Television

BBC America

It seems like only last week that I was mildly decrying Orphan Black‘s habit of tossing new, important characters into the mix late in the game, thus creating new questions as an alternative to actually answering much in the way of previous questions. The latest episode has some fun at my expense by not only not bringing back last week’s newbie (Michelle Forbes) but also by introducing yet another brand new character in the opening scene. Of course Tony’s not just any new character though as he’s actually a clone off the same assembly line as Sarah and the rest. Born a female like the rest, Tony’s on his way to becoming a man through the use of testosterone and possible surgery (that or he has a sock stuffed down his boxers). Beyond what he brings to the narrative table — which is surprisingly little — Tony is a big step in the evolution of the show in that he allows star Tatiana Maslany to try on a new persona well outside of her normal beat. But while she earns points for trying, it looks like we’ve finally found proof that Maslany is human after all and capable of failure.

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Fargo "The Heap"

First off, I want to note that I’m not going to put forth any more claim that this show has left the shadow of the Coen Brothers influence. Last week, I personally felt that it was standing enough on its own that I was no longer looking for or noticing references, but of course I was pointed to a couple fairly significant instances of quotation. I still feel like it’s departing from the pastiche, though, and that’s a good thing. But sure enough, it continues to make certain connections and allusions now and then. I did sense a Barton Fink homage in tonight’s episode with the close-up on a poster of women walking on a beach. And there’s an image of Molly (Allison Tolman) midway through that easily reminds us of Marge in the Fargo movie. More on that in a moment. Because of the narrative course of this week’s episode, titled “The Heap,” I do think it continues to break free in a way that makes it plausible that the series could continue beyond this mini run. The world of the show is strong enough. At the same time, this sure could have been a great series finale. You’ve got a kind of closure on some story lines, even if they’re not necessarily satisfying to the characters, or maybe some viewers. And then you have a device that pushes the plot forward in a way that we’re used to only seeing done in the very last episode of a show. Or, […]

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The Viper and The Mountain

Moving is hard work, especially when you’re a chubby blogger who doesn’t normally lift things and has an affinity for buying heavy things. Though even through all the strife of moving into a new home, there’s no large bookshelf that’s quite so heavy as the weight of the nice man from the cable company telling me that my cable wouldn’t be installed in time to watch the latest episode of Game of Thrones. You see, it wasn’t just about being timely or being able to come through with my weekly column on the subject, it was about knowing what was coming… There was no way I was missing the fight between The Mountain and The Viper. Luckily I’ve got great friends with quality internet connections and HBO Go logins, so the day was ultimately saved. Weary from my moving adventure and with a system pumped with muscle relaxers, I settled in for what I and any book reader knew would be one of the more brutal and explosive episodes of the entire series. And now it’s time to have a little Game of Thrones spoilers chat about it.

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Game of Thrones: The Mountain and The Viper

This review includes details up to and including Game of Thrones season four, episode eight, “The Mountain and The Viper.” It does not include book spoilers, but does include a book reader sobbing softly over the death of his favorite character. Why does the simple man keep smashing the bugs? That’s the question asked in the unpredictably jovial and lighthearted scene between brothers Jaime and Tyrion Lannister right before the latter’s fate is decided. Because perhaps it’s his purpose, the show seems to answer several minutes later as it executes an excruciating scene with shock value rivaled only by the much famed Red Wedding. Some men smash because it’s what they know, others live with much greater purpose. Prince Oberyn Martell lived with a much greater purpose… and look where it got him.

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BBC America

This is how good the most recent episode of Orphan Black is — not only did I not miss Helena, but I didn’t even realize she was absent until the episode was over. If you’ve been following my coverage here you know that the Shakira-maned former assassin’s personality (along with Tatiana Maslany‘s performance obviously) has made her the show’s VIP for the last few episodes, but “Knowledge of Causes, and Secret Motions of Things” moves at such a fantastically exhilarating clip that there’s no real time to pause and ponder what’s missing. Even better, for as fast as the episode moves it’s accomplished with a spectacular balance between the dramatic and the comedic. The ending’s homage to a certain messy car scene from Pulp Fiction doesn’t hurt either.

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Corey Stoll in The Strain

While Robert Rodriguez and crew are holding down the sexually suggestive vampire-themed content over on the El Rey Network, king of the monsters and the star of your Spanish-subtitled nightmares, Guillermo del Toro, has been cooking up his own version of the bloodsucking beasts for FX. If there’s anyone who can bring the threat of a deadly strain of humanity-ending vampirism to life on television in grotesque, hyperreal detail, it would be the man who thinks that a guy with eyeballs in the palms of his hands is just your average everyday challenge for a little girl to face. The teaser for the new series, titled The Strain, is ever so brief, but it gives us just enough to work with — vampires aren’t just made after midnight through a flexing of fangs and a couple of puncture wounds to the neck anymore. It’s a transmitted disease that can infect anyone, anywhere, and it’s making a huge batch of former humans do a little more than just sparkle.

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True Detective Season Two

Jonesing for your True Detective fix before the beloved and HBOGO-killing HBO hit comes back for its second season? We might have something that can help you with that. We’ve long known that the Nick Pizzolatto-created series would essentially reboot with each season, with a new cast and a fresh location, which means that fans of the show (conspiracy theorists, all) would have plenty to mull over and pick apart before the show returned to them. Pizzolatto knows this, which is probably why he’s been doling out little bits of tantalizing information for months now. No, the creator isn’t cruel, but he is wily. In the latest batch of True Detective news, Pizzolatto has let on a couple of interesting details: that the show will now have three leads and that it will take place in California. Who will play those leads is not yet known (besides the fact that Jessica Chastain will not be playing any of them, sadly), and we still don’t know when the show will take place, what kind of crazy source material it may pull from, what sort of evil we might encounter or pretty much anything else. But that doesn’t mean we can’t analyze the things we do know.

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Key and Peele in Fargo

The show has had its ups and downs so far, but with its seventh episode Fargo is suddenly a series worth celebrating as a standalone entity. With “Who Shaves the Barber?” I finally forgot about all the Coen brothers blood that was pumping life into the heart of the show from the beginning. This was the best episode since the pilot, and in some ways it was even better because it didn’t rest on all that pastiche and influence. It’s a shame that we only have three more installments to go, as now I could see it actually continuing beyond its predetermined ten parts. That’s a big change of my mind from a few episodes ago when I wondered how series writer Noah Hawley was going to stretch out the show’s two main storylines for the whole series. But now we have the introduction of comedic duo Key & Peele — sorry, that’s actors Keegan Michael Key and Jordan Peele — providing the next level in the never-ending mouse hunt that is the pursuit of Lorne Malvo (Billy Bob Thornton). It’s a brief debut for their two FBI agents, and we’ll have to see how well they mesh with the show going further, but they sure do seem like an invigorating addition.

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Mad Men Season 7 Waterloo

Cooking a hamburger is difficult work. Patties must be placed on a griddle; they must be flipped; they must be taken off the griddle at a time neither before nor after they have reached the ideal temperature (I’m sure I’m glossing over several key steps, thus illustrating the extremely difficult process we’re working with here). Burger King knew burgermastery is something attained only by a precious few. This is why, in the 1950s, they commissioned the creation of a Flame Broiler, a giant machine that transports disks of meat across conveyor belts through jets of fire, thus ensuring every patty emerges cooked to perfection. No longer would fast food chains require multiple tenured professors of burgerology on payroll. Burgers were finally for the people. The brothers who actually built the first Flame Broiler, Frank and Donald Thomas, realized the innate potential of a great greasy contraption that could perform all the same labor as a high school junior, but with none of the backsass. So they packed up their machines and they started their own fast food joint: Burger Chef. The first franchise opened in 1954, and in the next ten years, Burger Chefs sprouted up all over the country. By 1968, Burger Chef was a big deal —  big enough that the whole company was bought out by the General Foods Corporation. But not even the corporate world could contain the massive growth spurts of Burger Chef and his boy sidekick Jeff, because General Foods buckled under their titanic, […]

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BBC America

For a show featuring murder, abduction, sexual assault and the subjugation of women by an oppressive patriarchy Orphan Black can sometimes vie for funniest series on television. This is not a particularly new observation one and a half seasons in, but but while past episodes have left most of the comedic styling to Alison and/or Felix this episode drops that responsibility squarely in Helena’s lap. She’s made us laugh before of course, but those small moments were no comparison to what the smile-inducing assassin manages here. A road-trip with Helena and her “seestra” Sarah is guaranteed to be a good time for viewers on the face of it, and Tatiana Maslany and the show’s writers don’t disappoint. The sixth episode of the second season isn’t just very, very funny though as it also furthers the plot with a handful of answers and (surprise!) several more questions. Sarah gets a somewhat informative face to face with the elusive Swan Man, Helena is coaxed back into captivity and a whole bunch of odd pairings raise new doubts and concerns over who exactly can be trusted. Increasingly, and sometimes frustratingly, the answer to that question seems to be not a damn soul.

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Adam Goldberg in Fargo

In many ways, I liked this week’s episode of Fargo, titled “Buriden’s Ass,” as much as I disliked last week’s (both of them were directed by Colin Bucksey). It wasn’t perfect, but it had a good deal of action and racked up a serious body count. Not that deaths make a good show, but it was enough that stuff was happening. And much of that stuff led to conclusions for certain characters and questions for and about others, questions that are intriguing rather than frustrating. Some characters make really dumb choices, as is expected in this series, but interestingly Lester (Martin Freeman) was not one of them this time. He finally made decisions that indicate he could just make it through the finale alive, after all. There are two moments in the episode where characters are shown to be really thinking about what to do next. For Lester, it’s with a surprisingly lengthy close-up on Freeman’s face as he works out his plan. And by episode’s end, it seems to have been a good plan, albeit one involving a very cliched escape scenario and a few too many instances of illogical luck (why did no one from radiology look for their scheduled patient? why did Lester’s nephew do nothing when he saw the guy creeping around the house?). Then there’s Stavros (Oliver Platt), whose thought process was accompanied by those annoying reminder flashbacks. And by episode’s end, it seems his decision was not a good one at all.

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Mad Men Season 7 Episode 3 Field Trip

Speculating about Mad Men is some nasty business – quite literally, as most theories regarding Matt Weiner’s beloved AMC drama series are all about ending the lives of beloved characters in increasingly gruesome ways, from predicting that Don Draper will leap off a high rise to his death to this season’s theory that Megan Draper is going to die in one of many terrible ways, from Manson family murder to plane crash – but the series’ continued interest in rooting its plotlines in reality means that such wild wondering isn’t without merit. Anything could happen, at least, anything could happen that at least sort of happened in our actual past. Of course, that doesn’t mean that anything big is going to happen on the show – as completely nuts as it would be to see Megan offed by the Mansion family, Weiner’s show has never so fully injected his fake characters into real history, and it is highly unlikely that particular storyline would ever play out – but plenty will continue to happen (such is the nature of life, episodic television, and history). Sure, we’re not likely to see any of the Mad Men team splashed across the front page of newspapers around the country, but we are likely to feel the fallout of what happens to various company accounts in a more personal way (life, you guys), because if there’s one thing we do know about the show, it’s that professional success sure makes the personal pains go down […]

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Game of Thrones: Mockingbird

I have some spoilery thoughts, as you might imagine. “Mockingbird” is easily one of the busiest and often most poignant episodes of the season, littered with subtle changes from the books and plenty of big moments ripped right from the pages of A Song of Ice and Fire. But before we get to this week’s rambling of book knowledge nonsense and wild speculation (mostly the latter), let’s give everyone who isn’t spoiler savvy a chance to get out while there’s still hope.

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SNL Logo

There are plenty of tough tickets in New York City, from late night talk shows to Broadway spectaculars, and while the process of procuring tickets has eased up a bit over the years (hey, thanks, Internet), that doesn’t mean the hottest of hot tickets is still “easy” to come by. If you happen to Google “Saturday Night Live tickets,” you’ll be met with an official NBC website that details exactly how to go about getting tickets – which really means, “how to go about not getting tickets at all.” Saturday Night Live is such a desired entertainment commodity (and no, we can’t keep calling it a “hot ticket”) that people who want to attend the show need to jump through the kind of hoops that no other live show offers. No, really – you name another show where you request tickets but can’t even request a preferred date for those tickets. Not even an exact date, just one that might work for you. Nope. If you’re going for those SNL tickets, you have to email your requests in the month of August only (the SNL season doesn’t start until September) and basically just wait it out. If you get picked for tickets (and only if you get picked), you’ll get a pair of tickets for a show, date and time as picked by SNL. Don’t try to game the system by putting in multiple requests. Don’t expect to hear back if you don’t get picked. Want to try standby? Line up at 30 Rock on the morning of your preferred show – at 7AM. […]

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Mad Men The Strategy

There once was a time when Paul Anka, sitting somewhere among the streets and cafes of gay Paris, heard a song. A song that would change his life. A song that, according to Anka, was really shitty. “I thought it was a shitty record, but there was something in it,” Anka told The Telegraph in 2007. Harsh, yes, especially if you’re Claude Francois, whose 1967 hit “Comme d’habitude” is the toilet-quality (honestly, it’s not that bad) piece of music in question. But there was something lurking within “Comme d’habitude,” and Anka would eventually scrape that something out of its French pop shell. Years later, Anka would be hanging out with Frank Sinatra, doing those usual Frank Sinatra-adjacent things — dinner, drinks, casual association with members of La Cosa Nostra — when the Chairman of the Board dropped a truth bomb on Anka and the various mobsters present. He was out; he was done; the music biz was a fickle mistress and Frankie wasn’t playin’ her games no more. Anka was stunned, but he knew what to do. The only way to respect Sinatra’s decision to quit the music industry was to write him the biggest hit of his musical career. So Anka found his old copy of “Comme d’habitude,” which, conveniently, he had purchased the rights to after hearing it in France so long ago. And he picked it apart and he put it back together and he wrote a whole new set of lyrics that were much more in […]

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Game of Thrones: Mockingbird

The best Game of Thrones episodes are those that find a unifying thread between all of the jumping around from storyline to storyline. Then there are those rare episodes that find multiple unifying threads and weave them delicately around a series of major moments up to which the show has been building for most of a season. “Mockingbird” is a fine example of this rare episode. It moves our story forward, never overplays its hand, is paced wonderfully and ultimately delivers some nice surprises. It’s a joy to watch this show operate at such heights.

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BBC America

For a show frequently focused on the evils that men do and the control that men have over women’s bodies, the latest episode of Orphan Black strikes a very clear blow against that dynamic. It’s not the first time of course as the series has always had fun with the gender dynamic, but the rarity here is that the scene in question is one of a woman using her power over a man in pursuit of sexual gratification. Rachel’s discovery of her dead lover/monitor, Daniel, necessitates a replacement, and that’s where Paul comes in as she quickly instructs him to settle into both roles. He’s shocked to hear that Rachel even had a monitor, but her words and passive expression make it clear that while she retains control she’s also aware of who and what she is. That awareness extends to the hold they have over Paul — knowledge and evidence of his involvement in a friendly fire incident in Afghanistan — and she applies it for her own domineering sexual interests. Is it rape? It’s difficult to interpret Paul’s dull stare, and I doubt he’s unhappy being boned by Rachel, but it fits the definition of rape in the sense he’s being coerced. Just as his hand has been forced into hunting Sarah, the threat the Dyad Institute holds over his freedom is an equally powerful motivator for letting Rachel do as she pleases with his manly bits. Power, and the constant threat of losing it, runs throughout the episode affecting each […]

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Fargo The Six Ungraspables

For an episode that rounds out the first half of a series, “The Six Ungraspables” is a surprisingly uneventful affair. I think it might be Fargo‘s worst, because as much as it moved the plot forward, it did so at a very slow pace and not in any way that added to the characters or their storylines. Or maybe I missed something. Maybe I didn’t grasp enough this time. Maybe I was too annoyed with the unnecessary opening sequence to appreciate much else in the hour that followed. One of my biggest issues with Fargo so far is its occasional hand holding. Another is its occasional lack of logic for the sake of convenience. This fifth episode was basically all about how Lester’s Macbethian hand injury fits into both of these criticisms. After last week’s opening, I got excited when it became apparent that this too was beginning with a flashback. And to a time without snow on the ground! Silly me even thought maybe there’d be a link to O Brother, Where Art Thou? this time because of the bluegrass music. Unfortunately, all this sequence did was show us how Lester (Martin Freeman) came to own a shotgun and illustrate as plainly as possible how that shotgun later caused the festering wound in his hand. Was there anyone who was watching and hadn’t understood what that injury was from or that there was still a pellet lodged in there, one that would easily lend itself as evidence that Lester was present during Chief […]

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Community Finale

When Community first strolled onto television, there was only a hint of the kind of show it would ultimately become. There was a smooth-talking ex-lawyer trying hard to romance a woman who looked like Elisabeth Shue, a ragtag bunch of people who argued like they were on a sitcom, and in any other show, Abed’s insistence of injecting pop culture ephemera and contextualization would have melted into general Wacky Neighbor behavior. But it didn’t melt, and Abed eventually became the watchword for the show. Throughout the first season, he was indulged in all sorts of movie and TV tropes, but there were also many standard sitcom signposts along the way. Read any of the first season’s episode descriptions, and it could be talking about almost any recent comedy, but then “Modern Warfare” introduced us to how Greendale plays paintball. It was the kind of television moment that was difficult to understand. The promise of a show revealing itself by planting a massive freak flag in the middle of our foreheads. A rare episode that simultaneously made us excited for a second season and terrified that any minute NBC would realize they’d accidentally put something innovative on the air and call to correct their mistake. The second season gave us a stop-motion Christmas, Abed channeling Andre Gregory and a Western send up with more paintballs. The third season pushed further with a bigger adventure arc as Chang grew into his natural role as insane supervillain, but midway through, Community became two shows. We’ll call them Community and The Dan […]

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Matt Dillon and Terrence Howard in Wayward Pines

A government agent who appears without warning in a small, sleepy woodsy town in the middle of nowhere that’s hiding much more than it seems? A town that’s full of weirdos — both the harmless and the probably insane? And all of the action seems to take place around him hanging out in the local diner getting his next batch of information? It sounds familiar because it’s Twin Peaks. But Wayward Pines, a new show from executive producer M. Night Shyamalan, is certainly trying its damndest to convince us that it’s something completely different. Adapted from “Pines,” the novel by Blake Crouch, the series will arrive on Fox in 2015 to hopefully cleanse the taste of After Earth. And The Last Airbender. And The Happening. And Lady in the Water. And from our mouths as Shyamalan’s assurance that he can still produce something legitimately creepy and bizarre. Is this a comeback? Maybe, and rest assured that he knows that the premise of the series, which follows a Secret Service agent (Matt Dillon) waking up on the outskirts of a town in Idaho with no recollection of getting there  — just a head injury taking care of deleting those memories — and finding himself dealing with a host of strange characters like a wacky nurse played by Queen of the crazies Melissa Leo, a spaced-out diner waitress (Juliette Lewis), a cop that doesn’t really care (Terrence Howard) and a missing woman (Carla Gugino), mirrors David Lynch’s beloved series greatly. “It struck me as having a Twin Peaks-y vibe,” Shyamalan said, according to Indiewire. […]

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