Archive for January 2012
TV Diary | Alcatraz – Episode 1.03 – “Kit Nelson” – Original Airdate: 1/23/12
Episode Grade: C+
“Kit Nelson” was not really the way that I’d hoped Alcatraz would come out in its second week, even as I understood its approach. The first couple of episodes of a season – particularly that of a debut season – usually see a show repeating itself, and its pilot in particular, as a way of reinforcing what the show is while at the same time creating an inviting environment for newcomers who may be seeing the show for the first time. So, I get that Alcatraz used the same formula for “Kit Nelson” that it did for its second episode, “Ernest Cobb,” but it didn’t make it any less frustrating. I have the sense that there’s a really weird and interesting show in here struggling to get out but it’s weighted down by the generic procedural aspect that’s in the show’s DNA thus far. Like in “Ernest Cobb,” Madsen and Soto track down a baddie but this time instead of a crazed sniper it’s a crazed child-kidnapper. That amps the stakes more than a little  even as it was doubtful that Alcatraz is the kind of show that’s gonna kill a kid, especially in its third episode. In a nutshell, Nelson killed his own brother back in the day as a child and then, as a response, began kidnapping and killing other kids as a way of working out his issues. Not particularly healthy, that. Ultimately, this episode – much like “Ernest Cobb” – felt waaaay too Criminal Minds-ish for my tastes. If this is something that becomes a regular occurrence, I’m going to have to reevaluate whether Alcatraz is something worth sticking with but for now the strange threads that pop up at various points in each episode are what’s keeping me around and there were a couple in “Kit Nelson” that caught my attention. First, Nelson is the first of the three Alcatraz escapees that we’ve seen who hasn’t survived . What does that do to the dynamic of the show, seeing as Hauser has incarcerated both Cobb and Jack Sylvain in a mysterious high-tech prison in the middle of the woods? Even more intriguing – is Nelson actually going to be dead? The final moments of “Kit Nelson” introduced Leon Rippy  as Dr. Beauregard, the mysterious medical examiner at Hauser’s new facility and, after delivering Nelson’s lifeless body to the doctor, Hauser mentions something about possibly needing Beauregard’s services for a friend – presumably Parminder Nagra’s Dr. Bannerjee who is still near-death in the hospital following her shooting in “Ernest Cobb.” Sooo… are we re-animating corpses here? Something even more strange, perhaps? Either way, it’s these little hints of weirdness that make Alcatraz worth sticking with for the time being. Given the fact that the show’s been a breakout hit for Fox the past two weeks, they’re probably loathe to change the formula too much but less generic torture-porn procedural and more weird sci-fi is definitely the direction the show needs to be heading. Time will tell if that’s what happens.
 And allows a bit of backstory into Soto, as he confesses to the victim towards the episode’s conclusion that something similar happened to him when he was an adolescent. Nice to get a little insight into Soto, even if it came in a somewhat lackluster episode like this.
 After being shot dead by Hauser when Madsen’s unable to pull the trigger.
 Tom Nuttall! Deadwood represent, yo.
*Through three episodes, Sam Neill isn’t being given much to do other than act like a hardass each time he’s on screen. Here he cancels the amber alert on the abducted child because he doesn’t want the photo of Nelson to be widely distributed due to his status as a 63. He also seems willing to boot Soto from the team until Madsen goes to bat for him, and later psychoanalyzes Soto by telling him that the incident from Soto’s past has caused a state of arrested development and that the only reason he’s keeping him around is because his expertise on the subject of Alcatraz. I said in my initial review that Neill is somewhat handicapped by Hauser’s role as the keeper of the secrets but Neill’s been a decent actor for much of his career. Maybe give him some more to do already.
*On the subject of giving people more to do… no Robert Forster again? What the hell, Alcatraz?
*Another one of those interesting threads that’s I’ve been talking about comes when we see Nelson at Alcatraz in flashback talking to a figure behind a curtain in the infirmary. For the second time, said figure cuts deeply into the psyche of the inmate who’s the focus of the episode. As I said, this is the second time that type of scene has played out in Alcatraz’s three episodes and, here, the man behind the curtain is revealed to be Madsen’s grandfather. That’s clearly something that’s going to be important going forward and is a nice nod to continuity.
*Admittedly, I didn’t like too much about the “Kit Nelson” plot, but the fact that he killed his victims within 48 hours of abduction provided a nice time crunch for our heroes to solve the case.
*On the other hand, the actress playing the mother of the kidnapped kid? Maybe act a little more broken up about YOUR KID BEING KIDNAPPED BY A PYSCHOPATH. Jesus… it’s like someone told her that her blender had been stolen – not her oldest child.
*I’ve generally liked Sarah Jones’ work in the past (Big Love, Sons Of Anarchy, Justified), but her line readings here are kind of odd and dispassionate. Am I the only one noticing this?
*Is Madsen always going to apprehend these guys in the rain? Something to think about.
*The first five minutes of this episode… I swear to God if you hadn’t told me that it was Alcatraz I would have sworn it was an episode of Fringe. Here’s hoping that Alcatraz ends up following a similar path as that show, at least from a content standpoint since Fringe has never drawn the numbers that Alcatraz has in its three outings.
*Doc’s attempts to stall Nelson after he happens upon him in the diner are great. “Hey… what are you guys up to?”
*”If he had tried my cherry pie, he wouldn’t be so unhappy.” I may have heard this line differently than intended.
*Episode embedded below via Hulu, as usual.
TV Diary | The Vampire Diaries – Episode 3.11 – “Our Town” – Original Airdate: 1/12/12
Episode Grade: B+
You’ve gotta respect The Vampire Diaries’ willingness to blow things up. All season it’s seemed like the show has been merely toying with a temporary switch of personalities between Stefan and Damon. Something to bide the time and make the beginning half of the third season a little more interesting. It’s like the creative team said, let’s take the series’ hero (Stefan) and paint him as a soulless monster first following orders from the series’ big bad and then, reveal him as someone focused solely on revenge for what the big bad has made him do. Also, we’ll make him willing to do anything and hurt anyone as a means to gaining his vengeance. Meanwhile, we’ll take the show’s antagonist (Damon) and begin humanizing him  to the point where he becomes a viable love interest for the series’ heroine (Elena). Ultimately, Stefan would come back around and there would be a battle between the two for Elena’s affections with good (Stefan) winning over evil (Damon) in the end. And truthfully? That may be where things end up at some point in the future but for now, it’s completely clear – Stefan is this show’s number one villain. TVD’s main creative combo of Kevin Williamson and Julie Plec have gone further than I ever expected them to go. Stefan’s desire to toy with and exact a pound of flesh from Klaus has left him devoid of almost any bit of the Stefan that we saw in TVD’s first two seasons. That guy’s completely gone now, a fact that was driven home by the scene leading to and on Wickery Bridge – the site of the death of Elena’s parents. Stefan’s decision to strike at Klaus by taking on his hybrids  leads Damon to warn that, “The only way to call someone’s bluff is to be able to lose everything if you’re wrong.” After seeing the events of “Our Town” unfold, it’s clear that Stefan is. Knowing that Klaus’s weakness is his family, Stefan threatens dumping the body of Klaus’s brother Elijah into the ocean, to which Klaus warns that killing Damon would be his response. But the true measure of just how far Stefan has moved from what we saw in the show’s first two seasons comes on the bridge with Elena. After some machinations involving the town council, Klaus promises that his hybrids won’t harm anyone else in Mystic Falls provided that Stefan returns the bodies of Klaus’s family members to him. As everyone tries to convince Stefan that it’s the right and safest thing to do, he instead abducts Elena and calls Klaus’s bluff in the strongest way possible – he threatens to drive he and Elena off of the bridge, which would kill Klaus’s ability to create more hybrids . He’s not willing to lose her entirely – he feeds her his blood against her will  – but he’s willing to use Elena, previously the most important thing in his life, as a means of beating Klaus. That’s a pretty big statement in the series’ history, one that’s driven home when Klaus does relent and agrees to kick the hybrids to the curb. Clearly Elena is wrecked by Stefan’s willingness to use her life as a pawn in his war with Klaus as she calls Stefan on the fact that he used the same location that’s haunted her since her parents died. When she asks why he would do that to her, he says that he knew that he actually lost her when he left with Klaus  at the end of season two and says chillingly, “I really don’t care what you think about me anymore, Elena.” While this may not be entirely true – The AV Club’s Carrie Raisler posits in her review of “Our Town” that Stefan’s main reason for revenge against Klaus is that Klaus took Elena from him when he made him leave – TVD seems to be strongly shifting towards Stefan as the show’s main villain  and I’m very, very interested to see where things are headed if that is indeed the case. It’s a fearless move for the show – and one that opens any number of storyline possibilities – but that’s actually the type of thing that TVD does on a regular basis. And it’s all the better for it.
 Relatively speaking.
 One such strike involves cutting a hybrid’s head off with a saw blade. In fairly graphic fashion, for The CW.
 Elena’s blood, in her capacity as the doppelganger for something or someone that’s not entirely clear as of yet, is the key ingredient for Klaus’s ability to create stable hybrids. If she’s dead, so’s his ability to make more minions.
 TVD rule: If you die with vampire blood in your system, you come back as a vampire.
 He left in order to save Damon’s life.
 Stefan to Damon: “No, to beat the villain, Damon, you have to be the better villain.”
*”Our Town’s” other main plot point saw Klaus use Caroline in much the same way that Stefan used Elena – ordering Tyler to bite her and, since hybrid bites are lethal to vampires, that would be kind of a final solution – only to show some remorse and possible romantic interest in Caroline by episode’s end. Just as the show seems to be moving in the direction of Stefan being the villain, it also looks like we may be headed towards a Klaus/Caroline pairing which actually adds more weight to the “Stefan as main villain” theory. Romantic interest – and Klaus’s final words of the episode in describing why life is worth living to Caroline – inject some vulnerability into Klaus which isn’t something we’ve yet seen. While Stefan tells Elena that he doesn’t care what she thinks anymore, Klaus saves Caroline through poignancy and <gasp> human emotion. Again… it’s another interesting shift for the show.
*Not lost in the Klaus/Caroline storyline – as Raisler also points out – is that Tyler has absolutely no free will anymore. Early in the episode, Klaus commands him to bite Caroline but Tyler strongly refuses only to absent-mindedly do it later as he and Caroline are kissing. Having a character who has no free will whatsoever is not only terrifying, but could provide some interesting storyline possibilities as the season progresses.
*Looks like Jeremy is indeed gone for now, though I’d be surprised if we didn’t see him again before season’s end.
*Another interesting development? The rings that protect Alaric and Jeremy seem to have a shelf life and may be wearing off. Could this be an impetus for Jeremy’s return down the line?
*Again, loving TVD’s music supervisor. This week we get the Naked And Famous’ “Punching In A Dream” and Coldplay’s “Up In Flames.”
*”These hybrids are really bringing the neighborhood down.”
*”Can’t a council meeting ever just be a council meeting?” That’s a nice meta nod to TVD’s propensity towards lavish get-togethers as jumping off points for its plotlines.
*Episode embedded below via Hulu, as usual.
Why Fox decided it would be a good idea to base a new animated series on Napoleon Dynamite, a film from eight years ago that wore out its welcome roughly ten minutes after it was released , is certainly a head-scratcher. I can’t imagine that anyone was really clamoring to see more of the Dynamite family which leaves you wondering: Were Fox execs impaired in some manner when they gave the show the thumbs-up? Did movie and series star Jon Heder have blackmail material on said executives? Were the rights to Soul Plane unavailable? In any event, the series was greenlit and – as of this writing – two episodes have aired (with another on the way tonight following The Simpsons). After seeing the first two installments, the decision to go ahead with the series is even more puzzling.
Just as the movie did, this Napoleon Dynamite follows the exploits of its titular star – a teenage outcast in Preston, Idaho – and the wacky group of family and friends that surround him. While some might say that the film itself was a live-action cartoon, here the characters are actually two-dimensionally animated. If you’ve seen the film, you know that Napoleon (Jon Heder, Blades Of Glory) is an awkward and not-particularly-likeable gawky kid who’s got an inflated self-opinion that belies his nerd status, even in a small town like Preston. Helping him navigate his way through adolescence are best friend Pedro (Efren Ramirez, Crank) and neighbor Deb (Tina Majorino, Veronica Mars), who has a rather obvious crush on Napoleon that he’s either oblivious to or too self-absorbed to care about. The show, like the movie, also spends time with the other members of the Dynamite family, which include older brother Kip (Aaron Ruell), Uncle Rico (Jon Gries, Lost), and Grandma Dynamite (Sandy Martin, Big Love). Rounding out the cast is Dietrich Bader (The Drew Carey Show) as Preston tae-kwon-do master Rex and, although he’s central to the plot of the first episode, shoehorning him into future episodes could prove tricky due to the… uh… let’s call it “specialized” nature of the character. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the characters seem to wear the animated format fairly well. Since wackiness was a hallmark of the film, the animated setting allows the Hesses to turn the crazy dial up even more  and, in episodes like “Thundercone” – where the side effects of a discontinued acne cream turn Napoleon into a ball of rage who’s drafted into a secret town fight club – the increased absurdity works at least somewhat. A subplot in that episode where Kip meets a woman (Parks And Recreation’s Amy Poehler) over the Internet and takes her to a Chuck E. Cheese-esque pizza restaurant on a date leads to the episode’s biggest chuckles – Kip remarking about the anamatronic band: “I’ve never seen them play a bad show.” – however, I don’t know that I laughed once during the second episode, “Scantronica Love,” where a chemistry teacher develops a machine that supposedly matches individuals up with their perfect mate. Hilarity is supposed to ensue, but decidedly does not.
Perhaps the biggest element that the show has in its favor is that it returns almost the entire cast from the movie to voice the animated versions of themselves. On the one hand, the fact that Jared and Jerusha Hess (the husband/wife duo behind the original film) has gotten the cast to reprise their roles here is a plus. The characters from the movie were so singular – for all of the good and bad that entails – that having anyone else voice them would have likely been ill-fated. On the other, it’s not like Hollywood was necessarily beating down Heder’s or Gries’ door so what else were they going to do? Turn this down? Through two episodes, Napoleon Dynamite has also managed to attract some respected names in comedy to do guest spots. Poehler appeared in the pilot as the object of Kip’s affections, while Jennifer Coolidge (veteran of the Christopher Guest improv comedies) and Jemaine Clement (of Flight Of The Conchords and seemingly doing his voice from Jared Hess’ Gentlemen Broncos) voice characters in the second episode. Continuing to attract these types of guests can only help the series’ prospects as well.
Ultimately, your opinion of Napoleon Dynamite the series is likely going to be based almost entirely on how you felt about Napoleon Dynamite the film. For me? It’s harmless enough product. It’s kind of just there and definitely isn’t worth going out of your way to see but, as someone whose near-six-year-old son liked it, I’ll probably be sticking with it for the foreseeable future even as I don’t have much expectation that it’s going to get better. Were it not for that? Bail City. I certainly won’t be writing about it again because, more than anything, no matter what your opinion of the movie was, the show is exactly what you think it is. Exactly. What you think. It is. And there’s really no mystery – or interest – in something like that.
 I’ll cop to enjoying the movie myself when it first came out. Granted, I was 26 and immature but I liked it well enough. However, the film– unlike myself – has not aged particularly well.
 That Simpsons vet Mike Scully is part of the creative team bodes well for the future, but Scully’s only one man. He can only do so much.
*One of the side effects of Rac-U-Tane, the zit cream that Napoleon uses in “Thundercone”, causes another character to remark: “It smells like a burnt lasagna.”
*Side effects include: bad breath, BO, lust, fits of unbridled rage
*The name of the Preston fight club is the Pioneer Punch Club. Oy.
*The Pioneer Punch Club seems to be an excuse to get Dietrich Bader’s Rex character into the mix. Like I mentioned earlier, it’s hard to see how he’s going to fit in the series in future episodes which is a shame in some respects because Bader is a very talented and experienced voice actor.
*I love that Kip has burned CDs of the anamatronic pizza band and that he offers to make a copy for his online date. Of course he would have burned CDs of the anamatronic pizza band.
*”OK… this one better not be made of pipe cleaners again.”
*”I don’t want your sick woman. But I could take her if I wanted.”
*”Grandma’s not going anywhere. She’s inside airing out in her bra and jeans.” Try getting that image out of your heads now.
*”Come on… let me murder you.”
*”This better be good. I was just skinny-dipping with Merle Haggard.”
*Episodes below via Hulu.
TV Diary | Archer – Episode 3.04 – “The Man From Jupiter” – Original Airdate: 1/19/12
Episode Grade: A
Earlier this week I mentioned that the January premiere that I was most looking forward to was the Justified third season premiere. What I didn’t mention was that the return of another top-shelf FX series, Archer, wasn’t far behind. To be an Archer fan is to be an extremely rabid enthusiast of the show. I don’t know of anyone who’s only in halfway on it. Either you love it, or you hate it . And the number of people who love it is increasing every day. That’s clear from the growing attention that the third season’s premiere has garnered in the press. Having not written extensively about the show in the past, I’m kind of interested to see how these reviews end up turning out because, while it’s one of television’s best shows and is incredibly well-constructed, it’s basically joke after joke after joke to the point that the majority of my notes for this episode are straight quotes  but I’m sure we’ll be able to find at least one thing to talk about from each episode. Here the hook is easy. From the series’ onset, creator Adam Reed made it clear that part of the inspiration for the Sterling Archer character came from the man’s man characters that Burt Reynolds played in his films from the 1970s. Hell… an entire season two episode, “Pipeline Fever,” was an extended homage to Reynolds’ 1976 film Gator. With that in mind, it shouldn’t be terribly surprising that Reynolds would turn up sooner or later in some form on Archer and in the third season’s first  episode he does make an appearance. Even more brilliantly? He’s PLAYING HIMSELF. Genius. The episode is basically an excuse for everyone to hero worship Reynolds  but Reed is a very smart showrunner, so there’s more than that. The masterstroke? Archer has to deal with the fact that his role model is… wait for it… dating his mother. Watching Archer try to reconcile the fact that his childhood hero  is banging his mom is comedic gold. Their first meeting comes in a bar where Archer plays total fanboy and rattles off seemingly Reynolds’ entire filmography, only to recoil in horror when Reynolds excuses himself because he’s meeting a date who turns out to be Archer’s own mother, Malory. Archer then spends the majority of the episode trying to sabotage the relationship – while simultaneously fending off a Cuban death squad attempting to carry out a hit on him – only to ultimately be taught a lesson by Reynolds that he needs to begin seeing Malory as an actual person with needs instead of just his mother in order to truly grow up. It’s a fairly simple concept, but it’s surrounded by some riotous gags and lines, not the least of which is Reynolds leading a very impressive (for an animated series) car chase scene after Lana, Cyril, Ray, and Krieger fail to subdue the Cuban assassins. Reynolds was very impressive in this guest spot, as Reed smartly let Reynolds be Reynolds, while Reynolds himself read his lines in a fairly subdued manner that really played well off of H. Jon Benjamin’s hyper Archer. Even better? That Malory and Reynolds are still dating at episode’s end, leading to the possibility of more Reynolds appearances which I really like since his work here was one of the best guest appearances yet on Archer. Thanks largely to Reynolds and the obvious respect that the show had for him, “The Man From Jupiter” was not only a very, very strong kickoff to the third season, but one of the better episodes in the show’s three seasons.
 And if you hate it, what the hell is wrong with you? You probably don’t like America either, do you?
 What this means is, clearly the Miscellany section is going to be absolutely LOADED with the episode’s best quotes. Which is almost all of them.
 Or fourth, depending on how you view the three extra episodes that aired post-season two back in September. They’re officially listed as season three episodes even as they dealt with storylines from the end of season two. They really were almost a season 2.5 but whatever. This is the first episode of 2012 and Archer has traditionally debuted in January so we’re gonna call this the season premiere. Cool? Cool.
 Some more graphically than others. For instance, Pam’s response: “I swear to God you could drown a toddler in my panties right now. I mean, not that you would but…”
 In a great flashback scene, we see a toddler Archer playing Smokey And The Bandit.
*Archer’s elaborate voicemail hoax – three separate false starts – is the reason Malory gives for not telling him for a week that the Cuban death squad was after him. Mother of the year material, that.
*Really respect that they’re keeping storyline continuity with Ray still being paralyzed. This is going to lead to some very good material for the show to play with. For example, this exchange between Ray and Lana: “OK… don’t take this the wrong way, but I’m kind of wondering how you’re going to be an effective field agent.” “Interesting, coming from a woman.” “Excuse me?”
*Archer has a hot tub made out of California redwood. Because of course he does.
*Reynolds tells Archer that he should get a batpole because the elevator in Archer’s building is so slow as they’re trying to flee the Cuban assasins. Archer responds that the lowest quote he could get was $9,000. Because of course he got a quote for one.
*”Are you gonna take her upstairs and give her ‘the longest yard’?”
*”What’s that, Cyril? I couldn’t hear you over the sound of ‘I broke your nose.'”
*”Wait… who calls it ‘Tinseltown?'” “Carol Channing?”
*”Yeah. Right in the head and ass!”
*”Doesn’t it come in a silver chalice?” “That would be a pimp cup, sir.”
*”That’s not your car is it?” “Why?” “Nothing. I just didn’t know they sold those to men.”
*”I’m sorry… I can’t hear you over the sound of my GIANT THROBBING ERECTION.”
*”Leave me for some hot little 20-year-old? Well… I’ll show him. I’ll go find me a 10-year-old.” “Eww.” “Yeah… I don’t think you want to do that.”
*”Nobody wants your mustache rides around here, buster.”
*”And I, for one, am gonna go watch Hooper and masturbate until my fingers bleed.” “Just tape them up.”