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Archive for May 2012

TV Diary | Mad Men – “At The Codfish Ball”

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TV Diary | Mad Men – Episode 5.07 – “At The Codfish Ball” – Original Airdate: 4/29/12

Episode Grade: B+

Families can be a pain in the ass. Oh, and happiness is fleeting. Other than that, how was your week? As far as sobering episodes of Mad Men go, “At The Codfish Ball” certainly was one. A visit from Megan’s parents [1] is the impetus for disappointing times among the series’ characters, chief among them Don, Megan, Roger, and Sally. Let’s hit ‘em up bullet-point style:

  • Don – A visit from the in-laws (particularly from in-laws who don’t necessarily care for you) is never an easy thing. A visit from the in-laws where you suddenly have your kids thrust upon you and your wife is in the midst of a career crisis [2] is a whole OTHER thing. There’s one moment of awkwardness after another in Don’s story this week, from Megan’s mom seemingly flirting openly with him [3], to Megan’s father barely disguising his contempt for Don’s lifestyle and profession, to Roger insisting on doing business at the dinner where Don is being feted [4], Don doesn’t have the easiest of weeks. When he’s later told by Ken’s father-in-law Ed Baxter (Ray Wise sighting!) that although the group throwing the bash is perfectly happy to lavish Don with awards, he’s never going to get any business from them, that’s like the final knife in the back. Don’s seen his salvo against Big Tobacco as a positive until now, but it’s not until Ed tells him that no one trusts him anymore because he’s bitten the hand that fed him that Don realizes the island he’s placed himself on. And swimming back to shore isn’t going to be easy.
  • Megan – I’ll fully admit that I never expected Megan to become this interesting a character when she was initially introduced during season four. But here we are and Jessica Pare has made Megan a fully integrated and essential member of the show in a way that January Jones has never been able to do with Betty [5]. “At The Codfish Ball” manages to give her even more shading as a character, by virtue of the introduction of her parents. We learn that her mother is competitive with her – leading to those awkward moments of physical contact with Don – and that her father dotes on her, to the point that he chides her about her choices during Don’s gala, telling her that she’s taken the easy way out by marrying Don. Instead of striving for success and achieving it through hard work, he views her as having landed it by virtue of marriage. “Don’t let your love for this man stop you from what you wanted to do,” he says. And it’s clear through other happenings in the episode that he’s on to something as Megan is unable (or unwilling) to muster up any enthusiasm when she manages to help Don land a high-profile account with Heinz. When Peggy tells her to enjoy it because that’s as good as it gets in their business, it’s clear that that’s not going to be enough for Megan. In fact, were I a betting man, I’d wager that this is going to be the iceberg that Don and Megan’s marriage is steering towards: She’s going to want to leave SCDP, feeling unfulfilled, and he’s not going to take kindly to that. I’m gonna keep that little theory in my back pocket for future use.
  • Roger – Oh, boy… anyone that didn’t see Roger ending up in, to use television parlance, sexual situations with Megan’s mother just isn’t paying attention. But that’s getting ahead [6] of ourselves. Backing up, Roger has a surprisingly civil meeting with his ex-wife Mona early in the episode [7] where he informs her that he and Jane have split up following a “life-altering experience” while also telling her that she needs to try acid herself. Because, who doesn’t, really? He also tries to curry favor with her in order to get a meeting with Firestone, reminding her that what’s good for him is good for her and her daughter, since he’s still supporting them per their divorce agreement. Kind of interesting that Mona’s been reintroduced here, immediately following Roger’s breakup with Jane. Ultimately, Roger spends most of the evening with Sally at Don’s dinner and OHMYGOD more Slattery/Kiernan Shipka scenes nownownowplease. I mean, their rapport shouldn’t have worked as well as it did but damned if it wasn’t one of he episode’s high points. Of course, that ‘s all blown to shit when Sally unwittingly walks in on Roger getting a beej from Megan’s mom, likely scarring her irreparably. But again, everyone saw this… er.. coming (?) right? Which leads us to…
  • Sally – Yup… Sally’s getting her own bullet point. Firstly… we’re never gonna get rid of Glen, are we? Damn it. Sadly, the little creep seems like he’s Sally’s best friend to this point, which is why it was encouraging to see her successful in her request to accompany Don and Megan to Don’s gala. Her parents [8] are treating her as more of a grown up and Megan even takes her shopping for a new dress to wear to the dinner. When Sally – and by extension, Shipka – emerges from her bedroom all dolled up for the ball, it’s striking just how much this young girl has grown up. And, as all of us know, growing up is often painful and the moment that Sally walks in on Roger and Megan’s mother in a… compromising situation, that was painful. For her and for us to watch. The end of the episode, bookended nicely with her opening conversation with Glen, finds her telling Glen that the city is “dirty.” It really is, Sally. And life isn’t going to get much cleaner in the future, kid.

The final shot (excepting the Megan/Glen coda) is of Don, Megan, Roger, Sally, and Megan’s parents sitting at the ballroom table looking collectively miserable. It’s a nicely symbolic of how much of “At The Codfish Ball” played out and makes for a perfect capper to one of season five’s better episodes.

[1] In town to support Don, who’s getting an award for his anti-smoking letter from season four.
[2] More on that in the next bullet point.
[3] Old Don would have totally banged her by now.
[4] Something that’s strongly implied is seen as gauche.
[5] As an aside, has anyone really missed Betty this season? Anyone?
[6] Haha… puns.
[7] And John Slattery and Talia Balsam continue to have great chemistry, which isn’t particularly surprising seeing as they’re spouses in real life.
[8] But not Betty, because screw Betty.

*The other major character development in “At The Codfish Ball” that really didn’t fit into the motif of everyone at the ball having their happiness stripped away (but that also did technically fit with the unhappiness of life theme) was Peggy’s decision to move in with Abe. She displayed the proverbial rollercoaster of emotions after Abe excuses himself from a lunch with her and some of her SCDP colleagues, making it look at that point like he was on the verge of ending their relationship. However, her perceptions shift after he calls and asks her to meet him for dinner, telling her that he needs to speak with her about something important. I’m still thinking that he’s calling to end things, but after Peggy confers with Joan she becomes convinced that Abe’s about to pop the question and she warms to that possibility more than perhaps she’d thought she would. So, when Abe merely asks her to move in with him, she has to mask her (unexpected) disappointment, even as she’s agreeing to do it. That then leads way to a dinner with her mother, where she lets Peggy and Abe know in no uncertain terms how against their co-habitation she really is. “I’m gonna need my cake, because I’m not givin’ youse a cake to live in sin,” she tells them. Just as the attendees at the titular ball found that happiness is fleeting, so too does Peggy, in her own way.
*I was really surprised to see Julia Ormond as Megan’s mom. Make of that what you will.
*Don and Megan make quite the little ad-conning team, don’t they?
*Not for nothing, but that fish plate that was dropped in front of Sally at the gala was outright disgusting looking.
*Roger Sterling Line Of The Week: “Oh… you two were actually working.”
*”Emile is confused. His eyes and his politics are in a fight.”
*”You make me so happy.” “Me too.” “You still want to eat?” “I do.”
*”But, by looking at your fingers, you might not be in the mood to celebrate.”
*”Greg has a piece of paper with the US Army that’s more important than the one he has with me.”
*”You weren’t even there.”
*”Every daughter should get to see her father as a success.”
*”Don, there is nothing you can do. One day your daughter will spread her legs and fly away.”
*”And that, Emile, is what I do every day.”
*”This boy… he will use you as practice until he decides to get married and have a family.”


TV Diary | Game Of Thrones – “The Old Gods And The New”

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TV Diary | Game Of Thrones – Episode 2.06 – “The Old Gods And The New” – Original Airdate: 5/6/12

Episode Grade: A-

That was encouraging. Coming off of “The Ghost Of Harrenhal,” quite possibly Game Of Thrones nadir to this point, “The Old Gods And The New” got things back on track in a big way. Beheadings. Riots. Joffrey being slapped in the face like the little twat that he is. Thank you, Vanessa Taylor (writer of this episode). I really needed this. In the interest of time, let’s just run down the list of all of the good shit bullet-point style:

  • THE RIOT. Finally, the people of King’s Landing start raising arms against King Little Shit by LITERALLY THREW SHIT IN JOFFREY’S FACE. And then Tyrion SLAPPED HIM ACROSS THE FACE. In case the caps weren’t a tip-off, I rather liked this sequence. In more bad-assery, during the riot someone (apologies that I’m unable to remember if it was one of Joffrey’s men or if it was just some random dude) got their arm ripped off. Tyrion’s concern during the melee was fixed not on Joffrey, but on Sansa who he later explained needs to be kept safe in order to prevent the Starks [1] from offing Jaime. His concern was well-placed since, during the melee, Sansa is snatched and taken into an alleyway and almost raped by a gang of scumbags before they are quite literally eviscerated by The Hound who, after Tyrion thanks him for his actions, tells him that he didn’t do it for him. Is he sweet on Sansa himself? Or is he a pragmatist who sees that he’s working for a maniac? Holy mother of God — this was an incredible sequence of events. The riot itself and its aftermath made up such a relatively small part of the episode, but it easily had the strongest impact of anything in “The Old Gods And The New.”
  • Playacting as a hardened soldier, Theon takes Winterfell by force in “The Old Gods And The New’s” opening sequence. He surprises Bran and still seems a bit torn over which side of the conflict he should be on. On the one hand, he was brought up as a de facto member of the Stark family and he’s now being forced to strike at people he still seemingly cares for. On the other hand, he’s power-hungry and has decided to throw his lot in with his actual family while clearly in the throes of a desperate need to be taken seriously by Balon, his father. To that end, he allows himself to be swayed towards ordering the death of Sir Rodrik – one of the Starks’ most loyal men – after Rodrik spits in his face in a public setting. Up until this point, the show had been doing a very good job of portraying the internal conflict that Theon felt by being pulled between his two worlds, making me wonder if perhaps Theon would end up ultimately spurning his Iron Islands family… but then Theon himself chopped Rodrik’s head off and that was that. “The Old Gods And The New” returned to Winterfell by episode’s end, when Osha one-upped Theon by seducing her way into his bed [2] in order to gain access to spirit Bran and Rickon (along with Hodor) away from the quagmire created by Theon’s coup. Saying that I doubt that Lord Balon is going to take kindly to that is probably a bit of an understatement. In all, the time at Winterfell in “The Old Gods And The New” was definitely well-spent.
  • Tywin seems to be taking a shine to Arya [3], which is easy to do with how precociously smart she is, making one wonder whether or not he’s going to start… I hate to use the phrase “using her council” but it definitely seems like he’s taken with her intelligence. However, lest we forget how tight of a rope Arya is walking by concealing her identity in the face of one of her family’s biggest enemies really is, “The Old Gods And The New” stages an incredibly tense scene when Littlefinger arrives in King’s Landing to debrief Tywin on the goings-on at Renly’s camp. Since we’re well aware that Littlefinger knows exactly who Arya is, it seems that it’s only a matter of time until he blows her cover during his discussion with Tywin. Every little look and every glance towards one another leads the viewer to wonder, “Is this it? Is she in trouble now?” It’s to the episode’s credit that it’s actually left ambiguous [4], opening up a whole host of other possibilities. However, one of Tywin’s soldiers does uncover her ulterior motives after he finds her reading a note she clandestinely snuck away from Tywin’s quarters, and makes a point of letting her know that he intends to blow up her spot. Her response? Engage Jaqen to kill the second of his promised victims, leading to a great scene where Tywin’s soldier makes it to Tywin’s door… only to fall flat on his face, dead, as soon as the door is opened.
  • Even the time spent with the Night’s Watch has a nice bit of forward movement. I’ve made no secret of the fact that I haven’t particularly enjoyed anything that’s been going on with Jon Snow and his fellow members of the Night’s Watch this season, so as soon as that storyline thread came up on screen I was less than enthused. However, they end up meeting Ygritte (Rose Leslie), a Wildling woman who informs them about the bounty that is on the head of one of its members. She’s ordered to be put to death by Jon’s hand and, in a nice contrast to the scene of Theon beheading Sir Rodrik earlier in the episode, Jon is unable to go through with the act, delineating yet another difference between the surrogate son and the bastard son of Ned Stark. As a result of his inability to kill her, Jon and Ygritte are separated from the rest of the Night’s Watch and she spends much of the rest of the episode taunting him and trying to get under his skin [5]. Anyone who’s watched television before can see that these two are developing some chemistry that’s going to lead to a union of some sort in short order, but I’m glad that we’re finally seeing some progress with this storyline after much fits and starts to this point.

You know that (admittedly crude) theory that states that every attractive girl is friends with an ugly one so that she looks better in comparison? “The Old Gods And The New” is the hot girl and “The Ghost Of Harrenhal” is the ugly chick. And Game Of Thrones? Only hot girls for the rest of the season, please.

[1] Namely Robb.
[2] And by displaying a better body than perhaps anyone had thought she actually had.
[3] Not in some kind of gross way, you perv.
[4] Though my money is on Littlefinger knowing. He’s too smart and devious to not hold that in his pocket to be used for exactly the right occasion.
[5] Not to mention grinding against his junk while they sleep.

*Even as I ran down the various positives of “The Old Gods And The New,” I must note that the Qarth crap continues to be awful. I really just don’t care at all and I’m afraid that this storyline is beyond saving. Something about the dandy saying that he realizes that Daenerys is there to steal his ship, but he makes her an offer anyway. She responds indignantly. Lather, rinse, repeat. I don’t care. This is a waste of time. Cut your losses, GoT.
*As expected, Robb runs into the battlefield nurse again, who this time is given a name (Lady Talisa). There’s no question she’s being set up to be his love interest. But what, if any, impact will this have on the war that’s on the horizon?
*Speaking of telegraphing, I’d wager that Cersei’s line to Tyrion about wanting him to love someone so that she can take her from him (spoken as Myrcella is being sent off) can only mean that she’s eventually going to find out about Shae and strike through her, yes?
*”Theon… did you hate us the whole time?”
*”Gods help you Theon Greyjoy. Now you are truly lost.”
*”We’ve had vicious kings and we’ve had idiot kings, but I don’t know that we’ve ever been cursed with a vicious idiot king.”
*”I’m just trying to get comfortable.”
*”Strike true and hard, Jon Snow. Or I’ll come back and haunt you.”
*”How can I call myself king if I can’t hold my own castle?”
*”What killed him?” “Loyalty.”
*”I always wondered what you had under there.”

TV Diary | Girls: “All Adventurous Women Do”

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Grade: A

This is the episode. This is the one that completely sold me on Girls and made me realize that I’m in for the long haul with the show. Like a lot of comedies, I’ve found that Girls is even better upon repeat viewings so after I watched “All Adventurous Women Do” for the second time, I came to realize just how truly excellent Lena Dunham’s HBO vehicle really is. She so clearly has a gift for this sort of thing, and “All Adventurous Women Do” displayed her talent in spades. Girls is obviously developing a talented ensemble among its four central characters, but this is Dunham’s show so it’s likely that Hannah is going to be front and center more often than not, as was the case in “All Adventurous Women Do.” Following up on her health scare from “Vagina Panic,” Hannah learns that she’s tested positive for HPV [1] and immediately sets out to determine who she contracted it from. Since she receives the phone call about her condition immediately after a hookup with Adam, she initially turns her suspicions towards him, only to have him rebuke her after he tells her that he’s already been tested [2]. Hannah, not really being up on the ins and outs of STD testing, takes him at his word and, by process of very little elimination she determines that her ex-boyfriend from college, Elijah, must be the HPV culprit. It’s here where “All Adventurous Women” crosses over into something close to genius. Hannah is initially reluctant to contact Elijah but, after conferring with Shoshanna, she ultimately contacts Elijah [3] and sets up a meeting to let him know/gain peace of mind. The two former lovers meet in a bar in a scene that ends up – in some ways – playing like the infamous Jon Favreau on the phone scene from Swingers, only longer and even more uncomfortable. And FUNNY. Hannah has one ignominy after another foisted upon her during their meeting, so let’s run them down one at a time:

  • Elijah tells her that she was never fat, but… “You were soft and round. Like a dumpling.”
  • When he inquires about her writing and she tells him that her book of essays is currently titled “Midnight Snack,” he responds with, “Well… there’s lots of… titles.”
  • After telling him that she’s not looking to re-establish an emotional connection with him, but is open to a physical one, he confirms that he’s actually now gay, something that he believed she’d heard through the rumor mill, but was in actuality unaware of.
  • He tells her that his exploration was “very much inspired by her.” Which, clearly, is what EVERY woman wants to hear when they find out their ex-lover is now playing for the other team.
  • “Are you asking if I always wanted to have sex with men? Yes. Are you asking did I think about it when we were together? Yes.”
  • When Hanna asks him how he was able to… er… perform with her, he tells her the following: “Well… there’s a… handsomeness to you that I…”
  • Things begin to devolve when she finally accuses him of passing HPV to her and tells him that Adam’s already been tested for it, something that Elijah scoffs off by telling her that there’s no way to test men for the disease: “Your boyfriend would know that if he’s even taken an Intro To Human Sexuality workshop.”
  • His response? To throw out the possibility that her dad is gay.

From there, the tension increases exponentially, with Hannah ending up alternately pissed and broken, and Elijah walking out angrily. Dunham is utterly incredible in this scene, particularly in the moment when Elijah informs her that he’s gay. The lip quiver and the barely-able-to-keep-it-together look on Dunham’s face is masterful. And I wouldn’t be opposed in the slightest to future appearances by Elijah, so strong was Andrew Rannels’ (The Book Of Mormon) performance here. It’s a complete ‘wow’ moment that galvanized my love for the show. I mentioned in my review of the first two episodes that Dunham is showing herself to be a fearless performer who’s devoid of vanity and this scene is further proof of that. Girls is quickly developing into one of television’s best shows and is yet another sign that HBO’s creative renaissance is continuing.

[1] Which she uses, at least once, to her advantage when Marnie gently reminds her that their rent is coming due: “I have pre-cancer!”
[2] “My best dyke friend works for a dick doctor.”
[3] Bad move there because Shoshanna isn’t exactly what you’d call “worldly,” and sums up the need to speak with Elijah thusly: “I just think – in the STD world – that it’s kind of courteous.”

*Hannah’s dad IS totally gay, right?
*Girls is showing a promising penchant for casting talented people in “All Adventurous Women Do,” between The Lonely Island’s Jorma Taccone as an artist who Marnie encounters at a show at her gallery (and who’s clearly being set up as a post-Charlie thing), and James LeGros and Kathryn Hahn as the couple who hires Jessa as their nanny. I’d also be shocked if there isn’t a future hookup between LeGros’s character and Jessa. However, in regard to the casting of these three, this is a very good sign for future episodes, people.
*Can we talk about the music for a minute? Because “All Adventurous Women Do” featured both LCD Soundsystem’s “I Can Change” and Mayer Hawthorne’s “Just Ain’t Gonna Work Out” at separate points during the episode. I’ll admit to not being familiar with Robyn’s “Dancing On My Own” (the track that closed the episode with the final scene of Hannah and Marnie dancing), though I am familiar with Robyn as a performer and should probably check that record out. In any event, kudos to Girls’ music supervisor because those are some excellent choices.
*Shoshanna watches Baggage. Because of course she does.
*Adam’s dickhead behavior for the week: Grabbing onto Hannah’s stomach and making it talk.
*The Hanna/Adam scene post-HPV phone call includes my favorite line in the series to date. After upsetting him by accusing him of being the one to pass the disease to her, Hannah asks him if he’ll still have sex with her and his answer – again, favorite line yet – is: “When it’s appropriate, sure.”
*He’s an asshole for sure, but God help me… I’m starting to like Adam.
*Jorma Taccone is a BOSS: “But I want you to know, the first time I fuck you, I might scare you a little. Because I’m a man, and I know how to do things. See you later.”
*Marnie apparently thinks so, too, because after hearing this she heads back to the gallery, ducks behind a door and… er… double-clicks her mouse.
*”How do I look?” “You look like you’re going to put a hex on some popular girls.” “Oh, OK American History X.”
*”It’s just three or four pounds. If you hate it so much you could lose four pounds.”
*”I know, and she’s always ‘liking’ my Facebook status. It’s such a weird, aggressive move. It’s like, ‘I’m sorry I passed you an STD, but I enjoy your quirky web presence.'”
*”Marnie, I think one of these paintings is up crooked.” “What makes you say that?” “Because I looked at it, and it is.”
*”This fruity little voice that you put on is a new thing.”
*”Is this about the scarf?” “It’s not about the scarf. The scarf is not helping the situation.”
*”In what way does my father read gay to you?” “Well, he has a stud in his ear.” “He got that on a trip he took with some of his male friends.”
*”Do you know what I’m going to do from now on? Ask people if they’re gay before I have sex with them.”
*”It was nice to see you. Your dad is gay.”
*”I should have suspected it because he only ejaculated 30% of the time. And he seemed gay.”

Review: Veep

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Grade: A

Comedies don’t often arrive as fully formed as HBO’s new Veep. They just don’t. They usually take a handful of episodes to find their voice and their style, but damn it if Veep doesn’t hit it out of the park in its first appearance at the plate [1]. After watching Veep’s first episode, “Fundraiser,” three – THREE – times, I’m left struggling to think of the last comedy pilot I liked as much as this one. Community back in 2009 is the only one that comes immediately to mind. I wasn’t a huge fan of Louie’s pilot in 2010, such was the jarring tonal shift of the show. Parks And Recreation’s was pretty close to bad in 2009. Hell… even the vaunted Arrested Development took a handful of episodes – give or take – to get itself off the ground. But Veep was note perfect throughout its entire first installment, immediately throwing down the gauntlet and announcing its candidacy for the best comedy on television. Coming from the mind of Glaswegian writer Armando Iannucci (In The Loop), Veep is a workplace comedy set in a rather unique setting – the office of the Vice President of the United States. Seinfeld vet Julia Louis-Dreyfus plays Selina Meyer, the Vice President who is shown to be someone with lofty ambitions but who is marginalized in her job even as she’s a breath away from becoming the leader of the free world. Louis-Dreyfus noted during an interview with Jon Stewart on The Daily Show back in April that part of what drew her to the series was that no one ever really aspires to the Vice Presidency, and the show uses that paradox to its advantage. There’s a nice running gag that develops where Meyer asks her executive assistant whether the President has called each time she enters the office, and the answer is always no. The show is also very wise not to alienate one political party or the other by never specifying which party Meyer belongs to, so everyone trying to paint Veep as some kind of Sarah Palin parody can shut their faces right now. Since the office serves as the base for much of Veep’s action, Meyer is surrounded by her staff; Chief of Staff Amy Brookheimer (Anna Chlumsky, looking a loooong way from My Girl), personal aide Gary Walsh (Tony Hale, playing a slightly more self-aware version of Buster Bluth from Arrested Development), hapless press secretary Mike McLintock (Matt Walsh, Upright Citizens Brigade), smarmy and ambitious Dan Egan (Reid Scott, The Big C), and executive assistant Sue Wilson (Sufe Bradshaw). It’s clear after the show’s first 30 minutes that there are no weak links in this cast. Every character is well-defined – another rarity in pilots – and each of the actors are capable at worst and exceptional at best. Iannucci has a gift for creative profanity [2] and the cast delivers his delicious lines perfectly. “Fundraiser” portrays the myriad fires that the office of the VPOTUS must put out on a daily basis, from currying favor with an egotistical senator after running afoul of the oil industry, to dealing with the overzealous liaison from the President’s office (Timothy Simons), to managing the controversy when Meyer jokingly (and in very un-PC fashion) refers to a fired staffer as a “retard” during an event. Granted, it’s just one episode but Veep has the potential to become a show for the ages. Iannucci is an incredibly talented writer who’s assembled a crack cast unencumbered by the shackles of over-the-air television, taking full advantage of the freedoms that premium cable affords [3]. Again, if Veep can sustain the momentum generated by “Fundraiser”… watch out. People like myself won’t be able to recommend it highly enough because it’ll be television’s next great comedy. It really is that good.

[1] Us writers love our hoary sports metaphors.
[2] Selina, after realizing that much of the speech she’s due to give minutes later has been censored by the President’s office: “This has been pencil-fucked?” “Front and back. Very little romance.”
[3] Witness this monologue from Amy after Selina solicits her opinion of the slimy Dan – Amy: “Oh, Dan is a shit.” Selina: “You want to expand on that?” Amy: “Sure. He’s a massive and total shit. When you first meet him you think, ‘Surely to God this man can’t be as big a shit as he seems, but he is. Like if there were a book with covers made of shit you’d think, ‘That’s intriguing. I wonder what’s in this book that they saw fit to give it covers made of pure shit. And then you open it, and… shit.” Or this one, from the senator that Meyer meets with to perform a little damage control after the snafu with Big Oil: “You piss off plastics, you piss off oil and you don’t want to fuck with those guys because they fuck in a very unpleasant fashion.”

*Louis-Dreyfus also noted in that same Daily Show interview that we will never see the President himself, which is another smart move on Iannucci’s part. It’s also a nod to the history of sitcoms like Cheers and Frasier, both of which had characters that played a large role in the goings-on but were never actually seen.
*Matt Walsh is a very talented comedian and has always been great when he’s shown up in spot roles here and there, so I love seeing him finally get a showcase here.
*Another sign that Veep is on to something: its attention to the little details. There’s a great scene where Gary wants to put down a super-hot cup of coffee only to have Selina tell him that she needs to tell him something, but she can’t remember what it is, so he just ends up standing there with the coffee burning his hands. The expressions on Tony Hale’s face throughout are incredible.
*I like how, much like how I’d imagine that offices in Washington work, the show moves seamlessly from crisis to crisis. In the first 30 minutes alone, Meyer pisses of oil with her clean jobs initiative, needs to ingratiate herself with a senator for help, puts her foot in her mouth by making a retard joke, hires a new aide, all while the office manages a hilariously clandestine op to retrieve a condolence card for a senator that Amy mistakenly signed her own name to while trying to forge Meyer’s signature. Veep uses every one of its 30 minutes, and it uses them efficiently.
*”Glasses make me look weak. It’s like a wheelchair for the eye.”
*”Mike, talk to me. I’m in a room with three people and a fuckload of quiche.”
*”She’s mediocre. Really. Of all the ‘ocres’ she’s the ‘medi-est.'”
*”Next time pack an espresso machine in your big fuckin’ bitch bag.”
*”Rapey Reeves.” “He was the first senator to welcome me to the Capitol. You know… he was old – even then.” “Was he full of wisdom?” “He was full of bourbon. And he grabbed my left tit. Remember that?” “And God rest his soul.”
*”Did you fire your tweet monkey yet? Because that guy is a weapons-grade retard. I think you might have been hoist by your own retard there.”
*”You know my motto: I don’t want to know. Anyways, what motto? I don’t have a motto.”
*”That address makes me hard. Kiss you, miss you.”
*”I’ll redact your fuckin’ face.”
*”What if Tom Hanks dies?” “How did you get your job? You want to base your strategy around whether Tom Hanks dies?”
*”Hey, good lookin’. What you got cookin’? Dickwad pie?”
*”When a sexual harasser dies, we sign his wife’s card. That’s how Washington works.”
*”Is this going to become like Moonlighting where we fall in love and start fucking?”
*”Well… good luck, Gary. I’m convinced that you can probably do this.”
*”Amy… here we go. Shrimp linguine and a porno. I’m just kidding — it’s chicken linguine.”
*”Amy… I NEED a shit!”
*”Touch me and you lose a finger. And a ball.”

TV Diary | Mad Men – “Far Away Places”

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TV Diary | Mad Men – Episode 5.06 – “Far Away Places” – Original Airdate: 4/22/12

Episode Grade: B+

I think it’s safe to say at this point that, between “Mystery Date” and now “Far Away Places,” Mad Men creator Matthew Weiner is testing the limits of what he can and cannot do with his show. Don strangling a woman to death in a fever dream stood as the weirdest moment in the show’s history for, oh… two weeks or so, because Roger and Jane tripping on acid is now easily at the top of the list. I had a somewhat strange reaction to “Far Away Places” after seeing it [1] but, after reading some reviews [2] I came to appreciate what Weiner was trying to do so much more. It was jarring to try to adjust to initially as it wasn’t clear as the episode started that it was going to be presented vignette-style, beginning with Peggy blowing a meeting with Heinz by trying to act a little too much like Don, her gender betraying her in 1966. Coupled with the deterioration of her relationship with her boyfriend Abe, her frustration then causes her to take off for a mid-afternoon movie where she ultimately ends up smoking a doob and giving a random stranger a handie in the theater. Yeah – that happened. After slinking back into work [3], she falls asleep on Don’s couch only to be awakened by a cryptic call from Don [4], eventually making her way back to her office where she encounters Ginsburg, who tells her that he’s a Martian or something [5]. So… yeah, at this point I’m wondering what in the actual fuck is going on. But then, “Far Away Places” returns to earlier edit point in the episode and we move on to Roger’s perspective on the day and now I’m thinking, “OK… this is going to be a Rashomon-style storytelling device. I can get behind that.” So, of course, Roger’s journey leads to he and Jane dropping acid – literally – and ends in the utter dissolution of their marriage. Uh… what? Obviously, Mad Men has been hinting at the fact that Roger and Jane were on a road to nowhere all season, what with their open hostility and disdain for one another. But the way that they eventually come to that realization was both jarring and utterly masterful, particularly in John Slattery’s performance. Roger seems much more at peace with the decision than Jane does, as she warns him that a separation is going to get expensive. His enlightened response? “I know.” His cheery disposition at the episode’s end suggests that perhaps the black cloud that’s been following Roger all season may be on the verge of moving on. The final sketch finds Don and Megan on a daytrip to scout out Howard Johnson’s, a company that seems to be painted as desperately wanting to do business with SCDP. After he and Megan arrive at the HoJo’s, Don receives further clarification that the woman he married is nothing like Betty, in that she has a mind of her own and isn’t about to kowtow to his every whim. She’s not entirely thrilled that he’d pull her away from her work and her job on a lark, and his trying to push some orange sherbet on her after she’d wanted pie is the final straw. She gives him an over-the-top sarcastic response that ultimately ends with her cutting him deeply: “Why don’t YOU call your mother?” Don’s response? He gets in the car and drives away, leaving her there. He spends the rest of the next eight or so hours frantically searching for Megan (who’s now disappeared), wondering all the while whether something awful has happened to her. He returns to the restaurant and tries to wait things out there before deciding to head home, where he finds Megan and a chain-locked door. After breaking the door in, he chases her around the apartment in a, quite frankly, chilling scene that’s more than a little reminiscent of a horror film. It’s becoming ever clearer that Don and Megan’s relationship is not healthy: It’s a radioactive one that is liable to explode at any time. Without question, the uniting thread in each of “Far Away Places’” vignettes is the crumbling of relationships and the episode as a whole is a strong statement. I’ll admit that I didn’t think too highly of “Far Away Places” after first viewing it, but after some time to think it’s clear that its charms just didn’t immediately reveal themselves. Because they really are there. You just have to look harder than usual to find them. But they’re there.

[1] I said to my wife something to the effect of, “This is just Matthew Weiner fucking around because he can.”
[2] Hitfix’s Alan Sepinwall and The AV Club’s TV Club are always the go-to places for these situations.
[3] And still more than a little high.
[4] At this point, the only thing we know is that he and Megan have taken off on a day trip and his solemn tone when speaking to Peggy on the phone hints at something going wrong. Very disorienting at this stage of the episode.
[5] Subtext that actually did happen – Ginsburg was born in a concentration camp, and the Martian talk is his way of coping. That character instantly just got about 137% more interesting.

*Perhaps the storm cloud that seems to be leaving Roger has found its new target: Megan. The resentment of having to leave her own work behind in order to accompany Don on his jaunt to Howard Johnson’s was pretty blatant. This is not a woman who is entirely pleased with her current occupational situation.
*Bert Cooper’s usefulness has long since passed, but he makes two rather poignant observations in “Far Away Places.” The first comes when Peggy departs for the movies when he remarks, “Everyone has somewhere to go today,” which says a lot about the state of the agency. The second is after Don and Megan return to the office after the disastrous HoJo’s trip. We’ve seen this season that Don’s taking his work less seriously, and apparently we’re not the only ones who have noticed because Don has a mark-up for a campaign returned to him with the note “Do Over” scrawled on it. After confronting Bert about it, Bert tells Don that he’s been on “love leave” and the time has come to get serious about his duties at SCDP once again. Again… Bert can seem superfluous at times – almost mascot-ish – but Weiner is wise to allow him to have his moments like this.
*Roger and Jane at some weird dinner party where they’re taking acid = A line I never expected to write in a Mad Men review.
*Some of Roger’s hallucinations during his acid trip: Opening a bottle of Stoli and hearing symphonic music emanating from it; lighting a cigarette and having it collapse; looking at a $5 bill and seeing Bert’s face on it.
*Roger with a towel wrapped up on his head is not an image I can say that I ever cared to see.
*The shot of Don outside by a payphone smoking a cigarette underneath the light of the orange Howard Johnson’s roof? Magnificent.
*Roger Sterling Line Of The Week, in pitching Don on checking out the Howard Johnson’s headquarters in upstate New York: “Did you ever hear the one about the farmer’s daughter? This is where it all started.”
*Roger Sterling Line Of The Week Part II, on not being impressed with the initial effects of his LSD trip: “Well, Dr. Leary, I find your product boring.”
*Perhaps I’m missing something, but if Howard Johnson’s is so desperate to work with SCDP, why is Don even taking the trip? To decide whether they want their business? And if so, doesn’t that seem backwards from how things usually work?
*In many respects, “Far Away Places” is an even weirder episode than “Mystery Date,” yet it’s a much more effective one. Not sure what to make of that.
*One of the observations I liked best came from Sepinwall when he noted that the entire episode was about the various “trips” that the three central characters took.
*”Have a shitty day!”
*”I’m sorry. I’m not a ‘word person’ like you people.”
*”You don’t like me.” “I did. I really did.”
*”There has to be some advantage to being my wife.”
*”A little more notice and I would have rolled out the orange carpet.”
*”Maybe you could make up a little schedule so I know when I’m working and when I’m your wife. It gets so confusing.”
*”Every time we fight, it diminishes what we have.”
*”I have an announcement to make: It’s going to be a beautiful day.”

Community & Cougar Town Get New Seasons (Oh… And A Bunch Of Other Shows, Too)

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With the upfronts coming next week, yesterday saw a HUGE flood of renewals and cancellations, some of which were surprising (and welcomed), some of which were no-brainers, and some of which were head-scratchers. Also, one show got cancelled AND picked up in the same day. Say whaa now? Let’s take a look at each of them bullet-point style:

Community – We did it everyone. We. Did. It. NBC renewed Community for an (as of now) truncated 13-episode season but, by my count, 13 is more than zero so this is goddamned great news. The fly in the ointment? The feud between the superfluous Chevy Chase and showrunner Dan Harmon could possibly lead to Harmon stepping down as Community’s boss – which would really, really suck – but for now, let’s just focus on the fact that Community isn’t going anywhere. And that’s a very, very good thing.
Cougar Town – I was almost as worried about this one as I was Community and it turns out it was for good reason, because it’s not going to be airing on ABC next season. Mainly because it’s moving to TBS. You read that right. The oft-mentioned but rarely-implemented fan dream of a favorite being cancelled and then picked up by another network actually worked in this case, as TBS has purchased the rights to all 63 of Cougar Town’s existing episodes and has ordered a third season with the entire cast still intact – no small feat given the fact that it’s moving from network to cable TV. Any way you look at it, this is a win for quality television and it sounds like Cougar Town is going to finally get the network love (and possibly the new title, finally) that it deserves.
Parenthood – We’re putting this one in the win column, too. Although Parenthood stumbled a bit down the stretch in its third season but there were times in 2012 where it was network television’s best drama. Plus, we’re always gonna support Jason Katims shows here. We’re just built that way.
30 Rock – NBC’s bringing back 30 Rock for a victory lap of sorts, giving it 13 episodes to wrap up its seven seasons on the air. One wonders if Alec Baldwin is itching to move onto other things [resists urge to make a voicemail joke] but we can all admit that there’s no way that the show works without him. Figures… I finally start getting caught up on 30 Rock (midway through season five right now) just in time for it to stop being a living show.
ABC Scripted Shows – ABC picked up a whole host of scripted shows of varying quality. In order from best to… not good, Suburgatory, Revenge, Once Upon A Time, Modern Family, Grey’s Anatomy, Castle, and The Middle all received new seasons. I’m particularly looking forward to getting caught up on Revenge this summer on Hulu as its had very good buzz (and ratings, for that matter) all season long. You’ll notice that Modern Family is in the middle of that list which is fitting, since it’s the very definition of an average TV show.
ABC Unscripted Shows – ABC also picked up a bunch of unscripted shows as well, including Dancing With The Stars, The Bachelor, and Shark Tank. Insert big collective fart noise here.
• A Gifted Man – No one knew that this show was still on, right? Anyway… CBS cancelled it and I’d venture to say that, outside of those who actually work on A Gifted Man, no one even cares. Hell, I’m sure some of them don’t even care.

Basically, any day where Community and Cougar Town both get new seasons is a good one, so it’ll be interesting to see what other shows that are on the bubble (Parks And Recreation and Happy Endings, I’m looking at you) get picked up ahead of next week’s upfronts in the next couple of days.

EDIT: Parks And Recreation and Happy Endings were both picked up today, making this one helluva week for quality television. This isn’t what normally happens. I’m scared. Hold me.

TV Diary | Game Of Thrones – “The Ghost Of Harrenhal”

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TV Diary | Game Of Thrones – Episode 2.05 – “The Ghost Of Harrenhal” – Original Airdate: 4/29/12

Episode Grade: B

100% honesty – this may have been my least favorite episode of either of Game Of Thrones’ two seasons to date. Other than the (BIG GIANT SPOILER ALERT) [1] very surprising death of Renly via Melisandre’s newly-birthed smoke monster [2], there really wasn’t much here that I cared about. Granted, the opening scene that saw Catelyn reassuring Renly that Robb has no interest in the Iron Throne and Renly proposing an arrangement with Robb that was much like the one his brother Robert had with Robb’s father Ned was well-constructed and Renly’s death literally came out of nowhere. It was a shot fired that made it seem like “The Ghost Of Harrenhal” was gonna be a balls-out crazy installment of GoT but, instead, it pretty much petered out from there. Daenerys being proposed to by one of the fucking weirdoes in Qarth? Don’t really care. More nonsense with the greatly-removed Night Watch storyline? Don’t really care. Brienne and Catelyn forging an alliance of sorts? Slightly more interesting, but not very. Coming on the heels of the season’s two strongest episodes, “The Ghost Of Harrenhal” was more than a little bit of a letdown even as the material with Tyrion [3] and Arya continues to be very strong. As I’ve mentioned in previous entries on GoT, I have immense faith in the abilities of showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss to tie together the (for now) less essential elements of the show by season’s end but to this point the second season has been a bit of a grab bag where the Tyrion/Robb/Arya/Renly/Theon material is working well, but everything involving Stannis/Dany/Jon is either coming off limply or not at all. Specifically, the Dany and Night Watch storylines are so far removed from the overall story of the season that they’re a slog to get through at this stage. “The Ghost Of Harrenhal” marks the season’s halfway point so there are only five episodes left to bring the season’s narrative to a satisfying conclusion, but episodes like “The Ghost Of Harrenhal” are going to have to be few and far between in order for that to happen.

[1] And, really, if you haven’t seen the episode you probably shouldn’t be reading this in the first place. You know how this works by now.
[2] Who Brienne interestingly mentioned looked a lot like Stannis himself.
[3] Peter Dinklage (rightfully) won an Emmy for his work in season one but good lord… the guy’s on another level this year and will have a strong, strong case for Best Actor in a Drama if HBO chooses to enter him into consideration for a lead role.

*And even as I spent much of the above paragraph talking about how much I disliked the episode, there were still definitely some high points. We’ve already touched on Renly’s death, which was shocking and effective. In my surprise over his death, I hadn’t considered that not only would his death remove one of Stannis’s key rivals for the throne from the equation, but it also exponentially increased his manpower as the vast majority of Renly’s troops defected to Stannis’s side. I like how the show paints collecting troops as an arms race in the coming war and Renly’s death and subsequent movement of his troops to his brother’s employ certainly qualifies as this. Ultimately, I’m sticking with a “B” grade mainly on the strength of the impact of Renly’s demise, but I don’t feel particularly great about that grade.
*The intent of the conversation between Stannis and Davos where Stannis puts Davos in charge of their offensive, despite Davos’s protests that he’s not as qualified as others, probably could have been presented a little more clearly. Was there a subtext there that Davos has convinced Stannis that Melisandre is dangerous? Because, if so, that’s kind of odd coming after she essentially delivered Renly’s troops to him. And, if they are turning against her and cutting her out, is this the type of woman you want to mess around with? This could end with yet another dead Baratheon.
*Yet more lack of clarity: Theon meets his crew and, in trying to assert his authority, runs afoul of a crew member who basically tells him that he could do Theon’s job very easily and that Theon should watch his back. Left essentially holding his junk in his hand on the docks after the crew departs, Theon is joined by his first mate who’s a bit more sympathetic to his cause and who suggests that Theon needs to prove himself to the crew before they’ll respect him. To that end, he offers up a plan to… do something. Again, not entirely clear but I think that was the jist of the exchange. I’d assume that it has something to do with striking at Robb ahead of time but this probably could have been presented a little more strongly.
*Tyrion’s surprised dismay at being labeled a “demon monkey” by a deranged ranter on the street was the height of hilarity.
*Maisie Williams continues to turn in incredibly strong work as Arya, sparring both with Tywin over her identity and with one of the prisoners who she freed in “What Is Dead May Never Die.” The development with the prisoner is particularly interesting because he informs her that he is in her debt for releasing him and his repayment plan involves killing any three people of her choosing. She starts off by suggesting the torturer from “Garden Of Bones,” and by episode’s end, the torturer is dead, raising the question: What does this do long-term for Arya and her mental state now that she knows she has the power to take life away?
*What’s with the references to wildfire? This must be significant, yes?
*Yo… those people in Qarth (Qarthians?) are fucking weirdoes.
*”Negotiate with Stannis? I’d have better luck debating the wind.”
*”Calling yourself a king doesn’t make you one and if Renly wasn’t a king, I wasn’t a queen.” “Do you want to be a queen, my grace?” “I don’t want to be a queen. I want to be THE queen.”
*”Aren’t you always so clever with your schemes and your plots.” “Schemes and plots are the same thing.”
*”Enough. Even torturing you is boring.”
*”Are we surprised when the fruit of their incest is rotten? A rotten king!” “It’s hard to argue with him.”
*”I remember an old proverb: Piss on wildfire, and your cock burns off.”