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.

I almost fell off my treadmill…

Michelle Fairley’s performance as the tragic Catelyn was unforgettable.
Michelle Fairley’s performance as the tragic Catelyn was unforgettable.

…a few times this year.

First a little background. Ever since I had my daughter 18 months ago, I don’t have as much time. I know – it’s the story of every parent’s life. I’m not complaining, but it means less time for TV, writing and running, three of my personal passions.

I bought a treadmill last fall and managed to combine two of my loves, TV and running into a one-hour time slot every morning at about 5 a.m. I haven’t figured out a way to run, watch and write, so the blog has suffered. My apologies.

Watching TV while running is an experience. Those of you who do it often know what I mean. An exciting show with a lot of action, like Arrow, means you are pumped up and running strong. Slow-burner dramas like The Americans or Justified mean you might be slogging along through a lot of good dialogue, constantly turning the TV up so you can hear the characters over your breathing and the sound of your feet hitting the deck.

And then there are those jaw-dropping moments when right in the middle of a run, a show comes out of left field, my mouth gapes open, and I scramble to avoid falling off the treadmill. There were a few of those this year. You know the ones – the real gut punchers. Like the episode of The Walking Dead where Laurie died. Or the episode of Sons of Anarchy where Opie got killed in prison.

Then on Sunday you had Game of Thrones and the now-infamous Red Wedding. I haven’t read the books, so I wasn’t expecting the massacre, and once again, I nearly fell off the treadmill when I watched it on Monday morning. I’m not going to recap – there are plenty of blogs out there that have already done so (here’s a good one. It should suffice to say that I was deeply moved and emotionally disturbed by the entire scene, especially Michelle Fairley’s performance as the tragic Catelyn.

The one drawback to watching TV at 5 a.m. on the treadmill is that it is a solitary venture. So I’m lucky on days like Monday that I have my co-blogger, Mark, to talk to. It’s like a water cooler therapy session. And I have you too, people of the Internet. Thanks for being there.

It’s bleak, baby

Ah, Sunday. Relaxing before the work week with these cheery programs.

Sunday is supposed to be a restful day. The last bastion of a carefree weekend, in which you recoup for the work week ahead.

So why is there so much heavy (albeit good) TV on this night? My lineup for Sunday consists of The Walking Dead, Dexter and Boardwalk Empire. Does this sound like a restful evening?

To preserve my glass-half-full outlook on life, I spread these three shows out and watch them on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday from my DVR. Otherwise, I lie awake Sunday night, with dreams of gangsters scalping cronies, religious zealots dismembering runners, and nice people getting torn apart by walkers, dancing in my head.

It’s bleak baby. Does anyone else watch all of these shows? If so, do you have the stones to watch all three on Sunday night?

The Witching Hour: HBO, 9 p.m., Sunday

Marnie’s got that crazy look in her eye. I like it.

After a year of waiting, True Blood fans got their first episode of season four on Sunday.  Beginning with Sookie’s journey to the fairy world, the episode started off with a distinctly different feel from previous seasons. And while this may have seemed disjointed to some fans, die-hard Trubies who have read all of Charlaine Harris’s books probably weren’t too surprised by the show’s new dimension (although book purists probably noted many differences).

Here are my two cents on the premiere. I liked the opening. I think it was an abrupt start to the new season, but it also allowed the story to move forward one year in time. While this jump did not make much of a difference in the Bill-Sookie-Eric love triangle, the year seemed monumental in the character development of Jason, who is noticeably more mature; Andy, who is a V addict; Tara, who is having a lesbian relationship; and Bill, who seems to have taken on a high-profile role in local vampire politics. Of all of these developments, I was the most pleased to see the growth in Jason’s character. To be honest, his ditsy routine was getting a bit old by the end of last season. And he looks gorgeous in that uniform.

Many loyal fans of the books rate the fourth in the series as their favorite (myself included). There are a few reasons for this in my case. First, I’m Team Eric. And if the show follows the books (and Alan Ball’s allusions) this is going to be a good summer for Eric fans. Second, the witches are cool, and introduce yet another interesting supernatural element to the mythology. Third, Sookie really comes into her own as she explores her options post-Bill.

If the first episode is any indication, all of these elements are going to come into play. And while I’m not going to count down my favorite moments, I will say that the witches’ coven left quite an impression on me. The lead witch Marnie, played by Harry Potter’s Fiona Shaw, is a frightening, intimidating and wild presence. As she was chanting to resurrect her bird, I had the distinct feeling that she is completely unstable – and there’s nothing more dangerous and interesting than an unstable, morally dubious, brilliant purveyor of the mystic arts.

Did anyone else tune in? If so, I’d love to hear your two cents.

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?

Waiting sucks

Last week was an especially lame week for TV. It seemed like just about every show on every network took a break. And while FOX can blame it all on American Idol, there is just no excuse for the other networks.

At least Big Love was on. And boy was it good. I’m not sure how the writers are going to wrap all of the drama in just a few more episodes, but I’m excited to see them try. It’s nice to know that when the other networks are off, HBO is on.

Thinking about the end of Big Love, and anticipating Game of Thrones (more on that later), makes me even more excited for True Blood in June. And to be quite honest, the shirtless Eric promo that HBO posted this week doesn’t hurt either. Very nice. You’re welcome.

The fourth book in Charlaine Harris’s Southern Vampire series has always been my favorite (a consensus among fans). Without spoiling anything, let me just say that everything changes. The storylines that began at the end of last year (Sookie’s troubles with Bill, witches in Bon Temps, werewolf politics, Jason’s relationship with Crystal, werepanthers in Hotshot, and more) will likely all be important plots in season four. 

The anticipation is killing me. Perhaps a True Blood seasons past marathon is in order. With HBO Go, a new service for  cable subscribers, you can watch any episode of any HBO show online. It’s not available for Time Warner yet, but if you have another cable provider, you should look into it. It sounds pretty cool. For my part, I think I’ll queue up the DVDs on Netflix old school style, and try to ease my True Blood withdrawal symptoms.

Lots of love for Big Love

Last season, Big Love took a few too many leaps, so many, in fact, that it came dangerously close to jumping the shark.  There was the weak subplot with Sissy Spacek, the bizarre standoff in Mexico, and Margene’s marriage to Goran. It all felt a bit crazy, and off track from the not-so-simple family dynamics that make this show great.

I’m pleased to report that a few episodes into its fifth and final season, the show is back on track and as good ever. In their own way, all of the characters are being forced to confront their core beliefs, making each hour interesting and surprising.

Barb, typically the bulwark of this family, is undergoing a heartwrenching struggle with her faith, as Margene is only just discovering her spiritual side. Nicki, on the other hand, seems to have worked out some of her issues, only to discover that raising a daughter is a lot more difficult than she expected.

As the wives are struggling, so is their priestholder, Bill. His political reputation is in shambles and his convictions have been continuously tested. Kudos to Bill Paxton for pulling off some very tough emotional scenes without over-acting.

Perhaps most intriguing of all is the new development with Lois Henrickson, Bill’s mother, played by Grace Zebriskie.  Lois has long been one of my favorite characters on Big Love, due in large part to Zebriskie’s ability to portray her as stubborn and sassy, but not contrived. Her dementia diagnosis comes as a huge surprise, and it should be fascinating to watch the family manage.

As it unfolds, I am increasingly bummed that it is the final season. Although they have gained some much-needed direction from the deadline, the quality of the new episodes is so good that I am not looking forward to the end.

10 girl crushes: My favorite ladies of TV

I just love the wit and wisdom of Dr. Temperance Brennan.

                                                                         

On the way to work this morning, I was thinking about Bones. That got me thinking about Dr. Brennan, and how much I love her character, which got me thinking about some of the other cool ladies on TV right now.

My co-blogger, Mark, has said that we are in a Golden Age of TV. I tend to agree – there are so many good things to watch right now. Part of the appeal of many of the shows I watch is the strong leading lady. It used to be that such strong women on TV were few and far between. Of course, the ‘90s gave us Dana Scully and Buffy Summers, two monoliths of TV womanhood. But to my knowledge there has never been a time when so many women dominated the tube. And the great thing about these leading ladies is that they are such diverse characters – gone are the days of the token strong-willed woman trying to eke out a living among the boys. Here are some ladies of note.

  • Dr. Temperance Brennan (aka Bones, of Bones) – Leader of squints and lover of guns, she’s a highly objective scientist who blows away the stereotype of the overly emotional woman.
  • Annie Walker (of Covert Affairs) – This rookie CIA agent doesn’t need a partner to take down the bad guys in her way. She’s spunky and fresh, not your typical tough girl, and she’s a one-woman wolf pack.
  • Fiona Glenanne (of Burn Notice) – How do I love thee? Let me count the ways. You build bombs. You rescue boys. You kill bad guys. You have impeccable style. You have such a sharp sense of humor.  And I love the way you say, “Shall we shoot them?”
  • Debra Morgan (of Dexter) – She’s hot mess when it comes to the opposite sex, and she’s got a mouth like a sailor. In seasons past, her vulnerability bordered on annoying, but this year she has really come into her own.
  • Liz Lemon (of 30 Rock) – LL is the funniest woman on TV, simply put. She’s a proud nerd who’s not afraid to admit to wearing a bathing suit as underwear. Need I say more?
  • Margene Heffman, Nicki Grant and Barb Henrickson (of Big Love) – Three very different women (who I am counting as one, polygamist girl crush), married to one man. In four seasons, each has shown strength of character and vulnerability. The complexities of their relationships to one another go beyond the challenges of polygamy, and delve into the differences between each one’s ideas of what it means to be a woman, wife and mother.
  • Caroline Forbes (of Vampire Diaries) – Not the obvious choice from this show (that would be the main star, Elena), but I really like Caroline. And what’s more, I think she’s a good example for young ladies. Last year, she was shallow and mean. But over time, her character grew (and changed into a vampire) into a much deeper person capable of true friendship, love and compassion. This season, she has weathered her change with grace, and even stepped up to the plate to help Tyler handle his own change. She’s a nice example of how a young woman can transcend the cliques, gossip and stereotyping of high school.
  • Olivia Dunham (of Fringe) ­ – Olivia is a smart agent who follows her instincts. She not only solves mysteries in our world, she crosses to other universes as well. She is a fascinating character, capable of great emotional depth as well as detachment.   
  • Myka Bering (of Warehouse 13) – Myka left her gig with the Warehouse at the end of last season following the debacle with H.G. Wells. But if you ask me, the empathy she showed for H.G.’s loss added a new dimension to her previously businesslike demeanor. But don’t get me wrong – I have always appreciated her focus on being the best agent she can be, and putting that before her personal feelings.
  • Pam Swynford De Beaufort (of True Blood) – Again, not the obvious choice, which would be Sookie Stackhouse. However, I just love Pam. Classy and ruthless, she is equally commanding in the pleather Fangtasia costumes as she is in her two-piece pink suits.

Three shows that you simply must watch

  1. Dexter, Showtime, 9 p.m.
  2. Boardwalk Empire, HBO, 9 p.m.
  3. The Walking Dead, AMC, 10 p.m.

I’ve blogged of my admiration for Dexter and Boardwalk Empire before, so I won’t belabor the point with a long review of each one, but if you aren’t already, you should definitely be watching. And yes, I realize that they are on premium channels (not a recession-proof commodity, to be sure) but I would argue that they are well worth the money. One way to look at it – for about the price of two movie tickets, you can get a month of both Showtime and HBO, and hours of excellent original programming, documentaries and blockbuster movies. This is starting to sound like a commercial.

Rick, played by Andrew Lincoln, is a true hero. While anti-heroes abound on other networks, he’s a breath of fresh, honest-to-goodness air.

I haven’t devoted any blog space to AMC’s The Walking Dead. Trust me it’s not for lack of interest. The show is completely amazing. I think I’ve mentioned before that the husband and I are avid horror fans, so I was prepared for disappointment. What I got was quite surprise. Here are some reasons why I like The Walking Dead.

  • The zombies are slow. Thank the gods – in recent years zombies have been fast and fierce, with super strength, and people have had little to no chance of escape. Boring rubbish if you ask me. These zombies are dead, rotting, walking corpses – slow and dumb but deadly in packs. Just like I like them.
  • Andrew Lincoln, who plays the lead character, Rick Grimes. What’s not to love in this protagonist? If you’re tired of anti-heroes, look no further for a bona-fide good guy. Rick is a nice guy, family man, good cop – you get the picture. He’s the type of guy you want to mow your lawn and then come in the house for a nice, cool lemonade.
  • It’s not all CGI. Kudos to the make-up team. The zombies look better than most of those that have graced the silver screen in the last decade.
  • It’s gory. Human entrails? Check. Horse guts? Check. Splattered brains? Check.  Even on the premium channels, you won’t find a gorier show.
  • The tragedy hits home. This is what I like the most about the show, and it’s really a culmination of all the preceding points. Zombie films of recent years lost this sense of deep melancholy in their hurried edits, metal soundtracks and CGI effects. Because of the slow pace, the superior effects, the excellent characters and stark realism, this show does something remarkable – it makes you feel.

Eastbound and Down season two mini-review

Katy Mixon, who plays April, had big news: Kenny Powers is about to be a dad.

                                                                                      The season finale of Eastbound and Down aired on Sunday evening, but I just got around to watching it yesterday. If you hearken back to the premiere two months ago, I was unsure of how this season would go. I guess I couldn’t picture the show without the season one cast.

Although I had my doubts, and I’ve read some critical reviews, I thought it was a pretty hilarious season overall. After Stevie joined Kenny in Mexico in episode two, some notable guest stars (Don Johnson as Alberto Sanchez and Matthew McConaughey as Pat Anderson’s scout were particularly hilarious) rounded the new cast members off nicely.

The season finale, in which Kenny comes back to Shelby, North Carolina to make up with April,  was a welcome return to the familiar faces from season one, including Kenny’s family, his drug addict friends at the bar and the staff at La Escuela (The School).

By now, fans of the show should know that Kenny got a big surprise from April, who has a Powers bun in the oven. This is an interesting and completely unexpected plot twist, and it definitely has me intrigued for season three.

My favorite quote from this season: “Just trust me…It’s better to be strangled by a necklace of Mexicans, than to be strangled by no one at all…”