Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Greek 3.19: "The First Last"

“Well, personally I would have preferred to battle it out during Greek Week. I think a victory achieved on a technicality is far less satisfying. But, I’m going off to Yale Law, so I’m moving the frick on.”


I liked “The First Last” much more than I’ve liked many episodes of “Greek” this season. I know I’ve been pretty hard on the show in general. This episode was pretty fun, had a positive message, and nothing about it especially irritated me. For season 3 of “Greek,” I’d call that a success. This episode was mostly about when to be the hero and when to pass the torch to the next generation. Both Casey and Cappie dealt with these issues within their houses. Both wanted to be the one to solve the problem their house was currently experiencing, and both eventually realized the importance and value of one of the younger members of their respective houses.

Cappie is preparing for the Greek Gods of Golf tournament, where he hopes to deliver a final humiliation to Evan, who is competing for Omega Chi. Cappie is also talking a lot of smack about having some grand plan for revenge against Evan. The whole KT house is still smarting over the incident that led to Wade, Jeremy, and Ferret’s expulsions. Rusty is anxious to know Cappie’s big plan, but Cappie’s not talking. Rusty just gets increasingly frustrated. His pledges, in turn, are getting kind of frustrated with him. Rusty keeps telling them stories about how awesome his pledge class was (like the Vesuvius incident), and they feel like they can never measure up.

Meanwhile, over at the ZBZ house, the news has broken that Greek Week has been cancelled. This turned out to be the result of machinations by Natalie, the Gamma Psi president, of course. She convinced the powers that be at CRU that Greek Week funds should be moved to fall rush. The upshot of her plan was to get rid of the final opportunity for Greek Blue Ribbon points so that Gamma Psi would remain the number one house. Casey goes to Katherine to complain. Although as a Gamma Psi, Katherine would benefit from Natalie’s plan, she prefers to win in a fair fight.

Katherine hints to Casey that Casey should request that the “Greek Goddess” beauty pageant be re-introduced to balance out the guys’ golf tournament and give the sororities one more chance to win blue ribbon points. Casey does as suggested, and a “female empowerment” themed pageant is in the works. There’s a little bit of competition within ZBZ about who will represent the house at the pageant. Ashleigh takes herself out of consideration due to traumatic child pageant memories. Casey and Rebecca are both very much still in the running. Casey feels bad for Rebecca over the whole mess with Evan, but that doesn’t extend to giving up on her bid to compete in the competition. Especially because Rebecca refuses to show any outward emotion about the break-up.

The sisterhood votes in favor of Casey, and there’s no way Casey’s not going to accept. To Rebecca’s chagrin, Casey is gung-ho about finding a gown and preparing for the question and answer session. Several of her friends question whether Casey’s just looking for one last shot to be the ZBZ hero, but Casey brushes it off. Casey can’t, however, brush off more Natalie sabotage. Casey had taken her gown to be hammed, and Natalie made sure it was hemmed way too short. It’s looking like Casey won’t be able to compete. Luckily for ZBZ, thanks to her political life, Rebecca has two pageant-appropriate gowns, and she’s ready and raring to compete instead.

At the pageant, Rebecca finally shows some vulnerability. One of the Omega Chis yells out “slut” as she takes the stage, and it’s all she can do to keep her composure. Casey is finally a good big sis to Rebecca for once, and she gives Rebecca the pep talk she needs to get back on the stage for the question and answer round. Casey tells Rebecca that she is the future of ZBZ, which I thought was sweet. Rebecca spins her answer to a question about health care reform into a speech about how yeah she made a mistake recently, but the only person in that auditorium who has a right to talk to her about it is Evan. I thought this was a really great moment. This season of Greek, despite the character of Katherine, has seemed to focus more on the superficial side of Greek life. Here we’re seeing a woman be empowered by her sisters, and it’s a lovely thing. And to top it all off, Rebecca wins the pageant and is named Greek Goddess.

Cappie and Rusty have a similar journey to Casey and Rebecca. Inspired (or maybe scared) by Rusty’s grand stories about his pledge class, the pledges organize a heck of a prank of their own. They kidnap Cappie and Rusty dangerously close to the time for the golf tournament. Of course everyone, including Cappie and Rusty themselves, think the prank was the work of Omega Chi. Cappie and Rusty argue incessantly over who should take the lead in figuring out how to get them out of their predicament. They both make contributions. Rusty uses WD-40 to weaken the adhesive on the duct tape that had been binding them. Cappie calls Casey to get a ride home (that doesn’t happen until after the two guys obstinately each decide to take a separate walking path home).

Unfortunately, by the time Cappie arrives at the golf course, it’s too late and he’s been disqualified from the tournament. Evan is named Greek God. Cappie and Rusty, however, have come to an understanding. They pool their brain power and finally come up with a plan for revenge against Omega Chi. Cappie admitted that he had been cagey about his plan because he didn’t have one, by the way. Cappie challenges Evan to night golf. It’s one shot each, and whoever gets closer to the cup wins. If Omega Chi wins, KT will give them the use of one of their brothers’ beach houses for spring break.

At the challenge, Cappie makes a big show of giving his shot to Rusty. Rusty is a horrible golfer, and he doesn’t even come at all close to beating Evan. The Omega Chis are thrilled. They probably shouldn’t be, though. Cappie and Rusty soothe their dejected brothers by reassuring them it was all a set up. Phase two appears to be rigging the beach house to make the Omega Chi spring break experience miserable. Should be a fun time- I do love KT mischief.

There were two other smaller plots going on in this episode that really didn’t hold my attention all that well. Calvin and Grant end up breaking up because Calvin realizes that Grant, as a newly out gay man, really deep down wants to experience the gay single life. Dale has apparently ben engaging in romantic trysts with Laura in the ZBZ house pantry. Dale wants to take the relationship public, but Laura wants to keep it secret. Dale ultimately comes out a winner, because after Laura states in no uncertain terms that she doesn’t want to go public, Dale makes a big announcement to the ZBZs that he is once again on the market. Both of these plots sort of come together because Dale has asked Calvin to counsel a member of his church who thinks he might be gay. I thought there was a decent amount of character growth for Dale throughout this. It was nice to see how accepting he has become of Calvin’s sexuality even though he is very religious. It’s also nice to see him have enough respect for himself to get out of the situation with Laura since he was unhappy with it. Overall, though, these stories just didn’t matter to me all that much.

Chuck 3.11: "Chuck Versus the Final Exam"

“We’ve got to get you reinstated, buddy. Without a license to kill, you’re a menace to society.”


I really enjoyed “Chuck Versus the Final Exam.” It had a few rough spots, but overall, it hit the emotional notes well. There are especially great character moments for both Chuck and Casey. The events of this episode force Chuck to begin to contemplate why he wants to be a spy and whether or not that’s really the life for him. I think that is something Chuck desperately needs to figure out. It also begins to answer the question of what the heck Casey is going to do now that he is no longer a spy. Overall, it’s really a very compelling ride.

The episode begins with some in media res, which seems to be the go-to trick for tv writers to use this season when they want to switch up their show’s structure a bit. It’s dark and gloomy, and Chuck has a gun pointed at someone. The situation looks pretty dire. We fade to black as a gunshot rings out. We then flash back a bit to a game that looks sort of like laser tag, but with NERF guns. Whatever it is, Jeff and Lester are engaging in some foolishness at the Buy More, and it’s pretty funny. The shenanigans are brought to an abrupt stop by Casey, who has thrown himself into his Buy More job with gusto since being kicked out of the NSA.

Casey is interim assistant manager while Morgan is off taking a class at El Segundo School of Finance (the usual excuse to leave an actor or two out of an episode for budget reasons), and his enthusiasm is not met with approval. Apparently Jeff and Lester didn’t appreciate having their heads cracked against each other. Big Mike is also forced to admit that Casey has taken things a bit too far. Jeff and Lester threaten to sue, and Big Mike has to do some quick thinking to diffuse the situation. He decides that Casey basically needs an attitude adjustment.

Big Mike’s plan is a little unconventional, but it’s very Big Mike. He brings in his tailor to make Casey a nice suit. Barney Stinson would most definitely approve. Casey doesn’t love the idea (he gives one of this trademark grunts), but he rolls with it. The big reconciliation is supposed to take place at a local Subway. As much as I generally despise blatant product placement in my scripted TV, I don’t mind the major Subway shilling these latest episodes of Chuck have been doing, because it’s directly a product of the grassroots fan movement to buy a Subway sandwich every Monday near the end of the second season to try and save the show for a third.

Big Mike tells Casey (now clad in a new, awesome suit) that all Jeff and Lester want is a sincere apology. But it’s Jeffster, of course they’re going to take things to extremes! And of course Lester is the real instigator of the shenanigans. First Lester demands Casey pay for their sandwiches. Jeff starts to put together his signature sandwich- the pepperoni tuna- out of two separate sandwiches, and takes a big bite. This leads to Lester’s final demand. Casey has to take a bite of sandwich. As Lester puts it, who knows where Jeff’s mouth has been. Gross. Casey is a good soldier, though, and he takes a bite without so much as a grimace. He might even be smiling a little at the absurdity of it all.

The main plot of the episode, however, is all about Chuck. It’s time for his “spy test,” which sounds incredibly silly (and kind of is), but it does provide for a lot of satisfying character development. Sarah delivers the mission information to Chuck- it seems pretty straight forward. General Beckman suspects there’s a Ring mole within the CIA, and Chuck is to conduct a stake-out at a local hotel to figure out who it is. Sarah is to accompany him on the mission, more as an evaluator than partner, but Chuck tries to make the best of it. He has realized that he wants Sarah back.

Chuck tries to recreate their first stake-out with some sizzling shrimp and a stake-out mix featuring “Private Eyes,” which is pretty darn adorable. Sarah is digging it, too, until the moment is interrupted by, you know, the actual job they were sent to the hotel to do. Chuck’s mission involved him following some Ring operatives into a sauna, which provided some nice eye candy for we female viewers for once (enough with the slow motion, windblown hair cheesiness with Sarah and other female spies already!). Chuck ends up peering in from outside on the hotel room where the Ring operatives are meeting with the mole, still clad only in his sauna towel. The scene ends with Chuck successfully pointing a camera at the mole but winding up in a predicament that leads him to say “I’m a naked spy!” Which most definitely had me cracking up.

Chuck had been told that if he passed the test, he’d be sent to Rome while Sarah and Shaw remained in DC. So when Chuck believes he passed the test, it’s kind of a bittersweet moment for him. It was great to see Chuck start to realize the full implications of the life he thought he wanted. He’s determined to go ahead with the “become a spy” plan, though, because he feels like it’s the only way he ever really has a shot with Sarah. Always thoughtful, Chuck rescues Casey’s gun from Castle and gives it to him as a gift for teaching him so much of what he needed. I thought that was a pretty great moment.

Sarah invites Chuck to a celebratory dinner, which Chuck is quite excited about. Everything is not as it seems, though. The second half of Chuck’s spy test is about to begin. This part is called the “red test”- Chuck has to kill someone. Sarah considers her red test the worst day of her life, and she doesn’t want to be a part of putting Chuck through that. Shaw, however, convinces her that she has no choice, so she goes along with the plan. Chuck isn’t really thrilled when Sarah informs him that their dinner is actually going to be a meet-up with the mole he’s supposed to kill, but he doesn’t really have any choice but to go along with the plan, either. He feels like if he doesn’t become a spy, he’ll lose Sarah forever.

The mole figures out pretty quickly that something is up, and he attacks. Chuck flashes on his kung fu skills and manages to subdue the mole, but Chuck is reluctant to kill him. He’s going to arrest him instead. Which is a very bad idea, but also very Chuck. He’s really still not the monster Sarah fears she has created. The mole escapes, and Chuck ends up chasing him through what looks like a bunch of train cars. Sarah is following, but Chuck doesn’t realize that. Chuck finally catches up to the mole and points the gun at him. A shot rings out, and Sarah hears it and looks forlorn. It wasn’t Chuck who pulled the trigger, though. Casey figured out something was up and followed Chuck, too. Because Casey’s a civilian and what he did would most certainly be considered murder, Chuck has to promise never to tell anyone, even Sarah, what really went down.

Chuck arrives home to another message from General Beckman. He’s to report to DC to be officially inducted into the agency. Chuck keeps frantically trying to call Sarah, but she’s ignoring his calls. Shaw asks Sarah if she’s still in love with Chuck, and she says that she’s not. I’m fairly certain that opinion is still subject to change, though. Chuck hears the doorbell to his apartment ring, and he runs for it, hoping that it’s Sarah. It isn’t Sarah, though. It’s another agent who is to escort him to DC. And they need to leave immediately.

Monday, March 29, 2010

HIMYM 5.18: "Say Cheese"

“Do I get a vote? Skank Lane! Skank Lane!”


This episode didn’t make me cry like “Of Course,” but I still really enjoyed it. I found it really funny and just good fun in general. There was a touch of heart as well, which I think every episode of HIMYM needs to truly be its best. This was a Lily-focused episode, which usually spells disaster. Lily doesn’t have as strong a voice as most of the other HIMYM characters- really her only distinctive trait is being annoyingly meddlesome. But I think this episode really worked because Lily was actually wrong for once, and there was a really funny (platonic) Barney and Robin side plot.

Lily is not surprisingly, as Ted puts it, a “Birthday Brat.” Lily absolutely loves her birthday. She loves it so much that she wakes up at midnight just to yell “It’s my birthday!” And Marshall, of course, indulges it completely. He makes her a themed birthday breakfast in bed each year (this year’s theme is “Spanish Interlude,” complete with guitarist and fake Spanish scene pasted up on the window). He also plans a birthday, or should I say “Lilyday,” party. This year’s is supposed to be a “black tie” affair with just the core HIMYM gang, complete with Lily’s favorite pumpkin cheesecake. Lily is, of course, extremely excited about all the fuss.

Lily’s not so happy, however, when Ted arrives at the party. He was supposed to bring the cheesecake, but instead he brings his newest girlfriend (Amanda) and the ingredients needed for her to bake a cheesecake. She’s a chef, you see. Lily is pretty pissed that there’s an interloper, although she doesn’t blatantly say anything about it at first. Marshall has come up with some Lily-centric games for everyone to play, like “Lilial Pursuit” and “Gilding the Lily,” and it’s obviously apparent from her performance in the games that Amanda is the odd person out.

The conflict comes to a head when Amanda goes into the kitchen to check on the cake, and Lily tries to quick gather the gang together for a group picture while Amanda is gone. Ted immediately figures out what Lily is up to, and he’s pretty upset about it. Lily has a history of trying to re-write history and make everything seem more perfect in her photo albums. The first example given is the group picture taken after Robin became a U.S. citizen. Lily specifically asked Marshall to sit in between Barney and Robin, because Lily was beginning to suspect that Barney and Robin would break up soon, so she didn’t want them looking like a couple in the picture. I suppose this fits with the super manipulative side of Lily we’ve seen many a time.

Lily doesn’t take Ted’s criticism lying down. She drags out a photo album and shows Ted how his tendency to bring along “random skanks” has a history of ruining her group photos and the events they depict. My favorite story of the bunch took place when Ted, Marshall, and Lily were all in college. Lily was studying abroad in Paris, and Marshall was supposed to visit her. Ted came along on the trip too, and of course he invited newly on-again über-prententious girlfriend Karen (Laura Prepon). They break up, yet again, on the plane when Karen admits that she just cheated on Ted, yet again. Karen then demands to room with Lily once they get to Paris, which makes a horny college Marshall very upset. To top it all off, Lily got a romantic picture in front of the Eiffel Tower, but it’s of Karen kissing their waiter. Everybody else looks quite irritated.

Marshall just keeps trying to keep the peace and give Lily the best birthday possible. He’s composed a song called “Happy Lilyday” that he keeps trying to start singing while playing his guitar. One of the funniest scenes of the episode is when he’s trying to teach everyone their individual parts for the song. He sings Robin’s part in a falsetto, and an observant viewer can see Neil Patrick Harris completely crack up at Jason Segel’s antics. Moments like that are one of the big reasons I love HIMYM when it’s firing on all cylinders. Even Marshall can’t keep his cool anymore when Amanda presents the finished birthday cake. It says “Happy 42nd Birthday Lori.” Marshall is offended that Amanda thought Lily was 42, and he’s even more offended she thought Lily seemed like a “Lori.” Amanda storms out, Ted runs after her, and Barney tries to break the tension by singing “Happy Lilyday” in falsetto. Which had me laughing hysterically, of course.

Ted finally makes Lily see the error of her ways by pointing out the very first picture in Lily’s photo album. It’s a picture of Marshall, Lily, and Ted near the beginning of their freshman year in college. The photo was originally supposed to be Ted and Marshall’s roommate photo, but when Lily stopped by the room because she and Marshall were going on a date that night, Ted invited Lily into the photo. Lily then realized that just like Ted took a chance on Lily, she ought to take a chance on the women Ted chooses to introduce to the group.

Sure this episode had its flaws. There’s a bit about Marshall being the clean-up crew after Ted breaks up with his many girlfriends that just didn’t work for me on many levels. The scene began with Marshall comforting Natalie, the woman who was the subject of the early first season episode “Return of the Shirt.” It was a pretty big continuity blunder, though, as much as the producers probably thought they were including a fun callback. Ted broke up with Natalie (for the second time) at her birthday dinner, so there was no reason for her to be at the apartment for Marshall to comfort her. Also, Natalie generally used krav magaw on the occasions (yes, plural) when Ted broke up with her on her birthday, so she should be angry, not sad. Second, Robin was chiming in and being pretty judgmental of Ted when she herself brought “old man” Bob to the original Slapsgiving.

Anyway, to finish on a positive note, the other thing about this episode that got a lot of laughs from me (other than the “Happy Lilyday” sillyness) was a Barney and Robin-centric sub plot. It turns out that it is impossible for a bad photo to be taken of Barney. Ever. Robin keeps trying to catch Barney in embarrassing positions, like in the middle of eating a potato chip, but every photo comes out with Barney looking right at the camera and adjusting his tie. Conversely, Marshall is about as unphotogenic as you can get. His eyes are always closed in every picture. A “one year later” scene serves as the episode’s tag, and Robin finally gets Barney to take a bad picture by feeding him cilantro dip. Cilantro makes him sneeze. The other notable thing about “one year later” is that Don isn’t there!

Community 1.19: "Beginner Pottery"

“Well anyone can be a lawyer. You can even represent yourself. You can’t do surgery on yourself. It’s illegal. You’d get arrested. And then you’d get a free lawyer.”


So reviews of “Beginner Pottery” have been mixed, but I have to say I really enjoyed it. I don’t think I’ve laughed so hard at an episode of “Community” in a long time, if ever. I don’t know, maybe I just have an odd sense of humor. I’m not a fan of gross-out humor or over-the-top emoting (Señor Chang, I’m looking at you), but I love bizarre visuals and physical comedy. So parking lot sailing lessons were right in the wheelhouse of what I find really funny. Not only was this episode really funny, but it gave us insight into some previously one-note or underused characters.

It’s that time of the semester where once again, the study group is trying to choose a “blow off” class. The last time Jeff suggested a blow off class, they had a professor who thought he was reenacting “Dead Poet’s Society.” This was especially disturbing to Annie, so she’s not really enthusiastic about Jeff making another suggestion. Jeff wants to take Beginner Pottery. Pierce has another idea- he wants to take Sailing. The group ends up divided, with Jeff, Annie, and Abed taking Beginner Pottery, and the rest of the group taking sailing.

The story of Jeff and the pottery class was kind of lame, but the sailing plot more than made up for it. Jeff has trouble dealing with the fact that pottery isn’t something he naturally excels at. Even though the professor, played by the always funny Tony Hale (the late Emmett Milbarge from “Chuck”), says that all a student needs to do to earn an A is refrain from reenacting the pottery scene from “Ghost,” Jeff still gets incredibly frustrated. Not helping matters is a student named Rich. He claims to be a doctor who is just taking the class for some fun and relaxation. Rich, despite claiming to just be a beginner, is blowing everyone else away with his pottery-making talent.

Jeff spends most of the episode obsessing on how to find evidence that Rich is not a beginner pottery student. He wants to expose Rich as a fraud. Jeff is so fixated on this that he even spends the entire night in the study room researching. Overall, Jeff’s a mess. His obsession culminates in trying to ruin Rich’s latest creation in a move that looks too much like “Ghost” for the professor’s comfort. Jeff is thrown out of the classroom, singing “Unchained Melody” just to make his coming unhinged complete. Now, I usually find Joel McHale to be a very talented comedic actor, but the part of this plot where Jeff is especially manic just doesn’t work for me. It goes a little too far, into more obnoxious than funny territory.

This storyline is somewhat redeemed, however, by a conversation Jeff and Pierce have. Pierce has been abandoned by the rest of the sailing class (more on that later), and he’s hanging out in the “boathouse” figuring out his next move. Jeff finds him there and asks Pierce about what happened. The result is a very nice heart-to-heart between Jeff and Pierce where Pierce explains that all his life, he’s never really been naturally great at anything, so he’s learned to just try harder and be more persistent than everyone else. For some reason, NBC has really done a number on the episode order for Community this season. “Beginner Pottery” was apparently episode 14 in production order. I think this conversation between Jeff and Pierce does a nice job setting up their “father and son” moment in the Family Day episode. Jeff returns to pottery class contrite, and the professor agrees to give him a second chance as long as he keeps any future “Ghost” outbursts contained.

The sailing class was really the best part of this episode from a comedic standpoint. It was absurd and wonderfully hilarious. Greendale is apparently several hours from any water, so sailing class is held in the parking lot. Shirley is named Captain of the crew, and this is a really great opportunity to explore Shirley’s character. She always tries to be kind to people, and the sailing professor wants her to be tougher. There’s too much dissension in the group without a strong leader.

Shirley’s convictions are especially tested when it becomes apparent that Pierce is a severe liability to the crew. To foster crew unity, the professor has deemed that the class will all get the same grade. They’ll all pass together, or they’ll all fail together. That leads to widespread clamoring for Pierce to be kicked off the boat. When Pierce does accidentally fall off the boat, Shirley’s first instinct is to throw him a life ring. There’s a “perfect storm” brewing, though, and the professor tells the crew that there isn’t enough time to rescue Pierce and get to safety. Shirley gives in and lets the life ring, and Pierce, go.

This is the point at which Jeff finds Pierce in the boathouse. Pierce has a plan to get back into the sailing class despite being ousted. He gets into a dinghy, also outfitted with wheels like the sailboat, and he starts “paddling” towards the sailboat. He looks pathetic to begin with, but he becomes even more pathetic when he runs into a sprinkler and his boat begins taking on water. Shirley’s better nature takes over, and she orders the crew to save Pierce. Starburns starts the engine on what looks like a lawn tractor attached to the sailboat, and they start moving towards Pierce, who is frantically trying to bail water from the sprinkler out of his boat.

The absolute funniest visual of the episode, perhaps even of the entire series, is a view from inside a classroom as the students see the sailboat go by out the window, with Britta keeping watch for Pierce as the boat moves towards the site of the wreck. Words can’t really do it justice- it’s something that must be seen to be really appreciated! This plot really ended up developing the characters of Shirley and Pierce. I liked seeing Shirley struggle between her natural inclination to be kind and the need to be a hardass to save her grade. I also liked seeing that Pierce could actually be vulnerable. The professor ends up being impressed with Shirley’s compassion, and he tells the class that they get an A. Until Pierce ruins it by violating that professor’s one rule. No reinacting the “I’m king of the world!” scene from Titanic.