This week, it's the return of Mad Men, the death of Party Down, the birth of Pillars of the Earth, and the middle parts of True Blood, and The Thick Of It.Mad Men - "Public Relations"
It's the Don and Betty show! Maybe this year it'll not be padding for 60% of the season! Maybe historical moments won't be used as a crutch! Better than Rubicon, I guess...
"Who is Don Draper?" is the first line of dialog in the season. I'm not sure if that's pretentious or portentious. Probably telling that the Mad Men writers are believing their own hype.
A guy with a fake leg interviews Don for a magazine. Roger Sterling says "So cheap they can't afford a whole reporter". Then we see Draper, Sterling, and Campbell sitting in with idiots trying to sell a 40's bathing suit in the bikini age. Then we see the Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce offices, set to Mancini soundalikes. The office is cramped and late 60's looking. We see Peggy, she has a new haircut but still can't arouse more than 20 seconds of interest. Her and Campbell are still awful and I don't give a shit about them. Their subplot here is that they pay two actresses to fight over a ham in public. It's some ABC bullshit. Don gets mad at them, because they fuck it up, he calls them idiots.
Don's lawyer says he's being bled in the divorce. Sterling tells Don he needs to screw his wife's friend. Don watches his commercial on tv. Don goes to dinner with a girl who says "the world is so dark right now", and Don plays it down so he can sleep with her. Don does not give a shit about the state of the world, even though his job is turning the zeitgeist to his benefit. She turns him down and tells him to wait a month.
When the interview gets published, the writers uses that as an excuse to describe Don on screen "Don is a cipher". Yeah thanks, I read blogs too, I don't need to see it on the fucking show. No one gives a fuck about your reviews. Anyway the plot, while clearly them jerking off, is that Don doesn't understand that being a public figure is part of his job.
Joan Holloway finally gets to talk 25 minutes in, with the non-bearded fat guy. She humors him, sort of. It'd be nice if one of the main reasons people watch this show - Joan Holloway - had something to do wouldn't it? Guess not.
Betty show up at 31 minutes (on the dot!) eating Thanksgiving dinner with her husband's family. The family hates her. So much so that later, Henry's (the new husband) mother tells him that Betty's kids are terrified of her. Don, on the other hand, has a whore over for thanksgiving, has her slap him around a bit. Well, that's more interesting than Don pining after the other girl. Betty is still awful with her kids. When Betty and Don finally speak to each other she dismisses that he wants to see their baby. The best moment in the episode is the "too bad" expression she has in that moment. Betty then leaves Don hanging with the kids, just to stick it in a little bit. Betty hates Don, that's this seasons second theme. The first is "who is Don Draper". I like the Betty one better, because it's a lot less hacky. Betty even tells Don "we are all here because of you, all we want to do is please you". Yeah, I get it.
Don has a low-level meltdown in the middle of a presentation for a two-piece swimsuit, tells the prudes to get out of his office, and the episode ends with Don selling the gunslinger ad-man schtick to another reporter. Its too neat, too clever, and boring. A whole episode like that 2 seconds of Betty giving a nasty look to Don would be great, but we've got to wade through this whole hour to get there. I already miss Breaking Bad, don't you? Wasn't it great?
Pillars of the Earth: "Anarchy/Master Builder"
I don’t now how we found out about it, because we don’t have Starz and have never, ever contemplated subscribing to it. But we were sitting on the couch and it suddenly came to my attention that Pillars of The Earth, one of my ALL TIME FAVORITE books, was now an eight part mini-series, produced by Ridley Scott, on Starz - and the first two episodes were on On Demand. !!!!!!!!!!!!!! I was so f***ing excited! In fact, the comment was made by my significant other that he might not have ever seen me so excited about anything on television, ever.
I loved this book so much. Have you read it? Last summer I submerged myself in the long-awaited (we’re talking something like 15 to 20 years of waiting) sequel.
So, how is it as a mini-series? Well, like all good books, it might not translate as well to screen. Follet’s vocabulary choices and descriptions of cathedrals, family bonds and character observations are possibly harder to translate into film then one might think. And there’s a lot to cover, plot-wise. There are several families to follow - from Tom Builder and his clan to the aspiring family of Shiring, the manipulative and self-serving Bishop, the earnest monk, the political corruption of the government and the church, etc., etc., etc. It feels almost like trying to keep up with names in Chekhov or Doestoevsky. And in book form, each chapter was told from a character’s point-of-view, if I remember correctly. Which is not as easily done via film.
But nevertheless, it’s thrilling to see my beloved book come to live. I love this genre and it’s got a fun cast. The first episode is a set-the-stage sort of thing, with an introduction to nearly every possible character and their particular objectives. So, it’s a lot to take in and follow. By episode 2, you can start to sink your teeth into the story a bit and begin to root for a few folks. Tom Builder is played by Rufus Sewell, and he's everything he seemed to be in the book, from the physical description to the humble confidence. The Bishop, played by Ian McShane - yeah, Al Swearengen from Deadwood! -- is perfectly slimy. Okay, so he’s basically playing his Deadwood character without the swearing and the fucking. But it’s still very similar. And so far, the most compelling performance is, of course, Matthew MacFadyen. I’m beginning to think that guy could recite Twinkle Twinkle Little Star and we’d all cry and reexamine our lives afterward. He’s amazing.
So, I’m totally on board. But of course I am, because this is totally my thing. I have a thing! I’m so excited!!
So Party Down is the new hotness, I guess? It's the latest show that people are mad has been cancelled. Well the reason is probably because Party Down was on a network no one in the world has, Starz (which, fyi, is the studio that produces the Simpsons now so blame them). So it getting cancelled basically means people can't watch it on Netflix anymore, which makes it barely a tv show. It's a webshow, basically. A lot of people I know love it, so I did the right thing and downloaded it illegally shortly after the show was cancelled forever. The right thing, mind you.
It IS actually pretty good. A lot better than the average sitcom, clearly owing things to the Office-awkward school of modern tv comedy and the zany Arrested Development/30 Rock-school, but it's not like we're losing a game changer here. The problem is everyone would tell you different. Here's the deal with the cast - it's Ken Marino (third guy from the left in all the David Wain movies), Lizzy Caplan (the annoying girl from Cloverfield), Martin Starr (beard bet guy from Knocked Up), Jane Lynch (whose on some anti-gay propaganda show on Fox, also had cocaine for breakfast, cocaine for lunch), Megan Mullally (Ron Swanson's insane bitch of an ex wife on Parks and Rec), some dumb blonde guy I've never seen before (?), and Adam Scott (the coked-out agent on East Bound and Down). Who's who of random comedy people show up episode to episode, the best being Paul Scheer, Bubbles from the Wire, Jo Lo Truglio, Matt Walsh, and Steve Guttenberg as himself. The best episodes, just like Always Sunny In Philadelphia, are directed by Fred Savage.
For a sitcom it is alarmingly well commited to portraying the whole cast as petty assholes who hate their jobs. Marino does a pretty great job showing how desperate and pathetic that guy would be, cycling from dickish boss to whining drunken mess from episode to episode. Jane Lynch never tells anyone she had cocaine for lunch, is therefore a lot less interesting than she could have been. Lizzy Caplan just does the cute snarky girl thing without ever being as mean (read: hot) as Aubrey Plaza or as hollow deadeyed as Zooey Deschanel. Blonde guy exists as a foil for other characters, but he's not terrible at it. Megan Mullally is great when they finally give her stuff to do halfway through the second season. Adam Scott plays Paul Rudd, only a little better because he's got more sociopath in him. He's still stuck in that, dry snarky guy who is likeable thing, but he works at least. Martin Starr is the real winner here, playing a bitter hard sci-fi writing, blogging, hatefilled prick. Major asshole, spends the entire first episode saying the same line from Repo Man over and over until someone gets it and then says to the person who got it "you and I are the only people in this entire place that would get that line". Fuck, I know that guy. Shit, there are days where I am that guy. More than I'd want to admit. Him ranting about how Close Encounters is a piece of shit and we're all going to die when the aliens show up? I've said that shit. I meant it. He's an asshole who's going to get in his own way forever. So is everyone else on this show, *thats the theme*, but that guy hits home. He's got timing too. Good comedy on tv = assholes arguing over nothing, so Martin Starr vs. blonde guy actually hits that sweet spot at least once an episode. Example "You're a waiter" "I'm a waiter like Einstein was a patent clerk!" "Einstein wasn't in the army".
The rest? Well I like it, it's not Snuff Box or anything, but it's more funny each episode than it is not funny. Whenever it sticks on the sitcom stuff, like "angry dad at part gets drunk and naked" or "mistress shows up at funeral" or "farce at a theater party", it fails. Or whenever it lets the relationship humor take over (which they skirt than trip over more often than not). I like it though. I might actually buy the dvds. If only so I could show people Megan Mullally and Bubbles both high on coke and plotting a buddy cop movie called Pride and Prejudice where both Pride and Prejudice have sisters that are hookers so the story is personal.
True Blood: "Trouble"
So, I keep turning this on to watch it...and then I start multi-tasking and miss a bunch of stuff. But this season they seem to have done that classic "Luke & Laura" thing. (Reference: General Hospital circa the summer of 1979. And no, I just heard about it). You know, Bill and Sookie are together and making it work and then - Bam! they've been torn apart. This time, by outside circumstances. But it seems this is going to be the season where we keep rooting for them to get back together. Bill's been taken my Vampires to Mississippi. Some sort of shit is going down around the Queen selling V and using Eric who is using Lafayette, as a pawn. The dude (King?) in Mississippi wants to expose it all and for some reason has designs on making Bill Mayor of Mississippi. Which means he will have to be apart from Sookie. For good. It's hard to tell if Bill is doing this because he doesn't think he has a choice, or if he has really thought it over and decided to let Sookie go.
Sookie is crushed but does not give up. She somehow gets hooked up with this werewolf dude to take her to Bill. Werewolves are the driving subplot this season. And see, I should be able to fill you in on all sorts of fun facts...but I just lose interest. There's werewolves, Sam is reunited with his family of origin who had his shape-shifting ass up for adoption. Tara has found herself once again the victim of a lunatic. This time a vampire who keeps her tied up, like Kathie Bates Misery-style. And I write this all simply because I want to say: she did that light thing with her hand again!! Yeah yeah yeah! Sookie! Bill saw it! It's the same thing that she did to Maryann last season! Some crazy being tried to get to close to her and she pushes them right in the face with her hand, and this crazy force field of light comes out of her hand and jolts the receiver of said jolt, back. It's the coolest looking thing. More of that please. It's like, the last thing that happened last episode - and it's all I care about.
The Thick of It - "Episode Three"
"Remember that check you signed for at the beginning? That wasn't for being mute."
-James Smith, regarding Joanna Scanlan's lack of contribution to the episode commentary
The idea behind the third episode was to set the story completely in one hotel room, watching as Glenn, Olly and Nicola feverishly hammered out a speech she was to give later that day. From there, the idea snowballed into Malcolm Tucker making good on his oft-repeated threats of physical violence, the casual destruction of bloggers, and a memorable guest appearance by Miles Jupp. (Jupp's appearance as the serially incompetent John Duggan forms the primary focus of James Smith's commentary. Throughout the episode, Smith ridicules Jupp's performance, cruelly pointing out every moment in which he failed to stay in character--which is actually quite a bit of the episode.)
While these thirty minutes don't do much to move the general narrative of the season forward, viewing it with the knowledge of how the overall plot of Season Three concludes, you might make an argument that Malcolm's failure to prepare for this conference, as well as the moment when he loses his temper and punches Glenn in the face, indicate his general slide towards the upcoming collapse. For the most part, this is just a funny episode that showcases the strange uselessness of Nicola Murray's job, Terri Coverly's neurotic obsession with her own importance, and Malcolm's never-gets-old brilliance at saying things like this: "I read all the blogs. Because, basically, I'm an underemployed fat fucking loser with nothing better to do with my time than sit in my bedroom, like a fat space-hub in a track suit, reading inconsequential, un-spell checked shit fabricated by other fat, farting, fucking losers."