans are the variables in the "what happened, happened" argument was the start of the unravelling.

Now ... all that is well and good, but there was also the human component of this episode. And that, to me, is where things faltered a bit. The bigger-picture stuff is great, but at the same time, we have to look at WHY these characters are making their decisions. WHY, for example, would Jack risk so much to essentially restart his life pre-Island. WHY would everyone else - Kate, Sawyer, Juliette, Hurley, Sayid, and Miles ultimately decide to go along with his plan?

Unfortunately, the episode either ran out of time or simply chose not to adequately address this. I never bought that Jack would be so sure that he had to detonate the bomb. When he ultimately gave his failed relationship with Kate as personal justification, I couldn't help but groan a bit. In fact, Sawyer was 100% JUSTIFIED in kicking Jack's self-righteous ass. I mean, Jack is seriously going to alter the course of human history just so he doesn't have to endure a little heartache? I'm sorry, but that is just plain LAME. And again, why did Juliette "change her mind" and ultimately side with Jack? Because she couldn't bear the thought of loving and losing Sawyer? Um ... what? And finally - Kate? HURLEY? Why would Kate go from doing everything in her power to avert Jack's plan and then five minutes later give him her blessing? Why would a Hurley or Miles stand around and do nothing as Jack threatened to erase them out of existence? To me, this was easily the weakest part of the episode. The character motivations just were not there, and when they were, the writers quickly had the likes of Sawyer, Juliette, and Kate flip-flop for very unconvincing reasons. The plus side was that we at least got some great moments of drama out of all this: a kickass smackdown between Jack and Sawyer, some great gun-battles with lots of Dharma Initiative destruction, and a chaotic and action-packed ending that led to the big moment of the night ...

... that being Juliette's dramatic and tragic death. Now, for the record, I predicted Juliette would bite the big one. To me, the character had run her course, and her death was needed in order to darken Sawyer and once again make him the lone wolf of old. And hey, at least it was true to Juliette's character that she had ambiguous motives (and that damn half-smile / smirk) right up until the end. She essentially got the last laugh too. Originally, she got Sawyer off the sub so that they could STOP Jack from detonating the bomb. But perhaps the thought of her being dead, leaving Sawyer to run off with Freckles was too much for her to bear. Only fitting that her final act was one giant "F-You" - so long, reality. Enter: the bright white light of oblivion, baby.

I guess what it boils down to though is that this ep had SO MUCH going on - so many big moments, so much new information to process, that it's very, very tempting to overlook the rushed characterization and glossed-over logic. I mean, Miles even sort of poked fun at this when he sarcastically remarked that Jack's plan was *very* well thought-out (for all they knew, the bomb could itself be the source of the very "incident" that Jack was trying to prevent - good call, Miles!). But there was a Rose and Bernard (and Vincent!) appearance. There was the STATUE in all its Egyptian-god glory (as fans rushed to Wikipedia to look up Sobek and any other lizard god from Egyptian lore ...). There was the awesome acting of Michael Emerson as Ben - his final speech to Jacob was a kickass Lost moment for the ages, as was his Psycho-style stab-stab-stabbing of The Big J. There was our ol' pal Lapidus, tagging along with Ilana and the Shadow Conspiracy, who happen to be carrying the body of one John Locke! (So ... WHO are they, exactly?) There was that awesome music! And yeah, like everyone else, I'll probably be theorizing from now until January on Jacob, Esau, The Smoke Monster, Not-Locke, etc. I mean, wow, I guess my eight years of Jewish day school as a kid have finally paid off - I now get all the biblical allusions on LOST. Dammit all ... But ... I guess in a weird way this has been the LOST experience all along. You get caught up in the bigger picture. You get annoyed with the logic leaps and the ambiguity and all that, but man, when that title logo thumps onto the screen you're in like Flynn. I still don't see why anyone would be pro-Jack in this ep. But even so, hot damn, I can't wait to see what happens next.

My Grade: A-

Stay tuned for: FRINGE, PRISON BREAK, and STAR TREK - Reviewed!

Monday, May 11, 2009

THE PENULTIMATE 24: Dammit ...?!?!


- Ugh. We were on our way to getting a pretty damn good episode of 24 tonight ... there was an intense search for the soon-to-detonate bio-weapon, EVIL TONY was captured by Jack, and that uber-beyotch Olivia was well on her way to getting vice-gripped by the righteous hand of justice, aka AARON PIERCE. Everything was going pretty well, and there was GRAVITAS a-plenty. We even had a thunderous NOD OF GRAVITAS between Jack and his Muslim cleric friend, as the two exchanged psychic waves on a plane of existence that most of us can only dream of. Even the banter between Chloe and Janeane Garafalo was semi-amusing and provided some much-needed levity in the midst of all the grim n' grittiness.

BUT ... we should have known that KIM and AWESOME STORYLINES rarely mix. I wanted to believe that Kim would be woven back into the action in a fun and exciting manner, but instead the writers resorted to "24 Cliche #537": One of our heroes is blackmailed by the badguys and must betray everyone and everything they hold dear in order to save the life of a friend or loved one. ARRRRRRRRRGH. Not only have we already seen this IN THIS VERY SEASON, but it's been done multiple times in the show's history, and the tropes are so familiar by this point that a 24 fan can practically recite them by heart.

Now, who knows, maybe there will be some great twist in next week's finale that will put a new spin on a familiar situation. But who cares - it made for a groan-inducing cliffhanger tonight. The 24 team should be smart enough at this point to subvert the show's conventions. How great would it have been for Jack to have anticipated this villainy and worked out some kind of contingency plan? Or what if Jack simply said "screw it" and decided that, with only hours left to live, he'd throw caution to the wind and somehow try to save his daughter, danger be damned. But are we really going to spend half of next week's season finale going through the motions of seeing Jack go rogue and take on the FBI, so that he can appear to have betrayed his country for the 500th time this season? And it doesn't take a psychic to see where this is headed - Jack will save his daughter, will be on the verge of death, and in his last moments the FBI will experiment with their newfangled medical procedure and use Kim's blood to help revive Jack. Ugh. Where's the twist? Where's the climactic showdown? Dammit all, where's the gravitas?

This episode of 24 simply dropped the ball. It took the emotional core of this season, Jack vs. Tony, and blew it off with barely any fanfare or drama. We STILL don't really have a good explanation for Tony's actions, so it's hard to even hate him all that much or to truly buy him as a legit villain. But here, within minutes, Jack cornered him, captured him, choked him out, and, well ... that was pretty much it. Even if Tony escapes and we have one final epic battle royale between the two, well, the air has already been let out of the balloon, so to speak. I just think it's disappointing that, for a while there, 24 was telling a very logical story about Private Military Corporations and disillusionment with one's country, and now we are left with something of a cluster as we head into the finale. And it feels like it's a mish-mash of every 24 cliche - Kim in Danger, Jack having to go rogue under duress, a scheming relative in the White House, a friend-gone-bad, Jack at the end of his rope / life, some vague conspiracy that was built up for weeks only to (as usual) disappear into the ether by season's end, etc.

Dammit 24, get your $#%^ together for the finale, or I'm going to need MORE CC's!

My Grade:

Most of the Episode: B+
Ending: C-

Friday, May 8, 2009

Must-See TV? OFFICE and 30 ROCK in Review

Friday, what? After a looong week it's time to kick back, relax, and enjoy a couple of days of blissful freedom. Bring on the weekend, baby.

Let's kick things off with some TV Reviews, shall we?

- THE OFFICE had a really strange, yet really enjoyable episode last night. The first half of the ep was pretty conventional, with Michael upset that no one from the office wanted to have lunch with him, and convinced that the reason why was that everyone was used to the old management and had forgotten how to cut loose at work. In a response that only Michael Scott would dream up, Scranton's returning branch manager turns the old offices of the Michael Scott paper company into a "cafe disco" - basically an empty room with an expresso machine and a stereo. Michael tries and fails to turn the space into the site of an impromtu dance party. Of course, as soon as Michael gives up on the idea, the Dunder Mifflin staff start to get into it, and soon enough there's a full-n dance party going on at work. In this way, the second half of the episode was pretty uncoventional - a continuous look at the ensuing dance party, complete with an ongoing soundtrack in the background. There was something that was just kind of awesome about this whole sequence -- it was fun, upbeat, but also with moments of hilarity - Andy and Kelly's over-the-top dance-off, Kevin making out with the woman he met several episodes back, and Angela reluctantly tapping her toes to the music, much to Michael's delight. The other big standout in this ep was new receptionist Erin - she hasn't had much screentime so far, but her mix of enthusiasm and quirkiness was a nice addition to the mix this episode. There is definitely some potential there. Other parts of this episode were interesting but didn't work quite as well as the main A-plot. Dwight treating Phyliss' bad back as if she were a race horse was a strange mix of awkwardly funny and just plain uncomfortable. I wasn't sure if they were going to fight or make out - luckily, neither happened. Also, Jim and Pam's decision to elope, followed by a mutual agreement to hold off and have a proper wedding ... well, it was intriguing but felt a tad bit glossed over. It's not that I thought it needed more screen time, per se, just that it was hard to tell what changed their minds, exactly. But overall, this was a really fun, even uplifting episode of The Office that, to me, continued the show's streak of A-quality episodes that has gone on now for several weeks. Not only was this another great ep, but it really felt different in tone and structure from any episode we've seen before - I give the show a ton of credit in that regard for mixing things up to such an extent. And finally, how funny was Michael mouthing the words to "Everybody Dance Now"? Just the look on his face was hilarious.

My Grade: A-

- As for 30 ROCK ... this was yet another episode that had some hilarious moments but just left me feeling slightly disappointed when all was said and done. Keep in mind, I only say this because at this time last year 30 ROCK was absolutely killing it - every episode was firing on all cylinders, with jokes so densely-packed into the script that you had to stop yourself from laughing just so you could hear the next incredible line of dialogue. 30 Rock still has several great quotables every week ... but I can't help but feel like there is an increasing disconnect between the humor and the plotlines. Before, the jokes felt totally organic because they basically were baked into the plot. Now, it seems like the plotlines are becoming more and more sitcom-y, and only after the fact do the writers throw us some bones and insert a vintage Tracy Jordan non sequitar or a classic Alec Baldwin word of wisdom. Last night's ep was another movie-centric plot (and a Universal movie to boot) in which Jack pulled a "Mama Mia" and went in search of his estranged dad. Turns out that Alan Alda, playing a liberal professor, is the baby-daddy. Meanwhile, Tracy has been reunited with his own illegitimate love-child, who is suspiciously old and arouses suspicion that he may be scamming an oblivious Tracy. The twist (twist!) is that Tracy knows he's being scammed, but just likes having his money go to his "son's" projects, which turn out to actually be worthwhile. Both plotlines had their moments, and Tracy got in some vintage hilarious lines. But an "okay" episode of 30 Rock is definitely a step down for a show that has so consistently delivered comedic greatness. Step it up, Tina!

My Grade: B

- Alright - short entry today, stay tuned for a STAR TREK review.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Follow the Leader: LOST thoughts + Fringe and Prison Break

First of all, congrats to the Celtics on a dominating win last night over the Magic. It was a must-win game and Boston came through big-time, with stellar performances from guys like Eddie House and Rajon Rondo - two players who have really stepped it up and proven themselves as invaluable to the Celtics team. It's going to be an interesting series, but after last night I feel like Boston is in good position to pull it out.


- On last night's LOST: Well, there was a lot to like about the episode - from Hurley's hilarious inability to pretend he *wasn't* from the future, to Ben Linus' classic reaction shots when he realizes that he is no longer in control of things. Overall, there is a great sense of momentum going into next week's double-length finale, and I definitely anticipate we are in for one roller-coaster ride of an event in one week's time. I also can't deny that last night's Lost built off of the previous week's sense of intrigue. When I sat down to watch Lost last night, I was still buzzing from last week's time-loop craziness involving Eloise Hawkings and Daniel Faraday, and contemplating all of the potential implications of Eloise's shocking shooting of her own son (which as of this episode - I think? - has the added twist of her having been pregnant (!) with Daniel at the time!). And I'll give it up for this episode - the talk of undoing the past and re-writing the future provides endless fodder for discussion and debate.

But where this episode lost me a bit (pun intended) was in Jack's reasoning for detonating an H-Bomb in order to set off some kind of chain reaction that *might* irreversibly change the future such that Flight 815 never crash-lands on the island and lands safely in Los Angeles. I mean, sure, Jack has been unstable and on-edge ever since he left the island way back when ... but, his current plan seems completely crazy. For one - who wants to erase years of their lives, wiping out relationships, maturity, etc? Second, even if Jack himself wanted to go through with it, he would essentially be playing god and forcing Kate, not to mention Rose, Bernard, et all to lose moments that they probably don't want to lose. To me, Kate was clearly justified in ditching Jack - not only would his plan potentially rob her of memories she doesn't want to lose (ie Aaron), but it would put untold lives in peril. Plus, who knows if it would even work? Faraday told Jack that people are variables, but prior to that he insisted that "what happened, happened." Most evidence we've seen so far points to the latter being true.

Again, it's fun to debate all this stuff, but at the same time, you'd think the show might address some of these issues. As is, this ep was vintage Lost in that Jack stated his position, Kate stated hers, and the two said barely anything else. Kate never said "Jack, your plan is insane because of x y and z," and Jack never said "Kate, we have to do this because of x". I'm not saying the show needs to be one giant exposition-fest, but I also don't like when character motications and logic are so murky. Same goes for Locke's big cliffhanger statement about going to kill Jacob. Um, what? What does that even mean? Sure, it *sounds* cool - "kill Jacob? wha? huh? but who? but how?". But it's basically an empty statement as far as we're concerned. Very Grant Morrison-esque - throw out a cool-sounding concept with the hopes that the idea of it alone will blow our minds.

Anyways, it's semi-hard to judge this episode, because next week's payoff might be so awesome that, in retrospect, the build-up turns out to be perfect. At the same time, what happened happened, and what happened with this episode was that there was some questionable characterization that made me say "huh?".

My Grade: B

- I also watched Tuesday's episode of FRINGE last night, and, whoah boy, this show is getting good. Whereas Lost sometimes makes me feel like the writers just splashed some paint on a canvas and said "here, look what I made!", Fringe has been doing something pretty cool: telling and old-fashioned, by-god *story*. Yep, the awesome thing about Fringe is that literally every episode from the pilot to now has seamlessly fit into the larger tapestry. There's no questions about continuity, no contradictory plot points, no sense that the show is just throwing crap against the wall. Fringe has quietly gone about crafting one hell of a mythology. At the same time, each episode has a nice element of self-contained craftsmanship. In some ways, it's a reliable workhorse - in every ep we know we'll get a cool fringe-science case, learn about some cool pseudo-science theory, get a couple of hilarious Walter-isms, etc. But at the same time, and I don't think it's fully surfaced until now, there's been an awesome web of alternate realities, mysterious observers, secret drug trials, and shady corporations that's been weaved in the background, and at times in the foreground. Suffice it to say, I was very impressed this week to see that practically *everything* that's happened on the show to date artfully fits into the bigger picture. And man, they have no set things into motion for one barnburner of a season finale. Meanwhile, I was absolutely wowed by Jon Noble as Walter in this ep. His breakdown at episode's end after Olivia confronts him about the drug trials he helped facilitate, of which she was a part, was intense, sad, and disturbing all at once. If Noble does not win an Emmy for this role, there is no TV god. Furthermore, the interplay between the characters has been honed to the point where it's truly enjoyable to watch them interact. It's amazing how Anna Torv has made Agent Dunham into one of TV's best characters in such a short time - especially after most wrote her off as bland and stiff in the early days of the show. I still think they overdo it with Peter questioning his father's theories all the time, but even Peter has had a lot of nice character advancement since the pilot. But really, this show is just plain kicking ass of late. The whole ZFT / alternate realities arc is just plain cool-as-hell, and I can't wait to see where things go from here.

My Grade: A

- Finally, I do want to talk about PRISON BREAK from Friday. I thought last week's ep picked up some substantial momentum as compared to the week before that, and this week's ep again built on that. Everything just seemed amped up - we got a truly vile and villainous T-Bag, some vintage Mahone craziness, and a great, very evil turn from Michael's mom. Up until now, she's been kind of a generic schemer, but in this ep we finally saw that she was an adversary worthy of the Scofield name - conniving, manipulative, and as easy to hate as Michael is to root for. There was also the big Lincoln-is-not-Michael's-brother revelation, which sort of came out of nowhere but at least was a semi-interesting twist (so is THAT why they have different last names? hmmm ...). But yeah, the ep was fast-paced and enjoyable, and my hope is that, again, it all makes for an awesome finale. I really hope the whole Company storyline is wrapped up ASAP, so that we can get a final episode that feels more like vintage PB. In the interim, it's good to know that the show has, at the least, upped its game since its somewhat limp return a few weeks back.

My Grade: B+

- Aaaaaand I'm out. Check back soon for the latest.