Thursday, October 31, 2013

Essential Halloween Viewing

Ah, Halloween. Who doesn't love a holiday centered around candy and scares? And like most holidays, there is essential movie and television viewing that can help get you into the spirit. Here are some of my picks for your Halloween viewing entertainment.

It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown: Without question, this is the quintessential Halloween special. From Charlie Brown's, "I got a rock" to Sally's tirade against Linus in the pumpkin patch ("I MISSED TRICKS OR TREATS!"), this special is all it takes to get me into a Halloween mood. Sure, it's not scary, but sometimes family friendly will do the trick just as well.

It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown airs tonight on ABC at 8:00.

Hocus Pocus: Speaking of family friendly, this movie about the three Sanderson witches resurrected in modern day Salem isn't going to send you hiding behind your couch. But it IS going to be full of awesome like Bette Midler's teeth, Sarah Jessica Parker's ditzy witch, and some pretty fun musical numbers. Throw in a talking cat, lame teenage romance, and a large amount of cheesiness and you have a classic Halloween flick.

Hocus Pocus is NOT airing on Halloween which is a travesty of epic proportions. but you can find clips online like this one on you tube:

Tim Burton's The Nightmare Before Christmas: You could really just put "any Tim Burton movie ever" on this list and call it a day, but my personal holiday fave is this animated musical. The visuals are stunning, the songs are catchy and fun, and it mashes up my two favorite holidays. Plus, if you were a kid I am thinking you might find it kind of terrifying. I mean, it features a clown with a tear-away face. That shit is frightening.

Ok, enough of this family friendly crap. Let's get to the good stuff--what to watch if you want to be terrified. This website has a nice roundup of the specials and movies airing on Halloween night (like various entries in the Halloween and Nightmare on Elm Street franchises and even the Rocky Horror Picture show), but this is a tv blog. Which means I am going to list some of my favorite scary television episodes ever.

The X-Files, "Home":A family of mutant incestuous rednecks who haven't left their super creepy house in 10 years? DO NOT WANT. And yet, this episode is pretty much the bench mark for terrifying television. The image of the virtually limbless Mama Peacock rolling herself out from under the bed has haunted me for years (seriously, childhood trauma), and other parts of the episode are still burned into my mind. And psyche.

Buffy, The Vampire Slayer, "Hush": I remember when this episode first aired. I was watching it alone in my dorm room my sophomore year of college and The Gentleman scared me so badly, I had nightmares. The creepy score and arm-waving straight jacket wearing minions didn't help matters. It's Buffy at its finest (and scariest) for sure.

Trick or treat, motherfuckers.

Doctor Who, "Blink": Don't blink. Don't even blink. Blink and you're dead. Who knew statues could be so fucking terrifying?

Supernatural, "Ghostfacers": A departure from the usual Supernatural style, Ghostfacers featured a show within a show, as the brothers Winchester encounter some amateur ghost hunters shooting a reality show in a haunted house. Of course the house is really haunted. Usually "reality show trope" episodes of scripted dramas are super cheesy, but this one is actually genuinely frightening. And not everyone survives....(runner-up scary Supernatural episode, "Everybody Loves a Clown." NO THEY DO NOT).

All these episodes are available on Netflix streaming for your Halloween convenience. And for even more examples of scary tv episodes, check out this list from I09, which includes some pretty rockin older shows like Twin Peaks and The Twighlight Zone.

Have a happy (and safe) Halloween!

Monday, October 28, 2013

Bram Stoker is rolling over in his grave.

After months and months of anticipation here on the blog, NBC's Dracula has finally aired! As fans of all things vampire and ridiculous, Arsenic Pie and I were not about to let this occasion pass without a conversation discussing the show. So sit back and relax while we let you know whether Dracula is worth your time. 

Oh, and the pilot episode featured a plot twist at the end; I have marked our conversation of said twist with spoiler tags. 

Maggie: So: what did you think of Dracula?

Arsenic: Well I appreciate the Downton Abbeyness of it all. They've got great costumes, and Sir Anthony is on the show, being his usual douchey self. I literally laughed out loud when I saw him. All they need is Maggie Smith making snarky comments about the action.

Maggie: I think this is going to fall in the "hate-watch" category for me.

Arsenic: Oh, totes. It is ridonkulous.

Maggie: It's kind of terrible, but I can't look away.

Arsenic: I think all Dracula stuff I've ever seen has been a total train wreck, but this is unapologeticaly bad. 

Maggie: Here is my main complaint: there are too many unnecessary plot additions. Because you know what the Dracula story is really missing? A subplot about reliance on petroleum as an energy source versus geo-magnetic power.

Ew, get that science away from me!

Arsenic: The novel is a little light on taking down Big Oil. (SPOILER) I don't get why Dracula is suddenly a good guy who is working with Van Helsing. (END SPOILER).

Maggie: I don't think you could call Dracula a "good guy" though.

Arsenic: Well, he's the lesser of two evils because according to the show, he's working against a big corporation. He's like a 99 percenter who sucks blood and kills people

Maggie: Yeah, the killing people thing is kind of a sticking point. I usually love me some secret societies, but this whole Order of Dragon is so unexplained it is kind of laughable. What do they stand for? Why did they kill Drac's wife 200 years ago? What are they doing now other than being rich jackasses? Instead of "setting up mysteries" it's more like "we forgot to mention it in the pilot."

Arsenic: And I'm all for strong female characters and all,but my historical accuracy meter went off when I saw that Mina is somehow in med school.

Maggie: OMG YES what the hell?

Arsenic: In Victorian England? How??

Maggie: And nobody even bats an eye of course. Because her Dad is a famous doctor or something. PLEASE.

Arsenic: How did that happen?

Maggie: This is clearly some network suit being like, we need to make Mina a "strong" woman or the vaginas will bitch at us on twitter.

Arsenic: Those vajays be naggin'. And Mina isn't a strong character. She's meant to be an ingenue.

Maggie: Excellent point. And there are other ways to make her have a strong presence rather than some ridiculousness about her being in medical school.

Arsenic: Yeah, I don't buy that. No one would have been okay with that.

Maggie: Let's talk about Drac himself. Usually I hate Jonathan Rhys Meyers, but darn if he wasn't actually pretty good. Except for the American accent. DEAR GOD. It is terrible. And why is he pretending to be American? It makes NO SENSE.

Arsenic: He's good in this because he's playing total douche. I can't stand him unless he's being a douche because I feel that's his natural state. And yes, WHY is he American? That makes no sense. If it became clear in production that he couldn't nail the accent then it should have been time for a rewrite.

Maggie: Agreed. Just make him British and have him coming from India or something so he needs to be introduced to society.

Arsenic: Oh, and I loved how Jack the Ripper was ACTUALLY a vampire. Actually a fact. "Oh the trouble it took to clean up that mess." It was a total non sequitor and it made no effing sense.

Maggie: It's all a cover-up! Perpetrated by the same shadowy secret society that....well, we don't really know what else they do. Because it has in no way been established.

Arsenic: I feel like, and one of the reviews I read touched on this, that they can't use the Knights Templar because that's overdone, so they used something else. But still it's really stupid.

Maggie: I just don't understand what the society DOES. They burned heretics or something 200 years ago? But that doesn't mean anything. Who HASN'T?

Arsenic: I mean really. I thought that was a normal weekend in 1600s Europe. My mistake.

Maggie: So one change that I do like: Renfield.

Arsenic: I like him. He's enjoyable. I feel like he's the only likable character.

Maggie: I'll take quietly snarky over bug-eating batshit crazy any day of the week. I hope he ends up the hero of the show.

Arsenic: I can't stand Lucy. She's usually just a dumb blonde and here she's slightly more interesting with that actress. Mina is just a fainting flower with a ludicrous plotline.

Maggie: We will see what happens with Lucy. I mean, we kind of know from the book she shacks up with Drac, but hopefully she will play some purpose other than blood bag.

Arsenic: And Harker is a milquetoast, let's face it.

Maggie: He's better than Keanu though.

Arsenic: And I'm the tallest person at a midget convention. He is better. That actor fits the part better than Keanu.

Maggie (SPOILER) I know we already dropped this spoiler bomb, but the Van Helsing working with Dracula took me by surprise. And it didn't piss me off which also surprised me. I am interested to see where this goes.

Arsenic: It doesn't bother me, either, but I'm not a huge fan of the book. Maybe if I fangirled Bram Stoker I'd be more pissed. (END SPOILER)

Maggie: I just thought it was interesting, since they are so linked as enemies in pop culture. But since Dracula needs a hunter, thank goodness we have the blonde Lady Jane ninja.

Arsenic: It was like suddenly it was a kung fu movie. Oh, and why was Drac's fight on the rooftop in slo-mo??

Maggie: I think they were trying to be all 300 with it. It didn't work.

Arsenic: You save the slo-mo for epic battle scenes. Fighting a chimney sweep on the roof is not an epic battle.

Maggie: That guy was kind of shitty vampire hunter, to be honest.

Arsenic: I almost expected Mary Poppins to pop in. THAT'S the movie we should make.

Maggie: Dracula and Mary Poppins: Thunderdome. 

Arsenic: Mary Poppins: Vampire Slayer. I would pay to see that.

Maggie: To Kickstarter!

Arsenic: Let's make this happen!

Maggie: We just need some celebrity endorsements. I bet Dick Van Dyke would be down. Ok, we have gone off the rails a bit.

Step in time, motherfuckers.

Maggie: Any final thoughts?

Arsenic: I think there's not much else to say. It's silly.

Maggie: I'll give it a few more episodes, but mostly because I feel that I HAVE to watch something called "Dracula" as a vampire genre fan.

Arsenic: And I can't tell yet if it knows it it's silly or if it doesn't and it's taking itself very seriously.

Maggie: I think the later, which is kind of the problem.

Arsenic: Like Sleepy Hollow knows it's kinda silly.

Maggie: Exactly!

Arsenic: It's there. It's in on the joke.

Maggie: Are you going to stick with Dracula?

Arsenic: I don't know. Honestly, that whole Victorian murder spree stuff doesn't appeal to me. OH, but DID YOU KNOW...that experiment Drac did at the beginning was actually something Nikola Tesla did? So Drac = Tesla

Maggie:  When he was dissing Edison and Tesla, I was like, "oh no he didn't!

Arsenic: Oh, he went there.

Maggie: We'll see what The Oatmeal has to say about this.

Arsenic: The show's just trying too hard.

Maggie: Agreed.

Arsenic: I might tune in again just because it's so fucking funny.

Maggie: I think the takeaway is: if you enjoy hate-watching or drunk-watching, this is the show for you. If not, avoid.

Arsenic: I agree.

Maggie: Hurray, we agree!

Arsenic: It's a good thing to watch among friends when you are all drunk or feeling particularly snarky.

Maggie: if you ever come visit we will get drunk and watch it.

Arsenic: TOTES.

Dracula airs Friday nights at 10:00pm on NBC.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

If There's One Thing I Know Really Well, It's Elves

So, this is my first blog post using my windows 8.1 platform, and the new software still allows for my snark app, so take THAT Microsoft. Make all of my applications fucking charms, will you? 

I promised all of you all that I would keep you abreast of the most exciting happenings on the Face/Offs. Guys, guys, guys. The Face/Offz actually became really super dramatic on Tuesday night, without the show editors or Fairy Princess of DOOM McKenzie Westmore throwing an added twist into the week's challenge. 

Your challenge this week: A Dick Cheney/Elmer Fudd Hybrid. And make it sing!

Last week, the judges FINALLY eliminated Eddie, who had been failboating in his merry little fail canoe for the entire season. So, that left Sweet Little Laney as the only surviving newbie. Unsurprisingly, as I predicted in my previous Face/Off post, the veterans vs. newbies concept resulted in a great deal of carnage for the newbies, because the veterans are just THAT good. A few of the veterans have been eliminated also, ofs, but after this last episode, only vets remain. The veterans who remain after Tuesday night's non-elimination (more on that later) are Miranda, Roy, Laura and Tate (TATE!!). 

That dude behind me? That's Dorian fuckin' Gray, man. I know, man. I know. Craziness. 

So, I was actually pulling for Laney because she appeared to be the only newbie this season who showed any kind of promise. The new contestants this season were just, I don't know, kinda bad, I guess. I don't know if this is because they were eliminated before they really had a chance to get grounded or if it's because they didn't have that much ability. 'Tis a mystery.  So, it came as kind of a surprise to me when Laney had a complete meltdown and left the show. I really thought she was more together than that, but I guess the pressure became too intense for her. I guess it will be revealed in the super finale spectacularganza why she felt the need to walk off like that. I mean, she was doing pretty well, and she made it into the top five. I don't understand why she would quit after she'd gotten that far. Maybe Glenn is secretly a wizard and was dropping Hinkyjinx Potion into her morning porridge, with nary a Hermione about to offer a speedy countercurse. As I discovered with one of my friends last evening, I can legit write fan fiction about anything, and so I will stop myself now before I continue further in this vein and lose sight of my original purpose.

So, your character is like if you were on Mad Men and you walked into Versailles and it was full of saran wrap.

I have to say, the thing that's gotten me geeked thus far this season are McKenzie Westmore's outfits. Girl, your wardrobe is SICK. 

But back to the challenge!!! I was pleased with the theme of this week's challenge: a Norse Rune Dark Elf. This is one I feel they've had up their sleeve for a while. I guess it's hard for the production team to come up with a different theme for each week, because we can't do robot zombies for every challenge but OMG WE NEED MOAR ROBOT ZOMBIES.

Your challenge: create a robot zombie made of Legos that is in the shape of one of Glenn's tattoos.

Bitch looks fierce, right?


So, here's what went down. 

Laney was bummed about being in the bottom last week, so she was at the point where she was feeling like it just wasn't fun anymore, but she dragged herself along to the first day of the spotlight challenge, where we discover that it's going to be dark elves that are based on Norse mythology. Laura's excited because she's a HUGE GEEK, and Tate is instantly excited that they're mixing ancient runes into their Elven warrior creatures. This is why I ship Laura and Tate HARD, even though Laura's married. But there I go again with the fan fiction. 

In the sculpting phase, Roy makes his first mistake. His rune references psychic ability, so he decides to make his elf have a huge head.

Miranda felt it was "mandatory for an elf to have pointy ears." Direct quote. She second-guessed herself throughout the entire challenge, and ended up having a near-meltdown toward the end. Miranda's elf did not at all turn out like she had planned in her original sketch.

 And this is why we can't have nice things. 

Laney is half-assing it so much that she hasn't even bothered to put on her anime girl make-up, and she soon gives up on her sculpt and heads into the bathroom, crying and saying she's homesick. Tate goes in and tries to cheer her up, but ends up getting booted. Roy finally convinces her to come out of the bathroom and work on her sculpt. It seems like things are getting back to normal, and although she is behind, Laney starts work on her sculpt again.

However, the next morning, the gang comes down for breakfast and Laura finds a note on the table. At first, Laura thinks it's a note from Fairy Princess of DOOM McKenzie throwing another twist into the challenge (YOUR CREATIONS ALL HAVE TO DANCE ALL OF SWAN LAKE WHILE UNDERWATER). Actually, nope. It's a handwritten note from Laney, stating that she's left the competition. Apparently, the crew actually filmed her leaving, but left the note that Laney had left on the table and they didn't bother to tell anyone she was gone until the next morning. Oh, reality television.

Laney's departure leaves everyone bummed, but it makes Miranda stress out even more. Miranda's sure that she's going to be in the bottom because her elf is a hot mess.

The Aztecs called and they want...actually, hold on. Hold on. Okay, they said they do not want this back.

Since Laney left, the contestants assume that there will be another elimination that week. Roy and Miranda end up in the bottom looks. In Roy's defense, his elf doesn't look that bad. The point of the challenge was a dark elf, and I guess I could see there being a dark elf that looks like Roy's elf.

Okay, maybe it kind of looks like a medieval Romulan, but all in all, not a terrible make-up. You know, maybe they do Hamlet on the Romulan home world. You don't know.

The thing though, with Roy and Miranda's looks, is that maybe they would have flown earlier in the season, but Laura and Tate are pulling ahead as the clear contenders for the title. Laura's elf is fucking gorgeous, and Tate's creation is another completely unbelievable look. You all know I'm on Team Laura, but I was behind the judges' decision to give the win to Tate this week. ALTHOUGH LAURA WAS ROBBED. But I'm okay with Tate winning. But she was robbed. 



With Laney's departure, the judges decide to give Roy and Miranda another chance, and neither are eliminated this week. I kind of thought that was BS because you all know how mean I am. I really thought they should have eliminated Miranda this week, and that would have meant the final would be next Tuesday, close to Halloween. And I think we can all agree that that would have been VERY SPOOKY. 

It's obvious to me at this point that the finale should be Tate, Laura and Roy. Miranda's definitely got talent, but she cannot take the pressure. She has flipped out during the last two challenges, and this week, her piece was nowhere near up to her usual standards. I was actually expecting Miranda to decide she couldn't take the pressure anymore and leave. I am pulling for Laura or Tate to win, but Miranda is no slouch, and I think we've all begrudgingly come to expect more from her. Roy is a fan favorite and I like him. I think he's awesome at fabrication and he has huge, creative ideas.  However, I don't think he can match Laura or Tate in the execution department. 

We shall see. 

Face/Off. Tuesdays. 9 p.m. Syfy. 

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Lifetime: Television for Witches

My friend Mac (a dude) may not be the first person I would expect to dig a show airing on Lifetime, but since it's about witches, I guess I shouldn't be too surprised. Read on for his take on the new series Witches of East End!

Let's get it out of the way. Yes, it's Practical Magic: The TV series. The similarities are relatively few, but they are stark enough to be undeniable.

Please don't let this stop you from watching the show, because believe it or not, originality is the biggest draw. I really can't define it: there are aspects of freak-of-the week, but sometimes it's a comedy, sometimes a drama, sometimes a day-in-the-life. There is a large story arc we've only seen glimpses of so far, a definite sense that there's a huge world waiting to be discovered, but the protagonists also get clear objectives they can work towards and resolve in the short-term. So far they've been very reactive, but I have hopes, since they're making the leading ladies look like women who aren't going to sit back and just let things happen to them for long.

Hell, these don't look like women who would calmly suffer a long line at Starbucks, let alone forces of evil. 

One thing it has that I've never been able to explain to my sisters: Yes, I know it's paranormal, but it's also real. It's not a show where magic happens and then people react the way they have to in order to advance the plot; they sell it as, "this is how people really would react". And they all react unique to their circumstance. The woman who has studied witchcraft academically reacts one way, her sister who has always believed in magic and has been treated like an outcast for it reacts in a very different way.

It launches into the action rather rapidly, and enough goes on during the build-up to keep you engaged anyway. Personally I found the first half of the pilot dragged a bit, but I was hooked by the end.

I don't like all of it. The "magic" of the world is the worst kind, the "think of a thing and it happens" type. Also known as, "the writers will invent restrictions and powers as plot demands." And the actress who clearly exists to be seen naked sleeping with many, many men really needs to be given fewer lines to ruin.

Not that I'm complaining. Nor, I think, are these dudes.

I personally don't see this next fact as a pro or con, but I can see people either liking or disliking it: It is absolutely a show that belongs on Lifetime. All of the main protagonists and some antagonists are women, and men exist for romantic interest. Emotions are validated like parking at a mall. Intuition and feelings are given center stage. And a woman brags about having better hair than her physical duplicate. This is a show that will cause your cycles to sync, is what I'm saying. 

I like it. It's undefinable and I never know what's going to happen next, but once it does it feels natural. It doesn't fit neatly into expectations. Watch it. You'll be glad you gave it a try.

Witches of East End airs Sunday nights at 10e/9c on Lifetime, and all three current episodes are available for free on Hulu.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Hey, Baby It's Reigning

OMG you guys. So, like, Reign? Which just aired on the CW? Is like so awesome and historically accurate! Mary, Queen of Scots, is like the coolest Queen ever. Right?

Clearly people who think the above are the target audience for the new drama Reign. It's basically The Tudors for teens. And it is both amazing and ridiculous. Let's just establish right off the bat that we don't care about historical accuracy. I am going to turn off my brain and assume that Reign takes place in some alternate universe and leave it at that. Because, really. If that kind of thing bothers you so much you can never watch any historical drama ever. Especially one that airs on The CW.

Hit it, CW promo people!
Hidden between the lines of the history books is the story of Mary Stuart, the young woman the world would come to know as Mary, Queen of Scots. The teenage Mary is already a headstrong monarch ─ beautiful, passionate and poised at the very beginning of her tumultuous rise to power. Arriving in France with four close friends as her ladies-in-waiting, Mary has been sent to secure Scotland’s strategic alliance by formalizing her arranged engagement to the French king’s dashing son, Prince Francis. 
You guys, this show has everything. Teen angst, teen romance, teen sex, love triangles, "fabulous" costumes, prophecies, magic, mysterious shrouded crazy ladies, dark and dangerous woods, and a surprising amount of politics thrown into the mix.

But seriously, the best thing about the show? The absolute best thing?

The Queen of France, Catherine de Medici, is played by Megan Follows, aka, ANNE OF GREEN FUCKING GABLES. 

You guys seriously have no idea how important this is. Anne of Green Gables (and even more so Anne of Avonlea) was absolutely pivotal to my development into a feisty, imaginative red-head. Anne was pretty much my hero. And whenever Megan Follows pops up in a show (she was in an episode of Longmire last year!) I get so fangirly you cannot even imagine.

Anne and Gilbert OTP 4EVA!!!11!

Alright, let's get back to Reign. Other than Megan Follows there aren't a lot of people I recognize in the cast. I think the chick who played Susan in the Narnia movies is one of Mary's interchangeable ladies in waiting, but for the most part we have your standard line-up of pretty CW people. And they are all pretty much competent. I kind of wish the actress playing Mary would act a little more feisty, since Mary is actually written with a brain (well, maybe half of one) in her head and a strong backbone, but that's more of a quibble than an actual criticism.

More interesting than the actors are the characters they play. Because here is where Reign actually surprised me. I made a lot of assumptions before seeing the show. First, that Prince Francis would be your typical asshole spoiled brat. And that his mother, the Queen of France, would somehow be plotting against Mary because she's prettier than her or some other bullshit reason. And the king's bastard son, Sebastian, would be a womanizing rogue who would get between Mary and Francis.

But here's the thing. The main characters in Reign are actually (gasp!) fully formed people with complex motivations that make sense! I know, it's like a fall television season miracle. As for Prince Francis, he has some good points (he believes a man should know a trade) and some bad ones (he sleeps around and is kinda a bitch about it), but is struggling with doing what is best for his country--which may not necessarily mean marrying Mary and allying France with Scotland. Sebastian, Francis' half brother, is all smolder but also seems like a nice guy. I just love a good love triangle. And Queen Catherine, while she does try to take down Mary, it's because she believes in a prophecy saying that Mary will cause Francis' death. So she's really trying to protect her son.

Oh, didn't I mention the magic elements in this? Because the Queen's bestie is NOSTRADAMUS. You know, the seer. According to wikipedia, Catherine de Medici was actually an admirer of his, but who cares. Because there is magic and prophecy in this show and it is amazing. Oh, and there is also some crazy woman running around the French castle with a veil over her face warning Mary not to drink wine with roofies in it and that part is kind of amazing too.

Basically, this show has a large touch of the ridiculous. But it's the Middle Ages and people believed really weird shit back then so it works.

Man, the French royal family looks like a barrel of laughs, don't they? Oh, and the chick in the bright blue? Is the King's mistress. Oh, you crazy French people.

Speaking of ridiculous, the costumes on this show. Seriously, the costumes. Mary and her ladies in waiting look like someone raided the prom section of Forever 21. The entire show is a hodge podge of eras--I am pretty sure I spied some extras wearing some dresses from Gone With the Wind and the Queen of France looks like she wandered off the set of Pride and Prejudice. There is no consistency, but rather than bugging it makes watching the show kind of fun. Like when you would watch Sex and the City just to see what cray cray outfit Carrie was going to turn up wearing. The guys for the most part have pretty standard 1500s wear, but I have high hopes for pantaloons to make an appearance. 

There's also a surprising amount of court politics going on here. It's pretty much all in the context of marriage alliance discussions, but still. I was impressed the show is spending any time at all on the current state of affairs in sixteenth century Europe. I am hoping that they will get more into the religious issues (Catholics vs. Protestants) as the show progresses.

In sum, Reign is amazing, ridiculous, and you should watch it. Oh, and if you are a straight dude, there was a controversial female masturbation scene, so there you go.


Reign airs Thursdays at 9:00 EST on The CW.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Recapping AHS: I Can Make You A Man (In Just 50 Minutes)

Welcome back, everyone, to another episode of Swamp People! Kidding! It’s still AHS, although you’d be forgiven for confusing the two given that we spend the first five minutes tonight following around two guys with thick accents who are wearing flannel and Stars and Bars t-shirts as they hunt gators in the swamp and bring them back to their camp. When they arrive, Misty Day, somehow miraculously having survived her Joan of Arc routine, is wandering through the camp while “Edge of Seventeen” plays from somewhere. Misty looks at the gator carcasses and declares it “wrong, all wrong” before reviving two of the gators who come after the hicks, dragging them head-first into the swamp water as Misty wanders off into the distance, the strains of Stevie Nicks still playing in her head.

You can go your own way...

Morning at Hogwarts. Zoe is still focusing on dead Kyle, but Madison thinks she should get over it. “Those guys were his brothers,” Madison says. “He’d have gone after me too.” Meanwhile, Delia is trying to get everyone downstairs for the pledge of allegiance or something and notices a horrible smell coming from Fiona’s room. Fiona blames it on “Chinese herbs” she bought down at the local Witches-R-Us, but of course it’s Delphine, Madame LaLaurie herself. She may not have decayed, but she still was in the dirt for 180 years, so she’s not exactly fresh. Also, she’s kind of freaked out by the modern world and things like cell phones and electricity. Basically, Fiona brought home a puppy. A puppy that used to strip the flesh off living people.

At Morning Vespers, we learn how Queenie came to the school. Seems after a customer at the friend chicken joint she worked at in Detroit last year called her a “stupid fat ass” she plunged her arm into a vat of hot oil to fry the man’s skin. “I grew up on white girl shit like Charmed and Sabrina the Teenage Cracker,” she tells the girls to explain why she didn’t want to come originally. Turns out she’s since learned she’s a descendent of Tituba, so she’s kind of royalty.

Damn. Queenie don't play.

Just then, the cops arrive! They want a word with Madison and Zoe. Seems witnesses totally noticed the movie star actress going into a back room at a frat party with the dead boys. Madison insists that nothing happened, but Zoe is starting to crack. When the cops want to know why Zoe went to the hospital to visit a survivor who died after she left in the same way her ex-boyfriend did, Zoe looses her shit and tells the cops everything. As in, “they gang-raped her and we’re all witches and we all have powers and please don’t send us to jail GAH!” Fiona intervenes, pouring two glasses of water for the cops and spitting in them. She offers the glasses to the cops, one of whom drinks immediately but the other is, understandably, a little wierded out. Fiona stares him down and he starts to shake. “In about 10 seconds I’m going to turn those brains of yours to scrambled eggs,” she tells him if he doesn’t drink from the cup. As the cop begins to bleed from his nose, he grabs the glass and downs it. They’re under Fiona’s spell as she tells them to forget everything before heading upstairs to Madison and Zoe and throwing them literally across the room.  She tells them the cops were nothing and Zoe is soft if she is afraid of them. Witches have been persecuted throughout time, she reminds them, so when The Man comes, you don’t get scared, you close ranks. The real point, according to Fiona, is “in this whole wide wicked world, the only thing you really have to be afraid of is me.”

The next day, Madison and Zoe head for a little breaking and entering at the local morgue, thanks to Madison learning how to pick a lock for a catburgler movie she was once cast in. “I’m going to pay you back,” Madison tells Zoe, showing her a resurrection spell that she found in the house. Inside the morgue, the girls find the remains of the boys killed in the bus crash. And by remains, we mean piles of body parts, including Kyle’s head, on tables. Madison sees an opportunity, or as she calls it “a challenge” to assemble the perfect boy. I’m getting the sense Madison wasn’t great with her Barbie dolls as a child.

Delia, meanwhile, is with her husband and getting bad news from her doctor. Short version, they’ve been trying to get pregnant and… it’s not going well. Their options are becoming limited and Hank, Delia’s husband, wants her to start considering, you know, fucking MAGIC to fix the problem. Delia is reluctant. “This kind of magic is dark, it’s about life and death,” she tells him.

At home, Fiona has brought Delphine a plate of friend chicken to loosen her tongue about how it was that she’s survived almost 200 years in a hole in the ground. Delphine recounts what happened – it wasn’t poison that Marie Laveau gave her – it was something to make her immortal. The night it happened, Marie freed the slaves in the attic and had Delphine’s daughters hung by their necks from the house’s balcony. “Don’t think that they didn’t suffer,” she told Delphine after showing her their mutilated bodies, “because they did greatly.” Marie’s curse was be to keep Delphine alive forever but trapped in a box in the ground.  “I’m sorry for your loss,” Fiona deadpans after hearing the story and casually offering her a bite of chicken.

That’s cold, Fiona. Both your attitude and the chicken.

In the morgue, Zoe and Madison have sewn Kyle back together (more or less) using the…ahem…choicest cuts and are starting their spell. There’s chanting, smoke, screaming, freaky sounds, flames leaping up, pentagrams drawn in blood. The usual for a teenage girl séance, really. Madison gives it her best, clearly shooting for that Teen Choice Award nomination, but when all the smoke and creepy music clears, Kyle is still just a pile of sewn together corpse pieces. “Well, that was a bust,” Madison declares before gathering up her purse and heading out, not even bothering to clean up. Zoe lingers, using the old “I left my phone in here somewhere and I’m totally not going to use this chance to do something weird that will bring back the Frankenstein-like monstrosity that we’ve just created.” Zoe apologizes to Kyle’s corpse, leaning in to kiss him (kinky) just as the Medical Examiner shows up for work. ‘Bout time, really. Security in New Orleans just must be really lax or something. The Medical Examiner is, understandably, a little unnerved by what he sees and finds Zoe cowering just as a reanimated Kyle rises from the table, grabs the Examiner and beats him to death. Undead Kyle has anger management issues, but if I woke up sewn into the body parts of my dead frat brothers, I like to think I’d so the same.

"Gosh, I hope we don't all learn a tragic lesson about the thin line between life and death over this."

In the Ninth Ward, Fiona is getting her hair did by a bunch of black ladies. It’s not just because she wants to be down with what the kidz are doing these days, though. The place is owned by a modern-day Marie Laveau, who spots Fiona and sends all her stylists home. “I’ll take care of this one myself,” she vamps.

At the house, Nan is having a hard time concentrating on her reading because she can sense Delphine upstairs. More annoyed than freaked out, she simply walks upstairs and frees Delphine from her ropes. “You think too loud,” she tells her and orders her out of the house. Delphine runs into Queenie on the way out and boy does that ever go well.

In the beauty parlor, Marie and Fiona snark each other for a few minutes before admitting they both know who the other is. “Your kind and my kind have been going after each other for centuries, though it’s like a hammer going after a nail,” Fiona says. Marie’s having none of this white privilege and points out that if not for Tituba, there wouldn’t be witches in America. Fiona scoffs that Tituba was an illiterate slave girl and that Fiona’s power comes from far more than some overly deified historical caricature bringing magic to the New World. And now it’s time to get real – Fiona is here because she wants whatever it is that has kept Marie young all these years and she’s willing to trade Delphine to get it. “The hammer wants the nail’s magic,” Marie laughs. “That is rich.” Fiona isn’t take no for an answer, setting Marie’s wigs on fire to show her strength and promising to be in touch. Later, Marie heads into the back room, pulling chains off the wall and talking to a man with a bull’s head. “You’re never going to believe who’s back,” she tells him.

We actually both thought this was the audition for the gender-swapped remake of Guess Who's Coming to Dinner.

It’s been almost a full episode since we’ve had a sex scene, so the quota is up. Delia and Hank have set up an elaborate circle of candles and salt and powders and herbs and who knows what, including a bunch of large football-sized eggs. They speak in Latin, smear blood on each other, and begin with the sexy time. As they make love, the eggs crack and snakes begin to slither out, growing rapidly in size until the snakes begin to join Delia and Hank’s bodies among the circle of flames surrounding them. It’s honestly a little like something out of a Guns and Roses video, but what can you do?

Zoe is trying to make off with Kyle’s…um…corpse? Entire pledge class? Whatever he is? He’s totally not verbal, but way into punching his head through things. Zoe is panicking while driving away from the morgue. And that’s when Misty Day herself suddenly is sitting in the backseat and wanting to know why Zoe “drew me out here.”

On the set of True Blood At Misty’s cabin in the swamp, Misty is slapping a poultice onto Kyle’s joints where his parts have been stitched together, saying that the swamp is full of natural magic and that the poultice will heal him like it healed her while “Rhiannon” is playing on her radio. Misty could feel something calling to her earlier in the day – it was Zoe and her magic calling out to bring Kyle back. “Now I’m not alone,” she says.  Zoe asks about the music and Misty tells her that Stevie Nicks is her idol and the White Witch, the only other witch that Misty knows. Not sure if this is going to be an awesome plot point featuring a Stevie Nicks cameo (please God yes) or just a joke. Time will tell. Zoe needs to get to school at any rate, but agrees to let Kyle stay with Mist, mostly because the house has seen enough stinky bodies for one day, thanks.

Fiona finds Delphine moping out in front of her old house and bemoaning how she’s been remembered as a monster. “I was a woman of my time,” she justifies herself as Fiona snorts. “If ten of each hundred things I read about you were true, you deserved to be under all that dirt,” Fiona says. Delphine insists that she loved her girls, in her own way. “Even the ugly one,” she says, slightly undercutting her own argument. Either way, it was the thought of her girls that kept her mind occupied these past 180 years. She asks Fiona if she’s a witch to kill her and let her find peace. “Oh I may kill you, but not today,” Fiona says before telling her to buck up and come back home.

Friday, October 18, 2013

The CW: Shows Old and New

We're now a couple weeks into the new television season, but the premieres are still coming fast and it's still overwhelming me and my DVR so I am dedicating one post to almost everything on The CW. It kind of pains me to admit this, but The CW might be my favorite network. I know, I know. This basically cinches it--I am really a 15 year old fangirl at heart. But I stand by my opinion that the CW is producing some of the best sci-fi television out there. Just look at the shows I'm discussing below and you'll see what I mean.

Oh, and btw, I am not discussing the new show Reign, about Mary Queen of Scots in this post. Mostly because it just aired last night and I haven't seen it yet, but also because I am going to give it a stand-alone review post. I am that excited about it, you guys.

Let's start with the new shows!

The Tomorrow People: the concept for this one is kind of like a blend of Heroes and SHIELD. Genetic mutations have caused some people to be born with special powers (though in this world they are limited to the three Ts--teleportation, telekinenis, and telepathy) that manifest in the teen years. There's a shadowy organization called Ultra hunting down the special folk, but also a group of renegades who call themselves The Tomorrow People who are forced to live in hiding. Both groups are trying to track down teens who are just "breaking out" with their powers. Our hero, Steve, is connected to both the organization and the rebels, but I don't want to give anything away since the plot is actually kind of twisty and neat.Oh, and Steve may be a SUPER special type of special.

This show surprised me by actually being good. Of course, all the characters are impossibly good looking, but while that bothered me about SHIELD, here it kind of works? Maybe because it has more of a younger focus, but for some reason I actually prefer The Tomorrow People to the more "adult" SHIELD (may Joss Whedon forgive me). The show has more of a feel of rock and roll, of getting down and dirty with the concept, and there is also just more of a sense of fun.  There isn't any new ground being broken here in terms of the genre, but I found myself drawn into the plot. The writers have tossed several story balls in the air (who and where is Steve's father??) and there were some delightful twists in the pilot episode. Like I said, I don't want to give anything away, but fans of sci-fi should definitely check out The Tomorrow People, despite the lame title.

Apparently the gene for super powers is intertwined with the gene for pretty.

The Tomorrow People airs Wednesdays at 9 on the CW.

The Originals: Moving the "original vampires" off of The Vampire Diaries was a great idea in theory; the plot of VD had really become too bogged down with the melodrama of Klaus and his merry band of sociopathic siblings. But I wish I could say that giving them their own show was working out in everyone's favor. It's not like the show is offensively bad or anything, and if you enjoyed the scene-chewing of the Originals over on VD you'll find a lot to like about the new show. It's just that the first few episodes have seemed like a lot of plot rehashing, exposition, and repetitiveness. In episode 3 there is finally some actual plot movement and character-building, but you have to wade through two hours to get there. I do appreciate the more adult-look of the show and the New Orleans setting, but The Originals is going to have to throw more at me to keep me interested. Building up the character of current vampire king-of-the-city Marcel is a good start--I am intrigued by him. Also he's pretty. I'd give this one a solid C for average; I'll stick with it, at least for now, but could quickly lose interest.

The Originals airs Tuesdays at 8:00 on the CW.

And now for some returning favorites!

Arrow: I don't think I have ever seen a season premiere episode as well-executed as the Arrow premiere. Our hero has a new goal: he is no longer a vigilante but is going to be a full-blown hero (YES). There's some new mysterious badass characters in town, relationships between everyone have been shaken up, and there is a even a hint of new romance in the air (again YES). Oh, and River Tam (Summer Glau) has joined the cast so you know that is going to be awesome. Even in the island flashbacks--when we discover how and why Oliver Queen became a total archery ninja--there are new plots afoot. Basically, Arrow is just as fun and exciting as it was in the first season and the new story elements have me really looking forward to the season to come. If you aren't watching this show....seriously, just watch the damn show.

Arrow airs Wednesday at 8:00 on the CW.

The Vampire Diaries: Now that the original vampires are off on their own show, we can move forward with the whole Silas thing. Except I kind of find that whole plot stupid and never really got it. But it seems like all you need to know is that Silas is some uber-powerful immortal witch who looks just like Stefan (more dopplegangers, oh yay) and can read minds and compel anyone, even vampires. I'm not quite clear on what his end game is, but it involves finding the now human Katherine, and since I love Katherine I am all for this plot. Elena and Caroline are apparently unearthing some weird secret society at their college which has me mildly interested, but that seems to all be on hold while we deal again with Stefan as a Hungry Hungry Vampire. Hardly any show on television does plot twists and momentum the way The Vampire Diaries does, but they need to stop recycling plots and try out some new ideas this season. I'm kind of meh so far, which is sad because I really enjoy the show.

The Vampire Diaries airs Thursdays at 8:00 on the CW.

Supernatural: *yawn*

I'll never stop watching Supernatural because of my undying love of Jensen Ackles, but seriously guys. Step it the fuck up. This angels and demons crap has been old for three years now and I just. don't. care. And enough with the manufactured secrets between Dean and Sam. How about this? We actually have the brothers work together toward a common goal. That was why the first few seasons were so good.

I just really wanted an excuse to post a picture of Jensen. Jared, honey, get out of the shot, mmkay? If we need someone to cry like a little bitch we know where to find you.

Supernatural airs Tuesdays at 9:00 on the CW.

Coming up next time on the blog: a review of Reign. Or as I like to think of it: Teen Tudors.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Recapping AHS: Something Witchy This Way Comes

We’re back, everyone! We’ve all suffered through/enjoyed a long year without turning on our television sets and watching Jessica Lange and Company do something that makes us say “dafuq?” out loud. What say we end that streak, shall we? Read on for the recap for the first episode of American Horror Story: Coven.

Snakes. Why does it always have to be snakes?

Picture it. New Orleans. 1834. None other than Madame Delphine LaLaurie (Kathy Bates) is introducing her three daughters to some eligible gentlemen at a society ball.  They’re all prizes, with the possible exception of the youngest. “Perhaps my talents are in the boudoir,” the youngest daughter snarks. Right out the gate, AHS.  Later that night, Madame is coating her face with blood and complaining that it isn’t fresh enough to reverse the signs of aging like she’s accustomed to when one of her servants breaks the news that the slutty daughter has been caught making Victorian-era whoopee with Bastien, a slave, though Bastien swears it was her who came on to him. Oh Bastien. This is the pre-war South. And did you read that Wikipedia entry about how LaLaurie treated her slaves? This isn’t going to go well for you, my friend.  Madame has Bastien brought to her attic, which is stuffed to the gills with slaves who have been tortured. It’s grotesque – some have broken and warped bodies, others have their skin peeled off their faces.

“You want to behave like a beast,” she tells Bastien, “We’re going to treat you like one.” She has the hollowed out head of a bull placed over Bastien’s head like a mask while she pontificates on how she always loved the story of the Minotaur.

Man, that reparations argument is just getting stronger and stronger.

To the modern day! We meet Zoe (Taissa Farmiga, who played Violet in season 1), a teenage girl with an eye toward love, or at least scoring with a boy that she’s brought back to her house to make sweet, tender, first-time love with since her parents don’t get home until 6pm. It’s going exactly as losing your virginity should, right up until the boy begins to bleed from his eyes. And then from everywhere else as he hemorrhages in front of her. Bummer.

Zoe’s mother explains to her that turns out she’s a witch and not to worry, grandmother was the same way, but it’s really time to get this looked after. And so Zoe is transported (by train, natch) from her home to Miss Robichaux’s, a school in New Orleans for young witches in the company of an OMGYOUGUYSSERIOUSLYAMAZING Mrytle Snow (Played in campy, crazy goodness by Frances Conroy) who talks with a Mid-Atlantic accent and says things like, “I’m simply MAD about Tartan” while admiring Zoe’s drapes. She’s also with two albino black men, because why not?

Oh yeah. I can work with this. 

Witchcraft, it turns out, is not always predictable. “It doesn’t show up in every family member,” Zoe voiceover’s. “Like my cousin, Amanda. She’s just bulimic.” It’s happened often enough though that the witches from old Salem Towne got out of dodge when things got rough and fled to New Orleans to train new witches in peace. Even in the 17th century, everyone from up north went to Mardi Gras, apparently.

Zoe arrives at the sprawling completely creepy mansion that is Miss Robichaaux’s. As she enters, the albinos and the crazy campy woman vanish behind her. Doors open on their own, creeking, etc. etc, leading me to doubt this school’s accreditation. Zoe is suddenly ambushed by three figures in black robes and masks who throw her to the ground and bring down a knife to stab her before pulling back to reveal themselves as the three other students of the school. I guess this was, like, her hazing or something? Man, just have her drink a bunch of shots and then circle the parts of her thighs that are too fat like all other civilized co-eds.

Roll call! There’s Madison (Emma Roberts), the Hollywood movie star who is also a telekinetic. Next is Queenie (Gabourey Sidibe), the human voodoo doll. Finally, there’s Nan (Jamie Brewer, who played Addie in season 1), a clairvoyant. The entire place is run by Cordelia Foxx (Sarah Paulson), who explains that the school started off innocently enough in the 18th century, but was acquired by witches in the 19th century to train young witches, usually with classes around 60 women, but now most of the witches have died out. Cordelia explains that most witches have one or two gifts, but in every generation there is a Supreme who has all of them. As an object lesson in safety and needing to keep hidden, Cordelia tells the girls about another girl who was killed just a month ago not far from the city, a girl named Misty Day (Lily Rabe, who’s played more drunk socialites and possessed nuns than anyone on this show) who had the power to return dead things to life. Sadly, Misty was also a member of a snake-handling Christian group, who saw her gif t as less Holy Revelation, more Work of the Devil and burned Misty alive. (Fear not - Lily Rabe is listed as a lead character this season. Betting she’s coming back.) The point is, from Cordelia’s perspective, keep your heads down if you want to survive, girls.

Still better looking than Dumbledore...

In Los Angeles, we meet Cordelia’s mother, Fiona (Jessica Fuckin’ Lange), who is meeting with a researcher conducting cutting edge work on drugs to reverse aging. Fiona is impressed with the researcher’s work and wants to know when she can get in on the drug that her late husband’s money entirely funded. The researcher isn’t too excited about jumping the queue into human trials. “What we do here is not magic,” he tells her. Heh.

Regardless, Fiona is apparently successful in her argument. Five days later, she is in her penthouse apartment getting high and dancing to In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida (‘Cause wouldn’t you!?!) and getting pissed that she has yet to revert to the body of an 18 year old. She summons the researcher to demand more drugs, but he has nothing to give her. “We’re organic matter,” he says. “We rot and we die.” Not in Fiona’s plans, apparently, as she causes all the windows and doors to fly closed and lock and moves in on the researcher, kissing him passionately. He struggles, but gives in as he slowly begins to wither in her arms. When she’s done, he’s a dehydrated corpse who has aged 50 years and Fiona is looking stunning, young and beautiful. For a few moments, at least. She reverts quickly back to her older body, disgusted with herself.

Dinner at Hogwarts. Madison is mocking the butler, who looks exactly like Riff Raff from Rocky Horror and apparently is missing a tongue. Seriously. Can’t wait for that backstory. The four girls alternately snark each other and ask what they’re in for. Madison is there because she “accidently” killed a director who gave her a bad note that she didn’t like. It’s not long before the girls start using their powers on each other before cooler heads prevail and two of them stalk off. Madison informs Zoe that they’re going to a frat party tonight.

Cordelia is apparently skilled at potions and tinctures and is relaxing by brewing up some new concoctions in her garden/lab when Fiona surprises her. Fiona is disappointed that Delia has never lived up to her full potential – Fiona is the Supreme and Delia could be so much more than a teacher. Fiona has come back to New Orleans because she heard about Misty and fear that “this is Salem all over again.” She wants Delia to teach the girls how to fight, not to cower, and she’s come back to do just that, even if that means mother and daughter having to live under the same roof again. It’s bad enough for any adult child to hear that from a parent, just imagine if that parent was the most powerful witch in the modern age? Goes a long way to explaining why Delia is single.

Time for the frat party. There’s a keg bus, natch, and inside Frat President Kyle (Evan Peters, also returning from seasons 1 and 2) is explaining to his brothers how much fun they can have at this party without getting their charter revoked after some unfortunate disciplinary action by their university. Have to say, so far this is the part of the episode I most believe is accurate. Anyway, the frat brothers descend just as Madison and Zoe do as well. Horny Frat Boy #1 has his eyes on Madison, but Frat Boy With A Heart of Gold Kyle is taken with Zoe. Ah, the sweet sting of young love, which is never felt clearer than when two eyes meet through the ice luge at a Sig Eps rager.

"So, my vagina kills. That's what the writers gave me this season. Get abducted by any aliens lately or shoot up any schools on your way here?"

Madison, meanwhile, is Mean Girl-ing it up. She spots Horny Frat Boy and demands that he get her a drink and be her slave for the night. He willingly agrees. Know what you shouldn’t really do? Ask a morally bankrupt frat boy to mind your drinks. It takes all of five minutes before Madison is roofied out the wazoo and the entire bus of frat brothers are gang raping her in one of the rooms upstairs. This is AHS, guys. You know rape was coming sooner or later. Never change, AHS. It’s only interrupted when Kyle discovers them after Zoe asks for his help finding Madison. The Frat Boys flee back to the bus, pursued by Kyle. The brothers knock Kyle out and begin to drive the keg bus away from the party just as Zoe tries to chase it down in vain. But you know what the one thing worse than a bunch of rapey frat boys are? When their victim is a witch who is also telekinetic. Madison causes the bus to flip into the air, crashing back down and exploding.

The next morning, the girls are having breakfast when Fiona breezes into the room bemoaning “college boys taken in the prime of their lives. But then, the world’s not going to miss a bunch of assholes in Ed Hardy shirts.” Fiona tells Madison that was fine work, but she was sloppy. She’s taking them all on field trip to start their new instruction.

Madeline: The Adult Version

She brings them through the French Quarter giving the girls history of the underground covens of New Orleans. “When witches don’t fight, we burn,” she advises them. They’re distracted, though, when Nan wanders off to the house of Madame LaLaurie, which still stands in New Orleans despite being once owned by Nicholas Cage (true story) and the haunted tour that’s going on inside. Fiona glamours the docent into letting them in for free and we all get a magical mystery tour of exposition.

Madame LaLaurie apparently tried to fight age and keep herself young and fresh by creating poultices from the pancreases of her slaves, ripped out of them while alive.  That is, until the day she was approached by Marie Laveau (played here by Angela Bassett), who offered her a love potion that would ensure her husband’s fidelity. Madame drank Laveau’s concoction, but as anyone could guess, it was a poison, not a love potion. Turns out that slave that was turned into the Minotaur? He was Marie’s lover and she extracted her revenge. To this day, Madame LaLarie’s body has never been found. It’s then that Fiona notices Nan staring suspiciously at the backyard. “What do you hear?” Fiona asks her. “The lady of the house,” Nan replies.

I personally can't wait for the scene when she learns about the Civil Rights Act.

Zoe meanwhile has taken a detour to the hospital to see which of the frat boys survived the crash and hoping that one of the two survivors is Kyle. That would be nice, wouldn’t it? Yeah, life’s a bitch – it’s the guy who was leading all the raping. And so Zoe makes a choice – her vagina has the power to kill, after all. All it takes is a little hand job for the unconscious rapey frat boy followed by a quick mounting and it’s hemorrhages all around!

That night, Fiona has paid two workers to dig up the backyard of Madame LaLaurie’s house and they have found a suspiciously human-sized box in the ground. She glamours the workers into forgetting her and opens the wooden casket to find a still hale and healthy looking Madame LaLaurie, quivering and shaking and bound in chains. “Come on, Mary Todd Lincoln,” Fiona says as she frees her. “I’ll buy you a drink.”

So, right off the bat we’re away from the muted tones and repressive feeling of season two’s Asylum. This is all glamour and camp and a whole lotta lady power, maybe as an antidote to the amount of violence done to the female characters last season? As someone who personally doesn’t find witches all that frightening, I’ll have to see how scary this season gets. MaggieCats will also have to update us on any of her Pillow of Fear moments, but for right now all I’m stuck on is, “needs more Angela Bassett.”


Thursday, October 10, 2013

Checking back in with SHIELD

This blog post is coming at you because of the awesome IT guy at my office, Jonathan. He spent countless hours this week helping me resolve some issues with my work-at-home computer and by way of thanks, I told him he could pick the topic of my next blog post. His response? "Write about SHIELD." Done and done, Jonathan; this one's for you!

Let's get one thing straight right here at the beginning: I will not be typing Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. every time I talk about the show. It is will henceforth be just SHIELD. First, I think a name that long is just ridiculous for a tv show. And second, I am WAY too lazy to type out all those periods between those letters.

So, SHIELD! What do we think so far?

I talked briefly about the show based on the pilot and liked it, but had a few minor quibbles. Now that we're three episodes in...I still feel basically the same. It's fun, it's action-packed, it looks great (both the actors and the production values), and in the words of fellow TV Slut, Caroline, "Clark Gregg will not be denied."

There's no doubt that without an actor (and character) as interesting as Clark Gregg and Agent Coulson, SHIELD would fail. Coulson is literally the center of the show, which is saying something with such a large ensemble cast. But he's the glue that's holding everyone together--both plot and acting wise--and it's a good thing Clark Gregg is so awesome. He has a remarkable talent for playing the straight man, but making the straight man the funniest guy in the room. He is simultaneously a BAMF and child-like in his love for the sheer coolness of his job (and the toys). Some people might think bringing Agent Coulson back from the grave was a cheat and robbed The Avengers of its most emotional moment, but I couldn't be happier. More Clark Gregg is always a good thing.

Now for those quibbles. Before I start down this path I want to make clear that I really like SHIELD. Like I said, I think it's fun and I really enjoy watching it. Having said main problem with the show is two-fold. My first issue is with the supporting cast. Other than Ming-Na Wen, none of the other actors are anywhere near the league of Clark Gregg. For my money, they are all interchangeable with all the other blandly attractive white people working on all other procedural dramas right now.  It's not entirely their fault; none of them have thus far been given interesting back stories or character notes to bite into. Other than a propensity to spout cute and quippy dialogue, none has really made an impression. So I am hoping that as we move forward we'll start to explore more about the other characters.

Oh, and Skye's hair always being perfect is kind of pissing me off.

My other minor issue is that so far, there is a lack of serialization. I know networks are scared to go down this path, but the whole "monster of the week" things is already getting a little stale and we're only three episodes in. Fringe tried to keep their episodes more self-contained in the first season and it didn't really work out for them. I am hopeful that SHIELD will bump up the mythology and over-arching threats in the coming months.

And there you have it! In my humble yet obviously correct opinion, SHIELD remains the most promising new drama of the season and the one I am (still) most excited about. I am fairly confident that any issues the show has now will be resolved as time goes on, especially if Joss Whedon has the same kind of input he did for the pilot episode.

SHIELD airs Tuesday nights at 8:00 on ABC.

Yup, he's just that awesome.

Wednesday, October 09, 2013

One Last Time (We Promise) With Breaking Bad

For the past six years, Walter White has reigned as the king of television on top of his empire of meth. As of last Sunday, the king is officially dead. Whether I mean that figuratively or narratively will be revealed later (I’ll warn you when the spoilers show up), but by any definition, America’s love affair with Breaking Bad has officially reached an end point with the series finale.

No, I'm not tearing up. There's just so much smoke in here suddenly.

But I come not to bury Walter White, but to praise him. And his wife Skyler, son Walt Jr., brother in law and DEA agent Hank, and the myriad of other Rosencrantzes and Guildensterns that made up the show that has been called the best television show ever. Despite a decidedly unglamorous setting (meth labs among unattractive downtrodden people in Albuquerque, New Mexico) and a cast of people who seemed, you know, real and not like caricatures, somehow this taut, tense little show found a way to worm itself into our collective bloodstreams and leave us just as addicted as the wasteabouts we were watching each week.

Through preternaturally solid and consistent writing, precision directing that would make German auto engineers jealous and award-winning acting, Breaking Bad let us see a story that started off utterly sympathetic and turned horrific. The basic premise, that sad-sack high school chemistry teacher Walter White learns that he has terminal cancer and so decides to cook meth with a former student to raise the easy money he needs to ensure his family’s survival after he’s dead, is well known, even for those who haven’t watched the show. What was fascinating though was how much the characters that we initially believed would be the victims, like wife Skyler, turned out to be just as morally ambiguous as the character we started off with. The cheap and easy classification of this show is that it is another in a long line of anti-heroes that we love despite knowing that we shouldn’t. What made Breaking Bad different, though, was that at his core, Walter was never an anti-hero; he was a villain, right from the start. We just didn’t notice it until we, like the rest of Walter’s family and associates, were so deeply enmeshed in the chaos that we couldn’t turn away from him.

In retrospect, we all probably should have seen the writing on the wall.

It’s a testament to how well Breaking Bad did things that the episode that sounds the most dull on paper, Season 3’s “Fly” which followed Walt and Jesse through one long, interminable night stuck in their underground meth lab and unable to leave because of a delicate chemical process all the while being tormented by a single fly that’s managed to find its way into the otherwise perfectly sealed lab, seem interesting and tense. Because no one just talked about the weather in this show and every line of dialogue could be interpreted multiple ways, we as the audience sat through 45 minutes of two men chasing a fly around a lab and couldn’t stop watching because we knew that what was really going on was that Walt was carrying a secret that he couldn’t tell Jessie – namely that the previous season, he was in a position to save Jessie’s girlfriend from dying and actively chose not to, mostly to keep Jessie loyal to him. The continual ratcheting up of tension and dread, which started with a terminal cancer diagnosis for a man who just turned 50 and who’s wife is seven months pregnant, meant that learning that your life is about to end ends up seeming like light-hearted fun by season five.

And so we watched Walter build up his empire, all under the nom de plume of “Heisenberg”, the Mr. Hyde to his Dr. Jekyll. Before long, it becomes clear that Walter has long since stopped making meth, and in the process becoming one of the most powerful drug lords in the southwest, just because he wants money for his family – he’s doing it because it’s the only way to get the respect and the fear that he’s long craved and never been able to claim as a low-paid, disrespected high school teacher. In the fifth season, Skyler, who has long since showed her true colors by helping Walt launder the massive piles of money that he’s acquired, brings Walter to a storage facility that she’s been forced to rent just to house the mound of money, well into the millions of dollars. “How much is enough?” she asks him. “How big does this pile have to be?”

Thus marking the first time in history a wife ever got angry with her husband for making too much money.

Walter agrees to retire, but not happily. We’re led to believe that Walter is corrupted by his experience, turning more ruthless as he amasses power, but in reality Walter was really just becoming what he always was inside. Walter White was the persona – Heisenberg was the reality. Meanwhile, just as he is out for good, his DEA agent brother-in-law finally makes the connection that the meth empire he’s been hunting for the last two years is being run by none other than his own family member, setting into motion a blitzkrieg of final episodes that bring us to the end of our story.

Spoiler-phobes, skip the next paragraph. I go back to spoiler-free mode after it.

With all this drama, then, it was odd that the series finale chose to go the way of safe television, an unconventional choice for a show that was so bound up in allowing the worst of all possible things happen to its characters. There was no ambiguous Sopranos-style ending here. As such, the episode felt like a victory lap, to use the phrase of my friend who watched it with me. The episode was almost fan-service, showing Walt outsmart everyone that he had to confront and even resorting to an almost Robert Rodriguez-level of ridiculousness involving a hidden machine gun in the trunk of a car. In the end, Walter’s family is ruined – his son hates him, his wife is broken an unemployable due to her association with him and has moved herself and her kids into a dingy basement apartment. The various drug dealers and kingpins are all dealt with, most of whom are killed outright. And in the end, we’re down to Walter and Jessie, the two who started this whole mess, staring each other down and the audience wondering which one is going to kill the other. Walt, knowing that his cancer has returned for good and that there is no survival for him now that his crimes have become public knowledge tries to manipulate Jessie one last time into killing him. Jessie, for once, is able to resist, telling Walt that if he wants to die so badly, he should kill himself and then tearing off into the night in a stolen car, weeping and broken but finally free. Walt however, unbeknownst to Jessie, has already been fatally wounded in the epic shootout that occurred moments before and makes his way over to the meth lab, appreciating the setup that produced the purest form of meth and was his signature contribution to the world. Walt collapses to the ground, dying as we always assumed he would – in his lab, just as the police finally arrive to arrest him for good, thus allowing the Scarface that we knew we shouldn’t like something like a final getaway. And a flight of angels sing thee to thy rest.

"I love you, meth bin. Never leave me."

And maybe it was because the final episode, while powerful and as satisfying as an ending to a beloved show can be, never really hit the high emotional stakes that I wanted to, but for me, the true finale was “Ozymandias”, the episode airing three weeks ago when Walt’s vast criminal empire finally comes truly tumbling down at the same time as several major characters are killed in the desert.  At the moment when Walter White finally allowed himself to rip off the mask and become the monster, the show utterly proved how fearless and rare it was. There have been “the best television show”s before and there will be “the best television show”s again. But here’s one that deserves its moniker, regardless of how monstrous or good the characters were.