Tuesday, April 26, 2011

USOT Recap: Transitions

"I liked you." Lionel

...And the Lionel/Marshall union is as past as the tense of that verb, folks. I have to admit that even though I never thought the two were right for each other, it was a little bit sad that Lionel, the threesome-orchestrator and general boundary-pusher of the group, ended up being more invested in his relationship with and subsequent breakup from Marshall than viceversa. It's the first true glimpse of complexity I've seen from Lionel, and I sure hope this isn't the last we'll be seeing from him, because I definitely appreciate what his character brings to the show and to television in general. I don't think we've had much in the way of complete, unapologetic, even self-destructive gay characters on TV since Six Feet Under and certainly none that were so young.

I actually don't know what surprised me more about this week's episode: that Marshall initiated the secret fooling around with Noah or that Dr. Hattaras listens to death metal in his adorable, tiny car. The good professor still purports not to believe in DID, but he is definitely showing some avid interest in Tara, pursuing her through different channels when she initially refuses to allow him to write a paper on her condition. (Apparently Hattaras is some sort of genius therapist in addition to skeptical academic.) It turns out that last week's big treatise among the Taras resulted in a surprisingly detailed and coherent written contract agreed upon and signed by the alters, a direct result of which was an almost too-easy interaction where Alice relinquishes the body to Tara upon immediate request. Of course, that was Alice. Jury's still out on the integrity of the loose-cannon alters T and Buck, not to mention the mystery alter that I still believe exists somewhere in Tara's subconscious in spite of his/her absence from the imaginary conference room.

Meanwhile, Charmaine and Neil are in over their heads with baby Cassie, but Charmaine still stubbornly refuses Tara's involvement and help (at least initially; the damn "sister scene" at the end made me get all teary-eyed again). Max is not having an awesome professional experience at his new job with Orgalawn. Turns out, having to answer to someone else might not be worth the financial security. I'm actually pretty disappointed with the Max storylines so far. More often than not, he seems to be treated as a passive character by the writers, reactive rather than proactive, which would be fine if the factors he were reacting to were less lame. Basically, I would like to see him be more than a foil for Tara, but at the very least he could be given some marginally more interesting conflicts.

In fact, this whole episode was merely OKmore of a transitional chapter than anything else, dealing primarily with the gradual shifts into events we all knew would take place sooner or later: the Marshall/Lionel breakup, the Tara/Charmaine reunion, the Tara/Dr. Hattaras partnership. The only truly entertaining scenes this week were Kate's, who was also stuck in her own transitioning phase from aimless teen to spunky flight attendant but who at least had some hilarious interactions in the process.

Rumor has it Dr. Hattaras will make an important discovery in one of Tara's therapy tapes next week. It better be good.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

USOT Recap: Mistress of Her Domain

 "I am dissolving the united states of Tara and declaring myself king."  Tara

If only it should be so easy! One might wonder, of course, why Tara never thought to attempt a "benevolent dictatorship" over her alters a long time ago, but I suppose I can accept the notion that nothing constitutes a wake-up call quite like your sister telling you she doesn't want/trust you around her baby. And so it is that Tara finally decides to lay down the law in that big white conference room in her mind, resolving that her alters will only see the light of day on her terms; in other words, there will be no more hijacking of her body. Buck, Shoshanna, Alice, and even T begrudgingly consent to behave, calmly laying down their requests on neat little yellow legal pads, and everything is just peachy.

Haha! Just kidding! The legal pads, the conference room, the rational discussion among the Taras... This is not how things work in real life. She may have reached an agreement on the inside, but chaos still reigns on the outside. It should be ironic (but it isn't, really), that the sanest exchange undergone by the personalities leaves Tara face to face with her most insane-looking self to date: frazzled, mussed, and covered in four other people's contractual termsa crazy person's manifesto of her own makingalone in the middle of an empty classroom on the day of her big Ab Psych test. (The image was so jarring that I even thought I could find a flaw of logistics in the fact that both of Tara's arms were covered in writing, but when I went back to the video, sure enough, Buck is a lefty.) It's not difficult to imagine what the big one-person treatise might have looked like from the perspective of Dr. Hattaras, who sat there and observed the whole show and, if the look on his face was any indication, just became a convert of the school of DID.

It was tough to watch that final scene of Tara acknowledging to Hattaras that her biggest fear was realized and that she is, in fact, "crazy." All throughout "Wheels," she is seen repeatedly denying her problem, and you can clearly see the doubt in her eyes as she assures Marshall that their family is all right, Charmaine that she will be a trustworthy aunt to baby Cassandra Wheels, and Max that she can handle the pressure of college. By the end of the episode, all doubt is gone and so is denial, and Tara finally admits that she needs help. It's a victory of sorts, but it isn't sweet. 

The sweet quota this week was pretty much filled by Charmaine and Neil's daughter and all the subsequent baby-gushing she inspired.

Meanwhile, back in Gaynsas (Gay Kansas)... What are Marshall, Lionel, and Noah to do in a big empty house when drunk on "80-proof mouthwash" and their own sense of intellectual/sexual grandeur? Why, recreate famous movie threesomes, of course! They're young, they're gaysexual adventurousness is what's expected, right?

Kate was rather wasted in this episode, just a lot of whining and embarrassment over her failed Japanese experiment, but by the end of the episode she did get her eureka moment regarding flight attendant training. Called it! Whether or not she will actually succeed in this endeavor remains to be seen, but I am getting some mild flashes of Zooey Deschanel in Almost Famous from her.

Next week it looks like Tara finds herself the unwilling subject of an academic paper. Also, Marshall and Noah may or may not be having something of a teenage tryst sans Lionel. That's the thing about threesomes: Someone always gets the shaft. So to speak.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

USOT Recap: All About My Mother

 "Yeah, keep on kicking, kid. Your pre-determined life of misery and disappointment is three weeks away." —Charmaine

Except apparently the "kid" felt three weeks was too long to put off the inevitable and decided to get a head start on that miserable life in the coolest, most disturbing between-the-legs water-breaking-slash-car-crash closing shot I've ever seen. But let's back up a bit.

Last night's episode was all very mother-centric, what with Charmaine's baby shower planning, Tara's difficulty coping with Kate's leaving, and Max's visit to his agoraphobic hoarder of a mother, this last of which turned out to be very revelatory indeed. I knew a connection would be drawn sooner or later between Max's crazy-adjacent childhood and his crazy-choosing adulthood, but I did not expect to learn that his father left his mother over a similar issue (during a long-ago Christmas season, no less), let alone that Max himself has considered doing the same. At this point, it begs the question of whether Max stuck around out of love and dedication to his family or out of sheer stubbornness and refusal to follow in his father's footsteps. Max is a great man/husband/father combo, and I don't doubt his commitment to his family, but it was interesting to get a glimpse into his history and a new dimension to his character, nevertheless.

While Max was dealing with his mother and his past, Tara was slaving away on Charmaine's baby shower, struggling to throw a decent party as well as appeasing her sister, who has been growing more and more negative and anxious about impending motherhood now that Neil is out of work. Oh, and she's also a self-loathing narcissist. The shower was shaping up to be a pathetic disaster anyway, so it's just as well that Charmaine went into labor outside a grocery store.

Kate's Japanese adventure seems to have taken a nosedive, as well. First, her plans to teach English in Osaka were thwarted by a massive earthquake, in what has to be the most unfortunate case of television prescience ever. Then, when she found herself an alternate host city, a beautiful flight attendant freaked her out about it with a casual comment. By the time a panicked Kate rushed back out into the airport terminal, I couldn't help but be disappointed that Japan would no longer be one of the settings of this show, but I am curious about what Kate will decide to do next; my money's on flight attendant training.

Tara's transitions were brief but plentiful in this episode. We've seen from Alice, Buck and T, and it's always interesting to note how different situations in Tara's life call for different personalities, yet how all of them are more or less catering to whatever her needs are at a given time. Alice pitched in with the baby shower arrangements, Buck hit the newest roadblock in his on-going quest to locate the abusive half-brother from Tara and Charmaine's childhood, and T... well, T is just pure id, showing up whenever Tara herself is too nice to be a real bitch to someone who may or may not be asking for it. When this show first started, the transitioning seemed random to me, but the more I pay attention to it, the more I see how deliberately and purposefully Tara is constructed.

So far, I like the direction the show is taking this season. I was a little bit worried about some of the less-than-stellar storylines of Season 2, but the last three episodes have been doing wonders toward restoring my faith in Diablo Cody's creation. I look forward to seeing the result of the "united states of Tara" meeting next week; I have a feeling it won't be as simple as Tara declaring herself king of the domain.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

USOT Recap: Back to School

Favorite line: "Ah, Ms. Gregson. Quite a tour de force yesterday. I was dragged kicking and screaming to rehab for behavior less strange." Dr. Hattaras

"Crackerjack" kicks off with some "raw" footage of the Gregsons through Marshall's new camera. He really seems to be hitting this documentary filmmaking thing hard, capturing some casual-yet-telling reactions from his family members in the first scene of the episode. In one fell swoop we are treated to Tara's back-to-school jitters as well as Max's increasing frustration with his landscaping business (or lack thereof).

From there, it doesn't take Tara long to realize university campuses are not kind to students of a certain age, and her anxiety reaches new heights upon stepping into the classrooma sprawling, auditorium-style affaircausing her to transition into Shoshanna and pretend to be the substitute psychology professor. Naturally, Dr. Hattaras (Eddie Izzard, who is staying sardonically English in this role, thank the Queen) is none too happy and proceeds to use Tara's condition as a humiliating topic of discourse in the class. This wouldn't be quite so bad if he weren't so utterly disdainful of the validity of her disorder. His skepticism does, however, catalyze an appearance by T, which is always a joyous occasion, speaking strictly as a viewer.

The rest of the men this week saw varying degrees of personal success, the highest being Max's somewhat-forced decision to sell his business to the big dog Orgalawn. Unfortunately, this sale is leaving Neil in quite the lurch, job-wise, but I am excited to see what his next move will be. Hopefully something that will make him significantly more attractive to Charmaine. Or as she put it, "you weren't planning on being a gardener your whole life, were you?" Ouch.

Marshall and Lionel are excited about their film class but disappointed to be thrust into an almost entirely gay group, under their teacher's misguided hope that they will create "something deeper, more emotional... a little more razzmatazz." Still, I appreciated seeing Lionel's more vulnerable side as he asked Marshall if they were together out of love or sheer proximity. Blondie cares, y'all!

As for Kate, after an unfortunate run-in with a particularly coital Neil and Charmaine, her goal du jour has become the quick and thorough escape from her family. The solution? Move to Japan to teach English. I love it when shows incorporate real trends into their stories. And it will be interesting to see Kate completely out of her element, and I really hope the writers are able to pull off sequestering one of the main characters from their main Kansas setting. That is, if Kate ends up going at all, which is still unclear at this point. My guess is that it will happen, because not only is Kate behaving much more responsibly, but it also seems like the show is actively trying to make her seem that way with older-looking makeup and hair. Though Brie Larson was 20 when the show debuted, she's always been very convincing as a 15/16-year-old in demeanor and facial expression, but this season I am getting a marked sense of maturity from her, and that has to be deliberate, because Larson is a terrific actress.

It appears I totally called it last week insofar as the Charmaine/Neil dynamic, as Sweet Moment #1 made itself known almost immediately during the course of this episode, with Charmy declaring that the father of her child is a better man than her dream guy. And the "Awww" moments didn't stop there. I'm referring, of course, to the Marshall/Kate interaction in the empty lot... thing. Brother/sister scenes on comedies, especially those involving teenagers, tend to have an undertone of cattiness and competition, so I find it nice to be able to count on the Gregson siblings to always have each other's backs, no matter what. But even that moment was nothing compared to the touching scene at the end of the episode, involving Tara and Kate and a poignant mother-daughter role reversal that gave Tara a new understanding of her eldest child.

And speaking of mothers, it looks like next week will usher in Max's own (Frances Conroy of Six Feet Under!), and she appears to be a pretty severe hoarder, in light of which it really seems like Max was somewhat predisposed to falling for a psychologically disturbed woman. Thoughts?

Friday, April 1, 2011

Did Grey's Anatomy: The Musical Event Sing?

Well, folks, I wouldn’t have seen myself here for this particular purpose in a million years, but brace yourselves, Interweb and TV snobs alike, because I’m about to rave review the crap out of Grey’s Anatomy. Yes, that show. The very same melodramatic, repetitive, monologue-laden Grey’s Anatomy that, in an era when the preponderance of musical TV seems to be at an all-time high, managed to pool its collective creative resources and put out a really fine hour of television and the show's single best episode since last season's finale, in my newly humble opinion.

Viewers had been waiting for this musical event with varying degrees of anticipatory glee. Me, I wasn’t expecting very much, both because Grey’s is not my favorite thing on TV and because the musical episode is a feat many shows have done before to varying degrees of success. (I loved the Scrubs musical and, in spite of my better judgment, still enjoy Glee. And to all you Buffy fanatics out there: relax; the only reason I’m not extolling it here is because I haven’t yet gotten around to watching the entire series. Someday, fellow Whedonites. Someday.) Perhaps that’s why I was so blown away by “Song Beneath the Song,” which succeeded in the added challenges of being a non-cheesy musical chapter in a drama and fitting into the larger-scale continuity of the show. In other words, it wasn't a standalone.

Granted, not all the musical interludes made sense within the framework of the episode, in that they were supposed to be a projection of Callie’s damaged brain/subconscious even though neither Callie nor astral Callie were present for all of them. Still, the production struck a good balance of reality and dream, and I liked the way the music was integrated, at times being superimposed with real dialogue. And I really liked the way the episode stayed true to one of the show’s trademarks—characters overly repeating certain lines—but this time switched it up by interrupting those repetitions with the musical sequences. Finally, I liked how this detail was mirrored in the final scene, with Callie’s first words upon waking being her acceptance of Arizona’s marriage proposal, a continuation of her earlier speech in the car fantasy.

Musically, though it was obvious that most of the cast members aren’t singers, I think the gang did a decent job of faking it for a night. And none was better (or more featured) than Sara Ramirez, who was luminous and fierce and totally in her element—clearly, that Tony was well deserved—which was fitting, since the episode was narrated from her character’s perspective. Her version of Snow Patrol’s “Chasing Cars” that kicked off the episode had me so enraptured that I had a stronger-than-usual urge to smack Owen Hunt when he cut in for the second stanza. All in all, it might not have been a perfect musical episode, but it was a great Grey’s Anatomy episode, unusually well written and well directed.

Here were some of my favorite moments (I’ll fight the urge to recount the episode scene by scene):

  • The slow-motion sequence. Can someone explain to me how Callie’s lip movements were slowed down yet in perfect sync to the song recording?
  • The “How to Save a Life” number. Sure, the famous Fray song is a huge cliché, but it happened to fit in really well with what was happening on-screen.
  • Arizona saving the baby. It worked out perfectly, her being the only one of the Callie/Mark/Arizona parental trio to be legally allowed to treat the baby, and by doing so, carving for herself the much-coveted connection to said baby. Biology, be damned—Dr. Robbins just became a mother. Well played, Grey’s.
  • Callie belting out “The Story.” Ramirez’s emotive singing, pitch-perfect acting and vocal power made this cover more than worthy of Brandi Carlile’s original rendition.
What did you love about “Song Beneath the Song”? What did you hate? And how do you feel about this ever-popular musical television trend?

P.S. How awful would it be of me to say "April Fools!" right now?