I Just Finished Deadwood

For years I’ve said that Deadwood was the best television show in the history of television and shows. Whether you were comparing it to The Wire, The Sopranos, whatever, it went unmatched in scope, in voice, in the sheer effing weight of the thing. The funny thing was, up until last night, I had never actually finished it.

I had almost finished it. Out of its three seasons, I had watched through episode five of season three, “A Two-Headed Beast.” I had seen Dan and Captain Turner take each other on in the camp’s thoroughfare. I had seen Captain Turner beat Dan within an inch of his life, and at the last minute, Dan pop the good captain’s eye out of its socket. And then I stopped watching. When it was originally airing, I didn’t have HBO. I had to drive over to my grandparents and watch episodes they had taped (shudder) for me. I was a huge fan of the show, but around that time life and school and getting married were more than enough to keep me busy, and the show got put on the back burner. I’m not proud of it.

In the seven years since the show was canceled, I tried rewatching the whole thing, always with the intent of finally finishing it. Several times, actually. For whatever reason, I never made it past the end of season two. And that was okay, because I could go back and watch what I hadn’t seen anytime. After a while that turned into my joke: As long as there were episodes I hadn’t seen, I always had new Deadwood to look forward to. But this summer, after making it about halfway through my long rewatch of The Sopranos (after hearing the news about James Gandolfini, may he rest in peace), something in me said, “It’s time,” and I broke out the Deadwood blu-rays. I toyed with the idea of not watching the finale, just so I could hold onto that “one more episode” idea, but ultimately decided against it. The fact that the show was taken from us before its time, much like John F. Kennedy, has been the source of much heartache for me. Despite that fact, I decided to meet the finale head on, although its impending arrival filled me with a sense of dread every time I crossed another episode off the list. Much like a car wreck I was watching in slow motion, or some other accident I was equally powerless to overcome.

And the verdict, now that it’s over? I’m more sure now than I ever was before that this is the single most important television show ever made. And not just because of the dialogue or the characters. Breaking Bad, Boardwalk Empire, any show can do those things. There was a larger story Deadwood was telling. A story about society and the way civilization rises out of the muck, and the roles that elements both good and bad play in that. That the show gave us actors like Timothy Olyphant and Ian McShane in the roles of a lifetime was really just icing on the cake.

Other shows that I’ve liked have, obviously, been canceled before. Dealing with those has always been easy enough. I go through a few weeks of, “That sucks,” but quickly get over it. Deadwood is the one that still hurts. And my biggest fear going into the final season was that, once all was said and done, the whole thing was going to feel like a story without an ending. It’s bad enough that I’ve had to listen to David Milch drop bits and pieces in interviews of what he planned to include in the show’s (presumably final) fourth season. It was bad enough knowing that we got so close before HBO f**ked up the endgame. But if what we did get was just going to sit there like a limp dishrag, well, that was really going to suck. But, after watching the finale, I have to say the thing works.

“No law at all in Deadwood.” That’s the premise of the show we hear in the pilot from Clell Watson shortly before he’s hanged. For two seasons, Swearengen and Bullock and everyone else had tried to legitimize this place that was founded outside of the United States. They’re successful, and are rewarded for their work with the arrival of George Hearst, whose relationship with the camp and its inhabitants is summed up by a conversation he has with Richardson in which he says, “This place displeases me. I’m taking measures to bring it down.” If the show had gone on another year or five or ten, there would have been others like Hearst, because he’s representative of power and the corruption that is part and parcel of the establishment. He’s a constant. And although it’s infuriating to see him ride out of camp having gotten absolutely everything he wanted from the place, that story couldn’t have ended any other way. The line we hear as we watch Swearengen clean one more bloodstain from the floor of his office — this one coming from the whore Jen — just after sending Johnny away: “He wants to hear something pretty,” might as well have been directed at us. We’d like a happier ending. We would have liked to have seen Hearst’s brains splattered against the wall, but that ending wouldn’t have been true to the show.

It’s a shame the show was canceled. Milch had before said that he had story enough to carry these characters through another twenty-five years, and I would have happily watched every one of them. But if I can’t have that, I’m glad that I at least got these three. And while I’ll put it away now, I’ll enjoy breaking it out a few years down the road and watching the whole thing all over again. Even though it’ll open up all the same wounds. Really sucks the show got canceled.

PS: I’ll just leave this here for the fans.

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Homeland Season 2 Check-In

Wow. To be honest I’m a little speechless after this most recent Homeland. I will try however to explain exactly why and offer my thoughts on these most recent couple of episodes and why they’ve been so interesting.

One of the great strengths of 24’s (Gordon and Gansa’s earlier work and very much the spiritual forerunner for Homeland) early seasons and it’s great weaknesses in later seasons was the sustained tension (in early seasons) and ridiculous padding (in later seasons). The required twists and turns to keep audiences and characters on their toes is a difficult balancing act, lean too far one way and you have mountain lions, too far the other and you have indecipherable and ultimately inconsequential leaps in character logic.

When, last week, Saul discovered the video of Brodie’s confession and showed it to Carrie I was worried simply because I assumed the next couple of episodes would be a series of ‘how did they lose the video?’ antics or variations thereon. Instead Homeland took the storyline by the balls and are heading into what could be very rich and compelling territory. What happens when a US senator has, let’s face it, pretty incontrovertible evidence of not only sympathizing with terrorists but having actively attempted to carry out an act of violent terrorism on US soil and against the very man who he now works for, the Vice-President of the United States.

This is the same rich territory I had hoped they would mine by having Brodie actually carry out his act of terrorism at the end of last season, what an amazing end to a series and a second season of the show dealing with the fall out from a second large scale terrorist attack would have made for unmissable television. I can only hope that the show follows through this time. That we aren’t subjected to a quick resolution in an episode or two with various stretching of the limits of plausibility to get there.

There have been some odd moments in the past 17 episodes from the show, I am hesitant to call them missteps as I’ve discovered what I find implausible and, frankly, ridiculous others embrace and explain for their own reasons and vice versa. However, the guts to throw a black hood over an United States senator and deliver our heroes such startlingly indefensible evidence against him seems to put the show runners in the clear, with no one in the end zone. They are the only ones who can fumble this now, I pray they don’t.


Homeland Returns

A couple of months ago James asked me to offer some thoughts on a little show called Newsroom. As an ardent Sorkin supporter I was only too happy to do so… unfortunately my schedule was less excited and it never eventuated. This past Sunday saw the return of Showtime’s Homeland, a show I had actually ‘speedwatched’ last year the day before the finale aired in order to find out what all the hype was about. I was not disappointed and while watching it in quick succession did reveal some troubles, they were clearly not big enough to stop the Emmy’s making it rain Homeland a couple of weeks ago where it won numerous awards including Best Drama beating out competition like Breaking Bad, Mad Men, Game of Thrones, Boardwalk Empire and Downton Abbey (the show apparently everyone loves).

For those who missed season one the show details the return home of prisoner of war, Nicholas Brody (Damian Lewis), who CIA agent, Carrie Mathison (Claire Danes), suspects of having been turned into an Al-Qaeda terrorist. It was the sort of show that would lull you into a false sense of security for 39 mins of a 40 min episode only to reveal some new bit of information and blow your mind. After a season of is he or isn’t he it was revealed he was in fact a terrorist intent on killing the Vice-President of the USA who had initiated a strike that killed a young boy he had befriended. The season ended with a faulty bomb, a perfectly timed phone call and an operation that would cure Carrie’s bi-polar but also make her forget vital information.

Season two kicks off with a time jump, Brody is now a Congressman, Carrie is teaching English to Arab immigrants and there is trouble in Israel. Carrie is pulled back in just when she thought she was out because an off the books informant of hers has vital information to the Israel situation and another possible attack but refuses to speak to anyone but Carrie. Brody is approached by a family friend of Abu Nazir who informs him that it’s not over yet and that he is still expected to use his new position to help that side.

It was a solid return for a show that I worried had perhaps shown its hand with the season finale last year and would have no where to go. A renewed focus on Mandy Patinkin’s Saul bodes well and will hopefully utilize a character that while hardly background in season one still deserved more screen time.

This is a show that could so easily have descended into cliched action movie tropes (ala 24’s later seasons) but manages to walk a very tight tightrope as it examines the US’s complicated relationship to terrorism. Stick with me over the course of the next couple of months. I’ll be dropping by every couple of episodes or so to discuss where we have come and where we might be headed.


Boardwalk Empire – “Bone For Tuna”

Every now and then, we have to dispense with the silent introspection and get down to the meat and potatoes of storytelling. Well, kind of, at least. “Bone For Tuna” still had a lot of Nucky staring off into the middle distance, but more on that in a bit. What tonight’s episode did primarily was show us the direction the story’s taking. And in that direction lies Gyp Rosetti, who’s fragile ego is going to cause all sorts of problems for Nucky going forward.

Gyp is still pissed that Nucky won’t sell him the rum he demanded in “Resolution,” so he’s decided that until he gets it, he’s going to shack up in Tabor Heights and block off any of Nucky’s other shipments that might be trying to get through. Nucky’s a man with obligations, so in the interest of business, he’s decided to sit down with the man, try and hammer something out so they can all get back to making money. And for a few minutes, it looks like it’s gonna work. Nucky agrees to sell Gyp the rum, with the stipulation that it’s the only shipment he’s going to get. And Gyp says he’ll back out of Tabor Heights. Great. Let’s all go get smashed and laid. Right? Wrong. The thing about Gyp is, he doesn’t just want Nucky’s rum, he wants a seat at the table. He wants to be treated like an equal when he’s with Nucky, Rothstein, and Torrio. So it’s not good enough that Nucky’s sell to him, Nucky also needs to be there to hand him the stuff, and to see him off. When he’s not, Gyp sees it as a horrible breech of protocol. And when Owen dares to tell him good luck – buona fortuna, or bone for tuna – in Italian no less, Gyp’s ready to raze Atlantic City, then salt the earth so that nothing grows there ever again. Ever.

So Gyp goes back to Tabor Heights, and not only is he staying, but he sets the poor fat bastard sheriff on fire, too. That’s just mean. And Nucky, who seems to be suffering from one perpetual migraine this season, will like it none too much.

Of course, even before the unfortunate incident between Gyp and Owen, we saw Gyp sweet talking Gillian, trying to learn a little more about her history with Nucky. So, he obviously has other shenanigans in the works, the whole “bone for tuna” thing just exacerbated them.

But Nucky didn’t steal the spotlight entirely this week. We also saw Van Alden narrowly avoid arrest. Then he got laid. And Meyer Lansky shot a guy.

But anyway, back to Nucky. While we got a lot of pure plot stuff tonight, we got a good look at Nucky’s lingering feelings over the Jimmy Darmody killing. A year and a half later and Nucky hasn’t shaken it completely off. That’s alright. Any excuse the show needs to get Nucky and Richard in a room together to discuss these issues of the soul is fine by me. When Nucky asks Richard if he still thinks about the people he’s killed, Richard tells him he already knows the answer to that. So you have to wonder if any of this is going to get any easier on Nucky. The show’s tagline this season is “You can’t be half a gangster.” But can you go from being a gangster to not being one? Or do we have a Tony Soprano situation where The Life is The Life, and Nucky’s just too set in his ways to ever get out of it?

It’s always been interesting to me to compare Nucky to Margaret in this way. Nucky likes the lifestyle – the money, the power – but it took him a while to really get his hands dirty. Margaret has no qualms about getting her own hands dirty, lying and stealing from those close to her – that was a nice bit of business with the priest at Nucky’s knighting – but she’s disdainful of the material possessions Nucky’s life has brought her. Anyway, think about that and what it means for their relationship (and their eventual reconciling, I’m betting), and we’ll talk more about it next week.

Until then, can we please get back to Al Capone? We can skip over Van Alden and his wife having sex. It’s cool.


Boardwalk Empire – “Spaghetti & Coffee”

I don’t know if this is what “Spaghetti and Coffee” set out to do, but I thought the episode had some interesting things to say about family relationships inside [PrisonMike]The Life[/PrisonMike].

In a perfect world, TV shows do the things they do because the storytelling demands it (it sucks, but Nucky had to kill Jimmy). But there are also more practical reasons making their own demands**. This week we saw Eli walk out of prison after the year and a half stretch Nucky told him he’d have to serve at the end of last season. And I imagine that was part of the reason season three picked up where it did. Shea Whigham’s a great actor, and the show wasn’t going to sideline him for an entire year.

**(You see this sort of thing crop up in other shows, too. Game of Thrones fans will probably have heard executive producers D.B. Weiss and David Benioff say that, going forward, their goal isn’t to adapt the books exactly as they’ve been published, but to take George R.R. Martin’s story and adapt it in a way that’s best suited to television. I’m sure a not insignificant part of that is because characters like Tyrion Lannister don’t appear in A Feast for Crows (the fourth book and theoretically the show’s fifth and sixth seasons) at all. And really, if Game of Thrones had to go an entire year or two without Tyrion, what’s the effing point?)

So Eli’s back, and maybe I’m wrong (probably), but I can see what’s happened between him and Nucky  playing a big role this season. Eli’s always been the man handling things behind the scenes not because he wanted to be, but because that was the roll Nucky forced on him. He’s tried breaking out of that mold. We saw him preparing his speech to the Celtic Dinner in “Nights at Ballygran,” trying maybe a little too hard to show everyone that he was smarter and more eloquent than they were all giving him credit for. That didn’t work out very well for him, and neither did his plans to go against Nucky. There, the men he was taking his orders from both ended up dead, and Eli ended up in prison. Now that he’s out, he’s got this do-it-or-don’t-do-it-I-don’t-really-care vibe about him. He knows he has to work under Mickey because he’s got a family to feed and no other prospects. The sting of that whole situation’s probably worn off somewhat in the past year and a half, at least enough so that he sees its necessity without getting too pissed off. Eli made a lot of enemies as sheriff, and he knows it’d be better to work inside Nucky’s sphere of influence than outside it. So he’s just gonna keep his head down, make some money. Not what he envisioned for himself, but he can deal with it.

What I think will really stick in his craw will be his standing with his family. We saw that, while he’s been away, his son’s been forced to drop out of school and take a job, which kind of puts him on funny footing as far as providing for everyone goes. He’s got some work to do to get back into that father figure role. Right now he’s more like the uncle living in the garage. All this can go one of two ways. He can quietly plot his revenge, or he can show everyone that he’s actually worth something, and play an important cog in Nucky’s machine. I’m betting on the latter. The Eli we saw tonight is quiet, wrestling with the decisions he’s made (or rather, the consequences of those decisions), but still focused on what he needs to do to get back up on his feet, as distasteful as that may be. This stands in contrast to the Eli we’ve known, full of bluster and mostly pissed at his brother.

On the other side of town, we see Nucky shacking up with Billie Kent. I was actually a little surprised with how predictable their relationship played out this week (especially after how big a surprise it was that they were together in the first place). Billie isn’t a one-man kind of girl, which is obviously what Nucky’s looking for. I think the contemplative looks he kept giving that ringing telephone were the biggest hint that this split between him and Margaret is only a temporary one.

Finally, we checked in with Chalky White, and saw that his daughter’s boyfriend wants to propose. I guess he’s into the whole self-punishment thing, because he knows what a whackadoodle family the White’s are, and all the crap he’d be opening himself up to once he became a member of the family. And apparently Chalky’s all too eager to take advantage of him, telling his daughter that having a doctor in the family’s going to help them. I don’t know what to make of the way the guy shook Chalky off to help the guy who had just cut off his face. Maybe he won’t be as easy to control as Chalky thinks. Considering how little we’re seeing some of these characters this season, I’m sure we’ll know how everything turns out five or six seasons from now.

Eli’s a family man and has always been a family man. Many of Nucky’s relationships have been superficial, but he’s realizing now that that’s just not cutting it anymore, and needs something deeper. And Chalky, while I’m sure he loves his family very much, isn’t afraid of using them for his own purposes. It’s easy to see the split between Nucky and Margaret and Eli blowing over, but I’m not sure where things with Chalky are headed. Although I can’t imagine the show spending any time on it and not intending to pay it off somewhere down the road.


Coming Soon: The 2012-2013 Television Season – ABC

It usually seems like each one of the four main networks has its own flavor. FOX is kind of edgy. CBS programs almost exclusively for 60-years olds, etc. That doesn’t really seem to apply to ABC. They’ve had lots of success with a whole range of shows. Whether it’s Lost, or Desperate Housewives, or Once Upon A Time, it seems like this is the network that’s got a little something for everyone. And this year’s Fall lineup is much the same, with a wide enough selection that you’ll probably find something here you’ll like. Unless last year’s Charlie’s Angels remake left such a bad taste in your mouth that you’ve given up on the network for good. Which is totally possible.

Zero Hour

Zero Hour is one part Indiana Jones, two parts DaVinci Code, a pinch of The Exorcist, and Doctor Greene from ER. We saw a ton of shows like this right after Lost became such a huge hit. And when I say a ton, I mean like a metric shitload. Networks could not wait for Fall to roll around so they could strap us into our Lay-Z-Boys, pour that gruel in our mouths and massage it down our throats. But the numbers have tapered off these past couple of years. How Zero Hour will do is anyone’s guess, although I have to say that I think the cards are stacked against it, regardless of how good it is (or isn’t). I think shows like Lost and Battlestar Galactica have made us incredibly impatient when it comes to TV. There are very few shows whose mysteries we’re willing to wait months (or in some cases, years) to discover the answers to. With a show like Zero Hour, we probably wouldn’t be waiting a year or more between seasons, but if the show doesn’t grab us right at the start, we’re not going to stick with it. Plus, it’s also possible the show’s just bitten off more than it can reasonably chew. I mean, there’s an argument to be made that Lost did the same thing. But that show’s mysteries were built up and added to over years. Look at everything we’re being asked to keep track of in Zero Hour. And that’s just the first episode.

Red Widow

Red Widow is based on a crime drama out of Holland, which isn’t exactly Scandinavia, but is still another notch on the belt of European television’s conquest of America. So, what’s it about? Well, Radha Mitchell plays a woman whose husband is killed by the mob. To protect her family, she has to go to work for the people who murdered her husband. Doing what, exactly? Well, we don’t know. The trailer is kind of ambiguous. In any case, I find it’s always a smart move to be weary of shows on network television that involve the mafia or organized crime. Can you guys imagine how bad The Sopranos would have been if FOX had ever taken it to series? That’s not a world I would have wanted to live in. We’ll have to wait until next year to see how this one pans out.

Nashville

Although I doubt Nashville is a show I’m going to be tuning in to week after week, I think it could turn out pretty good. Just like Lost and all the serialized dramas that came after it, there’s a big rush to capitalize off of Glee’s success, so I’m glad the people who are making these shows are finding other ways to do the music rather than just have their characters spontaneously burst into song. As for the people in it, I hate Hayden Panettiere, and I don’t know if my pure and undying love and devotion to Connie Britton is enough to overcome that. I guess I have a lot of pondering to do. Anyway, the music stuff looks interesting, but it’s going to be a delicate balancing act with Powers Boothe (the world’s most gravelly voice!) and the whole political angle. It even seemed like it was tacked on to the trailer, so I have no idea how the show’s going to handle it.

Malibu Country

What is this, 1994? I expected to see ads for Malibu Country in between episodes of Home Improvement and Boy Meets World. Listen, I’ll be the first one to say that television is a wide, open space, and that there’s room for all sorts of shows out there.  BUT… I firmly believe that there are some shows that we as a culture have just moved beyond. There’s a reason you don’t see many shows like Family Matters anymore. And while the multi-cam sitcom may be fighting on (look at CBS as Custer’s Last Stand), the tone, that “hey mom and dad, let’s sit down at the end of 30 minutes and discuss what we learned this week” schmaltz that was a mainstay of 90s television is all but dead.

But let’s not pretend that Malibu Country is a good show that’s just falling victim to a pessimistic audience. The show is truly horrible. The acting is bad. The writing is worse. Lily Tomlin (really, how did that happen?) looks like every scene is a struggle between getting through her lines or burning the place down. All I can say is keep calm and carry on. We’ll have to endure a few weeks of this before it’s canceled.

Last Resort

I’m an optimist as heart. I want network television to swing for the fences and tell big stories. It’s just that I’ve been burned so many times before that my natural inclination is to approach shows like Last Resort with the same caution a divorced 40-year old might approach that guy in the bar who seems really nice and wears an expensive watch, but I don’t know, probably reads fanfiction. I’m optimistic, but I’m cautious. I have to be. Last Resort is about the crew of a submarine that refuses to fire nuclear missiles on Pakistan, and after refusing is fired on by the US government. After barely escaping, the crew sets up shop on the fictional island of Sainte Marina — which kind of begs the question why they weren’t ordered to fire on a fictional Middle Eastern country — and declares itself a sovereign nation. So, pretty heavy stuff. My concern is that the network doesn’t really have the brass to make this as dark as it should be. But, it does star Andre Braugher, and that guy doesn’t just look at you, he looks in you, so the show just might be able to pull things off. This is probably the show I’m most excited about this Fall.

666 Park Avenue

Interesting bit of trivia about this show: In it, Terry O’Quinn is actually playing John Locke. He always plays John Locke. Bet you didn’t know that. Anyway, I guess it just wouldn’t be ABC if they didn’t throw into something with some supernatural/otherworldly angle into their Fall lineup. My biggest gripe about show’s like this is how long can it go on before people get sick of it? Do Robert Buckley and Mercedes Masohn just keep discovering freaky s**t about the building every week? Are they going to discover the building’s dark secret and we watch season after season as they try to escape? There’s a good story in here somewhere, just not sure it’s one that lasts six or seven seasons.

Stay tuned. Next up is FOX.


Boardwalk Empire – “Resolution”

I’m not sure where a show like Boardwalk Empire ends, as compared to a show like Breaking Bad. It isn’t a show that has a definitive “end,” so unlike Breaking Bad, which will probably end with Walt’s death (we’re all thinking it), Boardwalk allows us to drift in and out of these characters’ lives, months or even years down the road.

“Resolution” picks up on New Year’s Eve 1922, a year and a half after the events of season two and exactly three years after the series premiere. Nucky seems to have taken Jimmy’s admonition that “you can’t be half a gangster” to heart, and when we meet him he’s in an empty apartment building with Mickey Doyle and Manny Horvitz, questioning a thief who stole alcohol from one of their warehouses. After calming the guy down and getting him to give over the name of his wheelman, Nucky tells Manny to put a bullet in the guy’s head. So maybe Nucky hasn’t completely balls-to-the-wall with the whole gangster thing. But at least he’s dropped the whole “I’m a businessman” pretense.

But whenever we see Nucky and Margaret alone, it seems they’ve dropped one charade for another. As you might have suspected, Nucky’s still pretty pissed about all that land Margaret handed over to the church at the end of last season. And as soon as the last guest has left their New Year’s party he’s in her face, throwing the whole thing in her face again (like married couples do). At the end of the episode we see that their relationship has gotten much worse than heated arguments, with Nucky sleeping at the Ritz while Margaret stays at home. We also see that Nucky’s taken a new concubine, Billie Kent, who’s a friend of Eddie Cantor. Billie and Eddie perform at the Thompson’s New Year’s bash, but it’s not until afterwards that we discover how she probably got the gig.

So not an ideal situation for Margaret. But it’s not like she’s sitting at home all day every day, kneading her hands and furrowing her brow. She’s settled into her role as a philanthropist, touring the hospital the church used the land for. Although we do see her and half the show’s characters following the story of fictional aviatrix Carrie Duncan, the first woman to fly nonstop across the continental US. At the episode’s end we see Margaret standing on the beach, one of several who have come out to watch Duncan fly overhead. The symbolism is about as on-the-head as you can get. Duncan is a woman who’s breaking barriers in a way Margaret can’t.

Outside of Nucky and Margaret’s not-marriage, several other things have changed, and I enjoyed the way the show didn’t try and explain them all, choosing instead to let viewers catch up and figure things out on their own. We’re introduced to Gyp Rosetti, one of the new season’s main antagonists. In some of the show’s promo material I heard Rosetti referred to as someone who can’t take a joke – which is kind of funny considering that’s what he accuses everyone else of – and the writers definitely set that up in the very beginning. When Rosetti’s car gets a flat tire, a good Samaritan stops to offer some help, saying that he’s got some “three-in-one” in his car. When Rosetti asks what that is, the guy says, “Oil. What else would it be?” So Rosetti does what any reasonable person would do and beats him to death with a tire iron. It’s in these over-the-top meltdowns that Rosetti really reveals who he is. At the New Year’s party, when Nucky announces to his gathered underworld guests that from now on he’ll only be selling liquor to Arnold Rothstein, and not Rosetti, he flips, going around the room and insulting everyone who may have been sympathetic to him or maybe offered some help.

Across town, we see Gillian – now the madame of a high-class bordello – carrying on as if life were nothing but rainbows and sunshine. There’s always been something off-putting about Gillian, and that wasn’t helped last season when we discovered just how far her, ahem, relationship with Jimmy went , but this whole thing with Tommy and trying to convince him that she’s his real mother just feels dirty to me. Then there was her veiled threat to Richard after he tried reminding Tommy about who his parents really were. So, I guess we can chalk him going out and shooting Manny’s face off up to pent-up frustration. But you have to ask yourself, if Richard killed Manny because of Angela, can Nucky be far behind?

We also check in with Van Alden, living just outside Chicago and making his living as a door-to-door iron salesman. It seems that, in the past year and a half, Van Alden’s married his German au pair and the two have had another child. You’d wonder how Nelson could possibly be able to fit into the show’s story this season until you see him cross paths with Al Capone, who’s visiting a flower shop owner who earlier in the episode was making fun of Capone’s deaf son. In Boardwalk’s first episode, Nelson referred to being a Prohibition agent was “godly work,” and I imagine he’ll be drawn back into the fight, whether or not he has a badge backing him up.

I’ve read a few articles lately praising Boardwalk Empire for its acting, writing, set design, and everything else, but lamenting the fact that it doesn’t really seem to be about anything. I have to say I disagree, and partially blame that perception on the endless comparison between Boardwalk and that other HBO crime drama, The Sopranos. While The Sopranos dealt often with more existential issues (watch the show’s last scene between Tony and Uncle Junior to see what I’m talking about), Boardwalk Empire deals with the circumstances that led to creation of Tony’s world. While I see The Sopranos as an analytical drama, I see Boardwalk as more structural. Neither show fits perfectly into those definitions, there’s a lot of overlap between the two, but both are as good as the other. I admit that I haven’t sat down to watch The Sopranos since it went off the air in 2007, so I may go back and realize I’m full of crap, but right now I consider Boardwalk Empire to be one of the best shows on TV. And there are times when I enjoy it even more than I do Breaking Bad. I know. I’m sorry.

In any case, Boardwalk Empire seems to like Boardwalk Empire. The show knows what it is, and has I’d say from the very beginning. It knows what it does well and this feels like a season beginning in a place that’s very sure of itself. And if tonight’s premiere was any indication it’s going to be a great year for the show.


Coming Soon: The 2012-2013 Television Season – NBC

NBC’s mad as hell, and they’re not gonna take it anymore.

Gone are the days of Seinfeld and Friends and the network’s dominance in the ratings wars. For years the question hasn’t been whether or not NBC would come in behind the other networks, only by how far. Yet oddly enough, in a few cases, those horrible ratings have kind of worked in the audience’s favor. Shows like 30 Rock, Parks & Recreation, and Community probably wouldn’t have lasted as long as they have on another network. NBC’s been forced to keep them around because what the hell would they have replaced them with?

Enter Fall 2012. NBC chose to give several of its returning shows reduced orders (30 Rock and Community both got 13-episode pickups. Parenthood got fifteen) while greenlighting a veritable gaggle of new shows, mostly comedies. The thinking behind this is, throw enough up on the wall and something’s got to stick, right? Well, we’ll let you be the judge.

You should know most of these shows already. If you caught any one commercial break during the Olympics you had them all shoved down your throat. And in a few weeks we’ll see how all that advertising paid off.

Animal Practice

Uhhhggggg. Really? I mean, NBC has come out with some clunkers in the past, but they gave us 30 Rock! For that reason alone I’d give anything they set in front of me a shot. And what do they squander that goodwill on? A show starring the monkey from Community. Alright, let’s get real folks. I mean, shows like these are easy to make fun of, but there are legitimate reasons why you should hate them. One is that, as the promos have made clear, the show is really planning on getting some mileage out of that monkey. This is setting a dangerous precedent in a television landscape where the rule for networks like NBC is to make a show with as broad appeal as possible. Have we completely forgotten the last 30 years? We left movies like Turner & Hooch, Every Which Way But Loose, and Air Bud? We left those behind for a reason. Another reason is Betsy Sodaro’s character, the nurse Angela. There was something about that joke you’ve seen in the promos where she gets up and starts singing, “Dancing! Dancing like a human!” that just kind of made my soul sad. We should be reaching a little farther for our jokes, and this show just doesn’t. Expect it to be renewed for nine seasons.

Chicago Fire

My thoughts on Chicago Fire are a little split. What I worry about is that network television is so dependent on the lawyer/cop/doctor trifecta, that it has trouble breaking out of that mold when it’s presented with a show that, while still tangentially related to that world, has a chance to break out and do something different. We see Merle Dandridge as the no-nonsense chief setting her guys straight. And that aspect of the whole thing has a very well-tread feel to it. But, a fire department is not a police department, so there’s an opportunity to explore some new things, or things we don’t see very often on TV, in any case. One thing the show definitely has going for it is Eamonn Walker, who you may remember as Kareem Said on Oz. Walker’s the kind of actor who elevates everything around him, regardless of whether or not the show is great. So I’m interested to see what he does here.

Go On

Go On is NBC’s way of telling us that Matthew Perry’s going to be a star, and we’re going to effing like it, because the universe will be damned if Matt LeBlanc is getting more steady work. As you can tell from the promo above, NBC’s trying to infuse Go On with a hefty dose of emotion to show us all that, even though he puts up a tough front, Matt Perry is still a REAL GUY with REAL FEELINGS. The problem is, Matt Perry has been a more or less regular guest in our living rooms for almost two decades, and we know what a smug bastard he can be. Right now, Go On is struggling to find that balance between emotion and waaacky comedy, and I give it maybe a little better than 50/50 odds that it’ll figure it out. The show does co-star Brett Gelman and Seth Morris, which fans of Scott Aukerman’s Comedy Bang Bang podcast (which I can’t recommend enough) will love. Watch for them if nothing else.

Guys With Kids

You know, Guys With Kids is… Wait. Guys With Kids is kind of funny… The thing about Guys With Kids is… Forget it. I can’t defend this show.

Maybe you guys saw the Emmys a couple of years back when Howie Mandel, Jeff Probst and some other reality TV hosts came out on stage and chuckled for three hours over how they hadn’t prepared any material. It was a train wreck. Guys With Kids is going to be the same thing, except you’ll have Anthony Anderson, Zach Cregger, and Jesse Bradford slapping each other on the back, holding up their baby bjorns and saying, “Can you imagine us at the club, with these, FOR SIX SEASONS?!?” This show will not last, and honestly, I’ll be surprised if it isn’t the first one canceled. You guys saw Outsourced, right? The one people called racist? That was a better show than this.

The New Normal

The New Normal comes to us from the mind of Ryan Murphy, the creator of Glee and American Horror Story. So right off the bat you know the show’s going to be all over the place. What’s funny to me is that, as much as this show purports to be about everything that is “different” about the typical American family – or what was different before but is now the “new normal” – the characters are the exact same ones we’ve been seeing on TV for years now. Georgia King is the heart of the show, because she’s blonde and has nice skin. Andrew Rannells is the flamboyant gay guy. Bebe Wood is Lisa Simpson, a young girl much smarter (she’s got GLASSES!) than those around her and so hopelessly out of place. And Ellen Barkin is the borderline racist grandma who gets in all the digs at Democrats and gays (I have this perpetual picture in my head of Ellen Barkin, injecting collagen into her lips and pouring over legends of Juan Ponce de Leon’s Fountain of Youth).

Ryan Murphy seems to be the new JJ Abrams. And I expect that a year or two from now, a majority of the shows on television will be touted as being “created by” or “from the mind of” Ryan Murphy. But, while JJ Abrams gave the world Alias, Lost, and Fringe before Undercovers and Alcatraz, Ryan Murphy looks to have peaked after the first season of Glee.

Revolution

Did you guys like The Event? Hopefully your favorite part was when it got cancelled after its first season, because I don’t see Revolution turning out any other way. The show takes place in a DYSTOPIAN future, fifteen years after all electronic devices have stopped working for some reason. You shouldn’t spend too much time trying to decipher the whys and wherefores of the show. Just remember that everyone’s really hot, they’re able to keep their clothes clean for some reason, and the main chick fights with arrows and stuff, because The Hunger Games. We’re sorry, Giancarlo Esposito. You deserve better.

1600 Penn

I’m actually really looking forward to this one, if for no other reason than it’s the only show this Fall that I’ve actually laughed out loud (a “LOL,” for the internet-savvy) at. I know, the premise is a little hokey. “They’re just a normal family… LIVING IN THE WHITE HOUSE!” But I have seen all five seasons of Highway to Heaven, so I guess I can’t complain. You guys will of course recognize Bill Pullman as the President of the United States (still waiting on confirmation if 1600 Penn is a direct continuation of Independence Day) and Jenna Elfman as the First Lady (makes sense, since Mary McDonnell died in ID4), but it’s probably Josh Gad who you’ll get most excited for. You may have seen Gad during his short run on The Daily Show, but you probably know him now that The Book of Mormon is a thing now. Anyway, aside from the Hannibal Lecter show NBC is premiering early next year, 1600 Penn gets my highest marks.

Coming up next is ABC.


Breaking Bad – “Gliding Over All”

Listen closely. Do you hear that? It’s the sound of millions of Breaking Bad fans sobbing into their pillows at the realization that they’ll have to wait ten months before the show returns to wrap up its fifth season, or what will undoubtedly be referred to as Season 5, pt. 2 (*shudder*) once the Blu-rays are released.

No fun, but it is what it is. So now we’ll settle in and spend the next year wondering what exactly we’re going to see when the show comes back. And wonder who else will be left dead once all is said and done.

And it could be anyone. It’s shocking how unshocking it’s become to see people die on this show, and now that things are wrapping up, there isn’t much to hold the writers back. And considering where we saw Walt at the beginning of this season – don’t forget the flashforward where he was getting ready to go all Scarface on somebody – I wouldn’t be surprised if these next eight episodes are the bloodiest yet.

And if we’re all going in on the “Who Goes First” pool, I want to go ahead and reserve Hank now for my top spot. “But wait,” you say. “Would Walt really kill his brother-in-law?” I think he would. I’m not saying he wouldn’t feel bad about it. I think he’d cry, maybe sit by his pool for a while and stare off into the middle distance. But in the end he’d get that hard look in his eyes and say that it had to be done. In this episode alone, Walt had all of Mike’s guys taken care of, and was even ready to get rid of Lydia once she gave Walt their names. And every time, Walt’s been able to justify it because “there was no other way.” So, yes. I think that if Walt saw Hank as the only thing standing between him and freedom, he’d definitely kill him.

But even in light of that, I found that I was still rooting for Walt to win. As I watched Hank taking a dump (where some of the best work gets done, by the way), grab Walt’s copy of Leaves of Grass and read Gale’s inscription to him inside, I realized that I didn’t want him to catch Walt. That despite all the lives Walt had ruined, just so long as he could make a name for himself as a meth dealer, no matter how many friends he lost, or people he left dead and bloodied along the way, just so long as he could make a name for himself as a meth dealer, no matter how many friends he lost, or people he left dead and bloodied along the way… I still wanted to give him a pass. Why is that? I’ve rooted for anti-heroes in the past. Tony Soprano, for one (who, by all measures is much worse than Walter White). Al Swearengen. Newt Gingrich. But this season I had come to see Walt as someone who was beyond redemption. And the first half of “Gliding Over All” didn’t exactly do much to dispel that. The beautifully shot montage of all those guys in prison getting shanked to death and set on fire (and after watching Oz, I’m convinced that prison is the scariest place on the entire planet) showed Walt at his drug-kingpinniest (whenever someone makes a phone call and says only, “it’s done,” are they ever referring to something good, like “I just delivered the flowers”?). But we also caught a glimpse of Walt the husband and father, and Walt the guy who isn’t constantly being a dick to Jesse.

Walt had told Jesse that he wasn’t in the meth-cooking business or the money-making business. He was in the empire business, which was kind of a distinction without a difference. Walt was out to “build an empire” because of the money he felt he was cheated out of when he left Grey Matter, the company he co-founded with Elliot and Gretchen. So when Skyler comes home and asks Walt to take a ride with her, then shows him the EFFING GIGANTIC pile of money he’s put together and tells him it’s more than they can spend in ten lifetimes, something clicks and thoughts of empire go right out of Walt’s head. This money is what he’s worked for. Whether he lives or dies, he’s provided for his family, so when Skyler asks him to walk away from the meth business, he sees that and is able to say yes.

And it’s like a huge weight lifts off his shoulders. He brings Jesse his share of the money (which doesn’t look like very much when compared to what we saw) and the two share a few awkward moments reminiscing about old times, when they were just two crazy kids cooking bootleg meth, living on a hope and a prayer. Walt’s too proud to say he’s sorry, but he was probably sorry for the way he treated him. Although if the choice were between hearing someone say they were sorry or giving me five million dollars, I’d probably choose the cash (but that’s just me). After visiting Jesse, we see Walt eating dinner on the back porch, with Skyler, Hank, and Marie, the whole thing a very different scene from their dinner just a few weeks ago. Walt was happy! He and Skyler smiled at each other! The future was looking good, and it looks like it’s all going to be shot to hell because Hank’s legs may be getting better, but his sphincter’s shutter speed still has a way to go.

I thought this was a good place to end the (half) season. Emotionally, I responded to it, and whether that response is something I like or dislike, it’s all I can really ask from good television. My only concern is that the show is just looking for places to go in its last few episodes. Walt hooking up with Gus, then moving against him all felt very organic. It felt like that was where the story was supposed to go. Much of what’s been introduced this season – Landry, Landry’s uncle, setting part of the business up in the Czech Republic – has seemed like two or three seasons condensed into four or five episodes. We’ve spent four years lifting Walt up, and only one tearing him down. It’s felt different from what’s come before, and I just hope it feels like one piece once the dust’s settled. Then again, the writers have yet to disappoint me, so maybe I should just shut up about it. Okay. What was I talking about? Right. Hank.

Heisenberg may be Hank’s white whale, so there isn’t much question whether or not he’ll go after Walt if he truly believes he’s the man who killed Gus Fring. And like I said, I have no doubt Walt will look to head him off if he thinks Hank’s onto him. So maybe Walt’s promise to Skyler wasn’t all it seemed. It could be that a year from now, we’ll see that Walt was never really able to walk away.

In the meantime, Boardwalk Empire’s third season begins Sunday, September 16th.


True Blood – “Save Yourself”

If Alcide Herveaux – not Joe Manganiello, but Alcide Herveaux – knows what nihilism means, I’ll drink Lilith’s blood.

The problem with smart writers on a show about dumb people is that they sometimes can’t resist proving to the audience that they’re smart.

But that’s okay. It’s all okay. Because this is a television show. About vampires. And werewolves. And fairies. And were-panthers. And shape-shifters. Remember that.

It’s ridiculous. And it’s awesome.

Detractors, say what you will about the outlandish storylines. The inclusion of outlandish storylines has been a de facto part of the series since season two… or season one, depending on just how outlandish you consider vampires. But there is no show (that I’m watching) willing to go all the way to make it exciting the way this show is.  There is no dipping your toe into the water with True Blood – there is only a face-first plant into the deep end. We might’ve been able to anticipate Russell’s demise by the end of the episode… but in the cold open? No way. That is why This. Show. Kicks. Ass.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m devastated to see Russell go, but I’m a sucker for storylines that make bold moves without pretense or excess build-up, so farewell Russell, you crazy German/Southern bastard. I guess now all we have to look forward to is the reaction of Gay Vampire-American Reverend Steve Newlin, who seems to be the only non-Bill member of the Authority remaining.

Yes, this finale was a bloodbath – in more ways than one. Sam causing the Texas chancellor to explode was certainly an inventive way to kill her off… and probably one of the more disgusting things I’ve ever seen.

This was an episode of extremes, come to think of it, which, I suppose, is what a season finale should be. Aside from that particularly graphic death, the entire fairy birth scene was sublimely bizarre, and Nora and Eric flying around the Authority chamber and hacking all the guards to death was just awful.

So aside from the future of Steve Newlin, we have a few other questions to ponder during the hiatus. Like, what’s the deal with Warlo? What’s going on with Jason’s visions of his parents? How is Sheriff Bellefleur going to handle his new brood? And will he have any help from Holly? Also, how much bleach do I have to drink and/or pour into my eyes to forget that the writers are forcing a Tara/Pam relationship on us? I can’t even speak of it; it’s so horrible.

Okay, maybe I can speak of it a little. I mean, what the hell does Rutina Wesley have on Alan Ball? Or is she just THAT wonderful a person that they can’t bear to let her go? Because it seems so transparent to me that they’re desperately trying to hold on to one of the show’s most despised characters by changing her role in the show completely and pairing her up with one of the shows most beloved characters. Horrible.

Okay, on to more pleasant topics, like the Pam love interest I DO approve of – how sweet was the small moment between her and Eric as Pam got onto the elevator? I loved it. There were also some really great individual scenes that were interesting as standalones regardless of how they moved the plot, and come to think of it, they both have to do with shifters. The first was when Bill addressed the troops about the shifter breach; it gave us really cool insight into Bill’s leadership and power and threat response. And of course, when Luna shifted into Gay Vampire-American Reverend Steve Newlin, that was just freaking hilarious. I like it when a show really goes all out to acknowledge and explore all of the potential applications of a gimmick – like shape-shifting. True Blood is not always great about it (e.g. Sookie’s mind reading), but these two scenes were a good example of showing how this particular gimmick could really be exploited in this particular universe.

So, let’s address the giant blood-dripping elephant in the room. Bill, to the surprise of no one, is officially a sociopath and double-crossed Salome, leading to pretty gnarly death. He then drank Lilith’s blood, died and was “reborn” as what the interwebs has termed “Bilith.”

It appears Bill may be our big bad next season, so we have another 12 episodes or so to figure out the form his eventual redemption will take. Or maybe he isn’t redeemed. After all, we got a pretty solid reason for him embracing Lilith’s teachings – he’s always felt alienated by the inherent “evil” of his existence, and Lilith’s dogma absolves him of that evil and calls it natural and right and even holy. So, perhaps this is the writers’ way of getting rid of Bill and recasting the main love interest with fan favorite Eric. I can’t think of a show that’s set up one couple only to successfully transitioned to another. Remember when Friends tried to make Joey and Rachel happen? In the end, though, it was back to Ross and Rachel. But hey, if any show can do it, True Blood can.


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