Walter White has become the sort of character that a writer can only dream of creating (thank you Vince Gilligan). Steadfastly complex and impossibly difficult to predict, all you can ever really know for sure is that he’s liable to change just when you think you have him pegged. In the mind-blowing mid-season finale, Hank (Dean Norris) finally puts the pieces of Heisenberg's identity together after the answer had been glaringly in his face all along. It’s a bit similar to Deb from Dexter at last realizing that her brother is a serial killer: When you’re close to someone, you don’t want to see the obvious fact that he’s a psychopath. In any case, the premiere of the second half of season five (which will consist of eight episodes), did not disappoint in terms of delivering a level intensity you can generally only attain during a rectal exam. Promo for Season 5, Part Deux.

When last we left the White/Schraeder family, they were having a pleasant family meal by the pool at the White residence. Hank excuses himself to go to the bathroom and makes the mistake of trying to read while he takes a shit. It is then that he discovers Gale Boetticher’s (David Costabile) inscribed copy of Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass. Hank’s reaction upon having this revelation of Heisenberg’s true identity is perhaps one of the most controlled, well-acted scenes in recent memory. The build-up to the pinnacle of his reception of this newfound information leads to a full-blown panic attack. After Hank hurriedly excuses himself and Marie (Betsy Brandt) so they can drive home, Marie watches in horror as Hank crashes their car into a fence in a scene that brings new meaning to the term "POV shot."

Before this occurs, however, we are taken back to a later time period referenced at the beginning of season five. In it, Walt’s hair is lush and brown again as he makes his way to the Whites’ now abandoned home. The pool drained, local skateboarders have taken to using it as their half-pipe. As he makes his way inside to find his old friend, the ricin, he sees the wall has been graffitied in a sinister script that reads simply: “HEISENBERG.” After Walt collects his bounty and leaves, he runs into their old neighbor, Carol, whose only response to his greeting is to drop her bag of groceries in terror. This flash forward into the present gives us some indication that things probably aren’t going to turn out all that well for Walt.

Walter White at 52.

Jesse (Aaron Paul), meanwhile, is going off the deep end in his usual fashion as a result of his guilt over the murder of Drew Sharp, a witness to one of Jesse and Walt’s more massive meth-making jaunts. He also frets over the well-being of Mike Ehrmantraut’s (Jonathan Banks) granddaughter. This prompts him to ask Saul (Bob Odenkirk) to give 2.5 million dollars each (of the total five mill Walt threw his way) to the family of Drew Sharp and Mike’s granddaughter. Saul, always the loyalist to Walt, informs him of Jesse’s presumable crack-up and gets Walt to take the money back to Jesse, who blatantly lies (as usual) and assures him Mike is alive. The helplessness of Jesse’s character reaches its zenith when he starts Robin Hood-ing it by doling out stacks of his cash in a dilapidated neighborhood. What kind of negative attention this will lead to later on in the season remains to be seen.

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Hank’s feverish at-home research into the evidence mounting against Walt is given brief pause after Walt discovers Leaves of Grass missing and checks his car out of knowing paranoia to find a tracking device has been placed on it. This leads him to boldly confront Hank about it in the final scene, which then leads Hank to clock him the fuck out. In fact, “Blood Money” is an episode that redeems both Hank and Skyler’s (Anna Gunn) coolness factor on many levels. In Skyler’s case, telling off Lydia (Laura Fraser) when she comes to Walt’s car wash to discreetly beg him to start getting to work again is one of her most memorable character moments throughout the entire series.

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As is the Breaking Bad way, the final scene leaves so many fates hanging in the balance and bears the foreboding of an exchange between Hank and Walt in which Hank states, “I don’t even know who I’m talking to," to which Walt warns, “Then maybe it’s best if you tread lightly.” And so, it promises to be an unforgettable final season from a show that might have been on HBO once upon a time (before it debased itself with Girls).

 

 

 

A saying taken from Andy Warhol in The Philosophy of Andy Warhol is applicable to Don Draper's increasingly self-pitying, spiraling nature: "So what?" With regard to the finale of Mad Men’s sixth season, one is much inclined to ask this question. Don’s constant, inescapable ruminations on his past are nothing new—if anything they’ve become more frequent as his inevitable breakdown looms. What is new, however, is being somewhat irritated by the fact that he consistently falls back on his past as an excuse to be a dick. Don and his over it bride, Megan

The last episode, “In Care Of,” finds the characters of Mad Men in surprisingly anticlimactic form. Sure, Peggy (Elisabeth Moss) finally bones Ted (Kevin Rahm), Pete’s (Vincent Kartheiser) mom gets lost at sea and Megan (Jessica Paré) kicks Don to the curb, but there is something very rote and humdrum about the execution of it all. It’s almost as though creator Matthew Weiner has made his peace with the fact that the show is going to end next season, and he simply can’t be bothered to feel attached or emotional about it anymore. "In Care Of" delineates Don’s requisite alcoholism at play, prompting him to get in a fight with a minister, have yet another flashback to the whorehouse days and spend the night in jail. This results in the usual Don “epiphany” of “I have to change my life by starting over.” And where better to start over than Los Angeles, a city equally as miserable as New York—only with more sunshine?

The poor, tortured soul

Megan is amenable to the idea in spite of knowing in the back of her mind that their marriage is irrevocably fucked. But, apparently, Don’s good looks just can’t stop appealing to her shallow nature. Her agreement to this proposal leads Don to, once again, repress his memories and emotional damage in order to feign becoming a better person. Invariably, this repression can’t last as Ted asks Don to change his plans and allow him to handle Sunkist in L.A. instead so he doesn’t have to let his feelings for Peggy run any wilder.

Don's season 6 obsession is Sylvia--chiefly because she dumps him first.

Then there’s Don’s strained relationship with Sally (Kiernan Shipka). Perhaps the most obvious example of how Don has allowed his past to dictate and destroy his present, Sally’s ire for her father reaches its zenith in this episode. That is, until Don shows his children where he grew up—another illustration of how his childhood is something of a crutch wielded to gain sympathy. Don’s moment of honesty in a meeting with Hershey’s also showcases his struggle to stamp out thoughts of brothel life. Initially, Don’s pitch begins as a fake story of his first recollection of having a Hershey bar and his association with it as an expression of parental love. He can’t quite bring himself to peddle this lie—which is the noble element of it—and ends up confessing that the only time he ever got a Hershey bar was when he stole enough money from the pants of clients to give to a prostitute.

During closer times.

Granted, your parents and your upbringing form the large core of who you are, but it is always possible to rise above an ill-fated personal history. Regardless of Don’s unfortunate childhood circumstances, should his behavior really be allowed excusal just because of a tormented youth? The joint decision of the agency to force Don into taking a sabbatical indicates that maybe others are getting just as fed up with Don’s antics.

 

 

 

 

 

Posted
AuthorSmoking Barrel
CategoriesTV Drama

After five seasons of surreal, understated drama, one might be left to wonder what Mad Men could possibly do to make each of its characters even more complex and interesting. The short answer is: Elevating the show to the closest thing TV has to a philosophical examination of life. As season six opens on a woman’s belly button, Don’s voiceover reads from a passage in Dante’s The Inferno, reciting, “Midway in our life’s journey, I went astray from the straight road and found myself alone in a dark wood.” We then briefly assume that the belly button in question could belong to Don’s latest conquest in adultery, but then see that it belongs to none other than Megan (Jessica Paré). On a business/pleasure trip to Waikiki Beach, it is immediately evident that Don is far from paradise. Set in December of 1967, Megan has by now become a successful TV actress on what is presumably some sort of trashy soap. Although Don appears to be supportive, his late night drinking at the hotel bar would suggest that his dissatisfaction level has increased since the beginning of his second marriage. Promo still from Mad Men Season 6

The episode, appropriately titled “The Doorway,” is all about how, as Roger (John Slattery) puts it to his analyst, life is nothing but doors and windows and bridges and then more doors ultimately leading to nothing. It sounds bleak, yes, but fairly accurate for the generation of over 30 adults in the late 1960s. The death of Roger’s mother in this episode also serves as a backdrop for the larger motif of the storyline, which is, reconciling getting further and further away from youth and, in turn, becoming less relevant and more anachronistic. Betty (January Jones), too, suffers from an intense desire to feel relevant or, at least, somehow in control. Her attentions are focused on Sally’s friend Sandy, a 15-year-old violin prodigy slated to attend Juilliard in the coming months.

Will Fat Betty find fulfillment with black hair?

After Betty makes a highly inappropriate joke to Henry about how he should just go into the next room and rape Sandy with a gag in her mouth, she goes into the kitchen to find none other than Sandy smoking a cigarette. As the two begin to talk, Sandy confides in Betty that she didn’t get accepted to Juilliard. Betty tries to console her by telling her that she can always apply next year, but Sandy insists that she’s already too old to be a notable violinist. The two get to talking about the city and how Sandy yearns to go to the East Village. Betty assures her that it isn’t romantic or glamorous to live in poverty-stricken conditions. This later leads Betty to search for Sandy in a tenement building in which one of the runaways seethes, “We don’t like your life any more than you do, lady.” Perhaps this is the moment that causes her to continue her psychological spiral by dying her hair black—because maybe looking like someone else will make her feel like someone else.

Promo poster for Season 6

Where Peggy (Elisabeth Moss) is concerned, it was perhaps to be expected that she would begin to usurp Don as the guru of advertising and all its associated crises. In her case, a joke about G.I.s wearing the cut off ears of Vietcong soldiers as necklaces ruins an upcoming headphones commercial for the Super Bowl in which a man dressed in a toga says the line, “Lend me your ears.” Confident under pressure, Peggy solves the problem efficiently as her boyfriend, Abe Drexler (Charlie Hofheimer), patiently waits for her to finish while also helping her by sampling the product for himself. It is clear that where happiness is concerned, Peggy is quite possibly the only character even remotely close to achieving it.

Additional promo still

The persistent theme of death is continued when Don comes up with the ad slogan for the hotel in Hawaii. Presenting the clients with the image of footprints in the sand and a removed coat and tie strewn near the shoreline, Don dreamily recites the tag: “Hawaii. The jumping off point.” The two men delicately mention to Don that their first association with the image and tag is suicide. Don gets somewhat heated in defending it until Pete (Vincent Kartheiser, who is rocking the sideburn look hard this season), greases the wheels in his usual way by saying that they can come up with something else.

Reading The Inferno in paradise.

Don’s “jumping off point,” comes, it seems on New Year’s Eve during a small gathering at their home with Dr. Rosen and his wife, Sylvia (Freaks and Geeks’ Linda Cardellini). Don, who has recently come to admire Dr. Rosen after seeing him rescue their doorman from a heart attack, is fascinated with Rosen’s ability to control life and death. Watching him cross country ski through the snow to handle a hospital emergency, Don is somehow aware that he will never possess that level of goodness. And it isn’t necessarily that he isn’t good, per se, but his hollowness—his inability to embrace whoever it is he may be—is what keeps him in a perpetual inferno, a hell on earth with no escape to paradise. This much is obvious when we see Don doomed to a life of repeating the same sins as we view in the final scene that he is having an affair with Rosen’s wife.

 

 

 

Making a prequel series to a TV show that was already perfection is a dicey move. It should not be taken lightly. But that’s exactly how the creators of The Carrie Diaries, Josh Schwartz and Stephanie Savage (who also produced Gossip Girl), seem to have approached it. While Candace Bushnell’s prequel novel of the same name delivered a more succinct, less cheesy portrayal of Carrie Bradshaw’s beginnings in New York, the show comes across as lazily crafted and lacking in sincere emotion—not to mention attention to detail (the World Trade Center isn’t even present in the skyline as Carrie arrives in the city).

Another issue is in casting AnnaSophia Robb (who has been in films like Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and, ugh, Soul Surfer), who doesn’t have any of the charm or polish that Carrie should have. In an ideal world, Blake Lively could have played the role, but is, unfortunately, out of the age bracket to do so.

http://youtu.be/PBctXyhhRq8

With noticeable discrepancies between the book and Sex and the City, the story begins as Carrie has recently lost her mother. In the show Sex and the City, Carrie only ever mentions that her father left her and her mother when she was young (which is part of the reason she feels she’s so fucked up when it comes to men). In The Carrie Diaries, her sister Dorrit (Stefania Owen) is taking the loss much more moodily than Carrie (also note that in the book Carrie has two sisters, but perhaps that would have been too much for casting to take).

Carrie, on the other hand, at least has the distraction of Sebastian Kydd (Austin Butler), an Aryan type who kind of looks like he could be Carrie’s brother and is a new student at her high school. The only problem is, the most popular girl in school, the drag queenly named Donna LaDonna (Chloe Bridges), also has her eye on him.

http://youtu.be/bo_34yjZd7A

In the novel, Donna LaDonna is ultimately the one that connects Carrie to Samantha Jones. Whether or not the show will ever address that remains to be seen (though I can’t say I’ll have the patience to watch it long enough to find out). But for now, she’s content to subtly torment Carrie. Although Carrie’s ultimate reason for going to New York is an internship at a law firm in the show, in the novel it is actually because she gets accepted into a writing seminar at the New School (after being rejected as a full-time student). And this is where another inconsistency comes into play: The fact that Carrie is supposed to be in her senior year of high school. The show takes no heed of that and instead has her in her junior year, which is what makes her come across as even more hopelessly juvenile.

http://youtu.be/gQqpPgZ4KSk

I suppose it wouldn’t matter that there are so many variances between this show, the book and Sex and the City itself if it was actually well-written and watchable. Candace Bushnell obviously doesn’t seem to mind (she’s an executive producer) her story has come to life so robotically on the screen, but, for fans of Sex and the City and the iconic woman it spawned, The Carrie Diaries is merely a desecration rather than a thoughtful homage. In fact, I don’t even think the addition of Michael Patrick King as one of the writers could salvage it.

While it takes a certain kind of person to understand the allure of Pretty Little Liars, even the most obsessive of fans must admit that the recent winter premiere, "She's Better Now," was lacking the usual copious amount of intrigue that comes standard with any story in the daily lives of Aria Montgomery (Lucy Hale), Spencer Hastings (Troian Bellisario), Emily Fields (Shay Mitchell) and Hanna Marin (Ashley Benson). http://youtu.be/1fZX0GBNai8

With the release of Mona (Janel Parrish) from the loony bin and back into the not so welcoming fold of Rosewood High School, her determination to be embraced by her fellow students manifests in the form of appearing in Hanna's room in the middle of the night to implore her forgiveness. Hanna, naturally, is coerced into believing that Mona may have genuinely changed.

Hanna's plea on Mona's behalf does not sit well with her fellow A victims, who are still reeling from the events that took place on Halloween (Garrett's death, Aria getting locked in a trunk with a corpse and the revelation that Alison was blackmailing Aria's father, Byron). Mona's return doesn't seem to sit well with anyone else at Rosewood either, particularly based on the appearance of a "mad" cow brain stuck to the inside of her locker.

The appearance of the hotel desk clerk from A's hotel den of stalker paraphernalia as the new school janitor also leaves the quartet highly suspicious and ill at ease. Witnessing Mona converse with him doesn't make them feel any better about her "mental recovery." In the meantime, Aria has been getting harassed by A for not telling her boyfriend, Ezra, about the child he doesn't know he has. In fact, Aria appears to be a target of many in the new season, with Byron's former mistress, Meredith--and Aria's new teacher--harassing her after class to stop texting on her phone.

With Emily on lockdown by her father and Spencer oblivious to the fact that Toby is on the "A" team, the girls seem more powerless than ever against whatever A has in store for them this time, which, as it turns out, is exploding a building with Meredith in it (who, unfortunately, lives). Still, in spite of this plot point, there is something missing from the original dramatic verve of the show. Sure, there's the revelation that Jason is in cahoots with Mona, but then, at this point, everyone is in cahoots with everyone. So I suppose the only way for the rest of the season to truly shock is if one of the As is Aria, Emily, Hanna or Spencer.

Love it or hate it, it's still an obsession. When Gossip Girl barreled through the airwaves of the CW in 2007, it was replacing--and perhaps surpassing--the ghost of so many teen dramas past. Adding New York as the location where it all took place (specifically the sleepily cutthroat Upper East Side) merely made it stand apart from past landmark shows like My So-Called Life and Dawson's Creek that were set elsewhere, in less dramatic, less affluent circumstances. Granted, the west coast answer to this show--Beverly Hills 90210--had already occurred in the 90s, Gossip Girl succeeded in delicately toeing the line between all out soap opera plot lines and believable, emotionally stirring stories. But really, what it all came down to was: "Will Chuck end up with Blair?" and "Will Dan end up with Serena?" In the series finale, both wishes are fulfilled, but in an extremely forced and hasty manner.

For anyone who has been faithfully watching the show since the beginning, it's easy to pinpoint its downward spiral at Season 3, in which Hilary Duff was a regular cast member for the first several episodes. Cameos by Robyn, Lady Gaga, Rachel Zoe, Tyra Banks and Sonic Youth also began to give the show a surreal, jumping the shark quality. Still, nothing could prepare us for the cracked outedness of Season 4: The college years. Using Saved by the Bell as the barometer for shows that try to continue after graduation, everyone knows that no television narrative can survive the transition of high school to college (unless it's Felicity, which began in college in the first place).

http://youtu.be/gxcb7z4wZOA

The usual "Let's fuck with Serena 'cause she's rich and beautiful" premise intensified with Juliet Sharp's (Katie Cassidy) personal vendetta against her after her brother was falsely imprisoned for sleeping with Serena while he was a teacher at her boarding school in Connecticut. However, this was not even the worst of the plot lines once Charlie Rhodes/Ivy Dickens (Kaylee DeFer) entered the picture. That is, until Season 5, when Elizabeth Hurley was a regular cast member and Blair ended up marrying a prince/falling in love with Dan. Oh yeah, and Bart Bass (Robert John Burke) coming back from the dead.

Even so, the finale of Season 5 seemed to be setting up the abridged Season 6 (a paltry ten episodes) for greatness with Serena's return to cocaine use and Dan's sudden villainy toward both Blair and Serena. Even the obligatory presence of Georgina (Michelle Trachtenberg) wasn't as annoying as usual in this finale. However, Season 6 came across instantly as lazily written and forced--plus the highly unnecessary appearance of Barry Watson as Steven Spence, Serena's latest obsession, as well as his abrasive daughter, Sage (Sofia Black D'Elia). In order to quickly negate all of the relationships that were established in Season 5 (mainly Dan and Blair), bringing back together the original incarnations of the couples that everyone wanted from Season 1 and 2 just seemed much too implausible.

http://youtu.be/Nca9SxzJFy8

Not quite as implausible as the reveal that Gossip Girl is Dan though. Of all the people it could have been, I think Michael Bloomberg (who makes a cameo in the final episode) might even have been a better option. The worst part about the conclusion is that it relies on the "Five Years Later" technique, in which we see that Nate will run for mayor, Chuck and Blair have a child named Henry, Rufus (Matthew Settle) is, for some reason, dating Lisa Loeb, Lily has gotten back together with William (William Baldwin), Georgina is with Chuck's uncle, Jack (Desmond Harrington), Jenny (Taylor Momsen) and Eric (Connor Paolo) are each given one line and Dan and Serena are finally getting married (though why they had to wait five years is unclear.

http://youtu.be/OMx7q4copp8

In spite of how lackluster the series grew in its later seasons, you can't deny or ignore the gloriousness of Seasons 1 and 2. It was a show that pushed the envelope and kept New York City outsiders (and Upper East Side pariahs) constantly apprised of what was going on at the moment. And for that, Gossip Girl, I  bid you a melancholy adieu and say, "XOXO."

Mad Men is known for building up a crescendo of drama in time for its season finale, and this season is no exception. With the second to last episode ("Commissions and Fees") seeing the demise of Lane Pryce, creator Matthew Weiner has proven that no territory is too sensitive and no character is ever truly safe. Even Peggy Olson (Elisabeth Moss), one of the show's most central characters, was not immune to less face time. In the eleventh episode ("The Other Woman"), Peggy finds herself at her emotional and creative threshold in terms of working for Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce, resulting in a meeting with Freddy Rumsen (Joel Murray) in which Peggy asks if he can keep his ear to the ground for any opportunities at another agency. Far quicker than she expected, Peggy receives an offer from Don's longtime rival Ted Chaough (Kevin Rahm) and opts to take it.

With Peggy out of the picture, more responsibility is left to Ben Feldman (series newcomer Michael Ginsberg), who already seems to lack the distinct knack for understanding feminine products (no, not tampons) that came naturally to Peggy. In the meantime, Joan receives a $175,000 dollar death benefit for Lane and seems to be the only partner at the firm still struggling to comprehend his suicide, prompting Don (still racked with a guilty conscience over his part in the matter) to tell her to cut a check to his wife for the amount he put in as collateral when they started the new agency.

http://youtu.be/zzEdVMynYRo

Once again, the emphasis on the plot of Betty Draper (January Jones) is diminished in favor of Don's new wife, Megan (Jessica Paré), whose obsession with achieving success as an actress forces Don to see her in a new light. As Megan's mother puts it, "This is what happens when you have the artistic temperament but you are not an artist." Unaccustomed to Megan being anything other than plucky, Don starts to see her in the same way he saw Betty at the beginning of the series: As a desperate woman clinging to something she should not.

Using Don's toothache as a metaphor for a pain he keeps assuming will just go away, it is clear that he is dealing with the loss of his illusions that things could change for him if he was in a different marriage. The source of that symbolic pain, however, is multi-faceted, stemming not just from Megan, but from a buildup of compunction (over both Lane and his brother, Adam, who also committed suicided in the first season).

As per usual, the song selection to conclude the episode as Don sits at a bar drinking an old-fashioned is uncannily spot-on. As Nancy Sinatra croons, "You only live twice, or so it seems/One life for yourself and one for your dreams," a young woman approaches him and asks for a light. After taking a drag she finds the courage to say, "My friend over there is dying to know: Are you alone?" I think it might be safe to assume that Don will be very much alone in the sixth season of a show that never fails to illuminate the complexities of human neuroses.

http://youtu.be/hD_dBXj1Wso

 

The first minute of Gossip Girl's season premiere, "Yes, Then Zero" (thank you for the Bret Easton Ellis reference), is mildly alarming because you briefly think that the writers ran out of every possible story line and had to resort to setting the show in the 1920s.

Fortunately, the scene cuts and we realize it is not a past life regression, but the movie set for The Beautiful and the Damned. Serena (Blake Lively), who has snagged the oh so coveted role of L.A. intern, has been working on the David O. Russell (who must be real hard up for agreeing to make such a prominent cameo) film for most of the summer. Although, generally, when a series moves its characters to L.A., the plot starts to turn spectacularly to shit (Nip/Tuck being the most obvious example), Gossip Girl reins in the crazy with a fair amount of aplomb.

Chuck (Ed Westwick) and Nate (Chace Crawford) visit Serena after docking their yacht (won from a poker game with Allegra Versace--sweet Jesus, the nuances of this show) in the waters of what is possibly Marina del Rey. Chuck grapples with Blair's (Leighton Meester) impending nuptials to Prince Louis Grimaldi (Hugo Becker, whose accent makes him sound just a little bit impaired), while Nate continues to try reinventing himself (which is just code for fucking an older woman, Elizabeth Hurley as an as of yet unnamed rich bitch, who actually beats David O. Russell in the being hard up category).

The premiere also focused on Dan's (Penn Badgley) novel, Inside, being leaked by Vanessa (Jessica Szohr). Mercifully, she and Jenny (Taylor Momsen) are expected not to return this season as regulars, but we are still saddled with another duo of annoying characters in the form of Georgina Sparks (Michelle Trachtenberg) and Charlie/Ivy (Kaylee DeFer). Then there's Blair's pregnancy snafu: Will it be Chuck's? Will it be Louis'? Will it be Dan's? Shit, will it be Serena's? Round and round the plot twists go and where they stop, don't nobody know.

Glamour, form-fitting skirt suits, covert government operations--it all spells the 1960s on Pan Am's version of how the decade went down. Perhaps billed as Mad Men with flight attendants, Pan Am struggles to find what the focus of the show is. Naturally, you would think it would be an account of stewardesses (it was once okay to call them that) who work for Pan Am, but it is actually much broader than that, covering everything from clandestine exchanges with G-men, the Bay of Pigs, and the struggle of the "modern woman" to get married and have children as soon as possible.

The show, of course, is riding heavily on Christina Ricci's back. Although none of the characters have really separated themselves as being the "main one" (a.k.a. a Don Draper type has yet to emerge), the name recognition of Ricci (who plays the role of Maggie), makes her the fall woman for the show's shortcomings.

Created by Jack Orman, known for writing and producing numerous episodes of JAG and ER, the series could definitely benefit from a regular rotation of female writers. As of now, the fourth episode, entitled "Eastern Exposure" is the only script that has a female co-writer (Moira Walley-Beckett, who also writes for Breaking Bad).

The plots established in the pilot episode are a bit of a mixed bag. Kate (Kelli Garner, who has appeared in such notable films as The Aviator, Lars and the Real Girl, Bully, and Thumbsucker) becomes involved as a courier for the U.S. government; Laura, Kate's sister, makes the cover of Life Magazine even though she only became a flight attendant only recently after running out of her wedding in a frenzied panic; Colette (Karine Vanasse) is relegated to embodying the cliche about flight attendants who fuck their passengers; Bridget (Annabelle Wallis) takes on the role of a free-spirited woman who can't be held down by a Pan Am pilot named Dean (Mike Vogel).

The main issue with Pan Am is that it isn't particularly bad and it isn't particularly good. It needs to choose one extreme in the next few episodes before turning into a nondescript blob. While the show earned eleven million viewers on its initial air date, there could be some bumpy skies ahead for this shifty period drama.

 

I've never been shy about admitting an addiction to trash teen dramas. You name it, I've watched it: Gossip Girl, Dawson's Creek, Roswell, Beverly Hills 90210, The OC, Degrassi, and everything else in between. And I've loved every gloriously over the top dramatic minute of all of them. But with Skins, something has altered my entire view of the teen drama genre. Perhaps it has something to do with being too old to relate to the objectives of the 14-17 year old set (which, according to Skins, is either losing your virginity or furthering your sexual repertoire) or maybe the absurdity of euphemistic dialogue like, "I get to park my Chevy in her garage?!"

The original U.K. version of the show (what is it with Yanks stealing British TV shows and making them far worse?) was created by Bryan Elsley and Jamie Brittain (a somewhat creepy father-son team considering the content of the show) and has been airing on British channel E4 for a total of four seasons. But why should MTV--or any network for that matter--wait for a show to be over before completely fucking with it? Revamped by MTV's creative duo Liz Gately (the woman behind the pitch for Laguna Beach) and Tony DiSanto (executive producer of The Hills and former president of programming at MTV), the American interpretation of the show is expected to mirror the British one, save for a few name changes here and there (e.g. Tony Stonem is now Tony Snyder, played by James Milo Newman).

But obviously name changes aren't the only element destroying a show that once had enough integrity to count A Single Man's Nicholas Hoult amid its cast members. The writing is nothing short of the description "fucking terrible." It's not even remotely comparable to former MTV trash soaps Undressed (directed by notable Brit Roland Joffe) and Spyder Games, both of which embraced the concept of being awesomely bad--without reverting to total shittiness.

So, basically, if I was someone with psychic tendencies (look for my table at Coney Island this summer), I would tell you that this show could go one of two ways: For the 14 year old who thinks life is actually like this, I would prophesy, "Skins is here to stay" and, for the twenty-something who is somewhat familiar with reality, I would assure, "Don't worry, American audiences simply aren't daft enough to be interested in this." Then again, that twenty-something probably knows better.

The answer is a twofold yes and no. For anyone who has wondered why there is such a frenzied excitement about Mad Men's return to AMC for its fourth season, the furor cannot be explained if you have not seen it from the beginning. Unlike other acclaimed shows, such as 30 Rock, Parks and Rec, and The Office, Mad Men cannot be fully appreciated unless you start from episode one. In the season premiere that aired last night, we see that the show's creator Matthew Weiner is relying on a lot of the same plot devices. And while that may be a minus in the column for novelty, it is definitely a plus in the column for consistently delivering what we expect of lead character Don Draper (Jon Hamm).

After being freshly (well, somewhat freshly. The episode begins in November 1964, almost a year from the time of season three's finale) divorced from his wife Betty (January Jones), Don wastes little time in reverting to the life of a bachelor, not that he wasn't already behaving that way before. Except now, Don seems less enticed by the prospect of sleeping with as many women as he can, mainly because there is no element of danger to it any longer. The danger must now be artificially added (i.e. Don hires a prosty to slap him in the face while they get it on). Even so, Betty isn't around anymore to catch him or condemn him for his affairs. Quite contrarily, Betty is totally invested in her new marriage to government aide Henry Francis. But if the season premiere is any indication, Betty's current wedded bliss is about to come to an abrupt halt due to opposition from Henry's mother and Betty's daughter Sally.

Where the new ad agency (the oh so easy to roll off the tongue Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce) is concerned, the executives are still relying heavily on Lucky Strike as their sole big billing client. This is where an extremely lame plot line comes in involving Peggy (Elisabeth Moss) and Pete (Vincent Kartheiser) paying two oldish ladies to pretend to get in a fight over some ham that comes in tin packaging (could 1960s culinary delights be any fouler?). Other than that brief subplot, everything centers around Don. Even the show's opening has a magazine reporter asking lithely, "Who is Don Draper?" Don can't really answer that question. And the truth is, neither can we. That's probably why so many people are still addicted to the show. There has never been a TV character this unreadable. In one respect, Draper seems calculated and, as the reporter called him, like a "cipher." But then there are times when all of those preconceptions have to be thrown out the Cadillac window.

The one notable area where the season premiere is lacking is in its sudden nonchalance about describing pivotal details about the year (in this case, 1964). One such example of this former nuanced knowledge of 1960s living was present in the premiere of season two, when the office is bowled over by the introduction of a copy machine the size of a small silo. But you would never know it was 1964 from the sex and the swearing and the absence of sexual harassment in the workplace. Fuck, they could have at least shown Don absently flipping through the radio and happening upon The Beatles' "I Feel Fine" playing (that was the single they had just released on November 23rd). Or maybe Joan. That's definitely a song she would listen to.

The only thing that seems certain about season four of Mad Men is that Sally Draper is going to turn fucking crazy (maybe even start having sex. Sure, she's ten, but it's about to be the Swinging Sixties), Don is going to start having even more bizarre sexual encounters, Peggy and Pete are probably going to admit they're still into each other, and Betty is going to be tossed out like day old bread. Here's hoping that Mad Men lives up to its seasons past and that all of my predictions are right.

Tonight is the end of an era.

After eight long years, FOX’s one really good show, 24, is coming to an end. After tonight, there will be no more convoluted plots, angry whispering and the phrase “you have my word” set to crises of international terrorist threats and political corruption. Jack Bauer (Kiefer Sutherland), after tonight, could finally calm down and go relax somewhere. On the flip side, if the writers really show off their skills, he could also end up dying, which would be appropriate, given the tone of this season. The collision course he’s been on the past few weeks, working his way up the line of (spoilers ahead if you haven’t been watching lately) evil Russians and corrupt ex-Presidents, with yet again every governmental official on his ass, all on a vengeful quest to avenge the death of the only real person he held close, should only result in a finale that puts an exclamation point on the absurdly dramatic and unbelievable journey that Jack has been on these past eight seasons.

I don’t normally write articles like this, about television shows and fictitious lead characters, but I feel compelled with 24. I’ve watched the show since its series premiere in 2001, and been enthralled ever since. It has never mattered to me that Jack should have died a million times by now, (somehow those bullets always manage to miss him). The plots of the seasons always seemed to revolve around one central attack on a major city or CTU (where Jack and his sometimes friends worked), and were usually carried out by some accented Middle Eastern terrorist type with the help of some corrupt white mole within one of the government agencies (or the White House itself! GASP!). Despite all this convention, and despite the couple of seasons that seemed to run out of creativity and rehash old plot ideas, I still watched Jack punch evil in the face every year.

Let’s get one thing straight. I know the pretense of this show is preposterous. It’s a show supposedly set in “real-time”, in which one episode is supposedly one hour in an excruciatingly long day. However, each episode is only 42 minutes long (thanks to commercial breaks), so it’s not really an hour. And what the hell happens in the three minutes between commercial breaks? Jack’s on foot chasing some dude around a mall, and the clock time flashes on screen, announcing “hey, we’ll be right back!” and when it comes back, three more minutes are gone and Jack is still running. Did he take a bathroom break? Did he stop to charge his phone or PDA, which never seem to fail/die/have bad reception? I have never figured this out.

Another thing that makes you throw any semblance of reality out the window is when someone on high says something like “hey, those CTU people are up to no good. Get one of your snippy, holier-than-thou high-ranking supervisor types to go down there and bark orders and make Chloe frown a lot”, and said supervisor person appears at CTU in like five minutes. Traveling is NEVER that easy, and yet it ain’t no thing in the world of 24. Things like phone reception, battery life, traffic, communication mishaps and general human bathroom needs are not relevant to the story. When someone tells Jack “I’m uploading the files to your PDA”, those damn files are on his PDA before the sentence is finished. No compatibility issues, no server downtime, nothing. BAM, download complete. When a CTU employee mashes the keys on a computer, intricately detailed and ridiculously complex schematics of floor plans, security cameras and 3-D grids of city streets magically show up on screen, ready for manipulation. Got an encrypted file with layered passwords? No biggie, Chloe O'Brian (Mary Lynn Rajskub) can get around it in SECONDS.

Things like this always amused me about 24, and while it undoubtedly made some people say “hey that makes no sense, 24 is wack, this is ridiculous”, it just made me like the show more. It’s total escapism, taken to a sometimes cartoonish level.

Besides Jack, the show has had some pretty memorable characters during its heyday. That guy Bill Buchanan who ran CTU at one point and always came around with a stern look on his face was one of my favorites. When they brought him back in Season 7 and he was working outside the bounds of government (hell yeah) it was one of those “whoa he’s back???!!” moments that the show loves to do. They did it with Tony Almeida (Carlos Bernard), too, and he brought back even more scowling and frowny faces, since he was angry at the US government system and all that. Jack’s daughter Kim (played by Elisha Cuthbert) existed to get caught by bad guys and add tension to the plot, and she was always nice to look at. She even came back this season briefly, and was immediately the target of bad guys trying to kidnap her again.

President Palmer, played by the guy currently in the Allstate commercials, Dennis Haysbert, was around since the beginning, delivering his lines with a sort of Morgan Freeman-esque power to them. Judging by history, 24 blazed the trail for Obama to become US President, since Palmer was a black president in the show. They now currently have a woman in the White House (played by Cherry Jones), so maybe that’s a sign of things to come?? (ew I hope not, given the options).

Anyway, back to real talk.

Jack always came under fire from some people for his torture methods that he used to get information out of shady foreign dudes and double-agents. “It sets a bad example”, “that’s just endorsing torture”, “that’s not how government agents should act”, etc., they said it all. Over time, the writers of 24 made sure that such actions, while obviously controversial, affected Bauer’s personality. He became cold, callous, and disconnected from other people, and at times seemed incapable of emotional reaction. Now, in the end, when things will finally come to a conclusion for the last time, he is caught up in a vendetta against those responsible for ruining any chance at happiness that he had. However, this situation acts as a moral consequence of his actions thus far in the show’s history. Anyone he has ever come close to has died, as a direct or indirect consequence of his deeds.

His torturous, against-the-book means of dealing with enemies and bad guys caught up to him. Jack Bauer is a supremely flawed man, and the “ends justify the means” method that he once used has been proven false, since any concept of happiness has vanished from his life. He is a tortured soul, someone not meant to have any happiness, and while he ultimately works for the good of the country, he does so on his own terms. These terms, however, have put him in the situations in which he has been involved.

In the past 24 hours (haha) I’ve seen a ton of Facebook statuses, Twitter posts, and general feedback of LOST fans saying things like “I’ve felt honored to be a part of this show for six years”, “thank you for the ride” and things like that. While I gave up on LOST when its nonsense became too much to handle, I never gave up on 24. For that reason, I feel the same way with that show coming to a close tonight.

It’s been a long, eight-year ride, and I’ve enjoyed all of it. The show is not perfect by any means, but I don’t care. It’s sensational and overly dramatic, I fully admit that. It just worked for me.

Tonight may end with Jack dying, it may not. There may be a 24 movie down the line, there may not. I don’t really know at this point. All I know is that I will be watching tonight, eager to see what the writers have in store for us viewers who have dutifully paid attention all these years.

Speaking for myself, I'm grateful for the last eight seasons. It’s been a great ride, and I’m glad to have been able to enjoy it all this time.

Adios, Jack.

Well, I can finally check off another item in my dream journal y’all! This would be the one after grape flavored Twizzlers and just above monkeys that can control robots with their minds. That’s right, my wish for an episode of House as written by Diablo Cody has finally been fully realized in the form of USA Network Royal Pains. Put some shoes on Doctor Casual Friday!

With Royal Pains, we meet a hip young doctor (played by Mark Feuerstein) who bucks the system and plays by his own rules. That is, until he is fired for letting an important money soaked VIP die while he is busy bucking the system and playing by his own rules. This loose cannon had the unmitigated gall to leave the VIP in stable condition, surrounded by (one would assume) competent, trained professional doctors, only to find him dead hours later when Dr. Maverick was miles away. Devastated by being fired and subsequently black balled from every hospital in New York for something that seems to me had to be someone else's fault, Dr. Pouty slips into a Springer fueled depression, driving away his gold-digging fiancé who is infuriated with him for ruining her perfect life. Enter the “comic” relief: the brother. Wearing his coat of many negative Jewish stereotypes, he is here to save his down trodden brother with the power of cute little pithy dialogue and a dream vacation. And where else would a broke, disgraced, bleeding heart doctor go to unwind? Why, the Hamptons of course.

Upon their arrival, thoughtful brother Shecky manages to weasel them into a big money party - just dripping in G-rated debauchery - with the power of his indomitable smarm. Dr. Can’t be Bothered then proceeds to cock block himself like a pro, thwarting the unrelenting advances of a half dozen lady people who are helpless against the raw, animal magnetism of the most boringly ethical man in the world. Eventually he stumbles upon an apparent OD and proceeds to show up the local concierge doctor because he’s a super genius and rich people are bad and lazy.

The next morning, since we’re told “word travels fast in the Hamptons”, our Super Genius, Uber Scrupulous, Doctor Jesus, finds that he has overnight become the man to call for unscrupulous medical care in spite of his burning love of scruples. Dr. Messiah then spends the remainder of the episode flitting to and fro, saving a hemophiliac budget Justin Long and a leathery old socialite with a leaky boobie, all with the power of his whiny self-righteousness and carefully placed referential wit. Then, as the eternally grateful billio-twats try to reward the doctor’s efforts with blank checks, model airplane play dates and a literal bar of gold, he simply can’t object enough, because you see, he’s so much better than that. He wants nothing more than to go home and run away from all of this dirty money and stupid dumb gratitude. That is until a plucky young doctress at the local hospital strokes his ego and shows a little interest and for no good reason that’s enough to convince him to stay.

And with that I am one step closer to having all of my fondest dreams fulfilled. Now if someone would just invent a self propelled, fully automatic, pizza roll cannon, I could finally move on to page two.

Posted
AuthorBTH Staff
CategoriesTV Drama

Michael Westen sets out on his first assignment from Strickler, the man that could get him back in the spy business. The job itself is simple, take some pictures of an arms deal going down. This job tears what seems to be a permanent rift between Michael and Fiona. burn-notice

The real gig, like in all episodes, is about someone completely random. So who is it this week? Barry, Michael's out there money launderer. Apparently Barry's new girlfriend conned him and took his little black book. It is where Barry is his ledger with all the names and amounts of the illegal accounts he opened for his connected clients. I guess the network wanted more Barry.

After dealing with the girlfriend Michael and Sam head to a house where the man in charge of the ledger sale is hiding out. Meanwhile Madeline watches the man Strickler wants photos of from a bingo hall. This plot line just fizzles out due to the whole Barry debacle. It was a great chance for Madeline to continue to grow as a character as she has done a lot this season. I guess interrogation is more fun.

Michael and Sam don't find anything but luckily the mastermind Serbian operative, Milovan, and the Realtor hostage, Natalie,  return home just in time. They are taken to Sam's vacation villa for interrogation. The weird thing about the whole storyline is that Michael does his, "I'm a spy I need to change my voice to act the part." Sam does not and it just seems awkward.

They find out that Natalie has a son and Milovan is holding him hostage until the sale is made. Fiona plays best friend to Natalie and gets little out of her. Sam and Mike go find the third member of the team and discover they had it all wrong. Natalie is the one running the show and Milovan has his kids kidnapped. Which made me think that the woman who played Natalie is really good at this complex character.

The boys make it back to Fiona right as Natalie was uncuffed to go to the bathroom. Michael strikes Fiona shockingly to keep up appearances. This no doubt leads to the end of the episode where Fiona leaves Michael for good because of his trust of Strickler. They fake an escape for Natalie and tail her right to the ledger and nab it. Natalie gets away by hiding in a group of kids.

When will you ever learn Barry?

Fiona is the main focus of this episode eventhough she gets little screen time. Her gradual transformation towards this idea of Michael getting back in has come to ahead finally. The writers handled it very well. I think Fiona should have done this a few episodes ago. The poor coverage of Strikler mission was the biggest downside. Michael's first mission on his way back and they brush it off. I know it was boring and tedious but I feel like they need to get more screen time for these missions.

Next week the season finale!

Posted
AuthorBTH Staff
CategoriesTV Drama

Have you ever wondered, while watching a finely crafted motion picture film or a dramatic television program presentation or even pretending to read one of those book things, “Hey, wouldn’t it be fun if they took one of the supporting characters not interesting enough to be featured in THIS story, and explored the origins of his uninterestingness?” If you have, then check your pants Trevor, ‘cause the debut of “Merlin” just filled ‘em. Now I’ve seen a lot of fantasy and science fiction programming over the years so I understand the drill: social commentary and hot button issues, thinly disguised beneath period costumes and dialogue. Sometimes that works and the subtle message makes you think about the issue in a new way. Then there’s “Merlin”, who’s writers took no chances that their important message might be missed, stopping just short of naming the show “By Sorcerer we mean Homosexual”.

The neckerchief is a dead giveaway...

Young WB style Merlin arrives in Camelot just in time to see the beheading of a man accused of “sorcery”, kicking off the King’s celebration of 20 years of unmagification in the land. But rather than immediately turning around and leaving to a town perhaps more tolerant of his flamboyant lifestyle, Merlin skips on in and wastes no time in performing a little clandestine magic trick and kicking off the gay allegory.

You see, as we are informed many, MANY times throughout, Merlin didn’t choose to be a warlock, he hasn’t studied the magic books, he never dabbled in magic in college and he wasn’t recruited to the magic lifestyle by truck stop magicians in medieval rest stops looking for no strings attached magical times, no, you see, Merlin was born this way. He grew up in a small town and his mother, afraid that if middle ages rednecks were to find out that her son was “different”, might drag him behind their horse drawn pick-ups, decided the only solution was to send him away, to stay with a family friend, an old doctor, named, I shit you not: GAIUS.

After a brief encounter with a young douche bag Prince Arthur, where Merlin employs his mutant ability of budget telekinesis to a sound track of Pirates of the Caribbean studio out takes and leftovers, Merlin returns to Gaius’ home. Gaius tends to Merlin’s scrapes, barging into the young boy magician’s room and ordering him to remove his shirt so that he can be rubbed down with oils and they can talk more about how he was born this way. I wish I was joking.

If I can’t use magic what have I got? If I can’t use magic I might as well die! Merlin says.

Feel free to replace “use magic” with the funniest, crudest thing that comes to mind. I did.

Eventually, the episode wraps up with Gaius talking to an exposition dragon for no good reason and Merlin saving Arthur’s life from an attack by the “B” story. As a reward for Merlin's heroism the grateful King rewards him with the job of the prince’s faithful man servant, or “bottom” as I believe the term is known today.

And while this show may be incredibly bad and probably canceled before I even finish this review I’m already looking forward to next Summer’s series about one of THIS series' uninteresting supporting characters.

Posted
AuthorBTH Staff
CategoriesTV Drama
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