Category Archives: TV

Retro Review: The Current TV Landscape (The Office, Scrubs, and the Ghost of Arrested Development) – Part 1

With the fourth season of Arrested Development premiering in a few short hours on Netflix, I figured this would be a good time to re-post something I wrote shortly after its cancellation (way back in 2006) where I explained I was on-board with the show ending permanently.

Part 1 of 3

With the all-but cancellation of my second loudest talking point three months ago, my TV habits have unexpectedly and ambitiously changed. For many years, the only section of calendar showing “appointment TV” was Fox’s Sunday night from 8-10. Initially anchored by The Simpsons and The X-Files, over the years I’ve regularly watched Malcolm in the Middle, King of the Hill, That 70’s Show, Family Guy, Futurama, Andy Richter Controls the Universe, Arrested Development, and most recently Free Ride. I never watched most of those shows again after either a move to a different night (That 70’s Show, Malcolm in the Middle) or before 8 on Sundays (King of the Hill, Futurama, Malcolm in the Middle [again]). The Simpsons’ decline too many years ago makes/made the 8:00 slot more of a sentimental appointment with some memory from my past (maybe), but it’s rare that I don’t catch at least some of the Sunday night shows. (Most recently, I’ve watched Family Guy and Free Ride.)

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I hate the Internet. (click the image for full-size)

Arrested Development, originally airing at 9:30 was the best show to come out of the Fox Sunday night, even better than when The Simpsons was what we remember it being like “when it was good.” Generally I’ve found that of the people to whom I recommended the show, it’s pretty easy to pick who will like it and who won’t. Plenty of people are on the record extolling it as the best show ever, and while I’d agree, I don’t have anything to add that hasn’t been covered ad nauseum by that community. Oddly enough, Arrested Development has very much become similar to one of those things that I don’t really have a problem with, but the fans are just so obnoxious that I think even more negatively about the item/object/concept than I normally would or should. In the case of Arrested Development, I’m so positive about the show, that the fandom merely tarnishes whatever memory I might have of it, not the actual show itself, if that makes sense. I don’t think that it “revolutionized” the sitcom (it was sort of on for only three seasons) as some claim, it was just the shining example of a different way of presenting 30 minutes of comedy.

For the three seasons it aired, my routine was watch it when it aired, download the widescreen rip on bittorrent, then watch the bejesus out of it until buying the DVD’s the day they were released. The airing of the last four episodes (all shown in a two hour block one Friday night in February) after more than a month of knowing those would most likely be the last episodes of the show hit some note with me in that even though I downloaded the episodes, I have yet to watch them a second time. Considering that I’ve watched every other episode of the show between three and too many times each, I realized it was odd I had/have no desire to watch the last four again, especially considering that they were some of the best episodes of one of the best shows in the history couch-potato-ery. I’m not sure it takes too much effort to correctly read into it; similarly, I own all of the Calvin and Hobbes books, but I’ve never read the last one though I’ve owned it long enough to have read it many times.

For a solid two months, there were continual rumors about where Arrested Development might end up after that Fox made it obvious it wasn’t wanted by shortening the season to 13 episodes. “The Internet” held out hope, but “the internet” ignored the fact that any channel picking up an expensive-to-produce, bottom-of-the-ratings-heap show must not enjoy making money. It was a sad time for many, with (literally) the best show in the history of ever wrapping up. Fox showed the last four episodes in a two hour block directly against the opening ceremonies of the Winter Olympics, almost two months after the most recent airing of the show. In other words, lots of time to “discover” something new.

As great as it was, Arrested Development was not “perfect” in terms of 30 minute television. As widely reported, practically none of the characters were likeable (Michael Bluth was dysfunctional in his own, realistic sort of way, and heck, even Annyong was a jerk to Buster). That’s not what I look for in a show, but there are plenty of lady-folk who need to empathize with characters and figuratively “hug it out” with their TV icons. I don’t know if it was searching-for-ratings-related, but the first episodes of the show established that Michael Bluth had relatively recently become a widower, and the show touched on the challenges of that situation in terms of how it affects teenaged children and the dating process for said widower. Of course, the show still packed in the zaniness, but there was something more there that from the second season and on was ignored. One could tell the writers avoided detailing the how and why of Michael’s wife’s death (she was said to have cancer some time in season 2 or 3), leaving the issue wide open for future episodes, but it was left unaddressed as the show moved toward (admittedly HI-larious) wackiness, zaniness, creative wordplay, and, uh, whimsy. Again, I didn’t need that “emotional resonance” from the show (or any show for that matter), but lesser men consider it a requirement for their TV intake.

Some fault the show for its reliance on jokes that only dedicated (meaning, weekly) viewers would get. That’s not a fault; that’s putting faith in your audience. Of course, it makes a niche show even more niche by creating both a high learning curve and too many inside jokes, but that’s more of a problem with what I’ll say is the “concept of the show” instead of the show itself. Returning to its problematic fans, they’re super-quick to say, “you don’t ‘get’ it, so you’re stupid” completely ignoring the fact that much of the humor depends on earlier episodes and the fact that some people just don’t get much out of the site of a grown man in a mole suit destroying a model train village in front of a group of “Japanese investors” in an homage to Godzilla. The fact that someone might not think something like that is funny doesn’t affect that I still think it’s the best show ever; the two aren’t mutually exclusive, but many of the fans use their opinion of the show (of it being the best) as a reason why everyone should think that jokes like that are funny.

*****
The Ghost of Arrested Development receives five big stars. Sure, the body’s still warm, but with Mitchell Hurwitz, the creator, saying he wouldn’t want to be involved even if it picked up by a (fiscally irresponsible) network, it’s gone for good. And I’m ok with that. The time before the last four episodes were aired provided an opportunity to sample other channels’ wares (which we’ll look into later in the week). The series finale was just about perfect, and as I watched it end (into the sunset, of course), as much as I complained that it was no longer going to be on the air, I didn’t want there to be any more episodes. It was that good. It was Arrested Development.

UniDiction 2011: Week 13 – Eagles vs. Seahawks and Week 12 Round-Up (new format!)

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follow me on twitter (@dancfuller)

Well, I was wrong for last week’s game, too. 3-8. Of course, there was nothing right about the Eagles on-field performance, either.

There’s an all-new format for the UniDiction section which I think you’ll like, so let me know what you think in the comments.

Week 12 Round-Up

The Chargers wore their very nice Powder Blue throwbacks. I think the color’s odd enough that it shouldn’t necessarily be their primary uniform (and the Titans use light Blue, though in a very different way), but the Chargers normal uniforms are among the least notable in the league (neither good nor bad…they just…are), helmet with electricity on the sides notwithstanding, so file the “should the powder blues be the Chargers’ normal uniforms” under “let me think about it.” I covered the Thanksgiving uniform happenings in last week’s article.

Eagles vs Seahawks UniDiction (new format!)

Week13
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No full write-up for the Eagles this week because of the new format, but they’re in White over Midnight Green, and that looks awful and needs to be removed from their locker room. BUT, the Seahawks uniforms are awful.

Seahawks – 12

Eagles – 13 

Some random Seahawks uniform info:

Seahawks helmet logo in image above from Chris Creamer’s SportsLogos.net.

*

An awful uniform match-up this week.

The Muppets

The Muppets have always been a big inspiration to me. I grew up watching reruns of The Muppet Show, the 9 episodes of The Jim Henson Hour that aired before it was cancelled, the movies, Muppet Babies, Fraggle Rock, Sesame Street and countless other productions. Muppet Christmas Carol is one of my favorite movies ever, and a yearly staple, as is the classic “A Christmas Together” album with John Denver.

This special that was made for The Jim Henson hour but didn’t air until much later on Nickelodeon was one of the first “behind-the-scenes” videos (now a ubiquitous DVD feature) of any kind I had ever seen, and I found it endlessly fascinating. I watched it every time that I came across it on TV. I might venture to say that it has had a profound impact on where my life has taken me.

I’ve taken puppeteering and puppet-building classes, walked around the Muppet Studio in L.A., briefly met some of the current puppeteers, and last year got to make a piece of puppet magic myself.

‘The Muppets’ seems to have stolen our puppet mount-cam idea without either us or them knowing it.

But enough about me. The reason that I’m throwing this out there is that there are other people out there like me. I would venture to say that I’m at the tail end of this multi-generational fascination with these characters. The last great piece of entertainment produced with Kermit, Fozzie, etc., was Chrismas Carol in 1992, nearly 20 years ago.

The Muppets have languished in the years since then, through various changes in ownership and stewardship. There have been two mediocre theatrical movies (the last one still a lengthy 12 years ago), a failed TV variety show, a Christmas special that had its moments, another horrific Christmas special, and the terrible Wizard of Oz adaptation.

This lengthy period of brand failure is exactly what the new movie is commenting on, and it does so in such a marvelous way that all cause for concern about how it treats the franchise’s history should be thrown out the window.

Briefly, the movie’s about a two superfans (Jason Segel and Walter, a new muppet performed fantastically by Peter Linz) who travel from Smalltown, USA to L.A. with Segel’s character’s girlfriend (Amy Adams) and visit the Muppet studios, finding it decrepit and more-or-less closed. Walter finds out that an evil corporation has taken control over the studio, theatre and Muppets name and plans to run all of them into the ground. It’s up to the three of them to get everyone back together to save the Muppets legacy. To say that this bears some resemblance to the current state of affairs with the company is quite the understatement.

I watched the original Muppet Movie the night before seeing this, and I’d recommend you do the same. In addition to being able to recognize a few callback references to the original movie, rewatching “The Muppet Movie” puts things in the new film in such an interesting mindset. Kermit was once an idealistic leader, inspiring friends to uproot their lives and travel to Hollywood to become “rich and famous”. Now though, all these years later, Kermit has become sort of an out-of-touch recluse, living in a mansion with only his 1980s robot butler to keep him company. Any object that could remind him of the past, and the never-detailed, but often inferred event that caused them all to split up, is draped off. (As a side note, I would love to see this dark chapter in the Muppets history. It would be the most depressing scene ever — even more than this and the [i'm not kidding] attempted suicide scene that came immediately before it, which I can’t find now — but it would be so compelling. Side side note: this is the world where Kermit was never born.) He’s not cynical or bitter — Kermit could never be that — but he’s deeply saddened by how much he believes he let everyone down, which is a burden he’s put on himself since the first movie. Now, years after the split, he views his life’s work as a failure and sees getting everyone together as a fool’s errand, but is talked into it.

The rest of the movie parallels the original’s structure, in the “getting the band back together” sense, but it’s almost a flipped perspective. Instead of it being about the hope of becoming entertainers and being able to make people happy, it’s about the notion of losing your friends to infighting, and your legacy to years of inactivity and a company bent on ruining your name and replacing you with other people/characters. While Walter brings new energy and hopeful naivety, the rest of the Muppets seem like old souls. They’ve aged in spirit and seem a little weary. Fozzy looks a little grey. Everyone else has moved on with their lives, and it’s quite the effectively sad portion of the movie.

But the movie is greatly funny. The music is mostly fantastic, especially if you like Flight of the Conchords, whose Bret McKenzie wrote four original songs (and a reprise), and served as Music Supervisor. I didn’t really care for the Amy Adams/Miss Piggy splitscreen duet, but the Jason Segel/Walter duet, “Man or Muppet” is both catchy and hilarious. The direction (by “Conchords” TV show co-creator and director) is great, with extremely minimal CG work and many, many “How’d they do that?” moments. Segel and Adams are cute and bring great likeable human energy, even if their story feels a bit too much in the forefront.

The Muppet performers don’t seem to miss a beat at all. Considering the only original performer still involved is Gonzo originator Dave Goelz, it’s amazing that all of these characters can still “live” and “breathe” when being performed by other people. It has taken me a number of years to get used to Steve Whitmire’s slightly higher-pitched Kermit, but the range of emotion he was able to wring out of that puppet was remarkable. Eric Jacobson (Fozzy, Piggy, Animal, Sam Eagle) and Bill Barretta (Rowlf, Dr. Teeth, Bobo, Pepe, Swedish Chef) are incredible apers of the original Frank Oz and Henson voices and master puppeteers to boot. There is really no difference in the Muppet characters noticeable enough to be a distraction, as in some past productions.

The woman sitting in front of me at the screening and her hippie husband left the theatre complaining about the “Disneyfication” of the franchise. Granted, she was also complaining prior to the movie about bottled water being a scam, but she does have a valid point about the movie, to a limited extent. Yes, everything is slick, polished, and sanitized. There are overhead shots of the Muppet Theatre (Disney’s Hollywood Boulevard El Capitan Theatre repurposed for the exteriors) that show a “Cars 2” billboard prominently in the background. The three new principal roles (Segel’s “Gary”, Adams’ “Mary”, and Walter) do get a little bit too much focus.

But here is why all of those complaints are wrong. Every joke or type of joke in this movie that seemed out of place actually had a precedent set for it in some prior movie or project: breaking the fourth wall, presenting a popular song in a ridiculous way (the muppet show did this every week), the over-top bad guy bent on bringing them down (Chris Cooper, doing a great job in limited screentime), even the ridiculous method by which they travel long distances.

No matter what Frank Oz says, I don’t feel that the characters were ever disrespected, with one possible exception, which I’ll get to later. In fact, I’d say the opposite. The newer characters were either never used (Clifford, Johnny Fiama and Sal Manella were completely absent), or, like Pepe, were pushed to the background entirely. Even lesser-known, older characters like Uncle Deadly, and Wayne and Wanda make appearances.

Oz points to the ubiquitous “fart shoes” joke in the ads as something Fozzie would never do, but in the context of the movie, I think it works. The characters are out of touch and desperate to figure out what people want, and I don’t think Fozzie is below pandering for a laugh. I’d say this movie is truer to the characters than the “World Where Kermit was Never Born” business.

Gary, Mary, and Walter serve as an audience proxy for younger people unfamiliar with “The Muppet Show”. And without Segel’s Gary and Walter there is no real impetus for the characters to reconcile at all, in a not-so-subtle parallel to real-life. Walter and Gary’s storylines are also so simple that they work without being too off-putting, and they’ve found great ways to parallel other character’s stories (the two duets for example).

For me though, and this comes as a side-note, and probably just a personal gripe, but considering he’s the only original performer left, Dave Goelz didn’t have much for Gonzo to do.

I know the last movie, way back when, focused on him entirely, but in re-watching material recently, I’ve realized the hidden layer of soul and sadness that Gonzo can bring, that few others have. The emotion that comes across in this song…

… is something that Miss Piggy and Fozzy are never tasked with. Most of the other characters are just one dimensional, though Rowlf has on occasion brought the emotion in his Muppet Show performances. Because of this, Kermit is left to carry that burden, but his sadness comes from his failures to live up to his ridiculously high expectations of himself as the leader and guy who manages these ridiculous personalities. Gonzo’s pathos has always stemmed from not fitting in, being weird, and not knowing exactly what he is.

Since these characteristics are basically the entirety of Walter’s personality, and his character arc, this brooding side of Gonzo gets pushed to the backburner, and even his comical side does as well. I’d be interested to see his number of lines compared to other characters. I get that not everyone can be properly serviced, but as a member of what I consider to be the core four characters, he feels like an afterthought. You can sense the regret in Fozzie and Piggy, but Gonzo has just seemed to move on. And this overlooking of him is even sadder considering Goelz is the longest-tenured performer here.

I have some mixed feelings about the end, but I have to talk about it in vague ideas. Basically, I feel like it glosses over a majorly important plot point, but the way in which it does this seems to render it fairly unimportant in the overall scheme of things. It sort of takes their literal goal and says their figurative one is more important, which is a great idea, but leaves the main plot as almost a side story.

On the whole though, I felt every emotion I was supposed to, including my normal disinterest in Miss Piggy. I welled up a few times, laughed a lot, and left with a smile on my face, and no feelings of contempt in my heart. I never once thought that they ruined a good thing here, and that’s all I could ask for.

The crux of this movie is whether or not The Muppets are a viable entertainment in today’s pop culture landscape, and I’d say that with the right material (and this is great material… mostly fleece and foam… wocka, wocka), they can be. Let’s hope that the kids that are getting their first taste of these characters feel the same way.

****½

The LOST Finale as a Meta-Metaphor for the Death of a Series

I wonder if the “Man of Science/Man of Faith” argument could be extrapolated to refer to the skeptics vs. those who had faith in the writers.

“Lost” (pun intended) in the hubbub of last night’s “polar”-izing finale, buried beneath the mystical corks, and cliffhanger fights; airplane escapes and journeys into the afterlife together, is a metaphor that I have yet to see in any of today’s recaps, though I have purposely waited to read Jeff “Doc” Jensen’s EW column for fear of it being the only one to taint my idea with his. Most of the disagreement over whether it was a satisfactory conclusion stands between the two camps of fans: people who wanted more “answers” to mysteries of the island (Jacob’s Cabin, The Hurley Bird, Walt and Aaron being ‘Special’, or even why there’s a giant cork in the island to begin with), and the ones who were more interested in where characters’ stories ended. There are those people (NY Times and NY Post, I’m looking at you) who didn’t understand things that were plainly spoken (“What happened was REAL”), but I tend to throw them out, because they obviously haven’t put enough thought into it.

In case there’s confusion, a brief recap of the important points. The entire season we’ve been given what the show’s writers endearingly call the “flash-sideways”. Instead of mixing in the main narrative with flashes of what has happened (flashback), or what will happen in the future (flash-forward) like they’ve done throughout the series (though the term “future” is relative, and makes my brain hurt), they’ve shown us the same characters we’ve known, in a time that we’ve already seen, now in a world whose relationship to the island universe is unknown. Now, the characters are different though, taking us back to the mindsets and issues they were dealing with in the first season, before all of the crazy island adventures changed, and in most cases, killed them. The characters, while having the same hearts and basic characteristics as the ones we’ve come to know, are altered a little bit, but dealing, in essence, with the same baggage as they did in the real world. Much of the enjoyment of this sixth and final season, just as in the first, lies in discovering who these people are in this world and realizing just how much different they are than the characters we grew to know. The only complication of this narrative device is that since we, the viewer, are incapable of coming to an understanding that both of these universes can simultaneously exist, we have to find a way in our own minds to reconcile the two together. “Which one isn’t real?”, or “Which one will become real?” we ask, because we can’t imagine how both of them can exist and still have meaning. My guess early in the season was that each one of them carried the same amount of weight and that the finale would create duel endings (not reconciling these universes), one happy, and one where everyone died. This would leave the viewer to have to decide for himself which one was real or if both were. I was wrong.

The way they were reconciled was by having each character in this “sideways” universe realize that it wasn’t real; that everyone there had died and that it was a holding place for them to move on to “what comes after death”. Everything on the island had happened. Some people died in the course of the show’s run; some lived full lives After Jack Shepherd (A.J.S.). But there they all were, waiting to move on as one group, changing Jack’s “Live together or die alone” mantra to one of “Live together AND DIE TOGETHER”. Their hurdle to enlightenment and realization of where they were in this universe was letting go of petty issues, guilt, fear, atonement, and instead, embracing the love of others. The Island, and the time spent on it were the most important parts of these people’s lives, and all that came before it was just a prelude and backstory. The relationships forged lasted beyond the characters lifetimes and stayed in the collective unconscious until they were ready to “let go”. Once this was understood, they could all go together towards that slightly cheesy white light, to whatever lay beyond. It was a mostly beautiful, and, at the time, slightly sappy ending, that I ate up wholly, reuniting characters but not compromising by bringing them back to life. Dead is Dead. And it seems as though they successfully put to bed the themes of death and love that hearken all the way back to when the first character, Boone, bit the dust as John Locke’s sacrifice to the hatch.

Before the finale, someone at my place remarked about how more than eighty percent of the characters ever introduced on the show have been killed off, and after last night’s episode, I realized that these deaths weren’t merely part of ratings boosting, or shock value, or plot progression, but they were there to bring about discussion on the theme of death. Anyone can go at any time. That’s a phrase I’ve heard the writers say they’ve wanted to impart on our minds for the entire run of the show. They were going to go so far as to potentially kill Jack in the first episode, originally. If you think about it, there’s probably a whole section that I could write about how the smoke monster/man in black was the antagonist because he couldn’t come to terms with his own anger at his death. Sure he wanted to move on (get off the island), but he couldn’t let go of the pain of the past, and parental issues and learn to accept his life for what it was and love. Jacob, as well, stayed around the island, in spirit form, until he was able to let go of his island protector-ship spurned by his guilt over his brother’s death. Michael was trapped as a spirit on the island forever because he couldn’t get past his misdeeds. But this is all discussion for some other time.

What I’m interested in here is the idea of how the show deals with the topic of death, as it relates to the actual death of the show itself. Wow! THAT IS META! Let me clarify that sentence: In the episode, characters are struggling to deal with the idea that their lives are actually over, and they must move on to the next phase together by letting go and embracing a community of love. Hell, the first scene is a coffin coming out of an airplane and the last is a wake/funeral; if that’s not metaphor material, nothing is. In fact, I’d venture to say double metaphor: death of the characters themselves (aside from the specific Christian Shepherd, as the surface example) AND death of the show. Imagine, if you will, that instead of Christian, inside of this casket is a show that has grown with us over the past six years, one that has become our friend, safe haven, source of philosophical debate and stability in a constantly changing world. Imagine that the fan community for the show, one that brings people together in discussion and love, and one that fills living rooms with ten people or more (or less) per week to share in this joint experience is the crowd of characters in pews embracing each other, joyful, weeping, and filled with human emotions. Last night’s episode wasn’t just about characters accepting death and letting the minutiae go, it was about us as fans of the show learning to do the same. But with this show, unlike most, we had to go together. We had to let go of all the unresolved plot points from four years ago and accept that it had ended. And fill the world with love for it and each other. And last night, and this morning, the internet pretty much exploded, with people who loved it, who will remember the good times and cherish it forever in the “what comes after”, and with those who felt burned, angry about the small things, and may never be able to find peace in the resolution. They’ll be haters, but they’ll be stuck in their “waiting room”, ready to be enlightened when they let their cynicism go.

The more I think about it, the more I realize they been trying to prepare us for this the entire season. Obviously, they knew the show was going to die. The entire flash sideways as a denouement not only works in the context of the characters dying, but for the show itself. While the characters were all set up with different life scenarios and what-ifs, many of them better versions of themselves dealing with the same problems, so was the ENTIRE PREMISE of the show itself. “What would happen if Hurley became a successful businessman, or Sayid could protect Nadia, or Sawyer could actually put away criminals instead of being one?” becomes “What if this horrific plane crash never happened?” What would a self-actualized, but slightly askew version of the first season flashback storytelling look like? How would it mirror (oh snap!) the beloved first season that served as the birth of these characters? In the exact same way as the characters went through this season’s sideways stories, not knowing what their place was, we ventured along the same way, only to be enlightened at the end, and able to see these stories for what they were: a waiting room, there to bring us back together with our deceased friends and help us move on to the place after as a group, a “fandom” if that doesn’t sound too nerdy. Bless you LOST, for the friendships you’ve helped create and strengthen over the past six years will surely be enough to carry us over to whatever comes next. I’ve let go.

****½
I think this metaphor pretty much works, but I’m sure there are a few holes you can punch here and there, and I didn’t mean to come off as preachy in more than an “it’s okay to move on” way.

As for the finale itself…
****½
Learning to let go of the minor things, the mysteries, and go back to my first season mindset, where all I cared about were the characters, this was a total success for me. Sure there weren’t “answers”, but that’s life. I’m dealing. The foam rocks falling seemed a little cheesy though, for the -.5 star. Seeya in another life, Brotha.

2010 Academy Awards


Alec and Steve were the only friends left at “Oscar’s” birthday party after mom kicked Kratos out after “the incident.”

Some quick thoughts opinions:

The “interpretive” dancing to accompany the Best Music (Original Score) nominees was tacky and plain-old ridiculous. Being that the music was written for a movie, why not show either a) a montage/custom trailer showcasing the music against the images or b) show a specific scene from the movie as-is which highlights the connection between composer and the visual material. The eventual winner, UP, has a sequence which would have lent itself perfectly for, you know, showing the effect of the music instead of a bunch of people spinning on their heads or doing the robot. If they want to show break-ish dancing, America’s Best Dance Crew does it better (and without the false pretense of it being “fine art.”)

Aside from the fact that a movie which would be more properly described as “rendered” (or raytraced, or something or another) rather than “filmed,” won for Best Cinematography, why did they show no clips, again, showcasing the recognized, excellent cinematography? I believe only the title cards were shown. Sure, most of the movies (except, Harry Potter, I believe) were shown in other awards’ intro sections, but movies are a visual medium, show it if it’s awards-worthy! Or maybe you could get the interpretive dancers to movieoke the scenes in question.

The Best Actor/Actress “wedding toasts” are still awkward and unnecessarily long. BUT, watching the obligatory “Oscar-bait” scenes are usually just as cringe-worthy. Of course, this year we got to see what happens when a “who’s that guy?” actor without a compelling story (acting debut and [celebrated for some odd reason] morbid obesity, for example) gets nominated…Colin Farrell is left to relate stories from their time off set during the filming of SWAT because there is no body of work to reference (yet?). Consider it a tie between the old “bait” and new “toasts” methods. [Jeremy Renner absolutely deserved to be nominated and would not have been a surprise winner, and unrelatedly, SWAT wasn't all that bad of a movie, either].

In terms of Best Picture and Best Director (considering them interrelated here)… eh, The Hurt Locker was good, but felt a bit incomplete. Imagine a collection of seven interrelated short stories, any of which could be swapped for the climax of the movie. Unique, yes, but District 9 took another unique presentation method and did it better. The Hurt Locker would be somewhere below Up in the Air, District 9, An Education, and even Avatar on my list.

P.S. The Blind Side is an awful, awful movie. Meryl Streep did “I get what I want,” bad-ass chick better in The Devil Wears Prada, though Sandra Bullock was definitely the best part of the movie (which is notable because there was anything in it that could be considered “best”).

**½

The End of Scrubs, the Sequel

Following up on my original, hopeful take on whether Scrubs was really going to end two years ago, another is-it-or-isn’t-it the end episode aired last night. First and foremost, give the cast and crew of Scrubs and ABC (yes, the network) all the credit in the world for ignoring the absolutely awful, rather pointless seventh season and believing in the show enough to give it one last go. The entire eighth season was strong, beginning to end, and the fact that the lead actors took turns being MIA in some episodes due to cost-cutting, showed that the writers still knew what they were doing, even after two weak seasons.
scrubs2

Not pictured: the Janitor. And 8 years worth of wrinkles.

It’s still up in the air whether the show will continue sans Zach Braff, whether they’ll focus on the interesting-but-not-quite-interesting enough interns, or whether they’ll simply end it last night.

Let me officially place my vote for “simply let it end.” The finale was all-but perfect. They took the risky direction by not wrapping up the stories, and even calling out the fact that endings really are just beginnings, and life isn’t all-about simple wrap-ups. There’s the dramatic decision to make a change, but after it happens, there are simply more unknowns to be faced, some even scarier than the original moment of “conclusion.” JD’s “what if” fantasy at the end worked a lot better than some sort of tacked on “20 years later” third act, a la Will & Grace.

****½

The End of Scrubs, The Sequel gets four-and-a-half stars. Funny, poignant, dramatic, and the classic Scrubs’ depressing in a happy way non-resolution. And they picked a Super-Duper song for the last “dramatic montage over indie music” which I knew beforehand! [Peter Gabriel's cover of "The Book of Love" originally by The Magnetic Fields.] Coming full circle, one of the reasons this site was started stems from hearing a really good song which I stumbled across in 2005, then heard when I was watching the third season of the show en masse in 2006 and patted myself on the back for knowing it before I saw the episode… then I found out that the CD which was playing that song when I heard it was from a playlist consisting only of songs played on Scrubs. That’s right. The mirror is facing another mirror which is facing me. And I’m not smiling. Anyway, minus half of one star because the show could continue which would make this a “very special episode,” not a firing-on-all-cylinders, pitch perfect series finale.

The finale of the finale.

The Big Bang Theory

Quick TV Review…

If you don’t watch “The Big Bang Theory,” give it a chance. CBS Mondays at 8:00 and online. Sure, the premise is ridiculous (two super-nerds move next door to the proverbial sitcom “hot babe” and hilarious antics ensue — See, they don’t know how to relate! She likes shopping, they like Star Trek! Haha.) Well then, the show gets decent ratings (in the 8 million viewers range, compared to the Office’s ~6 million), but it gets no respect. TV Squad doesn’t provide weekly recaps (though they do write-up each episode of Big Brother). The stereotypical fan of The Office is too cool for “three camera sitcoms,” and this one thrives on the “mismatched neighbors” and “nerd” constructs.

Four Geeks ± Babe (math humor!)
Four Geeks ± Babe (Math Humor!)

All that said, it’s actually really funny, and one of the “support” geeks (meaning there are two physicist roommates and two equally geeky friends providing plot “support”) is made fun of for being an engineer. I can’t remember the joke exactly, but it involved something about calling engineers “the oompa-loompas of science.” I haven’t felt that way in a while, but in academic circles, I’ll give them points for accuracy.

I have noticed that the show has actually moved away from the relationship the “babe” has with her neighbors. She has had little development – she basically sits there and makes simple jokes about her neighbors’ lack of social skills or just how far over head their discussion is. I guess at some point the sort-of “head” geek needs to act on his crush he first showed in the pilot (but the show has left it sort of unaddressed since then), but I think that’s the lazy way out for the writers. Family Matters did it years ago. I would guess that the writers felt like they needed a girl to be their “normal” foil for the four scientists, but as the show has gone on, they’ve realized the “geeks” personalities and competitiveness have been able to carry the show.

Now, the show takes an odd line between “same as every other sitcom” and “something new.” If they ever fall back on “dorky nice guy chases after girl completely out of his league,” we’ll know that the writers have given up. The writers have stumbled onto four entertaining, dynamic characters who are unlike their TV geek forebears; they’re the center of the show, not just one-note jokes on the periphery of a normal sitcom cast.

****

CBS has a good thing going. Unlike The Office, there’s more potential upside for this show. The Office won’t get significantly higher ratings – there’s simply a finite number of people into sarcastic, dry humor (not that there’s anything wrong with that). I’ve elaborated on The Office previously, and everything that was true then is still true now, the viewership numbers aren’t improved, but they are more vocal (oddly enough, crossing into standard “geek” territory like having a convention). The Big Bang Theory is more straight-forward and, yes, “easier,” but those aren’t bad things. Tune In.

“Heroes” – Four Months Later

Every Tuesday, I’ll be blogging about the show “Heroes”, for the TV site Magnetic Media Fed. Here’s my review of last week’s season premiere.

heroes_promo.jpg
Sometimes, I wish this was a show called “Her Es” about a girl and her magical adventures with her favorite letter of the alphabet.

For as weak and underwhelming as last year’s finale was, this episode was everything a season premiere should be. It took nearly all of the incredibly good-looking characters from last year and put them into new and intriguing storylines, with mostly success, and it introduced a bunch of new faces into the mix as well. It effectively created plenty of new mysteries and raised lots of questions, but as we’ve learned in the past, how well they pay off is anyone’s guess.

The main problem with this show (besides cramming an insane amount of story into one season) is that it relies too much on setup. Everything is plot setup for a future payoff. Think back to last season. You had about a thousand characters, with the unspoken promise that all these characters would come together in some sort of pre-determined climax, and a battle of immense proportions would ensue. Interestingly enough, the real climax of the season didn’t come in the season finale, but in an episode three weeks before it, with events that technically aren’t even going to actually happen since the present was changed to fix the future (GREAT SCOTT!). This is not to say that tremendous amounts of setup aren’t worth it. Personally, I don’t have a problem with being strung along, even if the end is weak, because I enjoy the ride, the guessing at where the plot is going to go, or what the answers all are. You look at LOST, and even though they didn’t really start giving much payoff to any storylines until halfway through this past season, I enjoy being thrown all these curveballs, all these mysteries to ponder.

That being said, I do and have always thought that this show throws way too many at one time, and therefore has a hard time hitting a home run with any of them (how’s that for a baseball metaphor?). This episode alone had eight storylines running “” nine if you count the Dr. Manhattan-like reformation of previously exploded Peter Petrelli “” and we still haven’t even seen the Sanderses, Sylar, and newbies Veronica Mars and Dana Davis yet, not to mention this Bogeyman guy. That’s possibly fourteen different ongoing plots running at the same time. In addition, there were also a ton of small mysteries and such that were briefly touched upon that are presumably going to become bigger as they go along. Is it safe to assume that all of these mysteries will get solved in a neat and orderly fashion? Now that all the Heroes, at least the ones from season one, have each other on speed-dial, is it safe to assume that they’ll all congregate at the Hall of Justice and figure it all out? As Kensei would probably say, “Not bloody likely”. Does it mean that a bit of a letdown at the payoff isn’t worth the months of awesome exposition? We’ll have to wait and see how it plays out.

For now, I liked more about this episode than I disliked. To clarify, the only thing I didn’t really care for at all was the Honduras duo, but I’ll get to that later. Even with my criticisms, I think that overall, they’ve done a great job in moving the characters on from last season, and organically segued them into new storylines with some growth. The only one that didn’t really feel natural was the Parkman divorce thing, because of where the two characters were at the end of last year, but I can see how his sense of duty to this girl might be more important. With that in mind, onto what I liked and didn’t like.

I really enjoyed the Parkman/Molly stuff. The two are good together onscreen, and are given some of the best material from the episode to work with, especially their dinner scene. In a show as plot-driven as this is, it’s good to see some character moments, and I could watch Greg Grunberg all day. His fellow Alias alum, and the second best part of that show, NPH-lookalike David Anders is going to be great in Hiro’s “TMNT3″-meets-“The Last Samurai” storyline, even though it’s very tough to tell why this story is even being told in the first place and why Hiro can use his powers in old Japan, but can’t teleport out of there, or back to when he got in the middle of that fight. Maybe it was because of the eclipse, which lasted all of one minute and served no purpose besides looking cool. It’s no big deal, though, because I think this dynamic between the characters/actors could work, and I’m willing to see where it goes, even if it’s just some character growth for Hiro. The best “little thing” about the episode was when Hiro took his glasses off when Kensei asked if he was a scientist and then put them back on to make sure he wasn’t seeing things when the mask came off. I think I might like the Mohinder storyline this year, as he’s basically playing go-between for HRG and Stephen “Werner Brandis. My voice is my passport; verify me.” Tobolowsky. It really is a perfect fit for where he should be, and a natural progression from what happened at the end of last season, not to mention that the two more interesting characters/actors will be driving the story. I liked the mystery of the deaths of the elder heroes, even though I question how George Takei knew who hoodie-guy was, even though we never saw who he was. Although, we never knew what Takei’s superpower was anyway (seems like a waste), so maybe it was some sort of people identification power. It’ll be interesting to see whether this plotline is a tie-in to the Bogeyman story, the Sylar story (probably not), or the “Company” story.

What didn’t I like? Claire’s re-introduction to high school/HRG’s Office Depot job. I get that they’re trying to start a new life and be boring and low-key, but could they do it with some more realistic characterizations? I understand that I’m saying this about a superhero show, but it always seems like the normal people who are always the side characters, are the most unrealistic, ironically. Take HRG’s porn-star-mustachioed boss; I can’t imagine a guy working at a place like that taking his job so seriously. Not only that, but the whole story was kinda a waste of time, really, other than to have something for HRG to do for the episode. There’s no reason why it couldn’t just be casually mentioned that he has a job somewhere, if that’s even necessary. I didn’t buy Claire at school either. Maybe it’s just because I’ve always hated the completely unrealistic Hollywood portrayal of high school as this place where there’s only 40 people, and the cheerleaders always wear their uniforms to school for some reason and have practice during their gym class that only has one guy in it. Actually, was there more than one guy at the school in total? The only one I saw was the ridiculously-named “West” whose superpowers seem to be showing up at exactly the most convenient time, plot-wise, and super-stalking. I liked the robot vs. alien convo the first time, but thought the call-back was unnecessary. Also, while I’m at it, my high school was on the state “empowerment” (read:worst of the worst, academically) list, and even we knew who Darwin was. The kids at this school must not have watched season one of Heroes, because that’s all the narration ever talks about. Another issue about this show is that I can’t remember one side character, who has been focused on, even minorly, and who doesn’t have a power of some sort. It’s getting incredibly easy to guess that someone is going to be superpowered, and that totally blows the reveal, in this case, when he flew at the end. Maybe the twist is that he actually is an alien, and those questions were totally literal. Lastly, that dinner scene was probably the most bizarre, out-of-place segment I’ve ever seen on the show. It was like someone hired Terry Gilliam to do it, what with the strange tension, weird close-ups, and the mom bringing the dog to the table and talking to it.

The Honduras story I found to be kinda boring and one-note, and considering I just saw that superpower on The 4400 last week, it didn’t shock me as much as it was probably supposed to. This is another wait-and-see story.

Nathan’s story wasn’t really fleshed (HA! I KILL ME) out at all, but one presumes that his perpetual drunkenness, and playoff/get-over-my-breakup beard, along with the Man Without a Face vision will play into future episodes, so I don’t really have any opinion on this.

Lastly, the little things that are going to be important in the future: I think they’re overextending themselves with this symbology. That insignia is in every freaking shot now, it seems like. Even when Peter shows up at the end, he’s wearing a necklace with it on for some reason. It’s in Japan; it’s on Molly’s papers; it’s on the pictures of the Elders. This is the sort of plot point (much like Hurley’s numbers on LOST) which has never been given a specific meaning, and can just be thrown in in random places to make things seem mysterious, and in doing that, they run the risk never being able to answer it, leaving the audience completely unfulfilled. I already mentioned the Nathan’s mirror/scarring shot. Obviously, they keep mentioning this Bogeyman, and it, along with Mohinder’s taking down The Company, the Elders’ murder mystery, and the Virus story seem to be what will comprise the main drive of the season, much like last year’s was to stop someone setting us up the bomb. Hopefully, much like Teri Bauer, Peter’s amnesia will go away after three hours time.

***½

Despite all of these criticisms, the show is still easily one of the easiest to watch on TV, as it’s generally well-shot, well-paced, well-acted, and has a host of diverse and mostly likeable characters. And thankfully, they gave time to the interesting ones this week and left Nikki and that “My Wife and Kids” kid off. We’ll see how long they can walk the fourteen-plotline tightrope for.

The End of Scrubs

Update 3 (1+ weeks later): The ad during tonight’s SNL 90’s retrospective billed this week’s episode as “only three episodes until the season finale. I guess that’s that.

Update 2 (four days later): So, it looks like NBC is advertising this week’s Scrubs as being the first of “the last 3.” Hmm. They even emphasized the “last 3″ section. Heck, they made mention of characters making the “biggest mistake of their lives”, then showing Elliot and Keith’s wedding scene then JD looking emotive (as usual).

Update (ten minutes after posting): I guess I should check Wikipedia (of all places) before I start posting things I think are facts. Looks like NBC has yet to officially renew the show, but according to Zach Braff himself, ABC is willing to air the last season if NBC does not renew it. Media watchers, don’t worry, I’ve added the “journalistic integrity” category to this entry. Regardless, I stand by my comments about this season.

I haven’t seen this reported anywhere else online (yet), but during a teaser for tonight’s episode of Scrubs during The Office, the voice over announcer said something like, “the first of the last four Scrubs episodes.” It was said that the show’s status was up in the air, then there were stories about NBC throwing huge sums of money at Zach Braff to get him to come back for one more year. Well, I guess that didn’t turn out so hot. And that’s a good thing.

You might remember my epic review of Scrubs last year as being one of three notable parts of “the current TV landscape,” so me thinking that the show might be capital “O” Over might not make any sense. Simply, if you’ve watched the show at all this season, you understand. Not just “not quite the same as older episodes,” the first 10 or so episodes were awful. Dreadful, painful-to-watch TV. Mind you, this isn’t like the-Simpson’s-were-better-back-when thinking, where old episodes are more thought of as a collective period of time rather than individual examples of the series strengths. Just last season could be considered “classic Scrubs.” Who knows why, but this season didn’t get watchable until about episode 13, with one of the first twelve episodes being a brutal clip show and the other being a show about the newer Iraq war which served only to get politically simple people to say, “Wow, they really brought a new voice to the argument.” Oh yeah, one of the pre-13 episodes was a highly hyped musical episode. It was tedious, so say the best.

Last year, I wrote that with Turk and Carla’s baby and JD’s impending fatherhood, the characters and show were growing up, and the show wasn’t about grown-ups who acted grown-up. This should’ve been an occasion to use this season to wrap things up, but instead, Carla got an after school special version of post-partem depression, recovered from it, then the baby all-but disappeared from the show (a fair move – the show’s not about babies). Also, JD’s impending fatherhood/implied-eventual marriage was thrown out the window with the good, old-fashioned “tell the long distance dad-to-be that mommy had a miscarriage, but actually lie about it” move. It’s like putting drama in a piggy bank.

All that said, the recent episodes have been solid, but the show’s been on since 2001 (yikes, that’s a long time for a show most people have never watched), doesn’t have many viewers, became self-aware about how limited the main character was last year, and gave a potential setup for a season-long arc about JD “growing up” at the end of last season, then blew it. Of course, Scrubs is practically the template for wrapping things up efficiently and poetically (with indie music playing in the background, of course), and the series finale would pack a doozy, I’m sure [not sarcasm]. Considering that the writers did one of the tidiest jobs ever of removing a “Ross/Rachel” relationship from a show in a gutsy, (female) viewer alienating move at the end of season three, the slight (maybe unintentional) tension between JD and Elliot was a bit out of place on tonight’s episode, who knows if they’ll go that route, though Elliot’s boyfriend proposed to her to end of the episode.

****

The End of Scrubs gets four stars because it’s about darn time, but loses a star because it could’ve been setup better considering how last season ended.

I’m thinking about it some more, and maybe the voice-over lady during the promo meant they were the last four episodes of the season, but one can hope. Still, the show is responsible for one of the best ever TV moments, so I guess they’re entitled one more season…

2006-07 Academy Awards Nominations


This year, the movie that I chose to not see, but still complain about is “Dreamgirls”, a movie that wasn’t even nominated for best picture… and I’m not really even complaining about it… which makes me feel real strange.

The academy awards nominations came out this morning. And for some reason I decided that I don’t really care this year. It’s weird because I don’t know why. In fact, I wrote most of this review on Sunday, before they were even announced. I’ve become jaded to the whole celebrity scene this year, and I’ve stopped seeing this show as an affirmation that the movies that I enjoyed over the past year are good, and more as a means of keeping up the guise of celebrity importance. (review of the near future: celebrity feuds)

Maybe it was seeing people argue about which movies deserved which awards the way I used to, and thinking, “Wow, do these guys see how completely stupid they look, rooting for something that they think they have partial ownership in, just because they kinda liked it? Did I look that stupid, phony, and in over my head when I was complaining about how undervalued “The Man who Wasn’t There” was, or how that ridiculous “THEY MAKE THE RAIN AND SAY IT’S RAINING!!!” rant from Cold Mountain won good ole squinty-eyed Renee Zellweger her academy award? Well, chances are I did for the last one, because I totally used to do an impression of that was intentionally unintentionally hi-larious, and which has since failed the test of time, seeing as how nobody even remembers the movie a mere two years later. This also goes to show the unimportance of these awards, because I highly doubt that all the people that argue about these sort of things could even tell me without looking it up, who hosted the 2001 awards (held in 2002), let alone who won best actor and actress. Whoopi Goldberg hosted by the by, and I don’t even think I could tell you what movie won best picture ( Chicago maybe?) let alone the acting awards. The only reason I remember Whoopi is because my friends and I were watching in a TV lounge filled with people who actually thought she was funny. We couldn’t take it and ended up leaving in a huff. That’s beside the point.

All this is not to say that I’m not going to look and see who’s nominated or who wins. I’ll probably even watch the show. But at this moment, writing this review, do I think it’s worth having an Oscar “party” or doing an awards pool (in which I have participated numerous times)? Not really. Do I find that a little disheartening? Of course I do. Three years ago at this time, I was in the center of celebrity culture. I was in the bleachers for the Screen Actor’s Guild red carpet. I stood by the limo security checkpoint at the Golden Globes to get a glimpse of anybody relatively famous. I can’t say for sure if I would do it again. Maybe just to say I did it. Then again, I never really got “star-struck” to begin with. Most of the pictures I took of people were either for bragging rights, or because I knew friends might want them. But still, even the following year I went in on an Oscar pool.

What’s my point in all this? I’m not quite sure. All I know is that at this specific minute of this specific day, I’m thinking to myself “Don’t we have enough other things to be interested in or worry about than awards for millionaires (I know that the tech award winners are mostly non-millionaires, and the people who make the shorts and documentaries are probably even less well-off) we’ve never met and mostly think they’re better than us anyway?” I suppose you could argue the same of sports, but to me the difference is that football and baseball are designed to be competitions, and film isn’t, or at least shouldn’t. Why should it matter to us if a movie we like wins an award? Shouldn’t liking it be enough? Maybe it’s the validation that comes with being behind something that is regarded by professionals to be the best. Maybe it’s the ability to say to our friends “I totally knew Marcia Gay Harden was gonna win for Pollack, even though I’ve never even heard of the movie because it sounds boring and was only playing in 8 cities”, thereby coming off as knowledgeable, even though you just got lucky or read a newspaper article. Maybe it’s just that feeling that you know a lot about a subject, even if you really don’t, but just know a little bit more than your friends. Besides, ten years from now, “Saving Private Ryan” will be remembered even though it lost to the completely forgettable “Shakespeare in Love”, which was lauded by the pretentious set.

This pretentiousness is something that the Oscars and other awards do spur on, and I guess this is where my whole complaint starts. Soon enough, the debates will rage over which arthouse movie that nobody was able to see was more overrated, which one deserves more attention etc. And all these people will be arguing over the fact that we love a movie that we haven’t even seen, just because of the talent attached to it. And that “you’re” (the royal “you”) stupid and less important because you’ve never even heard of it. And that’s just wrong. I really don’t want to do that again. (Update: I was flipping through the morning shows today to see if anyone was talking about the noms, just to prove my case, and the new FOX morning show had on their two Oscar Experts… two women who looked to be a mere few years older than I am. Of course there were raving about how great Helen Mirren was in “The Queen”… and to make matters worse, the audience erupted in applause. Now, you have to be sure that in this situation, maybe 25 percent of the audience at most has seen this movie, and the rest are either being egged on by the stage manager/audience warm-up guy, or just don’t want to seem like they don’t know anything about anything. Strangely enough, I’m looking at the box-office tallies for this weekend, and “The Queen” is actually playing in more theaters than “Children of Men”, “Alpha Dog”, and “The Good Shepherd”.)

And maybe I’m upset that somehow I’ve grown to see something that I used to see as the Holy Grail of Film-making achievement now as a way to sell movies that otherwise wouldn’t have an audience. I mean, would anyone have gone to see “The Last King of Scotland” otherwise? It’s all part of the self-promoting hype machine, and I don’t know if I’m still down with that. Maybe in a case like this, yes, but that silly red carpet image stuff always seems to undermine the gravitas of the “talent-based” awards.

As for the specific nominations themselves, they seem generally fine across the board, as far as the movies that I’ve gone to see, and those are really all that I can discuss.

**

The 2006-07 Academy Awards Nominations get two stars for being a way to generally promote smaller, higher-quality movies. As far as awards competition goes, I’m not really a fan of how devisive it makes people, including myself, about movies we like, versus ones we aren’t planning on seeing, but dislike just for the sake of it . As far as this year’s specific award nominees go, I’ve got no major complaints, other than the lack of “Children of Men”, but I can live without it, knowing how the voting process, and awards campaigning go. Oh… and the fact that THREE freakin songs from Dreamgirls are nominated…. now that’s something genuine to dislike… but still, does it really matter?