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Friday, December 9, 2011

Last Week in TV #11

The Simpsons: The Ten Per Cent Solution


Maybe it's just because I recently re-watched it thanks to syndication, but this episode reminded me a lot of season nine's "The Last Temptation of Krust", in which Krusty realizes his comedy is outdated and reinvents himself as a modern observational comic before ultimately reverting to form in order to sell out (it also features Homer's "don't you hate pants?" line which has become part of my personal vernacular). Now, to say that a latter day Simpsons episode is reminiscent of an earlier episode isn't exactly a cutting edge observation; the vast majority of recent episodes are a Frankenstein's Monster-like hodgepodge of old plots and gags stitched together to make something new, with a few original ideas occasionally thrown in (also, some of the "modern" comic sensibilities used to contrast Krusty's style in that season nine episode are almost just as comically outdated these days). But the similarities between these two episodes, with Krusty finding himself out of touch with his audience, then proceeding to reinvent himself with an edgier act before ultimately deciding that his personal desires (be they woman or Canyonero) are more important that artistic integrity, seemed worth mentioning.

What this episode did have going for it was a surprisingly strong guest turn by Joan Rivers, who not only played an actual character (not just herself), but was well integrated into the plot and provided a means to move Krusty through the story without relying on the increasingly-ludicrous presence of the Simpson family (give the show credit: once upon a time, a version of this episode would have featured Homer as Krusty's new agent). The opening act set at the TV museum was the kind of strong opening we've come to expect from the show, with tons of now-standard DVR-friendly gags built into the background. If anything, the biggest flaw of the episode is, once again, the rushed fourth act conclusion (maybe it's because I watch all these recorded (and thus notice the exact time), but when I stop fast forwarding through the last round of commercials and there's less than two minutes left to resolve the story, I can't help but view what follows as "rushed"). So not the funniest or most original of episodes, but a pretty decent example of what a solid episode of The Simpsons in season twenty-three is like.

Krusty: It’s like those parodies were written when the movies came out, but it took so long to animate them that we look dated and hacky!

Marge: No more TV! We’re going to get some fresh air and visit a museum. Of television!

Krusty: They were kids, and we gave them candy if they laughed! And if they didn’t, until the 70s, I hit them with a stick! Some jerk tracked down the kids and made a documentary. It’s called ‘Circus of Shame’ or something.

Homer: Everything’s perfect about the past except how it led to the present.


Family Guy: Cool Hand Peter 


Not as funny as last week's Amish episode, but not terrible. The plot itself is fairly flimsy (though the title of the episode is reference to Cool Hand Luke, very little in the episode itself parodies or references that film, or really any prison break film/TV show, in anything but the broadest terms possible) but there were a handful of solid gags sprinkled around the edges, which is the norm for Family Guy. Amongst my favorites were Peter's phone call with Lois in the beginning (when he tried to pretend the lines got crossed with a horrible fake voice), the "would you rather?" sequence, one of the best such sequences yet, and all the pursuing cops firing wildly everywhere but at the escaping prisoners, because bad guys are always terrible shots.

Joe: Well, wait a minute. Now how come I gotta be Cripple Hitler, and he’s still White Hitler?


The Walking Dead: "Secrets"/Pretty Much Dead Already" (mid-season finale)


So thanks to me not paying close enough attention to the DVR, Mrs. Teebore and I ended up watching the mid-season finale before the penultimate episode. In a testament to how slowly narrative unfolds on this show, it wasn't really until that final scene, when things were building to a season-ending climax, that I started to think we'd missed an episode (I just assumed Dale had somehow just figured out Shane shot Otis, which, having watched the prior episode, is pretty much what happened, and I even thought, when Rick mentioned Lori's pregnancy, "well, they didn't make a big thing out of that and must have let it happen offscreen").

We did go back and watch "Secrets", and we're glad we did. The scene between Rick and Lori at the end was quite good (putting aside the sheer stupidity of pregnancy in a zombiepoc, which we'll get to later), and it was particularly impressive that Lori told Rick about Shane (I figured the writers would want to hang onto that one for a bit longer) and that Rick's reaction was relatively low key. Dale continues to be the only character on this show who seems to have a lick of sense, and his approach with Herschel (quietly discussing the issue with him) was refreshingly smart (his confrontation with Shane, less so; I like the idea of someone being on to Shane's BS, but I'd like more justification for Dale's (correct) assumption that Shane killed Otis).

But the clear centerpiece of both these episodes was that final scene, in which Shane finally snaps and leads the group in executing the barn zombies, before Sophia ambles out and what became this half-season's main plot arc is resolved when Rick, for all of Shane's talk about doing what is necessary in this world and zombies not being people, is the only one who can put her down. What was perhaps most frustrating about Shane's behavior was that he was, essentially, right (Herschel is batshit crazy for keeping Walkers in the barn; as Rick said, he's simply out of touch with how the world is now) but his violent reaction puts Herschel's viewpoint in a better light by comparison, which makes Shane's behavior even more frustrating.

That said, it was a hell of a finale, and though this is only a mid-season break, that's mainly semantics, and it's worth comparing these seven episode as a whole to the first six. Like the first season, it started off strong, sagged in the middle, then picked up towards the end (I liked "Chupacabra" a bit more than "Secrets", and maybe it was my viewing it knowing what was coming in the finale, but there finally seemed to be some narrative urgency to the show). The key moving forward will be to avoid that mid-season slump, and to hope that all hell breaking loose on the farm will finally allow for the plot to move forward faster and the characters to develop beyond one-note archetypes. 

Other Thoughts
At this point I totally figured Sophia was dead; I just figured she was dead/eaten, not dead/zombie. Once it became clear there was another zombie in the barn, I figured it would be Herschel's wife (apparently she was one of the zombies Shane and Co. had already killed) but Mrs. Teebore quickly called it as Sophia. Color me surprised.

Also, I never would have imagined, when Sophia went missing in the first episode of this season, that her disappearance would end up as the defining plot of this entire half season. I'm not sure if that's a sign of me giving the show too much credit or not enough, but there it is. 

If Herschel knew Sophia was in the barn, and wanted everyone gone, and knew everyone was hanging around because of Sophia, why not tell Rick that Sophia was the in the barn? That, combined, with the whole "keeping zombies in the barn" thing, probably would have been enough to clear the place.

Now that Sophia is dead, what function on the show will Carol serve? Not "falling into an awkward romance with Daryl", as was the vibe I was getting during their scenes together in "Dead Already", I hope. 

So, Lori's pregnancy. I dunno, call me an insensitive monster if you must, but it seems pretty stupid to be pregnant in a zombiepoc. I mean, put aside the whole "what kind of life will the child have?" questions; can Lori (and thus her child) even survive the pregnancy? Pregnancy will make her heavier, slower, easier for zombies to munch, more susceptible to disease, etc. I'm not saying no one can ever procreate once the zombiepoc occurs, but wait for better living conditions. Heck, I don't even think those morning after pills would work for her at this point, and I'm not saying she absolutely has to abort the pregnancy, but let's not all pretend like she's the worst person in the world for bringing up the idea. Yes, it's a decision she needs to make with Rick, but there is a decision to be made there.

The scene between Glenn and Maggie in "Dead Already" was pretty good, and I especially liked the little moment between them after the zombies came out of the barn, and Glenn looked to her before opening fire, and didn't start shooting until she nodded.

Speaking of shooting, the target practice in "Secrets" seemed kind of stupid. One the one hand, it makes sense to ensure everyone can use a gun, and use it with some competence (even Carl). On the other hand, it seems like a waste of ammo, and a big loud "hey, here we are!" to any nearby zombies. 

So Shane's batshit crazy at this point, huh? For a moment I thought we were headed towards a "Shane takes the farm from Herschel at gun point" plot. Heck, I suppose we still could be. Also, what's the over/under on how long before Shane does something to Carl (the one person who seems able to cut through his psychoses) and that becomes the final thing that pushes him into full-on villain mode?

Though I hope the end of everyone hanging around Herschel's farm is now soon upon us, I also hope the show finds a way to keep Maggie around; her transition from seeing the Walkers as her dad does to how Glenn does in the course of two episode is more character development than anyone else got this season. 

I know I've complained a lot about the pace of the show this season, but that was a strong finale, and an amazing final scene, which left me more psyched than ever for more episodes (so mission accomplished, mid-season finale!).


How I Met Your Mother: Symphony of Illumination 
I can't decide if the big twist in this episode, that the kids to which Robin is narrating this story are figments of her imagination, is clever or dickish. On the one hand, the idea of Future Robin pulling a Ted and telling her kids a story of her past (complete with a crack about the (very) long road Ted's story is taking) was so intriguing, and seemed to offer so much potential for the show (finally, it took a moment and stop dicking us around and present information about the future plainly and without vague hints meant to string us along) that when the rug was pulled out and it was all revealed to be a hoax, it was maddening (in large part because, in retrospect, we should have known to suspect the directness of the fake narration; instead, my mind was spinning with thoughts of how the kids she was talking to came into being). That rug-pulling seemed an indication that this show was still clinging to its narrative games, afraid to let go of what worked so well in earlier seasons despite the show's increasing age. I wouldn't want HIMYM to completely abandon what makes it work, but at the same time, there comes a time where it seems like it's playing games with the audience just to play games.

On the other hand, it's possible to view the revelation as a means to make the audience sympathize with Robin; after all, she's spent her entire existence on the show saying she doesn't want kids, such that when this episode posits that the news of her inability to ever have kids saddens her so deeply, it seems more like the show telling us this than showing us. Perhaps making us invested in the idea of Robin having kids in the future, only to reveal it as a ruse, was a way to make the audience feel the same thing Robin was purportedly feeling throughout the episode.   

If I had to pick, I'd say that the writers probably were going for the latter, with the former more the result they actually got, but it's entirely possible to watch this and not feel like you're getting dicked around, and that it's actually a rather clever episode that manipulates audience expectations to tell a sorrowful story. That just wasn't my first reaction.  

Other Thoughts
Remember when this show was about Ted and his search for true love? He's been sidelined for a quite a few episodes now as Barney and Robin take center stage. He made the most of what he was given in this episode, though. The scene where he tells Robin its his job to make her feel better even if he doesn't know why she's upset was particularly strong.

Marshall's B story was mainly just silly fun, though I feel like he probably could have gotten safely off that roof if he really wanted to (by the time the roof slopped down, it didn't look that far to the ground, especially for someone as tall as Marshall).


Glee: Mashoff


This episode was a bit of a hodgepodge, so let's go right to the random thoughts.

First of all, Sue's campaign has officially crossed the line from legitimate political satire to just being a big joke, right? I mean, campaigning on an anti-arts funding platform, even as over-the-top as Sue did it, was a believable bit of a satire, as I can believe there are voters out there who would buy what Sue is selling. But to suggest that "baboon heart" and "married to a donkey" ads would sway anyone but the most whacked out conservatives crosses the line into unbelievable. To be clear: I can buy that Sue, warped as she is, would think those ads are a good idea. I just don't buy they would work, even if the parallel Glee-universe as its been presented thus far.

But really, all of that was just a setup for the big dramatic moment of the night, as it's learned that Santana is going be outed and then proceeds to bitchslap Finn. The scene in Sue's office was nicely handled (and made "Baboon Heart Sue" look even more ridiculous by showcasing relatively-human Sue, my preferred version of the character) and the issue itself is surprisingly complicated. On the one hand, Finn probably crossed a line. On the other hand, Santana had it coming, especially from Finn. On a third hand, it wasn't like Finn himself outed her directly. On a fourth hand, Finn, for all of Santana's needling of him, probably should have taken the high road. Glee is usually a lot more cut-and-dried than that; it's nice that there's no clear right or wrong in the situation.

While it's good to see some momentum on the "class president" front and Rachel and Kurt back to being friends, running on anti-dodgeball platform? Really? I get that Kurt is essentially taking an anti-bully stand, which makes sense, and he recognizes he needs to go about it one small step at a time, but his diatribe against dodgeball seemed a little over the top (it's only comparable to modern day stoning if a group of people are ganging up on one person; in a class setting, his argument falls apart) and really, if dodgeball is such a big deal at McKinley, this is the first we've heard of it (also, given the "jocks on top" social structure at the school the show has presented thus far, there's really no way we can expect Kurt to have any legitimate shot at winning now, even if he ever had a shot before, right?).

I should probably care more about the Puck/Shelby plot, one way or another, than I do, but really, I find it hard to care, even if the show is asking us to take it seriously. It was nice to see the ludicrous "Quinn sets up Shelby to get her baby back" plot brought to an end (seriously, someone needs to explain to Quinn how adoption works) but at the same time, we're obviously heading towards a "Quinn blows the lid off Shelby/Puck's relationship" plot, so it isn't like it's being replaced with much better.

Oh, and I think it's awesome that for all of Mercedes whining about wanting to be a star and joining a new glee club, she still gets less screen time than almost anyone else and isn't even the member of her new group in which the show itself is most interested.

Speaking of the two groups, isn't there a rule about the number of members of glee club needs to have to compete at sectionals? Aren't both groups under that number? Why does no one seem to care? I mean, for all of Mercedes and Santana's talk of not rejoining New Directions, we all know it's only a matter of time before both groups merge, but if they're going to have to do it for sectionals, you'd think they'd be talking about it already.

Favorite Song: It was ultimately pointless, and the Adele mash-up that ended the episode was masterfully directed, but the fun the guys were having with "Hot for Teacher" was infectious.

Brittany: A vote for Brittany is a vote for root beer water fountains and robot teachers. ... And also, listen. Rachel Berry's still on Myspace, and thus unfit to lead.


Saturday Night Live: Steve Buscemi & The Black Keys


A pretty solid episode. Let's take them a sketch at a time, though not necessarily in the correct order.

Cold Open: Armisen's Obama does nothing for me, but his list was pretty funny in a "funny cuz it's true" kind of way, like the fact that Congress seems to exist to do absolutely nothing.

Monologue: I know I've railed against the "audience" interaction monologues before, but this one worked for me, mainly because the cast members weren't trying to make us think they were actual audience members, and because the typecast actors were pretty funny ("I cannot stand nonsense in my courtroom. But I will allow it.").

Mexican Food Commercial: Again, funny cuz it's true. Nice prop work on the Mexican dinner.

The Miley Cyrus Show: I'm usually a pretty big fan of this sketch, and I'm glad it came back, but it was a bit of a letdown. Maya Rudolph's Whitney Houston was funny, but that was about it. Also, I'm still trying to decide if Vanessa Bayer is hot or not. Discuss.

Dateline: Not a Dateline watcher, so whatever Hader was lampooning flew over my head. I get the "draw it out" gag, but otherwise, meh.

Coach Burt: Probably the best sketch of the night that didn't feature Batman, and a great use of Buscemi.

Weekend Update: The Drunk Uncle didn't do much for me, but just as I was about to reach for the remote, it suddenly got funny. Go figure.

Digital Short: Not surprisingly, my favorite sketch of the night. ("Aquman too?/"The water's off in my building." "The Riddler's costume is weird/See how weird it is!")

Sex Ed Seminar: Another funny sketch. There's something about the voice and diction Paul Brittain uses for this character that makes the whole thing even skeevier.

Surprise Sue: Another Kristen Wiig character I can't stand.

Shirley and Shirley: Last sketches are always hit or miss, and I know some of you loved it, but this was a miss for me. Sure, Steve Buscemi making "beep-boop" noise on his laptop ornament, then his pine cone ornament, was funny, but everything else just fell flat.

Favorite Sketch: The Batman Digital Short.




Episodes Featuring a Game Show: 3/8
Episodes with a Monologue Featuring a Song: 4/8

10 comments:

  1. FIG: my favorite line of the night is after Peter tried to escape using the jet pack and Cleveland says something along the lines of "I know we're friends, but I' was hoping you would fail"

    WD: I also brought up the whole issue of Sophia being in the barn and Herschel not telling them. Pat mentioned it was probably because he was worried that they would kill Sophia, which they would, but still. I guess he didn't want them gone that bad.

    As for the pregnancy, I mean, it wouldn't really become a huge issue until her last few months. So as long as they had somewhere safe to hole up, say a farm where there's surprisingly no zooms, then the pregnancy wouldn't necessarily be a problem. However, and infant would be. I mean, you've got a few years, at least, of a child crying and not understanding that it needs to be quiet. It just makes me wonder why they don't find a nearby farm and claim a stake. Clearly the area is fairly zombie free, and Herschel said he had neighbors, so presumable at least one of those had to have a working farm like Herschel.

    And mostly I just can't stand Shane. I just want everyone to get together and talk about what he's done, because so many people know single instances of truly reprehensible behavior from him, but no one knows all of it. I'm willing to bet even Rick and stupid blonde chick who's name I just forgot, would have a problem with him if they knew he not only murdered Otis, but that he tried to rape Lori.

    And yeah, we also really complained about the gun practice. I mean, yes, everyone needs to know how to fire a gun, but really? A swinging log? Any deficiencies they have in their gun use could easily be compensated for with some level headed thinking and pre-planning as well as a reliable watch system.

    Glee: loved the Adele mash up. We've reached the point where we feel like they should have a mashup every episode. Otherwise it was a good episode in a season that's been a huge betterment over last season.
    As for the rule about number of people in the show choir, I think they sort of address it in the most recent episode. Meaning that suddenly there's all these extra people in both clubs, but no one mentions who they are or where they came from

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  2. @Sarah: "I know we're friends, but I' was hoping you would fail"

    Yeah, that was pretty good. It's kinda sad how Cleveland is now funnier when he's on FG than he is on his own show...

    It just makes me wonder why they don't find a nearby farm and claim a stake. Clearly the area is fairly zombie free, and Herschel said he had neighbors, so presumable at least one of those had to have a working farm like Herschel.

    I think, in one of these two episodes, Herschel basically says the same thing to Maggie, and she comments that none of the nearby farms are habitable (whether she means overrun with zombies, unable to support crops, or both, wasn't clear, I don't think).

    Which continues to raise the question of just why Herschel's farm is so zombie free, but at least addresses the issue. But your point still stands: I don't think it would be that hard to establish a safe zone, with a hard perimeter, and scrounge for supplies, and be able to live there, vigilant but safe, for a good chunk of time.

    Especially if Shane hadn't gone off his rocker and they could convince Herschel to share some supplies/a well with them.

    And mostly I just can't stand Shane. I just want everyone to get together and talk about what he's done, because so many people know single instances of truly reprehensible behavior from him, but no one knows all of it.

    Ditto. This show is a lot like Lost in that way, in that everyone keeps secrets because it's the dramatic thing to do (which is why it was so refreshing to see Lori come clean about being with Shane, and Rick just kind of accepting it).

    Especially now that Rick knows about Shane and Lori, she could tell him about what happened at the CDC, combine that with Dale's suspicions and his recent behavior, and I think everyone would get a little less tolerant of Shane.

    Any deficiencies they have in their gun use could easily be compensated for with some level headed thinking and pre-planning as well as a reliable watch system.

    Are you suggesting Dale on the roof of the RV isn't a reliable watch system? :)

    I think they sort of address it in the most recent episode. Meaning that suddenly there's all these extra people in both clubs, but no one mentions who they are or where they came from

    Yeah, that sounds about right. :)

    Though I definitely agree that on the whole, this is a much, much better season than the last one, to the point where it feels more like the second season the first was building towards than the actual second season ever did.

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  3. i think you've got it right with the whole 'keeping secrets because it's dramatic' schtick. because normal people would be all about the gossip- and all that crap would be out about Shane. I really do hope it all comes out and then the group has to decide what to do about him
    i don't know why i didn't think Sofia was in the barn- i think i just assumed that Glenn would've seen her so i just dismissed the possibility

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  4. @Anne: i think you've got it right with the whole 'keeping secrets because it's dramatic' schtick. because normal people would be all about the gossip- and all that crap would be out about Shane.

    I mean, it's not like this is the first show that has people keeping things to themselves for no good reason other than because it furthers the drama, but it does more egregious here, partially, I think, because there's so little to these characters.

    I mean, it was frustrating all the secrets Locke kept on Lost, but at the same time, it was fun watching him chuck knives at stuff.

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  5. I scanned the comments, so perhaps this was covered, but I can clarify a couple things regarding The Walking Dead that have been addressed by the creators outside of the show.

    1. The farm is surrounded by a swamp, which the zombies get caught in. This is why they are so zombie free and how they are able to round them up so easily. I had been confused as to why they'd keep a look-out when they had such a blind spot on the other side of the farm, but this explains it. Because there is only one direction that leads in and out... the road. Apparently this point was covered in "The Talking Dead",the after-show they do, but I don't watch it.

    2. Herschel did not know about Sophia. It was Otis' job to round up the zombies in the swamp and Otis took off to die before anyone even mentioned they were looking for Sophia. Apparently this is covered in a preview for the second half of the season, but I haven't seen it.

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  6. Are you watching Boardwalk Empire? Please say yes!

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  7. baroness van bitzenhoferDecember 10, 2011 at 8:59 PM

    Thanks to Joe for adding those notes. Are people still not watching The Talking Dead??? They discuss the Sofia thing in the most recent ep which aired after the mid-season finale. :)

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  8. Walking Dead: Yeah, we watched Talking Dead and found out Otis was the one who put Sophia in the barn. It's concievable that as more and more walkers started coming in he didn't alert Hershel to every one.

    Overall,I figured the longer they drew out the Sophia missing angle the higher probability she was alive. So I was surprised to see her come out of the barn. But I guess that's the best reveal of her being dead as possible.

    SNL: Hot.

    Also, I thought the Shirley and Shirley sketch was pretty funny...well...half of it. Not surprisingly, I didn't enjoy the Kristen Wiig parts.

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  9. @Joe: The farm is surrounded by a swamp, which the zombies get caught in. This is why they are so zombie free and how they are able to round them up so easily.

    First of all, yay for commenting!

    Secondly, that's interesting. I'm glad it was established somewhere, as it does make the existence of the farm in its current state more believable.

    Herschel did not know about Sophia. It was Otis' job to round up the zombies in the swamp and Otis took off to die before anyone even mentioned they were looking for Sophia.

    Yeah, I've seen that explanation floating around the internet as well (and I think there's even an offhand line in the episode about how Otis used to wrangle the zombies), but I still don't know if I buy Hershel's ignorance.

    Either way, especially if this gets covered in the next episode, I can appreciate the writers making the effort to explain it. If these were the Lost writers they'd be telling us the explanation didn't matter because of how awesome the characters are.

    @Joan: Are you watching Boardwalk Empire? Please say yes!

    Unfortunately, I am not, as I do not have the HBO (which means I also missed out on Game of Thrones). I would like to check it out on DVD/Netflix someday though.

    @Baroness: Are people still not watching The Talking Dead???

    I'm not. First of all, I don't have enough time to watch all the shows I want to watch, let alone the shows ABOUT the shows I watch. Secondly, I shouldn't have to watch another show to have plot points in the main show made clear, but on those occasions that it happens, you guys do a pretty good job of filling me in. :)

    @Dr. Bitz: It's concievable that as more and more walkers started coming in he didn't alert Hershel to every one.

    It is conceivable, but I don't know that I buy it. Hershel strikes me as the controlling, gentle dictator type, and given his view of the zombies as sick people, I feel like he'd have a standing order to be alerted any time a new zombie was added to the barn, and I think Otis should have had enough time between catching Sophia and shooting Carl to tell Hershel he captured another one, and it seems likely he would have at least mentioned it was a little girl (since that is atypical).

    Then again, I could just be being nitpicky, and as I mentioned above, I at least appreciate the writers making the effort to explain it, even if I'm not 100% on board with the explanation.

    SNL: Hot.

    Good to know I'm not the only one...

    Also, I thought the Shirley and Shirley sketch was pretty funny...well...half of it. Not surprisingly, I didn't enjoy the Kristen Wiig parts.

    You know, that might have been my problem with it too. Certainly, the funny stuff I remember is all Steve Buscemi-related.

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  10. I also struggled for a time with Vanessa Bayer's hotness, and I finally came to the conclusion that she is, indeed, hot.

    And "don't you hate pants?" has long been a go-to expression for me, too.

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