Posts Tagged ‘Glee’
We’re going to be spoiled for good TV in 2015 if this keeps up, as the new year’s quality run continues with the premiere of Fox’s Empire. I was healthily skeptical going into this one, what with Fox’s incessant promos with the – if we’re being honest – incredibly annoying “No Apologies” song blaring seemingly every five seconds on the network during the month of December. In addition, when you add to it the fact that noted eccentric Terrence Howard was top-lining it and that Fox’s last musical skewing hour-long was the execrable Glee, Empire seemed to have disaster written all over it.
Perhaps that’s why Empire arriving as all of the best of that long-forgotten genre – the prime-time soap opera – came as such a surprise, to the point that some are saying that creator Lee Daniels is making “the black Dynasty.” The series follows hip-hop legend/entrepreneur Lucious Lyon as played by Terrence Howard (Hustle & Flow), who receives a dire medical diagnosis within the series’ first hour that necessitates him creating a succession plan for his label/conglomerate, Empire Enterprises. His candidates are his three sons: Wharton-educated Andre (Trai Byers), spotlight-shunning Jamal (Jussie Smollett), and young and entitled Hakeem (Bryshere Gray), with Empire promising to pit each brother against one another for the future of the company. Complicating matters is the reappearance of Lucious’s ex-wife Cookie (an arguably never better Taraji P. Henson), who shows back up in his life directly out of prison demanding restitution for taking the fall for Lucious on a drug deal gone bad, one that actually served as the funding for Lucious’s enterprise. With the former drug-slinging aspect, it seems clear that Jay Z served as at least a modicum of inspiration for the Lucious character, just as it’s possible that there’s a little bit of Frank Ocean present in Jamal.
Though Empire sounds very soap-ish (and it is), it also deals with social issues like homophobia in the hip-hop world (Jamal is gay and Lucious is embarrassed by him) and interracial marriage (Andre’s white wife is derided by Cookie). In some ways, it’s almost like Daniels crafted the soap aspect to draw the masses in order to actually examine more anthropological issues. When it comes to the performances, Henson is the standout as the brash and memorable Cookie, and it’s easy to see why she ditched procedural pabulum like CBS’s Person of Interest for a showier and frankly more fun role like this. Howard is largely… fine, while Smollett also stands out along with Henson as the introspective Jamal. The characterizations are great, because no one (save maybe Jamal) is a total white hat or black hat. They’re all painted realistically in shades of gray.
Ultimately, it seems that Empire’s going to be a delicate balance of the crowd-pleasing cheese for which soaps are famous and the larger social themes that Daniels wants to explore, so maybe calling it the “black Dynasty” is a little reductive. It’s entirely possible that a show that burns as hot and as fast as this does could lose its fire quickly, but for now, it looks to promise a great deal of thoughtful fun.
Episode 1.01 Grade: B+
*Lucious is originally from Philadelphia. Philly Represent.
*Could have really done without the speechifying about “music on the Internet.”
*To really drive the point home about Lucious’s bigotry when it comes to his son, he’s a “sexuality is a choice” kind of guy.
*It looks like there are going to be flashbacks interspersed regularly to fill viewers in on where the characters came from. For instance, we see one of Jamal dressed up in women’s clothes as a kid and then catching a beating from Lucious, who also stuffs him in a trash can to Cookie’s disgust.
*There’s a twist at the end of the episode that sees Lucious sharing something in common with The Shield’s Vic Mackey, as least where pilots are concerned.
*Cookie Quote of the Night: “You know I was never into wearing those weaves, girls walking around smellin’ like goat ass.”
Didn’t have a chance to write anything about NBC’s new Smash two weeks ago when it originally debuted but thought I’d take a chance to post some quick impressions of its pilot. Anyone who knows me knows that I loathe Glee with an all-consuming fire of a billion suns so when Smash was announced – and looked conspicuously like NBC’s attempt to create its own insufferable musical – I had no interest. None. But then I watched the pilot teaser reel that came out last May around upfronts time like a good little wannabe TV critic and thought that it didn’t really look that bad and that there were elements that seemed interesting, so I filed that interest away for when the show would actually debut at midseason. After watching the pilot? This is a show that I could definitely see sticking with, at least for a few episodes. The first installment definitely wasn’t a blowaway one but it did take a world that I have little to no interest in – Broadway – and made it compelling enough for me to want to see what happens next. Its narrative is fairly cohesive – always a good sign – and many of the principal actors (especially Katherine McPhee as aspiring actress Karen Cartwright and Jack Davenport as lecherous director Derek Wills) are likeable enough that I could see giving over an hour a week for the time being in order to follow their story. The show has a clear goal in mind – to tell the story of how a musical based on the life of Marilyn Monroe could come together – and showing the production come together from all viewpoints  was a very smart choice when taking into consideration that there may be audience members such as myself who have no knowledge of how Broadway works. Simply put, I hate musicals and I don’t hate this. For the time being, even as I find it unlikely that I’ll be writing much about it, that’s enough to keep me interested in Smash.
 Actors, directors, producers, writers, and their respective loved ones are all represented here, giving us an almost all-encompassing look at what it takes to put a show like this together.
*I also found it kind of cool that Smash embraces technology like it does. Beyond the fact that NBC made the pilot available via various platforms (iTunes, Hulu, etc.) prior to its premiere, its characters seem believably tech savvy – using tools like DVD libraries, movies on laptops, and YouTube as part of their craft – which is something you surprisingly don’t see in a lot of television shows.
*Though the show clearly has a season throughline – the production of the Marilyn musical – the pilot really did feel like a network-lite version of an HBO pilot in that it creates the impression that it’s the first chapter of a book more than it does a first episode of a television series. That’s kind of a novel approach for network TV and one that I’d like to see occur more often.
*The show employs a pretty cool effect where a visualization of what the finished production would look like shows up when one of the characters is performing a number in rehearsal or in private.
*One misfire: Right now, I really couldn’t care less about the plotline of Debra Messing’s Julia Houston – co-writer of the Marilyn musical – and her husband trying to adopt. I get it… her husband doesn’t like that she’s all-consumed when she’s in production and is afraid that he’ll be raising the baby on his own should they get one. I just don’t care. Move on.
*And another: The false drama that occurs at the end of the pilot between McPhee and Megan Hilty’s character being unsure of who’s going to land the lead role in the Marilyn musical rings a little hollow. NBC’s positioned McPhee as the star of Smash so it’s really unlikely that she wouldn’t also be the lead of the show within the show, right?
*Katherine McPhee is rather attractive. Just an observation.
*Michael Cristofer is here as the estranged husband of Anjelica Huston’s producer character? Really like this casting as I really dug Cristofer’s work on the late AMC drama, Rubicon. Hopefully we see more of him going forward.
*”Screwing every blonde who opens her legs for you is childish.”
*”Let’s be honest, for me to audition, Marilyn herself would have to pop out of that envelope and do me right here.”
*”Great to see you, Tom. You look terrific. You lost some weight.”
*”Gay men piss me off.” “That’s an unfortunate position to take in the American theater.”
*”You need something to accentuate your breasts.”
*Episode below courtesy of Hulu.
Quick Reaction: FX’s American Horror Story is an utter train wreck of a show and series creator Ryan Murphy is likely laughing at you for making it a hit.
(Note: This review was based on American Horror Story’s first three episodes, “Pilot,” “Home Invasion,” and “Murder House.”)
Ryan Murphy (along with longtime writing partner Brad Falchuk) might be television’s most insufferable showrunner. His shows have demonstrated the propensity over the years to not only fall off the rails but to fall off the rails in spectacular fashion. His first effort (back in the days of The WB) was the teen soap Popular, a show that had its moments to be sure, before devolving rather quickly into nonsense. Next came Nip/Tuck, which became one of the fledgling FX network’s flagship series and was a show whose cable setting allowed Murphy to indulge in some of his baser instincts . I mean, for fuck’s sake, one prominent plotline featured a male rapist who was born without a penis. I repeat: Born. Without. A. Penis. Somehow, this bit of unpleasantness was forgiven with mainstream TV audiences once he created Glee, with Murphy somehow becoming America’s darling in the process. Largely on the cachet of his Glee success, he landed a deal with FX (again) in February 2011 and American Horror Story was born. And oh… what a crazy goddamn baby this one turned out to be.
 Namely, showing Julian McMahon’s ass. Repeatedly.
For those unfamiliar with AHS: Dylan McDermott (The Practice) and Connie Britton (Friday Night Lights) play Ben and Vivian Harmon, Boston transplants who attempt to make a new life in Los Angeles with their moody teenage daughter, Violet (Taissa Farmiga), in tow as a response to no small amount of turmoil within their marriage (he cheated and she miscarried). They purchase an old mansion in LA – the type that only exists in television shows – for a steal since it was the site of a grisly murder/suicide and thus, presumably, no one else wants it. After moving in, their lives begin to go to shit and unexplainable  things start happening. Ben, as a therapist, runs his practice out of his home and begins seeing a troubled teenager named Tate (Evan Peters, Invasion) who seems to have some kind of strange connection to the house. Also, Jessica Lange turns up as Constance, a neighbor who leaves big chomping teeth marks on the scenery every time she appears on screen, and Frances Conroy (Six Feet Under) plays Moira, a housekeeper who seems to be yet another character with a mysterious tie to the house.
 Read: batshit crazy.
Really, I could try to explain more of the plot to you but it would be a futile pursuit. In the history of train-wrecky shows, AHS might be the most train-wreckiest. This makes it watchable to a point – mainly because it’s fun to tear shows like this apart – but it’s still a gigantic eyesore of a television series. For one, there are so many characters in this series that exist only on television shows. Example #1: Denis O’Hare’s Larry Harvey, a badly burned former resident of the home who alternately warns Ben about the house, while extorting him at the same time. He may be an apparition that only Ben can see. Who can be sure with this show? The third episode, “Murder House,” ends with Harvey bashing Ben’s mistress  in the face with a shovel, killing her. Because, why not? Lange, a talented actress in the past, is playing the overacting wannabe star who’s bitter from having to care for her daughter Addy, a young woman with Down syndrome who, in one of the show’s most cringeworthy elements, seems to exist only to be “creepy.” Apparently to Murphy, disabled people are scary. In 2011, that’s more than a little offensive. Actually, that’s a lot offensive and Murphy should know better. From a technical standpoint, the camerawork and music attempt to create a horror atmosphere and, while they do succeed at times, more often than not it comes off as showy and as AHS trying too hard. The show’s casting doesn’t fare much better.
 Who’s just shown up in LA, pregnant, and telling Ben that she’s moving there and that he’s going to need to provide for the baby. Naturally, like mistresses are wont to do.
When casting AHS, Murphy and his team must have decided that nuanced acting (Britton excepted), need not apply here. The histrionics that pockmarked both the pilot and the later seasons of Nip/Tuck are present in spades. I’ve already hit on Lange’s shortcomings but as the ostensible lead, McDermott’s character is such a douchebag that it’s tough to find any reason why the audience should feel for him. He cheated on his wife after she had a miscarriage, packed his family up and moved them across the country into a haunted house, all the while being one of the most self-involved characters currently on television. He’s the kind of asshole that you watch and root for death to befall him. After Vivien becomes pregnant in the pilot , Ben tells her, “This baby is why we moved here. It’s our salvation.” While in the hands of a better actor, a cheeseball line like that could potentially be salvaged, here it just proves that McDermott is exposed and out of his element. Farmiga, in her second role ever, does show potential as the daughter who begins to appreciate what the house has to offer but, mostly, I just feel sorry that Britton was somehow dragged into this mess. After spending the last five years working on what I consider my favorite television series of all-time, Friday Night Lights, she’s now subjected to Murphy’s histrionic fever dreams and is lowered to being unwittingly raped and impregnated by some mysterious being in a gimp outfit . The last half-decade of her career was spent creating the most realistic portrayal of a marriage that’s been seen on television, maybe ever, with Kyle Chandler and now she’s wasting away alongside McDermott. And McDermott is most certainly no Kyle Chandler. None of this even begins to answer the question central on anyone who watches this show’s minds: Why in holy hell would anyone stay in this house? I mean, other than that Murphy and FX want to stretch this out as a series. After largely avoiding the topic for the first two episodes, in “Murder House” Murphy and his writing team go the exact opposite route and throw any and every reason at the audience, telling them, “Hey… assholes! Pick one!” They can’t leave because Ben tells Vivien that all of their money is tied up in the house and The Economy  won’t allow them to! Vivien experiences pregnancy complications that mysteriously disappear once she’s back in the house! Violet has grown so attached to the house that she threatens to run away and never be seen from again if she’s forced to move! All in the space of a single episode. Doesn’t exactly inspire confidence in the storytelling, does it?
 Don’t ask for specifics. Just… don’t.
 Those would be the specifics. Unfortunately.
 Capitalized because it’s seemingly the villain on every television show this season.
Through all of the missteps in casting, storytelling, and presentation, the voice that shines through is unmistakably that of Murphy. You can almost make up a game called Ryan Murphy Show Bingo throughout because it quickly becomes obvious that the success of Glee and the cable setting for AHS have only served to add up to Murphy at his worst. McDermott walking around bare-assed and shirtless on multiple occasions? Murphy’d! Gimp outfit hanging in the attic? Murphy’d! McDermott jerking off and crying at the same time, while spotting the grotesquely burned Harvey hanging out in his lawn for the first time?  Murphy’d! AHS is like the manifestation of every wet dream that Ryan Murphy has ever had, and FX has chosen for some inexplicable reason to present it to their audience. Lucky us. It almost feels like a put-on, like this can’t be an actual show that an actual for real network has willingly put on the air. Ultimately, AHS seems like the biggest joke that Ryan Murphy has ever pulled on his audience. He’s sitting back, saying, “Look what I can make you fools watch.” And we have, because not only did it end up as the #1 series premiere in FX’s history, but it’s already been renewed for a second season. That sound you hear is Murphy, laughing at you while he makes his way to the bank. Again.
 Yeah… I’m pretty sure I actually just typed that. And that it actually happened in this show.
God bless Connie Britton. She’s doing her best to rise above the garbage that she’s surrounded by and while she’s one of television’s best actresses, she can only do so much.
Why, in God’s name, is Alby from Big Love sewing bat’s wings on a pig in one of these three episodes?
McDermott didn’t actually build a gazebo in one day at the end of “Murder House,” right?
More than anything, AHS borrows liberally from The Shining. The house has special powers that makes its inhabitants go slowly mad. Creepy twins. Ghosts. O’Hare seems to be playing the part of the bartender from the film. Let’s hope there are no creepy naked old ladies later on but, knowing Murphy, I wouldn’t put it past him.
Lange: “My womb is cursed.” Wonderful.