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Archive for April 2012

Review: Girls

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Grade: A-

It’s rare that a show arrives to the type of critical plaudits that HBO’s new Girls received upon its debut two weeks ago. Because of the tidal wave of praise that it received, informed television fans could predict a backlash coming from a mile away and, indeed, that’s what’s happened. Girls, without question, is a divisive show. There’s really not much room for grey areas here. Either you’re going to find star/director/creator Lena Dunham’s small group of self-absorbed twentysomethings to be accurately indicative of a generation, or you’re going to find them to be insufferable and unlikable, most surely influencing your impressions of Girls toward the negative. For me? I’d put myself in the first group. I’ve found Girls’ first two episodes to be a sign that television has found a uniquely talented new voice in Dunham and, as a married father in his mid-30s who doesn’t completely understand the mindset of young women in their 20s in New York, I see Girls as a seemingly realistic look at an age group that I don’t particularly have much (if anything at all) in common with. And perhaps that’s why it’s an important show.

Dunham is probably best known for her 2010 indie feature Tiny Furniture and has the backing of comedy wizard Judd Apatow (Freaks And Geeks, The 40-Year-Old Virgin) here. Girls has a lot in common tonally with independent film and carries a different voice than you typically see on television. Dunham plays Hannah Horvath, an aspiring writer in NYC who’s recently been cut off financially by her parents [1], is seeing a questionable [2] guy who degrades her at almost every opportunity, and has an internship that pays her absolutely no money. Hannah lives with her best friend Marnie (Allison Williams), a type-A art gallery assistant with a sensitive [3] boyfriend named Charlie (Christopher Abbott) who she can hardly stand anymore. The remaining half of Girls’ titular quartet of women is comprised of Jessa (Jemima Kirke, Dunham’s co-star in Tiny Furniture) as a flighty, earthy, granola-crunch bohemian who Hannah hero worships and Shoshanna (Zosia Mamet, Mad Men), Jessa’s materialistic cousin.

While Girls’ pilot takes a wider worldview by virtue of introducing and establishing the characters, its second episode “Vagina Panic” was, to me, much more effective and suggests that there just may be a very, very good show here. The pilot gives us a rough sketch of who each character is, and then “Vagina Panic” plays off of those sketches to strong result. It also takes FULL advantage of the latitude that an outlet like HBO provides so, consider this your NSFW content alert right now. In the pilot, one of the major plot points is the discovery that Jessa has gotten unwittingly pregnant and has chosen not to go through with it. We also learn that Marnie and Jessa don’t exactly get along and, in fact, one could say that they in some ways play the angel and devil on each one of Hannah’s shoulders [4]. This makes Jessa’s tardiness and Marnie’s irritation with Jessa’s tardiness to the abortion clinic where Hannah, Marnie, and Shoshanna are waiting to support her resonate all the more. The pilot establishes that Hannah desperately needs to find a new job after quitting her (non-paying) internship so watching her completely bungle a job interview [5] in hilarious fashion hits even harder knowing how badly she needs to find a new gig. The pilot shows that Hannah’s stuck in a horrible relationship with her actor friend/fuck buddy Adam (Adam Driver) so seeing her go back for more in “Vagina Panic” and suffer through more of Adam’s degrading sexual behavior garners even more sympathy/disbelief/frustration for her situation. Dunham shows considerable ability to create people who aren’t just television characters, but fully fleshed out human beings, at least through these two episodes. She’s also a fearless performer who shows absolutely no traces of vanity. See the introductory sex scene between Hannah and Adam in the pilot for an example of this. Or the final scene in the pilot where she confronts her parents while high on opium tea. Or her humiliating discussion about the merits of getting AIDS with a health clinic doctor while sitting on an exam table in stirrups.

While some of the criticism of Girls has been more than a little over the top [6], one of the top points of contention I’ve noticed is the opinion that no one wants to watch a bunch of spoiled, naval-gazing twentysomethings. Girls has been hit with the “entitlement” generation tag and while that is certainly true to a degree, there’s absolutely a need for people to understand this age bracket before blindly condemning it, and Girls examines this demographic very, very well. As I mentioned, I’m not female. I’m not in my 20s. I know that there’s no way I’d want to be a female in my 20s right now. But through Girls, Dunham has created an entry into this interesting world that’s intelligent, funny, and yes – essential. To dismiss it is to display a powerful form of ignorance. To watch it is to learn something. And I’ve found that knowledge trumps ignorance almost every single time.

[1] Which you almost have to admit is a kind of dickish thing to do with no advance warning.
[2] Read: complete jackass who says things like the following, after a discussion of whether or not he and Hannah use condoms during sex: “I guess we do. That’s probably why it takes me 25 years to nut whenever I have sex with you.”
[3] Read: total pussy.
[4] With Marnie pushing Hannah more towards adult responsibility while Jessa plies her with “be yourself and damn the consequences” type of advice.
[5] In a scene very reminiscent of the classic cringe-inducing Jon Favreau phone call scene in Swingers, Hannah hits it off with the HR rep who’s interviewing her over their thoughts on Brooklyn bars, only to fatally damage her chances of getting the job when she jokingly accuses the interviewer of being the cause for the decline in date rapes at his university. Dunham’s coquettish finger-to-her-lower-lip move sells the scene completely and it’s only made worse by her going back and explaining that it’s a joke whereby she’s accusing the guy of being a rapist. This might have been my favorite scene in either of the first two episodes and is a strong suggestion that Girls really knows what it’s doing when it comes to its comedic voice.
[6] The fake “Nepotism” poster, for example.

*Without question through two episodes, Shoshanna is the character that’s resonating the least with me. Though there is some progress made towards the end of “Vagina Panic,” to this point she’s way too much of a cartoon (materialistic, spoiled, naïve girl) to be taken seriously. Mamet has shown considerable talent in a supporting role on Mad Men, so here’s hoping that the show’s able to course-correct Shoshanna before it’s too late.
*I must admit, it’s kind of weird to see Becky Ann Baker from Freaks & Geeks playing Hannah’s mother her and not be not a milquetoast like she was on NBC’s cult drama. It takes a little getting used to, to be sure.
*I like that the show confronted the prevalent (and completely wrong-headed) Sex And The City comparisons head on in the pilot. Way to get out in front of that one.
*Film/television vet Chris Eigeman was just perfectly smarmy enough for the role as Hannah’s boss at the company where she was interning in the pilot but, alas, it appears his presence on the show may have just been a one-off.
*Adam is an actor who’s into woodworking because “it’s just more honest.” And also because he’s a douchebag.
*I’m not quite ready to call this a full-on concern quite yet but… did anyone else notice that almost every male character on this show is an asshole? File that away just in case it’s needed later.
*Jessa thinks dates are “for lesbians.” Because Jessa is kind of awesome.
*It’s more than a little ironic that one of the best new comedies of the 2011-12 television season (Girls) will likely be confused with one of its worst (2 Broke Girls) by virtue of name alone.
*That being said, there have been comparisons made of Girls being a distaff version of Louie. Let’s not get quite that crazy yet, people.
*”We can’t keep bankrolling your groovy lifestyle.” “My groovy lifestyle?”
*”I could be a drug addict. Do you realize how lucky you are?”
*”I think you need to admit something to yourself which is that you’re sick of eating him out.” “Eew.” “Because he has a vagina.”
*”Well, when you get hungry enough, you’re gonna figure it out.” “Do you mean physically hungry or hungry for the job?”
*”Weren’t you an intern? So, they basically just asked you to stop hanging out there?”
*”You modern career woman. I know what you like. You think you can just come in here and talk all that noise?” “Uh… no?”
*”Will you get a condom?” “I’ll consider it.”
*”Just, when you said the thing about lube I was worried you were gonna… try to do that. Please don’t do that. That feels awful. Thank you.”
*”No, I never do coke. Every time I do coke I shit my pants.”
*”When I look at both of you, a Coldplay song plays in my heart.”
*”I don’t want to freak you out, but I think that I may be the voice of my generation. Or, at least, a voice of a generation.”
*”You’re a dirty little whore, and I’m going to send you home to your parents covered in come.” “Don’t do that. They’re going to be so angry.”
*”I’m going to make the continent of Africa on your arm.”
*”I like a bar where the average patron would be described as ‘crotchety.'”
*”How could she ruin the beautiful abortion that you threw?”
*”I don’t have an obsessive fear of AIDS. I have an obsessive fear of HIV that can turn into AIDS. I’m not a fool.”
*”She doesn’t really know how to text. She calls it a ‘word alert.'”
*”It’s more of a Forrest Gump-based fear.”
*”You could not pay me enough to be 24 again.” “They’re not paying me at all.”

TV Diary | Game Of Thrones – “What Is Dead May Never Die”

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TV Diary | Game Of Thrones – Episode 2.03 – “What Is Dead May Never Die” – Original Airdate: 4/15/12

Episode Grade: A-

One of the more prominent themes of Game Of Thrones’ second season has been power – who has it and who wants it. To that end, “What Is Dead May Never Die” examines how those who have power wield it and how those who want it go about trying to get it. Tyrion continues to settle into his role as Hand Of The King and, as he promised in “The Night Lands” is showing himself to be a much more deft political mover than the last person to hold his role, devising a clever plan to determine who in King’s Landing he can trust. He spins a tale to Maester Pycelle, Varys, and Littlefinger – changing details each time the story is told – about arranging a marriage for Cersei’s youngest daughter Myrcella that would be of military benefit in the upcoming war against Robb Stark. He specifically tells each man that Cersei cannot find out, knowing full well that the one(s) he can’t trust will report back to the Queen. And, indeed, it’s the elderly Pycelle who betrays him and Tyrion punishes him by not only having him thrown in jail, but also humiliating the man by having Bronn cut Pycelle’s beard off. The insult to injury is that all of this happens as Pycelle is in the company of, er… a professional woman who watches the entire scene playout. In the course of the plan’s execution, Littlefinger expresses his displeasure with being deceived but Tyrion lets him know that he has another plan for him – one that involves Littlefinger’s beloved Catelyn Stark. Watching a confident Tyrion operate in King’s Landing while flying in the faces of both Cersei and Joffrey has been one of the season’s biggest thrills to date. Between his dispatching of Lord Slynt from his position as commander of the City Watch in “The Night Lands” to his removal of Pycelle here, Tyrion is picking off any and all council members who are in things for themselves, while at the same time weakening the Joffrey/Cersei combo. His stature belies the power he now possesses, and he knows exactly how to exert it. While Tyrion is in possession of power, Theon Greyjoy and Renly Baratheon [1] are among those trying to seize power for themselves though both seem positioned to be on opposite sides of the battle. Theon’s return to his home on the Iron Islands isn’t necessarily going exactly as he’d planned after initially being sent as an emissary for Robb Stark. His father, Lord Balon Greyjoy, is not enamored of the idea of playing second fiddle to Robb and, to that end, forces Theon – his last remaining son – to choose between the family who raised him and the family whose blood he shares. He has a difficult time reconciling this choice, particularly when rightfully striking back at his father for abandoning him in the first place [2] while also noting that his sister, Yara, has lapped him in consideration of authority in the coming battle [3]. In the end, Theon makes the difficult choice to throw his lot in with his own family, completely forsaking the Starks for an uncertain future. Another who believes he has claim to the throne and may end up pitted against family in the battle is Renly Baratheon. Catelyn, on behalf of Robb, visits Renly’s camp where he is now presiding over… something. He’s also engaged/married to a woman [4], Margaery Tyrell (Natalie Dormer, The Tudors), whose own family has pledged themselves and their manpower to Renly’s cause in exchange for the power that Margaery’s placement as Queen would afford them. Renly seems amenable to joining forces with Robb, but we also learn that Margaery isn’t exactly the passive type of partner as she has designs on power of her own. After making Renly aware of the fact that she knows of his predilections [5], she also impresses upon him the wisdom of getting her pregnant in order to produce an heir as insurance against their enemies. I’d never seen Renly as that interesting of a character during his season one run but with the reboot, of sorts, of the character here as well as the introduction of Margaery, I’m much more invested in this storyline than I’d expected I would be. With all of the internal and external conflict on display in both Theon’s and Renly’s storylines, the differing approaches taken by Robb, Lord Balon, and Renly as it relates to taking power, as well as some more awesome chess-playing by Tyrion, “What Is Dead May Never Die” was easily the strongest of the nascent second season’s episodes.

[1] Making his first appearance since midway through the first season.
[2] “You gave me away! Your last boy! And now you curse me when I come home.”
[3] Lord Balon has decided to place Yara in control of 30 ships in the offensive while Theon gets a lone ship. Which will be used to attack fishermen. Quite the stark (haha – a pun) contrast.
[4] And knowing what we know about Renly to this point, that’s kind of surprising. That he’s carrying on clandestinely with her brother? Not as surprising.
[5] Upon attempting to “consummate” their relationship, she asks him, “Do you want my brother to come in and get you started? I’m sure he wouldn’t mind. Or, I could turn over and you could pretend I’m him.”

*One other storyline that deserves attention is Arya and Gendry’s capture by Joffrey’s soldiers. I’d speculated after their first appearance in “The Night Lands” that the soldiers would be back before too long, but I frankly didn’t expect it to be this soon. In the midst of their return, we lost Yoren, though in badass fashion as he continued to fight even after being plugged with an arrow from a crossbow. There was a bit of deft maneuvering by Arya, however, when one of the soldiers demanded to know which child was Gendry and she shifted his identity to another adolescent who had just been killed (in brutal fashion by a sword through the throat) by one of the guards. That seems to be only a temporary type of solution but I’m very interested to see where this storyline is headed.
*On the other hand, I’m still not sure where all of the nonsense with Jon, the Night Watch, and Craster (the incestuous creep) fits in with this season’s narrative. Thus far, I can’t help but feel that it’s been wasted time. Hopefully time will prove me to be wrong in that regard.
*Even with his various machinations proving to be successful thus far, Tyrion still recognizes that Shae is a potential Achilles heel and, to that end, secures a position for her as Sansa’s handmaiden. With the rapid pace at which he’s accumulating enemies, hiding her in plain sight for the time being would seem to be a wise decision.
*And perhaps Tyrion is fearful for good reason, considering what a heartless [INSERT INSULT HERE] his sister Cersei is, demonstrated by telling Sansa that even if Joffrey kills Robb – incidentally against the wishes of Cersei’s other son, Tommen – Sansa must still do her duty and marry Joffrey. I have to say, Cersei’s moving up the hitlist of people who I’d like to see die on this show.
*The title of the episode comes from some sort of pre-battle ritual that Theon completes after making his decision to fight with his family.
*When we see Renly for the first time in “What Is Dead May Never Die,” he’s enjoying a battle between two of his subjects – one of whom is his soon-to-be brother-in-law/current lover and the other is a rather monstrous woman named Brienne of Tarth who ultimately ends up winning and securing a place for herself on his Kingsguard. I sense that we’re going to be seeing more of her as the second season progresses.
*Good introduction of Natalie Dormer as Margaery. Ohai, boobs.
*”I saw something take that child.” “Whatever it was, I daresay you’ll see it again.”
*”A very small man can cast a very large shadow.”
*”When I take King’s Landing, I’ll bring you Joffrey’s head.”
*”If Robb Stark wants a pact with us, he should come himself. Not hide behind his mother’s skirt.”
*”The last time I saw you, you looked like a fat little boy.”
*”Every man who has tasted my cooking has told me what a good whore I am.”
*”Oh, thank the Gods. I haven’t had a proper shit in six days.”
*”Make no mistake — they’ll mount her pretty little head on a spike right beside yours.”
*”That’s a shame. You were to be the centerpiece of my next deception.”
*”Cut off his manhood and feed it to the goats.”
*”I always hated crossbows. They take too long to load.”

TV Diary | The Vampire Diaries: “1912”

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TV Diary | The Vampire Diaries – Episode 3.16 – “1912” – Original Airdate: 3/15/12

Episode Grade: B

Some quick thoughts on The Vampire Diaries’ return from hiatus about a month ago [1]. After stumbling a bit over its last handful of episodes for the first time in a season in a half or so, culminating with the forgettable “All My Children,” (its last episode [2] before taking its traditional mid-winter break) “1912” finds TVD trying to course-correct some of its more questionable moves in this back half of its third season with varying degrees of success. With the complete absence of any Originals [3], TVD is free to double down on the slasher storyline that was introduced earlier this season as Alaric’s 437th brush with death in the series’ history – this time at the hands of Dr. Fell, who initially seems fairly slasheriffic herself – predictably ends with him still breathing, but also incarcerated due to his new status as Top Slasher Suspect #1 in a seeming frame job by Dr. Fell. In a rather convenient bit of retrofitting, a goodly chunk of “1912” takes place back in – you guessed it – 1912 where we learn that this isn’t the first time that Mystic Falls has had a psycho killer problem. The common thread seems to be that both outbreaks of crazymurderdeath target town founders and that both killers seemed to have a superhuman ability to withstand death. If you’re a longtime viewer, you can see where this is headed. Basically, “1912” gives the show a chance to – as I said – conveniently retrofit a number of things and draw no small amount of parallels throughout the episode. Serial killer targeting town founders then; serial killer targeting town council members now. Stefan returning to Mystic Falls after a long absence then; Stefan returning to Mystic Falls after an absence now. Tension between Damon and Stefan due to Stefan’s actions then; tension between Damon and Stefan due to Stefan’s actions now. It’s all fairly rote and frankly doesn’t come off too well. Ultimately, the framing device adds little to the episode other than to bludgeon the audience over the head with its point that history can often repeat itself, though a development in the Alaric storyline gives the faintest glimmer of hope that something interesting might be happening. I’ve been critical much of this season over how many times Alaric has seemingly died, mostly because when shows start playing fast and loose with death by raising its specter only to eventually back away, the threat of death becomes empty. With how effectively TVD has used the impactful deaths of characters over its run I didn’t want to see one of the strongest weapons in its arsenal become dulled, so that the show seems to be looking at the effects of how dying multiple times – as Alaric has – has an effect on both his body and his mind is intriguing to say the least. Dr. Fell explains to Alaric that she did, in fact, frame him for the slasher murders but that she did it in a way that the police would look at him as a suspect, clear him, and then not look at him any further since she believes that he IS the killer, but is committing the murders not of his own volition due to the effects that his repeated deaths – as a product of the ring he wears that protects him from death by supernatural means – have had on him. She points to the fact that it’s believed that the 1912 killer suffered similar symptom as that killer – a Gilbert ancestor – was in possession of one of the rings as well. This storyline does hold promise and gives me some hope that the show could possibly be finding its way back after showing signs of wear at best and flirting with falling off of the rails at worst since 2012 began. All of this makes “1912” another episode that sputters, but seems to be headed in the right direction. At the same time, however, I kind of want my old TVD back. Preferably soon.

[1] I suck.
[2] Which I didn’t review here. Quick synopsis: It wasn’t so much with the good.
[3] With the exception of Rebekah, who isn’t really doing any Original-y business other than speaking to Mayor Lockwood about the mysterious tree that was first glimpsed (and yawned at) at the end of “All My Children.”

*From my notes prior to the reveal at the end that Dr. Fell is trying to help Alaric since she thinks he is the slasher: It would be so much cooler if it turned out that Alaric was the killer after all. BOOM.
*Bonnie’s mother Abby has apparently decided to go through with her transition to becoming a vampire after Damon’s actions in “All My Children.” Let me check… yup – still don’t care about her.
*The introduction of a super-strong vampire in the 1912 flashbacks named Sage who taught Damon how to handle his vampirism seems to be set up to be a recurring character who will appear any minute in the present-day, if years of watching television has taught me anything.
*As part of trying to re-assimilate Stefan back into the fabric of Mystic Falls, Damon and Rebekah are trying to force him to feed, saying he’s worthless to everyone when he’s trying to go cold turkey. Conveniently enough, Elena and Matt show up in an alley where this tough love approach is taking place just in time to see Stefan feeing on a helpless woman. Hello, new obstacle in the inevitable Stefan/Elena reunion.
*Speaking of Elena and Matt, their heart-to-heart conversation about her feelings for both of the Salvatore brothers may be yet another roadblock because I’m pretty sure he admitted that he was still in love with her.
*”I could pull out her tongue. Chop it up into little tiny pieces and feed it to the squirrels.”
*”You know, you don’t have to hide your true intentions. If you want more sex, just say so.”
*”His bitterness consumes him. He is blackness and bile.”
*”Sometimes it pays to be the normal one in a town full of vampires. I’m practically invisible.”
*”You wear a ring that lets you cheat death, Ric. How many times can you die before it changes you?”

Written by jeremylikestv

April 24, 2012 at 11:31 am

TV Diary | Mad Men – “Mystery Date”

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TV Diary | Mad Men – Episode 5.04 – “Mystery Date” – Original Airdate: 4/8/12

Episode Grade: B-

I think it’s probably fair to say that “Mystery Date” was one of the stranger Mad Men episodes… perhaps ever. Its jarring change in tone made it feel well below your average installment of the show and honestly, I’m having a little trouble with it. Mad Men can often be more than a little dense to unpack but “Mystery Date” is proving tougher than usual for me. OK… let’s break it down. A-plot: Don is suffering through an illness that eventually induces a fever dream in which he imagines that he’s strangling an old bang buddy to death, eventually pushing her lifeless body underneath his bed in the hopes that no one will notice. Wait… WHAT?! Without question this is the weirdest thing that Mad Men has ever done. Backing up a little – things between Don and Megan seem a bit tenuous, what with his thoughtless reaction to her birthday gift, his worry over Betty’s condition, and his callous assumption that Megan wouldn’t care about Betty’s possible death in “Tea Leaves.” With all of these things rattling around the relationship, the appearance of Don’s old lady friend [1] Andrea (Madchen Amick, Twin Peaks), a freelancer who Don worked with back at the old agency, raises Megan’s antennae, even more so when Andrea blatantly comes onto Don in front of the new Mrs. Draper in an elevator. After begging out of work early due to his deteriorating health, Don heads home to sleep the illness off uninterrupted. Uninterrupted, that is, until Andrea shows up at his apartment to er… rekindle things. After being shooed away once, Andrea returns and since Don’s resolve has been severely tapped by this point, he and Andrea end up going at it which leaves the audience wondering exactly what in the hell is going on. After the harsh light of… mid-afternoon (?) hits, Don realizes what a mistake he’s made and takes the rash step of STRANGLING ANDREA TO DEATH as a means of escaping from the jackpot he’s placed himself into. He then pushes her lifeless body underneath his bed and, oh, goes back to sleep like nothing happened. The way writers Matthew Weiner and Victor Levin, along with director Matt Shakman, structure the plot it’s not entirely clear whether what we’re seeing is reality yet with this being Mad Men it’s highly unlikely that the show’s lead character is going to: A.) Become a murderer out of nowhere or; B.) Be stupid enough to dispose of the body by shoving a rotting corpse underneath his bed. However, it’s to Weiner/Levin/Shakman’s credit that the next morning when Megan wakes Don up to check on him, there’s that one minute second where you think, “Did Megan play the role of cleaner in all of this?” Of course, it all turns out to have been a creation of Don’s fever-addled mind but it also likely serves as more than a little bit of foreshadowing. As I mentioned, Don and Megan’s relationship was not exactly on solid ground to begin with and now his subconscious is cheating with other women? Hmm. Speaking of [2]… Joan finally manages to drop the 200 pounds of dead weight around her neck [3], upon Mr. Not-So-Perfect’s return from Vietnam. She’s initially enthusiastic for his return – in part because she has to spend time with someone other than her overbearing and condescending mother, and in part because she’s anxious for her son to finally meet his “father [4].” Following a little forced happiness [5], Greg eventually informs her that he has to return to service for another year, something that Joan initially handles with aplomb but after it’s revealed that Greg volunteered for the second tour himself [6]. Greg’s deception and selfishness forces Joan’s hand and she kicks his sorry ass out while at the same time THROWING THE RAPE BACK IN HIS FACE [7] as he walks out of her life (and hopefully the show) forever. While I would have liked to see him go out incredibly, incredibly painfully on the battlefield or something, this works too. More importantly, it removes Obstacle One from the Don/Joan hookup I’ve been theorizing on this season. Coupled with Don’s unfaithful subconscious, hell… I might be onto something. Call this half of a good episode with a lot of, “What the hell?” thrown in for good measure.

[1] Or is it his special lady?
[2] And I still think there’s a good chance that this is going to be related material by the time the season is complete.
[3] Also known as her douchebag husband Greg.
[4] Which, of course, he actually already did in “A Little Kiss.”
[5] All Greg really seems to be interested in is doing the sex to her.
[6] It’s left for the audience to strongly infer that Greg did this because of his washout status as a surgeon. He sees the military giving him purpose, one that sadly cannot be found with his wife and for all intents and purposes son, apparently.
[7] You’re damn sure right I cheered her here.

*What parts of “Mystery Date” that didn’t focus on Don and Joan were spent with Peggy and Sally, with varying degrees of success. While each storyline found Peggy and Sally reacting to the Richard Speck massacre in Chicago in their own ways, without question Peggy’s thread was more effective. Her initial introduction to the murders comes via photos from her friend Joyce, something that’s surely in the back of her mind during a night of working late alone at SCDP. Upon hearing a strange noise (and probably creating the closest thing to a horror movie atmosphere that Mad Men will ever pull off), Peggy makes her way out of her office only to find Don’s secretary Dawn sleeping alone in Don’s office. Peggy learns that Dawn has indirectly been affected by the Speck massacre as well since her brother has forbidden her to travel home from work alone late at night due to his fear for her safety. Peggy – believing herself to be progressive – invites Dawn back to her place where a friendship seems to be in bloom as both women bond over alcohol and work gossip. However, Peggy’s split second of glancing at her purse before she leaves the room to dispose of some empty bottles lets both she and Dawn know that perhaps she isn’t as evolved as she likes to believe she is, fatally damaging any chance of any friendship she and Dawn may have had. This was some of the most effective material Elizabeth Moss has been given yet this season, going back even perhaps to “The Suitcase.” A high point of the episode for sure.
*On the other hand, the curious upbringing of Sally Draper continues as she’s left alone at Betty and Henry’s home with Henry’s mother while her mother and stepfather are traveling. After reading about the Chicago murders in the newspaper, Sally is understandably rattled and her guardian’s response is to ply her with sleeping pills in order to calm her down. Really. It’s no wonder that this little girl is on the path to psychosis. Betty is her mother and her babysitter thinks it’s OK to supply a pre-teen with prescription meds to calm her down. Wonderful. Not much of this landed, to be honest.
*”Mystery Date” marks the second time this season that Roger has been shaken down by a younger staffer, this time Peggy when he asks for some last minute help with a Mohawk corporate image campaign. More and more, Roger’s being relegated to the sidelines in concert with the rise of the younger generation in the 60s.
*Why is Betty suddenly not fat? And why was it not addressed?
*With Zosia Mamet taking a regular role in HBO’s Girls, will that do anything for her availability for Mad Men? Maybe not, given Alison Brie’s dual jobs here and on Community but it perhaps bears watching.
*No Roger Sterling Line Of The Week this week. Perhaps he was too shaken by his encounter with Peggy to come up with anything quippy.
*This really was a weird episode.
*”You know, there are some parts of town where we can run into people I worked with.”
*”Holy crap! Look at him!”
*”I’ll take him so you two can visit a spell.”
*”I married you and I’m going to be with you until the day I die. Which may be this afternoon.”
*”I need to store up as much of you as possible.”
*”He’s such a decent guy.” “You know you almost got fired just now.” “I don’t think that’s right.”
*”I’m sorry. For Mohawk your ‘man’ is Ginsburg.”
*”The work is $10. The lie is extra.”
*”That’s for nothing, so look out.”
*”I’m sorry if that little display of respect slowed you down, but a lot of kids your age would be thrilled to be waiting tables right now.”
*”Y’all drink a lot.”
*”I’m glad the Army makes you feel like a man because I’m sick of trying to do it.”

TV Diary | Game Of Thrones – “The Night Lands”

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TV Diary | Game Of Thrones – Episode 2.02 – “The Night Lands” – Original Airdate: 4/8/12

Episode Grade: B+

As most television shows are wont to do, they begin to focus on new characters as their second season opens. Whether it’s because the show’s writers merely want to establish their new players or that it’s because they grow weary with writing for the older ones, this is a fairly common occurrence in the television industry. Game Of Thrones is proving to be no different early on in its own second season, but it’s also taking care not to give familiar characters a short shrift. Year two’s second episode, “The Night Lands,” focused on four major threads [1], half of which were populated by characters unseen in season one. Let’s first discuss the storylines that used almost solely familiar characters. Tyrion is beginning to settle into his new role as Hand Of The King at King’s Landing and is beginning to realize the perils of the treacherous waters he’s about to have to navigate in order to carry out his position’s duties. Take his discovery of Varys visiting Shae in Tyrion’s quarters, a visit which provides the eunuch no small amount of potential blackmail material, something he alludes to while making his exit. Tyrion, however, warns him not to cross him in saying, “I’m not Ned Stark. I’m aware of how this game is played.” To that end, Tyrion installs Bronn as the Commander of the City Watch after removing the former top man, Lord Slynt, saying that his betrayal of Ned in season one made him untrustworthy in Tyrion’s eyes. In the process, he also tries to get a handle on who made the call to kill all of Robert’s bastard children at the end of “The North Remembers,” first suspecting Cersei of being behind the massacre but, after speaking with her, he later deduces that she actually didn’t have a hand in the order and that it came solely from Joffrey. During that conversation, we also learn that the root of Cersei’s enmity toward her brother comes from the fact that their mother died during Tyrion’s birth, causing her to deride Tyrion as a “cruel joke.” Though by Tyrion’s own admission he’s not an “honorable man,” it’s obvious that he’s not just going to fall in line with the scruple-free reign of King Little Shit and their looming conflict is quickly becoming one of my favorite dynamics of the new season. As for the other familiar character thread, Arya’s journey to the Night’s Watch alongside one of the remaining potential heirs to the throne – Gendry – hits a bump when Joffrey becomes aware of Gendry’s possible claim and then sends soldiers out to return him to King’s Landing. After a deft display of weaponry by Yoren saves the nascent recruits [2], Arya comes to realize that her identity has been compromised by Gendry when he tells her that he knows that she’s a girl. The fun, however, comes when he realizes WHICH girl she is, leading to a nicely funny scene where he acts mortified at the realization that he’s been acting so low-class around someone of her station [3]. In turn, Arya finds out that her father visited Gendry prior to his death which is something that piques her interest. When it comes to new character dynamics, however, both present in “The Night Lands” demonstrate that GoT is building to a coming war… and that war is gonna be BIG. Theon returns home to the Iron Islands on behalf of Robb who has requested that Theon deliver him the support of Theon’s father, Lord Balon Greyjoy, as Robb feels that the ships that Lord Balon possesses could help him in overthrowing Joffrey’s rule. What’s unclear is whether Theon’s pitch to his father – which includes his father taking a kingship, leaving it for Theon to inherit upon his father’s death – is a betrayal of Robb or part of the deal that Robb has brokered. We know to this point that Robb and Theon are like brothers so a betrayal would be somewhat surprising, but on a show like this where the majority of characters have, er… convenient morals it wouldn’t surprise me to see Theon going into business for himself. What isn’t unclear, however, is that the dynamics of the Greyjoy family are incredibly perverted – figuratively and literally. Theon initially comes onto his sister [4], who’s now taken over as Lord Balon’s favored child while Lord Balon sees Theon as someone who’s become soft as a result of being raised by the affluent Starks as opposed to having his mettle forged in the bleak toughness of the Iron Islands. Theon was a character who was so neglected in the first season that I honestly couldn’t have told you his name until this year started, but I like where this storyline is initially headed and it gives him much more of an interesting purpose on the show than he’d previously held. So, while the dynamic with Theon and his kin is definitely interesting, I’m significantly less intrigued by what’s going on around Robert’s newly introduced brother, Stannis Baratheon. He’s apparently being lead around by the (I’m assuming) supernatural Melisandre, to the point where she convinces him to get, er… biblical with him here by promising him an heir, something his actual wife has not been able to provide him. I have faith that GoT will make this story thread relevant at some point, but we’re not quite to that point yet. It’s often been said that HBO series are less episodic than they are novelistic, making each episode the equivalent of a chapter ing a book. With that in mind, as a second chapter, “The Night Lands” was certainly sufficient.

[1] And on a show whose narrative is as sprawling as GoT, you can be sure that a given episode will try to service a number of other characters – as is the case here – but just not to the level of detail given to some other threads.
[2] He also notes that, as recruits of the Night Watch, they’re out of the purview of Joffrey’s authority. The soldiers threaten to come back in the future, so… Chekhov’s gun and all that.
[3] Ironic in that Gendry himself has a legitimate claim to the throne.
[4] Albeit Theon wasn’t aware she was his sister when he was trying to uh… do stuff to her. Still… gross.

*Arya continues to be perhaps the most engaging and interesting of the late Ned’s offspring and is definitely the one with the most backbone, evidenced in “The Night Lands” with her refusal to take any amount of crap from the prisoners being transported along with the Night Watch recruits.
*I’m still at a loss to figure out what’s going on with Rob and Jeor Mormont and the rest of the Night Watch as they’re staying with, as I’ve dubbed him, Creepy Incest Guy. So the dude sleeps with his daughters and kills any sons that are produced? I get that (stomach-turning as it is), but revealing the point of all of this at some point soon would be nice.
*Absolutely dynamo scene between Littlefinger and Ros where she’s displaying some post-traumatic effects of seeing one of the infant bastard children of Robert murdered in its mother’s arms and Littlefinger not so subtly threatens to kill her if she doesn’t straighten up. His passive/aggressive menace is alternately terrifying and impressive. It’s also worth mentioning that I’m seeing more than a little Gary Oldman in Aidan Gillan’s performance as Littlefinger these days.
*I might write some variation on this thought every week but GODDAMN is this show ever visually incredible. What inspired this week’s sentiment was Theon’s ride to his family’s dwelling on the Iron Islands via horseback with Yara.
*The wife having trouble delineating characters: “They all look the same. Disgusting.”
*”Come closer and I’ll shove that stick up your bunghole and fuck you bloody.”
*”Funny thing. People are so worried about their necks that they forget about what’s down below.”
*”You should taste her fish pie.”
*”Ned Stark was a man of honor.” “And I am not.”
*”Cold winds are rising and the dead rise with them.”
*”I can’t steal her. She’s a person, not a goat.”
*”I’m not questioning your honor Lord Slynt. I’m denying its existence.”
*”If you got within a mile of a battle you’d fill your pants.”
*”You shouldn’t insult people who are bigger than you.” “I’d never get to insult anyone then.”
*”No man gives me a crown. I pay the iron price.”
*”I will fuck this blonde queen and I will fuck her well.”
*”Stannis is my king, but he’s only a man.” “Don’t tell him that.”
*”It’s all fallen on me.” “As has Jaime repeatedly, according to Stannis Baratheon.”

TV Diary | Mad Men – “Tea Leaves”

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TV Diary | Mad Men – Episode 5.03 – “Tea Leaves” – Original Airdate: 4/1/12

Episode Grade: B

Daaaammmnnnn… Betty got FAT. After sitting out the opener, January Jones’ Betty Draper was back in a… er… big way [1] in what was technically this season’s third episode, “Tea Leaves.” Seems that since we last saw Betty she’s gotten verrry comfortable making friends with food, to the point that she and new husband Henry’s sex life is non-existent and that a visit to the doctor to try to score some diet pills [2] ends with a cancer scare after the physician becomes concerned that Betty may have a tumor on her thyroid [3]. Now, anyone with any kind of pop cultural knowledge knows that Jones’s real-life pregnancy [4] was likely the cause for this storyline, but frankly I find it more fun to see it as some kind of punishment for Jones’s notoriously prickly demeanor. I can see creator Matthew Weiner now – “Hey January, you want to be like that? Fine. Put on this fat suit.” Salaciousness aside, the Betty plotline in “Tea Leaves” was part of an overriding theme of characters feeling obsolete and fearing that they’re about to be replaced. Betty is no longer the model-thin version of herself that she once was and, after Don’s marriage to Megan – the much younger Megan – she questions where she still fits not only in Don’s life, but in the life of her children as well. The theme of obsolescence also carries over to the action at SCDP in “Tea Leaves.” After Pete manages to land the Mohawk Airlines account – and despite their stated preference to deal with Roger and not Pete – Pete manages to take all of the credit while simultaneously marginalizing Roger [5], causing Roger to later lament to Don that he (Roger) was the one to hire Pete only for Pete to eventually position himself as Roger’s replacement. As I mentioned in my review of the premiere, one of the major threads that Weiner set up in “A Little Kiss” was the intensification of the Roger/Pete conflict at the agency. Pete, for his part, seems to be the only person in a position of authority taking work seriously, while Roger is content to coast along on his laurels and his reputation while hitting on anything in a skirt. It’s actually kind of ironic – much as Roger is one of my favorite characters on Mad Men – that he’s part of the old guard who opposes the “entitlement” of the younger generation and is dismissive of those seeking equal rights (African-Americans, women) yet he himself may have one of the largest senses of entitlement on the show. Watching this rivalry continue to play out over future episodes is one of the things that I’m most looking forward to. Just as Roger is feeling Pete’s footsteps behind him, so too is Peggy with regard to the new copywriter that she’s tasked with hiring by Don and Roger. After hiring Michael Ginsburg – who Roger feels is good for business because, as a Jewish man, he makes the office seem more modern in the mid-60s – Peggy is warned by the lunkheaded Stan of the dangers of hiring someone with any kind of talent [6] since the potential that that hire could end up doing more harm than good to her career. Perhaps more than some other episodes, the theme of “Tea Leaves” was blatantly clear but that’s not to say that it didn’t ring true. It had a ramshackle feel at times that made it feel a little lesser than the show’s best, but there was enough here to give Weiner a pass as he continues the process of plotting where this fifth season is heading.

[1] I’m so sorry.
[2] On the advice of her, let’s go with “jolly,” mother-in-law.
[3] This is going to sound cruel but whatever. Is there a Mad Men fan around who wouldn’t have wanted to see Betty get cancer? Anyone?
[4] Presented without editorial comment. I’ll let this link speak to the rumored details of said pregnancy.
[5] “Mr. Sterling will be handling the day to day but rest assured — everything he knows, I’ll know.”
[6] And Peggy is very impressed by Ginsburg’s portfolio.

*Don spent most of the episode attempting to placate the Heinz executive who wasn’t a huge fan of Peggy’s “bean ballet” idea in “A Little Kiss” by attempting – on request of the Heinz exec – to convince The Rolling Stones to modify “Time Is On My Side” to “Heinz Is On My Side.” Knowing what I know about the Stones, I literally laughed out loud at the naivety of the clueless Heinz exec’s suggestion and, sure enough, Don and Harry strike out in their efforts. But Harry got stoned and hung out with a teenage girl, so all was not entirely lost, right?
*It’s worth mentioning that one other character fearing replacement is Henry, who looks none too pleased to hear Don on the other end of a phone call checking in on Betty at “Tea Leaves’” end.
*I’m sure that this was intentional but the transition from Betty struggling to fit into her dress and then begging off going to a charity event to Don zipping Megan – slim Megan – up was a nice touch.
*However, another possible crack in the Don/Megan marriage arises when Don tells Megan about Betty’s condition. She’s shocked he didn’t tell her sooner, while then asking if he thought she’d be happy about it. His look betrays his true feelings.
*Lest we forget how divorce was viewed back in the 60s, the Heinz executive’s wife seems more than a little put off by Megan’s mention that Don was divorced as the two married couples dined out at a restaurant as part of Don’s damage control.
*In a scene that owed to the new world order at SCDP, Roger asking Peggy to take the lead in the hiring of the new Mohawk copywriter showed nicely that he takes her seriously and treats her as something close to an equal – or, as much of an equal as someone as set in their ways as Roger Sterling possibly can. Peggy has come a long way from the naïve secretary we were first introduced to five (five!) years ago.
*Don’s new secretary – hired in the wake of the Young & Rubicam payback in “A Little Kiss” is named Dawn, causing Harry to lament the similarities in their names. “But out in the office it’s hard to tell who’s who.” Sure it is, Harry. Because Jon Hamm looks so much like a young African-American woman.
*Harry apparently thinks that Charlton Heston is good looking. Just in case you were wondering.
*Henry, to an unknown associate on the phone: “Well, tell him Your Honor is not going to Michigan. Because Romney’s a clown and I don’t want him standing next to him.” Yes, this line of dialogue is about former Michigan governor George W. Romney but, in light of this year’s presidential election, I’m preeetttaaay… pretty sure that Weiner is making a political statement here.
*Jon Hamm made his directorial debut with this episode and, he must have done a good job, because I didn’t even notice until reading about it after seeing the episode.
*Of course Betty can’t help but polishing off Sally’s ice cream sundae on top of her own after the younger Draper informs her mother that she’s full. (Sad trombone.)
*Roger Sterling Line Of The Week – When told of Betty’s health crisis he responds, “Well… that would solve everything.”
*”There’s things you can do about this. There are pills you can take.” “Why haven’t you taken them?”
*”Baked beans and the Rolling Stones. A client’s idea if I ever heard one.”
*”Mohawk is going to insist on a full-time copywriter.” “One with a penis.” “I can work on that.”
*”Did he smell like pee?” “Who would smell like pee?” “Writers.”
*”None of you want us to have a good time because you never did.” “No. We’re worried about you.”
*”Saturday night was fun.” “OK.”
*”I’m exhausted from hanging on the ledge and having some kid’s foot on my fingertips.”

Quick Review: Don’t Trust The Bitch In Apartment 23

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Grade: B

There’s been a growing trend with all of the new media available in our technology-laden world where television networks have begun to preview their new series before they hit the air via traditional means. Whether it’s through their own websites, through Netflix, or through Hulu, the major networks are making it even easier for viewers to sample shows before they “officially” premiere hoping that good word of mouth will help a show get noticed in our ever-increasing 501 channel universe. To that end, ABC has made the first two episodes of its new sitcom Don’t Trust The Bitch In Apartment 23 [1] available on Hulu in advance of its official premiere tonight at 9:30PM ET following Modern Family. By giving Don’t Trust The Bitch… its most primo real estate – the slot immediately following the network’s biggest scripted hit – it’s clear that ABC has high hopes for it and, after watching the premiere on Hulu last night, I have to say that I share their enthusiasm for it. Many have compared the show in some respects to Cougar Town [2] and Hitfix’s Alan Sepinwall in particular has imagined a world where Don’t Trust The Bitch…, Cougar Town, and Happy Endings could all occupy one single night of quality comedy on ABC, and those comparisons aren’t at all out of place. Its pilot showed it to be a smart, irreverent comedy that definitely deserves an audience even though – as most television shows tend to do – it arrives less than fully formed. However, the skeleton of a very good show is evident. The good: both of the leads, Dreama Walker (Gossip Girl) as naïve June and Kristen Ritter (Breaking Bad) as the titular bitch, Chloe, share a good chemistry as mismatched roommates. June arrives in New York from Indiana after her employer, a mortgage company, foots the bill for her relocation and sets her up with a gorgeous (and ridiculously expensive) apartment. Too good to be true, yes? Yes, it is because when June shows up for work on her first day, the company is in a mortgage crisis meltdown thanks to the company’s CEO embezzling clients out of millions of dollars. This leaves June jobless and homeless, so she answers a “roommate needed” ad from Chloe and, after a seemingly smooth interview she decides to move in. In short order, however, Chloe reveals herself to be a con artist who dupes naïve women into moving in only to then become the roommate from hell, forcing them to move out out of frustration while keeping their money. You can probably surmise what happens from here [3] and, while that type of story is somewhat boilerplate its content isn’t. Pixilated nudity, multiple masturbation jokes, drug-running, juvenile drinking, and stalkers all figure into the half-hour’s jokes and most of them are pretty damn funny. However, without question, Don’t Trust The Bitch’s coup de grace is the inclusion of Dawson’s Creek’s James Van Der Beek playing… James Van Der Beek [4], Chloe’s best friend. Clearly modeled after How I Met Your Mother star Neil Patrick Harris’s lampooning of a heightened version of himself in the Harold & Kumar film franchise, here Van Der Beek is a narcissistic version of himself who uses his former teen idol status to hook up with random fans. Seeing Van Der Beek – who, truth be told, has historically been more than willing to poke fun at himself and at his image [5] – sign up for something like this provides the show with a wealth of potential material and is perhaps the most interesting thing that Don’t Trust The Bitch… has in its arsenal. While it’s not entirely perfect – Liza Lapira’s (Dollhouse) Chloe-stalking character needs to be tweaked into something that can believably fit into the show’s world, for example – there’s enough here to suggest that Don’t Trust The Bitch… deserves ample time to find its way. In a lot of ways, it covers the same type of ground that CBS’s hit 2 Broke Girls does, only it’s not actively detestable like 2 Broke Girls is, not to mention that one episode in it’s already the better show with the potential to get better with time. Airing after Modern Family may just allow it that time.

[1] Technically, it’s called Don’t Trust The B—- In Apartment 23 but we all know what that censored word is and I’m not going to insult yours or my intelligence by writing it that way. The word is “bitch,” ABC. Get over it.
[2] Mostly because both shows are deft comedies that are saddled with regrettable titles.
[3] In case you’ve never watched television before, June proves to be more of a challenge than Chloe anticipated and they come to a sort of understanding/friendship by the end of the episode.
[4] Referred to at one point as “The Beek From The Creek.”
[5] Evidence: His cameo in Jay & Silent Bob Strikes Back and his Funny Or Die video.

*I’m not often a fan of the in media res device that shows are too willing to use these days, but the show managed to save the plot later on even as that was somewhat predictable itself. To get too into what it was would probably constitute a spoiler but, suffice it to say, the execution was pretty decent.
*Whoever the show’s musical director is, they’re doing a good job. I heard both Sleigh Bells and Nouvelle Vague in this episode.
*I worked at a mortgage company for a number of years that indirectly went under thanks to the mortgage crisis. I can assure you – the looting that goes on when June shows up for her first day of work didn’t actually happen. Although, it would have been fun if it had.
*The device that sees June “interacting” with family members, her fiancé, etc. through Skype-like means is a unique touch that fits the show well here. We’ll see if it continues.
*Chloe tells June that she and Van Der Beek dated at one point but found that they weren’t “genitally compatible”: “Imagine trying to fit a cucumber into a coin purse.”
*In case you were wondering, the title of the show is indeed spoken as a line of dialogue during the pilot.
*The name of a rap that June wrote at a Christian camp? “Jesus Is My N-Word.”
*During one of Van Der Beek’s hookups with a Dawson’s Creek fan, Paula Cole’s “I Don’t Want To Wait” plays over his sound system. It makes another appearance later when June starts singing it when meets Van Der Beek for the first time, only to have him shut her down with a weary, “Yep. That’s the song.”
*And of course there had to be a Varsity Blues homage in the scene with said hookup.
*”I’ve heard that bread out there is $4.00 a loaf. Don’t buy bread. I’LL SEND YOU BREAD!!”
*”So you’re saying you stole from me?” “Ugh… that’s such an ugly word. But yes.”
*”So… you like to rub-a-dub-dub in the tub?”
*”Who is this prostitute?”
*”Hey, Lovely Eyes. How come you got such lovely eyes?”
*”You have made me an accomplice in drugs!”
*”Anyone wanna get weird and play Mario Kart?”
*”Hey, you know what’s fun? Alcohol.”
*”Don’t be a blonde dude in a Vietnamese jail, June. That’s the real life lesson here.”
*”It came at a price. I got a lot of frosting in my crack.”
*Episode below courtesy of Hulu.