Monday
Dec052011

Monday-Morning Review Card: 'Boardwalk' and 'Homeland' are the Real 'Hell on Wheels'

TV REVIEW: Sunday nights this season are more robust with quality cable TV than at any time in recent memory. Couldn't DVR it all? Well, neither could we. But we saw most of it, and here's a brief cheat sheet to what's worth your time in reruns.

By Kenny Herzog

Claire Danes: Making us re-think this whole acting thing. (Credit: Kent Smith/Showtime) 

 

BOARDWALK EMPIRE, "UNDER GOD'S POWER SHE FLOURISHES"


It hasn't saturated the culture like Mad Men or The Sopranos, but in its second season, Boardwalk Empire has been historically good. "Under God's Power" should have been unbearable to watch in light of how things wrapped up the previous week. Instead, episode director Allen Coulter used flashbacks to help us experience Jimmy's grief over Angela and not merely witness it, while making vivid the snake-bitten couple's past and Jimmy's complex relationship with his mother. Jimmy is the heart and soul of Boardwalk, and in one sweeping hour, we get to see his heart get stolen and then shattered, and his soul wilted and warped. As usual, the show looks amazing, but the real magic trick has been how successfully they've humbled these figures and myths from our past.

BOARDWALK EMPIRE RATING: 8/10


HOMELAND, "REPRESENTATIVE BRODY"
Any fans of My So-Called Life will respond instantly when they spot the Angela Chase cry face. It's the chemical transformation that happens from Claire Danes' forehead to mouth when her character is overcome. Her eyelids flutter like a hummingbird, her lips tremble and her cheeks get tight. She doesn't exactly cry. It's more like her jawbones collapse and she dissolves like a pod person from Invasion of the Body Snatchers. And in "Representative Brody," after a particularly humiliating encounter with Brody, Carrie Matheson get a serious case of Angela Chase cry face. It hurts to watch, because she's so smart and yet there's so much she's missing, but it's only because she's human, which is what makes her and Homeland so interesting. Once again, an interrogation scene is the series' finest moment, and once again a cross-examination is staged in new environs with its own challenges and risks. The final scene was devastating, but hard not to see coming. Unless you're human and actually there, not just someone watching it on TV.
HOMELAND RATING RATING: 8/10


HUNG, "THE WHOLE BEEFALO"
It's been fun to stick with Hung and think about how far it's come, so to speak. "Beefalo" was a very good, if not totally satisfying finale. (Last week's half-hour, as was the case for many series' penultimate eps this fall, was more well-rounded and dramatic.) And if it doesn't get renewed for Season 4, whatever the hell happened to Lenore will be a truly frustrating, unresolved cliffhanger. But it was great to see Jessica have her moment, and Ray and Tanya's exchange with Charlie on the farm play out without cliche hysterics. Every character on this show is just trying to make a living, a theme of so many HBO originals, and why they always feel like the timeliest network on TV.
HUNG RATING: 7/10

 

HELL ON WHEELS, "BREAD AND CIRCUSES"

Every week, Hell on Wheels starts a bit slow, and serves up that awful opening-credits sequence, and thus inevitably tests our patience. But somehow, it sucks us back in by second scene. "Bread and Circuses" took its time letting Cullen and Elam duke it out, even though their contest wasn't symbolic of much except for one rogue Irishman's greedy motivation to fix the outcome. Even if it were a fair fight, no one's attitudes or prejudices are going to change in the cut. That much is clear. Which means it's time for Bohannan to resume his pursuit of the men who killed his wife. Seeing a bit of our nation's pre-Wild West manifest come to life week after week for our troubles isn't such a bad thing either.
HELL ON WHEELS RATING: 7/10

 

DEXTER, "RICHOCHET RABBIT"

It boded well for Season Six when Dexter caught on to Travis' psychotic ways. To quote Frank in Hellraiser, so much for the cat and mouse shit. Colin Hanks' straight-up bananas zealot is crazier than we thought, and it is good. The true depth of his mania even helps make some of his crimes (particularly the murder of his own sister) oddly easier to swallow and move on from. After a season of spiritual deliberation, Dexter's quest is quite black and white: This dude's nuts, God is dead and it's time to lay Doomsday out on a table covered with plastic. "Ricochet Rabbit" (the inane boat nicknames on this show are always the best) was nearly classic Dexter. It was focused, he was focused and the stakes were both raised and laid bare. Quinn's irresponsibility and Bautista's subsequent fate were predictable and uncomfortable, and Deb's creepy issues with her brother have "go-nowhere thread" all over them. But the Louis stuff is very interesting, and we'll see if he's either Dexter's eventual next prey or perhaps his apprentice/heir apparent. 

DEXTER RATING: 8/10

 

IN OTHER WORDS: A pretty, pretty, pretty, pretty good Sunday on TV.

SOME GREAT PRE-HOLIDAY PAYOFFS TO COME THE NEXT TWO WEEKS RATING: 9/10

THREE OF THE ABOVE SHOWS DEFINITELY COMING BACK NEXT SEASON RATING: 9/10

TIME TO LEAVE OUR OUTGOING "DARK PASSENGER" VOICE MESSAGE RATING: 666/10 

 

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Tuesday
Nov292011

They Said It, We Didn't: Kate Gosselin Won't "Compromise Morals" to "Get Paid Some Ridiculous Amount"

 

REVIEWING THE STUPID THINGS CELEBRITIES SAY: Kate Gosselin was on Access Hollywood to talk about something or other and said some highly rehearsed nonsense about money and kids and stuff.

By Kenny Herzog

Standards. Yeah, who needs 'em?

 

Welcome to REVIEWniverse's newest feature, They Said It, We Didn't. It's the feature that writes itself! Sometimes, celebrities go on TV, radio or the Interwebs and say things that make you scratch your head, hit Retweet and think, "They said it, we didn't." Or, alternatively, "Oh no she didn't, that lady is out her damn skull," except that doesn't really gel as an effective headline.

Ushering in They Said It, We Didn't is Kate Gosselin, who appeared on Access Hollywood Live this morning to talk about some coupon website she's involved with and whether she got a facelift. Ya know, the kind of intrinsically related topics most of us think about in between wrangling nearly 10 school-aged kids and hopping planes between talk-show appearances and paparazzi-swarmed marathons. 

At one point, Billy Bush (oh, Billy) asked if she'd ever take the bait and reunite with ex-hubby Jon Gosselin on-camera for the payday and publicity. Kate, reacting as if she'd never actually let a network film her family for a payday and publicity, mechanically declared, "You could offer me every last dollar on the planet. I don't work for money. I cannot compromise my morals and standards in order to get paid some ridiculous amount of money. I'll never frame another film of TV with Jon again, because I don't think it's healthy or beneficial for my kids to watch, so there's no point."

Sounding rigid and forced, as if simply miming passive-agressive PR copy (hmmmm), Gosselin handled the wholly merited question as if she were Bill Clinton denying "sexual relations with that woman" or Richard Nixon assuring a nation he was "not a crook." And, as with both those examples, we suspect that reality TV's queen mother is full of shit. 

But hey, they said it, we didn't.

 

IN OTHER WORDS: As always, celebrities think we're the stupid ones.

KATE GOSSELIN'S LACK OF SELF-AWARENESS RATING: 2/10

KATE GOSSELIN ONLY BEING 36 RATING: Yeah, and we're a totally awesome website that reviews all of pop culture with insightful wit and fearless points of view.

THEY SAID IT, WE DIDN'T "OY VEY" RATING: 8/10

 

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Wednesday
Nov232011

Food Network 'Chopped' Lunch Ladies Episode is Inspiring Tearjerker

 

TV REVIEW: In a revelatory episode, Food Network's Chopped replaces their usual fun full-of-themselves cheftestants with four down-to-Earth "lunch ladies" and the result is great TV with an emotional punch.

By Robbie Woliver

Chopped, one of TV's best food shows, had its best episode when it schooled us about lunch ladies. (Credit: Food Network)

Paying tribute to the until-this-episode thankless job of being a school lunch lady, Food Network's always-enjoyable series Chopped elevated these women to well-deserved "chef" status, in this Emmy-worthy episode.

10 moments that will make you tear-up:

1. The four contestants were not only smart and crafty cooks, they were also gracious competitors who were incredibly supportive of each other, as opposed to the usual gang of egotistical, back-biting chefs featured on the series.

2. The contestants were so honored, amazed and thrilled to be on the show, constantly commenting on how important it was to be recognized for the hard work they do as opposed to being the butt of jokes.

3. One contestant told the all-star panel of judges, which included White House Chef Sam Kass, Amanda Freitag and Marc Murphy, that being recognized on this show and by these well-regarded chef-judges was so important to their self-esteem, because in many cases lunch ladies are so lowly regarded they aren't even allowed in the teacher's lounge.

4. These women couldn't be more concerned about their students' health and well-being, and they were all incredibly knowledgable about nutrition.

5. One contestant, Cheryl Barbara, has such an impoverished group of students she services, she packs them food on Fridays in a knapsack so they have something to eat on the weekends. Their school, and her work, is the primary source of nutrition for her students, with who she seems to have a one-on-one relationship with. As are her fellow contestants, Cheryl is an inspiration. 

6. One contestant comments that the $10,000 prize is more than she makes in a year.

7. The judges refuse to call the contestants "lunch ladies" and refer to them as "chefs," bringing the contestants to tears.

8. Yes, one wore a hairnet. But, hey, another used molecular gastronomy (the thickening agent ultratex)!!!!

9. No sore losers here. Unike the regular show format, all of the contestants came out at the end to heartily congratulate the winner. 

10. Cheryl was the winner (thanks in part to a drool-inducing Grilled Cream Cheese and Fruit Sandwich dessert drizzled in chocolate). When they brought out her excited students (and young daughter) who were drowning her in hugs, all the judges, crew and, I'm sure, viewers were wiping back tears.

IN OTHER WORDS: Kudos to Food Network for opening the curtain and allowing us to see the talent and knowledge these women have and realize the important work they do.  Yeah, that and a first-rate competition with a lot of weird ingredients.    

CHOPPED RATING: 9/10

CHOPPED LUNCH LADIES EPISODE RATING: A+/10

LUNCH LADIES' EMOTIONAL IMPACT RATING: Box of tissues/10

 

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Monday
Nov212011

'Dexter' Critics, Viewers Need to Chill Out

TV REVIEW: The relentless Dexter moaning is getting suffocating, so maybe audiences need to just relax and let themselves, and the show, breathe.

 

By Kenny Herzog

"The audience has its dark passenger, and it's forgotten I'm entertainment." (Credit: Showtime)


It's the old Howard Stern axiom: If you don't like it, turn the dial. Or in the case of Dexter, flip your remote to one of the 875 other original dramas and comedies airing on Sunday night. When Showtime's Michael C. Hall-led grim procedural hits the wrong note, as with much of last week's "Nebraska," we don't turn the other cheek. But, to paraphrase big-brother Brian, we don't slice it either. We review because we love, and we watch because Dexter and Sunday night have always married as ideal escapist entertainment.

And last night's "Sin of Omission" was awesome. It had suspense, ghastly deaths, heartbreaking moments and some really juicy sibling tension. It was also cliched, exhausting and silly at times, which the series has also always been. Still, the general feedback from critics and viewers to both "Sin" and Season 6 continues ranging from insulting to hateful, with a required dash of smartass pretension. It's a privileged scorn that's unique among Dexter followers, and underscores some of the ugliest and most cynical strains in the current relationship between TV and its audience. And the climate of online criticism might just be its mistress. 

Whether it's Dexter or fodder from an entirely different medium, bloggers and their readership seem more engaged with each other than what's on a screen or in a stereo in front of them. It's almost as if once the platform of instant-user feedback became mainstreamed, popular culture was just an excuse to get two sides who'd previously avoided confrontation in the same virtual room.

Except they're not used to communicating directly, and it's become a defensive and tangential dialogue, and there's no judge or jury to restore order and remind both parties that they're theoretically in session to discuss an episode of ultimately meaningless television. Or that it's essentially a mock trial, so neither critic nor reader needs to come prepared post-episode with reams of historical evidence and persuasive speculation. Not to mention, as self-appointed juries of their peers and points of view, they will remain inexorably deadlocked.

When what's up for debate is Dexter or "Sin of Omission," wouldn't it be easier to either stop playing know-it-all and suspend disbelief, or just come to terms with expectations versus potential and divorce oneself from the matter entirely (i.e. don't watch the friggin' thing!)? Audiences need to stop trying to outsmart entertainment that's doing nothing but offering itself as an option, and relax and realize that as it grows more lucrative, it's only going to become more accessible. And some TV critics should begin encouraging their readers to love TV and have fun with TV rather than use recurring site visitors as a focus group for their own intelligence.

Dexter isn't always good, but who ever said it needs to be great? And "Sin of Omission" did a terrific job of occupying 60 minutes on a Sunday night that would have otherwise been filled with the white noise of upcoming work-week obligations.

 

IN OTHER WORDS: New, genuine network-slogan suggestion: "It's not Showtime, it's TV."

DEXTER "SIN OF OMISSION" RATING: 8/10

IF YOU'VE BEEN OVERANALYZING WHETHER GELLAR IS REAL, THEN YOU'VE PROBABLY MISSED SOME PRETTY FUN TV RATING: 9/10

WISHING TV CRITICS AND THEIR READERS WOULD START SMARTING UP AND DUMBING DOWN, RESPECTIVELY RATING: REVELATIONS CHAPTER FINGERS-CROSSED/10


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Monday
Nov142011

Monday-Morning Review Card: 'Dexter' Lays a Dud, 'Walking Dead' Crawls and 'Boardwalk' Shines

 

TV REVIEW: Sunday nights this season are more robust with quality cable TV than at any time in recent memory. Couldn't DVR it all? Well, neither could we. But we saw most of it, except the new Hell on Wheels (sorry, AMC, you'll survive), and here's a brief cheat sheet to what's worth your time in reruns.

By Kenny Herzog

"Un-friggin'-believable. First, my dead brother bullies me into climbing up a muddy ravine, and now these galoots think I'm a zombie. What a day." (Credit: Gene Page/TWD/AMC)

 

HOMELAND, "THE WEEKEND"

Ever wonder what Carrie does on her days off? Besides sleep with suspected terrorists in a remote cabin and eventually blow her cover and informally interrogate him with nothing but a loaded pistol and rickety wooden table between them? Homeland is just so, so good, and keeps getting better after a couple spotty early season ebbs. It's hard to imagine any other show juggling this many balls in the air without drumming up numerous implausible contrivances or stretching its premise to shreds. Claire Danes and Mandy Patinkin in particular are just awesome, and make you wonder if this whole acting thing isn't just an excuse to avoid a real job. And for the first time in weeks, Damian Lewis really holds his own and gives Brody new dimension. Riveting television, and a hugely revelatory and ballsy episode that finds the series playing with fire nearly as precariously as its troubled antiheroine. 

HOMELAND RATING: 9/10

 

THE WALKING DEAD, "CHUPACABRA"

It's been a great season and a real coup for the show's character development, but for Christ's sake, let's get on with the zombies and the blood and whatnot. "Chupacabra" was OK enough, and had an incredibly enticing final minute. And Shane's gradual falling apart makes him a genuinely gripping and dangerous presence. But "Chupacabra" leaves you wondering if a 13-episode season was really the best idea for a show that thrives off adrenaline but can only realistically keep up its intensity for certain prolonged spans. And enough of Glenn and the farmer's daughter already. It's silly, teenager-y and out of place. Although if Hershel turns out to be a total Dr. Frankenstein weirdo, then all will be redeemed. 

THE WALKING DEAD RATING: 6/10

 

BOARDWALK EMPIRE, "TWO BOATS AND A LIFEGUARD"

 

It seems as if Boardwalk's second season continues to fly under the radar for its accomplishments. Yet, showrunners Terrence Winter and Tim Van Patten, and their actors of emply, keep collaborating on one terrific episode after the next. Is there any more unique and unpredictable character in TV than Van Alden? Any matriarch as duplicitous and sexy as Gillian Darmody? Any show that simply looks so amazing and rich in transporting period detail as this? And now, with Jimmy leading Meyer, Lucky and Capone in an insurgency against Nucky, Rothstein and Torrio, Boardwalk is starting to resemble Going in Style: Atlantic City. While Jimmy may have been reticent to supplant the old guard in episodes past, and still seems a bit ill-at-ease in his position as crowned underworld prince, his pole vault of Popeye Doyle over the balcony sent a message that Nucky, and us, are due for a bloody collision.

BOARDWALK EMPIRE RATING: 8/10

 

HOW TO MAKE IT IN AMERICA, "THE FRICTION"

I've been covering this show all season long for The Onion's A.V. Club, and can't say enough about what an underappreciated, eminently watchable rough-hewn diamond HBO has on their hands. "The Friction" is HTMIIA at its best, offering little in the way of easy triumphs for Ben, Cam and friends (and oh, poor Kapo and snake-bitten Rene, and sianara to awful Tim), but also providing several great belly laughs, particularly via Rachel's psychedelic breakdown on the streets of Brooklyn. There's only eight eps total and one remaining, so there's plenty of time to catch up, so long as you have a single rainy day between now and Sunday. HTMIIA is not high art, but it's far superior to lowest-denominator guilty-pleasure fluff. 

HOW TO MAKE IT IN AMERICA RATING: 7.5/10

 

DEXTER, "NEBRASKA"

Boy, did this season of Dexter lose its mojo when Brother Sam passed away. Dex's ascent toward the light was far more interesting than his abrupt, absurd, dreamlike spiral into dark excess that was out of character even for him. What a waste of the potentially interesting decision to bring Jonah and Brian back, and yet another week in which we learn veritably nothing new about our villains, and they remain mutually exclusive from Dexter's watchful eye. Dexter better tighten the screws quick, because last night was a new low for the series. And for all things holy, don't force-insert throwaway scenes with Quinn and La Guerta but deprive us nearly entirely of Masuka's comic relief and Bautista's oblivious charm. For that matter, we can dispense with the patronizing allusions to Lumen and simply terrible lines like, "You don't turn the other cheek, you slice it"? Oh, and can we just kidnap Travis' sister and get it over with already? Jeesh.

DEXTER RATING: Booooo/10

 

IN OTHER WORDS: I know, it's annoying that I don't watch The Good Wife.

SOLID, BUT UNSPECTACULAR OVERALL SUNDAY-TV RATING: Mid-Season Blues/10

HOMELAND AND BOARDWALK KEEPING FEET ON THE GAS RATING: 9/10

OY, DEXTER RATING: 2/10

 

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