Dexter vs. Boardwalk Empire

                 Let me start out by saying that I love Dexter. In fact, it was one of the reasons I got cable last year and I consistently rate it among the highest quality shows on TV right now. In the past, Dexter hasn’t had much competition for the fall, 9 p.m. Sunday slot.

Enter Boardwalk Empire, the new show helmed by Terrence Winter (creator of The Sopranos) and Martin Scorcese. In three words: I love it. Why?

It’s stylish. Set in Prohibition Era New Jersey, the sets are rich tapestries of Americana. The costumes are beautiful – wing tips, three-piece suits, flapper dresses, I could go on and on. Its visual decadence is unmatched.

It’s smart. This cast of characters is intriguing. Played by Steve Buscemi, Nucky Thompson is a savvy politician who walks the line between good and evil. He is supported by a host of excellent actors – Michael Pitt as the up-and-coming gangster Jimmy, Kelly Macdonald as the charming Mrs. Schroeder, Michael Shannon as the intense FBI Agent Van Alden, and so many more. Three episodes in, it’s easy to see the skill of the actors and writers that goes into the making of each episode.

It’s all about the stories. Each week, a new layer of this world is revealed. The politics of the time – including prohibition, women’s suffrage, early civil rights – are fascinating. But the personal stories are just as riveting – the growing interest Nucky shows in Mrs. Schroeder, Jimmy’s friendship with Al Capone, Jimmy’s relationship with the mother of his son, Jimmy’s relationship with his showgirl mother – I could go on and on.

With Dexter off to a slow start (I know, I know the last episode was better than previous weeks), Boardwalk Empire has firmly jumped to the lead for best show on Sunday at 9 p.m.

I’m not lovin’ it

After a long wait, the second season premiere of Eastbound and Down fell flat.

                                                                             There’s a lot to love about TV this fall (see Monday’s post if you want specifics). On Thursday’s alone, I am watching or recording six shows. Sundays are also good, with Dexter and Boardwalk Empire competing for best show in the 9 o’clock hour. With all of these positive reviews, you might be wondering, “Is there any TV show she doesn’t like?” The answer is yes.

In general, I’m not a fan of procedural cop dramas (aside from my recently professed, out-of-the-closet devotion to Mark Harmon and NCIS). However, there are times when I might try one of these out of respect for and actor, writer or director. Case in point, Detroit 1-8-7 (ABC, Tuesday, 10 p.m.). You might remember that I recently watched and thoroughly enjoyed The Sopranos (see my full review). One of my favorite actors on this show was Michael Imperioli, who played Christopher. So, I tuned in for Detroit 1-8-7. For about 10 minutes. The show evoked this one word review: generic.

The other big disappointment this year is Eastbound and Down, which had a hilarious first season. Although it could progress and become funnier, the premiere was downright dull. Taking Kenny away from all the regular cast members is a mistake. Danny McBride is very funny, but the show only works when his shenanigans are accented by John Hawkes (who plays his brother, Dustin), Steve Little (who plays Stevie), and Katy Mixon (who plays April). The change of scenery to Mexico leaves much to be desired, with most of the jokes in the premiere revolving around his misadventures in cock fighting with two rapscallions. It just didn’t work for me. Let’s hope things get better, or I’ll be cutting this out of my Sunday line-up pretty quickly.

What new shows have you tried and disliked? What returning shows have disappointed you?

Ah, salute!

I spent the better part of my precious TV time during the last couple months watching The Sopranos. This was my first time watching what is now arguably one of the most iconic shows of the last 20 years.

I’m an avid fan of HBO, but I didn’t watch The Sopranos while it was on for two reasons: it was a little before my time, and until recently when I got my own place I didn’t have premium channels or Netflix.

To be honest, I initially had my doubts. I’m not a huge fan of gangster genre films like Scarface, and I was thinking The Sopranos would fit the genre mold. I liked The Godfather, but that is just a great movie, whether you like the genre or not.

It turned out that The Sopranos is a lot like The Godfather in that way. It’s a well-done, intriguing story about the mafia, but it is also about being an (Italian) American, being a parent, being a son or daughter, being married, growing old, dealing with death – when it comes down to it it’s about the life of a family. It strikes me that this comment is remarkably similar to my assessment of another HBO show, Big Love. Perhaps this is what HBO does best – presenting viewers with themes they can relate to, wrapped in a fancy package like the mafia or polygamy.

Throughout six seasons, the quality of the show never faltered, and there are some superb acting, directing and writing talents on display throughout. Particularly, the three main characters played by James Gandolfini, Edie Falco, and Lorraine Bracco. There were many deaths, but they never ceased to be shocking, poignant and memorable. Take the deaths of Ralph or Johnny Sack or Chris, for example. Then there are the interpersonal moments between the characters – the heated arguments between Tony and Carmilla that led up to their separation, Tony’s visit to Junior in the state nursing home, or Tony’s frantic rescue of AJ from the pool and resulting devastation over his mental state.

A lot of people complain about the series finale, “Made in America.” Perhaps I have the luxury of being detached from the hype of the time it aired, but I was satisfied with it. Ultimately, it is hard to end an epic, long-running show.

Although there is a lot of debate about what exactly happened after the screen went to black, I believe Tony was killed by the suspicious fellow at the bar, and possibly his family was caught in the crossfire, as often happened when someone was killed on the show. This notion is somewhat sad, but it is realistic given the preceding episodes. And to be honest, by the time the finale came, I felt like Tony, Carmilla, Meadow and AJ were all responsible, to varying degrees, for the deaths of innocent people. If they were not directly involved (as was the case with Tony), they were complacent. However, even though their characters were irreparably tarnished, I would not have wanted to see their deaths played out on screen in the gruesome manner of, say Phil Leotardo. In other words, the ending satisfied my need to have The Soprano family reap what they sowed, while preserving my feelings.

To wrap this post up, I cannot overstate how excellent, and entertaining, this series was. If you haven’t seen it, I highly recommend you take the time to watch it.

New shows and a returning favorite

Warehouse 13’s daring duo, Pete and Myka, is the driving force behind the show, but the addition of guest star Jaime Murray as the season two villain is really going to shake things up.

There have been several series premieres and some notable returning favorites in the last couple weeks. I don’t have time to watch them all, but I am digging a few of them – namely Haven and Warehouse 13 on SyFy and Rizzoli and Isles on TNT. I DVR’d Covert Affairs on USA last night, but didn’t have a chance to watch it yet. The reviews of the new spy thriller starring Piper Parabo have been good, so I’m looking forward to checking that out tonight.

Warehouse 13 came back with a bang last week with an episode that featured Jaime Murray (aka Lila Tournay from Dexter) as none other than H.G. Wells. I can’t say enough about how great Murray was in Dexter – sexy, mean, and devious in all her brunette, British glory. She seems to be the overarching villain for this season, and I am very excited to watch the story play out. Last night’s episode was also excellent, and fully displayed the chemistry between agents Myka (Joanne Kelly) and Pete (Eddie McClintock). The wit and general appeal of these two kept me coming back for more even as the first season became a bit tedious, and I think we can expect more funny banter and light sexual tension from them this summer. All in all, I’m really excited to see how this show plays out, and it already seems to be much-improved from last year.

The other SyFy vehicle that I picked up on DVR this week was Haven, which premiered last Friday. Of course, it can be difficult to say how good a show is going to be based on the pilot alone, but I’m thinking this one has a lot of promise, for a few reasons. First, it’s based on a Stephen King novel called The Colorado Kid. Say what you will about the sometimes cheesy nature of the movies that are based on King’s books, but I love his writing and many of his movies are classics. So there’s good base material. Second, the lead actress Emily Rose, who plays FBI agent Audrey Parker, had a cool, commanding presence reminiscent of Olivia from Fringe. And third, the show seems to have a decent budget – it has a slick, high quality feel that I must admit is sometimes lacking in other SyFy productions (Warehouse 13, with its ridiculous CG imagery is guilty of this). I’ll keep watching this one for sure.

As for Rizzoli and Isles, I had my doubts. Although I enjoy cop dramas, I don’t religiously watch them. I’m more of a casual viewer of shows like Law and Order, NCIS, and CSI – watching at the gym or pausing for a few moments when I’m channel surfing. The first episode hooked me, not necessarily with Angie Harmon and Sasha Alexander (who pay Rizzoli and Isles, respectively), but with co-stars Lorraine Bracco (aka Dr. Jennifer Melfi from The Sopranos), who plays Rizzoli’s mom, and Billy Burke (aka Chief Swan from Twilight), who plays hottie FBI agent Gabriel Dean. These two really round out the cast and are going to make me tune in for at least one more episode. While the case they investigated may have been lacking (typical, fast-moving serial killer plot), the dynamic between Rizzoli and the various people in her life (including her mother, Agent Dean, her old and new partners, and medical examiner Isles) was engaging and witty.

So that’s it. I’ll let you know about Covert Affairs after I have had a chance to watch it. Unfortunately, it’s going to have to compete for screen time with three, count ‘em, three Sopranos discs that are arriving via Netflix today. And you thought I was only watching True Blood…

Did I mention I like lists? Most disturbing TV scenes by EW

Last week’s episode of True Blood was the inspiration for Entertainment Weekly’s list.

Entertainment Weekly published a list of the top 20 most disturbing scenes on TV. I haven’t seen a lot of the shows that made the list, but here’s what I thought of the ones I do know about.

First up is the scene from last week’s episode of True Blood, in which Bill and his maker, Lorena, have some really bizarre and violent sex that involves her head being twisted 180 degrees, as she chokes out “I still love you” whilst coughing up blood and smiling sickly. That was weird, and disturbing, and surprising. Definitely not for the kiddos. I think most True Blood fans would agree that Bill has usually been portrayed in a more gentlemanly fashion than, say, Eric. So this behavior was shocking coming from him, but also shocking behavior in general.

The next scene I recognized was from The X-Files episode “Home.” This scene, in which Mulder and Scully find the mother of a family of imbreds hiding under a bed, is a classic moment in a show with a lot of creepy, memorable scenes. I’m glad this made the list, as “Home” was truly a great hour in TV history, and is almost universally recognized as the best episode of The X-Files.

Also on the list is a scene from Dexter. The last season of this show brought us many jarring scenes, thanks to the expert portrayal of the Trinity Killer by John Lithgow. Entertainment Weekly points out the Thanksgiving scene, where Dexter snapped and nearly killed Trinity in front of his family, as the most disturbing. To be sure, this was memorable, but for me, the most disturbing scene of this season (aside from the shocking ending, which is the obvious choice) was the first time we saw Trinity kill in the bathtub. Who will ever forget those dead eyes, staring into the eyes of his victim, as the water turned crimson from her blood?

 I also took issue with the scene EW picked from Deadwood. If I had to pick a most disturbing scene from this HBO drama, I would not have picked this one. To me, the most disturbing scene came when Al Swearengen (expertly portrayed by Ian McShane) was taken ill with kidney stones. You could literally feel the agony as he tried to pass them, having stroke in the process. I think it’s safe to say there was a universal wince when he squeezed out a few, bloody, foamy drops of urine. I just winced again as I wrote that.

From the Twilight Zone, EW chose one of the most classic episodes, and one that is oft-quoted in jest in the Rogers Household. Have you ever wished your spouse into the cornfield? I have.

EW also picked the scene from Lost where the guy gets sucked into the plane during the pilot. However, to me this really wasn’t very disturbing. Truthfully, while there were many crazy twists and turns in Lost, I didn’t find any of them to be as disturbing as some of the other items on the EW list. It seems like they just wanted to include something from Lost.

A few things I thought should have made the list:

  • A scene from The Sopranos. There were a lot of disturbing moments in this show (which I have only watched two seasons of) that could have been mentioned.
  • Spike’s attempted rape of Buffy in Buffy the Vampire Slayer, season six, episode 19, “Seeing Red.”
  • Any one of the cruel and unusual punishments doled out by Henry VIII on The Tudors. Probably the most disturbing for me was the execution of Katherine Howard.

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?

Absence makes the heart grow fonder

I started watching the first season of The Sopranos.

I have to apologize, dear readers, for my sporadic posting behavior as of late. The simple fact of the matter is that I am in a bit of a TV dead zone, as the normal seasons of all the shows I watch have wrapped, and I am waiting for the summer shows to start. To pass the time, I’ve been watching movies, most recently Night of the Creeps. But I digress – this is a TV blog, after all.

A couple weeks ago, I started watching The Sopranos on HBO On Demand. I’ve also been watching the final season of the Tudors on Showtime (which took a break for the Memorial Day holiday). I’m a little more than half-way through the first season of The Sopranos, which I have been meaning to watch for a couple years now. So far, it’s a pretty good watch – James Gandolfini (as Tony Soprano) is excellent, as are Lorraine Bracco (as Dr. Jennifer Melfi) and Edie Falco (as Carmela Soprano). At times, the actors who play the Soprano kids are a little annoying, but that is forgivable. I didn’t know if I would like Falco’s character, as I was never very impressed with Nurse Jackie (in spite of the wealth of critical acclaim it has garnered), but it turns out she is really quite good in this role. She portrays the wife of a mobster with complexity, and avoids the overdone clichés of such a role.

Of course, I am counting down the days for the premiere of True Blood (only 10 days left) and enjoying all of the promos HBO has been putting out for that. The newest trailer is awesome, and all of the minisodes have been really cool. I have to admit, I had little faith in these shorts, but they have been worth watching every week. My favorite is still the first one, in which Eric and Pam audition strippers for Fangtasia. Alas, even with all of the trailers, minisodes, and posters, waiting still sucks.

I’ll also be watching season 2 of Being Human on BBC, starting July 24, as well as the sophomore season of Warehouse 13 on SyFy. What will you be watching this summer?