Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Greek 3.05: "Down on Your Luck"

“You’re a scientist, Cartwright. Variables are the only constants in the world.”

-Dr. Hastings


Monday’s episode of Greek was amusing enough, although I must admit I’m getting a bit tired of the series. I tore through the first season and a half on abcfamily.com because the college nostalgia made me happy, but I’m starting to find the show a bit boring and repetitive overall. Perhaps it’s because, on the whole, I have a bit of trouble relating to the ZBZs. More on that later.


The plot that I found the most amusing out of the three kind-of-mediocre plots we got in this episode featured Cappie and Evan. Evan is looking for a new job, since he is still trust fund-less, and he lost that waiter job in the next town over where Calvin and Grant went for their date. Cappie happens to see Evan looking at help wanted flyers. After a some good-natured ribbing, Cappie suggests to Evan that he try being a cater waiter. I think what happens next is supposed to be an homage to “Party Down,” the sitcom on Starz about Hollywood cater waiters. Cappie and Evan wear the pink bow ties and everything. Evan is there, like I said, to try and make ends meet, but Cappie is there because he wants the phone number of a waitress he met while Evan was turning in his application. The waitress is having none of it, though. The very first time Cappie hits on her, she mentions she has kids, and it goes downhill from there. Evan feels like this sort of minimum wage work is a new form of prison. With or without his trust fund, he can’t just do whatever he wants, the poor baby (holding up sarcasm sign for those of you who, like Sheldon on The Big Bang Theory, are in need of one). Cappie is the one who ends up quitting the job, though. He doesn’t think he has a chance with the waitress, and any kind of traditional work isn’t really his style. As he leaves, the waitress reminds him that he could have just looked up her phone number on the staff list…if he was still an employee.


Rusty’s academic struggles are still as significant a part of the plot as ever in this episode, as he continues to work with his professor on his independent research. Dan Castellaneta has some funny material to work with here, as he is forced to endure Rusty prattling on about his relationship with Jordan every time they work on an experiment. Jordan took a little more of the spotlight than Rusty this week, in a kind of lame way. She sees Rusty is really happy and feeling fulfilled while doing his independent research, and she’s upset that she doesn’t feel the same way about school. She decides that studying abroad in Rome for a semester will cure everything. Rusty, naturally, isn’t thrilled that his girlfriend wants to go to another continent for three months. Jordan applied to the program at the last minute, so she wasn’t sure if she would be accepted. She receives an e-mail from the program with an attachment she can’t open. Rusty opens it on his computer and, without showing Jordan the screen, tells her she was rejected. The ridiculous contrived way in which the writers made it so Rusty had to be the one to open the e-mail (who sends an acceptance/rejection as an attachment?) leads me to believe that there’s nowhere this plot can go but “Rusty lied!”


The main, and most superficial in my book, plot of the episode was Casey and Ashleigh realizing that ZBZ is no longer considered the “best house” on campus. The pledges are restless because their mixers keep getting cancelled. I think we’re supposed to assume that the cancellations keep happening because 1.) ZBZ has had its share of scandals in the past two years and 2.) the pledges are kind of lame. To add insult to injury, the ZBZ pledges have been given November in the CRU Greek calendar, instead of their usual July. With a little prodding from the Panhel president (where she, of course, is sure to mention that her house is now “number one” and ZBZ is “fourth…ish”), Casey and Ashleigh realize that in their acute bout of senioritis, they really haven’t given the pledges the attention they deserve and need. And hey, isn’t that kind of what I was complaining about the other week when I was surprised that Casey would find being Pledge Educator so darn unfulfilling? Casey takes some initiative and figures out a way to make November sexy…sort of…but unfortunately it’s too late for the picture to actually make it into the calendar. The ZBZ pledges show up at Dobbler’s in their costumes, though, and we’re left to think that ZBZ may not be entirely unsalvageable. I guess I couldn’t identify with this plot because when I was in college, I was in the professional music sorority, which, although we were a sort of strange hybrid of a professional and social Greek organization, was at the bottom of the Greek social standing ladder, and we weren’t planning on going anywhere!


While I didn’t hate this episode of Greek, it didn’t wow me either. I liked that we got to see Cappie and Evan bond some more during their brief stint as cater waiters, however. It’s nice to see them try to reforge their friendship after it went so horribly wrong back in their freshman year. They have a fun friend chemistry. Although I liked a little bit of focus on Jordan’s academic issues as opposed to Rusty’s, the whole thing just felt forced. I didn’t understand why Jordan felt unfulfilled, and her unhappiness kind of came out of nowhere. I look forward to the coming episodes, since the drama should heat up as we head into the second half of this “chapter” of the show.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

HIMYM 5.02: "Double Date"

“Do you think they’ll have Wookie to English dictionaries there? I mean, even just an everyday phrase book would be helpful.”

-Marshall


I have serious mixed feelings about last night’s episode of HIMYM. The episode’s title, “Double Date” actually takes on two meanings, one for a plot involving just Ted, and one for a plot involving the rest of the gang. The concept is actually pretty clever, and I like that. I liked Ted’s plot as well- it felt like vintage HIMYM- but I have some serious issues with the rest of the gang’s story. I think that story was a serious example of character being sacrificed for a (kind of lame) joke.


The first meaning of “Double Date” is the more creative one. Ted finds himself on a blind date with Jen, a woman he had already been on a blind date with seven years before. They realize this while in the middle of eating dinner. After the realization, Ted and Jen decide to go through the rest of the date so they can figure out where they went wrong and be more successful dating in the future. They go to MacLaren’s, where Lily and Robin grill Jen about all the potential mistakes Ted might have made on the date. They end up, of course, on the roof. I think ending on the roof is part of what made this particular plot feel more like classic HIMYM. Ted tends to wax poetic on the roof and be at his goofy, sometimes pretentious, romantic-at-heart best.


On the roof, Ted and Jen realize that their first date wasn’t that bad after all. Ted had, in fact, said that he would give Jen a call. He never did. After some back and forth, they’re about to give the relationship a second chance when Ted remembers why he didn’t make that call. He wants to be with someone who finds his quirks endearing. Jen had clearly been annoyed by some of his quirks (like pointing out incorrect spelling on a menu), and he had been annoyed by some of her quirks (extreme attachment to her cats), so they weren’t right for each other. It felt like Season 1 because Ted played the hopeless romantic, thinking he could have a second chance with this girl he first met seven years ago. While calling back to elements of Season 1, this episode also nicely showed Ted’s growth. We see him willing to learn about how to better relate to other people. Pretentious Ted of years past wouldn’t have thought anybody could possibly have a problem with anything he did.


Meanwhile, Barney pretends to have tickets to an “Origins of Chewbacca” exhibit to steal Marshall away from Lily (and hide the truth from Robin) so they could have a guys night at the Lusty Leopard, Barney’s favorite strip club. Marshall reveals that he feels guilty even fantasizing about women other than Lily. The problem is so bad that in his fantasies, he has to kill Lily off first by a hiccup disorder. Marshall’s description of this “fantasy” goes on so long that I didn’t even really find it funny- just kind of stupid. Barney decides it’s his new mission to help Marshall get over this hang-up, but before the guys know it, there’s a stripper who looks just like Lily.


“Stripper Lily” is apparently the third doppelganger the gang has encountered. There is also Lesbian Robin and Moustache Marshall. Narrator!Ted promises that meeting doppelganger Ted and Barney will be a story for another time. The doppelganger concept was probably my favorite part of the episode. I love running gags on HIMYM because I know that they will pay off. We’ve seen three of Marshall’s five slaps he earned in “Slap Bet,” and we’ve seen Ted’s birthday fight with a goat that was teased in several episodes.


When Barney and Marshall tell their ladies about the discovery of Stripper Lily, Lily actually is pretty enthusiastic about it and wants to meet her doppelganger. Robin is upset that Barney went to the strip club and lied about it. Barney keeps ignoring Robin whenever she says she is upset. It gets to the point where, at the end of the episode, Robin says they need to have a serious talk. The major thing I didn’t like about the episode, so much so that it’s kind of soured it for me, was the handling of Barney and Robin’s relationship. Robin was not the same Robin from “Zip, Zip, Zip.,” “Belly Full of Turkey,” and “Little Minnesota.” You can argue that maybe Robin’s feelings about Barney’s strip club habits have changed because he’s her boyfriend, but that even runs counter to last week. Last week, Robin was only going to “pretend” to call Barney her boyfriend, and she was furiously trying to avoid any serious talks like the one she proposes at the end of the episode. It seems like it was only done for the sake of plot- because it would be funny that Lily was the one of the two women who was actually okay with it. That’s just lazy writing. I’d feel better about it if some resolution had happened in this episode, but there was none.


I enjoyed this episode well enough when I wasn’t stewing over Barney and Robin. It definitely had plenty of laughs. Was it the best episode of HIMYM ever? No, but if you compare it to Season 4’s second episode, “The Best Burger in New York,” it stands up well. Now I personally like “Best Burger,” mostly because of the montage of Marshall’s pre job-interview get psyched speeches that get more and more dejected before each interview. He basically goes from telling himself how great he is before the first interview to telling himself it’s going to be great to get back home and watch TV before the last. That is incredibly true to life. Most of the HIMYM fandom doesn’t agree with me, however, and pretty much pans “Best Burger” as the worst HIMYM episode ever, except maybe for “The Stinsons” (where I’d agree with them). After this episode, I’m mostly left really looking forward to seeing Ted and Barney’s doppelgangers.

Monday, September 28, 2009

The 15 Most Legendary Episodes of How I Met Your Mother: Part II

New HIMYM is on tonight! Time to sing a rousing chorus of “You Just Got Slapped!” Marshall’s little Thanksgiving ditty is an especially appropriate song choice as I continue my list of the 15 most legendary episodes of HIMYM. This week, we cover my favorite Season 2 episodes and get a bit of a jump on Season 3 as well, including, of course, “Slapsgiving.” Enjoy!


Part I


Swarley


“I signed him up for People en EspaƱol, but I addressed it to ‘Swarlos.’”

-Robin


“Swarley” features great comedic performances from both Neil Patrick Harris and Alyson Hannigan. A barista accidentally writes “Swarley” on Barney’s coffee cup, so the gang starts calling him Swarley and setting up elaborate practical jokes to have other people call him Swarley. Barney’s irritation at this is both hilarious and pathetic at the same time. In a rare opportunity for Alyson Hannigan to really show off her comedic chops, however, this story really belongs to Lily. Marshall has decided to start dating again for the first time since he and Lily broke up six months ago, and Lily is not pleased. She ends up stalking Chloe, the girl Marshall is seeing, and making Chloe think a hunchback is after her (long story, which involves what is possibly Alyson Hannigan’s best comedic performance of the entire series). The episode ends with Marshall and Lily back together in a sweet scene that calls back to the Season 1 finale, when Marshall was sitting on the stoop, despondent because Lily had just left him.


Slap Bet


“Ted, even if she is married, it's a Canadian marriage. It's like their money, or their Army. Nobody takes it seriously.”

-Lily


Although it doesn’t rank quite as highly on my list, Slap Bet is pretty much universally thought of as the best episode of HIMYM. Even if it’s not my all time favorite, though, it has definitely earned a spot on this list. I love the joke about how the 80’s didn’t get to Canada until ‘93, and speaking of 80’s goodness, I love the Robin Sparkles video. “Let’s Go to the Mall!” never fails to make me laugh and get me out of a bad mood. The slap bet between Marshall and Barney really showcases the physical comedy chops of Jason Segel and Neil Patrick Harris. Both of them certainly know how to take a slap and make it look both funny and painful at the same time. This episode is also one of the earlier indications of just why Ted and Robin are completely wrong for each other. Ted is much more of a romantic than Robin, and Robin believes in keeping a few secrets. Ted subscribes more to Marshall and Lily’s policy of sharing every little detail.


Something Borrowed


“Marshall’s dad is convinced that if we have an outdoor wedding in New York…he’s gonna get mugged.”

-Lily


The end of this episode never fails to make me a bit teary. It’s Marshall and Lily’s wedding day, and pretty much everything that can go wrong does. The couple originally wanted a very small outdoor wedding with acoustic guitar music, but they’re at a fancy house with over 100 people and music provided by a very pregnant harpist. If that wasn’t enough, Lily’s veil is destroyed, Lily’s ex-boyfriend, Scooter, shows up to profess his love, the photographer gets tackled when one of Marshall’s law school friends is trying to get rid of Scooter, and the flowers are late to arrive. Lily is not having a good day, and neither is Marshall. He experiences a major hair disaster that results in some pretty funny sight gags. What really makes this episode, however, is the end, where the gang is all taking a quiet moment outside before the ceremony, and they decide to put on the wedding Marshall and Lily originally wanted before the “real” wedding. Barney officiates, Ted and Robin are witnesses, and a nearby guy who randomly has an acoustic guitar provides the music. Barney gets quite choked up trying to officiate the ceremony, and when I’m watching it, so do I.


How I Met Everyone Else


“Really? Sixteen ‘nos?’ Really?”

-Barney


This episode is fun look at how the gang all met. Ted has a new girlfriend, and he warns his friends that he met the new girl on the Internet, and she is embarrassed about that. One of the best things about this episode is that we get to see Barney tell another of his theories about women, complete with special effects. This time, it’s the “Hot/Crazy Scale.” Barney air-draws a chart to illustrate the concept, complete with lines and boundaries named for especially crazy women he has dated. The flashbacks to how the gang all met are all very funny. We start with the college meet-up of Ted and Marshall, which is the first time the show uses the phrase “eating a sandwich” when describing some of Ted and Marshall’s college exploits. I especially liked the first meeting of Ted and Barney, where all is not as it seems. Barney remembered it as Ted using sign language to help him get a girl’s phone number. Ted remembers it as using sign language to tell the girl to give Barney a fake phone number. It’s really a great example of the show’s overall theme about the fallibility of memory.


Slapsgiving


“Please. You took out all the suspense. In a horror movie, the killer does not grab a bullhorn and announce, ‘Attention unsupervised teens here at the lake house: at precisely 3 AM, I’m gonna jump out of that closet right there and hack you all up with a machete. P.S. Fire is my one weakness.’”

-Barney


I love this episode for two major reasons. First is the “friends are the family we choose for ourselves” vibe, and the second is the awesome “You Just Got Slapped” duet with Jason Segel and Neil Patrick Harris. Having a group of friends as close as the HIMYM gang is a special thing, and “Slapsgiving” showcased that nicely. I’m reminded of my very tight knit group of friends from college and the annual Thanksgiving dinner (actually the week before Thanksgiving) that the university would hold for us. We’d have our petty disagreements sometimes, but moments like Thanksgiving dinners were truly special. “Slapsgiving” sees plenty of problems among the members of the group (mostly that Ted and Robin don’t know how to just be friends), but by the end, everybody’s worked things out and they start a tradition that lasts decades. I also, of course, can never resist a good song, and “You Just Got Slapped,” which follows Marshall’s third slap out of five that he earned in “Slap Bet” is one of my favorite HIMYM moments. It’s so over the top and played for laughs that it works in its own way. There’s the group all smiling at each other, Lily hugging Marshall as he sings, and of course Barney singing back-up as he groans in pain from the slap.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Dollhouse 2.01: "Vows"

“My entire existence was constructed by a sociopath in a sweater vest. What do you suggest I do?”

-Dr. Saunders/Whiskey


Watching “Vows” was the most satisfying experience of my TV viewing week. The only other show that even came close was Monday’s episode of HIMYM. This episode was written and directed by television auteur Joss Whedon- you’ve heard his name before on this blog! It’s always a pleasure to view Whedon’s work. I enjoy it so much because it is always thoughtful. “Vows” was on par with, and in some ways surpassed, the best of Dollhouse’s season one episodes, such as “Needs” and “Briar Rose.”


Boyd complains to Adelle early in the episode that Echo’s current mission is the sickest he’s ever heard of- even worse than “Tempura Joe” (I’ll leave the exact meaning of that nickname to the imagination). Echo is getting married. It turns out that Paul has become a client of the Dollhouse. He is renting Echo to be his crime fighting partner. He wants to close cases that he was unable to close while he worked at the FBI. Echo’s new husband is Martin Klar, a notorious arms dealer. Paul is clearly still seriously obsessed with Echo, as we see him pace and do push-ups to distract himself while Echo and Klar share their wedding night.


One of Klar’s minions receives photographs of Echo meeting with Paul, and the jig is up. Klar confronts Echo as she is attempting to rummage through his desk. At first, she has a pretty decent cover story (she wants to know about their “surprise” honeymoon), but Klar slams her head pretty hard against the desk, and the concussion causes Echo to glitch worse than ever. She accidentally says her name is “Eleanor Penn” (her hostage negotiator imprint from the pilot), and there are no longer any excuses. Klar takes her to an airplane hangar, where he is preparing to ship a number of small bombs that are going to become “dirty bombs” with the addition of radioactive material. Paul noticed strange patterns in Echo’s brain, however, that occurred when she was slammed against the desk. Echo’s handler dismissed it as Echo being “a newlywed,” but Paul gets a confirmation from Topher- the patterns were an indication of pain and fear. Paul devises a plan to give Echo the best chance of getting away. He gets captured by Klar’s minions, and when he’s in the hangar with Echo, he smacks her around a bit to trigger her imprint of the assassin from “Man on the Street.” The plan works, Echo and Paul are able to fight their way out of danger, and Klar is arrested.


At the end of the episode, Paul apologizes to Echo for what he put her through. She reveals that she remembers all of her imprints. They surface at different times, but they’re all there. Paul tells her that Caroline is who she truly is, and Echo says that she wants to find all the Dolls’ real personalities. Paul promises he will help Echo with this mission, and he becomes her official handler. Although the first half of this “mission of the week” plot sort of dragged, I was very intrigued by everything from Echo’s confrontation with Klar on. Eliza Dushku displayed superb acting chops in switching through the different personalities as Echo glitched. I also loved the symmetry of this plot. At the beginning of the episode, Echo is dishonestly getting married to Klar (her actual imprint is the spy, not someone simply designed to be Klar’s “ideal wife"), but at the end, she truly, fully becomes bonded to Paul through the Handler/Active bonding ritual. In the scene right before the ritual, Paul takes Echo’s hand as he promises to help her, the image almost deliberately invoking the image of a wedding ceremony.


The B story of this episode is more compelling than Echo’s story. Actually, it might not really be fair to call it the B story, because it has both important plot points and emotional moments that reveal a great deal about some of the characters. Dr. Saunders is having difficulty dealing with the revelation that she is actually Whiskey, a Doll. She first tries to deal with it by pranking Topher. At one point, a clip from Bride of Frankenstein shows up on a monitor instead of a brain scan. In the only real physical comedy of the episode, Topher also opens a cabinet full of rats. “Put the rats back in the maze,” Saunders warns Topher, “before one of them bites you.”


Boyd checks in with Saunders, to see how she’s handling her situation, and Saunders doesn’t really take kindly to it. She thinks that his sudden interest in her now that he knows she’s a Doll is simply pity. Boyd asks her to dinner. He thinks it would be good for her to get out of the Dollhouse for a while. Saunders replies by listing the many phobias with which she’s been programmed to prevent her from going outside. “Every person I know is poorly constructed,” Boyd muses, “Everybody has an excuse for not dealing. But that’s all it is—an excuse.”


Saunders’ mission to torment Topher reaches its height when she awakens him in the middle of the night, dressed in lingerie. She unsuccessfully tries to seduce him, and her motives for doing so aren’t entirely clear. On the one hand, it seems like she is trying to give him what she thinks he wants. On the other hand, she says that she has been programmed so she can’t even stand his smell. A simple recap of what happened in this scene really can’t do it justice. It is absolutely the pivotal moment of this episode. It is all about Saunders starting to realize that maybe there is more to her than her programming and Topher seeing that there are actual consequences to playing with people’s brains. At first, Topher suggests that Saunders find out who she actually is. This makes me wonder if they actually knew each other pre-Dollhouse. That would be a very interesting plot twist. Saunders counters that she doesn’t want to do that because then who she is now would die. It’s an intense push-and-pull Saunders feels, really. On the one hand, she is disgusted by the fact that she’s a Doll, but on the other hand, she doesn’t want to stop existing.


At the end of the episode, Boyd finds a note in Saunders’ office. She has decided to go away for a while to figure out how to deal with her situation. I must say that Amy Acker absolutely stole this episode. Her performance was riveting, from beginning to end. I really can’t say enough about how fantastic she was. I only wish she could be in more than three episodes this season (she has a role on the upcoming ABC mid-season replacement series “Happy Town” that has limited her availability). Although I loved the final few minutes of Echo’s story this episode, I found Dr. Saunders’ journey, and the way it clearly set Topher down the path towards the complete mental breakdown we see in “Epitaph One,” more compelling overall.