Television

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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The Last Man on Earth trailer

Here’s the only problem with Will Forte being the eponymous last man on Earth in Fox’s, uh, The Last Man on Earth: there’s no one left to laugh at his jokes. Well, except us. In Fox’s upcoming high concept comedy, series creator and writer Forte plays Phil Miller (and, yes, that’s definitely a play on the names of producers and pilot directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller – yes, that Phil Lord and Chris Miller, so obviously you should be clearing your calendar for this one ASAP), the last man on Earth. Probably. Most likely. And we get to watch. As the show’s official website tells us: “The year is 2022, and after an unlikely event, only one man is left on earth: PHIL MILLER (Forte), who used to be just an average guy who loved his family and hated his job at the bank. Now, in his RV, Phil searches the country for other survivors. He has traveled to every city, every town and every outpost in the United States, Mexico and Canada, and has found no one, which leads him to the painful realization that he is almost certainly the last living being on the face of the earth.” Let’s imagine the (hilarious, but also heartbreaking) future after the break.

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A to Z on NBC

Yes, Constantine has fancy CG fire effects, a perfect lookalike of the comic book hero and a granny who is not satisfied with her dark chocolate pudding so she sprays it from every orifice (gross!). But did you know NBC has other shows coming to the network this fall? A bevy of new televised series, which range from “might be funny” to “will certainly not be funny,” with varying degrees of whether that’s intentional or not. Conveniently, the network dropped a whole bunch of other trailers alongside its scruffy UK demon hunter, so we can peruse them all in quick succession and decide just what’s worth watching and what should be scoured from the earth and never spoken of again. New NBC shows, ahoy! Let’s start alphabetically, with the surprisingly-apt-title-for-this-situation, A to Z.

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BBC America

It’s a sad norm in the world of television that narrative shortcuts are made solely for the sake of time and to ensure certain beats are hit before the next commercial break. The best writers learn how to fit everything they need into the allotted time and in a logical fashion. Others seem to care less about how exactly they get from point A to point C and just hope viewers either don’t notice or don’t care. Which brings me to the most recent episode of Orphan Black. There are some pretty big moments here that scream lazy writing in the interest of hitting certain dramatic beats, and I’m not giving them a pass. Thankfully though, while they might be enough to sink an episode of a lesser show their effect is overpowered and overshadowed by the absolute brilliance and execution of the final minutes.

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Constantine Trailer

ABC has already gotten into the Marvel serialization game in a big way by bringing us their story of Agent Coulson magically coming back from the dead and manning his secret organization once again, Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., and now by picking up the 1940′s noir throwback starring the most badass lady spy on the planet to ever steal a supersoldier’s heart, Agent Carter. Fox will soon be joining the DC family with Gotham Babies Gotham, the prequel Batman series that chronicles Commissioner Gordon’s time working in the plagued city before gaining power and influence and a mustache. So it’s about damn time that NBC, that network that’s not doing too well right now, hops on the comic book train and starts adapting like, pronto. They recently announced that they’ve chosen to go DC (ride or die), and take on the story of one John Constantine (from the comic Hellblazer) with the new series Constantine, coming to the network this Fall. A very thorough, three-minute trailer lays it all out for us; Superman and Wonder Woman this ain’t.

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Game of Thrones spoilers: season 4, episode 6

“But now the rains weep o’er his hall,with no one there to hear.” It was quite the eventful week on Game of Thrones, so let’s talk some spoilers. But first, some ground rules for our spoilers discussion. Rule #1: if you don’t want to be spoiled with book knowledge, wild speculation, unfettered access to wikis and message boards and other guesswork informed by our deep analysis of George R.R. Martin’s psyche, you may want to stop reading. No really, stop here where it’s safe. Rule #2: Always choose trial by combat.

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Game of Thrones: The Laws of Gods and Men

This review includes a show-only discussion of Game of Thrones through season four, episode six, “The Laws of Gods and Men.” No book spoilers in the comments — we’ll have another thread for that. Beyond that, please feel free to discuss.  You have to hand it to the writers of Game of Thrones — most notably this week’s episode scribe Bryan Cogman, who serves as the show’s story editor — they have done a masterful job of throwing three seasons of working formula out the window and delivered a sneaky, slithery, brilliantly gut-punchy fourth season. If season four has accomplished any one thing by this, its sixth episode, it has been limiting the waiting game. It’s not about one big ninth episode this year. Each frame of season four has given the audience some pause, and a reason to discuss at length. This week is no exception.

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Oliver Platt in Fargo

Just when I’m thinking that the Supermarket King storyline is worthless, this week it ties the Fargo series to its movie namesake. There was a tease in last week’s episode with the ice scraper in the office of Stavros (Oliver Platt), and now “Eating the Blame” opens with a flashback to 1987, which is the year in which the Fargo movie takes place. Funny, I just finally re-watched the movie the other day and was left wondering if someone would ever find the cash that Steve Buscemi’s character buries. Here’s the answer: Stavros found it miraculously in a moment of despair and used it to become grocery store royalty. I wonder if that will be the only link we get. It’s not important if it is or isn’t. What is important, at least this week, is the idea that miracles and plagues can be mistaken for each other. The finding of the money was a sure sign that “God is real” to Stavros, and it’s hard to argue that for 19 years it had to have seemed truly heaven sent. But he’s also likely had two decades of contemplating whether the briefcase belonged to someone and whether he’d be in trouble for taking it. The answer appeared to come in the form of the extortion note, completely accidental on the part of blackmailer Don (Glenn Howerton). And that it is accompanied by Biblical plagues of water turning to blood and locusts (really crickets, in a really great scene) makes it all the […]

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