Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Weeds Recap: The Prodigal Daughter

"I'm not asking you to perjure yourself. Unless you want to."   --Nancy

I suppose I'll go through the motions of a proper recap, even though this whole episode can be summed up in a single phrase: The Return of Tonye Patano! If I can't have Celia, Heylia is definitely the next best thing. I can't wait to see what these two old gal pals will be up to once Heylia gets over her sassy antagonism! Nancy and Silas sought her out to buy weed from under direct orders of the judge handling the custody hearing; well, not a custody hearing so much as an almost entirely wasted cross-country trip, and not direct orders so much as a very loose interpretation thereof. There was supposed to be a custody hearing -- Nancy even brought Silas along as a character witness -- but Evil Jill got it postponed in hopes that Nancy would have difficulties flying out a second time. Nancy, alas, did not manage to see Stevie, in spite of Scott's surprising kindness and a very solid attempt to climb over his and Jill's fence, but she did manage to get a meeting with the judge, courtesy of Silas's soft spot for his mom -- perhaps Nancy was not completely crazy to select him as a character witness over Shane. Meanwhile, Andy broke up with the polyamorous couple with whom he shared a bed for five minutes, Shane finally enrolled in some college courses, and Doug discovered some fraud within his company. The end. Next week it looks like Dean is back as well, possibly living in the boonies with Heylia. Close, but still no Celia. Grrrr.            

Monday, July 25, 2011

Breaking Bad Recap: Bad Guys

"Get me in a room with [Gus] . . . and I'll do the rest."   --Walt

"I'm the bad guy," states a newly sober Jesse in the Season 3 premiere; it is not an offhand remark but a deliberate assertion and a carefully though-out self-identifier resulting from his guilt over Jane's and Combo's deaths. He utters the phrase with a sort of grim yet calm acceptance of what he perceives to be his role and lot in life at that point, but it is not until a whole season later, as he sits alone in front of an enormous subwoofer, that Jesse truly understands how ill-equipped he is to be an actual bad guy.

I've commented last week on how both Walt and Jesse's predicament is such that they are constantly required to negotiate codes of conduct and terms for operating within two different frameworks: the drug world and the real world. For the most part, they've both been plugging along, trying to walk the line but not really choosing a side until the end of Season 3, when both men irrevocably established themselves as gangsters by killing for one another; it was a triumphant moment when Walt came to Jesse's rescue and killed the two thugs responsible for Combo's and Tomas's deaths, and it symbolized Walt's resolve to have his partner's back. Likewise, killing Gale constituted a similar turning point for Jesse, except where Walt proved his allegiance to the partnership by arguably "doing the right thing," Jesse proved his by taking innocent life, the repercussions of which are proving to be debilitating. Unlike Walt, he lacks people in his life who ground him, and he has nothing and no one left to lose, which makes him both tragic and potentially dangerous. The drug-fueled party shots of last night's episode only serve to highlight how utterly alone Jesse is, and the final shot of him enduring a literal and figurative beating administered by a sound system, willing but unable to drown out the weight of what he did, was affecting, to say the least.

While Jesse self-medicates with drugs and rock and roll, Walt is on a mission. He has a much easier time accepting his role of bad guy, at least in theory, and intends to kill Gus at the first opportunity, except that Walt is Walt, and he makes a piss-poor concealed weapon carrier, let alone premeditated murderer. I appreciated the fact that Walt donned his Heisenberg hat right before walking toward Gus's house with murderous intent; unlike Jesse, he still believes he is two people and continues to rationalize his crimes, as we see him doing in his conversation with Mike, right before the latter administers Walt's first beating in the history of Breaking Bad -- a nice change of pace from Jesse being the show's perpetual punching bag. I can't decide if that beating was a result of Mike's loyalty to Gus or his desire to deter Walt from making an even bigger mess of things, but one thing is certain: that guy is a lot more than meets the eye, and I can't wait for the episode that starts digging deeper into his character in a way that goes further than showing him wearily wiping off remnants of Victor from his jacket (not that that wasn't awesome). These three are bad guys, but they sure are intriguing.

In contrast, Hank, who is able to act like a decent human being with everyone but his wife, is a good guy temporarily acting like a bad guy. It's quite the emasculating circumstance he's currently in -- having to depend on Marie for everything -- especially for a man who revels in his masculinity as much as Hank does, and it's tough not to feel for him. These two have a very interesting, old-school kind of marriage; it's safe to assume that young Marie was not first drawn to Hank by his sensitive poet's soul but by the same brand of blustery machismo we've all come to expect from and love about him. The two of them are not "soul mates" in the new-age sense of the term by any means. In the entire history of the show, we've only seen Hank open up to his wife on the occasion of his suspension from the DEA following his brutal assault on Jesse. His job, as he sees it, is to provide for and protect Marie, and now that he can't, he is punishing her by pushing her away, and I am looking forward to the day when Marie will give up the Florence Nightingale routine and really let him have it, because let's face it: that day will come -- remember their bet while Hank was still in the hospital?

This episode was not as edgy or heart-stopping as the last one, but I enjoyed the slower pace and the quiet promise of complications to come. What did everyone else think?

P.S. How funny/typical is it that Saul, like any ambulance chaser worth his salt, is using the plane accident to his advantage? Why let a good air traffic disaster go to waste, after all? And how about that nice little piece of continuity that explained how Walt was able to so cleanly toss a giant pizza onto the roof of his house, back in Season 3?

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Weeds Recap: Tick-Tock

"See? We can be a great team."   --Nancy

This week's episode was all a mad dash for Nancy to procure money for Stevie's preschool so that she can demonstrate reliability and self-sufficiency in any future custody battle with Evil Sister Jill. This dash involved getting a "real job" at Doug's new office, eliminating competition at said "real job" by outing the existing area dealer, sweet talking Silas into peddling their weed himself, then sweet talking Shane into giving her cash to buy more when Silas returned profitless but backed by a hefty client base. Cut to a scene that somehow managed to fit all Afghani cliches into a single 30-second conversation, all just to explain away a "glitch in the supply chain." Oh, boy. Is it wrong that I found the "women are stupid" comment funny?

The episode itself was actually pretty funny. I won't say the quality of the comedy is where it once was for this show, but "A Hole in Her Niqab" did make me laugh out loud for the first time this season: an Andy scene, of course, and not even a particularly clever one. There was just something about seeing him claw at his polyamorous married girlfriend's knob-less bedroom door in a failure to "escape" her Heffneresque husband that did it for me. There were also some mildly amusing penis/steroid jokes courtesy of Doug, but that guy isn't the comedy goldmine he used to be, either. But at least now we know that he got offered his swanky new job mostly because his company needs him for softball season.

Anyway. Even though Martin Short and especially Aidan Quinn were somewhat wasted as "special guest stars" this week, we can expect to see more of them in the future. This episode was really more about the fraught relationship between Nancy and her sons: Silas, whose resentment doesn't seem to be enough to turn him into the mean, punishing son he aspires to be, and Shane, whose guilty conscience doesn't quite motivate him to do what Nancy wants him to do. And so, Silas does his mother's bidding instead of sticking to his resolve to demand her respect, and Shane spends all his student loan money on re-creating her Agrestic bedroom instead of enrolling in college. As for Nancy, in spite of her drug business savvy and enterprising spirit (and sheer dumb luck in acquiring free legal representation and respectable employment at Doug's company), she hits roadblock after roadblock in her ongoing quest to get Stevie back, and I don't just mean physically back -- did anyone catch the part where Nancy is sending him a copy of The Real Mother Goose? I liked the final shot where she hopelessly looks on at her child being comforted by the only family he's ever known, accompanied by the sound of a kitchen timer ticking away and finally dinging. Nancy is reaching her boiling point.

I look forward to next week's custody hearing, and I hope the show does something special for Nancy's return to California. But I suppose a special appearance by Celia would be too much to hope for...

Monday, July 18, 2011

Breaking Bad Recap: How Pure Can Pure Be?

"At least now . . . we're all on the same page . . . the one that says, 'If I can't kill you, you'll sure as shit wish you were dead.'"   --Jesse

I told myself I had neither the time nor the inclination to recap Breaking Bad for the blog and thus delve deeper -- emotionally, psychologically -- into this world than I already have just by watching and being entranced by it over the past three seasons. But I guess I'll have to find the time because the fourth season premiere has just delivered the inclination; there's too damn much to say about this show in a way that internal rumination just isn't going to cut it.

It's funny how I find myself writing simultaneously about two shows so similar in premise, yet so vastly different in tone, depth, and creative reach. Both Weeds and Breaking Bad feature straight protagonists going crooked for the sake of their families, but where the former has developed into an increasingly darker comedy sprinkled with dramatic moments (and hit a bit of a slump around Season 5), the latter kicked off in a dark place right off the bat (the first fatality occurs in the pilot episode), yet the powers that be have managed to keep the plot moving steadily and meaningfully forward and to add new layers of characterization season after season. Breaking Bad is a show devoid of wasted, or pointless, scenes; actions have ramifications that range from the personally tragic to the catastrophic, and each episode has me walking away with a sense of wonder, whether it's caused by a skilfully shot cliffhanger, a tense action sequence, a character-revealing scene, or a moment of particular poignancy. The amount of time I spend arguing back and forth with myself about a character's virtue (or lack thereof), possible justification (or lack thereof), and/or redeemability (or lack thereof), is a testament to how well crafted and psychologically fascinating this show is. It is a highly suspenseful, plot-packed one, to be sure, but make no mistake: character begets action every time on Breaking Bad. And they say television is an inferior form of storytelling.

Last season ended with a conflicted (and tragically lucid) Jesse being forced to carry out Walt's plan for preserving both of their lives: killing Gale, the only other person who could provide Walt's services to the cartel and arguably the most harmless player in Breaking Bad's complicated web of meth production. We are aware of Gale's relative innocence because the show takes deliberate pains to humanize him as a character mere minutes before Jesse shows up to tremulously raise a gun to his head. Fans of the show have been dying to slake their curiosity regarding Gale's fate -- Did the camera merely pan to the side or did Jesse shift aim before shooting? -- and tonight's episode, aptly titled "Box Cutter," reveals it: Gale is indeed dead (along with Jesse's innocence), found by his neighbors and later by Victor, the young goon from the lab -- "Splattered all over," he says. Victor soon stumbles upon a stupefied, nearly catatonic Jesse and delivers him back at the lab, where Mike and Walt are each anxiously awaiting him for entirely different reasons.

The rest of the episode is almost a study in silent acting: Marie in the car, summoning up her inner strength before going inside to deal with a still-immobile Hank (whom she loves but whose mulish machismo makes him a difficult patient); Marie again, struggling to infuse some dignity into helping Hank with the inherently undignified task of defecating into a bedpan; Mike and Walt staring each other down, while Jesse and Victor show up, pointedly revealing Gale's outcome without exchanging a single word. The piece de resistance, of course, is the scene in which Gus, seething with suppressed rage, wordlessly slashes Victor's throat mere feet away from Walt and Jesse's horrified faces, as if to say, "See what you made me do?"

The show is no stranger to graphic, stylish violence, but tonight's gore was little more than a massacre made possible by the titular box cutter -- the same one we earlier saw in a flashback, being wielded by Gale for the purpose of unpacking the lab equipment; one man's device of scientific revelation is another man's instrument of unspeakable brutality. We always knew Gus was a callous bastard, but this was the first time we've seen him act in a way that involved getting his hands dirty -- and how! -- and it was chilling to behold. Even  consummate professional "cleaner" Mike was taken aback by the gruesome display.  Gus, multitasking pro that he is, kills Victor as a means to both tie a loose end and deliver a message to Walt and Jesse, who look on in abject terror. With the exception of Walt's panicked rationalizations and prattling on about his and Jesse's worth, it is nearly ten minutes of a wordless Gus painstakingly suiting up in the hazmat suit, then just as carefully cleaning up after the suit's purpose is served. "Get back to work," he finally says upon leaving. I suddenly have a much easier time believing Gus capable of ordering the murder of the 11-year-old boy from Season 3.

One of the most interesting aspects of this show is in observing the ways in which Walt and Jesse struggle to operate within two frameworks: the real world with its clear, albeit varied, definitions of morality and the chaotic crime world where the regular rules don't apply. Some of the pivotal events of the last season occurred as a direct result of either Walt or Jesse muddying the line between the two worlds, and even though attempting to operate with a semblance of honor in a world run by criminals is inadvisable and more than a little hypocritical, it is also impossible not to admire the intent. In spite of the dark, dark themes, Breaking Bad is a joy to watch perhaps because of its lack of concern with portraying their characters in a sympathetic light. The show takes an almost anthropological approach, wherein it casts no judgment on the characters and thus prohibits the audience from doing so, either. I'm not saying Breaking Bad is a perfect depiction of moral ambiguity, but let's say it's 96% pure.

Other memorable moments this week:
  • Walt worrying about the toxic fumes from Victor's cook, then desperately trying to convince Jesse (and himself) that Victor would screw it up somehow; Walt's rule-following personality and his penchant for rationalization are recurring motifs on the show.
  • The entire hilarious scene involving Saul, his bodyguard, and his new-found paranoia; "You've got a passport, right?"
  • Skyler conning the locksmith into letting her into Walt's apartment; she is always so good in a crisis and in many ways, much cooler under pressure than either Walt or Jesse. 
  • Walt verbalizing responsibility for Gale and thus absolving Jesse, at least symbolically, of the blame: "I'd shoot him again tomorrow, and the next day, and the day after that."
  • Jesse telling Mike to "Trust us." when the latter expresses doubt about the chemicals used to dispose of Victor's corpse; Jesse and Walt have prior experience dissolving bodies in acid. 
  • Walt and Jesse at the diner, discussing the previous night's events; Walt finally treats Jesse as an equal partner, asking him for ideas on how to proceed, while Jesse copes with what's transpired in the quintessential Jesse way: aloof flippancy. 
  • The final shot of the episode echoing the beginning flashback; Gale's fastidiousness in keeping around a folder entitled "lab notes" for the cops to find may have been his final, accidental act of revenge on the people who killed him.
    As I said: no filler scenes on this show.

    Friday, July 15, 2011

    2011 Emmy Nominations: Surprisingly Decent

    The Emmy nominations came out yesterday morning with mostly hits, very few misses. I'm still waiting for the Academy to one day hit on all six of my personal favorite series/performances of a given year, and thus validate my superior taste (like when Arcade Fire won a Grammy), but all in all, I was pretty pleased with the 2011 selections.

    The Awesome:  
    • Game of Thrones got a lot of love, both as a series and as a vehicle for Peter Dinklage's acting, which is good, because I happen to be totally gay for that show. 
    • All the Mad Men nominations were obviously deserved, but they have to give Jon Hamm and Elisabeth Moss the damned statues this year. They're overdue (as is Steve Carell), and the season itself was unsurpassable. Hear that, Boardwalk Empire? Unsurpassable.  
    • Parks and Recreation being nominated for Outstanding Comedy Series was about damn time, and it should definitely win... because I love it the most right now. Amy Poehler, too -- Sorry, Tina! I still worship at your altar! -- but alas, it'll probably go to Laura Linney, since she's in the movies and stuff.
    • Martha Plimpton! I didn't stick around for the entire first season of Raising Hope, but for as long as I did, her work (and Garret Dillahunt's) was the reason I tuned in week after week.
    • Equally exclamation-point-worthy: Louis C.K.! This guy is without a doubt one of the funniest comedians around; I would watch him get interviewed by The View, that's how funny he is.
    The Snubs:
    • Community is not quite in my top 6 comedies, but between Joel McHale, Alison Brie, Donald Glover, and Danny Pudi, it's a shame the show wasn't awarded a single acting nomination.
    • Oh, but forget the Community cast for a second, because you cannot call yourself an American and not vote for Nick Offerman in the supporting comedy actor category; that's Ron Fucking Swanson you're snubbing!
    • Michael Pitt on Boardwalk Empire looks, sounds, breathes, and just plain is the part. Period.
    • Toni Colette and Keir Gilchrist were pretty fantastic on the final season of United States of Tara, as were Mary Louise Parker on Weeds and Kiernan Shipka on Mad Men; I can't remember the last time a performance made me forget that the actor was actually a child.  
    • The In Treatment actors: Gabriel Byrne, Dane DeHaan (a young Leo DiCaprio in every way), Irrfan Khan, Amy Ryan, Debra Winger... Again, I ask: not a single nomination?
    • Failing to consider Carlos among the year's best miniseries is criminal any way you cut it.
    My Unfulfilled Wishlist of Admitted Long Shots: 
    • Cougar Town, in fact, is in my top 6 comedies, so... that was a bummer. (The Big Bang Theory? Really? Who can seriously still abide a live-audience show anymore? And why does not-Sheldon have Joel McHale's lead actor spot? Not OK, guys.)
    • Mary Elizabeth Ellis on the short-lived Perfect Couples was the highlight of an overall strong cast; somebody give her another sitcom!
    • Ellie Kemper as Erin on The Office is pure perfection in my eyes.
    • I have to believe that one day Dexter's Jennifer Carpenter will get the recognition she deserves. Otherwise, what's the point of anything?
    • Chloe Sevigny has never been nominated for Big Love, and that just makes me sad.
    • Would I lose all credibility if I suggested Terriers should have been shortlisted for outstanding drama this year? I like Dexter, but the show is failing to grow out of its one-note-ness with each passing season. 
    So that's where The Emmys leave us until the coutoure-clad winners are announced in September. What did everyone else think? Did the good outweigh the perplexingly bad this year? I don't know about you guys, but these nominations really made me want to start and resume watching Justified and The Good Wife, respectively. So, should I bother?

    Wednesday, July 13, 2011

    Weeds Recap: Become a Real Person

    "Learned nothing from three years behind bars?"    --Andy

    Well, my friend Ed was off this week, but he sure did work his magic from behind the scenes, getting Nancy into a drug class instead of kicking her ass back to prison for her little slip-up. And Shelby Keene is no mnemonic-rhyming nurturer, that's for sure. Like Nancy, Shelby comes from a past of drug-dealing, you see, so she is immune to Ms. Botwin's excuses for why she failed a urine test and fights with her roommates. Or at least she would have been if Nancy weren't so crazy-untouchable; of course Shelby is touched by Nancy's plight, what with her dead baby daddy and estranged child. To be fair, though, that speech really was pretty damn compelling, because sister Jill Price Hyphen Gray? Still a jerk of mythical proportions, believe it or not. Her newest bout of assholery includes asking Nancy to sign away permanent custody of Stevie, which means Nancy has to get her shit together before she can be released back into society and take back her kid. Dealing weed may not be the smartest move for her at this point, but it may be the quickest route to financial solvency.

    As for her other two sons, Nancy sent one in pursuit of college admission and suffered through a cold reunion with the other, who is now using Lars's last name as his nom de pec. The poor bastard (pun intended) had narrowly escaped suffocation (in the name of art!) mere minutes prior to finding his mother rocking his outfit and stashing her high-frequency radio (get it?) in his apartment. Silas is justifiably angry still, but the satisfaction of giving Nancy money for cab fare must surely have helped some. Otherwise, it's just been another week, another hideous outfit for Nancy, but thankfully she wasn't wearing it when she propositioned Zoya's brother... Dmitri, is it? Come on, Nance: show some loyalty to your psychotic prison girlfriend and maybe bang some other tall dude, maybe one that doesn't share her parentage. Granted, it's been three years since you've done it hetero, so I get it: Nancy horny.

    Poor Andy seems to have resumed his hopeless crush on his sister-in-law almost immediately, if his discomfort at seeing some flashes of Nancy were any indication. Unfortunately for him, she only wants him to research some of the dealers whose names were casually dropped during her drug class. But surely he can find temporary love with the pretentious artiste of Silas's lucrative, humiliating first NYC job. Other jobs offered in this episode? Wall Street accountant. To Doug. Am I missing something? Was Doug so good of an accountant as to warrant the amount of ass-kissing bestowed upon him this week? What is Doug even still doing on this show? He'd better go full idiot quick; this playing at being a semi-responsible adult isn't working for me.

    Next week: Martin Short and Aidan Quinn guest star. What the what?

    Thursday, July 7, 2011

    Weeds Recap: Working Girl

    "So you're saying we should be wearing helmets around her now?"       --Andy

    I'm on vacation this week, so I'll make this snappy.

    As the Botwin boys (and Doug) arrive in the Big Apple looking for their matriarch, Nancy puts on a hideous outfit, sees them, makes prolonged eye contact with Silas, freaks out and flees. She has bigger fish to fry, you see; she wants back into the weed game, prompting the question: Is this really all she knows how to do? Would it have been so hard for her to at least try to learn the lamp repair game from the nice Hasidic man? But I digress. So she needs product to sell. What is there to do but trade for it the suitcase full of grenades belonging to Zoya's brother, a man Nancy will undoubtedly bang at a later date. But whatever. Aside from Nancy getting uncharacteristically high this week, the Botwins were boring. Even Silas and his male model-esque short-pants suit.

    I want to talk about someone else this week -- Ed. Can I just say something? I love Ed. Only two episodes and Ed is already my new favorite character. Allow me to outline in detail the marshmallowy beauty of Ed:

    Ed is totally papa bear warden to Nancy and her housemates but not in that annoying, paternalistic way some of us gals have come to expect from big guys who talk to us real slow, lest our wee bird brains are unable to follow non-rhyming words delivered at man-speed. Don't get me wrong: Ed is a big softie (he already got taken in by Nancy's big sad eyes once and will probably do so again next week) and I believe Ed would swiftly neutralize any potential threat to his cub-ettes, like some sort of awesome pimp superhero. But Ed doesn't patronize these women, because Ed doesn't underestimate them. (I guess the one surefire way for a woman to get a man's full attention is to be a proven criminal?) Ed is, dare I say, a feminist. In fact, Ed is the best kind of feminist, because Ed could care less what that word means; Ed just is it. And that's why I love Ed. Plus, his name is Ed! How perfect is that? I'll say it again, because I love it so gosh-darn much: Ed.