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Archive for September 2011

Episode Review: Breaking Bad – “Bug”

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(Disclaimer: Breaking Bad is such a richly developed show that there is much more to discuss than there is in your average television drama. As such, this review is going to be formatted a little differently than normal and will be a little longer than usual, but I feel that’s necessary for a show like this. It will also be a discussion of major plot points in the episode so here’s your giant SPOILER ALERT. Don’t read this until you’ve seen the episode. It also assumes that you are a viewer of the show and have a basic familiarity with characters and plots. Onto the review.)

The fracture between Walter and Jesse that the Breaking Bad writers have been building to finally erupts, culminating in one of the most viscerally brutal scenes the show has ever featured. With that said, let’s see what we can pick up from “Bug.”

Teaser
This week’s teaser is completely wordless, containing only ominous shots of a broken pair of glasses, blood droplets on a hardwood floor, blood droplets on a pair of moccasins, and an unidentified individual reaching down to pick up the damaged glasses. Oh, shit. And the title card hits…

Act One
“God, man… don’t you have enough cancer already?”
Act one begins with the reveal that it was, in fact, Walter who we saw picking up the broken glasses in the teaser as he steps out of the Aztek and the camera focuses on the same moccasins that will be blood-stained, presumably by episode’s end. He’s at Hank and Marie’s to take Hank to a mineral show. Hank greets him with a, “Hey, buddy. You ready to get your rocks off?” to which Marie responds, “See, I knew it. ‘Mineral show’ is just guy code for strip club.” However, this is just cover for Walter and Hank to return to the Pollos Hermanos [1] to retrieve the GPS that they’d planted in “Hermanos,” while Tyrus keeps tabs on them. After returning home to check the results, Hank is shocked that they show that Gus has only gone to two different places in the past week: home and work. We know, however, that this is by design due to Walter’s admission to Gus of his role in the surveillance. “A guy this clean has to be dirty,” is Hank’s justification for continuing to watch Gus. As Walter leaves Hank’s house, he notices that Tyrus has been tailing them and in a bold, stupid move he drives right up to Tyrus’s car so that his own is parallel to Tyrus’s driver’s side and calls the police to “report a suspicious man” while Tyrus watches. Bryan Cranston naturally sells the hell out of the perverse joy that Walter gets in doing this, although the repercussions of this kind of brazen act are likely to be heavy. The next time we see Walter, he’s showing up for work at the lab and encounters Jesse outside after walking up and asking for a cigarette [2]. He makes some out-of-character small talk [3] but it soon becomes clear that he’s merely pumping Jesse for information after intercepting the text at the end of “Hermanos.” While he doesn’t immediately pick up on the subtext, Jesse is wise to the fact that Walter has an ulterior motive and reiterates that he will eventually go through with the plan to poison Gus as soon as he feels he has the opportunity. Walter is feeling apathetic about this, saying, “What does it matter? We’re both dead men anyway.” The “Walter Interacts With Various Cast Members” section of the episode concludes with a conversation between Walter and Skyler, where Walter can’t really be bothered to feign any interest in Skyler’s birthday plans for Walter Jr. He does become disgusted, however, when she reiterates her desire for him to come up with an “exit strategy.” “I’m working on it,” he responds as he eyes a GPS tracker just like the one he planted for Hank.

[1] Hank doing his own screwed up, inaccurate version of Survivor’s “Eye Of The Tiger” = WIN.
[2] Jesse’s hilarious reaction: “God, man… don’t you have enough cancer already?”
[3] Apparently Jesse is an Ice Road Truckers fan. Who knew?

Act Two
“Who really cares what I think?”
Apparently Hank can’t get enough of the buddy cop action with Walter because he calls him needing a ride to a Los Pollos Hermanos distribution center that he believes is a holding location for Gus’s meth supply. Walter tries to beg off. “I won’t lie. You caught me somewhat… indisposed,” is his excuse to which Hank, as only Hank can, says, “What, like taking a dump ‘indisposed’?” Walter, thinking on his feet [4], claims explosive diarrhea from some “bad Tex-Mex” in an attempt to stall Hank from actually confirming his suspicions. Hank seems fine with this, expressing contrition for leaning on Walter as frequently as he has before telling Walter that he’ll try to find another ride. Realizing that this won’t do – getting someone else involved – Walter dissuades Hank from finding a replacement and gets him to agree to wait a day or so for him, pitching it as enjoying spending the time with Hank. He uses the opportunity to immediately call Mike to warn him of Hank’s intentions, only to have Mike abruptly hang up on him. Mike has taken the warning to heart, however, because the next thing we see is the distribution center being “cleaned” by Gus’s troops, this time including Jesse. Shifting back to the car wash of boring plot devices, Skyler has found an inventive new way to explain away the wash’s cash influx – she’s simply creating customers out of thin air, Cook County-style when suddenly her old boss with benefits, Ted Beneke arrives to inform her that he’s the subject of an upcoming IRS audit. He’s actually being investigated by the criminal division and is facing felony charges and it’s here that my radar starts going off. Beneke wants Skyler to help him by “un-cooking” his books to ward off the IRS, but any inquiries by the IRS into Skyler and, thus, the White family are big no-no’s. I’m flashing back to the information we saw from the teaser. By now, we know that Walter was involved in some type of violent altercation. Could it be that he takes care of the Ted problem, uh… permanently? Not only does it keep any kind of IRS inquiry at bay, but it also affords Walter the opportunity to exact some personal revenge [5] and seems to fit seamlessly with the majority of the season’s trajectory. Skyler voices her concern over her potential involvement in any investigation, causing Ted to dismissively say, “It’s the captain they’re after. Not some cashier at a car wash.” Oh… this guy is a goner for certain. Moving back to the warehouse, Jesse wants to know whether Gus intends to kill Hank realizing that he’s the reason for the cleanup session. Despite the fact that we know there’s no love lost between Jesse and Hank [6] it’s surprising to see him pitch the case to Mike for sparing Mr. Schrader but perhaps it proves once again that Jesse is more human than Walter at this point in the story. As Jesse and Mike move outside, out of nowhere the brain of one of Gus’s men is relocated to the side of a trailer by a sniper right in front of Jesse. Jesse appears in the sniper’s crosshairs as he stands, frozen in terror, until Mike snatches him away to safety. Score even more loyalty points for the Gus/Mike tandem there. The shots continue and Gus emerges from the trailer, walking straight into the line of fire with arms outstretched, each shot just barely missing him. The camera pans to a nearby hillside and we see the cartel negotiator give Gus a knowing look before packing away his rifle. The cartel can’t kill Gus, but they can certainly make it difficult for him to do his job.

[4] Or with his ass. One of the two, anyway.
[5] IFT.
[6] Hell… he called him a “douchebag” just last week.

Act Three
“And if you ever plan on calling the cops on one of my men again, you just go ahead and get two barrels.”
A phone rings and Gus answers it, telling the unseen person on the other end, “Tell them the answer is ‘yes.’” The assumption would be that this is the cartel he’s speaking with but, ‘yes’ to what exactly? ‘Yes’ to killing Walter? ‘Yes’ to giving up his operation? Either way, this is an answer that was difficult for Gus to relent to so it must be something big. Meanwhile, Mike (accompanied by Jesse) arrives at the lab with the body of the poor guy who got his head splattered against the side of a truck with instructions for Walter to dispose of it via the acid/barrel approach. Walter expresses his displeasure with the lab becoming a dumping ground for dead bodies and Mike takes the opportunity to display his disgust with Walter’s overall actions, particularly his decision to call the police on Tyrus. “And if you ever plan on calling the cops on one of my men again, you just go ahead and get two barrels.” Walt, in turn, gives Jesse a disgusted look. Outside, Jesse asks Mike what Gus was doing by “going all Terminator” in response to the sniper’s attack. Mike is as forthcoming as he can be, but instructs Jesse to pose any questions he has for Gus to Gus himself. Again, this is more evidence of the growing trust that Mike and Gus place in Jesse, one of the masterstrokes of the season thus far. We next move over to Ted Beneke’s IRS audit and the less that’s said about this scene, the better. It’s yet another in a growing list of ill-advised Skyler plotlines as she shows up at the audit and plays the role of bimbo accountant to persuade the auditor that Ted’s problems were due to ignorant help. Never mind that the auditors would likely look into her, rendering her act useless. The main takeaway here is that even though Skyler has gotten the auditors to reduce Ted’s penalties to a simple fine, he no longer has the means to pay it so it doesn’t appear that this storyline’s going away anytime soon. However, if this leads to Ted’s death at Walter’s hands as I’ve suspected… well, that’s another story. The third act’s final scene sees Jesse waiting outside a house that turns out to belong to one Gustavo Fring [7]. Jesse is there to discuss the concerns that he has as Mike suggested earlier at the lab. As Gus prepares dinner for the two of them, Jesse sees an opportunity to finally go through with Walter’s plan, but freezes and again can’t pull the trigger. Gus ultimately asks Jesse if he’s able to cook Walter’s formula, signaling that the endgame for Walter could be near. Jesse does not take kindly to this question, indignantly saying, “You wanna talk like men? Let’s talk like men. You kill Mr. White, you’re gonna have to kill me, too.” It’s the strongest signal yet where Jesse’s actual loyalty lies. Gus responds that that’s not what he asked and that circumstances with the cartel are “untenable” and that he needs Jesse’s help in “preventing an all-out war.” As I speculated, is that remedy Walter’s death? Or is Gus being forthcoming?

[7] A quick theory here: Is Gus gay? Not that there’s anything wrong with that. I may be off, but we’ve never seen him with a family, he seems to live in his house alone, and there was definitely a possible subtext of an intimate relationship with the dead friend from the end of “Hermanos.” It’s just a thought to file away that may come up later, or I could be way off base.

Act Four
“Can you walk? Then get the fuck out of here and never come back.”
At the lab accompanied by Mike and Tyrus, a curious Jesse asks Walter whether he’s leaving for the day, presumably because he wants to debrief him on his dinner with Gus. Not wanting to have much to do with him, Walter does leave but not before retrieving the GPS tracker from Jesse’s car on the way out. As it turns out, this was the reason for the Ice Road Truckers small talk earlier – Walter needed the opportunity to discreetly place the tracker onto the car and it wasn’t merely to mine Jesse for information as I had speculated. He hurries home and, after checking the results, fumes when he realizes that Jesse has been to Gus’s house. At the same time, he receives a message from Jesse telling him that they need to meet immediately. As soon as he enters Jesse’s house it strikes me – THIS is where the open was drawn from [8]. Oh, God… is the going to be the end of Jesse? As the meeting begins, Jesse pitches the story that he received from Gus, terming it that “Word has come down that…” and Walter takes issue with the word choice, pressing Jesse with what he knows. Jesse fills him in on what happened at the distribution center, telling him that the ultimate decision is that the cartel wants half of Gus’s operation as well as Walter’s formula. Gus has decided that Jesse is to go to Mexico to teach the cartel chemists how to cook the formula, since Gus no longer trusts Walter. Jesse is terrified and is seeking guidance [9] but Walter wants to do nothing but address the elephant in the room – “So, you saw Gus?” Jesse denies but Walter continues to harp on the issue, at one point physically grabbing Jesse to reveal that he’s still in possession of the ricin-laden cigarette. Walter finally calls Jesse on being at Gus’s house and Jesse admits as much but says that he kept it from him because he didn’t know how Walter would react. Walter calls him a “lying little shit” and starts belittling him, telling him that he didn’t have the guts to go through with it. After slipping up and telling Jesse the exact amount of time that he was at Gus’s house, Jesse realizes that Walter was tracking him (which Walter confirms by showing him the GPS tracker). Jesse is incredulous at this. “Everything I’ve done for you and you put a bug [10] in MY car?!” Walter digs in a little further, telling Jesse that he’s essentially killed him before firing this brutal salvo: “You’ve signed my death warrant, and now you want advice? Alright, I’ll give you advice. Go to Mexico and screw up like I know you will and wind up in a barrel somewhere.” Jesse throws the GPS tracker at Walt’s head in response, triggering a brutal fight between the two men, neither holding back and each attempting to inflict as much damage on the other as possible. This has been what this entire season has been building to – the ultimate rupture of the Walter/Jesse relationship. It began last season with Walter’s insistence that Jesse murder Gale and has building to an eruption like this. It’s a visceral, primal fight between the two, Jesse at one point trips Walter so that he falls face down on a glass coffee table, allowing Jesse to launch punch after punch to Walter’s face on the ground. After delivering one final blow, Jesse backs off and allows Walter to regain his footing. He then asks him if he can walk and after Walter confirms that he can, Jesse fires off the episode’s final line: “Then get the fuck [11] out of here and never come back.” Wow.

[8] Kudos to the wife for pointing out that the hardwood floors matched the open. That detail slipped by me.
[9] In his Jesse way, saying, “What if all the equipment is in Mexican instead of English?”
[10] And boom… episode title.
[11] As Alan Sepinwall points out, AMC will occasionally allow Vince Gilligan and the Breaking Bad writers a special dispensation to use the f-bomb (with the audio dropped out, of course) but the show picking and choosing the spots in which it employs that tool makes it all the more powerful here. And boy… is it powerful.

Overall Thoughts: I almost don’t know what to say (which is ironic because we’re over 2,700 words in right now), other than wow. We’ve gotten the catharsis that the entire season has been building to and it resulted in one of the most brutal set-pieces the show has ever executed. The fight was simultaneously difficult to watch yet impossible to turn away from. It’s very difficult to see how the relationship between Walter and Jesse can be repaired – or if it even SHOULD be repaired – following “Bug’s” final scene, but that scene alone shows just how strongly Breaking Bad is firing right now and is a prime example of the power that expertly executed long-term storyline planning can have.

Rating: 94/100

Written by jeremylikestv

September 27, 2011 at 11:09 am

Review: Up All Night – “Pilot” | Free Agents – “Pilot”

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Up All Night Rating: 82/100

Thursday nights on NBC are synonymous with comedy. They have been for years. The network has long made money off of its “Must See TV” tagline although it’s been ages since the network has seen an actual hit on that night. Sure, The Office still draws viewers [1] and Community and Parks And Recreation DESERVE to be hits, but the days of Friends and Seinfeld are long gone. For almost as long as they’ve had their Thursday night comedy bloc, NBC has also been trying to establish a comedy beachhead on a different night of the week as well and their latest attempt to do so is the tandem of new sitcoms, Up All Night and Free Agents on Wednesday nights. The results are decidedly mixed.

Up All Night stars Christina Applegate (Married… With Children) and Will Arnett (Arrested Development) as a married couple balancing careers with first-time parenthood and comes from the creative team of writer Emily Spivey (Parks And Recreation) and producer Lorne Michaels (Saturday Night Live, 30 Rock). I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed this pilot. Sure, it helps that I’m a parent myself so many of the pitfalls that Applegate and Arnett encounter I’m very familiar with. When Arnett exclaims in frustration, “This is the wipes game that the wipes people do to get you to buy more wipes,” I’ve been there. When they both realize that they have to quit the cursing and watch their language around their daughter, Amy, I’ve been there, too [2]. In a dynamic not usually seen in sitcoms of this nature, Applegate is the one who returns to work as a producer of a television talk show hosted by an Oprah clone (Maya Rudolph, Bridesmaids) while Arnett has quit his job as a lawyer to stay home and take care of Amy. As a stay-at-home dad myself, I probably identify more with Arnett’s character than with any other on television right now. One of the biggest things that Up All Night has in its favor is that it’s starting out with a strong foundation of lead actors. I’ve always felt that Applegate is a very underrated comedienne [3] and maybe this is finally the vehicle she needed after the bombs like Jesse and Samantha Who? that she’s top-lined in years past. And Arnett, for the first time in a long time, seems to be playing a fully-formed human here, instead of the umpteenth iteration of Gob Bluth. As of now, the lone weak spot seems to be Rudolph who is definitely talented and funny at times, but seems to be playing much more of a sitcommy character here. The creative team definitely deserves kudos for nailing the fear inherent with new parenthood as well as mining it for the laughs that do exist in tandem with the horror. Spivey, from her work on Parks And Rec knows top-shelf comedy very well and, as Alan Sepinwall has pointed out, is willing and able to adapt on the fly [4], which is ALWAYS something you want from a showrunner. All in all, a very promising debut and in time I could absolutely see Up All Night becoming a crowd-pleaser for NBC in the vein of ABC’s Modern Family.

Free Agents Rating: 43/100 

Free Agents, on the other hand, is somewhat maddening in that somehow a show that boasts actors and writers who have worked on such TV classics as The Simpsons, Buffy The Vampire Slayer, and Party Down is seemingly so lifeless and unfunny. Purportedly, Free Agents is a comedy yet it opens with its central couple, Alex (Hank Azaria, The Simpsons) and Helen (Kathryn Hahn, Crossing Jordan) in bed with him talking about missing his kids and her discussing her deceased fiancé. Based on a British sitcom that also starred Anthony Head (Buffy The Vampire Slayer) in the same role as the head of a PR firm [5], I suppose that it’s possible that the show’s tenor and atmosphere just aren’t translating well after being imported to America but I can’t remember laughing once during the entire pilot. It’s not particularly funny but it’s not necessarily bad, either. It’s just… odd, and I have a difficult time seeing how anyone who watched the pilot who’s also not a TV nerd would come back for another go. I’m operating under the assumption that the hook of the series is that Alex and Helen are both so screwed up that they must be perfect for each other, but that’s not nearly enough. In all honesty, I’d be shocked if Free Agents survives until November sweeps, and that might even be giving it too much hope. In a perfect world, Up All Night would be moved to Thursday nights before Community, shifting Parks And Recreation to the post-Office slot where it belongs, thus replacing the pile of poo that Whitney appears to be [6]. Of course that would mean that NBC’s attempt to launch another night of comedy would go by the wayside, but what’s one more year, really? I’m sure they have to be used to it by now.

[1] Though it faces an uphill climb this season after replacing longtime star Steve Carrell with James Spader. It’s actually one of the most intriguing storylines of the upcoming season – seeing whether the creative team can pull this switch off.
[2] Still working on that one, as a matter of fact.
[3] Exhibit A: Her ability to more than hold her own with the incredibly talented comedic ensemble in Anchorman.
[4] In the original pilot, Rudolph wasn’t a talk show host but was instead the head of a PR firm where Applegate’s character worked. Setting the workplace scenes in a television show setting is much less abstract than a PR firm would have been and makes for more material for comedy. The reworked pilot also made the Ava character less oblivious when it comes to dealing with the baby.
[5] An object lesson here, kids. Up All Night learned it. Free Agents didn’t.
[6] Don’t hold your breath for a review of that shit pile. I like you guys enough, but not enough to subject myself to watching THAT.

Random Thoughts – Up All Night

  • The TV show setting gives it the show bit of a 30 Rock feel in some ways, which is not necessarily a bad thing.
  • “Babe, worry. I can’t totally do this.”
  • “I’m the same old me. Except sometimes now when I walk, talk, or breathe I pee.”
  • “At least you don’t have to work.” “Yeah… ‘cause raising a human’s not work at all.”
  • “That’s not even your real sex face. I wish it was.”
  • To reiterate, in case you’re listening NBC… this show has to end up on Thursdays. It fits too well there not to.

Random Thoughts – Free Agents

  • As a longtime Buffy The Vampire Slayer fan, I just love seeing Giles in something again. It’s just too bad that it’s this show.
  • The executive assistant character played by Natasha Leggero seems like too much of a stock sitcom character in a show devoid of them. That’s one of many areas that needs to be fixed for this show to have any chance of survival.
  • It does at least deserve points for the use of The Black Keys “Tighten Up.”
  • “Everyone’s telling me I need to get back on the horse. So, I was wondering if you’d like to be… that horse.”
  • “Because I have no plans to DJ at an Armenian gangster’s acquittal party.” Funny to a point, but that’s waaaay too specific a reference.

Written by jeremylikestv

September 21, 2011 at 8:56 pm

Fall Pilots Preview: Prime Suspect

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(With the fall’s crop of new shows hitting this month, now seems like a good a time to start previewing all of the new network offerings. As I’m not a professional critic, I don’t get access to all of the nice, shiny screeners that the pros do, so I’m basing my opinions somewhat on their thoughts as well as on teaser clips that the networks have released. These are very rough thoughts that could very well change once I’ve seen a full pilot. With that in mind, onto the preview.)

Prime Suspect
Who: Stars Maria Bello (A History Of Violence), Aidan Quinn (Third Watch), Kirk Acevedo (Fringe), and Brian O’Byrne (FlashForward).
Where: NBC
When: Thursdays at 10:00 PM (Premieres September 22)
What: NBC’s description via The Futon Critic: “Based on the critically acclaimed British television series of the same name, Prime Suspect has been redeveloped for American audiences by writer Alexandra Cunningham (Desperate Housewives, NYPD Blue), director Peter Berg (NBC’s Friday Night Lights) — and stars Maria Bello (A History of Violence) as tough-as-nails Detective Jane Timoney. Timoney finds that being a homicide detective in New York City is tough enough and having to contend with a male-dominated police department to get respect makes it that much tougher. She’s an outsider who has just transferred to a new precinct dominated by an impenetrable clique of a boys’ club. Timoney has her own vices too — with a questionable past — and she tends to be forceful, rude and reckless. But she’s also a brilliant cop who keeps her eye on one thing: the prime suspect. Also starring are Aidan Quinn (Unknown), Brian O’Byrne (Flash Forward), Tim Griffin (Star Trek), Kirk Acevedo (Fringe), Joe Nieves (How I Met Your Mother), Damon Gupton (The Last Airbender) and Peter Gerety (Blue Bloods). Prime Suspect is produced by Universal Media Studios, ITV and Film 44. Cunningham is the executive producer/writer along with executive producer/director Berg and executive producers Sarah Aubrey, Julie Meldal-Johnson, Paul Buccieri and Lynda LaPlante.”
Jeremy Likes TV’s Thoughts: Peter Berg being involved in this was enough for me. Friday Night Lights is my favorite television series of all-time and Berg had a huge, huge hand in almost everything about that show so his involvement in Prime Suspect alone is enough of a drawing point. Beyond that, cop shows set in New York always have a foot in the door with me and I’ve always been a Maria Bello fan. This is the second NBC adaptation of a British TV show this fall (along with Free Agents) but I have a sense that this one has a better chance of success, even though it seems incongruous with the rest of the night’s comedies. Bello is a familiar star and enough people are familiar with the original Prime Suspect that there shouldn’t be too much heavy lifting here in drawing an audience. That said, it faces tough time period competition from established hits on both CBS (The Mentalist) and ABC (Private Practice).
Chances It Gets A Full Season: 60%
Recommendation: Thumbs up. Bello was a great choice as the lead and Berg’s responsible for Friday Night Lights. What else do you need?
Other Reading About Prime Suspect:
HitFix’s Dan Fienberg
The Futon Critic

Written by jeremylikestv

September 21, 2011 at 12:13 am

Review: Ringer – “Pilot”

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Rating: 54/100

You may want to take this review with a grain of salt. Actually, you maybe want to take it with a few grains of salt. I normally like to fool myself into thinking my opinions are unimpeachable, but not here. Not with Ringer. In the interests of full disclosure, my name is Jeremy and I’m the owner of a long-time infatuation with Ringer star Sarah Michelle Gellar [1]. Pictures of SMG plastered my freshman dorm room’s walls. I count Buffy The Vampire Slayer among my three favorite shows of all-time, and not solely because of Gellar although I doubt anyone else could have embodied Buffy Summers as perfectly. It’s because of these things that I was predisposed to not hate Ringer whereas a perhaps a more rational, less emotionally invested person would. And, as expected, I didn’t hate it. Mostly, I’m just happy to have Gellar back on TV where she belongs [2].

As anyone who’s read any of the press or seen any of the promotional material for Ringer knows, the series follows twin sisters Bridget Kelly and Siobhan Martin (both played by Gellar) whose lives become intertwined after one twin (Siobhan) disappears mysteriously [3] and the other twin (Bridget) assumes her life due to a whole host of soapy reasons, not the least of which is that Bridget is the sole witness to a murder perpetrated by a Native American gangster [4] and is under federal custody until she testifies against him. Did I mention that she’s a recovering addict? And also a former stripper? No? Because of course she is. Siobhan herself is harboring secrets, such as having an affair with her best friend’s husband (Kristoffer Polaha, Life Unexpected), and carrying on a loveless sham of a marriage with a cold husband (Ioan Gruffudd, Fantastic Four) who very conveniently isn’t aware that she has a twin sister.

Despite my affection for Gellar and despite the fact that I don’t necessarily hate it, Ringer is pretty awful, although I’m still not quite sure if it falls under the “So Awful It’s Actually Good” category or the “Yeah… This Is Just Awful” category. It was, in a lot of ways, a fun pilot that didn’t overstay its welcome, while also managing to be unintentionally funny at times. It’s also without shame in laying down soap opera trope after soap opera trope like so much leaky piping. Within the first 44 minutes of the series’ history we’ve already been treated to secret twins, one twin assuming another’s identity, a long-standing rift between said twins [5], an affair with a best friend’s husband, a sham marriage, strippers, drugs, and even a secret pregnancy. Oh, and multiple murders. And a double cross. I think that might cover it.

While its plotting may be exhaustive, where does its future lay? Ringer was originally developed for CBS and it’s obvious why the network passed on it. It doesn’t fit their normal cookie-cutter procedural mold for the 50+ set at all. It’s also slightly outside of The CW’s usual teen base audience, yet it already feels like it fits in a way with The CW aesthetic despite skewing slightly older and having a somewhat different atmosphere. Gellar is passable in the dual roles although she may have to draw some differentiation between the two characters as the series progresses because they both were shaded the same way in the pilot. Polaha and Gruffudd aren’t really given much to do in this episode, but Nestor Carbonell (Lost) shows flashes of being a potentially interesting character as Bridget’s FBI handler. Also, series writers Eric Charmelo and Nicole Snyder’s continued reliance on mirrors as a motif is a little too on the nose. We get it guys. Really. No need to spoon-feed. Ultimately, Ringer isn’t the type of show that you’d describe as being put together very well, but there’s enough intrigue here to warrant at least a second look. It’s a mess. It’s trashy. But God help me… I think I might end up liking it and will probably hate myself for doing so. But, thus is Gellar’s lure. She’s had me in her grasp for going on fifteen years. Why stop now?

[1] Although she’s since been passed by Kristen Bell and, more recently, Victoria Justice. Damn you, Victorious.
[2] Her film career (Simply Irresistible, Harvard Man, Southland Tales) proved, to be kind, to be something less than stellar.
[3] Only to predictably reappear in the final scene of the episode.
[4] The guy murdered his own brother. Sensing a theme here?
[5] The reason for the rift is not yet entirely clear but it appears that Bridget did something while under the influence, possibly leading to the death of Siobhan’s son. There’s a mention of a Sean and a mysterious picture of Siobhan with a tow-headed child.

Random Thoughts:

  • Not the greatest start to the episode with the use of the “(Insert Number Of) Days Earlier” narrative device. You pull that crap and you get called a lazy writer by me.
  • What are the chances that Nestor Carbonell is a non-aging FBI agent here? Maybe Richard Alpert left the Island and went to Quantico?
  • Bridget, upon seeing Siobhan’s apartment for the first time: “This looks just like my house… except not at all.” Say what now?
  • Ridiculous plotting: Bridget, while impersonating Siobhan, admits her ruse to her NA sponsor by saying, “They all think I’m her.” By this point in the episode, we’ve seen her encounter exactly two people as Siobhan. Really.
  • Can someone explain how this show is any different than ABC Family’s The Lying Game? I mean, other than the ages of the central characters. Because they’re essentially the same show.
  • Ringer’s pilot drew over a million more viewers from the same timeslot a year ago so it seems to be an early success for The CW. Gellar is, for all intents and purposes, a brand so I could see Ringer lasting at least the entire year, if not longer.

Where To Watch: The CW | Tuesdays | 9:00 ET

Written by jeremylikestv

September 20, 2011 at 9:54 pm

Episode Review: Breaking Bad – “Hermanos”

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(Disclaimer: Breaking Bad is such a richly developed show that there is much more to discuss than there is in your average television drama. As such, this review is going to be formatted a little differently than normal and will be a little longer than usual, but I feel that’s necessary for a show like this. It will also be a discussion of major plot points in the episode so here’s your giant SPOILER ALERT. Don’t read this until you’ve seen the episode. It also assumes that you are a viewer of the show and have a basic familiarity with characters and plots. Onto the review.)

You’d be hard pressed to find a more mysterious character to this point on Breaking Bad than Gustavo “Gus” Fring but “Hermanos” pulls the curtain back and reveals more of the man than we’ve seen yet, while also offering tantalizing glimpses into bombshells that will surely be dropping by the end of this fourth season. With that, let’s find out how the chicken is made, so to speak, in “Hermanos.”

Teaser
“Sangre por sangre.”
In a bit of a departure from how many of season four’s episodes have opened, “Hermanos” begins with a look back to last season’s “I See You,” which depicted the aftermath of Hank’s shooting. We’re again shown the conversation between Walt and Gus at the hospital which is notable for its striking contrast between Walt’s demeanor then and his bravado now. He’s not nearly as hardened and there’s much more humanity in his interaction with Gus. In the background of the shot, Mike is shown leaving implying that he was the one who carried out Gus’s kill order on the surviving gunman. I honestly can’t remember if this was shown last season or not, but it makes perfect sense. We’ve been given this perspective to set up the fact that Gus later went to a retirement home to meet with Hector “Tio” Salamanca to inform him of the details of his nephews’ deaths [1]. Gus fills in the blanks for Tio and seems to take a perverse pleasure in doing so. Why he does is not apparent now but will clearly be by the end of “Hermanos.” Gus also seems to imply that he was the one who made the last-minute warning call to Hank, telling Tio, “This is what comes of blood for blood, Hector. Sangre por sangre.” The final image is haunting and ominous – what appears to be blood floating in some kind of body of water. And the title card hits…

[1] Tio actually receives the news of their murders via a news report on the home’s television. That’s cold.

Act One
”Ah… Gale Boetticher.”
We open with Walter at a medical treatment facility about to undergo, presumably, cancer testing in one of the few mentions or implications of Walter’s disease all season. Walter is not alone, however, as he’s joined by a man who seems to be dealing with his own recent cancer diagnosis. He seems to be seeking some guidance from Walter, a veteran of the process, and while Walter is cordial at first it’s not long until he’s coldly shushing the man in order to answer his phone. The contrast between what Walter once was (the other man) and what Walter is now (cold and inhuman) is striking. When the other man nervously offers, “You know what they say – make a plan and God laughs,” Walter’s response is, “That is… such… bullshit. Never give up control. Live life on your own terms.” It’s clear that the hubris of Walter White extends even to cancer diagnoses. He thinks he’s above it because, up to this point, he’s beaten it. Almost leaves you wondering whether it’s going to come back to get him before the series ends. Meanwhile, Gus is summoned for questioning by the DEA based on Hank’s suspicions on his involvement in Gale’s shooting. While waiting in the lobby of the DEA office, he notices a “Wanted” poster depicting an individual who fits the late Victor’s description. Nice touch and attention to detail/continuity there. As the formalities of the meeting begin, it’s coming into focus that “Hermanos” could end up being a Gus-heavy episode, which is very welcomed. Learning more about this man is a very intriguing and interesting prospect. After pleasantries are exchanged, Gus is informed that his fingerprints were found at the scene of a murder and he immediately acknowledges that they must be discussing Gale Boetticher. He spins a nice tale about how Gale was the recipient of a chemistry scholarship that he’d endowed 15 years prior at the University Of New Mexico in the name of a deceased friend and that that’s how they were originally introduced. He says that Gale had recently contacted him after years of being out of touch with one another when pressed on why they’d be associating in the present day. He explains their recent contact away by saying that Gale was looking for money for what he deemed “an investment opportunity” and is able to provide Hank and the other agents with an alibi for the night in question, satisfying everyone except for Hank who has questions about Gus’s past. He questions his background, saying that despite Gus’s status as a Chilean national there were no records of a Gustavo Fring in Chile. Gus somehow manages to worm his way out of this revelation but it’s obvious that we’re going to be returning to this little plot strand sooner rather than later. In this scene, Giancarlo Esposito proves yet again what a powerful addition to the cast he’s been. The way he portrays Gus’s ability to manipulate his way out of situations is masterful. In the elevator after the meeting, Gus’s hand begins to twitch. Is it because of fear, or because of anger? Either way, it’s one of the most overt emotions we’ve seen yet from Gus.

Act Two
“Do it. DO. IT. May I help you with your order?”
Following their meeting with Gus, Hank and company are debriefing and Hank questions the other three agents present on whether or not they buy Gus’s explanation. While everyone else seems inclined to believe Gus, Hank instead responds, “I agree. It was a good story. But why are we hearing it now?” He questions why it took Gus so long to reach out with an explanation, particularly given his supposedly strong relationship with the police. Hank seems somewhat dejected in being the lone dissenter and it’s strongly implied that none of the other three feel that Hank should be pursuing the matter any further. Obviously, we know that Hank won’t be able to help himself. After a short detour that sees Saul delivering a stipend to Andrea and her son Brock at Jesse’s behest [2], things move to the White household, where Skyler is now using vacuum packs of clothing as a means of disguising Walter’s cash, leading to a funny scene where a closet hanger rod collapses suddenly under the weight of the money-laden bags. Later that night, there’s another White/Schrader family dinner where Walter confirms to the rest of the family that he’s still in remission following the results of his scan. Later, Hank asks Walter for a ride to an upcoming mineral show the next day. This proves to be a ruse since Hank, as expected, is doing some detective work on his own time by having Walter drive him to a Los Pollos Hermanos in order to plant a GPS tracker on Gus’s car in the hopes of providing some more insight into Gus’s dealings. Hank lays out his belief to Walter that Gus was involved in Gale’s murder, while Walter looks like he’s about to soil himself in fear of what Gus’s reprisal to this type of subterfuge might be. Bryan Cranston plays it perfectly and somehow manages to contort his face into a deathly shade of white in conveying Walter’s terror at his worlds yet again colliding. Hank lays out that, although he feels that Gus was behind Gale’s murder he also feels that he most likely got a “dunce” to pull the trigger for him. The conversation is very tense with Walt doing everything he can to steer Hank away from Gus and, therefore, himself. To make matters worse, in the middle of their conversation Mike pulls up beside them and begins reading a newspaper even though it’s clear that he’s listening. The question here – is it a mere convenient coincidence that Mike arrives at this exact time, or is Gus’s Big Brother-esque reach so great that he’s aware of what’s happening already? Regardless, Walter is being put into an incredibly tense and untenable situation as Hank asks Walter to plant the GPS tracker for him, what with mobility issues and everything. “Come on. You gonna make me beg you? Just stick it in there [3],” Hank pleads. Reluctantly, Walt exits his car, approaches Gus’s Volvo [4], bends down to ostensibly tie his shoe and… walks into the restaurant. Gus, playing it cool, approaches a desperate Walter at the counter as Walter pleads his case that he didn’t want any of this to happen and that he didn’t, in fact, plant the tracker. “Do it. DO. IT. May I help you with your order?” is Gus’s calculated response. Walter leaves, plants the tracker, and leaves with Hank as Gus stands watching from the window, disgusted at what’s just happened.

[2] I still continue to believe that Jesse’s ongoing interest in Andrea and Brock’s lives represents one of the last threads of humanity that he feels he still possesses and that he may ultimately see their well-being as his salvation, of sorts. It’s also interesting that this scene is one of the first instances that paints Saul as something other than a humorous asshole.
[3] That’s what she said.
[4] Hank makes a point to mention how brilliant it is that a ruthless drug lord drives a 10-year-old Volvo.

Act Three
“What if this is like math, or algebra? You add a plus douchebag to a minus douchebag and you get, like, zero douchebags.”
Terrified of the repercussions of planting the GPS tracker, Walt frantically rushes to the lab to tell the cameras (read: Gus) that he had nothing to do with Hank’s plan, while also desperately pleading for the life of his brother-in-law [5] by saying that anything happening to Hank would be mutually damaging to the both of them. He gives Gus his assurance that Hank will not discover anything else. He next goes to Jesse’s house to implore Jesse [6] to finally execute their plan to… well… execute Gus with the ricin compound. While Walter is nervous and anxious, Jesse is almost nonchalant upon finding out that Hank’s has cast suspicion upon Gus. Jesse believes that Hank doesn’t have anything on Gus because of the sheer fact that he’s still drawing breath because if he was in possession of anything damning, Gus would “break out his box cutter on his sorry gimp ass.” When Jesse leaves to use the bathroom, Walter intercepts a text that confirms his suspicions that Jesse’s loyalty may not lay entirely with him. The slow fuse has been lit and it’s only a matter of time before it blows. The brief third act ends here so it looks like we’re in for an extra-long final act. This could be very, very good.

[5] While showing that Walter may have at least a shred of humanity left… somewhere.
[6] Who’s wearing a shirt that can best be described as a family of sequins throwing up all over him.

Act Four
“No. Guy’s gone totally maverick. He’s Miss Daisy with binoculars.”
Gus is watching a live feed from the lab when he receives a call from Mike, who informs him that after some digging he’s determined that the authorities do not consider Gus a suspect in Gale’s murder and that Hank has been warned about investigating the matter any further. Gus isn’t entirely convinced that Hank has given up, mentioning specifically his knowledge of the Chilean connection. Mike responds that if he couldn’t find anything about Gus’s past in Chile, he doubts that Hank would be able to find anything. He dismisses Hank as a problem but mentions that their simultaneous conflict with the Mexican cartel could be problematic. “If he happens to be watching when they make a move, it could be the perfect storm.” After affixing Hank’s GPS tracker to a nearby garbage can, Gus leaves to visit Tio Salamanca again, informing him of what has been happening while asking, “Is today the day, Hector?[7]” The story then flashes back years prior to a younger Gus along with a partner [8] meeting with the head of the Mexican cartel, Don Eladio, who’s played by Scarface’s Steven Bauer [9]. It raises the question of whether Eladio is still alive in the present day as I doubt you cast someone as recognizable as Bauer for a one-off role like this. A much younger Hector Salamanca appears, taking a piss into Eladio’s pool and implying that Gus and his partner are gay, showing that he was an asshole even then. After some pleasantries about Gus’s and his partner’s chicken cooking abilities, we learn that the meeting was called because Gus has been moving in on Eladio and the cartel’s drug territory, using Los Pollos Hermanos as a front to push meth. Eladio questions their drug of choice, dismisses it as “poor man’s cocaine” and saying that “only bikers and hillbillies use it. [10]” Gus’s partner tells Eladio that it doesn’t have anything in common with “biker crank” in that it’s crystallized and is much more potent and addictive. Gus then calls it the future of drugs while telling Eladio that it’ll triple or possibly quadruple his profits. He talks about the impracticalities of selling cocaine in Mexico due to the inability of the coca plant to grow there and the Mexicans’ role as middlemen to the Colombian bosses. Their offer is to teach Eladio’s men how to cook their meth recipe, to which Eladio asks why he needs Gus if the partner is the cook. “Why should I negotiate with someone who disrespects me?” he asks. The parallels with Walter and Jesse become apparent as the partner pleads for Gus’s life by using the “he’s my partner and I need him” line that Walter himself has used on many occasions. Out of nowhere, a gunshot is heard and Gus is suddenly covered in blood that’s spurting out of his partner’s head, gruesomely. Gus madly goes after Hector, the gunman, thus shedding light on their interactions from earlier in the episode. Gus is eventually subdued and forced to look at his dead friend’s slumped over body, blood draining from his head into the pool [11] while being told that his friend’s death was his doing. As he watches his partner’s lifeless body, Eladio warns him, “The only reason you’re alive and he’s not is because I know who you are. But understand – you’re not in Chile anymore.” Gus sobs as the blood continues to drip into the pool. What a scene. Wow. This opens a whole host of possibilities and adds yet another to the brutally beautiful sequences in the series’ history. I mean, we knew that Hector was a dick but this gives even more background into his past and makes his current powerless condition all the more ironic. “Hermanos” finishes back in the present day as Gus intones to Hector, “Look at me. Look. At. Me. Maybe next time.” He’s just taunting him and now we know why. Again… wow.

[7] While I’d originally thought that Gus was attempting to get a rise out of Hector in the thought that he was faking his condition, others have mentioned that Gus is referring to the day that he’ll extract revenge on Hector for something as yet unknown. Thus, the “blood for blood” statement at the beginning of the episode.
[8] A partner who’s a chemist, so this is likely the friend in whose name the scholarship was created.
[9] Love the casting and it’s a great nod to history as well.
[10] I neglected to mention that this entire sequence is done entirely in subtitled Spanish, adding to the authenticity of the scene.
[11] The source of the opening image.

Overall Thoughts: I’ve likely gone on long enough here so suffice to say, this was yet another top-shelf episode in a season filled with them. We were treated to more backstory on Gus than we’ve seen to date and that backstory was incredible. Surely the slow burn to Walter and Jesse’s inevitable showdown is going to continue in the next episode, while the new thread about Gus’s past in Chile will surely be coming to the fore sooner rather than later. We’re now 2/3 of the way into the season so all everything should likely be coming to a boil soon. I can’t wait.

Rating: 95/100

Written by jeremylikestv

September 20, 2011 at 12:18 am

Fall Pilots Preview: Revenge

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(With the fall’s crop of new shows hitting this month, now seems like a good a time to start previewing the new network offerings. As I’m not a professional critic, I don’t get access to all of the nice, shiny screeners that the pros do, so I’m basing my opinions somewhat on their thoughts as well as on teaser clips that the networks have released. These are very rough thoughts that could very well change once I’ve seen a full pilot. With that in mind, onto the preview.)

Revenge
Who: Stars Emily VanCamp (Brothers & Sisters), Madeleine Stowe (The Last Of The Mohicans), Gabriel Mann (The Bourne Supremacy), and Henry Czerny (Falling Skies).
Where: ABC
When: Wednesdays at 10:00 PM (Premieres September 20)
What: ABC’s description via The Futon Critic: “Wealth, beauty and status define the people in this town, but one woman is willing to destroy everyone for the sake of revenge. Emily Thorne (Emily Van Camp) is new to the Hamptons. She’s met some of her wealthy neighbors, has made a few new friends and seemingly blends into the town. But something is a little odd about a young girl living in a wealthy town all on her own, and the truth is that Emily isn’t exactly new to the neighborhood. In fact, this was once her old neighborhood, until something bad happened that ruined her family and their reputation. Now Emily is back, and she’s returned to right some of those wrongs in the best way she knows how – with a vengeance. Revenge stars Madeleine Stowe (We Were Soldiers, The Last of the Mohicans) as Victoria Grayson, Emily Van Camp (Brothers & Sisters, Everwood) as Emily Thorne, Gabriel Mann (The Bourne Identity) as Nolan Ross, Henry Czerny (Mission: Impossible, Clear and Present Danger) as Conrad Grayson, Ashley Madekwe (Secret Diary of a Call Girl) as Ashley Davenport, Nick Wechsler (Roswell) as Jack Porter, Josh Bowman (Prowl) as Daniel Grayson, Christa B. Allen (13 Going on 30) as Charlotte Grayson and Connor Paolo (Gossip Girl) as Declan Porter. Revenge is written and executive-produced by Mike Kelley (Swingtown), along with executive producers Marty Bowen and Wyck Godfrey (Twilight). The pilot is directed and executive-produced by Phillip Noyce (Salt). Revenge is produced by ABC Studios.”
Jeremy Likes TV’s Thoughts: Eh. I’m firmly in the middle on this one. It’s been described as “The Count Of Monte Cristo In The Hamptons” by some and an over-the-top soap by others, so I guess that could be fun. I’ve also generally liked VanCamp in what she’s done in the past and, superficially, she’s nice to look at… so there’s that. It faces an uphill climb in its timeslot as it faces aging procedural vets Law & Order: SVU on NBC and the CSI mothership on CBS, both of which have loyal audiences. On the other hand, it does offer something different but still, I can’t shake the vibe that this show is simply “programming” and likely nothing more.
Chances It Gets A Full Season: 40%
Recommendation: Thumbs in the middle. Could be fun or could be really boring.
Other Reading About Revenge:
HitFix’s Dan Fienberg
The Futon Critic
TVLine’s Matt Webb Mitovich

 

 

Written by jeremylikestv

September 17, 2011 at 1:00 am

Review: Sons Of Anarchy – “Out”

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Rating: 73/100

Sons Of Anarchy was not good last year. Let’s get that out of the way right off the bat. Series creator Kurt Sutter will disagree with you, and he’ll disagree with you vehemently. His somewhat childish response to those who weren’t enamored of the show’s approach [1] in its third season was to dismiss them by claiming that they weren’t “getting it” when, in actuality, there really wasn’t anything to “get.” Sutter says his intention was to not be tied down to the same type of storytelling that he employed in the show’s breakthrough second season and, while that’s admirable and while Sutter should be applauded for taking risks, risk taking and execution are two completely different things. The willingness to experiment was there but the execution was not. And that’s OK, but a television showrunner cannot stick his or her head in the sand and completely ignore constructive criticism. That’s just not good practice and, whether he’ll admit it or not, it appears that some of that backlash made its way through to Sutter because in many ways, SOA’s season four premiere, “Out,” is a return to form.

While much of last year was muddled and meandering, SOA managed to regain some of its footing in its finale [2] and it appears that Sutter and company have managed to carry that momentum forward into the fourth year. In fact, the opening montage of the Sons’ release from prison and return home had a triumphant feel that was a strong opening announcement of a potential return to form. Instead of being stationed in far away Belfast being weighted down by a kidnapping storyline that never seemed to have the urgency necessary for that kind of plot, the story is anchored back in the show’s Northern California home base of Charming. Instead of fighting amorphous IRA factions and corrupt priests, the SOA motorcycle gang back doing what they do best – tangling with local law enforcement and combating bureaucrats over their differing visions for their town.

The return to familiar ground has given the series, at least in its premiere, a confidence that seemed to be missing last year. It might be too soon to say that the show’s all the way back to season two form as last year’s premiere was also very strong before faltering not long after, but “Out’s” relative strength is a very encouraging sign. Call it a solid leadoff double. The fear is that a return to familiar ground can also lead to complacency and boredom but hopefully that fear is not realized as the season progresses. As hard as it can be to get behind Sutter, I’m really rooting for SOA to rebound this year and, to that end, “Out” was a step in the right direction.

[1] Particularly professional critics, some of whom he labeled “cunts.” Seriously.
[2] A large part of the show regaining its footing was the decision to finally kill off one of the show’s primary antagonists, Ally Walker’s ATF Agent June Stahl, who had taken a precipitous turn from interesting adversary to cartoon villainy. While killing off a character played by the wife of FX network head John Landgraf couldn’t have been an easy decision, it was absolutely 100% the right one.

Random Thoughts:

  • I, at first, thought that Sutter’s decision to have Otto (played by Sutter himself) slit his own wrists in jail was a meta wink to all of the season three criticism and I felt it was an inventive way for Sutter to make a mea culpa, but alas Otto survives yet again. Should have known that Sutter’s ego was too large to completely eliminate the character.
  • After getting away from it for much of the third season, a return to the Jax/Clay conflict would be a welcome story shift this year and it seems that’s where things may be headed in fairly short order. The closeness between Jax and Clay following their jail stint is going to make the inevitable split all the more powerful.
  • The gentrification of Charming is an interesting color for the series to play this season and having the Sons dump the dead bodies of the Russian arms dealers right in the construction site that’s being headed by the town’s new mayor was a nice “fuck you” to the slimy Mayor Hale.
  • Casting Rockmund Dunbar (Terriers) and Ray McKinnon (Deadwood) as the new sheriff and AUSA respectively was a great move. Dunbar always adds something to any show he’s been a part of (Prison Break, Terriers, The Chicago Code) and there are interesting layers to McKinnon’s character already – his appearance, distrust of people leading to enhanced security at the AUSA’s office are both unique notes for what could have easily been a stock character. Both are wonderful actors who will add to the series’ already talented ensemble.
  • The new haircut for Charlie Hunnam is a nice symbol of Jax’s desire to change and abandon the club so that his sons can have a better life than he’s had. The scene where Jax informs Tara of his plans to leave the club as soon as he can was played very nicely by Hunnam and Maggie Siff.
  • Hey! It’s Ronnie (David Rees Snell) from The Shield as a federal agent. Maybe that ICE promotion went through after all.

Where To Watch: Tuesdays | FX | 10:00 ET

Written by jeremylikestv

September 13, 2011 at 7:40 pm