Posted by Zan Romanoff
I did a quick roundup of some of the fall shows I'm looking forward to a few weeks ago; now, with premiers starting first thing next week Splitsider has a comprehensive look at the comedy slates, including shows making their debuts and those returning for triumphant final seasons. (I guess this means I'll start watching How I Met Your Mother again? The show has gone from clever and quotable to boring, misogynistic hackery in the last few seasons, but I'm loyal enough to want to know how it all ends.)
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. . .
10.8.13 at 9:20 am | HIMYM limps ever closer to its finale with an. . . (6)
7.18.13 at 2:01 pm | If you like Korean soap operas, this is the one. . . (5)
7.29.13 at 2:22 pm | All right, I'll admit it: I just don't get Orange. . . (5)
August 29, 2013 | 11:04 am
Posted by Zan Romanoff
I've mentioned before how thrilled I am that the Veronica Mars movie is, at long last, actually really happening. But what will creator Rob Thomas--who was also a key player in the classic, canceled too soon Party Down-- get up to once that project is finally complete? Apparently he'll be working on a pilot based on the classic 1862 novel Les Miserables by Victor Hugo. The story has seen numerous adaptations in various media over the course of its 151 year existence; this one, per Deadline, is a "primetime soap about a brilliant lawyer running a legal exoneration program who fights to evade the consequences of his own unjust conviction many years before. He must navigate high society, continue his mission of saving innocent people, and manage his tumultuous family and romantic life — all while staying one step ahead of a ruthless U.S. Attorney who refuses to let the ghosts of the past die." Graham Norris is writing the script, and Thomas will serve as Executive Producer alongside Danielle Stokdyk and Dan Etheridge, faces familiar from their stints on UPN’s Veronica Mars, ABC’s Cupid and the aforementioned (and, I will say again, completely brilliant) Party Down.
August 20, 2013 | 9:10 am
Posted by Zan Romanoff
Last night's mid-season finale of Teen Wolf had plot holes you could drive a truck through-- or at least Stiles' much beloved baby blue Jeep, which may or may not have been among the episode's casualties. Entire plotlines were dropped (remind me again, was there supposed to be something about the Alphas altering memories this season?) and villains were dispatched in handfuls (Kali and Jennifer are both down for the count, though Deucalion was given an improbable second chance and the twins seem to be in Beacon Hills to stay, which, for those of us keeping count at home, means that three women and three non-white characters have been dispatched this season while not a single white male died). The episode wrapped up twelve episodes' worth of poorly developed arcs and good riddance to them, is my feeling. I'm ready to write the whole thing off and start fresh with the second half of this season in January.
It's too bad, too, because the episode is a waste of a gorgeous cold open: Stiles, Allison and Scott climbing out of white enamel bathtubs in a long white room and flashing back to their opening scenes on the show, Scott and Stiles wandering around in the woods looking for danger, Allison still innocent and naive and, as always, hellbent on helping. Those little left turns have changed everything for all of them, and Teen Wolf plays the moment beautifully, just letting us watch them watch themselve, setting out on a path they didn't know, then, they would have to keep walking.
Then, though, everything devolves into a mess. The trio emerge back into the real world certain they can find the Nemeton where their parents are being held captive but it turns out they've been out-- passed out in ice baths-- for sixteen hours. (What happened to it's dangerous, what happened to their anchors, what happened to Stiles and Allison's very human bodies? Nevermind that, I guess. Onwards with the plot! There are like thirty characters and a lot of them have to die!) There's almost no time left before the moon rises and then the lunar eclipse happens and then Jennifer can make her sacrifices and become the most powerful Druid ever in history and kill--whoever she wants, I guess.
Allison sets off a smoke grenade to distract the FBI, headed up by Scott's long-lost father, and she and Isaac head out into the woods. (Three officers see her do it, but there don't appear to be any consequences. Ever.) Stiles conveniently crashes his Jeep and spends the episode mostly concussed, which really can't be good for him on top of that sixteen hour ice bath but apparently Dylan O'Brien was shooting The Maze Runner when they taped most of the finale so we will cut them a break there. The kids find their parents, Jennifer almost collapses the root cellar they're in on top of them, Stiles saves the day with another, sturdier bat. That's a wrap on the family drama. There is no time to mine it for the deep vein of emotion that was tapped last week, because there are boring speeches and action sequences, apparently, that have to be dealt with instead.
Jennifer tells Derek he can save the parents if he helps her get Deucalion, who will be her sacrifice instead. Scott is on Deucalion's side because he promised, and Jennifer has his mother. They have the world's dumbest fight, with like five reversals of fortune and useless callbacks and a flash grenade and the lunar eclipse happens and anyway, eventually Deucalion almost kills Jennifer but then I guess they decide to leave her alone for a while and she escapes, again. (Don't worry, she's a woman, and Peter Hale slashes her throat for real at the Nemeton, howling I was always the alpha, which I guess means we know who to look out for in season three.) Scott comes into this True Alpha powers and that means he can break a mountain ash circle. Derek and Scott decide to let Deucalion go because he's a white guy and he used to be a visionary so maybe he'll just give up on the DEMON WOLF thing and play nice? Who knows.
The episode ends with a gratingly indulgent voice over, Scott explaining to Deaton that he does feel darkness around his heart, but he solves that problem with friendship. It's embarrassing for everyone involved.
The only good news is that Derek and Cora take off at the end of the episode. Adelaide Kain, who plays Cora, is also bound for better things, playing the queen in Reign, but I'm hoping this signals a bigger reset in store: that poor battered Derek will return rested and refreshed and ready to murder his psychopath of an uncle, and that where Derek goes, the rest of the show will follow. The newly reactived Nemeton will apparently turn Beacon Hills back into, um, a beacon, which probably means more monster-of-the-week episodes in store for January. Hopefully the structural change and fewer cast shakeups will help get the show back on solid ground-- because if the back half of this season is anything like the first, Teen Wolf might be too lost to ever recover.
August 6, 2013 | 9:03 am
Posted by Zan Romanoff
Do you know what convinced me to start watching Teen Wolf? It was not Tyler Posey's shirtless torso, or Tyler Hoechlin's shirtless torso, or even the power of their shirtless torsos combined. (It might have been a little bit of their torsos and Hoechlin's face but-- that's only natural, I'm only human, okay.) Anyway it was the early scene in which Posey's character, Scott, has recently become a werewolf and, as a fun side effect, gotten really good at lacrosse. Head Jock In Charge Jackson Whittemore, convinced Scott is taking steriods, slams him up against a locker and demands to know where he's getting his juice. Scott looks back, so sweet and perfectly sixteen, and says, "I don't know? My mom does all the grocery shopping."
The moments in which Teen Wolf allows its characters to be teenagers, to be goofballs, to react to pain and trauma and fear with the same mix of shock and misplaced levity that actual humans do are always the best ones. Last night saw Peter shooting himself with an enormous syringe's worth of epinephrine to prepare for a fight with the Alpha twins (whose shirtless torsos literally do combine to make on enormous shirtless torso when they wolf out, but it's just weird and not intruiging, sorry) and staggering out of the hospital room with the needle still in his chest, grunting and growling; once it had worn off he and Scott locked themselves in a laundry room and escaped the twins down a laundry chute. They landed on top of one another in a pile of soft white sheets (clean sheets, let's hope-- they were in a hospital, after all), Peter bitching at Scott for not waiting longer to jump down after him. I laughed out loud! I shed small, discreet tears when Stiles talked about not wanting to have to find his dad's body! The episodes' dramatic structure was as weird as they always are, but at least this one was fun to watch.
We're winding down towards the end of the first part of the third season (when MTV doubled their episode order, they apparently did it in two sections: 12 episodes to air as season 3a this summer, with another 12 coming in January), and the massive cast of characters is starting to become seriously unweildy as the plot tightens up. There's also a lot of explaining to do, as evidenced by last night's big monologue/infodump scenes between Kali and Deucalion and Derek and Jennifer.
The episode goes roughly as follows: there's a storm so bad it's knocking out power to Beacon Hills Memorial Hospital and everyone is being evacuated. Everyone, that is, except Cora, who's still sick with mistletoe poisoning. (Why, you might ask? No one knows yet. Probably because the actress who plays her was in a CW pilot that got picked up.) Derek knows that Jennifer is the Darach; the says she'll save Cora out of the goodness of her heart. When she and Derek and Scott and Stiles get to the hospital it turns out that the Alphas are already there, wreaking merry havoc on Peter. Jennifer runs away and then returns to say she'll save Cora and tell the gang where she abducted Stiles' father to-- in exchange for them getting her out of the hospital alive.
Because it turns out that Jen was Kali's emissary, back when she had a real pack, and that Kali mutilated her and left her for dead, and Jennifer drew power from the tree where Derek had murdered his virginal teenage girlfriend after the bite didn't take so that she could survive long enough to hatch a plot to sacrifice a bunch more people to gain enough power to murder the Alpha pack. On a total lunar eclipse. When they can't shift or heal. Deucalion knew all of this all along and waited until Jennifer had made off with Scott's mom to force him into the ultimate deal: join me, or she will die.
I know, right. That's a lot to have done in ten episodes, and that's not even counting Lydia, who's apparently a banshee and spends the episode off-screen getting treated for the bruises from where Jennifer almost strangled her. I'm hoping that with the season's mysteries mostly cleared up the next two episodes will be clearer and cleaner, though honestly I kind of doubt it-- but maybe at least they'll be funny?
July 31, 2013 | 2:48 pm
Posted by Zan Romanoff
I'll give Twisted this one: despite all of the extremely predictable drama around the Danny-Lacey-Jo love triange, they have so far spared us the crushing embarrassment of watching Jo actually confess her affections to Danny, who continues to think of her "like a sister." Instead last night's episode saw him dropping that little phrase in casual conversation and destroying all of her sweet hopes and dreams with it, sending her running into the arms of Tyler, Phoebe's cute but slightly creepy older brother who tried to ask her out last week, too. The real suffering is reserved for Rico, who's absolutely haplessly in love with Jo, and Danny, who's being pranked-- and maybe stalked-- by someone who thinks it's funny to decorate his front yard with jumpropes, his murder weapon of choice.
Danny and Lacey are keeping their budding romance quiet by going on late-night romantic picnics in public parks-- a questionable decision on many levels, and especially when one is interrupted by a horde of boys in Danny masks wearing identical green shirts, red jumpropes draped around their shoulders. (Where someone found an army of teenage boys with long dark hair for this particular display is a question best left uncontemplated, really.) He throws a bottle at them to scare them away and they disappear-- only to show up at the house party Danny throws to try to get himself back into his classmates' good graces. This time two of the masked Dannys re-enact the murder on his living room floor-- where Tara Desai's actual death took place five years earlier.
It seems that we're meant to understand that the pranks are being engineered by Tyler in an attempt to create drama for his documentary about Danny's return to Green Grove. Is it him, then, who we see in a mask recording Danny and Lacey making out in his living room in the episode's final minutes? (Seriously, these kids are not great at stealth.) Or is it... someone else? Who knows! It was another entertaining hour with almost zero real plot advancement, though Danny's mother does turn herself into the police for Regina's murder at the very end-- not that I buy it for a second, but at least it's some kind of progress.
There are three more weeks to go, during which time I'm hoping that all of these secrets unravel themselves and the kids will get it together and the show will convince me that Jo and Rico really do belong together after all. Though it's probably not a great sign that I am sort of starting to hope that Danny's a sociopath? There's a lot of promised creepiness that Twisted has yet to deliver on, and dopplegangers in paper masks who get scared away by a little broken glass just aren't going to cut it for me in that department, I'm afraid.
July 30, 2013 | 9:06 am
Posted by Zan Romanoff
If it's the girls know too much in this episode-- Allison takes her father's careful tracking of the Darach for evidence that he is one, Lydia decides to acknolwedge her power instead of denying it and discovers that she's a banshee, Jennifer, well, Jennifer is the Darach after all-- then it's the men who know far too little. There's poor Danny, letting Ethan tie his tie and fix his hair before a school recital, unaware that his boyfriend is a murderous Alpha. There's Derek, who doesn't know his girlfriend is a murderous druid or how to save his mysteriously dying sister. Then there's poor Sherriff Stilsinki, who finally gets let in on Beacon Hills' worst-kept secret only to get stabbed and abducted in the episode's final minutes.
It's actually a pretty decent hour, especially on the heels of last week's manipulative mess. The plot advances: we learn things about characters (that Danny and Ethan's last pack was a terrible one, that they didn't always know how to Alphasmash themselves into one enormous creature), we learn things about what's been happening-- who's been killing people, anyway-- and gain some more clues as to why. Characters not only don't lie to one another, they go out of their way to tell each other the truth and keep each other up to date. Everyone works together and yet somehow things still happen! There's still tension and drama and feelings galore. ("Mom would have believed me," I mean really, Stiles, Jen threw the knife but you're not at all afraid to twist it.) Let this be a lesson to you, Teen Wolf: sometimes, traditional is more interesting, and less frilly cinematic pretension can mean much more getting to happen up on the screen.
July 29, 2013 | 2:22 pm
Posted by Zan Romanoff
All right, I'll admit it: I just don't get Orange is the New Black. I watched three or four episodes the weekend it came out and have made my way through three or four more in the intervening weeks, waiting for it to become addictive, delightful-- even just plain old entertaining. At first I avoided spoilers and then I started reading reviews, hoping that someone else's positive opinion would rub off on me and help me to see whatever I was missing. It didn't take. I'm twenty minutes into the eighth episode and I can't imagine I'll ever get much farther. I just... I just don't like it.
I understand all of the arguments for why it's important: the show goes inside of a women's prison and gives us a reasonably realistic sense of what goes on there day-to-day, the extraordinarily mundane details of what's often sketched as a terrifying and awful place. It asks well-heeled viewers to sympathize with a class of people we tend to dismiss or ignore; it has aspirations, the show, I will certainly give it that. All things considered, of course I'd rather have Orange is the New Black than another vapid show about mean housewives or devious maids or whatever. Because OitNB also passes the Bechdel Test with flying colors. It puts women on screen-- women of color, even-- and puts them at the center of its narrative, of all of the different kinds of stories it's telling.
it doesn't always succeed in those aspirations though, or tell those stories as thoughtfully as it could. Yasmin Nair has a great piece at In These Times about the way the show fails to reimagine, question or even adequately discuss the class system in America, how different it is to be an inmate like the putative protagonist, Piper Chapman, who can go home to her fiancee when her sentence is up, from being an inmate like Taystee, who leaves only to come back again, finding the outside world punishingly, impossibly tough without any support system at her back. As Nair points out, the show congratulates Chapman for recognizing that her choices landed her in prison without ever examining the stories of women for whom there were no other choices, not in any real sense.
And that's where we come to my real problem with Orange is the New Black: in its attempt to humanize each of the prisoners the show comes off like a heavy-handed morality tale. Everyone's bad behavior-- which is to say their crimes, which range from Piper's fairly minor carrying a suitcase of cash to more serious drug trafficking, and even murder-- is basically excused by the fact that they all had their feelings hurt by someone at one point or another. Rather than pointing out structural racism and inequality, the broken educational system, etc. ad nauseum, the point of the show really does seem to be that these women wanted to fit in and failed to, that they made mistakes so that one person or another would like them better, or because they'd realized that that person would never like them anyway so eff it, who cares.
That could be an interesting narrative thread, the way women assimilate the constant cultural demand that they be liked and likeable, if the show wasn't swimming in such deep waters already. Instead it flattens perspective and renders each characters' dramas more or less the same: it's all a matter of recognizing ourselves in these women, and producing the correct emotional response. The show either catches you or doesn't. It leaves me very cold. Piper is an unlikeable heroine but she's also not an interesting one; her character's complexity is, essentially, that she realizes she's not as nice as she always thought she was. The rest of the show is about how everyone else is nicer than you think they are.
And I'm not terribly interested in nice, I'm afraid, especially in a theoretically groundbreaking show about women and their stories. I've met enough nice girls, on-screen and elsewhere. I wish the show was confident enough in itself to show us their nastiness, to give them the possibility of being complicated and seductive and still basically broken or bad. Orange is the New Black has no bite to it; it renders prison too familiar, too safe, in an effort to make it relatable. It has plenty of feeling but no real drama, which I think is a shame, especially since it's a show about women, who get to talk about their feelings already, and plenty.
July 26, 2013 | 3:35 pm
Posted by Zan Romanoff
This week's episode of Graceland is the first to abandon its usual procedural format-- a Case of the Week plus or minus some progress on a season-long Big Mystery-- in favor of developing character relationships and moving that one main question to the fore. It makes for a quiet first half, for sure, and I spent that initial thirty minutes wondering whether I was going to have to pan a show I'd just finished enthusiastically recommending. But there are big enough revelations in the second half to keep the first from weighing it down too heavily, and the ending twist is good enough that I'm basically writhing in agony about the fact that it will be another two weeks before there's any kind of resolution.
Two weeks ago Charlie discovered that one of her confidential informants had overdosed in the course of a meeting with a drug dealer; when the suspicious dealer challenged her to shoot up from his stash to prove she wasn't a cop, she took the bait. Last week Briggs set her up in a crash pad stocked with high quality heroin to ride out the come down, dosing her with just enough more when she had to meet with the higher ups to explain how the case had gone wrong. This week she confesses her crimes to the rest of the house. She feels like it's crucial to come clean to them because she views them as family; Briggs takes her to task for it at the end of the episode, claiming she's burdening them by putting them in a position where they may have to lie for her in the future-- and where they'll undoubtedly have trouble trusting her as she continues to work investigations undercover as a (possibly) pretend junkie. The episode is in large part an exploration of each character's code of ethics, and the way that those ethics inform their relationships to one another. It gives depth to the rest of the proceedings; it's a confident move, to spend an hour on relationships in a high-adrenaline cop show, but I think it totally works here.
If Graceland is, per the show's closing conversation, Charlie's family and Briggs' palace, then for rookie Mike it seems to be little more than a job. He's been charged with quietly investigating Briggs, who seems to be skimming serious quantities of drugs from the busts he makes, and while he was at first reluctant to do it, every week finds him more convinced that there's something to his bosses' claims, and less argument for Briggs' innocence. This week he tells his girlfriend-- who believes he's a pilot, since she can't know he's an undercover agent-- that he'll likely be moving back east when she does, indicating that he think he's close to wrapping up the Briggs case to his bosses' satisfaction.
It's kind of a dick move, but it's also hard not to be on his side when Briggs slips away from his housemates' surveillance to meet with a high-level drug dealer named Bello. It seems that the mysterious Odin, who Briggs and Mike have been chasing all season, is none other than Briggs himself. Or that's what he claims, anyway. He's pulled enough crazy stunts that it's possible for this to be another one, and being able to see it either way creates some truly delicious tension. The show has really effectively set up an scenario in which one of the main characters could well be hero or villain, and in which I'm certain that, whichever it is, the results will be exciting, which is no small feat, especially in its rookie season.