Posted by Zan Romanoff
Teen Wolf seems very determined to remind us that its characters-- no matter how smooth their skin or ripped their abs-- are still in high school. The first episode of the season opened with Scott studying for the PSATs; every week since has offered us a key word, first mentioned in a classroom, that comes to play in the action of the episode. Ephemerality, risk and reward, intransigent, anachronism; this week, it was currents. The currents Deucalion told Scott to look for his captured mentor Deaton in, the currents of water and electricity flowing across Derek's apartment as he and his betas attempted to electrocute an attacking Alpha Kali, the geosomething-or-other vaguely mystical currents poor Danny was plotting for a school project before mistletoe poisoning landed him in the hospital. It's all about flow this season, movement and placement in space and time.
(Also still about water and fire: Derek's flooded apartment, sparks of electricity shooting across the floor.)
Last night's episode was blessedly self-contained: we learned in the opening moments that the Darach is sacrificing healers this week, disappearing two doctors from Beacon Hills' ER at a particularly crucial moment and going after Scott's boss, the mysterious veterinarian Alan Deaton, for the third. Deaton recognizes the warning signs, butterflies massing at his windows, and calls Scott to warn him in turn; most of the rest of the episode is spent in pursuit. The B story is Derek and his loyal betas, Isaac and Boyd, preparing his apartment for a visit from the Alphas, who are very formal about the whole arch-enemy thing, always warning him days in advance. Deaton is saved (with the help of Sheriff Stilinski, who really, really needs to find out about the whole existence of werewolves thing sooner rather than later); Derek is, too. It's Boyd who doesn't make it.
It's hard to talk seriously about a lot of what happens this season; creator and showrunner Jeff Davis has been pretty clear that the Alphas have potent mind-control powers, so you're never quite sure what's a plot hole and what's an intentional red herring. It seems like there's definitely something up with everything happening around Derek: no one has yet explained how his little sister survived the fire that killed the rest of their family or where she's been for the last six years. I'd say that last week's seduction of a woman he barely knows while bleeding from multiple open wounds was similarly inexplicable but come on-- have you seen Tyler Hoechlin shirtless? We are all Jeniffer Blake. But there were shots of Stiles' distinctive baby blue Jeep in the traffic jam that caught up the track bus while Stiles himself sat on board, and there have been too many other unexplained oddities to be sheer sloppiness at work.
Which is a long way of saying that I don't think Boyd's dead. His dying monologue-- about how everything that happened to him as a werewolf was worth it-- makes no sense, since three weeks ago he was still pretty raw over Erica's death. My real takeaway is that we should be on the lookout for the lunar eclipse, which is the last thing he talks about as he's dying, which he remembers Erica mentioning before her own (possibly faked?) death. (I want to know what happened to her body. That was a mysterious disappearance in its own right.)
The episode ends by letting us know that Scott is such a special gem of a dude-- has such character, morality and will-- that he has turned himself into an Alpha without having to kill anyone to do it. A Born Alpha. I'm sure it will come up again, so we'll talk about it next week, but I'll just say for now that as far as I'm concerned the least interesting thing about Scott is his self-serious I'm a Hero and a Good Guy attitude, and the idea that the show is rewarding him for it by making him into some special category of werewolf is far and away the most boring thing it's ever done.
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. . . (7)
10.8.13 at 9:20 am | HIMYM limps ever closer to its finale with an. . . (6)
10.10.13 at 9:53 am | Stylish, unsettling, ultimately predictable. (5)
July 16, 2013 | 1:22 pm
Posted by Melissa Weller
Orange Is the New Black, adapted from the 2011 memoir of the same name, is, in a word, perfect. Perfect pacing, perfectly scripted, perfectly performed. A voluntary incarceration to the couch proved a fine way to spend the weekend, and many who participated in this latest Netflix binge-fest can be spotted with glazed-over, bloodshot eyes and a cat-who-ate-the-canary look of satisfaction.
On paper, Orange can be easily dismissed as another … coming-of-age? coming-of-cage? female dramedy cataloguing a privileged white girl walking on the underprivileged black side of the tracks, the genetic makeup of which we’re all familiar. But there’s something refreshingly believable about the whole thing. Believable, but not entirely relatable, which is refreshing in itself. When people say they enjoy a particular movie or TV show because they sympathize with what the characters are going through, or relate to the tribulations in some way, it’s usually because they can point to their own stories with a heartfelt “I’ve been there.” This is not the case with Orange. (Save for the lady viewers who have served hard time in a federal corrections facility. Hats off to you.) Creator Jenji Kohan (Weeds) and her dream team pull off a perfect balancing act of challenging viewers to invest in the characters selflessly while keeping them at a believable distance. I’ll go out on a limb and assume the majority of us don’t have much experience in global drug rings, or surviving only on hope and heroin in the streets of New York. Just the starting line down those paths is one beyond most of our collective comprehensions. But Orange is a dramedic reminder that we don’t need to look to our own personal, limited understanding of achievement or struggle as the only avenue for empathy.
At the crux of the show’s palatability is an appreciated absence of heavy-handedness, despite the heavy content material. Idealistic social comments aren’t shoved down our throats and we’re trusted to draw our own conclusions, at our own pace, and tailor them as the show progresses in whatever fashion we find most meaningful. We end up caring for these women deeply because we decide they’re worth our care, not because someone on the other side of the camera is lecturing us.
This cast. My god, the cast. The chemistry of this cast is stunning, with Kohan providing a structure ripe for damn near D.D.L.-level method actors.
Yes, I recognize I just made that comparison. Anyone who I’ve offended may call the Jewish Journal front desk at (213) 368-1661.
Taylor Schiling is phenomenal as Piper Chapman, the college-educated blondie who co owns an artisanal bath soap business (“We made it into Barneys!”). She’s landed a 15-month sentence per her involvement with an international drug cartel, one her ex-girlfriend Alex Vause (Ex-Girlfriend!) occupied a large operational role. Laura Prepon goes full sex-pot mode as Alex, the tattooed alpha vixen with a soft soul. Piper’s fiancé Larry is played by Jason Biggs. Jason Biggs is Jason Biggs is Jason Biggs, channeling with ease his masturbation-obsessed, parent-helicoptered Jew Boy à la American Pie. Then there’s Pablo Schreiber, who absolutely kills it as Officer Pornstache Mendez, the prison guard creepster. Our consumption of him is entirely uncomfortable yet irresistibly delicious. Like Sriracha. He is the evil older brother of the entire Reno 911 cast and genius in his delivery.
Most important shout out belongs to the scene when Larry visits imprisoned Piper for the first time and their hug is cut short when a guard yells “No touching!” Anyone who burst into fan-girl/fan-boy ecstasy with the (intentional, I’m sure) homage to Arrested Development, another Netflix darling, I see you.
July 15, 2013 | 9:08 am
Posted by Zan Romanoff
Summer is my favorite season, I think, which is a funny thing to say because the reason I love it so much is that it's all about escape. Kids go to camp and adults takes weeks seaside, lakeside, poolside, slipping out of whatever unbearable city we're inhabiting to be somewhere else, somewhere pleasant for as long as we're allowed. Summer is suffering we're encouraged to bear and then evade, unlike winter, which I've always found opressive in its omnipresence. And when we go somewhere else we get to be someone else: maybe I just haven't been out of school long enough, but I can't quite shake the idea of summer as a period of reinvention, the hope that whoever I am on the longest days of the year will finally manage to stick through the spread of the colder ones.
NBC's new hour-long dramedy (which is apparently just a word people use now) Camp is all about that particular kind of fantasy: the staff of titular Little Otters contains a kid trying to escape his recent Leukemia diagnosis and two cousenlors who spend every summer sleeping together-- only to ignore one another during the academic year. The pilot, which aired last week, is not great in the way most pilots are-- and this one is particularly overstuffed and exposition-heavy-- but that almost doesn't matter. The cast is large and varied (and contains Rachel Griffiths, who, as far as I'm concerned can do very little wrong) and it's got that unapologetic 80's good guys/bad guys thing going on, villains you can identify because they're rich and they eat lobster and wear polo shirts with the collars popped, because they say nasty things about nice girls and race across a shared lake on loud, obnoxious jet skis. It's like every cultural trope about summer crammed into an hour of television, something fun to relax into after a long day outside in the sun.
Netflix's latest attempt at original programming is about a very different kind of reinvention: Orange is the New Black follows a mid-thirties yuppie named Piper Chapman as she navigates a fifteen-month sentence for aiding and abetting an international drug-smuggling operation some years prior. That Piper has, in the mean time, given up her life of crime (and the girlfriend, Alex, who got her into it) to become, in own words "the nice blonde lady" she was always meant to be doesn't matter-- so she's stuck inside the prison's walls trying to launch an artisanal bath products company, trying to keep her engagement to her fiance, Larry, from falling apart.
I'm only midway through Orange is the New Black; Netflix releases its original programming in whole-season blocks, which means they're ideal for binge-watching but easy to feel behind on. So far I'm not entirely sold: the characters too often veer into charicature, and Piper's milquetoast white lady oh no reaction to pretty much everything-- from pie-fights to women peeing on her floors to being starved after she insults the chef's cooking to her face--is hard to watch after a while. I'm just through episode five, in which she abandons an important work phone call to chase a chicken everyone in the prison is obsessed with (don't ask), and hoping it will mark a turning point both for her and for the show, turning her into the kind of heroine I'll actually be interested in watching, forcing her to let go of who's she's been so that she can reinvent herself, just like everyone else does this time of year.
July 13, 2013 | 10:47 am
Posted by Melissa Weller
The second season of The Newsroom premieres this Sunday on HBO, and for those who maybe didn’t tune in but kept an eye on critic reviews of and fan responses to Aaron Sorkin’s latest brain/ego child know the HBO drama’s freshman year was met with mixed feelings, to say the least. While Dan Rather himself sung its praises by noting a heroic yet accurate interpretation of the moral vs. money crossroads most networks encounter on a daily basis, Andy Greenwald, a staff writer for Grantland.com, went so far as to say “… in terms of pure fantasy, neither (True Blood nor Game of Thrones) holds a candle to The Newsroom." Considering these shows are home to vampires, centaurs, dragons and 13-ft furry zombies, this is a tall statement.
At first and even second glance, the show feels cool, feels fresh — each episode riddled with snappy banter, *painfully witty* zingers and, huzzah! Major world events to boot! Remember the BP oil spill? The Gabrielle Giffords assassination attempt? Death of Osama?! Sure you do, and those memories bring an instant gratification born from watching the little-news-team-that-could live through and report on these very real, very recent events of national and international importance. Paired with Hip-2-Death dialogue, we’re served Sorkin’s specialty dish of shiny, intellectual camaraderie sprinkled with old-school American patriotism. Where Sorkin missed the mark is in character depth and believability.
The first season finale pulled out all the stops. Wise choice, because it was past bedtime for the two or three halfway intriguing storylines. Our patience was rewarded with a bloody apartment,
a drug overdose self-medication mishandling, a sting operation and further self-sabotaging from inconvenient admirers. After hapless Jim (John Gallagher) had been drooling hopelessly over Maggie (Alison Pill) because, damn girl, them quirks of yours just won’t quit, they finally kiss after a full season’s courtship tango strapped with two left feet. But, as fate would have it, the significant others of these significant lovers had other plans.
Do-gooder Mackenzie McHale (Emily Mortimer) is Will McAvoy’s (Jeff Daniels) lovable ex-lover who indulges in bouts of playground outbursts when faced with producing content that doesn’t, as Will describes in a rare display of self-awareness, “tell the audience to eat their vegetables.” We learn very early in the series that soon after her relationship with Will ended, she and Jim manned the war trenches of Afghanistan and Iraq for two years. She is also referenced multiple times as the best executive producer in New York. The disconnect calls for a much louder suspension of disbelief than some are used to, myself included. I don’t believe the woman who thinks scorned puppy is the only facial expression available is regarded as a journalistic war hero.
Though a fantastical and arguably impossible character, the least offensive personality of the bunch is The Real McAvoy himself. Next to Jim. Heart you, Jim. Yes, we are asked to accept that Will McAvoy, a man who rose to celebrity status as a TV anchor, formerly known for his tacit, calculated impenetrability, is now leading a crusade against the Tea Party after Mackenzie is hired as his executive producer. He is also a registered republican, so that’s fun.
None of this is to say the show doesn’t redeem itself from any angle. It’s well-shot, fun to watch and the dialogue offers a guilty pleasure of superiority. The message is not one to dismiss, either. I just wonder if the quality of the message is suffering from the quality of the medium.
So, where does that leave us and what can we expect for season 2? Probably more of the same. Will and Mac still playing cat and mouse, Jim and Maggie continuing to hammer nails into their love coffin, and Sam Waterston drowning in scotch until he’s given a respectable script.
Watch the season 2 preview here:
July 11, 2013 | 1:53 pm
Posted by Zan Romanoff
I wish I could remember how anyone convinced me to watch Terriers. It has a singularly unpromising name and a less-than-gripping premise: a ex-alcoholic ex-cop, Hank, and his ex-con friend, Britt, solve small-time crimes in Southern Califonia. Donal Logue, who plays Hank, is always charming and weirdly sexy, despite taking roles as a lot of dead-end dudes, but I don't think that's what did it. Probably I had some time to kill and I was curious; you might have gathered that I'm into genre stuff, and always excited when people take it seriously enough to play with convention, working old tropes not to make them new, exactly, but to expose the other sides of them, the elements that were there all along, quiet, latent.
Terriers plays on the down-and-out noir detective theme, except instead of being rakish and devil-may-care Hank and Britt are scruffy and threadbare, the ghosts of their pasts and the demons of their present taking a palpable toll on them. They don't live outside the law of time and consequence, movie star handsome men brooding over past misdeeds and lost love; they are those men five, ten years later, living with the reprecussions of their reckless youths. Much as I appreciate teenagers on television, the shining artifice of eternal youth, it's fun, sometimes, to see characters who are recognizeable as human beings, deeply flawed in a way that makes them hard to sympathize with, sometimes even hard to like.
The show follows a fairly familiar procedural format: a central mystery that builds all season set amidst a handful of one-off cases. Britt and Hank work outside the law (though Hank calls in the occasional favor from his friends and ex-colleagues on the force) which means that it's not the slick stuff we're used to seeing, crime scene techs zooming in on grainy video to find in an improbably perfect frame of the perp's face or pulling DNA from the roots of a sinlge hair. Instead they have to be wily and clever, living demonstrations that the best detectives are something of con men at heart.
That's the real draw of Terriers: it's a show that's comfortable in the grown-up territory of moral ambiguity, presenting men who've fucked up big time as they try to use the knowledge gained in darker days to do some good in the world. Their methods are suspect and the results aren't always what they're after, but the show never preaches or condemns. It's smart and funny and scruffy itself, a story told by adults to adults. It takes pleasure, simply, in the telling, in the charm of its heroes, the entertaining draw of their antics and their banter, the narrative pull of cases to be solved.
Britt and Hank stumble to make things right, in their lives and the lives of others, little things, sometimes bigger things. The best part is: they screw up loudly and often along the way.
Terriers is available in its single-season glory on Netflix. Maybe they can revive it like they did with Arrested Development? Or maybe it should get the Kickstarter treatment next...
July 10, 2013 | 1:04 pm
Posted by Zan Romanoff
Twisted is, perhaps unsurprisingly, a weird show. It's centered around a pre-pubescent murderer recently released from juvenile hall, a fifteen year old boy named Danny Desai who claims he did what he did for a reason he can't reveal. He also claims he has nothing to do with the girl who was murdered on his first night back in Green Grove-- but how, then, does he have the necklace she was wearing the night she died? The show plays with the ambiguity of Danny's character as the people around him, many of whom desperately want to love him, try to figure out if he's worthy of that love-- or if he's just a sociopath manipulating them into defending him.
It would be more poignant if the rest of the show wasn't quite so tone-deaf; it plays a grief-counseling session for laughs, never letting us catch even a glimpse of the raw emotion that usually accompanies untimely loss. This would be less of an issue if the murdered girl, Regina, hadn't been quite so unlikeable in her few scenes as a living girl-- and if her best friend wasn't one of the main characters. It's never clear why Lacey loved Regina so much. It's easier to understand why Jo so insistently defends Danny: she misses the days when they were close, when he was innocent, and her life was simpler.
Last night's episode was full of time-honored tv tropes: an event the entire town attends, a fancy dance, a tomboy in a nice dress trying to get a boy to notice her. It was in many way a typical teen drama-- Rico likes Jo, Jo likes Danny, Danny ilkes Lacey, Lacey totally kissed Danny-- except for the scenes where adult authority figures, the police chief and mayor, tried to bully and threaten a fifteen year old boy, attempting to make him ashamed to come out in public. It's understandable that the town's adults would be wary of Danny, especially after there's reason to suspect him of a second murder, but it's hard to watch Chief Masterson, Jo's father, explaining to him in an official capacity that it just isn't appropriate to come out and celebrate with the rest of the town. The weirdness of the moment underscores the all-too-real results of suspicion and paranoia, the way they so easily best kindness and compassion. The show never addresses the fact that Danny is dark-skinned in a largely white town explicitly, but it's hard not to draw certain parallels to other, similar incidents in recent modern history.
The episode ends with a Jo, Danny and Lacey back together again, their youthful trio reunited to investigate a mysterious letter sent to Regina days before she died. It's a little hard to believe that Lacey wouldn't turn the letter over to the police-- she claims she doesn't want to sully Regina's memory if the letter's veiled threats turn out to be unrelated to her death-- but then again, these are teenagers we're dealing with, so we can let the lack of logic slide. It gives us something new to look forward to next week-- the hope that we'll get a little farther away from romantic drama, and onto the meat of the matter: if Danny didn't kill Regina, who did? If Danny did kill her, what does it mean that it's hard not to like him, to keep watching him, in all of his complicated, ambiguous charm?
July 9, 2013 | 2:00 pm
Posted by Zan Romanoff
Teen Wolf has always had cinematic aspirations, but they've really come to the fore this season, which is replete with long shots sweeping across muted color palettes and eerie, empty vistas. The first episode featured a full-on Hitchcock homage as a flock of black birds invaded a high school classroom, and last week's episode paid tribute to two time-honored tropes: the away game and the road trip. This week finds our high school heroes (werewolves Scott, Isaac, Boyd, and Ethan and humans Stiles, Lydia, Allison and Danny) spending the night in a creepy motel after the track bus gets caught in an intractable traffic jam on the way to a meet. An opening flashback has Allison's werewolf hunter uncle starting to turn into a werewolf and killing himself to stop the transition; a vocally-impaired night clerk at the front desk informs Lydia that the place is famous for the high rate of suicides among its customers.
The rest of the episode is spent in a tangle of flashbacks and hallucinations--and, unlike last week's oddly plotted mess, all of the backward action actually works to drive the story forwards. The wolves get caught up in their worst, most traumatic memories, recollections and imaginations so bad they'd rather die than keep living them. This means we get backstory on the previously mysterious Boyd (his little sister was kidnapped from an ice rink while he was babysitting her when he was a child, which makes his after-school job running the local Zamboni particularly poignant) and a reminder that Isaac was abused by his late father, who regularly locked him in an unplugged freezer. Ethan-- one of a pair of Alpha twins whose bodies fuse into one enormous super-wolf when they shift-- is terrified of his brother getting trapped inside of him, and Scott might just be suicidal.
All of the other wolves are snapped out of their trances by heat-- Ethan burns himself on a space heater in a tussle, after which cool-headed Lydia suggests road flares to startle Isaac and Boyd back into themselves. So when Team Human finds Scott standing in a puddle of gasoline holding the last flare, already sparking, lucid and able to communicate with them, you have to wonder. The ritual murders that have marked each episode of this season come in sets of threes, but there are four wolves in the motel, each attempting to off himself; Scott's definitely the odd one out. He's still distraught over Derek's assumed death (he shouldn't be-- Derek spend the episode bleeding sluggishly and making out with a woman he barely knows, so he's definitely all right), earlier he hallucinated Alpha pack head Deucalion killing his mother, and he's suddenly (and inexplicably) an alpha himself, which means a whole host of other problems coming his way. Scott's despair, while exaggerated, seems genuine; the moment in which Stiles steps into his puddle of gasoline, saying "you're my best friend, you're my brother," is beautifully poignant. Last week saw Allison stitching Scott's wounds to trick him into healing; this time, there's no illusion involved. It's a good reminder of why you need humans on a werewolf show-- because while supernatural creatures are mostly indestructible, they can be brought low (in this case by wolfsbane poisoning, a callback to a similar sequence in the second season), and they need humans who know about the science of road flares, who can call them back from the brink of themselves to the very real communities that they spend their time trying to protect.
Also a quick mythology note: there's a definitely play of fire and ice going on this season-- Isaac and Boyd in the freezer and on the rink, being burned back into themselves; in the first episode, Derek took a blowtorch to Scott's arm to make his tattoo permanent. Promos showed Scott drowning himself. Derek's family was killed in a massive house fire six years ago. I have no idea what it has to do with the Alpha pack or the dark druid Darach, but it's interesting to watch the motifs expand and unfold as the season progresses.
July 8, 2013 | 2:30 pm
Posted by Zan Romanoff
True Blood premiered in a different era. It was a pre-Twilight time, when vampires weren't considered standard young adult fare-- before The Vampire Diaries and The Mortal Instruments and all of their various imitators and competitors. The first season was a little uneven, especially tonally, veering between romance and horror, occasionally detouring into camp-- but it was unlike almost anything else on air, then, a sexy, serious show about a spunky southern woman named Sookie Stackhouse and the vampires who were (then) inexplicably obsessed with her.
It's hard to say when, exactly, it went off the rails. For me it was the werepanthers; some people were too weirded out by the maenad subplot from season two; others couldn't handle Sookie's discovery that she's an actual fairy. The consensus seems to be that there's way too much mythology and not nearly enough development of any of it. One of the reasons I like supernatural drama is the specific type of world-building that it requires: it's always interesting to see how writers deal with common myths, enlarging or subverting them, making rules and creating whole cultures, bringing tired tropes to life. If you asked me why I used to love True Blood I'm pretty sure the answer would be: this scene, in which two thousand year old vampires complain to one another about how hard it is to text. (Careful with that link-- it features non-graphic, mostly-implied male nudity.)
There are also a lot of broad political metaphors on True Blood-- vampires are opressed and they need civil rights, so parallels are often draw with the struggles of black American's in the 60's and the modern gay rights movement. It's strange and a little sloppy, always. This season has seen a vampire dragged through town behind a truck after a legal decree that vampires have no rights in the state of Louisanna; it's an uncomfortable callback to a lot of real-life trauma, and hard to take on a show that is so often so close to kitsch.
I keep thinking I'm going to stop watching True Blood. The accents are all over the place, the politics are distasteful, there are too many plots and none of them ever develop all that well. It's a beautiful cast, but what television cast isn't on the whole an attractive bunch?
And yet! And yet there's always something, some small, unexpected detail that reels me back in. Last night it was Andy Bellefleur's half-fairy daughters, a brood of four girls with no names who wear glittery fake fairy wings and read minds and age ten years every time they go to sleep for the night. They're currently caught up in a gross scheme of Vampire Bill's-- god, remember when he was supposed to be a romantic hero? I am also glad the show has acknowledged how gross and boring Vampire Bill is-- but they're what I want to see more of. The show began with Sookie, who's much less than half-fae, an isolated waitress in her late twenties terrified of human company because she, too, could read minds. Sookie's world then had fewer vampires (they had only just "come out of the coffin"-- see what I mean, about the metaphors?) and she was thrilled to meet one because he, at least, was mentally silent, immune to her psychic powers. Six years later (well, not quite so many for Sookie and Bon Temps) there are werewolves and werepanthers and plain old shifters, a bunch of young women who've recently become vampires and these half-fairy girls in the middle of it. They're an exciting, original piece of mythology, a fun take on the trappings of girlhood, Sookie Stackhouse re-imagined. Amidst all of the blood and drama and chaos, they're the fun part of the show-- and one of the reasons I haven't been able to turn it off for good. I want to know what happens to them, whether they, too, get caught up with that brooding bad boy (bad man, really) or if they escape and give him what he's due. They're minor characters, so far; they don't even have names. But they're what's keeping me watching. This week, anyway.