Thursday, September 30, 2010

Glee 2.02: "Britney/Brittany"

“I’m actually kind of happy about it. Now I don’t have to fantasize about what song I’d sing at your bedside if you were in a coma.”

“Britney/Brittany,” the much-hyped Britney Spears tribute episode of “Glee,” didn’t quite live up to the advertisement. The episode ranged from mildly entertaining to bizarre, and not in a good way. One thing I thought was positive was the way that the Britney songs fit into the episode. I thought it was much more organic and creative than both the Madonna and Lady Gaga episodes last season. We also got the introduction of John Stamos’ character, Carl the dentist. That I didn’t like so much because if there’s one thing I don’t like on my television shows, it’s deliberate, artificial blocks to popular romantic pairings. It’s clear he’s just there to keep Will and Emma apart for a while, and I think Will and Emma have the potential to be pretty darn adorable, so I wish we’d get there sooner rather than later.

The episode opens at a glee club rehearsal with Will giving the kids their assignment for the week. He wants them to try easy listening, adult contemporary-type songs, and understandably, the kids are not enthused. Heck, I think it’s pretty lame, too. Kurt in particular wants to sing some Britney Spears, but Will doesn’t approve. Brittany doesn’t like the idea, either. Her full name is Brittany S. Pearce, and apparently because their names are so close, she feels like she’s lived in Britney’s shadow her whole life. Most of the rest of the kids seem in favor of Britney, though. They mention that they “grew up” with her. Which I guess is sort of true, although I think they might have been a little young when he first reached stardom. I was a teenager myself.

Will discusses the situation with Emma, who finds Britney to be admirable because of her comeback. Can they ever have one of these tribute episodes where every character doesn’t constantly suck up to the artist? It’s quite anvilicious. Anyway, Carl drops by while Will and Emma are having their chat, and a bit of a rivalry develops. Emma mentions that Carl wants to do a presentation on dental hygiene at school, and Will says he can talk to the glee club. As part of his presentation, Carl gives the kids those tablets that show you where on your teeth you need to brush better. Brittany’s teeth are the worst out the group. Apparently she rinses with Dr. Pepper instead of brushing. Gross.

Brittany winds up paying a visit to Carl’s office, and she has so many cavities that Carl puts her under anesthesia to do the work. Britney Spears music is playing as Brittany goes under, and she has a crazy hallucination where she is Britney. She sings and dances to “I’m a Slave 4 U,” but instead of mimicking the video, she rocks three iconic Britney looks. There’s the red cat suit from “Oops I Did it Again,” the green outfit with snake look from a live performance of “Slave 4 U,” and there’s the sparkly look from “Toxic.” Yeah, I know a lot about Britney, even though I wouldn’t really even say I’m a fan. I watched a lot of TRL in high school, what can I say?

Most of the Britney performances in the episode are dental anesthesia induced. Brittany brings Santana with her on one visit, and they simultaneously hallucinate a recreation of “Me Against the Music. Rachel hallucinates an especially impressive (in its attention to detail) recreation of “Baby One More Time.” Artie performs “Stronger.” I thought that was kind of ironic since Britney spends most of the “Stronger” video dancing with a chair. On all these performances, I think I found Heather Morris’ work mst impressive, because she is such an extremely talented dancer. Most of the rest I could take or leave, even though I was intrigued by the authenticity of some of the video recreations.

The episode overall was really all about defiantly being who you are. Finn’s still dealing with all the fallout from being kicked off the football team. Two football players take his letter jacket and tear it in two. The only thing that saves Finn from a beatdown is Artie wheeling himself in between Finn and the other boys. Apparently hitting a guy in a wheelchair is a line that the football bullies won’t cross. Rachel, however, is happy Finn is off the team. She feels like she doesn’t have to worry about him so much anymore. Finn gets his own set of relationship worries when Rachel, inspired by her hallucination, starts dressing like Britney and getting a lot of attention from guys. Neither of them feel safe with the other anymore.

Coach Beiste happens to see Finn and Artie being bullied, and I guess she does have a bit of a soft spot, because she lets them both on the team. That was just really freaking random. I’m usually cool with suspending disbelief with “Glee” because it’s a heightened reality, but letting Artie on the team really makes no sense. Rachel changes back t her old style f dress to make Finn happy, and she gets upset when he doesn’t reciprocate by declining the offer to be on the football team. Rachel actually tests Finn by having Quinn go up to him and act like she wants to get back together. Finn passes with flying colors of course.

Meanwhile, the clamoring to do a Britney number reaches fever pitch as each of the kids start finding inspiration through her music. Even Brittany wants to do a Britney number now, claiming that the Britney hallucination helped her see how talented she truly is. Will is still against it though, and Kurt gets in trouble for a particularly bratty response to the decision. Sue has a confab with Will and lets him know that she has heard New Directions might be performing a Britney number at an upcoming pep rally. Because of an incident that involved her finding Jacob Ben Isreal watching performances to Britney songs naked (really random and gross), she urges Will not to let a Britney number happen. She thinks Britney’s music has the power to make people lose control.

Will goes to Carl for some dental work, and they get into a bit of an argument over Emma. Carl tells Will he needs to loosen up. He thinks Will and Emma didn’t work because they were too similar. Carl is more spontaneous, and he tells Will the story of a time he bought a sports car. Will doesn’t quite understand the lesson. He tries buying the exact same sports car and using that to impress Emma. They’re sitting in the car, “Sailing” comes on, and Will happily yells “That’s my jam!” Hate to tell you, Will, but when you play “That’s My Jam,” you don’t choose an easy listening song. That’s just lame. Anyway, if that wasn’t bad enough, Terri arrives to make things worse. She’s upset Will bought the car, because she’s worried he won’t have enough money to send her spousal support. Emma runs off upset.

In his next bid to be more spontaneous, Will tells the glee kids that they’re going to do a Britney number for the pep rally, and he’s going to perform with them. It’s a disaster, as Sue predicted. The group performs “Toxic,” and while Will’s dance moves were pretty hot, the whole thing was really awkward and ends up with a huge riot in the gym. I think my high school principal would have spontaneously combusted had something like that happened at one of our pep rallies. Heck, we’d even get an “I’m disappointed in you” lecture over the PA system on the rare occasion that a food fight broke out in the cafeteria. Sue, being the drama queen she is, threatens a lawsuit over injuries she sustained in the stampede out of the gym. The episode ends on a calmer note, though. Rachel sings Paramore’s “The Only Exception,” one of my absolute favorite songs on the radio right now, as an apology to Finn.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

HIMYM 6.02: "Cleaning House"

“You guys are adorable. You seriously believe that I, Barney Stinson, can’t talk you into this? I got the Queen to give me a fist bump.”

While I don’t think I’d count “Cleaning House” among my favorite episodes of HIMYM overall, I most definitely enjoyed it. We got an interesting exploration of the nature of truth and lies between the lies Loretta Stinson told her sons, Marshall and Lily having a discussion about parenting lies, and Ted and Robin debating how much to tell a blind date. This was the first Barney-centric episode that has really worked for me since Season 4 (with the possible exception of “Of Course” if you consider that Barney-centric), and considering I’m a huge fan of Barney, that’s saying something. The episode centers around the gang helping to pack up Barney’s childhood home because his mom is moving. I was kind of concerned, because the last time the show went to the house of Barney’s mom for an episode, we got “The Stinsons,” arguably one of the worst episodes of the series to date. In fact, before Season 5, I would have said it was the worst episode. I really needn’t have worried, though. I think I’m still a little gun shy after last season, honestly, and every time there’s heart in an episode of this show or Barney acts kind of like a person instead of a caricature, I’m surprised.

The gang is having an evening at MacLaren’s, like they do, and Barney is acting a bit unusual. When asked what’s wrong, Barney reveals that his mother is moving out of his childhood home. He then proceeds to smarmily ask the rest of the gang to help with the process that weekend. They, of course, are not interested at all in spending their weekend that way. There’s some back and forth about whether or not Barney could possibly convince them all to give up their weekend, and we see Barney gearing up to put on quite a show to convince them. There’s a quick cut, and right before the theme music plays, we see the gang all at the Stinson house helping pack. I thought that was a pretty funny way to handle it, really. Barney’s actual pitch couldn’t have been anywhere near as great as the set-up, so this lets us use our imaginations about how exactly Barney convinced his friends to help.

My confidence in this episode started to go up once one of the guest stars appeared. Wayne Brady was back as Barney’s brother, James. He was great back in Season 2’s “Single Stamina,” so I was excited to see him again. We see through a series of flashbacks that Barney and James’ mother was pretty much a compulsive liar. For instance, she told Barney that the coach wanted him off the basketball team because he was so much better than all the other kids, when the opposite was the truth. Also, she once gave him a letter from the “Postmaster General” saying that no one would be at Barney’s birthday party because the invitations got lost in the mail. Barney believed each one of these lies wholeheartedly, and still does when he shows the rest of the gang mementos of those occasions. James, however, sees right through it all. He’ll get caught up on the moment of one of his mother’s lies, but he sees through it within seconds. He grew up; Barney didn’t. This whole discussion of the stories Loretta told lead Marshall and Lily to discuss what they will and won’t tell their children, particularly whether or not they will let their kids believe in Santa. Marshall is for Santa, and Lily is opposed.

Meanwhile, while taking a break from the packing, Robin reads to Ted an e-mail she sent to her friend Liz. She’s setting up Liz and Ted on a blind date, and the e-mail is her description of Ted, which includes kind of explicit descriptions of how good he allegedly is in bed. Ted is worried that Robin is overselling him to Liz, which will only lead to disappointment. Really the only good thing about this plot is that Ted uses “The Karate Kid” as part of his explanation of overselling, and his karate moves were hilarious. Robin’s next attempt undersells. Her third attempt is even worse on the underselling end of the spectrum, and she accidentally sends it to everyone in her address book. By the end of the episode, Ted realizes that not only did Robin oversell him to Liz, she oversold Liz to him. Whatever.

Anyway, Barney and James come across an envelope addressed to a man named Sam. It contains a photo of Barney and James, and on the back of the photo is written “Your son.” Loretta tries to spin another lie to explain the photo, but James doesn’t believe it. Barney does believe it, of course, which makes James kind of go off on him. He tells Barney that Bob Barker is not his father (a call back to the Season 2 episode “Showdown”). The gang goes to see Sam, and I think my favorite scene of the episode takes place right before they knock on Sam’s door. Barney fesses up that he knows Bob Barker isn’t his dad. He also admits that he needs a minute to prepare for the possibility of meeting his father. Neil Patrick Harris really does play the more dramatic, heart-felt Barney moments so well.

The door opens, and it’s Ben Vereen, which makes it pretty clear that Sam is James’ dad. Nevertheless, Barney attaches himself to Sam. Seriously, that’s really the only way to describe it. He reverts to childhood as much as he can. It gives Neil Patrick Harris a chance to show off his physical comedy chops, which is always fun. My favorite part is when he starts running around in circles and gets upset when Sam isn’t watching. Marshall thinks the group should let Barney live in this fantasy for a little while because he’s been through so much. Also hilarious is when James and Sam are at the piano singing “Stand By Me” and Barney keeps cutting in, only to be dragged away by Lily each time. I may just have to go rewatch that sequence right now it’s so funny.

The episode ends with a serious chat between Barney and his mom. Loretta admits that Sam isn’t Barney’s father and offers to tell Barney the truth. Barney suddenly realizes all the lies she told while he was growing up and realizes that most of them were to protect him. He rips up the paper with his dad’s name on it, telling his mom that she’s his dad, too. It’s a sweet moment, although painfully obvious that Barney will be meeting his dad this season. I wonder if this is the beginning of an arc that will make him ready for his probable wedding at the end of the season? Before James knocked on Sam’s door, Barney did say it was “time to grow up.” Before reverting to complete childhood, of course. Interesting stuff.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Fringe 3.01: "Olivia"

“I’m not your daughter. My mother died when I was 14-years-old. This is all wrong. You’re not supposed to be here.”

From an objective standpoint, I can comprehend that “Olivia” was a superior episode of “Fringe.” It had some wonderful, emotional performances, including a memorable guest turn by Andre Royo (Bubbles from “The Wire”). The plot was both intriguing and devastating. Personally, though, I’m unhappy. In general, I find plots involving misunderstandings to be extremely frustrating and not entertaining, and we’ve got a doozy of a misunderstanding here in two universes. It gave Anna Torv absolutely wonderful material to play, but that still didn’t keep me from wanting to constantly scream at all the characters to figure it out already. I can deal with big mythology mysteries like on “Lost” being told in small doses over a long period of time, but with misunderstandings, especially urgent misunderstandings like this one, I get really impatient really quickly. I want my characters to be okay again. Sure that would mean probably going back to the often flawed monster-of-the-week episodes, but that just shows you how frustrated this plotline is already making me.

For the beginning of this season, my understanding is that we’re going to be doing a sort of every-other-episode deal between the two universes. This particular episode takes place mostly on the Other Side. Olivia is still being held captive by Walternate, but what is happening to her is even creepier than the solitary confinement we saw at the end of the Season 2 finale. Olivia is taken to regular therapy where a doctor keeps trying to convince her that her story about being from another universe is ridiculous, and she must actually be Alt-livia. Olivia is adamant that she doesn’t belong on the Other Side, and she’s damn right about that!

We pull back to a shot of Walternate watching video of this therapy session, and the full scope of what’s going on quickly becomes apparent, with the help of the alt-nerdy lab tech from Massive Dynamic. Only the lab tech works for the DoD on the Other Side. The lab tech has been doing this memory transfer procedure on Olivia because Walternate wants to turn her into Alt-livia. Walternate’s reasoning makes perfect sense. He knows Olivia has the ability to transport herself between universes, and if she has the personality of Alt-livia, she might be willing to use that power for Walternate’s cause and show Walternate how to give that power to others.

Clearly the whole memory transfer thing hasn’t taken yet, so some military guys escort Olivia to yet another treatment. We can’t have an episode of “Fringe” without a bit of squickiness, and that’s what we get from Olivia’s treatment. It soon turns from squick to awesome, though. In between painful injections, Olivia fakes shortness of breath and makes a really badass escape from the holding facility. She reaches a wall and sees water below- clearly this is some sort of Alcatraz. Then the camera pans up and we see she’s at DoD headquarters on Liberty Island. Olivia takes another look down at the water, and then she jumps.

Now in “Manhatan,” Olivia hijacks a cab driven by the somewhat cleaned-up version of Bubbs (the character’s name is actually Henry, but Andre Royo will always be Bubbs to me). I was very excited to see he was the cabbie, because Andre Royo is a fantastic actor. And he didn’t disappoint. Quite a lot of the episode takes place in Bubbs’ taxi, and Olivia makes some important realizations. For instance, Bubbs points out the tattoo on her neck, which is identical to the tattoo Alt-livia sports. It becomes clear that the treatments are gradually starting to affect Olivia, and it’s rather tragic to see her slowly deteriorating. She mentions to Bubbs that Peter is the reason she’s in Manhatan, and that little fact becomes important later. Bubbs has a family, too. A wife and daughter. Although, a one sided phone conversation we hear makes me wonder if the daughter is still alive. Olivia wants Bubbs to take her to the opera house. She’s hoping she can use the vortex there to get herself back home.

At a hospital, Lincoln, the Fringe Division agent who worked with Alt-livia and Alt-Charlie, is going through rehab for the injuries he sustained when Sally spontaneously combusted last season. Alt-Charlie is there to visit and see how Lincoln is doing, and Alt-Broyles shows up too. Alt-Broyles tells the guys that Olivia has escaped the holding facility. Only they think that the woman in the holding facility is actually Alt-livia, who had a psychotic break during the fight that went down at the opera house. Lincoln and Alt-Charlie are going to go after her. Considering Lincoln still has a big gaping hole in his head, though, it doesn’t seem like that’s such a good idea. What can I say- Lincoln is a determined guy.

Olivia arrives at the opera house to find it’s in the process of being encased in amber. Olivia, understandably, is devastated. We get two interesting bits of information about the Other Side from the sequence, though. First, we see the actual “amber-ing” process. It’s quite quick, and it’s handled by the NYPD. We also see a group of protesters, carrying signs that say things like “Amber = Death.” I was kind of surprised to see open protesting in a society that is so closely controlled by the government, what with everybody having to produce their “Show Me” to use any transportation. It looked like the opera house was completely cleared out before being encased in amber, but I guess they were protesting the occasions when NYPD ambers a place before it can be cleared out. Anyway, word gets to Fringe Division about Olivia’s presence at the opera house, and the chase is on.

Olivia’s next move is to go to what she believes will be the headquarters of the Other Side’s version of Massive Dynamic. She’s hoping there will be an alt-Nina there who can help. It’s a bit of a drive, though, so Bubbs needs to stop for gas. While Bubbs is filling up (and placing a photo of his family on the back of his cab and praying over it…weird), Olivia goes into the gas station bathroom. She looks at the tattoo on her neck in the mirror, and she has a good cry. I think she’s starting to doubt her sanity. Fringe Division shows up at the gas station (they used the tracker on Bubbs’ cab), and there’s quite an awesome action sequence involving Olivia shooting a gas tank and causing a huge explosion that almost blows up Alt-Charlie. Olivia claims she’s not much of a markswoman, and she’s surprised she made the shot. When Walternate looks at the footage of the incident, though, he sees it as Olivia becoming Alt-livia. Alt-livia made the Olympic marksmanship team, after all.

After the gas station incident, Bubbs is ready to believe Olivia, and to prove it, the throws his cab’s tracking device out the window. The tracking device seems to be standard issue on Other Side cabs, by the way. When Bubbs drops Olivia off at the address she gave him, though, she’s in for a big shock. There is no Massive Dynamic headquarters, just a park. William Bell did not start an Other Side counterpart to his business in our universe. Olivia has one last idea. She gives Bubbs the address of a house in Tarrytown. She can’t remember where she heard the address, but she knows it’s a safe house. On the way, Bubbs mentions something about how she must really love the guy she put herself in this position for, and the first name she says in response is “Frank,” Alt-livia’s boyfriend. Bubbs has to correct her about how she mentioned Peter earlier. The change is definitely progressing.

Bubbs drops Olivia off at the house in Tarrytown, and Olivia says he’s free to go- he’s done more than enough for her. Leaving Bubbs behind, Olivia circles the house, looking for a way in. She eventually finds an open window. The house turns out to be the childhood home of Alt-livia, and she has a very awkward and painful reunion with her “mom,” who is also under the impression that her daughter had a psychotic break on the job. A shocked Olivia hugs her “mom,” but then she quick snaps back to reality and starts screaming about how her mother is dead. Her mom wins the day, though, asking Olivia how she knew to come to that house if she had never been there before. Charlie then shows up to take Olivia back to Fringe Division. Olivia is totally docile about the whole thing. The helpful lab tech explains to Walternate and the audience that it was the adrenaline from Olivia’s escape that made the implanted memories finally take effect. Bubbs, now fully believing Olivia’s story, follows Charlie in his cab.

There’s a quick flash, and now we’re in Washington, D.C. in our own universe. Peter is being debriefed by a member of Congress on what happened when Peter went to the Other Side. The legislator doesn’t seem especially interested in what Peter has to say, though. He cuts the debriefing off early, saying his pen has run out of ink. He also refuses Peter’s offer to fix the pen. I think this could have some interesting implications for the future of Fringe Division in our universe. After the debriefing, Peter heads outside to meet up with Walter and Alt-livia (who hasn’t been doing an especially great job of maintaining her cover). Peter says all he was able to think about during the debriefing was “this” and kisses Alt-livia. That most definitely did not endear me to Alt-livia at all. Peter needs to realize his Olivia is missing, and fast, or I’m going to start thinking he’s an idiot.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

The Big Bang Theory 4.01: "The Robotic Manipulation"

“You realize, Penny, that the technology that went into this arm will one day make unskilled food servers, such as yourself, obsolete.”

So because I generally find sitcoms a little easier to blog with my insane schedule, and I do love me some nerd humor, I’m adding “The Big Bang Theory” to the MTVP line-up this year. I’m also starting to realize why I didn’t make the choice to blog this show last year. While, on the whole, it is very funny, and it seems to mostly celebrate nerd culture instead of putting it down, there are definitely episodes that don’t have much in the way of substance. This would be one of those episodes. Pretty much the first third of this episode takes place while the gang is eating take-out in Leonard and Sheldon’s apartment, and the next third takes place in Penny’s car. Shows like “Seinfeld,” and “HIMYM” on its best days, have something to say about the mundane bits of everyday life, which makes episodes that are limited in scope, such as the episode of “Seinfeld” set entirely in the Chinese restaurant, or even this week’s “HIMYM,” which was mostly the gang sitting around MacLaren’s talking and acting silly, work on a deeper level. “The Big Bang Theory” is not trying to comment on everyday life, therefore episodes like this end up just being boring.

As I already alluded to, the episode begins in the living room of Sheldon and Leonard’s apartment. Chinese food is on the coffee table, and Howard is attempting to use a robotic arm to unpack the food packages from the bag. A quick aside: I really want to know how these guys (and gal) can afford to eat a constant diet of take-out. I’d love for my personal menu to rotate between Chinese, Thai, and Indian take-out. That would be food heaven for me. But I’m a poor part-time public interest attorney/full time grad student, so that expense is out of the question. This group contains post-docs, an engineer, and a waitress. I don’t see how they could afford it much better than I can. Anyway, the robotic arm Howard is using is something he designed for use on the International Space Station. I could go on a nerd rant about how something like that would never be used on the ISS and compare it to the “Canada Arm” on the Space Shuttle, but I’ll spare you. Yeah, I’ve been to Space Camp three times. Moving on.

Anyway, Penny joins the guys for dinner, and things start getting slightly interesting when Sheldon gets a text from Amy. It seems like Penny has only been interacting with the guys on a limited basis since her break-up with Leonard, because she is extremely surprised to find out about Amy’s existence. Howard describes Amy as “Sheldon’s girlfriend,” and Penny immediately goes into “aww, how cute, Sheldon has a girlfriend” mode. Sheldon adamantly denies that Amy is his girlfriend, although they’ve been texting and e-mailing on a regular basis since they met in last season’s finale. Sheldon obviously doth protest too much, because all of a sudden he busts out with the fact that he and Amy have talked about having kids. Penny promptly does a spit take, which I think was one of the funniest moments of the episode. Sheldon’s reasoning makes sense for him- he and Amy think their DNA would produce extremely superior offspring, but Penny suggests Sheldon spend a bit more time with Amy in person before making such a decision.

Next thing we know, Sheldon is doing his signature knock on Penny’s door. Amy has agreed to a “date,” and Sheldon wants Penny to drive. This has potential for awkward hilarity that the execution doesn’t quite live up to, although it does provide some laughs. Penny and Sheldon in Penny’s car is always awkward, and things go from awkward to worse once Amy’s sitting in the back seat. The writers seem to want to take every possible opportunity to show that she’s Sheldon’s female doppelganger, even having her complain about the car’s check engine light being on. Penny devotes a lot of time to trying to orchestrate conversation between the three of them, and it doesn’t go well.

Things take a more interesting turn once they get to a restaurant, and Penny remarks that it’s Sheldon’s firs date. This turns the conversation to how much everyone has dated, and Amy asks if Penny is a slut. Penny claims that she isn’t, but then Sheldon starts calculating how many men she has likely been with. Then the conversation turns to Amy. When Sheldon says that yes, electrical stimulation of the brain as part of a scientific experiment could be considered a sexual experience, it turns out that Amy is very experienced. Which was supposed to be funny, but it was just strange. The next day Penny and Sheldon run into each other in the hall, and Penny wants to know if Sheldon still wants to have kids with Amy. Sheldon says that he definitely does. Then Penny reminds him of what his devout evangelical Christian mother would think of having a non-marital child through in vitro fertilization. Sheldon promptly changes his mind and says he doesn’t want to go through with it after all.

The B story in this episode was jus ill-advised all around. It’s one of those rare occasions where the show laughs at nerds instead of celebrating nerd culture. Howard takes his robotic hand home, and after he programs it to give him a shoulder massage, he gets…other…ideas about how the hand could be used. As soon as I saw Howard’s face light up with the idea, I knew it couldn’t end well at all. Leonard and Raj get a frantic call from Howard, and they arrive at Howard’s house to find that the robot got stuck. None of the guys’ ridiculous suggestions for how to resolve the situation seem like good ideas, so Howard ends up at the emergency room. The receptionist there suggests Howard just turn the robot on and off, and that works as far as getting him unstuck. At the very end of the episode, Leonard gets another panicked call from Howard that it happened again. I just thought this plot was kind of gross and not as witty as the show can be when it’s at its best. There are great ways to do nerd humor, and there are crass, belittling was to do nerd humor, and this was the latter.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Glee 2.01: "Audition"

“I would have joined in with a kick-ass harmony, but the dude was naked.”

“Audition” was a very solid beginning to the second season of “Glee.” Sometimes shows will have a bit of a sophomore slump, but I’m not seeing it yet, at least. “Audition” contained some cool musical numbers, set up several plots for a nice arc, and the theme wasn’t anviliciously hinted at by the title (and numerous lines of dialogue repeating the title, along with the theme). New characters, kind of a necessity in a show set in high school, were introduced in a non-offensive way, although both of the major new characters are a bit two-dimensional at this point. I’m hoping that improves as the season progresses. Overall, it was an enjoyable hour, although that could just be because I was watching it after one of the most stressful days ever at work and a microeconomics discussion session that I really didn’t understand. Let’s just say it was a much needed stress release at the end of a very long day.

The episode opens with Jacob shooting a video for his blog. It serves two purposes, really. The first is to bring us up-to-date on the characters, since we haven’t seen what they’ve been up to all summer. Rachel and Finn are officially dating now, for instance. More surprising, Tina dumped Artie for Mike Chang. We later find out that Tina and Mike got together when they were counselors at “Asian camp.” Mostly, Tina likes Mike for his abs (and I don’t really blame her). The second purpose of Ben’s blog is to include some meta humor about criticism the show has received, mostly from online. There are references to reports of Rachel being a diva, and there are references to complaints about Will’s rapping. Kurt says he’d rather people say all these criticisms to his face instead of anonymously on the internet. I can’t decide whether this sequence was genius humor or self-righteous whining.

Anyway, the set-up for the episode (and at least the first arc of the season) takes place in Principal Figgins’ office. There’s going to be a 10% budget cut of a whole bunch of programs at McKinley, including the Cheerios and New Directions, to give more money to the football team. There’s a new football coach, you see, because Ken Tanaka had a breakdown after the whole Emma debacle. Her (yes, her) name is Coach Beiste. She’s going to be quite the interesting foil for Sue. Sue and Will are both upset about the budget cuts, so they decide to form a sort of unholy alliance to take down Beiste.

Will’s got other important matters to deal with too, though. Nobody but the original kids are signing up for New Directions. Sue thinks the club should do auditions instead of just sign-ups, the idea being that auditions would create an enticing air of exclusivity, but Will doesn’t like that idea. The situation is especially dire because Matt, aka “Shaft,” aka the background dancer who isn’t played by Harry Shum, Jr., has transferred to another school, so New Directions is back down to eleven members. If you remember from early Season 1, show choir rules require twelve students to constitute a show choir. Nationals is in New York this year, so Will has the kids perform “Empire State of Mind” in the middle of the school in an area where kids congregate. The idea is that other kids at McKinley will maybe think glee club is cool if they see them perform a more contemporary number. I liked that some of the back beats were done a capella instead of the whole thing being done on synthesizer. The powers that be still haven’t figured out how to properly synch the music to the action on screen, though. It’s still so obviously lip synched.

The performance still doesn’t draw more kids to the club, so individual members take it upon themselves to try some recruiting. Finn hears Sam, a new football recruit, singing in the shower, much like Will heard Finn singing in the shower in the pilot. Sam sings “Every Rose Has Its Thorn,” which was decent, but not memorable. Rachel meets a Filipino exchange student named Sunshine Corazone. Rachel is incredibly condescending at first, asking in über-simplified sentences if Sunshine saw her perform, because watching Rachel perform must be a huge inspiration. Sunshine starts listening to her headphones and singing along to Lady Gaga’s “Telephone,” and Rachel goes from patronizing to intimidated and frightened. She joins in on the duet, too, of course, before rushing away from Sunshine as fast as she can.

Finn brings Sam to hang out with the other New Directions guys, as sort of a pre-audition. They ask if Sam has a song in his back pocket that he’d like to sing, and he chooses “Billionaire.” It’s funny, as I was driving home from school last night, anticipating watching this episode, I thought to myself that “Billionaire” was just the kind of song that would probably be on “Glee.” And obviously, I was right. The performance was cute, although for some reason the powers that be had Kevin McHale do a lot of the rapping in this episode, including for “Billionaire.” Mark Salling is really the only one of the guys who even comes close to pulling it off, and all he got lead on was about half of “Empire State of Mind.” Meanwhile, Rachel is taking the opposite tack with Sunshine. She wants to keep Sunshine as far away from glee club as possible. Kurt and Mercedes don’t approve of Rachel’s anti-Sunshine rant. Mercedes has a good point that they need all the help they can get if they want to have a shot at beating Vocal Adrenaline. Rachel takes things way too far and gives Sunshine fake directions to a fake “audition” which lead Sunshine to a crack house instead. It’s absolutely horrible, and I don’t know how we’re supposed to keep rooting for Rachel when she pulls stuff like that.

Sue and Will’s campaign against Beiste is incredibly juvenile. It starts with Will and Sue ordering surprise pizzas for Beiste and the kids trying out for football. Beiste brushes it off and says all the football guys have to eat four slices before practice. Then it’s time for “Operation: Mean Girls.” Both Sue and Will give excuses about why Beiste can’t sit at their tables in the faculty lounge. At this point, Will starts to feel bad for joining in on this foolishness. The damage is already done, though. Beiste starts to cry in front of the football hopefuls, although she tries to play it off. Finn makes the mistake of asking her if Artie can join the team (Artie thinks it will help him win back Tina) while she’s still hurting, and Beiste is convinced that Finn’s request is another practical joke meant to make her look like an idiot. Finn’s idea that pushing Artie’s wheelchair down the field could work as a battering ram isn’t the brightest idea, after all. Beiste is so upset at the perceived lack of respect that she kicks Finn off the team. Finn, of course, is devastated.

Finn decides that since he’s been kicked off the football team, he needs to become a Cheerio to retain any social standing. His dance to “I Got the Power” (yay early 90’s hip hop!) was the funniest moment of the episode by far. I love how the producers are getting really good at using Cory Monteith’s horrible dancing abilities to comedic effect. Finn’s not the only one who wants to be a Cheerio, though. Quinn wants back on the team, too. The theme of this episode seemed to be that many of the characters acting quite Machiavellian to get what they want out of McKinley High life, and Quinn is certainly a good example of that. She leaks the story that Santana got breast implants over the summer, knowing full well that Sue is extremely anti-cosmetic surgery. Sue calls Santana into her office and tells her that Quinn will be replacing her as head cheerleader. Santana will be demoted to the bottom of the pyramid. Santana physically attacks Quinn when she next sees her in the hall. It’s quite ugly.

Not surprisingly, Sue also goes way too far in her pursuit of her goal of ousting Beiste. First, she convinces Brittany to lie to Principal Figgins and accuse Beiste of molesting her. This is so serious that when Will is called in, he puts a stop to it and gets Brittany to tell the truth. Later, Sue tries to serve Beiste “cookies” made of poo, and Will puts a stop to that, too. By that point, he’s decided that he’s going to go back to being himself and treat Beiste nicely. He apologizes to her. Which is a little boring, but true to character, I suppose. I really, really did like how the theme of this episode was definitely present, but not as much of an anvil as “Glee” tends to do. The episode title wasn’t “The Cost of Achievement” with every character saying “cost” ten times in the episode, for instance.

Sam never showed up for his full-club audition, and Finn seeks him out to find out what happened. Sam didn’t like the lack of social status that comes with New Directions. He doesn’t think he’d be able to take the ribbing he’d receive from the other football players. To make matters worse, Sam has been named the new quarterback of the team. He’s taken Finn’s job and popularity. Finn isn’t the only one who has lost out by the end of the episode, though. The entire glee club loses out. Sunshine did indeed get to do her full audition (she sang a song from “Dream Girls”), but she ends up getting recruited by Vocal Adrenaline, thanks to Sue’s machinations, of course. Sunshine accepts the offer because even though she did eventually get to audition for New Directions, Rachel’s dirty trick made her feel incredibly unwelcome. Finn confronts Rachel about that whole incident. Finn and Rachel are still an incredibly solid couple, which is kind of nice to see, but Finn makes Rachel admit that she didn’t try to keep Sunshine away to help the group dynamic. She did what she did because she didn’t want to share the spotlight. The episode ends with Rachel expressing her realization by singing “What I Did For Love.”

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

HIMYM 6.01: "Big Days"

“You saucy little minx. You sundressed up.”

So, the Fall 2010 television started last night, and although I was stuck in a statistics classs, I’m bringing the recaps to you thanks to my lovely DVR. If you haven’t already been able to tell, I’m back in school in addition to working, so the scope of what I’m going to cover on MTVP this season is going to be scaled back a little. One show whose recaps are not going away, however, is HIMYM. It had its ups and downs last year (mostly downs, sadly), but I almost always had strong feelings about it. That makes it perfect blog fodder for me. Overall, I found “Big Days” to be an enjoyable enough episode. It wasn’t quite as good as HIMYM in its glory days, and there are some elements of the episode that completely fall apart if you think about them too much, but it made me laugh, and it had heart. Heart is something that I think much of last season sorely lacked.

Anyway, the episode opens with Saget!Ted telling the kids that there are two big days in a person’s life, the day you meet the person you’re going to marry, and the day you marry them. We cut to a church, where Ted is sitting outside, Marshall brings him a beer, and we’re led to believe that this is Ted’s wedding. We then flash back to MacLaren’s, where most of the episode takes place. This episode is essentially a “bottle show” (an episode that relies heavily on existing sets), which I think was an interesting choice for a season premiere, which TV producers generally try to make bigger than the average episode. On the positive side, setting almost the entire show in MacLaren’s kind of got things back to basics. It led to a focus on our core characters and their interactions. Barney is on one of his typical tangents, lamenting the fact that women are beginning to turn to less skimpy fall clothing, when he notices Ted isn’t paying attention. Ted is captivated by a woman sitting at the bar reading a book. Before Ted has a chance to make a move, Barney calls “dibs” on her.

In other news, Marshall and Lily are all set to start trying for a baby. Lily’s got the candles and the music (which was a hilarious country banjo selection) ready. Marshall ruins the whole thing though by letting on to Lily that he told his dad they were going to start trying. Lily is creeped out that Marshall would share so much with his parents. Actually, the way Lily found out about Marshall’s sharing was pretty funny. A bassinet made by Marshall’s father shows up at Dowisetrepla. When they join Ted and Barney at MacLaren’s they spend most of their time arguing about what happened and Marshall’s unusual attachment to his parents. This was an amusing plot line, although I kind of wish the writers hadn’t pulled the bit about Marshall calling his dad constantly out of thin air. Yeah, we knew Marshall was close to his family (he does do virtual Sunday dinners with them, after all), but we’ve never seen it quite this extreme before. Oh, and it turns out Marshall told everybody at the office, too. I have to admit where the scene where his coworkers throw a sort of “good luck making a baby” rally for him as he leaves the office was pretty darn hilarious.

Anyway, the MacLaren’s material in the middle of the episode contained all the usual elements of an especially funny HIMYM episode. There’s the beginnings of a classic Barney lecture on social phenomena. This one is how “dibs” was invented by “Sir Francis Dibs.” We see a quick shot of a boat before Barney gets cut off, which makes the whole thing funnier. There’s also Barney continuing to insist, just as he did back in Season 1, that he’s Ted’s best friend, not Marshall. Actually, in this particular instance, Barney is talking about how if Ted married the girl from the bar, he would say “I had dibs!” in his best man toast. The conversation turns to Ted wondering if the girl at the bar is “putting up shields” by reading a book. Robin then walks into the bar most definitely “putting up shields.” She’s an absolute mess, still recovering from her break-up with Don by wearing sweats and eating a constant diet of fast food. This was probably my least favorite plot thread of the episode, because I’m tired of plots about Robin that only revolve around her hotness (or lack thereof). It gets even worse when Barney tells Robin that he loves her, but she’s passed her “hotness expiration date.” That was just unbelievably cruel, even for Barney, especially considering that he’s always had a soft spot for Robin.

Ted’s imaginary future with the girl at the bar starts to unravel when Cindy (Rachel Bilson’s character who is the Mother’s roommate) walks up to her and they start chatting. Ted’s last interaction with Cindy didn’t go well, but he wonders if the girl at the bar is her roommate who sounded so perfect. Marshall and Lily, meanwhile, have moved their baby conversation to a private booth. Lily thinks Marshall’s dad is over involved, and she wants Marshall to tell him that they’re not trying for a baby anymore. Marshall refuses to do this, and when Lily gets upset at his revelation that his parents were planning to come live with them for a few months after the baby is born, Marshall storms out of MacLaren’s. In all the commotion, Cindy spots Ted. Despite Ted’s worries, Cindy is actually nice to Ted and says that things have been going well for her lately. She feels like her relationship with Ted taught her some important things, and she would like to thank Ted. Ted tells her that she can thank him by setting him up with a friend, and he’s excited that she doesn’t seem offended by that. She tells Ted to be sure to say goodbye to her before he leaves.

Meanwhile, Lily conferences with Barney about the whole Marshall oversharing with his father debacle. Barney shows a brief moment of humanity (always welcome) when he tells Lily that if he had his dad’s phone number, he would “never not be on the phone with him.” I wonder if this is the set-up to a season-long arc of Barney in search of his dad. I would definitely approve of that. Barney goes back to his usual crude ways in several seconds though, at least until he’s captivated by Robin walking back into MacLaren’s more cleaned up and wearing a dress. She walks up to the bar and a guy hits on her in about 14 seconds (as Barney is staring and in shock that she “sundressed up”). Robin brushes the guy off immediately and goes to gloat to Barney about how she’s still got it. I still don’t like that this was another plot revolving around Robin’s perceived hotness, but Neil Patrick Harris’ subtle performance as he notices and reacts to Robin’s return made the scene shine for me.

Lily and Marshall meet up on the stoop, and they have a real conversation about what went wrong between them in this fight. Marshall takes a phone call from his dad in the middle of it, and when his dad starts getting really over enthusiastic, Marshall hangs up on him. Lily says that Marshall has that enthusiasm too, and that’s what she loves about him. The real reason Lily’s been so touchy about the whole subject is that she’s worried she won’t be able to have kids, and if she can’t have a baby, she thinks she’ll let Marshall and his whole family down. Marshall reassures Lily that she could never let him down. It was a really sweet moment between them.

We wrap up the episode at MacLaren’s, where Ted’s thinking he’s going to be introduced to the girl at the bar. Instead, he’s shocked to see Cindy kiss her. Saget!Ted tells us that Cindy and that woman end up having kids together. We then flash again to Marshall and Ted outside of the church in the future, and someone opens the door and calls for Ted as the best man. So this isn’t Ted’s wedding after all. We’re left wondering just whose wedding it is. My reaction to that was, precisely, “GAH!!!” Yeah, I’m so articulate when it comes to HIMYM. I’m wondering if it’s Barney and Robin’s wedding, although I always hoped they wouldn’t be traditional enough to feel they needed a wedding. There is the matter of their seemingly renewed affection for each other, and they are the only characters suspiciously absent from the wedding scenes. And there’s the matter of Ted being the best man. After the conversation between the guys earlier in this episode, I certainly believe Ted would be Barney’s best man. Anyway, Saget!Ted tells us that this wedding is where he actually met the Mother.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Friday Night Lights 4.08: "Toilet Bowl"

“We’re not scrappers anymore. We’re Lions. And this is our time. This is your time.”

The name of this episode brought me back to the classic Season 1 episode of “Friday Night Lights” called “Mud Bowl.” “Mud Bowl” was a truly epic episode on so many levels, and I don’t think “Toilet Bowl” quite measured up. It didn’t really have either the heart or the intense drama. Don’t get me wrong, any episode of “Friday Night Lights” is better than most anything else on TV, but this particular episode just didn’t measure up to the best of Season 1. All the usual plots are still brewing, although now we’re focusing a little more on Julie trying to move on with her life, and a bit on one particular football game, the aforementioned “Toilet Bowl.” There are a bunch of other stories swirling around in the mix that was this episode, too, of course.

East Dillon has a game this Friday against another bottom of the barrel team, so Slammin’ Sammy and his listeners have dubbed the game the “Toilet Bowl.” Coach is doing his best to help his players overcome all that, though, framing the situation as an opportunity to actually get a W on their record as opposed to a game between two losers. He wants his boys to believe it’s their time to actually have some success because they’ve put in so much hard work. It doesn’t help that at one point, the team arrives to practice to find out that someone has put an actual toilet on the field. To make matters worse, Luke is playing hurt. His injury from the ranch wasn’t career ending, but it looks nasty and painful. Luke tries to hide his pain for a while, but after taking one too many hits at practice, he can’t take it anymore. He goes to Tim for advice on how to score more painkillers, because he’s gone through three week’s worth in one. Tim directs Luke to a doctor who will give him the meds if Luke answers four questions correctly. As I’ve been saying about a lot of this season’s plots, this can’t end well.

There’s more going on in the Taylor household than just getting ready for a big football game. In fact, the episode opens with the Taylor house in complete chaos. Julie has a college admissions interview up at Boston College, and Tami is going with her. Julie isn’t really especially thrilled at the prospect. She accuses Tami of projecting her own former dreams of going to Boston College on to her daughter. Tami patiently cuts through all of that, though, because she’s awesome. Although there is one moment that doesn’t really help Tami’s case. She and Julie are sitting in on a literature class, and Tami only slightly reluctantly answers one of the teacher’s questions. Julie is, understandably, mortified.

Most of the time, though, Tami just keeps telling Julie over and over that she’ll support whatever Julie wants to do college-wise. Boston College may have been her top choice school, but it doesn’t have to be Julie’s. Gradually, the real reasons Julie is upset start to surface. First of all, she feels like the whole college interview process is fake. I felt like saying, “Hey Jules, if you think the college interview process is bad, try interviewing for a job!” There are whole books on what to say and what not to say to land a job. I mean, you can’t lie about credentials, obviously, but there are things employers want to hear, and things they don’t want to hear, and with so many applicants for every job these days, you have to hit the points perfectly. Our Jules is in for a rude awakening. Anyway, Julie finally gets together, and when asked in the interview what makes her unique, she talks about her hometown, and how although she’s always wanted to escape it, she’s going to miss it when she’s gone.

Julie isn’t the only one interviewing in this episode. Tim is in his usual buzzed state when he gets a call from Mindy. Her toilet is backed up, and Billy isn’t home to take care of it. Becky has to drive Tim over to Billy and Mindy’s house in Tim’s truck, which is really quite hilarious, because Becky has never driven stick before. Anyway, Mindy reveals that she suspects Billy might be having an affair. He constantly says he has to work late. Tim assures Mindy that his brother wouldn’t do such a thing, but he also has to check out the situation himself. It turns out that Billy is using Riggins Rigs to do some chop shop business for Vince’s friend he talked to in the last episode. At first, Tim is disgusted. He doesn’t want to have anything to do with Riggins Rigs anymore. With the help of Becky, he tries to interview for a job at Sears (there they go with that product placement again).

Tim really needs the money from a decent job to buy his dream land. He visits the Realtor selling the land, and she gives him a reality check about the price. When he doesn’t get the job at Sears, Tim gets desperate. First he takes Becky to see the land, and she kisses him again, which is just plain squicky. Tim puts a stop to it again, but not as quickly as he did the last time. Tim then makes a decision that will probably directly lead to how Taylor Kitsch is written off the show. He tells Billy that he wants in on the chop shop. The last image of the episode is the Riggins boys taking a vehicle apart, one of their State rings glinting in the light. It’s little moments like that which make even middling episodes of “Friday Night Lights” stand out.

We can’t get through an episode of “Friday Night Lights” these days without some Landry/Jess/Vince drama. Landry asks Jess out yet again, and this time she accepts. Soon afterwards, she and her brothers are at the grocery store when they run into Vince and his mom. Vince is great with the kids, and when Vince’s mom asks Jess to dinner, Jess accepts that invitation as well. Jess ends up postponing the date with Landry so she can go to the dinner at Vince’s house. Vince’s mom is a serious Jess/Vince shipper. She starts babbling on and on about how great Jess is, and she prompts Vince to say that he thinks Jess is “gorgeous.” The date with Landry doesn’t go quite as well. Jess brings her brothers along, for one thing. Then, as Landry’s dropping the crew off at their house, Jess’ little brothers start teasing about if Landry and Jess are going to kiss, and how Vince is going to kick Landry’s butt.

Time to wrap up this post with some football. Buddy is on a mission to make the Lions a success, and he manages to sell a Spanish language radio station on broadcasting Lions games. At that Friday’s game, Buddy gets to play broadcaster, and he’s actually quite good at it. Anyway, the Lions actually have a chance at this game. They have an early lead, and Landry kicks an impressive field goal to make the lead even wider. Then things start to go south. Vince does not have a good game at all. Luke manages to play through the pain, though, and Vince does eventually get a few plays together, and the Lions actually manage to win their first game of the season.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Friday Night Lights 4.07: "In the Bag"

“Who’s going to take care of that if you’re locked up? I’m offering you everything I got. This is not just about football. Think about that.”

Things just seem to be going from bad to worse in good old Dillon, Texas. The spiral of despair that is Friday Night Lights Season 4 kept on turning in “In the Bag.” Julie is absolutely devastated over Matt, Luke is working himself to exhaustion, the Rigginses face financial ruin, Becky learns some unpleasantness about her family, Landry has to make a decision about Tyra, and Vince has to make a decision about football. It’s heavy stuff all around. FNL has always been a fairly emotionally heavy show, but I’m trying to figure out why that isn’t working for me as much anymore. Don’t get me wrong, I’m still liking each episode overall, I’m just not getting the same feeling from the show that I used to. It’s still better than Season 2, though. It wouldn’t take much to elevate FNL over the seriously ill conceived Season 2 murder plot. Seriously.

The episode opens on Julie crying in bed because she hasn’t heard from Matt in days. It seems to be first thing in the morning, because the rest of the Taylor family looks like they’re just starting their day. Tami hovers next to Julie’s bedroom door, trying to hear if she’s still crying. Poor girl must be really broken up. I’ve had plenty of late night cry fests at particularly low moments in my life, but the morning usually makes things seem a bit brighter. Anyway, Julie decides to deal with her pain by distraction. She starts signing up for every club in the school. When Landry sees her and reminds her that Matt is his best friend, so he’s upset too, Julie says she knows that. That’s why she has signed the both of them up for “Academic Smackdown.” Landry thinks “Academic Smackdown” sounds incredibly lame, but for some reason he chooses to join Julie anyway. He is in luck. Jess is on the team, too, so this gives him a chance to try and make things right with her in his incredibly awkward way.

Landry’s feelings for Jess make him question why he’s still hung up on Tyra, who hasn’t exactly been knocking down his door since she left for college. At the big Academic Smackdown meet against West Dillon, Julie completely breaks down when asked a question that reminds her about Matt. She answers the question correctly through her tears, but then she quickly runs backstage. Luckily, Tami was there and saw the whole thing, and she’s able to comfort her daughter. Julie was especially upset because she paid a visit to the Saracens, and she found out that Matt had called them but not her. Anyway, I guess seeing Julie’s pain pushes Landry to try and make a decision about his own personal life. We see him at a rest stop, talking on his cell phone. He’s leaving a voice mail for Tyra about how he’s at the rest stop they agreed upon, but she’s not there. At first, I was annoyed at how Landry seemed to still be pathetically attached to Tyra, but he ends the voicemail by saying that he guesses he got his answer, and now it’s truly over between them. He announces his epiphany to Jess near the end of the episode, and she seems less than thrilled.

There are a few other plots going on in this episode, because, like many television shows lately, FNL can’t seem to keep its focus. I wonder if shows have really become more unfocused recently, maybe because we’re constantly barraged with all sorts of media, and television writers feel like they have to keep up the pace, or if this is just something that’s been going on for a while, but I’m just starting to notice it since I’m writing about individual episodes of television a whole lot. Anyway, I’d say out of the plots still left, the biggest involves Becky and Tim, which is really more annoying then endearing. As much as I love the pretty that is Taylor Kitsch, I think they’re running out of good material for Tim. Becky’s dad is in town, and he’s staying at Becky’s house in the guest room. Becky is totally a daddy’s girl, and her dad is showering her with attention. He takes her to an animal shelter and buys her a puppy, even though he knows darn well that Becky’s mom won’t approve. She doesn’t approve, alright, and makes Becky give the dog away. Tim overhears Becky’s dad talking on the phone, and it raises some questions. It turns out Becky’s dad has a whole other family in Seattle- a girlfriend and a baby. He warns Tim not to tell Becky about it. Tim, of course, tells Becky about it anyway, and she’s devastated. The whole thing leads to a huge knock-down-drag-out fight between Tim and Becky’s dad.

Elswhere in Riggins news, Mindy and the guys are in a fast food drive thru line scraping together change to pay for their meal when Mindy feels a serious contraction. My first thought was how appropriate that the Riggins baby could potentially be born in a fast food drive through. Mindy does get to the hospital in time, though, and the doctors manage to stop the contractions. Mindy is now on bed rest, and the situation is further complicated by all the medical bills piling up. One of Mindy’s…coworkers…from the Landing Strip brings an idea to Billy. She wants to have a co-ed baby shower for Mindy. The idea is that the Landing Strip girls will perform, and it will be a sort of fundraiser to help pay the medical bills. Billy loves the idea, and he offers Riggins Rigs as the location. One of the car stealing guys Vince rolls with attends the party, and he tells Billy he has a business offer. Clearly this won’t end well. Tim’s got big dreams of his own. He buys Beck’s dog back, and on his way home, he comes across a large tract of land for sale.

We also get some more drama with Luke and Vince, of course. Luke’s dad wants him to stay home from school to fix a fence on their ranch. Apparently cattle rustling is still alive and well in Texas, and fixing the fence is the only way to stop the rustler. Unfortunately, no school means no football. After one day of this, Coach gives Luke a talking to. Taking Coach’s advice, Luke starts working on the fence at night. He’s exhausted, and one of his friends takes pity on him and helps him finish the fence. The triumph is short-lived, though. The next day, Luke is helping his father herd the cattle into a pasture when he has a bit of an accident. A gate starts swinging with Luke on it, and it looks like he has seriously injured his ankle or leg or something of that nature.

Coach names Vince QB1, but that triumph is short lived, too. Police bust into the weight room at East Dillon demanding to search Vince’s locker. They say they’ve gotten reports that Vince has a gun. They don’t find anything, but the incident creates an awkward vibe on the team. Vince’s mom, in a rare sober moment, also stops by the school and thanks Coach for making Vince QB1 and showing such faith in him. Coach pays Vince one of his trademark visits and basically tells Vince to step up his game and be a leader. Vince repays the gesture by dropping by the Taylors'. He has a bag for Coach. It contains a gun. Coach and Tami sit at the kitchen table with the bag between them, bewildered about what to do next. Coach is determined to keep the situation under wraps. Yet another plot that can’t possibly end well. There’s also another side-plot with West Dillon being named a Blue Ribbon school and Glenn getting a little too close to Tami while he’s really drunk at a celebration (Tami puts a stop to it right away), but that plot was too stupid to devote any additional space to here.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Friday Night Lights 4.06: "Stay"

“See, I don’t know if you know this, but I’m kind of a moment-to-moment kind of guy. So three days? I can work with that.”

“Stay” was a rather emotionally painful episode of “Friday Night Lights,” as many episodes tend to be. FNL is really “eat your vegetables” television. It’s not light and fluffy and easy to digest, but it’s good because it makes you feel and think. This episode suffered a bit from once again trying to juggle too many stories, but all the stories were at least tied together by one common theme. That was whether or not various characters should stay in Dillon or seek bigger and better things. Even though we haven’t seen much in the way of football games this season, football is very much still a presence looming over everything. I wish it was dealt with a little more directly, actually, although this episode had more football material than most. I really find the original concept of how football owns this small town to be fascinating.

This week’s Lions game is against McNulty, a school that is undefeated this season. The Panthers aren’t expected to beat McNulty let alone the Lions. Slammin’ Sammy is running his mouth about it on the radio as always. Luke is running to work off the stress, and Vince’s friends are giving him crap about it at the barbershop. To make things even worse, the game is going to be televised, so a wider audience will be able to see the Lions’ humiliation. Coach wants to keep the interaction with the press low key, but the assistant coach kind of blows that plan out of the water when, at a press conference, he guarantees victory. That can’t possibly end well.

Most of the plots going on in this episode that go with the “Stay” theme, however, aren’t football related. First off, Julie has tickets to the Austin Independent Music Festival. Which sounds pretty darn awesome to me, considering I’m a major indie snob. Matt’s a little reluctant at first, which makes sense, considering he’s more of a country music, meat-and-potatoes kind of guy (albeit a very endearing one), but when Julie explains that she got the tickets to get him away from Dillon and the aftermath of his father’s death for a little while, he agrees to go. There’s just one snag. Tami says there is absolutely no way Julie is taking several days off school to go to a music festival with her boyfriend. Coach has no choice but to agree, although I think he’d probably agree anyway.

Elsewhere, Lyla and Tim are spending some quality time together following their reunion at the funeral of Matt’s dad. It turns out that Lyla didn’t just come home for the funeral (which would have made no sense, as I mentioned in my post about “The Son"). She was home on fall break. Anyway, she shows up at Tim’s trailer, which obviously must result in a night of hot sex. Lyla mentions that she’ll only be home in Texas for three days before she has to go back to school, but Tim is okay with that. The mood is broken the next morning, however, when Becky knocks on the door. It’s quite awkward given Becky’s massive crush on Tim. When Becky sees that Tim has a woman with him in the trailer, she runs off and cries. Poor, naïve Becky. She’s actually pretty annoying because she’s so naïve. Really Becky? You’re pinning all your hopes for the future on Tim Riggins? Sure he’s ridiculously hot, but I don’t exactly see him having much in the way of prospects.

Matt and Julie end up going to Austin despite Tami forbidding it. Only Matt doesn’t realize that she’s forbidden it. Sweet gullible, Matt. There’s a scene where they are just adorable in their hotel room, dancing to an oldies song on the radio. Matt wants to dance because the music is “pretty.” Juxtaposed with that is Tami back in Dillon being really, really pissed that her daughter ran off to Austin. She first finds out about it from her secretary at the school, and she spends much of the episode leaving Julie countless voice mails and threatening to drive to Austin and find them. What I kind of loved about the voice mails was how proper Texas mom they were. The words were polite, but the tone was anything but.

There’s a little non-theme related drama that the writers manage to slip in, too. Landry tries to talk to Jess about their kiss, and he just gets a slap for his trouble. Probably because he babbled on too long and started talking about Tyra. Vince goes to the barbecue restaurant and harasses Jess until Jess’ dad tells Vince he’s going to have to take his food to go. There’s also the obligatory Lions/Panthers confrontation at Sears, where the assistant coach has let a few of the Lions watch game tape on the flat screen TVs. It was a product placement disguised as plot development, but that was okay because the product placement wasn’t as intrusive as other examples, like the obviously shoehorned in conversations about the Ford in “White Collar.” FNL has always done a decent job with product placement, dating all the way back to the Dillon Applebee’s in Season 1. Anyway, to make things even more complicated for Vince, his mom wants to come to the football game. I’m sure this is her being all supportive just to set Vince up for a big letdown. The Lions end up not winning the game, but they do much better than anyone expected. They score the first touchdown, and they lose by a respectable margin.

Back to the “Stay” theme related plots, Tim brought Billy along to help him at Lions practice, and afterwards, they go out to dinner with Mindy and Lyla. Lyla gets a firsthand view of what life is like as a Riggins woman. Later, she and Becky have a conversation about college. It turns out Lyla had been homesick while at school. She’s conflicted about whether she belongs at college or in Dillon, although it’s pretty clear that her ultimate decision will not be to stay in Dillon. This scene felt very real to me. I experienced those feelings of homesickness and conflict between home and school when I was a college freshman myself. Knowing that Lyla is pretty decided on leaving makes it especially sad when Tim starts telling her about his plans for their life together. He says that Riggins Rigs will need an office manager once they get off the ground. Lyla doesn’t come out and say it, but it’s obvious that’s not the life she wants.

While in Austin, the whole “Matt doesn’t want to stay in Dillon and Julie is holding him back” argument came up again. Both Matt and Julie tried to sweep it under the rug, but it just wouldn’t go away. When Julie gets home, she completely breaks down, because she knows that Matt is probably leaving. Tami is pissed at first but melts as soon as she sees how upset Julie is. At the end of the episode, Julie and Tim are left picking up the pieces after their loved ones leave. Tim does so by drinking and trying to get Becky to not talk to him for once. Julie is comforted by Tami. Meanwhile, the final image of the episode is Matt driving away from Dillon fast as he can, looking like a weight has been lifted from his shoulders.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Glee 1.22: "Journey"

“Life only really has one beginning and one end, and the rest is just a whole lot of middle.”

While I don’t think “Journey,” the season finale of “Glee,” quite measured up to “Sectionals,” the fall finale, it was still a better-than-decent hour of television. There were some good emotional moments and some attempts at creativity. It’s finally Regionals time, and the future of New Directions is on the line. Remember, back in the pilot, Will made a deal with Principal Figgins that New Directions would only exist on a trial basis. If they don’t place at Regionals this year, they’re gone, and their funding goes back to the Cheerios. Or something like that. It’s kind of fluctuated throughout the season what they actually have to accomplish. No matter what has been said before, the practical upshot of this episode is that they had to come in first or second place. Now that’s settled, on with the recap!

The episode begins with quite the bombshell bit of news for New Directions. Sue has been chosen as a judge for Regionals. Will’s first reaction is to angrily plead his case to Principal Figgins, who says he has no control over the judges chosen for the competition. Which makes sense, really. I’m not sure what Will really expected Figgins to be able to do. Anyway, the news is pretty devastating to the kids. Will hosts a “Regionals setlist nomination party” at his apartment, and it’s a total downer. Instead of being excited about the upcoming competition, the kids are all crying. Rachel asks if instead of choosing songs, they can just talk about their favorite memories of glee club. They’re all convinced that with Sue as a judge, they don’t stand a chance at placing, and glee club will be over for good. They’re also convinced that without the glee club, they won’t stay friends. Which is probably true.

Will goes to Emma for advice, because that’s what he always does in situations like this. Emma’s wary about Will’s intentions. She informs Will that she’s seeing someone else. Her dentist, to be exact. Will isn’t thrilled about this, but he knows he doesn’t have any right to complain, so he leaves her alone after really inappropriately asking about how far Emma’s relationship with the dentist has gone. Later, while driving home in his car, Will hears “Don’t Stop Believing” play on the radio. Will completely breaks down when he hears it. It’s supposed to be a very emotional scene, but I think it’s played a little too melodramatic for my tastes.

Before the next glee club rehearsal, Finn and Rachel discuss the club’s new situation. Finn is just as determined to turn the club’s attitude around as Rachel is. Rachel is so moved by Finn’s determination to save glee club that she kisses him right then and there. Finn is more than fine with that, of course. When they arrive at rehearsal, they find that Will has become more optimistic, too. He has an idea for their big performance at Regionals. New Directsions will perform a Journey medley. This is good from a theme of the episode (and the show, I guess) perspective, but from a music perspective, it’s kind of absurd. I know if I were preparing a group for adjudication, I’d want them to be performing tried-and-true numbers that they could do in their sleep, not teaching them all new numbers days before the competition.

Soon enough, it’s time for Regionals, and the panel of judges is a bit of a who’s who of minor characters and past celebrity cameos. Joining Sue are Josh Groban, Olivia Newton-John and Rod Remington (Sue’s news anchor ex). New Directions’ main competition is Vocal Adrenaline, of course, and another group called Aural Intensity. The writers really do have fun making up vaguely dirty glee club names, don’t they? Aural Intensity is up first, and their strategy is to pander as best they can. They perform a Josh Groban/Olivia Newton-John mash-up. The kids of New Directions are furious at how blatant and uncreative that performance is. Will forces them to refocus by turning off the intercom where they were listening.

New Directions, of course, manage to pull it together and give a good, energetic performance. Instead of a Rachel solo like at Sectionals, this time we got a Rachel and Finn duet of “Faithfully.” Finn and Rachel profess their love before the performance starts, which is kind of sweet, and they begin the song in the back of the auditorium, just like when Rachel did “Don’t Rain on My Parade.” I know usually I complain about Finn getting the male lead vocals all the time, but this time I didn’t mind it so much because Cory Monteith sounds best (relatively) on classic rock, so the Journey medley suited him. Of course, Mark Salling probably would have sounded even better, but still, Cory wasn’t bad. The group reprised “Don’t Stop Believing,” and although I don’t think it quite had the same magic that it did in the pilot, one thing that I did like was that this version included more of the kids on lead vocals. Puck, Santana, Artie, and Mercedes each got their moments. I thought that showed a bit of how far the group has come.

After the performance, the drama really kicks into high gear. Quinn’s mom shows up with some big news. She kicked out Quinn’s dad, and she wants Quinn to move back home. Quinn’s response is rather…unconventional, to say the least. Her water breaks. Thus begins one of the most ingenious musical set-ups ever on “Glee,” even if the execution didn’t really match the awesomeness of the idea. Quinn giving birth is intercut with Vocal Adrenaline performing Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody.” The execution was lacking (even with Quinn’s screams matching up with some of the lyrics) because I think Jonathan Groff can’t possibly live up to Freddy Mercury. Frankly, if I have to have an alternative “Bohemian Rhapsody” to the original, I prefer this one. One thing I did really like about the whole sequence were some of the things that happened at Quinn’s birth. For instance, I was glad that Puck and Mercedes were there with her, especially that she was finally letting Puck in a bit. The other thing I really liked was Puck’s reactions to the whole situation. At first he had a look of disgust, and by the end, he was in tears. It was really a great performance by Mark Salling.

Rachel is the only member of New Directions who didn’t accompany Quinn to the hospital. She stays behind to dig into that Shelby wound a bit more. She tells Shelby she wants her to be co-director of the glee club with Will. I thought this was out of nowhere and extremely inappropriate. Even so, I thought Shelby’s reaction was even worse. She says she “missed out” with Rachel. Basically, she wants a shiny new toy. I could go on a blog-post-long rant about Shelby, so I’ll quit while I’m ahead. Rachel mentions Quinn is having her baby, which, by the end of the episode, means Shelby has adopted the baby. She names her Beth like Puck wanted, at least. That was kind of cute.

Elsewhere at Regionals, the judging has begun. Popular opinion is not overwhelmingly in favor of New Directions. Olivia Newton-John, for instance, is offended that they didn’t honor her by singing one of her songs. As the other judges make fun of New Directions, Sue starts to see a bit of herself in the glee kids. Especially when the other judges start picking on her for only being a local celebrity. They call her an underachiever, and it stings. Not surprisingly, when it’s time to give out the awards, New Directions takes home third. Apparently that wasn’t good enough. They had to get first or second. It appears that glee club is over. But this is television, so obviously that can’t stick.

The next day, Emma is yelling at Principal Figgins so furiously that she can barely catch her breath. Will is impressed with her newfound assertiveness (and so am I), especially since it’s directed at helping Glee. He interprets Emma being upset that glee club is over as Emma being upset that their relationship is over, and he kisses her. Emma doesn’t really protest the kiss, although I don’t think the dentist is going to be immediately out of the picture. Spoiler alert, the “Glee” producers cast John Stamos for a reason this upcoming season. I’m hoping he’ll be gone sooner rather than later, since I’m a fan of Emma and Will’s odd relationship, but I think he’s sticking around at least for a little while.

The glee club calls Will to the auditorium, where they perform “To Sir, With Love” for him. It’s a rather moving performance. Sue thinks it’s moving too, as she watches from the back of the auditorium. She ends up saving the day. She uses her blackmailing powers one last time to get Figgins to give the glee club one more year to place at Regionals before disbanding them. Sue couches it as being bored with having no nemesis around, but we can see that since the judging fiasco, she’s actually developed a bit of a soft spot for them. She placed them first on her own ballot. Will gives the kids the good news, and to thank them, he performs a rendition of “Over the Rainbow” on ukulele with Puck as backup. It was pretty, although not especially memorable. So now I look forward to what the new season will bring. Personally, I’m hoping for less Autotune.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Summer TV Rewind: Merlin 1.13: "Le Morte d'Arthur"

Sarah is back with us again for the final installment of her Summer TV Rewind of Merlin Series 1. She'll most likely be back again later this fall once ABC ever gets around to setting a premiere date for "Body of Proof."


“To save a life, there must be a death. The balance of the world must be restored.”
- Nimueh

Once again, we find Arthur, Merlin and some knights doing some hunting in the forest. I guess they get bored easily and find hunting to be a good way to pass the time. I’d find it rather boring myself, but then I’m not a man in a fictitious kingdom. Anyway, they’re off hunting, and we hear sounds of some rather big beast. Out of nowhere it appears, and right off the bat you know it’s magical. It’s got the body of a giant leopard and the head of a snake. It makes for an interesting visual. It kind of hisses more than anything, and unfortunately, once Arthur, Merlin and company manage to lose it, they’ve also lost one of their own.

Arthur and company have returned to Camelot, and Gaius explains that the creature they faced was the Questing Beast. It’s mainly believed to be a myth, but Gaius says that if the beast shows up, it’s a very bad omen. Uther dismisses Gaius’s warning (no surprise there) and orders Arthur and his men go out at dawn and kill it. That evening, Gaius urges Merlin to be careful and to learn what he’s up against. The Beast carries in its bite the power of life and death, the principle at the heart of the Old Religion (magic). One bite from the Beast and the bitten will die. There is no cure. That night, Morgana has another dream in which the Beast attacks Arthur. In the morning, she begs him not to go and makes quite the spectacle of herself, but Arthur doesn’t listen. They find the beast soon enough, and Merlin ends up killing it. Not before Arthur is bitten, however. Merlin tries a few spells, but it doesn’t help. Uther arrives and is actually crying and distraught over his son’s fate. It reminded me a little of “Excalibur” in that we finally saw a sensitive side of Uther. We get a very powerful scene with Uther carrying Arthur through the courtyard, and Uther just crumbles to the ground in devastation. The score at this point is beautiful and really enhances the moment. For those of you who have seen “Doctor Who,” it’s kind of like the haunting music during really sad moments, almost like the music during the final bit of the end of Series 2 when the Doctor says goodbye to Rose on the beach in Pete’s World.

Of course, Merlin is spurred to action. He seeks out the Dragon who tells him that Merlin just doesn’t know the right magic to save Arthur. He must go to the Isle of the Blessed and there he will find the answer. Gaius cautions against going because the Old Religion will demand a price, a life in return for Arthur’s. Merlin doesn’t seem fazed by this, as he’s willing to give his own life to safe Arthur. He rides out, leaving Uther, Gaius and Gwen to care for Arthur. While Merlin travels, we see Gwen take over Arthur’s care and it’s a rather touching scene that sets out more of the Arthur/Gwen dynamic which is explored more in series 2. Gwen has a lovely speech about how Arthur will live so he can be the King she sees in him and that Camelot will be a fair place. Outside, the people have begun to hold a candlelight vigil. Uther says they’re saying goodbye. Arthur will need a miracle to survive.

Merlin arrives at the Isle of the Blessed to find none other than Nimueh waiting for him. She tells Merlin that she can’t have power of life without expecting something in return. He assures her he will pay whatever price and that Arthur’s life is worth one hundred of his own. Nimueh makes it rain and explains that if Arthur drinks water from the Cup of Life, he will be healed. As Merlin leaves, Nimueh says she hopes he’ll be happy with their bargain. It was rather creepy, I must admit (and she’s far creepier than her part in “The Planet of the Dead” “Doctor Who” special). Anyway, Merlin returns, and the water revives Arthur. Merlin’s pretty pleased with himself, as is Uther for having his son back. As Merlin and Gaius leave Arthur’s chambers, Morgana grabs him and pulls him partially into an alcove and tells him that this is just the beginning. They’ve really made Morgana kind of crazy in this episode.

Arthur remarks that he remembers Gwen talking to him, but she denies it and leaves the room. That night, Merlin’s waiting to die, since he assumes that he’s the life Nimueh is taking, when a figure begins walking through the courtyard of Camelot. The figure makes their way to Gaius’s chambers and collapses on the floor. It turns out to be Hunith, Merlin’s mother, and she’s gravely ill. Of course, Morgana’s seen it and wakes up screaming. The next morning, Merlin wakes to find Gaius tending to his mother. He freaks out and makes a second trip to see the Dragon. Merlin makes all sorts of accusations that the Dragon knew his mother would be sacrificed and that the Dragon would have Merlin murder her. The Dragon claims they are kin, he and Merlin, but Merlin denies it. He says he’s never going to set the Dragon free and that they’re through. It was kind of like a big break-up in a way. Very emotional. And then, Merlin does his own little walk of memory lane with people, à la Tenth Doctor in “The End of Time Part 2.” He tells Gaius all the things he’s learned and will never forget that Gaius taught him. He visits Arthur and says that Arthur will be a great King one day but that he needs to learn to listen as well as he fights. Gwen’s looking after his mother, and he tells her not to lose her heart. Merlin’s intent on sacrificing his life to save his mother’s when he discovers Gaius has already left to sacrifice his life for Hunith so that Merlin can fulfill his destiny with Arthur.

Gaius bargains with Nimueh to give his life to save Merlin’s mother. She completes the ritual just as Merlin arrives, and we get the big final battle they’ve been building to since her introduction at the beginning of the series. Merlin tries a spell, but Nimueh just stops it. She sends a couple fireballs his way and one hits him. She thinks he’s dead when Merlin stands up and commands lightning to strike her. She ends up exploding (bad guys tend to do that on this show), and Gaius’s life is restored. Gaius remarks that Merlin will be a powerful warlock yet. Back in Camelot, the Dragon is throwing a hissy fit that Merlin killed Nimueh (presumably) and Morgana wakes up as if from one of her visions and we cut to the end credits. Here endeth series 1 of Merlin.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Friday Night Lights 4.05: "The Son"

“I’m not going anywhere.”

To analogize, as we lawyers tend to do, “The Son” was to “Friday Night Lights” as “The Body” was to “Buffy the Vampire Slayer.” The episode deals with the after math of the death of Matt’s father, and it is raw and emotional. While a very high quality episode overall, the one place it falls short of “The Body” is in a slight lack of focus. “The Body” was all about the death of Buffy’s mother and how that affected Buffy and all her friends. “The Son” tries to deal with a few of the season’s other side plots while still trying to spend adequate time exploring Matt’s grief. I wouldn’t say the episode entirely succeeded, because of the aforementioned lack of focus, but it certainly didn’t completely fail either. This was really a wonderful showcase for Zach Gilford, and it’s a shame he chose to submit himself in the guest actor category for the Emmys. That’s a crowded category where it was easier to ignore this performance.

The episode doesn’t begin with Matt, though. We begin with a Lions game. Luke and Vince decide to ignore Coach and call their own play. Their brash move results in a touchdown, but Coach is still just a bit pissed at the insubordination. Coach gets over it pretty quickly, though, and he congratulates the team for losing by a respectable margin and not getting completely creamed. Through the rest of the episode, we see a bit of Vince and Luke dealing with the aftermath of a (relatively) successful game. Vince promises Coach he’ll go to this pancake breakfast for little kids just starting football, and soon after Coach leaves, he finds his mom passed out on a bench. At the actual pancake breakfast, the idea of being a role model has Vince feeling a bit awkward, especially as he watches JD McCoy, the other high school football player invited, work the crowd like a pro. Also the fact that he was learning how to boost cars the day before doesn’t help, either.

Luke is still trying to find the balance between his old life with JD and the Panthers football guys and his new life as a Lion. He’s walking down the road when JD and his cronies drive up in the Jeep. JD claims that he wants to make amends for the incident that resulted in Luke spending a bit of time in jail, and he invites Luke to go paintballing with the group. This turns out, not surprisingly, to be a really bad idea. Luke, JD, and the other Panthers boys all have pretty volatile tempers, and they’re really not all that ready to forgive the incident that put Luke and Vince in jail. The guys (minus Luke) are paintballing random vehicles as they drive to the actual paintball place, and Luke, who is driving, isn’t too thrilled about that. He ends up kicking the guys out of his truck, and of course the truck gets covered in paint as he drives away.

Much of the rest of the episode is devoted to the death of Matt’s father. Julie and Landry show up at the Saracen house to try and cheer Matt up. They have brought all the necessary ingredients for a bad movie night. Matt goes along with it just to make his friends happy, but it’s not helping him at all. Everything really starts to get to him even more at the wake the next afternoon (at which Becky calls Tim because she’s pissed at her mom…seriously…she then goes on to have what will most likely be a fateful encounter with Luke at a liquor store…oh Becky…you are so naive). Anyway, Matt’s pretty overwhelmed at the wake. He snaps at the soldier whose job it was to deliver the body. The soldier says that he tries to learn about all the fallen soldiers he accompanies, and he hears Matt’s dad was a really funny guy. Matt screams that there’s no way he really could have tried to learn about his dad, because he was most definitely never funny. To make matters worse, JD and his dad then show up at the door offering condolences from the Panther Boosters. Matt slams the door in their faces, which made me quite happy.

Later on, there are arrangements to make for the actual funeral. Luckily for Matt, Tami’s got his back. The sleazy funeral home director tries to sell Matt on a lot more bells and whistles than are really necessary, claiming that the VA will foot a large enough portion of the bill that Matt won’t have to worry about it. He frames it as Matt’s father being honored in the way he deserves. Tami sees right through it and knows that even with the VA subsidy, Matt would never be able to afford the bill. She handles the situation like a pro, suggesting Matt go outside and hang with Julie a bit while she finalizes the deal. Once Matt’s gone, she lets the funeral home director know that she saw right through his game, and they get down to real business. Outside, there’s some awkwardness between Julie and Matt when Julie invites Matt over to dinner as an opportunity to get away from all the funeral craziness for a while. Matt says he’ll try to make it.

At the Taylor house, Coach is watching the news, and there’s a brief story about Smash being a standout player on his college team. I liked that little shoutout. It’s good to know that some departed old favorite characters aren’t forgotten in the universe of the show. When he looks up from the television, Coach can see that Julie is really upset. During the earlier awkwardness with Matt outside the funeral home, Matt inadvertently said that the death of a parent is a normal thing. It happened to him, and it will happen to Julie. Julie breaks down in tears in her dad’s arms, and Coach assures her that he’s not going anywhere.

Matt, Landry, and the Riggins boys are out on the football field, drunkenly trying to forget their troubles with a little football reminiscing. Matt goes on a tirade about how since the soldier that delivered the body didn’t really know his dad, there’s no way he can know that it’s really his dad who is dead. Tim has a really, really bad idea. It comes from a good place, but it’s still a bad idea. The guys take a trip to the funeral home and demand to see the body. The funeral director reluctantly opens the casket, and the guys are horrified. We can’t see what Matt sees, but given that Matt’s father was killed by an IED, it doesn’t take much work to imagine what they probably saw, and it isn’t pretty.

Anyway, Matt shows up for dinner extremely late, and the Taylors are nice about it, giving him a plate of food that they saved. Matt has yet another meltdown at dinner, yelling about how he can’t say what he really wants to say at the eulogy. He wants to say that he hated his father- that he made his life and his family’s life miserable. He can’t say that, and he can’t even say it to his father, because his father doesn’t have a face anymore. Matt rushes out of the Taylor house, leaving Julie in tears. Coach follows Matt out and offers to walk him home. This was a really heartwrenching moment, even though it was comforting that Coach was there for Matt. It reminded me of that iconic night time one-on-one practice session between Coach and Matt back in the Season 1 episode “Eyes Wide Open.”

The episode ends with the actual funeral. It feels like the whole town of Dillon has assembled. Even Lyla Garrity is there, which I find kind of bizarre. Sure it resulted in some hot looks between her and Tim (yeah, I’m a Tim/Lyla shipper…sue me), but it didn’t make a whole lot of sense. Lyla is in college out of state, and I can’t really remember her and Matt ever interacting at any point in the series. Why would she travel all the way back to Dillon for his father’s funeral? We hear the minister say the Lord’s Prayer over the grave, and instead of having the emotional reaction I should be, I’m wondering if anyone in this town is capable of any other prayer. When Coach asked Landry to say a prayer for the Saracens after the Lions game at the beginning of the episode, he broke out the Lord’s Prayer, too. And if I know anything about Bible belt style Christians, they can bust out with freestyle prayer like nobody’s business. Heck, I’m a pretty lazy, most definitely not evangelical Christian, and I probably could have come up with an original prayer for the occasion. I guess it just stood out as a brief moment of inauthenticity in a show that’s usually painstakingly authentic. To end on a positive note, the final image was brutally authentic. Matt starts helping to shovel the soil on top of his father’s grave.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

"Lost" Fifteen Favorites: "Greatest Hits"

“I’m alive!”

As promised, I’m actually using these final weeks before the fall season starts up for the long-awaited finish to my “Lost” Fifteen Favorites series.  And silly me didn't bring my list of fifteen episodes home with me when I went up to PA to visit the family this weekend.  And I totally couldn't remember the order of the final few episodes.  So here's a bonus. “Greatest Hits” is a bonus choice on my list for two main reasons. The first is that it is very emotional, and it has a lot of heart. The second is that it made Charlie, a character many people had come to despise after ill-advised episodes like “Fire + Water,” likeable again. Likeable just in time for his death, but that’s another story. “Greatest Hits” is right in the middle of the final arc of Season 3. It kicks us right into the finale, “Through the Looking Glass.” This episode took place back in a simpler time, when the Others were still the main threat. And boy were they ever a scary threat, particularly at this point in the series, because Ben was clearly going a bit crazy from seeing the prospect of his power dwindling.

We open with very, very brief in media res of Karl running down the beach, hopping in the outrigger, and paddling like his life depends on it. We then shift perspective to the Losties, who are all marching towards an open field, anticipating a big speech of some sort by Jack. During the walk, Desmond suddenly has a distant look that Charlie immediately interprets as Des having another flash about Charlie’s death. Desmond denies this at first, but later he confirms that Charlie was actually correct. This time, he sees Charlie in a hatch. There’s a yellow light blinking, Charlie flips a switch, and then he drowns. There’s a catch this time, though. Desmond has also seen a flash of Claire and Aaron leaving the island safely. Somehow, Charlie’s death is to be directly related to the rescue of his loved ones. Quite the dilemma the writers have set up for us.

Their hike through the jungle finally completed, Jack does indeed have a big speech prepared for the Losties. That speech comes in conjunction with a big confession from Juliet. Juliet admits to the Losties that Ben did give her instructions to identify all the pregnant women so the Others could take them. It seems clear that she’s now on Team Lostie, though, because she’s telling them all about Ben’s nefarious plans. Jack tells the group that this time, they aren’t going to hide from the Others. Not that they really had many hiding places left, anyway. They’re going to be ready, and they’re going to fight back. Jack brings out Rousseau for a little demonstration of just how they’re going to fight back. Rousseau blows up a couple of trees (so that’s what the crazy French chick wanted with the dynamite!), and Jack announces that they are going to rig the tents Juliet marks with dynamite, so when the Others enter the tents to take the pregnant women, they’ll get quite a nasty surprise.

Sayid wants to use Naomi’s satellite phone to call Naomi’s freighter and hopefully organize a rescue. After minimal hesitancy (mostly because he was distracted by implementing the blow-up-the-Others plan), Jack agrees that this is most definitely a good idea. Sayid thinks that if Rousseau’s sixteen-year-old distress signal can be shut off, they should be able to make the call. Juliet informs the group that there is one slight problem with their plan. Ben has been jamming all outgoing communications signals using an underwater hatch called The Looking Glass. In addition to the radio tower signal being turned off, this new hatch is going to have to be disabled, too. At least Sayid thinks he knows where it is. It is what must be connected to the cable he found on the beach in the Season 1 episode “Solitary.”

There’s a sweet scene where Charlie bonds with fellow Mancunian Naomi. Naomi informs Charlie that Driveshaft has become a huge success since Charlie’s purported “death” in the Oceanic 815 crash. She tells him that a “Greatest Hits” record is out, and it’s been selling like crazy. I’m not sure how a one-hit-wonder can produce a greatest hits album, but I’ll go with it because it provided a nice framing device for a very beautiful episode. Soon after his conversation with Naomi, Charlie hears Jack and Sayid talking about the upcoming mission to the Looking Glass. Remembering Desmond’s latest death premonition and the prospect of rescue for Claire and Aaron that came with it, Charlie volunteers to swim down to the hatch and turn of the jammer.

Realizing that he’s not long for this world, Charlie starts writing something for Claire. It’s a list of his five favorite memories- his own, personal “greatest hits.” There’s the first time he heard Driveshaft on the radio. He had been just about to give up on the band at that point, and actually hearing his song on the radio changed his mind. There’s a time when he went swimming with his dad and Liam at a public pool and his dad caught him when he jumped in the water. We also saw the infamous “second tour of Finland” when Liam gave him the “DS” ring. It turns out that DS didn’t originally stand for “Driveshaft.” It was the initials of one of Charlie and Liam’s ancestors, and the ring was not actually created for that particular tour like Charlie led us to believe early in Season 1. We also see Charlie busking in London again, and this time after rain cuts his performance short, he saves none other than Nadia from a mugger. She calls him a hero, which was sweet, considering Charlie’s never been much in the self esteem department. The final memory is when Charlie first met Claire, of course.

The timetable for everything gets bumped up when Karl arrives with bad news. Right after Karl bursts on the scene, we flash back 6 hours. Ben has just returned to the Others’ camp from trying to murder Locke, and he’s clearly gone off the deep end. He wants a team to infiltrate the Lostie camp that night, and since Juliet won’t have had warning to mark the tents, he wants the team to take all the women. Alex hears this, and she’s horrified. She takes off into the jungle and finds Karl. Karl’s mission is to take the outrigger and warn the Losties. He’s kind of reluctant to do the job until Alex reminds him that Saywer and Kate saved his life.

Anyway, the revised plan calls for a lot of things to happen at once. Which, of course, makes for good, dramatic television. Most of the Losties are going to head for the radio tower. There isn’t enough time to create fuses to light all the dynamite, so a small team is going to stay behind and shoot the piles of dynamite when the Others get close. Finally, Charlie and Desmond are going to head out to the Looking Glass. Sayid, Jin, and Bernard are going to be the shooters, which is an interesting combination. There’s an especially endearing Bernard and Rose scene. At first, Rose tries to convince Bernard not to stay behind, but when she realizes that his shooting skills could actually do some good, she hustles him off to find him some more camouflaging clothes.

Knowing that he’s most likely not coming back from this particular mission, Charlie tries to say his goodbyes without upsetting anyone too much. First he tells Claire not to worry about him when he’s gone. They share a goodbye kiss, which was really very sweet. We never got to see much domestic happiness between Charlie and Claire, which is kind of a shame. They were pretty adorable once Charlie was able to get past some of his baggage. There’s also an adorable moment of Charlie playing with Aaron. Unbeknownst to Claire, Charlie leaves the DS ring with the baby. When the group leaves for the radio tower, the ring is accidentally left in Aaron’s cradle, and we never see it again for the rest of the series. I find that kind of sad, especially after how we saw in a flashback in this episode that the ring was very important to Charlie’s family.

Charlie and Des find the cable, and then the follow it in the outrigger out into the ocean. Eventually, they find the place where the cable drops down to The Looking Glass. Charlie gives Des the paper on which he wrote his “Greatest Hits,” and Des is really moved by the gesture. He offers to take Charlie’s place and swim down to The Looking Glass. Just as Des is about to dive in, Charlie whacks him upside the head with a paddle and dives in himself. Charlie manages to make the difficult swim into The Looking Glass’ moon pool. As he surfaces and takes his first breaths, he jubilantly shouts “I’m alive!” over and over. His celebration doesn’t last long, though. He’s soon greeted by two very surly looking Other women.