Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Under the Dome Review: "Let the Games Begin" - Under the Thunderdome

The fourth hand waits for one man on "Under the Dome"

So “Let the Games Begin” was not a terrible episode of television, it was just so unfulfilling.  It took me about ten minutes to come up with that adjective as I cycled through boring, uneventful, and others.  The thing is, it wasn’t boring or uneventful.  There was a lot of action and a few interesting plots.  But this show is so free of consequences right now and abandons its storylines so quickly that it’s hard to really get invested in anything.

I think the reason I’ve taken to the teenagers in Under the Dome is because theirs is the one story that is consistently interesting and that the show feels is worth returning to week in and week out.  This week, the group discovers that Junior is the fourth hand and they open the mini-dome, causing the egg to release pink stars into the barn.  There’s some other stuff involving Dodee getting zapped after touching the mini-dome, but it really has no purpose other than to make us fear for Junior as he prepares to touch the dome later.  I’m a little worried moving forward as this plot has shades of all of the Lost rip-offs in the past (in terms of answering every question with a new question), but as long as the characters are invested and the show follows through, it’ll keep me interested.

As for the unfulfilling parts of the episode, I have a hard time caring about the fight club or about Max’s crazy mother because neither is likely to ever turn up again, much like the supply shortage, the water shortage, the meningitis, the insulin shortage, and the half dozen other plots that have come up as “Crises of the Week” in the past.  The fact that Max got one over on Barbie is mildly interesting, but if she’s so smart then why is she breaking the first rule of bookies: “take the bets, don’t make the bets.”  A smart bookie isn’t betting against her customers and taking their stuff when they lose.  Win too often and people start to think the whole thing is rigged.  A smart bookie lets people bet against each other and charges a cover to gain admittance or takes a piece of the winnings.  It’s not a big deal certainly, but details matter and setting up an incomprehensible gambling ring that’s never been seen before and will likely never be seen again without getting the details right just screams laziness.

The story of Max’s mother isn’t much better.  She apparently lives in an enormous mansion nobody’s ever mentioned on an island nobody’s ever mentioned in the middle of the (poisoned) lake.  So where, exactly, is she getting clean water?  Never mind all that, though, because all she does is crazily point a gun at crazy Big Jim before falling out of a boat and being left to drown.  What purpose does this character serve?  Really?  She shows up for one episode, acts crazy, gives us only the barest of information on Max and then is gone.  Is her apparent death setting up a revenge plot for Max?  If so, who cares?  Max has been here for all of twenty minutes.  Why am I supposed to care about her revenge?  Ugh, this entire show right now is just so…unfulfilling.

A couple of spare thoughts –

Sherriff Linda finally does some good police work, finding Duke’s confession about the drug operation.  Apparently he was working with Max, the Reverend, and Big Jim to manufacture drugs on the condition that they be kept out of Chester’s Mill.  It’s an interesting twist, but wouldn’t that have been nice to know five episodes go?  With Duke and Reverend Coggins dead and the drug operation shut down (or at least nobody talking at all about it and only one person shown actually on the drug) who cares at this point?

So what happened to the chrysalis inside the mini-dome after it opened? 

So thoughts?  Comments?  Just want to tell me my blog sucks?  Let me know in the comments or on Twitter @TyTalksTV.

Monday, August 26, 2013

The Newsroom Review: "Red Team III" - Sorkin Stumbles Hitting His Stride

Leona lets everybody off the hook on "The Newsroom"

The Genoa Investigation wraps up in an episode that is ninety percent awesome, five percent troublesome, and five percent infuriating.  As I wrote in my season one review (and have probably written several times since), The Newsroom is an amazing show when I can shut my brain off, and “Red Team III” is no different.  The episode moves along at a fantastic clip and has this constant sense of dread as we watch the Genoa broadcast play out while waiting for the other shoe to drop.  Everything in the first half of the episode was great and even the Benghazi stuff (which helps to explain why Genoa isn’t going to be a story for much longer) works well, with one glaring exception I’ll get to later. 

If The Newsroom had this ratio of great:iffy:bad every week, I’d have no problem loving it.  But the fact that there are usually so many issues always makes me want to focus on the show’s problems, and this episode had two big ones.  The biggest issue is that the episode spends so much time explaining how this wasn’t just Jerry’s fault, but was instead an institutional failure and yet, in the end, Jerry is the only one who gets fired.  This is the crux of Jerry’s wrongful termination lawsuit against ACN and it’s easy to see his point.  Jerry alone didn’t miss the fact that Eric Sweeney lied about his second Purple Heart and covered up his Traumatic Brain Injury.   Jerry didn’t feed leading questions to the third witness, Herman Valenzuela, Mac did.  It wasn’t Jerry’s source who forged the mission manifest, it was Charlie’s (and also Will’s, though nobody knew they shared a source).  Sorkin spends so much time walking back the idea that Jerry was the villain of this whole fiasco that Leona’s ultimate decision not to fire anybody is just ludicrous. 

I can buy that, in the year or so since last season’s finale, Leona has come around on Will, Mac, and Charlie and can embrace the program they’re doing, especially since his ratings seem to be up (and skyrocketed for the Genoa program).  And her closing line of “Get it back!” in response to Will’s cry that “We don’t have the trust of the public anymore” makes for a phenomenal smash cut to black.  The scene, as a scene, worked, not least because Jane Fonda does amazing work with Sorkin’s dialogue.  But seriously, if you’re going to spend 55 minutes explaining how this all fell apart and how it wasn’t all Jerry’s fault, then somebody else has to get fired.  Whether it’s all three or just Will or just Mac ultimately doesn’t matter.  But if you’re not going to have any consequences to the drama, then what’s the point?  Actions require consequences and if the show and characters end up in the same place at the end of this season as they were at the beginning then there’s been a pretty massive failure.

My other issue with this episode is less a problem than a missed opportunity.  Will ultimately explains the litany of things that went wrong and what actually happened on the Genoa mission (with the exception of Stomotonvich’s “it happened”).  This was a mistake.  I would have found it much more interesting (and Leona’s response much more believable) if they hadn’t so effectively torn apart the story but had, instead, left the ultimate answer hanging.  Sure, Sweeney suffered a TBI.  Sure, Jerry manufactured the Stomtonovich recording.  Sure, Mac led Valenzuela during questioning.  These problems are clearly enough to force a retraction of the story.  But to have Charlie’s source turn out to be crazy and vindictive was unnecessary and even a bit overkill.  And given that the incident that he believes ultimately resulted in his son’s death (being fired from ACN) happened during the timeline of this series, that’s something that might have been nice to have seen before.  As it is, we have no context for this betrayal and it all just comes completely out of left field.  Had Sorkin not gone so far with the source’s villainy and had he not given a 10-second explanation of what really happened on the Genoa mission, he could have forced the “News Night” team to retract the story, but still kept its veracity in question, making the fallout seem more understandable. 

All in all, this was still a pretty fantastic episode.  That it seems like only Jerry is going to take the fall for this colossal snafu is infuriating, but the whole story’s execution and its epic collapse made for great television.

A couple of spare thoughts –

I’m not going to rehash my comments on Maggie’s hair from last week, but we’re now a year out from her trip to Uganda and she just now has cut it, after the Genoa fallout.  Presumably we’re not going to get any explanation on what exactly is going on there, but that whole storyline just feels like a misfire.

I figured it would be the basketball game that proved that Jerry edited the Stomtonovich tape, but I didn’t think it would be the shot clock.  It seems like that was a little too obvious and that somebody should have caught it prior to airing.  They also don’t give any indication that Stomtonovich wanted the game on specifically to prevent the raw footage from being edited.  Given his level of paranoia, it seems like something he would have thought of and done, but it’s left unsaid in an episode where no detail is left unexplained. 

Benghazi gets rushed through, but we have yet another anonymous “source at State” telling our intrepid reporters that Benghazi was a planned terrorist attack.  I like the fact that they ran with the standard story because they didn’t trust their sources now, but it leaves a gaping hole in the story.  If, in fact, there was an email circulating in the government that Benghazi had nothing to do with Terry Jones’s anti-Muslim film, then why did Susan Rice go on Meet the Press five days later and say “What happened in Benghazi was in fact initially a spontaneous reaction to what had just transpired hours before in Cairo, almost a copycat of the demonstrations against our facility in Cairo, prompted by the video”?  This seems like Sorkin wanting his cake and eating it too.  He needs his characters to be the smartest people in the room, but he ends up essentially implying that the US ambassador to the UN blatantly lied on national television. 


No episode next week because of the holiday weekend, which is good since I’ll be at the lake anyway.  See you in two weeks.

So thoughts?  Comments?  Just want to tell me my blog sucks?  Let me know in the comments or on Twitter @TyTalksTV

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Under the Dome Review: "The Fourth Hand" - Guns and Stars

So this happened "Under the Dome"

Let’s start with the utter terribleness of Big Jim’s “voluntary gun exchange.”  It’s not just a bad idea because of the execution, it’s a bad idea because it doesn’t change anything.  In terms of execution, the idea that anybody in this town would turn in all their guns is patently ridiculous, especially given that there was an insane shootout at the town’s largest farm LAST NIGHT.  One day ago, an armed militia stormed a town farm to gain control of the water, met with another armed militia and engaged in a firefight that resulted in multiple dead citizens and a blown-up well.  Why on earth would anybody trust Big Jim to protect their stuff when he just killed Ollie (or indirectly caused his death) and took his farm?  Especially when, despite his own promise, we see less than ten minutes later that Big Jim still has his pistol and hasn’t turned it in.  Never mind the stockpile he gets from Token*, including Chekhov’s grenade, Big Jim doesn’t do the one thing he promised the people of Chester’s Mill he would do.

*I’m sure they mentioned his name, but I didn’t catch it.  And given that he’s the first black character we’ve seen since Faux Lenny Kravitz, I’m going with “Token.”

The second, bigger problem with this plot is that it does nothing for the story.  Because the gun turn-in was voluntary and incomplete, anybody in town can still have a gun, so it won’t be a surprise when, in the season finale, there’s yet another shootout.  It might be easy to hand-wave the whole thing as Jim needing an excuse to get his hands on Token’s arsenal, but he really didn’t need to impose a voluntary gun ban to get the crazy, suicidal guy to give up his.  The whole thing just adds nothing.

In other news, we’ve got another new character in from out of the blue, Natalie Zea’s Max, who seems to be here only to mess with things as both the head of Jim’s drug operation and as the person Barbie called after killing Julia’s husband.  It’s nice that we’re getting more information on the drugs but this all seems to be coming too late.  Am I supposed to care about the drug-running operation, given that there’s been no drug-running for nine episodes?  Am I supposed to care about Barbie killing Julia’s husband beyond the inevitable future scene when Julia finds out?  She’s presented as the character who knows all the secrets, but she doesn’t actually have any secrets that we care about. 

On the kids’ end of things, Junior gets downgraded (maybe) from “completely crazy” to “seriously messed up” as we discover that his mother was having dreams or visions or whatever, that lead her to paint a picture of Junior with pink stars falling from skies.  Naturally, Angie seizes in front of him, chanting “the pink stars are falling.”  So those two crazy kids are back together, which is just kind of infuriating.  We also learn that Joe’s been sleepwalking, bringing the egg from the forest to the barn.  Unfortunately he, Norrie, and Angie still need one more person to help them open it (the eponymous fourth hand).  While this is still the best part of the show, I’m a little worried they’re going to end up dragging this out for the rest of the season, closing on the opening of the dome (or maybe the egg) and leaving it as a cliffhanger for next year, in which case…whatever.

A couple of spare thoughts –

So Chekhov’s hand grenade is in the bomb shelter and only Jim and Junior know about it.  I’m sure that won’t come back again in episode 12 or 13.

Jim casually drops that he negotiated a deal with the farmers, so we never have to worry about food again.  I’m hoping he’s completely wrong, because that would be mightily convenient.

So thoughts?  Comments?  Just want to tell me my blog sucks?  Let me know in the comments or on Twitter @TyTalksTV

Monday, August 19, 2013

The Newsroom Review: "One Step too Many" - The Beginning of the End

Jerry does a bad, bad thing on "The Newsroom"

Let’s get one thing out of the way to start.  This week’s episode more than any before showed exactly why it was a terrible idea to have the new guy Jerry be responsible for the story that will bring down (?) “News Night.”  And the biggest problem isn’t that Jerry is the culprit, it’s that there was a perfectly good member of the main cast in a situation to do the same.  Maggie is clearly messed up from Africa, she deceptively edited a recording last week (whether intentionally or inadvertently was left up in the air), and they could have easily given her a reason to be upset with the military (who abandoned her at the school).  She was also, as was mentioned in the episode, involved in the Genoa investigation pretty much from the beginning.  There was absolutely no reason to bring in an outside interloper to muck up this investigation (which I’m still not entirely sure is bogus, despite Charlie’s pronouncement in the closing deposition) when there was a perfectly valid reason for an existing character to do it except that Sorkin loves his characters too much to let them make mistakes.  Todd VanDerWerff, riffing off a statement made by Andy Greenwald, points out that Sorkin is a writer who actually doesn’t like conflict among his characters, which is why he so often brings in outside characters (Jerry, Reese, Leona) to introduce the conflict he can’t let his main characters create.

I’m zeroing in on this one, seemingly small issue because it is a non-minor flaw in what has otherwise been a pretty terrific storyline, culminating this week with Jerry’s unforgivable act of manipulating the recording of his interview with General Stomtonovich.  As played, it’s not a bad piece of writing, but it lacks the gravitas that would come from a trusted character making the same decisions.  I don’t know if we’re supposed to sympathize with Jerry’s argument that the media is ignoring the Obama administration’s treatment of human rights (drone strikes, etc.) in situations when they would have excoriated the Bush administration, but it just rings hollow when he’s faking recordings, even though his case seems strong.  Put Maggie in the same situation and make it a story about the soldiers who left her at that school and you have a much more visceral story, one that gives its characters complex motivations rather than just rendering them dupes of the interloper.

The frustrating part is that, one massive misstep aside, the Genoa portions of “One Step too Many” made for a pretty fantastic hour of television.  Mac and Charlie track down an absent-minded general who confirms that Genoa happened (including the “it happened” line from two weeks ago).  Unfortunately, he won’t say so on the record, leading to Jerry’s aforementioned editing.  I’m really skeptical that Sorkin’s going to find a plausible way to walk this story back, given that we’ve still got a half dozen sources all saying the same thing.  Unless this turns into another “very strong tear gas” situation like the real Operation Tailwind, he’s going to have a lot of explaining to do.

I could talk about the rest of the episode but, honestly, it wasn’t that great.  I’m more convinced than ever that this show would work better as a 40-45 minute series with commercial breaks.  That way, we’d trim all the fat (like anything involving Jim and Hallie and the extended anti-Republican rant that had no thematic purpose in the episode) and keep the tonal dissonance (like the transition from the Red Team meeting to Jim and Hallie Skyping)  to a minimum.  The opening and closing scenes of this episode were incredible and, limited to the Genoa investigation, it would have been nearly perfect (Jerry issues aside).  But with so much extraneous bulge added in, it just wasn’t quite what it could have been.

A few spare thoughts –

The decision to show Maggie cutting her hair in “Unintended Consequences” but then have it normal in subsequent episodes was a mistake, not because the timeline is confusing, but because we’re far enough removed from her Ugandan excursion (more than five months now) that I’m beginning to think the haircut is unrelated to Africa and something even worse is going to happen to her in the future.  I don’t mind some shows giving me a constant sense of dread, but this is not one of them.

So who lit the bajillion candles in Jim’s room while he and Hallie were at dinner?

“Why does a politician take polls?”  “To find out what people want him to say the next day.  Are you comfortable with that analogy?”

“It couldn’t matter less but Santa has nine reindeer.”  “Rudolph!”

So thoughts?  Comments?  Just want to tell me my blog sucks?  Let me know in the comments or on Twitter @TyTalksTV.