Monday, September 19, 2011

Buffy Rewatch: Season 3, Episodes 1-4

One of the fun things about this rewatch is discovering that episodes I remember unfondly are actually pretty good. I don't know if that's nostalgia, or comparing the show to what's on nowadays (which I guess is nostalgia of a kind too), or just having hindsight and the big picture. Or maybe it's being older and less fickle and judgmental. (HA! No.) In any case, I remembered this season starting slowly and, but actually this disc is pretty decent, showing off how nicely the writers, directors and actors have settled into the show, even if the story isn't moving so swiftly.

I remember being hugely disappointed by "Anne" originally, and that feeling definitely holds when you watch it directly after "Becoming." From a storytelling perspective, I understand how it's important to show where the characters are now after the events of last season, before bringing them back together. But if this were, say, a movie, it would be a brief prologue before getting on with it, instead of an entire week's installment that we have to wait impatiently to move on from. Fortunately, now we don't have to wait! And now I can appreciate the good here too.

I love the handling of the exposition in the opening scene, with the Scoobies trying - badly - to pick up in Buffy's absence. I love the first day of school sequence, which includes not just our heroes but a bunch of supporting players, like Gay Larry (but no Jonathan?). It's the after-school-special-ness of the runaway teen stuff that bugs. And the excess of mopey Buffy scenes. I get it, and she's certainly earned her sadness, but it's just no fun to watch. See also season six, but at least then she wasn't separated from the rest of the cast. The fun chemistry everyone else has, even while they're wallowing, is delightful.

Holy 1998!: Giles references getting a meal on a flight. Xander and Cordelia haven't been in touch all summer, which she's spent in Mexico; no email, no Facebook - though her family's rich, you'd think she could spring for an international call.

Quoterific: "If we can focus, keep discipline, and not have quite as many mysterious deaths, Sunnydale is gonna rule!"

Dead Man's Party
This episode is also a lot better than I remember it. The MOTW is lame but it's not actually about that at all. I love Buffy best when the characters behave like real high school students, and so many of the interactions here have that quality. Alyson Hannigan continues her MVP streak from the end of last season, with her totally believable awkwardness around Buffy, and the big group confrontation at the end is great (though I'm not sure even teenagers would be so crass as to have that fight in front of all those random people).

That's So 1998: Joyce's book club read The Deep End of the Ocean. Willow calls Buffy's house when she's running late to meet her somewhere else entirely.

Quotetastic: "It's angry at the room, Mom. It wants the room to suffer."
…and one I still use now and then: "Chock full of hoot with just a leetle bit of nanny."

Faith, Hope and Trick
Has David Boreanaz been in the opening credits all season and I just didn't notice? He's been around in dream sequences, but that seems like a bit of a giveaway, especially given how this show liked to play with the credits later on.

Anyway, Faith's first appearance is a little meh, maybe because the episode is so stuffed, with the apparent introduction of the new Big Bad (I love that fake-out, and I also enjoy Mr. Trick so much more now that I know he's not going to be around for very long), Buffy's return to school, and a gigantic dose of Willow-Oz quirky adorableness. I love that Buffy spots a vampire by his outdated clothing and dance moves, a trick from the movie. And aw, Giles. "There is no spell." The development of his fatherly relationship with Buffy is so slow, all the way through the series, and it's awesome.

It's never occurred to me before but Faith kind of makes no sense. Buffy's supposed to be an anomaly, not found and trained as a small child, raised in isolation from other people. Faith seems to have lived a pretty full life as a juvenile delinquent, before being called to slayage a few months ago when Kendra died. It makes her a great character, but it makes Buffy a little less special. Though I guess so does all of season seven.

Quotalicious: "So I told him that I loved him, and I kissed him. And I killed him."

Beauty and the Beasts
This is the weakest episode of this batch, with a repeat of "drugs are bad" plus a whole bunch of "hey, maybe don't beat women mmkay?" And worse, it's muddled. Pete's a monster all on his own…except he's not, he made potions or whatever that fucked him up. I feel like the point is that there's a vampire and a werewolf out there but the real monster is this abusive guy, and making him even a little supernatural undermines that, in a way the show rarely did. Plus, as well-drawn as the world of the high school is, with its Larrys and Jonathans, it's a pretty safe bet that if a new character is introduced and he has more than five lines, something's up. Which makes the whole "is the killer Oz or Angel" thing here pretty suspense-free.

And how did Buffy get pants on Angel?

I do love that Giles' watcher books would be listed in the card catalog. And Giles' tranquilized pratfall is, well, "right bloody priceless."

Now That's What I Call 1998: I don't know if this is actually a 90s thing but what's with all the red pants? Like primary red. Netflix red. Willow had a pair in the last episode, and Xander has them in this one. I've noticed them before on the show. Nothing against them, it just seems like A Thing.

I got nothing for quotes on this one. Yawn.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Netflix Queue Challenge: Country Strong

I was so bored by this movie even the prospect of writing about it puts me to sleep. What a disappointment! I was expecting campy ridiculousness along the lines of Burlesque or Showgirls but it was all just such a downer. I guess it's a compliment that it wasn't laughably bad? But it wasn't actually good either, just self-serious and plodding. It's so badly paced and so awkwardly written, that when the big secret the movie's been hinting about for over an hour was finally revealed, I had to rewind because I missed it.

The performances are fine, I guess. It's hard to tell. I have nothing against Gwyneth and I thought she did a good job with both the acting and the singing. It was nice to see Leighton Meester doing a pretty big 180 from Gossip Girl (the only thing I've seen her in). The men were utterly bland and forgettable. I don't really care for country music, but as far as I could tell the music was well done. I especially liked how much Leighton Meester's songs sounded like Taylor Swift.

Oops, yeah, I've bored myself. It's so disappointing when a fun bad movie turns out to just be bad.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Netflix Queue Challenge: Die Hard

Until last weekend I had never seen Die Hard. I'm not really sure how I missed it. I was a little too young to see it in the theater (though really exactly the right age for it in general, no matter what the MPAA thought), and like so many movies I just never got around to it later. It's definitely not the sort of movie I'd want to watch edited for television, though I don't remember ever making a conscious choice not to watch it. And it's entered the culture so thoroughly that I both feel like I've sort of seen it already, and like there's no way I wouldn't be disappointed in it.

But I wasn't! I really liked it. And I was surprised how few of the details I actually knew, and how much those details really mattered. I also had no idea how 80s it was. I mean, obviously, I knew it was made in 1988, but I mean self-consciously so. John is a fine, upstanding, hardworking, blue-collar guy, and we'll prove it by showing you other characters with every cliched signifier of yuppie douchebaggery, with the conspicuous consumption and the cocaine and the - gasp! - independent career woman. The slimy coworker could have been from The Wedding Singer. That's not a criticism, it was just a surprise. I expect these things to be more natural when they're actually of the period, but of course it's not like people living in a time aren't aware of their own cliches. I guess nowadays it would all be recession references and everyone tweeting all the time.

It's interesting how in a film like this I can completely accept whatever huge ridiculous things they throw at me, but the little things drive me nuts. Especially if they're not related to the action. Maybe I spent too much time temping in the aughts, but would they really let Bruce Willis walk right into that building without calling the person he was visiting or even taking his name? And with a gun? Fighting terrorists barefoot, dropping C4 down an elevator shaft, totally fine. The security guard knowing that the 30th floor is having a party? Nope.

Anyway, hardly a revelation to say "Die Hard is good." It's been said by many others very well, including quite recently. The surprise, I guess, is that after 23 years of hype I still thought it was great.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

On Fall TV

I'm excited about the fall TV season in a way that I haven't been for a long time. I'm not really sure why. Maybe I'm just excited about fall, being completely over this hot summer. Also, for some reason this year my commute - on both ends and on the train itself - is practically wall-to-wall print ads for TV. So I've had this sense of "OMG the fall season is coming! I have to figure out what I'm watching!" Good job, advertisers! Also, I've been looking at these for weeks without much else to go on. For whatever reason, I haven't seen many commercials for the season, and the preview articles are only just coming out. I paid some attention to internet buzz during the upfronts and the TCA press tour, but mostly I was more interested in fake shows. So - and this is weird for me - there are a bunch of shows I'm going to try that I know next to nothing about. Good job again, advertisers! (This same tactic has also had the opposite effect: The print ads for the new NBC comedies are so off-putting that I can't imagine ever watching them even if they turn out to be great.)

Anyway, here's what I've got planned for the season.

Monday is a weirdly full night this fall! Weird because it's not usually, and because I'm making weird choices. I should say that I don't watch a lot on the computer, and I always forget about on-demand. For someone who used to work at night at have very complicated schemes for programming the VCR for nearly everything I watched, I've become completely lazy in the age of the DVR. I want my shows delivered to a list, with as little thought required as possible. This is even the first season in a while I've given this much thought to my new show schedule. So if I have more than two things in one block, I generally have to make a choice. If it's really worth it I'll download it or catch up later, but at this stage in the season it's hard to say what's worth it. So having four shows at once at 8:00 on Monday is presenting a problem!

How I Met Your Mother
I really like HIMYM, and even in these last couple of not-great seasons I find it reliably funny and the characters reliably likable. Yes, even Ted. So this one's a definite keeper.

Gossip Girl
I'm conflicted about Gossip Girl, and this might be the year I give it up. It's always been good trashy fun, full of stage actors slumming it or people I know (they shoot in NYC, so for a while it was the Law and Order for the Spring Awakening set), but I almost quit last year because it really went off the rails. The characters got less likable (or less fun to hate) and supporting players who I liked were around less. I stuck with it though and the second half of the season got some of the old magic back, but I'm not sure I need to pick it up again. I'm undecided.

The Sing-Off
I'm not at all ashamed by how much I've enjoyed The Sing-Off before, though an a cappella contest is obviously not essential viewing. I suspect I'll skip it. Plus, it's two hours long and loaded with filler, so I can always just watch the second hour, which has no conflicts.

Terra Nova
I'm curious about this one, but if I stick with Gossip Girl I'll skip it. If it's good, it's the kind of show I'd probably like, but the odds of it being any good seem sooooooo slim. I don't know much about it, except that it's been fraught with production problems, and that's never a good sign. And it's expensive, so likely to get canceled if it's not a quick hit. I want to support major network sci fi, but not if it's awful!

The Playboy Club
I don't expect to make it through a whole season of this, but I'm curious to see what it's like. Laura Benanti is in it and I love her, and I could use a new stylish prime time soap. Assuming it is actually stylish and not tacky, sexist, or worse, tedious.

Glee is frequently terrible but I almost always enjoy it anyway. Even when it's bad I always find it interesting. And I usually enjoy the music, and Brittany's one-liners and Quinn's reaction shots. I prefer the sadder episodes to the wackier ones, so Kurt's pretty reliable for me. I can't argue with anyone's criticisms of this show, but it just works for me. Plus I got hooked on The Glee Project this summer so I'm looking forward to seeing how they awkwardly shoehorn all those new "actors" into the show.

New Girl
I was super-skeptical about this. I still am. But I like Zooey Deschanel, even if I don't quite buy the idea of her as someone who has trouble getting dates and generally hate forced "quirkiness." But the pilot is free on iTunes right now and I actually really enjoyed it! The cast has great chemistry, and it's a little...not dark, exactly, and not as mean as Cougar Town (which I got turned on to and totally hooked on this summer), but there's an edge to it that makes me believe these people could exist outside of a sitcom. I especially like the concept of the "douchebag jar." The writing actually makes Zooey convincingly nerdy and socially awkward (the flashback to her as a child is maybe my favorite moment of the pilot, mostly for the casting of the girl), and slightly crazy in a way that's fun to watch but could easily be off-putting on a date. I'm in. We'll see if the appearance of Justin Long later in the season changes that. The douchebag jar is gonna be full!

Do I need to explain why this is awesome? Sarah Michelle Gellar as twins! One of whom is eeeeeeevil! If this isn't the most fun show of the season I will be very very disappointed.

The X-Factor
I probably won't actually watch this, but I'm curious enough to check it out. I miss having Paula Abdul on my TV, strange as that may seem.

Modern Family
Again, not much to say. I find MF consistently funny, if occasionally predictable. So there it is.

Happy Endings
ABC burned this off last season and it turned out to be really funny! Who knew? I caught up over the summer and was surprised by how much I enjoyed it. It shares a lot of DNA with Cougar Town and New Girl. Groups of friends who are amusingly mean to each other in a lovingly snarky way, wall to wall jokes, very little sentimentality. It's not a great show, but I enjoy the tone and find the cast very watchable.

I know almost nothing about this show, which is actually sort of fun. I know that Connor Paolo, who played one of the only characters I still like on Gossip Girl, is on it, and that the girl from Everwood looks fabulous on the slightly batshit posters. Since I gather it's some sort of thriller, I'm sort of psyched to go in unspoiled. Hoping it delivers on the camp.

American Horror Story
Again with the batshit, this time the teaser commercials. I just saw a full commercial for this for the first time and it got me really excited. It looks genuinely twisted and very funny. Glee aside, I've never been a big Ryan Murphy fan. Nip/Tuck didn't do anything for me, and I've tried a few times to get into Popular to no avail. And my favorite Glee episodes are rarely the ones he writes. But I find him interesting, and this might be the show that makes me a fan. I'm looking forward to seeing what he does with the genre. And maybe he'll throw in a musical number or two?

Top Chef Just Desserts / Top Chef
I know JD has its haters among original Top Chef fans but I am emphatically not one of them. I love these high-strung weirdos, I love Gail Simmons, and I love dessert. I'm so excited for Craig's inevitable meltdown, which so far is promising to reach "the red hots are for my mommy" levels of awesomeness. And when that's done the new season of original flavor will start, and I enjoy even a weak season of TC, if only for the food porn.

I just don't know about Community. I never loved the first season, though there were some great high points. Season two had it's share of those too, but also such low lows that it wasn't worth it. I'm inclined to give it another chance, but I'm not sure it's worth the time. I can always wait for the internet to tell me what's paintball-worthy and watch those episodes later.

Parks and Recreation
A show I didn't think I'd like that I totally love. So glad I gave it another chance with the second season. Thanks, Extra Hot Great and Pop Culture Happy Hour!

Vampire Diaries
I just love this ridiculous show. I think there's enough good bad television this season that I won't really miss Gossip Girl.

Person of Interest
I like Michael Emerson a lot. I like shows that shoot in New York. A friend of mine is working on this and I want to support her. But I also have two other shows this hour and this one doesn't really look all that promising, so I may just skip it.

Grey's Anatomy
I've stayed loyal to Grey's all this time, and felt rewarded when last season was actually really good (whiny Meredith aside, but that's the price of admission for the show). So I'm not about to give it up now.

The Secret Circle
It's Dawson's Creek with witches!! Programmed with Vampire Diaries. Clearly The CW knows what it's doing. Feels a little like old-school WB and I'm super psyched. (Or it could be Eastwick. We'll see.)

Project Runway
I stopped paying much attention to PR but Boy kept watching it, so I saw most of the last couple of terrible seasons. This season it got good again! So I'm back in. In fact I'm watching this week's as I write this, and Bert and Eyebrows are having a giant flaming fight. Damn good stuff.

I've written about Archer before, so I'll just say that I'm soooo glad it's back this week!

A Gifted Man
The show on this list I know the least about. I like Patrick Wilson and he looks gorgeous on the poster. That's pretty much it. I only learned the other day that Jennifer Ehle is in it too, and I love her! There seems to be some good buzz, despite it being on CBS on Friday nights.

Obviously this will be terrible, but I'm intrigued. Isn't there another fairy tale show slated for midseason? And I'm still sad these got picked up and Ron Moore's supernatural cops pilot.

The Good Wife
I love love love this show. Great writing, great acting (especially the constant parade of NYC theater people). And this year Alicia has a new, much better wig!

Pan Am
Another one I'm intrigued by but not so optimistic about. I like Christina Ricci, I like stylish period dramas, I'm interested in the golden age of air travel or whatever. It could be fun! Or it could be deeply dull.

So that's my fall TV. Looking at it on a grid it doesn't look like too much (it's a lot, but I've always watched a lot of TV) but after writing all this out it feels like too much! I mean, not that there's ever too much TV. And there are enough new shows that fall into the curious-but-questionable category that I'm confident that by midseason I'll have plenty of time for Smash! and Good Christian Belles. Still, it doesn't bode well for the Buffy rewatch or the Netflix Queue Challenge. I'll report back in a few weeks!

Monday, September 05, 2011

Netflix Queue Challenge: Romy and Veronica Mars' Summer Camp Sci Fi Reunion

August kind of got in the way of my big plans to rewatch lots of old TV and tear through my Netflix queue. I blame Bravo and Logo, mostly. But I did watch some movies and then didn't get around to blogging about them. It turns out, not too surprisingly, that these are much less fun to write when I enjoy something without having a strong opinion about it than when I really love or hate something. Anyway, here are some short reviews.

Romy and Michele's High School Reunion
I was a little nervous to watch this, for fear that it would be too much for the same friends who were already mad at me for not liking Clueless if I didn't like it. But I really liked this one! I wanted to see it when it came out, but didn't, and it just never made its way to the top of my queue. In the meantime, I forgot what it was about, or maybe I never knew. I mean, Romy and Michele's High School Reunion, obviously. But is there another movie where two women kill someone at their high school reunion, or did I make that up? Either way, that's not this! I knew it was a comedy but wasn't prepared for just how weird it is. Or for how great the supporting cast is. It's ridiculous, but if anyone can pull off ridiculous it's Lisa Kudrow, Alan Cumming and Jeanine Garofalo (Mira Sorvino less so but I enjoyed her too). And (spoiler alert!) this is the most amazing thing ever:

You Again
This is a formulaic, completely predictable comedy, of the sort I think we're seeing a lot of lately, but I thoroughly enjoyed it thanks to the cast. Kristen Bell, Jamie Lee Curtis, Victor Garber, and Sigourney Weaver could basically sell me any movie. Betty White and Kristin Chenoweth are doing schtick we've seen from them a million times, but they're used sparingly so it stays pretty funny. I can't say this is a good movie, but I found it delightful anyway.

Wet Hot American Summer
I really didn't think I was going to like this. I'm not much of a comedy nerd, and tend not to like a lot of the people in this who comedy nerds go crazy for (I like a lot of them too, which is the nice thing about a giant cast like this). And I figured ten years of hype would work against it. But it's totally fun! (Duh.) I've never seen most of the camp movies it's parodying, but I feel like they got camp itself really right (even though I went to a very different sort of camp), and I appreciated that affection and grounding in reality as things got completely ridiculous. It's hardly a revelation to say Wet Hot American Summer is funny. But it's maybe a little shocking that I liked it, given my usual reactions to...everything.

Doctor Who: The City of Death
Well, this is just terrible. When I started watching the Doctor Who reboot (which I love), I checked out an original serial just to get a sense of what it was. I accidentally chose wisely, with a story ("The Genesis of the Daleks") that was fairly enjoyable, and which I guess was Russell T. Davies' favorite too, since things from it came up over and over again in the new series, including one of the actors. I know not to expect too much from the original series, but every once in a while I read about an old story on io9 or AV Club and toss it in my queue. I might stop doing that. I wish I could remember what made me pick this one because there's absolutely nothing to recommend it, not even as camp. It's deathly dull. I know that there are better episodes than this, but with 25 years worth to choose from it seems that more are awful than not, and it's hard to believe the show, well, ran for 25 years! I'm glad it did, because it gave us the new version, and I know the original was for kids and all,'s just not any good. I try not to make blanket statements like that, since my taste is not yours and whatever, but trust me on this one.

Sunday, September 04, 2011

Buffy Rewatch: Season 2, Episodes 21-22

Becoming, Parts 1 and 2

I wanted to watch "Becoming" when I knew I'd have time to watch both episodes at once, and then August happened and here we are. But it was worth the wait. I don't want to declare a favorite episode until I finish the series again, and I know there are some amazing ones in Season 3, but this has always been one of my top choices, especially for the pure emotional impact of the ending. But I'd forgotten how funny parts of it are, mostly thanks to Willow ("Are we experiencing a chair shortage?" "I haven't read about— oh.") and Spike ("It's a big rock. I can't wait to tell my friends. They don't have a rock this big."). I love Xander's anger, which has evolved nicely from jealousy to making some really valid points about Angel. It's great to see Darla again (that turned into a surprisingly long gig for Julie Benz).

There's some bad: The accents, the flashback wigs, Willow's hospital scrub/pajama/what the hell is that? dress (seriously, when she actually is in hospital scrubs, it could totally be her clothes). Whistler bugs me like really a lot with his stupid hat and his stupider accent. Are we meant to believe that Angel has been a crazy homeless guy for 100 years? The awkward retconning of the Buffy movie, and the slightly creepy revelation that Angel was stalking her for over a year.

But I'm searching for quibbles, really, and all of that goes up in smoke like an immolation-o-gram ("And you fall for it every single time!") with how good this episode is. It's a perfect end to the season and all that the characters have been through, while laying the groundwork for amazing things to come. Joyce finds out that Buffy's the slayer ("I mean, have you tried not being a slayer?"). Willow does witchcraft (it's the first time, right?), Spike and Buffy form an uneasy alliance ("I like the world.... Billions of people walking around like Happy Meals with legs."). Xander tells Willow he loves her (and she calls for Oz). Our second mention of the Mayor. Everything feels completely earned, if not inevitable. We've been building not just to the big finish but to all the little moments in these episodes all year. All series, really. One of the things I've always loved about this show is how the characters keep growing and changing, almost always in believable ways.

It's such a downer ending. It makes sense - everyone's done a lot of growing up this year, and the stakes seem much higher than they did with the Master. But it's a little funny knowing there are five more near apocalypses to come.

Serious props to Christophe Beck for the score in this episode too. The music on early Buffy can feel a little cheap, a little original Star Trek fight musicy. But to this day I can't hear "Close Your Eyes" on my iPod without welling up a little.

Speaking of "Close Your Eyes," I must have seen the end of these episodes way more than I've seen the beginning, because (I'm a little embarrassed to admit this) I never realized before that Darla says "Close your eyes" to Angel before she kills him, just as Buffy does before she...kills him again. Yay rewatch!

Grrr argh guy needs a hug!