Worst. Cold. Open. Ever. You know it’s bad when you’re thinking “it would be so funny if Kevin actually DID have a stroke or some kind of degenerative neurological problem!”
I took a grand total of three notes during this episode. As a whole, it was overwhelmingly underwhelming. As usual, the funniest parts were the quick one-liners that come naturally from the characters’ quirks. Case in point – Andy greeting Robert with “Hi Dad!” Hilarious.
But as funny as the premise was, I didn’t find the execution that effective. Things moved a little too slowly, and it was too drawn out. The Office needs quick-fire comedy; it lumbers awkwardly through attempts at elaborate situational comedy. Parks and Recreation is a show that does extended situational comedy well. It gets its quick, funny dialogue in of course, but the premise is carried out in such a way that even if you don’t laugh out loud at ever line, you’re smiling and shaking your head at the wackiness.
The Office can’t pull that off. Maybe because the setting is too familiar to most of us. Maybe because it’s been on the air so long, we’ve just seen all the plausible scenarios already. I’m not sure what the answer is, but I do know that this wasn’t a great episode.
The Daryl storyline trailed into oblivion, and James Spader continues to be criminally underutilized. I was impressed with last week’s episode, so I hope it’s more in line with the caliber of show we can expect this season. Otherwise, I think this might be the last for The Office.
The show has always had a pretty big soft spot, but everyone cocking their head and “awwwwwing” as Andy checked out his new tattoo was just too schmaltzy. Plus, the face that they forced the nicknaming so heavily early in the episode was heavyhanded for my taste.
My other issue is one that pops up for me every so often when I really think about this show, and maybe it’s not a fair criticism, but here it goes anyway. These people are on commission; if they could truly sell so much more in one day with a little extra effort, why wouldn’t they? I get that they’re all underachiever-types, but Stanley likes money, Dwight is supposedly a rockstar salesman, and Jim and Pam have a family. Shouldn’t they always be putting forth this kind of effort? I don’t mean “shouldn’t they” as in “it’s their job and they should work hard.” I mean these characters have given us every reason to believe that they are motivated by things like money (Stanley), success (Ryan) and competition (Dwight). Plus, we know that Phyllis knows how to turn on the charm to get a sale, so I just found it a little contrived that the prospect of Andy tattooing his ass would really be the thing that flipped the switch so dramatically. Tell me I’m looking at this wrong – I’ll admit I’m a little confused about why this bothers me, but it does.
Anyway, overall, not a great episode; it just reinforces what I said last week: Andy is the most Michael Scott-like of the bunch, so having him as the boss preserves the dynamic of the show’s previous success. Last week that worked; this week, not so much.
Other things I found mildly amusing:
- Jim insisting on a points receipt after assuring Andy he didn’t really care about accumulating points.
- Angela’s disdain as she asks if any adult in Pam and Jim’s household has read the Parenting magazine.
Before we get to this episode, a quick detour: A few years ago, I started recording the three minutes before and after a show to make sure I didn’t miss any cold opens or whatever the equivalent is called that happens at the end of the show. This means that, fortunately, I don’t miss those things, but it also means that in certain cases, when I switch on my DVR to watch my favorite quality comedy or drama, I sometimes catch a few minutes of the previous show. And usually, that’s fine. But there are some television juxtapositions that are so mentally and emotionally jarring that they just put me in a bad mood before the show even starts. Case in point: Slater and Maria Menounos (I don’t care enough about her to Google the correct spelling of her name) are hosting Extra right before Community, and it makes my hair hurt every time I tune in to watch one of the funniest, most clever shows on television and instead, I’m greeted with insipid celebrity news and thinly veiled product placement. It makes me ill. On Monday nights, Dancing with the Stars comes on before Castle – *shudder*. But the absolute worst is Two and a Half Men, which airs in syndication on FX before each new episode of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia.
Now, I’m fairly confident that those of us watching and enjoying It’s Always Sunny are NOT also watching and enjoying Two and a Half Men… and vice versa. So, shouldn’t there be some kind of middle-ground show to keep viewers from experiencing comedy shock? A palate cleanser of some sort? Perhaps a nice episode of Family Guy or something equally lowest-common-denominator that still manages to be somewhat clever at times or at least has a nostalgic value for those of us who have moved on to more well-rounded comedy a la Always Sunny.
I actually started to write an entire post about this a few months ago, but, well… those orphans and puppies weren’t going to save themselves from that burning building. But I did start a draft of what I called “poor pairings” using the three examples above as well as Conan/George Lopez and The Office/Outsourced as additional examples. Fortunately, this is the 2011-2012 television season, and those two atrocities have finally been made right. God bless America.
Aaaannnnnyyhooooo… what were we talking about? Oh yeah, Community. First, Martin Starr rocks my socks. I just finished watching Party Down, and that show kicks so much ass. If you haven’t seen it, get on it. Second, Britta sucks. I get that she’s kind of supposed to suck, and she got funnier as she got more over-the-top in the episode, but she’s still super annoying. Third, if you read my post about this week’s episode of The Office (you DID read it, right? Right? Go now. I’ll wait….)
As I was saying, if you read my post about this week’s episode of The Office, I talked about how that show doesn’t do extended situational comedy very well, and I brought up Parks and Recreation as an example of a show that does it right. Well, this episode of Community is a perfect example of doing that kind of comedy right. Say it with me people: “layers.”
Community’s comedy has layers – it’s not just a series of one-liners and pratfalls. Last week’s episode was a little weak, but this week’s exhibited all the classic signs of awesome. Let’s break it down.
The weakest sub plot was the Jeff and Annie relationship development, but it had to happen, so kudos to the writers for acknowledging the elephant in the room and making it a plot point. If during the first episode of The Office, we saw Andy’s ascension to power translate into his need to force “nickity-names” onto everyone, then the Nard-Dog tattoo might have been a more satisfying payoff. But you can’t stick something in at the last minute, shove it down the viewers’ throats, and then expect magic (THAT’S WHAT SHE SAID!!!!) With Community, the writers have set the stage for this awkward Annie/Jeff relationship for a long time, and while it’s not resolved, we got movement AND an acknowledgement of the awkwardness. Boom! Comedy.
The other two plotlines were both genius, and I can’t decide which one I like better, so I’ll start with Britta and Chang. Comedy loses its luster upon examination, but this is such a good example of layered comedic storytelling. First, we’ve got Britta realizing she’s been slacking off on her liberal hippie world-saving duties and deciding to make up for lost time. That’s amusing. But she’s unwilling to go as far down the path as her friend because she’s got a pretty sweet suburban set up. That’s funny. Then, she finds someone in Chang who is crazy and newly endowed with power (amusing) that’s not really power (funny), and they find in each others’ limitations exactly the outlet they want for their unfulfilled power and protest-lust. Her escalating stunts alone would be funny, but combined with Chang’s particular brand of crazy (and of course, the irresistible Lionel Ritchie soundtrack)…. it’s COMEDIC SYNERGY! Find a storyline in Two and a Half Men that comes together that way. The Office used to, but it doesn’t anymore. And that’s why Community is awesome.
And we haven’t even addressed the model U.N. storyline, which I won’t break down like the Britta/Chang power battle, but I will comment on the intelligence of the model U.N./Greendale microcosm that reflects the actual United Nations and the global political stage. Seriously smart comedy. PLUS, you get each character’s take on their country, which is what really drives a successful ensemble comedy. In last week’s episode of The Office (and this week’s too, though there were fewer moments overall), the funniest bits were when the situation brought out funny lines that came naturally from a characters’ quirks. The same thing happened in this episode of Community. Pierce’s take on Somalia as a “paradise” and offer to take in the Ethiopian refugees was classic… and Troy’s Georgian accent was equally brilliant… and Abed’s science fiction tangents… and FARTS! Community might be a brilliant comedy that addresses issues of geopolitical significance, but it’s not too up-it’s-own-butt to make an awesome fart joke.
God I love this show. More highlights:
- Annie’s tantrum…. Just phenomenal.
- “Whoever actually died a few months ago, ‘fess up so we can put a stake through your heart.”
- “Ready, Set, Peace! *gunshot*”
- “CRISIS ALERT!” (I’ll be saying that inexhaustibly, so prepare yourselves, friend and family)
- “The badge says ‘To Serve and Protect.’” “No it doesn’t.” “How’s My Smile?”
- “Can’t wait to get some brain on this bad boy!”
- “They’re ruthless… not Asians, women.”
- “Sneak attack! That’s just like ‘em… not women, Asians!”
- “You know what else was the best? Rainforests!”
- And last, but not least: playing Operation on Pierce.
In my review of The Hour’s season finale I said that despite some problems in the beginning the show had proved itself a gentle and experienced lover. It had me worried for a bit, but in the end the show knew what it was doing, it knew just what I wanted. Well, if The Hour is a gentle lover, then Breaking Bad is a patient but stern pimp. It’ll put up with my questions and concerns that it may be meandering just a little bit in these last few episodes of the season, but when its had enough it backhands me so hard my teeth rattle. Shamed and embarrassed, I quickly hand over a sweaty wad of money.
If I wasn’t convinced before, I am now that Vince Gilligan and the show’s writers are and perhaps always have been playing some weird game of Jedi chess with us. They’re always ten moves ahead, so things we first saw in season 3 are only now beginning to pay off. Ted (may he rest in peace… OR WAS HE PUSHED?!) and his problems with the IRS didn’t pop back into Skyler’s life because the show needed to give her something to do besides bitch about the car wash. Ted had to come back so Skyler could give him all that money Walt earned, so that it wouldn’t be there when he needed it most.
And now Walt’s right screwed.
Gilligan is quoted as saying that he didn’t know exactly how Walt’s story would end, but that he didn’t think things would end up well for anyone. That’s not something any of us needed to be told. We may have been a bit iffy on the details, but “Crawl Space” is an episode we’ve coming down the pipeline for a while now. But this season’s seemed to lack a little bit of focus, so when it finally hit, it was unexpected, and it kind of destroyed our universe.
No more games between Gus and Jesse. Gus doesn’t have to resort to staging armed robberies for Jesse’s benefit so he can jump in, save the day and puff his chest out a little bit. After everything that went down in Mexico, Jesse’s more than proven himself, and now Gus is convinced he can run the lab on his own. But despite the animosity between them, Jesse only agrees to it if Gus agrees to let Walt go. A little surprising, maybe, considering Jesse looks ready to shoot Walt himself when he shows up on his doorstep, interrupting his game of… Sonic the Hedgehog? Walt knows that Jesse’s been cooking without him, and with no real options left has come to beg for help. And it’s only now that Walt realizes what a mistake he’s made, berating Jesse all this time and acting like, without him, Jesse would be nothing.
Jesse tells Walt that he’s made his bed, and he can go rot in barrel in the middle of the Mexican desert. In that moment, you can’t help but feel sorry for Walt. That shocked expression on his face, like he’s been hit in the face with a pie. A devastating death knell of a pie, topped with cream regret, and lemon meringue misery. And… pudding… pudding… Anyway, Jesse’s got a point. Walt’s a nice guy when Walt needs something. And right now Walt needs something. But Jesse’s had enough, and that’s the end of that. But is it really? Probably not. But I’d really like to see the circumstances that bring these two back together. While I understand and accept it as a necessity of the story, I was never really really happy with the way these two guys treated each other. I liked Walt and Jesse as friends, and wish we had been able to see more of that. Although, if Walt and Jesse at each other’s throats gives us more episodes like this, then bring on the pain.
And it’s here that Gus makes his move. Walt turns around to find that creepy serial killer from The Shield, who shoves a taser in his gut and throws him in the back of a car. Next we see Walt he’s on his knees in the middle of the desert, the boss standing over him. “You are done,” Gus says. And while he’s obviously referring to Walt’s time with the company, we peel back the layers and see so much more. Not only is Walt done cooking, but because Hank’s getting so close to finding something he shouldn’t, he’s done… LIVING! And while Jesse’s got some stick up his butt about keeping Walt alive, Gus sees that whole thing as temporary, and one day soon Walt will join Hank… LIVING! I mean NOT LIVING! And from there things really take off.
It doesn’t take long for Walt to figure what he’s got to do. He heads to Saul’s, breaks down the door to his office, and asks for the number of that guy we heard about earlier in the season. The one who takes people and disappears them. Saul gives him the number of a vacuum cleaner repair service. All he’s got to do is call the number and ask for a Max Extract Pressure Probe Model 60. He’ll be sitting in a safe house in less than an hour. But Saul tells Walt that with three extra people coming along with him, services aren’t going to run cheap. But it’s okay! Walt’s got the money. It’s. Not. A. Problem. Before he goes, Walt begs Saul to call the DEA, leave an anonymous tip that Gus has put a hit out on Hank. Saul agrees, barely, they say their goodbyes and Walt speeds home. He’s got to. He’s got all that money to collect before he calls Saul’s guy. But when Walt jumps down into the episode’s titular crawl space, the money’s gone. There’s maybe $20,000 down there, and what the hell’s anyone gonna do with $20,000? Skyler’s home minutes after Walt, scared, asking what that phone call was all about when Walt asks where all the money’s gone. And oh does Skyler feel stupid. Because she’s given it to Ted. It’s gone. It’s all gone. And Walt just loses it. Who cares about Emmys and Golden Globes? Give this man a Nobel Prize, because only in our mutual agreement over what a completely brilliant performance Cranston delivered will we finally achieve world peace.
Walt cackling on the floor like some deranged Joker (the Joker’s not deranged in this analogy) while Skyler backs slowly away, then tries consoling Marie, who’s on the phone sobbing over cartel threats and being taken into protective custody was just creepy. But in the silence afterward, the weight of Walt’s situation was probably able to set in. There aren’t going to be any quick fixes. No new lives he and the family can buy their way into. Like he says in the teaser for next week’s episode, there have been consequences to everything he’s done, and now those consequences are coming. Walt will have to face them or die trying.
I think most will agree that it’s a good thing The Walking Dead is taking departures from the comic. It keeps things fresh, keeps the fans guessing what’s coming next. So let’s see those new characters. And let’s see that horde of zombies bring God’s swift judgment upon their heads, because man, were they annoying. I mean, I can’t be the only one who thought the episode’s last ten minutes were the best part, can I? Four episodes in, and I’m still waiting for the show to click. It’s doing so many things well that it hurts that much more when it does things wrong. “Vatos” touched on several ideas that probably sounded great in the writers room, but came off half-baked. Let’s take a look, shall we?
ISSUE THE FIRST: The Mexican gang. These guys would have worked so much better had they been either a straight up gang or just a group of nurses, doing good, helping the sick and afflicted. There’s a really interesting idea that was touched on in “Dirty Hands,” an episode of Battlestar Galactica’s third season. And that was, in a post-apocalyptic society, when the job you’re given is usually where your skills are strongest and where you’re needed the most, do you really have any freedom to move around, to eventually do something different? On BSG, you could see these people year after year, becoming more entrenched in their jobs, and you got the sense that their descendants, years later, would be doing the exact same thing. On The Walking Dead, I thought it would have been much more interesting to see the foundation being laid down for some sort of Canticle-of-Leibowitz-esque guild of healers. All the guns and faux tough talk kind of ruined that.
If, on the other hand, they hadn’t been nurses, but just a group of Crips, it would have brought up questions of how different groups of survivors are beginning to govern themselves. Questions that the comic has raised already, and I imagine the show will eventually. Speaking of the gang, how much cooler would things have been if the leader had been played by Ludacris? I imagine it would have gone something like this…
Rick: We came to get our man back.
Luda: I be that ni**a named Luda, A.K.A. L-O-V-A L-O-V-A, f**k that s**t, ni**a what you wan say one time, Southside let’s ride. And if you love what you do, do what you feel. Then I know you gonna mark my words. Y’all drop s**t like birds. Then it’s about the time for yo ass to get served. Just lay it on down. Just lay it on down, while we re-LAX to the tight RAPS and the phat TRACKS that that ni**a Timbaland put down.
He was great in Crash. No reason he couldn’t work the same magic here. Anyway.
ISSUE THE SECOND: I understand Rick is a tough guy who needs to show his mettle in front of the gang, but can we please stay away from these gruff platitudes about having blood on your hands? Who talks like that? I guess it should also be noted that “Vatos” was written by Robert Kirkman, the comic’s creator. Taking that into account, I feel like the episode would have worked much better in that format. At least it would have given Kirkman a reason to parse down some of the dialogue. It would have made things a lot tighter.
ISSUE THE THIRD: Jim’s “Aha!” moment at the end of the episode. That’s why he was digging those holes; to bury all the dead people! This one is kind of a cop-out on my part, because I don’t have a really good excuse for why I took issue with it. It just seemed like the show was trying to be a little edgy and ended up falling flat. It’s like, Boardwalk Empire, where every character has found an excuse to flip through a popular book that’s somehow thematically tied to the episode. After the fifth or sixth time, it was just like, alright already, we get it. So anyway, there’s that.
It wasn’t all bad, though. One thing the episode did unquestionably well: Killing off half of the survivors. It was necessary. Eventually the group is going to have to move on, and I don’t think it would have served the show very well to keep such a large group around. Although, on the other hand, there was always a pretty big group in Lost. You just had a lot of background players who never had any lines. They just hung out, surfed and cooked ribs while Jack, Kate and Sawyer ran around the island, carrying out all their clandestine s**t. Although here it seems that everyone is getting their own time to shine. The downside to that being, when a character doesn’t click it’s that much more noticeable when stacked up against the other characters. Case in point, the Mexican guy and his family. After he compared Dale to a village priest, I knew it was time for him to go.
I really feel like the show is almost there. And I’m wondering if, with only a 6-episode first season, it’ll pull a Parks & Recreation and really come together in its second. We’ll have to see. Reviews of the first few episodes of season two are beginning to hit, and so far they seem to be pretty good. We’ll be waiting with baited breath, I’m sure. That, or Person of Interest will get really good and we’ll all start watching that instead.
It’s only been a few scant months since we saw Nucky Thompson and Arnold Rothstein shake hands and put their differences aside. Since we saw Jimmy, Eli and the Commodore conspiring to take back Atlantic City. It’s only been a few months since we saw Lucy Danziger writhing on top of Van Alden like some deranged python. But much has changed, on and off the boardwalk. Nucky knew that after Prohibition was enacted people would be paying hand over fist to get a drink. He was right. And now people have made so much money that they’ve begun looking around them, at their friends and partners and asking, “What the hell do I need you for?”
Boardwalk Empire has definitely been eating its Wheaties since we saw it last. I mean, the show’s always been good, but season 2 looks to have stepped its game up. “21″ opens with one of those music montages that seems to be a staple of ex-Sopranos writers. We see Nucky living it up at Babette’s, Jimmy and Richard loading truckloads of imported booze, the Commodore regaining some of that pluck and moxie, and Margaret waking up to an empty bed. Everything’s relatively calm, until a group of Klansmen come to Chalky’s warehouse and shoot the place up with a machine gun mounted on the back of a truck, preaching, “Purity, sobriety and the white, Christian’s Jesus.” As the KKK speed away Chalky manages to take one of them out, so you can blame him for all the trouble this whole thing’s gonna cause.
When it looks like Nucky’s going to try and make the whole thing go away, Chalky tells him he’s done with this cracker nonsense. Chalky might need Nucky, but Atlantic City depends even more on the 10,000 African-Americans who are making sure all the trains run on time, and Chalky isn’t afraid to sound the rallying cry. So Nucky does what he does best and plays both sides against the other, in a nice little bit of editing that shows him speaking out first to a black then a white congregation. If I were Nucky I’d tread softly here. Playing so careless with people’s livelihoods is what pissed Jimmy and Eli off last season, and look at what those guys are up to now.
Well, right now they’re not up to too much. The Commodore’s plan is for Jimmy to start “laying the groundwork” for that hostile takeover; get to know AC’s movers and shakers. So Jimmy visits the funeral of the Klansman Chalky killed, which just happens to be attended by AC’s movers and shakers, Nucky included. He and Jimmy share a few words on the porch, and for a bit it looks like things between them may have cooled off some since last season. But Nucky senses something’s up, and tells Jimmy to watch out for the Commodore. And while Jimmy’s an up-and-comer and definitely deserves to be doing more than driving Nucky around, he might want to pull back a little and listen to what he’s got to say. From what we’ve seen so far, it looks like the Commodore is trying to bring back the old days when he was in charge, he’s just using Jimmy to do it. He’s filling Jimmy’s head with all these big ideas, but in the end there’s only room at the top for one.
At home, Margaret is dealing with things decidedly less exciting. Teddy’s taken to playing with matches — an unfortunate byproduct of watching Uncle Nucky burn his dad’s house down last season — and Margaret’s got to go down to her son’s school and talk to the nun who’s been trying to beat the devil from him. I thought that was an interesting contrast, this nun in all her religious costumery and Margaret in her furs that looked to be seriously impeding her ability to walk. The whole thing kind of illustrated how far Margaret’s come this past year.
But while the money and furs and trips to the cinema may make her life easier and bring her some small degree of comfort, I’d say she’s still unhappy. She and Nucky have settled into a semi-routine of non-marital bliss, but he’s largely absent from the picture. He spends his time “in the office,” or down at Babette’s getting some anonymous woman’s boobies pressed up in his face. What a rough life that man leads. I guess Nucky’s relationship with Margaret is one of mutual understanding now. But he is trying, and we see him step in and try acting like a father to her kids. When Margaret tells him about the matches, Nucky goes to Teddy’s room to give him the stern talking to. Teddy thinks he’s in for a beating. It’s what he’s used to. But belts aren’t really Nucky’s parenting style and he pulls out a roll of cash and tells Teddy to knock it off with the fire s**t before peeling off a few bills. Different men speak different languages.
And no one speaks more differently than Nelson Van Alden. Boardwalk showed us the man’s softer side in its season opener, the Lover. Staging the raid at the restaurant just to impress Rose was a nice piece of business, and I’m starting to enjoy watching this man go from 0 to 80, rearing back and slapping people in the face. I guess the show can take a mulligan on its rocking headboard fakeout, if only because we saw the two get it on right afterwards. I don’t why they turned out the lights as I’m sure they have sex through their clothes.
Van Alden didn’t stage the raid purely for Rose’s benefit. He took the money from the tiller to give to Lucy, who it turns out is even more disgusting with a baby inside her. You’re a true mensch, Nelson. I couldn’t do what you’re doing.
So, all is not well in Atlantic City. Those closest to Nucky are turning their backs on him. His attempt at reconciliation with Jimmy — a wedding present sent months after the fact — goes nowhere. Jimmy opens the package Nucky’s sent over to find a small statue of a father and son, their porcelain faces set in expressions of mutual love and respect. In a move so on the nose I thought I was watching Margaret, Jimmy takes the statue and sticks it in the back of a closet. No joy there, and Nucky’s problems go farther still. Johnny Torrio and Al Capone sit down with George Remus in Chicago and decide they’ll be taking their AC business elsewhere. That pleases George Remus. George Remus knows they’ll be very happy with this new arrangement. George Remus is no fan of Nucky Thompson. And apparently, neither is the New Jersey state’s attorney, who at the end of the episode lures Nucky to his office then arrests him for election fraud. I’d like to say that things couldn’t get much worse, but we all know they can, and probably will.
I’m glad you’re back, Boardwalk Empire. I could only put up with that Falling Skies nonsense for so long.
I will say this about the season opener of The Office – I forgot about Steve Carell. I expected to address in this first post – and only this first post – what post-Michael Scott life was like in The Office, but the truth is, I didn’t think about it all that much as the show progressed, and that’s probably a good thing. At first, I thought they were pulling a bait and switch on us and making Andy the boss and James Spader an occasional guest, but as the story unfolded, and the more I thought about it, the more I kind of think that this particular twist is pretty genius. It makes sense on a number of fronts. First, it puts the most Michael Scott-like person in his position so we don’t lose that sense of a lovable loser awkwardly thrust into a position of pseudo-power. Second, it makes the Robert California character much more believable – he was way too cool and over-qualified for the regional manager position. And finally, it solves the logistical issue of losing Kathy Bates to her own show.
I just hope we stick with Andy as the boss for a while at least – I think the who-will-be-the-next-boss storyline is very played out, so I’m glad we moved on to more traditional Office shenanigans in this episode, and I hope that trend continues. I really think this show works better when its episodes are pretty self-contained. The through-lines seem to drag it down. The best episodes (The Fire, Traveling Salesmen, The Injury) take a fairly simple premise and use the characters’ idiosyncrasies to magnify the drama to ridiculous levels. It’s what The Office does best, and it was refreshing to see a return to that winning formula.
It started with a list, and the comedy grew organically from there. Jim asks Erin if she has a pen. She doesn’t. Andy praises the group when they show him what they’ve found, “Really great list of names, guys. Thank you so much. Good work.” Ryan observes that his presence on the right side of the list must reassure the other right-siders. And of course, Dwight instructs the left side of “the list” to attack… all really funny moments that came naturally from a true interpretation of these characters.
But it wasn’t all business as usual… there were a few subtle changes that I think will make for a fun season: Stanley’s new catch phrase (not quite as memorable as ‘that’s what she said,’ but I’m willing to give it time to grow on me (that’s what she said?). Angela’s pregnancy, obviously, will be an interesting development. I’ll admit I read a little about this particular storyline before watching the episode, so it seems that the idea is to create a rivalry between Pam and Angela, which I guess is going to be a big catalyst for this season’s story because otherwise, I couldn’t figure out the point of making Angela pregnant too. The writers missed a big opportunity to capitalize on Jim and Pam’s discovery of baby number two, on the senator’s possible homosexuality and of course, on a sweeps wedding. On the one hand, missed opportunities, but on the other, perhaps a sign that The Office will redeem itself of its most recent weak seasons and rely less on those schmaltzy “big moments” and more on the “Do you have a pen?” “No.” moments that are really its strength and what made it so smart and so much fun in the beginning.
I have super fan girl love for James Spader, so he’ll basically have to kill a puppy on the show for me to dislike him, but I can’t say I was blown away by his presence in this episode. He’s a long-con actor though and slow plays the comedy like no one else, so I’m looking forward to seeing how exactly the writers use him and how he interprets the character.
Final thought: Dwight taking revenge on the plankers was just fantastic. It was good for America’s soul.
For the record, my group of friends has been in on the ham joke for years – YEARS – before the comedy community realized that ham is truly the funniest meat. I have documentation.
Anyway, aside from Chang carrying a ham hock around in his bathrobe as he scurried from air vent to air vent, not much has changed in the Community…. er, community. The characters we’ve come to know are still the same, and while those of us who have been watching for two seasons know the score, the writers threw a bone to any newcomers and established Annie as The Hot One, Abed as The Weird but Loveable One Who is Obsessed with TV, Shirley as The Religious One, Britta as The Bitchy Annoying One, Pierce as The Old One, Troy as The Loveable but Dumb One, and Jeff as The Leader.
Maybe that was the writers’ goal for the season premiere: to let established viewers know that nothing has really changed – we’ll have new guest stars and new adventures, but our core group’s particular brand of crazy is still the driving force behind the show while at the same time letting new viewers get caught up, because other than that, there wasn’t a lot of meat to this episode. We were introduced to our new guest stars: Michael K. Williams as Professor Kane and John Goodman as Vice Dean Laybourne, leader of the more profitable branch of Greendale: the Air Conditioning Repair School annex. And we got some recognition of last season’s arc which saw the group turn on Pierce for his manipulative shenanigans. But like any good sitcom, things were back to the way they’ve always been by the end of the episode, and I’d call a cop out on almost any other show, but Community basically acknowledged this trope in this week’s theme and even in Jeff’s final comment: “Life has a way of breaking through.” Community is a show that is, on its surface, about a group of community college misfits, but in reality, it recognizes itself as a half-hour, single-cam sitcom and it’s that acknowledgment that makes it unique and interesting and ultimately, smarter than anything on CBS.
I was underwhelmed by the first episode, but I guess the season opener had a lot to accomplish in terms of set-up, so I’m optimistic we’ll see more of the zany adventures, biting dialogue and intelligent story and character development in the coming episodes. In the meantime, some brief final thoughts on the season three opener:
- “You are the opposite of Batman.” Best insult ever, or bestest insult ever?
- For a split second, I thought we were going to see yet another rehash of the storyline that dominated the first two seasons: Jeff trying to distance himself from the friendship provided by “the group,” so I was glad to see a new twist on that – where he openly acknowledged the group’s profound importance and instead of taking crazy steps to disprove his reliance, took crazy steps to prove his commitment.
- Britta’s sanctimonious speech on the superiority of British TV was funny and… strangely familiar.
- Grease. A Mighty Wind. Rocky. The Gold Rush. Five Easy Pieces.
For me, this season of The Hour has been all about managing expectations. It’s set in the 50s? It’ll be just like Mad Men! Murder? Spies? Awkward dinner parties? I thought that this might possibly be the greatest television show in the history of television or shows. Then I watched the first episode, and the second, and the third… and I was a bit puzzled to discover that it wasn’t. The show was good — more than good — to be sure, but it wasn’t blowing my socks off or making them roll up and down or doing anything to them really.
Then I realized that this wasn’t a show about political intrigue or the mistakes governments make or freedom of the press. All of these things played a part in it, but The Hour was primarily a story about Freddie Lyon and Bel Rowley. These two people who, even though they will probably never end up together, still care for and even love each other very much.
That was the show. The rest was just window dressing. Moody, well-written window dressing. But because my expectations were much higher, I couldn’t help but feel a little disappointed. Then I watched this week’s finale, and for some reason that put the rest of the season into perspective for me. The payoff made me realize that The Hour was never shooting for the moon, but was telling a very measured story about these people whose passions had brought them together, and together in their roles as journalists, were trying to report the news when the country needed it, in the face of a government that was dead set against them. Does any of that make any sense? No? Well, I tried.
Anyway, as I watching the finale and that story came into focus, the thing really took off. I never realized a news program could be so engrossing. And it wasn’t just that, wasn’t just Freddie and Bel trying to see what they could sneak past McCain. It was McCain, Clarence, Marnie watching things in the control room. It was Freddie waiting for Lord Elms to show up. The show really took us to bed and showed us that it was the gentle, more experienced lover we hoped it would be.
The revelation that Clarence was the Soviet Agent working inside the BBC that MI6 was looking for may have been a bit expected, but I thought what he was trying to accomplish with Freddie was a good way to twist things. It wasn’t about grand gestures meant to tear down the government. Clarence wanting Freddie to reveal on air what he had been told about England’s plans to assassinate Nasser was clearly the milk before the meat. Throwing this bit of knowledge out over the airwaves would have sown distrust between the government and the people. Clarence and those he was working with were thinking long term. So when — after he and Bel had been fired — Clarence telling Freddie that he’s ruined what he’s worked for years to build, meaning his work with the Soviets and not the bit about who killed Ruth Elsm, was really strong. You can look past the traitor to his country stuff for a minute and feel sorry for the guy. And while a piece of me is asking, “What the hell was Freddie thinking?” I don’t know if I expected anything different from him. Was there ever any chance that Freddie would chase the story that wasn’t personal to him? Everything Freddie did, his entire reason for pitching The Hour, was personal to him. That passion is probably why he ended up on the Bright Stone list in the first place. Maybe Clarence should have seen the whole thing coming.
The show’s been renewed for a second series, so the question is where does it go from here? Another murder for Freddie to get involved in, another international crisis for the show to be reporting might seem a bit repetitive, and procedural in a way that’s just not done. And even among the characters, there will be new problems to deal with. Bel’s ended her whatever-it-was with Hector, who himself has told Marnie that he’s coming back home. Like I said before, I don’t think Bel and Freddie will ever end up together, so as far as each other are concerned they’re in same place they’ve always been in. Except now they’ve got this show between them. But maybe the number one thing on our lists should be that there is no more show. There is no more Hour. McCain saw to that. So maybe series 2 will pick up a year later, with Freddie and Bel, Hector and Lix, Isaac and Sissy working on a new show, in their Sterling-Cooper-Draper-Pryce digs. I mean, they’re the show, right? We’ve got to find some way to keep them all together.
But really, what’s going on in the background won’t make or break this show, because what works so well are their relationships with each other. Freddie and Bel may be a missed connection on some level, but on another they’re all the other’s got. Hector lives a life of privilege. One might think he’s done the things he’s done in life because that’s what’s expected of him. But he’s wants to come down from that lofty perch, live among the little people, just live. And that’s not something he’ll be able to do at home with Marnie. These are the things I’m glad The Hour was able to show us, and what I’ll be looking forward to when it comes back — For another six episodes? Really? — next year.
I am one of the rare heterosexual American males who will gladly admit his affection for Sex and the City. What was not to like? Four richly developed characters spouting quick, oftentimes witty, dialogue about life and love and sex in the Big Apple. This is why I was excited to learn of 2 Broke Girls. One of two new sitcoms from creator comedian Whitney Cummings and the only new network show by frequent scribe and producer of Sex and the City, Michael Patrick King. Unfortunately, my excitement didn’t last past the opening scene.
Max (played by the scowling Kat Dennings) is a plucky, self-aware, cupcake baking waitress at a diner in Brooklyn. After a fellow waitress, a “Soviet hooker” is fired for, well, hooking in the stockroom, the owner of the diner is forced to hire a new waitress. And in walks Caroline (played by the appropriately adorable Beth Behrs), a former Upper-westside socialite whose assets have been frozen because of her father, a man who “ripped off the entire city.” Thus, begins a beautifully mismatched friendship sure to draw in women of both uppercrust and wrong-side-of-the-tracks upbringings. Right? No, not convinced? Me neither.
From the opening scene, 2 Broke Girls seems to be more concerned with establishing the pitch for the show than with giving us characters as people whose lives we want to watch. More concerned with convincing the audience of the worth of its dirty dialogue, or the wacky situations the two girls find themselves in, than telling us a story. Everything about this mess screams contrived. Despite the fairly promising performances of the two leading females, one gets the feeling that both Ms. Behrs and Ms. Dennings wished they had a bit more to work with, or a lot more. Their wish for something more is one the audience sorely shares.
But there isn’t more, just stacked clichés delivering one-liners over an obvious laugh track. (A laugh track that successfully kills any notion of actual laughter from its home audience at the few actually funny parts) From the wise-cracking older black cashier at the restaurant, to the well-toned, cheating boyfriend Robbie and his dimwit rock band buddies, to the unbelievably boring sets, and lazy lighting of the show. Contrived. I’ve heard it said lighting often makes or breaks sitcoms. The bright, spacious diner (so obviously not in Brooklyn, but on a brightly-lit soundstage) only exacerbates the un-believability factor of the show.
A totally manly side note here: One of the things that I liked about Sex and the City was, although it was a female-centered show, the existence of believable male characters was an important element. 2 Broke Girls has not one interesting or believably human male character anywhere.
The pilot proceeds through 22 grueling minutes of introducing possible developing storylines. Max’s impending break-up with Robbie after finding out he’s cheating on her (news Max just can’t accept when coming from the caring and honest Caroline), the two girls moving in together, and Max’s other job as a Nanny for a totally different New York heiress (and her two children Brad and Angelina). Ugh. I would comment on this, but seriously, who cares? The final scene finds Max and Caroline sitting on Caroline’s horse in Max’s tiny backyard (you know, like wacky completely opposite people/best friends do) discussing a truly wonderful, and in no way contrived, idea. Caroline loves Max’s devil’s food cupcakes so much that she’s devised a plan to open a cupcake shop. They’ll need $250,000 dollars startup money.
The show ends with an unexplained amount of money (around $300) flashing on the screen before the credits. I guess this is how much the girls decided to put up for the cupcake shop this week. That seems like a lot of money for two broke girls. I couldn’t help thinking they should’ve flashed another number, like the number of episodes aired before they shut this disaster down. My guess is 3.
No, Walt. I was wrong. I was wrong for thinking that, even though Breaking Bad is far and away the best show on television, that it’s not quite as good as it was last year. That at this point in season 3, things seemed to be building up to much more of an event, and that maybe, just maaaybe, we weren’t moving in that same direction this year. Dry your eyes, Walt. I was wrong. And I’m sorry.
I was wrong about a few things, as it turns out. When the cartel came after Gus in last week’s episode, and Gus ran up the white flag, ready to give them anything and everything they wanted, I believed him. I should have known better. The man who visits Don Salamanca in an old folks home for years just to pat him on the knee and remind him that he can have him killed whenever he wants doesn’t surrender. And he doesn’t delegate. No, that man gets on an airplane, flies to Mexico and kills everybody HIMSELF. And we knew pretty early on that this was where things were headed. The scene at Don Eladio’s hacienda was in no way ambiguous. Once we saw Gus looking out over the pool, popping those pills, giving Don Eladio some exotic liquor to smooth things over and apologize for going off the reservation, we knew what was coming. But regardless of all that, the amount of suspense the writers were able to wring out of the scene was pretty amazing. Was it really believable that Don Eladio would give that stuff out to every single one of his captains? No. But considering the payoff, I think we can forgive it.
“Salud” really made it feel like Walt had been crumpled up and thrown in a corner. And while the show has shown us some terrible things in the past, I felt like Walt breaking down in front of Walt Jr. was the first time it actually made me sad. Seriously. Jane? Who cares? Jesse telling Walt that he’s ruined his life? Whatever! But Walt telling his son that he had made a mistake, that it was all his fault, and that he was sorry got me all teary-eyed. I have to wonder if he was talking about more than just his kerfuffle with Jesse, because last week wasn’t the first time Walt’s given him the business. Although I guess it was the first time they really beat the piss out of each other. If Walt sees Jesse taking off with Gus and Mike to teach the cartel boys down in Mexico how to cook, well, I guess he might start feeling left out in the cold. Like everything he had worked for was beginning to fall down around him, and that maybe his time was coming to an end. I guess if that were the case, he might start regretting certain decisions he had made.
But that kind of self-awareness only seems to come out when Walt is drunk or heavily medicated. After a few hours sleep Walt’s remorse had turned into regret that Walt Jr. had seen him like that. Whatever feelings Walt had over the previous night had been quietly tucked away. Walt Jr. leaves and that weird black guy drives up and tells Walt to get back to work. Meth don’t cook itself, and there’s no rest for the wicked. Walt’s got no choice but to listen. That guy’s really weird. Think he might try and kill someone.
Events at the start of the season made it seem as if the show would mostly concern itself with Walt and Jesse trying to keep from ending up like Victor. Decomposing inside a barrel in the middle of a landfill somewhere. But it looks like things have changed. I don’t know about Walt, but Jesse may have earned himself a reprieve. Gus seemed pretty impressed with his gumption, his moxy, his go-get-’em attitude. And that was before helping him and a gutshot Mike out of Eladio’s compound. Maybe going above and beyond will earn Jesse a little goodwill, some leverage to get Walt out of the doghouse. I guess that might work better if Jesse were inclined to help Walt out of the doghouse. I think he may need a little more time. Wounds need to heal. But anyway, his stock’s on the rise. And we’ve only got three more episodes to see it crash!
And if Jesse can’t send things spiraling into the shitter, Skyler will do it. I guess you just can’t trust a woman to anonymously give her ex-boss $600,000 to get out of trouble with the IRS without her rubbing it in his face later. I don’t know how this ends. At least with Walt and Jesse I can look at things and say, okay, maybe Walt has to move against Jesse. Or maybe Jesse moves up in Gus’ organization. With Skyler and Ted, I can’t help but spiral off into crazy stuff like Ted trying to blackmail Skyler and Walt, and Walt having to go all Jesse on his ass. That could be a thing, right? Whatever happens, I don’t see it ending well. I enjoy situations like these because it gives Saul a chance to go all pointy finger on Skyler and tell her that he was right. This is something she should have steered clear of. But, if she’s got to learn her lessons in similar fashion to Walt and Jesse, I think I can stand to watch.