Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Tedding Up the Ending : Thoughts on the "How I Met Your Mother" Series Finale

Last night was the series finale of How I Met Your Mother. Since HIMYM was one of the first TV shows I ever blogged about back on CoIM, I thought it fitting to blog about my thoughts on the highly divisive finale. 

On the one hand, I really enjoyed the bulk of the episode.  I'm glad they didn't drag out the wedding reception through the whole episode, ending with Ted meeting The Mother* at the last minute. I admit I got a little teary-eyed** during his initial good-bye to the gang, even as I knew it wouldn't stick. I liked getting to see The Mother interact with the whole group.  I appreciated the acknowledgment that not all marriages last, and that it is sometimes difficult to watch your friends experience joys that have passed you by. I bought into the idea that the only thing that could change Barney on a fundamental level was becoming a father.  And while it was a little on the nose, the fact that Ted and The Mother immediately discussed their many close encounters was a nice way of selling their acceptance of their joined destiny.

On the other hand . . . if they had cut as soon as Ted finished telling the story to the kids, I would have been happy.  I mean, I would have been even happier if they hadn't killed The Mother off, but still, her death would have been a good enough reason for him to be sharing the story with the kids.  And, its not like there hadn't been hints dropped here and there about her not being around, so I was prepared for it.  I wasn't prepared for a return to the Ted/Robin relationship, which we had just spent a good portion of the season putting to bed for the umpteenth time.  I've grown so frustrated with the resurgence of that pairing over the course of the series when we knew she wasn't destined to be The Mother, that going back to that well one last time was like a punch in the gut.

But the gripping hand is this:  in context of the series as a whole, it makes sense.  I may not like it, or agree with it, but I have to admit that the show-runners stuck to their initial game-plan.  After all, those scenes with the kids calling Ted on his BS and saying that the story was obviously about how he loves Robin?  They were filmed during the very first season.  That means that from the very beginning, the creators knew that The Mother was dead, and that Ted was just trying to work himself up to pursue the other love of his life.  With that in mind, the never-ending Ted/Robin pair-off/break-up/pair-off cycle makes more sense.  In their minds, Ted/Robin was the true end-game, so that's what they wrote towards. Maybe if the show had bowed out gracefully a few years earlier, it wouldn't have rubbed so many people the wrong way; or, maybe we always would have felt cheated at the fact that a show that was ostensibly about Ted meeting one woman was actually about him meeting another. It's really hard to say.  I suppose it boils down to whether you believe that people can have more than one love-of-their-life, and whether you blame the unreliable premise of the unreliable narrator on the character or his creators.

Still, whatever you felt about it, you have to admit:  choosing the douchiest way possible to get his kids' permission to move on is a total Ted move.

*Yes, I know they revealed her name to be Tracy at the end, but really, everyone knows her as The Mother,
**It's been quite a week for emotional TV for me:  a major death and its fallout on The Good Wife, some surprisingly touching moments from Michone and Rick on the finale of Walking Dead, a major character in critical condition on Justified . . . and it's not even Sweeps yet!.  

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Countdown to Halloween Day 31 -- Halloween Episode Extraveganza

For my last night of Halloween themed reviews, I thought I'd cover the spate of Halloween themed sitcom episodes that have aired over the past weekAs a bonus, I'll also be mentioning my favorite costume of each episode.

The Venture Bros -- It was good to have the Ventures back on TV, even if for just one night; ready for the new season to start.  While not the show's strongest effort, it did feature a strange appliance faced Cennobite-esque creature intoning "Submit to my pleasure toast!" and you just can't beat that. Best costume: Pete White as "Thinner Whiter Duke"

Ben and Kate -- This has proven to be my favorite new sitcom of the year, and the Halloween episode highlights all of the show's strengths:  Ben and Tommy acting goofy, Kate somehow making being a total control freak seem totally cut, and plenty of BJ/Maddy interaction.  Highlight was Ben realizing that his past behavior of blowing in and out of town made him an "emotional carny"; I hope that signals more plots where Tommy acts as more than just Ben's yes-man.  I also hope that Geoff Stults will be around for a while as Kate's new potential love interest. Best costume of the episode:  Kate as "Babe Ruth Bader Ginsburg"

The New Girl -- Before I watched this episode, I'd gotten a text from TopGun saying it was so funny, he had saved it on his DVR to watch later.  About 1/3 of the way through, I was thinking he had way oversold it.  Then we had Schmidt's repeated failed attempts at headbutting, and I began to rethink my assessment.  And then Nick entered the haunted house, and I laughed nonstop for several minutes; Nick's constant freakout was comedy gold.  Best costume:  Jess as "Zombie Woodie Allen"

The Middle -- Very little of the episode was actually Halloween themed, with the bulk of the plot revolving around Sue's attempts to learn how to drive and Axel's surprising excitement about voting, but the one Halloween themed plot -- Brick consuming monster amounts of sugar that made him act normal -- was the highlight of the episode, especially when he came down. Best costume: Frankie as "Raggedy Mouse"

Modern Family -- Overall, much inferior to the previous Halloween episode about the Dunphy's over-the-top Halloween traditions, but the episode was still worth it for the visual gag of Manny getting opposing advice from kids in angel and devil costumes.  Best costume: Luke as the aforementioned devil.

Don't Trust the B---- in Apt. 23 -- I'm probably the only person who was disappointed that the plot point of James van der Beek hating the scary side of Halloween didn't result in June remarking that it was ironic since Dawson loved scaring people.  That irrational quibble aside, I loved this episode: James's positivity party was inspired, and the twists in Chloe's romance were both unexpected and hilarious.  Best costume: June as "female hobbit" because of the thematic resonance . . . and hairy feet, because if we're not being authentic, why are we even here?!?!?!?!

Suburgatory -- Normally I'm not bothered by how bizarre the people of Chatswin are, but the angry mob accusing the feminist of being a witch felt like it was stretching the premise a bit too much.  Best costume:  a group shout out to Tess and crew as Mystery Inc.

The Big Bang Theory -- I'll admit I was kind of distracted during this episode, and since a DVR log-jam forced me to watch it live, I wasn't able to rewind to catch any of the bits I missed.  Best costume: Bernadette as Smurfette.

Raising Hope -- "That is the definition of trickerish!"  Burt continues to be one of my favorite characters on TV. Best costume: Barney as "Buy in Bulk Hulk"

The Mindy Project -- Although I've enjoyed this series more than I'd expected to, this was probably the weakest episode so far, although I did enjoy Mindy's costume montage.  Best costume: Mindy's "Li'l Wayne on the Prarie"

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Countdown to Halloween Day 30 -- Remake Done Right: A Review of "Fright Night (2011)"

Since the original 1985 version of Fright Night has been one of my favorite horror movies since I was in elementary school, I was nervous about the 2011 remake, despite a solid cast (Anton Yelchin, Colin Farrell, David Tennant, Toni Collette) and a script from former Buffy scribe Marti Noxon. But as I mentioned in my list of horror remakes that justified their own existence, it managed to be just as enjoyable as the original.

The 2011 shares the same general plot as the original:  high schooler Charley Brewster discovers that his neighbor Jerry is a vampire.  Charley tries to enlist help from entertainer/occult expert Peter Vincent, but Vincent turns out to have feet of clay.  Vampire Jerry turns Charley's friend "Evil" Ed and sends him after Charley, and then abducts Charley's girlfriend in order to turn her into his bride, forcing Charley to confront Jerry in his own lair. 

But within this plot, the filmmakers made numerous tweaks to keep it from feeling like a rehash.  Perhaps the most significant was the reimagining of Peter Vincent from an over the hill horror show host who doesn't really believe in what he's selling into a David Blaine-esque Las Vegas stage magician with a massive collection of occult items; in the remake, Vincent isn't so much a charlatan as he is a coward, albeit with good reason.  The remake also propels the plot forward more quickly than the original did, having "Evil" and Charley be more proactive in their hunt, and Jerry much less patient in maintaining his charade. All of these changes help bring them film into the 21st Century; it feels very much like a modern film, and not an 80s throwback.  Throw in some witty dialogue and some well constructed action scenes, and you have a remake that pays homage to the original but still manages to blaze its own trail.  I loved the 2011 Fright Night both times I've watched it, and would recommend it readily to anyone with a taste for a fun and funny vampire action flick.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Countdown to Halloween day 29 -- A Review of SyFY's "Face-Off"

I've mentioned before that I have a great love of Reality TV competitions based on artistic skills. One of my favorites is the SyFy Network's special-effects based show, Face-Off. It often embodies the best parts of the genre without the more troubling and annoying aspects.

The contestants on Face-Off are all professionals in the movie make-up business, mostly specializing in Horror and Science-Fiction effects. Each week the contestants are given a theme that they must build an original make-up around, ranging from straightforward (vampires) to the unusual (zombified Alice in Wonderland characters).  While there is a strong horror bias to the show's set-up, there are frequently challenges that veer off into less terrifying areas, such as super-heroes; however, if given the opportunity, the contestants tend to bring everything back to horror if they can.

The show has a large number of positive attributes. First of all, the sheer creativity evidenced by the contestants each week is pretty amazing, and provides lots of intriguing visuals. Secondly, the judging doesn't seem to be swayed as much by personal aesthetics as other competitions; in cooking shows judges might have different palettes, and on fashion shows judges might have different ideas of what is or isn't in style, but on the special-effects show most can agree if the look is sloppy or shoddy. And finally, one of the best aspects of the show is the the contestants actually help one another out. And this isn't the "oh, I will help someone out at the beginning of the show but at the end its every man for himself" spirit that might happen on other such programs, but instead is more a sense of professional courtesy that has pervaded every season so far. Yes, there are occasionally contestants with big egos, but on the whole there's very seldom been any big "villains" to cheer against on the series. And while conventional wisdom might hold that having a good villain is key to having a good reality show, my enjoyment of Face-Off tends to put that idea to the test.

The latest season of Face-Off is about to end this week, with one episode airing Tuesday night and the finale airing on Wednesday. This year they're switching things up for the finale: they're allowing the public to vote on who the winner is, a la American Idol. I'm not 100% sure I like that idea, as often the judges can see things up close that don't translate as well on TV; on the other hand, since the make-ups are usually designed to be seen on film, audiences judging by what we're able to perceive on screen does make sense. I just hope that voters are voting more on skill than on personality.  Of course, the lack of a "villain" makes fair voting more likely.

I would encourage anyone who's a fan of reality TV competition shows or who just has an interest in special-effects in general to give the last two episodes a try.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Countdown to Halloween Day 28 -- Not Your Parents' Munsters: A Review of "Mockingbird Lane"

When I first heard about , Bryan Fuller's re-imagining of The Munsters, named Mockinbird Lane after their street address, I was not exactly enamored of the idea, never having been a big Munsters fan. However, I have loved most everything Bryan Fuller has been involved with (Dead Like Me, Pushing Daisies, the all-to-short-lived Wonderfalls), so I was willing to give it a chance.  As more information about the project was released, the more excited I got, until I was actually depressed when it was announced that NBC was not picking the pilot up.  The subsequent news that they would at least be airing the pilot prior to Halloween lifted my spirits, since now I would at least be able to see the full show, and there was a slim chance that its ratings might be big enough to justify a series order after all.

The plot of the Mockingbird Lane pilot follows the Muster clan as they relocate to a new home in a new city after young Eddie has his first werewolf outbreak while camping with his old scout group.  While Eddie is aware that his parents and grandfather are all out of the ordinary, he believes that he is perfectly normal like his cousin Marilyn, and most of the episode is spend with Herman and Lilly debating on whether to fill in the gaps in Eddie's memory from his lycanthropic episode, since he doesn't remember a thing. Meanwhile, Grandpa Munster is determined to stop tip-toeing around the topic and help Eddie embrace his supernatural heritage; Grandpa is also tired of "not drinking," and keeps pushing against the constraints his daughter and son-in-law are trying to place on him.  When Herman's heart -- his last original organ -- begins to fail, Grandpa sees an opportunity to use that need to convince Herman to let him feed on a viable candidate.

The first thing to keep in mind when watching the pilot of Mockingbird Lane is that it takes a sort of Battlestar Gallactica approach to its source material, keeping names and the bare minimum premise, but revamping it into something that is barely recognizable.  For some this could be a detriment; for others, a move in the right direction, depending on your attachment to the original series and how receptive you might be to the new show's distinctive tone.  For me, the show's dark and twisty sensibility, which featured some nicely gruesome moments, made me a fan.  While I know some critics decried its shifting tone, I felt that it actually had a pretty singular vision, and that while it walked the line between comedy and horror, it never veered so far one was or the other that I felt pulled out of the story.  I don't know if there's any chance for Mockingbird Lane to go to series now, but I for one would be ecstatic if it did.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Countdown to Halloween Day 27 -- Of Drinking Games and Blood Splatter:A Review of OhLook Theater's Production of "Evil Dead: The Musical"

On Friday night, Li'l Brother and I went to Grapevine, TX to see the Ohlook Performing Arts Center production of Evil Dead the Musical. While I don't know if I can say it's a great show, it was definitely quite an experience.

The play itself is a mixture of elements from all three Evil Dead films. Like the first film it begins with a group of five college friends going off to a cabin in the woods and accidentally unleashing evil spirits that begin to assault and possess them one by one. Later, it brings in characters from the second movie and its plot point of a spell to defeat the evil, and then ends with the S-Mart sequence from Army of Darkness. Some of the play's comedy is from meta-humor about the films, but the majority stems from shock value and crude comments, with some intentionally bad puns thrown in for good measure. I enjoyed myself at the play, but would be hard-pressed to say how much of that was due to the quality of the script itself, and how much was due to the overall experience.

When Li'l Brother and I got to the theater, there was a line of people outside all holding six packs and coolers and other forms of liquor in all shapes and sizes. Not exactly what we were expecting to see when going to a play. Once inside, we were surprised at just how small the venue was; I knew from purchasing the tickets that it would be a tiny theater, but the online seating chart didn't do it justice. Instead of regular theater seating, it was a series of four risers with regular meeting room chairs set up; plus, they sold "floor seats" which were exactly that: people sitting on the floor.  The "stage" was just the part of the room that wasn't taken up by the risers, which meant that the actors were treading all over the "floor seats" from time to time. As the play started, they announced that they like to do a special drinking game at the productions of Evil Dead: The Musical and instructed us to take a drink every time a character dropped an F-bomb, assuring everyone that if they followed this practice in Act I, they wouldn't remember Act II.

Once again, not like any theater production I've been to before.

One important aspect of the Evil Dead: The Musical experience is the "Splatter Zone"; people seated in the Splatter Zone are pretty much guaranteed to be drenched in fake blood by the time the show is over; people in the non-Splatter Zone aren't 100% safe, but are much less likely to get hit. The first bout of blood splatter doesn't happen till towards the end of the first act, but the second act had liberal doses of fake blood being sprayed into the audience from cast and crew wielding super soakers and plastic bottles filled with fake blood. As I learned from fellow theatergoers during the intermission, this show is an annual tradition at Ohlook, and the bulk of the people sitting in the Splatter Zone were repeat viewers, many of whom were dressed in white so that the blood splatter would show up better on them. Although Li'l Brother and I had purchased seats in the non-Splatter Zone, we both wound up getting small dribbles of fake blood on our clothing, which was better than the floor seats and first row audience, most of whom were dripping with the stuff by the end. The combination of a floor slippery with fake blood and theatergoers tipsy with inebriation led to several close calls and one flat-out pratfall from a girl trying to head the bathroom in the middle of the second act, causing the only actress on stage to pause and give the klutz some applause.

The cast was very solid on the whole, although I often had trouble telling if my inability to hear lyrics was due to the music being cranked too loud or to many of the performers not projecting out loudly enough. But while most of the cast did solid jobs, two of them did exceptional jobs which helped carry the rest of the show.  First, there was the hillbilly character Jake who, for reasons I'm not quite sure of, was portrayed by a butched-up female. And while her macho performance was part of her appeal, really it was just her flat-out comedic chops and frankly stellar singing voice that made her stand out in my mind. The other standout was the actor portraying our main hero, Ash, who also had a surprisingly good singing voice and a talent for physical comedy. He also managed to do a good job of ad libbing when things would go off track, from a malfunctioning curtain rod to people coming in late to taking his own tumble on the fake blood.  For both of them, I found myself wishing I could see other productions they were involved in, and that's not something I often find myself saying when seeing community theater.

Evil Dead: The Musical is not for the easily offended or squeamish, or even those with a low tolerance for self aware campy humor; but if none of that bothers you, and you're open to an unusual theater-going experience, it has potential.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Countdown to Halloween Day 26 -- A Review of Scott Snyder and Scott Tuft's "Severed"

Set in 1916, Scott Snyder and Scott Tuft's mini-series Severed from Image Comics is the story of a 12 year old boy named Jack Garron who, after finding out he was adopted, sets out on the road to find his real dad.  After being taken under the wing of another young drifter named Sam, Jack and his new friend's journey takes a turn for the dangerous after they cross paths with a salty traveling salesman whose outward kindness and offer of help give not hint to the razor sharp teeth hidden behind his dentures, or his taste for the flesh of young, hope-filled children. 

Much like his runs on American Vampire and Swamp Thing, Snyder's biggest strength in Shattered creating engaging characters, whether it be the rebellious Jack, the streetwise Sam, or the mysterious razor-toothed salesman.  In terms of horror, the series is a slow burn; although the first issue of the series shows precisely what happens to the salesman's victims, much of the series hinges on slowly building tension around the salesman's ultimate plan for Jack.  While the narrative structure of having the story told by a much older, one-armed Jack might lessen the tension somewhat, the question of Sam's fate, and who else might become a casualty of the salesman's hunger, helps propel the story. In terms of gore, the series is fairly under-stated, with only a couple of panels featuring anything even remotely disturbing, which definitely helps the book be more accessible to the more squeamish reader.

While Severed didn't connect with me to the same degree that Snyder's other horror comics have, I did find it to be a solid story, and would be interested in learning more about the salesman's past if Snyder ever decides to tell the tale.