True confessions: I liked True Detective, Season 2

true-detective-season-2-colin-farrellI liked the sophomore season of True Detective. There, I said it.

A heady mix of mob politics, police drama and introspective narrative, season 2 was a lot to digest, particularly since it came on the heels of the relatively simple (although masterfully executed) format of the first season.

This season gave us four tragic co-stars, each with their own motivations and back story (an ambitious undertaking for the writers). From the moment we met each of them, we knew things would never be wrapped in a pretty bow for Frank (Vince Vaughn), Ray (Colin Farrell), Ani (Rachel McAdams), and Paul (Taylor Kitsch).

Much has been written of Farrell’s performance as Ray Velcoro, particularly of that Lynch-esque, Conway Twitty look-alike, bar scene. While the critics seem to have disliked almost everything else about the show, they have lauded Farrell’s portrayal of the conflicted, failed detective. On this, we are in agreement.

As Frank Semyon, Vaughn easily shed his big-screen, goofball image for this complicated character study. Watching him juggle his roles as king of the Vinci underworld and husband/potential father/ wounded son, I found myself hoping that he could somehow leave the streets for a legitimate lifestyle. But alas, he was doomed from the start (time is a flat circle) and he delivered one of the most gut-wrenching, haunting, death scenes that I’ve seen in a while. After that final episode, I couldn’t sleep.

McAdams also showed hidden depth as Ani, tackling emotionally charged scenes with her father, sister and male coworkers and carrying that intense sex-party scene that was reminiscent of Eyes Wide Shut.

Of the four leads, Paul Woodrugh (Kitsch) probably suffered the most from the writer’s challenge to fit so much story into 8 episodes. There were glimpses into Woodrugh’s true self but there was no time to really delve in. Maybe that was the point. Viewers – like his wife, mother and friends – never really knew who he was.

I’ll admit, at times the dense story and multitude of subplots were confusing. And it was tough to keep the names of minor and supporting characters straight. But overall, the writers delivered a complex story with artistic, noir elements that kept me coming back each week.

The ending was bleak. The bad guys won. There was no hard-won redemption for Frank or Ray. No long lost loves reuniting on the white sand beaches of Venezuela. After a couple weeks to digest it, I’m OK with this. It was tough to see both Frank and Ray die such awful deaths. But it would have felt contrived if it ended any other way. Also, I can sympathize with the need of the writers to mix it up after last season ended with both major characters surviving.

Given some time, perhaps other critics will agree with me on this one – dense, dark and imperfect, season 2 was worth watching.

When good shows disappoint

They are coming...and they are a total bummer.
They are coming…and they are a total bummer.

This is a tough post to write, because it’s a critique of two shows that I used to love. And while I still tune in to these shows, they just aren’t what they used to be.

First, Fringe. When Fringe started out, it was brilliant. In the tradition of The X-Files, Fringe was a clever mix of monster-of-the-week and recurring mythology. Even when the show made the leap of introducing an alternate universe, I was right there with it. And where many shows falter, it proved to be genius in bringing together its two main characters, Peter and Olivia.

But let’s face it, Fringe is the kind of show that doesn’t reach a wide audience. Although excellent, it is just too heavy for the mainstream viewer. So each year, I was surprised when it was renewed. And last year, I think the show’s creators were even a bit surprised, as the season finale would have made a perfect series ending.

Alas, the show was renewed, and my worst fears for it have come to pass. The one-off episode focused on the Observers from last year paved the way for this season. And instead of that brilliant mix of monster-of-the-week and mythology, it has become a bleak, dystopian mini-series. Each episode drags on, and the characters lack their original appeal. Frankly, if it weren’t in the final few episodes, I’m not sure I would continue watching.

I'm not drinking the Bones Kool-Aid.
I’m not drinking the Bones Kool-Aid.

Next, Bones. Now, you probably think I’m upset about Bones and Booth as a couple (the dreaded Moonlighting curse). But that’s not my gripe with the show. I do think the way Bones and Booth came together could have been handled better, but I’m over it. My real problem with the show is the lack of focus and the degradation of the characters. Bones basically comes across as a robot – with such lines (and I’m paraphrasing a bit here) as “He is upset because this is a dead child and he has a little boy” and “I get it, it’s funny because you wouldn’t put a murder in a children’s book.” Seriously? Bones is a novelist and a mother, and she seemingly has no emotional depth. In years past, she struggled with empathy, but she seemed to be on a path to discovering herself. She never seemed so wooden as she does now. And Booth is about as interesting as a yard tool at Sears.

This show was at its peak during the long-term story arc of the Gravedigger. Now, it just seems to meander from episode to episode with no real direction. And don’t even get me started on the 9/11 episode, which was so flawed on so many levels.

I know a lot of people are going to disagree with me on these points. And don’t get me wrong, I’m still tuning in, so there are obviously some redeeming qualities to Fringe and Bones. But I’d like to see them regain their former glory.

Blogging for two

Don’t forget to tune in for True Blood Sunday at 9 p.m. on HBO.

It’s been a busy few months for me, so forgive my absence. Never fear, I’m still watching TV and talking TV, although blogging about TV has taken a backseat to another very important adventure: Baby Rogers.

My friends and family already know what I am just now announcing on Remotely Entertaining (and to the world). I am 16 weeks pregnant with my first little one. The husband and I are super-excited.

In between eating for two, running for two, and sleeping for two; I found time over the last four months to watch The Killing, Game of Thrones and Borgias, which were all pretty great. I also caught up with the first two seasons of Sons of Anarchy, an awesome, gritty, over-the-top show that I was instantly addicted to.

Now, I’m watching Teen Wolf, Covert Affairs and Burn Notice. Most importantly, this Sunday I’ll be watching episode one of True Blood season four. Stay tuned for Monday updates, as I’m sure I’ll have a lot to say.

Aren't they cute? Scott and Allison get up close and personal in MTV’s Teen Wolf.

The big surprise for me has been Teen Wolf. If you haven’t checked it out, and you are a fan of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, I’d highly recommend you give it a whirl. I think it comes the closest to striking the Buffy chord of any show I’ve seen in recent memory – humor, supernatural elements, teen angst, good special effects and best of all, strong acting and writing.

Is anyone else loving Teen Wolf? Who’s going to watch True Blood this Sunday?

44 reasons to watch Fringe

      

It’s President’s Day. To celebrate our 44 commanders in chief, I am proud to give you 44 reasons to watch Fringe, in random order.

  1. It’s critically acclaimed, if you care about those things.
  2. The tough-as-nails yet still sensitive leading lady, Olivia Dunham.
  3. The father-son bond between Walter and Peter.
  4. Walter’s affinity for psychedelic drugs.
  5. Walter’s affinity for vinyl records.
  6. Nina Sharp, the one-armed wonder of Massive Dynamic.
  7. The floating location titles. I know it’s a small thing, but I like them.
  8. Agent Broyles possesses scene-stealing strength of character in both universes.
  9. The juxtaposition of old and new technologies — a manual typewriter enables communication between universes.
  10. In the alternate universe, blimps are the predominate method of air travel, something any Akronite should appreciate.
  11. Astrid. Or is it Asterisk? Either way, you’ve got to love her ability to relate to Walter.
  12. There’s a cow in the lab.
  13. “Over There: Part Two” was the ultimate season-ending cliffhanger.
  14. The show has more emotional depth than any sci-fi show I’ve ever seen, except maybe Lost.
  15. Trent Reznor remade “Zero-Sum” for a Fringe promo, arguably the best trailer for a TV show ever made. Watch it here.
  16. You’re sharp enough to suspend disbelief and have a good time.
  17. You’re suspicious enough to believe that some of this could be true.
  18. You appreciate a good milkshake.
  19. Leonard Nimoy as William Bell, the head of Massive Dynamic, a powerful global corporation specializing in Fringe science.
  20. Anna Torv as Olivia.
  21. Anna Torv a Fauxlivia.
  22. Walter Bishop is probably the best mad scientist since Dr. Frankenstein.
  23. Yet, Walter is so fragile, so deeply aware of his flaws, that you can’t help but feel for him.
  24. There is romance for the lovers of love.
  25. But not too much romance.
  26. The special effects are top of the line. No cheesy CGI here.
  27. There are new cases almost every week, so you don’t have to know the mythology to start watching.
  28. But, the mythology is really intricate and cool, so you might want to go back and watch old episodes.
  29. It’s a serious drama.
  30. But Walter makes you laugh at least once an hour.
  31. You like blondes.
  32. You like red-heads.
  33. We’ve only just begun. Three seasons in, Fringe has barely tapped into the ethical questions raised by Walter, Massive Dynamic and the alternate universe.
  34. It’s The X-Files, on steroids.
  35. What else are you going to watch on Fridays?
  36. It’s not just for nerds.
  37. But if you are a nerd, you will appreciate the glyphs and symbolism. My favorite one being the apple with the foetus inside.
  38. It comes to us from J.J. Abrams, creative genius behind Lost.
  39. But it’s not a Lost wannabe — Fringe has its own mojo.
  40. Forget everything you know about Joshua Jackson from Dawson’s Creek.
  41. Two universes are better than one.
  42. Especially when each universe has a set of fully developed characters.
  43. The Fringe “Noir” episode, “Brown Betty.”
  44. If you don’t watch this excellent show will be canceled.

Top 10 moments from True Blood season 3 episode 4

And the award for most insensitive break-up in TV history goes to…Bill Compton in “9 Crimes.”

It’s been about a week since I last posted. Along with cookouts, fireworks and pool parties, the Independence Day holiday weekend brought a break from True Blood. I didn’t have much time to post, or watch TV for that matter.

Last night’s episode was a welcome return to Bon Temps, or Jackson, depending on which storyline you are most involved with right now. For me, I am on the edge of my seat when it comes to Sookie, Bill, Eric and Tara, but less interested in the sub-plot involving Jason wanting to be a police officer.

Before I start the list, let me say that I am not very happy about Sheriff Bud Dearborn retiring. I really hope this is not William Sanderson’s departure from the show. He’s a great actor, honorable Deadwood alumni, and a fun, minor character on the show who balances Andy Bellefleur’s nonsense shenanigans. I don’t want to see him leave.

That being said, everything else about last night’s episode was satisfying. Here’s my top 10.

  1. Eric’s fantasy about Sookie was steamy, but sweet. Initially, Eric’s interest in Sookie seemed to be selfishly motivated – my impression in the first season and early second season was that he wanted to use her telepathic abilities, and it didn’t hurt that she is smoking hot. But since the middle of season 2, when Sookie stayed with Godric as he met the sun, I think Eric has developed a deeper interest in her. His growing affection becomes clearer with each episode, first with the conversation at Fangtasia, then his late night visit on the eve of Sookie’s departure to Mississippi, and now with this dream.
  2. My second favorite moment of the night revealed even more of Eric’s emotional depth. When Pam was being tortured by the Magister, his concern was palpable. “There is nothing more painful than the loss of child,” is obviously true of vampires and their makers.
  3. How about that communion courtesy of the King of Mississippi? The scene couldn’t have been more tense, as the King bit his wrist and bled into those glasses and the werewolves responded by shifting en masse.
  4. Extreme Makeover: Sookie Edition was awesome. What’s not to love about Sookie with black hair, corset, leather pants and temporary tats? And Alcide’s sister was pretty cool too, so let’s hope she makes another appearance on the show.
  5. Breaking up is hard to do, unless you’re Bill Compton, and you have just finished some really bizarre sex with a psycho. Then you just call the love of your life and let her have it. I felt just awful for Sookie, and I have to give props to Anna Paquin for portraying the crushing reality of such a call from one’s first love.
  6. Ah, Debbie Pelt. Readers of Charlaine Harris’s series know all about you. Brit Morgan brought this character to life – in all her desperate, bitchy, trashy glory. Not since the Lorena vs. Sookie stand-off in season 2 have we seen a good old fashioned redneck woman cat-fight of this magnitude. The meeting between Sookie and Debbie at the bar is just the beginning.
  7. Merlotte’s new hostess is Jessica. Nice hiring, Sam.
  8. Franklin has turned out to be much more sadistic than I originally thought. The flowers, duct taped to Tara’s hands, were a nice touch to show just how weird this new vamp really is.
  9. Bam! Even if he was callous in his break-up with Sookie, Bill was amazing when he punched Lorena in the face.
  10. I couldn’t make a True Blood top 10 list without giving an honorable mention to at least one of the resident hotties on the show. This week’s prize goes to Alcide (played by Joe Manganiello), in all his beautiful, shirtless glory.

They’ve got character

Buffy, you'll always be number one in my heart.

Entertainment Weekly published its list of the top 100 greatest characters of the past 20 years. In some instances, I would have done some rearranging and there are a few characters I would have added, but I thought it was a pretty good list. You can see the entire countdown here, but these were the top 10:

  1. Homer Simpson from The Simpsons
  2. Harry Potter from the Harry Potter series
  3. Buffy from Buffy the Vampire Slayer
  4. Tony Soprano from The Sopranos
  5. The Joker from The Dark Knight
  6. Rachel Green from Friends
  7. Edward Scissorhands from Edward Scissorhands
  8. Hannibal Lecter from The Silence of the Lambs
  9. Carrie Bradshaw from Sex and the City
  10. SpongeBob SquarePants from SpongeBob SquarePants

I was really happy to see Buffy at number three. More than a decade later this is still my favorite show of all time, and Sarah Michelle Gellar’s quintessential grrl power character is to this day my hero. Now that I’m watching The Sopranos, I can also see the validity of placing Tony Soprano high on the list. Love or hate him, he is quite the character, and the first in a long line of boundary-pushing antiheroes, including some of my personal favorites, Dexter and Jack Bauer – who both made the list, but are farther down.

In the top 10 I was less thrilled with The Joker – it’s a great character and an excellent portrayal on the part of Heath Ledger, but just not worthy of the top 10 in my mind. Also, to the chagrin of legions of Friends fans, I would not have placed Rachel so high either. I enjoy Jennifer Anniston in the occasional romcom, but just was never that big of a fan of the show.

There are others on the list who I am no fan of (ahem, Carrie Bradshaw), but can see why they earned a place. I don’t watch the Simpsons, but can certainly appreciate the longevity, influence and ubiquitous nature of Homer’s character. Similarly, I see the rationale for Harry Potter. Although I think if Harry is going to be this high on the list, perhaps the Twilight characters (Edward is at #53) should also be pulled up a little.

Others, not in the top 10, who I was glad to see recognized include Mulder and Scully, The Dude, Beavis and Butthead, Cher, Sarah Connor, Vincent Vega and Jules Winnfield, Ron Burgundy, John Locke, David Brent, Tyler Durden and The Bride. What do you think of the list?

Pondering horror/TV mashups

The husband and I like horror movies – a lot. I won’t get into this too much, but it should suffice to say that we own a few hundred and have seen a gazillion (real number, very technical).  The Netflix instant watch menu affords many opportunities to expand our repertoire – there have been some great surprises on there, but most of the time what you get is Grade A bologna.

But, I digress. This is not a blog about my love of horror movies or Netflix. So I’ll get to the point. Today I watched a film called Killer Movie (2008). It wasn’t the worst thing I’ve seen, but I wouldn’t call it good either. I guess if I was going to rate it on the craptacular scale (1 being just a small pile of dung and 5 being a truckload of manure), I would probably say it was a 1. But the interesting thing about Killer Movie was that there were several familiar faces in it, which led me to think about the legacy of horror movie/TV crossovers.

In the case of Killer Movie, we have Paul Wesley (Stefan in Vampire Diaries), Kaley Cuoco (of Charmed and Big Bang Theory), and Nestor Carbonell (Richard in Lost), with a supporting cast of nobodies and Jason London (do wash-ups fall into the nobodies category?). This got me thinking about other horror alumni – Jennifer Aniston (Leprechaun), Johnny Depp (Nightmare on Elm Street), Sarah Michelle Gellar (Grudge), Helen Hunt (Trancers), Neve Campbell (Scream), Terry O’Quinn (The Stepfather) and so many more.

I like seeing the stars in horror movies. It’s sort of like finding a trilobite in your driveway gravel – you know it’s not really a treasure, but it sort of feels like it.

Can you think of any other great movie/TV crossovers?

“Take me to your leader”

This week's episode was all about the island's resident con man.

The formula for the final season of Lost seems to be that each episode is devoted to a single character, revealing more about his or her history, as well as their present predicament on the island and the alternate reality. Last week, we had a healthy, albeit unsatisfying, dose of Ben – who really has it coming. This week we got Sawyer.

First off – Sawyer’s a detective in the other reality. Did anyone see that coming? I didn’t. I like that Miles is his partner. These two characters play off each other quite well in both realities. Despite his good-guy makeover, it’s clear that Sawyer still has a lot of secrets.

Second – Charlotte got quite the alternate reality makeover. She’s a real catch without the bloody noses and island-induced crazy talk, but Sawyer proves that some things never change, and that he literally repels beautiful women in any reality.

Meanwhile, some interesting stuff is going on over at Hydra Island, where Charles Widmore has parked the sub. I loved Sawyer’s signature crooked smile coupled with the classic line “Take me to your leader.” By the end of this week’s installment it was clear that in any reality, Sawyer is still a double-talking charmer.

Other moments of note or discussion:

  • Claire is nuttier than a fruitcake, but I have a feeling a twist is in store. Any guesses on what lies ahead for Claire?
  • Sayid is becoming quite the sociopath. I’m betting his demise will come soon – any takers?
  • “I’m the smoke thing.” Enough said.
  • The scenes from next week’s episode are promising – I can’t wait to find out more about Richard. Any predictions?

A side note to tonight’s post – the situation with my remotes is out of control. I’m thinking that a universal remote is in order but not sure which one to get. Logitech makes some pretty impressive-looking devices (http://tinyurl.com/yzfuknx), but I have no experience with them and they cost a mint. Any recommendations?

Too many remotes