Archive for June 2011
It’s surprisingly true. It’s very likely that one of the week’s television highlights will be this promo by wrestler CM Punk from 6/27’s Monday Night Raw. First, a little backstory: in wrestling parlance, a “shoot” means that a wrestler is being “real” and abandoning storyline, whether it’s done in the ring or through breaking character and addressing real-life issues on the mic. Wrestling fans go nuts over this kind of thing because the realism angle is a welcome respite from the often cartoonish storylines favored by WWE head Vince McMahon. The opposite of a “shoot” is a “work,” which refers to the scripted outcome or lines delivered by a wrestler. The popularity of shoots in the past 15 years or so (as the internet has made information about behind-the-scenes conflicts more readily available) has lead to an increase in “worked shoots,” which take elements of real-life and incorporate them into the scripted storylines. The goal of the worked shoot is to make the audience believe that the scripted storyline is actually real-life. As the WWE builds to their July 17 pay-per-view event, Money In The Bank, the storyline that’s leading to their main event is that Punk, a straight-edge arrogant heel (bad guy), is readily admitting that his contract with WWE is up (which is true — he has yet to re-sign with the promotion) and that he’s going to take the WWE Championship from John Cena (the kid-approved, PG most popular wrestler in the company) and walk out of the promotion with it. Punk last night again reiterated his desire to leave, but not before getting a few things off of his chest. His promo (the term used to describe a wrestler getting on the mic to advance his ongoing storyline) incorporated many real, behind the scenes nuggets such as the fact that WWE doesn’t promote him (true, despite the fact that most recognize him as the best in the ring and on the mic in WWE today), that in order to get ahead in WWE you must kiss McMahon’s ass (true), that McMahon surrounds himself with yes-men who support his bad ideas (very true), and that the company isn’t in good hands after McMahon steps down (as it will likely go to his daughter and her husband, WWE star HHH). Employees of WWE just aren’t allowed say those kinds of things. Ever. McMahon is notoriously thin-skinned when it comes to criticism and is more than willing to take his frustrations out on his employees when they mouth off, effectively burying careers in the process. Now, in this case, it’s clearly a storyline because there’s no way that the WWE lets a wrestler have six minutes of TV time to effectively denegrate the company like Punk did, and they’re also not going to let someone who’s ostensibly leaving the promotion walk away with their top title, but by allowing him the leeway to say what he said and by cutting Punk’s mic at the end of the promo and fading to black abruptly instead of using their usual end of show production, they’ve crafted what many are calling the best promo in wrestling in many years. They’ve also likely cemented a high buyrate for Money In The Bank which, make no mistake, was their ultimate goal. Back in the late ’90’s, the war between WWE and WCW made Monday nights one of the best TV nights of the week as each side was constantly trying to one up the other and that competition lead to incredibly entertaining TV. At least for one night, it felt like the late ’90’s again and almost all of the credit for that goes to CM Punk. Watch the promo below (at least for as long as WWE allows it to be on YouTube).
Quick Reaction: The Killing‘s season finale was the biggest middle finger given to an audience in years (maybe ever) and it could potentially ruin both its relationship with its viewers and damage AMC’s carefully built reputation.
(Read on for a much more in-depth analysis of the finale. Spoilers abound and it is lengthy, but I feel well worth the discussion.)
Knowing what I knew about each show heading into their respective finales this past Sunday night, I had intended for this piece to be a comparison between the expected successful capper to the debut season of HBO’s Game Of Thrones  and the finale of AMC’s much less successful The Killing. However, after seeing what showrunner/executive producer Veena Sud attempted to shove down her audience’s throats with Sunday night’s “Orpheus Descending,” I felt compelled to add my voice to the chorus expressing their displeasure  and, in some cases, disgust with how the first season of the show concluded. My words immediately following the screen fading to black were something to the effect of, “Fucking stupid. Stupid, stupid, stupid, stupid. Goddamn it. That was fucking HORRIBLE.” Visceral, I believe would be an accurate description . To understand my anger you must first understand how AMC marketed the series. As the series’ main focus was on the murder investigation of a teenage girl, the tagline that accompanied almost every advertisement (including the image above) asked, “Who killed Rosie Larsen?” The Killing, you see, was an adaptation of a Danish series called Forbrydelsen which focused on a single murder investigation over the course of the entire season. With that premise, it was more than fair for the audience to assume that after The Killing’s 13 episodes had concluded they would know the killer’s identity. It was implied through the advertising and through how the genre works that, if you invest 13 hours of your time over the next three months, you’ll be given some kind of resolution. Sud and everyone associated with The Killing essentially said, “Fuck you. We don’t respect you enough to do that.” I watch a lot of television – I’m not naïve enough to think that cliffhangers aren’t a necessary (and often entertaining) device used to capture an audience’s attention/loyalty and after The Killing had been renewed for a second season, it was well within the writing staff’s rights to end their season with some manner of cliffhanger . But, the direction that Sud and company chose to steer the story was tantamount to spitting in viewers’ faces. Instead of revealing the killer, Sud chose to make it appear that the series’ most obvious suspect was the guilty party (Billy Campbell’s Darren Richmond, a mayoral candidate whose storyline seemed completely tangential, meaning that he was clearly the culprit) until she the point that she didn’t. The last five minutes of “Orpheus Descending” piled ridiculous twist upon ridiculous twist and served as one of the biggest insults to a collective audience that I can ever remember seeing on television. Just as she boarded a plane, Sarah Linden (Mireille Enos), the lead detective on the Larsen case, received a phone call telling her that traffic footage (footage that was key to placing Richmond at the murder scene) from the night of the murder was not available, which ran in total contradiction to the final piece of evidence that lead the police to arrest Richmond. The next scene cuts to Linden’s seemingly principled partner Stephen Holder (Joel Kinnaman), the investigator who supplied said tainted evidence, getting into a car with an unidentified figure and saying, “They bought it.” Finally, as Richmond himself is being transported into a police car amidst a throng of reporters and bystanders, Belko Royce (Brendan Sexton III), a mentally unstable Larsen family friend, approaches Richmond with a revolver and pulls the trigger just as the screen goes black. Just thinking of this insult of an ending raises my ire. Really, these “twists” were as effectively and skillfully executed as the end of your average M. Night Shyamalan film. Which is to say, not very and, more damningly, were indicative of a showrunner/writer (Sud) who really has no idea what she’s doing . A large measure of my frustration with the ending comes from the fact that, even prior to the ridiculous finale, The Killing stood as one of the biggest television disappointments of 2011. What could have been a tightly engrossing and atmospheric murder mystery became a show all too willing to settle in to a formulaic pattern of raising one character as a suspect early in an episode, only to clear that person by the end of that same episode while at the same time bringing someone else into focus as the potential culprit. And it was because of that adherence to formula that I never trusted anything the show was doing. Even in this final episode of the season, when Richmond was seemingly identified as the killer I didn’t buy it. The show had cried wolf one too many times to gain any benefit of my doubt. It was also paced deathly slowly, to the point where many critics were finding it difficult to find any positives in the show and many audience members (myself included) were just hanging in until the end to satisfy their own curiosities about who the killer could be, not out of any loyalty that the show had earned. Due to its audacious ending, “Orpheus Rising” also raises micro and macro issues. The micro issue: Have Sud and her writers done irreparable harm to their audience with their choices? 2.3 million people watched the episode and, judging from the majority of the reactions online , a large chunk of that 2.3 million are incredibly unhappy with the ending. An admittedly unscientific poll by ESPN’s Bill Simmons on Facebook asked, will you watch season two of The Killing after how season one wrapped up? Currently, the poll stands at 55% saying that they will not watch. The macro issue: Perhaps more concerning than where the show’s audience stands is, what (if any) damage has been done to AMC’s brand as a result of The Killing’s failings? AMC has developed a reputation as cable’s home to prestige drama (Mad Men, Breaking Bad, the cancelled Rubicon, and to a lesser degree The Walking Dead) over the past five years. Their viewers have come to expect challenging yet intelligent dramas that are well worth the time invested in them. The Killing was none of those and Sud effectively displaying contempt for her viewers has to serve as a gigantic caution flag for the network. Sud claimed, in this interview with critic Alan Sepinwall, that she doesn’t listen to any audience reaction for her shows. Since AMC has renewed The Killing for a second season with Sud at the helm, perhaps she should start listening, otherwise (unlike Rosie Larsen’s killer) the murderer of The Killing‘s audience and AMC’s reputation will be clear — it will be Veena Sud.
 For the record, the Game Of Thrones finale was excellent.
 I’m blogging about TV. Clearly, I’m more invested than most. Or sicker. Probably both.
 By comparison, 24 (for as ridiculous as it often was) always managed to resolve that season’s story arc in a satisfactory manner while still giving its fans a reason to come back the following year.
 Although, since the last series that Sud created was the laughably bad Cold Case, maybe we should have expected this. You remember Cold Case, don’t you? The Jerry Bruckheimer-produced procedural an entire division of the Philadelphia police department was devoted to solving long-since abandoned cases that, shockingly, were ALWAYS SOLVED by the end of each episode? No? Lucky you.
 Other than Michael Ausiello. Of course Ausiello, he of the Glee and True Blood fanboy-dom would find this show to be good television. Of course he would.
Quick Reaction: MTV’s Teen Wolf is a CW-esque bit of supernatural fun that could end up as a decent guilty pleasure if things break the right way.
(Read on for a more in-depth look)
Full confession time: I’m a soon-to-be 33-year old married, heterosexual male who loves teen dramas. Can’t help it. Before your mind goes to dark places, I don’t like them in some sick way but I grew up watching 90210 and Dawson’s Creek and, for some reason, I’ve never outgrown the genre . Sadly, this also means that I watch way more shows on The CW than is probably healthy so feel free to take this review with a grain of salt (and your mileage may vary), but I can’t help but be impressed with MTV’s reboot of Teen Wolf , which itself feels like a transplanted CW series. Sure, initial impressions by many (including myself, to a degree) were that Teen Wolf is nothing more than a lesser version of The Vampire Diaries  except with werewolves instead of vampires, but it has more to add to the conversation than that. While this new version it has precious little to do with the 1985 Michael J. Fox cinematic “classic” of the same name , it has all of the trappings of your boilerplate supernatural origin story of an adolescent slowly realizing new powers and not knowing what they mean as a metaphor for teenage life. Newcomer Tyler Posey stars as Scott McCall, a 16-year-old lacrosse player who is bitten by a werewolf and is forced to come to grips with the changes that accompany it and in his first opportunity to carry a series, Posey himself seems to be a bit of a cipher and has problems when it comes to portraying emotion. It’s never a good thing when your lead is a glaring weak spot so hopefully he improves or he could implode the show, but at least some spirit is shown by yet another new face, Dylan O’Brien as Scott’s best friend Stiles. The kid has a bit of a welcome Pacey vibe  that helps boost the energy level. Surprisingly, the production values seem decent… for MTV, anyway  and the nods to both MTV past (80s video director Russell Mulcahy helms the pilot and a cover of The Buggles’ “Video Killed The Radio Star,” the first video MTV aired, is featured in a party scene) and present (Scott’s mother remarks at one point, “I’m not going to end up on some reality show with a pregnant 16-year-old) are a bit of meta fun. While the pilot’s first hour flies by, I’m left wondering what the larger arc of the season is going to be, though a twist in the final minute may suggest where we’re headed. Creator and executive producer Jeff Davis will need to deepen the world of the show, but this was a decent introduction. MTV made the shrewd decision to schedule the initial airing  of Teen Wolf’s pilot directly following the Twilight-heavy MTV Movie Awards, thus hoping to capitalize on that franchise’s rabid fanbase’s need for anything and everything vampire- and werewolf-related . It’s also clear that the producers/network are trying to position Tyler Hoechlin (as the mysterious Derek Hale) as this series’ Robert Pattinson stand-in. The ratings sagged a bit in its timeslot premiere from the over two million who watched the pilot, but the show did see a bit of an uptick in in viewership in its third outing, which is an encouraging sign because this could end up being a fun little summer series if it’s done right.
Where To Watch: MTV | Mondays | 10:00 PM ET
 I haven’t been able to quit One Tree Hill and its characters are about to hit Social Security age for chrissakes.
 This may be damning it with faint praise, but ten minutes in and it was already better than MTV’s failed adaptation of the UK’s Skins. Not that it took much.
The CW series that’s one of the most wildly entertaining shows currently airing on TV.
 Nothing other than the fact that its protagonist is in high school, plays a sport, and is becoming a werewolf. It would appear that the use of the Teen Wolf name is nothing more than a marketing hook.
 There’s that damned Dawson’s Creek influence again.
 Posey’s full werewolf makeup could definitely use some work, though. Right now, it’s more laughable than frightening.
 Because, let’s face it – this is an original series on a cable network which means that it will air roughly 47 times over the course of a week.
Quick note about the power rankings: This is a quick glance at what I consider to be the twenty best shows that have aired in the calendar year 2011 thus far. I’m only one man and, while I watch an obscene amount of television, I haven’t watched everything (yet) and as I get caught up, the results may fluctuate. Also, subpar episodes of a show on the list may drop it in the rankings just as exceptional episodes can boost it. I’ll try to post these rankings on a weekly basis.
- Justified (FX) – Season 2
- Friday Night Lights (NBC) – Season 5
- Parks And Recreation (NBC) – Season 3
- Game Of Thrones (HBO) – Season 1
- The Vampire Diaries (CW) – Season 2 (2nd Half)
- Community (NBC) – Season 2 (2nd Half)
- Archer (FX) – Season 2
- The Chicago Code (FOX) – Season 1
- Cougar Town (ABC) – Season 2 (2nd Half)
- Bob’s Burgers (FOX) – Season 1
- Parenthood (NBC) – Season 1 (2nd Half)
- Treme (HBO) – Season 2
- Childrens Hospital (ADULT SWIM) – Season 3
- The Good Wife (CBS) – Season 2 (2nd Half)
- South Park (COMEDY CENTRAL) – Season 15
- Lights Out (FX) – Season 1
- Doctor Who (BBC) – Season 6
- Chuck (NBC) – Season 4 (2nd Half)
- Tosh.0 (COMEDY CENTRAL) – Season 3
- Robot Chicken (ADULT SWIM) – Season 5
- Justified has been the best thing on TV this year so far and it isn’t really even close. The show was impressive in its debut season but struggled to balance its standalone episodes with the ones that served the season’s larger arc. Showrunner Graham Yost has thankfully corrected that flaw this season as the season’s storyline that pitted Timothy Olyphant’s Raylan Givens against the drug-dealing, power-hungry Bennett clan was dynamite from the season’s opener to the high-body count finale. Not quite to the level of 2010’s best (Breaking Bad’s phenomenal third season), but very close.
- Game Of Thrones leaps into the top five on the strength of this past Sunday’s episode, “Baelor.” Any show that has the balls to do what GoT did this week deserves major kudos and a boost in the rankings.
- You may scoff at its high placement but, for my money, the best roller-coaster ride on TV so far this year just might be The Vampire Diaries. Yes, really. The show runs through plot like no other show on TV and is burning so white-hot that there’s no way that it can continue its pace but it’s possibly the most wildly entertaining show on the air right now. Not only that, but it’s actually starting to receive some critical love with this second stretch of episodes in its sophomore season. Think of it as the .250 hitter who’s all of a sudden reeled off a 30-game hit streak. You know it won’t last, but it’s fun to watch it while it’s going on.
- Feel free to chime in on the comments with your thoughts on what may be too high or too low in the rankings.
(Spoiler alert: If you haven’t seen last night’s episode of Game Of Thrones and plan to, you may want to bookmark this discussion for later as it concerns a major plot point from the episode. Consider yourself warned.)
Damn. DAMN. Game Of Thrones ain’t screwing around as last night’s ninth and penultimate episode of the first season, “Baelor,” culminated with the brutal death by beheading of Sean Bean’s Ned Stark, the closest thing that the series has to a main character. Unfortunately, in the Twitter age, spoilers are like a virus that spreads at a pandemic rate and, as I was watching Dirk Nowitski and the Dallas Mavericks finally vanquish the Evil Empire er… Miami Heat, my TweetDeck blew up with mentions soon after 10PM with what had just gone down on GoT . Thinking that this kind of reaction could only concern the dispatching of a major character, I made sure to catch HBO’s 11PM encore showing instead of waiting for On Demand viewing with the wife later in the week , steeling myself for the likely death of either Ned or Tyrion Lannister (the brilliant Peter Dinklage). As “Baelor” unfolded, we saw Tyrion prepare himself for impending battle with Stark forces in the company of possibly the 581st whore we’ve seen in the series thus far  while making constant references to his own mortality throughout the hour. When he finally enters the fray (after oversleeping – natch), he’s almost immediately clubbed in the head by an overzealous compatriot making me think, “Was that it? Was that the death?” I should have known that GoT is much, much too smart to take the easy way out and telegraph such a major turning point. As Tyrion’s foray into war was unfolding, back in King’s Landing as far as we were aware Ned’s daughter Sansa (Sophie Turner) had made a deal with the bitchy new king, Joffrey Baratheon (Jack Gleeson), to spare her father’s life with the provision that Ned admit to the treason he’d been accused of by the Lannister family and swear his undying loyalty to Joffrey’s reign. Everything we’d learned about Ned in the series thus far suggested that he’d die for his principles and, as he was brought to face the public, it would have been easy to believe he’d refuse to capitulate to the Lannisters’ demands. When he actually does admit his “treason” and swear his loyalty, we’re lead to believe that it’s over and that Ned’s going to be spared , that is, until Joffrey gives in to the bloodlust of the crowd and decides to make an example of Ned by ordering his death anyway . We wait and wait for something – anything – to save Ned… right until the moment that the sword drops and his head is separated from the rest of his body . It’s not just any show that will brazenly off its most recognizable face and lead character (in memorable fashion, no less) but damned if GoT didn’t do just that. Granted, it’s staying true to its source material (from what I understand, anyway )  but it would have been easy for a lesser series to take the easy way out and deviate in order to keep an actor of Bean’s caliber around . Instead, David Benioff and D.B. Weiss (GoT’s showrunners)  chose the ruthless route of showing that literally NO ONE is safe on the show, which is a choice that will only serve the series well going forward. The worst thing in a show like this is when the audience feels like the status quo will always be the status quo. That is most definitely not the case after “Baelor.” The ante has been upped exponentially as Ned’s death is only going to fire the Stark/Lannister hostilities to new and bloody heights, and, ultimately the viewers are the winners in this war. Last night was the night that GoT took a giant step toward greatness and I, for one, can’t wait to see the fallout .
 Special mention goes out to James Hibberd of Entertainment Weekly for his breathless series of tweets concerning a “shocking death” on GoT then trumpeting a “special interview with Sean Bean concerning tonight’s episode.” Like I couldn’t tell what that meant, you dick. Also, Michael K. Williams (better known as The Wire’s Omar)? Why you gotta do me like this, Omar?
 She had long since passed out on the couch so the hell with her (don’t tell her I said that). I’m not waiting to watch something like this and surely wouldn’t mind watching it twice once she finally gets around to seeing it.
 Whoring is one of Tyrion’s specialties, you see.
 And kudos to the writers (showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss) and director (Alan Taylor) of “Baelor” for ratcheting the tension in the final scene up as high as it could possibly go.
 It also nicely sets the audience up to anticipate and salivate for Joffrey’s eventual bloodily satisfying death (I’m assuming, since no one who sits on the Iron Throne seems to meet a natural end).
 Which in itself is a nice callback to the series’ pilot, “Winter Is Coming,” which sees Ned himself mete out the same punishment to an actual traitor.
 I’ve been trying to stay spoiler-free as I’m a newbie to the world of Westeros and want to be as surprised as possible as the series progresses.
 For example, it’s been known for years that the intention of Lost’s producers was to kill off the Jack character in the series pilot but they decided that they liked Matthew Fox’s work too much to go through with it.
 Along with obvious credit to George R.R. Martin, GoT’s godfather and creator.
 Or my wife’s reaction when she finally sees this episode.