Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Mad Men Returns. The End is Nigh.

The Most Important Television Event that ever evented happened this weekend. In case you missed it (how could you, really) Mad Men came back to our airwaves after a protracted 17-month-long absence bringing with it another “hard” look at life in a slowly changing Manhattan as it transitions from the 1950s into the more dynamic 1960s. While the first four years of the show have given us the slow burn of change as our characters gradually come to realize that the world may not actually be all white and male, the fifth season is at last finally starting to show the cracks in the veneer of upper-crust society.

Zou Bisou Bisomethingorother

By this time, Mad Men is a certified cultural icon. It's engrained in our national dialogue, but the reasons for that aren't always as clear as we think. We watch the show not because we’re fascinated by the 1960s, but because it’s a commercial, packaged and dressed up and shopped out like something Don Draper himself would have put together, for how far we’ve progressed. It helps us to feel better about ourselves in our turbulent modern times to be able to point back to a different era and chuckle at the people using racist and offensive terms around the office with impunity. “See?” we say to ourselves, “We’re not like those people. We get it.”

Which is why this season is so critical for this show’s success. We’re now in the summer of 1966, on the cusp of all of those Big Changes that the country is about to go through. Mad Men is nothing if not a stickler for historical accuracy, and so far that’s shown. Our characters, as titans of business and the upwardly mobile, have spent the first four years of the show comfortably ensconced in suburbia and the leftovers of the post-war Eisenhower lifestyle. Which is to say, they’ve been largely pretty boring and, frankly, pretty infuriating. The unstated promise of this show is that we, the audience, would be given a cast of pretty and narcissistic misfits to look at in all their unenlightened glory with the expectation that eventually we are going to get to see them get bitch-slapped by history.

Most of our characters are on the wrong side of the cultural landmines that were the late 1960s and part of what we’ve been waiting to see is which characters are going to make it through this intact. Season five’s opener started to crack that egg for a us a bit as we see Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce being forced into hiring a black receptionist not because they wanted to be progressive but because they got their bluff called while mocking a rival company. Meanwhile, the social and sexual politics of the psychedelic mod era are starting to seep in, thanks in no small part to Don’s new “sex kitten” wife and her birthday dance for her new husband in front of his colleagues. Put another way, we’re starting to get a little more of a glimpse of Rome outside of the royal palace, while our Neros fiddle away in the corner.

This creeping reality is definitely welcome. Mad Men has always had much more in common with a soap opera than a typical evening drama, albeit one that we’ve cut a whole lot of slack due to its ridiculously meticulous production values. Still, the plots are certainly cousins of one another – Will Don’s infidelities catch up with him? Will Pete scheme his way into becoming a Senior Partner? Will Joan tell anyone that the baby isn’t her husband’s? Really, we’re only one case of amnesia and a demon possession away from entering the show into next year’s Daytime Emmy awards categories. With all the real upheaval that happened in this era, the show needs to start putting more energy toward those events and letting us see the rest of the world, rather than just focusing on the privileged classes as they try to adapt to these new-fangled “rights” and things that people who aren’t white men apparently are also keen on having.

Maybe they can also teach us better dancing?

With the real world starting to pound on the door of our favorite advertising agency, the question for the show over the next three seasons (creator Matthew Weiner has said he plans the show to last through 2014) should start to veer less from the question of how will they all adjust and more toward the question of who will be left standing? Mad Men is, in its own way, actually a story about the apocalypse and the survivors who are left after the world as we know it comes to an end. If the show lives up to its promise, we will be treated to a timely and well-thought out message about how to deal with monumental changes and how to create a new society from them that is better than the one that proceeded it. If not, we'll have been taken for a very pretty ride with a whole mess of people that we never really wanted to know to begin with.

Monday, March 26, 2012

TV + Judging People = WIN

If you want to watch/judge some zany people (without some of the squick factor of Nat Geo's Taboo), then pull up a chair for TLC's My Crazy Obsession. The show premeired this month, and it is everything you could possibly want from a reality television show about the freakishly obsessed.

Oh... you didn't order the reality TV, extra weird, light on the sanity? 
Sorry, I'll just take this back to the kitchen. 

Lest you all think I'm casting stones from inside my glass house, these people far outshine me, even at my geekiest. No matter how much Harry Potter memorbilia I own and no matter how many times I dress up like a character from Star Trek, I will never devote the time, energy, and intensity that these people do. The retired couple in the picture above have spent most of their money on two climate-controlled storage facilities for their cabbage patch dolls, while they live in a mobile home. A. Mobile. Home. 

At the end of the day, however, it's their business. A recurring theme is for someone to say, "Well, I may be obsessed with collecting love dolls/the color pink/dressing like a 1950's houswife... but it's not hurting anyone." And... yeah, it's not. It's not like Jersey Shore or any of those type of reality shows, where you watch idiots curse at innocent bystanders for half an hour and feel vaguely dirty afterward. These "crazy obsessed" people keep to their crazy to themselves. Maybe that makes them saner than us all...

Hm... Maybe not.

No time, just post!

I haven't had time to check these out myself, bu here are the latest sneak peeks into Series 7 of everyone's favorite decades-long franchise, Doctor Who!

Series 7 Teaser

First official photo of the Doctor's new companion!

Heh, 'no time.' See what I did there?

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Comic Book Men

I like Kevin Smith.

There, I said it.

It seems like people, and by people I mean "people on the internet" have gotten it into their heads that it's cool to beat up on Kevin Smith. Have his most recent movies been great? No. But that doesn't mean it's ok to kick him around. Same thing with M. Night Shyamalan. But you don't even get me started on that one; if I can forgive him for The Last Airbender so can you.

ANYWAY. Kevin Smith. I think part of it is that I have always had a soft spot for smart, funny geeky types. And I think his beard is cute. So you can count me a Kevin Smith apologist.

All this is merely background so you will understand my excitement when AMC announced it would be airing a reality show created by and kind of starring Kevin Smith called Comic Book Men. Turns out Kevin Smith owns a comic book shop in New Jersey. Now that I think about it, that fact isn't really that shocking. But some person at AMC had the smart idea to make a reality show out of the people who work at the comic book shop.

Now I know what you are thinking? "Did she say AMC?" This definitely seems like the kind of thing you are more likely to find on one of Discovery stations, or maybe Spike TV, or Bravo, or some other reality flooded-network. But with successes like Mad Men and The Walking Dead under their belt, it looks like the suits at AMC wanted to get more into cheaply produced lighter fare. And since the show is paired with The Walking Dead, it makes sense that it would attract the same demographic. You know, people like me. That is, big old nerds with nothing better to do then sit around and watch people talk about comics and related merchandise.

Just a bunch of dudes sitting around talking about comics. And life. And....well, that's it really.

The show is kind of a combination of Pawn Stars and Ace of Cakes.  Each hour long episode has instances sprinkled throughout where random people come into the shop and try to sell their comic or fandom-related merchandise. Usually, the comic book men quickly disabuse them of the assumption that their old crap is valuable, but occasionally something truly rare comes across the threshold.

Since it's hard to fill an hour of television with this kind of thing, each episode also has a loose "plot." Something akin to "the comic book men hit the road for a local comics convention at an Elk Lodge and hilarity ensues." Or "one of the guys comes up with an idea to have a zombie-themed sale in the shop and hilarity ensues." Rest assured, nothing will ever go according to plan and hilarity will ensue.  And, in an interesting twist on the reality show staple of commentary interviews, these guys actually sit around telling Kevin Smith about what is going on in the store as part of a podcast recording. It has a little more spontaneity to it, and allows Kevin Smith to be involved in each episode. Since you know, he is a big star and all and can't sit around the comic book shop all day.

The show is fun, the guys are entertaining, and it's really interesting seeing all the wacky and unusual stuff that comes through the door for sale. The overall plots are a bit less successful, and the merchandise selling sections are definitely the best part of the show. I don't think it's fair to call it unscripted, since it's clear there is a lot of set up here, but at the end of the day who cares. It's a show for geeks made by geeks, and that's enough to keep me happy.

....and now you will have nightmares for the next week. Seriously: DO NOT WANT.

Comic Book Men just finished its first season on AMC--but you can catch episodes in rerun, through iTunes, or on On Demand through your cable provider. Those without cable who don't want to pay, you are out of luck.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

There's been some gentle comments made by some of the TV Sluts lately that the appearance and format of the blog was somewhat...dated? Annoying? Ugly? The point is, the old black background and style was not universally loved.


So instead of working (because really why would I do that?), I'm going to be tinkering around with the blog template and making some changes in the next few days.

That's exciting, right? Even more reasons to check it out. Like they say in Chicago, visit the blog early and often. Or something along those lines.

Fashion Star

Was there any doubt that I would check out Fashion Star on NBC? I am, after all, a self-confessed Project Runway nut (who has hung in there all these years) and I even still watch America's Next Top Model. And don't get me started on All on the Line, which is pretty much the most interesting fashion show on tv right now.

Fashion Star is a big network's attempt to capitalize on the female and gay man audience and their disposable income. Because let's be honest--the only straight guys watching this show are the one's whose wives force them. In any event, Fashion Star stumbled onto the perfect combination of entertainment and  advertisement. The "winning" fashions from each episode are instantly available for purchase the next day online and in stores. Of course, this means that nothing about the show is live since they need time to manufacture all the clothes. I'm pretty sure they've had this entire season in the can for at least 6 months--you can tell because J. Simp is clearly not pregnant at all in it and let's just say girlfriend now looks like she could blow at any minute.

But whatever, who cares about the live factor. Live shows tend to be more annoying anyway--there can be sound and camera problems, flubs, etc. The important thing is that this show focuses on an aspect of the business most other fashion competitions ignore: marketability, buyers, and designing for the masses. These designers can't just think about how a sample size perfect model is going to look in their clothes--they have to sell it to a mass market and think about real women (and men). FINALLY.

Unfortunately, because the the show is aiming for the masses it has all the indicators of your typical over-the-top network reality show. A HUGE set with overly dramatic lighting and sound effects. You know what I mean, think Who Wants to be a Millionaire. There's lots of quick cuts and edits, which frankly are overly distracting. In fact, almost everything about the way the show is shot is distracting. We want to see the clothes not a bunch of flashing lights.

Here's how it works (and it took my a while to figure this out since the concept of the show was not clearly explained): the designers are given a weekly assignment where they produce a small capsule collection of three looks. They interact with the "mentors" during the design process: Jessica Simpson, Nicole Richie, and John Varvatos*. They present their clothes on the runway and receive feedback from the mentors. Then, they face the buyers. Three people representing H&;M, Macys, and Saks Fifth Avenue are given the opportunity to bid on the designs--if a designer does not get any offers, they are up for elimination. If more than one buyer bids on the clothes, they then try to outbid each other to decide who gets the right to sell them. Among the designers who don't get any bids, the buyers pick their bottom three. The mentors get the chance to save one designer and the buyers then eliminate someone from the remaining two. Outfits that the buyers bid on are available for sale and online the day after the episode airs.

Whew. It sounds kind of complicated when I put it like that, but in the show it just kind of all happens. Maybe the reason they didn't spend a lot of time describing the format of the show is because it would take effing forever.Also, because I don't think the host, Elle Macpherson, could string that many words together. Sure she looks great, but let's just say she's as bland as the day is long and leave it at that.

There's a lot of criticism of the show that it's nothing but a big commercial...but the point is to make clothes that will sell and appeal to these particular vendors. Let's be honest, H&M, Macys, and Saks are three of the biggest clothing retailers in the country and I find that their participation lends an air of legitimacy to the enterprise rather than crass commercialism. So, yeah, it's kind of a commercial. They want you to buy the clothes. But if I see the clothes and I like the clothes I will WANT to buy them. Oh my god. I've been brainwashed, haven't I?

Bottom line, I was entertained, I loved seeing the fashions, but the theatrics of the show are pretty annoying. I'll be tuning in...and if something catches my eye, who knows? Maybe I'll be making a purchase the next day! So, mission accomplished NBC.

*Say what you want about Jessica Simpson and Nicole Richie being lame reality stars with no talent, but each of them has a multi-million dollar a year fashion line so they must be doing something right and have some idea of what sells and what doesn't. That's pretty much all they need to be a mentor on this show.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

GCB? WTF!?! (A Rebuttal)

As you all know from your extensive study of our blog (yeah, right), guest blogger Mac Attack gave the new Kristin Chenoweth vehicle, GCB, a glowing review. He acknowledged that GCB is essentially another prime-time soap opera, which comes as no surprise since ABC airs it right after Desperate Housewives. And he's right - if you can sit back and enjoy the witty one-liners, it's an amusing show.

Obligatory group shot.

But somehow, I just can't sit back. For me, television is all about the characters. You can give me the most interesting plot, the most vivid setting, but if the characters don't pull their weight I'm out the door. And it's not enough to be interesting - several of the characters on GCB are grotesquely fascinating, in a train-wreck-about-to-happen kind of way. My problem with this show is that I've yet to find a major character I find genuinely likeable.

First off, I want to root for Kristin Chenoweth's character, Carlene Cockburn - of course I do, she's played by a much-loved actress with an awesome singing voice and bodacious tatas! But in the first episode, it becomes clear that she's the villain of the piece, the ring leader of the good Christian bitches who must be stopped at all costs. Okay, fine. I will - with a great deal of effort and personal sacrifice - transfer my loyalty to the plucky protagonist who is fighting desperately against the Cockburn regime. Who've you got for me?

Oh, you have got to be kidding.

Back story on our main, played by Leslie Bibb: Amanda Vaughn was a spoiled little rich girl who got knocked up by her high school boyfriend and ran away with him. He conned people out of a lot of money, which he used to support Amanda in the lifestyle to which she was accustomed. Then he and his mistress got into a car accident and died, leaving Amanda penniless and forcing her to move back home. Somewhere along the way, she develops a complex about accepting help - even though, up until now, she's been sheltered by giant fortresses made of money. So despite the fact that she's now living in her mother's house, they get into constant arguments about her mother trying to help her (and her teenage children). Oh by the way, the only reason she doesn't get along with her peers is that she was a Mean Girl who tortured them in high school.

Yeah, pretty much.

None of this answers the essential question... why should I care about you, Amanda? You've had everything handed to you on a silver platter, and the minute you have to start doing things for yourself, you have the arrogance to refuse help! News flash, other people in the world have done a lot more with a lot less. It doesn't make you a martyr to turn down opportunities other people would kill to get, or to complain about your mother while mooching off of her. It makes you selfish - and you wonder why the other women don't like you?

In conclusion, if I can't root for the hero I guess I'll go back to rooting for the villain. TEAM CHENOWETH ALL THE WAY.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Whodathunk it?

If you had told me at the start of last Fall's tv season that CW's Ringer would turn out to be one of my  favorite new shows, I would have:

1) laughed in your face,

2) questioned your sanity and then,

3) given you patented Maggie Cats, "seriously?"

Because, let's be honest, I only started watching Ringer out of brand loyalty. It marked Sarah Michelle Gellar's return to television after a long absence since Buffy, and there were rumors that Jason Dohring would be appearing in later episodes. So, Buffy and Logan Echolls? SOLD.

But I didn't have high hopes. I wasn't sure the concept could be sustained (a woman on the run from a crime boss assumes her twin's identity as a New York trophy wife after her twin mysteriously "dies"), and the early episodes had some pacing, green screen, and overall cheesiness issues. 

And then...well, things started getting juicy. Kind of like Revenge, it turns our this show just needed a little while to get going and then BAM. Twists are coming left and right. Also like Revenge, this is some good old fashioned soapy nighttime drama. People backstabbing, murdering, manipulating, and taking advantage of other people left and right. Oh, and the clothes are occasionally epically awesome and epically terrible. So there's that.

It's not perfect--they still haven't really figured out how to integrate the FBI agent into the storyline (played by Richard of the perpetual eyeliner on LOST) and there are some other characters (Malcom cough Malcom) that have me wondering "why are you here?" But this has turned into quite the compelling little show. Each episode builds on the previous revelations while adding new roadblocks but also giving information. There's a ton of unanswered questions, and I find that I actually care about the answers. For example: I really want to know what Siobhan's endgame is and why she cares so much about bringing down her husband's financial empire. Also, why did the writers pick a name as difficult to spell as Siobhan (pronounced Shivon)? The most important thing though is that I have faith the writers know where they are going and aren't just throwing things at the tv to see what sticks (re: Glee). I'm impressed by how mapped out the plot is, which bodes well.

It's probably too late to jump into the Ringer action at this point if you haven't watched it before, but if you can devote the time to starting from the beginning I think you'll find it worth your while. And there's always the first season DVD. Whether there will be a second season...well that still remains to be seen.

Ringer airs Tuesday nights at 9 on the CW.

Wednesday, March 07, 2012


Guest blog from Mac Attack!

GCB isn't short for anything, but since ABC apparently isn't allowed anything approaching a racy title, I'll let you know that it's apparently based on a book called Good Christian Bitches. One of the main characters is played by is Kristin Chenoweth.

There's probably other people, too.
Plot? What plot? The two twists this show tries to throw at you can be heard coming around the corner a mile away. Do not expect this show to replace Lost. This show was designed to be a guilty pleasure. Visual gags, situational comedy, coincidence of Shakespearean proportions. But the real drive of the show is the one-liners. Their trademark, as the name might imply, appears to be snarky digs between rich white women. There were a few lines that had me laugh loudly enough I had to stop it and go back.
The entire show is preposterous, and if you're expecting something that makes sense you're out of luck. Characters are overblown, circumstances are ridiculous, the entire thing is a soap opera on nitrous oxide. If you want a tension-filled dramatic plot with complicated villains, mysteries to solve and back story to reveal, keep moving. If you just want to feel superior to a massive dysfunctional group of Texans, pull up a chair, fire up Hulu, and warn your neighbors that they will hear you laughing.
There seems to be some concern among the populace that the show paints Christians in a poor light. Honestly, I think the show somewhat skims over that. It can be a very touchy subject for people in either direction and I'm sure it could be used as a point of contention, but from an objective standpoint Church really is just another set, and Christianity is just another personality quirk like all the others.

Of course she sings, it's Kristin Chenoweth. 
But you have to wait for the end of the first episode. 
SPOILER: Worth it.

Wait, I have to at least mention the plot? Fine. Remember the part of Hope Floats where Sandra Bullock is at the mercy of that girl she was mean to in high school, then she apologizes, they all act like grown-ups and move on? It's that, except instead of five minutes in a movie, it's an entire TV series.
GCB airs Sundays at 10pm on ABC.

Friday, March 02, 2012

News-y Update: Oh Hell Yes Edition

Oh Holy Woah, you guys - breaking news from Entertainment Weekly (yeah, yeah, yeah - I know) is that when American Horror Story returns in the fall for its second season, your favorite component and mine will be returning with it - Jessica Lange is set to star in season two.


Though she won't be returning as Constance, which is honestly something of a miniature tragedy, it looks like Lange will be the primary star of the second season. Rather than competing for top billing with Dylan McDermott and Connie Britton, she looks to be carrying the show. Frankly, given Lange's acting chops, freshly awarded Golden Globe and willingness to create a truly memorable character regardless of whether or not people loved her, is reason enough to be excited about this for me. I'm very eager to see what kind of character they give her to play, especially since she's apparently been a significant factor in shaping the character herself.

Details about season two are still extremely shrouded; As previously mentioned, the story will be different from season one featuring new characters; It will definitely take place on the east coast and three other actors from season one will also be returning, although no word yet on who those actors are.

More details to come, but for my money this is definitely good news.