Monday, October 25, 2010

Sci-Fi Synopses for week of Oct. 18: Venting

I've been meaning to write up all the SF/Fantasy shows for a few weeks, but kept running out of time.  But, my need to vent has prompted me to go ahead this week. Hoping that this weekend's premiere of The Walking Dead will lead to me having some more positive comments next time . . .


The Event (NBC, 8:00):  I'm glad that they're moving plot points forward-- it's nice that they're not dragging the "Sean searches for his missing girlfriend" story out forever -- but I still feel like it's skimping on the character development.


No Ordinary Family (ABC, 7:00):  Man, haven't talked about this since the pilot, have I?  Despite my intial misgivings, the second episode of the show actually gave me hope that the writers had just ramped up the drama for the pilot and things would be at a more agreeable level from there on out.  Unfortunately, the good will engendered by the second episode was completely squandered by the end of the third, so that by the time last week's episode was over, the show was operating in a deficit again.  Not sure which I'm hating more:  the dysfunctional husband/wife dynamic, the "JJ gets ticked off people are accusing him of lying, even though he totally is" junk, or the overly aggressive anti-JJ teacher who is played waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay over the top.  About the only thing I'm really enjoying about the show at this point is the always entertaining Autumn Reeser.

Stargate Universe  (SyFy, 8:00):  I'm having a little trouble getting into the second season of the latest installment in the Stargate franschise, which is too bad, because I liked the first season a lot. I am curious to see how far Rush will go down the rabbit hole and how long it takes for his secrets to blow up in his face, especially now that he's effectively unleashed an alien-infested Chloe to wreak havoc unsupervised.  Am not as big a fan, however, of the Lucien Alliance subplot, and I wish that someone would bump of Greer because his constant aggression has annoyed me from episode 1.

Caprica (SyFy, 9:00):  While my feelings towards the return of SGU are mostly indifference, my reaction to the return of this Battlestar Galactica prequel has been indifferent bordering on dislike.  You all know I love me some dark & twisty drama, but this show has become downright bleak.  There's no moments of lightness or joy to break up the pervasive air of doom that has settled on all involved, and it bums me out; I really have no desire to spend an hour each week watching a parade of totally broken people wallow in their misery.  Okay, that's exagerating a bit:  Clarice is too much of a sociopath to wallow in anything, and Joseph apparently used his wallowing quota last season and is now relegated to borderline cipher status.  The only thing that has kept me from writing the show off is the progression of Zoe and Tamara's story; here's hoping that the fact that the two of them have come together again will lead to some big things.


Smallville (CW, 7:00):  I swear, if Clark had chickened out of telling Lois his secret yet again like they were leading us to think, I would have sworn this show off for good.  Luckily, this didn't happen, so I'll continue to watch . . . wait, maybe "luckily" wasn't the right word to use there . . .  On a related note, the Smallville version of Cat Grant is one of the most annoying characters around, but the fact that she was responsible for the always somber Tess to burst out laughing makes her almost worthwhile.  Almost.

Dramatic Discourse for week of Oct. 18: Some Improve, Others Don't


Chuck (NBC, 7:00):  For the second week in a row, we have a genuinely enjoyable episode; not even the inclusion of Jeffster could derail this, largely due to their presence actually serving to progress the main plot instead of propelling an idiotic subplot.

Castle (ABC, 9:00): Not a lot to say about last week's entry, which suffered a bit from having a more mundane case than the last few episodes. Not a bad episode, but not one of the better ones either.


Parenthood (NBC, 9:00): A refreshingly small number of annoying actions on the Halloween episode -- Kristina's over-protective behavior was a bit grating at times, but on the whole, probably the most enjoyable episode of the season.

Sons of Anarchy (FX, 9:00):  Still having a hard time getting into this season -- too much drama, not enough levity to break it up.  I miss Halfsack more and more each week. 


Terriers (FX, 9:00):  I've mentioned before how much I love this show's clever writing and unpredictable twists, but I don't think I've talked much about how much I love the characters themselves, who manage to be flawed enough to be human, but not so flawed that they become unlikable or unbelievable.  My heart broke for Steph and Hank this week as they dealt with her breakdown, and not just because I was worried that it might mean Steph leaving the show.


Grey's Anatomy (ABC, 8:00): I enjoyed seeing Lexie in her element for once, and was glad that they didn't go down the "she's so over-confident and over-worked that she screwed up" road.  I'm also pleased with how they're letting Owen and Christina grow closer and try to make their impromptu marriage work, even as Christina deals with her PTSD.  And I liked Callie's attempts at playing mind games with anyone and everyone. Have to say, overall the shows seems to be back on track after a rocky season or two. 

Comedy Corner for week of Oct. 18: Plot Point Pet Peeves

A lot of last week's comedies contained a fair amount of "things designed to bug Todd" -- not a large enough dose to ruin my enjoyment of a full episode, but enough to make me squirm.


How I Met Your Mother (CBS 7:00): I liked the crazy activist, even if she did lead to one of my big plot point pet peeves, the "main character lies to potential girlfriend in order to make her an actual girlfriend," a.k.a. "The Frasier Crane Maneuver."  But, at least it lead to the great moment where Barney reveals the lie via giant signage.  


Running Wilde  (Fox, 8:30):  Why do networks insist on airing episodes out of order? Granted, it doesn't always impact the plot development, but when the 5th episode you air very plainly states that it happens directly after the pilot, it can't help but bother me to some degree.  


The Middle (ABC, 7:00):  I wasn't a big fan of this episode on the whole, even if they did avoid the obvious "picked up the wrong kid" reveal that I'm sure 99% of viewers were expecting with dread, but the payoff at the end with Takiuchi pulling a Brick almost made it worth it.

Modern Family (ABC, 8:00):  As much as I love this show -- and I do love this show -- there are moments where it causes me physical pain; Cam's idiotic racist impression was one of those moments. But that brief moment of uncomfortableness was made bearable by the comedic joy of the Dunphy's no-electronics contest, especially Haley's cunning plan. 

Cougar Town (ABC, 8:30): I enjoyed Laurie and Smith's pranking of the guys at the bar, although I hated that it was a set-up for the inevitable "Laurie gets hurt again" ending. 


The Big Bang Theory (CBS, 7:00): Once again, the Shamy premise leads to some great comedy; unfortunately, we also had to deal with one of the more disturbing examples of Wolowitz's mom based "comedy."

Community (NBC, 7:00): I was a bit surprised to have another episode focusing on religious ideas so soon after the one about Pierce's cult, but I have to say that Abed's positioning of himself as the meta-Messiah struck a much deeper chord in me due to his story playing out as a parallel of a Passion play; it definitely walked a fine line between "entertaining" and "uncomfortable".  Meanwhile, Jeff's transformation into the dad of the group was played very well, as was the not-so-juvenile-but-still-delinquent Hipsters.

30 Rock (NBC, 7:30): Not exactly the strongest episode of the season, although Jack's Reagening and Liz's flashback were great, and while a little over the top, the "FRAJER!!!!!" bit made me laugh.

It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia (FX, 9:00):  Of all the different character pairings on the show, I tend to enjoy the Charlie/Mac dynamic the most; their special brands of stupidity/insanity just seem to compliment each other the best, and their efforts to get their moms to get along this week was no exception.

The League (FX, 9:30):  Have to say, between the addictive toilet seat, the notary gig, and this week's wedding video, Taco is officially my favorite character on the show.  Surprisingly, while this season has had its fair share of "pet peeve" moments for me, while most of the other comedies were getting under my skin, The League managed to skate by. 

Friday, October 22, 2010

Reality TV Roundup for week of Oct. 18: BWAH-HA-HA-HA-HA-HA-HA!


Survivor (CBS, 7:00):  Oh, Fabio -- poor, blonde, dimbulb, "Wow, you're really a master class chess player?" Fabio.  I'm surprised that they chose to vote out Kelly B over Marty during the tie-breaker -- I would have accepted it if they'd actually succeeded in flushing out the idol first, but losing their sure-shot to take it out of play seems short-sighted.  On another note, Jeff seemed to get a little too much enjoyment out of rubbing the losing team's face in having to sit there and listen to the winners have their feast

Ultimate Fighter: GSP vs Koscheck (Spike, 9:00): Wow.  That first fight . . . wow. All I can say is:  BWAH-HA-HA-HA-HA!   Couldn't have scripted it better myself, and to have the second fight also end by guillotine was priceless.  And now, let's test out my Koscheck impression: "Yeah, he was our #1 pick and that was totally our call 'cause we thought he was the greatest in all the land, and not at all because GSP psyched my stupid butt out . . . also, when I talk trash it's because I'm so super awesome, but when anyone talks trash to me, it's because they're gay and in love with me . . ."  Meanwhile, for anyone on Koscheck's team to say that anyone on GSP's team was disrespectful or is guilty of pushing people's buttons is the height of self-delusion. 

Top Chef: Just Desserts (Bravo, 9:00): Okay, the "you can only use one pot, but clean it as many times as you want because Dawn kicks butt" challenge has to be one of the best product placement challenges ever -- conceptually, at least. In practice, not quite as dramatic.  What is dramatic, however, is every facial expression Danielle has ever made.


Project Runway (Lifetime, 8:00): And the ambiguity of Micahel C. is finally answered, and was anyone really surprised?  Meanwhile, we are treated to the sight of Tim freaking out at Andy's family fish farm, and confused by the strange and unfamiliar sensation of feeling sympathy for Gretchen and her disastrous life.  As for the judging at the end, I can't say that I thought Michael C. deserved to make it to the final three based on what he showed, but my heart bled for him as he had the most painful post-Auf breakdown in the history of the show. 

The Apprentice (NBC, 9:00): Oh, how I wished The Donald had listened to Clint's impassioned plea to get rid of David, whose antics continue to annoy; him sticking to his whole "I just like to push people's buttons" spiel in the middle of the game just boggles the mind. I'm also sorry that Stephanie and Mahsa are still sticking around; their mouthy, egotistical attitudes wear on my nerves.  At this point, I'm pulling for Clint to take it all.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Dramatic Discourse for week of Oct. 11: Low-Key Finales


Chuck (NBC, 7:00):  Now, this is what every episode of Chuck should be like; it had the perfect balance of comedy and drama, goofy without being cartoony.  Plus, the fact that there was zero Jeffster and lots of Awesome didn't hurt.

Castle (ABC, 9:00):  For the second week in a row, the central mystery is undercut by the show's trailers -- last week I knew long before the detectives that they had a treasure map on their hand, and this week I was all too aware exactly why the corpse had been stripped and why someone had been shooting at him with antique weapons. But I can't fault the show itself for the ABC PR flaks getting a bit over-zealous, especially since the trailer which showed this episode was going to have a Steampunk element had me waiting for it all week.  I wish they'd spent more time in the Steampunk club, but still a good episode.


Parenthood (NBC, 9:00):  First of all, pretty sure the whole "can't get our kid to stop sleeping in our bed" plot would have given my parents flashbacks to my childhood.  Thank heavens they let Sarah do a good job working the booth -- I've really gotten tired of her screwing everything up.  Also glad they didn't stretch out the awkward section of the school interview too long.  My moment of cognitive dissonance came about from realizing that Amber's pot-smoking friend was played by Peggy's lesbian friend on Mad Men -- I had to looker her up on IMDB to make sure I wasn't imagining things, at which point I discovered that in real life she's actually David Mamet's daughter.

Sons of Anarchy (FX, 9:00):  Man, that opening scene with Tig and Lem* kicking the crap out of each other was more entertaining than the rest of this season combined -- how sad is that? 


Terriers (FX, 9:00):  Even in the midst of a subplot I'm not a fan of -- seldom enjoy the "keeping an indiscretion a secret" style of plotline -- this show manages to suck me in.   Again, I hate the fact that this extremely well done show might not be around for a second season.

Grey's Anatomy (ABC, 8:00): And the "gee, our patients lives sure do parallel ours eerily closely, don't they?" trend continues; didn't bother me quite as much this episode as it did last week, but seriously, guys, can't we just let the patients crazy lives be separate from the doctors' crazy lives once in a while? That being said, I enjoyed the episode overall.


Rubicon (AMC, 8:00): Ugh.  So terribly underwhelmed by the season finale, especially with the uncertainty of whether it was the series finale or not still hanging in the air.  My biggest complaint was that dummy Will did not grab the flipping DVD that Kathryn was obviously holding out to him as she collapsed -- am I the only one who was kinda hoping he might get bumped off so that Miles could become the main character?  I mean, who wouldn't want to watch a show where Miles was being coached in espionage by Kale Ingram?

Mad Men (AMC, 9:00):  Well, that was . . . not at all what I expected. I honestly kept waiting for Don to wake up from a dream.  I was a bit surprised by the lack of Capital-D-Drama in the finale; yes, some big things happened, but very little that played into the tenser moments of the season, with the fate of the agency being mentioned only in the Peggy-centric B-plot.  I think all of my favorite moments of the episode were Peggy-centric:  her pitch to the panty hose guys, her interaction with Joan at the end, and most of all her quiet moment alone with Don:  true, she left there much less mollified than she appeared at first, but something about the way that Don spoke to her was touching, in a "man, is he clueless" sort of way.  Oh, wait, just remembered a non-Peggy favorite moment:  the look of incredulity on Don's face when Megan don't go nuclear on the kids over the spilled milkshake; I think it was that moment of "Wow, she's nothing like my ex" that sealed the deal on his impetuous decision. 
*Yeah, I know that's not his character's name on Sons, but he'll always be Lem to me

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Comedy Corner for week of Oct. 11: Brobdingnagian Laughs; Lilliputian Comments


How I Met Your Mother (CBS, 7:00): My favorite episode of the season so far; the crazy race through New York hit just the right level of wackiness for me.


Glee (Fox, 7:00):  It's amazing:  the first episode of the season with absolutely zero Sue Sylvester scenes also happens to be the first episode of the season that I actually enjoyed.  There are several factors which contributed to the quantum leap forward in my enjoyment.  First of all there's the fact that none of the characters were written as wholly unlikable . . . well, except maybe Santana, but at least she's always been intended to be horrible, as opposed to Rachel, whose narcissism reached toxic levels in the first few episodes. Along those lines, I loved watching Rachel's scheming be for a more positive goal, while still fitting with her personality.  And, most of all, I loved seeing Kurt finally getting called out for his culpability in Finn's breakdown last season.

Raising Hope (Fox, 8:00):  This show consistently makes me laugh out loud more than any other show I watch. 

Running Wilde (Fox, 8:30): Best part of the episode by far was Fa'ad doing the "tough guy" voice taught to him by Alan Alda. Outside of that, the two misunderstanding-fueled plot lines were surprisingly squirm-free for me for some reason -- I suppose the cartoonish world the show inhabits makes such things more bearable.  


The Middle (ABC, 7:00):  Brick's foray into magic was the highlight this week, although the contentious school meeting was a close second.

Better With You (ABC, 7:30): I removed several shows from my DVR this week since I had neither the time nor the inclination to watch them, and yet somehow, this show still survives; think it may officially qualify as a "guilty pleasure" at this point.  That being said, it's probably just one bad episode away from getting cut, but for now, I'm still hanging in there.

Modern Family (ABC, 8:00): Favorite moment of the episode had to be Claire's laughing without her eyes, but Cameron's "troga" was a pretty close second. And was I the only one disappointed when the Strangers on a Train plot didn't result in someone saying "Crisscross, crisscross!" repeatedly?

Cougar Town (ABC, 8:30): Pros:  Jules turning her decision into a Reality TV ceremony, all of Ellie's harsh truth moments, the chocolate manatee.  Cons:  the actual plot points and their resolutions; hated seeing Travis cave in to Kylie, and hated seeing Smith dump Laurie.  Plus, the "swallow the sword" phrase came off feeling forced.


The Big Bang Theory (CBS, 7:00): Thank you, Big Bang Theory, for giving me an excuse to use "Brobdingnagian" several times in conversation this week.

Community (NBC, 7:00): And the award for "Best Product Placement" goes to Community's KFC space simulator. 

30 Rock (NBC, 7:30): I watched both versions of the live episode, and have to say I preferred the West Coast version just a bit more, although the best part in either version was Jon Hamm's hand-replacement ad, followed closely by the first whip-pan flashback. 

It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia (FX, 9:00): The Charlie/Mac storyline was streets ahead compared to the Dee/Dennis storyline for the most part, although the highlight of the episode for me was the pool attendant tackling Dennis during his mad rush for the water.

The League (FX, 9:30): As is often the case, the Andre storyline was borderline annoying, but it was more than made up for by Jenny and Kevin's faceoff and the Taco and Ruxin notary storylines, especially Taco's commercial.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Reality TV Roundup for week of Oct. 11: The Mega-Loathing Deepens


Survivor (CBS, 7:00):  I enjoyed watching the culture clash resulting from the tribes mixing, and was glad to see the over-bearing Tyrone get sent packing over the overly-emotional NaOnka, if for no other reason than his brand of annoying behavior is nowhere near as entertaining as hers.

Ultimate Fighter: GSP vs. Koscheck (Spike, 9:00): Well, as much as I didn't want any of Koscheck's team to win, I have to say that if any of his guys had to win I'm glad it was Nam Phan. Starting to wish Bruce Leroy was on Koscheck's team, just so I could feel good cheering against him; his selfish attitude gets on my nerves. And speaking of getting on my nerves . . . apparently those first few episodes of non-irritating Koscheck was just him trying to lull me into a false sense of security, as he is now full-tilt obnoxious; I was very much hoping that the crazy drunk kickboxer would take exception to Koscheck's disrepect and give him a quick boot to the head. And don't even get me started on how he was acting after Nam Phan won -- that was probably the most egregious example of bad sportsmanship I have ever had the displeasure to witness*. I have to wonder if that bit of trash talking between Koscheck and Cody will come back later in the season; had to love obvious stoner Cody saying Koscheck struck him as an idiot.

Top Chef: Just Desserts (Bravo, 9:00): So, apparently half of the remaining chefs have a shoe fetish?  Odd.  Anyway, as soon as they announced the winner would be taking home 20 grand, I began to fervently hope that none of Team Diva would win -- if my Koscheck comments haven't made it clear, I usually have a low tolerance for cockiness.  Not that Morganza is much better, but it was nice to see the clique taken down a peg or two. 


Project Runway (Lifetime, 8:00): These "find inspiration from [insert location here]" challenges usually aren't all that exciting -- unless, y'know, the location is something out of the ordinary like the circus challenge from last season.  Sadly, this time around we just had another New York inspired challenge.  I had hoped that the teases about everyone's exhaustion might add some twists, but they turned out to be more tease than reality.  On the plus side, Michael C. revealed that he does an amazing Michael Kors impression, which rivaled Santino's Tim impression for scary accuracy, although it fell far short of Santino's comedic touch.  I let out a sigh of relief when the judges liked Mondo's look -- he's really the only contestant I definitely want to make it to the final.  I was also impressed at how well Gretchen took criticism -- guess that exhaustion came into play after all -- but man, to have only one person say they thought she deserved to go to Fashion Week had to have a been a huge blow to her huge ego. 

The Apprentice (NBC, 9:00): Trainwreck, thy name is Octane; Gene's pitiful performance was so, so, sooooooooooooooo painful to watch. And did anyone else wonder if the producers slipped Wade the "unless the women sent out naked men" line?  Because it felt a little too perfect to just be serendipity.  I did feel a little bad for Wade during the boardroom, as The Donald hammered him relentlessly over his blind trust in Gene -- although I think The Donald was overstating the importance of having Gene "try out" for the speaking role, the fact remains that Gene's inability to have any copy at all ready for the rehearsal should have sent up red flags galore to anyone with any sense at all.  And speaking of having no sense:  when you're being beat up by everyone around you, don't feed The Donald a straight line like "You can fire me if you want to Mr. Trump," -- and if you do feed him the line, for heavens sake don't pause for several seconds before saying "but," because in those seconds, you're a goner. 

*After the episode I told my Best Friend/Arch-Nemesis PigPen that Koscheck had now replaced him at the top of my "people I want to punch in the face" list.  PigPen protested profusely, insisting that nobody can irritate me as well as he can, and then set out to prove his point the rest of the week.  Gotta admire his commitment . . .

Friday, October 15, 2010

Unfulfilled Promises: a review of "Bryan Loves You"

Bryan Loves You is a low-budget horror flick about a town run by a cult that worships a dead child named Bryan.  Let me start off my thoughts by sharing the following text I sent to TopGun minutes after putting the disc into the player:  "If the quality of the trailers on this DVD are any indication, I'm getting ready to watch one heck of a crappy movie."  Now, as you well know, when it comes to horror films, being crappy isn't necessarily a deal-breaker for me -- unfortunately, this was both crappy and boring. It started off promisingly enough by having the inimitable Tony Todd introduce the film's "found footage" conceit, wherein he cautions the audience about the strong nature of the film they're about to see, going so far as to warn that those with heart conditions should not watch and that audience members should consult an usher to learn the location of their nearest exit. 

Far be it from me to criticize someone for engaging in a bit of hyperbole, but really, if you're going to start your movie with a speech about how horrifying your film is, shouldn't you try to create something that is only separated from a broadcast TV-movie by its foul language? I've seen scarier things on episodes of Buffy, for crying out loud.  Heck, last season's Grey's Anatomy affected me more than this limp excuse for horror. 

To be fair, the intro by Tony Todd wasn't the only hint of promise, as the first 30 minutes of so of the film showed brief flashes of creepiness embodied by a dead-eyed Bryan follower loitering in the streets, classroom filled with teens donning Bryan masks before reciting the (slightly modified) pledge of allegiance, and the animalistic reactions of sweet-faced young girl to meeting a non-believer.   But the film jettisons these interesting moments and instead devotes an exceedingly large portion of its running time to the bland lead who meets a bland anti-Bryan revolutionary before being put away into a bland mental hospital.  Although on the plus side, the mental hospital did give me a brief moment of enjoyment thanks to the bland lead's crazy karate-kicking roommate -- wish I knew how much of the comedy generated there was intentional.

But a handful of briefly enjoyable sequences does not an enjoyable movie make, and in the final analysis, I couldn't recommend this to even the most devoted MST3Kers. 

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Creepier in Concept: thoughts on "The Human Centipede (First Sequence)"

Ever since it was first announced, Tom Six's horror film The Human Centipede has generated a lot of buzz, both as fodder for jokes and as nightmare fuel.  I know when I first heard the concept, my reaction was "Well, there's one movie I'll never see." 

Ladies and gentlemen, never doubt the compelling power of morbid curiosity.

For those of you unfamiliar with the film, the concept is simple:  a doctor renowned for his ability to separate conjoined twins becomes obsessed with the idea of going the opposite direction, kidnapping people and surgically attaching them to each other, um, how to put this delicately . . . mouth to derriere.   As someone who has a low tolerance for scatological sequences, I was afraid that watching the movie would lead to a constant triggering of my gag reflex.  However, I finally decided to brave it after reading some reviews and comments which suggested it wasn't as graphic as I'd imagined.  So, I decided to brave it.

What was my verdict?  Well, let me start by sharing the following text I sent to TopGun:  "20 minutes into Human Centipede and I'm doubting anything in it can be as horrifying as the lead girls' acting . . ." By the time the movie was over I hadn't really changed my opinion -- some truly, truly horrendous performances out of those two actresses. Meanwhile, the actual horror sequences weren't all that horrific -- or at least, no worse than most slasher films out there these days.  There was only one scene that got to me, and it wasn't graphic at all, relying mostly on my imagination, for which I am eternally grateful. I think that's a key factor in people's "Gee, that wasn't so bad" reactions to the film:  the concept itself caused people to conjure all sorts of horrifying situations in their head, so that when they were confronted with a relatively low key on-screen portrayal, it was nowhere near as disturbing. Which is not to say that this film is for the squeamish:  there's still plenty of blood, and a couple of gross-out scenes.  But on the whole, the movie doesn't quite deliver the degree of disturbance I had expected. 

That being said, I don't want to give the impression that I think the film was a failure, as there were some aspects that kept me intrigued.  Most important was the mad scientist character, whose creepy and deranged behavior propelled the bulk of the film, and his interactions with the post-operative centipede were darkly humorous.  In addition, the big escape attempt sequence at the end had me tense and squirming, so the director was obviously doing something right.

In the end, I'd say it was a flawed, but interesting, film, but one which I wouldn't recommend to anyone without a strong stomach and an appreciation of the macabre.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Antiheroes Abound; a review of Joe Abercrombie's "The Blade Itself"

Look, my first book review for the site; isn't it exciting?

The Blade Itself (The First Law book 1) by Joe Abercrombie

To the north, the barbarian tribes have been united by a ruthless warlord intent on destroying all who oppose him, seemingly unaware that an inhuman army is massing on his borders; to the south, and empire backed by foul magics prepares to extend its territory; and in between, a kingdom ruled by a senile king and wracked with treachery and intrigue.  Into this kingdom comes a man claiming to be the ancient wizard Bayaz who disappeared centuries earlier with a promise to one day return and take his seat on the Closed Council.  Driven by a hidden agenda, Bayaz draws to himself a strange cadre of characters:  Logen Ninefingers, the barbarian warrior driven from his home in the north; Jezal dan Luthen, a foppish noble trying to make a name for himself in the kingdom's annual games; Inquisitor Glokta, a former champion of those selfsame games whose body and soul were crippled years earlier when he was tortured as a prisoner of war, and has now become a torturer himself; and Ferro Maljinn, a bloodthirsty former slave spirited away from the Empire by one of Bayaz's compatriots.  What is it about these varied individuals that has drawn Bayaz's interest, and how does it tie into the movements in the north and south?

The first installment of a trilogy, The Blade Itself was a highly engaging read populated with interesting characters, most of whom are enjoyable without being likable:  Jezal is narcissistic, misogynistic, classist, and an all around boor; Ferro is paranoid, vicious, and borderline animalistic; Glokta -- my favorite character -- despite engendering sympathy due to his crippled condition, still derives pleasure from his job as torturer, and so on.  In fact, even the characters who come off as sensible and likable in the beginning turn out to have some glaring character flaws or dark secrets by the end of the volume.  And yet, Abercrombie does such a fine job of crafting these characters that even though I might not like what they're doing, I understood why they're doing it, and so become invested in them. Except Jezal -- never really warmed to him, but I have high hopes that Bayaz's plans for him will cause the character to blossom a bit in the subsequent volumes.

I would gladly recommend The Blade Itself to any fan of fantasy novels, especially those who enjoy complexity of character and plot, and I'm quite looking forward to reading the next installment in the trilogy, Before They Are Hanged.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Dramatic Discourse for week of Oct. 4: Brief Thoughts

Man, removing the comedies and reality TV shows makes my look at this week's dramas seem positively anemic, huh?  Granted, there were several shows that I didn't get a chance to watch (The Good Guys, Caprica, Stargate Universe, etc.) so it might be a bit more robust next week.


Chuck (NBC, 7:00):  I'm just not feeling this season of Chuck, largely due to the fact that after a season finale and season premiere that promised changes everywhere, we're practically back to the status quo again.  I was afraid that this episode would end with Morgan giving the manager position back to Big Mike, and while that didn't happen, I'm not sure that his having to rely on Big Mike to manage the chaos was much better.  Yeah, Morgan should always be a little bumbling and odd, but let the guy retain at least a little of the character growth being a spy sidekick gave him.

The Event (NBC, 8:00):  Here's hoping that the quality of this episode is an example of this show finding its footing, and not just an aberration.  The reduction of flashbacks was a boon, as was getting to see more of the "aliens" interactions, but it was that final scene in the hanger filled with reviving bodies that made me say "Okay, The Event, you win -- I'm in for the long haul now."

Castle (ABC, 9:00):  A predictable -- but still highly enjoyable -- episode.


Parenthood (NBC, 9:00):  The first quarter of this episode had me on the verge of swearing the show off, but luckily it self-corrected before the end.  Still, the fact that the show could come so close to chasing me off really isn't a good sign.

Sons of Anarchy (FX, 9:00):  Still not enjoying the season all that much, but at least things are starting to move forward now.


Terriers (FX,  9:00):  Once again, this show excels at keeping the viewer on their toes.  I'm hoping that they keep Hank's sister around for a while


Fringe (Fox, 8:00): Watching this episode I had to wonder if, when they killed off Charlie last season, they told the actor "don't worry, we have plans to bring you back as your mirror universe twin"?  And if so, did they have to assure him that he wouldn't have to grow an Evil Spock goatee?  Anyway, I thought this was an excellent episode, thanks largely to a great Villain of the Week -- I would love to see this "Mad Thinker by way of Flowers for Algernon" return.

Grey's Anatomy (ABC, 8:00):  Thank the heavens they're finally making April a more likable character -- I've hated seeing the wonderful Sarah Drew wasted on such a grating role.  A pretty good episode overall, although I think they've been hitting the "patients' stories closely parallel the doctors' lives" thing far too often recently.  Once in a while is fine, but having every episode contain a moment where a patient say something that causes a doctor a moment of epiphany is a bit much.


Rubicon (AMC, 8:00):  Hey, look, one episode away from the finale and the title finally gets referenced! And how creepy was Spangler there at the end?  Still no word on whether AMC will be picking this up for another season or not, but I'm keeping my fingers crossed.

Mad Men (AMC, 9:00):  I have to admit, I had totally forgotten that Midge existed; kind of sad to see that Betty isn't the most messed up woman in Don's life. And is it just me, or does every Sally/Glen scene make you fear that the creepy kid is going to go all serial killer soon?  As for the main Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce storyline, as much as I was hoping that Don's letter would have meant an instant turnaround for the company, a part of me appreciates that they didn't go for the easy out, even if it did mean the firing of Danny Strong's character.  The best thing about this season for me is that even though the world is crashing down around him in so many ways, Don is starting to open himself up a bit more -- granted, he's still a womanizing heel, but his moments with Pete and Peggy give you a glimmer of hope that he's on the road to becoming a better person.  I'm a bit sad that next week is the season finale.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Comedy Corner for week of Oct. 4 : Sitcom Spirtuality

Continuing my new genre/format driven TV review style, here are some thoughts on last week's comedies, featuring three very different shows exploring three very different takes on religion/spirituality.


How I Met Your Mother (CBS, 7:00): I have to agree with Matt Roush's review:  the "Where's the poop?" phrase wore out its welcome incredibly quickly.  I had no problem with the concept of Lilly being able to ascertain with a look if Robin had misbehaved, but the phrase chosen to convey the idea was unfortunate to say the least.  I did enjoy Barney's attempts to woo Ted through his usual pick-up moves.


Glee (Fox, 7:00):  Went back and forth on whether to classify this as a comedy, drama, or other, but since the aspects of the show I enjoy the most are the comedic ones, that's where it finally wound up.  As for this episode, despite it being in many ways a step up over the first two episodes of the season, I felt quite let down by it, if for no other reason than I'd seen many critics hailing it as a return to form for the show.  Sadly, despite some fun moments -- Brittany's book report, Sue's rants -- and a couple of good performances -- enjoyed the rendition of "Losing My Religion," and was pleased that my guess that Rachel was going to do "Papa Can You Hear Me" proved correct -- the show was derailed for me by its heavy-handedness.  And yes, even at its best Glee can be heavy-handed, but the forced nature of the "it doesn't matter what you believe, as long as you believe in something" scenes kept me from fully enjoying the experience. 

Raising Hope (Fox, 8:00):  First, let's take a moment to rejoice in the fact that Fox has shown the (rare (for them)) good sense to order a full season's worth of my favorite new show of the year.  While maybe not as consistently laugh-out-loud funny as the first two episodes, this still provided me with plenty of opportunities to wonder if my neighbors can hear my braying laugh. 

Running Wilde (Fox, 8:30):  I'm a little tired of seeing people excoriate this show for trying too hard to be Arrested Development due to its occasional bits of dialogue for Will Arnett that are possible callbacks to GOB.  Considering how many times AD had winking nods to its actors' former roles, I think the odd GOB-flavored line or two isn't anything to get too worked up over.  I'm still enjoying the show, which I think had its strongest episode yet thanks to allowing Steven to interact with some more real-world characters, but I'm not confident in its chances of getting a back-9 order.


The Middle (ABC, 7:00):  Sue's facial expressions as she was being dunked by Sean in the pool was some excellent physical comedy.  Also excellent was Brick's progressive testing of Frankie's "tangled web" of motherly lies. Not quite as excellent was Frankie's breakdown at the end, but let's be honest, Frankie-centric plot-lines are usually the weak points of the show.

Better With You (ABC, 7:30):  I've primarily been using this innocuous and predictable sitcom as background noise while doing other stuff -- like writing blog posts -- and would probably just delete it from my DVR settings if it weren't for the fact that I find Josh Cooke's character oddly entertaining, and am endlessly fascinated to see Debra Jo Rupp (a.k.a. Kitty from That 70s Show) play a frosty, uptight character. 

Modern Family (ABC, 8:00):  The second show of the week to explore questions of spirituality was definitely the most grounded -- of course, the fact that the other two were the consistently over-the-top Glee and Community doesn't really make that much of an achievement.  I enjoyed the interplay between the very religious Gloria, the not-so-religious Jay, and the uncertain Manny caught in-between. 

Cougar Town (ABC, 8:30):  There are times when Jules' craziness is a bit much for me, and this episode was a prime example.  On the other hand, Grayson's attempts to deal with the craziness was comedy gold, as was the Ellie/Laurie feud.


Community (NBC, 7:00):  The final part of the spirituality trifecta managed to merge the over-the-top nature of Glee with the "actually being funny" of Modern Family.  Of course, where Glee  and Modern Family focused on actual religions, Community used a fictional cult to explore ideas of religious tolerance and compassion much more effectively than Glee, in my opinion. 

The Big Bang Theory (CBS, 7:00):  After a couple of relatively lackluster episodes, BBT was back in fine form this week. Most of that can be attributed to the Shamy dynamic -- here's hoping they keep Amy Farrah-Fowler around for a while.  A part of me would love to see Leonard's mother interact with Shamy, but another part worries that a triple dose of Sheldon-style personalities might be a bit too much.  Still, the possibility that Amy might feel jealous of the respect Sheldon has for Leonard's mom makes for an intriguing thought, no?

30 Rock (NBC, 7:30):  The unintentional racism scenes weren't exactly this show's finest hour, but it was worth it to have Queen Latifah around. 

It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia (FX, 9:00):  By far the strongest episode of the season*.  Loved seeing the parade of supporting characters being brought onto the ill-fated podcast, and Mac's preparation for his appearance on the ice was great as well.

The League (FX, 9:30):  All I can say is thank heavens this episode puts an end to the Rafi storyline. 

*And I'm not just saying that because Zinger has Dish Network and so doesn't get FX anymore  and had to miss it. . . honest

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Reality TV Roundup: Drama Out the Whazoo

In an attempt to make my regular TV reviews a more manageable size, I'm going to start trying to split them up by genre/format/category/something.  Thus, here I present a collection of my thoughts on all of the Reality TV style shows I watched last week, most of which were exceptionally drama-packed this time around.


Survivor (CBS, 7:00):  There was a bit of drama playing out on both tribes this week.  As usual, the Young'uns' drama was provided by the caustically outspoken NaOnka whose comments about her fellow tribemates are filled with barely-concealed hatred; I think there might have been a few more fireworks if she had gone to tribal council. On the Old Folks tribe, we have the constant chattering of Jimmy T., the man so delusional that he thought Jimmy Johnson was threatened by his leadership skills.  As much as I tire of self-proclaimed puppet master players declaring that another contestant has "signed their own death warrant," I was actually hoping that Marty would be able to follow through on the threat and get the motor-mouth booted out.  Thankfully, he was.

Top Chef: Just Desserts (Bravo, 9:00):  First of all, I have to say that of all the breakdowns I've seen on reality TV shows over the years, none have been as uncomfortable to watch as Seth's spiral into madness.  Honestly, having to leave the show was probably the best thing that could ever happen to the boy.  Of course, once his antagonistic form of craziness was removed from the show, it didn't take too long for the producers to find a new villain to showcase. Heather H. was already on my list for just how disdainful she was of anyone showing a hint of emotion in previous episodes, but with her full on-attack of the fragile Heather C. and delusional screed against Morgan for his imagined betrayal, she has firmly ensconced herself as my least favorite contestant.

Ultimate Fighter: GSP-Koscheck (Spike, 9:00): The answer to the "Wonder when Koscheck is finally going to start annoying me like I'm sure he must?" question has been answered, and the answer is "14 minutes into this week's episode."  So cocky, so abrasive, and so stereotypically macho that he can't even comprehend the idea that GSP's ability to just shrug off his sophomoric taunts* is a sign of GSP being the better man.  I really hope GSP is able to maintain his calm, cool, and collected response all season, and then just destroy Koscheck in their fight.  Of course, the GSP-Koscheck interactions, while incredibly annoying to me, are not the true source of drama here -- no, that honor goes to the near throwdown between Sevak and Bruce Leroy.  Honestly, I thought Sevak was going to burst a blood vessel with the amount of rage he was throwing off; think Bruce Leroy was pretty lucky people held Sevak back because he was in full on berserker mode and I don't know if Bruce Leroy is quite ready to deal with someone in a murderous rage . . . then again, considering how obnoxious he's been so far, there's a good chance that Bruce Leroy had engendered murderous rage from other many, many times before in his life.


Project Runway (Lifetime, 8:00):  Yes, that's right -- I've started watching Project Runway again. Long time blob monkeys may remember that I was briefly hooked on the show during its second season after being subjected to a day-long marathon.  And while I managed to escape the show's eerie hypnotic pull after that season's finale, I recently stumbled upon the latest season and found myself dawn back in.  My connection to this show is odd, as I am one of the least fashion-conscious people you will ever meet.  But, let's be honest -- outside of The Ultimate Fighter, none of the reality shows I watch revolve around anything I'm all that interested in -- whether it's the business world, gourmet cooking, crab fishing, sharpshooting, etc., I'm typically drawn not so much to the subject matter as to the personality types that subject matter attracts.  In all of these examples, it takes some pretty strong personalities to prosper, and watching those strong personalities deal with the pressure-cooker life of reality TV can make for extremely engaging TV.  Plus, Tim Gunn kicks butt.

Wow, so much for keeping the size of these things more manageable, huh?

Anyway, back to the drama-filled extravaganza that was this week's episode of Project Runway.  First of all we had the fun of watching Heidi clash with Mondo, the season's reigning hero, and Gretchen, the season's reigning villain -- or at least she was reigning villain until the episode's big twist brings back Ivy who appears determined to use her moment back in the spotlight to swipe the Crown of Villainy from atop Gretchen's massive ego-inflated head by taking this season's favorite pass-time of "Beating Up on Michael C." to a whole new level.    As other people have pointed out, when even Gretchen, the queen of self-involvement says "I think you've gone too far," well, you've probably gone too far.  Best moment of the episode had to be the hilarious editing job of following up Ivy's comment of "I believe in karma" being followed by the shot of her sewing machine self-destructing and sending a piece flying into her face.  In the end, I felt sad that there was no way for Ivy to get a real verbal slap-down for her sour grapes behavior.  Bookending the centerpiece of Ivy's evil was Gretchen's desperate attempt to make sure that despite losing her Crown of Villainy she at least maintained her Tiara of Haughtiness, boldly lashing out at all criticisms of her clothes. 

The Apprentice (NBC, 9:00): Surprisingly, the one reality show that has typically been overflowing with over-the-top drama and conflict felt pretty low-key after watching the rest of this week's reality offerings.  Of course, a lot of that probably stems from the fact that crazy-man David had a tooth malfunction that removed him from active participation.  I can only hope that next week he'll be recovered enough to get into the knock-down drag-out with Steuart that was teased by the post-board-room encounter at the beginning of the episode.  As to what actually happened in the episode, I have to admit there was a part of me that was hoping the men would go the board room, so that Wade, their own Negative Nelly, might get the boot, since he was pretty much guaranteed to criticize the concept at that point despite keeping it to himself during the entire challenge. Something about his refusal to voice concern to the others but rail against them constantly in his confessionals bugged me.  Meanwhile, although I wasn't Tyana's biggest fan, I would much rather have had her stay while the much more egotistical and abrasive Mahsa left. 

*Really, the worst part for me is that now Koscheck has ruined "GSP-as-robot" jokes for me forever. 

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

TV Week in Review: Let the Cancelations Begin!


How I Met Your Mother (CBS, 7:00):  Definitely an improvement over the premiere, although Barney's delusion about his father's identity was a bit much, even for Barney.

Chuck (NBC, 7:00):  Did we really need Jeffster back?  Really?

The Event (NBC, 8:00):  Although I'm still not feeling connected to any of the characters outside of Sean (Jason Ritter) -- and even that is tenuous at best -- the fact that the show is already starting to dole out a few answers in its second episode is refreshing. 

Lone Star (Fox, 8:00):  I had literally just pressed play for my DVRed copy of the second episode of this series when PoohBear IMed me to say "Did you hear Lone Star already got canceled?" After a moment's consideration, I deleted it without viewing.  I'm sorry I didn't get to see where this show was headed.

Castle (ABC, 9:00):  I always enjoy episodes where Castle finds joy in the off-beat cases that drive the cops crazy, and this dead psychic storyline was no exception.

Hawaii 5-0 (CBS, 9:00):  I know I'd listed this as one of the shows I wasn't going to try, but I heard too many people say positive things about it, so I gave it a whirl.  I found the pilot to be entertaining enough, so it's tentatively on my viewing schedule for now. Two episodes in and I'm constantly amazed that Scott Caan's character is actually the one trying to get everyone to be nice and play by the rules.


No Ordinary Family (ABC, 7:00):  I enjoyed this new super-hero drama overall; I'm hoping in subsequent episodes that the family drama that permeated the pilot is ratcheted down a notch or two. Or three.  Or twenty.

Glee (Fox, 7:00):  Has there ever been a show so consistently inconsistent?  I loved the spotlight on Brittany S. Pears, who has long been my 2nd favorite character on the show, but outside of her scenes, I had a hard time making it through this episode.  Shue's behavior was horribly inappropriate and idiotic, and so far this season Rachel's egocentric nature has gone from mildly entertaining to unbelievably insufferable and annoying.  They need to tone both of those characters down and fast, or else they're going to start hemorrhaging viewers.

Raising Hope (Fox, 8:00):  I seriously love this show so much, I can't even express it properly.  All I can say is that I'm vastly relieved that it's doing well in the ratings so far, and that if you're not watching it you're missing out.

Running Wilde (Fox, 8:30):  Two episodes in and I'm still enjoying this show -- no, it's no Arrested Development, but I do think it has potential.  It's ratings aren't stellar, but neither are they dismal, so maybe it will get a chance to develop.  Not holding my breath, though.

Parenthood (NBC, 9:00):  A much more tolerable episode than last week, although that's damning with faint praise.  I was glad Crosby finally stood up for himself.

Sons of Anarchy (FX, 9:00):  Sorry to say, I'm not enjoying this season so far; as much as I love Paula Malcomson, I am bored to tears by the whole Irish plotline.  Here's hoping that this week's episode featuring the return of Agent Stahl will be more engaging.


The Middle (ABC, 7:00):  Another marked improvement over a less than stellar premiere.  I'm enjoying the show exploring the ramifications of Sue actually being a member of something.

Survivor (CBS, 7:00):  Was sad to see the young'uns escape tribal council -- I was looking forward to seeing more fireworks.

Modern Family (ABC, 8:00):  Lots of nice gags in the ep, particularly those revolving around the "ghost." 

Cougar Town (ABC, 8:30):  This is one of those episodes where Jules' craziness crossed the line from entertaining to annoying.  Still a good episode on the whole, but I would have been happier with less maternal clinginess.

Top Chef: Just Desserts (Bravo, 9:00):  Oh, Seth, you just won't learn, will you?  *sigh* 

Terriers (FX,  9:00):  I'll say one thing about this show; so far it's done a great job of keeping me on my toes.  The highlight of the episode was Hank's sister.

Ultimate Fighter: GSP-Koscheck (Spike, 9:00):  Another episode without full-blown annoyance at Koschek -- sure it can't last much longer.  I haven't been impressed with any of the fights so far, but I hope that changes soon.


Community (NBC, 7:00):  Lots of great moments in this episode, but my favorite was probably the knocking out of the guard.

The Big Bang Theory (CBS, 7:00):  On the downside, no Shamy this episode.  On the upside, although the plot largely revolved around a robot, it wasn't engaged in improper activities with Wolowitz. 

30 Rock (NBC, 7:30):  Tracy Jordan in The Cash Cab was probably the funniest thing I saw all week; just some brilliant comedy there.

Fringe (Fox, 8:00):   As much as I enjoyed the look at the alternate universe last week, I was more than happy to have our Walter back front and center. 

Grey's Anatomy (ABC, 8:00):   Hoping that this puts an end to the "Derek driving dangerously" plotline.

The Apprentice (NBC, 9:00):  Still waffling on this show a bit, but right now I think I'm probably in until crazy-emotional-problem-guy finally has his complete and total mental breakdown and goes gibbering naked into the night.  

It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia (FX, 9:00):  Highlight of the episode for me had to be Mac's refusal to let Dennis off the hook for his "implication" plan.

The League (FX, 9:30):  Had a hard time making it through this episode due to Andre's stupid continual accidental racism -- so, so painful to behold.


Batman: The Brave & the Bold (Cartoon Network, 6:00):  Good to see The Outsiders in their actual costumes in the cold open; even better to see Kobra trying to start the Kali Yuga. This show caters to hard to my inner geek.  Speaking of which . . .

Smallville (CW, 7:00):  I haven't watched Smallville regularly for years and years, although I have been tempted in the past year or two to catch up on the DVDs.  Still, I've avoided the temptation to start watching it again until now.  What has changed my mind?  The fact that my favorite comic blogger Chris Sims and one of his fellow Comics Alliance writers have started a weekly column called "Smallvillains" where they plan to review the last season of the show despite the fact that neither of them have watched more than an episode or two of the previous 9 seasons.  After reading their first review, I was intrigued enough to add Smallville to my DVR so I could make sure I was getting the full effect for the second review.  I think they're enjoying the show a bit more than I am, but I have to say that I too am susceptible to the geek joy that comes from seeing The Suicide Squad, Checkmate, and Hawkman come to life on the small screen -- although I would have been much happier if they hadn't made Deadshot into a reject from a cyberpunk western. 

The Good Guys (Fox, 8:00):  I liked the fact that this episode had a subplot that was mostly independent of Jack and Dan's misadventures -- was nice to see the ladies get a chance to shine for once.


The Cleveland Show (Fox, 7:30):  The whole "live episode" gag fell flat early on, and never improved.  The show has been more miss than hit so far this season.

Family Guy (Fox, 8:00):  A more entertaining episode than the season premiere, but barely -- outside of the demonstration of Brian's contrarian nature, not a lot stood out as memorable.

Rubicon (AMC, 8:00):  Only two episodes left in the season, and there's no telling how much of the central mystery will be resolved by the end, or if the show will be picked up for another season, but things are definitely moving forward full steam now.  This has gone from a show of mild interest to a can't-miss for me.

American Dad (Fox, 8:30):  While the other two McFarlane productions have been letting me down, American Dad was firing on all cylinders in its premiere -- it's come a long way from it's mediocre first season.

Mad Men (AMC, 9:00):  It's been a while since the show has prompted me to perform my "Don't do it, Don, don't do it!" mantra, but it was back in spades here -- and, sadly, Don was just as unswayed by my appeals as he always has been.  Meanwhile, Roger has become a pathetic shadow of his former self, which makes me sad -- not so much that I feel sorry for the philandering racist, but that I miss his old energy and wit. 

Venture Bros. (Cartoon Network, 10:30):  Dear Venture Bros. writers:  less Sgt. Hatred, more Monarch, please.  Also, please don't ever stop making this show because it is practically the greatest thing ever.  Sincerely, Todd.