Friday, February 28, 2014

MTVP Sochi 2014 Olympics Coverage: Closing Ceremony

The Sochi closing ceremony didn’t really stick with me the way some other closing ceremonies have. I didn’t have a feeling of sadness that the two week adventure was over. Part of that might be because I was out of town for much of the last few days of the Olympics, so I kind of pulled myself out of that world early. It also didn’t help that USA men’s hockey kind of imploded. The US/Russia game had the feeling of one of those games where it took everything out of Team USA to pull out the win, and that was going to be the pinnacle of their Games. And it turned out to be the case. Anyway, enough of my rambling about hockey. Let’s talk about the show.

On Sunday night, we returned to Fisht Stadium for a display of Russian culture. The Opening Ceremony focused more on Russian history, and the Closing Ceremony focused more on Russia’s impressive cultural output. There was a segment where performers tried to recreate a painting, and there was also a lot of ballet. Everything was set to a score of classical music by Russian composers, which again made my Facebook feed blow up with glee from my musician friends. I liked the ballet segment the most, personally. There was a cool faux chandelier that was supposed to be reminiscent of the chandeliers at the Bolshoi and Mariinsky. Watching that segment made me really want to see Russia someday. Not in winter, but in decent weather. It looks beautiful.

There is a lot of official pageantry that needs to happen with the Closing Ceremony. The IOC president has to give a speech, and the president of the local organizing committee has to declare the Games closed. This was the first Games for new IOC president Thomas Bach, and his speech was pretty generic. I could excuse that since it was his first outing. There was also a performance of the Russian national anthem by a combination of several children’s choirs. There was also the transfer of the Olympic flag from Sochi to Pyeongchang, South Korea, the site of the 2018 Winter Games (all handled by children, interestingly enough). Following the flag transfer was the obligatory cultural presentation from the next host. The Korean performance was lively, although not quite as high energy as I expected from the country that has given the world K Pop and K Drama. There was a bit of that K Pop energy at the end, though.

One of the elements of Olympic tradition and pageantry that I think is especially cool is that while we have the Parade of Nations in the Opening Ceremony, for the Closing Ceremony, all the athletes enter the field at once. I think it’s supposed to symbolize how the two weeks of athletic competition have brought everyone together. They enter the competition as representatives of their separate nations, and they leave as one unit. I’m happy to report that while Team U.S.A. again wore Ralph Lauren sweaters, the sweaters weren’t quite as garish as the Opening Ceremony sweaters. I didn’t immediately think that the athletes should throw an ugly sweater party. It was fun seeing all the medalists enjoying showing off their new hardware for the cameras. Also interesting was that the Russian flag was carried by the gold medal winning figure skating team, including the now-retired (in between the team and his individual competition) Victor Plushenko. Actually, I can’t rag on Plushenko too much. He may be incredibly narcissistic (he’s got a “Best of Plushenko” skating program, people), but he also has serious back problems, and as someone who also has serious back problems, I have mad respect for what he accomplishes through the pain.

My personal favorite moment of the ceremony happened near the beginning, during one of the many big dancing spectacles. The dancers went to form the Olympic rings, and as a nod to the malfunction in the Opening Cermony, the top right ring didn’t open right away. It stayed small like the malfunctioning ring for several seconds. Then, with great triumph, the dancers formed into an actual ring, and the full set of Olympic rings could be seen. This was accompanied by fireworks, almost as if the Russians were applauding themselves for getting it right this time. I liked this bit because I think it showed that the Olympic organizers (and the Russian people) could take a joke and laugh at themselves. Or maybe it means Putin and Company wanted us to think they can laugh at themselves? The world may never know! Seriously, though, by all indications, the Russian people are pretty chill folks.

One thing that disappointed me a little was that we didn’t really get to see the post-Ceremony concert. I remember in Vancouver, that was the best part of the whole thing. It went full on kitchy Canadiana, with Michael Bublé singing “The Maple Leaf Forever” while big maple leaves and other Canadian emblems danced around him. It was hilarious and showcased the side of Canadian culture that I love the most. There was nothing like that in Sochi, at least that I saw. It’s possible that Late Night covered some of the concert, but I’m an old lady at 30 years old – I don’t stay up that late! There was clearly a concert that happened after the ceremony, but I have no idea who participated.

So, to wrap things up from Sochi. It’s been a fun two weeks overall, with many great performances from the world’s top athletes. There was American dominance in snowboarding and freestyle skiing, Russian dominance in figure skating, and Dutch dominance in speed skating. The Dutch are crazy speed skaters, by the way. Last I checked, the Netherlands won 22 medals, 21 of which were speed skating. It made me a little sad that our own USA speed skating team was so ineffectual, but it was also amusing to see the Dutch be so dominant. And so we say goodbye for a couple years until we head to Rio for the Summer Olympiad. I hear the Brazilians throw a mean party.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Person of Interest 3.15: "Last Call"

“I understand you won’t give up on Aaron. I won’t give up on you.”
- Finch

This week begins right in the thick of things. Our number belongs to a Sandra Nicholson, 911 operator. Finch has gone undercover to keep an eye on her up close while Reese and Shaw keep eyes on them from afar. Finch does quite well handling a call, until he realizes it has to do with squirrels eating a guy’s car interior and transfers it away. We also get to see Sandra in action when she helps a co-worker keep a woman in a sinking car calm and gets her out alive. She’s rather impressive, I must admit. It makes me wonder what is going to happen to her. Across town at the precinct, Lionel is getting asked for all kinds of advice from how to get DNA to identifying a murder weapon. It seems with the takedown of HR, he’s shed his dirty cop persona is now a venerated detective. Finch reminds him of this and he goes to help a new transfer with a case. We do learn that Sandra has a sealed juvenile record but since the department has cracked down since the whole HR mess, Lionel can’t do anything without a court order. Back at the call center, Sandra gets a call from a little boy whose apartment is being broken into. Reese and Shaw head off in case the cops don’t’ arrive in time and things go south quickly. The little boy is discovered and the guys who broke in are now holding him hostage. If Sandra doesn’t do what they say exactly, he dies.

It seems like Lionel is going to be stepping into a mentor position with this rookie. They head to the victim’s workplace after Lionel points out details on the body that lead them to believe it was murder. The dead woman’s coworkers are kind of creepy in that “we’re so perfect” kind of way. Reese and Shaw make it to the apartment but no one is there. Thanks to Finch setting up a feed on the boy’s laptop, they see that he was kidnapped by a Mexican cartel band of kidnappers. With an assist from Lionel, Reese is on the way to talk to (which probably means beat up) some cartel guys while Shaw is off tracking the GPS of the caller. The mystery caller has some ground rules for Sandra once he establishes he’s not messing around and that the kid is really in danger. First, she calls off the police and marks the boy’s call as a prank in the system. Next he has her disable the backup generator. She starts to draw the line when he orders her to delete thirty thousand calls from two days earlier. My guess is this guy knows a call went to 911 that could hurt him and wants the evidence gone. We’ll see if I’m right. I have to say I’m very impressed with how calm Sandra is in this situation. I suppose you’d have to be in her job. We also get a little nugget of information about that sealed juvenile record. Something happened with a little boy name Joey. And things get more complicated when Shaw stops the car with the GPS and doesn’t find anyone in it.

In typical Shaw fashion, she’s already got the driver tied up in the trunk when Finch explains that the device she found in the back seat is a phone relay. It’s how the caller is getting through to Sandra. And it seems I was right that there is a call amongst the 30,000 that the caller is trying to get rid of. Finch realizes that the caller has placed a webcam on Sandra’s headset and that’s how he knows everything that’s going on. Creepy! Finch manages to mute the call and offers to help Sandra by looking through the calls to find the one they need. While she’s off getting a fob from the IT guy to delete the calls, Finch narrows down the potential calls to 312. Just as time is running out for Sandra to get back to the server room, Lionel realizes that his homicide victim is probably the 911 call the guy is trying to delete. It would appear that our two cases are dovetailing nicely. I have to say, I always like when that happens. Unfortunately, Sandra looks at Finch when she walks back into the server room. Big mistake.

The caller sets off a bomb in a parking garage and promises that the next one will blow up Aaron. Sandra now has fifteen minutes to delete the files. Meanwhile, Finch gets the backstory on the sealed juvenile record. Sandra was babysitting a young boy who drowned in the bath. Even though she was acquitted, she still felt guilty and she’s going to do what is asked to save Aaron. Reese and Shaw get a description of the kidnappers and of course Reese does get to go beat the crap out of some Mexican thugs. Oh, and Lionel and his newbie partner make some connections of their own. Their murder victim was sleeping with the boss and the boss and his wife hired someone to get the 911 call deleted. They didn’t know that he was going to kidnap or harm a child. They manage to call off the operation just as Sandra is about to delete all the files. Her services are no longer needed but the caller can’t risk any details getting out. So he’s going to kill Aaron (the bomb countdown has less than three minutes left) and the power goes out at the call center. At least Shaw and Reese are in the building where Aaron is being held so he’s got a shot at being rescued. And Finch convinces Sandra to leave the call center a different way, seeing as it is likely the caller is waiting for her to follow protocol and leave through the front entrance. It turns out that was probably the wrong move as there’s a guy shooting at them. Reese and Shaw manage to take out the kidnappers and defuse the bomb so Aaron doesn’t go boom but they’ve been played again. And the guy chasing Finch and Sandra at the call center is just another errand boy as well. It seems they are setting up another nemesis for our team to face off against. Sandra gets some closure thanks to Finch but the mystery caller warns Finch that he is the next target. Finch doesn’t seem particularly perturbed by this. Which makes me think we really need to be worried about what’s coming.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

MTVP Sochi 2014 Olympics Coverage: Hockey, Skiing, Ice Dance, and Creating the Narrative of Sports

Because of the nature of U.S. network Olympics coverage, how the stories of the Games are covered has become as much fodder for the commentariat as the sporting events themselves. It’s a known fact that when it comes to Olympics coverage, NBC (and its predecessor U.S. broadcasters) favors a heavy mix of human interest and culture stories in addition to covering the sporting events. We learn about a select few athletes (especially if they are American and if they have sob stories that will help us root for them) and we also learn a bit about the host country’s culture. We get the latter mostly thanks to Mary Carillo, whose segment on a remote village where Russian nesting dolls are made was particularly memorable. This results in two sorts of meta-coverage, however. The first is whether the Olympics should have this human interest/sports mix, and the second is whether NBC goes too far in pursuing the human interest angle. The latter was thrown into especially sharp relief late last week as debate raged over whether a reporter went too far in questioning skier Bode Miller about his late brother to the point where Miller doubled over in tears. Let’s look at this phenomenon through the lens of three sports: hockey, alpine skiing and ice dance.

Hockey is one of my favorite sports to watch whether it’s an Olympic year or not. I’m a second generation die hard Philadelphia Flyers fan. So U.S.A. hockey games are a big deal for my mom and I. After saying this, you can bet that the U.S.A./Russia round robin play game last Saturday morning was a big deal in my family. In case you’ve been living under a rock, the game was tied 2-2 at the end of the third period, and it took an overtime and an extended shootout for T.J. Oshie to finally win the game for the United States. It was a wonderful, exciting game, and it will certainly always be something I remember (as being really too stressful to handle on a Saturday morning pre-caffeine!). While it was still early in the tournament, however, the media was already blowing up this game as Miracle on Ice part 2. Now the Miracle on Ice is a big freaking deal. My parents’ first date was watching the game on television (at my mother’s insistence, of course). I literally might not exist if it wasn’t for the Miracle on Ice. This was still round robin play. Miracle on Ice it was not. And (spoiler alert), Russia lost in the quarterfinals, so there won’t be one this year at all.

Alpine Skiing was perhaps the most egregious example of media driving the story at this year’s Olympics. One of the skiers that NBC chose to focus on was Bode Miller. Miller has a reputation as a bit of a wild child, both in his personal and professional lives. Until recently, he was quite a partier and womanizer. He has two kids from two different women, neither of which are his wife, Morgan. On the slopes, he goes fast in places where other skiers might pull back a bit for their own safety. This means that when Miller skis a race, he’s either going to win, or he’s going to crash spectacularly. This year, since Bode is now married, the media tried to soften his image, focusing instead on his courtship with his wife and the death of his younger brother, Chilly. After the race, Miller was interviewed with former skier working as NBC analyst Christin Cooper, and when Miller mentioned his brother, Cooper started pressing about that. Eventually, thinking about his brother made Miller double over in tears, yet Cooper kept pressing. The result was a complete social media meltdown, with many getting up in arms about Cooper pressing Miller too hard. Again, the media coverage had become the story instead of the sporting event itself.

Figure skating is always a centerpiece of any Winter Olympics. The Ladies’ singles event is really the crown jewel, and until recent years, Ice Dancing always seemed like kind of an afterthought. All of that changed in the 2010 Vancouver games, however, when NBC introduced us to Canadians Virtue and Moir and Americans Davis and White. Both couples train under the same Russian coach in Michigan, which of course sets up a great rivalry for the media to grab on to. In 2010, Virtue and Moir took the gold medal in front of their home crowd, and the footage of Scott Moir jubilantly singing “O Canada” during the medal ceremony has become iconic. Since that time, however, things have changed a bit. Virtue and Moir had a reality television show in Canada, where Tessa Virtue’s dislike of Meryl Davis took center stage. In the years between Vancouver and Sochi, Davis and White started winning the gold medals over Virtue and Moir, and that trend continued for sure in Sochi. While it was a huge deal that an American couple finally won the gold medal in ice dancing, much of the media coverage was focused on the rivalry, and of course all four skaters were asked what they thought of the others, repeatedly and often.

I suppose it’s not unusual for the media to shape how we view many important things in life, especially current events. That is examined in depth in “The Newsroom,” for instance. This phenomenon is always thrown into particularly stark relief during the Olympics, however, as these three examples show. In the coverage of hockey, alpine skiing, and ice dancing, we saw the coverage of the events become stories almost to the same extent as the events themselves. People get wrapped up in perceived media insults and discoveries that the truth of a certain situation is different from how NBC spun it. There will always be a dichotomy between people who want straightforward coverage of the sporting events like you’d get for your local professional sports teams and people who like the pageantry, culture, and fabricated human interest stories of the NBC Olympic broadcast. I like both forms of sports reporting, personally, but I feel like the Olympics just wouldn’t be the Olympics without that extra layer of cheese.

Monday, February 17, 2014

New Girl 3.15: "Exes"

“I don’t just leave mail out. This isn’t a small business!”

“Exes” didn’t really have a cohesive theme, but it was funny and made me laugh, even with Jess and Nick’s relationship as the focus. Now don’t get me wrong, I like Jess and Nick together better than I like them apart (mostly because being apart made them both kind of miserable), but their being together has resulted in a mixed bag of stories. This is one of the better ones, because it’s rooted in the characters. The B story is pretty much an afterthought, and thankfully, not much time is devoted to it, because it’s a little more juvenile than I like my comedy. The unfortunate thing about a sub-par B story in this case is that it results in a whole episode that wastes Schmidt, Coach, and Winston. On the positive sign, the fact that an episode can be overall enjoyable with so many characters sidelined speaks to the depth of talent in the cast.

The set up to this episode is that Nick runs into his ex, Caroline, at a farmers’ market. He completely freaks out because he doesn’t know what to say to her, and he knows that she must be hurt over how their relationship ended abruptly. Nick talks it over with Jess later at the loft, and she, being the bright and shiny kind of person that she is, insists that it is possible for exes to be friends. She also thinks that Nick should try to be friends with Caroline (which seems like a bad idea to me, but Jess is the eternal optimist). Jess goes on and on about how she and her ex from ten years ago, Berkley (Adam Brody) have such a good friendship. He’s married with a kid, and apparently they talk and text all the time. Nick stands convinced that exes can’t be friends, and he thinks that Jess has been leading Berkley on. He tells Jess that the only reason Berkley is keeping up with the friends thing is because he wants to sleep with her again at some point.

Meanwhile, across the hall, Schmidt has finally finished decorating his new loft. He desperately wants to show it off to Coach and Winston, and he eventually badgers them into checking it out. The guys are impressed by the modern, European-style décor, but they’re even more impressed by how Schmidt has designed the loft with furniture ideal for many, many sexual positions. He’s got spots chosen for a wide variety of sex acts, and he is extremely proud of this. Later we see Schmidt in the bar, trying to hit on some women (gotta test out that loft, after all). He’s lost his mojo, and he asks Cece for advice. Cece thinks that living alone has gotten to Schmidt, and he needs more social interaction. Schmidt takes the advice to heart, and he gets a woman to agree to meet him at his loft. When he gets home to make preparations, though, Coach and Winston have beaten him to it. Coach has a woman in the master bedroom, and Winston is with his crazy bus driver girlfriend in the guest room. They guys have a whole “no exit” plan to try and deal with this, but Coach’s lady wants a drink of water. By the end of the whole mess, the three guys and Winston’s girlfriend are the only people left in Schmidt’s loft.

At Jess’ insistence, Nick meets Caroline for coffee to try and clear the air, but he really just says a whole lot of nothing. Later, as she’s driving home, Caroline sees Nick and Jess together, and she throws a fit. She assumes Nick cheated on her with Jess, and Nick doesn’t really say anything to dissuade her of that. Caroline starts sending really nasty texts to Nick, and Jess thinks it’s time to get Berkley’s advice. A meetup with Berkley makes it pretty clear that Nick was right and Berkley does, indeed, just want to bone Jess, even though he has a wife and kid. Jess makes some remarks about how great a friend Berkley is and how lucky she is to have him in her life, and he takes that to mean he should start planning how to leave his wife. Jess tries to put a stop to this quickly. She’s mortified that Nick was right, and she certainly doesn’t want any cheating to happen. It takes quite a lot of effort to get this through Berkley’s head, though, and even by the end of the episode, he still wants to hang out and play cards with Jess and Nick. They have to kick him out of the loft. Creeper.

Before things blew up, Berkley had instructed Nick to send a text to Caroline asking her if she wants to be friends. This causes Caroline to go completely off the deep end. She comes over to the loft and completely destroys a car parked in front of the building. Then she comes upstairs to the loft itself and crazy knocks and kicks at the door. Caroline starts demanding some answers, and even when Jess explains that there was about a year between Caroline and Nick’s break-up and Nick and Jess getting together, she’s still pissed. She tells Jess that sooner or later, Nick is going to lose interest, and she’ll be the ex instead of the girlfriend. This makes Jess extremely upset, and she runs of to go cry in the shower.

Nick follows Jess into the bathroom, where he finds her sobbing. She says that this is the worst thing that has ever happened to her (although she also acknowledges she has lived “a very fortunate life”). Nick says it’s time that he finally mans up and tells Caroline why he broke up with her. And he wants Jess to hear it too. Nick says that he didn’t technically cheat on Caroline, but he might as well have, since he fell in love with Jess the moment she walked in the door. With that, Caroline finally leaves. She’s got her closure. Jess is happy to know that Nick loved her from the minute she walked in the door, even though she admits it took her quite a lot longer. I’m hoping that won’t be a source of friction for them down the road, but for now they’re happy, and that’s good enough for me.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

MTVP Sochi 2014 Olympics Coverage: Some Thoughts on Snowboarding

So snowboarding wasn’t really something that I mentioned as a sport I thought I might cover when I wrote about the opening ceremony for these Olympics. It turns out, though, that the sport (in several permutations) has dominated the coverage this week, so I have thoughts! We’ve seen two major snowboarding events this week. First was “slopestyle,” a new event for Sochi, and the other was the more familiar half-pipe. Snowboarding in general has tended to be a fairly American-dominated event, although in the men’s halfpipe this year, no Americans medaled. Not to fear, though, we had plenty of representation among the slopestyle and women’s half-pipe medalists! In fact, commentators are now crediting Team USA’s success in snowboarding and freestlye skiing with preserving the competitiveness of our overall medal count (which is otherwise kind of disappointing…I’m looking at you speed skaters/short trackers!).

Slopestyle, as I mentioned, is a new Olympic sport this year in Sochi, and it dominated the television coverage for the first few days. It combines snowboarding down a slope with doing freestyle tricks. There are a couple rails for the snowboarders to ride and a few huge jumps for the more impressive tricks. It’s quite a visual spectacle, with athletes flipping and spinning high in the air on the biggest jumps. I don’t really bother with watching the X Games, so I had never seen slopestyle before. There are points during which the athletes are riding backwards down the hill, and it’s kind of crazy to watch. Actually, to diverge from snowboarding for a minute, slopestyle is even more impressive looking when performed by the freestyle skiers. It’s even more obvious that they’re skiing backwards half the time (and we did especially well in those events, winning five medals). Team USA took gold in both the men’s and women’s slopestyle events, with Sage Kotsenberg winning for the men and Jamie Anderson winning for the ladies.

I find snowboarder culture (or at least the bit of it I’ve seen through following the Olympics) to be as interesting as the sport itself (which snowboarders would probably find insulting, but hey, part of the Olympics is getting to know the people and cultures in addition to the sports). It’s pretty clear that snowboarder culture has grown out of skateboarding culture, complete with its own vocabulary. I think I heard the word “stoked” more times in one hour of snowboarding coverage than I have since my teenage years in the late 1990’s-early aughts. Several Team USA snowboarding athletes caused a bit of a stir earlier this week when the criticized the condition of the slopestyle course and the halfpipe. There were unquestionably issues with slopestyle that needed to be resolved, as several athletes had been injured in practice runs. The halfpipe was a little more of a gray area. It wasn’t dangerous, but several athletes argued that it was a little slushy, and not of the quality they would expect for the Olympics. This interesting article from Slate provides a little more of the background behind some of the reasons there may have been unhappiness about the facilities.

The only area of snowboarding that was at all a disappointment for Team USA was the men’s halfpipe. The big story from that event was that “flying tomato” Shaun White was going to be riding in his third Olympics. His Olympic debut was was in the 2006 Torino Games, and he won gold in both those Olympics and the 2010 Vancouver Games. White is a fierce competitor (as we would generally expect of elite athletes of his caliber), and if you believe this article, that focus on winning is kind of at odds with snowboarding culture overall. Personally, I respect the focus and time devoted to perfecting his craft, but I’m a pretty type-A, driven person myself. White was originally set to compete in both slopestyle and halfpipe, but after having some issues in slopestyle practice, he withdrew from that event to focus on halfpipe. Unfortunately, the additional focus did not have the desired effect. White finished fourth, just out of medal reach. The gold medal winner was Swiss rider Iouri Podladtchikov.

The women’s halfpipe final was a lot more exciting (in a positive way) for those of us rooting for Team USA. In the mix in the final were three tough American ladies – Kaitlyn Farrington, Kelly Clark, and and Hannah Teter. Two of these ladies had won gold in previous Olympics, Clark in Salt Lake City and Teter in Torino. Also in the mix was Australian Torah Bright, gold medal winner from Vancouver. I was rooting for Clark, mostly because she’s thirty like me, and I thought it was awesome that she’s still competing at such a high level in her fourth Olympics (she didn’t medal in Torino and won bronze in Vancouver). It was twenty-four-year-old Farrington who took home the gold, however. Her enthusiasm was infectious, so I couldn’t begrudge her the win, even though gold medalists with names like Sage and Kaitlyn make me feel old. Bright won silver and Clark won bronze, so I was pleased that Clark was still a medalist. It’s funny how different sports can be from so many other career paths. At thirty, Clark’s (first) career is winding down, while I’m just starting to see some real success in my own.

There’s one more type of snowboarding event that we haven’t gotten to yet in these Olympics, and that’s snowboard cross. Snowboard cross debuted as an Olympic sport in the 2006 Torino Games. This particular permutation of snowboarding competition involves four racers at once going down an inclined course and doing tricks on the features placed throughout the course. The women’s competition takes place tomorrow, and the men ride on Monday. For the women, American Lindsey Jacobellis and Canadian Dominique Maltais will be in the medal hunt. Both have been in the upper echelons of the sport for the past decade, and both won medals in Tornio, but the gold medal has eluded them. Showing some crossover power, Australian Torah Bright will also be competing in the event. I’m looking forward to watching it for sure.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Trophy Wife 1.14: "Foxed Lunch"

“I'm not doing this for the money. I am doing it because I'd rather have one person who really, really loves our product than a thousand totally satisfied customers.”

“Foxed Lunch” was a fairly middle-of-the-road episode of “Trophy Wife.” There were three plots going on, only two of which really had much of a connection, and that was because one plot was the cause of the other. The major focus of the episode was Kate’s struggle with being a homemaker. She has worked all her life, and not working is taking a toll. It’s taking such a toll that Kate wants to start a business with Jackie. Who in their right mind would want to interact with Jackie more than absolutely necessary? Other plots involve Diane coaching Hillary in running (which provides a bit of the motivation for Kate to become an entrepreneur) and Pete trying to teach Warren and Bert lessons through karate. At least the latter plot involved a guest spot by Rob Corrdry. I always like to see Daily Show alums getting work.

Hillary has track try out coming up, and Diane, because she’s great at everything (including running, apparently), is helping her train. Kate, who seems to be in a wanting to parent mood in this episode, offers to help with the training as well, considering she knows how to run. Diane, believing that nobody could possibly train Hillary as well as she could, laughs off Kate’s enthusiasm, reminding Kate to hang dry Hillary’s sports bras. Kate takes this as an insult, and it makes her want to start doing some work of some sort. The answer seems to come when Pete gets a panicked phone call from Jackie. The emergency just turns out to be that Jackie wants Pete and Kate to listen to a pitch for her new fancy school lunch business, “Foxed Lunch.”

Thinking about it later, Kate decides she wants in on Foxed Lunch. She sees it as a way to use her marketing training again. Pete and Diane both think it’s a dubious idea (although Pete is supportive, as he should be), because, you know, it’s Jackie, but Kate is determined. Kate makes her offer to Jackie, and Jackie is kind of hesitant. I guess she doesn’t want her half baked, happy go lucky lunch making party to be turned into actual work. Jackie does a quick little interview of Kate, where we learn that Kate is three credits away from a marketing degree and did the marketing for the bar where Meg still works. Jackie suddenly changes her mind and decides Kate might be a good partner after all. There’s no real explanation for the change of heart, but with Jackie, there rarely is an explanation for any of her particular brand of crazy.

Meanwhile, Pete offers to take Warren and Bert to karate since Kate and Jackie are busy Foxed Lunch-ing it up. The karate instructor, “Sense Rick” is the character played by Rob Corrdry. To say Sense Rick is a little intense would be an understatement. Everything you usually hear in a pitch about martial arts usually emphasizes how it teaches kids self-control and how to handle rough situations in a positive way. Sense Rick is just all about the ass kicking, though, and Pete isn’t thrilled with that. Pete takes the kids to see an action movie at a hoity toity assigned seat movie theater. I’ve been to some cool movie theaters in my life (the Arlington Cinema and Drafthouse is pretty awesome, as is the Charles Theater), but never one with actual assigned seats. Is that a thing? Anyway, somebody’s sitting in the guys’ seats, and Pete solves the problem not by kicking ass, but by calling over an usher. Pete thinks he’s taught a good lesson to his kids. At the next karate class (which Pete sits in on), though, Sense Rick uses their story as an example, and says that if you call an usher, you’ll be laughed at. He then pretends two boards are the people sitting in the seats, and he destroys them. So, lesson averted.

At first, the Foxed Lunch partnership seeps to go okay. Jackie is occupying herself with making a cute animal-shaped, organic lunch, and Kate is coming up with the business strategy. She has a mom picked out for a free sample. Unfortunately, it takes Jackie four hours to make the lunch for that one mom. And the mom immediately tells her PTA “biotches” how great the lunch was, so now they all want them. Jackie isn’t a mass production kind of woman. Only getting eight hours of sleep and limiting herself to a one hour bath has her nerves on edge. Kate offers to pick up “organic cucumbers for the tabouli.” They only have four dollars left, so Kate takes advantage of an ex-boyfriend of Kate’s who seems to work at the produce section of a grocery store. The cucumbers he procures aren’t organic though, so Kate decides to make do with putting organic stickers on regular cucumbers.

Meanwhile, Diane training Hillary leads to predictably competitive silliness. They run at a local track and decide to race each other. It’s close, but Diane seems to win the race. Diane realizes that Hillary may have let her win, though, when she tears off to join up with some friends. Diane also makes this really disgusting scrod smoothie for the two of them to drink. It apparently makes their kidneys “hum.” Maybe Clara should get the recipe to serve to the Twelfth Doctor? Anyway, Diane calls out Hillary for letting her win the race, and Hillary says she was just trying to avoid competitive unpleasantness between them. Their solution to the problem is to just go on a fun run, but that quickly becomes competitive too, with each trying to outrun the other.

Back at the ranch, Jackie figures out Kate’s trick with the organic stickers just as their orders for lunches are about complete. Predictably, Jackie freaks out and throws out all the tabouli. Then she quits Foxed Lunch. The next morning, Pete finds Kate exhausted after trying (and kind of failing) to finish the lunches herself. Pete points out that the reason Kate liked the idea of Foxed Lunch was because she hates making lunch for the kids, and now she’s stuck making even more lunches. This inspires Kate to finally let it go. She wants to work, and Pete supports that, but Foxed Lunch isn’t the right fit. Kate gives the business back to Jackie and manages to avoid Jackie’s hard sell on her next moneymaking scheme. She’s going to try something else now and see what sticks.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Sherlock 3.03: "His Last Vow"

“But she wasn’t supposed to be like that. Why is she like that?”

As is general the case with “Sherlock” season finales, “His Last Vow” certainly packed a punch. Like the other two episodes of this season, “His Last Vow” examined the relationship between Sherlock and Watson. We learned that Watson is Sherlock’s pressure point/weakness (although we already kind of knew that). The episode introduced a new villain, media mogul/ blackmailer Charles Augustus Magnussen. The very end of the episode also marks the return of a previous villain. As I predicted back in my analysis of “The Empty Hearse,” there is definitely more to Mary than meets the eye, and in this episode, we learn some of what that is. I do wish we could learn some of the details of Mary’s past, but the events of this episode make me think that unfortunately, that’s not going to happen.

As I mentioned, the focus of this episode is Charles Agustus Magnussen. He’s a smarmy media mogul with a blackmailing habit. He sort of reminds me of a super exaggerated version of Rupert Murdoch (not saying Murdoch has blackmailed anybody, but there was that whole phone tapping scandal). The actual basis for the character is from an original Conan Doyle story, however. Which makes Conan Doyle remarkably prescient. Or perhaps this sort of media mogul has been present throughout history. Early on in the episode, we see how Magnussen expertly works the information he has on certain high ranking British officials. It appears that information about everyone he encounters flashes up on his glasses, but there is actually more to that visual than meets the eye. For some reason, Sherlock has decided that he needs to take down Magnussen. This is much to the chagrin of Mycroft, who believes that drawing the attention of someone like Magnussen is more trouble than its worth.

As part of his investigation into Magnussen, Sherlock has taken to visiting a crack house. We later learn that Sherlock hoped Magussen would think he had a drug habit and find that to be tempting blackmail bait. Watson hasn’t heard from Sherlock in several months, so he’s understandably shocked to find him at the crack house while on a mission to retrieve a neighbor’s son. Sherlock insists that he was just trying to work on his case and hasn’t actually been using, but nobody quite believes him, even after a clean drug test. He’s clearly hiding something in his flat. Watson soon figures out what that something is. Apparently Sherlock has been dating Janine, a friend of Mary’s he befriended at John and Mary’s wedding. All is not as it seems, though, of course. Janine is Magunssen’s assistant, so dating her is extremely convenient for Sherlock. Janine seems to realize this though, and doesn’t mind.

The centerpiece of the early part of the episode is a sequence where Sherlock and Watson try to break into Magnussen’s office. Their ransacking is interrupted by none other than Mary, though. Sherlock goes up to Magnussen’s inner office when he hears a nose, and he finds Mary, in full assassin garb, with a gun pointed at Magnussen’s head. Clearly there is more to Mary than meets the eye, and Magunssen knows the details. Mary shoots Sherlock and knocks out Magunssen before escaping. There’s an elaborate bit where Sherlock goes into his “mind palace” to figure out how to survive the shooting. He works out the best way to fall and how to keep himself from going into shock. It’s kind of a disturbing sequence, especially if you think about what is going on in Sherlock’s body as he’s doing all this thinking.

Sherlock basically gets to the hospital just in time to be saved. We later pick up the action on Christmas. Sherlock, Mycroft, John, and Mary are all at Sherlock and Mycroft’s parents’ house, and there’s quite a lot of tension. From what I’ve heard, the parents Holmes are played by Benedict Cumberbatch’s actual parents. I must say that Benedict’s father is just plain adorable. There are some great scenes where he talks with Mary and they discuss who is the sane one in their respective relationships. Anyway, through some flashbacks, we learn that Sherlock struggled a bit with how to let Watson know that his wife is a crazy assassin. Things have been understandably tense between John and Mary since John found out that Mary shot Sherlock. Back when he first found out, Mary gave him a thumb drive containing everything about her real identity. She thought that when Watson read it, he wouldn’t love her anymore.

One of the real showpieces of the episode is where Watson finally confronts Mary about her past once and for all. He’s got the thumb drive in his hand, and Mary thinks he’s going to let her have it. Instead, John tells her that he doesn’t need to know about his past. He just cares about their future. He’s still pissed off at her, but he wants to try and make things work. He also burns the thumb drive. Mary is thrilled with this. I, however, was not thrilled. I would like to have learned more about Mary’s past, and I felt like this was kind of a cop out. There isn’t much time to celebrate, though, as Sherlock has drugged everyone but himself and Watson. A helicopter arrives to take them to Magnussen’s super secret blackmail lair. Supposedly he has vaults filled with hard copies of the evidence he has against the rich and powerful.

Sherlock’s got Mycroft’s laptop, and his plan is to catch Magnussen trying to buy the laptop from him. That laptop contains state secrets, of course, which could get Magnussen in a heap of trouble. Sherlock is also hoping that gaining access to the vault of blackmail evidence will ensure that he and Watson don’t get into trouble for taking the laptop from Mycroft in the first place. There’s just one very large problem. There is no physical blackmail evidence. Apparently Magunssen has his own “mind palace,” and all his dirt on everyone is in his head. What we thought was a projection from Magnussen’s glasses is actually just his thought process. Interesting twist, Moffat. Mycroft and his spooks are soon on the scene in force, and Sherlock and Watson are about to be charged with treason. Magnussen wants to control Sherlock, Watson, and Mycroft through his knowledge of Mary’s past, but Sherlock doesn’t want to let that happen. He shoots Magnussen in cold blood, right in the head.

Mycroft has to pull some strings to keep Sherlock out of jail. Sherlock has to agree to go on an undercover mission to Eastern Europe. Mycroft predicts Sherlock will last about six months before being killed, but Sherlock agrees to it anyway. Sherlock has a heart to heart with Watson before leaving, because, of course, he thinks he’s never going to speak to Watson again. Sherlock’s plane has barely taken off, though, when the game changes completely. All television screens in the UK suddenly show the face of one James Morriarty, who just keeps saying “Miss me?” It felt like a very “Doctor Who” season ending, with the villain taking over the airwaves and a teaser for what our heroes will be up against next season. I think that bringing Morriarty back opens up a lot of interesting possibilities for next season. Let’s hope it doesn’t take another two years to get that next season!

Saturday, February 8, 2014

MTVP Sochi 2014 Olympics Coverage: Opening Ceremony

It’s Olympics time again, this time coming to you from the resort town of Sochi, Russia. I’m just going to admit this right here and now. I am a complete Olympics junkie. I love the cheesy pageantry of the opening and closing ceremonies and the treacly culture and athlete stories that are a staple of NBC’s coverage. The Olympics combine two things I love: learning about other cultures and watching sports. I’m not as obsessive about Russian culture as I am about British culture, and I’m not as amused by Russian culture as I am by Canadian culture, so the Sochi opening ceremony was a different experience for me compared to London or Vancouver. I don’t dislike Russian culture by any means (I’ve wanted to learn to speak Russian for a long time), it’s just not as much part of my life. What I found most amusing was how my Facebook feed blew up last night as all my musician friends started commenting on the music choices. Yes, Russia has human rights issues, but you can’t deny that Russians have supplied us with some gorgeous music. They played Firebird as the torch was lit, y'all!

My favorite moment from last night happened even before the opening ceremony itself. The choir from Russia’s Ministry of Interior Affairs (or closest analogue is Homeland Security) performed Daftpunk’s “Get Lucky.” What I find so hilarious about this is how the younger guys, especially the two soloists, were so into it, and most of the rest of the officers were barely tolerating the silliness. And it’s not some “oh look at the silly foreigners” amusement to me, either. I’d find it just as hilarious if some Maryland State Troopers (and I know several of them from my day job) did the same thing. Check out a clip below, or go here for the full performance.

For this Olympics in particular, it feels like you can’t have an honest discussion about what the event means without talking politics and human rights a bit. Most prominent at the moment are the recent steps the Russian Federation has taken to be more unaccepting of the LGBT community. My Facebook news feed captures friends with a spectrum of sexual orientations and almost as diverse a spectrum of opinion on whether it’s okay to support these Olympics in Sochi. Some of my friends are refusing to support the Olympics in any way, and some were upset at how the NBC coverage was condescending towards Russia. I will admit that there were aspects of the NBC coverage that did feel like some of the commentators wanted to re-fight the Cold War, and we’ll get to that in a bit. Overall, I feel like it’s okay to enjoy the Olympics as a celebration of sport and appreciate a display of the best of Russian culture, while being mindful that there really are atrocities happening there as well.

As for the show itself, there were ups and downs. The two main performance pieces were a bit early on with the show featuring a little girl named Love dreaming of Russia, and a segment which showed Russia’s history. There was a scene of Russia in the Middle Ages, then Imperial Russia, then the Revolution. I especially liked a reenactment of a scene from “War and Peace” that involved some impressive ballet. I’ve never read “War and Peace” myself, although I have two coworkers currently reading it. I think they’re nuts, personally! That being said, I really appreciated the quality of the ballet in that particular segment. When we got to the Revolution segment, that’s when the NBC commentary got a little awkward. They started talking about how the symbolism had to be vague because the USSR was so horrible, and it had to be abridged so that Russia could have a “usable past.” Yes, horrible atrocities happened (and there still continue to be human rights violations), but people are still people, and the tone of the conversation was disrespectful. We Americans aren’t exactly completely innocent, either.

Let’s take a moment to talk about one aspect of the Opening Ceremony that is always going to cause laughs, and not always directed at people from other countries. I’m talking about the Parade of Nations. Team U.S.A.’s uniforms were especially unfortunate this year. In fact, I don’t think I’ve really liked our Opening Ceremony uniforms since the 2002 Salt Lake City games. Those uniforms were made by Canadian outfitter Roots, and while I’ll admit the hats were kind of strange, they seemed younger than the uniforms Ralph Lauren has made ever since. Yeah, it’s cool that Ralph Lauren went out of their way to make sure every component of the uniforms this time around was sourced and created in the United States, but that doesn’t mean the uniforms look good. It looks like I could buy one of the sweaters for the Ugly Sweater Contest at my office holiday party next year. Seriously. The sweaters are hideous. There weren’t any uniforms that stood out as being especially stylish this year. Even Team Canada, styled by the Hudson’s Bay Company, looked a little ridiculous this year with Mountie-ish pea coats and maple leaf mittens.

While Sochi hasn’t really inspired me yet, I’m still looking forward to these Olympics. I’ll probably be sleep deprived for the next two weeks thanks to staying up late to watch the prime time coverage every night. I’m especially looking forward to figure skating and cheering on USA Hockey. Team USA seriously needs to avenge that gold medal loss to Team Canada in 2010! I’m especially excited that James van Riemsdyk, formerly of my beloved Philadelphia Flyers, now of the Toronto Maple Leafs, will be playing for Team USA. What I like about the Winter Olympics is that I can just turn on the television, and I’ll be entertained by just about any sport that is on. Except maybe curling. I still find curling kind of suspicious. It’s too quiet!

Thursday, February 6, 2014

New Girl 3.14: "Prince"

“Besides, anything beautiful is worth getting hurt for.”

“Prince” was an episode of “New Girl” that was light on plot and heavy on stunt casting, but it served its purpose, I think. This episode followed the “big game” this past Sunday, which is quite an honor in television land. The last time a favorite show of mine got the nod was back in 2006 with the infamous “Grey’s Anatomy” bomb in the body two-parter. Post big game episodes have to be a bit broader than the typical episode of the show. There are going to be millions of people who are seeing the episode just because it’s on after the game and they don’t feel like getting up from the television, and the episode ideally will grab them and keep them in their seats. So when I say that “Prince” served its purpose, I mean that I think people unfamiliar with the particular crazy of “New Girl” would find it a fun half hour. I don’t expect more than that from an episode under these circumstances.

The episode opens with a bit that plays to the lowest common denominator, the type of people the creative team probably thought would be the most likely to have been watching the big game. A pair of Jess’ panties gets mixed in with Winston’s laundry, and the guys really don’t know what to do about it. They say it’s different now that Jess is dating Nick. Winston, Schmidt, and Coach are wary of touching the panties of their buddy’s girlfriend, you see, even if it’s for a perfectly innocent reason. Nick doesn’t seem to want to deal with the situation himself, either, so all four of the guys transport the panties together, draped over a stick. That’s the scene Jess and Cece walk into when they arrive at the loft. It doesn’t even really phase them, though, because they have huge news. Prince’s assistant almost ran over them, and she felt bad, so she offered to get them into a huge party Prince was throwing that night.

Schmidt is all excited and wears his best suit, because he thinks the invite to the party is for the whole gang. The other guys set him straight, though. The invitation was just for Jess and Cece. Schmidt is disappointed, understandably. Prince sends a limo to pick up Jess and Cece, and Nick decides that when the limo is pulling away, it’s the right time to tell Jess he loves her. Jess isn’t exactly upset by the declaration, but she doesn’t know what to do with it, either. Her only response is to do “finger guns” at Nick, and she quickly regrets it. Nick doesn’t quite know what to make of what happened, either. He’s not ready to break up with Jess over something like not saying “I love you” back, so he comes up with a solution that only makes sense in his special, Nick Miller brain. He wants to take the “I love you” back, and he wants to crash Prince’s party to do it.

So the guys do indeed try to crash the party, and they’re mostly successful. Winston and Coach do some stupid bit where they distract the bouncer by staging this big, showy reunion. They pretended they were old friends who hadn’t seen each other in a while. Schmidt and Nick try to imitate this play, but they don’t fare nearly as well. They pretend to get into a fight as their distraction, but the bouncer sees right through it. Nick manages to get into the party by hiding in the middle of a pack of women, but Schmidt isn’t so lucky. He gets into the party later, when he climbs a tree and basically launches himself into Prince’s back yard. Cece speculates that Jess might be so averse to telling Nick she loves him just because she’s scared, but Jess is having none of that. It becomes pretty apparent that Cece is right, though. Nick finds Jess, and Jess is happy that he made it to the party, but the passes out from a panic attack before she can tell him she loves him. That doesn’t exactly leave Nick feeling very good.

Later, Jess and Nick find themselves sitting next to Prince, and he hears all about their recent drama. Prince thinks he can help Jess, so he takes her away from Nick for a little while. Nick should be worried about this, but he’s not especially. Prince is on a mission to get Jess to the point where she can tell Nick she loves him. His impromptu therapy includes dressing Jess in fancy outfits, pancakes, ping pong, and butterflies. It’s all rather silly, and it speaks to what I said earlier about post-big game episodes being kind of shallow versions of the show in question. Watching Zooey Deschannel and Prince riff off each other comedically was pleasant and fun, but there wasn’t a ton of depth to it. The one aspect of this bit that really stuck with me was the Quote of the Episode. Anything beautiful is worth getting hurt for indeed. I think that’s a lesson I need a refresher on every once in a while, and I have to believe I’m not alone in that.

Somehow Prince’s magic works. Jess rushes back into the party and tells Nick that she loves him, and Nick most definitely still loves Jess (even though he was threatening to take it back for a little while just to stop the awkward). To celebrate, Prince gets up on stage and starts performing, and he invites Jess to join him. Zooey being Zooey, the musical result was pretty great. The rest of the gang is all out in the audience, dancing their asses off. It’s a typical almost-too-sweet “New Girl” episode ending, just turned up to eleven. Everybody happy and dancing to Prince music is just engineered to bring the warm fuzzies. I don’t usually like my television to be that blatantly manipulative, but for an episode like this, it works.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Person of Interest 3.14: "Provenance"

“I think we only have one option here, Ms. Shaw. We need to get the Bible ourselves.”
- Finch

Mr. Reese is back in New York and on Team Machine just in time to get a new number. Kelly Lin is an event planner who grew up all over the world and she hosting an event at a swanky museum. Shaw’s been put on the platinum list and since Finch is a donor (no surprise there) he’s taking Reese as his plus one. Awkward. There’s an amusing scene where Reese is trying to tie a bowtie and Shaw comes in with a hot little dress on and the guys just stare at her before they head out. In addition to any potential harm to Kelly, the gang has to contend with a group of protestors who think the items on display for the gala should be housed with the cultures they came from. They split up and Shaw approaches Kelly (after Shaw saves some rich guy from choking on a shrimp puff. Before Finch can do more than ogle a one thousand year old codex, the lights go out and someone sets off dry ice bombs and makes off with a priceless painting. Shaw runs after the thief and it turns out to be Kelly but she gets away. Interesting.

Shaw worms her way back into the venue and snags Kelly’s purse and computer and overhears an Interpol agent warning the cops about Kelly (though he doesn’t know her name). The gang heads out to follow Kelly once they figure out where she’s been. They overhear her conversation with a man named Cyril. He calls her by a different name and we learn that she was actually an Olympic medal gymnast for China as a young girl and then mysteriously cut from the roster. Cyril tells her she’s got one last big job and then heads home. Reese swings by with Bear in toe and suggests that they get a look inside the place. Shaw runs into her after sneaking into her apartment and discovering the job is stealing the Gutenberg Bible. And it seems our team’s perception of Kelly is all wrong. The people she’s working for are using her daughter as leverage to get her to steal stuff. Bastards.

Finch and Shaw spend a little time with Kelly, trying to get her to open up about why she’s doing what she’s doing. They also tell Kelly that whoever she’s working with sends in people to pay off the decoys and vagrants and kill them after Kelly leaves. As Finch notes, she doesn’t seem to commit crime of her own volition but she’s not uncomfortable with it either. She apparently escaped to Europe to have her baby and stole from a pawn shop run by a Czech crime syndicate who is making her work off her debt and keeping her daughter hostage. The Bible is the last job and now she’s screwed because it is housed in the world’s most secure place. The security firm is like ten kinds of intense crazy. So our team is going to have to get creative if they’re going to pull off a heist and get Kelly’s daughter back safely. Lionel comes in with some security plans and then calls the Interpol agent (or at least we assume he’s Interpol) to give him a heads up on where Kelly is. While she feigns surprise and denies that he can prove anything leads back to her, Lionel also pulls over the head of security for the firm where the Bible is being kept. And Finch gets to play with a 3-D printer, creating a model of the guard’s hand. This part of the episode really reminded me of Ocean’s Eleven. I suppose this is more Finch’s Five, though. During her encounter with the Interpol agent he nabs a flash drive that shows she is going after the Bible so he calls the officer Lionel pulled over and the security team is going to move it to a central location within the facility. So at least our team now knows exactly where it is going to be.

And so let the heist begin. Reese schmoozes with a top level guy at the security company that gets him into the facility after hours. He knocks out the guy in the elevator and then allows himself to get caught by the security guards after setting off the alarms. They escort him down to Lionel who takes him off to JFK’s private jet terminal while Shaw and Kelly actually commit the theft. Finch increases the temperature in the room where the Bible is to fool the motion sensors. And he’s looped the camera feed for three minutes. So now it’s up to Kelly to use her gymnast background to get in. She gets the bible and she and Shaw share a smile when the Interpol guy shows up and another guard notes that the head security guy’s prints were used to open a room. They all rush there to find the bible gone and no one else in the room. Now I want to know how they managed to get out.

We don’t actually find out how they escaped but that’s okay I guess. Kelly hands off the Bible to Cyril and tells him she’s out. But he threatens to indenture her daughter and claims that she and the girl are property. What a vile man. Well, he gets what he deserves when Reese busts in and take the girl to safety. I guess he had a god reason for heading to the airport. And Shaw and Finch get the Interpol agent to listen to the conversation so he realizes he was at least partially incorrect in his assumptions about Kelly. Cyril tries to shoot Kelly but Shaw steps in. Things are looking up when the Interpol agent lets Kelly go since she’s a US citizen and he can’t extradite her anywhere. She gets reunited with her daughter and then we find our team of four sharing drinks by the fire. Lionel is suggesting other things they could steal and it’s pretty comical. I think he had a little too much fun. But he’s got a point. Even with Carter gone, they still make a good team. And in a less mopey gesture, Reese pours Carter a drink and they drink in her honor. I thought it was a nice way to end the episode. And I enjoyed that they were using the show’s them and playing it just on a piano. It was a good soundtrack to this scene. Well done soundtrack people!

Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. 1.13: "T.R.A.C.K.S."

“We can’t let Quinn get away again. Coulson wouldn’t let that happen.”
- Skye

Things are moving forward for Team SHIELD as they hunt down Ian Quinn (the guy who tried to buy the ice machine from the academy kids last episode). And they think he can lead the team to the Clairvoyant. Our crew has taken over the investigation and tracking of him and think that they can find him by following a package being sent through Italy on a passenger train. So the entire gang goes undercover. May and Ward get into first class before splitting off (May gets to hang out on top of the train). Ward is kind of freaked out though that May told Coulson about them hooking up (this all after he remark on how Coulson and Skye seem to be making things personal with Quinn). Speaking of Skye, she and Fitz are playing young lovers travelling through Europe and Coulson and Simmons are playing father and daughter. They actually look like they could be related. It’s kind of adorable. Simmons has created a whole backstory for herself which involves hating Coulson for abandoning her fake mother who has died. She intentionally spills the urn and it turns out the dust inside works as a tracker which May is following on infrared glasses. Just as the spot the package, the coms go down. Things are not what they seem. Coulson goes to investigate and Ward comes running shouting that they’ve been made. They bail off the train just before a light grenade goes off.

We rewind a few minutes to see that Ward gets to take out some security people and hastily warn Simmons that they’ve been made before jumping off the train and it disappears. It might be a portal or just some sort of cloaking thing. They hightail it back to the bus and answer a call from the Italian authorities. Apparently they were ambushed by the security team at the train station. Coulson goes to coordinate with SHIELD HQ and leaves Ward in charge of trying to decipher the device they found. I could not stop laughing watching the scene. He can’t figure out how to turn on the holographic table projector and when he finally does, he and Coulson are trying to make a graphic bigger and failing. I didn’t know the actor who played Ward had comedic chops. Ward admits to his relationship with May and Coulson basically says if it interferes with an op or someone gets hurt, he’ll be babysitting people on the night shift in Alaska. The Italian government guy that Coulson was dealing with pulls up and starts to say he found the rest of the team when a bruised and battered Agent May kills him. I think they’ve been betrayed.

It would seem we’re getting pieces of the puzzle with each act of the episode. We follow May as she also loses contact with the rest of the team. She sees the security guys leaving the car and then gets shot at. She parachutes off the train and finds Ward and Coulson frozen. So it turns out she was the one who hotwired the truck that the guys used to get away. Unfortunately, she gets nabbed by the Italians. The guy Coulson had been dealing with is in bed with the security company. He stabs May in the shoulder and it’s what she needed to get free and kill everyone else. She follows after the guy and kills him before he can shoot Coulson or Ward. Coulson helps stitch her up and they learn that the train stopped abruptly in the countryside. The team searches the luggage car where Skye and Fitz were hiding out (and where Ward told Simmons to hide0 and they find Simmons and she’s really freaked out.

Our final trip down memory lane shows us Fitz and Skye as they are trying to monitor the package. Skye asks Fitz what he knows about 0-8-4s and if they can be people. We clearly see that she’s trying to figure out what she could be but he’s got no clue. They realize they’ve been made just as a man runs in with another grenade. Simmons arrives and sort of throws herself on it. Fitz quickly deduces that it’s made form similar stuff as the Night-Night gun. They make her comfy and then follow the package to Quinn. Skye wants to sneak into the house to see what the package is and to make sure Quinn doesn’t get away. Fitz is worried but agrees to the plan anyway. She takes out a couple guards and sneaks into the basement but doesn’t get an eye on the package yet. Instead, she finds Mike Peterson in a hyperbaric chamber. Quinn materializes and lets’ Mike out. It turns out the package was some fancy new tech to make Mike a cyborg. He’s got orders to kill the security people (which he does rather handily before ducking out). Quinn unfortunately sees fit to shoot Skye twice in the stomach. I honestly thought they were going to kill off Skye. I mean, that’s sort of a hallmark of any Joss Whedon show. You lose people you at the time you least expect.

The rest of the team arrives and Coulson finds Skye without a pulse, drenched in blood. Thanks to Simmons quick thinking, they put Skye in the chamber and lower her body temperature to try and save her life. Back on the Bus, Fitz and Simmons share a hug and cry in private and Ward and May have a slightly less emotional bonding moment. I think they’re both angry and he’s thinking that he’s going to get booted from the team and that his relationship with May caused all of this. I have to say I think the writers took a risk with the way they told this story and I enjoyed it. I think they stepped up their game with really leaving a team member in peril. I mean yes, the mid-season finale we saw Coulson getting kidnapped but there wasn’t much chance he was going to die. He’s the front man for the whole show. But I could see them offing Skye. We end with Mike standing hidden at a park. He asks the Clairvoyant (or whoever is on the other end of his eye) to see his son and is told not yet. We also get a close up of the serial info on his new cyber leg and it says Deatlok. Apparently that’s a big Marvel character. Not being very well versed in the comic book world or Marvel comic universe for that matter, I’ve got no idea what his backstory is or how they’re going to use him. I’m just happy another Whedonverse actor has a steady job.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Sherlock 3.02: "The Sign of Three"

“You are not a puzzle solver. You never have been. You’re a drama queen. Now there a man in there about to die. The game is on. Solve it!”

The “Sign of Three” again did not focus on one particular original Sherlock Holmes mystery, but it worked better than “The Empty Hearse” because the various stories were more closely tied together. The episode was really a meditation on the relationship between Holmes and Watson in the setting of Watson’s wedding to Mary. Sherlock is the best man, and he struggles with the task of writing the best man speech. Most of the episode involves the depiction of the things Sherlock talks about in his speech, and it all ties together nicely in the form of a mystery that takes place at the actual wedding. The title of the episode has multiple meanings. There’s the trio of mysteries that we see at various points in the episode, there’s the trio of Sherlock, Watson, and Mary, and there’s (spoiler alert) three Watsons by the end of the wedding. I appreciated that this episode combined an intriguing mystery with heart.

I thought the opening sequence of “The Sign of Three” was especially amusing. We see that over the course of a year and a half, LeStrade has been trying to catch an especially crafty bank robber. Just as he’s finally about to get his big arrest, he gets a text from Sherlock saying that he’s needed at Baker Street immediately. LeStrade leaves immediately, calling backup as he rushes to Baker Street. It turns out that Sherlock is just having trouble writing his speech, and he’s hoping LeStrade will have some funny stories about Watson. If I were LeStrade, I would have killed Sherlock right then and there, I think. LeStrade takes it relatively in stride.

We don’t actually see the wedding ceremony – the action picks up again with Watson and Mary walking out of the church. Then it’s reception time (at a super posh and gorgeous manor house). Sherlock gives his speech, and it alternates between super awkward and really touching. He’s got note cards for all the different points he wants to make, but he doesn’t have the cards in any particular order. Early on in the speech, he gives a really heartfelt monologue about how much John means to him and how good Mary is for John. It’s nice to see Sherlock so accepting of Mary. He doesn’t seem threatened by Mary’s role in John’s life at all. He’s just satisfied that his friend is happy.

Sherlock is determined to include all the requisite components of the best man speech, so even though the bit of the speech I already mentioned would have been a perfect end point, Sherlock insists he must also tell some funny stories about John. The funny stories turn into retellings of recent mysteries they solved together. The first mystery started as an attempt by Mary to get Sherlock and Watson out of the house (they were both getting bogged down in wedding planning). She kind of gently encouraged them to find a case to take already. The case they took was a plea from one of the Royal Household Guard who thought he was being stalked. While Sherlock and Watson are trying to scheme their way into Buckingham palace, the soldier is killed in a locked shower by a very thin blade. Sherlock says that he and Watson never solved that case.

The second case involved Watson’s stag night (bachelor party for you non-Anglophiles out there). Sherlock, being Sherlock, had it planned out in detail so that they would spend the entire evening at a pleasant buzz. Not too sober and not too drunk. Watson wants to lighten up the whole affair though (Sherlock had been really annoying keeping track of exact quantities of alcohol), so he sneaks some extra shots into both of their drinks. This results In both of them being stupid drunk back at Baker Street when they get a new client. The client thinks she’s dating a ghost. She found an obituary for the guy she’s been seeing. They decide to go to the flat where the client last saw her date, but they’re still drunk, so they act like idiots, and Sherlock vomits. The landlord has them arrested, and Sherlock and Watson find themselves waking up in jail the next morning.

Thanks to Lestrade bailing them out, Sherlock and Watson are back on the case pretty quickly. Sherlock starts contacting a bunch of women online who think they’ve been dating a ghost. He thinks this particular group has all encountered the same person, but he can’t find one particular commonality between all the women that would draw the attention of their suspect. Sherlock doesn’t quite figure out the connection, but he does compare the suspect to a mayfly. Basically the guy impersonates a recently dead person for a day or two, then moves on to someone else. All of a sudden (in present time), Sherlock realizes that their client knew Watson’s middle name (which Watson hates) and surmises that she must have seen the wedding invitation. He thinks this means that Mayfly Man is at the wedding and wants to kill one of the guests.

The most obvious intended target is Watson’s commanding officer from his Army days, Sholto. Sholto ran into a heap of trouble when his platoon of new recruits was killed in Afghanistan while he survived. There are probably a non-zero number of people who are upset about that, as Wil Wheaton would say. Sherlock secretly warns John, Mary, and Sholto about the danger, and Sholto goes and locks himself in his hotel room. He wants the killer to just finish him off without hurting anyone else. Sherlock finally realizes what killed the soldier, and he’s worried Sholto will succumb to the same fate. The killer attached a tiny, lethal blade to both of their belt buckles. When Sholto takes off his belt, he will likely bleed out. Sholto wants to get it over with, but Watson wants to try and save his life. Sherlock convinces Sholto to let Watson do his job by reminding Sholto that he would never want to ruin Watson’s wedding by dying if he could help it.

Once Sholto is stabilized, Sherlock reveals that he knows the identity of the killer. It’s the wedding photographer, whose brother was one of the recruits killed under Sholto’s command. With that nasty business all out of the way, the reception dancing can commence. Sherlock composed a piece that he played during Watson and Mary’s dance, which I thought was sweet. At the end of the evening, Sherlock makes a comment about vowing to always be there for “all three” of the Watsons, and he accidentally reveals that Mary is pregnant. He then leaves the Watsons to their happiness and heads home. It was definitely interesting to watch Sherlock, a man with a very large ego who doesn’t show a lot of emotion, deal with the fact that he is not the only important person in Watson’s life anymore. He seems to take it surprisingly well, really.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

The Mindy Project 2.14: "The Desert"

“I mean we all have things, you know what I mean? I’ve got a carton of kittens at home that think I’m their mom. I’m their dad!”

So “The Desert” had a very big moment for Mindy and Danny, although it obviously isn’t going to be a simple progression forward. The Danny/Mindy/Cliff triangle definitely still exists, and I’m thinking it’s probably going to resolve in favor of Cliff for at least a little bit longer. While I’m glad to see Mindy and Danny take some step towards acknowledging their feelings (I don’t like artificial TV/movie romantic roadblocks…I find them frustrating), I’m starting to question whether they’re really good for each other. They are both kind of annoyingly selfish. On the other hand, that might actually make them a good match. At least there wouldn’t be one complete doormat in the relationship. It was nice to see some forward movement in the show’s narrative, for sure. The developments in this episode will certainly take the characters in an interesting direction when “The Mindy Project” returns later this spring after an unfortunate extended hiatus.

“The Desert” picks up not long after “L.A.” left off. The doctors are all still in Los Angeles post-conference. Mindy had been planning to stick around for a little while, but watching a rom com (as always) gives her the idea that she should fly back to New York as soon as possible to make a grand romantic gesture and win Cliff back. There’s just one small problem. Danny needs her help. He has set up a meeting with his dad, but he’s not sure he can get through it without punching his dad in the face. He needs Mindy for moral support. Mindy is more concerned about getting home to Cliff, even though Danny was clearly in a lot of pain. She also has the gall to ask Danny for a ride to the airport. Danny agrees, but only because he’s got a larger scheme in mind.

I can’t feel too bad for Danny at this point, because his scheme is pretty mean (yeah, Mindy was being selfish, but two wrongs don’t make a right). He tells Mindy he’s going to drive her to the airport, but instead he drives to his dad’s house. Mindy is not happy, but she has no choice but to roll with it. Danny wants her to stay in the car, but if she’s going to miss her flight, she wants to see the action up close. The door is answered by a teenage girl who says her name is also Dann(i) Castellano. She’s Danny’s half-sister. Apparently Danny’s dad has been a wonderful father ever since giving up on his original family, which doesn’t help Danny feel any better about the situation.

Meanwhile, Peter and Morgan have arrived back in New York, where they are greeted by the rest of the rather helpless staff of Shulman and Associates. Everyone immediately starts peppering Peter with questions, but he doesn’t want to talk to any of them. Peter and Morgan both end up in the rest room at the same time, and somehow they manage to get locked in. When they can hear Cliff working in his office through the vent, they think they’re saved. Then they start hearing Cliff sobbing and singing along to Jewel. Which, clearly, is just plain awkward. Cliff keeps singing “I Was Meant for You” over and over. And over. It drives the guys nuts, and they can’t escape it. If they yelled out for Cliff’s help, then they would know they heard his weeping and singing. And of course, that would just be awkward.

Danny is shaken by his brief reunion with his dad, so he decides he wants to get drunk and walk out into the desert. Mindy has ditched him and started driving back to the airport, but then Danny drunk dials her. Mindy feels bad for Danny and turns back around to rescue him, missing the second flight home that she had tried to schedule (she had even ordered her favorite snack for the flight). They start wandering through the desert, yelling at each other, when they accidentally set foot on a military base. Danny’s dad has a barber shop on base, and all the soldiers love him, so they let Danny call his dad to come pick them up. Danny and his dad have a bit of a heart-to-heart, where the most interesting thing we learn is that Danny was once a “primo ballerino.” The rift isn’t completely healed between them, but they’re definitely moving towards a better place.

Back in New York, another random staffer eventually lets Peter and Morgan out of the bathroom. They think that Cliff’s breakdown must mean that Mindy broke up with him, so when they run into Cliff in the elevator, they offer to take him out for a guys’ night to help ease the pain. Peter even gives up a date with a “Wisconsin Nine” for the occasion. The guys are having a good time at the bar when Cliff reveals that he’s the one who actually broke up with Mindy. They guys are kind of disgusted (because they had been hoping to get Cliff and Mindy back together), so they abandon Cliff at the bar. Peter’s especially pissed off because he was at the party that upset Cliff so much, and he can vouch for the fact that nothing happened between Mindy and Casey.

Mindy and Danny finally catch a flight back to Los Angeles, and they try to bury the hatchet. Mindy decides to try writing an apology e-mail to Cliff, and Danny helps Mindy find just the right words. As he’s suggesting to Mindy what she should write, it gets to be pretty obvious that Danny is actually talking about his own feelings towards Mindy. Mindy sends the e-mail and gets up to get a tonic water, and Danny chooses that moment to grab her and kiss her. Mindy doesn’t resist the make out session at all. Meanwhile, Cliff has received the e-mail and seems quite happy about it. Clearly there’s going to be a serious mess to clean up when the show comes back in April!