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

Monday, April 13, 2009

Chuck Vs. Santa Claus

When a car crashes into the Buy More, it first appears that the Nerd Herders — and last-minute shoppers like Ellie and Awesome — are just being held hostage by a rather incompetent criminal. But the whole incident soon takes a more sinister turn.

The missions on Chuck rarely feel all that tense to me; Chuck's name is the title of the show, so how much danger could he actually be in? But in this episode, everything feels like it's up in the air. No, Chuck probably isn't going to die, but he might really be taken to a detention facility staffed by evil Fulcrum agents. Or Ellie or Awesome could be hurt. Or even Sarah or Casey could go down.

Things really start to go poorly when Sarah and Casey break into the Buy More. They only have two choices: be their civilian selves, or blow Chuck's cover and end up with a whole bunch of new people to protect. They choose the civilian route, and then some quirky coincidences (Sarah being Chuck's "girlfriend," Casey getting his toe shot off) lead to their release while Chuck's still inside.

Of course, those aren't coincidences at all but evil actions Fulcrum takes to get Chuck alone. It's fascinating to see the tone switch from "hey, weird holiday shopping crime!" to "OMG, they know everything about Chuck, and they're totally after him." And just minutes after cautioning Awesome not to be a hero, Chuck decides to be one himself, telling the agent that the Intersect is in his brain. How heartbreaking is the look on Chuck's face when he hugs Ellie good-bye, knowing that in all likelihood, he's seeing her for the last time?

Casey and Sarah aren't going to give up that easily, though, and they do manage to spring Chuck free. But Chuck's never been good at doing what he's told, and so instead of running back to the Castle and being reunited with his family, he lurks in the background of the tree lot — and ends up seeing Sarah shoot the agent dead. I don't know if Chuck could hear their conversation, but either way, he's now seen Sarah at her most ruthless, and — like Morgan seeing Anna kiss Lester, but worse — that image is never going to leave his mind.

Some other thoughts:

This episode isn't all sad and somber. In fact, the stuff with Awesome and the Buy More crew (in elf uniforms!) staging a coup that instantly fails until Morgan pops up with a fake snowblower is pretty hysterical.

Emmett and Big Mike drive the same car! And have matching coffee thermoses!

Anna loves Lester! For like a second, until he does something gross that I don't even want to know the details of, but still.

How sad was it to see Sarah standing there while everyone's calling their loved ones, with nobody to call herself?

General Beckman to Casey: "It's an electronics store, major, not Basra. Get it under control."

Also, when I first saw Casey with the armload of wrapping paper, I hoped it was because he was secretly really into Christmas.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Terminator: Earthlings Welcome Here

In general, I’m a pretty snarky person, so during the opening scenes of the episode, when we were introduced to the Eileen character, I thought she totally sounded like a dude. I chided myself for being mean, and was going to let it go. Then, of course, it turned out that the character really was a dude. I need to learn to trust my instincts more, I guess. I do have to commend any actress who is brave and secure enough to play a man or a transexual. You have to be pretty comfortable with yourself to do that.

On to the episode….

Well, that was an interesting episode. There were some important things happening, not the least of which was Sarah hunting down the three dots of her nightmares. It turned out that they led her to a UFO convention where she teamed up with Eileen/Alan to hunt down one of the ships. Everything lead Sarah to a warehouse where, after letting her guard down and being shot, she saw the “three dot” UFO above her.

Now, this was all a little bizarre for me. I have to assume that this is some sort of machine contraption from the future, but … what the crap? I would think something that big would be garnering a lot more attention, or would be doing some more serious damage. If I were the machines I wouldn’t send back a giant evil flying machine to hang out in a warehouse. I’d be blowing shit up and causing havoc.

I got some more background on Riley in this episode, too, and I feel a lot better about her these days now that I know she has a purpose. I understand that teenagers need relationships, blahbitty blah blah. I just wasn’t feeling the Riley/John dynamic. Now that I know she’s from the future, I’m a little cooler with it. It was interesting seeing the dynamic between her and Jesse. Jesse was not so sympathetic toward her little ward, and clearly the girl needed a little help. I have the feeling that her wrist slashing isn’t going to stick though. I haven’t seen the last of her.

Some quick hit thoughts:

I’ve thought John was annoying for a little while, but he had to go and take a sarcastic swipe at bloggers. It is so on, Terminator boy!

Apparently John is being “home schooled” now by Sarah. Nice to know that the writers recognize John hasn’t been to school in months and addressed it for us. I know as a viewer I appreciate attention to detail.

Was there more to Cameron checking out Riley’s tattoo than just making conversation? My guess is Cameron might know her from the future.

There wasn’t enough Ellison and John Henry interaction this episode. I’m still curious about what’s going to happen with them.

My favorite part of the episode had to be the conversation between Eileen and Sarah after they got shot up at the storage unit. “Why don’t you feel it?” Eileen asks Sarah disgustedly about the fear and horror of being so close to death. Sarah was a bit horrified as well. It was a nice reminder that she is still a woman real close to the breaking point.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Eleventh Hour: Flesh

Spring break, whoohoo! Even in winter, Dayton Beach, FL is hopping. Life is one endless pool party for college students on break. Until a couple of them have to leave the party early. Lenny and his friend Greg collapse almost simultaneously, and an ambulance runs them to the hospital. However, Lenny and Greg don’t make it to the hospital. They flatline, and the paramedics have no luck reviving them.

The mystery of the… uh… dead people. Good luck with that one, Jacob.

But of course I being a devout watcher know there’s more to it than that! In the morgue, autopsies are being performed on both kids. Greg’s chest is flayed open, and the pathologist is making the first incision in Lenny… when he hears a beat. He turns around and, miraculously, Greg’s heart is still beating! Slowly but surely. When he turns back, Lenny has woken up and is justifiably shocked to see his best friend opened up on a slab.

Meanwhile, Jacob is spending some quality time with his old dog and some woman I have never seen before but for some reason I am being forced to believe that she and Jacob have slight yearnings towards each other. Rachel swoops in and saves me from awkward flirting by informing Jacob of the student zombie situation. They head to Florida to investigate. Evidently the kids were not dead but only in a state of suspended animation. In the hospital they meet the recovering Lenny, who turns out to be quite the chauvinist jerk, and he tells them that the only thing that he and Greg shared in the past few days was a girl by the name of Tabitha Jackson. Shared, as in… uh-huh. It looks like this might be some sort of sexually transmitted disease, and Jacob and Rachel go to talk to Tabitha. Poor Tabitha doesn’t remember anything about the night when she and Greg and Lenny supposedly got it on. She’s upset about what happened, how the boys got her drunk and took advantage of her. Rachel takes Tabitha to the hospital to get checked out. And just in time, because Tabitha collapses just like Lenny and Greg. Her body temperature drops drastically and her heart beat drops to five beats per minute.

But it looks like the suspended animation is not the only problem facing these kids. Rachel goes to see Lenny to tell him that he can leave, but that he’d better be careful because the nurses say he’s been harassing them, and if he doesn’t behave he’ll go to jail. Lenny gets fresh with Rachel and she insults him. When he reaches for her to get even, he notices that his leg is being eaten away by flesh-eating bacteria! Yummy.

Jacob decides to delve deeper into the science bits of this case and takes a look at the actual bacteria. Evidently the gene causes two stages: the first stage releases hydrogen sulfide, which causes the suspended animation. Stage two is when the victim wakes up and develops the flesh-eating bacteria. It’s key that Tabitha is prevented from reaching stage two, so they take her to the morgue to keep her body temperature down. In addition to learning all this, Jacob learns that the bacteria has no “junk” DNA, which means it is a man-made bacteria. Its resistance to extreme cold makes it look like it could have been developed for space travel.

It’s beginning to look a lot like an epidemic, because two more kids are brought in, down for the count. One is Belinda, and the other is Seth, the boy she was having sex with. He happens to have the same dagger and cherry tattoo that both Greg and Lenny have. Looks like they’re all friends!

Jacob and Rachel go talk to some NASA big wigs about this bug. They talk to Dr. West, who confirms that this is a gene being used by NASA for deep space travel and hibernation. All except for the flesh-eating part. He assures them that this has to be something different, because none of the bacteria is missing and there have been no break-ins. Jacob asks him about the gene in it that is designed to self-destruct, which may be the key to killing off the bug. However, West won’t tell him about it – it’s too classified.

Rachel does some research of her own and discovers that the three boys, Lenny, Greg, and Seth, were all accused of gang-raping a girl last year but got off due to lack of evidence. There was a fourth suspect, Derek, who hasn’t been discovered yet, but they’re sure he’s next. Is this a case of revenge? If it is, whoever is doing it is doing a good job, because Lenny is dead.

Our investigators head off to talk to Julia Taylor, the victim in last year’s rape. They’re sure she’s behind it. But of course she’s not, because she’s in a coma. It turns out that after the case was dismissed Julia, distraught at being called a liar and a whore, took up drinking and got in a car accident. However, Julia’s father works at NASA! His name is Henry West. Sound familiar?

Rachel has a trace put on Derek’s cell phone, thinking that West will go after him next. Derek is frantically trying to get out of Florida, but before he can West catches up to him and injects him with the bacteria. By the time Rachel and Jacob get there West has leapt off a balcony. Jacob manages to get West to tell him about the self-destruct gene, which turns out to be triggered by silver. Back at the hospital, the victims get a dose of silver in their bloodstream and they all wake up, right as rain. Another disgusting disease neutralized by Jacob Hood!

Flesh-eating bacteria is basically the coolest and grossest bacteria in the world, so props to the show for bringing it in. I liked the revenge plotline and didn’t have any trouble sympathizing with West (except of course when it came to getting innocent people involved). But this love plotline they’re scraping together for Jacob. What? At least Rachel and her bloke seemed to have a bit of chemistry. But this lady came out of nowhere.

Friday, April 10, 2009

CSI: 19 Down

In part one of the two-part episode that will hand off the reins of power at the Las Vegas crime lab from Gil Grissom to Raymond Langston, CSI spent as much time breaking the news about Gil's exit as it did lay the groundwork for Langston's entrance.

Speaking of entrances, Laurence Fishburne was given quite the platform, appearing in shadow until the light clicked on and he was revealed. It'll be interesting to see if Petersen's last scene will replicate Frank Sinatra vanishing into distant spotlights, singing "Excuse me while I disappear." Considering the Vegas connection, I think that would be a perfect way for him to go.

But not just yet. First there's this very complicated, very gruesome case that's still unresolved. The Dick and Jane Killer, a guy who murders couples, seems to have a copy cat on the loose because the confessed serial killer, Haskell, is already behind bars. Brass and Grissom learned that Langston was using Haskell -- via remote feed -- as part of his classwork at the University. Without telling the prof, Grissom got into the lecture hall in order to question Haskell. It seemed like an oblique way to get Langston and Grissom to work together -- they eschewed the direct approach -- but it did immediately create a schism between Brass and Langston, something to be played out when Langston takes Grissom's place at CSI.

Because this was a two-parter, I was left on edge about creepy Haskell. But if a prisoner is in keep-away, as Gil points out, why was he allowed an unsupervised phone call to Langston to taunt him and tip the authorities off about the ninth D&J kill? Still, Irwin scared me as Haskell, so he definitely did his job well.

Interestingly, for me the best part of the show was how oblivious Grissom was to the way his abrupt news flash about leaving CSI is affecting the team. He seemed genuinely stunned by the tears in assistant M.E. David's eyes when Gil said he would miss him and not the work. Like the bugs and insects he studies, Gil is still in the cocoon emotionally.

For a student of behavior, he should know that some reactions -- like Hodges being hurt that he was not personally informed by Gil -- were predictable. The coolest (as in wise and aware, not reserved and uncaring) reaction was probably Catherine's. She anticipated it, perhaps based on the conversation at the end of the last show about Grissom upping the ante. My favorite exchange was Brass and Grissom's, suggesting that they'll stay in touch and perhaps go out on the boat and celebrate July 4th together. Gil's response, "You have a boat?" was priceless. It was so obvious they never socialized before and likely never would in the future. Their relationship -- and friendship -- was all about the office.

As for Fishburne's character, it's too soon to tell. He only met with Grissom and Brass and only on his own turf. He came off as authoritative and imposing, but also intelligent and observant. He also was pretty obvious when dealing with Haskell, like putting him on hold to conference Gil in on the phone conversation. That could have been done in a more stealth-like fashion. I suspect Part Two will have more opportunities for Nick, Catherine and the others to meet/clash with Langston.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

My Name Is Earl: Orphan Earl

For a group of people who celebrate the holidays by decorating passed out drunks as if they were Christmas trees, the cast of clowns in Camden always find a way to enjoy the true spirit of the season. Of course, the story of how they get to that point is the fun part.

Earl used to be the local expert on ripping people off. One time in particular, he and Joy hatched a scheme to exploit generous people by obtaining donations for starving children in Africa. The only money they got was a $100 check from a kindly man named Arthur Hill. When Earl tracks the man down to return the money, he discovers that Joy has been sending letters from a fake child called Umbungo -- she sends pictures of Earl Jr. posing as the child along with everything from report cards to pictures of him with a "really hot American tourist (Joy)."

As it turns out, Joy's gotten two of her friends in on the action as well and Hill is sending three donation checks a month. Upset that the generous man is being taken for a ride and even enjoying it, Earl asks Joy to stop. Guess where that gets him — nowhere. Things seemingly take a turn for the worse when Randy finds out Mr. Hill has died while reading comics/obits, as is his habit. The man has left his considerable fortune to his three favorite (fake) charities. Joy and her cronies follow Earl and Randy as they break into Hill's house to find out who is lawyer is and inform him of the scam taking place.

When Earl gives Randy the will and tells him to go on foot in the hopes that Joy will follow him in his car to the lawyer's office, Joy has other plans. She takes the will from Randy and goes to the lawyer herself, only to find that Earl has spilled the beans already. However, the crooked lawyer offers to make sure they get their money in exchange for a small sum upfront and sex with Joy's friend. After a trip to a loan shark, the deal is done and Joy has won.

Or has she? I have to say I was a little suspicious when Earl gave the will to Randy, but I definitely didn't see Earl's masterful scam coming. Mr. Hill never died, there was no will, the lawyer was Earl's hired gun, and the money Joy got from the loan shark was to pay back Mr. Hill. All of this was jaw-droppingly awesome and one of the coolest things Earl's ever done. Mr. Hill wasn't as impressed as me though — he was more upset that all that he cared for (giving to the charities) was a lie.

Earl takes him to the trailer park to cheer him up by laughing at the wrongdoers, but there's no laughing to be done. They find everyone's homes in shambles due to a set of circumstances stemming from having to use their money to pay back the loan shark. The ever kind and generous Hill sees a new opportunity for charity and renewed purpose and gives everyone the money they need to get back on their feet. But in the end, he's given even more than he knew as the others follow his good example and learn the error of their ways.

It's great to see that even though Earl now uses his powers for good, his skills at being a scam artist and taking everyone for a ride are still intact. I thought this was a very well-written plot in terms of how that big surprise was orchestrated, but part of me wonders if I'm just a sucker and should have seen it coming a little more.

And now for a few funny moments:

Randy's research for his book on tasting non-food items called "I Have A Curious Tongue." "Cactus: Painful, but worth it." "Hair: Tastes like marijuana."

Earl and Joy's shoddy attempt at inventing facts about starvation in Africa. "9 out of 10 African children die every minute."

As a result of Joy's wrath, Earl apparently has only nine toes.

Joy's friend plans on using her new fortune to buy a "fur coat with the head still on it. Yeah, this bitch is real!"

Randy fakes getting into an argument in the car with Earl and yells "How can you say that about the soldiers, Earl, they're fighting for our freedom!"

Mr. Hill explains that his life isn't too eventful: "Sure, I like rodeo, and I do like to whittle, but not all that much."

When Earl gets Joy's refrigerator back, she's happy that she doesn't have to "keep the kids' antibiotics by the air conditioner" anymore.

The accurate depictions of Joy, Darnell, Earl Jr. and Dodge in Christmas cookie format.

Randy is constantly unaware of Earl's scams and compliments him when he finds out the truth. "Oh, man, I cried so much, you have no idea. I can't even tell you about the nightmares I've been having." And at the end, the ultimate show of Randy's gullibility: "I believed in that list for like, three years!"

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Life: Canyon Flowers

Creepy. That’s how I felt during this episode of Life. From the time where Crews and Charlie found the dead driver buried as the stigma of a flower display to the very end scene, I had that sub-conscious feeling where I wanted to crawl a bit out of my skin. It wasn’t the murder itself that skeeved me out … it was the suspects and locations that gave me a bit of the heebie-jeebies.

It’s always the crazy ones who do the killing: Squeaky was always on my list as one of the suspects. She tried to throw me off by saying that Johnny Hazlet came and killed Tex, which made me think that it was Clifton who performed the murder. The more I thought about it, and the more evidence that was revealed, it made sense that Squeaky was the only one who could have committed the murders. Particularly since she seemed content that business picked up at her museum right after his death.

Flint and Maude and Clifton: At first, it didn’t seem possible that any of these folks could commit the murder. I mean, Flint and Maude didn’t even go outside. Clifton became my main suspect after Squeaky said Johnny killed Tex. He mention himself that he looked like his grandfather, so there was a logical connection. Turns out they weren’t murderers at all. They were just weird.

Mickey connects some puzzle pieces together: Good news and bad news for Charlie. The good news is that Mickey gave Charlie some additional information that may or may not be connected to the Conspiracy. The bad news … it may be more of ‘may not’ than ‘may.’ You see, it seems like the information Mickey gave would have been a bit inaccurate when it came to who FBI agent Bodner was working for. Mickey said he was working for an assassin Charlie and Dani captured last season. But, after the FBI agent visited Charlie at his house, it looks like it might be the other way around.

Ted gets busted: Charlie is a good cop. But, he sometimes gets involved in things he shouldn’t; even when he’s duly warned. Thusly, because he ended up visiting Mickey, Ted is in some serious trouble. When he mentioned to Charlie that he would never survive another run in lock up I should have realized that was some foreshadowing to his future circumstances. After catching Charlie Sr. instead of Olivia on the cell phone, being arrested was the end to a real crappy day.

The Los Angeles Museum of Murder and Mayhem (LAMoMaM): I did a quick check and there is no such thing as the LAMoMaM. That’s a good thing, because the place freaked me out. Especially when Crews and Dani went back after getting news of gunshots. Seeing all those displays of dead and dismembered victims made me, for just a second, want to turn away from the screen. Quite freaky.

The “non-relationship” relationship talk between Reese and Tidwell: The relationship issues between Dani and Tidwell took a back seat to the murder investigation. There was still one moment between them where the Captain stated he wanted two kids and Reese responded, “Good luck with that.”

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Pushing Daisies: The Legend of Merle McQuoddy

On this episode of Pushing Daisies, Charles Charles is still alive and well-ish thanks to Ned's powers and Chuck's reckless decisions — but let's just say gratitude isn't exactly the first emotion he's showing. Meanwhile, Shane Botwin turns up as the son of a lighthouse operator who's been fried to death on her own spotlight. It may have been one of my favorite Daisies episodes of all time.

Chuck thinks that watching Ned and Charles fight is kind of cute — like she's any other girl whose boyfriend and dad don't get along. She says they can pretend to be the teenagers they never were, the star quarterback and the head cheerleader deep in puppy love, fighting against a dad who's protective and overbearing. But Ned? Ned's not so interested in going toe-to-toe with Charles Charles. Looming over their whole relationship is one uncomfortable little fact: Ned killed Charles (albeit inadvertently). And Charles doesn't seem at all interested in forgiving Ned's adolescent mistakes, dropping little reminders into every interaction (like putting "the last 20 years of my life back" on the grocery list).

This could be bad for Ned, very bad: Word could get out about what he does, and he figures it's not a big leap from there to angry mobs with pitchforks. But Charles has no interest whatsoever in obeying Ned's guide to the "alive-again lifestyle" (which involves things like announcing when you're moving around and, you know, not driving around in public with mummy bandages on your face — or, worse in the case of Charles, without mummy bandages on your face). He can't believe Chuck would choose such a small and restricted life and instead asks her to run away with him, to "choose cake over pie" and go on grand adventures like he promised her as a child. Ultimately, Chuck chooses Ned, but when they head upstairs for the apology they believe is coming from Charles, there's just an ominous note on his empty chair: "I chose, too."

Meanwhile, Olive and Emerson take on the lighthouse case together, which is quirky even by Daisies standards, involving a singing barbershop quartet of raincoat-clad sailors, a castaway rescued by a gay family cruise, and a murderer whose idea of a good time is making dioramas of her dead "notable husband" with glitter everywhere. Frankly, I didn't even bother to follow all its twists and turns — I was just in it for the spectacle. And, ultimately, there's a sweet ending: Olive cracks the case (!) by admitting her still-burning love for Ned, and Emerson tells her that if the Pie Hole ever gets too unpleasant as her crush cavorts with someone else, he has a PI job waiting for her.
Some other thoughts:

Olive's coordinated crime-fighting raincoats are genius! Olives for Olive, cod for Emerson, pies for Ned.

"Sometimes I just think to myself: Life. You can't make this crap up." — Annabelle

Also, "Such a depressing word, diorama." And "'Tis better to have loved and lost than to be you."

And "Shut the a-capel up." What a great episode for one-liners.

So many adorable Ned/Chuck plastic wrap kisses in this episode! I think my favorite, though, is the giant bear hug with the tarp after Ned tells Chuck he understands why she kept Charles alive.

I love Ned's aghast reaction to Charles saying he's not one for chocolate: "Everyone at least tolerates it!"

Will Charles Charles spill Ned's secrets? Are Chuck and Ned (especially Chuck) being too naive in believing that somehow, maybe they'll all be a big, happy family? And why am I not at all surprised that Lily hates clowns?

Monday, April 6, 2009

Vicky Cristina Barcelona: Neurotic Mixed with Beautiful

I'd probably say I'm a medium-sized fan of Woody Allen. If I were ordering a dose of Woody Allen at Starbucks, I'd probably get it in a grande cup. His nebbishy dialogue style grates on my nerves after too long, and some of his movies remind me of me at my most neurotic, which is tiring. Vicky Cristina Barcelona is more of the same Allenistic stuff I've grown to expect, but it's also given a refreshing jolt from the (mostly) talented and entirely beautiful cast. There's a nice balance of overthinky anxiety, wacky storyline, and attractive people to make this Woody Allen film a medium-sized, easy-to-drink treat.

The movie is narrated as though someone is reading us a story, and the detached commentary provides occasional insights into the thoughts and feelings of the protagonists, which I appreciated in this case. Vicky (Rebecca Hall) and Cristina (Scarlett Johansson) are girlfriends who set off for a summer in Barcelona. They soon befriend a famous painter, Juan Antonio (Javier Bardem), who is known for his volatile relationship with his ex-wife, Maria Elena (Penelope Cruz).

Cristina becomes Juan Antonio's paramour, but before too long, Vicky finds herself drawn to him as well, despite her engagement to the wealthy, steady Doug (Chris Messina). The love triangle becomes a square when the emotionally unstable Maria Elena returns to live in Juan Antonio's house, which he now shares with Cristina. The tangled web gets messier — and funnier — as the summer goes on.

It's easy to relax into this Summer-in-Spain atmosphere, and the city lends a softer, friendlier vibe to the film than the usual fast-paced craziness of New York City, Allen's frequent location of choice. Bardem and Cruz are two of the hottest human beings ever, in my opinion, and both are superb as the love-crazed, passionate artists forever enmeshed in a love/hate, push-pull relationship. Even if they weren't superb, I would love watching them.

Using Spanish actors in a Spanish setting (as opposed to solely focusing on the Americans' experiences abroad) was wise, and these two often carry some of the wackier scenes simply because they are so comfortable in the setting. They're less easy with some of the anxious, uniquely Woody Allen-y dialogue, but frankly, so is Johansson. For all that talk of her being a "muse," she doesn't do very well with Allen's material. The one who really and truly does is Rebecca Hall, playing a character who thinks so much and so intensely about everything, she has a hard time just relaxing and being content. Sound like anyone else we could name? It's like she was born to star in a Woody Allen film, and I hope we get to see her in more of them.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Digging to America by Anne Tyler

I have never read a book by Anne Tyler before, and probably won't read another.

The characters were pretty boring. Some of them seemed to have interesting internal lives, and the sections of the book where the reader encountered a character alone were the best parts. But when interacting with each other they lost all dimension and the dialogue was flat and cliched.

The two little girls could have been given a lot more depth, considering they seemed to be the central characters of the book when they are first introduced. However, as the book goes on they have little interaction with the adult characters and seem more like stage props or pets. I guess, given the cover art, I thought the story would have been about the girls and that the reader would have been given more insight into their thoughts on being adopted, on growing up in American culture, etc. Just because they are children doesn't mean they can't have interesting perspectives on their situation.

Overall, it wasn't entirely poorly written, it was just boring and unengaging. Not to mention having to trudge through the pages and pages devoted to the "binky party," which really seemed to have no bearing on the rest of the plot at all.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Eli Stone: Help

When last I left Wethersby, Stone & Associates, Patti’s daughter Angela was in a world of hurt for having cocaine show up on her blood test for her DUI. Now Eli has a vision – of Patti singing the infamous Beatles song, no less (and isn’t Loretta Devine amazing?) – that his assistant needs his help. Which she does, because as Patti tells him in the midst of freaking out, Angela has now been arrested on drug charges. Cue Keith making his unhappy face.

Keith, Eli and Patti rush to Angela’s aid to find out she’s being accused of having stolen some fentanyl from the hospital she studies at in order to sell it for cocaine. Angela insists up, down and backwards that she’s innocent, which Eli believes because his vision had Patti telling him literally “She’s innocent.” Keith, on the other hand, is pretty sure she’s guilty, ticking off everyone else in the process. How cool is it, though, to see more of Jason George this season? Another under appreciated supporting actor.

Meanwhile, Matt and Taylor have no clue what to do with themselves. After apparently having a breakthrough last episode, Taylor is back to pushing Matt away. As in, she refers to him as the “biological father” when he says “boyfriend” to the nurse at her sonogram. Ouch! The final straw comes when Matt pulls strings to get Taylor into a Seal concert (more on that in a sec) and when he says “I love you,” she just blinks at him. This, of course, makes Matt incredibly angry, and he gives Taylor a lecture about how he’s finally in touch with his feelings and honestly in love with her before he walks off. I hate to repeat myself, but how cool is it to see Matt Dowd, of all people, become a character I honestly want to root for?

And in the ‘C’ story, Taylor finds out that her father’s second marriage is now on the rocks when she gets the call about his corporate credit card. Seems Mrs. Wethersby hasn’t been too happy with Jordan’s change of heart this season and they’ve separated. One has to feel for Jordan after all he’s done, especially when almost everyone else seems to be finding love – Keith and Angela, Matt and Taylor, Eli and his mystery date at the end of this episode (um, no), and let’s not forget Nate and Beth Keller. Neither of whom are in this episode. Darn.

Maggie is conned by some new annoying lawyer into helping a rich corporate heiress set up a trust fund. Which would suck if said heiress didn’t know Heidi Klum, who happens to be married to Seal, who happens to be Taylor’s favorite musician…yep, you guessed it. That’s how Matt got tickets to the Seal concert and it’s how Taylor gets Seal to perform on the law firm balcony as her way of sucking up to Matt and proving she really does have feelings for him. Aww. It would be cuter if the writers hadn’t insisted on making Taylor’s dialogue such a dead giveaway that there was going to be a random Seal appearance.

Back in the main story, Angela says she only did coke once at a party and offers up some guy to prove it. While looking for that guy, Keith finds someone else: Angela’s dealer, who says she was trading the fentanyl for cocaine. She’s very clearly guilty, no matter what Eli’s vision says. When Patti finally confronts her daughter (three episodes in the making!) the two have a massive argument where Angela tells Patti that the “apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.” Eli is confused until Jordan confides that Patti was once an alcoholic until he intervened. She never went to rehab, though, simply stopped drinking, and Jordan wonders if this might push her over the edge. Eli finds her at her old bar, and listens to her talk about how hard she pushed her daughter and how she blames herself. When Patti told him “she’s innocent,” she didn’t mean legally, but she meant that she blames herself for everything going on around her, and that’s why she needs Eli’s help.

The boys broker a deal for Angela that keeps her out of jail, even if she will have a hard road to get back to medical school. Matt and Taylor make up. Jordan…mopes. And in what seems like “we stuck it on the end of the episode because we ran out of time to do it properly,” Eli goes on a blind date with some woman named Ashley.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Leverage: The Homecoming Job

"The world doesn't work this way." --Dr. Laroque
"Then change the world." --Nathan Ford

Oh, I really do like this show. It looks like the fine folks behind Leverage are going to use this platform to "expose" the kinds of corporate corruption that I know is there but may just not be able to prove. As established over the past several years, a lot of these bastards at the top of the corporate world are just as bad, if not worse, than the common street criminal. In fact, I'm going to go with worse. Tonight's target: Castleman, a company that provides a private "army" to the U.S. Government. You know, Blackwater.

In keeping with the Robin Hood concept, the idea behind this heist is to ensure that PFC Dwight Caplan can get the rehab he needs to get out and start working. The kid's not looking for a handout, just a fare shake in life. And since it was Castleman, and not insurgent fire, who took that away from him, he's looking for justice. Which is what Leverage is all about.

I loved the cover corporation, complete with a painting of Nathan's ancestor and founder of the company in 1913. Hardison is on his way to becoming my favorite character. I love that the "computer geek" is absolutely brilliant at what he does, but in no way personifies the stereotypes of a typical computer geek. Still, couldn't his wall of screens have been seamless? Those black bars get in the way of everything and I know we have the technology to have a seamless integration of multiple screens. I'm disappointed Hardison!

Wait, Eliot Spencer may be my favorite character. He's a very particular character. From identifying firearms used based on the sounds of their gunfire to a branch of the military based on a knife fighting style, Spencer is one knowledgeable and resourceful guy. I'd like to say that the girls are my favorite characters too, but I'm not as excited about what they bring to the table yet.

Don't get me wrong, I totally dig how crazy Parker is and loved when she shoved Hardison off the roof to test her new pulley system, but even so she's not as much fun to watch as Spencer and Hardison. The same goes for Sophie. In fact, in her case I'm not seeing why she's so much more effective acting like someone she's not when I've seen other people on the team doing it as well. I do enjoy her forays into attempted "real" acting, though. God, she's terrible.

Two episodes in, and everything I loved about the series from the pilot is still here. The method used to set up both Dufort and Congressman Jenkins to take the fall for the container of money was brilliant. The false back to the truck seemed almost too simple when Hardison was tearing it down, but it was effective. I'm not sure how Dr. Laroque and her staff are going to move two giant pallets of money out of the back of a truck to use for the hospital without drawing a lot of attention on a busy street, but I guess that's their problem, and a problem I'm sure they're only too happy to have.

This was a melding of sorts of The A-Team and Mission: Impossible, which is exactly what I was thinking as I was watching it. There was always an element of comedy and fun on The A-Team and Leverage is finding the same balance. Already, the camaraderie between this disparate group of criminals is starting to develop. There are so many great lines of banter packed in each episode I could fill an entire article just running through them.

This is one of those shows that can appeal to everyone. Action, humor, snappy dialogue, humanitarian, topical, and getting to see the little guy come out on top every week. What's not to love?

Thursday, April 2, 2009

My Own Worst Enemy: Love in All the Wrong Places

Janus is a strange company. Things are totally not okay to do…unless you know, they're okay to do. Running rogue missions are definitely acts of treason, unless well, they're just totally cool with it in the end. Hey, I didn't know that it was fine to stray from the reservation as long as you just had a really really good reason. I just saw Edward go rogue to find out who killed his parents, and that transgression was forgiven because, hey – it's revenge. And now, in "Love In All The Wrong Places," Raymond and Henry fudge up their communication lines so that they can head off on a rescue mission against Tromboll's orders. In the end, it was fine. Mavis makes it clear to Henry that they went against orders, and then says "thank you" – since it was her ex-flame that they wound up rescuing. This secret spy op center runs their ops like a soap opera and it makes it a little hard to buy Janus as anything by a strange Dr. Frankenspy experiment center that sporadically helps keep the country safe from foreign enemies.

It was nice to actually see Edward make a promise to the American hostages in Congo. It wouldn't be hard to imagine Edward just blowing right past them, because he only had one mission - to kidnap the Congan Warlord, Serge Kubako (Bill Duke). It was a nice surprise to see him caring about anything else, given his previous nature. In fact, it was so out of place that I'd much rather chalk it up to character evolution than mere contradiction. But Edward did make a promise to return and free them, and Mavis, all full of nostalgia and regret over her lost love, sends him along his way to do it. The action in this episode was decent, but it still followed the same format. Meaning that it opened with Henry in a dire situation and then flashback to see just how this predicament came to be. This time around, Henry was about to be executed as a hostage.

One of the reasons this episode pulled its weight was due to the fact that Raymond got to use a sexy new gun that can track enemies inside a building and then fire rounds solid enough to bust through concrete walls. I know, it's not much – but this is the second to last episode of the series, so I don't mind grasping at a few straws. It was nice to see Mavis do something finally. Show some sort of outer-context. Her storyline has only singularly been tied to Edward and Henry and whatever it is that the two of them were doing or not doing. This was the first, and probably last, time that Mavis appeared to be human. People are softening on the show. I'm not sure if it's good or bad, but I do know that Edward is not the same person that killed Henry's old college friend all those episodes ago. And Mavis isn't the woman who induced a heart attack on Henry on a city bus in order to bring him in.

Angie wants to have a baby. Henry does to, sorta. Edward definitely doesn't. Especially now that he knows he'll have to be a somewhat active part of it. In fact, he gives a great line into his phone while leaving a message for Henry – "I'll gladly have sex with your wife, but raising kids is your job." Nice. Henry's mixed emotions over having a child only stem from him thinking he's going to get killed one day on a mission. Meanwhile, Mavis gives Skinner crap about sleeping with Edward, but takes it back in the end after she realizes that she misses…sleeping with men. The best scene of the episode came when Skinner had to talk Edward through a psych-interrogation of Kubako. Basically, Edward had to pretend he was a General and a friendly admirer of Kubako's. It was a great moment, right up until the end when I just didn't believe that someone like Edward, who tortures people for a living, would crack under Duke's off color rape remarks.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Prison Break: Just Business

Michael’s tumor is the clock that everyone is racing against, when it all comes down to it. Now the crew and the Company both rush to stop Self from unloading Scylla. Along the way, there are some double crosses and a couple neat little twists. It’s not the best episode (there are some “just go with it” moments), but it’s solid, and it continues to build on the momentum of the last few episodes.

Self shoots tear gas into the crew’s HQ. One canister looks like a dud, but I find out later that it contains a unique camera. Linc gets the drop on him, and Self and Gretchen run off to regroup, unaware that Sucre has stashed himself in their trunk. He passes along their position to Michael, but at the same time, the Company does a face ID to find Self and Gretchen. The crew gets there first, leading to a slugfest between Sucre and Gretchen. Michael manages to get Scylla, but has a seizure as he tries to flee. He collapses, Self regains Scylla, and Michael is picked up by the Company.

The fight between Sucre and Gretchen is pretty interesting. Most shows would set up a girt/girl fight. But kudos to the writers for not shying away from her tussling with a guy. Sucre is outmatched, though. Not a fair fight. Gretchen against Linc would seem to be the most even.

Meanwhile, Bagwell waits with Gretchen’s sister. When a man comes to the door selling bibles, Bagwell is convinced the man is Company. He drags him inside and ties him to a chair. Gretchen’s sister pleads on behalf of the man. Frustrated, and still regretting his break from the Cole Pfeiffer lifestyle, Bagwell lets them go and releases the man, only to have him be Company after all. The agent’s commitment to his role sells this storyline perfectly. Through the pleading, crying and praying, there is never a doubt that he’s just a bystander. As he is hauled off, Bagwell seems to be heading down the same path of regret and redemption that killed Abruzzi in season two.

After Lisa resigns from the Company, Mahone is betrayed by two former colleagues as he tries to go to the Attorney General and Self double-crosses the middlemen in his attempt to get rid of Scylla, Linc shows up at General Krantz’s office demanding to see Michael. The General offers the best medical care possible to save Michael’s life. In exchange, Linc will return Scylla to the General. As an “added incentive”, he hands him a file labeled “Tombstone II”, setting up the next wrinkle in the plotline.