Monday, November 30, 2009

The Wire: 100 Greatest Quotes

My friend MB recently forwarded me this collection of the 100 greatest quotes from the Wire.  I write a blog about LOST, but the Wire will always be my favorite show.  I've never seen anything quite like it and doubt I ever will again.  Watching these clips in quick succession took me back to when I was mainlining the the entire series on DVD, watching two, sometimes three, episodes at a time:

My only complaint is that the selections include almost no quotes from the kids.  We see Randy and Michael, but no Namond or Dukie.  I found these kids to be some of the most compelling characters on the Wire.  They're what makes Season 4 arguably the best of the show.  I would have loved to see at least one more glimpse of them clowning around on the corner or with Mr. Pryzbo in the classroom.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Friday Morning Quarterback...

Every Friday morning I do a brief writeup and review of shows I watched the night before, including FlashForward, Fringe, the Office, 30 Rock, Survivor, and Parks and Recreation.  There will be spoilers about what happened, so consider yourself forewarned.

FLASHFORWARD: Another limp offering that made the mistake of rehashing someone's vision for the umpteenth time.  In this case, it was Bryce, who's one of my least favorite characters so far.  I did, however, like the twist involving Keiko's vision, which revealed their meeting will take place in LA, not Tokyo.  I know all signs point to Demitri as the mole, but I still wonder...what if it was Gough?  Finally, memo to Sonya Walger: you look stunning without makeup.  Go with the natural look more often!

FRINGE: A satisfying installment that advanced the mythology substantially.  I saw the whole "love" thing coming a mile away, but I still liked how they handled it, particularly the surrogate parent angle.  Apparently, the Observers are not supposed to intervene, which surprises me.  I had them pegged as a more activist influence on historical events.  On that note, how hilarious were those photoshopped images of the Observers throughout history? 

THE OFFICE:  I think this may be my favorite episode of the season thus far.  Jim disciplining Ryan by putting him in the closet without internet or social interaction was hilarious.  And Oscar chickening out when Michael called him up to the executive suite was the show at its best.  We get this big windup that primes us for some trite speech by Oscar about how to rescue the company.  And then the show completely subverts that expectation by denying us the cliche in a way that was also completely in character with Oscar.  Brilliant!

30 ROCK: Review forthcoming...

  And the best season of Survivor in quite some time keeps getting better.  Russell's discovery of a third immunity idol blew my mind.  He's a brilliant player for sure but his attempts to sabotage camp are just stupid. That's a high-risk low-reward strategy if I ever saw one.  Speaking of strategy, I can't decide if John's decision to change his vote made sense.  On the one hand, his former tribe mates clearly signaled their willingness to sacrifice him.  On the other, he'll likely do no better than sixth with Russell's crew.

PARKS AND RECREATION: Review forthcoming...

As always, you're welcome to post anonymously, but please identify yourself somehow, so I can distinguish between anonymous posters. Thanks!

Monday, November 16, 2009

The Prisoner: Guarded Optimism

Color me guardedly optimistic after watching the first two episodes of the new Prisoner mini-series.  Jim Caviezel is no Patrick McGoohan, but who is?  The remake is a bit broader in scope, touching on the lives of other people in the Village besides Number Six and his interrogators.  But it does capture at least some of the ambiguous weirdness of the original, which was my main concern.  Currently, my theory is that a number of people are hooked up to a virtual reality machine, though I really hope I'm wrong. What do you all everybody think thus far?

Update: November 19, 2009

I finally got around to watching the last two episodes of the mini-series yesterday.  After sleeping on it for a night, here's my take.  And wouldn't you know, this interpretation is heavily influenced by LOST.  Number Two is basically like Kelvin Inman, with Number Six as his Desmond David Hume.

Some years ago, Number Two's wife, M2, discovered a plane of existence that can only be accessed subconsciously.  She created the very first Village in her own mental image.  That's why wraps are so ubiquitous -- they're her favorite food.  Two and M2 recognized the therapeutic potential of the Village as a mental respite from the material world.  The couple hatched a plan to bring mentally troubled souls to the Village, where their minds could be healed by the simple virtues of small-town life. 

Six's job at Summakor was to find appropriate subjects for therapy through his surveillance.  One such subject was Number 147, who exists as a driver in both NYC and the Village.  It's not completely clear why 147 is in the Village, but his NYC incarnation alludes in passing to getting his daughter back soon.  The implication is that he temporarily lost custody of her through some fault of his own -- probably abuse.  Maybe 147's subconscious was sent to the Village for therapy to resolve his anger issues.

Unfortunately, the Village reality could only be sustained at a terrible price.  As a mental construct of M2, it depended on her dreams to exist.  That's why the holes began opening when she awoke -- the fabric of Village reality was eroding with her every waking minute.   This forced Two to keep M2 in a state of almost constant sedation and REM sleep.  What was supposed to be their escape, where the couple could raise the son they weren't able to have in the material world, became their prison instead. 

We're led believe that Six is the Prisoner, striving mightily to escape.  In my view, however, the real prisoners are Two and M2. Most of what we see is Two's plan to manipulate Six into taking over for M2 as the Village dreamer.  The analogy here is to Kelvin's attempt to dupe Desmond into assuming Swan button duty on LOST.  Ultimately, Two succeeds by exploiting Six's love for Number 313, and the latter two become the new Two and M2.  At least, that's my interpretation -- what do you all everybody think?

As always, you're welcome to post anonymously, but please identify yourself somehow, so I can distinguish between anonymous posters. Thanks!

Friday, November 13, 2009

Friday Morning Quarterback...

Every Friday morning I do a brief writeup and review of shows I watched the night before, including FlashForward, Fringe, the Office, 30 Rock, Survivor, and Parks and Recreation.  There will be spoilers about what happened, so consider yourself forewarned.

FLASHFORWARD: The Hobbit continues to be a poor choice for a bad guy.  Good thing for the show that I'm convinced he and Simcoe actually had nothing to do with causing the blackout.  (My money is on brilliant Ricky Jay as the bad guy.)  The poker game would have been a perfect opportunity to nerd out on quantum physics, which is all based on probability.  But besides some passing references to quantum suicide, the exchange seemed more about Simon and Llyod's relationship.  Also, I saw the star tattoo twist coming a mile away, and the "Jericho" security contractors seemed a little derivative of...well, Jericho.

FRINGE: Another decent effort in the X-Files tradition.  I liked the twist of the kid being the mind controller -- reminded me of that Twilight Zone episode where Bill Mummy plays that kid with psychic powers.  I'm also pleased when they find a way to weave an X-Files episode into the larger mythology of the show.  I'm guessing the drug was part of Massive Dynamic's attempt to create super soldiers of its own in anticipation of the final battle.  On that note, memo to Nina Sharp: you need a mirror and typewriter to communicate with the mirror reality.

THE OFFICE:  More mixed feelings about this episode.  Oscar doing an awful southern accent was one of the true laugh-out-loud moments of the season, and I think Andy awkward courtship of Erin is adorable.  But Michael was back to being mindlessly stupid, even if he was vindicated by the end of the episode.  Ordinarily, I like it when the writers switch things up by making Michael look stupid, then reveal him to be right.  Think of Michael's commercial for Dunder Mifflin.  But the payoff really has to be genius, and I didn't quite buy Jim's change of heart regarding the game.

30 ROCK: This episode started slowly, but picked up steam by the end.  Many of the best episodes deal with Jack and Lemon's (aka Lesbian Yellow Sourfruit) platonic love affair, and this was no exception.  Kenneth became a tad overexposed in the last season or two, but his psychological ploy to get Cheyenne Jackson's character (does he have a name besides "robot guy"?) to pronounce "about" like an American was hilarious.  Padma Lakshmi was a little wooden but pleasantly self deprecating.  Her "invention" of the sandwich bag hilariously evoked the rampant product placement of the Glad family of products on Top Chef.

  Last week, I suggested that Russell might be the best manipulator since Johnny Fairplay.  After finding a second immunity idol -- with no clues! -- and engineering yet another blindside, I'm prepared to say Russell is better.  How he managed to swing a 7-4 disadvantage into a 5-5 balance of power is beyond me, but it's been a thrilling pleasure to watch.  If Russell wins it all, he may well merit the title of best Survivor ever.

PARKS AND RECREATION: I think the writers probably assumed that Tom Haverford would become the star of the show.  As I mentioned last week, however, I think the funniest character on the show is Ron. His storyline involving the orgasmic shoe shine was at once hilarious and disturbing.  Andy's reaction ("What the f**k was that?!") was perfect, too. I also enjoy the way supporting characters like Jerry and Donna are starting to develop.  More of them, and less of Audrey the intern, please.

As always, you're welcome to post anonymously, but please identify yourself somehow, so I can distinguish between anonymous posters. Thanks!

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

The New V: Mirroring the Original

In the run up to the premier of the new V on ABC, the Syfy Channel has been airing the original mini-series from 1983.  The mini-series made quite an impression on me as a child, so I was curious to see how it compared with the reboot.  After watching the original, followed by the re-imagined pilot, my verdict of the latter is mixed.  It's an obvious improvement in some ways, but suffers by comparison in others.  In fact, the remake's strengths and weaknesses are basically mirror opposites of the original's.

The mini-series suffered from stilted dialogue, hammy acting, and cheesy special effects.  No storyline better exemplifies these flaws than that of young Robin Maxwell, an awkward teen who develops a crush on one of the Visitors, who eventually impregnates her.  Both the writing and her delivery are cringe worthy (e.g., "Oh my gawd!  He's looking at me!") and the birth of lizard-baby twins during the second mini-series was an unintended laugh-out-loud moment for many viewers.

The remake is far from perfect, but the acting and effects are both improved.  The teen protagonist is now Tyler Evans (Logan Huffman) a composite of Robin and Daniel, the alienated teen who collaborates with the aliens in the mini-series.  Tyler is seduced by the Visitors' hot women and cool technology.  I was a little put off by his rapid conversion, which would be more plausible if he were a meek nobody, rather than a moody rebel.  But Tyler's tour of the mother ship is one of the livelier scenes in the pilot, and I'm curious to see how the character develops.  Judging from the previews, his budding alien affair will be pivotal to the retelling.

Tyler's mother Erica is played by Elizabeth Mitchell, who credibly radiates maternal concern.  It helps that Mitchell reminds me of another '80s icon, hot hippy mom Elyse Keaton from Family Ties.  But does television really need another FBI agent as a lead?  Between Olivia Dunham on Fringe and Mark Benford on FlashForward, the field seems pretty crowded.  I would have preferred that Erica be a scientist like the blond and brainy Dr. Juliet Parrish from the mini-series, who set my pre-teen heart aflutter.

And that brings me to my main complaint with the remake -- the weak political commentary.  The mini-series was a thinly veiled allegory for the rise of German fascism.  The Visitors were Nazis, from their uniforms and Swastika-like emblem, to their use of propaganda and brainwashing.  Instead of rounding up Jews, the Visitors targeted human scientists like Dr. Parrish for persecution.  Just in case you missed the parallels, there was an elderly holocaust survivor who pointed them out and even hid a family of scientists Ann Anne Frank style in his pool house.  It was all a little heavy handed, but coherent and moving nonetheless.

The remake, by contrast, seems to be a mild allegory for 9/11.  The opening sequence explicitly references that tragedy among others, a touch I found unnecessary.  I was struck by the sight of New Yorkers gazing lamely up at the hovering space ships, which reminded me of walking up Broadway after the Towers fell and seeing people stare dumbly up at the Empire State building like they expected it to go next.  That's also the implication of the alien sleeper cells, who are literally terrorist cells as well.  Presumably, their investigation by the FBI will provide a procedural aspect to the show. 

Unfortunately, much of this thematic ground has been covered recently by FlashForward and the re-imagined Battlestar Galactica.  The latter is a particularly tough act to follow.  Much of the expository dialogue in BSG  was delivered by the super sexy Six, which helped the medicine go down.  And with due respect to Morris Chestnut, Grace Park will always be the sleeper agent of my dreams.  I think V did the right thing by giving the Visitors a backstory on Earth that predated the arrival of their ships.  But that rushed scene in the warehouse was the worst of all possible worlds -- long exposition punctuated by chaotic action.

Ultimately, the remade V is slick but is kind of soulless at its core.  Think of the exchange between reporter Chad Decker (Scott Wolf) who asks whether all the Visitors are as attractive as their leader, Anna (Morena Baccarin).  To which Anna replies, "you're not so bad yourself."  The actors look great, and the dialogue is snappy, but the end product is somehow less than the sum of its parts.  Compare that with one of my favorite scenes from the mini-series, where a high school band welcomes a local Visitor delegation with a cheesy rendition of Star Wars.  The band begins to play about 1m 15s into the clip below. 

It's painfully bad, but also earnest and real, kind of like the mini-series itself.  And there, in a nutshell, is the difference between the remake and original.  Given the choice, I think I prefer cheesy and earnest to slick and soulless.

Friday, November 6, 2009

FlashForward: The Purpose of the Flashes

 I posted this in the comments to another post, but decided it merited an entry of its own.

A persistent mystery of the show is why certain characters in the flashforwards are doing certain things in the future. Why, for example, is the FBI head sitting on the toilet if he knows that Mark will be attacked by masked gunmen elsewhere in the building? If the people in the flashforwards experienced visions of the future themselves, they would presumably behave differently. At a minimum, you would expect the FBI head to be waiting in ambush for the gunmen, rather than taking a dump.

One possibility is that the people in the flashforwards never blacked out at all. If that's the case, however, what was the FBI investigating with Mark's clue board? Other possibilities include that the FBI was investigating a planned blackout that had not yet occurred, or that Mark alone experienced a flashforward.

But there's a much simpler explanation consistent with what I perceive to be the purpose of the flashforwards. The future glimpsed therein is part of a timeline that no longer exists. In that timeline, everyone on the planet blacked out, but no one experienced flashforwards. Mark's clue board reflects the FBI's efforts to determine the cause of only the blackouts. But there's no Mosaic collective because no one experiences flashes of the future. That timeline no longer exists because, in the timeline we're watching, people experienced blackouts and flashes.

That's the key to understanding the purpose of the flash forwards. They're an effort to destroy the old timeline in which people experienced only blackouts by creating a new timeline in which people experienced both blackouts and flashes of the future.

Update: November 10, 2009

Unfortunately, it appears this speculation is probably incorrect.  As Fargus perceptively notes, the Blue Hand appears as a clue on the Mosaic Board in Mark's flashforward, confirming indirectly that most people therein experienced both blackouts and visions of the future.  On that note, I also want to preview an idea I plan to explore further in another post. 

I'm increasingly suspicious that "ghosts" like Demetri are not actually destined to die.  Quite the contrary, their blank flashforwards are like the box containing Schrodinger's cat before it's opened.  The lack of visions is a sign they're capable of altering the future glimpsed by others.  The Blue Hand parties are a systematic effort to eliminate these variables by someone who doesn't want the future to change.  Gough's leap of faith will work by allowing Celia to make some important change to the timeline.

As always, you're welcome to post anonymously, but please identify yourself somehow, so I can distinguish between anonymous posters. Thanks!

Friday Morning Quarterback...

Thursday nights are once again crowded with "must see TV" -- and not just on NBC.  So I'm starting a new feature called "Friday Morning Quarterback" here on I Hate My DVR.  Every Friday morning I'll do a brief writeup and review of shows I watched the night before, including FlashForward, Fringe, the Office, 30 Rock, Survivor, and Parks and Recreation.  There will be spoilers about what happened, so consider yourself forewarned.

FLASHFORWARD: I've made no secret of my growing displeasure with this show.  The departure of show runner Marc Guggenheim was unfortunate but probably necessary.  Last night's installment continued the annoying pattern of ending every episode with a cliffhanger.  I was also a little perplexed by the Russian roulette "test" for entry to the Blue Hand party -- what exactly was that supposed to prove?  But I couldn't help being moved by Gough's desperate attempt to change the future by killing himself.  I think the message is that the future depicted in the flashforwards can be changed, but only with great effort and sacrifice.

FRINGE: One of my favorite shows returns from the break with a decent installment in the X-Files vein.  But the show is at its best, in my opinion, when advancing the main story arc.  I think it was a mistake to end the hiatus with an episode that ignored the mythology of the show.  I understand why they did it -- serialized stories can be tough for audiences to follow.  The procedural episodes are for more casual viewers.  Still, Fringe's ratings have been dropping like a rock since moving to Thursday nights.  I wonder if the writers misread the situation and have been feeding fans the opposite of what they really want.

THE OFFICE:  Well, that was fast!  Michael dated Pam's mom for all of two episodes.  I have mixed feelings about the rapid demise of their relationship.  On the one hand, I loved last week's effort and think Linda Purl is one very sexy lady.  It seemed like they could have milked a little more humor from the situation.  On the other hand, I didn't love last night's episode.  The B storyline, involving Dwight and Andy's attempts to out-favor each other, elicited some chuckles.   But Michael's behavior at lunch was just stupid, and I hate it when they make him a one-dimensional dummy.

30 ROCK: Is 30-Rock the funniest comedy on network television?  I laugh harder at South Park, and have heard amazing things about It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia, but those are cable shows.  At one time, I would have answered the Office, without hesitation.  These days, however, I can't think of another comedy on the "big four" that so consistently tickles my funny bone.  I'm stating the obvious when I say the key to the show's success continues to be Alex Baldwin -- last night's storyline involving Jack's bedbugs was hilarious.  But Tracey and Jenna are starting to annoy me with their B storylines.  Bring back Jackie Jomp Jomp!

  I'm a huge fan of reality television shows, and Survivor is the oldest and greatest of them all.  The gorgeous high-definition shots of Samoan scenery are the main reason I DVR the show instead of watching it on-line.  But this season's cast of women may be the hottest of all time.  And two of the most attractive -- Monica and Natalie -- have defied expectations to survive until last night's merge.  As an added bonus, Russell may be the best manipulator since Johnny Fairplay. Also, it was nice to see Jaison reassert himself after his lackluster effort the week before.

PARKS AND RECREATION: Ron has become one of my favorite characters on the show, and Megan Mullally was great as one of his (ex) Tammys.  Unfortunately, I think her role is temporary, and Leslie needs a more permanent adversary to generate tension.  Greg Pikitis seems like a move in this direction, but the rival really needs to be someone else in local government.

As always, you're welcome to post anonymously, but please identify yourself somehow, so I can distinguish between anonymous posters. Thanks!