Tuesday, March 16, 2010

A Pretty ... Pretty Good Post. CURB! LOST! 24! Chuck! and MORE!

Oh man, it's been an absolutely crazy couple of weeks. Long hours at work, a bunch of random events and birthdays, etc. Plus, every spare moment I've had has been spent working on the screenplay that will ROCK THE WORLD of comedy once it's unleashed on the public. And I am happy to say that my brother and I have completed said screenplay, and that it's awesomeness can no longer be contained. I will say writing it was a lot of fun, but also a pretty grueling process. I will be happy to have at least a short break before I get to work on an encore. Unfortunately, all of this has somewhat derailed my blog-writing attempts over the last week or so, but, hey, I'm back, and I've got a lot to talk about.

- There have been a lot of random adventures that I've wanted to write about, though. One in particular I do want to mention is that last Sunday, I was fortunate to attend the CURB YOUR ENTHUSIASM event at The Paley Center, as part of the annual PaleyFest. The event was pretty ... pretty ... pretty good. Okay, it was pretty freaking awesome. Live and part of the panel discussion were Larry David, Jeff Garlin, Cheryl Hines, Susie Essman, Richard Lewis, and Bob Einstein. Honestly, it was such an amazing assemblage of comedy genius that I could have probably listened to these guys banter for hours and hours. Richard Lewis and Bob Einstein (Super Dave!) were show-stealers. Lewis' neurotic ramblings and Einstein's deader-than-deadpan jokes made for an absolutely hilarious evening - especially when coupled with Larry David's bemused reactions and Jeff Garlin's uncontrollable, high-pitched laughter. I've been a fan of Curb for a while now, and I rated it very highly in my list of BEST TV SERIES OF THE DECADE. But I have to admit - seeing so many amazingly hilarious, brilliantly funny clips play in rapid succession during the highlight reel that kicked off the panel - well, I came away floored at just how incredible the show was, and is. Definitely an amazing event.

- I also have a couple movies to review, including ALICE IN WONDERLAND and REPO MEN. It's funny, I saw Alice in the midst of such a busy week/weekend that I've barely had time to fully process it in the days since. My quick reaction is that it was an interesting movie with some memorable scenes and characters, but that it was definitely not Tim Burton's best effort. As for Repo Men, well, it was just a mess of a movie - in more ways than one. I'll get into more specifics when I review it in an upcoming post, but yeah, not one of the better sci-fi flicks I've seen.

- Meanwhile, I have a ton of TV thoughts. I've been jotting down some reviews throught the week, so here they are - finally! Scroll through for reviews of 24, Lost, Chuck, and more!


- Okay, so business definitely picked up on Monday's episode of 24. EMP bombs, CTU infiltrated, and a general sense of craziness made last night's ep one of the best and most enjoyable of the season to date.

AND YET ... the episode was seriously almost ruined by the Dana Walsh stuff. Like, really. Ruined. It's not funny, anymore, people. When I want to punch one of my favorite actors, Stephen Root, for his character being so ridiculous and annoying, you know something is very, very wrong. There is NO WAY Root would have been let into CTU at 3 am during an emergency situaiton. There is NO WAY Dana would actually humor him in the middle of a national security crisis. And there is NO WAY that Root's character would be this persistent at this ungodly hour. And it just kept getting more absurd from there. He wants Dana to pull surveillace file for him? Now? Really? And she's actually going to do it? And she has to stop and call Cole while he's in hot pursit of nuclear materials to tell him about this?


This storyline needs to die, and it needs to die now. But what kills me is that the storyline doesn't HAVE to be this bad. It could be handled in a way that makes more sense. But at every turn, the writing just insults our intelligence and has the characters act in the dumbest and most illogical way possible. 24 works when its unique format is acknowledged and implemented well. Things are supposed to be ultra-intense at the 3 am and 4 am hours because we know that by all rights everyone should be at home and asleep. The fact that Jack and co. are still pressing forward is a great way to up the ante, to make it clear that this is no ordinary day, these are no ordinary circumstance. But this Dana Walsh stuff basically spits in the face of 24's established logic. It's 3 am? Who cares? There's a security crisis? Who cares? Not only is it a lame storyline, but it completely takes you out of the show's reality.

Otherwise, this was a damn good episode. I know, hard to believe after all that, but really, it was. Just lots of great action, intensity, and unpredictability. The pursuit of the terrorists was pretty badass, as was Jack's interaction with the NYPD. The scenes in which Hassan's daughter was held captive were suitably nail-biting. And the cliffhanger ending, in which CTU gets completely owned thanks to an EMP bomb, was one of the better and cooler endings we've seen from 24 in a while. And man, the preview for next week got me pumped: CTU is down, and only one man stands between us and total annihiliation: Jack Bauer, beyotch. As it should be.

The fact is, this was a darn good episode. But PLEASE LORD, end the awful subplots.

My Grade: B+

- CHUCK had a nother very good episode this past week. No, it didn't quite reach the heights of awesomeness of last week's landmark ep, but this one was a very well done, Casey-focused episode that shone the spotlight on Chuck's eternally gruff mentor. We've gotten the occasional hints about Casey's life pre-Chuck, but this one went furthest in terms of revealing hidden truths about Casey's heretofore unrevealed origins. Turns out, like Sarah, his name was never really John Casey afterall. After faking his own death for a military operation, the soldier who would become Casey was born. Of course, this transformation meant that Casey had to bid adieu to the love of his life, who, like everyone else, assumed he had in fact been killed. In this episode, Casey goes rogue in order to help his old army leader, played by Robert Patrick - when Patrick threatens to kill his wife if his old charge doesn't help him in his new role as member of The Ring.

It was sweet seeing Robert Patrick on Chuck. From T2 to The X-Files, Patrick is one of those great, badass, no-nonsense guys who always adds something a given production. And he was cool here as a rival for the always-great Adam Baldwin.

My one complaint about this episode is that it got ultra-angsty at the end. Last week was nice in that it finally took a break from all the Chuck-Sarah stuff. I'm honestly pretty sick of all the melodrama involving their relationship, so it was annoying to see it back in full force as this episode wrapped up. Same goes for everything involving Chuck's sister, Devon, etc. I can already see it coming a mile away - they go to Africa to escape the danger of being wrapped up in Chuck's spy adventures, only to get kidnapped as Chuck has to go save them. Just have them go or don't go - don't make it into such a sob-fest. Again, Chuck's emo-ness is fine in small doses, but this episode started out with lots of cool CIA intrigue, but then devolved into an OC-style pity party.

Overall though, another fun episode of Chuck.

My Grade: B+


- Man, this past week's episode of THE SIMPSONS just depressed me. It just felt so ... blah. There was nothing horribly, offensively bad about it, but it just, well, wasn't funny. The plot was a retread of some of the most overused Simpsons tropes - Bart as attention-seeker, and Homer and Marge developing a rift in their relationship. The latter in particular is just ridiculously played out at this point, and I just cringe whenever it's recycled (which is basically every other week, apparently). Anyways, a fairly uninspired episode. Bart plays Homer and Marge against each other, thus convincing them to put less effort into parenting him for the sake of their marriage? That's the big Simpsons plot? It's a far cry from the days of monorails and burlesque houses.

My Grade: C+

- FAMILY GUY, meanwhile, was yet another episode that seemed to be all about pushing the limits of the show and the characters. Okay, fine - but sometimes the show is simply semi-shocking without actually being funny. Because you have to have the characters have some semblance of normalcy, otherwise they can't surprise or shock you. Case in point: Lois. Recently, we've seen her almost cheat on Peter with Quagmire. And now, she does cheat on him with Meg's teenaged boyfriend. I guess, maybe, if done right this could be funny. But it just felt cheap. Meg is such a non-character now, and Lois is quickly becoming that way. This was one of those episodes where the writers never seemed to worry about characterization and just said "ohhh, wouldn't it be crazy / sexy / weird if Lois tried to sleep with Meg's new boyfriend?" Umm ... not exactly. Same goes with Stewie doing the whole Tootsie thing and dressing up like a girl in order to get a part on a kids' TV show, where of course he falls in love with one of the actual girl babies also on the show. Isn't Stewie supposed to be gay? Oh, right, FG just does whatever it wants for the sake of being random.

My Grade: C+

LOST Thoughts:

- Lost was a lot of fun this week, and I think a lot of that was due to it being a Sawyer episode. Sawyer is always one of the show's most interesting characters, and, at this point, he's one of the few real wildcards still left. Because, he's one of the few characters who has really grown and changed over the course of the series. He's gone from roguish antagonist to rougish hero, and yet, there is that sense that he could still be nudged back towards the dark side if the story dictated. His status as a conman also makes him a good foil for Not-Locke. We've all seen the story before about the roguish trickster type who manages to pull one over on the devil himself. And it looks like that's where Lost is going with Sawyer.

And that's cool, because so much of this season of Lost, at least so far, has just been "Lost's Greatest Hits," methodically shining the spotlight on each character, one at a time, and sort of reminding us what they're all about, even if it means recycling tropes that were played-out two seasons ago. At least in Sawyer's case, there is some genuine intrigue as to where his character will end up when all is said and done. If he ends up the hero, it's a natural progression of the character over time. If he ends up the villain, it's a cool / dark twist. So Sawyer is one of the few characters who's arc is currently a win/win. And seeing Josh Halloway and Terry O'Quinn face off is always cool - definitely two of the best and most charismatic actors on primetime TV today.

That said, this episode contained some of the same issues as others this season - namely, when all signs point to some sort of big reveal, instead we just get more ambiguity - and for no great reason other than to deliberately keep things murky. I mean, Not-Locke's story about his mother - that's an intriguing tease, but it's something we should have heard a long time ago, to build up mystery before we eventually learn the full story. Again, Lost tries to have its cake and eat it too. Richard Alpert is a great example. Next week, we will get a WHOLE EPISODE detailing Richard's origin and history. That's great. But it also draws attention to the fact that yes, there are SOME mysteries that Lost will give a lengthy, satisfying explanation to, but others that it won't. And yet - if we never found out anything more about Richard, ever, it wouldn't really affect the story. In fact, he's kind of interesting as a mystery character. But, Dogen and Lennon's motivations were absolutely crucial to the first several episodes of this season, but we never learned one relevant thing about them. Ugh.

One other observation, this time about all the Widmore stuff. I was really looking forward to Widmore's return, but he felt a bit off in this episode. I loved the callback's to his earlier appearances, and to the pulpy sci-fi feel of those episodes (the sub, the ominous henchment, etc.). But, there's also this sense that an entirely different group of writers and creatives (Brian K. Vaughan) fleshed out Widmore in the past, and now the current team doesn't quite know what to do with him. Which is too bad, because personally I like the idea of a rich but sinister industrialist, with a squad of B-movie science villains and James Bond-style gadgets out to take over the island. I like it a lot more than the concept of two ill-defined, near-omnipotent deities fighting over the fates of the castaways. So I want the Widmore stuff to be great - I just think it's now kind of lost its way though.

But again, this was a very solid episode of Lost, with an entertaining if not mind-blowing flash-sideways, and some very intriguing on-island action. Good stuff from Sawyer, some intense Kate-Claire scenes, Widmore and the sub, etc. Really looking forward the next ep, as I think it will be a defining one for Lost. If it reveals a lot, it sets a precendent for the final remaining episodes. If it doesn't, it basically signals that Lost will keep its biggest secrets carefully guarded until the bitter end.

My Grade: B+

- THE OFFICE was an odd one this week. The episode just felt really random - sometimes that meant it felt disjointed, other times the loose feel of the story allowed for some great bits of comedy. The overarching plot here was that Michael is feeling like he's losing whatever authority he had over the office. The sales team in particular is out of hand - since Sabre pays on commision, the sales men and women have become hyper-competitive and increasingly driven by the bottom line. Of course, since Michael has never really viewed Dunder-Mifflin as a business so much as his surrogate family, he isn't crazy about the whole thing. And so when new, valuable leads come in, Michael pulls a Kevin Spacey-in-Glenngary Glen Ross and refuses to hand 'em out. I thought the highlight of the episode was the oddball relationship between Michael and Dwight, and their fight in the middle of a garbage dump was so absurd that I couldn't help but laugh. However, the good bits in this one were scattered, and the overall pacing just felt off. Kind of a filler episode, but still decently funny.

My Grade: B

- 30 ROCK though ... whoa baby. The show is positively on a hot streak right now, and last night's ep was mostly brilliant. I'm sure I'm getting an added kick out of the whole "Kabletown" storyline since I'm sort of in the thick of that in real life, but - wow! So hilarious. 30 Rock was just on the money this week, with every subplot really clicking, and the number of great jokes and the amount of quotable dialogue being through the roof. Tracy being exposed as a good husband, Liz debating whether she should "settle" for Michael Sheen, and Jack's depression over the Kabletown takeover followed by his determination to be a mover and shaker within the new regime.

But yeah, the episode had a real depth to it in a weird way. People keep saying to me that the Kabletown storyline is too "insider-y" for most people to get. Personally, I don't think so. I mean, how many people are in jobs or work for companies that make them wonder: "um, do I/we actually DO anything of any real, tangible importance?" Jack's longing to be an innovator to me rang true - that's the American way, afterall, not to simply sit back and let the money roll in.

Kudos to 30 Rock though. This episode reminded me of Season 2 eps where the jokes just kept coming a mile a minute, to the point where watching via DVR was a necessity in order to stop, rewind, and catch all the great quotes in full.

My Grade: A-

- Okay, that's all for now. Coming up soon: lots of movie reviews!

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