This week: Sean Witzke with the Mad Men bullets, Nina with the Pillars of the Earth and True Blood shells, and a pail of leavings from Tucker on Hung.
Mad Men - "Christmas Comes But Once A Year"
After last week's extra-shitty opening moment, at least this week's opening is a scene instead of a bullshit writers-room mission statement. Of course it's got the always boring Draper kids in it, so we're back to zero. Don Draper's secretary reads the kids letter to Santa. The Freddy guy from Sterling-Cooper comes back, and is in A.A. Yeah, it's that episode. Rather than work an internal premise (HEY FEMINISM, MISOGYNIST DINOSAURS), they've decided to start just pulling random things in as themes.
Don meets his neighbor across the hall, it's the girl from Brick. Freddy and Peggy work together. Peggy is nothing but a haircut and a feminist argument - zero character. "My bed is covered with work", then the guy she's with says "Thats kind of symbolic". What the fuck, Mad Men writers? Are you worried we won't get it? Quit telling us the fucking subtext for five minutes. Peggy as the only voice of feminism on this show is becoming a crutch rather than a tool. I guess there used to be more young people on this show? But right now, she's the only fully developed young character and the only woman with that mindset so she's becoming even more unlikeable than she used to be.
All the annoying kids in the office pool get moments, if you care about, here you go, caring about that. I guess? Pete Campbell having nothing to do is one of the few things I'm happy with here.
There is a pretty great character moment of Don Draper ducking his way out of a focus-group personality test. Then there's another one, of Roger Sterling getting a call from Lee Garner when hung over, accidentally getting forced into throwing a huge xmas party. And they shoot Christina Hendricks in side profile as he hits on her, making some redundant statement about "this is the office and that's life". It's nice to see Slattery, Harris, and Hendricks get a scene where they can bounce off each other, but really this is sitcom filler showing up pretty early on in the season. Who gives a shit, really? I guess this is the Roger Sterling episode, where Sterling eats shit the whole episode in order to keep his Lucky Strike contract. I like Sterling, but his character is really only great as a foil for Don, so whatever mileage you get from this is yours to keep.
Don is lonely, but really they haven't given Don anything to do. He's in a holding pattern, and we're only in episode 2. Bad start. The group dynamics lady reads Don like a book, tells him he'll be remarried within the year. I have a problem with this mostly because its another chunk of this show telling instead of showing. Then Don sleeps with his secretary, and there is an awkward moment between them which is nice, but not really substantive at all. Then Don quickly brushes her off the next day, giving her a hundred dollar Christmas bonus.
Once again, the Don and Betty show has very little Don and Betty in it. I'm beginning to sense a pattern. The best part was Don and Sterling doing nazi voices as they get into the office so they don't have to talk about the christmas party. I want to watch whatever show that scene came from.Pillars of the Earth - "Redemption"
Well, I certainly feel like I'm going to have a redundant review here. So much happened that I can't possibly talk about the plot. I just need to tell you about who's giving great performances and what my opinions are - right? The story is so large that even though it's being split up into 8 hours of a mini-series, it could probably have been longer. This particular episode felt like they wanted to squeeze so many details in, but they didn't have time, and then they just decided that they'd do it anyway. It ends up being a lot of short scenes - the kind that are all action and no words. The kind that are great when you're reading them, but feel like some sort of weird edit and jump-cut when thrown into the mix of one episode. Nevertheless, I fully enjoyed it this episode and wanted more, more, more. One thing really striking to watch is the portrayal of faith in Medieval Times. Royalty, clergy, townsfolk - all want to be on the side of God. When somebody holds up a cross, it matters, when somebody gets threatened with Hell, there's actual fear. And the belief of each of the characters as to whether God is on their side or not is what is creating the drama and the tension in the story. Of course, we are all rooting for the good Prior Philip. And although the book certainly seems to have it's audience rooting for him, I believe Matthew MacFadyen's performance is so compelling that you're not only wanting him to succeed, you want him on camera all the time. Rufus Sewell is doing a nice job as Tom Builder, but so is everybody else on the show, and I'm kind of wishing that MacFadyen was always standing somewhere on screen, even if he's just eating walnuts and looking at the other characters talk. In this episode, we get another emerging hero: Jack. The former mute. (I can't totally remember, but I do think the book made a bigger deal about his transition to speaking. The show didn't even try--one episode he didn't talk, his mom said "he can talk, but he doesn't talk that often" and then the next episode, he talked some, and now he talks all the time. They probably should have just cut the mute aspect entirely.) In addition to talking, Jack turns out to be an artist with a heart of gold who isn't very good at winning fights. And oh, good lord, how could I forget?!! This episode we witness the beheading of Donald Sutherland! Seems to be a weekend full of beheadings. (Keep reading for that to make sense.) What's more odd than that is that I seem to be so tickled by them. Ew.
True Blood - "Hitting the Ground"
Ah! It was getting soooo goood there for a little bit! Last Sunday's cliffhanger had us watching Bill die a slow and painful death. Sookie finding him just in time, as Tara was finding wheels for their escape, and then - out of the shadows - Lorena appears and sinks her teeth into Sookie's neck!!! And it ended! Oh, I was sure Lorena was going to "make" Sookie - and what crazy plot twists and turns might ensue?!?! I seriously COULD NOT WAIT for this episode. And - oh oh oh - in the scenes that they show for the next episode - we see Sookie on a stretcher in a hospital! I mean, wowza! The suspense was nearly killing me!
So, what happened? Well, a bunch of back and forth shit happened. Again. I mean, it was still good, but as you can tell from my tone, I'm weary of it all. Sookie gets away from Lorena because Bill springs to "life" holds Lorena down, while Sookie stabs her with a wood? or iron? spear-like-thing, and Lorena dies the "one true death" and turns to blood and intestines, showering Bill. Rendering him near death again. Why? Not sure. Never gets addressed. So, to recap thus far Bill had proposed to Sookie, she comes back to say yes, he disappears, ends up in Mississippi in, under duress for for her protection or something, he calls her and tells her they are over. Of course, she does not take no for an answer and goes ahead chases after him. Finds him. He tries to give her the cold shoulder, but then shows his true colors and love for her. Now that they are finally together in the same room? He is sentenced to death and taken away. She is locked up in a room upstairs. Telepathically, her and Tara plot and escape - and do. She finds Bill, but now he's nearly dead. Lorena attacks Sookie - she's nearly dead. Bill wakes up, saves Sookie, she kills Lorena - now Bill is nearly dead. You still following this? Well, good, because it keeps going.... I could type the rest of it out, but it would spoil it for some of you - and make me very tired. Suffice it to say, much more drama ensues with Sookie nearly dying, us finding out that she has NO BLOOD TYPE, she has some weird dream (reality) about a lady name Claudine and people of "the light" and Claudine warns her to stay away from Bill, he will take her light. So...yeah.....ONCE AGAIN even though they can finally be together - now Sookie is going to tell Bill that they can't be.
Lotsa other gruesome stuff happens. The sex on True Blood has toned down, but the violence has not. We watch a full beheading of Zeljko Ivanek. It's kind of amazing. And it marks the beginning of utter chaos in Vampire Land. Yeah, I'll still watch it, but like I said, I'm tired of this Sookie & Bill thing. I am, though, intrigued by Claudine. And what that's all about. I'm even more inclined, though, to read the books now due to my Facebook friend's status update:
"Dear writers of True Blood, Didn't you read the books? I love your show and all, but... you should probably read the books. This isn't how things are supposed to happen. And btw, Claudine is supposed to be tall, beautiful, and fantastic."
Hung - "A Man, A Plan or Thank You, Jimmy Carter"
Hung is a comedy show that isn't very funny, a satire on getting-by-in-these-economic-times that isn't very biting, an exploitation show in the vein of HBO's look-tits standard Dream On, and if you're riding with Todd VanDerWerff, it's also a kinda/sorta fairy tale. None of those things are that interesting, and none of those things are hard to discern from watching five minutes of the show, which is why that's all I'd seen of it until a week ago. My wife liked it, so she's kept up with it, and the Factual's own Marty Brown didn't like it but wanted to keep up with it anyway. Last week, I walked by the television and caught a scene in the middle of "Mind Bullets or Bang Bang Bang Motherfucker" where Jane Adams (who plays the show's incompetent pimp) bawls out her more qualified counterpart in a parking lot. I've said it here before, and I've got no problem repeating it: if there's an actor doing something that's interesting and unique, I'll pretty much watch as much of that person as I can, regardless of what the rest of the experience entails. Jane isn't a complete unknown to me--I'm of the age where watching Happiness was a rite of undergrad passage--and she's enough of a New York presence that I've actually run into her a few times, but until that parking lot scene, I can honestly say I had no idea how talented she was. On a show like Hung, where the dialog rarely elevates itself beyond quirky and obvious, it's up to the people working those lines to find a route towards compelling. On paper, Jane's character is one that's hard to root for--she's whiny, laced with obnoxious quirks and smothered in self-loathing--but mostly, she's just stupid, a female version of the overgrown infant that's usually played by people like Will Ferrell and Adam Sandler. But in action, as played by Adams, it's a fearless, submerged in investment performance by a no-bullshit brilliant physical comedian. There's no wasted half-ass movement in the way Adams clasps her hands over her eyes when seeing something that upsets her, there's about 16 different ways she can bug out her eyes whenever she's trying to make herself heard, and the random moments on the show when she dances around in frustration are a masterpiece of controlled, lunatic clowning. This is old school Peter Brook Empty Space/Theater of Cruelty acting, the kind of stuff that television doesn't provide opportunities for anymore, and while my frothing enjoyment for Adams might be tangled up in a sorrow for its absence, that doesn't lessen the skill with which she puts it on display.
On this episode, one of the characters eats some marijuana cookies and hijinks ensue, just like they ensued when the mom character in the second Transformers ate pot brownies.
So yeah, okay. Jane's fucking great though.
-Sean Witzke, Nina & Tucker Stone, 2010