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The Big Bang Theory S3 Reviewed

Posted by television On September - 28 - 2010

The Big Bang Theory Season Three
Directed by Mark Cendrowski
Warner Brothers, 2009-2010

By Miles Baker

As a comic book nerd, as a computer nerd, as fantasy nerd, as a pop culture nerd and as a Nerd with a capitol “N,” I should love The Big Bang Theory.  It’s probably the only show on network television that regularly references the works of Stan Lee and doesn’t snicker at them. Well, it doesn’t usually snicker at them. It does present some meganerds as heroes — but that isn’t enough for me. I like the show, it gets a few chuckles out of me but that’s about all I can say.

In third season, the meganerds once again have a series of misadventures where they learn nothing. Well, nothing really. I mean, if they learned anything they wouldn’t have the problems that will spark the next episode. The biggest plot development is that Leonard and Penny begin to date steadily. This will serve as a springboard for a lot of the plots this season. And, usually, it turns out that Leonard is actually a bigger dick than Sheldon, the character who doesn’t have empathy. So, that’s maybe a problem? Read the rest of this entry »

Why I love Elvis Costello: <em>Spectacle</em> reviewed

Posted by MUSIC_Jake On May - 1 - 2009

By Jake Shenker

I’m a TV nut. I watch just about everything, I devour seasons on DVD, and the list of scheduled recordings on my PVR is longer than the lines at Disneyland. The thing cialis canadian pharmacy is, I’m also a music nut, and these two obsessions rarely, if ever, intersect. And that’s why Elvis Costello’s new musical performance/talk show is like my own personal smorgasbord.

spectacle_320x240Spectacle: Elvis Costello With… is a different kind of TV show, and it’s a different kind of concert series. The show — which is produced by Elton John and airs Friday nights on CTV — is hosted by quirky singer/songwriter Elvis Costello and features some jaw-dropping musical acts: The Police, James Taylor, Lou Reed, and Smokey Robinson to name just a few. But what separates this show from others is that Costello is not just a well-informed interviewer: he’s a peer to most of his guests. His style is casual—more of a two-way shoot-the-shit than a barrage of questions—and Costello spends as much time answering questions as he does asking them. Rather than the simple exchange of information of most talk shows, watching Spectacle is like spying on an informal chat between musical legends: you can witness Costello and The Police trading stories about playing reggae music in the 70s, learn what it was like for both host and guest John Mellencamp to work with producer T-Bone Burnett, and find out that Elvis Costello reads Roseanne Cash’s blog and that this interaction led to a songwriting session with the duo and the legendary Kris Kristofferson. You just can’t make this stuff up.

Music OverlookedWhat’s more amazing, though, is the music. It’s always a treat to watch some of the best musicians in recent history do their thing, but the magic of seeing Elvis Costello request a particular song from his guest, and participate in its performance, is totally unreal. When he interviewed The Police, Elvis explained how he changed all the chords to his song “Alison” but maintained the vocal melody, and then pulled out a guitar and sang it. Two weeks ago, when Costello welcomed Roseanne Cash, Kris Kristofferson, Norah Jones, and John Mellencamp to his show, the quintet, each armed with an acoustic guitar, performed a mind-blowing rendition of Johnny Cash’s “Big River.” That alone should make any music fan freak out and run home to set their TiVo.

In fact, getting to know Elvis Costello through this show has made me a huge fan. I’ve always liked his music, but I never had more than a passing familiarity with his hit singles. But the more I watch his show and experience his quirky charisma and eccentric singing, the more I want to delve into his discography. And now I’m worried about paying rent, because I’m spending all my money on Costello back catalogue.

Tonight, Elvis yields the floor to guest-host (and executive producer) Elton John, and welcomes his wife, Canadian jazz musician Diana Krall, to the stage. Next week: former U.S. President Bill Clinton and his saxophone. Like I said, greatest TV show ever. Do I need to repeat myself again?

(For more information on the show, and for details about future musical guests, visit CTV’s website)

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ANTM Cycle 11: The Problems I’ve Got With The Strong Women

Posted by television On September - 30 - 2008

Welcome to yet another addition to the television section here at MONDO: The Episode of the Week. Here, our contributors go through the myriad of shows that come their way and blow kisses (or vomit) at the standout kids. It can be any kind of show. Except for Due South. I like Mounties, but that was pretty terrible, no?


Episode of the Week
The Problems I’ve Got With Strong Women
America’s Next Top Model, Cycle 11, Episode 5
(The Runway Challenge)

Carolyn Tripp

As is true with any reality show critique, the scenarios presented in America’s Next Top Model amusingly seek to display the “truthful” goings-on of a particular industry or household. The scenes are contrived, the in-fighting half-assed, and the participants amusingly conflicted as their own sincerity clashes, within the confines of their respective contracts, with their attempts to appear as “normal” as possible for the in-house camera crew.

Psychedelic Questiony: Tyra Banks and the Models of Cycle 11
Psychedelic Question: Tyra Banks and the Models of Cycle 11 (Top Left to Right: Jay Manuel, Elina, J. Alexander, Marjorie
Second Row Left to Right: Nikeysha, Samantha, Joslyn, McKey, Tyra Banks, Analeigh, Sheena, Isis
Sitting Down Left to Right: Brittany, Hannah, Clark, Lauren Brie
Lying Down: ShaRaun)

ANTM differs slightly in many reality show applications, but is still a laughably earnest attempt to effectively, and dramatically, scout fresh modeling meat. Laughable primarily because it seems as though the tall, effortlessly gorgeous Tyra Banks is entirely sincere about what she’s doing with the program and its contestants. If it weren’t for her philanthropic efforts, I’d really cut into her, but as it stands, I’m content to critique the show’s modeling recruitment efforts exclusively. ANTM is essentially nothing more than a complicated, drawn-out beauty pageant with cool designers attached.

Previous winners have included those whose looks are considered to be outside the range of conventional beauty. Different races, creeds, and sizes have won the crown, and there was (until this week’s elimination) a pre-op trans-gender model Banks selected from a Cycle 10 photo shoot. In spite of these highlights in progression and civility, the pageantry remains (see Banks’ Cycle 10 intro). In spite of its best efforts, it is still no more than a Trump-stravaganza.

Like being picked last for soccer, the girls (typically aged 18 to 24) cry when their name isn’t called. They stand wide-eyed in the weekly sacrifice, sucking up scrutiny from a panel of judges who, quite understandably, answer only to the gods who sign their pay-cheques every week. Unfortunately, they’re still part and parcel of a harmfully influential and backwards industry.

So why, in perfect health, do I watch this every week? Because damn, I love the clothes. Additionally Episode 5 treated us to something really rather special: designer Jeremy Scott. I suppose I shouldn’t have been surprised, but there was genuine excitement in seeing him berate models for wearing his garments incorrectly or walking down the catwalk like “strippers.” His artistry, in this case, can’t really be denied. Scott’s inclusion doesn’t mark a turning point for the show by any means, but does it guarantee that I’ll be sitting in front of the television next week? It most certainly does.

In a manner of speaking, ANTM is perhaps more indicative of the state of contemporary feminism than any other show I can call to mind. Here, the glorification of “unusual” beauty still holds strong to the damnable tradition of superficiality. You can slap all the pretty clothes and industry rhetoric you want on top, but the meat grinder still churns out the same result.

I suppose there is a certain grace in not bothering to deny the portions of ourselves that desire this sort of programming. In a way, the show is just responding to market need. However, I wish I could turn off the television and properly scrutinize the dilemma currently facing the astute female. As it stands, however, I’ve put down my book and and have been willfully hypnotized by the swishing of pretty skirts down the runway. The challenge continues.

You Best Mind Nevermind the Buzzcocks

Posted by television On September - 16 - 2008

Welcome to a slightly new television section dealing exclusively with seasons past: The Seasonal Retrospective. Here you’ll find anything and everything from any station we have access to. We are particularly in love with the BBC and CBC and maybe a little bit of CBS when they’re funny and never Fox because we find them kind of repulsive. We’d be into Al Jazeera too, but they don’t typically run endearing sitcoms with well-rounded narratives.


The Seasonal Retrospective, Nevermind the Buzzcocks, Season 21

By Carolyn Tripp

It’s always a nice surprise when a show with a strong following is successful year after year. Equally so, it’s a disappointment when crap television remains inexplicably in the mainstream for seasons on end.

Relatively magical three: Jupitus, Amstell, Bailey. (Image courtesy of talkbackTHAMES and BBC2)

Relatively magical three: Jupitus, Amstell, Bailey. (Image courtesy of talkbackTHAMES and BBC2)

Currently, there is no Canadian (hell, no North American) counterpart to Nevermind the Buzzcocks, about to enter its 22nd season on BBC this fall. And considering the abysmal pace at which our country’s programming drones along, I can’t imagine there ever being anything close to its equal on this side of the pond.

Since its inception in 1996, the program has had its feet firmly planted in pop culture — particularly that which remains within the confines of those tiny, musically proficient isles. There’s such an impressive concentration of musical talent in the UK, ranging from superb to deplorable, that the country practically demands a show like NTB to exist.

And say what you will about the hauntingly undead Coronation Street and worn out Mr. Bean reruns, but the BBC often churns out the finest programming available on the Western front. This is largely due to the broadcasting body not limiting its writers and comedians from saying or doing what they please. Overt and unnecessary censorship appears to be a tool of lesser stations these days, save the occasional “cunt” being bleeped out during selected air times. NTB holds no exception. You’ll typically hear about as many grossly inappropriate, yet terribly witty quips as a show can offer in a half hour’s time.

The 21st season of NTB saw Simon Amstell returning to host the series for his third year in a row, while hilarious mainstay Phil Jupitus and comedic veteran Bill Bailey assumed their positions as team captains.* Guests included the neptastic Kimberly Stewart, Kristen Schaal, the Mighty Boosh’s Noel Fielding, David Cross, a bunch of indie kids from a bunch of cool indie bands, and perhaps most interestingly, Jermaine Jackson (Michael’s brother).

Under Amstell’s lead, the show takes a cheeky approach without being excessively insulting or ridiculous, as was often the case under Mark Lamarr’s presence in the years preceding. While Lamarr lacked an endearing screen presence — however terribly cool and handsome he may have been — Amstell excels with his cherubim-nerd-boy qualities. His guests don’t often appreciate an adorable youngn’ taking the piss about their questionable career choices, but in his second season especially, Amstell has proven the victor as a relateable television personality.

And even while “celebrity” guests like Lemy (during the retakes) and Preston (yeah, who?) have stormed off the set in their respective guest appearances, NTB remains biting without being overly serious. Everyone serves and gets served, including the host, making for quality viewing that doesn’t bother to tip-toe around who dated who, or about who’s wife wrote which crap autobiography.

You haven’t been ripped until you’ve been ripped by a Brit, and the right balance has been struck with Amstell at the helm. I’m looking forward to the end of September when Season 22 kicks off, and if you’ve any Anglo-related affections, you’ll be at the edge of your seat as well.

*For those not familiar, the show is comprised of a host, two captains and four celebrity guests. The captains (Jupitus, Bailey) sit opposite one another with two guests each, answering as many pop-related trivia questions as possible for imaginary points that count towards nothing in particular. I guess it is kind of fun to have points, though.

Durham County reviewed. And it’s positive.

Posted by television On May - 23 - 2008

Durham County is a six-part series airing on Global Television Monday nights at 10 p.m. 

By Leo K. Moncel

I have never been so excited about feeling miserable as I am now, moments after watching the first episode of Durham County on Global. If the show continues along the tracks laid out in the pilot, we may be seeing the best-made Canadian drama I’ve ever laid eyes on, but it won’t be a pleasant sight. The premiere opens with the subdued but nevertheless horrific rape and murder of two teenage girls by one man while a second — a possible accomplice, looks on. This is a series that is here to get quite close to the grim and hideously disturbing nature of violence.

Durham County is about the actual Durham County, just a quick SUV-ride up from Toronto. Making just such a trip is the Sweeney family. Behind the wheel is father Mike (Hugh Dillon), a square-jawed homicide detective who’s being reassigned. His wife Audrey (Hélène Joy) is undergoing chemotherapy and vomits during the car ride. Their teenage daughter Sadie chastises her mother to roll down a window, but she refuses. A five-foot tall puppet seated beside Sadie inquires as to when they’ll arrive. The talking puppet removes her face, revealing herself to be Mike’s eight year-old daughter, Cicely, in a Sailor Moon-type mask.

The Sweeney’s get a warm welcome from Traci Prager (Sonya Salomaa) from across the street, a strutting, bottle-blonde mall-mom. When the Sweeney’s go to her barbecue, Mike meets her husband, Ray, (Justin Louis) an old acquaintance of his who he’s not quite on friendly terms with. Ray tells Mike privately, though perhaps not altogether earnestly, that he’s now willing to forgive him for running over his legs in their last year of high school — the event that destroyed his imminent chance to be drafted into the NHL. Ray, we recognize, is the man who had been gazing on the double rape and murder. 

So, here is the main conflict of the series. The homicide detective is now living across the street from an old enemy who is, at very least, complicit in a serial killing. The suburban dilemma of having to hide your dysfunctions and present a façade of normalcy has been ratcheted up to the hundredth degree. These people are living with some very big secrets and some very big masks. 

The youngest daughter most obviously presents the mask theme, her oversized, permanently happy cartoon head quite the natural defence for an eight year old who has grown up knowing either one or both of her parents could die at any time. Audrey, when it is time to go to the Prager’s barbecue, uses a prosthetic breast, a wig and sufficient make-up to conceal her cancer from the neighbourhood. Mike’s mask may be the biggest of all, though. In this first episode we learn that he took vicious vigilante revenge on the man who shot his partner and that he has been continuously cheating on his cancer-stricken wife.

The characters are well-cast, particularly Justin Louis as Ray Prager, the old enemy and new neighbour. Whereas we’re so used to seeing vicious characters who are brilliant criminal masterminds, Ray’s viciousness is a much more believable kind. Louis gives us a character who is more like that neighbour who’s always revving his car in your driveway, the stranger who shoves you on the street for no reason, the man who shouts at an underpaid clerk for any excuse he can find. He’s that constantly angry man who won’t be calmed until things have gone too far. And so Ray tips things way too far.

The writing is beautifully concise. Far too many pilots tell us far too much and get laden down with dull exposition or awkward character introductions. Since Durham County is a story that is in large part about secrets, the writers wisely leave many for us. This episode reminded me of the better episodes in the first season of Lost. The writers would pick a few pivotal moments in their characters’ lives that gave us a picture of their decision-making habits (their character) but the picture provided would raise further questions about the circumstances of those decisions. Likewise with Mike and Ray, at very least, we have been given sketches of figures in action, but we don’t yet have the background to complete the picture.

As the picture develops, I can say with near certainty the details will only elaborate the bold strokes here. Anyone willing to look at this disturbing picture will find themselves rewarded by its earnestness and its novelty. Durham County reminds us the awful face of violence may be much closer than we imagine.

The Last Season

If you don’t know BSG get out now!

By Miles Baker

If you don’t watch Battlestar Galactica on a regular basis turn around right now. I’m sure I’m not the first person to tell you this, but it’s one of the best show ever made so do yourself a favour and watch it. I don’t care if you don’t like Star Trek or Star Wars, because this show is nothing like the other two. It’s an amazing and gripping series that balances family drama with romance, action with political intrique, and epic storytelling with a sexy cast. 

So, go watch it. Trust me. Thank me later.

If you do know the love of BSG but are not caught up to at least the end of season three also turn back because I’m about spoil the crap out of some amazing reveals that you want to see for yourself.

Now.  Have they left the room?  Commence squealing.

Well, I think we can all agree that that delivered exactly we all like in our Battlestar Galactica: an exciting space battle, character in-fighting, mysteries upon mysteries, Starbuck — hells yeah.

I was talking about the premier with a co-worker who said that he felt that this opener was a little anti-climactic. I can see where he was coming from. After the eight minutes of space dog fighting the rest of the episode was a slow burn. But it lays a lot of important ground work — where Baltar is, how Lee really is quitting the military, and how this show is mostly Cylons now.

I like this new turn of Baltar’s. Being stuck with a bunch of religious nuts who think that he is Space Jesus is probably the most interesting he’s been in a long time. This episode followed a popular Baltar story (popular with the writing staff that is). Basically where he starts off with no faith and by the end of the episode embarrasses his role as God’s instrument. For some reason, I’m optimistic that it will stick this time. I hope that it sticks. There’s no reason I should believe that, because he never has before, but this is fourth season everything is different.Sexy Apollo

Speaking of (not so) different things, Lee’s not a pilot again! We have seen before: there were those times he commanded a battlestar his own and the time he helped the President of the Colonies escape to Kobol. But civilian Lee makes a lot of sense. He’s often talked about his reasons for joining the military and how they were pretty warped (the daddy issues and all). So I’m glad he’s doing something about it. About time.

Speaking of time, it’s Cylon time, baby. This development is pretty ridiculous. The Cylons are everywhere now. This is both cool and maybe annoying. Partly because I find the Cylons to be one of the lesser things of interest in the show — but I gotta admit that the fact that the leaders of the insurgents on New Caprica were all Cylons is awesome. That development brings a lot of meaning to the occupation: it, again, draws humans and Cylons closer together, which also seems to be the direction this season will go as well. Which I’m fine with. I think of the Cylons as human now at this point anyway. And I think that’s where the show starts to resonate the strongest.

So here we are, with the series as strong as it has ever been. Season four represents the least frakked up a season has started (season one, world has ended; season two, Adama getting shot; season three, occupation of New Caprica). But that doesn’t mean that it’s still not exciting or dramatic. I’m really pumped to see the series progress over the next few weeks, and expect frequent reports from me along the way.

So say we all.

Heroes: Season Two Premiere Review

Posted by television On October - 9 - 2007

Airs Mondays at 9:00 on NBC

By Alexander B. Huls

The Season One finale of Heroes broke my heart. It let me down to a degree that it tainted all the episodes before it, and left me wary about the start of the new season in September. When you have an entire exciting season specifically crafted to build towards some monumental event (and you build up the fact that it’s a monumental event), and then the whole thing just kind of peters out, you feel — as a viewer — slightly betrayed by the creators, in addition to your utter disappointment. All set-up and no pay(off) makes Alex a dully disappointed boy.

This led me to watch the Season Two premiere of Heroes with an attitude not unlike a boyfriend giving a cheating girlfriend another chance. I was excited at the possibility of reconciliation, desperate to have my faith and trust restored, and more than a little frightened of being let down again.

So how did the beginning of Season Two fair in my esteem? Forsaking a more traditional means of reviewing, I am going to use the same method I use to evaluate whether I should drink and dial: a good old fashioned pros and cons list. As a firm believer in bad news needing to go first, let’s start with that.


» The self-important, annoyingly over-dramatic opening narration is still there.
» Given that the premiere was already squeezing in lots of characters, the addition of Alejandro and Maya has me worried Heroes may be spreading itself too thin. I do, of course, understand that new characters are required for new plots, but what doesn’t help is that their story just isn’t that interesting (yet) especially when it seems like Maya’s only power is to channel The X-Files and make people die and leak that black ooze from their eyes.
» Though Claire’s struggle with wanting to be her true self and hiding it for her own survival is interesting, the fact that the premiere unnecessarily dragged that theme out has me wondering whether the creators are attempting to cash in on the show’s big breakout star, Hayden Panettiere. It also made me sad that she is the sole breakout star and not Greg Grunberg. Damn it, break him out, people!

» The Claire family storyline also had some failed moments. One is the awkward dinner sequence which is meant to play as funny and reflective of the lie-based life the family now leads, but it simply came off as unbearable, irrelevant, and far too long. Then, after having to sit through HRG’s (Horn-Rimmed-Glasses, a.k.a. Claire’s father) long speech about Claire needing to remain ordinary, we see her nearly get hit by a car, stick her hand over an open flame and risk a third dangerous injury all in the same day. Finally the extended scenes of HRG in the paper store overstayed their intended purpose, and veered into the unbelievable. I don’t know about you guys, but where I come from assaulting your superior is not keeping a low-profile. It also does not assure their silence, but instead results in you getting fired and/or charged with assault.
» (SPOILER WARNING) It seems that the inclusion of David Anders (the awesome Mr. Stark from Alias) in addition to existing cast-member Greg Grunberg, has resulted in Alias influenced Heroes plots, as Peter’s situation (presumed-dead, unaccounted for a time in which weird things have happened and returns with amnesia) is exactly what happened between Seasons Two and Three of Alias. What makes matters worse is that — and this is simply my own taste — I absolutely cannot stand amnesia storylines because for the most part they come off as the melodramatic hackneyed and lazy writing they represent. Very rarely have I seen it pulled off well.Pros

» Even if it’s somewhat cliché, I like Nathan’s descent into depression and booze, largely because I believe that it’s a natural result of his belief that he has failed his brother. On a side note, what is with two of this season’s premieres (the other being How I Met Your Mother) featuring depressed guys who grow beards and at get drunk to drown their sorrows?
» Seeing Matt finally get his badge and realize his dream of becoming a detective tickled my sympathy bone, and his adorable and sweet relationship with Molly tickled my heart. On that note, I also remain intrigued at the prospect of the frightening man/eyes Molly keeps on seeing in her dreams.
» (SPOILER WARNING) There were several exciting twists, including HRG’s plan to take down The Company with the help of Sayesh’ infiltration, and the revelation that Hiro’s idol, Takezo Sensei, is a British, drunken con-man.
» Despite some weaker plot-lines mentioned above, there were also several good ones. Careful now, I’m about to break out the numbers:
1) Though it’s really just a variation of Hiro’s quest from Season One, it is an interesting and fun move to see Hiro — after realizing his own heroic destiny — help someone else realize theirs. Or, possibly, just do the heroic acts for them.
2) I am deeply intrigued by the plotline regarding the death threats to the architectural designers of The Company, and who the hooded man was who came after Sulu. I mean, Hiro’s father.
3) Though I already confessed I cannot stand amnesia storylines, I am intrigued by Peter’s situation. I don’t care to deal with the personal drama of his not being able to remember who he is, but I am deeply intrigued to find out how he ended up in that crate, who sent the robbers to it, and why he’s wearing a necklace with the mysterious symbol of the show. And most importantly, it is this plotline that I can thank for finally ridding us of Peter’s horrible hairstyle from last season.

So in the end, the premiere was a mixed bag for me, but I am well aware that this was only the first episode of the new season. If the previous season taught us anything it’s that Heroes is capable of throwing exciting twists our way, and taking storylines in new and exciting directions, or at least interesting ones. So, despite all my hesitation, you can bet your bottom dollar I will glued to my TV on Monday at 9:00 for the rest of the season to see where it all goes.

TV in a Flash: Part Three

Posted by television On October - 9 - 2007

Reviews of this season’s pilots in approximately five sentences

By Owen K. Craig

Mondays at 10pm on NBC

The problem with a show like Journeyman, where ordinary characters are thrown into otherworldly situations, is that you’re forced to deal with a first episode of people refusing to believe what a viewer knows to be true. The scenes are frustrating, boring, and slow down the pacing of an otherwise interesting pilot. Journeyman’s pilot suffers from this problem to the point that I’m not so sure I can suggest it’s worth watching. While the concept is neat, it’s not used to introduce us to an engaging story and none of the characters really shine. A spectacular plot twist, however, may lead to great stuff down the line if you have the patience. Check it out if you’re really bored.

Tuesdays at 8pm on ABC

It’s a real shame, it seems like some talented writers and performers are working on this show. The lines are written and performed with zest, but unfortunately it’s a show about cavemen living in our time. We get the joke: cavemen are playing squash, cavemen are writing dissertations, cavemen are working at Ikea. Once we’ve got it all that’s left is to look at this and say, “This might be a funny show with a different core concept. Let this one pass.

Dirty Sexy Money
Wednesdays at 10pm on ABC

Bursting at the seams with interesting and diverse characters, the pilot moves at a brisk pace and kept me interested. It was a little needlessly flashy but the show keeps itself grounded with Peter Krause’s (not surprisingly) great performance as the show’s central character. There’s a mystery plotline introduced that seems a little out of place, but maybe given another episode or two it will fit in better. I’ll definitely be tuning in to find out. Highly recommended.

Fridays at 9pm on CBS

In case anyone liked the concept of Angel but wished it were dumbed down, here’s Moonlight. Part of me was wondering if the show was actually a parody since every aspect of it felt laughable. Seriously: groan-inducing dialogue, wooden performances, tedious narration, awkward flashbacks — this show has it all. And just to pour salt in the wounds, this show horribly wastes Jason Dohring of my much missed Veronica Mars. You’d be better off writing your own vampire show, filming it with a cheap camcorder, and watching that (in other words not recommended).

Tudors: Pilot Review

Posted by television On October - 9 - 2007

Tuesdays at 9pm on CBC

By Sam Linton

I’m certainly glad that I finally got around to sitting down and watching HBO’s Rome, as it gives me an ample frame of reference for talking about The Tudors. Premiering last Tuesday at 9pm on CBC, the BBC production focuses on the life of Henry VIII, making the title perhaps a bit misleading, if only slightly; this ardent monarchist would have liked to have seen all the Tudors, a progression from Henry VII through to the rise of the House of Stuart. I shouldn’t gripe, however; by focusing on the life and reign of Henry VIII, the show’s creators are able to focus on characters inspired by various historical figures involved at the time. Or at least, that’s the theory.

However, unlike Rome, the premiere episode of The Tudors is more hit-and-miss in its characterizations. Some characters – such as Sam Neill’s Cardinal Thomas Wolsey and Steven Waddington’s Duke of Buckingham – fit the tone of the show and subject matter well, cast as grand schemers on opposing political sides during a tumultuous time in England’s history. Other characters are more problematic. Jonathan Rhys Meyers’ portrayal of the young King is a complex one, alternating between the flippancy of his relative youth and the gravity of his situation. I just can’t tell if he’s pulling it off or not. Honestly, I have no idea what caliber of acting I’m watching – one moment it’s completely believable and absorbing, the next it’s strange and off-putting. Perhaps it has more to do with whichever character it is with whom he’s interacting at the time. Obviously, I’ll need to watch more episodes to make my decision on the King himself. As for other characters, too little has been thus far revealed for me to make my judgments, although Maria Doyle Kennedy’s Catherine of Aragon seems poised to have a rather interesting character arc.

As to the plot of the show, it too unfolds in a way similar to Rome, serializing a historic narrative into bite-sized episodic chunklets. The plot of the first episode involves the murder of Henry’s uncle by the dastardly French, Henry’s initial impulses to use the event as an excuse for war, and the plan of Sir Thomas More (Jeremy Northam) and Cardinal Wolsey to use this murder to forge a pan-European alliance based on humanistic principles ensuring peace (and ensuring Wolsey the papacy, to boot). Given the fact that I’ve never heard of such an alliance until the formation of the E.U., a good 450 years later, I’d say something is likely to derail this plan, and so far all signs point to a coup attempt by the disgruntled heir to the throne of Lancaster (displaced by the Tudors), the Duke of Buckingham. As I am not an exceptionally devoted scholar of the history of this time period, I think it will be interesting to see the show move from this starting point – Henry in alliance with the Papacy – to the disillusion of the monasteries, establishment of the Church of England, etc.

The setting and production values of the show are truly one of its high points. While not as elaborate as the re-created cities and settlements of Rome or Deadwood, the country and castles of The Tudors are still mightily impressive and spectacular, and I would be willing to bet a bit it’s more economically practical then the former two shows as well. Shooting much of the show in Ireland was a good idea, as the Irish countryside easily doubles for a less-developed England, and castles are ample in both locations.

Anyway, the show is definitely nice to look at, but it will be interesting to see where it heads in its future episodes. Right now, I can see it either improving markedly as the characters’ relationships crystallize, or falling flat if the characters (particularly Henry) remain as they are now, without any real kind of development (often a problem when casting historical figures). I’m optimistic for the former eventuality, so I will be giving The Tudors more time from my schedule for the next month or so. After that, we’ll see.

TV in a Flash: Part Two

Posted by television On October - 2 - 2007

Reviews of this season’s pilots in five sentences

By Owen K. Craig

Tuesdays at 10pm on CBS

Given that everything I knew about this show came from subway advertisements featuring the lead character’s face, the show’s title, and the line “I’m the one you will deal with now” (which led me to assume it was another damn cop show), Cane ended up being a pleasant surprise. It looks like they’re trying to get another The Sopranos going here, except instead of Italians we’ve got a Cuban family. With a well-set up family aspect, violence, intrigue, and a dynamite lead performance by Jimmy Smits, there is a lot of potential here. Recommended.

Tuesdays at 9pm on CW

After a pretty darn enjoyable pilot episode, I’m left wondering which way this show will go. It has a great premise with lots of possibility, but will the show capitalize on that potential by exploring more interesting themes and characters, or will it start to feel like a weekly Kevin Smith-esque monster movie? Will that Kevin Smith feeling even remain once we get past the pilot (which he directed)? Both possibilities seem equally feasible, but if I get a hint of this show becoming an episodic lame-fest, I’m dropping it fast. Try it on a trial basis.

The Big Bang Theory
Mondays at 8:30pm on CBS

This was not quite as painful as I had thought it would be. Some lame and obvious nerd jokes (they play Klingon Boggle! I get it!), on top of some lame and obvious dumb blonde jokes (she believes in astrology! I get it!), but it could have been a whole lot worse. There were a couple of laughs tossed in amongst the many groaners and a couple of mildly sweet moments. Nothing special here, but with expectations as low as mine were it’s hard to be let down. You could do worse if you’re desperate for something to watch. Also, cute theme song.

Bionic Woman
Wednesdays at 9pm on NBC

On the opposite end of the spectrum, here’s a show where expectations were high and I was let down significantly. It’s hard not to feel bad for a show that, despite having everything going for it, just does not click. The show seemed over-written, giving the badass character played by the badass actors all sorts of badass lines, showing the sympathetic character feeling sad in the rain as the weight of the world is on her shoulders, etc. When you can feel the machinations of the show’s creation working as you watch it, it’s tough to connect. I wasn’t so much watching this pilot as I was getting a sense of what the creators wanted me to see. You might even say it was a bionic experience. Weird review? Sure, but that’s how I felt. Miss it, there’s much better sci-fi out there these days.

Love Monkey: Post-Mortem Review

Posted by television On September - 25 - 2007

For those who love High Fidelity and horrible show titles

By Alexander B. Huls

I love Tom Cavanagh. I fell in love with him on Ed, and he continued to earn my love with his guest appearances on Scrubs as J.D.’s brother. I wish Tom were my best friend and, like a good friend, I would be there anytime, and anywhere he needed me. That’s why I recently decided to support him by checking out Love Monkey, a show that aired back in 2006 on CBS and was cancelled after only three episodes (though the remainder of the episodes were later screened on VH1). Okay, so maybe a real friend would have been there when the show was actually on the air. He never lets me forget it actually, but he teases. We joke about it all the time. It’s like our private inside joke.

The show is about Tom Farrell, a charming music executive fired from a major record company for his “it’s all about the music, not money” mentality, but then hired for that attitude by an indie label. He’s a hip, cool, confident guy who surrounds himself with great, supportive friends, and generally has a pretty happy, fulfilling life (social or otherwise). The show has a definite Frank Capra streak going with Cavanagh as its James Stewart, and his and the show’s natural charm is why its gooeyness avoids being at all overbearing or nauseating. The show also works best when it’s just about the friends hanging out and talking to each other, helping each other through their various problems. It’s a successful mixture of tapping into the viewers’ own realities and wishes (after all, I don’t know anyone who spends this much time with the exact same group). Most notably, the exchanges between Bran (Judy Greer) and Tom are phenomenal and were the highlights of every episode for me. It’s partly the fact that the dialogue seems to take an immeasurable leap in quality during their scenes, but also because of the excellence of both actors’ performance.

The problem is that the witty repartee and good chemistry, or my love for Cavanagh, are not ultimately enough for me to overlook the numerous problems the show has. Though the interaction between friends is great, it does strain the believability that they hang out this much. Several of them also represent an unfortunate trend in TV where a show will attempt to diversify its cast but ends up undermining its good intentions by engaging in problematic stereotypes. For example, Jake is a former professional baseball player who is secretly gay, and Shooter is a cocky, self-assured, over-sexed African American. It seems acceptable while you’re watching it, but the moment you allow the ideological side of your brain to engage, it can become disconcerting.

Structurally, the show is also far too repetitive. Episodes are largely self-contained, but feature the same narrative structure in every episode. There is a seemingly insurmountable task that Tom must overcome. First things are looking good, then things look bleak, then his “ra-ra, go get ‘em!” spirit saves the day and everyone is happy. We also have the perpetual — and eventually annoying — tease of a Tom and Julia hook-up, which by the end of the episodes just becomes a parody of itself. The sub-plots of his friends are affected in the same way in that they all deal with minor variations of the same problem in each episode. By confining itself to stand-alone episodes, which means conflicts are introduced and resolved in only an episode, it eliminates much of its running legs. It also has difficulty making up its mind. Early in the show it seemed to suggest that Julia was the fantasy, but Bran was Tom’s true love. Then they never give us any development with Julia. They switch directions with Bran and entrench her more firmly in her relationship with her boyfriend. So we end up with Tom entertaining relationships with women who are not those two.Also, for a show that proclaims itself (or at least the marketing did) to be about singledom, sex, and music it really has little insight. Granted, there are heartfelt moments, and it does strive to achieve dramatic and universal significance, but a lot of times it ends up coming off as trite. In a sense, Love Monkey is like Entourage in that it’s really light entertainment. The problem is, while Entourage works because it ultimately knows that it’s fluff and aspires to nothing else, Love Monkey doesn’t, and overextends itself.

The thing is, despite the impression you probably have now, I didn’t hate the show. I enjoyed it. The friend interaction is great, and I’ve always been a sucker for the Frank Capra sentiments. Love Monkey is just unfortunately one of those shows pinned on aspects that don’t hold up to a second thought. That was the show’s ultimate problem. Good TV works the opposite way: what you watch at first becomes more meaningful and enjoyable over time and further consideration.

I think, after this review, that Tom Cavanagh may no longer want to be my friend. It’s okay. I’ll continue to support him no matter what he does. This is why I am going to head to Blockbuster right now and rent Gray Matters to assuage my guilt. It has nothing to do with the fact that the film features Heather Graham as a lesbian wanting to make out Bridget Moynahan. Nothing at all. It’s all about Tom.

TV in a Flash: Part One

Posted by television On September - 25 - 2007

Five sentence reviews of this TV season’s pilots.

By Owen K. Craig

Back To You
Airs Wednesdays at 8:00 on FOX

A completely unremarkable comedy that feels like it’s wasting the talents of everyone involved. Light on laughs and originality. The only one who shines is Josh Gad as the young, energetic news director. A definite miss.

Airs Mondays at 8:00 on NBC

Chuck features a strong script and cast, but the pilot is unfortunately directed by McG who handles the show with all the subtlety and grace of his films Charlie’s Angels and Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle. That said, aside from a few eye-rolling moments courtesy of Mr. G the show has a lot of promise. The first episode does a great job setting up the premise and introducing us to the characters. Well worth checking out, hopefully future episodes will have a better director.

Pushing Daisies
Premieres Wednesday, October 3 at 8:00 on ABC

It feels like “Tim Burton Movie: The TV Series”, and I mean that in the best possible way. This show has style, smarts, great characters, and lots of heart. With a tone owing heavily to Edward Scissorhands, Dead Like Me (which makes sense since both shows are by the same creator) and Dr. Seuss. Highly recommended.

Premieres Wednesday, September 26 on NBC

I’m pretty tired of cop shows. Even my beloved Jeff Goldblum couldn’t convince me to like one. While this show comes close to catching my interest at times in the end I can’t help but feel a sense of ambivalence as we watch yet another badass cop who doesn’t play by the rules solve yet another crime with his grumpy partner. Still, Life shows promise. Watch it if you aren’t sick of crime-solving.



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