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Showing posts from April, 2012

Future Perfect: Doomed Expectations on Mad Men

"Some things never change." And some things do. This week's fantastic episode of Mad Men ("At the Codfish Ball"), written by Jonathan Igla and directed by Michael Uppendahl, had its eye on the future, with several characters contemplating the shifting mores of 1966 as they--and the viewers--were confronted by traditional values rubbing against modernity. But, as the episode itself depicts, things do change and they have to. Society may march on with some of those rigid structures intact but with it comes progress as well, and the sense of change and of the future is embodied in the characters of Peggy (Elisabeth Moss), Megan (Jessica Paré), and Sally Draper (Kiernan Shipka) here, each of whom undergoes a transformation of sorts (whether physical, psychological, or social) before the installment ends. The entire notion of the campaign envisioned by Megan toys with the notion that certain things never really change, whether it be spaghetti, beans, or a mo

The Unopened Door: Thoughts on the Season Finale of The Good Wife

Auteur Hal Hartley once said, "A family is like a gun. You point it in the wrong direction and you could kill someone." The message therein, and the parallels between the potential explosive energy of a family and that of a loaded gun, was keenly felt in this week's outstanding season finale of CBS' The Good Wife ("The Dream Team"), written by Corinne Brinkerhoff and Meredith Averill and directed by Robert King, which posited two parallel situations between Alicia Florrick (Julianna Margulies) and Kalinda Sharma (Archie Panjabi) that will fuel our imagination during the long summer. The Good Wife is one of a very small handful of television shows that can take innately simple moments--those that may seem quotidian or mundane, such as a knock at the door or a look through an open window--and make them transformative. This has been the case in the past as well: look at Alicia and Will (Josh Charles) opening a hotel door at the end of last season. While t

Hard Truths: The Ghost of Harrenhal on Game of Thrones

"Hard truths cut both ways..." These words, uttered by Stannis Baratheon (Stephen Dillane), are brimming with power and potency and an absolute truth of their own: the hardest truths are the ones that cut us the deepest, that remind us that our perceptions are faulty or our world is off-kilter, that serve to wake us up to some reality heretofore unseen or unrealized. And, yes, the sharpness of the hardest truths--as fine-edged as a Valyrian dagger--can cut more than just the utterer to the quick. In the case of Stannis and his Onion Knight, Ser Davos Seaworth (Liam Cunningham), the reality of their situation injures them both. As Davos tries to demonstrate his loyalty to his king by sharing his concerns about Melisandre (Carice van Houten), it's Stannis who takes umbrage at his comments, refusing to discuss just what happened in the cave (see last week's review ), refusing the acknowledge the inherent truth of what Davos is saying. ("I've never known you

The Daily Beast: "Sweet Genius: Ron Ben-Israel is the Scariest Man on Television"

Ron Ben-Israel may be a renowned pastry chef in real life, but as the host of Food Network’s cooking show Sweet Genius, he terrifies me. At The Daily Beast, you can read my latest feature, "The Creepiest Man on Television," in which I discuss just why Ben-Israel freaks me out and review his Food Network show, Sweet Genius , a bizarre and often head-scratching mishmash of styles, tones, and freaky weirdness. The scariest man on television is obsessed with cakes. Ron Ben-Israel, the host of Food Network’s bizarre culinary competition series Sweet Genius, absolutely terrifies me. Watching the show reduces me to cold sweat, imagining that Ben-Israel has forced me into the Saw-like confines of the Sweet Genius set, where I must bake a génoise while he cackles eagerly at my misery before murdering me. Sweet Genius is a variation on the network’s highly successful Chopped: Four chefs—pastry chefs and confectionary makers in this case—must cook three courses from pre-select

Shadows Dance: The Magic Lantern on Game of Thrones

In a series that's been full of mythical beings, prophetic dreams, wights, and dragons, this week's episode of Game of Thrones tipped the balance more firmly into the supernatural camp, giving us to date possibly the most visceral (and disturbing) reminder that magic is slowly creeping back into the Seven Kingdoms Westeros. Our reaction to that as viewers takes two directions: one is excitement, the other is dread. Some have convinced themselves that this isn't a fantasy series, and that's perhaps the wrong approach. While Game of Thrones is certainly populist fare, it's rooted in the fantasy genre and its slow integration of supernatural elements is to be applauded, though they were part and parcel of the series from the very first scene. The White Walkers have always posed a threat to the Seven Kingdoms and therefore to the realm of man. Whatever happened thousands of years earlier to drive the White Walkers beyond the Wall and also end the reign of the Childr

The Trip: Far Away Places on Mad Men

“Every time we fight, it just diminishes this a little bit..." There was a definite feel of Quentin Tarantino's Pulp Fiction to the latest installment of Mad Men , ("Far Away Places"), written by Semi Chellas and Matthew Weiner and directed by Scott Hornbacher, as the show went into uncharted territory, giving the viewer a series of interlocking and parallel stories that folded in on themselves, narrative origami that delved into the nature of truth and honesty, as well as perception. Laced with LSD, the episode may prove to be a divisive one: part of the effort depended on just how quickly one realized that the triptych's stories were occurring simultaneously and that there was a reset each time between the three plots (Peggy, Roger, Don). (Otherwise, you may have felt that you yourself had taken something.) But there is also inherent interest to be had in pulling apart why these three individuals were cast in these particular stories, all of which revolved

The Daily Beast: "Dark Shadows Vampire Jonathan Frid Dead at 87"

Jonathan Frid, who played the bloodsucker Barnabas Collins on the 1966-1971 cult soap Dark Shadows , has died at 87. Over at The Daily Beast, I remember how the actor propelled a struggling soap into a cultural phenomenon, as I offer an obituary for the Dark Shadows star who introduced us to Barnabas Collins. Jonathan Frid, the Canadian actor who first portrayed the remorseful vampire Barnabas Collins in the 1960s and 1970s in the cult classic soap opera Dark Shadows died earlier this week at the age of 87. Johnny Depp is set to step into the period shoes of the bloodsucker in Tim Burton's feature film version of the show, opening May 11. A publicist working with Frid to promote the release of Dark Shadows: The Complete Series on DVD confirmed his death. Born in Ontario, Canada in 1924, Frid served in the Royal Canadian Navy during World War II before studying at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts in London and then emigrating to the United States, where he obtained a M

The Daily Beast: Armando Iannucci on "HBO's Superb New Veep"

HBO’s fabulous new political comedy Veep , starring Julia Louis-Dreyfus, premieres Sunday. At The Daily Beast, you can read my latest feature, "HBO's Superb New Veep ," in which I speak to creator Armando Iannucci about the vice presidency’s comic potential, U.S.-U.K. relations, why he didn't enter the civil service, and how Veep compares to The West Wing . With HBO’s acerbic and dazzling political comedy Veep —which depicts a power-hungry if buffoonish female U.S. vice president and her staffers—Scottish-born creator Armando Iannucci turns his attention to American politics, bringing his deadpan wit, rapid-fire dialogue, and comedy of the uncomfortable to the corridors of power in Washington. Veep , which premieres Sunday evening, stars Julia Louis-Dreyfus ( Seinfeld ) as Vice President Selina Meyer, a politician who, although a heartbeat away from becoming the POTUS, spends her days scheming about biodegradable utensils, filibuster reform, and getting the na

Collision: The Emasculation of Pete Campbell on Mad Men

"What do I do here?" Throughout the series thus far, Mad Men 's Pete Campbell (Vincent Kartheiser) has been presented as many things: a slimy weasel, an ambitious businessman, an amateur rapist. But this week's episode ("Signal 30"), written by Frank Pierson and Matthew Weiner and directed by John Slattery, focused on the character flaws of Pete Campbell (referred to as a "grimy pimp" here) to the point that the episode really ought to have been entitled "The Emasculation of Pete Campbell," for the number of male-driven crucibles it put the seemingly smug married executive through over the course of an hour. (Some, such as James Poniewozik and Myles McNutt have argued that this season of Mad Men has replaced subtext with overt symbolism, but while I agree with that assessment, it hasn't diminished my love for the show or my regard for this particular well-crafted installment.) It's been no secret that Pete is desperate for th

The Daily Beast: "The Good Wife's Bad Mother"

71-year-old Mary Beth Peil is stealing scenes for her work on CBS’ The Good Wife . Over at The Daily Beast, you can read my latest feature, " The Good Wife 's Bad Mother," in which I talk to the former opera singer and Dawson’s Creek star about playing Jackie Florrick. While The Good Wife’s title refers, rather cheekily, to Julianna Margulies’ Alicia Florrick—who found herself embroiled in a political and sexual scandal at the start of the series’ run—the show explores both individuals’ and society’s definitions and expectations of wives, mothers, and career women. Margulies’ Alicia juggles work, children, and romance, often without much regard for her own well being, perhaps outside of a solitary glass of red wine at the end of a day in court. Yet Alicia’s outlook, behavior, and mores are constantly commented on or outwardly attacked by her mother-in-law Jackie Florrick, played by 71-year-old Mary Beth Peil, who began the series as a babysitter for Alicia’s teena