Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Television, Best of 2011

I think almost everyone can agree that television has surpassed films, especially where storytelling is concerned.  Visually, films may have an edge on television, but not by much.

That being said, I've found myself more moved by episodic television than by movies.  When it's time to hunker down and choose whether I want to watch a movie or a show, nine times out of ten it's going to be television.  The stories are allowed to be bigger, more intricate with the added time to develop.  They can immerse the viewer in a world far more intoxicating than the 90 - 120 minutes that a film has to build its world.  Film is a directors medium, television is a writers medium.

I've never done this before, but I thought I would make a personal list of the triumphs and tragedies I've found during my journey through television in 2011.  This is by no means comprehensive, and their are many great shows that I just didn't get time to watch.  So take this with a grain of salt.

Best Television of 2011:

7.  Wilfred - FX

This FX series is based on the Australian show of the same name.  Elijah Wood plays Ryan, a suicidal guy who tries several times to kill himself, but is interrupted by his neighbor Jenna who asks Ryan if he would watch her dog Wilfred for the day.  He agrees, and he finds himself dumbfounded when Wilfred seems to be an Australian man in a dog costume, that everyone else sees as a normal dog.

I know, it sounds like it could be terrible, but it was one of the best new comedies I've seen in a really long time.  Imagine Tyler Durden as a dog who always gets you into trouble and loves to smoke pot, and you almost have the tone of the show.  It had me laughing like crazy, had a cliffhanger ending, and has me jonesing for the second season.

6.  Louie - FX

Louis C.K. is probably the funniest comedian of our day.  So knowing that he has complete creative control over every aspect of this show should be enough to get everyone turning on their televisions.  If you've never heard of Louis, pull your head out of the sand and look around.  He's everywhere.

The show is not afraid to take on controversial topics like suicide, religion, and masturbation.  Each season has been a perfect balance of hilarity and seriousness, and it's truly a sin that this man has not won a Golden Globe or Emmy.

5.  The Chicago Code - Fox

Fox has a penchant for cancelling some of their very best shows, which is a pity.  This is no different.  

The Chicago Code was created by Shawn Ryan, the same guy behind the masterful FX show The Shield, and centers on the first female Chicago police superintendent (Jennifer Beals) and a veteran police detective (Jason Clarke) trying to take down a corrupt city Alderman (Delroy Lindo).

Ryan took what could have been a typical cop show, and turned it into a gripping and entertaining cat and mouse game.  Though it only got 13 episodes before Fox cancelled it to make way for Terra Nova (idiots), it does have a satisfying conclusion and is well worth checking out.

4.  Boardwalk Empire - HBO

Boardwalk Empire is a thrilling entrance into the boom of organized crime during the prohibition era. The second season takes the epic storytelling one step further, dragging all of the characters through the coals of a modernized Greek tragedy.

Showcasing some amazing performances, we get to see the characters peeled back layer after layer, while the tension increases more and more until it culminates in an explosive finale.  HBO has always been a home for amazing storytelling, but they've outdone themselves with Boardwalk Empire.  It's violent, gritty, and sexy all at the same time.  If you haven't seen it yet, do yourself a favor and catch up before season 3 begins.

3.  American Horror Story - FX

American Horror Story was created by Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk who started working together on Nip/Tuck (and created Glee).  It centers on the Harmon Family, who have marital problems even before they move into a haunted mansion bought at a discount price, which happens to be occupied by its former residents.  It's bizarre, creepy, and delightful.  It stars Dylan McDermott, Connie Britton, a bunch of ghosts, and an amazong turn by Jessica Lange.  At one point I didn't think they'd be able to tie all the narrative strings together by the end of the season, but they did and in an amazing way.

After a second season was ordered, it was announced that each season would be in a different house and have a whole new set of characters.  Tricky concept, but I hope to God they can pull it off.  Tim Minear is one of the writers and producers on the show, and he's had his hands in a lot of really amazing shows, so I think they'll be just fine.

2.  Homeland - Showtime

I came to this show late, but my wife and I cruised through the whole season in four days.  It was that good.  Claire Danes plays Carrie, a CIA counter terrorism operative who's been warned that an American POW has been turned by Al-Qaeda.  When a Marine (Damian Lewis) who'd been held captive for eight years is rescued during a Delta Force raid and returned home, she's convinced that he's the guy.  For the entire series Carrie and the viewer, go back and forth on whether he has or hasn't been turned.

One thing that complicates things, is Carrie also secretly suffers with bi-polar disorder, which effects her ability to do her job.  Mandy Patinkin

1.  Breaking Bad - AMC

There isn't a show on television that can even touch this show.  Vince Gilligan and his writing stable of geniuses have created the darkest, most twisted, and brilliant show I've ever seen.  The season finale, with the way they wove all of the narrative threads back on itself is itself, is something that should be studied.  Television doesn't get any better.

Brian Cranston plays Walter White, a high school chemistry teacher that gets cancer, and turns to making meth with former student Jesse (Aaron Paul) to provide for his family when he's dead.

This season finds Walt and Jesse working for Gus (Giancarlo Esposito), the local drug kingpin, who's in the midst of a power struggle with the Mexican Cartel, and also trying to put a wedge between Jesse and Walt.  He wants to pit them against each other to get rid of Walt, while keeping Jesse under his thumb.  Walter is in panic mode with his life on the line, and has to come up with some way to get them out of this mess.

I won't ruin the ending, but it was spectacular.  If you watch this show and don't like it, you're an idiot.

What were your favorites?

Monday, January 30, 2012

Television - Worst, Most Disappointing, and Guilty Pleasure Shows of 2011

I've never done this before, but I thought I'd make a personal list of the triumphs and tragedies I witnessed during my journey through television in 2011.  This is by no means comprehensive, and there are many great shows that I just didn't get to.  So take this with a grain of salt.  

This is part one of my two part series on what I thought of the 2011 television programs.  Tomorrow I'll discuss the shows I loved, but today ... I give you the other end of the spectrum.

Worst Television of 2011:

3.  Whitney - NBC

Whitney was one of two shows created by comedian Whitney Cummings that made it to network this fall, the other one will be discussed right below this.  It was pushed hard by NBC like a desperate pedophile pushing candy onto children.  Everywhere I looked there were commercials and ads.  They absolutely saturated the market, but like an easily influenced kid, I watched. 

It was bad.  But I saw a nugget of potential in it so I gave it five episodes to find its footing.  It never did.  The biggest problem is how antagonistic Whitney (playing her namesake) and her boyfriend Alex (Chris D'Elia) are towards each other.  Their cast of friends are no better, and somehow end up being more irritating than Whitney and Alex.  If this is how NBC is trying to reclaim the comedy glory it once had they're doing a terrible job.

2.  Two Broke Girls - CBS

Another show co-created by Whitney Cummings, that stars Kat Dennings as Max, a poor working class girl with a chip on her shoulder barely making ends meet, and Beth Behrs as Caroline, the daughter of a Madoff style ponzi schemer who loses everything when daddy is arrested and must work for the first time in her life. 

Ladies and Gentlemen, welcome to clicheville.  It's like a female version of The Odd Couple, but with vagina jokes, blatant racism, and horse shit humor.  You think I'm kidding but I'm not.  Caroline rescues her horse, which lives in their back yard and shits a lot.  That's one of the big jokes of the show.  Their dream is to open a cupcake shop together and pull themselves up by the boot straps.  After three episodes, I didn't care to find out what happened next.

The characters hate each other, they hate themselves, and the writers clearly hate the audience.

1.  The Paul Reiser Show - NBC

This was hands down the worst show I've seen in a really long time.  It only lasted two episodes before NBC yanked it off the air, and I may be one of the only people that actually watched them both.  It was created as a low rent Curb Your Enthusiasm for network television, but borrowed so bad from Curb, that it actually guest starred Larry David musing that he just played an asshole but Reiser was an asshole in real life.

The show is about Reiser being bored at home looking for the next thing to do with his life.  Reiser is no Larry David, and the show was a sad shitty copycat of Curb.  Having Larry on the show was a desperate reach for comedic cred that ended up looking pathetic.  Cringe worthy from beginning to end, here's hoping that Reiser (who wrote both episodes) stays retired and doesn't pollute the airways with his shitty vision anymore.  As a bonus it would be nice if whoever greenlit this show was fired.

Biggest Disappointments:

4.  Bored to Death - HBO

Jonathan Ames created an amazing show with Bored to Death when it first aired.  I loved everything about the first two seasons and had big hopes for season 3.  But something was off.  The show veered away from what had made it so fun and quirky.  The individual cases that were so entertaining and fun in the first two seasons were replaced by a season long arc dealing with Jonathan's (Jason Schwartzman) search for his real father.

It went over as well as a fart in a sauna, and was promptly cancelled by HBO.  It's too bad, because with better focus it was a fantastic show.  It just fell apart.

3.  The Killing - AMC

Here's a show that started off with so much potential but ended up being crushed under its own weight.  I was enthused by how great this show was when it started.  It was based on a Danish series, and its mood and atmosphere were intoxicating.  It focused on the death of a young girl, Rosie Palmer, and the mystery of who murdered her.  Every character was possibly the killer, but it was the detectives that made the show so good.

It became clear narratively around the middle of the season that the writers were making it up as they went along.  They took pages from the original show, lifted a lot from Twin Peaks, but never were never able to be original and creative with the great material they started out with.  The Showrunner, Veena Sud, said they had no idea how they were going to end the show when the pilot aired.  It showed.  After awhile no one cared who killed Rosie Palmer, and the shitty twist of the finale was a groaner.

It did get renewed for a second season, but they have a lot of work ahead of them to woo back viewers.

2.  True Blood - HBO

Oh True Blood, what the hell happened?  You'd always been mildly campy, but that was what made you fun.  The fourth season was so bad I stopped watching halfway through.  They introduced a coven of witches, a necromancer, Faeries, Eric's Amnesia, Sookie and Eric's relationship, and my complete and total not giving a shit.

This series has run its course and should be given a stake to the heart.  Sadly the ratings are too high, so they'll continue beating this dead horse for a long while.

1.  Dexter - Showtime

Here's another show that should be put to rest.  It was good for the first couple of seasons, but then it got way too repetitive.  Season six brought the Doomsday killer and a big twist everyone could see coming from a mile away.  It was obvious to the point of being stupid.  The other ridiculous thing it introduced, was Dexter's step sister falling in love with him.  There wasn't a single hint of it leading up to the moment her psychiatrist asked her if she had feelings for him then presto, like magic she figured out she loved him in an Appalachian kind of way.

I wasted 12 hours of my life on this show when I could have just watched the last two minutes and gotten as much out of the season.  Now that Deb witnesses Dexter kill someone where are they going to go next?  Kill Deb?  They'd have to, but they've ordered two more seasons, so who knows what boring and sloppy story telling they'll resort to.

Guilty Pleasure:

Finding Bigfoot - Animal Planet

This show is so bad it's good.   The characters are so unbelievably ridiculous, that I don't care if they find a Bigfoot or not.  They've introduced the word "squatchy" into my vocabulary, and watching them give Bigfoot calls in the middle of the night will delight anyone.

There's Matt Moneymaker, the leader of the group who thinks nearly everything they see or hear is a Bigfoot; Bobo ( I shit you not), a 6 foot 5' inch behemoth that they use to reenact every Bigfoot sighting; Cliff Barakman, an investigator and school teacher; and Ranae Holland, the skeptic.  Together they travel North America investigating Bigfoot sightings without finding much of anything but the strange fringe people who make up this nation we all live in.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Smash - NBC

Smash is a new series on NBC created by Theresa Rebeck (from an idea by executive producer Steven Spielberg) that revolves around an ensemble of people trying to put on a musical based on the life of Marilyn Monroe.  Of course it isn't so simple for everyone as just putting on the show (which isn't easy anyway), there are personal issues that may or may not derail the whole thing.  I watched the pilot episode of the new series last night with my wife. It premieres on NBC on February 6th.

(Spoiler Alert! Synopsis of show dynamics below.)

The show has an impressive cast.  Julia (Debra Messing, Will and Grace) is one half of a successful musical writing duo, who's promised her husband she'd take the year off while they try and adopt a baby.  Her partner  Tom (Christian Borle, Tony award nominated actor) is the other half of the duo that writes the music.  When Tom's assistant questions why no one has done a Marilyn Monroe musical, it sparks something in the two of them that can't be stopped.  They absolutely have to write it, which puts a strain on Julia's relationship.

Eileen (Anjelica Huston, take your pick of films) is the producer of the musical who's going through a messy divorce from her husband Jerry (Michael Cristofer, who was amazing in Rubicon) that threatens to derail the show.  Derek (Jack Davenport, Flashforward) is the brilliant but sleazy director that has a bad history with Tom, who fights for his pick of who should play Marilyn, while Tom fights for a different lead.

Karen (Kathrine McPhee, American Idol runner-up) is the girl next door, who's just trying to catch a break in the big city.  She has talent, but lacks experience.  She tries out for the Marilyn musical and gets a call back.  She's Derek's choice, while Ivy (Megan Hilty, the musical Wicked) has been hand picked by Tom.

I liked the pilot.  I think the show could have a lot of potential.  They wrote their own songs, which were composed by Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman, and are treating it like an actual musical, which is a really unique twist for television.  I'm not sure how the show will play out.  If the musical ends up being staged at the end of the season, where do you go from there?  I guess we'll just have to see.

One thing that's pretty clear, is the show will trump up the rivalry between Karen and Ivy, but I wonder how they can sustain the tension of it for a whole season.  I know Uma Thurman has a five episode arc in the show, and rumor has it she plays a big time actress who wants to be in the show.  If that's the case, I guess they can throw the rivalry between Karen and Ivy on its ear, and make them join forces to oppose the new girl.

The characters were well fleshed out and likable, even Ivy, who I believe was the shallowest of the bunch (just nosing out Julia's husband), but I think it was intentional so later they can reveal how layered she truly is.  There was nothing I found irritating about it at all, so I would recommend the show (based on the pilot) and will likely tune in for episode 2.

Friday, January 20, 2012

My First Etsy Sale

Last night my wife pointed out to me that I'd sold my first item on Etsy.  I'm still surprised.  My shop had been open a little over a month, and though it's had a steady amount of visitors and people hearting my items, it felt like that first sale would never come.

I have to take a moment and thank Heather (see her etsy shop here) for taking a chance on a seller that hadn't a single sale yet.  She bought one of the records I had up on my site (Kubrick's 2001 soundtrack), and it should be going in the mail today before I head off to work.

Since there is no way for me to frame and hang up that first dollar my business earned, I figured I would do it digitally.

Thanks to Heather, I now have the warm feeling of having a legitimate business started.

Check out my Etsy store here: This Charming Man Cave

Sunday, January 1, 2012


Memorial #1 - IDW publishing

I picked this up on a whim during a visit to my local comic book shop while looking for another title.  After I brought it home and gave it a read, I was glad I had taken a chance on it.

Memorial is a new series from IDW that's written by Chris Roberson, with art by Rich Ellis.  It's a nice companion to IDW's other amazing series Locke and Key, and supposedly will follow the same format of a series of mini-series all strung together one after the next.

I don't want to spoil the entire issue for anyone, so I'll give a brief description of how the story begins:

We're introduced to the main character, a girl we come to know as Em, in an emergency room.  For some reason, she's lost all memory of who she is and what's happened to her.  The name Em is given to her by the people at the hospital, since the only thing on her, is a necklace and a charm with an engraved M on it. A year later she still has no memory of her former life.  She's gotten a job, a life, and one day when walking through the city, passes an alley with a store at the end that she was sure wasn't there before.  Once she enters the shop, her life is never the same again.

Creator Chris Roberson describes Memorial as Doctor Who meets Sandman by way of Miyazaki.  The world he's created in just the first issue, is so rich and interesting, that I'm definitely be along for the long haul.  Memorial now joins my short list of must read comics.

Check out the Memorial website here http://www.idwpublishing.com/memorial/
Artist Rich Ellis also has a website here http://www.elliscomics.com/wordpress/