Friday, November 6, 2009

I Drink Your Milkshake! 30 ROCK, THE OFFICE, FRINGE, and a Tale of Only-In-LA Milkshake Madness!

Alright, lots to talk about today so let's get to it. First of all, I'm on the verge of a 3-day weekend! Whoooo! Seeing as how I didn't realize that this Monday was Veteran's Day until just recently, I am very pleasantly surprised that I have not one, not two, but three days with which to relax and enjoy myself coming up.

Anyways, lots of TV STUFF to talk about ...

- First off, I have to talk about last night's episode of 30 ROCK. It's weird, because I've seen a couple of lukewarm reviews up online. But I don't know what those reviewers were smoking - to me, this may just have been an all-time classic. For one thing, it was immediately obvious that the pacing of this episode was a return to the frantic, laugh-a-minute style of Season 2, where episodes had an almost Simpsons-like craziness and anything-can-happen style of humor. But man, last night's ep was just filled with classic quotes and random bits of hilarity. The overarching storyline of Liz's search for a new TGS cast member came to a head, with a planned audition session steamrolling out of control and turning into a full-blown circus. Everyone from Twofer to Dot Com wanted their own shot at sketch-comedy stardom. Meanwhile, Jack initially lectures Liz about bottling up her emotions and approaching the auditions with a colder and more robotic attitude. But when Jack gets a case of the bed-bugs, he becomes a pariah and learns a valuable (and very funny) lesson in the value of treating others with respect and empathy. Also, Jenna and Tracy, concerned that Liz's top pick for the cast could be a potential show-stealer and attention-grabber, decide to recruit as many people (and ethnic stereotypes) as possible to crowd the playing field. Man, Tracy Morgan was just on fire in this one - he had several all-time classic quotes ("EVIL TRACY?! Ohhh ... you meant evil COMMA Tracy!"). And I loved how all of the plot threads came together in a very Seinfeld-ian manner at the end of the episode. Jack's climactic discovery of an empathetic Robot Man and his subsequent decision to hire said Robot Man as TGS' newest cast member ... well, it was a stroke of comedic genius. The number of great throwaway gags in this one was amazing - from a pointed jab at the Winter Olympics to an awesome cameo from NBC News' Brian Williams, this was 30 Rock at its off-the-wall finest.

My Grade: A

- Last night's episode of THE OFFICE was really well-done, especially in terms of being a pretty dark and pretty fascinating character study of the way Michael's oddball mind works. It wasn't the funniest episode ever, although it did have its moments (everything Creed said, Ryan's supposedly arty yet actually pervy photopgraphy hobby ...). The sort-of-wacky B story though, involving Dwight and Andy's office battle of one-upsmanship, mostly fell flat. It worked great as a cold-open, with Dwight enacting a sinister plan to bring in bagels for everyone in the office, therefore creating a situation where all of his co-workers "owe him one." But pretty quickly, the back-and-forth antics between Dwight and Andy "don't test my politeness" Bernard got a bit tiring. But back to the Michael Scott stuff - it was another "Dinner Party"-like situation, where a double date between Michael and Pam's mom and Jim and Pam quickly veered into darkly uncomfortable awkwardness. But I enjoyed it all the same, because it was pretty amazing character stuff, and Michael's progression from proud MILF-meat to reluctant ageist was both funny and very much in-character. Same goes for Pam's evolution from bitter hatred of Michael to slow acceptance and then back to hatred again. Amazing that in the course of a few minutes of air time, we see Pam going from wanting to kill Michael for dating her mom, to being sort of okay with it if it makes her mom happy, to wanting to kill Michael again for breaking up with her mom right there at her birthday lunch. Similarly, it was fascinating watching the gears turn in Michaels' head, as he realized how dating an older, more life-experienced woman was exactly what he *didn't* want. It makes sense - Michael has always been a man-child, so his ideal match would be someone more like Holly, who shared, at least kinda, his somewhat arrested-development worldview. This was all good stuff. I think the episode just suffered a bit for lack of really funny, laugh out loud moments. But like the Dinner Party ep, I admired that this one boldly went very dark and raw.

My Grade: B+

- I thought that PARKS & RECREATION had another very solid episode. The guest turn from Megan Mullaly as Ron Swanson's manipulative ex-wife was pretty classic, and their lusty yet hate-filled relationship was endlessly amusing. And man, everything Ron said and did after reuniting with his wife, from his description of her sexual prowess to his wearing of a Tiger Woods outfit, was pretty hilarious. I liked the rivalry between the Parks & Rec department and libraries, and Leslie's initial meeting with Tammy was also really well-done. I even liked the opening with the very-funny retirement speech of the old shoe-shine guy. Overall, a really good episode of this year's most improved show.

My Grade: A-

- While I'm talking comedies, I'll mention Wednesday's episode of MODERN FAMILY. This one was another episode that was merely pretty good and not great, and you have to wonder if it was another one that was sort of thrown out there oppositte the World Series (ie, they are saving the best episodes for the next couple weeks). The thing with Modern Family though is that the characters have, very quickly, become so inherently amusing that it's hard for the show to ever completely misfire. And indeed, there were elements here of a very good episode - Manny's fencing skills that forced him to face off with a disadvantaged girl in the finals of a tournament, for example. And Luke's inability to be good at anything leading his dad to think that Real Estate might just be his true life's calling. All good stuff. But ... this one just wasn't quite as funny as some other eps -- it seemed to be coasting a bit and the writing wasn't quite as sharp as we've come to expect. But, I still love this show, and am eagerly anticipating the next batch of great episodes.

My Grade: B

- So, FRINGE returned last night after a hiatus due to the World Series. And man, it was nice to have it back. Even if the show has slipped a bit as of late, it's still the only drama on right now that is a total "must-see" for me. And the key to that is the great characters. I mean, look at last night's episode -- the plot was really only okay, it was yet another one-and-done monster-of-the-week that felt kind of like The X-Files lite. But even if I wasn't totally caught up in the plot, I still got a kick out of this episode because the characters are so darn entertaining. I mean, Lance Reddick as Broyles was just ridiculously kickass here. Dare I say it? I do. He singlehandedly brought a heaping helping of GRAVITAS to Fringe last night. Hid delivery is just so melodramatically awesome that you can't help but clench your fist, call your neighbor, and yell out "daaaaaaaamn" after he's delivered yet another crazy-awesome speech. Last night's ep confirmed it - Lance Reddick is on the shortlist of actors who you might want to narrate your life. And then there's John Noble, who as I've said many times, rules it as Walter Bishop. When he said: "Titanium Tetrachloride, you sly temptress ...!” in last night's ep, my brother and I had to rewind and rewatch about three times before the awesomeness was fully able to sink in. Still, it's not all sunshine and roses for our old pal Fringe. The fact is, the show's last few episodes have not been up to par, in that the storylines and the weekly cases just have not been as compelling as they should be. When the show isn't tying it's storylines back into The Pattern and all that, the cases just have a feeling of being inconsequential and also somewhat rushed. As I've said in previous weeks, Fringe of late often leaves me feeling like I got a quick snack but not a full meal. Like in last night's ep, we never *really* got into the head of the villain of the week. We didn't really delve into the alien shadow-creature's origins or motivations. A good X-Files ep would have done a better job of introducing us to our freak-of-the-week and really getting into the psychology and motivations of the villain. It's why the preview for next week's evil-psychic ep made me slightly cringe. The X-Files had a classic recurring villain of exactly that ilk in "The Pusher" - Robert Patrick Modell. One of Modell's battles with Mulder and Scully famously ended on a cliffhanger where a psychically-pushed Mulder has Scully at gunpoint. Seeing the preview for next week's Fringe, I have to wonder if it's wise for the show to keep doing these sorta-like-X-Files eps. But yeah, the plot of last night's installment felt a bit thin and a bit confusing. Fringe always seems to start with a bang (last night's awesomely-cool, man-turns-to-dust opening set the stage nicely), but then has trouble keeping its cases compelling for he duration of an episode. What saved it was the great character work from the likes of Reddick and Noble. As long as they're around, Fringe remains a must-watch.

My Grade: B

- To wrap things up, I thought I'd share an only-in-LA experience that happened to me today. Basically, a co-worker and I were driving back to our office after a meeting in Beverly Hills, when we both stopped to gawk at a brightly colored shop that seemed to beckon at us from the side of Santa Monica Blvd. The shop was called Millions of Milkshakes, and I think we both agreed that at that particular point in time, a milkshake was just what the doctor ordered (or *not* what the doctor ordered, and that, I guess, was the point). Anyways, we park, walk over to the place, and walk in, only to find that this is no ordinary milkshake shop. No, this is an only-in-Hollywood, celebrity-themed milkshake destination. As we walked in, we were greeted by about 20 photographers, who were eagerly snapping away at some guest-celebrity milkshake-maker. Turned out the celeb in question was some girl by the name of Adrienne Bailon, of Cheetah Girls fame (who I later Googled and realized was not as wholesome as she might appear - inevitably, she was in some nude photo scandal!). But anyways, the place was a mob scene, I've never seen anything like it. Just so, so weird. The weirdest thing was that Adrienne wasn't even really making milkshakes - just kind of posing for photos and sipping on a shake that she had made for herself. So the few poor souls among us who had wandered in just looking for some shakey goodness seemed to be out of luck. Finally, a flustered regular-Joe employee came up and began serving the couple of actual customers inside. He seemed semi-annoyed, in that clearly he hadn't fully thought through the effect that a celeb milkshake-maker accompanied by a horde of paprazzi and publicity people would have on actual business. Of course, at Millions of Milkshakes, it is a celeb-themed milkshake bar, so every shake on the menu is named after a different "celebrity" (mostly of the kind who are cheesy and tabloid friendly - i.e. Lindsay Lohan, John Gossellin, etc.). So anyways, in the midst of this crazy scene, I ordered up the "Miley" - a tasty concoction of Reeses and cookie dough, and after a long wait and a surreal scene, we were on our way. But man, this one trip to Millions of Milkshakes was A LOT to process. For one, the very existence of a milkshakes-only shop is in and of itself enough to change my entire food-services worldview. First it was the resurgance of fro-yo, then cupcakes - now, apparently, milkshakes are the new hot thing. As a longtime milkshake fan, this is interesting. But secondly, this was not *just* a milkshake place, this was a milkshake place where at any given moment some Disney channel star might be making you your milkshake, where you might have to navigate throngs of photographers and rabid fans just to get your milkshake. Craziness! They even had, on the wall, this video monitor with some Hollywood celeb-tracker thing that listed out all the various places you could spot your favorite celebs at any given moment! Whaaat?! But the craziest thing of all had nothing to do with Miley Cyrus-themed shakes, but instead with the simple STRAW innovations that this place had goin' on. Each shake came equipped with an ultra-thick straw with far more diameter than your typical straw. Amazing - a custom straw made especially for drinking milkshakes with! How has no one thought of this sooner?! You can imagine how all of these random elements of milkshake-related insanity ultimately converged to rick my world and leave me questioning everything I thought I knew about milkshakes, straws, and C-list Disney Channel celebrities. Only in LA, people. Only in LA.

- And with that, have an amazing three day weekend!

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