Posted by Zan Romanoff
American Horror Story is, if nothing else, gloriously stylish: the promos for its third season, Coven, were starkly, beautifully creepy, featuring black-clad women in an all-white house, a spare acoustic vocal of House of the Rising Sun playing in the background. The first episode retains that visual sparseness as its plot explodes into gore and camp, a predictable stable of cliches trotted out, thank god, by an arsenal of phenomenally talented actresses.
The younger girls have the least to do: Zoe Benson (Taissa Farmiga) is a newcomer whose supernatural power is literally exploding the brains of boys she has sex with while Madison Montgomery (Emma Roberts) is a spoiled former movie star afflicted by telekensis, a bad attitude and a penchant for fur coats in swampy New Orleans. Their schoolmates at Miss Robichaux's Academy for Exceptional Young Ladies (the cover story for witch boarding school) are clearly intended as a sideshow: there's human voodoo doll Queenie (Gabourey SIdibe) and clairvoyant Nan (Jamie Brewer). Queenie is fat and black and Nan has Downs Syndrome, and when they disappear after a brief dinnertime tussle with Madison it's clear that our pretty white heroines are going to be the ones who get real stories this season. They go to a frat party where Madison is drugged and gang raped and Zoe makes a (boy) friend, who quickly dies in the flaming bus crash Madison engineers as revenge. Of the two survivors, one is one of Madison's rapists. Clearly nothing will do but for Zoe to go to the hospital and finish him off in style.
Meanwhile Fiona Goode (Jessica Lange), the Supreme witch of her age and Miss Robichaux's headmistresses' mother, is trying to figure out how to live forever, which leads her to exhume a pre-Emancipation-era psycho named Madame LaLaurie (Kathy Bates) whose gruesome experiments on her stable of slaves were intended to keep her philandering husband from straying. LaLaurie is still breathing despite a hundred and fifty-odd years in coffin because she was cursed to eternal life by famous voodoo queen Marie Laveau (Angela Bassett), who seems unlikely to want to help Fiona, but who knows, really.
And in the background there's a young witch from an evangelical family who was burned at the stake for her ability to ressurect the dead and a war on witches that Fiona insists is coming. (Jessica Lange pulls off a monologue about the dangers of Twitter and Facebook about as well as anyone ever has.) The episode is full of women, sure, but it's also full of old, tired myths about women: the crone who lusts after youth, power and beauty, and the beautiful, brutal, deadly siren. Zoe's essentially been burdened with a vagina dentata, and though the end of the episode shows her using her own body to commit violence, it's still asking us to see her sex as a tool of destruction, weilded impersonally to terrible effect. American Horror Story has never been known for its narrative restraint, and these tropes are the hallmarks of the genres from which is proudly draws inspiration; I hope they can find a way to subvert, question or otherwise challenge them over the course of the season.
10.10.13 at 9:53 am | Stylish, unsettling, ultimately predictable.
10.9.13 at 8:34 am | Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. gets boring.
10.8.13 at 6:07 pm | Last week, a certain finale brought an epically. . .
10.8.13 at 9:20 am | HIMYM limps ever closer to its finale with an. . .
10.7.13 at 11:16 am | Diablo Cody, Josh Schwartz and Stephanie Savage. . .
10.4.13 at 9:20 am | The show's sixth season doesn't show any signs of. . .
8.26.13 at 8:17 am | You'd never expect a show about shopping for. . . (8)
8.28.13 at 4:15 pm | Yesterday I asked a coworker, with whom I’ve. . . (7)
10.10.13 at 9:53 am | Stylish, unsettling, ultimately predictable. (7)
October 9, 2013 | 8:34 am
Posted by Zan Romanoff
I may have spoken too soon about there being anything redeeming in Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. This week's episode was a complete and total snoozefest, predictable from start to finish. The team has to find a way to rescue Fitz and Simmons' old mentor scientist from an evil genius' lair on Malta, which apparently doesn't allow S.H.I.E.L.D. agents on its soil. The team decides to go in anyway, sending Skye as a one woman advance team posing as a loyal Rising Tider. Who is she double crossing, we wonder? You'll be shocked to hear that she ends up remaining loyal to S.H.I.E.L.D., I guess because Grant told her a very dumb story about his brother and some cake earlier and now she knows that all of the Agents have feelings. Anyway when Coulson arrives to rescue the scientist it turns out he doesn't want rescuing; he wants to use a particle that controls gravity to destroy the island and everyone on it, because it's the only way to stop the evil genius who is "an addict... addicted to destruction." Yeah. Coulson throws the scientist into the gravitron particle whatever whatever, which for some reason stabilizes it. I would try to make sense of the episode but clearly no one in the writers' room did, so I don't feel too obligated. The episode ends with the team reunited, Skye learning to box, and a hand reaching out of the gravitron's silver mass, because that scientist is coming for us, he's coming for us all!
This episode felt completely workmanlike in its plotting and execution, which sadly reveals how thin the characters are: I still don't like Skye's fast-talking can't stay out of trouble little girl shtick (and having her in her pink princess dress throwing herself against Agent Grant's manly side was pretty hard to take), Grant remains impenetrably dull, Melinda May doesn't have anything to do and Coulson is Coulson but he's only one man. We're only four episodes in and S.H.I.E.L.D. is somehow hitting a midseason slump.
October 8, 2013 | 6:07 pm
Posted by Melissa Weller
Last week, a certain finale brought an epically proportioned brouhaha to flip the Internet upside down. Those who were satisfied with the technical delivery, who were disappointed on a storytelling level, and who dared to dream all poured out of the Web woodworks. Yet one theory the pundits overlooked has Walt escaping from his supposed lab tomb. He learned a hard lesson about self-deception and self-acceptance, got himself a perm, gained 20 muffins and skirted down to 10 pm on HBO. Both men are avid chemical enthusiasts, though one veers toward the supply business, the other toward the demand. Hey, if Breaking Bad taught us one thing, it’s to never dismiss possible outcomes no matter the odds. And I, for one, never saw a body bag.
There’s been suggestion of a legitimate comparison between Kenny Powers (Danny McBride) and one Walter White, and it’s worth breaking open for further examination. From writer/director Jody Hill, Eastbound & Down is a rough and tumble comedy noir on its fourth and final season. It’s enjoyed a small yet steady cult following, as do most Team Hill productions. (I think Observe and Report is one of the top underrated films of the decade, but that’s a story for another day.) The AMC drama, laid to rest last week after its four and two-half season acclaimed celebration, catalogues the ascent from grace of a man fighting more for his legend than his life. Kenny, a washed up retired baseball player with a knack for pills and prostitutes, and Walt, the chemistry-teacher-turned-meth-tycoon with a scorned ego 50 barrels of empire money couldn’t contain, seem different animals at first glance, but these iconic alpha antiheroes share micro and macro properties. The difference however, as Walt knows too well, lies not with the ingredients, but with the chef.
I’ll point to a Power quote from the EBnD premiere to begin the pick-apart. After Kenny peels a structurally destroyed Sebring into the Millennial Rental company lot, he delivers his iced-out boss a fiery sermon rich with classic Kenny Powers fury: “This little (expletive) parking lot here, this may be your kingdom, your legacy … it’s a piss in the pool to me. From this day forward I’m getting what’s mine: fame, money, respect, chicken chains!” Needless to say, Walt had more than his share of business with chicken chains. Capped off with a Jody Hill-stamped deck to the jaw, Kenny bucks away to noble funemployment with his head high and his boss bloodied. His goodbye kiss is essentially Walt’s battle cry from the time he shears his head in the first season, and echoes the infamous “I am the one who knocks” speech. Though where Walt cowers and Heisenberg storms in, Kenny acts alone – wearing his complex as a badge of honor. He doesn’t hide from anyone, least of all himself, about who he is or what he wants. Nay, deserves. He stays true to each step of his struggle. The scene where he tries to cover his Millennial name tag from old baseball chum Guy Young (Ken Marino) is especially illustrative, as this name tag reveals an interim identity bearing no trace of the man, the myth, the Powers.
Walt blurred the lines and grayed his testimonies when battling who he was to whom, and ultimately left behind a mess that couldn’t be cleaned by 1,000 Roombas. Kenny is far from a neat freak, but his messes to this point have been reconcilable. Walt hid from his God complex, unable to face it without his Heisenberg counterpart. Kenny, on the other hand, doesn’t have a God complex. God has a Kenny complex. And we’re Kenny’s biggest cheerleaders.
Why? He’s a menace with a completely unfounded sense of entitlement and he probably smells like fermented peanut butter. At the end of Season 3, Kenny leaves the game of baseball literally during a game of baseball to trade fame and glory for his true love’s hand in marriage. Southern belle April (played by darling Katy Mixon) looks a bronzed Jessica Rabbit meets full-bosomed Cabbage Patch doll, who sings his praises and keeps her doubts quiet. Kenny Powers, loser of baseball, winner of life. But now he can’t be caught dead supporting his wife’s career achievements if he’s only seen as lowly Mr. Mom, standing willingly behind her. Meals hot, diapers changed, baths drawn. April Powers, winner of bread. It drives him crazy – he obsessively steals any ounce of pride from April and invalidates all praise coming her way. This version of Kenny, a head down, car rental-employed family man dinner partier, is untraceable in prior seasons. (What is clear is the mental labyrinth April navigated to justify marrying this man. Maybe she's delusional enough to convince herself of a domesticated Kenny as real as her eyebrows? Enter: Fantasy Theory. Maybe he died in the car on his way to the wedding.)
No matter. To Kenny, April’s shine only blocks his. And a shine-blocked Kenny isn't only a crime, it's downright insulting. He’s also not afraid to tell her so:
“So because I’m achieving something that makes you a bitch?”
“Yes April! Every single morning I wake up I think about the face that I (expletive) walked away from baseball. I gotta suck my (expletive) soul in, put a smile on my face, and go about my day.”
Both Walt and Kenny have reputations preceding them, but Walt is visibly burdened with filling his reputation’s daunting shoes while Kenny stuffs himself in one toe at a time. Yet the rare cases his grandiose self image aligns with his public image, we can’t clap loud enough. Yes we root for Walt too, sometimes, when we aren’t sickened by his gross deception or reeling from his latest power-hungry exploit. But Kenny Powers captured our hearts and our hopes.
He’s honest. He doesn’t just accept himself, he loves himself. This is the crux of why Walt and Kenny are different. Everyone wants to see an embodiment of unwavering self-respect succeed because it’s what we want for ourselves – success without sacrificing our true fibers or our dignity. Walt’s biggest losing battle is an unwillingness to let anyone in on his Plan. He’s scared of his enemies, scared of his family and scared of himself.
It stands then, that their affinity for employing violence as a communication tool would tout markedly different styles. Walt is meticulous and cautious, producing dire consequences not even he knew he could inflict. Kenny prefers hot-blooded flesh-on-flesh action, ideally with an American flag backdrop. But while Walt is selective and often unsure of his subjects and his implementation, Kenny’s violence, verbal or physical, doesn’t play favorites. He has nothing to hide from anyone and maintains a 100 percent conviction rate. You’re either with him or against him, and if you’re against him, you better at least bring him a platter of chili sliders and an Arnold Palmer. Scratch that, just make it a lemonade.
I’m still working out the kinks on swimming pool significance, and I’m sure there’s a Stevie Janowski and Walt Jr. comparison to be found somewhere, but, again, perhaps a story for another day.
October 8, 2013 | 9:20 am
Posted by Zan Romanoff
Ten minutes. That's how far I made it into this week's How I Met Your Mother episode without thinking "oh my god, when is this going to be over?" That ten minute mark is, not coincidentally, when the thread of the B-plot became clear: Robin doesn't have any female friends, in part because her father raised to her to be the son he would never have. Lily insists that she make some. Can you guess where this is going? The answer is: stereotype city, misogyny central. First of all, there are tons of women who share Robin's interests (hockey, guns, fine Scotch), and the idea that she couldn't find them in New York is laughable. Lily suggests that Robin isn't making the right kind of approach. "Like, what would you say to a woman at the gym?" she asks, which leads Robin into a monologue about how she just keeps losing weight without trying and Lily into an exhaustingly predictable rage. You know how women are: crazy jealous, especially of the skinny ones! It only gets worse from there. And it's not just that it's a hateful, damaging stereotype they're perpetuating: it is literally the most tired form of it imaginable, so phoned in I honestly wouldn't be surprised to learn that the writers had copy-pasted some material from a Reddit thread on standup and called it a day.
The A plot is tired in its own way: Barney saw Ted holding hands with Robin in the rain and he's (rightfully) pissed about Ted's continued inability to let go of his feelings for the ex he last dated years ago, who is now engaged to his best friend. The whole thing is made bearable only by the fact that their argument over whether Ted has broken The Bro Code is judged by Marshpillow: Lily's body pillow dressed in one of Marshall's jerseys with an iPad Facetiming him into their conversations. How I Met Your Mother has always gone for broad, middle-of-the-road humor, but those lame jokes used to be more cleverly clothed; the writing this season feels exhausted and hackneyed, like even the writers are bored of pretending they care.
October 7, 2013 | 11:16 am
Posted by Zan Romanoff
Fall pilots are still airing all around us but Hollywood is already looking ahead to seasons future: on Friday it was announced that FOX will be developing a pilot based on Oscar winner Diablo Cody's script Prodigy, about a teen genuis who (surprise!) has been socially isolated until she heads to public school and falls in with a bad crowd. I'd be super skeptical-- I have, historically, hated Cody's work, especially her feature follow-up to Juno, Young Adult-- but the show will be produced by Josh Schwartz and Stephanie Savage, the team that brought us The O.C. almost exactly a decade ago now. The O.C. slid into shlock the minute the first season ended but up until then it had been deliciously soapy, a pitch-perfect marriage of over-the-top machinations, smart comedy and well-grounded feelings, plus a then-unusual indie rock soundtrack that legitimately transformed television music choices going forward. Cody has a sharp ear for dialogue but she's bad at rounding out characters, so I'm hopeful that Schwartz and Savage will soften her writing enough to make it palatable, and all three seem to have a wicked sense of humor that can only mean good things for the pilot that's to come.
October 4, 2013 | 9:20 am
Posted by Zan Romanoff
Parks and Rec continues to be delightful: last night's episode played to every single one of the show's strengths, pairing Tom and Donna with Ron as he attempted to go off-grid by destroying all public evidence of his existence and pitting Leslie and Pawnee against their enemies, the snobs of Eagelton. Kristen Bell was pitch-perfect as the snotty Eageleton rep ("We don't like to talk about MONEY," she whispered as a kick-off to their budget meeting.) There's also some sense of the plot moving forward, and taking its characters along with it: Leslie is forced to work with Eagelton, eventually deciding that Pawnee will absorb the town and some its debt in order to save the regional economy, and Ann and Chris start thinking about raising their baby somewhere where the baby bibs don't come standard with pictures of NASCAR drivers. Ron learns that he'll have to compromise occasionally on his intransigent anti-government, anti-sharing stance now that he has a family to take care of.
The only character who's stuck is April, who just decides she doesn't really want to go to veterinary school in Bloomington after all. Don't get me wrong, I want April to stick around Pawnee (especially as Ann and Chris prepare to take their leave) but I wanted more from that plotline than April, who's always dour and recalcitrant, trusting a gut feeling that the school isn't for her. I hope that's not the end of her story, because it's a depressing kind of story to tell about a smart young woman, that she just instinctually knows not to move away from home, and that that feeling is always the right one to trust.
October 3, 2013 | 8:21 am
Posted by Zan Romanoff
You cannot want Nashville not to be ridiculous. If you're going to love the show, you have to revel in the evil machinations of the blackhearted business-focused record execs and the sight of a man so committed to making a change in his life that he saws off his own cast, the existence of hospitals be damned. Last night's Nashville served up plenty of drama, those being two examples among many, and it was a fine return to form, a push to move the show forwards instead of letting it idle in last season's tired waters.
Rayna has fully recovered from her coma-- she spends the whole episode walking around like nothing happened, though they're Vaselining her lenses so hard it's a difficult to tell through the shine and blur-- just in time for a new guy to take over her record label, Edgehill. He promptly poaches one of the artists she's been hoping to sign to her vanity label, Highway 65; he also enrages Juliette by letting her know that her new, more mature work isn't selling as well as he'd hoped, which is a problem, since he has zero interest in her as an artist-- only as a cash cow. Juliette responds to this with one of her usual insane stunts, in this case a TV special that has her back in the Alabama trailer park where she grew up. The writers know that Panettiere is a good enough actress to pull off tough, emotionally unbalanced scenes, and she plays this one beautifully: Juliette is equal parts unaffected and undone by the sequence, trying to play her genuine emotion for the cameras, and fool herself into believing it's all fake in the bargain. Avery accompanies her "to work on some new material on the plane;" later she brings him to the party the new exec is throwing for his artists. The pairing seemed forced at first but I'm starting to buy Avery and Juliette: she's the only person on the show less emotionally literate than he is, so he gets to be the good guy for once, and it's pretty nice to watch.
Elsewhere Deacon blames himself for his and Rayna's accident and decides that the best way to deal with this is by refusing to go to physical therapy that will help his hand heal so that he can play guitar again, and then, when Scarlett drags him there, to refuse to do the therapy and insist on casting the hand instead. He sells off his collection of guitars. Scarlett makes a lot of impassioned speeches. He tries to appeal to Rayna who, thank god, tells him she really can't do this with him anymore. Finally he does cut off the cast himself (seriously, Deacon, why) and tries to go back to playing.
That's where we're headed this season: the crash may have destroyed Deacon's ability to play and the intubation may have irrevocably damaged Rayna's vocal chords, or both, or neither. (My bet is on neither in the long run, but we'll see.) Juliette's being threatened by the next young up and comer, a reality TV runner-up named Layla (Aubrey Peeples, whose previous credits include "Super Hot Girlfriend" on Gray's Anatomy). Scarlett and Gunnar are still broken up but Gunnar is writing again. Will is still gay, still closeted. Maddie is pissed about her paternity but the press hasn't caught on yet. Let's hope they're saving that one for sweeps.
October 2, 2013 | 5:58 pm
Posted by Zan Romanoff
The thing about Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. so far is that it appears to be approximately fifteen minutes of a great show swaddled in 30 minutes of an extremely mediocre one. Last night there were funny, original moments-- Coulson's team blowing a hole in their own plane, on purpose, in order to save it and themselves, and the little tag-along scene at the end end ("Yeah, we're going to have to nix the fish tank.")-- surrounded by a morass of lesser material.
The episode kicked off with last week's cliffhanger: there's an object of unknown origin buried in an archeological site somewhere in Peru, and the team is going to extract it. There they quickly run into various kinds of trouble, in the form of rebels captained by an old friend of Coulson's, Camilla Reyes (Leonor Varela), a woman whose role in the plot is to be sexy and then dangerous, and the object itself, which is a forgotten piece of HYDRA technology full of gamma rays. Or something. The show doesn't trouble itself too much about the object's origins or reason for being buried in a (presumably) Incan pyramid for hundreds of years. Mostly they just need it there so that when Camilla makes the turn from sexy to dangerous the titular Agents can use it to their advantage.
0-8-4 also does the same over-the-top broadcasting of its theme as the pilot: Skye and Grant (who is so boring, oh my god, so boring that I want to and perhaps will just call him Square Jaw, as the ninety-degree angles of his chin are far more memorable than anything he's done on the show so far) talk about how she's a hacker who believes in crowdsourcing, 100 people coming together eaching bearing 1% of the solution, while Grant has been trained to be the whole solution and to eliminate variables. Of course to function as a team the Agents have to learn to work together, which they do in short order when they're handcuffed in the cargo bay while Camilla takes over the ship. They get out by playing to each of their strengths in turn, blow a hole in the plane, incredibly improbably patch it up with an inflatable raft once all the bad guys have blown out, and live to fight another day.
The other disappointing element of the episode was Skye, who continues to make no sense in the show, serving as a hapless audience stand-in who's barely believable as the powerful anarchist hacker she's supposed to be. Perhaps it's on purpose-- the episode ends with her in communication with someone else from Rising Tide, affirming her loyalty-- but it's frustrating to watch a character who's supposed to have real skills get used for a last minute "bright idea" that defies the most basic laws of physics.