Tuesday, January 29, 2008

The Depressing Girl

I decided to watch Hallmark’s “The Russell Girl” on Sunday night, not because I am a huge fan of their movies, but because I had seen a decent review of it earlier in the weekend. I also read some positive comments about it from Amber Tamblyn, who I am a fan of. Normally I would ignore an actor praising a project they worked on, since they are essentially required to promote the movie/show. However, in this case I was disappointed.

The movie started out with Tamblyn’s character being diagnosed with cancer, so you know the depressing tone of the movie right away. But “The Russell Girl” was not just depressing because a main character had cancer, it was depressing because everyone shown was way too unhealthy emotionally. It made it uncomfortable to watch – maybe some people enjoy watching characters who are hurting themselves and each other, but I don’t.

Most of the characters appeared to take steps forward towards the end of the movie, and I guess this was supposed to be uplifting. I don’t think the writing pulled this off though. There needed to be a stronger reason that the people were changing, and I just didn’t see that happening. It seemed more like the everyone got to the last third of the film, and decided they needed to act differently to create a good ending, rather then events unfolding organically.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Last Betty for now

Of course, Ugly Betty would air the last episode before a writers’ strike induced hiatus with a cliffhanger.

I must not have been paying attention to casting news for this show, because I had no idea that Gabrielle Union had been cast as a guest star, let alone that she would be playing Whilimena’s sister. I could tell there was something off about Renee after she started hitting on Daniel, but I couldn’t quite figure out what. I do like the idea of giving family to Whilemina, especially if it means restarting the Slater/Meade family feud. I will be eagerly waiting the return of this show to find out what Renee's secret is.

Which brings me to the Christina as a surrogate story, which is already starting to add to the show. Her slinking around Whilimena’s apartment picking up the dirt, is a good set up conflict for this new storyline with Renee. It is also nice, because it means that what happens with Whilimena will finally have an impact on the folks at Mode. She is too great a character to remain isolated for long.

Another thing that came out of this episode is Claire starting her own magazine. I love this idea. It will give Judith Light’s character something to do now that the murder trial is over, and I can imagine the situations it will lead to. I wouldn’t want a new magazine to take away from anything going on at Mode, but I think seeing more staff members around will be entertaining.

There is not really much to say on the Betty portion of the story. As I have said, her character interests me the least. I agreed with Daniel that she was being immature by not wanting to interview the writer of a “How to Pick Up Chicks” book, I knew he was playing her, and I knew the writer’s dating tips would work. And honestly, I had no interest in watching any of it. I would have much preferred to see more of Amanda writing her song. Amanda is not someone I would want to know in real life, but she has some of the funniest lines. A story like her’s – where she contacts her rock-star-biological-father by writing him a song – would only happen on Ugly Betty. This is what makes the show entertaining.

Chuck Sandwich

Chuck is definitely one of the shows I have missed the most as the writers’ strike drags on, so I was pleased with the “Chuck Sandwich” that NBC served up last night. Of the two episodes, I thought the first one was much better, although I liked the second one as well. This was mainly because I have wanted backstory on Agent Casey for awhile and because the dramatic stakes in the second episode were a little contrived.

As soon as I saw the flashback to Casey and his girlfriend I knew that she was going to end up being a spy as well. I also knew she was not going to really be dead (not that I can take too much credit for knowing that – they would not have started the episode with a flashback if the character was not going to be important. I was impressed with the way the show handled the reveal though. Letting her be good, without giving her and Casey a happy ending seemed fitting for the show.

Giving Casey a romantic interest and more of a backstory gave Chuck and Casey more bonding time, which played out very well on screen. So much of the show has been focused on the “will they or won’t they” aspect of Casey and Sarah’s relationship, that Casey’s place in the whole mess has gotten the brush-off. This helped make up for that. Chuck teasing Casey about Ilsa was one of the most humorous moments of last night.

The second episode had its good points as well. The storyline with Captain Awesome proposing to Ellie was sweet and the Buy More employees reacting to the robbery added to the joke quota. And I did have to laugh at the bad guy (so to speak) being revealed to be a pita delivery girl. Apparently in the world of Chuck, all women spies go undercover as food service employees in skimpy customers.

But since the premise of the show revolves around Chuck not being sent into hiding, we knew that episode would end with Sarah and Casey finding the receiver and no one finding out that Chuck is the intersect. This is not the first time the show has used this as the conflict of an episode, and I am sure it won’t be the last. But Chuck works best when the show acknowledges this will never happen and finds another source for their drama.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Guilty Pleasure: Wildfire

When it comes to television, I have more than one "guilty pleasure." I think that term means different things to different people, so I'll elaborate. I have more than one show I am embarrassed to admit to watching, usually because they are meant for people a few years younger than me. One of these is the ABC Family series Wildfire. I don't know quite what it is about the show, I don't have any interest in horse and there are more than a couple plausibility issues with the plot. Regardless, I was still giddy about the premiere of Season 4 last night.

Season 3 ended last March, so the details of how it ended were not completely fresh in my mind. But I did remember the basics and the cliffhanger - Kris losing her jockey license, Dani losing her racing license, Kris leaving with almost everyone hating her, Raintree losing its horse. Oh, and of course, the final scene, with Kris walking down a highway and looking into someone's car window.

That last part was resolved right away, with pretty much a nothing conclusion. It was Dani in the car. This was obvious to anyone who has seen the previews since they reveal Kris is gone from Raintree when the series starts. If anyone else had been in the car, they would have convinced her to come home. However, I was a little disappointed that Dani being in the car didn't mean the two girls were about to have some 'Thelma and Louise'-like bonding experience. They did hug at the lead in to the credits, but other than that, it doesn't seem like there was a whole lot of interaction between the two in the months that passed before the premiere. Hopefully, now that Kris is back, the two will have that - I have always thought they would be better friends than enemies.

Meanwhile, Raintree farms was turned into a dude ranch for tourists and has given up racing. I am not sure this is so bad. The ranch was always in danger of losing money, and a plot like that can only last for so long without the characters looking dumb. This will sort of solve that. However, I don't buy for a minute that Wildfire is going to be retired. This show is fairly predictable, so I see Kris coming back, helping him get his times up, him winning again, her getting her racing license back, etc.

Speaking of predictable, let's talk about Junior. last night. As soon as I saw that girl on the side of the road, I knew she was going to be Junior's new love interest. But I will admit to being a Kris/Junior shipper, so I kind of hope that doesn't work out. And as much as the previews have shown "Junior's wedding" I don't buy that he will actually get married - unless it is the season finale and he is marrying Kris. However, speaking of Kris/Junior, I do feel a little bad for Matt. He spends six months pining for Kris and when he goes to see her all she cares about is her horse and Junior? It is a bit of a slap in the face.

In total, I was a little disappointed about the premiere, but I think a lot of that is because the premiere was trying to re-establish storylines. I am still looking forward to the rest of the season - I have high hopes that there will be some good stuff with Kris reestablish her connection with Paublo and Dani finally getting recognition for how awesome she is.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Free at Last

After seeing the previews for this week's Ugly Betty, I didn't think I would enjoy it nearly as much as I did. The clips of Betty acting "crazy" and Ignacio thinking she was pregnant seemed a bit cringe worthy. Instead, I was pleasantly surprised at how nicely it played out.

To start with, America Ferrera did a fantastic job at becoming unhinged. I think that because she has been playing the same character for almost two seasons it is easy to forget that she does such a good job at it. When she gave a hysterical performance playing a drugged Betty, I was reminded of her talents. There were so many points where I was laughing out loud - her singing in the kitchen, her jumping on Henry in the elevator, and her complimenting Amanda's "sparkly" shirt. This also gave a Betty a chance to interact more with Gio. I know I just said last week that I was glad Betty and Henry are together. And I still stand by that. But America Ferrera has a lot more chemistry with Freddy Rodriguez than she does with Christopher Gorham. A lot of the appeal of Betty/Henry last season was the "will they won't they" factor. As what often happens, once they are together it gets a little boring. But Betty and Gio are at a more argumentative stage, and it is more fun to watch - and since my feeling about Ugly Betty is that it is all about fun, this is a strong factor.

This was all going on in the background of Claire's trial for Faye's murder. I have to say, that I love the way the this played out. I assumed that they would have Claire found guilty, mostly because it keeps the angst alive. But her being found not-guilty gives Judith Light a chance to have more storylines, she has done brilliant work in the past, so this is a definite plus. I also liked the twist that Claire only killed Faye because Faye had poisoned her perfume. It added to mythology that Faye was essentially a bitch and made Claire seem less cold-hearted. It was a little unrealistic the way the trial ended - hidden diary pages and poisoned perfume show up in court and there is a not-guilty verdict that day? Not very likely. But it let Amanda and Marc have a stake in the trial, and was a way to wrap up the storyline quickly. And again, it was definitely fun.

I'll talk more about the Christina as Whilemina's surrogate next week, since it seems like that story will really play out then. I love the idea, and think it holds a lot of promise for great storylines. I knew Christina would eventually end up being the surrogate, so it was a little tiresome to see the red herrings about other ways to raise money for her husband's surgery. For that matter, it is a little contrived to have Christina's husband show up out of the blue needing surgery. But, if that is what is needed to start the story going, I am okay with it. I'm glad to see that Betty already knows what is happening and is being supportive. We already had the plot where Betty found out about Christina helping Whilemina, and I didn't want to repeat it. It also shows how Betty has grown as a character, which I liked - a lot of shows aren't able to do that. But I have a feeling everything will be shot to hell when it is revealed who the father of Whilemina's baby is. Personally, I can't wait.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Unhappily Ever After

Ever since Sarah was killed off of Prison Break, I have slowly been losing interest in the show. With her gone, there is no way for Michael to have the happy ending I have been imagining for almost three seasons. The impact of this, is that I care less about what happens. Despite this, I still want Michael to eventually get out of SONA and for him and Lincoln to have some sense of peace. I had almost forgotten what had happened in the last episode before the hiatus, but most of it came back to me as the episode continued.

I was surprised to see Michael give up so easily when he was in "the box." When the general first put him in there, I thought about how I could actually see his mind working out a solution to this latest problem. But apparently the heat was too much for him. Even so, after he started spilling everything he knew about the company, I still thought he had a plan. There was something about the way he looked at Whistler (when the other prisoner was brought in to confirm the story), that felt like there was more going on. Unfortunately, that didn't really turn out to be the case. And unfortunately for Michael, trusting an authority figure (possibly the one authority figure that is not corrupt), did not help him save LJ or get out of prison.

There was not a lot of focus on Lincoln in this episode, but I did like most of what they showed. There is something very attractive about a man sacrificing something to save his children, and that is pretty much all Lincoln has done this season. Last night, his interaction with Sofia also seemed to take a step forward. This might have a lot to do with Sofia's lack of trust with Whistler. I don't buy for a second that he only had that secret apartment to set up a life for him and Sofia, and I don't think she did either. The story looks like it will end with Whistler proving himself loyal to the "company," and Sofia running off with Lincoln and Michael - whenever the escape eventually happens. At least there would be one couple to like happily ever after.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Online Entertainment

A few weeks ago I finally got around to watching Quarterlife online. The great thing about it being an online show, is that I had the option of doing this on my own time, instead of watching on schedule.

The short episodes (about ten minutes each) have a lot more entertainment in them than I would have expected. I think the short segments force the writers to cram in only relevant dialog and action into the show. The web show is created by the forces behind "My So-Called Life," a fact that is almost obvious. One of the main characters, Dylan, seems so much like Angela Chase grown up that it is scary. The show feels like what Friends would have been like as a melodrama. There is a core group of twenty-somethings living in a city. However, instead of sitting around coffee shows making jokes, they are talking (or video-blogging) about the problems in their lives. This is not as annoying as it sounds, almost all the characters are likable. One exception is Debra. I liked her character well enough, until the episode where she and her boyfriend, Danny, broke up. Her story changed from best friend/supporting character to depressed girl. I can certainly understand the dramatic reasons for this, but I have never found it interesting to watch a depressed person mope. To state it obviously, it is depressing.

I am much more interested in following Dylan. She revealed she was in love with Jed, but since he has also proven to be interested in Debra, I am hoping nothing happens with Jed/Dylan. No one deserves to be dating someone who is in love with someone else. When Eric was introduced, I was also against Eric/Dylan as a couple. I know a lot of people think two characters who fight are meant to be, but often people just fight because they dislike each other. Early on, this was what I thought described Dylan/Eric. But now that they have kissed, I am starting to see that they could be a couple. However, I also have a feeling Dylan is the type of person who is happier being miserable, so it will be interesting to watch her in a good relationship.

Fun Betty's Friends

Watching Ugly Betty never fails to entertain me. It is often over-the-top and often has ridiculous or unrealistic plots, but it is always hysterical and enjoyable. I think about half the lines are so out-there that I can't believe they can say them on prime time television.

This past week, was the first time I also saw the possibility of Betty and Daniel as a couple. I know hearing about the original version of this show that Betty/Daniel is the endgame and have never been happy about it. The relationship between the two seemed better as boss/assistant teaming up to succeed at the magazine. This past week, got me thinking there could really be something more. The way Daniel agreed to use healthy models because of how Betty felt, and the way that Betty was so upset Daniel was willing to sell out felt like a step forward for them. I have previously seen hints that the writers were trying to do this, but usually saw them as forced. This past week, the chemistry was just right. I still may not be happy about the two as an eventual couple, but if things continue in this direction, I will be willing to consider it in a couple seasons.

However, despite the show being about her, Betty is the character I am least interested in right now. I am happy she is finally with Henry, and hope that he doesn't actually leave at the end of the season, but her scenes are just not the ones I focus on. Who would, when there is so much else going on? This season alone there has been Alexis not remembering her sex-change, Amanda searching for her father, Bradford's death, and now Whilemina using Bradford's (sort of stolen) sperm to have his heir. Throw in Justin doing pretty much anything, or Marc and Amanda's banter, and there is almost no need for Betty's presence.

The Gossip Hour

It is almost strange how all the shows I was most excited about at the beginning of this television season didn't live up to my expectations, while all the pilots I didn't care about that much got better and better.

I already talked about Journeyman becoming one of my favorite shows, and now it is time to discuss Gossip Girl. Originally, I thought this just a bad imitation of The OC. Even with Josh Schwartz creating both shows, Gossip Girl just didn't seem to capture the essence of its predecessor. But it turns out, it just needed some time to catch its footing. After a few episodes, the characters got more depth, the adults got more to do, and the plots increased in depth. Meanwhile, I was hooked.

Last Wednesday's episode dealt with Blair's pregnancy scare. The idea is a little cliche (as are most of the plots on Gossip Girl), but I really enjoyed the way this played out. As bitchy as she is, I can't help but love Blair. As more sides to her personality are revealed, she becomes almost relatable. And even though their relationship is a little twisted, I am completely into her and Chuck as a couple. It is obvious she is more herself with him than with Nate, and there is always something very enjoyable about seeing two "evil" characters team up. In real life, I certainly wouldn't want to deal with them, but as fictional people it works perfectly for entertainment.

The episode ended with Blair ready to leave town to avoid a scandal. I thought it was great to callback the beginning of the series when Serena was returning to town after doing exactly the same thing. Instead of following through on this, the show went the more interesting route of having Serena stop Blair from leaving. If the writer's strike ever ends, I will be looking forward to seeing how Blair as an outcast plays out.

Sunday, January 6, 2008

Survivor Cast Announced

Survivor is practically the only reality show I watch. And even though the writers' strike looks like it will be continuing long enough to push all the scripted drama's I like off the air, I refuse to watch any more. That is why I am glad this season of Survivor looks like it will shape up to be a good one. I was really excited when I heard the idea of "Fans v. Favorites." It is a nice twist on the All-Stars idea, which did not really work when Survivor tried it previously. Last week, CBS announced the cast, which suggests the season will live up to my expectations. I was a little disappointed that there will be twenty contestants (WAY too many), but other then that I am still excited about the upcoming season.

I usually never bother commenting on the new cast mates, because I don't think an online bio is ever enough to really gauge an opinion. This season is no exception, those contestants look pretty generic-the hot girl, the strong guy, the potential outcast, etc. But the "favorites" have all been on screen before, and for the most part left a strong impression.

I was a huge fan of Cirie from Exile Islands, Yau-Man from Fiji, and Jonathan from Cook Islands. All three of them were great members of the cast, who seemed "real" enough to provide entertaining commentaries. I would have been thrilled with any of them winning, and am glad they all have a second chance.

I am undecided about the rest of contestants from Cook Islands. Ozzy was great in challenges, and likable enough, but I don't really remember much else about him. A challenge monster as big as him, actually may become boring - it is much more interesting to see a close race in the challenges. Parvati was not one of my favorites. I am never a huge fan of women who come on the show with a strategy of "flirt to win." However, she did give some humorous commentaries so I am willing to hold out on giving an opinion.

I will admit to remembering very little about Eliza and Ami from Vanuatu. I know Eliza was painted as annoying, but I do recall pulling for her. Ami is the one who tried to form an all girls' alliance. I almost hope she succeeds with that this time. Survivor has been seriously lacking in female winners in the past few years, and the feminist in me would love to see another woman come out on top. However, I also remember Ami becoming obnoxious as the season went on, so I am not sure I am 100% thrilled was her return. Either way, both she and Eliza have a lot of promise for being great contestants.

The two members from the last season in China, are also toss ups. James, from this past season, also provided decent entertainment at some point, although I did not like him as much as the general population seemed to. There was definite moments where I wanted him voted off. Regardless, I am intrigued to see how he plays a second time around. I hadn't really thought much about Amanda, until the end of the season, but by that point really wanted her to win. I am hoping she does well and is more of a stand out character in her second chance.

As for Johnny Fairply (Pearl Islands), I have no idea what the producers were thinking. This is the guy who lied about his grandmother dying, not really to get sympathy, but to get attention. Putting him on the show again just seems to be asking for trouble. Maybe he will get voted out first, so I can enjoy a long strech of the season with a good twist and what seems to be a good cast (or at least half a cast).

Missing Journeyman

Tomorrow is the first Monday where it is hitting me that Journeyman is not on anymore. I know I originally said I was not a fan of the show. But after the first couple episodes, this series really started to improve. By the time the last episode aired last month, it had become one of the shows I looked forward to most. Once the show set up its premise, it became less about what Dan was doing in the past, and more about the character's relationships.

As we learned more about Livia, I started to like her more and more. The twist that she was from 1948 and jumped into the future not the past, was an intriguing concept that is not usually seen in time travel stories. I wish there had been more time for the show to explore it.

I also started become more involved in Dan's relationship with Katie. It is a nice change to see events from the perspective of the person left behind. Once she believed what was happening with Dan, Katie became less annoying and more sympathetic.

I am glad that despite cancellation, and the writer's strike, Journeyman still got a decent series finale. The last few episodes, were probably some of the best. The episode where Dan inadvertently changes the past so that Zach (his son) was born as his daughter gave me the chills. I knew that Dan would "fix" things, by the end of the episode, but it was still great to watch.

By the end, the show didn't answer every question about why Dan was time traveling, but that almost didn't matter. The last few minutes of the series, where Dan told Katie he wanted to continue traveling, but would always come home, gave enough closure for both Dan's travelling and for his and Katie's relationship. The very last scene, where Dan let Katie see him "journey" was a perfect ending.