"In cooking, as in all the arts, simplicity is a sign of perfection." - Curnonsky

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Rescue Me: Animal

Well I hope everyone else enjoyed that as much as I did because this was by far the best episode of the season. At this point, it doesn't seem like I'm going to get a huge story, other than Elvis... Wyatt... whatever his name is. Character development seems to be the name of the game and even though I have complained about the quality of this season, it's about par for the course if I think about it. Three seasons down. It'd almost be weird if I wasn't getting some new perspectives.

Take the Gavin family intervention. It still bugs me that the "forgotten siblings" (Timo and Rosemary) are never mentioned at things like this, but we still got some great stuff. Maggie is sick of being addicted, Eddie is in denial about his addiction ("I nip!"), and Teddy loves being addicted. This clan covers all the bases. Mr. Gavin finally made an appearance too... and he was drinking the whole time! Maggie's suggestion to have their own A.A. meetings was perfect though. I can't wait to see one of these things go down. They'll all be drunk. Well, except for Tommy. He's the only one that holds his ground right now. Mick too I guess.

Whatever, back to Tommy. Could he have been in any more crazy predicaments during this episode? What was the deal with Valerie (Gina Gershon)? She pulled the ol' "wham, bam, thank you ma'am" before Tommy even had his pants off. She was just some kind of sex freak I guess. While it was funny ("I need a Fresca."), I'm not so sure I understood the point of it.

After that, there was the fight with Feinberg. Besides Tommy's death wish antics, Feinberg was PO'ed that Tommy didn't treat Beth too well on their date. That's crap. She's a nut-job and Sydney knows that. But it's his daughter, so he's obligated to be angry. Why take it out on Tommy though?

What else was there? Oh right... running into a fire, jumping off a building, and playing for the NYPD during the most recent hockey game. Sure he was honoring his brother, but it was still weird to see him in blue and not red.

As far as the rest of the episode goes...
  • Lou and Franco finally saw Feinberg's cash n' prizes. They shuddered. What does it look like? A third leg?
  • Speaking of Franco, was it just me, or was Natalie being a bit harsh with him? Something else is going on here. She's being wacky for no real reason. Franco was honest with her, so what's the deal?
  • Janet is officially just as crazy as Sheila. She was always close. They're equals now. How did Tommy put it? Using one kid to steal the other?
  • Tommy's new place? Gross. Looked like the apartment he used to have when "Jesus" visited. His Realtor was played by The Daily Show's Samantha Bee though.
  • Is Mike going to be OK? I know he's going through a tough time with his mother gone and his leg injury, but is he right in the head if he's faking being drunk (Tommy said the vodka was just water) and making laughable attempts at offing himself? It's all for attention, but still. That's not right.

Best part of the episode? Tommy's monologue at the end. Another rant on 9/11 and losing loved ones. Well written, well acted, and as I mentioned, finished with Tommy jumping from Mike's roof and landing in a fire escape at least three or four floors down. That had to have hurt. Maybe Feinberg is on to something.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Eureka: Noche de Suenos

This was the most believable Eureka introduction yet. Carter pulled someone out of a wrecked truck just after he saves Fargo from its swerving geek crushing clutches. Then the weird "shared" dreams begin with Carter, who at first thinks it was the toxic spill he was exposed to.

Sure, Eureka definitely leans not so slightly left of I doomed the world with the subatomic particle accelerator in my basement, but that's balanced out by things like Carter romping around town buck naked in a shared dream.

The show was particular interesting on the secrets front. For the first time, Allison lies to Carter. Henry dreams about erasing Jack's mind and Kevin's connection to the artifact is becoming more and more pronounced.I was definitely surprised by the interaction between Stark and Allison. Her acceptance of his refusal to deactivate the sleep device was unexpected. Considering that she wants to know what's going on with Kevin, it was understandable, just very surprising.

The second round of shared dreams was the best yet. First we find Stark kissing Allison and then Cater kissing Allison while getting advice from the efficiency expert. I couldn't stop laughing during the Spanish soap opera Zorro knock off dream starring none other than Lupo, Stark and Fargo as the daring man in black.

Carter manages some amazing leaps in intuition, but this time he managed something extra. He pulled the idea of the neural network causing the shared dreams practically out of nowhere.
There's just one other problem with this episode. I'm not sure how it could possibly get any funnier. Seriously, Fargo just had a sword fight with Stark, then carved a 'F' in Lupo's shirt. Honestly, I can't wait to see where this season is heading.

Friday, September 28, 2007

The Closer: Blindsided

Another great episode of The Closer! The writers of this show are really knocking it out of the park this season. Did anybody notice in the opening credits that Kevin Bacon directed this episode? I giggled when we saw Brenda nude in the shower (through the frosted glass) because that seemed like a Bacon touch there.Once again, the writers were able to magically mix humor with emotion. And the emotions in this episode were very highly charged, yet the humor fit right in. I am continuously impressed by the show- by the way the story lines and subplots are balanced so perfectly. The writers have become experts at knowing when humor is appropriate and when it isn't.

This episode started with humor: Brenda is in the psychiatrist's office explaining how nothing much is happening in her life... except she shot a suspect to death, got engaged, is buying a house, and her parents are coming to town. Oh, and she's been diagnosed with Early Onset Menopause. From the way the episode began, I halfway expected Brenda to have a nervous breakdown at the end. But she didn't, because she thrives on stress.The episode is completely light-hearted until, all of a sudden, Brenda and Sgt. Gabriel and a reporter and photographer are shot at during a ride-along. I thought it would permanently switch to serious mode, but it didn't. The comic relief was everywhere: from Brenda's attempts to butt in on the investigation, to her parents, her security detail, Chief Pope and, of course, Lt. Provenza.

Best moments:
  • Brenda's security detail (Chad) gets offended when she says she doesn't need security;
  • Chad gets all excited about the investigation and states the obvious (a poke at CSI?) when Brenda asks a rhetorical question about the man from the reporter's story is the same man at Brenda's crime scene;
  • Brenda, her parents, Fritz and her security detail all sit in her bedroom and watch the reporter's tapes to figure out who could have the motive to shoot him;
  • Brenda traps the suspect in the elevator, where she gets him to confess as security cameras roll.

I think this is my favorite season so far. I thoroughly enjoyed all the conflict during season one when Brenda had to constantly prove herself to the priority homicide team, but this season is better. The writing is more crisp, the story lines and the twists at the end are extremely clever and the one-liners are top-notch. I'd say season two is my least favorite so far. I remember it seemed to sag in the middle. But, I will honestly be sad to see the ending of season three.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Book Review: Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maud Montgomery

The Great Readers of M September book discussion was the great children's classic Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maud Montgomery. Karren chose this book and then proceeded to tell us that she is basically Lucy Montgomery expert, which was really quiet interesting and fasinating to hear her talk about the other books, visiting Prince Edward Island, etc. Of all the books I read as a little girl, this is probably one of my all time favorite childhood books that I still love even today.

The world of children's literature is packed full of orphans: Harry Potter, Mary Lennox, Oliver Twist, Pollyanna... Standing tall amongst this group is Anne Shirley, a freckled, imaginative, talkative redhead that was supposed to be a boy. Marilla and Matthew Cuthbert, two old unmarried siblings, have decided to adopt a young boy to help out on their farmland. But when intensely shy Matthew reaches the train station he is somewhat horrified to find that their expected boy is in fact a girl. Seeing nothing that can be done at that moment, Matthew takes her home to Green Gables in Avonlea, finding the eleven-year-old fascinating company on the way. Despite Marilla's shock at the mistake, the Cuthberts decide that for better or worse, Anne should remain with them at Green Gables. And so Anne's upbringing by the two most unlikely parents begins.

Matthew is happy to remain in the background, doting on Anne and interfering with Marilla's techniques only when he feels particularly strongly about something, and so it falls to Marilla to do most of the work. Marilla is a woman who has never had much experience in displaying any type of love, but soon finds her long-dormant sense of humour being awoken by the vivacious, dreamy, loving child. Anne herself is a character that it's difficult not to fall in love with - passionate, mischievous, dreamy, a chatterbox, determined and with a streak of innate goodness that puts her just a little lower than the angels.

She is one of the most memorable and well-loved characters of all time, and if you have not yet discovered this amazing personality and "kindred spirit", then it's about time you got hold of the first installment of her life "Anne of Green Gables". Anne Shirley went on to star in many other books, but most will agree that this first one is far and away the best. Beginning with the twisting and intricate curves of a running stream, and ending with the calm and stable (yet still interesting) road, it chronicles the first five years of Anne's life at Green Gables as she steadily grows from a wild and unruly girl to a poised and intelligent young woman.

The characters are instantly as lovable and memorable as Anne herself. First of course are Matthew and Marilla, two rather lonely people who find their lives brightened immeasurably once Anne becomes a part of their family. There is Diana, Anne's somewhat unimaginative, but devoted best friend, and Gilbert Blythe, the boy who makes the mistake of making fun of Anne's hair and so bears the full brunt of her wrath and ongoing grudge. Mrs Rachel Lynde, the kind-hearted busybody who lives next door and Anne's beloved teacher and the minister's wife: Miss Stacey and Mrs Allen. As well as this is a host of other minor characters, all interesting and real in their own way, from schoolyard friends to family relatives to community figures: each one is a tiny gem of characterisation.

But Anne herself is the star of the show from start to finish - so talkative is she that often Montgomery forsakes describing first-hand the things she gets up to and instead lets Anne herself describe them in hindsight (usually to Marilla). It's a tricky technique to use, but Anne is so exuberant and descriptive in her conversations that it works remarkably well. She has her moments however - like the time she tried to dye her hair black and it ended up green. Or the time she used liniment in a cake instead of vanilla. Or the time she accidentally got her best friend drunk. But half the fun of the book is finding out just what she'll get up to next, so I won't spoil it all for you.

Part of the charm (by this stage) is that, like Jane Austen, L. M. Montgomery was a contemporary writer in the 1920's - not a modern day author writing about a time period that they didn't belong to. Therefore, the world of 1920's Prince Edward Island is brought to vivid life, knowing that this woman actually lived there at this time. There are phrases and words that mean nothing to modern day readers, but add to the book's authenticity and charm, as well as its innocence and the feel that it belongs to a younger, more golden time.

Yet despite this, some things always stay the same: boys still make fun of the girls they like, children still find trends and hobbies at school all important, dares are still being made and met, the older generation still thinks the younger one is out of control, and people still behave and react to each other in the same way they do today. For some reason, I find this extremely comforting.

Montgomery also has an ear for poetry and prose, and her descriptions of Avonlea in all its naturalistic beauty is stunningly beautiful, and only occasionally a bit trite. Anne's imagination and habit for naming things only adds to its richness, and Montgomery creates a tapestry of colours, hues, reflections and atmosphere. On top of this, she has a wonderful sense of humour and often adds the most hilarious scenarios into the story.

Out of everything though, is the beautifully touching relationship between Marilla, Matthew and Anne, so natural and loving that it often brings a tear to my eye. Marilla's criticisms and rules make perfect sense when Montgomery informs us that the old woman feels rather suspicious of her loving feelings toward Anne, and Matthews devotion to her is summed up best by Marilla: "Matthew would think it all right, Anne, if you took a notion to get up and have dinner in the middle of the night." And of course, Anne herself, which I'm sure I've mentioned before - her sunny attitude, her faith in mankind, her extreme temperament... you really need to meet this girl.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

The Kill Point: Visiting Hours

"Visiting Hours" saw The Kill Point reach the apex of one of its central storylines -- the hostages fight against the bank robbers. The plan provided plenty of action for the episode, as I also saw the outside soldiers advance their plan, establishing communication with Mr. Wolf by the end of the hour. Most everything else in the episode was fairly cheesy and felt often like scene-filler, while the resolution of the hostages vs. bank robbers face-off left quite a bit to be desired.

The hostages' plan to overthrow the bank robbers was surprisingly successful but ended rather idiotically. Their plan required a lot of things to happen at the same time... Beck's daughter seducing one guy and taking his gun, the maintenance man getting into the bathroom (and not closing the stall door?) to turn off the lights, and the others wrestling guns away from the remaining robbers. It was actually kind of impressive that they all pulled it off, with the bank robbers at the other ends of the guns.

My only question: why, oh why, would no one pick up the phone? They had to know it was the police calling -- there's no one else who can call. Couldn't one of hostages not holding a gun (like the Sabian kid) just pick up the ringing phone and mention now would be a good time to come in, since all of the robbers are disarmed? It just seems like the logical next step in their plan, but apparently their plan to take over the guns ended with "point guns at robbers." (And then what... just stand there?)

The outside soldiers launched a rather creative plan this episode, sending in one of their own to talk to Cali and plant a frequency scrambler. Their actions continue to be the most entertaining developments on the show, and it'll be interesting to see if their elaborate plan succeeds or fails in the final two episodes.

The rest of "Visiting Hours" was filled with mainly ineffective material. Cali is visited by his wife, who gives him an extremely fancy scrapbook of ultrasound pictures of their child-to-be, Teddy Sabian first begs the police and then Mr. Wolf for the release of his son, and Cali decides to use Mr. Wolf's long-lost junkie son to help break Wolf down. Cali's and Teddy's gambits both pay off, as the fatherly guilt drives Mr. Wolf to release Bobby, which he was likely also resolved to do anyway since he couldn't use the kid to communicate with Mr. Beck anymore anyway.

In the "storylines I could do without" department, there continued to be more deep thoughts from the police snipers (I'm guessing they're just setting things up for me to care about these characters but it's so not working), the artistic bank robber described the idea behind his "creepy me" comic book sketches, and Mr. Wolf continued to bond with the widow as they burned names of deceased loved ones.

The Kill Point continues to be fairly uneven, but there's enough interesting plots (Will the soldiers break the robbers out? Will the couple trapped in a closet ever come into play for the robbers?) to make the limited series worth watching for the final two episodes.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

DVD Review: Grizzly Man

Grizzly Man is a documentary about Timothy Treadwell, a failed actor and ex-drug addict who lived among Alaska's grizzly bear population every summer for over a decade. At the end of his 13th visit he and his girlfriend were killed and eaten by a rogue bear. Over the years Treadwell had shot hundreds of hours of video for a planned wildlife documentary. Much of this footage is extraordinary, on par with the best professional wild life videography. A significant fraction, however, is made up of Treadwell speaking directly to the camera. This footage shows a man descending into madness and obsession.

This aspect gave me a painful insight into the person of Treadwell and his self-centered behavior. On tape he's presenting himself as the cool uncle daring to defy the ferocious carnivores grizzly bears, wearing bandannas and Rambo styled clothing. He keeps on telling his imaginary audience that his life is in danger, but that he has the capability to control the situation by his own knowledge of the bears.

At first I sympathized with this happy loony guy, who clearly loved his wild lifestyle and wanting to share it with a broad audience. But at a certain point, it becomes painfully clear that he's dangerously self-deceptive. He's justifying his presence amongst the bears as a way to protect them against poachers, multiple times saying that he'd be glad to be killed while protecting them. To contradict this, I see him sitting in a branch, watching a group of poachers is actually stoning a young cub. He doesn't do anything to step up against this hideous crime; he's just ranting about it to the camera.

And then it started to dawn on me that this man wasn't the nature preserving freak he claims to be, but an ex-addict using the wild nature as a way of experiencing the kicks that alcohol and/or drugs gave him in the past. His presence in the wild was a failure to cope with real life, and not the act of a strong individual really wanting to make a difference in the world. This men was mentally ill, very ill...

By selecting both the footage shot by Treadwell himself and by adding interviews and a reflecting monologue, director Werner Herzog does a good job trying to grasp the complex motives of this deranged man. He doesn't glorify this person as a hero, but he humanizes him by showing both his charming sides and dark sides. I saw a Timothy Treadwell that is loving, sensitive and really empathic with animals, but I also see a narcissistic man that is fully estranged by his own self-deceptive fantasies.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Mad Men: New Amsterdam

I think it's quite interesting that the most subversive, edgy show of the year is one set in the Leave It To Beaver days of 1960. Who would have thought that? I'll take Mad Men, and I'll take Manhattan.

This episode centers mostly around Pete. I finally meet his wife Trudy, and she wants to get a new apartment on 83rd. Of course, Pete only makes $3500 a year (is that a good wage, even in 1960?), so they have to go to his parents. And now I know why Pete acts the way that he does. His parents are very rich and the family goes way back. His mom seems intense and uppity, and his dad seems like an a-hole who isn't pleased with anything Pete does. He also dresses a little like Angus Young from AC/DC. He tells Pete they're not going to give him the money, and Pete lies to Trudy that he didn't even ask. So she asks her parents, and they say yes, and Pete isn't too thrilled about this. I think he's getting as unhappy in his marriage as Don seems to be getting in his, though he's only been married for a couple of weeks or so.

But Pete has other problems too. He's working with Don and Sal on the Bethlehem Steel ad campaign. Don and Sal come up with a series of posters that show what the company has done for the building of America's cities: "New York City - Brought To You By Bethlehem Steel"... "Detroit - Brought To You By Bethlehem Steel." The owner of the company doesn't like it at all, and Pete says they'll think of something else (stepping on Don's toes yet again). I like what Pete says here about everyone thinking he's an account guy and not an idea guy. He tells Don that before he came to Sterling Cooper he used to keep a notebook of ideas: "And then I get here and everyone tells me how great I am with people. Funny, no one ever said that to me before."

Meanwhile, Betty agrees to babysit for Helen, who has to work at Kennedy headquarters. She tries to bond a bit with Glen who...well, it's like the early years of a serial killer. Glen is one strange dude. He plays the piano with a sullen creepiness, he's really quiet, and, oh yeah, he likes to open the door and watch Betty go to the bathroom on the toilet. Betty scolds him for this and they hug, though I really think that Glen just wanted to touch her boobs with his head. He then asks her for a lock of her hair...and Betty gives it to him. Great Betty, when pets start disappearing around the neighborhood you'll be partly to blame.

Pete sells the steel guy on his idea of "Bethlehem Steel: The Backbone of America." Don isn't happy at all that Pete wined and dined the guy and sold him. Personally, I don't see what Pete did wrong, considering he not only got the account but made sure that Don got the credit for the idea. Don fires him, which freaks Pete out a bit because of the new place.But never mind, he's staying. Don and Roger go to Burt Cooper about it, and Cooper explains that they need Pete to stay because of his family's wealth and connections. Don and Roger have drinks in Don's office and talk about how Pete's generation is different from Don's and Don's is different from Roger's. Why different generations drink, and why Don shouldn't try to compete with Pete in life (some fantastic writing here).

Pete and Trudy buy the apartment and her parents come over and they all meet the new landlords. Pete looks out the window as "I"ll Take Manhattan" plays.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Soup of the Week & The Office: Cocktails

This soup is nutritious, delicious and quick.

Winter Chowder

3 potatoes, peeled and cut in 1/4-inch pieces
1/2 cup chopped onion
1 cup water
3/4 teaspoon onion salt or onion powder
Pepper & Salt to taste
2 drops Louisiana-style hot sauce
1/2 cup cubed fully cooked ham
1 cup brussels sprouts, quartered
1 1/2 cups milk
3/4 cup shredded Colby-Monterey Jack cheese

Bring potatoes, onion and water to a boil. Reduce heat; cover and cook for 10-12 minutes or until tender. Do not drain. Mash potatoes (mixture will not be smooth). Stir in onion salt, pepper, salt and hot sauce; set aside.

In a large skillet coated with nonstick cooking spray, saute ham and brussels sprouts for 5-6 minutes or until sprouts are tender. Stir into the potato mixture. Add milk. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat; simmer, uncovered, for 5-6 minutes or until heated through, stirring occasionally.

Gradually stir in 1/2 cup cheese; cook for 2-3 minutes or until cheese is melted. Garnish with remaining cheese.

The Office: Cocktails

Director J.J. Abrams, best known in the world of television for creating and executive producing Lost, Alias and Felicity, took the helm of this week's Office episode. In the same way that both Alias and Felicity followed strong female characters (Sydney Bristow and Felicity Porter, respectively), the Office episode "Cocktails" turned the spotlight on three of the female characters, as they show assertiveness, attempt to progress their relationships and deal with the (often crazy) men in their lives.

First up is Jan, who flabbergastingly has decided to make her relationship with Michael public, complete with a legal agreement (or "love contract," as Michael refers to it) that indemnifies Dunder-Mifflin against any lawsuits should they break up. Perhaps the best part of watching Jan interact with Michael is seeing how aware she is of the ridiculousness of dating him, yet she just can't help herself. Her description of the best and worst case scenarios of their relationship were great, with the worst possible outcome being that she would "collapse into myself like a dying star." I can't help but cringe and feel sorry for Jan every time Michael starts talking about their relationship with other people, yet at the same time be utterly amazed and confounded as to why she'd continue to be with him.

The next Office female in the spotlight is Karen, as she mercilessly strung Jim along all evening with tales of her past relationships with the various men at the cocktail party… only to reveal later that she'd been pulling his leg all along. It's the most confident I've seen Karen, who at times has come off as way more into being with Jim than Jim appears to be. Karen's game was ultimately harmless fun, but one supposes that her initial desire to make up the relationships were to see how Jim reacts, since she has to deal with his past feelings for Pam.

Last but not least I got to see an assertive side of Pam (don't call her Pammy, which I concur), as she declared to the camera, "I'm gonna start telling people what I want directly," and then proceeded to do just that, from making the bartender fix her drink order to telling Roy what he needs to do to be a good boyfriend. Her change in attitude and desire to make her relationship with Roy work this time spun wildly out of control when she decided to tell Roy what happened on "Casino Night."

On the surface, Roy's overly violent reaction is a bit baffling, but when I think about where he's coming from it makes a little more sense, since he's finally found out exactly why his relationship with Pam disintegrated and she cancelled their wedding. Regardless of his reasoning, Roy's actions this episode likely guarantee he'll never be with Pam again, and if he attempts to follow through with his declaration that he'll kill Jim Halpert and confronts Jim, he'll only make things worse for himself. It'll be interesting to see if a Roy-Jim confrontation brings out some feelings Jim still has for Pam to the surface, and if it'll affect Jim and Karen's relationship.

Aside from the female characters getting a chance to shine, there were quite a few great little moments this episode:
  • Jan starting to talk dirty to Michael while still on speakerphone
  • Michael's store-bought potato salad having been in his car all day
  • A reference finally being made to Andy being away at anger management class (although he wasn't mentioned by name, it was still nice to see it make it in there)
  • And a great Creed moment as he revealed he runs a fake ID company out of his car.
  • I also saw Dwight and Michael unknowingly compete to be the most inappropriate person at the cocktail party. Michael's embarrassment of Jan aside, Dwight easily had the most inappropriate behavior at the party, culminating with an extremely creepy scene as he sat in a rocking chair in the bedroom of David Wallace's young son where the boy was sleeping.
It just doesn't get any more inappropriate than that.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Rescue Me: Solo

Well it's about time. This is the Rescue Me I remember. Granted, Tommy never got drunk, but there were moments where it sure felt like he was. From the fight with Janet, to the onslaught of all his ghosts at once, to running into that fire all by himself, Tommy seems to be back to normal. Sort of.

I suppose I should talk about the ghosts first. They've been far and few between all season, but it was all building up to this. The only missing spook? Connor. But that makes sense to me at least because Tommy never sat down with his late son and got advice from him like he did with Jimmy.

But everyone else, including Jimmy, was there. Billy (all the way from season one) along with that other unnamed firefighter who died in 9/11, Johnny, and even Jerry. Although it wasn't Jack McGee in the chair, from the backside it was clearly meant to look like him. What are the ghosts up to these days? Poker and lighting themselves on fire.

However, we found out that Tommy had been warned. The mysterious black shadow ghost guy had been sent to get Tommy back on the right track and to stop being so selfish. Well it didn't work, because Jimmy, Johnny, and the rest of the gang dumped some gas, lit a match, said goodbye, and closed the bedroom door. That entire scene as Tommy broke down trying to get them out of the burning room was amazing. He can't keep his family together and now his ghosts (the people in his head) don't even want anything to do with him. The title of the episode makes a lot more sense now, huh?

Elsewhere, the world just kept ticking. Sheila is finally giving Elvis (I can't believe she named him that) everything he deserves -- especially a mother who loves him. Of course, it's only a matter of time until Janet comes for him. She's snapped at this point. She's like a woman possessed and she's taking Katie along for the ride. The fight with Tommy resulted in some great scenes at the firehouse as everyone speculated what happened. Getting hit by a car never factored into it as Tommy "must have been" whacked with a baseball bat, bludgeoned by a gun with no bullets, or any other number of things the guys came up with.

Back to what I said before, this is the show I remember right down to the humor. Like the conversation with Tommy and Lou discussing the Jewish female's penchant for oral delight? Hilarious, even more so since it's been lacking all season.

Other random thoughts...

  • Speaking of the Jewish female, something tells me that Feinberg isn't going to be too happy with Tommy when he hears how the date with his daughter (Amy Sedaris!) went. It looks like it just adds fuel to a conflict between Tommy and Sydney that's already started.
  • Looks like no more Jennifer Esposito as Gina Gershon seems to be taking on the role of Tommy's next sexual conquer.
  • Franco and Sean's stories are getting a little off-beat for my liking. Sean just sits around all day and now Franco is trying to sleep with Alicia. Neither of them seem to have any path. Franco wants two women. Sean wants Maggie to stop drinking but he's not willing to leave her. Both of them just need to pick a side.
  • I'm glad Mick is back again. I love his character. Just the way he rolls his eyes is funny.
  • When the truck hit that car and Lou tended to the victim, I thought I was going to puke in my mouth when he tasted her blood. Instead, I laughed out loud. (Tomato soup? Homemade. Delicious!)
  • Plus, it looks like Lou is back on track to reprising his role as the drunk guy who wanders around town, much like after last year's "great Lou depression." Not good. That was sad seeing him do that to himself. Mike is a bad influence on him.
So, I think I'm supposed to expect a reformed Tommy for the rest of the season. But something tells me that he'll only get more reckless in the process. It's going to take a lot more than that little prayer book to bring his family back together this time.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Damages: And My Paralyzing Fear of Death

Um... what changed? It's not that this episode was bad, but there was a huge drop off between this episode and the last episode in terms of tension. As a viewer, the last two episodes made me feel nervous and anxious. Not so much this time. Nothing about this episode really made me gasp or jump out of my seat. It was just a lot of what I already knew, with some extra info thrown in. The biggest issue? Way too much of the episode was devoted to Patty's misfit son. Unless something is switched around, he means nothing to the story as a whole.

So he sent the grenade to Patty and planted the second one in Phil's glove compartment. How predictable was that? The fact that it was so obvious that he was behind it rendered the truth as being completely anti-climactic. I loved all the little hints we got from Frobisher throughout the episode suggesting that he may have been behind the grenade threats. I wish he had been! Seeing the episode close with him palming another grenade and smirking... or something like that would have been great in my opinion.

My point? When does Arthur finally become the bad guy? Or maybe he doesn't? If that's the case, when does Patty become the bad guy? She never will in my eyes as long as they keep humanizing her with all this sentimental "my family is falling apart" business. It's three episodes in and I still don't know who I'm rooting for. I'm loving this show, but I need some direction. If the ambiguity keeps up, I'm going to lose interest. Take a cue from Tom and his frustrations with Patty sidelining him. I need something bigger to sink my teeth into.

What did I learn? Simple things, that while interesting, don't necessarily make up for the slow pacing of the rest of the episode. I know Greg (Katie's Florida fling) is now married and became some kind of consultant. While Tom hasn't found anything yet, I'm sure there's a Frobisher connection buried in there somewhere. We know Ellen brought on Hollis Nye as her lawyer and not Patty. That has to mean something. We know that Ellen and David eventually called off the engagement. The question is why? Again, I'm quite certain that too will have ties to the case and David's disgust that Ellen got Katie involved.

But who killed David? For the first time in the flashbacks, we finally saw a third party in the apartment. Someone was attacking Ellen with a knife. That doesn't mean it was David's killer though. Unless it wasn't a third party and David was the one with the knife? If that was the case, Ellen would be safe in saying she didn't murder David but rather that she was merely protecting herself out of self-defense.

Beyond all those questions, it was very much a Patty-centric episode and I'm really not sure that I care about her home life too much. She's afraid of dying. She cries in her husband's arms and worries for his safety and then turns around and sets her son up to be kidnapped in an effort to knock some sense into him. Well which is it? Is she compassionate or ruthless? I'm getting tired from sitting on this fence.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

The Closer: Manhunt

This episode seemed a little unusual. That's not a bad thing, but it was different than what I've come to expect from The Closer. The supporting cast didn't play very prominent roles and I don't remember any laugh-out-loud comments from Provenza or Flynn. I guess the topic--serial killer--is where the writers draw the line at cracking jokes. It's understandable, really. The crimes were truly horrendous and I have to wonder about the person who dreamed up such torture. There was really no opportunity through the investigation to be cracking jokes.

Basically, the investigation was pretty run-of-the-mill until just before the last commercial break when Brenda was attacked by PCH, the Pacific Coast Highway serial killer. I was honestly surprised that the writers put her in that situation because I see it quite a bit on other shows but The Closer never seems to put its own hero's life in danger during an investigation. I can't quite figure out why Brenda went to interview the killer by herself. Was her brain scattered because of her diagnosis of Early Onset Menopause, or because of Fritz's marriage proposal? Or, was she alone because she was short-staffed since Det. Daniels was at a Homeland Security conference?

Anyway, I had already guessed that the guy who was cleaning the bloody boat was the actual serial killer. I didn't know his motive, or that he was once married to his first victim, but something about him in his initial meeting with Brenda creeped me out. I think it was the way he practically flirted with her. So when Brenda went back to interview him by herself, I knew she was in trouble.

Still, it was extremely stressful to watch Brenda look around the boat maintenance shack and realize that she was alone with the serial killer. She was freaking out and she never freaks out, so that was enough to take my breath away! I loved how she was trying her hardest to get a confession out of him (on tape!) as he was dying from the two gunshots she sent into his chest. She really wanted to close the case her way, but ended up having to kill him because he came after her again with his cattle prod.

Overall, a strong episode. Even though it was very Brenda-centric, I didn't get to see much of her quirkiness. She did eat some chocolate while checking out her engagement ring, but I don't remember her ever saying "Thank You" in her Southern way. This one was very personal for Brenda, with her menopause diagnosis and her engagement to Fritz.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Mad Men: The Marriage of Figaro

Remember how last episode Betty's hands were going numb and she was going to see a shrink? I'm beginning to think that Don is the one who needs help. He's getting increasingly unhappy in his marriage (not just screwing the artist chick but making a play for the head of Mencken's department store), he's drinking beer like crazy and zoning out at the weirdest times (and most of those times had to do with trains - what was that all about?)

The ad guys at Sterling Cooper are confused by the classic "Lemon" ad from Volkswagen. Some of them think it's brilliant, some of them are confused that an ad that basically dumps on the car can be so successful (a full page in Playboy!). Don doesn't get the ad at all.

Pete is back from his honeymoon, and though he talks a bit to the guys about his bedroom antics (nudge nudge wink wink), seems to really want to give marriage a chance, even suggesting to Don that he and the wives should get together some time. Peggy is all smiles with Pete, but he tells her he's married now and that was just a one time thing (this episode is all about marriage, if you couldn't tell). He even compliments her in that "it's just a harmless work flirtation" sort of way. The girls at work are all reading Lady Chatterly's Lover, and Peggy borrows it, though a co-worker warns, "Don't read it on the train, you'll attract the wrong kind of man."

The second half of the show is all set at Don and Betty's house (after a curious interlude where Ms. Mencken gives Don a tour of her department store, including the security dogs she keeps on the roof). Interesting how once the action switches to the homefront I don't see work again in this episode. The show is confident enough not to bounce back and forth so the action "keeps going." There's a lot of drama at the kid's birthday party too, including a visit from Helen, a divorced woman with a young boy. Divorced! In 1960! Shocking! Of course, Betty thinks she might be making a move on Don, because they were...standing next to each other? Whatever Betty.

The great period details continues, including a nice fleeting shot of an old Dash detergent box in the laundry room, one of the kids at the party having polio, even a radio broadcast that has news about the continuing tax evasion trial of...well, they don't say. I could run to my history books or Wikipedia to see who it could be, but again there's that confidence that the people behind this show don't have to hit me over the head with obvious info to place me in that time period (the smoking and the art design does that well enough).

Next week Pete's new wife makes an appearance

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Dinner & The Office: Business School

Looking for a fast easy meal to fix? I came home around 630pm, fixed this delicious casserole, and was cleaning up the dishes by 730pm.

Ham Noodle Casserole

Uncooked medium noodles
1 can cream of celery soup
1 cup cubed fully cooked ham
2/3 cup cubed Velveeta cheese
1/2 cup milk
Chopped onion
1/2 teaspoon curry powder

Cook noddles according to package directions; drain. Stir in the remaining ingredients. Transfer to a casserole dish coasted with nonstick cooking spray. Cover and bake at 375 for 20-30 minutes.

The Office: Business School

After a bizarre wedding episode, The Office got back on track. With some great, awkward Michael moments, a hilarious Dwight prank, and some appropriate punishments for Ryan, "Business School" was an exercise in what works best in an Office episode.Taking Michael out of the office can be hit or miss, as I certainly found during "Phyllis' Wedding." But in "Business School" I got a wonderful twist on Michael being an idiot in public as Ryan mocked the very thing that Michael loves most -- Dunder-Mifflin.

Ryan's introduction to his business class was great, setting the stage for Michael to look like more of an idiot than usual. Michael's Dead Poets Society-like ripping up of the textbook and his bizarre candy bar throwing were excellent awkward-funny moments. The best moment of Michael's speech came when he announced that "real business is done on paper… write that down" as the entire class then proceeded to type Michael's words on their laptop computers.

There may never be a more appropriate episode for Buffy the Vampire Slayer creator Joss Whedon to direct than this one. Whedon's direction and sense of humor was both excellently put to use and alluded to in the scenes in which Jim hilariously pretended to become a vampire. Jim and Karen's over-the-top play-acting ("But Jim, this garlic bread is cold") and Jim's suspicious behavior (checking his teeth for fangs, standing right next to Dwight looking at his neck) were the funniest parts of the episode. And if anyone really knows me, you know I was the hugest Buffy fan that ever was. I see it is on TNT at 7am I believe these days.

Pam's story line was decent, but not great. It's obvious that Toby still has a major crush on her, as he awkwardly confessed that his daughter's play is the same night but that he'd rather support real local art because what the kids do "is not art." Roy seems like he's trying hard to support Pam's artistic ambitions, but he seemed much more interested in being perceived as supportive than actually interested in anything Pam made. Roy's dorkiest and most awkward statement of the episode was after leaving the art show: "Your art was the prettiest art of all the art." One would expect that eventually Pam will realize that, as much as Roy may try to change, he may not be the best fit for her. The closure to the Pam storyline was very nice, as we saw Michael Scott at his most endearing, even if he was clueless as to why Pam was so appreciative.

Temp-turned-employee Ryan seems to alternate between a guy who likes to have fun occasionally to a guy without a sense of fun at all. So it was enjoyable to see Ryan get his comeuppance after feeding Michael to the business school sharks. Michael's banishment of Ryan to sit next to Kelly is absolutely hilarious and a perfectly appropriate punishment. Ryan likely would have welcomed being fired and the severance (and likely break-up with Kelly) that would follow. So, now that Ryan's moved, does that mean Jim gets his old seat back?

Monday, September 17, 2007

Rescue Me: Seven

Wow... that was some cold open, huh? Arguably the best the show has had yet. Barely any spoken words and set to some eerie song. Babies being thrown out windows, bodies piled up on the sidewalk, and seven children who didn't make it. Even Lou said it was one of the worst infernos he'd ever seen. The entire sequence was just very powerful. I even got a little choked up. So does someone want to explain to me how an episode that started off so good ended so flat?

Don't get me wrong, I still loved it. That goes without saying. But I've gone from enjoying the beginning of this season immensely to riding the bandwagon with everyone else. These episodes just haven't been what I'm used to.

As with any episode, there were some stellar moments. Lou breaking up with Theresa ("I ate all the edible panties.") and then making amends with Cousin Mike. Sean telling Mike the truth about the fire. Troy ripping down the "Tommy shrine." Franco seeing Keela and Alicia. All good stuff but it just doesn't make the whole episode. I suppose it's better than seeing Janet over and over again. I'm getting sick of her now. Plus she keeps giving the kid Benadryl, Jameson's, and who knows what else. He's going to be sleeping permanently if she keeps it up.

Fortunately, even though it's slow coming, there's plenty to look forward to... I think. Speaking of Franco, it seems like he's having doubts now about Natalie. She just seems too invested in her brother Richie and I think Franco honestly might see a future with Alicia and his daughter. So who will he choose?

I'm glad we finally found out where Maggie is (drunk in Montreal), but more so because it brought Cousin Mickey back into the fold. He's got some plan for Maggie and Uncle Teddy to combat their alcoholism. I can only imagine what he's got in store.

You can tell not much happened. The thoughts are a little sparse this time around although I suppose that final scene definitely warrants some discussion. Johnny's ghost finally made his second appearance to Tommy, and this time he had something to say. Kill the baby because he's doomed to a lousy life no matter how you slice it. The scary thing is that I think Tommy actually considered his dead brother's request, especially after his talk with Mick about God's plan. Ending the baby's life now could save him from something far worse later on. Whether he believed it or not, Tommy still held that kid over the East River. My personal belief is that he didn't drop the kid (give him a name already), but it did cut to black and this time it was a bit more ambiguous than when Jerry shot himself. I mean... I didn't hear a splash or anything like that.

I keep saying that I have faith in Leary, hoping that something huge will develop. Well... I've got six episodes left for that to happen.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Soup of the Week & Damages: Jesus, Mary & Joe Cocker

It's been a while since I made a pot of soup, so I was ready to try something totally wild. This is an excellent example of how convenience foods can be combined to make a tasty entree. Ready in minutes, this soup will remind you of eating Stuffed Peppers - one of my favorites meals.

Stuffed Pepper Soup

1 pouch (8.8 oz) ready-to-serve long grain and wild rice
1 lb ground beef
2 cups chopped green peppers
1 cup chopped onion
1 jar (26 oz) chunky tomato pasta sauce
1 can (14 1/2 oz) Italian diced tomatoes, undrained
1 can (14 oz) beef broth

Prepare rice according to package directions. Meanwhile, in a large pan, cook the beef, green peppers and onion until mean is no longer pink; drain. Stir in the pasta sauce, tomatoes, broth and prepared rice; heat through.

Damages: Jesus, Mary & Joe Cocker

I gotta be honest. I'm just blown away by this show and I'm only two episodes in! I mean... how does FX do it? This is what? The third legitimately good show they've pumped out now that I watch (Rescue Me and The Riches)? Not bad for a basic cable network.

I think what has me so impressed are the characters themselves and how much they're already developed. The characterization that's been achieved here in two episodes is something that other shows often don't reach over the course of an entire season. I know motives, vices, and whats drives all the players involved. Yet at the same time... I still don't know who to trust. If Damages preaches one truth, it's that everyone lies.

Take Frobisher for instance. I love this character, even more so than Patty. Arthur is quickly becoming one of those guys you hate to love. Throughout the whole episode I kept seeing these glimpses of his dark side. Some were in my face (the prostitute and the cocaine) and some were far more subtle (when he fed the omelet to the dogs rather than letting his chef enjoy the meal). He values his family, yet at the same time he's prepared to lose it. He's back and forth on everything. Kill Katie... or don't kill her. That scene where he discussed the "solution" with his henchman was phenomenal. Danson owns this character.

Patty, while I'm not as enthralled with her as I thought I was, is still fun to pick apart. It almost seems like the more callous she is, the more people respect/trust/believe in her. She's mean and people flock around her. Katie is a prime example. She played right into Patty's game and now she's fully invested. The question remains... what does she know?

I know she was late to work that day because of a one night stand that resulted in an abortion. I also know that she had virtually no interaction with Frobisher in Florida that weekend. So how could she possibly know something? It has to be tied to this guy (Greg) that she slept with. What's his involvement? Katie catered and cooked the meal. Is Greg a waiter? Did he serve the meal, thus giving him an opportunity to overhear something from Frobisher and his broker? If that was the case though, why wouldn't they be trying to keep him quiet too? He's plays into this whole mess somehow. Now that Katie signed Ray's confidentiality agreement, it's going to be tougher though.

Moving on, I'm finding Tom's involvement to be odd. He genuinely thought he was fired until he got his new marching orders. Even Uncle Pete said that the whole office thought Tom was canned. Was Patty tracking him only to find out he had a friendship with Ellen and then decided he was worth keeping? I guess my point is that Tom seems like a genuinely smart guy. So why is he so dedicated to Patty? Can't he see that to some extent, he's being used too? It's clear he's good at what he does, but considering the circumstances, why isn't he doing it somewhere else? Is it the money?

OK, enough with the characters. Once again, I loved the flash-forwards. The way they're used and integrated into the episode is flawless. I especially like the little running motifs as it bounced back and forth. The pigeon. The bathroom itself. The Statue of Liberty bookends. Somebody killed David. I know how he died. Bludgeoned repeatedly by the crown that Lady Liberty wears. But who swung? If it was Ellen, what's the motive? By the end of the season, will she become so much like Patty that she's willing to kill to win a case? And if that's true, why was David the necessary victim? Unless he knows something about Florida too. It's all one big question.

One more thought. Patty set up Ellen's new apartment. It's probably safe to say that the entire place is bugged and wired with the tiniest of devices. Does that mean Patty has a recording (audio? video?) of what really happened?

Manatron Golf Outing

Thanks to John & Barbara for coordinating our Manatron Golf Outing on Friday, September 14. We had about 30 folks who played on the challenging Indian Run Golf Course in Scotts, Michigan. The team winners were John, John Jr. & Ryan (dad & his two sons) in 1st Place. Rachel, Nick and friends came in 2nd Place, and 3rd Place was Terry, Dave, Bob & Mark. My team (Pam, Matt & Paul) came in 4th Place at 69! We also gave prizes away for longest drive (men & women), closest to the hole, and longest put.

The weather was vile - cold (about 59 degrees) and extremely windy. But afterwards we warmed up to a buffet of hamburgers, hot dogs, chicken, salads, beans, chips and drinks where everyone shared their stories (good & bad) about how they golfed. It was a fun afternoon and everyone is looking forward to next year's outing.

Check out my photos of our golf outing at:

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Eureka: Games People Play

The plot of this episode is a bit easy to get ahead of, if only by process of elimination. It's also a bit of a cheat - just the very nature of it, the episode is essentially a variation on the "it was all a dream!" variety. Luckily, the fact that it's all in Carter's head is not the big climactic reveal, and instead the show wisely chooses an emotional moment to close on.

Even knowing the basics of what's going on, it's fun to watch Carter try and get ahead of the game and get answers before the next person he talks to disappears. There's an undeniable poignancy to how the episode deals with Jack's fear of losing Zoe. He's a man who is good at his job, but that job happens to take up an awful lot of his time. He's not always clear on what's going on in Zoe's life, often being a few steps behind on what is the latest development in her life. However, he knows that being in Eureka has been good for her, probably the best thing that's happened to her. What he won't admit is that it's also the best thing for him.

The fact that Jack won't "fight for Zoe" is not something born out of pride or an inability to be open with his emotions - it's out of doubt that he could really be what's best for Zoe. The journey that Jack takes with the help of Beverly's therapy device is one in which he learns to trust not just his ability as a Sheriff, but his worth as a father. It's something that he has to learn, but Zoe already knows it. When she looks down at Jack in the hospital bed she refuses to move - saying, "He wouldn't leave me, and I'm not leaving him." It's one of those moments where I know another gear has clicked into place on the show and this very important core relationship between these two characters is now that much stronger, lending a greater resonance to stories to come.

Meanwhile, Henry is closing in on what Beverly was doing in Kim's lab and settling in to his job at Global Dynamics. Beverly is of course conspicuous in her absence and remains a bit of an ominous presence without ever being…present. The show is doing a fine job of developing this continuing story and laying the seeds of whatever Henry is up to and how that may collide with whatever it is the Consortium is up to.

Friday, September 14, 2007

The Closer: Four to Eight

Those evil, evil writers over at The Closer kept me hanging on for one more episode about what on earth is wrong with Brenda. While it was frustrating that I didn't get an answer, it was also very well done. I thought the fact that Brenda went to see her doctor but didn't ask any questions about what could be wrong was very within her quirky character. She didn't want to know all the possibilities... just the facts. Now I'm strongly suspecting she's at the beginning of menopause. I just don't think her symptoms are of pregnancy.

I think Brenda's storyline kept me from guessing the twist in the case she was investigating. It seemed obvious once the story ended, but I was too concerned for Brenda to pay much attention to who dunnit. There was an apparent gang shooting. Everyone assumed it was a gang shooting because two gangs--the Catorces and the 1-5s--were in a war that was escalating. Even through her sickness (or whatever), Brenda was able to see what no one else could see: the shootings didn't have typical gang signatures.

While there doesn't seem to be a whole lot to say about this storyline, I did like how two of the characters were so ironic. Miguel, the cousin of one of the victims, was lucky enough that he wasn't in a gang and he had talent as a baseball player. Yet, he really wanted to be in a gang like his cousin.And Miguel's father worked hard to keep Miguel out of a gang, but then he goes and behaves just like a gang member by killing his nephew and a friend because they are in a gang.

Loved the irony... which is something The Closer always does very well.Hopefully the next episode I'll find out what ails Brenda.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

The Kill Point: No Meringue

The premiere episode of The Kill Point gave an interesting start to this Spike TV miniseries, despite its reliance on many tried-and-true bank robbery/hostage situation clichés. The second episode, "No Meringue," did a fine job keeping the clichés, but left out most of the interesting stuff.

As was expected, the FBI got involved. And like nearly every movie and TV show that shows the FBI taking over for an already established negotiator, things didn't turn out so well for the Feds. Agent Ash was your stereotypical "my way or the highway" bitch. Captain Horst Cali did his best to talk some sense into her, explaining the methods she was using (loud noises, lowering the temperature) weren't going to have any effect on men who lived through winters warring in Afghanistan. The result: Mr. Wolf turned the tables and messed with Ash's head with several entertaining prank phone calls.The episode was very cookie-cutter. FBI comes in, Cali's kicked out, FBI screws up, Cali proves he's the better man by getting another hostage set free. There aren't a lot of people out there that didn't see it coming.

This was also the episode where the hostages started to relate to their captors. Wolf and Robbie shared tales of swimming in shirts. The young ladies played dress up with the expensive jewelry Mr. Pig lifted from safety deposit boxes. Furthermore, Mr. Beck's decision to hire a hit man to take out Wolf was as predictable as everything else. The show is certainly hitting all the appropriate story beats.

Not helping matters was the clunky dialogue used throughout the episode. There were several unnecessary conversations that seemed to be trying to hit a Tarantino-esque tone. I'm referring to the sniper on the roof ruminating about the sodium in his body then switching his focus to a very out-of-place beauty behind the police barriers. Or the SWAT leader talking about Ash's man butt. Or the male team members conversing about nad scratching. Clearly this dialogue was intended to give the episode an edge, but it all sounded silly and out of place to me.

Added to this are all the little things occurring strictly for the purpose of advancing the plot, most of which completely blow the reality of the situation. For example, when Cali had Teddy Sabian introduced to Mr. Beck, the two men didn't shake hands. This led Cali to believe the gentlemen had already met, which is true. Here's the thing, though: why didn't they shake hands?! They both know what's at stake and they're both pretending not to have met before. They would have shook hands; they're not idiots. Or how about the greatest coin-wrapped-in-paper slide across the floor in the history of television? I mean, come on. They have got to do a better job of keeping things realistic or nobody's going to care about the fates of any of these people.

One thing I am enjoying about The Kill Point is the fact that there are men on the outside trying to devise a way of getting their partners out of the bank. The slow burn of this situation is working for me. In this episode, they spent their time scoping out the situation and figuring out logistics. They also foiled Mr. Beck's attempt to free his daughter. At this point, they are the reason I'll keep tuning in. How will they do it? Will they go in guns a-blazing? Will it be a covert operation? Will they find a way to contact their men on the inside? Without these questions, there'd be very little left to care about in The Kill Point.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Mad Men: Ladies Room

Is it possible to fall in love with a TV show? I don't mean a show that you really like and respect, I mean a show you actually can't wait until the next episode and count the days until it is on? Mad Men is that show for me. I'm even in love with the credits, a montage of black and white graphical images of buildings and people and subtle, sly music.

I also like how this show is set in 1960. It's firmly set in the attitudes of the 1950s but there are more than enough hints that the "60s" that I know is coming fast. And these people are trying to prepare for it (some a lot more than others, of course).

Betty seems unhappy, to the point of not only having her hands go numb (she almost wrecks the car with the kids in it) but also to the point of thinking of seeing a psychiatrist. But only "unhappy" saw shrinks in 1960 right? Don tries to talk her out of it.

At the office, everyone is still hitting on Peggy (what exactly is in the water at Sterling Cooper anyway?). Most of the guys are blunt and creepy, though Paul seems to have a little more depth to him (he seems to genuinely like Peggy as a person and even suggests she become a copywriter), even when he makes a pass at her in his office. He read her wrong. Of course, Peggy is waiting for Pete to come back from his Niagara Falls honeymoon (Roger's view: "Niagara Falls. It redefines 'lack of imagination.' ").

Don is working on the Right Guard account (a new space age deodorant in a can - how do you pitch that?), and it also looks like he's going to be handling Richard Nixon's campaign. This could be great fodder in a fun, historical sort of way, the 1960 campaign versus JFK, though I hope they don't go overboard and point out all these events with Nixon and Kennedy that I now know went a different way. It could tip into the "overly clever" realm, but I'm looking forward to seeing what they do with it in future episodes.

Is it weird that while watching this I often forget that it's a 2007 show about 1960 and not some movie made in 1960. OK, I'm not crazy or anything (there's that shrink talk again), but it gets the mood and attitudes and music and style so right that it sucks you into the world. There's a funny scene with Betty and another wife talking in Betty's kitchen and one of her kids has a dry cleaner bag over her head. She tells her to come over, and we think that she's going to shake her finger at her and tell her she could suffocate in that bag, but she only warns the girl that her clothes better not be on the floor. This isn't bad parenting, this probably was just another thing they didn't quite worry about 47 years ago. Like when the kids aren't secured in Betty's car during the accident and all the smoking.

I'm curious as to where the writers are taking the Don/Betty relationship. Jon Hamm should be nominated for an Emmy for his performance - it's a no-brainer, actually, and I hope it comes true. He seems moral and a family man, even as he's screwing the pretty artist in some apartment any chance he gets. He's old-fashioned but open enough to the new world, just a bit. Is it possible to be the "nice guy" on the show but also a cheater?

Betty ends up seeing the psychiatrist (after a weird speech about her not being afraid that she almost killed the kids in the car accident but that it could have been even worse - her daughter could have gotten a scar on her face!) The episode ends with Don secretly calling the doctor to get a full report on her state of mind.

There's a scene where Paul tells Peggy that he'll kill himself if they cancel The Twilight Zone. Peggy has never watched it because she doesn't like science fiction. Mad Men reminds me of that show, the way Rod Serling used monsters and aliens and the supernatural to talk about the social problems of the day. Like creator Matthew Weiner says in a behind the scenes snippet after the show, they can talk about things on this show in a way they couldn't talk about them in a show set in 2007. That's interesting to me.

And like Paul, I'll be upset if my new favorite show is cancelled too.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

The Office: Phyllis' Wedding

Yes, Michael Scott is a complete idiot, but I can understand people putting up with him because he is their boss. Whenever I see Michael out of that work environment, however, the illusion is stretched -- if you don't work for this guy, why would you put up with him? The believability of the show's reality was taken to a new extreme in "Phyllis' Wedding."

Michael is over-the-top in this episode, making his actions seem more like that of a crazy person than that of the self-centered boss who thinks everyone likes him. His obsession with being the center of attention is something I've seen many times before (such as when Kevin got his test results on Michael's birthday) but the difference here is that it wasn't just in front of the office, in front of his employees -- Michael was obsessing about being the center of attention in front of all of Bob and Phyllis' family and friends. The only reasonable reaction shown throughout was Bob Vance finally having enough during Michael's toast and throwing him out. Sure, we got backstory on Michael's wedding obsession (wetting his pants while the ringbearer at his mother's wedding) which somewhat explained his behavior (he's only been to one wedding in his life -- really?) but the whole situation seemed much more sitcom-y than The Office usually gets.

There were some great moments in "Phyllis' Wedding," however: Pam's growing shock at Phyllis copying her wedding plans, the priest saying "Bob Vance, of Vance Refrigeration," Michael saying the definition of wedding is "the fusing of two metals with a hot torch," Ryan knocking the bouquet out of Kelli's hands, Toby actually being happy, and Michael's conversation with Uncle Al.

The most amusing moment was the opening sequence, showing Jim and Dwight over the course of a couple weeks, as Jim experimented on Dwight, seeing if he could generate a Pavlovian reaction for Altoids. It's another great Jim-Dwight prank, and sadly the only scene actually set in the office this episode (apart from various characters being interviewed there).

I also saw a big progression in the Jim-Karen-Pam-Roy storyline, as Jim nearly admitted to the camera that he'd be interested in Pam, and Pam becoming fed up with Jim and Karen, and leaving with Roy. Roy was behaving more normal and likeable than I've seen him to date. It was clear that he's been trying very hard to change for Pam, and I saw an incredibly nice side of him in this episode, as he admitted some of his past mistakes (that he wasn't involved in the wedding planning) and seemed to genuinely be paying attention to Pam. Now Pam & Jim fans have to not just hope for Jim and Karen to break up, but for Pam and Roy to not get back together. That's just cruel.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Rescue Me: Balance

"The hunt begins." - Lou

Did anything huge happen? Not really. The humor still exists just as it always has (Tommy trying to look at Feinberg while they were in the bathroom, Sean setting Mike's house on fire), but the dramatic elements are much more subtle. It's less in your face than it's been in past seasons.

The way Janet has slowly slipped into post-partum depression has been saddening to watch, especially when I know how lively a character she really is. The same goes for Mike as I've watched him cope with his mother's death or Sean deal with Maggie's alcoholism. Rather than explosive confrontations, everything is just simmering. Stuff never simmers on this show and that just leads me to believe that it's building up for one heck of a season ender.

New conflict has arrived with Bart ("Sean"). Tommy for whatever reason has rejected him. It's interesting to watch. It's almost as if Tommy is jealous, but not quite. Angry, but not really. He's being challenged by Bart in more ways than one. From joining the basketball team to questioning Tommy's faith. It's just great to watch those two play off of each other. What happens when Bart's faith is revealed though? Tommy wants Bart to do what all Probies do so that he gains trust. But if push comes to shove, can Bart trust Tommy? Or should I say "Stretch?"

To make up for the fact that Tommy's ghost parade has been far and few between this season, there were some returning characters to stir the pot. Lou's Cousin Mike is back in the fold and the next episode marks the return of Alicia (Susan Sarandon). I can only hope that since Tommy has realized that Janet really isn't well, that I get some of Johnny's ghost soon. The next episode would make sense especially since Tommy will be questioning Sheila's offer more seriously.

So after all that, there really is no serious plot... still. But look at all the questions that are just sitting dormant, waiting to pop. How will Alicia affect Natalie's feelings for Franco? Will Tommy find peace as his family falls apart for the hundredth time? Where'd Maggie run off to? Will Lou forgive Theresa? What happens when Mike finds out it was Sean who lit the fire?
Stuff like that is what I'm talking about though. It's slow now, but I'm looking at the big picture and trying to imagine how it's all going to play out. Leary knows what he's doing. He's earned my trust.

Sunday, September 9, 2007

Damages: Pilot

"If you were a man, I'd be worried." - Patty Hewes

I think it's pretty clear that FX is on to something big here. It didn't take much for Patty Hewes (Glenn Close as good as she's ever been) to be FX's new reigning female lead. Frankly, I'm terrified of her.

Patty Hewes. The beginning, middle, and end when it comes to law in this twisted tale of deception, lies, loyalty, and death. From the very beginning when I first meet a bloody Ellen Parsons right to the end when she calls for a lawyer, you're constantly asking how Patty fits into the whole mess. I was given plenty of clues. Some subtle and some not so much (Saffron's dog collar was about as in your face as you can get). But I truly loved the way the story unfolded, especially through the flashbacks.

Some shows use flashbacks only as it suits them. They're peppered erratically throughout the show, only used when it fills a hole in the story. Damages has a bit of a twist on this usage. The flashbacks are the true story, whereas the present day stuff (where the real mystery lies) feels almost like a flash-forward. It doesn't feel forced either. The difference is that rather than being quick blips on the radar, the flashbacks are the meat and the present day stuff is lacking.

Whenever a scene from the present day popped in, it was solely because something in the past triggered it. There was always something to tie it in. It was a nice touch and it made the entire episode flow much more smoothly despite the fact that we were moving back and forth from six months ago to present day. It felt seamless and a lot of shows (films, too) using that technique don't achieve that feel as often as you'd like.

OK, enough about the style of the show. The short answer is that it works and it works well. On to the characterization. Rather than dissect everyone, let's just look at Patty and Frobisher (Danson is about as far away from Cheers and Becker as you can get in this role). I feel like it's still a bit too early to take apart Ellen, suffice to say that I love how I was introduced to her as the victim only to find out immediately that she's actually an integral part to the entire story.

I love the connections between Patty and Arthur. They're almost the same person. Dedicated, successful, and extremely good at what they do. By the end of the hour I wasn't sure which side I was rooting for. They're both ruthless, but at the same time they both have families that they're trying to look out for and provide for. It's a dichotomy that just happens to be full of similarities. That sounds completely contradictory, but I hope you get what I'm trying to say.

The one thing I don't get is why try and paint those two so similarly? Frobisher is supposed to be the classic Enron-esque bad guy. Of course you want to introduce things that make him seem wronged and innocent. Why not play against stereotypes and actually make him the genuine good guy and Patty the legit bad girl? For a while I thought they were going this route until I found out that Patty was indeed married, had a son, and she was deeply troubled about her family. So she has a soft side. Fine. I just think it may have been better to save that tidbit for a few episodes. The longer she seemed completely heartless, the better. Although, the final few scenes did save some face in that regard.

Other stuff on my mind:
  • Why is Frobisher trying to buy out a settlement if he truly says he did nothing? Well that's a dumb question. Obviously he did it. Or does he actually just want this behind him so he can get on with his life? You could make a good argument for either scenario.
  • Again, with Frobisher. Why is he invested in Katie's restaurant? Sounds like a conspiracy to me. Something is being covered up. The question is what did she see or hear that fateful weekend in Florida?
  • Did anyone actually believe that Patty really fired Tom? By doing so, she created a shoulder for Ellen to cry on. He would be too valuable to lose since Ellen trusts him.
  • Finally, where does Hollis Nye play into Ellen's life? She turned down his job offer, but it appears that she kept in touch with him.

Damages... thoroughly impressive.

Saturday, September 8, 2007

Eureka: Unpredictable

Everything starts off great for Jack... Until the lights go out and his ex-wife appears in the shadows like some sort of evil pop up vampire rabbit. Well, not so much rabbity, but you get the idea.Eureka's not perfect, but this one suffered a bit from plot holes and post processing issues. The visual effects were well done, but there was a fairly bad loop that didn't even sound like Jack as he exited his office with his ex-wife in tow. Otherwise, the effects were pretty good.

My major plot issue is the ex-wife's reaction to Eureka. She shows a bit of surprise, but no consideration for the apparent safety of her daughter in a place where the sky seems to be spewing death.As Henry gets closer to Kim's work, things with Beverly seem to be accelerating. Other than the bug she planted (which she obviously recovered, why is she so concerned with Henry's acceptance at GD).

There seems to be something else going on behind the scenes. Could the accident have been caused by something else?Nathan's email to Allison was clever. Letting her know that he'd been studying her son through an anonymous email was an interesting move. It's apparent that Allison is appreciating that Nathan took an interest in his son's situation, but Allison isn't quite sure if it was due to the relationship with the artifact or actual parental concern.

Taggart was nowhere to be found, but it sounds like I'll see the ex-wife, Abby for another episode or two. She said she'd be staying for a week, and Zoe is definitely an unsettled issue. Since she's 16, she may have more say in whether she stays with her father or moves back to L.A.

Once again I felt sorry for Jack at the end. He definitely wanted to turn to Allison after Abby's final statement, and his frustration was understandable.

Friday, September 7, 2007

The Kill Point: Who's Afraid of Mr. Wolf

The Kill Point is the latest in a long line of bank-robbery-gone-bad/hostage negotiation movies and television shows. Just this past season, I saw similar programming in the likes of The Nine and Standoff, though neither of these programs fared very well. Thankfully, The Kill Point doesn't have to worry about staying on the air because Spike TV would have no reason not to broadcast the remaining episodes of this summer miniseries. True, the first episode was very formulaic, heavy on some tried and true cliches, but it worked and I'm now curious to see how the situation will unfold.

The bank robbery itself nearly went off without a hitch, except for the police arriving earlier than expected. After a lengthy and fierce gun battle in the street, the would-be thieves retreated back inside the bank; save for the getaway driver who was able to run from the scene without incident. So began the hostage situation. Also, so began the cliches. The civilians in the bank included your standard fare: an ineffective guard, a hysterical bank manager, a rich man's daughter and a sickly old man. (Ooh, bonus! The old man is gay.) The hostage takers also had their share of familiar stereotypes. There's the wide-eyed young one, the slightly crazy one and, of course, the cool-headed man in charge, Mr. Wolf.

John Leguizamo as Mr. Wolf is a great choice. He plays the role of "the bad guy you root for" very well. His solid performance worked magic with the less than stellar dialogue, raising the level of the material to above average. His counterpoint on the outside is the negotiator with the perfect track record, Captain Horst Cali, played effectively by former teen heartthrob Donnie Wahlberg.

As the hostage crisis unfolded, it soon came to light that Mr. Wolf and his crew (Rabbit, Mouse, Piggy, Cat) are all former soldiers, having seen action in Iraq. This upped the ante on the negotiation as it became clear Cali couldn't anticipated what these war-hardened veterans are capable of.

The second half of the premiere saw this become a focus as Mr. Wolf threatened to kill one of the hostages if electricity wasn't restored to the building. This gave me some great suspense as I watched Cali struggle with the decision to give in to the demand while Mr. Wolf had to resign himself to the fact that he may very well need to kill an innocent pawn in this cat and mouse game. However, the whole ordeal lost much of its drama with an in-your-face verbal countdown from the head of the SWAT team. Moments like this, that dumbed things down to make sure the audience was ultra-aware of what was going on, kept the episode from being something more than just above average.

As I've stated, a lot of what I saw in this first episode is material I'm familiar with, but the new twists The Kill Point has thrown in has me intrigued. The driver of the getaway car who ran off when the heist went sour hasn't deserted his men. In the closing moments, I saw that he had contacted three other former charges of Mr. Wolf and they were set on getting the rest of their platoon out of there. Equally engaging is the fact that Mr. Wolf was able to get a message to real estate magnate Alan Beck, whose daughter is being held hostage, setting up what looks to be a secondary set of negotiations outside of the control of the police.

Had this been a movie with an ending, I'd probably be less than impressed. But because the story has plenty of room to grow and surprise me, I'm excited to see what the next episode will bring.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

The Closer: Dumb Luck

So... what's wrong with Brenda? She's getting fevers, she's highly emotional and weepy, and she feels like she has a cold. It seemed like the writers were hinting that she's pregnant because of her weepiness, irritability and her apparent craving for mashed potatoes. But, what about the fevers?

Brenda's mysterious health problems seemed like they were the point of this episode, and not the crime she was solving. Heck, I solved the crime before she did. When the big, dumb personal trainer kept insisting that Wednesday was the 25th, I knew he got his dates and his murder victims mixed up. And I knew right away that the dumb blonde was the one who hired him to kill her husband, not her boyfriend.

I enjoyed the two dumb characters: the killer and the wife, but I did not enjoy the obsessive-compulsive valet. Like a handful of other guest actors, he took his character a little over the top. He was waaaay to nervous and trembling and seemed a little like Rainman and less like someone who has obsessive-compulsive disorder. He needed his floss like Dustin Hoffman needed his Wapner. Except Dustin Hoffman did it much better. I was annoyed by him the same way I was annoyed by the killer in the season premiere, who slobbered and snotted all over himself in the interview room. Talk about trying to steal a scene!

But, like I said, the crime really wasn't what was important in this episode. The point of this one was to advance the budget cuts plot by requiring the priority homicide team to train for terrorist attacks so they could get funding from the federal government, and to open up a new storyline about Brenda's mysterious health issue. Brenda met with a doctor at the end of the episode, so maybe next episode I'll learn her diagnosis. Brenda seemed like she already knew it was something serious and so she was avoiding being told about it. That's kind-of why I don't think it's pregnancy. Good Lord-- could you imagine Dep. Chief Brenda Leigh Johnson with a baby? She can barely keep herself together. Plus, I'm not so sure I'd welcome such a dramatic change in character. Fritz definitely has to be the stay-at-home dad in that situation.

A couple of great one-liners from the dumb blonde wife:

"The last time I valeted my car the attendant guy stole my pot so I don't valet my car anymore."

"This is a tapestry of justice. That's what it is. A complete tapestry!"

Mad Men: Smoke Gets In Your Eyes

If there's any justice in this TV land, I'll be hearing a lot about Mad Men at this time next year. The television landscape is filled with a lot of shows that are just the same as other shows on other networks. Even when I say "there's nothing else like this on TV right now," it's usually not true. Mad Men is one show I can truly say is rather original. Of course, it's original by being retro. It's New York City, 1960. The world of Madison Avenue advertising men. And it is men, as most of the women are in the secretarial pool or gum chewing telephone operators.

But the women have power too, in ways the men don't see.

The setting is the Sterling Cooper advertising agency. New girl Peggy starts the day as Don Draper's new secretary. She's nervous, afraid of the new technology (electric typewriters!), but she also goes to the doctor to get birth control because she knows that sleeping her way to the top might be part of the job description. The other girls pretty much confirm that.

Draper is having trouble coming up with a new ad campaign for Lucky Strikes because medical professionals and Reader's Digest have begun examining the health effects of smoking. How can he come up with an ad slogan that will be successful in such a changing world? But Draper is actually the one who has the shades of a conscience (more than others anyway - all the other guys are drinking and cheating and pretty much those type of jerks I know), even when he's trying to sell us cigarettes. He doesn't want anything to do with Peggy, even though she comes on to him, and he even apologizes to the female head of a company, a woman he insulted in a meeting. He knows the world is changing, and he's trying to adapt.

There are a couple of questions I have about the plot developments. Would Jews really be talked about that way in the business world of 1960 New York City?

This is a great show, and I'm just as surprised that 1.) it's a summer show, and 2.) it's on AMC. But there is something so glorious and meaty about this show. It's for adults, and not in the same way that, say, Deadwood is for adults. This is glossy, old-fashioned entertainment, a show more about characters and social morals and the way the 1950s became the 1960s. I have to pay attention. And that worries me a bit. I can imagine people tuning into this, not knowing what to think, and finding it "slow going." There's nothing slam-bang about this show. It's all about the acting and the writing and the mood and the style and the look and feel of 1960 NYC.

Oh, the look. This show gets everything so beautifully right. The way everyone is smoking, the cut of the suits, the haircuts, the way the characters talk, the cars, the dresses. Even small touches, like clocks on a wall or curtains in a office and the new electric typewriters the girls use, it's all done so well that the sets are characters themselves (and not in that obviously kitschy way that modern movies usually depict the late 50s/early 60s - this is closer to L.A. Confidential than Happy Days). This isn't is a show I'll just "watch every week," it's a world I want to live in.

The cast is uniformly great, from Hamm to boss John Slattery to new secretary Moss to creepy suckup Pete , who is getting married but still wants to dip his pen in company ink. This is juicy, intelligent soap opera stuff, and I mean that in the best way possible.

Mad Men is like a movie in the sense that it's just really well shot, like some glorious Technicolor flick of the 1950s, filling the screen with detail and life, and a respect for the audience. Anyway, check it out, because...well, as I said, there's nothing else like it on television.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

The Office: Ben Franklin

The Office was in truly excellent form. From Michael's "epiphery" at the beginning to create a video for a future son to his revelation that "President" Ben Franklin is "kind of a creep," the episode was packed with laugh-out-loud moments.

Michael, as usual, stole the show. It was great to see him be his completely inept self at such tasks as jumpstarting a car and taking off a woman's bra, but Michael also had some of the funniest lines of the episode. His description of the bachelor party he's throwing for Bob Vance first as a "guy's afternoon in -- GAI" then as an "hour-long shower with guys" was just classic. Another great, similar moment was Michael calling the steaks "man-meat" -- to which Dwight of course yelled without any sarcasm, "I want some man meat!"

Other Michael highlights of the episode include his nonstop giggling at the sex shop (it was a great touch to have absolutely everything in the background pixilated), bringing the same George Foreman grill he burned his foot on to the office for grilling the steaks and admitting it, and repeatedly telling the stripper that she smells like Tide detergent.

I also got some great progression this episode on the Pam-Jim-Karen storyline. Karen and Pam were getting along really well while talking about the Ben Franklin impersonator, and when Karen brought up Jim I just knew it was going to turn horribly awkward. And as awkward as Karen and Pam's conversation was ("You're not still interested in him?" "Oh, yeah." "Really?" "Oh no, I was just confused by your phrasing.") it was arguably topped by Pam's stumbling small talk earlier in the episode with Jim ("Gotta get your REM cycle"). With both moments I felt sorry for Pam and just hoped she would stop talking and making things worse.

Pam was also the center of some other great comedy moments this episode, as she got more than her fair share of attention from Mr. Benjamin Franklin. Her questions involving Franklin's rumored girlfriends in Paris to whether he wears boxers, briefs, or pantaloons hilariously led to Benjamin -- a.k.a. Gordon -- hitting on Pam. Not even Pam's syphilis question deterred the erstwhile Gordon. Overall, this could be a big turning point for Pam, as she told Ryan that she'd be okay going on a date with one of his business school friends.

Missing this episode were both Oscar and Andy, with no mention of where they were. The stripper was even directed to sit in Oscar's usual seat. Regardless, the comedy most definitely didn't suffer -- "Ben Franklin" is one of the best Office episodes this season.