Wednesday, January 30, 2013

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Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Fresh Meat: New Girl

Zooey Deschanel can make me watch anything. She is quirky, cute and no matter what character she plays, she makes you feel like she is the girl next door. In the New Girl, she plays Jess, an elementary school teacher who just broke up with her boyfriend and moves in with three guys. Jess (Zooey) elevates her oddness to a new level. Yet it is more endearing than ever.
The four roommates play off each other beautifully, and in just its first season have developed a report obtained only after years of being on the air. The three male leads are an eclectic bunch. Winston (Lamorne Morris) came in the second episode after Damon Wayans Jr's show Happy Endings got picked up and had to leave. At first Lamorne did not fit (even after one episode they had report!) but he found his own niche in the group. Nick (Jake Johnson) could be considered the male lead and his laid back attitude and sarcastic comments are a great contrast to the faster paced Jess. Finally, there is Schmidt (Max Greenfield). He is a ladies man, who has no game, a metrosexual to the nth degree, a womanly man's man. It is hard to describe him and at first can seem rather off putting yet you can't help but love to make fun of him while still hoping he finds his path. New Girl is a bright new show on Fox with so many great moments already in its first season with potential for much more. If you love shows like Friends and Happy Endings, with more of an indie quirkiness and a crush on Zooey Deschanel, this ones for you.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Fresh Meat: Homeland

Although the new fall TV season has only just begun, it seems appropriate to declare Showtime's new series Homeland, airing Sundays at 10pm, the best new drama of the season. From producers of 24, Homeland stars Claire Daines as Carrie Anderson, a CIA officer who received a tip that a recently discovered American POW has been turned by Al-Qaeda. The catch of course is that the tip was unofficial at best and without substantial evidence to gain Agency support she conducts her own investigation. Her conviction concerns her mentor Saul (Mandy Patinkin) and the fact that she is secretly taking an anti-psychotic certainly doesn't seem to help her case. Carrie's guilt over past mistakes drives her to an intense obsession with proving the POW is a terrorist and preventing his suspected mission, no matter how mundane he initially seems.

However, Homeland also focuses on the perspective of Damian Lewis (Band of Brothers) as the Marine Sergeant in question, Nicholas Brody. Although he is understandably stoic and overwhelmed in the first episode, the psychological toll that years of torture has had slowly reveals itself, particularly in the second episode. With brief flashbacks, the show complements Brody's outward actions (as seen by the general public) and his private actions (as surveilled by Carrie) with insights into his inner-psyche. Lewis is in top form here, effectively portraying the fascinating and horrifying torment of a tortured (and possibly brainwashed) soldier as he struggles to regain his composure. And if that weren't enough, Brody's wife and kids must adjust to his return after eight long years of his absence.

In addition to its position as a conspiracy thriller and psychological drama, Homeland also offers a look into the workings of the CIA, both in the office and out in the field. While running her covert surveillance on Brody, Carrie must also handle her overseas assets, one of whom surfaces with fresh information on Carrie's long-term target, Abu Nazir, who may also be connected with Brody and responsible for his imprisonment. Carrie must work to secure the undercover asset's safety, while simultaneously encouraging her to continue to gather intelligence as the asset's situation grows increasingly precarious. This balance of office dealings and abroad action also presents a fresh and realistic take on the spy genre.

Bottom Line: Homeland is an intriguing and tense thriller with excellent acting and a rich, increasingly murky plot that will keep you glued to the screen.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Why Aren't You Watching: Parenthood

Returning for its third season on Tuesday night at 10pm, NBC's Parenthood is a refreshing take on the family drama, or more appropriately, dramedy. With a skilled combination of heart and humor, Parenthood stands out as one of the most enjoyable hours of television. Just as he did on Friday Night Lights, creator Jason Katims imbues Parenthood with a palpable authenticity as well. Additionally, the series' reliance on improv among its large and talented cast allows for character interactions that feel natural (full of inarticulates and the like) instead of coming across as written dialogue. 

Centering around the large and diverse Braverman family, Parenthood always manages to find enough time to develop engrossing stories for all of its many characters. As eldest son Adam, Peter Krause (Six Feet Under) is reliably at the top of his game in every episode, fully realizing the struggle of a father whose son has aspergers syndrome, with Max Burkholder also doing excellent work as the son. Additionally, Lauren Graham (Gilmore Girls), as Adam's younger sister Sarah, displays expert light-heartedness as a career-less single mother taking her shortcomings with a smile and self-deprecating wisecrack. Even more of a standout is Mae Whitman (Arrested Development) as Sarah's teenage daughter Amber, impressively demonstrating range and depth well beyond her years. There are too many phenomenal actors in this show to go through each one, but another surprise has been Dax Shepherd, bringing real pathos to youngest son and man-child Crosby as he tries to grow up after meeting his five-year-old son.

Bottom Line: In addition to its gifted cast, Parenthood is worth watching for its engrossing authenticity and entertaining humor, rightfully rendering it one of the top shows on right now.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Fresh Meat: Friday Night Dinner

Every once in a while, a BBC show will make its way over the pond and become a hit in the States. A few happen to be written by Ricky Gervais such as The Office, Extras and The Ricky Gervais Show.
BBC America is taking a chance on the Goodmans, a Jewish family from England. The show revolves around this oddball family and their attempts at a Sabbath meal every friday night.

The kids are all grown up but still behave childish in every way, pouring salt into each others water while the other isn't looking, to stealing their mothers cellphone and prank texting another that they were a mistake. Tamsin Greig (Episodes) does a spot on portrayal of a Jewish mother who has just stopped caring. The father, played by Paul Ritter (Quantum of Solace) is not your ordinary Jewish father, or at least one expected to be written about for a television show, but that just adds another level of unpredictability. The father is losing his hearing and also sadly/hilarious depending on how you look at it, his sense of embarrassment. The opening scene for American viewers is the two sons watching their father, through the front window of the house, looking at his penis with a magnifying glass.

Every friday night they are bothered by their creepy neighbor who seemingly stands at the front door all night with his dog waiting for an invitation, never forgetting to mention how good the food smells.
For any of you who have been to a friday night meal, throw all your preconceived notions out the window. Don't worry though, this is not a slapstick humor show or overly raunchy for that matter. Its just some good old British humor.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Fresh Meat: Franklin & Bash v. Suits

This summer saw the premiere of two lighthearted legal shows, TNT's Franklin & Bash at 9 on Wednesdays and USA's Suits at 10 on Thursdays. Despite their seemingly similar premises, the two are actually quite different in plot and case-of-the-week execution. While a show about lawyers and their cases is nothing new, each attempts to liven up the proceedings with a fresh take and style on this familiar genre.

Franklin & Bash is the more straightforward of the two. It follows bus-stop bench attorneys Jared Franklin (Breckin Meyer) and Peter Bash (Paul-Michael Gosselaar, forever Saved by the Bell's Zack) who abandon their strategy of running after car accident victims and defending hookers to join a large reputable firm run by the eccentric Stanton Infeld (Malcolm McDowell, clearly enjoying himself). However, despite their new positions, the two remain in their trashy house where there's always a party going on, and even bring that atmosphere to the office. The main premise of Franklin & Bash really ends up being a demonstration of what would happen if two frat bros never really matured yet were still able to be successful attorneys in spite of their blatant unprofessionalism, because, with this being a legal procedural, they always win their case.

Although its premise may be a bit more outlandish, Suits is actually the more authentic program in its plot and execution. Unfulfilled prodigy Mike Ross (Patrick J. Adams) is a college dropout who copes with his failed goals by smoking pot and getting paid to pass the LSATs and BAR exams for other people. However, while running from the cops, he ends up in an interview for an associates position at a prestigious corporate law firm that only hires from Harvard. Harvey Specter (Gabriel Macht), the senior partner conducting the interview, is so impressed by Mike's ability to absorb information (he happens to have a photographic-level memory) and his sheer "unlawyerness" that he offers him the job, despite the fact that he doesn't have a degree and the two will now have to keep that a secret from the rest of the firm. Here, the cases of the week (which include interesting insights into corporate legal matters) are framed by Mike's adjustment to this new lifestyle and his apprenticeship under Harvey.

While Franklin & Bash gets its humor from portraying decent lawyers who don't take their work seriously, Suits finds its humor in a non-lawyer who strives to keep up with seriousness of the law. However both shows maintain plenty of idiosyncrasies and quirks for their characters. In Franklin & Bash, their associate Pindar is an socially-inept and agoraphobic attorney, while Suits' Harvey is an arrogant prick who just so happens to be the best closer New York has ever seen. Additionally, although USA is typically better known for humorous dramas than TNT, Franklin & Bash plays more like a comedy than Suits, even though its cases and structure are a bit more traditional for a legal procedural. Where Franklin & Bash is fairly obvious in its humor and fun, Suits takes a more subtle approach with well-rounded characters who come across more natural in their sense of humor.

Bottom Line: Both shows have leading pairs with great chemistry and are solid lighthearted entertainment despite their unrealistic premises. However Suits' more original stories and more fully developed characters reveal greater authenticity that draws you in.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Why Aren't You Watching: Louie

Returning for its second season tonight at 10:30 on FX, Louie is a delightfully deadpan and hilariously bleak look at the life of a 40-year-old single comedian in New York City. As the creator, writer, director, and singular star, comedian Louis C.K. is able to assert complete creative control over the program, allowing a consistent style throughout and portraying a full comedic vision. Louie follows the title character through an exaggerated depiction of the man and his daily life. The formula partially consists of the original Seinfeld premise, regularly showing (mostly) live segments of C.K's stand-up. There are typically 2-3 sets of varying length in a single episode, with typically stand-alone story segments of Louie's life.

Although Louie is the only starring character in the show, there a few recurring characters as well. Actors portray Louie's brother and two young daughters, while his comedian friends appear as themselves. Additionally, another single parent recurs, as does Ricky Gervais in a couple episodes, playing an extremely unprofessional asshole of a doctor. While the stand-up segments are pretty straightforward and often a hilarious highlight, the individual story segments can be an ridiculously offbeat delight as well. One such story involves the visit of Louie's exaggeratedly selfish mother who decides, for no apparent reason other than a desire for attention, declares herself a lesbian. Another standout story involves his fantastical attraction to an African-American check-out lady, whom he essentially follows all the way home making humorously horrible and uncomfortable attempts at seduction, to the point where she confronts him on his fantasies. Although some of these little stories can be especially odd, just when you begin to question the direction they're heading, they catch you off guard with C.K.'s outrageously funny and surprisingly absurd humor.

Bottom Line: Louie is an original and diverse exploration of a comedian's occasionally bleak, but always hilarious observations and experiences of life.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Procedurals with Pedigree: In Plain Sight

Welcome to our first Procedurals with Pedigree column, where we'll focus on that classic television format that isn't always as exciting as its serialized counterpart, but can be just as entertaining and, in these cases, exceptionally crafted. Our first procedural with pedigree is USA's In Plain Sight, currently airing its 4th season Sundays at 10pm.

The series centers on US Marshall Mary Shannon (The West Wing's Mary McCormack), who serves in WITSEC (witness protection) in Albuquerque, New Mexico. The first thing that must be mentioned about this show is how surprisingly original it is in its case-of-the-week storytelling. Although there are some character-based serialized elements (more on that later), the show primarily focuses on a different witness each week that is under Mary or her partner's protection. Since the witnesses vary from former criminals to civilians and everything in between, there is a lot of range in their characters, as played by various guest stars.  One way the creators keep these stories fresh is that they often don't simply follow a new witness as they deal with adjusting to the program. Instead, they will often begin the episode with a flashback to the crime that was witnessed, then flash years later to the present. This allows them to tell original stories about these witnesses, not necessarily related to the crimes they witnessed. Although an episode will often center on Mary ensuring the safety of her witnesses when possible threats arise, these threats are impressively diverse as these one-note characters are typically well-written and fully rounded on their own.

Even though the creators do an excellent job with the weekly cases and characters, the show wouldn't be very engrossing if the main characters were not likable or identifiable. Here too the show excels with the excellent performances of Mary McCormack as Mary Shannon and Frederick Weller as her partner Marshall Mann (hilariously named Marshall by his parents in a failed attempt to prevent him from becoming a Marshall like the rest of his family). Mary is difficult to get along with to say the least. She has little patience for optimism, emotional issues, and people who beat around the bush. Although she's rough around the edges, Mary's bluntness and low tolerance for BS is understandable given her environment; namely a runaway fugitive father, an alcoholic mother, and a perpetually-in-trouble little sister. Although these characters have grown each season in semi-serialized plots, Mary is the one who has difficulty changing and not judging those around her. Contrastingly, Marshall is relatively easy-going and accepting, though he seems to be the only one who truly understands Mary and can stay on her good side. With his rationality and proclivity for minutia, and her stubbornness and unwonted principles, Marshall and Mary maintain a steady rapport of banter that reveals there very real friendship.

Another particularly great thing about this series is how it continually manages to grow and improve each season, largely thanks to the slight tweaks that come with new showrunners (season 4 sees another showrunner switch after the recent change up for season 3). These alterations aren't very noticeable as the core of the show remains the same, but they slowly become apparent as you realize how the characters and their environment have developed. While Mary and Marshall's growth is slight, the development of the supporting characters, like Mary's sister and mother, is more noticeable, though not at all forced. This steady  progression is another key draw of the show as it depicts a world of characters that slowly evolve, just as they should naturally.

Bottom Line: Though on the surface it may appear to be a cookie-cutter procedural, this show is worth checking out for its surprisingly original and engaging stories, as well as its appealing and fully formed characters that  will further your investment in the plot-lines.