Thursday, 5 September 2013

It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia - The Gang Broke Dee

When you look at the production values and the premise of this show - horrible cretins doing horrible things - it's remarkable that this TV series has enjoyed as long a run as it has. This is the first episode of the 9th season, and part of me finds it humorous that the gang is only breaking Dee now. As cruel as they are to each other, no one takes punishment from the group worse than Sweet Dee.

I found this episode enormously enjoyable. The episode begins with a laconic and broken Dee eating "trash cake" (a term that Dennis offhandedly used to describe old cake that Dee pulled out of the trash) and finishing off her friends' insults being hurled at her. They poke and prod at her looking for a reaction but she just walks away saying that she might as well throw herself in front of a bus. (Because, according to Dee, not even a bus would hit on her. )

The gang decides they need Dee back because a despondent Dee isn't nearly as fun to pick on as a wildly thrashing, tantrum-throwing Dee. They come up with two plans to pull her out of her funk. The first plan, offered by the group sans Dennis, is that Dee tries her hand at stand-up. The second plan, Dennis' plan, is to hook Dee up with someone that is average-to-below-average looking. Dee agrees to both plans.

What follows is a barrage of spectacularly awful stand-up consisting of machine gun noises and other sound effects accompanied by audience laughter. This is a rather amusing parody of the same type of bad stand-up comedy that actually has a legitimate following in the real world.

Soon, Dee gets so big that she's going to be on Conan. She shuns the group, her hubris getting to her head, and hops on a jet with her agent. By the time she arrives for the guest spot, she's drunk, nervous and fighting back the reflex to puke. She walks beyond the curtain and...

She's back in the bar. Turns out the whole thing was a hoax - the gang just wanted to teach her a lesson. She said she couldn't go any lower. Here's proof that she could. Also, it's not cool to talk about suicide.

Lecture over. Lesson learned.  Dee destroyed all over again.


9/10

Sunday, 1 September 2013

Breaking Bad - Rabig Dog


LOTS of purple in the episode!

I'm still mulling over how I feel about Skyler telling Walt to kill Jesse. I understand her desire to protect herself and her family. But I would expect her to want to make a run for it or try anything else before attempting murder.

It's a small gripe, however, because the scene served a larger purpose. Before it, Walt was completely against hurting Jesse. The conversation with his wife made him more open to the idea and I think we needed to see that progression to make the phone call at the end of the episode possible.

Speaking of the phone call, the Walt/Jesse story here was nothing short of exceptional. We spent a lot of time with Jesse in the episode and we got to see what Walt has become to him. Once, Jesse thought of him as a friend and mentor. Now, after going through what he has with Walt and after all the lies and manipulations, Jesse thinks of him less as a person but more as a force of evil. He even calls him the devil when talking to Hank.

We know that Walt cares about Jesse and just wants to placate him and explain himself. So how ironic is it that Jesse spots a big man on his way to the meeting and instantly assumes the worst? I don't blame him but I felt surprisingly sad for Walt at the end of the episode. He accomplished the exact opposite of what he had intended even though he went about it the right way. He's in a crowded public place. Why should Jesse be afraid?

But we know exactly why. We've seen what Walt is capable of...


9/10

Tuesday, 27 August 2013

Avatar: The Last Airbender - Season One

For the past several years I've ventured into many retrospective series watch-throughs. It started years and years ago when I first saw Twin Peaks. A TV show which blew my mind in it's depth not in it's characters but in it's audacity. A TV show that was at first blush a simple mystery about the murder of a young woman, but unfurled into the realm of dreamscapes full of illusion and mystery in a way I had until then only seen on film.

Then I moved onto Six Feet Under. This, too, impressed me. This series was the polar opposite of Twin Peaks. Where Twin Peaks found it's footing in it's innovative storytelling, Six Feet Under was always more comfortable as it delved deep into the psyches of the Fisher family.

The most influential series watch of my life would come next in the form of The Sopranos. And after that I watched The Wire. Now I'm currently in the midst of a plethora of shows that are yet to wrap up - Girls, Justified, Breaking Bad, Dexter, Homeland, etc.

Oddly, this year may be the year I've found myself the most impressed by TV. I watched The Shield in it's entirety just a few short months ago. In December of last year, I began my watch of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. A show for teenagers. By the time I had finished it in February, I was calling it the best show of all time - dethroning The Sopranos from it's gilded position atop the TV show pyramid. 

And now I'm watching another show for a(n even) young(er) audience. Avatar: The Last Airbender. 

I've heard a lot about this show. Unlike Buffy, my expectations for Avatar have been a little on the high side. I've found myself rather critical of the show at times. Dramatic storylines are rushed, Aang and the gang are captured and escape so often that the hunt for the Avatar does not bring with it a sense of danger.

But the show consistently dazzles with it's action sequences. And while the village-of-the-week storylines are often played out far too quickly, the overall arc has been well paced and never rushed. There is a great deal of mystery evident in the abilities of not only Aang but in all the benders in the world. Katara, Zuko, Sokka, and of course Aang are all well-written and interesting characters.

As with Buffy, the most compelling element to the story is the hero's self-sacrifice in his/her quest to save the world. Neither Buffy nor Aang asked for their respective responsibilities, but watching them as they learn to accept their fate is what makes both these character's so enthralling.

Where Buffy excelled in part due to its metaphorical representations of real world problems, Avatar excels with it's old-time Squaresoft (or Square-Enix) RPG feel. The compelling minor characters, videogame-style plots and whacky-creature-inhabited world make for a rich viewing experience. The humor is often on-point as well.

One third of the way through Avatar, I'm giving the first season a big thumbs up. 

8/10

Friday, 16 August 2013

TV: Dexter S8E7

...And so, Dexter brings back serial killer ex-girlfriend Hannah. In case you've forgotten, she specializes in murdering others to get herself out of a jam. Usually this is a solid plan in Miami, where your police corp is made up of ineffectual guys like Quinn. So, why does Hannah come back to ask Dexter to help her kill her husband? Well apparently, she can't do it because it would look suspicious if he died. The hard part is not the killing. It's the body disposal. Dexter? Help me please? With your big strong arms to throw him into the ocean with?

Meanwhile, Zach Hamilton meets Dexter's cute neighbour. Dexter keeps telling Zach he's going to help him learn how to control his urges, but then he keeps blowing him off. Dexter's too busy dealing with older serial killer problems to deal with new serial killer problems (does Dexter attract serial killers, or does Miami?).  Anyway, Dexter's neighbour gets slaughtered because of his tardiness. Bludgeoned to death. And the guy that plays her boyfriend struggles to act like he knows how to cry on camera.

Masouka and his daughter continue to be boring. But, uh, boobies??

I'm going to guess what happens next:

-Dexter kills Zach. Because he has to.
-Deb goes after Hannah. She hires Kenny Johnson's character to go after her.
-Dexter kills Kenny Johnson's character.
-Hannah kills Deb.
-Quinn doesn't notice any of it.

Novel: NOS4A2

Starting in the past and jumping forward by years at a time, this is the story about a girl named Vic and a special ability that she has. Namely, the ability to make a bridge appear that will take her anywhere she wants. Only problem is, she isn't the only one with a special ability. There's this old man, you see, and he drives an old Rolls Royce with license plate NOS4A2. He ain't so nice. He kidnaps children and he takes them to Christmasland. They're never seen again, and their parents are usually found dead.

The story, which spans 20+ years, touches on a variety of themes but it does a particularly good job with loss of innocence and redemption. It's a wild Stephen King-esque ride. You never know where it's going, and where it ends up is completely satisfying (Hint: there is a showdown at the end).

9/10

The Shield - Series

This year, I watched the entirety of the cop show that wasn't like any other cop show. No, I'm not talking about The Wire, I'm talking about The Shield.

Today, I revisited the series finale. This was an episode that, when I last saw it, I had to pause to stop and get a drink. It was just that emotional. But while it's true that emotion is always the starting point for any good drama, it wasn't the only thing I loved about The Shield.

SPOILERS - Heavy spoilers follow.


The Characters

Vic Mackey - This character belongs in the pantheon of great TV anti-heroes. Not only that, but TV characters in general. By the end of the series, we know this man inside out. He's ruthless, selfish, and he won't bend to anyone's will. He cares about his family and his team. He cares about his job - about preventing crime and apprehending criminals. But he's not above committing any himself. And GODDAMN HIM for getting away with it (because after all, cubicle hell still sounds better than actual hell.)

Shane Vendrell - I cannot recall another TV show that accomplishes what The Shield did in it's final two seasons. Shane Vendrell was the Christopher Moltisanti of the show. The surrogate son of Vic Mackey, he looked up to him but continually demonstrated that he didn't have the brains to play the same game Vic did. But only in this show do we see a character like Shane commit heinous acts and find ourselves cheering for him two seasons later when he's on the run. His ending was tragic, brutal, unforgivable.... and, in a sick sort of way, honourable. I'm glad I don't know a Shane Vendrell, but I'm thankful to The Shield for bringing him to us.

Dutch Wagenbach & Claudette Wymms - The heart of the show. Simply put, without these two, we'd be watching bad cops vs bad guys and bad cops vs other bad cops. The banter and friendship between these two was always great.

Lem - Hey, did you hear Kenny Johnson (the actor that portrayed Lem) has been cast for the final 5 episodes of Dexter? The fact that I'm legitimately excited to watch them now should tell you how important this character was to the show.

Everyone else - Acaveda, Corrine, Dani, Julien, Ronnie, Mara, Kavinaugh, etc - You get it. The cast was strong.


The Adrenalin

Simply put, this was the most action-packed and inventive cop show I've ever seen ('dat camerawork!). Yes, sometimes the decisions made by characters were a stretch. Yes, sometimes the plots were ridiculous. But it was 100% entertaining, 100% of the time.


That Scene Where That Guy Did That Thing (OH MY GOD!!!)

The grenade at the end of the 5th season. The forced oral degradation. The series finale. Serial murderers. Serial rapists. Cat murder. Cop-on-cop murder. People murder. Placentas. Sawed off feet. Hate crimes.


Shades of Grey

Enough said. The characters were often well-meaning and well-intentioned, but they were often driven by selfish motivations and concerns. If you ended up loving any of the characters, you did it with the knowledge that they were not perfect human beings and could be downright awful. 


...And Goddamn That Finale Was Brilliant

"I guess enough painkillers can make even the worst kind of hurt go away. The thing you need to know is that Mara was innocent and Jackson was innocent; they didn't know what they were drinking and their last moments together were happy ones. They left the way I first found them, perfect and innocent. They were innocent and they are in heaven now and we'll always be a family. The guilty ones are me and Vic. Vic led but I kept following. I don't think one's worse than the other, but we made each other into something worse than our individual selves. I wish I'd never met him. I see it all now. There are no apologies I can make, no explanations I can give. I was who I was and I can't be that person any more. I can't let myself.." - Shane's note

Wednesday, 26 June 2013

Buffy the Vampire Slayer S6E12 - Doublemeat Palace

Review

There’s a lot to unpack here.

I think this episode does a lot of things very well, but core to them all is that very real fear of amounting to nothing. I find I'm personally dealing with this a lot more as I get older. When you’re young, you’re constantly being told how much promise and potential you have. You can be anything you want.

But there will come a time in your life when you've stagnated. It can happen when you’re 60, it can happen when you’re 20. You really never know.

When you get that first job, initially you’re pretty happy. You can start saving up to buy that shiny new car. Maybe you wanna move out. A movie ticket used to be expensive to you last week. Now, after a single 8 hour shift you can afford 4+ trips to the movies!

You become disenchanted with your job after a while. You stop looking at yourself as a difference maker and start seeing yourself as a replaceable cog in an enormous, greedy machine. But you don’t mind because in the back of your mind is always this assuredness - this idea that you could not possibly stay at your job for years and years and years, languishing for eternity. You’re not like those crazy people that have been working there for 10 years and are proud of it. You’re better than that! Besides, you’ll only be there for a few more months.

But then a few more months turns into a year. A year turns into 2 years. Soon this harrowing idea that you will be stuck there forever starts to creep into your mind. It’s likely totally irrational - you might just be working there because you’re paying for your schooling. Of COURSE when you graduate you’ll move on. But what if the economy is bad? What if you struggle to find a job? What if you become complacent? What if this isn't so much a stop along the way for you, but the end of the line? Failure begins to loom, constrict and crush you. It becomes so tangible that you can almost taste it.

We should remember that Buffy had good SAT scores. When she graduated from high school she had aspirations to do something with her life. Like many graduates, she didn't exactly know what that thing would be but she knew she would be able to figure it out. Time was on her side.

But now her mom is dead. Faith went bad. Slaying is a full time job and she doesn't have time to get an education. She arguably has the world’s most important non-paying job yet she has to keep it a secret from everybody. It’s not only possible – it’s LIKELY that she will rot in service economy hell for the rest of her life.

Let's explore how the episode captures and emphasizes this gloomy despair. 

Take a look at Buffy's co-workers  The guy flipping patties on the grill is resigned like you’d imagine an employee of the Doublemeat Palace could be – but he also talks about the horror of the grease and grime built up in his ears. Buffy’s manager is austere to the point of being a joke – but there's a very strange, robotic energy about him. You see an old lady who is so aloof and withdrawn that she might as well not even exist. All of these people have these strange idiosyncrasies because they appear as alien to Buffy. She can’t picture herself working in this world and associating with these people all the time so she sees them as excessively strange – perhaps subhuman, even.

Then there are the moments like the extreme close-up shots of the “10 YEARS” and “5 YEARS” pins as Buffy’s managers tell her to aim for those career goals. Take the claustrophobic anxiety of these scenes and throw in Buffy's hypnotic transfixion on the machinery and you're left feeling cold and distant... Trapped, just like her.

In this way, the episode is unrelenting. It does a good job creating a drab and dour atmosphere and it never lets up. But I think it’s highly watchable because the tone of the humor shifts to a darker, more twisted place. A place that this episode thrives in.

There are constant mentions of the secret ingredient being people or cats. Xander at one point gawks at Buffy with his mouth open and full of food. Buffy jokes about taking a piss test when told to fill up a cup for a customer. The training video Buffy watches shows graphic footage of cows getting slaughtered.

And then there's the rest of the episode. Willow, Xander and Anya all have actual character moments. In particular, the Anya/Halfrek scenes work very well as Halfrek plants seeds of doubt within Anya, leading to a pretty funny confrontation with Xander near the end.


9.5/10


Odds and Ends

  • Spike tells Buffy she isn't happy and, in a moment, her resolute fa├žade completely vanishes. We've seen a lot of this from Buffy of late.
  • Willow dispatching the monster by beheading (castrating?) it and throwing it in the grinder was another highlight.
  • I really did love the cheesy, phallic B-movie monster of the week.
  • Xander: "Huh?"