The Venture Brothers: "Handsome Ransom" by Matthew J. Brady
The well for pedophilia jokes is pretty shallow, and Venture Brothers has already probably gone to it more often than is necessary or comfortable (not that awkwardness or dark subject matter is off limits, but I think we can all agree that diddling kids isn't exactly a rich source of comedy), so if they're going to head back to that territory, it should probably be for a good reason, something other than tired gags about superheroes fucking their sidekicks. But no, that's exactly what we get here, with Hank becoming the new Wonder Boy, the ward of one Captain Sunshine, a solar-powered, sunburn-inflicting, hilariously-rainbow-emblazoned doofus who has a mad-on for the Monarch, who killed the last Wonder Boy in a fit of grief after getting dumped by Dr. Girlfriend. So when Monarch holds Hank and Dean for ransom (he's given up on killing Dr. Venture, deciding instead to hit him where it really hurts, his wallet), Sunshine busts in and ends up taking off with Hank, who looks so much like his dead ward (or wards, since a running joke involves other characters asking him "Really? Another one?" after finding out about the new Wonder Boy), and the pedo jokes ensue. And sure, they're mostly misdirection, especially a drawn-out bit involving lube, but again, when the funny part of a joke involves kid-fucking, well, you know how I feel about that.
But! There's a lot of funny shit here, especially stuff involving the bureaucratic negotiations between Dr. Venture and the Monarch, or Sergeant Hatred's pathetic attempts at bodyguarding (he gets one of the best lines of the episode, involving a description of the pliable nature of his testicles when overheated), or henchman 24's (21's? Dammit!) unkempt, hard-edged attitude (or facade thereof) after losing his partner. And in what was probably the funniest scene, Captain Sunshine's local anchorman alter ego freaks out and screams hysterically while running around the newsroom because he thinks Monarch is on his way to murder the new Wonder Boy, although Monarch taunting him while wearing the dead sidekick's costume is also pretty close. The best stuff still probably comes from knowledge of the characters though, like how Monarch and Dr. Mrs. the Monarch constantly mock everybody else while apparently being oblivious to their own ridiculousness, or the way 24 gets pissed at Hank for trying to beat him up, since they've spent enough time together that they're pretty much pals by now. And Dr. Venture's continuing patheticness, with him unable to get much of anything accomplished without calling up White and Billy to bail him out, remains as much of a source of comedy as ever.
Eh, it's kind of a second episode slump, but while it's not among the show's best, there are some solid laughs here. Maybe things will pick up when Brock comes back. Until then, let's just hope for less kiddie-rape comedy.
Mad Men - "The Gypsy and the Hobo" by Sean Witzke
A dog food company that makes it out of horses wants all of Madison Ave. to reposition their horse meat after the company tanked when The Misfit came out. Turns out the woman who runs the company knows Roger Sterling incredibly well - the two of them were together 20 years ago in Paris. "You're gonna tell me when you saw Casablanca you didn't think about me" leads to "What you mean Peter Lorre", oh suddenly I don't hate Roger Sterling, it's just like Season One. Apparently he was a boxer too, and he was in the service. Sterling was actually fucking awesome as a kid and he's all angry and bitter and horny now because he hates his job and misses being 25. He's in love though, and he turns down his old, easy, drunk horse meat heiress to go home to his hot wife.
Hippy teacher really doesn't understand Don Draper, wants to cook him dinner and make him happy. She doesn't understand that Don is only happy when he's oh wait he's never happy shut your hippy mouth, what you didn't know you can be a hippy & skank, same time, totally can, you are. Later she apologizes to Don for mentioning "The future." Who do you think you are, hippy skank? You think you're Michael Biehn? You ain't Michael Biehn.
Joan Holloway is mock interviewing her husband as he interviews for a job in psychiatry, he wants to be one because his father had a nervous breakdown when he was a kid. She gives him maybe the best advice anyone's ever got about interviewing: "no self-deprecating humor, show enthusiasm in the most conversational way possible", and he's probably not going to listen because no one ever listens to Joan Holloway and since season 2 she's never been wrong (season one they played her more old-school woman-in-the-office). Joan's husband sits there and whines about not wanting to even be a psychiatrist, and how he's done all the right things but life isn't working out the way he wanted, and wahh Joan would never understand. So Joan, knowing that he's full of shit and doesn't know her at all, smashes a vase on his head.
Betty and her brother from Philadelphia talk to her dad's lawyer - she asks him if its a good idea to divorce him. She actually knows a little more than they let on last time - she knows his real name, knows it's not his first marriage, knows he owns his ex-wife's house. The lawyer points out that in NY state she has to prove adultery, even then it's hard unless he also wants out and she's not in any danger. (And that Don will get the kids, and she won't get any money.) She points out that the lie is the worst part, probably because that's the sort of thing a book would tell her to say, and that it's too big for her to comprehend.
Dog food heiress lady doesn't get that Sterling isn't interested, or that no one is ever gonna buy her family's dogfood unless she changes the family name - which she refueses to do. She tells Sterling he was the one, he responds by saying she wasn't.
Don and Hippy Teacher are going on a trip, he goes inside and his kids and wife are there early and Betty is PISSED. She tells Don that she knows whats in his drawer, and Don is holding back tears and can only say "I can explain". Betty says she knows he's a very gifted storyteller, and he responds by going to get a drink. Don is almost shivering, trying to figure out how to tell Betty everything - Betty's got it backwards, thinks Don has another wife somewhere. Don responds with "It wasn't romantic, I ended up married to her because I ran away to join the army" - Don took another man's life and Betty thinks like a child she asks "isn't that illegal" - dark night of the soul desolation shit isn't the kind of thing that Betty isn't going to understand. She points out that Don never understood how to handle money, exposing that she grew up rich and Don grew up "very very poor". Betty is in the right here, Don's been lying all the time, but Betty has no idea how to respond to it.
Don is fucking destroyed, carrying his memory shoebox slowly out of the kitchen like its a dead child. He and Betty sit on the bed, and Don talks about his father and stepmother, showing her the pictures of his life. Don's mom was a prostitute who died in childbirth, Don's dad died when he was ten. His stepmom's wife, Uncle Mac, "was nice to him". His half-brother, Adam, killed himself, pretty much because Don wanted his old life the fuck away from him. And now that Don's been exposed, he can own up to the fact that he pretty much killed his brother through his actions. On the plus side, it looks like Betty is going to to not freak out on Don after he told her that, which makes you wonder if Don kind of forced that reaction.
Joan's shithead husband joined the army as a surgeon, pretty much the right at the start of Vietnam and he's a horrible surgeon so he'll probably get turfed into infantry in about six months. So he's gonna die next season.
Hippy Teacher wakes up in Don's car, hours later and walks home. Hopefully its the last we'll see of her forever (it won't be). Don calls her after and she asks him if he got caught, he responds that "it's more complicated than that", and seethes a little when she asks if he's okay. "Only you would ask about me right now". Bye, you fucking hippy, hope you enjoy your Big Chill-style future self-recrimination at achieving nothing because optimism and positivity are never going to be enough. All the kids you're teacher become Gordon Gecko or start punk bands, and it's all because of braindead hippy teachers like you. Merry fucking Christmas.
Don and Betty are back together, it looks like, even if its just because he loves the kids. And Don is taking his kids trick or treating. After last week it's so goddamn great to have a Mad Men where they don't fuck around, it's all meat. Next season, try and make em all like this. And either next week or the start of the finale, Kennedy gets popped and I will bet you a whole mess of change that Betty will be paralelled with Jackie O.
"And who are you supposed to be?"
Dollhouse: "Belonging" by Matthew J. Brady
I think Sierra has always been my favorite character on Dollhouse, possibly because the actress who portrays her is one of the more talented cast member, being incredibly versatile and nailing each of the distinct personalities she's asked to play (as opposed to the nominal star, Eliza Dushku, who has undergone a bizarre change and now does a decent job with her various imprinted personalities but has become extra awful in her increasingly intelligent blank slate persona). So here's her spotlight episode, in which she faces her demons and goes through hell, but still manages to stay safely within the status quo. As we saw last season, she's in the Dollhouse because a rich asshole kidnapped her and forced her into mental slavery after she rejected him, with the intent of repeatedly fucking her to show what a man he was, or something. It was a pretty horrific revelation, and it comes full circle here, as he gets exposed and she nearly gets sent into his clutches permanently, until Topher undergoes his first moral crisis and takes the initiative to do something about this injustice. It's an interesting dilemma, since the show already operates in a moral grey area, with characters having to come up with increasingly convoluted justifications for their actions, so it's nice to see the show confronting this sort of thing head on, rather than ignoring it in favor of some secret agent shit.
It ends up being pretty fucked up, with Topher's actions seeing him taking the first step down the road to the craziness that we saw in the flash-forward episode "Epitaph One", yet still containing some sweet moments between Sierra and Victor (who should probably get a spotlight episode of his own at some point). And Echo's continuing development is intriguing, despite Dushku's woodenness, as we see her trying to lead other Actives, help rectify wrongs, and take the initiative to better herself. It's hard to tell where it's going, but considering what we've seen and the possibilities as to what could happen, it should be fascinating to watch. Hmm, it might be more fun to complain when the show is bad, but I'll take an actual good show any day. Sorry if it means more "Yeah, this was pretty good" columns, but you can blame Joss Whedon because he didn't let me down.
Law & Order - "Reality Bites" and "Dignity" by Tucker Stone
I haven't watched "new" episodes of Law & Order in at least ten years, so I thought I'd give it a try. Anthony Anderson was pretty good when he was killing children on The Shield, so I figured this couldn't be that hard to sit through. And Jeremy Sisto! I've always had warm feelings for Jeremy Sisto, even when he was being really mean to Alicia Silverstone in that shitty horror movie he did. He had a funny line in Law & Order's Octomom episode, where he said "I was having a bad beard day". I bet a lot of old people laughed at that line. Then they started coughing, because they are old.
Oddly enough, I still haven't watched any "new" episodes of Law & Order in at least ten years, because I couldn't finish either one of these. I gave up as soon as they hit the thirty minute mark, right around the time Linus "Batman's Dad" Roache showed up. Nothing against Batman's Dad, but both of these episodes were pretty tough to watch. Correct me if I'm wrong, but wasn't one of the charms of Law & Order that I never had to hear about people's fucking personal lives? I don't give a shit about watching S. Epatha Merkerson wander around getting chemo and talking to her kid about painting kitchens, I'm completely uninterested in listening to Linus Roache and Sam Waterson discuss their personal feelings about late-term abortion--fuck these people. These people aren't real. I don't care. Solve some crimes and yell "objection" at each other. That's your whole shtick. When did Law & Order start thinking it was fucking art? This shit ain't art. It's a warm blanket of nostalgia and time-killing, and it would be okay, maybe, if all of these stupid abortion debates were well-written, but they aren't well-written, they're just a bunch of actors spitting out pamphlet worthy anecdotes and catchphrases. They can't even make the abortion doctor victim complicated and real, he's just a magic doctor doing scary ass late-term abortions in cases where the mother is an incest victim, a rape victim, or a woman with an exploding DNA monster fetus. Go grow some fucking courage. Write about an abortion doctor doing late-terms for women who use abortion as birth control, write something thoughtful and difficult. Write in some pro-lifers who aren't ghostly freaks that mumble dead-eyed sensibilities and extremist evangelical bullshit. If I wanted to get patted on the back for being fucking right about meandering "debates", I'd just go and read more blogs. The closest they come, and it's a Sisto line again, is when Anthony Anderson spits out some ridiculous personal story for why he's pro-life, and when he asks Sisto what he thinks about the fact that he, Anthony Anderson, was almost aborted, Sisto just screws up his face--in that way that let's you see that he knows what he's going to say might hurt feelings, but fuck you for putting him in this position anyway--and says "I think I would've just had another partner." Because, exactly, fuck your personal trump card argument, and fuck what you think, because this isn't how anybody talks, ever, anywhere, about anything.
Oh, and if nobody told you--because why would they, nobody watches Law & Order unless they have the chicken pox and are bored at four in the afternoon--they actually had a bald cancer kid say "i was scared the first time" to S. Epatha Merkerson, and Merkerson responds "I hope I have your courage!"
Who writes this show anyway? It's gotta be graduate students.
Dexter - "Dex Takes A Holiday" and "Dirty Harry" by Tucker Stone
The best thing that was ever written about not having spoiler warnings was when the Soprano's final season premiere opened with Tony getting shot. Somebody--think it was Salon--wrote about it, and when complaints started rolling in, the writer said something to the effect "If you care that much that you didn't want it spoiled, and you care so much that you've been waiting for months for the final season, and you didn't watch it last night but decided to read a review first, then Fuck. You."
She was totally right.
Nothing in that first Dexter episode was that exciting, beyond the regular weirdness that comes when Dexter kills a woman. Not sure what it is, but nothing drives home the fact of Dexter's ultimate horrible-ness more than watching him emotionally torment, physically assault, and eventually kill an attractive female. She's a murderer, she "deserves it" in Dexter's code--although it seems a bit unlikely that she was going to do it again--but it's still really fucking creepy, especially when Dexter plays to form and strips her naked. Yes, he does that with everybody--but, fuck. She's a girl, y'know? But then, it came. After watching yet another horrible romance scene, one so heavily ladled with syrup that it became easily mistakable as a stack of flapjacks, somebody fucking shot Deb. And then they shot Lundy. And then they shot Lundy again! And then Lundy died, because he was weak.
And then this show got pretty fucking good again.
All the problems that have existed up until now are the same: Dexter isn't behaving in a way that's very interesting/reliable/the way I like him to behave ive got sand in my peehole and it hurts, all of the other actors are still terrible and there's a whole new shitty romance subplot that's as unbearable as it is uncomfortable to watch due to the out-of-place copious nudity. But now Dexter has. Something. To. Do. Something that takes the show out of the weird procedural drama it falls into whenever the A-plot stalls out, and something that will now put Dexter in the position we've wanted him in since the very beginning--at full on odds with John Lithgow's Trinity Killer.
And what a killer he's turned out to be! He remains a bizarro freak show--hiding in an alley, screaming "faggot" at passers by until he gets the beating he craves, nearly confessing to a hardware store clerk what he needs a framing hammer for--and it turns out, in the other big turn of events, that he's exactly what Dexter is currently failing to be. He's a loving husband and father, with a serial killing hobby on the side. Without a shower, without anything more than a change of clothes, he beats a weeping, terrified man to death, drives home, and kisses his wife. Tousles his son's hair. And while it's so likely that this plotline will become all screwed up and oh so predictable--so likely that, if it doesn't, it'll be a surprise--it doesn't change the fact that these two episodes trumped the entirety of this season so far. Despite what people say about stunt deaths and surprise slaughter, sometimes--usually when it's a story about a serial killer who gets away with it--it fits like a damn glove.
Sons of Anarchy - "Gilead" and "Potlatch" by Tucker Stone
And here's the flipside of the whole "do nasty shit to women" coin, in which the first episode reveals that some guy raped a young girl, the Sons caught the rapist and helped the girl's father stab him to death, and then the Sons kept the knife (with the father's prints on it) as leverage against the father. In the second episode, Ron Perlman gives the father the knife back in this really magnanimous fashion that makes me feel sort of ill, and then another woman gets beaten to death with a baseball bat.
By Tom Arnold.
Yeah, so that's Sons of Anarchy for you. Sure, you could make the argument that the climax of "Potlatch " was some sort of vindication for ladyhood everywhere, with Katey Segal breaking a giant serving dish to stop all the fussing and mussing amongst the boys. You could, I won't, but hey, I'm not your parent. Do with and take heed, little sister. (Just don't forget the inherent lameness that the only way Katey Segal can grab the floor away from Hellboy versus Charisma Vampire: Round Two is by breaking her own shit and ruining the food she cooked. Or at least made the women from Magnolia cook for her. Women: they got three uses on Sons. Raping, dying and cooking. Classy!)
While I recognize the wheel-spinning in saying "hey, Opie had some nice scenes" every time these responses go up...fuck it, it's true, it's the charm of the goddamn show that there's this one guy roaming around like a scene-stealing roughneck, an actor that seems unaware that the only other actor even trying at this point is the fat dude from Batman Begins. Maybe it's because most of Opie's scenes consist of him working with day players, excepting the moments where he sneers at Jax and says all the shit that the audience is thinking, which is roughly "you're acting like a punk" and "god I hate you" and "seriously, i hate you, and your girlfriend, and I know you're just an actor, but I think I hate you on a personal level" and "i don't want to beat a dead horse but i'm starting to use you as a sort of catharsis figure, in that i'm venting my daily troubles and irritations through a version of visualization therapy where you are my problems and if i take you apart physically in my mind it's like i'm taking apart the parts of myself i find unlikeable, so while i still dislike you in a fashion completely incommensurate with your actual existence as actor-on-television show, i sort of need and love you, the way one would love their boxing coach despite their boxing coach being the immediate reason that the day's workout was a particular difficult one."
Okay, okay, the prison fistfight was pretty great, although the lack of testicle attacks seemed unlikely. If you've never hit a guys balls, or never gotten hit in the balls, then guess what everybody knows about you right now? You've never really been in a fight. That shit happens every fucking time.
-Matthew J. Brady, Sean Witzke & Tucker Stone, 2009