Boardwalk Empire: “The Ivory Tower”
Scott: Of course I loved the Boardwalk Empire pilot. Who wouldn’t love a show about gangsters on HBO with an A-list cast from a Sopranos veteran with the director of GoodFellas at the helm that cost more than every other pilot of the season combined? But everybody knew that pilot would be genius; I was much more interested to see where episode 2 went when Martin Scorsese was off winning Oscars. With all the introductions and pleasantries out of the way, we finally get to see just what kind of a show Boardwalk Empire is going to be, and if it’s more of what I saw Sunday night, well, count me in. Episode 2 is actually much better written than episode one, letting us see Van Alden as more than a generic cop, Jimmy as more than a generic hood, and Nucky as more than a generic don. When the show was in development there were worries about this being a Sopranos retread, but if there’s any HBO precedent for Boardwalk Empire it’s Deadwood. Both are shows feature complex characters that would be treated as one dimensional heroes and villains by lesser talents, both are period pieces with incredibly elaborate sets, and both are about makeshift communities of people who see themselves as rugged individualists. And despite how great the pilot was as a whole, I don’t think we got any scenes that were as memorable as the best moments from this episode: Nucky’s genial first showdown with Van Alden, the discovery of Jimmy’s mother’s surprising profession, Jimmy’s sad pilfering of his mother’s necklace, and especially Nucky’s callous and public blowing of the small fortune Jimmy just busted his ass to pull together for him.
Paul: I knew the wheels were going to start coming off sooner or later, but I didn’t expect it to happen in the second episode. The characters’ successes in the pilot unravel almost immediately. Jimmy Darmody’s fooled himself into thinking he’s bootstrapped himself into being something of a peer with Nucky, a notion of which Nucky quickly disabuses him. Money is at the core of everything, here: Jimmy’s squandering of his ill-gotten gains, then scrambling to get it all back, and also Nucky’s blythe assumption that he can solve all of Mrs’s Schroeder’s problems with envelopes of cash. It’s nice of the show to give screen time to characters who remain morally uncompromised—and in this vein, the deadpan Bureau of Internal Revenue agent Nelson Van Auden is a standout. Nucky’s $3000 gesture at the end of the episode was a great, brutal moment. Finally, I could do with fewer awkward sex scenes (ugh, “the French way,”) but I guess HBO will always be HBO.
Raising Hope: “Dead Tooth”
Armando: Greg Garcia is a master of the My Name Is Earl unvarnished story and character aesthetic. It’s charming and I get it. You know, not everyone’s house is spotless and perfect at all times. Not everyone is so damn smart and witty. Not everyone thinks and acts the same. Raising Hope is about those people.
I enjoyed the first two episodes. I mean come on, who doesn’t like a show with an episode revolving around a girl with the titular “Dead Tooth”? I laughed my ass off when the Mom (who makes me think of The Goonies every time I see her on screen) asked the young lady with the questionable tooth what everyone, including the audience, was thinking: “so what’s the deal with the rotten chopper sweetheart?” It was perfect comic timing and just awkward enough to not ruin the joke. I recommend watching the episode just for the reaction shot.
So as of right now, Raising Hope is a keeper on the DVR series list. My only concern is that after a while, it will become what My Name Is Earl became for me, just a show trying to outdo itself. Not a bad show, just a show that I became indifferent to because I already knew the formula and could see what was coming next.
Dennis: This week was the Tuesday I finally gave up on Running Wilde (OK, this was week was only its second episode but dammit, I can’t take the “telling, not showing” narration anymore), and am seriously considering giving up on Glee as well. So it’s the still-appealing Raising Hope, sandwiched in the middle of the two, that has advanced to week three of the new TV season viewing schedule for me. Last week, I highlighted many of the supporting actors (Martha Plimpton especially continued to shine brightly this week), but this week I also enjoyed the show’s fumbling father at the center of it all too (as played greatly and goofily by Lucas Neff). In fact, every character on this show was endearing this week in one way or another, including the girl in the episode’s title. Her tooth may be dead, but at least this show’s still alive.
Lone Star: “One in Every Family”
Dennis: In a parallel universe somewhere, Lone Star is a big success and Dancing with the Stars never made it past two episodes. Unfortunately, in this universe it’s exactly the opposite. I guess I should be thankful to Fox for giving me one more episode even though the ratings for the show were so dire the first week. But if Fox were really looking for me to praise them, they would’ve shipped this show off to sister network FX before it even made it to air and had the mark of a low-rated failure.
I actually liked this episode even more than the first, which is a bummer of an indication that it might’ve only gotten better from here. Bob’s dad was already getting particularly villainous (that didn’t take long) and Lindsay’s newly appeared sister was already starting to get suspicious. Oh Lone Star, may you find life somewhere else, though I’m not holding my breath. Hopefully, at least series star James Wolk finds himself a prime new role. Someone check and see if Mad Men needs another long-lost brother for Don Draper!
Robert: In this second and final episode, Bob continues his big play with the Thatchers, suspicions start to arise in Midland and his father wrestles with life in a cubicle. That’s putting it simply because, well, we’ll never know what happens after that. Maybe it was foolish to think that a show displaying the complicated moral dilemmas and level of nuance that Lone Star did would ever survive long on network television. Nevertheless, I’ll give it to creator Kyle Killen and his cast and crew for making it to air for two episodes, finding a lot of outstanding critical reception, and showing a lot of heart even after it all came tumbling down. If Lone Star were to ever find another home on another network, we’ll be there to see it through, and if not, we’ll be keeping an eye out for Killen and his future projects.
Law & Order: Los Angeles: “Hollywood”
Robert: The last time I enjoyed Law & Order with any regularity was back in the mid-‘90s when the likes of Chris Noth and Michael Moriarty were in the cast, but when I found out that Alfred Molina and Terrence Howard were on-board, I had to see if these actors—known primarily for their versatility and dedication to film roles—stood to be wasted in a series that rarely indulges in meaty character work. In a word: yes. With the first episode tackling a murder involving a young Lohan-esque actress and her plotting mother, this Law & Order variant aims squarely for the celebrity culture of Hollywood (look, it’s right there in the title!) but at its core, offers just more of the same while, perhaps because of its new location, not even feeling like Law & Order at all. I’ll go out on a limb and say that even hardcore Law & Order fans won’t find this show all that appealing.
Dexter: “My Bad”
Zoe: I’ll admit, Dexter was a show that was on the edge for me. After a mediocre season last year, I wasn’t expecting much. Least of all, was I expecting the “big change” from the season finale to mean anything. So you could have knocked me over with a feather when it turned out that the premiere of this season was, well, good. Is it the show on it’s top game? Not really, but things were much improved. For starters, it seems like Deb has taken some acting classes, the writers have decided to deal with how sociopathtic Dexter actually is. There were the usual flaws (roughly summarized as “any time Michael C. Hall isn’t on screen”), but overall it was a good start to the season. I have hope.
The Event: “To Keep Us Safe”
Armando: I’ll say it one last time, this is NOT the new LOST but it isn’t the new Flash Forward either. And it’s still better than Heroes. One thing is for sure about The Event is that it’s a plot driven spectacle where character development is in the passenger seat. And I don’t mind. I also don’t mind that if I want to dig deeper into who the characters are, I can find it on the web.
The promise of questions being answered immediately, like where the airplane went, were delivered. As far as who the “others” (see what I did there?) are, we also find out out that they are “not of terrestrial origin”. I like that description. Also, I have no problem with the time line jumping.
All in all, The Event is a fun, entertaining science fiction show. I hope it sticks around and keeps the momentum going.
Chase: “Pilot”, “Repo”
Robert: The first thing I found out about this new NBC series was that it was based in my hometown of Houston, and since that’s a pretty rare thing to see anywhere on television, I felt a certain obligation to give it a shot. The second thing I discovered was that it’s backed by Hollywood mega-producer Jerry Bruckheimer, and while that doesn’t really instill any confidence that Chase will focus on character development or involve any clever, sophisticated writing, at least it would look nice and probably have some great action elements. After seeing the first two episodes, I’m already starting to think the “manhunt of the week” formula is going to get pretty old pretty fast. In the vein of The Fugitive—a sort of spiritual counterpart, if you will—here we get US Marshals that are all about getting their man, but there doesn’t seem to be any real chemistry or personality to the proceedings. Led by Annie Marshall (Kelli Giddish) and her perpetual sneer, every character does their part in typical procedural fashion, but if it weren’t for some of the action set pieces, Chase would be a complete bore. The one standout in the cast is Jimmy (Cole Hauser) as he brings a little good ol’ boy swagger, but that gets offset by every scene with newcomer Luke (Jesse Metcalfe) where the writers, in an effort to let him serve as a proxy for the audience, proceed to have every character talk down to him. That might have worked for Tommy Lee Jones as Sam Gerard, but it rings false here.
Parenthood: “I’m Cooler Than You Think”
Armando: It’s the little things. That’s what I enjoy the most about Parenthood. There is so much over the top goofball drama on television that Parenthood’s subtle vision and display of everyday life is incredibly refreshing. I love the spoken and unspoken interaction between the characters, like when they’re doing something as simple as getting the whole family together to watch a baseball game. Good times.
There are also storylines aplenty: Crosby’s relationship with Jabbar’s grandmother and “The Church of Baseball”. The stay at home dad who is looking to find himself and make a comeback while struggling with the prospect of more Pampers and preschool. The mother/daughter relationship that is so not Gilmore Girls but kind of is. (And that isn’t a bad thing for a Gilmore Girls fanboy like me.) The whole “I’d rather be at my friends house” story thread is something I’ve seen in action with my own eyes. The overbearing mom who tries to project her rigid personality onto her daughter and the subsequent daughter backlash. It never seems confusing or jumbled as the time each storyline is given is neither too much or not enough.
I will say one thing, the older brother who everyone turns to and can do no wrong is starting to wear on me just a bit. His wanting to to interact with Max more was a bit too whiny for me. As is the whole Max story which is my least favorite and seems slightly forced at times. Both of Max’s parents need to loosen up.
Modern Family: “The Kiss”
Dennis: After much Facebook petitioning by the masses last year (and corresponding promising by the creators this summer) Mitchell and Cam finally locked lips this week (hence the episode title). The show’s writers maintained that they always planned to have this episode, where we find out that Mitchell is afraid of PDA. I’m not sure I buy that, but is it out of the realm of possibility for the character of Mitchell? No, I guess not. But when the two did finally kiss, it was in the corner of the frame, not the center of it, which still makes me feel like the creators don’t want to make the show’s viewers too uncomfortable by a big, gay lip lock. But hey, now that Mitchell is seemingly “cured” of his aversion to showing affection, let’s hope folks won’t have to campaign again for a year for a second smooch.
Zoe: After a week that was groan-inducing, but at least different, House is back to its old tricks, along with the Cuddy/House plot line that, yes, I could do without. I’ll give them credit for handling it well, but it’s not necessarily something I want to see the show spend a lot of time on. That said, I want to see them spend time on the patient of the week even less, so at least this week they spent more time dealing with the drama than the dancing girl from the Missy Elliott videos. I may not be able to have my cake and eat it to, he tightrope balance is working. For now.
It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia: “The Gangs Buys a Boat”
Scott: Most of today’s sitcom humor is based on awkwardness and uncomfortable situations, and Sunny gleefully subverts those modern standards every week. It constantly sets up those embarrassing situations, moments that would make a normal person squirm with nervous laughter. But the Sunny gang is so brazen and classless that they’re either oblivious to what normal social discourse is or see themselves as perpetually above the fray, casting aspersions at their enemies for being the stupid ones. This week’s “The Gang Buys a Boat” was an instant classic that found everyone in top form: Frank destroying a boat with a very small sledgehammer, Mac being creeped out by Dennis’ weird fantasies about women’s desperation on a boats in the middle of the ocean, Charlie eating barnacles and calling them “delicious little oysters”, and Dee realizing that her dancing was very close to that of a gas station inflatable… thing. And then the whole thing literally goes up in flames. It’s Sunny at its anarchic and inexplicably optimistic best.
Stargate Universe: “Intervention”
Robert: One of my favorite new shows from last year, Stargate Universe did some inventive things with the “lost in space” formula, experimented with storytelling methods and didn’t flinch when characters found themselves in tough moral dilemmas. That’s all well and good, but I was curious to see if the show could keep that momentum going. Last season’s finale ended with a cliffhanger, but it was an awkward one at that, seemingly truncated in mid-thought, and while that made for a frustrating wait over the summer, seeing Destiny and her passengers back is a welcome treat. Except something feels off just a hair. The action picks up right where we left off, but one too many contrivances crept up to resolve everything, at least for my taste. When it looked like several main characters had been painted into a corner, they now were suddenly saved or absolved from their burdens. The way TJ’s pregnancy was handled was understandable (actress Alaina Huffman was actually pregnant during the first season; not anymore) but to introduce aliens into the fold was really walking the line, I thought. Still, I’m impressed with SGU in that it instantly feels like I’m watching a show that takes place in some distant future where spacecraft can travel faster than light, but all it takes is a well-placed Facebook reference to remind me that the Stargate universe is set very much in the present—and yet, very much on the edge.
Cougar Town: “Let Yourself Go”
Dennis: I really do enjoy Cougar Town (not so much the title, but even the show’s creator has admitted he hates it on numerous occasions, so I’ll let it slide). I think after watching this week’s episode (just a bit after finally catching last week’s on Hulu) I finally determined that I like this show because the people on it seem to actually enjoy eachother’s company. Say what you want about Courtney Cox’s other successful show, Friends, but that cast did often times seem like they were genuinely friends in real life (hence Cox’s ability to get both Lisa Kudrow and Jennifer Aniston to guest last season and last week, respectively). This week’s episode was mostly about Jules having to say goodbye to college-bound Travis, and while their relationship gets borderline creepy, it still ended sweet nonetheless. But the best part of this episode, was all the characters playing along with a neighbor’s assumption that baby Stan had died, just so they could get grief perks from the neighbor. (My favorite line, a shocked Grayson upon finding out he was an unwilling participant in the rouse: “I ate dead baby lasagna?”) OK, that sounds horrible, but as Seinfeld and It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia have also taught us, horrible things people do are often times also the funniest.
How I Met Your Mother: “Cleaning House”
Zoe: I think it was Alan Sepinwall (of course) who noted that this season is showing itself less to be the story of how Ted meets his kids’ mother (a story I am increasingly less interested in) and instead the story of how Barney grows up (a story I care about). While HIMYM definitely plays with sitcom tropes a lot (to its benefit and detriment) it works best when they can back them with a lot of heart. And for a show that can fall way into stunt guest casting, it’s nice to have two stars come back to play Barney’s odd, but functional and loving, family. I don’t think every episode needs to deal with Barney’s obvious issues, but I’m glad they’re not relegating them to the background either.