Wednesday, March 28, 2012

A Mad Men Three Way ... Podcast Vol. 1: Zou Bisou, Bisou

They should have called the "Mad Men" Season 5 premier "Introducing Megan." Jessica Pare earned her spot as one of the show's leads. The Three Way crew -- Paul the accountant, Rebecca the librarian and Dan the newsman -- discuss Megan's coming out party.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Talkin' 'Boardwalk Empire'




By PAUL RUSSELL
TV Talkin' Blog Duke of Depreciation
 
Boardwalk Empire” is the show that is probably grabbing the most buzz this fall TV season. That is by design, HBO will spend money on an extravagant show as the people who order HBO are spending sizable entertainment dollar for the purpose of experience something grand, something to talk about at the water cooler or eating out. HBO shows such as “Rome" or the “Sopranos” or “Deadwood” were equally big splashes. “True Blood” has been a hit but not a extravagant production. “Empire” is a response to the success of shows on AMC and FX.

“Empire” has a huge boardwalk set and it provides beautiful sets. Martin Scorsese directs the pilot and the cinematography, the costumes, and technical elements feel movie quality. Episode two, directed by Terrence Winter, the creator feels just as good, perhaps absent a few Scorsese flourishes but no matter.

As far as the show itself, it is a historical depiction of the rise of the mob in the prohibition set chiefly in Atlantic City.  New York and Chicago mob interests are shown as well as the G-men assigned to combat them. It almost feels easier to describe “Empire” in terms of its HBO predecessors. I am as big a fan of HBO as I am loathe to appreciate facts. Steve Buscemi is as good here as he was in the "Sopranos." He plays many roles here and well but that should be no surprise as I feel he was nuanced in "Sopranos" as well. The cast and plot is cluttered as the show begins while still enjoyable, much like "The Wire" felt confusing to know characters but that would not prevent you from being interested in them. “Empire” has some of the same dark humor and frontier violence of “Deadwood,” a personal favorite. The acting feels strong across the board.

The only actor I want to mention is Kelly Macdonald, the actress who plays wife to a drunk half employed baker. Hers is an interesting character and I am not sure where it is going. Most gangster shows are filled with gangster anti-heros, their women who have to embrace their lifestyle and the men pursuing them. Her husband is killed early on, she loses her baby from a beating from him and she rejects mob leaders Buscemi’s offer of money…although she seems willing to accept a job and feels a certain attraction to him. Her character is the lone figure that represents the perils of drinking and Sopranos had few innocents so I am curious where she fits in. I enjoyed her work as the young wife in “No Country for Old Men” and the new servant in Robert Altman’s “Gosford Park”, both roles where she kind of represents the innocent newcomer or the audience perhaps. I look forward to her performances.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Talkin' TV fall TV cop shows

We might as well put a picture of a hot chick on top of the blog. That's as likely to get somebody to click on this thing as actual researsh, reporting and writing. Ethics are for journalism students.

Paul: Dano!

Dan: Hey pal, Want to talk cop shows?

Paul: Much like the five-tool player or the "war of five kings" in George RR Martin's "A Song of Ice and Fire Fantasy" series. (Soon to be on HBO.) 

Dan: Geez. Do you get a kickback every time you mention HBO on this blog or in conversation with me? If so, I want a piece of that.

Paul: Fine, we will discuss your five new cop shows.


Paul: OK. Most cop shows are procedurals. Which of these has the best story framework.

Dan: I should say that as a consequence of my work, I have trouble with most cop shows because they are so patently unbelievable.

Paul: Sure. In college, Noc and my physics roomate's pharmacy girlfriend would dissect "ER."

Dan: So, for a cop show to work for me, it's got to have a fantasy level that engages me beyond the standard cliches. This is why I could enjoy "24" even though it's plots were increasingly absurd.

Paul: That makes me think "Hawaii Five-0" works.

Dan: You're right.

Paul: It is illogigical, but the theme song is cool. James Caan's son, Scott Caan, is charaismatic like his dad. There is a hot Asian chick.

Dan: "Hawaii Five-0" makes a small action movie every week.It's replete with buddy cop one-liners, explosions, car chases and bikinis. This is all that a man can ask for from a television show.

Paul: these guys are having fun. So you enjoy it. "Chase," on the other hand, is she having fun?

Dan: "Chase" is godawful. The lead woman is brooding and hard-faced.The shows cliches — such as it taking forever to trace a telephone call — just add to its failure as fiction.
  I can almost see the writers' meeting. "I know, let's have a hot chick star in a cop show." After that, the thinking pretty much stopped. That show is junk. It's like an off-brand cereal. You wanted delicious Lucky Charmes, buy you got the tasteless Magic Oats.

Paul: OK, what about "Blue Bloods?" I believe you found this surprisingly enjoyable.
 
Dan: Yes. There are a lot of cop families. That's a believable premise. I'm sort of tired of shows about crime families. Tom Seleck plays a good grizzled patriarch who juggles being a father of cops and the chief of police. The supporting cast is believable and the tensions between family members are played out honestly. In the pilot, there's a Sunday dinner in which the family end up arguing about work. Two or three family members storm out of the room. Selleck says, "Well, I've got a good piece of hind quarters here" holding up pork roast on a fork. 

Paul: OK. So how are the cop cases in "Blue Bloods?" 

Dan: OK. In the pilot, there is a kidnapping. One of the son's, a detective, beat up a suspect to find out where the girl was hidden. The assistant d.a., which is a daughter in the family and the cop's sister, can't prosecute because his confession was obtained illegally. This leads to a big argument at Sunday dinner.
Paul: It is a good storyline for moral ambiguity.

Dan: It's an issues story that's discussed evenhandedly and thoughtfully with both sides divided within the same family at the same table. That's politics in 21st century America if I've ever seen it.

 Dan: A subplot in the episode involves the youngest son becoming a cop even though his older brother was shot and killed in the line of duty. The youngest cop is approached by internal affairs agents to help investigate a secret society within the police department that may have had his brother killed.

Paul: Good grief. That feels like a little too much going on.

Dan: Yeah, I sometimes felt a little overwhelmed. Not every case in the department centers around this family.

Paul: OK. We like “Five-O.” “Chase” can go chase it’s own tale. “Blue Bloods” is good, solid fare, like a good Sunday pot roast dinner. “Detroit 1-8-7?”

Dan: The problem with "1-8-7" is that I've seen "The Wire." I know what a cop show set in a decaying American city looks like. It isn't "Detroit1-8-7." The police force and the city has cartoonish racial diversity. More than 65 percent of Detroit cops are black. Why doesn’t the show reflect that? It’s almost as bad as marketing materials from a college in which you see three minority kids smiling with one white kid. There’s an Indian guy, a black guy on the verge of retirement (oddly, not played by Danny Glover) and some quirky white guy who has interpersonal problems. The first episode is about a white spree killer. This happens in the world, but more than 75 percent of all homicides go unsolved in Detroit. I would watch a show about a department who can barely keep up with homicides. Real drama is how cops handle the pressure to solve crimes and a crumbling city infrastructure, budget and so on.

Paul: That show was called "Homicide"

Dan: And "The Wire."

Paul: Right. Both by the same guys set in another decaying city, Baltimore.

Dan: This is a show that plays quasi-Motown blues music over montages of generic streets and has the case-of-the-week flavor of "Law & Order" without the accompanying entertainment. “Detroit 1-8-7” just insults me. The world doesn't look like this. It doesn't work like this. If you're going to use the name Detroit, then act like the city. Don't give me some ordinary garbage and pretend it’s special because Detroit is in the name. This show is so weak it could set in Des Moines.

Paul: OK. “Law & Order: Los Angeles.”

Dan: I like it the way I like "Law & Order" and "Law & Order: SVU." Why? Because I like fish sandwiches from McDonald's. I know exactly what they are. I know exactly how they taste. And it doesn't really matter where I get them, whether its New York or L.A. or Des Moines.

Paul: Dick Woolf is an old pro. Alan Sepinwall, my idol, claims the cast is uninteresting. “Law & Order” embraced New York. L.A. is too pretty to have crime. If I want to watch hot people in a crime show, “Hawaii Five-0" is a better bet.

Dan: I stand by my McLaw&Order take.

Paul: So, in the final analysis, are you going to watch any of these shows going forward?

Dan: “Hawaii Five-0” is a certainty. “Blue Bloods,” too. “Chase” and “Detroit 1-8-7” were dead on arrival for me. I’ll probably just watch “Law & Order: Los Angeles” in a TNT marathon some Sunday. And there’s always Retro TV reruns of my favorite cop show of all time, “Adam-12.”

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Talkin' "Mad Men" season four finale predictions



By DANIEL "Paragraph Paragon" FINNEY and PAUL "Spreadsheet Sultan" RUSSELL
TV Talkin' Blog Bandwidth Abusers

Paul: Mad Men Season Finale Predictions
1. Bert Cooper comes back. Maybe Don has to do a little butt-kissing, but Bert softens a little.
  2. We see Sal.
 Dan: That would be nice. Sal gives up his  body so they can have Lucky Strike back.
 Paul: I think the tobacco slave ship has sailed
  3. Their is a marriage proposal, but not Don-Faye. Peggy-weird filmmaker dude
 4. There is a fissure with Pete and the in-laws. A Pete divorce, sets up Pete-Peggy next year. Pete has been kicked around by his own family these, then these in-laws. I think he stands up for himself. It would complete the Redemption of Pete. 
 5. The firm survives somehow, but I am not sure how.Bonus Prediction: Betty's husband has a secret Betty finds out about.
  
 Dan: 1. Don proposes to Megan.
2. Pete lands a huge account, becomes a full partner.
3. The firm lands American Cancer Society, which is worth $25 million in annual billings due to Don's letter.
4. Roger dies.
  5. Joan kept the baby.
  Bonus prediction: Betty has cancer.
Paul: Wow. I like it. We can get a cancer poster with Betty on it. One side has her dazzling in the fur coat. The other has a hagged out, cancer-ridden Betty, specially portrayed by Sarah Jessica Parker.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Talkin' The CW's "Hellcats"


By PAUL RUSSELL
TV Talkin' Blog Sultan of Spreadsheets

Hellcats” is a new show on the The CW this year, a mix of the movies “Election” and “Bring it On” in simple terms.

Where “Outsourced” took a formula from the 2006 movie it is based on and stripped away its thin pleasures, the pilot of “Hellcats” shows our central character watch “Bring It On” to prepare for her cheerleader audition. “Hellcats” is not afraid to take what works from another show. To openly admit it is a nice note, as it is what the audience is thinking anyway.

Most shows work on one of two levels. There is the procedural with a compelling story each week: “LA Law,” “NYPD Blue,” “ER.” The action or story each week keeps the audience interested and the actors and dialogue hopefully is enjoyable but it is not the focus.

Then you have the show where writing and characters are more important. “According to Jim” is inane but Jim Belushi is a lovable guy. Be it “Seinfield” or “Cheers“ or “How I Met Your Mother,” you want to like the characters and the stories give them a chance to do something amusing. Barney Miller does not require compelling crime.

Mad Men” has little going on for episodes. “Breaking Bad” has a relatively simple story line, and “Rubicon” has story that does not always work, but these AMC shows have characters that are compelling.

Some shows are a mix, either they do both well or survive in the middle. “Bring it On” has a simple storyline but it is nice to see Kristen Dunst fall for the good guy and fit into the complex social stratosphere of a cheerleading team at a new school.

“Hellcats” has those character elements in place: the new cheerleader who lost her scholarship and is forced to cheer, the idealistic team captain with grudging respect for the new girl, the poisonous cheerleader whose status is in danger.

These are tried and true characters but they can work. “Hellcats” works in a way that the new “Nikita” fails and it is hard to describe why. “Glee” has storyline elements in the way “The OC” “The Office” and other shows in this space do and so does “Hellcats:” the first few episodes have an important competition, bonding with the squad, family issues, the idealistic and naïve cheerleader dates the new girl’s guy friend.

Somehow these stories work as “Nikita” failed to give their attractive stars something to do. “Hellcats” also compares to “High School Musical,” watching young people start out in life holds a nostalgic appeal and the hope of new beginnings.

As a Memphis native, I feel compelled to mention the setting. There are shows that make excellent use of their surroundings: “Miami Vice,” “NYPD Blue,” a show like “John from Cincinnati.”

Entourage” and “Making it in America” can sometimes fail completely in terms of story characters and writing and the atmospherics provide some enjoyment. Memphis has had a recent growth in its entertainment industry: “Walk the Line,” “Hustle and Flow,” there is a MTV show based on local music scene. “The Firm” started things rolling.

Memphis Beat” is set here and Jason Lee gives episodic monologues about confessing and cooperating with cops for the honor of Memphis, but there is scant evidence of Memphis as a compelling reason to do anything in that show.

“Hellcats” shows Beale Street. There are Mississippi River views. I think some filming takes place at Rhodes College, but regardless it is a nice southern collegiate setting for the campus scenes. The new girls mom ingratiates herself with barbecue and someone is mentioned as coming from Millington, home of Justin Timberlake. In the third episode, the date, our naïve cheerleader appears to get smashed on hurricanes, presumably at the Pat O’Briens on Beale street. These are
nice touches.

So if you are fan of teen soap operas or character shows where the action is like a “Glee” or “Community” or “High School Musical” you may enjoy “Hellcats.” It is a show that does not command must view status but one I will enjoy in the background doing chores around the house.

Talkin' Fox-TV's "Lone Star" blues




By DANIEL P. FINNEY and PAUL RUSSELL
TV Talkin' Blog Staff Writers

Paul the accountant and Dan the newsman give in-depth analysis of Fox-TV's critically acclaimed, surefire hit "Lone Star."

Dan: I  watched the first episode of "Lone Star." Paul: Yeah. "Lone Star" was a good pilot. Dan: I was surprised by how much I enjoyed it given how contrived the plot is. I'm looking forward to the next episode. Paul: It has been canceled. Dan: Really? Wow.  Paul: Two episodes and dead. These shows are expensive. You can throw some reality thing on. I don't know. Dan: Well, never mind then. Paul: Yeah.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Talkin' NBC's "Outsourced" ... sort of


By PAUL RUSSELL
TV Talkin' Blog Staff Writer

This review of “Outsourced” will serve as more than that, as the show does not merit a lot of
attention and if I introduce myself and my methods now, by contrast with “Outsourced” they may
seem exemplary in comparison.

First methodology, I am not going to actually watch this show.

I mean to employ a kind of applied or theoretical science. Like chaos theory in mathematics that looks for trends or patterns in randomness or the Heisenberg uncertainty principle where fairly accurate but never precise assumptions are made about particles by the waves from an electron microscope, my methodology does not represent hard science.

I am going to look at the 2006 "Outsourced" movie and extrapolate. I will see an "Outsourced" commercial or media picture of the cast, and reason that if this slice of the show is this bad the trend of the whole show is bad.

If critics look at the show and hold up there nose as if smelling rancid curry, I could watch this show and lend precision to my own review but my own feelings would range from “horrid” to "unwatchable."

The good thing about TV or film criticism is it is not going to be far wrong. If something gets a C+, you might give it a D or a B but rarely an A or F. By all accounts “Outsourced” is an F that is “Plan Nine from Outer Space” bad that critics are enjoying firing off shots at like fish in a barrel. The idea of reviewing a show without watching it provides some insight into myself in that I frown on facts, they are often unamusing and get in the way of a better imagined scenario of events.

If “Outsourced” is bad, it can be examined the same way one looks at the Edsel or a roadside car crash or as a cautionary tale, studied like the "Fall of the Roman Empire."

The 2006 "Outsourced" movie I have seen and it was mildly amusing. It mined the realities of corporate outsourcing, cultural differences between east and west and a "Pride and Prejudice"-style love story with a hot Indian woman. If you are a studio exec weighing the merits of a show, you have elements here to work with.

Except the male lead is not endearing and has no backstory, the cultural differences are not examined seriously except for the most obvious retread jokes and no effort was put into examining corporate outsourcing in a serious way as this is a lighthearted network comedy.

Network TV will not have an unclothed hot Indian woman either. The movie had slight amusements and those elements have been removed. Season 2 of "The Wire" dealt with the decline of the American city in some detail and most fans of "The Wire" liked Season 2 the least and "The Wire" had a small fan base to begin with. So instead global economic trends are treated with whimsy, a “Dude, Where’s my Job?” for the small screen. I am confused how this show moved past the idea stage.

While “Outsourced” is of slim interest, I would like to introduce a concept of Top Five lists related in some way to what is being reviewed. This may be a crummy show but the top five list may point to something better.

Top Five Dramatic Productions Glamorizing Something Not Really that Glamourous:

1. "Annie" — Orphan is adopted by Daddy Warbucks. Lots of song and dance numbers in an
orphanage. I also like the name Warbucks, equating wealth and war.

2. "Miss Saigon" — A musical set in Vietnam, very romantic

3. "Rent" — The carefree existence of idealistic artists struggling with Aids and discrimination
against sexual orientation. Rent portrays life as gritty and unfair for these “artists”, so the
depiction is not unrealistic just glamorized as noble. Even white people try to stay health
and concern themselves with status in society, why are those issues more evocative to
artist?

4. "Dude, Where is my Car?" — Two hung-over white kids try to find their car and to order fast
food. See, white people have problem too.

5. "Roger and Me" – Oh wait, this was actual good. Before Michael Moore championed every noble left wing cause, this picture took a look at Flint Michigan, a town in decline due to a fading American auto industry. Michael Moore pursues an interview with GM CEO Roger Smith, a failed and pointless endeavor. Interviewing an auto CEO was not going to bring back the prosperous past or even secure a better future, but it was a sweet and non-glamorous endeavor in the vein of "Don Quixote." If you are interested in the human face of jobs moving across the globe or the American city, this is a good one to watch.

Top Five Lines of Dialogue Related to the Domestic Arts:

1. Wax On, Wax Off – "Karate Kid" blue collar martial arts training regime, long before "Kill Bill."

2. Out, Out, Damned Spot – Some kind of spot in some clothes that relates to a treacherous act, courtesy of Shakespeare. I would provide more facts here except I am not high on facts as mentioned earlier and high school English class was filled with English writers and American writers fancying themselves English was filled with scarlet letters and portraits of dorian gray and seven gables with scarlet letters on them, one metaphor representing the shame of masturbation runs together with the next metaphor.

3. Halluh! – Not precisely dialogue related to cleaning something, but in "Mrs. Doubtfire,"
plucky dad Robin Williams puts his face in a lemon merriange pie to maintain his undercover identity with Sally Field and he can stay close to his family. I would have liked Robin to choke on some pie crust in production, to spare us the afterbirth of the whole "Medea" Tyler Perry empire. If there is a "Top Five Worst Legacy" list in future, Mrs. Doubtfire would make my list.

4. <blank> - Did anything noteworthy happen in "Mr. Mom" or "Maid to Order?" How about "Mr.Belvedere," "Whose the Boss?" Or the Fran Drescher sit-com? I will do some research by
watching the "Whose the Boss" adult-themed parody.

5. "You scrub the elephant, then you wash the elephant. You wash it, then you scrub it." —This is a line of dialogue (or fairly close) by Hrundi V. Bakshi as played by Peter Sellers in “The Party”, a Blake Edwards comedy. If you are looking for ridiculous Indian related jokes, you should see this film. No one does absurd humor like Sellers and Edwards. The humor should be no less dated than in “Outsourced”.

So in summary, “Outsourced” is bad. I recommend the 2006 movie or "Roger and Me" or "The Party." Also, "A Passage to India" for east-west relations.

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