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Archive for September, 2012

Well. Despite my trepidation about this episode, it actually was an amusing hour and a half of television, as long as you don’t think about it too hard. I mean, this is a design competition. It’s supposed to be about finding the next great fashion designer. This week, the designers to make baby clothes to go with a super model’s vanity Baby R Us collection and play with screaming baby dolls. Still, if you look past the absurdity of the premise, there were a lot of entertaining things.

It helps that the designers themselves clearly weren’t taking a second of this too seriously. I laughed out loud when Elena introduced us to her baby, who she named Asshole. Fabio’s tender coddling of his infant was both endearing and creepy, and I loved that Dmitry recognized this for what it was (blatant producer manipulation) when, as they headed out the door on day two, he commented “Let’s go embarrass ourselves!” See that producers? The designers are on to you.  Also, here’s a note to TV producers who want to show just how annoying baby’s cries are to their contestants: When you show babies crying for 15 straight minutes of screentime, it gets REALLY annoying to the viewer, too. Seriously. I was ready to hit the mute button before Tim mercifully came with his wagon to throw those dolls into the pits of hell.

I’m pretty sure the baby dolls also served the purpose of dragging out the challenge, since I’m pretty sure it couldn’t have taken any of them longer than about an hour to sew 3 (at the most) teeny tiny little pieces of clothing, especially when they had the limitations of using Heidi’s fabric and fitting Heidi’s aesthetic. Plus, then Heidi came in and basically designed all their outfits for them anyway, so I don’t really get it. Even the big “twist” (that everyone saw coming a mile away) that the designers had to make a companion piece for the mom to wear, was rendered moot when they were told (over and over again) that they would only be judged by the baby piece. What, pray tell, was the point in that then?

Anyway, the result of all of this was an episode that was entertaining enough while it was happening but that was ultimately completely forgettable.

The winners are:

Sonjia (for her adorable suit made out of sweatsuit material) and Christopher (for his equally adorable flower dress). Not really much else to say here – both looks were the clear favourites, although an argument could be made for Fabio’s adorable little onsie and hat combo:

The judges all loved Dmitry’s crayon/Super Mario costume, which I thought was stupid, but it was still better than the bottom two.

It seems silly to get worked up over a baby clothes challenge, so I’ll just post the pictures of Melissa and Elena’s outfits and ask someone to explain to me why Melissa wasn’t the one to go home:

Melissa

Elena

I mean – Melissa makes a white cocktail dress with a front zipper that rode up every 2 seconds, and that’s somehow better than Elena’s bright and totally “age-appropriate” outfit? The judges complained that it didn’t look cohesive, but these are BABY CLOTHES people. They’re bright colours and they’re all being worn at the same time – that seems like matching to me. At worst, these outfits were equally bad, but Elena’s “mom” outfit was LIGHTYEARS better than Melissa’s wrinkly, ill-fitting shorts.

Anyway, whatever. I was just starting to like Elena’s particular brand of crazy, that’s all. I’m over it.

Next week: avant garde! How’s that for a juxtaposition?

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How completely typical of Louie to give us a Christmas/New Years’ Eve episode as its September finale. I loved it.

After the triumphal failure of Louie’s attempts to take over the Late Show, this week’s episode opens with a close shot of Louie, shoulders wrapped in a blanket and hovering over a coffee cup. At first it seems as though he might be nursing an epic hangover after a night of yelling at the Ed Sullivan Theatre, but the camera pans back to reveal that it’s Christmas morning and Jane and Lily are enthusiastically ripping open presents from “Santa.” With each one, Louie flashes back to the varying levels of hell that he went through to obtain the presents for them. Struggles with wrapping paper, heated encounters looking for a purple monkey at the mall, and, most hilariously of all, Louie’s repeated and escalating attempts to fix a baby doll whose eyes have creepily fallen back into its head. As Louie saws, drills, glues, scrubs, and paints with melted crayons, his desperation to give his daughters the perfect Christmas seems more and more unlikely to be successful. In the end, though, Lily loves it, but gives the credit again to Santa. When she next opens a book about a duck from China, Louie finally speaks up that it’s from him. He begins to read it to his daughters, the camera panning lovingly across the  hand-drawn pictures, and Lily sighs dreamily that it looks like it would be nice to live on the Yangtze River.

This tender father-daughter moment is interrupted by Louie’s ex-wife and her boyfriend, who are coming to whisk the kids away on an unspecified international trip until the middle of January. Louie has to admit to his ex-wife that the Late Show dream is definitely over, and the shot of the elevator door closing on the foursome emphasizes Louie’s sense of isolation. In typical fashion, Louie spirals into a vortex of darkness and isolation. He immediately rids the apartment of any vestiges of Christmas (culminating int shoving the tree out of the window) and settles in to hibernate in the dark. He’s interrupted by his sister (Amy Poehler) and her Texas husband who call and insist that he join them for New Years in Mexico. They don’t want him to be alone, and the way Amy Poehler’s voice shakes, it’s clear she’s expecting these few weeks without the kids to break Louie. He insists he’s fine, though, and goes back to his sugar-bingeing and sleeping pattern. Then, he has a wonderful dream in which a grown-up Lily and Jane meet, discuss how they’re probably in their twenties, and how one of them has a careery job and the other is doing something arty that’s hopefully going well, and how they both agree that growing up with such a lonely and lethargic dad probably scarred them pretty severely.

It’s this dream that spurs Louie into action. He gets off the couch not for himself, but for his daughters. He tried so hard to give them a perfect Christmas by giving them stuff, but now he realizes that the gift he needs to give him is by being a better (or at least, more active) person. In the middle of the Late Night drama, Louie’s ex-wife told him that his daughters need a role model more than they need his constant presence, but this time, it appears, Louie has reached that conclusion all on his own. He packs a bag, grabs his passport, and hops on a bus for the airport.

And then, on that same bus, is TapeRecorder (Liz). Just as quickly as the thoughts of what a New Year’s Eve with Liz would look like entered my head, they were shoved out when Liz rushes towards Louie, bleeds heavily from her nose, collapses, is taken to the hospital, and dies at 11:59. She leaves Louie with only a hesitant, questioning “Bye?” and he walks out of the room in a daze, surrounded by hospital staff celebrating the New Year. It’s quite the end to one of the strangest characters on TV, but I’m glad that Louie won’t be left to search after her and wonder what might have been.

Louie continues to the airport, but can’t make himself take one of the once-every-5-minutes flights to Mexico City. Instead, his eye falls on Beijing. Once there, he struggles to find the Yangtze River, attempting several different unsuccessful ways of miming the word “river.” Finally, Louie sees a truck full of ducks whose driver appears to understand him, or at least gives him a ride. They end up at something smaller than a creek, which the man seems to insist is the Yangtze. With a rueful laugh, Louie once again wanders around aimlessly until he encounters a woman who invites him into her home for dinner and laughter. For the first time in the episode, Louie seems alive and happy. He’s not detached as he was watching his kids open their Christmas presents. He’s present, trying to make himself understood, trying to learn how to communicate.

In some ways, the struggle to communicate has been the theme for the whole season – he tries to connect with various women, with his daughters, with his ex-wife, with his fellow comedians, and with random strangers. Until this point, he has failed at every turn, but here, in the middle of nowhere in China, Louie is finally connecting with people. It’s a hopeful way to end a season, and I can’t wait to see what happens in season 4.

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After dominating the Emmys again last Sunday, Modern Family returned with a fourth season premiere that confirmed why it’s the best “conventional” sitcom on television. While it lacks the innovation of comedies like Louie, it’s certainly not stale or expected. This episode picks up the morning after the season finale, with Gloria worried about how to tell Jay she’s pregnant, Haley nursing a hangover, Dylan trying to convince the Dunphys to let him live there, Mitch and Cam dealing with the aftermath of not getting the baby, Jay preparing for his birthday, and Manny getting ready to go to poetry camp for the summer. It makes sense that some of these things would need to be addressed on-screen, but for some reason I just assumed that the season would start with a jump ahead a few months.

As Mitch and Cam dealt with both the big elephant and the 800-pound gorilla in the room (complete with a great pan over to show the giant stuffed animals gifted to them by well-meaning friends), Lily decided that if she couldn’t have a brother named Larry, they should at least get a cat named Larry. There was a great callback to the hurt of last season when they were at the cat adoption place, having to go through a long process to determine whether they would be fit cat parents. Mitch was great: “I thought the process was that I say, ‘We’ll take this one,’ and you say, ‘Thank God because we have too many cats.'” It’s nice that the writers aren’t brushing off what would be a devastating loss, but are also finding ways to bring it up in humourous ways.

However, the reactions to Gloria’s pregnancy were of course the centre point of this episode. Everyone reacts predictably enough, from Manny’s concern that he’ll be replaced as the cute one, to Claire’s glee about Gloria’s impending weight gain. Predictability isn’t necessarily a bad thing though – it shows that we know the characters and that they have recognizable motivations. Throughout the episode, Gloria is justifiably concerned that Jay won’t be very happy about the new baby. This concern is seemingly emphasized during Jay’s fishing trip with Phil, Shorty, and Miles (in which Jay spent more time in the water than on the boat). Shorty and Miles spend the entire time telling Jay how, now that he’s 65, his life is just beginning, since he’ll have so much time to spend gardening and sitting around and Jay seems to be accepting this new phase of his life. After some flashbacks that show how Jay is a notoriously-bad bad news taker, Claire tries to intercept him and tell him to just be gracious at whatever news he’s about to get. This is followed by a funny and touching scene of Jay graciously supporting Cam and Mitchell’s decision to adopt a cat named Larry before Gloria bursts in with the real news.

Jay’s reaction to Gloria is exactly why Modern Family is a great show. He’s not mad – he’s relieved. He wasn’t ready to spend the rest of his days gardening, and now he gets to start over and have a baby with the woman that he loves. It was adorable and unexpected. I loved it.

I also loved the flashforward that happened as the camera spun around Jay and Gloria hugging to reveal it’s several months later, Gloria has a bump, Dylan has moved in with the Dunphys and is now on his way to being evicted, and Mitch has scratches on his face from Larry. I’m happy to have skipped the nearly-mandatory “Gloria has morning sickness” episodes and to see that she’ll definitely be having a baby before the season finale. It’s a nice twist from the writers and shows that it’s not quite as stuck in the conventional sitcom rut as its detractors claim it to be. I look forward to what else this season has in store!

Other great lines this episode:

  • From Luke, after planting the seed that Manny will be replaced by the baby: Sometimes I just like to toss a grenade and walk away.
  • From Dylan, trying to convince Claire to let him live there: It’s okay, because he can just stay at a friend’s house; well, not in the house but in the garage; actually there are no walls, it’s more of a port-cochere; but there’s a bathroom; more of a half-bath; it’s a coffee can.
  • From Dylan, as Claire is kicking him out after living there for several months: he can stay at a friend’s place, not so much of a place as it is a storage pod, and it’s not so much of a friend as it is a racoon.
  • Shorty, arguing that Phil should grow a beard, which would make him look like “Jon Hamm between projects”
  • On Lily’s obsession with naming something Larry, Mitch asks if it’s from a show, and Cam replies, “he’s not, that’s what’s weird!”
  • Not a line, but the continued shots of the giant elephant and gorilla in various compromising positions on top of the car killed me

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After a promising season premiere, this week’s episode faltered a bit. All the benefits of having smaller tribes that I talked about last week (more face time for individual players, more intense interactions between alliance members) are rendered moot when the tribe that’s getting the most airplay is so boring. Compounded by the fact that episodes of torrential downpours are limited in their dramatic potential anyway because everyone just sits around in their shelter, and episode 2 didn’t have much of a chance.

The hapless blue tribe (aka Matsing) was once again front and centre, first in the post-tribal council discussions, then in the whining about the rain, and then, when they lost their second immunity challenge, in the discussions around camp, and finally, in tribal council. I’d say the episode had about an 80-20 split, with that 20% being divided between the red and yellow tribes and the immunity challenge. For all that time, I can’t say I know or care too much more about anyone on the blue tribe. Russell’s new strategy is to not be the leader, but that was his strategy last time and it blew up in his face. Angie’s fake boobs are threatening to Roxy, and so is her cuddling with Malcolm. Roxy might not be very good at expressing herself in a way that doesn’t come across as paranoid/crazy, but she is right that the tribe should be worried about that alliance. On the other hand, if they lose the next challenge and get down to 3, it’s hard to imagine that the Survivor Powers That Be would be able to avoid an early merge. 2 people might be a big deal in a group of 4, but it doesn’t amount to much in a new tribe of 10. Additionally, it’s more than likely that the “random” new tribe assignments would split up the budding couple (or, perhaps, the budding “brother-sister relationship”), so the whole thing probably will wind up being a big old nothing. In any case, even after Angie’s ridiculous “cookies” answer to Jeff’s question about what could be improved at camp, the tribe decides to kick loud-mouthed Roxy off the island. Not surprising, despite the number of minutes of screen time spent on trying to convince us that there was a chance of Angie going home.

Meanwhile, Penner finds the hidden immunity idol, which the Survivor producers cleverly hid as the decoration on top of the rice container. I applaud the shakeup of the standard immunity idol formula, but I question the plausibility of no one noticing that their rice lid is now suspiciously unadorned. Maybe someone did notice and Penner came up with a good explanation, but we were too busy watching the boring goings-on at Matsing to get to see this revelation. Also, at the yellow tribe, Lisa continues to alienate herself by sitting at the well alone and complaining that she doesn’t fit in.

Next week, Michael gets hurt again! Hopefully less blue tribe!

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In this week’s episode of Boardwalk Empire, we caught up with two characters who were conspicuously absent from the exposition-heavy season premiere. Eli and Chalky are both men whose activities in the criminal underworld of Atlantic City have, in one way or another, deeply affected their family life. Eli emerges from spending a year and a half in jail to find himself ignored by his brother, forced into subordination under Micky Doyle of all people (“how are you still alive?” Eli asks Mickey incredulously), and replaced as the provider of his family by his teenaged son Will. When Eli returns to the house, all of the kids run to hug him except for Will, who stands apart, offering only a mature handshake. It seems he’s taken up a job at the lumber yard in his father’s absence and doesn’t seem inclined to give that up, even at his father’s return and insistence that he will now resume his role as the breadwinner. Whether he knows the exact details of his fathers’ misdeeds is unclear, but Will is definitely determined to make a living the honest way.

Meanwhile, Chalky’s daughter Maybelle is dating the straight-laced Sammy, an aspiring doctor. He goes to ask Chalky for her hand in marriage and, after the uncomfortable dinner they shared last season, I was convinced Chalky would refuse. Instead, he seemed to respect Sammy’s determination to be a doctor, even allowing him to look him over and prescribe more leafy vegetables for a vitamin deficiency. While Eli seems unable to see a life outside of crime, Chalky sees Sammy’s future career as a point of pride for his family, giving his blessing as a way of ensuring that his daughter will have a life far removed from his business. Ironically, however, Maybelle sees Sammy as boring and craves the excitement of her father’s life. In an act of rebellion, she brings Sammy to her father’s club and is annoyed with him for refusing to drink and for never yelling. At that moment, a couple of dancers bump the table, Sammy confronts them and is slashed in the face. Chalky’s men promptly beat the offender, and Maybelle seems horrified at the violence. It seems she liked the romantic idea of what she thought her father did, but the reality of it is something else altogether. It remains to be seen whether she’ll be happy with Sammy (and his “dangerous” new facial scar) or whether she’ll continue to butt heads with her father over what’s best for her future.

While both Eli and Chalky are very concerned for the future of their families, Nucky seems unconcerned with anything except lying around with his new dancer-girlfriend Billie. He’s quickly losing his grip on his operation, forgetting the date of a shipment while talking to Rothstein, and being unreachable when a crisis hits. Detachment didn’t work for Nucky when he built his empire, and if he doesn’t want it to crumble around him, he’s going to need to get his head back in the game. There are many others willing to take his place if he would truly rather just spend the rest of his life in Billie’s apartment.

People like Gyp Rosetti, for example. The violence that he inflicted last week hung over all his scenes like a fog, but it’s clear that this week, Gyp is playing the long game. Finding out that Nucky’s trucks delivering booze from Atlantic City to New York have to stop at a gas station in Tabor Heights to refuel, Gyp takes over the gas station, pays off Nucky’s sheriffs to be on his side, and forces Nucky’s crew to turn around. Owen tried to call Nucky to see what they should do, but Nucky was too busy with Billie. It was interesting how Owen turned then to Eli, and not Mickey, for an opinion about whether they should engage in a gunfight or just turn back to Atlantic City. I foresee a power struggle in the near future as Eli has proven that he doesn’t do well in subordinate roles.

Meanwhile, Margaret is still poking around the hospital, trying to get information about how women can be better taught about their own reproductive health. I found this part of the episode to be a little disjointed from the rest, but I’m sure it will connect later. Also, she’s definitely going to sleep with the sexy doctor, so that’s something to look forward to, I guess! It was also interesting to see the difference between the power she thinks she has over Nucky (she insists that he attend a ceremony with the bishop) and the reality of the situation (she only communicates with Nucky through Owen, and then Nucky stubbornly refuses to acquiesce to her wishes).

I can’t wait to see the fallout from Gyp’s show of force. Will it be enough to bring Nucky back to the real world, or will he leave it to Mickey/Eli to handle (and inevitably screw up?)

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I have had a lot of issues with the last few seasons of The Office (and the eighth season in particular), but I’ve always stuck around because of the characters. In the season premiere of what will be a final 9th season, it seems like there’s hope that we’ll actually be getting back to focusing on the characters and not the crazy situations that the writers contrive to put them in. As such, I’m cautiously optimistic that this final season will give a proper end to this once-great show.

The episode itself was a lot of exposition. It had to explain the disappearance of some cast members as well as set the trajectory for the rest of the season. Seeing Kelly head off to Miami, Ohio thinking it was Miami, Florida was funny, but having Ryan just follow her seemed a little forced. I liked a lot of the callbacks to previous seasons (such as Andy hating Toby like Michael did and the return of David Wallace on speakerphone) but some of the actual meat of the show was a little bit too on-the-nose. For example, I liked the two new staff members and I liked the gag that they were like a young Jim and a young Dwight, but then having Jim observe young Jim’s lack of ambition, comment on it, and then realize he used to be exactly like young Jim was just a bit too obvious for me. Especially after the brilliant cold open that established that the documentary crew are just sticking around to find out what happens to Jim and Pam, to which Pam happily states that nothing much will happen to them while Jim looks on, the discomfort of that reality written all over his face.  Additionally, the introduction of this wonderful opportunity for Jim to take the next step by moving to Philadelphia to help his college buddy implement Jim’s idea was maybe a bit too convenient for me, but I am glad that Jim is taking the steps to finally get out of Dunder Mifflin. It’s been 9 years in the making, so I hope the writers do it justice.

In terms of comedy, the episode actually had me smiling quite a bit and I laughed out loud at Creed’s assessment of what went on in the parking lot at the end of the episode. It just goes to show you – the more things change, the more Creed stays the same. I’m looking forward to seeing what else the folks in Scranton have in store for us in their final season.

 

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After a somewhat rocky start with some intensely unlikeable/crazy contestants, this season of Project Runway has settled into a rhythm in which all of the competitors actually seem to get along and help each other and where everyone is producing relatively good garments. After giving Elena and Ven the villain edits in earlier episodes (justifiably so, with Elena’s breakdowns and Ven’s insensitivity), this episode seemed to be working to rehabilitate them both, culminating in a random “dinner out” in which Elena apologized for “being a bitch sometimes” and Ven complained about being alone as a child a lot (I’ll admit, there’s not much Ven could do to get me to forget his deplorable behaviour during the “real woman” challenge, but it’s clear that’s what the producers wanted us to do.)  All this is to say that it’s nice having the focus be on the challenges rather than the personalities for a change.

Originally, I was not optimistic about this week’s challenge. Designing a costume for the Rockettes didn’t initially seem to be able to provide the designers much wiggle room outside of sequins and short skirts, but I was pleasantly surprised. Not only were the designs varied (and largely reflective of their overall “aesthetics”), but the campiness of the Rockettes lent itself to some fun workroom shenanigans. I especially liked Christopher’s Sonji impression (complete with terribly-coloured lipstick) and seeing Elena dance around doing high-kicks in her semi-completed  garment was a nice change of pace from her mid-task rages.

I wasn’t a huge fan of the return trip to Mood, if only because it opens the question of whether the producers were again interfering to make sure the right designer won. In the end though, I don’t think it made that much of a difference to the outcome, and I’m not even convinced that it was necessarily an example of blatant producer interference. Additionally, it made for an interesting strategic decision where some designers decided that time was more valuable than money and opted to stay in the workroom rather than go to Mood. Dmitry and Fabio are both in good places so it makes sense for them to stay. Ven, on the other hand, has boring fabric and a boring dress and still opts to forego the trip to Mood. I’m not sure if anything could have saved that dress, but he probably should have at least gone and gotten some trim or something. Also, I’m not convinced that the second trip wasn’t planned all along as another “twist,” with the designers being given so little money at the beginning as a way of forcing them to buy cheaper fabric and end up with some tacky looks (ie. Elena). In any case, that was my only complaint about the episode.

The judges were really on the ball today, and as a winner, they chose:

Christopher! It really was brilliant to do the New York theme, appealing to the inherent cheesiness of the Rockettes. He executed it perfectly and it really was no question that he was going to (and probably deserved to) win.

The only other competition for first place was Dmitry:

As a maker of ballroom dresses, there’s no doubt that this was Dmitry’s challenge. His outfit looked expensive and edgy and was definitely more beautiful than Christopher’s design. Ultimately, I think it might have just been too sophisticated for the Rockettes. It was definitely a better dress than Christopher’s, but it didn’t match the requirements of the challenge quite as perfectly.

The loser and the person finally going home was:

Ven! Personal dislike aside, this was by far the worst dress of the week, by sheer virtue of it being boring. He kept saying he wanted classic clean lines, but that just doesn’t work here. The little triangle thing is hard to see and unflattering to boot. All the judges finally realized that without his origami rose (which, as Michael pointed out, could be his drag name), Ven’s designs add up to nothing. If he’s not doing to fabric folding, he produces frumpy, boring crap and he deserved to go.

Next week, the designers will apparently be designing baby clothes. While my reservations about the Rockettes turned out to be unfounded, I don’t have high hopes.

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