Friday, April 26, 2013

The Truth (And Three of Our Plotlines) Will Out

Okay guys, shit goes DOWN in this episode and for real, it might be my favorite one of the series so far. Not only do things actually happen that move the plot massively forward, but there's some truly awesome humor, character revelations and fast-paced action happening. If the show can keep up a pace like this, the second half of the season is going to be amazing.

Mother’s having an understandably bad evening processing the news that the police officer she’s sleeping with to keep her safe from a murder conviction is actually the pivotal figure in an international sex smuggling operation. “I can’t imagine what a shock it is,” Emma, the Living Irony Machine says, “finding out a guy you’re that into is a monster.” #ISeeWhatYouDidThere. Mother tries to make a break from the hotel and drive to Shelby’s, but Norman runs after her, literally jumping into the car through the window as Mother yells, “Son of a Bitch!” at him. Less than two minutes into this episode and the irony meter is already about to explode. Norman manages to get Mother to stop the car despite the repeated donuts it spins as they wrestle for wheel. Norman comforts a sobbing Mother, telling him that they’ll find a way to get Shelby. This might honestly be my favorite scene in the entire series so far and Emma sums up the entire thing nicely with a sardonic, “well, shit.”

Elsewhere, Dylan emotionally tells his employers at the pot farm about Ethan getting shot and then running down the shooter. The Boss, Gil, is actually impressed with him for taking initiative and instructs Dylan how to effectively torch Ethan’s truck so there’s no evidence left of the murder. As he does, Dylan meets his new partner, Remo. Remo is less impressed with Dylan, partially because Remo is in his 40s and Dylan is all of 21 but mostly because it turns out that Gil has told Remo he is working for Dylan, not the other way around.

Can't wait for the annual employee review.

Back at the motel, the Chinese girl is asleep in one of the rooms. Norma inspects her bruised and bloodied arms before tucking her in and then heading back to the house where Emma again insists that they go to the police or at least the FBI. Mother and Norman are not keen on bringing more of Johnny Law back into their crime scene. Mother convinces Emma that they’ll convince the girl to go to the police on her own. Sidebar, I ask again, why leave the Chinese girl in the motel where she was previously held captive when there are at least 20 good bedrooms in that rambling mansion the Bateses live in? Oy. Waking her back to her car, Emma confesses that her mother left their family, not wanting to care for a kid with cystic fibrosis. This spurs some actual affection between them all and Mother hugs Emma sweetly before sending her off.

That night, Mother plots to go back to Shelby’s house. Norman wants to go too. Mother apologies for not believing Norman when he first told her about the Chinese girl. Norman wants to know if there’s something wrong with him, remembering how she said he sometimes sees things that aren’t there. Dylan finds them and they bring him up to speed. Dylan and Norman agree to go to Shelby’s boat. On the way there, Dylan tells Norman that he’s bought a place on the water and he wants Norman to live with him, away from Mother. Norman is noncommittal. They board the boat, looking for the missing belt. While they search, Dylan asks Norman how his father died. Norman says a shelf in the garage fell on him in a totally non-suspicious way, why? Dylan says that Mother hated Norman’s father and she was miserable and Norman needs to stop making excuses for a bastard father and an insane mother. Just then, Dylan finds the missing belt hidden in the ceiling. Dylan throws the belt overboard, promising that it won’t wash up or float. “Now she’s safe,” he says as he throws the belt into the harbor.

But is she though? Back at the house, guess who’s coming for dinner sex? Shelby arrives feeling randy and tries to get Mother to head down into the motel with him. 

"I have a incestuous thing going with my son, so what does it tell you that you're creeping me out sexually right now?"

Three minutes later, Mother has the best bored sex face ever as Shelby clearly thinks more of his ability than she does. When he notices she’s not as enthused and asks what’s wrong she tells him she’s just worried about Norman. Just then, Shelby hears what sounds like water running in an adjacent room. He tucks it in and heads out to investigate. If it weren’t for the gun, this would make for an awesome French farce. He correctly identifies the room the Chinese girl is in, but she’s showering and can’t hear him. Mother tries to cover, saying it’s a painter from Sacramento (that old chestnut), but just then the Chinese girl opens the door and ruins the whole thing. She panics and runs. Shelby chases after her, pushing Mother to the ground and calling her a bitch when she tries to stop him from shooting the girl. As Shelby runs off, the boys arrive back home. Dylan says Norman is coming to live with him, causing Mother to instantly all but totally forget about the Chinese girl being chased by the psychopathic cop and demand to know why Norman would do this to her? Norman says it’s because she killed his father, but Mother sighs and sadly tells him that’s not true. The family drama could continue, but Shelby reemerges from the woods and boy is he not happy.

He takes them back to the house for a family meeting before deciding that this is all Norman’s fault, putting his gun into Norman’s temple. When Mother tries to say that they’ll all stay quiet he strikes her hard and remember how Norman sometimes goes into a blackout rage? Well, here it comes again. Norman charges Shelby with an assist from Dylan. Lots of punching, kicking and Shelby and Dylan are at opposite ends of the house shooting at each other around corners. The fight leads upstairs with a wounded Shelby chasing after Dylan while Norman is unconscious in the kitchen and Mother dragging him out of the house.  Mother calls 911 and gets a dazed Norman to their car. Typical horror movie cliché, the car keys aren’t in her purse, but upstairs with Shelby. Just then she hears two gun shots coming from the house. A few tense moments later, we see a man emerge from the house… it’s Shelby looking FUCKED. UP.  He points his gun at Norman and Mother before collapsing on the ground.

Your mileage may vary on this image.

Dylan comes running from the house and Mother runs to him, hugging him for what I think is the first time. “You’re safe,” he tells her. Norman meanwhile is still sitting blankly in the car. Dylan says they need to tell the truth about what happens when the cops arrive, but Mother says he doesn’t know the whole story. She, of course, doesn’t tell him about killing a man who raped her on her kitchen floor, which would explain some things, but she does tell him about how Norman’s father died – they had been fighting, him calling her a whore and that saying she’s cheap. Norman had been listening from the kitchen when his father started to beat Mother, causing Norman to calmly walk to his father and hit him over the back of the head, killing him. Norman seemed blank, so Mother took him to his room and let him lie down. Then she dragged his father to the garage and staged his accidental death before showering to get rid of the blood on her while Norman woke up and found his father's body, bringing us right back to that first scene in the pilot episode.

Maybe the fact that we've both killed someone will bring us closer together as a family?

Mother tells Dylan that Norman is innocent and he doesn’t know what he did. “You can either get out of my way or you can help me,” she tells him as the police arrive. 

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Zombieland: THE SERIES

Well, well. Looks like isn't content to sit on their laurels as one of the world's largest retailers of movies and tv series. Now they are following Netflix's lead and jumping on the "original programming" bandwagon. According to Entertainment Weekly, Amazon has produced a stunning 14 original series--and this past weekend all the pilots were available for viewing. FOR FREE.

You can see a full run-down of the new series over at I didn't have the time to watch all of them (I do have a life you know), but I was able to set aside 30 minutes to check out the pilot for the show I am most looking forward to--Zombieland: The Series.

Set in the same world and following the same characters, the story of Zombieland (the series) take place a month after the events of the film. Remember, the characters are named after the places they originally hail from, and Columbus is still our earnest narrator and protagonist--walking the audience through the rules for surviving the zombie apocalypse and still pining for Wichita, the cynical hot chick with emotional walls so high it would make the citizens of Ancient Troy say, "damn, girl." They are joined by Wichita's tween sister, Little Rock, and badass twinkie-obsessed, Tallahassee.

When we catch up with the fab four, they are still in LA and have decided to look for other survivors. But I guess people who need people may not be the luckiest people in the world....because things don't really go too well. Luckily, they have made friends with Detroit, the sassy voice of On Star guidance system, who helps guide them to remaining survivors in the LA-area and spins tales of a community back East that is "zombie-free."

The series plays out in a manner very similar to the film--it has the same look and the same feel. Rules for survival still flash on the screen, and it's still chock full of black humor. The main characters continue to marvel at the absurdity of the world around them and there's lots of awesome cartoonish violence and profanity (yay adult content!). For the most part, the characterization is also intact, though it does seem that Tallahassee has been dumbed down somewhat.

The only real problem I noticed has to do with the cast. Not that they were bad actors (they aren't), but they lack the chemistry of the movie-star original actors. There's not that many Woody Harrelsons, Jesse Esenbergs, or Emma Stones running around, if you know what I mean. I'm hoping as the series progresses, the cast will gel more and we'll get that same snap, crackle, pop as the movie. But this is really only a mild quibble.

I'd say if you enjoyed the movie Zombieland, then the series is definitely a ride worth taking. Whether it's worth the cost Amazon will charge, well, I leave that to you. I'm personally willing to wait to see if it ever gets made available to Netflix, but I can see the series becoming necessary-viewing for some of you.

Final thought: I think the thing I love the most about Zombieland is despite the horror of living in Zombieland, well, you always have to remember Rule #33: Keep Hope Alive. At the end of the day, this show is about the survivors. And that's still something special.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

The Prestige That Comes With Ketchup

I know there's a lot going on in the world these days, but here's the real debate: Does a hot dog cry out for ketchup or mustard? I feel like we need both ketchup and mustard on a hot dog, but others disagree and feel like only ketchup is the way to go. I'm recapping two episodes this week, so settle in and pay attention.

During a meeting with Heinz Baked Beans and Heinz Ketchup in last week's episode, we learn that Beans doesn't want Heinz Ketchup meeting with SCDP because Ketchup is outselling Beans. After Ketchup leaves the meeting, Beans tells SCDP that under no uncertain circumstances are they to have any more meetings with Ketchup and that he only brought Ketchup in to keep things peaceful at work. Stan calls Peggy and tells her the lowdown as a funny story, but when Peggy relays the story to her boss, Ted, Ted sees an opportunity. He encourages Peggy to set up a meeting with Ketchup. Ted tells Peggy to put her friendship with Stan aside and think about her own advancement. Grow some balls, Peggy!

Heinz Ketchup. The condiment of choice for freckled scamps all across America!

Pete's having another affair, but this time it's not with a depressive who forgets him after her shock treatments, all Eternal Sunshine-like, nor is he lusting after a 15-year-old in driver's ed. In a Total Draper Move, he is of course having an affair with his neighbor, and he takes her to his apartment in the city. She Doesn't Understand How This Works, so she decides to leave her husband because she wants to be with Pete, and her husband beats her up. She flees to Pete and Trudy's, where Pete shows exactly 0 empathy for her and takes exactly 0 blame for her predicament. Pete only disrespects her more after her husband has assaulted her, and he makes it clear he doesn't want her, and Trudy takes charge and cleans her up, but not before she figures things out. The jig, she is up. Trudy tells Pete that they're done and she wants him to move out. Hell's bells, Trudy! I have always liked Trudy, and I enjoy that she's finally stopped publicly denying that she's married to a slimeball. Trudy has grown balls!

I am going to wash you out of my hair. With LIE soap.

Megan reveals to Sylvia Rosen that she had a miscarriage and she's feeling guilty because she was feeling relieved because she doesn't want to be pregnant and have a baby since her acting career is just starting to take off. Sylvia tells her she understands, and she seems a little relieved herself, because a baby might put a damper on that affair she's having with Megan's husband.

I understand there's this thing called "subtext" and the writers like to use it a lot in scenes like this one.

Lady Executive Peggy basically treats her underlings the way Don treated her, and they leave some feminine itching/cleanliness powder on her desk, complete with a joke prospectus. 

Things I'm over: Pete Campbell, finding a husband, respect from my coworkers, and this decade.

This week,
Don and Pete are having a secret meeting with Ketchup in Pete's skeezy clandestine-hook-up-where-he's-living-now-that-Trudy-kicked-him-out bachelor pad. Ketchup suggests that they have the presentation at Pete's apartment, but Pete wants to get a hotel. Because that's what you do in a hotel room. Backroom deals and women you don't respect. Don and Pete decide to bring Stan on board to work on the secret Ketchup project. Creative geniuses that they are, they decide to call it "Project K." Don undermined Pete in a meeting with Jaguar last week, but this week Don and Pete are working together to undermine Ken Cosgrove's baked beans account.

Don's secretary, Dawn (no kidding), is conflicted about working at SCDP. She meets with her friend at a soda fountain and her friend tells Dawn she feels like SCDP is going to take advantage of her because she's their only black employee. At the office, Harry Crane's secretary, Scarlett, tells Dawn she has to leave work to get things done for Clara's birthday, and asks Dawn to punch her out when she leaves. Dawn is hesitant about helping Scarlett lie on her time card, but Dawn doesn't want to make ripples and so she agrees.

Joanie's mom is getting a make-over from Mary Kay by Joan's friend Kate. Joan's mom has stopped hating Joan and is really proud of Her Joanie being a partner in a Madison Avenue advertising firm. Good thing Mom doesn't know how Joanie got that job. Joanie would also like to sell you some Johnny Walker. Kate is tired of not being able to advance at Mary Kay, so she is interviewing with Avon.

Joan finds out Scarlett lied on her time card and had Dawn punch out for her. Scarlett tries to explain that she was organizing things for Clara's birthday, but Joan fires Scarlett. Scarlett runs away on her go-go boots, crying. Harry gets pissed because Joan fired Scarlett, and Harry tells Joan to reneg her firing. Joan refuses, but Harry orders Scarlett back to work. Then he sees Joan in the partners meeting and storms in. Harry threatens to leave and expresses bitterness about Joan's promotion and the reason behind it. Bert Cooper encourages Joan to keep Dawn because the industry wants to see firms employ people of Dawn's ethnicity, and Bert also encourages Joan to keep Scarlett, leaving Joan feeling undermined and insulted. Joan may technically be a partner, but her job description hasn't changed at all and she still has to defer to the male partners to make administrative staff decisions.

I am NOT on ANYONE's case about them getting paid for work they didn't do because of how I got promoted.

Kate takes Joan to a soda fountain which is equipped with phones that facilitate random hook-ups. The manager of the soda fountain hits on Kate and they all end up in a cab together.

In Susan Lucci news, Megan is on set of her soap (in this redonkulous maid costume), and she gets the news she gets to do a nekked scene with the leading man. Megan has to break the news to Don that she has to cheat on him for pretend. Don tells her he's not thrilled about it, but he won't be a jerk and stand in her way. Whatevs, Don. And yes, this is meta.

Cosgrove and Harry meet with Dow, trying to put a happy face on their napalm. Seems Dow is having some PR issues. They plan to force Joe Namath into some sing-a-long with Julie Andrews and John Wayne and call it "Broadway Joe." Brought to you by Dow Chemical. For real. Dow green-lights the idea, and Harry's stoked that he brokered a huge deal with a major client. Joe Namath dancing! What could possibly go wrong? I LOVE THE SMELL OF JOE NAMATH DANCING FOR NAPALM IN THE MORNING!! 

In awkward dinner conversation news, Don goes to dinner with Megan's co-star and her producer husband. Apparently, her producer and co-star are swingers and want to smoke bud with Don and Megan at their place to "see what happens." Megan's like, "Do you mean fondu?" and they're like, "If that's what you're into!" and Megan's like "What?" and they're like, "Group sex! Group sex with fondu!" and Megan is like "OMG. AND I'M SUPPOSED TO BE THE INNOCENT ONE!" 

They're taking that "Swinging Sixties" thing literally. Don does a good job of looking shocked, but you know Don's curious about Megan's co-star's ladybits and she's not an entirely unappealing piece of ass. Certainly he's done worse.  But he can't have sex with another woman with Megan in the room. Or with her watching! That's just not the kind of cheating he does! Awww, darn it. Then she'd know.

I'm sorry. My self-loathing doesn't extend to orgies.

Hubby seems very eager to swing with Don (ho-yay!) and the wacky Hollywood types do their best to convince Megan and Don to swing. Don's too into lady parts to be interested in studio exec peen, so the Drapers politely refuse. Still no reason to skip dessert. Fondu? Maybe that's Don's solution to a lasting marriage. Maybe Don should swing.

I'm totally fine with plain tobacco and he's completely satisfied with his current extramarital affair so...rain check?

Another awkward car ride away, Kate makes out with the soda fountain manager. Kate is married BTW. Then they go to a disco, where Joan feels even more left out. Joan is approached by an intoxicated Beatle and Joan gets some action. The next morning, Kate tells Joan that she envies her high-powered career as a lady executive. Since Joan is still functionally only head secretary, Joan reveals to Kate that being a female "executive" isn't what it's cracked up to me, but Kate is optimistic (and bubbly! and blonde!) and encourages her to make a power play at SCDP.

Bert and Roger tell Harry that his temper tantrum the day before showed "initiative," and they give him the full commission check for "Broadway Joe." They disappoint him by not offering him a partnership. He's pretty bitter about Joan sleeping her way to the top, so it remains to be seen if he gets tired of being unappreciated and grows some Peggy balls and leaves.

Come on! This is not the worst indignity Rich Sommer has suffered on cable television!

Project K presents their work to Ketchup. It's a decent campaign, but is on the whole a little lame. Project K leaves the hotel room and speak of the devil! It's Peggy! Peggy, Ted and another staffer are about to present to Ketchup. Don listens at the door while Peggy gives their presentation. She explains the difference between castsup and ketchup, which has always confused the hell out of me. OMG, thank you, Peggy! Ketchup buys Peggy's team's idea, which is, "Heinz. The Only Ketchup." 

At a diner after their presentation, Don, Pete and Stan are having drink. Cosgrove storms in, angry because Beans found out they were meeting with Ketchup and so he called Cosgrove, who denied it. Beans finds out the truth and tells Cosgrove he's done with SCDP. Cosgrove is pissed because he was left out of Project K and because they went behind his back and talked to Ketchup, and how he looks like a liar to Beans. Oh, that darn cat. She is out of le bag. 

Look on the bright side! At least you still get to work with me!

Joan puts Dawn in charge of the supply cabinet and the time cards. Dawn is thrilled, but Joan explains that it's a punishment

Don goes to the set and watches Megan film her "love scene," which is hardly what anyone would call graphic, and for some reason he is pissed. He follows Megan to her dressing room, berates her, and leaves her in tears. What an ass. Predictably, immediately after humiliating his wife at her place of employment, Don shows up at Lady Rosen's house and they do sex. I've taken to just looking away when Don cheats. 

I'm fucking your wife.

Harry is threatening to quit SCDP and it seems like Cosgrove is right behind him, and it would be interesting to see if Harry and Cosgrove would be willing to go work for Ted after Peggy betrayed Stan. Will Don get bored with Sylvia Rosen and bed the wifey half of the Swingin' Duo? Don't touch that dial! 


Mad Men. AMC. 10 p.m. Eastern. Sundays. 

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Nothing Happens For Real Until It Happens on Facebook

The morning after – Norman leaves a sleeping Bradley like he’s some kind of pimp boss and James Deans his way back down the highway to the motel. Dylan is all “Congrats on the sex! Mom’s totally in jail” when Norman comes in. They find her in the clink and offer to use the motel as collateral for her bail. Mother snarks them a bit, saying she doesn’t need any help and yells at them to get out. Puppy Dog Norman doesn’t understand why Mother is being mean and not looking at him. It’s because of the sex you didn’t have with her, genius.

If this were American Horror Story, we'd be knee deep in a haunted women's prison plot line by now. 

Emma finds Norman frantically going through boxes in the motel for the deed. She invites Norman to stay with them. Smooth, Emma. She takes him to a bail bondsman and while they wait, Norman tells Emma about finding the Chinese girl in the basement. Emma wants to go to the police, apparently sailing right past the part where a member of the police is a part of the problem. Norman says he wants to do something, but not until Mother is taken care of first. Which is going to be a lifelong theme for poor Norman.

The bail bond comes through and Norman goes to fetch Norma with a bouquet of flowers. Mother, however, breezes past him. “I have nothing to say to you,” she brushes him off, preferring to walk home than drive with him. Later, they meet with their naturally attractive female lawyer, who Mother is also not pleased with, likely imagining her as yet another succubus who’s going to swoop down on Norman at any minute. The lawyer lays out a case that would defend Mother, but Mother insists no story is needed since she didn’t kill Keith and jeez, why is everyone so enamored of physical “evidence” anyway?

On the ride home, Norman tries to talk sense into her, but Mother insists that Norman doesn’t care about her. “You went out and you got laid while I was crying alone in my room worried sick about all this,” she tells him. She blames Dylan for his advise that Norman go and make with the sexy time and she wants to know why Norman did this to her? Norman tells her that she scares him sometimes. Mother, clearly missing the message, yells at him to get out of her car and walk the ten miles back home. When he doesn’t, she physically drags him out and speed off without him. Thus giving us one of the first real scenes in this series where we start to see Mother’s psychological abuse and hold over Norman. It actually makes a lot of sense if you consider the movie.  Norman is eventually rescued when Dylan comes upon him on his motorcycle and drives him home.  As they speed down the road, Norman actually looks happy for the first time with a member of his family. It’s actually really touching.

If it's possible to have a bro-mance between brothers, this is getting close. 

Back home, Dylan accurately points out how Mother lives for drama and behaves the way she does to get Norman’s attention. He tells Norman that the only thing you can do sometimes with those people is walk away. He tells Norman the he’s getting his own place and he wants Norman to move in with him.

The next day, Dylan gets an infusion of cash from his coworker Ethan for the place he wants. Ethan says the bosses don’t give this out, but he’s loaning it to Dylan from his share because he knows Dylan is good for it. Just then, another man comes up to the two of them, pulls a gun and shoots Ethan in the throat. Have to say this, things never go over small in this town. Dylan rushes him to the hospital.

That night, Mother meets with Shelby in his cruiser down by the lake. Shelby apologizes for having brought Mother down to the jail and tells her that it’s not safe for them to be seen together for a while. Mother begins to storm off but Shelby stops her by telling her that he loves her and that he went through hell knowing that she was in trouble and he couldn’t even show his concern. This is apparently what Mother needed to hear because she softens and begs him not to do anything stupid. Back at the station, Shelby clandestinely breaks into the evidence room and steals the carpet fibers found on Keith’s body.

Dylan cruises the mean streets of Whereverthehellthisis, looking for Ethan’s shooter. He finds him down by the docks, natch, and chases him in Ethan’s truck, running him down. Like, with the truck. Damn.

Mother is putting the finishing touches on the motel’s website (which, fun fact, is a real website) when she gets the news from her lawyer that the carpet samples are lost and the police have no case. Meanwhile, Norman tries to call Bradley after texting her two, three hundred times, but gets no answer. I will kind of love this show if it turns out that Bradley totally just used Norman for some distraction sex. That would not only be a cool reversal of the stereotype, but it would explain adult Norman’s eventual distrust and disgust with sexualized women.

Regardless, Mother is all giddy, hugging Norman and telling him that everything’s taken care of and they’re going to be fine, thanks to Shelby. “What’s he going to make you do for this favor?” Norman asks. Looks like it’s his turn to be bitchy. He leaves the house and finds Emma arriving, who has a theory on where the Chinese girl has been hidden. “Just take me away from here,” Norman says.

Emma takes him down to the water and tells him her theory – after googling “Keith Summers murder evidence” to see if he had any other properties in his name, she’s guessing that Shelby may have hidden the girl on Keith Summers’ boat and hey Norman, are you listening to me? Norman tells her the harsh truth – he’s with Bradley now because they made passionate, tender love even though she hasn’t called him back. Emma uses unassailable teenage logic to defy Norman’s insistence that he’s off the market – “Did she change her relationship status?” She asks. “Then it’s just a hook-up.” Truer words, my friends…

La la la, denial denial denial... I'm not listening to you talk about the other girl you slept with, not on FB, after all...

The two teenage sleuths head to Keith’s fishing boat. They break in, finding the girl basically feral and hiding in a closet. They drive her back to the motel, which has got the be the LAST place this girl wants to be given that she was likely held hostage there for a while. Thankfully, she’s passed out for some reason, so she goes more or less quietly.

Mother is finishing up work in the office meanwhile and sees Emma’s car, prompting her to investigate what this girl hussy would be doing to her son. She finds Emma and Norman caring for the frightened Chinese girl in one of the rooms. Norman tells Mother that this is girl from Shelby’s basement. The Chinese girl is all “lady, you’re crazy for not trusting your son here because I was totally that cop’s sex slave.” (Not her exact words, given that the character speaks very little English, but that was certainly the subtext.) Mother still refuses to believe her, getting a picture of Shelby and asking the girl again. “He is the one,” she says, pointing to Shelby.  

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Hitting You Like A Velvet Hammer

Ladies and Gentlemen, I’m here to talk to you about subtlety. Specifically, about subtlety and Ryan Murphy, which are not two concepts that are often found in the same sentence.

Murphy is the creator of (among many things) Glee, American Horror Story and, most recently, The New Normal, an antiquated sit-com concept that’s been massively updated. Despite airing in an era where all comedies are filmed using the single-camera approach (think The Office or Parks and Recreation) and focused on co-workers and their wacky office lives, The New Normal tells an old-fashioned story – it’s about a young couple who decide to have a baby and along the way must contend with their wacky family, zany co-workers and, naturally, a bigoted grandmother from the Midwest. The hook? The couple is two men and their baby is courtesy of a surrogate with a young daughter of her own. As such, all the old tropes about the family sit-com are there, just represented by a cast of characters that would not normally come together.

Who plays the nosy neighbor character? Hint: She's not white.

As you can likely guess, here’s where Murphy’s penchant for yelling when he could just talk becomes clear. If scriptwriting were like facebook, Murphy’s posts would always be in all caps. His characters don’t just exist, they Stand For Something. The messages of each episode or series are never hidden but worn directly on the heart. In neon. And then sung out loud. Be yourself. Be unique. You are special, no matter how ugly/wounded/non-white/gay/nerdy you are. When in doubt, you MUST cheat on your wife and then murder your mistress, burying her in the backyard so she can haunt you along with the ghost of your skanky maid. (Granted, that last message comes out less frequently.)

The New Normal takes all of these messages and runs with them. (Again, not so much the wife murder part.) Bryan and David, while both successful, committed and publically out gay men, still face prejudice about their lives and their relationship. Their surrogate’s grandmother berates them constantly for being immoral in an “it’s only funny because she’s old” kind of way. Adorable preternaturally aware moppet Shania voices every message about staying true to yourself in such a black and white way that if it were done any less over-the-top, children’s programming would be forced to pick it up. As such, for all its novelty in telling a story about two gay men that aren’t presented according to most stereotypes, this is still a show that generally screams when it should suggest.

And that brings me to the point about subtlety. In a recent episode, David, a former Eagle Scout in his youth, gets excited for the chance to volunteer with a friend’s Boy Scout troop. David spends much of the episode waxing rhapsodic about how important being a scout was to him growing up and how much he looks forward to sharing those experiences with his own son, now just weeks away from being born. We all know where this is going – halfway through the episode David learns that his Eagle Scout has been revoked after someone in the troop reported David’s sexual orientation to the Boy Scouts of America.

"Sorry, Jimmy - I'd love to be your successful, knowledgeable, moral template, but the person I love has a penis."

Though initially none of the other adult male troop leaders will own up to being the one who reported him (one’s excuse for why it couldn’t be him? “I would kill to be gay. So much more sex, so much less listening.”), one finally comes forward to tell the truth. When he does, he gives voice to one of the few positions that I’ve ever seen out of a Ryan Murphy show that felt like it was strong enough to stand on its own without all the neon flashing “MESSAGE” lights. The Scout Leader tells David that he really likes him and really admires everything David has – successful job, nice home, loving partner and strong family. The Scout Leader says that he overheard his son say that he wanted to grow up to be like David one day, and the Leader confesses what a good thing that would be – only with a woman, not a man.

“I’m not homophobic,” the Scout Leader tells David. “I want my son to have everything that you do. I just don’t want him to do it the way you do. I want him to be normal.”

In allowing a nice, compassionate and relatable character, rather than some frothing monster straight out of the Westboro Baptist Church, to make an argument against homosexuality, Murphy actually makes the most impactful argument for gay rights out there. The Scout Leader is kind, civic-minded and, most importantly, not evil. He really believes that homosexuality is wrong, but in a way that doesn’t look like someone who would want to beat a person up and leave him tied to a fence. It’s important to understand that the Scout Leader character makes this speech in a non-threatening, apologetic kind of way. He believes he’s the hero of this side of history, standing up for what’s right even against someone who he admires and respects.

"One of you denies me and one of you betrays me with a kiss. Er, I mean..."

In that way, it shows how ridiculous it is to hide homophobia behind phrases like “I’m not homophobic.” People who are misguided can be really nice, really thoughtful and really desirable people to be around. But “nice” doesn’t preclude “wrong.” The pivot to this more nuanced message was refreshing. It was Macklemore to Murphy's usual Lady Gaga. In fact, the subtlety of this message is so profound, that I was really surprised to see it in one of Murphy’s shows.  

Though I don’t like quoting Bill Maher that often, I do really like one of his phrases: “you can’t become so tolerant that you begin to tolerate intolerance.” Which is a way of saying that we need to point out hypocrisy when we see it, but we need to do it in a way that doesn’t generate more hypocrisy. By making the homophobic character a nice one, not a melodramatic villain, The New Normal took a step toward doing that.

I hope the light hand that Murphy and company used in this episode is a sign that they can do more of it, especially since American Horror Story is a show that I started watching just to enjoy the train wreck that I was convinced it was going to be (AND. IT. WAS.) and kept watching because it turns out I actually really liked it. I’m a big believer that entertainment can be educational and, like all good stories, can be something that shapes those who listen or watch it for better. Here’s hoping for more opportunities for that from these shows.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Syfy, My Time of Not Taking You Seriously Has Come to a Middle


I call your attention hither! 

We may or may not be a group of diverse individuals who set aside our differences for the common good.

It has finally arrived. The much-hyped, overly advertised, heavily plugged premiere of Defiance! What could be more anticipated, you ask? I have that answer. Joe Rogan is getting paid to do drugs in various countries and Syfy is filming it!! Yes, in addition to randomly throwing every sci-fi genre at nerds in Defiance like some sort of geek Jackson Pollock painting, the network that is also bringing you Deep South Paranormal  (not kidding) is also in direct competition for that coveted What Would Ryan Lochte Do demographic. This is a zenith for television. Nay. A zenith for humanity.

But how HOW can we get Joel McHale to mock MORE clips from our network?

But I digress. Until we can watch Joe Rogan do peyote in Peru (BECAUSE IT'S LEGAL THERE), we will have to content ourselves with the teevee event of April.

Thus it is. Defiance.

We all know this show was hatched in a board room and that's it's been created to sell action figures and video games, so I'm giving it a large amount of leeway. Suffice it to say, Defiance is the bastard child of Firefly, Star Wars, Star Trek, Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter, with some steam punk thrown in for good measure. Because why the fuck not? 

Anyway, the offspring of this mash-up is living on a film set in Toronto. The production values are high and the look and feel of the show is very cinematic. Syfy is drunkenly throwing money at this production like a sailor at a strip club. As this is the pilot, we need two hours to meet and greet the characters, as well as stick around long enough to follow their exploits in their first adventure.

Our Mal Reynolds character is Joshua Nolan (Grant Bowler). We meet him as a boy, as his day at the park with Mum and Da is interrupted by a pesky alien vessel hovering overhead. 

And mom's always complaining about ants.
(Disclaimer: This shot is not in any way a reference to ET.)

These alien folks are known as the Votans and all you really need to know about them is that they suck. They fought humans in this epic war and then they finally called a truce and there was peace and stuff like that there. The Votans are actually a collective (yep) of several races all mashed together, and they live on Earth like some social experiment gone bad.

Thirty-three fun-filled years later, Joshua is attempting to flee to the tropical paradise that is FUCKING ANTARCTICA, apparently after having mistakenly used a married alien female for a penis cozy. Oopsie. There were some wars and stuff, so the planet was such a hot mess afterward that it had to be terraformed. Yes. They terraformed Earth. How. Meta.

Accompanying Mal is his adopted redheaded stepchild alieny teenagerish daughter, Anne of Grumbly Attitude. Actually, her name is Irisa (Stephanie Leonidas), and she's narrating the show via her journal. She is our Plucky Young Ingenue. She is Irathient. I'm uncertain what that entails, but she seems rather feral. Also, Josh murdered her parents. BTW.

The planet has gone to SHIT, but there's still Johnny Cash. Thank God Almighty, there is still Johnny Cash. There's also still GPS and satellite radio somehow. Apocalypse FTW. Since there is all sorts of space junk flying around in Earth's orbit, the planet gets jiggy with wrecked spaceships on a frequent basis. This is known as "Arkfall." Ship debris crashes over head, and Josh and Irisa investigate to see if there's anything salvageable. Josh takes out his sonic screwdriver and somehow activates Plot Point 1: the Blue Buckeyball of DOOM. Josh and Irisa take the Blue Buckeyball of DOOM but are interrupted by a steampunkalicious group of thugs, also known as Spirit Riders. 

Yep. I am wearing a top hat and goggles. That is happening.

The Spirit Riders attempt to kidnap Josh and Irisa, although they escape, but not before Irisa gets her bad self shot. They escape into the woods, where Josh has to fight off giant beetle-warthog-rat-spider thing. They are rescued by some nice humans and make their way into what was St. Louis -- Defiance. Earth is a mere shadow of its former self, but the Gateway to the West is still standing. Defiance is a rollicking frontier town, with eight alien races a-feudin'. We meet Lady Mayor Amanda Rosewater (seriously, that is her name), emo Castithan teen Alak and his parents, Lucius and Narcissa Malfoy, and our friendly local mine owner, Rafe McCawley (Graham Greene).

Millions of light years across the galaxy and still all these pesky poors. 

Lucius doesn't like Rafe and vice versa, but it sucks a bunch because Alak Malfoy is in love with Rafe's Pretty Daughter (j'accord).  Plot Point 2. There are also other Castithans in Defiance. Apparently, there are castes of Dirty Malfoys and Snooty Malfoys. The Dirty Malfoys  (band name? I think yes) approach Lucius and Narcissa and Narcissa is nice to them, and we learn from this exchange that Lucius is not at all shady. Like. Not at all. Josh and Irisa find themselves in the local Redi Care, tended to by a doctor from another alien race, Dr. Ywell. She's of the Indogene, and Indogenes look like Uncle Fester, except their skin turns into Quilted Northern when their emotions are running high.

A lot of this is just unabashedly ripped off from Firefly. They speak mostly English, but their language is peppered with some Chinese-Russian sounding hybrid, and cuss words are spoken in said creole.  Fuck you Thanks, Joss Whedon. Much like Mal, rough-around-the-edges-but-lovable Josh is a veteran of the epic war, and was a member of some elite division of Space Team Six called the Defiant Few. Defiance is a rough frontiery town, the type of which you would see in a predecessor of this genre. I'm sure there's a cantina around here somewhere. There is for sure a whorehouse! There's also a teen club where things get all West Side Story up in there between Alak Malfoy and Luke McCawley. 

What tired Romeo and Juliet storyline? Where?

Mayor Amanda (Julie Benz) is torn. Does she wants Josh or does she want Josh and Irisa to leave town?Or both? Josh is broke and needs to earn money. Since the show is called Defiance and he is in Defiance, it's safe to assume he'll be sticking around. Perhaps the mayor has some holes he can fill?

Audiences, put your hands together to welcome your sexual tension.

Anyhoosle. He meets the whorehouse proprietress, Kenya (Mia Kirshner), who tells him to get into cage fighting to earn some ready cash. Also, for those interested, Kenya's sister is Amanda. Yes, Josh wants to bang sisters. Which one will he choose? The younger, rebellious, free-spirited one, or the practical, hard-working, responsible older one? Oh, cliches. You and your unpredictable twists and turns.

Kenya's hero is Inara, and while she may be "inspired" by the Whedon character (wardrobe and all), in the first half hour or so, she's the most likeable and interesting character we meet. Josh is scrappy, so he fights a big blue muscley guy and predictably knocks him out. Then Josh takes his earnings and has a bunch of sex with Kenya. Because why the fuck not?

Meanwhile at the Ape People Ranch, apeshit gets real and Redneck Ape Guy sees a flash of light and finds Rafe's oldest son, Luke, who has gotten died. This starts folks a-feudin' because Younger Son tells Rafe that Luke was fighting with Alak Malfoy. Things quickly digress into Hatfields and McCoys realness. Josh alibis Alak, Irisa pulls out her shiv, people throw punches, Rafe's Pretty Daughter confesses that Alak was in her pants at the time of said death, and the Lawkeeper ends up also dead. 

Well, shit.

So. That's the set up for Hour Two. After all of this exposition, we get to the meat of the episode.

Josh volunteers to play Dog the Bounty Hunter to find Luke's killer. Josh reveals he's a "tracker" by trade (this means he can do CSI) and they lock up Irisa as collateral. The Malfoys are in some weird bathy sex cult and Lucius wants to kill Rafe's Pretty Daughter. Narcissa wants Kristy (her actual name) to marry Alak so they can get control of the mines. The mines! The mines!  BWAHAHAHAHA!

Sherlock Josh deduces they are looking for an Indogene with a bad leg. We know Amanda has one of those up her sleeve because earlier we saw her assistant, Ben, limping. Plot Point 3. Not only is he a great secretary, but Ben is also a serial killer. They give chase and Rafe shoots Ben and he collapses into an Indogene Heap. He dies a bunch, but not before he can warn of an impending attack. 

There is also an army of Evil Cylon Robot Orcs headed up Defiance way. They are called the Volge and they are attacking for an unspecified reason. Defiance prepares for the Battle of the Volge. Ben, ass that he was, destroyed the stasis net around the city, so they are vulnerable.

Josh plans to leave with the reward money and Irisa, but he decides to return and fight.  Remember the Blue Buckeyball of DOOM? Josh retrieves it from the forest and devises a plan for the Indogenes to use it to rig up a superweapon. The battle is a typical "hold the line" until reinforcements/superweapon/Gandalf the White arrives to save the day narrative. The Spirit Riders steam punk their way into Helm's Deep (avec Irisa) and lend their assistance. This battle is rescued by the Blue Buckeyball of DOOM, which in this case, only spells DOOM for the Volge. It goes off and knocks them all on their asses. Nasty buggers, those Volge. Defiance is saved! Awkward group cheering scene! Josh stays and becomes the new Lawman in these here parts.

In the train-car-turned-diner (see, the post-apocalyptic world still has hipster hang-outs), the former mayor, Evil Judi Dench, and her companion in DOOM, Random Steampunk Man, unmask that it was their pro-DOOM plot to send the Volge into Defiance. For whyses to be revealed in due course. Motivation likely along the lines of chaos, panic, anarchy and DOOM. 

DOOM! Because why the fuck not?

As pilots go, this was more or less average. I wasn't bored to death, but I wasn't blown away or overly engrossed. It's heavily influenced by other media of this genre, so, sad to say, I didn't see anything terribly unique or original. I am a little confused as to whether they are ripping people off or if these are les homages. Clearly, the show owes a huge debt to fallen comrade Firefly and I guess there's a lesson to be learned about where networks' priorities are when they decide to put their money and PR machine behind a show. Much like Earth's gravitational field, Defiance is littered with the corpses of what came before. It has elements taken from Firefly, and maybe it's an unfair comparison, but Defiance isn't as good. I feel it wants to be good, and considering that this is the network that brought us Mega Python vs. Gatoroid, that is a step in the right direction.

That said, the show has kinks to work out, but it has promise. It is more or less entertaining,  but it remains to be seen if it will become the huge, iconic cultural phenom that the rabid execs at Syfy are foaming at the mouth for it to be. It has its production values up to the level of the class of program it wants to compete in, so it very well could become the next Battlestar Galactica, albeit significantly less depressing. I gave the pilot a lot of wiggle room because it is a pilot, but this fledgling series really should only be going upwards, based off what I saw in the series launch. If it headed in the opposite direction, it would be a waste of potential. And money. Lots and lots and lots of money.

Positive points are lack of pretension and, much like its leading man, the show doesn't take itself too seriously. But has Syfy moved on from its days of man-eating shark movies featuring Joey Fatone? Defiance could become one of the few bright spots on a network continuously devolving into Under Fae. If not, there is always Haunted Collector.

P.S. Due to all the nerd titillating, I am really hoping for George Takei to show up at some point.

P.P.S. Oooh, myyy.

Defiance picks up the time slot normally occupied by Being Human (in hiatus until the premiere of Season 4 in 2014). It airs at 9 p.m. on Mondays on Syfy. The pilot is also on the Syfy web site, which was awesome for me because my cable box, much like Indogene Ben, is way dead.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Tonight, on Bates Motel – Sex All Around!

Brief flashback to the final events of last episode – Norman hallucinates, believes mother tells him that he needs to get the belt from Shelby’s home. Norman wanders off to find the good police officer’s torture porn dungeon. Although, we didn’t see before that Dylan observed Norman sleep breaking and entering and followed to the scene, seeing Shelby as he enters the house that Norman is in. Norman is alerted to Shelby’s arrival when he calls for his dog, locked in the upstairs bedroom. Before Shelby can figure out why the dog is there, Dylan rings his front door with a story about his bike being out of gas. Norman uses the opportunity to try to break the Chinese girl out of the porn basement, too bad she’s literally chained to the room. She cries and begs for Norman to save her. He promises he’ll be back.
Arriving home, Dylan confronts Norman about why he went to Shelby’s. Norman denies being in any trouble. The next morning, Norman goes to Emma’s dad’s antique shop. Her father tells Norman she’s come down with the flu, so they’re keeping her home with her condition. He also tells Norman what we all know – Emma has a crush on him. He asks Norman to please be decent with Emma. “I am decent,” Norman replies. Mother meanwhile meets Shelby in one of the motel rooms for a little “Just Keeping My Boy Safe” sex. During the afterglow, Mother gushes about how pretty Shelby is. As they leave the room, they are caught by Dylan who’s waiting outside the room. Shelby and Dylan both have some priceless looks on their faces as they see the other.

"We were just checking the pipes. All of them. Whatever. We're bad at metaphors, but good at sex."

Later, Norman is washing windows when he spots Super Model Whatshername laying a wreath at the spot on the road where her father crashed his car after being burned. She sobs into his shoulder. In the kitchen, Mother and Dylan spar about Shelby. Dylan doesn’t trust him and actually shows some concern about Mother’s wellbeing, even through his anger with her. The fact that Dylan is now the only person who knows that Mother is up to something, Shelby is likely dirty and Norman is seriously disturbed really goes a long way to suggesting Dylan’s life span may not be as long as he would like.

There’s a reason I’m not in the movie, isn’t there?

That night, Norman spots Shelby pulling over a driver on Main Street. Shelby follows him and surprises him, shining his flashlight in Norman’s face. He intimidates Norman a bit before telling Norman how much he likes Mother, so what say we get to know each other a little better? He “asks” if Norman wants to go fishing with him at his “own secret spot, no one knows about it.” Sounds above bar. Norman rushes home to tell Mother about his suspicions about Shelby and the prostitution ring. He confesses that he broke into the house to find the belt, like Mother told him to. Mother gently tells him that sometimes he sees and hears things that aren’t there, he’s done it since he was a little kid and she’s sure there’s no way that the creepy blond ken doll she’s sleeping with is a secret torture porn monger. Nevertheless, that night at his house, Mother sneaks away while Shelby sleeps to search the basement. She finds the spare room, but there’s nothing in it. And that’s when Shelby TOTALLY comes up behind her and wants to know what she’s doing. Mother gets out it by saying she’s just looking around the house.

Goddammit you’re creepy, Shelby.

Norman asks Mother where she was last night and she defers, calling Norman jealous. Norman reacts by saying she’s not his girlfriend, he’s not jealous, and he really doesn’t want to go fishing with the psychopath. To prove that he wasn’t hallucinating, he shows Mother some bruises that he has developed around his ankle where the Chinese girl was grabbing him, but Mother insists the fishing trip is still on. At the River Running Through Awkward Conversations, Shelby wants to know how Norman’s relationship with his dad was, abusive? Norman tries to shut the conversation down, but Shelby tells Norman to get used to him being around because he’s the only thing keeping Mother safe right now from the law and he needs to know that he can trust Norman. Norman swallows his tongue and agrees to trust him. Shelby cuts the trip short after getting a call to come to the docks – the Sheriff has found Keith Summers’ severed hand in the water.

Super Model Bradley and Norman meet for ice cream and Bruno Mars songs so she can talk about feeling bad since her father died. They bond again, what with all the missing father grief. Then Bradley, weirdly changing the subject, brings up the hand the cops just found. Aaaaaaaand, mood killed, Norman rushes home with the news. Sidebar, the music in this scene is AWESOMELY reminiscent of the actual movie. Just then, Shelby arrives in his official capacity to take Mother downtown to ask a few questions. He’s got backup, so this isn’t a kinky sex thing.

In the Sheriff’s office, the Sheriff tries to get the story from Mother. They found carpet fibers with the hand and they know it’s going to match the missing carpet they saw Mother and Norman pulled up from the motel. The Sheriff knows Keith wasn’t happy about losing the home and figures he threatened the Bateses. The Sheriff will find the carpet in one of the town’s dumps, so why not just tell me now? Mother insists she knows nothing.

"I like my last series where I got to know everything and be mysterious. None of this 'investigating' bullshit."

She and Norman make a mad dash to find the carpet in the dumpster they put it in. Too late, it’s been taken, but Mother calls the number for the company that owns the dumpster to find out which dump it’s been taken to. Mother begins to panic when they can’t get into the dump because the gates are locked, screaming that she killed Keith because her whole life she’s had to “put up with things” and it was the last straw for her. Back home, Norman finds Dylan on the Motel porch. They share a drink and Norman tells Dylan about Keith and the rape and murder and about the missing belt and Shelby’s basement porn studio. Dylan, again showing the only real compassion and level-headedness in the show, agrees to help. Just then, Bradley texts Norman. Dylan urges Norman to go to her, telling him to “be a 17-year-old for five minutes and go and have some fun.” It’s equal parts manipulative and honestly really kind.

Norman Romeo Bates arrives at Bradley’s ridiculously over-sized McMansion. No one else is home, so she lets him in and brings him up to her room. Norman is awkward, but Bradley tells him to sit down with her on the bed. She hold his hand, saying she’s “tired of being sad” and wants to feel something else for a while. We get a soft-focus, tender, making-love-under-the-sheets-style montage that's very circa early 90s. And while this whole subplot has been way too unearned (we have literally no idea what attracted Bradley to Norman and "I'm grieving for my dad and hey, yours died too!" doesn't work this much), I do really like that Bradley, while clearly a Queen Bee in the high school, isn't portrayed as a jerk. Well done, characterization. 

Back home, Mother notices Norman isn’t home yet, despite the late hour. When she asks Dylan where he is, Dylan tells her “out with a girl and I hope to God he’s getting laid.” Mother is SET OFF and the arguing begins. Dylan tells Mother he knows plenty about the relationship between her and Norman, enough to get Norman removed. “No one is taking Norman away from me,” Mother yells. “Well, that girl is right now,” Dylan counters. Then Mother starts with the hitting, showing the exact lack of restraint that she’s doing to need improving on if she ever has to make this same argument in front of a court of law. Dylan holds her off, pushing her against the wall and almost burying his face into her neck and I swear to God, I was convinced it was going to turn into a sex scene. Jesus, that would have made this show go utterly nuts if that had happened. Thankfully, the doorbell rings and Mother runs to it, hoping for Norman. Instead, she finds the Sherrif and Shelby, who are there to arrest her for Keith's murder. 

For realz.

Thursday, April 11, 2013


There's no lambs screaming, no fava beans, and no bars holding back Hannibal Lecter from the world.

In NBC's new drama, Hannibal, everything old is new again, and we return to a time prior to The Silence of the Lambs to learn about Hannibal's first interactions with the FBI and the criminal profiler, Will Graham.

Hannibal's Cooking Tip #45: always take pride in a well-prepared meal.

If all this is sounding familiar, it should. The basic plot of the tv show Hannibal is drawn from Thomas Harris' first Hannibal Lecter novel, Red Dragon. It was initially adapted into a 1986 film, Manhunter, which starred William Peterson of CSI fame and Brian Cox.   After the success of movie version of The Silence of the Lambs (the sequel to the novel Red Dragon), Red Dragon the book was remade as Red Dragon the movie in 2002 with Anthony Hopkins as Lecter, Edward Norton as Graham, and Ralph Fiennes (he's so dreamy!).

Got all that? 

The point is that Hannibal the tv show is covering ground that is very familiar to fans of Harris' novels and movie adaptions. And yet there were enough new touches to the material that it watching it didn't make me feel bored or tired, in fact, I found the pilot fascinating, harrowing, and as grisly as any of the other versions of the story.

First, let's get to the basics: (from the NBC website)
One of the most fascinating literary characters comes to life on television for the first time: psychiatrist-turned-serial-killer, Dr. Hannibal Lecter. In this new drama based on the characters from Thomas Harris' classic novels, we see where this incredible story began. Will Graham (Hugh Dancy, "The Big C") is a gifted criminal profiler who is on the hunt for a serial killer with the FBI. Graham's unique way of thinking gives him the astonishing ability to empathize with anyone - even psychopaths. He seems to know what makes them tick. But when the mind of the twisted killer he's pursuing is too complicated for even Will to comprehend, he enlists the help of Dr. Lecter, one of the premier psychiatric minds in the country. Armed with the uncanny expertise of the brilliant doctor, Will and Hannibal (known as a serial killer only to the audience) form a brilliant partnership and it seems there's no villain they can't catch. If Will only knew...
Despite the title of the show, Hannibal Lecter doesn't make an appearance in the pilot episode until half way through. Instead, the audience spends time with Will Graham, the FBI criminal profiler who is asked by Jack Crawford, the head of the FBI's Behavioral Science Unit (played by Laurence Fishbourne!) to help track down the most elusive and most batshit insane of serial killers. Graham is an interesting creature--he is most definitely not a people person and rates his social skills on the Asperger and autistic side of the spectrum. But he has an uncanny ability to see think like a killer. He's portrayed by Hugh Dancy, who I always found to be overrated, but I admit that I was completely won over by his performance. Despite being one of society's "others," I found myself able to connect with Will as a character. It also doesn't hurt that he has a penchant for rescuing stray dogs. Nothing like some well-placed doggies to win over the lady viewers.

Wearing glasses makes me look smart and bookish! Now watch my awkward social interactions...hold on to your panties, ladies.

And then we have Hannibal. You might recognize the actor, Mads Mikkelsen, as the Bond villain in Casino Royale, and the Denmark-born actor certainly has a gift for appearing sinister. The audience is clued in from the very start of Hannibal's cannibalistic ways (just in case you missed that memo), but none of the other characters know....yet.

The most interesting part about the tv version of Hannibal is the character's mysterious motivation. Sure, Hannibal loves a good puzzle, but it seems clear he is more interested in understanding Will Graham than understanding the killers he hunts. Other than that we aren't really told why Hannibal would spend time hunting down other killers--unless he is hoping to pick up some new tricks. I'm VERY curious to see where the relationship between Hannibal and Graham leads and how long the show will continue before Graham learns of Hannibal's....shall we say, hobbies.

This might be my favorite promo photo for a show EVER.

Network tv now has to compete with cable channels that are offering more mature and well-funded fare (example: Game of Thrones, Mad Mem).  I've noticed that we are seeing similar ambitious stories on network television and Hannibal follows this trend. The show looks beautiful and has a very cinematic quality. It's also fairly gory and disturbing for typical prime time network fare--but I find that kind of adult storytelling compelling, as long as it isn't violence for violence sake (looking at you, Criminal Minds). You can go pretty much anywhere for a standard crime procedural these days, but Hannibal doesn't follow the same old formula. It's more about the mind than the body, and exploring the way a sick mind works. It's intriguing, mysterious, and left me guessing. In short: I'm hooked.

Some more points:

--you might want to use closed captioning when watching. Hannibal's accent is occasionally incomprehensible.

--keep your Pillow of Fear (trademark Caroline) handy to hide behind during some of the scarier parts. The finale of the pilot episode was particularly heart-pounding.

--the second episode has OMG GILLIAN ANDERSON!

Hannibal airs Thursdays at 10pm on NBC. 

Tuesday, April 09, 2013

Scream Thy Last Scream

Get out your go-go boots and girdles, ladies! It's time for Season 6 of Mad Men! Lest we fear that this season, like the last, will lapse into what Clovis affectionately terms, "The Megan Show," it looks like all of our beloved morally bankrupt characters are back with plenty of angst to go around!

It's the very late 60's on Mad Men. Just a season or so to go, and I can make fun of people for wearing 70's clothes. Don Draper is still a womanizing alcoholic, Roger Sterling is still struggling to adjust to the 60's (as the decade comes to a close -- might want to get on that, Rog), Joan Harris still has huge...tracts of land and Pete Campbell is still a smarmy creep. All is right with the world.

That's right, girls. I slept my way to the top.

Matthew Weiner doesn't straight up come out and tell us what year it is, so those of us who don't have any recollection of the 60's or 70's had to do some Googling. Figuring that the show wouldn't gloss over the tumultuous year that was 1968 -- and going off the growing sideburns and general hirsute appearance of the male characters; remarks about it being close to the new year; and the first human heart transplant having been performed -- we are able to place the season premiere at the end of 1967. 

The advertising gnomes at Sterling Cooper Draper Price have moved on since Lane Price's in-office suicide last season. There are many new underlings working in creative. Price has been most recently reincarnated as General U.S. Grant in the Civil War reenactment porn that is Lincoln. Speaking of identity crises, both Our Hero Don Draper and Silver Fox Roger Sterling are examining themselves and their lives in this episode. Roger has taken somewhat positive action and traded in his dropping acid with Timothy Leary days for psychoanalysis. Don is on his usual regimen of hard drinking, chain smoking and banging the neighbor lady.

We begin this season opener with the troubling image of what we can only assume is Don's POV of staring up at the ceiling, after having what we can only assume is a heart attack. Megan Draper talks in the background and another male voice assures Don that he will be all right. That fades to Megan frolicking around in a bikini on a Hawaiian beach, next to the very alive Don. For some light beach reading, Don has chosen The Inferno.

You do your existential crisis your way and I'll do it mine, capiche?

I'm sure Don is curious about what level of hell he will be assigned to after his early demise from apoplexy. Or cardiac infarction. Or lung cancer. Whatever it is, I'm sure he'll be a few notches above Pete Campbell. 
What should bother you the most about me is how fucking adorable I am in real life.

This vacation is actually work. It's an all-inclusive trip courtesy of a client, Sheraton.  They even get a taste of traditional Hawaiian culture at a luau hosted by a guy who doesn't even look Hawaiian. They're encouraged to eat poi. Ah, commercialized tribalism. Don's made more than a little uncomfortable when some old lady recognizes Megan from her teevee role and calls her Corinne, and asks for her autograph. That must be how Megan feels when some random person walks up to Don and calls him Dick Whitman. Oh, snap.

Then Megan and Don have some hot hotel sex. After which, Don is unable to sleep, so he goes down to the hotel bar and drowns whatever sorrows he has in a highball. He takes out his cigarette lighter and stares at it. It's from his time serving in Korea, and it has his name on it. And remember folks, that lighter says Pvt. Dick Whitman. 

He is soon joined by an intoxicated soldier on leave from Vietnam.  The soldier sees Don's army-issue cigarette lighter from Korea, and he identifies Don as a vet. He drunkenly informs Don that he doesn't like Hawaii because the indigenous population "looks like" Charlie. All righty then. He also tells Don that he's getting married tomorrow, because he's heard that married guys tend to make it out of Nam at a higher rate than non-married guys. He asks Don to give the lucky bride away and Don, who often displays a weird sense of chivalry he lacks in other areas of his life, agrees.

Look at me supporting this institution I utterly fail at upholding. 

In Fat Betty Francis news, Fat Betty Francis can't drive. Betty has gone to see The Nutcracker with Sally, Sally's friend Sandy and Betty's mother-in-law. Afterward, she gets pulled over for running into someone, and her Mother-in-Law From Hell (Fifth Circle; lovely neighborhood) tries to get Betty out of a ticket by telling the state trooper that Betty's husband is Someone Important. Smokey Bear tells Old Lady Francis that he doesn't give a tin damn who Betty's husband is and cites her for reckless driving.

Teen Future Dope Fiend Sally Draper has befriended a wayward violin prodigy named Sandy. Sandy has joined the Francises for the holidays and Little Bobby Draper has a crush on her. The Francis fam discovers Sandy's headed to Juilliard and encourages her to play a piece for them and they're all very impressed with her mad skillz. Betty teases Henry about having Lolita-ish thoughts about Sandy. Henry tells her she takes it a little too far (she does), but she backs off and says she's kidding. Betty later finds Sandy downstairs, getting a jump on that  three-packs-a-day smoking habit. Sandy tells Betty her woes about being a motherless waif, and her dream to go live in New York City with all the bohemians, artists, vagrants, ne'er-do-wells, layabouts and hippies. She also reveals to Betty that she actually did not get into Juilliard. Betty starts to feel maternal -- probably for the first time in her life -- and discourages Sandy from quitting school and moving to the city. Betty tells her about her less-than-glamorous life as a model before she met Don, but this does nothing to discourage Sandy. Betty's own children hate her, so when Sandy disappears from school and tells Sally that she went to Juilliard early, Betty goes on a search for her in the seedier part of the city.

Tell me about it, stud!

Betty confesses to Sandy that she's on a diet, and Sandy tells Betty to forget the diet because she looks fine the way she is. We see that this the kind of mother/daughter relationship Betty definitely doesn't have with Sally  and that she would probably like to have. Now that Betty's started to figure out what she wants in life, she's realizing what she doesn't have and what she wants to change.  Maybe at this point in her life, she actually wants to be a mother, instead of having children because that was what was expected of her. As a sidebar,
anyone who's seen the stalkerazzi photos of J-Jones knows she's lost her baby weight, but it's interesting, unique and kind of brave for the show to feature a woman who is struggling with her weight, yet who remains attractive. 

Returning home, Don and Megan run into their bellman and he drops dead in front of them. Oops. Actually, that was a flashback to a heart attack he'd had several months ago, and Don and Megan are surprised to see him back at work. Again, we see Don reminded of his own mortality.

In living in sin news, Peggy returns home from dinner with Abe and gets a call from her boss, Bert Peterson. Apparently, some comedian went on Carson and joked about American soldiers cutting off the ears of Viet Cong soldiers. This causes issues for Peggy's Super Bowl ad campaign, which is for headphones. Their ad is a Jim Belushi-looking guy in a toga, with the tag line of "Lend Me Your Ears." The headphone company now wants to pull the ad, and Peggy has to "call Ted." Peggy meets with the client and she tries to appease him with a new campaign. Peggy has difficulty getting in touch with Ted, and she ends up having an awkward conversation with a pastor at Ted's retreat. 

Diamonds, daisies, snowflakes...That Girl!

Back at the office, Don runs into Dr. Rosen in the elevator. Rosen's office is in the same building as SCDP. They shoot the breeze, and Don mentions he's got a stockroom full of Lika cameras. He offers to give Rosen a free camera if he stops in after work, and Rosen agrees. In other awkward elevator conversation news, Bob Benson from accounts "bumps into" Don in the elevator and offers him a coffee. Bob's been to the Pete Campbell School of Smarm, and he almost gets to bribe Don with tickets to the Cotton Bowl. Creative is hoping for some inspiration from Don because of his Hawaii trip, but he's got nothin'. 

A professional photog is on hand to take pictures of the partners and senior execs. Not much of Our Mrs. Reynolds in this episode, but I'm sure there will be a lot awaiting Joanie in the coming weeks. Joan has a nose for weed, and she thinks it smells like reefer in the office, but doesn't know if it's the photographers or creative. (I bet it's Roger.) Rosen stops by to get his camera, and he reminds Don that Megan and Mrs. Rosen are putting together something for New Year's.

Roger's on the phone with his flavor of the month when his histrionic secretary enters. She gives Roger the news that his mother has passed away at the age of 90. Roger appears unmoved, but comforts his secretary and instructs her to ask Joan what to do about the arrangements. One awkward hug later, and she's on her way to plan a memorial.

Hour Two begins with Megan informing Don that her role on the telenovela she's on is getting bigger. This leaves Don to attend the memorial service on his own. 

Over at Betty's, Sally is indifferent about Sandy leaving school. Sally's a little jealous of Sandy's talent and Betty's interest in her, so she tells Betty she doesn't like Sandy and is glad she's gone.

Some guy named Wes Anderson keeps calling me.

Betty's worried so she goes in search of Sandy. She stands outside a decrepit-looking building in some really bad neighborhood, presumably somewhere in the Village. Betty does manage to find herself at a building that Sandy has been in, because she finds her violin there. 

At the memorial service, Roger has to confront both of his ex-wives, first Jane and then Mona.  Some folks arrive with food, and Roger's perplexed because he didn't order it. There's a card from some guys in accounting (one of whom is named Bob), but Ken Cosgrove takes credit for it. Harry Crane wants to bang Roger's married daughter, and Don arrives shitfaced.  

This old lady, who had been insisting that she be allowed to speak first, waxes philosophic on the departed's love for her one and only son, Roger. This makes Don puke. Funniest. Funeral. Ever.

As if things weren't bad enough, Mona shows up with her new (husband? fuckbuddy? boyfriend? sugar daddy?). Roger doesn't want him there, and yells at his neglected daughter, Margaret. Then Roger tells everyone to GTFO. Upstairs, Roger tries to bang his old, old lady (Mona) and she refuses. WTF is wrong with her? I'd fuck Roger. Maybe the whole leaving her for a woman half her age thing... Downstairs, Roger decides to have some family bonding time with Margaret, at Mona's urging. He gives Margaret a jar of Jordan water, and promises to help her husband with his new business venture. Aww. Dad of the Year right there.

Back in the Village, life isn't all incense and peppermints here at the homeless youth hostel. They don't have water, heat, electricity or food. They dislike Betty and her cornball lifestyle, because she has things like warm clothes and a running toilet. Betty finds some of the counterculture youths have stolen the ingredients to make goulash. Betty asks if they've seen Sandy, and one of them claims that Sandy sold the violin to him. Betty doesn't believe him. She helps the flower children make some far out goulash, and waits around for Sandy to show up. One of them lets Betty know the Summer of Love is over and she has to leave. She is about to leave and take the violin with her, but she hesitates as she's heading out the door and leaves the violin behind with the gutter punks and their squalor. Then Betty dyes her hair. 

Don makes it back to work and gives Miss Chambers the lighter, with some story about how he picked it up by mistake and asks her to send it back to the army. The execs from Sheraton arrive, and they're not thrilled with Don's proposal. They feel his art, which shows a man's discarded clothes next to footprints that lead into the ocean, reminds them of someone's suicide. Don doesn't see it, but the Sheraton execs want to see something else for their ad. Roger's secretary informs  him that the reason he's been unable to reach his shoeshiner is because his shoeshiner died. His family brought over his shoeshine kit, and Roger takes it into his office and breaks down crying.

Don and Megan have a New Year's Eve party -- with fondu! Their guests are the Rosens and Don and Megan's neighbors (the wife of which is hot for Don). Nothing really happens until Dr. Rosen gets called into work and has to head to the hospital on cross-country skis. Can you still do that in Manhattan? Inquiring minds want to know.

The mysterious Ted shows up at the office. Peggy's able to come up with a solution to her Carson issue through going through her commercial outtakes. I really hope Peggy starts sleeping with Ted. He's way better-looking, way less annoying and way less hairy than Abe. Ted gives her the praise she never got from Don, and she's pleased. Ted seems intrigued and we all know Peggy's a sucker for an unavailable man. Have an affair, Peggy! Because why not?

After Dr. Rosen's off on his skis, we see Don sneaking into an apartment. There's a woman waiting for him there -- and why, yes, that's Mrs. Rosen! Don sleeps with her, and then he makes some comment about how he "doesn't want to do this" anymore. Then...stop. He goes home afterward to the sleeping Megan.

Like...what the hell, Don? Seriously. So, we see that the free camera was (an apology? payment? restitution?) for Don sleeping with his wife. Whatever it is, it's a pretty pathetic one, I must say. It's like Don tries sometimes to be a good person, but then he just fails. 

Really not certain why Don is cheating on Megan. Once again, we see Don married to a beautiful, sexually confident woman, but having an affair. We can only believe that's Don's own sense of self-loathing that leads him to cheat. Is it his fear that he didn't deserve the beautiful model Betty or the talented and smart Megan? As far was we saw on the show, he was faithful to Megan until her acting career took off, but I'm uncertain if he was ever faithful to bored hausfrau Betty, so the true reason for Don's infidelity is still a matter of speculation.

Say what you want about Megan, but once she finds out he's cheating, she's going to cut off his balls with a switchblade. Perhaps Don's fears of dying of a heart attack are unfounded.

A solid start to Season 6. My only real complaint is the commercials. I know this is a show about advertising and all, but the show ran eight minutes into a third hour, and I can only presume that was to make room for all the ads. I think I'm going to watch it on the DVR from here on out so I can fast forward. 

Overall, the filming, lighting and coloring of the show have taken a darker tone. The production has heightened the use of reds and browns so the effect seems like they're filming on late 60's era film. Not really sure what's happening in episode 2, because as per usual, the Mad Men previews are so poorly edited that I have to believe their haphazard and out-of-context organization is on purpose. So, I guess what we have to look forward to next week is that some people say some things and other people react.

Mad Men airs at 10 p.m. Sundays on AMC.